The Lost Knight
I grew up under the shadow of my mother's lost knight.
Her absence haunted our days. My mother, leaving a cup of rosemary tea by her portrait every solstice, mouth a grim line and her brown eyes shining with sorrow, the earth ravaged by a storm. Jonas singing about the knight's feats: the long list of dragons slain, and spirits reasoned with, the unamused princesses that refused a bodyguard and then fell in love. The one that the knight saw become queen, wearing her wedding band and her banner proudly.
The knight's life was the foundational myth of our house, her death its bitter moral. She was a cautionary tale whenever I lost my grip on my training sword or on my temper; then a strange echo in my own face as it grew and freckled – so much like the woman in the portrait my mother shared her tea with.
"Your mum," my mother said, voice soft around the word, presenting it to me like it was a precious stone, the informality brightening her normally serious voice and breaking the solemn airs of the knighting ceremony. Kneeling at her feet, my sword at my hip, the scent from the celebratory incense still in the air, I felt strong and as bright as anything could be.
"Your mum was very brave,” said my mother, “as I am sure you have been told many times.” She sighed then, looking at my hand curled around the pommel of my greatsword. “But she was also incredibly stubborn. To a fault, often."
I swallowed a sigh of my own, disappointed but disinclined to show it. This was not untrodden territory. My mother had led me down this path many times before, her winding road of warnings. She exalted the knight’s virtues as often as she urged me to be careful of following in her steps. The worry was not unfounded, but hearing it repeated now made me feel embarrassingly young. Kneeling at my mother’s feet, being gently scolded for the bruises I had got scuffling with the older children. My brave girl, spoken like she wished I could have been something else.
"So I take after both of you, you mean?" I retorted, trying for lightness, and mostly succeeding – if my mother’s raised eyebrows were any clue. She smiled at me, then reached out to pull at my earring, a teasing tug at a misbehaving kitten. I smiled back, trying to pull at some of the proud joy from before.
"Oh, you are much worse,” she told me, haughty and dear. And then, touching my shoulder once: “Rise, ser knight. You look very dashing."
I dusted off my trousers. "The ceremonial armour-"
"Itches, yes, yes, I know," she teased. We stood there a while, in an easy sway of quiet. Me in my fancy armour, towering over her birdlike frame; her with her fancy clothes and callused hands, fixing my robes and my hair. I was about to suggest we join the others for lunch, when a sorrowful look passed my mother’s face. She reached up to me, her hand once again on my cheek. "You should have her sword,” she said.
I frowned, confused at this sudden change in subject. "I thought it lost. Buried, even. In place of the body.”
My mother averted her eyes, her hands moving to a solid weight on my shoulder plates. "Not exactly."