Once upon a time there was a king who wanted only the best for his children, and for them to be happy. When it came time for each to marry, he saw to it he obtained for each of them only the most perfect companion.
When it came time for his youngest son to marry, the King sent out for the very best knights in the kingdom, for his youngest son was a mage, and had a penchant for danger, and would need someone to keep him safe once his father was gone. The King sent out a proclamation for knights of noble bearing, who had slain no less than one hundred dragons, broken no less than two hundred curses, and saved no less than three hundred persons. Only knights so brave and smart and daring would be good enough to care for his dear son.
Many weeks later, two knights arrived bearing the King’s proclamation, and said they met all the qualifications required by his Majesty.
The first knight was grand and glorious, tall and broad and handsome. He had long, golden hair and eyes like blue diamonds. He wore fine plate armor that was polished to a mirror shine, and sparkled like silver in the sunlight. At his hip was a fine broadsword, the hilt resplendent with brilliant jewels, the pommel carved into the shape of a great bird. His shield was carried by one of his six servants, painted with bright colors, dominated by a crest of the sun. His steed was a white mare with a silver mane and golden horn, and she was sweet and docile as another of the six servants held her reins. The people admired him, and smiled at him, and whispered that of course the prince would choose such a perfect, beautiful knight. He bowed to the king and smiled a charming smile, and declared that he was a knight of the Order of the Sun.
They laughed behind their hands at the second knight, and whispered that the king should send so sad and tarnished a knight away, for how could he compare to the first? The second knight was short, stocky, with a squashed-looking nose and an unsightly scar that ran across his cheek and chin. He had hair the color of pitch, cut very close to his scalp, and his eyes were the color of mud. His armor was only old chainmail, with patches here and there where tears had replaced with newer links. At his hip, his sword was old, the hilt wrapped in leather, the pommel plain. Beside him, restless and alert and standing protectively to the knight, was his steed. He was also black as pitch, body riddled with the marks of battle, his mane the color of steel, and the broken horn on his head the color of dulled metal. The knight knelt before the King, and said that he was a knight of the Order of the Rose, and honored to be able to answer the summons of his King.
Greeting them both, and thanking them for coming, the King then announced they each face many challenges that day to prove which of them was most worthy of his son. All day long, beneath the hot summer sun, the knights met challenge after challenge. Never were they given a chance to pause, but went many hours with neither drink nor food nor rest.
At the end of the day, the King called them before him once more and bid them kneel. The Knight of the Sun was still beautiful and resplendent, hardly the worse for wear in his ordeals, for he had smoothly and cleverly led his six servants all the day through each and every challenge. Beside him, the Knight of the Rose was sweaty and tired and worn, exhausted from his labors, for he had faced each of his challenges alone.
The King congratulated each of them on a job well done, and then asked if either would like something to drink.
The Knight of the Sun said he would like a draught of wine to quench his thirst from a long day’s work. And the King nodded, and his request was granted.
The Knight of the Rose asked for water for his steed, for the beast was exhausted from a long day’s work. And the King nodded, and his request was granted.
Next, the King asked if they would like something to eat.
The Knight of the Sun said he would like a fine, meal, for he had toiled all day long and required nourishment. And the King nodded, and his request was granted.
The Knight of the Rose requested that the six servants who had assisted their Knight be given a fine meal, for they had toiled all day long and deserved nourishment. And the King nodded, and his request was granted.
Finally, the King asked each knight, “Why did you come here?”
“To marry the prince,” replied the Knight of the Sun.
“Because my king bid me,” replied the Knight of the Rose.
And the King nodded, and withdrew, and bid his son make his choice.
The prince stepped forward, quiet and observant throughout the day. He was tall and willowy, with smooth skin darkened by the sun, with hair like the dying embers of a fire and eyes like green fire, burning bright with the strength of his magic. He had watched the knights carefully throughout the day, and the challenges and the questions put to them by his father had all been of the prince’s devising.
And he ignored the grand and glorious Knight of the Sun as he stepped down from the high dais of the royal throne. Through the dust and dirt he walked, past the Knight of the Sun and his six servants, to kneel before the haggard, solitary Knight of the Rose. From his robes, he pulled out a token—a plain gold ring bearing a signet of a rose in full bloom; it had been a gift to the prince from his mother many years ago. “I would be honored, dear knight, if you would be mine.”
The Knight of the Rose looked at the prince in surprise, but took the ring and slid it on his finger. Then he smiled, the first smile he had given all the long day, and despite his squashed nose and terrible scar and ragged state he was the most handsome of men. He rose to his feet, and helped the prince stand as well. Then the Knight of the Rose kissed his prince, and all were happy.
Except the Knight of the Sun, but that is a tale for another day.
A/N: The tale of the Knight of the Sun was done by a friend of mine. You can read it here.