So, almost two years later, we take up the…ah…sword again. 🙂 Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza (a project of [eventually] ONE HUNDRED free genre YA short stories featuring lesbian heroines!) is (slowly!) starting up again until it’s finished!
The month that we were currently on (when we went on hiatus) was on the theme of “Swords and Spaceships.” We both had all of the stories finished for this one (two years ago!), but they needed to be edited. They will now come out until the month’s theme is finished, and we’ll keep going on the project. 🙂 THIS IS VERY EXCITING and I’m stoked about it! 🙂 We have always loved Project Unicorn and are VERY excited about being able to finish it.
This story is dedicated to Terry Pratchett. Thank you for everything, sir.
“The Princess Sword,” by Sarah Diemer
Princess Lexandra is frustrated with the gender roles that have been assigned to her from birth. But a meddling goddess–and a lady in waiting–are about to change her life.
(photo by June Yarham)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, full of free, original, never-before-published YA short stories featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“The Princess Sword”
by Sarah Diemer
Once upon a time, a princess swore.
It was a very small expletive, and it was for a very good reason, Princess Lexandra thought, her hands on her hips and her breath coming in short puffs.
“What did you say, young lady?” her mother asked severely, brows so high upon her forehead, they were in danger of falling off.
“I said fiddlesticks, and I’ll say it again!” said Lexie, huffing air out of her nose like a disgruntled pony. “Look here, Mamma, you’ve always held with all of those ridiculous notions of what a lady must and mustn’t do, and I will be thrice damned—”
Her mother let out a horrified gasp.
“—if I’m going to let the conventions of society dictate what I’m allowed to do as a hobby!” said Princess Lexandra, glowering at her mother. “And I want to learn embroidery, and I should be allowed to learn embroidery if that’s what I’d like to do.”
Her mother sighed and put her hands on her hips, too. Queen Tonette stood at almost six feet tall, and when in full armor (including the helmet), she was quite impressive.
But Princess Lexandra would not back down.
“No daughter of mine—”
Lexie sighed for a full moment, cutting her mother off. “Look,” she said, holding up the embroidery needle that she kept tucked into her belt. She’d had it painted to resemble a tiny sword, just because she knew this day was coming. “It’s like I’m wielding a sword. And needles can be deadly if not used properly!”
Her mother snorted, shaking her head. There were a few clunks of metal as she did so, folding her arms in front of her metal chest piece. “Embroidery is men’s work,” she told her daughter, stabbing a metal-encased finger at the princess who glowered at her mother. “If I’d wanted a son, I would have prayed for a son! But no! I petitioned every goddess that I may have a daughter, and—”
“And you did have a daughter. And I like embroidery and dancing and cooking and music, all things that everyone ‘agrees’ are masculine, and I don’t like sword fighting or horseback riding, and because of this, I’m apparently the bane of your existence,” said Princess Lexandra, curtseying (sarcastically) as she bristled with anger. “And that’s all right, Mamma! Sometimes,” she told her mother, sharpening each word, “people don’t fit into normal gender roles.”
“This is your professor’s fault,” said her mother, then, beginning to pace, armor clanking. “I’m going to fire him. I should never have let you be tutored by a male teacher.”
Princess Lexandra wondered if flopping down on the floor and having a good, old-fashioned tantrum would work. She decided against it.
“And another thing!” said Lexie, biting her lip. “As long as we’re being honest! Maybe I’m not attracted to all of the princesses you’ve been parading in front of me. Maybe I like ladies who aren’t princesses at all! And,” she said, holding up her hand again as her mother began to protest, “there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
“I’m cursed,” her mother said then, more to herself than to her daughter. “It’s because I didn’t sacrifice enough to the Goddess of War this year. I know it, now. I’ve got to go get some more sacrifices done, and then my daughter will change. Yes.” Her mother turned on her heel and clanked across the dais and down onto the floor of the throne room.
“Mamma,” said Princess Lexandra tiredly, then. The queen paused. “I’m sorry I’m not exactly what you wanted in a daughter,” said Lexie, sighing. “But I think it’s unfair to ask something of me that I’m not, just to fit into a role that other people have decided is the best for me.”
“For centuries, our family has prided itself in the strong femininity of its queens,” said Queen Tonette, then. “I can not believe you’d go against that.”
And then, clanking like a tin peddler, the queen left the room.
Lexie sat down on the stoop of her mother’s throne dais, shoulders hunched. She felt utterly defeated. She’d been planning this confrontation for months. Or, if she was honest, for years. Her mother, and all of her mother’s staff and court, upheld the virtues of strength and courage and feminine pursuits that almost always involved something swashbuckling or chivalrous. It was the way her family had always ruled, for over a thousand years.
And then Lexie came along. And ruined everything.
In her defense, she was feeling quite sorry for herself when her lady in waiting came clanking into the room, peering at the forlorn princess sobbing on the dais through the closed visor of her plumed helmet.
“Don’t cry, Lexie,” said Anna, trying to crouch down beside her and giving up after a moment. She really had to oil the joint in her suit of armor’s knees.
“I tried to tell Mamma that I wanted to learn embroidery, then everything else just came out,” said Lexie between sniffles. “She’s furious with me. She hates me…” She began to sob again.
Anna sighed for a very long moment, then forced her knees to bend, the metal screaming in protest. Anna held out her arms to Lexie, who came into them, sobbing against the plate metal of her chest.
“She doesn’t hate you,” said Anna, patting Lexie’s head awkwardly with her chain mail glove. “Your mother is a very passionate woman. As are you. You were bound to clash over this eventually.”
Anna wished that she had a kerchief not made of chain mail she could offer as Lexie sniffed again.
“For what it’s worth,” said Anna, her heart pounding against the metal over her chest (Surely Lexie could hear it echoing against her ear). “For what it’s worth,” she repeated, thanking her lucky stars that Lexie couldn’t see her blush, “I think you’re lovely just the way you are. And I always have.”
“That’s because it’s your job to think I’m lovely,” said Lexie morosely. Anna opened and shut her mouth, feeling her hopes fall, crushed beneath a thousand metal boots. Lexie pushed away from her, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her tunic. “The fact of the matter is that I need to run away,” she said, then, staring up at her lady in waiting. “And you can help me do this.”
“Ah, Lexie…I don’t think that’s such a—”
“When I live in a charming little cottage in the forest, I can embroider to my heart’s content!” said the girl resolutely, rising and dusting off her bottom. She helped Anna stand, then, which took about five minutes and a few more curses. Anna’s armored knees had set permanently in a kneel.
“Lexie,” said Anna, puffing when she was finally on her feet again, “I don’t think that running away is nearly as romantic a venture as you’ve always envisioned it—”
“If my mother can tame the Forest of Beasts and win eight thousand wars, surely I can survive on my own in the woods without setting myself on fire in the first five minutes,” said Lexie dryly, gazing at her lady in waiting through the grate in Anna’s helmet. “Will you help me?”
“Yes, but I won’t like it,” Anna muttered, following after the princess.
Like Lexie, Anna had had something very important that she wanted to share with someone quite dear to her today.
But it would have to wait.
When Lexie reached her rooms in the palace, she surveyed them with a sigh. There were countless tapestries on the walls, woven by the men in waiting in the castle, all depicting women setting out on battles, women fighting dragons, men and women tying handkerchiefs to their armor-wearing wives, waving them off to battle.
And that was all fine and good. But Lexie had always chafed at the idea that people were meant to be any particular way, because Lexie had never been any particular way other than not exactly liking swordfighting, and quite enjoying embroidery. And the ladies in waiting that had been her playmates when she was small would snicker at her behind their hands because Lexie wasn’t how she was supposed to be.
The only one who had never laughed at her was Anna. Anna surveyed the room covered in tapestries, too, but she wasn’t seeing the sad past memories that abounded in Lexie’s head.
Instead, as Anna stood beside Lexie, she thought about all of the times she’d almost told Lexie how much she loved her in this room.
Lexie had confided in Anna once, just once, that she loved women who embroidered, and women who danced, and women who didn’t particularly like swordfighting. That these were the attributes in a woman that made Lexie go weak in the knees.
Unfortunately for Anna, Anna loved swordfighting and slaying dragons (though she’d really only ever slayed one, and it wasn’t so much a slaying as finding the dead body and hacking off its head. It still counted in Anna’s mind) and loved the idea of rescuing Lexie from some distant tower where some evil beast had locked her up and kept her. And then, of course, Lexie would throw her arms about Anna’s neck and declare her to be the most attractive girl in all of the kingdoms, and kiss her soundly.
Anna sighed for a long moment as Lexie opened up one of her many closets and pushed past one of her many dusty suits of armor and took out a small carpet bag.
“I’m ready to go,” she told her lady in waiting resolutely.
Anna had always known that her vision of rescuing Lexie was an impossibility that could never happen. Lexie wasn’t attracted to feminine ladies, and—like Lexie—Anna could never be something that she was not.
So she followed the princess miserably down the stairs, toward the stables.
“I’ll take Nonna,” said Lexie, then, gazing down the row at all of the war horses her mother had given her over the years. Nonna, in the last stall on the right, was not a war horse, was—in fact—a short, chubby pony that Lexie had had since she was quite small. For a pony, however, the little bay beast was actually quite tall, and could still carry the slight Lexie.
Anna went down the aisle and took Sigrid out of his stall. The massive war horse snorted down at the little pony and rolled his eyes as if to say: I shan’t be seen with this creature.
Nonna bit Sigrid soundly on his rump, and it took all of Anna’s considerable knowledge of equines to keep Sigrid from exploding.
They both saddled up their mounts, and as the sun slipped down from the sky over the edge of the world, Lexie and Nonna and Anna and Sigrid rode out of the palace, completely undetected (it was, after all, sparring hour in the training ground), and out into the woods, with only Anna’s bedroll and pack of supplies, and Lexie’s carpetbag between them.
Anna sighed for a long moment as she angled Sigrid to follow the pony and Lexie’s long, red hair that billowed out over the pony’s rump.
Surely tonight, under the stars and around a magical campfire…surely she could tell Lexie how she felt about her then.
If any goddess is listening, thought Anna, swallowing, give me just a bit more courage tonight. Just a bit more.
They went down the forest path for hours, Lexie taking seemingly random turns in the path until she pulled up Nonna in a halt. Anna followed suit, glancing about. They’d gone deep into the Forest of Beasts, now, but since Anna’s mother had conquered it, there weren’t really that many dangerous beasts out and about that would give them trouble. Lexie dismounted, giving Nonna her head as she held the end of the reins lightly. “Here it is,” Lexie breathed out happily.
This past summer, Lexie had gone out into the woods almost every day, asking her lady in waiting to stay behind. Anna had complied, and worried the entire time about the princess.
(She’d also worried that Lexie was sneaking away to tryst in the woods with some lady that was the exact opposite of Anna. Anna had tried not to think about this.)
“This is what you were doing?” asked Anna, looking up, quite impressed (and more than just a little relieved—Lexie had, obviously, not been trysting with someone quite unlike Anna. She’d not been trysting at all).
A small, sweet cabin spread before the two of them, built from logs and pitched boards and wooden shingles, two glass windows in the front covered in charming, red and white checkered curtains, and a rose bush freshly planted by the front door.
“You built this?” asked Anna wonderingly, as Lexie opened the door and stepped aside, grinning, as Anna went into the cabin, mouth open.
“I did,” said Lexie contentedly. “I wanted a place that was all my own, where I could be myself. And now I have it.” She took her little embroidery pin out of her belt and lovingly tucked it into a stuffed strawberry on the rough-hewn wooden table. There was a lovely fireplace, built of river stones, and a rough-hewn bed in the corner, covered in a brightly-colored quilt.
Anna turned, clanking a little, taking it all in as Lexie lit a candle on the table with a flint, and the room brightened around them.
They untacked the horses, rubbed them down and tied them out to crop at the verdant grass in the meadow behind the cabin. Inside, Lexie unbound her hair, and Anna began the painstaking process of removing all of her armor.
“Let me help you,” Lexie muttered, when Anna struggled with the unoiled knees and couldn’t quite get them off. She knelt before her lady in waiting and tugged and tugged. Finally, she fell back on the floor on her bottom, the right metal boot in her hand.
“I’m sorry,” said Anna, mortified, but Lexie began to laugh, hugging the boot to her and laughing so hard that Anna wondered if she was, in fact, crying again. But Lexie smiled up at her, and Anna breathed out, heart flipflopping against her ribs. Oh, why was Anna so cursed that she fell in love with her princess, the princess who would probably never have her?
Just lucky, she supposed. The lady in waiting sighed as Lexie stood and began to build the fire.
They took bread and cheese from their packs, and Lexie in her princess tunic and breeches, and Anna in her undergarments, spread a blanket before the fire and shared their meager supper.
“Lexie,” Anna began, after only one bite. She was going to be sick if she didn’t tell her right then and right there. “Lexie, I was wondering…”
The princess cocked her head and studied her lady in waiting in the disarming way that she looked at a problem that needed to be solved. Lexie was always beautiful to Anna, but when the princess gazed at her like that…well. Anna’s stomach turned and twisted, and she took a sip of water from her clay jug, trying to make her mouth less dry. It didn’t work.
Both lady in waiting and princess straightened, just then, because the sound of horses’ hooves—many hooves—began to resound in the cabin.
“Fiddlesticks,” Lexie sighed for a long moment.
There was a pounding at the door.
“I really didn’t think she’d bother until morning,” Lexie muttered, and stood, and opened the door to Queen Tonette, who stood outside on the doorstep, hands on her metal hips.
“What, exactly, do you think you’re doing?” asked the queen in a dark and dangerous tone. Lexie put her hands on her hips, too, and girl and woman stared at one another, the air between them flashing with energy.
“I am running away from home, since I am quite obviously the exact opposite type of daughter that you wanted,” said Lexie briskly. “Now please go back to the palace, Mamma. I won’t be taken back.”
The queen was gazing around at the inside of the cabin, and she lifted her visor then, her flashing green eyes wide in wonder. “Did you…did you make all of this, Lexie?”
“Yes,” said the princess, folding her arms. “Now—”
“I wanted to tell you,” said the queen gruffly, letting the helmet fall back over her face, “that I have had…ah. Well. The Goddess of War came to me and told me that I was being foolish. And that anyone can be what they want to be, and that assigned gender roles are—ah—how did she put it, exactly? Oh. ‘Stupid.’”
Lexie’s mouth could not have gotten rounder if she’d tried. “The Goddess…of War told you that?”
“Well. It was more like the Goddess of War’s wife, the Goddess of Love. Who is not my matron goddess,” said Queen Tonette quickly, “but who really…well, quite demanded to be heard. And she told me to be less hard on you. And that a needle can be a sword if you want it to be. And some other things. It appears that I’ve been quite immovable about quite a lot, over the years. And I’m sorry for that.”
To Anna’s knowledge, the queen had never apologized in all of her life. To anyone. For anything.
“You can come back to the palace tomorrow. If you want. I’ll try to be different,” said Queen Tonette, who turned to go. But Lexie was quite quick, and she’d darted forward, putting her arms about the queen’s shoulders and squeezing her tightly.
Anna couldn’t quite hear what princess and queen were saying. But it sounded very happy. And apologetic. And then happy again.
She turned to look back at the fire, her good feelings (and there were so many good feelings) fading slightly as she realized that if she didn’t tell Lexie now, she never would. And she had to tell her.
So when the queen left, and Lexie ran up to Anna and fell beside her on the blanket, laughing, and hugging her lady in waiting tightly in celebration, Anna stiffened beneath her embrace.
“Anna? What’s the matter?” asked Lexie, chuckling and leaning back, looking up at Anna.
And Anna closed her eyes, leaned down and brought the princess’ hand to her mouth. Anna pressed her lips against Lexie’s knuckles for a long moment.
When Anna opened her eyes, when they both caught their breath, princess and lady in waiting stared at one another with wide eyes.
“I’m sorry,” said Anna miserably, then. “I’ve loved you my entire life. And I know that you’re not attracted to women like me, but—”
Lexie’s eyes grew wider. She shook her head, then, and there were no more words as Princess Lexandra put her arms about her lady in waiting’s neck, dragged her down to meet her, and kissed her soundly, passionately and sweetly.
“I am attracted to the women I’m attracted to,” said Lexie firmly, then, after they came up for air. “And I’ve been attracted to you my entire life. But thought this was only a job for you, and—”
“Oh, Lexie,” said Anna, tears in her eyes. “It was never a job. It was an honor. Always an honor.”
As Lexie and Anna began to kiss again, tentatively and then more boldly, outside the cabin, the Goddess of Love stopped peeking into their window and nodded happily. She winked at her wife, the Goddess of War, who was currently petting the nose of the stallion Sigrid and admiring the size of the creature. And arm in arm, the goddesses strolled away deeper into the Forest of Beasts, for now, their work done.
If you liked “The Princess Sword,” you can now enjoy entire collections worth of stories in Project Unicorn, Volume One on your eReader or in person in paperback form (I’m a real book!), and support the project at the same time!
Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
How can I support the project?
If you love what we’re doing with Project Unicorn, the two greatest things you can do to support it is to talk about it on your social network, blog or web site, and purchase each eZine as it comes out.
Project Unicorn is a very large undertaking, but we’re deeply dedicated to giving queer-girls stories they can identify with. Thank you so much for being supportive, and please consider purchasing an eZine to help us continue with this project! ❤ (You can also show your support by buying our other books, or simply donating to buy the authors a cup of tea. <3)
Please sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch and be the first to know when we release anything new! ❤