The Lady of the Lake is a blacksmith: an excerpt from Queen of None

From Queen of None. I wanted to find a spoiler-free section, but that’s almost impossible. But here’s a bit of description I rather liked, as Anna and Lanceloch (who have just been married…) approach the Lake, after Anna has struck a deal to visit her imprisoned Aunt Viviane. A note: this is not an attempt at a historical take (technically, this world is not our own). I decided, after consideration, to take Malory’s approach: tell a story with the threads that are there, but warp them as I like.

From the dark sandy bank, I could just make out the island, a wisp of smoke rising from the center—a chimney, or the forge, I couldn’t yet tell. The water was still as glass, and from where I stood it appeared that the trees reflected were a continuation of this world into another. Overhead, the sun was at its pinnacle, and the lake was bathed in golden light. A falcon cried from so high above that he looked but a pinprick in the sky.

Straight ahead was the gate, a rudimentary iron structure planted deep into the ground. Around one leg, and drifting into the water, was a silver linked chain as thick as my wrist leading to a slender, white boat. In spite of standing in water so long, the chain had no indication of rust, and seemed to me to emit a cold, white glow.

I handed the key to Lanceloch, and wordlessly, he found the lock—square and solid as the iron gate itself—and it clicked open. Then he helped me into the vessel, and after a few terrifying moments catching my balance, I righted myself.

In silence, we slipped across the water. Lanceloch rowed with ease and elegance, hardly making a ripple across the mirrored surface. It might have well been ice that we traversed, for it was that smooth. But it still smelled of a lake, of fish and decay, the way water tends to be. Beneath the surface of the clear water I saw silver fish flitting about, their scales like suits of mail.

Closer we rode, and the island came into view. It was green and sandy, set with a small cottage and smithy. Viviane had set stones around the cottage itself, a kind of gate that I’d seen farmers make, and there were brilliant flowers in all the windows, and wildflowers in the grass. I also made out a garden, set with a scare-crow, his limp arms dangling in the breeze, his head lopped to one side.

And with each of Lanceloch’s strokes, I could hear her working, the persistent drumming of hammer on anvil, reverberating across the lake.

About halfway to the shore, the sounds of smithing stopped, and I saw Viviane emerge for the first time. A passer-by would have mistaken her for a man, or a boy, considering how small and compact she was, no to mention her musculature. She had cut all of her hair above her ears, and wore men’s britches and a tunic beneath her charred leather apron. Her face was pinched and wrinkled, but kind. She looked nothing like my mother had, and that disappointed me; I hadn’t realized I had been hoping for a semblance until I saw her.

As we came up on the shore, she trotted down the pathway, and Lanceloch bounded out toward her, leaving me to steady the boat while keeping my skirts dry. Having no experience with such things, and trying to exit the boat without help from my rather preoccupied husband, I slipped and the boat caught me in the leg, throwing me over the edge.

Thankfully the water was not deep, but I sat there gasping and sputtering for longer than was proper before Lanceloch and Viviane noticed me.

“Oh, dear me,” said my aunt, taking one arm while Lanceloch took the other. “Lance! You neglected your lovely wife.”

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