The Legend of Rose the Bookish Hero
“You will be my hero,” announced the goddess standing in the doorway.
“Excuse me?” Rose lowered the book she’d been engrossed in just moments ago.
The goddess’ divinity was clear from her golden glow, from her simply appearing by the bookshop counter, by her clear resemblance to all artwork of Asrat, the goddess of knowledge, that Rose had ever seen.
“I need a hero,” Asrat repeated. “I’ve chosen you.”
Rose sputtered. She should be prostrating herself, but her shock was too great and outweighed honor and respect. She flailed her hands in protest. “I’m a bookworm!”
Asrat smiled, unmoved. “Yes.”
Being a bookworm had never seemed like a dangerous pastime—that is, until Rose was marked with the seal of a goddess on her forehead and a prophecy in her hand that she alone would be able to take back the kingdom from the foreign invaders who now ruled it.
“Because of course, they’re going to just let me waltz in and marry their heir,” she muttered to herself. Let alone waltz in with an army if she knew anything about how to raise one.
She wasn’t a hero! She loved books!
Rose grimaced and reached for the history books.
Books. Knowledge. Of course.
Rose stared in wonder at the answers that lay hidden at the heart of legends, stories, and myths. Ancient wonders and ruins that palace after palace and city after city had been built over the top of.
The Well of Knowledge. The Tower of Roses. The Sword of Victory. The Throne of Promise. Each established as the four cornerstones of power at the founding of the kingdom. Forgotten to all but the bookworms.
A hero didn’t need to wield an army, just a sword, the right blood—and the knowledge of what to do with them.
Rose sat down at the Well of Knowledge in the middle of the town square of a city at the outskirts of their nation. It wasn’t the King’s City and the foreigners had left it unguarded. She did not initially drink.
“I thirst after knowledge,” she said, “and for wisdom to guard my kingdom.”
“Your kingdom?” The ancient spirit guarding the well poked head out of the water, solidifying into a human shape. “You’re no princess.”
Rose nodded solemnly. “There is no princess, only one who seeks to save.”
Truth. Imperative to receive knowledge.
“If you would save, then drink.”
Knowledge, the first step on the path to victory. Wisdom, the first gift granted by the gods.
The ancient guardian stared unblinkingly at Rose as she drank the offered cup from the Well of Knowledge and all the good and bad at the heart of man became known to her.
“Oh!” She nearly dropped the cup. Her heart filled with hope and sorrow, her eyes with tears.
“Truth is great and terrible, is it not?” asked the spirit, in a tone disinterested in her answer. “You see the ends and consequences of the roads you may take. Use it wisely.”
The Tower of Roses stood at the distant ends of the kingdom, at the heights of its highest mountain. Rose had never practiced hiking or traveled so far. She didn’t have enough money to hire someone to take her. It took a very long time to reach it.
At last, she lay panting at the foot of the tower, knowing she must climb it.
There was no door, no way in at all, but to the chosen.
Her name was Rose.
The tower of all the roses in the kingdom, beauty among thorns, ever fragrant before heaven.
She offered herself.
The first king of this land built a tower and filled it with roses. “Let these fragrant blooms be ever in your sight,” he offered the gods who had called him to this land. “Let them always speak of our loyalty. Let them be a perpetual offering before you.”
The gardeners had tended it for centuries before the foreigners came and conquered. They couldn’t enter the tower or break it though, for the gods had shut it up against them.
“Ah, chosen one.” The goddess of war, Sahut, reached out and opened the door. “Rose, are you? We’ve been waiting.”
Better a divine sword and holy goddess than an army, Rose thought to herself. She didn’t have to lead a goddess nor convince her of the rightness of their cause. “I don’t have to fight, do I?”
Sahut, the war goddess, laughed gently at her. “You really are a bookworm, aren’t you?”
Rose would rather stay a bookworm, to be entirely honest and not train in combat under Sahut’s tutelage. “I don’t mind waking up the magic,” she said, “but if you don’t mind, I’d rather go back to the bookshop after.”
“Refreshing honesty!” Sahut smiled. “I’ll fight for you.”
Now who could Rose set upon the throne? The old lineage surely still lived somewhere.
Back to the books she went, studying in the back of the cart carrying her to the old abandoned capital city and its Throne of Promise. She read genealogies and family histories until she found a branch of the royal family old enough and distant enough to not have been purged.
Minor nobility living on backwoods estates, as far as the foreign rulers were concerned.
Hopefully, they’d been taught how to rule. Rose hadn’t been, and they couldn’t pay her enough to make her Queen.
He was running an estate and the nearby town when Rose found him, under the guiding hand of his ailing father, and he looked at her like she was crazy when she told him, “Oh, good! You do know something. I need to make you king.”
Kastin stared at this stranger: a dusty, bookish, bespectacled prophet at best, but crazy person at worst who would surely get him killed.
“I’m not royal,” he told her bluntly.
What could only be the goddess of war appeared before him—her very image—mighty sword in hand. “Good work, Rose! He’ll do nicely.”
The gods, Kastin was learning, did not seem to care very much about the personal opinions of those who honored them.
“I’m supposed to bring in the harvest and stock the town granaries,” he tried yet another plea to the immovable goddess at her daily appearance.
“You wrote the steward to do that,” Rose unhelpfully reminded him.
But a steward was not an heir. “The town needs someone,” he pressed.
“How very responsible of you,” Sahut said. “Asrat will arrange it. Now your sword.”
There was nothing left to do but retrieve his sword for training under the goddess. Again.
Rose read the scroll again then waved Lord Kastin toward a very ancient, very dusty throne. “You’re supposed to kneel before it, promise to honor the gods and rule wisely, then sit on it.”
“And how am I supposed to rule wisely?” he asked with a hint of sarcasm that hadn’t left his voice since she’d retrieved him at swordpoint to go on her quest to take back the kingdom.
She thought back to the Well of Knowledge. “I’ll take you somewhere after you’re crowned.” It seemed promising enough that he cared to ask.
Promises here were binding.
They promised many things at the old throne set in place by those who had spoken directly to the gods, tapped the power of the land, and forged implements of power to ever guard their kingdom.
Rose promised Kastin to bring him to wisdom. Kastin promised to learn it and use it to rule. They’d both promised to finish the task before them.
“You’re not going to just stick me in the capital, hope Sahut will keep me alive and expel the foreigners, then leave,” he told her bluntly.
“I’m a bookworm,” she protested.
“You’re a scholar. I’ll need one.”
The Sword of Victory was in the new capital city. The foreign invaders hadn’t known anything about it, besides that it was the sword of the king, and whoever wielded it in defense of this land would always be victorious.
Which meant it was very well guarded.
They hadn’t taken it from the king when they’d conquered. They’d tricked him into single combat under rules that disallowed its use.
“We could try for that,” Rose muttered as she read. “They like single combat.”
Kastin was a trained swordsman, even trained by the goddess, but, “They’re not that stupid.”
In the end, Rose asked Asrat, the goddess of knowledge, how to retrieve the Sword of Victory that only delivered its promise when used for its purpose. “It’s surrounded by fifty guards who never sleep and only change shifts ten at a time.”
“I could kill them all,” Sahut, the war goddess, offered.
Rose looked pleadingly at Asrat.
“You could ask the twin gods of night and sleep to help you,” Asrat suggested.
“What sacrifice do they want?” Kastin interjected. An important point. Night and Sleep were generally considered fearful, not benevolent.
“I hear,” Asrat replied, “they’re partial to chocolate.”
“I think we should have bought the chocolate,” Kastin complained, hot, sweaty, and fully disgusted with slaving over the stove.
Rose had the cookbook open to a recipe supposedly for the legendary royal chocolate. “Can’t afford it,” she said.
“I could,” he griped.
“Not until the leftover harvest is sold,” she said. “I checked your estate’s books already.”
“You mean my sister did,” he muttered. She had taken over as their father’s heir rather seamlessly. He didn’t really begrudge that, only her friendship by letter with Rose.
Kastin threw Rose a second apron. “If I’m doing this, so are you.”
They’d bargained with gods, fed them, and followed instructions to the letter to arrive in the center of a courtyard surrounded by the sleeping bodies of the fifty of the strongest members of the king’s guard. The foreign king’s guard.
“We’re here,” Rose whispered, eyes frantic. In the heart of the enemy stronghold. She knew books, not fighting.
Kastin took her by the hand and squeezed reassuringly, but hushed her. He drew the Sword of Victory in his other hand.
It would take both knowledge and strength to take back their kingdom again. It felt right to hold them both.
A goddess went before them, the goddess of war, Sahut. They’d seen her image in artwork and depictions in statue, read of her mighty deeds and of those she’d trained to take up sword or knife or even their bare hands, how they raised up armies and conquered cities proudly drunk on the blood of those who belonged to the land.
A goddess went beside them, the goddess of knowledge, Asrat. She was as recognizable as her sister, and spoke and shone knowledge into the hearts of the people of this land. “Your time of deliverance is come.”
Rose had set all of this in motion—countrymen rising to their own defense, a rightful king installed upon the throne, the gods who had given them this land in the first place honored anew.
Now, she watched as they took the city and the palaces and toppled the monuments to the foreign power who had conquered them, watched as they put the foreign rulers to the knee and demanded their submission and obedience or their exile.
It took her breath away. She’d been buried in books about the time they were free. Now it was no longer a story.
Kastin didn’t entirely want the throne, but he’d promised to take it, to hold it, to find wisdom and drink of it. There was another promise he’d claimed.
He built a library and filled it with books. He built the Great Hall of the Scholars and filled it with those who’d devoted their lives to study. He had a certain bookshop carefully uprooted and resettled in the shadow of the palace.
“You are a menace,” Rose said with certain vim, even as her traitorous eyes wandered over the mountains of books he’d gathered for her.
“Fine! I’ll stay!”
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a young woman named Rose—actually Ilsaia, but that name means Rose in their language, which is important—who made a bookshop her home.
One day, the goddess of knowledge came to her, needing a hero.
Rose was not in a position to refuse, so she went forth, awakened the old magic of the land, and gave the hidden prince a sword of victory. With it, he drove out the foreign conquerors and became king.
Strength conquers but wisdom rules, so he made her queen.
They lived happily ever after.0