I’ve been meaning to review “Kiss From a Queen” by Jeff Provine for some time now. For one thing, it won the 2015 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award. For another thing, Jeff is the man behind This Day in Alternate History, which is one of my favorite alternate history blogs. Last year he succeeded in creating a scenario for every day in the year, which is pretty impressive, but I thought looking at his short story is a good example of how alternate historians can take their skills into different genres.
“Kiss From a Queen” follows Sir Arnost, a former peasant who was raised to knighthood after slaying a giant cat (I liked to think it was a tiger). Turns out, however, that there is more to the story. The only reason Arnost went to slay the cat in the first place was because he accidentally stumbled upon Queen Adela when she was bathing in the forest and the King ordered him to do it as penance. Despite now being a great and pious knight, Arnost is tormented by lustful visions of the Queen he once happened on naked and no amount of confession or forgiveness can ease the pain he feels. That may change when the prize in the tournament is a kiss from the Queen and Arnost’s page, Roger, feels that if Arnost wins he can finally purge himself of his lustful thoughts and be at peace.
The story is set in a generic fantasy world in a typical European setting. There is references to fantastical beasts and wizards, but they play no part in the story. There is a “God” who is called “Lord” and has priests, but whether its the Christian god or something else is never explained. Honestly the world-building is pretty minimal with this story, but then again, it is a short story so I guess Jeff can be forgiven for this rather bland world.
That being said, “Kiss From a Queen” is at its heart a tale about morality. Here we see different reactions to an event that one character may brush off as not a big deal and the other will treat as the most grievous of sins. Arnost in many ways is a zealot. He treats the morals of his world seriously and will punish anyone who breaks them, whether it be his fellow knights or a young boy. On the upside, Arnost treats himself with the same severity as he would anyone else, which means that a simple accident could be seen in his eyes as his complete failure to be a good person. It is reasonable to think that such a man may take extreme measures to purge himself of his inner demons.
I really can’t say much more without ruining the ending, so I recommend you go and read “Kiss From a Queen”. Its a fantasy story that foregoes the tropes of the genre to instead tell the tale of a man attempting to live by his own moral code and refusing to relax it for a second. It can be honorable, but also tragic.