Love and Loss, Begotten Before Battle

Submitted into Contest #174 in response to: Write about two old friends meeting for the first time in years.... view prompt


Adventure Fantasy Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

TW: Swearing and mention of violence.

Long after the dust of the enemy had blown away the blank eyes of friends and comrades stared into the sky. Sir Danielle Longbow laid them side by side. The dead outnumbered the living. Merciless sun beat down on silent survivors. Shame kept Danielle’s head low as she carried scorched soldiers to lie in rank with the rest.

Though they had held their own and beaten back an army of undead, the Nameless Knights had been decimated. Among them was Sir Lachlan Donaldson, a flame haired menace who’d romanced several of the women into fighting amongst themselves. Though she mourned him, it put those squabbles to bed.

Sir Longbow savoured the pain of the burns on her forearms. What was a little bit of pain against her guilt? What were a few more scars among many?

Newly awakened curaduile trees opened the way out for the survivors of the Battle of Infernoste Glade. Most were terrified or at least cautious of the magical trees. Danielle’s knights knew they were alive only thanks to the strength of the trees that had kept the enemy at bay.

Sweat poured down the ropey muscles of her arms as Danielle built pyres from dawn to dusk. Others came and went. Injured and in awe, the others watched her work relentlessly.

“It’s not your fault you know,” said Sir Anne Hyland. Brushing a burnt hand through short grey hair, the older woman laid the raw pink flesh on Danielle’s shoulder.

“Isn’t it?” Danielle asked.

“None of the knights blame you.” Anne was a woman aged like fine wine, wearing her years with pride. Her youthful spirit showed in her smile.

“Perhaps they should,” said Sir Longbow. Removing Anne’s hand from her shoulder, the general’s brown eyes lingered on her friend’s new scar. “You wouldn’t have that burn. They wouldn’t be dead.” She nodded to the waiting corpses.

“Enough. Danielle. You can’t wallow in this. The knights need you.” Hyland’s voice was the love of a friend to one who grieved and the anger of a subordinate to a leader failing them. “They need you to show them that they can get through this.”

Morose huddles of her warriors shuffled between the shelters of a camp too large for its host. Cairns had grown one stone at a time to mark the condolences of the mourners.

Striding through mud and between the wounded, Danielle found the campfire with a stag roasting as it spun. Fat dripped, hissing as it met the flames. The orange glow would never be the same for any of them. Memories of the burning army raced through her mind. Burnt flesh felt scorched anew as she remembered the touch of a blackened skeleton wreathed in flames. The silver of her sword only bought a moment of respite before the next was upon her. Screams of the dying filled her ears.

Music? Anne sang a modified version of Leonor Burning. Downcast eyes were drawn up to stare at the impromptu concert.

With the cheer and smile of a drunk on a table, Anne’s ever wonderful voice danced into the ears of the weary. “We are the soldiers,

in tabards of green.

Our symbol the oak tree,

that golden does gleam.

We are the soldiers,

who stood on the wall.

We are the ones,

saw an empire fall.

Our knights win all battles,

and one slew a dragon.

Stop shitting yourselves.

Fuck off home on your wagon.

Each tree is a warrior.

Each home is a castle.

Just keep on walking.

It’s not worth your hassle.

We have no mercy,

so save your tears.

Crann will outlast you,

by thousands of years.”

Faces shocked out of sorrow circled the singer by the fire. Eyes of blue and brown blinked, some holding back tears.

“We put out the fires,

with our bare hands,

We rebuilt fair Leonor,

and retook our lands.”

Voices from the back merged with Sir Hyland’s. Heads turned to the new chorus. Eyes looked up to the sky in wistful wonder.

“Don’t cross your border.

Now do as you’re bade.

Before you end up,

on the end of my blade.

We are the soldiers,

in tabards of green.

Our symbol the oak tree,

that golden does gleam.

We are the soldiers,

who stood on the wall.

We are the ones,

saw an empire fall.

Our knights win all battles,

and one slew a dragon.

Stop shitting yourselves.

While I drink from my flagon.”

At this, everyone but Danielle joined in the singing. Anne’s voice was lost in the harmony, or lack of it.

“Come on good friends,

let’s drink to the dead.

We’ll have our fill,

then trip off to bed.”

Sir Longbow lent her voice to the crowd, feeling the sting of her throat as she kept up with the others.

“Sing all ye living.

Now don’t shed a tear.

Don’t you dare forget,

that we’re still here,

and we cannot regret,

the warriors fallen,

who laid down their lives,

who left behind children,

and husbands and wives.

For us they fought bravely.

They suffered great pain.

But we all know that,

it was not in vain.

We are the soldiers,

in tabards of green.

Our symbol the oak tree,

that golden does gleam.

We are the soldiers,

who stood on the wall.

We are the ones,

saw an empire fall.

Our knights win all battles,

and one slew a dragon.

Sip up, my friends.

And now raise your flagon.”

A great cheer rose from the knights. Smiles unseen in days returned to bless bitter faces. The song started up again, going round and round as some left and others returned.

“Danielle, Sir,” said Sir Nettle Longbow. “I need to talk to you. In private.” Pleading eyes wiped the smile from Danielle’s face.

“Of course.” Their worn boots trod a path away from the flames into the twilight. Away from the fire and song, deathly sobriety fell over them both.

Furtive eyes looked either way. Nettle tugged her straw-coloured hair, biting her lip.

“Spit it out,” said her adoptive mother.

“I’m late,” said the girl, tall as Danielle but wiry compared to the tree trunk muscles of her mother’s arms and legs.

“Late? What?”

“My monthly bleeding should have come by now. Danielle, I think I’m pregnant.”

The elder Sir Longbow’s heart stopped dead between beats to process the revelation. A stuttering gasp escaped her lips. Please gods, don’t let it be who I think it is, she thought.

Sandy brown hair turned away. One flushed cheek hid as the other turned to Danielle face on. She hugged her daughter and pulled Nettle’s cheek to her shoulder.


“Sir Donaldson.”

“Oh.” A heavy breath whistled through Danielle’s nose as she thought of Lachlan Donaldson. The roguish womaniser died in battle. She’d just buried his ashes.

“Danielle?” The voice was not that of the woman Nettle had become. It was the hesitant squeak of a girl she had never been.

“I don’t think I’m the only one he got pregnant.”


“Sir Nadia Patel and Sir Minerva Glasg have both been sick in the mornings recently.”

“Gods damn it! All by that swine, Lachlan?” The red-haired warrior who had been flirting with anything that moved until the undead put an end to him.

“You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, Sir.” Grit in Nettle’s voice told of her affection for the man. He’d been one of those men who’d inspired lopsided loyalty from women.

“And yet he’s still causing me problems. Find them both and bring them here, now.” Danielle’s eyes followed Nettle until the young woman was lost in the shelters.

As a wolf howls at the moon, she let out a low moan. Head back, she exhaled frustration, eyes closed. Falling heavily onto a tree stump for a seat, she tried to scrub away exhaustion and failure with the heels of her palms on her closed eyes. Ever present pain throbbed in her temples, complimenting the burns on her arms. Her silver tipped sword glinted as it slid from the sheath.

“Solasaich,” she said. Glowing green lit the dark that was wrapping itself around the world. “Why can’t you solve all of my problems?” she asked the blade. It had been enchanted by the messenger of a god when she had survived its challenge to kill a dragon.

Nettle led two other knights to Danielle, who stayed sat on her stump.

“Sir Longbow,” said Patel, inclining her head. Her skin was the rich brown of those who had come from the east during one of Sir Longbow’s many misadventures.

“Sir,” said Minerva (Min) Glasg, nodding likewise. Though her hair was the same length as the woman from the east, Min’s hair was the same colour as Nettle’s and flecked with mud.

Exhaling in a long sigh, their leader’s reddened eyes passed between the three. “So.” Sir Danielle let the word hang over them. “Sir Lachlan was busy, wasn’t he?”

Patel and Glasg had already fought over the dead playboy. His name summoned a furious glance between the two.

“All three of you pregnant to a dead man.”

Minerva and Nadia stared daggers at Nettle.

“You as well?” asked Nadia in accusation. The knight’s hand twitched near her sword.

“Her, you,” Danielle nodded. “Probably more. He didn’t care about you. It was all for his pleasure. He didn’t care about you fighting over him. He didn’t care that you might end up with child. He clearly didn’t care what would be said of those children, or of you.” Danielle stood. The three stepped back. “Now, unless we commit an excellent deception. You will be labelled as whores and your children as bastards. With that to deal with, perhaps it’s time to lay personal enmity to rest.” With a raised eyebrow, Danielle made the last statement a rhetorical question.

“What do we do?” Glasg clenched fists with knuckles still red from punching Nadia.

“You’re going to have to lie for the rest of your lives about dead men. We’re going to tell everyone you were married in secret. You are all widows. Your children will know their fathers were brave warriors who died fighting an army of monsters to keep them safe.” Danielle looked at Nettle. “You married Sir Lachlan Donaldson before you lay with him. You’ll have to know the day. A wedding anniversary is not something a woman can forget.”

“Sir, why does Nettle get to say she married Lachlan?” Minerva asked, armoured for war, tempered for murder.

“Because she brought this mess to my attention. Because if either of you told that lie, the jealousy in the other would lead to the truth. You will be equal in your lies.

Do you know what I must do now? I have to forever lie about dead men who followed me. To say they chose you and married you with my blessing, under my authority. Then I have to say they died for you.

Minerva, you married Sir Xander Browning, the night you slept with him. For you, Minerva, it was Sir Arthas Jacques.” Danielle’s cold brown eyes burnt into all three, searing obedience into them. Only Nettle’s gaze stayed with her mother’s as they others turned away from the fury.

“Find yourself some metal you can twist into a ring. You’ll hang it from your neck beneath your tabards. That’s why no one saw it. You’ll spend your next watch coming up with the story of how you courted the father of your child in secret. You’ll invent every stolen moment you spent together. You’ll come up with the lie you’re going to tell your baby every time they ask who their dad was. You’ll keep this secret forever. You’ll never whisper it to a friend. You’ll not let it slip when you’re drunk.

If any of you mention this, the three of you and your children and their children’s children will forever be marked with the stain of scandal. If one of you outs another, I will out you all. That includes you, Nettle. This is the last time any of us will ever speak of it. Tell me you understand.”

“I understand,” said Minerva Glasg through gritted teeth.

“As do I,” said Nadia Patel, giving Danielle’s daughter a vicious glance.

“Yes, Sir.” Nettle looked away. She would be forever grateful that her child would know who its father was, if not the scoundrel he had been.

That night’s sleep was plagued, not with nightmares but memories. Clearer and fuller than they ever were when she was awake. Danielle saw the undead plunging their burning hands through the bubbling armour of the knights to her left and right. Strangled screams became blank stares.

The pain of fever sweat in her burns woke the commander of the Nameless Knights. Dawn had not graced the cold soil of the north. Curaduile trees were silhouetted against the deep blue sky. Tints of purple hinted at the coming day.

“Fuck!” Drawing her sword from the sheath by her side, Sir Longbow aimed the point towards the glittering face in the darkness. “Solasaich,” she spat.

Green light from the sword reluctantly fell upon an avian mask. Silvery scratches glittered through a film of black. Yellow eyes blinked.

“Oh. Catherine.” Danielle relaxed. “Why do you have to frighten me like that?”

“Prerogative of an assassin. Plus it’s funny.” The crouching killer folded her legs together in a way Danielle hadn’t been able to for years.

“What are you doing here?”

“Holyhome used to be my hunting ground, back when there was an empire to war with. Now I must learn the geography and politics in the south.”

“Been busy there?” Danielle asked, leaning forwards.

“More with spying than killing, though there was one plot to kill our Queen that seemed best handled with bloodshed.” Catherine “Harpie” Harper interlaced her fingers.

“Our lives have taken very different paths.”

“Getting bitten by a harpy will do that,” the assassin said, referring to herself. “Thanks again for saving me.” Though Danielle tried to focus on her old friend, she found that unless she squinted, the matt black of Catherine’s clothes faded into the shadow. Only her hands, mask and eyes were clear to see.

“No need for that,” said Sir Longbow.

“Well I needed it. Now I think you need my help. That’s why I’m here.” Miss Harper smiled with teeth that had more in common with a shark than any woman Danielle had ever seen. “You’re thinking about all of this like a soldier. Just being bigger, stronger, and faster doesn’t always work. Sometimes being slow and silent is the key. These monsters can’t all make more of themselves, can they? Only a few. And those few coordinate the others as well. Without the means to make more, the rest can be picked off in smaller groups. There’s no need to fight them head on.”

“Where was that gem of strategic advice when I needed it? How do you know all this anyway?” Sitting up, the knight stretched.

“It’s my job to know.” Catherine reached from the darkness and laid a hand on Danielle’s wrist. “Don’t be impudent. Don’t take offence. I’m here to help. You can come with me and kill monsters, as you were born to. Sir Anne Hyland can lead your knights back to Leonor where they can be treated for their injuries.”

“Sounds good to me. Nettle can go back with them.”

“Better for a pregnant woman to be away from the battlefield.” Miss Harper nodded.

“How could you possibly know that?”

“It’s my job to know, Sir Longbow. And I’m good at my job.”

“Now I can’t even trust my own knights,” grumbled Danielle.

“Of course you can. And because she knows exactly what they’re doing at all times, so can the queen.” If the queen was paranoid about her own soldiers, it was hardly surprising. Traitors had killed her sister not so long before.

Danielle dressed herself. She introduced the assassin to the knights on watch who hadn’t seen her arrive. She then gave orders for the weary soldiers to break camp.

“Why can’t I come with you?” asked Anne.

“Because you’re leading the knights home.”

“Why can’t I come with you?” asked Nettle.

“Because you’ve got my grandchild brewing in your belly and I’m not risking either of you where I’m going.”

“Where are you going?” asked her daughter.

“Nowhere interesting. Just off to kill a dead wizard with my old friend Catherine.”

“I know about you,” Nettle said to the assassin.

“I doubt that,” replied Cat.

“You’re part harpie. Danielle, I mean Sir Longbow, stopped you turning all the way.”

“That’s close.”

“Your eyes are yellow.”

“Are they, funny. You’re the first to mention it.” Miss Harper strapped on her blackened silver bird mask once more.

Fifty knights in tattered green tabards marched south from Infernoste Glade, where five in six had died. Sir Anne had them singing all the way.

“We are the soldiers,

in tabards green-” sang the men, fading to nothing as they marched away.

“Are you ready?” asked Catherine.

“Of course. I just wish I could see Lupita’s joy when she hears she’ll be a grandma.”

“Then let’s kill a dead witch and her generals.” Catherine began walking without a backward glance.

Danielle’s eyes passed over the ring of trees that had saved her knights from slaughter. Stacks of stones marked the pit where the ashes of her warriors had been buried. Instead of carrying them home for their funerals, the armour and weapons would be given to their families until more fitting arrangements could be made.

Sir Longbow’s tattered green tabard snagged on a branch as she squeezed out of the fortress glade. The magical trees sealed the gap behind her, shutting her fallen knights in where the undead could never bother them again.

November 30, 2022 14:15

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Samreen Fatima
07:14 Dec 06, 2022

I love that song and the sudden twists when the mother once was happy with the pregnancy of her daughter then sad that he is dead and the third was more shocking and sad that he was a playboy. Initially, It was strange for me to read "sir" for a woman but with the development of the story, it sounds good. Overall, great story. I enjoy it.


Graham Kinross
09:54 Dec 06, 2022

Thank you. I would have used another title for women but Lady means a non combat role and they are warriors.


Samreen Fatima
11:19 Dec 06, 2022

You are very welcome.


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Wendy Kaminski
19:07 Nov 30, 2022

This appears to be part of a longer series? (I only joined this quarter, so I may have missed some.) If not, I like where it began and ended, between battle and the next destination - sort of a waystation, but we think of those as non-eventful; this one is full of meaning and action. I enjoyed it very much, and will definitely be looking for more of this series!


Graham Kinross
21:06 Nov 30, 2022

Thank you, Wendy. This is part of a series I’ve been working on for a while. I’d been writing other things but it finally felt like time to come back to it. If you want to know where it started then you can use this link to go to the first story:


Wendy Kaminski
21:11 Nov 30, 2022

Thank you so much Graham, I will!


Graham Kinross
22:19 Nov 30, 2022

Thank you.


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Philip Ebuluofor
18:14 Dec 01, 2022

Not having the week's prompt in mind when you wrote this from what I can gather and yet it fits the week's prompt well is an indicator of a master at work. Fine work as usual Graham.


Graham Kinross
22:12 Dec 01, 2022

Thank you, Philip. I’ve been waiting to write this story for a while, waiting for a prompt that fits it.


Philip Ebuluofor
06:18 Dec 05, 2022

I can see that.


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Mike Panasitti
01:27 Dec 01, 2022

This threw me off a little initially - female knights being called "sir," but I guess as woman warriors the term "lady" is off. I'm not familiar with any of the other installments in this series. As soon as I finish what I have left to read of the Xander saga, I'll start in on this one.


Graham Kinross
01:33 Dec 01, 2022

Thank you. Yes there’s a problem having women being knights and giving them a title because Lady implied a non-combat role, so I thought Sir would have to do for both. In the stories as well the women joining the army was a new thing because of shortages of able bodies. Thanks for reading it, Mike. It’s very different from the Xander series so I can see how it would catch you off guard.


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Graham Kinross
09:56 Dec 06, 2022

Thank you for reading my story. If you want to know what happens next you can use the link below to continue the journey.


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