Sir Danielle Longbow woke tired, sweaty, and dehydrated. Her smile stretched from ear to ear as she looked at Lupita Smith asleep next to her. Months and an ocean apart had been tortuous. To make up for it they had kissed until they were screaming with ecstasy. Neither had stopped until their bodies betrayed them with unconsciousness.
Kissing the soft brown skin of Lupita’s chest Danielle waited for her lover to wake up. Miss Smith only managed a frown in her sleep and rolled over.
The knight got up and threw on a shift. She’d not worn anything in almost a day. The fabric against her skin was a disappointing caress after Lupita’s hands and lips all over her. Bare feet made the floorboards creek. She looked back but her lover was fast asleep, drooling into the sheets.
Since she had gone their home had changed. There were more shelves on the walls filled with books. She pulled them down, filled with curiosity. They were not the handwritten kind she was used to. Leonor’s printers had clearly scaled up their operation.
Every form of industry was growing in Crann Kingdom. The capital was swelling to meet the demand for space. Buildings that rivalled the castle for scale flew up on the far side of the chasm. The mine served as Leonor’s source of granite and the old city’s greatest defence.
The new desk she had swept past in Lupita’s passionate embrace a day before had an ink jar, quills and a huge volume closed. The words on the cover were inlaid with gold, possibly real gold.
Daughter of Disgrace or The Tale of Sir Danielle Longbow
“What the fuck?” She opened it with quivering fingers. It had been Lupita that insisted she learn to read at first. The stubborn warrior had only made the effort when it became clear she couldn’t be knighted without it.
She skimmed through the pages, written elegantly in Lupita’s hand. There were illustrations that certainly weren’t her work. As the daughter of the Master Blacksmith, Miss Smith was passable at technical drawing but not figures. In the shade of ink strokes, she saw the initials of the artist, CN. Carl Northman.
Inside the cover was her shield and sword, drawn as they looked hanging on the wall of her home. Her armour was on the stand beside it. All sketched with charcoal and fixed to the page with ink. Carl’s eye for detail was brilliant.
It didn’t feel like her life. The heater shield was rendered perfectly with the unicorn on the blue background. Her sword in the drawing had the gnarled leather straps on the handle she’d since had replaced.
“Do you like it?” Lupita asked.
Danielle, absorbed in the book hadn’t heard her get up. She jumped, falling off the stool at the desk. Her face reddened as she got up.
“It’s amazing. It doesn’t feel like it’s about me though. The person you describe in there sounds like a mythical hero. Carl drew me like I’m the avatar of a god.”
“It’s how we see you Dan,” said Lupita, scratching her Afro which had been squashed on one side as she slept. “I didn’t use the Puppet of Fate thing because I know you hate people calling you that.”
“Thank you. Why didn’t you write about Sir Fabian? He’s the kind of hero people want to read about.”
“Fabian is wonderful, and I love him but he’s the hero everyone has heard about before. All of the stories are about men like him. There aren’t enough stories about girls from Fisher’s gasp who become knights and fight glass ghosts, harpies and loup garous.”
“I’ve still got a lot to write about. I’m only just getting to the loup garous in the prison. Carl’s eager to draw them but he keeps getting their proportions wrong. He makes them too tall and makes their claws like swords.”
“It felt like that at the time,” said Danielle, remembering fighting in the dark against the wolfish monsters. “Where is Nettle? I’m glad she wasn’t here yesterday but-”
“She stayed with Carl in the castle.”
“Is that our life now?” Sir Longbow smirked, thinking about their scruffy adopted daughter in the presence of the Queen of Crann.
“Carl is the prince consort now that Queen Elspeth is pregnant. That’s a hundred scandals on its own. There were negotiations for her to marry one of the southern kings to make an alliance. That’s all scuppered now. Eyes up here Danielle.” Lupita frowned.
Sir Longbow dragged her eyes up her lover’s curves and smiled.
“I missed you, Lu” she said.
“I missed you more.”
“I never imagined our life would be like this.” The knight gestured around the room. There was a carpet on the floor by the writing desk. “It looks like a library in here. How can we afford all of this?”
“Immigration and the economic explosion. My father has been selling armour and weapons to every country south of the empire. The printing presses here never stop. More people arrive than we have houses for them. You didn’t help with that.” She pointed a finger at the knight.
“When we talked to people in Tirthuir about Crann they wanted to see it, to live here. There are wars in their lands. The difference is they weren’t doing so well. Queen Elspeth always wanted more people. She didn’t seem to mind. Getting them off the ship with the rule of six imposed by the cenagas will be the real problem. Most of them will come from the southern kingdoms on foot.”
“Leonor is changing so quickly.”
“I like that one,” said Danielle pointing to a painting of Leonor as it had been before half of the city had been set ablaze by imperial soldiers. “There was more variation in the buildings back then. All the new ones look the same now.”
“They’re efficient, that’s what we needed. They’re also easier to defend and almost impossible to burn down.”
“They lack the romance of the different features that the old city had. The history we lost that night is a tragedy.”
“Did Carl paint it?” Danielle asked. It looked like his forms, but the brush strokes and colours weren’t his style.
“He sketched it, but Queen Elspeth painted it.”
“We have a painting by the queen in our home?” Danielle’s head spun at the absurdity. She rubbed her forehead. She really needed something to drink.
“Apple juice?” Asked Lupita as if she had read her mind.
“That would be nice.”
Danielle fetched a metal jug of apple juice and poured it into two wooden cups for them. After a sip Miss Smith frowned and held up a finger. Fetching flowers from a pot she held them and waved her hand over the jug while muttering something in the language most people called the old tongue or the king’s tongue.
“That’s better, try it now.”
“It’s colder. Did you do that?”
“The coven has been learning a lot as people have come from far and wide to join us. Somehow the empire has done us a favour. Spreading mistrust of magic has made Leonor a haven for the most powerful people on the continent. They’ve brought all their knowledge with them. Things we can do now Dan, I can hardly believe it.”
The knight wondered if the magic Lupita had been using was responsible for the white hair which had appeared among Miss Smith’s luscious locks. The gods didn’t give magic away for free. She hoped her bewitching lover knew the price she was paying.
Danielle had never sipped apple juice cautiously before. The cool made the sweetness crisper she admitted. Magic for such a simple thing? The flower Lupita had held to power the spell was a brown shrivelled mess on the floor as she drank the sweet juice.
“The book isn’t just your story,” Lupita said. She put her cup down on the kitchen table. “I’ve made notes in detail on how to defeat all the monsters we fought. I’m writing another book about that for the queen as well. She wants a manual for it.”
“A monster manual?” The knight laughed quietly. “Our queens are marvellous women. Crann is nothing like the place I came to in stolen chainmail. Queen Elspeth certainly inherited her mother’s brilliance.”
“The empire will never have the better of us again. There’s talk now of retaking Afon Fos.”
“Retaking? It was never ours. That would mean laying siege to an enormous, fortified city filled with imperial soldiers. Do you think it’s serious talk?”
“Hard to say,” Lupita shrugged. “Everyone has said they don’t want to take part in a siege. The queen has talked about bribing the imperials to leave. Crann has the funds to do that now if the imperials were willing.”
“Would she give them sanctuary here? They would be traitors in the empire. They do horrible things to traitors there. Hanging is the least of it.” Danielle had heard stories of deserters being nailed to the walls of their barracks as an example to others.
“It’s all just rumours Dan, I really don’t know. Let’s go back to bed. You don’t have to report for duty until noon. I want to read you what I’ve written so far.” Lupita picked the hefty tome off the desk and carried it back to their room.
There was no situation where Danielle wouldn’t follow a naked Lupita back to bed.
“Though she became the best known of all women in Crann, Sir Danielle Longbow didn’t start that way-” As her lover talked, she fell into the soothing tones and drifted off to sleep. Lupita soothed her with the story of someone with her name. Every detail of the life was told as if every horror had been worth it. The scars were just a reminder of her victories in those words. It was fanciful nonsense. Lupita’s contralto voice always put Danielle’s heart at rest, especially after her body had set it racing.
Soon she was sleeping too deeply to dream of the man she’d murdered hallway across the world.