Hear ye, hear ye; swearing, violence, battle and death follow, and some nudity if that helps?
Sir Danielle Longbow had her hands one hand on Lupita Smith’s cheek, the other groping the witch’s backside. The knight’s teeth nibbled playfully at her lover’s ear as they writhed on their four poster bed. The contrast of Danielle’s snow white skin against Lupita’s was stark in the orange firelight.
The muscles of the knight’s arms were matched only by the witch’s thighs. Both were muscular but Lupita had left her youth of swinging a hammer at her father’s forge behind. Danielle closed her eyes as the sorceress’ head rested on her chest. They dragged a woolen blanket over themselves.
“I can hear your heartbeat,” Lupita smiled with the soldier’s hand in her hair.
“I can’t hear anything but the fire. I like it. This was what the night sounded like when I was a child. Sometimes there was an owl. That was it. Leonor is never quiet.”
“I was used to the city. Voices. Singing. It’s so quiet here I can’t sleep sometimes.” Lupita blew on her lover’s nipple, giggling when the mighty warrior shivered. Her shrieks as revenge tickling caused her body to jerk about reverberated off the stone walls. “Stop. Stop! I surrender.”
The fire died with a ghostly whisper. Only moonlight through the window broke through the darkness.
Lupita sat up, legs around Danielle as the witch looked around the room, covering her nudity with her hand. “Did you hear that?”
“What?” The knight sat up, abs heaving as she lifted their weight combined.
“That was magic. I heard a spell as the fire died.”
“I didn’t hear it. Let’s get dressed.”
The bells of Leonor rang in the north-west. Throwing on their shifts, the two donned their uniforms. Danielle struggled with the straps of her gambison. When Lupita had tied her green Royal Coven robes, she helped her partner into armour.
They rushed from their room to the landing. Nettle, their adopted daughter, looked at them with concern in her eyes. Heavily pregnant, the former knight had a dagger in her hand.
“The bells,” said Nettle. “Leonor is under attack.” Though it was a long walk to the city, the mighty bells of the capital watch towers could be heard for miles.
“Bar the door to your room, load your crossbow,” Danielle said as her commander, not her mother. “We’ll see to the security of the house.” She pointed from her daughter to the door of the room at the end of the landing. A painting of Danielle by King Consort Carl hung on the wall, watching them.
“Yes, sir,” said the mother-to-be. She retreated through her door, holding her stomach with her free hand. The sound of a bar slamming down over the door echoed off the granite walls.
Lupita was already down the stairs with her sword belted at her waist. Danielle’s feet hammered down the pine stairs. A knight guarding her door outside bowed his head.
“What’s going on?” Sir Longbow asked him.
“I don’t know, sir.” The guard shrugged, pauldrons rising and falling with the gesture.
“Guard this door with your life.”
“Yes, sir.” He unsheathed his sword and raised his shield. The deep green of his tabard had a golden oak tree across it, the symbol of Crann Kingdom.
Nameless Knights ran to Longbow House. Some wore full armour. Others had been caught off guard like Danielle and wore only their thick padded gambesons and swords.
“Pair up. Man the walls and guard the gaps.” Her barked order was obeyed immediately. Fisher’s Gasp had risen from the ruins of a raided fishing village into the home of the Nameless Knights. Longbow House stood at the heart of the new settlement. Without windows at ground level, it was a three story fortress within the walled village.
“You,” said Danielle, pointing to a man she knew. “Walk the perimeter and check the soldiers are spaced evenly, with no gaps in the defense.” He nodded, his black curly locks dancing with the movement. The tabard over his armour flapped in the wind as he ran to his duty.
“Can I get you your bow, sir?” asked her squire, Hamish. At ten, he was a gangly boy with the blue eyes of the north and the brown skin of the incomers from the east. As someone who had advocated for the waves of immigration to the decimated Kingdom of Crann, it was up to her to lead by example.
“Yes, Hamish, thank you.” Her eyes followed the lad as he waved his way past the guard on the door of the house.
“We should have bells on the walls,” said Lupita. “I don’t hear anything. Do you?”
“No,” said Sir Longbow.
Hamish was at her side the next moment with her bow and quiver. Throwing the strap of her quiver over her head and shoulder, she had him run for her horse.
“You should wait and have him put your armour on,” Lupita told her lover.
“I want to be around the village as soon as possible. I need to know what’s happening.”
Another squire ran from the tower where the Nameless Knights kept messenger pigeons. Merridah wheezed, catching her breath. “Sir Longbow,” the girl wheezed, wincing. “Word from Leonor. The magic was the work of the Royal Coven. It was a test.”
“A test of what?” Danielle raged. “How much we could shit ourselves while they fucked around without warning us?”
The girl shrank back as if struck. Danielle scolded herself mentally for taking her anger out on the messenger. “Thank you, Merridah.”
“We should tell the knights,” said Lupita.
“Let them run about a little longer. We’ve not had a test of their readiness defending Fisher’s Gasp. It will be good to see how they cope with it.” Sir Longbow’s brown eyes caught those of the runner. “Merridah, run and get my horse. I’m going to shout at some witches.”
Nodding, the pink flushed girl set off, clutching her side.
“She’s a wreck,” said Lupita as the girl disappeared.
“She’ll have to learn to run in full armour, this will be good for her. Hamish, inform Nettle that she doesn’t need to worry. Tell her I’ll be back soon. Don’t tell anyone else.” He nodded, smiling to be the bearer of good news.
On her horse, Danielle toured the perimeter. Nameless Knights stood at the ready, not all in full armour, but all with a weapon in hand. After a full circuit of the walls, she told them the good news. Groans and curses for the witches at Leonor Castle passed between the warriors as they went back to their duties, or to bed. They all knew Lupita was technically one of the coven, but her association with Sir Longbow gave the witch a free pass among the Nameless Knights.
A year later, Danielle sat on the same horse, watching a tent city in the distance. A blue moon hung in the black sky. Cold winds blew in off the sea to the east. The canvas tents fluttered in the light of hundreds of fires. The invaders had come from the sea in their thousands. Bobbing on the waves to the east were a hundred ships at anchor.
“Our border is too long now,” Sir Danielle said to Lupita, who wore full armour beneath the uniform of a War Witch. The robes of the coven had been merged with the armour of the Nameless Knights for the new unit of warriors who supported Crann’s warriors with their magic.
“That army won’t know what hit them,” said the witch, pulling the fur collar of her cloak tighter around her.
“Are all of the troops assembled?” Sir Longbow asked Lord Fabian Castel.
The leader of Crann’s elite knights smirked, his handsome features showing his age with every new line on the face Danielle had known since they were children. “Mine are ready. I don’t know about your rabble.”He adjusted his helmet as he spoke, testing the hinges on the visor.
“I hoped we would never have to battle humans again,” Danielle said. Monsters were her speciality and preference. She never felt guilty about putting a beast down.
In the middle of Crann’s forces, the coven of War Witches and Warlocks were preparing the same spell that had put out every flame in Crann a year before. Once more the kingdom would be plunged into darkness, this time for its own defense.
“They have cannons set up at the perimeter of the camp,” said a scout.
“Point out the positions to our own cannon teams,” Lord Fabian commanded. “We strike those positions first when the fires go out.” Crystals of snow glided down from the clouds above. “Just what we need, soldiers slipping on fresh snow as they charge into gunfire.”
“They’re here to retake the monopoly on gunpowder.” Danielle voiced the thought aloud. None responded. She had been one of the fellowship sent to buy or steal guns from Quin Shi, across the sea and far to the east. The mission had furnished them with more advanced weapons than those Crann had. Danielle ended up murdering a local governor in the process.
When the lights flickered out, cries of shock echoed across the snowy ground from the enemy camp. Explosions from Crann’s cannons signaled the attack.
Musketeers rode at the head of the charge, waiting until they saw the whites in the eyes of the Quin Shi soldiers. Crann had duplicated the cloth armour that the eastern soldiers wore for protection against gunfire. Green jackets marked the specialist cavalry riflemen who rode at the front to break the lines of the enemy. Nameless Knights rode behind the riflemen with their matchlock pistols.
Crackling shots along the jagged lines of cavalry were tiny sparks in the night. All of the army had been ready to light their torches the moment the spell left the enemy in the dark. Despite outnumbering the Quin Shi forces and having surprise on their side, Crann’s warriors fell to the gunners in the camp. A rifleman by Danielle’s side fell from his horse. The thundering steed charged on, caught up in the charge.
The match of Sir Longbow’s pistol flickered orange in the blue-black of the night. A shape moved between the tents before her. Trying to find the rhythm of her horse’s hooves, she fired. With no idea whether her shot had done anything, she holstered the gun and drew her sword.
Crann’s cavalry crashing into the camp were waves washing over the hull of a ship in a storm. Danielle swung her sword, hitting leather helmets studded with steel. Some fell, others would live to take another blade or be shot. Riflemen in their gunner’s jackets turned back, giving themselves time to reload before they charged back in. Nameless Knights and Sir Castel’s elites carried on, switching to swords or bows and arrows.
A row of spears stopped Danielle dead, along with other riders. The invaders in their brown cloth armour had regrouped. The beautiful horse beneath Sir Longbow reared up as a blast hit it in the chest. Thrown down into the sharp grass of the dunes, she landed hard, tumbling.
Thick headed cavaliers charged into the spears, lost in the adrenaline rush of the moment. They were lost forever as spears pierced their armour or they were stabbed to death.
Guns fired another volley from behind the line of spears. Scattered shots answered from Crann’s soldiers who had not had time to form up against the invaders. Tripping over the corpse of a knight in armour, she fell upon the body of an invader. His weak moans as he bled to death brought the taste of vomit to her tongue. She finished him with her sword and crawled through snow on sand, red with streaks of blood.
Knights of Crann regrouped at the edge of the camp as she crawled through the no man’s land of corpses. Men and women writhed in their dying moments or pleaded for mercy in their native tongues.
Crann’s magic was not done with the invaders. The greatest weapon of the kingdom were its red arrows. Danielle wished she had them instead of the puny guns that fired once and took too long to reload. Black shadows whistled through the sky above her, arcing down into the foreigners who had come to kill.
Screams answered the arrows that struck home. A familiar horror followed. Campfires relit since the spell of the War Witches made the nightmare a silhouette. Trees sprung from the corpses of those pierced by the red arrows. Curaduile trees fed on blood to grow at supernatural speeds. Once more the lines of the enemy were broken as they fled from the monsters growing all around them.
Defenders of the kingdom closed in. Infantry with long guns closed in, firing volleys in perfect bursts. As one line ducked to reload, the next stepped forward, aimed and fired. A few steps at a time, the noose around the invaders closed. Another round of arrows rained down upon men fleeing for their ships.
The mercenary vessels anchored out at sea would never take those warriors home. Flames danced on the boats that had carried the men from Quin Shi, twenty at a time. Some waded out into the water, dropping their weapons to swim away.
Many had no choice but to fight as corpses piled up around them. Commanders in red or purple armour fought with more skill than the pawns send out as cannon fodder. With gunmen and archers moving past her, Danielle watched in horror. Her kingdom had been on the wrong end of the same kind of slaughter. Crann had promised itself that it would never face such a massacre again. It hadn’t stopped them from committing their own.
As a last surprise, a handful of Quin Shi warriors dressed in blue lit powder kegs as swords were raised to kill them them. Using their own magic, they guided the blast at head height. A ring of fiery death spread out, flattening anyone a ship’s length from the blast. All cheer from the decisive victory was taken from the defenders in a moment. Sacrificing themselves, seven mages of Quin Shi had taken two hundred souls with them.
Looking for survivors among the bodies of the camp, she found soldiers clinging to their wounds as blood fled from their veins and arteries. Some she could save by cauterising the holes. For others, all she could do was hold their hand as they faded away.
Though it was the battles that gave her nightmares, it was the aftermath that made her sick. Bodies of the enemy were stripped and burnt in pyramids taller than her. Crann’s dead were taken away on carts that would carry them to their graves. Weapons and armour of the enemy were sorted.
Black mounds smoked as snow fell on red ground. The sea bashed and caressed the shore. Salty air nipped at Danielle’s ruddy cheeks. All of the ships had fled in the night. Their captains would live to tell the tale.
No matter the loot, nothing was ever worth the loss of battle. Assembled to ride and march home, the Nameless Knights were short of a hundred warriors. It hadn’t been their worst battle, nor their best.
On a horse offered by one of her knights, Sir Longbow rode back to Fisher’s Gasp with tears in her eyes. Sunrise shed unwelcome light on the scene of the slaughter. Darkness would have been a mercy. Curaduile trees had grown into a new grove at the heart of the destroyed camp. Just as they marked the inland borders of the kingdom, the magical trees would stand guard over that patch of ground for generations to come.
Lupita rode to Danielle’s side, leaving the War Witches behind her. “At least those soldiers wont be preying upon unarmed famers, pillaging their way south to Leonor.” Lupita’s voice was soothing.
Sir Longbow nodded, deep in her usual guilt and disgust for humanity. “I just want to get back to Fisher’s Gasp to see Nettle and Fergus.”
“I love you,” Lupita whispered so that only they could hear.
The slightest flicker of a smile crossed Danielle’s lips. She mouthed I love you too. They rode down the coast towards grey mountains.
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Vivid language, great descriptions and larger than life characters. Visceral. I liked the softness of the ending. Magical feel to this tale.
Thank you. I want Danielle and Lupita to be a couple who can rely on each other no matter what especially after all they’ve been through together.
Hi Graham! Oh gracious, you know I’m a sucker for a soldier love story. This one was brilliant. I loved the way you wrote about the rich history of this realm and the way that you re constructed gender roles for this piece. I think starting with intimacy, building towards the battle, and ultimately ending with intimacy was a brilliant choice. I also really admire the way you’re able to create such rich cultures in under 3,000 words. Nice job!
I’ve been building that world for years on reedsy. 78 stories now is a few books worth of Danielle Longbow’s story.
I'm not reading this yet, still working my way through the catalogue and I don't wanna spoil it! haha :)
Yeah, this is way ahead for you just now. You’re getting there though.
Graham, This story has so many vivid descriptions and details. Very easy for the reader to become immersed in the text. "When the lights flickered out, cries of shock echoed across the snowy ground from the enemy camp." Good sensory details. "Looking for survivors among the bodies of the camp, she found soldiers clinging to their wounds as blood fled from their veins and arteries." Awesome visual. Thanks for the good read. LF6
Thank you for reading it. I’ve been writing this series longer than anything else on my reedsy account. I kept meaning to get back to it but none of the prompts seemed to work until now.
Nice to see you writing these characters again. I enjoyed the other stories about them. Good job having Danielle and Lupita together more. I wanted that because theyre cute together. Still not into people killing people though.
I keep trying to write more stories for them. This was the first one to work out. You saying you liked them together was part of why Lupita became a War Witch and where that idea came from, so that the coven would be relevant on the battlefield and they could fight side by side, more or less.
Cool. Thank you. So there will be lots more of them?
Maybe. If I have ideas that work out for it. Who is your favourite character in it or what was your favourite storyline?
The vampries one where the other woman became a monster and Danielle and Lupita saved her. That was good. I like Anne an lot as well.
I’ll bear that in mind. It’s good to get feedback about what works and what doesn’t. Thank you, LM.
If you want to read the next chapter in the saga, use the link below: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/rv23cb/ Thank you for reading.