Revisiting old tales

Art by Kathleen Jennings

Art by Kathleen Jennings

“Terrible As An Army With Banners” was one of the hardest stories I’ve ever had to write (and can never, ever read it out loud) … now I need to find that voice again and am bracing myself.

Dearest Elswide,

This is written in haste for the last boat is departing soon and I will not be on it, although I hope this will be. I beg you keep safe these pages, for they record an end – such an end, sister! Such an end – and I would have this chronicle kept safe. If you can, have it copied and sent forth so it may be found and read, and the truth of our demise – the last days of the Citadel at Cwen’s Reach – known.

You did not agree with my decision, sister, when I left home and joined the order. I know our silences have been long and fraught, but you are my blood and that counts for much. Your children are my family, too, and they should be told what I have done. They should know who the Little Sisters of St Florian were and they should be proud, though soon some will try to erase us from the world’s memory. Elswide, I did not desert you, I did not betray our shared heritage by leaving. I followed the path that was, to me at least, obviously laid out before me, but you have ever been in my thoughts. I’ve not forgotten you.

Please know that I have never regretted my decision, not even now when the end is upon me, not even when I can hear the sound of the siege engines at the gates. Know that I did the right thing and that my place was always meant to be as part of this community. I was always meant to have a quill in my hand and my nose pressed close to a blank page that begged to be covered with words. I was always meant to be here at the end. I write this knowing that I am a thing, a final thing, an omega.

Do not despair, sister, for in all endings there are new beginnings; from fire there comes new life, and from chaos, creation.

Your sister,


From “Terrible As An Army With Banners”, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

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