The story of a man and his rise to become a hero.
by Peter Shogren
As much as he hated his father at that moment, David felt….pity maybe…at the proceedings as they unfolded before him. Surrounded by Magistrate Rougher, his ever present acolyte of The Faith, and a squad of guards, David’s father was held by the footman with a dagger to his throat.
“Light…torches!” came the order from Rougher to set David’s parent’s home alight in the mid-afternoon. The acolyte’s wyvern– a flying beast with wide black wings forcibly beating the air down to stay airborne– circled high overhead. Public attendance was mandatory at the reading of his Dad’s charges while David’s mother and the townsfolk watched helplessly. The magistrate was not a forgiving man and comment by anyone other than his men would have only made things worse. The guards themselves seemed to be enjoying their work that afternoon and being a smaller man in stature, the judge didn’t come off as being a leader nearly as much as being an authoritarian:
“I have here from King Edgar, a writ of demand for taxes past due!” he shouted holding up a sealed scroll. What David found so ironic was that he wasn’t even sure that anyone else except the acolyte and himself could read it– including Rougher. “For failure to pay one’s lawful taxes the punishment is the loss of up to and including all of one’s possessions! Men? BURN IT!” Some of the men numbly obeyed, the rest were smiling as they used their torches to set fire to David’s family home. “You people have fared well enough!” he tried to boom in an almost nasal voice. If he wasn’t wearing Edgar’s garb and chain mail, it might have sounded comical. “King Edgar is just that! Your King! Now pay your taxes on time or this will become a repeating event!!!” Even Rougher knew that Stan Bowman could and would rebuild the house in time, but that was not the point. Yes his family was behind on the taxes, but it was only a senseless destruction of personal affects and an otherwise useful object to make an example out of his Dad to the rest of Beckersville the way David saw it. Had his father been anyone else in the town, Rougher would have taken him to the stocks as well. Being unable to manufacture more bows for the king’s men while in chains was his only saving grace. As David’s face began to feel the heat of the blaze, he watched the people of his village. Some were angry, some wept, and David wondered if the traveling Dwarf had ever seen such things happen here in Edgarland. Everyone continued to remain silent for fear of further action by the magistrate. Even the local Orc looked a little downtrodden as the men forced everyone to watch. As the dwelling became engulfed, David decided that he would get even someday.
For once, the argument that David had with his Dad that morning was not related to Stan’s love of ale or not making good on the payments to Lieutenant Rougher because of his ale consumption. The heated debate was about David openly declaring that he didn’t want to be his Dad’s apprentice anymore. It did not end well. As David saw it the bowyers and soldiers of the land were paid fairly well but they fought and died for whatever cause the ruler wished. It was the merchants that really prospered and lived long in life which is what he really wanted. His father not withstanding, the difference for him was in who the bowyer gave his labors to– and more importantly why. “You think too much.” he would always tell him. Another unspoken issue between them was always that David could read– a traveling merchant had taught him secretly– and Stan could not. Near the end of the argument in a drunken rage Steven shouted: “Get phack to wurk in the shed or git out of my howssse!”
Exeunt David. Instead, he walked out to the barn/work area and quietly gathered the few tools he owned and the horse that his father had given him for his birthday before his drinking started getting out of hand.
David was still trying to figure out why he liked Jack– he and his cart stayed a day or two about once a month and had been for years. Jack never really gave David anything– other than being able to understand letters and then words to such a willing pupil. He supposed that was why his Dad was so hard on him sometimes. David felt more intelligent than his father and Stan did not agree to that. After King Edgar made being in possession of printed words a crime punishable by public execution, Jack’s secret teachings became apparent. At the time David was drawing letters in the dirt to practice. Before he could erase them, Stan came around the corner of the shed looking for more wood. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
“Letters??? Who taught you letters??? The altar boys???” David’s sire accused.
“No!” David shouted in protest. Stan had heard enough and immediately beat his son so horribly that afternoon such that David couldn’t work the next day. David never forgave him for that– and never drew letters where his Dad might see them ever again. Within a few weeks it was too late for a son to teach his father even if Stan wanted to learn. Continued house-to-house inspections that were searching for weapons at that point included any books or other writings were weekly– more so when the footman had nothing better to do. Especially in later years David hated the hypocrisy of the clergy and the crown. On the one hand, having printed material was a crime. On the other, the clergy and the crown had their scrolls and other texts with impunity. The priests would even read from them at the weekly services. It made no sense to him. Whenever Jack laid over in Beckersville, he kept teaching David reading at night from time to time….and then Jack destroyed the printed words before he left for the next town.
After the building began to collapse that afternoon, the Magistrate gave they order to release Stan and the footman threw him into the dirt. As a group, Rougher and his men then walked away back to the town barracks, a few walking backwards to ensure that they were not surprised from behind. David was so angry he still considered everyone rushing the evil men. However, even if everyone were willing to do so, without real weapons, it would have been a slaughter at best. Seeing the punishment come to an end, the wyvern flew off into the sky.
“Son of a bitch!” Stan called after the town judge loud enough for him to hear. Rougher turned and glared at him and deliberately drew his sword out halfway. Even as angry as he was Stan was smart enough to turn away from him, if for no other reason than for fear of further violence. Only then did the magistrate resume leaving the scene.
Stan got drunk again and passed out in the woods. David ate and then slept in the barn as his mother Shelly cried herself to sleep beside him. He left early in the morning and after his mother refusing to come with him, David kissed his mother goodbye, vowing to return someday.
As the late morning sun climbed higher David held the reigns of his horse Sholo and walked alongside to give her a rest. He wanted to make it from his former hometown of Beckersville to Doohaven within three or four days but he didn’t want to have to rush himself while doing it. He also wanted time to keep processing the events of the past day or two to make sense of it all. As he crested the first rise suddenly he became a little grateful for the food that he had brought– the path before him fell away and meandered into the scrub plains of the Last Stand valley that would make killing larger game less frequent. Shifting the quiver of arrows on his back they were of good quality and he did take a little pride in that he had made them himself.
As an apprentice to his father it would be several weeks– if even then– before his father declared him a fully accomplished craftsman; but as such David was still in a position of respect in his former village. Bowyers made the weapons that archers used to defend the cities– and conquer cities when the politicians couldn’t agree on things. This was another reason why David was leaving Beckersville– to deprive the magistrate of his future services. Another reason was that more than once Jack had said that if David wanted to become a merchant, he would help him learn the trade. In Doohaven– a larger town on the edge of the East Ocean– David’s plan was to start over again. David hadn’t seen Jack in a few weeks, but he also knew that if he waited long enough, sooner or later his friend would show up. It was a matter of time.
Another thing he considered was that as a function of apprenticing to his father, David also developed a working knowledge of archery and to a lesser degree, hunting and trapping. He was good at his shorter bow, but the regimen required for the proper use of the longbow started at early youth and was above his family’s caste anyway. His family were the manufacturers, not the upper class of the king’s professional soldiers and mercenaries. That however, was about as far as it went. He considered fighting for defense a necessary evil in society but not insofar as the stupidities of the current leaders of the day. For David, the higher up the politician went the farther away they were, and often the farther away they were then the less they knew about the real world and how it worked.
David pondered these and other things for some time as he walked the rough hewn path. Taking out the crude map that one of the patrons at the inn had drawn that morning– it was well worth the cost of a mug of beer to have even reasonably reliable information. The paper was simple enough that it didn’t include any dwellings– including the one at the foot of the next set of hills that he was approaching. It was little more than a very large lean-to that would likely be enlarged at some point, but no effort was put into concealment as it was sitting near the side of the thin trail that he was on. David had little hope of making any real progress other than being sociable but it was worth a try. As he approached, an orc crawled out. The older woman was nearly six foot tall with deep forest green skin, wore a simple frock, and had canine teeth sticking out as was customary of all orcs.
The common speech of the land was not David’s strongest suit but he was good at it well enough. There wasn’t much more to it than asking for directions, the weather, and counting to twenty to facilitate trade anyway. On the other hand, everything else being equal orcs preferred debating to talking, arguing to debating, and fighting to arguing. Since this one was alone, it didn’t seem to be a problem– but David kept his short bow within easy reach just to be sure.
(Good) “Afternoon.” David pantomimed the sun being halfway to sunset even though it was not. The common speech was more of a set of gestures than actual verbal words to ease the troubles of pronunciation across all the humanoid races of the known world– Humans, Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes.
“Afternoon.” The orc replied. David mimed his fingers “walking” across his hand, pointed down the trail, waved his hand across the open sky to suggest “many” and then touched all the fingers of one hand into the other a few times to signify “people”. The orc nodded her head and David knew the answer to the question even before he asked it, but it was a place to get started. Then he heard some rustling in the lean-to as it started to shake open. Darting back around Sholo and quickly grabbing his short bow he knocked an arrow. As he feared, two male orcs came charging out of the hut, one with a wood axe and another with a mace. As the one with the mace approached around Sholo’s front David shot him in the chest, then as the humanoid began to collapse he sprinted toward it trying to load another arrow. Chasing David around the back side of his horse the orc with the wood axe was right behind him. Running from the assault behind him he narrowly dodged the female orc in front of him swinging a frying pan to kill.
Properly loaded again and pumping adrenaline, David turned and fired at the second orc at point blank range hitting it square in the leg. The orc swung and drew blood along David’s shoulder. Still running for his life and spurting obscenities while in pain, he loaded another arrow and shot the onrushing female orc in the abdomen who crumpled to the ground. Although not battle trained, gratefully Sholo didn’t bolt away from the melee either.
Backpedaling away, the last humanoid was breaking the shaft of his arrow off and David shouted: “Now it’s a fair fight!” as he reloaded. The unkempt humanoid likely wouldn’t understand as it stood erect, hefting the axe again. David drew his bow and held it ready to fire….waiting. The orc began to charge, David fired, and the orc collapsed in a heap.
Three against one, David was grateful just to be alive as he clutched his shoulder to stop the bleeding. No one really knew for sure where orcs came from, but legend had it that they were a failed experiment of a mad wizard using the fluids from humans, oxen, and demons. And then he better remembered “that” smell. The one orc in Beckersville orc kept to himself, and stayed fairly clean. These nomadic orcs smelled much more like….rotting food, body odor, and stale footwear. Taking a deep breath several steps away, he walked back to the bodies and carefully unwound the thin twine that held the iron heads of his arrows in place, pocketed each head, pulled the shafts back out the way they came, and placed the parts in the saddlebags on Sholo. He would reassemble the pieces later that evening as usual when he had more “down” time.
Assessing the situation, David decided that ill gotten gains or otherwise, the corpses wouldn’t need their worldly possessions anymore; and he did he have any clue as to the whereabouts of their next of kin. He wasn’t about to go looking for them either, hoping for a pleasant reception after killing their offspring– even if he was ambushed. Their clothing was little more than rags and even if no one other than orcs would want to buy them David opted to leave them their attire to give them a certain amount of…dignity….after he dragged the corpses into a pile. Ripping the flap of a door off the hut, from the outside he peered in and saw nothing of any real value, especially to non-orcs. Draping the flap over the orcs’ heads finished the process so that a passerby would know that they were dead before getting too close. A proper burial– even only of rocks laid over them– was too much work. Prairie animals would scavenge the carcasses soon anyway.
Standing over their heads he tried to feel like one of the clergy and couldn’t. They had their agenda and he had his. Even if he knew their rites, he didn’t want to use them anyway. For him it would be demeaning– even to an orc. Then he realized that he still hadn’t seen anything around that even an orc would consider as edible food. In that moment was trying to feel some sort of ending to the afternoon’s exchange and then he said over his assailants: “Maybe it wasn’t personal…maybe they were starving to death.” and then he walked away. Collecting the weapons and frying pan, he loaded them into the saddle bags and checked to make sure that the weight wouldn’t shift, slung his bow over one shoulder again, and then vaulted belly over the back of Sholo. Grunting himself halfway over, he then put his left hand back over her neck and pivoted his body to help him get his right leg over, then sat upright. Riding close to bareback wasn’t all that much fun but he had learned to tolerate it and this was how he mounted the gentle beast when his Dad’s footstool wasn’t in reach.
As the sun was approaching the horizon David was in sight of the first mountain range on the map and decided to stop for the night. Sholo would also need time to graze. Dried meat, some bread, and water wasn’t the most savory of meals but it filled the holes in his stomach. Sholo returned while he was repairing the arrows, then David kicked the small fire out and crawled under his blanket.
By midday David was riding up into the mountains and approaching a cluster of dwellings– human dwellings. The occupants, some from within and others outside, peered at him as he passed and he nodded to them in greeting. In the middle of the hamlet ran a creek– the drippings from a wooden sluice box farther up the hill– that gave water to the small gardens in front of each building and David stopped to let Sholo take a drink, then fill his water skin. A big man dressed in work clothes stepped off his carriage and walked over to talk.
“Fine beast ya got there.” he said and David thanked him. “Any news from the west?” It wasn’t a question that David wanted to face yet.
“Everything is okay– other than Rougher has started burning homes for not paying taxes.”
“Hmmm…sorry to hear that.” The man paused. “Got anything to trade?” Suddenly the workman looked up into the air as David heard the sound of rushing air and a squawk from above. It was a roc– a huge bird at least three times as tall as a man and outstretched talons both two feet wide– coming in not for David or the man next to him but for Sholo. Without thinking David jumped up and slapped Sholo on the rump as hard as he could and shouted: “GO!” Sholo would come back– right now he just wanted the bird to miss. The workman ran back toward the buildings shouting the alarm as the equine bolted for the tree line. The middle of the roc’s wing crashed on top of David and threw him to the ground but its claws missed. As the man came back out with a war hammer, other men with weapons came running and barking orders to the women and children to get indoors. Shaking his head back to full consciousness, David unslung his bow and looked into the air. The avian was coming back for another run down the length of the creek bed. His first shot missed horribly behind the bird and in a panic he darted toward the nearest house as the townsmen stood their ground and tried to hit it with their assorted hand weapons on the way by. As he was reloading his bow, one of the men had been raked in the back and the roc climbed back into the air again. Darting back out David took another shot at the fast-moving target and saw only one other bowman in the hamlet trying to do the same.
The man that had been wounded was in the open still lying on the ground screaming in pain and crying out for help. Rushing out to save the man may have been more heroic but David decided to do what he was good at and stepped out from under the porch. He and the other archer both hit the roc– David at the base of its wing and the other archer in the tail. The bird of prey squawked as it crashed on top of the wounded man and David hit it again in the back. This time the bird took flight but slowly went almost straight up. Drawing back the string, David considered another shot and eased the string back in to save the risk of losing arrow. The roc was retreating and that was enough. Slinging the bow over his shoulder again the townsfolk rushed to save their downed comrade and soon after the man he first met came back to talk again.
“You didn’t have to do that– why?” he asked in a soft voice. Off to one side, a shaman began working her magic on the injured man.
“I’ve never seen such a bird…. If I had to do it over again, it came at my horse. Fight it here with all of you? Or fight it out of town by myself? I would have stayed.”
“I’m John…” he said as he straightened up a little. “…and that’s a nice bow you have there– where did you get it?”
“I make them.” David answered and seeing John’s astonishment he continued: “….I was on my way to Doohaven…but you need bows. If you keep trying to fend that thing off with hand weapons it will pick you all off one by one…. I think I might stay for a while.” David repeated. “If I make you one, I might as well make you three. I have some hemp, but not enough– do you have any hemp or sinew…and some iron for the arrowheads?”
“Yes. We mine iron here. It’s how we made the town’s axes and war hammers….and why there are none of Edgar’s guards here.”
“What do you have in trade?” David asked with a smile and John paused, looked around for anything of real value.
“That bird has been coming almost every day for over a week now. What do you want?”
“I tell you what…if we can find the wood, I’ll even make you four…..for that wagon over there.” The other man paused.
“Let me talk it over with the other menfolk and see what they say.” David broke a crooked smile. He wasn’t sure on how fair the trade was but the time spent making the bows was a small price to pay for the ability to carry a respectable collection of items to trade after he had been in Doohaven a few days or weeks.
“I hope you agree– until then– if you don’t mind I will need a boy or two to help me find good limbs. ….and my horse.” he broke a smile and they both agreed on an answer after dinner. Finding Sholo wasn’t all that difficult…finding gently curved saplings between four and five feet long made of good hardwood was. They returned not long after dark to find John and a few men standing around the coals of the group fire. Felix– the youth that was loaned to him– walked over to one of the other men and David said: “So what say you?” John paused:
“We talked it over and the wagon is part of Lost Soul’s property. It belongs to everyone. They want six bows.” David considered this and also how soon he would have a chance to trade up to a wagon that Sholo could pull lots of items to trade. And then there was another bit of unfinished negotiating to do:
“…tell you what….throw in the tack and harness and it’s a deal.” John nodded and smiled. So did the others too. “…and also for the man who was hurt today, I will help. How is he?”
“Thank you…he’ll live. Give him at least a few days of rest and he will be back to work again…. There isn’t much but we do have some leftovers if you want them– and you and your horse can stay in our barn if you like. Come…we will feed you first.”
“I’d appreciate that.” Aside from not having to catch it and kill it, fresh food was not to be missed. Come to find out, David staying in the barn was also a matter of there was no place for him to sleep as he entered the small room. “Thank you.” he added as John’s wife Helga lay a bowl of beans in front of him. He began to eat and at the second bite he held it up for John’s wife to see and smiled then went back to eating. “Tell me, why do you and the others try to attack the bird in the open? Why not throw stones at it from under and behind your homes?”
“Honor. That and we are angry that the bird comes every day.” John replied confidently. David chuckled.
“Honor is good– but ‘out in the open’ is also going to get you killed.” John stopped and stared at David, then responded:
“It carried Bonnie– Norm’s wife– away four days ago. We spent two days looking for her….not even a body to give a proper burial to…nothing.”
“I’m sorry….for your loss….” was his only offer. David wasn’t sure what else to say. After a few more bites he continued: “Did you try feeding it?”
“We did…it was eating too much. If we kept feeding it, we would have starved.” and David nodded in feeble agreement.
“Do you not have a wizard?” John looked a little incredulously and replied:
“Sure, right here in my shirt.” Wizards were typically in the employ of either a king, the clergy, or at least a noble of some sort. Considering the apparent size of Lost Soul, David realized the silliness of the question and continued.
“I don’t suppose it can talk human speech…to reason with it…. Bows….we need bows….and not soon enough.” After a long pause while he ate, David thanked them for the beans again and went out to the barn to sleep.
As usual, David was awake at first light and riding back into the woods to cut the saplings down not long after that. Just after lunch he returned with six good limbs for the job. As the hamlet’s boys watched, shaping and notching them for the strings took the rest of the day. Tying the bow strings wasn’t difficult but it was tedious as he sat under the overhang of John’s hut. By the end of that same day most of the boys had gone off to finish their chores or play except Felix who silently watched in wonder. Just before dusk there was the telltale sign of whooshing air.
“WOMEN AND CHILDREN INSIDE!” David shouted as he prepared for battle. It didn’t take much for everyone to start shouting the alarm and moving for cover or their weapons. With a screeching sound the roc flew in and plucked up one of the children running to safety, and soon it was gone.
The entire town was angry– some wept– and everyone wanted to know when the bows would be completed. Three of the men– one of them the child’s father– came to him demanding:
“Why didn’t you give us the bows to use yesterday???” one man shouted at him.
“If you had, that boy might still be alive!” another demanded. David waited for several moments until they had blown their hot air and were ready for him to speak.
“They still need more work. If there had been time to string them before the bird attacked, the limbs of the bows would have snapped and I would have had to start all over again.” Addressing the child’s sire, he continued: “I’m sorry for your loss…. If I had made the bows ‘one at a time’ maybe your son would still be with us right now. We don’t know that– but it would have taken me longer to make all of them. Meanwhile, the bird would have come back yet again for another attack, and then another.” No one was happy– even David– but it seemed to disperse the argument. Later men left with torches to look for the boy but he was never found.
The next morning David sent Felix and the other boys into the woods to search for straight sticks that could be used to make the hafts of the arrows. David then found out that Norm was the town’s blacksmith. Although it was never agreed upon, at the loss of the boy Norm was glad to begin making arrowheads like the ones David had for the rest of Lost Soul. David then tasked Felix to rub the sticks smooth as possible so that they would leave the bow straight and carefully make notches in one end– one end for the feathers and later the other end to make a place for the iron heads. “Tillering”– carefully trimming the inside of each bow so that when pulled the tension was even and correct– took another two full days. Mercifully, the bird did not return after being wounded and as the stack of smooth sticks grew, some of them were discarded into another pile with the rest of the kindling.
On the morning of the fifth day David set Felix to making more arrow hafts, strung the bows himself and carefully oiled them, then asked for volunteers after breakfast. Even Thomas, the other archer in Lost Soul showed up. Without arrowheads or tail feathers, the five men and a woman were confused as to why they would practice until David explained that the arrowheads weren’t ready yet and at close range the feathers wouldn’t make that much of a difference anyway. They lined up facing the tree line and practiced shooting at the trees until the sticks were gone, then as a group he set the boys other than Felix to run out into the woods and find the sticks that missed. By midday some progress had been made and David decided that further practice would have to wait. “Sticks are relatively easy to come by…” he said, “…arrowheads are not. And I know that each of you have jobs to get back to. In the morning, we will start tying arrowheads. If the bird comes back, a hailstorm of just sticks though– that will be better than hand arms. Or at least they will keep it busy enough that we can shoot it with a real arrow point.” he said referring to the one man in the hamlet who had his own home made bow. “If the bird comes before morning, just don’t stand out in the open and do your best. Don’t take any risks needlessly though….we want a dead bird, not dead heroes.” As he went on to explain the need to pull them before use and oil them after each use to keep the wood from cracking, he rationed the serviceable sticks equally among all the other archers and suggested that until it was dead or gone, they were not to be more than arm’s reach from their weapon and “arrows”, to which they all agreed. All went their separate ways and David took Sholo for a ride, partly to scout the immediate area outside of town, partly to think, and partly to give her a better opportunity to graze.
To look at there wasn’t much to the Lost Soul mountains other than a good supply of timber, and certainly nothing to attract such a bird other than possibly an easy meal. As he set Sholo to feed he hoped the bird would not come back for the peoples’ sake. After flying away with a youth and the blacksmith’s wife already, he doubted that they would be that lucky though. As Sholo plucked and chewed the grass, David again pondered the disconnect between the teachings of the church and his beliefs. The clergy taught– every chance that it could– that Rul was the god of the sun that gave life and warmth to all in the world. On the other hand, David believed that life came from his mother– like all mothers– and that his mother and father ate animals and vegetables to feed themselves and therefore that’s where he came from. Additionally, the clergy taught that money was the root of all the ills in the world, yet, they expected their tithe every week or month– if you didn’t have anything to give that week. At the same time….the clergy did nothing….other than tend to the flock. To his thinking, based on the wickedness of some people each week when they were not in the clergy’s weekly services, the parishioners were wasting their money. Still no answers came to him and David came back into town just after dusk and as he was dismounting Sholo at the creek, Felix came running up.
“Archerman…” he called as he approached. It was the name that one of the children of Lost Soul had given him days before, “….come to the fire pit. We want to see you.” Motioning David over to the small fire on the other side of the line of houses, he left Sholo to drink as she was extra thirsty.
“Archer,” John said handing him a bowl and spoon and gesturing over to the pot over the fire, “…have some food.” The nickname had stuck. David smiled at the hospitality and obeyed. At this particular gathering, even the women and children were present. John continued: “Before we sing songs, we wanted to go over some battle plans for when the bird returns.”
“Battle plans?” David questioned.
“Yes. What’s the plan if the bird returns?” David pondered the question for a moment while he took his first few bites then answered:
“Shoot the bird.” he said with a wry smile and a few of the men chuckled. “…no. In all seriousness….even if I knew how to teach formation fighting that would take weeks. We don’t know when the bird will come back or where each of us will be at that moment.” David paused, thinking, then reached over and grabbed a rock. Setting his bowl of food down and he placed the rock down on the ground again somewhat near the fire so that everyone could see. “This is the bird’s body…” he said as everyone drew closer, then he drew lines away from the rock in the dirt with his finger, “…and these are it’s wings. Now to answer your question– aim for the body, not the wings. If you miss the body and hit a wing, that’s good too.” Then he made dots at random points in a circle around the drawing and continued: “These marks around the bird are us. The important thing is not to stand all around the bird like so,” posing a wicked smile he then said: “…we might hit each other.” After the laughing subsided he erased the dots on one side and went on: “Stand under cover as much as possible and only lean out far enough to take the shot.” David paused again, thinking: “Men with the axes and maces– stand under cover as well but be at the ready. Only if the bird is wounded or unable to fly, then charge for the attack…. Women and children….live your lives…but until this is over always be ready to retreat indoors at a moment’s notice. You will be safe inside I would think.”
“It’s a good plan.” One of the men commented, others were in agreement.
“For now, that’s the best that we can do…. In a day or two we will have arrowheads. Norm? How goes production?”
“Well enough…” he said in a deep voice, “…I have just over two dozen sharpened and can keep making about a dozen a day.”
“Good. Keep going until there is at least two dozen for each archer. That should last through one good town fight. In the morning we will start tying them to the shafts.” The remainder of the evening was more small talk than anything– and discovering that David was not very good at singing.
The next morning David awoke to another meal of dried meat, some stale bread, and water. Then he realized another benefit to the wagon he was about to have– after going hunting– he would be able to carry a whole deer with ease. His breakfast didn’t taste any better, but knowing that some of his future meals would be fresher did help some. Saying goodbye for the day to Sholo, he left the barn and saw something moving high in the sky. Most were still in bed or in their houses. Whatever it was it was too high to tell for sure if it was the same bird, so he studied it as it wound its way around the hamlet, circling. Felix sauntered over from the creek and noticed David staring into the sky.
“Shouldn’t we say something?” he asked.
“Not yet. We don’t want to alarm everyone needlessly. That’s why I’m still….” Before David could finish, someone across the way started shouting the alarm. “….damn.” David muttered. “Get inside the barn Felix– you’ll be safe there.” Looking dejected, he obeyed as David unlung his bow and then walked around John’s house and stood under its porch. Everyone was moving around in a similar fashion, the men getting their weapons and the few women and children that were outside were running into the nearest structure. Peering out from underneath…it was just circling….and then it dived down into the hamlet as he quickly readied to fire. Much to his horror, the bird hit the town’s wagon so hard it was flipped up onto its side. He fired, but hit the wagon where the bird had been. David then noted with a mild satisfaction that the bird started squawking as it was greeted by a stream of flying sticks. One of the men and the woman started cheering in jubilation as the bird flew off into the sky. David knew better. He readied his bow again and waited. “Stay under cover!” he shouted.
One of the cardinal rules of hunting is that you always reload and wait to see what happens after your shot. He didn’t want everyone to assume that it was going to be scared off by a single volley of arrows and someone getting attacked by another pass as they were crossing the creek. True to form, the avian resumed circling in the air again, just not quite as high as before. It did this for several moments and then dove again, this time at the water trough further up the hill. “FIRE!” he shouted, not that it was really necessary. It was a much longer shot but well worth the chance– most of the sticks still didn’t have precious arrowheads on them yet anyway. To his annoyance, David missed again but one of the stick archers got lucky and hit it in the back of the head. The bird squawked again in a more wounded fashion and flapped back into the air. This time the shouts of joy were more pronounced. Circling a couple of times, everyone immediately rushed the center of the hamlet to watch as it turned and flew off into the horizon.
No chores were performed for the rest of the day. Upon inspection, both the wagon and the sluice were damaged slightly, but repairable. Most of the town– children included– threw themselves into collecting/making good sticks and sharpening the arrowheads as fast as Norm could make them. In making more points to be placed onto the the sticks two or three of the blacksmith’s assistants were even desired by Norm himself. Another job was making the notch in the other end of each stick and carefully tying the head to the stick which took some practice. Spirits were high and everyone was happier than David had seen them since he had arrived in Lost Soul.
“Aren’t you coming Archerman?” Felix asked as David was tying another arrowhead very tightly. “It’s time to eat.”
“Alright.” he replied. Free food was never included in the original bargain but he was grateful. It also meant that he wouldn’t have to stop working on the bows and go hunting for his food. As the boy goaded him toward the camp fire, the singing had already begun and there was laughing too. Whether it was a celebration or not, the smell of meat was a little more pronounced in the evening stew than the night before and Thomas handed him a bow without having to be ask. “Thanks.” he said and smiled. In that moment David almost considered staying longer– not going to Beckersville– then changed his mind again. There were too many possibilities in Doohaven and although Lost Soul was so friendly, a merchant in a small hamlet that didn’t move on would starve. Underneath the singing everyone talked about what they would do after the bird was dead. As David ate, slowly people filed out– presumably to work on arrowheads and tying them to the sticks. When he was done eating he snaked around the small crowd over to the creek and washed the gear before he returned it then went to go find John. David knew him best. As it turned out he was at Norm’s shop helping sharpen the arrowheads. “It was a good fight.” David said as he walked in. Norm was stoking the coals to keep the fire at the right temperature and one of the children stood far back from the heat to watch the smith do his work.
“Aye.” John replied amid the noise of the blacksmith’s shop. “And no one got hurt.”
“I know that food is hard to come by but listen, ah, we need bait.”
“Bait…a felled deer…something to lure the bird into the middle of the creek bed.”
“What for?” David paused, thinking.
“We got lucky with today’s shot. If the bird flies up the hill again it will be too far away for most of us to hit it. We want the bird close enough to be easy an easy mark. Even then, it will probably take at least two or three hits in the belly to wound it let alone kill it…. Do we have a pig or a deer to feed it like you were doing before?” John stopped sharpening and thought.
“Norm!” John shouted. The forge made enough of a crackling sound even without the distraction of working on a piece of metal on top of that. “Norm! Does Gertrude still have that dead cougar?”
“I think so!” He called over his shoulder, “Why do you ask?”
“We need it.” John replied and then back to David he said: “Let’s go see Gertrude.” and he agreed. Gertrude was the town’s seamstress and not one to stay up late. After crossing the compound, David and John knocked on the door.
“What do you want now at this hour of the night? It’s long after sunset and you know it!”
“Gertrude– it’s John and Archerman…we need the dead cougar you found the other day!”
“Can we at least come in?” he called through the door.
“NO! It’s out back! Get it yourself!”
“C’mon John…” David said quietly, “…let’s go get it and leave the hag out of of this.”
“She’s better in the mornings.” He replied and turned to go around the hut. The carcass smelled of rot. David surmised that it would taste even worse. Spying a few grub worms, David said:
“Uh…maybe we can find something else.”
“You don’t think that it will eat it? Even free food?”
“Maybe. Do you want to take the chance that it doesn’t and eats something else?”
“Right.” The two men stood there in silence with only the slowly dying light for company until finally David said:
“I’ll do it.”
“I’ll be the bait.” Even in the dim light John looked a little shocked. “I look at it this way John…I can’t ask any of them to do it….” David said gesturing back to the middle of Lost Soul, “Would you? Willingly? Be the lure for the bird I mean…..” There was a silence between the two men as they stared at the stinking corpse of a cougar.
“….I didn’t think so either…. I could slap Sholo on the ass again like I did last time…but even then that is a gamble. I may get hit much worse than I did the other day. Hopefully the bird won’t come back tomorrow at all. I’ll have to teach Sholo how to bolt effectively without either of us getting hurt. More than anything I need someone to slap her on the rump and watch for the bird while I’m riding hard towards cover. Do you think you or one of the other men could help say…after lunch?”
“Yes. It’s the least that we can do if you’re going to do that for us.”
“Good. I’m going to get some sleep then. Tomorrow could be a long day.” And with that the two men parted.
The next morning found both David and Sholo fed to be greeted in the middle of town by a woman in her mid-thirties wearing a bright yellow frock and a little over six feet tall.
“So do you always ride bareback?” David had left the saddlebags in the barn to improve Sholo’s speed.
“It’s how I learned.” David replied. “Aren’t you a little short for a man?” The woman laughed and said:
“Stella is my name. I’m the bartender/cook/inkeeper around these parts. They call you Archerman– is that right?”
“Actually, some people call me David, but yes.” he said with a smile.
“They tell me all I have to do is to slap a horse on the ass. As long as I’m not slapping myself on the ass, I can do that.” David laughed and said:
“Well it’s not quite that simple but yes.” After selecting a place for him to wait out in the open that wasn’t too far from a group of buildings, David and Stella set to work. Without the traditional food reward such as carrots or bits of sugar, the slapping on the rump was necessary and it took a little more work teaching Sholo that “Sizzy.”– a made up word– meant to run hard, run fast, and run like the wind until otherwise directed. “Go.” would have made more sense, but then using the word “go” in casual conversation could be a problem if you happened to be standing near Sholo. Training went fairly well until late afternoon when there was a crashing sound from further up the hill. No one had noticed the bird’s arrival and it had crashed into the sluice box again. “WOMEN and CHILDREN INSIDE!” David shouted into the air for anyone who hadn’t heard the crashing sound. “Thanks.” he said to Stella with a wink and then he watched as the bird beat it’s wings into the air again. As the box wasn’t food, it seemed to David that the bird’s attacks were becoming almost deliberate– or personal. That made no sense to him either. Without thinking, he rode up the hill and stopped. “OVER HERE!” he shouted, waving his arms to get the avian’s attention as it was dismantling the box with it’s beak. “OVER HERE!” Suddenly the bird stopped and stared at directly at David, as if it was intelligent enough to know his name and hated him because of it.
.oO(Mother of God, what have I done?)Oo.
Pivoting Sholo in place as hard as he could, the bird took to the air again and David rode back down the hill at a good clip. Halfway down the hill, he quickly looked behind– the roc was still climbing into the air above the mountain. At the foot of the hill, he looked again and head first the roc was starting another dive straight at him. Spurring Sholo on for more speed, he galloped along the creek through the middle of town. .oO(…don’t fail me now….)Oo. Snapping back another peek the roc had spread it’s wings open and was talons outstretched– it had committed to the strike. Yanking to the side on Sholo’s mane harder than he ever had before, she whinnied in protest and darted away from the creek toward the buildings and though Gertrude’s front garden. The roc landed next to the creek with a squawk and its wing grazed David on the way by– as David felt the whistle of an arrow just in front of his face. After he made it closer to the other end of the hamlet David turned back around to survey the battlefield and saw the bird– with a couple of arrows sticking out of its wings– climbing into the air again. Galloping back into town the bird was not flying away as it did the last time, it was crashing into the wagon again. .oO(And to think that I asked for this!)Oo.
In the middle of town, David positioned Sholo alongside the creek as the bird seemed to keep making passes down the length of town, not broadside of it. “OVER HERE! OVER HERE!” he waved again as before. True to form, the bird saw him and rose into the air. This time, David waited.
“Archerman! What are you doing???” someone called.
“Wait for it…” he mumbled. The roc started its dive and still David waited. Pointing to the buidlings on either side he yelled: “ARCHERS AT THE READY! FIRE NOT WHERE THE BIRD IS BUT WHERE I JUST WAS!” Carefully David pivoted Sholo again until she was perpendicular to the creek. Another breath later the bird committed, David fairly gently tugged on her mane for “giddyap” and shouted “SIZZY!”. David almost fell off Sholo on his way between two of the houses of Lost Soul she ran so fast.
On the other side of the houses he gave Sholo the order to stop, then turned her around again. Shouting and chaos were coming from the middle of town. Charging back in toward the creek, shouting for the men to rush with hand weapons was too late. They stood in a circle beating the bird to death as it flailed and squawked helplessly. David slowly came to a stop and dismounted Sholo. He tried to feel pity for the roc, but could not. An animal or a bird would have attacked his horse or maybe even the townsfolk of Lost Soul because it was hungry. To attack non-edible objects implied anger– or malice. .oO(No more going head-on with birds.)Oo. When the execution stopped there was an exultation from the crowd….
“The drinks are on me!” Norm shouted. This time the shouting was all over town and woman children alike rushed the middle of the creek bed. David joined in the jubilation and enjoyed the merry hooping and hollering, but didn’t really feel that he was a part of it. He knew that he had other places to go, things to do, and people to see….
That afternoon the bird was skinned and dressed for the next communal meal in Lost Soul. At David’s direction, care was taken to plucking the carcass to keep the feathers intact as they would be excellent for finishing the arrows.
That night there was a town party at the inn and even Gertrude was there for several moments before she retired to her shack. After she left, then the party really started. As was customary, the single room upstairs at the inn was rather large and included in the festivities to make room for everyone. One of the reasons for this was that often the boarding room went unused as there rarely were overnight visitors to Lost Soul anyway. Before long, the music was so loud that everyone could hear it on the second floor anyway. Earlier in the evening, upon being asked where he learned to ride like that, David answered:
“It was one of the few things that I could do– to get away from working for my father.” he said over the singing, “I would ride into town or go to the store. To waste more time, I would ride hard to the store, ride around the country for a little while, and then ride back as hard as I could.” Later it was agreed that in exchange for helping fix the sluice, the men would help fix the wagon to back the way it was when the deal was made. As the party-goers were walking away, most remarked that it was more fun to have a party without any fist-fighting for once. In a drunken stupor, David stumbled into the barn and fell sound asleep in the hay next to Sholo.
The next morning David opened his eyes and felt nauseous with a screaming headache. Confused, he hauled himself up, washed himself in the bowl that he had filled from the creek the day before, and walked out into Lost Soul.
.oO(Oh….so this is…. “Hungover.”)Oo.
“Long night, huh?” Stella said as she approached.
“…you get used to it around here.”
“I would hope not…. Where is Norm?”
“He should be in his shop soon enough– if he’s not ‘under the weather’ like you.”
“OK, thanks.” David replied and half-stumbled back into the barn to go look for the mace. In and of itself he had little use for it as a trading item, but Norm might be able to work on the iron and make something of it. David wanted three dozen arrowheads and between the two of them they agreed on two. Because of the previous night’s festivities little work was accomplished that day other than assessing the damage and making plans to fix the sluice and wagon. In the meantime, David grazed Sholo and then chopped down several more limbs for making future bows before dusk then put them in the barn. The next morning everyone– David included– felt better and set to work fixing the water trough which took half a day. Fixing the wagon took the rest of the day.
David was starting to see it in their eyes– some of the townsfolk wanted him to stay. He felt saddened by this and in some small way wanted to stay, but knew that he could not. He knew that he had to get away from Beckersville and on to bigger and better things. Before dawn the next day David awoke, dressed, ate little, and mounted Sholo to go hunting. Finding a fair spot wasn’t hard– animals tend to gravitate toward water– trying to stay focused as the sun peered over the horizon was. He thought about the happenings of the past several days some more and he wondered where Rougher had the audacity to destroy anyone’s home when he couldn’t even read the writ that he never opened to check it for authenticity. It was actions like this that prompted both Edgar and the clergy to take a rather dim view of an armed populace– even when the orcs and other creatures attacked with relative frequency– more so outside of the towns and hamlets. Rapes and murders were fairly common, and although the King’s men did put in a showing, rarely did they come in time to offer any real protection or stay long enough to assist after the attack was over. Just after dawn, a doe was padding her way toward the creek. Still he waited– he wanted the animal to be distracted. As it bowed down to take a drink of water, David held his breath and pulled back the string, already loaded. Aiming for the shoulder, he let go of the bow string and stayed motionless. Hit! The deer jerked away from the brook and collapsed into the grass. Quickly he reloaded, drew again, and waited….silently counting. Twenty, thirty counts went by– then the deer jumped up and began running into the forest with his arrow sticking out of it’s side. Firing again he then hit it in the rump. Repeating the waiting process….this time the deer didn’t get up. It was dead, and David was overjoyed at the promise of fresh meat. More than once he left his position before his game was dead and had to learn his lesson by going hungry. Walking Sholo back to town while she carried the deer, David was hanging the deer in John’s barn ready for skinning by mid-day. After grazing Sholo again, David set to the task of teaching her the bit, bridle, and harness when he wasn’t skinning and dressing the doe. Felix stayed to watch as he worked– David didn’t really know why at the time. With care David would have enough meat for at least a week– more if he found plants and other things to eat along the way. Taking breaks from time to time this took the remainder of that day and another day before any sort of proficiency at the bit and harness started to develop. As the day progressed, it became more and more difficult to train Sholo. Then David realized that once he was done, he would have to leave Lost Soul.
That night after having a good time at the evening meal David trotted back into the barn and grabbed the rolled-up doe skin that he had made and went to knock of John’s door. Helga opened the door:
“Hi Archer. John’s not back yet. What can I do?”
“That’s okay Helga, I didn’t come to see him so much as I wanted to see you.”
“Oh?” Helga replied looking uncertain, more so when he handed her the doe skin.
“I know that it still needs tanning, but I wanted you and John to have this. It’s the least that I can do for sleeping in your barn for what….about a week now?”
“Won’t you need it to stay warm?”
“No. You keep it. I’ll make another soon enough.”
“Okay.” She replied and smiled appreciatively. Felix came walking up and overheard David:
“I hate long goodbyes. I uh…I’ll be leaving in the morning.”
“You aren’t staying Archerman???” Felix was good at looking dejected when appropriate. David felt like he had done something wrong, knowing that he really hadn’t.
“No son not for awhile I won’t. I’m going to Doohaven to seek my fortune.” David felt so bad while there was a pause– Helga had made a moue. “….but who knows….if I have to leave and go traveling,” he brightened a smile, “….I can always come back through.” Felix straightened up.
“Ok….but come back soon.”
“I’ll try.” David replied, but knew that he wouldn’t. Not for awhile at least. “Now you teach the other boys to make arrows straight and true like I showed you. You are in charge– Helga is my witness.”
“Yes! I can do that!” he exclaimed and then ran off toward the campfire. That night David quietly said his goodbyes to John, Norm, and Stella. None were happy about the news but they understood. Just after dawn David awoke again and he quickly ate part of a deer haunch, hitched up Sholo to the wagon, loaded the deer carcass and his other belongings, mounted the carriage, and rode out of town hedging around the hill……
copyright Peter Shogren August 2016