“My boy is a chip off the old block” Elgeron declared loudly for the 10th time to no one in general. The statement was greeted with cheers and good natured laughter in the Old Brass Buckle Inn. High Guardian Commander Elgeron Goodwood was in his cups so to speak and boasting to his comrades. His son, Tarn, was sitting beside him trying not to look miserable about being the centre of attention in the smoky boozy atmosphere of the inn.
You would think that Tarn would be proud to be held up so high amongst his legendary father’s friends and fellow Guardians, but he wasn’t. His relationship with his dad had been difficult for both of them all his life. His father was powerful elf – a force to be reckoned with athletically, in tournaments and especially on the battlefield. He was a natural leader – the Queen’s own personal guard and Commander of the Guardian Forces. Elgeron had fathered two lovely daughters whom he loved and treasured dearly, however he yearned for a son to carry on the family name. When his wife had announced the late and unexpected news of an impending addition to the family he consulted with the witches and wizard in the region offering large amounts of coin if they could guarantee a male child.
One day, he was traveling in a wild and remote place called The Greening. He had heard about a witch named Rosette who lived deep in the dark and dangerous swamps. He decided to seek her out and confidently marched deep into the swamp. He found her and expressed his desire for a male child.
The witch Rosette took him into her cave-like home. In silence, she gave him tea and motioned him to sit. He drank. Then reaching across the narrow plank table, took both his hands in hers, and stared down into the dregs of his cup. She said not a word for 5, 10, then 15 minutes. Elgeron was tempted to speak several times but saw she was in a trance like state with her glassy eyes fixed on the dregs in the cup.
Finally she looked up. She seemed to peer into his very soul. Then she cast his hands aside and screeched “Be gone ye conceited bastard – ye shall get yer son but ye shall pay a great price – be gone ye – be gone”!
Shaken, Elgeron had stumbled out in confusion, intimidated as never before. Her insane like bleating followed him “Ye conceited bastard, ye shall pay – ye shall pay …”. She cackled. He quickly mounted his steed and rode him hard through the swampy lands and did not slow till he was well out of the region.
The next few months went well.
His wife’s apron strings become too short and she was smiling and content in her maternal mode. Then in the third trimester the sickness started. She became feverish from time to time, started throwing up and having intestinal discomforts. She began losing weight and her eyes became hollowed and skin sallow. When her due date came, she was weak and weary. It was a difficult birth and for more than a day Elgeron had been forbidden access to his home while the midwives came and went. The village white witch Persimmon stayed by his wife’s side throughout. By the time he heard his son’s first cry, it was too late for his wife. She died holding her baby boy in her arms
Tarn was a beautiful boy – the spitting image of his mother. His bereaved sisters adored him and happily took on the task or raising him. Elgeron could hardly look at the boy in his grief. Everything about Tarn reminded him of his wife. He threw himself into his Guardian and warrior role. He traveled far and wide building on his incredible reputation for bravery and a fortune in bounty and power. Late at night from time to time, Elgeron would awaken sweating from a nightmare hearing the old witches voice “ye shall pay, ye conceited bastard, ye shall pay”.
Tarn loved having two older sisters as mothers. His sisters made sure he was cuddled and coddled and dressed up and dressed down and teased and tickled and generally spoiled. But he knew his father only at a distance. This became a problem as he left boyhood and grew toward adolescence. When his father was home – which was not often – he felt a insurmountable restraint and barrier between them. His father rarely looked him in the eyes and young Tarn’s hugs and expressions of affection seemed to make his dad uncomfortable. Tarn began to feel inadequate in his father’s eyes. Elgeron was at the peak of his power and held a prestigious position in the realm. Every where he went people were polite and respectful. When Tarn was with him, the men often asked him how his son’s weapons training was going. This made Elgeron uncomfortable, for indeed, he was doing no training with the boy.
When Tarn turned 12, his father was an honorary host of Elven World Archery tournament held every four years. That year it was held in Avilion and he brought Tarn along. There were competitors and spectators from far and wide and from cultures and worlds Tarn never knew existed. The crowds were enormous and Tarn wandered through the tents and practice areas. He noticed that the best archers did not seem to be the biggest men. In fact it was the only tournament sport where men and women competed equally. In the back practice area, he stood watching a young lady from some land called Firehawk, as she smoothly drew and fired arrow after arrow at the stuffed hay targets.
She stopped for a moment and noticed Tarn. She saw a stunningly good looking young boy with fine features and dark eyes watching her intently and she said, “Can I have you as my prize if I win?”
Tarn’s jaw dropped and he blushed beet red. She laughed and asked if he wanted to try a shot or two. He stammered, trying to say no thank you. But she already was handing him her small bow and a handful of arrows. He took them awkwardly too shy to refuse and too embarrassed to run. She saw that he didn’t know what to do and kindly showed him how to hold the bow and notch the arrow. When he drew on the target he was amazed at the strength required to pull the bow back. His left arm quivered and shook with the strain. When he let go the arrow it fell far short of target and the bow string snapped hard against his left forearm causing him to give an involuntary yelp. She laughed and he did too grateful she was being so nice. He tried a second time and came up short again But with next arrow, she showed him how to straighten and lock his bow arm and instructed him to keep breathing softly instead of holding his breath.
Something clicked in Tarn. His bow arm was now steady. The surprise at the effort to draw the arrow was gone and as he breathed, he felt himself becoming one with the arrow. He wasn’t even conscious of releasing it. It seemed his eyes were mounted on the arrow and he flew towards the target. It soared a bit high and left from centre but thudded into the ring next to the bull. “Good shot” smiled the girl and reclaimed her bow.
Memory plays tricks and in later years Tarn recalled that as his very first shot with a bow and arrow. When he went to sleep later that night he played the shot over and over in his mind. He felt the pent up power in the bow – sensed the trajectory of the arrow – felt the brush of feathers on his cheek – the thrum of the string on the release and the smack of the arrow striking the target hard and true. That was the first of many thousands of arrows he would shoot.
Callie Edgemoor, or Cal as her friends called her, laughed hard at the long string of bubbles flowing from the bubble stick her dog Spiker had snatched from her hand. He was daring her to try and catch him by running in a big circle around her. The bubbles surrounded them in the windless late afternoon. She chased him, but laughed so hard she had to sit down to catch her breath. Spiker trotted over a bit worried and dropped the now depleted bubble stick. She put his arm around him and pulling him to the ground, they wrestled gently and lovingly. “Spiker, I have to practice” she whispered to her loyal canine friend and stood up and returned to the shooting marks. Spiker curled up near her feet content to watch his mistress for hours at a time.
Callie drew an arrow and notched it. The soft swan feathers on the fetch caressed her cheek as she drew and held on the target. She released the arrow and stood motionless as it streaked over the heather and buried itself dead centre in the bulls eye. Three more followed – all spaced within three finger widths of the first arrow. Cal turned and strode back 10 more paces and fired 4 again – and again – and again – all afternoon and into the early evening.
Callie was the first born daughter of the Farhaven miller. Not poor and certainly not rich they lived from crop to crop grinding the grains and bagging the flour for the good elves of Elf Circle. Born half fae on her mother’s side and half elven she had slightly elven facial features but the willowy body of a fae. She had iridescent wings that caught the light and took her high and far when she chose to fly. She wasn’t aware that she was uncommonly beautiful and she didn’t really like her reddish hair and full lips. She thought her bust was just too darn big for a 15 year old too..
One day when she was about 10 she had been playing with Verl and Earl, neighborhood twins. They decided to make bows and arrows. The boys were a couple of years older than Callie. They cut some willow branches and strung them with baling twine, and made arrows from some straight alder growing nearby. They decided in their youthful wisdom that bows and arrows were not suitable for girls and refused to help her cut the willow.
She was sitting on a stump sniffling and feeling sorry for her self, when her uncle Nuke came by. He immediately surmised what was going on and took her by the hand and said “come with me princess”. He took his time walking through the forest searching out just the right tree. He found a stand of yew – rare in these parts – and cut off a suitable branch. It seemed bit thin to Callie. Then he went back to the willow near where the boys were and cut off two more branches. “Come to the shop, Cal” he said.
Callie spent the rest of the afternoon with her uncle peeling and trimming the yew into a flat stick about a fingers width thick and two fingers wide. They trimmed the willow into slightly rounded pieces with a flat side. Then melting glue over a small fire uncle Nuke helped her glue the three pieces together – the flat yew on the inside bracketed by the willow. They bound the laminated stick together with dampened sinew which shrunk when dried by the fire and tightened the joints. They let it dry overnight.
“The yew will give it striking power and consistency, and the willow will give it flexibility and length.” Uncle Nuke explained. “With care, this bow will last forever”.
The next morning Callie was up bright and early and watched uncle Nuke carve the bow. Occasionally she took the knife and carved some too under his guidance. Uncle Nuke sent her to pick 20 of the straightest pieces of alder she could find. They had to be about the thickness of her middle finger. Then he sent her to the duck pond and pick up all the duck and goose feathers she could find. On her return, she gave a little gasp when she saw the bow. He had carved the wood into a graceful and beautiful elven bow. He fitted it carefully to her hand and trimmed it to the exact distance from her chin to the ground.
Then they made arrows for the rest of that day, scaling them to an exact thickness by drawing then through a piece of tin with a sharpened hole. They affixed tin to the blunt striking end and fetched the arrows with the best of the goose feathers near the notch. After they had oiled the bow and waxed it to a rock hard shine, they strung it up. It was late and she took the bow and arrows up to her loft. Exhausted, she fell asleep with them placed carefully them on the bed beside her.
The next morning came in a blink and she couldn’t wait to finish breakfast. Uncle Nuke set up some straw targets and put a blanket over the fence as a back stop. Callie began the long arduous process of becoming an archer. She was fanatical about practicing. Her fingers were raw for a month, her forearm seemed permanently burned by the slap of the string and her left arm and shoulder ached constantly. By summers end Callie was better with a bow and arrow than Verl and Earl ever would be. By the start of winter she could beat Uncle Nuke four times out of five. By spring, she was unmatched in the village.
Callie had been raised by her Uncle Nuckmore. When she was four the mill where she lived with her mother and father was struck by lightening and burned to the ground. Her dad was badly hurt by a falling timber while fighting the fire and never really recovered. His back injured and his spirit broken, he became a shadow of the father she had known. One day he just didn’t get out of bed and stayed there till he died two weeks later. Her mother did her best but she could not rebuild the mill. They moved in with uncle Nuke, a confirmed bachelor. Callie was not surprised not long after when a sickness took her mother. She had all but given up.
Callie was a lonely child, and felt she never really fit in with the other children in the school she attended. She developed a deep desire to prove herself and excelled in her studies. When she discovered archery, she took great comfort in shooting. She sought perfection and drove herself hard. She insisted Uncle Nuke teach her the art of bow making and fletching. She needed a larger more powerful bow now, and made one under his guidance. Meanwhile, she made her skill with a bow pay, by supplementing their table with a generous supply of rabbits, pheasant, even ducks and geese.
Callie entered every public archery competition and event in Elf Circle that she could. She took quiet delight in winning and soon had a collection of trophies and medallions. Her dream though, was to enter the Elven World Archery Tourney.
It was the grandest of events; The Elven World Archery Tourny was held every four years. It was being held in Elf Circle this year because the reigning champion was Calgor DeSota – Archery Captain in the Elf Circle Guardians. Archers from all over the world came to compete for the honour of becoming champion. Mind you the $10,000 first place prize was nothing to sneeze at neither. Each contestant had earned his place by competing in local qualifying tournaments. Still there were 100 contestants – all proven archers.
Elf Circle had the right to enter two contestants. Tradition had it that one would be from the ranks of the Guardians, and one from the general populous. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Captain DeSota would win the qualifying tournament. In fact only a token number of Guardians competed knowing they had no chance against the reigning champion and the teacher of the Guardian Archery skills. All were secretly amused when Tarn, now a 16 year old apprentice, entered the tournament. Commander Elgeron took his son aside and said “Tarn, I am the first to admire courage, but I don’t admire foolishness. You have no chance in this. You are going to embarrass yourself, and more importantly me!” Tarn entered anyway much to his father’s disgust.
Amazingly Tarn won the first of the rounds at 30 paces, never once missing the bull with five arrows. Captain DeSota however was not the least bit amused. The next round was shooting from horseback. To the wonder of all, including Tarn, they tied. But the Captains grouping was deemed to be “tighter” and he was given the victory.
The moving target round – where a leather target was rolled off a ramp over roughened ground was the most difficult. Tarn hit the bouncing target with four of his five arrows and the Captain only three. Tarn now had the spectator’s full attention.
The last round was firing with a crosswind at 75 paces. Captain DeSota would have to win by more than two points but still there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that he would. His years of experience and more powerful bow all stood in his favour. And his mind was fully on winning at this point.
Perhaps Captain DeSota had taken the competition too lightly, or perhaps his eyesight was failing a little with age, but after only three arrows, Tarn had won. His three arrows were grouped tightly near the centre of the bull and two of the Captains arrows were just outside. There was no need for the Captain to shoot his last arrow – he could not win. There was shock, then much cheering – particularly from the other apprentices.
Tarn’s father, for the first time in Tarns memory, grabbed him up and hugged him. Tarn fought back tears of emotion as his father, arm around his shoulder, paraded him around bragging and laughing – clearly overjoyed. Tarn stole looks up at his father, thrilled to the core at the displays of affection from the man whose approval he most desired.
One of the interested onlookers that day was Callie Edgemoor. She was now 15 and had handily won the much smaller and poorly attended qualifying round for the general population of Elf Circle. There had only been half a dozen entrants but that wasn’t surprising as Callie had won every non-Guardian event for the past three years. While this gave her some respect, having the reigning world champion in the Guardian ranks, over shadowed her “lesser” achievements. No one took her very seriously as a competitor. After all, she was only a girl. People thought it was “cute” that she was a good shot. It made her want to spit.
Callie had seen Tarn practicing many times although they had never met. He seemed to practice as much or maybe more than she did. She knew he was good – very good in fact – but wondered why he drove himself so hard. She was unknown and unrecognized in the community and lord knows, needed the money, but what was his motivation? His father was a high and mighty big powerful rich guy. She instinctively hated them both.
She watched him closely when the competition started. He was of medium height and slim but muscular. He was very good looking, almost pretty – “Down hormones!” she thought. She saw the steely muscles in his back when he drew and the rock steady pose when he fired. Most of all she admired his total concentration. She recognized it – he was becoming at one with his arrow. And that alone worried her. She became at one with her arrows, and thought of that as her secret weapon.
As the tournament progressed she watched Tarn closely and noticed his father hovering nearby. He was allowed in the competitor’s area; who could tell him he couldn’t be there. Tarn’s father seemed somewhat upset when his son had his first turn, but as Tarn won round after round, he seemed to be genuinely amazed. Tarn was a machine. The only thing that seemed to distract him was occasional glances towards his father and his siters cheers from the stands. He won and won and won again. In the final round when he was matched against Captain DeSota, the captain was clearly rattled and Tarn deadly calm. Callie knew the outcome before the first arrow was fired. “He is good” she said to herself, “very, very good!”
About an hour after Tarn’s victory, she was surprised to be summoned to the palace courtyard by the Queen herself. Callie knew the Queen fairly well by now. She was always very approachable, charming and kind of hug crazy – but nice. The Queen had presented her with numerous ribbons and small trophies from previous archery competitions. But Callie knew the minute she walked into the courtyard that something was up. The Queen seemed a bit flustered. Tarn was there, sitting away from the others. Commander Elgeron and Captain DeSota were standing with arms crossed waiting impatiently for Callie to appear.
“My Lady” Callie curtsied. “You called for me?” The Queen nodded then made the introductions. Callie curtsied again and when she looked directly at Tarn his face reddened and he quickly averted is gaze. “Hmmmmmmm” thought Callie.
“Callie” started the Queen, “I assume you were at the Guardian qualification today, were you not?” Callie said she was. “Well as you know, young Tarn here defeated Captain DeSota” she paused to enjoy that statement just a little. The Captains brow darkened in frustration and Tarn looked at the floor in embarrassment. “Now we all know you have won the right to compete for Elf Circle in the World Archery Tournament coming up, but the Commander and the Captain have asked ….”
“Excuse me M’Lady”, the Commander interrupted, “but this is a waste of time”. Turning to Callie he declared, “You must waive the right to compete and let Captain DeSota stand in your stead – for the good of Elf Circle!”. He nodded and crossed his arms acting as if the situation was resolved. The Queen flushed with anger at being interrupted.
Callie was speechless … for just a moment… then nearly shouted “Are you out of your ******* mind?” Then turned to the Queen said astounded “I am sorry my Queen – but … but …are you going to let them do this?”
It was the Commanders turn to do the chin drop – he had never been spoken to like that by a young lady – or anyone for that matter. The Queen tut-tutted and said “I never agreed to anything Callie, only to ask you if you really felt you had a chance of winning – that is all dear”.
Captain DeSota, sensitive soul that he was, chose to make things better by saying “Callie, I know your uncle doesn’t have any money, and I will gladly give you half my winnings.”
Callie was enraged, hurt, shocked and utterly speechless – she knew she was going to lose it. For a moment she looked at Tarn – he looked positively miserable – and as her eyes filled with tears, ran from the courtyard.
The Queen called out “Callie, wait …. “. But she was gone.
Tarn looked at his dad – then the Queen – and then jumped from his seat and he too bolted.
The Queen was furious and said turned on the two men… “Don’t you ever come to me with anything like this again!” and stomped back into the castle.
The Commander and the Captain looked at one another in surprise – then the Commander shrugged and said “Well it was worth a try Calgor – lets go get a drink”. “What about your son?” asked the Captain. “He has some growing up to do – he will be fine” replied the commander and chuckled. The men left together oblivious to the devastation.
Earlier at the conclusion of the Guardian archery competition, Tarn could hardly believe he had won. He basked in his fathers praise and the congratulations of the onlookers. Soon he was surrounded by the other apprentices and chatting excitedly with them.. This was a big deal – the first apprentice ever to earn the right to compete in a World Tourney and to beat the Archery Captain too – woo hoo! When his father said over to him and said “Come along son”, he had tagged along happily. Captain Desota joined them and seemed suitably depressed and quiet. Tarn was excited and a bit nervous when they made their way to the castle and into the courtyard. He had met the Queen only once before. She had made a fuss over how much he reminded her of his mother and he was embarrassed.
The Queen was very gracious, congratulating him, and as was her trademark, gave him a big hug. She commiserated with the Captain at his loss and gave him a hug too – which clearly made him uncomfortable.
The Commander “ahemed”, and began to speak. He said to the Queen that he wanted to take the other qualifying position from the general populous, and give it to the Captain. “We can’t do that” she said sternly. “That would be unfair.” The Commander retorted it was in the interests of Elf Circle. It would be a disgrace if they didn’t have the prior champion enter the tournament. He said he was only thinking of the people and they deserved to have the best of their people represent them. He reminded the Queen of all the benefits Elf Circle had gained by Captain DeSota’s previous victory, including having the next tournament in Elf Circle lands.
The Queen said “Well what about Callie? The Commander said “Who is Callie?” “The young lady who qualified in the competition for the general public,” said the Queen sternly. “Didn’t you go to the competition?”. The Commander laughed and said “Why bother – some unknown with no chance of making it through the first round, waste of time!” The Queen said pointedly “Well I care. She WON her event!” The Captain blushed again.
The Commander pleaded and cajoled and went on and on. Finally, in order to placate him, the Queen agreed to ask Callie if she was really serious about entering the World Tournament. But she made it perfectly clear, the choice would be Callie’s alone. She sent a messenger to fetch Callie and the three made small talk about civil matters.
Tarn’s head was spinning. He had been horrified when his father said he wanted the Captain to take Callie’s place. He felt resentful that his father wanted the Captain in the competition. It made him feel like his father might just think it was luck that gave him the victory. Tarn knew he had beaten the Captain fair and square and it wasn’t even that close. He figured he could do it again, if it came to that. He couldn’t imagine how Callie was going to feel. He knew her although they had never met – she probably wouldn’t know him. Tarn had been to several tournaments and watched her shoot. It was just luck that they hadn’t competed against each other. He had joined the Guardian Apprentice program when he was 14 and was not eligible to compete in non- Guardian events. She in turn had entered and won every single public event since then.
A close friend of Tarns had developed a bit of a crush on Callie the previous summer and cajoled Tarn into going with him to watch her practice early one morning. Her practice area was an isolated meadow near her home. They hid in the trees and watched as she shot a hundred or more arrows with amazing precision. Tarn could readily see why his friend liked her so much – she was beautiful. The early morning sun inflamed her red hair and her pale white skin seemed to glow. She had other charms that had even more appeal. But what fascinated Tarn, was her concentration and consistency when shooting. She was good – very good. It was apparent what a lovely young lady she was to become.
A few weeks later in early fall, he had been walking alone in the hills of ElvenMoor. He came up over a hill and saw her a few hundred meters away with her dog. She was obviously hunting and had her bow out and an arrow notched. Her dog was on point directly in front of a small swale. Tarn thought, what does she think she is doing – hunting on the Queens land. Suddenly a pheasant burst from the cover a good 30 meters away from Callie. In less than a heartbeat she drew and fired. It was an impossible shot – a pheasant flying hard away from her on a diagonal at that distance but her arrow streaked true and a cloud of feathers flew when the arrow brought the pheasant down. Her dog barked and ran to fetch the bird. Callie looked around to see if anyone had heard the bark. Tarn ducked behind a tree just in time to avoid detection.
That shot haunted him. He wouldn’t have dreamed of taking it. A waste of a good arrow he would have thought. But she had and made it count. When the next public tournament came up, he was there as a spectator. And he went the recent qualifier which she won as well. His friend had laughed at Tarn when he confided that he thought she was as good – if not better than he. There was another thing about her that bothered him – he found himself thinking about her quite a lot, and in ways he was sure were unbecoming for an Apprentice Guardian.
When Callie came into the courtyard, after greeting the Queen, she looked him straight in the eye. He quickly looked away – he felt embarrassed and miserable about what was to come. He longed to shout at her not to agree. He was shocked when she swore at his father and as startled as the rest when she ran from the courtyard. It was all too much for Tarn. The incredible emotions of the day, the embarrassment in front the Queen and seeing Callie humiliated, overwhelmed him. Just like Callie, he jumped up and bolted from the courtyard.
When Tarn ran out of the courtyard he looked to see where Callie had headed, but she was gone from sight. He thought desperately and decided she would likely do just what he would under the circumstance. He jogged off towards the hidden meadow where she practiced
Callie ran through the underbrush ignoring the branches tugging at her clothes and the scratches on her arms and legs. Eyes stinging with tears she ran past her targets in the meadow and down to the big old willow hanging over the stream. Hidden from the world in amongst its low hanging branches, she threw herself down on the soft moss, and sobbed.
A few minutes later Tarn came to the meadow. He was disappointed not to see her. He walked up and down the tree line and called her name. No reply. He worked his way across the meadow towards the giant old willow overhanging the stream. He thought he heard something and went towards the tree. “Callie?” he called out. “Go away!” she croaked. “I need to talk to you” he said and parted the branches.
She was now sitting and looked at him. Her eyes were red and her face stained with tears. “You – you son of a bastard – get away from here!”
“Callie – it’s not my fault – I didn’t want this – I didn’t know”
“You did too you jerk – I saw it in your eyes when I walked in there” she said near tears again. “You could have said something”. She stared at him accusingly.
arn stood silent for a moment then said spoke bitterly “You think my dad would listen to anything I said? He wouldn’t ask me the time of day. Today was the first time he ever has even paid attention to me. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him for this!”
He sat down hard and buried his head in his hands – his shoulders shaking and breathing ragged. Callie looked at him curiously – he was just as upset as her. She sat silent for a few minutes while he regained his composure. She recalled how he had been looking to his father during the competition and how his father seemed angry and cold towards him at first.
“You don’t hate your father” she said at last.
“Awwww … you don’t know anything about it Callie” he stammered shaking his head. “But you don’t have to worry – the Queen said it was your choice and only asked because my dad was being such a jerk about it and he said he thought that you wouldn’t want to enter”
“She said that?” Callie asked.
“Yeah, she said you had won fair and square and she wouldn’t dream of making you drop out – but she would ask in case you really didn’t want to go in it. It’s a lot of pressure you know.”
Callie and Tarn sat in silence for a long time emotionally spent. The warm wind whispered through the willows and the soft trickling of the stream had a calming effect.
Tarn turned to Callie and asked “You do want to enter don’t you?”
“More than anything” she replied. “More than I could ever say”
“Tell me why” he pleaded. She sat quiet for a few moments, then spoke slowly in a low voice.
“I remember my mother but not my dad. I don’t know why I remember her and not him. They died a few months apart – when I was about four. I remember my mother saying ‘never give up Cal – always do your best – never let them take you for granted’. But she gave up without my dad. She just plain gave up and took sick and died. I hated her for it. For years and years I hated her. My uncle Nuke took care of me. He is wonderful. I used to pretend he was really my dad. He told me many stories about my parents and tried to help me understand that my mother had done her best, but her heart was broken, she loved my dad so much. “More than she loved me? I would ask – and he would get quiet and say no, but more than she could bare.”
She look Tarn directly in the eyes, “I swear I will never give up on anyone or anything as long as I live. And that includes beating you in the Worlds Archery Tourny”. Then she smiled.
Tarn held her gaze and was silent. Time seemed to stop. He reached over and stroked a strand of hair away from her face. He could hear his heart beating. Callie caught her breath as his fingers brushed her cheek. She felt she was falling into his beautiful eyes. She reached up and pressed her palm to his face. They could no more help what happened next than stop breathing. They leaned in and kissed. Then clutching each other they rolled back on the moss, hands moving over each other’s bodies and mouths fused.
The Glen was overflowing with folk. The merchants were bouncing about anxiously keeping their shelves filled as sales had never been so brisk. Vendor carts selling roasted mushrooms and chestnuts abounded. One enterprising young elf was selling pine flavoured toothpicks to the older folk who tended to have gaps in their teeth that needed picking. Minstrels and bards were everywhere – gathering tips in their hats and jars. There was a huge line up of men and ladies in front of a great silken tent featuring belly dancing fae from the far south. Much to their disgust, the matronly “Spinsters and Widows Group” had a near empty Slingo tent right next door. They had started offering free pie to anyone coming in to play, but that didn’t seem to be helping. Old widow Flatbottom was heard muttering “What do those belly dancers have to offer that we don’t?” “Hmmmmm… good question” a patron said, “certainly not pie”.
It was the final day of the three day tournament and the weather was beautiful yet again. The crowds were huge. The entire sandbox in ElvenMoor had been converted to accommodate the spectators for the Archery finals. Except for the final day, professionals like the Guardians and soldiers competed separately from the general populace. In this way on the final day competitors from both groups would be in the final. This made for a better show as the crowd loved to see the underdog non-professionals go up against the professionals. Mind you it had been over 20 years since a non-professional had won – but still it appealed to the audience.
This year the Tourney had even more interest than ever before. For the first time, two entrants in their teens were in the final. Both were from Elf Circle – Apprentice Guardian Tarn Goodwood and Callie Edgemoor. Tarn and Callie had shot their way through hard fought rounds that featured the best that the Fantasy World had to offer. The top three from each grouping were entered in the final, Callie had qualified first in the non-professional rounds by beating Caveat Profible, a popular and very classy older man from the dark elf kingdom of Metatheria, and Standish Orlo, an uncommonly powerful dwarf from Forgend. They were the three qualifiers from the non-professionals.
Tarn had placed second of the three qualifiers in the professional grouping. The third place qualifier was Ruddy Bartholomew, a mercenary from Avilion who had come in second in the Tourney four years previously. The man who had qualified first was half human – half elven, and was considered the top contender in the Tourney. It was the first time that most spectators had seen him. His name was Prince Dirk Vondreate and he was from the legendary warlike kingdom of Staaltharin.
And a Prince he was indeed. The Dark Prince, as he was commonly known, was in his late twenties and the most feared man in the Fantasy World. Staaltharin had been a warring hateful empire with a history of slavery and piracy. For decades it waged war on other fantasy principalities. The ruling family’s bloodline was tainted by human blood, or so it seemed. They were a powerful kingdom, brilliant soldiers and totally untrustworthy. That is until Foligar Vondreate came to power. He was the eldest son of the King of Staaltharin, who to the great relief of the Fantasy World had mysteriously died. Some said he was poisoned. The King left behind his eldest son, Foligar, his second son Dirk, and his much loved younger daughter Gwendowlyn.
Prince Dirk was the King’s favourite and most thought would be the King’s choice for succession had he lived. The Dark Prince was cruel and ambitious and by the time he was seventeen had taken commander of the much feared Black Assassins. These hated warriors used to specialize in assignations of the enemies of Staaltharin and were terribly effective. Rumour had it that Dirk had poisoned his father to ascend to the throne but had misjudged the High Council. To his dismay they applied traditional protocol and appointed Foligar king – in a large part out of fear of the erratic young Dirk.
As King, Foligar was like a breath of fresh air throughout Staaltharin. He made peace with their traditional enemies and exchanged ambassadors with the larger principalities. Elf Circle had been among the bitterest of enemies. For the first time in memory, peace reigned throughout the Fantasy World. Still the dark shadow of Prince Dirk was always lurking.
The ambassador from Elf Circle had a son of nineteen. King Foligar had a sister of seventeen – the maid Gwendowlyn. To the great concern of all they fell in love and she became with child. The Dark Prince was incensed beyond all reason. He had his sister locked up and placed the Ambassador under arrest and demanded he produce his son to be executed. Fortunately Foligar came to intervene and took control of the troops from Prince Dirk. He released the Ambassador and his son to return to Elf Circle and had his sister taken to a special home in the country. But young love was not to be denied.
Gwendowlyn was not without friends. She escaped the home and the kingdom with much inside help, and joined her lover in Elf Circle. All this was just two summers before the Tourney.
King Foligar and the Queen of Elf Circle made peace again and the Queen placed Gwendowlyn under special protection and promised to see to her continued education and the rearing of her child, nephew to Foligar and Dirk.
The Dark Prince was not heard from for nearly a year. It was said that he had sworn to have vengeance or death during his time away. But he seemed rational when he returned about a year later and now – he had earned his way into the Tourney representing Staaltharin.
So this was a Tourney with a little bit of everything for the spectators – young new talent – old established warriors – a dwarf – and the Dark Prince with a score to settle. Who could ask for more; the crowds were huge.
Tarn and Callie had been seeing each other whenever they could get away in the weeks leading up to the tournament. But neither neglected their practice and in truth , both bore down harder in their training than ever before. Tarn had been thrilled when Callie qualified for the final and cheered louder than any in the stands. Callie had been equally thrilled when Tarn qualified but was apprehensive of the Dark Prince. He had an evil power and was uncannily skilled. She vaguely wondered if there wasn’t some magic afoot. He was just too good.
The six competitors were joined together half an hour before the final was to begin. They were read the rules and reminded of the protocol. Tarn and Callie kept stealing glances at one another but had no chance to talk. None of the competitors had any questions and they set about rechecking their bows and other equipment. Each took a few warm up shots – except for the Prince. He just moved near the entrance and scanned the crowd.
The excited buzz of the crowd grew to a roar as the leaders of each region that the finalists represented came into the arena. They had special seating on the edge of the archery range. King Foligar sat beside the Elven Queen and to everyone’s delight, she had Foligar’s young nephew on her lap. When the contestants were brought onto the field the crowd roared with each introduction. There was a noticeable increase in volume when first Tarn then Callie were introduced and an embarrassing quieting when the Dark Prince was presented.
The final tournament was made up of four rounds. The first was pure target shooting at forty five paces. In this match it was the grouping that counted. A string was placed around the group and the shortest string won. The person shooting the lowest score was eliminated. The next round was from horseback riding hard down a track and shooting three arrows at straw filled dummies. Again, the lowest score was eliminated. The third was a series of bouncing leather wheel rolled down a ramp and over rough ground to simulate small game, which was the final elimination. The final three competed for first, second and third shooting crosswind at seventy five paces into with special targets with very narrow scoring bands. The winner would be the person to shoot the highest score.
They drew lots to start the first match and Callie was to shoot last. The five before her all confidently strode up and shot with great precision except for one, the Standish Orlow’s last arrow fell low to the right and the crowd murmured – he would be out if Callie shot a decent grouping. Callie toed the mark. Her eyes were blurred and breathing ragged. She was terrified. She notched her arrow and drew but her bow arm was shaking and she brought the bow down again. She heard the mummer of consternation from the crowd and the Dark Prince gave a derisive snort. Tarn called out to her … “go to the meadow Cal”. She knew what he meant. She closed her eyes and pictured the meadow in her mind and her instincts took over. She didn’t even remember shooting just a cheering of the crowd as she placed her group dead centre and probably tighter than all the others if a measurement was necessary. The Dwarf was eliminated.
Next was the horseback and the dark Prince was up first. His white stallion charged across the arena at a blistering pace. The arrows were in the air and quivering in the heart of all three dummies blindingly fast. The crowd cheered in appreciation of the skill he showed. No wonder they were so good at war in Saaltharin people thought. It was a stunning display. Callie was next and she mounted her painted mare. The horse was a loan from a neighbour and while not fast she was smooth and nimble as could be. Callie hollered “Gee” and the horse streaked across the track. Callies first arrow was dead centre , the second a little high but still a kill and the third hit the shoulder of the dummy for a half point. Tarn was next and had a perfect round as did Ruddy Bartholomew, At this point Callie was sick with worry. If Caveat Profible went perfect she was out. He charged across the ground the the first arrow was dead centre – the second was a kill but a bit low and third … missed by inches. He was eliminated.
Commander Elgeron was worried. Something was not right – he could feel it in his bones. He scanned the crowd including VIP seating on the side of the range. The elven Queen and King Foligar were too exposed to his liking. And there was the matter of the “peasant”. Shortly before the Tourney started, a poorly dressed man had been sitting close to the front behind the competitors. One of the Guardians spotted something that didn’t look right. He had confronted the man and the man had looked around as if for instruction, then let the Guardian lead him away. Under his cloak he had a Saaltharin Black Assassin’s sword and several knives and poisoned throwing stars. He protested he was there only to see Prince Dirk compete and it was against his vows to be unarmed, but the Commander worried that he was under cover for some other reason. He doubled up the guard in a line behind the competitors with strict instructions to watch the crowd not the competition. He dispatched Captain DeSota to the main gate which would be left open in case of an emergency.
Callie drew to go first in the next match – the bouncing and rolling target. This was the hardest of the skills and in truth there was some luck involved. But unlike the others, she had hunted small game for the table and if she missed she would go hungry. She toed the mark. The first target rolled off the ramp hit two small bumps and bounded high in the air only to be struck dead centre by her arrow. She nailed the next two pretty much the same. The crowd cheered long and hard.
Tarn was next and hit two out of three. The Dark Prince next, and he too shot a perfect round. Bartholomew was last and missed with his first and third arrows. Callie and Tarn had made the final three.
The crowd went mad with cheering and cries of support for Callie and Tarn resounded throughout the arena. The competitors took a brief break but the buzzing of the crowd didn’t cease.
Callie was stretching on the side nearest the VIP seating and the Dark Prince was on the opposite side. Tarn walked over to her and gave her a hug much to the delight of the crowd. She whispered “Don’t you dare let him beat you”. Tarn smiled and said “Don’t you dare let me win”. She chuckled and said “In your dreams buddy…” and they both laughed. She felt some of the tension in her ease.
When the gong was rung signaling the final match the cheering resumed. The lots were drawn and targets placed at seventy five paces. Fortunately the wind was from due west – right over the VIP seating so no change to the range had to be made. Tarn was to shoot first – a decided disadvantage in crosswind distance shooting. A hush descended on the crowd as he toed the mark. He notched his arrow, drew and held steady as a rock. He allowed for the wind – the bow string thrummed and the arrow arced towards the target – it was a long shot and the audience held it’s breath – the arrow whacked hard into the target – four inches from centre. The crowd murmured appreciatively . Tarn corrected very slightly and the second shot was dead centre. The wind gusted and he took longer with his third shot waiting for the wind to settle a bit, when he let fly his third arrow he had to allow nearly a meter for wind drift – and this arrow too was dead centre.
Callie was watching carefully from the sidelines near the VIP seating well away from the shooting mark. Like the hunter she was, she already had her bow out and her first arrow in her hand, She watched Tarn nervously and at first was anxious he do well and then when he did, was anxious about beating him. She glanced at the dark Prince and he had his back to Tarn looking into the crowd. “Odd” she thought, He should be watching for the windrift. He was next up and picked up his bow and pulled three arrows from the quiver an assistant held for him. Something bothered Callie about that but she wasn’t sure what.
The crowd hushed as the Dark Prince toed the mark. Foligar called out in support and Dirk looked to his left at the VIP seating where Foligar, the Queen and his nephew were sitting about 30 meters away. Callie from her vantage point could see his face clearly and thought she was looking into the eyes of madness. His hateful glare silenced VIP section. Dirk notched his first arrow drew and fired in one easy motion. His hugely powerful bow allowed him to take a lower arc than Tarn and the arrow whacked into the target very nearly dead centre. His second arrow was notched and in the air while the first was still quivering and it too flew long and true and smacked into the target virtually touching the shaft of the first.
The Dark Prince notched his third arrow and drew the bow string back . Alarm bells went off in Callies mind. The arrow was a hunting tipped broadhead! With horror she saw him swing to his left and let the arrow fly at someone in the VIP seating at virtual point blank range. Callie’s reaction when she saw the broadhead had been to notch her arrow and start to draw – she did it unconsciously. When the Dark Prince let the arrow fly towards the VIP section it was too late to stop him. But years of hunting and instant reactions to hunting small game bursting out of the brush, prepared Callie – instinctively she fired her arrow – not at Dirk but at his speeding arrow crossing before her. Dirks arrow had to travel 30 meters and Callie’s only ten.
The Queen watched in horror when The Dark prince turned and fired. Helplessly she tried to shield the youngster on her lap – the shaft of death streaked towards them when a few meters away it was intercepted by Callie’s arrow. The shaft shattered and the razor sharp hunting tip spun harmlessly off to the side and fell to the ground. It was the shot of a lifetime – one in a million – impossible some said.
Bedlam. The Commander screamed to his people to sieze the Dark Prince but from the front rows of the crowd agents of Saaaltharin produced swords and weapons and attacked the Guardians . The Commander and several others formed a human shield before the VIPS and started moving them back. The Dark Prince seeing his plot foiled took four running steps and vaulted up onto the back of his white charger who had been conveniently held for him by one of this people and he galloped off towards the open gates at the far end. Several Guardians rushed to intercept him but paid with their lives as he fired arrows from horseback easily clearing the way to the gate across the open range.
On duty at the gate was Captain DeSota with half a dozen men who were also under fire by hidden agents of Saaaltharin. They apparantly had secreted bows and had been standing near the gates. Two of his men were down and two rushed out towards the Dark Prince who was galloping directly toward them. DeSoto saw them both fall from the Princes arrows and he dived off to the side between crates to avoid a similar fate. The Dark Prince was amused to see the Captain dive for cover and didn’t give him a glance as he thundered past. Perhaps he should have.
DeSota was no coward. He knew the first rule in battle is not to get killed stupidly. He had his heavy bow in hand and an arrow notched as the Dark Prince drove past. He then stepped in the open, drew and fired at the rapidly receding target. It was the second impossible shot of the day. The arrow caught up with the rider at about one hundred meters. The Prince had on chainmail which would have repelled the arrow but the arrow took the Prince in the back of the neck and drove the razor sharp barb right through his brain stem killing him instantly.
The World Archery Committee had a problem. There were twenty one people dead, six of them Elf Circle Guardians, and a number of serious injuries. Only two Saaltharin assassins had been captured alive and those just barely. About eight had escaped and were being hunted by the remainder of the Guardian forces. It was doubtful that any would be taken alive. The crowds were dispersed and mostly gone.
They agreed that the Tourney was cancelled and no winner would be declared. The prize money was trebled and set aside to help the families of those who had died and were injured. The committee commissioned a special commemorative medallion and awarded it to the five competitors who had made the final.
It was a topic of endless speculation among the people who were there that day. Who had the Dark Prince aimed the arrow at? Was it his brother Foligar – to gain the crown, the Queen to gain revenge – or his nephew to remove the stain from the family name and spite his sister? Theories abounded but it would never be known for sure.
Another topic discussed endlessly was Callie’s unbelievable shot, taking the assassin’s arrow out of the air. Impossible some thought – witchcraft thought others – the will of the gods thought some and just plain damn lucky thought most.
And who would have won the Tourney if it had continued? Could Callie possibly had competed at that distance, could Tarn’s excellent score have stood up to the Prince’s third shot? Some people even thought that DeSota could have beat them all and had proved with the incredible shot that had taken down the Dark Prince.
What was known for sure was the Elven Queen and King Foligar had since fallen head over heels in love. And they felt they owed much of their happiness to Callie. Callie was made Archery Instructor for the Queen’s own Guard with a permanent pension and granted title to the meadow land where she had practiced for so long. She would never have to hunt for food again.
Tarn was now a full Guardian and was taking Lieutenant training. He and his father had a new respect for one another. The Commander had finally come to appreciate that Tarn reminded him of his wife He spent as much time with Tarn as he could.
… and Tarn and Callie?
Well they are the reason this story was written – to commemorate their wedding vows. They are to be married on the second Saturday in June. They hope you can make it.