~ Raided: Chapter 2: Bows
Fergus placed a bow on the dinner table by his wife’s plate.
“Fergus, no weapons on the table,” Queen Elinor said out of habit not looking up from the letter she was reading.
“You know lass, I keep wondering why you say that.”
“Oh, my mum always made us do that so we would take the time to talk instead of fiddle with our weapons,” said Elinor.
Fergus thought for a moment. “If it is so important to talk, why do you read so much at the table?”
Elinor blinked. She looked up and looked at her husband, daughter and sons. Then she looked back at the letter and folded it up and put it away. “You’re right, I should spend my time with you and not with some letters.”
“Have there been anymore raids?” asked Merida.
“Not so far this week, there have been three so far this summer but putting extra men to the coastal towns aren’t stopping them. We need to do something different.”
“Indeed, that’s why I got you this.” Fergus said, pointing to the bow.
“A-a bow for me?” Elinor asked amazed.
“Cut the wood myself, though I had the bowyer shape it. Merida decorated it.”
It was a beautiful slender bow with knots cut for decoration above and below the grip with a gilt DunBroch medallion on the upper limb. It was the same size as Merida’s latest bow.
“Oh dear, it’s beautiful, but I put down my bow when I became a lady.” Elinor said uncomfortably.
“I know, but now with the threats we’re facing, our kingdom needs a queen for the Highlands, not some continental fop. We need the men and women ready to fight and they need to see you as an example.” Fergus said emphatically.
Elinor looked at her husband. “That is very astute.”
Fergus smiled a little on one side, “I may not be a good king, but I know fighting and keeping up morale.”
“You are a good king and you are getting better. Thank you.” Fergus had been crashing the princess lessons and was listening. Elinor had been trying to help Fergus be a better king for a long time, but he never listened before.
Elinor stood, picked up the bow and hefted it.
Merida saw subtle changes come over her mum. She wasn’t seeing the concerned mother, or the regal queen, but a younger, wilder woman whose long brown hair flowed like a cape behind her.
“Shall we go loose a few arrows?” Merida asked a little tentatively. Mum loved her so much and doing the tapestry together was fun, but it was all indoors work. She liked being outdoors, but soon winter would come, the tapestry could wait for winter.
The smile that came over her mum made Merida’s heart bloom like a sunflower.
# # #
After lunch, the royal family and their retainers went out to the archery field, the rich colors of the fall foliage warmed the cool air. Maudie was trying to keep the boys from hurting anyone, they were loosing arrows all willy-nilly, but their bows were not very strong.
Elinor fitted an arrow to her bow, set herself and loosed an arrow at the target. It struck at the edge of the red center.
“Not bad,” said Merida, to her Da as they stood just behind Elinor. She was quite impressed, her mum had done better then most of the suitors.
“Ach, my calluses are all wrong.” Elinor huffed. She fitted another arrow and made several subtle adjustments to her stance and grip. It had been a long time since she had held a bow, longer then her daughter had lived, but her muscles still remembered how to do it. This time the arrow landed dead center in the target.
With a smirk she drew another arrow and then she began to walk as Merida has done at her games. She loosed two more arrows at the neighboring targets, also striking them dead center.
“Much better,” smiled Elinor, as Merida stood there with her mouth hanging open. Fergus grinned knowingly; his wife had been a great archer and obviously still was.
“I wonder...” said Elinor quietly, as she fitted another arrow, it had been such a very long time.
Elinor drew to her cheek, sighted down the arrow to her target. She drew the calmness around her like a cloak, a warmth bloomed in her chest. There was just she, the bow and the target. She heard nothing, yet could feel her heartbeat. Elinor willed the arrow to strike deep. She exhaled and as her heart rested between beats, she loosed.
The arrow bent under the force of the released bowstring. As it cleared the bow, the fletching caught the air and the arrow began to spin and stabilize. It flew down the field, caught the end of the previous arrow, and split it down its length, driving itself through the target to embed itself into the post holding up the target.
“What do you know? I can still do it,” murmered Elinor as she lowered her bow, with a small-satisfied smile.
Elinor jumped as Merida let out a loud squeal of delight.
“You can do that too!” squealed Merida, jumping up and down.
“Do what?” asked Elinor, not sure what her daughter was going on about.
“Oh, mum.” Merida rolled her eyes. “What you just did with that arrow? Didn’t you see me do that at the Games?” asked Merida.
Elinor looked away trying to remember, “All I remember was being so angry at you for disrupting everything, embarrassing the lords and myself.”
Merida rolled her eyes, lifted her own new bow, consentrated and after a long breath loosed, splitting her mum’s first off-center arrow. The arrow passed completely through the target, and landed in the field beyond.
Elinor looked at amazement at her daughter who was grinning back fit to break her face.
“What I want to know is, how do you two do that?” Asked Fergus, coming up to them, with his heavy bow.
“Well, I just concentrate on striking the target, the end of the arrow,” said Merida. Elinor nodded.
“No, not that. This.” Fergus raised his great bow, half again as long as the ones the women were hefting and much thicker. His arrow struck between the two previous arrows and stopped once the head entered the target.
He trooped to the target followed by the women and asked, “How do yours go in so deep; when mine, shot with a heavier bow, does not?”
The two women looked at each other and shrugged.
Fergus turned and pointed to one of his men. “Go get a breast plate from the armory, a good heavy one.” The man ran off.
“What are you getting at, Fergus?” asked the queen.
“First, I want to see if you can shoot through armor as well as a target. Second, I want to know if you can teach me to do it too.”
“Da, you taught me how to shoot. I thought you already knew but just didn’t bother. I usually don’t since it is a little tiring,” said Merida.
“No, I can’t do that. I thought nothing much of it since you are so good, but since both of you can I am wondering if it can be taught. It would be a significant advantage if all of our men could shoot like that.” said Fergus.
“Yes, indeed it would. Especially against the Vikings,” said Elinor, thoughtfully.
Soon the man arrived and Fergus propped the steel breastplate on the target with some arrows. Fergus and the women went back to the line.
“Let’s see what happens when I do it.” Fergus lifted his heavy bow and the arrow shattered against the armor with a ringing Thung!
After a grunt, he gestured to Elinor.
Elinor set herself, invoked the calmness and loosed her arrow, which penetrated to the fletching at the center of the armor. A heavy sound of the striking arrow echoed back.
Then Merida did the same just above her mother’s arrow.
“How do you do that?” Asked Fergus amazed.
“I just go all calm inside and really focus on shooting through the target,” said Elinor.
“Everything goes all quiet and I really want to have the arrow go through the target.” Merida said.
“Calm and shoot through. Quiet and really want it,” rumbled Fergus, who brought up his bow and tried again. He let out a long breath and loosed. This time the arrow glanced off the armor and wobbled into the field with a screech.
Elinor and Merida were in a huddle, talking about their feelings, calmness and a number of things Fergus just didn’t get.
“If you can reach a consensus maybe you can tell me what you are talking about,” grumbled Fergus.
“We’re trying. We are still working out the details. We’ve never talked about this before and we are still figuring out how to describe it to someone else. This might take a while,” said Elinor as they went back to their huddle.
# # #
Maudie was putting another plate of meat on the table. The men would doubtless be getting hungry, again. She’d been listening to the queen and the princess telling the men how to shoot an arrow like they did.
To her it sounded like something she understood. She had to go to that calm place all the time; what with the triplets driving her insane all the time.
There was a bow leaning against the table. She glanced around, and then ran her finger down it, wondering.
“Maudie!” Maudie nearly jumped out of her dress as the queen called her. “Something to drink, please.”
Maudie picked up a chalice of wine and rushed over to the queen.
“How are you supposed to be calm in the middle of a battle?” asked one of the men, and many of the others grumbled about that.
“Tsk. You never have to take care of the children. I have to go to the calm place all the time with the way the boys terrorize me or I’d die.” Maudie chided the man, who looked unconvinced.
“Children ain’t war,” the man commented.
Elinor and Merida exchanged a look.
“Maudie, come here, please.” The queen asked as she handed Merida the cup.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Maudie.
“Have you ever loosed an arrow before?”
“Tsk, me! Hardly.” Maudie blushed.
“Would you try, please?”
“Yes, ma’am,” The queen handed over her bow and gave her maid a few quiet instructions about how to hold it, and how to stand. Then asked her to go to that calm place the boys drive her to. Everyone could see her breathing calm. Her body began to relax, yet steadily held the drawn bow.
“Now see the arrow in the breastplate,” said the queen.
Maudie exhaled, the arrow released itself and punched a hand span into the shoulder of the armor.
“Yehoo!” shouted Merida, jumping up and down and spinning, while the men groaned.
“Well, isn’t that just grand,” grumbled Fergus.
Maudie looked like she couldn’t believe she even hit it.
“Thank you Maudie, you did really well,” said the queen, retrieving her bow from her maid.
Maudie giggled still unable to believe it.
# # #
Fergus took a drink from his tankard as he sat behind the archery range. The boys had rigged a shield as a sled and the dogs were dragging them toward the castle, Maudie in pursuit.
Elinor and Merida had been out of the range all day, trying to figure out how they shoot arrows so they could explain it to the men. Somehow, they had taught Maudie but not the men. Fergus was a little frustrated, this ability would provide a great advantage in battle, but somehow they needed to teach it to others.
Fergus was sitting nearby listening but mostly just shaking his head, he just didn’t understand. He had taught Merida to shoot but this was beyond anything he’d seen. It seemed so much like magic. He now knew that magic existed, with Mor’du, will ‘o the wisps, witches and spells that changed people into bears. He shivered a little at the memory of almost killing his own wife, as she was a bear.
He listened as Elinor had watched Merida and Merida had watched Elinor and they had talked about calm places, quiet places and other things he had no idea of. Now they were standing together, describing how they were placing their feet and the angle of their hips and Fergus put down his tankard.
They were talking and moving at the same time, not following but they were like mirrors of each other. It suddenly felt spooky, like the two women were one person or something. They loosed at precisely the same moment, the arrows flew together and intersected at the target. With a loud bang, they punched through the target and even shoved it back a pace, before it fell over.
“Oh, dear,” The two women said together, as they brought down their bows.
Fergus got up and stomped over to the two women. “Elinor, are you okay?”
The queen and princess turned together, but only Elinor spoke. “Yes, dear, I’m fine. But that was odd.” Merida's mouth moved though she said nothing out loud.
“In what way?” Fergus asked.
“I hit it harder then I expected.” Elinor was looking at him but her eyes were distant as Merida just stood there, though her mouth moved a little.
“You both hit it at the same time.” Fergus said cautiously.
“Really?” Said Elinor as Merida’s mouth moved silently.
“Yes. Why don't we take a break?” Fergus suggested, trying to gently snap them out of whatever it was that was happening to them.
“Okay, that sounds good. I am getting tired.” Elinor agreed as Merida nodded.
“Merida, go help Maudie to pick up the tankards please.”
“Sure, Da.” Merida shook herself and hurried off, her hair flouncing.
Fergus just watched them for the rest of the evening, but they seemed fine.
“Merida, I’m going to have to cancel princess lessons today,” said Elinor as Merida came into the Great Hall the next morning.
“Ah, yes, mum. Thank you,” said Merida distracted. Her arm was hurting rather a lot today. She was walking carefully and not moving her arm to keep the pain from shooting from her elbow and up her neck.
She winced as she grabbed the chair by habit to try to pull back the chair but it hurt too much. She used her other hand to move the chair and then began to rub her shoulder as she sat.
“Are you hurting too?” asked Elinor.
“Yes. It feels like arrows are lodged in my arm and shoulder and neck.”
“I know I feel it too. I wonder if it has something to do with how we shoot.”
“Here, let me help.” Piped up Fergus, who came around and began massaging Elinor’s arm and shoulder. His wife squirmed under the ministrations. “I’ll do you next, Merida. By the way, how did you sleep?”
“I slept like a log. I can’t remember when I’ve slept so hard.” said Merida.
“You did too dear. You hardly moved all night.” said Fergus to Elinor who nodded back.