The wind whipped about Kyle’s face; a few loose strands of black hair waved in front of his eyes. The straw target stood 40 yards away, adjusting his bow to compensate for the breeze; he drew in a deep breath.
The feather pricked his cheek. Calming his mind removed the pressure of this shot. Telling himself that this was the last arrow, and it’s was all done. Silence filled the makeshift arena.
No one moved.
Breathing out slowly, he released the arrow, with a twang it shot forward.
Earlier that day….
Kyle stood in an uneven row with the other boys from the three villages, standing before them were six figures dressed in white. Not an inch of flesh could be seen. White draped them from head to foot. Two elders from each village presided over the tourney.
The last two tests proved quite easy for Kyle, so his confidence was up. Archery was next; Kyle thought he wouldn’t have a problem with this one. His forest lore had seen him excel at catching food for the villagers. He had brought back two braces of rabbits. Roger had brought back a peasant, a large bird native to the area.
Even so, Cilan had managed to slay a boar. Still, Kyle had skinned and cooked the rabbits before Cilan had even returned from the forest.
The six elders walked past each boy briefly touching their chest above their hearts, then silently walked off the field.
Rogers family waved from where the crowd had gathered to watch. Kota smiled sheepishly at Kyle, while Kimi bounced on the spot, fist pumping the air for her brother. With the elders out of the firing range, Laurell strode out on to the field, his long elegant legs making him seem like he floated above the ground. With grace and poise, he turned to face the boys and raised his hand for quiet.
“Gentlemen, this is the last test for the day, and the scores are as followed. Nate, Dante, and Henry. You all failed to bring any offering to the elders, so you have 0 points.
Gus and Nicolas you both brought offerings but failed to prepare them for the elders. 2 points each.
Terry, you also only managed to bring an offering, but you’re offering was of higher value to the elders; you have scored 3 points.”
The boys shifted uncomfortably.
“Toby, Jack, and Roger. Each of you bought the same bird to the elders, and each prepared it equally. 5 points to you all.
Kyle, you offer were great and would feed many. However, Cilan offering of the boar pleased the elders more, as such; Cilan is in the lead with 8 points to Kyle 6.”
A murmur went through the crowd like a hot ember in a bale of hay. Kyle’s dipped his head and grounded his teeth. Cilan puffed out his chest with pride like a bull frog.
“This is the archery test.” Laurell swept an elegant arm towards the straw targets that littered the field.
“You all have three arrows. Each with your color band. One arrow for each of the three targets. Each target is further away and more difficult to hit. You will remain silent while your competitors take aim.”
“Dante, you fire first.”
A small boy at the end of the line knocked an arrow and took aim.
“What’s after this test?” Whispered Roger.
Although only a whisper, Kyle noticed Laurell’s ears twitch. The boy let loose, and the arrow hit the edge of the straw target.
Speaking out the corner of his mouth Kyle whispered back.
“All I know is it will take place within the forest, Laurell won’t tell me anymore.”
“Damn!” spat Roger.
The next boy’s arrow hit the center ring of the target.
“Looks like you’ve got some competition.
Can you smell something, Kyle?”
Something tickled at Kyle’s nostrils, it smelt a little like the varnish he used for the arrows.
“You can smell it too!, Yeah It smells like a cow’s arse.” Roger nudged Kyle in the ribs.
Cilan’s face reddened with anger.
“You can talk flour boy. It looks like your father used your head to plow his fields.” He growled back, looking menacingly over at the boys.
“And you can stay quite too, elf lover.”
Kyle’s grip tightened around his bow, with white knuckles.
“Roger you are next.” Shouted Laurell.
“Good luck.” Whispered Kyle.
Roger readied his bow and took aim. Cilan coughed into his hand.
Roger snorted, pulled back his bow and let the arrow go in one fluid movement.
The arrow hit the target just outside the red center ring.
Roger turned and poked out his tongue at Cilan.
“Cilan, you are next.” Laurell voice rang out.
Cilan flexed this big arms and raised his bow. With surprising gentleness for a big guy, he knocked the arrow and pulled back the string.
The arrow sailed through the air and hit the red circle.
Cilan was the closest.
Kyle didn’t wait for his command. In one quick movement, he fired and the arrow from where he stood. The arrow quivered at the very center of the target. The crowd cheered.
The second target eliminated 6 of the boys and left Kyle, Cilan, Roger, and Nate, lining up for the final target.
Nate’s arrow didn’t reach the target and Roger’s shot missed by a foot. Cilan knocked his arrow. The wind blew his hair out in heroic fashion.
“I dedicate this arrow to Kora.” He shouted.
Whispers sprang around the crowd, Kora squirmed while Kimi looked on unawares. Cilan’s father who stood close by the millers proudly puffed out his chests and looked to Kora’s father for acceptant, although none was forth coming, the Miller seemed to shrug it off, which made the Tanner stiffen with anger. All the while Kyle’s face started reddening with rage. Cilan lowered his bow and turned to Karl.
“I’m going to win this tourney, and I’m going to win your girl too.”
He turned and fired.
The arrow struck the target an inch from the center.
“Beat that, elf boy.” Snarled Cilan.
Kyle had won the first two rounds, which brought him and Cilan to a tie for the day. If he made this shot, he would win. Kyle raised his bow; the smell of the varnish tickled his nose again but this time it was heavier and tinged with smoke.
“Fire.” Shouted Cilan.
The arrow vibrated in the middle of the straw target. A cheer went up among the villages. Kyle dropped his arm and signed in relief. He turned to find Cilan with his mouth open, and his arm pointed over Kyle’s shoulder.
The shot was closer. He had won the first day’s tourney. Roger rushed at Kyle and bear hugged him, the momentum sending the pair to the grass in a heap. It took Kyle a second to realize that no one was cheering anymore, It actually sounded like people were panicking. From the grass, Kyle and Roger sat up to see a big column of smoke drifting up behind the trees. Kora was at boys side looking down at them, the boys detached themselves and stood up. Kora sprang at Kyle, eyes streaming. He looked down into her eyes. It took another second for Kyle to realize what the tears were for.