Authors: Eric Buffington
P stepped forward and held up a throwing knife. “I’ve got a challenge for you,” she said as she made her way to a tree that was fifty paces away from Kaz. “I’d like to see you stop this knife,” she said, holding it up in her right hand, “from hitting you.”
She drew back her arm to throw it at Kaz, but he was anticipating this kind of challenge. Hitting a knife while it was in flight would be next to impossible, but he had another plan. As she began moving her arm back, he drew his bow and shot an arrow before she had time to throw the knife. The arrow flew through the air and pierced the sleeve of her shirt, pinning her right arm to the tree. The men around the camp applauded. Kaz was keeping his eyes on P though, and noticed that her free hand had slipped down to her waist band. Without missing a beat, Kaz nocked and fired the second arrow, pinning her other arm to the tree as well. The crowd fell into a stunned silence as they all looked from P to Kaz and back to P.
P nodded in approval with a wide grin on her face, and dropped a second knife from her left hand onto the ground in front of her. As realization dawned on Digger’s face he burst out laughing and moved to pick up the knife from the ground.
“Our friend is wise as well as skilled with a bow! Never take your eyes off of Lady Pentra when she has a challenge for you!” He waved the second knife in the air for all to see, and the men burst into cheers again. Digger helped P free her left arm, and turned to return the arrow to Kaz.
“Nicely done.” P pulled the first arrow from the tree and returned it to Kaz. “Your fans await,” she added with a tilt of her head. Kaz looked over his shoulder and saw the entire group of men all looking at him with anticipation.
“Hi,” he said, waving in a friendly way. He realized then that though he had been introduced to most of them, he didn’t remember all of their names. He also didn’t feel completely comfortable calling them things like Smudge and Seed.
Samel, one of the men he did remember from the previous day, stepped up and shook Kaz’s hand. “We were wondering if you wouldn’t mind showing us how you did that.” He pointed to the tree where Kaz had shot his arrow.
“I’d be happy to,” Kaz responded eagerly. He was glad for the chance to help these men, especially doing something that he was good at. “Get your bows and arrows and we’ll get started.” He saw Seed standing by shyly, and thought to give him a special job. “Seed, could you get me a few more arrows from my quiver?” The young man smiled happily and went to where Kaz’s quiver was lying next to his bedroll. He drew out two standard arrows, and then slowly pulled out one of the black feathered arrows that Kaz had received from Boon when he had given him the bow.
“Oh, not those arrows,” Kaz said hastily as he started walking toward Seed. The young man quickly dropped the arrows and backed away as though he had been burned. “It’s not a big deal,” Kaz said reassuringly, “it’s just that these are special, magical arrows. In fact, I’m not even sure what they do!” he added with a laugh. “It’s probably best not to use them unless we are really eager to see something big happen.” He smiled as he held the quiver out for Seed. “Why don’t you just follow me with the whole quiver, and we’ll see what you can do?” Seed hesitated for just a moment before taking the quiver and slinging it over his bony shoulder.
Though Kaz had taken note of the fact that all the men did seem to have bows and a quiver full of arrows, he hadn’t paid close attention to their equipment until now as he turned around to survey the group of excitedly chattering men... As each of the men lined up in a row about twenty paces from a large oak tree, it was now obvious that they were each carrying a bow with the crest of the Lexingar city guard stamped into the grip. He also recognized many of the arrows as being the same regulation arrows that had been issued to the contestants during the archery tournament he had competed in only days ago.
He casually took a bow from the nearest man as though inspecting it for soundness, and turned a quizzical look on P. He tapped the crest with his finger and raised an eyebrow.
“Baron Clifton is a good friend of Baron Omer. He was happy to make a donation to our worthy cause,” she said with a sly smile, then turned and walked away toward the fire without another word.
He couldn’t help but grin at that, and returned the bow to the man he had borrowed it from. He cleared his throat and looked over the little band of freedom fighters who were clearly in need of any “donations” they could come by.
“I’d like you to aim for the tree,” Kaz began. The men all nodded confidently. “Try to hit the small knot right there,” he said as he indicated a rather large blemish on the tree trunk about six feet up from the ground... Their trepidation was clear on their faces as they looked back and forth at each other. “Just show me what you can do at first and we’ll work together to get better.”
They pulled back on the bows and released a volley of arrows into the woods. Two of the men hit the tree, but not very close to the knot, and the others missed the tree completely. Kaz exhaled slowly. This was going to take a lot of work.
“So where do you aim?” Samel asked as he pulled out a second arrow.
“That’s a great question,” Kaz said, “I sight down the arrow shaft, trying to see exactly where it will go. You see when I pull back the arrow, it comes to here…” he started to explain as he drew an arrow and put it to his bowstring.
“That’s not what I meant,” Samel interrupted. “I mean on a soldier. Where do we need to hit someone to kill them?”
Kaz released the pressure on his bowstring. The question had caught him a little off guard. He did a lot of target practicing, but he hadn’t actually shot an arrow with the intent of killing someone since he had saved the caravan from being attacked several months before. But this mission was not about teaching men to shoot at targets. It was about teaching slaves to stand up to a tyrannical leader. It was about taking men who couldn’t hit a tree and helping them learn to kill. He knew it was why he was here, but it still felt different training them to target human beings.
Kaz took his arrow off the bowstring and tapped it against the middle left side of Samel’s chest. “The heart,” Kaz said as the arrow rested against Samel. “If you can hit it, that will kill a man. Almost all arrows in the chest area will eventually kill, but the heart will take them down immediately. Just like hunting animals,” he said, pointing to a rabbit he had shot earlier in the day which was now cooking on a spit over the fire. “If you aim for this region,” he drew a circle around Samel’s upper body, “there is always something important inside.” There was a murmur of agreement from the little group of men who had now gathered around to hear Kaz’s words more clearly.
“What about when they are wearing armor?” Samel asked.
Kaz had no experience taking down armored soldiers, but realized as he thought about it, that he did have an answer for Samel. Boon had shown him some standard places where chinks had to be in armor. He smiled wryly as he remembered his mentor’s words on the final night he had spent with the man, “Kaz, I want to give you a piece of advice. There is only one job that will pay top dollar for sharp-shooting distance archers -- assassinations. If you choose to go down that road it will be difficult to come back.”
“What should I do?” Kaz had asked, surprised by Boon’s declaration, and even more surprised that he wasn’t frightened by the prospect.
“Just be sure of your target,” Boon had told him. “One shot from your bow could end the reign of a tyrannical leader, but it could also destroy a nation. Remember what you have learned.” Boon must have had an idea all along of where Kaz’s path would lead him. He took in a breath and answered Samel’s question.
“There is often a joint in the armor between the helmet and the breastplate, and in other places where a person needs some freedom for movement. These places are hard to hit, especially if someone is moving. When you are first learning, if there is an armored soldier charging at you, I recommend shooting his horse. If he’s not riding a horse, I’d try to carefully target where he is not protected. A shot to the leg might not kill him, but it will drop him, and allow you to get away safely. I never noticed any of Omer’s men wearing anything more protective than leather leggings over their pants.”
“What about when we’re better?” Samel asked. “Where would you aim?”
Kaz shrugged slightly, then drew his arrow in his bow and released, hitting the center of the knot on the tree. “Every soldier needs to see. No matter what kind of armor they are wearing they need an opening for their eyes. That’s where I target.” Kaz looked down the line of men and nodded approvingly. “It just takes a little practice, so let’s get going.”
Kaz helped the men take a dozen practice shots with their bows. He gave encouragement, tips, and even offered to go hunting with them when they felt ready. After a small dinner meal, Kaz retired to his bedroll, and lay down with his bow in hand.
In the morning, Kaz woke early and chewed on some dried jerky and prepared for another day of walking. This routine continued, and the travelers became used to the schedule. Although their pace was slow, they covered quite a bit of ground each day, walking almost constantly from sun up to sun down, and doing some training in the evenings after they stopped. At this pace they would travel back to Hess in half the time it had taken the caravan to get to Lexingar.
Each day as they travelled, Kaz would scout ahead with Samel, Asher, or another man from Hess, and return with at least one animal for their supper. After a week of this rigorous routine, with Kaz providing food, he noticed that the slaves were starting to fill out their skeletal frames, and they were getting much better with their bows.
After the first week, the evening routine was expanded. While Kaz trained with half of the group after they had made camp for the evening, P had the other half practicing some basic attacks and defenses using long, straight sticks that they used as staves. Kaz was impressed at how well she was able to whip the staff around and teach the men how to mimic her movements. He wasn’t sure how well they would do facing trained and armed soldiers with their almost non-existent skills, using bows and self-made staves, but it was better than nothing, and it was all they had.
One evening as they ate around the fire, P leaned in to talk with Kaz and pointed at his rings. “Where did you get those?”
“Do you remember Dune from the archery tournament?” he asked.
“Sure,” she responded. “He almost beat you,” she added with a smirk.
Kaz glared, but did not respond to her taunt. “He enchanted them for me back in Lexingar.”
“He must be a strong magician,” she commented.
Kaz wasn’t sure what she was talking about. The rings were much stronger now that Dune had charged them, but he didn’t know how P would know a magician’s strength. “What makes you say that?”
“They are practically singing!”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, not sure if she was saying that as some kind of joke he wasn’t aware of.
P released a breath and reached out to take Kaz’s hand. She looked down at the ring for a moment before releasing her grip on him. “It’s hard to explain, but when I concentrate my hearing through the Hearing Stone, I can sometimes hear vibrations from objects or people. I learned a while back that the vibrations are a residue of magic.”
“You can hear magic?” Kaz raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
“Not really magic itself, like when it’s being performed, but I can tell when something has been enchanted by magic.” She looked around for a moment, then pointed to Kaz’s bow. “Your bow is enchanted with magic. When I focus on it I can hear a faint humming sound, like the magic is alive inside the bow. It takes serious concentration.”
“Does it only work with the Hearing Stone?” Kaz asked. P nodded. He had figured out that she was a stone holder before they had left Lexingar, but now was the first time she had acknowledged it.
“That’s amazing! I wonder if I can see magic. How did you do it?”
P looked at Kaz hopelessly. “I don’t know how I can sense the magical vibrations; it’s just something that I discovered through experience.”
“Try to teach me,” he said, almost a begging.
“I really don’t think I can,” she admitted. “It just happens. Try using the Sight Stone to look at objects. See what happens.”
Kaz looked at his bow, then at his rings, and even pulled power through the stone and looked at P. “It just focuses in close on things,” he reported.
She patted him on the head playfully in a way that made him feel like a puppy. “Keep practicing,” she encouraged, “maybe there is something else you can do with the Sight Stone other than focusing in on distant details.”
“I wonder if I could develop the power to see through things,” Kaz mused.
“If you do,” she said in a serious tone, “You’d better keep your eyes to yourself, or I’ll slap you silly, young man.” Although her tone was very stern, her face cracked with a smile.
“Speaking of slapping me silly,” Kaz began, “How did you learn to use the staff and throwing knives like that?”
She shrugged her shoulders a little, “My father insisted that I take lessons when I was young, until I became too good, and he worried I’d hurt someone. I practiced secretly every day, and even took some more lessons when I left on my own.”
“Well let me tell you this,” Kaz said with his eyes open wide. “You’re a scary person.”