|Subject: Honor on the Field, 16
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Date Posted: Friday, November 18, 06:10:47pm
In reply to:
's message, "Honor on the Field, con't." on Wednesday, November 16, 09:49:08am
The party was gathered on Sir Phillip’s shooting range late that afternoon and several of the knights were showing off their archery skills, when Nikita decided that next time, Rouen could break Barbant’s neck with her good will and a cheerful blessing too.
A few of the knights were using longbows, a nod to Edward’s legendary victories at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers, the rest more conventional hunting bows or cross-bows. They had been shooting for a while, and the targets had been moved progressively further back, until now they were shooting at the one at the very end of the range, some seventy-five yards away. Only a few knights were still in the contest, Barbant being one, and the rest were beginning to place wagers on the outcome; wagers that were appallingly high to Nikita’s ears, the sums being tossed about were more than enough to feed the all the manor residents during the course of a year.
This contest being much to rich for the Wirths’ blood, they were for the moment at the edge of the party’s attention, when Michelle called out, “Nikita can hit that target.”
Even as Nikita, her face flaming with dismayed embarrassment, turned to shush her sister, some of the knights who had been coming to Marlborough for many years, took up the cry, “That’s right! Nikita can hit that target! I’ll wager my money on Nikita!”
In a flash, Sir Phillip was back in the center of things. “That’s right, m’girl, you show them what you can do!” he cried.
Staring around the circle of avid faces now focused on her, and stumbling over her words in her haste to escape the net drawing round her, Nikita said, “please, sirs, please Michelle, really, this isn’t my contest! I haven’t shot in months! Really! I can’t! Please, we’re distracting the shooters!”
The faces burst into smiles and laughter, not all of it friendly. Voices seemingly from everywhere battered her ears, begging her to show them what she could do. Out of the noise one voice penetrated, and she heard Barbant’s drawling amazement that, “a woman shoot with accuracy? He’d never seen such a trick in all his life, why it would be like a dancing bear!”
Then she was being offered a bow, and hands were pushing her to the shooting line, and her father was whispering last minute instructions in her face, wagers were being raised, and Nikita realized with horror that there would be no escape, when Rouen was suddenly at her elbow, whispering calmly in her ear, “can you really do this, Nikita?”
She bit her lip and nodded, whispering back, panic building in her chest, “Yes! But not like this! Only after doing all the other distances, getting my mark, getting loose, getting warmed up! Not cold like this! I haven’t shot in weeks! Oh God, how do I get out of this!?”
He shook her elbow lightly, “you don’t,” he whispered back. “If you’ve done it before you can do it again.”
Stepping a bit back from her and turning so he could face her, he called, in a voice that brooked no disobedience, “stand back and give the lady some room.”
And the crowd did. Suddenly she was alone on the verge and only Rouen was beside her. “Is this your weapon, Nikita?”
He was holding out the hunting bow that had been thrust at her.
Her mind blank with panic, she looked at it and said, “No. I use a cross-bow, a mid-size one, like Verelast was using.”
“Verelast! Your crossbow.” Rouen held out his hand, without even looking, and in seconds Verelast’s crossbow was in it.
“Look at me.” He commanded, and she did. “Warming up is as much mental as physical and you can do the mental part in your head. I want you to remember the last time you hit the far target. Can you do that?”
“Now hold it in your head, and remember backwards, all the shorter distances, back to the beginning. Do you have it?”
Her heart was hammering so loud she could barely hear her own voice when she said, “Yes.”
“Good. Now think it through from the beginning, remember exactly what it felt like, all the adjustments you made, when you hit the first target. Then do it again and again, through all the middle distances, until you feel it.”
Nikita nodded. “All right,” and fixing her mind as he ordered, began recalling the last day she shot on the range.
Startled she looked at him.
“Don’t close your eyes. It is a very, very bad habit in a marksman. Keep them open. If you need something to focus on, look at me.”
At first she couldn’t concentrate, could only see his fierce expression, but then he smiled quickly and his eyes warmed. “I know you can do it.”
So she did. She looked deep into his eyes and remembered the day in July when it had been hot and muggy, and she had come out to the range with her sister, looking for a place with a bit of breeze, and they had started shooting just for fun. She remembered the wind on her face, the way her dress clung to the sweat on her back, and the way they had walked the length of the field several times to retrieve their arrows because they hadn’t brought enough. She recalled each distance, each target. She remembered the way her bow had jammed on the fourth shot, and she remembered the satisfying thunk when each arrow found the center of its target. At last she nodded. “I’m ready.”
Rouen stepped back and held out the crossbow.
Nikita wrestled with it for a moment, but it was a man’s weapon and unfamiliar to her. “If you would, my lord. I’m afraid I can’t crank it tight enough for the distance.”
He handed it back to her, she took her place on the shooting line, and let the memories of that quiet day in July fill her mind, and she never heard Rouen calmly announce he’d double all wagers that she would hit it on her first try.
When her arrow found the center of the target, there was a quiet hush, and then the party burst into cheers and polite applause and Nikita thought she might fall she was so weak with relief, and then over it all, Barbant’s drawling voice, “and the bear dances! Brav-o, Nikita!”
Hot anger roaring up her spine, Nikita hefted the cross bow in her arms and started to spin to swing it into his smirking face when the crossbow was snatched from her grip and Rouen’s heavy hand was on the back of her neck, stopping her spin, forcing her heels into the ground.
Prince Edward’s voice slashed like a whip through the noise. “Barbant, a word with you.” Edward glanced around the assembled crowd, and nodded affably. “The rest of you, please, continue with your interrupted sport, I’ll just return Barbant to you when I’m through with him, aye?”
Barbant smiled tightly and said, “of course, your majesty,” and strode off after Edward, who, not waiting to see if Barbant would obey his summons, had already turned and started walking away.
Nikita heard Rouen’s quiet chuckle in her ear, “Barbant hates to loose more than anything else in life, and Edward’s pulled him out of the game. There is nothing more for you to do.”
Nikita growled back under her breath, a smile fixed on her face, “except lock my sister in her room for the next month.”
“If you can manage it, it would be a good idea.” Rouen stepped back and said more loudly, “good shot, girl. Verelast, your bow. Gentlemen, I’ll take my winnings as soon as the shooting is finished, yes?”
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