Now full of strawberry jam and fresh cream filled freshly baked scones, washed down with a pot of tea (that Tiana had lived with the mockery for and continued to drink in it’s entirely) the girls were back on the road.
They were heading towards Nottingham. The radio had chosen to play some song about kids not wanting to go home. If anyone had been paying attention to it, they would have appreciated the appropriateness.
The initial adrenaline of car theft had worn off now. So had the hunger. Instead of the over excited and slightly drunk joy from this morning, the girls were lounging, playing on their phones, sleeping, or staring out of the window with their headphones in. Zangi was upping her Snapchat streaks but sending everyone in her contacts pictures of the car ceiling, or seats, or the other girls, or the road, or the sheep in the field next door.
“Is anyone else bored?” Simi sighed.
“Hell yes,” Tiana said.
Those who were awake and didn’t have their headphones in murmured in agreement.
“Can’t you pull off at the next junction and see what’s down there?” Simi asked.
“We’re not far from the next stop,” Tiana said.
Simi leaned forward in her chair so she was closer to the front seat.
“Youve planned a stop?” She said suspiciously.
“Yeah. Sherwood forest. Home of Robin,” Tiana said.
“He was real?!” Ravi sat up in suprise.
Simi rolled her eyes and sarcastically said, “Nah he was a figment of imagination.”
Ravi scowled at her and raised her middle finger in her direction.
“Why Sherwood Forest anyway?” Simi asked.
“There’s an adventure playground there which is huge, and there’s a gift shop that sells bows and arrows,” Tiana explained.
Tahati opened one eye curiously. “Did someone mention weapons?”
“It worries me what excites you sometimes,” Tiana sighed.
Simi tutted at Tahati in disdain.
“So how long before we stop?” Simi asked.
“Twenty minutes ok? Just sit tight for twenty minutes,” Tiana felt more like her mother every time they asked.
Simi sat back in her seat in bored obedience. Tahati sat up and blinked herself awake. Zangi still had her headphones in and had no idea what was going on. For the next twenty minutes the quiet, bored atmosphere didn’t fade. When they arrived they practically had to peel themselves out of their seats. Even then Zangi didn’t want to leave the van so they had to drag her out by her spindly legs. She stared up at them from the flat of her back on the dirt of the carpark, and swore at each of them.
Zangi sat up. Between the rooves of the cars and the cloud clotted sky, she could see tree tops. Tall and dark clumps of leaves acted as parasols over the cars. When she heaved herself to her feet, the long thick trunks grew into view. Past the half full carpark was the entrance to the forest. Centuries old trees stood tall and proud as far as the eye could see.
“Please don’t tell me I have to walk!” she groaned.
“You can walk or you can stay here alone,” Tahati said.
“All in favor of abandoning Zangi?” Ravi declared.
Everyone else rose their hand. Zangi gave them each an unimpressed face.
“Useless humans!” She tutted.
Ravi held out a hand to pull Zangi to her feet. Zangi took it, and yanked Ravi’s arm down so she stumbled. Ravi kicked her in revenge. As Tiana, Tahati and Simi wandered across the road with due attention, Ravi and Zangi kept trying to trip each other up with their feet.
Walking through the trees felt strange. There was a tinge of magic in the air, as there often is in homes of legends. Some of the trees were taller than skyscrapers. Others had bent and knobbled trunks that looked like rock climbing walls. These trees were weird looking. They made Zangi rather hope they were hiding goblin tunnels. A few times she stopped to check for hidden doorways, and ended up lagging behind the group. She only stopped when Tiana took a photo of her trying to pull away the bark to see if there was a tunnel behind.
“How long are we going to be walking here?” Simi whined.
“Until we find-”
Before Tiana could finish a bright cheer of excitement burst up from a few feet away. Each girl looked up in suprised curiosity.
“That way then?” Ravi asked.
“Yep,” the others agreed.
They made their way towards the source of the sound by going off the beaten track and through the trees. Zangi kept glancing around for any signs of goblins. She wasnt paying attention to where she put her feet. Ravi smirked as she watched Zangi put her foot in a loop of roots, and trip. As zangi hit the floor Ravi burst into laughter. Simi smacked Ravi’s head to scold her.
“Hey!” Ravi cried.
“You watched zangi get herself hurt and didnt even try to help her? How mean!” Simi scolded.
“She’d do the same to me!” Ravi argued.
“She’s right though i would,” zangi said.
No one bothered to help zangi to her feet this time, because none of them particularly wanted to be on the floor as well.
“Come on fam. You won’t fall again if you stay close,” Tahati said.
“Shove off, i dont want to be close to you idiots,” Zangi tutted.
Her eyes shone mischievously as she spoke. Ravi rolled her eyes and huffed.
“Fine fam, whatever, we’ll leave you here in the forest by yourself for the goblins to get dont mean jack to us!”
Zangi sat up urgently. “Goblins?”
She didn’t want to believe in such silly things, but her imagination was always running wild. If something could be out there, she couldn’t help wondering if they were. And if they were, what did they want? Zangi was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the others wander away through the bushes, leaving her alone.
A field had been quartered off with thin orange ropes. Beyond the rope there were three hay bales with targets painted onto them, and a few wooden creatures to shoot at too. A blue deer, an orange boar and a silver stag. Each had wounds and chips from years of arrow attacks. They stood between the hay barrels but they were further back, for the older children to shoot.
There was a small group of young children, three or four six year olds, and two grown men, dressed in flouncy medieval plums teaching them how to fire the arrows.
“Who wants to shoot an arrow?” Tiana asked.
The others were completely down for that. They crowded the tent area by the entrance to the roped off area, in a make shift queue. It wasnt so much a queue as a bundle. Tahati was right at the front and refused to budge even as the other girls messed around. When going into assembly at school the girls would always fight to be in the middle of the group so they could avoid sitting next to Lucille or Riches. This meant cutting infront of each other and pulling each other back. They were doing it now for fun, but Tahati wouldnt join in.
“If I move you’ll steal my go and I’ll never get a chance to shoot an arrow,” she said firmly.
The others looked accusingly at Simi. Simi rolled her eyes, scoffing.
“Honestly you’re such a child fam!”
Tahati scowled and blew a raspberry at Simi, rather eloquently proving her point as she did.
They kept poking at her trying to get a reaction, like buckaroo. Just when the side eye she was giving them was beginning to twitch into dangerous levels, they were interrupted by a man in flouncy trousers and a purple feather on his head.
“I’m sorry ladies but we’re about to go on break,” he said.
The girls groaned. He shook his head and apologised. Simi glanced down at the tent behind him. Her eyes focused on the bow and quiver full of arrows just within reach behind the orange ropes. Simi nudged Tahati. Tahati frowned at her in confusion. Simi nodded to the arrows. Tahati immediately understood.
“Um, excuse me sir, but, like, how long is your break gonna be?” Simi asked.
The man frowned and shrugged. “Like an hour.”
“But, like, definitely an hour?” Simi asked.
The other girls who had been ready to leave glanced back at her.
“Simi c’mon,” Zangi called.
“I am talking!” Simi huffed defiantely.
“Well stop!” Zangi called.
Ravi nudged Zangi. She gestured to Tahati with her eyebrows. Tahati was really carefully trying to couch under the rope without being seen. She really wasn’t doing it well. Every time she tried to get low enough to get underneath the rope, hw glanced her way and she got nervous.
“Hey Tahati, your shoes are untied,” Ravi called.
Tahati frowned at her shoes in confusion. She was wearing zip ups. Ravi dragged Zangi back over to Simi and Tahati to lend a hand. Tiana had to come back too. Ravi and Zangi stood firmly infront of Tahati so she couldnt be seen. Ravi firmly told her to tie her shoelaces. When tahati went down on one knee to do so, she finally understood.
She was slow, but she always got there eventually.
“So, like, you got any left handed bows?” Ravi asked.
“Yes we do. We have a few different left handed bows in different weights and lengths, but theres only a couple here at the moment. If theres more than two of you that are left handed then i need to go over to the castle to get the other bows. How many of you are?” He asked.
“Are what?” Tiana asked.
He frowned momentarily. “Are left handed.”
“Oh none of us. I don’t think anyway. Are you left handed?” Simi asked Zangi.
“No,” Zangi said.
“No,” Tiana said.
“No I’m right,” Ravi said.
“Bitch please you’re never right,” Zangi kissed her teeth.
Tahati had hooked her finger around the tip of the bow and began to pull it towards her. Then she realised that the bow could reach the arrows that were just too far for her arm to. Instead she curled the end of the bow around the quiver of bows. As carefully as she could she hooked the bow underneath the handle of the quiver, and tried to slid it along the bow. She felt like a child playing hook a duck. However she was also stubborn. Always had been, always would be.
She always got her duck.
“Girls, girls, girls -” the poor man began to grow impaitent.
“But-” Ravi began.
He put his hands up in surrender. “No, girls - just girls-”
He tried to turn back to where his coworker was waiting, but if he did he would see Tahati on her knees reaching for the arrows with a bow. That couldn’t happen. In a sudden desperate burst of alarm Zangi burst into song.
“JUST GIRLS, BREAKING HEARTS!”
She looked desperately at Ravi for help. Uncertain what to do, Ravi joined in.
“Eyes bright, uptight, just girls!”
The girls were used to Ravi and Zangi randomly bursting into song by now, but they never sounded quite as nervous about it before. Partly out of pity and partly out of confusion Tiana and Simi tried to join in, but they didn’t really know the words, so they just supplied random sounds in the same tune. Like a really crap backing track.
Tahati snatched the quiver of arrows as soon as they were close enough and immediately hide them behind her back. The moment that she was on her feet, Simi snatched the bow, turned on her heels, and began hurrying away with the bow hidden in front of her. Tahati followed urgently. Tiana elbowed Ravi. She suddenly stopped singing. As she and Tiana followed Simi (who was practically running towards the woods now) she grabbed Zangi’s hand to make her stay close.
There was a lot of over excited squabbling as they hurried into the depths of the forest. All of them just kept walking because they were so full of excitement that they couldn’t stop walking. It was that kind of group delusion that they get lost in. The one where you’re all walking onwards in no particular direction because all of you think someone else is leading and no one actually is. They were walking and chatting at the top of their voices like parakeets for almost ten minutes.
“Where we going?” Simi asked suddenly.
“I dunno I thought Tiana was guiding us,” Zangi said.
“I thought Ravi was!” Tiana said in surprise
“Nah Tahati is,” Ravi said.
“No man, Zangi is,” Tahati said.
“Yeah right, like that’s smart!” Zangi scoffed.
That’s when they stopped and stared at each other. Slowly they began to realise they had no idea where they were, or where they were going. But before fear could set in, Tiana snatched the quiver from Tahiti’s hand.
“Well were gonna fire this right?” She said.
“Obviously!” Zangi said sarcastically.
“Then we just need a tree. Look!” Tiana faked a gasp and pointed randomly into the forest, “a tree!”
Tahati snatched the quiver back pointedly. Immediately Ravi snatched the bow from Tahiti’s other hand and raced towards the tree.
“SHOTGUN FIRST GO!” she yelled over her shoulder.
“You mean shot arrow!” Zangi called back, beaming.
Tiana shoved her scoldingly. Zangi just laughed louder. Zangi, Simi and Tiana crowded around Ravi and the tree.
“Gimmie the arrow,” Ravi said.
“No,” Tiana said.
Ravi furrowed her brow. “Don’t be a bitch, gimme the arrow!”
“You should let Tahati go first. She put the effort in,” Simi said.
“Yeah let Tahati do it,” Tiana agreed.
Tahati looked between the two of them in surprise. But she wasn’t stupid enough to look a gift horse in the mouth. She turned to Ravi and raised her voice in excitement.
“But she shot-gunned it,” Zangi said.
“Yeah but she wouldn’t have anything to shotgun if it wasn’t for Tahati,” Simi said.
“But... shotgun,” Ravi whined.
“Yeah, no. Give Tahati the thingy,” Tiana asked.
Zangi was going to protest until she actually thought about what was being said.
“You can go second,” Zangi said.
Ravi made a whiney noise and stamped her foot, but ended up holding out the bow for Tahati to take. She took it with a greedy relish and held her hand out to Tiana like a super villain summoning a weapon from nowhere. Tiana raised an eyebrow.
“Use your words bitch, you ain’t in an anime!”
Tahiti’s chest deflated and her arm sagged with disappointment. “Please.” She said quietly.
“Better,” Tiana smirked, handing her an arrow.
Tahiti’s evil smirk returned. She loaded the bow with the arrow, raised it to her eyeline, and drew the string back to her chin. She peered along the arrow to check where it would land. She took a deep breath, and released the string.
The other girls squealed in excitement as the arrow swished through the air, past their eyes, and buried its self into the bark of the tree with a dull thud.
Tahati lowered the bow as a rush of adrenaline filled her chest. Her voice was a strangled cry as her emotion overtook her. “That was awesome!”
“MY GO!” Ravi cried.
She snatched the bow from Tahati and grabbed another arrow from the quiver. Tahati took a step back as Ravi jumped into position. She pulled the string back as far as it could go.
“Stop!” Tahati made a grab for the bow.
Ravi shoved her back. “Get off! You already had your go!”
“If you do it like that it’ll snap and take your eye out!” Tahati insisted.
“How’d you know?” Zangi scoffed.
“Cause I get bored in history lessons and look up ancient weapons in case there’s an apocalypse that takes away all guns,” Tahati said in a condescending tone.
“It’s true, she does,” Tiana nodded.
“What kind of apocalypse takes away all guns?” Zangi asked.
“I READ A BOOK ON IT!” Tahati snapped.
Zangi wrinkled her nose. “Alright fam chill.”
“Show her how to do it then fam,” Tiana said.
“Yeah if you know so much, you teach us!” Ravi challenged.
“Fine! I will!” Tahati declared spitefully.
Tahati pushed the bow into Ravi’s arm and shoved Ravi’s arm out straight in front of her. She pressed the arrow against the bow with her finger as she moved Ravi’s to get her to hold it in place. Then she took a step back.
“Draw back to your chin. Ear at the furthest,” she instructed.
Ravi rolled her eyes and drew the string back to her chin. Then she released.
The arrow shot through the air like a kingfisher and smacked through the bark just above Tahiti’s. Ravi’s eyes shot wide open as the bark splintered and snapped off.
“Damn!” She breathed.
“Ok so if we run out of cash and get hungry in nominate Tahati to go hunting,” Tiana smirked.
“Same,” Zangi laughed.
“I can’t it’s against Islam because it won’t be halal,” Tahati explained.
Simi nodded and patted her on the back to show how proud she was that Tahati was being a good Muslim. Then she grabbed the bow and yelled “my turn!”
Everyone had at least one go with Tahati directing them on how to stand and where to draw the string to. Everyone hit the poor tree. They went in a sequence. Tahati then Ravi then Simi then Zangi then Tiana. Each time they took a shot from the same spot and tried not to flinch.
By the time they ran out of arrows the tree trunk looked like a hedgehog.
“We’re out of arrows,” Simi declared.
“We’ll just pull them out of the tree,” zangi shrugged.
“Yeah you try. I’m sure it’ll end well,” Tiana smirked.
Zangi examined where the arrows met the bark. Oozing from each hole was an amber coloured sticky syrup. She’d never seen it before and wasnt sure what it was.
“It’ll be like that game with the marbles and the sticks,” Zangi said.
“Kerplunk?” Simi asked.
“Something like that,” zangi muttered.
She carefully gripped the end of an arrow, and wriggled it gently. It bent more than wriggled. Zangi gulped. She really didnt want it to split and send a splinter into her palm. That idea made her to nervous so she gave up trying to pull it.
“That’s stuck fast. There’s no way thats coming out,” Zangi declared.
“Step aside bitch, I can do this,” Tahati scoffed.
Each girl took a step back as she approached the tree. Last time things didn't go the way she wanted, she literally flipped a table over, with Lucille's lunch still on it.
Tahati grabbed the body of the arrow with both hands, and put all her weight into pulling back. Then... CRACK!
The snap split through the air like a lightning bolt. Tahati was thrown backwards, landing in the tangle of roots. For a lingering few seconds where was deathly silence...
Then Tahati sat up and groaned.
Now certain she was alive, the others howled with laughter.
"Shit fam you okay?!" Ravi howled with tears forming at the edges of her eyes.
"Yeah, no thanks to any of you!" Tahati huffed.
"Aw c'mon Hati," Zangi grinned, "you'd laugh if it was one of us!"
Tahati didn't reply. She just huffed. Simi helped her to her feet, and she dusted herself off. Half of the arrow was still in her hand. Before they could say anything else, a furious man in puffy lilac pantaloons came around the corner searching for the girls who stole his bow.
"Time to go!" Zangi declared.
None of the girls had ever won a medal at their schools sports days (or participated) but if running from an angry medeval man through a forest was an event, they would have won gold.