Sitting in my room, I quietly watched Jaiden practice his archery. I winced every time he loosed an arrow. It was a little pathetic. He obviously had just taken up the craft, or he had not practiced at all in a long while. He kept missing the target by quite a bit. I could not see his hands on his bow, which I was assuming was the problem as his stance was perfect. Unable to stand it any longer, I crawled out the window, landing gingerly on my feet. I shuffled over to him and placed a hand on his arm after he had released another arrow. He started and turned to me.
“What?” he asked, surprised.
I immediately spotted the problem. “Your hands are positioned wrong on the bow,” I said.
“What?” he repeated. “How do you know that?” He seemed to answer his own question and sighed. “Oh. Right. You are…you. Well then, how am I supposed to hold it?”
I moved forward, positioning his hands correctly. He looked a little skeptical, but moved to shoot the bow again. This time, he hit the target. It was not a perfect shot in the slightest, but it was the best I had seen him shoot.
“See? Isn’t that better?” I asked with a smile.
He tilted his head to the side, looking pleased. “So that is why they always laughed when I went to shoot.”
“Did your father never teach you?”
“He is not a hunter,” the boy said simply as he drew another arrow. “He does not know how to shoot. The boys who are hunters think they are better than I am, so they never taught me how to do anything related to the bow or the hunt.”
“I can teach you if you want,” I offered happily.
“Really?” he asked, his face lighting up.
“I do not see any reason why not. I am feeling much better than I did, and I can almost walk right.”
“How do I know you will be a good teacher?” Jaiden challenged, eagerness in his eyes.
He practically shoved the bow in my hands when I asked for it. I took a deep breath then stood straight, nocked an arrow, then fired. It landed dead center. Jaiden laughed.
“You are as good as the Dwarf says you are.”
I blushed as I took in his words. Praise for my abilities was something I was not used to, except from Elthinor and Gabrithon. And any Satyr, but they were different. To have a Human say something kind to me was new. If only Tynan, the boy who had teased and tormented me back in my village, could see me now, I thought as I smiled at Jaiden.
“Thank you. Now you have had your first lesson. Would you like another?”
For the next week or so, I helped Jaiden with his archery. He steadily improved. At the end of it all, he, like any typical boy, wanted to show off in the center of town. I followed him and sat back, watching him. He shot several arrows, pride obvious on his face as he turned to assess whether or not it was well received by his peers. His smile quickly faded.
“You think that is impressive?” the boy I thought was called Kelvin asked.
“I have improved,” Jaiden said weakly.
“You think you are as good as we are?”
“N-no. I just wanted to show you my progress.”
“Not much progress. Watch this.”
Kelvin grabbed the bow and an arrow from the quiver on Jaiden’s back and stood very still for a moment before loosing the arrow. It hit close to the bullseye but was not a direct shot. I snickered. He thought he was the best, I could tell from his attitude. He might be the best native in the village, but I knew I could outshoot him. He evidently had heard my derisive noise and turned to me.
“What? Do you think you can do better, girl?” Kelvin asked, his voice mocking.
“Yes,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Prove it,” he said, holding out the bow.
I shrugged, took the bow, and grabbed an arrow. I turned, nocked the arrow, and fired. No pause was needed for me. The arrow hit dead center. My skills were that honed. Archery had filled most of my spare time back in Paxtonvale. Having no friends, time had often hung heavy in my hands. That, coupled with the fact that I did all the hunting, had sharpened my skills to the point where I never missed my target. Well, a target that was naturally fast. The supernatural speed of the enemies we now faced was a different story. I still needed to adjust for the speed, which was difficult as I had nothing fast enough to practice on.
“How did you do that?” Kelvin demanded, breaking me out of my thoughts.
I looked around at the gathered crowd of girls and boys, ranging in age from little children to people in their mid-twenties. I shrugged at the question and smiled.
“I have had quite a bit of practice,” I said.
“No…that has to be a fluke. Do it again if you are so good!” Kelvin said.
I grabbed another arrow, and as I turned to fire at the target, a flash of movement caught my eye in a patch of grass. I had a pretty good notion of what it was. I fired, and laughter exploded around me.
“You missed!” Kelvin crowed. “I knew it had to be chance.”
“I was not aiming at the target,” I said sweetly.
Jaiden looked at me in confusion then went and retrieved the arrow. There, impaled cleanly on the end, was a little brown field mouse. And around me there was suddenly silence. Silence so thick that you could cut it with a knife. I was tempted to pull my knife out of its sheath to try when Kelvin spoke again.
“You hit a mouse,” Kelvin said, shock in his face and in his voice. “At forty-five paces you hit a mouse.”
“Yes. And I was aiming for it, too.”
There was suddenly anger on Kelvin’s face. He grabbed the bow from me and threw it to the side.
“Girls are supposed to stay in the house,” he said through gritted teeth. “I suggest you go back to where you belong.”
I narrowed my eyes, the familiar feeling of my temper rising sweeping over me. “Do not tell me where I belong, boy. I have been through things that would make you run and cower.”
A hand was suddenly pulling my hair, tilting my neck at an awkward angle. A cold voice, which stemmed from being shown up by a girl no doubt, reached my ears.
“Get back where you belong.”
The position was familiar, but I was not going to just struggle weakly in this boy’s grasp. I kicked his shin, and his grip on my hair loosened. I jerked away and stood in a defensive position with my hands up. He scowled at me.
“You want to fight like a man, too? So be it!”
He took a swing at me without warning, and I ducked it easily. We danced for a few minutes, Kelvin throwing punches every once in a while. I heard somebody calling my name, distracting me as he swung again and his fist connected with my jaw, sending me backwards. With a fire in my veins, I took my first swing, hitting him right across the face. He went down fast and just lay there. It took me a moment to realize that I had knocked him unconscious. I felt somebody suddenly grab my arm and I looked to see Valtrak, his eyes wide. Aloron and Eretren were standing behind him with their mouths slightly agape, definitely shocked at what I had done.
Kelvin’s friends picked him up and shook him awake. He let out a soft groan and opened his eyes to blearily look at me. I moved forward, and he skittered back against the wall of a market stall. I stood in front of him, boring into him with my eyes. I eventually spoke, my voice soft but firm.
“If you ever fight me again, more than your pride will be wounded. I have fought things much faster, much stronger, and much cleverer than you. I suggest you remember that. Do you understand?” He nodded. “Good. Now I suggest you have Aloron or somebody else look at that eye of yours. It is blackened already and is starting to swell.”
Valtrak grabbed my arm again and tugged on it. “Let’s go back to the house, Filynora.”
I moved and picked up the bow, tossing it to Jaiden. “Keep practicing, Jaiden. Do not let what these boys say get to you. You can do much more than they think you can, and, more importantly, you can do more than you think you can.”
He stared at me for a moment then gave me a small smile. “I will. Maybe one day I shall be as good as you are.”
I chuckled as Valtrak dragged me along, his Dwarvish strength impossible for me to resist with my back still sore; I honestly could not believe I had just won a fight with the way my back was acting. “Maybe,” I replied. “Just maybe.”
I walked back to the house with my Dwarven friend and was promptly put into bed. A hearty plate of bread and venison appeared, and I ate slowly, thinking about Jaiden. When Leah came in to take my empty plate, I stopped her.
“What do you think of Jaiden?” I asked seriously.
“What about him?” Leah asked.
“Is he a loyal, trustworthy boy?”
Leah looked thoughtful. “Yes, I suppose,” she said, her eyes wary as she looked at me. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” I lied.
She stared at me for a couple more seconds before leaving, shutting the door behind her.
I lay back onto the soft bed, humming. I wanted to know about Jaiden because the archery lessons had reminded me of my time with Elthinor in Ellavendir when we had talked about fighting. Back then it had seemed silly that we should ever fight anything, but now it was real. And all the fighting we had done up to that point had ended up with Elthinor and most of my friends being captured. I was beginning to hatch a plan to get Elthinor back. Ember had disappeared a couple of days into my healing and had come back with my Elemental horses before he had gone again, I assumed to find more Elementals. I just needed to be sure that Jaiden would help me. I decided to wait a day or two more before I asked him for his assistance.