Chapter 13: An Arrow for an Answer
To say I didn’t sleep well felt like an understatement. I honestly wasn’t sure if I had slept at all, every time I closed my eyes, I pictured Luca. While a small sensible part of me wanted to say that I should be cautious falling for my mate this quick, my wolf was the happiest I had felt her, in well ever. Still, I had hoped to have seen him again last night. Not that I wanted to play it easy, but the aching in my chest was almost unbearable.
I thought back to all of the conversations I had with Rose growing up. Ever since I was young, she would tell me fairytales of how perfect the love was between mates. She never described the pain of being apart from her mate because once her and Dan met, that was it. She was already impulsive, so she left her life the same day and went cross country sightseeing with him. I sometimes envied her carefree nature. I remember her saying that after she met Dan, she couldn’t sleep another night without him. I thought it was romantic, much less so now that I knew she meant literally.
After finishing a few sketches, I hopped into the shower to get ready. Not many of the orphans had entered the games, and today was my first round. Dressing in black skinny jeans, brown short boots and a fitted crimson top that accentuated my flaming hair, I braided it up both sides before pulling it up in a ponytail. I knew Luca would be there and I wanted to look my best.
Grabbing my archery gear, I headed to the main family cabin to say goodbye before leaving for the fairgrounds.
Lining up to sign in at the two main registration tables, I adjusted my bow and quiver strap as I scanned the crowds. Closing my eyes briefly, I inhaled deeply trying to locate Luca’s scent. Nothing. My wolf growled in annoyance; I understood her frustration.
Progressing through the line slowly, I was interrupted by a gruff tone and the smell of stale beer breath. “You lost little girl?” I heard a man’s voice question behind me. Turning, I appraised the larger muscle-bound bald man that seemed to be sneering in my direction. Two other large men appeared at his sides. “You’re supposed to be wearing your pack insignia,” one of the smaller men commented, eyeing me up and down.
I rolled my eyes; I knew better than to feed into some sexist brute that I could beat with one hand tied behind my back. Stepping around them I resumed my place in line, stating my name for the registrar. Handing me my grey entry ribbon, indicating that I was not part of any pack, I could hear the men snicker behind me. My wolf jeered inside my head, ironic, she hissed.
Their chuckle grew louder. “Oh, so you don’t have an allegiance.”
“Are you a little orphan?” The smaller one on the left questioned.
“Maybe I can be your new daddy?” The center one snickered, taking a step towards me. I stood my ground, I was used to bullies like this whenever packs came through here, and this was not my first rude brute with low opinions of my heritage that I had to deal with.
“The lady is here to compete, just like the rest of us.” I smooth voice spoke from behind the group. “I would suggest walking away.”
The three men immediately stiffened when they turned to see the owner of the voice. Peering around them I saw a handsome man with tousled tan hair, slightly cleft chin, and deep hazel eyes. He had a broad nose and an innocent look about him. Something about the way he carried himself told me that his looks could be deceiving.
Stepping forward he stared at me intently before standing beside me to give the registrar his name. Taking his white entry ribbon my eyes widened in realization as this indicated he was part of the arctic pack.
“We didn’t mean anything by it.” One of the side guys stammered, taking a few steps back.
The larger middle one spat at the ground in front of the man. “An arctic wolf is just as good as a rogue, perfect for a worthless orphan.” He scowled, turning to head to the archery line.
“Not that it was necessary, but thanks for stepping in,” I said, offering him my hand. “I’m Red.” Taking in his form closer, I could see that he wore a white leather armguard decorated with the crest of the Arctic Wolf pack, in stark contrast to my plain brown leather guard.
“Christian.” He gave me an easy smile, accepting my hand.
“So, you know Luca then?” I questioned, causing him to raise an eyebrow.
“I do indeed. And how do you know him?” Christian inquired, now curiosity evident in his expression.
“We –“ I faltered, unsure of how to continue. “- only met recently.” I concluded, deciding that I would wait to speak to Luca before making any publicly facing remarks to his pack members.
“Hmmm.” He responded, as if musing over my answer.
We were interrupted by the announcer calling all archery tournament participants to line up behind the waiting line.
“Good luck then,” I said with a smile before turning to walk away. “Good luck to you too.” Christian responded, still smiling as he turned to line up.
Pulling on my plain brown shooting glove, I pulled out an arrow waiting for the announcer’s instructions. We began with standard distance 70-meter targets. The initial rounds rules were simple, we were divided into groups of three and the closest arrow to the center moved onto the next round. It was really for elimination purposes as there were a few dozen initial participants.
Hearing the announcer release two whistles, the first archers proceeded to the shooting line. Followed by a single whistle blow, the first round of archers nocked their arrows and began shooting. I easily bested my first round of opponents, the tip of my arrow touching the ring of the bullseye. I proceeded through four more groups of three in the next hour.
Scanning the crowd, I still saw no sign of Luca. I let out a slightly frustrated sigh, shaking my head to get back to focusing on the competition.
The second round was set with more formal archery rules, with each archer being granted three arrows. After taking their shots, the final position of each arrow will be used to determine a final score on the 5 color, 10 ring targets. The top 10 scores will progress to the final round.
Taking my practiced stance, I nocked my first arrow. Carefully setting my draw and bow hand positions, I pulled back on my recurve bow string. Taking a steady breath, I narrowed my eyes on the target. I loved this moment, all outside sound seem to fall away, my only focus was the single point where my arrow would strike. I released my arrow on my exhalation, striking the center ring. At the end of the round, I had two arrows in the center ring and my last in the second from center.
Standing back, I couldn’t help but smile at my score, it definitely placed me in the top ten. As the other archers receded back, I stood among the finalists. Christian was one of them, and only the lead blockhead that harassed me earlier made it this far.
“Alright everyone, now onto the third and final round!” The announcer boomed. This round was a little different and a wolf favorite. Designed to test an archer’s true mastery of marksmanship, the targets were moved closer to be positioned in a short range 25-meter distance. We were paired into groups of two, each having their own target. Whatever shot the first archer made, the second had to mirror their final arrow location on the any of the 10 circles on their own target.
I was paired up with a random and nervous looking guy who I hadn’t met before. Christian was pared up with blockhead, a match that I couldn’t wait to see.
My first opponent was only able to match my strikes for four rounds before he struck outside of the target circle, eliminating his place in the competition. He graciously thanked me for a good few rounds and departed.
Being one of the first to beat my opponent I was paired up with another final round victor. This archer met my strikes for a full 10 rounds before I landed an arrow carefully in the outer band. Trying to match my move, he aimed wide and missed the target all together. I thanked him in good sportsmanship only to be met with a grunt as he retreated into the crowd.
Taking a moment as the last two pairs were still competing, I watched Christian toy with the rude brute.
As if he sensed me watching, he increased his speed, still continuing to match his opponents strikes flawlessly. While the bulky bald man had sweat dripping down his flushed face, Christian was calm and composed.
More than that he made it look easy. He’s the best archer I have ever seen!
Getting caught up in watching their match helped me forget the aching feeling deep in my chest. A hand on my shoulder brought me back to the here and now as I turned quickly to discover it was my next opponent, not who I hoped it would be.
This match determined who would place third in the competition, as whoever won from Christians team would be paired with the victor of my team.
My final opponent was a talented archer, I’ll give him that. We went back and forth for several rounds, matching mark for mark. Finally, we were both aiming at the center circle, ensuring the one to lose would be the one who strayed the most from bullseye. This lasted for three rounds before his arrow struck wide.
Bowing to each other in respect, the announcer stated my victory, ensuring that I would face the victor from the last pair.
I hope it’s Christian, I thought vaguely, even if I lose this competition, it would still be much more enjoyable to face off with him than that bald brute.
Shielding my eyes from the blaring sun, the noon heat now beginning to affect me. Not nearly as much as the brute, his bald head and cheeks now resembling a tomato. He looked exhausted, while Christian just smiled smugly.
“Finished with the other competition?” He asked me.
“Yup, now just waiting on you.” I said, matching his previous smirk.
He winked at me before approaching the brute, making a proposition. “How about we wrap this up, we shoot three arrows all in the same circle, and the first one to deviate loses.”
The man grunted, nodding in approval. Glancing in my direction, he grunted again, seeing that I made it this far.
It was at this moment I realized I was playing with fire. Christian nocked his first arrow, turning to meet my eyes as he released arrow, after arrow, after arrow. All striking the center ring, all without looking at the target.
My face flushed. He had been toying with the brute, and now he had to be my opponent. My wolf growled inside me, I don’t like someone other than our mate looking at us like that.
Calm down, I cautioned her. He’ll be here soon, I’m sure of it. Breaking his stare to scan the crowd again searching for Luca.
He better be, she replied, sounding more and more annoyed each passing moment.
Baldie missed his first arrow, throwing his bow down in aggravation and storming off the archery field.
The announcer stated the results of the second to last match, giving us both a 10 minute break before the final round.
Getting some water, my shoulders slumped. Luca still wasn’t here, and I hated how much it was othering me.
“Your eyes keep scanning the crowd, you looking for someone?” Christian asked softly, taking a water cup of his own. With disappointment evident in my expression and tone, I exhaled shaking my head. “No, just not used to being around this many people.” I lied.
“Hmm,” he mused again. “How about a game then? To get your mind off the crowd.” He smirked.
“What kind of game?” I asked, my own lips curling into a smile, this could be interesting.
“With each round that either of us takes a shot, we get to ask the other a question. And the one to hit the mark has to answer the question. We’ll continue until either of us misses.”
“So, an arrow for an answer then?” I retorted, smiling at his sneaky way of continuing our conversation from earlier.
“Exactly.” A coy smile spread across his face.