Bronaxil Greenbottle Lightfoot shifted his weight nervously from one foot to the other. He was standing on a low stool and his shifting balance threatened to topple him off the stool and deposit him on his rump. That would have been even more embarrassing, so he gritted his teeth and held himself still. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough already being the focus of a roomful of eyes watching his every move.
“There, that should sit better.” Bron’s mother straightened up from where she’d been fixing the hem of his tunic and slid her needle through the seam of her apron so that it sat neatly parallel to several others.
“Thanks, Ma,” said Bron as he reached down and wriggled the tunic into place. The cloth was still new and felt a bit stiff under his hands. The trous he wore underneath were also stiff and new, but they fitted well thanks to earlier sessions like this – thankfully without this morning’s audience.
“I think you look ever so handsome,” piped up a voice from one side of the room.
Bron grinned and looked over at where his cousin Themaxil was squished into a narrow space on a bench between her older sister and her mother.
“Thanks, Them,” said Bron. “That’s sweet of you to say.”
“I agree with your cousin,” said Bron’s mother with a proud look on her face. “You do look very handsome in that uniform.”
“I always did like the colours of the Town Guard uniform,” put in Bron’s father. “They look good and the colours hold to the cloth well, so they don’t fade as quick as some.”
Bron rolled his eyes and decided not to point out – again – that they were called the Town Militia and not the Town Guard. He simply nodded his understanding to his father and then he stepped down from the stool with a small sigh of relief.
“Here’s to the Town Guard,” called out Uncle Ferbom as he raised his tankard a little unsteadily.
“To the Town Guard and their newest recruit,” called out Bron’s father as he raised his own tankard.
There was a loud cheer and everyone in the room raised their cups or tankards and joined in the toast. Having Bron step down off the stool seemed to signal the assembled extended family that they could resume their conversations and the room soon filled with the buzz of chatter.
Bron saw a hand gesture to him from the corner, so he dragged the stool over and sat on it.
“Hi Gramma,” he said as he took her small hand in his own. “Did you want to talk to me?”
“I surely did,” came the reply from the wizened old woman. “I have a gift for you.”
She gestured at a long thin bundle by her feet and Bron reached and picked it up. He quickly unwrapped the bundle to reveal an unstrung backwards-curving bow that was stained a deep red.
“Your bow?” said Bron.
“Your bow, now,” said his grandmother. “A bow like that needs to be used and I’m past the days when I’ll be using it. I had it made for me in a little town called Masreddy. It’s not there anymore, the place got raided by Orcs and they burnt it to the ground.”
Bron nodded his understanding. He’d heard that story before, as well as numerous others that contradicted that one, but he kept listening.
His grandmother gestured at the bow. “You’ll find it to be as powerful as the longbows that some of the talls use. You know how to care for a bow, I’ve seen to that. But this one you’ll need to take extra care with. Oil it up regular and keep it out of the rain as much as you can. Wipe it down straight away if it gets wet, you know what I mean.”
Bron nodded again.
“Young Bron, I have somat else to say and you be listening.” She looked at Bron carefully and then smiled and continued. “There are two ways Lightfoots grow up. They either grow up wanderers or they grow up dwellers. Now your parents, I love them both, but they grew up dwellers – content to learn a trade and never travel much further than the next town. You and me, lad, we grew up wanderers. This Guard will be good for you, make no mistake. You’ll learn good skills from them, and you’ll learn how to deal with all manner of folks. But sooner or later, you’ll get a chance to go travelling and when you do you must grab it. If you stick here because you think you have some duty to stick here, then you’ll wind up as unhappy as a fish outa water.”
“Okay, Gramma, I understand,” said Bron.
“Good lad,” said his grandmother. “The talls call us Halflings but we are Lightfoots, never forget that. Be proud of who you are and represent Lightfoots the best way you can.”
“Yes, Gramma,” said Bron.
“Now go thank the rest and then get yourself up to the Guardhouse. And don’t let those talls there bother you none about your size. They’ve been wanting for you to sign up with them since you won that Summer Fair archery contest that first time. Since then you’ve proved over and over that you’re the best shot in Sandpoint and they need the likes of you there, so don’t you forget it.”
“Yes Gramma, I won’t let them hassle me.”
Bron stood and then stooped to kiss his grandmother’s cheek. Then he started circling the room to chat to the other Lightfoots who’d turned up to celebrate his big day.
His mother wrapped him in a warm hug. Then she whispered in his ear, “Are you sure you want to do this? There’s a place for you in the shop if you want it. You’d be ever so much safer.”
Bron patted his mother’s back and eased out of the hug. “We’ve talked about this before, Ma. I’m not cut out for that life.”
His mother sighed and shook her head. “I blame Gramma for filling your head with all those stories of travelling and fighting and what-not. I bet she never mentioned the danger or the discomfort or the types of people you’ll have to deal with.”
“Yes Ma, she told me all those things, too. But it’s time for me to go. My mind is set on this and you won’t change it. Be well, Ma. You’ll see me soon.”
When he got to his father, they hugged and then his father handed him a small roll of cloth. Bron gave his father a puzzled look and then unrolled the cloth to reveal a single arrow. Bron blinked in confusion and looked back at his father for some explanation.
“We knew Gramma was going to give you her bow so we saved up some money and asked Cousin Wernaxil to find you something useful from Magnamar last time she was down there. She brought back this. It’s supposed to never break despite anything you do to it.” He shrugged. “None of us dared test that idea, but it cost enough so it should do the job.”
“Thank you, Pa. I’m sure it’ll be perfect.”
A moment later, he was getting a hug from Cousin Themaxil at the same time as he was getting a kiss on the cheek from Aunt Ronaborm.
He patted Them on the shoulder, “Don’t worry, I’m only going up the hill to the Garrison. You’ll still see me around.”
“Yes, but you’ll be busy training every day,” pouted Them, “you won’t be around to spend time with me. We’ve been playing together every day since we were babies.”
Bron grinned. “Maybe so. But if you’re going to apprentice with my Ma and Pa and learn weaving then you won’t have much spare time either. It’s time for both of us to grow up and start earning our way.”
Them sighed and then punched him lightly in the arm. “Don’t let those talls bully you. And don’t go getting yourself dead or I’ll never forgive you.”
“I’d be pretty upset, too,” laughed Bron. “How’s your boyfriend? The scout?”
Themaxil shrugged. “He’s fine – probably. He’s out there right now, keeping track of one of the local goblin tribes.”
Bron nodded. “Well, tell him hi for me next time he comes into town. I better get going, I’m supposed to report at noon. Enjoy the rest of the party.”
After another hug from his mother, Bron shouldered his pack and his quiver and his Gramma’s old bow. Then with a cheery wave to the assembled crowd, he stepped out the front door of the house he’d grown up in and started walking up High Street with a smile and a whistle.
A short time later, Bron knocked on the door to the office of Sherriff Hemlock.
“Come!” came the yell from inside.
Bron stepped through the doorway to find three talls seated around the table looking at some sort of map. They all looked up and watched as Bron entered the room and came to a halt a few feet in front of them. Sheriff Hemlock was in the middle. On one side was a man wearing the same Guard Uniform as Bron except his was worn and faded. The woman wore wizard robes.
“I was told to come straight in and report to you, sir,” said Bron.
“Yes, you were, lad,” said the Sherriff as he straightened up. “You must be the Greenbottle lad, Bron-something?”
“Yes, sir. I’m Bronaxil Greenbottle,” said Bron.
“You’ve won the last three Summer Fair archery contests in a row,” said the Sherriff. “I saw you shoot last summer, that was fine shooting.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Bron.
“Shooting at things that are moving can be a might bit different,” said the other man.
“Yes sir, I’ve been hunting in the woods and shot at rabbits and such like. But I expect I have a lot to learn and I’m wanting to learn it.”
The Sherriff nodded. “Can you write your name, Bron?”
“Yes sir, I’ve been reading and writing since I were small...” Bron stopped and looked at the three talls who were sitting at the table and were still taller than him. “ ... well, smaller,” he finished with a grin.
“Good.” The Sherriff opened a ledger and flipped through to find the page he was looking for. He spun the ledger around to face Bron and held out a quill. “Write your full name in the next blank line, include any titles or clan names or what have you.”
Bron had to stand on his toes to see what he was doing and even so it was awkward but he managed to write his name clearly and neatly into the appropriate place. He handed the quill back to the Sherriff who then reached out and shook Bron’s hand.
“Welcome to the Sandpoint Militia, young Bron. This is Jez. He’s going to look after your training for the most part. And this is Mirriam, she’ll help you with any magic you might have. Do you have any magic?”
“I think so, sir,” said Bron. “I can light a candle and put one out.”
Mirriam reached over and snagged a candle from a shelf. “Show us, Bron.”
Bron gave a low whistle and the candle flickered alight. He waited a moment until it was burning steadily then he whistled again and the flame snuffed out.
Mirriam nodded and stood, “Come along then, let’s get you checked out.”
Mirriam strode to the door and Bron turned to follow her. At that moment, the Sherriff caught sight of the bow slung over his back.
“Hold up, lad. May I see your bow?”
“Yes sir.” Bron slid the bow off his shoulder and handed it to the Captain. He ran his hands over the wood and felt the curves.
“It’s a recurve bow,” said the Sherriff, “And a composite by the look of it. I’ve heard about these but never seen one. Where did you get it?”
“My grandmother had it made overseas somewhere. I’ve heard about six or seven different stories about how and where she got it and none of them match. She’s had it for years and years. She gifted it to me.”
“I’d love to see you shoot it, let’s go to the butts.”
Sherriff Hemlock handed the bow back to Bron and strode off, followed in order by Miriam, Jez and Bron. They went through the main section of the Garrison Building and out into an internal courtyard where several of the militia were training with swords. They skirted the skirmishers and walked over to an open space with straw bales stacked up at one end as targets. One of the bales had a circle painted onto it about one foot wide about the same height off the ground as the chest of a typical tall.
“Off you go, lad,” said the Sherriff. “See how many you can land in the circle.”
Bron nodded and walked to the other end of the space, as close to the opposite wall as he could stand and still have space behind him to draw the bow. He reached into the quiver, pulled out a bowstring and quickly strung the bow.
Jez coughed and spoke. “Bron lad, when we’re training, we usually stand about halfway across the butt where those marks are. There’s no need for you to stand so far back.”
Bron shrugged and said, “This is a pretty powerful bow. This distance is still pretty close. I’ve shot with this bow a few times, but it’s been a while so it might take me a shot or two to get my eye in.”
The other militia had noticed what was happening and stopped their training to wander over and watch.
Bron took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He plucked an arrow from his quiver and knocked it. Then in a smooth move, he lifted the bow, drew back and fired. The arrow hummed softly as it flew through the air, dipping only slightly before it sunk into the straw bale about three fingers above the red circle.
Bron frowned at it, then he took another arrow from his quiver and shot again, this time the arrow dipped and hit the bottom edge of the circle. Bron smiled and shifted his feet. His third arrow struck right into the centre of the circle. In quick succession, he knocked and fired three more arrows without waiting to see where they landed. All three struck the circle close to his third arrow and together the four of them covered an area no larger than the palm of Bron’s hand.
There was a smattering of applause from the assembled men and women.
The Sherriff nodded and said, “Good. I expect you’ll have to go outside the wall so you can train at long range. I’d love to see how the range of that little composite recurve compares to that of a full-sized longbow. Well, I better get back to it, and so should these idle slackers.”
He turned and strode back inside, glaring at the watching militia as he walked. They hustled back to the sanded training ground and were soon back to work.
Mirriam gestured for Bron to follow her, then she and Jez headed for a different doorway. Bron trotted over to the straw bales and quickly retrieved his arrows before running to catch up to Mirriam.
Mirriam led the way into a small chamber with a circle painted on the floor. It had various arcane sigils around the outside and was probably large enough for three or four people to sit inside. In the various corners of the room were a chest and a cupboard and a set of shelves lined with bottles and jars containing assorted weird and hard to identify substances.
Mirriam pointed to a vacant corner and said, “Put your things there and then sit on the blue cross inside the circle.” Then she bustled from one corner to the other and grabbed a selection of different ingredients which she mixed in a bowl.
Jez leaned against the door and watched as Bron carefully set his pack and his bow and quiver in the corner. By the time Bron had found a blue cross painted on the floor and sat, Mirriam had joined him in the circle. She adjusted her robes around her and sat cross-legged facing Bron and put the bowl on the floor between them.
“Now sit still and try not to fidget. This will take about ten minutes – longer if you keep shifting around. Hold your hands out like this and rest your arms on your knees. I’m going to hold your hands. You might feel a faint tingling or whatever. Don’t react, just let it happen.”
She was speaking brusquely and Bron got the impression she’d rather be doing something else.
Mirriam barked a sharp word and the painted circle glowed brightly for a moment then the glowing paint dimmed to a soft luminescence. She muttered a few phrases and waggled her fingers over the bowl. It immediately started emitting a pungent smoke which swirled up and around, never leaving the confines of the circle until a clear boundary could be seen marking a hemisphere that enclosed both them and the smoke.