Aaren instructed his apprentice on the best way to hold and rest the crossbow on his shoulder so that it gave him the perfect viewing angle and most comfortable position for firing. Aaren also shared some tips on how to fire the weapon from different positions along with some exercises that he could do to improve his skill with the weapon. Putting the crossbow aside, he retrieved the more commonly seen weapon, the bow, along with a quiver full of arrows and an addition to the guard cuff he had on his left arm.
“The quiver is to hold your arrows. We usually carry as many as we can without the arrows getting cluttered together or potentially warping themselves from being in odd positions.”
It was a traditional quiver in the sense that it wasn’t one of those ridiculous hip quivers Eamonn had seen used more commonly these days, in his mind, a hip quiver was more for tournament use where your movement or access to the quiver was never impeded. A quiver slung across your shoulders was far more practical in the thick undergrowth of the woods or when riding horseback. It appeared that Aaren shared Eamonn’s view.
“The addition to the cuff is to protect the help you with stringing the bow, there’s a small rivulet there that you can place the string to hold onto until you’re ready to slip it onto the bow and of course the guard itself it to keep you from getting a nasty whip from the string” he explained to the boy.
Once again Eamonn observed his growing inventory of items. The bow was simple enough. Eamonn had seen some of these and knew that it was a frequently used weapon by the archer units, a coordinated group of a hundred men proficient in firing in a mass. They were an effective unit for a large army to maintain, and it was easy to call upon large numbers of around the country whenever a battle was in the offing. Everyone, Eamonn thought, could use a bow reasonably well.
He observed that it wasn’t the same longbow many would normally use. Instead it was a smaller bow set in a ‘U’ shape, with steel limbs in place to support the slight curvature of the body.
“It’s a much better design than the recurve bows you see. The steel limbs will ensure that as you draw the bowstring that it maintains its shape. Early on we found that the weapon had a propensity to become misshapen when under too much strain or even break in extreme cases.” Eamonn nodded at the statement, looking at the grooved handle and how his hand seemed to sit at home comfortably. When he contemplated the unstrung bow, it seemed to him that it was, in fact, backwards.
Seeing the action jogged Aaren’s memory about the bow. Stepping forward, he took the bow and produced a long piece of cordage, a bowstring, Eamonn decided. Within seconds Aaren had the bow strung neatly, the new shape proved Eamonn right, it was now in the shape of a ‘W’.
“It’s a reflex bow.” Aaren said simply, “When unstrung it’s under little strain and bends in the opposite way, once strung, the tension keeps it in this position, it’s safe enough, just don’t do too much dry firing.” Eamonn nodded, knowing that the idea of ‘dry’ shooting or firing without an arrow nocked to the string would damage the limbs.
He was busy marveling at the contours and joins in the wood and where it met and blended with the steel in the limbs of the bow when he noticed two rivets in his guard. Curiously, Eamonn fingered them, seeing that they were on the outside of the arm.
Aaren quickly bent down, looking into one of the smaller compartments of the pack and presented the boy with two hook-shaped objects, “You’ll be needing these.” he insisted. Eamonn was puzzled by the two hooks. They didn’t seem to be very significant as he slot them into the two proud openings on the stiffened leather of the cuff. Together, they resembled some form of hook shape.
“What do I do with these?” he asked his teacher, indicating the obscure items.
“These ‘hooks’ that you have there are in fact grapples. Not projectiles. Though I can tell you now that would be extremely handy to have, for that we’d them to be spring loaded much like the crossbow and then you’d be stuck with…” he stopped noticing the blank look on Eamonn’s face, realizing he’d gone off topic.
“What we do with these” he started again, deliberately motioning to the hooks, “is that you fit them into these openings as you’ve done there” he said demonstrating on his own cuff, “much like the crossbow, you move them until they lock into place.” he said, pausing briefly to make sure his student had done the same.
“You can use them in a few ways, these sharp ends are good enough to puncture light armour, and yet are strong enough to block a dagger’s blow so long as they’re no more than a millimeter or so thick. I’ve also seen them used to stop an arrow, though the man walked away with a jarred wrist, it proved quite successful. And finally, it can act as well… a hook really. They’re very effective when climbing sheer cliffs and ice in particular, the cuffs and hooks were made with the intention of being able to support roughly eighty kilograms of weight, if you wear another on your right arm, you should be able to scale sheer rock walls. I wouldn’t try scaling any mountains with them if I were you” he added. “They do tend to bend easily. Not really something you want if you’re attempting to climb if you ask me.”
The boy looked down now at the cuff, safe in the knowledge that like everything else he’d learnt so far today, it could prove to be valuable in the near future, it was yet another thing he’d be practicing with until he was proficient.
His mind went back to the bow in his right hand and again Eamonn noticed how different the bow was to a standard longbow, he put the question to his master, “Yes you’re right, it is different to what you’ll usually see” Aaren replied, “this bow is a reflex bow as I mentioned earlier, a weapon that is very similar to the ones that some of the king’s other member’s use, you’ll notice that everyone in our unit has one of these, although few use them, instead they opt for the crossbow.”
The boy felt the weapon in his hand. It definitely was light, and strong to say the least.
“The idea was to have something that was lightweight. When compared to a longbow, we needed something just as reliable, the crossbow is effective enough, some just simply prefer something a bit more physical. Along with everything else, we needed something lightweight, so the Commission decided to make a variation of the standard longbow and this is the result, the double recurve that forms the ‘W’ shape works to get more power and speed out of a lower draw weight and length of the pull back, unfortunately that means that we get less range with it. Which is when we use this” he said.
Taking an arrow from a smaller quiver from the near side of the pack, “These different arrows allow for longer firing distances, the heavier body and more streamline head and tail coincide to give the user greater power over the longer distance as they can cut through the air and aren’t affected by the wind during its travel, it pretty much acts just like every other bolt in your quiver, though you’ll need to increase the level of your shot as they tend to fly a little lower. These have greater penetrative qualities which of course you’ll need to load in with single shots if you plan on using them in your crossbow, but you’ll learn that in time.”
“We’ve also got some people working on magnified sights for your crossbow which will give you better accuracy over longer ranges. This will mean you can use the same arrows in any situation instead of having to use the two different ones. Those standard arrows enable us to shoot about two-hundred meters with the crossbow and maybe two-hundred and fifty with the reflex bow. We tend to have a little difficult being accurate at that distance, so the sights will be a welcome extra. For your peace of mind, everything is handcrafted and specifically made, like the rest of our weapons.” Aaren finished.
The prospect of unique weapons appealed to Eamonn, the idea that he could have a weapon that was suited best to his technique and style would ensure that few people would be able to use them to the same effectiveness that he could. He grinned up at his mentor, who, likewise, was now glad to see his young friend finding his life a lot more palatable than he’d first though.
“Yes, it’s all well and good to have a unique weapon that has been tailored to your liking” he said, lightening the mood of the conversation “but…” he began, laying emphasis on the word.
“If a weapon of ours is stolen, damaged beyond repair or lost, it can take up to a month to get a similar weapon made up. It’d be impossible to replicate a weapon that is supposed to be unique wouldn’t it?” he said, not expecting much of an answer from the youngster.
Aaren gripped the boy’s shoulder, “So I’ll tell you this once and only once. Look after them, they’re your responsibility now, I’ll show you along the way where I can and advise you on how to repair your equipment at first. Over time however, you’ll need to learn to do this for yourself, there will come a time where I won’t be there to help you and you’ll have to rely on your own skills.” He saw the sudden wave of panic overcome the boy and Aaren smiled at that.
“Cheer up, plenty of time between now and then. If everything goes as planned, you shouldn’t have a problem. Just listen to what I have to say and do your best. It’ll come to you, you just need to give yourself some time.”
He clapped the boy encouragingly on the shoulder and moved out to the clearing that led from the cabin to the well-traveled path through the forest. He silently beckoned for his student to follow.
“Bring the pack with you” he told him, “I think it was about time you learnt some of the necessary skills you’ll need for the job.” He told the boy, then as an afterthought he pointed to the pack where more cartridges could be seen, “you may as well replenish your arrows, too.”
As the boy caught up to his new master, he noticed more targets had been set up here, obviously for one of the many activities that Aaren would instruct him in. Aaren waited patiently for his student to cease his staring before starting the first lesson. He was back into his serious mood, where questions would yield no answers. “Take the belt, the sword, knives and dagger and put the rest on the ground, we’ll get to them later” he said.
Eamonn followed his mentor’s direction as he showed him how to arm himself. As the apprentice sheathed the last of the knives, Aaren instructed him on techniques for throwing the knives, using his own movements as a guide, he showed the boy how to drive extra power into the throw and how to make sure he hit it point first.
Along with this, he was shown the different regions of the body to aim for in various circumstances, “When an enemy is charging towards you, or you want to take someone alive, a crippling hit is your only effective way of dealing with them safely. Aiming for the thigh is usually a painful injury and should stop them in their tracks. Or either of the shoulders if you can manage it safely” he said showing the boy on one of the many targets.
“Imagine, having to run at an enemy with a nasty injury like that, every step you take will be sheer agony for them, you can also aim for the region between shoulder and neck armour, that should stop them pretty much instantly. For now I wouldn’t worry about that, it’s the most difficult choice of the three in my opinion as it allows for a smaller margin for error, if you’re even a centimeter off you could kill them or hit in with a glancing blow which could just enrage them further.” He said.
After an hour throwing the knives from different distances and angles and wondering back and forth from the target to the throwing spot, Eamonn sheathed the knives and put them aside. The next weapon of choice was the bow, Aaren showed his student first how to string it, how to nock and arrow using the fore and middle fingers to draw the string and finally the release in a smooth fashion, laying emphasis on the need for staying relaxed and in control.
“Grip the bow with your left hand enough to take the force from the bow string, just not too hard that you end up pulling the shot, try to make it a smooth release, if you snatch at it, it’ll skew” he told the boy.
Eamonn looked over at his mentor, a frown creasing his face. Impatience was something he didn’t cope well with.
“When you draw the bowstring, take the time to check everything is right. In my experiences, an accurate but slower shot will give you a better result than multiple rushed shots” he said, then gestured for the boy to take the shot.
Finally given clearance to shoot, Eamonn selected one of the arrows from his quiver, nocked the arrow and drew back the string. Adjusting his vision, he aimed for the target, just below the left shoulder. When he felt everything was right, he released.
Once he let the arrow slip from his grasp, he knew it wasn’t a good shot, even from such a short distance he watched as the arrow dipped below the lining of the shoulder, only just managing to skewer the edge of target’s upper leg, the bow’s draw weight was larger than the bows he’d made or used in the past.
Aaren on the other had seen what he expected, having been a student himself some years ago, he had learnt from his own mistakes and the lack of experience he could now see in Eamonn. It wasn’t the boy’s strength, far from it in fact. It was simply the lack of technique that had let him down. He felt that with some help and plenty of practice he could progress well.
Aaren retrieved the arrow from the target, and gave the boy a few pointers on where he could improve, “The most obvious thing I saw you doing was you were using too much of your arm and shoulder to draw the arrow, you need to use your back muscles as well, it will take some of the strain too. Unfortunately once you start practicing more, you’ll feel extremely sore the next day. Give it time. With more practice your muscles will strengthen and develop to the point where you’ll be able to do it with ease.”
Eamonn nodded his understanding. His mentor motioned for him to try again, this time he tried to use his back muscles as he had been instructed, he pulled the string barely past half-draw and felt his muscles start to tremble.
“Make it so that it feels like you’re pushing your shoulder blades together, if you do that then you’ll be putting your arm and shoulder under less stress.”
Eamonn eased his muscles for a moment, took a deep breath and tried again. The result was a greater drawback on the bow allowing and less trembling in his shoulders. Once again, when he felt everything was right he released the arrow.
The arrow covered the short distance almost instantaneously, hitting the target square in the shoulder, he turned and nodded at the boy, “There you go, imagine what you will be able to do after a couple thousand hours of practice with it” he said encouragingly. Eamonn pulled a wry smile as he thought of the mountain of work ahead of him here in the fields working. Already, he noticed, he was working up a sweat. As he wiped his brow, again he pulled that wry smile.
Satisfied with the shot, he walked over to the target and retrieved the arrow, where Aaren filled the boy in on some tips and ideas to ponder and also directions on how he should proceed with his training.
“You can spend the rest of the day practicing with the bow. Tomorrow I’ll have another task for you. In the mean time I want you to concentrate on building up your strength and accuracy. Don’t worry about the crossbow for the time being.” Eamonn thought of arguing the point for a moment, then he saw the distinct look in Aaren that cut it off before he voiced it.
“If you change targets, angles, distances you’ll begin learning how to feel for the shot as you come to a new angle and distance rather than having to fire multiple arrows in order to judge it.” Aaren added. “Your instincts will serve you well for the most part, and you’ll need to learn to trust them. Start out firing at two different targets from here,” There were marked lines set at equal distances away from the target, it became apparent now the reason for the large clearing, they were standing in line with the twenty meter line. Eamonn was willing to bet somewhere further down the line was the two-hundred meter line.
“When you feel comfortable that you can fire from a greater distance, you can move back a little more and add some complexity to it. Take a short break each time you run out of arrows to give your joints a bit of a rest, don’t wait too long otherwise though, you don’t want hem to cool down and have them suddenly seizing up on you.” he cautioned.
Aaren began moving away as the boy nocked the next arrow and fired. The dull smack of the target told Aaren that shot was good. Nineteen arrows in his quiver he thought to himself. Watching the boy ready his next shot, he called to the boy “When you’ve had enough, come find me and I’ll give you some pointers on your sword technique and we’ll practice a bit together.”
Aaren left the boy to his own devices, as he made his way to the lodge, he took a cursory glance at the sun’s position. That should give him a couple of hours either side of lunch, then as the boy’s shot echoed amongst the trees he grinned, eighteen arrows to go.
He opened the door of his home, looking for some of that paperwork he had to fill out.