As the last shot from his quiver hit the furthest target, Eamonn held his standing position, watching the arrow cut through the air in his memory over and again. In the short time he’d been Aaren’s student he’d be taught to watch each arrow’s flight path in every set he fired. From the alternating distances of twenty, thirty-five and fifty meters – as he found himself gaining in strength and accuracy he’d been gradually increasing the range, he would fire fifteen arrows per set with five at each target and then step forward to retrieve them. With each set he would force himself to take a certain amount of time between shots, reducing each time until the time he was firing the last arrow was immediately after the previous one. Added to this, he would never aim for the same target or in the same pattern else he would come to depend on a rhythm he got into. It was a system Aaren had devised for him and Eamonn would repeat it until such a time that he would move onto working on his swordsmanship with Aaren.
It had only taken a week for his master to exchange his reflex bow for a larger one that would continue to strengthen his developing muscles, “With the use of the crossbow in our arsenal to improve accuracy, the reflex bow will help increase your core strength and make you more instinctive.”
What’s more, Aaren told him when he was giving the boy the larger draw weighted weapon, “The heavier draw weight will also reinforce the need for a clean and correct technique, otherwise you’ll struggle to get the maximum power out of it that you’ve been getting with the lighter one.”
With that, Eamonn had begun working on adjusting his technique to the heavier bow, working harder than he had been to strengthen his shoulders and back. It was difficult and repetitive practice but it was necessary and with the tools at his disposal, Eamonn didn’t like the feeling that he was unprepared to go with Aaren on his trips, as had been the case already as Aaren went off for the majority of the day, leaving Eamonn to look after the house and tend to his practice.
Eamonn walked across the field now, removing the arrows from each target, some were on obscure angles from where his firing position had been, making it quite difficult for him to withdraw them, he’d found that he had far superior arrow speed and power with the new bow, and had already broken off the heads of several arrows doing this. He’d mentioned to Aaren that his supply was dwindling and they’d spent a quiet evening after their meal forging new arrows, with Aaren presenting the boy with his own molding equipment and instructing him on how to craft the arrow heads and attach them to their shafts using some of the malleable steel they acquired from the armorers. The steel was pressed into the molds and heated in the flames for some time. They were then removed and left to harden and sharpen the tips.
The night before had been the first time Aaren hadn’t assisted him with the task, feeling confident the boy could handle it after two months under his guidance, he had encouraged the boy to take it on by himself, gave him some more of the steel in its moistened original state – to keep it from setting, and picked up some reports to fill out.
Eamonn had spent most of the night cursing under his breath, wincing at the pain from the sticky metal catching his fingers, he cleaned the smeared steel from his hand quickly before hit hardened but he would still find flecks of metal scattered on his clothing for weeks to come. Even after Aaren turned in to his bed, Eamonn had stayed hard at work, determined to get the job done, by moonset he was placing the last of the ten arrows in a holding rack near the open window beside the door to cool, stretched his aching muscles after hours of sitting and finally retired to his bed.
That morning he’d woke bleary eyed and with light burns on the sides of his fingers, he soaked them briefly in the water basin on his drawers, neglecting to wash them, not wanting to feel the pain course through them as he scrubbed them in the morning before breakfast. He’d expected to find Aaren in his usual place at the table, reading through the seemingly endless supply of reports he had to read, whilst he ate his breakfast in silence, instead he was nowhere to be found.
In his place was a note saying he’d be gone for most of the afternoon to tend to the village of Wattlegum not far from home. There was also a jar of what was labeled as a burn salve that would help with the healing on mainly his left hand and a glove that would reduce the rubbing on the troubled area. The boy had quickly eaten breakfast, taking heed from the message, he picked up his bow and quiver of arrows by the door, strung the bow and placed the quiver on the table so he could gather the newly crafted arrows. After a brief inspection of them, he placed nine of them in his quiver and left the other in the rack, he’d need to redo that tenth arrow. He had only needed six, but as he had the thought, he decided to make extras, knowing it was likely he’d need more.
Eamonn fired another set and took off the glove to check his hand for any wear and tear. He was glad that his mentor had thought to leave it along with the glove for him, he could feel a slight tingle in his hand, a remnant as it were, from the burns and thought of how much worse it would be without the extra protection. He pulled on the glove again as he set about retrieving the arrows once more.
Breathing deeply, he was back in firing position, setting his sights on his target. He checked the wind for its effect and shifted slightly to better his balance for the fifty meter distance. Taking a deep breath, he drew the arrow, adjusted his aim slightly one last time, waited a moment and released. Once more he watched the trajectory of the arrow’s flight, knowing now that the shot was good and saw it hit the edge of the inner circle that had been painted on the target. It had hit exactly where he had aimed.
“You’re accuracy is coming along” a voice called, startling the boy. “I was wondering if your master was around, I have something rather urgent that I need him to take care of” they said.
Eamonn analysed the voice quickly, trying to picture the person, or man in this case, that it belonged to. There was a monotonic nature to it, and it held a note of authority. The question was a reasonable one and Eamonn contemplated it for a moment, judging whether or not to tell this newcomer where Aaren was.
Already in the brief time he’d spent as Aaren’s student, he’d been instructed to weigh up situations and judge how he saw it best to progress. It was one of the skills he’d have to come to grips with when it came to negotiations, weighing up the motives of any potential enemies and knowing to always have suspicions as to why someone needed to know or do something.
Eamonn turned and looked the man up and down. There was something in the eyes that didn’t sit right with him. Aaren pointed out to him that the eyes were often a sign that would betray their owner’s words.
He decided caution was the best approach, “May I ask for the name of those seeking my mentor?” he prompted, lowering his bow and turning to face the newcomer. He made sure to keep his quiver free and within easy reach, just as he had been taught to do by Aaren.
He noticed that the man was only a few years older than himself, and that he had been correct in his assessment of the man’s assumed authority. The man had a personal guard of four men, two immediately behind him and the others stationed by the edge of the forest.
Looking out for trouble that could be caused, or trying to ensure I don’t do anything they don’t like Eamonn thought.
The man voice brought him back to the conversation. “Not necessary, your master will know who I am when I see him, all I need to know is his whereabouts.”
He managed to keep his facial and body language neutral as he continued to assess him as he answered, “He’s away at the moment, he is taking care of some business in one of the nearby villages. Tarmsworth I believe it was.” He said, using the name of a village in the general direction of Wattlegum.
He didn’t know to trust this man as he measured him up again, he couldn’t be sure but his instincts told him to be cautious, there was an air to this man’s tone that he didn’t like. “He should be back shortly” he declared, figuring the man would be happy knowing he would probably come across Aaren on his way home.
Eamonn didn’t have a clue as to why his master was needed in Tarmsworth, but he didn’t feel he should let the visitor know that. He was wary of his tone and positioning as he watched the man moving around their house front, finally the man seemed to come to a decision.
“Very well, we won’t hold you up any further, thank you for your help” the man said, called for his guard to form as they made their way out. The man turned to watch the boy, a frown creasing his features as the boy returned to his practice. His eyes scrutinized the boy, trying to pick whether the boy had told him the whole truth or not. He shrugged to himself, checked the sun’s position and estimated that he’d meet Aaren as he was returning to his home somewhere along the route.
It was an hour before sunset when Aaren returned. Eamonn was practicing one of the sword close order drills he been shown, miming the sword motions and swings as he hit the block that had been set up repeatedly. His attention was fixated on making his footwork its sharpest. He was positioned with his back to the house, giving him the perfect view if anyone was to approach the house. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Aaren.
Eamonn saw the body language and only saw negativity. “Why the sour mood?” the student asked, keeping his attention fixed on his non-existent opponent.
He was used to seeing, or rather hearing, his mentor arriving at the house alongside his horse, making the gentle clink as the horse made its way to the small stable at the far end of the lodge. Today there was a heavier ‘clip clop’ sound on the soft ground, he knew that his teacher was not on foot pulling the lead rope behind as was his custom.
Several minutes passed as the older man unsaddled Storm and made her as comfortable as possible, and slipped her a nice green apple to crunch on. Now, making a beeline to his pupil, Aaren filled Eamonn in on his adventure.
“The locals were being given a rough time by a group of smugglers that were trying to sell some of the illegal supplies they’d brought across the border from Azarowa to the traders. It was obvious they hadn’t been paying the appropriate taxes involved, so I was called to step in” he told the boy.
Any and all supplies that were deemed as foreign to the country of trade were required to be checked for quality and had a levy in place that would prevent unregistered trading to occur. Of course, smugglers often ignored and sold the supplies without permission, resulting in the buyers getting into trouble. Eamonn expected this to be the case yet again, “Unfortunately, word got out that I was called for and the smugglers got wind of it.” Aaren continued, “Smugglers don’t like it when they’re recognised for what they truly are so things got a little out of hand when I went in to sort things out.” He said in an off-handed manner. It was obvious to Eamonn though that they had not given in willingly. Aaren was favouring his left side, clutching slightly at his ribs and was sporting a nice bruised lip where a stray fist must have caught him.
Eamonn had stopped his drill now, wanting to ensure that his friend wasn’t seriously injured, Aaren saw the worry in the boy’s face, “I’m fine, just a bruised rip and a slightly cut lip, some rest will do me wonders but I’ll mend,” he said easing the boy.
Eamonn was still watching Aaren closely for any sign telling him Aaren was wrong. He sheathed his sword, and moved to help Aaren up the steps into the house, holding the door open for him, Aaren nodded his thanks and moved towards one of the cushioned chairs by the fireplace, sighing as he sat down. Eamonn immediately moved to the kitchen, grabbing the coffee pot and a handful of the beans, grinding them down with the pestle and mortar they had and placed the grounds into the water and he set it to boil on the stove.
He moved across to the fireplace, stacking some wood to get it ready. He paused momentarily, looking back at Aaren, knowing he should tell Aaren about the visitors earlier in the day.
“Aaren?” he queried, testing to see if he’d respond, Aaren merely grunted, resting his head back and keeping his eyes closed. “Late this morning, there was a group of say…half a dozen or so men here” he began, “I was busy working with my bow when they arrived, they were asking about you” he told him.
Aaren’s eyes opened and he slowly rubbed his forehead, “What did you tell them?” he asked, his voice calm.
Eamonn was quick to cast aside any of his worries, “Nothing, I told them that you weren’t here and that you’d be back soon, that was several hours ago, I told them that you were in Tarmsworth. There was something about the man that I didn’t trust, something that I didn’t like about him.” He admitted. Aaren nodded his head in acceptance of the boy’s words, he knew the boy would have to have told them something about what he was doing, and was glad that the boy had kept the details to himself.
The same thought occurred to him as it had to Eamonn, Tarmsworth was in the same general direction, but the time spent moving further to the west as Aaren had done would mean that it would take some extreme luck on the other’s side to come across Aaren, he praised the boy for his dealing of the situation.
Happy that Aaren was satisfied with his choice, Eamonn went back to his task of building the fire, Aaren’s mind drifted to the new task at hand. “We have a few hours of daylight yet, once you’ve finished that up, and I could hear you with the coffee pot before by the way” he said momentarily breaking away from the topic “on my way to Tarmsworth I went through Faraday after a message carrier turned up this morning with a summons to see Maddox, it appears that we have a new assignment” he said. Eamonn turned to watch Aaren as he sat in the chair, curiosity piqued again, “what’s the mission about, Aaren?” he asked before he could stop himself.
Aaren was uncertain on how much he should tell the boy, a student’s first mission is always nerve-wracking, “join me for over here with a mug for us both” The boy grabbed the now-full coffee pot, timidly crossed from the kitchen and poured them each some coffee. He liberally added sugar and a dash of milk and handed over a mug to Aaren, almost tipping the contents over him.
Aaren watched him, smiling quietly as he watched his student tiptoeing around the room. Aaren deliberately took his time, taking a drink from his mug, sighing appreciatively before finally resting his mug on the table in front of him.
“We’re going after a bandit,” he said, “a ‘friend’ of mine actually.” he added with a hint of sarcasm, “I’ve been told that he’s been spotted out towards the west of Huddensted and is on the move again. Where to I’ve no idea, but it’s up to us to bring him back.” he told Eamonn.
“Funny,” he began as the boy turned away to get more firewood, “I don’t seem to recall being shifted into baby-sitting.”