Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Archery Master’s Children

The Archery Master’s children traveled everywhere together. S’toh because he was oldest and had been sent. Sothi because her brother was only two years older and needed help taking the things their father had sent, and bringing home the things people sent to their father. H’tsi because she was too young to be left unsupervised near the lists and the weapons—and because she would not be left behind. And so the Archery Master’s children traveled everywhere together: S’toh with his bow and quiver, Sothi with supplies and provisions, and H’tsi with Sothi’s bow and quiver.

Everyone always presumed that H’tsi carried a second bow for her brother, or that it was equipment to be traded. It was inconceivable that a daughter, even a daughter of the Archery Master, would know how to shoot. They did not consider that the Archery Master would find it inconceivable that any of his children, even a daughter, not be able to shoot. The Blacksmith’s daughter knew her way around a forge. The Cattle Driver’s daughter knew how to wrangle steer. Even the Headman’s daughter knew how to twist up a man’s words to best suit her purposes, just as her father did and just as her grandmother had when she had been Headwoman. People felt differently about daughters learning the arts of war, though. Yet the Archery Master is certain that if the Sword Master had been blessed with a dozen daughters instead of a dozen sons they would not only wear the bracers representing their father’s house, but they would also know how to wield the swords that represented their father’s skill.

Sothi and H’tsi both felt quite naked whenever they couldn’t wear their armguards over the inside of their left forearms, or the special three-fingered gloves they wore on their right hands to protect their fingers and palms. H’tsi’s armguards and glove were decorated with painted flowers, but they would wear away now that she had begun practicing on a tiny bow of her own. She would get new ones as she got older and longer limbed and grew out of the ones she had.

S’toh, of course, was expected to know everything a 14 year old could know of archery, and perhaps more. He was the Archery Master’s son after all. The only son. It was expected that he would someday be Archery Master himself, though it was hard to imagine his father as anything other than tall and lean and strong. Even now, though he had declared a rest day for both his students and children, S’toh could picture his father at the lists, the muscles in his arm bunching under brown skin shining with sweat. The morning was not very old, yet sweat was already breaking out on S’toh’s own forehead. A glance back confirmed that H’tsi and Sothi were sweating, too. It was going to be another scorcher, as the Northern Archery Master’s son put it. Of course it was the season of ‘scorchers’ so it was to be expected. The Northern Archery Master’s son, whom they had rechristened B’den from the longer Breaeden, had been dismayed to learn that the Archery Master, unlike most people living in the hot Southern provinces, did not break for midday just because it was midday. They would continue on through the lesson, under the full noonday sun until the lesson was done. Only then would they break for the afternoon meal.

B’den had been with their father, being fostered and apprenticed to him, since the cool season which, this year, had gotten as warm as it ever would get in the Northern provinces. He had been unhappy when he had been unable to convince the Archery Master that he B’den shouldn’t have to cut his very long hair. “It is my rule that no one in my training should wear anything that will hurt their aim with the bow. That includes hair,” the Archery Master would say to B’den every time the matter came up. When, one time, he added, “Not even my own daughters are exempt from this rule,” S’toh, Sothi and H’tsi knew the matter was closed. B’den would have to submit to the rule or return to his father, the Archery Master for the North, in disgrace. They had told him so, the girls pulling self-consciously on braids which were plaited close to the skull to satisfy their father’s rule without flouting public convention. It was not typical for girls to wear their hair braided close all the time, but it was not wholly unusual either. It was even acceptable since there was no mother or auntie or girl-cousin to keep up with their hair.


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