Friday, January 22, 2010

The Archery Master's Children (8/?)

H’tsi made the sound that meant ‘close by.’ The call seemed to redundant to Sothi who rarely, if ever, used it. She would have told S’toh what their status was, whether they were coming or staying or in trouble. He could figure out for himself that they were near.

Knowing Sothi’s opinion about it, H’tsi said, “If Father taught us to use it, it must be for a reason.” She started up the hill, toward the crest.

It was exactly what Sothi told herself, but it still seemed silly. She followed her sister up the hill.

S’toh was shading his eyes, looking up the steep hill at them. “I thought you were just going to fetch H’tsi and come back, not discuss fashion.”

Both girls frowned at him. Sothi wondered if H’tsi would throw one of the little road rocks at S’toh’s head. There was no time for fashion in the Archery Master’s house. Consequently there was also very little interest in it. All the nice things they owned were gifts or had been purchased for them by Assua, their housekeeper, who took their measure once a month for just that reason. She asserted that Sothi and H’tsi, at least, would grow into an appreciation of fashion and a desire to be fashionable. Neither sister could imagine it. Nor, apparently, could S’toh. He’d laughed when the housekeeper had first made the pronouncement. Which had led to a fight. And then to laps around the compound for fighting. Being very young at the time, H’tsi had gotten away with merely one ragged lap, and that around the family house. Sothi remembered running around the compound, resolutely thinking that she would never be fashionable, that she would always be as ruthlessly practical as her father, as a daughter of an archery master should be.

The very next night she had sat on one of the chests in her father’s room, watching as he pulled clothes that she could have sworn she’d never seen before from the chest by his bed. The loose tunic and pants were the color of the red clay around the large watering hole outside the village. Patterns and archery scenes were picked out in black thread and highlighted in copper. Sothi had watched in mute fascination as her father shook out the garments’ creases. H’tsi and S’toh had been somewhere else in the compound at the time. Sothi couldn’t remember where.

“Did Assua buy those for you, too?”

Chuckling, the Archery Master had turned to look at his daughter. “I bought these myself.”


“Truly. You sound surprised.”

Shrugging, Sothi had braced her hands on her seat, lightly kicking the chest. “It’s just not very useful for being an archer is all.”

“Oh is that what you think?” He’d turned back to the chest open at the foot of his bed.

“Of course! I mean, I guess you could shoot in that,” Sothi quickly added, “but the sleeves could get in the way. Unless you can roll them up or tie them back. Does it have ribbons on the inside?” Her eyes searched the sleeves for tell-tale loops to thread the ribbon through. She had seen the likes on scholar’s robes.

“It does. But they’re not there to help me shoot.”


Looking over his shoulder, the Archery Master had raised his eyebrows at his daughter’s incredulity. “Truly. They’re to keep my sleeves out of my food and drink. But…” he added as he laid out the garments on the bed, “I suppose the ribbons could be used in such a way to help me shoot.”

“So you had this set of clothes made for when you have to wear formal clothes?”

“Yes. And because I liked the pattern of the cloth when I saw it in the town.”

Sothi had rolled that around in her mind as she continued to watch her father take out the other things he would wear with the tunic and pants. There were bracelets and rings which Sothi had never seen. Most hand and wrist jewelry wasn’t practical for an archer either. The necklace that followed wasn’t totally unfamiliar, but the Archery Master only wore it at important events.


“Yes, Sothi?”

“Do you like wearing such things?”

The Archery Master had turned to regard his eldest daughter. “Not all the time,” he said after a moment. “It’s too cumbersome, and it gets too hot during the day for such heavy clothing and so much metal against the skin. But as an occasional thing—a sometimes thing—it’s nice. Your mother used to like to see me in them,” he added.

Sothi’s eyes widened. “Really?”


It had been a lot to think on. Sothi still didn’t think she was any closer to appreciating fashion than she had been then. Certainly not with H’tsi as a constant companion, who was even more tomboyish and ruthlessly practical about archery than Sothi.

Sometimes, though, S’toh was just an idiot.


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Archery Master's Children (7/?)

She made a strangled sound. If not for the snake she probably would have thrown a sandal at him.

S’toh retreated back to the crest of the hill. He quickly strung his bow and affixed the hunting quiver. Hopefully if he missed killing it the first time, the snake would be scared off without biting H’tsi in retaliation for its fear.

Slowly approaching H’tsi and the snake, S’toh nocked an arrow and slowly drew his bow. “Don’t move.”

She didn’t even blink.

S’toh released the arrow.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Archery Master's Children (6/?)

The sound of his sisters was soon swallowed up by the constant chatter of the plains—mothers calling to babies, birds in the tall grass fighting over food and (this late in the season) the safety of ground nests, and insects everywhere doing every imaginable thing and some things that made very little sense at all. Dung beetles, for one. S’toh understood why they rolled giant balls of animal dung—they fed their young that way—but that didn’t make it any less weird. Couldn’t they have found a better way? And Lord and Lady Mantises were as likely to fight, kill and eat each other as they were to mate. Praying mantis females only ate the male after the mating happened. It was still odd, and very disconcerting, but it least it made its own disturbing sense. But since Lord and Lady Mantises could hardly stand on the same branch together without trying to kill each other, it was no wonder they were so rare, and why many South-dwellers thought they were bad luck for a marriage. If the enormous insects didn’t kill themselves off first, superstitious South-dwellers would. B’den had seen one and wanted to keep it to take home with him when his apprenticeship ended. Laughing, the Archery Master had told him he could, but that Tasa, a Southern woman high in B’den’s father’s household, would accuse him of trying to bring ruin to his father’s happy marriage. B’den very much liked his parent’s happy marriage the way it was, and so had let the giant insect go on its way. The look on his face when the Archery Master made his point, however, had been worth it. Even the other Northern students had laughed.

They had used the Lady Mantis for target practice instead. Ramil, one of the North dwelling boys though he had Southern parents, took down the enormous insect. As a prize he had been allowed first taste of the roasted Lady as the lesson turned to surviving in the plains when food was scarce.

“So perhaps I can bring a Lord or Lady home as a delicacy,” B’den had pressed as he’d twirled a leg between his finger and thumb.

Even thinking about it now made S’toh shake his head. It was perfectly acceptable as food if you were hunting, or when times got lean, but to serve up the huge insect to a Master and his Lady Wife? B’den didn’t understand the depth of Southern disgust for the ever-feuding brown and gold insects. He was only fascinated because nothing in the North grew to be quite so—


That was Sothi’s voice, he was sure of it. But it was low and tight as if there was someone standing nearby and she didn’t want to be heard. But they were on a wide, open part of the road. The only place to hide was on the other side of the steep hill—where he was. She couldn’t be hiding from H’tsi. Not unless H’tsi had gone off the road. But then why try so hard not to be heard?

These thoughts chased each other as S’toh raced up to the broad crest of the hill. From the crest he could see several miles down the road, including the narrower side-path that led to the watering hole less than a mile away.

Including his sisters standing still as statues.

S’toh could hear the chitter of the beads in H’tsi’s hair from where he stood. But there was nothing fearful on the hill. Not that S’toh could see. Still and all it wasn’t easy to scare H’tsi—not so that she’d admit to it anyway. And he had never heard Sothi say his name that way before.

He took a few careful steps down from the crest of the hill until Sothi hissed a warning. H’tsi whimpered. S’toh slowly walked the width of the road, first in one direction then the other, until he saw what had made his brash and bold sisters quiet and fearful.

A snake on the road. It couldn’t be very poisonous, if it was poisonous at all, or it wouldn’t be lying patiently on the road waiting to be startled by his playing sisters. Sothi and H’tsi had to know that just as well as he did, but H’tsi had feared snakes ever since she had overheard someone in the village say that a snake had killed their mother. It was true that their mother had been bitten by a snake not long before H’tsi was born, but the snake had been much like the one on the road now. Hardly poisonous at all. Everyone had been afraid for little H’tsi, still in their mother’s belly, though their mother had a very mild reaction herself. H’tsi had been fine, and their mother had died of too much bleeding not long after. The snakes had nothing to do with it. But H’tsi had heard the story when she was even littler than she was now. At the time it had seemed better to blame a snake than to let her blaming herself. Which was silly, too, so both S’toh and Sothi preferred her to blame the snakes.

“Don’t move, H’tsi.”


Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Archery Master's Children (5/?)

H’tsi pushed up on her dusty elbows. “You’re too young to be so serious.”

Ignoring her sister, Sothi shouldered her pack. She eyed first her bow then her sister. “Can I trust you?”

Pebbles came flying at her from two direction.

Sothi whirled on her brother. “Why did you throw a rock at me?”

“Because H’tsi’s right,” S’toh said with a grin. “You are a big sour.”

Sothi dropped her pack and lunged for her brother, who took off down the road again like a spooked grazer.


They were, the three of them, sprawled on the dusty road and quite alone, for they had finally, with H’tsi rejoining the chase, frightened every grazer within hearing distance—and not a few predators as well. Now they were all tired and all very dirty, and excited all over again to have a day freed form the Archery Master’s service. And Sothi was no longer being a big sour.

H’tsi, youngest and thus most quickly recovered, sat up. “So are we climbing the hill? Or off the road?”

Off the road was almost completely out of the question. No predator, and only a few grazers, would dare to keep to the road. One might try to leap across and drag them into the tall grass, but such an animal was more desperate than was warranted by the season. It was very hot this year, but water was still plentiful and so life on the plains was plentiful as well. Grazers could make their way comfortably across, but they could no more linger on the road than a predator. Off the road S’toh, Sothi and H’tsi would have no more protection than what their skills at a bow and dagger could offer. Still it was tempting. Hunters went off the road. Women who trusted their skill with a dagger went off the road (though those women would not touch a bow or sword). They would take with them those who were not as skilled. Children were not allowed off the road, with or without an adult escort, except in cases of true, dire emergency. The road was almost always safer.

So leaving the road was out. Sitting up to eye their sister, S’toh and Sothi could see that H’tsi knew it wasn’t going to happen. “There’s always the crossroads,” she added with a frown

They all made faces. Going either left or right would eventually lead them back to the village center and, eventually, the Archery Master’s compound. That part of the road kept going, of course, but it only led to other small villages like their own. This main part of the road was the only one that went anywhere really interesting.

H’tsi huffed. “Well since that’s out and we’re not going off the road, over the hill I guess.”

S’toh sat up. “You have a problem with that?”

“No, I guess not.” She dragged out the last word.

“I wasn’t planning on explaining to our father how my youngest sister, his child, got torn apart by the wild dogs or hyenas or some other predator.”

Sothi got to her feet. “Oh I’m sure our father wouldn’t notice. He already has one boy and one girl, and you know he hardly ever can see H’tsi because she’s so very small.”

H’tsi jumped up and hit her sister hard on the arm. But Sothi and S’toh just laughed (though it did hurt). “Stop laughing!”

“Stop making stupid suggestions,” Sothi shot back.

“I’ll show you stupid!” H’tsi leapt for her sister.

Sothi danced away, snatching up the pack of supplies as she did. “What was that, Little One?”

“You’re not tall either!” H’tsi reached for her sister again.

Sothi once again danced away. “Taller than you. And faster, too. Slow little turtle. So cute.”

H’tsi shrieked. Sothi took off for the hill, pack banging against her back and H’tsi hot on her heels.

“Your pack!” S’toh quickly called out before H’tsi could get too far.

He was holding it out for her when she came dashing back. “You’re welcome!” he yelled at her retreating back, but couldn’t tell if she had heard him. She was tearing up the road after Sothi who had the lead.

S’toh had no intentions of running after them this time. They did plenty of running under the hot sun during lessons. Twice already today was enough for him. At least until after the watering hole.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Archery Master's Children (4/?)

Sothi watched her brother and sister run for a moment until she was sure H’tsi wouldn’t do anything as silly as leave the raised road for the tall grass on either side. She should know better, but she was young and it was easy to forget that the grass only looked innocent. Even S’toh, who had begun to get very tall, was too small to intimidate the hunters that were surely lying in wait for foolish prey. And of course if H’tsi did decide to leap into the grass, S’toh would have to go after her. Then their father would have only one child and a most unusual heir. Because, after all this time, Sothi didn’t think her father would marry again just for a son. And if he did find someone new to love and they did have a son, she did not think her father would supplant her position and make this new, younger brother heir over her.

But the people would expect her to marry. Probably someone from the Northern Archery Master’s household. Probably B’den. Who was two years older than S’toh, which made him four years older than Sothi. She felt her face turn sour.

Just then H’tsi came tearing up the road. Gong too fast without running over all their things, she tripped over her feet as she tried to slow her speed. Sothi threw herself forward and grabbed H’tsi’s pack to pull it out of the way.

“Thanks!” The younger girl came to a rolling, tumbling stop on the dusty road.

“Sure. It was only my bow and quiver you were about to crush.”

H’tsi pulled a face. “Don’t be such a sour. I wouldn’ta run over the ‘quipment.”

Making a show of checking her bow and quiver, Sothi said, “Well when it’s your bow and quiver I’ll remember to leave them exactly where they are so you can not barrel through them all you want.”

S’toh came jogging up the road before H’tsi could say whatever it was that was clearly on the tip of her tongue. “Isn’t it a little early to be arguing? Sothi, I bet I could have heard you halfway back to home.”

“She nearly ran right through my things! Who was going to fashion me a new bow, then?” Because although all their bows had been gifts from their father, they had been given with the admonition that they were the weapons and tools for trained warriors and hunters. Not children. If a bow broke during training it would be replaced. If a bow was broken because of playing or carelessness, a new one would have to be made by the hand that had caused it to be broken. And to underscore the point their father had taken each of them (and at some point each of his students) to where the bow-makers lived and worked. While it was true that the Archery Master did not consider any training complete until a student could fashion a working bow, arrows and quiver on their own, at 12 years old Sothi wasn’t far enough along in her training to make anything more complicated than arrows. Not even S’toh, at 14, was expected to make his own bow yet, though he was strong enough (and patient enough) to make a real effort now. Sothi wondered briefly if he would learn bow-making when he went to apprentice under the Archery master of the North.

S’toh waved off his sister’s annoyance. “Since it would be H’tsi’s fault, Father would make her do it. Or me, since me chasing her would have caused it to be broken. And I am eldest.”

“If only.” Sothi stood, dusting herself off. “My bow. My responsibility.” It was a twisting of one of their father’s sayings, but she knew that both S’toh and H’tsi would recognize it. “Are you two done playing now?”