38th Saun 716There was no hiding the pregnancy anymore. Even if a large shirt that hung low and loose over dark leggings, everyone knew that Elyna Burhan was pregnant. With the recent battles though, it seemed less important and less scandalous. More important to the Skyriders was her ability with a bow and the hope that she could train new recruits to the Iron Hand. One arm wrapped under the curve of her bump to support it, the other rested on her hip she surveyed the line of recruits. The morning sun was gentler, warm enough to make sweat bead on the back of her neck but with a light breeze that stirred the trees that boarded the training grounds.
Eight men and woman of different age’s heights and builds. Her mouth was suddenly dry as she approach the centre of the line, she rubbed a sweaty palm against her shirt and ran her tongue over cracked lips. Eight pairs of eyes followed her. What were they thinking? What were the judgements they were making? That she was unfit to teach them? How the noble names had fallen, to be carrying a bastard so brazenly. What if they thought she was better off locked away in the Burhan house until the baby was born? She was supposed to be an example. Elyna forced herself to straighten her shoulders and look up from the dust beneath her feet. They line remained silent and she pulled in a breath.
“Alright,” she collected her bow staff from the edge of the equipment barn, “pick up your bows,” there was a shuffle and a few murmured apologies as they bent and collected the bows they had been assigned, bumping into each other.
Her eyes fixed on older woman whose hair was turning gray at the temples. Old enough to be her grandmother, why would she listen? Because she knew what she was talking about, the Skyrider reminded herself. Because she was perfectly competent with a bow and arrow and there had to be a way to share that information.
“I’d advise before you string the bow, that you warm the stave first,” she ran her hands over the stave, rubbing soft hands along the grains. So many trials away from the training yard had meant her callouses had faded. Once the baby was born, she wasn’t looking forward to getting them back. There were a few sniggers about rubbing hands on wood but as she turned in the direction of the pair of younger men who had joined the ranks together, silence fell and they appeared to diligently follow her orders.
Next she showed the group how to tuck the end of the bow beneath the arch of their foot, levering it against her leg to ease the bend. The string was attached with a loop of leather to the top of the bow, so it would never slip all the way down and off the end of the horn nocks and then unravel. Therefore it was easy to slide into the groove and settle. With all the bows strung she made her way down the line. The older lady was called Rosa and she seemed confident and calm as Elyna examined the bow knots and adjusted the string in the groove so that it wouldn’t cause disaster. Furhter down the line she met the two younger men. One with a mess of messy blond hair and more freckles than she could count.
“Kit,” he introduced himself and pulled back the bow-string in an experimental sweep. Elyna lurched and grabbed the string before she could release it.
“Let it back slowly,” she warned and edged to the side. He watched, mystified as his dark haired, friend stifled another snigger.
With the string lowered back in place and the tension diffused Elyna withdrew to address the line-up, safety first. It was probably a good idea to explain a few rules.
“What Kit here just showed you, was incredibly dangerous,” She turned side onto the group and with the ease of practise pulled the string back on a half-draw where she held it, “when you pull the string back you put tension into the bow and into the bend of the arms. The tension has to go somewhere. Usually is goes into an arrow but if there is no arrow in your bow, where do you think it goes?”
“Into the bow?” Rosa replied without hesitation and the Skyrider nodded.
“Into the bow. W what do you think happens then?” She slowly eased the string back into place before holding the weapon loose in her grip, she shrugged, “if you draw the sting and release without an arrow there’s a high chance that you’ll shatter the stave. It’s a quick way to lose an eye,” she met Kit’s gaze and held it until he looked down. Quiet had fallen once more and she let out a slow breath of relief.
“You’ll nock, draw and shoot on command. If I shout to fast then you lower your bow no matter what you’re doing. If there’s an arrow on the string, you remove it. If you’re at draw you lower your bow and you ease the string back into place. Then you remove the arrow. If I shout fast – no one shoots,” she returned to the barn to collect her own arrows. Fletched with pale brown feathers and whipped with dark green string. Out of habit she ran her fingers overs the fletching, they could never be to straight and always seemed to go out of alignment as soon as she looked away.
The line parted for her to step up. She turned sideways onto the target and lifted her left arm up, pointing at the centre before taking up the bow.
“A long bow like this takes up a lot of space on a shooting line,” she explained. Surprised as the group started to gather closer. The young woman knew that she spoke quietly and endeavoured to be clearer and raise her voice. “You don’t have space to hold it horizontal like a recurve or a hunting bow, but you’ll get more power from a good longbow, more distance too. A good archer can shoot at least twenty arrows in a bit but that’s not much good if you’re only killing worms,” she was relieved to hear laughter ripple through the group and some of the tension eased from her shoulders.
“Arrow’s have a slit at the top which clicks into the string. If you’re lucky you’ll have a bead on your string and the arrow goes above it, if you’re unlucky you’ll have a circle of coloured thread…try and remember where it is,” they had a habit of unfastening. Without looking up at the group she ran her fingertip over the thread wound around, focused on her own pre-shooting rituals. The thread was green and brown like the whipping of her arrows. It was smooth, like silk in little ridges. “You’ll always have an odd fletching, so that goes face up towards you.”
“Legs shoulder width apart, you want to be side onto your target,” she waved the group away to retreat a few steps and give her room, “you want a clean motion of the draw. Find a point of reference that you can match every time with your finger of thumb. Ultimately, archery is about repetition. You want to do the same thing every time…” she hesitated before setting her own arrow to string. Fingers and thumb dragged down the length of the fletching one last time. She held the bow straight in front of her, before pulling her right arm back to her jaw, touched her thumbnail to the point beneath her ear and released her fingers and the breath she’d been holding. Another sigh of relief escaped as the arrow thudded into the centre of the target. Hopefully they would understand a little of why she had been asked to teach them, they would believe that she was at least competent. Especially as she’d had to lean forward to compensate for the new shape of her body.
“This is a flat shoot,” she explained, “we’ll get this underway but it takes a lot of muscle to draw a longbow back like this. For one or two you’ll feel fine but by the end of this break your arms are going to ache,” she couldn’t help the small grin that crossed her features as she retreated from the line, “we’ll get this good though,” she nodded to her-self, “then I’ll show you how to draw from the ground – it takes less energy and uses the whole of your back and shoulder.”
There was a pause before the group seemed to spring into action, taking up places along the line drawn out in the sand. Bows were raised and she watched as arrows were clipped in and then promptly fell off again. Kit was left scrabbling in the dirt on for the fourth time and cursing that the arrow wouldn’t stay on the string. A few arrows thudded into the ground in front of the target and she smiled, folding her arms over her chest as she watched, making a few mental notes of advice for the next lesson. Eventually, everyone had shot their three arrows and she called for fast.
“Come on,” she strode forward towards the target, eyes fixed on the ground, wary of stay arrows poking up from the dirt, “let’s try that again...” Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.