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Memories of a better time
“Do you know what this is, Tristan?” Jacob said, removing the a long, elegant piece of carved wood from the leather case.
“It’s a bow.” Tristan answered automatically
“It’s a long bow.” Jacob corrected him “and not just any long bow either. Do you know what’s so special about this bow?” he asked, with the friendly mischievousness of one on the verge of revealing forbidden information.
“You made it, didn’t you?” said Tristan, a little pleased with himself for having the answer ready. Jacob raised an eyebrow at this response.
“Now just how did you know that?” he asked Tristan.
“I’ve seen you,” said Tristan, glad that he had been right “I’ve seen you working on it, carving it”
“Oh really?! Aren’t you a clever little bird” said Jacob, with great interest “When was this?”
“Tueseday.” said Tristan, now confident in himself
“When exactly on Tuesday?” guided Jacob in a friendly, curious manner.
“Well, it was...” Tristan cut off and was silent as he realized his mistake
“Hmmm...” Jacob’s eyebrows met in mock confusion and he stroked his bristly chin thoughtfully “That’s funny, because I could have sworn that I only ever carved this bow in the dead of night, long after children like you should have been in bed...”
BBBBBZZZZZZZZZZZ---- THUD! Tristan’s green feathered arrow sank deep into the log at the other end of the clearing.
Tristan was quiet for a very long time. “Actually,” he began, very slowly “I think it was someone else carving, and I mistook them for you. Because it was in the day.”
Jacob grinned at him, his warm eyes like melted chocolate, crinkling at the edges.
“Smart move, clever night owl.”
Tristan took this to mean he was off the hook, but regardless he tried to change the subject.
“It’s a really pretty bow,” he said in what he hoped was a winning voice “I bet it shoots really well.”
“Why don’t you see for your self” replied Jacob, holding it out to him“It’s yours after all.”
BBBBZZZZZZZZZZZ--- THUD! A second arrow lodged itself next to the first.
“M- Mine?” His heart skipped a beat as he accepted the bow. Suddenly it looked far more glorious and wonderful than before. “Really?”
“What’s this?” Jacob’s grin broke into a broad open smile that revealed his white teeth. “You mean to tell me that after all that snooping, you didn’t even know that the bow was yours?” Jacob’s clear laughter filled the clearing like the tolling of a bell “Seems like the blind man mistook the elephant for it’s tail.”
Tristan barely heard him, lost in the beauty of the bow. His bow. He turned to Jacob.
“Can I shoot it?”
“That is what we’re here for.” he said, offering a quiver of green feathered arrows to compliment Tristan’s treasure.
Tristan’s breath quickened, his heart hammered in his chest as he slung the quiver over his shoulder. His left hand felt sweat between his fingers and the bow. His right hand shook as it reached to his back and selected one of the arrows. His legs were jelly, his spine was tingling as he brought the arrow around to fire.
Then he stopped. His anticipation slowly drained out of him. He turned and saw that Jacob was trying not to laugh. His good mood was infectious, and Tristan found that he was laughing in spite of himself at his own foolishness.
“Well?” Jacob asked him, though he knew very well what it was.
“I-” Tristan fought down a giggle, amazed he could overlook something so basic.“It’s not strung- the bow. I need to string it.”
“That” Jacob said, his eyes twinkling “would be a very good idea”
BBBBZZZZZZZZZ--- THUD! Tristan swallowed hard. His throat burned. The cold sweat on his body reminded him of the ball of ice in the pit of his stomach.
Tristan began to apply his weight to the bow, but it would barely bend.
“Here” said Jacob, taking the bow and stringing it“I’m afraid that for now you should let me handle that. This isn’t like the recurve bows you’re used to using.” he handed the bow back to Tristan, who immediately selected another arrow from the quiver and fitted it to the string.
“It’ll take a bit for you to develop the strength to string it...” he paused to watch Tristan struggling to pull the arrow back “...or draw it.” he finished. “Even though it’s stronger than the recurves the same rules apply. The feathers need to come all the way back to your front tooth.”
Feeling Jacob watching him, Tristan pulled with all his might, but couldn’t fully draw the bow. His shoulders sagged.
“I can’t draw it.” he admitted to Jacob, not meeting his eyes. “I’m not strong enough”
“Well of course not.” said Jacob emphatically “You’re twelve years old, I would be astounded if you were able to.” he told him “You will be, with practice, but for now I’m afraid you’ll have to depend on me.” Jacob bent down beside him, and overlapped his arms across his own. His left hand closed over Tristan’s on the bow, and his right settled on top of Tristan’s on the string. He smelled of pine, of leather, and a mixture of dirt and sweat. It was a good smell, a familiar smell, and he felt secure as it engulfed him.
“Now,” Jacob said “Pull”
Tristan pulled the bow, pulled with a kind of controlled desperation to succeed. The muscles in his arm and back screamed in protest.
“Pull!” said Jacob, and Tristan pulled further. And when he could absolutely pull no more Jacob lent his strength to Tristan’s and together they brought the arrow back the rest of the way and fired.
BBBBZZZZZZZZZZ--- THUD! Tristan clenched his teeth as he tried to regain composure. His ears pounded as pressure built in his head. His bone white knuckles were vice-like on the handle of his bow as he raised it to shoot again. His vision blurred, and he lowered the bow, letting out a long, ragged breath. He blinked, and his sight cleared as tears ran freely down his cheeks.
“Eventually, you won’t need my help” Jacob told him, after they were done shooting. “Eventually you will be able to hit that stump ninety nine times out of one hundred even when I’m not here to guide you. How soon that is, of course, depends on you. There is only one way to get better at shooting, and you already know what that is.”
Tristan did. By heart.