The Sedona Quiver The Battle at Veganloas Castle ______________________________
A short story by Nick Viau
A Rasher Quivers Story Written by Nick Viau Illustrated by Gabriel T. Albert Cover Graphics by Gabriel T. Albert Formatting by Jason S. Albert
Jariel swiftly ducked behind his wooden stockade in time to feel the vibration of the crossbow bolt strike it with a heavy “THUNK”. He was exhausted: his tunic soaked with the sweat of battle, his quiver heavy. Though it was far heavier that morning. It was hardly midday and he’d already shot more arrows than he could count. He wiped his face with his sleeve as he reached for another. The goose feathers tickled his fingers; reminding him of the wheat fields he played in as a child back home. The shaft slid easily from the oiled leather. He turned it in his hand repeatedly to test its straightness and prepare for his next shot. Arrows were getting scarce, and he would have to make every one count going forward.
The siege had lasted much longer than expected, regardless of what the King would care to admit. Veganloas castle was heavily fortified, and better armed than their scouts had reported. The fact that only two returned should have been an indication otherwise, but griping wouldn’t help the situation. The archery corps had been under relentless fire from heavy crossbows for days and their morale was already dwindling. Veganloas’ hillside fortification made advancement difficult. It’s stone walls were nearly impossible to shoot over from optimal striking distance, even for the heaviest of war bows. Three nights ago Jariel’s men were instructed to harvest timber from the surrounding wood and erect mobile stockades to improve their position. The battle now called for precision snapshooting, rather than aerial volleys, and casualties mounted as a result. “THUNK!” a second bolt landed, showering Jariel with splinters. Someone had him dead to rights, and he intended to remedy the situation. The wooden, bodkin-tipped shaft felt heavy in his hand as he nocked it to the string of his yew bow. He scanned the wall through a narrow slit in his stockade, impatiently tightening and loosening his fingers around his bow’s worn sinew grip. Suddenly, a gleam caught his eye. It was moving in a peculiar fashion: disappearing and then reappearing above the battlement. “The top of a helm,” he chuckled. “Must be reloading.” He never understood why the Veganloations preferred the crossbow to the longbow. A seasoned archer could loose five shafts to one bolt, and reload without losing track of the target – a flaw that would cost this particular man his life. In one swift motion, Jariel stepped from cover, drew, and released, catching him beneath the rib cage. As he watched his target disappear behind the stones, Jariel spied a second bowman spin to take a shot of his own. He reacted without hesitation, quickly drawing and sending a second arrow into the man’s midsection before he could release the bolt. The bodkin tore through the leather breastplate like parchment, and the man followed suit, crumpling over his bow and vanishing behind the wall. “Jariel! Down!” a voice boomed to his right.
He’d become a marked man. The second shot had forced him further from cover than intended, exposing his chest to a third bowmen on the battlement to his right. Sensing the bolt would already be on its way, he pivoted on his left foot, sweeping his right leg back in time to hear the “swish” of the bolt as it whistled passed and stuck in the ground behind him. He’d drawn his third arrow mid-parry, his leather back quiver performing beautifully despite his acrobatics. A hastily cast shaft in route to his would-be assassin, proving its effectiveness. The arrow shattered against the wall below his intended target, but it proved enough. The shooter flinched, sending the crossbow clattering to his feet. He clambered after it, but found death courtesy of Jariel’s fourth arrow instead. The wall grew still —the awkward calm before the inevitable storm. Jariel dove back to cover, taking full advantage. Cheers erupted around him. His heart pulsed wildly with excitement. He shut his eyes, the “why’s” and “how’s” of what had happened tussling in his head. He tossed his bow to the side, removed his
quiver, and leaned back against the stockade to catch his breath. The afternoon breeze licked at his back and brow. His sweat cooled. His heartbeat slowed. A state of calmness washed over him, if only for a minute. He embraced it, recognizing the rarity of moments like these. He savored every drop. Suddenly, shouts erupted around him. Men sprinted past him, in armor, and with swords. They clinked and clanked as they passed, their mail glinting in the sun, the thunder of hooves not far behind. “Charging,” he thought. “They’re charging! We must have broken through!” And they had. Jariel’s actions had been contagious. His fellow archers had cleared the flank of all opposition and the assault had begun. The king had found his opening and exploited it. Veganloas’ keep would fall before sundown, and Jariel had played an integral part. They would talk about him, he suspected. Exaggerating his every feat, and apply meaning to his every action. They would eventually stretch his tale so thin he would be able to string a bow with it. His face warmed with embarrassment at the thought. It mattered not to him. He was happy to be alive. He snatched up the quiver from the dirt at his side, and placed it in his lap. His father, a skilled leather worker, had given it to him in the dawn of his 16th year and the craftsmanship and ingenuity of it still astounded him. The majority of his brethren carried quivers made of cloth and canvas, which required both hands to draw an arrow cleanly. Jariel’s was constructed of the finest leather, and only needed one — a perk that had delivered him from certain doom today. He affectionately ran his fingers over the stitching, and imagined the hours of labor and love invested on his behalf. He continued until he found the inscription etched into the bottom. Sedona, it read, in perfect script: a tribute to his late mother, who passed just days before he joined the King’s army. He imagined her face, and smiled. “Thank you,” he whispered. And returned to the wall.
Published on Mar 31, 2012
The Kings archer, Jariel, bravely battles the enemy crossbowman at the battle at Veganloas Castle.