Bow part one, p.1
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           H Stinington
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Bow: part one
Bow: part one

  Bow, Volume 1

  H Stinington

  Published by H Stinington, 2017.

  This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

  BOW: PART ONE

  First edition. April 23, 2017.

  Copyright © 2017 H Stinington

  Written by H Stinington

  BOW (Part One)

  CHAPTER ONE

  Ten sacks of grain, a few rare books, some fine cloth, a set of bows, and a stock of pots and pans.  Felix’s entire stock, for when they get to... wherever they’re going.  Somewhere safe, if that even exists anymore.  The war was well behind them now, so all of the Riverwood refugees breathe a little easier.  But no one can relax.  Not yet.  Maybe not ever again.

  Felix glances up from his endless counting of one to eight and finds his son Samuel watching him.  He’s too thin.  His boy is too thin, but what can he do?  They were lucky to snatch half a stale loaf of bread off the cart that came down from the fine castle on the hill at dawn.  Meridan is the noble name there, or so Felix has heard.

  “What is it, Sam?”

  “They might buy some books and cloth, up there.”  He nods at the lofty keep.

  Felix frowns reflexively, but can’t help thinking how it would be nice to have actual money when they reach the next village.  The people there might have the coins for book, Lady Meridan definitely has coins for all of them.

  “We might as well try,” Sam presses, “I mean, what else do we have to do?”

  The pack of refugees will stay out the week in this valley, unless Lady Meridan’s charity wanes sooner.  Felix heaves a breath.  “We can try.”

  Sam smiles wider than he has since the enemy attack.  That more than anything gives Felix the strength to stand with him and approach the castle.  It takes a little wandering, and he finds himself eyeing the arrow slits with growing anxiety, but they eventually find a servants’ entrance.

  Knocks go unanswered, and Felix is on the verge of returning to the camp when the door opens and a maid with a basket emerges.  She jumps back in surprise.  “Who are you?”

  Felix is briefly struck mute as every doubt about this enterprise races through his mind.  Samuel steps forward, “My father’s a salesman. We wondered if we could sell some of our wares.  Father, show her.”

  The maid seems calmed by Sam’s sweetness, and Felix manages to produce some of his wares.  She studies them, squinting a bit though she doesn’t look repulsed.  “Wait here,” she tells them, and disappears back inside the castle.

  Samuel shoots his father a grin.  Felix returns a pale imitation.

  After a few minutes, the maid reappears and flicks her hand at them.  “Come along.  Mistress Willow wishes to see you.”

  They’re led through stone corridors that slowly gain refinement the deeper they go.  They almost trip over their own feet when they step onto plush red carpet.  Sam presses his toe into it with curious wonder until the maid coughs and jerks her head forward impatiently.  At one point she stops by a door and gives it a few soft knocks, then quickly walks away.

  A woman steps out who seems to have a spine made of iron.  She stands before Felix and Samuel with her hands clenched together tightly at her stomach.  “Well, let’s see then.”

  Felix takes out all of his books and cloth, passing what he can’t hold to Sam, who presents them proudly.

  Mistress Willow plucks them from Sam’s hand and scrutinizes it, her mouth tightening into a small collection of wrinkles.  She hums in a way Felix chooses to believe is positive.

  Then a female voice flies down the corridor like an arrow bolt over his shoulder, “Willow!  What on Earth are two of the Riverwood people doing in my hall?”

  For an instant Mistress Willow’s venerable face resembles that of a nervous child, but she blinks it away.  “The man is a salesman, my lady.  He has a few things to sell.  They seem to be of some quality.”

  Felix doesn’t dare move a muscle as the woman who can only be Lady Meridan glides around him to arrive at Mistress Willow’s side.  He can’t keep from flinching a bit when she’s followed by another lady.  This one’s elaborate gown and intricately styled hair do little to distract from her heavy jaw and small black eyes.  Or the fact that she dwarfs Felix in both height and breadth.

  “I suppose we might take a look,” Lady Meridan says, “Romilda hasn’t been able to finish her dress in weeks.  Gods, will these travel bans ever be lifted?  Must vagrants own the roads forever?”

  Felix and Samuel continue to act as silent display racks as the cloth undergoes a third inspection.

  “Five coppers for the red,” Lady Meridan suggests after a moment.

  Samuel responds with the words Felix holds in, “That’s not enough.  Our cloth sells for twice that much at the market.  M-my lady.”

  Lady Meridan simply lifts an eyebrow.  “Find a market then.  Show them out, Willow.”

  Disappointment settles in its usual place in Felix’s stomach.  As he takes one last glance at the ladies, he notices Lady Romilda’s gaze is fixed on him.  “Mother, does this man remind you of old Theodore?”

  Lady Meridan, who has already half-turned to leave, pauses and considers Felix along with her daughter.  “Perhaps, in a way.” She smiles wistfully, “I haven’t thought of him in years.”

  “How did he die?”

  “Oh, an infection of some kind, I don’t recall the details.  But it was nice, wasn’t it?  To have the hermitage occupied was such a comfort in trying times.”  Her wistfulness turns speculative.  “I could offer you a place there, salesman.”

  Felix blinks and swallows.  “Ah...”

  “What about me?” Sam asks.

  A look of something like pity flits across Lady Meridan’s face.  “I’m afraid there’s only room for one in the hermitage.  That’s somewhat the point of it.  But you...  Well, there’s a monastery west of here.  I believe the monks have an empty bed.  A tithe is going out to them today.  You could go along with it.”

  “No, I-”

  Felix stuffs his cloth back into his bag before wrapping a hand around Sam’s shoulder and turning him in the direction of the room Mistress Willow left.  He gives Lady Meridan a look he hopes communicates a need for time and walks his son into the room, shutting the door softly behind them.

  Sam immediately rounds on him, “No, Father, you can’t.”

  “Son, you could be safe.  Both of us could be safe,” Felix insists while taking the cloth Sam holds, “No more wandering the roads always looking over our shoulders.  No more worrying where our next meal will come from.”

  “But I don’t want to be a monk.  I want to stay with you!”  Tears fill his eyes and he flings his arms around Felix’s waist.

  He presses his free hand against Sam’s back and winces at his jutting shoulder blades.  “I know.  I know, Sam.  But, you’ll be cared for there.  You’ll grow, and learn.  Please, if you get the chance, learn what they can teach you.  Will you promise me that?”

  For a while the boy can only let out shaky sobs.  Felix’s throat aches, but he tries to be strong.  “Y-yes, Father.  I will.”

  “Good.  That’s good, son.”  They slowly release each other, and Felix wipes Samuel’s tears away and kisses the top of his head.  With his heart breaking at his boy’s anguished face, he forces himself to say, “Come on, before she changes her mind.”

  “I love you, Father,” Sam mumbles into his chest.

  “And I love you,” Felix replies, drawing his free hand over Sam’s curls.  Pain spikes as Sam exits ahead of him and he has to look away.  That’s when he notices a woman curled up in a curtained window seat, a book resting on her lap while her beautiful blu
e eyes peer at him.  Felix ducks his head and hurries out, deciding his best course is to pretend he never saw her.

  “So, what’s your answer?” Lady Meridan asks.

  Not trusting his voice to remain steady, Felix just nods.

  Lady Meridan smiles, “Excellent.  What a treat.  Not a moment too soon, either.  The messenger is about to leave with the tithe.  This way.”

  He follows Lady Meridan, Lady Romilda, and Mistress Willow with one hand clenched around his walking staff and the other gripping Sam’s shoulder.  They leave the keep and approach a man saddling a horse.

  Lady Meridan waves a hand at him.  “Jeremiah, a moment please.”

  Grief throbs with growing intensity in Felix, blocking out their quiet conversation.  All he can do is try to squeeze a lifetime of love into Samuel’s shoulder.  He’s not abandoning his son.  No, he’s protecting him.  He’ll be safe.  He’ll have food and shelter, and a bed of his own.  He could become a respected man.  A learned man.  This is for the best.

  Lady Meridan is walking away from Jeremiah, saying, “All right, child, onto the horse you go.  If you hurry you’ll reach the monastery by nightfall.”

  Chin on his chest, Sam gulps and twitches his head up and down.  Then he walks forward.  One step.  Two steps.  Felix’s arm stretches and his hand trembles as Samuel takes a third step, and leaves his grasp.  Tears mercifully blur the sight of Jeremiah hoisting Samuel up onto the saddle.  Every breath drags past the pieces of his heart, but Felix doesn’t quite start weeping.  He raises his emptied hand to the shape of Samuel, just before the horse canters away.

  Felix scrubs at his eyes, determined to be calm while facing his unexpected fate.  He looks at Lady Meridan and finds her blinking and sniffing.  She clears her throat with the gentlest of coughs.  “Well then.  You’ll be taken to the hermitage at once.  Always remember you are not to speak to anyone for any reason.  From dawn to dusk, whenever you’re not doing what needs must, you are to pray for the health and good fortune of the household.  Understood?”

  Felix nods.  He understands, as much as he can understand anything now that his son is gone.  The world dims around him.  He doesn’t expect it will ever be bright again.

 

 
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