An Archer's Story: GAME OVER
By Nils Visser
A blur as arrows streak by to pierce the troubled surface of the moat.
I hesitate for a second, wanting to nock an arrow. Instinct trying to override common sense, an urge to retaliate, to strike back. Eliminate the source of the lethal missiles sent spinning my way.
The impact splashes seem random, the long shafts shot from longbows and short squat quarrels propelled by the mechanisms of crossbows could land anywhere around me, on me, in me. The thought that they are not random but deliberately aimed is not reassuring. The realization that grim enemy eyes focus on me and see only a prey to maul is unsettling to say the least.
Someone curses behind me. Speed is of the essence, more besiegers crowd the makeshift wooden walkway behind me, and every pause translates into immobile exposure.
The foe, crouched behind the safety of the castle’s parapets jeer and mock. I scurry forwards and register that the incoming arrows are joined by much larger projectiles hurled by trebuchets. The water in the moat now becomes turbulent as the missiles strike. I rush forward along the uneven planking of the walkway, my boots thud on the wood that’s rapidly becoming wet as more and more missiles now impact closer to the walkway, drenching the wood. The Trebuchet crew are finding their range and it’s only a matter of time before their missiles crash into the walkway. Now that would be something, stuck in the middle of a moat, nowhere to go, a rain of missiles.
Our Ventenar comes to a similar conclusion and makes a decision.
“HALT” He roars at top volume. There’s more cursing as the line of attackers on the walkway slide to a halt. A thud as a spent arrow impacts a helmet.
“Three shots, into the courtyard. Three shots. Courtyard.” The Ventenar bellows. We understand. We can’t see the trebuchets, but know the infernal machines have to be positioned in the castle’s courtyard. By lobbing arrows over the walls we may shake the confidence of the crew. Maybe even skewer a few of the bastards. My eye estimates the required trajectory and range even as I fumble for an arrow in the arrow bag hooked onto my belt.
“NOCK!” I place my left foot forwards and bend my right knee down even as I fit the gap sawn into the end of the shaft onto my bowstring.
“DRAW!” My left arm stretched straight, the inclined angle of my body created by legs not arms to ensure maximum draw. My right arm gyrates into the circumvolution of my right shoulder as I draw the string to my ear.
“LOOSE!” Three fingers clutched the string, one above the arrow nock, two below. I pull the string back just another fraction and then release my fingers, feeling the rush of the string and fletching hurtling forwards past my cheek, propelling the arrow forwards. For a fraction of a second I observe the arrow’s momentum by tracing the grey gander fletching arc through the air and decide that the arrow’s flight path will take it into the courtyard. A clean shot, although I already knew that the moment I released the string.
“NOCK! DRAW! LOOSE!” The Ventenar roars, speeding up the commands, as we are starting to attract more incoming arrows and bolts. Blindly we obey, going through the motions without thinking, nocking arrows onto the strings blindly, not looking at the match between nock and bowstring, looking at the target instead.
“NOCK! DRAW! LOOSE!” A thud and grunt as one of ours is struck by a crossbow bolt, he loses balance, is hurled into the moat. “FORWARDS! ONWARDS!”
We resume our rush down the planks. The Trebuchets cease their barrage for but a brief moment after our counter volley, soon, much too soon their missiles hurtle through the air again.
One brushes my shoulder, impairing my balance. In vain I clutch at my Longbow, as if for support, I teeter and totter. The enemy hoot. For a moment it seems that I’ve regained my balance, but the wood is wet and I can’t get a grip on the slippery surface. I reel and then fall into the moat.
For a moment I am submerged, disorientated. I clutch on to my bow, and with a gasp thrust my head above the water again. The pounding of boots thuds in my ears, the rest have continued their charge. The water isn’t deep, belly high at most, but I can’t find footing. Every time that it appears I’ve found a relatively solid part of the moat’s bed, it turns out to be a crust which crumbles beneath my feet to reveal soft muddy ooze beneath. I struggle against the gentle pull of the muck, struggle to keep my head above the water every time I sink. Start to panic when every step reveals more crust, more sludge underneath, increased suction trying to coax me under. It’s astonishing how quickly wrestling this goo becomes exhausting, my head sinks under again. For me the game is up, the siege is over.
Arms and hands reach into the water, roughly grasp me by my tunic and pull me up and then out of the water, onto the grassy bank. For a few moments I lay there gasping, dripping water, legs covered in sticky gunk that smells remarkably putrid. Mud does that. Then I clamber to my feet. A few members of the audience take pictures, a few cynical bastards applaud me sarcastically. Can’t blame them, nearly killed as I was by the water balloons tossed over the age old monument’s walls by Re-enactor’s trebuchets. I hope that the rubber blunts on the tip of my arrows hit a few of the trebuchet crew, that would save some face as fully costumed submersion in a muddy moats is hardly a great battle honour. Goo rather than glory. Still, tonight there’ll be tall tales to tell around the fires. I’m having a good time.