Chapter Four: Archery & Fencing
The next morning came quickly, and I crawled out of bed still exhausted from the previous night. Malcolm looked just as tired as I was, but while I fixed our breakfast, he cared for our animals, bringing in milk from our cow as usual. He seemed to be very quiet this morning, and I wondered why. It wasn’t until after our meal that I found out the answer.
“Meg,” he said, breaking the stillness of our meal. I looked up at him across the table. He was holding a beautiful sword out towards me. I dropped my fork in surprise. Malcolm smiled. “It’s for you. I spoke to William yesterday and he agreed to teach you. In fact, since I’m already paying well for my lessons he said he would teach you without pay.”
I looked at the sword, noting it wasn’t Malcolm’s. “But, this sword…” I began.
Malcolm nodded, agreeing with my unspoken thought. “No, it’s not mine. This sword belonged to Father. He gave it to me, but I already had one. I’ve kept it these years because it was Father’s, but for no other reason. Now, if you are to learn fencing, you shall need it, and the sword will be useful at last.”
My brother handed it to me as he spoke. Gently, almost afraid to touch it, I took it from him, and I felt a thrill go through me as my hand clasped around the silver handle. Slowly I drew the sword from its sheath, in awe I watched as inch after inch of shining metal caught the sun and threw light across the house. Malcolm watched me with a small smile of satisfaction. I reverently returned the sword to its sheath, and glanced over at him with dancing eyes.
“Oh, Malcolm!” I breathed.
He chuckled. “It was worth it, giving the sword to you.”
I smiled dreamily. “It’s perfect for me.”
“I thought you might say that. It is a beautiful sword.”
“I’ll have to think of a name for it.”
Malcolm snorted. “Meg, you don’t name swords.”
I looked over at him. “I do.”
Malcolm shook his head helplessly. “Girls will be girls,” he muttered. I threw him another look and began cleaning up after our breakfast, my eyes often returning to the sword.
It wasn’t until we were already well on our way to the castle that I thought of a name. I smiled, looking down at the sword hanging by my side. The name was perfect. Wait until Malcolm heard it, then he would want to name his own sword too. Duke’s easy gait almost rocked me to sleep, but I kept myself from it by thinking; I was finally on my way to learn the art of swordsmanship!
We arrived at the castle right on time, and the same guard let us in. As had happened the previous day, the princess brought me to her chamber, and we left the king and my brother in discussion over the kingdom’s politics.
Crystal dragged me outside immediately after coming to her chamber, eager for her first lesson in archery. I smothered a smile and allowed her to take me out where her father’s targets were set up. Once there, I thoughtfully took my bow from my shoulder and slipped an arrow into place. Motioning the princess to watch me, I drew back the string, holding tightly to the shaft. I closed one eye, focusing on the bulls-eye with the other. I took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. I let loose my arrow, and a solid thunk told me I had hit my target. Crystal squealed excitedly, for a moment forgetting that she was an eighteen-year-old princess.
“Oh, Meg! You got it right in the middle! It’s a perfect bulls-eye!” she said.
I smiled, lowering my bow. “I’ve had lots of practice,” I admitted. “Once you’ve learned and practiced with a bow, you’ll be able to hit bulls-eyes more and miss less.”
Walking over to where she had been waiting, I showed her how to hold my bow, how to notch the arrow properly, and how to hold the arrow in place. Crystal was a fast learner and soon felt she was ready to try to shoot my bow. I gave it to her, and stepped back, out of firing range. Crystal brought the bow up to her shoulder after notching an arrow carefully. As I had taught her, she steadied her aim by taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. She suddenly let go of the arrow and it flew towards the target. My eyes followed it, and with another thunk, the arrow landed in the target.
I clapped. “Well done! You got the arrow in the target!” Crystal looked a little disappointed. “What’s wrong?”
She sighed. “I didn’t get a bulls-eye.”
I smiled. “No, but you hit the target on your first try.” I suddenly chuckled, remembering my first shot with my new bow. “You did much better then I did.”
Crystal perked up. “Oh?” she asked, with ill-concealed interest.
I laughed. “On my first try the arrow didn’t even get as far as the target, I accidentally shot it right into the ground in front of me!”
Crystal forgot her disappointment, and insisted I show her again how to do it properly. I took my bow back and slipped another arrow into place. A slight breeze warned me to shoot carefully. I held the arrow back a moment, aiming towards the tree slightly more south than the target, canceling the effect of the wind. I let out a deep breath and loosed the arrow. Another squeal from Crystal told me I had again gotten a bulls-eye.
She came over to me with her eyes shining. “Your brother was right! You are an excellent archer. Better than some of my Father’s best!”
I blushed, glancing back at the castle, not far behind us. As I did, I noticed the figure of a man standing just above us with his arms folded, and his hair blowing in the wind. I looked quickly away, but as our lesson continued, I wondered, who was he? Moreover, why was he watching us?
Crystal shot a few more arrows, as did I, and soon Malcolm arrived. Our lesson ended for the day, but I promised to bring my bow again the next day to continue our progress. The man I had noticed was now gone, and I was secretly glad, for never had I enjoyed being watched without knowing it. It made one feel jumpy. Malcolm brought me to the courtyard.
“William said he enjoyed fencing more if he could do it outside. You don’t mind, do you?” Malcolm asked, leading me over to a bench. I shook my head. I enjoyed being outside in the sunshine too. My brother smiled. “I thought you might not, so I already told him to meet us here. I’m afraid I won’t be able to stay long; King Fredrick needs my help in the throne room. I know William well, though, and I’ll be leaving you in good hands. Perhaps the best hands in all of England besides mine and the king’s!”
I nodded, a small thrill of excitement running up my spine. I was at last going to learn how to fence! There was a short silence, but it was soon broken by footsteps, clattering down the stairs that led from the top of the wall to the end of the courtyard, I vaguely was wondering what William Price was doing on the wall when he arrived, breathless in front of my brother, shaking Malcolm’s hand vigorously.
His hair fell wildly about his head from the running he had been doing, and he looked to be no older than my brother was. This was rather a shock for me, since I had thought William was going to be much, much older. After all, didn’t he teach some of the best swordsmen in England?
My brother was busy explaining that he was not able to stay for his whole lesson, and William assured him that it was all right, he would simply let me have a longer lesson this once, giving me the extra time that my brother wasn’t able to have. They seemed to have forgotten me temporarily. I stood, my arms folded, waiting for my brother to realize that he was forgetting something.
He finally noticed me with a start. “Oh, I beg your pardon, Meg!” He exclaimed. Quickly he turned back to William Price. “William, this is my sister Megan. She is to be your student.”
William turned to me, and for the first time I got a good look at his face. Suddenly both of us recognized each other. William was the young noble whom I had caught looking at me, and he was the man that was watching me give archery lessons. I felt my face growing red, and I hastily put out a hand for him to shake. He gallantly took it, but instead of shaking it, as I had thought he was going to do, he bent over and gently kissed it. I glanced over at my brother, wondering whether he was going to pummel him for out stepping his boundaries. He merely whispered in my ear that nobles often did that whenever they met a woman. I raised my eyebrows, wishing I knew more about the ways of nobles.
“How do you do?” I asked civilly, although somewhat icily.
William ignored whatever coldness was in my tone and grinned cheerfully. “Fine, thank you. And how are you?” he returned.
“Well enough, I suppose,” I replied truthfully.
My brother glanced from William to me and back again, but offered no comment.
“Wonderful! I suppose you brought your own sword?” William asked thoughtfully.
“Of course,” I said.
“Than we shall begin. Come over here.” He motioned me over to a certain spot on the ground and I stood. He went to stand about two yards away from me. “Now, unsheathe your sword,” he commanded. I slid the sword from its sheath, inch by inch of shining metal.
William seemed impressed and slid his sword back into its sheath, walking over to me.
“May I see that?” He asked. I looked over at where my brother had been, but Malcolm had already gone back into the castle. I nodded, handing it to him. William took the sword in his hands, feeling the weight of it. He handed it back. “That’s a beautiful sword; don’t let anyone take it from you.”
I smiled. “I wasn’t going to; this sword belonged to my Father.”
William let out a low whistle of admiration. “It’s an amazing weapon,” he repeated. There was a pause, and suddenly William broke it. “I’m sorry for staring at you last night. I was wondering who you were. I usually know who’s who at castle feasts, but I couldn’t place you. I didn’t find out until later that you were Malcolm’s sister, and my new pupil.”
I raised an eyebrow, the excuse was good enough… still, I wondered. “What is your excuse for watching me teach archery this morning?”
William laughed. “Excuse? Well, I always walk along the wall at that time. I saw you and the princess shooting, and naturally, I was curious and stopped to watch. I won’t if you don’t want me to.”
“Well…” I replied slowly. “I suppose you can watch, but I always like to know when someone is watching me, otherwise it makes me nervous.”
He laughed again. “Very well. Now you know: I shall be watching you. So when a prickle goes down your spine, you can rest easy knowing it’s only me watching.”
I sighed, suddenly impatient. “Are we going to stand here talking, or are you going to give me the promised lesson?”
William’s mouth twitched and he drew his sword again. “Start by doing exactly what I do,” he said, starting by circling slowly.
I copied his every move, step after step, feint after feint, and thrust after thrust. Once an hour had passed, we were both ready for a rest. I sat, panting, on the bench, and he grinned down on me.
“You’ve done well,” he said.
I returned his grin. “Thank you, I’ve enjoyed learning.”
“You’re a quick learner, like your brother. He almost knows as much as I do about fencing. I’m surprised he asked me to teach you when he could have done just as well by teaching you himself.” William ran a hand through his hair.
I shrugged. “He is busy all the time, talking with the king about the kingdom’s affairs. I think he likes it though.”
William sat down on the bench too, and leaned his head back against the wall. “Your brother is a good friend of mine, ever since he bought that dress for you from me.”
“Why did you stop your peddling to become a swordsman?” I asked suddenly.
William smiled. “It was far too dangerous to be on the road all the time with robbers and bandits practically behind every tree and stone.”
I gave him a look of disbelief. “Surely that can’t be your only reason. It’s not as if fencing isn’t dangerous. You can’t make me believe that.”
“That’s not what I meant.” William laughed. “Of course, fencing is dangerous, but as a swordsman, I have a chance to protect myself against any enemy. As a peddler, all I had was a dagger and my cooking pan as weapons. Though I could throw the dagger with decent accuracy, having a sword would protect me much better. Besides,” he added, a twinkle appearing in his eyes, “fencing is so much more fun than peddling things about the countryside. I meet important people, get invited to feasts in the palace, and earn far more money teaching others than I ever did peddling.”
There was a pause and we sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the quiet of the afternoon.
William turned to me again. “Why do you want to learn fencing?” he asked. “It’s not a common thing for a lady.”
“Well,” I answered, “I decided to learn for the same reason as you did. I wanted to protect myself.”
“But you know how to shoot a bow accurately,” William said. “Why do you need to learn swordsmanship as well?”
“Because if an enemy comes too close, then I’d still be able to fight it off, and I’d have the advantage of surprise. They wouldn’t expect me to have a sword, let alone know how to use it, just like you wouldn’t.”
William smiled. “It makes perfect sense when you put it like that.”
We both jumped when the sound of footsteps came to our ears suddenly. Then we looked at each other and laughed.
“It’s probably Malcolm,” I said.
“Time for his lesson already?” William asked no one in particular. “Time has flown!”
Malcolm arrived and walked up to us. “I have to have a very quick lesson William. There’s important business to discuss with the king.”
William nodded. “We’ll start right away then.” He turned to me. “Good bye until next time, Meg.”
“Good bye,” I answered.
“The princess said she had no further use for you today, and that you could go home whenever your lesson was over,” Malcolm said. “I have to stay until supper. Do you mind riding back home alone?”
I shook my head. “No. Duke is fast, and I have a sword,” I answered with a confident smile.
“Godspeed,” Malcolm and William both said together as I walked from the courtyard.
A stable boy brought Duke to me at the front gate of the palace already saddled. I did not forget to thank him before mounting up and riding back through the village to our home.
Hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think! :)