I released this scene before as part of a newsletter I was doing about a year ago. It only went out to subscribers who were few. I've since scrapped that newsletter, though I hope to start another one at some point. I entitled this scene, Target Practice. I've edited it a good bit for this release though the essential story remains the same. It is an introduction to the world of Dentville.
This scene is set in the year 2327 when world civilization has collapsed and the earth has entered another ice age. It is a dialogue between a major character (Nia) and an offstage character (Tristan) who are brother and sister. They are children of the Dentville Military Elder and Tristan is about to leave on an important scouting mission for his father. Nia, a fighter herself, doesn't like being left behind to assume the dubious role of helper to her father.
* * * Target Practice * * *
Nia sighted down the arrow's shaft to the chiseled stone practice point, placing it slightly above her small round target to allow for the drop of distance. The plastic disk was barely visible sticking up in a fallen tree trunk. She felt it more that saw it. She held her breath to stop her respiratory tremors that would deviate the arrow's flight, and felt the extension of her aim from her fingers on the drawn bowstring, through the arrow and to the target beyond.
In this barest instance, there was nothing in her world but her aim, the arrow, and the target. Her doubts disappeared, melding into this single shot. All else was forgotten, including the group of warriors that watched from across the field, as she released the bowstring. The arrow shot through empty air, tracing a shallow arc, until it reached its target which shattered into a satisfying spray of brittle shards.
Grunts and chuckles came from the warriors' camp at another disk's destruction. They might have been admiring, but Nia considered them condescending and she didn't favor their gap-toothed grins with even a glance. They shouldn't be there anyway, intruding on her home and her practice time. Watching her. Invited or not, and her father must surely have invited them, they weren't her guests. But she wouldn't defer to them. She would go about her business, including her daily target practice, and ignore them. Or if she couldn't ignore them, she would show them what it meant to be the daughter of Kent Bellengrath and, even at sixteen, their superior in martial skills.
The smell of roasting venison from the warriors' campfire reached her across the snow-covered field as she strung another arrow. She felt a slight gnawing in her stomach; it had been a long time since breakfast. Her brother had challenged her to an archery competition that morning, but said he had some business to attend to first. He didn't say what it was. He just rode off, telling her they would talk when he came back. So she set up the targets and waited. When he didn't return, she began shooting on her own. The warriors watched from afar as they prepared the deer they had poached for their midday meal. They snickered when she missed, so she concentrated and stopped missing, and they grew silent.
They would probably have cheered her if she gave any notice of them. Not so much for her skills, though, but to win the favor of her father by flattering her. They were feeling privileged just being there and it irked her. Her mother wouldn't have stood for it.
She heard a horse whinny as she took aim again, and the warriors were calling to someone who had just ridden up. She let her bow down and turned to see that her brother had finally returned. He was on his big, bay stallion, Thunder, looking like a young version of Pa, with his long black hair and thick form leaning from the saddle to accept a slice of venison.
Hangers. Pa wasn't there so they butt-kissed the eldest son.
Nia returned to her shooting. A high shot zipped between two disks as her brother approached.
"Miss," Tristan said, still chewing deer meat. "You got to do better than that to beat me."
Tristan glanced back at the warriors, who were watching them both.
"Looks like you got admirers," he said.
"Morons and poachers," Nia said. "I don't know why they be here."
She strung another arrow and let loose a shot that smacked solid into the tree trunk beneath a target.
"Warriors. My warriors," Tristan said. "I need them. That be a miss."
"Close enough to kill. Need them for what?"
Tristan dismounted and walked up to Nia, eying the targets with a critical air.
"That be what I want to talk to ya about," he said, still looking at the disks. "What be we shooting at, anyway?"
"The plastic things the Ancients' made music with," Nia said. "I found a bunch at an old homesite. So what ya been planning with Pa? Why ya been talking with him late at night without me? And why y'all let these hangers drag in from all over Dentville and camp on our land, killing our deer and eating our crops?"
"I picked them men for a mission," Tristan said. "One that Pa been planning for a while. Let me have the bow."
"Planning without me," Nia said. "And where was ya this morning? I thought we was going to target practice."
"I be here, ain't I?" Tristan said. He strung an arrow and aimed it. "I went to see Branch this morning. At his hut. Zane Landstrom was there."
Tristan released the arrow and it stuck in the tree trunk beside Nia's.
"What you want from the sage?" Nia said. "Why all the secrets you cannot tell me?"
"Pa got his reasons," Tristan said.
He strung another arrow and took careful aim. He let it fly and it shattered a target. He lowered the bow. Nia was staring at him.
"It be important," he said. "Pa believes the Corban be marching, and they will eventually reach us. We got to be ready."
"Folks been running here over a year," Nia said, "saying the Corban be coming, but we seen no sign."
"They be marching slow," Tristan said. "They can afford to. Their army be so big, nobody been able to stand against them. That be what Pa thinks. It be why he been building the army. He thinks it be just a matter of time before they get here. We got to be ready. We need information."
"What kind o' information?"
"Where they be exactly. The size o' their army. How fast they moving. Their fighting tactics. We got to know all that to beat them. I be going to find out what we need to know."
"You be going to scout the Corban?"
"Ya, with these warriors." Tristan indicated the warriors' camp across the field. "Balen be going too."
"Well, at least ya got one good man," Nia said.
"We be going east until we find the Corban. We will judge their strength and what we need to do to stop them. But we got to keep it quiet. That be why the warriors be camping on our land. Pa be not wanting to scare everybody in Dentville. Not yet."
"So what be you wanting from Branch?" Nia said.
"Pa says he knows the Corban. Lived close to them once. Pa thought he might even go with me, but he refused when I asked. Thinks he got too much work here, but I think it be something else. But who knows about Branch. Zane be willing to go, though.
"He be too young," Nia said.
"He be older than you," Tristan said. "Got some fire for a sage apprentice, though. Surprised me. He wants to fight. Asked for fighting training from me. I told him I would find someone to help him since I be leaving soon. Guess he be his Pa's son."
"I be the one that needs to go with you," Nia said. "I know how to fight. I can help. Why Pa didn't include me?"
"Nia," Tristan said. "Look. Pa needs you here. You be all he got left, if I don't..."
"If you don't what? Come back? How dangerous be this? It just be a scouting mission, right?"
"Ya. But Pa wanted the spirits' blessing, even if Branch be not going along. So I got Branch to ask the spirits. He went into a trance and flew among them. When he come back, he said they showed him my expedition. He saw us marching, and finding the Corban. He saw smoke and fire. He did not explain that, but he said the expedition would come back. He just could not see me coming back with them.
"You think you be going to die on this trip?" Nia said. "Because of a sage's word from the spirits? You be getting religious."
"There be a danger, Nia. They might have guns..."
"I don't think Branch believes the spirits. Why should you?"
"Look, I intend to come back, little sis, whatever Branch or the spirits say. But we got to be ready for anything. While I be gone, you be the eldest. You be all that Pa got. So you got to run things and help Pa. Keep up the house and the farm. Help Pa in the council and with the army. When I come back, I will do those things again. But if I don't, well, you be the next in line."
"I be the only one in line. So why don't Pa say anything to me? If I be supposed to be the eldest while you be gone..."
"You know Pa," Tristan said. "He will not say anything. He will just expect you to do the job. So I be telling you."
"When you leaving?"
"In a couple of days."
"How long you be gone?"
"Weeks. Months. Whatever it takes. I will send runners with word on where I be and what we find. But it all be secret."
"I know," Nia said. "I will keep quiet so the people of Dentville be not panicking. What about Merrydith? She know about this?"
"I be going to tell her next. She been patient and not asked questions, like a good wife."
"Phaw," Nia said. "She got a right to know her husband be going off on a danger. What if something do happen to you? You want to leave your baby boy without a Pa?"
"Course I don't want to leave my family. But I be doing this for them most of all. I want them safe from the Corban. I want Marc to have a home to grow up in. Sides, they got plenty o' family to take care o' them while I be gone. You will look after them too, won't you?"
"I will help," Nia said. "If I be not too busy being 'eldest'."
"Well, you will be busy all right. Taking care o' things for Pa. Taking care of Pa." Tristan handed the bow back to Nia. "You could even teach young Landstrom how to fight."
"He be better off being a sage," Nia said. She strung another arrow and shot it into a plastic target.
Tristan mounted Thunder.
"You quitting already?" Nia asked.
"Got a lot to do before I leave. I told ya what I wanted to. We will talk more before I leave." He kicked Thunder to a walk.
"And with Pa," Tristan called over his shoulder.
Nia watched her brother leave. He did look like Pa from the back. Riding away, looking for trouble before it reached them all.