The Archer (2 of 6)

CHAPTER TWO: Ravaged Village


IT HAD been a hard winter, the first time I visited Oaklea, almost twenty years ago now. In the early spring of that year the king had campaigned in France against the Burgundians or possibly some other perceived ducal or royal rival and had rounded up as many able men for the purpose as deemed required. I had quartered the winter safely from the military draft in the wilderness of the mountains and hills of North Wales, making longbows with my father. I had brought part of our stock to the rural manor of Oaklea, having heard of the famous annual tournament held there at the inn, which was the richest prize of all in this English shire at the time.

I found nought but devastation in the village upon my arrival. With all the men vanished from the large village, the constable and lord along with them, a thieving band of mercenaries had gone through the place a month before and taken everything of value.

My coin was eagerly snatched from my proffered hand at the famous inn, the alewife there almost my mother’s age but still youthful in spirit and very comely in appearance. I was weary from my long journey on foot and I wasn’t alone of like company. Others also came, lured by the expected promise of archery prizes, trading and profit, and stood there empty-handed and disappointed.

The alewife’s husband had also been taken off to war, forced along with the others into the military draft and had not returned, having buried his precious wealth in the ground before he left; where it was, no-one in his family knew. The ale in the inn was, however, noteworthy in quality and plentifully produced in anticipation of the spring throng, so the archers and associated traders determined to stay at the inn. A worthwhile prize of sorts was raised from the agreed entry fees of the participants, aided by the mutual interests of the wager mongers who had also thronged to the manor in expectation of filling their purses.

I won the first prize that year surprisingly easily, just a leather bag of a meagre few silver pennies, three or four shy of a shilling, I recall. I was but a boy then, and it was the very first tournament I had entered and won with my bow. I had been apprenticed in the bow-making craft to a master, my own beloved father, inheriting from his loins a natural good eye for a ...

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Tony Spencer
Mar 8 2021

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