Her Well Earned Reputation
“She's been gone for at least three weeks” said Tom, the Barkeeper at the Fore and Aft Rig tavern. This was a seafaring town. He was a large man, commanding some innate respect from the more sober townsfolk, rarely having to beat it into the less so.
“Once, she didn’t come for a whole year, so I wouldn’t worry meself over it if I was you” replied Maude, the town seamstress who, though definitely past her prime, did still hold some of her youthful beauty, especially in her eyes. They were a startling green-blue color like that of the sea at dawn.
“Well yes," Tom paused to get a better grip on his fears before beginning again "but... but I still can't help thinkin', what if she’s hurt? Or dead?!” he added, almost as a surprised afterthought, a horror stricken expression crossing his face “We don’t know what she's doin' when she flits off to god knows where... she could be an outlaw for all we know.” This last remark was made in an undertone, voicing a concern that had been on his mind for weeks. No sooner had the words escaped his lips than Maude crushed this creeping dread. Snorting derisively, she said
“The Archer, a criminal? Av' you gone an' lost your mind? That’s the last thing she would be. I could believe she'd be killed stoppin' a criminal, but never for bein' one! An' even if they did go after her, you know as well as I they wouldn't get very far.”
“I s'pose you’re right Maudy” the large man sighed, inwardly relieved that his fears had been so readily quelled. “The Archer is the last person to be worryin' on”
“Right. Now get back to that tavern a' yours. Don't want ta keep that roudy bunch waitin'” Maude said with a smile. Tom laughed and bade her farewell, striding out the door whistling. Halfway across the main street and to the Rig, as the town had affectionately nicknamed their tavern, he a( )uptly ceased both his step and tune.
Turning left, he saw there was a small crowd forming around two people who were, for the moment, arguing. Many more faces peered curiously out of windows. Obviously, this was a heated and touchy situation, apt to spark into a full out ( )awl at any second. A young boy was clearly one of the opponents. The new boy, David. He had just moved with his family and had only been here for two weeks. Farrar, the blacksmith, had taken him on as a probationary apprentice. The boy was speaking in a jeering tone.
Opposite him was a girl, about the same age. She had a soft, melodic voice with a sharp edge beneath. Extremely pretty, she was slender yet obviously fit. Striking golden hair hung down her back in a plait, shining as it caught the sunlight. Her dark, almost black, eyes were in sharp contrast to her porcelain complexion. If one was to take a closer look at those eyes, which almost no one was unfortunate enough to do, one would see them to be shot through with green. She was wearing a forest green tunic that was covered, in part, by a leather jerkin. Underneath, were ( )own leggings and dark tan leather boots. Shrouded in a dark green cloak with its deep hood pulled back, she cut an imposing figure. Her simple yet functional garments would blend in with the garb of other townspeople without notice. Or they would, if she were a man. Wardrobe choices aside, what truly stood out were the weapons she carried. At her waist, she wore a sword belt with sheathed sword and dagger. Though these were strange enough by themselves, her most distinguishing features were a quiver of arrows strapped to her back and her bow. Not a longbow, the choice of most archers, this bow was as agile and elegant as its owner. It had curved back limbs making it immediately identifiable as a recurve. Producing almost the same power, this bow had a lesser draw weight and better manageability. Tom smiled, the Crimson Archer was back.
After an absence of almost three and a half weeks, Amaranth walked out of the forest that was and had been her home for as long as she could remember. She ( )ushed her hand ( )iefly against one of the trees marking the edge of the forest in acknowledgement. This was her way of thanking the woodland for its protection. As usual, Amaranth got halfway down the middle of the street before anyone noticed. Once they did, there were cries of, “The Archer's back!” and “Long time no see!” from the people she passed. Though her name was, of course, Amaranth, she had only ever told one person. To these people, she was the Crimson Archer, Archer for short. She was named such after her first incident in this town. These people were under no delusions as to the amount of blood she had spilled. Smiling slightly in the way she had when she was genuinely pleased, an almost imperceptible upward turn to one corner of her mouth, she continued down the street towards the Rig. She wondered absently what these people would do without the occasional distraction. Probably just find something else strange and entertaining to gossip about, she thought, smiling to herself.
David, although he had only been in the town for a short time, had already made friends of the many other boys in the village. He was a hard worker and, overall, a quite agreeable fellow. He and some of his closest friends had arranged to meet up, after their masters gave them leave, to go for supper at James’ house. So the group of boys, including James, Alex and Quinn, pushed and laughed their way up the street together.
At that moment, the paths of the boys and Amaranth intersected. David, seeing her, but not yet having been acquainted with who she was, called
“You, girl!” He had a sister at home and had only ever met timid and shy girls, seemingly with no free-will of their own. He was not ready for Amaranth. Head snapping up, she raised her eye( )ows in question. She couldn't imagine who would address her in such a manner. Maybe another drunk..? she wondered. Looking at him more closely, she realized she had never seen him before. Oh God, not a new one, she thought exasperatedly.
“Yes you!” David said, still unaware of the danger into which he was putting himself. Amaranth walked up to them and said to the boy, not making eye-contact, “Yes?” David sneered at what he thought to be a submissive gesture. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It was really a precaution put in place for his own good. No one was the same after looking directly into her eyes, especially when she was angry.
“Why aren’t you home sewin' or doin' somefink' useful, instead of wastin' your time lookin' through shop windas'?” He said. Honestly, he was only trying to impress his friends. Unfortunately, all he succeeded in doing was to panic them. Quinn, a thin yet surprisingly strong boy, stepped forward. With wide eyes, he put his hand on David’s shoulder and said,
“Maybe you shouldn’t...” Amaranth flicked her gaze up from David’s collar to the frightened boy’s eyes,
“Thank you but it’s alright Quinn, I’ll take care of this”, she stated. There was iron in her voice. Taking his hand off David’s shoulder, but looking even more terrified, Quinn stepped back. After his intervention had been firmly struck down, no one was going to try to save this foolish boy again. If the Archer wanted to deal with the boy herself, deal with him she would.
In fact, thought many of the crowd, she was being unusually lenient with him. The Crimson Archer usually gave you one chance only.
“And why are you out by yourself? Shouldn’t you have a man to protect you?” David continued unfazed, still not taking the hint.
“I find it hard to believe," she started calmly "that there would be anyone idiotic enough to try attacking me.” she said in a voice that, to the unaccustomed ear, was unperturbed. To the townsfolk though, she was obviously enraged. David gritted his teeth; he knew an insult when he heard one. Unwisely, he tried another jibe
“Maybe that's 'cause nobody wants to look at a girl dressed like you. What, were your parents tryin' to turn you into a boy?” Amaranth was internally roiling now but she managed to reply levelly,
“Actually, that was my idea. One tends to gain more respect this way. And, of course, it's easier to beat the hell out of people like you.” Now it was David’s turn to be furious,
“If respect is so important to you, why won’t you look me in the eyes?!” he asked, the rising crescendo of his voice making the onlookers wince. That was it, he's asking for it now, she thought. Amaranth a( )uptly locked her eyes onto David’s, watching in satisfaction as his widened, pupils dilating in fear.
He hadn’t been prepared for what he would see. There was burning fury, winging out at him. It screamed its way towards him, cutting into him, pinning him in place. Self hatred seared through her veins, blossoming up from the depths of her soul, along with sadness and anguish far beyond her years. And there, beneath everything else, hid something that shocked him to the core. Fear. So obvious, yet so well concealed. Unfocused, all encompassing, it was the terror of uncertainty, of betrayal, of situations turning on a dime. Misleading words and misguided people. She couldn't feel safe anywhere. This fear was hidden well, disguised as a slightly imperious attitude.
Even though her emotions were welling up inside her, fit to explode, Amaranth knew she could not show weakness. So, long ago, she had hardened the surface of her soul. Never yield, never ( )eak. The barrier was solid, but transparent. One could look through her eyes as if they were glass. That was what scared people. Though everything was contained for the moment, it seemed one more push could nudge her past the ( )eaking point. Everything that had been held at bay would be let loose in a torrent, crashing over everything in its path. One thing was for sure; her wrath was something no one wanted to experience. Unfortunately for him, David happened to be right in the danger zone and, finally, he understood.
Involuntarily, he took a step backwards. Anger can drive the wisest of people to foolish actions and David was not a sage by any means. Amaranth’s next words erased all prudent thoughts from his mind. She smiled unnervingly.
“Scared of a girl?” asked Amaranth, watching the question bite into his psyche. That was the last straw. David lunged.
He was a strong boy. Being the blacksmith’s apprentice, he would have to be. But sheer ( )ute force was never a match for tactics and organization, not to mention experience. Amaranth could see every punch coming well before he threw it. She understood why he had wanted to show her up. He was new. Even if in good standing, his status could be revoked at any time and for enough reasons to make one’s head spin. Anything he said or did could be his social undoing. This has been every child's reality for as long as man has walked the earth. So, it was imperative that he make a good impression with the other boys quickly, lest he be thrown into the outer reaches of their social sphere. Taking pity on him, she decided that getting this over with quickly would do less damage to his reputation than making an example out of him. Of course, he would never know the degree to which he had been spared but, such is life she thought, sighing inwardly.
Blocking and dodging a couple of his erratic attempts, she tried to get a lock on his style. Deciding there was none, she hit back. Amaranth punched him in the stomach just enough to wind him. Without giving him time to recover, she slammed her fist into his jaw. At the last moment, she pulled back slightly to deliver a softer blow, the full force of which could have easily knocked him out, possibly ( )eaking his jaw. It snapped David’s head back and he was sent reeling a couple paces before sprawling spread-eagled on the ground. Amaranth watched him for a few seconds before walking forward and bending over to look at his face.
“Can you feel your legs?” He nodded “Your feet?” He nodded again “Can you move everything properly?” she asked, watching as David proceeded to do an odd sort of spastic dance, still lying in the road, to show that everything was in order. Seemingly satisfied with what she saw, the Crimson Archer took hold of his hand and pulled him up. David staggered about for awhile before his friends took hold of his shoulders to support him. “You alright?” asked Amaranth
“Yes” he managed weakly.
“I would tell you that what you did was stupid, but I think you already figured that out.” He nodded, then moaned as the world swam before his eyes. She smiled. “Never underestimate anyone or anything. I’ve seen too many arrogant bastards killed that way.” She paused, spearing him with a glare. He shifted uncomfortably, now the one to avoid her eyes. “Well, I hope you’ve learned something” She said, turning to move through the crowd which parted ahead of her, expectantly, as it always did. After a few steps, she stopped and turned back. “Oh, and do you normally go around hitting girls?” David flushed, “No, Miss.” He said, looking at his feet, ashamedly
“Good. Don’t ever do it again.” Pivoting on her heel, she strode down the street and out of sight.
David was mostly steady now. His friends clapped him on the back and Quinn announced,
“You’ve just had your first encounter with the Crimson Archer, mate!” David groaned and massaged his jaw,
“Are they usually so explosive?” he groaned, cautiously taking a few deep ( )eaths to make sure no ribs had been ( )oken
“Only if you insult her.” said Alex, snickering. David regarded him gravely,
“Remind me to never do that again.” Now laughing outright, Quinn managed to wheeze
“I don’t think you’ll need reminding” and dissolved back into fits of hilarity. David glared at him for a couple seconds before realizing it was a lost cause. He smiled and chuckled wryly. The boys started back up the street, talking and laughing as they walked towards James’ house for supper.
Over the meal, they regaled each other and James’ family with endless, and nearly as varying, accounts of the event. Getting into bed that night, David reflected on the day. He believed that he could get along with the Crimson Archer, as long as he followed certain tacit protocols, like not insulting her, he thought with a rueful smile. She hadn’t seemed the type to hold a grudge over something petty. She had been a good sport too, David wasn’t sure he would have done as well if their positions had been switched. From all accounts of previous encounters, it seemed the grace with which she handled the situation was normal, but the amount of regard she had shown for his personal safety was quite out of the ordinary. He wondered about that. She was very pretty, he mused, don’t even think that, said a voice in the back of his mind. A very smart voice, he realized. With a sigh, David turned over, immediately plunging into a deep sleep, fueled by a sudden and overwhelming exhaustion.