“Have you ever shot an arrow from a bow, Princess?” Charming said, spinning suddenly to face me. Without taking his questioning look off of me, he reached over into a stand and removed a bow and three arrows. He spun around again, firing all three rapidly at one of the targets set up against the hedge on the other side. All three hit around the center of the bullseye, a feat that didn’t seem to surprise the prince. To be honest, it failed to surprise me too. The boy could shoot. Big deal.
“Nope,” I said, trying to look as unimpressed as I could while I waited for him to continue the conversation. I didn’t manage to keep my eyes away from the targets; they had awfully small bullseyes. In all the archery I’d ever watched—not that there’d been a lot, but I’d seen some—the centers of the targets always seemed to be a few inches in diameter. These little red dots were the size of a quarter, if they were that big. Around the red dot was a blue disk that wasn’t any wider. Subsequent disks radiated outward, in alternating light and dark colors, for a total of ten colored bands in all. The rest of the target, itself about three feet in diameter, was white. A wooden stake held the circle up at about chest-height. I counted eight targets spaced along the opposite end of the range, and wondered how many archers would be trying to use them during whatever served as practice time.
“It is time you learned from a master, then,” he said, smirking as he stepped over to me and held the bow out.
I really wanted to laugh at the arrogant display, but I knew that wouldn’t do much good. I took the bow instead, holding it to me and plucking the string like a guitar. I said, “Well, bless your heart, but you’ve given me a really tight bow. I just don’t know how I could ever use it to hit those little circle thingies over there.”
Yes, it’s called a target. Yes, it’s called a bullseye. I know all that. I wasn’t going to play his game, though.
“You could at least try, Princess,” Keion said without moving his teeth.
I shrugged and flounced as well as I could over to the tub with the arrows in it. Pulling one out I turned and knocked the arrow, pointing it at him as I drew it part-way. I asked, “Like this?”
I was impressed; he didn’t even flinch. With one raised eyebrow, he said, “No, not at all like that, Princess. If you’re quite done mocking the most revered of our pastimes and sports, perhaps I could help you fix your form?”
“I’m not mocking the most revered of our pastimes and sports. I’m mocking you. If you’re quite done behaving like a preening peacock, perhaps I’ll let you help me fix my form.”
The prince’s glare intensified, but he apparently got my point. He moved over to beside me, turning my body gently so that the arrow was pointed the correct direction. Gently he reached around me, showing me how to hold the bow. Now, I’d watched archery on TV and in the movies, and so I had an idea I was doing it wrong, but when he showed me how to hold my left arm out parallel to the ground and then pull the string back smoothly with my right hand, it felt—right. And strong. Stronger, I think, than I really had the strength to control.
“I wasn’t kidding when I said this bow seems too heavy for me. You don’t happen to have any beginner or girl bows, do you?”
Keion snorted in my ear. “That would be a baby’s bow here, and no, there are none available. They’re too small for you, anyway.”
“So what do your sisters shoot when they come to the range?”
“Why would they come to the range?”
“Well, they’re elves. I thought all elves shoot bows.”
“Many do, but my sisters are princesses. Why would they need to learn to do something they’ll never have to do?”
“Well, but—but I’m a princess. Why do I need to learn to do something that I’ll never have to do?”
“You are not merely a princess. You will be our queen, Princess. You do have so much still to learn, don’t you? The queen is expected to be an excellent archer, in part to defend herself and her people should the need ever arise, but also because she is the ceremonial leader for any contests or games for which she is in attendance. She shoots the first arrow in our midwinter games, for example. Our people rest a great deal of pride in how straight and quick my mother can fire a quiver of arrows. It’s my job to bring you up to that level. If I can, that is.”
The last bit made me angry enough that I shook him off. I snatched an arrow out of the bucket, drew the bow as he’d shown me, and launched toward the target.
It missed. It missed by a lot, in fact, thudding into the ground about three feet to the left of the base of the target.