What follows is a scene I wrote earlier this year for my protagonist and his brother. It won’t make it into the novel, so I thought I’d share it with you. This is unedited, first-draft work.
“Do you see it?” John pointed through the trees where a small stag lapped at a puddle.
“I’m not blind,” I said.
John rewarded my comment with a shove, forcing me to roll onto my side. We were laying on our stomachs with a log in front of us, a single bow and quiver of arrows between us. I rolled back onto my stomach and crawled with my elbows back up to the log. The stag was gone.
“You scared it away,” John accused.
“I did not. You did.”
He shoved me again.
“Let’s just track it.”
“You track it. I’m going home.” John pushed the quiver and bow at me and got to one knee, caught his breath, then pushed himself up to his feet. “Someone has to look in on our little sister.”
I scowled at him and stood, slinging the quiver over one shoulder and the bow over the other. “I look in on her.”
He hit my shoulder with the heel of his palm and stalked off, out of the wood, back toward the manor house. I rubbed my shoulder, but only for an instant because that made it ache even more. Someday, I won’t have to deal with him or my father. I was twelve then, and eager for the time when I would be old enough to leave, to go somewhere else, somewhere far away. For now, tracking the stag would have to do.
I dodged saplings and brambles to get to the puddle, and crouched to examine the soil and leaves. There were a few leaves that were stamped down into little circular prints in the dirt, leading away from the puddle. I followed, walking from one side of the tracks to the other, looking up occasionally to avoid colliding with a tree or getting too close to his target. How long I tracked or how deep into the woods I stalked the stag, I don’t know. But when I looked up as the light was changing from midday to late afternoon, taking on a white color instead of golden, I saw an even larger stag.
The rack on its head was three times the size of the one John and I were hunting. I knelt, moving as slow as possible to avoid catching its eye and startling it. I pinched one arrow between my fingers and drew it from the quiver. The tip caught at the edge of the container and the arrow bounced onto the ground, soundless like me, like it was holding its breath if it had breath to hold. I retrieved it and knocked it in the bow, and I set the quiver on the ground so it wouldn’t interrupt my balance. Kneeling with my back straight, I pointed the arrow up at the sky and drew the bow string back.
I pulled harder and harder, until the string reached my face, until I pressed it to the corner of my mouth, pulling my mouth open a little. My arms, shoulders, and back began to tremble with the effort of keeping the bow drawn. Both eyes open, I reminded myself, staring down the length of the arrow shaft. Don’t laugh. The fletching tickled my cheek. Breathe in, and out. Again. I loosed the arrow. It spiraled toward the stag, and I thought it hit the creature’s shoulder. The deer bounded away.
I scooped up the quiver and pursued, arrows clattering together as I ran. I lost sight of my stag and tried to find his prints to track him, but I must have run too far off course. I retraced my steps. I saw no droplets of blood. Nor could I find the arrow I shot at it. It was as though the stag didn’t care that I shot it and stole my arrow as a trophy of its defeat over man.
I continued searching until dusk, to no avail—so I began my journey home, trudging through piles of wind-blown leaves and mud.
It was dark by the time I reached home, and when I walked into the house, there were none available to greet me. My father and brother must be dining. Usually, there was a servant to greet me at the door, but not this time. I rested the bow and quiver in the corner and pulled my boots off, sending droplets of mud arcing into the air.
Padding into the dining room in sock feet earned a glare from my father, who sat at the end of the table, glaring at my toes. “Where are your boots, James?”
“They got muddy.”
“Did you kill anything?” My brother asked this with a smirk, as though he already knew I didn’t.
“No, but I struck a stag larger than the one we were hunting. Its antlers had to be this large—” I stretched my arms as wide as they could go, “no, larger!”
“Do not tell tales, James. It is tantamount to lying.”
“It’s not a tale, it’s the truth!”
“I’ll have no more of it. Sit down, eat your dinner, and then go to bed.”
“I said sit down, eat, and then bed. I do not want to hear you speak of it again, just to prove your brother wrong. I grow weary of these contests between you. You are brothers and will treat one another as such.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but he silenced me with the way he closed his. I thought his lips might melt into one another. I slunk into my chair and poked at my food with a knife, eating only when he yelled at me to do so. I wondered which chicken we were dining on and hoped it wasn’t the one with white and black feathers. I liked watching that chicken.