by Rachel J Bailey
“Pow, pow, pow!”
Kayla watched her younger brother though the stone doorway of the tiny tower. Sunlight streamed through a vertical slit in the stone, illuminating the dead leaves on the floor and an abandoned crisp packet. The wind whipped her hair across her face and she stepped inside. “They wouldn’t have had guns in a castle, silly,” Kayla told him. She took a hair clip out of her pocket—her favourite, it was bright pink with a large smiling cloth butterfly stuck on the end. She caught the escaped blonde strands and slid the clip into her hair. “It was all bows and arrows in those days. That’s why it’s called an arrow slit, that hole in the wall.” She clicked the clip shut.
Dylan drew one arm back on an imaginary bowstring. “What about crossbows? And cannons?”
“Ok, maybe those too.”
Dylan opened his fingers to loose the arrow. “Got ‘em!” he cried.
“You’re not even tall enough to see out of there,” Kayla said, pointing at the rectangular window.
“Am too.” Dylan stood on tip–toes to look over the slanting sill. “Where’s Dad?”
“Come on, we’ll go find him,” Kayla said, taking Dylan’s hand.
* * *
Luke ducked down behind a wagon as an arrow clattered down on the cobbles close by. Men were shouting—“More arrows over here!”, “Come on lads, make your mother proud”. He could hear screams too—he tried not to listen to those. Luke rested his cheek against the rough planks of the wagon, the rain slicking his hair against his face and dripping down into his tunic. The wagon horse would be shut up in a stable inside the walls, safe and warm. Like he was supposed to be—his mother and brothers were in the banqueting hall, crowded together with the rest of the women and children from the village, the air warm and damp from the press of bodies in rain sodden clothes.
Luke had slipped away to find his father. He wanted to help, passing his father arrows like he did on the practice green, his father shooting arrows between the strands of red ribbon Luke had tied around a tree trunk, precisely spaced. But the battle was chaotic—the shouting, men running everywhere, flaming arrows falling into the courtyard—and he didn’t know where to look. Luke blinked the rain out of his eyes and tried to scan the walls from behind the wagon, but the men were too far away to see clearly in the drizzle. His father must be there somewhere. Luke stood and ran towards the steps leading up to the battlements.
* * *
Dylan kicked a pebble in front of him, flying from his trainer to clatter against the uneven stones underfoot, then ran to catch it. “Don’t run,” Kayla called. “You’ll fall off the edge.”
Dylan stopped and stood poking the toe of his trainer into a gap between the stones. The ledge was four feet wide with the battlements on the outside but no wall on the inside, just a drop to the courtyard. “You’re not Mum,” he said, stepping closer to the edge.
“She isn’t here.” Kayla grabbed his arm and pulled him back towards the wall. “Which makes me in charge.”
Dylan stamped ahead of her, rubbing his arm under the sleeve of his T–shirt, but stayed close to the wall. “Where’s Dad?” he complained.
“Let’s look in there.” Kayla pointed at the twin tower at the opposite end of the battlements, rough grey stone standing up against the blue sky.
“Dad!” Dylan called as they got close. He ignored Kayla’s instructions and ran the last few yards into the stone entrance.
Kayla stepped into the cool shadow cast by the tower and blinked to adjust her eyes after the bright sunlight. Dad had lifted Dylan up to look out of the arrow slit. “Here love,” Dad said as he put Dylan down, “Why don’t you take a photo of us?” He slipped the camera strap over his head and handed the camera to Kayla. She lined up the shot—Dad with his large hands resting protectively on the shoulders of Dylan’s grass stained white T-shirt, the strip of blue sky showing through the narrow window next to them—then clicked the button to commit the picture to memory.
* * *
Luke made his way along the ledge, past a line of archers crouched behind the wall who were using the cover of the battlements to put an arrow to the string before standing to loose it. He had to dodge to the side to avoid a man running past, bent low. His heart thumped as his realised his bare feet were on the edge of the stone ledge, close to slipping and falling into the courtyard below. He curled his toes against the wet stone until the man was past, then ran forwards, pushing dripping hair out of his eyes.
The tower stood at the end of the ledge, dark grey stone slick with rain against the paler grey of the sky. That was where Luke found his father, standing tall behind the protection of the round stone enclosure, aiming his arrow through the slit before loosing it.
He turned, reaching for a fresh arrow from a stack against the wall. “Luke! What are you doing here?”
“I thought I could help.” Luke looked down at the puddle forming on the floor from his dripping clothes.
“Not here boy. You need to stay down below.” Luke’s father propped his bow against the wall and put his hands on Luke’s shoulders. “But it is good to see you. Now go back below and find your mother.”
The last memory Luke had of his father was of him standing in front of the arrow slit in his rough brown belted tunic, his arm trembling slightly with the effort of holding the taut bowstring, arrow pointing through the tapering stone window.
Rachel writes from Leeds, UK, and occasionally updates a writing blog at storyfrog.blogspot.com. Previous publishing credits include everydayfiction.com and paragraphplanet.com, as well as a story in the February edition of WithPaintedWords.
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