Esa; The First Archer.
Claudia had lived among Durr's people some weeks when he came to her quite privately and said, "I fear I might have to return the gift of your Murian Bow."
"Why so MiLord?" Claudia inquired
"I simply cannot draw this bow, I have tried and tried; and I am counted no weakling by my people, but I simply cannot draw your Murian bow, is there some sort of hex on it, I wonder."
"No MiLord, and If I may, a Murian Child certainly no stronger than you could easily pull this bow; let us go hunting shall we, your family could use the meat and while we are out we can find out why it is that you find it so difficult to draw the string on this bow."
And so they dressed in warm furs and slipped out of the Lodger together, into the bright light and deep chill of a midwinter's day. The trees were bare and gave them little enough cover, but Durr knew the land well and led Claudia to a favorite hunting stand couple of miles from the Lodge. In the depths of winter, and the snow, it would have been quite the trial for you or I; but Durr and Claudia had each been born into their own woods, and covered the ground surely and swiftly.
As they approached a little brook that fed the Esa near Durr's blind, Claudia could smell the water. She paused for a moment, un-slung her bow, and readied an Arrow, Durr watched closely as she effortlessly pulled back the bow string and let an arrow fly into a knot in a nearby tree where a branch had fallen off the season before.
Durr shook his head, "It seems so easy in your hands." He said.
"You try", suggested Claudia offering him the bow and a Second Arrow.
Durr put his own gear aside leaning them against a fallen tree, and took up the Murian Bow, but try though he might the bowstring would not come back. After a few moments Claudia put her hand on his arm. "Stop for a moment my Lord, I see now your trouble; you seek to use our bow like a tool, to wield it with your strength, you must view a Murian bow as instrument, like a Harp or a Lyre."
"How would I do that?" asked Durr, a bit incredulously.
"First take up your stance again, but make no effort to pull back the bow, instead hold it out and simply breathe." Durr did as Claudia Guided him, She let him breath for a full minute, and he glanced at her, "Soon Lord, do not think of time, do not think of me, think only of your breath." Durr found this doubly challenging not to think of either the time passing or the very beautiful woman so very close to him now. Claudia touched his hand, taking the back of his hand delicately between her finger tips.
"Now" she said, "as you exhale let the bow string come back to you, do not force it, think of it as a circle, as you breath out the string comes back, completing the flow, closing the circle." She seemed even more aware of Durr's breath than he was himself, but flowing with the gentle guidance of her tug, he found the Bow began to bend and with each passing inch it was pulled back and came back more easily till the feathers lay beside his cheek."
"Now" she said, "Focus your gaze on your mark, focus your mind on your breath; there is nothing else. No Woods, no Trees, no Murian woman, just you, and your mark. Relax forget even the bow, just focus on your mark" she let him breath a few long moments more, finally she said, "do not release the arrow, instead let your fingers open like the petals of a blossoming flower and the arrow will release itself."
The Arrow flew straight and true and struck very near Claudia's mark.
Claudia stayed quite close to Durr, talking him gently through the next two arrows, each time the bowstring seemed to come back to him a bit more easily, and each time his arrow struck near his First, finally she said, "I think we have caused the poor Dryad of that tree enough distress, and your family needs meat," as they struck out for the blind Claudia suggested, "I will find a bundle of suitable straw in your barn which we can use that for your mark on the Morrow."
"I would very like that," said Durr, "Your Archery- it appears to be very like ours when observed, but to perform this, it feels so very different."
"That Milord is because, your archery is all about yourself, you draw the bow, you release the Arrow, you make the shot and to Bow and the Arrow are but tools you use separate from yourself; When you perform archery in the Murian Manner, you begin with the, proposition the Bow is your instrument, it is an extension of yourself, but if you master the art ... then you disappear, the bow ceases to be part of you, and you become part of the bow, you are transparent, a selfless part of the greater whole, a true master will say of her Bow, it shoots, or her Arrow it flies; her own self has become transparent."
Durr shook his head, "If anyone else in The Nine Worlds should say this to me, I would tell them it was nonsense, but you have shown me such wonders, I do not hesitate to believe you."
The Art of Still Hunting was well known to both the Chattii and the Murian, Claudia and Durr waited in silence for several long hours behind a blind of Brambles Durr had assembled some seasons back, both quietly aware of the intimacy of this moment, when each was touched gently by the others warmth, listened to the music of the others breath; nearby was a break some buck had made in the Ice, for a waterhole.
As the sun dipped a deer finally approached, Durr began to raise his bow, but Claudia put her hand to his arm and shook her head. Durr was not happy in the moment to let the opportunity pass, but brought his bow down without a word. A few long minutes passed, the deer so very close, finally with a snort another larger deer announced himself and the first stepped back. He plunged his muzzle into the stream and Claudia raised her bow. Durr waited a long moment and began to bring his up as well. The Deer twitched an ear towards them, and Claudia's arrow sailed through the air and buried itself in his heart. He tried to leap but barely cleared the tiny stream and crashed on the opposite bank. The first deer bolted and leapt swiftly far away.
"A very fine shot" said Durr, Claudia nodded a tiny bob of her chin, "but tell me why did you let the first deer go."
"She was with Child, and I could smell her mate, Kill the buck you take the present, kill the Doe you steal the Future." Claudia replied.
"You smelled her?" Queried Durr.
"We are Kin to the Wolf Mother you know."
"And she seems to have blessed you well." Durr replied. He gutted the deer removing the bladder and awfuls, but much we might leave in the field today, they took home for the kitchens; Claudia made a pole of a branch from a fallen tree nearby, they bound the deer by his ankles to the pole for the trip home. It was well after dark when they hung him in the smoke house to bleed out for the next few days.
That night the meal was a simple stew of Sausages from the smoke house and Potatoes from the cellar, but the lodge was quite excited by the prospect of the feast the buck would provide. Durr was full of praise for Claudia's woodcraft and the excellent shot, but never mentioned a word on the subject of his own lesson she noted.
"It's not right, not at all a woman practicing a manly art, and hunting, it's against nature I tell you." Har bellowed he was less enthused.
Claudia smiled mildly, "Perhaps, Perhaps it is against the Chattii nature," she said, "but the Bow has always been a woman's art among my people, even as the Lance and Mace are the arts of a Shield Bearer."
"What's a Shield Bearer?" Asked Little Senta.
"A Shield Bearer is the consort of an Archer Little One," Claudia replied, "He is her Mate, her protector, her companion." The little girls eyes shined with delight in her minds eye she was for a moment a fearless archer, battling goblins and were-wolves beside her handsome and beloved champion, she ran off her imagined bow singing.
"I wish you would not fill their heads with such things." Whispered Har.
"I did not mean to be impolite lord, only to answer the little ones question, and is it not better that we know each others ways." Claudia softly replied.
"For the Grown ones, maybe so, I can see some profit in this," Said Har, "but not the little ones; they look on you with such awe; they want to be Archers and Witches, their mothers lives seem so pale and tame beside yours; but they cannot grow up to be you, do not steer them from their path, help them grown into proper Chattii wives as they are meant too."
Claudia nodded, "I understand your concern Lord." She looked at the child and there was a touch of sadness in her eyes, she had come to live among the Chattii to learn from them, and with some hope they might in learning from her put aside fear of her people, she had not come to undermine their traditions, or change their ways, yet Har had spoken truly, the life they offered little Senta was so pale compared to what she could be in Anar.
"A Tale then?" Durr's voice cut through the buzz of the Lodge, and Claudia could see he was looking to her, "There must be a tale, a story of how it came to pass that the women of the Murian would take up the bow as Archers."
Claudia gave a tiny shake to her head, "Please lord I am quite tired from the day, another night perhaps?" Har sensing she was honoring his request offered to tell the Tale of Thor and Hrungnir, greatest of all the Giants; so the circle gathered round Har who launched into the tale with Relish.
The next day Claudia and Durr slipped out the Lodge very early in the morning, they brought with them a small bundle of straw and Claudia taught Durr the use of a bow in the Murian Manner till nearly noon. As they gathered up their arrows from the bundle Durr said, "We could both use a rest, perhaps now you would share with me the Story of the Murian Women, and the Bow?"
Claudia sat on a fallen tree facing Durr, "Perhaps, but it is a very sad story and your people do not shine brightly at all in the telling; I fear before the tale is done you will wish you had not asked this of me."
"I see," Said Durr, "I promise not to hold it ill against you then, but I would still like to hear this tale. You did come among us that we might learn from one another, perhaps I will learn something my people need know from this tale."
"Perhaps ... " Said Claudia.
She shifted her gaze from Durr and looking into the distance she began.
"Once their was a Murian Woman - Orensa was her name, and she was bathing in the River Esa, but in those days it went by another name, the name of the Rivers spirit which I cannot speak here for it is a word of great power." Durr nodded he understood such names must not be spoken lightly.
As she bathed she was spied by a party of 5 Chattii hunters, who seeing her, and seeing her great beauty longed to lay with her, so they slipped across the river in secret then as Orensa came up out of the water to fetch her clothing and dry herself, they fell upon her. She might have fought off one or two of them, but 5 Chattii all at once, they over powered her and the forced her down and forced themselves into her. They left her scaled and weeping on the banks of the river. There she wept for a very long time, and there her sister Esa did find her as the sun was setting.
Esa brought her home and sat with her through the night, and the next day, and the next and the next after that; on the 4th day, Orensa took Esa's hands in hers and sobbing said to her, "They have stolen my Bliss." Still she did not understand, nor could the Dream Seers of the Casade discover what grief had befallen her sister.
You see a Dream seer cannot discover a thing she cannot conceive of, and no Murian woman ever had been raped before. When a Murian Woman lays with her consort we call this Sharing Bliss, so when Orensa said to her Sister her Bliss had been stolen, it was all she could think of to describe this terrible thing." Durr nodded, he had heard the Murian expression before.
In that hour Esa only knew a terrible grief had befallen her sister and she held her dearly as any sister would; but the grief was too great for Orensa while her sister slept she returned to the river, bound stones to herself and gave her self up to the waters. Esa awoke with a start and followed her sister to the river, but it was to late, and she threw herself down on the banks of the river and wept herself to sleep, she wept till she was empty and the spirit of the River came to her in a dream, in that dream the spirit of the River showed Esa in the glass of its waters what she had witnessed, and Esa finally understood what had befallen her sister.
"Now she was filled with Grief, but also a deep longing for Vengeance."
The next day she retuned to the River and again in her grief she sobbed herself to sleep, then the river showed her a second dream, she showed her a dream of our future, she showed her a sisterhood of Archers guarding the Eves of Sacred Anar. When Esa woke from this dream she found a Bow and Quiver beside her, but much as your self Milord, she did not know how to use them, and struggled with the task.
So once again she returned to the River, once again she cried herself to sleep, as she would do 7 nights more till the Moon was in Shadow then the Wolf Mother Reigned in the Heavens, Each night in dream the spirit of the River would come to her, each night she would teach her as I have taught you the way of the bow.
"Finally with the bow in her hand, a fire in her heart, and the Wolf Mother in the Heavens she crossed the River, the wolf mother led her to the men who raped her sister and she took her vengeance on them." Durr Nodded, "But Vengeance it is such a hollow thing, it could not undo the crime against Orensa, nor bring her back.
So Esa made a vow that such a thing should never befall another Murian woman, she practiced her bow day and night, she taught any others who would learn, and with the Regina's blessing she planted the first trees of what would become the Palisade. In time, as the long years passed a very strange thing happened, in the perfection of her Art, Esa found Peace, and was at long last able to put out the fire of vengeance that drove her for so many long years."
Durr looked up, "A sad tale indeed, I can see why you hesitated to share it with me, but are there not many tales where lust plays it's part and Men and Gods force themselves on a woman."
Claudia Nodded, "Yes there are lord, many such tales among the Chattii, my mother has a great Codex filled with tales of your people she required my sister and I to read so we would know of your peoples and their stories, but there is no other tale like it among the Murian." She sighed. "When I was very young my mother scolded my sister Pandora most harshly for saying to her Man-servant, 'I am Murian I am better than you.' I know my mother counts your folk among the Fair Peoples, but it is not so for all Murian, many of our people feel mother is mistaken in this."
"Indeed," Said Durr, "and how do you feel."
"I am still young Milord, I do not know the truth of all such things, but I feel it is wrong to count you among the Foul Folk, you are not like Goblins, or Gnolls or other folk of the Wasteland; but you also have this tremendous fire in you, and sometimes it seems to me it drives your folk to madness; yet it is this very fire that blesses you with so many children. It seems to me One of the Mysteries of the Dragon."
"I must admit I have felt that fire rise in me for you more than once, you are a very desirable woman." Durr said, quietly.
"I know Milord, I have seen it in your eyes, felt it in your Aura, but you have always acted honorably towards me. While I have been flattered by your desire, we are after all different peoples, so I treasure your friendship as the blessing I can gather, rather than pining for a blessing I cannot."
"and your friendship has become my blessing." Durr said, then picking up his bow, "The chill of this air is seeping through my furs, shall we try one more quiver before we go home."
So they returned to their lesson, Durr pulled back his bow and Claudia standing quite close guided his form, just as he released his first arrow she placed a small kiss lightly on his cheek and his arrow sailed well wide of its mark.
Durr laughed. "I may never master this art with you distracting me so."
"Once again my friend, Focus your gaze on your mark, focus your mind on your breath; there is nothing else. No Woods, no Trees, no Murian woman."
Ama tu ANKI,