The Winning Story
“Archers,” Radkin called.
Two dozen men and women stepped up to the ridge behind their commander, bows being bent and strung as they did so.
“Raven,” the commander said.
A young, thin girl stepped forward. Although her frame was light, she was tall. Her hair was so black it shimmered in the diminishing sunlight turning the red-gold to blue. Her high cheekbones and stern countenance could seem haughty were it not for the fullness of her lips and the ease with which they often smiled.
“My lord,” she said as she stepped beside him.
“The sun is setting behind the far mountains,” he said, pointing towards the mountain ridge on the far side. The blood red disc of the sun was just beginning to dip behind the very tallest peaks.
“Below,” he continued, “where the sun’s light is cut off by the mountain range, the day is dying.”
Raven looked to where Radkin pointed. Where the shadows cast by the distant mountain range touched the plains, night was falling. From their vantage point, the line of darkness could be seen advancing across the plain towards them as the sun sank lower.
“There,” Radkin said, indicating a point just before the line of darkness, “rides the dark mage.”
Raven’s intestines tightened as she saw the distance: over three hundred yards already.
“Arrows!” she called.
Her hands and arms moved reflexively drawing an arrow from the quiver on her back, the other archers followed suit. In one swift motion two dozen bows were raised skyward, their arches swaying in unison from center to left mimicking the angle and lean of Raven’s bow.
Below the dust trail was driven horizontal by the wind as rider and darkness raced towards collision.
Radkin grunted and for an instant Raven cast her eyes in his direction.
With a flick of his dagger a lock of Radkin’s hair fell, leaving an inch long bang.
It was both a challenge and a sign of confidence.
Should the archers miss, all of them would have to shave their heads to the length of the remaining bang. Radkin included.
Eyes front, her shaft flew. Instantaneously two dozen shafts followed, rising, blurring into the air, moving as would a murmuration of swallows. Wind gusts, left, right.
“One day,” Raven said as she turned away from the plains below, “I’m going to miss just to see your head shaved.”
Radkin snorted, barking a laugh.
In the distance the dark mage and its horse crumpled to the ground.