By Joel Tagert
Published Issue 086, February 2021
“May this arrow fly true as the spirit of Enrathiel, the White Falcon,” Melara whispered as she drew. The ten-tined hart raised its head as though hearing her prayer. The whole forest seemed to hold its breath, the breeze falling to nothing, the leaves quieting; and then, with a practiced flick of the fingers, she released. The string twanged, the arrow thwupped – and the deer, hearing the sound, bounded away, completely unharmed.
“What the fuck?” she said, throwing up her hands. She turned to her friend Ialantha, who was leaning unconcerned against against the bole of a nearby ash, playing with a small magical mirror. “Did you see that?”
“That you missed?”
“No, I mean yes, but – I never miss. My bow was blessed by Davhaer Woodsinger himself. I won the archery tournament at Crimsa against a hundred competitors. I craft my arrows from the young saplings of the –”
“You’re a magical fae warrior princess, I got it,” Ialantha said, digging in her pocket for another dewberry. “Doesn’t mean you can’t miss sometimes.”
“Hmph.” She stalked off, down toward the stream where the hart had stood, Ialantha strolling lazily down the slope in her wake. “And where’d my arrow go?”
Ialantha finally put away her mirror. “You know, I think you’re getting a little obsessive about this whole archery thing. Ever think of trying something else?”
Melara glared at her pink-haired friend. “Do you remember when the undead Bull of Korgath came to murder us all, destroy our village and poison our forest? Do you remember who put an enchanted arrow in its rotting brain?”
“Some mighty warrior, I’m sure.”
“It was me. As you know. And who was it that –”
“Are you just going to stand there bragging all day? Because I already know all your stories. I’m just saying, there are a lot of things you could do. You could sing, or play the lyre, or take up weaving …”
“Weaving?” Melara said incredulously.
“I’m just saying.”
“It’s my job, Ia. And it’s just one lousy shot anyway. Come on.”
It took only a few minutes to find several turkeys scratching happily in a sun-dappled grove. With careful concentration, Melara drew one of her meticulously crafted arrows from her quiver, fit it to the string, and drew. She could imagine the arrow’s flight through the air, its unbroken path to the bird’s breast. She released.
The arrow flew forward, quick as – well, as an arrow – and then shot upward into the air, disappearing eastward through the leaves! “Ha!” yelled Melara. “I told you!”
“Told me what?”
“It was magic! I didn’t miss! Someone has cast a spell on me.”
“I suppose it’s possible.”
“Possible?! Here!” Quick as a flash, she drew, notched and shot, aiming in the general direction of the still-heedless turkeys. Again the arrow failed not only to hit its target, but even to hit the ground, which anyone would admit was unusual behavior for an inanimate object. Instead it flew up through the trees, speed undiminished, vanishing in the very same direction as before.
Ialantha made an expression of unimpressed acceptance. “Fine, it’s magic. Now what?”
“Now we’re going to find out where the arrows are going, obviously.”
Off they set through the woods, Melara’s face set in grim determination. Periodically she would fire another arrow, but they never wavered in direction or velocity. “When we get where we’re going, we should be prepared for anything. It could be a dragon, or witches, or some kind of evil magnet …”
“An evil magnet dragon witch?”
“And why not?”
“Your imagination runs pretty malevolent for something that’s so far done nothing but save some animals’ lives. Maybe it’s a magically talented vegan trying to get you to reconsider your dietary habits.”
“Well, they better watch out,” Melara said fiercely, drawing her curved dagger and waving it energetically a few times.
“Them or me?” Ialantha said, dropping back a few more paces.
“Are you just in a mood today, or what?”
“Me in a mood? You’re the one ready to disembowel your best friend.”
“Lately you just seem … I don’t know. Like you’re not even here half the time.”
“If by here you mean crouching behind a tree trying to put an arrow in some critter’s throat, then no, I guess not. But you know, you could also come out some time. Go dancing. Play the lyre, why not?”
“Because the lyre isn’t my thing.”
Ia sighed. “Maybe we’re just growing apart.”
Melara slowed in her stride to look back at her friend thoughtfully. “Maybe we are. I guess after a few centuries your interests tend to diverge.”
They continued on their way until at last the reached the very edge of Taeldell, where the great trees gave way to the plains of Camroth. And there Melara cried in triumph. “Ha! Told you!”
A small, simple house of wooden boards stood upon the grass; and in its roof, standing like signal flags, were all the arrows from Melara’s quiver – all but one. This last she raised and fired – but at the woods behind them. The two fae watched curiously at the arrow tilted up and up and up, performing a nearly complete loop into the air before it descended, fixing itself with a wooden tock alongside the others in the peaked roof, standing like the crest in a warrior’s helmet.
Melara strode boldly through the grass – one could even call it a yard – noticing with distaste a cart with a missing wheel, shards of smashed cups, old gnawed bones, fruit cores, animal dung, and the general odor of malaise. Not to be deterred, she rapped her knuckles smartly against the door, which came only to neck-height.
After a long pause, the latch turned and the inhabitant came out blinking and scratching his belly. It was a troll, gray of skin and warty of visage. His eyes were bloodshot and his rippling paunch fell over the waistband of his shorts, the only item of clothing he wore. He stank, very badly. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Melara replied, and went on, “ugh,” coughing at the smell.
“Wow, you actually look hotter than in your pictures. That’s great.”
“Oh, you know, you can’t actually tell how someone looks from what you see in the mirror.” He waved a handheld magic mirror, just like the one Ialantha had. “But you, fuck yeah! Like this whole leather sports-bra thing you got going on. Why hide it if you got it, right?”
“Did you put a spell on my arrows?”
“What? Oh, no, that’s just what the enchantment does.” You know, to get your attention and all. So you want to go get something to eat first, or you just want to come in and chill?” He winked with one wandering eye, a drop of smegma forming in the crease.
“Yrck. Ia, what is he talking about? What’s this enchantment?”
“You mean OnlyFae?” There seemed to be something going haywire with Ialantha’s facial muscles, which were twitching like mad. “It’s like, a dating enchantment, you could say.”
“I mean, ‛dating’ is a strong word,” observed the troll, “but I can be romantic and shit if that’s what you’re into.” He reached into his shorts, although it was not entirely clear that they had pockets, and withdrew what seemed to be a dead mouse. “Here, you can wear it like a pin.” His questing hand met with a sharp slap.
“But how did you find me with this enchantment?”
“Oh, it’s easy. You pretty much just swipe left or right, only I mostly swipe right, because it’s all a numbers game, you know. And here you are, so –”
It was at this point that Melara noticed Ia had sunk to her knees with tears running down her cheeks – from barely contained laughter. “You! You did this!”
Freed from her nominal restraint, Ialantha broke down in a fit of hysterical laughter, slapping at her thighs and wiping at her eyes. “Your face! Oh my god, your face!”
“Why?! Why would you make me come here?”
“Because you’re just – so – serious! ‛Do you remember when the Bull of Korgath blah blah blah!’ You used to be fun, Mel!”
“Give me that,” Melara said, snatching the mouse from the troll and throwing it at her erstwhile friend. This time, in a fury, she did not miss, and it struck Ialantha on the cheek, eliciting a disgusted shriek.
This, at last, broke the tension, making Melara grin along with her friend. “Fine,” she said. “But you’re helping me get my arrows back.”
Joel Tagert is a fiction writer, artist and longtime Zen practitioner living in Denver, Colorado. He is also currently the office manager for the Zen Center of Denver and the editorial proofreader for Westword. His debut novel, INFERENCE, was released July 2017.
Grant Williams is a Denver-based artist who has been working out of Blue Silo Studios for over a decade. He graduated with a BFA in printmaking from the University of Denver in 1991. Since that time he has worked and shown across the Front Range and elsewhere. His work consists largely of etchings, but he also shown drawings, paintings, and sculptures. He has been published in several magazines, and done book illustration work.