Age of Dragons By Antoinette Moses - chapter 1
Brothers in Oath
It has been a long day and Timucin is very tired, but that is unimportant. He looks at the arrow he has just been given and tries to remember if he has ever seen anything as beautiful before.
The arrow is far more decorated than all the others he has seen. And he has seen a lot of arrows. After all, his father is the khan – and not just any khan, but the most powerful and feared for many days’ ride. His yurt is full of the most splendid bows and arrows hanging on the walls. Often, other tribes come to visit. These tribes have beautiful weaponry too. Not just spears, shields and glinting swords, but artfully carved bows and even more exquisite arrows.
So far, he has never seen an arrow like this one. It is longer than his arm, not as long as the arrows the men use, but at least two hands longer than the ones he and the other boys use to practise – and the carvings are so detailed that he is almost afraid to touch it. The arrowhead is not made of iron, but of bronze. This makes it weak and practically useless against anything with even thick fur, let alone against hardened leather or plate armour. Then again, this kind of arrow is not intended to be used like that. The soft metal has been engraved with artful lines and symbols, and the edges have been so carefully polished and sharpened that it could probably split a hair in half.
As he looks at it, Timucin is ashamed.
“It is… it is beautiful,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. You are a true artist.”
Chuzir pulls a face as if Timucin has just said something indecent or spoken badly of the gods. He too holds an arrow in his hand, the one that Timucin has given him in return for this stunning work. He is almost convincing as he pretends to admire it, even if there is very little to admire. It is a completely normal arrow, short and not even entirely straight. Timucin has polished the iron head as much as he can and added a few simple carvings with as much skill as his clumsy fingers allow. Chuzir is kind enough not to say anything about it.
“I am no artist,” answers Chuzir after a noticeable pause and in an almost offended tone of voice. “Soon, I shall be a warrior,” he adds with a sideways glance in Timucin’s direction, “although I shall never be a khan, of course.” He says these last words reproachfully.
“But this arrow…” says Timucin.
“I did not make it,” interrupts Chuzir. “It was old man Schezen who did the carving. In return, I helped him collect firewood and peat for three moons.” He looks at Timucin. “Do you not like it?”
“Of course,” says Timucin quickly, “it’s wonderful. But my own arrow is so…” He stops, embarrassed, but Chuzir just laughs and jabs him in the ribs so hard that Timucin will start crying if he does not stop himself with all the strength he has.
“That’s not the point,” says Chuzir, laughing, “because you probably needed just as much time to carve it as I spent helping that rip-off merchant Schezen carry wood whilst he sat by the fire keeping himself warm.”
Perhaps that is true, thinks Timucin. Nevertheless, he is ashamed of the gift. If this were someone else, he would suspect them of trying to embarrass him by making such an exaggerated gift; but not Chuzir. Chuzir is his best friend, his only friend even – despite the fact that he is the khan’s son. Or perhaps it is because he is the khan’s son…
“Come on,” says Chuzir, jabbing him in the ribs again, “let’s go and try them out!”
Just the very idea of shooting this exquisite arrow and perhaps damaging it fills Timucin with horror, but Chuzir has already turned on his heels and run off, so Timucin follows him.
He runs as fast as he can, but he just cannot keep up with Chuzir and will probably lose him. Chuzir sees that his best friend is having trouble and slows down, then stops entirely. Nevertheless, Timucin is completely out of breath when he too gets to the top of the hill. Chuzir does not say anything, but he cannot stop himself from grinning. Not that he tries for one moment, either.
“I bet I get to the trees before you!” Chuzir says. He is not even breathing heavily, while Timucin’s lungs are burning like fire and his heart is beating so hard he thinks it might burst.
“What a cheek!” thinks Timucin to himself, and then he turns to Chuzir.
“Why don’t you just tell me what I have to do for you?” he asks grumpily. “After all, I shall have to do it anyway when I lose the bet. So I might just as well save my strength.”
Chuzir grins and makes as if to jab him in the ribs again, but he just runs around and starts strolling towards the woods. Timucin follows, cursing himself for what he has just said. Of course, Chuzir will never tell anyone anything about it. Timucin is his friend, after all, and they are about to become brothers in oath. Yet if one of the other boys has heard what he has said, then it will just lead to more rumours in the village. And his father will not like that at all! He will have to be more careful about what he says.
The two young warriors reach the trees at the same time. Chuzir takes his bow from his shoulder, loads it with Timucin’s arrow and, inspecting it closely, draws it halfway back. There he holds it, waiting until Timucin too has cocked his bow. He nods the signal to shoot and then draws back his bow in a movement as smooth as it is strong.
“Forever,” he says.
“Forever,” echoes Timucin.
Their arrows fly off with a twin crack. Despite being too short, bent and warped, Timucin’s arrow, sped by Chuzir’s bowstring, flies almost twice as far as the richly decorated work of art that he himself has shot off. It must have flown at least two hundred paces, perhaps even three hundred, before burrowing into the ground halfway between the trees and the riverbank.
“Forever”, says Chuzir once again; and this time, too, Timucin echoes him.
Chuzir is beaming. A warm feeling comes over Timucin, accompanied nevertheless by a strange feeling of emptiness, almost of disappointment. So now they are brothers in oath. They have been talking about it since last summer and have made preparations accordingly, and somehow, he expected it to be… well, more dramatic. Taking an oath together is more than being brothers by birth; it means being bound together forever, being two parts of a whole who just happen to live in two different bodies. From this day forth, he will be willing to give his life to protect his brother if need be, and he expects this thought to be somehow… elevating. Shouldn’t the earthquake and the heavens open? Shouldn’t there at least be a thunderclap and a few flashes of lightning?
Yet there is nothing, of course. Chuzir embraces him briefly and then turns away brusquely. “Let’s go and get the arrows.”
They do not run this time, but Chuzir has almost twice as much ground to cover as Timucin to reach his arrow and, for some reason, Timucin does not want to follow him.
He pulls the precious arrow from the ground and wipes it down carefully. Suddenly he has an intense feeling of being watched. Perhaps the other young warriors had found out what they were doing?
Timucin turns round and stiffens. His hunch is true. Except that he is not just being watched, he is being stalked.
It’s a dog, almost as big as a foal, but far heavier. It is a shaggy-coated monstrosity with huge teeth, dripping with yellow slaver. And it is standing about ten paces behind him at the edge of the forest, staring at him.
Timucin can feel his heart faltering. He hates dogs and is afraid of them more than anything else in the world. He grips the arrow tighter, but, although his life might now depend on it, something seems to be stopping him from drawing the bowstring. The dog might kill him. Perhaps it does not want to, but it can – and this thought is more than he can bear.
“Timucin, shoot!” cries Chuzir at almost the same moment as he releases his bowstring. The arrow whizzes past Timucin’s cheek, stroking him with its feathers. As the arrow hits the ground just over a man’s length away from the dog, it lets out a frightened yelp and runs off with its tail between its legs.
“Timucin, shoot!” shouts Chuzir again, “What are you waiting for?” Timucin hears Chuzir’s steps and sees the huge dog bolting like a hare towards the trees and disappearing into the undergrowth. Chuzir reaches him, tears the arrow from his fingers and, faster than Timucin’s eyes can follow, loads it into his bow. He draws the string back behind his ear and then… He lets out a moan as he drops the bow. The dog is gone.
“Why did you do that?” he asks angrily. “Why didn’t you shoot?”
“Because, er, because the arrow…” stutters Timucin. Chuzir looks at him with a frown and Timucin continues to speak, with a nervous smile.
“I was afraid of breaking it, as it is so valuable…”
This only makes Chuzir angrier, but he says nothing more, pressing his lips together out of rage and stomping off past him to fetch his dart.
Timucin knows what will happen in the night. The dragon will come to him and show him what he has missed.
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