Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“So be it,” said the King, wondering; and the clout was replaced upon its stand.

Now Grey Dick stretched himself, looked at the clout, looked at his bow, and set a black-winged arrow on the string. Then he drew, it seemed but lightly and carelessly, as though he thought the distance small. Away flew the shaft, and sank into the red a good inch within the leftmost arrow of Jack Green.

“Ah!” said the onlookers, “a lucky shot indeed!”

Again he drew, and again the arrow sank into the red, a good inch within the rightmost shot of Jack Green.

“Oh!” said the onlookers, “this man is an archer; but Jack’s last he cannot best, let the devil help him how he will.”

“In the devil’s name, then, be silent!” wheezed Grey Dick, with a flash of his half-opened eye.

“Ay, be silent—be silent!” said the King, “We do not see such shooting every day.”

Now Dick set his feet apart and, arrow on string, thrice he lifted the bow and thrice let it sink again, perhaps because he felt some breath of wind stir the still air. A fourth time he lifted, and drew, not as he had before, but straight to the ear, then loosed at once.

Away rushed the yard-long shaft, and folk noted that it scarcely seemed to rise as arrows do, or at least not half so high. It rushed, it smote, and there was silence, for none could see exactly what had happened. Then he who stood near the target to mark ran forward, and screamed, out:

“By God’s name, he has shattered Jack Green’s centre arrow, and shot clean through the clout!”

Then from all sides rose the old archer cry, “He, He! He, He!” while the young Prince threw his cap on high, and the King said:

“Would that there were more such men as this in England! Jack Green, it seems that you are beaten.”

“Nay,” said Grey Dick, seating himself again upon the grass, “there is naught to choose between us in this round. What next, your Grace?”

Only Hugh, who watched him, saw the big veins swell beneath the pale skin of his forehead, as they ever did when he was moved.

“The war game,” said the King; “that is, if you will, for here rough knocks may be going. Set it out, one of you.”

Then a captain of the archers explained this sport. In short it was that man should stand against man clad in leather jerkins, and wearing a vizor to protect the face, and shoot at each other with blunt arrows rubbed with chalk, he who first took what would have been a mortal wound to be held worsted.

“I like not blunted arrows,” said Grey Dick; “or, for the matter of that, any other arrows save my own. Against how many must I play? The three?”

The captain nodded.

“Then, by your leave, I will take them all at once.”

Now some said that this was not fair, but in the end Dick won his point, and those archers whom he had beaten, among them Jack Green, were placed against him, standing five yards apart, and blunted arrows served out to all. Dick set one of them on the string, and laid the two others in front of them. Then a knight rode to halfway between them, but a little to one side, and shouted: “Loose!”

As the word struck his ear Dick shot with wonderful swiftness, and almost as the arrow left the bow flung himself down, grasping another as he fell. Next instant, three shafts whistled over where he had stood. But his found its mark on the body of him at whom he had aimed, causing the man to stagger backward and throw down his bow, as he was bound to do, if hit.

Next instant Dick was up again and his second arrow flew, striking full and fair before ever he at whom it was aimed had drawn.

Now there remained Jack Green alone, and, as Dick set the third arrow, but before he could draw, Jack Green shot.

“Beat!” said Dick, and stood quite still.

At him rushed the swift shaft, and passed over his shoulder within a hairbreadth of his ear. Then came Dick’s turn. On Jack Green’s cap was an archer’s plume.

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider