Red Eve by H. Rider Haggard

“Mark the plume, lords,” he said, and lo! the feather leapt from that cap.

Now there was silence. No one spoke, but Dick drew out three more arrows.

“Tell me, captain,” he said, “is your ground marked out in scores; and what is the farthest that any one of you has sent a fighting shot?”

“Ay,” answered the officer, “and twenty score and one yard is the farthest, nor has that been done for many a day.”

Dick steadied himself, and seemed to fill his lungs with air. Then, stretching his long arms to the full, he drew the great bow till the horns looked as though they came quite close together, and loosed. High and far flew that shaft; men’s eyes could scarcely follow it, and all must wait long before a man came running to say where it had fallen.

“Twenty score and two yards!” he cried.

“Not much to win by,” grunted Dick, “though enough. I have done twenty and one score once, but that was somewhat downhill.”

Then, while the silence still reigned, he set the second arrow on the string, and waited, as though he knew not what to do. Presently, about fifty paces from him, a wood dove flew from out a tree and, as such birds do at the first breath of spring, for the day was mild and sunny, hovered a moment in the air ere it dipped toward a great fir where doubtless it had built for years. Never, poor fowl, was it destined to build again, for as it turned its beak downward Dick’s shaft pierced it through and through and bore it onward to the earth.

Still in the midst of a great silence, Dick took up his quiver and emptied it on the ground, then gave it to the captain of the archers, saying:

“And you will, step sixty, nay, seventy paces, and set this mouth upward in the grass where a man may see it well.”

The captain did so, propping the quiver straight with stones and a bit of wood. Then, having studied all things with his eyes, Dick shot upward, but softly. Making a gentle curve, the arrow turned in the air as it drew near the quiver, and fell into its mouth, striking it flat.

“Ill done,” grumbled Dick; “had I shot well, it should have been pinned to earth. Well, yon shadow baulked me, and it might have been worse.”

Then he unstrung his bow, and slipped it into its case.

Now, at length, the silence was broken, and in good earnest. Men, especially those of Dunwich, screamed and shouted, hurling up their caps. Jack Green, for all jealousy was forgotten at the sight of this wondrous skill, ran to Dick, clasped him in his arms, and, dragging the badge from off his breast, tried to pin it to his rough doublet. The young Prince came and clapped him on the shoulder, saying:

“Be my man! Be my man!”

But Dick only growled, “Paws off! What have I done that I have not done a score of times before with no fine folk to watch me? I shot to please my master and for the honour of Suffolk, not for you, and because some dogs keep their tails too tightly curled.”

“A sulky fellow,” said the Prince, “but, by heaven, I like him!”

Then the King pushed his horse through the throng, and all fell back before his Grace.

“Richard Archer,” he said, “never has such marksmanship as yours been seen in England since we sat upon the throne, nor shall it go unrewarded. The twenty angels you said you would stake last night shall be paid to you by the treasurer of our household. Moreover, here is a gift from Edward of England, the friend of archers, that you may be pleased to wear,” and taking his velvet cap from off his head, the King unpinned from it a golden arrow of which the barbed head was cut from a ruby, and gave it to him.

“I thank you, Sire,” said Dick, his pale skin flushing with pride and pleasure. “I’ll wear it while I live, and may the sight of it mean death to many of your enemies.”

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Categories: Haggard, H. Rider