Meisha knows that she came from a family of great wealth and power, but is puzzled why it all disappeared so easily. She knows she was never told the full truth. But it is out there, at the old family estate now overrun with weeds and creatures of the dark.
She will need her bow if she is going to find out what truly happened.
Character Series: no character series
Group Series: Hadesdorff, 5
Author: Chris Wilkins
“You can’t go. It’s too dangerous.”
“It will always be dangerous. It will never not be dangerous.”
Shulgin glared at Meisha. “You cannot go and that is final. It is too dangerous. Besides, what will you find out there. There is nothing for you.”
Meisha scoffed. “It will always be dangerous. So it might as well be now as any other time. As for there being nothing out there for me, there is my family home, my estate. We never found out what really happened to it or my family. At least I never did.”
Shulgin sighed, like a patient head master to a truant child who was ‘just not getting it’. He pushed his right hand back through his grey hair, flattening it down, then grabbed the two sides of his voluminous purple cloak with gold inlay, and pulled it down to straighten it. He turned around, saw the high backed chair he wanted, then carefully placed his backside in it.
Once seated he flattened out his cloak again. Only then did he fix Meisha with his patient, yet patronising, stare. He raised a hand with his index finger pointed upwards. As if by magic a servant appeared next to him with a small wooden table. Onto the table went a silver goblet, wine was poured, and then he disappeared out of the very large wooden panelled room that Meisha found herself standing in.
It had always been this way. Ever since the Pozhar family had been massacred by evil monsters, and the family estate and fortune destroyed, Shulgin had kindly looked after Meisha. She had been a teenager at university at the time when she was given the news that her entire family was dead, that hobgoblins had ransacked the family estate, killing everything there and taking away anything of worth. All the gold, silver, jewels, the lot, as well as killing all the farm labouring families for miles around, slaughtering their livestock and all humans.
In a flash Meisha went from a very privileged life of study, cocktail parties, and being courted by some of the most affluent and eligible bachelors in the land, to something of an outcast. Being elitist to poor peasants was normal. Rejecting one of their own who had lost everything was somehow even more nasty.
Thankfully Shulgin, who had luckily been in Praag at the time, wasn’t at the estate when the attack happened. So he kindly took Meishas in, taking pity on her. He had told her at the time he was just a poorly steward of a family that no longer existed, thus he had no employment, but he would do the best he could.
Which was quite something. His house was four stories high, and occupied sixty yards of street frontage in one the best neighbourhoods of the city. It put many of the wealthy and old aristocratic families to shame.
That attack was eight years ago. Since then Meisha had stayed with Shulgin getting more and more restless, wondering where and what her life held. She had dropped out of her studies, no courtiers paid her any attention, she was not invited to any balls, and life just became a drab existence of boredom. Which had lasted only a year or so. After she had mourned her family she decided to do something.
She always remembered the discussion with Shulgin. She said she wanted to get better at her archery, something she was passable at when at school. Shulgin had said it was an unlady like thing to do. She had retorted that as she wasn’t being treated like a lady by any of the bachelors in town it didn’t matter what she did, unlady like or not. Otherwise she was going to explode because she had nothing to do. Shulgin had relented when he saw that Meisha was not going to let the subject rest.
From then on he actually encouraged it. He hired some of the best weapons experts in the land, especially looking for gospodar horse archers. It was said they could bring down a sparrow whilst on the back of a galloping horse. Yegu, a short wiry man with gnarly arms like a tree, was chosen. He had insisted that not only Meisha learn how to draw a bow and hit her target, but that she learn how to make a bow and arrows, something she had never thought of before. But she took to it assiduously, realising this was a major key to her freedom. Before she had always relied on others to provide her with bows and arrows, such as at school, and of course her family thought it beneath them to actually make the things. Just fire them.
To make a proper bow takes a long time. The first key is knowing which tree to use, and how to cut the wood. Then there are a hundred other tricks depending on whether you want to make a long six-foot standing bow, or the more compact composite bow for use on horse. Either way, Meisha dedicated herself to the long and laborious task of turning wood into a killing weapon.
And then she practied. And practiced. And practiced. He fingers got calloused, hard and strong. She got better. Her accuracy and range went up day by day. As the seasons floated past one after another she went from hitting the bullseye at twenty yards, to fifty yards, to a hundred, hundred and fifty, two hundred.
That day she had beamed at Yegu, expecting some sort of compliment. He grunted at her, “Not bad, for a beginner.” She was crushed until he showed her what he could do: hit a target at three hundred yards. That day Meisha vowed she would not stop until she could outdistance her grumpy archery master.
Meisha had also to push against any notion of getting soft treatment because she was a female. Early on she had complained to Yegu that her rather large bust was getting in the way of her drawing the bow back.
“Bust. What bust? I see no bust. All I see is a person trying to learn to how be an archer.” The issue of gender never came up again.
She also noticed her hands and arms getting thicker and stronger. An archer needs very strong shoulder and back muscles to pull a more than a hundred pound bow all the way back to a firing position. Her trapezius and deltoids got far bigger than a lady of the court should have. It gave her a look that was naturally different to the waifs that the young bachelor’s liked to chase.
Which meant she sometimes got bullied, which often didn’t go so well for the bully. One day while walking in the central park of Praag she was stopped by three young courtiers. One thought it would be hilarious to make fun of Meisha’s non-lady like features.
He went to shake her hand, thinking it would be a great hoot to crush it and have her on her knees, begging him to let her go. Because of course he was a male knight and she a poor woman from a destroyed lineage.
“Good afternoon, Meisha,” he had said, extending his hand.
“And the same to you, Tarasov,” she replied, taking his hand.
He smiled at her as he increased the pressure. Nothing happened to Meisha’s hand. It did not bend, it did not fold. It stayed straight while she smiled at him.
He looked at his two friends, perplexed. “Is there something the matter, Tarasov?” she had asked.
“Ah, no, no. Everything is okay,” he had replied, increasing the pressure.
Meisha then pressed back. Tarasov’s hand buckled like a wafer biscuit, pain shot up along his arm into the back of his skull. He gasped but Meisha just kept crushing inwards.
“Ahhhh,” he moaned, trying not to yell.
“Is something the matter, Tarasov?” She’d leaned in closer so only he could hear. “Or is your little joke,” she increased pressure to her maximum, “not going the way you wanted it to?”
It ended up with Tarasov kneeling on the ground screaming in pain while Meisha stood over him, grinning at his two friends.
She let him go and stormed off, knowing full well she would not be getting an invite to the Winter Ball from anyone that year.
And now she stood in front of Shulgin, the kindly steward of the Pozhar family, telling him she was going out into the wilds to use her new found skills.
“But don’t you want a nice safe life, Meisha? You could stay here and marry one of the nice young men in town. They would look after you. Life would be good.” He paused. “Or you could marry someone else. You never know what fortune could blow your way.”
She shook her head, her long curly red locks rippling around her shoulders. “Seriously, Shulgin. Do you think I’ve been training to use the bow for the last eight years just so I can be a breeder for some spoilt rich kid? Surely not.”
He sighed. “No, I know you didn’t. I just thought you eventually change your mind. Had seen it for what it was.”
“Ahh. You mean some sort of trifle to give me something to do? Something to fill my day? Perhaps if you had wanted to keep me occupied you should have got me into needle work. Crocheting? Now there’s an honourable profession. I could have done that.” The sarcasm could have been cut with a knife. “What about gardening? Or croquet. Have you heard about this game? Very exciting. Everyone stands around for hours while everyone takes it turns to hit a ball through a metal hoop with a mallet. Riveting stuff.”