Book Excerpt

“You insolent English twat!” Rhys exclaimed, breaking out with an extremely deep and hearty laugh, catching everyone off-guard. “No respect for your ancestry, I see. A common fault among you English pricks.” There was a pause. “I have an idea.”

“Wonderful,” Simon said with a hint of sarcasm, “the Welsh are widely known for their ideas.”

“Show me some of your Welsh heritage, and I won’t hang you.”

Rhys called to one of the hundred or so of his men who had by now surrounded the group, and in short order, a Welsh longbow appeared in his hand. “I want to see you hit that,” Rhys said as he pointed to a straw dummy at least a hundred yards across the castle grounds.

Simon considered carefully. He didn’t know if Rhys truly intended to hang him or not, which of course would never happen. He’d die fighting. Unfortunately, based on what he’d seen and heard from his dear uncle and his retinue, his friends and relatives would die fighting, too.

“To hang me, you presuppose that I would not cut off your nuts first, but if you wish to see a display of archery, I will happily grant you one.”

Of course the game was fixed. There wasn’t a chance in hell that Simon could hit the designated target. Simon was immensely strong, but pulling a longbow required a special kind of strength. To even pull a Welsh longbow to its full extension took years of practice, training, and an almost unnatural strengthening of the shoulder muscles.

Simon thought he probably had the strength to pull it fully once, but there was a significant chance his arrow would sail clean over the castle wall or skip across the ground. As for actually getting near the target, it wasn’t going to happen. He and Rhys both knew it.

Rhys smiled a genuinely pleasant smile. Not the smile of a man that was about to hang him, but then again, you never knew. Simon had met people who didn’t feel any emotions at all, people who faked emotions to get along in life, but who could run their sword through the belly of a pregnant woman or split open the head of an infant with an axe without blinking an eye. Perhaps Rhys was one of those people.

Simon thought quickly. “I am an English knight and lord, and your test is too easy for me. And besides being too easy, it is the job of a peasant or a farmer to pull a bowstring. But, as I said, if you wish to see a display of archery, I will show you one. I will have my smallest, weakest servant hit your target, and afterwards, if you still desire to make empty threats, I will happily slice you from arsehole to earlobe.”

Rhys laughed again. He was starting to like this Englishman. He looked over at the most pitiful-looking man in Simon’s retinue, a man with strange, small eyes who was dressed like a sailor but didn’t stand like one. That man was clearly the lowly peasant that Simon referred to, and there was no way he hid enough muscle underneath his loose-fitting shirt to pull a longbow, much less hit the target. “Give the bow to the wee little man. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have your knight give it a try? He looks a stout fellow,” Rhys asked as he pointed the hilt of his sword at Neno.

Knight? I quite like the sound of that, Neno thought to himself as he unconsciously looked around him, feeling awkward at being identified above his station.

“No. That wouldn’t be fair to you; much too easy for him as well.”

Rhys gave the dark-skinned man a second, more thorough look. He had the uneasy feeling he was falling into a trap, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what it might be. The peasant was a foreigner without question, but that just made it less likely he could shoot a longbow. Everyone in the world knew you had to grow up with a longbow to know how to shoot one, and only the English and Welsh did that. Regardless, he had no option now. “Let’s see what he can do then.”

“It’s far, can I have four tries?” Kojiro asked.

Rhys nearly bent over in laughter. Simon kept a straight face, but his asshole puckered tightly. Simon had seen Japanese archery skills, but maybe it was not a talent of Kojiro’s?

Rhys knew the game was his now. Either you could shoot a longbow or you couldn’t. There would be no ‘beginner’s luck’ on a target at a hundred yards. And if you couldn’t hit it the first time, you wouldn’t be able to hit it on the fourth try either.

“Sure, give him four tries. If he can’t hit the target in four tries, your servant hangs beside you. You must introduce me to this other well-dressed man with you; I understand his ship flies the flag of Venice?”

“It does indeed, and he is a merchant among merchants. If I don’t have to kill you, I will be pleased to make the introductions,” Simon offered. Then all attention turned to Kojiro who was fumbling as he tried to fit an arrow to the string of a Welsh longbow.

Simon could not control the lump that formed in his throat. Rhys’ men began to join their leader in his good humor.

All at once, though, the laughter stopped. It didn’t slowly trail off; it just stopped, as if everyone in the courtyard had their tongues removed at once. Not even breathing could be heard as Kojiro drew the enormous Welsh bow fully back to his ear with what appeared to be no more effort than if he were plucking a harp string. When he released the first arrow, the entire gathering, Simon included, snapped their heads at once in the direction of the target.

The arrow buried itself into the head of the dummy. Everyone turned to watch Kojiro load his second arrow, but by the time they turned their heads, his second arrow was already sailing downrange. The second arrow pierced the heart of the dummy.

Now half the crowd looked at Kojiro and half the crowd looked at the target. None of them ever saw the full process from arrow fitting to target penetration because it was just too fast. The half of Rhys’ men-at-arms and knights who had been watching Kojiro and not the target jerked their heads immediately as they heard an audible groan from the crowd that had been watching the target. Kojiro had sent his third arrow right into the location on the target, had it been a real human being, that would have been occupied by his balls.

When the fourth arrow did not immediately follow the third, all eyes turned quickly to Kojiro to see what the problem was. The gaiety amongst Rhys Ap Thomas’ men subsided as everyone saw that the fourth arrow was pulled fully to Kojiro’s ear and aimed directly at Rhys’s face. At a distance of no more than five feet, the plate armor-piercing, bodkin-tipped arrow would likely enter the front of Rhys’s face and exit the back of his skull, and there wasn’t anything anybody could do about it. After all, the only thing Kojiro had to do was stop holding the pressure of two hundred pounds of pull weight, and Rhys would cease to breathe air.