Day 34 of 100 Word Prompts: Train
“Get up,” Jeremiah said, prodding Judah with the end of his bow.
Judah’s head retracted from under his wing, bleary-eyed and foggy as he stared at his father. The aged owl aarakocra looked down at him with a gentle gaze. His father, already armored, seemed to take all the available space in his field of vision.
“What is it, Father?” Judah asked as he sat up and stretched, extending his wings out while his arms raised above his head. “Is something wrong?”
“No, my son, today is the day you start your training with your bow,” Jeremiah replied.
“I know how to use a bow, Father. We’ve been hunting together for some time,” Judah replied, dropping his hands into his lap as he noticed the sun not even peaking over the horizon. “It’s so early.”
“You have been hunting, but we need to see how well you do in real combat situations,” Jeremiah said. “This isn’t going to involve waiting for our prey. This is going to be people trying to kill you.”
Judah’s head snapped around. “What!?”
“No need to be concerned,” Jeremiah replied with a laugh as he brought up a Ventivolley arrow. The shaft had the familiar bright yellow color of the local team with the toroidal end affixed in the same color. “We’ll be using Ventivolley arrows today.”
“I’ve never been much good at that game,” Judah said, deflating. “I always get hit before I have a chance to shoot.”
“That is precisely why we’re going to train,” Jeremiah said.
“Those arrows don’t even go as far, Father. If I were ever in need to fight someone, I would shoot from much further away,” Judah protested, taking the arrow.
“I prodded you with the end of my bow this morning. What if it had been a dagger? A sword?” Jeremiah asked.
“Then we’d be having a much different conversation,” Judah rebutted.
“Enough of your banter, Judah. The others are already waiting. Meet me outside in ten minutes, and remember to wear your armor,” Jeremiah said as he opened his wings and flew outside.
Judah grumbled as he donned his armor and picked up his bow in the corner.
“Where did my quiver go?” he muttered as he searched his room for the leather case, eventually finding it wedged in the chest at the foot of his bed. Judah strung his bow and quiver over his shoulder, sighed, and flew outside to join his father.
In the field just next to the town, he found seventeen other people waiting rigid and ready as he flew in and landed clumsily, taking a position at the end of the row. By the storage shed, Quet Porter, the Boswetle Buzzards team captain, worked to set out bundles of arrows. The field was with makeshift obstacles made from hay and wood.
“Good morning, trainees,” Jeremiah said after shooting Judah a stern look.
“Good morning, Chief,” the others replied in unison, Judah mumbling through his response.
“Today, we will begin to train in combat,” Jeremiah announced. “Most of you are undoubtedly familiar with Ventivolley, the national sport of Dostra, but what you may not know is that the sport began as a combat simulation between different tribes before Dostra had become a single nation.
“The arrows we will be using today are designed specifically not to kill you, but that is not to say that it will not hurt to get hit by one. Can anyone tell me the number one rule of Ventivolley?” Jeremiah asked.
Roobew, a finch, raised his hand.
“Yes, Roobew,” Jeremiah said, pointing the end of his bow at him.
“The number one rule of Ventivolley is no headshots,” Roobew replied.
“Exactly right,” Jeremiah said with a nod. “You will all have five minutes to get ready and have exactly 20 arrows. You will train until either you are hit or you run out of arrows, which if all of you are as good of a shot as your parents tell me, that won’t happen.”
Judah raised his hand.
“Judah,” Jeremiah said, pointing.
“What are the teams?” Judah asked.
“As with life, there are no teams. You will treat this exercise as 16 against 1,” Jeremiah replied. “Each of you is only responsible for yourselves. There will be no joint effort to team up. If I or anyone else sees you working together, you will automatically fail this exercise with negative points.
“Your arrows are all over with Quet. There are enough colors for each of you, with no doubles. The rules are simple. Each hit on another aarakocra will count as five points. If you are the last one standing, you will be awarded twenty-five points, but only if you have engaged the others. If you have no confirmed hits, you will be subject to a negative ten-point penalty that carries forward. Any questions?”
“I have a question,” Erro, the crow, said, raising his hand. Jeremiah nodded to acknowledge him. “What do you mean carries forward?”
“It means that the negative points will continue to accumulate throughout your training. If you reach one-hundred negative points, you will be punished, and I don’t recommend letting your points get that low,” Jeremiah replied. “Any other questions? No? Okay, then you have five minutes to get your arrows and get ready to start.”
All at once, the other seventeen participants flew to the shed, shoving and pushing to get arrows from Quet. Judah shook his head and chose to walk rather than fly over. By the time he reached the shed, the others had gotten every color except for the pink ones.
“How are you feeling today, Judah?” Quet asked. For a sparrow, his shoulders were broad and his arms and legs were muscular. “Are you ready to get out there and show everyone what you can do?”
“I don’t know,” Judah replied, unbinding the arrows and putting them in his quiver. “I’ve never been one for combat.”
“I know how you feel, I didn’t particularly like it either at first,” Quet replied. “Don’t be discouraged. This is all in good fun, but it will help to build skills to defend our village and our nation from potential threats.”
Judah nodded and turned his back on Quet.
“One minute!” Jeremiah announced. “Everyone to your starting mark!”
Judah flit-walked to get to the last remaining spot on the far side of the field. Everyone else in the circle looked as though they were ready for war, except for Erro, who stood closest to him and seemed completely calm.
“What’s your plan?” Judah whispered.
“Just move when the time comes,” Erro said. “Move and shoot.”
“What’s the big deal?” Judah asked.
“You’re the Chief’s son. Everyone is going to shoot for you first. You need to move quickly, and make sure you fire back.”
Judah looked around the circle. Every aarakocra, except for Erro, was staring directly at him.
“Begin!” Jeremiah called.
In a flurry of movement and birdcall, every participant moved at once. Judah dodged to the left, flapping his wings to help him get out of the way as five arrows blasted past him, one nearly clipping his wing. He drew an arrow, and fired at the first thing he saw move, it flew straight but missed the target by a foot.
Judah managed to get around one of the obstacles but found himself in line with another shot that came quickly and slammed him in the chest with a cloud of blue color, throwing him onto his back. His chest felt as though he had been hit with a rock the size of his head.
“Judah, you’re out!” Jeremiah called.
The match continued until only Erro, and Casia remained. Erro had three arrows left while Casia had seven. Judah sat on the sideline with the other fifteen trainees waiting for the match to be over. Casia saw an opening and took it, but Erro was faster. Their arrows sang through the air, barely skimming each other as a trail of Blue and Purple extended toward the other. Erro was hit with the blue arrow in the shoulder, but Casia was faster and managed to dodge the shot, winning the game.
“Thank you, everyone!” Jeremiah called out. “You can go home and reflect on how you did today. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
Judah clambered to his feet awkwardly as his father walked up to him shaking his head.
“What?” Judah asked.
“You were the first one out,” Jeremiah replied.
“It wasn’t my fault, everyone was aiming for me first,” Judah said.
“It’s a simple lack of mental preparation, Judah. I watched you move around the obstacle. You didn’t look at Casia’s move, and that’s why she was able to catch you so quickly. You need to be more diligent in watching your surroundings,” Jeremiah said. “While this is just a game for everyone here, it’s a little different for you. Someday, you’ll have to leave the village and go on your journey to become Chief. I want to make sure you make it home.”
“I’ll try harder next time,” Judah said, looking to the floor.
“I know,” Jeremiah said, clapping him on the shoulder. “The only advice I can give you is to use that owl blood to your advantage. Negative ten points isn’t hard to come back from, but you’ll have to work harder next time.”