Day 41 of 100 Word Prompts: Apple
Judah stood on the platform overlooking the practice targets with his bow at the ready. Beneath the platform, he could hear the sounds of the helpers getting prepared as a cool breeze drifted past. The ten remaining participants in the trials, including Judah, were all present, bow in hand, and ready to fire.
“Judah,” Erro whispered. “I think you’ve got this one.”
“I hope so,” Judah replied.
“From what Opher told me last night, we have to be careful aiming this time. There are rocks and whatnot mixed into the final round. It’s going to be crazy,” Erro said.
“We aren’t supposed to know what is coming,” Judah hissed, “you cheated.”
“It’s not cheating,” Erro said. “These challenges are meant to test us on our skill. Information gathering is one such skill that is valuable.”
“How do you know?” Judah asked. “My father was insistent that I not know what was coming. Why would the rules be different for you?”
“Because I’m not the chief’s son,” Erro replied, “but that doesn’t matter. You’re a better shot than most of us. This should be easy for you. There’s also supposed to be one target worth-”
“The rules to this challenge are simple,” Jeremiah boomed from behind the firing line, silencing Erro. “Items will be launched out into the field before you. Apples are worth five points, clay targets are worth fifteen, every missed shot is a negative two point penalty, and if you hit anything other than the positive value targets, you will be subject to a negative ten point penalty. All valid targets will be red. On this challenge, if you do not collect at least fifty points, you will not be eligible for the challenges going forward and will have to wait until next year. The number and type of target are randomized, so don’t waste a shot. All points collected here will be added to your final totals. Does everyone understand the rules?”
A cacophonous affirmation boomed down the line.
“Ready?” Jeremiah asked.
“As ready as I’m going to be,” Judah muttered under his breath, taking a deep breath.
“Begin!” Jeremiah called.
With the familiar clacks of wood connecting with wood, the first apple flew into view in a long, easy to spot arc. Judah knocked an arrow and released it in one fluid motion. The arrow flew true, striking the apple as it tumbled from the sky. He saw that the other participants in the challenge also fired, though some missed their initial shots, others had time to fire twice.
Casia and Erro made quick work of their first targets, hitting them with ease. Casia had time to fire a second and knocked one of the other’s apples out of the line, causing them to miss. The next round came as Judah knocked his second arrow. This time it was a mix of clay targets and apples flying through the air. Judah fired his first shot at a clay target, but it shattered before his arrow reached it.
“Faster, Judah!” Erro said, knocking his second shot as well.
Judah fired at a clay target that had been missed, nearly a hundred yards out. The target shattered as his arrow collided with it, sending pieces of the clay in every direction.
“18,” Judah whispered to himself.
The next round was all clay targets. Judah turned and fired for the same row that had been missed last time, striking it quickly. He knocked a second and fired again, landing another successful shot, adding another thirty points to his total.
“48,” Judah muttered as he knocked another arrow.
The next round of targets came out, this time there were no clay targets or apples. Instead, it was a steady stream of rocks, which a handful of participants shot at, but destroyed their arrows in the process.
“Final round!” Jeremiah called.
From beneath the platform, an assortment of items flew through the air. Many were in triples or doubles. Mostly rocks and balls, but there were a handful of clay targets mixed amongst them. Judah aimed his bow as target after target was struck, pulling things out of the air as fast as he was ready to fire. Within three seconds, it appeared that all the positive targets had been snagged. The targets had reached almost two hundred feet when Judah saw a flash of dark red from what seemed to be a basket and loosed his arrow.
“Bow’s down!” Jeremiah commanded as the last of the targets hit the ground in the distance. “You will all have a brief break while we tally the results.”
“I missed the last one, Erro,” Casia said, walking over. “How’d you do?”
“I did alright,” Erro replied. “I think I’m somewhere around eighty points. I didn’t see the special target, though. I didn’t see anything red like he said.”
“I didn’t spot it either. Do you think that Opher lied?” Casia said. “You did better than me. Even with the dual shots I took, I hit enough things that weren’t targets to bring my score down to sixty. What about you, Judah? How’d you do?”
“Forty-eight,” Judah said as the aarakocra beneath the platform flew into view and out into the field.
“Did you see the special target?” Erro asked.
“What special target?” Judah asked.
“Look!” Casia said, pointing out into the field where the others were collecting arrows.
Judah turned to look and saw one of his arrows being held above one of their heads. On the shaft of the arrow, it looked like a wicker ball. The arrow came down, and the ball was cut open, inside it, a single cherry was on the shaft.
“Are you kidding me?” Casia said. “It was in a wicker basket?”
“How did you know?” Erro asked, turning to Judah.
“I didn’t,” Judah replied, looking in disbelief. “The last round, all the clay targets, and apples had been picked off. I thought it was over. I thought I saw something red, so I fired without thinking.”
“Looks to me like you just upped your score from forty-eight to ninety-eight, buddy,” Erro said. “I’m a little jealous that you got it.”
“Judah,” Jeremiah called from the side of the platform.
“I’ll be back, guys,” Judah said, flying to his father.
“Judah, I have to say, I don’t know that I’ve ever been this proud as a father and as the Chief,” Jeremiah said, clapping Judah on the shoulder. “It’s been years since anyone managed to hit the cherry.”
“I didn’t know there was a cherry,” Judah admitted. “You didn’t say there was one.”
“It’s never announced. Usually, it’s a well-guarded secret, but your friend Erro bribed one of the assistants and got some of the information. We changed up how it was going to go out at the last minute so that it wouldn’t be obvious, but you did it!” Jeremiah beamed.
“I just thought I saw something red, Father,” Judah said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have passed this round.”
“It doesn’t matter what would have happened,” Jeremiah said, “You should be proud of yourself. That wasn’t an easy shot to see or hit.”
“Here are the totals, Chief,” one of the finch assistants said, handing Jeremiah a slip of paper.
“Thank you, Lora,” Jeremiah said before turning back to Judah, “Alright, get back to your friends. I just couldn’t wait to tell you how proud I was of you.”
“Thank you, Father,” Judah said, bowing and returning to Erro.
“Everyone, please line up so I can announce those moving forward,” Jeremiah called, bringing the chatter from the participants to a stop. “I will only be announcing those who have passed. For those of you who didn’t, thank you for your hard work and dedication, we look forward to seeing you next time.
“Only three of you made it past this challenge,” he continued, “Erro, Casia, and Judah will be moving on to the final round, with seventy-three, sixty-five, and ninety-eight points respectfully. I would like to express my congratulations to each of you tonight at our traditional finalist banquet. As you all undoubtedly know, the final round is only ceremonial, and all three of you have officially earned the right to leave the island if you choose.”
“We did it!” Casia said, grabbing Erro and Judah by the arms. “We all did it!”
“It’s incredible!” Erro said.
“Where do you want to go first, Erro?” Casia said.
“I think I’m going to go see Baswea. I hear that they have markets where you can find almost anything there!” Erro replied. “What about you?”
Judah felt a surge of panic course through him as the reality that he would leave to go on his own journey soon.
“I’m going to go to Teshal,” Casia said. “The food is amazing there!”
“How would you know?” Erro teased, prodding her in the ribs. “What about you, Judah?”
“I have to go to Ameshead,” Judah replied. “I don’t know where after that.”
“I forgot, you’re going on the Chieftain’s Journey, aren’t you?” Casia said.
“Yeah, it’s tradition,” Judah said with a nod.
“Do you not want to go?” Erro asked.
“No, I do. It’s just-” Judah shifted uncomfortably. “-I don’t know that I’m ready yet. I haven’t really thought about what I’m going to bring back.”
“Would you mind the company on the way to Ameshead?” Erro asked.
“Yeah, maybe we can help you come up with something along the way,” Casia said. “It’ll be fun, like when we were kids.”
“Alright,” Judah agreed, “I guess so. Let’s just get through the next two days, and we’ll go from there.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Erro said, his feathers quivering with excitement, “WE DID IT!”