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The boy asked Durbar if he would like something to drink, and Durbar asked him for some cider. He then sat quietly all alone at the front table while trying to keep calm and avoid eye contact with anyone. Klaud returned and filled his goblet. At least he now had a place to put his hands, and he clutched the drink with both of them as he sipped it. He kept his eyes down so as to not make eye contact with anyone in the room. At first all was well, but his strategy of avoidance was soon tested.
A woman at the party noticed Durbar sitting nervously by himself. She immediately found him interesting because he was obviously not used to formal situations, and she had never seen him before. She herself was an attractive woman, a little taller than most with flowing brown hair and deep blue eyes that were like two dark pools of water. She was a fair lady, but not meek or fragile. She decided to approach Durbar after studying him from a distance for a time like a hawk tracking a squirrel.
She walked over to where Durbar was seated, but he did not notice her because he was staring into his goblet. She paused for a moment to give him a chance to notice her, but the young bowman did not waver from his strategy. Soon she abandoned the subtle approach and addressed him directly.
“Hello,” she began, distracting him from his drink. Durbar heard her and even suspected that she was talking to him, but really hoped that she was not. He waited a moment to see if anyone else answered her, but when no one did, he concluded that she had in fact spoke to him. He looked up to make sure, even though it betrayed his plan and saw the woman standing only a couple of feet from him. She was staring directly at him. He froze when he knew that she was talking to him. She was socially experienced and so she sensed his fear and tried to put him at ease.
“I haven’t seen you here before? Are you new to Harmon?” she asked.
“No. I mean yes,” he stammered and then cursed under his breath. She smiled at his shyness.
“My name is Verayzija, but most people call me Vera. I am a merchant here in Harmon and elsewere. What is your name?” she asked.
“I am Durbar,” he mumbled breaking eye contact. Verayzija knew that he was unused to social situations and so dismissed his rudeness for not standing up and sat down in the seat next to his instead.
“What brings you here?” she asked.
“I came here to compete in the games.”
“Ah, yes, of course. And you must have won something because you are sitting at the head table. Am I correct?”
“I won the archery competition.”
“Oh my. You are the Sureshot then, aren’t you?” Durbar smiled when she mentioned his nickname. It appeared everyone knew it by now.
“Yes, that is what Prince Rothan calls me.”
“I heard about you obviously,” she continued, now fully understanding his unrefined manners. “You beat Tarbon. He is very good I understand. I think he usually wins the archery match. I missed the games this year myself. I didn’t make it back from Golak until late last night. Still, you did very well I hear and congratulations are in order.”
“Thank you,” he murmured, wishing the conversation would end. However, Durbar continued to talk to Verayzija until it was time to serve dinner. She talked about her travels around Dirka and some of the people she knew. Durbar learned that her father was a merchant, and she learned everything she knows from him. She talked a little about some robbers that were harassing caravans in Dirka and what they were doing to try and stop them. She said that she was trying to convince someone to send some troops to capture the bandits but so far was unsuccessful.
Durbar actually began to relax around her. She had a way of making people feel more comfortable, and it helped him to open up a little. He told her about how he was living in the woods by himself and how he met Rothan there. Then he told her about the tournament and how he found out that his father was in the garrison, but was careful not to tell her too much about his father, even though it was difficult to avoid. The revelation was still fresh in his mind so he could not help himself. It felt good to talk to someone who didn’t know more about him than he did. She in turn gave him some etiquette tips for dining and what to do when the royal party was announced. She was just explaining this very thing when someone came out and blew a horn announcing that the duke and his family would be entering. Verayzija thanked him for the conversation and took her seat at one of the side tables.
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“Hail, my good man, what are you doing in these woods?” the leader questioned in a tone that was not quite friendly but more authoritative.
Durbar pulled back the hood of his black cloak revealing his face, sharp deep blue eyes and hair which was tied back with a leather string. He quickly studied the three men who were mounted before him. The one who addressed him was the leader, Durbar guessed. The man was tall with broad shoulders but a boyish face, yet intelligent looking. He had sandy hair that fell at his collar. His eyes were wide and his face held an expression of curiosity. The other two had blank faces, eyes hiding a sense of futility and boredom. Square and cold they looked dark to Durbar. He stared into the eyes of the man who spoke to him and answered, “Hunting.”
“So are we,” beamed the leader with a wide smile.
Durbar laughed smugly. “One would never know it,” he replied.
“What is that supposed to mean?” responded the leader his smile turned to a scowl as he leaned forward in his saddle.
“You make more noise than bears mating on a bed of dried leaves, and you are dressed like performing bards, I imagine, and furthermore, you already scared off the buck that I had marked.”
The three men sat back in their saddle and stared from one to another wide-eyed. Not finding answers from his friends, one of the darker solemn men reached for his long sword but the leader raised his hand to halt him.
“Do you know who I am?” asked the leader.
“I know you are no hunter,” replied Durbar, “and I have been told that people who have to ask others if they are known, are no one of consequence.”
The leader tensed and glared at Durbar after the insults the young woodsman hurled at him. He moved in his saddle and gripped his sword. His face strained and he scowled at Durbar. “Look here, peasant. I am Prince Rothan, nephew to King Tokab, ruler of the Dirkan kingdom. My father is the Duke of Harmon, and I will not tolerate your insults.”
“Well, Prince Rotten Ham,” Durbar mocked, making play of the prince’s name. “It is a pleasure to meet you, and now will you kindly take your dogs and leave so that I may track the buck you scared off.”
With that remark, the man to Rothan’s right had heard enough. He drew his long sword, held it high, and spurred his horse, sending it charging forward. In a move that was lightning quick Durbar dropped to one knee, pulled an arrow from his quiver, and fired it at the head of the charging man. Stunned by the bowman’s quickness, he watched as the arrow flew from the man’s bow and sailed toward his head, unable to process the threat quickly enough to react. The arrow rose, caught the man’s colorful cap, and snatched it from his head. It sailed a few more yards before it fell to the ground still stuck in the cap. The man stopped his horse, looked up at his head expecting to see an arrow in his skull, and then looked back at the bowman. Durbar had already notched another arrow. The other two men looked simultaneously at the capless man, back at his cap that lay behind them, and then back to Durbar. All of them sat in their saddles, faces blank and mouths hanging open with no words.
Durbar spoke first. “Charge me again and you won’t lose only your hat.”
After a long pause, Rothan spoke up. “That was amazing woodsman. Could you do something like that again?”
Durbar swung his bow, aiming at Rothan’s head and asked, “Would you like to see me try?”
Rothan held up his hand, “No, no, I believe you, but perhaps some other test could prove to me your skill.” The prince turned to the man on his left. “Fron, take out your purse and hold it up,” he ordered.
The man began to protest, “Sir, I don’t think …”
“Just do it!” Rothan demanded.
Reluctantly the man produced a small leather purse and held it up at his side.
“Now ride back forty yards,” instructed Rothan.
The man rode back as ordered. Rothan watched and when satisfied he turned back to Durbar.
“Now,” he explained, “hit that man’s purse and its contents are yours.”
Durbar studied the small purse in the man’s fist from fifty yards. He didn’t feel as though he had to prove himself to this stranger, no matter his lineage. He felt no obligation to take his challenge, but still he drew an arrow and aimed at the man’s purse simply because he was curious. Furthermore, he wanted to deprive the man of his money, for he obviously had plenty. Rothan had bet his friend’s purse, and Durbar intended to take it.
As he aimed, Fron squirmed in his saddle. He tried to reason with the prince. “Sir, do you think this is a good idea? He might miss.”
As the words left his mouth, an arrow shot from Durbar’s bow with great speed and struck the purse just below the man’s clenched fist. The power of the shot tore the bag from his hand and sent it to the ground, arrow sticking up in the soil.
Rothan looked at the purse and turned clapping. “That was amazing, truly. You must be the best shot I have ever seen.”
Durbar blankly stared at the prince, unimpressed. “Can I have my purse now?” he asked calmly.
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Some people stopped their conversation when Durbar entered the room and stared at the dark, cloaked woodsman. He stood for a moment by the doorway scanning the scene before him. He noticed a crowd of people in the far right-hand corner. He didn’t see Prince Rothan anywhere else so he thought he would pass by to see if he was at that table.
Durbar weaved his way through tables, chairs, and people toward the corner table. As he approached, some of the people standing by it noticed him moving toward them and stepped back whispering alarm to the others. As more people saw Durbar, the crowd parted to avoid his path, which led directly to the prince. Some thought that he might be an assassin sent to kill Rothan. No one could see Durbar’s face because he had his cloak pulled far over his head. Rothan had his guards with him, and as they saw Durbar they stood up, drew their swords, and waited for the approaching man to make a move. All the people between and near them scattered with the threat of violence. Durbar stopped just before the table and paused for a moment. Rothan called out to him as he too stood up, drawing a dagger from his belt, “Who are you? Identify yourself! Why have you come here to threaten me?”
“I have threatened no one, and I am here by your request,” Durbar answered voice clear and strong but forced as his spirit sounded the alarm and the hairs on his neck and arms stood up. Durbar’s eyes darted from one person to another and then back to Rothan. He felt like a hare surrounded by foxes and though he froze in his tracks, his heart raced and his gut told him to flee. Suppressing the trembles deep within, he stood tall.
“What?” shouted Rothan. “Who are you? Tell me now!” Durbar slowly raised a hand to the hood of his cloak and pulled it from his head revealing his face. Everyone just stood still, waiting for Rothan’s response. He himself was searching for the man’s identity. Then it struck him.
“You…” he began, “you are the man we found in the forest. You are the one who shot Jeshker’s cap from his head. You are Sureshot!” A wide grin crept across the prince’s face.
“Sureshot?” asked Durbar, eyes squinted and brow wrinkled.
Who is the Sureshot? From lonely hunter to longbow champion in a few months, Durbar, the Sureshot, doesn’t even know the answer. For a skilled marksman, finding his own way proves confusing and difficult. Some will want to help the young man find what he is looking for while others want to eliminate him. Even though the world he lives in is confusing and threatening, he has the constant comfort of one thing; his bow. In this fantastic and colorful story, a young man searches for his very identity, complicated by friends as well as opponents, it isn’t as simple as he hopes. When he starts to discover who he is, his entire world is turned upside down as he learns that what he thought he knew about his own family was not even close to the truth. Regardless, this hunter continues to try to hit his target. This is a story with many levels to enjoy. Pure adventure and fantasy make it fun and exciting. Family intrigue and discovery make it mysterious and interesting. Interpersonal conflicts, betrayal and competition make the story treacherous. There is something for every reader in this adventure fantasy, from the book worm to those who are casual readers, all will be drawn into the world of Durbar the Sureshot. Enjoy.
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