A Tale of the Wode

They sing, as you loose them.

My father did not believe me when I told him this—but then, he was of the West, more in thrall of the ways of metal and its bright, harsh allure. Noise, he said, all of life is noise, and one sound not all that different from another, in the end.

He was not a dull or ignorant man, you must understand, but my father, may all the prophets bless him, was not a man for subtleties. Or for even the slightest pretence of magic, once my mother was taken from us.

But I came to understand that there is a magic to the archer’s craft—magic of a kind—and to court the secrets of wood shaft and feather vane, ply the curve of bow and twist of string, one must pay attention.

One must consider, and prepare the way. One must listen.

They are all different. Each arrow has its own voice, is its own messenger. A bodkin is sharp and slight, curvetting through air with a minuscule hum; there is no tear as it strikes its target, merely a pierce and slide, like a lancet through taut flesh. A curved broadhead can twirl akin to a dancer, growling in nock and whistling in flight, whilst its sister, straight and fanged, slips deadly as a cobra over desert pan. An arrow shafted from ash wood hums and quivers like bees a-swarm; a harder wood thrums like a tabla’s echo.

And the bow!

If arrows sing, a bow speaks in all manner of intonations, as diverse as calls from the muezzin, lifting up in praise of Allah.

And so it was my father who first showed me the ways of the bow; grieving for my mother—peace be upon her soul—and longing, as men do, for a son. I was his son, instead; I, a girl, even though he had once been of the Temple and bore the bloody cross upon his breast. It is true, he loved me with all that was left in him. And before you would say that such a thing is surely impossible, that the Templar can hold no woman in his affections? I would have to tell you that ‘impossible’ is a word made contradictory by its very nature.

Impossibility is the laughter of the black djinn, delighting in our self-imposed bounds.

So I tell you my father, taught by circumstance that power was fleeting, that Death would take those who did not have the personal means to spit in His eye and say, la, you will not have me this day… instead my father taught me. I learned to spit, indeed!—with weapons his culture did not lightly give a woman, and when my skills passed his own, he found ones who could instruct me further.

It was a master archer, man of the steppes beyond the great mountains, who taught me to heed the speech of curved wood and stretched sinew and soft-sharp feather vane. He dared me to face the magic, and the mystery of holding living things in one’s hands.

And indeed, as Allah loves the children of men, an archer’s weapons are that and more. They reprimand me if I misuse them, clack and clatter and scoff should I handle them in clumsiness. If I stroke them with reverence, they sigh and groan settling into the nock and pull, crooning to me like the ghazal, the love songs of the lyricists… or, if the need is harsher, click and hiss the war talk of my mother’s people, all grateful business.

My father, may the blessings of Allah be upon him and may he be seated in paradise with my mother, was wrong in this much: all things have life. I, Siham bint Eduin, bear witness to this. All things possess magic. Even metal and stone, unbelievers and prophets, wood and flax and feathers taken from living creatures… all in truth have such power, as to light upon the winds and strike their song into our souls.

All things have a voice, if we would but wait, and listen.


© 2015 J Tullos Hennig