Written by Taylor Spencer
Photos courtesy of Taylor Spencer
The Medieval festival was located at the far end of Reeves Park, past the food trucks selling turkey legs and funnel cakes, past the stage where Charlotte and Eric had stopped to watch a man in a green kilt play the bagpipes, and past the numerous white tents where corsets, swords, chainmail, and pottery were being sold.
A young boy of about eight years stood with his dad behind the rope barrier next to a coat of arms that said, ‘Play at your own risk.’ He pulled back his arrow against the string of the bow and released, and Charlotte watched as the arrow careened into the ground halfway between him and the target painted on the backdrop of hay bales.
A giant canvas stretched across the brick building where the hay bales were stacked. It read ‘Archery’ in giant gothic lettering.
“Oh! Let’s watch them shoot!” Charlotte said, looking hopeful at her boyfriend, Eric, who had driven six hours to spend his Spring Break in Norman, Oklahoma with her.
He smiled and the skin around his green eyes crinkled. “Whatever you want.”
Charlotte reached down and wove her fingers into his and pulled him toward the station. She was glad he had decided to visit her at school. Six weeks without seeing him was too long.
Arrows soared toward the hay bales, shot from bows in the hands of young boys. Charlotte and Eric stopped behind an older gentleman and his son.
They watched as the older man pulled the arrow back tight, the muscles in his forearm tensed as he gripped the shaft between his pointer and middle finger. He leveled his elbow and released. The string of the bow reverberated and the arrow soared straight and true to its target striking the heart of the bullseye.
“Wow! He’s good,” Charlotte said.
A busty woman in a white short sleeved peasant blouse cinched by a tan corset and completed with a yellow-green skirt came up to the two of them as they observed the man take aim again. Perspiration dotted the woman’s brow despite the strong breeze. It was humid. A storm was rolling in. The sky had been dark all morning and was only growing darker.
“Are you two interested in taking a shot?” she asked.
“Maybe,” Eric said. “How do they release the arrow? I’ve only ever shot with a compound bow before and they have a trigger you pull.”
“You just release,” she said, then she demonstrated. “It’s a much faster way to shoot, allowing you to fire one after another.” She pretended to pull an arrow from the imaginary quiver on her back and take aim over and over again. “Anyways, you all should try. Five dollars for twelve arrows over at the white tent right there.” She pointed the booth out.
She nodded in response then turned to the young boy shooting to the left of her to give some pointers.
Eric turned to Charlotte. “Do you want to try?” She looked at the row of young boys taking aim and then back at him. He stared expectantly.
“Five for twelve arrows? That’s not too bad,” she said.
“Nah, not at all.”
“Okay.” She smiled. “Let’s do it.”
They walked toward the tent.
“Sir! Sir!” A voice rang out from behind them. The voice had a deep echoing quality to it.
They turned around to see a man with shoulder length curly gray hair.
“That’s a mighty beautiful maiden with you there. Is she yours?” Wrinkles framed his eyes and his mouth when he talked. He reminded her of Rumpelstiltskin on the television show Once Upon A Time. He had the same leathered skin look that comes from being in the sun for prolonged periods of time, or heavy alcohol use, with bright attentive, clever eyes that were always moving.
Eric looked at Charlotte and smiled. His head tilted slightly to the left and his eyes crinkled in the corners. “She is,” he said.
“How did you get so lucky? Was that your doing?”
Eric chuckled and shook his head. His blond hair bounced up and down as he did so.
“I don’t know how I go so lucky, but she actually chose me.”
She thought back to the summer, before they were dating. She had developed a crush on him before then, but it had been an on and off again thing. They were always in that awkward place where they weren’t necessarily friends, but they weren’t acquaintances either. They hung out in the same friend group, but had never spent time alone together before. She had been nervous to bridge that gap, but had started to invite him to hang out with less and less people despite her anxiety. She wanted them to get comfortable around one another before they hung out together one on one.
The Rumpelstiltskin man directed his attention to Charlotte. “Is that so? Did you choose this young man on purpose?”
Charlotte looked at Eric in his black Billabong t-shirt with his sunglasses hanging down around his neck by his neon orange croakies.
She smiled at him. “Yeah, I did.”
He had asked her to a concert late in the summer to see Everclear and Sugar Ray. Charlotte had thought it was a date, but she wasn’t positive, so as they were standing in the alley waiting for the gates to open she had asked him how much she owed him for her ticket. ‘Nothing if you consider this a date,’ he had said. She had said she would and their relationship moved forward from there.
“Well then, you are a mighty lucky lad sir,” the man said.
“I am indeed.”
“But would you like to earn her? Every lovely maiden wants her heart to be won. What do you say?”
Eric leaned in closer. “And now, how would I do that?”
“A little friendly competition of sort. Shoot for her hand,” he said gesturing toward the targets. “If you hit the bullseye this fair, young maiden will give you a kiss.”
Eric looked at her. “Oooooo! I like this.” He winked.
“And are you okay being a prize for this young man? Do those terms sound fair to you?”
Charlotte looked back and forth between the man and Eric. There was something about being called a prize that bothered her.
She didn’t want to be revered as a prize, but at the same time, she did.
This wasn’t what she had been taught. As a young girl, her parents had taught her to be a strong independent woman. She would hang out with her dad in the garage and watch him work on the cars, handing him tools and asking questions. She would help with the yard work, knew how to use power tools, wasn’t afraid of getting dirty and doing the things that were typically deemed “male” jobs. These things interested her, and they were life skills that came in handy when she was six hours away from home and her car broke down.
She nodded. “Those terms sound fair.”
Eric purchased a quiver of arrows and they went off to shoot.
Growing up she had wanted to be a princess. The dresses, the balls, the castle, not to mention having woodland creatures as her best friends. However, whenever she would dream about her life as a princess, she had always imagined herself defying the rules, breaking out of the castle and saving the kingdom. She knew how to swordfight and could kick the butt of any guy that came against her. She was unconventional, but graceful, like a princess “should” be.
Eric pulled back the string of the bow and let it go.
“Sschwaaap!” The arrow went wide.
He had dreamed of being a knight when he was younger. The armor was sweet and they got to carry around swords and shields. What young boy didn’t want to be a knight? The Knights Templar, in particular, had fascinated him with their crusade for Christ. It was said that the Templar Knights were truly fearless. They were exceptionally trained and didn’t leave the battlefield until all the Templar flags carried into battle had fallen. To die in battle was a great honor and guaranteed one a spot in heaven.
He pulled the string back again. Same result, followed by a third.
“Wow. It looks like you really don’t want that kiss,” Charlotte said.
Eric set his jaw and pulled the arrow back again.
He relaxed his grip and let his hands fall to his side.
A young boy of about twelve years stood behind him. He wore loose trousers and a beige flowy top with cuffed sleeves around his wrists. He had wavy black hair and big brown eyes.
“May I give you a pointer?”
Eric nodded and handed over the bow.
“When you aim you want to use your pointer finger as a guide. Wherever the finger points the arrow will follow.”
Charlotte listened closely and watched as he demonstrated what he meant before he moved along to help the next person.
She turned to Eric and opened her mouth to say something, but he was already pulling her in for a kiss.
She blushed. She wasn’t one for public displays of affection.
“Your turn,” he said holding out the bow. “Six arrows for you and six for me.”
“I’m not going to be any good,” she said, secretly hoping she would be.
“Of course you are. You’re the most athletic female I know.”
No pressure, she thought.
She always felt pressure to be good at everything she did. When she would do something well,, the compliments would come in, and she would feel as if she was worth something. She thought her acts and the things she did were the reasons people liked her. This only increased at college. She was a collegiate athlete and supposedly at the peak of her athletic performance. But, was she even good enough to compete at the collegiate level if she wasn’t successful at every semi-athletic task she did? If she wasn’t good at every semi-athletic task she did, was she even good enough to perform at the collegiate level? She’d rather fail over and over again in private than in public.
She feared looking like a failure in front of Eric. She wanted him to be impressed with her, a thought she knew was irrational because he already expressed to her constantly how amazed he was by her. But still… failure was not an option.
She took the bow from him and aimed. Her arrow fell from the bow and to the ground at her feet. The tip rested on the toe of her boot. She laughed and felt a warmness growing in her cheeks.
Eric bent over and picked it up for her, and placed it back on the bow. “Try again.”
Her heart started to beat faster in her chest and her palms began to sweat. Her nervous laughter kicked in. She pulled the arrow back tight. She could feel the muscles in her neck strain as she pulled her elbow level.
Eric placed his hand on the small of her back. “Relax,” he whispered.
She let the arrow go and it soared high piercing the rainbow backdrop three feet above the hay bale.
She laughed again and picked up another arrow.
“Remember, aim with your finger.”
She uncurled her pointer from around the grip of the bow and aimed directly at the bullseye.
The arrow struck dead center.
“I did it!” She hopped up and down, then turned to Eric, a sly smile on her face. “So, where is my kiss?”
He smiled and gently grabbed the back of her head and pulled her in for a peck.
“You get so lucky,” he said once they had parted lips.
She chuckled. “I can’t help that I’m good.” Charlotte winked.
She imagined herself riding a dappled gray horse through the forest. She had lost the ball gown and had opted for a much more scandalous outfit for the time period. Pants. Arrows flew all around her through the trees. She reached into the quiver, loaded her arrow and fired, her target indistinguishable in the foliage. She heard a grunt and a thud. She had made contact.
They shot the remaining arrows and turned in their bow. As they left the tent they saw the Rumpelstiltskin again.
“Did he win your hand?” he asked Charlotte.
“It was close,” she said. She gave Eric a nudged with her shoulder, “But he made it.”
“She made hit the bullseye, too,” Eric added.
“A lady shooting for her own hand?”
Eric nodded. “She’s pretty good.” He held out his hand and she slipped hers into his.
She smiled inside, her chest swelling with pride. She had shown Rumpelstiltskin, just as she had imagined she would as a princess. Even more exciting was the fact that Eric had supported her. He wasn’t there to hold her back. He wanted her to do whatever it was her heart desired, and he wanted her to succeed despite whether people thought her actions were proper or not. He had given her a chance to be her own hero, and in the end, as the hero, she got the guy. He had let her ‘win’ him.