The archer stood still, the wind gently pulling at his clothes, the string taut next to his cheek, his fingers tensed, with the arrow pointing at the target. No one could detect that slight tremble, that slight twitch in his muscles, that minute wavering of his eyes. No one saw the little bead of sweat slowly trickle down the back of his neck.
He released the arrow. With a thunk, it hit the target, just shy of the red circle in the middle.
Always. He would get better and better, and then at the very cusp of hitting the bull’s eye, he would just miss. He had practiced so often. Always, at the very brink of success, he would miss just by that hair’s breadth.
He pulled another arrow from the quiver on his back, and without changing his expression, he drew the bow taut. And released again.
Resilience. Practice. Hard work. Giving up was not an option. He would do this.
The young woman forced herself to get up again, off the soft grass, and brush herself off. The horse prancing away from her had a snooty look, a look of superiority. She gritted her teeth. She was going to conquer this, succeed. She would make sure that she would tame this horse. With a scowl, she strode over to the horse again, even as her assistant looked on from the side with concern.
The young woman had broken in countless horses. She knew what she was about, and she was experienced. Every horse was a challenge, and she never backed down from a challenge. She was after all, known to be resilient, strong, and courageous. She knew this was something she could do.
She was going to do it this time.
The coffee still wasn’t perfect. He’d tried so many times, and she was getting exasperated. Her voice was still gentle. He knew – he just knew from her look – that she was about to give up on him. He was ready to give up. He either drew too much water, or didn’t tamp it down just right, or put too much powder, or didn’t pour the coffee just right.
But she was repeating the steps again, gently, without raising her voice. That was the hardest part to take. If she’d just scold him, reveal what she really thought, this would have been easier to take. But no, she just would sigh softly, if at all, and then start again.
And he’d just do it again because he couldn’t bring himself to disappoint her.
He picked up the dispenser again.
In the heat of the battle, the archer had watched with horror as the swordsmen had been cut down by the knights. His fellow archers kept reloading and firing, but the knights were bearing down on them. His arrows kept glancing off their armor, and they were close. So close.
With a movement borne out of desperation, he pulled out the short sword that they had all been issued, but trained so little with. With a low cry, he swung it just as the lead knight charged up to him.
He remembered little. But he was standing on the field, a low roar of affirmation humming from behind him, as he stood wearily, blood dripping off his sword, seeping from a hundred small wounds. The knights and horses were either in gory pieces all around him, or retreated from the field in full panic.
He flung down his bow, in disgust, the reek of carnage and blood dizzying him.
She was lying in the middle of the field. The grass felt good on her fingers, and she smelt the fresh smell of summer as she lay there, the sun on her face.
But she felt nothing below her waist.
She could hear the panicked, raised voice of her assistant, as he tried to raise emergency services on the line. She smiled, blood bubbling from her lips. She was finally beaten, by a snooty horse.
Maybe she should have given up after all.
But she’d never be able to live with herself if she hadn’t tried again. Now she’d have to figure out whether she’d be able to live normally again.
For now, she enjoyed the sun.
“3 cappuccinos please!” Her voice rang out clearly. “3 cappuccinos coming up!” He turned to the grinder, went through the motions, tamped down the coffee, frothed the milk, and then topped up all 3 glasses with the flourish he’d become famous for. His signature marked every cup, not just flair, but flavour marking his success.
He smiled in response to her infectious smile as she stood at the cashier. He’d told her just a week ago how he’d felt about her.
The doorbell rang, and another two customers came in the door. She turned back to them, facing them just from their voices alone. “Morning! What would you be having today?”
She might not be able to see, but her heart was perfect. As everything was, as it should be. She’d worked so hard to get here, and she’d been so patient with him.
It would be enough.