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  • Ujwal Mantha

The Queen and her Handmaiden


A taut bowstring must be fixed at three points. Its energy conserved without a single wasteful shudder or tremble. To the naked eye, it must look unmovable and rigid even if it is to be released but moments later.


I pinched it gently like I used to your baby brother’s cheeks. I pulled it back and held it tight and my practiced hands were steady. I could have cut butter with that string. A colony of ants could have used it as scaffolding to build their tiny ant cathedrals and I wouldn’t have moved. I let go and the arrow sailed through the air and caught you in the shoulder, finding a chink in your armor and burying itself in your flesh. You shuddered and stepped back, but you didn’t let go of your sword. You looked back at me pointedly, winced as you raised your sword and sheathed it. Why? Why didn’t you just drop it? Why was it so important for me to know that you did that intentionally? Why did you come to my battlefield just to declare peace?


I shuddered as I notched another arrow. I took aim. The archer is not the bow. Where the latter is rigid the former is supple and flexible. She must guide the bow, be its companion from the quiver to the string and then send it on its way. I took aim as you walked towards me. You were slow and deliberate. I lost the arrow and it whistled as it sank into your leg and you stumbled. Stop moving. Stay where you are. Die where you are. Did I beg? Why didn’t you listen?


I reached for another arrow when you propped yourself on your elbows, pulling out the arrows by their shafts. We aren’t supposed to do that. You know this. We learnt the way of the bow together and now you break its most fundamental rules? You’ll bleed to death you wench. Are you trying to die? Why are you trying to die?


I stepped back as I took aim. You crawled towards me. A trail of blood in your wake. Months from now, there would be streaks of dandelions where there was once your blood, as the latter had nourished the soil. I collected them, tied them into little bouquets. I never shared your fascination for wildflowers, but I collect them anyway.


The third arrow falls short. I curse myself for having missed as you wearily crawl past it. I missed it. I must have. My hands trembled indignantly. I clench my fists. I don’t question their ability but even a seasoned archer is allowed to miss. I look back at you. At your smile. My heart tightens, it feels brittle as I take a step back and trip over a rock. I fall in a cloud of dust, but my hands don’t miss a beat. They grab an arrow and ready it. My arms take aim and all they wait for is the signal as I look down the shaft and towards your heart. At this range, my arrow would punch through your armor like it was made of paper. It would bury itself in your heart and you would finally stop. You would go far away. You would leave me be.

I didn’t let go. The bowstring was taut. Fixed at three points, its energy conserved without a single wasteful shudder or tremble and I somehow knew that I was going to hold it there for eternity.


You weren’t that patient as you crawled towards me. Your breathing ragged and your skin turning pale but your smile, your smile was warm.


How long did I hold the bow before you had staggered right up to it? You reached out tenderly and touched it. You touched a drawn arrow and you moved it. Every cell in my body was seething. I felt countless mutinies erupting under my skin. I shuddered. The arrow trembled furiously, and I couldn’t see anything as I felt tears snake down the side of my face and drown my eyes. This was unacceptable, I wouldn’t be able to hit a boulder in a quarry but that didn’t matter at this range. I wouldn’t miss it. You knew I wouldn’t miss it.


I let go and the arrow punched through your armor and buried itself in your heart, pushing you back to the ground with a resounding thud and I stared as tiny rivulets of blood pooled around your still form.


They found me later. Minutes? Hours? I couldn’t tell. I didn’t move as they shook me. I didn’t hear their shouts or concerned pleas. I was somewhere else. My hands clenched the bow with such force that my knuckles were white. I looked at them and they trembled and dropped it. They had forsaken me. I was no archer anymore. I looked around me at all the people gathered. They were celebrating. The crushing of a rebellion. I heard only whispers.


They’ll tell stories of this day. How the Queen’s handmaiden led an armed rebellion and was killed by the Queen’s own hand. Those who are fond of me will sing of my bravery, of my prowess. Those not as fond will sing of yours. There are other bards, who aren’t as well known and will most probably be forgotten with time. They sing of love and betrayal, of two souls torn apart by forces far greater than themselves. I like those songs. You would have liked them too.


I leave dandelions at your grave whenever I can. You’ve gone far away. I asked for it but now, even if it’s just for a minute. I wish you’d come back. Why can’t you come back?


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