When you think of fantasy weapons, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Swords, right? Fantasy and swords go together like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, sunshine and bike rides- okay, we could go on for a while there. Anywho, swords and those who wield them have been the archetype of fantasy since the beginning of the universe ─ the known and unknown. Who can forget the timeless classics like King Arthur and Excalibur, or Aragorn and Anduril. The sword is the backbone of weaponry in both our history and our favorite fantasies, no question the weapon of choice for any fan, but what about all the other weapons out there? What about the axes and hammers and polearms?
The bow and arrow?
Swords and their wielders are cool, don’t get me wrong, but I’ll venture to say that I’ve always found myself drawn more toward archers and their bows. A long range weapon by design, a skilled archer with the right bow can shoot an arrow over 300 yards ─ that’s about two and a half American football fields. How awesome is that? I know that our modern firearms can hit targets miles away, but have you considered that bows are the reason we have firearms?
In history, the English and Welsh were renowned for their archery ─ longbows in particular ─ during the many wars that took place. It was an effective tactical move to have ranks of archers take down the first lines of the enemy before they came in range for the cavalry and infantry. They were the first line of defense. (If you see him, he probably wasn’t aiming at you. Medieval snipers, anyone?)
But archery, unlike swordsmanship, isn’t confined to the act of warmaking. With such tools a person could hunt for their food, and who isn’t familiar with ye olde shoot-a-zip-line-over-the-deep-expanse-in-order-to-escape? The versatility and sheer awesomeness of these weapons has captured my fascination, and not one person has taken that stance and drawn that string without me getting excited. (Here’s my nerd membership card).
So, we all have our beloved sword bearing fiction heroes, but what about the bowmen? Here’s a handful of my own near and dears.
Nock and Bolt – The Twin Bowmen of Yewland
Aiden could now see two other Glimpses seated on a great log beyond Mallik. They were smaller than most of the other Glimpses, though still greater in size than Aiden. Each had long, straight sandy brown hair drawn back tightly. Each wore a circlet of silver like a thin crown above his uncannily arched brows and restless blue eyes. And though they appeared youthful, their stature was proud and manly. Seated side by side, tuned just slightly, the two Glimpses looked like mirror images.
When I first read about these two years and years ago I fell in love instantly. Elvenesque and remarkably skilled, these identical twins share a close bond not only with each other, but also with their brothers-in-arms in the service of king Eliam of Alleble. Accused of being ‘impetuous upstarts’, Nock and Bolt are cheerful and cheeky, but are devoted to their craft of archery and claim it as the height of excellence in battle.
“With our bows,” the twins protested in stereo, “you need not scrap in the first place. The enemy falls dead ere you draw close enough to be struck.”
Hard to argue with that logic, no?
These two and their story within the larger plot of the trilogy wrenches me every time I read it.
Legolas – Prince of the Wood-elves
He was tall as a young tree, lithe, immensely strong, able swiftly to draw a great war-bow and shoot down a Nazgul, endowed with the tremendous vitality of Elvish bodies, so hard and resistant to hurt that he went only in light shoes over rock or through snow, the most tireless of the Fellowship.
Believe it or not, Nock and Bolt and the Door Within trilogy were in my life before The Lord of the Rings. I wasn’t reading such epic books back in those days (I’m behind on those childhood experiences. I never read the Narnia books until I was a teenager). The movies frightened me, so I didn’t watch them until later. Orlando Bloom in fantasy getup aside, I had a new-to-epic-fantasy adoration for elves, and Legolas was just so awesome! He was a fearless warrior who could hit anything, shooting arrows fast as thought ─ not to mention being able to walk on top of snow! Given a new longbow from Galadriel, Elven queen of Lothlorien, he could bring down a fell beast in the dark with a single shot.
Tell me you’re not impressed.
Still, I didn’t read the books until a couple years later, and that was my loss, because they really are good books. The story is a powerful one. Legolas fought hard for the people of Middle-earth against Sauron’s armies, was loyal to Aragorn and Frodo, valiant in daring-do, and developed a deep and lasting friendship with Gimli (one of the absolute best friendships in the history of ever).
“Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an Elf,” [said Gimli.]
“What about side by side with a friend?” [replied Legolas.]
“Aye. I could do that.”
(Yes, I know that’s from the movies, but it’s such a wonderful exchange.)
Bran – King Raven
Set in 12th century Wales, this was the first tale of Robin Hood that I ever read (I have yet to get my hands on an original copy). The story of Bran ap Brychan, Prince of Elfael, is one full of frustration, tragedy, and sorrow, but also survival and hope. Bran grew up learning to wield a bow alongside his father’s warband. But then tragedy strikes when the Normans come and he must flee for his life into the wild greenwood.
Through Bran’s struggles to survive and the fight to regain his homeland I came across this one part that I love, where Bran is living in a forest cave with an old druid and recovering from an injury. This is a turning point in his life, and through that process he crafts his own bow:
Bran examined the length of ash once more. He held it up and looked down its length. Here and there it bent slightly out of true [but] not so badly that it could not be worked . . . Bran set to work, tentatively at first, but with growing confidence as his hands remembered their craft.
This bow, shaped with care by his own hands, is a symbol of his own re-making into Rhi Bran y Hud. It’s with this bow that the legend takes hold, and with this bow that he fights and eventually leads his people back home.
. . . and then he was caught up in the tremendous sea wave of acclamation that rose up from the long-suffering folk of Elfael, whose joy at seeing their king triumphant could not be contained.
Teryn – First Warrior to the Heir of Tigress
One woman strode forward confidently, hands on her hips with an haughty look in her amber eyes, and bent slightly at the waist to look at them. . . .”Now, my prisoners, there are a couple of things I’ll be wanting yeh to know ere we release yeh. Yeh are over two hundred marks in the air ─ that means if yeh jump or fall yeh have a good chance of dying before yeh splatter into jelly on the ground. Secondly, yeh’re outnumbered ─ pretty sadly, I’d say, and neither of yeh have a prayer against Fordon to overpower any of us.”
I have to be honest. When I think over my favorite archers I can’t not include Teryn from my own The Journey Taken saga. First introduced in volume 3, she was so much fun to write, with her cocky attitude and brash tongue. She may have been the cause of a lot of headaches for the company, but there was one virtue about her that could not be denied: her skill with the bow. It’s the weapon her people live and breathe by. Her bow is the sign of her identity and her status as First Warrior to the heir of Tigress, leader of her clan. Hers is a longbow, thick and straight with a heavy draw weight, allowing her arrows to fly far and hard with pinpoint accuracy.
Her biggest pride is that she never misses, but what she needs to learn is that there are some problems in the world that can’t be solved by turning it into a pin cushion.
“In yehr dreams, yeh overgrown toad cac!” Teryn shouted, stringing an arrow before she had even finished speaking. “I’ll turn yeh into a pin cushion first!”
Yaedon – The Gadreian Woodsman
Last one, and again, one of my own. I would love to read more books with archers in them, but sadly, I haven’t come across very many (so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!)
This guy is from my new writing project: Falconsbane, so this is also a little ‘sneak peak’ into what you’re in for with the next adventure from the Writing Corner. The following quote is a rough first draft (so let’s not judge too harshly, shall we?)
Roscha’s heart began to beat faster the closer he came, but before he could open his mouth and announce his approach, the peculiarly dressed man with hair longer than his own turned his head and caught sight of him. The man turned full and beamed a bright and welcoming smile, raising his hand in the air. “Greetings, fellow traveler!” he called, and beckoned Roscha over. He didn’t have any armor, either, but the quiver slung across his shoulder spoke to his position as an archer. “The name’s Yaedon, by the way,” the bowman offered. “Yaedon un Hebron-Surah kibur Gadrei.” He proffered a hand in greeting.
But for however peaceable he may seem, he is absolutely deadly with his bow in hand. During the war he was issued one by the Archery Corps, but he preferred to use the hunting bow he had been raised with, its hand rest worn smooth with use, its shaft well cared for. His early training in stalking prey to feed his family earned him some pretty hard core but sorely underrated skills, too ─ because how many of us can sit perfectly still with a bee or some other bug flying in our ear and crawling all over our faces?
So, how about you? Do you have any favorite fantasy archers, did I mention any of yours already! Share in the comments! If you have any suggestions for stories with awesome archers in them, I would love to hear about them, so please share!