Arrow Retriever

I am an arrow retriever. After a battle, it’s my job to retrieve arrows. Arrows are costly and time-consuming to make. It seems like a terrible waste—and maybe even a sin—for an arrow to fall to the ground without hitting someone. Even if the arrow kills somebody, it can be reused to kill someone else. As Randolf the Scot famously said, “Arrows don’t grow on trees.”

I have retrieved thousands of arrows from battlefields and, along the way, made some good friends. I have gathered arrows that were loose on the ground, pulled them from dead soldiers and horses, and even removed one from a mouse. (The mouse lived!)

My father, a rich landowner, didn’t want me to become an arrow retriever. He wanted me to become a barrister. I thought he meant “bannister.” “I don’t want children sliding down on me!” I would yell. Finally, he relented and hired me an arrow-retrieval tutor.

When I finished my studies, I thought I knew everything there was to know about arrow retrieval. But I was young and naïve. I soon came to realize that finding an arrow on the battlefield is very different from finding one on a manicured lawn, with a servant pointing at it. And pulling an arrow out of a month-old corpse, provided by grave robbers, is much easier than pulling one out of a burly, muscular Viking—especially if he’s still alive!

Using my father’s connections, I joined the army of Hendric the Pecked. I had to start out as an apprentice retriever. That meant scaling tall oak trees, where you could be hit by falling acorns, or wading into bogs, where you could be bitten by salamanders.

I was mentored by Snake-Eye. That’s right, the Snake-Eye. He was the most famous of all the arrow retrievers. It was said that he once retrieved an arrow from the lair of a dragon, and as a result of that encounter his buttocks were burned to a crisp.

Snake-Eye could be a stern taskmaster. Once, when we were searching for an arrow, I had a notion. I burrowed deep into a huge haystack and emerged with the arrow. Snake-Eye’s response was “You got lucky.”

But he taught me many things. One thing was to look beyond the obvious. There might be an easy arrow sticking out of a dead man’s belly, but when you turn him over there’s often another arrow stuck in his back.

I learned that sometimes it’s better to lie to royalty. When we found a prince’s arrow stuck in the mud, yards from any target, we told the prince that his arrow had impaled three enemy fighters, marching single file, very close together.

Finally, I felt that I was ready to become a full-fledged arrow retriever. I petitioned my lord, Hendric the Pecked. At first, he said no, but when his wife insisted he said yes.

At the induction ceremony, I received my retriever’s gloves, after being struck across the face with them the traditional three times. Hendric then declared that I should “go forth and get the shaft.”

During my time as an arrow retriever, I have witnessed many things. I saw sad things, like a scarecrow that had been hit with a dozen arrows. Why? That scarecrow wasn’t hurting anyone.

I saw funny things, like a soldier walking around with an arrow sticking through his head. It didn’t seem to bother him! We laughed and laughed. (He wound up going from village to village, with the arrow still in his head, reciting humorous quips to throngs of peasants.)

And I saw acts of incredible bravery, as when a retriever picked up an arrow covered with ants, and, instead of screaming, calmly shook them off.

I have enjoyed my years as an arrow retriever. But I’ve come to realize that it’s a young man’s game. It takes a toll. First your back and elbows go, from the constant tugging. You get tinnitus, from the loud screaming. A fall can be deadly, especially if you land on an arrow sticking out of someone.

I have decided to retire and return to my father’s estate. I will put my retriever’s gloves, now stiff and crusty with blood, on the mantel. I will regale my little nephews and nieces with stories of the ghastly things that I have seen and done. Perhaps I will get my bannister’s degree.

I will miss my fellow arrow retrievers. We had a camaraderie. Together, we endured flies and vultures and complete strangers constantly asking us for water. Some say we’re heroes. But you know who the real heroes are? The men and women who clean off all the gore and entrails from the arrows, sharpen the heads, and replace the feathers, so that once again they might fly through the air and, with luck, zip in through the visor of a knight’s helmet. ♦

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