“Bowman, wake up!” The voice pulled me out of my dreams abruptly, dragging me out of sleep with an iron grip. “It’s morning!” I blinked bright green eyes before squinting at the vague shape standing next to my bed. At first, the only indication I gave her that I had heard was a disgruntled groan. As the young girl came into focus, I saw that she had her hands placed on her hips, her mouth set with determination. She wasn't about to be scared off.
“Whaaaa’?” I mumbled, barely able to keep my eyes open. “Go ‘way. Sleep.” I didn't wait for her reply before promptly turning over and pulling my thin blanket over my head, hiding my mess of dark green hair from her view.
I heard her stomp a little foot. “But Bowmaaaan! Sleepyhead boy!” she whined. I could no longer ignore her when she insistently began shaking my shoulder. “Mama says breakfast is ready.” I paused, trying to decide whether I’d rather eat or pretend I’d fallen back to sleep. I felt incredibly tired and perfectly willing to sleep half the day away. But food also sounded enticing.
“Fine, whatever,” I finally mumbled, turning back to look at her out of the corner of my eyes. Even that angle was enough to see the triumphant smile overtake her face, lighting up her big, brown eyes.
My young cousin clapped her hands happily. “Okay, Bowman! I’ll tell mama you’re on the way!” she chirped before turning on her heels and exiting my room. She was gone from sight before I even sat up on the bed, yawning and wondering how anyone could sound so cheerful in the morning. The girl had always managed to amaze me with her get-up-and-go attitude.
I stood from my mattress, fashioned out of leaves and stuffed with fluff from one of the forest’s many cottonwood trees. I stretched my arms over my head, groaning as my back cracked a few times. My small window, though shaded with leaves, allowed a few beams of sunlight to filter in. It provided a green-tinted light that I used to glance around the smooth, wooden floor of my room. Other than the bed, I only had a small chest for clothes, and a washbasin next to the doorway.
I spotted what I searched for, and knelt to pick it up from the floor. Stifling another yawn, I pulled the leaf-green shirt over my head. I flexed my bat-like green wings as the fabric fell over them. After adjusting the shirt so that its slits were properly arranged around the base of my wings, I knelt to retrieve the long brown pants that lay on the floor, almost close to the chest. I brushed some dust off of myself, kicking the lid of the chest open. I rummaged around in the small supply of clothes until I found a light brown length of sturdy fabric.
Once the scarf was wrapped around my waist, I made sure that the flap on the back of my shirt wouldn't wave about in the wind. Satisfied, I shifted the knot of my scarf so that it was positioned by my side. With the outfit thrown on, I figured I was quite presentable.
I paused on my way out the door, seeing my reflection in the washbasin. There was a small glare from the sunlight, but I could see my face in spite of that. My hair, though cut fairly short, always found a way to stick out at odd angles. I destroyed my reflection when I reached into the water, throwing some of it onto my head, trying to tame the almost-black green locks. Maybe the water would be on my side; I had once been told that I was descended very distantly from a water sprite. Personally, I was skeptical. My reflection told me that I was a wood sprite, through and through, sporting green eyes and hair and suntouched skin.
The water seemed to prove it. It held my hair down for only a second before it sprang back up as if nothing had happened. I chuckled and my reflection smirked at me, a smile accenting a narrow face and slanted jaw. I shook my head to rid it of the last few drops of water and left the room. I knew I’d get a comment or twenty about my unkempt hair, but what could I do? It had always been that way.
To my left was the end of the narrow hallway, an unshaded window allowing the cheerful sun to light the space. I ignored the view, turning right to trudge down the hall. I passed the other two doors leading to my family’s bedrooms. The other end of the hall had two prominent features: a door to the outside on the left and an archway on the right. I stepped through the archway into the kitchen/dining room.
My mother’s sister, Candara, was setting plates on the table as I walked in. Larxe, her mate, sat at the end of the table, facing the door. Their eight-year-old daughter and my wakeup call, Rischa, sat to his left, waiting patiently. Candara would sit at his right, and I usually sat across from him.
At eighteen, I had only lived with my aunt and her family for nine years. My mother had died shortly after my birth. My father had taken care of me for as long as he could, but I remembered seeing sadness in his eyes every single day. Eventually, he had decided that it would be better for me to grow up with someone else raising me. I rarely saw him after that, though I knew he lived with the nobility as a knight.
“Morning, Bowman,” Candara said with a smile as she sat down.
“Morning, aunt,” I replied as I joined them all at the table. Candara was the closest thing I had to a mother, and she was the only other person I knew who had the same vibrant green eye color that I did. Rischa had inherited her father’s light brown-gold eyes. All of us had the characteristic leathery green wings on our backs. I was grateful to be a part of their family, despite joining it late.
We all began to dig into the light breakfast. Candara had sliced up a fresh wildberry, and its sweet scent filled the room. Before taking a bite, though, Rischa piped up in her clear voice. “Bowman almost didn't get up for breakfast this morning, mama!” I rolled my eyes at the blatant tattle-tale. Still, the breakfast called my name, so I ignored her as I took a bite of the sweet fruit.
“Up late again, dear?” Candara asked. “And your hair’s a mess.” She reached over to try and pat it down. I let her, knowing that no effort she made would affect my appearance.
Larxe chuckled, the sound resonating deep in his broad chest. “Out flying with the Perion brothers again, were you?” he asked knowingly.
I glanced up and met his gaze, smiling faintly. “There were a few more with us this time.”
Rischa suddenly asked, “Where do you go when you go flying, Bowman?”
I smiled again, though this time it had a distinct teasing air to it. “Oh, all over the place. We've gone miles and miles away from the village.” Her eyes grew wide. Even a single mile meant a long trip. I could see her trying to fathom more than one.
Candara clucked her tongue. “And one of these days they’re going to wind up eaten by a wolf.”
“Or a giant!” Rischa added, her hands straight above her to indicate great height.
“Wolves can’t fly and giants aren't real,” I countered with confidence.
“That’s the spirit,” Larxe commented. “I used to outsmart the brutes all the time. And you know the story of Lord Scar, don’t you?” I nodded enviously. Scar Wolfblind, the High Knight of the nobility, had earned his surname in a very bold encounter with one of the beasts.
Candara rolled her eyes, the bright green orbs flashing with fake annoyance. “And then you realized that you had better things to do with your time, right dear?” she said pointedly, raising a thin eyebrow at him.
“Of course, love. Though I do miss the chase …” Larxe finished thoughtfully. He grinned sheepishly at the evil eye this earned him from Candara.
“Well, I think it would be too scary,” Rischa interjected haughtily, as if that was that. “And dangerous.”
I smirked. “Well, you’re just a nestling, cousin. Just wait until your wings get a bit stronger.” Rischa looked over her shoulder to eye her left wing, fluttering it lightly. Hers were still at a wingspan just less than her own height. Larxe, Candara, and I, however, could stretch our wings to a span of a little more than twice our heights. It was a healthy wingspan for the average fully-developed wood sprite, though I was gifted with wider-than-average wings.
Candara honed her evil eye on me after that statement. “She’ll not go out flying without direction when she’s older. Rischa's going to be a sensible young lady, aren't you, dear?” She turned her head to her daughter and at the same time softened her expression. Rischa nodded cheerfully, smiling smugly.
“Hey! I’m sensible!” I defended. “I never land on the ground outside the village. And that’s really the only rule you need to know to survive out there.”
Larxe laughed. “Well, not the only rule, but you seem to have good control, boy.” I grinned at him. Candara sighed and shook her head. I think I may have heard her mutter something about “men!”, but it was probably my imagination.
After breakfast, Larxe hurried out of the house with Rischa, helping her fly to the ground before flying off himself. He worked to clear the nearby stream of leaves and twigs, to keep it clean for the local sprites to gather water safely. Rischa joined her young friends on the ground, playing together among the underbrush.
I sat at my place at the table, leaning on my elbows and staring absently out the window that, until recently, had been behind Larxe's head. The sun shone through the canopy in greens and golds. The occasional sprite flitting by outside indicated that the village was in full swing already. Tending to our small neck of the woods took a lot of work, but even then life was nice and simple for us. Sometimes, almost too simple.
“Bowman, since you don’t seem to have a plan today, why don’t you go outside at least? Perhaps some sun will do you good after getting so little sleep.” Candara suggested, her head poking around the doorway to the left. She was in the living room.
“Hmm? If you say so, aunt.” I stood and stretched, my arms high above my head and my wings extending slightly. I was careful not to bump them on the furniture.
I heard her chuckle at my slow start. “While you’re out I’m going to take the washing out to the stream. Does your blanket need a wash?” she asked.
I shook my head. I also neglected to tell her that I had worn the same clothes the day before. No need to change when they were barely dirty. I left the room the way I came in, pausing at the door. I slipped my feet into my boots, tucking the cuffs of my pants into them. These boots had lasted me a surprisingly long time; usually bark-made shoes fell apart after a while. I probably owed it to my habit of flying more than walking.
Stepping out of the house, I was greeted by the sight of my home village. Our house was nestled on a low branch of a pine tree, propped against the trunk. The other branches housed other families, making this one crowded tree. Other nearby pines served as housing for more wood sprites. The ground beneath the trees was littered with pine needles and leaves.
I stepped off of our small porch, ignoring the narrow stairs that wound around the trunk of the pine tree. I only plummeted a few inches before my wings snapped open, carrying me into a glide. I slowly drifted towards the ground, angling to the right. Going left would reveal more trees housing sprite families, ending with a proud old cottonwood tree. The noble families made their homes in a large structure nestled between the branches of that gray-barked tower. I made my way in the opposite direction, my feet finally finding the ground. I pulled my wings back toward myself, to avoid bumping them into any of the others walking on the ground nearby. The foliage felt springy beneath my weight, telling me that it must have rained late last night, after I went to sleep.
I waved briefly at a man picking up pine needles, no doubt gathering them to store for winter. Nothing could warm you up in the cold nights quite like pine-and-maple tea. Storing the needles all through autumn was the best way to let the flavor become mild and tolerable, for those who didn't enjoy the intense taste of fresh pine.
At the end of the path, a rosebush arched its branches over the ground. The shady archway protected the forest floor below from almost all of the sunbeams from above, creating a very cool pocket. I saw some young girls gathering petals that had fallen from the plant, admiring the vibrant colors and chattering excitedly about the fine dresses they planned to make for their dolls. I put my hands behind my head as I walked, looking up into the tangled branches of the rosebush. The leaves and thorns in its depths created quite an impressive lattice above me.
I had to blink when the sun nearly blinded me. I had stepped out from under the rose bush and into the village main. Thick oak trees with barely any space between them formed a near-perfect circle. The clearing was nearly twenty feet in diameter, creating a huge open space for us. In the center of the circle stood a tree taller than any of the other oaks, its branches extending far into the sky. If the circle of oaks was around sixty feet high, this ancient creature had to be at least eighty feet high.
I saw a pair of sprites my age approaching and grinned. I walked forward to meet them halfway. “Perions, I see you made it home without issue,” I greeted.
The brothers chuckled at the same time. Both of them had sun-bleached brown hair. Blue Perion's eyes were a teal-green color, sharp and mischievous. Gilt’s eyes were much milder, a soft gold color that masked his rebellious nature better than his brother’s. Both of them stood at the same height at just under four inches tall. Personally, I was pushing four and an eighth inch, so the top of my head was above theirs by a bit.
Blue shrugged. “Well, you know dad caught on right away when this guy fell asleep standing up this morning.” He nudged his brother in the side with an elbow.
Gilt, as if reminded of his own exhaustion, yawned widely, covering it with a hand. He didn't otherwise indicate that he heard his brother’s accusation. “Don’t you have patrol today, Bowman?” he asked me once he could open his eyes again.
He was right. I fulfilled my duty to the village by flying a patrol route around the borders, keeping an eye out for predators or, sometimes, weather conditions that required our attention. I shrugged. “I've got a little time before I need to get going. Don’t you have stream duty today?”
Blue sighed. “Yeah, we do.”
I chuckled at his dramatic look. “I guess that means you’ll be too tired from cleaning out the stream to come flying again after dark?” I suggested, smirking mischievously.
All traces of sleep seemed to disappear from Gilt’s eyes. “No way. Don’t count me out. I’ll fly circles around you this time, just you wait and see.”
I was about to respond, but all three of us found our gazes drawn to the side. Three girls our age walked by, making their way towards the oak at the center of the clearing. They glanced over their shoulders, almost in sync with each other. We gave them brief nods and little waves. I suddenly wished that my wild hair had behaved that morning, but I offered my most charming smile anyway. The girls turned back to their conversation, giggling a little.
After we watched them go, Blue turned his head back to me and raised an eyebrow. “So, Bowman, you’re gonna go talk to them, right?”
“What?” I sputtered, my eyes widening in shock. “Why me?”
Gilt smirked. “Because, like you said, we’re on stream duty, but you've got some time to kill.”
“Yeah. See if they wanna go flying tonight.” Blue insisted. I rolled my eyes. It wouldn't be the first time we had tried to get some girls to go along with our nighttime escapes into the forest. “You’re the only one who’s ever been able to convince them to go.”
“That’s just a coincidence,” I insisted, though inside I was thinking Yeah, I am, aren't I?
“Don’t play humble, Leafwing. Yer dad’s a knight and you fly around all day on patrol. And you've got some exotic ancestry.” Blue chuckled to see the flat look I gave him.
“Now that’s a load of wolf dung,” I scolded him, though a smirk did trickle onto my face. “I’ll see what I can do.” Gilt and Blue nodded in approval before walking around me to head towards the rosebush. I turned my gaze back around, scanning for the trio of girls. I saw them settle between the roots of the old oak, sitting luxuriously in the shade. Here goes nothing, I thought as I walked over to them, hiding my nerves with a confident gait.
They saw my approach and waved, offering friendly smiles. I definitely recognized two of them from past jaunts at night. The third had never joined us, though. A girl with short, pastel-green hair and dark brown eyes spoke first. “Bowman Leafwing, it’s been a while.”
I returned the friendly smile, leaning casually against the tree root. “It has, Jiria Petalkin,” I admitted.
“I heard that you won the race last night. Alten told me all about it.” Another girl, Xedra, piped up. Her brother usually joined us on our flights.
I nodded once, trying to manage a humble smile. “I was lucky enough to win last night, yes.”
Jiria laughed, a soft sound that didn't travel very far. The smile reached her dark eyes, though, glinting under her long eyelashes. “He calls it luck, ladies. Don’t be fooled; if you get pulled into a race with Bowman Leafwing, expect to be left in the dust if you don’t watch him carefully.”
I shrugged. “Well, I was thinking of extending an invitation for you all to join us tonight, but if you think you’re not up for the challenge…” I taunted lightly, cocking an eyebrow at Jiria.
“I can’t,” Xedra complained almost immediately. “Mom wants me to help her with the weaving tonight.”
“Oh, boo,” Jiria said, mock pouting. “But you can go, can’t you Rose?” she turned to the girl I didn't know, a hopeful look on her face.
Rose pushed a brown ringlet of her curly hair behind her ear. “Are you sure it’s safe?” she asked quietly.
Jiria laughed again. Then she looked at me. “Of course it’s safe. Bowman and the guys do this all the time. Right?” A look of unspoken conversation passed between us. She was challenging me to convince her scared friend.
I smirked. “Almost every night, Rose,” I assured her. “And we always come back in one piece.”
Rose gave me a skeptical look. “There aren't wolves or anything?”
“If there are, what are they going to do? That’s what our wings are for!” I countered without missing a beat. I flexed one of my wings slightly for emphasis.
Rose looked between me and her friends. Jiria looked encouraging, and Xedra still pouted that she couldn't go. Finally, glancing back at me, Rose smiled shyly. “I’ll be there.”
“Yes!” Jiria cheered, pumping her fist. Then, she pointed at me with a determined grin. “You’re going down, Leafwing! We’ll show you boys that the girls know how to fly better than any of you!”
I grinned right back. “Bring it on. See you then.” I gave them a short wave before departing.
Only moments later, I took to the air again. The wind pushed back through my hair as I rapidly gained height, my powerful wings carrying me into the air. I went to the top of the circle of trees, looking out over the forest. A green canopy stretched for miles and miles in every direction. The sky had hardly any clouds, and the sun shone stronger up here than it did below. I flew over the tops of the trees for several yards before diving back into the forest. It was dangerous to stay up so high, with predators like hawks around.
Dodging around leaves and branches, I soon found myself just below the level of the canopy. The sunlight broke into several shards at this level, tinting in green and gold. I reveled in flying through the woods, darting through these beams of light and feeling their brief warmth in my wings. Patrol was an easy job to choose. With my impressive wings, I was one of the better flyers in the village.
My green eyes scanned the area. I saw a doe and her fawn traversing a narrow, muddy path down a gentle slope. The fawn bleated softly when its delicate legs wobbled beneath it. I watched briefly as the doe stopped to wait for its child to catch up. I smiled faintly when it made it, keeping close to its mother this time. Then, before the beasts could even look up in my direction, I darted away again.
The smell of rain filled the air. The late summer was an unusual but welcome time for a rain. As I passed over the nearly-flooded stream, I could see some sprites washing their laundry in the shallows. I knew Candara was down there somewhere. I didn't stop to say hello, however, continuing on. The sooner I made my rounds, the sooner I could get home. A contented sigh passed my lips as I flew through the air, enjoying the simple freedom of it.