On the fifty-fifth day,
the black walls of the port city Wesing reared up toward us through the fog. With them came the golden lines of lightspear fire, bolts darting faster than any eye could follow. The towers atop the walls were manned and very much alert. Captains shouted the alarm. My mastodon shied when two struck her. Pain bloomed in my own thigh and shoulder, but I willed her to calm as I shot back. I did not hope to hit anything but empty windows. The point was only as Julius had instructed, to keep the enemy down in their positions while our artillery came around to bear. Still more bolts shot out from the spearmen in the other towers and the mastodon beside mine reared back and then shook his head. His rider screamed and held a hand up to his own eye and I did not want to look at what had happened to the mastodon. The voices of the artillery captains grew more frantic.
We’d crossed a continent to get there. Part of me wishes I could tell you that in that time, over so long a march, I’d become a marksman, someone who the others relied upon to make the shots no one else can. The reality is quite different.
“It seems alright,” I’d said to Julius, holding up the three grouse I’d managed to wing my second day of shooting, “except, beyond fifty paces...”
The successes had been complete surprises to me, out there on the soggy, grassy tundra. I shot far wide of hummocks and pieces of driftwood and dwarf pines far more often. That I could hit moving targets at all beggared my belief.
Julius had nodded. “Hold your breath. If you have not already, take your form, take your aim, take a breath. Let half of it out, and hold the rest. You already know: leaning is better than standing? And sitting is better than leaning, and lying prone is better still?”
“You will find all of these more difficult to do atop a mastodon,” he said. “It is good that you found these,” he added, taking the birds. “Moving targets are more difficult. But men will be larger,” he said, “within a hundred paces. And they will get so close you will wish they were anything else.”