The Changeling – Part 8

“So, Jean, are you feeling ready for the contest?”

Jean had tried his best to ignore Oscar, but it seemed impossible to put off acknowledging him any longer.

“I suppose.”

He continued stretching with a renewed effort to avoid eye contact. Oscar didn’t seem to notice the apathetic treatment. He leaned against a tree in the most ridiculous, green attire, even sporting a matching bycocket topped with a long feather. What was he supposed to be, some sort of woodland merchant? With that grin he looked more like a highwayman.

“You didn’t enter last year, did you?”

“Nay, I’d injured my arm just the week before.” Jean didn’t enjoy being reminded of his disappointment.

“That’s a pity,” Oscar said, laughing.

Jean struggled to find the words to express the utter loathing he felt in that moment. He took a deep breath. Oscar didn’t seem to notice his agitation. The archery contest had always been his goal, well, since the first archery contest the previous year which he’d missed. Still, it felt like it had been a lot longer than it really had.

He clenched his fist. He was a sure fire for first place. No one matched him in the yard. He smirked.

“… and then I said –”

“Sorry, Oscar, I have to run.”

Jean got quickly to his feet and ran towards the clearing where the stands were being set up for the festival. Oscar watched dismally as his only ‘friend’ abandoned him. Jean had avoided the Weeping Woods as much as possible since Cecilia’s disappearance. He felt an itch along his skin whenever the shade of the trees fell upon him. He heard a rustle in the bushes behind him and turned in a panic.

“Why do you look so flustered?” Raelyn asked, flicking her with the back of her hand.

Jean realised then how hot his cheeks were. “Err, nothing,” he said, rubbing the back of his head.

His sister shook her head disapprovingly. “What’s up with you?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t play dumb. You’ve been acting weird since Cecilia’s birthday.”

“Didn’t we speak about this already?” Jean asked. She was irritating him. She was the one who had dismissed him the last time they’d spoken.

“Not really,” she said.

What was that? His eyes narrowed. Could it be… Raelyn looked, uncomfortable?

“What did you eat this morning?”

“What?” she replied.

“Nothing. Stupid question. Please continue.”

She sighed. “It’s…”

Recognition sparked in Jean’s eye. “Cecilia? Right?”

She nodded. Had she… noticed? Jean couldn’t help but hide his elation. He’d begun to think he’d lost his mind.

“What are you smiling like that for?”

“Huh?”

“Creep…” she said, frowning. “She’s been strange too is all. I can’t put my finger on it, but –”

“It’s like she’s another person?”

Raelyn nodded, surprised that she was agreeing with her brother. Jean’s face darkened. He was excited, but this wasn’t the time.

“I need to go; the competition will be starting soon.”

She nodded. He could tell from her expression that this wasn’t the answer she’d wanted, but she wasn’t surprised that it was the answer she’d gotten.

*          *          *

Mirror watched the boy rush up to the registration tent, his hair dripping with perspiration. The man smirked. So, this was him? The one who’d dared to lay eyes on the Incubus of White Wallow and live? He didn’t look like much. Less that that even. He looked over his own bow. He supposed he could have some fun whilst he was here…

*          *          *

Jean didn’t recognise the man who stepped up to the firing line. His first round had gone well, and now this man was the next candidate. They had registered last for the contest, several minutes late as Bennett, who was running the registration tent, kindly pointed out numerous times.

The mystery man was not of a particular usual figure. He stood at about an average height, and his build too was rather ordinary. However, his skin was pale, grey almost, not unlike Trine. Jean shuddered. No, surely not? He looked again. Red eyes. Still, it couldn’t possibly… Ash-white, shoulder-length hair. He rubbed at his eyes. Pointed ears.

Damn, there was no denying it. This man, if he could even be called such, was not human. Moreover, he was… well, whatever the hell Trine was. As if feeling eyes upon his neck, he looked around for his ‘sister’ suddenly. She was not present. Just my imagination…

Twang. The man’s arrow struck a clear bullseye. It wasn’t unusual. In fact, it could even be said that it was expected of someone daring enough to put their name down for the contest. Another shot. The arrowhead shaved the wood off the shaft of the last. Jean was agape. Two in a row? He felt his hands grow clammy as the man drew his bow back for the third and final shot.

A five. Jean breathed a sigh of relief. Another perfect shot and he could kiss his chances at victory goodbye. Still, he’d have to face off against this inhuman powerhouse in the next round…

He turned and his eyes met Jean’s for a moment. He licked his lips as he smiled. Jean shivered. What was that about?

*          *          *

The boy was nervous. Mirror could smell it in the air. He gave it a little taste. Mm yes, he was indeed. Truly, fear was delicious. He realised he was parched. Confounded mortal needs. He made his way to the refreshment stand and asked for a stout.

“You from around here?” the man behind the counter asked him. “Haven’t seen such fine shootin’ in years. Pity about the last one though.”

He handed Mirror a full, foaming mug. “You could say that. Here; keep the change.”

The merchant looked in disbelief at the silver coin lying on the wooden counter.

“Oh, and about that last shot? I had no intention of it hitting its mark.”

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