On one brisk autumn afternoon, the Queen and her daughter linger in the library after the mandatory tea until Merida can take it no longer. She finishes an impatient finger-tapping session with a sigh, bored due to her mother having lost herself in a book quite a while ago. The Princess slides out of her chair and stands, grabbing one more treat for the road.
"May I be excused, Mum?" Merida mumbles through a mouthful of bun, already halfway to the door.
Elinor lowers her book to the table and reaches smoothly for her teacup.
"And where are you off to?" she questions before taking a careful sip. Naturally, the tea has gone cold, and she peers into the cup with a grimace.
Merida halts before the door and turns with a sigh, swallowing the rest of her mouthful.
"I was goin' to try out these new arrows," she says impatiently, gesturing towards the quiver strapped to her back. "Ye know, slice up a few targets."
Elinor really must have a word with the smith about his exceedingly loose policy of supplying the Princess with unlimited ammunition.
"I see," comes the mild reply. To Merida's surprise, her mother sets down her cup and rises from the table.
"May I join ye?" are the next words from Elinor's mouth, causing Merida's to promptly fall open.
Her mind goes blank of the next excuse she was planning to make in order to get going.
Elinor is unruffled. "I thought we might go for a walk together," she replies, adding with a frown, "Close your mouth, dear."
Merida shrugs. "Okay, I guess that's alright."
"Wonderful. There's just somethin' I need to fetch before we leave," the Queen says with a cryptic smile. "I'll meet ye downstairs."
Somewhat excited and definitely intrigued at this new development, Merida races down the stairs and through the hall to the front door, feet barely touching the stones beneath.
What on earth could her mother be up to?
Five minutes later, a smiling Elinor joins her at the entryway, grasping what can only be—
"A bow?" Merida asks, incredulous. "That's what ye…what for?"
Elinor gently blows a bit of dust from the wooden apparatus. "I imagine it's used to shoot arrows," she replies wryly.
Merida rolls her eyes. "I know what it's for. I just meant what are you goin' to do with it?"
"Really, Merida, I should think that's obvious."
The image of the Queen holding a bow is at once familiar and strange: familiar, of course, because Merida encounters such weapons all the time, but it's bizarre to see one in the hands of the uptight monarch. Okay, uptight is no longer a fair way to describe her mother these days, but…proper, yes, that's still right. The scene is odd, to say the least.
Out loud, Merida says nothing, giving off a blank expression.
Elinor sighs. "I'm goin' to use it," she says, as if it's the most natural thing in the world.
"On…what?" Merida asks, still confused. Or whom?
Elinor shifts the bow to her right hand and strolls towards the stable door. "I'll show ye," she calls, and Merida jumps to her feet. "Come, now."
They exit the castle and head to the woods, Merida glancing sideways at her mother all the time. The woman was constantly amazing her, though she supposes she should be used to it by now.
As mother and daughter make their way down the worn path, deeper into the trees, Merida can't help but growing giddy with enthusiasm. The prospect of sharing her favorite hobby with her mother is a wonderful thought. Sure, they now go riding together more than ever, but this is different. The art of the bow is a precious thing to behold, and Merida finds herself wishing that today is the day that maybe, just maybe, her mother will see the beauty of it, too.
After a time, they arrive at a clearing, and Merida pauses. There are bits of old arrows lodged in random tree trunks and branches. She has spent many a day here perfecting her skill—her craft, if you would—but today marks the first time that she is not alone.
Elinor gestures at the area, rudimentary targets and all.
"I see ye've claimed this poor patch as your own. No wonder there's barely a peep from the birds," she quips, referring to the apparent accuracy of Merida's arrows.
The Princess can't help but preen a little, twirling her bow with one hand.
"Aye, they tend to flee when I'm around. Can ye blame them, Mum?" Merida punctuates this by releasing an arrow into the trees, and a resounding thwack echoes around the clearing as the arrow meets some random branch.
She smiles uncomfortably at Elinor. Normally, Merida wouldn't show off in front of the forever-disapproving Queen, but their relationship has been on the mend lately, so why not have a little fun? Furthermore, her mother did invite herself along.
Elinor surveys the grassy patch. "Hmm. Why don't we make a proper target, and I can try this old thing out?"
Merida resists an eyeroll. Trust Elinor to be unsatisfied with the options, in nature no less.
"I suppose we could do that. There's a pile there," she points, "With the boards from the shootin' match at the Games," the Princess says halfheartedly. She tries not to remind herself of that day, and so the targets lie unused in a heap though they were dragged there months ago.
Elinor doesn't comment, nodding instead. "That should do nicely."
It takes the two of them to heave just one of the bulky boards into the open space, and Merida has more than one smudge on her face when they finish. Elinor dusts her hands off, and turns toward the pair of bows, which lean side-by-side against a boulder.
"After you, sweetheart," she says warmly. Merida can't help but shake her head lightly, marveling at the Queen's change of heart. A princess should not have weapons, in my opinion flits across her memory, but if Elinor wants to let go of her grudge, far be it from Merida to complain.
Merida shrugs and easily draws an arrow from the quiver, squinting only momentarily at the target. Two seconds later, the bull's-eye is occupied by her arrow.
If the Queen is impressed, she doesn't show it. Merida steps to the right with an expectant look on her face. "Go on, then," she offers.
Elinor nods before procuring her own arrow. As Merida watches, the monarch fits the shaft into the notch on the string and raises her arm to draw the bowstring back towards her body. As the tension grows in the device, Merida can see the muscles working in her forearms. There is a slight stiffness there, but nothing too inhibitive.
Merida's heart drums in anticipation as the bow strains taut and the tip of the arrow stares down its target.
Her mother draws a nearly inaudible breath, and releases.
In a blink, Merida's arrow is split, just as she did to that idiot Dingwall's bull's-eye so many months ago.
Of course Elinor is great at archery. Of course. It's so utterly unfair—why can't her mother just let her have this one? Why does she have to be perfect at everything she attempts?
Then again, maybe this could be something they do together. Merida quits gawking and finds it easy to smile.
"Mum, ye're brilliant!"
"Oh, don't be silly," the Queen beams, admiring the target.
"Please. You're an archer!" the Princess declares, throwing her arms up in a mix of awe and delight.
Elinor shakes her head, suddenly modest. "Not these days, dear."
"How—how could you ever give it up?" Merida asks, a tad wistfully.
Elinor's grin fades a fraction as she turns to regard her daughter, carefully resting the bow against one leg.
"It…wasn't much of a choice," she says, somewhat halfheartedly. Elinor pauses for a fraction of a second before shaking her head, as if to ward off such thoughts. "I had expectations to fulfill. Archery is not the most elegant of pastimes, as ye know," she finishes with a smile that doesn't reach her eyes.
"Still, it seems wrong, Mum. You're amazin' at it!"
"Oh, well, I haven't the time, for another thing," Elinor shrugs. "And I can't exactly go prancin' about the kingdom, firing arrows into every little thing."
Merida giggles at the thought.
"I'd quite forgotten about this bow, actually, until yer little stint at the Games," the Queen continues, raising one eyebrow.
Merida looks sheepish. "That's a day we'd all rather forget, I imagine."
The Queen nods her assent. "Nonetheless, ye did have me thinkin' about something I rarely indulge in."
"Mum, I'm so proud of ye," the Princess squeals, throwing her arms around her mother. "Dad taught me to shoot, but he always said I had natural talent."
Elinor chuckles, leaning into the redhead's embrace. "Ye didn't get everything from yer father."