His son, Jemmy, looked calm and free of fear, despite being tied to a post in the Altdorf market square. He’d seen his father shoot and he knew that he was in little danger, but Wilhelm was nervous.
Normally, he’d have no trouble shooting the apple off his son’s head. But Hermann Gessler was a nasty piece of work, and Wilhelm had no doubt that he had something up his sleeve.
He cocked the crossbow as slowly as he could, making a big show of how difficult it was. He’d brought his lighter weapon to the trial — the one with just a wooden prod, not the heavy laminate he usually took to war with him. If the time came, he could cock it, place the quarrel, and fire almost as quickly as regular bow. He had several bolts with him, hidden in his shirt, but because everyone knew it took forever to prepare a crossbow to fire, nobody had thought to check him.
While he cocked the crossbow, Wilhelm looked around the for the trap. He spotted the other bowman, partially hidden in a window overtop of Jemmy; the other crossbow was aimed at Wilhelm and it covered him. So that was it — if he did not split the apple, then his execution would be swift. And if he tried to turn the bow on that bastard Austrian bailiff Gessler, he would be shot down immediately.
So Tell knew what he had to do. Shoot the other marksman, and then hope he could cock the bow quickly enough and shoot Gessler before his soldiers could react. Perhaps the people of Uri would come to his aid — nobody liked the Austrians ruling their Canton, and there was talk of rebellion.
He finished cocking the bow and aimed at the apple on Jemmy’s head. At the last moment, he shifted, and pulled the trigger. Wilhelm did not take time to see if the bolt struck home — he knew it would — but cocked the bow and put another bolt into it; he spun, and aimed at Gessler, who was laughing hysterically.
“You shot your –” Gessler’s words were cut short by Wilhelm’s second quarrel, as it punctured his eye.
A few women were screaming, and Gessler’s soldiers reacted. There were only three, but more than enough to kill Wilhelm, who bravely cocked the bow again as they drew their swords and charged him.
He shot his last bolt, and the townsfolk moved, as one, to subdue the other two. The rebellion had begun.
“Oh Wilhelm, we’re sorry,” he heard a voice say. Sorry for what? Now they would kick the Austrians out of Uri, and be free.
Then he saw Jemmy.
William Tell (Nov. 18 is the day the legendary shot supposedly happened. Wiki.)