They say that he had a heart of gold, but the archer felt stone.
Grass grew tidily in the meadow beneath the grey tower where the archer stood watch. Different coloured flowers rested betwixt the blades of grass. A creek ran out and then back into the forest it came from. There was a road to his left, where travellers appearing from the horizon to journey into town. This was all he could see from his window. He was always looking upon a world he would never venture to, only left to wonder what lay beyond. He never wondered much though. It did not matter to him. It was not his job to wonder.
It was his job to stay and guard. He liked to believe he was good at his job; that he was made for it. It was not hard after all; all he had to do was stay within his walls of stone and keep watch. He heard many pass by the tower, speaking in pitiful tones. Isn’t it a pity just having him there? Don’t you think he rather be somewhere else, like in town?
What does a bird born in captivity know of freedom? Those thoughts were not necessary for him. Neither was their pity.
The stairs behind him led to the bottom where the entrance was, and to the top of the tower where the fire pit lay. Resting with old ashes. If the fire was lit then the people in the town would know that danger was coming. It was never used anymore though. Barely any ashes were left in the pit. Most of it was blown away by wind and time.
All the archer did, all he ever did was face out of the town, waiting for any who would harm it. He stood tall. He stood alone. Waiting for something. Waiting for nothing.
For days, weeks, years, he would stand watching. The town used to be prone to intruding dangers, but not recently. The archer though was never bored. He was proud of his station. At least, it never used to be boring. Until she came.
They say that he had a heart of gold, but the archer felt rubber.
At first he did not understand what he was feeling, like his mind was held together by plastic string, with nothing in the space between.
Into his view she would appear again and again. The maiden with the flaxen hair. Her hair was always in plaits. Sometimes with flowers tangled within it.
Was she beautiful? Pretty? Was she the girl of everyone’s dreams? Who knows. It didn’t matter if no one else thought so, she was beautiful to him. In a world of waiting for nothing, she became the only something. She became his world. The only landmark in a painting of a landscape. Her family lived just beyond the meadow, in the forest. Her father was a farmer or a hunter. He didn’t know. He would never know.
The young maiden would come out of the forest and play in the meadow, picking flowers and making wreaths, below him. So close below him. Sometimes she would go to the creek, washing clothing and singing songs. She came with her family. She came by herself. He liked those times better, when she was alone. When he had her to himself. On occasion the family would venture into town with a cart of supplies covered with cloth. The soldiers would look, the girl would smile, and they would let them in.
When she was about fifteen she came to his tower and bestowed on him a kiss. Once. It happened once and then she never came up again.
Her father stormed out of their cottage, furious. She rushed down the tower; but her father had seen, he already knew. Her father dragged her away screaming. Never again! Never again!
She screamed back that she would never. Never go back up the tower. Never to see him. She was not one to disappoint her father.
A fleeting childhood memory for her. An everlasting nightmare for him.
Then she grew older. Taller, hair longer, smile wider.
Why would she never come back to the tower? Why would she not look to him again?
She was constantly in and out of his sight. Walking in the meadow, doing chores by the creek. Days and months were all the same. They did not matter. The periods where she was in front of him were the only ones that did.
One day she went to draw water by the creek, and he wondered why she was not his. Why would she not come back. His bow was drawn. He could hit her. His aim would be true. He had one arrow. Was it the only one he had? Was it the only one left? He didn’t remember. He never needed to use it, never wanted to. Except for now. He could just release, and maybe his pain would be over.
She stormed into his world and captured his heart and just left him there. Alone. Maybe if he let the arrow fly, he could have her. Because then no one else would.
She looked up at him, flowers in her hair and smiled.
They say he had a heart of gold, but the archer felt cotton.
He would never hurt her. He could never.
He felt himself beginning to crumble.
He would watch her slowly grow into a fine lady. Sometimes she would take her younger brothers and sisters to the meadow. They would sit and laugh their time away. He would watch. Sometimes she would travel into the city by herself, old enough to carry the family’s cart. She would wave hello to the guards at the gate, always with a smile. He would watch. It was all he could ever do.
The archer struggled to understand the feelings that grew within him every time she disappeared from view. Feelings never bothered him before. It never mattered for his job. The cold stone walls around him were all he needed. He never used to be bored before, never lonely and never jealous.
One day she went into the city and brought out a man. Tall, handsome, rugged. He travelled with her to her house. She blushed all along the way. The archer’s bow was drawn. Oh, but he could shoot the man. Then she would know the pain he felt. Then she would know what loneliness meant. The she would be his again.
There is an emotion between sadness and anger. The archer felt it rage within his chest. An emotion so deep and primitive it was never given a name.
They say that he had a heart of gold, but the archer felt ice.
The point of his arrow faced the man’s head. It would be so easy to let it go. And then. And then what? He could not do it. He could not. He knew it would rip her apart if this man was suddenly gone from her life. He could not do that to her. What she was doing to him. Splinters and shards digging into his icy heart.
One day the man went out of the town with his belongings and stayed with the girl. Her father would have been old, her brothers too young, they would need a man.
She stopped coming to the meadow.
The archer crumbled further.
A few years later, she appeared again. She was carrying with her a toddler. Her baby. He would watch her grow up too. Protect her as well, he vowed. For what else would he do?
They say he had a heart of gold, but the archer felt his ice heart melt.
Years by and there were more children, they would rush into the meadow with her, sing songs and play games. She was happy. He was content watching her smile. He felt himself grow old as he watched everyone grow. He watched as they began their first steps, as they laughed their little laughs, as they began to talk. He forgot what boredom meant.
Then the beast came, out of the far side of the forest. She was with her eldest daughter, only seven, the first child that the archer saw. The girl was playing in the meadow, her mother a ways away by the creek. Away but always within sight. Within sight but just a bit too far. The beast had eyes mad with fury, its horns tusks etched danger into the hearts of any unfortunate to gaze upon them. The beast didn’t seem to notice anything, but the girl. the girl noticed him. The little girl screamed, but stayed rooted on the spot. The beast charged at her. Her mother would never just watch. She ran towards the girl, but the beast, the beast would run faster.
They say he had a heart of stone, but the archer felt glass. Fragile and thin, a single touch would be all it would take to break his heart, to break him.
He had one arrow. He was not sure he would make the shot. He was old. Crumbling. So very old.
His bow was drawn.
He let his arrow fly.
Years later, when the daughter was fifteen, she climbed up to the top of the tower with her thirteen year old sister.
"Mother always talked about this place. She said she came to the top of the tower and gave him a kiss, so we’ve got to do it to. After all, I’m sure. I’m sure the stone arrow was from him. I’m sure he saved my life."
Determined, brave, just like her mother.
When they were close to the top the daughter started running.
His bow lay on the floor, its string broken. The archer, gone but for rubble on the floor and a shiny object that nested on the rubble.
They say he had a heart of gold, it glistened on the floor.