The Archer

I try to breathe around the arrow in my chest, but can taste the bitter blood rising in my throat, can feel its warmth trickling from my lips and onto my cheek. I am all blood, hot and sticky, slowly fading into brown. A cold spring drizzle has begun and cools my war-fevered brow. I trail one hand in the water, leaving faint red ribbons in the current, soon swept away. My little boat bares me slowly away, away from blood soaked fields. Long I had hid in shadows, darting furtively around trees. Now the sun shines on me with watery brilliance from behind the clouds. With one weary hand I cast back my hood and squint at its milky face.

As my blood runs from my body, I begin to grow cold, and welcome the sun as it pushes away the trespassing clouds, replacing them with ribbons of blue breaking the gray monotony. The water brushes through my fingers and I turn them, catching new currents like wings. A fish nibbles at my fingers. “Too soon,” I laugh silently, for it pains me to speak, “patience.” I startle a nest of small, downy birds, just learning to fly. They spring from the reeds and flutter clumsily before disappearing once more.

It is spring and the reeds are moist and green. The wind trails through them, a hidden accompaniment to my final voyage. On the bank, two farm hands sit breaking bread. Already I feel disconnected from them, as inconsequential as the birds and the fish. They cry out upon seeing me and I flinch at their harsh voices, ringing with a language I once spoke. I wonder what stories they will tell of me, the silent figure in the boat, twisted over years to come.

Perhaps I shall become a ghost, haunting this river, hooded huntsman with an arrow in his breast.

I close my eyes; my vision has grown dark anyway, twilight of my life cloaking the sunny day. If I shut my eyes the sun remains, though I cannot see it. If I die, life will still continue, but without me. I do not try to guess what comes next. Heaven and Hell seem like a shallow hypocrisy. To simply vanish seems a waste. Perhaps it is simply this, floating upon the river until it joins the sea. Perhaps I am already dead.

I do not dwell on these thoughts, but rather on the sun barely warming my drained face, the wind vainly attempting to part my hair, matted to my forehead with blood and sweat. The pain in my chest is gone. I don’t remember what caused it. I have a vague recollection of war, but not why we were fighting. Comical it seems, to die for a cause that I have forgotten.

But it matters not. Who will win will win, and who will die will join me.

Distantly, as if I were underwater, I hear the beating of drums, calling me back to war, to life, but I sink deeper, until all around me is cool silence.

Something catches my boat, jerking me partially to the surface. A hand touches my face, searching for life and warmth.

“Does this river go to the sea?” I whisper.

“Yes,” the voice comes from far away.

“Then let me go, for I have never seen the ocean and would dearly love to.”

Hands lift mine, lay them crossed over my chest. Lips touch my brow, and they are warm like hearth stones on a winter’s night. My eyes flickered open briefly, catching sight of a young face with old eyes, wearing colors that stir within me a memory of adversaries. Tears touch my eyes and seal them shut.

“Be at peace,” the Archer whispers and releases me.

I drift into a semblance of sleep and wake to the sound of gulls.

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