The Golden Archer, by Anna McClure Sholl

Fairy Tales of Weir

In the midst of a plain stood a great church built of white stones, with a massive tower. On this tower was a weather vane in the shape of a golden man who rode a golden horse, and made ready to shoot a golden arrow. Only the arrow never left the bow, but pointed always to the direction from which the wind blew—north from the mountains; east from the sea; west from the plain; south from the waving forests.

Now the Archer looked very small from the court in front of the cathedral because he was up so high in the air; so high, indeed, that often the lightning passed through his body. In reality he was not small, but life-size, and he had once been a man, but now he was a weather vane because he had made a vow to dwell forever on the tower and show the people from which direction came the life-bringing winds.

For the reason that he had a man's heart in his golden body, life was not always easy for him up there in the high place, and his eyes would sweep the far horizons in search of someone to companion him, but no living thing passed by him but the beautiful sea-birds who had learned that his golden arrow would never pierce their breasts—and so they loved him, and perched upon his arm that drew the bow.

Even the winds were kind to him because he moved so easily at their behest, but all winds were not alike to him who had the heart of a man. When spring came and the breezes blew from the south, heavy with the scent of magnolia, of lilacs, and blue violets, the heart of the Golden Archer ached with a strange hurt out of vanished years that he couldn't quite remember. When summer brought to him the delicious odor of grapes and berries and strong bright flowers, he longed to go down from the tower and wander after the fireflies' lanterns among the loaded vines, or pillow his head on sweet hay and let the winds put him to sleep forever.

When autumn came, and the flying leaves, as golden as his own steed, looked like yellow butterflies too tired to move their wings, the Archer would think of fires on hearths only half remembered, and he wished he could stable his golden horse while he joined some group about the dancing flames.

Winter was hardest of all to him, for all the world went in-doors and left him lonely. The frost-fairies, that glided down the blue rays of the winter-moon with their little lanterns that gave much color but no heat, these little creatures could not comfort him, because though he rode so high and was so straight, still he had the heart of a man. Sometimes the wild snows came and blinded his steady, sorrowful eyes; and in blackest midnight, when the sleet rattled against the golden sides of his horse, then, indeed, he felt alone and forgotten.

For the people on the plain, though they looked to his guiding arrow did not love him because they thought him only a weather vane.

So the years drove on and the Golden Archer grew lonelier and lonelier. Came at last a spring when the scent of peach-blossom was like the hurt of too great joy, and far-away the peach-orchards splashed the land with pink. High up in the air the Archer looked wistfully southward and pointed his bow towards clouds of sweetness and rose-color. How he longed to leave the great white stones of the tower and go wandering through those creamy orchards and down the green aisles of the forests by bright refreshing streams.

As he was gazing one day over the fertile plain he saw moving upon it what looked to him from that height like a very little girl. But he knew that she must be really a tall, slender maiden. That she had golden hair he also knew because it gleamed in the sun.

Then his lonely heart desired her company and he sent out thoughts to her, for being an Archer he could do this. Thoughts were his real arrows.

So this thought he sent towards her: "I do not know who you are, but I am a lonely Archer on the great cathedral where I have made a vow to tell forever the wandering of the wind. I cannot come to thee, but climb the winding stairs to this high place that I may gaze upon thee. I am lonely."

Now the young girl was walking at sunset in the orchards with her betrothed when through the air this message came to her, and, lifting up her eyes, she said: "See where the last light lies on the Golden Archer. How graceful he is, like a bit of flame above the old white church."

"They say the view is fine from there," answered her sweetheart.

"Let us climb up to-morrow," proposed the maid, whose name was Felice.

So next day at sunset she and her betrothed climbed the winding stair of the cathedral, and emerged on the roof near the Golden Archer, who, when he saw the maiden, felt an old rapture sweep over him. For a moment he so forgot his vow that he stood quite still, though the wind was veering. How beautiful she was with all the beauty of the sweet earth from which he had been so long removed. Her hair was like harvest-corn, and her eyes were like dim places where violets hide. The soft voice of her was as music in the Archer's ears, who had heard too long the jangling of iron bells in the towers beneath him.

And now she was looking at him. Old memories stirred in him beneath the armor that hid his manhood. He wanted to get down from his golden horse and lay aside his bow and arrow, and take her in his arms.

"What a beautiful Archer," she was saying, "how crisp his hair, how clear and firm his lips, how pure his profile."

Now her betrothed could be jealous even of a weather vane, so he said:
"Anyone can be beautiful who is made of metal."

"It is an imperishable beauty," she replied. "Flesh and blood decay."

The Golden Archer was so agitated that he turned his eyes upon her, and all at once she knew that he was alive and her heart was aflame with love for him.

Next day she came alone to the tower. She found him pointing north and looking away from her, for the vow had gripped him again like the frosts of winter. But she spoke softly and said, "Beloved, the spring is here."

Then the south wind came, and against his will he veered and looked at her. She came close to his golden horse and touched the arm that held the bow. "You drew me to you, and now you do not look at me," she said.

"I am afraid to look at you," he replied and dropped his golden eyelids.

"Yet you are not afraid to gaze into the sky," she ventured.

"Out of the sky will come nothing to harm me," he answered.

"Could I harm you, soul of my soul?" she cried.

"You could make me love you," was his answer.

So they were quiet for a while. She watched the sea-birds circle about his shining horse which seemed ever ready to plunge from the cathedral tower into the spaces of the air, yet remained always the toy of the winds. She listened to the hoarse voices of the huge bells that swung beneath her.

At last she rose and unbound her hair so that it floated like a golden banner in the wind. "Come," she whispered.

Then the Golden Archer felt all the pain of those who must turn away from the voice of love. His eyes looked towards the sunset, but his heart seemed drowning in a strange, sweet, throbbing darkness. "Come nearer," he whispered.

So she went so near that her golden hair floated all about him and he saw the landscape through a yellow cloud. "Kiss me," she said.

But he set his lips steadfastly, and tried to turn to the north, which he could not do, for the wind was steadily from the south.

"I am cold," she whispered. "Let us go down to the warm orchards."

"Go!" he answered, "for your words pierce my heart, and I have made a vow to tell the people about the coming and going of the great winds."

"My love is a great wind," she said.

Then sadly she left him. He was alone on his tower and night was coming.

He tried to think of his vow, but her eyes called him, her lips brushed his like the light wing of a nesting bird. Hour after hour he endured the pain—and at last tears rolled from his eyes and melted his armor. The Golden Archer felt his old humanity return like a flood and set him free; and in the silence that comes before the dawn, he got down from his horse. The limbs of the golden animal were moving also; and stealthily, with the cramped action of those too long in one position, horse and man went down the stairs of the church, through the stone vestibule and out into the sweet, warm plain.

The Golden Archer knelt beneath the stars and wept himself back to his old beautiful manhood, then, mounting his horse, he galloped to the edge of the forest where in a cottage smothered beneath roses and honeysuckle Felice lived; once at her window he whispered: "The Golden Archer has come for thee, dearest."

Then she came out trembling, and in the gray light he took her in his arms and comforted her. "We will ride away and be married," he said. Then he lifted her on his horse, and they rode away through the forest, she lying quite still against his heart, and gazing with wide-open eyes into the green dimness. So they came to a church and were married.

That night they went to an inn on the borders of the forest, an old house with nine gables, deep moss on the roof, and a creaking signboard with a crowing bird painted on it; and the inn was called "The Crowing Cock."

Now there were many countrymen seated in the inn-parlor, and as the Golden Archer entered the room everyone rose and bowed; and as they passed through, Felice heard a peasant say, "How strange that a prince should marry a farm-girl."

Then the hot color came into her face, for Felice was very proud, and did not like to be thought inferior to her husband. When they were alone together she related what she had heard. The Golden Archer looked puzzled, for he thought that she loved him too well to care for such trifles. "We are one because we are dear to each other," he cried, and took her in his arms and cherished her.

Next day came the Mistress of the Inn to set the room in order, and as she bustled about she said, "From what kingdom comes your husband, the Prince?"

"My husband is not a prince," said Felice.

"He talks and acts like one," remarked the Hostess. "What is he then?"

The little Felice felt her cheeks burn. She could not say that her husband had been a weather vane, and was now a man, so she replied, "He occupied a very high position of trust."

"Yet he seems to know as little of real life as a prince," mused the
Hostess. "He has asked me strange questions about quite ordinary things."

Felice grew pinker than ever; and when the Golden Archer came into the room he found her in tears.

"Heart's dearest, why do you weep?" he said.

Then she told him her trouble. He must act like other people, she said, or tongues would begin to wag. He must forget that he had ever been a weather vane and must learn the ways of the world. The Golden Archer's heart was wounded by her words.

"Do you remember," he said, "that you called your love for me a great wind."

"Yes, I remember."

"A great wind blows everything before it, even the words of men."

Now Felice was a woman who catches up phrases too easily and speaks them too trippingly. So she answered, "If you love me you will do anything for me," for that was her test of love, that whoever cared for her should bend ever to her will.

"We must serve each other," said the Archer, to whom the winds in all those years had whispered many secrets. "When equality in love or friendship ceases the end of joy is near. But remove the cloud from your forehead, dear love, and let us hunt the blue gentians in the forest glades."

"Oh, no! let us go to the village fair," said Felice.

"What! Exchange those cool, dim places, flower-scented, for the glare and noise of a fair?"

"No one can see me in the forest," remarked Felice, turning her head from side to side and gazing in a mirror.

"But I see you! Isn't that enough!"

Felice sighed, for she liked admiration, and the Golden Archer said no more about gathering gentians, but went with her to the fair, which was a sacrifice, for he loved fresh air and solitude; and the crowds, the heat, and the dust made his head ache. Then, too, he was not used to fairs, and more than once made Felice uncomfortable by the questions he asked. She was always afraid that he would betray his origin when anyone spoke of the wind. Someone, indeed, said it was south, and the Golden Archer with a smile corrected him. "It is east," he remarked. "Oh, what difference does it make!" Felice cried crossly.

Her ill-temper increased because people looked more at her husband than at her. The Golden Archer was, indeed, very handsome, and he had lived so much in the skies that he had a fine, free air. People could take long breaths in his presence, instead of feeling choked and cramped, so they wanted to talk with him.

He would have been glad to gratify them, but his wife's drooping lips closed his own; and after a while both went sadly back to the inn, wondering why all the glory was gone from the day.

But in their room he drew her into his arms, and loved her anew, and talked to her of all the wonderful things that would come to them if they were faithful.

"Don't you know, sweet Felice," he said, "that love is like the seed in the ground, which comes up a little frail and tender plant; but through storm and sunshine grows into a great tree. We must be patient with each other."

Felice was of those who want their trees full-grown, and she began to wonder why she had married the Golden Archer instead of her own man, whom she could understand; and she wished that she had never climbed to the top of the tower and lost her heart to the Archer.

The days of their honeymoon dragged, for the Archer in addition to the hurt of his love had now to suffer the pain of estrangement. The more he cared for Felice the harder it was to see her restless and unhappy. "It will be different when we are in our own home," he would say to himself.

So one day they left the inn and went to their own cottage which stood on a little hill, and from the window could be seen the tower of the great white church. Now the Golden Archer used often to gaze at this tower, which made Felice ask him if he were homesick.

"No; but I miss the great winds," he replied.

"Do you know what people say?" she asked him.

"What do they say?"

"That you were struck by lightning—and all melted away."

"I was struck by lightning," he answered. "Love slew me."

This pleased her. For awhile she showed herself loving and tender, but because she obeyed moods and not a strong, steadfast will, the old unhappiness came back. The Golden Archer felt more lonely than ever he had done on the high white tower, and loneliest of all when he held her in his arms.

One day he found her crying. "Why do you cry, Beloved?" he asked her.

"I am lonely," she said.

"With me?"

"Yes," she sobbed, "with you. What have you to tell me but your tales of the great winds? Other men have had their friends, their adventures. They can relate stories of their boyhood, of their early life, but you came from a far-off tower and know nothing of the world."

"It is true," he murmured. "I can only tell you of the skies; for all the time of my former days on earth is dim to me."

That night they sat before the fire, for it was now autumn, and the leaping flames showed her gold hair and her eyes like dark pools. Upon the Golden Archer they shone, too, where he sat still and hurt, but unable to tell his pain, because he had lived too high above the world. The low, hoarse winds drove the flying leaves against the window glass and whistled in the keyhole; at which Felice would shiver and cast sidelong glances at her strange husband.

All at once on the wind came a caroling voice. Felice rushed to the window and peered out. The voice sang:

"All that I knew of thee, my Love,
   The great winds bore away.
 When they are hushed wilt thou return
  To bless the close of day?

"In that still hour come back to me,
  And find thy longed-for rest.
 Poor petal blown too near the sun,
  Float downward to my breast."

"Ah," cried Felice, "it is my old Love."

"My love for thee is older than the moon," said the Golden Archer. "Can you not rest by our hearth?"

Then she knelt by him and pressed her face against his knees. And his heart grew as heavy as a weary dream before a sultry dawn when the thunder hangs in the hills. Her grief weighed all the more upon him because he knew she was trying to love him; and when that hour of effort comes death is under its cloak.

But the next day she was cheerful and sang about her tasks. The Golden Archer saddled his horse and rode miles through the forest upon the crisp red leaves; and he knew that goodness would not hold her, nor kindness, nor fidelity, nor service, for love like hers is held prisoner to nothing once its wings are outstretched, nor does it know good from evil.

[Illustration: THE GOLDEN ARCHER AND FELICE]

When he rode home the stars were peeping through the forest branches, and the white owls were flying. But the frost that silvered the red leaves was not so sharp and glistening as the memory of her tears.

As he reached his door he saw that it was open and the light from the fire shone out upon the dark paths of the forest. But the room was empty of her presence.

He called her name, but no answer was returned; then on a tablet upon the table he saw words written and brought them to the fire and read them.

"O Golden Archer, go back to thy tower, for the great winds have taken me on a long journey, and I shall never see thee again."

Then he knew that not his faithful winds, but the voice of old memories had called her, and he bowed his head in an imperishable sorrow.

Because his heart was broken he desired to cease from his humanity and return to the old white tower. As once his warm tears had thawed his shining armor and made him an inhabitant of the world, so now his cold and bitter tears encased him again in hard metal.

Walking wearily and with stiff footsteps he went to the stable, brought out his horse and rode across the plain to the great white church upon which the midnight moon was shining. He knocked on its west door, and from the vaults came the echoes.

"You cannot return, Golden Archer, for you have broken your vow!"

"But I have broken my heart also," he answered; "therefore, let me in."

"But you will come down again from the tower," cried the echoes.

"Nay, for only the broken-hearted know how to keep their vows," he answered.

So the doors swung open, and up the dim spiral stairs rode the Golden Archer, through bars of moonlight to the region of the great winds where again he mounted the tower. But always there is one dream left to the sorrowful, and his was, that some night the great winds would drive her soul against his breast.

Then he became very still and turned his arrow northward, for the wind was coming from the far circles of the Arctic ice.

Next day the sun rose red and glorious and made fires on the armor of the Golden Archer, and all the people upon the plain rubbed their eyes and cried out:

"There's a new Archer on the Cathedral. Now we shall know from which horizon comes the wind!"