The Archers

© Mark A Evans 1/20/2016 

    The large brass bell atop the town hall calls the archers to the field. Several times a year the village holds a contest allowing we, the archers, to put our skills to the test. The rewards are like that of many contests, money and prestige.  

    The field upon which the contest is held stretches out far into the distance. Excited villagers come to cheer and watch the competition. 

    Targets are place incrementally farther and farther away from the shooters line. The rewards for hitting them become more lucrative the greater the distance they are away. Some targets are so close it is almost absurdly easy to strike them. The archers risk very little in aiming at these. The rewards are as minimal as the risk. They are considered safe and reliable, but no glory or cheers will be heard from placing your arrows into them. Some archers choose this target not willing to risk their precious arrows. Better to have won something, than to have risked, and come away with nothing. It is also a favored target of those with bows of poor design, or an arm without the strength to pull the string far enough to reach the greater distances.  

    The next targets are smaller and father away. You need more skill, strength, and experience to hit these. Sometimes though, even the weaker participants will find luck on their side. They will win the prize that was actually beyond their real skill. This line of targets has, of course, much more reward. This is why less skilled archers are willing to risk taking aim at them. The better archers will often shoot for the middle distances. The jingling of coin in their pockets attests to their skill. 

    The farthest target is way off almost out of sight. The reward for hitting it is staggering. Perhaps only one archer in ten years of contest will claim this prize. That is not to say that it is not shot upon regularly. Many an archer will waste an arrow if he feels his quiver is adequately supplied to warrant such a risk. The young and foolish often shoot at this one, only to watch the arrows fall short. They do not even understand the limits of their strength and accuracy, until they are humbled in front of the crowd. Oh what a spectacle when an arrow hits this lofty mark. The wealth, glory, and fame are intoxicating. The stories and songs that fill the tavern after this triumph will be spoken of for years to come. This is why so many archers are willing to take aim at it. 

    The contest is about to commence. My turn will not come until long into the afternoon. My strategy has been to play it very safe for several years. This time however, I will set my goals upon the middle row. Oh I may land a few, just to be safe, in the closest ones, but I am more ambitious today.

    I watch one by one as the other contestants stand before the crowd and shoot their arrows. The first participant is a wealthy man who’s quiver is full to the brim. Those wealthy enough to afford more arrows have much more opportunity to be successful. He has no reason to play it safe. He does not shoot any arrows at the close safe targets. His aim is at the middle distance, of which he often hits. With his wealth and skill, he also shoots plenty of arrows at the farthest mark. It is of little consequence to him. Already he has plenty of gold from the middle distances. Try as he might though, he does not strike the farthest target, even though he shoots many arrows at it. He is much more interested in prestige than money at this point. The onlookers enjoy his attempts, but there is little excitement because he is expected to shoot for this prize. His turn is done, and he has used is brimming quiver to brim his pockets as well. 

    Then next archer approaches. This archer is well known for their skill, only they have very few arrows in their quiver. One after another the closer targets are struck. Disappointed looks pass among the audience. Such a skilled archer, and yet they take the safe and easy path. The onlookers show little respect for this archers careful use of what little resource they have. The crowd lives for excitement, all the while they are not risking anything themselves. The audience did not come here to see safe, they have come here to see glory. 

    It is now my time to stand before the range. As I approach the shooting line, I take notice of a young man standing very close by. He is well know about our village. Dirty and disheveled, his appearance displays his fate. He has no family or means of prosperity. Like the other archers, he has a bow, but in his quiver, there is not a single arrow. He seems strong and able. I am sure he could muster enough ability to hit the closest targets, if only he was given an opportunity.  

    Time after time I launch a salvo into the middle and closer targets. I have lost a few arrows, but for the most part, I am quite successful. I reach down one last time and feel the rough and misshapen shaft of my last arrow. It is old and week, but it is probably good enough to fly to the nearest marks. Instead of placing the arrow to my string, I turn and with a self righteousness place it in the poor man hands. I smile and beam as if I had just saved the mans life. The crowd cheers and waves their approval of my generosity. 

    A hush comes over the field. All eyes watch as this final archer places the crooked arrow into the bow. All know he can not afford to shoot at any but the closest target. We fully expected him to take aim at the nearest goal and earn his pittance. Then hopefully he'd return the favor and thank me for my kindness. 

    Before anyone had time to think, the man pulls the bow full back with all his might, then let's fly his arrow. I thought for sure the paltry shaft would shatter with the force. His intention is for the farthest target. Not a breath could be heard as everyone watched his arrow in flight. 

    The village will never forget this day. The poorest archer taking his only opportunity, and shooting his arrow risking it for all, or nothing. Maybe he will be rich, or maybe he will not. The one thing we know is, he risked more than anyone this day. 

    The question your going to ask is, did his arrow find it's way, or did it fail to achieve? To tell you the truth It does not matter. The only thing that really matters is why the arrow’s owner chose to send it on this course.

    © Mark A Evans 1/20/2016