Once upon a time (for that is when all such things begin), Nathaniel went to war.
He thought himself well prepared for the undertaking.
His mother and father had shown him how to protect those in his care. His sister had helped him learn to have compassion for those less able to help themselves. Many wise men and women had taught him valuable things over the years, and when Nathaniel came of age, the warrior spirit sleeping inside him awoke with a thirst.
Nathaniel wanted to slay dragons.
He trained his body to be strong and his mind to be quick. He heard the tales of warriors who came before, and at night he dreamed that someday his deeds would merit their own tales.
And so, armed with weapons, knowledge, courage, and determination, Nathaniel set off to fight for the honor of his land.
But war was not as Nathaniel had imagined.
The brother warriors of his platoon were valiant men, and true, but Nathaniel could not protect them as he wanted. His compassion was cast aside in chaos and disorder. His strong body and quick mind were worn weak and slow by war’s unforgiving, unrelenting howls of cruelty.
Nathaniel’s heart began to fade, but still he found light places in the darkness of his dying hope. He found fellowship with his men in the times after battle. He found stark, spare beauty in the ancient land where so many noble warriors had fought before him.
And he found the Iceman.
The Iceman was a legendary warrior. Like Nathaniel, he dreamed of slaying dragons. All the men of Nate’s vanguard looked upon him with awe, and none could best him in any contest of skill. He stood tall and aloof, and no one touched him, for his skin carried a chill, always. It was rumored that he had bargained his heart away long ago, in exchange for the magic to see battles’ futures. He could not love, the men said in hushed whispers around the fire, but he could keep them all safe. Still, it was deemed a dire trade.
Nathaniel set great store by the Iceman’s wise counsel. With his prudence and expertise, Nathaniel followed the path war laid before him and tried to hold his band of men together, whole and hale.
But it was a barbarous struggle, and Nathaniel’s heart dimmed further with each passing day. It faded and faltered, and were it not for the Iceman restoring a bit of its shine each night, Nathaniel’s heart would have gone out completely.
When Nathaniel and his men were given respite from war, some of them looked inside themselves and knew they could not return. Nathaniel, though it saddened him, was among them, knowing that his heart could only tarnish further.
He bade goodbye to his brave fellow warriors. He bade goodbye to the Iceman, whose heart was already gone and so could not be lost in war.
And when they left, Nathaniel was alone. Alone with his disillusioned eyes and his sick, sad heart that could not shine again without the Iceman there to polish away its stain each night. So Nathaniel locked that dimmed heart away, lest it break altogether from the pain of his shattered dreams.
He sought another calling. He thought he might fight for justice with words instead of weapons, so he learned all the laws of his land and many others. He thought he might offer counsel to others as he had once been counseled, so he spent many days in great halls of learning, studying the ways of rhetoric and oratory.
And thus, Nathaniel was sustained. He gave comfort and wisdom to those in need, remembering the support his men had once offered him. He spoke words of understanding with leaders of many lands near and far, recalling how much he himself had wished for understanding during his time at war.
But underneath it all, Nathaniel’s heart remained small and dark, and no one came to make it well again.
One day, Nathaniel was seated at his noontide meal when a shadow fell across the sun.
He turned to discover the Iceman standing tall in the entrance. Nathaniel smiled, unbidden, and felt a shaft of light sink into his darkened heart at nothing more than the sight of this greatest of warriors.
The Iceman smiled, too, which Nathaniel had never seen during their time on campaign. In fact, his entire appearance had somewhat altered from the way Nathaniel was accustomed to seeing him. His once-pale skin glowed a rich, bright gold, and his eyes, once the color of steely sea ice, were instead the blue of the southern summer sky.
The Iceman held his smile and walked toward Nathaniel, who stood to meet him, and with each step, light spread inside Nathaniel’s chest. When they were standing quite close, staring at each other, the Iceman lifted his hands to touch the sides of Nathaniel’s face.
“Your hands are warm!” Nathaniel exclaimed, shock making him careless of his blunt words.
“I have found my heart,” the Iceman said, “and am made of ice no longer.”
“I am glad for you,” Nathaniel smiled. “Wherever did you discover it after all this time?”
“It was here. With you,” came the quiet response, and then that golden head bent to Nathaniel’s, and their lips met, and Nathaniel’s tarnished heart glowed fierce and bright and new again in his happiness, for he realized that it had been in this man’s keeping all along.
When they broke their kiss for breath, Nathaniel grinned before a thought startled him. “You are no longer the Iceman. But I know of no other name for you. What shall I call you?”
“Long ago, I was called Bradley.”
“Then Bradley you shall be again,” said Nathaniel. “And I swear to keep your heart safe, that you should never again be cold or alone. If only you will swear the same in return.”
Bradley laughed, a joyful peal of sound, and said, “I swear it, Nathaniel. I swear it gladly.” He kissed Nathaniel again to seal their pact, and the kissing carried on for quite some time in the warmth and light of the shining sun.
And, like the heroes of all good tales, they lived happily for ever and a day. And for several further days after that.