The Firebird L



I gazed after the three children as they climbed the green ascent above the beach.  As if under a spell, I watched as they gathered at the well’s stony rim.  Who should be there to greet them?  Who but the small gray bird?  I saw him myself, with my own two eyes, perched upon the mossy brink.  At his side lay a silver dipper at the end of a golden chain.  One by one the children took the dipper, lowered it into the well’s still depths, drew up the clear water from the heart of the earth, and drank deeply.  Then they ran – even the stumbling little red-head – ran with greater vigor and exuberance than I could have imagined any of them to possess, higher and farther up the green bank, disappearing at last among the thick green pines at its margin.

After this the auburn-haired lady resumed her roll-call, reading out name after name from the pages of the great gilt-edged volume.  And the children came, one following the other, presenting their gifts and taking it in turn to peek into the cradle as it lay gently rocking in the waves at the edge of the sea.

Long and long I listened and waited.  Ages upon ages seemed to pass, and still my name had not been called.  At another time I would surely have grown sick with paralyzing anxiety as the delay was extended.  But the longer I lay there in the boy’s arms, the clearer it became that fear and anxiety and uncertainty were among those parts of myself – my Old Self – that had not survived the burning of the sun-gate.  So I went on watching and waiting without words or thoughts as the names were read and the sun behind us lifted his head above the circling mists to cast a happy dappled light over the deep blue water and the green shore.

At last I became aware that my friend and I had been left alone.  Every child of that great murmuring crowd had gone on before us.  All of them had looked into the cradle and taken a drink from the well.  Each and every one had disappeared beneath the dark boughs of the wood at the edge of the world, leaving behind a silence that was thick and palpable.

The water lapped the boy’s bare feet.  Looking up into his face, I saw the breeze ruffle his dark hair.  Spots of shadow, cast by the clouds that sailed overhead, slid across the bay and up the wooded slope.  Little ripples glistened on the surface of the water and the trees flashed intermittently brighter and darker greens.  Time slowed to a stop.

We were no more than a few feet from the cradle.  Above it stood the three ladies, their smiles beaming down upon us, the warmth of their love mingling with the fragrance of the air.  She of the auburn hair dropped her eyes and slowly turned the page, the very last page of the great heavy book she held in her delicate white hands.

And then I heard it:  heard what I had waited so long to hear – not only since coming to this indescribable place beyond the sunset, but since looking out my smudged and frosted window into the rider’s open sack; since seeing my face in the tragic mirror; since splashing down into the endless sea beyond the blue mountains of the Valley of the Watchers; yes, even since – or so it seemed to me now – I had felt the first glimmers of the dawning of conscious thought.

In the rich and sonorous voice of the auburn-haired lady I heard my own name read out plainly on the breeze, and it came to me as a revelation – a revelation from beyond the farthest reaches of all that may be known.

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