Holding me in his arms, the boy splashed forward a few steps, the cloak of heaven-blue trailing behind him through the rippling wavelets. After handing me to the girl with the circlet of spring flowers in her golden hair, he knelt in the water and bowed his head before the three ladies. In answer, the dark one stooped to kiss him. But she of the auburn hair – the dove – raised his face to her own and spoke:
“What gift do you bring?”
Without hesitating, the boy stretched forth his hands. In one he held the red clay lamp. In the other was the basket of golden apples. These the lady received from him with a gracious nod. Then he got to his feet and, unfastening the shining brooch at his throat, took off the cloak of heaven-blue and held it out to her. She smiled.
“Rich and precious gifts,” said she, laying the lamp and basket inside the cradle and draping the cloak over the canopy. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. And all good gifts to the Giver at last.”
Then she turned and looked at me where I lay waiting in the girl’s arms.
“And you, my child,” she said. “What gift do you bring?”
Though my peace had been so deep and my repose so complete, I was shaken to the core at the sound of her voice. My thoughts and feelings fell into disarray, and I was stricken with the unbearable realization that, of all that unnumbered multitude, I alone had been left, the last and the least, with nothing to give.
I opened my mouth to give expression to my distress, but nothing came out. This was no great wonder, of course, for I was well aware by now that I had been reduced at last to the condition of a true infant; that is to say, a non-speaker. I had come to that place where one is left with only the truest means of communication – the eye and the cry – and I understood that words could no longer avail me. Looking straight into the lady’s face, I let out a desperate wail, straining with all my might to tell her that I had nothing to offer, but that I wished to be given myself.
She silenced my cry with an upraised hand. Beaming pleasure and approval at me out of her opal eyes, she nodded to the golden-haired girl, who immediately carried me to the cradle. With a single sweeping motion she drew the curtain aside as the girl, still holding me close, knelt in the water beside the little bed. Then she crooked a finger and beckoned me closer.
“Your wish is granted,” she said. “Come and see.”