The Firebird LIV



In response to her call my friend sloshed away through the shallow ripples and went running up the beach toward the well.  When he had gone, the golden-haired girl, who still held me in her arms, turned and laid me down in the water at the foot of the cradle.  Feeling impotent, abandoned, and helpless, I burst into a tearful wail.  But in the same moment I realized that I could not remain in that condition long.  At another time – before reaching this place beyond the sunset – I would certainly have surrendered myself wholly to it.  But everything was different now.

So strong was the draw of the well and the wood, so sweet the children’s song, so great the promise of things to come, that I was compelled, quite apart from conscious thought or will, to reach the shore somehow.  With a great cry, I heaved myself up on hands and knees and began to crawl forward, discovering in the process that it cost me surprisingly little effort to do so.  I went slowly at first, splashing and gurgling in the salt water; then faster and faster and with greater assurance until, upon reaching the point where the wavelets lapped the shimmering strand, I found myself rising to my feet and taking off at a run toward the stone well.

The small gray bird blinked at my approach, greeting me with a solemn nod of his head.  Hands outstretched, I ran to the well’s edge and fell laughing against its cool stones just as the boy lowered the silver dipper down into the mossy darkness.  Astounded at my own strength, I pulled myself up over the ledge and peered down into the shaft.  As if in reply, the well breathed its airs of dewy freshness up into my flushed and heated face.  At the smell of the pure spring water a burning thirst awoke within me.  Keen with the desire to taste its cold sweetness, I threw back my head and shouted with joy as my friend, smiling down at me, drew the dipper up by its golden chain and held it to my lips.

What a draught that was!  Transcending all identifiable flavors, yet containing within itself the savor of flower and fruit, of sand and stone, of sharp little blades of grass; pure, clear, and radiant as distilled white light; the essence of heaven in liquid form.  Even before it touched my lips or tongue, its fresh and heady odor, redolent of both the pines on the beach and the tang of the sea, struck itself into my nostrils with such force that it seemed to pierce my brain.  Scales fell from my eyes.  My whole body filled with light.  I felt as if I had begun to see for the first time.

The boy dipped again and drank from the cup himself.  As I watched, a change passed over him such as I had never witnessed before and cannot rightly describe.  His physical form assumed an appearance reminiscent of the vibrant, shimmering bodies of the Watchers in the valley of blue glass at the edge of the sea.  While remaining solid to the touch – this I tested by reaching out and laying a hand on his arm – he grew gradually luminous and transparent.  His face began to shine so that I was tempted to fall down before him in adoration.  But before I could carry out my intention I saw his eyes grow round and suddenly knew that he was beholding the very same changes in me!

I stepped away from the well, holding one pulsing and shimmering hand up before my face as the effects of that draught of well-water swept over me.  Inside and out, from head to toe, I felt myself growing lighter and stronger.  Trembling, I turned and looked off toward the wood above the beach.  I shook myself, scattering splinters of light across the ground and over the gray stones of the well.

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