I came to my senses on the farther bank of the great stream. My friend was nowhere to be seen.
Stumbling to my feet, I squinted up through the falling snow to the top of the little round hill. Its summit rose smooth as the crown of a baby’s head above the surrounding snow-dusted pines. On its highest point stood a noble tree with great broad leaves that trembled and shimmered green and gold in the vibrant air. Directly above the tree hung the Firebird, his face like the rising sun, his tail the tail of a comet. So great was the heat under the canopy of his outstretched wings that I could see the snow melting and running in sparkling rivulets down the flanks of the knoll.
Without another thought I plunged in beneath the pines and quickly traversed the narrow band of woodland, emerging at length in the open space at the foot of the hill. Here I made an odd discovery: a rough cloth bag was lying on the ground just beyond the fringe of trees.
This bag, I thought – I’ve seen it before; and upon closer examination I came to the realization that it was the very sack from which I had once scattered seed over the level ground at the bottom of another round-topped hill: the one near my old home where I had first seen the eight-legged horse grazing in the moonlight.
A snatch of verse went flitting through my mind:
Plant it, sow it in the ground,
Cast it all away.
In its time it shall be found
And live again.
Approaching the hill in quest of a nearer view, I saw the branches of the tree bending under the weight of a crop of large golden apples. These I recognized in an instant as the same golden apples that had once filled the basket given me by the lady of the linen kirtle. At the tree’s foot stood a great door, like the entrance to a mine, a huge dark chasm gaping in the face of the hill. Beyond the timbers of its massive posts and lintel I saw nothing but an empty blackness.
“Yes,” said a voice at my ear. “It is just as you suppose.”
At the sound I gave a start and turned. Once again I found the small gray bird sitting on my shoulder.
“Just as I suppose?”
“Do you not? And did you not expect and hope that it would turn out to be so? That in its time all should be found and live again? Look up on the hillside. Tell me what you see.”
I gazed and bit my lip. “I’m not sure,” I said.
“Are you not? Then look again! This tree, as you have surely guessed, is the source of the apples that renewed your strength and youth. It is the Beginning and the End. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations.”
I pondered this a moment. Then: “Do you mean to say that I have simply come full circle?”
He clacked his beak and shook his head. “No circles,” he said. “Only spirals. Rising spirals. Will you ascend?”
I was longing for a taste of those golden apples. “Show me,” I said.