I obeyed. I was led through the streets for what seemed a long, long time. At last an alley between two long, low, dark buildings opened into a large, surprisingly empty space, grassy but treeless. On a little hill out in the middle of this open place I saw him, standing, as it were, at the top of the earth’s curve, his heavy sack beside him on the ground. I saw the tip of his slouched hat nodding black against clusters of stars. Otherwise he did not move; but I felt him beckoning me to join him just the same.
Slowly, I began to move forward. At each step the burning fire and comforting warmth within grew stronger and became more completely fused and melded together until they became one new thing: an overwhelming sense of awe, a kind of holy fear. By this time I was weary to the point of exhaustion, but still I did not stop.
And now the Firebird reappeared and hovered over the little hill whereon he stood. Shadows danced in a widening circle, stretching, squatting, darting, leaping. I came to him and laid the body at his feet. He spoke to me, but his words were dark and strange. When I try to recall them, they come back to me as a little song:
Plant it, sow it in the ground,
Cast it all away.
In its time it shall be found
And live again.
Sow it, plant it in the earth,
Seek for it no more;
Until in death it finds rebirth
And lives again.
Looking down, I saw that the shape at my feet was a body no longer, but a large sack of seed. From under the brim of the tall slouched hat I could feel his eyes upon me, watching me patiently to know what I would do. I undid the mouth of the sack, lifted it as best I could, and dragged it to the foot of the little hill. Then I began to walk around the hill in ever-widening circles, throwing out handfuls of grain on my right and on my left as I went.
When at last the seed was spent and I have covered the whole of the grassy field with it, he said, “Now follow me!” Nearby grazed an eight-legged horse, glossy white, sleek and strong, shimmering with a moon-like sheen. In one swift motion he leapt to the horse’s back and set his heavy sack before him.
“Follow me if you will!” he repeated. Then off he rode at a gallop four times as fast as that of any horse anyone has ever seen. In seconds he had passed clean out of my sight.
For a moment I stared after him, bewildered. Then I sat down on the ground with my head in my hands, wondering how I would ever catch up with him. The night had now become very dark, and I found myself wishing for the sunrise with a longing intense as a physical pain.
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