The Firebird XIII

Three Ladies 001


Far out to sea a small black speck was moving against the glow on the horizon. “The eight-legged horse!” I said to myself, and my heart leapt at the idea. Above the speck, three quarters of the way to the zenith, a bright red star appeared, bright enough to be visible in the lightening sky.


                                        He comes! He comes!

                                        Christmas morning is soon to arise!


Voices were chanting again. I turned at the sound. There beside me on the narrow ridge stood three ladies, tall and gracious, each one exceedingly fair, each one different from the other two. I wheeled around to cast an enquiring glance at my guide; but even as I looked upon her she vanished away, her bright form dissolving into a million dancing radiant specks which in the next instant were scattered by the wind. I was left alone in the presence of the three.

“Who are you?” I asked timidly. Though I sensed somehow that they meant me nothing but good, still I felt cold with dread as well as with the east sea wind.

Without answering my question, the first one stepped close to me. “Take this cloak,” she said. She was dark as the night sky, with raven-black hair caught back in a silver circlet, but her eyes shone bright as two stars. It was in her eyes that I perceived how very old she was – older than the mountains, older than the dark sea. And yet she was breathtakingly beautiful. She was wrapped in a shroud of dark blue, like the blue of deepest heaven. The cloak she held out to me was of the same color.

“You are but a child,” she said to me. “This cloak will protect and keep you. It will cover folly and a multitude of sins. Without it you will be a helpless, naked infant. Wear it well.”

With that she cast the cloak around my shoulders and fastened it at the throat with a silver brooch. Then she withdrew a step.

“Take this lamp,” said the second, who now advanced. Her hair was dusky red, her eyes burning amber. A simple band of red gold circled her brow. Her robe was of the sunset’s subtlest hues. In her hand she held a simple oil lamp of red clay. At the end of its gently curving spout burned a small yellow flame.

“You are but a child,” she said, holding the lamp out to me (and somehow I knew that she herself could never be young or old). “This lamp will light your way and banish your darkness. Without it you will be a blind baby. Take it and use it well.” She put the lamp into my hand and touched my fingers as they closed around its ear-shaped handle. Then she stepped back.

Now the third approached. She was young, fresh, and fair as the first spring rain. Her hair was of bright gold, circled with a garland of living flowers. Her eyes were blue and shining. She wore a simple kirtle of fine white linen and her feet were bare. In her hand she held a basket of golden apples.

“Take these apples,” she meekly said, bowing and proffering the basket. “You are but a child, and these apples will serve to keep you so; for should you ever outgrow childhood, you would also outgrow him whose coming we await.” Then, with a curtsey, she too withdrew.

I looked out to sea. The black speck had all but disappeared. Something hot surged up within me.

“You say that he is coming,” I said, “and yet I have been pursuing him all this night, and still he eludes me. Perhaps he comes for you but not for me.”

Except for the whistling of the wind all was very quiet on the steep blue ridge. Then suddenly the maiden with the flowers in her hair began to laugh – a bright, merry, musical laugh.

“Have you indeed been pursuing him?” she asked with a cheery glint in her eye. “Was it not he who persuaded you to come out when you were unwilling?”

“What she says is true,” said a familiar voice at my ear.

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