The Firebird XVII

Let it pass 001



To this day it amazes me to recall what the sight of that boat did to me.  I suddenly became aware of my situation in a new way, and my mood and perspective were entirely altered in an instant.  I was adrift on the open sea, caught in the ocean current, cold, alone, lost, helpless, at the point of death!  Why had I not seen it before?  At the thought, the wound in my heart turned cold.

I must get to that boat! I thought.  Waving the lamp above my head, I cried out frantically once again, “Over here!  This way!  Can’t you see me?”

I could see the boat drawing nearer.  But just when it had come close enough for those aboard to hear my cries and see my light, the voice of the small gray bird spoke to me once again.

“Let it pass,” it said.

“Let it pass?” I nearly choked.  “My one and only hope of reaching safety?  My last chance of escaping alive?”

“Hush,” he said in a stern but even softer tone.  “Let the boat pass.  It is not your only hope.  Look – it is moving in the wrong direction!”

“I don’t care about that!” I spluttered.  “I only want – ”

But I did not finish.  Somehow I realized, without knowing why, that I must do as the bird said.  And so, lowering my lamp, I hid its light in the folds of my cloak.  Then I pulled the hood low over my face and watched very quietly as the boat crested a wave, dipped into the trough, and slipped silently past me.  So close did it pass that I could see the faces of the sailors in the lantern’s glow; kind, friendly faces I thought.  A tear came to my eye and slid down my cheek.  I felt certain now that I was utterly lost.

I drifted on.  And as I drifted, it seemed to me that not merely hours, but days and even weeks went by, and still the light on the horizon did not change.

All this while I had nothing to support or sustain me but my cloak, my lamp, and my basket of apples, and these served me amazingly well.  Not only did the cloak prevent me from sinking – it also kept me warm and comfortable despite my being wet through and through, floating as I was up to my neck in the choppy waters.  My little lamp burned small but bright, never once going out or even dimming, for the water seemed to have no power to extinguish it.  What’s more, the oil never ran low though I had no means of replenishing it.  As often as I grew cold and empty, I had only to eat one of the golden apples to be instantly refreshed and warmed from the inside out.  Here, too, was a miracle:  for no matter how many apples I ate, there were always seven remaining in the basket.

On and off I slept – this could not be helped, for as my ordeal dragged on I grew bored as well as weary – and this further confused my sense of the passage of time.  Eventually a pattern developed:  wrapping myself snugly in the cloak, I would doze for a while; upon waking and finding my stomach empty and my heart cold, I would eat one of the golden apples; then, my spirits being revived, I would raise the clay lamp above my head and try to get my bearings, hoping in my heart of hearts for a sight of another boat.

None ever appeared – none, that is, until at last there came a time when I found myself roused from sleep by a great rush as of the cleaving of many waters and saw the glimmer of lights approaching on the water.  In the excitement of the moment I neglected to eat one of the apples, so that when I lifted my lamp and turned to look, it was with a cold and desperate heart that I beheld the sight that met my eyes.

It was a ship ­– a huge, three-masted vessel, gilded and richly bedecked as a treasure galleon.

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