“Tell the truth!” said the small gray bird sharply.
As he spoke, he fluttered upwards into the air above my head and flashed his eyes at me terribly. Small as he was, I cowered before him, awed at the sight. The outline of his form grew indistinct and began to shimmer and vibrate. An aura as of fire seemed to glow about his head. It was as if he were on the verge of some great transformation. But the transformation did not come. Instead, he fluttered down and perched quietly on my shoulder again.
“Did you forget us and our gifts?” asked the dove. “Did you not remember the one you were seeking?” Here voice was sad and gentle, and I thought I caught the glint of a tear in her eye.
“No, I did not forget,” I answered. “It’s just that – well, here you all are, obviously quite real and alive, and I hardly know what to say. But when I was alone and could not see you …”
“What then?” asked the grim raven.
“Why, other things – the things I could see – seemed far more real to me then,” I said. I felt pleased that I had been able to put my thoughts into words.
“What things?” asked the sparrow, cocking her head to one side and regarding me out of one eye.
“The endless sea,” I said. “The sun that would not rise. The sense of dread in my own heart. The faces and words of the raftsmen.”
“What about my cloak?” croaked the raven. “Did it no longer keep you warm?”
“And my lamp?” asked the dove. “Did its light ever go out?”
“And my basket of apples?” chirped the sparrow. “Did you ever find it empty?”
“Only once,” I said, looking from one to the other. “At the very end, I gave up the basket to the steersman, and when he handed it back, it was empty. Other than that, none of these gifts ever failed me.”
“But if they never failed you,” asked the raven, “how could you give them up so easily?”
“It was not easy,” I answered slowly. “But at the time they seemed less important to me than the saving of my life.”
The dove cooed sadly. “Did you not see,” she said, “that it was these gifts and these gifts alone that had preserved your life up to that very moment?”
I was tired of attempting to make a defense for my actions. Even before the birds had come I was already regretting the loss of the three gifts. Now as they spoke I was smitten with the full realization of my foolishness. I fell down with my face to the rock and began to cry.