“Rise,” came the voice of the small gray bird at my ear. “Be comforted.”
“What comfort can I have?” I sobbed. “I have lost everything. What can I do?”
“There is only one thing to do,” he answered. “You must continue your journey to the place of the rising sun. There is no way back and no other way forward. In this you must find comfort.”
In spite of my tears I raised my head and laughed.
“Comfort!” I cried bitterly. “That is no comfort! Don’t you see? I cannot continue this journey! I have neither the courage, the strength, nor the wisdom. I have proven to you and to myself that I am not good enough!”
He was starting to reply – saying something about someone who had all strength and wisdom and power – but suddenly I was on my feet and in a red rage. The bird fluttered up from my shoulder and hovered above my head. I stooped and scooped up some loose pieces of rock that lay at my feet.
“Get out of here!” I shouted, hurling a handful at the birds. “Get away from me! What do I want with you anyhow? I know that you hate me! That’s clear to me now! Not that I blame you for it. But I want you to go! Go away! I am not fit for your company!”
There was a great rustling and fluttering of wings as they all beat a hasty retreat before my mad onslaught. But they did not go far. Instead, they flew in cautious circles round about the rock, not far above my head. This, of course, only infuriated me all the more. As if crazed with anger, I hurled rock upon rock after them into the air, trying madly to drive them off. So blind, so careless was the fit into which I had fallen that it came to me as a shock when one of my missiles actually found its mark. In the next moment I saw the sparrow plummet from the sky to the dark rock several yards in front of me.
Instantly my anger dropped away from me like a loosened garment. Chilled in the grip of a sudden and naked horror I stood dumbfounded, feeling as if I had been pierced to the heart with a knife of frozen fire. In the shock of the moment my knees buckled under me. I fell and scraped my arms and legs against the rock. Then, scrambling to my feet, I ran to the spot where the tiny bird had landed.
What was my surprise when I reached the place and found not the sparrow stretched lifeless upon the ground, but the beautiful young lady who had given me the basket of apples! Her rich golden hair spilled unbound over the bare blackness of the rock. Scattered nearby lay the fragments of her circlet of spring flowers. The light in her fair eyes was gone, and she lay on her back with her right arm twisted unnaturally beneath her body. All down her right side the kirtle of pure white linen was stained with dark blood.
“What have I done?” I cried, flinging myself upon her and tearing my hair with both hands. “How could I have been so cruel and hateful?”
For a long time I lay there, weeping and wailing uncontrollably, gouging my cheeks with my nails, trying frantically but unsuccessfully to rouse her.
At last, black with despair, I got up and cast about for a way to destroy myself. Not far away I saw huge cleft in the rock, a yawning chasm slicing straight down into the depths of the earth.
Without another thought, I cast myself down into it.