At length the voice spoke again, directly above me this time:
“Arise. Now that you have seen what you have seen, it is time that you be up and going again. Christmas morning is poised upon the horizon, and he has promised to meet you there.”
I opened my eyes. There above me I saw the sweet young face of the lady with the golden hair and the circlet of spring flowers smiling down upon me. She touched my brow with her slender fingers and I rose and stood upon the floor and gazed up at her in amazement.
There was a sweet and heady fragrance in the air. Looking around, I saw the reason for this. Everywhere I glanced, on all sides, brilliant flowers of every hue were growing right out of the rock itself, bigger and brighter and more brilliant that any flowers I had ever seen in my life. In another way, too, they were different from the flowers I had known before. Like the body I had seen in the orb of light, they not only put down roots into the floor of the cave, but also sent strong stalks shooting upwards to pierce the ceiling of the chamber.
“What kind of flowers are these?” I asked. “I’ve never seen anything like them! How can they grown down here, away from the light of the sun?”
“These are the seeds and roots of the flowers of your experience. When the stalks break through the ceiling of the cavern, then they appear in the open air of the visible world above. Which is to say that the flowers you remember are really only a very small part of the whole – just the tip of the iceberg. The flowers you see here are the larger unseen truth behind the flowers of the upper world.”
A small underground rivulet gurgled up out of the rock and flowed through the cavern near at hand. Very close to where we stood I saw a small, clear pool fed by its waters.
“Go to the pool,” said the lady. “Look into its waters and tell me what you see.”
I stepped quickly to the pool, leaned over its pure, glassy surface, and gasped with surprise. The face I saw reflected there was not my own face as I remembered it, but rather that of a little child.
“What does this mean?” I cried. “Am I really growing younger?”
“Yes!” the lady laughed. “It is all part of the journey you are making. It comes of eating the golden apples I gave you. Are you displeased?”
“No. Only confused. And yet I remember now that the man I met on the raft spoke to me of this very thing. He too had been wounded by the Firebird, I think.”
For a moment I stood gazing down at the reflection in the pool. Then, turning and looking up into the lady’s face, I said, “But what should I do now? Shall I stay here with you? Is this to be my new home?”
My heart beat faster as I said the words. I loved the lady with the golden hair and wanted desperately to remain in her company. After what I had done, I could hardly believe that I was actually seeing her standing there before me, alive again and smiling at me as if nothing untoward had happened.
“No,” she said. “You must go on. You must continue your journey to the place of the rising sun.
“But how?” I cried. “I have foolishly lost all the good gifts you and your sisters gave me!”
There was a tear in the corner of her eye as she spoke. “You have indeed lost much, but not all. In fact, everything you need for the journey is with you at this very moment. It remains where you have kept it from the very beginning – close to your heart.”
“The book?” I whispered wonderingly. Reaching inside my gown, I found it there next to my skin, intact and whole and completely legible in spite of having been exposed to the rain and the seawater.
“The words of the book are all you need,” she said. “That, and the help of a friend who will never desert you. Look!”
I followed her pointing finger with my eyes to a place where the cavern narrowed to a tunnel through which flowed the little subterranean stream. At the end of the tunnel appeared a patch of blue sky. I could hear the splash of sea-waves echoing down its length. And there in the sky at the tunnel’s end burned a bright reddish star with a long flashing tail.
“The Firebird!” I whispered; and immediately the warm glow returned to the wound in my heart.