“There lies your course,” said the golden lady. “Quickly now – step down into the pool.”
My reflection shattered into a thousand pieces as I put my foot into the water. She took hold of me by both shoulders and guided me out into the midst of the stream.
“Let the current carry you,” she said. “When you have come to the edge of the sea, to the place where the sun is now sinking in the west, you must pass directly through its fiery circle and out the other side. There you will find Christmas morning breaking. There you will see the one you seek.”
Though the water was cold, I found that it did not chill me in the least. Leaning forward into it, I swam a few strokes, then turned back to wave a final farewell. The golden-haired lady was gone. In her place I saw the sparrow bound upward into the air and then go darting past my head, down the watery corridor, and out into the ruddy sky at the tunnel’s end. Plunging ahead, I began swimming after it.
At the end of the tunnel the stream cascaded down a short fall of smooth white stones. I was plunged head-first into the sea and came up spluttering, blowing, and shaking the hair from my eyes. Clutching the little book tightly to my chest, I fought furiously with one arm and both legs to stay afloat.
This is hopeless! I thought as my mouth filled with brine and my head went under a second time.
Then something hard struck me on the back of the head. I lashed out with my free hand and got hold of the object, only to find that it was one of the logs from the wrecked raft. With a great effort, I pulled myself up over it and clung to its rough rounded surface with all my strength.
This at least should keep me from sinking, I said to myself with a feeling of relief.
A red glow was flickering and playing over the tops of the dancing waves. In the sky above me and not far ahead flew the Firebird, its tail of flame streaming out behind like the tail of a comet. The warming glow returned to my heart and a smile played at the corners of my mouth. Then the powerful current spun the log around and sent me once more out into the depths of the open sea.
For some time all went well. The Firebird remained just ahead of me in the sky, cleaving the dark air like a winged pillar of flame. For my part, I had no reason to trouble myself about keeping up with the pace it set: the sea-current carried me forward without the least effort on my part.
As I drifted onward the ruddy light continued to grow on the horizon. I passed the time by reading in the little book, being wonderfully strengthened and refreshed by its words. Gradually there grew within me a strange sense that I had no more need of food or drink or covering of any kind. The book, the guidance of the Firebird, the motion of the strong sea-current – these, it seemed, were all I required as I continued my journey towards the setting and the rising of the sun.