Though glad to be free of the yacht and back in the water, I was nevertheless shaken by my experience with the three strange men. A feeling of disorientation overwhelmed me. It was as if I had entirely lost my bearings. I tried to swim, but to no avail. Again and again I sank beneath the water, so that I began to fear that I might drown.
If only I had not so foolishly thrown away my cloak, I thought in despair, and my lamp and basket of apples.
Then I thought of the words of the lady who met me in the cleft of the rock: how she had told me that I had all I needed for my journey in the little book. I drew it from the breast of my nightgown and found it whole, sound, and dry. Opening it quickly, I read the first words that came to my eye, devouring them as a famished traveler gobbles his food: “Look up,” they said, “for help draws near.”
I did look up and found the sky all ablaze. In the next moment the Firebird swooped down and caught me up in his terrible talons. His grip was frightfully strong as with a great roar of flame he soared up into the air, then leveled off and began to glide in wide circles above the surface of the sea.
“Firebird!” I cried in exultation. “Are you now going to carry me the rest of the way?”
“No,” he answered in a voice like a waterfall. “I have lifted you out of the water only to set you down again.”
“But I can’t swim!” I protested. “And I’ve lost the cloak that once kept me afloat. How can I go on?”
“You shall walk,” he said.
“Walk? What do you mean?”
“Child,” he answered, “I have come to tell you that you have done well. You have chosen to remain true – true to your own smallness and weakness. You have trusted in your Guide rather than in yourself. In that weakness I will set you down upon the surface of the water and you shall walk upon it; and in the end you will find that none of the devices and machinations of men shall be able to outdo you.”
So he did as he had said. He flew down and set me on the water once again; and to my surprise I stood upon it and walked. It was a strange sensation at first and difficult to get used to – like trying to get your sea-legs aboard ship, only without a ship. Several times I lost my balance, stumbled, and fell as I tried to step over the uneven and constantly shifting surface of the waves. But I did not sink, and after each fall I was quickly able to rise again. In the end I found that, with careful concentration and the right mindset, I was able to find smooth and solid footing just beneath the surface, and thus walk steadily forward while the waves broke and sloshed over and around my feet.
“You are doing well,” said a familiar voice at my ear. It was the small gray bird with the eyes of burning blue.
“Yes, thank you,” I said. “I think so too.”
“Walk straight on,” said the bird, “towards the glow on the horizon. The place is not far now. When you get there you must not stop, but go straight through. Remember my words and listen for my voice. If you meet with trouble, look up and I will be there. Remember the Book.”
A moment later the Firebird reappeared in the sky and began to lead the way forward. I followed, walking on the water and feeling as if I were making great progress, onward and ever onward towards the place of the rising sun.