ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a sparrow who had fire on each of his wingtips and was very interested in the business of people. One day, he flew over a little field where an old man was reaping. Because he was curious, the bird flew down and asked the man who he was, and what was his business in the field.
“I am reaping wheat,” said the man, “but who I am is more difficult a question. I am very poor, and very small, but that is better because then I am always looking at the sky.”
“A good answer,” said the sparrow, “And who is your wife?”
“A better sort than me, to be sure. She is very wise; she knows both how one goes to Heaven and how Heaven goes, and a great deal more than that.”
“One wonders how she has used her wisdom.”
“In the best of ways,” answered the man. “They say that when she was only a young woman, the earth opened before her and she fell into a crevice, but she was not daunted for she knew how rash the ground could be at times, and that it didn’t mean it. She had a box of matches with her, so she struck one and looked about her, and found a flower that was big and very beautiful. It was shaped a little like a rose, and its petals were red and blue. She knew enough not to touch it, but thought about it enough to peek between the petals. There she found droplets of dew that seemed to be of the purest kind. And she was wise enough to know the ways of fire and water, and what wonders they did together because they were both a part of love, like passion and chastity. So she took her match and touched its flaming tip ever so lightly to the dew, and in an instant there was a fairy before her, a prince. He was dressed in a robe of rubies and sapphires. He said to her ‘I will grant you one wish if it is in good intention.’ And so she asked to be married to a young man she knew, which was I, and so we were married.”
“A marvelous story you tell me,” said the sparrow, “Where is she now?”
“She is in the woods gathering raisins and honey, for when this wheat is ground into flour we will make a loaf .”
The sparrow flew off immediately, and found the woman near the wild grapevines gathering raisins, for the honeycomb was already in the basket.
“Who are you, and what is your business?” the sparrow called out, though he already knew.
“I am gathering raisins for a loaf,” said the woman, “As for who I am, it will suffice to say it is a great blessing to be a nobody on earth and a queen in Heaven.”
Then the sparrow asked who her husband was, though he already knew.
“A better sort than me to be sure,” answered the woman. “He is very brave, and will not lie for fear of anything.”
“One wonders if he has ever proved this.”
“He has indeed!” said the woman. “They say when he was still a young man and not yet married, the king, who was a bad-tempered tyrant at the time, owned a beautiful flower that was red and blue. One day, it withered, and its seeds were blown by the wind into my husband’s house. Some say one of the seeds went deep into the earth a long way away, but that is another story. Soon, a red-and-blue flower grew up in the house. Now the king, enraged at the loss of his flower, declared that whoever had the flower in his house would be put to death immediately, and if no one said anything, the first man he saw would die and many more after that. Of course my husband would not let this happen, so he told the king’s guards that the flower was in his house. The king came as quickly as he could on a chariot, but just as he had his sword drawn, a candle fell on the petals of the flower and a fairy queen emerged from it. Her hair was so black that it had a blue sheen like the plumage of a raven, and her cheeks were rosy. She strung a tiny bow with a little bit of cobweb, and fired an arrow at the king. They say it knocked the sword out of the king’s hand so that the blade cut his shoulder. Then the fairy queen granted my husband one wish, and he asked to be married to a young woman he knew, which was I, and so we were married.”
“Wonderful!” said the sparrow with a little twinkle, for he knew that in times like these, when one and one fit more perfectly together than two and two do in math, a kind of magic can be worked by sparrows with fire on their wingtips. He already had something in mind.
He went back to his nest for a bit of string, which he spun with his feet as the spinning wheel, and wove with his wings as a loom. By then he was in a bit of tangle, which was the beginning of his disguise, and when he had dipped himself in a river with the sun reflected in it three times, he looked just like an old beggar. And then he hurried to the house of the old couple.
There they had just finished baking their loaf with honey and raisins, when they heard a knock on the door. The beggar, who was really the sparrow, asked to be taken in for the night, and they kindly agreed.
The man, the woman, and the beggar ate supper together, all having a little bit of the loaf. All the while the beggar kept asking them questions.
“Do you know of the red love?” he asked.
“Of course,” said the man.
“Do you know of the blue love?”
“Yes,” said the woman. “For the poor man must constantly look to God.”
“Then you are happy!” declared the beggar.
“Yes,” said the woman. “Except. . .”
“Except we have no children,” said the man. “We never have had any children.”
“Is that your wish?” said the beggar. “Do you wish for a child?”
“We cannot have a child,” said the man. “We are much too old.”
“Do you wish for a child?” the beggar repeated.
And then the woman said, “Yes!” and clasped her husband’s hand, because she had faith. The beggar transformed into a sparrow before them, and then flew higher up into the night sky, the roof of the house melting away, it seemed.
“They wish for a child!” the sparrow called out. And then, a blazing star fell from Heaven and landed where their hands were joined, and up out of that place grew a beautiful flower whose petals were red and blue. And where the petals unfolded, there was a tiny child.
The house was then very quiet. The woman carried the child into the bedroom, and the man took out the old cradle they had bought but never used. They put the child inside, and she fell fast asleep.
The child grew into a girl, and then a woman. And soon, the winter of her twentieth year, the old man and the old woman died. But their daughter planted the seeds of the red-and-blue flower near their graves. And she was not afraid that they would not grow, because her mother had taught her the ways of the seed, how it dies but makes something new if it is given water from the rain and fire from the sunlight. And she was not afraid that anyone would destroy it before she herself was destroyed, for her father had taught her always to stand and look to God until the last moment.
That spring, the seeds sprouted into a million flowers, red and blue like so many flames. First was the red flame, and then the blue flame which was even more deep.
And when the daughter had grown old and would die soon, she brought all of her children and grandchildren to the grave.
“Do you know what the red flame means?”
“Of course,” they said.
“And do you know what the blue flame means?”
“Not very well,” they answered.
“It is very quiet,” she told them.
Then one of the younger ones asked if it was also very weak.
“Very weak,” she said, “But because of that it is the strongest of all. The blue flame has its own kind of passion. It is always pointed toward Heaven, so it is good to have it before you have the red flame. Though the red flame can lead to the blue flame. Both are the greatest of all. Do you understand?”
“Good,” she said. “Now I may pass on. But you must remember to plant a seed by my grave, and tend to it carefully, and keep it away from hot-tempered kings.”
“We will,” they said. And when she died, they did just that.
They say the flower still grows there, and never wilts.
ArrowInTheBowOfTheLord is a student in the Twin Cities currently engaged in converting her flights of fancy into poems, stories, and comics.