Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lady Phoenix Arrives

At that moment, Lady Phoenix was close enough that both the king and his councilor-cook could see that the great phoenix was not entirely black in color even though she was depicted by all the artists of history as a great black bird. For behold, the underside of her great wings were covered with feathers of every color in the rainbow, blue and red, and green and purple, and orange and yellow. It was true that her feathers were tipped in black, even the vibrantly colored feathers, because the phoenix’s feathers and wings were singed by the fires of the lower regions of Hell, her home.

A keening sound was soon heard carried by the wind to the ears of not only Storm King and Councilor Tam, but also to the ears on the sides of the tiny black head that had broken free of the gray shell fragments. The keening sound was low at first but soon became quite loud, as Lady Phoenix neared the place where Storm King and his faithful attendant were standing.

Just as the little baby phoenix was finally breaking free of the last of the eggshell, turning its head and picking at the shell fragments stuck to its back with its little red beak, the mother phoenix landed on the desert sand. She folded her great wings close to her body, hiding the colorful feathers so that she appeared black as coal and fierce as a thunderstorm, her movements kicking up the sand, which whirled over the king and his attendant. They had to lower their eyelids to avoid the gritty sand’s sting in their eyes. Lady Phoenix towered over Storm King and Councilor Tam, staring down at the basket in Tam’s hands.

The baby phoenix shook itself as it stepped out of the broken eggshell and then stopped to peck under its wing to scratch itself. It didn’t seem to notice its mother standing nearby until she called to it with a low cooing sound. Have you ever heard a phoenix cooing? It is a sound that makes the goosebumps on your skin appear, a sound at once low and sweet and yet mysterious and menacing. For the phoenix mother’s call is an affectionate call to its own birdling but a stern warning to any persons nearby to stay away from its offspring.

“Put the basket down!” whispered Storm King to Councilor Tam urgently. “Put it down right now.”

As Tam began to set the basket with the baby phoenix down between his feet and his king's feet, Storm King whispered even more urgently, “No, you foolish son of a foolish mother, not here, not near us. Over there, a distance from where we’re standing.”

The Councilor hurriedly set the bird and the basket down a distance about ten paces away. Lady Phoenix promptly walked over to the basket and bent her head to the birdling. With her large red beak, she gently picked up her baby and set it down on the sand, cooing all the while in her low, sweet voice. The baby bird turned its head to its mother and tried to answer, but could only manage a few short squawks, and then promptly sat down. It opened its beak wide and began to make a sound that could only be described as crying.

Storm King was puzzled to hear the crying of the little bird, but Councilor Tam knew what the crying meant. After all, as the king’s own loyal cook, he knew what a hungry person sounded like, and a hungry baby phoenix doesn’t sound any different. Tam thought, “What shall we feed this little birdling? We must not upset the mother phoenix by allowing her little baby to go hungry.” Then an idea came to the wise Councilor, who had regained his composure after his initial fright at greeting the great black Hell bird. Why, he would offer the mother phoenix the three small eggs that he was saving for his king’s dinner. Raw egg mixed with cooked rice from his supplies would make a fine meal for a baby phoenix.

Tam carefully set the raw egg and rice mixture before the mother phoenix and backed away quickly, all the while bowing to Lady Phoenix. He hoped that she wouldn’t peck his eyes out or rip his arms from his shoulders. He prayed to the gods and goddesses of the High Sky that the gift of the food he had prepared for Lady Phoenix to feed her youngster would be pleasing to her.

The councilor-cook began to worry, too, about what he would feed his still hungry king, whose dinner had been interrupted by the hatchling. Shall we find out tomorrow?

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