The Second Spell
Truth be told, I don't have a cat. Sorry if that's a disappointment for you. Poets often have cats, it seems. A pet to pet between easily acquired phrases or a distracting friend to play with when the words won't come. Wait a minute, I don't think I mentioned that I'm a poet. An unconscious, on purpose, omission, no doubt. After all, I did want you to read the book. But you're not like that, are you? You wouldn't drop me like a hot tomato (your use of language is fascinating) just because of an occasional affair with an old love - words? I don't have a dog either, though I like their enthusiasm. I like cats a little less because I love birds and the aforementioned mice. Yes, I know, it's just their nature to hunt. I have nothing against them personally, I'm just not crazy about their line of work. Also, who'd take care of a cat or a dog while the boy and I are off roaming around? Domestication entails responsibility. As for wild creatures, I sometimes seem to be surrounded by them. The woods overflow through my walls on a regular basis which suits me down to the ground and up to the ceiling. Sometimes, a handsome badger stops by for a chat. And a well-mannered skunk, who wouldn't dream of displaying his rather awesome power to persuade, just happens to be passing by and wonders if perhaps I made a bit too much for supper again. Even a deer or two has been known to poke a gentle face through the closed curtain crack, but it's mostly the lovely little ones who crawl into my inside world and melt my heart and the frost between their toes. And speaking of cold toes, did you know that squirrels and chipmunks are particularly fond of dozing in slippers?
Now, the legend is that wizards and witches are supposed to have a familiar (or is that just witches?), an animal to do their bidding. In the stories, this usually means a black cat on an evil mission. What rubbish! I won't even get into (not yet) the absurdity of witchcraft being evil, but can you imagine any cat doing what a human tells them to do? Or a cat's reply to a command? Sorry, sorry, there I go again. It's the birds, you see. Anyway, I suppose you could say that I do have a familiar. And all I mean by that is that my animal friend and I know each other well and that he's always quite willing to fly me a favour when the need arises.
Merry is a sparrow. Actually, his complete name is Merryweather Fairyfeather. Well, to be completely accurate and completely complete, his name is The Right Honourable Sir Merryweather Fairyfeather, Night Errant, Sun Glider Supreme, Wingmaster of the Golden Seed, Keeper of the Ancient Talon, and Very Good Friend Indeed to Redbeak, King of the Sparrows (I won't go into how many names he has. But Merry calls him Wobblewing, in a most affectionate way, of course. It's a measure of how close he is to the old King.). Anyway, I call him Merry, for that was his request. And he calls me Kiernan because that's my name. Long though I've travelled the Universal Highway, my name has never grown any longer. And anything else that people call me is none of my doing and usually only a measure of how little they really know about me, a collection of half-truths and quarter lies they got from a friend of a friend who wasn't there to begin with. I'm speaking of the bad rumours, of course. The good stuff is completely true.
When I first met Merry, he looked a little odd. I heard a tapping at my window, but when I swung it open, there was no one there. I was about to blame it on the Faeries (they're like that, you know, they like a little joke, and no one really minds), but as I was turning away, I caught sight of him, a small spot of excited movement in the otherwise peaceful yard. There he stood, on the garden wall, balancing on one leg while waving his wings above his head to get my attention. He looked like a cross between a tightrope walker and someone trying to flag down a ride. It was one of those close your eyes and shake your head moments, but when I peered out again, he was still there. In a flash, I was out the door and across the yard. Sometimes, no matter how silly something looks, you just know it's not something to be taken lightly. When I reached him, he looked up at me and half-chirped, half-sang in that wonderful language that they have, "I'm hurt, Sir Wizard," and looked down at his leg.
His voice seemed that of a child, though I knew he wasn't. Emergencies can do that to the bravest of us. I almost said, "Poor wee soul," but caught myself in time. At first glance, I couldn't see anything wrong with the leg, but I could feel the pain energy in the air. "Shall I pick you up then, and we'll go inside and have a look?" It's always good to ask first.
"Yes, please," he said, sounding a bit relieved already.
On examination, the leg proved to be broken. I connected as quickly as possible with The Powers That Be and gave him my best mending spell, then surrounded the leg with a small Spell of Immobilization (for it was a very small leg) that works quite well as a cast. "You'll be right as raindrops in a few days," I told him, "though it might take longer if you don't rest enough. You're quite welcome to stay here for as long as you like."
"That's very kind of you, Sir Wizard. Thank you for the fixing too. It doesn't even hurt very much anymore.”
"Oh, good. My name's Kiernan, by the way."
"Kiernan Bytheway," he considered, "I like it. I once knew a Robin whose short name was Redfeather Bythebush." He then proceeded to sing the fellow's full name and quite an adventurous name it was.
"Hmm," I said, appreciatively, and meant it. "Actually though, my name is just Kiernan." I immediately regretted using the word just, but he took my meaning.
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Kiernan. My very shortest name is Merry and I would be most happy if you were to call me that."
"Merry, now there's a nice name." He seemed pleased by the compliment. I was rather hoping that the complete version would have something to do with Christmas, but when he answered my request and told me his series of titles in a slightly embarrassed way, I realized that here was not only a bird who had the King's ear, well hidden though it may be, but also someone who, having done things for the right reasons (which is to say, not for fame and glory), had earned his perch by the King's side.
I decided not to pursue all the questions that immediately popped into my head. Though I had some idea of what the Ancient Talon was, and had heard of King Redbeak, of course, phrases such as Sun Glider Supreme made it very difficult to honour his discomfort with titles and such. Perhaps when we knew each other a little better. So I said, "If you don't mind me asking, how did you hurt your leg?" I didn't think he'd have any new information that would help me with his healing. I'd already done all that I could and knew he'd be fine. It just seemed a confidence inspiring, doctorly thing to say. And I was interested.
"It was a Merlin, a hawk," he added, in case I misunderstood. "I'm sure I just happened by at eating time. Probably nothing personal. It's just their nature, though I wish they'd see that there's another way. Anyway, my mind was not in the moment and I only caught sight of him in time. Well, in time to still be here on this fine earth as something other than food."
And so our friendship began. We sat and talked the pleasant afternoon away, the topics being this, that, and the other thing (the other thing being the most fascinating for the likes of Merry and me, and you, of course). And by the time the sun found the West window and rippled a shadow on the wall that we traced back to my forgotten dishes floating in the sink, we both knew that we had found a new friend-link to the world beyond the world, that special stuff, the metaphysical, mysterious, could it be possible, strange as it seems, just beyond easy reach stuff, you know, the other thing.
Sometime before dark, supper seemed an appropriate venture, so we rubbed our hands together and set to work. Well, Merry ruffled his wings and offered advice about what he'd seen cooks do in the kitchen. I swear I could have easily made a perfect apple pie from his detailed instructions but, as I was only planning on having two blueberry jam sandwiches and a cup of tea, it wasn't of much help. Interesting though. As for Merry, he chose from an assortment of seeds I keep handy for other feathered friends (not the most interesting looking choice, I thought, but birds know best in these matters) and we munched and mmm'd for a tasty while, feasting as much on the sunset as the sandwiches and seeds.
At this point, I must ask that you bear with me when I use phrases such as "feathered friends." I'm not much for cliches usually, but doesn't it just sound so nice? Try it. Feathered Friends. We all are, you know. You just can't see the wings.
As I had predicted, Merry's leg was as right as raindrops in three days. He stayed a fourth to be sure, but I think it was more that neither of us wanted him to leave than for any health reason. We'd had a wonderful time. He's usually quite a busy fellow in his capacity as right wing bird to the King, and my nose had become a little worn down keeping it a bit too close to the cosmic grindstone. Rest and respite seemed in order. And this was before I met Wenna so, although I wasn't lonely in my aloneness, the company of such a charming little creature was a rare treat. The days flew by and we stood still, content to feel the world beneath our feet while our spirits spread out in all directions.
Now, you've probably noticed, if you've taken the time, that sparrows hop quite a lot. Their legs are not just landing gear or branch grabbers and Merry quite rightly seemed concerned about his return to hopping. So, on the afternoon of the fourth day, after I had removed the Spell of Immobilization, he stood balancing on one leg, ready to check out the equipment, so to speak. A very serious sparrow tentatively hopping from one leg to the other, then slowly using both to turn-hop this way and that, doing a figure eight (both ways, mind you), a quick stop, and a squat down to check out the dust bath position, all the while giving himself commands such as, "Right turn, OK, left turn, that works, stop, good, good," is a little hard to deal with without getting a bit too smiley for the importance of the moment. But I managed, and gave him the thumbs-up look every time he turned my way. Then, he launched and landed a few times, perched from a dozen different angles, wished there was more of a wind (something about the velocity to grip ratio), hovered twice to be sure (I wouldn't have thought that entered into it, but...), before he settled down onto my hand, very pleased that everything was in working order. "Thank you so much," he said.
How often we associate birds with the sky and flying when they probably spend more time on the ground or perching on something attached to it. I asked Merry why he thought that was. He said, "Because people don't fly, and really want to?" This seemed a simple and even obvious answer, but something told me to continue. I asked how he felt about being able to fly. And he answered, "I love to fly. I think most birds would tell you the same. But I don't dream about it or say if only I could, because I can." He paused, searching for more. "When I was a fledgeling, I almost didn't learn to fly because it meant so much to me. I dreamed of soaring while my siblings dreamed of food." At this point, he laughed and laughed. A sparrow's laugh is hard to spot. Part whistle, but mostly tail waggle. "That's not fair really, they wanted to fly too, but I was obsessed. Once we were big enough, they flew away and poor me, who couldn't wait for it, was stuck in the nest. It seemed so unfair. I cried a lot, but it didn't help. My parents were very kind, and their logic was perfect, undeniable. But there I perched. I kept thinking and trying to convince myself that I could do it. But nothing could budge my fear of the ground. Then, one morning, after a particularly good discussion with myself, a spark inside me must have flared up because I suddenly knew that I could fly, and I did. After that, there was never any doubt because I'd experienced the truth of it. I knew the sky was mine. There was no denying that I could fly simply because I had flown."
"What was the spark?" I asked.
“I'm not completely sure. There was something about... letting life be as it is. Then, just for a moment, I think I may have let go of... wanting to fly, strange as that seems. And then I believed." He looked slightly puzzled, slightly amused, then fluttered down to the ground again to check out something that had caught his eye. Little beings can tell us so much if we trade dismissal for an open mind, and heart. Even the ones that aren't as clever as Merry know much we might have missed. My path turned a corner on that day and has led me to places within and without that I didn't even know existed at the time. I want to say more but something doesn't feel right. Perhaps The Powers That Be whisper in my ear that this is not the time to open the door too far. But I will tell you this much: to want something is to say you do not have it, and the Universe mirrors thought.
Merry and I said our, "Till we meet agains," soon after and he flew away, happy as a... well, happy as a sparrow and, as a rule, that's quite a lot. I hope he found a perch within your heart and maybe stirred your wings to movement. He's a fine fellow that we'll be meeting many a time before our journey ends. We're bound to have some amazing mindflights with the likes of him, and the others, of course.
Stay tuned for more of The Sparrow Stone