SUNBIRD

He wears gold and cashmere. He dreams in ancient languages, he interprets his visions at dawn, under the rising gold rays of a newborn sun.
Today he notices a stone beneath the maple roll itself over and break apart. A hatchling is released, naked, into the world, its purple eyes bulging like raisins, the point of its beak opens, and it lets out a songful cry. The sunlight is warm, but the bird still shivers, tiny and exposed to the bleakness of the world. It pecks at the fragments of shell, wanting to return to the warmth, the solitude in ovo, where life was a little less harsh.
The man, in all his finery, stoops to lift the little thing, to warm it against his chest. He closes his eyes and the visions appear to him.
He sees a star falling, a cry of mourning for a mother unknown, a wicker house toppled in the wind. He sees gold. He sees fire. Fire so vast and hungry, he sees death. He sees the sunlight above the flames refract to rainbows through the wings of a great raptor, a beast of the sky. He sees the rainbows shift and shimmer, he sees the fires burn out. With a cry of genesis from the bird, life sprouts from the ashes. Groves of pomegranate trees take shape, lakes form and shift. Among them a fallen star takes wing, creates the wind, and a breath of new beginning.
The chick was a sunbird. A legend passed down through generations. It seemed so small, and so helpless, the man thought. But if the legends where true, the bird was just what he needed. You see, the king of the mountain kingdom was sick, none of the healers he had sent for could cure him, but only alleviate his symptoms for a brief while. There was a reward for whoever could aid the king, and with a sunbird, the man thought, he was sure to cash in.
So he went to the palace, keeping the sunbird warm and safe, feeding it nectar and jewel beetles. He travelled for 2 days and 3 nights. At sunrise on the third day he had an audience with the king, who was now too sick to stand, so the man bowed at his bedside.
“Your grace, I have brought you the sunbird of legend, to cure your ills and ensure you eternal life.”
The sunbird, sat in the man’s hands, cheeped and twittered. It was yet to grow feathers. Surrounded by all the finery of the palace it seemed so ugly and naked. The other healers scorned the man.
“That is no sunbird,” they said, “where are it’s golden feathers? It’s powerful beak? Where is the fire it breathes?”
But the king, propped up on his pillows, reached out one wrinkled hand and lifted the bird to his face. He inspected the creature meticulously.
“Sunbird or not,” he said, crunching his teeth down hard on the bird’s skull, “it is a delicious morsel.”
The congregation stood in shock, as the king began to glow. The age fell away from him, his face filled, his skin smoothed, the glowing grew too bright to look at, those gathered were forced to cast their eyes away from fear of blinding. When the light faded, the king examined his hands with glee, they were soft and plump where they had once been wizened and crooked. His hair was thick and dark again, his eyes clearer than they had been in decades. He stood and clapped the man on the shoulder, a cure had been found, a reward was due.
The man was given mountains of gold and silver, the marriage vows of the king’s youngest daughter, he was given his own palace in the mountains.
However, it was not long before the king began to grow sick again, it was slow at first, the changes barely visible, a grey hair here, a crows foot there, but as days went on his complexion paled, he grew weak and lethargic, his belly began to swell. The man was sent for, no answer was received. The healers did not know what to do. People came from far and wide in hopes of healing the king, the reward this time was greater than the last, and a greater reward still was promised to any who could find the man who first brought the bird.
One morning at court the king fell to the floor howling in agony, clawing at his stomach, then fell still. His corpse tore itself open, and from the bloody gash crawled a bird, huge, magnificent. It shook the blood from its golden feathers, preened itself, opened its beak and wailed a high melodic song. The sound seemed to twist through the air, to ring from the walls and grow only louder. The congregation covered their ears, ran, fell, and were still. The bird left the bodies where they lay.
It prowled the dazzling corridors, catching myriad reflections in the jeweled floors. In the courtyard it took wing and lifted itself with ease through the air in a wide lazy spiral. Then it swooped, dived, and began to breathe fire.

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