When I was a little girl, my grandmother would tell me legends. She often said that they were the foundations of life. So when the snow fell outside, and the fire burned low, she would unfold her apron and her knowledge.
"Before the time of cars, of electricity, before the time of men, before the new era, there were beasts. Some beasts were beasts like you and I know, bears and bees and birds. But some were magical. Some were more than we could ever be." Grandmother stopped and swallowed, her voice dry and cracked. "Unicorns, griffins, faeries, all were well and true, but of all the creatures in the world, one was different. One was special. She was the bird of birds.
"She had no name, though some now call her the, 'Ice Phoenix'. Her blue, white, and purple feathers were smoother and more majestic than the finest silks. Her eyes shone like polished diamonds that caught the first rays of morning sunlight. Her beak was a golden beacon of hope for all who saw it."
Grandmother coughed, her great blue eyes that inspired me every day welled up with tears. "But she was the saddest creature on earth. Beautiful and sad, because she was the only creature of her kind. She was destined to live forever, to help others, but to be forever alone."
"Her breath healed wounds. She was kind and nurturing. Let me tell you the one time when she was not the rescuer, but the rescued."
As I stared, hypnotized, into the dancing flames, I tried to imagine all these crazy possibilities. I listened to her story, having no idea that I would be living it.
She died when I was 13. Sitting here, looking out across the ocean and the mountains beyond that, I can only think of her. It has been five years, and I still remember her smile. My grandmother. After she died, I went to work in the king's palace. We fell in love, and I am to be married today. A life of riches when all I want is my only family back.
A rustling from the trees behind me disturbs my thoughts. Turning I see trampled grass and a few tree branches on the ground. I stand up from my cliff-facing rock and tuck my raven-black hair behind my ear, striding over to the edge of the forest.
"Hello?" I call. The trees answer me in silence. "Who is it?"
Suddenly, a bird calls from the forest. I narrow my eyes, and walk through the veil of branches. I only go a few paces before I see what made the noise.
It is a bird, but not one like I have ever seen. With eyes like diamonds, a golden beak, and blue, white, and purple iridescent feathers, she is the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on.
She is sprawled across the ground by the roots of a tree. A black arrow sticks out of her chest, and her wound is oozes a white liquid that I think could be called blood.
"Ca-ca-caraw!" She calls again, struggling to breathe. I rush to her side and kneel down. As I look into the depths of the diamond eyes, I gasp.
She is the bird that my grandmother told me about, years ago. The black arrow in her side. I had all but forgotten about the story. How can I remove the arrow? I wrack my brain for answers, but none come. I look back at the bird.
Her eyes are empty and hollow, no longer shining. The light of her life is going out. The tangling moss of the forest floor shimmers with the white blood.
I look into her eyes and all I feel is sadness. A desperate grasping for something hopeful in my void of dark. A tear trickles down my cheek, onto the end of the arrow embedded in her chest.
Then, something magical happens. My tear drips down into the stream of white liquid. The clear salty water makes a dent in the blood as it evaporates. All of it. The arrow dissolves.
The bird looks at me with a mixture of emotions. Love, anger, confusion, sorrow. She stands and calls, her voice now much more aerated and light.
She gives me a look of thanks, and smiles. Then she disappears in a puff of purple smoke. I gasp again. That smile, it was my grandmother's. I know it was. I just know.
My mind is buzzing with what I just experienced, with a whole new world. Yet, to my surprise, all I can think about is my fiancé. I have a wedding to be at.