The wind howled and tore through the treetops, and our horses, Highland and Orion, crowded together to share their heat, but I was warm and sheltered where I sat next to our fire. Old Dan the trapper sat across from me, and his assuring presence would have me calm and at ease even were we in the midst of a terrible hurricane at sea.
Old Dan was old, though his true age had always been a mystery to me. His hair and beard were as white as the sheep that dotted the hills of his “auld hame,” beloved Scotland, and his face as creased as much as it were possible to be. But in spite of his hoary head, Old Dan’s step was as spry as my own, and his voice and hands as unwavering as when I first saw him as a lad, some fifteen years before. One look into his eyes, as blue as the sky at noonday, told of years upon years of hardship and pain intertwined with intense love and joy. The result was a perfect combination; any person, be he young or old, lad or lass, felt instinctively that here was a man you could trust, one who held the secrets of wisdom and eternal youth.
The fire crackled and popped in front of me, and I gazed entranced into the ever shifting dance of the flames.
“’Tis a beautiful sight, ain’t it m’ boy,” Old Dan said with a smile in his voice.
I looked up. He too was staring into the flames, with eyes that seemed to see more than mere elements there.
“Aye,” I answered with a wistful sigh. “I’ve often thought that the embers of a fire would be a most beautiful place to live.”
“Indeed it is,” Old Dan nodded understandingly.
“What do you mean, it is?” I asked incredulously. “Surely you don’t mean to say that you’ve…”
I trailed off at the absurdity of my question.
“I be not saying anything but what ye be hearin’,” Old Dan chuckled softly. “But I can tell ye that the embers of a fire are a wonderful place to live, if ye’d be Firelet, of course.”
“I’ve never heard of Firelets,” I said skeptically.
“They don’t call themselves Firelets, ye understand,” Old Dan continued, ignoring my interruption. “They be having their own names for themselves, in their own tongue. But for me own crude speech, Firelets have to do. It means ‘people of the flame.’ They live in the country of the coals, the land of glowing embers and dancing sparks.”
I stared over the fire to the face of my companion. His weathered face was partly in shadow, masked as it was by his old great-coat and cap and the smoke between us. The leaping and falling of the flames shimmered in the reflection of his eyes. His voice was soft and sing-songy as it wove the magic of a story around the tiny clearing.
“Firelets can live in the heart of a flame itself, being made of the same stuff. A wayward flame can no more hurt it than a fall o’ rain would hurt a stalwart lad like ye’self. They are wee people, no bigger than the width of ye’re finger. But they make up for their size in their brightness! Why, laddie, a single Firelet is a better light than a dozen lanterns. And a sight more beautiful as well.
“They make their homes in the embers at the base of a fire, and their country is full of hot, rich colors that make the light o’ the sun somethin’ shallow. Blues and reds and oranges, all so bright that they dazzle the human eye to look at ‘em too long, and colors o’ gold that beam like a thousand rays o’ sunlight melted into one. Theirs is a land o’ heat and riches. Firelets never venture outside o’ the flames. They hae’ no need to, and they be content where the Maker o’ heaven and earth hae’ placed them. Their chief joy is to set the flames a dancin’, and send the sparks of their homeland flying into the outside world in masses of gold stars. They toil not, and neither do they spin, but Firelets live and flourish among the jewels of the fire’s floor, and no one might ne’re hae’ known o’ their existence were it not for one day many years ago.”
“But,” I interrupted, “why were they created? They are not seen, not known of, and they accomplish nothing! They have no use!”
“Ach, lad,” Old Dan said with a smile. “You might as well ask why the firs were given their perfume, or the flowers their beauty. Ye be forgettin’ that our Lord created for his own good pleasure. I be thinkin’ there be many a beautiful, unnecessary creature that has been living since the beginning o’ time undiscovered by us mercenary human bein’s. And for nothin’ than the enjoyment of the Creator.”
My companion set down the mug he’d been cradling in his hands and continued his story.
“As I was a sayin’, ‘tweren’t ‘til some years ago that the existence of Firelets were made known. Firelets are a very contented people, but there hae’ been exceptions. One Fireling in particular (a Fireling being a Firelet lad or lassie, ye understand), was more adventuresome than all o’ his family put together. He loved to climb to the very edge of the flames and watch the sparks sail off and away into the sky. Sparks start as tiny bits o’ ash down at the base o’ the flames, and grow stronger and brighter the higher they fly. This one Fireling, Lebalaiz, we’ll call him, watched the sparks leave the flames every blessed day and night, and wondered as he watched about the world outside the fire.
“He thought his home and traditions ‘borin’ fiddle faddle’ for a youth o’ the fire. A life of coaxing the embers to glow and singing tunes that made the flames dance for joy seemed to him one unsuitable for himself. Lebalaiz yearned for the unknowns outside the edge o’ the flames.”
I watched as the sparks from the fire crackling at my feet exploded and sailed high into the sky, some being caught by the wind and tossed before their light died away. I remembered my own childhood, with its thirst for stories and longing for adventure and thought I understood the sentiments of this Lebalaiz.
Old Dan caught my eye through the smoke and winked with a perceptive look. He knew. I smiled and shrugged and Old Dan’s voice continued its tale.
“Finally, one night, Lebalaiz jumped off his perch at the edge o’ the fire, grabbing at a passing spark and sailing with it up out o’ the flames. As the Fireling left the dancing flames underneath him, the intense cold o’ the November midnight hour struck him like the cold o’ a steel dagger. The wind caught the spark and its rider and threw them high into the air, and the harsh realization that he was gone from his home, possibly forever, made Lebalaiz gasp in terror as he watched the fire o’ his birthplace disappear below. In the next second, the spark he clung to faded from a yellow, living thing to a dead, dull-black piece of ash. Screaming with horror, he threw it from him, afraid that the same fate was nearly upon himself. But ‘twas not to be.
“As light as a spark himself, the wind carried Lebelaiz onward over an expanse of land greater than he knew existed. Tossed from gust to gust, sometimes falling but never far, the poor Lightling traveled many unwillingly miles through that long night. The wind had nearly frozen him to death, but the fire within him still caused him to shine.
“When he did finally light upon the land, it was day, and he wandered forlornly the rest of that day and the whole of the next, and the next, and the next. He was lost, on the foothills o’ Scotland under a bleak and downcast sky. Nary a light, or a person, or a fire did he see, for days upon end. Sometimes the wind would catch him up, and carry him again, and he slowly lost his terror of its terrible speed and dizzying heights. It was his only way to travel at any rate worth talking aboot. On the ground he was dishearteningly slow, for what was he but a child of the tiny fire people?
“The winter sought to gain a fiercer and tighter hold upon the world, and soon little Lebelaiz could barely move for the cold. In a cleft of one of the random great shelters of rock on the highland hills, Lebelaiz, his body frozen, lay down to wait for his end.
“’Twas there the shepherd lad found him. Tiny, ice-cold to the touch, and the faintest dull gleam showing from beneath a layer of dirt and snow. The lad, though rough, was curious o’ nature and kind o’ heart, and when he noticed the wee thing that occupied the shelter he’d come to share, he carefully lifted Lebelaiz with a dead leaf from the ground and put him in the warmest place he could think of – inside o’ his own lantern, next the flame that guided him ‘round the hills.
“Lebelaiz woke from his frozen stupor to the most beautiful sight he’d laid eyes upon – a dancing flame. The tiny light warmed the fiery blood in his veins and awakened his senses from their death-like slumber. He basked in the flame as we might bask in a cool stream in the heat o’ summer.
“The Fireling and the shepherd lad became friends, and once Lebelaiz regained his strength and something o’ his former glory, he guided the lad through the darkest o’ nights after his sheep. The shepherd lad always kept his lantern lit now, for the sake o’ his tiny companion, and during the days when the sun shone in the beauties o’ the hills, Lebelaiz would ride on the lad’s shoulder. When there was naught to do but keep a watch o’er the sheep as they grazed, the Fireling, having learned the lad’s dialect, would talk to the lad, sitting next his ear in order to be heard. But the lantern was the fireling’s home.
“At times the lad would enter a town, or stay the night in the hovel or cottage o’ a friendly peasant. When this happened, the shepherd lad would set down the lantern by the fireplace, and Lebelaiz would quietly slip into the living embers of the peat fire. Sometimes he found Firelets there, but most often he did not. In the morning, before the hosting family had risen, he would slip into the lad’s bag until ‘twas safe to emerge.
“Each with no family o’ his own, Lebelaiz and the shepherd lad became closest friends. The lad told Lebelaiz everything – his hopes, his fears, his wishes. And Lebelaiz would stand in the flame of the lad’s lantern, beaming as bright as if a dozen more were swinging beside it. One dark, stormy night, Lebelaiz even saved the lad’s life, his light showing the edge of a sharp ravine with a tumultuous mountain stream at the bottom a second before the lad was aboot to step over the edge
“The shepherd boy’s lantern became famous in that part o’ the country, for its beaming brightness and its seeming inability to go out. On two occasions ‘twas stolen, with Lebelaiz inside o’ it, but the shepherd lad’s determination and good hard fists always brought it back without its secret bein’ discovered.
“Nearly a year passed before the lad couldnae find him in his lantern or his pack. The shepherd boy knew that Lebelaiz had grown old, for the life of a Firelet is far shorter than our own life spans. But he wouldnae accept that his friend was no longer a bright beam that could’ve been sent from heaven. Instead, he believed deep inside that somehow, someway, Lebelaiz had jumped back into the arms of the wind, and flown back to the home he’d left as a Fireling.”
Old Dan paused, and stared contemplatively into the flames. My own eyes had been lured from the fascinating dance of the fire to the face of the story-teller long ago. As I watched, his eyes misted over, and the white beard around his mouth lifted imperceptibly in a small, reminiscent smile.
“That tiny creature did more for the shepherd lad than Lebelaiz would ever know.”
He stopped again, and I dipped my head quietly in encouragement, but Old Dan did not see me. His gaze was lost in the mysteries of the fire.
His next words were so low I was never quite sure if I heard them correctly.
“But I was ne’er to see him again.”
Old Dan’s smile deepened, and his eyes twinkling with a thousand laughs. I quickly followed his gaze, my eyes dropping to the fire. For an instant, the flames parted, and I could see to the blazing coals on the ground. There, brighter than life, and more beautiful than thought can imagine, a host of tiny figures danced on the glowing embers of gold.
Christiana Thomas loves her life of gravel roads, open fields and misty woods. As a high-school homeschooler, second of 10 children, and the proud owner of a chestnut-colored horse, she loves traveling into different worlds through books and finds joy in God’s simple, everyday blessings such as daffodils, laughter, music and raindrops clinging to the tips of branches. Christiana enjoys writing, singing, and costume design/dress up with her siblings and many cousins.