Once upon a time, there lived a man. He was neither young nor old. He lived in the country, far away from neighbors, and was usually quite alone. He had a few chickens and goats and kept a few acres plowed each season. He was hard working, but not beyond his needs. He liked to sit and smoke a pipe in the twilight hour with his dog, which he’d named Alexander.
One evening, not long after he’d lit his pipe, he saw a curious display. A brilliantly colored bird was being pursued by a bat. It sang out in distress, feathers aflutter. The bat was closing in on his prey when Alexander gave a terrific bark and snapped at the bat. The man was also standing ready. He’d taken off his worn hat and caught the bird in it. He cradled it close until Alexander had chased the bat away.
He could feel the delicate creature’s heart beating rapidly. He set the hat on his chair and let it fall open. While the bird perched on the edge of his chair, he admired the blue and green feathers. He could not remember having seen or heard of a bird quite like it. “I wish I knew what you were called, little fellow.”
“That I will grant easily. My name is Flean.”
Both the man and Alexander stood in silence, mouths gaping.
The bird continued in his musical, whistling speech. “In fact, to repay your kindness to me. I will be happy to grant you three more wishes. “
Stroking his beard, the man thought a minute. Then he said, “I would like to make my first wish now and save the other two for later. I sometimes get lonely living out here. I would like to marry the most beautiful woman in the land to keep me pleasant company.”
The bird chirped, “Your request will be granted at twilight. When you are ready to make your other wishes, whistle thus.” The bird demonstrated a simple, but elegant bird call. The man had no trouble capturing this little phrase for he had long been a quiet student of nature and had learned many bird calls as a child. After it was quite clear the man knew the song, the bird flew off.
The man looked at the position of the sun, then ran into the house. Being a bachelor, he had left some housekeeping unattended and he sought to remedy this before his new bride arrived. He put on clean clothes and trimmed his beard. He was putting away newly washed dishes when through the window he saw the sun dip below the mountains. He heard a gasp outside his door.
He quickly went to open it. Standing on his doorstep was a lovely dark-haired, green-eyed young woman. She had been looking about her but started when the door opened.
“Please, sir. Where am I? What has happened?” A tear sparkled in her eye.
“Don’t be afraid, my lady. Come in out of the dark.” He swung the door open wide and she cautiously entered.
“But who are you? Where am I?”
“My name is Christopher. We are a few miles from the village Shepford. Today I spared the life of a magical creature and he granted me wishes. I wished that I could marry the most beautiful woman in the country and you appeared. I can see that he fulfilled my wish just as I asked.”
The woman showed no sign of satisfaction at this complement but turned away from him and began to cry. He was quite shocked by this and tried to comfort her. “I promise that I am a very gentle man. I know that I am not rich, but I have always been happy.”
She stopped crying haltingly, “You misunderstand me, sir. I am not crying for fear of you or of a poor life. I’m crying because not long ago I was enjoying the evening meal with my family and had walked out to fetch more firewood. Now I am in a place I have never heard of and I do not know how to get back to them. Even worse, I don’t know what Edwin will do when he hears that I am gone. He will surely think I have been untrue to him. Oh, I love him so.” She broke into tears again.
Embarrassed, Christopher left her alone for a while. Should he have specified that his bride was to be unattached? Apparently, one must be very careful how to formulate a wish. What to do now? He went outside and sat down for another smoke. He sat until his pipe went out and he noticed the chill in the air.
Late into the night, the woman lay shivering on the bed, despite the fur blankets Christopher had given her. From where he lay on the hearth, he could hear the repeated pattern of her crying and lulling herself to sleep, only to begin weeping again later after waking from a dream with her lover’s name on her lips. Even after she was quiet, he listened to the crickets in the meadow and the wind blowing through the trees. Finally, he let out a long sigh of decision and closed his eyes.
When morning came, Christopher rose and began his usual chores. When he returned to the house, she was still in bed and seemed to be sleeping peacefully for a time. He made a simple breakfast and even got out a tablecloth, one of the only delicate things he had inherited from his mother. He ate and left her breakfast on the table. Going outside once more, he repeated the bird’s special call. With a few moments delay, the blue and green feathered bird flew into sight and landed on the top of the old wooden chair.
“How is your bride this morning, Christopher? Are you ready to make your second wish?”
“She is very beautiful. You did just what I asked. Though she is not well this morning. She misses her family very much. I was senseless not to think of that, and so, I would like to make my second wish. I wish you would take her back to her family so that she can marry her lover and live happily.”
The bird cocked its head and looked intently with one eye at Christopher. “Are you sure, friend?”
“It is your choice if you want to use wishes to undo other wishes. Your request will be granted at twilight.” The bird flew away.
Christopher went back inside to find the woman just rising and looking about the cottage. He immediately told her of his second wish and she thanked him with tears and a smile and looked even lovelier. The rest of the day, Christopher went about his usual work. The woman cleaned his little cottage, dusting away cobwebs, tidying the hearth, and even gathering some flowers from the meadow to adorn the table. They ate dinner together then fell into an uneasy silence while Christopher watched the glow of the setting sun slowly pass over the woman.
“Christopher, I hope you always treat others as you treated me. Loving people always seems to make them lovelier, even if before they did not seem so extraordinary. In fact, it is usually the most ordinary that become the loveliest with a little care. I hope you are loved one day.” Then she was gone. He cleaned up from dinner, smoked his pipe, and went to bed.
Several days past and the flowers wilted and died. The days continued as they had before. Each day work was accomplished, and each evening rest was enjoyed. The only difference perhaps was that Alexander had to frequently nudge his master to return indoors when the night was far gone. “I’m sorry, old boy. I was just thinking.”
Finally, one clear afternoon, Christopher called the bird once more. It arrived in a burst of song, “Are you ready for your last wish? Choose wisely. There is no way to undo this wish.”
Christopher quietly related his wish and was not dissuaded by the surprised look of the bird. “Your request will be granted at twilight.”
All was ready. At the twilight hour, Christopher heard a noise at his door. A girl crouched there, thin body trembling as she sobbed. Her clothes were ill-fitting and patched. When the door opened, she raised her arms over her head, as if to ward off a blow. Christopher could see one of her hands was crippled.
He knelt down and placed his hand on her shoulder. “What is your name, my dear?”
“Molly,” she stammered. “Who are you? Where is… he?” She stopped crying as she looked around her in amazement.
“He won’t hurt you anymore. You don’t need to be afraid. Come inside.” He helped her stand and enter the cottage. A warm fire was burning, dinner was on the table, and the whole place shone from a fresh cleaning. “My name is Christopher, and this is my house. I’ve been thinking of you for a while now. You see, I was granted a wish by a magic bird and today I wished that you would come. Molly, I want to ask you to marry me.”
The woman looked at him, “You want to marry me? Why would you wish for me?”
“I wished for the loneliest woman in the land, the woman most wanting love and the one who had been the most hurt and neglected. I knew that way I could do some good and perhaps you could love me back.”
The happy couple stayed up late into the night talking by the fire, laughing and crying and learning each other’s hurts and joys. From a tree outside, the bird watched them. “Odd folk humans are. Now I suppose they will live happily ever after without the least possible human reason. They’ll get no more of my wishes,” a satisfied glint appeared in the bird’s eye, “though I don’t think they’ll be wanting any.” He was right.
Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash