Working Excerpt from Of Evernost: A Traveler’s Tale
You have known firebirds as ripples in the world. They pulse through your blood, they shake up the landscape between mind and matter, and they are gone– that’s the sort of thing they are. But you may even have met one, a phoenix in the morning sun, or some stiff, diffident fire-eyed person on urgent business who clearly did not see the same world that you do. You will have made no real acquaintance, though, not unless you are more of an adventurer than I am–or perhaps if you have had dealings with one of those godless old collector kings whose treasuries can hold anything up to the sun and the moon and the stars. (Midas met his doom, but on the whole, I think justice forgets about them, and they just sit there spinning infinity in their fingers and growing colder with each passing century.) More such kings that you would believe somehow or other get hold of a caged firebird, and I’ve been told that in captivity, the birds’ feathers combine the splendors of peacocks and sunbeams, and that at first they demand their freedom with a cold, glass-breaking song that can thrill even the most jaded ear.
But in the wild they use their voices rarely and stay out of sight. The only place they come into the open is the northernmost extremes of Evernost, the realms beyond the Tree of Life. Oh, yes, there is something beyond it. Don’t believe the doubters. But it is not a place for the life as we know it. The air is too thin to breathe, the ground is too hard for anything but the fire trees. Lithe, minimal trees, made of something dense and pliable in between steel and starlight. The only luxuriance on them is the fire flowers that boil into bloom in oranges and reds and golds, glowing with distilled homelight, sparking their color into darkness and starlight.
The stars are close in that region, their spears of light too strong for the living, you may find their ghosts wandering there in dreams. The stars dance there, silently blazing, meeting over the ground. When their tears fall into the fire flowers they ripen into fruit, a different fruit from that of the Tree of Life, a fruit holding not a being but a vast and immeasurably more intricate potentiality, the stuff of which worlds are made. Go a little further north and you have left the world entirely, you are in that dark, joyous blazing sky, finding yourself in unending hunts, or rowed across a strong lake of starlight to a feast of dust. Watch out dreamers, so that you know when you have crossed out of the realm of solid things into this one, which can never be whole with the wholeness you know.
When the fire flowers are not so watered they eventually drop off, and become the firebirds, which are some of the less human laws and necessities and movements underlying the world. They place the world in order with implacable speed and then come north again to roost and sing to one another, telling and telling, weaving with their songs what they have woven all day in their deeds. But they do not have our frenetic and compulsive creativity. A firebird can do nothing but see and admire—so perhaps some of their greatest work is done.