In an ancient woodland that bordered a burgeoning empire, a beautiful and obviously precious gemstone could be found lodged high up a giant fir tree. Anyone who approached below could see the gem glittering in the sunlight from dawn until dusk. However, none dared climb up after it, for the locals told of a curse that befell any intrepid pursuer: “Should someone reach the high branches that held the gemstone, they would be transformed into a common songbird, and no known method could change them back.”
Some enterprising folk concocted and executed other methods aimed at freeing the gem from its perch; others attempted to knock the tree itself down; all to no avail. So, for a long duration it remained only an object of forlorn gazes.
Eventually, an animal trainer hit upon the idea of using a hawk to retrieve the gemstone on the notion that a bird could seize it without succumbing to the curse. This man captured a wild hawk, and after month upon month of trial and error, using shards of glass as a stand-in, he was satisfied that the bird of prey would pursue the gem with haste.
However, the man had been unable to keep his sessions a secret, and a few of the other locals caught wind of his efforts. Therefore, on the day he set out to dislodge the gemstone, a small throng of “curious” men and woman (who of course vowed not to interfere) came with him. Judiciously, the man with the hawk also decided to carry with him a weapon, just in case.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the hawk’s effort did not accord to plan. It did on its second pass reach the heights of the great fir and grasp the glittering prize there. However, halfway into its descent, the bird began to shimmer in a magnificent fashion and cycled through a blinding array of color. The assembled men and women awed into gaping and had to shield their eyes from the intense illumination.
When this stunning phenomenon died away and every present eye cleared of it, the throng found the hawk nowhere in sight while a very surprised looking man had appeared within their midst. He wore tattered clothing and was disheveled in many other respects as well. This new person was rightly terrified. His eyes darted around, and his body moved in fits and jerks, indecisive as to what was a threat to him or what a reasonable person in his current situation ought to do. All other mysteries aside, the men and women around him deigned to engage the one apparent ripe opportunity for inquiry: he had some large object in his mouth.
“He’s got the gem!” someone shouted, and once-restrained humanity began to collapse in towards the stranger who was still too out of sorts to mount much resistance. A flurry of arms and hands snaked over him and constricted his movements. Many fingers pried at his jaws, jarred his mouth open, and removed . . .
A simple grey stone.
The greedy hysteria broke and released its victim. The man in tattered clothing crumpled to the ground, covered his eyes tightly, and wept. His former tormentors turned their fervor toward the landscape to scour it for any sign of the gemstone which a quick glance could confirm no longer was high above the forest floor. The man who’d trained the hawk called in vain toward the trees for his avian protégé.
After a brief search, a pair of the more empathetic members of the once maddened seekers of fortune turned their attentions back toward the man who’d (from their perspective) appeared out of thin air before them. By then he’d composed himself somewhat though he remained fairly bewildered and watched the goings-on around him with cautious curiosity. The pair asked him who he was, where he’d come from, and whether he was a wizard or a warlock. He admitted not knowing. They queried him farther but his memory failed him over and over. The only question he could answer was: “What is the last thing that you remember?”
He answered: “My life before now is a total blur except for one thing. I know that as a child, I was chided for my ambition. It was then that a voice, soft but stern (perhaps my mother or my father), told me that some things belong to the earth, and some things belong to the air. Then there are some that belong to both. Those are the temptations one must ever avoid.”
The two listening to him, failed in their own words at responding. What could they say or do then? For, in the wake of these strange events, what they valued seemed to be all but forgotten.