For my beloved Silky and Gemma
A lesson in kindness
A tale from my own village in France. Down by the river, where the ruins still stand, was once a rich building, a fortified farmstead. Even now we still call it “Le château”.
The son of the owner was a pleasant lad. He didn’t join in the hunting or cruel sports that were popular in those days. His best friends were his hounds but he did love his fishing. Most mornings he would leave the farm and wander down the riverside to catch something for lunch which he would take to the cook who would give the waste to the pigs and so the circle of life continued as the pigs’ manure fed the earth.
The spirits who lived around the farm liked the boy. He was much kinder than most humans of his era and the water spirit did not grudge him the fish because the river benefited from the run-off from the farmland. Everyone profited and there were plenty of fish in the river.
One day, while thinking about a beautiful girl, the young man, whose name was Martin, lost his concentration while casting his line so the hook caught a beautiful blue bird that was swooping low over the water to catch insects. Injured, caught in the line, it drowned. Immediately the air spirit pushed Martin into the water, furious that one of her children had been so casually killed. His own soul meshed with the bird’s body as the river spirit spat him back on the bank.
“You will stay in that form until you learn compassion. One act of selfless kindness will restore you to your old shape. Until then you will replace my child.” Air raged in his ear, causing him to crouch down on his new, stumpy legs and try to cover his ears with his wings.
Water lapped at his toes which were now sharp, grasping claws.
“I will help you. I think it was an accident but my sister Air has laid her spell. If you need help, call for me and I will aid you to break it.” Water giggled and chuckled around him.
For some days, Martin tried to die of starvation to change his situation but the bird-nature caused him to keep foraging. Eventually he decided to make the most of it and learn to be a bird as well as he could. Flying was fun. Swooping over the river to find insects was more delightful than eating at table and in the end he grew to enjoy being a bird. He could explore places he would not normally have seen.
Down the river in the next town he found a very high tower in a real castle. Perching on a window space one day he heard a voice speak behind him. He hopped around to see a beautiful young woman, almost the one he had been dreaming of when he cast his line. She was locked in the top room of the tower but stepped gently towards the window whispering calmly to him.
“Hello my beautiful. Please don’t fly away. You are the first living soul I have seen for a long time. Please stay.”
Martin hopped closer to her, cocking his head as if inviting her to stroke him. He was rewarded with a gentle caress by one finger and tears starting to her eyes.
“Thank you, my blue friend. If I believed in Fairy Tales I would imagine you were the handsome prince come to rescue me. You are indeed handsome but I don’t see how you could rescue me. No matter. Just to have your friendship for a few moments is a rare gift.”
After that Martin went to visit her every day and she rewarded him with breadcrumbs and petting. He made so bold as to fly into her prison and perch on the washstand by the jug of water. Suddenly an idea came to him. He bent his beak to look into the liquid and wished as hard as he could that it were possible to rescue her. Would the water spirit hear him and help?
Almost immediately, the girl made a sound of surprise as she began to shrink and grow wings, the silver diadem on her head becoming a flower garland. Martin flew down to the floor and nudged her with his beak to climb on his back.
Carrying his precious burden so carefully he flew off back towards the river…
Nobody every heard the end of this tale but to this day, in French we call the kingfisher “Martin-pêcheur” (Martin the fisherman). So it must be true!
image © Jean-Baptiste Monge
©Ailsa Abraham, 2016