by R.T. Allenson
Once upon a time, when the world was still young, there lived a red-haired boy.
This boy was a special boy, for he was the youngest of his brothers. Unlike his elder siblings who were wise, he was strong and a fire-like passion burned long in his heart. He delighted in exploring and adventuring and going to places that have never been and never where.
Everyday, he would go home to his brothers to tell them of his adventures. They would laugh and dance and sing all day, for he alone knew the world of the never-where and the never-been.
One day, once upon a time, he went walking in the garden. He saw one of his brothers – his oldest brother – fly off into the great sky above him. He waved at him and said:
“Where do you go elder brother? From where have you walked?”
His brother, stopping in the air, swooped down to meet him although his feet never touched the ground.
“Hello my little brother. I have come walking in our Father’s garden as I always do.” The golden haired boy placed his hand over his younger brother’s head and ruffled his red hair. “And you? What do you do here this day, little brother?”
The red-haired boy laughed and held out his hand. He stretched out the plow he was holding down to the ground and smiled. “Our Father has given me this plow to tend the garden. He means to plant something new in it.”
“Oh?”, his older brother asked. “Did Father tell you what he was planting?”
The red-haired boy shook his head. “Not at all. He only told me to prepare the garden for him.”
His older brother frowned and this frightened him. He had never seen his brother sad before.
“I see, little brother.”, his older brother said, wiping the frown from his face. “Go ahead into the garden. I shall ask Father what he will be making in the garden.”
And his older brother, with golden-hair, flew into the sky with wings outstretched. The red-haired boy pondered for a moment and went on his way. A question formed in his mind and, without knowing, he felt a sense of worry overcome him.
Once upon a time, a red-haired boy was plowing the garden and preparing it for his Father. He was working the soil for such a long time that he felt the fire in his heart grow dim. After tilling the last plot of land, he rested under the shade of a great tree.
He watched the lumbering beasts roam lazily across the vastness of his Father’s garden, and birds of all manner fly across the sky. Both great and meek creatures that passed him by bowed their heads respectfully, for they recognized the crown of fire in his head and what it demands.
Stretching his arms wide, he stared up and caught a glimpse of a shadow within the leaves of the tree.
“Who are you, who sulks in the tree?”, the red-haired boy asked. He was brave and strong, and though he did not know it, his question was more like a command. He spoke so differently from his brothers, whose voices were gentle and sounded like a song.
The shadow crept down the tree until daylight touched its scaly skin. A flame-like tongue darted from its mouth, and as it uncoiled beneath the red-haired boy’s feet, it smiled.
“Hello, little brother. I am Nachash and this tree is my home.”
“Hello, Nacash. It is surprising that you know me for I do not know you among the creatures in my Father’s garden.”
Nacash grinned a scaly smile and unwound its coils, spreading its wings out wide. The red-haired boy thought to himself how beautiful its wings were, as they were almost like his older brothers.
“Every one knows you. Every beast and bird; every swimming and crawling thing knows who you are by the crown on your head.”
The red-haired boy smiled and he felt a sense of pride swell in his heart. It burned within him hotter than fire. It was his Father’s blessing – the crown on his head. It made him special; though not as wise as his brothers, the crown made him strong.
“And you, little shade-creeper? What manner of beast are you?” There was something playfully haughty in the boy’s words. Nachash preened his wings and smiled.
“Of all the beasts in the garden, I am the shrewdest, most clever, and wisest of all.” Its flame-like tongue darted from its mouth. “I speak, do I not? And question too! No other in the garden can do such a thing.”
“Ah, but that is where you are wrong, my friend. Do I not speak and question as well? If you knew my brothers, you would know they speak and question too.”
The tree-crawling shade unraveled its coils, and stretched its body so that it eyes stared directly at its inquirer. The red-haired boy smiled proudly, crossing his arms.
“Ah, little brother. But you are not of the garden, are you not? Neither are your brothers whose feet never touch the ground.”
The red-haired boy paused and a frown grew on his face – this was the truth. Neither he nor his brothers were of the garden, although it was his Father’s. Nachash smiled, and this made the fire in his heart swell in a manner that was neither joy nor excitement. He pondered for a moment until a thought formed in his mind, but he could not find the words to express it.
“And soon”, Nacash said, interrupting his thoughts, “there will be another who would speak and question as I do, and from this same garden they shall come from.”
The red-haired boy felt alarm rush through his body. He did not know why, but he felt the bravery leave from his body. For the first time, he felt scared. Nachash smiled at him, and the boy felt himself shrink and cower at the tree-dweller’s gaze whose formed seemed to grow. He felt its shadow cast over him, and the fire within him falter.
“I know not how you know these things, little shade-creeper, but I would like to know what is this another that you speak of. Is it another of your kind?”
Nachash shook his head and stretched its wings wider. A wide grin had formed in its mouth and its tongue darted in and out like a flame.
“Not another like myself, for I am my own and a singular thing in your Father’s garden. You may even say that I am quite a special thing.”
Nachash, the shade-creeper, smiled and folded its wings.
“This other, you gave form in the fields – from dust, ever so humble, and no fire nor light rests in its heart.”
Nachash coiled around the red-haired boy and whispered in his ear, “Yet a crown rests on his head. Just like yours, though mayhap greater in some respects. No radiant star nor fulminating ember shall not bow to it in supplication, for it is thy Father’s favored child.”
The red-haired boy struggled and freed himself from the shade-creeper’s embrace. Soundlessly, Nachash flew up to the branches of the tree where it made its home. It coiled its long tail around the length of its trunk and preened its wings.
“But that cannot be!”, the red-haired boy despaired. “This crown is my own. Not even my brothers have it!”
Nachash laughed and its voice was like the hissing wind. With one of its wings, it took a fruit from the tree and swallowed it whole.
“It is so, little brother.” The shade-creeper extended its other limb, pointing the tip of its wing towards the horizon. The red-haired boy’s eyes followed. “On yonder field where you had worked on, see there? One among your brothers has brought the dust and dirt you unearthed to take to your father.”
An emotion that he had never felt before – anger, had begun swelling in his heart. It was like a fire, boiling hotter than the sun in the sky. A pillar of light erupted from the field where Nachash had guided the red-haired boy’s eyes which, in an eye blink, shot upwards to the firmament.
“There goes one of your brothers with dust and mud to take to your father.”
“I would not believe it.”, the red-haired boy said. His eyes were lit with fire. “You speak false of things.”
But the thing on the tree did not stop. It preached there in that old wood to the boy with a fire in his heart.
“Your kin – they who bear the light of the suns as crowns on their heads. They were born from the light hewn from the darkness in those ancient days by thy Father’s hand.”
It turned its head towards the boy. Its tongue flickered playfully, though its words hurt him like a thunderbolt.
“And you, youngest of your kind. Not of light you were made but of smokeless fire. When this garden he made was done did he take the last ember from his kiln and set it in your head as a crown.”
The boy’s eyes widened. The words of the thing that dwelt in the tree filled him with dread.
“But not humble like the flickering flame you were, are you not? So strong you are and confident. Such a puissant little boy are ye.”
With these words, Nachasch left that old tree and stood before the red-haired boy. To him, the shade-creeper seemed larger now and he so little.
“That crown of yours ill fits you, brother. It is tinder for the fires that fuel thy pride. Now he makes another from dirt and dust with fire like yours fastened in its heart and soul. But of humble dust and dirt is he wrought, and beloved will he be above all others.”
The red-haired boy, angry, felt the fire swell in him. He sought to cow the shade-creeper, fixing its gaze intently to it. He did not know it, but he wanted to burn the thing that gave him such a worry – this thing that made him feel less special and less worthy to bear the smoldering crown on its head.
“I know not how you could say such things, tree-dweller, but I would not hear of it. If our eldest brother would hear you speak, he would bear you away from this place and into the presence of our Father.”
He loomed above Nachash, though the shade-creeping tree dweller was not cowed. “You would hold that tongue of yours.”
The shadow-creeper smiled, “Ah, little brother. I have already spoken to your eldest; I even gave him a name as he gave my own.” The thing turned its gaze towards the firmament and stretched one of its wings, pointing at it.
“There he goes to your home to preach the wisdom I have so generously bequeathed him. You met him already, am I not correct?”
“Yes.”, the red-haired boy said. The fear in his heart swelled greater than his fulminating anger. “Does he know too? Of what you speak of?”
Nachash, smiling, stretched its wings and started roosting in the shade of the tree. “In a manner of speaking, yes, he knows.”
“What shall he do? What shall he preach?”
“I do not understand.”
The shade-creeper smiled, resting its head in the coils of its body. “You will soon, little brother.”
The red-haired boy approached the tree where Nachash rested. He wanted to beg but the crown on his head did not permit him.
“Tell me. Please.” His voice was forceful, but it was also pleading. It was the most he could do.
“You will find out for yourself soon, but I suggest you go home now. It has already begun.”
The red-haired boy left that place – that garden that was his Father’s, and returned to his abode where he and his brothers dwell.
When he came there, he found all his elder brothers, bowing in supplication to a thing of dust with a crown on its head. Beside him stood his Father and one of his brothers, who was ordained as his voice.
“Little brother”, his brother spoke, “This is Man – a brother of ours. With his crown on his head, he is both a part of our Father’s garden and its steward. Thus, we all bow to him, for he knows more of our Father’s creation.”
Anger swelled deep inside him, for it was not fitting that a man of dust and clay be a lord. This was the red-haired boy’s reasoning, but in truth, his anger was directed at the crown that Man had on its head.
“I will not.”, he said. “It is now fit for light or smokeless flame to bow to such a lowly thing of the earth. I bear the crown on my head as well. I will not bow.”
His older brother, turning towards the formless presence that was his Father, raised its voice and it was the voice of his Father.
He did not hear what it was, but when the thunderclap that was his voice receded, the red-haired boy found himself falling for a long time until he landed on the bedrock of creation – a broken thing.
His fire that burned within him ran wildly, scorching dark crags as if it were trees burning into cinders. He suffered and despaired in that lonely place, until his body was all burned up by his own fire.
And so that place became a place of curses and suffering, and of smoldering fire. His brother, the eldest among all his brothers, found that place not long after and would eventually take the crown of flame from his charred remains.
It was there, in that frustrating place, that the light-bringer would develop greater ambition. And he would never forget his brother for all the days he wore his crown, and the vengeance that it craved to the usurper they called Man.