Imberflos

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ImberflosThe Northern Star that guides those who are lost from sky to earth to ocean was born of a flower.  So was the giant Scorpion, the Herald of Death, who carries the departed past the veil into the afterworld.  And so was the Blue Butterfly, the Emblem of Life, who guides newly arrived souls to their earthly anchors.  The star, the scorpion, and the butterfly.  The three are bound by an ancestor at once humble and extraordinary.  It had no name in its short life.

Now it is called Imberflos, the Stormflower.

 ***

In the earliest days of this creation, there was a Celestial Being made of pure fire, living in the highest of heavens, known by the ancients as the empyrean.  This Being made the gods and humanity.  This Being appointed the gods to watch over and rule humanity.  The Celestial Being instructed the gods to reveal creation to humanity.  And to bestow the seven necessities: Water, Wonder, Blood, Breath, Mystery, Light, and Change.

And so the gods did rule.  With might and magic, punishment and reward, they kept order as they judged, sometimes by keeping the humans in their charge in darkness and ignorance.  And they ruled not just humanity, but all mortal beings on the earth.  Before long, the gods became drunk with that power and careless.

War and ruin fell upon the earth.  Brought and wrought by both gods and humans.  Such destruction and perversity had run rampant that the reek of corruption reached to the highest heavens.

The Celestial Being woke in a great fury and destroyed the gods and almost destroyed humanity.  But unlike the gods, who were filled with depravity, humans showed remnants of virtue.  Scraps of kindness.  Threads of compassion.  Flickers of generosity.  The Celestial Being punished humanity by withdrawing the gifts of Wonder and Mystery, which the Being judged may not after all be necessities for living.  All beauty left the earth.  All imagination.  But the Celestial Being also took mercy by promising to restore Wonder and Mystery should humanity prove itself truly worthy, or truly in need.  Water, Blood, and Breath would remain, and so humanity would survive.  Light and Change would remain, and so humanity would progress.  But life would not be as it was.  No bird would sing.  No colors would shine.  No flower would bloom until humanity earned the right to gaze upon its beauty.  Or until humanity’s need grew so great that it extinguished all faith and all hope.

So humans lived in shades of grey and shapes unshaped, devoid of bliss but contented and at peace.  Generations were born never knowing the beauty of a lily or the song of a canary.  They were taught fear of the unknown and suspicion of curiosity, all for the sake of keeping the Celestial Being asleep and undisturbed.  The old tales of heavenly wrath and heavenly fire were remembered.  Some lived simple lives.  Some lived extravagant lives.  Without wonder and mystery, few aspired to wisdom or happiness or even simple pleasures.  Without the resolve to attempt it, humanity could never prove worthy of the gifts that the heavens withheld.

There were no great wars, but misery remained.  Brutality and disease remained.  Ignorance and confusion remain.  And in time, without the will to stop it, humanity was overcome by suffering and pain.  So passed an age.  A thousand years of blood and tears.

***

One day, in a field full of flowers that always grew and died without blooming, a child sat weeping.  Her brother had shown her the field one day when he took her away from the sickness and foulness that filled their home and the ones who had sired them.  He had found the field when he was young, and he brought her there to restore her hope and faith.  And so it did, for a field full of grey flower buds was still a sight to see.  A sight that filled his heart with hope and longing and filled his mind with a thought that he could not quite grasp.  For he did not know that what he looked upon was the beginning of beauty.  He told his sister the story of the Celestial Being and the gods that once were, who failed humanity and were by some accounts destroyed and by others only cast out of the heavens.  For some legends said that the Celestial Being could not destroy but only create.  He embellished the old tales and told his sister that when they were worthy of all of heaven’s gifts—beauty, wonder, imagination, and wisdom—they would first know it by the blooming of the flowers.  And his sister listened with wide eyes.  And the sight of the field halted her tears and her fear of losing the ones she loved.

Day after day the children returned to the field.  There was a scourge upon the earth, a sickness that swept across all lands, an enemy unseen, maiming and killing.  Nothing could stop it.  The knowledge of doctors, the wealth of kings, the superstition of witches, nothing could contain it.  For without Mystery, there was no imagination and curiosity, and none could find a way to see and defeat the enemy that ravaged them all.  And without Wonder, there was no beauty to give comfort.  Faith faded first.  Then hope began to fade.  If humanity survived at all, all its descendants would suffer lives of sickness and frailty.  But it seemed humanity was ending.  Dying at last.  And such a sad and senseless death.

***

At first the girl prayed when they visited the flower field.  She prayed to the Celestial Being, to the cosmos, the universe, or anyone who might be listening and who might help.  Then her brother grew ill.  And she decided that she must do something.  There was no cure, and many who fell ill did not survive.  She decided that she must find a way to help the flowers bloom, so that her brother would see them before he died.  Her secret hope was that somehow the blooming of the flowers would herald a new age, and perhaps bring a miracle to save them all.  She still had hope, but she had long since lost faith that there might be a realm beyond the veil of death where all flowers were always in bloom, where light broke into the colors that she only knew of from ancient writings but had never seen herself, where birds made sounds that were called songs.  The only realm she knew of was the one she was born into.  She read all the books she could find on flowers.  Their village was a small one.  Its library was likewise small.  And monarchs had forbidden travel because of the illness.

Long ago, there were gardeners who tended to flowers much as they tended herbs, trees, and vegetables in the present age.  The girl, who had always thought that flowers appeared by magic, learned that they grew from seeds, needed nourishment and light.  The gardeners would nurture flowers until they grew…and bloomed.  The girl began to bring water for the flowers in the field.  She tended the soil until it was rich and soft and fragrant.  And as she worked, her weakening brother watched her.  She hoped.  And he hoped.  And they both spoke to the flowers to encourage them, not realizing that the flowers were listening.

The flowers were listening, for in those times, all living things had sense.  They felt gratitude for the girl’s care and pity for the boy’s plight.  And they knew it was a little thing the children wanted, for they held the memory of their ancestors, of times when flowers bloomed, and bees and butterflies and men and women and children would buzz and flutter and gaze upon their beauty.  But the heavenly decree forbade them from blooming.

Day after day, the children continued to visit.  And as they watched flowers grow and die without blooming, they began to lose hope once again.

One flower tried to convince the others that they all should bloom, that it was time, and that humanity was in need of Wonder and Mystery.  But as humanity feared the wrath of the Celestial Being, so too did the flowers.  And they would not bloom.

***

A day arrived at last when the girl came alone.  She spoke to the flowers as she always did when she tended them.  She told them her brother was too ill to come.  She told them she bid them farewell, for she too had become ill.  She wept tears of sorrow and loss as she told the flowers that they were never meant to be born and to live and die without blooming, nor was humanity.  And she regretted that the anger of the Celestial Being was burned so cruelly into the memories of all creatures on the earth that none remembered the mercy of the Celestial Being.

A spark of understanding awoke in the flower who wanted to bloom.  The flower feared that when it bloomed, it would not be the most beautiful one of its kind, and it might not restore the girl’s hope, and it would certainly not stave off the boy’s illness.  And yet, just as the girl’s gaze fell upon it, the flower did what it was meant to do.

In defiance of heavenly decree, the flower bloomed.  Seven petals and four leaves unfolded from the bud and stem.  The flower tilted toward the gaping girl as if bowing to her.

Blooming

The girl’s wide eyes watched the flower bloom.  It was not grey inside.  It was bright like light, but in a different way.  So many different sights struck her eye and blended into the flower.  It must have been what the ancients called “color.”  She did not know it, but all the colors in the rainbow were contained in each petal, save green, for green now shaded the leaves and stem.  At the base of each petal was yellow, then orange, red, violet, and blue, all held within a crescent of white.  And the curving around the edges and tips of each petal was black.  So many forms of curves and points made the shape of the flower.  The girl looked upon a thing like she had never seen before.  She felt a feeling she had never felt before.

Wonder.

And so wonder was restored to humanity.  The girl reached out to touch the flower, fearful she might damage it.  She brushed a single petal with the tip of her finger.  And she beamed.  She gave thanks to the flower.  She told it that she would bring her brother to see it just once before the sickness overtook him.  And before she left, she gazed intently at the flower, remembering the shapes and the colors.

As soon as she departed, the wrath of the heavens fell.  Dark clouds broiled in the skies above the flower field.  Thunder rumbled and shook the ground.  Lightning cracked and struck the earth as if presaging the heavenly fire to come.  The air grew dense.  A heavy rain began to fall everywhere except for one place.

Where the flower bloom, where it sat within the earth, it remained dry.  For the Celestial Being had awoken when Wonder returned to the earth and had seen the flower’s defiance.  It would soon be time for the flowers to bloom and the birds to sing, but the one flower who defied its maker would not live to that time.

The rain was so heavy and cold that the girl could not return with or without her brother.  She might have tended the flower in thanks for its gift to her.  If all the world went dry, she might have wept upon the flower and fed it her tears.  But it rained for days.  And the earth on which the flower lived and relied grew parched and the flower drooped in hunger and thirst, and its leaves and petals began to shrivel.  And it began to lose hope.

Every drop of rain was ordered to forsake that flower and they all did, all except one.

One tiny raindrop, dared to defy heavenly decree.  The raindrop was too small and too late to quench the flower’s thirst.  The flower by this time had almost withered away.  The raindrop fell to the flower’s feet and seeped into its roots.  The flower sustained itself on the raindrop’s kindness, spending its last moments in gratitude and triumph.

The Celestial Being, though angered by such an abundance of defiance, was impressed by the courage and kindness of the flower and the raindrop.  Defiance for the sake of mercy.  Lest heavenly decree be always defied, there was need for punishment, but mercy should never been forbidden.  Lest the Celestial Being lack that same mercy that the flower and the raindrop showed, there must also be reward.

Star, Scorpion, ButterflyBefore the flower died, the Celestial Being granted it immortality and the eternal charge of watching over humanity.  That was its reward.  Its punishment was that it would carry out its charge in a different form.  It would never again be a flower.  The Celestial Being pulled the yellow out the flower’s four leaves and made a blue butterfly that was entrusted with guiding the souls of mortal creatures to their earthly forms.  The Being took all the colors from the flower’s petals.  From five of the petals, the Being created a bright star, adding the yellow, and setting it in the northern sky as a guiding light.  From the remaining two petals and from the raindrop, the Being made the claws and body of a scorpion, gave it black and white, and entrusted it to guide the souls of mortal creatures from the earth to the heavens.

The Celestial Being ordered the rain to stop and set the remaining colors from the flower’s petals in the sky as the rainbow, to herald the return of Wonder and Mystery.

The flowers in the field bloomed.  Each had seven petals and four green leaves.  Each reflected the colors of the rainbow and the of a night sky and of a snowy day.  The girl and her brother returned overwhelmed with awe.  They did not know that the flower that first bloomed was gone.  But they thanked it all the same and repaid it by tending to its fellows. And so too do their descendants tend to the flowers even to the present age.

The Celestial Being returned to sleep in the empyrean.  A cure to the sickness that lay waste to humanity was found in the field full of stormflowers.  But from the striving for good health in a mortal life came a desire for an eternal life.  For with Wonder restored, life was worth the living.  And with Mystery restored, so too was curiosity and imagination restored.  With all seven necessities, humanity would once again strive and struggle, rise and fall, and perhaps one day prove worthy of more than necessity.

As a reminder of what was taken and what was restored, the rainbow shown in the sky after every storm.  And the flower that bloomed without heaven’s consent and the raindrop that fell where it was forbidden abided as humanity’s allies.

Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel

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