From the Firebird Stories...
Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in a small village, in a small thatch roofed cottage, with her family. She lived with her mother and her father, her grandmother and grandfather, and her seven little brothers and sisters. Her father was ill and could not work. Her mother was too busy taking care of the seven little brothers and sisters to work. Her grandmother and grandfather were too old to work. But the family did not want for money, because the girl was a great talent.
This girl wove the finest tapestries ever seen in all of the land. Czars, Princes, emissaries from foreign Kingdoms, and all of the wealthiest men in all of the neighboring lands sought her out, to buy her tapestries.
She was also very beautiful. Many times, the Princes and Czars would come to buy her tapestries, and fall deeply in love with her before they departed. They would beg and plead for her to come with them, to live in their castles and never need for anything so long as she lived. Her answer was always the same,
"I could never leave my family. If my work pleases you, pay me what is fair, but leave me be in peace. I only wish to live with my mother, my father, my grandmother and grandfather, and my little brothers and sisters."
The tales of the magnificent tapestries she wove traveled far and wide, as did the stories of her humble nature, her kindness, and her magnificent beauty.
Eventually, these tales found their way to the door of the Wicked Sorcerer's castle.
As all wicked spells must be woven as a piece of cloth, the Wicked Sorcerer was a great lover of art of tapestry making, and believed himself the greatest artisan ever to sit astride a loom.
"No mere peasant girl could be greater than I!" he exclaimed. And he set out to find the girl.
First, he disguised himself as the emissary of a faraway Emperor. Riding upon a white elephant and leading a caravan of phantom courtesans, he approached the small thatch roofed cottage.
"Where is the girl who makes the tapestries?" he demanded of her little brothers and sisters. The girl emerged, her eyes cast down, and her feet bare. With a curtsy, she ushered the would-be emissary inside. Within the cottage the Wicked Sorcerer saw an amazing array of tapestries. Some tapestries depicted glorious scenes in every detail, some were complex layers of patterns, one on top of the other, into a single fabric of incredible beauty.
The Wicked Sorcerer was shocked. Here indeed was a rare talent. He gave her three coins of solid gold, grabbed a tapestry that seemed to be woven of sunlight, and then he and his phantom entourage disappeared.
When he had returned to his palace, he studied the tapestry. It brought him no joy, for he could see that his own art was inferior to that of this simple peasant girl. For days he sat in his enormous and empty throne room, glowering at the brilliant tapestry and dwelling on his sense of failure. He finally decided that if he could not create a tapestry so brilliant on his own, he must possess the one who had such a gift.
Again he set out for the thatch roofed cottage in the woods, and again he disguised himself. This time he became a handsome youth, the fairest young man ever to set foot upon the earth. Tall and broad shouldered, he dressed himself as a prince, and upon a phantom stallion and with a train of mirages behind him, he returned to the girl.
Again, she greeted him meekly, and again she bowed him into her humble home. The Wicked Sorcerer looked once more upon her tapestries, and turned to her. He lifted her chin to look directly into her eyes, and saw that she was indeed extremely beautiful. This darkened his heart still more, but he did not flinch from his purpose.
"Your tapestries are fine indeed, but not near so lovely as you. Come away with me, and I shall make you my queen. You need never worry for anything so long as you live, if you will only be my bride."
"Thank you, sire, but I have no want of riches or estate. I only wish to provide for my family, here, in our home. If my work pleases you, pay me what is fair, but leave me be in peace."
The Wicked Sorcerer was angered, but again hid his feelings. He opened his purse and poured three hundred gold coins on the floor.
"Now your family will want for nothing so long as they live. Only come with me, be my bride, and live in my castle with me."
"Thank you, sire, but I must say no. I have no desire to ever leave my family, or my home. If my work pleases you, pay me what is fair, but leave me be in peace."
The Wicked Sorcerer was incensed, but again hid his feelings. He produced a magic mirror.
"If you look upon this mirror, it will show you your home and your family. While you may be far away, you would know they are provided for. Only come to my castle with me, and be my bride."
"Thank you, sire, but I must again say nay. I love my family, I love our home. I do not wish to insult you, but I have no desire to leave. If my work pleases you, pay me what is fair, but leave me be in peace. I only wish to live with my mother, my father, my grandmother and grandfather, and my little brothers and sisters. I have no wish to become your bride, no matter how fine your face or how generous your offer."
The Wicked Sorcerer became enraged. With an angry scream, he became once more the Wicked Sorcerer. With a wave of his arm, he made the gold coins scattered across the floor burst into flames. As the mother and father and grandmother and grandfather and seven little brothers and sisters began to cry and run, the magnificent tapestries began to burn. The Wicked Sorcerer then changed himself into a giant black eagle.
The Wicked Sorcerer grabbed the girl with on talon, and she too was changed into a bird- only with feathers that seemed to be woven of sunlight. As her tapestries erupted into flames, so too did she, although her fire burned nothing it touched. With this Firebird in his talons, the Wicked Sorcerer in the form of the giant black eagle took off back to his palace.
The Wicked Sorcerer laughed to see her so humiliated and naked and shamed. He locked her into a cage in his garden, and left her there to regrow her feathers.
By the time all of her feathers had returned, the Firebird had forgotten that she had ever been a girl. Or that somewhere, her family was following a trail of light that would lead them to nowhere.
The girl was gone. Only the lone Firebird, beautiful but dangerous and magical, remained. Waiting to finally be freed from her cage.