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The Girl Who Knew Bird Language

In a certain kingdom, in a certain land, in a little village, there lived a girl who could speak with the birds. No one knew this about her, because she could speak only with the birds, not with the baker or the woodcutter's wife, not with the farmer or the seamstress, who gave her bread but nothing else. For the girl had been orphaned at a young age, before she had learned fully how to be human. The villagers let her scrub their floors, pluck their weeds, in exchange for survival. But it was the birds of the hedges under which she slept who cared for her soul.




From the birds, she learned about the great kingdoms of trees, towering heavenward, richly populated by a thousand species. From the birds, she learned about the paths through the winds. She learned a map of wing and sunlight, a treasure of seeds. And also, in theory, of family and duty and the pride of nesting - things the birds could teach her but only people could give her and would not. 

Every morning she sang the world open with the birds. Every evening she called out what a blessing life was. Her voice rose with a hundred bell-like voices, then her voice fell in silence to the growing shadows and the comfort of brown wings tucked around her. She slept knowing she was not alone.

And yet she felt alone, for she was a girl, not a bird.

This girl, she grew into a beautiful woman. Her hair was as red as the hawthorn berry, her eyes like earth after rain. She had the freshness of one who washed in dew and drank from rivers. She did not walk but she almost danced, like anyone would when raised by birds. She did not speak but she sang, and her inhuman voice was glorious. 

And so the villagers grew more and more to despise her, for small hearts can not abide wild love. But they had floors to scrub, muck to be cleaned, and so they kept her on and (when necessary) fed her. But the story of her strangeness and her lovely singing voice travelled through the kingdom, and such stories are wont to do. And it came at last to the ears of the king.

This was a young king, it was. A king not yet married, for he had only ever met women who wanted him for his money, not himself. He liked the sound of this faraway village story. He began to dream of a dew-bright girl who could not talk. He would teach her words. Oh, such words - they would fall from her mouth like gold. They would warm his mouth when he kissed her, and enrich his lonely royal soul. 

At last the king saddled a horse, and bade the court to saddle their horses too, and with grand ceremony they rode to the village to see the girl. 

She was scrubbing a floor when they came. She did not look up. The birds had taught her nothing of kings and their courtiers, nor of jewels, power, wealth. Their words were simpler, more profound: sunlight, seeds, egg, shelter, roots, storm. The girl did not realise the king in his polished boots and velvet cape was anything better than the grocer whose floor she was scrubbing.

But she was as beautiful as the story said, even in her sodden skirt, barefoot, and with her knees bruised from kneeling so often. And the king's heart ached. Oh, the things would teach her, and how he would improve her! He would dress her in cloaks of bright feathers, give her boots of sturdy leather. He would make her his beautiful queen. Kneeling on the wet floor (for he understood very well how to act within a story) he took her blistered hands in his own powerful, black-gloved ones, and begged that she marry him.

And the girl who had been raised by birds looked at this handsome king with his calm blue eyes and charming smile, his gloves made from cow skin, his bejewelled audience. She saw that he was seeing in her eyes the reflection of himself. And removing her hands from his grasp, she spoke the first and last human word she ever would.

She said: no.

The king was aghast. The courtiers giggled. The grocer kicked the girl from his store and all the way out of the village. After the king had galloped back to his magnificent castle, furious and determined to put an extra tax on all grocers just because (see now why no woman had wanted him for himself?) - after this came the hard, dark part: a crowd from the village stormed out with torches and violent words, and burned down the girl's hedges. 

The birds flew away. The insects scattered. The tiny mice and rabbits fled into deeper forest. And the girl ran weeping along the road into lonely silence.

Some time later, maybe days, maybe weeks, however long it takes to heal a voice, the bird-woman sat in a ditch by the road and sang quietly to herself for the first time since the fire. Just a little feather-song about leaf, berry, acorn, stream. Nothing glorious, worth the attention of a king. But a sparrow heard her. It landed softly on her knee and listened to her. Soon an owl came too, drawn by the music of berries. Then a fox came, not to hunt but to dream in the cool gentleness of her water song. And a starling came. And a crow. And a tinker came, a young man who travelled the old back roads mending pots, making friends, tracking the moon. He sat with the fox, the birds, the girl, listening. And then he sang to her his own song of horse, copper, road dust, falcon. He made her see a wide and lovely world of forests, fields, hearthfires, laughter. 

When there was silence again, he held out his hand. And she went with him. For she was not a bird after all, she was a woman.

The crow and the starling went with them, perched on the roof of the tinker's wagon. 

They travelled on down the road, sometimes singing, sometimes silent, sometimes listening to the stories of the birds and the meadows they went past. And forever after that they lived happily, with all that wealth, in wild sun-golden harmony. 


7 comments:

  1. It appears someone has shared this link on facebook, as I'm getting a lot more visitors from there than usual. Whoever it was, thank you! Sharing a writer's work is the very best gift you can give them. (Well, after an antique typewriter, that is!)

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  2. Very touching story and Katherine as usual love your artwork.

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  3. It was me... and I am going to share again as it’s such a beautiful story xx

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    1. The two of you have brought me joy this morning, thank you

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