“Mama, lookit the birdy!” Melia whisper-yelled, pointing to the array of toys on the counter of Loren’s stall. In the week since they’d last come to the central market, Melia had talked almost non-stop about the toys Loren made from goldenglow wood.
Melia leaned out of Serena’s arms, reaching for the exquisite bird that sat front and center on the counter. Loren, the elderly Talus who owned the stall, and made all the toys, gave his two visitors a wide smile.
“Welcome back, Miss Melia. I’ve missed you,” he said.
“Hi Lowen,” Melia answered with a shy smile. She glanced down at the bird once again. “I like birdy.”
Loren’s smile grew wider. “I thought you might. Do you want to test it for me?” he asked. Melia’s eyes grew wide, and she clapped her hands.
“Yes, pease!” she giggled.
Serena gazed down at the delicate carving. She’d never seen anything like the bird before. “Are you sure, Loren? It looks so fragile,” she said.
“That’s why I like to use goldenglow wood for the toys. Not only is it pretty, but it’s a very hard wood. And even if she managed to break it, then I’d know where its weak points were and I can fix them for the next one,” the toymaker told her.
“What kind of bird is that anyway?” Serena asked as Melia gently picked up the bird and walked over to the small area between Loren’s stall and the one next to him. The way Loren had carved the bird made it look like a faceted gemstone.
“We call it a jewel bird. I’m sure there’s a more scientific name for them, but that’s the common name. They’re very rare and usually only found in the deepest forests on Taland. The other advantage of using goldenglow wood is that I am able to get a least a semblance of the many colors of the jewel bird… or at least what I’ve been told are its many colors. I’ve never seen one in real life,” Loren said with a note of pride in his voice.
“Your bird is absolutely gorgeous. I can’t imagine what the real thing looks like,” Serena told him, watching Melia “fly” the bird around the small space.
Loren’s crest rose as he dipped his head. “My thanks. May I give it to your daughter?” he asked, glancing down at Melia.
Serena looked up at him. “If you’re sure…” she said, her voice trailing off. The bird looked so delicate that despite Loren’s assurances regarding its sturdiness, she was afraid Melia would break it very shortly.
Loren smiled. “I’m sure. Believe me, it will survive even Miss Melia.”
A week later, Serena was gently cleaning a wall fresco in the huge archaeological dig just north of Alosal. What was left of this city echoed the swirling, soaring, fairy-tale architecture of the capital city. Although the dig was still in its early stages, the archaeologists and their teams had not discovered anything really unusual or out of line from what Serena knew of the history of Taland. The main mystery with the planet was what had happened to the civilization that had given birth to their unique architecture, and places like this abandoned city, but had disappeared thousands of years before the Talus had discovered space flight.
“Hey, sweetheart. Find anything interesting yet?” Jake ambled over to where Serena crouched on a small stool in front of the fresco she was cleaning off.
“These colors are incredibly well-preserved, but I haven’t really seen anything diff…” Serena stopped, staring at the bit of fresco she’d just finished clearing. “Oh, my,” she breathed.
“What is it?” Jake leaned in, peering over her shoulder.
“That’s the bird Loren was talking about,” Serena said, using her small brush to point to the bird depicted on the wall. “He called it a jewel bird.”
“Well if those are the actual colors, no wonder that’s what it’s called,” Jake said, staring at the brightly colored bird.
“Yeah,” Serena agreed quietly.
Later that evening after the end of day meeting with the rest of the crew, Jake and Serena took a short walk to the edge of the dig. The site was on a small hill and overlooked a river valley and provided beautiful sunsets. As had become their habit, they liked to spend a few minutes alone at the end of the day, before heading back to the city and the wonderful, yet chaotic, dinner hour with Melia.
“So that bird toy that Loren gave to Melia, that’s the same as the one you found on the fresco today, right?” Jake asked, wrapping his arm around Serena’s waist as they gazed at the sun setting over the mountains in the distance.
“Yeah. Like I told you, he said the birds were very rare. He’s never seen one, but they had drawings of them… obviously, considering what I found today,” Serena said.
Liquid, trilling birdsong sounded from behind them, and they turned, searching the trees, to find the source. Serena gasped and pointed. “Look!”
Sitting just above their heads on the thick branch of a goldenglow tree sat what could only be a jewel bird. Facing the sunset, it sang its heart out. The last rays of sunshine reflected off its multi-hued feathers giving the little bird a glowing aura.
Jake and Serena stared at the bird until it finished its song and flew off. Shaking his head, Jake put his hand on the small of Serena’s back and guided her back to the dig and their little two-man flyer. Neither of them spoke during the short trip home, the song and colors of the jewel bird still resonating in their minds.