Work Header

Sparrows Fall in Flight

Work Text:

"Azariah?" said Tobiah, as his sandals beat a walking rhythm on the hard drum face of the mountain path.

Raphael, who was known to Tobiah only as his kinsman, Azariah, smiled sweetly and said, "Yes, my brother, what is it that troubles you?"

Tobiah walked many steps up the twisting track and the wind rattled the dry desert brush before Tobiah finally said, "Azariah, it has been seven days since we left Ecbatana out on the plateau. We have descended through great rocks green as spring grass. We have climbed up the narrow mountain ways where even the shepherds will not go. We have climbed through black rock and tumbled down trails. We have walked in the cool kiss of the morning and the stifle of the late day and yet we have not reached the Tigris, lazy in its wide banks and our water grows scarce."

Raphael whistled and Tobiah's dog, Naphtali, bounded down from the brush. In Nephatali's red mouth, he held the bare yellow bone of an antelope's hip, cracked in the sun. Raphael said, "Here is your dog Nephatli. See how he shakes all his body in pleasure at seeing you. Hear how he jumps with joy. Think you that he fears that our water grows scare?" Raphael smiled all the sweeter and shook his head, "No, for his happiness is made complete at the sight of you. See this gift that he has hunted in the hot sun to bring you. This precious bone. Take his gift and fear not. Did I not say that I have often traveled to Media and that I used to stay with our kinsman Gabael, who lives at Rages in Media."

Tobiah sighed, "You also said that it was two days journey and I grow fearful for I am the staff to which my parents cling, and I do not know what they shall do if we perish from thirst."

Raphael laughed and said, "I should grow angry that you do not trust your kinsman, but in truth I have been as selfish as Naphtali, bounding about at the site of your kind face. Here now, take the bone that your dog offers you. Take it and throw it over the hill and tell me what you hear."

So, Tobiah took the bone from Naphtali and he threw it over the yellow ridge. He threw it and it tumbled in the air. Tumbled and whistled as it fell across the hot blue sky and down away from sight. It fell where they could not see, but they could hear it as it splashed when it fell.

"I hear water," said Tobiah and he began to run up the steep narrow path, dust rising in a rooster's tail behind him.

Raphael laughed, picked up his walking staff, and began to run too, but as he ran, his feet did not pound the drum of the mountain trail and the dust did not shift even a grain from his steps.

They ran over the yellow ridge laughing as young men full of wild oats and youth and infinite age, for there was the Tigris, wide in its brown waters. Laughing, Tobiah rolled up his robe and threw aside his sandals to wade into the muddy waters. Walked in the lapping shallows to wriggle his toes like worms in the cool mud. His toes wriggled and Naphtali ran and jumped in the water, splashing the song of his joy.

Raphael shook his head and sat on the river bank watching Tobiah in the water. Raphael sat in the hot sun, watching the young man play in the great river. Raphael began to sing and his song rolled over the shallows and into the deep, "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense." The hot sun sank further towards the hills and Tobiah turned to Raphael in the golden of the last light of day. Raphael sang, "How much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices! A garden inclosed; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." Raphael splashed at Tobiah with his foot, with his foot in the water that splashed, but hardly made a ripple. Raphael sang, "Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits."

Tobiah stood in the wide of waters of the Tigris. He stood in the last golden light of day. Splashing and laughing. He said, "Your voice is like the sigh of heaven. It is like the cry of the earth as the sun slips away over the horizon."

Raphael said, "It is a gift from our Father, who was desirous that I make music. For His world is made of harmony. The sweet rhythm of the water on the shore. The flutter of the sparrow's wings as it flies. The barking of Naphtali and the splashing of his master in the great river Tigris. All the harmony of which my voice is just a single note.

Tobiah splashed a wave at Raphael, the water the color of soft peaches as the sun sank over the darkening hills. "My splashing may be part of the harmony of the world," he said, "but I think it is far less pleasing than the sweet sound of your voice as it rolls across the water."

"That is a matter of perspective." Raphael held up a blue river rock. He said, "This rock is a no different than its fellows. It has weight in my hand. It is worn smooth to the touch." Raphael held it in front of his nose. "It smells of the river and the earth. Its value is in the pleasure that it gives me." Raphael stood on the river bank and he threw the rock on the smooth waters of the wide Tigris. It skipped across the water, gold and rose red and blue in the last gleaming of day. Skipped once, twice, thrice, four times splashing and furrowing the waters before it sank. Raphael said, "To our Father, all harmonies are equal. But it is the pleasure of your harmony that makes your splashing more than equal to the pleasure of my song. Come let us ring the earthly and celestial spheres with our harmony."

And Raphael began to sing. What words he sang cannot be written, for in truth, who does not know them. He sang of God on his throne and the sparrow in flight. He sang of age unwithered and youth freely sprung.

Raphael sang and Tobiah laughed and played in the mighty Tigris with his dog Naphtali. Tobiah's feet wriggled in the cool soft mud as he splashed the water.

A golden fish darted above the water to hear Raphael's song. It flew in the water so that is might see the beautiful boy on the river banks with round cheeks singing in the late golden moments of day. A golden fish darted below the water towards the dusty brown wriggling in the soft cool mud. The golden fish leaped in the water and dived down to where it swallowed Tobiah's foot.

Tobiah shouted out in alarm, "Azariah, come help me my brother, for I am being consumed."

Raphael stopped singing. He sat on the river bank, the red and pink waters reflecting the last light. He said, "Take hold of the fish and don't let it get away."

Tobiah grabbed hold of the fish and hopped back to shore.

Raphael said, "Cut the fish open and take out its gall, heart, and liver, and keep them with you; but throw away the entrails."

Tobiah cut open the fish. In the last light of day, he put aside the gall of the golden fish in a small clay pot. He kept its red heart and liver in an oiled purse. He kept these, but the entrails he threw away back into the wide river.

As Tobiah cleaned the fish, Raphael gathered brush and branches on the shore of the great river. Raphael gathered a pile of branches and he whistled a tune, so that the fire might light itself from the heart of the wood.

The fire leaped and crackled as the last light of day slipped away. The fire was happy to eat what parts of the golden fish sizzled and fell into its branches as Raphael roasted it. Raphael reached into the fire and pulled out pale white slivers of fish to feed to Tobiah. Raphael fed Tobiah slivers of white fish with his fingers and it was sweet, perfumed with the smoke of the fire.

Tobiah said, "Brother Azariah, what value is there in the fish's heart, liver, and gall? The flesh I grant you is sweet, especially when so roasted on such a leaping of fire."

Raphael licked his fingers, sticky with the pale juice of the golden fish and he said, "If you burn the fish's heart and liver, if you burn them so that the smoke surrounds a man or a woman who is afflicted by a demon or evil spirit, the affliction will leave him completely, and no demons will ever return to him again." Raphael threw sweet grasses into the fire and it leapt green and blue and danced around the white bone branches. Raphael said, "And as for the gall, if you rub it on the eyes of a man who has cataracts, blowing into his eyes right on the cataracts, his sight will be restored."

Tobiah sighed happily and said, "Blessings on the day that I met you oh my brother Azariah, for as you know my father's eyes are afflicted with cataracts, white as goat's milk and pale. But what need have I of smoke to drive off demons? I know of no one so afflicted."

Raphael smiled, but in some trick of leaping light, there was a downward turn to his smooth round cheek and he said, "Even so it may prove useful to you when you reach Media." Raphael sighed and leaned forward. He leaned toward Tobiah and he pointed up at the sky, "Do you see that star my brother?"

Tobiah leaned close to Raphael's arm that he might better see the star. Tobiah leaned close enough to feel the hairs on Raphael's arm like downy feathers and Tobiah said, "Yes my brother, I see the yellow star winking on the horizon to the south."

Raphael's arm fell to earth and he sighed. He said, "It flies on all too swift wings. Not as proud as the Morning Star, but still it races. Like time it runs across the sky. Like this journey that is all but at an end."

Tobiah shook his head and said, "Oh, say not so my brother, for this journey has been sweet and full of much pleasure in conversation."

"When the sun was in the sky, you wished this journey short. With the fire leaping, you wish it to stretch into starlit night." Raphael took from their travel bag a pomegranate and with his knife he cut it. He cut it open and Raphael offered the red meat of the pomegranate to Tobiah. Raphael offered him tart red seeds tart with his fingers and said, "Have a seed for every star in the stretching hours that we might sit by the fire and speak of God on his throne and the sparrow in flight and you and I as we sit by the fire and smell the sweet grass burn."

Tobiah took the pomegranate seeds from Raphael's fingers. He took them into his mouth and he ate them. Their juice stained Tobiah's lips red in the flickering light of the dying fire. Mingled with the flesh of the golden fish, bright as the sun.

And they talked long into the night. Talked as the yellow star slowed its race across the sky and the stars went but slowly in their dance. They talked of God on his throne and the sparrow in flight and the murmur of their voices made itself into a harmony with the red smolder of the fire in the soft embracing darkness of the night.