The Golden Phoenix
Two men, each of which had found no good fortune in his life of hard labor, had partnered together for a life of adventure in search of Elyria’s grandest treasures. One of the men was the younger, and though he was swifter and stronger, he had not yet the hard experiences of the world; and the other was the elder, and though he was sharper of mind, he had not as much strength at the end of each day. It had been many days since they had been in town, and they had run out of rations, so the two endeavored to lay a trap for an animal to break their fast the following morning. The elder of them foraged out into the thick wood to gather vine and braided it together such that no beast could break it. After he did this, the younger used this vine and fashioned together a blanket made of loose rope, and he laid the snare ‘neath the lowest branch of a tree, hidden under a bushel of ivy grown haphazard on the forest floor. With their work done, the men retired to their camp and rested away the pangs of their hunger.
When they awoke, they came upon the tree to find trapped in the snare a phoenix with feathers of brightest shimmering gold, a color which had not yet been witnessed by all the wealthiest kings nor queens nor soul nor spirit of the realm. At the sight of the two men, the phoenix’s wings fluttered against the vine that held them, and it warbled:
“O Light! How swift my fate is fraught
No justice ‘til I’m set ablaze
He who keeps and slays me not
Shan’t want for grace the rest of days.”
The elder man thought upon the prestige this could offer him, of the children that would know long after he was dead that he found the golden phoenix, and the man said aloud, “This is a fine reward for the one who brought forth the vines and braided them together with such skill that the bird could not escape.”
The younger man looked upon its pristine feathers, where even one plucked from its back could afford him to purchase the largest manor on the coast, and he replied, “Surely the one who deserves it is the one who fastened and set the trap, for without my keen eye for the low-hanging branch and the ivy that covered the ground the bird would not be caught.”
The elder did not agree—instead, he insisted he deserved it more than the younger, as the phoenix may have come upon the snare even without the ivy cover. The younger said that perhaps the phoenix didn’t even need to be caught in the snare at all, and it may simply have caught itself on the branch otherwise. Yet the two could not agree on who deserved to own the golden phoenix more than the other. Finally, the younger proposed to settle the matter with a duel that evening. The elder was not as quick with the sabre as he once was, but he knew this was the honorable way to settle the matter and agreed.
In the meantime, the two of them made their separate ways in search of food elsewhere. The younger of them, advantaged though he may have been, did not want to even suffer the risk of a loss. No sooner did he step out of sight than he retraced his steps to the phoenix in secret. “Phoenix,” he asked it, “What shall I do to ensure my opponent submits before I?”
The phoenix replied:
“There lies a sword of magic steel
Beneath the stump rot thrice times deep
Beware on whom the blade can feel;
The one it pricks is sent to sleep.”
The youngest went just as the phoenix had instructed, to the rotted stump they had spotted half a mile back. He dug one, two, three feet underneath, and the glint of the magic blade peeked through the dirt at last. With pure concentration and care, he lifted it by the flat edges on either side and removed his own sabre to make room in the sheathe.
Yet on his way back, the man worried that the blade’s power may not be real. “What if the phoenix tricked me,” thought he, “for dishonoring the integrity of this duel for which I asked?” As he thought this, he came upon an otterbear as it walked toward the riverbank. It payed him little mind as it went past, so he delicately pricked the back of the beast’s hind leg, and in an instant it fell onto its back in a deep slumber. He knew then the magic of the sword was genuine, and all that he asked the phoenix would come true, and he left the otterbear there to sleep.
Now it so happened that the older man had not soon afterward given up in his search for food, and he, too retraced his steps so that he could also meet with the phoenix in secret. As he was at the clear disadvantage, he thought it only fair to ask guidance. “Phoenix,” he asked it, “What shall I do to ensure my opponent does not win?”
The phoenix replied:
“Hidden round the east foothill
You’ll find a blessed coat aglow
For every wound upon that twill,
The same appears upon your foe.”
The eldest went in the direction apart from the sun, just as the phoenix had instructed, to the foothill a short distance away. He had only searched for an hour before he spotted where hung a dimly shining coat about a high tree branch. With all the care in the world, he climbed the tree until his reach met the highest branch, and he pulled the coat from its perch and let it fall to the ground, where he followed not long afterward.
Yet on his way back, the man worried that the coat may not have any power after all. “What if the truly magical coat was half a mile off,” thought he, “and this coat I found just happened to be an ordinary one?” As he thought this, he came upon a lone canis rabbit as it stalked the woods. Thinking fast, the man put on the coat and allowed it to bite at his wrist. After only a moment, the canis rabbit ceased its attack and cried out in pain, for an identical bite had formed at its foreleg around the paw. He knew then the magic of the coat was genuine, and that all he asked of the phoenix would come true, and he left the canis rabbit there to lick at its wound.
Once it was time for their duel, both men met back at the clearing where the phoenix was caught. When the elder saw the younger, he said, “I do not remember your sword. From where did you find it?”
The younger replied, “Your memory must have failed with your age. I’ve had this from the beginning.” Then he asked, “And you, old friend? I do not remember your coat. From where did you find that?”
The elder answered, “You must have missed it while you were busy chasing glory. I came to own this coat ages ago.”
The golden phoenix screeched at the deception to which it bore witness, but it otherwise did not make a sound. The men took this as their start, circling about each other with swords drawn. The younger struck out with his magic sword, but the elder ducked. As they passed by each other, the younger hit the elder upon his coat-covered back with the flat side of the sword. The younger then felt an identical hit upon his own back, but wherever he looked around him he could not place what had done it. He asked aloud, “Have we a phantom here?” yet the elder took advantage of his moment of distraction to attack. The younger fell back as he dodged, and the blade of his sword was cushioned by a bed of flowers, each of which instantly closed their petals as if it were nighttime.
The elder noticed this, and he said, “Indeed, even the plants behave strangely.” Seizing this moment for himself, the younger made the slightest prick upon his elder’s breast. In an instant, the elder passed out where he stood. The younger cheered, “Ah-ha! I’ve won!” for only a moment before he, too, was fast asleep. Out of sight of them both, the golden phoenix fell to ashes through the holes in the snare and carried itself away in the wind.