The Boy Who Longed to Fly
For Jody, who flies between the worlds.
by Andras Corban Arthen ©1991
THIS TALE CAME TO ME one night as I sat in a rocking chair cradling my son in my arms, vainly trying to help him fall asleep. I thought to tell him a story, but could think of none that might be interesting to one so very young. A sudden gust of wind intruded itself upon my musings. The wind had a voice, and the voice said, “Listen … I shall tell you the story of the Boy Who Longed to Fly.”
Once there was a boy named Joseph, who, more than anything in the world, longed to fly as free as a bird, as high as the clouds. While his childhood friends busied themselves with games and toys, Joseph had eyes only for the gliding sparrow hawk and the fluttering butterfly and the busy dance of bluejays building a new nest. Joseph would watch them with a look of longing and sadness and hope that is seldom found except in children’s eyes, and he would say to himself, as if muttering a prayer, “Wish that I could fly … Wish that I could fly . . . ”
Years swept by, and the time came for Joseph and his friends to give up the ways of childhood, but Joseph kept his gaze fixed on the sky. His friends thought him odd, and teased him and wounded him deeply. Still he would raise his eyes to the sky and intone softly, almost silently, “Wish that I could fly … Wish that I could fly. . . ”
His elders said, “Joseph, with your head always in the clouds, come down to Earth, boy. The world is a dangerous place, and you will fall and hurt yourself if you don’t watch the ground.” But Joseph paid them no mind. And, indeed, he would often stumble and fall. But always he would rise, and shake the dust off, and wipe the blood away, and once more look with longing toward the sky, saying, “Wish that I could fly … Wish that I could fly. . .”
One day, as Joseph lay on a bright field of summer. looking up at the sky and dreaming of flight, a butterfly landed right upon his nose. As Joseph tried to cross his eyes to see it more clearly, the butterfly said, “Joseph, Joseph, what would you here?” Joseph was startled. Despite all his imaginings and flights of fancy, he had never heard a butterfly speak. But speak it did: “Joseph, Joseph, what would you here?”
“I am lying on this field, wishing that I could fly,” he replied.
“Ah, Joseph,” said the butterfly. “Flight is a wondrous thing indeed. It is the greatest freedom one could ever possibly know.”
“You can fly,” said Joseph to the butterfly. “Could you teach me how?”
“Ah, Joseph, wish that I could. Wish that I could. But lad, you have no wings.”
“Wish that I had wings,” said Joseph. “Wish that I had wings. . . ” And the look of despair that filled his face was such that the butterfly was deeply moved.
“Joseph, Joseph,” it said, “there is one way. It’s a little secret I can tell you. It’s about your Name of Flight. You see, people call you Joseph, and that is the only name you know. But here’s the secret: every living being has more than one name – indeed, dozens of names, One of those is the Name of Flight. Joseph, if you were only able to learn your Name of Flight – ah, then you could truly soar…”
Joseph’s heart leapt with hope. “How shall I find my Name of Flight? Please tell me!”
And the butterfly said, “You can find it only by visiting a very special and magical place.”
“Yes, yes,” said Joseph. “How shall I find this place?” But at that very moment, the wind came rushing by and swept the butterfly far away, until Joseph could see it no more.
Although disheartened, Joseph clung to the only hope that remained and set about to find that “special and magical place.” For many years he traveled the world over in his quest. He searched for his Name in great oceans and deep canyons and ancient virgin forests. He even journeyed to a mist-covered lake that sits on top of the world, but to no avail. His Name of Flight was not to be found.
In his travels, Joseph fell into the company of a band of wanderers, who were each embarked upon a quest of their own. They journeyed together and partook of many adventures, and among them Joseph found new hope and a place to call home. But he had yet to find his Name.
One evening, just past sunset, as Joseph and some of his companions were traveling through a densely-wooded forest, they noticed a strange, eerie light glowing behind some trees. They drew nearer, and past a thicket of birch and fir they came upon a small, rounded hill, green and rocky, that shone with an eldritch glow. As they stood in awe of this sight, Joseph thought he noticed a small speck of light that flickered and sparkled and hovered over the hill like a butterfly. And he thought he heard a faint, but vaguely familiar voice calling to him, “Joseph, Joseph, what would you here?”
Joseph rushed forward and clambered up the hill, searching for the voice. But his companions ran after him to warn him. “Joseph,” they said, “Joseph, take care. For this is a hill like no other hill. This is a sitheann, a fairy mound, and it shines with the light of another world. We must be careful, for the realm of Faerie is not like our world, and we must not tread upon the Land of the Wee Folk until we have better learned their ways.” Joseph knew that their counsel was wise, and, with great reluctance, he returned with them to their home.
Time went by, and Joseph grew impatient. The Fairy Hill haunted his dreams, as did a small, flickering voice calling him, luring him. And yet another voice — his own from deep within — that spoke about the ecstasy of flight, and of a Name he did not know.
One clear summer night, Joseph decided to visit the shining hill alone. As he approached it, he felt an uncommon stillness in the air, and he sensed that he was not alone. Afraid, yet knowing what he must do, he circled the hill three times as the sun moves. As he was about to circle yet again, he heard the most peculiar sound of music coming from the hill. It reminded him of the bell-like tones of a wire strung harp, except that it really sounded more like a drum. And he realized that he was not so much hearing the music, as tasting it. But then, it was really more as if he were touching it. It was a sensation such as Joseph had never known, and it was coming from the mouth of a cave on the side of the hill-a cave that he had never noticed before, but which now lay open, dark and beckoning.
Joseph entered the cave slowly, warily, and found that it became darker the deeper down he went. And yet, he noticed with some puzzlement, the darker it got, the easier it became for him to see.
A voice out of the darkness startled him. It was a voice he could not remember ever having heard before, but which nevertheless sounded quite familiar. And the voice said, “Joseph, Joseph, what would you here?”
Before him stood a man, tall and dark and slender, with eyes that were not of one color, but of all the colors of the rainbow and more. Colors that danced and changed as he spoke. And behind the man, faint in the shadows, Joseph could see the shape of butterfly wings.
“I seek my Name of Flight,” Joseph replied.
“Ah. Joseph, Joseph,” said the Fairy King (for don’t you know that’s who it was), “the Name of Flight is a wondrous thing indeed. It opens the door to Worlds you have never imagined.”
“Do you know how I may find it?” Joseph asked. “Please, sir, help me. All my life I have longed only to fly.”
“I know exactly where and how you may find your Name,” said the Fairy King. “it is right here and now, just beyond your grasp, in my realm of Faerie.”
“Then tell me how I might enter your world, for I must know my Name of Flight.”
“Take care, Joseph, take care,” said the Fairy King, “for the ways of the world of Faerie, which we also call the Land of the Blessed, are not like your ways. If you were to take but one breath of the enchanted atmosphere of Faerie, you would never be able to return to the world of mortals as you know it.”
“It is a risk that l would take,” Joseph replied. l am a strong swimmer. I can hold my breath for a very long time. Please let me enter.”
“As you wish,” said the Fairy King. “Then step upon my feet, for only thus may you enter the enchanted realm of Faerie.”
As Joseph gingerly stepped upon his feet, the Fairy King held him close and kissed him full on the lips. It was a kiss such as Joseph had never known. It was a kiss of rushing water and the leaping flames of a raging balefire. It was a kiss of honey and golden summer wheat. It was a kiss of the ripening buds of flowers and the pounding of a thousand hearts. It was a kiss of the music that stars make as they circle the universe.
It was such a kiss, that it took Joseph’s breath away.
He sighed with a rapture unknown to mortals, and as he sighed, the breath of the Fairy King entered his lungs, and Joseph knew that never would he return to the world of mortals as he had known it.
But before Joseph could think much more, the Fairy King whispered in his ear, “Now blessed you be.” And the King stood before him and placed his hands on Joseph’s shoulders, and looked him in the eyes with reverence and amusement and unspeakable love.
And the Fairy King said, “To celebrate your entrance into this realm, it is fitting that you be given a new name. From this day forward you shall be known as Damhan-Nathrach among all who dwell in the Land of Faerie.” (This is a name which in the ancient language means “the serpent who dances in air,” and which describes a creature that in the world of mortals is called the dragonfly.)
As he heard the Name spoken, Joseph felt his shape slowly changing. His arms and legs melted into his body, which stretched and became longer, like the body of a serpent. And from the middle of his back — as if they had always been there, just waiting for the right moment to appear — two pairs of long, slender, parallel wings burst forth like shoots breaking through the Earth in early spring. The wings twitched, as if blinking in disbelief, and as they flickered, Joseph found himself rising and whirling through the air toward the mouth of the cave, bursting into a world of green grass and tall trees and rippling ponds — the world of mortals that he had always known, but was seeing now as though for the first time.
Joseph tried out his wings. He darted and pirouetted and danced through the air with glee. And he heard voices calling him. Down below, he saw his mortal family and friends, hands joined together, dancing in a ring. As they danced they shouted, “Joseph, dear brother, dear friend! Fly, Joseph, fly!”
And fly he did, through the tall summer grass, brushing against the glistening petals of flowers, rippling the surface of the lake, caressing the tops of trees. Fly he did, up through clouds to the Sun itself and then back to the Land of Faerie, where he remains to this very day.
But should you ever find yourself lying on a bright field of summer, and if a dragonfly were to land softly upon the back of your hand, take care, be gentle, and listen closely, and you may hear yet again the story of Joseph Damhan-Nathrach, the Boy Who Longed to Fly.
ANDRAS CORBAN ARTHEN co-Director of The EarthSpirit Community, is, among other things, a father and a storyteller. This story. which he first told to his young son. is part of a collection that he calls Wonder Tales.