In a land called Oberlin, the winter had lasted too long, past the groundhog’s date and past when the snow should stop, even had our groundhog predicted otherwise than it had. It soon became clear to the students:
Spring was sleeping.
But there was hope. During a week of what should be spring, Oberlin students were permitted to travel to other places, places closer to the sun, where they could come close enough to the Fires of the Sun that questers might be heard.
Ah, but being heard is not the only tricky part. What use is being heard if one is given no answer? What use even an answer, if the answer is a dismissal?
But the Fire-folk are not without hearts. They could be swayed, by diplomacy, or by wit, or, if they were feeling particularly whimsical, by some somewhat important event brought to their attention.
A young quester had gone to such a warm clime, where the path to the Fires of the Sun was brief and not exceptionally burning. The quester packed bread, rock candy, and a top for food, flavor, and fun, since the Fires were creatures of all such things. (Why else would cooked food taste so much better? Why else would so many people be drawn to playing with fire?)
Items in thons pack, the quester climbed, and soon enough, came to a door the color of a full moon on a clear night.
“Have you a key?” came a voice from the door.
“I do not,” thon said.
“Have you lost a key you were given?”
“I have not,” thon said.
“Then how shall you get past the door?”
“I know my stories well enough. I must take a bone from my smallest finger, and place it in the door.”
“Correct,” the voice rumbled.
“But this is not a tale of sacrifice,” thon continued, “not to speak with the Fires. The point is the riddle and the story, not the bone itself. The door opens for the answer, not the bone.”
And the voice said, with a smile thon could hear, “Correct.” The moon doors swung open.
Next thon came to an old person in a rocking chair, who had aged in the way that makes gender indeterminate, if gender were ever a proper thing to apply to this old one. The hair was perfectly golden, the only hint that this one might ever have been young. “Good day,” thon said with a curtsey, since thon had worn a skirt that day.
“Good day,” said the old one back, rocking chair creaking. “Why are you here?” There was a bit of a twinkle in the old one’s eye.
“I am here to bring some late Fires to one of my homes,” thon said. “But I am in no great hurry as of yet, if you find yourself in need of help.”
The old one smiled. “I would not refuse some bread, if you had it.”
“I do,” thon said, handing the whole of the loaf to the old one with stars for eyes and sunlight for hair. The old one ate, and beyond the rocking chair a door swung open. Thon had not seen it before, for it was dark as the night sky, the same shade as nearly everything else.
Thon saw when it opened, for it opened into a room as bright and warm as summer sunshine on a day perfect for reading in a grassy field.
“Fires of the Sun, may I speak with you?”
Silence greeted thon. Upon thinking of that phrase, thon bowed to the silence, on the off-chance that it was a living silence. (It was not.)
Thon sat in the middle of the broad, bright room and took out a piece of rock candy to suck on, and the top to spin. “Oh! You brought a toy! Why didn’t you say so?” said a Fire, jumping out from a wall. The Fire could not stay still, it seemed, flickering from one side to the next. Soon, this Fire’s Siblings joined Them, and even in a room the color of sunlight, shadows flickered on the walls.
“Would you like some rock candy?” thon asked, laying out a few more pieces in various colors of the rainbow, each attached to a metal stick. Wooden sticks do not work so well with the Fire-folk, you see.
“Yesyesyyeses,” They chattered, voices climbing over each other. Most took pieces, though a handful instead said, “I would like to play with your top, may I may I may I?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” thon said. “I got this top for my birthday. That was just today, you know.”
They cried, “It’s your birthday?” and, “Why didn’t you say so?” and, “You came here on your birthday? We have to do something special!”
“Well…” thon said, tapping thons chin with thons forefinger, “there is something, but it’s a bit out of your way.”
“We’ll do it!” said exactly three Fires in unison. The rest had learned not to commit so readily.
“Really?” thon said, brightening. “Wonderful! You see, Oberlin’s spring hasn’t woken up in the proper time. Could you come back with me when I go there, and help wake our spring?”
They chattered for a moment, too quickly and too many overlaying threads for thon to keep track of. Eventually, five stepped forward: the original three—one of whom looked less excited, though grudgingly willing to go along—and two more. “We’ll help!”
“Excellent!” And so the Fire-folk and the quester played together until thon had to go home for dinner. The five Fire-folk who were to join thon settled into the space just about thons diaphragm, where they slept as little more than a warm and jubilant feeling.
When thon returned to Oberlin, thon brought five Fire-folk. In such a cold place, they burst from thons ribs and flickered and danced throughout the campus, the town, and everywhere else they could reach: burning snow, warming soil, calling the sun to be closer and the clouds to disappear. By the time they had grown bored and went back to the sun to play with their own, spring had sprung awake.