Part Two: Spark of Life
Nine months later, a beautiful baby girl increased their family by one. They named her Cloethel, in honor of Thrala’s favorite handmaiden whom she regretted bitterly to have forgotten in the tumultuous day in which the candles were blown out.
Dagol never told his wife about the secret of the candles. He remembered his promise to Bulara Cithil. But he never visited the sorcerer to even let him know that a child had been born. So, Cloethel grew up, beautiful as her mother and assiduous as her father, unaware that she was owed to an old hermit dwelling in the forest. Besides, Dagol lied to himself, the candles had proved unnecessary. The flames were gone, yet Thrala remained at his side.
Eventually, suitors came knocking at their door for the hand of Cloethel. Not long after, a dashing viscount by the name of Ramilro caught her fancy and they became betrothed. Thrala wondered if all the shopkeepers of the town had turned over their work to more industrious fellows: the tarts and bouquets Ramilro brought for Cloethel were always pleasant and fresh.
Dagol and Thrala had never had a second child, and so they could not imagine her leaving to live far off in Ramilro’s viscounty. So they built a new manor on their land. This suited Ramilro fine, for he was a second son and had very little land for himself.
Ramilro and Cloethel had no trouble at all in filling her belly with a tiny child. However, on the day that the child was to be born, which happened to also be the birthday of Cloethel, the baby died during birth. The whole family was devastated. The young couple proved quite fertile, however, and exactly one year later, on Cloethel’s birthday another one tried to be born. Again, however, the child died during birth. This event repeated itself every year on the same day, until the eleventh time.
Dagol was eager for a grandchild and doubly saddened to see his wife and his daughter in distress. He would often go down to the cellar as he once did and light a few candles. He kept the fact hidden from Thrala. There were only a few and he always blew them out before he remounted the purple stairs. It was his secret time of comforting.
On the eve of the birthday of the twelfth pregnancy, Dagol found Ramilro in a chamber by himself looking out the window towards the forest. Dagol had always made it a point to see only the good in Ramilro. Dagol’s own father in law had never granted him a smile and so he wished to be close to his son in law. Dagol knew that Thrala, unable to find fault in her daughter, secretly despised Ramilro for the loss of the eleven newborns. And this made Dagol all the more sympathetic towards his daughter’s husband. On this day, Dagol had an idea.
“Yonder in those trees is someone who may be able to help,” Dagol said.
Ramilro, surprised that someone had entered, remained facing the outside, and replied, “We are cursed. I don’t know how or when. I would be happy if I only knew why.”
“I know who can help,” Dagol responded.
Ramilro turned about, intrigued. His first words were angry. “You tell me now? It would have been better to know many years ago.”
Dagol kept silent for a few moments. Ramilro looked down, then said, “I’m sorry. If there is anyone who can help, tell me where I can find him.”
And Dagol told Ramilro about the path of white stones that led to the red cottage with three chimneys. Ramilro started out at once. He found the place just as his father in law had described. He knocked. An ancient hooded man opened a large square shutter on the door and peered through. His beard, without even yet tapering, vanished below where Ramilro could see.
“Yes?” he asked.
Ramilro responded, “I have been sent here with a grave request. Can you cause a miracle?”
Bulara Cithil blinked and frowned. Ramilro continued, “The man who sent me has wealth, perhaps wealth untold. I have brought a sample.” Ramilro hefted a leather satchel and untied the knot. It was so pregnant the gold coins exploded out and clattered on the stones, some rolling behind the mushrooms and pumpkins along the wall of the cottage. “I’m sorry, let me get those.” While he knelt and replaced the coins, Ramilro continued, “I can bring more, much more.” He had stolen these in secret from Dagol’s chest.
The sorcerer receded his head inside and closed the window. The sound of the latch clicked and the door opened. Ramilro gathered all the coins he could see and stood.
Bulara Cithil made an inviting gesture and parted the way. Ramilro pushed the opened satchel into the old man’s hands and stepped past.
Inside the three fires crackled to produce the boiling of three cauldrons. Black birds, or perhaps bats perched along beams criss-crossing above.
“What sort of miracle?” the sorcerer asked.
“My wife will bear a child on the morrow. I cannot bear to see that child die. It seems to be an heir to a terrible curse. I should be the father of eleven others, but I am yet childless. Can you cause it to live, well beyond the first day?”
“I can do this. The question is whether you will bear the price.”
“I will bear the price, I have this gold and more.”
“I do not require gold or things that tarnish. Give me that child that shall be born, and it will live.”
Ramilro gasped. “What sort of a bargain is that? Why would I do such a thing?”
Bulara Cithil smiled. “I can break your curse and you will then have a thirteenth child. You have waited this long, why cannot you wait just a trifle longer?”
Ramilro looked hard at the hoary beard and wizened face. He now noticed that the beard reached just above the floor. In fact, the hairs almost seemed to melt into the tattered ends of the sorcerer’s robe as if it rose again to be his attire. The bubbling of the three cauldrons hissed and snapped. Ramilro became aware that his thoughts had abandoned him. It was difficult to focus among the strangeness of this place.
“What if I don’t have a thirteenth?” he asked suddenly. “Will you grant me that I can have a thirteenth?”
Bulara Cithil smiled. He began to shape his spell at once. He muttered his incantations and prepared small goblets with powders and fragments of bone or fin or leg of tiny creatures. A large knife, carved from yellowed bone, was brought from within his robes. He pricked each of Ramilro’s fingers and thumbs on the tip. Procuring a lit candle, the sorcerer told Ramilro to let a drop from each of his digits fall onto the flame. To his amazement, the red liquid did not extinguish the flame.
Looking at Ramilro’s wondering eyes, Bulara Cithil said, “Do not be deceived. This flame can go out as any other once you depart. Hold it close, for so long as this flame burns, your child shall live.”
Ramilro held his breath. He did not want the little fire to waver even slightly. It was tiny and glowing, just as his son or daughter would be. “This flame, not this candle has to survive?” he asked.
Bulara Cithil assured him he was correct. Ramilro thought about lighting hundreds of candles with this one. The flames would grow as his child would.
The evening sent its somber purples across the world. From the window towards the woods Dagol saw Ramilro striding carefully. A little spark glowed before him like a star moving ponderously across the field. Dagol grasped a few candles and rushed out with glee. Together they lit all the candles and went down to the cellar. Dozens of candles were poured downstairs from all the nooks and crannies.
From down the hall, the screams of the laboring Cloethel could be heard. Ramilro knew that Thrala and Cloethel would not easily forgive him for being absent on the eve of the birthday. So he finally went into the chamber and held his wife’s hand throughout the night. He had taken a single candle, the tallest one, from the cellar and placed it in a corner of the room so that he could see the flame the whole time.
At dawn the boy emerged. The child was named Dagol. Ramilro, too distant from his family, regarded his father in law as his own. And the two men kept the secret of the candles between them. They kept the cellar full and the door locked. Neither one gave thought to the fee owed Bulara Cithil. Too much emotion pervaded the household.
Years passed. Having been the fruit of so many years of waiting, Dagol’s parents and grandparents indulged his every desire. Nothing was too great an appetite to satisfy him. He was given every fun he could imagine.
Despite this overgenerous parentage, Dagol became a curious, resourceful lad, like his grandfather. He loved to wander about the large house and discover the dusty, hidden places. One day, finding the door to the cellar, he fiddled with it until his deft fingers and improvised tools unlocked it. Amazed at the bounty of candles he found, Dagol set about lining them up and tossing pebbles at them until they fell one by one. When three remained, he finally became bored and so removed them all to the upstairs. These three were the tallest and most colorful, which was why he had not tossed pebbles at them.
Upon a table were pieces of cloth and shreds of leather. The seamstress had been weaving a coat, tunic and pantaloons, a whole new set of attire for Dagol’s birthday on the morrow. The windows were open, one unfastened shutter clacked against the outside wall. Yellow and green curtains fluttered. The young Dagol, for amusement, set the drapes alight. He clapped his hands at the furious conflagration. He danced before it and tried to wiggle and squirm in the manner of the flames. And then the ceiling and the floors burst into orange. A tattered, flaming section of a curtain flew off and onto the table. The fire slowly crawled down the legs of the table. The boy danced in the room until it became too hot. But already the flames of the table had creeped to the door.
Eventually the flames were discovered and extinguished. Most of the house was stone and withstood the conflagration of the chamber. Dagol, the boy, was burned and dead.