HOW THE ROBIN GOT HIS RED BREAST

“Mum”, whispered Amina, “I’m so cold I can’t feel my toes any more”.
Her mum sighed, and then stopped. She peered into the trees all around them, and listened. It was quiet. “Ok, love. We’ll sleep here in this clearing for tonight”.
They had been walking all day. And the whole day before. And the day before that. It was a long time since they’d slept in their own beds.
“Let’s build a fire”, said Amina’s mum.
From a tall pine, a wee grey bird was watching as she peeled curls of birch bark from a fallen tree. Amina gathered bracken, leaves and spruce twigs into a nest, and her mother took her Fire Stone from her bag. She struck it over and over until a spark jumped into the dry bark and leaves. Amina blew into it until the fire caught hold.
It was already beginning to grow dark in the wood. And the wee bird was watching.
“I’m hungry”, said Amina.
“I know, I know”, hushed her mum, “I’ll find us something to eat, I promise”. She pulled a blanket from the bag and wrapped it around her daughter, tucking her in close to the heat. Amina felt her feet begin to thaw out.
Her mum poked a long branch into the campfire to make a torch. “I won’t be long, Amina. Stay right here please”. And then she disappeared into the trees.
The wood uttered strange sounds. Whelps and whistles. Creaks and rustles. Amina stared at the flickering fire and her eyes began to feel heavy.
And the wee bird was watching.
Brambles. Amina’s mum plucked them fresh and juicy from the bushes, and dropped them carefully into the side pockets of the bag. It wouldn’t be enough to feed them both, but it was a start.
Back in the clearing, Amina slept on. And the fire beside her began to shrink. There was a crinkling of leaves, and from behind a juniper tree emerged a black nose sniffing the air.
A lone wolf crept into the clearing where Amina lay.
And the wee bird was watching.
Hazelnuts. The wood was littered with them. “They’ll be so delicious”, Amina’s mum thought to herself. And she stuffed them into her pockets. “But we’ll need even more food for tomorrow’s journey”.
Still Amina slept. And the campfire grew weaker and weaker. Snap. Crack. Snuffle. The wolf crept closer and closer.
And the wee bird was watching.
Wild mushrooms. The kind you can eat. “Perfect”, said Amina’s mum. And she pulled them from under the boughs of an oak and filled her bag.
Amina shuffled under the blanket, as the fire dwindled almost to its embers. The wolf took a deep breath and made ready to pounce.
A flash! A flutter! Swooping down from the pine tree, was the wee bird. He’d seen it all. The wolf. The fire. The girl. Her mum. He knew exactly what to do. Just a wee grey bird tick, tick, ticking in fury as his wings grazed the hairs on the wolf’s back. He flew low over the fire and he blew and blew with all his might. The flames leapt into the face of the wolf, who staggered back, yelping.
Just then, Amina’s mum ran into the clearing, yelling and waving her torch. “No! No! Leave her alone!” The wolf scarpered back into the woods.
Amina felt her mum’s arms around her. “Are you ok? Are you ok?” she muttered. “Mum, it was the wee bird that saved me. Such a tiny wee bird, mum”. And she pointed to where it lay on the ground, just beyond the fire, not moving at all.
Amina’s mum picked it up gently. She could feel its heart still beating. As she turned it in the palm of her hand, she could see that all the feathers on its breast were burned. They glowed a vibrant orange-red, like the flames themselves.
Amina’s mum began to cry. She cried for joy. She cried for sorrow. For the wee bird had almost killed himself to save her daughter.
And, you know, this was long ago, but many things are just the same. That wee bird’s chest has glowed ever since. For this is how the Robin got his Red-Breast, the bold wee robin who looks after us all.
***
A fledgling adaptation from an old, old tale. And a sister story to that of How The Spruce Became Evergreen, which appeared as a spoken piece in Wind Resistance. With thanks for initial comment from the wonderful brains of Katarina Juvancic and Liam Hurley.
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