“Towheaded Boy and the Three Little Keys” by Alexander Sharov

Translated by Aimee Roebuck-Johnson, Michael (Misha) Shengaout and John Meredig

Once upon a time there was a boy. He lived at the edge of the forest with his grandmother, who happened to be a kind old turtle. Everyone called him ‘Towheaded[1] Boy’ because of the cloud of fine flaxen hair around his head.

Once Towheaded Boy woke up in the middle of the night. He thought that he heard a sweet, clear voice calling to him “Follow me! Hurry!”

Towheaded Boy was just about to run outside, as dark and scary as it was, when Grandma Turtle stopped him: “Be patient,” she said, “That’s just the South Wind flying to the Southern Land. You’re too little to go that far from home yet. Now go back to sleep.” So the boy went back to bed and fell sound asleep.

Some time passed and again, in the middle of the night, the boy seemed to hear someone calling to him, “Fly with us! Hurry!”

The boy ran out of the house and there, high in the sky, he saw birds flying by, flock after flock. Towheaded Boy began flapping his arms but that didn’t get him off the ground. Not all boys can fly.

And that’s exactly where Grandma Turtle found him – standing on the edge of the forest, watching the birds fly away. So she took him back home and put him into his warm bed.

“Sleep tight—you’re still too little. One day you’ll see the lands where the wind was flying, where the birds were going, and the lands where neither the wind not birds ever get to go.

“But when will it come, this time of mine?” Towheaded Boy asked impatiently.

“Soon!” answered Grandma Turtle. “The dwarves will call you. Just grow up a little bit more and they will call you.”

And that’s exactly what happened. One night Grandma Turtle woke him up.

“Do you hear it?” she asked.

At first the boy thought that everything was quiet, but then he listened more closely and heard a silvery chime.

“Be sure to dress warm and don’t forget to put on your scarf,” said Grandma as she rushed him along.

They left the house and started walking across the glade, with Grandma leading the way and the boy following her.

The silvery chime was getting closer and closer as the dark glade opened up into a meadow. Among all the flowers in the meadow—the bluebells swaying on their long stalks that looked like a stork’s legs, the lilies, the tulips, the daisies—shone yellow, blue, and pink lights.

“Grandma! Grandma! Look at the stars in the flowers!” shouted Towheaded Boy in excitement.

“Those aren’t stars,” replied Grandma Turtle.

Her turtle feet rustled in the grass, her breathing was labored and the reflections of the colored lights in her shell were blurred by its deep, wrinkled cracks.

“Those aren’t stars, they’re fireflies. They shine their light to help the dwarves forge their keys.”

The fireflies glowed brighter and brighter. And the silvery sounds that he thought were chimes coming from the meadow weren’t chimes at all. It was now apparent that this was the sound of hammers on anvils. The first hammer was making a thin sound—ding-diddly-ding-ding. The second one was beating just a little louder and less frequently—bing-bong-bing-bong. The third one struck only once in a while and was the loudest of all—Bam-Bam-Bam!

The dwarves were singing to the sound of their hammers:

The dwarf upon his anvil—Boom!
“Now Spring has sprung, the Earth’s in bloom!”
So say the ones who fly and crawl,
The ants and beetles and butterflies all!
And those who slept, now they do sing
“It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring!”

It’s Spring: the cat, he lurks about,
While hoping that a mouse comes out.
He waits, but what a clever mouse!
She safely stays inside her house!

And last of all the blind old mole,
He pokes his head out from his hole.
Get up! Get up! Come hear the song!
Come one and all and sing along!

In the meantime, Grandma Turtle had finally made it to the creek in the middle of the meadow. “Look!” she said to the boy when she had finally managed to catch her breath.

On the other side of the creek, among the bluebells, there were three anvils: the first one was small and green, the second one, which was a little bigger, was red, and the third one, the biggest, was made out of diamond.

A tiny dwarf in a green apron crouched over the green anvil. On his head he had a green knitted cap with a long tassel hanging all the way down to the ground. In front of him on the green anvil lay a green key. He was striking it rapidly with a green hammer that was so tiny it almost looked like a toy.

To the “Ding-ding-diddly-ding” of his hammer, he sang with his thin voice:

The dwarf upon his anvil—Boom!
“Now Spring has sprung, the Earth’s in bloom!”
So say the ones who fly and crawl,
The ants and beetles and butterflies all!

Right next to the anvil stood a green pine tree with fireflies twinkling on every branch like lights on a Christmas tree. However, unlike Christmas lights, the fireflies jumped from one branch to another, singing along with the green dwarf:

And those who slept, now they do sing
“It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring!”
The babbling brook, the crawling ants,
The birds, they warble, the butterflies dance,

“It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring!”
Whether you crawl or fly or sing,
For you, for you, it’s Spring!

At the red anvil stood a larger dwarf in a red apron, who was the green dwarf’s brother. With his red hammer he beat on a red key, which sparkled like a ruby. The red dwarf was wearing a red knitted cap with a tassel hanging all the way down to the ground, and he had a red beard. His red hammer was beating out a forceful “Bing-bong-bing-bong” on the red key, and he was singing to the sound of his hammer:

Even the mole no longer sleeps,
And from his hole he softly creeps.
And once a year, on this dark night,
He looks about and sees our light.

As for the cat, who’s lurking still,
He’ll never get to eat his fill.
And will he catch the mouse today?
No, no, she always gets away!

And while you wait, Spring says goodbye,
And your whole life, it passes by,
Why do you wait, Cat, tell me why?
Perhaps you’re really not so sly!

What will we have to show for our fun
When life as we’ve lived it is over and done?

His anvil stood under a maple tree and an oak tree with their red and green leaves. Red fireflies dangled on these trees like Christmas lights. But unlike Christmas lights, they were flying back and forth and singing along with the dwarf in their high-pitched voices:

Upon this night, so dark and clear,
The only time in all the year,
Upon this night, so dark and late.
To you shall be revealed your fate.
A distant journey awaits the birds
For boys as well are true these words.
A distant journey, a wondrous way,
From which you may not turn away!

You’ll face the doors upon your walk,
Be wise and choose the proper lock!

Every choice that you make
Leaves something in its wake.
When the star burns bright
A wise man follows its light.

At the diamond anvil stood an old dwarf in a white apron and a white cap with a tassel to the ground. He had a long white beard and was the oldest of the three brothers. He was striking his hammer slowly and forcefully on the diamond key lying on his diamond anvil—Bam-Bam-Bam!

There were no trees next his anvil and no fireflies in the grass or flowers around him. But there were stars twinkling in the sky above his head.

As he was banging his hammer, the dwarf with the white beard did not sing, but rather recited in a hollow voice:

Upon this single fateful night,
Beneath the wondrous starry light,
Your guiding star you shall behold,
And your true path, it will be told.
And you must follow this guiding light,
And never lose it from your sight,
For he who from this path doth stray,
Will never find the star’s true way.

“Catch!” shouted the youngest green dwarf in his thin voice as he threw the green key across the creek. After the boy caught the key, the green dwarf called out again, “Whatever you do, don’t open the crystal trunk with the green jewels in it!”

“Catch!” shouted the middle brother, the red dwarf with the red beard. He threw the red key across the creek and then added, “Watch out and don’t try opening the crystal trunk with the red jewels!”

“Catch!” quietly said the oldest, white-haired brother-dwarf in his low, deep voice as he threw his diamond key across the creek. And then he added, “Make sure you don’t open the crystal trunk with the diamonds in it.”

No sooner had the old dwarf uttered these words, than the meadow disappeared right before his eyes. The night was over, gone were the fireflies and the dwarves, and only the field with the bluebells remained. And a path through the field. And a star above the path.

“Grandma!” called out the boy, but she had vanished too. He started crying, but then wiped away his tears—he was a boy, after all.

Even though it was already daytime and the sun was out, the star still burned with a bright green light.

The boy followed the path toward the star. He kept walking and walking until the sun started beating down on him. “It’s getting hot,” he thought.

No sooner had he thought this, than right in front of him appeared a green forest with mighty oaks, firs, and birches. The trees were so old and their branches were so tangled that it was impossible to enter the forest.

Although it was already noon, the green star kept on shining just like before. In fact it was shining right over the top of one of the oaks. The boy looked very closely and saw that there was a hollow in the oak tree. The hollow had a little door that was all covered with moss and on the door was a little green lock. Towheaded Boy pulled the green key out of his pocket, put it in the lock, and turned it. The door opened.

Out of the hollow scampered a squirrel with a long fluffy tail. “Let’s go play!” she called out to him. The forest parted to let them in, which doesn’t happen all that often!

The squirrel ran along a mossy trail from one tree to another, and the boy ran right after her. When he was tired of playing, he said, “I’m thirsty!”

The squirrel tapped a mossy mound with her long tail. She tapped it very lightly, so that the mound wouldn’t get hurt. Next to the mound, a clear spring burst forth out of the ground.

“I’m hungry!” said the boy, when he had his fill of water. No sooner did he say these words, than a loud voice rang out from under an oak tree: “If you please! If you please!”

The brush under the oak moved and a huge old bear climbed out of his lair. The boy got scared, but the bear was grinning from ear to ear and he held honeycombs full of honey in his paws. And the boy’s fear immediately disappeared.

After he had eaten his fill of honey, Towheaded Boy said, “I’m tired and would like to take a nap.” A finch jumped out of her nest and chirped, “Lie down on the grass in the shade next to the creek and I’ll sing you a lullaby.”

The boy made himself comfortable and the finch started to sing. It had a beautiful voice. But before the boy closed his eyes and fell asleep, he saw a crystal trunk in the grass just on the other side of the creek. It had a green lock and was filled with green jewels.

Forgetting everything, he jumped up and ran to the trunk.

The key broke off in the lock, but Towheaded Boy didn’t get upset. In fact, he didn’t even notice. He threw back the lid of the crystal trunk and started stuffing his pockets with fistfuls of the shiny, emerald-green gemstones.

But when he turned back around to brag to Squirrel, to Finch with her beautiful voice, to Creek and to Bear, especially to Bear, of course—when he turned around, the forest was parted no more, and the branches of the old pines, oaks and firs were tangled again.

There was still a hollow in the oak tree, and the hollow still had a little door with a green lock, but he couldn’t open it because his key was broken. And there was no spare key.

A field full of bluebells stretched out in front of him. A little path cut through the field. A red star was shining above the path.

The boy sighed and even cried a little. It’s no fun to be left all alone. First his grandma had disappeared, and now Creek, Squirrel, Finch, and Bear were suddenly all gone. After he was done crying, he wiped his eyes and started walking down the path.

Back in the forest, Creek said, “What a strange boy! He didn’t even notice how good my water tastes!”

“And he didn’t even thank me for the honey, and it’s really good honey!” Bear growled and licked his lips.

Squirrel added quietly, “He played with me for a while and then forgot all about me.”

“He didn’t even finish listening to my song, and I was really trying my best!” said Finch, “What a strange boy!”

“He is not strange, really. It’s just that he is ordinary, with nothing miraculous in him”, quacked Wise Duck, who had gained her wisdom by flying around the world many times and visiting many lands. She had been swimming in the creek quietly and preening her feathers without taking part in the conversation.

“My babies were also just ordinary. They didn’t listen to me and kept on falling out of the nest. But I loved them more than anything else in the world,” sighed Finch.

“So were my little squirrels…”, added Squirrel.

The wise old duck interrupted fiercely, “No! No! There must be at least something miraculous in everyone!” Usually nothing could upset her unless she saw a hawk flying above her ducklings.

“Last year our flock flew over the house where that boy lived with his Grandma Turtle, who happened to be a very kind and worthy individual. The boy ran out into the meadow and flapped and flapped and flapped his arms. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get off the ground to come with us.”

“Grr-rrr!” growled Bear. He began to flap his huge bear paws around and around as if they were windmill blades. He flapped them so hard that he stirred up a great wind in the forest. The young trees bowed down and their tender new leaves were torn from their branches.

He kept jumping up and flapping his huge paws, running short of breath. Now and then he asked Duck, “Grr-rr, what about me? Am I getting off the ground? Even just a little bit?”

“No, you are not getting off the ground”, replied Duck. She just didn’t know how to lie.

Once Bear had settled down, Duck said, “Still, there is something miraculous in you. Look, you gave that boy your honey, even though you love honey more than anything in the world!”

“Grr-rrr!” growled Bear, licking his lips.

“And you, Creek, gave the boy such delicious water to drink,” Duck continued, “And you, Finch, thought up a song for him. And you, Squirrel, you dropped everything, as busy as you were, just to play with him.”

“Yes, yes, I am so busy!” exclaimed Squirrel in a panic as she darted back to her nest.

“There is something miraculous in everyone,” quacked Duck as Squirrel rushed away.

“Let me fly to Grandma Turtle and let her know that her grandson is alive and well,” thought Duck as she flew up above the forest. “She must have cried her eyes out worrying about her Towheaded Boy.”

And all this time the star continued shining in the midday sky, although not as bright as before.

Towheaded Boy followed the path toward the star, but he was feeling a little down. What good is it to be alone, with a pocket full of the most amazing, sparkling green stones and no one to show them off to?

He was busy feeling sorry for himself when suddenly he saw a girl right in front of him. She had a long golden braid and blue eyes, and she was wearing a red chain with a tiny red lock around her long white neck.

But the boy didn’t give her a second look – blue eyes, a braid, big deal! He pulled two handfuls of emeralds out of his pocket and held them out in his upturned palms, taking a step back to make sure the girl couldn’t snatch them from him.

“Who knows? All girls have a weakness for shiny things, just like crows,” he thought to himself, and then said:

“Look what I’ve got! And there’s plenty more where they came from!”

“Yuck! Frogs! How disgusting!”

“You’re a frog yourself!” he shouted. But when he looked in his hands all he saw, indeed, were baby frogs. They were crawling about and hopping off his palms down to the ground. They were coming out of his pockets too.

“For someone so big, you’re pretty silly,” the girl said. “You aren’t a boy any more. You’re a young man now. It’s time to start using your brain.”

He got mad and shouted, “Silly, you say?! I’ll show you!”

He could clearly see the tiny red lock in the chain around her neck. He ran up to her, key in hand, and with a single turn he opened the lock. The chain dropped to the ground, but the girl didn’t even notice.

“No, you aren’t silly at all,” she said slowly. She smiled, and it made her look so stunningly beautiful that it took boy’s breath away.

Right then Duck (that very same Wise Duck) was flying over the two of them, thinking, “It looks like something good might come from that knucklehead after all. I’ll just fly over to see Grandma Turtle and tell her what good fortune has befallen her grandson. A few hundred miles isn’t that far out of my way. And his grandmother, such a worthy individual, will be so happy she’ll feel a hundred years younger!” So Duck flew off to give Grandma Turtle the news.

Down below, the girl was still standing there and smiling. Her eyes were glued to the young man as she said, “No, you’re very smart, and kind, and strong. It’s not easy to move frogs from one swamp to another. That other swamp must have dried up and you took pity on them. You’re just wonderful! If you want, we can be friends for the rest of our lives.”

She stretched out her hand and said, “I know they used to call you ‘Towheaded Boy’ at home. See, I know all about you. Hello, Towheaded Boy!”

He wanted to take her hand, but, as luck would have it…

Yes, as luck would have it, at that very moment he noticed a crystal trunk full of sparkling red rubies. And off he went.

“Hold that thought,” he said to the girl.

Perhaps he wanted to give her rare and beautiful gemstones as a present. Perhaps. Or maybe the sight of the jewels made him forget about her altogether. Just like before when he’d forgotten about Grandma Turtle . And Squirrel. And Creek. And Finch. And Bear. Otherwise, why didn’t he look back as he was running to the trunk, not even once? If only he had looked back, everything might have turned out differently.

Oh, if only he had looked back…

He ran over to the trunk and opened it. And wouldn’t you know it, as he was opening it, the key broke off in the lock. But this time he didn’t even get any jewels! All he saw under the lid were red bugs, not gemstones!

The bugs crawled out of the trunk and scurried off into the grass. Soon all of them were gone. Only then did Towheaded Boy look back. But the girl was no longer there. The field was empty. The sun was beating down. The star he’d been following was still visible, but now it shone with a dim white light.

How did Towheaded Boy feel? He felt older. Maybe by ten years, maybe by a hundred.

Meanwhile Duck had reached Grandma Turtle’s house. Grandma Turtle was still sitting on the porch and gazing off into the distance. “Phew! I’m tired!” Duck quacked out, “It looks like things are looking up for your grandson. Pretty soon you’ll be playing with great-grandchildren!”

“Really?!” Grandma Turtle brightened up, “Oh, I always knew that he’d meet his princess and she’d fall in love with him. After all, who deserves love more than he does?”

Duck politely said good-bye, but she was thinking to herself, “I don’t know about a princess—somehow you just don’t meet too many of them among us ducks. But if you ask me, I’d fly as far from that boy of hers as possible. Anyway, that’s none of my business. Those things are for the young—my life has already been lived.”

Towheaded Boy walked along the dusty road under the hot sun that just wouldn’t set. He kept checking in his pocket for the only key he had left, the diamond one.

He felt sad, lonely, and miserable. Maybe he wasn’t that bad after all…

The only thing around was the dry, brittle grass and the white star shining in the sky.

Towheaded Boy looked up and beneath the star he saw a long, high, white wall that seemed to stretch out forever. The wall was covered with barbed wire. Right in the middle of it was a diamond gate that sparkled so brightly it was hard to look at. The gate was locked with a diamond lock. On the inside, old people and women and children were clambering up the walls and begging, “Open the gate, stranger! You have the diamond key. We’ve been dying for years with no food or water. Open, please!”

Next to the gate stood a crystal trunk. It was filled with beautiful diamonds, the likes of which no one had ever seen.

Again and again the women, the children, and the old people cried out, “Open, please!” while clambering up the wall. They would fall down and then start climbing up again, their hands covered with bloody cuts from the barbed wire. “Open, please!”

Towheaded Boy took a step toward the gate. Of course he took a step. But just then he saw guards with axes darting toward the trunk. He thought to himself, “They’ll snatch the trunk away and then I can kiss it goodbye forever. Oh, no, they don’t!”

And that’s why he didn’t open the gate in that endless white wall.

“Wait!” he kept on shouting while opening the trunk hastily. “Wait just a little longer.” He was in such a rush that, needless to say, the diamond key broke off too.

He opened the lid of the trunk wearily, almost reluctantly, and when he did, he saw that it was filled not with diamonds, but with beautiful sparkling dewdrops… Or could they be tears? Who knows…?

These dewdrops—or tears—quickly dried up. After all, the sweltering sun was burning very brightly. And then the trunk was empty.

When the boy looked around, he saw that there was nothing in sight: no guards with axes, no diamond gate with a diamond lock, no endless white wall covered in barbed wire. Only withered yellow grass remained.

And the star was no longer shining in the sky.

The echo of the screams “Open, please! Open, please!” rolled over the dry grass. Or was that just the crickets chirping? Who knows?

He stood for a while and then started backtracking along his own trail. Where else could he go? He slowly trudged along, dragging his feet. He walked for a long, long time. He went around the forest, and finally the night fell upon him. In the distance he saw a meadow with fireflies that glowed like stars.

He was so thrilled to see it that he picked up his pace. He walked up to the creek and saw the three dwarves—the youngest brother, the green one, the red-bearded middle brother, and the oldest brother with the long white beard hanging all the way to the ground.

“Dear dwarves!” said Towheaded Boy in a weak and wavering voice. “Give me the keys one more time. This time I’ll be wiser and I won’t break them.”

Ding-diddly-ding-ding. Bing-bong-bing-bong. Bam-Bam-Bam! The dwarves pounded on their anvils, forging their keys.

“We only give keys to little boys,” the little dwarf said without taking his eyes off the anvil.

“But I am a boy. Don’t you recognize me?”

“Take a good look at yourself!” quacked Wise Duck, who was swimming in the creek.

Towheaded Boy looked in the water, at his reflection surrounded by fireflies, and saw an old man with a wrinkled face, sunken eyes and a gray beard.

He turned his back to the creek and started walking aimlessly, wherever the glade would take him.

What’s done is done. As they say: “A bell, once rung, can’t be unrung”.

And Duck, as tired as she was after returning from Africa, dragged herself into the air and flew off to see Grandma Turtle. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” she thought to herself.

When she reached the house, she quacked out to Grandma Turtle, “Your boy is coming home. Go out to meet him—he won’t find the way on his own.”

Grandma Turtle was very old. Her shell had turned completely gray and was all covered with deep wrinkles and cracks, so that it no longer reflected the sun, or the stars, or the fireflies. She was almost blind with age, but she perked up and asked, “Is he bringing his princess and their little princes?”

“I’m sorry to say so, but no,” Duck quacked hesitantly. This time she really wanted to tell a fib, but what can you do if you just don’t know how to lie? “No, he has neither a princess nor little princess with him.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s still a blessing that he’s coming home.”

Wise Duck thought to herself, “That must mean that there is, or there was, something miraculous in him. If someone loves a duckling or a boy this much, he just has to have something miraculous in him, even if just a little bit.” She took off flying, wearily flapping her old wings in the darkness.

Grandma Turtle stepped out of her crooked old house, which had sunk into the ground almost up to its windows, and trudged across the glade toward dwarves’ lights and the sound of their song.

She was old and weak, and with each step she took she wasn’t sure whether she’d have the strength for another. She could barely see anything, and yet she still managed to find her grandson in the middle of the huge dark glade. She recognized the sound of his footsteps, even though he was dragging his feet. She also knew the sound of his breathing, although it was heavy and wheezing. Who knows how she recognized him? But it doesn’t really matter.

In any case, she did recognize him and, just like before, called him by his childhood nickname, “Towheaded Boy! Come on. Let’s go home. It’s already late! You stayed out so long today!”

Once they got home, she gave him some hot milk and put him to bed, the very bed that he’d left the night the dwarves had called him. It was actually too small for him now, but when his grandma tucked him in, he curled up, all warm and cozy, and soon fell asleep. He was smiling in his sleep. He dreamed that he was the Towheaded Boy again, a little boy with fuzzy blonde hair playing in the meadow in front of Grandma’s house.

When he had fallen asleep, Grandma Turtle stroked his face gently with her shriveled old turtle hands, tracing them along the wrinkles on his forehead, his cheeks and around his eyes. In these wrinkles she could read the story of his whole life as if they were the lines of a book. She saw how the forest first parted for him and then closed back up. She saw how the princess almost fell head over heels in love with him, but then disappeared. She saw how the diamond gate remained shut, the gate to the city with the dying people surrounded by the endless white wall and the barbed wire.

The boy slept on.

“It’s all my fault,” his grandmother thought bitterly, “If I had told him more fairy tales, he would have recognized the miracles along his way and wouldn’t have paid any attention to the wrong kind of treasures.”

Towheaded Boy was breathing peacefully and quietly in his sleep.

“It’s all my fault,” his grandmother thought bitterly, “I should have told him more true stories about real life.”

Towheaded Boy slept on.

* * *

I told this story to my own little boy. He was blond then, with beautiful golden curls that made him look rather like a little girl. He was beautiful, but also a little bit naughty. We had a standing deal that I would tell him a story and he would go right to sleep.

But when I was done, he opened his huge green eyes, which were just like his mother’s, and said to me, “That’s not a fairy tale at all! I’m not asleep, I’m not going to sleep tonight and I’m never ever going to sleep again!”

Well, I could see that he was having a hard time keeping his eyes open, so I wasn’t really concerned about his little outburst.

“Why isn’t it a fairy tale?” I asked him.

“Fairy tales always have a happy ending,” he replied.

“This one also has a happy ending, doesn’t it? Everything turns out just fine. Well, almost everything,” I objected. “Grandma Turtle is alive—that’s the most important thing, isn’t it? And in her mind her grandson is still the same Towheaded Boy. She can’t see very well because she’s so old, but she remembers everything pretty well.”

“But … the keys … they still … they still got broken!” said my boy.

“So what? You, however, will be wiser. After all, soon the dwarves will be calling you too.”

He didn’t answer. He was already fast asleep.

I went outside into the yard. The crows were returning and getting settled in their old nest.

In my mind, I kept on asking my little boy, “What about you? You aren’t going to break those keys, are you? If you keep them intact, then everything will turn out fine. It may be hard and it may take a while, but, in the end, everything will be okay. You won’t break the keys, will you?”

You know, when you listen to crows, it sounds as if they’re arguing, but that’s just because they have such loud voices. They’re really just talking about everyday things. That night, when I was out in the yard, one crow was complaining, “Our nest started leaking over the winter. But that’s no bother—look at the thick branch I’ve found to fix it with! God willing, I’ll be able to drag it over there. I’m not getting any younger, you know!”

The younger crow replied, “I came across such an amazing goose feather—it’s all fluffy and fuzzy. You know, they say that in the old days people used to write fairy tales for their babies with feathers like that. When my baby is born, he’ll sleep tight in the bed I make from those feathers and he’ll dream sweet dreams!”

But just as she finished saying this, all the noise from the birds and the wind ceased and I heard the distant sound of the dwarves’ song:

“The dwarf upon his anvil—BOOM!”

“The dwarves are calling my boy,” I thought as my heart anxiously trembled with a mixed feeling of joy and fear. “What will he be like when he returns home?” No sooner had I thought this, than my boy came out onto the porch. He had washed up—even though he didn’t really like to wash—and he was already dressed for the road.

He looked at me and asked, “Is it time?”

A thought occurred to me: “It’s good that you have your mother’s kind, honest, green eyes. And it’s good that you know the story of the three keys—a story doesn’t take up any space and doesn’t add any weight onto your shoulders.”

“Well, is it time?!” He asked again impatiently.

I looked at him intently, trying to fix in my memory exactly how he looked at the very moment when he was starting out on his own path. I also tried to dig up vague memories of my own path, which is now approaching its conclusion.

“Umphf! I’ve finally managed to drag that huge branch over here,” said the old crow hoarsely. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack. But now my nest will have a decent roof!”

The younger crow chimed back, “And look at this little goose-feather bed! The only thing I have left is to lay my egg and wait for it to hatch—that’s all there is to it!”

My boy and I walked through the gate out into the glade.

Far off in the distance we could see a meadow. There were hundreds and hundreds of fireflies in the grass, on the flowers, and in the branches of the trees, all glowing in different colors. The dwarves were at their anvils, pounding out “Ding-diddly-ding-ding. Bing-bong-bing-bong. Bam-Bam-Bam!” and singing their song:

“Now Spring has sprung, the Earth’s in bloom!”
So say the ones who fly and crawl,
The ants and beetles and butterflies all!
And those who slept, now they do sing
“It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring! It’s Spring!”

It’s Spring: the cat, he lurks about,
While hoping that a mouse comes out,
He waits, but what a clever mouse!
She safely stays inside her house!

And last of all, the blind old mole,
He pokes his head out from his hole.
Get up! Get up! Come hear the song!
Come one and all and sing along!

And on this single starry night,
You’ll have your fate within your sight.
And all through life take heed – to wit,
Your fate is what you make of it.

I thought, “Have I told you everything?” I could barely keep up with my boy who was galloping ahead of me on the trail through the glade.

All the while the dwarves were singing their song, and this was all that my boy could hear.

What will you be like when you come back home, my boy?

[1] In colonial times, families grew their own flax to make into fabric for clothing. Transforming the flax into thread was a complicated, involved process with many time-consuming steps. After the flax was harvested, it was soaked in water for several days to soften it so the inner fibers could be removed from the stalk. To separate the long, thin fibers from the shorter, coarser ones, the flax was pulled through a bed of nails or combed in a process called “towing.” The shorter fibers that were extricated were of a lesser quality and were called “tow.” This led to the term “towheads” to describe people, particularly children, whose hair resembled these strands.

Copyright © 1957 Александр Шаров
This Translation Copyright © 2012 Tower of Harmony, LLC
All Rights Reserved, used by permission

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