The Fire Quest
But the Firefly Queen laughed. Afterwards I will tell you the reason of her laughter.
“So the lovers flew here and there in the still night, taking with them their desire. They found lighted lattices ajar and entered forthwith. In one chamber there was a girl who took a love-letter from her pillow and read it in tears, by the light of a taper. In another a woman sat holding the light close to a mirror, where she looked and painted her face. A great white moth put out the trembling candle-flame with his wings.
“‘Alack! I am afraid,’ shrieked the woman; ‘the horrible dark!’
“In another place there lay a man dying. He said, ‘For pity’s sake light me the lamp, for the black night falls.’
“‘We have lighted it,’ they said, ‘long since. It is close beside you, and a legion of moths and dragon-flies flutter about it.’
“‘I cannot see anything at all,’ murmured the man.
“But those that flew on the Fire Quest burnt their frail wings in the fire. In the morning they lay dead by the hundred and were swept away and forgotten.
“The Firefly Queen was safe in her lotus bower with her beloved, who was as bright as she, for he was a great lord of the Fireflies. No need had he to go upon the Fire Quest. He carried the living flame beneath his wings.
“Thus the Firefly Queen deceived her lovers, and therefore she laughed when she sent them from her on a vain adventure.”
“Be not deceived,” cried the Wise Poet, “oh, little children of the night. The Firefly Queen is always the same. Give over the Fire Quest.”
But the moths and the cockchafers and the dragon-flies paid no heed to the words of the Wise Poet. Still they fluttered about his taper, and they burnt their bright wings in the flame and so died.
Presently the Poet blew out the light. “I must needs sit in the dark,” he said; “it is the only way.”