Late it was, deepest night when I returned from the embrace of a coldering forest, drawn by the scent of fir smoke and the telltale glow of light. And rounding, the last bend of the path, I found myself returned to our resting point and in the presence of flame. My companions had built a tiny fire for warmth and as a guard against the silence, and were huddled about its perimeter, gazing intently at the flickering golds and coppers. The same kind of fire that had first warmed its chilled keepers, and I, the weary stranger, stepped from the wilds to answer its crackling summons. Silently, I took my place at the fourth compass point of our circle.
A latecomer was I to this burning, and as I took my seat in the West near the rim of ash and coal, it became clear that our little fire was slowly dying. I reached for a palm of bark and watched with mild interest as it flared slowly into heat. None of our number dared to speak. Four languages were spoken in this circle, and each of us spoke only one, and yet the rift of our sundered tongues was perceived by no one. She who rested opposite me did not know the word for fire, but placed a stick into the circle as offering. And I did not know the word for magic, but I placed a branch opposite hers in acceptance. Slowly, the fire began to warm us again—not the fire that devours, but the fire that heals. A bough was laid, and chips carefully placed, until the bed of coals became a cone of light once more. The soft pillar of smoke that rose was our breath itself, our combined exhalations as we partook of our fire’s destruction and creation in a single glowing gift. And with that glow, a wish was made, and a promise kept, as the Trinity of tinder, kindling, and fuel wove their tapestry of clearest heat.
We held our breaths as the last tongue of hemlock light clung to life, and when it finally surrendered its spirit in a shiver of sparks, my friends drifted away in silence, and I was left behind to keep silent vigil. To nurse our coals into darkness and bear a witness to their glow; spreading spark and coal into a twinkling galaxy, the memory of flames left behind in ashes forgotten.