The gift of a magical pen begins Wingpen's journey, a journey whose purpose is never fully clear--until she reaches her destination.
The Gift I received was a pen. Gifts were never elaborate, but their appearance did mark them as something different, something special.
My pen was made of polished wood, with a shiny metal tip. The handwritten letter than accompanied it said this:
The ink inside your pen will never run dry. Use your Gift wisely and well. From now on, your name will be Wingpen. Signed, Giver
“How will I know how to use it wisely?” I asked my parents. “What is this gift for?”
“The Giver gives nothing idly,” my father replied. “He knows you better than you know yourself, and his gift will teach you as you walk your path.”
“How will I know what is my path?” I asked, my heart fluttering. “Or whether it will lead me to the right place?”
“You will see signs,” my mother answered. “Your Gift will show you small glimpses of the Giver along the way. If your gift shows you images of the Taker, choose another path.”
Like all receivers, I feared the long, lonely path ahead. Some of my friends had been so fearful of walking a path toward the Taker that they had rooted themselves to the ground, and never used their Gifts. Some wandered aimlessly from path to path, never exercising their Gifts for long. They did not see signs of the Taker, but they did not see signs of the Giver either.
My parents had drilled into my head since I was very young that a receiver must continue to press forward, even through doubt, and to seek for signs of the Giver through persistence and through use of my Gift. From what I could see, it was good advice, but I was the oldest of my siblings and felt the weight of my own example heavily. My siblings would soon come after me, and I did not want to lead them down dangerous paths.
I set out on my journey to the Giver. I wanted to see his face. For years, the only contact I had had with him was through his letters—they were always handwritten—and through messages he had sent by way of my parents and others. Often he told me that he loved me and was working hard on the house in which I would live with him someday. When he described it, I could hardly wait.
When I began my journey, I paused and lifted my pen. Words appeared in the air, shimmering like ropes of light, as I wrote my thoughts, apprehensions, and anticipation. It seemed the words came easily, and they remained after I was gone, for others to read. I signed my name in large, swirling letters: Wingpen.
I already loved my gift.
The path began easily. Though narrow—a dark ribbon of packed earth through rows of trees or swaths of tall grass—it was, at least, pleasant. I knew many along the road, and my younger sister soon caught up.
“What was your gift?” I asked. “And your name?”
“I am Musicolor,” she replied.
“Musicolor?” I raised my eyebrows.
She laughed and tilted her face to the sky. “Listen.”
Her fingers played on the air on an invisible piano, and every note became a color that swirled around me and left tingles down my spine. Lavender and turquoise danced around my head, spinning tunes that seemed both familiar and new.
“Can I see what you do?” she asked, stopping abruptly.
Obligingly, I wrote in the air of my joy that she was part of my journey, and of my excitement that my other siblings would soon follow with amazing Gifts of their own. The words glittered like gold and my sister’s face lit with delight.
“I could never write like that!” she exclaimed. “You make me feel what you feel, and see what you see.”
As we traveled together, we sought signs of the Giver, and often we found them. We found a note coiled inside a flower, and heard an echo of his laugh across a meadow.
The path became rockier. Sometimes, I felt compelled to write, but it hurt to lift the pen and make the words come. Often, when I struggled up some steep incline, I wrote long streams of frustration, moaning about my aching legs and frayed patience. At every peak, I wrote an anthem of joy in big letters, and the words seemed to dance in the sky.
Family and friends met me on the way, sharing their gifts with me and pointing out safe pathways. Clearvoice was my best friend; whenever I felt tangled or hesitant, her voice made everything seem plain, and showed me signs of the Giver that I had missed.
One night, a storm caught me in the open, and as it raged around me, I wrote the only words I could feel: I am afraid. The storm is so much bigger than I. Can I survive?
All through that dark, lonely night, I wrote to keep myself sane, and when the morning arrived and turned the wet ground to gold in its light, I wrote of my relief and gratitude.
Life fell into a pattern, and as I wrote more, I began to see the possibilities of my gift, and my words became a little brighter and a little more solid. Some who saw my words on their way told me that the words had guided them on right paths, or encouraged them when they had been weary. I knew then that my Gift was not only for my enjoyment, but for theirs.
My words were a balm to me when I heard news that someone I loved had finished the path and reached the Giver. I missed my loved one, but rejoiced to know that the journey was over and the joy was won.
One day, as I walked with my sister, a man came across our path, drawn by my sister’s music. He was Soulbread, and the loaves that he shared with us filled our mouths with delights and renewed our strength. When he drew my sister away on a different path, I was glad for both of them, but my heart broke too. We could never again walk the same path together, and our separate paths might take us far from each other. I also realized that some travelers had permanent companions, but all my companions had come and gone.
Viciously, I wrote on a rock in large letters: I am lonely. I want a companion. I wrote it over and over. The signs of the Giver were silent as I entered a shaded valley, but I continued to write. Night came in the valley.
My foot slipped from the path and plunged into a cold pool. When I struggled to remove my foot, the mud sucked and slurped at my feet before I flung myself at last onto dry path. I was in a swamp, and did not know it until now.
I am afraid, I wrote. If I cannot see, how can I avoid the swamp?
A laugh echoed eerily in the darkness. It was the Taker, waiting for me to stumble from the path and drown in the swamp-waters. I wished more than ever for a companion. To perish alone seemed unbearable.
Giver, I wrote. Where are you? I am lonely and afraid. Will you, at least, be my companion?
I heard a sound of footsteps, just ahead of me. They were sure and strong, and I saw a form silhouetted against a pale light. As fast I hurried to catch up with the walker, I could not reach him, but the sound of his footsteps guided me on the path. Somehow, I was not afraid anymore, and the Taker did not laugh again.
When day dawned at last, I saw that the swamp seemed to extend forever. The walker was nowhere to be found.
I hate this swamp, I wrote. I hate it. I hate it. But at least it is light.
On my way, I found a scroll tied to the branch of a naked tree with twine. The letters curled like the fingers of vines, and every word refreshed me. It was signed by my sister Gentleheart.
Later on, I saw a small glass vial filled with a purple liquid.
Drink it, the tag read. I love you! Your sister, Insight. The liquid tasted odd, but once it was in my stomach, I recognized beauties in the swamp that I had not noticed before—the transparent glitter of a dragonfly’s wings, the delicacy of a small white flower, the twitter of a marshland songbird.
As the night fell, my sister Laughter stood on a distant ridge and shouted out tales that made me laugh until my sides ached and my cheeks hurt. And when it was nearly completely dark, my brother Talldreams wrote in glowing words on the sky above me: Sorry your in the swamp. Hey I had an idea for a new invenshun. This is a drawing of it. What do you think?
With my encouragement from Gentleheart, my clearer vision from Insight, my humor from Laughter, and my optimism from Talldreams, and the words I remembered from my parents, the night was not so dark, and I found my way through the swamp easily.
Around midnight, I saw colors hang like shimmering curtains in the night sky as Musicolor played on a distant hill, and her song told of the beginnings of a child. I caught the joy of new life, transforming it to words through my pen, and my own writings blazed through the mists of the swamp and made it hauntingly beautiful.
Then the pain started. First, it came like an ache in my joints and soreness in my muscles. Then it spread, and with it came a lethargy that made every footstep unbearable. Tears stung my eyes, and my thoughts shrank. The hand that held my pen shook with weakness.
Pain, I wrote. Why is it always pain, pain, and more pain? I am tired, so tired.
When morning dawned, I did not care that light had come. I only knew that I dared not stop moving, or I would die here in the swamp, alone. When the shadows lengthened around me again, I panicked, but had no strength for more than a crawl. All the time, I wrote.
It hurts. When will this wretched swamp end? Will my path always linger in this swamp?
It felt like my words bled with my own blood. At one point, my hand slipped and I saw, not words, but a hideous face with a gaping mouth and ravenous eyes. The Taker. I realized then that, in my despair, I had wandered from the path and now stood knee-deep in sucking mud. Terror seized me.
I know truth. I wrote. I know truth. I know truth. I grasped the words that I wrote, and anchored myself upon them, pulling myself through the mud.
I wrote and pulled and wrote and pulled. I continued to write it until I stood again on the path, dripping with stinking swamp water—but alive.
When morning came at last on the third day, I saw that I was no longer in the swamp, but in a wide field that climbed a long, gradual slope. My strength was returning, though I was not the same as I had been. The pain came and went. Sometimes I ran or skipped. Sometimes I had to crawl again. I wrote about truth often, so that I would not wander into the Taker’s territory again.
Delight arrived as Musicolor and Soulbread’s path crossed mine and I saw that they carried with them a tiny little bundle.
“What is her name?” I asked.
“She has not been given a Gift yet,” Musicolor replied. “But for now, we call her Joybringer.”
I cuddled Joybringer, smelling her sweetness, and wondered what Gift the Giver would give to her.
The long, gradual ascent was longer than I expected. I discovered that the more I wrote, the higher I was able to climb, but the crest of the hill seemed just as far away before, and I began to wonder if it was not a hill at all, but a mountain. My words sharpened and became clearer, and some of them even blazed through the night with undimmed light.
Others flickered briefly, then collapsed into darkness. I tore them down with disgust and wondered if I would ever use my gift well.
A drenching rain had left me chilled to the bone when the assault began. Flaming arrows curved through the dimming light and struck all around me. Some singed me as they flashed by, and one struck me in the foot. Limping, I wrote shield, then plucked it from the air and held it above my body as the arrows rained upon me furiously. They carried the rotting stench of the Taker.
Every arrow carried a whisper. You are alone. You are worthless. You are ineffective. You are ugly. You are unloved.
For a time, I cowered, realizing that there was no way to continue my upward trek until the barrage was past. The whispers grew in volume, until they screamed at me. One hand upheld the shield while the other pressed my ear to shut out the Taker’s words. I clenched my jaw, but the words began to penetrate me. What if they were true?
Suddenly I was angry. Why should I wait until the Taker grew bored with me? Who was he to make me so afraid? Why should I take this assault from him so passively?
My pen stroked through the air like the cut of a two-edged blade.
He was with me in the swamp. He has told me I am valuable to him. He has made me able to climb this hill. People tell me his gift makes me beautiful. He has always loved me.
“I know the truth,” I gritted out between clenched teeth. “I know the truth!”
As I wrote, faster and more furiously than I had ever written before, my words hardened from molten light to cold, piercing steel, and streaked through the air toward my invisible assailant. The flaming arrows around me grew thicker, but I wrote, even when the heat of a passing dart blistered the fingers of my writing hand. The words stretched bigger and bigger until they became a wall, from behind which I cast spears of the truths I knew. Every word became a weapon and a defense.
The flaming arrows ceased, and I wrote victory across the sky in letters as big as castles.
The constraints of time will not give me leave to tell you of the things that followed: of the mountains I climbed, the caves that I endured, the pains in my body, the companions who cheered me, the delight of at last meeting and traveling with a permanent companion, the joy and struggle of preparing my own little ones for their paths, and the words that I wrote at every twist of my path.
At last came the day when my journey ended.
I had fixed my eye on some distant peak, calculating my waning strength for the hardships ahead, when suddenly I came around a bend in the narrow road and found myself on the doorstep of a great mansion. I knew it at once. The design was exactly as the Giver’s letters had described it, but, more than that, I knew intimately the style of its builder.
Now that I stood before the great door, it seemed too perfect to violate with my presence. I was dusty, and tired, and streaked with the blood of my latest battle. I was not ready to stand in the presence of one whom I had longed for so many years to see.
Not like this, I wrote. I am not ready like this.
But when, I wondered, would I ever be ready?
And at that moment, the door opened and the Giver himself stood on the doorstep. I stood still, trembling, and felt like I was no more than an ant in his presence. I thought of all the times I had wandered from the path, or listened to the Taker’s whispering arrows, or written things that had not glowed with an eternal light. I shriveled in shame.
When he stretched out his hand, I thought he would strike me. But he only took my hands—both of them—in his own, and I saw that his hands, too, were scarred, far worse than mine.
“What are these?” I asked.
“From my battle,” he said. “The battle I fought for you.”
“Did it hurt very much?” Tears welled up in my eyes, for I had never seen scars like these.
“Yes,” he answered softly. “Very much. But it was worth it.” When I could not breathe for my tears, he touched my dirt-smeared hands to his lips and I felt strength return to me.
“Come,” he said. “I want to show you the view.”
I wondered what he meant, but I followed. As I passed through the doorway, I felt a change in my body. The old pain was gone, and the scars dissolved, and the last of my tears evaporated. I knew I would never weep again.
In all the world, I had collected many words and learned how to spin them like a woman spins wool, but I had no words for the place into which he led me. No language on earth could have told of the glories of this place, and it was far wider on the inside than I recalled seeing from the outside. In fact, I had the sense that it extended forever, with gardens and pools and chapels and loggias that were each more incredible than the last.
He led me to a window, and I saw that we were at a great height, and the kingdoms of earth stretched below us. It all seemed so remote now, like a dream that I hardly remembered now that I had woken and seen the solidity of the real world.
Then I gasped.
“My words!” I said. “I can see my words!”
Far below me, the glowing marks of my words trekked across the vast distances that I had traveled. I had not realized that my road was so long, nor my words so bright. As I gazed on them, I saw that they formed a pattern and, as I stared still harder, the pattern became a word.
“What does it say?” the Giver asked.
“I thought it said love,” I replied. “But now it seems to be faithful. No, it is beautiful. Or strength. Or…” I floundered to a halt. “It is a word I’ve never seen before, but I know what it means. It’s like lightning and a gentle touch and a lion’s roar and a mother’s lullaby.” I laughed and shook my head. “I have no words for it. It is what it is.”
He smiled and said gently, “It is my name.”
When I stared, he pulled me close and his whisper filled me with a shiver of unrestrained joy: “Wingpen, I gave you the Gift of words so that you could write my name upon the world.”