The Little Wren and the Stolen Fire is an Eskin fable mentioned briefly in this week’s episode of Feast Fables. I’d wanted to include it in full, but couldn’t justify the break in the flow. So I’m posting it here, instead.
Long, long ago, before humans walked the world, Ershe the Sun had two children. The elder-born was a daughter who for her shape took the form of a Hare. The younger-born was a son. He remained ever a shape-shifter, never able to decide what to be.
At first, not long after he was born, Ershe’s son decided he’d take the shape of a Wren. Wrens could fly, which meant he could visit Ershe his mother the Sun, up in the sky.
Up-up-up Little Wren flew, high into the sky. He liked it there, so warm next to Ershe’ heart—so light. Down there on the Earth it was cold and dark.
Little Wren didn’t think, Little Wren acted. He waited until Ershe wasn’t watching. Then he stole some of her fire and flew away down with it.
When Ershe discovered the theft she grew angry. “Wait till I catch hold of you. I’ll roast you with that fire that you’ve taken from me.”
Hearing his mother’s threat, Little Wren hid himself away where Ershe never would find him.
It was early the next morning before Ershe realised she no more could see Little Wren. Where was he? She went in search of him.
She travelled from east to west. She travelled from north to south—and back again. But Ershe couldn’t find Little Wren anywhere.
She called for her elder-born daughter, the Hare, and told her that Little Wren couldn’t be found. Ershe said she was concerned for Little Wren’s safety. Would the Hare help her search for him? To which, of course, the Hare agreed.
So off went the Hare in search of Little Wren. From dawn to dusk the Hare searched for him, but nowhere could she find him. Like her mother Ershe, she was worried for her young brother’s safety—so much that she couldn’t sleep. And so, when the night came, still the Hare searched. She quartered the Earth but nowhere did she find Little Wren.
The Hare was beginning to tire. She had travelled all over the Earth, running up every hill, and down into the vales. She had searched every river—she’d even searched under the sea. But she had found no sign of him. She feared he’d been taken by the Evil One.
The Hare then came to a cave. Though it was dark, she knew the cave was there for a light shone from within it. The Hare was curious. How had her mother Ershe’s light gotten inside of there? So, of course, off she went inside to look.
And who did she find there? None other but her young brother, Little Wren.
The Hare wanted to tell her mother Ershe straight away that she’d found Little Wren, for she knew Ershe was worried for him. But before she could call out to Ershe, Old Mother Earth—whose cave it was and who had heard their voices—asked them who they were, and what they were doing in her cave.
The Hare answered saying she was elder-born daughter of Ershe the Sun, and with her was her young brother Little Wren.
Old Mother Earth was pleased that her grandchildren had come to visit her. She asked them if they had come there for a purpose.
Little Wren, seeing a way of avoiding his mother’s ire, quickly answered, “We’ve come to bring you a gift.” And he showed her the fire.
Old Mother Earth was so pleased with the gift she decided to give her grandchildren a gift each in return.
To the Hare she gave renewing life, so no matter the killing cold of winter—caused by Ershe ignoring her children and travelling south—she would be born again with every spring.
To Little Wren she gave his mother’s placenta, the copper stone, so he never would be without fire.
It was the call of the wren inspired the tale: it sounds exactly like two flints chipping together to make fire.
And though Little Wren steals the fire, he’s not to be mistaken with the Fire Wren (or Fire Crest). In the British Isles these are two distinct birds with different calls and different habitats, one migratory, the other resident. They’re even of different sizes. I was once called upon to rescue a Fire Wren, blown off course during migration. It was no bigger than a cotton-wool ball in my hand, its heart furiously thumping. A moment always remembered.