It was the 24th day of the last month of the year, snow was everywhere, and the summer animals had long since headed south for the winter. Or so the villagers thought. It had been difficult for everyone since winter arrived because the mayor had been called away and had not returned in time to rekindle the Secret: the source of heat for the whole village.
Ten-year-old Maggie Wentworth bundled up in her warmest clothes and raced outside to play in the bright evening moonlight with her collie dog McDuff. Suddenly a dark shadow crept across the snow, and as Maggie looked up she saw a great blue heron glide overhead and start flapping his wings in reverse to slow down for a landing at the edge of the frozen mill pond. The bird walked that hypnotic heron-dance walk along the shoreline, peering at the ground as if searching for something. As he reached the marsh at the headwaters of the pond he found it: the Secret Sapphire. He clenched it in his beak and slowly strutted back toward the village in the moonlight.
Several villagers had noticed the heron’s landing from within the confines of their chilly houses, so they slowly headed outside to see what was happening. Then G.B. (as Great Blue was known) cleared his long throat and said, “Your mayor is sorry for his delay in returning home, and has sent me in his place to help you.”
He then placed the Sapphire on a rock beside the town’s frozen woodpile and asked the villagers to gather around.
“I need your help. A volunteer, anyone?” said G.B.
Maggie stepped forward.
“Splendid,” nodded G.B. “Maggie, first pick up a small twig of wood, touch the end of it to the Sapphire, and hold it there. Now, everyone close your eyes, I mean everyone, and think about how good you would feel if you told your best friend your deepest secret, and they loved you even more because of your trust. Now think, everyone, think hard! And keep your eyes closed until you smell your favorite smell.”
The townspeople did as they were told and before long, a sound began to fill the air, the sound of sniffing! One by one each person sensed that wonderful smell, the one they had all longed for. As they each opened their eyes they saw that Maggie’s twig was smoldering, filling the air with gentle wood-fire perfume.
The Heron instructed them to find twigs, one per family, and to light their twig from Maggie’s fire. When each family had lit their fire-stick, they gathered around the Heron to thank him for the miracle. A rotund elder of the town stepped forward and said in a deep booming voice, “Thank you for this gift, G.B. Heron. Because of you we will be warm this winter.”
The Heron smiled (which is hard for a heron to do), and looked around at the families huddled together, protecting their small flames.
“Yes, the Secret Sapphire is magic, “ he said, “but not in the way you think.”
“You see, the Sapphire is the deepest shade of dark ice-blue, and it is a channel of great power. But it was you who started the fire, each and every one of you. First by thinking hard about all the secrets you have to share. Then you thought about how warm you would feel if you did share them with your best friend. Yes, you started the fire; the Sapphire and I only watched and helped you to believe it was possible.”
The townspeople smiled and nodded, then began to walk together to each house, making sure the family fireplaces were well-lit before proceeding on to the next home. Maggie felt responsible for seeing that everyone arrived home safe and sound and warm, so the Wentworth family was last to arrive home. The Wentworths gathered around their slowly crackling fire, warming their hands and hearts as they hugged each other. After a little while Maggie left the fireside and walked to the window, hoping she would get one last glimpse of the majestic bird. And sure enough, she did.
The Heron knew it was time to go, so he picked up the Secret Sapphire in his beak and began to flap his wings in that powerful Heron way. His flight began with a large circle over the whole village so he could make sure everyone was asleep and safe and warm in their beds. As he flew over the Wentworth home, G.B. saw Maggie reach up to the window and wave. The moonlight twinkled through the shimmering Sapphire and cast a beautiful blue light across Maggie’s face. The Heron made one final swoop down near the pond, dropped the Sapphire safely behind some grasses at the headwaters’ edge, and glanced one last time at Maggie before flying off across the fields.
Maggie smiled to herself because she knew the Heron had left her with a very important job. If the fires were ever to go out again, Maggie would be the only one who knew where to find the wonderful Sapphire. She kept this a secret though, knowing that the villagers had all learned how to keep each other warm, and probably would do so for a very long time.