Cyril and Norfolk flitted about that neck of the woods with which you are by now somewhat familiar. But this pair of wrens was not the only source of sound slaloming through the vast skies of Kingdom Clock on this very morning. No. And in fact their ceaseless chirping was inaudible to most of the neighbourhood’s residents at the birth of this mild summer’s day. An alarm bell rang throughout the streets long since drained of the great floods and droned with a throbbing monotony. The bearded gentleman who liked to sit on the second bench of three in the winter garden, so named for its flowers that blossomed even during the darkest depths of a year’s final season, would sit and read his newspapers which were all a high-brow-read or at the very least a mid-brow-read or at least he liked to think so, chewing on his cigar, sitting on his bench. WE ARE IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY barked one such paper. A Nation Weeps another. And just like this another day in the kingdom of the clock with a golden veneer grew into itself and its grasses gleamed with all that was gold.
There was, however, at least one lady in the neighbourhood who heard the songs of Cyril and Norfolk that morning and she awoke with a dainty yawn, her mouth mindfully guarded by her fingertips for the duration of this lapse. She eased out of bed and sloped towards the kitchen in search of coffee but was stopped in her tracks by the sight of two boxes nestled under the dining room table. ‘Coffee comes first,’ she thought. Yes, Kristina Ninotchka was not a lady to rush and this was particularly true on Sundays. Indeed on Sundays she displayed such stillness that time and space could barely be perceived by anyone who should try. Moreover, Ms Ninotchka was a lady of such elegance that this too was barely perceived by the many she would pass by over the course of her days and I note that such elegance may sound like an exaggeration on behalf of this narrator. But I will hear nothing of it! Believe it or not, Kristina Ninotchka was a lady of unfathomable grace too. She also had her priorities and today these consisted of coffee and two boxes in that order.
Perched on an upturned wicker basket, Kristina admired the many shades of green and ensconced herself in them. She moved her lips to her coffee and with it she wetted them and it was then that she heard the chirping. ‘That sounds like Cyril,’ she thought. ‘And that’s Norfolk,’ she said. ‘Yes, Cyril and Norfolk are here today.’ And with that she set down her cup of coffee beside her on the wicker basket and left it there as she made for the kitchen once again. The brothers Wren were in fact perched on a knobbly branch of a vine that crawled up the worn red brick of this distinguished lady’s block. There they sat among the leaves each of them no larger than the lady’s littlest fingers. On this morning the brothers discussed greatness as was their custom on Sundays. ‘Lord Fedra is the greatest super hero of them all,’ began Cyril ‘and I shall tell you why, my dearest brother.’ Norfolk relaxed his little feathery chest and gazed out into the winter garden poised to chime in as and when it was time to do so. ‘Now, when the Fedra raises his axe above his heads, there is simply no telling when he will bring it down over the neck of his victim.’ This was true, thought Norfolk, so he allowed his brother to continue. ‘To yield a weapon of the greatest strength is to wield it with the softest of touches, yet, at the same time, the most incisive of motions and the most brutal of forces.’ Norfolk was now moved to speak. ‘I agree, my brother, save for one small detail,’ he chirped. ‘Do go on,’ replied Cyril. ‘Super heroes are timeless.’
And at that moment Kristina Ninotchka returned with her hands raised and cupped and carrying two tiny treats for the brothers Wren. Among the crevices of her palms nestled the most minuscule of porcelain cups, of which there were two, one for Cyril and the other for Norfolk. The birds flapped their wings gently and flew down into her hands and jumped up and down two times each, though not at the same time, to show their appreciation for Kristina Ninotchka, who smiled at them with her cherry-shaped eyes. ‘The tea with milk and molasses is for you Cyril. The oatmeal and molasses is for you Norfolk. Enjoy.’ And it was in this moment that the birds took the tiny porcelain cups in their wings and admired them in their grasp. The cups were adorned by blue sunflowers painted by Kristina herself. ‘These are new,’ chirped Cyril. ‘Yes. The painting is anyway,’ she replied. ‘I completed them yesterday evening at sundown.’ ‘Delicious oats,’ chimed Norfolk already halfway through the portion. ‘You’re a hungry little one, aren’t you, dearest Norfolk,’ Kristina acknowledged with a smile. ‘Now, where were we boys - the Fedra, I believe.’ And she sat back down on her wicker basket and moved her coffee to her lips and wetted them once more as the birds continued tweeting about greatness for several moments more.
A blackbird swooped down and rested on the wrought iron railing of the balcony. ‘I beg to differ!’ he squawked, bringing the conversation about greatness to a halt until he segued seamlessly into a suggestion of his own: ‘Zenus Zanus is in fact the greatest super hero of them all,’ he crowed and with complete and utter conviction in the truth of his statement did he crow. Cyril and Norfolk were accustomed to greeting the suggestions of outsiders with levity for their meditations on the matter of greatness had spanned their entire lives together and the lore was deep - it is true! But the sheer control with which the blackbird delivered his words resonated deeply within their little feathery bodies. ‘The head of Zenus is made of stone so hard that nothing and no one has ever survived contact with it.’ Cyril nodded but he was not totally convinced and he probed ‘with what regularity does Zanus of Zenus wield this weapon for I can only remember him doing so once’ and then Norfolk chimed ‘twice.’ Then, in this very moment, the blackbird stood over the wrens and just when they least expected it, he replied. ‘Exactly.’ ‘Who are you?’ asked Norfolk of the blackbird. ‘I am Benjamin,’ he responded without a semblance of hesitation. ‘Benjamin, the bugle-playing-blackbird.’ And with that the newest member of the group retrieved a bugle from under his wing that was so small that it defied all of the laws of the most contemporary of physical theories and even Kristina Ninotchka, she of the utmost stillness and elegance and grace, blushed.
In the winter garden the trees’ leaves rustled in the soft summer winds and Norfolk marvelled at the ripening peaches of one particular tree. ‘Life pulses through these golden peaches,’ he said and then he thought that they would make delicious jam. ‘I must leave now, Ms Ninotchka,’ he turned and said to her. ‘Thank you for breakfast.’ And with that Norfolk flew towards that tiny tree resplendent in a golden dress made entirely of a thousand shimmering peaches - their skin so shiny and taut - and he took one in his beak to make into jam for tea. ‘Is that your brother?’ asked Benjamin of Cyril. ‘Yes he is and a very special bird he is too,’ came the reply.
Kristina Ninotchka ushered Benjamin the blackbird and Cyril the wren indoors and to the dining room table. ‘I need your help,’ she said to them and she flew under the table and retrieved two caramel-coloured and cube-shaped cardboard boxes from underneath. ‘This afternoon we shall build a ship,’ she said. Setting them down on the table she opened them both and gazed at the contents with love and she turned to Benjamin and gave to him a tiny piece of moss-covered bark. The moss had hardened in the summer’s sun and was almost prickly to the touch. ‘All shades of green ever seen in all the vast expanses of Kingdom Clock reside on this tiny piece of bark,’ said Benjamin the blackbird. ‘Yes, dearest Benjamin, each and every one of them. It shall be your job to construct the ship from this piece of bark and you shall use these tools to do so,’ and with that she retrieved the tiniest of tiny toolboxes from that same caramel-coloured box from which she had retrieved the tiny piece of bark. ‘And Cyril - surely you know what I shall ask of you, dearest friend.’ And with that Cyril relaxed his feathery stomach and flapped his little wings and floated over the dining room table to the second of the two caramel-coloured and cube-shaped cardboard boxes. He hopped all over the box and pecked at it until all that one could see was a multitude, nay, a myriad of minuscule objects, from pencils and rulers to leather-clad juggling balls and dictionaries. ‘Once the ship is complete, you will arrange all of these minuscule items within it.’ Benjamin wore a bemused expression on his pitch black face. ‘Why?’ he crowed. Kristina Ninotchka smiled. ‘So that each and every item will be accessible to us without thought of where it may be stored throughout our voyage. This will save us time on our journey so that we can enjoy the scenery as we sail,’ she said.
No time had passed when the ship was ready to sail and the blackbird and the wren worked together to knit a net that fitted the ship like a glove. The net had two small pieces of the smallest rope one could imagine loose at either end of this hammock-like net and the birds lowered the ship into it. Kristina flew onto the deck and the birds carried her on this ship that sat snuggly in this net and with the smallest rope one could imagine held tightly in their smallest of beaks. And just like this they flew the lady to the lake in the park where their voyage would begin. Throughout that mild summer’s afternoon they sailed. ‘Bit breezy,’ said Benjamin. ‘I like it,’ chirped Cyril. And Kristina Ninotchka gazed out at the sunny haze emanating from the ruby red reeds that waved in the wind throughout this stunningly still lake.
The sun was setting and the birds sat together at the bow of the ship. Cyril had been charged with plotting their path as per usual and he flitted between the handles of the maroon-coloured mahogany wheel with the feathery feel of a bird well acquainted with such a task. ‘Thank you, dearest Cyril,’ the lady would whisper whenever he made an adjustment to their course through the ruby red reeds of the lake. All the while Benjamin the blackbird played a myriad of beautifully crafted brass instruments and Kristina Ninotchka was awe-struck. ‘So it is not just the bugle that you play!’ The blackbird played and the wren steered and the lady laughed with all that was lovely in the kingdom of the clock with the golden veneer.