When the kind mother finch brought the little elf to her nest, she fixed his wounds and told her four children that he was to be treated as their brother. So that was how he was raised as a bird instead of an elf. He was named Goldenrod for his hair, which he thought of as a crop of yellow down feathers. He thought of himself as a bird, and knew of no other world but the tree where the finches nested. He learned to peep, call, and sing as well as any finch. He spent the days singing and playing with his mother and siblings, who loved him dearly. But it wasn’t long before his brothers and sisters received their wing feathers and had to learn to fly. He would sit on a thick branch beside his mother and listen to her instruct her children, cheering them on and congratulating them on a job well done. But he was never invited to take part in the flying lessons.
“Mama,” Goldenrod would say after each lesson, “when will I get to learn to fly?”
His mother would pat his head and tell him, “When your wings come in, dear.”
“Why aren’t they in now?” he would ask. But she never had an answer to that.
The mother finch knew that someday she would need to tell him that he was an elf and not a finch, but she was afraid that he would not believe her, or else be very sad and pine for his elf parents. So she put it off as long as she possibly could. But when her children had finally completed their flying lessons and Goldenrod was still pondering the whereabouts of his delayed wings, she knew she finally had to tell him the truth.
The afternoon of the last flying lesson, Goldenrod, as always, asked, “Mama, when will I get to learn to fly?”
This time, his mother said, “Goldenrod, there is something I need to discuss with you in private. Come to the nest with me now, while your siblings are out flying.” Goldenrod obeyed and followed his mother to the nest. She sat down, and motioned for him to sit beside her. She wrapped her warm, brown wing around him and pulled him close to her.
“Goldenrod,” she began, “if you let me say what I am about to tell you, do you promise that you will believe me, no matter how strange it sounds, and do you promise not to be angry or upset with me?”
“I promise, Mama,” said Goldenrod, who didn’t think that he could ever be angry or upset with his kind, beautiful mother.
She shut her eyes and took a deep breath before saying, “Goldenrod, you are not a bird.”
“I’m not a bird?”
“No, Goldenrod,” she said. “A few weeks ago, when you were still just a very little baby, I found you lying on the ground. You were horribly wounded, though I still don’t know why, and I took you to my nest and took care of you. You didn’t have a mother of your own, so I became your mother.”
“Then if I’m not a bird,” Goldenrod said, “what am I?”
“You are an elf,” said his mother.
“An elf?” Goldenrod was bewildered. “Mama, what’s an elf?”
“An elf,” his mother explained, “is a small creature that lives in trees. Elves live in the forest just like birds, but they do not have any wings or feathers.”
“Do my brothers and sisters know I’m an elf?” Goldenrod asked.
“They do,” said his mother. “But they were told to treat you as if you were a member of the family, so they treated you like a bird. I knew I would have to tell you that you were an elf someday, but I dreaded the day, because I thought you might want to get away from me and be with the other elves.” She paused, and looked right into his eyes. “Goldenrod, do you want to get away with me and be with the other elves, now that you know you are an elf?”
Goldenrod shook his head. “I don’t want to be with any elves,” he said. “I want to be with you and my brothers and sisters.”When he said that, the mother finch’s fears melted away completely, and she let out a joyful cry. She picked him up and hugged him tightly and kissed him over and over again. “Then you can go on being a bird, darling,” she said, “and we can pretend I never told you that you were an elf!”