They followed the path Chi had suggested. Whilst discussing what Chi had told them about the facets of the diamond, Milo realised that while Daisy had appreciated the beauty of the rock, he had only focused on its flaws.

At the end of the path a sparse wood came into view, bordered by a winding stream. Milo noticed lots of little bridges crossing the water. Expecting to see another dormouse, they were surprised to find a starling perched in a tree by the side of the stream. On closer inspection, they discovered that she was very old, with yellow speckles, greying feathers and a slightly hunched appearance. She called out to them.

“Have you just come from the land of treasure? Did Chi send you to me?”

“Yes,” replied Daisy.

“So,” the bird began, cocking her head, “what do you think these bridges are called?”

Daisy glanced downstream.

“Well, they are very small. It is only a small step across each one,” she observed.

“Excellent! Little steps bridge. What else?”

“Well, there are lots of them. You keep crossing again and again.”

“Well done. You are correct. First, let’s talk. Tell me about yourselves.”

Encouraged by the bird’s query, Milo and Daisy took it in turn to tell their story. The elderly starling listened with a rapt intensity. When they finished, she thanked them for their honest account. Suddenly, Milo realised they did not know her name.

“My name is Cuba,” she answered and there was a distinct gravity in her voice, born from years of experience. “I was named after my grandfather. He used to go on long flights and even flew as far as Cuba –he told endless tales of this place. He was known as a very determined starling, very persistent. He had a tremendous intuitive understanding of the right time to fly and which winds to follow.

When I was young, I fell and broke my wing and it never healed properly. It took great perseverance just to be able to fly the short distance from the ground back up to a tree.” She paused, “So what does this have to do with these bridges, I bet you’re wondering? Well, in order to stay safe every day, I have had to condition my wing so that it does not become too weak. Little flights, little and often. Some days I have more energy than other days.

I listen to my body. I know when to rest. Sometimes I feel better and sometimes I feel low, but I have to persevere no matter what. I always know that the feeling will pass. If you keep going, you will reach your destination. One step at a time, then persevere again and again.”

Allowing them to digest this knowledge, Cuba hopped along the branch and motioned across the path with her wing.

“Follow this path through the wood and you will find what you have been looking for. Over the years, flying tree to tree, one tree at a time, has kept me strong. When you arrive at the end of your journey, you will know why I find the motivation to keep flying through the wood.”

Milo and Daisy gladly accepted this guidance and they thanked Cuba for her wisdom and time. Enthused by such a remarkable and inspiring character, they set off quickly. Excitement drove them; they were so close to reaching the end of their journey and were eager to discover what they had searched so long to find.

Chapter 11. The River