R. C. SmithShort Stories and Vignettes

Do not read my works if you are offended by descriptions of sexuality and violence.
(Do not read them just for those descriptions, either.)

The Fountain

Audio read by Meri Paite (7:18)

For at least an hour the path, still passing through the wood, had been leading along a high stone wall, a few thicket-filled yards to my right. I knew that behind this wall had to be the castle gardens, and somewhere the castle itself, but neither sight nor sound gave anything away about their existence. Not even treetops could be seen behind the wall, and no birds could be heard from the other side.

The road led gently upwards. To my left, the ground was equally gently sloping down, but the wood was too dense to allow a view of the valley that might have lain below, or the landscape beyond. After having walked along the wall for maybe half an hour, I came to a place where the uniformity of the wood and the wall was broken thrice.

First, in the wall there was a small door. It was a solid door, and it had no handle to open it from the outside. I did not have to try it to know that it was locked.

Then, to my left, maybe thirty feet away from the wall, there was a small fountain, a rock with a metal pipe in it, from which a stream of clear water flowed into a stone basin that was about one foot deep, two feet wide and four feet long; from the basin, a rivulet flowed down, away from the path, deeper into the wood.

And third, down the path of the rivulet, just visible through the trees, was a glade, with a small wooden hut in it. I smelled a whiff of smoke before I saw the smoke coming out of the hut's chimney. It brought with it a delightful scent of roast meat that made me aware of my hunger. I carried some food with me, but I also carried some coins, and I decided to ask whoever lived there if for a fair price they would let me join their meal. Before I went, I knelt down next to the fountain and drank from its cold, fresh water.

It was a solitary old man who lived in the hut. He offered me his hospitality, and he even refused to take my money — he had all he needed, he said, and food was plenty.

There was nothing unusual in his hut, with one exception, a surprising sight in the middle of a wood: one wall was covered with drawings. All the drawings were done in black and white, and they all showed women, sometimes only their faces, sometimes also their bodies — they were all naked. All the women were pretty, though some looked tired, or worn out, but some had an expression of quiet and peace on their faces that made their beauty stand out from the others.

“Have you drawn those?” I asked.

“It is what I am here for,” he said.

“Who are those women?” I asked, curious, “where do you meet them?”

“Where I meet them? Well, here of course, I never leave this place. And who they are? Who they've been before I do not know, but when they come here, through that door in the wall, they are the Prince's discharged concubines.”

“He sends them to you?” I asked, incredulously.

“Oh no,” the old man said, “he has them sent through that door. And there is only one thing that they are told: that, when they have stepped through the door, they will know what to do.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“You do not know?” he asked back, “you do not understand? Well, some of them do not understand, either.”

“What is it that they do, or are supposed to do?” I asked again.

“They are not supposed,” he said. “They just understand. But, not all of them do. Some just drink from the fountain, and walk away. Sometimes, when the night is very quiet, and the air carries sound far, I can hear their screams from the valley. Or maybe I just imagine them,” he added after a while.

“And the others?”

“Some come to my hut.” There was a pause. The meal was ready now, and we sat down to eat. The meat tasted as delicious as it had smelled, and the wine that the old man poured from a jar was strong and dry.

“I bury them at the other end of the glade,” the old man finally said.

For a while we ate in silence. The meat was unknown to me. Perhaps some wild animal from the wood? I thought. A different thought crossed my mind, too, but I did not ask. Some things need not to be talked about.

“But there are still others?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” the man said. “There are those who think they understand. They drown themselves at the fountain. It is not easy to drown yourself in such a small basin, in only one foot of water, some of them struggle for quite a while ...”

“And this still is not the right thing for them to do?”

“It is not about right or wrong,” the old man replied. “But when they had really loved the Prince, and when they had truly understood about love, they do not drown themselves. They lie down next to the fountain, and there they die of thirst.”

I looked at the drawings again. “And they — these are the beautiful ones?” I asked.

“It may be that I just draw them more beautifully,” he said.

We drank some more of the wine.

There was a mirror on another wall, and in it I could see myself. I was not as beautiful as those other women had been. Only love can evoke such beauty.

“How can I meet the Prince?” I asked.

(02/2008, last edited 09/2014 — originally titled “The Spring”)

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