The days didn’t change much in the pit. The whimpering at night and the moaning at daybreak never ceased. Small portions of food did little to stay the hunger from men who dug and broke rock all day. Occasionally, a man who tired of the mine was whipped, or worse, left in the sun to die and be buried by somber comrades by night.
It was a hard life. The only highlight most of the men had was when they found a bit of gold, or better yet, a gem. Often, they would fight for these scraps, and just as often, die for them.
The walls of the mine were unscalable; the bars of the heavy gate, unbreakable. No mere mortal, or even this band of men could escape it. The men always tested the bars for weakness; and they were scoffed at by their captors.
He, however, did have something they didn’t. When he was captured, he had managed to smuggle in his little flask. By day, he kept it hidden in his clothes. By night, it lay beneath a shallow layer of dirt in a hole while he slept. The flask contained something very special. It wasn’t alcohol, or even the ashes of a loved one. It’s value dwarfed the men around him and the mine that imprisoned them. If it was ever found, his life was forfeit. If not kept secret, death would come to all who would possess it.
He had been a sculptor in life. How easy it was to see the former life as life, and this as a living death for many. It was the artist in him that had taken him to the ancient temple dedicated to the element of Water. He admired the stone work and the wall paintings.
There was a gilded throne built right into the hillside rock. It was littered with gemstones of every color. In fact, it was completely covered with them, except for the small basin where the right hand might rest.
There was a small opening in the basin that fed back into the wall. Legends said the water that pooled therein dripped from the Well of Souls and had mystical properties.
While he examined the detail of the artisan’s hand, the earth shook, and a piece of the ceiling fell upon his head, knocking him unconscious. He came to, hours later, when the earth trembled again. His head had been bleeding, and thinking nothing of it, he scooped some water that had filled the basin to wash himself.
When he removed his hand, the wound on his head was smooth. He gazed in wonder as he noticed the old scar on his hand was gone as well.
As he filled his flask, his footing became unsure. The whole temple was shaking from another earthquake. As he fled the structure, the whole thing collapsed, leaving nothing but ruin and forgotten memories.
That seemed like ancient history to him. At times, when feeling ill, just a breath over the open flask sufficed to restore him.
Some secrets are terrible to hold forever. This one gave him life and hope, things that his fellow men did not have. He fed this hope daily, and it blossomed within. Nothing would ever quench his love, his life, and his hope.
Months turned into years, then turned to a decade. Men were constantly added to the mine to replace the fallen. Having been there for so long, he acquired an air of seniority, a small deference to his having been a slave for so long.
That favored him when they found that delicious spot of beautifully rich, red clay. The men let him sleep on it, and he’d make small objects for them to dry in the sun.
After some time, he started to mold the form of a woman from the clay. He got some snickers and sneers from the men, until they saw that he was a true artist. She was life-sized and was fashioned into a wonderfully beautiful creature. The men would often stop their conversations as they walked by in reverence to his work.
One day, the men came to him and offered an emerald and a sapphire to adorn her with. He took the gems, polished them and set them for her eyes. As the sun went down, he wept. He cried that such a wondrous piece of art. linger about in such a place of suffering.
He continued to weep into the night for hours. Then, abruptly, he stopped. Though no one could see it, he had the strangest of looks on his face. He grabbed his flask and carefully whetted a cloth with the water. He proceeded to pat her entire body with his mystical treasure.
He felt the clay warm and slightly soften beneath him. In a desperate movement, he emptied the entire flask into his mouth. He embraced her with the love of an artist. She warmed even more. Then, he touched his lips on hers and proceeded to kiss her tenderly. She responded, and kissed him back. She thirsted for more, and took the water of life from his mouth, gulping it down. He broke away, gasping for breath. She gave off a warm soft glow and began to move. She opened her eyes, the blue and the green, and looked around.
From his kiss, she had acquired his understanding. She stood and put a finger to her lips. She glanced at the gate, and saw no immediate threat. She walked around the mine, with him a few steps behind, gathering a train of silent and awestruck men.
Once she circled back around to the gate, she could see no one guarding the other side. She bent down, grabbed the gate, and sunk her heels into the earth. As she strained to lift the gate, her glow dimmed and pulsed. When the last of the men had hurried under the gate, she followed. As the gate crashed down, her glow faded away, leaving her and the men in total darkness.
Soon, guards came, bringing light and skirmishes with them. The mining crew, hardened from their days of labor, easily overpowered them and escaped into the night.
She held her hand up to speak. “Now, we are both mortal. As my spirit was once yours, as is our love, I am yours and you are mine. Let us be as one, travel as one, and love as one.”
For now, he could say nothing. He reached out, took her hand; and together, they did just that until the end of their days.