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The city was renowned for its beauty. It was said that no man could leave it without weeping, for its magnificence would be so burned upon his heart that he would never be able to appreciate any lesser sight.

The buildings were made of sparkling white stone, with soaring columns and stained glass windows that gleamed like jewels. They stood upon wide, straight streets, avenues lined with green trees, and on spacious, elegant courtyards. Statues and sculptures adorned the city; wherever you turned you would see another awe-inspiring piece of art.

Except in one courtyard.

At the centre of the city, in front of the palace, stood a large courtyard with nothing at the centre but a small, simple well. It was made from stone, sheltered by a simple wooden roof, plain and unpainted. The bucket was battered, and the handle that lowered it was squeaky and hard to turn.

Guards watched over the well day and night. It was the most important duty they could be assigned; more important even than guarding the King himself.

Occasionally, a single citizen would be allowed to approach the well. Special tokens were assigned to those citizens granted this honour; they could only be acquired from the King’s own hand, and because of this they were usually granted only to the rich and influential.

One day, a young girl approached the courtyard gates. She was barefoot, and her dress was ragged. The guards moved forward to chase her away, but she held out her dirty hand and displayed the King’s token. Bemused, they stood aside to let her pass.

She walked up to the well, leaned over it and whispered something, then dropped the token down. There was silence for a moment, then a splash echoed up from the depths. She lowered the bucket into the well and struggled to turn the handle.

The guards stood silently watching her as she tugged and heaved at the handle. It was difficult for even a grown man to turn, but they offered no assistance. It was not allowed.

Finally, the bucket hit the water at the bottom of the well and the girl rested on the handle for a moment before taking a deep breath and wrestling with the handle again. Round and around the handle went, and the bucket inched higher and higher.

The guards watched as the girl pulled the bucket out of the well, took a single sip of the water within, and then tipped the rest back down the well.

She walked taller as she left, striding with the confidence of a noblewoman despite her ragged attire.

The guards watched her go.

“Wonder what she wished for?”

The guard shrugged, his armour clanking. “Only the Lady of the Well knows.”

© Kari Fay