Quein was twenty years old when her husband died. He’d been one of Palderton’s most successful stonemasons until, one night, one of the building stones he was working with fell on him, killing him instantly. It was then that Quein learned that her husband had also had a serious gambling problem that he’d never told her about. As a result, she went from being moderately well off to being abjectly poor in just a few short days following her husband’s funeral. She then felt, quite honestly, that it was probably a good thing that she had never had any children, though he’d wanted them, for she now owned nothing except the clothing on her back. Even the gold ring she’d been given at their wedding had been taken to pay his debts.
At first, her pride wouldn’t allow her to beg. However, after two days without eating and with only well water to drink, cold and sick, she gave in. Standing on a street corner, then, she cried piteously to passers by to bestow the least trifle on her. Occasionally, she would receive one or two copper coins and rarely, a silver coin. These, she used to buy food and a good woolen blanket, but nothing more, and more often people would just walk past her, pretending they didn’t see her at all.
One morning, about a month after she first began to beg, she awoke near a bakery. There was a vent near the back of the shop that constantly spewed forth warm air. She shifted in her blanket, knowing she must eventually rise, but not wishing to leave the warmth of the bakery vent, and her hand landed on something cold and hard.
Opening her eyes, she looked down at her hand. Lying there, as if it had always been there, was a battered, dented tin basin, of the sort still used by some for washing their hands and face in the morning. In the bottom of the basin there lay eight copper coins. Apparently, some kind soul had seen her huddling beneath her blanket by the bakery vent and had compassion on her, though why they had left that old basin with her was a definite mystery. Gathering up the coins, Quein tucked the basin under her arm and went into the bakers to purchase a small loaf of bread. After that, she went to the dairy shop to buy a small wedge of cheese. That was all eight coppers would buy her, but, if she was careful, it would last her at least four days.
She went to the well in the Palderton town square and brought up a bucket of cool, clear water, using it to fill her new basin, then seated herself at the base of that well and began to eat. The bread, newly baked, tasted like cake in her mouth as she ate and the cheese was so creamy and delicious that she felt like she must be dreaming. Laying aside the bread and cheese, she lifted the basin to take a drink and then dropped it with a shriek that made more than half the people crossing the square look at her in surprise. It’s impossible, she thought, scrubbing her eyes with her hands. I must be seeing things.
She sat for a minute, staring at the upset basin lying on the cobblestones next to her. Did she really see a beautiful garden in the water? A strange desire seized her and she went to draw a second bucketful of water just to see. Sure enough, as she bent over the refilled basin, she saw, not her own reflection staring back at her, but a profusion of lovely flowers under a beautiful blue sky. Then the vision in the water blurred and, in its place, there appeared the great spire of Palderton’s only temple. Curious, Quein tucked her food into the folds of her clothing, then picked up the water-filled basin in both hands and walked carefully to the temple. When she reached it, the image changed to the storefront of the tanner’s shop on the eastern edge of town. When she got there, the water showed the quarry where her husband had been died. This was confusing to Quein, since there was nothing there but rocks. The quarry was nothing but a barren waste. Still, she went, hope sparkling in her eyes.
At the quarry, the tin basin next showed a cave opening Quein had seen near the rim. As she entered it, she found herself surrounded by the most delightful smell that had ever touched her nose. The cave was dark, but Quein only hesitated for a second, walking through the dark cavern, led almost completely by that wonderful aroma. Before long, however, it wasn’t just her nose that was leading her. At the other end of the cave, Quein found herself at the lip of a valley in the shape of a large bowl, carpeted in lush, green grass that looked like it had been recently trimmed. Flowers grew in beds here and there, just as if they had been planted there. Here and there, the occasional fruit tree or bush could even be seen.
To one side of the cave mouth, there was a pedestal with a slight depression in the top of it that was just the right size for the tin basin. Quein carefully set the water-filled basin atop the pedestal, then made her way down the little bowl-shaped valley. She soon saw that most of the bowl-shaped valley had been landscaped. What hadn’t been was filled with neatly arranged rows of herbs and vegetables. Every kind of delicious fruit or vegetable Quein had ever heard of was there and everything seemed to be just bursting with ripeness. In the very center of the lush garden, there stood a little house. On the door, there was a brass plaque which read,
Grasping the doorknob, Quein found that the door opened easily at her touch. Beyond it, the little house had only one room. Against the wall, opposite the door there was an expensive-looking mahogany wardrobe, of the kind Quein had seen in the houses of wealthy people. Next to that, there was a dressing table, complete with a stool and everything a young lady could possibly want to make herself pretty. Against the left wall, there sat an enormous bathtub whose contents sent a delightful-smelling steam into the air. A small wooden table nearby held some fluffy towels, a couple of blown-glass bottles that looked like they might hold shampoo and a ceramic soap dish that held a bar of pure white soap. Against the right wall, there stood a small chest on a little table, with a key sitting in the lock, just as if someone had left recently and forgot to take it along. In the corner between this and the wardrobe stood a full-length mirror.
I know that the title of this contains the tantalizing phrase, “Part 1”. Part 2, however, would extend the assignment beyond 1200 words. If you’d like me to write part 2 and post it here, you need to post a comment requesting it. If I get 5 such requests from different people, I will write up “Part 2” and post it here.