words by Pete Clark, illustrations by Victoria Clare
This red valley, bleak and thorny
was once with trees and pastures green.
In these channels, dry and tawny,
shining waters once were seen:
streams like falling stars cascaded
to fields where pools of sun-fire glowed;
moonlight mists with dews brocaded
orchards through which heavens flowed.
And the source, our one great treasure,
was the well from which rose bright
ceaseless waters, every measure
shining with its own clear light.
Like life’s banner in a fable,
above dry lands the valley hung:
at night a silver-threaded sable,
gold and green beneath the sun.
Here they welcomed many strangers.
Sickness brought some seeking aid
from the waters, while from dangers
fleeing others came and stayed.
So a boy came. By the water
children taught him to play and sing.
His closest friend there was the daughter
of the house that kept the spring.
Sometimes they must work for hours
in the orchard or the meads,
then could wander in the flowers
telling of old heroes’ deeds.
In peace years passed, but then one morning
men came, bringing to the boy
from a land of strife and warring
tidings to disturb his joy.
“We come,” they said, “from the iron tower
whence in fear your mother fled
when your family’s foes took power,
and sought your potent blood to shed.
“The struggle’s done. Your foes, defeated,
plot no more upon the plain.
In his place your father’s seated.
You must now return again.”
The boy wept, fearing life diminished,
made to leave the shining streams,
and his playmates, games unfinished,
and the girl who shared his dreams.
That girl remained, and soon was grown
and by the starry falls did dwell,
with her grandfather, then alone,
as keeper of the shining well.
The dome of crystal on the mountain
she would tend, to let the light
of sun and stars blend in the fountain
where silver sand kept waters bright.
She left the well-cave late one evening,
and found a man who’d crossed the hill –
a warrior, caked in blood, still bleeding –
though grown and changed she knew him still.
She called to neighbours, all together
they carried him into her home.
She cut from him the crusted leather,
washed away the bloody foam.
Wounds bound, he lay in fever dreaming,
and she sat with him day and night,
gave him to drink of water gleaming,
fed him with apples gold and bright.
With skill and care in time she healed him,
and he gazed long upon her face,
until at last with lips she sealed him
to her in a fast embrace.
Once more together hand in hand
they heard the waters’ laughing spell.
He told her of his distant land,
she showed him the secrets of the well.
One evening by the shining torrent
the man said “Love, we cannot stay.
My iron tower without warrant
by my foes was rent away.
“Many living by these waters
work and plenty have made strong.
They will hearken to your orders,
with us they shall march along.
“You will bid them weapons make,
with me they shall drill and train,
the tower I again will take,
regain my place upon the plain.”
“My love,” she said, “for all your sadness
I am sorry and would bring you calm,
but to me it seems mere madness
our quiet folk to train and arm.
“To gain a distant tower of iron
they must forsake the flowering trees?
To reach a plain to kill and die on
they should give up this place of peace?
“And ever, while my people dwell here,
my duty is the light to bring.
Never, while bright waters well here,
shall I leave the shining spring.”
Long they strove, ‘til raging, shaking
the man struck out to make her yield.
The neighbours came, his arms fast making,
pulled him forth into the field.
With peaceful words they thought to calm him
but he in fury sought to fight.
The woman forbade them to harm him –
he cursed and ran off through the night.
There came a night of thunder wild.
The keeper shuddered in her bed.
As she nursed her newborn child,
she felt a rising spring of dread.
The day came quiet but dark and drear.
The air seemed full of dust and smoke.
The people gathered, full of fear,
and some began to weep and choke,
for they found the spring was silted
with a swirling, darkening bile.
All the crops it touched were wilted,
all the flowers’ scent was vile.
No beast could drink the fetid liquor
that oozed and slowed like drying blood;
its murky depths showed not a flicker
of the light once filled the flood.
Now the keeper warned of danger,
climbed the slopes with quickening breath,
seeking how some foe had changed her
spring into a well of death.
On the hillside, shattered crystal
ringed a hole within which lay
dark waters in the poisoned cistern,
sinking as they drained away.
Aqueducts that long had spoken
with the voice of flowing rills
now lay in many places broken
near and far among the hills.
The man who fled returned that evening,
bade the frightened people hark.
Some accused him, some believed him
and marched with him into the dark.
Those that remained moved to the mountain
up above the poisoned vale,
always hungry, ever counting
dwindling stores and flocks that failed.
We their children, few and famished,
grew to know this thorny soil,
and although the spring had vanished
won our food with bitter toil.
Yet after every meagre harvest
we still labour noon and night,
in the hill we work the hardest
to seek to mend the well of light.
The seasons make the well less noisome,
though the sand’s yet stained and tarred.
With precious drops we wash the poison
from each splintered crystal shard.
I still recall my mother’s teaching
of the secrets of the spring,
as inside the cavern, reaching,
forth the shattered stones we bring.
This well was no spirit’s creation,
but shaped by skill. So, long ago,
some ancient people carved the basin,
some chief decreed the crystal dome
and if some gift of the divine
was there, as I do think was so,
yet mortal hands still marked the line
for where the aqueducts should go.
So, one day, we shall discover
how to make the crystal one,
how to blend each with the other:
water, moon, and stars, and sun.
With meadows green and waters flowing
our valley shall again be bright.
We’ll welcome all, our wonder showing
those who yearn for peace and light.
For more of Victoria’s amazing art please go to: https://victoriaclare.com/