One bright morning by a tree in a town square on the vernal equinox, a spring started to flow. It was a miracle. The water was crystal clear and cured pains and diseases.
Around the same time an artist took a room in the main hotel. He stayed alone, hardly anyone saw him and he did nothing but paint pictures.
More people came to the town to be cured so the Lord of the Province introduced charges and people had to pay to drink the water. He kept most of the money for himself and his friends.
“May our town flourish thanks to God’s benevolence,” he told the people. And the people were happy.
Soon, though, an odd thing began to happen. At first it was the cats and dogs. But since they were just cats and dogs nobody really noticed or cared. The town was getting richer and so were the leader’s friends.
Then a farmer came to see the leader,
“Two of my cows have gone missing. I am ruined! It is the spring that has caused it, I swear,” he told the council meeting one day.
“You old fool. How can a stream make cows vanish?” the Lord said and everybody laughed at the farmer. The town grew richer and richer.
When the first child went missing, a great search was organized. The Lord and his men swore that the child would be found. But after weeks of searching, the little boy was still missing.
The parents were deranged with unhappiness. The leader told them to drink from the source,
“You can drink as much as you like for free and the guards will let you through the gates whenever you want.”
But the water did nothing for them and they were too sad even to leave their house.
The water from the source continued to cure thousands of people. The Lord and merchants became very wealthy. But that Summer, one after the other, people went missing. First it was the beggars, but nobody really noticed their absence. But then workers and farmers disappeared and people became frightened.
“It is the source that is to blame,” a man said at the special meeting.
“Block up the source!” another said.
The people gathered together that night and overpowered the guards in the square. They blocked the source with tree trunks and boulders. Yet the next day, the source had returned. The Lord punished the people and forbade all mention of the disappeared. Anyone heard talking about it faced banishment from the town.
That Autumn, though, yet more citizens went missing. Every month another person was never seen again. All through the town, sadness gripped the people. But the source continued to heal people and make money for the Lord and his town.
That winter was the coldest and cruelest there had ever been, yet the source did not freeze and continued to flow. Whilst all was covered in snow and ice, visitors queued and paid to drink the sweet healing water.
That Christmas, the Lord's daughter disappeared. He was furious and ordered everyone to look for her night and day. Through snow and blizzard, the people searched everywhere for the Lord's daughter. Very soon, though, they became angry again.
“Why must we search for the king’s daughter?”
“The leader never helped us.”
“My husband was banished just for asking where our son was!”
Soon, the people stopped looking for the daughter even though the guards harassed them. In revenge, the leader increased their taxes and charged more to drink from the source.
Soon, the sun grew higher in the sky and the snow began to melt. The people gathered in the market square and shouted for the Lord to show himself.
“We demand justice!”
The people blocked the gates to the source and ran inside the palace. The leader took to his horse and fled with his family and friends and were lost.
That day, the artist emerged from his room.
“I was told this was a just town. Tell the people to place the paintings by the source and to dig by the old tree.” he told the hotel patron, paid his bill and was never seen again.
That night was the vernal equinox. The hotel patron showed the people the dozens upon dozens of paintings from the artist's room. They were dumbfounded. There were pictures of cats and dogs painted with such skill you would think they were about to move. There was a painting of two fine cows and of beggars, workers and farmers. Everybody recognized somebody they knew.
In a silent procession they carried the paintings to the source by the old tree and placed them there and waited. Nothing happened and after a while, since it was cold, the people left and returned home.
The next day, though, at dawn a gaggle of cats wandered down the main street and one jumped through a kitchen window. A dog bounded up a garden path and barked at a door and the lowing of two cows awoke a farmer and his wife.
Then the rest of the missing returned. Tired and thirsty they made their way back to their homes. After the consternation had subsided the people marched to the village square. The source had stopped flowing. They dug up the earth round the old tree and found the old Lord's treasure.
At a meeting they forgave the Lord's daughter and elected a new leader. There was no more money from the source, but they spent the treasure wisely.
Hundreds of years later, on every spring equinox the people in the prosperous farming town hold a procession where people carry old paintings to an old tree in their village square.
Author Notes: Steve Brown eeks out a living in the wilderness of southern France and enjoys running. Especially away from his problems.