Mountain Spring

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Summary

Any time water flows from the mountain, rain running off the rocks, filtering and pooling down into a cold, clear spring- it has a story. They differ, of course, from nation to nation, continent to continent, but they are almost always of spiritual significance- relating to immortality, or the gods. This is merely one such story. Alina is a young, curious girl from a small Ukrainian village. She hikes up a mountain to find a spring that grants immortality. What she finds instead will change her life forever.

Genre:
Romance / Fantasy
Author:
gay
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Mountain Spring

Any time water flows from the mountain, rain running off the rocks, filtering and pooling down into a cold, clear spring, it has a story. They differ, of course, from nation to nation, continent to continent, but they are almost always of spiritual significance— relating to immortality, or the gods. This is merely one such story.

It is a small story. The world was not saved. The blind and mute were not healed. But for two beings, two people of little significance to anyone but each other, it is the only story.

The first of the two was called Alina. Alina lived in a tiny Ukrainian village near the foot of a small mountain. A solitary soul, her life as it was in the village, her family and her time spent there, were uneventful, and unimportant. Her relatives looked after her solely out of obligation, and as one of many children, one not particularly remarkable in any way other than for her signature preoccupied manner, she was often forgotten, but never minded much.

When she was seventeen, her thoughtful and curious ways led her up the mountain. Her grandmother, a sharply superstitious wrinkle of a woman, had mentioned the spring at the top of the mountain. Alina's mother had snapped at her, dismissing the notion as an anachronism, a silly little myth from a long-gone era. But it was too late: the odd little wheels in Alina's brain had already begun to turn, and she became stiff with interest and excitement. Thanks to some metaphorical twisting of arms, she was able to extract enough information to send her upwards on the long, winding path to the peak. A natural well, said to make you live forever. Though Alina was rather indifferent to the idea of immortality, it was enough to pique her interest, especially in a small town where little ever happened.

The hike was moderately long and moderately steep, and she found herself looking forward to the well more and more, if only for the water. She took several rests on her way, sitting on the ground amongst the ferns and the orchids. She found interest in every leaf, every pebble, and every chip of bark on every tree. This was how she enriched her life: she found beauty in the small things, and clung to them, like a goat clinging to the side of a mountain, making her way through the rocky cliff faces every day. There was so much wonder in the unfurling of a frond, or the soft laughter of a bubbling brook. These things gave her meaning and joy.

When she reached the precipice, it was not long until she located the well. It streamed from the side of a rock face in a pair of small fountains, then pooled into a small hollow of shining pebbles. The water then flowed down and on into a small and winding creek, and it was clear and perfect. She knelt beside it and cupped her hands beneath the right side of the stream, lifting the water to her lips. It was cold, shockingly so, and she hungrily drank it down and took more. After her thirst was quenched, she wiped her brow and shifted to sit.

The view was unparalleled. She could see her village, already small, but completely dwarfed by the distance. And beyond the town, the land, rolling and green, full of trees and life. The sky was amazingly blue, and the clouds looked huge and soft as they rolled by. Alina admired this, as well as the plants around her and the subtle cool breeze that blew by, gently caressing her face and billowing her hair and dress.

There was something supremely calming about the peak, and Alina fell into it, like falling into bed after a long day. She swathed herself in this place and she stayed. For hours she stayed, studying the flowers and ferns, sipping water from the cool spring, letting the breeze slowly wick the sweat from her forehead. She had arrived early in the morning, leaving at sunrise, and she planned to spend as much time here as possible.

She eventually dozed off, with her arm folded under her head, and she awoke to a sudden gust of wind that instantly cooled her body, which had grown hot in the afternoon sun. She opened her eyes just as a large mass of white clouds moved to block the sun. The temperature immediately dropped several degrees, and she felt more comfortable. She felt the strange compulsion to to say thank you, so she did. "Дякую," she murmured. There was, of course, no reply.

She would return again and again in the coming days. The peak and the well had an addictive quality, and she would collect wild mushrooms as she went as an excuse to her befuddled family, who were perplexed by this new obsession. She would spend hours there most days, bringing small pieces of cheese, bread, and pork to eat and a blanket to lie down on. Though she ventured it might be that she had simply gotten used to it, the sun seemed to not burn as bright and hot, and the breeze seemed to never leave her. Even the path up the mountain appeared smoother as she went, and she found herself feeling very at home in this place.

After a long while of this, she was once again at her fountain (indeed she had begun to think of it as hers, not as ownership, but something else, perhaps) when she slid on the slippery pebbles by the well on her way to inspect a small shoot of tender leaves. She fell forward, but she was not met with a crash on the ground. She found herself caught in a grip light and soft as the most delicate of textiles. She opened her eyes in surprise, but saw nothing. She felt a gentle release, and steadied herself.

For a long time, she was silent. She worked through her shock as the wheels in her head turned. Finally, she spoke, slowly. "Thank you." A pause. Then, "What are you?"

No answer, only the softest breeze. She thought to herself again. "Please, I would like to know you." After a second, she added, "And thank you properly."

She was greeted with more silence. The breeze had stopped completely, and instead, curiosity and tension flowed through the air. Alina waited. She waited so long that she was ready to give up. But finally a voice blew in on the wind, a whisper, as quiet as the fluttering of butterfly wings. "Why do you stay?"

Alina's breath caught in her throat. Her chest swelled with emotion. After consideration, she replied, "I love it here. It makes me happy."

No answer, only more stillness. "Please," she begged, finding herself desperate. "Please speak again." When she still received no answer, she added, more calmly this time, "I can wait, if you wish. Just, if you please, don't leave."

More silence ensued, but the breeze picked up again, just a little. Alina took this as a cue, and she moved to sit by the well, extending her index finger to the spring of cold water and letting it flow over her nail. "If you are the nature around me, you are very beautiful. And if you are its caretaker, you have a beautiful soul, to have created this."

Her breeze increased, and she smiled. It was enough. After several hours more, she left. "I'll be back tomorrow," she assured softly. Her hair fluttered, and this was her answer.

The next morning, her friend seemed to have thought about Alina's request— she was more talkative than before.

"Tell me about yourself," Alina asked, unwrapping a slice of sweet bread.

Her friend was prone to pauses, it seemed, but Alina didn't mind. They both appeared to mull things over greatly before speaking. "People come to the well," she spoke at last. Her voice was just a touch louder than the day before. "They come because they think they will live forever. That the blind will see."

"And do they?" Alina asked.

"Sometimes," came the reply. Alina bit her tongue, resisting the urge to ask more questions. She was hoping her friend would continue on her own accord, and her patience was rewarded. "But you did not come to live forever. You stay."

"I don't care about living forever," Alina answered. "If I did, I think that would be fine. But if I didn't, I wouldn't mind. I just try to be happy while I am alive."

"Happiness can be hard to find." The statement sounded knowing.

"Yes, but that's why I come here. There is joy in the little things. Watching the plants grow, and the sun stream through the leaves and dapple the bushes. The way that the wind ripples the grass and the rain makes the earth smell rise from the ground. You can find those things most places, but there's something so peaceful about this place. Maybe it's your doing."

Another long pause punctuated the conversation. Alina's friend seemed pensive. The environment around them stilled somewhat, and Alina waited.

"What is your name?" asked the voice.

She hadn't expected this question. "Alina," she said. "What's yours?

"I have no name. At least, not one you would understand."

Alina wondered at what this meant, but kept her promise to herself to not bombard her friend with questions. "I've never had a companion," she offered instead. "Thank you for your company."

"I have not had a companion in several thousand years," the voice replied. "And never a human." Silence, and then, "Thank you."

After some processing, Alina ventured, "What are you?"

As the sound of the birds chirping and the stream running gently greeted Alina's straining, hopeful ears, she waited. She waited for a long time to receive her answer, but she finally got it.

"There is no place for old gods in a new world."

Somehow, Alina understood.

* • •

Time passed, and Alina took trip after trip up the mountain. She began to know her goddess, who little by little had become more open. She told Alina of beginning times, of the gods and the creation of the universe as humans knew it. And she told her of the time when the gods were no longer needed, they had done what needed to be done, and the earth moved on without them. They had scattered across this dimension and the next, free to do whatever they pleased.

"I have been at this well for five hundred of your years," she said. "I have met many people who come to drink from it, both kind and cruel. I have seen your village come to be, and I have seen your nation be conquered and conquered again, renamed, destroyed, and rebuilt. You live in a world full of turmoil, Alina. And it isn't fair. You are good."

Alina absorbed this slowly and thoughtfully. "But," she finally spoke, "I am glad that I live in this world. I want to make it better. That's the only thing you can do— find happiness, and try to share it. Like you've shared it with me."

Alina's goddess was silent for a moment, before the wind picked up, tickling Alina's hair against her neck. Alina let out a surprised laugh.

"My Кульбаба, I love your company," Alina announced with joy.

"But how can you love what you do not understand?" the goddess asked. "I am capable of things you cannot begin to comprehend."

Alina pondered this for a moment. "I think you can only love what you do not understand," she replied. "Everything around us is so complicated— people, nature, the world. You can never understand it, I think. You can only know it's beautiful, and love it with your entire soul."

In that moment, the goddess realized two things abruptly. That even she, in her all-knowingness, did not understand humans. And that she, too, loved one nonetheless. She placed her hand on Alina's cheek, and Alina's body grew warm and light at the touch.

"I think you are right," the goddess said. A mere mortal had proved her wrong, and yet she had never been so happy.

* • •

The goddess had promised Alina that she lived in a cruel and unjust world, and this promise came to fruition on a windy autumn day. Alina had raced up the mountain, arriving flushed and panting for air at her well. The goddess took her face in both hands.

"Мила, what's wrong?" she asked, cooling Alina's overheated cheeks.

Alina gasped between words. "Mатері— she says that we're leaving— people have come— they're taking our homes, and— and we have to run!"

The air became stiff and cold. Alina's goddess appeared, and though still unfathomably beautiful, she had dulled from her usual appearance. Her skin, usually a deep and rich shade, like newly upturned earth in the rain, had turned ashen, and the white-gold glow around her lacked its usual brilliance.

"But I'm not leaving you!" Alina declared. "I'm staying!" She had slung a large blanket over her shoulder, and now she let it slump to the ground, falling open to reveal food, cups, and extra clothing.

"No, Alina," said the goddess, placing a hand on her shoulder.

"What?" Alina cried. "What do you mean?"

The goddess turned away, her faint glow flickering and reflecting on the water. "I am tied to this place. But you are not. You cannot stay; there is nothing here for you."

"You're here!" she argued, becoming angry.

The god did not turn around. "I cannot be everything you need."

"You already are!" Alina shouted, her voice cracking. Warm tears fled down her cheeks. They were soon brushed away with a feathery touch.

"Oh, my Alina. My love. You have to go."

Alina reached up to hold her hand as it caressed her cheek. "But why?"

The goddess had never looked so full of grief. "My powers are not capable of protecting you from this war. I have seen where it is headed. If you stay, you will die."

"But what if I don't care?" Alina wept.

"You said it yourself. You must live, so that you can share your happiness with the world." The goddess looked into Alina's eyes with her own, so old and wise and full of pain. "You have given me so much. Now give yourself something: the rest of your life."

Alina wanted to argue. She wanted to scream and cry and outright refuse to go anywhere but here. But her love was proof of a world even more beautiful than she could ever imagine. And she knew in her heart that she ought to be around to see every piece of it that she could.

The goddess placed a kiss on Alina's lips. "I have lived for a millennia, and you are still the most beautiful thing in creation I have ever witnessed," she whispered.

"I love you," Alina promised.

"I love you, too."

* • •

Many years of war and bloodshed would plague the country before an era of peace finally took hold. The land began to heal, as did the people, and while many stayed where they had relocated, some came back to their homes. They found them changed, and a little scarred, but still persevering.

A woman hiked her way up a small mountain in this fashion, having to take many rests along the way, as she was not as young as she once was. But she was determined, and wiping the sweat from her wrinkled brow, she pushed up and up.

When she reached the top, she took in her view, changed in many ways, but in others, very much the same. The two springs still flowed into the well, and after kneeling down beside it, careful to not hurt her aging knees, she found it just as cold and clear as many years before.

The breeze brushed damp, graying strand of hair away from her face, and she smiled. "Is that you, my love?" she asked.

"You came back," a voice replied, hoarse and soft.

Alina blinked away a single tear, still smiling broadly. "Of course I did. I'm not that easy to get rid of."

Her goddess flickered into view and came to take Alina's hand in hers. "You're still so beautiful."

Alina laughed. "No, I'm old. But, that's because I lived that life you told me to."

"And now?"

Alina placed her hand on her love's face and smiled. "Now I want to spend the rest of it with you."

_______________________________

written based on a place i visited while in ukraine. i do not claim to be an authority on ukrainian history or culture. i apologize for any inaccuracies. still in the final stages of editing. title is a working one, and suggestions are appreciated.

thank you for reading. comments and votes are encouraged ♥️
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