The Ice Garden

No matter how hard Krathnu and his family worked their farm, the weather worked harder against them.  Their crops died, their chickens gave no eggs, and their nervous cows, too few these days, produced little milk.  One by one they had already sold off all the livestock they could spare.  One by one they let go their hired hands, long time dutiful friends, each and every one of them.  When Krathnu’s father passed away, it was decided that someone had to travel to the Great Mountain Gesheth to ask the blessing of Gesh, the giver of prosperity.

Gesh was notoriously hard to please for those who survived the journey up the mountain, and most who did survive both the journey and Gesh’s trial perished on the way home.  Krathnu was not concerned, though.  In that period at the beginning of manhood, with all the bravery and bluster of childhood and none of the sense of the years to come, he calmed his grieving mother’s worries with light confident remarks about seeing her as soon as the next day.  She scolded him for teasing about Gesh.

Krathnu left at daybreak, falling easily into the rhythm of work in his footsteps, and so by mid-morning found himself passing other pilgrims destined for Mount Gesheth.  He had no possessions to carry beyond the hard chunk of bread tucked in his pocket.  A life of toil had gifted him the ability to free his mind and set his body in motion, and before he had paid much attention he stood at the top of Mount Gesheth before Gesh’s lodge.

Gesh watched from the shadows as Krathnu threw open the doors and strode straight to the fire as if he were the master of this place returned home.  He pulled a small chunk of something from his pocket, and sucked on it peacefully as his large eyes wandered about the large, dim space.  Gesh smiled.

Krathnu turned at a soft sound and dropped his precious bread to the stones.  In all the tales of toil and woe he had heard and discarded, he had never imagined the possibility that Gesh would be the most beautiful woman ever to bless his sight.  Just to look at her was to feast.  He needed no more nourishment from life than to breathe the same air as this perfect creature.  Gesh glided toward him on her tiny bare feet.  She bent down and retrieved his hard lump of bread and considered it.  He could only think of her perfume of spring flowers spiced by honey.

“Krathnu, you come to me to change the weather so your farm may be saved, is this true?”

Krathnu nodded mutely.

“Normally I am bored by those who come through this door, but you interest me.  I shall make you wealthy beyond your imagination… if you do just one little thing for me.”

Again, Krathnu nodded.

“Take this,” she said, dropping a seed into his hand.  “If you can convince this seed to grow in my garden, I will give you the wealth of the land.”  She handed Krathnu his bread crust and retreated once more to the shadows.

Krathnu left the hall in leaping strides and raced to the garden in back.  He found it covered in a thick layer of snow.  Ice sculptures of flowers spotted the clearing and five other men stood among them staring at seeds in their hands.  Each looked jealously at the next, and it seemed that several of them had been there for some time, evidenced by piles of snow on their heads and shoulders.  In anger, Krathnu stomped into the forest, shoving the seed deep in his pocket.  It was the right time of year down below the mountain to make a plant grow, if there was rain, but up here, it was too cold.

The thought of his mother starving kept him from giving up.  He began dragging sticks to the clearing.  Immediately the other men dragged sticks, too.  Next, Krathnu pulled young, pliable branches from trees and used them to tie together a small hut.  He filled in walls by weaving twigs and packing snow into the cracks that remained.  He was careful to watch the sun’s path while he worked and fashioned a window so that the sun could touch the ground inside his hut.  Then he made a nice warm fire.

The other men did everything they saw him doing.  They weren’t so handy without tools, though, and their huts let in the cool breeze and their windows opened toward Gesh’s lodge in hopes of spying a glimpse of the beautiful goddess.  None of the other men managed to build a fire.

Krathnu caught a rabbit and cooked it, and when he looked up to their lean faces peering in his window he invited the other men in to share his meal.  Divided thus it made for a small nibble, but it was good for soothing the belly, and between the warmth of their bodies crowded together and the heat from the fire, the ground beneath them thawed and became warm.

After the others left, Krathnu loosened the soil in the spot he had chosen, spit in the hole for good fortune and planted the seed.  He covered it lightly and scooped snow from outside, which he held in his trembling hands until all of it had dripped out, slightly warmed.

In this way he cared for his seed in secret through the next week.  He kept his fire small, but large enough to warm his hut.  He opened his window to the sun, and decorated with icicles that played with the light and melted into the soil near his seed.  And he took care to seem very busy during the day, as he had discovered that the rest of the men did whatever they saw him doing.  He continued to feed them each night with the day’s hunt.

Finally, one morning, a tiny green sprout peeped above the loose earth.  When he turned around, he found Gesh at his threshold.

“You have succeeded, Krathnu, come with me,” she said.

He followed as if in a dream.  The other men ran from their huts and stamped their feet and shook their seeds at him and cursed him for his good meals and generosity.

Gesh led him into a room that glowed gold from piles of money and jewels.

“All this is yours,” she said.

Krathnu leaped with joy.  He began stuffing his pockets with coins and roping rich, jeweled necklaces around his neck.  He took as much as he figured he could carry and turned to leave, but Gesh caught his arm at the door.

“Those treasures may never leave this room,” she said.  “You are welcome to enjoy them all you like, and they are rightfully yours, but great misfortune would befall you and your family if you cross that threshold with even one coin.  Stay here with me, and each day you may visit your treasure.”  Her hand softened on his arm.  “I am so alone up here, and finally I have found a man worthy of my wealth and affection.  Wouldn’t you like to stay here with me?”  Her perfect eyes glittered in the golden glow.

Krathnu swallowed hard.  He wanted more than anything to spend every one of his hours breathing in the sweet fragrance of this beauty before him, but the picture of his mother starving on no more nourishment than her tears was too much to bear.  He returned the riches to their piles and walked past Gesh’s stunned, perfect eyes and trembling, perfect lips.

“You will regret this!” she hissed.  “I curse you.  You want rain?  That is all you shall ever see.  May you drown in your regret!”

The rain began as soon as Krathnu stepped from the lodge.  It rained his entire walk homeward.  Everywhere he went, people rejoiced and danced in the rain, it had been so long since they had seen any.

He went home directly, where his rain watered all of their crops and they had fresh green sprouts everywhere.  His mother came to him one night, though, wringing her hands.  The trouble was the rain wasn’t stopping, and if it continued, it would wash away all of the plants.

She and Krathnu discussed it all night, and decided that he must leave, only to visit one or twice a week.  Krathnu thought about Gesh’s unfairness, and with his practical mind, it seemed there was only one thing to do.  He went back up the mountain.  When Gesh saw him, she smirked triumphantly.

“I won’t take it back,” she said.

Krathnu shrugged and kept walking to the garden, where he had built himself a hut with a tolerable roof.  The other men were glad to see him and made apologies for their anger.  All errors forgiven, they set about their routines, and he showed each of them how to produce the same results with their seeds, but with a warning of the price.

Meanwhile, the rain continued.  Dutifully, he trekked down the mountain and across the land to his mother’s farm once a week, and trotted back later that day.  The journey was not short, but Krathnu didn’t mind hard work.  The people in his path were so thankful for his rain, they began to leave gifts in his path, which he brought to his mother.

Gesh soon had no more pilgrims.  It wasn’t that the last mile to her home had become solid ice, which it had.  No, it was because the people in the lands below were suddenly prosperous, and they no longer thanked her for it.  The men Krathnu had instructed each produced a plant, but chose to continue living in her garden rather than discover their reward.  She had never been lonelier.

All those years she had spread rumors of the dangers in coming to appeal to her for help so that only the strongest and bravest men would try, and of those, she longed for one who could solve a challenge of intellect as well.  Surely, that would be the man for her.  Now that she had succeeded in finding him, though, she was utterly miserable.  Plus, it rained all but two days per week, which meant snow at her altitude.  She couldn’t walk gracefully outside of her house anymore, which is simply disastrous for a beautiful goddess.

One morning, Krathnu awoke to the sunrise, and no snow.  Sitting up in alarm, he noticed that Gesh outlined in his door.

“You win, Krathnu,” she said in her dove-fine voice, “I lift my curse.  I have been unfair to you, and in my quest to find the perfect mate, I forgot my gift to the people.  I thank you for reminding me.  You are welcome to live in my garden for as long as you like, but I would prefer it if you moved into the lodge with me.  Worry no more for your mother, I will see to it that her farm is tended to lovingly.  What is your answer?  Will you have me?”

Krathnu thought this over and agreed.  True to her promise, Gesh provided a perfect combination of rain and sun for all of the people in the farm lands below.  Once a week she accompanied Krathnu to visit his mother and her abundant farm, and every week they left gifts on the doorsteps of the people along the way.

The suitors in the garden built lodges around the mountain and they married and brought their families to join them, so as the years passed the large dim halls of Gesh’s lodge filled with laughter and songs and great long tales among friends and families.

Krathnu and Gesh had many children and grandchildren, and when it was time for them to leave this world for another, their prosperous land held a festival of abundance that continues yearly, to this day.

Written by W. C. McClure  This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure.  Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure.  Thanks!

from the far side of dreams

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