Come in, come in, the mist is rising from the river, but here you’ll find some warmth, some tales, so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.
The chairs by the window give the best view, allow the best hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.
I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.
Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.
At the age of twenty-seven, Maxwell Cotton, tasked with creating the sculptures for the 12th District’s center fountain, became the youngest sculptor ever commissioned by the city of Praatonia, an honor traditionally, and politically, bestowed upon the senior artisans of the Praaton Sculptoriaum, particularly artisans from loyal citizen families.
Turning his back on the gossip, the demeaning speculations, the very public whispers, focusing instead on the demands of his first major public commission, desiring to bring honor to old Malvern who first accepted him, against much derision, into the Sculptoriaum, Max reached back into his own family’s traditions, his inheritance of design and language, and the blessings of the Dragon’s Breath.
More than a century ago followers of the Dragon’s Breath had become outsiders, travelers mostly, feared for their ancient knowledge, and respect, of land, air and water, feared for their melodic language, their refusal of state citizenship, feared for their protection of the last remaining dragons.
Honoring the history of his merchant neighbors, the collection of fountain sculptures Max proposed was accepted without much alteration by the Overseers, and with much relief by the merchants.
The stone was collected, carved and placed, the water system installed and tested, the fountain was on schedule for its grand unveiling, readied for use.
With the dedication two days away, Max visited the silent pristine fountain, the water reservoirs empty, the polished stone hiding underneath a covering of purple canvas, tented so none of the ornamental sculptures could give themselves away.
From his hiding place under the canvas, the young sculptor heard the comments of those passing by, their curiosity, their criticisms, voices washing upon the canvas, rising and falling like a tide against a sandy shore, fading into the day, except for one voice, having spoken from the moment the fountain’s cornerstone was placed, returning again and again, growing louder, more demanding, now commanding Max, speaking in an ancient tongue.
Invite me, the voice said with growing imperialism, invite me to live among these people who have forgotten their old neighbors.
Max looked out from his hiding place amongst his sculptures, he looked for the man whose deep fierce voice was speaking with the language of his ancestors, speaking the language of the Dragon’s Breath, but no such man could be seen, and Max trembled as the voice circled around his body, flowing through the fountain like water, bubbling from some hidden deep cavern, pushing for the response Max knew he was unable to hold back.
On the day of the dedication, under the glare of a hot high sun, the merchants with their storefronts gleaming, making last minute demands of their overwrought clerks, smiling at the groaning crowds come to witness the promised homage to commerce, finally joined the citizens filling the five avenues leading away from Praatonia’s newest fountain.
As the canvas was removed, the water rushing in its exploration of the carved basins, the crowd delighting in the curve and shape, the sheer number of the polished figurines, young Maxwell Cotton was chanting, in an ancient tongue, calling, calling, calling.
Before the first drops of water rested in their new home, Max saw the water dragon, as gray as the hand-polished marble, wrap around a column and disappear into the swirling water.