It looked just like any other well in any other city; deep and dark with smooth sides worn away by the years and an echo as sweet as a bell. The water had dried out long before the eldest living generation had been born.
But that never took away from the true value of the well.
Water had never been the reason the citizens cared so much for such a plain feature in their fair city. It began as a place for children to hurl pebbles just to hear them bounce when they finally hit the bottom. Soon after, new brides cast their bouquets into the well’s depths for luck. Mothers began dropping coins for the happiness of their children, and the sick threw down pieces of silver for good health. Finally, the older generations gifted the well a small portion of their gold as thanks for the peace of their final years.
Sadly, as things often turn out, that peace was short-lived.
When the first wave of invaders arrived, the well swallowed many precious metals from desperate folk. As the city grew poorer, and its citizens hungrier, the well only grew richer.
People began sacrificing their most prized possessions, vowing to return with much finer gifts if only their city was spared from the destruction threatening their world.
But they never did.
The invaders brought new diseases that spread through the streets and alleyways like wildfire. People dropped in the streets from fever and starvation. The only ones who gained any wealth during such a time were the coffin-makers. And, of course, the apothecaries, who made a neat little profit from the false hopes they sold in neatly labelled jars and vials.
Still, the people came to their well, throwing down coins along with their prayers.
I still remember when we came to the sacred well.
The bucket sitting on its lip was so ancient that it was rusted beyond recognition. I held onto Grandma’s skirt as we approached the smooth grey stones that rose out of the courtyard like a funerary mound.
Grandma had no coins or jewellery to give to the well.
There was little we could offer, so instead she had gone to her little garden where her carefully tended sunflowers stood proud and strong. Each one was as bright as gold with a face that always looked as if it was smiling. She cut each pretty flower, tied them together with her finest ribbons, and we left for the well with our own treasure in hand.
Truth be told, her sunflowers were far more beautiful than the pricey trinkets others gave up.
She sat me up on the edge of the well, and together we dropped the flowers down into the hungry depths below. I never heard them hit the bottom, in spite of all that was down there. It seemed as though the well would always be hungry, always ravenous for more gifts to consume.
I wondered what other keepsakes lay within its depths.
‘Make a wish, my love,’ Grandma whispered as she clasped my hand between both of hers.
I closed my eyes and wished for the one thing that could make my Grandma smile, even as we grew hungrier, and our clothes turned into rags. I wished for a sunflower as beautiful as the ones we just lost.
‘Come on, poppet.’
Grandma picked me up from the lip of the well, and we turned back the way we had come. I didn’t tell Grandma my wish, because then it wouldn’t come true. But deep down inside, I knew that there was no point in wishing for peace – too many people had already made that wish, and the well had decided not to grant it.
Maybe a sunflower would be a simpler promise to keep.