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The Well

The Well – an allegory

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There once was a village, remote and isolated. It had a community of simple though well-meaning folk. Because of remoteness of the village it had but one well, the sole supply of water for all. The village was built around the Well in one big round circle fanning around the well perfectly.

A long time ago, every so often the water would taste a little bit funny. Some of the villagers had theories as to why this may be.

One declared ‘We are running out and need to control how much water people use to stop it from disappearing.’

Another sighed ‘It is a sign from the Heavens. We need to repent!’

But a few more decided that the best way to fix it would be if they poured an elixir down the Well. Their concoction it was thought would sweeten the taste of the water in the Well.

Softly some voices with almost a whisper warned against all of the above and said ‘the water sometimes always tastes a little funny. It always has, and no doubt always shall. So long as we can drink it, then what does its taste matter?’

“It does not taste that bad” another agreed.

The village decided to have a vote after some open and public discussions. It was by this process that the decision was made. An elixir shall be sought to fix the water. The village formed a small council, those considered wise and skills and others who had wealth. The council was to be temporary until the Well was restored back to normal. The small group of council officials voted and concluded that they should pour the suggested elixir down into the Well.

The councils elixir ended up only making the water taste stranger. So, another meeting was held it was now voted that perhaps the water was running low so the people should be made to pay a toll to use the water. Reluctantly the people obeyed, most understood this to be a good thing as they were reminded of the toll’s benefits from the council officials as they collected the people’s money.

This was tried but some businesses that relied on water began to dry up. People drank less and could not work as longer hours in the hot sun. Others soon found it to be too hard to afford the Well, so they began drinking other make shift water sources like their own waste water left over after they cleaned things, while others collected rain fall and used that. The council members and their friends were happy as they had privileged access to the Well and enjoyed the extra wealth from the toll.

This next generation of Village council officials got together and held another meeting.

Some former alchemists had come up with the idea of both adding another elixir which would clean the water of the funny taste, while also adding more water to the well to increase the water supply. The small gathering of busy minded men had convinced the council of their invention, using graphs, big words and a chalk board they performed presentations for all to witness.  Their plan was put into motion.

The council officials created a new tax so that they could buy back the water from those who had stored it and pour it back into the well. While the alchemists stood over it adding in the right amount of their new elixir into the Well. Their methods and concern seemed very precise to all those who could witness.

The Villagers still felt parched and noticed an even worse taste. This time people started to get sick from the water coming from the Well. So over time more and more people found ways to collect the rain from the sky while others began to make better use out of their waste water for gardening.

The village council got together and was frustrated that it was collecting less money from the Well toll. It soon again voted. It determined that the village relied on the Well and it was crucial that everyone continue to use it. So, collecting water from the sky was banned and using waste water was made illegal. Those caught doing either were punished. Both were considered unhealthy and against the spirit of the community.  An additional tax was conceived to help police and punish those who would abuse the waters of the community.

Over time the Villagers continued to get sick and struggled in the heat while being made to use just the Well as their only water supply. One day along came some different former alchemists and smart people. They had been working on a new set of potions, different to the elixirs of the past which would both clean the Well water, while also increasing its water supply as had often in the past been the promise.

They spoke to the council, who were already in a meeting with another group of ‘alchemists’.

‘We need to pour sand down there, then we can make the water like mud which will make it both a food and drink’ Yelled one ‘alchemist’ excitedly.

‘No, I suggest that we use the well as a toilet when we need to go number ones. This way it will recycle the waters’ declared another.

‘I like this idea’ Nodded one council official as he looked at his colleagues. ‘It would be environmentally responsible’ They nodded approvingly back.

‘We have the solution, a real potion that will work this time’ Said the new group of alchemists as they walked into the meeting.

Everyone looked and listened.

The council decided to take this potion idea before the people of the Village. Most of the people like the officials were convinced and sold on the idea. Those who did not like the idea, were not heard because they were in the minority therefore, they had no real relevant opinion. They decided to hold a referendum to make sure that everyone agreed.

Nearly everyone in the village voted yes, the majority had decided that it was in the Villages best interest.

It was decided that the potion would be regularly administered by these expert alchemists who best knew how to control the water-potion mix. The alchemists had blackboards filled with complex graphs and numbers written in chalk so as best to describe what it was that they were doing. As they discussed the complex chemistry and maths, they soon agreed upon the right equations, the group of alchemists soon nodded in agreement with one another. Two of the alchemists approached the big well and looked at the gathered council officials and members of the public. Nodding, they poured the potion down the well from a jar.

The next day, they poured in some more. And each day they did the same.

People were no longer getting as sick, but they were feeling more and more parched. The alchemists theorised that the water supply was slowly increasing. The potion was working. The toll collectors were happy because they had now noticed more and more people were paying to use the Well.

One young alchemist curious and doubtful began to taste and test the potion, he noticed that it was not just as they had claimed it to be but was in fact but a very dangerous and addictive drug. This was why the people were using the Well more and more. One night when he snuck to the well to do further tests, he noticed some village officials secretly pouring boiled waste water into the well. He was shocked and disgusted.

He immediately went to his friend the newspaper man. The next day he wrote about this and told the village of this scandal.

Not many listened, though those who did and under stood what they were reading were outraged. A lot of them started to riot, innocent people’s houses and businesses were damaged unfairly in the uproar.

‘How can you do this?’ They cried.

The Village Officials spun and weaved elaborate stories all claimed that they knew nothing about it. Eventually some former council officials and an unpopular old alchemist were arrested. They were accused of being the ones who did it. No one else in the council had any knowledge of it apparently. The accused were found guilty and locked up.

Shocked by the scandal the village council decided that it would now pre read what was being said by the newspaper, so that the people did not get to read it before them. It was decided that this was a safety precaution. It was done to prevent riots or misunderstandings.

It was also decided that anyone who works for the council, like the young curious alchemist, were not allowed to tell anyone about the secrets that the council had. It was considered far too dangerous for the village to allow this as the people may not understand or comprehend the complex issues that relate to the council.

Over time new potions were tried and those caught collecting rain water were arrested. The toll always went up on the well and the people struggled more and more. No matter how ingenious they became at finding other uses and alternatives for water the council found ways of harming and stamping out their inventiveness. New taxes were passed every time an elixir or potion was sought, people were still in fact paying the tax created when they council first bought back the stored water to pour back into the Well!

A long time later, a young man and his wife walked to the well. His wife was expecting a baby. He was a proud man who loved his wife a lot. He did not like what he was seeing in the Village. The council could do what it liked and treated the people poorly. The Well was putrid and smelt disgusting. People got sick whenever they drank from it. It was only because it was now mandatory, that people drank from it, that it was still in use. All had to consume a minimum of one cup from the Well a day, they still had to pay the toll even though it was mandatory. It was good for the Well’s life cycle and the village economy apparently as it kept toll collectors and alchemists in jobs.

The young man went home to his wife and spoke with her.

“We should leave here. It will only get worse.” He rubbed her round stomach.

She agreed, she loved and trusted him.

Just as they were packing, he saw another couple in the street arguing.

A woman looked over at him and noticed him packing up his things.

‘Where are you going?” she asked

“My wife and I are leaving. We will find somewhere else to live.’

‘That is what I have wanted to do as well. My husband does not think it is a good idea.’

‘We can go together’ Said the young man.

‘If I can convince my husband then I shall join you’ She smiled.

The next day when all had been packed and readied. The young man noticed several other people who were also packed up and ready to leave.

Some council officials arrived, they looked angry.

‘What is this about?” asked one.

The young man stepped forward. ‘We are leaving.’

The official smiled ‘You will die. How will you drink?”

‘We will build our own well. We will live free’ The young man replied.

‘It is better that we risk death out there as free people than to live here as prisoners’ The young woman yelled out to the officials in defiance.

The council official laughed ‘How will you build a well and drink from it without a council or alchemists?’

‘We must have a meeting and a vote’ Said another official.

Those people wanting to leave were bought to the Village square, hundreds of villagers and officials stood and watched.

The head official looked at the small group.

‘If you want to leave, then we shall all hold a vote to see if you can go. It is our free and democratic process.’

The vote took a day and the small group awaited the results anxiously.

The people all voted. Most voted ‘no’. It was decided that they could not leave.

‘That is not fair. We are your prisoners’ The young woman cried.

‘We do it for your own good. Outside of the village is the unknown, no Well, you could die. It is for your safety’ Said a lady official as she rubbed the young man’s shoulder gently while looking at the young woman who had been the most defiant.

‘You cannot leave; you belong to the village’ yelled a voice from the crowd.

‘If we cannot afford to leave, then why should you?’ screamed another.

‘it is for your own safety’ repeated some more.

Some days past and the small group attempted to sneak away. They were caught by the ever-vigilant officials. The next day they were bought before the villagers and council again.

The council officials huddled around one another and talked among themselves.

‘We have decided that you can leave but you must pay a toll in order to do so, furthermore if you find another well then our village will get to charge for its use. ‘Said one official.

‘That is not fair.’ the defiant young woman snapped back.

‘You are from the village and everything you have you owe to us. Your entire life and safety are because of this village, so the least you could do is show gratitude for all that it has done. It has supported you for so long, now it is your turn to return the favour.’

‘What is happening?” Yelled a voice from the village crowd.

One of the officials stepped up to the podium.

‘They can go, they have agreed to pay a toll to the Village and will give the Village rights to any new well that they come across or build.’

Some in the crowd cheered while others booed. Some that cheered yelled ‘that is fair, they owe it to all of us.’ While many that booed yelled ‘We are a democracy and we voted that they must stay!’ The crowd was divided.

The small group left. By the nights end their ranks had swelled. More people had decided that they too wanted to leave and be free.

Just as the brave group were about to leave the village, their old home, a mob appeared. Angry and armed.

‘You cannot leave. You must stay here. We are a democratic society. We voted, and you must abide by our vote’ Declared the mob leader.

‘We simply want to go and leave you to your life, and you can leave us to live ours. ‘Said the young woman in the small group trying to leave.

‘That is not how democracy works! we vote, and the popular majority is right.’ Yelled an angry old man from the ranks of the mob.

‘Democracy! Democracy! Democracy!’ the mob began to chant.

The small group of those wanting to leave quickly backed up, outnumbered and unarmed they were no match for the big mass of angry people. They began to run, leaving most of their belongings behind. Scared and in dire danger the small group ran into the night, chased away by the mob. Eventually the mob stopped chasing them but only after it had caught a few and had taken nearly all of the group’s possessions.

Those caught were dragged to the Village square. By now some council officials had joined the mob. They were there in solidarity they had said, supporting the democratic process. Other officials watched on condemning such violence but all the while they did nothing.

The mob tied up those that they had caught and decided that they should be hung. It was determined that this would be a deterrence for those who wanted to leave. Instead some people who were watching and not a part of the mob also slowly slipped into the night never to return to the village.

As the victims of the mob swung lifelessly in the village square, above the Well, before the council buildings. Hundreds of villagers secretly disappeared looking to start up a new community somewhere else. They had nothing with them, they had no promise or assurance of success, they simply wanted to be free and make do on their own.

The young man and his wife had a baby, the young woman and her husband were soon expecting one of their own. The others from the group pooled their resources together. Bravely they set up a small association, different to the structure of the village which they had all just left. This one had no well mindful to abide by their agreement with the Village even if they had felt betrayed. Instead rain water tanks and waste water facilities were built so that they had an efficient and clever water supply. The association had no council officials but merely cooperated with one another. It was prosperous and happy.

Occasionally a straggler would come from the old village asking for sanctuary, it was always offered. They would tell stories of hardships. Sometimes visitors from other villages and communities appeared, assuring those in the association that they had distant neighbours to perhaps trade with and befriend.

Some years later the old village had made friends with another village, they began to trade and soon combined into one. They were both suffering from the same problems, bad tasting well water and the people were unable to produce enough to pay the taxes and tolls that the officials had set in place.

The combined villages decided that much of their problems had come about because those who had left did not pay their toll and the taxes on any Wells like they had promised, despite having confiscated their possessions and running them out of town. Not to mention murdering some of them. The Villagers told their new friends of the injustices caused by the group that had left. They had no community spirit, were undemocratic and were against the common good.

The two villages decided to form a war party. Officials trained and armed themselves while many poor villagers were conscripted as foot soldiers. They raised the taxes to pay the officials, soldiers and to pay for the coming war. Those who were unable to pay were enlisted as soldiers, having to serve a term of duty instead of paying the new taxes. Most people supported these measures as it was good for the Villages and would help bring prosperity to the people in time. They soon set off and looked for the community of traitors.

The small association had far less people but because they were free and prospering, they were able to form small groups of motivated and well equipped volunteer soldiers. Despite their short notice of the impending attack they mobilised.

The Associations small group of warriors met the Council villager’s massive army. A big endless glob of menacing looking warriors from the two villages readied and greeted with scowls the far smaller army of free peoples.

The Villages handed the Association their demands. At the heart of it was the back taxes plus interest over time for the rights to wells. The Association insisted that they specifically had not built or used any wells in order to bypass this. The Villages then insisted that the term ‘well’ actually meant any water supply, and that this should be generally under stood. They even had lawyers present to explain this language.

The Association declared that it was unjust and unfair. It now meant war.

The Villages had their forces set up in large mass ranks, whereas the small Association forces were made up of compact and mobile groups. The big army from the Villages attacked, they rushed down into the smaller free soldiers with ferocity and violence.

The little groups of the Association retreated with speed and guile, picking the big and clumsy mass of one by one. Splitting up some of the Association soldiers lead their enemy into a swamp. Because they knew the area they navigated it wisely. The big army was almost mindless as it bogged itself down into the swampy ground. Soon they were picked apart as they struggled to move or defend themselves.

On the other side the other Association soldiers lead their pursuers into a dark and scary forest, it was in here that clever traps had been set. The Villages armies were cut to pieces and eventually fled in disarray. Convinced that the forest was haunted and that the Association was in alliance with these evil elements the Villages conscripts ran for their lives leaving their comrade soldiers outnumbered and alone to be soon routed and defeated.

The Villages sent more and more soldiers into battle with little regard for casualties. To them the people were a mass group which had a duty to fight and die. Whereas the Association were made up of individuals who cherished life and were accountable to themselves and each other. They fought with creative economy in mind and not with mindless brutality.

After long days of violent struggle, scores dead, the battle was over. The Village forces retreated to where they had come from where as the Association soldiers went back to their homes and mourned their losses.

Emissaries were sent, and a truce was established but a cold war ensued. The Village still demanded its back taxes plus interest whereas the Association denied their right to such claims.

Some months later some members of the Association got together and decided that while there was a threat in the form of the Villages, a guild should be formed so that they could prepare defences and safe guard the Association from further attacks. It was soon decided that a levy could be collected to pay for a professional standing army.

After some years while the cold war ensued, the Associations guild expanded into police work as well as medicine as all were deemed the domain of defence. The levy increased, and it was decided that people should pay some of their wage to the Guild so as to best secure the Association, the guild expanded. All the while crime increased inside the Association and people continued to get sick. Experts were trained up and they soon came up with new ways of fighting crime and managing the Associations health. So, the guild had determined that within the Associations borders people had to follow rules, called ‘guidelines’ these were set out to make the streets safe and free for all.

Other members in the guild had decided that they should set out and attack the Villages, to completely remove them as a threat. Once they had defeated them, they then could set up a functioning guild within the two Villages so that the people there may benefit.

Some members of the guild decided that the populace would benefit from an Association standard of schooling, this way it would help people in industry which is crucial for the defence, those working in the guild and its various branches of service. Association guild schools were soon set up in haste to help train the children to be better Associates. Service in the guild’s services became mandatory, the education in the schools promoted such loyalty.

After the old village and its ally had been defeated in a bitter battle. The Association expanded and spread its influence far and wide. New dangerous foes existed it seemed and the further the Association spread, the more these threats increased. Every time the Association attempted to install a guild in a foreign village it was resisted. This resistance threatened the safety and stability of the Association and all the lands.

Over time the Association became the biggest group of peoples in all the lands. They had befriended villages, towns, fellowships and communities while also fighting wars against some cruel hamlets and districts. For the most part however all traded and negotiated, they all had societies like the other some lead by guilds, others by councils, shires, administrations or unions but all essentially had the same role. To protect and look over the people’s interests. The people, the individuals were now protected, had water, had education, a military and health care it cost them and the services though mandatory were not as efficient as promised. But there will always be more alchemists to fix the people’s problems and councils to make sure that they pay for it.

Kym Robinson, 8 December 2014

Published inShort stories and fictions