• Published 2nd Oct 2014
  • 1,544 Views, 30 Comments

The Sweetest Water - Chris



Nothing is without a price, as many discover to their sorrow. Few are those who truly know themselves, and fewer still are those who know which prices are worth bearing—and which hide perils threatening that which they most treasure.

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The Sweetest Water

The Sweetest Water

*****

Once upon a time, when Equestria was still young and history had not yet become legend, there lived an elderly stallion named Thistletuft. He and his wife of many years had a ramshackle hut, deep in a forest the name of which passed from memory long ago. The two of them lived alone, with no neighbors, no children, and nopony but one another for many miles in every direction. But, they did have one another, and they were happy enough with that.

A tiny town bordered this forest, and every week Thistletuft would pack on his saddlebags, laden heavy with bottles and pouches full of poultices and rubs and elixirs which he and his wife would make from their thistles, to sell at the market. Every week, he would use the coin he made to buy bread and grain, and a pot of honey to flavor the thistle tea his wife loved. This had been their pattern for many years, and each of them knew the steps of it like a well-rehearsed dance.

That week as every week, Thistletuft kissed his wife on her forehead as he headed for the door, hours before sunrise. That week as every week, he said to her, “I’ll be home by evening if the market’s good. If I’m late, don’t stay up on my account.” That week as every week, she snorted when he said that—all the answer it deserved. That week as every week, he turned from the door and went back to her for one last kiss. And that week as every week, he finally forced himself out of the hut, and traveled all the long way down the winding dirt road through the forest until at last he reached the market.

But on that day, through chance or fate, Thistletuft found his sales far poorer than usual. He was forced to stay at the market late into the day, and by the time evening came he had still made only a paltry few bits. Looking at the sky with a cluck of his tongue and a wince, he rushed through his final errands. He quickly packed up what had gone unsold, hurried to buy the baker’s last loaf of bread and the farmer’s last sack of grain, ruefully passed by the beekeeper’s closed-up stall, and finally left town as the sun began to set. In his haste, he even forgot to stop by the town well for the drink he always took before heading home. Hoping to shave some time from his journey, he forewent the dirt path through the forest and instead cut straight through the woods.

As he made his way through the underbrush, the sun set, and for a moment he was plunged into darkness. But the moment passed as the full moon rose, silver and bright, and lit the forest in a pale, cold light.

Traversing the woods, he soon became thirsty. The way home was long, and navigating without a road was tiring work. It was not long before he was cursing his forgetfulness, and wishing he had paused a moment at the well when he had had the chance. He looked all about for a stream or pool from which to drink, when up ahead he spied the glint of water.

Going to it, he found a perfectly round, perfectly still pool which reflected the moon and stars above with unwavering clarity. He bent his head to drink, and as he did, he looked and saw that the pool was teeming with darting fish and swaying blooms, all dancing to waves and swells which somehow didn’t touch the mirror-sheen above them. Still, he was thirsty, and the water seemed clear and unmuddied. But as his breath rippled the surface, he heard the tinkle of chimes all around him, and he stepped back in wonder.

“Hail, Thistletuft,” said an ethereal, crystalline voice which seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. “Be welcome here this night.”

“How is it that you know my name?” Thistletuft asked, looking about.

“I know all who tread the land, and all who part the sky. I know all who swim the waters, and all who burrow the earth. I am the Pool of Life, and within me beats the heart of every living thing.”

The chimes slowly began to rise in pitch, and the voice continued, “My boon is eternal life, and I offer it to you now. Drink of my waters, and live forever!”

The old stallion replied, “I am thirsty, it is true, and to live forever seems a great boon indeed. But nothing is without a price.” He shook his head, and began to trot around the the pool. “Princess Celestia is possessed of eternal life, yet her sorrow is unending. All that she loves must pass, even that which she dreamed would be with her for eternity. There is much I would give for immortality, but I know that to watch as all that I cherish is lost to me forever is more than I can bear. I will slake my thirst elsewhere.” The chimes rang a mournful dirge, and the Pool of Life called his name as he trotted away, but he did not once look back.

Through the deep woods he picked his way, a sheen of sweat settling on his brow despite the cool air. He looked all about for a stream or pool from which to drink, when up ahead he spied the glint of water.

Going to it, he found a withered heath with a small pond at its center. He bent his head to drink, and as he did, he saw that what he at first took for a pond was in truth a tar pit, a thin layer of water disguising its inky dangers. Still, he was thirsty, and the water atop the tar looked clear and clean enough. But as his breath rippled the surface, he heard low growls echoing all around him. Fearful, he pulled back and looked all about.

“Ah, Thistletuft,” purred a deep, velvety voice which seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. “You were wise to refuse the Pool of Life. Its offer is but a gilded cage, for what good is life eternal when one cannot impose one’s will upon that eternity?”

“How is it that you know my name?” Thistletuft asked, still nervously pawing the ground as the grunts and snarls echoed about him.

“I know all who yearn, and all who seek. I know all who dream, and all who act. I am the Pit of Desire, and in my depths lurk every want and need which has ever been thought or spoken.”

The growls increased in ferocity until they filled the stallion’s ears. “My boon is the power to satisfy all your cravings. Drink of my pitch, and lay claim to unfettered might!”

The old stallion replied, “I am thirsty, it is true, and unfettered might seems a great boon indeed. But nothing is without a price.” He shook his head, and began to trot around the pit. “King Sombra harnessed power beyond the ken of any pony, yet even as he grasped all he had ever dreamed, he found new horizons of desire to taunt him. His mastery only made him realize his impotence in the face of new cravings. There is much I would give for unfettered might, but I know that to exceed myself, yet discover myself insufficient to provide all that I yearn to, is more than I can bear. I will slake my thirst elsewhere.” The growls rose to angry shrieks, and the Pit of Desire roared his name as he trotted away, but he did not once look back.

The forest soon grew thick around him once more, and each drop of moisture on a leaf or fern taunted him as he made his way onward, reminding him of how long he had been walking. He looked all about for a stream or pool from which to drink, when up ahead he spied the glint of water.

Going to it, he found a stony brook which curved near to his path as it babbled between roots and hillocks. He bent his head to drink, and as he did, he realized that although the brook was swift and shallow, it made no sound. Still, he was thirsty, and the water seemed normal enough to his eyes, if not his ears. But as his breath rippled the surface, he was suddenly plunged into silence. He stood and pricked his ears, but he could hear neither the wind rustling through the trees, nor chirp of crickets, nor anything but his own breathing.

“Thistletuft,” wheezed an ancient, dusty voice which seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. “You were wise to refuse the Pool of Life and the Pit of Desire. Unending life and boundless might are but lures, which pale compared to true permanence and true power.”

“How is it that you know my name?” Thistletuft asked, his voice loud in his own ears amidst the stillness.

“I know all. I see all. I am the River of Knowledge, and within my waters flow all that has been learned, and all that will be learned.”

The voice coughed, a strangely vulnerable sound. “My boon is the understanding of all things. Drink of me, and discover all that there is to be discovered, in this age or the next!”

The old stallion replied, “I am thirsty, it is true, and to discover all that there is to be discovered seems a great boon indeed. But nothing is without a price.” He shook his head, and began to trot around the stream’s bend. “Starswirl the Bearded was more learned than any pony who has lived, yet all his knowledge did not bring him happiness. His learning made him careless of all that he could not quantify, and he died wretched and alone. There is much I would give for knowledge of all things, but I know that to risk losing sight of that which lies beyond measure is more than I can bear. I will slake my thirst elsewhere.” The unnatural silence began to fade, and the River of Knowledge whispered his name as he trotted away, but he did not once look back.

At last, with the moon high overhead and his throat bone-dry, the old stallion arrived at his ramshackle hut. As he creaked open the door, his wife looked up from the fire she was tending. “Ah, my love!” she cried. “You are so late returning! I was worried; is anything wrong?”

Thistletuft bowed his head in apology. “I didn't mean to worry you, my dear. You needn't have stayed up on my account—” she snorted at that—the only answer it deserved— “but it was a slow day at the market.” He began to unpack his bags, then sadly glanced at the small pile they made on the table. “I didn't bring back any honey this week, I’m afraid.”

His wife glared at him, stalked up to him… but she couldn't keep the laughter from her eyes as she dropped her pretended ire and rested her head into his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re home,” she whispered, closing her eyes.

“As am I, my dear.” He pulled back and planted a kiss on her lips, but she pushed him gently away before he could lean too far into it.

“Your lips,” she said, licking them tenderly, “are as dry and cracked as the desert! Here, let me fetch you some water.” She bustled to the basin, and filled a mug for him.

As she brought it to the table, he smiled. “Thank you, my dear. I am thirsty, it is true.” And as the two sat together, he lifted the mug to his lips, and drank it dry.

It was the sweetest water he had ever tasted.

*****

In all the lands of Equestria and beyond, the name of Princess Celestia is revered, the name of King Sombra reviled, and the name of Starswirl the Bearded respected. In all the lands of Equestria and beyond are told and written hundreds of stories of these ponies: of she who took up the burden of all living things with her mantle as Daybringer; of he who destroyed an Empire in his mad whimsy; of he who mastered the learning of magic as none had ever done before.

There are hundreds of stories of these ponies, yet there is is no story of Thistletuft—except for this one. Perhaps this is as it should be, for he turned aside from all that was offered him. He chose his love and the life he knew, when he could have had immortality or power or knowledge, and become the stuff of legend.

And yet, I would like to think that our world is the sort of place capable of treasuring his choice as much as theirs. If you will, remember Thistletuft, and remember also wherefrom comes the sweetest water.

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Comments ( 30 )

and each of them new the steps of it like a well-rehearsed dance.

Ya done did goof.

I am thirsty, it is true.

The repetition was great, and really made the ending stick. Great stuff.

5088414

Someday, I will finally submit a story after finding and correcting every spelling error, malapropism, and homonym mix-up. Today is, apparently, not that day.

Thanks for the catch, and I'm glad you felt like the style paid off!

I like your prose. It's sort of old-timey-ish. :D

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

I like it more, yet I'm wondering what you changed. :O

It was very interesting to say the least

Very satisfying, and mirrors traditional folk tales very well. I think it could have done without the note at the end, but I don't like the explicit morals at the end of Aesop's fables, so what do I know?

You're a sexy man, Chris.

Like the brothers Grimm, only without the death. Truly a message here to be remembered, wonderful work!

5088517
5089373
5089484
5089842
Thank you all very much!

5088879
Not many big things, but a lot of little things. Other than general cleaning, there was a lot of stuff to make the story more cohesive (the mentions of the honey); some changes to the dialogue to hopefully make it sound more like, well, dialogue, without losing it's fable qualities; changes to Thistletuft's rejections to try and make them more clearly fit the intended theme; and a bit of general smoothing. Probably some other stuff, too; it felt like a lot of work for something that ended up looking remarkably similar, if you compare them side-by-side!

5089435
When I wrote this for the writeoff, I thought the ending would be much less well-received than it was, so I'm not surprised it's not everyone's cup of tea. Sorry that part didn't work for you--if it's any consolation, I don't dislike those explicit Aesopian morals :scootangel:

I remember this from the write-offs. A wonderful little piece, and the edits have improved it.

O Mai God he replied *faints*

Another beautiful piece as always. Bravo and thank you for sharing it.

Very nice.

Darn, My mind has been plowed. O_O

That is all. That needs to be said.:twilightsmile:

That...was.... .beautiful.:pinkiesad2:
It was like MLP mixed with a folktale.
:heart:

I still like this story.

I still feel like it sort of niggles at the "know your place" thing, though.

Still gets a thumbs up.

I do love a good folktale and this fits right in; nicely written and thank you for posting it. :twilightsmile:

Amazing! Fav AND like for that amazing story, this was just like some sort of folk tales. Its very rare for me to like reading folk tales, and this has gotten my attention.:pinkiehappy:

Finally read this revision. Excellent work, as usual, but that third paragraph drove me nuts! Reading "that week as every week" was like hearing someone tear Velcro *shudders*

I have a soft spot for fairytale and folklore, and this story scratched my itch nicely. Great job.

“Princess Celestia is possessed of eternal life, yet her sorrow is unending. All that she loves must pass, even that which she dreamed would be with her for eternity.

Celestia pauses as she reads, "Wait... does everypony think I'm slitting my wrists every night or something? Sheesh!"

:trollestia:

Alas, but some creatures must choose power, knowledge and immortality. For if none did we would have no stories at all.

WEEP FOR THE FATE OF THOSE POOR CHARACTERS COMPELLED BY THEIR SADISTIC AUTHORS!! They must forever dance at the ends of their pupetteers' strings! :raritydespair:

:trollestia:

5096621 These sorts of tales were very useful for keeping the serfs in line. :trixieshiftright:

5089435 The problem with absolute morals at the end of a fairy tale is that they are highly subjectively tied to the story, which itself is fictional, and yet the reader is expected to conclude that the moral is true.

Kind of an obvious logical flaw with that... :raritywink:

I prefer the 'morals' which are more allegorical and general, such as the fox and grapes representing the tendancy of some to reject the desireability of something which appears unobtainable, which a reader can personalize into useful lessons for themselves. One can contrast that with a fable of someone so obsessed with something apparently unobtainable that they waste away in longing, or ignore something else that might have brought them equivalent satisfaction or a more true form of happiness. And from those two extremes one can then define glean a personal balance between desire and satisfaction.

Or go totally nuts and seek the power to rule the omniverse... not that I know anything about that... :trixieshiftleft:

5118873 Actually, I personally would have drunk from all three, but I've seen enough people self-destruct directly because of weatlh/power over-abundance to know that is probably the unwise choice.

5119073 Don't drink from the tar one! It's actually that evil goo puddle from Star Trek: TNG that killed Tasha Yar! :pinkiegasp::fluttershbad:

Hey, I just read this. Hey, I liked it! Hey, you misspelled "mirror" in the seventh paragraph.

Reads like an old fairytale. I definitely loved the style of it.

Full review here, but in brief: maybe not the most Pony of ponyfics, but it does very much have the right feel for a fable, hence the upvote.

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