‘The Palace of the Unencumbered’

09:11 Sat 30 Dec 2006. Updated: 19:59 31 Dec 2006
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It doesn’t look like a palace. It is a network of interconnected villas. A sense of peace permeates throughout. The mountainside it is built on is sparsely forested, and gets only light snow in the winter.

It is winter, and we see the light snow as we approach. We do not know if we are in the right place. We have only heard the legends, and are not sure if they are true. Seeing dwellings in this remote place gives us hope.

We see no sentries, no lookouts. There are no walls, no gates. This only makes us more wary.

Without knowing why, we are drawn along a particular path, through the villas. We think there are people in the villas we pass, people we could hail and ask for information. But we do not do this. Instead, we walk until we reach a large paved space, many plain grey flagstones with a simple fountain at their center. The fountain has no water.

We sit close to the fountain.

The stillness of the place draws us in, eases our minds, lightens our burdens.

Eventually we grow hungry. We take out provisions, make a fire, prepare our food. The fire is also necessary for light, as night has drawn close. Most of the villas seem to have lights, but we do not leave our spot by the empty fountain.

We mutter amongst ourselves. We need help, aid from the powers that reside here, yet we are sitting by a fountain, accomplishing nothing. Perhaps the morning will bring some contact from the inhabitants. We sleep.

In the morning, some of us are gone. There is no sign of them. We fan out from the square, but find nothing. We spread through the area, searching, hoping to find someone to help us, but to no avail. Eventually we return to the fountain, and again build a fire as night falls.

And again in the morning, some of us are gone. So that day is the same as the one before it. And the next day is the same again, but with fewer of us each time. Now we occasionally shout angrily at the villas, demanding answers, but none come, and we still do not approach them.

One night all of us who were there at nightfall are still there at daybreak. This remains true for the following nights. We continue searching for our former companions. We cannot find them. We cannot make contact with those who live here. We cannot learn anything of the inhabitants. We cannot find anything that will aid us. We have failed.

After another week, we set out down the mountain, cursing the Palace as we leave it behind.

(450 words)

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