3. The Fountains
For days, elephants and slaves had toiled in the cruel sun, hauling the endless chains of buckets up the face of the cliff. “Is it ready?” the King had asked, time and again. “No, Majesty,” the master craftsman had answered, “the tank is not yet full. But tomorrow, perhaps…”
Tomorrow had come at last, and now the whole court was gathered in the Pleasure Gardens, beneath awnings of brightly coloured cloth. The King himself was cooled by large fans, waved by supplicants who had bribed the chamberlain for this risky privilege. It was an honour which might lead to riches, or to death.
All eyes were on the face of the Rock, and the tiny figures moving upon its summit. A flag fluttered; far below, a horn sounded briefly. At the base of the cliff workmen frantically manipulated levers, hauled on ropes. Yet for a long time nothing happened.
A frown began to spread across the face of the King, and the whole court trembled. Even the waving fans lost momentum for a few seconds, only to speed up again as the wielders recalled the hazards of their task. Then a great shout came from the workers at the foot of Yakkagala-a cry of joy and triumph that swept steadily closer as it was taken up along the flower-lined paths. And with it came another sound, one not so loud, yet giving the impression of irresistible, pent-up forces, rushing towards their goal.
One after the other, springing from the earth as if by magic, the slim columns of water leaped towards the cloudless sky. At four times the height of a man, they burst into flowers of spray. The sunlight, breaking through them, created a rainbow-hued mist that added to the strangeness and beauty of the scene. Never, in the whole history of Taprobane, had the eyes of men witnessed such a wonder.
The King smiled, and the courtiers dared to breathe again. This time the buried pipes had not burst beneath the weight of water; unlike their luckless predecessors, the masons who had laid them had as good a chance of reaching old age as anyone who laboured for Kalidasa.
Almost as imperceptibly as the westering sun, the jets were losing altitude. Presently they were no taller than a man; the painfully filled reservoirs were nearly drained. But the King was well satisfied; he lifted his hand, and the fountains dipped and rose again as if in one last curtsey before the throne, then silently collapsed. For a little while ripples raced back and forth across the surface of the reflecting pools; then they once again became still mirrors, framing the image of the eternal Rock.
“The workmen have done well,” said Kalidasa. “Give them their freedom.”
How well, of course, they would never understand, for none could share the lonely visions of an artist-king. As Kalidasa surveyed the exquisitely tended gardens that surrounded Yakkagala, he felt as much contentment as he would ever know.
Here, at the foot of the Rock, he had conceived and created Paradise. It only remained, upon its summit, to build Heaven.