EXCERPT OF THE CHALICE AND THE CROWN BY KASSANDRA FLAMOURI
“The legends say that in the earliest days, we lived and died in darkness and despair.” Luca’s voice tickles my ear, and, though he drops his hand, he stays close. “Farmers toiled in the fields without respite, never tasting the fruits of their labor. Blacksmiths forged tools and weapons, never toys or lovers’ trinkets. Housewives gave birth to children who grew too quickly into adulthood, never knowing laughter. Soldiers killed and were killed without mercy–without knowing why, even. But for all their toiling and striving, they were pale, listless, fearful beings. There was no beauty or courage in the world, only survival. Only hardship.
“But one day, a young blacksmith dreamed of something better. He dreamed of the three Graces: Joy, Passion…and, shining like a beacon, her arms around the other two, Beauty. When the blacksmith awoke, he wept, for now he knew all that his life lacked. He wept a lifetime of tears that had never been shed, and, when his tears ran dry, he fell to his knees and prayed.
“When the blacksmith rose, he went to his forge and fashioned a chalice from gold–a soft, silly metal that served no useful purpose. So he had been told, and so he had believed until he dreamed of Beauty. When the chalice was completed, he went to the vineyards, where the vintner made vinegar to preserve food, clean wounds, quench thirst–useful, practical, necessary tasks, of course. But the blacksmith told the vintner of his dream and showed him the golden chalice, and the vintner in turn showed him what he had discovered: His casks of vinegar, if opened early, produced a liquid with a pleasant taste and even more pleasant warmth.
“The blacksmith and the vintner filled the chalice with wine and offered it to the villagers, who began to laugh and then to sing. When the chief’s suspicious soldiers came to investigate, they, too, drank the wine. One soldier after another faltered in the march, and they began to dance.
“And so the chalice performed its miracles, passing from hand to hand, intoxicating the people not only with drink but with joy and wonder. ‘There is beauty in the world,’ one villager would say. ‘Drink deep.’ ‘Life is sweet,’ the next might say. ‘Drink deep.’ The villagers drank deep from the chalice and began to expect more from life than mere survival. As they sought out beauty and amusement and love, they also found genius and passion for good works, for excellence, for innovation. They found their Gifts.
“The villagers transformed their huts into houses, then villas. The villages grew into towns, then cities, then a kingdom. To this day we gather in the Temple of Graces to seek out the beauty in the world and in ourselves, and every year we celebrate the blacksmith and his Chalice of Gifts.”
Luca falls silent. I blink, still entranced by his story and dazzled by the stars. Finally, I look at him and feel a smile spread across my face.
“I love it,” I tell him, and it feels like something more, something like… I love you.