In the prologue of this narrative, the title character, the Alchemist, picks up a book brought by someone in his caravan. The book contains a well-known story of Narcissus, a young man known for his daily ritual of contemplating his own beauty as reflected in a nearby lake. Enamoured with his reflection, Narcissus eventually falls into the lake and drowns. According to the myth, a flower named after him—the narcissus—grows at his drowning spot, symbolizing his self-love and tragic end.
However, the author offers a different ending to the legend. According to his interpretation, after Narcissus's death, goddesses of the forest visit the lake, fascinated to find it transformed from fresh water into a lake of salty tears. When asked why it weeps, the lake declares it to be in mourning for Narcissus. The goddesses assume it's because the lake got a daily view of Narcissus's alleged beauty. However, the lake corrects them. It reveals that it never noticed Narcissus's beauty but instead wept each time he came to its banks because it could see its own beauty reflected deep in his eyes.
The Alchemist finds the twist in this common tale to be incredibly moving, remarking wistfully about the beauty of the story. The new conclusion reframes the tale as one of shared beauty and reflection rather than simply a story about excessive personal vanity.