Memories beside the Fountain of Life
Asger’s chest heaved as his grey hair hung lank with sweet. He leant on the hilt of his sword and rested his aged joints as the Fountain Guardian shivered in pain. The great snake retreated with a slither, paused beneath the cave’s arch and with a last hiss, fell dead into a coil of golden scales.
“Your courage honours my victory,” Asger said with a bow of his head.
He turned from the slain foe and faced the dazzle of light that shone from the pit of the cave. Atop a series of stone steps was a waterfall which tumbled into a wide stone basin – the Fountain of Life. The mystical waters flashed as if struck by moonlight, flowing pure from the womb of the Earth.
Asger took a step forward, and paused. A warm trickle of blood ran down his spine. He groped his back to feel the gash of a fang beneath his shoulder-blade. The torn flesh stung to the touch of his finger-tips. Asger laughed.
“Almost, great serpent,” he bellowed through his beard. His echo bounded down the narrow passage and out the entrance of the cave. “But I stand before the Fountain of Life, soon I will surpass death and live forever.”
Asger pressed ahead and climbed the wet stone steps. His sandals clapped to his double-strides. He reached the peak and stood before the pure pool that eddied around the break of the waterfall. The waters were as clear as ice and their ripples scintillated like stars in the night sky.
Asger bent his weary legs and sat upon the edge of the basin. From his leather satchel he removed a small wooden cup. He held the cup high and gave a silent farewell to mortality. Across his arm, the pool’s reflection rippled to illuminate the scar of a burn that stretched from wrist to elbow. Asger grunted at the sight of it, and at the memory of the pain.
“Damn fire wizards,” he muttered. A smile crept across his face and he leaned against the cold wall to recall his triumph over that wizard; the first of a lifetime of victories.
Shemit the Fire Breather had wrecked havoc on the western kingdom, vanquishing all that opposed him. Great cities were razed and many brave warriors were burnt to the bone by his magic. But just as King Kotha had lost hope for his realm, Asger appeared; a young, bold and cunning adventurer. He’d snuck into Shemit’s tower as the wizard slept, gagged him with one hand, and used his other to drive a knife into the wizard’s belly.
Asger waded his scarred hand through the cool waters and chuckled.
King Kotha had wept with joy when Asger strode up to his throne with Shemit’s head. And he’d celebrated Asger’s victory in his Great Meadhall for three days. Loud songs were sung as drunkards clapped their hands in tune with flutes and pipes. Hogs were roasted on crackling spits and served with honeyed ales, poured from kegs the size of cows. The hall had cheered Asger’s name all night and erupted with manic applause when King Kotha bestowed the title of Housecarl General on him; leadership of the King’s own bodyguard. These men would become Asger’s band of brothers, and they would follow him across the lands to loot and plunder in the name of the King.
Asger ran a thumb over the rim of his wooden cup.
All the cheer of the Great Meadhall, and all the looted chests of gems and gold, could not surpass his greatest treasure in life. That came when he was a man of middle years, and was gifted this cup by Beiba, Queen of the Mountain Tribes.
Beiba. She was a wild beauty and would steal his heart. He remembered her raucous laughter, the squeeze of her thighs and the light in her eyes. He still loved her like no other. And the burn of her death stung greater than any wizard’s fire. His promise to find the Fountain of Life had come thirty years too late.
Asger leaned on an elbow and gazed at his reflection in the pool. His hair was now grey and his eyes creased with age. He mussed as to how Beiba would have looked now, had she not passed to disease.
Much had passed, Asger considered. The Housecarls had all perished in battle, King Kotha had been slain when the Empire usurped his throne, and the Great Meadhall had collapsed into silence long ago. Those flutes and pipes that had stirred the cheer beneath its beams had long since been traded for harps and lyres. Even the common folk’s taste for ale had been surpassed by the want of wine. Nor was Asger’s name sung in song now, surpassed instead by the deeds of younger heroes. Heroes who no longer fought for glory, but to spread the Divine Word of the Empire’s priests and votaries. These men of the cloth had brought a change upon the land. Common folk now shunned men like Asger, seeking protection from church or prayer.
Asger stared at his reflection and saw the last thread of a passing age. He scooped the cup through the waters and watched the drips fall upon the stones steps.
Beiba’s last words spoke from his memories – “What is eternal life worth, Asger, when all you know has passed from it? Forget the Fountain.”
Asger looked back down the passage, beyond the slain serpent, and at the crack of light that shone into the cave from the outside world.
Behind him pooled the promise of eternal life, outside, waited a world he realised he no longer belonged too.
Asger placed down the cup.
(Originally posted on the Total War Center forums.)