Meeting at the Well
It had taken some searching for Megame to find the old well. A marching legion was always in need of water and every little bit helped. The well was the old kind you’d find in stories, a cylinder of stones rising from the ground in a forest clearing, overgrown with vines and roots with a shaft that cut deep into the dark earth. There was an old length of rope Megame tested for strength before typing it to her pail and lowering it down into the well below.
“Evening, young Miss.”
Megame nearly jumped as an old man emerged from the trees. She hadn’t seen or heard him as she’d approached, and she hurriedly withdrew the pail, bowing her head.
“I’m sorry, sir. Is this your well? I didn’t mean to use it without permission.”
The old man raised a wrinkled hand with skin like gnarled bark. “Think nothing of it, this water is for all who would drink from it. I only ask you be thankful, not all wells are this free to be drunk from.”
Megame watched the old man closely. His face was much like his hands, wizened and leathery from years on the road and under the sun. He had a cloth running across his face and over his nose to cover one of his eyes and his silver hair had receded entirely under the broad brim of his hat. His shoulders were wrapped in an old traveling cloak that was a weathered and dusty grey.
“Thank you,” Megame bowed again before lowering the pail into the well once more.
“You’re a very polite girl,” the old man said. “What’s your name?”
“Megame Kamigawa,” she said, nodding her head. “That’s very kind of you to say, Mister…”
“Jafnar, you can call me,” the old man said.
“Mister Jafnar,” she nodded. To her surprise she still hadn’t heard the splash of water; the well must have been very deep. “It’s odd seeing someone alone out here. These lands are dangerous.”
“Dangerous to some,” Jafnar said. “Not to all, and I’m not the only one alone at this well.”
“Ah, I’m traveling with an army,” Megame said. “The second Roman Legion. If you like, you can join the Legion’s supply train for a while. We’ve met a lot of people on the road north.”
Jafnar laughed. “Ha! The problem with marching with armies is they tend to march to war. I think, in the long run, my route may be safer. Besides, I’m going south.”
“South?” Megame asked. “Well…it is safer, but where south? Italy?”
“Greece, they call it,” Jafnar said.
“Greece is a very long way…” Megame said.
“My legs are good,” Jafnar said. “I have my walking stick…somewhere. And besides, I have a meeting in Greece I really shouldn’t miss.”
Megame glanced around, and saw an old stick lying against the side of the well. She paused. Had the stick always been there? Had Jafnar placed it there when she hadn’t been looking?
Megame picked it up. “Is this your…”
Light flashed in her mind’s eye. Power like electricity running under her skin ran through her fingers to her shoulder, causing her hair to stand on end. As she looked at it, the old staff of gnarled wood gleamed with power, runes across its surface. At the same instant it was a spear, long and glistening with power, blood like crimson paint across its blade and almost halfway down its haft. In that mere second, the stick, staff, and spear were one, all overlaid in the vision of her eyes and her mind.
“Ah, there it is, thank you,” Jafnar casually took the staff from her, and the power and visions faded instantly.
“Y-you’re welcome…” Megame paused, before shaking her head and continuing to lower the pail into the deep, deep well.
“It’s nice isn’t it?” He said. “Wish I could say I made it myself.”
“It is a nice…walking stick,” Megame said. “Is it umm-“
Before she could think up a more polite way of asking if his staff was magic, Jafnar spoke over her.
“You know, this reminds me of another time I was at a well,” He said, idly musing with the tone of an old man recalling the distant past.
“Met another woman there, one far less polite than you.”
“A-another woman?” Megame’s eyes were still on the staff, mind only half paying attention to his story.
“She was a pretty thing. Lithe and blonde in her absolute prime…she seemed like the very image of youth…and yet at the same time she was the oldest thing I had ever seen.”
Megame froze, hands still on the rope just as she felt the pail finally hit water.
A picture formed in her mind’s eye. A young woman with long curly blonde hair and rosy cheeks on flawless young skin. A woman with eyes that seemed to swallow all light, eyes older than the stars.
“I…I believe I’ve met someone similar,” Megame said, trying to keep her tone calm as she lowered the pail into the invisible pool of water far beneath the well.
“It’s not something one forgets,” Jafnar said. “To see something so eternal look so young. All the potential and possibility of the unlived future wrapped up in a beautiful girl. The future given form. I looked at this girl and I saw beauty, but when I looked into her eyes I saw the end of all things.”
“Skuld,” Megame said. “That’s what she said her name was.”
Jafnar smiled. “One of many she possesses, the youngest or the eldest of the Three.”
Megame looked up at the old man. “Apologies, Mister Jafnar but…who are you?”
“I’ll forgive your lack of wit,” he smirked. “On the fact that you’re still something of a foreigner, Kamigawa. I too have many names. As many, I am sure, as your Sun, Moon, and Storm gods. To poets, I am the Father of Songs; to travelers, I am The Wanderer, and to soldiers I am the God of Battle, the Barrow Lord. Though I think you’ve heard my name on the lips of one dear to you.”
“Someone dear to me?” Megame asked, when she was struck by a sudden realization. It was an epiphany sparked by a memory, a casual chat with Kara some months ago.
“My old boss?” Kara had said. “Guys a bit of a miscreant when he’s not all geared up for battle, if I’m being honest. Tends to dress himself up and pretend to be someone else, or no one at all. He’s got some tells though, so it’s not too hard to spot him if you know what to look for.”
There were some things that spirits, even gods could not hide. Just as Hachi and Capitolina always had the ears and tail of a fox or wolf, there were some qualities with inertia that could not be hidden save by the greatest shapeshifters. Kara had told her how to spot the lord of the Valkyries. An old man, cloaked with a broad hat, a walking stick, but most of all a missing eye. For the eye had been the price he’d paid for knowledge, and no shape he took could regain that lost sight.
“Odin Okami-sama…”Megame said quietly, before falling quickly to her knees, hands releasing the rope and pail to fall into the well.
Odin’s hand lashed out, snatching the rope with lightning speed.
“That would have been an inconvenience,” he said. “Okami-sama was it? I’ll need to add that to the list. Now get up.”
Megame slowly rose to her feet, sheepishly taking the rope and pulling up the heavy pail of water.
“Sorry…” She said, trying not to make eye contact.
‘You fret on things too much,” Odin said. “Politeness is well and good but it can be a pain. Your Japanese gods must be a pain to deal with.”
“There is just…a formality to things,” Megame said. “I’m not sure how to react with foreign gods sometimes…”
“I did catch you off-guard there a bit,” Odin grinned. “Don’t fret with it, I’ve fooled much brighter and much braver than you.”
Megame hid a grimace. She was pretty sure she’d just been insulted.
“If you are Odin-sama,” Megame said. “Then you would have known who I was before you met me.”
“Yes, but it’s important for you to introduce yourself. Plus it ruins the game if I let it slip who I am too early.”
“If I may ask, why did you come to see me?” Megame asked. “Surely Torleif or…”
“It was a fun little detour, hardly anything world-shaking,” Odin shrugged. “I’m not here to impart advice or give a warning. I think it would be a bit late for the latter at any rate…no I dropped by on my way to Greece to meet you in particular.”
“Me?” Megame asked.
“You, Megame kamigawa, Player of Games,” Odin smiled. “Like it or not you have a reputation now, and a name.”
“Player of Games…” Megame frowned. “I’m not sure I like it, it makes me sound like a video game addict.”
“Ha!” Odin roared with laughter. “You think I like half the names people have thrust on me? Sorry to say, little foreigner, once you challenge a great Norn to the Game of Fate you start having a reputation. I wanted to see if the girl lived up to the reputation.”
“I imagine I’m shorter than you imagined,” Megame said.
“No, all you small humans look about the same size to me,” Odin grinned. “But I’m curious about something else.”
“Something else?” Megame asked.
“Skuld was kind when she challenged you,” Odin said. “You won back all the stakes you placed. Small as it might be to me, a girl’s life is the highest stakes you can offer. When I played the Game of Fate I won the vision I wanted, but I paid a price as well.”
Odin gestured to his missing eye. “And in my fate, deep in the well of Mimir, I saw Ragnarok. Tell me, Player of Games, what did you see? What was in those cards that brought you out to Nidhoggr’s country?”
“I saw people coming together,” Megame said. “I saw myself and others bound together to fight the evil in these lands. Even if they didn’t know me back then…I knew I’d meet them, and they’d need my help.”
“I suppose I’m doing the same,” Odin smiled wryly. “The Norns are quiet but my vision still extends far. I had a dream, of a raven meeting an eagle atop a great mountain lit by a golden sun. So while I had hoped to stay on the battlefield of my homeland, I knew I was needed elsewhere.”
“I feel it would be arrogant of me to compare my problems to those of a great spirit,” Megame said.
Odin laughed again as Megame finally pulled the water from the well. “It’s not you humans who are like gods,” he said. “It is too often we gods are like you. I think, however, it’s time I kept moving.”
Megame bowed deeply at the waist. “It has been an honor to meet you, Odin Okami-sama.”
“Keep following that path you saw, Player of Games,” Odin said, drawing his cloak about himself as he moved back into the forest. “But never forget that sometimes knowledge has a price.”
The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa