Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fountain of Forever

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a king who wandered.

Once upon a time there was a king without a kingdom.

Once upon a time there was a king.

Once upon a time.


Hello there. Sorry to interrupt your story so abruptly, but I noticed you were starting to speak of the Wandering King, yes? Why, I know that story so well, I could retell it in my sleep. Ah, the adventures I could tell you, the tales of treacherous mountains that would crash into one another, of storms that could tear the flesh from your bones, of rivers ruled by fearsome jaguars.

But you wish to know about the Wandering King. You wish to know about the King Without a Kingdom, the King Within and Without. Well, alright, let me tell you the story.

Once there was a king whose kingdom was prosperous. He had everything that he could ever have wanted -- and therein was the problem. He had no need for money, no need to go out and seduce women (what with his generous harem), no need to do anything. So he stayed in his castle and wished that there was something he still needed, something he wanted. You of course know the saying that you should take care of what you wish for, yes? So you can probably guess what is going to happen next.

So, the king, having made this wish, is suddenly confronted with a visitor to his kingdom. Now, normally this would not be such a big deal, because his was a prosperous kingdom, so it had a lot of visitors. But this visitor was different -- he had approached the king's palace without making a noise and asked to speak with the king about his most fervent wish. The king looked at this visitor and noticed his ashen skin and sickly demeaner and wondered if perhaps he had escaped from a leper colony. "What makes you think you can help me?" the king asked the ashen man.

"I know of one thing you cannot have," the ashen man said. "One thing that you wish to possess, but which you can never possess."

The king stood up at this thought -- was there such a thing? "Speak of this and I will grant you anything in my kingdom you want," he said.

"I want for nothing," the ashen man said (and the king believed this for the ashen man looked as if he was on the edge of death's domain). "I do, however, wish to lead you on your journey."

"Journey?" the king said. "To where?"

The ashen man smiled. "To the undying waters. To the place where death is no more. To the Fountain of Life, your majesty."

And so the king was hooked. He had everything, but it would not last. Nothing would last, not the jaguars or the rivers or the mountains. But by drinking the waters of the Eternal Fountain, well, he would last forever; he would outlive his wives, spend all his money, do everything he wished and it would not matter, for he would always be able to do more. So he agreed: he would go with the ashen man to the place where the Fountain was and both he and the ashen man would drink in its deathless waters.

What followed was a long, harrowing journey that would last many pages if I decided to write it out completely. Needless to say, the king and the ashen man traveled for many months, following the map that the ashen man had memorized long ago. He told the king he had seen the Fountain once, but he had been a young man then and thought immortality was not worth it. This was all the backstory the ashen man would give the king, even though the king would ask many questions during their quest. The ashen man would often refuse to answer; the king never even learned his name.

Finally, after a year of travel, the ashen man stopped them and said, "It is here."

The king looked around, but could not see any fountain. Instead, he saw what looked like ruins and the burnt remains of villages. "Where are we?" the king asked.

"Where?" The ashen man said. "We are inside your kingdom. We have traveled in a circle, your majesty. We are back to where we started."

The king looked around and saw that the ruins were of his own castle and the burnt villages the villages of his subjects. "What has happened here? What happened to my kingdom?"

"What do you think?" the ashen man asked. "After their king went away, they were invaded and pillaged by their neighbors. Your subjects are dead or scattered now, their lives ruined by the wishes of their king."

"I did not mean this," the king said. "And why are we here? You promised me you were taking me to the Eternal Fountain."

"I did," the ashen man said. "And I keep my promises. Look there." He pointed and the king saw a small pool of muddy water. "This is your Fountain of Life. It will grant you everlasting life once you drink of it."

"You lie," the king said. "You have ruined my kingdom for mud and water."

"I do not lie," the ashen man said. "And you have ruined the kingdom yourself. The pool will grant life, I tell you. Just drink."

So the king lowered himself down to the ground and drank the muddy water, while the ashen man stood over him. "Everlasting life," the ashen man said, "all you have to do is drink, drink and let me in." The ashen man then collapsed to the ground, while the king rose. "Life," the king said. "Everlasting life. Of course."

And so the king walked away from the body of the ashen man, who had now embraced death. And the king discarded his crown and, after a while, his skin turned sickly and gray.

Did you like that story? Did it amuse you? Then my work is done. I will return to you your regular storyteller, but not before I leave you this warning: the Wandering King is still out there, still tempting people with eternal life. But eternal life does not mean you will not start dying; it merely means you will not stop.


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