Myths - The Fourth Age Shadow Wars
Huw Gilliand prepared to leave the gardens surrounding the Well of Life in the center of Platonia an hour before sunset. He was to meet his friends, Berwyn, Reginard, and Rolant, at Berwyn's inn, the Bull and Boar, for supper. The gardens grew all around him, flowers and more beds of flowers in a rough circle, surrounding the ancient well. The well was more spring than well, but it had been called a well for hundreds of years, as waters from deep within the earth rose up and over moss-covered stones set low upon the ground. Brilliant blue water of a hue unknown outside the gardens streamed to the surface, pouring over a low stone lip worn smooth by countless centuries and splashing into a pool twelve feet wide and twenty feet long before forming a narrow, deep channel that flowed to the southern end of the gardens. There it sluiced away under a small arch to form the Stream of Life, slowly winding its way to the southern end of Platonia, where it merged with the great river Beadle and flowed into the sea.
Huw gazed about the gardens, surveying the new young plants in their fresh beds, replacements for the luxuriant flower beds destroyed by the Vandal, as he was known. Recalling the crime, Huw remembered the Man who had penetrated the safety and security of Platonia, laying waste to several flower beds: flowers that grew nowhere else, as far as Huw knew. How this Man could have invaded Platonia and why he had destroyed these flower beds was unknown, as he had refused to answer any questions. The Gracies took him to the eastern edge of Platonia and placed him in a boat to give him to Frederick, Prince of Amadeus, for trial.
Huw, as chief acolyte of the gardens, had been in the boat as Gracie rowers pushed away from the shore. Suddenly the Man, who had been silent for three days, began repeating a mantra that sounded much like a Shardan prayer Huw had heard once during his education with the Elves of Phoenicia. The boat was surrounded by water spirits, creatures that took corporeal form by amalgamating river foam, from which their name, Bubblers, was derived. They tipped the boat on its side and pulled the Vandal into the cold, swift-flowing water of the Beadle. He did not surface. As the rowers brought the boat back to the Platonia shore, Huw had been uneasy in his mind: such devotion to the destruction of a few plants made no logical sense to Huw.
A pacific people, the Gracies were shocked by this murder by their protectors, miscreant or no. Recalling the story brought sadness to Huw, though it was nearly a year since the incident. He was about to turn and leave the gardens, when he heard the unmistakable sounds of a Bubbler rising to the surface. Turning, he saw a bearded head form on the surface of the water, its translucent arms appearing and disappearing as the water fought to stay above its own surface in an endless dance.
'Huw, come to me now and listen,' said the Bubbler in a high-pitched voice, like that of a child making noises under water.
Shocked, Huw moved toward the Well; no living Gracie had ever heard a Bubbler speak outside the river Beadle, and even then, they offered greetings, not conversation. Striding back to the edge of the pool, Huw knelt and offered the traditional obeisance of an acolyte. Swiftly the Bubbler said, 'Platonia is in danger. We Bubblers are reaching the last of our strength.'
'You can't fail,' said a shocked Huw. 'You are the Bubblers, immortal river creatures who have always protected Platonia.'
'We are immortal, but if we cannot renew ourselves here in the Well of Life, we will become no more, and this we can no longer do.'
'There is no time to explain; you must aid our renewal, or we will be lost, unable to protect Platonia against the greed of Men and the other races.'
'What can we do?' asked a stunned Huw.
'You must save the Gemwings, our only source of hope, or we will disappear in less than a year.'
'Gemwings,' asked Huw, thinking of the legendary insects, presumed to exist, but never actually seen. 'How can I save the Gemwings? Do they even exist?'
'You will come to know that from the Gemwings themselves. Only they can tell you how to save them, us, and Platonia. Fail and you doom Platonia to the destruction of Men.' With that the Bubbler dissolved back into the waters of the well.
Rising, Huw moved woodenly toward the entrance of the gardens, in shock from the conversation. Simple wooden doors were there, ritually closed at sunset and opened at dawn, when the acolytes would gather around the Well of Life, dipping into its unique waters and feeling the life force of Nostraterra course through their bodies.
Becoming an acolyte was a choice made by Gracies at any time of their lives, but their desire had to be granted by the Bubblers. Gracies wanting to serve the Bubblers would immerse themselves in the icy waters of the Beadle each spring equinox. Those chosen by the Bubblers were touched on the shoulder by a Bubbler, but those rejected would have only minutes of life before the icy cold waters leached the heat from their bones.
If you served as an acolyte you were respected greatly, and you could drink the Waters of Life every day; an excess usually frowned upon by Gracies. The Waters of Life extended a Gracie's lifespan from the usual hundred years or so to nearly two hundred years.