The shadows creep across the end of the day like wounded crawling from the battlefield, knowing the dark night is catching them up. Once the darkness takes them, they know they will never see the light again.
Sometimes, though, especially in the cold grey mists of morning, it does feel like we have lived too long. Sometimes the thought of that eternal darkness is welcoming, especially in the cold, the rain and the mud. Sometimes, too, it seems like you cannot have a war without mud.
Although Jagar has said, there are lands across the Silver Sea, beyond even the Southlands where there is no mud. He says the days are hot, even in the winter, and the soil is sand that burns your feet as you step on it. How Jagar knows this, I do not know. He has been no further south than me. All he knows, as I know, is fighting, death and mud… and that the creeping darkness that follows us is always at our heels.
Jagar listens though, as he says I never do. I have seen him in inns and brothels, a half-naked woman on each thigh as he sits entranced by some stranger’s tales of places we will not live long enough to see, of women we will not live long enough to touch and foods, ales and wines we will never taste.
All we will ever touch and taste is the mud in our final breath. All we will ever see is that shadow throwing its dark blankets over our heads for the final time.
I never believed in gods. I never liked stories either. I can’t see the point of stories, especially the stories of the old gods. I know they are not true and there is no afterlife. No afterworld where we feast with the mighty ones from the legends and tales. Nor a heavenly hall where we sit with gods and take goddesses for wives for all eternity.
I remember when I was a farmer. That was all mud too. Mud and crop failure, and the herds dying from diseases of the cold, dark and damp.
I remember when we left the Northlands. That was mud. Mud and death as we fought for a new land we could take and make our own. We buried so many – theirs as well as ours – in the mud of those battlefields. There were far too many dead to send to the gods in fire and flame, anyway. It was those battles, those fights where I lost so many friends, my father, my sons and my brothers, that made me realise I no longer believed in the old gods.
The less said about the new gods, the gods of these Southlands, the better. Weak, ineffectual gods that offer forgiveness and an afterlife that has all this world lacks. They say these southern gods are all powerful. If they are, then why not make this world the paradise and leave the suffering, and the mud, for when we are dead?
Jagar says the gods from the hot sand lands are different too, cold, callous demanding death and sacrifice. But even there with its hot winters, burning sand and harsh gods – as gods should be – I don’t doubt that there is always mud there too.
There is mud everywhere, and we are all mud too… in the end.