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King's Watch

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On mornings that were red before the dawn, and on evenings that consisted of the deep, lonely blue that longed for any color other than itself, it was said you could see the still burning embers of the Bull beneath the crashing waves.

The kigndom fell to ruin and was rebuilt, its prosperity now contingent upon the fortune of the turning seasons.  Where barren country had turned to silken grass, time stopped on the road to Haggard’s castle.

By order of the king, the stretch of sand that curved beneath the cliff that had once held the bewitched castle would hold no living man’s footprints.  The sea kept watch, washing them out with the tide.  The beach was domain to none save starfish and sand fleas.

At the end of the world, where the cliff hung low above the sea, parted only by the sun, a weathered old man would stand, watching the embers beneath the water.  Those who made their way up the winding, timeless road would find him gone.

In Hagsgate, no one spoke his name.

Children tested each other’s courage to walk the long road at dusk, and travelers who occasionally found themselves on the path without forewarning turned aside.  The occasional scavenger who thought to find treasure in the rubble of the castle was never heard from again.

The story of Haggard’s downfall had spread far and wide.  The legend of what had become of him after was fractured and broken, and embellished in the telling.  Some said he was real; some said he was a ghost.  Some said he was a prisoner, and the Hero King had bid him remain there in penance for some great sin, others that the old man lingered in the faded glory of his reign for having nowhere else to go.

Some nights, hooves beat down the timeless road, and thereafter Haggard was told to preside over a court of unicorns, which frolicked all night and vanished in the morning into the sea foam.

But the horse that clomped sturdily down the stone path was the color of cold mist on an autumn morning.  A pale star of white, but no horn crowned its brow.  It was stocky and reliable, and only shied away from the cliff once as its rider urged it onward.

Dismounting where the cliff met the beach, he let the horse run free, and walked the rest of the distance.

Under the cloak of night, Haggard’s shadow stood silent, watching not the sea but the man who disturbed his vigil.

At the end of the world, they stood staring at one another; one a king who had lived for the shadow of a dream, one a king who lived for a dream that had left him behind.

“Do you have no words for me, then?”

Haggard sighed; a ragged sound, caught and torn by the wind.

“Leave this place.”

Lír’s eyes reflected a unicorn’s shadow.  Where the Hero King would live a mortal life and die, Haggard would persist as all things immortal did, between the pages of a book written in a language that only wizards and the dead knew how to read.