Noah (angelbob) wrote,

Sympathy for Haggard (and Spoilers for a Wonderful Book)

"Your Majesty," she said, though there had been no sound. She heard the rustling chuckle at her back, and turned to see the king. He wore a gray cloak over his mail, but his head was bare. The black lines of his face showed where the fingernails of age had skidded down the hard skin, but he looked stronger than his son, and wilder.

"You are quick for what you are," he said, "but slow, I think, for what you were. It is said that love makes men swift and women slow. I will catch you at last if you love much more."

She smiled at him without replying. She never knew what to say to the pale-eyed old man whom she so rarely saw, except as a movement on the edge of the solitude that she shared with Prince Lir. Then armor winked deep in the valley, and she heard the scrape of a weary horse stumbling on stone. "Your son is coming home," she said. "Let us watch him together."

King Haggard came slowly to stand beside her at the parapet, but he gave no more than a glance to the tiny, glinting figure riding home. "Nay, what concern have you or I with Lir, truly?" he asked. "He's none of mine, either by birth or belonging. I picked him up where someone else had set him down, thinking that I had never been happy, and never had a son. It was pleasant enough at first, but it died quickly. All things die when I pick them up. I do not know why they die, but it has always been so, save for the one dear possession that has not turned cold and dull as I guarded it -- the only thing that has ever belonged to me." His grim face gave the sudden starved leap of a sprung trap. "And Lir will be no help to you in finding it," he said. "He has never even known what it is."

Without warning, the whole castle sang like a plucked string as the beast asleep at its root shifted his dire weight. The Lady Amalthea caught her balance easily, being well used to this, and said lightly, "The Red Bull. But why do you think I have come to steal the Bull? I have no kingdom to keep, and no wish for conquest. What would I do with him? How much does he eat?"

"Do not mock me!" the King answered. "The Red Bull is no more mine than the boy is, and he does not eat, and he cannot be stolen. He serves anyone who has no fear -- and I have no more fear than I have rest."


He could not wait for her answer, but turned away to look at the waves. His face was changed beyond believing: delight coloring the somber skin, rounding over the cheekbones, and loosening the bowstring mouth. "They are mine," he said softly, "they belong to me. The Red Bull gathered them for me, one at a time, and I bade him drive each one into the sea. What better place could there be to keep unicorns, and what other cage could hold them? For the Bull keeps guard over them, awake or asleep, and he daunted their hearts long ago. Now they live in the sea, and every tide still carries them within an easy step of the land, but they dare not take that step, they dare not come out of the water. They are afraid of the Red Bull."


"I like to watch them. They fill me with joy." The childish voice was all but singing. "I am sure it is joy. The first time I felt it, I thought I was going to die. There were two of them in the early morning shadows. One was drinking from a stream, and the other was resting her head on his back. I thought I was going to die. I said to the Red Bull, "I must have that. I must have all of it, all there is, for my need is very great." So the Bull caught them, one by one. It was all the same to the Bull. It would have been the same if I had demanded tumblebugs or crocodiles. He can only tell the difference between what I want and what I do not want."


"I suppose I was young when I first saw them," King Haggard said. "Now I must be old -- at least I have picked many more things up than I had then, and put them all down again. But I always knew that nothing was worth the investment of my heart, because nothing lasts, and I was right, and so I was always old. Yet each time I see my unicorns, it is like that morning in the woods, and I am truly young in spite of myself, and anything can happen in a world that holds such beauty."

I wonder, too often probably, what one should have done, were one born like Haggard. His story is a sad one, not least because he did exactly the right thing under the circumstances. What else should he have done? He explored and tried, he picked many things up and put them all back down, and in the end, not one made him happy. He found, finally, something that soothed him, that made him truly happy, and he took it, all of it. He dared, as a friend might put it, to say "I want." And in the end, like the storybook villain he was, he was unseated and he fell.

"Look up," Schmendrick said. "The castle is falling."

She turned and saw that the towers were melting as the unicorns sprang up the cliff and flowed around them, exactly as though they had been made out of sand and the sea were sliding in. The castle came down in great cold chunks that turned thin and waxen as they swirled in the air, until they disappeared. It crumbled and vanished without a sound, and it left no ruins, either on land or in the memories of the two who watched it fall. A minute later, they could not remember where it had stood, or how it had looked.

But King Haggard, who was quite real, fell down thorugh the wreckage of his disenchanted castle like a knife dropped through clouds. Molly heard him laugh once, as though he had expected it. Very little ever surprised King Haggard.
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