by Jo Walton
Now everything is over and the triumphant
procession winds into the Capital.
The handsome, if slightly vapid, king is about to marry his
beautiful elf maiden.
The wise old wizard has pushed back his hood and dared to crack
The elves will return to the woods, and the dwarves to their
The survivors of the valiant armies will be dispersed across the
And best of all, the intruders will go back to their own world
Secure in the confidence that Darkness has been utterly
Even here in this sea-cave, the cheering is deafening.
Or perhaps that's just the retreating tide.
You must allow me my cynicism.
It is all I have left, after all.
Picture, then, that procession, the young king, the new queen,
The heroes who beat my armies, tore down my stronghold,
slaughtered my body,
Reduced me to my present, somewhat compromised, last ditch
Do you notice anything missing?
The common people are smiling and throwing flowers,
The unicorns, and those with good voices, are spontaneously
bursting into song,
They have vanquished legions of Shadow,
Who seem to them to have existed only to throw their deeds into
Still nothing? Look closely at those prancing horses, beaming
No grief for those, and they were not few, who died to get them
True, true, but that is none of my doing.
The sun is shining as if she too joins the procession.
The sky is clearest, highest, brightest blue.
A band strikes up as they pass the gates, one hanging crooked
from the siege.
The kindly wizard looks at the intruders,
Who, having nothing against me personally, came here expressly
to defeat me.
By sunset they will be home, where they have longed to be,
And will never again be comfortable.
It is a small satisfaction,
Even after losing my corporeal form.
You still haven't noticed, no more than the cheering crowds,
So I will do my oldest job and underline -- they none of them
Yes, my vast armies, in their black and stylish uniforms,
My great city, with its twisted spires and looming bulk,
My whole war in which I seemed invincible,
Before this final and inevitable defeat,
Even my body, which was, quite frankly, hideous,
Were all of it a feint. In causing them to oppose me,
To take arms against the Darkness, to put the whole world's
And those they dragged in from outside our world,
To vanquishing Darkness itself.
Ironic really, and this is my revenge,
There are no shadows. And there will be no night.
One solitary spot of darkness remains.
I cannot, after all, change my own nature.
When my mortal form was slain I rose as a great shadow,
Darkness personified. I fled for this refuge.
Here, in this sea-cave, I lurk in an old sea-chest.
When the time is right I shall return
When they are crying out and parched for darkness, ambiguity,
Anything but the endless light and hackneyed platitudes.
I shall rise up from this place dragging darkness like a cloak.
They will come to me like iron filings to a magnet.
They will embrace me like a lover.
But wait, what's this? Everybody should be celebrating!
Who has discovered my cave already?
It is much too soon, nothing is ready.
Ah, false alarm, it's just a pair of wide-eyed children.
If they open my chest they will run, terrified.
They push up the lid. They stare in, a boy and younger girl.
The boy looks uncertain, the girl though, is smiling.
"How beautiful!" she says, and sunset strokes my coils of
She reaches into my shadows, damn her, the innocence of
And her brother (it has to be, who would choose her company?)
Smiles too, and reaching out, murmurs, "So beautiful."
It is like a compulsion, and I should know, I cast enough.
I follow them from the cave, streaming behind them,
I am their long shadows on the beach against the lowering sun.
From them I reach out, skim violet through the sky,
And fade into night, a dazzling darkness cut with spangled
Folk look up and say "So beautiful, how did I never notice?"
Praising their saviours, not knowing who truly saved them.
And light, that was and is my sibling, light shoots through me,
We surrender to each other and form a new pattern,
With room for complexity, maturity, subtlety,
As I am forgiven, and as I forgive.
This poem was written for the John M. Ford Memorial
Endowment, and all proceeds from the sale of this poem were
donated to the endowment. Please visit
here to learn more about the endowment.
About the Author:
Jo Walton is the author
of four fantasy novels: The King's Peace; The King's Name; The
Prize in the Game; and the World Fantasy Award winning Tooth and
Claw. Her newest novel is an alternate history mystery called
Farthing, published by Tor in 2006. She
comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more
varied. Her exciting online journal, with word counts and occasional
actual content, is
Poem © 2006 Jo Walton. Print by Edmund Dulac.