The Shadow King

I might as well cut straight to the chase and come right out with it now – the Shadow King (who I have made so much play of in previous pages) is actually me. I am the Shadow King and the Shadow King is me. The heroic mantle was only ever a front, and all too often not even a very good one either. I was going to drag it out, I was going to keep that what you might call rather pertinent detail to myself and let people work it out for themselves, if they could. Give them a few clues here and there, a few hints. My idea was that I was going to drag it out and use this central anomaly as some kind of a device to make the story more interesting. But I can see now that it would be just too obvious – I’d be fooling no one if I tried that. I was the Shadow King all along and that’s why my role of ‘hero’ never really got anywhere. That’s the joke of it. That’s why my identity always failed me in the end…


I thought I could spin it out and get some mileage out of it. I can get a whole novel out of this, I thought to myself. But I was wrong. It was all too obvious – there’s no mileage to be had here at all and so I might as well cut straight to the chase. It stands to reason that I was never a very effective adversary of the Shadow King – it was all just a feint, it was just a clever way for me to avoid seeing the truth about myself. The truth that I fear. A man will do anything, no matter how absurd, rather than face the truth that is hidden in his soul, a philosopher once said. Or once will say, as the case may be. I confess to being somewhat uncertain as to who I should attribute that quote to but one thing I am not unsure of is the undeniable veracity of his words. Although perhaps I should not use the word ‘undeniable’ here – anything can be denied, and the whole point  is that the more true a thing is, the more likely it is that it will be denied…


Evening was falling on the mountainside and the shadows were lengthening. It was the kind of light in which one’s eyes could easily play tricks on one. Twilight is always a time of danger, a time of trickery, a time of uncertainty, but this was a hundred times more true here, in pursuit as we were of the trusted lieutenants of the Shadow King himself. Who was none other than myself, I reminded myself dourly. I was not entirely to be trusted in this endeavour it occurred to me then, and not for the first time either. I could hardly – after all – be considered the best man for the job…


The four of us were sitting around a campfire, eating the remnants of our evening meal. A certain air of glumness had descended upon the company and no one spoke. My unease and self-doubt had affected everyone’s mood, even though I had said nothing about my misgivings. I stared morosely into the fire, imagining as I did so that I could see tiny flame-figures dancing and carousing there. These little fire creatures were – I felt – mocking me with their presence. They were delighting in my discomfort. I couldn’t help thinking that they had been put there to spy upon us and listen to our conversation. Wordlessly, I got to my feet and kicked the fire out, scattering sparks everywhere. My comrades stared at me, their surprise evident on their faces, but no one said anything. When I had stamped out the last of the embers I made my bed and silently settled myself down for the night.


The night was cold and I slept fitfully, my dreams full of dark omens. I awoke after the long night in a state of unbearable depression, feeling as if I was encased in lead. I had never in my life known such heaviness of spirit. Almost immediately we were forced to do battle with a marauding party of giant badgers with the faces of snarling pigs. My heart was not in it however; the joy of battle was not in me on this day. As I methodically set to the task of slaying the misshapen creatures that were assailing me from all sides with their teeth and claws I wondered if my depression were true or if it were merely yet another of my acts, if it were merely another way for me to avoid addressing the inner conflict that was troubling me so much.



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