Not Eternal

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

--Edgar Allen Poe

It was approaching winter on the coast, and there was a chill in the air. Trees whose bows had formerly hung low with fruit were shedding their leaves in dulled arrays of brown and soft gold; the plants that carpeted the ground cracked and crackled as tiny paws traversed them.

The world was going to sleep. The sun was a pale disc in a dim sky, color leeching from the firmament as if it were a corpse. Clouds hung, too tired to move or wane. It was a desolate place.

The Castle loomed above the waters like a dragon--a sleeping monstrosity who had just to wake and spread its wings. It was a heavy presence in the thin atmosphere, a bird of ill fortune upon an ill wind. It lorded over the barren fields, mute and blind to the encroaching chill.

A girl in a thin shawl shivered in the pale shadow of the monument, picking her way across the rocks with the feet of a dancer. Soft steps lead her to the very tethers of the fortress, and a hand on the cold metal aided her ascent. She moved up past the imposing doors, down hallways whose dust proclaimed their emptiness, up stairs which creaked forlornly as they bore her weight, to the very height of the main tower itself, to the heavy doors which guarded the one secret the Castle had left.

Beyond those doors was a room that seemed impossible; a great cleft in the world that gaped like a dead wound--unhealable, unsealable. It was desolate land, soil in which nothing could ever grow. No wind touched this place, no sun shone, no change occurred.

The roses she carried--white, the color of snow and clouds and bone--would never wilt, never die.

Six simple graves for six nameless saviours--awaiting six roses carefully tended and lovingly presented. A simple act of memory, adorning the gargoyle of black rock that marred the skyline and blotted out the sun. A simple gesture of appreciation--a thank-you for suffering one quiet eternity in order to buy time of a different sort for a world which could now do nothing in return save lay flowers on their resting places once in a while.

The Castle wouldn't just disappear overnight, or perhaps ever. It would remain on the coast over the Cape, casting its shadow over the fields where flowers had once bloomed and in time might bloom again. And perhaps that was for the best--perhaps it was the best that the world never be allowed to forget, to shake off the nightmares of one conquered Sorceress and six fallen heroes.

And yet each year the rains came and wore away the tiniest bit; each year its magic weakened and it sagged that few hairsbreadths closer to the lapping waves. The Castle was a wound upon the world, and like any wound it was not eternal.

But as it hung, motionless in the quiet air, it seemed to have a permanence far beyond anything of human ken. Even the bleached pillars rising out of the Cape as if to brush its craggy underbelly would no doubt fall to dust before it was gone; the iron chains would rust away, the stars would sweep along their unfathomable paths like slow counters--the heartbeat of its aging. It would be long enough--long enough to always remember.

The monument's sole caretaker moved away, a small girl on a wide plain. And silently, solemnly, grimly, the Castle held on to time and the sky.