When he came into his own awareness it was with the smooth continuity of being from sleep to waking, and there was no more sleep for long aeons after that. His sister was beside him; their eyes met, and they smiled at each other. He chose the black and she the white, because this was the one true choice ever given him, and they danced like the king and queen they were across all the chessboards of the world.

From the time before the beginning, when he was still deep in dreaming, he knew he was different. Others of the Dark played their roles in the fullness of belief, but he knew that freedom and faith belonged only to humans like the man his sister would keep - and really, he did not understand why no one else saw that John Rowlands was the sole hope the Dark would ever have.

He was as he was and nothing changed. He knew an Old One had no birth sign, and he took the wrong one, anyway. The scar he bore on his face before ever the yell-hounds tore it into his flesh; it lay within him like a vein of red metal yet to be mined. When it was drawn to the surface, lividly, the pain of it was a confirmation and a comfort, and he laughed as he rode his black horse to the ends of the earth with the dogs all around him, surging like a red-tipped sea.

As he sat there under the birds' rock, waiting in silence with the hawk and the bear, the play of their power over his skin was like music. It burned him, deliciously. Then the questions were asked and the riddles answered, the harp won for the Light, as must be - and he was alone again, in the cold.

Because the sword was made, he held up the mirror to the frail king to show him the deep well that lay beneath the making, and the well was empty, and it was black. The king fell into it slowly, inexorably, and his minstrel could not save him, locked away in the glass tower behind the deadly-spinning wheel.

How they hated each other, the Rider and the minstrel. It was a burning enmity played out amidst thorns and roses and buildings of white and gold, and if Gwion's harp was of ash-wood his will was forged of iron, set against the Dark with a passion the Old Ones could not match, least of all the hawk. For there was no passion in Merriman. At his heart he was as cold and strange and old as a far-off star; he was a distant beacon on a cliff, crowned with white flame.

They understood each other, the Rider and the hawk.

The crystal sword blazed, flickering with a fire so fierce the world seemed to stutter, and it was an agony to try and reach towards that brightness against the Signs held up high in too many human hands. The force of them was palpable, and it sickened him; his skin crawled with it. But he saw fear in the children's faces, and as his horse reared up with hooves that could strike out sparks against the air itself, he knew at last what it was, to feel hope. Hope was the bursting of tiny buds into blossoming silver, and his fingers could almost reach them, almost -

But the crystal sword came down, down, shearing the stem in a single sharp stroke -

And it was over.

When he fell, it was with a smile, and it felt like falling asleep.