Once, a King said to advisors, “I worry. I worry that my people don’t love me enough. What can I do?”
An advisor spoke thusly: “I know a great magician. If we bring her hence, surely she can solve thy problem.”
The King spoke his approval; and soon, the Sorceress was sought and found. She marched straight up the center of the Throne Room and said, “Your Highness, I have been appraised of thy needs, and I can give bring you the assistance you seek.”
They spoke briefly, and with little bargaining, as befits the nobility. The Sorceress requested quill, vellum, table, and within moments, she had sketched, from the iconographs upon the king’s Seal, the likeness of his Royal House.
She declined polite offers of refreshment, and went immediately into the town which stool just outside the Castle walls. With neither hurry nor waste of time, she sought the central square, and went to the first shopkeeper within. She shoved her drawing into his face, and said, “This is what you should fear.”
The Sorceress cast few spells. She was not one to expend energy needlessly; but she was diligent in her labors. She had finished each stall of the market square, and two taverns, by the time she decided to sleep. She took the best room, and therein fixed a drought composed of one-tenth of a part of angel’s tears, one-tenth a part water from a tributary of the river Lethe, and half a bottle of Rum. She drank down the potion and slept the sleep of the just.
It was in the afternoon of the second day when she first showed the sketch to someone recoiled from it, and her, as if her long robes were full of demons about to burst forth from confinement. After that, the spread was rapid. She awoke, the morning of the third day, to a pounding on her door. The Innkeeper shouted that he had seen her bearing the mark of Evil, and he would not have her in his Inn anymore.
Without pause, she deftly cast upon him the spell known to the Ancients as “Half-Empty Rum Bottle To The Side Of The Head”, and then he took a short nap while she, too, finished her rest. When she awoke, she noted that the Innkeeper had not only retreated from the room, but he had quietly cleared away the glass shards, and marked her bill as “Paid”. He had also fed and watered her horse, which was a lovely surprise, as she had not owned a horse prior to this time.
Astride her galliant stallion, she rode majestically back towards the Castle. She pondered her labors as they took the main road. All of the townsfolk seemed greatly afrighted—they took no notice of her, but scurried about, giving vent to both angry howls and assorted lamentations. Still, they were going about their work; that had not ceased.
For her part, she was a bit fatigued by her efforts, but not dearly so. She’d really only needed to talk for the first day, and even then, it was seldom that she’d needed to voice some hypothetical torture, injustice, supernatural linkage, unholy belief, or a hidden desire, on the part of the Crown, to bring about Doom, Damnation, or Destruction due to servitude to beings of inhuman myth.
But mostly, her conversations had been like the very first one, on the very first day.
“This is what you should fear,” she had said. The barmaid, who had seen much, replied, “Why?”
The Sorceress then cocked a formidable eyebrow and said, “Don’t you know?”
…and indeed, it turned out that the barmaid, now that she thought about it, had heard certain rumours…
And thus it was, almost every time. Who has not heard some complaint against each neighbor, each foe, each ruler? …or perhaps the complaint about the neighbor was really about the foe and vice-versa; it’s so hard to keep track…
There were fewer guards in the Castle this time, but those who remained were steadfast, prepared to sell their lives dearly, should need arise. Still, they recognized the Sorceress and respectfully stood back, as she entered the gates, and weaved her steady way through the various halls and, once more, into the Throne Room.
The King was bone-white of face. He was in both a rage and a terror. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” he thundered.
Now, the Sorceress knew many magical secrets outside the thing with the bottle; and she could likely have made mayhem, though the soldiers in that room were not few in number.
Instead, she replied,
“Your Majesty, you once feared that your people might not love you. Now you know they don’t love you, whether or not they ever did to begin with. And once you know the outcome of your fear, you can be free of it. If you so choose.”
The guards looked at each other. The King stared at her. There was an uneasy silence.
Then the King nodded his head. “That’s true,” he said. Already the color had begun to return to his cheeks. He nodded again, ruminatively. “It is not what I had hoped, but now I need never worry about losing their favor. I need care much less what I say and do.” His shoulders stood higher; you would almost think the burden being lifted from him was literal and not metaphorical.
He turned his head to one side. “But what if—”
A Sorceress is outside most social and political hierarchies. One seldom interrupts a sitting ruler; but one is, on average, probably not a Sorceress.
“What if they rebel? What if they go into an ill-considered war? What if they all throw themselves in the lake from despair? Your Highness, rule as best you can, and take such actions as you deem necessary. You might find any number of bad endings; but you might not. Their fear armors you completely against their love, but it is a reasonable shield against their disobedience as well. Be not an immoderate tyrant, or a great fool, and your chances are as good as any other King’s, and perhaps a little better. But do not go substitute a new fear for your old fears; that will do you little good.”
The King looked thoughtful. The Sorceress spoke, before he could: “And we can discuss your concerns and thoughts at great length, over some of the most ancient wines in your cellar, at the great Royal Banquet this evening.”
At this, the King tilted his head. “Royal Banquet?”
“Surely you were not going to be so rude as to send me forth on my labors unfed.”
“But Royal Banquets are saved for holidays and great affairs of state. I do not begrudge you your due, mage, but they are expensive, and besides, what reason shall I give to…”
“…to whom, exactly, my Lord?” she replied.
Again there was silence.
“I can’t plunder the treasury altogether,” said the King.
“Nor would I ask you to do so,” she said. “But you can eat, drink, and make merry. You should not hold a banquet every night; why, you would run out of oxen and vegetables, the cooks would go on strike, and you’d run out of the money you need to maintain your Kingdom, and then they’d have a good reason to brave your guards and seek your head. But tonight is a special night. You should celebrate, and besides, you should break out the good stuff for your august guest, that renowned occult expert who is myself. You do want me leaving happy tomorrow, don’t you?”
A note of alarm entered the voice of the monarch. “I—you—er, I have heard it is the aim of certain spellcasters to practice the arts of love in such a way as to drain away the spirits from those with whom they engage in intimacy.”
“I wouldn’t know,” replied the Sorceress. “I find the Dark Arts infinitely more rewarding than the arts of love, and the only spirits I plan to drain are contained in bottles.”
“O thank the Gods, we’re on the same page!” said the King. He clapped his hands. “Tonight! Banquet! All the liquor you can steal, all the leftovers you can take home, and everyone in the castle’s invited. Go make it happen!”
The Advisors Royal, as well as the assorted hangers-on, wandering bards, poets, servants, and pretty much everyone who didn’t have the job of staying in the room holding a pike, ran off with assorted shouts of joy, some to the kitchens, some to the wine-cellars.
The King reached stealthily beneath the throne and came up with a flask of prodigious size. He uncorked it and sniffed with a certain delicate ecstasy. “This, you gotta try,” he said. He took a long, healthy swig, and then handed it to the first guard on his left. “Go ahead, have a drink, and then pass it on.”
“Sire…my Liege…I’m on duty,” protested the soldier.
The King gestured towards the window. No-one was in the courtyard, save for a lone blacksmith, patiently finishing his day’s tasks. Everyone was either avoiding the Castle like the plague, or preparing for an impromptu, but massive, feast.
Now it was the guard’s turn to nod, and even—despite the dignity of his position—to smile. Likewise it was his turn to raise high the flask.
It was going to be a good night.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities and create things. Every year, I put on Evil Expo, the Greatest Place in the World to be a Villain. I also write a lot of fantasy and science fiction.. You can get most of my books right here. Go ahead, pre-order “I HATE Your Prophecy“. It may make you into a bad person, but I can live with that.