49. Madness and Cruelty

“You see,” Lord Osdath goes on, “many of those who of old sought to gain the Power of the Unseen did so in ways that inflicted grievous hurt on others, some through ill chance or recklessness, others through malevolent design. The Penitent King was among those who in the end turned to wickedness.

“At first his searching brought little harm to anyone. He immersed himself in ancient books and scriptures, spending days and nights at a time in prayer and contemplation. His people loved him well, and admired his piety and devotion. Philosopher king many named him. Some even deemed him a holy man. His queen was foremost among his followers, and was often seen kneeling beside her lord as the two of them spent days in quiet meditation. But after a time she noticed a change in his demeanor, and found him often desiring solitude in his pursuits, where before he had ever wished for her company. Though the king was becoming more and more withdrawn and secretive, the queen nevertheless learned much of what occupied him. It was not long before she realized that a madness had taken hold in her husband.

“For the king had grown bitter and vexed with the fruitlessness of his efforts. A black rage smoldered within his soul against the Unseen powers that, so he believed, withheld from him out of jealousy that which he sought. And his quest for enlightenment, which had been pure and virtuous in the beginning, became an evil desire to wrest from the Unseen the knowledge he thought would make him a king not only of his world, but of the spirit realm as well. His soul was poisoned by the lust for eternal life, and he hungered for dominion not only over all beings that walked the earth, but over those that walk unseen, as well, until all the cosmos should do his bidding and he become no less than a god.

“But how to breach the barrier that separated him from his goal? He had prayed, he had begged, he had imbibed mystic potions to transport his soul; he even had, unbeknownst to his queen, invoked what dark powers men imagined to exist. All to no avail! Perhaps that last step was the one that carried him over the threshold between zeal and folly, and swept him onto a path of terrible reasoning. For the king in his madness resolved that since pious questing and meek entreaty had failed to gain him his goal, cruelty must be the key to his cosmic kingdom! And what cruelty could be blacker than the suffering and torment of innocents, and viler than that inflicted by their own kin? And so he devised a ritual of abominable sacrifice that he believed would break down the gates that barred him from the world beyond and all its imagined power.

“I will not recount to you the abhorrent desecration the king’s madness led him to inflict on those that above all others deserved his love, his kindness, and his protection. Such horrors are indeed not meant for ears so young as yours. It is enough for you to know that when the king’s vile design was carried out, his twelve children lay slaughtered about him, though their death was but a merciful release from hideous anguish.

“How great was his fury when he found that his foul trespass gained him nothing!”

“At this moment, when the sinful king stood raving amidst the blood and broken bodies of his own offspring, the queen found him. Long had she suspected that her zealous lord had turned to unholy pursuits, and when she found her children missing that day, she foreboded that something terrible was afoot. In vain she sought everywhere for them, until she at last remembered a long-abandoned fastness in the middle of a dark wood, where at times the king had sought solitude in the days when his quest was still that of a gentle mystic. Alone and in great haste she rode there, following the trail left by the king and the little riders that accompanied him. She arrived too late to save them.

“Yet so great was the queen’s purity and virtue that instead of cursing the murderer of her children, she sank to her knees amidst the carnage in the shadowed vaults of that crumbling dungeon and prayed for him. To the Powers of the Unseen she prayed, that they might forgive her husband’s folly and lift the veil of madness from his eyes that he might see the sinfulness of his errors, and repent.

“But the king mocked his wife’s pious words. So blind was he in his anger that it seemed to him that if he only added her lifeblood to that already spilled in that dark pit, perhaps his goal might yet be achieved. Even as he raised his blade to end the queen’s life, she offered no resistance, and made no effort to escape the blow, yet only continued her prayers on his behalf.

“Just as his arm was about to fall in the mortal strike, a great radiance dispelled the shadows of the dungeon, and stayed the king’s hand. His wife opened her eyes and addressed him, commanding him to lay down his sword, and calling him to penitence for his sins. But still the madness would not lift from the king’s mind. Again he raised his blade, and he laughed and named the queen a witch, saying that the light that filled the dungeon was naught but glamour and trickery, designed to save her wretched life and deprive him of his prize.

“The queen ignored his ravings and his threats, and rose to her feet. And as she rose, the bodies of the slain children stirred about her and rose with her.”

NEXT: The Hallowed Mother


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