Let me tell you of the Hollow Witches of Duscanade and how they conspired to put a man on the throne.
Inside most people is a hole. A kind of aching emptiness that never goes away. It yearns to be filled, so that the ache will subside to a dull throb mayhaps even stop, even if just for a little while. Exactly what fits into that empty slot varies from person to person. Sometimes we fill it with people, other times with love, oft as not we gram the void with money and material things. With some of these it’s a case of square peg-round hole, it just won’t fit, no matter how hard you try to ram it in; with others it’s like dropping a single dried pea into a jam-jar, just rattling around, making things more annoying than they were before.
But the Witches have a far greater emptiness within them, where we have but a hole, they have a great yawning chasm that could swallow the sun. It that has consumed them to the point where it goes beyond a slight influence on act and thought, it defines their very existence. They become nothing more than a vessel for an endless hunger, a hunger which can only be sated by the worst things of the world.
They are a psychic parasite, they are drawn to those similar to, but lesser than, themselves those who seek to fill their hole by means of greed and avarice, by revenge and hate, by malice and pain. The witches help these people. They see their dreams and desires fulfilled. Then they feast upon the joy and contentment that it should bring, siphoning it off into themselves and lapping up the suffering and misery that befalls others as the result of their target’s actions. The hapless victims remain empty, but the witches slake their soul thirst.
But other times they simply happen across a good man who is easily led astray. The corrupted always make for the best eating. One such man was Chancellor Andreas Caladax, but history simply remembers him as Caladax the Red.
As a child he had always been close to Jarnasxa, when she ascended to the throne it only seemed fitting that he be drafted into the Privy Council. It’s just what happened to those of noble birth, and a nascent monarch always has use for people they can trust. For years he served with unwavering loyalty, dependable, supportive, wise; all those wonderful things that monarchs like to have around.
But there was a slight snag; a reef hidden just below the water, the sort of thing which seems perfectly innocuous right up until the point it tears a hole right through your hull. Caladax had always harboured silent desires to one day be deemed worthy enough of becoming the Queen’s consort. But when Jarnasxa finally did choose a consort, it was not him. And it ate away at him. Spurned, for another? Was he so repugnant? Had he not always been there? Was he not reliable? Was he not loyal to her and her alone?
That was when the whispers started. Whispers in his ear, in the dark of night. The Witches of Duscanade poured their poison into his mind and did lay the foundations of their design.
It would have been so very easy for them to cajole him into a quick and messy regicide. But the witches are patient, and they had far bigger plans for Caladax.
The years rolled by, the Queen bore a son. Everyone was happy, save Caladax. The resentment festered within him, becoming anger, then hate, then an icy rage that blinds all reason.
The Royal Consort was found a stone’s throw from the burnt out wreckage of his carriage. All his guards slain and his body riddled with arrows.
“Bandits” they said.
“The roads can be so dangerous at this time of year” they said.
The consort’s presence had of late clouded the queen’s judgement, distracting her from the affairs of the kingdom.
His death was a mercy. It was for the best.
The years rolled by, the heir grew older, the Queen grew older and Caladax’s hate was still not quenched. Every sight of the Queen and her son, every moment of their happiness burned him, a constant reminder of that fateful slight. Then the whispers came again.
How hard would it be to make her fall? To make it look like an accident? Fresh rain on weathered stone make for unsure footing, all that’s needed is a gentle push. They found her body the next day. At the foot of the north-west wall, neck broken.
“The burdens of state were too much” they said.
“Still mourning the loss of her lover” they said.
“She wasn’t paying attention” they said. “Blinded by grief” they said.
She could no longer tend to the rigours and demands of her station, the kingdom would surely suffer in time.
Her death was a mercy. It was for the best.
The death of the Queen did not slake the thirst of Caladax’s burgeoning mad hate. What had happened in the past had still happened, there was no changing that.
The Queen’s son and heir was barely even seven years old. Young, frail and sickly as he was, he couldn’t rule himself and the queen had no close relatives to share the burden of the crown. It was obvious who should act as Regent.
“It’s obvious who should be Regent” they said.
“Good old Caladax!” they said.
“He’s a proper rock he is.” they said.
“He was always there for the Queen” they said.
So Caladax ascended to the august and exalted position of Regent.
The years rolled by, the heir grew older, Caladax grew madder. Every glance at his ward a sharp and burning reminder of all that had gone before. And once again the whispers came in the darkest depths of night.
How hard would it be to make the sickly child fall ill and die? A little poison here, a little poison there. Just another malady, only this one won’t quite go away. No one expected him to live long, nothing to look forward to but a life of pain and sickness, coughs and aches, fevers and spasms. As the icy trade winds blew in off the sea, a night of vomiting blood, of sweats and burning skin. His still and pallid body found wracked and contorted as the first rays of sunlight trickled through the window.
His death was a mercy. It was for the best.
With no heir to the throne who else could take over but the Regent? So unwavering in his loyalty, so staunch in his devotion.
“He’s never sought power” they said.
“He’s always had the kingdom’s best interests at heart” they said.
“He’ll see us right” they said.
“It’ll be a new age” they said.
Barely a decade after the witches planted their ideas in his mind, he became King Andreas; third of his name.
The years rolled by, all that rage and hate in Caladax’s black heart began to dull and cool. Perhaps now he could put it all behind him. He could move forward. He could run the country right. It would be glorious!
But there’s always a few doubters. Those who didn’t quite believe the tales they were told. Those who thought they could see into Caladax’s telltale heart and the darkness therein; threats to the new regime. It would have meant instability, uncertainty, perhaps even civil war. The kingdom would have suffered. So each and every one of the doubters met a quick and messy end.
Their deaths were a mercy. It was for the best.
And so the witches began to feast…
The years rolled by. Caladax grew paranoid and fearful. If even but a few had guessed at the truth, there would be others. He saw assassins in every shadow, traitors in every hall, dissent in every village, subversion in every town. A wise King deals with threats early, crushes conspiracies before they flower and pulls treason up at its very roots. The cloisters of the palace ran red with blood.
And the witches feasted…
When he purged the lower city with sword and spear. When he burnt the hinterlands and all who dwelt there. When he drove his people into the sea and watched them drown and be dashed upon the rocks.
The witches feasted. The glut! Oh how they feasted…
Then they were full and went back to their slumber.
Caladax was left alone. Left without the subtle magics that had shielded him and the sly charms which had carried him the victory. Left alone with only his memories and his madness and the blood on his hands. And a very angry populace.
And so ended Caladax the Red – King Andreas; third of his name. No one ever remembers that part now, there hasn’t been an Andreas since.