The Master’s Torment
Poor Moranet, son of the king, spared by the wicked hand of the Queen, falsified the wrongs with weariless perseverance, even in the face of death. Before his demise, life handed him a series of unfortunate hardships that drove the dagger of hopelessness deeper and deeper, until all that remained was pure hatred and anguish. A death absorbed by such raw emotion could blind the deceased, keeping the spirit bound in our world, and the prince of Scyrfelt differed not the slightest.
The mark she left behind seethed painfully upon his flesh in a throbbing discoloration. He should not have ignored her command. After all, the highest order in the house demanded respect for her authority; otherwise, she would exemplify how limitless her authority was. The queen of the castle, his mother, exhibited compassion in the absence of abuse. Rarely did she ever give anyone a friendly expression, and the walls whispered of malicious intent for the Lord of the Castle, the distant cousins, and even her son, Moranet. There were moments where she dragged guests into the stockades to treat them like disobedient slaves that broke their last command, all the while laughing with a voice that intensified the torture. Reason would often need to be present, but her logic knew no bounds for reason, instead she acted merely on response to a threat only she seemed concerned about, while roaring the King’s command.
Moranet stood in the hallway leaning his back against a wall. A chilling breeze rolled in from the windows, embracing him in a wrath of shivers. Her command resonated with a cold touch, for she desired for him to follow suit with the King’s master plan. With only a few details, the plan appeared rather indifferent to humanity, shattering the idea of hospitality even further; nevertheless, the command must be followed.
Through the expansive gallery he walked, and with each step his resistance towards the very idea morphed into an icy indifference. His steps echoed off the glamorous walls, which were decorated with fabulous paintings and pieces of polished armor. He paused before a small side door with fingers wrapped around the handle. The servants that walked by were ever curious, some with concern, others with fear, while a small portion with knowledge of why he hesitated. Moranet pushed on the door and stepped down into the shallow waters of the Queen’s interior Garden. The moisture soaked into his boots, but he gave no acknowledgment.
The overgrowth of vines and other greenery masked the walls, dominating the hard rough stone with intrusive branches and roots. Roses layered a corner all to themselves, while lilies at another, but in between lay a hybrid of different flowers; combining the beautiful with the carnivorous, producing a man-eating plant that attract the curious hand. However, the charm faded into a dull, brownish, and grey hue that expressed the malnourishment it had endured. Just as the Queen predicted, her prized creation suffered because of a lack of attention. The servants have been slacking, and refused to lure any more villagers for feeding what they considered a monstrosity.
Moranet demanded the gardener to come closer with hand ready to punish for any refusal. “This Hydra, why does it look ill, as if it hadn’t been fed for weeks?”
Cowardly, the grey, wrinkly, and cock-eyed man lumped a few feet, while dropping the tool he had in hand. He feared the splash of the water would be the last of such noise that would act as prolog to his death. “Oh, Sir Moranet, please spare my neglect, for it was only done in your respect.”
“This plant is dear to the Queen and it is in a state that could no longer prove useful. How, you shivering disgrace, could that be respectful?”
“Your mind echoes with her command, but not without resistance. I only ask that you see reason, and allow this to go ignored. The kingdom will thank you, I’m sure of it,” said the Gardener, in a stronger voice, followed by an ominous laughter. After choking on his disrespectful laughter, the Gardener lowered his frayed hat and reached into the water for his tool.
“If you only knew the half of it. Torment has been accompanying me for way too long, and the only way to make peace with it is to befriend it. Do as she orders and feed the Hydra.”
“Yes, but only if we could lure more villagers. They have gotten wise on us, and noticed that none have ever returned,” said the Gardener, with a wicked smile.
“Hold your tongue, and acknowledge that she pays you well for your service.”
“Pay well does she? Only if one values life over anything else, but life can hardly even get you scraps of moldy bread,” said the Gardener, in a mocking tone. “Her reign will fester and rot before another villager steps into her lair.”
Moranet, without a moment of notice, grabbed the Gardener by his robe, and threw him against the closed mouth of the plant. The sudden thud shattered the frail man’s competence, but as his fingers pressed against the soft, mushy surface, he realized his weight kept him safe. However, the conductor of his demise noticed the element of safety, and Moranet gave with a cold delivery of steel an inviting taste of blood for the plant to enjoy. The first drops fell from the rim of the plant’s wicked jaw, and the taste invoked a surge of life into the once dying Hydra; Moranet made sure that the beast got its food.
The jaws slammed on the prey, tearing into flesh, snapping bones, and consumed the body, but Moranet couldn’t watch without the torment of the faintest whisper. Like a voice echoed in a long empty hall that spanned the distance of many miles, the clarity of its words vibrated into a distorted chorus, but the message was obvious, and it found resonance in his heart. Though the prey was a mere useless peasant, it was a reminder of the horrific deeds he had endured thus far. Contrary, in exchange for her respect, anything was at stake, and he wouldn’t have handled it any differently, for it was her name that was spat upon by a loathsome Gardener. Nevertheless, such admiration doesn’t spare one from the seeping touch of guilt, overtime a callous develops, but even hardened skin can be broken.
Ignoring the chorus of shame, Sir Moranet left the shallow pools of the grand garden, which thrived within extensive networks throughout the castle, allowing the Hydra reach whenever intruders dared to enter. Unfortunately, it would take years for the plant to recover from the mistreatment it had received, unless they marched a village load of sacrifices. Upon returning to the throne room to bask in the Queen’s presence, a wonderful, mystical, and sweet scent wafted from the tall gallery of windows, which overlooked a forest with a wonderful view of a waterfall. Her charmed incense glowed with amber tips, while a trail of smoke circulated in the air, gently passing by, and the particles teased with a bliss that played inversion to her voice. She called for him, but she sat in the king’s throne facing the balcony, which basked in the golden rays of the high noon sun.
“I can see why your father despises you, denying you of your rightful throne,” said the Queen, in a soft, but vibrant tone imbued with morbid tranquility. “You were expected several minutes ago. Why so late?”
Sir Moranet bowed, and like Atlas, he bore a world of pressure. He couldn’t release his gaze from the floor, and he tried as hard as he could to summon the will to at least look at her, but nothing was there. Being already emotionally defeated, the young prince could only hope that the Queen didn’t hear anything too troubling to warrant further abuse; with her the threshold was in constant flux. Silence trailed her question, and it festered into awkwardness. Moranet couldn’t speak without swallowing, but his throat felt like a barren wasteland.
“Pride was never your strong suit. I have seen fresh recruited squires with more courage than you. But I suppose that should be expected, you are your father’s son, and like the others you are weak. Too weak to spread the word of the King, and you have only so much to your advantage,” said the Queen, her voice building with dominance. “Your one winning quality is your loyalty, but I have heard a rumor today that hurts me, and any pain I feel is felt by all of those around me.”
Somewhere, somehow, the will to speak rose from within, and Sir Moranet spoke with insecurity, “I assure you, my Queen, that anything you have heard pales to the example I made in your name.”
“Hesitance to fulfill an order tells me that you are not in agreement with what the King dears most. I know you killed the Gardener in defense of my name, but you hesitated to fulfill what is best for the Kingdom. So I find your loyalty in question. Perhaps you are too distracted, I know of someone you have been seeing lately, a woman within these walls that you have hidden from me. She distracts you from fulfilling the King’s will.”
The prince’s heart fell into an abyss never thought imaginable as if his mother’s lurking question could tug upon it. The dread merely warned of what evil she could manifest, and knowing full well of her inability to even consider negotiating, whatever she said he had to do. He was frozen in fear, all the while hoping to God that she wouldn’t destroy another life that was dear to him.
“As I understand it, you two are planning to wed, but you could never have my approval if I fear she corrupts you. However, there is a greater evil lurking about. Sir Helbrant plans on secreting his notorious lies into the minds of our villagers. And being that common folk are much like sheep, they could easily be herded into wanting to bring destruction on their very own righteous King.”
“Please, mother, allow me to slay this pathetic excuse of a knight,” said Moranet, in a bold tone.
“I sense you want to ask of me something in return, but you shouldn’t doubt my judgment. Whereas the King would judge your future wife to death, I would allow you to have more nights with her,” she said, in a rare, but maternal tone. She rose from the depths of the throne and stepped into the layering sun light, which shone from the opposite direction, trailing her frame with a golden aura. Her hands wrapped around the glow of burning incense. The loose garment of her robe draped off of her slender arms, while a faint titian hue dimly illuminated the ends of the sleeves. “Bring me his head, and I’ll make sure your father does nothing to her. Otherwise, he may have me slay her in front of you.”
Moranet felt as if an energizing jolt vibrated throughout his body, releasing him from the fear in exchange for a soothing, rejuvenating aura of calm. He obtained her recognition, even though he desired her recognition and respect, respect was too much to wish for as of yet. The prince could only hope that fulfilling this quest would grant him into the inner circle of his mother’s trust, which he and his love would both benefit from.
The bright of the mid-day sun dimmed to a spectrum of orange values as the sun burrowed behind the mountains. The calming wind of the day gave into a windy frenzy, as if the gentle touches of before were the build for something worse. Moranet and a few knights stormed into town on their steeds after receiving word of Helbrant’s location; they surrounded the pub with weapons drawn, some wet with blood in order to make their intent known. Upon entrance of the pub, Moranet, backed by two knights, expected an air of fear to embrace them, but the eyes of those around them spoke of an inversion of the norm. Instead of fleeing for their lives, begging for mercy, and kissing his feet for shreds of respect the villagers sat with newfound confidence, which they wore with weary, sweat-drenched skin. The lies that flowed out from Helbrant’s mouth ran as fluid as wine, filling their cups with a sweet, inviting aroma, intoxicating them on the very sip with its potent content.
“I come by the King’s command, I hope you all find value in your lives,” declared Sir Moranet.
“The command you follow is all part of her wicked game. Your mother speaks for a king that may not exist any more. Why do you allow yourself to be her fool,” said Helbrant, not concerned by the number of drawn swords that closed in little by little with every suggestive word.
“I see that you have manipulated the minds of these people, but their blunt knives, and farming tools could never scratch our armor. I suggest you admit to the crime! That you spread lies about the king and his rule,” said Moranet, with a hand on hilt, ready for the slaughter.
“The only thing I will admit to, is that it pains me to see how much wrong that wretched woman has done. The Queen is the voice behind the commands you obey, and the lives you take mean nothing to her. The dead collect as if to build a morbid stairwell of rot, so that she can reach even a new level of power. She claims to believe in our Holy Lord, but her ways of manipulating mirror the craftiness of those wretched pagans.”
“Calling the Queen a witch, are you? This treason could only be paid with your head,” said Moranet, smirking at his target, while his drawn blade glistened in the wavering candlelight. “You have no army to come to your defense. There is no one for you to call too. Why don’t you shake with fear?”
“These people will forever question the leadership. The renegade seed has already been planted, and the only way to destroy what I have done would be to eradicate everyone, but then such an example could be used in my favor if my preaching lives on, and I know it will. The Queen’s rule is over. You can count my words on that one, cousin.”
Moranet knocked over the table; the clustering clatter of the bronze dishes bolstered the harsh sound of steel blades biting at one another. The upturned candles gave life to an upset flame that quickly devoured the dry wood of the furnishings, growing into a searing blaze. The blood of the opposing villagers poured onto the ground, staining the crude wool rugs, and those that fled found their demise in a tiresome death. Moranet’s blade touched the flesh of Helbrant’s neck, and the cold steel mirrored his indifference. The Queen’s promise gripped him firmly, squeezing the little doubt he had, rendering the grief into an uprising fury. For the sake of his future wife, and the protection of the King’s rule, Helbrant must die.
“Your head will be placed in shame before your body is made cold, but in the afterlife may you look upon the glory you almost destroyed. With your death I can take my wife, restore order to this shattered kingdom, and rule as the rightful king I am. Good-bye, Cousin,” said Moranet. The narrow strip of his blade sliced into the skin, and streaming blood smeared upon the steel as it dug deeper. After several whacks the head was finally free from the body, and Moranet and his knights left the pub, while the fire continued to consume in a hardly controllable growth. Let the villagers struggle for their own safety, and let that be an example of how things would be without their precious Queen to care for their weakened King.
After retiring his steed for the night, Moranet walked towards the throne room, but a curious whispered caught his attention. Two female servants, dressed in dirty robes, conversed about the well being of the King like usual, but a dreaded word was muttered that demanded to be checked.
“Your mouth better not be as foul as your face, you hideous, dirty swine, for any joke of this kind would mean instant death. A death you would not enjoy,” muttered the prince. He enclosed the two into the corner with an extending arm, while his other hand held onto the lifeless head.
“I speak only what the others have told me. The king is dead,” she said, in a whimpering voice.
“By whose hand and you better not hesitate.”
“His life was taken by the means of poison, but the Queen doesn’t believe it, she would have us believe it was the will of the Almighty,” she coward away, and exploited a flaw in Moranet’s towering presence with the other following close behind. The prince wanted to stop them, but the opportunity fled too soon for him to realize. Moranet kept his doubt at bay, which lingered with an endangered presence, as his focus narrowed in favor of fulfilling the king’s command.
An ominous darkness restricted the faint light of the distant glowing amber, while the Queen’s crying echoed faintly off the towering walls of the enormous chamber. The chorus of sorrow resonated with an eerie, glow that hovered near the threshold to the King’s chamber, and though the irregular sound beckoned the prince to come closer, the touch of sadness that once vibrantly sounded ceased to be. Instead of a cry of despair, she cried with a subtle, sadistic laughter that bestowed upon Moranet a greater sense of urgency. The preservation of the Queen’s delivery of the King’s command urged him to storm into the room, but what he saw dropped him to his knees. His father had already lost the little color of life he had left, and sitting upon his corpse was mother. Tears of joy ran down her face, and they licked the cold, soft flesh of the king. With a free hand she traced the contours of his face like a passionate lover would do.
“Suffering all those years, being made silent while playing nice to your boyish ways. You have finally given me something worthwhile,” she whispered into the dead king’s ear.
“Mother, I’ve returned with his head,” said Moranet, cautious if he should continue. “Please, tell me that death of father doesn’t please you this way.”
“Don’t worry, my precious little boy, you have done a number of great wonders,” said the Queen, in a charming voice contaminated by questionable intent. “Your deeds bring security to my command, and preserving my rule is your sole purpose.”
“I thank you, mother, for your respect, but shouldn’t I have a spot on the throne,” said Moranet, in a daring voice.
“Of course you will, but as slave to my desires. You will act as the hammer that crushes all of those that refuse my rule.”
“Is it true you poisoned father,” asked Moranet.
“Why would you ever accuse me of such treason? Your father died by the will of the Lord, don’t ever ask again. Please, give me the head and go off to your future wife,” said the Queen. Moranet, riddled by cowardice, found himself a puppet to her command, and once again he left her presence feeling a sense of reward and confusion. However, the confusion faded upon thought of Elizabeth. The prince ran to his chambers, climbing the spiral stairwell without caving into fatigue. He plowed through his door with lusty desire, but found his love to be still on his return. Her naked body, stretched along the floorboard, was illuminated by a dim yellow tint that waned from the candles. Dried tears stained her cheeks, while she appeared lost in a dream.
“What horror,” cried Moranet. “Could it be that my mother has wrong me to the point of nothing, surely she couldn’t be as mad as my cousin claimed her to be.”
“Oh, my weak son, how it must be a heavy load to be you,” said the Queen, who stood behind him. How she got to his room so fast he did not know, yet his fear shifted to the ornate dagger she held in her hand. “She isn’t dead, not yet anyway.”
“Everything that was done was done not for him, but for you. All of it was for you! It was never father, but you,” cried Moranet, while huddled over his love. She blinked to the touch of his cold tears, and spoke briefly of his name. “What did you do to her,” he yelled.
“You pathetic child, love dilutes you to think so low of your own mother. Never can this be allowed without the spent of blood,” declared the Queen, while inflicting a nasty gash into her son’s arm. “You will prove yourself loyal to me! Use the knife beside her and kill her.”
Moranet shivered at the thought, and though he harbored loathsome thoughts towards his master, the will to disobey sounded like a whisper in comparison. With a nervous hand he grabbed the tiny knife, which bore a series of bloodstones along the handle, and an old symbol of power used by those long passed. He paused with the point of the blade longing for penetration, and his hesitation bought him another painful lick of the Queen’s fury. With sudden flight, the prince dashed out of harm’s way and stood resistant to his mother’s command.
“You will not get away with this evil. Once the word gets out that you poisoned the king, your time will be short,” said Moranet, right before running to the window, shouting out the cruelty of her evil deed.
The Queen pulled her son away from the window, knocking him onto his knees, forcing his head down with her blade resting at the back of his neck. She controlled him completely, pulling him closer to his naked wife to be.
“If you value your life, take the knife and stab it deep into your wretched whore,” ordered the Queen, the teeth of her blade dug into his skin. Moranet took the ritual knife and raised his hand into the air. The slow, torturous slicing of his flesh motivated him beyond what love could counter, and his clinched fist was wet with his lover’s blood.
“The ritual is nearly complete, and you shall feel overcome by anguish when you question me,” said the Queen. “You will protect my rule, and keep the invaders out from my kingdom.”
“Never,” shouted Moranet. The prince sobbed, and anger soared through his blood, building up into a rage that questioned her control.
“Not alive you won’t, but in death you will. Your soul shall be bound to this castle, defending it against those that I despise,” said the Queen. Moranet broke out of her grip, but received a fatal blow that would bleed him out in a paralyzing state. The Queen stepped over the corpse and demanded that they be tossed into the depths of her gardens so that the blood could enrich her horrors.
In the chaotic void of darkness, where not even the faintest shred of light could penetrate, and yet a grayish demeanor fell upon the surfaces of many things like a silky vale flapping in the wind, waning in and out of sight without much notice. Only this dull touch of detail could direct him, for everything else hid behind a never moving wall of night. While the subtle touch of grey embraced the shapes of people and objects, a distant, sad, and yet melodic chorus of harps played from an undetectable location. Surrounding him in a sea of mystifying sound, a series of angelic voices sung in a foreign tongue. Though the composition grew with instrumental inclusions, the volume decreased below the decibel of a faint whisper. Only when he concentrated could he hear it, but never long enough to indicate whether madness had stricken him delirious for a song that never existed. An oily smear of neutral tones invaded the walls of emptiness, providing a limited sight that would seem wonderful to the blind and yet a curse to others.
Time seemed to no longer pass; he stood in a forever-prolonged minute, while waiting for an answer to a question he kept forgetting he asked. Memory passed through him like a circling freight train, roaring through with images of the things that he could faintly remember–too fast to be remembered. What kept him wanting to catch his forgotten memories was the intoxicating anger that flowed around him as if it gushed from a hot spring that could never tire. He sought for the pain, misery, and fear of those that he could only faintly sense, but he couldn’t find as to why. The only substantial thing he could remember was his name, Moranet.
About the story: I wrote this years ago after re-visiting Arthurian literature and wanted to use a folklore narrative to tell a story of betrayal that mocks spoiled prince and wicked mother tropes.