In the lands to the west, there was once a kingdom beholden to a king with the highest of standards. His life’s obsession was to give birth to the perfect heir, who would build the kingdom into an empire that was the envy of the world.
In his quest for such a child, he would spare no expense, respect no law and honour no custom. He scoured the land for the perfect wife and mother, seizing terrified daughters, mortified wives and horrified maidens for his purpose. But none could meet the perfection that he sought. Worse still, he discarded these women and their children like bits of gristle from his empty plate. Some were thrown into the street, some drowned, some beheaded and some were simply left to die in the wilderness.
One day he even took an infamous witch by force as his concubine. When he was done with her and her child, he then had her charged for witchcraft and she drowned on a dunking stool, used to prove her guilt.
In his dismay, he consulted his wisest advisers. He demanded they tell him what more he could do to finally bare a worthy heir and safeguard the future of his throne.
There was an awkward silence as his counsel exchanged uncomfortable glances. As the king’s impatience grew, one member finally spoke up:
“Sire, there is but one person in the kingdom who can aid us in our mission…”
“Yes?! Go on!”
“A wizard who lives in the woods outside the castle sire. The people say that he is the greatest wizard in all the land and that he is known as the most honest man in the west…”
There was a pause as the adviser took a deep breath.
“…but the woman that he loved was recently drowned, most justly of course your majesty…as a witch.”
“Was she his wife?” The king responded bluntly.
“No sire, in this case the law was not broken. It seems that witches and wizards do not marry, for they value freedom more than anything else.”
The king thought deeply upon this, and he travelled into the woods accompanied by his knights to meet this wizard face-to-face.
When the king arrived, the wizard was already picking herbs from his garden in preparation for the visit.
“Great wizard, if you are as wise as people say you are then you know why I have come…”
Without looking up from his garden the wizard nodded.
“…And you know what I can do to you if you do not do for me what I bid you.”
Again, the wizard nodded.
As he turned around, he stared the king in the eye and there was a moment of great tension as the king’s knights waited for what was to happen.
“Great king,” the wizard said, “I will make you a potion that will give this kingdom, that I love with all my heart, a perfect successor.”
The king stared back suspiciously. The wizard continued:
“If you ask the people sire, they will tell you; that I am a wizard who cannot tell a lie.”
As the king waited, the wizard returned to his cottage and mixed up a potion. It was concocted of things that many had never seen and that none would like the taste of.
When he had finished, he handed the potion to the king and looked on at him expectantly.
The king hesitated.
“If you do not trust me sire, then let me drink it as proof that it is not poison.”
The king laughed.
“I am sure you would be willing to die in order to thwart me wizard. So your offer will not stand.”
“Perhaps one of your good knights can taste it sire, so that you can be sure that it can be trusted?”
Again, the king refused.
“You could have delayed the effects of the poison wizard, and I do not trust that you would spare the lives of my men to have your revenge.”
The wizard considered this for a moment.
“A compromise then. I will allow you to test the potion on my cat; the creature I love more than any other still alive in the world.”
The king became angry.
“You mock me wizard! And I am sure that you would sacrifice even your own cat to be rid of me.”
The situation vexed the monarch greatly. He could not bring himself to kill the man who could give him his heart’s desire. Nor could he drink a potion that he was sure would be his downfall.
Unsure of what to do the king had the wizard locked in the castle dungeon and kept the potion in his pocket, just in case he changed his mind.
Many years went by and the king continued to agonise over the potion. Each time he took a new woman and had a new child, their imperfections led him back to the potion in his pocket; the one that that might release him from his plight.
More years passed.
Still the king would not nominate an heir. Still he would not take the potion.
His barons and allies began to lose patience as the king reached an age when siring more children became less likely. And though they pleaded with their leader, they could not persuade him to make a decision.
Eventually, time, as it so often does, ran out. His allies turned against the king and they formed an army to take the crown from him by force.
Still the king would not nominate an heir.
In his desperation, and with his enemies at the gates, the king finally visited the wizard in his dungeon and reluctantly agreed to let the wizard prove that the potion was not poison.
The wizard smiled, then he downed the entire bottle in one gulp.
The king sighed, almost with relief.
“Well?” asked the king, “Is it poison?”
“Of course.” The wizard replied, as he breathed his final breaths.
“So much for your famous honesty, great wizard!”
The wizard laughed. Then he coughed. Then he laughed again.
“I always tell the truth,” he said, “for the potion has punished you far more than anything else ever could have, and any heir that your enemies choose will be the perfect heir for the kingdom!”