Once upon a time, there was a king. A king whose country was scrambling up the chain link fence between unrest and revolution. A king whose subjects ranted about him as they eyed armories.
“He’s a tyrant!”
“Something should be done!”
He was a king so desperate to save his throne, to save his life, that he went to the Witch and made a deal. The Witch was a trickster, the king was a fool.
“No man can harm you now.”
The king was stabbed by a kitchen maid a week later.
Once upon a time, there was a queen. A queen who had taken her throne by blood and would spill more blood to keep it. A queen who was considered illegitimate by her people, a queen who nobles muttered about behind her back.
“She’s low born!”
“She’s a murderess!”
“Something must be done!”
So the queen went to the Witch and made a deal. Smarter than her predecessor. Not smart enough.
“You cannot be harmed by man or woman.”
Her fourteen-year-old second cousin put hemlock in her wine.
Once upon a time, there was a king. A child ruler who relied heavily on his advisors until he stopped listening to anyone. And he could have been a worse king, and he certainly could have been better, and once he put them out of power, his advisors began to plot.
“He’s a child!”
“Something will be done!”
Determined to learn from the failures of his predecessors, the boy went to the Witch with careful words.
The Witch just smiled. “Fine. No man, woman, or child can harm you now.”
The King went home, secure. His enemies sent assassin after assassin, but none succeeded. Potential usurpers looked far and wide but failed time and time again.
Then one night the king awoke to a shadow in his bedchamber.
“You can’t kill me! I can’t be harmed by men, women, or children.”
“I am none of those.”
“What are you?”
“I’m an assassin.”
“What’s in your pants?”
And so the king died.
Once upon a time, an assassin went home with their gold, and the ex-king’s chief advisor took the throne. She swore she wouldn’t suffer the same fate as the monarchs before her. She became paranoid. The slightest whisper echoed in her head until it became a roar. Anyone who spoke against her was executed. She was volatile. She was hated. Sure that her doom lurked behind every pillar and in every corner, assuring herself she would succeed where others had failed, the queen went to the Witch.
The Witch always liked a challenge, but the constant turnover was beginning to grate on her. Just slightly. She thought longingly of retirement. But not yet.
“Take comfort, queen. No one can harm you.”
The queen went home, soothed. For a while. And then her paranoia came creeping back like a rose bush after pruning. She trusted no one, hated everyone, made thorny war against anyone coming across her path.
A mob gathered in the square, then marched to the palace, joined even by the queen’s own guards. Twenty people claimed credit for her death, no individual was correct. No one could kill the queen. That was a job for the many.
Once upon a time, a king was chosen by the people, and all was well.
And then it wasn’t.
What is it they say about absolute power?
The king became a tyrant, refused to abdicate when his subjects demanded he that step down. Plots against him were put on the stove to simmer. He could have, should have, resigned.
Instead, the king went to the Witch.
“Make me immortal.”
The Witch just looked at him. “No.”
“I can’t. I can help you cheat death, not avoid it entirely.” I can give you enough rope to hang yourself, she thought but didn’t say.
“Oh. Let me think.”
The king thought. He reasoned with himself. His chose his words carefully.
The Witch was too tired to smile, but her lips quirked up. “Fine. You can’t be harmed by anything alive.”
The king grinned and left.
“You’re welcome!” The Witch called after him. No one ever thanked her.
The king wanted to celebrate his invincibility with a party bigger than his ego and more costly than his hubris. A stray firework set the palace alight. It seemed too perfect to be chance, but maybe it was. Either way, the palace burned.
The king did not escape the flames.
Once upon a time, a woman was urged to rule by her people. Faced with no better options, she accepted the throne. The new queen did not wait for things to begin going south, she went to the Witch early on in her reign.
“Let me guess. You want me to make you immune to all natural and manmade disasters and...um...give you knife-proof skin.
“Well, like I told your predecessor, I can’t outright make you immortal. Impenetrable skin might be the next best thing.”
“I don’t want immortality.”
“What do you want then?”
“I want to be a good queen. Tell me how.”
“Tell...you...how?” The Witch stared.
“We have a constitution and a parliament now. I already promised there would be a new election in two years. What else should I do?”
“Um… Listen to your people. Listen to their problems. Become allies with our neighbors. Ensure a peaceful transition of power so your reign won’t have to end in blood.”
The queen nodded. “Thank you. How shall I pay you for your advice?”
“Be a good queen, a just ruler, a worthy precedent for future generations to follow. Let me retire in peace without any more tyrants showing up at my door.” The witch smiled. “That’s payment enough.”
“I will try. Thank you.”
“No, thank you.”
And maybe it didn’t last forever, because nothing ever does, but for a time…
They all lived happily ever after.