The Torture They Teach
Once upon a time, in a far off kingdom, there was a king, who ruled the land with a firm hand, and his queen, who loved her husband more than he loved her. They had three grown princes: the Heir much like his father, the Younger Brother much like his mother, and the Prince, the middle child, who could not make up his mind to be much like anyone.
The Heir, being the heir to the throne, was sent to be educated in another kingdom. When he returned, his brothers were sent off in turn, while he was sent on embassy to yet another kingdom to try to find a wife.
The trouble began on that journey. “He is young, he his foolish, he will grow out of it,” the King told the Queen. “In any case, it doesn’t matter what a king does with peasant girls - or peasant boys, for that matter - as long as he treats the class in a manner to prevent revolt.”
“But shouldn’t we speak to him about it?”
“And dignify it with a response? Out of the question. At least it happened before he had crossed the border.”
So nothing was said to the Heir about bloody girl who had described the royal carriage as the one in which her virtue was taken, nearly at the expense of her life. The girl was told that her story did not hold water and to kindly refrain from frightening the villagers.
Instead of coming home from his first embassy, the Heir went to visit his brother, the Prince, at the university.
“You can’t tell me you haven’t yet done it.”
“I’m not you. Besides, how do I choose? There are so many.”
“Come with me. I’ll pick her; you’ll prick her.”
The Prince groaned at his brother’s bad pun, but he agreed. That night, long after the gates to the town were closed, they ventured out into the streets. The taverns were shut; the few people out in the streets were on sinister or desperate errands, or were prostitutes returning home to bed. The Heir had his brother wait in an alley while he found a girl. Indeed, what he brought back was a girl - she was lithe and blonde, and so young her breasts could hardly be called such. Her face was obscured by the scarf the Heir had tied about her eyes. “Lie down here,” he ordered her, and she did. “Well, go on,” he ordered his brother, and he did.
The Heir held her down and stopped her screams. The Prince, unaccustomed to the act but excited by the secrecy and need for silence, took her lustily yet silently. But he was sent away when he had finished, so the Heir might “clean up”, as he said.
The Heir was not as fastidious as his younger brother. He called her a slut, spread her as wide as he could and forced himself in, beat her when she whimpered and cursed her when she was silent. He kicked her when he was finished, then left her in the alley.
He returned to the kingdom the next day. The Prince did not ask what had taken his brother so long that night, and no one made enough fuss about a girl half-dead in an alley for a student at the university to hear of it. He didn’t know what became of her, and he didn’t care. He was a prince, she was poor, and he had from her what he wanted. But he did not follow his brother’s taste in selecting his next woman - he went directly to the tavern and paid a buxom prostitute for his pleasures.
The Heir was soon sent on another embassy, where he took pleasure from many of the young ladies in waiting to the princess he was supposed to court. He was sent home early and admonished for not waiting until he had married the princess in question. “It was in very bad faith, don’t you see?”
He apologized to his father and settled down to roaming his own kingdom to learn of its people and geography. It was a small kingdom, but there were people of the woods and of the plain, of the villages and of the fields. The Heir met them all as the representative of his father. In the night, when the urge came upon him, he met their daughters and left them near death. There were no complaints to the palace except from his steward, who said it was not right that the Heir go for long walks at night without some sort of protection. But the King did not stop him.
The Prince returned home from his studies, the Younger Brother went abroad to study, and the Heir went on another embassy, securing the hand of the youngest daughter of one of the seaside kings. He wanted to consummate the marriage immediately, but the girl was deemed too young by her father and the wedding ordered to take place in a year’s time. More peasant girls were attacked as he passed through the various kingdoms to return home, but no one cared what happened to the peasants.
“Found me a wife,” he bragged to the Prince on his return. “A jewel she is, too. But you can probably have her when I’m done if you want.”
“I don’t understand how you can just throw a woman aside.”
“You don’t want to hold on to them, do you?”
“No, but aren’t they owed something?”
“You’re getting soft like Mom. All they want is the seduction. If you love them in the beginning, they get what they want. Then you take them, and you’ve had what you want. When neither of you want anything more, why hold on?”
The Prince thought about it and agreed his brother was right. The fun was in the finding and the getting, not in the having. The Heir might have called it the stalking, the hunting, the taking, but the Prince thought it all the same.
In his year of engagement, the Heir traveled his kingdom again and advised his father to raise taxes but not to risk a levy until after his marriage - there may be no need to expand the army after all. Peasant girls, and sometimes peasant women, were still attacked, often in the woods, and some died, but none of them spoke about the attacks. Two killed themselves, since they did not die of their wounds, so they were buried in unconsecrated ground. No word reached the palace about their fates.
One day, however, the king’s physician brought a woman to the palace. She was bloodied and broken, but the physician knew her nonetheless - she was a great enchantress from a neighboring kingdom. Her traveling cloak was soiled and torn, and he had found her at the side of the road, near death.
The King asked the Heir if he had met with a woman in the woods recently. The Heir said he had not, but the King did not believe his son. “You’ll have to go meet your wife early,” he ordered.
“Nonsense. A half-dead woman isn’t a reason to hide me. And if I arrive before the appointed time, there will be suspicions. There isn’t enough time for me to go anywhere else for long enough to be meaningful. And the expense would be overwhelming. I’ll stay put and be good. It’s only another month until I can leave.”
“Please be careful,” the Queen begged him.
“I will. I swear it.”
And he was careful - celibate, even - for the three weeks the woman spent recovering from her wounds. She asked the King for the favor of bringing her attacker to justice, and he agreed. The Heir was ordered to leave the kingdom early, and he complied.
But the enchantress, instead of inspecting all the men of the kingdom as she had told the king she would do, brewed a potion and cast a spell to bring all men of a certain characteristic to the Great Hall of the palace. The Heir was among the hundred men her magical net pulled in, and her spell was such that none could leave except at her word. She explained to the assembly what she had done and what was done to her. The royal family watched, horrified, as she limped among the men, releasing with a word those who were not her attackers. Soon enough, the Heir was the only one remaining. He greeted her with a grin. “Hello, sweetheart. Good to see you again.”
“This is the man,” she informed the King. “I want the justice that has been promised me.”
“Out of the question.”
“She was asking for it. Begging for it,” the Heir said. “You know you were, sweetheart. How many times did you find me?”
“He followed me. Spoke to me. I told him to leave me be, only to have him turn up again and again. And then this.”
“A man’s word is worth more than a woman’s. If you have no witnesses, madam, this will be the end of it,” the King insisted.
“Very well, Your Majesty.” The enchantress sounded compliant, but she muttered an unintelligible phrase and pointed at the Heir. An explosion like lightning, the acrid scent of singed fur, and suddenly there was no more heir to the throne. In his place lay a huge wolf.
His mother ran to him and took the hairy beast in her arms. He licked her face. “What have you done to my boy?” she shouted at the enchantress, tears streaming down her face.
She laughed, sounding hollow and crazed. “Given him a form to match his nature. He is a wolf. He stalks his prey, leaves them for dead when he has eaten his fill. Your punishment,” she told the Wolf, “is to do nothing but stalk your prey, and they must be devoured entire. You will not be satisfied until you have consumed the whole body, so your victims will not remember what you have done to them. Since you want to consume, you will consume. When you are shot by a hunter, you will die, and no one will know that you were once anything but a wolf. You’ll die an animal, hunted, just as you hunted your prey in life.”
“I will have your head for this!” the King shouted, but it was too late. The enchantress vanished. The Royal Family was alone.
“You’ve got to have him changed back,” the Queen insisted tearfully. “There’s a witch in the village.”
“Oh, that’s brilliant,” the Heir-Wolf said sarcastically. His family was shocked that he could still talk. “Well, this does make life easier. You can’t have me changed back. If you go to the witch in the village, and she’s successful, then what? She’ll have this piece of information to hold over the family until she dies.”
“We could kill her,” the Prince suggested.
“And then she’ll be missed in the village.”
“Then we’ll send to the next kingdom for a witch,” his mother said.
“And we’ll have the same problems only worse because she wouldn’t even be our witch. What if, instead of simply blackmailing the family, she told her sovereign? Then we are in an even worse situation.”
“Dad, there’s got to be something we can do,” the Prince insisted. He was starting to tremble with fear - he wasn’t supposed to be the heir to the throne.
The King shook his head. “The boy is right. There’s nothing to be done. We announce his death tomorrow. You’ll have to go into the woods.”
The Prince knelt down to his brother. “You can’t do this to me. I’m not supposed to be king. I’m just a prince. I’m no good for it, and you know it. You’re selling out the kingdom just so you can go off and eat girls and not have to do anything hard.”
“Running a kingdom is just like running a wife. Push as hard as you want to, but let up just enough to keep her. Keep a firm hand, like with the girl in the alley. And when you get yourself a wife, just remember that she isn’t going to be the only one ever. You can have as many mistresses as you like. Just be sure you’ve got legitimate heirs.”
“That’s enough,” the King ordered. “We’ve got business to attend to.”
“Goodbye, Dad,” the Wolf told him. “I won’t be missing you.”
The kingdom went into mourning for the lost Heir. The Younger Brother returned from university and was not told what had become of the Heir. Girls still disappeared in the woods, but no one cares what happens to peasants. The Prince, now heir to the throne, still could not make up his mind as to what sort of man he would be, but at least he had learned how to decide on a pretty girl - though for no more than an evening. The Queen thought that progress. The kingdom prospered, it remained at peace with its neighbors, and on the whole, as time passed, it seemed very close to happy ever after.
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