Lady Envira was ambitious and longed to rule the kingdom so she courted the young king and successfully seduced him. Once queen, she thought she could rule but her husband proved more difficult to control as time went on. She was clever and popular with the nobles and sought a way to depose her husband. The nobles were supportive but only on the condition that she had a male heir. The queen feigned her love for the king until she became with child.
Queen Envira gave birth to a healthy boy, thus securing the succession. Realising her good fortune, she seized the opportunity to depose her husband, the king. Once divorced, disgraced, and cast out into the wilderness beyond the kingdom, the king could no longer thwart the queen’s ambitions. Envira ruled as Queen Regent until her son, Shaylen came of age and demanded his father’s crown.
Fearing that she might lose her power through a conspiracy, she curtailed the freedoms of all in the land and was both hasty and cruel in her punishments. She lived every day on the throne fearing it would be snatched out from underneath her and although she held the reins of power through her son, no one posed more threat to her than her son.
The queen loved her son, but she loved power even more. She never wanted her son to come of age and usurp her position on the throne. She gave directions that her son must be raised entirely by women of the softest and most agreeable nature. Furthermore, he was never to struggle for anything that he wanted. Everything was to be made simple and effortless for him.
“Smother my dear boy with the softest down of motherly charity. Let him never know want, heartache, or despair. Never criticise his ideas nor discomfort his temper,” the queen ordered.
Prince Shaylen grew up coddled by the women around him. He was never allowed to run amok nor risk injury or disappointment. He got top marks for every test regardless of his performance. Whenever he wanted to go for long walks, a servant was always on hand to give him a refreshing drink and mop his brow. Whenever he sat an exam, a servant whispered the answers in his ear. When he trained for combat, his opponents always yielded easily to him. He was a man who never knew what it was to labour for something. He grew fearful of effort for he realised one day that he had never mastered an art or truly beaten a worthy foe. When he was old enough to rule as king in his own right, he asked his mother for his rightful crown. The queen told him ‘no,’ for he was not ready to rule himself, much less the kingdom. Shaylen crumbled inside, for he knew his mother’s words were true: he was not ready to be king. He spent his days in relaxation and leisure wondering if he would ever be ready to be king. Envira realised that without a father in his life, Shaylen would never be ready and she could safely rule for the rest of her days.
Occasionally the prince would beg his mother for his crown, but having never encountered any opposition before, cowered before his mother and eventually gave up trying to claim his crown. He ended up in the habit of numbing his sorrows with drink and unchaste women.
Shaylen was miserable even though he had everything he could wish for as a prince. He had all the comforts and pleasures that desired. However, one day a noble woman, the lady Bellandria, refused his advances and recoiled from him. Unaccustomed to a woman who refused his lustful advances, he begged that she come before him to explain herself.
The young Bellandria was beautiful but her mind was more keenly developed. She had heard about how the prince had been raised only by women and lacked the strength to take his own crown from his tyrannical mother.
“How can a boy raised by women ever hope to become a man?” she pondered.
At first she ignored Shaylen’s pleas for an audience, disgusted by his weakness, but she considered that perhaps she could do something positive for the kingdom.
Bellandria came before Shaylen surrounded by his women servants.
“I am the prince, yet you refuse me, how is this so?”
“You may be a prince, and indeed I might desire you if only you were only a man, but you are no man. You have generosity, understanding, patience, and compassion in great abundance, but you were coddled as a child and never received the other part of love that is a father’s speciality. You lack all the virtues of manhood.”
Shaylen heard her words and was distressed, for what she had said was true. He was intelligent, athletic, and handsome but a cowardly wonder who gave up at the first sign of adversity. He begged the young lady to help him become a man.
Bellandria expected this and told him he should seek out the company of men to teach him manly things.
“My mother would never allow it, and even if I did, what men would want to teach an overgrown boy? They would despise me on account of my pathetic countenance.”
Bellandria heard this and knew that it was true, but how could women teach a boy how to be a man?
Bellandria was inspired by an idea. She recalled that in the past, before the reign of Queen Envira, four witches had cursed the kingdom. These four witches had created diabolical torments for the inhabitants of the kingdom and no one had managed to overcome them as yet. Since the witches were women, the queen would not object to him seeking out the witches, and if he should thwart all four witches, he would have proved himself a man by defeating these supernatural sisters.
“Prince Shaylen, I have the answer, you must ride out at once to these four places and overcome the machinations of the witches who cursed them into being.
“The first ordeal is the Well of Tedium, there is a stone encrusted with gold stolen by the witches through trickery, retrieve the stone from the well.
“The second ordeal is the Cephlocactlodon a vicious beast created by a witch that attacks the villagers and saps their will to live and labour, but no man has yet been able to overcome it. Vanquish this demon.
“The third ordeal is the Statues of Spite. These enchanted statues were placed inside the town’s garden to disparage all from seeking the tranquillity of the sacred space. Clear the gardens of this curse.
The fourth is the Panopticon, an obstacle placed on the way to the Temple of Klara. No wise man has ever managed to solve the riddle to restore the pathway to the temple. Solve the riddle and open up Klara’s temple to worship once more.”
Shaylen’s heart sank when he heard this, for these were indeed difficult challenges even for a man raised by men. Battling the spells of witches was no small affair and many men had already succumbed to their wicked charms. However, Shaylen trusted Bellandria and believed she meant to help him escape his mother’s gentle prison. He ordered his servants to collect his gear and he set out on his quest.
When Queen Envira heard that her son was going on a quest to defeat the machinations of the four witches she granted his request, “A man raised only by women is no man at all. No woman can teach a man the art of manhood, and the witches are but women. There is nothing to fear in this foolish quest of my son’s so I will allow it.”
The Well of Tedium was the deepest well in all the land. The rope stretched far into the Earth. The witch had enchanted the platform surrounding the well so that only one person may approach the well at any time. No woman had the strength to turn the handle to raise the stone from the bottom of the well. All the men who had tried to retrieve the stone had failed. Shaylen stepped onto the platform and instantly all his companions who tried to follow him were pushed back by an invisible force. Shaylen was alone for the first time in his life when he approached the enchanted well. Above the well was a small inscription “Those who seek riches above toil are lost.”
He started turning the crank, at first it moved easily, but the more he raised the stone the heavier the stone became. He gave up several times before willing himself to endure the strain and effort needed to hoist the stone up out of the well.
There it was: the gold encrusted stone the witch had cast down the well so long ago. It dangled above the mouth of the well but with both arms on the handle Shaylen could not reach it. The stone was so heavy now that if he took but one hand off it would fall all the way to the bottom of the well. He tried to grasp the stone and the handle at once, but the wheel spun out of control and the stone plummeted back down into the depths of the Earth. The sound of a witch’s laughter filled the air and Shaylen cursed the sky. He lamented that if only someone could step forward and help carry the weight of the stone for him then he could get the stone. Yet for the first time he must carry the weight all by himself.
He tried again and again but with no more success: whenever he reached for the gilded stone it escaped his grasp and was secreted back to the Earth’s possession. It was then that he grasped the meaning of the inscription written on the well: “Those who seek riches above toil are lost.”
He pulled the stone all the way back up to the top of the well again. Then without trying to grasp or even yearning for the stone in his heart, he released the handle and turned away. The handle instantly locked into place and the stone hovered above the mouth of the well. Shaylen stepped of the platform empty handed and the well faded away leaving behind the stone encrusted with gold lying on the ground for him to take.
The first witch’s curse had been destroyed.
Shaylen journeyed out to the villages terrorised by the Cephlocactlodon conjured by the witch. The beast was a walking cactus covered in stinging nettles. It had no face but nine tentacles that it thrashed about malevolently. Many hunters and thanes had battled the beast but none had succeeded for a witch had enchanted it to be somehow impervious to all their attacks.
Shaylen put on his finest armour and approached the vicious beast. He raised and fired his crossbow but the bolt struck the beast and bounced off it as though the creature was made of hardened steel. Next he drew his sword and struck at one of the tentacles but the sword bounced off the creature’s hide harmlessly. He wrestled with the beast but it was exactly as strong as he and although his armour protected him from the nettles that covered the creature’s body he could not manage to inflict any injury or dominance over his opponent.
Tired he withdrew from combat. As he was retreating he noticed that the green beast also looked weary and was withdrawing. Thinking that this might be his opportunity to strike back he leaped up at the monster with renew vigour. However, the Cephlocactlodon was at once revitalised as well as he was and the struggle once more went nowhere until Shaylen was completely exhausted and had to retreat altogether.
“This beast has armour every bit as sturdy as my own, muscles every bit as strong as my own, and the will to fight every bit as tenacious as my own!”
Upon hearing himself say these things an idea came to Shaylen’s mind. He pulled off his armour and discarded all his weapons. His female companions cried out in dismay realising his intentions. They begged him to put on his armour and take up his arms. But he pushed them aside and plunged towards the Cephlocactlodon unarmed and unarmoured.
Nettles that had once been keen as blades and green leathery skin that had once been harder than steel were now merely itchy and chaffing. Shaylen wrestled with the beast and at the first opportunity cleaved off one of its tentacles with a clean blow of his fist. One by one he cleaved off the nine limbs of the beast until it was nothing but a gruesome stump and nine quivering disembodied tentacles.
Scratched, bruised, and irritated all over Shaylen was nonetheless intact. The women rushed over to comfort his aches and pains but he brushed them off.
“The witch had enchanted this beast to be only as strong as the weapons and armour one brought to the fight. However, a man must conquer himself by his own will alone.”
The second witch’s curse had been destroyed.