The 16th card in the Major Arcana of the modern Tarot. The Tower shows an illustration featuring two men jumping from a flaming tower with a crown overhead. The tower is being struck by lightning and the lightning is split off into smaller flames. The tower card tells a story of a violent, chaotic, uprising and a sudden change in power.
Colburn sat alone in his room. Guards poised at the ready outside. He had already survived several attempts on his life, and each had only made his wits sharper. His mind was like glass; they thought it broken but it was not dulled. No, far from it, his senses and mind was sharper than ever. He was wary, he was vengeful, and he knew he was prepared for anything. He looked down past the red spots on his hand at the filthy peasantry below him as they scuttled about like ants.
"No, not ants, ants have purpose and drive themselves to build and conquer. These are like rats; they think of nothing save for food and fornication." Colburn hated rats, he hated them with a passion. "Diseased messengers of the devil pestilence itself. I can see the rats colluding, hear them conspiring within my walls to kill me. Nature itself, nay the very gods deem me worthy of slaughter. Then they can strike me down themselves! "
Colburn the Black they called him. Colburn the Mad they said. He knew what he did seemed like madness. It may have seemed like tyranny, but he knew that the attempt on his life could come from anywhere at any time. He had seen children playing with rocks near the courtyard in the cobbled streets.
"Any one of those rocks could be the cause of my demise. Sneaky little assassins," he chuffed, his guards had little choice but to cater to his madness.
They would hear him yelling at the rats in the walls, he would send them out to beat innocent children, threaten and interrogate shopkeepers, and even kill messengers on site. They were sick to death of the lunatic king that barked these nonsensical orders day in and day out. One of the guards had a plan to lead him to the town square and have a condemned prisoner start a riot so they could kill him without consequence, but the plan was quickly found out. If seeing the body of the guard resting on the pike outside of the city walls half-burned and eaten by wild birds, the look of pain, fear, and grief frozen on what was left of his face wasn’t awful enough to silence any thought of revolt, seeing what Colburn the Black had done to this guards family certainly would.
There was one of his royal guards who felt he had enough to gain and not too much to lose. Einnar was an ambitious young captain of the elite royal guard who had been colluding with the nobles from the neighboring settlements, those who had nothing but distaste for the mad king. They agreed it was time for a change. And Einnar seemed much more reasonable a leader than Colburn the Black. Yes, Einnar was ambitious but he was certainly not mad. Many of Einnar's men knew of the impending revolt. However, they were too scared to follow without some reassurance. Colburn had made his way inside their minds nesting in their fears whispering the horrors that awaited any failed revolt. One of Einnar’s men had an idea.
"Sir Einnar, there is a fortune teller, a ‘lystyr’; she came to one of the neighboring villages recently. She can help you. She has these magic cards, the pictures on them will determine your fate and tell you when to strike. She has made grand predictions for the royals of the other townships already and has yet to be wrong, if you listen to her then victory will surely be yours!"
"That is the difference, dear Torvin, between a peasant who believes in gods and unseen strings of fate. And a king, a leader of men like me makes his own fate."
"You are not a king yet, sir, and your men could be inspired by the fortune teller’s words. Soldiers will always fight harder when given an assurance of victory."
Einnar scowled at the younger guard, but ultimately agreed to see the woman.
Walking in the small gypsy tent he smelled a strong odor of frankincense burning through the bronze censer. He saw the royal purple satin lining "welcome good sir knight have a seat" though Einnar appreciated the noble look of the tent he held nothing but contempt for the haggard old wretch seated within.
He smiled through his clenched teeth, trying to seem pleasant. "I hear you tell fortunes, some swear by your gifts, might you tell me mine, my good woman?"
The old woman looked at him and with an empty face and replied, "The price is too high, and there is nothing to tell. You would not listen to me, or believe me if you did.The price for these gifts can be as low as a single copper or higher than the cost of the soul.”
Einnar began to clench his teeth in anger. “My good woman, I assure you, I have the utmost respect."
"Silence! You say I see the future yet think I don’t see when someone lies through their teeth!? I see through the lies 'Einnar the Fair', 'Einnar the Gold'. Your heart is as black as coal and should you triumph, you would plunge this village into the depths of Hell! Why should the people trade one mad king for another?"
Einnar kept his composure. "Because my dear old woman, I have a small troop of men outside this rather isolated spot you call home and with but a word they will set fire to this tent and then kill anything aside from me that leaves, that is why you should care, I couldn’t give less of a fig whether or not you can actually tell the future, nor about a soul or gods or demons, but my men who are more superstitious than me would like to hear you reassure them that we will be victorious.”
The old woman reluctantly placed her hands on the table and muttered a few incomprehensible words. She asked Einnar one last time if he was sure that he was willing to pay such a price. Einnar had looked on as the tent darkened and a large dark cloud drifted over head. The woman picked from a deck of cards. Her eyes began to flutter and turn a ghostly pale, her whole body seemed to fall into a fit of shaking and tremors, and her voice lowered and boomed throughout the tent. She knocked eight times and with the each knock the sound that at first was soft seemed to increase to the point that the eighth knock resounded like the pommel of a sword hitting a wooden door. Einnar fell back in a panic. The old woman’s face grew dark and her wrinkled skin formed into the terrible visage of a fiend. Her face twisted into a demonic rictus smile.
"What has been started cannot be undone. From infinite paths you now yield to one.
Your damnation was set by your envy and sin. At the time of your demise you shall be greeted with a grin."
Her hands gently picked a card from the first pile. "The price has been set and the Tower you draw. Kings overthrown, chaos, law!"
Einnar came back to his senses and slowly stood up as she continued.
"The king, the knight, the ten of swords, betrayal, ambition, the vassal kills the lord. A kingdom upturned, surrounded by your desires. You shall laugh as you look down on his funeral pyre."
Einnar’s fear was assuaged and quickly gave way once again to arrogance.
“Yes quite." He straightened out his hauberk and robe. Assuming once again the air of royalty. "Now old witch, you tell me what I need to do, and I will pay whatever paltry price you ask and see to it that this kingdom is taken into its rightful hands."
Einnar emerged from the tent and his men hesitantly approached him. They had seen the dark clouds and heard the thunderous voice from within. Mutterings of witch and demons were coming from the crowd.
Torvin ran up to greet his master. "Sir Einnar, how went your talks with the teller? Is our Victory assured?"
“She is no lystyr, she is but a mad old witch."
“What shall we do then, sir?"
“Burn the camp to the ground. Put an end to this gypsy who consorts with devils." Einnar took the first torch and set fire to the dry grass surrounding the doorway of the tent. “Archers, ready your bows!"
Inhuman screams from within the tent sounded into the evening. Amongst the cloud of putrid smoking fat and the sounds of crackling of skin Einnar grinned as he thought of a fiendish idea.
Colburn had heard the scream too. He sat in his tower smiling. Knowing that the old gypsy woman and her eyesore of a camp were snuffed out brought him some small bit of joy. Many of the nobles had made dealings with her in the past and none were sad to hear the scream that they thought had signaled the end of their debts to the creature in the tent. Einnar was simply glad to know he would never see that demon’s wretched face again.
The next morning Einnar set to work on his plan. Each servant and guard loyal to him was given the same materials and the same instructions. A hand cloth full of pitch mixed with saltpeter along with a portion of fat was to be taken with them in their pocket and left hidden within the tower. If anyone caught them or asked where, they were to say it was for traps meant to poison the rats. After a day or two of this the entire tower smelled of tar and Chinese salts. Einnar had been working on another part of this plan as well. He had been switching around so that his archers in the courtyard early evening each day to practice. His plan was falling together perfectly.
Colburn had been making strange requests of Einnar, having him taste his food and drinks and having him leave wax and rags to plug up the rat holes in the tower. Einnar had also noticed that Colburn had started to look more pale and ghostly. He almost felt sorry for him. Once a proud ruler who practically raised Einnar, now a shriveled scared wretch of a man. He wasn’t sure if he felt more saddened or repulsed by this image. “No matter,” he thought to himself, “soon enough this land will have a proud lord ruling it. Until then I suppose I can bide my time, helping this old ghoul making rat traps."
“You see Einnar, even the lowliest of tasks like killing rats should not fall beneath the scope of the king. One large rat can spread its disease and rot and infect a whole kingdom. Even the king is not immune to the dangers of rats.”
“Alright, so we kill a few and leave them as a warning to the others?”
“No, my good boy, rats are bold creatures unburdened by the fear of death, they only think of their next meal; you must invite them in, offer them food and when they think they’ve won they all come out of their hole, and reveal themselves, that’s when you crush them all with one swipe!” Colburn laughed as the rat catcher brought a small weighted club down gruesomely crushing the family of rats.
The fateful day arrived, and Colburn had a task for Einnar that had sent him away. He had summoned Torvin to his chambers to help watch over him.
“Colburn’s decision to call Torvin to him is a puzzling one. But there is no doubt in my mind of Torvin’s Loyalty. The man’s too stupid to deceive or betray me.”
Einnar returned near the beginning of the Evening to find the tower all but empty. He signaled his men to be ready and to wait outside as if they were practicing so as not to arouse suspicion. He merely told them, “Remember, wait till sunset and aim high.” He laughed to himself, not noticing the guards were wearing cloth over their noses.
He walked the steps to Colburn’s chamber and he looked around and saw Colburn there with a bottle of wine looking solemnly out of the window. Colburn took a swig from the bottle and offered a drink to Einnar looking at the spots on his hands again. The young guard knew better than to accept but he poured himself a drink and another glass for Colburn leaving the glass just empty enough to make it appear as though he had drank out of it. Colburn had looked at him and Einnar saw his red eyes and deathly pallor.
“What would you take from a dying man? My kingdom? My Wealth?”
“I would take nothing, my Lord. I would only wish you well and good health.”
Colburn laughed and asked Einnar to fetch his robe.
“And do mind Torvin.”
Einnar was confused for but a second until he opened the door and saw the body of Torvin sitting upon the ground his blood soaking into the robes and rags all around him.
“Yes, it’s as I say: offer them food and when they think they’ve won, that is when you crush them. Had you seen your friend Torvin’s body upon opening the door to my room you would never have dared to stay, but now my men have sealed off the doors and barred them from the outside. I have told them of the horrible plague that has afflicted us. And for the good of the kingdom we must be sealed away.”
One of Einnar’s men noticed another guard leaving the tower and told the others that Einnar had left and it was time to fire. Einnar struggled to look for a way out of the tower as he heard the guards slaughtering each other and the arrows hitting the heavy windows. As one of the windows shattered, he saw the sky darkening and clouds forming overhead. “You should drink up; the poison will make this much easier on us both. You won’t feel a thing he said with a smile growing across his lips.”
Einnar searched around the room looking for a way out and found that the door was indeed barred with a heavy weight. He threw the weakened old royal to the ground and kicked him again and again, and then shouted to his men to hold their fire. The archers stopped their relentless assault. Einnar walked over to Colburn laying on the floor.
“If you wanted to kill yourself you could’ve just thrown yourself from the tower and been done with it. But you thought that you would try and seal me in your tomb as well. All of this is mine now! You hear me you old wretch! This castle and kingdom and this wretched tower, all of it is mine! I’m going to march out of here if I have to break the door down with my bare hands, then I’m going to pocket everything of value I can carry and set this tower ablaze with you inside it!” Einnar continued to kick the old man harder. “No amount of poison, or arrows, or plagued rats will ever take it from me. If the gods wish to strike me down, they will have to do it themselves!”
As Einnar stood over the body of the old tyrant, the dark storm clouds groaned and lightning struck the tower. The small cloths of pitch and fat and saltpeter practically exploded. The fire was already spreading faster than he could stop it and he saw the rats carrying it on their backs as they ran panicked around the room. He lunged toward the door to try and force it open but before he could make it the ceiling burned through and collapsed.with no way out Einnar dropped to his knees and laughed hysterically. “My great plan, brought down by an old wretch and his rats.”
The body of Colburn had set alight and though unable to feel anything, the old man’s body instinctively moved in a sort of macabre dance. Chunks of blackened flesh fell to the ground turning and popping. He saw the silent scream on his face as his body rolled around the floor swatting at the fires and unwittingly feeding them. He heard the haggard old crones demonic voice speak out.
"Surrounded by all you desire... you shall laugh as you stand upon his funeral pyre..."
"Your bargain fulfilled and you now pay the fine.
You cannot escape, your soul is now mine!"
Einnar wouldn’t let himself be taken by this old witch, and he wouldnt let himself be found like this, a charred disgusting sight. A cooked meal for the worms and rats to feast upon.
"There is no escape. Make your peace.I will roast your flesh. And your bones for my feast. Einnar saw no other way; he threw himself from the tower as the lighting struck again and the storm raged on. He was sure he had at least escaped the hell that the old witch meant for him. But as he fell the last thing he saw was the flaming tower, and the body of Colburn, his arms stretched wide as if to greet him, and his face blackened and twisted by the red-hot flames into a wide demonic grin.
Written by trashbinrat
Author's note: my submission for the cruel fate writing contest.