There was once a handsome, rich, and talented young warlock, who observed that his friends grew foolish when they fell in love, gamboling and preening, losing their appetites and their dignity. The young warlock resolved never to fall prey to such weakness, and employed Dark Arts to ensure his immunity. Unaware of his secret, the warlock’s family laughed to see him so aloof and cold.
“All will change,” they prophesied, “when a maid catches his fancy!”
But the young warlock’s fancy remained untouched. Though many a maiden was intrigued by his haughty mien, and employed her most subtle arts to please him, none succeeded in touching his heart. The warlock gloried in his indifference, and the sagacity that had produced it. The first freshness of youth waned, and the warlock’s peers began to wed, and then to bring forth children.
“Their hearts must be husks,” he sneered inwardly as he observed the antics of the young parents around him,
“shriveled by the demands of these mewling offspring!”
And once again he congratulated himself upon the wisdom of his early choice.
In due course, the warlock’s aged parents died. Their son did not mourn them; on the contrary, he considered himself blessed by their demise. Now he reigned alone in their castle. Having transferred his greatest treasure to the deepest dungeon, he gave himself over to a life of ease and plenty, his comfort the only aim of his many servants.
The warlock was sure that he must be an object of immense envy to all who beheld his splendid and untroubled solitude. Fierce were his anger and chagrin, therefore, when he overheard two of his lackeys discussing their master one day.
The first servant expressed pity for the warlock who, with all his wealth and power, was yet beloved by nobody. But his companion jeered, asking why a man with so much gold and a palatial castle to his name had been unable to attract a wife. Their words dealt dreadful blows to the listening warlock’s pride. He resolved at once to take a wife, and that she would be a wife superior to all others. She would possess astounding beauty, exciting envy and desire in every man who beheld her; she would spring from magical lineage, so that their offspring would inherit outstanding magical gifts; and she would have wealth at least equal to his own, so that his comfortable existence would be assured, in spite of additions to his household. It might have taken the warlock fifty years to find such a woman, yet it so happened that the very day after he decided to seek her, a maiden answering his every wish arrived in the neighborhood to visit her kinsfolk. She was a witch of prodigious skill and possessed of much gold.
Her beauty was such that it tugged at the heart of every man who set eyes on her; of every man, that is, except one. The warlock’s heart felt nothing at all. Nevertheless, she was the prize he sought, so he began to pay her court. All who noticed the warlock’s change in manners were amazed, and told the maiden that she had succeeded where a hundred had failed. The young woman herself was both fascinated and repelled by the warlock’s attentions. She sensed the coldness that lay behind the warmth of his flattery, and had never met a man so strange and remote. Her kinsfolk, however, deemed theirs a most suitable match, and, eager to promote it, accepted the warlock’s invitation to a great feast in the maiden’s honor. The table was laden with silver and gold, bearing the finest wines and most sumptuous foods. Minstrels strummed on silk-stringed lutes and sang of a love their master had never felt. The maiden sat upon a throne beside the warlock, who spake low, employing words of tenderness he had stolen from the poets, without any idea of their true meaning.
The maiden listened, puzzled, and finally replied, “You speak well, Warlock, and I would be delighted by your attentions, if only I thought you had a heart!” The warlock smiled, and told her that she need not fear on that score. Bidding her follow, he led her from the feast, and down to the locked dungeon where he kept his greatest treasure. Here, in an enchanted crystal casket, was the warlock’s beating heart. Long since disconnected from eyes, ears, and fingers, it had never fallen prey to beauty, or to a musical voice, to the feel of silken skin. The maiden was terrified by the sight of it, for the heart was shrunken and covered in long black hair.
“Oh, what have you done?” she lamented. “Put it back where it belongs, I beseech you!”
Seeing that this was necessary to please her, the warlock drew his wand, unlocked the crystal casket, sliced open his own breast, and replaced the hairy heart in the empty cavity it had once occupied.
“Now you are healed and will know true love!” cried the maiden, and she embraced him.
The touch of her soft white arms, the sound of her breath in his ear, the scent of her heavy gold hair: All pierced the newly awakened heart like spears. But it had grown strange during its long exile, blind and savage in the darkness to which it had been condemned, and its appetites had grown powerful and perverse. The guests at the feast had noticed the absence of their host and the maiden. At first untroubled, they grew anxious as the hours passed, and finally began to search the castle. They found the dungeon at last, and a most dreadful sight awaited them there. The maiden lay dead upon the floor, her breast cut open, and beside her crouched the mad warlock, holding in one bloody hand a great, smooth, shining scarlet heart, which he licked and stroked, vowing to exchange it for his own. In his other hand, he held his wand, trying to coax from his own chest the shriveled, hairy heart. But the hairy heart was stronger than he was, and refused to relinquish its hold upon his senses or to return to the coffin in which it had been locked for so long.
Before the horror-struck eyes of his guests, the warlock cast aside his wand, and seized a silver dagger. Vowing never to be mastered by his own heart, he hacked it from his chest.
For one moment, the warlock knelt triumphant, with a heart clutched in each hand; then he fell across the maiden’s body, and died.