Have you ever heard the story of King Bedwyr? Bedwyr, like most kings, was a man of great pride, who expected nothing but complete loyalty from his subjects. He believed the best way to achieve this was through fear—after all, those who feared him would never cross him or question his rule. Most importantly, those who feared him would always seek to please him.
Bedwyr cultivated terror in his subordinates through the gleeful and unrestrained use of a contraption referred to as "the maiden." The maiden was a hinged iron casket, as high and wide and deep as a man, with vicious spikes within, meant to pierce through the poor soul locked into it. Bedwyr's maiden was a prized possession, and stood in a place of honor in his throne room, often with a screaming victim inside it. Political rivals, suspected assassins, treasonous ministers—the maiden consumed them all. But as time passed, more people were given to the maiden for increasingly trivial offenses: the cook for over-salting the king's food, the pageboy for dropping his sword. The maiden cast a pall over the kingdom, and its people prayed for deliverance from their cruel king.
Then one day, a strange woman rode into the city. She called herself Ember, and was an emissary from a far-off land. Her leaders had heard, she said, of Bedwyr's wisdom and authority, and she sought the king's counsel. The thought that he had earned the adulation of brother-kings across the sea made Bedwyr swell with pride, and he granted Ember an audience.
They dined and danced, and through it all, Ember flattered and fawned on the king. At the end of the night, Ember asked to see the maiden, the infamous device that had given Bedwyr all his power. The king, giddy with praise, proudly presented Ember with the empty contraption. Ember looked at the maiden, sighed with disappointment and said, "That does not look terrifying at all. I should have imagined the spikes to be much sharper."
Bedwyr grew red at her comment and replied: "The spikes are sharp enough. Look at the blood that still clings to them!"
"But it is so small," said Ember. "Are only children and women its victims?"
Bedwyr grew redder still, and replied, "Of course not. The maiden has devoured many men."
Ember shook her head and said to the king, "I do not believe it. Surely no warrior could fear this thing. A man like yourself, tall and muscled, would not fit within."
The king laughed, and saw a way to prove the merit of the maiden to Ember. "I will show you how easily a man like myself could fit," he said. And with that, he stepped into the device. But Ember was waiting, and no sooner had Bedwyr squeezed himself into the iron casket that Ember slammed it shut on him.
Ember took the maiden, with the screaming Bedwyr inside, through the castle, and down into the city. And the people, finally free from the king's tyranny, cheer and danced to the "singing" that echoed through the streets, until Bedwyr was dead and it finally stopped.
—A tale often told in the Singing Maiden tavern
- The singing maiden from the story is a reference to the real-life torture device known as an "iron maiden".