Friday, May 4, 2012

Story of the Week: Vacant Thrones

The Sorceress (1898),
Henry Meynell Rheam
Michael Haynes's "Vacant Thrones," a flash piece published by Kazka Press, tells the story of a young woman's confrontation with a witch-queen. Armed with an ax and an amulet secreted beneath her tunic, Cymara has bartered her inheritance and hacked her way through an enchanted forest to arrive at the thrones of Qarin the Witch-Queen. Qarin sits in the grand, central throne, while the "two bone-wrought chairs flanking her were empty, as they had been for years." Qarin has a claim on Alain, the object of Cymara's love, and until he is released from the Witch-Queen's claim, Cymara cannot hope to have a life with him. Cymara boldly demands that Qarin release the claim which Cymara argues the Witch-Queen can never consumate, but Qarin offers something unexpected in response.

"Alain of Myrdd was granted to me by his parents to be the consort of my eldest daughter. I will not release him.”

Cymara’s eyes flicked to the vacant thrones where Qarin’s own consort and her only child, a son who died in battle, had once sat.

“And why do you care, daughter?”

Cymara laughed. “I am not your daughter.”

“But you could be. I need no consort, no blood offspring, to mold an heir. A willing woman could fill that role. She could sit beside me, and her consort as well.” Qarin leaned slightly forward. “You come here for love.” The word sounded foul to Cymara in this place. “I can offer you something better than love.”

Cymara has a difficult choice. Attack the Witch-Queen and end the claim by force or become the Witch-Queen's daughter. The latter appears to be the easier path, but what will she give up?

Haynes creates palpable tension with Qarin's surprise offer. In the brief space of a flash story, he succeeds in setting the context, creating conflict, and resolving that tension with a satisfying conclusion. Although I like the tale as it stands, there's plenty of material here to expand this into a much longer story. I would like to know more about the Witch-Queen and Cymara's past.

Just for fun, I searched on the name Qarin and came across some interesting results. A Wikipedia article states: "A qarin, according to Islamic literature, is a jinn. Qarins are unique to each individual. Qarin literally means 'constant companion'. A qareen pushes a person to do evil things and to disobey Allaah, with the exception of Muhammad." Samuel M. Zwemer makes similar claims in his book The Influence of Animism on Islam (1920). In chapter 6, titled "The Familiar Spirit Or Qarina," Zwemer states:

Among all the superstitions in Islam there is none more curious in its origin and character than the belief in the Qarin or Qarina. It probably goes back to the ancient religion of Egypt, or to the animistic beliefs common in Arabia as well as in Egypt, at the time of Mohammed. By Qarin or Qarina the Moslem understands the double of the individual, his companion, his mate, his familiar demon. In the case of males a female mate, and in the case of females a male. This double is generally understood to be a devil, shaitan or jinn, born at the time of the individual's birth and his constant companion throughout life. The Qarina is, therefore, of the progeny of Satan.

I don't know if Haynes intends to pull that mythology into the character of his Witch-Queen, but it adds a new dimension to Cymara's conflict.

To learn more about Michael Haynes and his writing, visit his blog at


  1. Jeff, thank you for featuring my story this week! Quite a treat to see this in my inbox today.

    That's a wonderful bit of synchronicity you found in terms of the name Qarin, though it's purely by chance, as I'd never come across that bit of mythology before today.

    I'm glad that you enjoyed reading this story.

  2. And I thought I had found the secret key to your story. : ) Oh well, it's a good bit of mythology to store for later use.

  3. Mr. Haynes is having some great luck over at Kazka -- but of course, luck has nothing to do with it! A mighty fine review.