In a distant land, on a faraway shore, in a country you’ve probably never heard of, as it does not show up on any map, there is a town. All the buildings are made of good, solid, stone, the streets are paved and well-maintained, and the people are happy, bright and cheerful. The neighbouring towns often remark on this because this land is harsh and it is does not give up its treasures easily. The air is cold, and the skies are often dark. The rain, when it comes, is so cold that it cuts like a scythe, and so powerful that it can knock over crops. The soil is hard and full of rocks, bending and breaking all but the sturdiest of plows. Still, the village is full of laughter, and its people are hearty and healthy.
It is not quite true that all of the buildings are made of stone - there is one dwelling, at the far edge of town, made of thin boards. It is cramped, even for one person, and leaks terribly when it storms. It smells of mold and mildew and always seems on the verge of collapse, but no one raises a hand to fix or maintain it because the person who lives there is the most reviled man in the town - the Minister of Pain.
It’s impossible to tell his age. His sallow skin hangs loose on his underfed bones, and in this way he looks like he is an old man, but he moves with an unnatural strength and vigor. The townsfolk fear him and would seek to avoid his touch, but it is forbidden by law to do so.
Most of the time, he will fix his rheumy eyes and point to the person he intends to touch, crooking a long and pointed finger at them and murmuring, “You,” in a strange, thick accent from an ancient and eldritch time. Sometimes it’s a fair maiden, other times an old man or a strapping farmboy. It is never a child. Some of the young people, especially the boys, make a show of facing him bravely, extolling how they will not flinch or fade away from his touch and, in truth, some of them don’t, at least not at first.
But when his emaciated fingers dig into flesh like the talons of a hawk, just short of tearing the flesh, and he tilts his head back and groans, even the strongest of the townsfolk groan in kind. Some scream, and kick against his grip, but escape is impossible until he’s done his task. The pain is obvious, written in the body language of both participants, and clear in their wide eyes and narrow pupils, but afterward the person snaps back to normal. These sessions can last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or more, but each one touched will say that it felt like only a passing moment. The only reminder of their pain are the bruises where he gripped them, and those fade soon enough.
The Minister does not speak.
He wanders through the town from dusk until dawn, pausing at midday to drink from a well and eat a crust of bread from one of the many pockets in his tattered robes. Some days he selects a dozen victims, sometimes only five or six. There is no apparent rhyme or reason to his choosing. When dusk is almost over, he returns to his hovel, and we find why it is that the Minister of Pain is the most revered man in town.
His screams sound almost unreal, so high and piercing, so inhuman, like that of a wild animal caught in a trap. They last for hours, usually dying some time just before midnight. He is called the Minister of Pain, but the truth is that his true title has been lost to time. He is the Minister of All Pain, and wakes each morning with sum and total of the town’s burden of suffering on his shoulders. Each day, he doles out a little of it, as little as he can, just enough so that when night comes, the pain won’t kill him.In a distant land, on a faraway shore, in a country you’ve probably never heard of, as it does not show up on any map, there is a town. It’s people are healthy and happy. Well, most of them.