“John Uskglass and the Cambrian Charcoal Burner” — Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke is the best-selling author of the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which won the Hugo, Locus, Mythopoeic, and World Fantasy awards. She has also written several short stories, which have appeared in The New York Times, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and on the BBC’s 7th Dimension radio program, as well as in anthologies Starlight (Vols. 1-3); The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror; Black Swan, White Raven; Black Heart, Ivory Bones; and Sandman: The Book of Dreams. Most of these tales have been collected in The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories. Clarke currently resides in Cambridge with her partner, fellow writer Colin Greenland.

It’s good to be the king. You’ve got it all—castles, servants, feasts, horses, clothes, jewels, and power. Power most of all. You command armies, your word is law, and everyone kneels and calls you “your majesty.” It’s wonderful.

Wizards have power too, and if you’re the most powerful sorcerer in the land, someone who can transform a pig into fish with a wave of your hand, well, that’s a pretty darned good place to be as well. So who’s more powerful? The king or a wizard?

And what if the king of the nation and the most powerful wizard in the realm are one and the same person? Wow, now that’s power. Nobody can stand against you, right?

Well, before you get too cocky it’s always good to remember that no matter how lofty your position may seem, there are always greater powers out there. Even a wizard lord must bow before the hosts of heaven, and all the powers of a sorcerer king may prove futile against the power of pure pig-headed stubbornness. (And the humble hero of our next tale is very cantankerous and very, very stubborn.) Wizards of the world take warning.