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The King is a bit... eccentric - a sort of Calligula type, but in his employ is the most powerful wizard in the land. He is continuously ordering the wizard to perform humiliating, monotonous and pointless tasks.

What is to stop the more sensible wizard from getting sick of this, and just refusing to carry out the King's orders, or quitting his post, or doing something to the King?

The story is set in a kind of medieval-with-magic type of world, and the wizard's power is such that he could easily hold off the King's guards, certainly for long enough to escape if the King turned on him.

Edit

Just to explain the magic is like high-level D&D (not the same but this is just to give an idea). The wizard is not a slave of the King, he's a high ranking member of staff, a bit like Merlin, who is loyal but not to the point of putting up with this continuous abuse. The idea is that a King who didn't have a powerful wizard working for him would be highly vulnerable.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you need to specify your magic a bit in order to get useful answers. If magic can do anything, your setup seems implausible to me. $\endgroup$ – Burki Sep 27 '16 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ See also: Barristan Selmy from A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) who serves Robert Baratheon despite clearly not approving of how he rules, because honor dictates that he does so after swearing an oath many years prior $\endgroup$ – Joe Sep 27 '16 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ If the magic is like D&D then most answers would be invalidated. D&D has spells improve the wisdom of the king and to get rid of any curses to restore is proper behaviour. $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Sep 27 '16 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ @CemKalyoncu - This isn't the D&D setting, just said that to kind of clarify the kind of magic I'm talking about... $\endgroup$ – colmde Sep 27 '16 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ If your magic is "like" high-level D&D, then your magic can do anything. If your magic can do anything, then the answer can be anything you want it to be; there's no objective "best" solution. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 27 '16 at 12:03

20 Answers 20

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Battered Person Syndrome

It's been going on so long that he doesn't know any other way any more. He doesn't know how to survive in the outside world, at least the king lays on food and laundry. He's safe in the castle, safe enough, it could be worse. The people outside hate and fear him anyway, nobody would help him. Its his own fault the king treats him like this, if he worked harder the king would be happier. Better the way it is, it could be worse after all. Change is scary, safer like this... safer...

You could also consider Stockholm Syndrome

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Wizard is a self righteous man and promised to help the king when he was a young visionary. Now he is bound by this promise and serves the maddened king until his death.

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Loyalty

The Wizard may not like the King, but they are loyal to the Kingdom. The Kingdom has suffered under this king and there one or more neighbouring countries that want to invade. The only thing stopping them is the knowledge that a powerful Wizard serves the kingdom.

Now, everybody knows this. Even the king knows this and he HATES the fact that his wizard is more feared than himself. He takes this out on the wizard in petty ways.

Greed and Laziness

The Wizards have a wing of the palace for themselves, they have their own personal servants, a generous stipend, an enormous library. This is worth a bit of humiliation.

Of course, the Wizard could set up their own castle, hire their own servants and so on and so forth, but what a bother that would be! Besides, wizards in lonely castles tend to attract mobs with pitchforks and torches. In the Kings castle, there are soldiers to protect against that sort of thing.

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The King could be the source of the wizard's powers. For instance, the post of Royal Mage is one that is handed down through generations, where the powers are only gifted to one who pledges life-long allegiance to the ruling King.

Now, the Royal Mage could say that he would rather lose his powers than continue to serve under such a terrible ruler, but what if he had a daughter so ill that she needs his powers just to survive? Quitting his job would literally mean the death of his child, and so he has no choice but to grit his teeth and bear it, while the gormless King continues to do as he pleases.

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I'm going to suggest the easy way out:

The King is the Wizard's Son/Father/Nephew

Basically, the family ties keep the wizard from doing anything too drastic, and in the end he pities the King for his madness.

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Multiple answers here :

A prophecy :

The wizard knows that the king is going to play a major role (against dark forces, the end of the world, etc...) at some point of his life and he needs to be protected and watched, to be sure he'll play his role correctly.

A powerful artifact kept by the king :

The king could be in possession of a powerful magical artifact, desired by the wizard. The wizard could be offering his services in exchange for that artifact, and waiting for the promised reward.

An obligation gained by his magic learning :

As I have no information on how your wizard gained his power, let's say he learned (or his power was awaken) by the mean of an obligatory set of challenges : he had to go through some hard tests to gain his magic, but in one of the test, he summoned some entity and he had to swear to serve the king to save his life, given the fact that this entity will watch him during his entire life.

They knew each other in the past and the king saved his life :

If he wasn't born with magic infused in him, or he wasn't able to control his magic before a certain point of his life, the king (before being the king) might have saved his life. The wizard is now in debt with the king, and offered him his services to repay this debt.

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Multiple answers

  • The king could hold the family of the wizard hostage.

  • He could fool the wizard, scare him with something the wizard can't know, maybe he says he has a weapon which can disable magic.

  • He could promise something, e.g. in a year the wizard will get his freedom or whatever he wants and so he will do all the things for the king because it is like a dream for him.

  • The king has information that the wizard wants and if the king dies he is useless to him so he needs to serve.

  • The king needs to intimidate and frighten the wizard, show the world how cruel the king is, and even if he escapes, his soldiers will pursue him and try to ruin his life in the most cruel ways.

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The Wizard himself is under some kind of spell which he cannot break, which prevents him harming the King. Perhaps he put this spell on himself, or an even more powerful wizard did it long ago.

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    $\begingroup$ The Asimov spell: 1/ A wizzard may not injure the King or, through inaction, allow the King to come to harm. 2/ A wizzard must obey the orders given it by the King beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3/ A wizzard must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. $\endgroup$ – 7hibault Sep 27 '16 at 16:26
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Checks and Balances

The court Wizard may well be the most powerful wizard in the land, but he's not the only wizard. Or the only powerful wizard.

So the other wizards have some more or less formal ways of keeping the Wizard in check, so that they keep all their advantages (including having the Wizard be the King's scapegoat instead of them)...?

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The King is much loved, and the Wizard not so. Moving against the king would mean the Wizard would be hated by everyone, wherever he goes.

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To Keep the Status Quo

If our wizard is no longer the King's wizard for some reason, then the next most powerful wizard will be recruited. What if the new guy isn't very nice and ends up bending the King's will with malicious intent....?

If our King loses credibility (or his life), then who comes next? The next in line may not be good for the kingdom, and might not be good for our wizard....

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The king possesses or controls a magical item that holds power over the wizard. As powerful as the wizard is, that item is his weakness and he cannot turn against its owner.

Examples from popular fiction:

The Dark One's dagger - he is literally unable to refuse commands given by its holder.

Inuyasha's Beads of Subjugation - by uttering a command word, Kagome can debilitate Inuyasha and inflict pain upon him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMNC1UpDnMA&feature=youtu.be&t=36s

Samurai Jack's sword - Aku is incredibly weak against it, and while the Samurai wields it Aku can never win a direct confrontation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e51hgWIsY4M

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You give no context and no character depictions. The keyword is "hostage" in wide sense: it can be anything ranging from wizard's family or source of power, to more exotic variants like tired old wizard's mortality or some kind of wizard's oath to a trickster to serve to the first freckled one-legged person he meets until his or mentioned person's death (in exchange for power/knowledge).

It can also be something as simple as king finding a way to control wizard with some powerful third-party intervention: magic/artifact/etc.

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The wizard may see a value in either court mage position or the king rule.

Being king's wizard may make him a big fish while begin powerful may matter only to other wizards (and those who ends on the wrong end of his wand - but this usually does not last long).

On the other hand even eccentric king may keep his vassals in check preventing them from going all out civil war. And while wizard can squash the king like a fly he knows that he can not replace him easily.

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With your edits it just doesn't compute:

1) A VERY powerful person

2) Is treated like a clown

3) Willingly keeps serving a king (is loyal & not a slave)

I'd say there are not too much to do with this. You should either pervert or just remove one of the points above. Something like that can do:

1) His power is somehow bound to place or his actions (i.e. serving king)

2) He either doesn't consider his tasks "humiliating, monotonous and pointless" or the tasks are such only on at a first glance.

3) It's either love or some other wizard's mental condition (like stockholm's syndrome as mentioned before).

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  • $\begingroup$ To make an analogy, imagine the commander of King's bodyguard, possibly the greatest warrior in the land in a similar situation. He's not a slave, but still knows he can't simply give up his job or refuse to obey commands as the King may charge him with treason / order his arrest out of anger. But this isn't really possible with a wizard who could easily escape / fight off any arrest attempts. What can the king do to ensure his loyalty in spite of treating him like a clown? $\endgroup$ – colmde Sep 27 '16 at 11:53
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HAPPY PATH: The Wizard could be an immediate family of the King (Father, Grand Father or Son) thus believing and hoping that the King in time will be a good and righteous king.

SAD PATH The Wizard has a secret and vile agenda of his own. He could be waiting for the right time to unfold his plan by following the King's sick orders.

Ex. The Wizard is controlling the King's mind thus making his people suffer, and when the right time has come, the Wizard will change his looks with his magic and lead a revolution against the Kingdom. This will make the Wizard more powerful because aside from magic he has now an Army loyal to him and a Kingdom with colossal resources

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The wizard's faith (values, moral code) holds the king is placed by deity and it is the role of the wizard to protect him until the deity replaces the king. Although it is a very powerful wizard, he also knows his limitations and will not dwell outside the responsibilities of his role (protect the king, obey the king). Does not mean he does not suffer conflict, like what is more important, to protect him or obey him?; or rooting for that new king (without wishing harm to the current king). After all, the king's fate is for the deity to decide.

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One thing noone has pointed out:

The King could be under the Wizard's mental control by a long time, and to prevent the servants to notice (and to hurt the Wizard), the Wizard has the King play mad and abusing so the servants of the King are fooled.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is more of a comment. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan Sep 27 '16 at 12:05
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The Wizard Is (or Would Be) King

The Wizard is next in line for succession, and is biding his time. His brother, the king, just needs to die of "natural enough" causes, and the people will accept the Wizard's ascension to the throne. The orders from his loving brother are humiliating, but not deadly.

Alternatively, the King is mostly under the Wizard's spell. The Wizard is controlling the important decisions, but the enraged King's identity occasionally regains enough control over his body, long enough to bark out a dangerous order. The Wizard dutifully follows the order, once he's gotten the King's identity back under his thumb, and clarified the mission to something that is merely embarrassing.

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He's a powerful wizard so I think you could also take a more philosophical approach.
To quote Bruce Lee:
Just be ordinary and nothing special. Eat your food, move your bowels, pass water and when you're tired go and lie down. The ignorant will laugh at me, but the wise will understand.

Being so powerful he needs to keep himself grounded and compassionate or he could easily become a tyrant. So he simply chooses to obey the king as a practice to remain humble.
Furthermore, he legitimises the kings rule and thus stabilises the realm. If even a powerful wizard is obeying the king then so must we peasants.

And then of course, plot twist. Turns out the entire time he was scrubbing chamber pots and doing the accounting, he was unravelling the kings rule. Learning secrets on important nobles, understanding the governance of treasury and guards, subtly moving to put people in positions loyal to him and not the king. The peasants see even the all powerful wizard being treated shamefully so sympathise with him, befriend him, see him as the rightful ruler.
When the wizard uses his magic to overthrow the demented king, he has the support of the people, the courts, the guard, and knows who to strike at to prevent retaliations from the kings friends.

Now your wizard is king and no one can do a thing about it, nor do they even want to...

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