“The King of Wands,” stated the Tarot Reader to her client inside a dark, quiet reading room. “A card of strength. A surprising draw given your question.”

Cupping the card in one hand, the Reader pointed to the image with the other, and said: “On this card is a portrait of a regal, powerful man with a crown set atop fiery red hair. He sits on a throne with royal staff in each hand. The King of Wands symbolizes strength, passion, and charisma. He is in a position to lead and inspire, but can sometimes delve into ruthlessness.”

She paused for a moment and looked deep into the card. She then covered the image with her palm and looked up at her client: “Before I interpret your card, I would like to tell you the story of the man on this card, and how the quiet power of one overcame the much loved bravado of the other.”

“This is a copy of the ‘Visconti-Sforza’ deck, one of the oldest surviving Tarot designs from the early Renaissance. I’m very proud of it. My husband and I purchased it years ago when we vacationed in Europe. Let’s see…”

“It’s an incomplete collection of face cards, or trionfi, commissioned by Filippo Maria Visconti, the Duke of Milan, with his son-in-law, Francesco Sforza. More importantly, it established certain standard images and meaning in use today with our modern Tarot cards – in this case, the King of Wands.”

“The man on the card isn’t just a caricature. It’s actually a portrait of the powerful Visconti. The picture looks a bit like my husband I think.”

“Visconti was a quiet man, nearly always deep in thought, as if examining his soul. But, as the Duke, he was also politically powerful and astute, plus in control of Milan’s armies. Most of the time, he was waging war with neighboring Italian city-sates, not having lost any so far.”

“His favorite captain, or Condottiero, was Sforza, a man that charmed nearly everyone he met. As captain, Sforza led several successful battles for Visconti, except the last campaign – the Lagoon Battle – against the Venetians. But he was not without self-reproach. With this loss, Sforza felt personally responsible to the Duke and to his men.”

“Even with the lost battle, his men continued to admire Sforza’s courage and tenacity, but specifically for saving lives in an un-winnable situation. He was considered a hero, and his men’s admiration started to spread among the legion. This did not go unnoticed by Visconti.”

“It seems that Sforza was pretty clever. Knowing he is currently out of favor with the Duke, Sforza would offer Visconti a gift to improve relations. So he developed a plan, one that, unknowingly, would result in the deck we know today – the Visconti-Sforza Tarot.”

“Some time later, Sforza attended a grand gathering at the Duke’s palace where he presented his gift – an oil painting, one by one-and-a-half meters tall, featuring an intimidating visage of Visconti sitting on a throne in resplendent garb. To all, the grand offering must have cost a fortune given the size and quality of the work.”

“But Sforza wasn’t done. He also presented a deck of cards titled ‘King of Wands.’ Every card had the same hand-painted image of Visconti, as in the portrait. It was Sforza’s tribute to Visconti who’s image will always remembered in the city of Milan and beyond. Sforza bragged a wide distribution for the cards.”

“Visconti, clearly awestruck by the large painting and the King of Wands tribute, stood from his chair to better examine the gifts. Visconti’s heart was full of gratitude, but teetered as he had a difficult task to perform. After a short while, and in front of the entire gathering, Visconti ordered his guards to arrest and incarcerate Sforza for losing to the Venetians at the Lagoon and bringing shame to Milan.”

“That caused a shock in the room. While unexpected, all understood and accepted Visconti’s orders to the arrest Sforza, and that it was seemingly justified. But the true reason Sforza was arrested was not revealed by Visconti. The reason was power. Visconti was alarmed at seeing Sforza’s rising fame in the army. He could not let Sforza’s popularity continue and with it, a growing power base. So Visconti had Sforza arrested, at least for a while.”

“Before Sforza was led out, he cursed Visconti in front of the grand assembly. Holding up the deck consisting of the King of Wands, he announced that when anyone draws the card, Visconti will remember this day of betrayal and regret his actions, upon which Sforza threw the cards across the marble floor, scattering images of Visconti everywhere.”

“After some time, Sforza’s popularity in the army cooled, so Visconti set him free. After all, he was still the favorite. Visconti explained his actions, and Sforza begrudgingly understood. Their relationship was strained thereafter but respectful. Sforza’s would marry Visconti’s daughter, and eventually succeed Visconti as the next Duke of Milan.”

The Reader took a sip of water.

“I suppose the point of this story is that the man partly responsible for developing the Tarot trionfi face cards was Visconti. And, even though his image adorned the card, he was in fact the real King of Wands. He was an inspired leader – ruthless for sure, but thoughtful in its execution. His personality is, to this day, attached to the card. Now, let’s finish our reading. Back to your question…”

On the other side of the world, in Milan, inside a dusty chapel is a mausoleum holding a granite coffin. Inside it’s cold confines is Visconti’s interred body. His soul, trapped within his long-rotted corpse, stirs. It again gains consciousness and remembers itself as Visconti.

“Still a prisoner of this tomb,” Visconti’s spirit realizes, “because of Sforza’s curse! Somewhere, someone drew my wretched image from a Tarot deck.”

“Whoa is me. Only a few moments have passed since my soul last woke. No more. No more. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let my soul rest. Alas, I am resigned to suffer thus for eternity.” His spirit quietly pleaded inside the coffin. Filled with regret, his soul’s awareness begins to fade, and its consciousness expires:

“Until the next draw…”


This is Dante P Ramon, your author and host of The Dark Reading, a collection of original scary stories inspired by Tarot cards. I invite you to follow my website as I present new stories on a weekly basis. I also record and distribute my stories via podcast. So, visit us on the web at, and feel free to share The Dark Reading with your friends.
I just picked the Death card, so good night for now.


Season 1 Episode 20.

©2020 The Dark Reading. All Rights Reserved.

This, and all stories on The Dark Reading are original and written by Dante P. Ramon.

All third party marks are the property of their respective owners. Image credit: ‘Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban’ by Jan Van Eyck.


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