Aequitas leafed through the book to find the story of Venustus, as told by Gertrude’s mother, while Princess Primrose looked upon the list of Venustus’s crimes with horror. She nodded sadly at him, and he began to read:
Elsie from across the sea says they’ve had troubles over there. She told a sailor, who told his uncle, who told his wife, and she told me.
The fruit and vegetable growers were having troubles. They had had some bad weather which led to their harvest being poor, and some of them were worried that they wouldn’t have enough food to get them through the winter.
Luckily they have a good community and they had a meeting and realised that if they shared what they had, evenly between them, they would each have enough to scrape by.
They also agreed to distribute equally what seeds they had between them for the following year. They wouldn’t be able to sow as much as usual but, again, they knew it would be enough. They would manage.
Satisfied and relieved, they were about to return home when a kindly stranger called their attention back to the meeting. He said he thought he could help.
Oh my word! It would have been better for them if they had pretended not to hear him and walked away! But they didn’t.
He said his name was Venustus and he could provide them with plenty of seed for next year, so that they wouldn’t have to scrape by. He said he had more than he could use in a huge barn on his property, and they could have it for nothing to prevent it going to waste.
Well, he looked so kind, and had such a warm smile, Elsie said, that they couldn’t help but trust him. He asked everyone who wanted his seeds to sign their names on a sheet of paper so that he would know how much to ship to them.
The following spring, as promised, the seeds arrived and everyone was thrilled. They sowed so many seeds that they looked forward to a bountiful harvest.
So, green shoots began to grow and everyone was hopeful until, after a few weeks, they started to wilt. They couldn’t understand why because the weather had been perfect – sunshine and showers and just the right amount of each. So they contacted Venustus to ask his advice. Well! That’s when he tells them he’s a wizard! He made them seeds special so they grow much bigger and faster but …
…. only if they’re fed with his magic potion! Without it they would not survive at all. Of course the people asked if they could have some of his potion and he says: ‘course you can – it’s 20 pieces of silver per vat!
Oh my goodness! You can imagine how the people felt. They had no money. They couldn’t pay for the potion. And they would have no harvest at all without it.
They pleaded with Venustus to let them have the potion on credit, promising to pay him out of the profits from the sale of their produce. Then he tells them that he will sell their produce – as they agreed in the contract they signed – and take his cut before passing to them whatever’s left!
What contract? they said, and he shows them the paper with their signatures on it – the contract had been added above their names.
My goodness girl, there were many there at that moment who could have throttled him but, as the first man lunged, Venustus smiled and said, “Perhaps we can make a deal.”
He ummed and ahhed for a few moments before adding, “Give me your children in return for as much potion as you need,” and while they still reeled from shock he said, “If you starve, they starve. With me they’ll live.”
I swear on my life Gertrude, that’s what he said! Well, according to Elsie, there was no holding people back after that. Many of them flew at the wizard in their desperation at the thought of losing their children, and their anger at having been so cruelly tricked. But Venustus didn’t flinch. He smiled smugly as a glow of light surrounded his body and every strike just bounced off it. He was untouchable.
What could they do? It was too late in the season to sow the seeds from last year which, by next year, would be too old. They had to do as the wizard told them. All children over ten years old were taken to a cocoa farm where they worked from sun up to sun down; slept in windowless sheds; and ate a very poor diet. They were beaten if they didn’t work fast enough.
And Venustus just got richer.
And as if that wasn’t enough for these poor people to cope with, they started to get sick. After eating produce grown from the magic seeds, fed with the magic potions, this normally healthy community began to develop illnesses they’d never seen before. Contamination by magic potions killed the fish in the rivers and the insects of the air and soil. Birds and animals died or moved away. Everything stank.
“Oh stop! Stop!” The princess snatched the book from the duke’s hand and slammed it down. “I can’t listen to any more! It’s horrible! This is the price of our cheap food! This is why my people are sick!” She dropped to the floor, full of remorse, and just sobbed.
“It’s all my fault. I wish I’d listened to you. I wish I’d listened to my father.”
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