For the story so far, go to Chapter 1
Princess Primrose awoke the next morning to the sound of birdsong as sunlight streamed through her open window. She smiled broadly.
“The first thing I’ll do,” she said to herself, “is call a public meeting and ask the people what they want.”
So, right after breakfast, she summoned the town crier and instructed him to announce the meeting.
“At ten o’clock,” she said, “on the green beyond the lake. And I will ask them how I can best serve their needs.”
Thus he announced. And they came.
Princess Primrose addressed the people by simply asking them,
“What can I do for you?”
At first the only response was one small voice.
“Nothing, thank you Princess, we already have everything we need.”
The princess smiled at the child who stood among the sunflowers and smiled back at her.
Then more voices spoke up from the crowd:
“I wish I could afford to buy enough cotton to make two nightdresses, but it is expensive so I can only afford enough for one.”
“I work hard to support my family but most of my money is spent on food. It would be nice if I was able to save some.”
“I have to save up two weeks’ pocket money to afford a bar of chocolate.”
And so the princess wrote it all down in her blue book – her blue book where she kept a record of everything. Everything she did, and everything she planned to do.
She didn’t want to forget a thing.
That very afternoon the Duke of Aequitas stood before the princess in her father’s study.
“From whom do we buy cotton, cocoa, fruit and vegetables?” she asked him.
“From the Calidum Terram nation Your Highness. We have amicably traded with their people for many years,” he replied.
“Well it’s time you got us a better deal!”
Aequitas was taken aback.
“Forgive me Your Highness, but we already have a good deal. We pay a fair price for top quality produce. It’s a good deal for us and a good deal for them.”
“My people want it cheaper, so that they can afford more. And I intend to give them what they want. Sir, I insist that you make it happen! Renegotiate the deal!”
Aequitas took a deep breath. “Your Highness, I have in my possession a decree, written by your father, which gives me complete discretion in our trade agreements with Calidum Terram. The king has put his trust in me and I will not be persuaded to betray it. Our trade agreements are long-standing, fair and amicable and I will not renegotiate.”
The princess seethed. The duke was nervous but stood his ground. They looked at each other in silence for several moments until she, unable to counter his argument, dismissed him. She slumped over the desk and felt very sorry for herself.
“The first thing they ask me for and I can’t deliver!” she said out loud.
“Perhaps you can,” said a strange voice.
“Ahhh! Where did you come from?” The princess jumped and stood up straight, embarrassed to have been overheard and alarmed to be looking at a strange person who had apparently appeared from nowhere.
“I’m sorry Princess, I didn’t mean to startle you.” He smiled warmly.
“Who are you and where did you come from?” she asked again, calmer now but wary.
“I apologise. My name is Venustus. I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with the duke and I believe I can help.”
“First tell me where you’re from and how you got into the castle!”
As Venustus’s smile broadened, the princess’s mistrust faded away and she forgot her question.
“I can get you what you’re looking for,” he said, “make your trade with me.”
“My father decreed that only Aequitas can make the trade.”
“With Calidum Terram. But what’s to stop you from trading with another party?”
The princess hesitated. “Nothing … I suppose. But we’re already getting a fair deal, so I won’t be able to do better.”
“So says the duke, but how can that be true if I can get you those goods for half the price?”
So Princess Primrose made a deal with Venustus and very soon the cheap goods were on the market. Her people were delighted to find what they needed at such low prices and, as she’d hoped, loved her for listening to them and getting them what they wanted. The princess was very pleased with herself and basked in the adoration of the populace which she read about almost every day.
But not everyone was happy with the new arrangements. The duke was very concerned as the produce from Calidum Terram went bad on the shelves, and he discovered that the princess was trading with Venustus.
He urgently begged an audience with her but when she refused to see him he wrote to her, daily. The first few letters she binned, but after a while she didn’t even bother to read them.
After all, hadn’t her father told her that it wasn’t possible to please everyone? Well, if the Duke of Aequitas wasn’t pleased then that was something she’d just have to live with – and, since he seemed to be the only one who wasn’t happy, she could be pretty satisfied that she’d done a good job.
And she was.
For a while.
Until Grandfather died.
The old man had no family of his own but everyone called him Grandfather. He was kind and cheerful and loved to talk. He could talk for hours but no one minded because talking to him always brightened their day.
When news of Grandfather’s death reached the castle, the princess was saddened, but when she then learned that more people were falling ill, a cold chill shivered through her body.
Princess Primrose desperately hoped that this was not her fault; that the sickness pervading her beloved people was not caused by the cheap fruit and vegetables she had imported through Venustus.
But she couldn’t find Venustus.
The only thing she could do, she decided, was to tell everyone to stop eating the cheap produce; to admit that it might be the cause of their illness.
But the people took no notice. They dismissed as ridiculous the suggestion that the cheap produce might be unhealthy.
“Sickness comes and goes,” they said.
“It’s probably the weather,” they said.
“It will pass,” they said.
The princess was flabbergasted.
“It’s as if they’re under a spell!” she exclaimed.
“It’s worse than that,” said a familiar voice.
The Duke of Aequitas stood before the princess for the first time in many months. After an embarrassed pause she forced herself to ask: “Worse?”
“When I heard you were dealing with Venustus I tried to find out more about him. He is very hard to track down and I could find only three references to him in our archives, one of which dates back four hundred years.”
“Four hundred years? That must have been a different Venustus, his ancestor perhaps?”
“No. There are no others. He’s a wizard Your Highness, he changes appearance to appeal to whomever he’s attempting to fool. But, apparently, he is unable to change his name, it’s the only thing he is truthful about.”
The princess was exasperated. “That’s absurd,” she said, “How do you know this?”
The duke continued, “The four hundred year old reference to Venustus was written by the monks of the ancient Lunam Monastery. It is in the form of a rhyme so that everyone would recite it and remember it. When I read it I became very concerned indeed. The monks only created memory rhymes for things they considered extremely dangerous. It was vital to them that this be remembered generation after generation.”
The princess listened apprehensively as the duke read aloud.
“Venustus he was,
Venustus he is,
Venustus he’ll always be.
He’ll lie about everything else in the world,
But truthful ’bout that he’ll be.”
“Venustus is wicked
Venustus is false
Venustus will use and abuse.
Remember his name, remember his name,
Keep thyself safe from his ruse.”
When he finished, Aequitas paused and looked at the princess. He hesitated to continue burdening her when she looked so defeated, but there was more, and he had to go on.
Aequitas went on to explain that he had found a record of Venustus among the surviving documents of the Procul County Gaol fire, one hundred and forty seven years previous. It was slightly fire-damaged but the charges made against him were still clearly legible.
“It is uncertain how the fire started but Venustus was the only prisoner not accounted for after it was put out,” the duke added.
“But by far the most useful information I have found is contained in this book,” he said as he placed a small, tattered volume on the table. “It belongs to the estate of an elderly lady who recently passed, named Gertrude. She was deaf her whole life and when she was a little girl her mother would write down every piece of news and gossip for her to enjoy in this book. There is here a detailed account of Venustus.”
Click here for Chapter Three
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