Living in a bustling town was a beautiful young Princess called Horatia. Her parents, the King and Queen of a very small Kingdom, were hardworking and striving people but not abundant in wisdom and poise. Life within the Kingdom was tough and practical with no waste and little pomp and ceremony. Rather there was a searching for a real and a better future. Everywhere people worked and had to be conscious and self-sustaining except in rare cases where this was not possible because of age or illness or other unfortunate situations. All this gave the Kingdom an air of simplicity and straightforwardness, together with a sense of purpose.
The King and the Queen were bent on better education and exposure for their children so that they might be better able to lead the Kingdom’s people in the future. Their offspring were schooled by the most caring and cultured people that the King and Queen could find amongst their citizens. They all worked hard and over time felt an awareness growing in them that what they were being exposed to was right. All the children were also educated abroad in some way in an attempt to properly equip them for life. They learnt the ways of other Kingdoms and got to know the families and extend their friendships beyond the boundaries of their own direct horizons, for elsewhere in the World, there was wisdom too though it had to be sought out. This was the view of our King and Queen.
Surrounding the Kingdom were many other Kingdoms where different rulers lead with different dreams. Some were lazy, some were bent on displaying wealth, and still others enjoyed fun and entertainment. There were some that wanted to be producers of fine clothes, watches and implements. All these small Kingdoms made up the greater community of Kingdoms that our King and Queen and their family were drawn into. Lurking in between the daily openly visible striving of individuals was also the subtle pursuit of evil intent expressed in theft, power, abuse and manipulation. It was a bustling Country of diversity, failures and hope.
The beautiful Horatia was the oldest of three children. She was lithe, athletic, bright, vivacious and a communicator. She was a fighter and disciplined but also chased fanciful rainbows that would not always be where she expected that they would be. She hated losing or being wrong and would pretend to know it all until really trapped by reality. Then she would fob off the situation and into her heart she would pour something that the King and Queen could not see even though outwardly she would make a remark to pacify them. Horatia continued to dream of greatness though and sought out some life that she felt was missing in her Kingdom. She strangely showed moments of great uncertainty and tenderness but these were few and far between. Her bold approach to life lead her parents and family, including her Grandparents, the former Kings and Queens of this Kingdom and another, for they were all royalty of course, to believe that she would never fail. In environments where Horatia was put before her teachers and guides, she was very diligent, obedient and helpful, in some way a conflict with what she was within the Palace. She did have a secret fear for some things that she showed little interest in understanding. She seemed to be wary of making people angry or getting into trouble, but this did not stop her from taunting her siblings that loved her and looked up to her. Horatia however was more interested in provoking the reaction than being looked up to, and while her siblings were really quite gentle and loving souls, with warm and caring dispositions, Horatia didn’t mind in the least to cruelly taunt them at their most vulnerable moments. Horatia had a very cruel side to her where power seemed to mean so much to her that she would forget her heart completely in moments like these.
Horatia loved to be drawn into the quarters of the Palace staff and play, meet and experience their existence which was much simpler than her own even. In the afternoons when an outride was not possible, Horatia would search out some domestic activity going on in the living quarters of the Palace staff. She would find a group involved in a cultural game of stone tossing or watch the women colouring cloth using plant extracts. Sometimes she would get her hair combed because she had the most beautiful hair that the Palace girls loved to play with and plait. Horatia was a down to earth girl but she was also very bright and coped easily with reading and remembering what she had read. She found her education quite easy to deal with and her teachers always knew that she could manage just about anything that they gave to her academically.
Horatia loved her horses and riding on the outrides with the Palace staff when they patrolled the Kingdom’s outer boundaries, forests and rivers. She was a sound horsewoman from an early age and was strong and fit as a result. She adored being more daring and bolder than riders twice her age. She flirted and challenged and played all sorts of games to try to draw a reaction and a race or competition of some sort. Every so often the King and Queen, also accomplished horse riders, would ride out and the King would sometimes leave the pomp and tradition of the ride to show young Horatia up. They loved each other and enjoyed the flair that they called up in each other. The King quietly admired Horatia and Horatia loved the King.
The Queen was a hardworking woman, very well read and dedicated to the cultural life of the Kingdom. Most of her time was spent indoors and supporting the festivals celebrated in the Kingdom and the women and children of the Kingdom. She was not an administrator, a cook, or a craftswoman. She was knowledgeable and more and more devoted to the religious life of the Kingdom. Sometimes the Queen would go out in the late afternoons for a ride with a groom or two and when Horatia had the chance, she would join because rides with the Queen were sedate and there was a chance for Horatia to be with the Queen on her own and have her full attention and hear some of her pearls of wisdom that flowed from her as she observed and commented on the surroundings, or in the discussions that she had with the odd person that they met on the rides. Even just the comments that the Queen made about people that they passed during their outrides, that humbly greeted the Queen’s entourage, were enlightening and broadened Horatia’s knowledge of the history and people that lived in the Kingdom. On returning from these rides Horatia would sometimes write poetry about the things that had welled up in her heart from these experiences, both with the King, the Queen and the Palace rides. Inwardly she was deeply moved on occasions and found vent for these feelings in her writing. She was loved by many and had many friends and contacts throughout the neighbouring Kingdoms.
On one such outride with the King and the Queen, when Horatia was a budding young woman, the riders came up to a group of riders whom they did not know or recognise. Immediately an air of caution descended upon the Royal entourage. The Knights, in well drilled fashion, moved gently but preparedly into a loose military formation to protect the King, Queen and their children should the need arise. A cautious engagement ensued with a messenger sent on up ahead to enquire as to who the approaching party might be and what they sought. The immediate impression of the approaching party was that they were brazen and hard men.
On enquiry however, the leader, whose name was Sir Broser, turned out to be very polite, well-spoken and gentle. He was a man of small stature and almost frail features. His eyes seemed to be almost orange, but he was polite and educated and intellectually refined it seemed. This was quite a surprise to the King’s party as Broser’s company were in their Kingdom without the appropriate protocols having been followed. Broser’s horsemen were rather tired looking and their horses of good quality but not well schooled. The King observed that the men that Broser had gathered around him were tough men. Broser’s gruff and untidy entourage seemed paradoxical to his meek frame and gentleness and the wealth expressed in his personal clothing and saddlery.
Broser’s eyes moved slowly between those of the King whom he addressed so politely and the rest of the King’s entourage taking in all that was there while remaining polite and in full contact with the King often enough so as not to appear disrespectful or overly inquisitive. The King found no particular pleasure or threat from Broser’s company at first glance and so acceded to his request to stay a while in an enclosure offered by the King a few miles from the Palace as a gesture of acceptance of Broser’s good will. The parties then greeted each other formally and went on, Broser to his enclosure and the King’s entourage on their ride.
The King and Horatia and some of his closer accomplices had some fun chasing some wild buck, resting under the large trees while the horses were refreshed and allowed to drink from the stream and on the gallop back along the fields as they approached the palace. There was joy and a sense of wellbeing amongst all. However the King was not his usual self at the dinner table that night.
Broser had listened to the King’s directions attentively and found the accommodation easily as a consequence. He also found it very fair and amenable and was satisfied. He went about posting guards and setting up his men into a simple but well-structured routine to make sure that he was always in the know of who was approaching and that he would not be surprised in any way. He drew from the bags, carried by his men, his considerable comforts of fine materials and silver and gold. He selected a concealed spot for himself to make his private quarters and into which he had his fine provisions carefully laid out by only his right hand man, also a small young man, just too old to be a son. His name was Timothy, a timid and afraid looking young fellow who was feared by the rest as he was the only one that knew what Broser thought and planned.
Once Broser was settled in as he desired, he kindly went about seeing to the arrangements amongst his men. Timothy was always at his side, sort of grimacing and tilting his head from side to side as he took in what Broser was saying and what he wanted. Timothy did not want to miss a word or make a single mistake. Broser would smile at his men through his orange eyes and gently showed them why they should arrange themselves differently and that his ideas were better and more practical. His kindness and willingness to help them make the changes he suggested was always enough to persuade them that he was the kindest master and that loyalty to him was a good bet for their safety going forward. Broser’s men were loyal to him for this reason. Broser needed loyal men for his own security and status and had seen how people responded to his kindness, patience and sharp intellect. His men saw in him someone worth defending for these reasons.
Broser was able to converse with the best and was astute at making excellent deals with other men of stature. It was from this methodology that he managed, somehow, to feed and retain his group of men and to live in a kind of isolation from the world without a permanent place of abode, a trade, a family, relatives, a God, and so on. Broser and his retinue lived comfortably, being where they wanted to be, almost, and were often guests of interesting people. They had food and horses and each other. They seemed to be unaware or disconnected from the world that they lived and moved in.
Meanwhile, at the Palace, the days continued as usual. The King rose each morning and prepared himself, also inwardly, for the day of decision making and consultations in order to provide leadership and direction for the Kingdom. He knew that people looked up to him and that his leadership determined how his people went about orientating themselves to life in the Kingdom. He had to be the ultimate example. He needed to be practical and wise at the same time. He knew that he was regularly approached by people wanting favours as regards farming land, or to enable introductions to his lieutenants in charge of armaments, or supplies for the Palace compound. He would have to entertain citizens of unsound mind, people from the homes that cared for the sick and much more in a day. The King had to be a King.
His subjects needed to feel that there was equity and consistent boundaries. The King had learnt, because he wanted to be a King of quality that he had to be in contact with the life of his subjects. He had seen all too often what made other Kingdoms work and what made them fail. His subjects respected him and his clarity. For these reasons, his people were courageous and happy. They worked hard and knew that this was good for all. There were trials too, unexpected deaths, accidents, family feuds, fraudulent conduct, trafficking of all kinds also in the Kingdom, but the King’s people knew that he wanted better and most supported this in him. Each time a policy needed to be changed, the King called together the wise men that had constituted into a Council and they carefully and diligently debated the matters in the interest of the Kingdom as a whole. On this Council, which was unusual at this time, the King had invited, with the consent of his neighbouring Kings, a few selected wise men according to their recommendations. This helped the King develop the Kingdom beyond his own potential. The Kingdom was really starting to thrive and Broser had heard about this and wanted to meet the King. He felt that there was something missing from his own life but did not know what.
In the days that followed, Broser had asked the King for permission to hunt for food to feed his people. He had sent Timothy with two of his men to deliver a message of his appreciation for the hospitality of the King and to ask the King for permission to hunt for food only. The King felt obliged to do so as he had not had any messages of a negative nature about Broser. In fact, he had heard that Broser had taken in a couple of children of the palace staff and had started to educate them and care for them. These children had found their way to Broser when on a scouting mission with Horatia. Horatia had been inquisitive as to Broser and his way of life after hearing the King and Queen talking about him following their meeting on the ride. She had taken some support with her, in the form of some feisty, energy filled, happy friends of hers from whom she had learned so much.
They had left the Palace in the early afternoon and taken a route so as to approach the Broser camp through a forested area. Broser’s guards, alert and diligent because of their dependence on Broser, and their fear of him, had spotted the party of snooping teenagers, and had suddenly surrounded them, giving them a huge fright at the same time, but were always very polite and smiling. Of course they took an immediate shine to Horatia because of her beauty and obvious breeding. They led them to Broser while taking care to not overtly antagonise them but touched them whenever they could. Broser, on seeing the three girls and the King’s daughter, was quietly excited and welcomed them to his quarters.
Horatia and the others were already afraid, but the kindness of Broser made the others feel somewhat at ease and left Horatia knowing that she was safe for now. She noticed how Broser initially scanned her up and down with a smile and glint in his orange eyes, but only so ever faintly did the glint and smile show. Horatia was no fool and from a good family where all the life experience that she had, stood her in good stead. She watched as the gaze of Broser left her and went to the other girls. They were not of Horatia’s breeding but were clean, well clothed and down to earth. They had after all been brought up very close to the King and Queen’s influence. Broser looked around at the eyes of his men and knew that they needed female company and Broser’s mind wondered. He needed his men. Having in the kindest and gentlest way offered the girls all a drink and the sweetest biscuits that they had ever tasted, he sent them on their way back to the palace after inviting them back the next day for some more treats and some games. Horatia left with the girls knowing that things did not feel right while the girls chatted excitedly about their experience as they followed Horatia’s brisk walk home.
In the days that followed, the Palace girls went back on their own to visit Broser’s enclosure and
experience the kindness and hospitality of these men who gave them their undivided attention. This went on for several weeks. The girls were given extra lessons by Broser himself and he tried to assist them with their schooling. His men were always around and watched and participated and the girls found themselves at the centre of great attention and learning. On each visit there was time for some socialising and fun too. Broser could see what was living in his men and just before the girls had left late one afternoon, he called them together secretly and advised them not to talk to anyone at the Palace about how much they enjoyed the visits and to insist that they were being educated only.
As the visits continued, Broser also gently assured them of his plans to move on and to share his life with them and that this was much better than their current existence. Again he urged them to be careful what they shared with the Palace. Broser mentioned that Horatia especially should not know that they enjoyed the visits to him so that the King would not become alarmed in any way and allow him and his men to stay on longer so that they could get more education.
Meanwhile, back at the Palace, Horatia continued to develop and grow in all her skills. She loved life and was free to experience the widely differing options with all in the Kingdom. She begun, however, to notice that her favourite friends from the palace staff were not as open and friendly as they had been before. They used to love seeing her and felt honoured and joyful and excited to receive Horatia into their midst in the afternoons when Horatia used to visit them. Now, however, Horatia was aware of a kind of distance and almost evasiveness when she went down to visit them. They just seemed to be absent. She could not make head or tail of their reasons for not being there or not being able to meet her. First their parents also seemed totally open to Horatia and gave her open, heart-warming greetings and had the same innocence as always. Then Horatia noticed also that over the next couple of weeks that they too seemed to have lost their friendliness with her and others too. There seemed to be a kind of unhappiness living in the Palace quarters.
Horatia decided to see for herself what was going on with the girls and what they were up to in the afternoons. So, one afternoon, Horatia left the Palace earlier than usual and waited just out of site of the Palace for something to materialise. Suddenly she saw the girls, with drawn expressions on their faces, leave the Palace by the back door and move knowingly and with purpose, but not with a bounce in their step, in the direction of Broser’s camp. Horatia followed them at a distance making sure that she was not seen. Horatia also knew from her first visit that there were likely to be lookouts and guards protecting Broser. She took this into her thinking and was even more cautious. The girls arrived at Broser’s enclosure and walked very confidently in where they were met with warm embraces by Broser’s men. These embraces were revealing and more than friendly. Suddenly Horatia was grabbed from behind and she screamed in fright. She had been caught following the girls into Broser’s camp. Her captor closed her mouth with his hand to prevent any further noise and dragged and carried her to Broser’s room where he drew Timothy’s attention to his bounty and signalled with his eyes to let Broser know. Shortly Broser arrived and with Timothy fidgeting around from one side of Broser to the other and sucking up spittle that tended to dribble from his mouth that was always more open than closed, Horatia was let go into the ambit of Broser’s kindness.
Broser smiled warmly at Horatia and welcomed her and apologised for the poor way in which she had been handled. He invited her to come to the common where they could have tea together. Horatia was dumbfounded. She had just been manhandled by a rather filthy guard with bad breath, and here she was now almost taken in by a very bright, well-spoken and gentle Broser. It took Horatia a few more moments to make sense of all of this before she found her footing as she followed Broser to the adjoining common room where, to Horatia’s absolute shock, she found the three girls all on the laps of three of Broser’s men looking rather sheepish but nonetheless seemingly quite aware and confident of what they were up to. The men and the girls likewise were surprised to see Horatia and jumped up and greeted her politely but with no glimmer of the joy that was there just a matter of weeks before.
Horatia was distraught and pleaded with the girls to leave with her immediately for the Palace. Broser looked on with his orange eyes and a quiet complexion knowing that his men came first as he needed them for his own lonely lifestyle as much as they needed female company. The men on the other hand became quite emotional and pleaded their undying love for the girls, each his own. The look on the girls’ faces was one of being lost and lonely. They however went to their respective men and stood by their sides and refused to come back to the Palace as it was not yet time. Horatia was beside herself with confusion. These simple, lovely young girls were not the same anymore. They seemed to be very self-confident and yet not happy or sure.
Horatia at this point demanded from Broser that he send the girls back with his command to his men, failing which she would leave and call her father, the King, to intervene. Broser remained calm and kind as usual and knew that if he had happy men, they would make his life easier. These were only three young girls and he had time to up and leave before the King could do anything as the King would insist on protocols that would take time before a meeting would become a reality. When Broser gently told Horatia that he thought, that it would be better that he met the King to discuss the matter, Horatia made one last appeal to her friends to come with her. She reminded them of their plans for the future, the fun that they could have together, and the transitory nature of a life with a gypsy type of band that Broser and his men essentially were. Broser at this point had had enough and in an unusual display of anger, expressed in a very intellectual and cold deluge of words, he told Horatia to leave his compound immediately.
Horatia’s skin was tingling as she ran like the wind back to the Palace to share her utter consternation with the King and Queen and the parents of the girls. Once there, she pleaded with the King for an urgent meeting with the Queen and a special invitation to the parents of the girls. The King tried to calm her down but saw at once that Horatia was more moved than he had ever seen her and acceded to her requests. The parents of the girls shared how they had all experienced the dull look on their daughters’ faces over the last weeks and how confused and vulnerable they had become and how they had stopped communicating. Horatia told of what she had seen and that she had not felt in any way threatened at Broser’s enclosure but that she could not make any contact with her friends. They seemed to have been taken over by something that she could not explain. The King agreed to send a rider out in the morning to ask Broser for a convenient time to meet him and suggested that they meet at the palace in two days’ time. This would give Broser enough time to prepare anything that he needed to.
And so it came to pass that the girls never returned, not even that night, to the palace or their families. The king’s messenger still went to hand the invitation to Broser the next day and was again greeted most politely and kindly and Broser, expecting this, sent a gift of fresh meat to the King. During the next night, Broser and his party left the area never to be seen again. The life of the girls and their families changed forever. No word was heard from them for many a year. One day, when Horatia was the Queen, a beautiful, honourable and wise queen, she was called to the Palace entrance to be shown a bedraggled woman with six poorly children hanging onto her. Slowly it dawned on her that behind the worn and wrinkled face of the woman was one of the girls that was once her friend. Horatia heard nothing of the others ever again.
In the face of her friend that had returned Queen Horatia recognised the light of her heart that she knew was in her as a child. She saw that in her eyes were expressed the look of having learnt and having experienced life. S he saw love, humility and experience. Queen Horatia’s heart went out to her friend Amethyst and her scamps. The Queen took them in and Amethyst became her dearest friend again and they both cared for the children’s future.