My name is Leonard, Leo to my family and friends. I was born the third child to the King and Queen of S. My grandfather had been invited back to the throne after the civil war in which he played a hero in the resistance movement. People were not sure what role a King should play in the new democracy, but he with all his charm and wisdom, set himself up as a national figurehead, financially more or less independent of government funding (the family estates had been returned after the war). He played an advisory role in representing the national interest above politics. He was responsible for initiating various projects that helped bring back the country from financial ruin.
My father had learned well from him, and became a leading light in the arts and sciences, bring up the levels of education within the country, essential for the growth we have experienced.
As the third child, I had no expectations of a major role in the country. Instead my education was in business and finance. I was hoping to go into international banking and make my own way outside of family.
We grew up very closely with various cousins who often came to stay, and we visited them in the country for holidays. One especially, Anthea, was one of my favourites. A girl several years younger than I but who was always willing for any adventure. She seemed scared of nothing. Then one night when I was a young teenager and she almost one, I’d gone out to give my favourite stallion an apple after dinner.
I found her in the stables, white and shaking with fear. She refused to tell me what it was she was scared of, but told me that she would conquer it, as fear itself was the thing to be afraid of. I was impressed by her attitude.
After my mother had died, Anthea’s mother seemed to fill the role for me. So we became even closer.
One night when she and I were still teenagers, we had a long serious discussion over life, marriage and what kind of lives we wanted. We started discussing what we wanted in a spouse. We agreed that if neither of us was married when I was 35 (to us a really advanced age) we would marry, as no one else could ever understand us as well as we did each other. We cut our wrists and mingled the blood, sealing the pact. It was all very dramatic.
Then she went to visit a school friend in her final year of school, fell in love with someone she met there and they married. He was a minor prince, a playboy – years older than she. I assumed the pact was no longer needed, and started really looking at other girls with a great deal of interest.
Before she really had a chance to find out what he was really like, he died in a car accident, leaving her somewhat adrift. She came home, and stayed with us at the Palace for a few weeks. We became even closer friends that we had ever been. Talking to me she realised she too wanted a real career and that she had discovered a desire to be an engineer and went off to University. She completed her post-graduate degree and returned to the family business. She became part of a team that developed some new processing methods and I was so proud of her for achieving through her own capabilities, and told her so on many occasions. I wondered if she would ever re-marry, as she had begun to hear the stories of her first husband’s infidelities and was extremely hurt by them all. She teased me that I had as bad a reputation as he did. I had to admit I did have many girlfriends and several mistresses over the years, but insisted that when I met the right one, I would never betray her.
I finished my post-graduate studies and went off to work in England for a few years. Then a local bank contacted me and invited me home to join their management ‘fast track’ program. So I returned, lived in my home city, worked hard and had a good social life.
My brother and sister were travelling together on holiday in a friend’s light aircraft when it crashed, killing them all. Suddenly I was the heir to a throne I had never wanted. My father and I had several long discussions about it, and I realised I had a chance someday to make a difference for the country in ways I had never before contemplated. I had assumed this would be some years in the future, but the following month when my father had a heart attack, everything changed fast. He discussed it with me and said he’d like a bit of freedom from the responsibilities. So I agreed to step up to the throne, long before I had expected. My father agreed to spend time with me on a regular basis to advise and guide me in a role I had never planned for.
Just before my first formal Palace Ball on Freedom Day, Anthea told me her work on the new processing methods had been regarded as sufficient to warrant a doctoral thesis, and she was well underway with the extra work required. She hoped just a few more months work would carry it off. The years she had put into it were now showing an unexpected benefit. Although Christine, my current mistress, was to be my partner at the ball, I sent the best designer in the city to Anthea, saying her dress would be a present from me because I was so proud of her.
She arrived in time for drinks and some supper with the family before the formalities began. She was looking years younger in the dress, and with her hair and makeup professionally done I thought she was the most beautiful woman, like the young radiant girl who I saw married years before. My father obviously agreed, and the two of them disappeared for a while. When they returned she was wearing some of my grandmother’s jewels, and they suited her perfectly. Christine made a bit of a fuss and immediately I realised I didn’t need this oh so sexy but bitchy woman any more.
I obviously had many formalities to attend to that night, and it was only late in the evening I saw her, dancing with a young man who seemed entranced. I felt a twinge of jealousy and as Christine was complaining, I got someone to order her a taxi home.
Then I went along and stole away my cousin for a dance and then a late night drink and chat in the family section of the palace.