The King and his very arrogant cartographer, Honza, were lost in the Great Grey Wood. The King had on a very large and heavy hat made of gold so that all could see his shining eminence, and the cartographer kept his back very stiff and straight and was very careful to always check his teeth in the small mirror he carried with him, to ensure that they remained clean and white.
It must have been during one of these breaks in Honza’s concentration, when he was looking at himself in the mirror, that he failed to notice the trail receding behind him in the mirror and soon, despite being less than a 20 minute ride from the castle, they were perfectly lost.
Later, upon returning to what they believed to be the same mountain for the fourth time, and as they were without food and very hungry both Gentlemen began to become uncomfortable and move back and forth in their saddles. Ni ether wanted to admit aloud they were lost. After all, for the King, it was perfectly unthinkable that he should be lost in his own kingdom, much less just outside the walls of his own castle. For the cartographer, it was, of course, a matter of pride.
Soon, however, the two men and their two horses visited the same breathtaking vista for the fifth time. This time, clearly something had to be done, as it was certainly becoming quite late.
“I do say”, said the King, clearing his throat loudly,” I feel that I have seen thither mountain before…”
“Ah yes” said the cartographer,” indeed.”
This type of exchange continued for several minutes, the King becoming more and more frustrated and the cartographer more and more reserved and the horses more and more and more tired (the horses had long ago grown hungry and amid the droning monotone of their two noble masters could only think of how they might get moving again, for horses dot mind distance if they are moving but if they are forced to stop and listen to men talk, they get VERY impatient very quickly).
“And what is the name of that mountain” continued the king.
“Not sure…”replied Honza, the cartographer, smoothing his mustache,” but you own it, oh liege”
And on and on in like manner, still neither nobleman wishing to admit that they were totally lost. Finally, it could continue no longer, after all, a horse must get home!
“Claude” said Frank the light coloured horse with the big socks, to Claude, the dark coloured horse to his left. “You reckon its a left up there, and then a right, to get back to the castle”
“Pffffffffft” said Claude blowing his nostrils loudly and shaking his mane,” surely, I could have told you that hours ago.”
“Well, why didn’t you speak up then?”
“well, why didn’t YOU speak up then?|
“OK, ok lets just get going” and so off they went, snorting and tossing heads and tails, in the direction that they knew would take them home for sure. A left, a right, and in the distance, though not at all too distant, the castle could be seen. The King and his map-maker were beside themselves. they couldn’t speak and both were a little embarrassed.
“I am the smartest man in my land” thought the King,” that is why I wear this great and noble crown on my great and noble head, and still these horses seem smarter than I. What if the people hear of this, that I, the King, became lost in my own wood and had to seek help from my horse? Can such a man lead his people? Better I keep this quiet, that no one will find out”
Meanwhile, the cartographer was busy trying to take credit for the achievement of the horses. “Look here, you beast, I told you to turn left hours ago, if you hadn’t gone running off hither and thither but followed my directions we never would have been lost in the first place. And were do you think you are going now?” to which neither Claude nor Frank responded, endlessly loyal and defiant to their masters, and, truth be told, much happier to be moving along again.
Finally the King spoke aloud, but to the cartographer, as everyone knew that horses can’t talk:
“I shall have your head”
at which point the cartographer, struck cold to his toes, stopped his bubbling and nonstop rant.
Then, disparate, he began again
“but how could you do such an unkindness to me? for if it was not for me we should still be lost deep within the wood and you would never have found the way home?”
the King responded, his voice deep and grave
“That, as usual, is untrue. You, in your arrogance and distraction, got us lost,and besides your maps are all wrong”.
“OK, ok” replied the cartographer, “but lift my head from my shoulders and you shall have to explain to everyone how you returned from the forest with the help of a talking horse. Thus really you should consider it a great favor that I keep silent.”
And so the cartographer lived to make it back to the castle, but his pride burned inside of him. That he, the royal mapmaker, could be bettered by a talking horse was simply inconceivable. Angrily he stomped back and forth in front of the stables, making such a fuss and racket that the boys who worked there left, not wanting to disturb the noble man in his foul mood.
Then Honza had an idea. If Frank and Claude had helped him in the forest, surely they could keep helping him. These horses must have many secrets to tell, after all they bore the great King on every hunt and midnight tyrst. These horses could help him have the power he had always wanted. So, looking around to make sure he was unobserved Honza entered the stables.
“Frank” he whispered, “Frank…wake up”
but Frank only snorted and tossed his head.
“Dammit beast,” Honza said, punching the horse in the neck” wake up”
at which point Frank suddenly opened his eyes, and deep inside them for a moment, but only a moment a fire raged. Then, instantly, he remembered his place, and being loyal, looked blankly back at the servant to the king who stood in front of him.
“Look Frank, I brought you some nice oats” said the cartographer, pushing bundles of oats into the pen where Frank and Claude lived. But Frank ignored him. He could sense that something was strange, something was not as it should be. he just snorted, tossed his head.
“All I ask,” began the cartographer, “is that we make a little deal. You like oats right? I like information. We are both looking out for what is right for this kingdom, yes? So maybe you can tell me somethings about where you carry our King at night and what things you hear…”
Again, Frank just snorted and tossed his head, moving away from the oats. They smelled of trouble.
“Fine!” yelled Honza, “if you can’t cooperate with me, I shall have you made into dogfood! At least perhaps your colleague is more reasonable.”
but Claude, Frank’s “colleague” simply tossed his head and snorted, pretending to be asleep.
The map maker was beside himself with rage. Mixing with the fatigue from the days journey and the whiskey he had drunk earlier that evening, he was no longer sure if he had really heard the horses talk or if instead it had all been a dream. He feared for his own sanity but wanted power more than anything. “Speak!” he commanded them. “Damn you! Speak!”
but still the horses kept silent.
Honza grabbed a nearby broom and began striking Claude violently on the head again and again. Frank tried to put his body in the way of the broom but being tied to a pole managed instead to catch the pull force of the assault in the teeth.
Still, both horses stayed silent. After beating them for a few minutes, the map maker showed his teeth and snarled:
“last chance, speak, speak or BURN!” and being greeted with silence he spilled the oil from his lantern onto the hay beneath where the horses were tied. He lifted the lantern high above his head, ready in a moment to smash it down onto the oil soaked hay, his eyes glowing with murder. Frank and Claude, though frightened, stood their ground. They looked back at him with their deep eyes. Without hatred, they were his superiors.
And at that moment they were saved. In rushed the stable boy and poured water all over the fiend and his lantern. And in rushed the Sheriff and, wrestling him to the ground, placed handcuffs on the would-be horse murderer.
“Madman,” he said, ” why are you trying to burn the King’s barn? The stable boy heard you in here talking to the horses and getting angry, so he called me to come. What is wrong with you, fool? You will be hanged in the morning for certain.”
And so he was hanged the next day, and as the stable boy drove the cart with the body of the cartographer’s body to the prisoner’s cemetery (for, being a traitor, he could no longer be buried in the King’s cemetery) he asked the horses:
“So, what was all that about last night? What did you say to make him so upset?”
Now the horses had long been friends with the stable boy and had come to love him very much and so when no one was around they talked openly with him.
“I said nothing” said Claude, “I just pretended to be asleep”
“Me either” said Frank, tossing his head and snorting.
“So what was the problem?” asked the boy
“dunno” said Frank, “maybe he was crazy, “thinking horses could talk”
Later that day, while Claude and Frank were chewing things in the pasture, the King came to see them.
“So,” said the King, “I must thank you for showing me the nature of the incompetence and treacherous fool I had in my court. I owe you greatly, and from now on you will receive special oats every midday.”
The horses said nothing, ignoring him, as is the usual behavior for them.
“But I must ask you” asked the King” how is it that you never spoke to me before, after all, I am your great and noble king?”
There was a long pause, and then Claude looked up from the grass, looked into the Kings blue eyes with his own dark infinite eyes, and said “you never asked”.
And so it was true. The King went home, and everyone went to sleep.