Yuli and Willem awaited the arrival of Roman at the statue of Henry the Lion in front of the southern palace gates, the ones on to the Rodolferplaz. This was principally because of its reputation, which charmed Willem. Indeed there was a distinct vegetable reek of marijuana in the Saturday morning air.
Willem sidled up to a nearby source of the smoke, a tall and bald German guy leaning up against the granite plinth, and cadged a drag, telling Yuli he needed it to calm him down. As it happened the conversation took longer than expected, and Willem returned somewhat red. ‘He was offering 100 krone for a blow job and 300 for a fuck. Six hundred for both of us to perform for him,’ was the reply to Yuli’s raised eyebrow.
Yuli shot a look at the man, who leered back at him. But being an out gay these days, he was not quite so intimidated as he might have otherwise been. ‘Think what he might offer when Romesczu turns up. You should have held out,’ he pronounced drily.
Willem snorted. Roman arrived shortly after, and when he kissed both Yuli and also, a little shyly, Willem, the pothead’s jaw hung loose. Yuli gave him the middle finger as they left.
‘What was that about?’ Roman asked.
‘You don’t want to know,’ Willem replied. ‘So where’re we going? I’ve never been in the Residenz before.’
Roman replied for them. ‘We … er … we go through the Reitschule Gate at the back, and along the garden front.’
‘Are we gonna see the king and queen?’
‘Unlikely, Willemczu,’ Yuli replied. ‘They live up in the private wing, which is at the west end, overlooking Gartengasse; that right, Romesczu?’
‘I … er … think so. Mutta was at a reception there last year. She said it looked rather bourgeois.’
‘Bourgeois!’ chortled Willem. ‘Who’da thought a Peacher lady and the Red Elphberg could be so lacking in style? They can’t be short of cash.’
Yuli gave Roman’s hand a quick squeeze, in case his boyfriend was unhappy with Willem’s ribbing. And indeed, Roman did go ominously quiet till they got to the police checkpoint. Willem’s name was on the clipboard and his ID was in order, so the three boys made their way into the tranquillity of the Hofgarten.
‘Cool!’ was Willem’s verdict as he surveyed the lawns, lake and trees. ‘Amazing how quiet it is in here, what with the city just on the other side of the walls. Could almost be in the country.’
‘Hello, Yuli!’ the guards officer at the garden doors greeted them.
‘Hey! It’s the major! How are you, sir? How’s Herr At-vood?’
Edward Cornish was in his undress blues. ‘No idea. I never see him. He’s on one of his crusades at the moment. I think I know young Roman, and who’s the third musketeer?’
Willem and the major shared a strong handshake as they were introduced, Yuli pausing to observe something similar in the look and bearing of the boy and the man. ‘So you’re all three on the day list. Take whatever time you want, I won’t send my men in after you. Other than that you know the rules. Only the public rooms and clear out of the Hofkapelle when the clergy perform the offices, unless you want to join in of course. Mass was over a half hour ago.’
The air of the Hofkapelle was still rich with the scent of incense. Yuli and Roman took the covers off the piano, removed the blocks and carefully manoeuvred it out from under the pulpit, while Willem wandered round the chapel using up his camera memory.
Roman brought over a music stand and arranged his scores, while Yuli made himself comfortable at the concert grand. ‘Wow! So this is what a Steingraeber looks like. Is it good?’
Yuli ran his fingers over the keys. ‘I should say so. It’s new too. It’s worth twice, maybe three times what your Steinway is. Someone has money.’
‘That’ll be the queen. A lot of Peacher funds went into refitting the Hofkapelle. It was in a mess at the Restoration. Vater says it was criminal what the Republics did to it, or rather didn’t do, because it was stripped out by those Thuringians before the Great War and just left to rot. The Kapelle was used as a storeroom a lot of the time.’
Yuli looked around him at the beautiful space he was learning very much to love, and felt the tragedy. ‘So the queen must have put up the money to repair my good friend Meister Hildebrandt?’
‘I guess. The EU was generous too, though the Church didn’t offer much, Vater said. Shall we start with that lovely song, the one we both liked: Den Frauljen zu Modenehem?’
Yuli found the music, which he’d photocopied from the gymno cache. He started in with the rather jolly introduction, and soon both boys were fully engaged in their music, Roman beginning artfully to exploit the acoustic of the Hofkapelle as the song crested and fell. Yuli caught his strategy and did his best to match it.
Before long they were utterly absorbed in a mutual intellectual ecstasy of performance which was quite as potent as a sexual one for such creative and sensitive boys. They forgot Willem’s existence for quite some time.
When Roman finally called a halt, and Yuli stretched, he looked round for Willem. To his surprise he discovered his friend was not alone but chatting happily with a woman, sitting next to each other on the chairs under the organ gallery. He was grinning fit to bust. Yuli caught Roman’s eye and jerked his head in Willem’s direction.
Roman looked behind him and a hand went up to his mouth. He leaned back over the piano. ‘It’s the queen!’
Henry’s licensed crusading period was nearly up. He was at his bullpen desk, thinking deeply while hugging a coffee. It was Saturday and quiet in the Eastnet offices. He’d not got as much material as he’d hoped. He knew that the Nuevemesten thought it had a claim on the old forest of Strelsau, though he could not find any reason to believe the Burgomeister and his council had any sort of case. Nonetheless they were going to defend the action at the District Court. So he was missing something. But what?
He was also deeply suspicious. The Nuevemesten authorities were brushing off any enquiries, either ignoring his approaches or referring him to glossy and uninformative websites. He had only two avenues left, if you included Peter Peacher, but that was the nuclear option. So it was on with the other one.
He ditched his coffee carton, grabbed his shoulder bag and headed out of the Strelsenermedia building towards the cathedral square, which was as usual full of drifting tribes of tourists, pigeons scavenging between their feet. He took the lane down the west side of the abbey of St Waclaw, steep and cobbled with a fine view of the Arsenal spread out below. South of the abbey precinct was the ancient Veronkenkirche, and amongst the medieval half-timbered houses that closed it round was in Henry’s opinion the best café on the Domshorja, maybe in the entire city. He was a bit peeved that the Rough Guide to Strelzen had found it too, and now there was often a queue outside the Kirchehaus am Domshorja, as it was called. Henry found his morning meeting already awaiting him inside.
‘Good morning, Herr Senator,’ he said, cheerily taking his seat.
‘Lovely place, Henry,’ admired Leon Gratzke, the senator for the metropolitan district of Strelzen. ‘I never knew it was here. I certainly won’t forget it.’
‘My mum found it; well, you know her. She has this uncanny instinct for sniffing out excellent cafés. It’s quite like the ones you find in the nicer British cities, but the sandwiches are meatier, the coffee richer, and the service cheerier. Also the fries are to die for.’
‘I’ve been feasting on the menu. It puts the senatorial cafeteria in the Parliament building quite in the shade. A pity it’s so far away from the State District. Do you know what you want? Because that young lady over there has been desperate to serve me since I sat down.’
Though not exactly a senior journalist, Henry had a talent for ingratiating himself with politicians, helped in part by his well-known connection with the royal family. With Leon Gratzke it had turned into friendship, for the old man was that wise, grandfatherly sort Henry tended to sympathise with. The senator’s politics were conservative, but not of the harsh, reactionary sort. He was also an Old Catholic, and since there was no church of that denomination in Strelzen he and his family attended Henry’s father’s Anglican chaplaincy of St Edward the Confessor in the Nuevemesten, which was another reason for them to be friendly.
As they awaited their coffee order Henry began to lay out his concerns, sketching out his investigations to date. The senator nodded and pursed his lips as Henry talked. Finally he said, ‘I believe it may be a lot more complicated than you think, young Henry. It’s made me curious too. The Ruritanischer Tagblatt is sniffing around the story, so you’re not the first to raise the subject with me.’
‘So what do you know, Leon?’
‘You mean … what do I know that I’m willing to share with you, Henry?’ He laughed. ‘Dieter von Ebersfeld has been driving on my bumper these past five years. He wants — or rather he wanted — the CDP nomination for my seat in the Senate should I choose to retire. Now all of a sudden he doesn’t.’
‘So he has different ambitions?’
‘I believe so. I think we both know Trachtenberg’s coalition is becoming shaky. The next general election might well see the Right gain power, and the CDP will lead that coalition. So it is the time for any ambitious career politician to position himself to make his bid for party leader. All Dieter needs is a parliamentary seat, and he’s on the list now for a safe seat in Neder Husbrau.’
‘Ah! You think …?’
‘Dieter’s made his splash as Burgomeister: all the new building and the development of the Sixth have given him a profile. His name is being mentioned a lot, though Von Lauern has more traction of course. Von Lauern is the leader of the Catholic right and big in the provinces, while Dieter is a city man, with the business connections. It’s a new factor in CDP internal politics, these neoliberals. Dieter has a lot of connections and big backing from his developer friends. He’s courting PeacherCorp, I hear.’
‘Trying to maybe, but with no great success.’
‘Interesting. You have good sources there.’
‘And my Peacher sources are seriously irritated by the hold-up over the Strelsenerwald. This is the thing though: why on earth is Von Ebersfeld fighting for control of North Martzfeld, as he and his developer friends call it? They have no case. Or at least none I can discover.’
‘Hmm. I think, young Henry, you are forgetting the money that stands behind Dieter, and the lengths that some of the people with that money may go to get even more. Big money attracts big lawyers and buys the sort of lobbyists who can get things done … one way or another.’
‘Isn’t it. Before Dieter lost interest in my seat, I found myself the object of unwelcome journalistic attention — and not all from the liberal press — concerning a number of allegations. One was an old rumour of a marital indiscretion that was dredged up from a scandal sheet of the early nineties — those wild days when censorship was first lifted by the new Third Republic and any sort of trash could get printed. But then there was a much more disturbing portfolio that I was presented with, alleging my undercover connections with Horvath’s Okranske Dienst and my supposed informing on colleagues in the liberal underground. It came with some quite creative art. Fortunately it was given to the Ruritanischer Tagblatt, whose people were as properly sceptical as good journalists should be. They gave a copy to me to deny if I could. I was able to circumstantially disprove it with documents of my own, and they were happy to back off rather than be slammed for huge damages. Still, someone had paid a lot of money to fake up likely-looking lies.’
‘Wow! Did you pass it on to the police?’
‘The State Police were on the case for a while. They found it worrying and took it seriously but in the end turned up nothing. However, since the police found no other members of parliament being targeted at the time, I take it the aim was to discredit me personally rather than the party through me. Which led me to conclude that Dieter was in some way behind it. I wonder what else he may be capable of?’
Roman and Yuli headed over to the organ screen, where they both made a proper Rothenian bow to Queen Harriet, sitting next to Willem. Yuli was too nervous to begin a conversation, which was as well, since it would have been a breach of protocol if he had. The queen was as beautiful in real life and close up as she looked in the magazines Yuli’s mother left on their coffee table. She was in casuals, indeed in blue jeans, with an open neck linen shirt and a string of pearls.
‘Good morning Julius and Roman,’ she said with an infectious smile in her slightly American-accented Rothenian. ‘Willem and I have been very much enjoying your performance. He’s been telling me all sorts of things about you, Yuli — is it alright to call you that? I had no idea you were the Staroman’s son. And your friend Roman is the Burgomeister’s! You two make music together like angels; I think there could be a lesson there for the harmony of local government in Strelzen. If only your fathers were musically inclined.’
Willem giggled at the thought. ‘Harry was passing and came in to investigate. You shouldna left the door open.’
Yuli gaped at his friend. ‘Harry!?’
‘It’s okay,’ the queen laughed, ‘he has royal permission. Take a seat boys. Now tell me about the music you’re working on. I know how good Roman is, but the pair of you together are something else, and you seem to have found a rich seam of lieder which brings out both your strengths. I’ve not heard these songs before.’
Yuli explained the sources of their music, and Roman began chipping in. Soon the boys were animated and trading observations about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Rothenian songs. ‘The collection we came across was begun by Ludovic zu Wendel, one of Queen Flavia’s court composers,’ Yuli explained. ‘Some of them were adaptations of old country songs he’d transcribed and arranged, but others were rather more courtly.’
‘Yes,’ added Roman, his hesitancy temporarily in abeyance. ‘They were compositions from the previous century, several of them from the courts of the princes and counts of the time of Rudolf III, who kept up a tradition of patronising Rothenian musicians. One of them was dedicated to my ancestor, the Baron Reinhold von Ebersfeld zu Bollesberh, would you believe?’
‘Unfortunately it’s a bit crap, so we dropped it from our list,’ Yuli interjected.
The queen burst into a very attractive fit of throaty laughter.
Willem held up his handij. ‘Your man Wendel has a wall memorial over there above the font. I took a slide. It’s got a portrait bust. Amazing moustache, just like a walrus.’
The queen checked her small but very obviously valuable watch. ‘It’s coming up time for the midday office, so I imagine you boys will need to clear out. Tell you what. Come up to the apartment. I can give you lunch and you can tell me more about your fascinating musical adventures. It’s okay, Rudi is off inspecting tanks somewhere.’
Willem grinned. ‘That’ll be the king, right?’
‘Indeed. He is a man of simple pleasures.’ She stood and off they went, the queen taking Willem’s arm in hers. And so they breezed through security up the stairs into the west wing, chatting as they went.
It was a very enjoyable hour, for the queen was gifted with adolescent boys, having, as she said, ridden shotgun on her twin brother through his worst years. They laughed their way through the sandwiches, cakes and drinks that magically appeared at a phone call. Eventually a very deferential aide appeared and the queen had to wind things up.
‘It’s been fun, really. I can’t tell you how much. A pleasure to meet you, Willemczu and Yuli. I hope we meet again, and I’m certainly looking forward to hearing more of Yuli and Roman together. You’ll look gorgeous in black tie.’ Handshakes were exchanged and Willem’s handij camera was filled up with shots of the boys with the queen.
As they were escorted by a footman down through the palace, Roman observed, ‘Not in the least bourgeois in my opinion.’
Willem was in a daze. ‘Harry Peacher called me Willemczu. Now I can happily wank myself to death.’
Roman and Yuli stared across the dining hall on Monday. Willem Kral was not an unpopular boy in their gymno, but this was not normal: there he was, besieged by a gang of girls, one leaning on his shoulders, cheek to his cheek, as they laughed and stared at his Nokia.
‘It’s the pictures,’ observed Lorenz Felipovic, one of the more persistent would-be alphas who had taken to sitting with them. ‘He could fuck any of them. He hung with the Queen at the Residenz, and you know what girls think of her.’
Lorenz was a Year 12 gay and lived in hopes of Yuli and Roman breaking up. Failing that he had already made a determined pass at Yuli behind Roman’s back, yet was not put off by the rebuff. Promiscuous tendencies aside, Lorenz was reasonably good company, and so they tolerated him.
Yuli hoped that Willem was not being led by his new fan club into indiscretion. But apparently he had not brought Yuli and Roman into the spotlight, which was a good sign. Bolslaw was nowhere to be seen, and at the end of the day as Roman and Yuli were heading to the tram stop Willem came up behind them. ‘Wanna walk home, Yuli?’
‘I told Bolo to go jump off the Arsenalsbrücke. Apparently your snobbish tendencies are entirely eclipsed by my hanging with Harry Peacher. We had a terminal difference of opinion.’
‘Oh! Sure. Great. Well, see ya tomorrow, Romesczu.’ Yuli and Willem resumed their old route back home and up the Domshorja.
Willem was bubbling with something. ‘You know Della? The blonde in your music group?’
‘We’re meeting tonight at the Neueplaz McDonald’s.’
‘Oh right, the more stylish one with the McCafé?’
‘Nothing but the best for my girl.’
Yuli stopped dead. ‘What, really! Willemczu! That’s fantastic. Della’s great. Probably a little sophisticated for you, but great! How did this happen?’
‘Seems she is a mega-fan of Harry’s. And her desperate need to talk to me led us into a conversation where she found out why it was the Queen of Style and Fashion fell for my boyish charms. Also she’s sexually fascinated by albinos with acne.’
‘How far did you get?’
‘Just eyes meeting and a hand squeeze, but I think I caught her sizing up my package.’
Yuli laughed. ‘The way things are going you’re likely to be the first of us to get laid.’
‘Still no luck?’
‘We’ve got to do it, or I’ll burst. And this is the last week of term. He goes abroad next Monday. Won’t be back till the middle of August.’
‘Can’t you sorta sneak off into the park after school and try for a blowjob?’
‘He gets picked up from the tram stop by his Mutta or by the PA guy from his Vater’s office. It’s like he’s under guard. Anyway, we’re gonna try for Saturday. My parents are out and he thinks he can get into town on his own midday, so it’ll be in my bedroom. Er … how do I get hold of lube, and condoms if he wants to use them?’
Willem grinned. ‘We sell ‘em in Kral’s, behind the counter. For you, I can do a special deal. I have a high regard for your penis, it’s an old friend of mine.’
By Friday and the last day of Year 11, a new dynamic had begun in Yuli’s life which promised well for Year 12. Bolslaw had found several new and oafish mates, which was a sour note, but Willem and Della had rapidly become an undeniable item and now daily resorted to Yuli and Roman’s lunch table, which had become the focus of the alpha crowd in the senior hall. Roman was very happy to chat to Della, who was herself an accomplished clarinetist and a stalwart of the school orchestra. She was in awe of his voice and sense of style. ‘You go to Le Snip? I just stand outside it and drool!’ She made Roman laugh, which as far as Yuli was concerned established her as a new best mate. Also there was a developing solid attachment between her and Willem, manifested by their non-stop, witty and good-natured mutual abuse, very like the same sort of banter that Yuli and Willem had developed, with the difference that there was a sexual component crackling beneath it.
So school ended for the summer in covert sipping from smuggled beer cans, signings of tee-shirts, and mass hugs. During the chaos, Yuli grabbed Roman and hauled him into one of the more obscure male toilets, jammed a chair he’d found under the doorhandle, pulled Roman’s lower clothing below his knees and began the acquaintance between his mouth and Roman’s erection. The boy’s groin was entirely shaved. It was necessarily quick and Roman was on a hair trigger, but for the first time Yuli earned himself a sweet mouthful of sperm.
‘Ott oo I oo wi’ it,’ Yuli looked up and asked his lover, displaying the result. A mouth closed with his and a tongue entered to help him out.
‘I want yours inside my bum,’ Roman said as he broke off, and Yuli almost came unaided.
‘I think it can be arranged,’ he gasped. ‘Tomorrow. I love you leblen men.’
Henry finally took a day off, now his permission to go after the Strelsenerwald story was rescinded, and momentarily contemplated cleaning the flat. He found no enthusiasm within him for the task. It was probably time to get his mum around for a tea. She couldn’t abide the mess and would clean on autopilot without even being asked.
Ed emerged from the shower towelling his hair. Henry admired the muscular body which was all his to play with. Since he too was naked he raised his knees high to his chest as an invitation and pouted in the direction of his lover. Within a minute he was being crushed into the chair back and his little rear was being given the hard ride he most enjoyed. The pressure of Ed’s rutting body brought him off too.
‘Wow, did I need that,’ Ed commented as he regained control of his breathing. ‘Ooh, you’re sticky, let me deal with it.’
‘Mmm. Maybe we should go back to bed. I love Saturdays off. I’d almost forgotten why. We could go up to the Spa, later? It’s been a while.’
‘Has my vote, little babe. Soaking in the sudorium on a hot July day is so good for my muscles. Languidity is definitely in order today, and how about we get an outside table tonight at the Café Jednorocesz? Candlelight and stars above. We can see if Will and Felip are free?’
‘I’ll ring him now. He always takes Saturdays off.’
Henry rang Will’s number. He got an answer. ‘Hey, little Henry! So you’re not in the office? Good boy. Yeah, sure. Felip agrees too. How about seven? Excellent. Oh … and I got the response from the EBU yesterday. Congratulations to us. We’ve landed Eurovision 2005. You may well whoop in my ear. But you may feel less whoopy when you read their requirements … you’ll find out. See you!’
Yuli was on pins till his parents left, his father heading to his office and his mother to get the train to visit his grandparents in Eisendorf. The house was quiet, and he padded into the bathroom. He got the razor and painstakingly removed all his body hair, also shaving what little beard he had. If Roman was bare, so would he be. Then he spent a long time in the shower, paying particular attention to his backside and anus … who knew what direction things might go? He didn’t dress, but got everything ready so far as he could in his bedroom, opening the window wide for ventilation. He opened the tube of lube and sniffed it. Then he tried out a condom on his stubborn erection, just to see how it was done. Not too difficult, as he found. Okay. Ready to lose my virginity.
There was a knock on the front door and it was his Romesczu, right on time. He opened the door naked and pulled the boy in, wrestled him to the floor and soon had him naked too. He paused to drink in the beauty beneath him: tanned and taut skin, perfect dark nipples and a straining erection. Clear dark eyes looked yearningly into his.
Roman smiled. ‘You’d like to do it here?’
‘I have a long list of places where I want to do it with you, sexy leblen. On the kitchen table, in the back yard, in the shower standing, on the toilet sitting … here in the lounge comes later. This is so good. I love you baby mine. Come on, take my hand and collect your clothes, we’d better start on my bed. Need the loo?’
Finally they were sitting together on Yuli’s bed. They embraced and kissed, both hearts beating hard in their chests. When they broke off, they stared lovingly into each other’s eyes. Roman murmured, ‘Please take me, Yuli. I’m ready, my own lord.’
‘You’re mine, Romesczu, my own for ever. Now I have a dream how we do this, so on your knees, let my pull your superb ass open. It’s beautiful and my tongue is going in it.’
The eroticism of the act was overwhelming. He slicked his penis as he worked at his lover’s opening, and when he could wait no longer he knelt up and over Roman. The struggle to get his penis into the boy’s virgin hole was harder than he’d anticipated, but with a yelp and a groan from Roman it eventually sank in partway, and he knelt there waiting for more give, gripping Roman’s biceps and passionately kissing the boy’s nape and flawless shoulders.
One more shove, another yelp from Roman, and he found himself in deep. His cock was enflamed and hard in a hot and tight place. He was fucking his perfect lover, who clenched hard on him as he began to move. ‘Are you okay, leblen?’
‘Oh God! Oh yes! I love you. Use my asshole,’ came the semicoherent response. His belly began slapping hard against Roman’s buttocks, and as his balls pulled up and orgasm contracted every muscle in his body, the street door slammed and his father’s voice shouted out. ‘Yuli! You home? Are these your shoes here? I almost tripped over them.’