Yuli had to restrain himself from holding Roman’s hand as they took their bows before their appreciative audience. It was the king’s reception for the United Services charities and their sponsors. The Residenz ballroom was gorgeously decorated for the Christmas season, while Roman himself bore a large and sparkling buttonhole of holly, tinsel and miniature bells. ‘Klara made it,’ he’d said. Yuli thought it was very cute, as well as seasonal.
The clapping turned rhythmical. Yuli raised his hand and announced an encore. He returned to the keys and grinned across at Roman as he began a jazz entry to Santa Claus is Coming to Town, a snare drum and bass in the backing band joining him. He and Herr Pelikan had been working at loosening up Roman’s singing style and prising him away from his need for a score. Whether it was the relief of the success of their set, or just the season, tonight everything worked. Roman’s voice was playful and danced around Yuli’s melody. His English was excellent, better than Yuli’s, and the lyrics were no problem to him. Whistles and cheers greeted the conclusion. The faces in the audience were beaming.
‘That’s a happy crowd you’ve left tonight, boys,’ observed their minder from the Ministry of State. ‘You’re a pair of stars. I hope to see you in February for the Queen’s Birthday Concert. We’ll be in touch. It won’t be so formal as this, I understand.’
The usual Von Ebersfeld staffer would be waiting at the Reitschule Gate for Roman, so they took a detour into one of the palace galleries to say their goodbyes. They sat side by side on a window seat, holding hands, both feeling deeply happy. Roman rested his head on Yuli’s shoulder and told him he loved him. His hair was kissed in reply.
Roman had been required to join the Fenizenkirche Youth Group Nativity Pilgrimage to the Taizé community in Burgundy. He would be gone for three weeks, and they would not share Christmas at Zenda, which was of course the Von Ebersfelds’ intention. Yuli had hoped Roman would put up a fight, but resisting his parents’ commands was not in him. ‘I’ve caused them enough problems,’ he had observed sadly. After a period of quiet communion, they made their way down to the gate.
Yuli watched the red tail lights of the Von Ebersfelds’ Mercedes disappear up Gartengasse and began the trudge home through the empty, snow-filled streets. It was too late for a tram, and he’d forbidden his tatti from taking the drive down the icy Domshorja. The fall was recent and the snow was still crisp and not at all treacherous. The snowbound city had fallen into uncanny silence, as cars and buses disappeared from the streets and people stayed indoors in the warm.
Strelzen had taken on its winter beauty. Yuli loved this season, when he could look out from his high window as the sun rose over a Staramesten and Nuevemesten of jumbled white and blue rooftops, hung with icicles. A crust of ice was already forming on the banks of the black Starel when he crossed the bridge at the Osten Tor.
As he came to the mid-river boundary between the Old and New cities, Yuli recalled the embarrassing confrontation with the Baron on that very spot that had kicked off the latest phase of his erratic relationship with Roman. As he brooded on the river below, a niggle that had plagued him several times since that evening recurred to him once more. The sharpness of the winter air may have cleared his mind; which as he had often observed was not so logical as Willem’s. But that night it was different.
They had been caught on camera in flagrante the Thursday before his birthday party, as he had learned. So how was it they were not confronted with the fact till the Saturday? How was it that Roman was allowed to go to Yuli’s birthday dinner with his parents? It did not add up. So the Baron could only have learned of the affair that weekend, and it could not have been him who had informed on them to the dean. He pummeled his memory. There was a name the baron had come out with … what was it? Hadjek. That was the name. It had come up somewhere else before as well. A formless suspicion rose to the surface of Yuli’s mind as he adjusted his scarf and began the long trudge up Domstrasse towards the lights of home, still pondering it as he walked.
It was the last day of school and the goodbyes had to be said. The most fraught was Yuli and Roman’s, as they were not going to meet until after the new year began. Their means of saying goodbye was also constrained. In a moment of rare sensitivity Bolo suggested he and Willem would interdict the senior toilets off the study room.
‘That way you two could have … I dunno … maybe a quarter of an hour to do what you want. I mean, fifteen minutes is enough for anybody, right?’
Willem rolled his eyes. ‘He’s trying. Give the boy credit.’
Della was more pragmatic. ‘I suggest you two disappear out of the gymno in lunch break and cross over to see your musical mates in the Technische. Didn’t you say they’ve burned your CDs and they’re ready to collect?’
‘Good call,’ Willem agreed.
‘Excellent call,’ Yuli applauded.
So evading the security cameras, to which Yuli had developed an aversion these days, he and Roman made an unauthorised exit from the gymno grounds and scampered across the dual carriageway and tram lines and on to the campus. The temperature was hovering around zero Celsius, so the first snowfall of the winter had not melted away but instead was banked high in icy humps along the roadside. Roman was wearing a striking parka of silver blue with a white-fur-lined hood, which was down. With it went knitted mittens and a bobble hat which was cute beyond measure. He looked like one of Santa’s better-looking elves on a catwalk.
‘Just like a broken-down trailer home,’ Roman commented on seeing the student recording studio.
‘Bit of a wreck,’ Yuli admitted. ‘But fine food can be served up in a cracked old pot, as my mother says.’
‘Odd. So does Klara.’
The door was unlocked but no one was inside. ‘Cold in here too,’ Roman observed. ‘No heating I suppose.
‘Ah-hah!’ exclaimed Yuli, holding up a stack of thin plastic boxes piled on the mixer desk. ‘The CDs!’ He handed one to Roman. ‘Take that, leblen. Something for your player other than Taizé chants.’
Roman studied the home-made sleeve closely. ‘And who’s “Starcrossed”?’
Yuli blushed for some reason. ‘Umm. Me. I had to have a stage name, and that seemed sorta right in my present circumstances.’
Roman gave him a compassionate look, came over and kissed him. ‘Maybe things will look up for us some time soon, yes?’
‘I live in hopes, leblen baby. So I suppose this is goodbye.’
They kissed some more. Yuli took a couple more CD cases and scribbled a note to his student friends about meeting up at Lisztomania to finalise the deal the next week. So the pair navigated their way back to the gymno before classes began.
It was the Monday before Christmas, and Henry’s three weeks’ leave had begun. He meant it to be holiday too, apart that is from a thick dossier of printouts Marek had given him to peruse. But other than that he was going to take a serious holiday with his oldest and best friends. He stashed his suitcase in the back of his Audi, where Ed had already put his. Ed would drive down later in convoy along with two companies of his battalion and the regimental band of his Guard Fusiliers. Henry had been told to bring his own uniform as he would be doing duty as equerry while at Zenda. Ed had not trusted him to pack it, but had done so himself. It was sitting on the back seat of the car where it wouldn’t be crushed.
Henry stopped off at his parents’ flat in Sudmesten. His father was working on his sermon for the Christmas services but his mum was at work.
‘Hey dad, I come bearing presents!’ he yelled into the entryphone.
‘Coffee’s on, son.’
They hugged in the hall. ‘So you’re with the royals for Christmas? I’ll bet their presents don’t come cheap,’ his father observed.
‘I left it to Ed. I think a festive Glock will do for Rudi. Harry will get a book, probably.’
‘Fortunately Will Vincent is staying over in Strelzen till Boxing Day, so I have a full musical complement at St Edwards. Then he’ll be joining you till the New Year, I understand.’
‘You’re going to Spain after Christmas as usual, dad?’
‘Yes. Ricky and Helen will be coming too. Your Grandma Elsie’s not too great at the moment. She is getting on for eighty. Mum may be there for a month or more. But I’ll be back after a fortnight. The chaplaincy won’t look after itself, even if I have almost a synod of retired clergy to help.’
They took their coffee into the small lounge.
‘The snow will be back again for Wednesday. I hope you take care on the roads, Henry.’
‘Dad, I have never been in an accident.’
‘I know, son. But I still think prayer was chiefly responsible for your passing your test last year.’
‘It was only the third attempt. Ed sits quite happily in the passenger seat when I’m behind the wheel.’ His father tried to nod convincingly.
‘Anyway. Watch the roads south. They’re treacherous in this weather, with the melt freezing over at night.’
‘I’ll be there well before dark.’
‘Good. Now tell me about this business with the Staroman. Nikki Balthazar works in the Prefecture and he was telling us that Herr Lucic is now under investigation for his links with the Communist secret police.’
Henry in fact had a very worrying drive south, the worst part being the outer ring road around the city of Zenden, where Hungarian and Polish trucks deluged his little car with slush as they thundered past. His sweating hands were clutched hard on the wheel as the wipers worked overtime. The signs adorned with royal crowns directing him to the turn-off for the Kungliche Domajne zu Zenda came none too soon for him.
It was already twilight as his car entered the great forest west of the city of Zenden, and his lights lit up the winding road as he went up and down the hills and through tunnels of trees, which regularly dropped lumps of melting snow from their branches, seeming to target Henry’s roof and bonnet especially. The road had however been salted and gritted, so he could relax a little more.
He turned up the heater. Finally, as it was getting properly dark and the sky above the trees was a darkening blue, his headlights lit up a large stone baroque arch over the road, beyond which was a guard box and a barrier under floodlights. A white-gloved and well-muffled state policeman held up his hand, and Henry handed his ID through the rolled-down window. A torch scanned the card and Henry’s face.
‘Carry on Herr At-vood. Have you been here before? No? The drive takes you through the Rezervacje, the Royal Hunting Forest, for six kilometres and brings you to the Kungliche Obranske, the Great Park, where the army guard post is. The road’s been kept well clear, so there shouldn’t be any difficulty. Just watch out for the deer. They come down to the roadside and graze the exposed verges.’ The officer saluted and Henry drove on.
The lights of the great château were visible when Henry finally came to the guard post. Otherwise it was now fully dark and there was nothing to see beyond the road. Soldiers in greatcoats this time scanned his papers and waved him through, telling him to follow the signs for the stables. It was with some relief that Henry added his Audi to the line of private vehicles in the great court. He heaved a deep sigh as he engaged his handbrake.
A young footman in a scarf and rubber boots appeared grinning as Henry began to unload his bags. He took the biggest ones and led Henry to the looming east wing of the château.
‘Dinner is in the Grande Salle, sir. It’s at seven so you should have plenty of time to take a bath and dress. The queen is requiring black tie, but no decorations. Their Majesties and His Excellency the Count of Modenehem are otherwise engaged at the moment, but some of the guests are in the Tapestry Room. You’ll find a plan of the palace in your room. Guests tell me it’s very useful.’
Henry’s room was on the second floor, on the north face of the palace, commenced by King Rudolf III back in the 1760s and remodelled with three great domed pavilions by his younger son Henry II in the 1820s. So he had a view over the terrace and frozen lake beyond, out of which the original medieval fortress of Zenda rose like a Disney castle, turret upon turret, artfully floodlit at night. Henry was rather glad it was unoccupied these days; he doubted the heating was up to much, while his room in the palace was cozily warm with a blazing and fragrant wood fire crackling and spitting in its Victorian hearth. He stretched out on the canopied four-poster bed and indulged himself with a well-deserved nap.
A knock on the door roused him, but the knocker did not pause to await consent to enter. Davey Skipper in evening dress burst through the door and bounced on the bed, grabbing a still-dozy Henry for a big hug.
‘Geroff!’ Henry protested.
‘Not till you tell me you love me Outfield!’
‘I love you, now geroff!’ The two sat back on the bedspread and grinned.
‘Been a while, Henry. You look great. Rothenia seems to suit you.’
‘And you look as lovely as ever, you elegant git. How’re showbiz, fame, and Terry?’
‘All good. Live Action won the Mercury, so my music business has taken off, though only just in time to meet your own upward arc into the industry. I mean? Eurovision! Awesome. You’re fulfilling my dream, Henry.’
‘Really? I hadn’t looked at it like that.’ He sniffed. ‘Nice to be envied by you, though. Are we going to have that serious talk about what to do on the night?’
‘Anything I can do to assist. Plastic surgery on your button nose might help, but it’s probably a bit late now; besides, it’s cute in its retroussé way and I’d miss it.’
‘Shall we go down?’
‘Sure, come on. But first you’d better put the penguin suit on. Dinner’s only an hour. Ed’s already down there in his finest and he told me to come and get you.’
‘Oh! Must have dozed longer than I thought.’ He quickly stripped to his underwear and got himself ready as Davey gazed at his little butt appreciatively.
‘That’s the same suit you’ve had for ages … didn’t Matt buy you that when you were eighteen?’
‘Still fits fine. And I like getting wear out of things.’
‘You never really did get the joy of new clothes did you, Outfield? Let’s go.’
The Tapestry Room was as advertised. On three walls, in what Henry imagined were depictions of mythological scenes, bearded warriors in Classical armour and plumes gambolled through sylvan landscapes with plump Gobelin maidens wearing blue and red wraps, which failed to entirely conceal their ample flesh. The faded décor highlighted the most dazzling figure in the room: Henry’s Ed, in blue and gold mess uniform with white facings, lace frogging blazing across his broad chest, the order of Henry the Lion at his neck and a line of medal ribbons on his breast. He looked very much at home in a nineteenth-century palace.
He winked from a sofa next to Matt White as Henry arrived. ‘Go get yourself a wine, little babe,’ he suggested. Henry complied then wriggled on to the sofa on the other side of Matt.
‘Why’re you wearing those golden wiggly string things on your shoulder,’ he asked Ed.
‘They’re called aiguilettes: you should remember that, as you have a set of them too in your bag, and no doubt I’ll be untangling them as you try to put them on come Christmas Eve. They mark me out for the next ten days as Deputy Constable of Zenda, since I’m in formal command of a garrison for the first time in my career instead of just being on a duty rota. It makes me a staff officer in attendance on the king.’
Matt laughed. ‘You soldiers and your rituals. So boyish. Just like a club with secret passwords and badges.’
‘You might well be amused, Matt. But the serious point is that I’m a brevet full colonel while I hold the office of constable. And that makes me the senior officer of the Fusiliers for once, rather than Lieutenant-Colonel Visnevic of the first battalion, who will be mightily pissed as a result.’
‘How will that nice colonel ever know, since he’s on active duty in Afghanistan?’ Henry queried.
‘He’ll know,’ Ed affirmed with a grin. ‘Plenty of our colleagues will be all too glad to tell him.’
‘Just like kids, as I said,’ Matt commented.
‘You’re just like little kids,’ Herr Pelikan said with a look of resignation, as his young choristers and musicians whooped and dived into the snowdrifts of the sunny Great Park. The temperature however was well below zero. Yuli and two of the girls were on their backs busy making snow angels, totally ignoring the censure. A snowball fight inevitably followed.
‘Get it out of your systems,’ Herr Pelikan sighed. ‘The snow’ll be with us into the New Year.’
Yuli joined the Kapellemeister after half an hour, ice crystals dusting his coat and twinkling in his dark hair. ‘Finished, Julius?’
‘Yes, sir,’ the boy grinned.
‘Good. You and I have a chapel to look over.’ He raised his voice. ‘The rest of you, go back to the minibuses and pick up your bags. The palace staff will take you to your quarters above the stables.’
‘Stables, Meister?’ one of the more mature tenors asked. ‘We’re sharing with the horses?’
‘No, Hans. One of the ranges has been fitted as a dormitory wing. It’s for circumstances just like this, though I think it’s usually overspill accommodation for the garrison and for the staffs of foreign dignitaries. It should be quite comfortable. Just please do not go near the palace without an escort. Come along, Julius. I’ll show you the loft.’
The boy and man trudged through the virgin snow beneath the the south face of the great neoclassical palace. Above them on the cleared terraces guardsmen in blue greatcoats and white-plumed shakos paced with their shouldered rifles. When they came to the steps up to the doors of the central pavilion an officer of the guard and secret servicemen in dark coats halted them, the lieutenant scanning their IDs.
‘In you go, gentlemen,’ he smiled. ‘The palace is warm inside: all those huge wood-burning porcelain stoves heat up the great rooms remarkably well, and around here there is no shortage of wood to burn.’ He saluted them politely as they headed up the steps.
They did not go in however, for Herr Pelikan led Yuli along the terrace to the west pavilion. ‘We don’t go into the private rooms and main corridors unless requested, Julius. I hear the palace is quite full with guests this season. The Elphberg and Peacher families are here in force, including the old Duke of Munster, and the Princess of Vinodol, the king’s grandparents. The Duke of Thuringia is expected too. If he talks to you, remember he is a royal highness, it’s important to him. Nice old fellow, though. He tried to poach me for his establishment at Heinrichshof.’
‘Really sir? How many of these royals keep up chapel establishments?’
‘Only a few. England, Denmark and Spain of course. Thuringia is exceptional in Germany in what its huge wealth makes possible. But Heinrichshof is too remote to entice, whatever the salary, and the establishment is small. Strelzen has the lot: fine venues and a city full of excellent musicians.’
‘You love your job, sir,’ Yuli observed.
‘I do,’ he smiled down at Yuli. ‘But it’s the people as much as the music that make it worthwhile.’
‘The queen’s an amazing person.’
‘Unique. But then you’ve not talked to the Red Elphberg, have you?’
‘You wait,’ he chuckled.
Rounding the corner of the west pavilion, they encountered a stone wall blocking access to the lake terrace beyond, but with a small access gate. There was a keypad next to it for which Herr Pelikan had the code. Through the gate was a small garden, blanketed with snow, and a side door into the pavilion. The same access code let them into the warm interior of the palace and to a green-carpeted staircase on which they could not help but leave wet and icy footprints as they climbed up to the first floor.
‘Now Julius, beyond this door is the great Fenizenkapelle, which occupies the upper stage of the pavilion. You use this side-entrance and not the main door from the rest of the palace. Remember that as far as the palace establishment is concerned you still occupy the social position of our eighteenth-century forebears as professional musicians: in other words, as a servant, on a par with a footman. So be self-effacing and do not address guests unless they address you first. You will not infrequently encounter the Princess of Vinodol at her devotions in the chapel. You will not want to irritate that good lady. She won’t object to your rehearsing however, as long as you don’t go nuts.’
‘Like launching into Widor, for instance.’
‘I’ll stick to Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, then.’
‘Hmm. She’d like that. I didn’t know you were working through it?’
‘Dr Hassel at the Dom said it would keep me disciplined, sir.’
‘Good. He knows what he’s talking about. Now, you’re going to enjoy this.’
Herr Pelikan opened the door and ushered Yuli into a disconcertingly huge sunlit space, paved in black and white tiles and without benches. The Fenizenkapelle was in two stages and faced north, where the tall first stage was occupied by an elaborate reredos above a Roman sarcophagus of an altar, with twelve candles. St Fenice of Tarlenheim and her usual attendant children occupied a niche near the summit of the reredos, as was appropriate in a chapel dedicated to her. The smaller second stage was a sort of clerestory, which featured round windows in three of its faces. Most of the light however flooded in from the first stage of the west wall, where a line of tall clear casements opened out on to a leafless swelling sea of brown treetops, the Kungliche Obranske.
‘Where’s the loft?’ Yuli asked, puzzled. His initial glance had encountered no organ pipes.
Yuli did. The organ was accommodated within the pavilion roof, actually hanging above the chapel, in a sort of railed gallery. The gold and white case, visible only from the back of the chapel, scraped the pale blue, cloud-painted ceiling. ‘Wow! Just as well heights don’t bother me.’
Herr Pelikan laughed. ‘It’s one reason Mattyas doesn’t like this place, and was happy for you to do the duty. You’d think the the acoustics would be terrible, but far from it. King Henry II designed the upper gallery scientifically to reflect sound downwards. The effect can be uncanny in the chapel below, especially when the choir sings too. It is genuinely celestial.’
Yuli followed the Kapellemeister to a small, discreet door to the right of the altar and railed sanctuary. Narrow stone steps led upwards and out on to the organ gallery.
‘Awesome!’ Yuli exclaimed, impressed with the space the pavilion roof accommodated. Chairs and stands were already laid out for the choir and other musicians. He crossed over to the bench and watched as Herr Pelikan flicked the switches and powered up. As he took his seat he immediately felt curiously at home. The Fenizenkapelle two-manual instrument didn’t have the intimidating size of the organs of the Residenz Hofkapelle and the cathedral. There were two full banks of stops however, and Yuli had the sense that it could accomplish anything he might contemplate performing.
Yuli noticed a new CCTV monitor placed to the left of the console. ‘When was the renovation done, sir?’ he asked.
‘Only last year, Julius. The organ had been getting a bit neglected, as it was low on the priority list for the upgrading of the royal palaces, but the queen pushed it through, probably because she had this very occasion in mind. So don’t let her down.’
‘I won’t, sir,’ Yuli replied seriously.
‘Get acquainted with the instrument then. Rehearsals begin after lunch, and we’ll continue till vespers.’
‘I dunno, little babe. The snow out there’s deep and you and Andy are — not to put too fine a point on it — short. You could be lost within a hundred metres of the palace.’
Henry punched Ed’s left pectoral, and not lightly. ‘Not amusing, you size-ist. If I thought for one minute you were serious your life would not be worth living.’
Ed chuckled as he pulled Henry into a close and warm embrace under their coverlet. The room had no drapes, so the early morning light spilled into it without obstruction. Ice crystals etched patterns on the exterior of the panes of the casement, and beyond was the pink light of another cloudless, bright and frosty dawn.
‘Tempting though it is to snuggle, I’m outa here. We explorers are not daunted by Arctic fronts across Eastern Europe,’ Henry announced. Though the wood fire had burned down in the night the room was still warm, and there was a modern radiator in their bedroom’s en-suite bathroom. So Henry had his shower comfortably and dressed for the outdoors.
As he levered on his boots, he looked over at the hump in the bed. ‘You getting up?’
‘Nope,’ came the muffled reply. ‘I was on duty till one last night, and I’m not on again till midday, barring emergencies. You go and have your adventure; you can tell me all about it when you get back. Breakfast is laid out in the South Parlour: for location check the map. See ya!’ The hump heaved and settled, and it was not long after Henry had left that gentle snores began to emerge from it.
Clutching his plan of the palace, Henry found his way along the central corridor to the side stairs between the central and the eastern pavilions. He trotted down to the ground floor, where the corridor floors were flagged rather than carpeted. Following his nose to the source of the luscious bacon and coffee scents he found the parlour, flooded with light from the sun rising over the wooded hills outside. Andy Peacher, already at the long table, greeted him with a warm smile. A young footman in Elphberg green livery and white tie was tending the buffet and awaiting the rush of hungry guests. He efficiently filled a plate with succulent meats and golden scrambled egg for Henry.
‘It’s a beautiful morning, Henry. I’m glad you talked me into this little adventure,’ Andy said. ‘I have my very expensive digital camera.’
‘Good. I’ll appreciate copies of the images. I’ve wanted to see the place since — when was it — God! I was only in the sixth form and it was in the plates of the Leopold of Thuringia biography I was reading at the time.’
‘Harry gave me the key.’ Andy held up a lump of elaborate Victorian ironwork. ‘She had the foresters clear the walk yesterday evening, so we won’t get soaked. There was no fresh fall last night. So what are we going to see?’
‘The Prince Leopold tomb of course, but there’s a lot more to it. The main monuments are those of King Leopold, King William Henry and Queen Adelheid. I’ve not seen photos, but I’ll bet they’ll be at least as good as the Hohenzollern ones in the Berliner Dom. Then there’s the tomb of Prince Leo’s grandad, the English adventurer Augustus Underwood, the count of Eisendorf. And that of Leo’s even more adventurous mum, the countess of Rechtenberg. I’ve heard rumours that there are other delights, but we’ll see.’
‘Delights? What a macabre lad you’ve grown into. But first some toast, I think.’
Breakfast finished and woolly hats on they were ready for the cold, and cold it was when the freezing air hit their faces, which were the only part of their bodies that were exposed. Soon their scarves were adjusted over their mouths.
The Thuringian mausoleum was in the woodland to the east of the palace. Andy and Henry had a sketch map the queen had made on a paper napkin for her brother, which was, she said, the best she could do. However, once they had found the right direction from the palace the channel through the snow that the foresters had excavated by shovel and blowers took them directly to it. The workers had cleared the snow down to the tarmac, and had salted and gritted it against the freezing temperatures of the previous night.
The woods they walked through were a marvel of sparkling ice dust and blue shadow. The winds of a few days earlier had shifted most of the heavy snow from the branches above, so only the occasional distant thump of a fall troubled them. Soon the central dome of the mausoleum could be seen above the trees, the building set in a great clearing and encircled by a wide snow-covered lawn.
‘I think I see the inspiration,’ Andy observed. ‘Isn’t this place modelled on the British royal mausoleum in Windsor Great Park?’
‘Uh-huh. The Thuringian royals were cousins to the Saxe-Coburg family. They must have seen Prince Albert’s necropolis at Frogmore. Their architect copied the idea of a central dome and side apses, though it’s not so obviously Italianate. It owes rather more to the inspiration of Ludwig II of Bavaria in its décor.’
‘You’ve done your research I see.’ They came out from under the trees. Andy stopped to marvel. ‘My word, it’s impressive, perhaps even more so with the snow humped on the roofs and outlining the architectural details. Time for some pictures I think.’ He uncapped his large camera.
After they’d trudged a circuit of the building, they climbed the shallow and wide steps up to the porch with its great oaken doors, elaborately banded with iron.
‘Very macabre,’ Andy observed, indicating the door handles held between the bared teeth of verdigrised bronze human skulls.
‘Very Victorian Gothic, I’d say. Just like the sort of thing you might see in Highgate Cemetery, which is not that far from where you live.’
‘Never been there, though Matt moons around there some autumn afternoons. He says he finds it inspirational. Me, I think it’s morbid.’
‘Then you’re gonna love this.’ Henry fitted the big key in the brass lock plate and found it turned easily, though with a click so loud he caught an echo from within the building. The right-hand valve of the door groaned and creaked cinematically as he pushed it open.
‘Oh my!’ Andy gasped as they went inwards.
A vast, silent and cavernous space lit by high windows was within. Their breath steamed as they loosened their scarves. They walked out under the great dome, its vault faced with blue and gold mosaic. Several large and threadbare royal ensigns hung from poles high up, projecting from the walls, each bearing the yellow and black stripes of Thuringia quartered with the Elphberg red lion. Henry imagined they would have been borne in the funeral processions of the royal personages whose tombs were below. There were three of them in a line, all set on high tables.
King Leopold lay in the centre, as was proper for the builder and first occupant of the mausoleum. He lay depicted in gilded bronze effigy as a Rothenian field marshal, wrapped in the robes of the Order of the Red Rose. The panels of the marble table alternated between Rothenian and Thuringian heraldry.
‘Lots of facial hair,’ Andy observed as he began taking shots. ‘What magnificent whiskers! Is that a monocle?’
On King Leopold’s right hand was the white marble effigy of a rather more portly royal gentleman, his brother King William Henry, raised on a similar table, though wearing only the uniform of what Henry imagined was a Life Guard Officer. There were over a half dozen orders on his ample chest, amongst which Henry recognised the Garter of Britain, Black Eagle of Prussia and St Hubert of Bavaria.
‘And this would be Her Majesty Queen Adelheid?’ Andy queried.
To the left of King Leopold was another tomb chest, topped by the effigy of a mature lady in the very skilfully carved drapes of an elaborate Victorian dress, a widow’s cap on her head surmounted by a coronet.
‘She died six years after her husband, hence the widow’s weeds. King Maxim Elphberg paid for the funeral and tomb himself, even though she was one of the usurping dynasty. He was a very great and chivalrous gentleman.’
‘Where’s he buried?’
‘He was finally laid in the vaults below the Salvatorskirche of Strelzen, after the fall of communism allowed his wishes to be respected. He died in England in the seventies of the last century. Well, now we’ve paid our respects to their majesties, the time has come to meet King William Henry’s grandson, the famous, enigmatic and very queer Prince Leopold, and his lover, Sir Martin Tofts.’