Michael Arram






  ‘So what are you going to do, Henry?’  Gavin had been riveted by what Henry told him.  They were sitting huddled over a table in the somewhat depressing bar of the Strelzen Holiday Inn.  It had taken three gin-and-tonics to finish the story.


  ‘What am I going to do?  I suppose I’m going to continue my investigations, baby.  I’m more and more convinced that Bannow was right and that Rothenia has a secret at its heart.  Indeed, that it actually does have a spiritual heart, that pulses … something … round itself.’


  ‘Do you seriously think that Oskar and Fritz know the secret?’


  ‘I’m perfectly convinced that they know nothing about it, which does not mean they aren’t in some way involved in it.’




  ‘No idea, baby.  This is no ordinary secret.  People have been aware of the presence of an uncanny thing in Rothenia since St Fenice’s days.  The Hussites tried to break into Tarlenheim castle way back in the time of Count Jerzy the Black.  They were after it then, I’m quite sure, probably to destroy it, as they were not exactly in favour of religious pictures.  The way the castle was saved tells you something of the power of this thing.  Although help was given, its deadly influence left a mark on the house of Tarlenheim ever afterwards.  You know the story of the Grey Spectre?’


  ‘No.  But it sounds really cool.  Tell me about it.’


  Henry was near the bottom of his fourth gin-and-tonic by the time he finished, and he was beginning to feel the effects.  Gavin was hanging on his every word.


  ‘You think the portrait was still in the castle in those days?’


  ‘I do.  I also think Fenice moved it to the ducal abbey of Medeln soon after, when took on the nominal title of abbess.  She concealed it there somehow.  But she left guardians.  The prophecies say as much: “Their line will always be fruitful of Levites.”  The Levites were the guards and attendants of the Temple of Solomon, a hereditary caste.  Fenice seems to be referring to them when she says that “their hair will be red as copper is red and gold as the sunlight is golden.”  Now if she said just gold, she might have meant her own people, the Tarlenheims, while red sort of hints at the Elphbergs.  But she says they will be red and gold, and that’s not possible.  The Elphbergs are either red- or black-haired.’


  ‘Ahah!’ Gavin intervened with a certain amount of excitement.  ‘But aren’t the Elphberg flag colours red and gold?’


  ‘Yes, but the prophecy says it’s the guardians’ hair which is red and gold,’ Henry replied regretfully.


  ‘Oh,’ murmured Gavin, a little dashed, but then he perked up.  ‘There’s also Mendamero.  He seems a fascinating character.’


  ‘Fenice predicts that this Mendamero person will one day appear and save Rothenia, or the relic, or something.  The KRB fascists had an idea that Mendamero would be a mystical figure who would renew Rothenia, a bit like the Nazis wanted to breed a superman to renew the Aryan race.  The KRB was in pursuit of the portrait of Christ.  It seems they made the same deduction as I did about it, that it was hidden somewhere.  They so desperately wanted to find it and find out who Mendamero was too.  But they wanted it to increase their own power.  It was a way of seizing domination over the minds of Rothenians, and maybe of fighting Rothenia’s enemies as well.’


  ‘Raiders of the Lost Art,’ said Gavin solemnly.  Henry looked at him, caught the twinkle in his eye, and they laughed.


  After a while, Henry carried on.  ‘We seem to have all the evidence that the KRB had.  Old Man Wardrinski found an ancient woodcut of a lost illumination of the Vision of Fenice, with an intriguing hint as to where the relic might be found.  The Priory decided, from what the inscription round the illumination said, that the relic was buried for safety’s sake with the bones of one of the dead female saints of Rothenia.  This is what “in manibus ancillae suae” might mean … it was in the possession of Christ’s handmaiden.  The Priory was so convinced of this, it seems, that its agents secretly opened up all the graves to which they could get access.  Urghh.  Rifling through old bones at dead of night to find the treasure.  Since they had so many sympathisers amongst the Catholic hierarchy, they seem to have managed to tick off most of their list.  But the one they could not find was Fenice.’


  Gavin was still focussed on Mendamero.  ‘This guy, this promised saviour?’




  ‘Do we know anything more about him?’


  ‘He will be bold and wise … which is part of the job description for saviours, I would say.  His name is a code, so people think.  The Priory of St Veronica worked out 144 meaningful combinations in Rothenian, Czech, Polish and German, desperate to find out who he might be and whether they could tie him to Gulik and his movement.  But scholars point out that if you rearrange the letters in Latin, you get “memorande”, which they think just means “things to be committed to memory”.  Fenice had been given a revelation.  Although she was supposed to pass it on, she wasn’t going to broadcast it generally.  She knew its meaning, but she was careful how she lifted the veil on her prophecy.  Perhaps only the Levites know the full significance.’


  ‘Pity.  I like crosswords.’


  ‘You do?  I never knew that.’


  ‘So there are still things you have to learn about me, my Henry?’  Gavin smiled a little secretively, and then looked serious.  ‘You’re going to try to find this thing, aren’t you.’


  ‘I am.’




  ‘Pardon me?’


  Gavin looked anxiously at Henry.  ‘It’s not as if it wants to be found.  Probably it’s waiting for a future time still distant when it will reveal itself.’


  ‘You talk of this thing as if it had a mind of its own.’


  ‘It seems to have its own purposes, which its guardians may not know, but they’re protecting it for that future time anyway.  They must be alarmed by the way things are going at the moment.  Alastair Bannow has drawn the world’s attention to the secret, and intelligent people like you, my Henry, are on the case.  Then there is this Priory … why do you think it’s defunct?  It could still be out there, still on the lookout for this national talisman, eager to use its power for its own purposes.’


  ‘Oh!  I hadn’t thought of that.  It would be a complicating factor … and scary too!  But Wardrinski’s father fled Rothenia during the war.  You would think all his colleagues were either dispersed, dead or killed.  They would need to be in their eighties by now, or even older.’


  ‘What about their children?  The Priory may have passed its mission on to them.’


  ‘Old Man Wardrinski didn’t have much success in that department.  His son stands for exactly the opposite of the things he supported.  Professor Wardrinski must have been really turned off by his father’s Catholicism and nationalism.  He became a militant atheist and is more British than the Last Night of the Proms.’


  ‘The other guys in the picture may have had more success.  Have you got their names?’


  ‘Er … yeah.  They’re in my notebook, which I have here.  Let’s see.  Gulik, Wardrinski … don’t recognise the other names, except … oh!’


  ‘Have you found something?’


  ‘I don’t know.  But there’s a Kamil Bermann here.  I wonder ...’


  ‘Do you know the name?’


  ‘I do.  Kamil Bermann was the last Direktor of the KRB.  Bermann held the post for only a few months before the Nazis clamped down on them.  Although he may not have been a particularly nice man, he refused to provide blond-haired recruits from his fascist organisation for the SS, and he wouldn’t co-operate in the roundup of the Rothenian Jews.  After that, Bermann became a resistance leader and a national hero in a small way.  Now, there was a Piotr Bermann who was till recently the Social Democratic Party leader, and nearly got elected president last year, before the Elphberg monarchy was restored. Do you think Piotr Bermann might be Kamil’s son?’


  ‘It’s a lead, Henry.’


  ‘You think Piotr Bermann might be linked into the Priory?’


  ‘What do the Social Democrats believe in?’


  ‘Er … they are very right wing, anti-German and hyper-nationalist … hmm, not too different from the KRB, I suppose.  I guess he could be one of the Priory.  The problem for Piotr Bermann was that his followers were also natural royalists as well as right-wingers.  When he stood out against the restoration of the monarchy, the party ditched him.  It’s an interesting idea to pursue.  I’m glad I shared this with you, Gavin baby.’


  They smiled at each other, before Henry led Gavin off to bed.








  The rest of the week was spent knocking the screenplay into shape and making final arrangements for the filming, which was to begin the next week.  On the Friday, Matt closed the last of the files laid out on his office table and smiled at his two young assistants.


  ‘Oskar wanted me to tell you two that he’s putting you both up in Templerstadt itself, not in the hotel at Medeln with the rest of the Marlowe people.  Fritz is going to be back soon and he wants to see you both.  He can’t go back to Modenehem because of the problem with the religious zealots.  Eddie and Harriet are flying in tomorrow under Justin’s escort.’


  ‘Oh, fantastic!’ enthused Henry.  The Templerstadt house-party was shaping up to be fun.  All his favourite people were going to be there, apart from David and Terry.  David was at home trying to work something out with his parents, while Terry was in the USA on a contract.


  ‘So get yourselves packed.  I’ll pick you up from the Holiday Inn on Saturday morning, alright boys?’


  ‘Absolutely, Matt.’


  ‘Have you got any plans for tonight?’


  ‘Yes,’ said Gavin decidedly.  ‘We’re going clubbing.’


  ‘We are?’








  ‘I’ve asked round, and people say this is more your typical Rothenian gay club,’ said Henry.


  ‘The White Tree,’ Gavin observed. ‘It sounds nice, a bit Tolkeinesque.’


  ‘Tolkeinesque?’ queried Henry, before remembering that Gavin was a complete Lord of the Rings addict.  He had read and re-read the trilogy twice already since he had been living with Henry – it was a fixture on Gavin’s side of their bed.  The extended-edition DVDs were very visible on their entertainment shelf.


  Henry regrouped.  ‘Will said Oskar and Felip used to be regulars there, though he’s only checked it out a couple of times himself.  It’s a bit more working-class than the glitz of Liberation.’


  Gavin looked a little disappointed; he had heard a lot about Liberation.  He had thought he and Henry would be hitting the Wejg, Strelzen’s red-light district.  But he was a trusting little body, and knew Henry would have his reasons.


  Henry did.  Will had warned him that his poster fame had spread to Strelzen, and he would get a lot of unwelcome attention from the foreign gays in Club Liberation.


  The boys looked at the low-arched door in a side street off the Flavienplaz.  Above it was a small, illuminated sign.  A hand-lettered card on the door said, a little forbiddingly, ‘Privaat Club’.  There was no indication that this was a gay bar at all.  Henry smiled at a nervous Gavin and led the way in.


  The White Tree was low-roofed and dimly lit, which added to the impression that it was quite full.  A lot of eyes turned to look at them.  There were a couple of groups of younger men, most in their early twenties.  They looked fit and quite well buffed.  Will had said the Falkefilm boys tended to meet at the Tree, rather than in Liberation, and the groups eyeing up Henry and Gavin could well be the ones.


  Henry headed for the bar.  The stocky barman gave him a neutral look, but brightened a little when Henry greeted him in Rothenian.  He and Gavin took glasses of fruit wine to a side table near a group of Rothenian lads.


  ‘Not a lot happening here, Gavin baby.’


  ‘I guess not.  I’d even settle for a pub quiz.’


  ‘According to those notices, they have a disco on Saturday, which we’ll miss.’


  They sipped their wine in silence for a bit.  All at once, Henry became aware that a dark-haired Rothenian boy was being egged on to talk to them.  Eventually he slipped into a vacant chair at their table.


  ‘Excuse me,’ he said politely in English, looking at Henry, ‘but are you Hendrik Atvood?’


  Henry stared at him.  ‘Er … who wants to know?’


  The boy smiled winningly at him.  ‘My name is Radik.  I am good friend of Bolslaw Meric.  He talks a lot about you, Hendrik.  We have your poster in Falkefilm offices.’


  ‘Crikey!  You’re a Falkefilm actor?  I bet you know Felip Ignacij and Oskar Prinz.’


  ‘Yes, they are old friends, and I think you are friend of theirs too, yes?  Would you come to sit with us, as friends of friends?’


  Henry grinned.  Having a drink with a collection of Falkefilm babes was probably most foreign gays’ idea of heaven.  It was certainly high on the list of Henry’s ideas for a good night out.


  They slipped across and the introductions were made.  Most of the boys were around twenty, although Radik was in his later twenties now, and ready to retire, he said with a small smile.  They were all typically polite Rothenian boys, except that they were better dressed than the average and very well buffed.  You could hardly imagine they took their clothes off and had public sex for a living.  They looked like prosperous students or young office workers on a night out.


  Henry began explaining what had brought them to Strelzen.  They all knew Matt White, and were duly impressed.  A blond, good-natured boy called Fridric said he knew Will Vincent too.  They had auditioned together for Falkefilm, and he had been dying to be cast with Will.  ‘No such luck, of course,’ he said in Rothenian.  ‘He is very famous now and very wealthy.  Most people think he is a native Rothenian, but he still spoke with something of an English accent in those days.  We see each other sometimes, and he’s offered me and Radik jobs when we finish with Falkefilm.’


  ‘Yes,’ said Radik, ‘but Mr Willemin will give me a job running the website.  So I may stick with Falkefilm.  Business gets better all the time.  Because my English is good, I went on a publicity tour to Cape Town and Buenos Aires only last year … what a life, eh?’


  Henry diplomatically introduced the idea that Will and Hendrik Willemin had fallen out over the restoration of the monarchy the previous year.  The Falkefilm boys eyed each other.  Finally Radik answered, ‘There was some problem, we heard, and I won’t say that Mr Willemin did not stamp and swear a lot when his side lost, but they seem to have made it up.  Will was at Hendrik’s Dalmatian villa a month ago when we went there to film Rothenian Boys 17.  That was when two of us got up Fridric’s butt at the same time for the camera.  You were walking bow-legged for two weeks, weren’t you, Freddie?’


  Another boy eagerly added, ‘Yeah, but the naked beach-volleyball match was the best.  The winners got to fuck the losers on the sand in the open.  It was the coolest sex I ever had, and the result was not fixed, no way.’


  ‘The sand got everywhere though,’ Radik grimaced.  ‘I’m still finding it in my orifices.’


  A lot of similar stories later, Henry and Gavin’s trousers were ready to split with the internal pressure.  The Falkefilm boys were likewise fired up, and they intended to do something about it too.  They decided on Radik’s apartment in Sudmesten for what sounded like something that would have quite interested Caligula, and were keen that the two English boys join them.


  Henry caught Gavin’s eye.  Gavin looked half-tempted but scared.  Henry therefore thanked them, but said no.  He didn’t think he possessed the sort of stamina to join in the multiple couplings of such a fit group of serious hunks.  They seemed genuinely regretful, but took their leave in the formal Rothenian way between men.


  ‘Wow,’ sighed Gavin with a rather cute smile.  ‘I’m glad I argued against Club Liberation tonight.’


  ‘You did what?’








  Matt drove them north to Templerstadt in person.  It was a cheerful journey.  Matt was in a good mood, now that the confrontation between Bannow and Wardrinski was over.  There had been no major incident, despite Wardrinski’s attempts at taunting the American.  The ill-concealed discourtesy had merely made Bannow puzzled.  He was clearly a man who had not encountered much in the way of deliberate rudeness in his cloistered and imaginative world.  Bannow and Wardrinski were now carefully separated, the American in a very fine country hotel near the abbey of Medeln, and the professor in a hotel in Modenehem.


  Henry sat in the front and navigated.  Gavin dozed in the back; indeed, he seemed very sleepy a lot of the time, to the extent that Henry was thinking of mentioning it to Oskar when they got to Templerstadt.


  Finally they left the national routes and moved on to the country roads.  The car climbed up a ridge with a superb view of the Starel basin and southern Husbrau below them.  Then they turned north, following a shallow river valley, in which they could glimpse below them through the trees the white buildings of the church and convent of the Marienkloster at Medeln.


  The road dipped up and down the heavily wooded ridge.  Henry had to be quick to notice the avenue leading to the house of Templerstadt, protected by a lodge and tall gates, as well as by signs identifying the turnoff as a private road and forbidding trespass.  Matt pulled up to the lodge and sounded the horn of his BMW.  An old porter came out and, after Henry identified the occupants of the car, smiled and opened the gates.  They drove along a tree-lined drive which curved gently up through fields to a cluster of buildings on a low hill.  The car rumbled under a Gothic arch and into a large gravelled courtyard.  To their right was a jewel of a medieval chapel, beautiful with buttresses, finials and tall lancet windows.  To their left were what must formerly have been stables, and directly ahead rose the façade of a fine brick range of many mixed periods of architecture.  It was quite simply the most delightful group of buildings Henry had ever seen.  It reminded him a little of the quad of an Oxford college he had once been to, though the buildings were not so regular.


  Matt pulled up in front of the big oak door.  When they got out of the car, they heard a dog faintly yapping inside the house, but otherwise everything was peaceful.  Henry said, ‘Wow!  Oskar and Pete have certainly found domestic nirvana.’


  Matt looked around.  ‘This place is amazing.  Will told me that Peter has built a conservatory down there behind the stable block, with gym, sauna and quite a sizeable indoor pool.’


  The door opened, and a servant in a bright green waistcoat came out.  He bowed slightly and asked in English whether they were Dr White and friends.  Matt smiled and acknowledged it.  As the servant was opening the boot of the BMW, a small terrier dashed out of the door and started dancing round Matt, who knelt down and patted the animal.  ‘This is Oskar’s dog, Marietta … they’ve been together for quite a few years now.’


  Having satisfied herself by licking Matt all over his face, the dog turned her boisterous attentions on Henry, whom she seemed to be able to identify as a doggy type of person.  Henry obliged with the required petting.


  It was as Marietta turned to Gavin that a very odd thing happened.  The terrier froze and stared up at the boy.  Her tail stopped wagging.  She seemed mesmerised by him for a full minute.  At last she slowly moved towards him and simply licked his hand, then sat next to him, staring fixedly up at the boy.


  Henry and Matt stared.  ‘Has a dog ever done that to you before, baby?’ Henry asked.


  ‘Er … no.  Mostly they ignore me,’ Gavin replied slowly, clearly a little disconcerted by the dog’s fixed gaze.  Marietta trotted close behind him as they went inside.


  ‘Nice place,’ gasped Henry.  They entered directly into a passage, on the right of which a large sitting room welcomed them with tall diamond-paned windows lit up by the sun.  Heraldic stained glass featured the arms of the Templars, the archdiocese of Strelzen and the diocese of Modenehem.  Although large, it was nonetheless a comfortable room, with the scents of summer drifting in through an open casement, and sunlight patterning the parquet  floor.  Soft sofas and chairs were grouped around, and there was a TV.


  Oskar came through the opposite door, towelling his hair: he had been in the pool.  He looked very relaxed, lean and tanned.  ‘Hello, Matt.  Hi, boys!  Do you want a drink or something?  Lunch is not for an hour.  We’re having it by the pool, so get changed if you want to take advantage of the water.  And who’s this?’  Oskar looked with interest at Gavin.


  ‘Oskar,’ said Henry, ‘this is my boyfriend, Gavin.  Gavin, this is Count Oskar of Modenehem.’


  They shook hands, Gavin trying not to stare too hard at the vision of unclothed masculine beauty in front of him.  Oskar gave him a friendly grin and indicated the way to the pool, before telling the servant Cesar to take their bags upstairs so they could change first.  Marietta trotted off after Oskar, with one backward glance at Gavin as she went.


  ‘This is some place, Henry,’ Gavin said as they followed Cesar to their assigned bedroom.


  ‘Welcome to the jet set, baby.  Do you think you’ll be alright?’


  ‘There’s a lot of people, and it is a bit scary.  But I know Matt and Fritzy, and Eddie’ll be here too.  I know Peter Peacher is super-scary, but I like his brother a lot.  I think I’ll be okay, as long as you hold my hand, Henry.’


  ‘That’s what I’m here for.’


The two lovers padded downstairs in their swimming trunks, along a communicating passage and out on to the sunlit poolside, where the light filtered through a glass wall.  There was a terrace beyond the glass, with a number of recliners and umbrellas.  One of the chairs was occupied by a bronzed and golden-haired man, perfectly naked apart from a pair of shades.  He was muscular and handsome, not unlike his younger brother, Eddie, although somehow the features were more regular and better arranged.  This was Peter Peacher, at twenty-two years of age the chief executive of PeacherCorp Europe, and as troublesome to the stock markets as his father was.  Henry knew him from house parties in Highgate, and they had common friends in Terry O’Brien and Justin Peacher-White.


  Peter heard them approach and stood up with an unapologetic smirk.  Henry introduced him to Gavin, and Peter gave the boy a smiling welcome and a handshake.  He had the two boys sit down while he showed them what he had laid out on the ground next to his chair.  It was the plans for the new European offices of PeacherCorp in Strelzen.  Peter had gone for low-rise, in a modern version of a baroque cloistered complex complete with gardens, reflecting-ponds and small lakes.


  Henry was impressed.  ‘You gonna put up a statue of your dad here?’ he pointed.


  ‘Cheek,’ Peter snorted.  ‘What do you think, Oskar darling?  Who would you put up statues to in the new Peacher HQ?’


  ‘It’s not a bad idea, love’ smiled Oskar.  ‘You might think of Rothenian heroes … or why not Terry O’Brien if you want a Peacher hero?’


  ‘Yay …’ cheered Henry, ‘statue of Terry!  That’s got my vote.’


  Peter smiled.  ‘You don’t have a vote, Henry.  But I will suggest something along those lines to the architect, though not the Terry idea, never mind how much I love him.’  He stood up and stretched his lean frame.  ‘I’d better get some trunks on.  Helge and the twins are on their way here now with Justin.  Go and have a swim, guys.’


  So Henry and Gavin went back inside, jumped in the pool and splashed around for a while.  Gavin was not a bad swimmer, better than Henry in fact.  He’d had more of a chance to practice in urban pools than had Henry.


  They were floating around peacefully when suddenly a fountain of water went up between them.  Justin had sneaked in and cannon-balled on top of them.  As Henry came up spluttering he felt his trunks ripped off him deftly.  In an instant, Justin was out and away with them.  Henry had no choice but to pursue him out on to the terrace shouting, ‘Come back, you bastard!’  So it was a wet and naked Henry who ran right into Harriet Peacher and Countess Helge coming round the side of the house – precisely what Justin had intended.


  ‘Ohmigod!’ Henry shrieked, clasping his hands over his genitals as the women stared at him in astonishment.  Gavin came racing up with a towel which he wrapped round Henry.  Justin was sitting on a nearby wall in total hysterics.


  ‘I am so, so sorry,’ Henry burbled as he flushed bright red.


  Harriet recovered first, telling him with a smile that it was fine … she was used to the sight of her brother’s equipment perpetually on display.  Countess Helge, however, was not looking at Henry at all, but was directing a quite inscrutable gaze at Gavin.  The boy himself had not noticed, as he was intent on saving his Henry from embarrassment.








  After that inauspicious beginning, the Templerstadt house party could only improve.  Justin was obnoxiously triumphant about his humiliation of Henry, an attitude that could not be allowed to stand unavenged.  But how to get back at him?  After all, Justin was the grand master in the dojo of street wisdom.  In the end, Henry borrowed an Allen key off Oskar and spent an hour carefully loosening the screws of Justin’s bed, to the point that it still looked firm but hardly anything kept it together.


  Justin had a boyish habit of bounding on to his bed, as Henry knew very well.  That night when Justin headed off to bed, Henry and Gavin sneaked upstairs behind him.  They listened at the door as Justin went through his evening ablutions.  They heard the toilet flush and the padding thud as the naked Justin raced to leap up on to the covers.  Then they heard his yell as, with a very satisfying and tremendous crash, the bed collapsed under him.  Gavin smiled at Henry and Henry smiled back.  They shook hands, and retired to their more stable place of rest.


  Justin looked up from his morning Cheerios as Henry and Gavin came in for breakfast.  To his credit, he grinned and called a truce.


  ‘Won’t underestimate you again, Henry.’


  ‘Sleep alright?’


  ‘I moved to the sofa.’


  ‘When’re you going home, Justy?’


  ‘As soon as Fritzy gets here, which should be some time tomorrer.  Me boy Brian will be escorting ‘im on to the Strelzen flight from Heathrow ‘bout now.  Brian’ll drive him straight here.  He should make it around lunchtime.  Then Brian and me gotta get off to pick up a boy-band contract in Stockholm.’


  ‘What a tough life.’


  ‘Sure is.’


  Countess Helge and Harriet appeared at that point.  Henry doubted Eddie would surface before early afternoon.  Harriet gave Henry a little kiss and sat down next to him, smirking.


  ‘I can’t get yesterday out of my mind, Henry.’


  ‘It’s bolted into my short-term memory too, Harry.  I’m thinking of suing Justy for the trauma he caused me.’


  ‘Hey, don’t sue me!’ Justin protested.  ‘Sue Terry’s insurers.’


  ‘How was stripping and humiliating me part of your job?’


  Justin thought a moment.  ‘I wuz outa control due to … post-traumatic stress disorder,’ he said with some relish.  ‘Iss me occupation, innit.  Iss too much for me brain to cope wiv an all.’


  ‘Stuff your brain,’ retorted Henry.  ‘It’s a sense of morality you lack, you little criminal.’


  Justin laughed.


  In the meantime, Helge was having a quiet conversation with a shy Gavin, who was quickly opening up under the influence of the woman’s kindness and warmth.  They talked for a considerable time, and soon Gavin was smiling and laughing in a way he did with very few others.  Helge took him out on to the terrace arm-in-arm after they had breakfasted.


  That flabbergasted Henry.  He’d expected Gavin to tag him around for days before gaining the confidence to interact independently with people, but Helge plainly had a gift for dealing with pathologically shy post-adolescents.  Henry put it down to her school-teaching background.


  When they met up at lunchtime, Henry asked Gavin what he and Helge had been talking about.


  ‘Oh, just stuff,’ he replied.  ‘She wanted to know about my family and where we came from.  My dad works on our family tree, y’know.  Did I tell you that we were descended from the famous Dr Evans Price?’


  ‘No.  What’s he famous for?’


  ‘It’s a bit of a laugh really.  Old Evans Price – my great-great-great grandfather – was a very eccentric doctor in South Wales at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign.  He was a complete nutcase.  He reckoned he was the last of the druids, and went round dressed in green tights and a white sheet, with an oak wreath on his head.  He looked a bit odd in Pontypridd market in the 1880s.  But he’s most famous for being prosecuted for cremating his dead baby son on a hillside near Llantrisant in 1886 – like the ancient Celts did, he said.  He defended himself in the High Court and won.  As a result, the government had to legalise human cremation in Britain.’


  ‘How weird,’ Henry grinned.


  Gavin shrugged.  ‘Every family has weirdos.’


  ‘No, weird that you’re Welsh, baby!’


  ‘Oh … ha ha!’


  ‘Any more skeletons in your family wardrobe?’


  ‘Not really.  But Dad says we’re descended ultimately from Meilyr ap Rhys, a great medieval poet and seer.  He was a member of a Welsh royal house going back to Arthurian times.  That’s why Dad called me Gavin.’


  ‘Gavin’s a Welsh name?’


  ‘It’s the English version of Gawain … I’m Gawain ap Rhys.’


  ‘That’s really cool, baby.  I like that.  You’re my little Welsh prince.’


  Gavin laughed.  ‘There.  I bet you thought Fritzy was the only prince in your life.’