HENRY IN FINKLE ROAD
The next morning, Henry was up early. It was a Tuesday with no filming scheduled, so he decided to go rambling round the Templerstadt estate. He let Gavin lie in. He took a quick bite of toast and bacon from the provisions already laid out in the breakfast room, then left by the front door.
Henry’s first destination was the old chapel, which he’d been itching to get to see ever since arriving at Templerstadt. The chapel had been given a major makeover at some time in the late middle ages, judging by the flamboyant Gothic tracery and finialled doorway. Henry hoped to find earlier fragments of the original chapel of the Knights Templar, an order which had been suppressed in Rothenia in 1308.
The door clanked and creaked open, revealing the dim and bare interior. Although Oskar had said it had not been used for religious purposes for some years, there was still a stone altar and some wall monuments, as well as an old box pew. Henry jumped. The pew was occupied.
‘Helge?’ he exclaimed in Rothenian. ‘You’re out early.’
The countess smiled. ‘And so are you, Henry dear. I expect it’s antiquities which have brought you here, rather than the rosary.’
‘Yes … I’m afraid so. I’m sorry if I disturbed you.’
‘No, don’t worry. I came over just after dawn. It’s wonderful watching the windows light up and the sunshine fill this building. It’s a great place to think about God and give thanks for life and creation. You’re a religious boy, aren’t you Henry?’
‘Yes, I suppose I am.’
‘It shines out of you. You’re a boy who has been faithful to what you are and to the God who created you. I wish Oskar and Fritz were more than dutifully Catholic. It’s a major battle getting either of them to church.’
‘There’s always hope. My dad had nothing to do with churches from when he was ten till he was twenty-five, and now he’s an Anglican priest.’
‘Then I will hope,’ she smiled.
‘Helge, thanks for being so good with Gavin. He’s terribly shy, and you were kind to take him off and talk to him that first day.’
‘He is a lovely boy, Henry, very … pure in heart. It is so rare a quality. You’re very lucky to be with him. I used to have a great deal of trouble accepting gay relationships, but then one day Oskar brought Will Vincent home with him to our cottage in Terlenehem, and Will was such a fine man, so upright and kind. Fritzku was devoted to him ten minutes after meeting him. Will was responsible for restoring our fortunes, despite the terrible thing Oskar did to him. Do you know the story?’
Henry shook his head.
‘Then perhaps I should tell it to you some other time. And now Oskar is happy with Peter; they are equals in body and mind. They are both such clever men. Oskar has found his way in life with Peter’s guidance and support. He is now what the Tarlenheims always were and should be: leaders in Rothenian society and politics. And count of Modenehem, too! His father would have been so proud, just as I am.’
‘Helge, what do you think about all this business with Alastair Bannow and the supposed portrait of the Holy Face?’
‘What do I think of it? It is a very great inconvenience, Henry. Our houses in Strelzen and Modenehem are under siege, and Fritz is in hiding. People like us don’t have normal lives as it is. Bannow has heedlessly and carelessly made it worse. I will give him a piece of my mind if he comes here. I’m sure Matt knows that, and will keep us apart. When I think of the months I’ve had to live without my Fritzku, I could scratch the man’s eyes out.’
Henry smiled. He rather thought Helge might very well go after Bannow, given half a chance. He continued, ‘But this idea of a portrait of Christ surviving hidden here somewhere in Rothenia ... what do you make of it?’
Helge came to the brink of a gesture as inelegant as a shrug. ‘There are many strange things in the world, but that would certainly be as strange as any. I leave it to the Church to determine. I believe the archbishop of Strelzen has recently said the Church does not recognise the existence of such a relic and has found no reason to suppose it was ever in this country.’
Henry did shrug. ‘Let’s hope that settles everything down. But I rather think it won’t.’
‘Neither do I,’ Helge confirmed. ‘People believe what they wish to be true.’ She got up and took her leave.
Henry mooched around the chapel for a while and then followed the countess out. He went under the gateway and took a small path leading round the back of the house. There he found a long lawn which turned into a ride, lined by some very tall sycamores. They were full of birds and birdsong at that early hour. Henry’s trainers got soaked with the heavy dew.
About a mile from the house, Henry sat up on a gate and enjoyed a gorgeous view along the Medeln valley. Far in the blue distance, he could make out the twin spires of Modenehem cathedral. Much nearer at hand he glimpsed through the trees the cluster of white buildings forming the Marienkloster.
He considered what he had discovered there. He had learned that the Levites truly did exist, and if they existed, so did the treasure … or at least (his critical mind insisted) it had existed until the 1770s and the days of the great Princess Osra. She had moved it, but where? Henry knew she had once held wide possessions in Rothenia, especially in the duchy of Mittenheim. It really could be anywhere.
His Ark lieth amongst thee in its chamber of cypress wood. His servants lie wakeful around it, as Samuel in the Holy of Holies.
Henry knew the prophecies and indicators off by heart now:
VBI XPTI FACIES ESTNE. (Where is the face of Christ?)
IN ARCA DOMINI. (In the ark of the Lord.)
VBI ARCA DOMINI ESTNE. (Where is the ark of the Lord?)
IN MANIBVS ANCILLAE SVAE. (In the possession of his handmaiden.)
Henry thought about the ‘ark’. He was convinced the word did not refer to the Ark of the Covenant. He had checked dictionaries and found that ‘arca’ was a Latin word simply meaning chest or box. The picture was kept in a chest of some sort in a panelled chamber belonging to a Levite. That’s what the riddle indicated. Maybe the chamber once had been at Medeln, but now it was somewhere else ... but somewhere in Rothenia, he was certain.
Henry jumped off the gate and for a while followed a cart track that ran down into the valley. Before going far, however, he turned and walked back towards the public road that ran past Templerstadt. As he turned a corner, he noticed a black SUV parked in a pull-over. It was empty, he saw. He also saw it was the same car he’d seen outside the abbey the day before. The conclusion could only be that interested parties had them under observation. He must mention it to Oskar or Matt the first chance he got. He memorised the number plate.
‘Hey Oskar,’ hailed Henry as he got back to Templerstadt. The count was just crossing the hall passage barefoot, a robe wrapped round him, his hair tousled. He looked drop-dead gorgeous.
‘Good morning, Henry. How did you sleep?’
‘Very nicely, thank you. Oskar, who would have men watching the house at this time?’
Oskar was suddenly wide awake. ‘Tell me about it, little one.’ Henry did so.
Oskar thought a moment. ‘It seems to me that if they were also watching the abbey yesterday, it is Matt or one of his people who is under surveillance. Which makes me think perhaps it is the religious lunatics after him. They must know he is up to something with the Vera Icon. Maybe they want to kidnap and torture Bannow to get the secret out of him. If this is so, I will certainly be glad to help them.’ Henry stared at Oskar, who smiled at him in return. ‘It’s almost certainly journalists, Henry. Come up with me to our room.’
Peter Peacher was sitting up in the bed, sipping a coffee. ‘Morning Henry,’ he said with a grin. ‘Come sit next to me.’ He grabbed Henry round the waist when the smaller man sat on the bed, kissed him and ruffled his hair. Peter smelled gorgeous, just like Oskar and Fritz.
‘I never had a chance to thank you for what you’ve done for Eddie, sweet babe.’
Henry nestled into Peter. He had the same powerful limbs and frame as Ed Cornish, and it was seductively familiar to feel his embrace. Henry grimaced. ‘For the fiftieth time, Pete, it was Eddie who did it all himself. He deserves the credit. Why don’t people give him his due?’
‘Probably because we’re not used to it. But you have been a really good friend to him, you and little Gavin. Be fair. If you had not been so discreet and sensible, it could have been a very different year for him. Instead, he finished it as an A student. You should hear what Dad is saying about you, Henry.’
While Henry was blushing, Oskar went over with Peter the report on the SUV. Peter looked interested. ‘I’m sure you’re right, Osku,’ he said, using the Rothenian diminutive for his lover. ‘It’s going to be those damned journalists … although they’re not the usual paps. This lot seem to be that rarer breed, the investigative type. What can you do?’
Oskar frowned. ‘I’ll put a call through to the Ministry of the Interior. With the king coming here in a couple of days, they’ll want no suspicious characters hanging round Templerstadt. The state police have a barracks in Modenehem. I imagine they’ll send out a patrol and move the bastards on. Besides, the secret service will be arriving tomorrow to set up a perimeter. No one will get near the house.
‘Henry dear,’ he continued, ‘Fritz and I are going over to Terlenehem tomorrow. We might meet up for lunch with Will and Felip when we’re there. Do you and Gavin want to come for the day? I’m there on business, but Fritzku wants to see some of his male friends … not the girls, they don’t speak to him. You can go and see the old castle too, what’s left of it.’
‘Great! Matt’s shut down unit filming until the king’s visit is over. I’d love to come. I’ll ask my Gavin.’
Henry went to see if Gavin was awake, but found him still buried under the duvet, snoring gently. After kissing his boyfriend’s hair, Henry changed into his trunks and padded down to the pool. Eddie Peacher was there, swimming lengths powerfully and easily. Fritz and Harriet were sitting together outside on the terrace, deep in conversation. Although Henry had little experience in such things, the pair seemed to be very friendly, leaning close together as they laughed.
‘Looks like my sis is going to be a princess at this rate, Henry dude,’ Eddie observed as he paused near the poolside, shaking his wet hair out of his face. ‘Does that make me like a prince-in-law or something?’
‘No, Eddie. It just makes Harriet a lucky girl. But aren’t you reading too much into it?’
‘Guess I may be, but I’ve never seen her quite like this with any other boy. She usually keeps them at a distance, but not Fritzy.’
‘He is younger than she is, but he’s a lot more grown up than any seventeen-year-old I’ve ever met.’
‘It’s okay by me. I love the dude, but she will try to mould him. Harry’s that sort. Quiet, but she doesn’t give up if she sees something she thinks needs changing, oh yeah! I have nineteen years’ experience of that. There is some of Mom in her for sure.’
‘What about you, Eddie?’
‘Waddya mean, what about me?’
‘How many women did you screw in the last academic year?’
‘Dunno. A lot.’
‘Was any of them special to you?’
‘Hell, dude, they were all special. It’s just that none of them so far have kept my interest. I’m sorry if I sound arrogant, but that’s the way it is, Henry. It’s going to be a long-term process finding the woman for Eddie. My cock isn’t complaining about it, at least.’
‘There was Tina …’
Eddie stared at Henry, then guffawed and pulled him into the pool with a great splash. He held Henry under for a while, before letting him up gasping.
‘What a thing to say, you little punk!’
Henry grinned. ‘You did sort of admit he was the best fuck you had all year.’
Eddie held Henry. ‘Yeah, but I thought he was a girl … he fooled you too, man. Tina was sexy though, more in control of me than the real girls. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for, a woman that’ll stand up to me, rather than lie down for me.’
Henry snatched a kiss, and said, ‘She’ll be lucky, whoever she is.’ He swam off, only to be overtaken not long afterwards by Eddie.
They spent a while together in the pool, with Eddie giving Henry some serious coaching on his swimming technique. Finally Eddie told him, ‘You could be quite a swimmer, dude, with a bit more upper-body development. You should take little wuss Gavin with you to the Union gym sometime and do weights.’
Henry laughed. He didn’t see that happening.
The two boys got out and headed back into the house, Eddie’s arm heavy on Henry’s shoulder in a way that Henry found both companionable and comforting. They passed Matt in a swimsuit heading the other way. Eddie wolf-whistled him, causing Matt to turn and stare.
‘How straight are you, Eddie?’
‘Dunno, how gay are you, Henry? I can fancy a good bod ... and be fair, Matt White is totally awesome. I could watch his perfect body and perfect face for hours. They don’t come more amazing. Difference between you and me, little Henry, is that you can jack off when you think about him and my big bro fucking. Me it leaves cold.’
‘So why the wolf whistle?’
‘Just wanted to rattle his cage.’
‘You’re naughty, you are.’
Henry went up to dress. Gavin was finally awake and stretching. They both slept naked, so it was easy for Henry to pull off his swimming shorts and prepare for action. He found his lover very desirable in his languorous waking state, warm and dishevelled in the bed. Henry loved how Gavin’s slim and hairless body was sprawling and displayed, the snatch of dark hair punctuating his crotch, and the way his cock was swelling – and swelling for Henry alone. Henry cuddled into Gavin’s arms and began arousing him. This time Henry wanted to be the one who was penetrated and enjoyed.
Some twenty minutes later, head down in the pillow and glorious sensations pulsing from his anus, Henry felt Gavin stiffen and spurt deep inside him. Gavin squirmed on top of Henry and waited for his cock to leave in its own good time. Then they dozed. It was all so enjoyable. Henry was in a euphoria of physical stimulation.
The two of them finally emerged for lunch, and found it being laid out on tables on the sunlit lawn at the back of the house. Henry had noticed that Peter and Oskar employed quite a large staff. For formal occasions, the footmen were dressed in the Tarlenheim livery colours of bright green and gold, with the Tarlenheim badge of a rose decorating their buttons. The head of the household was a chamberlain rather than a butler, and had golden keys on the lapels of his laced tailcoat. Fritz had told Henry that Oskar had looked out the old servant families in Terlenehem and Modenehem, and recruited from them. Marek, Count Oskar’s chamberlain, was the grandson of Prince Franz IV’s chamberlain, and the sixth generation of his family to serve the Tarlenheims.
The lunch appeared on tables under umbrellas. Cold drinks, cold meats and salads were offered in abundance. Most of the party was dressed casually, with Eddie, Fritz and Henry barefoot and in shorts. Gavin sat next to Countess Helge, whom he liked for her gentleness and her kindness towards him. Oskar’s dog Marietta sat between them, looking from one to the other with restless interest and hopes of being fed from their plates. The informality of the diners was a delightful contrast to the starched white napery and solid silver cutlery.
After lunch, Fritz and Harriet went down to the tennis courts again. Once more they were followed by raised eyebrows and some significant looks.
Henry and Gavin joined Eddie on the terrace by the pool, just soaking up the sun. Gavin had his iPod and was soon dozing again. Henry looked at his boyfriend carefully. Gavin had a slight smile on his little face, and his prescription sunglasses were pushed back in his hair. He didn’t seem listless the way you might if you were ill. He just seemed sleepy. Henry wondered if it was a glandular problem.
Eddie and Henry got to talking about the impending Cranwell Surfing Soc tour of the US West Coast. Fifteen lads had taken places for the full month. Eddie had secured a luxurious beach house from one of his father’s friends at no cost, but with a serious indemnity in the case of damage.
‘Hey, they’re my guys. They’ll behave!’ Eddie said confidently. Henry smiled to himself. He knew Eddie’s boys all too well. They would behave impeccably when sober, but after a few …
They continued talking over Eddie’s plans, in which Henry was becoming keenly interested. Before long, Peter Peacher wandered on to the terrace, talking into a mobile. He finished his call and sat down next to Eddie. The recliner creaked alarmingly under the weight of two powerfully-built men.
‘Hey little bro,’ Peter said. ‘Word is, you did good in your little English college.’
Eddie’s look hardened. ‘The University of Cranwell isn’t a little English college, dude. It’s got 15,000 students and some seriously good faculty, like Paulie for instance.’
‘Yeah, yeah, Eddie. I’m not doing down your alma mater.’
‘Good, cuz y’know, I don’t recall saying anything off-hand about that place you went to for a while … somewhere on the East Coast, wasn’t it? A college in some declining industrial port or other?’
It was now Peter’s turn to look hard at his brother. ‘Yeah, New Haven has seen better days. But Yale is pretty well known, and not easy to get into.’
‘Not too difficult to get out of either, bro,’ Eddie smirked.
‘There were serious reasons why I had to drop out, you know that.’ Peter was getting heated, and Henry was getting anxious. He began to see that the two Peacher brothers had some issues.
‘Easy, easy, Petey,’ soothed Eddie, having scored his point. ‘No offence meant. Hey, I know you wanted to get out there and run the business. You always did. I was just saying maybe you might never have really been university material.’
Peter was being wound up skilfully, as Henry could see all too well. In a tightly controlled voice, the older brother said, ‘Bro, your SAT score was not even half mine. Course the fact you went into the exam hall stoned out of your mind probably confused the issue.’
‘It was just meant to take the edge off the boredom, but hey, it led to some pretty imaginative answers, didn’t it?’
‘You’d think the first time you sucked a spliff would have put you off it. You puked into the pool at Santa Barbara … Christ, you were only ten!’
‘Yeah ... and whose spliff was it?’
‘You think I didn’t follow you and your scuzzy friends that day? You were all sitting round naked in that clearing, circle-jerking and smoking dope. Arty and I were watching you from the bushes. That was the day I guessed you were gay, Petey. Jordan had his finger up your butt while he was jerking you and you were loving it.’ Eddie gave an obscene impression of a boy writhing blissfully on an impaled butt.
‘You little bastard!’
‘If I’d told on you I’d have been the bastard, but despite all the stuff you dumped on me, I still covered your ass.’
‘Covered my frickin’ ass! You fuckin’ scumbag motherfucker!’ Henry leaped aside as the two men hurled themselves at each other, grappling, gouging and rolling across the terrace. Gavin sat up, looking confused and gawking at the fight. Henry grabbed him protectively, while shouting at the Peacher brothers to cool it.
The two men were up and Eddie slugged Peter hard in the face. Down Peter went, and Eddie stood looking at him gleefully, wringing his hand. Then his legs were cut from under him by a skilful turn of Peter’s body and he went over into the pool. Peter plunged in after him, and the continuing fight churned up the surface of the water.
‘Should we get someone?’ Gavin asked anxiously.
‘I don’t think they’ll kill each other,’ Henry said reassuringly. ‘Besides, apart from Terry, I don’t know anyone who could stop them. I get the feeling this has happened before.’
Five minutes’ thrashing round in the water seemed to have exhausted them, strong though they were. The blows became laboured and less effective. In the end, they stood looking at each other, their chests heaving. Then bizarrely they grinned, hugged for ages, and finally kissed.
‘I won that, fucker,’ Eddie asserted.
‘You little wuss, you don’t even win on sibling rivalry,’ Peter retorted.
‘Love you, bro,’ chortled Eddie.
‘Give me some tongue next time you kiss me, like you do with Henry babe,’ laughed Peter.
‘Hey,’ protested Henry, ‘leave me out of it.’
‘Yeah,’ echoed Gavin, ‘or I’ll give the pair of you a right sorting!’