HENRY IN HIGH POLITICS
‘Pass me that Fodor’s, Ed.’ They were relaxing in their hotel room after leaving items of evening dress scattered around. Henry was in his boxer briefs, bare feet up on the room’s desk. Ed – naked, dishevelled and gorgeous – had just come out of the shower towelling his hair. Henry’s briefs were tented out accordingly. Part of his anatomy was expecting an imminent treat.
Ed came up behind Henry, knelt next to his chair and began lightly kissing his shoulders. His fingers strayed inside Henry’s briefs, which he began slowly pushing down over his thighs. Henry wiggled his bum to assist the removal. Ed’s warm fingers closed round his erection and began skilfully stroking and stimulating it.
Regardless of the potent distraction, Henry scanned the index for ‘Glottenberh’. As Ed’s mouth closed over his glans, tongue teasing his slit, Henry began reading: ‘Glottenberh (Ger. Glottenburg). Former semi-independent duchy within the kingdom of Ruritania, annexed 1788. Pop. 90,600. The cathedral of St Boniface fdd 1004. The Benedictine abbey of St Vitalis (Vitalenkloster) features the national shrine of the Black Virgin (q.v.) …’ That was as far as he could go before he groaned and threw the book aside, burying his fingers in the thick blond hair of the head between his legs, pumping up and down on his penis.
‘Can I make love to you, Ed?’ Henry gasped. His lover lifted off him and nodded. They stood. Henry put Ed over the edge of the bed and prepared his hole patiently. Although normally a top, Ed by no means disliked being taken by Henry, who held him high him round the ribs, belly against his lower back, pushing down into his hole. Henry knew Ed liked to feel his penis running over and exciting his prostate. Ed was biting and gripping the coverlet by the time Henry spurted inside him. Kissing and hugging, they moved up on the bed, where Henry brought Ed off with his busy hand.
Finally, Ed got round to asking, ‘Why does Rudi want just you to go to Glottenberh with him?’
‘He seems to think religion is my thing, because my dad is a vicar, and none of his other friends are that way inclined, I guess. Also, I speak Rothenian, which an equerry has to do.’
‘What’s so special about January 3rd?’
‘It’s the feast of St Vitalis, the patron saint of Rothenia, the German monk who converted the pagan inhabitants of the Starel basin in the eighth century. There’s a national pilgrimage, which for the first time since 1919 will be led by a king of Rothenia. This is a very Catholic nation, Ed, and their faith means a lot to them. The king is the advocate of the shrine of the Black Virgin, so the image will be carried in procession through the streets of the city because he is present.’
‘Black Virgin? I don’t suppose it has anything to do with Africa, does it?’
Henry smiled. ‘It’s an ancient Byzantine icon, presented to Duke Tassilo by Emperor Otto the Great. It apparently cures infertility. It’s okay, I won’t say a prayer for you. I don’t want you getting pregnant on me, now we’re going our separate ways.’
Ed gave a tight sort of smile. ‘You’re on about that a lot, Henry.’
‘It’s on my mind a lot, Ed. Especially after sex like that. Ed, I … oh, never mind.’
‘Never mind what …?’
‘Now’s not the time or place.’
Although troubled, Ed hugged Henry hard, enclosing his smaller body protectively. Henry sighed and snuggled. This he liked as much as sex, the way Ed could just surround him with warmth and make him feel loved and safe. Who else would ever do this for him? And how could he survive without it?
Oskar came by for Henry on the Tuesday morning, coming up to the room to kiss and embrace him. Oskar was very fond of Henry. He said there was something of the young Will about him, and he still loved Will, so much was obvious, despite his undeniable devotion to Peter Peacher.
Henry enjoyed being hugged by Oskar. The man had an amazing fragrance, which Henry could still smell on himself hours later. He thought it must be fantastic to share a bed with the man – and what a man, too, gorgeous and beautifully proportioned. Letting his mind run down those channels simply added to Henry’s unease, of course. His mind was always running down them, and it just seemed to be getting worse. He was adrift emotionally, and he knew it.
Oskar was in a dark suit, and Henry had dressed the same way. Oskar’s car ran under the palace arch to join the motorcade – which included six police motorcycle outriders and three vans full of security men – already awaiting Rudi’s departure. The royal BMW was warming its engine, the Elphberg flag fixed to its bonnet.
After the king emerged, a palace footman in green tailcoat and white tie called Henry out of Oskar’s car to join him. ‘Morning, your majesty.’
‘Hi, Henry. Do you ever do the rosary, you Anglicans?’
‘Er, no … well, not my sort of Anglican anyway. I hadn’t noticed you doing it much at Medwardine either, Rudi.’
‘It’s a devotion my grandmother’s fond of. I’ll give it a go later. You okay, Henry?’
‘You look abstracted.’
‘Just like you to start getting sensitive at the oddest of times, Rudi.’
‘You’re not bothered by a day of Catholic devotion, are you?’
‘Heavens no! It’s … well, it’s personal. Thanks and all, but I want to keep it personal.’
‘Okay. No probs.’
They chatted about the day ahead of them, current Rothenian politics and the unexpected side of kingship, and were still at it when the motorcade pulled off the autoroute into the outskirts of Glottenberh. Glancing out the window, Henry was astonished to see crowds lining the road even at the edge of the city, ignoring the cold and the heavy grey clouds lowering over the roofs. Red-lion flags were everywhere. Rudi laughed as he got Henry waving out the window in that odd way royals do.
When the convoy pulled up outside the basilica of the Vitalenkloster, built on the lines of the imperial church at Speyer, the bells began ringing and the concussions of the guns of the royal salute banged back from the west front. Rudi, with Henry a pace behind him, stood hand on heart as the band of the re-formed Royal Foot Guards played the national anthem. The bishop, in rochet, purple mozetta and cassock, came up to shake hands and usher the king into the vast spaces of the great church. The abbot and community were within the west door, the abbot wearing a gold pectoral cross and purple skull cap as a sign of the full privileges of his ancient house. Rudi caused a stir by going on one knee to kiss the abbot’s ring of office, an act of royal humility followed by subdued applause. The abbot and monks, behind a cross and candles borne by acolytes, led the way down the packed church, beautifully chanting the Te Deum in Latin as they went.
Rudi was placed on a throne-like chair at the head of the nave. Henry, as equerry for the day, had a seat behind him. It was cold in the church, and Henry was chilly without a coat, his breath steaming. Since he was at the focus of a major religious festival, however, he was forced to ignore it. He looked at Rudi, motionless in front of him and also coatless, and marvelled at the self-control kingship demanded. The man was superhuman.
The monks brought down the icon from above the high altar and there was a period of devotion and readings as it was censed and venerated. It was finally presented to the king to kiss. He was the only person allowed this devotion, the icon being technically his own property as the heir of Duke Tassilo. It was then placed by the king himself on a flower-filled litter carried on the shoulders of ten members of the fraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dressed in tail coats and breeches with papal medals round their necks.
Down through the church passed the procession, headed by the bishop, abbot and monks, together with a multitude of boys in albs carrying censers and candles in tiny lamps. Henry was a little awed as well as astonished to see the boys all barefoot, despite the winter cold.
After the icon came the king, the provincial governor, the chief of police and the commanding general of the army district. Henry and Oskar brought up the tail. They wound through the streets, accompanied by applause in the continental way. Rothenian hymns were sung at every station.
Eventually the procession disgorged into the packed marketplace, where it was greeted by the awesome sight of thousands of people, young and old, going to their knees to welcome the icon. As they did so, the first flecks of snow began to drift down from the heavy brownish clouds. It was almost scary in its timing: ‘Celestial ticker tape,’ Oskar whispered in Henry’s ear with a little smile.
The procession finally made its way up into the cathedral, where the icon was placed on the altar for public veneration before mass was celebrated. Henry was rather glad to see the boys reassuming their shoes and socks. He had been a little worried about them.
He went up to the altar with Rudi to receive a blessing from the bishop, but did not take communion. He reflected that in the circumstances it might have caused a minor diplomatic incident: Anglican equerry to the king of Rothenia elbows his way to the altar to take the sacrament at a Catholic State ceremony. He thought back to what the Head had said to him about a career in the Foreign Office. Maybe it was an idea after all.
There was a late lunch and reception at the former ducal palace, which was now the University of Radelngrad-Glottenberh. Henry circulated with the king for a while, until he got into a conversation with a party of Glottenberh youths who had been invited along to represent the student body. They were pleasant Rothenian kids, a little older than he, of course, but they didn’t make him feel patronised. They were disappointed at his determination to speak Rothenian, as they wanted to try out their English on him. They were very intrigued about their king, the girls especially. Henry was hard put to be discrete without being evasive, but he thought he managed it.
The king left the room for a series of meetings with local officials, which Henry was not required to attend. One of the female students volunteered to show him the old palace chapel, since he said he was interested in churches. Her name was Lise, and she was clearly very attracted to Henry. This was a first for him, but from the way she smiled and hung about him, there seemed little doubt that he was indeed the object of her sexual attention.
Wow, he thought, this is what life might have been like if I had been different from what I am. He was very friendly back, which was as far as he could go. However, the novel idea that he might be attractive to women further disturbed his already confused mind.
Lise took him up to the organ gallery overlooking the chapel. The place was a mass of baroque sculpture, and the reredos climbed all the way to the roof in an involved confection of cherubs, saints and patriarchs. It clearly belonged to the school of church decoration that seemed to owe more to the stage than to scripture.
Glancing over the railing, Henry noticed a series of ducal tombs down in the nave. Anxious to see more of them, he descended a twisting spiral staircase to the floor below, where he examined each tomb in turn. He quickly discovered that Lise’s interest in him did not extend to counterfeiting enthusiasm for the architecture of death. She said she’d be back to pick him up in half an hour.
He began with the medieval tombs, an unusual line in front of the high altar at the east end, obviously moved from somewhere else. Four crowned effigies lay flat, their feet to the east, ducal swords unsheathed and resting on their shoulders. The execution was very fine, and although Henry was no expert, he guessed they had been made elsewhere than Rothenia – Flanders maybe.
Down the centre of the nave lay the early modern dukes of Glottenberh, in the armour and ruffs of the age of Gustavus Adolphus, and the wigs and lace of the age of Louis XIV. He finished with a very intriguing monument, the last duke, Willem Stanislas VI, who had died aged eighteen in 1788. It was composed in a Classical style, the boy – very handsome apparently – depicted lying rather erotically in just a few convenient drapes. It was deliberately sensuous, and Henry remembered reading somewhere how the erotic was a part of the art of death: smooth flesh and swelling muscle used to counterpoint the transience of human beauty and the tragedy of mortality.
The boy’s mouth was slightly parted and his eyes were open, as though he was still drinking in light and breath. Henry could not resist running his hands down the torso and long limbs, marvelling at the delicacy of the sculptor’s art brought out in the faint lines of veins and the play of muscle under the skin, made beautifully real in stone.
As Henry reflected on the shortness of this boy’s years, and all the disappointed hopes that had lain on him, his own situation came home to him with greater force than ever before. In two weeks he himself would be eighteen. He could see his way forward in life and his path did not lead him in the same direction as Edward’s. They would separate, and time would take them apart. Although what they had was so very fulfilling, there was no future for them as a couple because it was not sustainable.
Bitter though it was, there was only one conclusion. As Henry looked at the last duke of Glottenberh, he knew that at least in his case there would be other opportunities. Maybe he would never recapture the poignant delicacy of his life’s first love, but it was only that: the first love. There would one day be another, or so he could hope. He shook off his confusion. He had made up his mind.
Ed was smiling when Henry came through the door of their hotel room. The bags were already packed and waiting on the bed for the taxi to the airport. He hugged Henry and kissed him, before noticing the tears standing in his lover’s eyes.
‘Henry, what’s up?’ he asked nervously.
‘Edward,’ Henry replied slowly but firmly, ‘I have a thing to say.’