Henry was fast asleep in Ed’s lap when the Volvo reached Dover for the night crossing to Antwerp. Ed woke him up. The car queued for a half hour before the loading began. After that, they locked it up and headed for the upper decks and the cafeteria. The cannier travellers had already appropriated the more comfortable seats in the lounges.
Dad had saved some money by not booking cabins. ‘You can’t sleep in them, so you might as well doze in a seat,’ he said, a little defensively.
‘Dutch cuisine … mmm!’ said Henry, with something of a grimace.
‘Potatoes and whipped cream. Gorgeous,’ Ed grinned.
‘Do I detect a certain degree of criticism in the air?’
‘Oh no, Mr Atwood, perish the thought,’ said Ed piously, as Mum tittered. Ed was thoroughly comfortable with Henry’s parents, in ways that he admitted he never had been with any other adults. It had been a happy week when he came down from Scotland and took up residence in the rectory. He had slept in the rather poky spare room. Since the house had been so full, the two boys had kept to their own beds, confining themselves to oral sex and masturbation when they were supposed to be in Henry’s room gaming. They spent a lot of time discussing the events in Trewern Great Wood in 1795.
‘What do we know?’ Henry eventually summed up. ‘Nathaniel and Jed, already lovers, went into the woods, and only Nathaniel walked out. He was suspected of a hand in the affair, but the surgeon and coroner said otherwise. Jed’s body was unmarked, apparently. I’d be happy to go along with the inquest but for two facts. The first is that Nathaniel ran away to join the army very soon after, and spent the next two decades getting very frustrated with the fact that every bullet and bayonet he jumped in front of missed him. Sounds like a man guilty of something to me.’
‘The second fact is that Jed won’t leave me alone. He wants to show me something. Why? Not a clue. But he isn’t going to give up till I’ve seen what it is, and, really, I don’t want to see it.’
‘I’m sorry, Henry. I wish it could be otherwise. The only strategy that suggests itself is that we try to convince your Dad, and get him to do some priest stuff to make sure Jed lies quiet.’
‘My Dad doesn’t believe in ghosts.’
‘You what? He’s a priest. How can he refuse to believe in the supernatural?’
‘I didn’t say he didn’t believe in the supernatural. He believes that there are unseen forces at work behind visible Creation and not all of them are nice. Besides, he’s a big Buffy fan; he’s got all the DVDs.’
‘So what’s the difference?’
‘Well, his theology is that death is a one-way ticket, just like in the story of Dives and Lazarus. There’s no coming back, not even to warn your loved ones.’
‘Ha!’ said Ed, ‘I bet that’s a position you won’t accept any more.’
‘Damn right,’ Henry snorted. So nothing was said.
After the meal in the cafeteria, Mum and Dad found a corner to settle in, and the boys went to explore the large ferry, now throbbing as its engines began to cope with a Channel swell. They went out on to the deck, but it was a cold night and heavy spray was sweeping the decks. They watched the orange light in the sky above Dover fade behind them as the prow turned up Channel and ploughed into the swell. The vessel began a gradual rise and plunge that made Ed feel a bit uncomfortable.
‘Romantic isn’t it?’ said Henry, in all sincerity. There was something deeply symbolic in the way the ship took them out on to the dark breast of the sea, the blackness closing round them. His mood was also influenced by the fact that Jed Scudamore was already separated from him by miles of cold salt water.
To Ed’s relief Henry decided to go back in. They staggered a little on the stairs back down to the lounge as the ship wallowed in a cross sea. ‘Don’t like this,’ complained Ed. It was an uncomfortable night. The ferry throbbed and shook, and the sea sent it steadily up and down.
‘Ed, you’re green!’ marvelled Henry.
‘Feel terrible,’ Ed replied. And then he was up weaving into the nearby men’s room, Henry following him concernedly. He threw up into a loo. He kneeled gasping over the stainless steel bowl, as Henry stood looking on compassionately. Eventually he wiped his mouth and staggered to his feet.
‘Better now?’ Henry asked anxiously.
‘A bit. Seems I’m seasick.’
‘It’s a rough night, Ed.’
‘Tell me that you weren’t enjoying your revenge for that night in the King Billy.’
Henry smiled, ‘I may be a little person, but I’m not small-minded. Here, blow your nose.’
But even the roughest night comes to an end. The sky was lightening into grey as the ferry surged past the mole of the port of Antwerp and into suddenly calm water. The ship’s engines roared and then backed the propellers. It slid gently into its moorings as the tannoys summoned drivers to their cars and lorries.
Henry was the navigator. He had the sort of mind that was good with maps, so he and Ed pored over the route in the back, while Mum managed the CD player and when they were bored with her collection of eighties classics, led them in silly songs.
After the millionth chorus of ‘Roll me Over’, Ed turned to Henry and said, ‘Henry, you really do have the most awful singing voice.’
‘Thank you for the honesty, dear Edward.’
‘It’s sad,’ said Mum. ‘He was such a sweet little kid, always humming to himself as he played with his Lego and Playmobil, but as soon as he tried to sing nursery rhymes, the ceiling cracked and graves opened. Horrible. But we love him, so we try to come to terms with the burst eardrums.’
Antwerp was difficult to get out of, but soon they were on the autoroutes, and they crossed the German frontier at ten thirty. They found a service station, and had a big breakfast. ‘I just love the bratwurst,’ admitted Henry in a whisper, ‘… not unlike a certain other sausage shaped thing I like to get my lips round.’
‘Later, hungry Henry,’ Ed whispered back.
Dad dozed for a while in the car before they returned to the roads. By evening they had made Munich, and found their way to a gasthaus that Dad had stayed in before. The rooms were cheap and clean, and the boys had twin beds, which they pushed together. They lay together naked and watched Sky, kissing and stroking, sucking each other and then joining their crotches and bringing themselves off by mutual friction, the way they liked. They washed each other’s sweaty and cum-stained bodies in the room sink. They were not en suite. Before they went to sleep Henry and Ed plotted tomorrow’s route.
‘We get to the frontier about midday, autoroute all the way,’ Henry said.
‘Then we stop here, at Rechtenberg, for lunch. Got the guide book?’
They started their journey from Munich at seven thirty. They penetrated the foothills of the Alps, and about eleven they reached the frontier. There was the red, white and black tricolour of Rothenia flapping over the traffic control point. The Atwood vehicle joined the car lanes which swept past the big queue of lorries being checked by border police. They were not stopped, and drove on direct to Rechtenberg, a small garrison city within a horseshoe of the Rothenian Alps.
The view to the south, where the mountains rose, was sensational. At the centre of the city was a hill of grey rock, surmounted by an impressive nineteenth-century fortress. The city was full of Rothenian military, for it was home to the famous military academy of Alfensberh.
‘I came here back in 1979, on a school skiing trip,’ said Dad. ‘It was still communist ruled in those days of course. I thought the people were really nice, although I was only fourteen at the time. But there were police and soldiers everywhere. It’s all changed now, even the uniforms. They used to have those big Russian-style peaked caps, but now they all look like Yanks.’
‘Change of imperial role model, I suppose’ Ed said. ‘Between the wars, the Rothenian services copied the British, and before the Great War, the Prussians. I got this book of uniforms of the world out of the library before I left school. It’s pretty informative on who’s top nation at any one time.’
Rechtenberg was a busy town with lots of new light industry growing up along the motorway. ‘Look, an IKEA!’ yelled Henry, ‘And an MFI! It could be Slough, with proper mountains!’
‘The economy here is changing fast since the country joined the EU,’ Mum chipped in. ‘There’s quite a mini-boom going on, according to the Economist. GNP went up 40% last year and unemployment is way down. There’s a huge amount of inward investment and Strelzen’s rivalling Prague as the tourist destination of choice in Central and Eastern Europe. Which reminds me. Henry and Edward, Strelzen’s got a bit of a reputation as a hard drinking and partying city. It’s supposed to be safe, but there’s parts of it that’ll be off limits to you.’
‘We can be trusted, honest,’ complained Henry.
‘Henry, no adolescent boy can be trusted. I state that as established fact. So no going to the Wejg.’
‘Look it up in your book. You don’t go there.’
The boys shrugged. They had no plans for dissolute living other than that which they arranged for themselves under their duvet.
Lunch at Rechtenberg was a bit of a disappointment. There was a McDonalds in the main street, but Mum and Dad got very sniffy about the boys’ preference for cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches.
‘It’s all very well for a pair of sixteen-year-olds,’ Mum retorted. ‘You can eat anything and your body will vaporise it into pure energy, but your father and I, we don’t need to collaborate with our bodies’ programming to fall to pieces.’
The end result was that they had a rather poor offering of schnitzel and pallid vegetables in a drab café in a side street, that Dad had hopefully said looked ethnic. The service seemed to be communist vintage, but at least it was cheap and the staff spoke a sort of English.
They didn’t stop at Rechtenberg to do tourism. They needed to be in the capital by evening, to get the keys to the clergy flat from the warden of St Edward the Confessor, the Anglican church in Strelzen, which was Dad’s exchange.
‘Wow!’ marvelled Edward, ‘I see what they mean. This must be the most beautiful city in the world!’
The Volvo had had crested the bluffs that overlooked the river valley of the Starel as it looped lazily down to the Danube, and Strelzen was spread out below them: red pantiled roofs, gardens, baroque domes, medieval spires and towers, and elegant limestone bridges. Dad pulled into a layby for a good look.
‘It’s like someone took the choicest pieces of architecture the west had ever devised and put them all together,’ Henry gasped. ‘Oh man! I’m having an aesthetics overdose! Quick, someone give me a picture of a sixties tower block!’
‘Is that the cathedral up there on the hill, with the three tall spires?’ Ed asked.
Dad laughed, ‘Yes, and the abbey of St Waclaw and all sorts of wonderful medieval houses. That’s the Old City, the Staramesten. Just past the suburbs is the quarter of the Sudmesten, where we’ll be living, and the Nuevemesten, the New City, lies beyond. Something tells me that you’re in for a very interesting month, boys.’
‘Oh, you bet, Mr Atwood,’ said Edward.
Henry was already hard at work on the city map, and navigated them with considerable finesse past the outer ring road, and on to the inner city boulevards. They got to the central station and then it got harder as they entered the twisting streets of the eighteenth-century suburb south of the city walls, the Sudmesten. But even this could not defeat Henry, and with a certain panache the Volvo drew up outside the apartment block at Königstrasse 122, where there was a parking bay with Apt 6 on it.
They got out and stretched, and took in the foreign smells of this ancient and beautiful city, which, since a boulangerie was just down the road included the smell of fresh bread. Dad got on his mobile, and they looked around as they waited for the warden to turn up. Ed and Henry looked at each other and gave a little grin, they were desperately excited and could not wait to be off. If the warden had been any later, they would have suggested that they should go and start exploring, but the man’s Fiat pulled in next to them after only twenty minutes.
Mr Neave was an expatriot and retired businessman who reminded Henry irresistibly of Dr Mac, although he was a bit younger. He led them in through the front doors and into the rickety lift. The smell in the hallway was a bit ripe, with a hint of blocked drains.
The lift deposited them on the third floor, and they found no 6. It was a two bedroom apartment, with small lounge, kitchen and bathroom. The chaplain, by now resident in Trewern, seemed to be very much into Orthodox icons, judging by the décor. Henry and Edward dumped their bags on the double bed in the second bedroom. They looked at each other. Did Mum and Dad know this was the arrangement?
They came out of the bedroom as Mr Neave was leaving.
‘Mum,’ said Henry, ‘Is there anything you haven’t told me?’
‘What do you mean dear?’
‘There’s only one bed in here.’
‘And that’s a problem because …?’ Mum looked at Dad, and he shrugged. ‘Henry, it’s time for a little talk with you and Edward. There’s no need for that scared look either. There, sit down. Now, your father and I are perfectly well aware that you and Edward are more than just friends. Oh … yes, it’s been clear for months. The look when your eyes meet is all the evidence we need that you’re … doing more than playing computer games together. Now you’re not going to deny it are you?’
The boys looked at each other and shook their heads.
‘We thought not. Now, you are lovable and fine young men and we love you both … both you notice. We trust you to behave sensibly, or as sensibly as late teens can. The law allows you to practice your sexuality, and you’ve both discovered that you’re gay. So we couldn’t stand in your way, other than to try and separate you. But we love you too much to do that, and we couldn’t make you unhappy. So, no more hiding. We are happy for you to sleep together and just urge you to try to be safe in the way you experiment with sex.’
Ed’s mouth was hanging open. Tears welled up in Henry’s eyes. He went over to his mother, and kissed and hugged her, and then did the same to his father. When he looked around, he found that Ed was in tears too, and embracing his mum.
‘Mrs Atwood …’ he said, half choking, ‘I never believed that there really were people like you, thank you so much. I do love Henry, and being accepted like this, it’s ...’ He could not go on.
Dad wiped his eyes, and grinned in a very Henry-like way, as Ed noticed. ‘Now, my dears. We’ve got that out of the way, and we can get on with our lives. So how about dinner on the town?’
Dad made up for the disaster of lunch by finding a really good Rothenian restaurant for dinner. The food was a rich stew of beef and mushrooms, with the local rye bread and vegetables. They were stuffed at the end of it. The waiters were very friendly and obliging. They returned to the apartment in the beautiful evening light that lay over the city. It lit up the limestone facades pink.
A distant clanging came from the tramline down the street as a car rumbled by, but otherwise the city was serene and the air warm. The boys felt sleepy and happy, and Ed was walking arm in arm with Mum. Henry had no more anxieties in his life. His beautiful boy friend was loved by his parents as much as they loved him. There was no more concealment needed at home, and they could be themselves. They had held hands during the meal and it had felt so good.
They said goodnight to Mum and Dad and went in to their bedroom. They looked at each other, savouring the moment. Then they purposefully undressed and lay on their bed, kissing and stroking. After a while, Ed broke off and knelt up, looking down on his lover.
‘Henry, I think it’s time.’
‘You mean, am I ready for bum sex? Oh yeah, it’s time. I want you inside me, Ed. And I think I may be the one who goes under. Ever since that mad moment in my bedroom, I just fantasise all the time about you pushing into me, and how it’ll feel. But I don’t know what to do other than to lie down and take it.’
Ed gave a low laugh. He kissed Henry, lying on the bed in front of him. ‘Henry, I did my research on the web, and I went to get a few items from the chemist before I left Edinburgh. They’re in my bag here. I got condoms in case you’d rather we used them. I know neither of us could possibly be infected with anything, but you might prefer not to get my crap on your dick when it’s in me. And I got this tube of lube, we can’t do it without it. You remember how sore the soap made our holes.’
‘Do you want to put a condom on to screw me?’
‘No. I want to feel your inner skin rubbing against my skin. It gives me a hard-on just thinking about it.’
‘Skin on skin it is. But I’ll go to the loo and ... y’know. Then I’ll clean myself out when my hole is still loose. Okay?’
‘Don’t be long.’
Henry scampered off in his boxers and was back within minutes, looking coy. he dropped his underpants and asked, ‘What do I do Ed?’
‘We’ll do it on all fours and I’ll take you from behind, right? So kneel down on that soft bit of carpet, and … oh, God, you look so sexy, so slim, and that little bum of yours is sensational.’
Henry grinned back over his shoulder as Ed got behind him. He took a tentative few licks at Henry’s exposed anus, examining the small fold and putting a finger to it. It was still a little slick from the recent wash, and so when he pushed with his index finger it opened to him and let him in easily to the first joint.
‘Ooh! Oh!’ cooed Henry, ‘That’s okay. Not bad at all.’
‘Good,’ smiled Ed, ‘but we got a long way to go, little babe.’
‘You called me “little babe”.’
‘Sorry. Is that okay? It’s just that I need special love words for you, Henry, this don’t seem a place and time to be formal.’
‘Little babe is lovely, Ed. It gives me shivers.’
Ed got the bottle and oiled his fingers and drizzled the milky lube on to Henry’s crack, and worked it into his anus. ‘Now, my little babe, try and relax your arse. The stories say you’ve got to act like you’re taking a crap, so try that.’ Henry strained and Ed pushed. Two of his fingers were now deep into his lover. Ed laughed a little. You’re so hot in there, Henry, and all soft and nice. How does it feel?’
‘Full, and not too comfortable, but it’s fine. Ooh, I felt you scissor your fingers, then. Is it giving at all?’
‘Like a thick elastic band.’ Ed worked patiently for a while, and when he pulled out his fingers, Henry’s hole didn’t close immediately. ‘Henry, I’ve just got to suck your sweet little nuts while I’ve got you in this position, it’s just too tempting,’ and he began licking and sucking down from Henry’s oily crack, along his perineum to his hanging brown balls. Henry’s cock was soon fully erect, and Ed pulled it back and gave it a wet and slurping suckle. Then Ed got back to work on Henry’s sphincter, more forceful now, and ignoring his lover’s little yelps and cries. Henry arched and grimaced when he finally got three fingers deep into him, and cried out.
‘Shall I stop? Is it hurting?’
‘No. Well, yes. It is hurting, but don’t stop. Your cock is going to hurt even more. Are you ready?’
Ed knelt directly behind Henry and oiled up his erection. He fitted the broad purple head at Henry’s entry, a bit dubious as to whether it could take his size. But now was not the time to lose confidence. He knelt up over Henry’s slim back, kissing the sharp shoulder blades below him. Then he made a tentative push. His dick caught briefly and slid up the crack.
‘Try holding it, Ed, while you push.’
Ed tried again, pressing his cock head into the small pucker of the anus, and gripping it steady as he pushed again. It caught, but it was going no further. ‘Relax, Henry,’ he urged. He increased the pressure but felt only a slight give as his glans squashed into the depression in Henry’s crack. It was frustrating. In the end, Ed gave Henry a sharp jab, but his cock bent and slid off.
‘Patience, Ed. Try the fingers again.’ So Ed got back behind him and tried to stretch and loosen Henry further. After a while the anus stayed gaping a little when he took his fingers out. He quickly manoeuvred himself back into position, braced his cock and pushed. This time it engaged and slid in an inch or so. Henry yelped, but they were connected at last.
‘You in me, hunk?’ Henry asked, reaching around his bum to feel the penetration. He looked back and gave his lover a tight smile.
‘You want more, Henry?’
‘Mmm, but slowly, slowly.’
Ed began rocking gently with his hips, Henry hissing every time he pushed forward. There was little movement for a while, but as Henry got used to the intrusion Ed slid in a little more, and now they were really connected. Ed felt a good couple of inches inside Henry now, but it was not yet a fuck. Henry remained clamped on him, and there was little give. If Ed pushed his cock into Henry it just warped; it was rather more flexible when erect than he had given it credit for. Again he rocked his hips and in the end, Henry’s anus surrendered and, as it gave, Ed increased the pressure.
‘Aaah! Oh! Jesus. God. Fuck!’ cried Henry.
Ed was panicking, there was no doubt that Henry was in real pain and Ed began trying to pull out, but Henry clamped on him and swore all the more. ‘No don’t,’ he gasped, ‘it’s like you’re trying to pull me inside out. You’ll just have to ignore it and start fucking me. Go on. Christ! Go on! It’s got to get better.’
Dubious, and quite off the idea of anal sex by now, Ed thrust hard. Henry was down on his elbows, his hands tightly gripped together, muttering obscenities, his bum still in the air. He looked back at Ed and Ed was appalled to see tears streaming down Henry’s cheeks.
‘Oh God, Henry, I can’t do this. I’m losing my erection. Shit. It’s fallen out.’ Ed sat back on his haunches and Henry slumped flat on the carpet feeling like a total failure as a lover.
They sat breathing heavily, the sweat on their bodies making them chilled. Disconsolate, they got up and lay together on the bed. Somehow Henry was reluctant to take and hold his lover, as if to do so would be to in some way accuse him of failing in his duty. Ed was too distraught at the pain he had caused Henry to know what to say. Eventually he fumbled for his hand, squeezed it and said he was sorry.
‘I let you down and I hurt you.’
‘No you didn’t let me down. Maybe we’re not ready for this sort of sex yet. I mean, sex is something you learn, isn’t it? It can’t be perfect first time. And my bum is small, maybe it’s just too small for your dick. We’ll try again some time. Look, really … I’m not traumatised or anything.’
‘But I hurt you so bad, little babe. It seems that all I do is cause you pain in your arse.’ Ed turned towards Henry and took him round the waist, kissing his cheek.
‘It might have been my fault, Ed. I knew I had to relax my bum hole but it kept on clenching up. We will try again, honest.’
They drifted off, and Henry woke in the middle of the night to find Ed spooned up round him, his right arm lying across him. He nestled back into the warmth and safety of his lover’s body, and felt comforted.