It took a week to excavate as much of the riverside site as they could gain access to with the manpower they could hire from the village. Fortunately it was the quiet time for local farming, and there were plenty of hands available. They were limited to the meadow where they had made their first find. The other closes were within the bishop’s estate and his local agent couldn’t get a decision from Chasancene in time.
‘Even so,’ Joerg admitted, ‘the finds we have are amazing, so I’m not going to complain.’
Over two hundred skeletons had been uncovered, and now formed a complex lattice of white bone across the exposed dark soil. The dig was attracting many visitors from Chasancene and other local towns, and Champs Dolent was benefitting from the trade they brought.
Gilles and Felix were picking up gratuities as designated site guides to the masses, Felix taking particular delight in actually earning money for the first time in his life. The pair were a comic double act, which possibly accounted for the size of their tips. Not one of their amused middle-class audience had any idea that they were being entertained by a sovereign Alleman prince in a workman’s boots, waistcoat and kerchief.
For his part, Joerg was happy at their success because, as he said, the more local interest their dig got, the more likely they would be to gain wider access to the site on their next digging campaign. Also, the local papers were intrigued by the idea of investigative excavation and this spread the news of his scientific breakthrough. ‘Imagine, Rupe, whole university departments dedicated to IE! Professors and students investigating our world’s history and prehistory through its material remains. Then there’s the question of what our world looked like before humans arrived in it. IE can answer it!’
Ruprecht smiled and cuddled his lover. ‘It’s a grand vision, little sweetheart. Maybe you should work on the name though. “Investigative Excavation” is a bit awkward.’
The tenant of the field in question had been delighted to add to his profits by renting them a small barn in which they could lay out their finds and the occasional lifted skeleton on trestle tables.
On the last day, while a photographer he had hired was at work recording the exposed site and its corpses in a series of plates, Joerg gave his provisional conclusions to his core team of Ruprecht, Erwin, the boys and their tutor, Meister Andrecht, who had been persuaded to take up a shovel along with them and had become quite enthused with the project.
‘To date, my friends, we have unearthed 212 complete and sixteen partial skeletons. From examination of the state of teeth, skull development and pelvis every one of them was a well-nourished and apparently healthy male of varying stages of life, from early manhood to old age. Their end was not natural. All had been killed, most by having their necks broken but some their skulls crushed. The cause of death of a few of them is less obvious, but we should not doubt they were all massacred in a single act by a powerful enemy, whoever it was. They were not killed in battle but were murdered; there is no obvious sign of resistance or weapons on any of them, though their armaments may have been taken from them after death of course.
‘Some of the remains – those closer to the hill – show evidence that the bodies were partly consumed by wildlife. We can tell this from the teeth marks on bones and the disarticulation of the skeletons. A few limbs were apparently chewed off and carried away and body parts scattered. But the great majority of the skeletons are intact, which tells me that the bodies were left to rot in such numbers that local predators had a limited time to come out of the hills and woods and feed on them. They were spoiled for choice before their choice was spoiled. I think the massacre was carried out in the heat of a long-ago summer.’
Gilles put up his hand. ‘If the bodies were just dumped here as they were, doctor, can you tell us from their remains anything about what sort of people they might have been?’
‘That’s going to take time, Gillot. But there are finds of objects that look like they might have been in their pockets or wallets when their owners were killed. These were not primitives like the early humans found in the bog at Blauwhaven, and it seems to me that they must have been people who entered our world in the Landing, only to meet a violent end a few years later. Some of the finds we’ve made may well have come from their original world, the one the medallion calls the European Union.’
To Ruprecht’s surprise the next question, or rather observation, came from Willem Andrecht. ‘European Union,’ he mused. ‘Doesn’t its initials make EU, and isn’t that the name the Evangelicals give the Celestial City from which God exiled humanity? Do you think that’s a coincidence?’
‘Er … I hadn’t thought of that,’ Joerg responded.
Ruprecht took up the point. ‘It might not be coincidence, though pinpointing their source for the belief may not be easy. I would caution you all about spreading that idea around however. It would turn this site into a place of pilgrimage rather than scientific investigation and lead to all sorts of unwelcome questions and constraints, especially as these fields are owned by the Church.’
‘Now that’s a thought too,’ Felix chipped in. ‘This town and the land around it belong to the Church. Could it be because no one wanted it after what happened? Like as if it was haunted, so giving it to the Church exorcised the spirits of those poor people murdered here?’
Joerg looked impressed. ‘Excellent point, Kreech! I’ll add that to my report. We’re wrapping up here today and going home to Blauwhaven, but we’ll be back fairly soon. Somewhere near here must be the Francien capital from where these people came. We must find it. There’s no sign of any ancient structures on the hill around the manor house, where I confess I had hopes of finding its site.’
Ruprecht returned to a subject that had long puzzled him. ‘What more can you tell us of this smooth shiny substance from which these ancient people made objects? There was a lot of it among the dead. It’s not native to this world. Did they bring it with them from their home?’
Joerg picked up a button from the table. It had been washed and was now quite pristine. It looked like any normal metal, wooden or leather button of Terre Nouvelle, with two holes to stitch it to a garment, except of course that it was manufactured from the strange extra-terrestrial substance. ‘If you take a look at them you’ll see slight ridges from being cast in a mould, just as we do with soft metals, but it is not of course metal. It’s a highly versatile and tough substance unknown to science on this world. It may be that one of our university natural science departments will have ideas about it. We should ask around. For now I’ll call it “alienware”.
‘While on the subject of these buttons, take a look at this sketch I made of Skeleton 44, a young fellow. He was flat on his back and undisturbed from the moment he fell dead. His clothes and flesh decayed away but the buttons on his garments fell in a pattern as they did. Judging by the two different type of fastenings that fell from them, he wore a military style tunic and undershirt. I’ve found markings on both types. The tunic buttons were in fact alienware which had been thinly coated in metal, an alloy of some sort which is barely corroded. There were letters stamped on it. They make up words which have to be Francien: FORCE SÛR. T. NOUV.’
‘Sounds like he was military,’ commented Ruprecht, ‘not that it helped him.’
Gilles asserted his special qualification at this point. ‘SÛR. must be short for SÛRETÉ,’ he pronounced.
‘Indeed,’ Joerg agreed, ‘and I think we can all work out T. NOUV.’
‘Terre Nouvelle Security Force,’ Ruprecht translated into Alleman. ‘The man was a colonial policeman. Poor fellow. He met a situation beyond his capacity. But I can’t see he had a gun or any weapon to defend himself.’
Joerg picked up some other alienware objects. ‘There were several of these rectangular cards on or near the bodies. They are embossed with letters and seem once to have carried designs and images, but the acid in the soil has effaced whatever they were, apart from some strange metal threads embedded in the surface. With some work we might be able to make something of the letters and numbers, but they appear to have been chosen randomly.
‘And now I suppose we need to wrap up. The excavation has to be backfilled for Monsieur Leblanc, so he can put the field back to its proper use next year. But I for one am very pleased with what we’ve discovered. I think we can be confident that somewhere near Champs Dolent is the lost Francien city. We just need to expand our search, though that will of course be for a later occasion.’
It was however quite some while before Joerg was allowed to exert himself once more in excavations. Their return to Blauwhaven coincided with the escalation of the War of Succession in Ardhesse after what had amounted to a Holy Week truce.
Following the holy season, the Regent’s forces launched an aggressive campaign across the river Fresch into the west of the kingdom. For some weeks it looked like the royalists would be routed and there were even reports of the death of King Kristijan. But in the event the Regent’s army allowed itself to get bogged down in several sieges, leaving the king’s army still in the field. Throughout the early summer Kristijan’s raiding columns disrupted his uncle’s communications, forcing his withdrawal back to the river. In the confusion the young king was offered a chance to corner a substantial fraction of the Regent’s army, and in what the papers called a brilliant exercise of battlefield generalship he destroyed an enemy force of over 40,000, following up by finally seizing the key port of Mortenshaven and throwing his main army across the Fresch into Eastern Ardhesse.
This would not have been so disruptive to the wider world of Terre Nouvelle were it not for the reaction in the Empire, which had made its preference for the Regent quite clear. The young Emperor François XII chose that moment to declare himself of age and retire his mother, the Empress Regent, taking personal control of Imperial policy.
The Emperor promptly mobilised his army and issued an ultimatum to Westrecht to withdraw support for Kristijan or face occupation. Since Westrecht was a member of the Allemanic alliance it appealed in turn to its fellow states, and the North and the East Kingdoms both responded with their own warnings to the Empire to back away from any action in support of Duke Horst.
On the morning of Midsummer Day in the year 889, Ruprecht and Joerg were walking the promenade in Blauwhaven, greeting parishioners and tenants as they went. The fishing fleet was still in port, which was unusual unless a storm was in the offing. After an early lunch Ruprecht suggested they walk out to the fort to have a chat to Lieutenant von Altstadt, who was due to tutor Gilles and Felix in fencing that afternoon. They took their time, and it was nearly an hour before they came to the seaward end of the harbour mole and the fort’s drawbridge. They were surprised to find it drawn up and the cannon run out of the embrasures.
Ruprecht called across to a non-commissioned officer on the gatehouse as to what was going on, and he called over the watch officer. A shouted conversation established that the Bernician High Command had ordered coastal fortifications to go into a state of alert. When he asked why Ruprecht was invited to look out into the bay, where he was astonished to see the massed Imperial East Seas Fleet heading south towards Ardhesse.
A little alarmed, the two hurried back to town and noticed how many people were staring out to sea from the upper windows. When they had recovered their mounts and ridden up to the church heights they found a crowd gathered, many with telescopes. Out to the shining horizon there were now two great battle fleets covering the sea, not one, both sailing south. Closer to shore was a double line of a score of ironclad battleships moving slowly, attended by cruisers and destroyers. Between the battleships two dozen military transports were being convoyed, doubtless carrying an army to support the Regent of Ardhesse against his nephew. The hulls of the fleet were painted black and the red and blue ensigns of the Empire were at the mainmast of each vessel. Further out but within cannon range was a second fleet, even larger, the ships painted grey.
‘That’s Dreiholmtz’s Southern Seas Fleet, minheeren,’ a nearby mariner commented, ‘thirty battleships and heavy cruisers. It’s a rare sight. Their high admiral seems to mean business too. He must have orders to stop the Imperial army reaching Ardhesse. Look! His light cruiser vanguard is manoeuvring ahead to anchor in line to block the Imperials.’ He peered through his telescope. ‘Watch the signals, minheeren. There, the Imperial Grand Admiral has ordered stop all engines.’
The two fleets indeed slowly came to a halt, a mass of masts and tall smokestacks between the shore and the horizon. For a while nothing happened, then two steam launches put out from the imperial flagship to head for its opposite number in the Allemanic fleet.
‘Very wise,’ commented the mariner. ‘The Imperials are in a bad position, inshore and encumbered by transports. Fighting their way through the Easterners would be suicide.’
As the afternoon drew on nothing much further occurred, but Ruprecht was reluctant to leave his viewpoint, where the crowd from the town had grown considerably. Joerg for his part went off to his study and asked that he be informed if anything dramatic happened. It was as the sun was going down behind them and the navigation lights were appearing on the mass of shipping below that signal lamps began blinking from bridges, black smoke emerged from the stacks and the Imperial fleet began a slow turn back towards the north, with the Royal Navy of Dreiholmtz shadowing it. By nightfall the two great fleets had disappeared into the gloom.
That evening, in his bed in the rectory, Joerg was laid out naked on his back in front of Ruprecht, who was deeply relishing this long-awaited moment. Joerg’s legs were drawn back and Ruprecht’s glans had just punched through the little man’s red opening after a lot of lube and preliminary work. Ruprecht savoured the tight grip of the muscle behind the corona of his cock. Joerg pushed himself up on his elbows to look between them to see and feel the evidence of his first penetration.
‘I’m inside you little one, and you are so tight. Does it hurt?’
‘No. I just feel full. Are you really going to get all that in me?’
‘I’m going to do my best. It’s our big day. This is so good.’ They smiled and kissed, joined physically now.
For a while they embraced and as Joerg’s anus relaxed so Ruprecht steadily and slowly pressed in. Whenever he felt as though he might lose his erection, flexing his length and Joerg’s sensuous squirming on him brought him back.
After a while, the little man’s eyes widened. ‘Uh!’ he grunted. ‘That’s … new. I’m full but … you’re going deeper. That feels … oh!’ His eyes fluttered and he faded out.
Ruprecht couldn’t have withdrawn if he wanted, but it wasn’t long before Joerg was back. ‘Are you alright?’
‘Mmm … yes, it was just so overwhelming. Look at my dick, it’s all wet. You must keep going Rupe, I want all of you inside me.’
Eventually his entire length was fully embedded in the plucky little man. He pressed the walls of Joerg’s lower belly just to discover if he could feel his cock within him, for it seemed he had passed out of the man’s rectum and worked up into his lower gut. Taking his time he slowly withdrew but then pushed back to a gasp from Joerg, clinging hard to him now. Then he was fucking, and as he came he raised Joerg off the bed to hold him standing as he climaxed. He was gripped hard around the neck as the little man hung on him, feeling every pulse hard inside him. Then he looked up, his eyes wet, though Ruprecht was uncertain whether it was through emotion or the unavoidable pain of intercourse.
‘Love you, Rupe,’ he gasped.
Ruprecht lifted Joerg slowly off his length, then held and kissed him as his still swollen penis dropped heavily out of the little man and swung free. ‘This is love then? I wasn’t sure. It’s new to me.’
‘I’m not demanding you love me back.’
‘No need, little doctor mine. I think I do anyway.’
Joerg smiled dreamily. ‘Good, then that’s settled. Now I’m happy. I have the dashing and caring prince I always wanted.’
Ruprecht laid him on the bed and held him tight. ‘So a new sort of life begins. You know I’m not the sort of man to hide what I do from the world. Are you as strong? The Rector of Blauwhaven won’t be able to escape criticism for being a queer.’
Joerg kissed Ruprecht’s nearest nipple and ran his fingers through his chest hair. ‘I’d thought of that. I’m planning to resign well before it becomes obvious to my parishioners, and after that I’ll move up to the schloss as the prince’s personal physician and – of course – my noble lover’s plaything. My vocation is not the burning sort to lead people in the way of the Seneschal. I have two assistants who do that and they deserve the revenues of the rectory rather more than I do, believe me.’
‘I shall ponder your recommendation for your replacement. After today, it might even be a post of danger.’
‘What? Oh, you mean the warships. But they sailed away.’
Ruprecht shrugged. ‘I had a seminar on the subject from the Kreech and Gillot. They were so pissed that between the schoolroom and shagging by their pool they missed the most dramatic event in Blauwhaven’s recent history. They just caught the lights of the fleets disappearing into the dusk. But they told me they believe what we glimpsed was just the Emperor’s first attempt to frustrate King Kristijan’s fight for his throne. They think there’s a lot more to come, and that the Empire and the Allemanic Alliance are on a collision course.’
‘Surely the emperor would have to fight his way through Westrecht and the Montenards to get at Kristijan and save Duke Horst. By the time he managed that it would be too late in any case.’
Ruprecht shook his head. ‘You forget the anger of those two royal boys, and how it was I came to meet the delightful Kristijan of Ardhesse. You think reason applies to either of them? Kristijan may be beautiful and – it appears – brilliant, but he is also less than sane. I’ve not had the pleasure of the company of Emperor François XII, but from what little I learned of his relationship with the boy king of Ardhesse, he was seduced, ridiculed and battered in the face by Kristijan. It may be the emperor would climb over ramparts of bodies and sack a hundred cities to destroy the enemy who scorned and injured him. They’re children with real armies and fleets for their murderous toys.’
Joerg pushed himself up on his elbows, looking pensive. ‘That’s grim. It sounds like we’ll be back to the state of the world in our grandparents’ days, when Kristijan II and François X slugged it out across the Mainland and all four kingdoms were at war with each other and the Empire. Awful. The Allemanic Alliance was supposed to stop that.’
‘It’ll be worse. The world has changed since the old days: now we have steam warships, railways, repeating rifles and breech-loading artillery. Our grandparents murdered each other with muskets and muzzle-loaders. Our modern warfare will be a different order of mayhem.’
Two days later it was Gilles’s sixteenth birthday, a milestone for any Allemanic youth, not least because it was the age of military conscription in most Allemanic states, though not Bernicia. It was also the legal age for marriage and Ruprecht had to break to the boy the news that he was already being sought as a husband by the Montaigues of Vieldomaine, which had been expressed that week in a formal letter to Ruprecht from the marquis.
‘It really is your decision, Gillot, but I am legally obliged to inform you of the offer which is, to be fair, a good one. You’d undoubtedly end up with a large estate in the duchy, and there is even a possibility that you might marry the eldest daughter and so become Monsieur le Marquis! That would mean that you would outrank me and be only two steps below the Kreech in the way the world measures status.’
The boy’s mouth hung open as this was being explained to him. Finally he rallied. ‘Rupe … it’s ridiculous! I love Felix. If I was to marry anyone, it would be my Kreech. Yes, I know the world doesn’t recognise that sort of thing, but I want no one else in my bed.’
‘I understand, Gillot. I knew you’d say that and I love you for it. But the offer has been made and it has to be dealt with, nor will it be the last time it happens. As heir to Blauwhaven, you have prospects and standing in the world.’
‘What about Kreech? He’s sixteen next week. Is he going to have to marry?’
‘Offers have been made, but at his level it will be his Grossmutta who handles that sort of thing as Princess Regent. You’ll need to talk it through with him. You are more in control of your destiny than he is. But, I do have to correct you about the world not recognising what you and Felix have. It’s true of the Francien society you grew up in, but Allemans have a history of what we call Verschworengeliebheit. In past centuries, our warriors have foresworn women for the companionship of another male. The Church doesn’t recognise the sworn bond, but noble Alleman society still does. Grossmutta has already asked me if you two want to make the pledge as sworn lovers. It can be done publicly and formally, and if you two decide to go ahead with it there will be no more talk of marriage to a woman. Sixteen is the earliest age it can be done, though some would say that’s too early. You still have a lot of growing to do, and Schwuleneheit is for keeps. Also, it could make later life difficult for you both. It’ll be a way for his political enemies to belittle Felix. As for you, Gillot, you’ll be characterised as the prince’s pretty Francien bumboy.’
Gilles frowned at this, then gave his guardian a sharp look. ‘What about you, Rupe? We know the little doctor and you are close. Would you two do the Schwuleneheit thing?’
‘Not the same for me, little one. I never found a Kreech to love and cherish. My history is not yours.’
‘So? That doesn’t mean you can’t find a Kreech, and to me and Felix it looks like you have. Dr Joerg adores you, anyone can see that; also we know you two do the sexy thing quite a bit. What’s the problem?’
Ruprecht was getting uncomfortable under the questioning of his astute foster child, a young man who knew him by now all too well. He opened his arms, and the boy readily came to him, snuggling into his lap to be hugged closely and kissed, as he liked. ‘I love you Gillot, you know that. So when I say I’m not going to answer you, it’s not because I’m offended at your question. I’m more than ten years older than you, and those ten years make a hell of a difference. Joerg is wonderful, a much purer soul than me, and that’s not just because he’s a priest. It’s who he is.’
‘You mean to say you don’t think you’re worthy of him, but Rupe …!’
Ruprecht covered Gilles’s mouth with his hand. ‘Shhh, little one. No more questions. I can’t talk about this with you. Not now. Maybe one day, but not now.’
That night the schloss of Blauwhaven was illuminated for the heir’s sixteenth birthday and the hall was packed for a civic dinner, at which a blushing Gilles was obliged to make a small speech and offer a toast, to which the rector, mayor, and Bernician garrison commander replied. There was a buffalo roast for the tenants and whole barrels of wine broached. Ruprecht spared no expense with the feast, and Gilles, Felix, and all their peers from the local gentry went around with garlands in their hair and exercised themselves in the traditional Allemanic noble pursuits of wrestling, shooting at targets and racing horses around a torchlit circuit. After midnight, fireworks burst over the hill and the town.
As the guests departed in the early hours, Gilles and Felix led Ruprecht and Joerg down to the pool. The stars were bright above them but the midsummer night was warm. The naked boys plunged into the waters, their bodies visible from the torches still burning up at the house, and they played and cavorted for a while, then went to the grassy bank, joined and started moving together in the darkness, gasps and whispered endearments audible between them.
‘Are they …?’ Joerg asked Ruprecht as they sat together on the lawn.
‘Yes, they’re fucking and they want us to see that they’re doing it. It’s special for them. It makes their physical love more real. They’d be more than happy if we did it too. But don’t worry, I know you’d not like it. I won’t ask you.’
‘We can kiss. I’d like that.’
Each pair of lovers occupied themselves in different ways for the next half hour, as the Three Sisters rose in the southern sky. Then the naked boys came over, and sat close to the elder pair.
Felix led the way. ‘Rupe, I know I’m not sixteen till next week, but I’ve asked Gillot to be my Verschworengeliebte. He’s said yes. We want it in the palace gazette, and we want to be joined here after my own birthday celebration at Ostberg. How do we do a Schwulene?’
‘There’s a ceremony which has to be witnessed, and a legal deed to be sealed. As Lehensherr of Blauwhaven, I can perform the ceremony. For you two there won’t be much difference afterwards. You live as a couple already, though Gilles will find that his position has changed. He’ll be the ersatz princess of Ostberg at state occasions, and you’ll have to assign him some of the reserved dower property for his support.’
‘We thought so. What’s the ceremony?’
‘It’s the usual Allemanic blood-drinking, though you have to decide who drinks whose. Felix is the prince, so maybe he ought to offer. One of you has to be Grunder, as they say, and it traditionally should be the one who customarily takes the lead in sex who offers the blood. You have to do it wearing a shift and usually nothing else, while the Grunderknabe wears a garland and sometimes more … er … feminine attire. Some Grunderen do the whole girlie thing, but something tells me that won’t be the case with you two. You might also remember that you make Gillot the seneschal of Ostberg by offering him your blood to drink.’
The two whispered together, and Felix eventually said ‘Gillot says he’ll be Grunderknabe as that would be better for my position as Prince. He’ll look good in flowers and little else, but neither of us really is Grunder, we just take turns. So is it agreed?’
‘Yes, Kreech, and we love you for what you’re doing.’
Joerg chipped in ‘And we love you even more for your courage. You humble us.’
There was no problem from the direction of the Princess Regent, so on his birthday the Verschworengeliebheit of the prince of Ostberg with the newly-created Gilles, Ritter von Blauwhaven, was formally announced to the Bernician Confederacy and the people of Ostberg. It was not an unprecedented event, for people still remembered Prince Felix IX had been sworn lover to his seneschal, a position which would duly pass to Gilles when he reached full age. There would of course be no public celebration of such a bond, as there would have been for a marriage, but in general the event passed off without open scandal or criticism, for the young consumptive prince was and remained personally popular in his land.
Felix did not however come out of his public avowal of his homosexuality unscathed. A formal letter arrived by the hand of the seneschal of Freiborg from his father, the Marshal-General von Aalst, repudiating him as his son in quite brutal terms. Felix’s mother as a consequence fled Hochrecht and her husband to take refuge with her own mother in Ostberg, escorted by Hans. There were therefore some mixed feelings in the house party in the Farcostan Palace a week after the birthday.
The three younger Von Aalst brothers were delighted to be together once again. Hans hit it off very well with Joerg too.
Perched alongside Gilles on a sofa, the Princess Regent was in a reflective mood as she sat amongst the young men. ‘It seems to me, my dears, that if a rift has opened up in our family, I’ve at least ended up on its sunny side.’ She took Gilles’s hand. ‘Not only that, but I’ve added one more fine boy to my family, and he’s a lot handsomer than any of my grandchildren by blood.’
Hans rolled his eyes. ‘It’s all relative, Grossmutta. Frankly, I think Rupe and I at least manage to be dashing; for myself I might even go so far as to claim to be interesting.’
Ruprecht nodded. ‘I think the breakdown of our parents’ marriage was inevitable. The old man was always difficult and unhappy. No wonder we all turned out strange, each in our own way. Only the twins went along with his compulsion to treat us like other ranks. Heinrich hasn’t talked to him for years. He’s more or less exiled himself to Dreiholmtz. He’ll only return when papa dies and he inherits. I’m glad mutta is here with us. She was only ever happy away from Freiborg. How do you feel about it, Kreech?’
‘Me? I’m sorry about it all. It’s awful that I’ve been the cause of a family breach. It takes a lot of the happiness away, but then I never expected papa to turn up at Blauwhaven for my Schwulene.’
‘Which makes it all the more important that the rest of us are there for you.’
‘You’ll come, Grossmutta?’
‘I most certainly will. Not only that, but the Margrave of Schwarzwald and his wife have said they will too. The Protector sends his regrets but wishes you both the very best. It’s times like this that you find out who your true friends are.’