Joerg and Ruprecht sat on the outer ring of chairs in the great marquee. It was the second day of the Congress of Yorck and it was warm under the roof of canvas and brocade, where the air smelled very much of crushed grass.
There had been great progress. The first day had been devoted to the negotiation of the peace agreement between Ardhesse and the Empire. It had proved to be far easier than anyone expected; the Ardhessian delegation had accepted a return to the boundaries before the war, the Empire allowing the peaceful evacuation of Alleman garrisons from within its borders. The failure of a Dreiholmtz representation to appear had left the status of the Protectorate States in suspension, but Kristijan had surprised everyone by allowing the Empire to take them under temporary and nominal tutelage in return for the passage south of the Allemanic troops stationed there. All recoverable loot was to be returned, and reparations waived by both parties in view of the general devastation that had been visited across the Empire, Ardhesse and Westrecht in the course of the Ardhessian War of Succession and the subsequent War of the Allemanic League.
In fact Kristijan of Ardhesse was doing nothing but surprise people, encouraging Ruprecht’s suspicions of him even further. He had always been affable and controlled in public, but instead of strained and edgy the condition now seemed entirely natural to the man. He made nothing of the arrangement of the head of the table: the Emperor and Patriarch side-by-side on raised thrones under canopies while Gilles, the newly-crowned King of the Franciens, was enthroned on the step of the dais below them and to the right of the Emperor. Both Gilles and the Emperor were in the dark blue and red uniforms of Imperial generals, wearing the light blue watered-silk ribbons of the Order of St François. The only difference between the two was that the Emperor had white silk ribbons adorning his bullion epaulettes. Kristijan had been content with a throne on a dais opposite them without a canopy, while the kings of Westrecht and Athalante occupied thrones facing each other across the middle of the long table.
The Patriarch placed his spectacles on his nose and blinked down at the paper in his hand. ‘Today’s business, your majesties, most reverend lords, highnesses, excellencies, men of blood and commoners, is the restoration of the Golden Ladder, which is the source of order in our world and which has been sadly disrupted of late.’ He looked around. ‘The coronation of a second emperor during the reign of another may not be unprecedented in our history, though it was in the past a consequence of civil conflict within the Imperial House, the House Parmentier. But a sovereign other than a prince of that House taking the Imperial title is unprecedented in eight centuries. We are of a mind that this is an innovation that may not be allowed to continue.
‘But then also the taking of royal titles outside the Imperial House and the Four Kingdoms is likewise a novelty that some find difficult to accept.’
The young King of Westrecht glared at the imperial and patriarchal dais, and then looked anxiously for support to his ally of Ardhesse.
Kristijan arose and smiled around him, speaking evenly and confidently. ‘It seems I have caused a lot of the difficulties we’re considering today. It perhaps then falls to me to help resolve them. I shall therefore begin by renouncing absolutely and in perpetuity any pretension to the style of emperor, Allemanic or otherwise. There should be but one emperor in Terre Nouvelle, whose undisputed authority and wisdom in these days of change will be more essential than at any time in our past. Il faut que il’y étais un taureau seul pour diriger le harde.’ And so saying he bowed to the dais opposite.
There was a sudden hush, and the Emperor rose. ‘I bow in turn to my royal brother’s wisdom and sense,’ he declared, causing protocol to tremble as he offered rather more than just an inclination of the head, though not quite the low bow that Kristijan’s had undeniably been. Then he took his seat again as talk broke out all around the great tent.
Kristijan remained on his feet and held up his hand. Such was the man’s charisma that there was instant silence.
‘However, these are days of change. The Golden Ladder’s rungs would not be the worse for some rearrangement, and so I ask His Holiness to consider the institution of a second dignity alongside and equal to that of King of the Franciens, and that is the elevation of the King of Ardhesse to be King of the Allemans, to precede other kings, who will now once more be four, in the new order of seniority of Nordrecht, Dreiholmtz, Athalante and Westrecht. My throne will occupy the second step of the dais to the left of the Emperor, as the King of the Franciens is to his right. I like him will have the privilege of remaining seated and crowned at mass or in assemblies in the Patriarch’s presence. Then at last the vexed question of the equality of Franciens and Allemans in Terre Nouvelle will be addressed. Westrecht will inherit the dignity of His Southern Majesty, and I as King of the Allemans will be His Allemanic Majesty.’
Now a storm of debate broke out around the table. The Patriarch called a recess, and indicated that the Emperor and the King of the Franciens should withdraw to discuss the proposal from Ardhesse. Then he called the sovereigns of the other kingdoms to consult, apart from the East Kingdom which had boycotted the Congress and the North Kingdom whose monarch was still en route.
‘Kris’s flare for the dramatic is the same as ever, Robby,’Joerg observed to Ruprecht during the recess. ‘Are you sure about your suspicions?’
‘It’s him, but it’s not him. He’s looking better too, healthier and more serenely beautiful than it should be possible for any human male to be. There is something odd going on here, believe me.’
He kept the king under observation as far as he could. Kristijan circulated around the assembly, and wherever he joined a group there were smiles and animated talk. He pressed the flesh as if he were really interested in the person to whom the hand belonged. Eventually a herald called out and all stood as the Emperor and the Patriarch returned. François and Gilles headed directly towards Kristijan, and for some minutes they made a little group engaged in intense talk. Eventually the knot broke up and each returned to his seat, the Emperor pausing for a whispered conversation with the Patriarch before resuming his. Ruprecht briefly caught something in the glance Kristijan had cast at the retreating backs of François and Gilles, something strangely familiar.
The herald called out again and the Patriarch stood, all apart from François and Gilles standing too.
‘It is resolved and ordained by the authority of Holy Church that Kristijan of Ardhesse shall ascend the throne of King of the Allemans, with precedence above all sovereign kings and after the titular King of the Franciens of the House Parmentier. It is also resolved that he will take a new name for his dynasty, henceforth to be the House Connorson. I will myself perform the coronation this day fortnight in the White Basilica of the Holy See. Any rights his uncle Duke Horst of Ardheim may claim as a consequence of this elevation are proclaimed perpetually null, void and entirely extinguished, on pain of the Church’s excommunication should he presume to make any such claim. King Kristijan names as his heir presumptive his nearest cousin, Gerhard, duke of Wilbertsee, created now Prince Royal of Ardhesse. The title of the King of Westrecht as the most junior of the Four Kingdoms is confirmed by the same authority of Holy Church.’
Applause rippled around the assembly as the Patriarch looked up. Kristijan exercised his new privilege as King of the Allemans and sat in the presence of the presiding Patriarch. He smiled around him in obvious satisfaction at the outcome, and it was clear the applause of the assembly was intended for him.
‘He may yet be known as Kristijan the Peacemaker,’ Joerg whispered in Ruprecht’s ear.
‘I don’t believe it,’ Ruprecht hissed.
Ruprecht joined the imperial retinue for the evening’s banquet. The Montenards had done wonders, with chandeliers blazing on stands the length of the dining tent, glittering off a respectable array of silver plate and porcelain, which had been shipped down from the Protector’s mansion in Sint-Willemsborg. Some wives and daughters had been able to join the politicians and princes present, which added to the glamour of the occasion. If the cuisine did not quite match the display, no one felt inclined to mention it.
Ruprecht was privileged to take a seat at the Emperor’s end of the table, where places were set for the King of the Franciens on his right and the King of the Allemans on his left. King Gilles was occupying his exalted station with all the dignity Ruprecht had expected of him, for since the moment the Emerald Garland of Saint François had been placed on his brow he had seemed transformed. Nothing convinced Ruprecht of the living reality of the boy’s lineage more than the equanimity with which he accepted his coronation. It can only have come from his blood; yet he was still nonetheless his ward Gilles, just his loving and generous Gillot transformed into an imperial prince and loyal brother to the Emperor.
King Kristijan Connorson of the Allemans was for Ruprecht an even greater mystery. He was seated on the other side to him and only three seats away. He observed the king closely, smiled at his jokes and joined the applause for his wit, which Ruprecht had to admit was as sharp and riotous as ever. What was not the same became increasingly evident to Ruprecht as course succeeded course. King Kristijan was as sane as he was. The wild eye and moments of absence and distraction were entirely gone, as was the compulsive need to shock and startle. Nor was it just Ruprecht who was having trouble getting to grips with the new Kristijan. As they laughed and attended to their affable and charismatic sovereign, the Ardhessian courtiers present were also showing signs of struggling to come to terms with their unpredictable king’s new mood. Where was the half-demented military genius they had previously served?
It had to be the power of the Great Mind which had accomplished this miracle, but how? And why had Grandad Cody not discussed it with him? But the miracle was nonetheless welcome. Kristijan had single-handedly turned the Congress into a triumph of the first order, an event which, Nordrecht and Dreiholmtz consenting, might well herald centuries of peace in Terre Nouvelle, just when humanity needed breathing space to accommodate the rediscovery of its ancient scientific heritage, along with all the attendant dangers.
Ruprecht tried to get Kristijan’s attention, but when he was not entertaining their end of the table the king’s attention was focussed on his royal brother opposite. For all their joint history, Gilles was getting more and more engaged and charmed by the new Kristijan across the table. From the snatches of their conversation that Ruprecht caught the two kings were talking of ordinary things, of horse-riding and swimming, of the literature and poetry they enjoyed. Their faces were alight with shared enthusiasm, and since both were very beautiful men it was a sight beyond charming. But more and more there came to Ruprecht that strange air of familiarity in what he was seeing, and it was not just the memory of that night in the Auberge aux Falaises in Chasancene when he had found two teenage boys sharing a bench in the inn’s backyard under the castle cliff, talking of the night sky and exploring their common attraction.
The banquet ended late when the Emperor finally rose and all, including the two kings at his left and right hand, bowed low to him as he left the table. Gilles made a civil goodnight to Kristijan and went to follow François back to the Oracle, and as he did Ruprecht again caught that same look in Kristijan’s eyes when they followed Gilles.
The king recovered from his abstraction and went out the opposite side of the tent, his household following at a deferential distance. It was now or never. Ruprecht elbowed through the ministers and councillors who had formed behind their king and said in loud tones that could not be ignored ‘Your Majesty! May I request the privilege of a brief audience?’
The king turned in the shocked silence that followed Ruprecht’s violation of protocol. But the smile on his handsome face was mild and indulgent. ‘Your Excellency? How may I assist you?’
Ruprecht gritted his teeth before breaching more protocol. ‘A private word would be deeply appreciated, if Your Majesty would be so good as to indulge the further presumption.’
Kristijan inclined his head, and though his smile was gone his tone remained polite. ‘You are pressing me, sir. That is not done. But if the matter is important, I can spare some moments. I fear you must first submit to a thorough search by the general here. You know Brigadier Von Ampfeld, I believe. He was appointed High Constable of the Household this afternoon. The post is new to him and he consequently takes my security very seriously indeed.’
After a thorough frisking and pocket search he was allowed to join Kristijan in the lamplit field beyond the tent flap. The king surveyed him curiously. ‘And what can I do for you, your Excellency?’
‘No longer Rupe, Your Majesty?’
‘I’m trying to live the role more than I did, minheer Graf. I don’t wish to push you, but it is late, so perhaps you can get to the point.’
‘Do you mind if I smoke, sire?’
‘I rather do, sir. It is not a habit I indulge in any longer.’
‘Very wise, sire. I should do the same. I promised my brother before he died that I would make the effort.’
There was a moment of silence before the response. ‘Ah yes, Prince Felix, a sad loss. An honest and open-hearted boy, I hear. I admired the way he embraced his sexuality, not to mention his taste in his lover. As you know, I’ve not been lucky enough to find a suitable Grunderknabe, but one day … who knows?’
Ruprecht took the plunge. ‘I don’t think Gillot will ever be able to love you in that shape the way he did in your old body, my Kreech.’
‘What did he say?’ Joerg’s eyes were wide.
‘Nothing … for a while. Then he gave a queer little smile and suggested I was confused, and said it was because of my bereavement. After a moment’s hesitation, he left.’
‘So is he or isn’t he Felix?’
‘It was that hesitation that confirmed it for me. He was fighting the impulse to confess.’
‘How could it possibly happen?’
‘I don’t think that’s a mystery,’ Ruprecht stated. ‘The real Kris was desperate to stay safe, warm and sane as a child of the English Herd with his grandma to cherish him and the Great Bull Cody to protect him; he loathed what he was in the daytime. So he must have simply refused to return to his sleeping body. The Great Mind then must have the power to transfer the consciousness of one of the celestial herd into the abandoned body of a living person.’
‘Apparently so,’ said Joerg. ‘And it’s a huge coup for the Great Bulls. Felix in Kristijan’s body dominated the Congress and may have given the world the chance of centuries of peace and progress. But now what, Robby? Does he have to return to the Mind, or will he live out Kristijan’s lifespan as King of the Allemans?’
Ruprecht considered this. ‘Felix was born to rule. It was obvious from the time he was a young boy; he was so very talented with people. And now he’s been given a chance to fulfil his potential, the gift of a healthy body and a position of great power in a time of crisis. He can heal Ardhesse and build bridges between the peoples of Terre Nouvelle. Yes, I think he’s going to reside in Kristijan’s body for its natural lifetime and do even greater things before he returns to the Herd. The only thing he won’t have is someone by his side who loves him. The King of the Franciens and the King of the Allemans can never go through Schuleneheit, even if Gilles could accept Felix in Kristijan’s body.’
‘You don’t think he could?’
Ruprecht shook his head. ‘I don’t doubt that the combination of Kristijan’s beautiful face and body and Felix’s presence and personality will produce a human being of unprecedented seductiveness. I imagine thousands will fall in love with him, but Gilles won’t be one of them. The Felix he loved lives now only in his memory and no living person can match that image, even if Gilles could be brought to believe that Felix continued to live on in another body.’
Joerg shook his head. ‘What about the other problems this causes?’
Ruprecht looked a question.
‘How can you tell his mother and grandmother that Kreech is still in the world when they’re mourning around his coffin? And how about you, Robby? You’ve adored your little cat-monster since he was born, and now you’re in a position where you can see him at a distance, yet never approach him, let alone hug him the way you used to. What about your own unhappiness?’
The Congress went into a two-week recess at the close of its fourth day. Nordrecht’s king arrived in haste and accepted the dispensation the Congress proposed especially as it now made him the most senior of the Four Kings. Dreiholmtz had finally decided to acknowledge that the Congress was occurring, and indeed was manifestly beginning to panic at the outcome of its deliberations with regard to the disposition of the Oracle and its Ancient technology. An Eastern envoy had arrived and asked for a period of grace while his government put together a suitable delegation to join the Congress, though Queen Wilhelmina III would not appear, as that might be interpreted as her recognition of Kristijan as King of the Allemans. So the fourth day of the Congress ended with the Patriarch and Emperor jointly declaring with the Protector of the Republic that the site of New London was to be considered as an enclave of the Holy See and under the jurisdiction of the Church. Rancher Simonsen was so heavily compensated for his acquiescence that even he could find no cause for complaint, especially as he retained the grazing rights. Gilles and François sealed the Oracle when they left it, but told Ruprecht they were still able to maintain contact with Charlot and each other, showing him slim alienware boxes they called ‘handsets’, apparently an English word.
Following the closing mass the King of the Franciens assumed his new state. Early the next morning he entered a carriage escorted by a troop of cavalry of the Imperial Guard bearing his royal standard of the gold erdbeest on blue, and followed by vehicles carrying his new household. They took the road to Ostberg, for he was to be chief mourner at the funeral of Prince Felix. Ruprecht and Joerg travelled in King Gilles’s carriage, much to his relief.
‘If I have to say goodbye to Fran for a while, you two are the ones I’d most like to be with instead.’
Joerg nodded. ‘Being with other people has to be hard after what’s happened. Still, as a king and an imperial prince you can at least keep those you don’t want to be with at a distance.’
‘Fran and I are going to live together when we go home to Aix. He says there’s a wing at the Imperial palace where two bedchambers communicate, and we’re going to share a bed once the doors are closed behind us. We’ve been sleeping in each other’s arms since the Herd dreams started and it’s been a comfort. I think maybe soon we’ll start doing more – in real life, I mean, rather than what we did in the Herd. We both need it desperately and we love each other enough … maybe not the way Kreech and I were in love, but enough to know we can be happy together. Fran’s never had a real partner before, and I just can’t sleep alone anymore. Is that bad?’
Joerg shook his head. ‘No, it’s good. Kreech would understand. He loved you both very much, and we know that the three of you did more than kiss and hug at Blauwhaven.’
‘It’s true, we liked to show Fran what we did together and he liked to watch, and sometimes he joined in with us. We practised some things with him so he would know what to do if he ever found a boy he liked. He was ever so shy about asking if he could touch us. Kreech thought he was really cute, but then, since he looks so much like me that was no surprise.’
‘Give yourself time,’ Ruprecht urged. ‘Don’t push it, but if you can find comfort in each other arms no one has the right to condemn you. Though of course they will. Everyone knows you’re a homo, Gillot. And soon it’ll get around that you and the Emperor are sharing a bed. But maybe it’s time the Francien people confronted the truth that men can love each other without there being any reason to condemn them for it. The Allemans have gone along with it for centuries. The world’s changing fast, and getting the Franciens to accept homosexual love is only a small thing in comparison with some of the things they’re going to have to accommodate.’
The coach rattled along the highways of the Montenard Republic and there was silence within it for many miles. The party picked up a further escort of Confederate dragoons at the frontier, so it was an impressive cavalcade that entered Schwarzwald as night fell, and for the first time a salute of twenty-one guns paid tribute to Gilles’s royal status. The Margrave’s Life Guard lined the torchlit way up to the castle, where a state reception and banquet had to be endured.
Early the next morning the Marshal of the Household roused the court with the news that His Francien Majesty proposed to make a private visit of one night to the Manor of Blauwhaven. In a simple black suit, Gilles, followed by Ruprecht, Joerg and Erwin, took horse and clattered out of the castle. The only concession he made was to allow an armed police lieutenant and the captain of his guard, both in civilian dress, to ride behind at a distance. The party came down over the moorland early that afternoon, the shining sea opening before them, clouds of razorbills skimming the waves for food. Ruprecht breathed in the salt air and discovered he had been homesick for his ugly old castle. He caught Joerg’s eyes and thought he read the same feeling in them.
Ruprecht found Gilles that evening where he knew he would, sitting in the mellow light of the setting sun on the lawn where he and Felix used often to play. He was talking at the handset, and when Ruprecht took a seat next to him he was astounded to see a living, talking image of François grinning out of a screen.
The Emperor gave him a cheery wave. ‘Can you see me, Rupe?’
‘I can. This is odd. Where are you?’
‘Chasancene. I’ve just persuaded the treacherous old duke to stand down in favour of his son, Prince Louis François. I knew him from the military college; he was pretty decent to me. He was the one who warned me about Kristijan’s taste for young boys, so you could say he kicked the whole crisis off.’ He switched his gaze to Gilles. ‘So baby, I’ll be thinking about you tomorrow. It’ll be tough, but you’ll be happier when it’s over. Come back to me soon. Love you!’
Gilles replied in kind and kissed the screen.
The Emperor laughed. ‘Have you any idea how weird that looked? A giant set of Gillot lips descending on me!’
Gilles blew a raspberry. ‘Yeah, we both know about you and the Gillot mouth descending on you. Bye, sexy!’ He pocketed his handset and looked around him, then said ‘I don’t suppose I’ll ever come back here. My future’s not in Blauwhaven, Rupe, but in the Francien lands with Fran and with Charlot at Yorck. Once Fran is back in his capital he’s going to start sorting things out in the Empire. I’ll go down to the Oracle and carry on our work with Charlot. Once the Oracle is fully back in working order we’ll get the Montenards and Patriarch to agree to allow a research institute to be built in the New London enclave, somewhere scientists and philosophers can begin to acquire the knowledge that will allow us to reoccupy the motherships waiting for us outside the atmosphere. They can advise us on what technology can safely be released to the nations of Terre Nouvelle to develop.’
‘And so the great change in our world will begin,’ Ruprecht replied. ‘It’s a good plan, although I doubt the Easterners will be that happy about it. There will go their industrial and technological edge. We’ll all be on the same level.’
‘I asked Charlot about the disease which killed Kreech,’ Gilles continued. ‘He said it was once known amongst humans as “tuberculosis”. He was surprised that it had crossed the stars with the colonists, who had all been carefully vetted before departure. But he said it was a disease which lays dormant and, given the right circumstances, was liable to break out again and even mutate into new forms. Charlot said he believed it was possible to eliminate it, though he could never have provided us with a cure in time to help Felix as the mothership laboratories didn’t maintain any samples of the “bacteria” that cause it. Still he did tell us how to test for its presence, and once that’s done our physicians will know how to proceed.’
They sat silent for some time, then Ruprecht asked ‘Do your dreams of the Herd continue?’
‘No, Rupe. Not since that last time. Charlot can talk to the Great Mind as he wishes, but the Mind will talk to the living only through the Lady Eve now. The celestial Plain is closed to all of us until the course of nature brings us there.’
‘A pity. I’ll miss those rides and our grandads. Georgie really got to like erdbeesten milk a lot. I think he may have withdrawal symptoms.’ He looked over to the house. A one-horse trap from the station rank had drawn up and two young men were alighting. ‘That’s Mattie down from Ostberg, and … good heavens! I never expected to see him here!’
Gilles’s head turned. ‘Who’s here?’
Ruprecht smiled. ‘Somehow I’m rather glad he’s turned up. It’s Jacky the couturier, Kristijan’s former catamite. He and Mattie are friends, so I’m told. Just friends though.’
Ruprecht and Gilles got up and wandered back up to the house, where lamplight was now glowing in the windows as the sun went down.
They found Jacky in the hallway; he grinned when he saw Ruprecht and called out rather more loudly than was strictly polite ‘Hello, Your Excellency! Mattie said I should come! Bet you never expected to see me again?’
‘A bet you win, little tramp. But I’m glad you’re here.’ He turned to Gilles, whom Jacky was sizing up with great interest. ‘Your Majesty, may I introduce Monsieur Jacques Levaillant, who played a dramatic part in our fight against King Kristijan when he was out to conquer the world.’
Wide-eyed and tongue-tied for once, Jacques bowed low to the king. Gilles smiled and kindly offered his hand to the slight boy who looked so much like him. ‘Monsieur Levaillant, I understand you lived up to your name in your service to the enemies of Ardhesse, and so in the name of my brother, the Emperor, I thank you for your bravery and the assistance you gave our cause.’
‘Your royal majesty,’ Jacky stuttered. ‘No one said there was a king here. You look just like me!’
Gilles laughed. ‘So I understand. Kristijan liked a certain sort of Francien beauty in the boys he bedded, and you have it: clear and dark brown skin, white teeth, crimson lips and thick dark hair. Very pretty. You would very much appeal to him, as I know I did too.’
Jacky blushed red. ‘That’s not true, sir … you’re very much better looking than me, really. Your suit is well-cut too.’
Rupe grinned. ‘Have you heard about the changes in King Kristijan, Jacky?’
The boy scowled. ‘Don’t believe it, Excellency. It’s just another scheme he has. I’ll never forget the things he did to us in the Waltherborg and how much he enjoyed it, especially the humiliation. He nearly had me killed, and I’m pretty sure he succeeded in doing it with other boys he sent away.’
Ruprecht demurred. ‘There have been promising developments. I hear he’s closed down the Waltherborg Palace and opened the park to the public. He’s set up children’s homes and refuges all over his kingdom. He’s emptied Bornholm of political prisoners and put the Baron and a lot of his colleagues inside it instead.’
Jacky shook his head and scoffed, ‘It’s a trick, just you watch.’
Ruprecht indicated his guests should move to the hall, where tea was available. Erwin had recovered the rule of his domestic empire and had intimated to his lord that he would be staying there for the foreseeable future as some things had got out of hand. Ludwig had returned to Blauwhaven after Felix’s death and was acting now as Erwin’s right hand, with the title of house steward, while Mattie held the official appointment now of Ruprecht’s secretary. As he was no longer a domestic Mattie remained in the hall. Jacky perched on the edge of his seat, a little uneasy in polite company.
‘So how’s business, Jacky?’
Mattie answered for him. ‘He’s a sensation in Ostberg, Excellency. There’re queues of ladies all down the street outside his emporium. He’s going to buy up two adjacent shops and is thinking of expanding into manufacture. Herr Vincent says Jacky has a natural head for business.’
Strangely, Jacky looked shy at that. ‘I’m paying a return on your investment, Excellency. I’m ever so grateful. That’s why Herr Vincent and Mattie wanted me to come see you. I have to ask you if you want to expand your investment as the business gets bigger.’
That was easily answered, and Ruprecht followed up with another question. ‘Have you found any love life for yourself?’
Jacky shook his head and made a little moue with his pretty mouth. ‘I’m too busy, Excellency. But there are places where I can get … you know.’
‘I suppose I do. So no partner. Never mind. Love can catch you out by surprise, that’s my experience.’ He looked fondly across at Joerg. ‘We have a Schuleneheit to celebrate here at Blauwhaven before the end of the year. We’ll make a party of it. I’d like you to be there, Jacky.’
Sincere and happy congratulations followed from everyone, and a beaming Gilles went over to hug both men. He was in tears.
With the tolling of bells and the flat detonations of minute guns from the citadel opposite, the bier of Prince Felix XI of Ostberg was borne out of the Residenz and carried downwards through the streets of his city, the route lined by mute crowds, most of them dressed in black.
Eight muscular soldiers toiled beneath the weight of the double coffin, beneath the black damask pall laid over it, atop which was placed the coronet of Ostberg and a wreath of white flowers. Four of Felix’s brothers, including Ruprecht, held the corners of the pall. Behind the coffin walked side by side Felix’s heir Hans, in the uniform of a Bernician admiral, and Grunderknabe Gilles, King of the Franciens, in the uniform of an Imperial general, black cloaks draping their shoulders. Behind them walked the Protector and the princes of the Confederacy. The late prince’s grandmother and mother, heavily veiled in black, rode in a landau behind, with the soldiers of the Life Guard of Ostberg marching alongside and riding behind them, their carbines reversed. At the Oiselet Bridge the bier party gratefully transferred the coffin to a gun carriage for its journey onward to the park of the Farcostan Palace.
And so Ostberg bade farewell to its young prince, many of the populace following on behind the bier, to mass in a huge throng below the hill as the coffin was carried up to its final place of rest in the mausoleum. When all was done and accomplished it was King Gilles who closed the great bronze doors behind his lover. Confederate artillery in the park fired a salute of 31 guns and the reign of Prince Felix Hans began.