Michael Arram










  ‘Gorgeous ring!’ gushed Melanie.  ‘Is it real?’


  Will turned it on his finger, getting used to its massive armorial bezel, the lion and roses sculpted magnificently in hard gold.  ‘It’s the most real thing I have ever possessed,’ he answered cryptically.


  ‘Eh?  What does that mean?’


  ‘Never mind.  We received permission to proceed from the countess, who is the legal guardian of the present prince.’


  ‘Great.  Next stage then.  We need to line up talking heads and cast Rothenians.’


  Will’s attention was elsewhere, as Felip soon spotted.  In bed that night he commented, ‘You look odd, Will.  Sort of happy and depressed at the same time.’


  ‘That’s a good way of putting it, lover.’


  ‘So what’s up?’


  ‘It’s a long story, and now is as good a time as any to tell it to you.’


  So for the next hour he recounted the full tale of Oskar Prinz, his struggles, his ambitions and his terrible treachery.  Felip held Will’s hand all through it, and simply hugged him when he had finished.  His tears ran down on to Will’s bare shoulder.


  They lay together hand in hand after a while, looking up at the bedroom ceiling.


  ‘Where do you think Oskar’s gone?’ asked Felip.


  ‘Who can know?  There are people who could find him, but you have to ask yourself why we should try.  He wants time to work things out.  It would do no good to find him before he’s ready to be found.’


  ‘I will pray for him,’ decided Felip seriously.




* * *




  The spring passed into summer.  Matt arrived with the English crew to shoot his scenes, while Will and the Rothenian crew went round filming interviews, dramatic reconstructions and picturesque scenery.  He and Felip were far too busy for any other anxieties and concerns.  It all went surprisingly well.  Will, who had an awful lot to learn about the mechanics of filming and production, found in Bolslaw an extremely capable teacher.


  By the end of July, the documentary was in the can.  The moment had come for difficult decisions to be made.


  Will and Felip went off to spend one last weekend out of several with Helge in Modenehem.  She was delighted to tell Will she was resuming her teaching career in a local kindergarten in the new year.


  ‘After all this time I can’t get used to being an aristocratic lady with nothing to do but arrange flowers.  I need to take a more active role than being an ornamental housekeeper, and I miss the children so much.’  Will, who felt something of the same ache every time he passed a school, readily agreed with her.


  He spent a happy Saturday by the river with Fritz and Felip, who it turned out had been a keen angler as a boy and was quite ready to teach them the basics.


  Fritz asked them what they were going to do, and suggested hopefully that they might stay on and live with him.  Will was sad to have to dispel those hopes, but when he said his family would miss him, the boy nodded with reluctant approval.  It was the sort of reason that appealed to him.


  Yet even as Will said it, he wondered how true it might be.  But there it was.  His job was back home in England, where his roots were, even though Rothenia was proving them shallower than he had expected.  The greatest happiness and the greatest tragedies he had experienced had all been in this magical land, and not in grey, mundane and bourgeois Britain.


  In bed with Felip, they talked out their future.  ‘Come with me, then,’ Will insisted.  ‘You’re an EU citizen.  There won’t be much problem getting work in England.’


  Felip was not entirely happy with the idea.  So Will conceded that they would keep the flat on Strelsenern Anhöhen, and return frequently.  He was quite happy with that arrangement, for Rothenia had long entered his heart and he knew he could never be free of its spell now.  ‘Besides,’ he reflected, ‘I’ll soon need to be in Monaco and Nice for the next documentary.  You can come back to Strelzen while I’m sunning myself on the Mediterranean coast.’


  ‘Er … there’s something wrong with that scenario, beloved if selfish Will.’




* * *




  September came, making Will feel odd not to be getting ready for the new term’s teaching.  He missed the job, yet knew he could not turn back the clock.


  On a misty and cool Saturday, he and Felip were walking up Junction Road on their way to ascend the southward facing slopes of Highgate Hill.  Felip was besotted with London.  Will found this odd, as he could take the city or leave it alone.


  ‘The thing is Will, Strelzen is beautiful and safe, cold and snowbound in winter, clear and sunny in summer.  It is so predictable, just like your mother.  But London is endlessly different, and the weather is so varied.  All the peoples of the world are gathered here.  Would you believe I met a guy on the tube yesterday from Zenden?’


  ‘You talked to someone on the tube?’


  ‘He was reading a Rothenian guide to London.  What else was I supposed to do?’


  Will laughed.  ‘Nothing.  You did right.  I hope you’re not finding things boring.’


  ‘No, or at least not yet.  But I want a job, and I think I could find one.  I’d be a good barman, I’ll bet, and you have so many gay pubs and clubs.’


  ‘Max Wolf the barman … I can see that happening.’


  ‘Mm … perhaps not a gay pub then.  But I will find something.  In Strelzen I used to help out in my cousin’s gift shop in Staramesten.  I was good at it, and often picked up gay tourists … although I see you did not want to know that.  Sorry.  But we could do with the extra money.  Things are so expensive here in London.  The supermarkets scare me.’


  ‘We’re surviving fine, Felip my love.  We’ll be okay.’


  They reached Archway station, and turned up the hill.  ‘I have to say this though, Will.  I don’t feel all that safe on the streets of London.  You have a lot more crime than we do in Strelzen.’


  Will guffawed.  ‘Oh yeah.  My second night there I had a knife at my throat, and some so-called Bosnian stole my wallet.  How did it go?  “Don’t move, American. You have wallet?  I want.”  That incident is branded on my soul.  I was traumatised.’


  Laughing and joking, they continued on up the hill past Whittington Hospital, two handsome men very obviously in the full flush of young love.  Quite a few eyes followed them, including the blue ones of a hospital ancillary worker in trust overalls, raking up the fast-falling leaves of autumn.  He leaned on his rake and flicked his blond fringe out of his eyes, looking pensive at what he had seen.


  Will and Felip found their way to Matt’s house on the hill, where a broadly smiling Dave opened the door.  ‘You gotta be Felip.  Welcome to Gay Central.  You picked a good day.  The tribe is here and you need to be initiated.’


  An all-day party was in progress.  Food tables were laid out in the back lounge, and drinks were set up at a draped bar.  Dave nudged them into the sitting room.  ‘Main feature is at 1:00 pm.  Go meet the guys.’


  The room was full of laughing and joking young men, only a few of whom Will could place.  He saw Matt and Andy sitting happily together with drinks.  Terry was lying on the sofa with Ramon at his feet on the floor.  Steve was leaning against the fireplace showing his muscles to two awed-looking teenage boys, one a handsome blond that Will had no difficulty recognising as Peter Peacher, Andy’s younger brother.  The facial similarities of another tall, well-built guy suggested he was Matt’s younger brother Carl White, the distance swimmer, who appeared to be a close friend of Terry’s and Ramon’s.  The rest were strangers, some of them women, for the party was mixed.


  Matt leapt up and began the introductions.  Terry was disbelieving.  ‘Thass not Felip Ignac … whatever you said, thass Max Wolf, me favourite porno star.’


  ‘I’m retired.’


  ‘Shame I say.’  He turned to Will.  ‘Kid, how do you do it?  In the space of one year you seduce the two most wank-at-able men in Rothenia!  What’s your secret?  It in’t your looks.’


  ‘Cheers, love you too, Terry.’


  Will moved over to Matt and Andy.


  Andy looked very pleased.  ‘So things worked out.  You found the right man in the end, and what a man.  Curly hair, body like a demigod and the cutest butt in the known universe … apart from Matt’s.’


  ‘And yours ..’ added Matt.  ‘It’s your nicest feature.’


  ‘Thanks, I suppose.  It’s a bit odd, though, to be told your ass is prettier than your face.’


  ‘You know what I mean.’


  Will grinned.  ‘Felip is a revelation, and what a sexual athlete.’


  Matt grimaced.  ‘I don’t want to hear this.’


  ‘You’re the bottom, aren’t you?’ Andy said.  ‘I can tell, it’s my natural position too.’  We’re tolerant and amiable and pleasant.  It’s easy to spot us.


  Matt raised his eyes to heaven. ‘Whereas we active tops are aggressive, demanding and domineering.  That what you mean?’


  ‘Didn’t precisely say that, Matthew dear.’


  An hour later the caterers served lunch.  Afterwards, everyone went into a back sitting room full of sofas, chairs and bean bags, with a big screen and media unit ready and waiting.


  Will and Felip cuddled together on a couple of bags on the floor.  Felip kissed his ear and said, ‘Do we get a trailer for An American in Strelzen?’


  It was in fact the first showing of the Elphberg documentary, now cut and edited.  The audience watched quietly and, in Will’s case, tensely.  He hadn’t even seen the prelims.


  Matt was pensive when the final credits rolled up.  ‘So, unbiased and objective audience, what do you think?’


  ‘S’okay,’ said Peter in a faintly bored voice.


  ‘Okay!’ screamed Matt, then looked devastated.  Will was so sorry for him.  But following a brief pause, the rest of the room burst out laughing.


  Matt glared around and shouted, ‘Bastards!  Bastards!  Bastards!’


  Andy gave an evil grin, then took Matt’s hand.  ‘You know it was brilliant.  You didn’t need us to tell you.’


 ‘But I do.  Artists need to be appreciated.’  Will agreed with him heartily.


  ‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ added Andy. ‘It’ll do wonders for the Rothenian tourist industry.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you get the Order of the Rose of Rothenia out of this, Matt.’




* * *




  The afternoon passed happily.  It was good just to chat with old friends and make new ones.


  Will lost Felip at one point and went looking for him upstairs.  Passing a darkened bedroom, he noticed a screen flickering inside, from which sounds of passion were emanating.  After an appalled instant, he recognised them.  He heard Terry say, ‘Now watch this bit, kiddies.  You’ll never see anything like it.  This is not porn, it is crystallised passion.’


  Peter Peacher’s awed voice commented, ‘He’s so beautiful.  They both are, but the passion transforms him into something angelic – angelic but ever so dangerous.  Those eyes of his could burn you up.’


  ‘Jesus, I just shot in my boxers,’ groaned another viewer.


  Terry continued, ‘They’re talking about this as a modern porn classic.  There’s an art cinema showing it in Islington.  Like it or not, poor Will is going to be famous a lot longer than most porno stars.’


  Will lurched back down the stairs and sat out in the cold garden.  This was not welcome news.  Porn films were supposed to have shelf lives and sell-by dates.  Sooner or later he had hoped it would be forgotten, but Jason Williams had just taken a long lease on his life, so much was clear.  He must find a way to live with that.




* * *




  It was a tired and troubled Will who headed back down Highgate Hill in the dark of evening.  Felip, quiet beside him, had sensed the unhappiness of his lover and was waiting to be told what the problem was.  Felip was good that way.


  They passed the hospital and came down on to Junction Road again.  Will, spotting a small corner pub, suggested they stop for a drink.


  ‘Certainly, providing I do not have to drink that warm slime they call beer here.’


  Will got himself a pint of slime, along with a vodka and tonic for Felip.  The place was empty, except for a couple of early drinkers and a local hospital worker in bulky overalls and closed hoodie who had come in at the bar after them.


  Will and Felip, when on their own together, never talked anything other than Rothenian now, and a Rothenian hearing Will would have been hard put to spot him from his accent as a foreigner.  They usually put him down as a Husbrauener who had lived too long abroad.


  Felip sat patiently, faintly smiling at his lover.  Will gave a quirky grin back.  ‘I wish now I had done that film with you, not Oskar.’




  ‘If it had been you and I that day, it would not have been so out of the ordinary.’


  ‘I understand.  I wasn’t good with dialogue, and you didn’t love me then as you do now.  The sex would have just been whore’s sex, at least for you.  For me it would have been different, even then.  I loved you practically from the first, Will.  I love you so much more now.’


  ‘I can’t even watch it.  It’s too painful.’


  ‘Why?  I’ve seen it, and it is a hymn to loving sexuality by two beautiful and besotted men.  But I think you still love Oskar, don’t you.’


  Will looked tentatively into Felip’s eyes.  ‘In a way.  Not the way I love you.  With you I am safe, and you take me on my own terms and accept me.  We’re equals.  You I know to be true of heart and devoted to me.  You’ll never leave me and never let me down.  You also have a big dick and the ass of a demigod, which are not minor considerations.’


  Felip did not laugh, but rather looked thoughtful.  ‘So, excuse my puzzlement, but how then do you love Oskar.’


  ‘This isn’t easy.  It’s more of a fixation on what he was: sophisticated, funny, charming, dangerous and elusive.  We were never equals.  He was my teacher in everything to do with life, love and passion.  But even though he betrayed me, the link we made cannot change.  I met his sister and brother, saw what the mixed fruits of that betrayal were: their happiness and the restoration of a tragic family, while for him it brought only pain and exile.  I more than forgave him then.  I was free to love him again, and even see the nobility in him.  A noble whore, what a concept!  To be honest, I finally learned that he was a bit above me, that I couldn’t really safely breathe the same air he breathed.  My love for him was always offered at a distance.  I’m a serf at heart.’


  Now Felip did laugh.  ‘Me too!  Happy to be a peasant.’


  ‘I wish he’d go back home, though.  They need him, and he’ll find healing there, not out in an uncaring world.  However, I dread that he’ll just end up back in the clutches of Falkefilm.  He has so much more to give.’


  ‘Like what, my Will?’ asked a familiar voice in Rothenian that stopped both Felip’s and Will’s hearts.  Oskar pulled off his hood, left the bar and came to sit down beside them.