Michael Arram










  Oskar regarded them with a quirky smile.  ‘You should both close your mouths.  You look stupid.’


  Will launched himself at Oskar and clamped on his lips, where he was freely welcomed.


  ‘Oi!  You foreign blokes!’ shouted the landlord.  ‘We don’ do that sort of thing in ere.  There’s a gay pub down the Holloway Road.’


  ‘Sorry!’ Will shouted back in accented English.  ‘It is a custom where we come from.’


  ‘Well fuck off back there!’


  ‘With pleasure.’


  They left sniggering.  Outside, Felip took his turn at pinning Oskar to the wall, heedless of strange looks from passers-by.


  ‘Oh, I am so glad to see you, Oskar,’ Will cried, tears in his eyes.


  ‘It seems you are,’ came the usual smiling and ironical reply, which he had so missed.  Oskar put his arms round both their shoulders, and they walked off happily down towards the Holloway Road.  Entering a pub Will knew, they found a corner table and sat just smiling at each other over drinks.


  Eventually Will’s curiosity got the better of him.  ‘Where did you come from and what are you doing here?’


  ‘Ah!  The big questions.  And you expect answers too, no doubt.  I’ve been in London since February.  My cousin Margarethe, who is a nurse at the Whittington, got me a cleaner’s job there.  I live in a tiny bedsit a few streets away from here, and it’s given me plenty of time for thinking.  Too much, really.’


  ‘How did you find us, Oskar?’


  ‘Not very difficult, my Willemju.  The contractor I work for also regularly cleans the premises of Marlowe Productions in Camden.  I paid special attention to your office when it was my night on duty.’


  ‘It is a lot tidier, now you come to mention it.  So you located my address in Kentish Town, read my desk diary and knew I was going to Matt’s today.’


  ‘Oh yes.  You are so organised, Will.  I’ve been watching you two off and on over the last fortnight.  Today, I just waited for you to pass by while I was sweeping up the leaves.  Knowing you prefer to walk, I waited till you came down again – simple as that – and tailed you to the pub.  Now here we are, with a lot to say to each other, I think.’


  ‘Is that it?  Just working and thinking?’ queried Felip in surprise.


  ‘Well, also feeling sorry for myself, being desperately ashamed, going to church a lot and trying to think of some sort of life beyond porno flicks.  I had just about given up.  There are many opportunities in London, it is true, but most of them aren’t worth pursuing.


  ‘My experience also,’ Felip agreed.


  ‘It has not all been a waste of time, though,’ Oskar continued.  ‘In fact I may even have discovered some sort of purpose in life.  It is you, Will, and Marie Esterhazy whom I must thank if my idea bears fruit.’


  ‘How’s that?’


  ‘Our nation of Rothenia is heading for a deadly crisis.  You remember our conversation that day in Modenehem?  It is a conviction that has been growing on me for a while.  My idea is that one solution to our problem may lie here in Britain.’


  ‘These are riddles, Oskar.’  Felip looked bemused.


  ‘Of course they are!  You may count on me to be enigmatic.  I do it so well, hein?’


  ‘What are you on about, Oskar?’


  ‘You may find out in God’s good time, my Will.  At any rate, I feel a lot better for my period of exile here.  My most pressing problem was how to forgive myself for what I did to you, men leblen.  I wasn’t finding forgiveness in my own head, not even in church.  So what happens?  I end up watching it walk right past me.  Maybe that was the answer to all those prayers, I don’t know.  Now I hear you two don’t simply forgive me, but actually love me.


  ‘I don’t deserve that.  You know how bad I’ve been, not just to you, Will, but also to Felip, whose heart I trod all over.  In spite of myself, I thank God for the two of you, for I love you more than I can say.  Really love you, now I know a bit more about what love is.  You’ve made me whole again.’


  Will beamed.  ‘Then let’s get on with sorting things out.  Go home, Oskar.  They miss you so much.  It’s time.  You did your penance, and know you’re forgiven, freely and from the heart.  More than that: For all the pain it cost me, I was glad you did what you did, once I’d seen Helge and Fritzku.  It was all for them, not yourself.  I love them too and should have remembered them, instead of being angry with you.’


  Oskar smiled gently.  ‘You say the nicest things, my Will, and you are right.  As soon as I can scrape the money together, I’ll go home. Perhaps something will occur to me when I’m back in Husbrau.’


  He paused and gazed into Will’s eyes.  ‘When it comes to equality, Will, it doesn’t just lie in descent.  You’re as noble as the accident of history says I am, more so maybe.  No fitter man has ever worn that ring since the days of its first owner.’


  Felip, high on the happiness of the meeting, squeezed Will’s hand and kissed him gently.  ‘Let’s go and do gay things in town, friends, for we must celebrate somehow.’  So they took the Northern Line to Leicester Square and strolled Soho.  Will could not help reflecting on the things that had happened to him since the first time he had walked that street.


  They ended up in a downstairs bar and disco on Old Compton Street, full of good-looking young men.  Drinks in hand, they vied to make Oskar laugh by describing their last visit to Club Liberation.


  Oskar glanced round their table in the crowded bar.  ‘Oh dear God, it’s happening again, boys.’  The familiar staring group had assembled within spitting distance of them.  They escaped on to the floor.  Oskar danced with Will in a state of great happiness, which showed in his movements and face.


  The DJ stared, turned a spot on them and shouted out over the music: ‘And here tonight, boys, we have no less than the finest of the Rothenian babes from Falkefilm.  I give you Marc Bennett (cheers), Max Wolf (more cheers) and that sexy babe of all babes, Jason Williams (uproar and whistles)!  Welcome to our country!  Okay for autographs?  Brilliant!’


  So they were given felt-tips to sign bare chests, tee-shirts and bare arses.  When a cheeky, sexy eighteen-year-old London boy unzipped his fly, Will even signed one rather large erect dick.


  ‘Ooh … I’ll never wash it again!’ cooed the lad with a wink.


  ‘Think of your friends and reconsider that decision, kid,’ replied Will in his best Jason-style accent.


  ‘I’ll do it with you now, here on the floor.’  The boy was perfectly serious.


  ‘Sorry kid, it’ll smudge the ink.’


  The boy snatched a kiss and went off back to his mates, laughing.


  Eventually they were left alone.  After drinking, talking and joking until quite late, they got the night bus to Kentish Town and tumbled into Will’s flat together early in the morning.  Will looked at Felip, and without a word they bundled Oskar into the bedroom, ripping his clothes off as they went.  He made no protest.


  It was a prolonged and passionate session, both men servicing Oskar devotedly with lips, fingers and mouth.  ‘Our homage to you, our prince,’ Felip said as he lavishly rimmed Oskar, whose unsheathed cock was planted deep and unmoving in a squirming Will below him.  Oskar took both of them gloriously, and did the same again before noon.


  ‘Where are you finding it all?’ marvelled Will.


  ‘This is the first sex I’ve had since our last time together, my Will.  I’m surprised I didn’t take your head off when I came in you just now.’




* * *




  Getting Oskar back to Rothenia was not as easy as they had hoped, however.  He was on minimum wage and utterly broke, while Will and Felip were not flush either.  Will had paid off his card debt, but there were enough other expenses to soak up his income, even though it was so much bigger since he had joined Marlowe.  Besides this, Oskar said he must work his week’s notice.  They were struck, as ever, by his sense of what was proper.


  He at least gave up his bedsit, which was on a weekly rent.  By sleeping on Will’s sofa, he managed to save some cash.  They did not have sex together again as a threesome, although they kissed and hugged a lot, quite without jealousy, just happy to be together.


  The thing that pleased Oskar most was the phial of Medelnerattar that Will placed on his toilet bag in the bathroom, the first morning he woke there.  Will embraced him after his shower, soaking up the magnificent and delicate fragrance Oskar had resumed once again.


  At the end of the month, Will asked for leave and used his wage and the emergency reserve fund he had to book them on the ferry from Dover.  They opted for the cheap accommodations and spent an uncomfortable crossing on the upper deck in a storm.  From Calais they took trains across Belgium and Germany, finally entering their beloved Rothenia at Mittenheim, west of Zenden.  A smiling Oskar hung out the train window, just breathing in the air, his blond hair fluttering.


  They reached the capital early one evening and opened up Felip’s apartment in the Seventh District.  Will looked out over the lights of the beautiful city once more.  His city.  He didn’t want to leave it ever again.


  He held Felip and told him so.  Felip just nodded and replied, ‘Yes, I knew you would say that eventually.  I was just waiting for you to come to your senses.  It’s boring, but it’s home.  I can live with it.’


  They went that night to the White Tree, the Rothenian-only gay club behind Flavienplaz.  It was a lot lower key than Liberation.  The local gays might have known who they were, but were too polite to say.  Felip, who was well known there, took Will round and introduced him by his real name.  He smiled, formally shook hands, and was taken for a Rothenian whose parents had given him a funny foreign first name.


  As he was sitting at the bar, talking to the barman about what President Maritz had been up to the past six months and the likelihood of an election, Will was startled to hear the throwaway comment at him: ‘Of course, you Husbraueners are all Christian Democrats, you’re born that way.’


  Oskar stayed with them that night, rang Helge in the morning and told her he was back.  Tears were running unchecked down his cheeks as he spoke.  He embraced them and started to pick up his bag.  Before he could do so, with Felip standing by solemnly, Will spoke for the first time the words of the family blessing, brushed aside Oskar’s blond fringe and kissed his forehead.  Quite unable to speak, Oskar hugged him and left to catch the train.


  On the Sunday morning two days later, with the bells of the cathedral and all the churches ringing across the city, Felip commented, ‘So, my Will, you’re the man for strategy.  What do we do now?  You’ve just e-mailed your resignation to Matt.  You’re broke, I’m broke, so is it back to shagging for Hendrik?  This is Rothenia, land of forests, castles and chronic unemployment.  Also winter is coming, and believe me, winter in this country is no joke.  I hope white is your favourite colour.’


  ‘I know.  But I do have one idea.  It may or may not make us much money, but it could work.  You didn’t see my other e-mail to Matt.’


  ‘Is this anything to do with your meeting Bolslaw tomorrow?’


  ‘Could be.’




* * *




  On Tuesday, Will and Felip took the train to Modenehem and found their way to the Tarlenheim mansion.  A housekeeper opened the door to them.  Marietta was not to be heard this time.  ‘Good morning, Mr Vincent and Mr Ignacij for Count Oskar.’


  ‘His excellency is out with his dog for the moment, but the countess is in.  His Serene Highness is at school.’


  Helge was standing waiting, eyes shining.  She kissed them both.  ‘So you have been our friend once more, Will, and brought him back safe and whole.  He is happy again, he laughs and makes bad jokes as he always did.  Fritzku is so delighted to have his brother home.  We all are.  It was a blessed day when you came to us at Terlenehem.’


  ‘More blessed by far for me, Helge, whatever you may think.  Oskar is still a count?’


  ‘By courtesy, yes, the same way as Fritz was a count when Oskar was the prince.’


  ‘I’m pleased.  His nobility should be acknowledged.’


  She took them on a tour of the house to show them some recent improvements, together with the restoration of the office wing by then under way.  She had also given in to Fritz’s proud and boyish insistence that the flag of Tarlenheim should be flown when they were in residence, so both national and family flags were tugging from the tall white poles mounted on either side of the gate.


  Helge laughed.  ‘Fritzku is having fun.  He wants to recruit a regiment with a band so we can have a changing of the guard in the front courtyard.  I tell him there is hardly enough room for a company of guards plus my Fiat, but still he nags.’


  A yelping and scratching from the hall announced Oskar and Marietta, who leapt up on Will and licked his face, her tail wagging frantically.  Oskar stood in the door, back in his casual gear, looking handsome and relaxed.


  ‘You will be staying, I hope?’


  ‘Yes,’ said Will.  ‘We have things to discuss.’


  ‘That brain of yours is at work again, I see.  Very well, come into the library.’


  They assembled round the table of a distinguished book-lined room that had Will’s historical instincts twitching and his mouth watering.  But business came first.  Will set out some papers, and looked at the expectant faces.  ‘One thing the Elphberg documentary taught me is that there are no media production companies in Rothenia.  That is a ridiculous situation in a proud nation of twelve million people.  The state broadcasters are … well, you know what they are.  State TV is German documentaries and dramas, crappy quiz shows and mediocre news programmes, some taken from the BBC.  I just tell you that because it’s perfectly possible none of you have ever bothered to watch it.  Most people would rather save up for satellite.


  ‘However, Rothenia has the skills to do better.  The national crew and actors we used were beyond brilliant; what’s missing is the capital.  I can now cure that lack.  I have found major backers willing to invest in a new company producing news, documentaries, soaps and features in Central and Eastern Europe, principally in Rothenian and Czech, but with an eye towards Poland too.  We have the promise of a whacking great lump of start-up capital, enough to produce a dozen high-quality features and a pilot soap drama in Rothenian.’


  Oskar looked intrigued but cautious.  ‘This is excellent, Will, but where do we come into it?’


  ‘It’s an investment opportunity for the Tarlenheim estate, of course, but I rather hope that Oskar zu Terlenehem can be tempted into the production side – he did study media, off and on – and that Felip Ignacij will consent to take up a key technical post.’


  There was silence.  It disappointed Will, who had got used to artificial media enthusiasm.  He had forgotten that the Rothenian way was to consider new things from every angle, and move slowly.  It was one reason why most Rothenians were so poor at business.  Oh, come on, he shouted in his head, get stuck into the idea, boot it around, make it work for you!


  Eventually Oskar smiled.  ‘Will, you have worked very hard at this.  It is exciting.  No, really.  But we need more details.  How much capital can you draw on?’


  He told them.


  ‘Where in God’s name did you find that sort of money!’ Felip gasped.


  ‘I have good and imaginative friends.  The capital investment comes from the Peacher Foundation, he highly successful British firm of Marlowe Productions UK, and of course Willemin IC Inc (Rothenia).’




  ‘Sure.  He wants to diversify, get into mainstream business.  He fancies the idea of being a media baron.  You know he’s buying a newspaper publisher.  Also he likes me … well, lusts after me actually, but all’s fair in love and war.  If I have to be a corporate whore, I’ll do it for a stunning amount of money, not just the rent.  Come on, people.  Are you with me on this?  At the least it’ll be an exciting ride, and it could be a real money-spinner.


  ‘The first task is a series on Rothenian history … bizarrely, it’s never been done on TV.  Eight, hour-long, quality documentaries under the working title Our Rothenia.  No punches pulled.  We’ll even do the Horvath years.  It’s for the home market, but there’s a good chance we can also sell it in the States, where there is an influential Rothenian-American community in Wisconsin and Illinois.  If necessary, I can plug into them for extra capital.’


  Enthusiasm was finally beginning to emerge on the other side of the table.  Oskar sucked his upper lip, as he did when he was concentrating.  ‘Could do it by centuries.  That’d work.’


  ‘That’s what Matt White thought, too.’




* * *




  If Will was expecting a quick decision, he was disappointed.  It wasn’t until the next day, as he and Oskar were walking the dog in the hills above Terlenehem, that Oskar finally said yes.


  ‘If you and Felip were at a loose end, then think of me.  Oh, we have enough money now.  We may not be as rich as your English dukes are, but at least we’ve regained our rightful place in Rothenian life.  Did you know Maritz has issued a decree allowing the legal use of the old titles?  Cynics are saying that’s just so his brother can resume the Maritz family’s title of baron.


  ‘Fritz is now His Serene Highness in all truth, and the highest ranking of the remaining aristocracy of this land.  When he went to church on Sunday, the provincial governor bowed and asked him to lead the way out of the door.  He was so solemn but so assured, hand in hand with Helge.  All the women cried.  He truly is the prince I never could have been, and he is only a teenager.


  But me?  That is a different matter.  I’m a hedonist, as well you know.  I never was lazy, however, and the idea of hanging round Modenehem and living in Fritz’s house is too depressing.  So I’m joining you in your enterprise, my Will.  There is a condition, however.’


  ‘Fire away.’


  ‘Tomas and Rodolf have finished their courses.  If you take me, take them too.  Tomas Weiss is such a sharp man, he won’t let you down.’


  ‘Done.  I was going to suggest it anyway.  Tomas was always impressive, the way he read you … and read me too for that matter.’




* * *




  A month later, on a chilly afternoon at the end of October, they watched the glazier putting the finishing touches to the front door of the offices and studios of StrelsenerMedia IC Inc, in a converted infirmary along one side of Erbischofplaz north of the cathedral only five minutes’ walk from Felip’s apartment.  The office staff were already at work inside, and production was under way in temporary studios hired from the state network.


  The launch event was the following day.  Oskar was managing it, and hosting it at the Tarlenheim Palace in Radhausplaz.  The Peacher Foundation had financed the palace’s refurbishment.  The Tarlenheim name had re-established itself at the top of Rothenian society and invitations were much in demand.  President Maritz himself was coming.


  The city’s social elite was in a ferment because personalities like Matthew White and Andrew Peacher would be flying in.  Oskar’s charm and organisation carried all before him.  ‘Just deliver the goods, you guys,’ he had ordered.  ‘I can do the social thing … although, do we have to have Hendrik there?’


  ‘Yes,’ stated Will firmly.  ‘Hendrik is a major partner and has loaned us a lot of sophisticated production gear only used previously for recording intimate male sexual congress.  Don’t worry, we wiped off the cum spots.’


  Oskar wrinkled his nose.  ‘You are gross!  Of course I blame myself for that.  You used to be such an innocent boy.’


  ‘You have nothing to blame yourself for, Oskar.  You changed my life for the good.  You taught me what sexuality and love are …’


  ‘… and betrayal …’


  ‘… and forgiveness.  Go easy on yourself.  In fact, get a nice aristocratic boyfriend, someone you can meet on your own terms.’


  ‘Easier said than done, now that you have given me a perverted taste for commoners, Will.  But we shall see.  I hear the prince of Saxony is gay.  He’s quite a babe in the celeb mags and only a year older than I.’


  ‘You see, Oskar?  There are always possibilities, at least for the enterprising.’


  Oskar gave Will a quirky look.  ‘And always second chances, as you taught me.’


  ‘It is the same lesson this beautiful city has taught me.  This is another Will Vincent from the sad and lonely boy who lived long ago and far away in England.  So long live Ruritania, and long live the House of Tarlenheim!’


  ‘Amen to that.’