by Michael Arram










  ‘Hi, Barry!  Er … Barry?’  Marek von Lauern was standing right in front of Barry Hignett in a corridor of the SIS, and yet Barry gave the distinct impression of not having seen him.


  ‘Oh!  Oh, hi Marky!  Yeah.  Er … great day, isn’t it?’


  Marky looked taken aback for a moment before replying, ‘I suppose it is.  Barry, I was wondering if you’d like to come round my place after school this afternoon, or tomorrow.  I can drive you.’


  Barry beamed at him.  ‘There’s nothing I’d like better.  Tomorrow would be cool.  You’re a great guy, Marky!’


  ‘Er … yeah.  Look, Barry, you’ve not been … er … you know?’


  ‘No.  What?’


  ‘Drinking beverages you should not?’


  Barry stared.  ‘What?  No, I don’t think so.  I mean, it’s just a fantastic day and I love life.’


  ‘Okay.  If you say so.’  With a bemused glance, Marek headed off to class.


  Barry smiled absently after his friend.  He had been in a permanent daze since his first sex with Lance.  They had dozed together in the afterglow, then hastily dressed when Ed had called upstairs that Barry had to go.  The next day, Lance and he’d had sex once more after school, and it was even better.  Barry guessed that Ed and Henry knew.  The racket he had made during his intercourse with Lance was something of a giveaway.


  The second time they had done it, Barry had been on his back.  Lance had easily brought him off by hand while fucking him, sending spurts from his cock all over his face, the pillow and the headboard.  His mind kept on recurring to the power of that orgasm and the astonishing nature of the body above him when it happened.


  Barry grinned as he remembered the third time would be that evening, when it would be his turn to top, for which he was deeply grateful.  His long cock grew out of his boxers and down the leg of his jeans as his body recalled how much it had liked taking even something as unattractive as Luc’s arse.  Now it would be with a guy whose transcendent male beauty broke the hearts of even straight boys.  Maybe Lance was really a bottom, and from now on Barry would be on top … unless of course Lance wanted the odd turn.  Barry wouldn’t mind.  He could be generous.


  Wandering out across the staff car-park to get to his maths class, he noticed two men with thick necks and dark suits standing on the corner.  A state policeman cradling a submachine gun was offering one of them a light.  Security had intensified at the International School now that the king of Rothenia was in Year 1.  Ed had told Barry there was no question of the queen removing Maxxie from the school; he loved it too much.


  Just at that moment a small crocodile of lower-school boys and girls issued out of the building heading towards the gym, led by their homeroom teacher.  Barry paused to register whether that bright blond head was amongst them, and there indeed was the boy-king, earnestly chatting with a girl next to him.  He turned just at that moment and caught Barry’s eye.  Maxxie grinned at him and gave him a thumbs up.  Barry waved back.  The little boy was really cute and Barry was oddly flattered to have been remembered by him, though they had only talked the once.


  The sight of Luc glowering at him from a corner of the maths room sobered Barry up.  He found he had no choice but to join Luc at the table.  The smell of tobacco emanating from the French boy made Barry almost want to vomit.  In his head it took him straight to the back room of Bar Melmoth, and the sordid sex he and Luc had shared.


  At the end of the period, Luc leaned close.  ‘Tomorrow at Todo’s after school.  Don’t be late.’  Luc was gone before the anger boiling up in Barry could reply that he could go hang himself for all Barry cared.








  Tommy Entwhistle, impeccably turned out in a grey suit and the gorgeous bird-of-paradise tie he adored, sat behind the queen in the council chamber of the Residenz.  Above Harriet’s chair was a portrait of the great Queen Flavia, her predecessor.


  Tommy looked around at the council of regency gathered for its first session.  At the opposite end of the polished table sat the cardinal archbishop.  Other worthies in attendance included Will Vincent, Count Tom Bernenstejne zu Orbecz, Prince Fritz of Tarlenheim, and the princess of Vinodol, the king’s grandmother and herself of Elphberg descent.  The princess royal had refused an invitation, saying she must soon return to New York and her job.


  After Tommy passed the queen a sheaf of papers, she tapped her pen on the table.  ‘Next on the agenda: the coronation of King Maxim.  Now obviously the rite will need to be amended in view of Maxxie’s age.  When his father was crowned, the Crown of Tassilo was actually placed on his head by the archbishop.  This can’t be done.  Ideas?’


  The cardinal nodded.  ‘I am assuming your majesty intends a consecration in the cathedral?’


  ‘Certainly.  Nothing less could be offered in view of the history and religion of this realm of Rothenia.’


  ‘In that case, ma’am, I could simply hold it over the boy’s head, then set the crown on a cushion before the king for the rest of the liturgy.  There are parallels in other royal inauguration rituals.  A light circlet placed on the young king’s head will do as a token once he has been anointed.’




  The princess of Vinodol looked distinctly discontented.  ‘My grandson has not done the Elphbergs any favours with his erratic behaviour.  It is all very well talking of coronations, but Rudolf has made such rites somewhat pointless.  Am I to understand that he intends to resume his former throne at some point?’


  Several councillors coughed and looked down.  The queen sighed.  ‘Rudolf has indicated that he may return to Rothenia after the present crisis is resolved and the alliance is once again functioning, though he cannot say how many years that may take.’


  ‘Abdication is abdication; it is supposed to be permanent.  It makes the ancient Elphberg monarchy slightly ridiculous.  We will end up being compared with those Romanian Hohenzollerns, who used their throne in a game of musical chairs before the war.’


  ‘The people understand, grandmother.  They know it was duty that made their king lay down the Crown of Tassilo.  The press has been very sympathetic.’


  The old princess fixed Harry with a beady-eyed stare.  ‘Let us hope they remain so understanding.  Let us also make sure that my great-grandson conducts himself well before his people.  He is not yet seven years of age!’


  ‘Maxxie is a very serious and intelligent boy.  I cannot imagine being anything other than proud of him.’


  The princess of Vinodol lapsed into a brooding silence.  Harry, Will and the cardinal carried on discussing details.  The coronation was set for a fortnight’s time.


  As he was gathering his papers after the meeting, Tommy caught a gesture from the queen.  ‘Tommy darling, you must have a role in the coronation.’


  ‘Yes, ma’am?’


  ‘Indeed.  So here is a brief from Her Majesty the Queen Mother and Regent of Rothenia, appointing her beloved and faithful Thomas Anthony George Entwhistle to be a chamberlain of the royal household and officer of the Humanitarian Order of St Lucacsz.’


  ‘Wow!  Thanks, Harry!’


  ‘There’s such a pretty court uniform in Elphberg green and gold lace, with silk tights and a sword, as well as a white stick.’


  ‘Salary raise?’


  The queen laughed.  ‘Be real.  This is a fringe benefit.’








  Barry sat on a low wall next to the staff car-park, munching on one of the sandwiches his mother insisted he take to school with him.  He wanted solitude.  It was afternoon break and he was pondering deeply the Luc question.


  Barry had earlier had a conference with Damien, who agreed with him that – risky or not – now was the time to break with Luc.  ‘Look at it this way, Bazza.  The dangers of co-operation wiv the git are worse than defying him.’


  ‘What about my dad and the pictures?’


  ‘Tough, but maybe we can stall Luc long enough to find our own way to screw him over.  I think what you saw in the Wejg gives us our chance.  I’m on to this Wulf guy already.  He’s a nasty piece of shite called Sczneczen.  Me dad’s heard enough about him to be giving me grief as to why I wanna know.  That tells me sumfink.  So try to keep Luc cool, Bazza, but get ready to tell him to fuck off.’


  When he discovered he was no longer alone on his wall, Barry came rapidly back to reality.  Luc had appeared from nowhere and settled beside him.  Barry managed a grunt of greeting, but his lack of enthusiasm was clearly noted.


  Salut, mon copain!


  ‘How’s your arse?’


  ‘Mon cul?’  Luc grimaced and shifted.  ‘I will not lie.  You were hard to take, and it felt like you were pulling me from the inside out.  No doubt you liked it, yes?’


  ‘Surprisingly, no.  It’s a memory I’m trying to wipe from my mind.’


  ‘That is not nice.  The pictures at least look good.  Perhaps I shall share them with your dear father?’


  Barry suppressed his rage at this crude yank at his chain.  ‘It didn’t seem to me that you enjoyed the experience much either.’


  Silence answered Barry’s sally.  At that point, two small boys emerged into the car park, laughing, arms round each other’s shoulders.  One was Maxxie.  The two came chattering together in the direction of where Luc and Barry were sitting.


  The young king stopped abruptly as he reached them and unloosed his friend’s arm.  Ignoring Barry he gazed straight up at Luc.


  ‘Who are you looking at, insect?’ Luc snarled with a threatening, cynical smile.


  Barry was astonished.  Although only a small boy, Maxxie was entirely self-possessed when he replied, seeming rather older than his years.  ‘I don’t like you, but I might if you said sorry.’


  ‘What?’  Luc was taken aback.


  Les douleurs, la peine, je puis les éliminer, si vraiment tu t’en repentis.  Tu es las, enfant de Dieu.’  Then Maxxie skipped off after his friend, disappearing before either of the older boys could react.


  ‘What did he say?’ Barry demanded.


  But Luc just sat there, mouth agape, and did not reply.








  After school on Wednesday, Barry jumped in Marky’s car and they took off towards Bila Palacz.  As they drove open-topped through the city that Barry was beginning to love, he texted Todo that he couldn’t make it that night.  According to Damien’s calculations, although Luc and Todo might bluster and swear at Barry, it would be a while before they were ready to irrevocably dump him by outing him to his dad.  Damien thought that, if Barry played his cards right, he might have as much as a week’s grace.  ‘And then?’ Barry had asked, but Damien could only shake his head.


  ‘How long have you known Helen?’ Barry queried his new friend as the BMW idled at the lights on Lindenstrasse.


  ‘Oh, three years.  I arrived at SIS in Year 9.  It was a great relief, I may say.  I had previously been educated by the Jesuits at Glottenberh.  Very strict.  No humour, and I like to laugh.’  Marky flashed a grin at Barry from the driving seat.  His green eyes were sparkling and he was really cute, an opinion Barry realised he had best keep to himself.  He was feeling out and trying to establish the boundaries between himself and straight boys, however sympathetic.  Overt sexual comments might not go down too well.


  ‘And when did you and Helen become an … we say, item?’


  ‘Boyfriend and girlfriend?  Who says we are such?  We are very good friends, but we do not kiss and that sort of thing.  Helen is not looking for a relationship.’


  ‘But, I thought …’


  ‘It is true we like to give the impression we are more than friends, but that is to … er … take the pressure off ourselves in the school.  We are neither ready to commit, although we are both, as you say, chased a lot.  Excuse the vanity.  Of course Helen is the most gorgeous girl in the school, and is chased more than I.  But even with me, I had that Olga Massenovic making my life a misery in Year 10.’


  ‘Who’s she?’


  ‘She is not in your set I believe, though you must have seen her around – when she’s actually in school.  Imagine a tall, ugly clothes horse with bad hair and an invincible conviction that she is a sexy person.  You may be glad to be gay with Olga stalking the straight boys.’




  Marky’s BMW pulled across Festungstrasse and into the trees of the Bila Palacz city park.  Great lawns and stands of oak trees spread south of Lindenstrasse.  To the north the low hill of the Sixth District was covered with villas and executive homes.  Both Lance and Damien lived up there, on Fridricsgasse.


  Before they reached the Parlementplaz and the government quarter, Marky took a left turn on to a park road.  A policeman waved the car to a halt.  He saluted Marky but put out a gloved hand for Barry’s papers.  Barry had been warned, and had his British passport ready.


  After a thorough identity check and scrutiny, the BMW was allowed to pass.  The tree-lined alley led to a stuccoed villa set behind railings in the heart of the park.


  ‘This is the Chancellery,’ Marky announced.  ‘It was once a dower house of the old royal palace, which used to occupy the park until one of our revolutions, when it was burned down.  This has been the chancellor’s official residence since the time of Queen Flavia.’


  ‘Where did you live before your dad became chancellor?’


  ‘We have a fine old house in the countryside not very far from Glottenberh.  Have you been there?  A very historic city.  Perhaps we may go there together one day?  I hope so.  I like travelling with you.’


  Pulling up in a gravelled space in front of the house, Marky led Barry up the wide steps of a pillared portico.  Another state policeman at the door saluted, but did not check Barry’s papers.


  Inside was an entry hall with a grand staircase to the first floor.  Portraits of people Barry imagined to be Rothenian politicians and judges stared down from dark frames.  To his right he could see a large library through an open door.  Marky poked his head round the door jamb and called out, ‘Tatta?


  A tall, grey-haired man in shirt sleeves came out.  He smiled at his son and kissed him on the forehead.  He studied Barry with some curiosity before they shook hands.  This was Count Milo von Lauern, the CDP chancellor of Rothenia.  Barry was a little in awe of him, but the fact that he and his son were openly affectionate was a point in the man’s favour.


  ‘So you are the English boy of whom I have heard so much from Marek.  Welcome to our home.’


  ‘Er … thank you, sir.’


  ‘I am sorry not to have time to talk, but I am in the middle of a meeting.  I hope to see you at some later time.’  The chancellor gave a slight bow and withdrew.


  Barry was left with a very good impression of Rothenian politicians.  ‘Your dad’s a nice man,’ he observed to Marky as they went up the stairs to the Rothenian boy’s room.


  Marky smiled.  ‘I think so.  Of course, politicians have to be nice to get people to elect them.  Some seem nice but are not so.’


  Barry looked at him, puzzled.  ‘What do you mean?’


  Marky laughed.  ‘I meet a lot of politicians and I read a lot of history.  It is what I wish to study at the Rodolfer.  Where will you go to university?’


  Barry hadn’t thought that far ahead, though university was in fact less than two years away for him.  ‘I dunno.  Back home in Britain, I suppose.’


  ‘I am sorry,’ Marky said.  ‘Your friends will miss you very much.’


  The comment somehow pleased Barry deeply.








  Henry shouted up the stairs to Lance, ‘Baby!  Phone call for ya!’


  Lance came thumping down the stairs.  ‘Who’d ring me on our landline?  What’s wrong with my handij?’


  Henry gave a little smile.  ‘This caller might not think of that.’


  Lance took the receiver.  ‘Hello?’


  A high child’s voice answered, ‘Lance, it’s me!’


  ‘Er … who?’




  ‘Oh!  Hi, er … your majesty.’


  A giggle came from the other end of the line.  ‘Mummy said I could ring you.  Can you and Mattie and Daimey come for tea tomorrow after school?  It’s important, but I mustn’t say why.’


  ‘Wouldn’t miss it, Maxxie.  What’s it like being king?’


  ‘Oh … okay.  I don’t actually do anything, you know.  Mummy signs all the papers.  But there is the coronation … are you coming?’


  ‘I hope so, Maxxie.  It’ll be quite a show, and you’re the star.’


  ‘Good.  I’ll see you tomorrow, Lance.  Bye!’  Maxxie hung up.


  ‘Did you catch that, dad?’


  Henry smiled across the lounge at him.  ‘Most of it.  I have a feeling you guys will be at the cathedral in one capacity or another.’


  ‘What about you and Ed?’


  ‘Ed will be leading the Guards division in full dress.  It should be quite a sight.  I’ll be there with microphone in hand, interviewing the good people of Rothenia on the streets, I don’t doubt.’


  ‘I hope it doesn’t rain then.’


  ‘End of September in Strelzen?  I expect it’ll be sunny and bright.’


  ‘Take an umbrella, dad.  Er … can I talk with you?’


  ‘Course.  Come and sit here.’


  ‘Dad, Barry and I are … well …’


  ‘Doing it?  Yes, we’ve heard.  And I know you’re being careful.’


  Lance grinned.  ‘Counting condoms, are ya?’


  Henry took his son’s hand and squeezed it.  ‘We worry about you, baby.  But we think Barry’s special too.’


  ‘Okay, so I wanna sleep with him … tonight, all night.’


  Henry looked a little troubled.  ‘Do Barry’s parents know he’s gay?’


  ‘No.  He’s out at school, but he hasn’t got round to it at home – although he will, he insists.’


  ‘I’d like to say yes, but, baby, Barry’s parents have a right to know what he’s doing when he’s here.  I wouldn’t want to stop you from having sex with him, but if he’s to take up residence in your room, then he’s got to face up to who he is and make sure his parents know what they’re agreeing to on a sleepover.’


  Lance nodded.  ‘Okay, we’ll talk.  I gotta go and get him from Marky’s.  See ya later.’








  As Lance drove, Barry couldn’t stop himself form massaging his boyfriend’s crotch.  After that, it didn’t take him long to delve in and pull out Lance’s handsome dick to play with.


  ‘If I shoot all over the windscreen, you get to clean it up,’ Lance groaned as they turned up Fridricsgasse.


  ‘I’ll do it with my tongue,’ Barry growled in a low voice.  He was beginning to master flirting.  By the time Lance was parking on the apron in front of his house, Barry had taken him fully into his mouth.


  Lance hauled Barry off his penis by the hair.  The boy’s saliva left a thick silver thread hanging from his lips down to Lance’s member.  ‘God.  You get sexier every day, Bazza.  Save it for the bedroom.’


  Adjusting himself, Lance led the way upstairs, both boys pausing to greet Henry and Ed with a kiss.


  ‘Good time with Marky?’ Lance asked, as they divested themselves of shoes and socks to cuddle up on Lance’s bed.


 ‘Yeah!  He’s a mate.  Funny thing, though, his bedroom’s full of religious junk.  There’s a cross on the wall and a picture of some woman in blue staring down at him.’


  ‘It’s not so odd in Rothenia, Bazza.  This is a very Catholic country.  Kid’s bedrooms are full of devotional images.  You’ll see it a lot.  The SIS isn’t a religious school, but many of the Gymnos are.’


  ‘Oh … Marky said he’d gone to a Jesuit school.  What are Jesuits?’


  ‘You really don’t know?’


  ‘Me and religion are a total no-no.  Never been in a church and never intend to, it’s just superstitious bollocks.  Those bastards want people like me to burn in hell, and the Muslims would hack us to death, so what’s to like about religion?’


  Lance struggled to come to terms with what he was hearing, and failed.  How could he explain his own unusual position in the universe?  Barry would think he was mental.  The obstacles to his forming human relationships suddenly dawned on him with an awful clarity.  What was he to say?  Hey, Barry, that’s all bullshit because actually I’m an archangel living out a human life at God’s express command.  Not only does He exist, but He’s quite a nice entity when you get to know Him.  Oh shit!


  Necessity for further agonising was bypassed by Barry’s launching himself on Lance and wrestling him out of his clothes.  Once naked, Barry paused.  ‘Am I gonna do you, Lance?’


  Lance gave a mute nod, which appeared to indicate to Barry that his lover was a little uneasy at the idea of receiving his dick.


  ‘Luc managed it okay,’ he reassured.  ‘Get on your tummy and I’ll use the lube to open you up.’


  Lance complied.  Suddenly he raised himself off the bed when, for the first time in his life, something penetrated and squirmed about in his backside.  It was a shock, even though it was only Barry’s index finger.


  ‘Okay?  You’re very tight.  Don’t worry, I’ll take my time,’ Barry soothed.  He worked away industriously and Lance began to relax, though the insertion of a second finger renewed his unease.  Barry removed his digits with a squelch and Lance heard a sniff.  ‘Well, that part of ya doesn’t smell nice.  It’s a bit messy up there.’


  ‘Sorry, should I have a crap?’


  ‘Nah, don’t worry.  It’s sexy in a squalid sort of way.’


  Lance was not reassured by that comment, despite realising that anal sex must inevitably involve contact with one of the human body’s waste products at some point.


  As Barry got cheerily back to work, it gradually registered with Lance that his boyfriend was very much into fucking him, whereas he was increasingly less keen on the idea of being fucked.  But he gritted his teeth and took it like a man.  He was determined to be a generous lover.


  At last, Barry pulled out his fingers from Lance’s rear and straddled him.  ‘Baby, I’m so hard and heavy, I’m gonna put it in you now … I love you, Lance.  Push your arse up for me.’


  A long time later, they gave up.  ‘Can’t keep it up any more, Lance, I’m sorry.’


  ‘No, it’s me.  I let you do all the work.  I should have done something to open myself up.  I couldn’t ask my dads, though.  Weird, innit?  You’d think that having gay parents would make it easier to talk about stuff, but it isn’t.  Now I guess the time’s come to just do it.  I’ll have to talk it through with Henry … he’s the bottom of the pair – as you may have guessed.  He’s the expert on anal in this house.’


  Barry lay alongside Lance, face-to-face, stroking his flanks and butt.  ‘To me you seem very lucky.  I really dunno how it’s gonna go down when I come out at home.  I think my mother will be okay, but I worry about my dad.  He’s always on to me about girlfriends.  They have no idea what’s coming.  How did you manage it?’


  ‘Oddly enough it took me a long time to tell my dads, and it was pretty embarrassing when I did.  I was twelve.  I’m sure they’d guessed anyway, and they were great – maybe even delighted – when I told them.  Still, I have some idea what it’s like for you.  When will you do it?’


  Barry sighed.  ‘Soon, I think.  They may need a while to get used to the idea of a gay son, and like you, I’m the only kid.  Time to go, baby.’


  After the two boys hugged and kissed, Lance went looking for his car keys.








  It was no longer necessary to ferry Lance and his mates around, as their parents observed with some relief. They now had wheels of their own.  Somehow it always happened that Damien took the front seat of the Audi. Mattie thus got landed in the back, which fortunately he didn’t seem to resent very much.


  ‘Okay, Lance.  Me dad said yer goes down Brückestrasse and turn in the back, through that old yard.  They woan let yer in the front gates.  There!  That’s the turn.’  Damien was something of a backseat driver.  Lance just smiled.  They had headed up to the Residenz immediately after school, responding to Maxxie’s invitation to tea.


  The boys knew the palace well enough to find their way past security to the domestic quarters.  Maxxie and his little brother were waiting excitedly at the head of the stairs.  Damien picked up Prince Leo, who began babbling away at him, ten to the dozen.  Maxxie took Mattie’s and Lance’s hands and guided the teenagers into the lounge.  They found that Tommy was present but no other adult.  Maxxie had clearly made arrangements, and directed his big friends to particular seats round the table.  With a grin he took the head.


  ‘Okay, Maxxie mate, whass all this about?’ Damien inquired.


  ‘I’m the king now,’ Maxxie answered, ‘and my mummy said I have to have a household.’  The youngster seemed to relish the word.  ‘And when I’m crowned, I need to have … what do I need to have, Tommy?’


  ‘Esquires of the Presence, your majesty,’ Tommy supplied.


  ‘Yeah.  Anyway.  I need four esquires, and so I thought you guys would like to be them!  Isn’t that great?  You’ll have a really smart uniform and get to carry things for me!  And you’ll be there with me in the cathedral.  It’s a sort of gang.’


  Tommy added, ‘And the added benefit is that when you turn eighteen, you’re automatically upgraded to be Gentlemen of the Chamber.  No extra charge.’


  The teenagers looked at each other, and as usual, it was Damien who expressed their intention.  ‘Sure, Maxxie, we’d love to be there wiv yer.  But yer needs another one.’


  ‘I’ve thought of that.  Tommy, can you tell mummy we’re ready?’  Tommy bowed and opened the doors to the grand staircase.  The king skipped ahead of them down to the state rooms along the palace front.  As he got to the Salle des Armes, guardsmen opened the great doors and the roll of drums sounded from within.  Queen Harriet was waiting and the king ran up to her.  She handed him over to a nanny and picked up Leo.


  She addressed Lance and his friends.  ‘This is Maxxie’s first public engagement, so he needs to get properly dressed.  We’re reusing the costume he had for my mother’s wedding.  If you boys will go through with Tommy, he’ll find you seats.’


  The royal presence chamber was crowded, with several lines of chairs laid out before the dais.  Many were already occupied by men and women in suits.  Photographers were gathered at the back of the room, while troopers of the Life Guards stood along both sides of the throne, swords drawn.  A light orchestra was playing in the anteroom.


  ‘Yer know what’s going on, Lance?’ Damien asked out of the corner of his mouth.


  ‘I think I do.  The new US ambassador is due to present her credentials today.  Maxxie particularly asked to be allowed to receive them.’


  Eventually the drums rolled again, and all stood.  The boy king led the royal party in, hand-in-hand with his mother.  At the foot of the dais he let her go and mounted by himself to the throne of Rothenia.  With innate dignity, the boy turned and stood in front of the great chair.  Strangely, he did not seem small or alone there.  The lights shone on his golden head and glittered off the braid of his white uniform.  The national anthem played, at the conclusion of which a fanfare was sounded.  The palace’s chef de protocole called out, ‘The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America, Her Excellency, Ms Marcia Mayer.’


  The boys turned to see the very familiar sight of Ms Mayer in long black dress carrying an unfamiliar handbag.  She was escorted by the chief herald of Rothenia and by Ed Cornish, in the full dress of a Rothenian general, plumed helmet on his head.  Several footmen paced beside the party.


  At the rear of the group were the bulky figure of Esther, her partner, and someone Lance knew he should recognise, but for a moment could not.  Accompanying Esther was well-grown teenager, dressed in immaculate white tie.  Ash-blond hair framed a handsome pale face.  His twinkling grey eyes were darting round the room and when they fixed on his friends, he shot them a heart-melting grin.  It was that which finally told Lance he was seeing Reggie Mayer for the first time in four years, a Reggie who was no longer the skinny little nerd he once had been.