Andreas Wittig was impatient to get back to his regiment, but was riveted to his seat next to the window by the glare he was getting from Willi von Strelsau. ‘Can I go now, my lord?Please.’
‘Sit still, boy.You have no idea how important this is, and I must get it finished and in the post before we head off down to the river.The etcher in Strelsau needs to have it.’Willi returned to his sketch book, pressing his lips together as he carefully and skilfully completed in ink a half-face line portrait of Ensign Andreas Wittig, hero of Basovizza, which would adorn the official account of the victory.The church clock of Wendel struck nine in the morning before Andreas was given leave to depart, which he did with barely a thank you, the spurs on his boots jingling as he clattered down the stairs of Willi’s lodging.
Serge wandered over.‘My, that’s Andreas to the life,’ he commented. ‘Y’know, I think I’ll have the boy’s oil portrait done when we get back home.In fact a double one of him and Karl would be perfect for the parlour.Never were there such friends as that pair.’
‘Good idea, darling.I know one or two up-and-coming Strelsau studios which’ll do a good job.We can get one of us two done as well, singly and together.You can pose in your splendour as the god Phoebus Apollo, wearing nothing but a laurel wreath and carrying a lyre.How would you like that?’
Serge kissed him and assured him he’d like it very much.Willi quickly inserted the portrait sketch into the packet he’d already prepared and called down for the new boy, Jonas.It would go in the king’s own postbag to the royal printers and be the front plate in the bulletin Serge had composed at Prince Henry’s command for placarding around Strelsau and the other Ruritanian cities.The heading read: In laude armorum Rotheniensium! The Glorious Victory of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince in the Fields before Trieste – The Capture of the Pasha Mehmed and the Heroism of General Tedorovic – Vast Booty taken by His Royal Highness – The Order of the Dragon of Mittenheim proclaimed – Great Honour done in Vienna by the Emperor to Our Prince.
The page Jonas padded up the stairs, still barefoot, and nervously tapped on the door.Serge told him kindly to come in.‘Take this down to the post office in the Radhaus, child.No money needed, it’s franked by His Excellency the Lord Chamberlain of Mittenheim and Count of Strelsau.’
‘That’s me!’ Willi grinned merrily at Jonas. ‘Where’re your shoes and stockings, boy?’
‘Not got any, your honour,’ the boy replied, blinking and a little confused, as it seemed.
‘We’d better do something about that before we get back to Engelngasse,’ Serge mused.‘I think Karl or Andreas’s old livery will fit you, if they’ve not given the jackets and waistcoats away to the Conduit children, as they tend to do with anything around the house that’s not screwed down.’
‘Don’t want to be no trouble, your honours,’ Jonas insisted.
‘No trouble, child.Now off you go.Make sure the inn downstairs gives you a decent breakfast.’
Willi stared after Jonas and commented ‘Y’know, that boy is much too pretty to be human.Females would die to have just a tithe of his looks.And he used to be a Conduit urchin?We really must do something about that place, and now I’m a proprietor of a good part of the Altstadt, I very well might.’
‘It was quite a day for you yesterday, wasn’t it Willi?’
‘I should say so.Me, the Lord Count of Strelsau and an Elphberg.But though very welcome it was not the most stunning thing.Uncle Kronos turns out not to have hated me after all, rather he was gloomy with remorse every time I sashayed into view. And he was proud of me, maybe not anywhere near as much as he is of Zeus, but still he approved of me.Perhaps it was my enthusiasm for wigs, something we share.I was so stunned with the realisation I quite forgot to demand of him what he did with my mother, that and why ...’Willi’s verbal rambling tailed off as he seemed to be struck by some sudden thought.He sat blank-faced for a moment, then abruptly swore. ‘Oh fuck!Of course, my mother!’
‘You alright, Jonas?’ Karl looked down a little anxiously at his supernatural friend trotting alongside him as they joined the crowds from the town heading down to the river Radeln.The elf boy was very preoccupied.
‘It’s the noise.Comes at me from all directions, and talking to mortals.I was scared to open my mouth when Lord Serge called me up for an errand in case I said something wrong and I got in trouble.And adults are big and I’m so small in this body.’
Karl chuckled. ‘There you are.That’s what being a real boy is like.Now yer knows.Yer’ll get used to it.We all does.Then we grows up.When we’ve seen the show down by the river, let’s go and visit Brunhild.She knows yer around and I think she wants her wings back.’
Eventually they reached the river meadows of Wendel where a great enclosure was marked off by ropes and kept by soldiers of the Royal Foot Guards.Within was erected one of the large Turkish tents looted from the camp before Trieste, at which the locals were marvelling.Court musicians dressed up in silks, janissary caps and turbans were playing what passed for a Turkish march, including making good use of two captured Schellenbäume, the tall jingling percussion instruments on a pole used by their janissary bands.
Two dismounted Leibgarde companies, swords drawn, lined the way to a jetty built specially for the occasion to accommodate the royal barge, brought down from Strelsau to transport the court of Ruritania out to an islet in the middle of the stream of the Radeln on which the king and the duke of Glottenburg would formally meet under another, larger Turkish tent of meeting.The duke’s rather smaller barge was drawn up on the Glottenburg bank, awaiting the signal to cast off for the island so the meeting could commence.
‘Hey Jonas!Look!It’s our Boro.He’s in command.’
There indeed was young Captain Boromeo von Tarlenheim, serious-faced and looking sternly ahead.He had not been so collected the previous evening when Wilchin had collared him and dragged him along to meet Jonas, who was holding court for the Conduit boys, perched on top of a barrel in an empty yard behind the inn.But he had seemed pleased enough to see the elf, despite the fright he had got from him in their earlier meeting at Tarlenheim.He listened intently to what Karl had to say and seemed amenable to a big conference with all the interested parties when the court returned to Strelsau and everybody was back in the city.
‘Where’s Wilchin?’ Karl asked.
Jonas pondered a moment, then said ‘Scoffing his head off at one of the stalls in the town market place.He’d better not pay the owner in elf money or I’ll be displeased with him.I told him if he uses his powers to cheat people, he’ll lose them.That worried him.’
‘What’s “elf money”?’
‘Oh, it’s a trick Wilchin says he got from old stories.He makes people think he’s given them a handful of coins, way over what the goods are worth.Then when he’s gone and they look again the gold isn’t there.Teaches the greedy people not to cheat, he says.’
‘That’s Wilchin alright,’ Karl observed. ‘And if you’ve tried to survive as a Conduit kid yer can see his point.’
‘Yes, but the problem for Wilchin is when the stall-holder is honest and refuses to overcharge him.He’s got nothing to pay them with and to honour them for their honesty.’
‘Ah.Sees what yer mean.’
There was a pause in the music from the royal enclosure, and then a fanfare.Led by chamberlains and guards officers the court of Ruritania and the Elphberg royal family began a stately walk to the jetty to embark on the barge for the short voyage to the island, the queen hand in hand with the king, preceded by Dodie hand in hand with Prince Henry.The sixty royal watermen in Elphberg green raised their white oars high, and others prepared to cast off the mooring ropes.The crowd cheered their king and prince as they embarked, with many in the crowd acclaiming the princess royal, popular amongst her people, who were sorry to see her leave the realm.
To polite applause from the courts of Ruritania and Glottenburg, Princess Dorothea Sophia made a low curtsey to Prince Willem Stanislas, who raised her and kissed her hand.She blushed, her eyes downcast modestly.The prince then led her to his father, seated on a throne opposite that of King Rudolf.The duke stood, kissed the girl on either cheek and sat her on a chair to his left, while Staszek took a chair to the duke’s right.
The chief heralds of Ruritania and Glottenburg in their state tabards stepped forward and proclaimed the formal betrothal, following which the Lords Chancellor of the realms exchanged the signed and sealed indentures of the marriage settlement.
‘Doesn’t Dodie look lovely,’ Willi sighed. ‘I chose the dress. White and gold damask looks so good with her red hair.’ He sniffled. ‘I’ll miss her so.The Marmorpalast will be tedious without her.’
‘It’s time you both moved on.She’s well on her way to falling in love with Staszek.’
Willi snorted. ‘More lust than love, believe me.You should see their private letters.I thought I had a torrid sexual imagination.The things they talk of doing to each other gave me the horn.I mean, me!’
‘She showed you their correspondence!’
‘She wanted to check the classical allusions he was using, the dirty boy.I blame your grandfather.Someone must have opened Staszek’s eyes to the potential for very kinky pornography in Greek mythology.He drew pictures for her.I worry about the lad.He must be wanking himself into a stupor these days.Oh, and Rica’s pregnant.’
‘What!’ Serge exploded.
‘Over three months gone, and all progressing well.Henry whispered it to me last night.He didn’t say not to tell you.So I’m spreading it around delicately.Best that people of our court know, I think.She’ll be retiring from Strelsau to Mittenheim once it begins showing.Henry’s new ducal palace there is nearly complete, and I have a feeling we’ll all be off beyond the Ebrendt fairly soon.And Henry’s being weird about it in ways I can’t put my finger on.’
Serge frowned as he digested the news. ‘I’ll bet the king already knew about the child.That’s why he offered Henry a settlement on her and her children.That man’s intelligence network is good.Any more news about the Duc de Meulan’s conspiracy?’
‘Hush, darling.Later.And here’s your dear old grandfather.I’ll bet he knows about Rica too.’
The Baron of Olmusch came over to Serge and Willi, beaming.He first congratulated Willi on his elevation and then Serge on his military prowess.
‘Ah sir,’ his grandson said, ‘congratulate me on surviving Basovizza, because that’s all I did.Many good fellows could not say that.’
‘Really?Tedorovic says otherwise, that you prevented the Turkish pasha’s onset on his right.’
‘Oh, just fortuitous, sir.Being in the wrong place at the right time.I was lucky not to fall to the blade of Mehmed Pasha himself, who’s a bit above my class of swordsmanship.I can still see the cheerful grin under his helmet visor as he realised he was about to run me through.’
‘Only to be thwarted by your servant boy, the brave lad.I hope he’s gained his reward.’
‘He has the ransom, which’ll make him independently wealthy, not to mention his share of the pasha’s treasure taken in the siege camp.He’s worth a thousand of me, but his grip on mathematics is not enough to bring it home to him.We’re still working on his reading.He’d rather be drilling with his regiment, where Colonel Barkozy tells me he’s adored even by the most hardened and cynical of troopers.The boy’s a born soldier and the Prinzengarde reckons he’ll bring them luck.He’ll be a lieutenant with a half-company as soon as he reaches fifteen.’
The old man shook his head with a smile before continuing. ‘Was it you or Prince Henry who suggested honouring Tedorovic with the first investiture to the Order of the Dragon?A very politic move.It went down well in Glottenburg.It acknowledged the duchy’s contribution to the victory of the League and bought a lot of goodwill, as you can see from the smiles at today’s event.’
‘It was a decision of the prince’s council, sir.I can take only that much credit.’
‘However, it was well done.It gives me a high idea of Prince Henry’s political abilities and hope for the future.Relations between kingdom and duchy can only improve further now Staszek will be the king’s son-in-law.That said, perhaps you can go over to your grandmother and reassure her about the state of your right arm.She was extremely worried at the reports from Trieste.Then boys, we will go and find a place at the luncheon table.I’ll be most interested in all your news. I hear you got to see old Valvasor in Laibach.How is he?’
In the afternoon of the last day of May 1692 a small and tired cavalcade toiled up the Domstrasse of the Altstadt of Strelsau.Leading the way was Andreas Wittig on Orcus, very keen to be home, a determination Orcus had picked up on and was matching.Willi had peeled off at the Sudmesten to head for his den in the Marmorpalast, aiming to catch up on a lot of missed sleep and then to get stuck into his plan for restructuring his cousin’s household, which had to be presented to the prince within three days. ‘The work of a Lord Chamberlain is never done,’ he moaned, to no one’s sympathy at all.
Behind Serge rode Karl on Acheron and, by his side, little Jonas the page on Brunhild.Serge was astonished how the mare, usually so jealous of Karl’s attention, was quite happy to carry the child.Bringing up the rear was Mehmed on a cavalry hack he’d been lent.He had become more and more taciturn the deeper into Ruritania the journey had taken him, reflecting perhaps a growing realisation of his circumstances as his characteristic bravado became exhausted.
The rattle of hooves under the arch of the Sign of the Angel brought its little household out into the yard, led by a beaming Jan Lisku.They stared curiously at the Turkish boy at the rear of the cavalcade, notice of whose arrival had been given.One new face appeared among those more familiar: a pretty and willowy blond youth wearing the red livery of the household.
After he hugged Jan Lisku, Serge observed ‘I see young Master Hans Blicke has leaped at the opportunity of exchanging a lowly menial post at the Hofburg for a much better paid post as second groom to the Freiherr of Olmusch.’
Jan frowned. ‘From what I understood from my lord Strelsau’s letter, it wasn’t so much the money or the promotion as the ... er ... other possibilities the post might offer.’
Hans was gazing awestruck at the handsome young pasha, who was returning the gaze with interest.In the meantime Andreas and Karl were busy exchanging hugs and kisses with Margrit and Cecile, and even offered hands to Gottlieb to shake.
‘Now then,’ Mistress Margrit pronounced. ‘Who’s this pretty young fellow?Shall I check him for nits and worms, sir?’ she asked Serge, nodding at an appalled Jonas.
‘I think he’s fine, mistress,’ Serge grinned, catching the boy’s expression. ‘But he’ll need a bath and a good scrubbing after the road.In fact, boil up the vat.We all need hot water and towels badly I think.Oh, it is so good to be home and among friends!Spend what you need for the table this weekend, Margrit.We deserve a big dinner tonight, and of course do not forget that Ensign Wittig now eats with myself and Master Jan, as well as his excellency, our Turkish guest.’
‘No meat of the pig, good woman,’ Mehmed declared, then, catching Serge’s glare, added, ‘if you so please, of course.’
Serge turned to Gottlieb. ‘Master Gottlieb. Alas, we return without Jennet, which is a sad loss.But I’m glad to see the new stables are in commission.A splendid job on your part.I hope you’ve stocked up on forage.Master Lisku tells me that Ensign Wittig’s two new black stallions will arrive on Monday to complete his outfitting as a Prinzengarde officer, and he will of course continue to ride Orcus.I must think of a new stallion myself.
‘The pasha may continue on his hack for now, unless his local agent liberates some funds for a new purchase.The two pack mares will do fine as road horses but we need a second lead mare.You’ll consult with Karl on that purchase, which we can do locally rather than send to Strelfurt.Just as well we now dispose of a dozen stalls in your fine new stable.And young Jonas can sleep in a bed up in the stable loft chambers.Excellent.
‘Finally Karl, you’d better take Jonas across to the tailors once he’s been scrubbed and get linen, stockings and two full sets of page’s livery for him if we can’t lay our hands on any old ones that fit.Then take him down Schustergasse and fit him for shoes and riding boots, and while you’re at it, order for yourself two new livery coats fit for a first groom, which I believe requires gold lace.The old ones can be retired to the presses till Jonas grows into them.’
On his first Monday back in Strelsau, a hot morning under a clear blue sky, Serge took a walk down to the Neustadt and Judengasse.He was relieved to be out of the saddle and out of uniform.Alongside him walked Andreas, also no longer in military gear but in clothes Jan Lisku had got ready for him. For the first time he was dressed as a young gentleman, looking very handsome if not necessarily comfortable.As he walked he held a tight grip on the hilt of his new rapier, slung from its rich baldric.
Andreas assiduously copied Serge as he doffed his hat to priests and ladies of quality they passed in the street, fastidiously brushing the knees of his plush breeches after they had genuflected to a passing procession of the holy sacrament, borne high in a monstrance by a priest attended by crucifer and acolytes as it made its way along the busy Herrengasse to a deathbed where it was required.
Herr Simon seemed delighted to see Serge, which could not have been because he was a particularly profitable client. Serge was all too aware that the funds he had in deposit with the gentleman were not as ample as he might have wished, as a late night interview with Jan Lisku had gloomily informed him.His campaign had brought expense rather than profit, and his household was beginning to grow beyond his capacity to finance it.But he was not there for his own sake so much as Andreas’s.
‘So this is the young officer who captured the Terror of the Adriatic?Good morning, young sir.You are even more handsome than the picture in the placarded bulletin hinted.It is a pleasure to meet a youth who is bringing me so much business in one way or another.My lord Serge, I believe you have documents for me from the Court of Chancery?I need to see copies before we can go further.’
Serge produced the affidavits and letters of instruction that a royal messenger had delivered to Engelngasse.They announced that Master Andreas Wittig was a ward of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince and gave authority as the prince’s legal deputy to Sergius, Freiherr von Tarlenheim-Olmusch, to order his ward’s affairs and draw funds for the boy’s support.Herr Simon browsed the documents and pronounced them in order.
He looked kindly at Andreas. ‘Now, my dear young fellow.I can as yet only give you a general idea of how wealthy you may eventually be, but a letter of credit from the quartermaster general’s office names your share of the value of the pasha’s personal treasury taken at Trieste as 1,000 Venetian ducats, which I have no doubt will happily finance your career as an officer till you’re a full grown man.
‘However, it is the ransom due for the Pasha Mehmed that is the main thing.It has been named by His Royal Highness at 150,000 gold ducats, and deducting for fees and expenses and so on, I expect you’ll receive all but 1,000 ducats of the sum if all goes well.I have just had letters from the House of Mendes in Constantinople telling me that my friends there believe Köprülüzade Numan Pasha will undertake the payment for his brother in instalments, to be completed over the course of eighteen months.I rather think this will be drawn largely from the profits of the pillage of Istria and Venetian Dalmatia, much of which has managed to find its way to Köprülü despite our prince’s best efforts.
‘Speaking as one of my age and background, young sir, I would recommend that you therefore consider devoting a certain proportion of the sum in works of charity.It would please the Lord God and clear any feeling of conscience involved in receiving it.But let it be as you wish.’
Andreas stared blankly at the floor, before looking up and asking Serge ‘Is it a lot, sir?’
Serge took the boy’s hand and squeezed it. ‘More than you could ever possibly need, Andreas dear.’He turned to Herr Simon. ‘When are the first payments likely to be made, sir?I ask not so much for Andreas’s sake, as my own.I would like the damnable man out of my house as soon as possible.’
The old man laughed. ‘I can understand that, my lord.But you can at least have the satisfaction of billing the Köprülü family through the House of Mendes for his daily expenses.You are fully justified in charging him a commercial rent for his room and service.I will take pleasure in receiving itemised bills monthly from Herr Lisku and sending them on to Constantinople.I fear however that we will be engaged in the business of the Pasha Mehmed till at least a year next Christmas and the Turk and yourself will have to come to some sort of arrangement in the meantime.Now for the time being that concludes Master Wittig’s business, other than that you may of course from today bill me for all his expenses in dress, military equipment, horses and servants.Food too if you wish.Herr Lisku will deal with all that no doubt.But before you go, I would appreciate a quiet word, if the ensign will excuse us for some minutes.’
Andreas civilly thanked Herr Simon, with all the natural courtesy that the boy possessed, and said he’d wait in the street.The old man waited till he had left and looked serious.‘My lord, I’d like to bring up the subject of your brother.’
Serge was surprised. ‘Hmm, sir?I understood that Boromeo was being an exemplary young officer of the Leibgarde, attending to his duties, living cheaply in the Arsenal Barracks and keeping away from the card tables.’
‘All this may be true, but it’s your father who concerns me.Now I had understood that the Freiherr Boromeo was in your charge and that it was you who were to be consulted on the disposal of the large sum lodged here in consideration of the prize money he earned from the action at Sebenico.’
‘So had I, Herr Simon.He was summarily dumped on my house in Strelsau by our father after relations between the two broke down.I’ve subsequently made all the arrangements for him and have maintained him for the best part of a year at my own cost, until his bravery and presence of mind made that unnecessary.His salary as a senior officer of the Leibgarde should be enough to cover what a youth of his age might want to spend.’
‘And all this may also be true, sir.But you are clearly unaware that your uncle, the Graf Sergius, has decided that the family fortunes have so improved that the time is ripe to reopen the Tarlenheim house on the Radhaus Platz of the Neustadt.Your father and mother are soon to arrive in the city to begin the renovation and redecoration of the residence on Graf Sergius’s behalf.I received a letter this morning dated from Tarlenheim demanding an account of the Lord Boromeo’s finances and a brusque order that the balance was to be conveyed to him in a letter of credit.’
Serge stared.There was something very wrong here, the problem being that with Boro still only fourteen and Serge having no care of him other than by default, he could not see that he had any legal standing to resist it.Prince Henry or even the King might be persuaded to intervene, but that should not be a first resort.Finally he sighed and asked ‘My dear Herr Simon, do you know of any notary or attorney I might consult on the lord Boromeo’s rights over his own fortune until he comes of age on his sixteenth birthday?’
Karl Wollherz sank back with great relief into the daily life of Engelngasse.Chatting with Margrit and Cecile; brushing down and tending to Brunhild, who had returned to her stall in the old barn; discussing the business of the house with Jan Lisku and tending to his master’s daily needs were deeply comforting activities, he discovered.
Of course there were new things to deal with, though strangely Jonas did not turn out to be as much a problem as he had feared.The elf boy was happy living over the stable, which allowed him to appear or disappear at will as it suited him since he was not under scrutiny in the main house.Karl suspected he vanished from Strelsau when the house went to bed, as he needed neither sleep nor food.Jonas inherited Andreas’s cleaning and polishing duties round the house, and after a brief argument about why magicking dirt and dust away was bound to arouse suspicion he buckled down to the grind.The main problem was fooling Margrit that he was actually eating her cooking.Karl suspected he was using his elven skills to dupe the poor woman that she was seeing him eat in the kitchen, when in fact he was not.
Karl found the new second groom very puzzling.Hans Blicke was sixteen and seemed a very mild and amenable youth.Jan Lisku had made him responsible for the needs of their Turkish guest, and Karl was beginning to learn that the nature of those needs was rather beyond his experience, though Jonas just giggled when he brought up the subject.The elf had, he said, met similar boys over the years.Karl and Jonas spent some time that Monday afternoon listening through the parlour wall to what was going on in the pasha’s bedroom and muffling their mouths to stop their giggling being heard.Karl and Andreas discussed it in bed that night after first exploring the subject of Andreas’s new wealth.
‘He calls Hans names so bad it’s funny,’ Karl said. ‘I mean “Dog of an unbeliever” you’d sort of expect but then he told Hans to bark as he beat him on the bum for doing something he decided was wrong.You could hear the crack of the stick on his breeches.Thing is Hans didn’t seem to think he was being punished.’ Karl sat up in bed and did a rather good impersonation of Hans’s somewhat effete tones. ‘He did a little bark and then cried out “Oh thank you lord!Thank you!I’m so naughty.Hit me harder, master!”Then Mehmed stripped him of his clothes, beat him some more and called him a disgusting beast for piddling on the floor while being smacked on his bum.Then it went quiet till we heard Hans grunting and squealing happily as Mehmed fucked him.It went on for ages.’
Andreas was snorting with laughter. ‘I suppose you had to mention it to Hans.’
‘Well yes.I had to know he was alright, didn’t I.He didn’t seem bothered to be asked.He said that he really liked what the Turk was doing to him and not to worry about him, however noisy he got.He’d do it for free but the nice pasha promised to pay him extra over his salary.And could he sleep tied up on the pasha’s floor, please.’
‘What, like a dog?’
‘I said no.He had jobs to do around the house and his ... er ... fun with the Turk was on his own time.Then he made me laugh. “Oh Master Wollherz!” he said. “Will you beat me hard if I forget myself?”He gave me a pretty grin.I think I quite like Hans.O’course, Lord Strelsau knew all about him and his peculiarities, which is why he had us hire him.I don’t think any ordinary servant could put up wiv that Mehmed.’
Karl relaxed back into bed.Andreas turned to him, propped on one elbow and pulled back the bedclothes.‘I got the horn and so has yer, Karlo.Yer getting bigger in the dick.Wanna do the usual before we sleep?’
Without waiting for any consent, he rolled on top of Karl and began rubbing his erection against the younger boy’s.Both had learned how to mesh their groins together, skilfully sliding around as their cocks blurted out their fluids and soaked their crotches, running over the balls and thighs of the boy on the bottom, who was usually Karl.This time however Karl fixed his eyes on Andreas’s and as his passion boiled he quickly raised his legs and drew them back to his chest.He grabbed his friend’s erection and placed it at his presented anus.Andreas without hesitation thrust hard and, with very little resistance, Karl took him in.
Karl held Andreas tightly as he entered him and whispered in his ear in Hans’s voice ‘Ooh master, punish me.I’m so naughty.’
They broke off for a moment and stared in each other’s eyes.Then with a laugh Andreas determinedly thrust back into Karl, kissing him long and hard as he did.And so in the kisses of a lover and the heaving of their joined bodies Karl Wollherz learned the joy of making love with another human being, a youth to whom he was devoted.He fell asleep with Andreas still large inside him and woke happily in the boy’s embrace as the morning sun entered their garret room.
Serge had a lot on his mind as he sought out Willi von Strelsau at the Turk’s Head Coffee House on the Tuesday morning.But he was there to discuss Willi’s plans to reorganise the prince’s household.
Willi sipped the brew of the day and held forth. ‘Our Crusade seems to have done the trick.The country now expects Zeus to be his own man, and that means I can present him as a king in waiting.So he’ll have chancellor, chamberlain (that’s me of course) and marshal (that’s you).I thought the good Father Heer for Chancellor, what do you think?’
‘I think you need someone with legal training, Willi.Father Heer would be a good dean of his chapel.Is he having a chapel?’
‘Ah, if we just had the money: gorgeous solemn masses, magnificent chasubles and copes, choirs and orchestras.But only Uncle Rudolf has the resources for that, so no.But the main thing is we no longer just have the domestic Bedchamber and Backstairs, but the prince’s Great Chamber too.The Great Chamber isn’t stuck with doing those dreary lever and coucher ceremonies, so no more sleeping on the carpet of the Hofburg and Marmorpalast for us.The offices of state are in the Great Chamber, and its posts do proper jobs with nice titles and even nicer salaries, which His Majesty has authorised.
‘You, my dear, will cease being First Groom of the prince’s Bedchamber as soon as my scheme’s signed off by Zeus.Then you’ll officially become Marshal of Mittenheim and Second Lord of the Great Chamber of His Royal Highness.You’ll have all the military and security of the household in your hands and – get this – your army career is going ever upward, because to match your status, and unlike your Uncle Sergius in the royal household, you’ll be gazetted as brigadier general in the army of Ruritania as a working post in the establishment.You’ll have the Constable of the palace, the Mittenheim guard regiments and under-marshals galore answering to you.And your salaries as Second Lord and brigadier, my dear, will solve all your present problems.If you decide to do what your uncle does and auction off the posts and army commissions now in your gift, you’ll be more than comfortable.’
Serge let out a deep breath. ‘I won’t say the cash won’t be welcome the way things are.The Marshalcy of Ruritania’s been one of the things that’s helped get my family out of our difficulties, though I don’t approve of what my uncle did in auctioning off a ten year lease on the work, income and fees to a Marshal Delegate.The Marshalcy of Mittenheim will be a proper working office and act as the military secretariat of our most warlike lord, Prince Henry the Lion.’
‘Excellent, Phoebus.I can see your campaign on the Turkish marches got that tidy and efficient mind of yours at work on how armies can more properly function.Henry will be very pleased.I’m suggesting he also allows you to set up a bureau to collect intelligence.There is to be a very secret meeting between us three under the guise of a hawking expedition in the Wenzlerwald at the weekend.Are you up for it?’
Serge nodded, then gave Willi a sharp look. ‘And what about your own scheme?You still think your mother is being held in Ober Husbrau.’
‘It makes sense, darling.Old Kronos won’t let me near the province, and it explains so much.It’s the province most loyal to the Elphbergs in all the realm.And though your grandfather the wizard wasn’t welcome at court in his later days, he and the king were quite close as youngsters and your Count Oskar stood by him over the scandal with my parents.For his part, my uncle did protect Oskar from arrest and investigation over some of the wilder charges laid against him.I think maybe they owed each other.And if there’s one place where my mother might be, it’s in the royal abbey of Medeln, where Count Oskar’s daughter still rules.She was appointed abbess by King Rudolf over the heads of more senior nuns within weeks of the old abbess’s death.Suspicion points there.And in due course there I will go, with your help Phoebus.And I won’t ask Kronos’s permission first.’