‘Smells a bit like an old church,’ Gilles observed.
‘Yes indeed, minheer Gilles,’ agreed Erwin Wenzel, who had materialised out of the labyrinthine passages to the rear of the old house.
Felix whispered something in his boyfriend’s ear, which got them both snorting and giggling.
‘Let me guess,’ Ruprecht observed, ‘it was a comment about how kinky it would be to do it in a church.’
‘How did you know?’ replied Felix, eyebrows raised.
‘It’s a common fantasy amongst perverted teenagers of both persuasions. Right then, Erwin my lad, brief us on the worst.’
‘Well minheer, you’ll have noticed the smell, which has as much to do with blue rot in the old timbers as bad drains, I would guess. The roof is apparently sound, though quite a few windows are broken on the dormer floor. There is no water closet, so you’ll have to use the one earth closet out the back or chamber pots in the rooms. The kitchen was last renovated sometime in the seventh century, I’d guess. The bedrooms are dusty and the bedclothes very musty, though I and the caretaker have at least got your chambers aired and warmed. Lighting a fire in the young masters’ chamber started a chimney fire and upset a flock of razorbills nesting in the stack.’
‘Will it be possible to eat?’
‘The cook you brought from the palace says she’s up to the challenge, and seems to know something about wood-fired ranges. There’s plenty of cut logs at least, and she brought boxes of food and drink. She was quite enthusiastic about baking bread in the old hearth oven. She says it quite reminds her of her grandmother’s kitchen.’
‘Not all bad news then.’
‘Could you direct the young gentlemen to their room, Wenzel. Did the packages arrives for minheer Gilles?’
‘Indeed, minheer Graf. I took the liberty of laying out a suit for the minheer Jonker. I’ve managed to find ancient presses to hang the rest in. It will be a challenge to find space for His Serene and Most Excellent Highness’s clothes in their chamber. I suggest we use an adjacent bedroom for their dressing room. I’ve set the chamber pots there. There is a communicating door.’
‘Hear that, Gillot? No pooing in our bedroom!’
Gilles rolled his eyes, then took Felix’s hand and they clattered up the stairs to the first floor and their apartment, shouting their thanks to Erwin as they ran and not bothering to await his guidance. The valet gave a faint smile at their disappearing backs. He then turned to accommodating the rest of the household, which he did with an impressive degree of organisation and presence of mind. Ruprecht in the meantime found his way through the gloom of the house’s great hall to the dingy parlour beyond. The room had just bare boards and a table; the amount of correspondence and legal documents stacked there was intimidating, but it was to be Ruprecht’s future as Lehensherr of Blauwhaven. He wondered where he might shelve his books and create a study in this ramshackle, uncomfortable old place that was now his home.
It took the better part of a fortnight to settle into Schloss Blauwhaven. Herr Vincent, the agent, managed to make it down from Ostberg for two days during which he went through the papers with the new lord of the manor and advised on the appointment of a local lawyer. Between the lawyer, Erwin Wenzel and Herr Vincent they managed to recruit two grooms, two maidservants and a gardener with his lad as an addition to the caretaker, now renamed the house steward. They also began the epic task of making the Schloss habitable. Herr Vincent liberated enough funds to commence the very necessary building works which would provide modern plumbing, so dust, hammering and debris were added to the discomforts of the place. The weather was however warm and sunny and spending it out of doors to avoid the noise and smells was not too much of a trial.
The two boys quickly found for themselves a pleasant and secluded spot in the grounds, where a mountain stream formed a deep pool shaded by the black conifers of the region. Alongside it was a fine green lawn, sunlit and warm for most of the afternoon. They were very happy to share it with Ruprecht, so there he lay out on a blanket with his books every day after lunch. The boys joined him once their tutor had finished with them, and all three lay around sunning themselves, the boys alternating between splashing around in the pool and drying off while talking their usual enjoyable nonsense. It distracted Ruprecht from his studies, but he did not resist the fascination of their physical grace and anarchic humour.
Felix and Gilles were very much a match for each other intellectually. Every day deepened their mutual attachment, which was a matter of real satisfaction to Ruprecht. There were sufficient differences between the boys to make them interesting to each other, but their fundamental loving natures locked them in sympathy. He had feared that their adolescent wilfulness would eventually lead to irritation and boredom with each other, but had underestimated their emotional maturity. Both were sensitive and intelligent boys who had already had hard things to master. Gilles had experienced years of tedium and hopelessness as a potboy with little prospect other than inheriting the inn in some indeterminate future, and Felix the rude intrusion of mortality into his young life.
One day, Ruprecht remembered one of his obligations in making Gilles an aristocrat and brought a case of swords down to the lawn. He offered his ward a fencing sabre and with Felix, chin on hands and lying on his belly, watching and offering verbal encouragement Ruprecht began the boy’s instruction in arms.
After some elementary passes Gilles finally asked: ‘Do nobles always fence in the nude, or is it just that you’re a perv, Rupe?’
‘No, it’s to amuse my brother. His eyes are fixed on the way your dick flops around when you parry. Look, now you’re going hard he’ll be disappointed of the show.’
‘So are you, Rupe. Want to fence with these?’ He put his blade at rest and flaunted his length, which, respectable though it was for a fifteen-year-old, had nothing like the reach of Ruprecht’s.
‘Self-control is an important part of swordplay, Gillot. If you can concentrate on your balance and your opponent while you have the distraction of my priapic hugeness in front of you, you’ll have learned a valuable skill.’
‘And be fully confident you can defend yourself whenever you’re attacked by a gigantic naked rapist!’ Felix chirped up. ‘It could happen!’ He leapt to his feet and delightedly offered to duel with Gilles using the weapon nature had provided. So Gilles dropped his sword and took up the invitation as they grabbed each other’s biceps; thrusting, parrying and giggling. They halted fairly soon.
‘That’s actually not easy to do,’ Felix observed, ‘and I’ve lost my stiffy. Come here, Gillot!’ He grabbed his lover round the waist and with an almighty splash wrestled him into the water, where they continued their fun. Ruprecht returned the swords to their case and made a mental note to employ a master-at-arms for both boys, if he could find a decent local practitioner.
Evenings were a more sombre affair. Ruprecht continued the Ostberg habit of formal dinner at seven, in part because Gilles needed the education in dining etiquette. The boy also needed to get used to being waited on, rather than being at another’s call. The Ostberg assistant cook, Odila, was sufficiently gratified by the idea of presiding over her own kitchen to take up Ruprecht’s offer of a permanent job, and was awarded a kitchen maid to assist her. Within the limits of her resources she kept up a good table for them; she rather liked the local market for fish, which was a favourite in her repertoire.
Ruprecht was delighted in his two young charges, but there were times when he needed more mature company. Meister Andrecht, the boys’ tutor, was a learned man, and had accepted with equanimity the sudden promotion in his schoolroom of a servant boy to gentleman. He was also untroubled by the predominant sexuality of the house he found himself in, though he was not himself homosexual. But pedagogy was his talent, not the intellectual adventurousness Ruprecht valued. Still, he added a sobriety to their table which checked the hilarity of his pupils, who seemed to like him enough not to try his patience.
Captain-lieutenant Anton Vinseff had an open invitation to join the house party when duty permitted, and had promised to get away when he could. Ruprecht owed him some gratitude for his finding of Erwin Wenzel who, while not perhaps the most lively of men, was certainly efficient in his duties and willing to contribute his ideas and efforts to the renovation of Schloss Blauwhaven. The boys seemed to like him too, though they recognised he was not the sort to include in their displays of high spirits.
It was during one dinner that Ruprecht remembered the letter he had received from the antiquarian Schwarzwald priest, Dr Joerg Tannerman. He had not got around to replying, but in the extremity of intellectual isolation in which he now found himself he sat down after the meal and composed a note for the morrow’s post. Since he was proposing to take the boys to Bad Heisel for a medical consultation in a week’s time, he might as well stay overnight in Schwarzwald on the way there and in the meantime fix up a meeting.
A brief reply from the reverend gentleman reached Ruprecht two days before their departure for Schwarzwald, and a meeting time was set up between them. The Schloss had no carriage, so Ruprecht and the boys rode down to the town of Blauwhaven in company with their two grooms, who would lead the horses back home after they took the train.
Blauwhaven was a town at the foot of the eastern coastal range, some three kilometres distant from Ruprecht’s schloss. It had a small port sufficient for its fishing fleet, but not deep enough for more than coastal traffic. Its long beach and boarding houses were attractive to proletarian holidaymakers from industrial Ostberg, which had led the authorities to lay out public gardens and a boardwalk north of the harbour and the Confederate artillery fort which protected it. The railway link to the interior was a single-track line that wound northwards for some kilometres, slowly climbing, till a break in the range allowed it access into a narrow valley winding westward. This brought the branch line train to the larger inland town of Groenberg, which was on the Grand Southern line. There they could change to the Schwarzwald express, which offered first class carriages.
Ruprecht sat opposite the boys in their plush compartment, porters carrying in their travel bags after them. There was a subdued scuffle for the window seat, which Felix eventually and with bad grace ceded to Gilles.
Gilles had chosen an outdoor jacket of rustic green tweed to wear with his tan riding breeches and polished calfskin boots. It counterpointed beautifully the delicate lace jabot at his neck and the flower in his buttonhole; he looked every inch an elegant jonker of good family. Felix was less fashionably turned out, but his rank gave him an air of confident style whatever he wore, down to the careless tilt of his brimmed hat over his forehead. Both had selected silver-headed walking canes which Ruprecht rather suspected would become substitute sabres once the pair became bored, but for now they were being adult. Gilles even took up a newspaper, and discussed some of its articles with Felix in a desultory fashion. They left Ruprecht to his book.
It took ninety minutes before the towers and spires of the city of Schwarzwald appeared. It had a very different appearance from the rough dark sandstone of the coastal towns, which could project a certain gloom. Schwarzwald was built of a honey-coloured freestone and the architectural distinction of its churches, public buildings and university made it one of the most beautiful cities of the Allemanic South, apart from the Holy See itself.
By now it was well past lunchtime, so Ruprecht registered them at their hotel and gave the pair free rein to wander the streets till dinner and pick up a snack where they could. Then he went in search of the presbytery. He found it eventually in a narrow street behind the cathedral, across from the bishop’s residence. It was a tall and dingy building which had had little spent on its upkeep for some decades. Most priests who could afford it got married and took livings which included a house. It was the poor, eccentric and unattached clergyman who lodged in such buildings as the presbytery of Schwarzwald, and Ruprecht feared that Dr Joerg Tannerman must be just such a man. He had met the type: unhealthy looking fellows in shabby suits whose practice was either to eat and drink too much or too little, and from whom one edged away at social functions. Since Tannerman had academic pretensions and a doctorate in theology Ruprecht expected the worst, but on the other hand the man’s intellectual obsessions matched his own, so at least they could meet at that level and possibly learn something from each other. There were few enough historians of early society he could talk to otherwise.
When the housekeeper opened the door to Ruprecht’s knock the smell of boiled vegetables and musty rooms reached out to greet him like an unwelcome and indigent relative. His card was taken with a raised eyebrow and he waited to be admitted. Instead a short young man he at first took to be an upper servant appeared at the door, wearing a white blouson under a black waistcoat.
‘Minheer G-g-graf Ruprecht? You are His E-e-e-xcellency?’ the youth stuttered, fighting hard to get his words out.
Ruprecht favoured the poor fellow with a small smile. ‘Yes. I’m here to see Dr Tannerman. Is he available?’
‘Er … er … it’s m-m-me,’ the youth finally enunciated.
‘But … I … er … expected …’ It was Ruprecht’s turn to stumble over his words.
‘Someone f-f-f-fatter and a l-l-l-lot older?’ The young man gave his own little smile.
‘Always a d-d-d-disappointment,’ the cleric replied, his smile becoming impish.
Ruprecht stared, smiled again and held out his hand. ‘Dr Tannerman, a pleasure to meet you.’ His hand was taken in a firm grip, and the cleric suggested they go to a nearby café for a drink or two. ‘The p-p-p-presbytery is not the nicest of p-p-places, but it costs me n-n-nothing for board,’ he explained.
So the two men adjourned to the outside tables of a café on the cathedral square and made their orders. As they did Ruprecht took a closer look at Tannerman. He had a certain boyishness to his pointed and beardless face. His hair was a sandy blonde and fell in his eyes in a thick fringe, which added to his youthful appearance. He had to be younger than Ruprecht, and indeed looked barely twenty though he must be older.
‘You have a doctorate in theology, Herr Tannerman?’
‘N-n-no, Excellency. I am a m-m-medical p-p-practitioner.’
‘But you’re a clergyman?’
‘M-m-my father was the b-b-bishop of T-t-trifels in the state of U-u-ubercosten. I was ordained to s-s-serve in the c-c-cathedral while I was t-t-training for a medic.’
‘But your interests turned towards antiquities?’
‘That w-w-was when I w-w-went to the Holy S-s-see as ph-ph-physician to the C-c-cardinal Eugenius, a f-f-friend of my f-f-father.’
The story came out disjointedly. Dr Tannerman was in fact two years younger than Ruprecht and, hating the idleness involved in being household physician to one of the twelve great cardinal bishops of the Church, a man who was apparently as healthy as any septuagenarian could be, Tannerman had resorted increasingly to the Patriarchal Library and there found his true vocation. It was the sudden and unexpected death of the cardinal which ironically brought Tannerman to Schwarzwald, as the only opening he could find was as auxiliary priest at the cathedral, where the bishop was another friend of his father. He had no great desire to carry on in medical practice, although he was offered an opening at the Markgräflich Humboldt Lazarette, a hospital run by the Church.
In Schwarzwald Tannerman had joined the local antiquarian society and talked some of the more enthusiastic and fit members into an exploration of a vacant plot of church land adjacent to the walls of the Margrave’s palace above the city. There he formulated a new approach to the investigation of the past by stripping away the ground surface and looking for lost structures and artefacts below the ground, buried by the centuries. Slowly his stutter ebbed as Tannerman’s enthusiasm overrode his speech impediment.
‘You see, E-e-xcellency, it’s like this. Things left and abandoned get covered with earth, whether by windblown dust, flood or the natural action of vermiforms. As time passes they become ever more deeply buried, so the further down they are the longer they’ve been there. You can read the layers of the earth like a book. The coins and objects we find in each layer help us date the deposits and structures we find there. D-d-did you read my report on the excavation at the palace?’
‘I did, yes. It looked fascinating, though some of it was a bit technical.’
‘Y-y-yes. I’m having to grapple with a lot of new ideas and so new words have to be found for them. My excavators complain about it all the time.’
‘From what I could work out, Joerg … may I call you Joerg? You explored along the promontory where the modern palace is, and found relics of the castle which had preceded it.’
‘Y-y-yes. Known to history of course, but we were able to date the first stone walls to as early as the time of Margrave Humboldt II, that’s the fourth century, just before the Noble Wars. But the thing is there were earlier structures underneath it, a fortified village of sorts going quite a long way back.’
‘Exactly how far back?’
‘Difficult to say. We found no c-c-coins that could help us date it, if indeed there was a currency outside the Great River Valley in those far off days. There were corroded iron implements of all sorts and masses of animal bones, including would you believe the ceremonially buried carcass of a magnificent specimen of a royal erdbeest.’
‘Good heavens! The last one of those to be hunted in the South was in the second century, wasn’t it?’
‘Indeed. Only common erdbeesten now survive in the king’s hunting park at Ardheim. The creature I found was killed and buried in some sort of ritual I’d date to the later first century, before even the Four Kingdoms broke away from the Empire, in the tribal age, when English was still probably spoken in the Montenard region and maybe even here in what became Bernicia.’
‘You think these were once English lands?’
‘M-maybe. I have a lot of work to do yet. I have a theory that varying styles of pottery belong to different cultures and periods. The pottery from my dig here was of a rather fine and distinctive blue-glazed white clay. It so happens that I’ve found shards of the same stuff in old sites I’ve picked over in the Holy See and in the eastern valleys of the Alps. If I c-c-could dig more widely, especially in northern Ardhesse where you have indicated there were once English tribes, maybe I could make links with known English cultures in Über Ardhesse.’
‘Does this mean you think you’ve identified an ancient English homeland.’
‘Y-y-yes, I think I may have, Excellency, and it agrees with your reading of the Annals.’
‘My dear doctor, I really think we have a lot to talk about. We must meet again.’
‘So he’s not a freak, then?’ Felix was intrigued.
‘He’s a physician as it turns out, Kreech, though not a very successful one,’ his brother replied. They were on the train to Bad Heisel, just out of Schwarzwald.
‘And he’s younger than you, Rupe. Is he cute?’ Of the two boys, it was always Gilles who wanted to know the physical details.
‘Not bad looking, as it happens, though he’s a tiny little fellow, not much more than a metre and a half. Also he’s an ordained clergyman, so please don’t go there.’
‘You’re match-making in your head. Why do romantics always do that? And you’re shaping up to be just such a boy, my Gillot. Clerical midgets don’t turn me on, and there’s no evidence he’s a homo anyway.’
Gilles didn’t give up easily. ‘But he might be, Rupe. And he’s about your age. You said he was cute.’
‘Don’t go on, Gillot,’ Felix yawned. ‘Can’t you see you’re embarrassing Rupe? He’s already got his captain anyway.’
Ruprecht reflected that as usual his romantic life was going absolutely nowhere. He took up his book and began to think more productively. Before meeting Dr Tannerman he had not in fact thought in terms of the ancient English having a homeland of their own in the century after the Landing, but the idea began to make sense of certain of the new passages of the Annals of the Patriarchate he had discovered. The entries for the post-Landing seventies and eighties talked of an otherwise unknown kingdom of Kholnai which the Empire had encountered as it began its conquering march south towards the Alps. Ruprecht had originally thought this Kholnai was a predecessor state of Ardhesse, but Kholnai appeared to have had good relations with the Patriarchate, which Ardhesse never had.
According to the Life of the Proto-Patriarch the Blessed Michael, a king called Connor Connorson, mentioned in no other historical source, presented gifts at Michael’s elevation to the patriarchal throne. Since the early Patriarchate was heavily influenced by the English, maybe there was more to this brief reference than appeared. What if Connor was an English king of Kholnai; hell, what if the Blessed Michael was himself English? God! Maybe it was the English of Kholnai who had in fact set up the Patriarchate, not the First Emperor, Jean Charles of the Plains, as the official histories had it. Ruprecht began scribbling in his notebook, oblivious to the amused looks and comments coming his way from the boys opposite.
The medical consultation at Bad Heisel and the visit to the baths went well enough. Felix and Gilles resisted the temptation to misbehave in the changing rooms and tepidarium. Indeed, they made chaste friends with two other teenagers there for treatment. Ruprecht was happy to let his charges go off with their new acquaintances and see the local sights. Gilles in particular needed to associate with other young aristocrats to bring him on socially, though he seemed to have no problem in that regard. The fact that he carried the name ‘Minheer the Jonker Gilles von Aalst-Parmentier zum Blauwhaven’ on his card and was in the company of the Prince of Ostberg provided an easy entrée for him into local society in the spa town.
The pair were very happy on the train journey back home, and full of beans when they got back to the manor house. Slowly life at Blauwhaven acquired an even routine, which finally imparted a certain contentment to Ruprecht, since he had rather low expectations of personal happiness. It was only interrupted when Felix gave the occasional cough, or Gilles forgot himself and did not maintain a proper distance from the servants.
Gilles was particularly friendly with Ludwig, the gardener’s lad, a boy of around thirteen. Eventually, Ruprecht pulled him down as the boy passed his chair to tell him to remember that he was a ‘young master’ and although friendly and respectful relations with the staff were a good thing; romping and backchat with them was not helpful.
‘But you more than romped with your captain when he was a stable hand, Rupe!’ Gilles objected, for he was perfectly capable of standing up for himself, as Ruprecht was learning.
‘Not the same, Gillot,’ he replied. ‘We persuaded ourselves we were in love. You and Ludwig are just pals … unless?’
‘God no! He’s a nice kid, but he’s just a kid. I wouldn’t do that to him. I just miss my little sister Cecile at times.’
Ruprecht kissed his forehead and took his hand. ‘I understand,’ he conceded. ‘But you do have to remember that distance is necessary with the servants. It doesn’t mean you can’t spend the time of day with them, but tickling Ludwig and carrying him around on your shoulders is going way too far. He may well assume you want to do more with him, as some masters do.’
‘What, like fuck him? That’d be sick, he’s only a kid.’
‘Well, you observe him carefully. He may have a crush on you and be busy making a victim of himself. Servant boys are not entirely innocent. They quickly get to know the way of the world. Think of your own experience in the taproom.’
Gilles frowned. ‘You’re right, Rupe.’ Then he looked Ruprecht directly in his eyes. ‘There was a regular lodger with us, and I would have been more than happy if he’d touched me down there and taken me to bed with him.’
It was Ruprecht’s turn to blush hard. Gilles moved to settle in his lap, taking him around the shoulders and kissing his cheek. ‘You know who I mean don’t you.’
‘Yes … yes, I do. And I can tell you that he’d have done it too, except he knew better than to take advantage of a beautiful and innocent boy just for his own pleasure.’
‘That’s why I loved him, Rupe, ‘cos I knew that. He’s everything I admire in a man. If he was here I’d tell him how much I honour and respect him, and that I’d lay down my life for him. I owe him that much.’
In tears, Ruprecht hugged Gilles hard, and they sat together a long while silently, until Gilles gave him a kiss full on the mouth, whispering as he broke off, ‘Je t’aime, mon frère et mon père’. Then he got up and with an unfathomable backward glance walked out of the study, leaving Ruprecht emotionally confused but strangely at ease. Some things had been sorted between them, he felt, and words said that had to be. He now knew what Gilles had made of him and that he was assured of his devotion. It was strange that it was the boy not the man that had led the way; but perhaps, knowing the quality of Gilles, not so strange.
Captain-lieutenant Vinseff finally appeared at Blauwhaven at the end of their first autumn at the schloss. The two boys were insufferably humorous on the subject, teasing Ruprecht with wicked innuendos. He bore with it, and was at one level in agreement with their assessment of the situation. He was badly in need of some sex apart from what his hand could offer, even if Anton was only willing to take his ass. He arrived late one Sunday afternoon, having ridden the whole way from Ostberg, and Ruprecht encountered him refreshing his acquaintance with Erwin Wenzel at the house end of the paddock.
At the sight of Ruprecht the captain dismounted and kissed him. ‘So this is Homo Central? Where are the teenage sodomites?’
‘Most likely down at their usual resort, a pool they’ve found over by the woods. They lie out there, snog and fuck most afternoons after school. The servants aren’t allowed near it.’
‘We must go and say hello then.’
‘Let’s do that, they’re eager to meet the boy who screwed me on the beach. I have to repeat the story at least once a week for them.’
They resigned the horse to Erwin and strolled across the paddock to the woods, though they found Gilles and Felix were not in fact there, even though there was no school on Sundays. Probably Gilles was listening to Felix practising his flute; of late the boy had also begun singing in his developing tenor voice to Felix’s accompaniment.
‘Nice place, and I’m hot and saddle-sore after the ride,’ the captain observed, and began stripping. He plunged off a rock into the pool and called to Ruprecht to follow him. It didn’t take long for mutual passion to rise and Ruprecht found himself bending over in the shallows while he was vigorously ridden by the captain, belly slapping loudly on buttocks in the quiet under the trees. Ruprecht found the friction in his rear exciting enough to bring himself off standing as Anton pressed hard down on him and grunted his climax in his ear.
They lay out on the lawn and took some moments for more gentle love-making. ‘How long are you staying for?’ Ruprecht asked, after breaking a prolonged kiss.
‘I’ve got a week’s leave. Are you counting the possible number of fucks?’
‘No. That’d be courting disappointment. Let’s go back to the house.’
‘You can leave your riding clothes here if you like, Erwin will come and get them. Open nudity isn’t out of the question at Blauwhaven, but at least put your shirt on, the tails will cover your bum. Your Erwin’s been a real find by the way. Thank you for him.’
‘Don’t mention it. He and my boy Bruno were an item for a while. Erwin was always by far the more sensible of the two; which was probably why he wouldn’t sleep with me. Bruno on the other hand was one of those silly, romantic kids, completely out of touch with reality. Pretty boy though and randy as hell.’
‘What happened to him?’
‘He got into some dangerous company and started freelancing outside the whorehouse around the docks, which removed him from Madame’s protection. She doesn’t like it when her boys do that, as they pick up all sorts of diseases. Last I saw him he had inevitably got the red pox and he got it bad. It wasn’t pleasant to see. I would imagine that he ended in the madhouse the way they do.’
This grim snapshot of reality abruptly silenced Ruprecht, and he led Anton back to the house, both naked apart from half-buttoned shirts. They encountered the boys in this state as they entered the hall.
Felix’s eyes widened. ‘You wouldn’t let me and Gillot wander round in the house naked!’ he protested.
‘It didn’t stop you,’ Ruprecht snapped back. ‘Erwin saw you two scampering around the house without clothes after lights out last week, and I’ll bet that’s not all you were doing.’
Anton in the meantime was surveying Gilles with deep interest. ‘Isn’t this the boy who was with you at the citadel? I thought he was a servant.’
‘Long story, but this is in fact the Jonker Gilles von Aalst, my ward.’
‘I’d bow to you both, minheeren,’ Anton observed, ‘but you’d see my ass and right down my front to my cock.’
‘We don’t mind,’ Felix responded happily. ‘We’re going to see them anyway at the pool.’
Anton laughed. ‘They’re just how you described them, Rupe. A shameless pair of sodomites. Gentlemen, I’m looking forward to a more intimate acquaintance in due course.’ He gave a short bow, which did not in fact expose his buttocks, and followed Ruprecht to his room, where Erwin had already placed his bag. The men returned to where they had left off at the pool, and stayed in bed till the bell rang for supper.