Ruprecht remarked to himself how Gilles and Felix continued to surprise. They had been like angry children during the confrontation with Anton Vinseff, shielding the boy Ludwig and hurling vociferous abuse at the man who had sexually assaulted him, running to the nearest grown-up to get his help. In the aftermath of the challenge they were more dignified and mature than most adults would have been. He supposed it was that as adolescents they saw things in more clear and black-and-white terms than full-grown men, and were therefore decisive in their assessment of events which affected them. It was obvious to them that Captain-lieutenant Vinseff was an evil and abusive man, so he should be vilified and physically resisted. It was equally obvious to them that he must be challenged and killed for his insult to the House of Aalst.
Ruprecht envied them. Having an adult knowledge of people and their motivations made things less clear-cut for him, and though he was outraged by Anton’s actions, he could understand something of where they came from. A corner of his mind even tried to blame himself for denying his backside to the captain, whose sexual frustration was therefore taken out on the gardener’s boy in the way that many men of Ruprecht’s own class believed to be perfectly acceptable and for which he could not have been challenged. Anton would have got away with doing it too, had not Erwin Wenzel been keeping him under surveillance and chosen fatefully to intervene.
Ruprecht’s own feelings in the affair were mixed. After the ebbing of his fierce anger at the insult to his honour, which in its way was itself an adolescent reaction, he began calculating that the death of Vinseff might solve several problems and was rather grateful that the man had put himself in a situation where his despatch could be accomplished without any negative consequences for the House of Aalst. That is, of course, should he manage not to get killed himself. He had no real idea of the degree of skill the captain possessed in the management of the sword. He assumed that as Anton was a professional soldier he ought to be a formidable master of the blade. As a man of his class Ruprecht had been thoroughly schooled in the use of arms, but for several years now he had been a scholar and civil servant.
The day after the incident and the prompt expulsion of Vinseff from his house he sat with his two charges and dealt with the consequences. Erwin was currently languishing in his room with a broken and swollen jaw, attended by his solicitous staff, to whom he was now a hero after his valiant protection of little Ludwig. The boy himself was being cossetted with delicacies and mothering in the kitchen.
Felix had subsequently been instructing Gilles in the etiquette and mechanics of noble affairs of honour, and was finding his lover to be a fierce disciple.
‘So Rupe,’ the Francien boy was saying, ‘he’s got to appear at the duel or be cashiered and exiled from Bernicia.’
‘Exactly,’ Felix chimed in before his brother could reply. ‘No serving officer can refuse a challenge. It’s the same as cowardice in battle. If he runs he becomes an outlaw and anyone can kill him without penalty.’
‘What does a second do?’ Gilles asked.
‘He’s there to prevent anyone else joining in the fight,’ Ruprecht replied, ‘and also to set up the event. If his man doesn’t turn up he has to take his place, though the fight is not to the death even if it was a mortal offence.’
‘So we’re all off to Ostberg this evening,’ Felix announced. ‘This is me arranging things!’ he added brightly.
Ruprecht raised his eyebrow. ‘So what have you forgotten?’
‘Nothing,’ his brother stated.
Felix grinned. ‘Sorted. I telegraphed your priest in Schwarzwald. Two birds with one stone, if you follow me. Possibly three.’ He winked.
‘You’re bringing Dr Tannerman into it?’
‘Why not? He’s a friend of yours and a doctor. You said he was nice. I got his reply an hour ago, he said he’d be happy to assist.’
‘Fair enough. I’ve telegraphed Hans at Groothuis myself. He’ll get special leave and be at Ostberg too.’
Gilles held up his hand like a schoolboy. ‘What about the Princess Liesbeth Maria? She has to know what we’re doing.’
Felix giggled. ‘Grossmutta will be upset. She always told me she thought women should be able to fight affairs of honour for themselves. She won’t intervene, but it’ll be all we can do to stop her attending.’
Gilles’s return to Ostberg was a very different occasion from his first arrival there. This time he occupied a palace landau sitting next to the prince of Ostberg, both boys handsome in formal court suits, Felix with several orders of chivalry around his neck and on his coat. The streets were lined with cheerful and vocal crowds as the prince rode in state to the Residenz of Ostberg, while a salute of twenty-one guns boomed out from the citadel above to mark the state return of the sovereign to his capital.
‘Grossmutta thought it best,’ Felix observed. ‘She says it’s about time I took on a ceremonial role at least, and lifted some of the burden from her. So from now on every time I leave and arrive in town the razorbills get scared out of their wits by cannon fire. She also tells me I have to make a state visit to Schwarzwald and say hello formally to the margrave if I’m going to be living in his dominions. Apparently it’s rude if I don’t.’
The boy prince seemed to be enjoying the occasion well enough, especially as Gilles was sitting beside him. They both beamed and waved at the charmed populace, and threw handfuls of coins to the children running alongside the carriages from a bucket of currency thoughtfully placed at their feet.
The Residenz was a distinguished sixth-century mansion on the north side of the river, where a deep natural shelf allowed a great city square to be laid out. The house occupied the east face of the square, with formal gardens to the rear from which there were dramatic sea views. It was one of the finest of the great houses that the princes of that century had built. It had none of the military paraphernalia of the former noble castles, just acres of windows and forests of pillars and finials. It even had water closets.
Felix raised his hat as he descended from the carriage in the inner courtyard. A band played and the guidon of the honour guard was lowered in salute to the prince. A chamberlain marshalled yellow-clad footmen to escort their lord, his party and their luggage within. Ruprecht noticed that Gilles no longer had any self-consciousness in dealing with servants. The boy expected his consequence to be observed, though with none of the nonchalant arrogance many aristocrats of his age displayed.
Felix was ushered in the direction of the presence chamber through a series of dramatic antechambers lined with guards and suppliants. His grandmother was awaiting him on the steps of his throne. She kissed him and handed him into the chair, where he shot a grin at his lover. Gilles had taken station beside Ruprecht, the man’s hand on his shoulder. A buffet lunch was laid out along the wall, so Gilles and Ruprecht sidled over to fill plates, while a procession of local worthies ascended the steps to kiss Felix’s hand and be introduced by the princess regent.
In the meantime Ruprecht circulated, introducing the Jonker Gilles von Aalst-Parmentier around the room, finally leaving him with three deeply-smitten teenage noble girls who fluttered madly around him like moths about a lamp, utterly charmed by his looks, seductive Francien accent and shy smile.
The princess finally descended from the throne, leaving Felix engaged in conversation with three bearded state councillors. ‘So Ruprecht, you will be fighting for your life on my lawn tomorrow morning.’
‘Yes, Grossmutta. I’ll try not to make a mess of it.’
‘Sometimes you are very like your father, my dear child. Well, I’m sure you had good cause. Your opponent’s a captain in one of the noble regiments I believe and, from what my police agents tell me, an unsavoury character. What on earth was he doing at Blauwhaven? One of your homosexual associates I don’t doubt.’
‘Indeed Grossmutta. Though his offence had nothing to do with that. He struck my seneschal.’
‘You have an Antrustion? My dear, you’re growing up fast, and none too soon since you may have only a limited amount of time left to do it in. Now where is this boy you’ve adopted into the family?’
Gilles was ushered over and the princess surveyed him at length while he blushed. ‘My dear,’ she eventually pronounced, ‘you are quite the most beautiful young man I have ever met. You will feel out of place in our distinctly plain family. Here, kiss your Grossmutta.’
Gilles went to his knee and took the old woman’s hand to kiss it, a very well-judged gesture. The princess smiled warmly as she raised the boy, and she kissed him on both cheeks. Then she took him by the hand and led him to a nearby sofa, where they had a long and private conversation. She eventually led him by the hand back to Ruprecht. ‘My dear, you have chosen well,’ she said to Ruprecht. ‘I am very pleased indeed with my new grandson, especially as I may be about to lose one of the ones I already have. Now I must go off and do some ruling. I expect you both at dinner at the Farcostan Palace tonight, mind. Hans will be there. It may be the last time we see you outside a coffin, Ruprecht.’
Gilles turned to his guardian after they had made their bows, his eyes shining. ‘Rupe! She’s amazing! What a wonderful person, and she said I must call her Grossmutta!’
Gilles and Felix sat close together at dinner, Felix at the opposite end of the long table to his grandmother. Ruprecht had Hans at his side. His brother had the sense not to test his grandmother’s patience by coming improperly dressed to her board, and was wearing a well-cut naval mess jacket with his decorations.
‘So that’s my new brother?’ he observed, nodding towards Gilles.
‘Perhaps brother-in-law might be more accurate,’ Ruprecht replied.
Hans looked more narrowly in Gilles’s direction and at the way his and Felix’s heads were close together. ‘What, him and the Kreech? So you’re not the only homo in the family? Well! A good thing maybe. Our poor little cat-monster needs someone to cuddle him at night. He’s been dealt a poor hand. And talking of poor hands, fill me in on how you got yourself into your current mess. Is this anything to do with that psychotic king we picked up at Port François?’
Ruprecht sighed. ‘No, it’s Anton Vinseff.’
‘Anton Vinseff … hang on, I know that name. Wasn’t he the stable hand you were in love with when we were kids here? The one you wrote all those abysmal, long and soppy poems about.’
‘Oh God! I’d forgotten them. Now I’m so embarrassed. And you read them?’
‘No, you read them to me, you sick twerp. You were utterly obsessed with him. After seeing you in the throes of lovesickness, I almost decided to get myself castrated. Go on, tell me what happened.’
Ruprecht did his best with the complicated and somewhat embarrassing story, while Hans did his best not to laugh. It took up a whole two courses. Around the time he was finishing a vice-chamberlain materialised at Ruprecht’s elbow and bent down to whisper that his guest had arrived. Ruprecht rose, bowed low first to Felix then to his grandmother, and departed the table. He found a slight figure in black loitering in the marble entrance hall, examining the statues and trophies with great interest. He turned and smiled when he saw Ruprecht. It was quite an attractive, shy smile and lit up the man’s small face nicely when it appeared, Ruprecht noted.
‘Hello Joerg. It’s very good of you to come at such short notice.’
The clergyman was in an appropriate dark suit and carrying a leather valise which looked more like a doctor’s bag than a travel case. ‘N-n-not at all, minheer. One c-c-cannot turn down an inv-v-v-itation from a S-s-serene Highness.’
‘I apologise for my little brother’s insistence. He meant well. Perhaps you’ll come through to the drawing room and I can explain things. Now the first thing you must understand is that I’m homosexual. Is that a problem?’
The doctor burst into peals of laughter. ‘S-s-surreal, dear Graf.’
‘Of c-c-course you are, minheer. It’s j-j-just a very strange way of starting a c-c-conversation with one of my vocation.’ He wiped his eyes.
‘Not a problem then?’
‘Of c-c-course not. Many of my c-c-colleagues are too.’
‘Ah well, the rumours are true then it seems. The duel tomorrow morning is a matter of honour. The man, a cavalry officer and former lover of mine, deliberately struck an Antrustion of the House of Aalst zum Blauwhaven. You will realise that is a mortal offence and can be wiped out only in blood.’
‘I d-d-deplore that of course, minheer. B-b-but I am here as a physician and I would say f-f-friend.’
‘I would call you so, Joerg. You may call me Ruprecht. I would like that.’
‘I too, E-e-excellency. It may just take me a while to g-g-get used to the idea.’
‘Come with me into the drawing room. I’ve arranged a bed for you in the palace tonight. I hope you can stay longer, but of course the need for your attendance here may not last much longer than tomorrow’s dawn.’
The two men took armchairs in the otherwise empty room, and a bell summoned a servant who took orders for drinks and a cold supper for Dr Tannerman.
As they were waiting the clergyman nervously brushed his blond fringe out of his eyes and began. ‘R-r-ruprecht, I know how the nobility cultivates an air of amused ind-d-difference to the world around them, but even so I’m surprised at the c-c-cold bloodedness you’re displaying to the possibility that you might well become a c-c-corpse within the next nine or ten hours.’
Ruprecht raised his eyebrows. ‘Really? Ah well, you weren’t brought up at Freiborg by my father, the Marshal-General of Hochrecht. A significant percentage of my family have never made it to the age of thirty due to our military pursuits. The possibility of a premature exit from the world is always with people like me. I thought, being a scholar and diplomat, I might escape that fate, but as you see the sins of our fathers do tend to find us out.
‘If I may, I’d like to change the subject. Not that I’m uncomfortable with it, you understand, just that I have some ideas I’d like to communicate while I’m still able, and you’re one of the few people who would understand them and could take them forward. I have brought my notes with me, and my brother the prince is aware that they must be given to you in the event of my death tomorrow. I made my will before I left Blauwhaven and you are nominated my literary executor. I hope too that you’ll interest yourself in the education of my young ward, the Jonker Gilles von Aalst, who has expressed a wish to attend university; your advice would be of great value to him, I believe.’
Dr Tannerman readily assented and put himself entirely at the minheer Graf’s disposal for the rest of the evening. So Ruprecht began an explanation of his latest ideas and theories. The clergyman listened quietly, nodding and making the odd encouraging noise. As with their previous meeting, his speech impediment gradually disappeared as he became more engaged in their mutual enthusiasm.
‘So, you believe that there was in fact an English kingdom in the south of the Mainland in the earliest days of human settlement; the kingdom of k-k-Kholnai ruled over by a succession of kings called Connor. The English were not therefore scattered outcast tribes absorbed into the rising Francien and Allemanic states but the dominant kingdom for maybe three or four generations, founders indeed of the Patriarchate and our religion, until the Francien Empire usurped their pre-eminence and spent the next two centuries systematically obliterating their memory so as to cement its historical legitimacy, especially as regards its claims on the Patriarchate.’
‘It all fits, Joerg. How else could it be that the oldest texts of the Summarium and the earliest liturgy of the Church are in English? It also fits with the theory that The Voyagers was originally a prose English tale, not a Francien epic poem. Incidentally, next time you go looking at the work, notice how it is that when the Landing in the fireships happens, the captains and mariners all answer to an admiral called Guillaume le Rou and among his Twenty Companions is a warrior called Kevin Lengleis and a magician called Malcolm de Kholnai: English names both, and the only other reference I’ve found to Kholnai in early literature.’
Joerg Tannerman deliberated for a while. ‘Then you’ve gone as far as surviving texts will take you into prehistory, Ruprecht,’ he eventually responded. ‘The only way to cut through the mystery is by investigative excavation.’
Ruprecht beamed. ‘My thoughts exactly. I was impressed by what you could make some broken pieces of pot tell you. Maybe there’s a lot more to be found underground.’
‘I think so, my friend. You’ve formulated some very big questions, but the answers may be down to me.’
‘Down to us, Joerg. If I survive tomorrow, I’m determined to put my new prosperity to use. I’m ready to fund your digs, and what’s more, I have an ecclesiastical living at Blauwhaven in my gift. How would you like to be Rector of the place? You can employ an assistant priest or two to do the routine stuff. It’s quite a wealthy benefice, I’m told, and getting wealthier all the time.’
The man was startled. ‘You’d do that? You’d tempt me to murder?’
‘Well if your captain fellow is found dead in an ambush on his way to the duelling site, I would have to be the prime suspect now, wouldn’t I, Ruprecht old fellow?’
Ruprecht took off his coat and handed it to his second, who bundled it and passed it on to his ‘third’ as Felix called Gilles. All the palace party were in traditional duelling black, with cloaks against the dawn chill, for it was now late in autumn and Ostberg did not have the benefit of a warm ocean current to keep the temperatures mild all year round, unlike Blauwhaven.
The sky was pink now in the west behind the distant peaks of the Southern Alps, and the sun would be over their crests in ten minutes or so. It was in fact dawn, within the meaning of the word.
Ruprecht made some passes to warm himself up. The rumble of a carriage approaching along the woodland track to the north of them caused him to stop. The vehicle drew up and two figures alighted, also in black cloaks but with the bright yellow and green of the Bernician military beneath. They wore plumed dragoon helmets on their heads.
‘Hang on,’ declared Felix. ‘That is not the captain.’
The two figures reached them and gave a stiff military salute, which Ruprecht acknowledged with a flourish of his sabre. One of them stepped forward and introduced himself as Ensign the Jonker Felip-Emmanuel von Braunstein. He can only have been a teenager, fresh-faced and solemn under his helmet.
‘Your Excellency, I regret to tell you that Captain-lieutenant Vinseff absconded from the citadel last night and cannot be found. We must assume he has run off rather than face your sword. May I offer the apologies of my fellow-officers that you have been denied the opportunity to put the coward down?’
‘You may, minheer Jonker. Am I to understand that he nominated you his second? This is most irregular. You ought to be of his rank.’
‘Regrettably no other officer could be found who would second the man. He was not popular in the regiment. So for its honour I volunteered.’
‘My dear Jonker,’ Ruprecht smiled. ‘It does you great credit. Now prepare yourself.’
The ensign removed his helmet and cloak. He took a sword from his comrade and made some passes with him in preparation, as Ruprecht did with Hans. Then both men took guard. Ruprecht clashed swords at the tip with the ensign then separated, dropped his blade, bowed to the youth and declared that honour was satisfied. He invited the officers to take breakfast at the palace.
After the officers had parted with handshakes, a purse of gold and a letter of commendation from Felix to their colonel on the ensign’s behalf, the three brothers, Gilles and Dr Tannerman strolled out to the mausoleum.
‘So, Rupe,’ began Gilles, ‘what happens to the captain now?’
‘He’s a captain no longer. He’ll be dishonourably discharged from his regiment. He won’t be able to show his face in any sort of society and my guess is that he’ll have headed west to the Montenard Republic. It’s the nearest place where his sort of military record makes little difference.’
Hans shrugged. ‘I can see why he did it. Had he fought and killed you, there wouldn’t have been much of a future in the army of Ostberg for the man who killed the prince’s brother.’
‘But he would still have had his honour,’ Ruprecht demurred. ‘He’d have found a post in another unit in another state. Some of the noble regiments rather like that sort of reputation in their officers … the Death’s Head Uhlans of Ardhesse for instance; I believe you have to have murdered at least three widows or priests before you can get a commission. Torching an orphanage gets you a captaincy.’
Dr Tannerman baulked. ‘Are you serious!’
‘No, Joerg. They are a rough lot though.’
Felix grinned like a happy imp. ‘You’ll learn to ignore a lot of what Rupe says. He’s very immature. I’m glad you’re coming to Blauwhaven, dear doctor. It’ll be nice to have someone around who’s even more gullible than Gillot. Ouch!’ Gilles punched him in the arm.
‘Thank you for clearing that up,’ the doctor commented. ‘I’d like a closer look at this monument of your family’s, Your Serene and Most Excellent Highness. Seventh-century, yes? The architect must surely have been Von Eisenthal.’
Felix quirked an eyebrow at his big brother. ‘I can see why you two get on.’ They laboured up the mound, and as they went Felix came to a slow stop. ‘Need a breather,’ he gasped.
Gilles looked at him in concern. Dr Tannerman came over and looked in the boy’s face, which was flushed. He took Felix’s wrist and assessed his pulse, then touched his forehead. ‘How long have you been feeling feverish, Serene Highness?’
‘It came on last night,’ Gilles replied for him, deeply concerned.
Ruprecht looked in his brother’s face and noted the glitter of fever in his eyes. ‘Is this a recurrence, Joerg?’
The doctor asked Felix to breathe out. He wrinkled his nose. ‘I fear so. There is some evident inflammation in the lungs. His Serene Highness must return to the palace and rest. There is no need to aggravate his condition. I imagine the stress of the last few days has not helped.’
Felix’s condition worsened and a hacking cough began, though not accompanied by bloody sputum. He was confined to his apartment. Dr Tannerman proved a godsend at this point; it appeared that his interests in other intellectual spheres had not prevented his becoming an accomplished physician. He attended Felix constantly, and his air of calm knowledgeability did a lot to stifle the panic in the princely household.
The Princess Regent observed to Ruprecht that the man was as good for Felix’s state of mind as for his physical well-being. ‘He treats the boy as an adult, explains things carefully and does not lie to him. I would suggest taking him on as a household physician, but it seems you’ve already retained him at no cost to me.’
‘He’ll need to be at Blauwhaven to take up his benefice in due course, and I suggest that as soon as possible the Kreech is taken down there so he can benefit both from the climate and Dr Tannerman’s care.’
‘I agree, my dear. I was most impressed at the treatment he offered. The little doctor’s judicious use of opiates soothed the boy’s cough, preventing it worsening which would have endangered the blood vessels in his lungs. He explained to Felix that it is the rupture of vessels which can bring on the sepsis, and the poor boy did his best to avoid hacking. Felix may get through this attack without too many consequences. But he is so pale and thin.’ She sighed. ‘I believe he’s eager to return to Blauwhaven, and if it makes the boy happier then he must go there. Young Gillot has been like an angel with him; that boy is not merely beautiful on the outside, he is a most kind and loving child. Tell me, Ruprecht, are the two boys sworn lovers, will they seek Schuleneheit?’
‘I rather guessed so. Our Felix may have been unlucky in his health, but he is so very fortunate in those around him who care for him. Well, well. The pair have my blessing. They will sleep together here in the palace and when at the Residenz. The major-domo will be informed.’
‘That is very gracious, Grossmutta. It will mean ever so much to them.’
‘Of course it will cause comment, but it is hardly unprecedented in our family or in other noble houses. I don’t believe that Felix will suffer from the association. Men of his degree make their own rules in any case.’
‘Er, will you …?’
‘Tell your mother? My dear, she knows about Felix, just as she knew about you before anything was ever said. You should never underestimate a mother’s – or grandmother’s – sensitivity to those they love. Your father on the other hand … well, we won’t go there. He has enough breeding stock amongst the current generation of the house of Aalst to keep him happy in any case.’
They arrived back at Blauwhaven in a convoy of carriages for the first day of the Advent season. Felix was by now regaining some of his vitality and complaining about his confinement to bed, although, as Ruprecht observed, he was rarely alone in it.
Dr Tannerman commented on the appropriateness of the day. ‘It’s about expectations, Rupe, maybe destined to be dashed but ever hopeful.’
‘I’m sure the good folk of Blauwhaven have absolutely none where you’re concerned, Joerg, so you can hardly disappoint.’
The doctor quirked his lips. He was getting used to the Von Aalst household and its prevalent humour. Ruprecht in turn found his company very comforting after the Anton Vinseff disaster. The little man was kind and tactful, and there was a lot more to him than their joint obsession with the remote past. Felix and Gilles were devoted to him, Felix particularly so. Inevitably, if sadly, the boy had developed real hopes that his doctor could fend off his disease, for all that intellectually he must have known how unlikely that was.
As he and Ruprecht sat together over wine after dinner, when Gilles had gone up to rejoin a still invalid Felix in bed, Ruprecht had to ask: ‘So what is the prognosis for my brother?’
The doctor shook his head. ‘I imagine the consultants that your parents called in must have sketched out the likely chances. He may last some years, or he may go downhill abruptly and suddenly. It’s difficult to predict with the phthisis. His chances of living till his coming of age remain good, especially situated where he is. But a young death is nonetheless certain, and regrettably there will be some suffering to go through for him and for all who love him first.
‘My reading of the journals and my hospital experience tells me that the deciding factor is the progress of the disease in the lungs, when and how sepsis affects them. That depends on how strong the boy’s underlying constitution is. The lungs can regenerate between attacks, though the inevitable scarring affects his ability to breathe and function with any energy. That phase may yet be a while off for Felix, or so I hope anyway. He’ll live to enjoy his lover a while longer.’
‘It doesn’t bother you that we’re all queers here.’
Joerg laughed. ‘It’s normality for me,’ he said, then blushed. ‘What I mean is that presbytery houses are where homo clergy usually end up. I’ve got used to fending off unwanted advances.’
Ruprecht caught the man’s eye. ‘What about wanted advances?’
The man went redder yet, and his stutter returned with a vengeance, so much so that his reply was actually incoherent.
Felix’s first day out of bed was the Sunday that Joerg was installed as Rector. So there were several reasons for the old church of Blauwhaven to be packed that day. The building was on a shoulder of the hills above the town, and its solid and massive tower was a prominent seamark. Indeed, it had actually been used as a lighthouse until the Confederate government had built a new one on a small and dangerous island outside the harbour which had been the destruction of several vessels over the years.
A large crowd in the churchyard cheered the popular young prince of Ostberg as he alighted from the carriage that the stables of the Schloss had acquired for the sake of the prince. Felix beamed. He actually liked the public duties of his position. Gilles walked solicitously behind him with a cushion and blanket as the prince shook hands with the citizens of the town, who had gathered to meet their new pastor. Ruprecht was very much the sideshow, even though he was the Lehensherr of the town and its district.
Assisted by several local clergy Joerg got through his first mass reasonably competently, and his sermon, if rather more historical than theological, was well received despite his occasional struggle to get out key words. The mayor and dignitaries of the town took him off for a civic dinner, which lasted well into afternoon. The Von Aalst party left early, with the excuse of the prince’s health. Joerg would join them for a light supper.
As they arrived back at the manor house, the two boys made their excuses and strolled hand-in-hand down to the pool, where Ruprecht found them later, barefoot but otherwise clothed, Felix lying flat out and just soaking up the sunlight. He was looking a lot better than he had but was still too thin, being unable to eat much during his attacks.
‘We have to fatten you up, little Kreech,’ Ruprecht observed. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Oh, it’s good just to be up and about, but down here in our special place it’s even better.’
‘Good. Well, enjoy it for a week or two. We’re going on our travels. Meister Andrecht begins his leave the week after next, and I have a mind to witness the Christmas celebrations in the Holy City. We’ll take the coastal steam packet from the harbour. Hans and mama will join us. I’ve hired a place for a three weeks.’
‘I hope you’re not going to be boring and spend all your time in the library,’ Felix pouted.
‘Boring would be very welcome to me for a while, my Kreech.’