For a long while the party stared in silence at the message from a lost and distant past, trying to extract some sense from the words. It was Joerg who snapped them out of it. ‘We’ll need a photograph of that, and also these other … er, drawings.’
He had been alone in noticing that there were charcoal drawings on the walls on either side of the door behind them. Despite the solemn circumstances, Felix giggled. ‘Randy sod that J-C. He must have spent a lot of his time down here just beating off.’
Ruprecht too quirked a smile. There were several large sketches of sex acts opposite the wrecked beds. They may not have been of the highest standard of mural art, but they graphically depicted boys taking girls in a variety of positions, and in one sketch two boys penetrating the same girl, sandwiched between them. The exception was a more dubious scene where a hulking male figure was hunched over and copulating with a naked boy from behind, the boy clearly in discomfort from what was jammed inside him but very erect nonetheless.
‘Hmm,’ Ruprecht observed, ‘definitely a torrid teenage imagination looking for relief.’
‘I should say so,’ Gilles responded. ‘A bit heterosexual for me, apart from that one. Odd isn’t it. The kid was clearly all in favour of girls with improbably sized breasts, but he also got off on men with improbably sized cocks too.’
Joerg tutted. ‘I think we’d better start investigating these discarded items thoroughly.’ He began picking through the debris at the bedside. ‘Food tins, plates, alienware bottles and a cup, just what you’d imagine I suppose for a refugee boy in hiding. Here’s another one of those slim alienware objects, in better condition than the ones outside. Now what’s this? An alienware folder, sealed but with … my God! There are surviving papers within. My dears, I think we may finally have some answers about the origin of humanity on our world. Let’s get this stuff bagged up. I feel the need to go into a dark room and think for a long time.’
Time was running out for the dig, but the contents of the cellars they had discovered had certainly repaid their investment. Farmer Lemarignier was happy enough; though he did not say, once they had gone he was clearly planning to market his farm as the original site of the Landing. ‘And who knows,’ Ruprecht commented, ‘he might even be right.’
They closed down the site and booked the option of a second season with the farmer for the following year, strictly enjoining him not to attempt excavations on his own.
Joerg was dubious. ‘He may well try treasure hunting as soon as we’re gone, which’ll be destructive of the site. But it’s his property and we can’t stop him. I need to get back to Blauwhaven and my notes.’
They arrived back at the schloss to a pleased welcome from Erwin Wenzel, who had spent his time in their absence fitting out a new study and workroom for Joerg, who had quit the rectory which had now been made over to his successor. His possessions and notes were ready to be moved in from their temporary quarters over the stable.
It took a week for Joerg to become happy with his new workspace. He was however more than happy to move permanently into Ruprecht’s bed. He asked for no separate bedchamber of his own. To Ruprecht’s surprise he found sleeping long-term with another warm body beside him entirely natural. It seemed just right to wake from a doze, gather Joerg’s small smooth body into himself and drift off again. Even the inevitable coughs, mutterings and farts in the night seemed worth little more than a giggle.
Joerg had a trestle table in his workroom laden with the finds from the cellars, and pin-boards set up to display the photographs he had taken and developed himself. The pornographic murals were not pictures he thought he could entrust to the town’s commercial photographer.
The two boys resumed their educational routine with Meister Andrecht and Lieutenant von Altstadt, both of whom said their pupils were progressing well: Felix was showing special aptitude in his literary and historical studies, while Gilles excelled at martial exercises and languages. Both however were fine students, the Meister said, and would soon be ready for university matriculation should that be decided upon. Seventeen was the usual age to enter the schools, and the examinations took place before Holy Week next.
‘I have to ask you two which institutions you’d consider entering,’ Ruprecht said over their first lunch back at Blauwhaven. ‘I’m assuming Felix won’t go to Groothuis now, as Hochrecht is off limits. Ostberg is a possibility. Myself I’d favour your going south to the Patriarchal University. It obviously has a magnificent theological faculty, but its School of History and Linguistics is also the leading institution on the Mainland, or the Islands for that matter. I enjoyed my time there. I think we all know what degree you’ll wish to pursue, and that you’ll want to study together. Since you’re sworn lovers in a legal relationship, you can’t go to one of the Francien universities and carry on as you do now. It wouldn’t be tolerated in Vieldomaine, even though Felix is a prince, but the Alleman universities, even in the Holy See, will allow you to cohabit, providing you’re discreet and do it off campus.’ The boys shot each other a look and said they would give it some thought.
Ruprecht was present when Joerg opened the alienware folder. The two men sat on opposite side of the trestle and contemplated the object, undisturbed for the best part of a millennium.
‘It’s actually sealed,’ Joerg said. ‘It’s not a wallet or an envelope. It has no opening, or ever did have, apparently. Very odd.’ He produced one of his medical scalpels and grinned at Ruprecht, putting on a measured, professional air. ‘I shall now make an incision along the left flank of the patient, cutting to the level of the hypodermis.’
He began to cut through the clear folder only to have it peel open of its own accord as soon as he put pressure on it. ‘Good heavens! It popped open like a legume pod!’ He reached inside to withdraw the several sheets within and laid them on the table. ‘They are in very good condition. Kept within a perfect seal I suppose. Feel the sheets Rupe, does that seem like wood-pulp paper to you?’
Ruprecht found them smooth and difficult to bend, unlike paper. ‘They’re some different sort of alienware, like reinforced paper, shiny and smooth. Have you looked at the language they’re printed in?’
‘English I think, though I can’t understand it very easily. In fact most of what I can see makes no sense at all.’
‘Take a look at this one. It has a picture, a photograph but in colour. What does it look like to you?’
‘It’s an erdbeest … wait no. It’s on its back feet. My heavens, it’s a royal erdbeest, a cow, walking with two calves!’
‘Let me read what the caption says below: “EXTRATERRESTRIAL FAUNA DATABANK TN-01-00104: ARMENTALIS MAIOR BIPEDALIS NOVOTERRALIS. GREAT HERD BEAST. Mature female with offspring”.’
‘Oh! So now we know where the name “erdbeest” comes from. It was derived from the English. But the rest of this text is so much gibberish.’
Ruprecht shook his head. ‘No, it’s English alright, just not the sort we’re used to. I think this is technical and scientific English with a different, specialised vocabulary. It may take a lot of work to recover its meaning, I’m afraid.’
‘Maybe young J-C in the bunker thought the same, which was why he left it behind when he went in search of his mother.’
Ruprecht nodded. ‘A fair assumption, little one mine. But if we do what I generally tend to do with dense academic papers and skip to the end, we might if we’re lucky find a more general conclusion, and on the fourth page, this is indeed what we see: “GENERAL SUMMARY: The Great Herdbeast is the highest form of life on the planet and apart from its undefended young is proof against predators, for the nomadic herd which is its social unit can intimidate even the so-called T-N “leopard”. Its intelligence is high, maybe at the level of the terrestrial dolphin. It communicates at a sophisticated level by smell, subsonic signals and gesture similar to the terrestrial whale. Like terrestrial herbivores its mating rituals can be violent and its herd politics allow for savage competition between males. PENDING DECISION: the brain size and structure is apparently large; absent of windfall cadavers we cannot answer questions about cognitive function. Capture for analysis under consideration Landing plus One. Ref: COL-1-Directive 00443”.’
Joerg let out a long breath. ‘It’s a zoological report on the royal erdbeest. Judging by the last sentences it was written before the Landing, while the people of EU were still examining our world from above. They sent scout ships like corvettes to explore below. Maybe they were the fireships?’
Ruprecht laughed. ‘Always the fireships. Let’s look at the message on the wall from young J-C. Can we call him Jean-Charles?’
‘Why? It might by Jean-Claude or Joseph-Christophe.’
‘No real reason, but Jean-Charles was the first Francien emperor, so it seems a poignant connection. I imagine those footprints were his; what age would you estimate him as at the time he made them?’
‘Not much older than fourteen, if even that.’
‘Why was he barefoot? The compaction of his toes indicates he had been shod all his young life, but he was a shoeless refugee when he sheltered in that cellar.’
‘And it was winter. Fevrier? Isn’t that an ancient Francien word for winter?’
‘I believe it may have been. Whoever he escaped from had enslaved him and probably stripped him of his clothing. I fear it was not just the female Franciens who were raped, and that may have been why he ran from his captors. The colonists seem to have become vicious predators on each other. Was it collective insanity? A complete social collapse? Some form of illness this world infected them with, to which they had no resistance?’
‘It took a while then. Look at the date. Young “Jean-Charles” wrote his message on the cellar wall nearly five years after the Landing, as recorded on the date of the medallion. If you’re right and the massacre in the Préaux du Sang had happened in high summer it must have taken place in their year 2254; Jean-Charles escaped the raiders several months later, and took shelter in the cellar of the Prefecture maybe six months after the slaughter of the Francien adult males who doubtless included his father. Then he went off barefoot in winter into oblivion, clutching the gun he found. Poor, desperate, brave child. I hope he and his friend Marcel managed to find each other.’
‘There you are!’ Felix exclaimed, dropping the paper on the breakfast table. ‘Kristijan is king in Ardheim and the civil war is over. The Regent took to the sea but his escape launch was stopped by the Royal Navy of Dreiholmtz as he was attempting to reach the Empire. He’s being held as a “guest” of His Eastern Majesty in the Schloss Zeehuis.’
‘Boo!’ Gilles jeered. ‘Ardhesse is off my holiday list.’
‘And not just yours, Gillot,’ Ruprecht stated after he had swallowed his toast. ‘Young Scumbag has begun his reign rather as I imagined he would. He had the commander and field officers of the Ardheim garrison publicly executed as traitors by firing squad in the central square of the city, watching their despatch while he sat on his stallion joking with his aides-de-camp. The Westrechtner Zeitung’s correspondent was appalled. Duke Horst clearly knew his nephew well enough to run before it was too late.’
‘Where’s the little doctor?’ Felix asked.
‘Still asleep. We were up late at the finds table.’
Felix waggled his eyebrows at Gilles, who sniggered. Then Felix straightened his face before saying ‘Gillot and I are so happy Joerg is here with us, honestly. It’s great you’re boyfriends. He’s really special, and we think you deserve him, Rupe, really!’ Gilles nodded emphatically in agreement.
Ruprecht smiled at the two sincere young faces. ‘It’s taken a while, but I think we’ve blundered into love. I’m not sure it started that way, but it’s ended where I’ve never before been, so thank you both. You’re partly responsible.’
‘Really?’ asked Gilles, ‘how’s that possible?’
‘Well, it’s not that easy to explain, but the pair of you somehow reminded two jaded older fellows, who’d both given up on finding it, that there is indeed the glory of love to be found if one has the courage to risk asking for it.’
‘What’s he like naked?’ Felix blurted.
‘And there goes the moment,’ Ruprecht sighed.
‘He can come and join us in the pool any time. We’d like that. We could splash around and … y’know, do stuff.’
Ruprecht shook his head. ‘Joerg’s not that way inclined, pervert. Not everyone gets off on public sex like you two clearly do.’
‘Only with people we like. You’ve watched us a few times. He saw us doing it that once on Gillot’s birthday. It was seriously hot. Joerg would be alright I’m sure; he’s sweet and cute for a doctor. He’s seen me without clothes when he examines me, as well as at the pond.’
‘The night of the birthday he was a bit drunk, and when he was examining you as a doctor he was being a professional. I think he’d have a problem with recreational nudity. Doctors have to keep a distance from their patients, and Joerg is personally shy in any case. I’m assuming you want him to remain your physician?’
‘God yes! He’s brilliant.’
‘Then just leave it, Kreech. Shouldn’t you be in the schoolroom soon?’
‘Probably: slave-driver. Come on Gillot, let’s go suffer under the tyranny of Meister Willem.’
Joerg turned up just after they’d left, fully dressed, though the custom of the house was to appear at breakfast in just robe or shirt, as the two boys had done. Gilles had an unconscious but erotic habit of raising his shirt and scratching himself, thus offering haunting glimpses of the beauty beneath the linen.
‘You’ve got a hard on,’ Joerg observed with a grin. ‘It’s very noticeable through the robe. I hope you’re thinking about me.’
‘Er … of course,’ Ruprecht responded untruthfully. ‘What’re we doing today?’
‘Back to the finds table and those alienware boxes, of course. But also it’s time to plan for the next phase.’
‘I thought that was next year’s dig in the Val de Rougiet?’
‘That’s the dig, but I’m beginning to think we must start the search for the English equivalent of the Francien prefecture in Vieldomaine. That prefecture was entirely trashed and though we may yet find much of interest there, it will only be in despite of the raiders’ best efforts. Since the English probably laid waste the Francien zone, their own zone may have a lot more to offer.’ The little man twinkled at him. ‘Maybe even the remains of a fireship?’
Kissing naturally followed. As Ruprecht’s passion began rising, Joerg was abruptly flung over his shoulder, carried upstairs effortlessly, thrown on their bed and all his careful morning’s toilette rapidly and vigorously undone. It was in the end nearly lunchtime when the pair emerged fully dressed and reconvened in the workroom, where the boys soon joined them, munching from heaped plates they’d brought with them, though they did offer the sandwiches around.
Joerg had put up on the board the largest scale map of the Montenard Republic he could find, as well as a blown-up photograph of the Landing Medallion. He tapped a pencil on his small white teeth as he considered the problem. ‘The location of the Francien prefecture pretty closely matched the medallion’s information, so I think we can be confident that the site of the English prefecture is accurately shown. The problem is, the terrain where it is approximately indicated to have been is one of narrow and deep valleys running north to south. Still, I think we can narrow it down to two neighbouring Allemanic cantons: Neuhausen and Hartland, both bordering the kingdom of Ardhesse to the south. Do you know anything about them, Rupe?’
‘I passed up through Neuhausen on the Central Line once, but I didn’t stop there. It’s very scenic: lots of domestic antelope herds on mountain pastures, snow-capped peaks and that sort of thing. You’ll have seen the lithographs.’
‘Yes, so I know that winter is not the best time for poking around those valleys, what with deep drifts, avalanches, snow leopards and such.’
‘All true, but the valley bottoms aren’t so dangerous, and the boys would kill us if we went without them. We could all go at the All Souls holiday, before things got too bad with the weather. The train from Ostberg will take us to Sint-Willemsborg with little problem, and then the Central Line runs on south to Neuhausen. It could be quite a nice holiday for us all. And isn’t Meister Andrecht from Sint-Willemsborg? We could drop him off to visit his family. Felix could go incognito, he’d like that. You know how the Montenards traditionally hate kings and princes, or say they do. Good. Sorted. I’ll get Erwin to begin the arrangements; he’ll want to come this time.’
Neuhausen was a picturesque little city in a gorgeous, scenic valley, its steep slopes clothed with dark conifers and towered over by snowy peaks. The air was clear and exhilarating and the sky a remarkably deep blue. Winter had come, but not as yet the snowfall which would block the Central Line, blanket the roofs of the town and bury the pastures and lanes around it.
‘The cathedral looks quite interesting,’ Joerg observed to no one in particular. He was muffled up in a thick coat, boots, gloves and woollen hat, as also were the two boys.
Ruprecht claimed to feel the cold less than they did, but he did condescend to wrap a scarf around his neck. ‘We have time to go and look at it,’ he responded. ‘Our expedition doesn’t begin till tomorrow.’
So they wandered across the market square and through the west door of the church, nowhere near as rich in sculpture and stained glass as the basilicas of the coastal states and Empire. They found a clean white-washed space within, though the lower walls were adorned with many mural tablets and much statuary dedicated to the memory of past generations of the civic elite of Neuhausen.
‘Now this is interesting, Rupe. Look at these ancient plaques. They go right back to the fourth century, while the Empire still ruled the Montenards. They have English texts carved on them from the Summarium, and look at the names: here’s a Malcolm, a Clive, a Fiona and a Dawn! Didn’t you say this region still had autonomous English tribes in the second century? Here’s some further proof English influence and language remained important in Neuhausen long after the Allemanic conquest of the south. I think it’s a good sign.’
‘Evil English,’ muttered Felix.
‘What’re you on about?’ responded his brother.
‘Poor little Jean-Charles. They killed his dad, did bad stuff to his mum and sisters, destroyed his home and turned him out naked into the wilderness. Probably killed him too in the end. Wouldn’t you say that was evil?’
‘I don’t make moral judgements on the past, Kreech. That’s not what’s required of historians, as you and Gilles will discover next year in university. Our obligation is to search out the truth as far as we can establish it from the evidence. There is so much we don’t know about that distant age we’re not in a position to make judgements of any sort. But you’ll make a good historian nonetheless, I think.’
Felix frowned. ‘How’s that?’
‘You have empathy. That long-dead waif has tugged at your heart strings. If you can’t feel for people of past ages, you can never understand them.’
The boy brightened and winked at Gilles. ‘See! I’m a caring, feeling human being!’
Joerg took Felix’s arm as they walked and hugged it. ‘Yes, you are, our Kreech, and we love you for it. But your brother’s right, we have no proper evidence that the English were responsible for the horrors at Val de Rougiet, so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Now we’ve seen the cathedral, who fancies a frothy and creamy Montenard hot snowball?’
They adjourned to a cheerful little inn on the square, its hearth crackling with a bright and fragrant wood fire, and they nursed the sugary cream drinks the maid brought them. Gilles leafed through the stack of newspapers, while the others chatted about the next day’s expedition. Erwin was currently hiring a team of the hardy mountain horses that the area bred.
‘Rupe! Take a look at this Westrechtner paper. The Empire’s at it again.’
‘What’s it say, Gillot?’
‘There’ve been border clashes with Westrechtner troops, and exchanges of cannon fire across the River Merch. The paper’s a bit hysterical about it.’
‘I thought the Regent’s defeat would stop that nonsense,’ Ruprecht commented. ‘Looks like I may have thought wrong.’
‘Do you think the Emperor’s squaring up to the Alliance?’ Joerg asked.
‘I don’t think he’s subtle enough to be intimidating the Westrechtner government so as to get it to let his armies march through on the way to Ardhesse. Yes, it looks to me he’s thinking he’ll be able to bulldoze through the grand duchy and just dare the other two Allemanic kingdoms to intervene. He wants King Kristijan’s head on a pole.’
Joerg adopted a look of distaste. ‘I wonder what future historians will make of those two power-mad young monsters.’
Their inn took it for granted that travellers would economise by sharing rooms, so Ruprecht and Joerg were happily together in their bed. The room was warm, its porcelain wood stove well-stoked for the night. The Montenards took heating seriously, and for good reason considering the extremes of temperature their alpine homeland experienced. Both men were naked, Ruprecht’s arm hugging his small lover around his waist, but affection not sex was all that was on his mind at that point. Their attention was on the large but somewhat dated map of the Neuhaus canton on the coverlet in front of them.
‘Place names have let you down, Rupe,’ Joerg commented archly. His lover pinched one of his small dark nipples hard between two fingers, causing the little doctor to squirm. ‘Keep doing that and you’ll be sleeping in a sticky bed. Ooh!’
Ruprecht heeded the warning and desisted. ‘It doesn’t seem that there’re any obvious sites whose names relate to our search, true. I’m looking for English elements in their construction, but I’m not entirely sure what they might actually be. Maybe the names in Hartland will be more obviously English, but we decided to start here because of the railway. So what we do is travel the main valley and talk to people: clergy are a good bet, they pick up lots of stories about their parishes.’
‘What sort of stories?’
‘Oh … places which are haunted or where supernatural events are supposed to have occurred. We can also scour junk shops for alienware, look for English blueware in the ground and generally hope to see a site that looks something like the Francien prefecture we discovered in Vieldomaine.’
‘The boys will enjoy the ride.’
‘So will I. This is only a scouting mission. I don’t seriously think we’re going to somehow blunder on to the English prefecture. But when all is said and done it still has to be in one of these valleys, and we’ll find it, though it may take a few seasons.’
The pair lay back and Joerg began stroking Ruprecht’s chest. He leaned over to kiss the little man and made a request.
‘Oh, but I’ve not done that with you!’
‘I do want you to. I really like it. Question is, do you want to fuck me? You’re hard enough, and for a little fellow you’re respectably hung.’
‘I’ve never done it before.’
‘Well, no time like the present: the room is warm, the bed doesn’t creak and my hole is pretty accommodating; there’ve been enough men who’ve been there before you. It’s not like I’m bored doing you, but a little variety …?’
‘I’ll probably climax too soon.’
‘Are these excuses because you don’t want to do it?’
‘No, no. I just don’t want to disappoint my erdbeest.’
Joerg blushed. ‘It’s your fault. Every time you mount me now from behind, I think of when I saw that bull erdbeest fucking a smaller one in the park at Ardheim. It brings me off.’
‘Now that’s an image to live up to! Are they enormous?’
‘Pretty large, yes. About your size in fact. I think I may not be prime bull material.’
Ruprecht laughed. ‘We’re not erdbeesten, little one mine. They don’t love and share as we do. They’re animals. Sex for them is about domination and breeding. Nothing more.’
So Ruprecht turned on to his stomach and raised his butt a little. Joerg’s fingers began stroking and searching. There was the drip of something cool and slick on his hole and the fingers became more insistent and squelched as they moved and twisted in him. Ruprecht purred with the feeling of warmth and friction. Lack of confidence or not, it appeared that Joerg had been taking notes about what had been done to his own behind and hadn’t missed a trick. A shove from a whole set of fingers lodged inside him caused Ruprecht to move up the bed and gasp.
‘Oh! Are you alright?’ Joerg asked.
‘Yes. Not a problem. If you can get most of your hand up me, I must be ready.’
‘I’m not. Sorry. Lost my hard-on.’
‘Try and stroke it up, but fingers inside me are really good. I like things up there.’
It actually took the best part of a quarter hour before the little doctor regained his erection. He settled on Ruprecht’s back, looked between them to target the man’s anus with his cock and pressed in. It was so easy an insertion Joerg appeared not to have noticed he was actually inside Ruprecht.
‘I think I missed,’ he said with a little frustration.
Ruprecht employed his anal skills and clamped down hard on Joerg. ‘No you didn’t, big one mine. Oooh! Start moving any time you want.’
‘Shit!’ Joerg yelped. ‘That’s so tight … Jesus! I’m fucking coming already.’
‘Try and keep moving. You may stay hard. Fuck like fury, little one.’
It seemed to work. Despite the semen squelching out of Ruprecht around his cock, Joerg fucked as fast and hard as he could. He grunted and groaned in a very satisfactory way as Ruprecht kept massaging his thrusting cock internally.
‘This is awesome, little one! You can fuck like an erdbeest!’
Joerg began to really get into it, thrusting more and more frantically until, with a shout, his body tensed and he emptied himself into Ruprecht a second time.
Ruprecht lay contented, feeling Joerg’s sweat running down on to his own flanks as the little man relaxed on top of him, his hands loosening the grip he had under Ruprecht’s armpits. Joerg’s breathing slowed and it suddenly occurred to Ruprecht that his lover was asleep on his back. He smiled to himself and waited till Joerg’s cock fell out of him. He turned him in the bed, quickly squatted over the chamber pot to empty himself, covered it and went back to snuggle into Joerg’s warmth. He slept better than he ever remembered doing.
Montenard mountain ponies were hardy beasts, slow but sure-footed. They were certainly not built for speed, but they could take the full weight of a man and carry him up a hill with no evident strain. Felix had got frustrated trying to get his mount to race Gilles’s.
‘Lazy little beast,’ he grumbled.
‘Then get off him and walk, Kreech,’ Gilles retorted, somewhat ungraciously for him. ‘I’m just happy I don’t have to climb these hills on foot. I’m not too keen on hills. I was brought up on the Plains, where you can get vertigo standing on a molehill.’
‘Follow Erwin and the guide,’ Ruprecht ordered from the rear of the line, ‘and don’t stray off the antelope path. There’re some seriously dangerous stretches along this track. We’ll be above the snow line before we get to where we’re going.’
The ponies trudged patiently onwards and upwards. They seemed to know the way well, which would not be surprising as the hardier sort of tourist occasionally ventured up it. As they made a turn on a particularly narrow and steep section off the path, Ruprecht’s heart leaped into his throat as he saw below, through gulfs of empty air, the tiny houses and churches of the city of Neuhausen, a kilometre and a half nearer sea level than where he presently was.
The next turn brought the expedition on to a pasture where there were patches of snow. The two boys whooped, and were off their mounts and across the grass, soon making snowballs and pelting each other.
Ruprecht pulled up next to Joerg. ‘I don’t think either of them has been in snow before, which makes the current exhibition understandable. Let them get it out of their systems. The frozen, aching hands will soon slow them down.’
Erwin and the guide were also philosophical. They both lit up cigarettes, sharing a light. Joerg in the meantime had out a small calf-bound guidebook of some decades’ vintage.
‘It’s only about four hundred metres further now, I think,’ he pronounced.
‘What are we looking for when we get there?’
‘The picture isn’t very helpful. It just shows a stone-built shack, but it is reputed to be the hermitage of St Bruno of Wildesborg, where the good man lived in contemplation of humanity’s nastiness to itself and thought he was well out of it up here. It’s the oldest-dated site in Neuhausen, so worth a look … and of course an opportunity for the boys to play in the snow.’
‘Anything in particular about it other than its antiquity.’
‘The sculptures are ancient and are said to reflect themes from The Voyagers, the earliest artistic representations of the story apparently, though no writer’s confident that’s what they’re really about. Worth a look though.’
Once Gilles and Felix had exhausted the novelty of snow they resumed their trek; no longer upwards but across a shoulder of hill-pasture, with tough tussocky grass on which several wild mountain antelope were grazing, when they weren’t eyeing the party of explorers cautiously.
The chapel of St Bruno was larger than Ruprecht had expected, and sound in structure, the roof recently repaired from the looks of things. The door was never locked, the guide said, as it was used as a shelter by shepherds and mountain travellers caught out by bad weather. Within was dark as the windows were small and deep-set. The chapel’s west gable wall incorporated a large chimney stack and fireplace, next to which were neatly stacked piles of firewood for the use of those taking refuge within; there was even a tinderbox thoughtfully provided. They didn’t disturb the woodpile but did take advantage of a large oil lamp, which Ruprecht lit up and brought with them when they went to view the sculpture set in the north wall.
It was a long frieze running the length of the wall and turning to occupy part of the east gable, where a Cross of the Seneschal was set.
‘Can you make anything out?’ Joerg asked.
‘It looks like a cavalcade of mounted men, all riding eastward. They’re armed like third-century warriors, which dates it early, I guess. I can’t see how the theme is anything to do with The Voyagers. I don’t remember it has much to say about horses. What does the guidebook say?’
‘It doesn’t go into detail,’ Joerg admitted.
‘The carving of the horses is quite skilled,’ Ruprecht mused, ‘better than you’d expect from the date, but then the Montenards have always been famous for their breeding herds; major suppliers to the Southlands. There isn’t any religious significance to it, I’d say. It may have actually come from elsewhere, some noble residence maybe.’
Felix was up close and squinting at the eastern end of the cavalcade. ‘Hey! What about this, Rupe? There’s some writing here.’
Ruprecht brought his lamp over. ‘My word, he’s right. At the end of this panel, right next to this warrior’s head is a name carved, probably so as we can identify the character, and – believe it or not – it’s KEVIN CONNORSON DER ENGLISCHE, Kevin Lengleis himself. So that’s why it’s associated with The Voyagers. But can you remember any passage where Kevin rides out with a squadron of cavalry?’
‘No, but I can see where he’s headed,’ Joerg replied. ‘The last panel next to the cross is broken, but you can see he and his warriors are pursuing a creature like an erdbeest. Looks like a hunting scene from the ancient Kingdom of Kholnai. It may be earlier than even the third century. And you may note the name it gives the king: Kevin Connorson, isn’t that a lot like Kevin O’Connor, the name of the English leader on the medallion? I think this is some evidence we’re in the right place after all and that these early Kevins are all connected.’