Jacques Levaillant sat up astonished. His last memory was settling into the unkempt bed in the loft over his shop, the sheets streaked and stiff with the results of his compulsive jerking, which he indulged in to excess in the absence of any alternative. It had been two weeks since he’d last had active sex, a pleasure he had paid for. As always he’d felt bad about it, but his business gave him little time to go trawling the bars and clubs of Ostberg. The prostitute had been seriously well endowed, even if he had lacked the energy and passion Jacky most valued. His happy encounter with Ruprecht von Aalst’s epic schlong had spoiled him.
He looked around. He found he was naked in the open air, tree branches flowering above him. He got to his feet, the grass cool and soft under his feet. A path led him to his left and after some metres he entered another clearing. It had a central mound several metres high, on which sat a man who caused Jacky’s breath to catch in his throat. This was the best dream he had ever had. The man was big and muscular and the marvel was that he was so well endowed his heavy cock didn’t just hang down to the grass, it was laid along it between his thighs and it wasn’t even erect.
The man caught his gaze and laughed. ‘Come here little one,’ he said. He held out his great arms, took the slender boy into them and seated him on his thigh, Jacky feeling like a small child enveloped by such power and muscle.
‘Who are you? Where is this?’
‘This is your herd, little one. And you are here for a number of reasons. The first is to thank you, for I’m the Great Bull of the Imperial Herd, and you’re my grandchild, descended directly from me. And so you are a prince of the Plains, as much as is Gillot, the king, whom you know, and his brother the Emperor of the Living.’
‘Am I dead then? I knew I should have thrown that chicken away.’
The man guffawed. ‘Sweetheart, you may well turn out to be my favourite among the princes of your generation. You have served the Herd well, and we thank you.’
‘Great! Can I ask for wishes to be granted?’
‘Ha! I know all too well what you want. Come, straddle me.’ His great penis was already thickening and rising as Jacky stared.
With many squeals and expletives Jacky settled on an erection of a size beyond his dreams and satisfied himself vigorously until he felt a surge of wetness inside him. Then he was under the man on his back and was put through a pounding the like of which he had never experienced even in the erdbeest breeding shed, his legs flailing in the air as he was ploughed into the ground.
After it was over, the man lifted Jacky off him and held him tight in the afterglow. ‘Did the reward match your expectations?’
‘Oh yes, grandpère! It’ll spoil me for any other sex for ever!’
The man sat up and cuddled him tight as if he were a little boy, kissing him on the forehead. ‘That’s sad, sweet little prince,’ he said. ‘You only say that since sex has been for you about possession and lust. But there is better loving to be had.’
‘Oh, I know,’ the boy said as he got up to evacuate the consequences of the passionate encounter. ‘You’re not the first to tell me. But I’ve only ever come close to that once, and he was spoken for. Huge cock too, though nowhere near the size of your massive thing, grandpère.’
‘That child belongs to another Herd, little prince, but there is one other of that people whom you should meet. Go then along that path you see across the clearing and after a while you’ll encounter his Herd. See what happens. Give me a kiss, child, and take your grandpère’s blessing with you.’
With a backward glance Jacky took the indicated path through the trees, his slim brown body dappled with shade and sunlight. His backside was delightfully warm and he felt carefree and happy beyond anything he ever had felt before in his troubled life. He began singing, something he had loved doing as a child with his mother, before the drink took control of her.
Then he was dancing elegantly and happily along the dusty path as he went. As he sang and spun on his toes he heard a snigger and looked up, to see a small child on a branch above him. He was blond, curly-haired and very pretty indeed, like an elfin tree spirit.
Jacky came to a stop with his hands on his hips. ‘What’re you laughing at, little bird in the tree?’ he demanded.
‘Not laughing!’ the child grinned. ‘Your dance was great. Can I do it with you?’
‘I suppose so, come on down.’
So the boy swarmed along the branch and dropped into Jacky’s arms. He took the older boy around his neck and kissed him before alighting on the path. Jacky was touched. He liked little children, though not in the way his former patron had. He had comforted the small ones that he found being molested by the other catamites.
So the pair danced together along the path as Jacky sang, the little child copying his movements rather well. Out of breath, they paused when they got to the edge of the woodland, beyond which opened a great grassy plain.
‘What’s your name, little bird? I’m Jacky.’
‘I’m Kris! Are we friends?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘Would you like to meet my big brother? He’s really cool!’
Jacky shrugged. Taking that for consent Kris took his hand and led him out of the trees. An extraordinary sight met Jacky’s eyes. There were hundreds of naked humans strolling the plain, of both sexes and different ages but all blond, some hand-in-hand, one or two engaged in intimate activity as the others simply walked past or stepped over them. A particularly big specimen trotted up.
‘He’s a bull,’ little Kris said. ‘He’ll challenge you. You’ll have to fight him if you want to go any further.’
‘What? Me, fight? That’s just not my …’
The man came up close, very handsome and heavily endowed, his cock swinging between his legs. Jacky was mesmerised.
‘You’re not a Connorson kid,’ he pronounced. ‘Clear off!’
‘He wants to meet my big brother,’ Kris piped up. Then he looked up at Jacky. ‘You do don’t you?’
‘Er … I suppose.’
The man threw out his arms and hissed threateningly at Jacky through his bared teeth.
‘Do it back to him!’ Kris instructed.
Feeling rather foolish, Jacky had a stab at it. The man circled him, his penis rapidly rising to an erection which somewhat distracted Jacky, so that he was grappled and forced on to all fours with some ease. The man’s sweaty body surrounded him, his scent rather heady and sexy.
‘Alright!’ he conceded. ‘You’ve won … I … Oh! Jesus!’ The man on top was buggering him, sliding in and out of his ass with ease after its recent stretching and lubrication. Then he stopped, and suddenly Jacky could feel pulses of hot and stinging wetness surging into his bowel. He was being pissed in. It was not by any means the first time such a thing had happened to Jacky, but it was disconcerting that he had collected an audience for the act, including a half dozen small children who were clapping their hands and grinning. The man pulled out, making a fist to the onlookers while a spurt of urine followed his cock out of Jacky. The man pulled the boy up.
‘I’m Gerd,’ he announced. ‘Since you submit to the bulls of this herd, you can proceed. Where are you taking him, little Krissy?’
‘To see my brother if he’s here.’
‘He is, but he’s riding the plain on his own, little one. He does that a lot, you know.’
‘Oh!’ The little boy was obviously dashed.
‘Never mind, Kris,’ Jacky said. ‘Get up on my shoulders. I’ll take you for a ride too!’
Kris looked less disappointed and Jacky lifted him up on to his shoulders, where the boy settled and steadied himself with handfuls of thick dark hair, while Jacky held on to his smooth, honey-brown calves. Jacky trotted away over the grass swerving through the drifting herd, the boy bouncing happily and laughing while Jacky did quite a skilful imitation of a galloping, snorting horse.
They trotted out of the herd and into a stand of trees. ‘Look!’ Kris yelled, pointing. ‘Erdbeesten!’
And indeed there was another herd in the distance. Hundreds of upright, browsing erdbeesten. ‘But they’re not erdbeesten! They’re walking on their hind legs!’
‘They are!’ Kris replied. ‘They’re real erdbeesten! Not like the ones that are in Waltherborg Park.’
‘You know that place?’
Kris looked sheepish. ‘Sorta,’ he said slowly, as if caught out in something he shouldn’t have said. Before Jacky could pursue that there was a drumming of hooves and up rode a lanky but handsome youth of Jacky’s own age. He was blond with long, thin legs and prominent knees, his hair windswept back from his forehead. His skin was paler than the rest of his Herd.
‘It’s my brother!’ Kris yelled happily. ‘The one I told you about.’
The rider pulled up his horse, leaning down to pat its neck. He looked at Jacky with interest. ‘Who’re you? You don’t belong in the Alleman and English Herds.’
‘Me … no. I just woke up in the woods and met this big brute who took serious advantage of me … it was wonderful!’
The boy smiled quirkily. ‘You’re from the Living Herd. People like you aren’t supposed to visit here anymore. You must be special. Who are you?’
‘My grandpère said I was a prince of the Plains, of the same Herd as Gilles and François.’
The stranger dismounted and made a disconcertingly low bow to the slim Francien boy. ‘Then, my lord, you are of the high Imperial Herd.’ He turned to Kris. ‘Krissy, bow to the Prince of the Great Herd.’
The little one, eyes wide, dipped low his curly head. ‘Sorry, Prince Jacky! I didn’t know.’
More confused than ever, Jacky urged the others to stand. ‘You mean I really am a prince here? Wow!’
‘You are an imperial prince, my lord, of the very highest rank,’ replied the older boy, ‘and that explains your looks, for you have the features of the sovereigns and lords of House Parmentier.’
Jacky mused on the information. ‘That’s what King Gilles said. I wondered what he meant.’
The stranger nodded. ‘Gilles was often here in the past, and he rode these plains. I wished he’d ridden with me, but …’ The boy took on a distant look, then continued earnestly but shyly ‘Would you consent, my lord, to do that? To ride in front of me? Only if you wish, of course. It would mean so much. Looking as you do.’
Jacky shrugged. ‘What do I do?’
The boy dismounted and put Jacky up against the horse’s rough shoulder. Taking Jacky’s small and elegant right foot he pushed the lighter, slimmer boy up on to the horse’s back, then effortlessly vaulted up behind him.
Jacky found himself being pressed forward against the horse’s sinuous neck by the boy’s warm front. He giggled as he felt the stranger’s sizeable genitalia squash against his buttocks, and hands grasp his narrow waist tight. ‘I’m going hard,’ he breathed.
‘That’s fine,’ came the reply. ‘I will too. I’ll probably … y’know … against your back. Do you mind.’
‘Mind? You kidding? You’re gorgeous for a blond.’
The taller boy clasped Jacky hard, his chin on his left shoulder and right cheek pressed up against Jacky’s dark and fragrant hair. He whistled in Jacky’s ear, and the horse was away.
‘Bye, Kris!’ Jacky called, as the horse surged beneath him. He heard the small boy call back through the rising wind of their passage. They galloped and it was exhilarating. A hand cupped and held his hardening penis and let the motion of the horse masturbate him. His orgasm arose as he squirmed against the boy behind him. He spurted hard into the wind and on to the horse’s neck. ‘Jesus the Seneschal!’
After he had climaxed and the rider had himself grunted and left a sticky patch all over Jacky’s lower back, they dismounted. The two boys found themselves on a grassy bank, the horse cropping close by. Then without any hesitation Jacky placed himself on all fours and was happy to be mounted and fucked in new and interesting ways by the other boy’s long thin cock.
‘This is the best dream ever,’ Jacky murmured after they had collapsed and laid themselves out facing each other. He stroked the other boy’s domed belly and played with his fuzz of light brown pubic hair. He leaned over and kissed the limp and sticky member. ‘You’re amazing. I always thought size made the best sex, but you … what did you do?’
The boy turned towards him and kissed him in another way new to Jacky. ‘I had a great teacher,’ he said. ‘He taught me that sex wasn’t just mechanical. To be truly what it should be there has to be a … connection’
‘Is that what I felt, a connection?’
‘You look very like him,’ the boy smiled. ‘Though you don’t talk or act like him. You’re a randy, funny little fucker, for a prince. Yet in you, there’s something which is the same. There is a kindness and longing for love you try to hide.’ He reached over and brushed the hair from Jacky’s forehead, and kissed it. ‘Time to go home, Jacky.’
‘But I don’t want to. You’re perfect.’
‘You’ll end up back here one day, we all do. But for now, we both have another plain on which to wander.’
‘But I want to come back and do it with you again …’ Jacky grinned irrepressibly, ‘… and again!’
‘But I don’t belong here either. I’m only here as an act of favour granted me by the Great Bulls as a reward for my … sacrifice. I’ll wake up somewhere else. Look, the sun is setting. It’s time.’
‘But what’s your name!’
The stranger boy, his incubus, smiled. ‘It’s Kreech. Remember that name, Jacques Parmentier, Prince of the Plains, son of the Great Bulls. And believe the words of the man who next says it to you.’
Jacques Levaillant awoke with the rising sun doing its best to shine through the grimy window of his attic nest, where he was wrapped in his stained sheets, now slimy and dark with the sperm and seminal fluid of his emissions during the night.
‘That was the best dream ever,’ he groaned as he stretched.
Brigadier-General Otto von Ampfeld rather liked his new post. He had fallen quite in love with His Allemanic Majesty, whose household and security he had been appointed to direct. The King Kristijan he now served was only in his looks the same as the one he had previously served with equal loyalty. The new Kristijan was not perhaps as ruthless, incisive and brilliant in matters of command and organisation, but in his ability to read, win over and manipulate all sorts of people he was far superior. Also he was clearly sane, a state his master never had approached before. The old Kristijan had occasionally betrayed a quirky and unsuspected kindliness, but this new one was all genuine good nature. Not that he was weak, as several presumptuous courtiers had made the mistake of assuming, to be brought up hard against a frosty grandeur every bit the equal of what the Emperor-King had previously deployed.
But what the Brigadier most liked about the king was the fact that he would confide in him freely, more freely than in anyone else it appeared. Much of that was because Von Ampfeld knew better than any other member of the royal entourage exactly what was going on in Terre Nouvelle and the personalities behind it. So at the end of the day the king would offer the Brigadier a cup of tea in his private office and discuss the state of the world. These interviews soon got around the court, and the Brigadier’s stock rose accordingly in Hendrijksborg, as he could tell from the courtiers and ministers trying to curry his favour and elicit information both discreetly and indiscreetly.
Today had been the day when the king had successfully negotiated the departure of the occupying Eastern forces from his island of Zuidholm.
‘What will we do about old Uncle Horst?’ Kristijan wondered as he sipped his tea.
‘The Easterners set him up on Zuidholm as King of Ardhesse restored, and then he conducted himself with his usual unpleasantness, even though the place was a camp for dissidents from my rule – his natural constituency indeed. Yet he alienated them effortlessly. He even stuck many of them back in the prison where I dumped them.’
‘It seems to me, sire, he may have solved your problem for you.’
‘You may be right, Otto old fellow. I think the time has come to send them all home. I’ll have the Ardheimer Abendtsgazett call vigorously on the king to show mercy in this case.’
‘Excuse me asking, sire, but why did you secretly fund and open a newspaper dedicated to attacking yourself and your policies?’
The king chuckled. ‘Well firstly, dear old Ampfeld, because it rather amuses me. I contemplated composing bitter editorials about my monstrous vices and hatred for the people and calling for my head to be spiked on a lamppost at my castle gate. But frankly I doubt my ability. So I had my trustees appoint better-educated and less histrionic editors. But the main point is that this somewhat repressed kingdom of mine needs to develop a political culture, and a free press is necessary for that. So what better way than to allow a daring new title to open and let it to get away with murder? Eventually the rest will follow suit if the water proves warm. But at the same time, I can keep its rhetoric short of the incendiary.’
‘Sire, I am impressed. That’s so far beyond the subtlety of the Baron Meisel.’
‘Oh, old Meisel wasn’t subtle, he was just sneaky. Not the same thing. I sent him a pile of nice new shirts and a bottle of perfume to keep him happy on Bornholm. He’s safer there for the time being. A lot of his victims would so like to have him strangled … slowly. Anyway, I was talking about Uncle Horst. The Easterners told me confidentially they really don’t want him anymore and asked would I … handle the problem for them. Now I thought that cynical, and in my usual mad and contrary way I’d rather not have anything to do with garrotting the old chap. Ideas?’
‘The Holy See is the traditional place for dethroned monarchs and refugee princes to seek sanctuary, sire.’
‘Yes, but he’s such an old pagan. Ah well, His Holiness and I are best friends at the moment, so I’ll ask him to send Uncle Horst a letter of protection. No one can touch him while he carries that, providing he ends up in the Holy City. Jolly good. Thank you Otto. Tomorrow, we’ll be on the move. Since the seas are now safe for me, I propose boarding one of the few battleships Dreiholmtz left me and taking a trip up the east coast, to pay my respects to the other Allemanic sovereigns, and so they can acknowledge my wonderfulness and new precedence. The Foreign Ministry’s been busy and it seems that Ostberg, Hochrecht and one or two of the little princes of the Protectorate will be willing to see me, despite their preference for dowdy old Queen Wilhelmina. Still, it’s a start. It’ll be a challenge for you. I imagine the cliffs will be lined with people ready to open up on me with a sniper’s rifle. I count on your industry to save me for posterity, old Otto.’
The king rose, and the Brigadier rose with him, to bow low and take his leave. He was up all night to make the best arrangements he possibly could for his beloved young master.
Several months’ residence at Blauwhaven had been good for Ruprecht and Joerg. They had finally set the day for their Schuleneheit celebration, which was to be the following Acclamation Sunday. The town leaders and clergy had all accepted invitations, which may have had a lot to do with the fact that the King of the Franciens the Prince of Ostberg and several other great persons besides would be adding lustre to the occasion.
The pair were walking the harbour mole that fine morning.
‘I do love the way the sea twinkles like that. It lifts the heart,’ Joerg said dreamily. ‘Are you eating that red meat I prescribed?’
‘I’m not anaemic.’
‘No, but if I have to suck blood from the ball of your thumb, I want it rich in nutrients.’
They reached the Confederate fort to find Lieutenant von Altstadt smoking next to the lowered drawbridge. He greeted them cheerily. ‘Big ship entering the bay, gentlemen. And I would guess she’s Ardhessian.’
Ruprecht took the lieutenant’s pocket telescope and focussed on the turreted grey mass of a battleship steaming steadily shoreward, then he scanned the flags. ‘A Southern vessel alright,’ he commented. ‘I can see an admiral’s pennant at the mast behind the stacks, and … now that’s odd, why would the royal banner of Ardhesse be breaking from the mainmast above the bridge?’
The lieutenant looked startled. ‘That could only be because the king himself’s on board. It’s a hint to the fort to make the proper salute. Excuse me!’ He dashed back across the bridge.
Some minutes later there was the sound of a bugle and the rumble of guns running out. A great billow of smoke burst with a puff from the seaward side and there came the echoing bang of the first of the forty-one guns of a royal salute. A semaphore telegraph began jerking its signals from the tower above them and Ruprecht could see flags making reply from the battleship’s bridge. A return salute to the Bernician flag began from its guns.
Many curious spectators turned out to watch the big vessel make a majestic turn in the bay and anchor. Sailors could be seen readying a steam launch, which was soon being lowered and passengers taken on board.
Ruprecht took Joerg by the shoulder. ‘I think we’re about to have an enigmatic visitor.’
‘Kreech coming home?’
‘I do believe so, though I’m pretty sure he won’t admit it. Let’s get up to the house.’
An hour later Ruprecht was pacing his cluttered study when, as expected, a messenger arrived from the mayor to warn him that a great personage who had just disembarked at the harbour proposed visiting the castle if His Excellency would be so gracious as to consent. Consent was returned and at midday Ruprecht and the castle staff were lined up at the entrance when a carriage escorted by two policemen brought the King of the Allemans to his door. All hats were removed and Erwin in his best seneschal’s coat opened the carriage door for the king to alight, bowing low as he did.
‘Good day to you, Your Excellency. Nice to see you again, Professor. Well, ugly old place you have here, minheer Graf, but solid I dare say.’
‘Indeed, Your Majesty. Could I invite you in? Hello, Brigadier.’
His Allemanic Majesty smiled affably around him. He was in a white suit with a straw hat, looking more handsome and elegant than ever. ‘My dear Graf, I was passing so I thought I’d look in. I don’t think we parted on the most comfortable of terms at Yorck, and I regret that. You know how much I admire and respect your work.’
‘Your Majesty is too kind.’
‘Not at all.’ They entered the gloomy outer hall. ‘My dear fellow, it gets worse. You really should knock this old place down and rebuild it in a modern style. You could have electric light and all the modern conveniences, some I doubt we could currently imagine. The Patriarchal Institute at Yorck has already examined televisual devices that the Ancient Oracle was willing to share.’
‘I find this grim old castle not an unsuitable residence for a historian, sire.’
‘Well, well. Just an idea. Now, is the hall through here? Very baronial. I’ll take a seat if I may. Perhaps you and the professor will sit with me. Brigadier, if you’ll usher the rest out and perhaps the good seneschal will send in some tea. I’m parched. Many thanks.’
When the three were seated the king resumed. ‘I’m on way up the coast, with the next stop a state visit to Ostberg, to visit your brother the new prince. Then onwards to Hochrecht and the Protectorate, but I really did have to stop here first, as there are a couple of things I need to do at Ostberg in which I need your help.’
‘Really, sire? What could they be.’
‘Well first of all, old Rupe, I have to enjoy the most unusual experience of visiting my own tomb.’
Ruprecht scowled. ‘So you’re no longer keeping up the masquerade, you young rascal?’
‘He told you of course, Georgie,’ the king said, glancing at Joerg.
‘Yes he did, and I think it’s unconscionable.’
Kreech held up his hands. ‘Don’t rush to condemn. I was taken aback you’d penetrated my brilliant disguise, Rupe. How did you?’
‘It was the look you directed at Gillot’s bum as he walked away from you. It was pure Felix. Then there was the king’s sudden onset of sanity. I could put two and two together. I knew that the real Kristijan was getting more and more frantic about leaving the Herd. What I didn’t know was that the Great Mind could send you back to his body, instead of him.’
Kreech looked solemn for a moment. ‘It wasn’t an easy decision for me to come back, believe me. It wasn’t just little Kris who didn’t want to return, but the Bulls made a deal. I can still go back at will to the Plains in my dreams, and in return I would occupy the body of the one person on whom the future of Terre Nouvelle turned and I could direct the course of world events in a new way. It was a hell of a sacrifice for me to make. You know what it’s like there.’
‘And what about Gillot … and Fran,’ Ruprecht pursued.
Kreech looked grim. ‘It was Felix von Aalst whom Gillot loved, not Kristijan of Ardhesse. My real death ended that marriage.’ He directed a stern look at his brother. ‘Don’t you dare condemn me! You should know what it cost me.’
There was a long silence, broken by Joerg. ‘We do, Kri … Kreech. Excuse me. I’m having mental double vision here. But there are compensations. You can breathe freely and enjoy one of the finest male bodies on the planet, as well as enormous status. The view from the fourth rung of the Golden Ladder must be wonderful. How on earth did you think up that solution for the Allemanic problem?’
‘Oh, Gillot and I were discussing that in bed one night, ages ago when the original Kristijan claimed to be emperor.’ He looked momentarily tearful. ‘And now it’s François laughing and plotting in bed with my Gillot. I have agents who tell me these things. Yes Rupe, I know very well what my consent cost me.’
Ruprecht looked at the sad and handsome king opposite, out of whose eyes looked his beloved little brother. His heart melted. ‘Very well Kreech, enough has been said. If I haven’t told you already, I am proud of what you’ve accomplished, proud and amazed. What other wonders will you achieve?’
Kreech grinned again, a very familiar grin, not unlike the one his old face had produced. ‘I have many, many ideas. But first, I want to see how Prince Felix Hans is doing and establish friendly relations with Ostberg. There’s also other sorts of friendly relations I want to pursue. You see, I met a boy ...’.
Jacques Levaillant presided over his emporium with wit and a degree of acerbic Francien charm. Women found him irresistible, with his instinct for design, colour and fabrics. He dressed and acted the part of couturier well, with a beautifully-cut suit and fine linen. His tight frock coat and colourful waistcoat were already one of the familiar sights of the fashionable world of Ostberg. He was also a martinet as far as his shopworkers were concerned. There were now a half dozen of them, all female, slim and superbly dressed by their employer. Jacques did not trust male workers in this business and he had standards.
Most days his shop was crammed, customers vying for the attention of ‘Monsieur Jacki’ and clamouring for his advice. That afternoon was no different. Shopworkers held up fabrics, took measurements and fluttered around the demanding lady customers, while Monsieur Jacki held court in the centre of his little kingdom, criticising, advising and (sometimes) admiring.
Occasionally husbands and fathers, not to mention the occasional suitor, crossed the borders of the shopfront into Jacky’s realm, though they were not that welcome. They were at least allowed to buy from his stock of elegant handkerchiefs and cravats. Out of the corner of his eye Jacky observed such a fellow enter his shop, tall and a very handsome figure of a youth. But he could not afford to be distracted and left the intruder to be dealt with by his minions.
When next he focussed the young man was still browsing the corner of his shop. This time Jacky registered the fine grey frock suit beautifully cut to fit his broad shoulders, and that was not all. There was something ominously familiar about the man’s rear view and the rich curls of his golden blond hair, let to grow below his collar. He turned to face Jacky and approached.
The couturier gaped, and then grabbed a pair of shears ready to hand on a measuring table for cutting fabric. ‘You! You bastard! I’ll kill you before you get me again!’ he screamed.
The whole shop turned and gaped at the tableau: Jacky trembling with mingled fear and rage, the point of his steel scissors in the face of a taller and very handsome young man, a face familiar from every newspaper and magazine in Terre Nouvelle as that of Kristijan of Ardhesse, King of the Allemans. Several female witnesses to the scene fainted.
The king put up his hands peaceably, as astonished as the witnesses. ‘Easy, Monsieur Levaillant! It’s me.’
‘I know it’s you, you cunt. I’ll kill you rather than go back to your whorehouse!’
‘I mean, it’s me … Kreech!’
‘What?’ The shears trembled in his hands.
‘Kreech! From the Great Plain. We fucked! It was good! Better than good.’ Several more women fainted.
The scissors clattered to the floor. ‘It’s not possible. You’re screwing with my head.’
‘I know I look like Kristijan … but he’s passed,’ the king said in a much lower voice. ‘You met him on the other side. The little kid, Kris. I took his discarded body. Actually, I’m a dead man.’ He looked down plaintively at the discarded weapon. ‘And I nearly was again.’
The Francien boy shook his head. ‘I don’t believe this,’ he said, and then ran out the door and down the street, brushing past Brigadier von Ampfeld as he went.
Kreech ran out after him. ‘Fuck and damn,’ he growled to himself. ‘This is not going well.’ He called after the fleeing Francien boy. ‘But I only wanted to ask you to go out with me for a drink!’ He turned to meet the raised eyebrow of the brigadier.
‘Well, you buggered that up pretty well,’ Ruprecht observed to a disconsolate Kreech. They were in a drawing room at the Residenz.
‘I thought he’d be alright when I said the magic word. I told him it would be me, even if I looked like someone else.’
Ruprecht shook his head. ‘Jacky’s not you, Kreech. He panics, he’s very emotional. All that would have occurred to him when his arch-enemy appeared in his own shop would be that his life was in danger.’
‘So what do I do now? The King of the Allemans can’t scour the streets of Ostberg looking for a runaway couturier. He was so cute too in real life, even wearing clothes.’
‘I don’t think you can do anything. Leave it up to Mattie. He’s got strangely knowledgeable about Ostberg’s underworld for such a nice boy. And now you’d better see Hans. Are you going to tell him who’s really in your head?’
‘Would he believe me?’
Ruprecht gave a weary smile. ‘Is there anything he wouldn’t believe after the past couple of years? But maybe it would not be a good idea. Hans needs to be his own man and rule Ostberg as its rightful prince. He’s grieved for you and let you go. If you told him, how could he not tell Mutta and Grossmutta?’
Felix nodded. ‘It’ll maybe be harder for me. I can only meet as a stranger those who loved me.’
‘Not at Blauwhaven, Felix dearest. There you can come and be yourself, my little cat-monster.’
Felix smiled, went over and hugged his brother. As they broke apart there was a discreet knock on the door, and the brigadier looked around it. ‘Sire, His Excellency’s secretary has returned, with a … companion. He requests an audience.’
Felix-Kristijan straightened his jacket and nodded his silent consent. Mattie appeared propelling a rebellious-looking Jacky in front of him. He glared defiantly at the king, who held up his hands peaceably.
‘Please, Jacky, just listen to me. And if you won’t listen to me, listen to Rupe here. I know you trust him. I am not the Kristijan you knew.’
Ruprecht walked over and took the Francien boy’s shoulder. ‘It’s true, Jacky. The body may be Kristijan’s but the mind inside it is my brother Felix, whom we call the Kreech. I’ve been to the Great Plain in my dreams, so I know it’s a real place where strange things happen. There you met my brother, who died but was then reborn in the world in Kristijan’s empty body. I know it’s a problem for you that he now inhabits a body you learned to hate and fear, but his eyes are my brother’s, and the more I’m with him, it’s easier to see Kreech and not Kristijan. It’ll be true for you too, if you give him a chance.’
Jacques looked at Ruprecht not Kreech. ‘It’s true then? Kristijan’s dead? Good! He might have been a cute little kid, but he was a vile man. The things he did to us.’ His gaze switched hesitantly to the present occupant of Kristijan’s body, and lost a little of its hostility. ‘How can I trust you?’
Kreech held out his hand. ‘Come back with me to the Plains tonight. I can take you, and we can start our talk there, where I’m still me. There’s so much about you I want to know, you strange little man.’
‘You can do that?’
‘It’s a gift I have, but you need to sleep beside me. Will you do it?’
‘And can we …?’
Kreech grinned. ‘Oh yes. All the time. And maybe, if you let me, when we wake up again. This body’s pretty well hung, as you may well know already.’
‘He was a crap lover, the dead king. He had no idea what to do with it. Not like you. He preferred watching others. Fine. I’ll give you a chance. Me being a Prince of the Great Herd and all, I can condescend that far.’
King Kristijan of the Allemans smiled and bowed low to the dressmaker. ‘My lord, in the new world to come, many stranger things will happen, I’m quite sure.’
This book is dedicated to a prince among editors.