The Chav Prince

XVI

By Michael Arram

'What here?' said Justin, 'We're staying here? It's an effin' palace.'

'Yes,' Matt said, a little smugly, 'we're staying here and it is a genuine palace. It belongs to a friend of ours.'

The rented BMW rumbled over the cobbles of Radhausplaz and under a big arch in the grand and rusticated frontage of an enormous eighteenth-century house, which took up the biggest part of one side of the square. They emerged in an inner courtyard, where a couple of other cars were parked.

Nathan had his Fodor's Rothenia out. 'The Tarlenheim Palace on Radhausplaz, built in the 1740s as a town house for the counts, later princes, of Tarlenheim (see p.76). The external sculpture is particularly notable. Until recently it housed the transport ministry but was restored to the family in the late restitutions. Closed to the public except on National Day.'

'You love this, dunyu Nate,' grumped Justin.

'Takes me back to when mum and dad dragged me round castles and cathedrals when I was little. I pretended I hated it, but really I didn't.'

'He's just like me,' grinned Matt, 'Stuff adopting you, Justy. I'm going to adopt Nathan.' Justin raised his eyes to an unsympathetic heaven in disbelief.

Justin got out of the car. Terry was unloading it. A very cool and beautiful man appeared at the top of the steps. Really beautiful. Not in the Matthew class, but he certainly had something going for him. And Justin recognised him. He was the guy who had been screwing Will Vincent in the porn movie he and Nathan had enjoyed so much... what was his name - Marc Bennett. He kissed and hugged Matt and Andy, but did not move towards Terry; there was plainly some history between the men. Matt introduced the two boys.

'Boys, this is Count Oskar zu Terlenehem, an old friend and my business associate here in Rothenia.'

'Pleased to meetcha, Mr Bennett,' Justin grinned.

The count looked appalled; he said in very good English, 'There is no escape: even babes in arms know my other life.'

Matt looked annoyed, 'Justin, that was hardly tactful.'

Justin was unabashed, 'You know me and tact, Matt. S'OK your lordship. I'm just a young deviant wiv a criminal record. Don't mind me.'

Oskar gave him a hard look, 'I don't doubt that you'll come to a bad end, boy, so I won't be too hard on you.' Then he laughed and flicked his blond fringe from his eyes. Justin smiled sunnily back, he liked this man. He was obviously as mixed up as he was.

As they followed the count up the steps, Justin found himself taken round the shoulder and hugged by Terry. He looked up at the security chief, and found he was grinning down at him. 'Nice one Justy,' he murmured. Inside the door was a marble and pillared entrance hall, with a great sculpted fireplace and side tables. Classical sculptures stood on plinths and several eighteenth-century paintings of Venetian scenes were hung. A servant in a striped waistcoat helped Terry pile the bags in a corner.

Justin stood looking around, open-mouthed and didn't notice that the rest had disappeared. Terry went outside to deal with the car, and the others had drifted off through one of the doors. He suddenly realised he was alone and he had no idea of where the others had gone. So he went though the nearest open door and found himself in a long corridor with doors opening off to the left, with an internal courtyard through very tall windows on the right. He tried the first door, but it was locked. The second door opened into a long, panelled dining hall, the table set with crystal and silver. No one was around. He went back into the corridor. Justin jumped when a door opened at the far end and a kid appeared. He stopped when he saw Justin and said something in a foreign language.

'Sorry,' said Justin, 'I'm English.'

'Oh... English. Hullo. Who are you?' The kid, who could only have been twelve, was really good with languages.

'Name's Justin. I'm wiv Matt and Andy.'

'OK. Cool. Where are they?'

'Dunno. I lost them in the entrance hall. Who are you?'

'I live here, I'm Fritz.' Justin looked the boy over – cheap jeans, a faded tee-shirt and Nikes. Must be one of the servants' kids, he assumed. Fritz looked him over too. 'Would you like to look around? We'll find your friends eventually, I think.'

'Sure.' Fritz led him up an unsuspected staircase concealed behind some panelling. They emerged in a series of tall state rooms looking out on to the square below. They were furnished with a mixture of antique furniture and comfy sofas. There was a grand gallery full of portraits of kings, counts, ladies and soldiers from several centuries. Finally they came to a ballroom with gigantic hanging chandeliers.

Fritz chatted all the way. A really nice kid, Justin thought, with his wavy blond hair and brown tanned face. Thank God he didn't try to tell him the history of everything they passed, like Matt and Nathan would have tried to do. Instead he showed him the secret passages, the hanging armour and weapons and the mouseholes. He also introduced him to the cats.

'There seems to be no sign of them,' Fritz said, 'So they can only have gone over to the kitchens for a drink and snack maybe. I shall take you down there.'

'Don't get into trouble on my account,' Justin said.

'It is no trouble.' Fritz led them down a wide and stately staircase, through a side door and a narrow corridor and eventually they followed the scent of coffee and bread into a low cellared kitchen. There were English voices. Justin stopped and said, 'Thanks Fritz. You'd better go off and find your mum and I'll take it from here. Don't want you getting into trouble.'

Fritz laughed, and called out in Rothenian. The count appeared and grinned, 'Ahoi, Fritzku, zei Angliske verrn?'

'Ano, Oskar.'

Matt and Andy came through together. Matt made what looked very much like a bow towards the boy. 'Hullo Your Serene Highness. You found him then?'

'Yes I did, Matt,' the boy chuckled.

'OK,' said a puzzled Justin, 'will someone tell me what's up. I'm missing something.'

Matt smiled, 'Fritz here is Oskar's younger brother, Francis zu Terlenehem, HSH the prince of Tarlenheim and lord of all he surveys.'

'What... I though that was Oskar.'

'It's complicated, but no, the prince is Fritz. Oskar is his guardian.'

Justin looked down at the boy, 'Do I have to call you Your Serene Highness?'

'No, you call me Fritz. I like that. Do you want to see my train set?'

'Wouldn't say no.'

'Cool. It's up in the attic. See you later Oskar.' He took Justin off with him, both now chatting ten to the dozen. He spent most of the rest of the day with Fritz and much admired his huge train set that took up a large amount of the musty space under the palace roof. There were stations, tunnels, sidings, viaducts and bridges. Fritz did all his own modelling, although he bought the rolling stock. He had also wired up the electricity.

'You're brilliant,' Justin finally said, a stationmaster's cap on his head and envy in his heart.

'Thank you, Justin. Fun isn't it? I suppose we'd better get down for dinner. Willemu will be here too.'

'Willemu?'

'My good friend Will Vincent. You have met him?'

'Oh yeah. Didn't he used to be your big brother's boyfriend?'

'Yes. They were so once. But Willemu is now living with Felip. They are both my close friends. Felip takes me fishing on weekends.'

'Who is Oskar seeing now?'

'There is a man, I think. A German. I have not met him. He sounds very boring though, some sort of professor. I had better change. It will be black tie. Do you have a suit? I can do my own tie.'

'Yeah, but I have to get Andy to do mine.'

Dinner was a bit frightening to begin with. Young Prince Fritz took one end of the table, with perfect aplomb, standing with great dignity at the beginning of the meal to welcome his seated guests in some formal Rothenian phrases, and proposing an opening toast, which was the custom in that land. It was clear that, although only a boy, this child had much respect already from the adults who came into contact with him: he was a born prince, it seemed. At the other end of the table was a very fine-looking woman, his sister and guardian, the countess Helge, in crimson taffeta and diamonds. Oskar took up the middle with Will, Terry and Felip; Felip was nearest Fritz. Opposite them were Matt and Andy, Nathan sat next to the countess and Justin next to Fritz, which suited them both down to the ground.

Fritz looked extremely cute in boy-sized, but beautifully-cut evening dress, and there was the red ribbon and medallion of an order of chivalry around his neck. Justin wondered if all kings and princes were as funny and pleasant as this intelligent, kind and unassuming boy. He began asking questions. Fritz told him of his early life as an ordinary village boy in the Rothenian countryside: climbing trees, feeding chickens and going to the local school. He was ten before the family finally reclaimed its lands and assets from the government, and eleven when Oskar abruptly resigned the title of prince and count to him. 'So you see, friend Justy, I had no time to learn to be haughty and proud. But they are sending me on a course next year.' He looked straightfaced at Justin, and they both collapsed, howling with laughter. Fritz was in complete hysterics when Justin told him the stories of how he earned his ASBOs. 'Sewage... that's what we call fumacij. And you flooded a government office with it? You are so totally cool, Justy.' He wiped the tears from his eyes. Everyone else on the table had by now stopped talking, smiling indulgently at the laughing boys.

Fritz left the table for bed at nine thirty, the table rising as he took his farewell, saying some formal words in Rothenian. Will, Felip and Matt bowed their heads to the prince as he kissed his sister and left. Justin switched his attention to Matt, on his other side.

'Hey Matt, what we going to do this week?'

'Well, Pete and Tim will be here tomorrow sometime. I get my medal, as you call it, on Saturday. So we'll do a bit of tourism.'

'Christ, not castles and stuff again.'

'Only for us. Nathan wants to do the big gardens in the city, which you may think is more like it, eh? So you can go off with him and wander. You shouldn't have much of a problem, there's a lot of English spoken here. It's a very safe city, although the trams are tricky. But Will can tell you how to manage them, he's a genuine native now, he lives with Felip up by the cathedral.'

Early the next morning, a Thursday, three boys left the side door of the Tarlenheim palace. It was the summer holiday from school, so Fritz had said he would love to be Nathan and Justin's guide round the city.

'I'm still getting to know it,' he said. 'Helge and I live most of the year in a house we have in the north in the small city of Modnehem. That's where I'm starting high school in September. It's Oskar who lives here, it's close to Will and their company offices in the Staramesten. Oskar does a lot of entertaining of media and government people here; he pays for the domestic staff now he's so well off.'

They bought day passes at a kiosk with the 'funny money' as Justin called it, and hopped a tram clanging its way eastward. Eventually, they reached a huge open square in the centre of the city, the Rodolferplaz. They dropped off the tram as it screeched to a halt half way up the square towards the old royal palace. They spent the morning mooching around the square and the main shopping street, the Mikhelstrasse. They lunched in one of the many McDonalds outlets in the city, arguing intensely as to whether the fries were quite as crispy and the chicken sandwich a bit more spicy than back home. 'I have never been outside Rothenia,' observed Fritz, 'and you have been to America, to the Caribbean and now here too, Justy.'

'Well you gotta come back and see us in London, mate,' replied Justin.

'Absolutely,' agreed Nathan. 'After all, Matt and your brother are obviously big friends, Fritzy.'

'Ah, but Oskar does not like London so much. He had a bad time there last year. Myself I would like to see London and Buckingham Palace, although with the number of English tourists and stag parties in Strelzen, you wonder what's the point, since most of London seems to be here in the summer.'

They looked across the restaurant at a party of English twenty-somethings still worse the wear from the previous night's binge on the Wejg, the red light area of the city. One of then was wearing leather hot pants and pink, furry deely-boppers. Nathan shook his head.

Fritz took them down to the Botanical Gardens by the river after lunch, and they followed Nathan round as he enthused. They spent the rest of the afternoon helping Fritz buy a PS2 game in a brand new city mall west of Mikhelstrasse. They were happy to contribute their considerable experience of what was good value. They were amazed by the low prices.

When they got back the noise of the palace had increased further with the arrival of Peter and Tim from the USA. They had got in on an overnight flight and were completely trashed, although Tim said he had been out for a stroll. He had never been in Rothenia before, and he loved it, he said.

On Friday morning, Fritz knocked on their bedroom door, and asked if they were decent.

'Quite good looking in fact,' Justin called out. Fritz laughed and came in.

'It is ten o'clock. When are you getting up? Willemu will be here in half an hour.'

Nathan looked at his grinning and quite unfazed face. Fritz must know why he and Justin were naked in the same bed. 'Fritzy, you know that Justin and I are boyfriends? Does it bother you at all?'

He laughed. 'You are two gay boys, I know that. But my brother and Willemu were boyfriends, so I know you do sexy things together. Sexy? Is that right? Well anyway, it doesn't bother me. You have not made the pass at me, have you? But you might tell me what it is you do together. Is it the wanking or the sucking, and do you push your dick up Justin's ass? Yes?' Justin was sniggering now.

'Er... I'm not sure I want to go into that sort of detail. Where did you pick up that vocabulary? Not in school, I'll bet.'

'Helge does not understand the internet as Oskar does, and I got past the block. I found some interesting sites.'

'I'll bet. So you went looking at gay sites.'

'Not really. They are so boring. Always the same things. Much more interesting with the girls.'

'That's good news for the future of the Tarlenheim dynasty.'

Nathan threw off the covers and padded nude into the bathroom, Justin sat up and clasped his ankles. 'Nakedness doesn't bother you either, I see.'

'In Rothenia being without clothes is not a big thing. If you go to the Spa here in Strelzen you'll see hundreds of naked people.'

'OK, push off Fritzy, I'm going to wash my Nathan's back.'

'Ah... the sexy thing. Don't make too much noise.' He went off laughing.

'An odd boy that,' Justin added as he came up behind Nathan and pushed his erection against his lover's muscular buttocks and moved it gently over the warm skin. 'Shower, Nate?'

'No. Let's be sexy. Push your dick up my ass and I can do the wanking.'

Will Vincent was pacing the entrance hall when they finally appeared. Fritz was smiling to himself and playing with a Gameboy with his feet up on a rather elegant banquette.

'Ready lads? Thank God. I thought we'd be having lunch here. Fritzku says you want to see gardens, so I thought I'd drive you down to the agricultural college at Fursterberh. It's a good place to go as the botanical gardens and plantations there go back to the eighteenth century, and indeed were planted by Fritzku's family. It's still their house, they lease it to the government, so no problem about admittance.'

In fact the Director of the college was awaiting them when they arrived after an hour's drive out of Strelzen. He shook hands very seriously with Fritz, and called him Serene Highness throughout their conversation with Will and Fritz, which was mostly in Rothenian.

Nathan was off to the greenhouses like a shot, and Fritz tagged along with him to make sure he did not get in any linguistic trouble. Will was not that keen on plants, so he hung back with Justin on the path.

'You used to be a teacher dinya, Will?'

'Yes,' Will looked surprised. 'Did I mention it?'

'Nah, I can tell. You got that way of talking to people as if we're an audience. Like you wanna educate us or something.'

'Er... right. Actually, you're not the first person to tell me that. It really pissed off an ex-boyfriend, which is one reason why he's an ex, I suppose, that and the fact that he was a complete bastard.'

'You like living abroad?'

'Here I do. I love this country, and I'm glad to be a citizen of it now. It's done so much for me, and my lover Felip and I feel more permanent as a result. It's that need to feel hitched that us gays get all anxious about. I'll bet you've noticed that already.'

Justin was surprised, but recognised what Will was on about. 'I guess I have. You mean wanting to get married and stuff. Not that I fancy walking down the aisle with me Nate... though he'd do a good bouquet, grow it himself probably. Mostly I'm anxious about Matt and Andy, and where we stand. They're not too happy with me search for me biological father.'

'How's it going?'

'We're talking. I'm just not sure how to take it to the next level, or even if I wants to. Matt's idea for a holiday was a bit of relief. Meant I didn't have to think about it for a bit.' Justin went quiet for a while, then he perked up. 'Terry's some bloke innee?'

Will brightened up too, 'You like Terry, then?'

'Oh yeah... he's seriously special. Me hero. You like him too, dunya?'

'Christ, yeah. He saved my life in Rothenia a year or so ago... literally. If he hadn't been there, I'd be six feet under now.'

'What a guy.' Justin's spirits lifted at the thought that he would be able now to talk his anxieties through with someone who would know what to do.

They wandered slowly round to the greenhouses, and found Fritz sitting outside, complaining it was too humid inside, and he and Will crossed back over the lawns to look at the grand house of Fursterberh, looming on the hill top, which Fritz had never visited before. Justin hung around the doors until Nathan emerged sweating and carrying a wad of seed packets the head of botany had given him.

'Hey, Justy. You OK?'

'Fine. We goin' now?'

'We only just got here, babe. We've not seen the formal gardens.'

Justin was a very good boy that day. He was interested in gardens, although not in the theoretical and scientific way that his lover was. So he patiently followed Nathan around and even asked intelligent questions and made relevant observations. But it tired him out. He slept in the back of the car as Will drove them back to Strelzen, sagging on Nathan's shoulder, while Nathan looked down at him, smiled and was touched by quite how good Justin had been.

After dinner and Fritz's disappearance to bed, Matt announced that it was club night for anyone who wanted to go. Nathan and Justin's hands were straight up, and they ran to their rooms to get changed. Will and Oskar said that they would go just this once - they got too much attention, but they would put up with it. So six other young men were in the hall ready when Nathan and Justin reappeared, ready to party. Only Felip was opting out.

A black limousine deposited them in a very different Rodolferplaz from the daytime one that Nathan and Justin had seen the day before, full of tourists and office workers. The south eastern corner was now densely packed with groups of men, either drinking gangs heading down to the neon and strip bars of the Wejg, or gays queueing up for Club Liberation. They joined the surge towards the blue-lit foyer of the club, under the eyes of a big squad of Rothenian bouncers. The teens were all eyes. Matt, needless to say, got a huge amount of awed attention. He was signing tee shirts in the queue before they reached the bouncers. The admission was waived for him as well as for Oskar and Will, who were recognised as friends of the owner, and Andy paid for the rest. Then they were inside the packed club. Lights rippled and flashed across the dance floor, and dark groups occupied the bars and tables. The noise was deafening.

Andy dragged Matt straight on to the floor, and Will and Oskar followed. The boys took a table. 'Hey it's waiter service!' approved Pete, 'And what juicy waiters,' he added in an undertone which Tim couldn't hear. They ordered drinks and scanned the floor. Most of the clientele seemed to be British, American and German, although Czechs and Rothenians were in evidence, especially among the younger, slimmer element.

'You been to clubs a lot in the States?' shouted Justin to Tim, over the noise.

'We sneak down to New York from time to time to sample the scene,' Tim hollered back.

'Like this, is it?'

'No... here's a bit old fashioned compared to the States, but it's nice enough. Seem to be a lot less drugs circulating, from what I can see.'

The beers arrived, and they sat soaking up the atmosphere, which was relaxed and friendly, quite unlike the danger and darkness of the club that Justin and Nathan had penetrated in Camden. Nathan was tapping the table to the rock rhythm and finally asked Justin to come on the floor with him. Justin looked a little scared.

'Nah, Nate. I don't do dancin'. Don't think I could.'

Nathan looked disappointed. But Peter took him by the hand, and dragged him off with Tim, and the next thing Justin saw was them moving together in a group off besides Matt and Andy. Justin felt left out and forlorn, as Oskar and Will were dancing very close too, farther out onto the floor. But it was his choice. Another song started, and still they stayed on the floor, and now Justin was annoyed. He thought everyone was looking at him. It was a slow number, and the group had divided into couples, so he thought Nathan would come back, but Justin suddenly saw that Nathan was with a stranger - a dark slim man - and although they weren't in a clinch, they were moving together. He was furious.

The music changed and Andy bounced down by him. 'Come on Justy, come dance with your dad.' Then he caught sight of the expression on Justin's face and changed tone, 'Justy, what's upset you?'

'Nathan's dancing wiv that foreign whore over there...' Nathan was in fact talking to Peter off to the side of the floor, '... well he was, anyway.'

'Justy, you can't blame Nathan for wanting to dance. Matt took his time about getting on the floor with me too. But I waited for him to feel comfortable with the idea. And just cos a boy wants to dance with your Nathan doesn't make him a whore.'

'Matter of opinion,' Justin grumbled.

Andy frowned, grabbed his hand and dragged him resisting towards the lights and music. 'Dance.'

'How?'

'Feel the movement, kid.' Andy pulled him into a crowd of aimlessly moving men and began moving himself. Justin tried to copy him, but couldn't quite get it. He was red and sweating, but at least no one was looking at him. The music mercifully changed; it was slower, and Justin's heart lifted when Nathan appeared behind Andy and took his place. Andy retired smiling. Nathan held Justin close, nuzzling his ears and kissing him, and suddenly movement was not a problem. Justin's fingers crept past Nathan's waistband and he pulled him close. 'Oh, I do love you chavvy babe,' Nathan murmured in his ear, and finally Justin saw the point of dancing, as his lips brushed his lover's cheeks and sought his mouth. And they danced and made their love a real thing to those around them. Matt and Andy stood looking at them from a distance, with a look in their eyes not too far distant from parental pride.

They all returned to the table, which was beginning to get a lot of attention. News had got round that Jason Williams and Marc Bennett, the Falkefilm porn gods, were in the club, and that drew some men, while the fact that the model, Matt White, and the billionaire Peacher brothers were on the same table drew others. Dozens of mobiles were taking pictures of them, and camera flashes lit them up from time to time.

'Why they staring at us too?' said Nathan, alarm in his voice. 'We're not famous.'

'Ah, but Nathan,' said Oskar with a quirky smile, 'celebrity is like measles. Hang round with someone who has it, and you'll get it too.'

'Tell me about it,' agreed Peter. 'From the moment I was in Teen Vogue at fifteen, they never let me go, even when it got round I was gay; they just took pics of Timmy babe too. It'll be in half a dozen US mags by the weekend that I was clubbing in Strelzen.'

'Iss like living in a goldfish bowl.'

'Sure is, Justy, sure is. But you get used to it, don't you Oskar,' said Peter.

'It is inconvenient, but yes, you do get used to it, in all its foolishness. I've made Hello two issues running... well, it was my fault, I had to go to Cannes for the film festival as we had a documentary in the running for an award. And I went to all the parties, and so they are linking me with Princess Caroline of Monaco, just because we had a drink together. Don't they know I'm gay for heaven's sake?'

'What's she like?' Peter was curious.

'Very nice for a woman with such tragedy in her life, natural and friendly I thought.'

'Dad knows her, and he's asking her and her new guy over to St Kitts for his birthday party. Say, Oskar, you can come too. I'd really like that.'

Oskar smiled, and was clearly touched, 'Thank you, Pete, I'd like that very much too. In the meantime, I'd like a dance... maybe then Hello will get the right idea about me, do you think?'

The two tall, blond and muscular young men slid through the crowd and out on to the floor, followed by a lot of eyes. Justin looked round for Tim, and couldn't see him. He smiled at Nathan, who smiled happily back. 'What are two kids like us doin' hanging out wiv the jet set, Nate? Well, you belong here a bit: you are one of the upper classes, aintchuh. But me... this is insane me bein' here, completely nuts.'

'All we have to do is enjoy the ride, my chavvy babe. Soon enough we'll be sitting in the back of classrooms at Hornsey College and digging ditches for Mr Anderson. The longer we stay here the more attractive that seems.'

Justin excused himself, shouldered his way through the fan club and found his way to the toilets. He was being stared at all the time he was pissing into the porcelain, although it was his prettiness as much as the company he was keeping that was gaining him attention, as he knew well. An American guy stood next to him.

'Hi,' he said.

'Er... hi. Scuse me but this isn't the best time for a conversation.'

Nothing daunted, the American continued, 'See you were sitting with those amazing guys. You an actor or something?'

'No... I'm a gardener.'

The American looked offended, 'No need to get snippy, kid. Just asking.' He went off in a huff.

'And I was just replying.' Justin zipped up. It seemed that the truth did in fact set you free after all. He returned to the floor and bumped into Tim just at the entrance to the dark room. He was on his mobile phone. Justin came up behind him, curious. 'Who are you ringing, Tim?'

'What the fuck... Jeez you crept up on me there, man. No one. Not ringing anyone, just putting more credits on the damn thing.' But Justin knew the look of someone caught out, and Tim was definitely discomposed. But it was not Justin's business. He peered into the dark room, which was already occupied by several groups. He tore himself away from the peep show and wandered back to the floor, where Nathan was with Matt, and Oskar still with Pete, moving very nicely as it happened, two blond demi-gods quite away in a world of their own. Tim had disappeared again, a pity as Justin was psyching himself up to ask him to dance with him; they did after all have some history of intimacy, and Justin could still feel Tim's skilful mouth on his dick that night on the yacht. He was horny enough by now to fancy the idea of a foursome with the American teens, though he guessed persuading Nathan might be a lost cause. So he stood leaning up against the wall, tapping his feet to the music, and admiring his Nathan from a distance.

It was the changing of the guard at the presidential palace at the north end of the Rodolferplaz. Two black cars driven by Peacher Corp men pulled through the great gates into the forecourt. Soldiers in blue uniforms presented arms and state policemen saluted as the cars drove through the palace arch. It was scary and exhilarating. An under secretary of state and Mr Pokolosky, the chef de protocole, were waiting for the cars. Matt and Andy emerged to a volley of flashlights and the whirring of cameras. Oskar and Prince Fritz got similar attention.

Fritz was looking very fetching. He was wearing morning dress and the full insignia of the Order of the Red Rose, which was the hereditary privilege of the counts of Tarlenheim as marshals of the order. Oskar said that it was time the old ways were reasserted in Rothenia, and Fritz always liked the idea of making a fuss, so he had donned the sash and put the heavy and glittering star on his chest with pride and a twinkle in his eye. Mr Pokolosky looked disconcerted for a moment when he saw it, but then smiled and nodded at the young prince, who grinned back. Pokolosky bowed the Terlenehems into the palace with very real respect.

They walked up staircases and through tall corridors till they came to a set of doors where members of the Presidential Guard in full dress stood to attention. Drums beat in the room beyond and they approached the old royal throne, on the steps of which stood President Maritz, a tall and distinguished figure. Oskar and Will Vincent stood behind Matt as his sponsors, and the rest took the front row of seats. Even Justin was quelled by the great parade of state panoply, and he stood almost to attention next to Nathan in their morning suits and grey gloves.

The National Anthem played and the president stood at a podium and made a brief speech. Rothenian TV cameras were recording the whole thing. When he had finished, Will whispered in Matt's ear, and he moved forward to have the sash of the order placed over his shoulder, and the star clipped to his coat. The president shook his hand and kissed him twice. Then it was Matt's turn to make a speech, which he did in graceful and very appropriate English, translated by Will. There was much applause, drums beat again and a chamber orchestra struck up. There were buffet tables and drinks and a presidential reception followed.

Justin had the privilege of meeting his second head of state in six months. He was almost getting used to it. 'Nice old geezer,' he said afterwards, 'spoke really good English, and knew a fair bit about gardening.' He and Nathan had talked to the president about their plans for a market garden. He invited them to have a look at the palace gardens any time.

They all had their pictures taken with the president, and watched the whole thing on Rothenian TV news in the evening, a feature intercut with clips from Matt's documentary and an assessment of its world impact on Rothenia's image. The relationship between Matt and Andy Peacher was of course left discreetly unmentioned. Will translated for the boys, as they watched it.

'Don't we look amazing?' said Tim, 'You betta had taped that, Will.'

'State TV sent me it on DVD this afternoon. I have friends in the newsroom. I've got copies for all of you.'

'They made a little bit of feature about little Fritzy being there too, didn't they?' said Nathan.

'Yes. The aristocracy is getting fashionable again in Rothenia. I've got a feature on the stocks about it: Central Europe's resurgent upper classes. Their persecution under communism and their slow reclamation of the assets stolen from them. The Terlenehems make a good story, but there are plenty of others even in Rothenia, never mind East Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland. I've got buyers for it in the UK and USA. Fritzku's going to be interviewed and get a fee, aren't you?'

'Certainly,' said Fritz, 'I want the money for a new Flying Scotsman with pullman carriages. Hornby import. Very good.'

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