Henry in Finkle Road

XXI

By Michael Arram

Henry and Gavin had a great day. They played tennis doubles that afternoon with Harriet and Eddie, and were wiped off the face of the court without minding it at all. Gavin was entranced to be in an environment where servants laid out lunch in the beautiful gardens, and chilled drinks were available at the ring of a bell.

'Henry! I like this being rich! Can you make our fortune, quickly?'

Henry laughed. 'Baby, you're the one who's good with figures. Just enjoy an away-day in paradise. It'll be back to work on Monday.'

They watched as Oskar and Peter mopped the floor with the twins in their turn. Eddie was a surprisingly bad loser where Peter was concerned. It was the legacy, Matt said, of a bitter childhood rivalry between the two brothers. 'Peter was an obnoxious little sod until he was fourteen and finally gave in to the fact that he was gay. It was only then he stopped resenting Andy. It's quite a story. Terry tells it best, as it was he who was Pete's salvation. Pete is one of Terry's boys. They actually had a fling in the past.'

'Does David know?'

'I doubt it. But he's not the jealous type, is he?'

'I guess not. Even though he was desperate to get into bed with me, he never resented Ed Cornish. Any news of Ed, Matt?'

'I think he and Guy are having their farewell holiday in the Caribbean.'

Henry's heart gave a leap. 'Farewell! What's happened?'

Matt smiled at Henry. 'Nothing. Just life. Guy has finished his first degree at Cambridge, and though they've had fun, the two of them have decided that theirs is not a life partnership. They're going to stay friends but split up as lovers. Henry... what's that I see in your eyes? You have your cute little Gavin, and he should be enough for you. I quite fancy him myself at times.'

Henry was flustered. 'Yes... of course I do. But Ed and I were lovers. You don't lose interest in a bloke overnight. I'll always be his friend, which is why I'm concerned for him.'

Fritz arrived as the tennis was winding up, and had a very emotional reunion with Oskar and Helge, his brother and sister. He cast an eye over at Harriet and went straight to her, offering his hand but seeking a kiss. He was delighted when he got it. He received a hug from Eddie, but Henry doubted it compared with what Eddie's sister gave him. Fritz was adjusting his erection as he separated from Eddie, who must have felt it against him, judging from the strange look he gave the prince.

Fritz took a seat between Helge and Harriet as the party assembled in the drawing room before dinner. He was utterly devastating in an evening suit, charming in conversation and perfect in his stunning beauty. Henry did not think it was his imagination that Harriet was beginning to be very much affected by this seventeen-year-old demigod. She went in to dinner on his arm, as Helge did on Peter's.

It was a superb setting that Sunday evening. The grand dining room was lit only by candles, which sparkled in the jewels of the two ladies present and in the eyes of the young men. Wit and laughter rippled up and down the table. Henry had everyone in stitches with his descriptions of working life in the King's Cross. Gavin sat opposite him, just smiling and looking his satisfaction at having a lover such as Henry.

All too early, Matt asked Oskar's permission to leave the table. Filming was beginning at Medeln early the next morning. Matt wanted his crew to be ready before sunrise, so he dragged a protesting Henry away with him. Gavin tagged along dutifully. Even he seemed reluctant for bed this once.

Henry and Gavin stood together under the trees in the north of the abbey park in the early Monday morning. The sun had just risen over the Marienkloster, and the ground mist was dispersing. It was more than a little cold, making them stamp their feet and rub their hands together as they waited for the minibus to arrive with Wardrinski from Modenehem. They had been up at four-thirty, in time for Matt to drive them down to the abbey from Templerstadt at five.

Henry had the script marked up and ready. The Rothenian crew was milling around drinking coffee from thermos flasks, or munching pastries provided by the caterers. Matt was discussing the light with the unit director.

Henry was enormously interested in the filming process, which he had yet to witness. Silver reflectors, lights and sound gear were lying everywhere. He left Gavin sipping a mug of coffee and went over to introduce himself to the crew as a translator if needed, and to ask them what jobs they did. He picked up a lot of specialised Rothenian vocabulary very quickly.

Eventually the minibus drew up outside the west end of the abbey, and Professor Wardrinski came over with his minder and driver. He exchanged a few observations with Matt before going on to pick up breakfast.

'Baby,' said Henry, 'why don't you and I go and look in the church. The crew doesn't think the light will be good enough to film for another hour or two.'

Henry led the way round to the west doorway, where the monument's concierge was standing looking at the film crew. Henry greeted him in the Rothenian way and they traded views on the weather. The concierge told them the church was closed to anybody other than Marlowe Productions people that Monday, and pointed to the signs and the closed notices on the small car park. 'It will cause trouble,' he complained. 'The Americans come in busloads from Strelzen to get in and look for the portrait of Christ that the book says is here somewhere. They are not a patient people.'

Henry looked over at the car park. Although it was still very early, sure enough, there was already a black SUV standing on the road outside. A group of men sat in it looking out the windows, apparently bored.

After thanking the concierge, Henry and Gavin entered the dim, empty abbey. Their footsteps scraped and echoed, making them feel they should whisper to each other.

Henry had heard from Matt that the sensational tomb of the Princess Osra, sister of King Rudolf III, was to be found in a chantry chapel. He found his way there, and both he and Gavin looked up at it in awe. The princess was in the process of bursting out of her tomb at the bodily resurrection, putting a sinister-looking Death to flight. She was rising to be received by the Virgin Mary and by angels reaching down from the clouds. Henry pointed out to Gavin the rich death symbolism: the flaming urns, the serpent swallowing its tail and the butterflies, to symbolise the defeat of death and the eternity in heaven which followed resurrection.

'What about that, then?' Gavin gestured curiously to the princess's sculpted robe.

'What're you pointing at?'

'She's wearing a brooch.'

'She is?' Henry squinted up, and pulled over a chair to stand on so he could get a closer look. There was indeed a brooch pinned to the princess's breast. Henry let out a gasp. 'I don't believe it,' he sighed. 'She's got the same skull brooch as in the picture of Fenice's Vision. Princess Osra has to have been one of them!'

'One of whom?'

'One of the Levites... the guardians of the picture. God! It makes sense. She was abbess of this house in the eighteenth century. She was the one who rebuilt it. And Fenice's tomb disappeared during that time. It must have been Osra who moved it... and the True Picture too! I wonder if the Priory of St Veronica knew that?

'Wow! Gavin baby, this is a seriously big discovery. We have our first Levite! An Elphberg too. Their hair will be red as copper is red. So the hair prophecy does make sense, at least for the red Elphbergs. But who are the golden-haired ones? Fritzy says it isn't the princes of Tarlenheim, and I believe him.'

Gavin was excited. 'What do we do next, Henry?'

'Er... we think about it for a bit. But this is a serious clue that there's more to be discovered, and that we're on the road to discovering what it is. In the meantime, let's go look around the altar, where St Fenice was once buried.'

The two young men walked out of the north aisle chapel and up to the simple wooden screen that partitioned off the sanctuary. They passed through a gate between the east end of the former nuns' stalls and the communion rail. Henry scanned the pavement of the steps to the high altar, but saw no remnants of burials, just plain flagstones, clean and straight-cut. He imagined they had been re-laid when the EU had funded the refurbishment of the famous abbey five years before.

They strolled out through the opposite door of the screen and eastwards along the ambulatory behind the high altar. Henry knew this was the area where major shrines were often placed in great churches, as it was near the high altar. Here Fenice had lain from the mid-fifteenth century until Princess Osra's builders had swept her shrine away. But was there any trace of the monument now?

Henry paced behind the altar, inspecting every flagstone closely. It was a while before he realised that he was on his own. He looked around. Gavin was huddled on a stone bench around the apse of one of the radial chapels, where he apparently had fallen asleep. Henry was puzzled. Gavin had seemed very excited, yet now he was out for the count.

Henry went over and shook his shoulder, but got no response. A little alarmed, Henry looked close into Gavin's pale face. His eyes were open and unblinking, the pupils contracted. His mouth was slack. Henry shook him again, harder, calling, 'Gavin, baby. What is it?'

Gavin suddenly came back into focus. 'Henry? What?'

'You were having another funny turn, baby. Are you alright?'

'Yes. I think so. I just felt a bit dizzy and sat down, and then you shook me. How long was I out?'

'Maybe ten minutes. Has your family any history of epilepsy?'

'No, I don't think so. Do you suppose I've had a fit?'

'Er... I don't know. Back in school, Martin Wolcombe had fits, although he was always pretty dopey after them and also sometimes threw up. You seem to be OK now, but I think we'd better get you checked out by the unit doctor. I'll tell Matt.'

Leaving Gavin sitting down and looking unnerved, a somewhat troubled Henry returned to his inspection of the area. There was no sign of any foundations of a major structure such as a shrine, although there was room for one at least. Henry had just about finished when a flutter of what he thought must have been a pigeon in the vaults made him look up. On the vaulting immediately above where the shrine might have been, he saw something painted. A haloed head and a hand giving a benediction leaned up over Henry. It was a Christ face and, faded though it was, its hair was light in colour and it plainly had no beard.

Matt picked up Henry's subdued display of alarm, and Gavin was packed off immediately to the hospital at Modenehem for a checkup. He insisted he was feeling fine, and was happy enough to go without Henry. An English-speaking Rothenian production assistant accompanied him instead.

Henry waved them off from the car park. Turning to go back, he noticed the black SUV was still on the road. When he paused to examine it, the driver started the engine and drove off in the same direction as Gavin's car had gone.

Henry was urgently needed that morning. Wardrinski was in an ebullient mood, and Henry had to tag after him as a translator and script editor. A lot of the filming was for wallpaper shots, with Wardrinski pacing the gravelled paths in the manicured grounds, or walking the aisles and staring up at the vaults.

There was one long scene where the professor expounded on what Bannow had to say about St Fenice. He was sitting in a medieval nun's stall in the choir of the abbey. 'Somewhere here in this church,' he intoned with a sweeping arm gesture, 'was once concealed the portrait of Christ, or so we are told. We have followed the itinerary Dr Bannow sketched out for us, from Syria, to Armenia, to Istanbul and Budapest, and now we end up in a tranquil abbey set in the hills and woods of modern Rothenia. But we find no evidence for concealment of such a portrait. Dr Carlovic of the department of archaeology at the Rudolf University has scanned the choir and found none of the secret vaults which thousands of Bannow fans come here to look for. There is no trace of St Fenice herself. So we ask again: What is the evidence? In this case, it's a book of religious meditations by this nunnery's abbess, which happen to centre on the face of Christ, one of a dozen such that survive from the middle ages. Only for Dr Bannow, this one is different, as he claims the abbess had actually seen a representation of the Christ face painted in His own lifetime. What is the evidence? Well, none really, it has to be said.'

Henry reflected that, what with ivories, illuminations and prophecies, there seemed to him to be quite a lot of evidence. He had tipped off Matt about the remains of a Christ-face painted on the ceiling above the shrine, and they went to look at it. The cameraman came over too. He set up floods and got a good zoom shot which he displayed on his laptop. Henry asked him to burn the shot onto a CD for him.

'Professor Wardrinski?' Henry could not help but ask. 'Intriguing, isn't it, how this image and those of the Satalan basilicas a thousand miles away show a beardless and light-haired Christ. How would you account for that?'

Wardrinski gave him a sharp look. 'There could be very many reasons... not least the eccentricity of the individual artist. But it is clear that the reference here is simply to the Fenice woman's book of meditations, nothing more. All it testifies to is a primitive belief that the eyes of the dead retain some ability to see things around them. Fenice is given the opportunity to contemplate her Saviour even in death.'

The professor went off then for a long interview with Dr Carlovic, the archeologist who had made a detailed survey of the abbey during its recent restoration. Henry knew Matt was having Carlovic's data converted into magnificent CGI reconstructions of the abbey as it was in Fenice's day. Some of them were being displayed on a laptop as the two academics talked to camera.

Henry was fascinated. Dr Carlovic had located the foundations of the shrine and a few fragments. From these he had extrapolated its size and probable shape. It had been a massive structure, looming up over the altar, and the painted Christ face on the vault above the shrine had been devised to look over its summit into the church, as if a gigantic Christ had been standing behind it. The reconstruction was eerie to say the least.

Matt and Henry packed up and had a late lunch at an auberge that Matt knew of. Afterwards, they drove back to Templerstadt. Henry ran upstairs to find Gavin, who was lying on their bed. 'You OK, my baby?'

Gavin smiled. 'Yeah Henry. I'm fine, really. The doctors did all sorts of tests, and I don't have epilepsy or anything else they could find quickly. They even did a body scan. All they could suggest was some sort of post-viral condition. I did have that flu in February, didn't I?'

'What happened to you in the abbey didn't seem very post-viral to me, baby. It was more like you were in a trance. Don't you remember anything about it?'

Gavin looked introspective for a while. 'No,' he said slowly, 'not really. I wandered over to sit down and watch you, and I must have clicked off. But I do remember feeling warm and cosy first... more than that, really. It was as if I were in a little cloud of warmth and something else, maybe acceptance.'

'Have you felt anything like that before?'

Gavin went silent for a minute. 'You might think I'm a bit nuts, but I started getting this feeling of... being at home as soon as we reached Strelzen. It was like my heart was swelling. It sometimes makes me feel quite sleepy and dozy, just as when I was a tired little boy and cuddled up to my mum, and she hugged me.'

'Mm,' Henry mused, 'then it doesn't seem to me that you're ill at all. It's Rothenia doing something to you. It does it to everyone. It did it to Rudi most of all. When he became king he was almost a different human being.'

'King Rudolf? He's coming here in a couple of days, they said downstairs. He flew into Strelzen this morning.'

'Oh! Then we'd better get your bowing and etiquette up to scratch, baby.'

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