The Heart of Oskar Prinz

VIII

By Michael Arram

They arrived back at Will's hotel at five, and he resisted earnest invitations to spend the evening with the others. Terry was keen to check out the National Rothenian Opera, and as he said this Will was even more torn. He saw it in Terry's eyes. This was even more important than that they were both gay. 'Terry, you're... a singer?'

'Yes, sweet babe, I most certainly am.'

'You should hear him in the bathroom, Will,' laughed Ramon.

'Tenor or bass?' asked Will tremulously.

'Tenor and I don't mean tenor baritone... no, not you too!' Terry was transfixed with delight. 'My God, do you know how rare we are?'

Will hurled himself into Terry's arms shouting, 'My dream man! You're out of here Ramon, I've found the love of my life!' Terry hugged him back, spun him around and whooped.

'You've got to come out with us tonight, sweet babe, it's the Magic Flute.'

'Damn, bugger and blast,' cursed Will, 'I've got no choice, it's a prior engagement.'

Something of the true situation must have showed in his eyes. He saw Ramon whisper into Terry's ear and smile and saw Terry look knowing. Matt missed the signals, but expressed his regrets, and said that he hoped that he would join them again tomorrow for the tour of royal abbeys in the north of the country. Will said that he would love to.

Once up in his room he was at the phone like a shot. There was no sign of Harry. The phone burred and clicked, and a familiar voice said 'Prosim! Oskar.'

'It's me!'

'Will! This is good. Are you free tonight? I hope you've had enough of tourism and that dreadful Club Liberation.'

'For the moment, maybe. What do you suggest?'

'I'm meeting some friends, maybe you will come so that we can practise our English on you?'

'Love to, and maybe I should learn some Rothenian.'

'Do you have German?'

'A little.'

'That's a start. I shall come for you at seven. Ahoi men leblen.'

'What?'

'You'll know one day.' Oskar hung up.

There was still no sign of Harry at seven, when Will saw Oskar picking his way across the Flavienplaz. He was emerging from the lift as Oskar entered the lobby. He was looking cool in a leather jacket and well-cut jeans with a thick studded belt. He was wearing shades and a small grin. Will shook hands the formal Rothenian way, and Oskar looked pleased. He took his arm and they walked out together arm in arm as Will knew that young male Rothenians often did. He was delighted at the gesture.

They walked down Mikhelstrasse, Oskar pointing out things of interest. He indicated a run down hotel just off Flavienplaz.

'That was the Gestapo headquarters during the Occupation. You see those flowers? Above them is a stone that records all the freedom fighters executed in the basement. There are four hundred names, and one of them was my father's uncle. He was only seventeen, but a brave boy. He blew up railway lines in Husbrau.'

They paused in tribute and looked up. Although it was alphabetical, he saw no one called Prinz recorded there, but then he knew little about Rothenian naming practices, so he ignored it. It never occurred to him for a moment that Oskar would lie to him.

They took a sidestreet off Mikhelstrasse, and Oskar hauled Will on to a passing tram of the old fashioned sort as it rumbled by. He paid the lady conductor, and they took a slatted wooden seat.

'Where are we going?'

'To Bila Palaz, or the University quarter. I feel more comfortable there. I got wolf-whistled on the Rodolferplaz on the way to your hotel by a group of Americans. I expect they recognised me.'

'Bummer,' said Will.

'What! Where does my rear end come into it?'

'Er... it means, crap, bad, sort of thing. It's not a buttock-related word.'

'Ah. Bummer. It just about sums up the downside of being a gay porn actor. People think they own your ass.'

'How come Rothenians don't seem to know about it?'

'Maybe a few do, but we are a polite people. But my films are not on sale in Rothenia or the Czech Republic, my employer restricts sales to protect his actors, so by the time I retire not many people will ever have seen them and most of those wouldn't say anything even if they had.'

'Are you out to your family and friends, Oskar?'

'Er... sort of. My sister, I know she knows, but the films not; she thinks I am just an unsuccessful model. My university friends are straight boys, and I have never mentioned I am gay, though they know it very well of course. It doesn't register with most of them. Rothenian social life is very segregated. Boys go out with boys, and girls with girls. It's a wonder we survive as a nation.'

Will laughed. The tram rumbled past the grand Radhaus of the New City with its massive tower, and eventually turned left screeching on to Lindenstrasse. Once through the city wall, it ran out into another large square surrounded with Classical buildings, a huge national tricolour flapping from a gigantic central flagstaff. City and State Police were everywhere, in their respective blue and black uniforms.

'This is the Parliament and the ministries. The University is the next stop.'

They alighted on a low platform in a street lined with small cafés. The tram clanged off towards its terminus. Oskar led him to a small half-hidden door, and pushed it open. A bar lay behind. The lady at the counter smiled at Oskar and greeted him with a stream of Rothenian. He chatted back. She eyed Will curiously. Oskar led him into a back room, where there were already three young men crowded around a small table.

'Oskar!' High fives were exchanged and there were embraces. Will suddenly felt extremely shy and left out of things. But then Oskar introduced him and there were smiles and formal handshakes.

He sat down, the boys smiled and stared at him, as if expecting him to do something.

'You are not American, then,' said the boy called Rodolf.

'Er no... English.' Will replied.

'Oskar was always loser. Americans have money. Have you been to America?'

Oskar cut in, 'Rodolf has a fixation with the United States, a result of his extreme ignorance of the world.'

'I have been to the States,' Will replied. 'My parents took me to Disney World when I was fourteen and my sister was ten.'

'Cool.' Rodolf was briefly impressed. Drinks arrived, and Will bolted his. This was going to be a tough night.

But it turned out better than he expected. The boys soon were talking about their course, their backgrounds and their families. He was in a fair way to getting to like them after two more drinks and a half hour of relaxation. They were devoted to Oskar, judging by the stream of joking insults that went in his direction. Will couldn't work out if they knew about his life on DVD, but he guessed not. They clearly knew he was gay, though, and they assumed correctly that Will was too. But they had no hang ups about it.

He focussed more and more on a boy called Tomas, the one that sparred most with Oskar. He knew him.

In a lull in the conversation he asked Tomas directly, 'Were you with Oskar last night, when he chased off the mugger?'

Tomas laughed, 'I was. Brave Rothenian warriors, were we not? He had knife I think. And where did you sleep last night, Will?'

'I think you know.'

'Oskar is very generous boy. He has many friends and he deserves them. And he must like you much. You are first of his lovers he has ever brought to meet us here. I think you know that he likes very much to sleep with men, yet he does not always like men he sleeps with. There is something new with you. Maybe it is because you are English, who knows.'

'Why are you always joking at him?'

'It is my way, I suppose, but although I like... love... him – though not in that way, you understand - he does infuriate. He is Rothenian through and through, hopeless romantic like we all are, but in his case he could be so much more than he is. He has great talents, and I do not just mean in bed. I expect it is his background.'

'His background...?' Will began, but Tomas was sharing a joke about one of their lecturers with the third boy, Peotr.

After ninety minutes, Will was confident and sparring back and forth with the other boys. Like most Central Europeans they were addicted to politics, and happy to discuss them at length and in depth, unlike British people. The EU was the topic of the moment, and the conversion of the krona to the euro. Will, being a teacher, was pretty well up on the subject, and happy to argue about anything. He found himself defending the pound's integrity with growing passion and enthusiasm. The battle raged round the table and eyes grew bright. People appeared at the door to listen, and Will heard whispered translations of his points being made among the onlookers. He caught Oskar's look at one point. The boy was proud of him and excited. At one point there was even applause for one of his arguments.

At eleven, things began to wind down, and people looked for their coats. The boys slapped him on the back and embraced him. He was 'Friend Willem', or the diminutive 'Willemu'. They all lurched out into the dark street, happy and exalted. They caught the last tram to the Rodolferplaz, and said goodbye at Oskar's stop on Lindenstrasse. The others were singing national songs as they went off.

Oskar turned to him when they were at last alone together, his eyes were still shining. He took Will's arm and led him towards his apartment. Neither of them thought of the hotel for a moment.

Late at night, after a passionate coupling, with Will happy to be bottom and his rectum still outraged at the size of Oskar's intruding member, he found himself smiling into his lover's smiling face. 'You are a special person, Will. I am so glad we met.' A sudden tremor passed across it, 'But you must leave soon.'

'I fly out on Sunday.'

'Only one more night. That is... sad. Will you stay with me tomorrow?'

Will's heart lurched, 'I'm so sorry, Oskar, but some friends want me to go on a drive with them.' Then he remembered who the friends were and he grinned. 'But I don't think they'll mind at all if you come along, quite the opposite in fact.'

'What, are they Marc Bennett fans?'

'Er... I don't know. They are gay though.' He was willing to guess that Terry knew his porn, but he was not sure about Matt and Ramon. 'Will you come with me?'

'You met my friends tonight and were happy, so now it is my turn.'

Will gave a secret little smile, 'I think you will find it interesting.' Oskar looked mildly suspicious, but let it pass.

After a small breakfast of Oskar's disgusting muesli ('I have to be careful of my body, Will') and after taking Marietta for her morning constitutional, they strolled by some back streets to come out on Flavienplaz.

'So why are you being so mysterious about these friends of yours, my Will?' Oskar said as they approached the square. 'I take it that they are English?'

'Two of them are, the other is Spanish American. The English guys are Terry and Matt. Matt went to the same university as me, and Terry used to be my neighbour.' There, said Will to himself, that's all true, well... sort of.

Oskar sat in reception while Will went up to change. There were two bodies in the bed, and Harry was snoring. The other guy seemed a bit older than Harry this time, from what Will could see of his hair and skin. He silently changed and scribbled a brief note, in the unlikely event that Harry was worried about him.

Matt's limousine arrived on time. Will ran out to greet his friends, who were perfectly happy for Oskar to accompany them, once he had explained the circumstances.

Oskar followed Will out, and poked his head round the door confidently. Will would have paid money to see the face he pulled when he saw who was in the back seat. 'But at least I did not faint,' he later whispered.

Ramon nudged him as Oskar was paying homage to Matt, and whispered, 'You sly dog, Will. You've been in the city three days and you walk off with what must be the hottest babe in the place. I'm real envious. He must be amazing in bed.'

Will whispered back, 'You wouldn't believe.'

It was clear enough that Matt and Ramon had no idea who Oskar really was, which was a relief. Of Terry, Will was not entirely sure, but he smiled and shook Oskar's hand happily enough. Perhaps the brief appraising stare was just the result of his profession.

Crowded into the back, with Oskar and Will on the fold down seats behind the driver, they chatted amiably as the car drove off, although Oskar was clearly in awe of Matt, and kept staring at him. Matt wasn't bothered. He was used to it. He had a map on his knee, and as they left the limits of Strelzen, he invited Oskar to change places with Terry and talk them through the route.

'We're going first to the Marienkloster at Medeln,' he announced.

'Ach,' said Oskar, 'Then I think I know why. It is the Good Lady Osra that you wish to visit, yes?'

'You call her that?'

'Yes, the "Dobra Dama" is what the old peasants of the countryside call her. She was very much loved by all, but especially the poor. There are many folk tales about her, her beauty, her wilfulness and her kindness. I like to believe them.'

'We must talk about this sometime, Oskar.'

'Is this the Princess Osra whose picture we saw in the palace?' Ramon asked.

'That's the lady,' Matt confirmed. 'She retired to the abbey of Medeln after her husband died, and lived with the nuns for twelve years, doing good works and stuff. She died and was buried there. There's a stunning monument raised by her nephew, King Ferdinand. You can hardly believe the pictures. Have you seen it, Oskar?'

'Yes. And it is stunning. Medeln is not far from Terlenehem where I was a boy and where my sister and brother still live.'

'We can call in if you like,' offered Matt.

Oskar looked momentarily put out and gave a glance at Will under his long lashes, 'That is kind, but they are not expecting me, and it would not be fair to them. I shall see them in a week or two in any case.'

Oskar borrowed the map and pointed Terlenehem out to Will. He described the countryside of Husbrau with an engaging affection. He also gave his comments on the other sites that Matt wanted to visit and some advice on a good place for lunch.

It was nearly eleven thirty when they reached the abbey, a plain medieval church, a little overshadowed by the princely baroque cloister and domestic range that had grown up beside it.

Oskar led them into the abbey through the west door. 'The nuns were driven out under the dictator Horvath, and the abbey became a reformatory. Although the new government has restored it to the Church and the EU has funded repair and reconstruction, the sisters have not returned. It is sad. My father the...,' and then he choked off, and, darting a glance at Will, said instead. '... what I meant to say is that the sisters were remembered kindly by the people. Princess Osra left much money for charity, and the nuns spent it handsomely on schools and the old. They were good days when the nuns lived in Medeln. Now they are gone people are the poorer.'

By then they were in the dark church. It was a simple Romanesque structure for the most part. It had obviously been lavishly restored recently. The space of the church was clear and clean, and modern lighting complemented its austerity. The one exception to the simplicity of the building was to the north of the high altar, where a baroque chapel of St Ursula had been constructed. On the east side was raised an elaborate altar piece but this was more than matched by a huge tomb on the west side.

They stood staring at the mass of sculpture climbing up to the roof. Above the plinth was an open sarcophagus out of which a skeletal Death was stealing, a bit like Dracula rising from his grave, tattered drapes around him and a scythe in hand. He seemed unmistakably pissed off about something, probably the fact that a draped and beautiful Osra was taking off from the top of the sarcophagus's broken lid, borne up by angels into a mass of gilded rays of light and white marble clouds, out of which the Virgin Mary was reaching down to clasp her hand.

'Bit overpowering that,' Terry murmured. What does the inscription say Will?'

Will looked closely at the side of the sarcophagus, where he read:

ORATE pro anima Osrae filiae fidelissimi regis Henrici Ruritanensis sororis Rudolphi regis quondam ducissae Mittelheimensis et nuper abbatissae in commendam huius domus Medelnensis. Amica pauperum et amita regis Ferdinandi. Rex pro illa hoc tumulum aedificavit sed pauperes aeternam domum ea assecuraverunt. AMEN.

'Which means,' he said, 'Pray for the soul of Osra, daughter of Henry, most faithful king of Ruritania, and sister of King Rudolf; of late duchess of Mittelheim and lately commendatory abbess of this house of Medeln. To the poor she was a friend and to King Ferdinand she was an aunt. The king built her a tomb, but the poor have obtained for her an eternal home. Amen.'

There's a bit of wordplay there which you can't translate, a pun on amica (friend) and amita (aunt) but I like it, it's elegant.'

Oskar looked astonished, and after a moment pounded Will on the back, 'Well done my Will! You are a real scholar! Bravo!'

The others also smiled and congratulated him. Matt asked Oskar about the domestic range and whether it was possible to get in there, and Oskar went off to find the caretaker. Will took his digital camera out and began taking pictures. They had a good hour there, especially when Matt realised that it had been Osra who rebuilt the nuns' cloister and her monogram and heraldry was all over it. There was also a statue of the lady herself in the cloister arcades, its extended hand curiously polished where generations of the poor had kissed the stone in memory of her generosity, as Oskar explained.

'That little fact is worth its weight in gold, Oskar. You can build a whole documentary round a simple thing like that,' said Matt gratefully. Oskar glowed.

They followed his advice about lunch, which they took in a country inn in the hills above Terlenehem. The meal was spicy and rich, a stew from wild boar meat with apricots, that Oskar recommended.

As they sipped the sparkling sweet wine of the district, Terry grinned and asked, 'Come on Will, tell us how you met Oskar. I didn't see you pick him up in Liberation, so where did you find him?'

Will smiled, a little embarrassed, and told them about his midnight adventure. The others were intrigued.

'I'll certainly be able to recognise the bastard again,' he commented, 'his BO was distinctive. Do police do nasal ID parades?'

Oskar looked bemused until they explained it again, and then he gave a small laugh.

'Did you see him?' Terry asked him.

'Only as a dark running figure when Tomas and I chased after him. Then there was just poor Will looking very distraught. I could do nothing else but go to bed with him so as to preserve the honour of my country,' he added mischievously.

Ramon said warmly, 'I think there are other reasons to want to go to bed with Will, and I for one can clearly see what they are.' Will blushed scarlet.

Matt was looking appraisingly at Will. 'Look, Will, when are you going back home?'

Will's face fell like a landslip. He had successfully put that to the back of his mind, but a day in Oskar's company was making the prospect of separation all the more agonising. 'Tomorrow,' he replied unhappily.

'But haven't you got a long summer holiday ahead of you?'

'Yup, and an empty bank balance to finance it.'

'Ah. But that shouldn't be an obstacle to you.'

'What do you mean?'

'Will my lad, you've already been invaluable in two days as an unpaid research associate on this project. Why not stay here at my expense and carry on after I've gone? One thing I can't do is hit the local archives and libraries and stack up references. Marlowe Productions prides itself on the depth of its project research and, as Jeremy Faber convinced me, you could be the best in the business.'

'You're offering me a job?'

'I'm offering you a job.'

'Sorry Matt, but teaching kids was what I was born to do. I'm not giving it up for anyone.'

Matt seemed disappointed, then brightened, 'OK. But you still have the summer, and there's no law which says you can't pick up extra cash by a short term contract.'

Will grinned and looked over at an eagerly listening Oskar, 'Now you're talking,' he grinned. 'But I'll need the proverbial native guide... a bright and attractive local media studies student would certainly fit the bill.'

Matt turned to Oskar, 'What about it?'

Oskar leapt up and kissed an astonished Matt full on the mouth, then fell back in his seat, 'Oh my God, what did I just do!'

'Fulfilled my every adolescent fantasy,' replied Will, a little sourly.

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