The Heart of Oskar Prinz

X

By Michael Arram

After visiting Oskar's bank, they spent the rest of the afternoon with Marietta in a small park, alternately throwing a frisbie for her to catch and lying out in the sun working on Will's vocabulary. Finally Oskar sent him across the road to buy them cokes from a kiosk, making him swear before he went that he would speak only Rothenian. He came back grinning with the two cold bottles and a sense of achievement, he had even stumbled through some remarks on the weather with the vendor and asked him if he was busy this afternoon. The vendor was charmed to be talked to by a foreigner in his native language, and a bit too fast in his replies, but Will got enough of what he had said to feel pleased with himself and grateful for Oskar's devoted teaching. As they walked back to Oskar's apartment, Will began determinedly using Rothenian phrases as they went.

They met up at the same student bar with Tomas and the others. This time Will was included in the high fives and the embraces: 'Friend Willemu!'. He stunned them by the facility of his Rothenian greetings and repartee, even though it soon broke down when they replied in kind.

'Good accent, Will!' grinned Tomas, whom he sensed was already a firm friend, 'But a little rural... sounds like Husbrau!' The others erupted and Oskar made a gesture with his middle finger that Will did not need a dictionary to translate.

The boys kept to English for the most part of the conversation that evening, but, aware of Will's ambitions, slipped in routine phrases that they thought he should know, and paused to make sure he registered them. The beer helped a bit. They moved on to a picturesque café next to the Rectory of the University, full of young men and women, and had a late meal, sitting out on the pavement, the stars opening in the deep blue of the late evening sky. It had been another glorious Strelzen day.

He awoke in Oskar's arms, his blue eyes already open and smiling in his face. 'Good morning my love,' Will said in soft Rothenian, as he hugged his lover hard.

The smile became a grin, 'It's the library today, my sweetheart,' Oskar replied. And they stayed in his native tongue all through breakfast, keeping the phrases simple but Oskar even explaining Will's mistakes in Rothenian. In the shower, Will noticed a definite improvement in the muscle tone of his belly; he was pleased. Oskar was on his mobile when he emerged, setting up entry to the National Library and an interview with an archivist. They did their two hours at the gym, showered there, and moved on to the library, just off the Parlementplaz.

The library had been built by public subscription during the national revival period, and was meant to impress. The façade deliberately copied that of the British Museum, but the statuary and themes were all Rothenian. Will was impressed. Oskar and he found the young female archivist waiting in the pillared entrance hall, and introductions were made. Oskar took the lead as the woman was more comfortable in Rothenian. She introduced them to the special collections room and suggested a range of titles and periodicals. Will paid a large fee so he could use his camera to take images from books. He had bought a stack of memory cards with this in mind. They spent the rest of the day working through the illustrated national newspapers for the 1850s and early 1860s, absorbing the high politics of the reign of Rudolf V, and trying to disentangle the turbulent aristocratic factions of the time, in which a certain count of Hentzen featured as a radical and incendiary. The murder of the king's half brother, Mikhel, in 1854, just after Rudolf's coronation, sent the papers wild with conspiracy theories related to the king's sudden and dangerous illness.

Oskar translated with rapidity and facility: their notes stacked up and the memory card filled with plates of state ceremonies and portraits.

'Look,' said Will abruptly, 'the count of Tarlenheim!'

'What!' Oskar replied, dropping his pencil, startled. He scrabbled under the table to get it, coming up red-faced.

'Sorry, Oskar. Didn't mean to give you a heart attack, but it's Francis of Tarlenheim, I've met him before at the cathedral and in the royal palace. Our paths keep crossing. It's weird.'

'Yes, I know him,' Oskar replied, 'He also was from Husbrau.'

'Of course, your sister lives in Terlenehem, doesn't she? So you must know something about the family.'

'Something, yes,' Oskar replied slowly. 'Franzes zu Terlenehem is still remembered as a kind and good man, and a devoted servant of the Elphbergs. But he was also famous for his support for the national movement at the end of the century. He built Rothenian schools across Husbrau, I was educated in one.'

'Is there a château in Terlenehem?'

'There was one, but the government demolished it under Horvath. A pity, it was beautiful. I have seen pictures.'

'Does the family survive?'

Oskar shrugged, 'I don't know much about that'.

'Pity. I'd like to make a list of surviving aristocratic families. Matt might like to use them as talking heads.'

'Talking heads?'

'Interviewees, witnesses. Also they might still have pictures and stuff. How many of the aristocracy still have their old properties?'

Oskar shrugged again, 'I have heard that several of them have had restitutions made since 1990, and there are court cases in the papers from time to time. But there is no state aid for these law suits, so it is only the aristocrats who have money or friends who can pursue them. There are some big claims that could be made against the government, and it is in no hurry to help cut its own throat.'

'OK, we'll put that on hold as an idea, but I think it's a good one. We'll get a list of present aristocrats for Matt before we finish.'

It was a very productive day, although Will felt oddly restive. Normally he sank happily into a library environment, working methodically and patiently. But he found it difficult at times that day to sit still, unless his mind was fully engaged. Also he seemed to have lost his former ability to concentrate exclusively on what was in front of him. A man tapping his pencil further down the table kept annoying and distracting him, and he was in a fair way to going over and telling him where to put the pencil, but his Rothenian was not up to it.

Fortunately, Oskar's presence was a counter-distraction, although in this case because he had an urgent need to copulate with him. In the end it got too much. 'I need the toilet,' he whispered.

Oskar smiled and pointed to the sign, 'No.' Will said, 'I need to go to the toilet with you.'

Oskar grinned, 'Rascal,' he whispered in Rothenian. 'OK, but not too long.'

They disappeared into the library's loos, Victorian and old fashioned, with convenient solid cubicles.

Will dragged Oskar into the nearest and swarmed out of his clothes. 'Fuck my ass,' he demanded in Rothenian.

'Woah, sexy boy,' Oskar replied in kind, 'No preventives.'

Will's sudden recklessness cared nothing for that, 'Think I mind? If you've got it, I want it too.'

Oskar looked troubled, but he took and held his naked lover. 'Will, I think I'm clean, but I can't be sure. Hendrik gets us tested regularly, but it's been a while for me, and I've swallowed a lot of semen since then. I wouldn't want to risk it.'

'Please, Oskar I need it bad. Please.'

Oskar buckled under the pressure of his own lust, signs of which were very visible. He was soon naked behind his lover, braced against the wall, steadily entering Will, who was sighing and cooing with the delight of being filled and the new feel of his lover's unsheathed penis. It was a short but passionate fuck, and Will gasped as for the first time Oskar ejaculated deep inside him with an uncontrollable groan. There was a lot of it. They sneaked back to the table, Will teasing Oskar as they returned to work with a commentary about the progress of Oskar's semen as it leaked out of his loosened anus and into his pants.

'You are a little disgusting, my Willemu,' Oskar said with a small but strangely proud grin.

As the library closed, Oskar said with some regret in his voice that it was time to go to the market. A short walk took them through a shabby residential area at the back of Lindenstrasse to a square dominated by a tall medieval church, where market stalls were still set up and returning workers were doing their last minute shopping. Oskar led Will through the narrow alleys between the stalls, picking through the vegetables and fruit and exchanging comments with the traders. For once his confidence seemed to have left him.

But they filled two bags with veg, fruit, rye bread, milk and meat, and a tram got them back to Lindenstrasse 122, Apt 6.

Oskar dumped things in his kitchen and filled his small fridge.

'So, what are you planning?' asked Will

Oskar shrugged, 'Umm, I have a very limited repertoire as far as cooking goes. We eat out a lot here in Strelzen and, to be perfectly honest, we Rothenians are a bit sexist as far as cooking goes. It is women's work.'

Will was beginning to be amused. He could sense the growing embarrassment in Oskar's voice. 'You can't cook, can you?'

'Er, no. How about a pizza? Tin of soup?'

'No. That's your usual repertoire isn't it?'

'Maybe,' Oskar looked a little nettled. 'Well then, I have got some meat. If you heat it up it gets more digestible, or so I've heard.'

'You want me to do this don't you?'

Oskar finally laughed, 'You are a liberated western boy. You know these things.'

'You're wet. OK, let me through. I can do a fair fry up. You bought some steak, or that's what it looked like to me. You've got spuds.'

'Spuds?'

'Potatoes. Steak and fries is a definite possibility. Oh yes! and fried onion rings with beef tomatoes.'

'I love you.'

'Wimp.'

'Is that good? No, I see in your eyes, my Willemu, that wimp is not good.'

Will cooked and didn't mind it in the least, it was the first time in their relationship when he had discovered that he had an edge over Oskar. And it changed the balance slightly between them; Will felt that he was more of a partner than a guest. Oskar praised his cooking extravagantly, rather more than it was worth. The red wine helped a lot too. Will shopped the next day and Oskar was endlessly grateful and amazed at his culinary originality. In fact, Will had learned five stock dishes which had got him through university without malnutrition, but he had at least got good at them.

'Life is looking up,' Oskar said with satisfaction on Thursday, as he finished off a plate of Will's piece de resistance, his generally admired chicken tikka. He had found an Asian grocery shop in a back street behind Modnehemenstrasse.

Oskar looked hopeful, 'And what about the egg and chips tomorrow? Possible you think?'

And so the week passed happily and productively. Early morning in the gym was followed by library work, and with the boys working devotedly. The notes and ideas stacked up amazingly. They had filled two thick files and several memory cards by Friday. In the evenings they rutted passionately and continuously, but Oskar sternly forbade any more unprotected sex. However, he booked in for a test next week at Hendrik's favourite clinic, so that he could be sure.

On Friday afternoon, Will sat up in his seat and stretched. 'What'll we do this weekend, lover?' He could now say it in Rothenian, and the language was beginning to take over as their normal means of communication, especially during sex. His progress in the language was phenomenal, but not perhaps surprising considering that he was totally submerged in a Rothenian world. He had had his first dream in Rothenian that morning, as he proudly told Oskar. His ability to read Rothenian was coming on as fast as his ability to speak it.

'Husbrau, I think,' Oskar said with a broad smile, 'It's time you met the family.'

'Really! Wow! Helge and Fritz. Do they know about me and you?'

'I told Helge. She knows I'm gay, but she doesn't know about the sex work, so don't tell her.'

Will paused, and took the plunge, 'Can I say something to you, Oskar?'

'What, my Will?'

'It is just that I love you... I have not said it so far, and you haven't said it to me, but I love you the way I've never loved anyone in my life, and I can't bear the thought that we will part.'

Oskar's eyes filled with tears, which was not unusual for him. He wiped them away. 'I know you love me Will, but how do you think a whore like me could ever say to a man like you that he loved him?'

'You're no whore.'

Oskar looked at him sadly, 'But I am. People like me aren't safe. You know enough of my story to know that deep down I am just a selfish fuck. But for what it's worth – which isn't saying much – you have this whore's heart.'

'Then that's enough for me.'

'It won't be one day, my love.'

That brief exchange dominated Will's mind for the rest of the evening, as they lay together on the bed in Oskar's apartment, reading and listening to Rothenian radio's rather good Classical channel. Marietta was dozing between them. Oskar had no television, he said that Rothenian TV would induce suicide if you watched it too long and he couldn't afford cable or satellite.

'I thought Hendrik paid you well? You surely could get a bigger apartment.'

'What's wrong with my little love nest? It's centrally placed and very convenient for King Henry.'

'Nothing.'

'I have... expenses, Will. What I earn mostly goes elsewhere.' He didn't elaborate, but then Will remembered the sister and brother in Terlenehem, and felt like a fool.

As they slowly stripped each other and explored their bodies, Oskar paused, as he stroked and kissed Will's chest. He looked up. 'Rudi seems to have done a good job.'

Will looked down and saw to his surprise that new ridges of muscle had appeared on his abdomen, while his groin had slimmed and smooth muscle tone was to be seen under his pubic hair. 'Christ, I've got a six-pack.'

'A what?'

Will explained the word, though he found it surprisingly difficult. Oskar made him turn over and felt and stroked Will's buttocks. 'You're tighter and nicer back here too, lover. This just goes to show what I said, about how pretty you are.'

Oskar insisted that they do their two hours at the gym on Saturday even though they were travelling later. Rudi looked in and swatted Will on the buttocks as he passed, seeming satisfied at his progress. He looked startled when Will told him in Rothenian to mind where he put his hands, then smiled. 'I'll have to be careful what I say around you, my boy.' He winked across at Oskar who looked disconcerted.

After gym, Tomas arrived at the apartment. They all shook hands in the serious Rothenian way, and Oskar handed Marietta over to him. She looked accusingly at Oskar and Will, not at all fooled that Tomas was taking her for a walk, and slunk off with her tail down.

'She'll be alright. She is a possessive woman, and she's getting possessive of you too, my lover.'

They took the tram through the tourist-filled streets south to the Central Station. The vast space inside had not seen much renovation, and looked very much as it had when the Orient Express was still running through Strelzen. Will confidently bought the tickets to Terlenehem. Oskar slapped him on the back. 'You might have been Rothenian, and the lady at the counter quite fancied you.'

They embarked on the shabby local train that rattled slowly north from the capital to Modnehem. It dipped into a tunnel and emerged beyond Bila Palaz on to a viaduct over the Starel as it looped north around the city. The view back down the river valley to the cathedral was sensational. They made themselves as comfortable as they could on the bare wooden seats, Oskar sitting on a folded British hoodie he luckily had with him. Will had his maps out and eagerly watched as suburban Strelzen gradually gave way to the countryside, and they made stop after shuddering, squealing stop in sleepy country stations. Oskar cuddled into his shoulder and dozed off. Will got quite heady with his fragrance. He made a note that he must find out what it was, and buy some.

As the hills rose around them, and they were entering a delicious wooded valley, Oskar jerked awake. He stretched. 'Almost there,' he announced. 'Look! There's the abbey of Medeln again, where we went with Matt and the boys. Wasn't it a great day?'

A quarter of an hour later, the train lurched to a halt at the station of Terlenehem, a beautiful Victorian structure, with hanging baskets of red geraniums. They climbed down to the platform. It was empty except for a bored looking porter. Oskar shouldered his bag and led Will out on to a country road.

'The town – more of a village really – is down there, but our house is this way.'

'Can we look at the town?' Will asked.

'Maybe later if we have time. Helge will drag us to church on Sunday, you can bet. We can look at it then. Oh! Do you go to church in England?'

'Yes, I sing in the local church choir. But we're Anglican.'

'Excuse me? I don't have much to do with churches except when Helge's on my case.'

'The church of England is the national church there, it's protestant though.'

'Oh dear, don't tell Helge. She's not fond of protestants. You sing in a choir? That's interesting. Sing something for me.'

'Er, just like that?'

'Rothenians love singing, we do it all the time.'

'You don't.'

'I'm a Rothenian mutant, a national disgrace. Completely tone deaf. People pay me not to sing.'

Will burst into laughter, and then in the fulness of his heart, did what he normally never did except when he was walking the fields alone back home, he sang out loud and clear an old and sweet English country song: 'Over the Hills and Far Away'. The trees and fields seemed to listen. His rich and clear voice was not flattened by the open air and he kept perfect pitch and time. Oskar tugged him to a halt and waited till he finished. 'I never guessed. Willemu, you are wonderful. Your beauty is not just physical.'

They walked along the empty lane, hand in hand, their bags slung over their shoulders. They regretfully relinquished their hold as a number of small houses appeared. Oskar led him through the gate of an old one-storey wooden cottage, the garden full of flowers, and up some steps to a verandah. A neat wood pile was stacked on one side ready for winter. Oskar opened the screen door, and called out, 'Helge! Fritzku! It's me!'

A woman called out from inside the dark interior, there was a clatter of pots and she appeared out of a back kitchen, wiping her hands on a long apron. Brother and sister embraced. Helge was as tall and blond as her brother, but looked a lot less merry, perhaps not surprisingly.

After a long hug, Oskar introduced Will. She gave him a straight and cool look as they shook hands. It was clear she knew that Oskar and he were lovers, and that she did not approve. She said she'd bring in some local fruit wine.

'You sleep with me,' Oskar said in English, and took their overnight bags into a side room, where there was a double bed draped with an elegant rural counterpane. Will looked round, there were religious pictures on the walls and a statue of the Sacred Heart on a side table between candles. No sex in here, then, he thought. A portrait group was framed above the bed: an adolescent Helge and Oskar, with their parents, tall and distinguished looking, the father something like Oskar. The mother held a small boy in her arms, Fritz. Oskar noted his gaze. 'Yes, that's us before they died; this was their room. Helge's not happy we're sleeping in here together, but she must get used to it.'

'Why?'

Oskar coloured and mumbled that it might happen again.

Will let him off the hook and asked, 'Where's Fritz?'

'Playing with some friends down the road, I'd guess.'

'Er... Oskar, isn't he going to find it odd that you're in bed with another man?'

Oskar laughed, 'No. Rothenian kids often share beds... it's one reason I knew I was gay so young. He won't find it odd. Let's go get that wine.'

Helge sat them down in chairs ranged next to a big porcelain chimney stove. She had the bottle and glasses on a small table. In hesitant English, she welcomed Will to her house, and in confident Rothenian he thanked her and said he was grateful for her kindness.

She gave a small smile, her first, and looked very like Oskar when she did. She shifted to her native language. 'It's very unexpected to find an Anglo-Saxon speaking our language. A great pleasure too. Tell me something about yourself.'

Will launched into an account of his life, Oskar chipping in with necessary words and correcting phrases he got wrong. After a few minutes, Helge was plainly relaxing, and Will saw the relief in Oskar's eyes. Soon they were chatting almost normally, a transition much helped when it became clear that Helge too was schoolteacher, and that she and Will had a common passion for their profession. They spent a long time comparing conditions of service. She was astounded by Will's annual salary when he translated it into krona and could not understand why he was so broke. The conversation moved on to the costs of higher education in Britain, and Helge's opinion of Oskar's lackadaisical approach to completing his degree.

After half an hour they were a relaxed and happy group. The wine helped, and there was a certain familiarity about its bouquet that lingered on his tongue. Then he realised what it was, it was the same as Oskar's fragrance. He asked about it. After casting around for a bit for words, he finally worked out that the wine was based on blackberries.

'And the fragrance you buy, Oskar? Is that blackberry too?'

'Oh you have noticed, have you? You like it?'

'I want to buy it for myself, and it would be a great present for my mother.'

'You can't buy it,' he said.

'Why not?' Will asked, surprised.

'It's only made here in this part of Husbrau, it's called "Medelner-attar" and only one or two of the old people now know the secret, passed down from the old days of the abbey. Helge learned how to make it.'

'Yes,' she said, 'It's a difficult thing to do. It takes a long time to distil and often it goes wrong. But I always have a phial or two for Oskar, he loves it.' She got up and came back with a small bottle which she gave to Will, 'Receive this as a gift, Willem.'

Will heard the formality in her voice and it warned him not to protest at the generosity. Something inspired him to stand, and offer his hand. She stood and took it, then he embraced her. She hugged him lightly. Oskar was standing at his shoulder when they separated, and there were tears on his cheeks. He took his sister in his arms and kissed her.

They sat down again, Oskar recovered his composure and grinned, 'See. I told you you'd like him.'

She looked a little nettled at her brother. Then she smiled gloriously at Will, 'My brother is an idiot, but there's nothing wrong with his heart,' she said. Neither she nor Will saw the sudden dead look that came over Oskar's face.

A bang and a clatter announced the arrival of Fritz, a handsome blond lad, very tanned, and sweating from running. He jumped on Oskar and hugged his brother. Then he noticed Will and became Rothenian and formal, offering to shake Will's hand. Will stood and obliged, and was touched at the ritual 'Welcome to my house,' said in Rothenian. He replied formally in the same language. Then Fritz grinned, 'Oh, you are American!'

'No, English.'

'Do you know David Beckham?'

'Afraid not,' said Will seriously, 'but I saw him play against Wales at the Millennium Stadium last year.'

'Wow. Hey, you speak Rothenian like a Husbrauener!'

'I had a good teacher.'

Oskar smiled at the interchange, 'Fritzku, why don't you go and show Will round the place, while Helge and I get on with business.' Will looked surprised, Oskar had mentioned no business purpose in the weekend.

'OK. Come on Englishman,' Fritz said in English, 'I will give you the tour.'

'Hey,' replied Will, in Rothenian, 'You speak English like a Rothenian.'

The kid doubled up. 'You're cool!'

'He's a teacher, and in England they beat naughty boys,' said Helge, 'so behave yourself.'

Fritz took his hand in the Rothenian way, and led Will out into the garden and on to the road, chattering away in very passable English.

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