The Heart of Oskar Prinz

XIX

By Michael Arram

'Gorgeous ring,' said Melanie. 'Is it real?'

Will turned it on his finger, getting used to its massive armorial bezel, the lion and roses sculpted magnificently in hard gold. 'It's the most real thing I have ever possessed,' he answered cryptically.

'Eh? What does that mean?'

'Never mind. We have the countess's permission to proceed, and she is the legal guardian of the present count.'

'Great. Next stage then. We need talking heads and we need to cast Rothenians.'

Will's attention was elsewhere, as Felip soon spotted. In bed that night he said, 'You look odd, Will. Sort of happy and depressed at the same time.'

'That's a good way of putting it, lover.'

'So what's up?'

'It's a long story, and now is as good a time as any to tell it to you.'

So for the next hour he told the full story of Oskar Prinz, his struggles, his ambitions and his terrible treachery. Felip held his hand all through it, and simply hugged Will when he had finished. His tears ran down on to Will's bare shoulder.

They lay together hand in hand after a while, looking up at the bedroom ceiling.

'Where do you think Oskar's gone?' asked Felip.

'Who can know? I think there are people who could find him, but you have to ask yourself why we should try. He wants time to work things out. It would do no good to find him before he wants to be found.'

'I will pray for him,' said Felip seriously.

The spring passed into summer, Matt arrived with the English crew and filmed his scenes, while Will and the Rothenian crew went round filming interviews, dramatic reconstructions and scenic shots. Will and Felip were very busy, too busy for any other anxieties and concerns. It all went well, surprisingly so. Will learned an awful lot about the mechanics of filming and production, and found Bolslaw an extremely good teacher. At the end of July, the thing was in the can, and difficult decisions had to be made.

Will and Felip went off to spend one last weekend out of several with Helge in Modnehem. She was delighted to tell Will that she was resuming her teaching career in a local kindergarten in the new year.

'After all these years I can't get used to being an aristocratic lady with nothing to do but arrange flowers. I need to be out and doing things and I miss the children so much.'

Will felt something of that same ache every time he passed a school, and so he readily agreed with her. Will spent a happy Saturday by the river with Fritz and Felip, who it turned out had been a keen angler as a boy, and was quite ready to teach them the basics.

Fritz asked them what they were going to do, and suggested hopefully that they might stay on and live with him. Will was sad to have to dispel his hopes, but Fritz nodded with reluctant approval when he said that his family would miss him. It was the sort of reason that would appeal to him. But as he said it, Will wondered how true it might be. But there it was. His job was back in Britain, and that was where his roots were, even though Rothenia was proving them shallower than he had thought they had been. The greatest happiness and the greatest tragedies he had experienced had all been in this magical land, and not in grey, mundane and bourgeois Britain.

In bed with Felip, they talked out their future. 'Come with me, then.' Will insisted. 'You're an EU citizen. There won't be much problem getting work in England.'

Felip was not entirely happy with the idea. So Will conceded that they would keep the flat on Starel Heights, and come back frequently. He had no problem with that, Rothenia had long entered his heart and he knew he could never be free of its spell now. 'Besides,' he reflected, 'I'll soon need to be in Monaco and Nice for the next documentary. You can come back to Strelzen while I'm sunning myself on the Mediterranean coast.'

'Er... there's something wrong with that scenario, beloved if selfish Will.'

September came, and Will still felt it odd that he was not getting ready for the new term's teaching. He missed the job, but he knew that he could not turn back the clock. It was a misty and cool Saturday, and he and Felip were walking up Junction Road on their way to ascend the southward facing slopes of Highgate Hill.

Felip was besotted with London. Will found this odd, as he could take London or leave it alone. 'The thing is Will,' Felip said, 'Strelzen is beautiful and safe, cold and snowbound in winter, clear and sunny in summer. It is so predictable, it is like your mother. But London is endlessly different, and the weather is so varied. All the peoples of the world are gathered here. Would you believe I met a guy on the tube yesterday from Zelden?'

'You talked to someone on the tube?'

'He was reading a Rothenian guide to London, what else was I supposed to do?'

Will laughed, 'Nothing. You did right. I hope you're not finding things boring.'

'No, or at least not yet. But I want a job, and I think I could find one. I'd be a good barman, I think, and you have so many gay pubs and clubs.'

'Max Wolf the barman... I can see that happening.'

'Mm... perhaps not a gay pub then. But I will find something. In Strelzen I used to help out in my cousin's gift shop in Staramesten. I was good at it, and often picked up gay tourists... although I see you did not want to know that. Sorry. But we could do with the extra money. Things are so expensive here in London. The supermarkets scare me.'

'We're surviving fine, Felip my love. We'll be OK.'

They reached Archway station, and turned up the hill. 'I have to say this though, Will. I don't feel all that safe on the streets of London. You have a lot more crime than on the streets of Strelzen.'

Will guffawed, 'Oh yeah. My second night there I had a knife at my throat, and some so-called Bosnian stole my wallet. How did it go? "Don't move, American. You have wallet? I want." Branded on my soul that incident. Traumatised I was.'

Laughing and joking, they went on up the hill past Whittington Hospital, two handsome boys very obviously in the full flush of young love. Quite a few eyes followed them, including the blue ones of a hospital ancillary worker in trust overalls, raking up the fast-falling leaves of autumn. He leaned on his rake and flicked his blond fringe out of his eyes, looking pensive at what he had seen.

Will and Felip found their way to Matt's house on the hill, and Dave opened the door with a broad smile. 'You gotta be Felip. Welcome to Gay Central. You picked a good day. The tribe is here and you need to be initiated.'

An all-day party was in progress. Food tables were laid out in the back lounge, and drinks were set up at a draped bar. Dave nudged them into the sitting room, 'Main feature is at 1.00pm. Go meet the guys.'

The room was full of laughing and joking young men. There were a few whom Will did not know. He saw Matt and Andy, sitting happily together with drinks. Terry was lying on the sofa with Ramon at his feet on the floor. Steve was leaning against the fireplace showing his muscles to two awed-looking American teenage boys, one a handsome blond that Will had no difficulty recognising as Peter Peacher, Andy's younger brother, who he knew was now at Yale with his boyfriend, Tim Caird, who had to be the other American lad. It would have been an entirely gay party but for the presence of a very tall and well-built young man, who from the facial similarities had to be Matt's younger brother, Carl White, the distance swimmer. But he seemed perfectly at ease in present company. He appeared to be a close friend of Terry and Ramon.

Matt leapt up and began the introductions. Terry was disbelieving. 'Thass not Felip Ignac... whatever you said, thass Max Wolf, me favourite porno star.'

'I'm retired.'

'Shame I say.' He turned to Will, 'Kid, how do you do it? In the space of one year you seduce the two most wank-at-able men in Rothenia! What's your secret? It in't your looks.'

'Cheers, love you too Terry.' Will walked over to Peter and Tim and introduced himself. They were enthusing about the delights of being away from home and unsupervised for the first time in their lives.

Tim said, 'We just got on this plane. No one said we couldn't. Airport staff didn't turn to my dad asking for my passport and tickets. I was treated like a human being and not a kid. Here's to adulthood!' Peter and he clinked beer bottles and took big swigs. 'Yuk! Is this English beer? It sucks.' Peter seemed about to gag. They talked about starting university, learning to cook and take out the trash.

Tim looked disgruntled. 'What Petey means is that he's learning to eat my cooking and hold the door when I take out the trash. We got our own house in New Haven, Will. Andy won't let Petey employ a domestic. He says it's time he grew up and learned the facts of independent life. So Pete's solution is that I become the domestic.'

The two boys bickered amiably, like a much older couple. Will moved over to Matt and Andy. Andy looked very pleased. 'So things worked out. You found the right boy in the end, and what a boy. Curly hair, body like a demi-god and the cutest butt in the known universe... apart from Matt's.'

'And yours ..' said Matt, 'It's your nicest feature.'

'Thanks, I suppose. It's nice to be told your ass is prettier than your face.'

'You know what I mean.'

Will grinned, 'Felip is a revelation, and what a sexual athlete.'

Matt grimaced, 'I don't want to hear this.'

'You're the bottom aren't you.' Andy said. 'I can tell, it's my natural position too.' We're tolerant and amiable and pleasant. It's easy to spot us.

Matt raised his eyes to heaven. 'Whereas us active tops are aggressive, demanding and domineering. That what you mean?'

'Didn't say that. After all it's Tim who rules the relationship with Petey... and he's made him more and more civilised. He's even nice to the twins now.' Andy looked at Will, 'The twins are thirteen, and Pete was a pig to them for years. They still don't trust him, but they love Tim, so they're getting more tolerant of Pete. It's made life back at the Peacher compound in Santa Barbara almost heaven in comparison to the state of open war it used to be. And dad's new wife, Sylvia, is the best. The twins like her a lot and they adore Elaine, the new baby. So all is peaceful around dad and he can get on with making megabucks and taking control of the economy of the western world.'

After an hour the caterers served lunch and they went into a back sitting room full of sofas, chairs and bean bags, with a wide screen and DVD player ready and waiting.

Will and Felip cuddled together on a couple of bags on the floor. Felip kissed his ear and said, 'Do we get a trailer for "American in Strelzen"?'

It was the Elphberg documentary, now cut and edited. This was the first showing. The audience watched quietly and, in Will's case, tensely. He hadn't even seen the prelims. Matt was pensive when the final credits rolled up.

'So, unbiased and objective audience, what do you think?'

'S'OK,' said Peter in a faintly bored voice.

'OK!' screamed Matt, and then looked devastated. Will was so sorry for him. But there was a pause and the rest of the room burst out laughing.

Matt looked up and said, 'Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!'

Andy gave an evil grin, but then he took Matt's hand. 'You know it was brilliant. You didn't need us to tell you.'

'But I do. Artists need to be appreciated.' And Will agreed with him heartily.

'I tell you one thing,' added Andy. 'It'll do wonders for the Rothenian tourist industry. I wouldn't be surprised if you get the Order of the Rose of Rothenia out of this, Matt.'

The afternoon passed happily; it was good just to chat with friends and make new ones. He lost Felip at one point and went looking for him upstairs.

He passed a darkened bedroom, with a screen flickering inside. Sounds of passion were coming from it. After an appalled instant, he recognised the sounds. He heard Terry say, 'Now watch this bit, kiddies. You'll never see anything like it. This is not porn, it is crystallised passion.'

Tim's awed voice said, 'He's so beautiful; they're both beautiful, but the passion transforms him into something angelic, angelic but ever so dangerous. Those eyes of his could burn you up.'

'Jesus, I just came in my pants,' said Peter.

Terry said, 'They're talking about this as a modern porn classic. There's an art cinema showing it in Islington. Like it or not, poor Will is going to be famous a lot longer than most porno stars.'

Will lurched back down the stairs and sat out in the cold garden. This was not welcome news. Porn films were supposed to have shelf lives and sell-by dates. Sooner or later he had hoped it would be forgotten, but Jason Williams had just taken a long lease on his life, so much was clear. He must find a way to live with it.

It was a tired and troubled Will who headed back down Highgate Hill in the dark of evening, Felip quiet beside him. He had sensed the unhappiness of his lover and was waiting to be told what it was. Felip was good that way.

They passed the hospital and came down on to Junction Road again. Will spotted a small corner pub and suggested they stop for a drink.

'Certainly, providing I do not have to drink that warm slime they call beer here.'

Will got himself a pint of slime, and a vodka and tonic for Felip. The place was empty, but for a couple of early drinkers and a local hospital worker in bulky overalls and closed hoodie who had come in at the bar after them.

Will and Felip, when on their own together, never talked anything other than Rothenian now, and a Rothenian hearing Will would have been hard put to spot him from his accent as a foreigner. They usually put him down as a Husbrauener who had lived too long abroad.

Felip sat patiently, faintly smiling at his lover. Will gave a quirky smile back. 'I wish now I had done that film with you, not Oskar.'

'Why?'

'If it had been me and you that day, it would not have been so out of the ordinary.'

'I understand. I wasn't good with dialogue, and you didn't love me then as you do now. The sex would have just been whore's sex, at least for you. For me it would have been different, even then. I loved you then, Will. I love you even more now.'

'I can't even watch it. It's so painful.'

'Why? I've seen it, and it is a hymn to loving sexuality by two beautiful and loving men. But I think you still love Oskar, don't you.'

Will looked tentatively into Felip's eyes. 'In a way. Not the way I love you. With you I am safe, and you take me on my own terms and accept me. We're equals. You I know to be true of heart and devoted to me. You'll never leave me and never let me down. You also have a big dick and the ass of a demi-god, which are not minor considerations.'

Felip did not laugh, but looked thoughtful. 'So, excuse my puzzlement, but how then do you love Oskar.'

'This isn't easy. It's more of a fixation on what he was: sophisticated, funny, charming, dangerous and elusive. We were never equals. He was my teacher in everything to do with life, love and passion. But even though he betrayed me, the link we made cannot change. I met his sister and brother, saw what the mixed fruits of that betrayal were: their happiness and the restoration of a tragic family, while for him it brought only pain and exile. I more than forgave him then. I was free to love him again, and even see the nobility in him. A noble whore, what a concept! To be honest, I finally learned that he was a bit above me, and that I couldn't really safely breathe the same air he breathed. My love for him was always offered at a distance. I'm a serf at heart.'

Now Felip did laugh, 'Me too! Happy to be a peasant.'

'I wish he'd go back home. They need him, and he'll find healing there, not out in an uncaring world. I dread that he'll just end up back in the world of Falkefilm. He has so much more to give.'

'Like what, my Will?' asked a familiar voice in Rothenian that stopped both Felip and Will's hearts. Oskar pulled off his hood, left the bar and came and sat down beside them.

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