Tommy Entwhistle checked his desk diary, then phoned the palace guardroom. Learning that the queen's next appointment had arrived, he sprinted down the olive-green-carpeted stairs in time to meet a footman ushering the lady in question up them. He paused to collect himself
'Your royal highness.' Tommy did a very creditable Rothenian bow.
Eleanor Flavia Osra Elphberg-Rassendyll, Princess Royal of Rothenia and the king's first cousin, gave Tommy a quizzical smile. They had not met before. She worked in a New York publishers and was only infrequently in Strelzen, where she had a grace-and-favour apartment in the Osraeum palace a block over from the Residenz.
Tommy's first impression was of a pert, pretty face, pale like all redheads. The princess was dressed casually: boots, panty-hose and a miniskirt showing off a very elegant if compact figure. She barely came up to his chest. He introduced himself and escorted the woman up to the queen's office.
As he opened the door for the visitor, the queen got up from her desk. The two women embraced and double-kissed. Tommy was to sit in on the meeting, but rang down first for the princess's choice of drink.
Eventually Queen Harry got to the point. 'Lennie, are you here till the wedding?'
The princess gave an odd expression, as though she'd bit on something unpleasant in a salad. 'Daddy expects it. I took leave for a month. Unpaid of course. My employers weren't too happy with me. It's not a good time.'
'I'm sorry to hear that. Tommy here is to be your contact from the palace side for the duration. He'll be happy to make any arrangements you need. Just ask.'
The princess sized Tommy up, then gave him a rather nice smile. 'I hope I don't have to bother you too much, Mr Entwhistle.'
'It'll be no bother at all, royal highness. Please call me Tommy.'
The princess turned back to her host. 'You realise this marriage will make you and me stepsisters, Harry?'
The queen laughed. 'One of the few things about it with which I'm comfortable.'
The princess returned the laugh. 'Me too. How are the little ones?'
King Rudolf and Queen Harriet of Rothenia were the proud parents of both a crown prince, now well past his sixth birthday, and a red-headed royal duke, Leopold-Rudolf-Jakob-Franz-Mikhel Elphberg of Ranstadt, approaching the age of four, and very cute with it.
'It's Maxxie's first week at the International School. You know that Rudi decided he was not to follow family tradition and be educated at Palmer's and Medwardine, but to stay in Rothenia. Since Damien is there, Maxxie was out of his mind with delight to be going to the same school. He was desperate to be educated with other kids, rather than privately at the palace. His new friends are all he'll talk about when he gets home.'
Tommy chipped in. 'Once it got out that Damien was a Peacher heir, the International School had to go to the expense of a security upgrade, which made it more suitable than a state kindergarten for his royal highness.'
After more domestic gossip, the two women said their goodbyes and Tommy escorted Princess Eleanor to the Reitschule yard. As they walked the Hofgarten, the princess stopped him.
'We have at least one thing in common, Tommy.'
'I recognise your name. You and Fritz were lovers for a while.'
Tommy blushed for some reason. 'Yes, we were. We're still friends.'
'Do you know, I quite hated you for a while.'
'I'm sorry to hear that.' Tommy hesitated, then plunged on. 'I worry about him. We were good together, but in the end I couldn't offer what he wanted. The problem is, I don't know what it is he really needs.'
'Neither do I. He infuriated me. It was like dealing with a wilful child, yet not a child. We were very young, of course. I was only sixteen when we had our opening fling. He was my first serious boyfriend: handsome, hilarious, mad and exciting. There's never been anything like him since, but no one anywhere near as annoying either.'
They smiled at each other, and parted friends at the security checkpoint.
'This car-driving thing is so cool!' Damien threw his backpack into the rear of Lance's Audi hybrid and stretched.
'So long as you have a chauffeur,' his friend observed.
'I'll employ yer!'
'No deal. In six months you'll be driving yourself. I'm not into short-term contracts. Where did you go last night, Daimey?'
'Oh... party at Millie's. It got a bit out of hand.'
'How out of hand?'
'Skinny dipping... then another sort of dipping, know what I mean?'
'I can imagine.'
'You coulda come.'
'They're all so straight. Apart from Pukey Lukey and that kid in your year with specks, I'm the only gay in the upper school, and most people don't even know I'm out. It's time I started underage drinking on the Wejg.'
'You'd be a hit. The new English guy may be one of yer.'
'How d'ya know?'
'Luc's been in there like a rat after cheese.'
'Oh dammit. Poor kid. Save him!'
Damien folded his arms. 'If he's gay, he's your responsibility, mate. You're the one who sussed Luc. Yer knows what he's up to.'
'Well... okay. I'll try my best. It would be nice to make a gay friend... no offence.'
'And none taken, Lance mate. It was so much easier when we wuz kids, wannit? The Mendamero Men. Yer can laugh at it now, but those wuz happy days. I misses 'em. The things we did, and the fun!'
'Don't forget the danger too!'
'As if I could. When did yer last hear from ol' Reggie?'
'It's been maybe ten months. I'm sad about it, but he's got his life in the States while we're here in small-town Strelzen. I suppose it was inevitable we'd drift apart.'
'He wuz unique, wuz our Reggie.'
The young men lapsed into a reflective silence as Lance drove them out on to Festungstrasse and joined the rush-hour traffic heading to Sudmesten. He turned off the ring road before he reached the perpetual jam at the Königstrasse junction, worming his way along a route he'd devised through the back lanes of the Third District until he found the archway that led to a private car park to which his dad had got him access. Shouldering their bags, the two friends crossed the road to the school.
As they reached the stream of kids entering the building, Damien heard a yell behind him. 'Daim-EE!!'
Damien span round with a grin and opened wide his arms. A blond whirlwind of a small boy hurled himself into them to be swung around, whooping.
'Maxxie mate!' Damien hung on to the smaller boy and smiled into the face of the prince's RSS bodyguard, who had a hand on an object inside his suit jacket. 'He's glad to see me,' he observed semi-apologetically in Rothenian.
The security man did not smile back. He waited till Prince Maxim disengaged from his big friend, talking all the while about school and his new classmates. In the end, Damien took the boy by the hand and led him to the lower school gate.
'Get in there, Maxxie, or you'll be late and put in detention. Yer body guard'll have to do it wiv yer too. Yer wouldn't want that to happen, would yer?'
Maxim's grin gave the distinct impression that he'd like that very much, but at least he avoided saying so.
Henry Atwood had the luxury of an office rather than a hot-desk in the newsroom bullpen. It came with the anchor position he held on Eastnet's news team. So he leaned back in his chair, cradled his steaming coffee and meditated.
The theme running round his head was the civil peace of the nation of Rothenia, of which he was a loyal and devoted citizen. He knew that its political life was about to be challenged severely, and at a bad time. Politics had taken a severe lurch to the right in the past few years. New players had emerged on the stage. The liberal years of Chancellor Trachtenberg were now over, and Count Milo von Lauern was occupying the chancellor's residence in Bila Palacz.
Von Lauern was an ethnic German from Merz, but nonetheless a radical Christian Democrat. His family was a distinguished one in Rothenian history, and the count was very conscious of it. Unfortunately, the Von Lauerns had chiefly distinguished themselves in the past as bitter opponents of the Elphberg monarchy. One of the family had been involved in the plot to assassinate Rudolf V in 1862.
Count Milo's election campaign had been financed by a coalition of right-wing groups. Henry had successfully revealed on air that a sizeable portion of its funding had come from corporate interests outside the country, not that it made any difference to the electorate's verdict. Henry had been annoyed that Peter Peacher had resolutely refused to contribute to the funds of Trachtenburg's Unity Coalition. He thought that Peter had been not unhappy to see an incoming government which embraced the slashing of public spending and cuts in corporate taxes.
There were other players behind Von Lauern, not least the rising power of the Adelsgenossenschaft, the political pressure group formed by elements of the Rothenian aristocracy in opposition to the king. Its president was the king's uncle, Count Robert Rassendyll, whose ruthlessness and political ambition were all too well known to Henry. He suspected Count Robert of committing at least one murder in pursuit of his aims. And now Rudolf Elphberg was going to hand his bitter enemies a huge gift, despite anything anyone said to him.
Henry put down his coffee and picked up a memo with distaste. It appeared he had to present a feature on the royal wedding which was taking place the following week: the union at the cathedral of St Vitalis between Robert Rassendyll, count of Hentzen, and Eleanor Marquesa, formerly Peacher. Not a marriage made in heaven, as Henry observed to himself, or anywhere remotely near it.
Barry spent his breaks with Luc. He found the French boy simply fascinating. Luc had more than a little of the rebel about him. He smoked, for example, something Barry had never considered trying. There was always the continental scent of Gauloises about Luc, and ash on his skinny black jeans. Barry could not but fantasise about the lean, brown body beneath the clothes. Tattoos? Piercings? He was anxious to find out. Luc was sexual adventure incarnate.
Barry was looking surreptitiously at the large package the tight denim revealed. Although Luc showed no sign that he was aware of Barry's sexual interest, he would occasionally put his hand within his tee shirt and scratch an armpit. Deliberately raising the fabric while he did so, he revealed a tight and slightly domed belly with a jewel-like navel which Barry dreamed about licking. The English boy's erection was causing him some pain at that point, but he daren't adjust himself.
It appeared Luc lived with his mother, who worked at the EU secretariat in Strelzen. He seemed to make his own rules as far as his daily life went, his mother being too deeply involved in her current affair with a Rothenian policeman to pay much attention to her son. Provided Luc turned up at school, no questions were asked.
'Does she know you're gay?'
Luc shrugged. 'She found me in bed with someone last month. She just shut the door on us. She never mentioned it.'
'Oh... is he a regular boyfriend?' Barry blurted. He was dashed by the news, and envious that Luc had an active sex life.
'Just a guy I know. What about you?'
'Is there a boy in your life?'
Barry blushed. 'No one... I've... er... never done it.'
Luc gave him quite a nice smile. 'Je suis attoni!'
'To be honest, you're the first gay guy I've ever had a chance to talk to this freely... thanks.'
'Je t'emprie, mon copain.' Luc pondered a moment. 'I need to use the toilet.'
'Okay.' Luc gave Barry a significant look. 'What?'
'You can come and... talk.'
'What?' Barry squeaked.
Luc shook his head and got up. Barry, heart racing, realised he had just had his first invitation to a sexual encounter. He hastily grabbed his bag and headed after the small butt sashaying towards the lower corridor. Before he reached the dining-hall door, however, his passage was blocked. It was the boy-god, Lance Atwood.
'Hi!' The greeting was accompanied by a glorious smile that left Barry struck dumb. The two boys stood looking at each other.
'You're supposed to say "Hi" back,' Lance eventually observed.
'I wanted to say hello and welcome to Strelzen.'
Barry, whose mind just wanted to plunge into the deep sapphire pools of Lance's eyes, couldn't think of anything at all to say.
Lance was beginning to find the encounter heavy weather, though he had previously noticed that some boys and many girls mysteriously dried up when he talked to them. He put it down to shyness.
'Er... so, how are you finding the place?'
Barry shook himself mentally. 'Umm... okay.'
'It must be odd for you... especially the language issue.'
'Yeah,' Barry breathed.
Another long pause, and by now Lance was getting desperate. Conversation should not be this difficult, especially with a fellow gay. 'Making... er, friends?'
'I... talk to Luc. He's been helping.'
Lance's face clouded, as if a flotilla of dark cumulus had blockaded the summer sun. He had his opinion of Luc, but plainly could not communicate it to someone who had just avowed a friendship for the French boy.
'Great! Well, nice to talk.'
Lance hesitated, admitted defeat and went off to his class, leaving a totally bemused Barry in his wake, so stunned he had temporarily forgotten that he could at that moment be doing the sort of thing that happened in the porn clips he compulsively watched whenever he safely could. The period buzzer brought him back to reality, cursing. What would Luc think of him? He slouched disconsolately to his English as a First Language group, where he would not of course see Luc.
Tommy tidied his desk and located his gym bag. He and Fritz had got into the habit of working out together, and they still occasionally did so after work. They generally took advantage of the facilities in the basement of the Osraeum. Of the residents, only Tom Bernenstejne ever used them much, and he was on active duty at the moment.
Tommy trotted along Gartengasse and signed in at the security checkpoint. The gym was empty, so he didn't bother with the lockers, simply stripping and changing at the running machine. Being Tommy, his kit was decidedly unmasculine, pink predominating.
As he was daydreaming while pounding the machine, building up a sweat, a voice brought him back to the world. 'Nice colour.'
Tommy looked back over his shoulder without breaking his long stride. 'Oh... hello, ma'am.'
'My friends call me Lennie.'
'Sure. Well, as you know, I'm Tommy.'
'Tommy the Tranny.'
'That's the name they gave me at university.'
'Stevenage, wasn't it?'
'You've done your research.'
'There's not much the web doesn't have about you. Also, I was curious as to what sort of gay man could have brought out Fritz's bisexuality.'
'What makes you think I'm gay?'
'No. I may sometimes dress up in women's duds, and I may sleep with men, but I'm... er... omnisexual, is that what they call it?'
'I have no idea. It's way beyond my experience, and I once thought of myself as such an adventurous gal.'
'And you live in such an adventurous city.'
'In a rent-controlled apartment on the Lower East Side. It's not very glamorous for a princess of the blood royal. In fact, the block has roaches and more than its fair share of eccentrics. I'm not the Princess Royal of Rothenia there, just that girl Lennie Rassendyll on the third floor.'
The princess took her place on the adjacent running machine and was soon loping along beside Tommy. She clearly worked out a fair amount.
'Oh yes,' she confirmed when he mentioned it. 'I go to the local gym before work, like most people in my firm. You'd think it was in the contract. I shower there, then undo all the good it's done by taking the subway.' She laughed very nicely, with a flash of pearly white teeth. Being sensitive to this sort of thing, Tommy noticed Lennie wore little or no makeup. The pale creamy complexion and bright lips were her own natural colouring.
'You dress in dark green.'
'You approve, Tommy?'
'Absolutely. It complements your hair beautifully. Or do you do it out of loyalty to the Elphberg livery.'
'That particular colour doesn't suit me.'
Interesting, thought Tommy. Was that a message I was being given? He pounded along another half a kilometre or so. It was as he came to the end of his programmed run that Tommy made a decision. 'Have you seen much of Strelzen's nightlife?'
'Not really. I've never lived here long enough to get to know it. The previous times I was either with Daddy... or Fritz.'
'Would you like to come with me for a drink or a meal?'
'Is that an invitation?'
'I believe so.'
The princess dimpled nicely. 'I've got no friends here. Why not? Where do you suggest?'
So an hour later, Tommy and Eleanor got off the tram in Stracenzstrasse, and took a table outside a Thai restaurant he knew.
It was a warm September night, with the sky darkening to dusk. The tables were full along the main street of the café district. The candle on the table lit up the very cute face of Eleanor Elphberg-Rassendyll and sparkled in her blue eyes. Tommy was charming, and she was charmed. As they ate, chatted and laughed Tommy could not recall a more enjoyable meal. Remember, he reminded himself sternly, this is all about gaining intelligence on her father.
Luc gave Barry a cold look when they saw each other in the final period. Barry's heart dropped to his boots. He did his best to look apologetic and ingratiating when they spilled out into the corridor at the end of class.
'So, did you like your little talk with Monsieur Oh-so-Beautiful Atwood?'
'He stopped me to say hello. I had to talk to him.'
'You know he's gay?'
'He is? Wow! Do the Peacher kid and him...?'
'I wouldn't be surprised, they spend a lot of time together. He's far prettier than most women and I don't think Damien is that particular where he puts his cock.'
'So d'you think Lance was coming on to me?' Barry was astonished at the thought.
Luc rolled his eyes. They reached the exit. Luc looked Barry over. 'I live only a few streets over, just off the Wejg.'
Barry's heart pulsed. It appeared he was being offered a second chance. 'Well... my mum's expecting me.' The look on Luc's face forced a change of tack. 'But I can ring her on my mobile, tell her I'll be late.'
Ten minutes later, Barry followed Luc up the echoing stairs of a scruffy apartment block in a narrow and dilapidated street. The stairwell stank of stale cooking and trash that had been kept too long in the bag. The Charpentier apartment was neat and tidy, however, except for Luc's bedroom. Its mattress was laid on the floor, CDs and clothes were dumped all over the place, and in one corner was a lot of computer equipment strewn over a desk. The sharp odour of male hormones and unwashed clothes was heavy on the air.
Luc threw his bag on the mattress and stripped off his socks along with his shoes. He flexed his long toes in the un-vacuumed carpet. His insteps had lines of dark hair, Barry noticed. Luc pulled a chair in front of his keyboard. The screen came to life, the unapologetic wallpaper a scene of two muscle men fucking. Barry's dick was already way out of control.
'Take a seat,' Luc commanded.
Barry settled in next to him while Luc opened programme windows. One showed another teenager on a high-quality webcam, blond and quite nice-looking. Luc began talking to the screen in Rothenian. Barry couldn't follow what was being said, but as the two talked the cam boy stripped off his top and began playing with his nipples.
Luc abruptly switched to English. 'Wanna see his cock?'
'He says he'll show you, but you have to show first.'
'Take your top off.'
Barry hesitated, then complied, removing sweater and vest in one go. He thought this was quite sexy, though Luc himself apparently wasn't going to strip. Luc adjusted the camera to take in Barry, who could see himself on the screen.
'Nice. He likes you.' The foreign kid by now was wriggling out of his briefs. He was erect and stroking. Barry's dick was bulging in his jeans. The webcam boy stood, turned and shoved out his arse, reaching back between his legs to finger his anus.
'Christ... is he gonna?' The boy did, shoving a finger inside himself as he rotated his bum. By now Barry had his hand in his pants.
Luc gave a smirk. 'You need some relief.'
To Barry's intense excitement, he found a hand at his buttons, then it was inside his jeans folding round his penis, pulling it out. This was it. He was having the sexual encounter of his dreams, even if he hadn't expected someone else to be watching it while it happened.
Luc gasped as what he was pulling kept on coming out. 'Incroyable!'
'You're fucking huge!'
'C'est monstreux. Quelle bite! Amazing. T'es encul heureux!'
Luc was sending spasms of ecstasy through Barry's groin, manipulating the thick, solid cock that he was the first gay man to see and touch. The cam boy was watching hungrily, stroking himself as he did. Barry watched his cock rear higher than it ever did when he was wanking it. Then Luc's lips closed around the head and he was in heaven. Luc pulled off Barry's lower clothing while sucking him.
'Now show him your asshole,' Luc ordered. A naked Barry obeyed without question, bending over his chair and pulling his cheeks apart. Then something even more awesome happened. He felt a muscular, insistent and wet organ at his entry. Luc was sucking and probing Barry's hole, while pulling at his long, hanging dick in a milking motion.
Barry caught the sight of what was being done to him in a wall mirror, Luc's face buried between his small, pale buttocks. It sent him over the edge. He squealed, 'I'm coming!' Then he began shuddering uncontrollably as his orgasm boiled up. He squirted like a hose on to the seat of the chair beneath him.
'Fils de salope!' swore Luc.
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