Terre Nouvelle

by Michael Arram

XXVI

Ruprecht closed the Institute offices for the summer recess, and with some relief he and Matthias took the northbound train to Schwarzwald. He delighted the boy by repeating once again the story of Jacques's escape from Ardhesse.

'You played your part too, Mattie!' Ruprecht laughed. 'You had the most dangerous job of all. I'd not have done what you did … venturing unescorted into that back-street costumier with Jacques's exacting list of requirements, right down to his underwear and stockings. How did you do it?'

The boy flamed red. 'They were actually quite nice to me, Excellency, two funny old men. I think they were queer and … well, awfully interested in me. They were a bit rude in what they said, though I could tell they weren't bad people. But they didn't believe the dress and all the rest were for my sister.'

'Yes, but neither could they have possibly been for you. In their line of business it's probably best to curb one's curiosity.'

'They did say that if I came back they might have some things that would interest a … a handsome young fellow like me. I don't think they meant clothes, sir. There were some very strange objects I'd never seen before hanging behind a curtain.'

'I'm sure the two gentlemen would be happy to extend your horizons considerably if given a chance, but perhaps you should talk it through with your Erwin first.'

'Oh, sir. I don't think the need will arise.' Then he laughed. 'And what is Jacky doing now, sir?'

'Making new friends, according to Erwin, when last I heard before returning from the Holy See. By now I hope he'll be happily setting up his own clothes shop with the money he's been able to put together. Apparently it's long been a dream of his. Will you go and say hello to him?'

'I might, sir. He was a bit like those two old men, cheeky and rude but harmless underneath I think. He was ever so funny when he was turning himself into a girl in my bedroom. It was like being in a theatre dressing room watching an actor get ready. He made quite sure I saw every part of him, but I don't think he was doing more than flirting.

'It's nice to talk to other queer boys, sir. He sat on my bed and told me about his life. I said it all sounded horrible but at least it was interesting, and I told him about my years on the farm. He said that to him my boring country life sounded heavenly, with a real mother and a kind father. It was what he dreamed of when he was little, but could never have. We talked for ever so long that night. I cuddled him when he cried and it was nice. He just kissed me on the cheek. He didn't try anything on with me. So I think I will go and find him in Ostberg soon. He's a boy who needs a steady friend.'

Ruprecht looked kindly on his secretary, and told him he very much approved of his resolution.


Gilles and Felix were still at Blauwhaven when Ruprecht returned, but the packing had already begun for their departure. New clothes and accessories arrived from Ostberg along with their student caps, which they flaunted round the schloss, though Joerg tried to kid them it was bad luck.

'You'll fail your sessionals if you do that, everyone says so.'

Felix rolled his eyes. 'Even if we did, Dr Joerg, we'd still progress to second year. They don't throw you out for flunking sessionals. We know that.'

'How?'

'Rupe told us.'

'Betrayed!' Joerg play-punched Ruprecht in his left pectoral, only to be grabbed, cuddled and kissed lovingly.

They were down by the pool as ever. The boys were as taken with the tale of Jacky the Catamite as Mattie had been, and Ruprecht had been obliged to tell and retell it.

'And you say he looks like me?' Gilles asked, a curious look on his face.

'Like a younger and slightly more effeminate you, yes. He could easily be your younger brother.'

'… or sister!' yelled Felix.

'He'd be convincing, certainly. He's quite the little actor.'

Gilles was still frowning slightly. 'If Mattie's going up to see him, we're going to go up too. Kreech is out of his mind with curiosity.'

'I am? Oh yes … of course.'

Ruprecht was dubious. 'Not a good idea, boys. It's not that he's dangerous, and since you two have no morals he isn't going to contaminate you, but it would be unfair to barge in on Mattie and him at this point. They seem to have become friends, so you should give them space. Two young lords he doesn't know marching in to interrogate the boy will not make for an easy meeting and might well bring out the worst in him. Let Jacques be until he finds an even keel. I'm keeping away from him for that very reason.'

The two boys exchanged a quick glance, which was not so quick that Ruprecht missed it, then the pair went back to their kissing and stroking, as did Ruprecht and Joerg; they had some catching up to do, and Ruprecht gave the boys a memorable show as he and Joerg moved to more active sex.

After the elder pair had satiated themselves Ruprecht lifted Joerg off his cock and they picked up their robes and wandered up to the house hand in hand, leaving Gilles and Felix attempting to copy what they'd just witnessed, though Gilles had neither the size nor the upper body strength to do it; not that it stopped him trying.

Ruprecht and Joerg got properly dressed, then as they settled back to their desks in the workroom Ruprecht shot a question at his lover. 'Why is Gillot so curious about the little whore?'

Joerg looked up through his fringe. 'It's his dreams. I ask him about them regularly, and recently he's no longer faced on the twilit path by the hybrid child. It's his mirror image he meets, an identical boy who comes to him, takes his hands and kisses him sensuously. The voices grow louder and he wakes up. He's having wet dreams again. He's more disturbed than ever, and the fact that this Jacques resembles him has him intrigued. He's looking for clues. He's more convinced than ever that the dreams have a meaning.'


Felix was required for a week in Ostberg before his departure to university. A grand levée with investitures was to be held, followed by a state banquet, the first that he rather than the Princess Regent would preside over.

'My dears, I am so glad,' she confessed. 'Standing for hours at a time is no pleasure.'

'His problem will be fidgeting, Grossmutta,' Gilles teased. 'He can never stand still for a minute. He's always got to be doing something.'

The princess took Ruprecht aside. 'I've read the briefings your sodomitical imp provided the Protector with. They were illuminating, to say the least, about the so-called Allemanic Emperor's personality and sexuality. We knew he was homosexual of course, but not at all where that would lead him, and it seems he's made a very dark and deranged world for himself. The real Emperor has tendencies that way, as you learned from King Kristijan, though he is I am told a far more pleasant and discreet and straightforward young man. But you'll have the opportunity to assess that for yourself.'

'Grossmutta?'

'The exiled Emperor François is currently residing at the court of the Protector, and will join us here in Ostberg for the levée. He wishes to meet you.'

'Good heavens.'

'The boy Jacques had many other disturbing things to reveal that he learned from the egotistical rants of Kristijan of Ardhesse, from which it appears his ambitions are by no means satisfied by the subjugation of the Francien realms. Dreiholmtz has taken the Empire's place as his bugbear, particularly since the East Kingdom still harbours his hated Uncle Horst, which may be his excuse for declaring war in the end; he seems to have lost interest in young François. He now has the Imperial Fleet to add to his own navy, and he has intimidated the West Kingdom into an alliance. Put all those fleets together and Dreiholmtz no longer looks so indomitable, even with our own and Hochrecht's small navies added to the equation.'

'You expect an Allemanic War, then?'

'I fear there will be one. Kristijan of Ardhesse wishes to be Universal Emperor, as only Jean-Charles and the sainted François 1er have ever previously been, as I understand.'

'So it's claimed, Grossmutta. Though we now know that the first two Francien emperors spent much of their time destroying and absorbing the land of the English, a lost realm called Kholnai.'

'Ah yes! Your review article. The first publication of yours I've got round to reading. I'm sorry I took so long; it's fascinating. I'm sure it'll interest the present Francien emperor if you're ever looking for a topic of conversation.'


For the first time the Schwulene between Felix and Gilles had to be expressed ceremonially, for Grossmutta had no intention of letting it be a thing unacknowledged and glossed over. Gilles would occupy the lesser throne beside his lord, and like him adopt military dress, though of a junior rank to the prince. He chose the uniform of a naval commander for his honorary rank. His was the first investiture on the day of the levée, as he was given the grand cordon of the Order of Felix the Great by its Master. There was a gratifying level of smiling and warm applause around the throne room of the Residenz, which showed that Grossmutta's judgement was sound on the matter of the public's acceptance of their relationship.

The boys, elegant and radiantly happy, received their guests together, with confident charm and humour.

'If it gets them this level of popularity,' Hans observed to Ruprecht while they watched, 'every prince on Terre Nouvelle will want to be queer.'

'How's the …' Ruprecht began.

'Don't say it,' Hans interjected.

'What?'

'Boat. You were going to say boat. You do it to annoy. I know you know the difference.'

'Tsk, you're so adrift of the truth. So how is Felix the Great? A vessel for which I have great affection I'll have you know.'

'She's a marvel. She outranges and outpaces every other ship of her class. She even showed her heels to the cruisers of the Inner Seas Fleet.'

'And did you get your promotion?'

'No. The commission as commodore was temporary, but it's a straw in the wind. I live in hopes of lots more gold lace. Talking of promotions, where's Professor Joerg?'

'He's here to support our boys. He's just so tiny you can't see him. He'll be hiding out in a corner hoping not to be noticed. He doesn't like public functions.' Ruprecht scanned the crowd. 'I thought His Genuine Imperial Majesty was supposed to be here?'

'I believe he is, or if not will be along later. But the protocol questions of entertaining an emperor in exile were so complex that we're to pretend he's an ordinary guest. He'll be wearing a plain black suit, I understand.'

Ruprecht went in search of Joerg and found him jammed in a corner, sipping a glass of water. 'Bored, little one?'

'Uh-huh. Can we go now?'

'There's the banquet yet, and there's no escape from it. Grossmutta would notice. Oh look! Gillot's coming our way.' Ruprecht signalled. The boy gave a broad smile and headed directly for them.

'I have wine, notice,' he beamed. 'No one can deny the prince's Grunderknabe. I have a throne. Not a big one, I'll admit, but every boy should have a gold-painted chair for his own, just to sit on and be grand.'

'And you do it so well, Gillot.' Ruprecht scanned the circulating throng.

'What are you looking for?'

'It's a whom, not a what. I have a certain curiosity to see the Emperor François in real life rather than as a monochrome picture in a newspaper. If you remember, he's the reason I ended up in Vieldomaine with King Scumbag, the day that changed both my life and yours. We were on the run from his agents.'

'Kreech said he's not turning up till a little before the banquet. There will be toasts.'

'Oh well. I get to see him later, so I'll wait. I'm off to talk to Grossmutta, see you later. Look after Joerg, he's bored.'

Ruprecht left the throne room and made a necessary detour past the palace toilets, which he knew were down a rough stone passage, half-concealed behind a tapestry. They were not state of the art facilities and the best way to find them was by following one's nose; many people who went looking for them returned disappointed, with tightly closed legs and preoccupied expressions.

He found the dank passage and entered it as a familiar slim, dark figure emerged from a side door adjusting his trousers. 'Gillot, how did you get here?'

The boy looked up, and it was Gilles, but it wasn't. Ruprecht staggered back against the wall. The boy gave him a concerned look. 'Sir, are you alright?'

The face wasn't exactly Gilles's, but the expression and the light in his eyes, the beauty and the very soul and presence were his ward's. This boy was closer than Gilles's twin, he was Gilles himself decanted into another body, which he had made his own. Ruprecht fainted.


He awoke slumped against the passage wall; his head still spinning. A footman was putting a glass of water to his lips. Behind the servant was the Gilles look-alike. He smiled Gilles's smile when he saw Ruprecht had come around.

'Now sir, how are you? Has this happened before?'

Ruprecht shook his head, which cleared it a little. 'Could you gentlemen help me to my feet?'

The dark-suited youth took Ruprecht under an arm and helped lever him up, and the smell of his hair when it came close to Ruprecht's face was unmistakably Gilles's smell.

'Whom am I to thank for the assistance?' he said, bowing to the doppelgänger.

'My name is François, minheer. I have no surname.'

'That fact alone identifies Your Imperial Majesty,' and he bowed lower, steadying himself against the passage wall as he did. 'I thank you for your kindness.'

The boy gave Gilles's rueful smile. 'I, who am so dependent now on the kindness of others, can do no less than offer it back when the need arises.'

'You need not delay yourself, sire. I'll be fine now I think. It was just the shock.'

'Of seeing me, minheer?' He laughed Gilles's happy and throaty laugh.

'No sire, not exactly. You have a curious resemblance to my ward.'

'And you are, minheer?'

'The Graf von Aalst-Blauwhaven, Your Imperial Majesty. I am at your service.'

'Ah! Of the Hochrechtner family, older brother of the Prince of Ostberg I believe. I was hoping to see you. But first, I was just going to say my discreet hello to the prince when … other necessities intervened. Perhaps you might make the introduction.'

'Yes sire, though when I do expect a similar reaction to what just occurred here.'

The emperor cocked an inquisitive eyebrow, but urged Ruprecht to make his visit of convenience while he awaited him.

Once Ruprecht emerged he indicated the way, and before he reached the throne room suggested the emperor await the prince and his consort in an adjacent salon. 'Ah yes, His Serene and Most Excellent Highness is married to another man in your Allemanic way. I've never met a … a …'

'Grunderknabe, sire. He is my ward and heir, his name is Gilles Parmentier.'

The name meant nothing to the emperor, who took a seat on a sofa as Ruprecht bowed himself out. He rounded up not just Gilles and Felix, but also Grossmutta and Hans.

'What's the panic, old Rupe?' Hans asked.

'Listen everyone, you're about to see the strangest thing you've ever seen. So follow me and don't faint.'

'I've never fainted in my life,' the princess huffed, 'not even for effect.'

'And you be especially prepared, Gillot. This is going to knock the top of your head off. We're about to meet the emperor.'

'You're being strange, my boy,' his grandmother stated. 'This is not the first emperor who's been in the same room as I have.'

'Yes, but you've not met this one, Grossmutta.'

'We've all seen the pictures.'

'Well, pictures simply do not do the boy credit. Believe me.'

Ruprecht led the way and ushered his family into the Imperial Presence, which arose with a courtly smile and stared at Gilles as if the eyes were about to leap out of his sockets. 'You!' he cried, and fainted.


'I thought you never fainted, Grossmutta?' Hans enquired.

'I don't.'

'So how is it you have smelling salts in your reticule?'

'They're for my ladies-in-waiting, they faint all the time. It's really quite tedious.'

Ruprecht leaned over the unconscious emperor. 'He's coming round. Joerg ought to be here.' He straightened and encountered the staring face of his ward. 'At least you stayed upright, Gillot. Thank you for that.'

'It's the boy in my mirror vision, the boy on the path!' Gilles exclaimed. Felix was holding him around the shoulder, concerned.

'And I'd be willing to guess that he's been seeing you in his dreams. Let's get His Imperial Majesty on the sofa.'

'This is so weird!' Felix pronounced. 'He's you, Gillot! Really you. He looks like you, he even smells like you.'

'He also talks and laugh like you, yet he's not your twin.'

Ruprecht held François up as his eyes flickered, then opened. The emperor searched around and started when he saw a pallid Gilles close by. He sipped a glass of water Hans held to his lips, then he struggled to sit up. 'It's really you … my dream … you were in it!'

Gilles went to his knee in front of the emperor. 'And you in mine, sire. I'm Gilles, Ritter von Blauwhaven, and this is my husband, the prince.'

'How long …?'

'Did the dreams begin with the erdbeest boy?'

The emperor nodded. 'Was that what it was? It was so uncanny. Then about six weeks ago, it was you that met me on the path and we … we kissed and the voices, they got louder. What does it all mean? I thought it was the stress of the war and my flight, but how could that affect an Allemanic boy in Bernicia?'

'I'm not Alleman, sire. I'm Vieldomainois.'

The Princess Regent took control, as was her wont. 'My dears, I think there needs to be some explanations. What is going on here? Now all sit down. And don't you think it would be a good idea to get hold of the little doctor? Hans, off you go. Now, I fear this is going to take some time.'


SECOND MEMOIR OF THE PLAINS

A plume of dust rose from the dry plains. A single horse carried two naked riders from the east, one boy clasping another around the waist as the beast surged beneath them. The boy directing the horse was dark and beautiful, his raven hair hanging below his shoulders and tied by a woven grass string, his only adornment. The one clinging to him was paler, his sandy hair, almost white now from exposure to the sun, grown down to his neck and falling in his eyes.

'My thighs hurt,' the second rider complained.

'Stop your whining, Cory. This is great! This is what life is all about.'

'I need to … go.'

'Oh … merde. You're hard too.'

'Can't help it. My bladder's full as well, and my dick rubs against you.'

The rider whistled a signal and the horse trotted to a stop. His passenger slid off the back and squatted. 'You gonna watch me, Fran?'

'Yes. You're herd. You know what that means.'

'It means I piss and shit in the open and everyone watches it drop out my ass, and there's nothing to wipe my asshole with, and I stink.'

'No, it should mean you crap when the herd does when the sun goes down, then you wash your shitty bum in the warm river placed conveniently close by and you don't stink.'

The squatting boy grunted and emptied himself. He looked down at the result and wrinkled his nose. 'It's quite solid, maybe I'm not messy.'

The rider slid off, squatted next to the complaining boy and pissed, taking the other kindly round the shoulder and stroking his back while he spattered on the ground. 'You're quite brown now, Cory, and the sunburn is gone. You've got the herd smell too.'

'What's that?'

'Oh, sorta musky and warm, like dried cow milk and herbs. It's nice.'

The other sniffed under his armpit. 'Smells like sweaty teenager to me, François.'

François grinned and put his nose there too. 'It's a Cory smell. I like it. How're your feet?'

Cory stood and flexed his bare toes in the dust. 'My soles have toughened up like shoe leather.'

François stood next to him. 'Told you they would. It's been a whole season since we made you and your village herd. You're doing good.' He whistled again to the horse and it ambled after the two boys as they walked towards a tree line.

They got to the trees and sat in the shade, Cory reclining on his back and François sitting next to him, idly playing with his own genitals while Cory watched the resulting swelling.

François raised an eyebrow. 'Go on, touch it. You've seen what us herd boys do. We help each other out.'

'Yeah, all the time.' He reached out and manipulated the Francien boy's member, pulling back the foreskin and rubbing the glans with a finger he wetted in his mouth, skills he had been obliged to acquire and practice often since his captivity.

'Go on, suck me. You have to. I'm a bull and you're just a calf till you challenge, which means you do what other boys want, just like a cow.'

'Don't I know it. But I've been fucked up the ass more than once with my sister and mother looking on, and I don't want it to happen again.'

'My uncle had to do you. Your balls had dropped, and you were son of the king who massacred the last erdbeest herd on the plains, defying my father's order. So now you're a naked herd calf; you live as erdbeest and your mother is bred by our bulls. Her belly is big with my uncle's calf, your herd sibling. Your sister and you and all the herd children will suck on her teats once the milk comes. Soon it'll be your sister's turn to be mounted. There was blood on her thighs yesterday so you'd best show her what to expect.'

Cory grimaced. 'She's seen it all. Three boy calfs ganged up on her away from the herd until I came running when she screamed. That's where the blood on her legs came from. I nearly ripped the balls off the one who was feeling inside her with his fingers. The other two ran off before I could piss inside them. That'll put the little Francien fuckers off breeding English cows. You people live like animals.'

François's face grew savage. 'You think it's bad? It's more merciful than you deserve. I know he was your dad, but the things he did … Erdbeesten are intelligent and mystical creatures, they're not animals, they're precious channels and sparks of the Great Mind. They're our brother-kin. My father and king ordered them preserved and to be kept sacred, and you English ignored us. So your cunts are all that you're worth to us. Fuck it. Get on all fours. I'm gonna do you.'

The English boy complied and François covered him, but before he entered the submissive captive he sat back down on his heels. Cory raised his head from between his shoulders, and François touched his wet cheek. 'You're crying. Bulls don't cry.'

'But I'm not a fucking bull, am I? I'm an asshole you piss in. Oh …. shit.'

François took him by a shoulder and drew the weeping boy into his lap, surrounding his paler body with his own and rubbing his belly and nipples to comfort him, softly kissing his neck. Eventually Cory stopped. François lay him down on his back, crouched over him and joined mouths. They kissed for a long while. Eventually they broke off.

'Are you a homo, Fran?'

François gave an odd grin. 'Four English cows with swelling bellies have my seed planted in them. You've seen me mount how many of them?'

'Yeah … but you hold them down by the neck and do them quickly from behind. You never kiss them or play with their tits and entrance, like the other bulls do as they're fucking to get the cows squealing and wet. All you do is get the job done. You just kissed me like a boy should kiss a girl.'

'Are you a homo, Cory?'

The English boy shrugged. 'I dunno. I get hard when I see you breed cows, but maybe it's you I'm looking at, not the cow.'

'You get hard when you're behind me on a horse, too, and you can't stop stroking my belly as we ride, from my nipples right down to my crotch hair, and that gets me hard. And just then you kissed me back.' He lifted the English boy's legs and pushed them to his chest then took a new position. He lowered his head to resume kissing and as he did he thrust. Cory arched and groaned. As he began to move in Cory he hissed 'It's my seed you're going to get, Cory, not my piss.'

'Why?'

'Cos you're right. I'm a homo and all I want to do is touch you. That's why I keep taking you from the herd out on the plains. I want you to myself. I want you all the time. I hate watching the other bulls use your mouth and ass. I envy your little sister when she sleeps in your arms. That's where I should be. You're beautiful to me, more beautiful than any herd cow.'

As François fucked his way to a climax, Cory lost it. He clasped François hard with arms and legs and in his passion hissed in his lover's ear 'Fuck me, my bull. Fill me up! Breed my ass!'

They lay together and slept till the sun was low in the west, waking in the orange light of a warm plains evening. The horse was quietly cropping next to them. François took Cory by his hand. 'Come with me, I want to show you why I brought you here.'

Hand-in-hand they followed a path into a clearing. There were nine low mounds arranged in a square, the central one rich with flowers.

'What's this, Fran?'

'This is where my grandfather was laid. He's under the middle mound. The herd planted it with flowers and they tend it. This is how a Great Prime is laid to rest among his bulls by the People, the ones you English call 'herd beasts'. This is also the Place of Awakening and Meeting, where my father and uncle had their minds restored and knew my grandfather for their sire. And it's also where grandfather talked with the Great Mind, where the People now live in union with the human dead. I hope for your sake they accepted your father when his spirit passed. The Mind of the People told my grandfather many secrets and mysteries in this place.

'When I was a calf he brought me here to pass the tale on. I was born in the mute herd, the ones the erdbeesten brought up who knew no language, and I walked as a calf drinking from the breasts of the cows till I was old enough to be taken to be schooled in the Francien villages and learn how to be a lord of the land, not just a herd prime. My grandfather told me how it would be, that the world must change and the herd must in the end diminish and disappear.

'He himself never left the plains, but my father rules from the Old Place. He rides naked little now, but he sent me back on to the plains to breed the captive herd and learn to be a bull, naked and carefree under the sun as my uncle Armand still is, the prime, the one who stripped you and pissed inside you in front of all your people when your fort fell to our warriors. You were the defeated bull of the English that day. You won't understand it but he was honouring you as the lord of your own herd … also he is the hottest man I know, so very handsome. I wish it had been me under him. It'd almost be worth challenging and losing to him so as to get him on my back.'

Cory shook his head. 'I don't get any of this. We English have a different god.'

François agreed. 'Yes, you don't get it. The Great Mind is not a god, we don't worship it. It's real even if you can't touch it with your fingers. It's our destination after we die. It's not a source of teaching or of moral principle or forgiveness, like the human God and his seneschal Jesus.'

'Seneschal Jesus?'

'Isn't that what he is, the wise village headman under the Great Bull, the teacher of the children?'

'Not the way my people tell it. I wish I knew more, but all the old books and records were lost when the Colony burned.'

'Come up on to my grandfather's grave. I want to do a thing, I want to mount you and empty myself in your ass. It's a homage to the Great Bull of the Plains from his warrior seed … but you don't have to do it if you'd rather not.'

'I'll do it, Fran. For you.'

As the sky turned a deeper blue above them, François manipulated himself erect once more and covered the slighter boy beneath him. With a deep sigh he thrust through the English boy's loosened ring and held still, pressing inward with his ass muscles and willing his bladder to empty. But as the flow began and burned in his urethra, he was no longer over Cory, but buried in another creature, its bony head bowed between its shoulders. He was inside an erdbeest male, as his grandfather had often been in the days of the first herding. He pulled out, still spraying piss, staggering back down the mound. The beast rose from its knees and fixed its dark eyes on François. 'Great Bull, Father of All Bulls to come. We greet you. Your Grandfather, he who lies below your feet, greets you through us.'

'You speak, but you are one of the speechless herd.'

'Did not your Grandfather tell you how?'

'Yes he did. Humans and erdbeesten have joined in the Mind. So you can speak to me. He even told me that you know laughter.'

'It is so, though forgive us if we do not demonstrate it at this point.'

'You called me Father of All Bulls.'

'That is so, human youth. For there will be many Great Bulls who carry your name and seed down the ages. They will venerate you and your father as the builders of their realm. Yet you, boy bull, are something new to us. You are bull but you wish to mate with another and have nothing to do with cows. Erdbeesten know nothing of this, but our human brothers do, and they tell us that bulls like you are not common, and that apart from your kind of human males do not mount others as our bulls do. It troubles the Great Mind.

'Your grandfather told you our plan. Deep in your essence we have planted for safety our own altered seed which will be passed from father to son, and will bear fruit in a future generation and allow the repair of what was broken by us. But before it can do so, a bull of your line must first mount a bull of your uncle's and inject his seed so that the lost memories may be unlocked. Yet if only very few human males are born like you to penetrate other males, where then is our plan? Our bulls perpetually mount bulls in herd. It is by that act that our scheme was to come to fulfilment. But now we know that male humans by nature rarely climb on the back of others.'

François had no answer to this. He stood silent while the erdbeest pondered. Its head rose as it came to a conclusion. 'We promised your grandfather that the Colony would be reborn, but it cannot now be in the time of your children's children, or for generations thereafter. For only when a bull of your uncle's line and a bull of your own share that desire to mate with each other can our plan come to fulfilment and the Colony be reborn. We can do nothing more. Our promise will be fulfilled, be assured, but not now till a sea of time is crossed, and there is more pain. We are … sorry.'

A hard slap on his face brought François back to the world. Hard stars glittered in the darkening sky above Cory's face, looking fearfully down on him. 'Thank God! Fran! Are you alright?'

François sat up and kissed his mate. 'I … er … think the Universe just played a joke on us. It wasn't very funny, though.'

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