The army truck from Wendel dropped Lance and Mike at the perimeter of the Kaleczyk military zone. Both were now in army fatigues. Mike had removed his cadet NCO insignia. 'Wearing it would not be proper,' he judged.
Lance could sense his brother's suppressed delight as they presented their IDs at the checkpoint, and were given a curious look-over by the guards. Lance's sensational beauty attracted attention as ever, especially as it was counterpointed by his drab military garb.
'At-vood?' observed the officer of the guard. 'The general will be glad to see you boys. You'd better get a move on. Follow the signs to Brigade HQ. You'll find your father there.'
Eyes shining, Mike snapped off a meticulous salute to the lieutenant, as if he were putting his entire soul into the military ritual. Lance did his best to be no discredit to his brother.
The garrison was busy about its daily routine, though such was the nature of the fortress that there were no external buildings to be seen. Soldiers seemed to appear from nowhere and disappear amongst the pine trees. Neat little signs posted their route. Mike, all eyes, was especially taken with a platoon of jäger going uphill past them at an easy lope. He seemed to want to tag along with them.
'Easy, bro!' cautioned Lance, who was rapidly coming to the conclusion that he did not want to be a soldier quite as much as his brother did.
'This is so good,' Mike enthused by way of reply. 'Lance, the brigade flag! We must salute it! It is regulations.'
So the young men made the required acknowledgement as they passed the flagpole on the crest of the Kaleczyke Horja to enter Henry's command post. They were scrutinised by two tough-looking jäger on sentry duty, though Lance observed to himself that his brother was taller and rather more muscled than either of them.
Lance did not need to be badgered by his brother into coming stiffly to attention and saluting the diminutive figure behind the desk, even if that person was his father. He loved Henry deeply, but understood he was acknowledging the office, not the man.
Henry grinned up at his boys. 'Well, the pair of you do look smart, I have to say. At ease, lads. Take the sofa. And if you insist on standing in the general's presence, Mikey, I'll have you taken out and put in the stockade. Relax. Smile. For heaven's sake, you've been human for all of three months now.'
Lance had gone for a kiss from his father, despite the disapproval emanating from his brother. Lance then bounced on to the sofa next to Mike, who was doing his best to sit at attention.
'Good to see you boys, even in the circumstances. Now the situation is this. Your Uncles Justy and Terry – or I suppose I should call them Captain Peacher-White and Major O'Brien – have been active in intelligence locally. They've found Horde infiltration amongst the thousands of refugees spilling over into Glottenberh.'
'How many, dad?' Lance piped up.
'Probably several hundreds, too many for just a scouting party. They must have a mission, or missions, and we'd like to know what's going on before we round them up. We need to be quick, too. The Horde's only four days away by the General Staff's calculations.'
'What do you propose … my father, sir … er, Mendamero?' Mike inquired.
'Go down to the comm centre, which is on the first level of the fortress. Our engineers have put together a monitoring station to scan local radio traffic. Terry's discovered that the Horde uses English to communicate amongst its various cadres, but it certainly won't use that for communication with its main base, wherever that is. We guess the infiltrators will employ some of the more obscure languages and dialects of the Middle East. That would be better than scrambling their signal as far as we would be concerned, but not with you boys here.'
Mike frowned. 'I do not believe electronic scrambling would necessarily be a problem for us, sir. We hear meaning, rather than words.'
'Really? I had no idea. That's a bonus then. You're attached to Brigade Staff for the time being. You'll bunk with the engineers on the third level. If I know my appallingly efficient staff, the correct uniform flashes and security codes are awaiting you in your quarters. It's lovely to see you both, but I doubt we'll have much of a chance to get together here, and I'm sorry about that. The Horde's somewhat filled my diary, so big hug, kiss and off you go.'
Mike, with a smile this time, obliged his father, as did Lance. 'Now take good care of yourselves, the both of you. You hear me?'
'Yes, father.' 'Sure, dad.' The two fine specimens of young manhood straightened, snapped off fierce salutes to the general, and left.
Camp life powered down as soon as the sun dipped below the mountains. There was little to do, so most people opted to sleep the short summer night away. Toby, on the other hand, was still awake and worrying about his earlier sighting of Atib in the camp when the other Cubs returned.
Kristijan entered their tent quietly, assuming his friend was asleep, though that mercy had so far escaped Toby. He heard the other boy undress, the clink of his belt and the rustle as he pulled off his jeans.
Kristijan found his bedding and shifted restlessly for a while. Eventually he whispered, 'Tovyašin? You awake?'
Toby rolled on his back. 'Yes, Kris. Come over to me.'
Kristijan didn't need a second invitation. His body was soon pressing up against Toby's. His arms crept round his friend and they lay quiet for a while.
'Did you do much with the others?' Toby asked.
'Radu and Marsin hung out with a couple of Croat girls, till their parents chased the guys away. Me and Klement watched the men playing football, then we found a couple of other Serb kids. They've been here weeks. They said there's a plan to set up a camp school to give us something to do.'
'Not a bad idea, though language may be a problem.'
'We listened to a radio in one of their tents. It was all in German, but one of the adults translated. The radio said the Horde's moving north, and the Rothenians and the Slovaks will get it next.'
'Well, at least they won't be coming in this direction.' As he said that, however, Toby knew it was a lie. The Horde was already in the very camp where the Cubs were sheltering.
There was a silence, then Kristijan hesitantly continued, 'Has Vuk come back?'
'No, Kris. I think he'll want to stay with his mum and dad. They must have a lot to talk about.'
'Aren't you lonely?'
Toby was, but talking about it wouldn't help. What did make a difference was the surge of affection towards Kris that followed from the boy's open sensitivity towards him. He turned in Kris's arms and kissed him full on the mouth. He got an inexpert response. When their lips separated Toby said, 'Thanks for asking, Kris. You're such a good friend to me.'
'I like you lots, Tovyašin.'
'I can feel quite how much you do, Kris. I don't think we're going to sleep unless we do something about it first.' Toby pushed down his briefs, then pulled Kristijan's down for him. Meshing erections, he kissed Kris again and this time got a full return. He reached for the thick fleshy bar he found between Kris's legs, quickly pushing off their covers to kneel over the boy. He jerked Kris while suckling and licking the big, bulbous head of his penis. Though he drew the blowjob out, it wasn't five minutes before Kristijan groaned that he was coming and delivered his load into Toby's waiting mouth.
Kristijan then took his turn dealing with Toby's dick, a little vigorously. 'Was that good?' he asked with an endearing nervousness after he had brought Toby off.
'A great job, Kris.'
'I'd never jerked another boy before … that was the first dick I ever touched. It was really good. It's hard but soft at the same time. Your taste was nicer than I thought a boy's … stuff … would be.'
Toby stroked Kris's belly, kissing his cheek.
'What's it like when a boy goes up your bum?' came the eventual and not unexpected question.
'Mostly really nice, though it can hurt at first. You seemed to enjoy doing me.'
'It was amazing, to have someone as lovely as you under me. And you were happy to take me too. Tovyan, since I met you, and since Vuk and you fell in love, I've come to think I'm a homo too. I don't really like hanging with girls the way the others do. It's you I want to be around.'
'And you're feeling guilty about it?'
'Er … my mum and dad are probably dead. I can't be a disappointment to them now. So I don't feel guilty that way, but I do feel it's wrong having feelings for you, when Vuk loves you so much.'
'You can't help them, Kris. We can be friends like this, can't we?'
'I guess. I won't do you any more though. Jerking's one thing, but bums are another. Still, I like jerking a lot.'
Toby chuckled and held Kris hard. At last he yawned, and sank into sleep snuggled into his friend.
The camp was stirring when they awoke, still together. Kristijan kissed Toby's cheek before he got up. Toby admired the boy's naked body as he stretched. It was the first time he had seen him unclothed in the daylight. Kristijan was slim, with well-defined abs and swelling pecs. His small, cute butt and his long legs were especially nice. Kris had little body hair apart from around his genitals, and his cock was heavy with its morning erection.
Kris absently felt himself as he squinted around for his glasses. Once they were in place, he looked a very different boy, though not less attractive. He caught Toby's stare and gave him a shy smile, letting go of his cock. 'I need to piss,' he announced, recovering his briefs and struggling into his jeans and tee-shirt. He disappeared barefoot through the tent flap, leaving Toby to worry about the day ahead.
So, was Atib a refugee? Had he deserted his master? Was he on the run too? Toby doubted it. The man had been with Malik from the beginning, and was so devoted to him he would even take playthings away from his master if he thought they were dangerous. Atib stood in many ways in the place of Malik's father. So it made no sense that he would abandon the warlord. There was more to this, if only Toby were able to penetrate the mystery. He was sure Vuk could help him, but Vuk was unattainable just then.
Toby couldn't simply lie there, he was too anxious, so he dressed and followed Kristijan out. None of the other Cubs were up, though people were drifting towards the commissary for breakfast. With his mind churning, he didn't feel hungry yet. Instead, he walked over to the eastern edge of the camp, where he had seen Atib, and looked around cautiously. Finding nothing, he soon gave up the search. He sensed that any encounter with Atib would be dangerous. Whatever the man was doing in Austria, he would not want to be identified.
Though still not hungry, Toby drifted with the crowds towards the commissary queues, where he joined a line shuffling forward to be served. It was more to take his mind off his uneasiness than anything else.
Aware of people talking around him, he subconsciously sifted the linguistic groups: Bulgarian, Serb, Albanian, Hungarian, and Greek were all in evidence, with some stumbling English where different ethnic groups were attempting to communicate. It was like a weave of many-coloured threads to his seraphic mind, and then all of a sudden it warned him of a darker, different pattern.
Toby looked round cautiously, and saw a group of young men a little way behind him. They were in casual clothes, though rather less shabby than the crowd surrounding them. They were smoking and making desultory chat, most of it in English. Two of the men, however, were having an animated dispute in a language Toby recognised as an obscure dialect of Kurdish. The petty disagreement – about some money that was owed – was provoking their companions to chastise them with a variety of insults, most of which belonged to Central Asia and the Iranian plateau.
Toby hastily looked away, after checking that Atib was not among the group. The men were all too clearly Malik's loyalists, devotees of the Nameless One. If they recognised him he would be in serious shit. He slipped away through the crowds and ran for shelter to the rear of the camp.
He encountered the Cubs on their way to get food, but excused himself from joining them. He needed to see his Vuk. The Ciric tent was stirring, and suddenly Toby experienced a sense of shyness. He hesitated, and as he did he became aware of raised voices. Vuk and his father were in dispute.
Toby paused, reluctant to intrude. There was no sign of Janko and his mother. Unwillingly, he heard fragments of the argument. 'Of course we're glad you're safe … not a problem had you not caused it … lucky the boy's alive, and no thanks to you.'
'You call me pig-headed! … wouldn't listen … I had to do it … couldn't just walk away.'
Vuk burst out of the tent, a ferocious look on his face. He stood irresolute. Not seeing Toby, he started walking rapidly away. Toby could only pursue him.
At a reasonable distance from the Ciric tent he shouted after Vuk. His lover turned, still abstracted, but with a dawning smile when he noticed Toby. 'Tovyašin! I was going to look for you.'
'You seem upset, my wolf.'
'I do? Always so sensitive, baby.'
'What is it?'
Vuk sat abruptly where he was, between two tents, and Toby settled next to him. For a while Vuk picked moodily at the flattened grass between his legs, and then his eyes sought Toby's. 'You know your relationship with your father is bad? Well, it's another thing we have in common. As soon as mum and Janko disappeared he was at me. I thought all this shit would have changed him … but no. He's found a new way to run me down.
'It's like this, Tovyan. When the Horde marauders attacked our column, I had gone to help an old lady struggling along with her pack. It was against his orders, Dad being all for getting out quick. And it's true, had I followed his wishes we'd have been long gone from that part of the column when the Horde closed in. Worse, Janko, bless him, had disobeyed Dad too, to join me helping her, so he was cut off by the marauders along with me. Of course, now I'm getting it in the neck for not listening to his wisdom and going on a dangerous fool's errand which almost got us both killed.'
'Does he know what you had to do to get your brother back to them?'
'Dad's more interested in his grievances against me than anything I've ever done. It's always been like this. I can't do anything to get his approval. He's always looking for me to fail. He's never once said he was proud of me, or anything I've done. School was hell. Nothing I could do was good enough, in sports or in the exams. Imagine what'd happen were I to announce I'm a gay boy.
'Baby, I so want to be back on the road with you and the Cubs. Believe it or not, I was happier when we were on the run than ever before in my life, and it wasn't just because of the magical sex with my beautiful Tovyašin. My heart sings when I see your face, my pretty baby.'
Toby took Vuk's hand and squeezed it, his heart strangely moved. It appeared even the bravest of men – and he was coming to realise that few were more so than his Vuk – had dark spaces in their souls. His own agony of remorse and confusion was not unique, nor as isolating as he had thought.
This brought forward the doubts he himself was having, and he took a step towards sharing them, the way Vuk was opening up to him. 'I have a problem too, Vukašin.'
The absent smile with which Vuk was regarding Toby disappeared, to be replaced by a look of cool concentration, the same as when he was calculating the chances of a strategy to evade the Horde.
Toby explained his encounter with Atib and his belief that elements of the Horde were in that very camp.
'This is serious, Tovyan,' was Vuk's verdict. 'You're right. He can't have fled his master. The only thing it could be is that he has a mission of some sort given him by Malik-rammu. The fact that he has élite death-cult commandos with him is an indication of its importance. What puzzles me is, why here? The Horde isn't coming this way. We need more information, and maybe we need to talk to the people who run this camp. Come on, baby, time to get to work.'
As he trailed after his lover heading to the access road and the administration area, Toby realised that with work at hand Vuk was content once again.
Ed Cornish gave a bear hug to little Yuri Atwood. He was beginning to like the idea of a daughter, especially one so sweet and cute. She also smelt a lot nicer than the boys.
'Take care of yourself, my father,' she whispered in his ear as she kissed him.
He put her down. Hands on hips, he turned to survey the twins. 'Now, what about you two?'
'We will be well-behaved for the strange grandmother person,' Rafe affirmed.
'That's not what I meant.'
Gabe nodded. 'We wish you well, General Cornish,' he added. 'Please do not get killed. It would be most uncomfortable for everyone and cause considerable unhappiness.'
'I suppose that'll have to do,' he smiled and shook his head. 'Here's an advance on your allowance in case I don't make it back.'
Rafe brightened. 'Ah! Economic resources. Most welcome.'
'Don't spend it all on sex aids.'
Rafe looked wounded. 'That was not our plan. We were cleaned out, as I think you say, after Lance's birthday. The necessity to buy presents for his eighteenth was an unexpected burden, especially as one from the pair of us was thought insufficient. Now we are solvent once again.'
'Glad I can make someone happy. I'll try to keep in touch as long as I can, though once hostilities begin in the Starel Valley, communications will get patchy.' He shouldered his pack. 'Bye, kids. Be good.'
He left the three children standing on the outside step and headed down the path to Fridricsgasse and the waiting staff car. Unexpectedly there came a shout of 'Wait!' behind him. He turned just in time to encounter the twins rushing into his arms.
They hugged him hard. 'We did not kiss you,' Gabe said. 'We want to do that, and to say we're sorry for being such pains.'
Ed kissed them both. 'Babes, that makes it all worthwhile. Love you, boys.'
'We love you too, our father,' Rafe affirmed earnestly, and Ed was moved to see tears in both the twins' eyes. So they were in some way human after all.
Toby was surprised to encounter a large crowd at the gate. Life in the encampment was so uneventful that anything out of the ordinary drew onlookers. The arrival of an Eastnet TV van was definitely an attention-grabber.
The Rothenian camera crew was interviewing several refugees near their van, getting their stories and recording footage. Several Red Cross executive types in suits were in a discussion near the entrance where a group of federal police had turned up in three cars parked along the approach track.
Toby observed the young Rothenian worker from the admin building, arms folded, looking askance at the knot of executives. 'Oh, hi,' the man said when he recognised Toby, 'the Serb kid who speaks Rothenian, right? You should get yourself interviewed. You'd be a gift to Eastnet 24.'
'I don't think I'd like that,' Toby answered. 'Can you tell me and my friend Vuk what's happening here?'
'We have a celebrity visit. It happens from time to time. The idea is that it keeps the refugees' morale up to see someone important taking an interest in them, and the press attention does us some good too. UNHCR has sent us some minor royals. Your luck's not in; I'm afraid Queen Harriet couldn't make it. It's just her mother and her stepfather, the duke and duchess of Glottenberh. Still, momma Peacher's quite famous in her way. You know about her?'
'No … not much.'
'She was the second wife of Richard Peacher, though they divorced ages ago. She's been through the cycle of politics, charity work, rehab and spiritual enlightenment since then. She has a UN post of some sort. She married our little king of Rothenia's great-uncle a couple of years ago. Very nice for her. Now she's a duchess. 'Scuse me, gotta go and give out a few more Rothenian flags for the kids to wave. There was also a bouquet around here somewhere.'
Toby explained all this to a mystified Vuk. With nothing better to do, they hung around to watch a small motorcade arrive behind the flashing buzz-bar of a police car. Toby observed the red lion on gold of the Elphbergs on the bonnet of the second car, a black Mercedes limousine. It was differenced by a blue label for the duke of Glottenberh.
The doors were opened by two security men who had emerged from the third vehicle, a dark SUV. A respectable cheer went up from the large crowd. The duchess was a strikingly good-looking older woman. Her husband was a fine figure of a man, tall with a dramatic shock of white hair. They waved to the children brandishing a forest of Rothenian tricolour flags. A group of little girls came forward, curtseyed and presented a bouquet of summer flowers to the charmed duchess, then retreated to their mothers.
Escorted by the suits, the Elphberg couple was ushered into the camp, where they stopped from time to time to exchange words or smiles with the inhabitants.
Vuk and Toby didn't join the crowd following the royal pair and the Eastnet camera crew. Instead they sat down on the grass verge and kicked around a few thoughts. Vuk's suggestion was to get hold of the older Cubs and recruit them for surveillance. 'Look at it this way, baby. We need information, and we need to keep you out of Atib's sight. Marsin, Kristijan and Radu can go anywhere, and talk to anyone. Once it's explained to them they'll be happy enough to help. This place is such a sink of boredom.'
Toby agreed, although he had no idea what to do should they actually get a clue as to why Atib and the death commandos were in Austria. Still, fingering them to the police would be the first step, Vuk said. They'd pay attention if told the Cubs had witnessed the Horde members committing atrocities.
Radu and Marsin drifted past just at that moment, wanting to get a look at the TV van. The boys did their customary slap-tap, including Toby, though he found it difficult to get the movements right. He was sure he was improving, however, under the effects of Janko's tuition.
So Toby was shielded by a small crowd of lads when Atib and four comrades appeared in the gate. Toby hissed at Vuk to watch out. Vuk turned casually and scoped the five Turkic commandos. They were all in black suits, and three of them wore shades.
Applause heralded the return of the duke and duchess. The couple emerged from the camp and took leave of the fulsome Red Cross executives, while the crowd showered them with petals. As they returned to their car, Toby stared with astonishment at Atib and his companions. It had been Atib who opened the car door for the duke, then exchanged a slight nod with the man. Toby was even more stunned to see the five men in suits pile into a second SUV, and drive off with the royal convoy as it left.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]