Call me Eild

by c m

Chapter 4

I was woken in the middle of a particularly vivid dream that featured Mikka doing some highly imaginative things with me.

I sat up groggily.

'Eild, it's me, Mikka. I've remembered where I saw that symbol. I thought you'd want to know.'

The first thing that struck me was that he seemed very subdued; I would have expected him to be whooping with joy.

'Umm...good...great in fact. But...you don't seem very happy about it Mikka.'

'That's because of where I realise I saw it.'

'Where?'

He heaved a heavy sigh. 'It was at the bottom of a piece of paper on my father's desk, just before I was sent here. He'd sent for me, but when I got to his study he wasn't there. I went in and sat down at the desk as I always did when I he sent for me. There was a piece of paper on the desk. It had lots of numbers on and then at the bottom that symbol. I had only just noticed when my father came back in. When he saw me looking at the desk, he grabbed the paper and put it back in his drawer. I asked him what it was. He said that it was a mathematical problem that a friend of his had sent him. That was possible; he is a respected mathematician, but it didn't feel right…there was something wrong.'

'Wrong?'

'I don't know if was his reaction or the fact that the numbers didn't look like any sort of problem I'd ever seen. But I'm sure that was the symbol - even though I only saw it upside-down.'

A really bad feeling had crept over me as Mikka talked.

'Mikka, were the numbers in rows and columns?'

'Yes. There were maybe five or six numbers to each line.'

'And were there the same number of digits in each group?'

'No, I don't think so.' He screwed his face up with the effort of remembering. 'There were between four and six - maybe seven - digits in each. I think. It was a while ago and I only saw the paper briefly. Why?'

'Umm...do you happen to know if your father has a copy of this book?' I showed him the title of the philosophy book I'd seen on Joran's shelf.

'I don't know. He has quite a good-sized library. I can write and ask him if you like?'

'NO! No...don't do that.'

'What's the matter Eild?

In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought.

'Mikka...it's possible that the numbers you saw were a code. If so, it was a code the deciphering of which is tied to a book. Possibly the book I showed you.'

Mikka gasped.

'Does that mean my father was involved in the plot to kill you?'

'No, Mikka. It's probably entirely unconnected - particularly if your father doesn't have a copy of that book. But it might mean that he knows who these people are and what their aims are. That would be a great start.'

'My father is unlikely to want to help Tibor - or you. He would only know you as the representative of Tibor's regime; a regime that has taken his only son away as a hostage. When I was taken, he vowed that he would do whatever it took to get me back....not that I'd go now if you paid me.'

And that's when a light went on in my brain. And when I realised that one of the things I had just said was mistaken.

'Thanks for your help Mikka. I need to talk to Barat. And don't worry.'

I saw him standing there, uncertain. I lifted up the rugs covering me and looked at him. His face slowly broke into a smile and then he was hopping into bed beside me. He gave me a hug.

'It will all be alright, won't it?'

'It'll be fine, Mikka.'

In truth, I had no idea if it would be fine. In fact, I strongly suspected that it wouldn't. But this was no time to worry about that. I had a beautiful boy snuggled up beside me. Anything else could wait until the morning.


I don't sleep well when I have things on my mind, and so I got up early, leaving Mikka asleep in bed. If anything, he looked even more beautiful asleep, his hair splayed all over the pillow and his naked shoulders peeping out from under the rugs.

I dressed and, ignoring breakfast, went to find Barat. He was already up, but not at work.

'And what brings you here so bright and early, Eild?'

'I think we may have cracked the symbol.'

His eyebrows shot up.

'Really?! How?'

I told him what Mikka had told me. 'And I have a theory - although it's no more than that.'

'Go on.'

'Mikka's father has no love for us; he's very upset that his son is a hostage. He's vowed to get him back. Suppose that there is a group - a secret group - dedicated to securing the release or return of the hostages. That would satisfy the need for the group to be relatively recently formed. And suppose that the object of the attack on me was not my death but my capture; that I was to be held in exchange for the return of the hostages. I haven't yet worked out the link between Joran and Mikka's father but let's just say that there is one for now. I am captured and the exchange demand is made. What would happen?'

'Knowing Tibor, while he wouldn't want to abandon you, he would refuse the exchange nonetheless.'

'Exactly. So who now has what they want?'

I saw Barat smile. 'Of course, you are out of the way but there is no blood on Joran's hands - or even any link back to him. If the attackers had succeeded, there wouldn't have been any bodies to find the symbol on.'

'And in the unlikely event that Tibor responded by killing a hostage, then I would be killed in return. And Joran still has what he wants and he clearly has nothing to do with my death.'

'I like it. But how do we prove it? Mikka's father is scarcely going to admit anything.'

'No...but what if we arranged for Mikka to have a home visit...a recognition of his good behaviour, on condition that he returned against the lives of the other hostages. I could ask Mikka to look for a copy of the book in his father's library.'

'Are you sure he's on our side? That he wouldn't simply tell his father everything? Would he not want to stay with his father rather than here?'

'I don't think so. Something he said earlier. But there's an easy way to check. But if we CAN rely on him, what do you think?'

'I think it's sound. And I also think I know why and how Joran and Mikka's father may be linked.'

'Really?'

'Yes. Guess who was part of Tibor's entourage, his right hand man in fact, when he negotiated the hostage deal.'

'Joran?'

Barat nodded. 'He would have known how Mikka's father felt - and would know where he lived.'

Now it was my turn to nod. 'And it also explains why Joran might feel very upset not to have been made ambassador.'

'Indeed. So it's a good theory; all we have to do now is prove it.'

'OK. First things first. Let me see how Mikka feels about his father and about us. If that's positive, we'll need to go and see Tibor.'

'Excellent. Let me know how things go.'

I was no sooner through the door of my apartments when Mikka bounded up to me like an eager puppy.

'So how did things go with Barat?'

'I'm pleased you asked. We need to talk. Say...in thirty minutes in my study?'

'Of course.'

I took the chance to go and stand on the terrace that looked out over the hills. I ran the scenario Barat and I had discussed through my head again. Had I missed anything? Did it really stand up? Was it strong enough to present to Tibor? He wasn't going to like the fact that it put Joran firmly back in the dock but...I couldn't find a flaw in it; not that that made it true, of course. I walked through to my study and sat down. A few minutes later there was a tap on the door and Mikka came in.

'Have a seat. There's a couple of things I want to ask you.'

'Sure, Eild.'

'If you were no longer a hostage, what would you do?'

'If you mean would I go back home, then the answer's no, definitely not.'

'Why's that? Your father wants you home and here you're treated pretty much as a glorified servant.'

'My father may want me back, but I don't want to go back to him. He has 'plans' for me; plans that include me marrying someone he has in mind and someone I definitely don't want to marry.'

He looked up at me.

'Eild...my father has no idea that I prefer boys. Now, while we don't treat men like me in the barbaric way that your country does, it is disapproved of. My father would be appalled - especially as I am his only son. And even if it were different, here I now have a that job I love and the prospect of a career in the service of two men that I love and respect more than any others in the world. And I have you, Eild.'

He held both his hands up as if afraid I would say something.

'I know, I know...you aren't over Brygg yet...but one day you will be...and I will be there waiting. I can't help who I love, Eild.'

I saw his eyes fill with tears. I got up and went and put my arms round his shoulders and kissed him. I knew I'd just heard the truth. I wanted to tell him the rest of it, but I knew that I had to talk with Tibor first; if he kyboshed the idea, then there was no point in taking things any further - and no point in telling Mikka that his father might be in this deeper than I had indicated.

'Thank you, Mikka. I can't tell you what this is all about yet - but I promise that I will very soon. And... I do love you - just not as much as I should.'

He smiled. 'Even a little of your love is enough for now.'

I ruffled his hair.

'Let's talk again later. I have to go and see Tibor.'

I went to see Barat first, and told him that I was 100% sure that we could trust Mikka.

He gave me a half smile.

'I never doubted it. The boy's besotted with you - and you don't have to be a spymaster with forty years' experience to work that out either.'

'I'm very fond of him, Barat - and I'm worried that we may be putting him in danger.'

'Have you told him our thinking?'

'No, of course not. We need Tibor to approve any plan first; no point in creating potential problems if they aren't going to arise.'

'Good. Right. Let's go and see the king.'


When we arrived at the palace, Tibor was apparently busy, but his secretary knew that Barat, and to a lesser extent I, had privileged access. He disappeared through a set of tall wooden doors. Two minutes later he was back.

'The king apologises for keeping you waiting, but asks if you would be good enough to wait just five minutes while he concludes his current business.'

'Of course.'

We both sat down on a marble bench which had a padded strip of crimson leather running along its length. It was surprisingly comfortable. As promised, five minutes later, the wooden doors were flung open and Tibor stood there.

'Looks like double trouble. Come on, through you come.'

Once inside, Tibor walked past the official receiving area and on through to his private room at the back. He motioned us both to sit down.

'What can I do for my two spymasters?'

I looked at Barat and he motioned for me to take the lead.

'We think we may have a good lead on the people behind the attack and what their purpose was.'

'I'm intrigued.'

So I told him of the reaction Mikka had had when he saw the symbol, and where he thought he'd seen it before. And then it got to the tricky bit about Joran. I could see Tibor's face cloud over.

'And you agree with this, Barat?'

'I believe that it is...plausible.'

'OK. Carry on, Eild.'

I then told him about our plan to use Mikka to see if the same book was in his father's library. And the conversation I had had with Mikka about what he would choose to do if he were no longer a hostage.

'Do you believe him Barat?'

Barat smiled. 'I think we both know what the boy feels about Eild. And I have other...reasons... to believe his story about the father being unaware of his son's sexual tastes.'

I looked at Barat in surprise.

'You didn't say anything about that?'

'I didn't feel it relevant. But let's just say that we did a lot of background checking of the hostages and their families. It's all in the files. You can look at it later if you wish.'

'Does Mikka know anything of this yet?'

'No, Tibor. It's your decision on whether we proceed or not. If you give us the go-ahead, then we'll talk to Mikka.'

'And if he refuses?'

'I think that unlikely, but if he does there is nothing lost.'

'What do you think, Barat?'

'I think the plan is basically sound and the underlying hypothesis is credible. I hope that it is not true - but we do need to rule it either in or out. And we are at least one step ahead of these assassins - or kidnappers if that's what they turn out to be - at present. Perhaps even two steps.'

I saw Tibor nod. Then he got up and went over and stood at the window. Perhaps five minutes passed before he turned back round to face us.

'Very well. I, too, hope that this is not true - but you are right that we need to know, and I like the plan.'

He turned to me.

'You'll take Mikka into your full confidence and brief him?'

'Yes.'

'Very well, do it. If he agrees, I will announce that I am considering a programme of visits home for the hostages - and that Mikka will be the first. You'd better be right about him.'

I smiled. 'If I'm wrong, you can cut my balls off.'

Tibor looked at me and then broke into laughter. 'Careful what you say; maybe I will.'


Back at my apartments, Mikka did his best not to look interested in what had passed between Tibor and me. I played along. I could see that he was getting increasingly frustrated and eventually he confronted me.

'I know you are doing this to tease me, so just tell me what's going on...please?...pretty please?'

I took pity on him.

'OK. Bring a pad of paper and a drink - for both of us, though you're going to need the drink more than me.'

I saw a look of panic flit across his face

'Umm...OK. Be back in two minutes.'

He was as good as his word, and two minutes later we were back in my study.

'Shut the door please, Mikka.'

He did so and then sat down.

' I am about to take you into my confidence. This is serious. Very serious. If you breathe a word of what I am about to tell you to anyone, then, much as I love you, I will kill you. '

I saw him smile, but as I continued to look at him, he said,

'My God. You mean it, don't you?'

'Yes, Mikka I do. Many lives, including mine, depend on you understanding that.'

'I would never put your life at risk, Eild.'

'I know. And that's why I'm trusting you with this. But I warn you, you may not like what I am about to tell you.'

'It's about my father, isn't it?'

I tried not to look surprised. It was the sort of intuitive, almost telepathic, leap that I prided myself on being able to make - but I hadn't known Mikka had the same gift.

'Yes...I'm sorry.'

'It's OK.'

'Mikka...I'm about to ask you to pick sides: your home where you're free, or here where you're a hostage; your father or me. You must be honest. If you choose your home and your father, that's fine - nothing bad will happen to you. But if you choose differently...it may be your life at risk as well as mine.'

'My home is here now. And my love is here too. This is any easy choice.'

'Very well.'

I told him about the bodies that carried the same mark that he had seen on the paper in his father's study, and I told him about Barat's and my theory. I told him about the 'visit home' in exchange for the supposed good behaviour, and I told him what we wanted him to do.

'It's not just about seeing if your father has a copy of the book in his library. We need you to convince your father that you can't wait to be home with him; see if he tells you about what he has tried to do so far. He may say nothing - in which case ask him if there is any hope of getting you home permanently. If necessary, but only as a last resort, tell him that Tibor seduced you - or even raped you - but that you have a protector in me; that you were so worried when I was attacked that you might have lost your protection. It's a fine line, Mikka; ideally you need to get him worked up enough to tell you what he's done but no so worked up that he refuses to let you return and to hell with the consequences. And remember that he may, genuinely, have had nothing to do with the attack on me. Whatever you do, do not rouse his suspicions. Do you think you can do this?'

'What will happen to him if he was involved?'

'Nothing. It is Joran that will suffer. Your father's punishment will be to know that he has lost his son.'

'Once he knows I love men, I will be lost to him anyway.'

'So can you...will you...do this?'

'Yes, Eild. I will.'

I relayed the good news to Tibor - and Barat - and preparations were started to make the announcement of the 'home visit' trial. However, with the formal treaty-signing with Tyccho only a few weeks away, Tibor decided to delay the trial until after that had taken place. I agreed that that seemed sensible, but as I turned to leave he said:

'And Eild, talking of the treaty, one other thing: Tyccho tells me that your father will be part of the delegation. I don't know if that pleases you or not.'

I was momentarily struck dumb. The truth was that I didn't know if it pleased me or not either. I hadn't seen my father for more than two years - ever since I'd started training as a Dog Soldier. Our parting had been difficult; his brother had blamed me for corrupting Brygg and therefore being responsible for his death. It wasn't true, and my father knew it wasn't true, but on top of his disappointment at discovering the nature of my sexuality, it had led to some harsh words on his part. I didn't blame him for that; my mother had been beside herself - partly at the thought that she would have no grandchildren but mostly, to her credit, at the thought of my becoming a soldier with all the extra risks that my place in the army brought with it. I knew that the unkindness of some of the things he had said were driven by stress and circumstance rather than malice. But I had no idea how his thoughts about me might have changed, for better or worse, in the intervening period. Was he proud of what I had made of myself, or did he see me as a traitor? I suppose I must have gone into something of a trance as these thoughts coursed through my mind, as I was brought back to reality by Tibor tapping me on the shoulder.

'Hello? Eild?'

'I'm sorry Tibor, I was just thinking that I hadn't seen my father for more than two years...I was wondering how he felt about me now.'

'Of course, I understand. I hope he is proud of you; he should be.'

'Maybe. Perhaps he just thinks I'm a turncoat like Ambrey said.'

'He's a fool if he does.'

'I guess we'll just have to wait and see.'

'The delegation will be arriving two weeks today. They will stay overnight and the signing will happen the next day at noon. It will be followed by a formal dinner that evening and then they will return home the following day. Would you like me to arrange a private meeting between you and your father on the day that they arrive?'

I thought about it. I wanted things to be right with him - and my mother. That meant I had to open the door; it was up to him if he wanted to walk through it.

'If you could let him know that I would like to meet him if he wants to, that would be great.'

'And would you like to meet him here in my palace on neutral ground, or in your apartments?'

'Here, I think - if that is alright with you. Until I know how things stand, I think we both need to have an easy exit if things are...still difficult. Or worse.'

'Then my private room will be at your disposal.'

'Thank you, Tibor.'


The two weeks flew past. Barat and I worked hard on preparing Mikka for his mission. I was pleased to see that it excited him more than it worried him, so our main challenge was to prevent over-confidence rather than to stiffen his resolve.

Other parts of him didn't need any help with stiffening either. His visits to my bed became increasingly regular, and on the nights that he wasn't there I missed him. I missed his humour, his companionship, the warmth of his body beside mine and the little noises he made while sleeping. And, of course, the sex. We didn't always make love, but, when we did, it was never the same - never predictable. Sometimes he liked to take things slow, other times he was like a whirlwind. Being penetrated was no longer painful for him, so there was no top and bottom; we both enjoyed each other in every possible way, but we both loved oral sex above anything, and the feel of him bucking and kicking in my mouth as he emptied his seed into me was something I never tired of. He seemed to feel the same way about it when our roles were reversed too. I wasn't looking forward to being without him for two weeks.

Then the day of the signing arrived. The formal greetings took place and I pointed Rollo out to Mikka.

'God, he's gorgeous,' he said.

And he was. He had celebrated his sixteenth birthday since I had last seen him. The pure white tunic he was wearing emphasised his olive skin and wavy black hair. His brown eyes seemed full of intelligence and when he smiled, his full lips parted to reveal pearly white teeth. When we shook hands, his handshake was firm and dry and I caught the faintest hint of his scent. His eyes met mine and held my gaze. As I moved on to shake the next hand, I was conscious of his eyes following me. My loins stirred. I told them to behave.

And then I was shaking hands with my father. He seemed to have aged. I smiled at him - and he smiled back. I hoped that it was a good omen.

After the formalities were complete, the members of the delegation were conducted to their quarters to relax before the ceremony the following day. I headed for Tibor's private receiving room and waited. About twenty minutes later, the door opened and my father was shown in by one of the palace guards.

'Do you want me to wait inside, sir?' the guard asked.

'No, thank you. Outside will be fine.'

He closed the door behind him, leaving us alone together.

'Welcome, Father. You're looking well.'

'Hello Eild. I'm looking old, you mean. But you are looking well.'

'How is mother?'

'She misses you. '

We looked at each other. I was about to break the silence when my father held up his hand.

'No. Let me speak. When we parted, I said some harsh things to you, Eild. I apologise. I can't pretend I like the fact that you are homosexual, but you are what you are. And your mother and I respect that. It also means that you had to make decisions, you and Brygg, that boys of your age should not have to make. I believe that now. So I want you to know that I do not blame you for adopting this nation as your own, and I am proud of what you have made of yourself here. I hope perhaps, that once this treaty is signed you will feel able to come and visit your mother and me from time to time. Your duties permitting of course.'

He said this last with a little smile, before continuing,

'And my brother Debben no longer blames you for Brygg. He has asked me to apologise for that as well. He will do so in person if you ever visit.'

'What changed his mind?'

'I think he knew the truth of matters all along, but he found a sort of diary in Brygg's room that was full of how he felt about you...and what you did together and how it made him feel. What Debben said to you at the time was just his grief speaking.'

It was all I could do to nod. I felt the emotion welling up inside me.

'Thank you, father. I know it was hard for you to accept my nature - and I served my nation faithfully as a soldier...until what happened, happened. But what I have found here is something I hope you may come not just to accept but to embrace as much as I do. '

My father nodded and held out his hand. I shook it briefly and then embraced him. I felt him tense - and then relax. As we separated, I looked into his eyes,

'I love you, father.'

'And I love you too, Eild - your mother and I both love you very much.'

It was the first time he had ever said that to me - and it sent me over the edge. I could feel a tear roll down my cheeks, and I saw him surreptitiously wiping the corner of his eyes with a finger. Then he was pulling himself upright.

'Until tomorrow then, Eild.'

'Until tomorrow...and father...I would very much like to come and visit you and mother as soon as possible.'

I saw him smile. Then we walked together to the door which I opened for him. He took a couple of steps and then turned and raised a hand in farewell. I did the same, and then turned and went back inside. As the door closed behind me, I went over to the window and looked out..and burst into tears with all the pent-up emotion.

I suppose it was no surprise that Tibor had clearly been waiting outside the door that led from the other side of the room into his private quarters, because he was suddenly there beside me, his arms round my shoulders.

'Is everything alright Eild? Did it go so badly?'

'Oh no, Tibor, these are tears of relief. He told me that he loved me.'

And now I was crying on Tibor's shoulder. He just held me until I was myself again. And then he kissed me.

'I'm so pleased everything has worked out. And to have your father on our side is to have another powerful ally.'

'I don't know if he is actually on our side yet, Tibor, but he's certainly coming round.'

'Then that's a terrific start. Incidentally, Rollo is a good-looking young man, isn't he?'

'Very. I don't think Mikka's stopped drooling yet.'

Tibor laughed.

'I should have thought that Mikka would have had his hands full enough with you.'

'We'll see. I suspect that young Rollo may not be backward in coming forward if he sees something he likes.'

'Well, if he decided he liked me, I wouldn't stand in his way.'

'Everyone likes you, Tibor.'

'I jest. He's too young for me.'

I looked at him. I hoped that it was true or I could see trouble ahead. Tyccho might recognise his son's nature, but I seriously doubted that he would be happy at the idea that his son was hopping in and out of bed with everyone who took a fancy to him.

I headed back to my apartments where Mikka also wanted to know how things had gone with my father. I gave him a quick summary.

'That's wonderful, Eild. I wish my father could behave like that.'

'Maybe he will, Mikka - in which case you may have to rethink your tactics.'

'Not a cat in hell's chance. But I'm very happy for you.'

And now it was his turn to kiss me

'Are your eyes back in their sockets, yet?' I enquired.

'What?...oh, you mean after seeing that dreamy boy.'

'Yes. Him.'

'Hmm...well...almost back in their sockets. And he's going to be staying here after tomorrow?'

'That's the idea.'

'And you did say he wasn't off limits?'

I smiled.

'Yes, that's what I said - IF...and it's a big if...IF he is attracted to you. Seriously Mikka, we cannot have any hint of him being seduced or forced into any kind of activity he doesn't want. Apart from being morally and ethically wrong, it could put the whole treaty at risk.'

'You know me Eild, I wouldn't dream of doing anything like that. '

Which was true. He might be a randy little devil, but he had principles and I trusted him.

'...and you pretty much exhaust me anyway.'

'Let's just see how things go. And anyway, I can't possibly see him fancying someone as ugly as you,' I added sweetly.

He just stuck his tongue out at me.

I spent some time reviewing the address I was going to give the next day before heading for bed. Mikka joined me about an hour later, slipping in beside me and cuddling up against me the way he always did.

He murmured in my ear, 'Why would I want him anyway when I've got you?'

'Because you're a horny little sod,' I replied.

He giggled. 'It's true.'

'Sleep tight'

'You too.'


The plan was for me to say my piece, then Tibor to say his and then for Tyccho to reply. After that the big leather folders with the parchment copies of the treaty inside would be signed and then we would all adjourn for drinks. There were various tours and displays organised for the afternoon and then a chance for everyone to go and spruce up ahead of dinner.

Everyone was ready and waiting in the Assembly Room, eyes on the ornate clock that dominated the wall on the North side of the room.

As the hands on the clock met at midday, I got to my feet.

'Lord King, Lord Tyccho, delegates...and father,'

A little ripple of laughter ran round the room.

'It is my pleasure to welcome you here today for the formal signing of what is, I believe, more than just a peace treaty. It is nothing less than the start of a whole new relationship between our nations. A relationship that will become the model for nations all around the world.

I myself occupy a unique position in having a foot in both camps. I know of the huge strengths that both of our nations possess. But I am also a model for what the treaty can deliver by way of opportunities for all of us.

And that is at the heart of this treaty. It is not so much about what we still stop doing by way of fighting, as what we will start doing by way of trade, investment and cross-border co-operation.

I am looking forward confidently not just to peace but to prosperity, harmony and hope.'

I sat down and generous applause broke out. Then it was Tibor's turn.

'Lord Tyccho, delegates. You are most welcome. I know that I am thought of as a warlord, but I have only ever fought to establish peace. I have only ever gone to war with those who have threatened me. So I am delighted that our two nations are at peace once again. But, as my friend and ambassador - and your compatriot - has said, I want more than that. I want us to be friends and not just 'not enemies'. I want us to construct a relationship that means we could never even contemplate going to war again.

I welcome the fact that you have introduced a new administration. I believe that that is significant step towards the new relationship I desire.

You have in this room a shining example of what working together rather than against each other can bring. Ambassador Eild has an exceptional mind - amongst other gifts. He has already taught us much - and we are ready to learn more, not just from him but from any of our friends.

I also welcome Lord Tyccho's son Rollo; I hope that he will be the first of many to benefit from the new option that now exists for those like him. In truth, I hope that the time will come when that option will no longer be necessary - but that is for you and your people to decide.

So let us sign the treaty with both happiness and hope in our hearts.'

Once again, applause greeted this speech, and then it was Tyccho's turn.

'Lord King, Ambassador, delegates. Thank you for your welcome. This treaty already represents a big change. The usual way is for the victor to impose harsh terms on the defeated. This treaty is not like that. We acknowledge our foolishness in going to war with you and thank you for your generosity in seeking the type of peace that you do. I believe that it coincides with a change of will, reflected in the new administration, to find a new way to conduct our affairs. Of course, this view is not shared by all our people - yet. But I believe that it will be.

We, too, hope for the friendship you outline. We hope that Ambassador Eild symbolises that future.

We are pleased to sign this treaty with both happiness and hope in our hearts.'

This provoked perhaps the loudest applause. The leather folders were opened, and Tyccho and Tibor duly signed both copies. Then corks popped and glasses were filled and we all toasted the future.

I had already asked Tibor if I could be excused the displays and tours. I found such things tedious. Fortunately, he had agreed. I'd also suggested that Rollo might find it all a bit dull as well, and proposed that Mikka take him on a tour of things that might appeal more to a sixteen-year old.

When I told Mikka, he could scarcely contain himself; two hours or so with the boy of his dreams.

'Just try to behave yourself,' was all I said.

I took the long way back to my apartments. It was a lovely day and a walk in the fresh air seemed like just the thing. I suppose it took me about an hour to get home. Mikka wasn't there, so I assumed that he was still out and about with Rollo. I wanted to take another look at the symbol, and I remembered that I'd given it to Mikka when he went away that first time to think about it. I reckoned that it was probably in his room and made my way there to try and find it. I was about to open the door when I became aware of sounds coming from inside. Sounds that were at once familiar and surprising. What was familiar was that it was clearly two boys having sex; what was surprising is that I couldn't see how it could be anyone but Mikka and, presumably, Rollo. I retreated back to my library and started thinking about what I was going to have to say to Mikka later.

Sure enough, about forty minutes later, Mikka and Rollo passed the door of the library.

'Hi Mikka, hi Rollo.'

They turned in surprise.

'Oh, hi Eild, we've...err...just finished doing the sights and then we came back here for a drink. I was just going to show Rollo back to where they're staying. Ummm...I thought you were at the displays and stuff.'

I bet you did, I thought.

'No. I asked the king's permission to miss them. I took a bit of a walk and then came home.'

'Oh, right. have you been back long?'

'About an hour,' I said.

I saw them look at each other.

'I think you two better come in.'

They looked at each other again. They looked nervous.

'Be honest,' I said, 'I don't think you two have been doing much sight-seeing, have you?'

'No, Eild,' said Mikka, sheepishly.

To my surprise, Rollo then spoke up.

'I'm sorry, sir, it was my fault. I was the one who suggested that we skip the sights and go to bed together.'

'Well, I'm pleased you took so long to get to know each other first.'

'Sorry. But...you know how it is; you can be with someone for about ten minutes and you just know.'

'Know what?'

'That you really like each other and really fancy each other and...just...look, it was my fault, that's all. I haven't...been with...anyone for ages. And Mikka is so cute and so lovely.'

Now there I had to agree.

'And you didn't think to dissuade him, Mikka? Despite what I told you, let me see, less than twenty-four hours ago.'

'I'm sorry, Eild. I was thinking with my cock and not my brain.'

I had to suppress a snort of laughter.

'Look, I'm not here to judge you. But the ink is barely dry on the treaty and this...this...this is not what your father would expect you to be doing, is it Rollo?'

'I actually don't think he'd mind, sir. But...couldn't we just tell him I'd been getting to know the boy I was going to be working with?'

Now it was Mikka's turn to stifle a laugh.

'Yes, very well. But you're here to learn and to work, Rollo, not shag anyone you fancy, however shaggable they may be,' I said, looking at Mikka, 'whenever you feel like it. Is that understood.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Yes, Eild. Sorry.'

I saw a smile flicker over Rollo's lips.

'And actually sir, it was Mikka doing the shagging, not me.'

The two of them were now laughing helplessly. I waved them away.

'Too much information. Go, the pair of you.'

Well, at the least the boy appeared to have spirit and had openly admitted what he'd done - and wasn't ashamed of it. Good for him. And good for Mikka too.

When Mikka returned, he came straight into my library where I was still working.

'You get him safely back to his father?'

'Yes, Eild, and I'm so sorry.'

'For what?'

'For ignoring what you said and sleeping with him.'

'He said he was the one who asked you.'

'Yes, he was. I know I should have said 'no', but I'm only flesh and blood.'

I looked at him, and just let the pause grow.

'And was he good?'

The look of surprise that passed over Mikka's face was comical. Whatever else he had expected me to say, it wasn't that. He sort of did a double-take, and then his face cracked into a huge grin.

'He was bloody amazing. God knows where he learned it all - I mean, he's only sixteen.'

Then his face fell.

'But I feel so guilty.'

'Why?'

'Because I let you down...and because...I've got you, so... why did I want him?'

'Because he's good looking and sexy. And you're permanently horny. And what we have is fun and lovely but you don't 'belong' to me. And it's not as though you hadn't asked if he was off-limits.'

'I know but...well, yes it was fun - but...are you sure you're not angry with me? Or disappointed in me?'

'Angry? No. Disappointed? Maybe a little - but that's more to do with you ignoring my advice than the fact you went to bed with Rollo. And what happens when he asks you to do it again, because he surely will?'

'My mind will say no...but....'

I got up and went and put my hands on his shoulders.

'Mikka, you're seventeen. Have fun. I don't feel any differently about you because you've slept with Rollo. And think about this. Maybe he'll want to sleep with me. If he does, I've no idea if I'll be strong enough to say 'no'...and how will you feel if that happens?'

His eyes dropped to the floor. Then he looked back up at me.

'Jealous. But of him, not you.'

'We're all teenage boys, Mikka. Teenage boys in a world where we are taking on responsibilities that, a few generations ago, would have been the province of those much older than we are. But we mustn't let those responsibilities stop us from celebrating our youth and our vigour. We have long lives, the gods willing, stretching out in front of us. Let's be generous with one another and have some fun along the way. I have strong feelings for you, Mikka, but they will survive you sleeping with Rollo from time to time if that's what you both want.'

'Then I will try to feel the same, Eild. Though once he's had you - if he does - I don't suppose that he'll want me again.'

'Well, if it's any comfort - and apart from the fact that if I was Rollo I'd choose you over me any time - whilst he may be cute and sexy, and yes he is - I very much doubt he has all the other qualities that make me feel the way about you that I do.'

'Thank you, Eild. And I'm sorry I ignored your advice.'

I looked at him. He looked at me. I started to smile and I saw the start of a little flicker around his lips.

'No you're not. You loved it. Now go on, get out of here.'

He threw his arms round me and gave me a huge kiss, and then bounded off through the doorway.

God I loved him.

Did I really just think that?

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