by Flaulus

Chapter 6

Compared to the island's history, the tower was modern, dating to the 1800s replacing earlier towers going back to the original wooden ones. It was circular, and the boys searched for the entrance but here wasn't one. At least not until Alan spotted a door about four metres above them which was why there was a moveable stairway mounted on rails, a little way back. The stairs were padlocked and carried a sign: First Tour — 2.30pm.

Rick glanced at Will, "Are you all right?"

Will was obviously not all right; he was panting, and he had lost his colour, but he nodded anyway.

"Please, Will." Rick said.

"OK! I'm done in. I'm a nancy-boy loser who can't even walk a little way. Satisfied?"

Rick rolled his eyes up in despair, "No! You're an idiot. You've been beaten up, you should be checked out in hospital, but you think you're OK! I bet I can get the keys and come back whenever I like, so I don't mind heading back now. Can you manage?"

"Yes, I can fucking manage." Will snapped, "Stop fussing, will you?"

"No, I won't. If your boyfriend can't fuss, who can?"

Will blushed, looking at Alan who laughed, "Rick's right, you know. What sort of boyfriend wouldn't be worried about you?"

Will relaxed, "OK, but I hate being so useless."

"Useless? You came up with that fortress wall idea. You're the clever one."

"Yeah but you wanted to look around. I'm holding you back."

"How far can you raise your arms? Show me!" Rick commanded.

Will obliged raising them almost to the top of head.

"Show me how far you could raise them, yesterday." Rick ordered and Will lowered them to shoulder height. Rick stood on tiptoe, stretching his arms as high as he could.

"Let's see how tired you get when you can do that again." he said.

Will glowered at him, but Rick was right and Will knew it. Alan sat down on the ground, his back against the tower wall.

"It's worth a visit but let's come back." he said, pulling off his shirt. While Will eased himself down, Rick pulled off his own shirt. Will's head drooped, so they were all content to rest quietly until an elderly man, portly but with a cheerful smile arrived.

"Sorry, lads, but could you move, please?" he said, "You need to be dressed in Napoleonic uniforms to laze around there."

"Yeah, sorry." Rick said, "Will's been injured and needed a rest. I'm Richard Blatcherfield."

The man bobbed his head and said, "Yes, My Lord. I'll still ask you to move because you spoil the effect. It's quite a walk back to the castle, do you need transport?"

"No! Stop fussing, everyone." Will snapped, "I can walk to the station."

"I think he's feeling better." Rick said, "We'll go."

Will had regained some colour, and they walked slowly. Rick was uneasy about letting Will drive back but once seated in the cab, he seemed alert enough. Once back to the main station, Central, the stationmaster approached them.

"There's a car waiting for you." he said turning to Will, "We hope you feel better soon."

Rick glanced at Will, but he just grinned.

As they headed for the car, he said, "I can't win against an island, can I?"

"Not this one." Alan laughed, "Where's the driver."

"That's you. Try not to run anyone over."

Alan quickly discovered there was only one control, a foot pedal. Foot off, and the brake came on. Middle position, and it would free-wheel while foot down, and the car bowled along just above a brisk walk. He was liking the island more and more, and his holiday was proving far more interesting than he expected. Once at the castle, they headed for the café, all three a little self-conscious as they sat at their reserved table. Sebastian joined them.

"Well done, you three." he said, "Dave and Freddie are working on some ideas. They'll sort something even it's nothing like your suggestions. Don't be disappointed about it. The important thing is you turned a dispute into a mutual problem without weeks of squabbling. I should have said, Alan. Mary is looking for you. She'll be helping her mother this afternoon. Just take the train to East-2 then the south path."

Alan glanced at Rick who shrugged but asked, "Any news from the hospital?"

"I'll phone." Sebastian replied.

His mother was a constant nagging worry at the back of his mind. His new life and boyfriends distracted him though he felt more guilty because he spent less time thinking about her. There was another problem. She was not exactly a bigot in that other races, other lifestyles were inferior, but she had a strong sense of the proper order and how things should be done. She was not going to understand Rick's relationship with the island nor him being gay, and it was another worry for him.

"She's going down for another operation." Sebastian said, "She's extremely weak but it's a case of balancing critical blood loss against the stress of the operation. I'll arrange another visit as soon as possible."

Rick nodded, "Thanks. I'm not having this party on Friday though."

"I think that would be a mistake." Sebastian said, "You can't brush off islanders just because you're not in the mood. However, they'll want to support you so let them arrange it. Leave it with me. Just be willing to make a token appearance and say a few hellos."

Rick nodded his thanks again, glancing at Will. He wanted to go swimming but Will could still not do any heavy exercise, which limited their options.

"Should I learn about boats?" He asked suddenly, "The island seems to depend on them."

"It's not compulsory." Sebastian chuckled, "Ask Jimmy. He'll find someone to teach you the safety drills. Dad had a cruiser, and he swore it was at Dunkirk, but I'm not so sure. I think it was built in 1950, so that would make Dad's claim problematical."

Rick laughed then asked, "What happened to it?"

"I don't know. I wasn't interested, so I didn't bother about it."

"I know. I should ask Jimmy." Rick chuckled.

"You're learning, but you need Isambard Declan. He's got the yard beside the pontoon, but be careful, he'll have you polishing bright-work before you can blink."

"What do you think, Will? Shall we grab something to eat then go and find our boat?" Rick asked but paused, "Are you all right?"

Will nodded but said, "OK, I'm tired. Let's eat, but I may just go and lie down after. I don't know. I don't want to be trapped in a bedroom all the time."

"Yes, it can be difficult living in a museum." Sebastian said, "I don't know if you've noticed, but the keep has a dividing wall. Even if attackers broke in, the defenders could retreat behind it and still hang on. We use it to separate our private rooms on the top floors from the tourist areas.

Rick nodded wondering why Sebastian thought it worth mentioning, as he continued, "The Arbuthnotts had that ridiculous grand entrance cut into the wall. Originally, the only entrance was about twenty foot above ground level and approached by a narrow ramp wrapped round the walls. Defenders could use slits to stab attackers or just push them off the ramp while others dropped rocks from the ramparts.

"I'm sorry, Sebastian but how does it stop Will being trapped?"

"Yes, I suppose I am being long-winded. However, look at the four towers on each corner. You can't reach them from the battlements. Even if attackers scaled the walls or took half the castle, they would have to take the towers, but I'm surprised you don't see where I'm leading yet."

"We could go sunbathing on one of the towers, and sightseers wouldn't see us." Rick said.

"If Will wants to lay down, you should spend your time exploring your room more."

"Our bedroom is under a tower isn't it?" Will said and Sebastian was pleased to see him more alert while Rick was also more cheerful as he forgot his worries and considered a mystery.

As a mystery, it proved easy to solve. Rick opened what he thought was a cupboard door and found himself in a small room, a couple of metres square. Iron rungs in a wall led up to a trapdoor in the ceiling, so the tower proved ripe for exploring. Rick could not resist the challenge clambering up through to more floors before reaching the top. He stepped onto the tower roof and looked out over the castle, then over the island. He hurried back to Will to show him the pictures he had taken, leaving Will determined to get well enough to do his own exploring.

For a couple of days, Rick and Will could relax though spending the mornings with Sebastian learning about the business side of the island. Ryan arrived, nervous because he understood the friction with his side of the family, but he soon relaxed. He was puzzled Rick preferred to be incognito most of the time, the opposite of his father, but revelled in the easy-going atmosphere.

Paul's school finished on the Thursday and all three boys, Rick, Will and Ryan were content with shorts and flip-flops as they sauntered onto the pontoon to greet Paul and his friend, Charles. The locals had got the idea and few holidaymakers realised that Rick was the Earl.

Rick was puzzled when Paul stepped off the boat because he was with a smartly dressed youth of about eighteen, and his parents while Jimmy was struggling to unload a mountain of luggage.

"Hi Rick." Paul said, "This is Charles and his parents."

Rick held out his hand to Harrison, Charles' father and said, "Hi."

Harrison barely touched it in response, "Where do we find a taxi? We need to pay our respects to His Lordship."

"Yes! You do have a lot of luggage, don't you? Are you staying long?"

"If it's any of your business, my son is staying for the summer. I don't suppose you'll understand, but a noble like His Lordship will have standards and expect my son to dress properly."

Charles glanced at Paul, uncomfortable with his father's rudeness to Paul's friends but Paul was grinning trying to contain his laughter.

"Will, Ryan fetch a couple of cars, will you please?" Rick said, "Find a phone and warn Lord Sebastian he has guests. Paul, us serfs can deal with the luggage while His Lordship's important guests go on ahead."

"Watch your tone, young man." Harrison rasped, "I'll report you for insolence if you're not careful. Come along, Charles."

"Have you got your phone?" Rick asked when he was alone with Paul, "You'd better warn Charles."

Paul nodded and made his call.

"He said he wondered, but his Dad was determined to impress His Lordship." Paul chuckled, "When are you going to tell his dad?"

"I'm not. I didn't realise Charles was so old."

"We're on the swim team, and we caught each other checking the others out." Paul explained, "We get on, and we've made out, but he's got to deal with his dad who's organised university for him, so he has to do law and economics. I think he's also decided who Charles is going to marry."

"So he's come to check us out." Rick said.

"No! The opposite! He's come to reassure the Earl that Charles comes from a respectable family and doesn't hang around with riff-raff like me."

"Can I borrow your phone?"

Paul duly handed it over and Paul listened in as Rick phoned Sebastian.

"Could you hint I'm out inspecting the turnips or whatever Earls do and suggest Will brings Charles to find me. Will you be an aristocratic host to his parents and look after them, please?"

"Certainly." Sebastian replied, "Can you tell me why?"

"Because they'll take the hint when you show them to the ferry. I don't want to be stuck with them for the whole summer. We'll wait by the pontoon."

"Why not just introduce yourself?"

"I tried. You know I don't like people being formal when I'm not, but they couldn't be bothered to talk to me. They treat Paul the same so let's give them the snobby treatment they expect and get them off the island."

"Thanks for that." Paul said.

"I just don't like people like that, and I'm learning. We're not embarrassing Charles, and we're giving his parents what they expect. Let's leave it at that."

Paul nodded, and they waited in a companionable silence.

When they all met up Rick shook Charles' hand, and said, "That's the formal bit over. How about you go and meet Paul's parents and change. The way Will's drooling, he wants to see more of you as well."

Charles blushed so Rick added, "We're gay. Are we going to pretend we're not interested or be up front, so you know where you stand?"

Charles relaxed and grinned, "It's just different to what I'm used to."

"We're going down to the beach." Rick said, "Come and join us when you're ready."

"Are you all gay?" Ryan asked as they strolled along.

"I forgot you were with us." Rick smiled, "Let's just say, it's why you're not allowed in our bedroom."

"Is it all right if I am too?"

"You are, or you're not, unless you're bi or questioning. What I mean is, it's not something you ask permission for. It just happens."

"I know. Dad's heard something, and he goes on about you being queer, so you'll be more worried about your makeup than running the island. I've got to be a witness and get some juicy pictures."

"So where do you stand?" Rick asked.

"Shane says that younger brothers should be the older brothers' bitches and tries to do stuff to me. He reckons he's a stud with the girls, but he can't hang on to one. He likes them, but they don't like him then he reckons I should help him empty his balls." Ryan paused, "I kinda liked doing the stuff, but I didn't like being forced."

"OK." Rick said, "No-one's going to force you here. Be careful of the pontoon, because rent-boys hang out there and be careful of visitors. If an islander asks whether you're gay or straight, don't be shy, say, 'Questioning'. Don't come into my bedroom without permission, because you'll catch Will and me."

Ryan nodded and suddenly hugged Rick, "I knew you were different to Shane. Thanks."

"I've only been on the island for a few days, but I've changed." Rick said, "Look, your best bet is to find guys your age to hang out with."

Ryan nodded, "I saw a couple on the pontoon. Are they really offering sex?"

"Yeah but get one of them to take you to see Dr. Knox, before you try."

"But it's okay to hang out with them?"

"I suppose so. Just be careful."

"God this place is weird." Will said, "Will he be all right?"

"Jimmy will keep an eye on him.

Both Rick and Will were a little disappointed that Paul and Charles preferred to stay home. It was understandable as Charles adapted to island openness and discovered that Paul's parents assumed they were going to have sex. Such a different outlook was enough for Charles on his first night.

The following day Rick was due to visit his mother again. He was more confident and arranged to see his old friends including Steve. They met up, and were gossiping the way friends do.

"Have you seen Will?" Steve asked, "He's not been around and Craig reckons his old man has finally done him in."

"He's staying with me." Rick replied, "Or rather my cousin. He's the adult."

His friends looked on impressed until they noticed a security guard watching them as they stood outside a jeweller's shop.

"We'd better move." Steve said, "They don't like us hanging around here."

"It's OK." Rick replied, "I'm looking for a birthday present for Mum. I'm not sure what to get though."

"Yeah, right!" Steve laughed, "I don't think he'll buy it. They charge a £100 for a watch strap."

Rick saw the guard approaching them, and except for Steve, the rest of his friends seemed to melt away.

"OK, you two. Hop it." he snapped, "A shop like this doesn't need you two hanging around."

Steve prepared to move but waited while Rick stood and asked, "Can I see some ID, please?"

"Don't be so bloody cheeky. Clear off before I arrest you."

"According to a friend of mine you only have powers to make a citizen's arrest and then I can sue for damages." Rick replied, "I'm wondering whether Mum would like that necklace, so what will the shop say about you driving a customer away?"

"Right, you asked for it. You come with me."

As the guard tried to grab Rick's collar, so he stepped back, and the guard stumbled.

"That's assault." the guard snapped as he called for back-up. Another security guard arrived in seconds, taking in the scene.

"Those two were causing trouble. When I told them to move on, that one hit me." the first guard said.

"Do you wear cameras?" Rick asked the second guard, "I asked for his ID because I want to complain about his rudeness."

"I see. For the record, I'm Tom Riley." the second guard said, "Would you identify yourself and could I have your address."

"Certainly. I am Richard Blatcherfield, Earl of Westmark. My address is Bovaline."

Tom looked startled for a moment then smiled, "OK, stop fooling around. What's your name?"

"I have ID." Rick said taking out his wallet and handing Tom a business card, "Get someone to check the website."

Tom looked at the first guard, "You've been warned before about your attitudes. If this pans out, I reckon you'll be fired for this. Shall we all go to the office? By the way, who's your friend, the Tsar of Russia?"

"He's waiting for the phone call." Rick chuckled, "I don't want trouble but that man lied about me hitting him. Look at the CCTV and then deal with it."

Tom's phone rang, and he listened to the message before replying, "Understood!"

He turned to the others, "That was the control room, and the video confirms what you said. The website bears out who you are, sir."

"When I get home, I'll send a letter of complaint about your colleague." Rick paused and grinned, "A letter from the earl to head office should get more done. At home, I'd have his union rep badgering me about lack of training, slack procedures or something, but for now, I'm still interested in that necklace, especially if it opens up to show pictures. What do you think?"

"I think she'd love it," the guard replied, "Especially if it's got a picture of you."

"Would you let the shop know who I am, and I'll be back later. I need a drink of something after this."

"Yes, of course. I'll let them know what you're looking for."

Steve looked at the guards wondering how the confrontation had been turned in their favour so effectively, and hurried off after Rick.

"What are you playing at?" Steve asked when they were seated at a table. "What was all that earl guff?"

For a moment, Rick was puzzled because Steve did not understand, but then he grinned, "We should have just gone off with the others, shouldn't we? How come you stayed?"

"Dunno. You never did anything really bad, but you sure know how to wind them up. This was different, though."

"That's because, I was playing it straight. I really am the Earl of Westmark." Rick replied, "I'm going to buy that necklace so are you coming?"

Steve was more curious than worried as they strolled back, but the guard had gone. As they entered the shop, an assistant hurried over. Steve expected to be ushered out but instead the assistant said, "Good Morning, My Lord I have the necklace ready for you. How else may I help you?"

Steve looked on amazed as the assistant fussed over Rick who stood confidently explaining what he wanted. Steve got glimpses of a website showing Rick standing in front of a castle and one of him relaxed, licking an ice cream but heard Rick say, "I'm visiting her this afternoon. I suppose I could do it but I'm likely to break something if I rush it."

"It's not a problem, My Lord." the assistant replied, "If you'd like to call back later, it'll be ready for you. If I could have your card?"

This time it was a bank card Rick handed over. They left with Steve wondering how Rick could be such a respected customer in such a posh shop.

"What's going on?" Steve asked, "How come you're so rich?"

"You always stood up for Will. He's my boyfriend now. Does that bother you?"

"I always wondered. You stood up for him as well."

"Do you want to stay with me for a bit?" Rick asked, "Will said he'd like to see you again, but he can't come here because of his Dad."

"I'd like that, but Mum's taking some time off. We were talking about taking some day trips. I can't just dump her."

"I can fix that. Let's go and see her." Rick said.

Steve felt uncomfortable about getting into the limousine, worried about the cost, but watched Rick who seemed completely at home. His mother looked tired and haggard from the many cleaning jobs she took to make ends meet. Steve appreciated how she still found time to keep the flat clean and tidy, and they always ate well, but he also understood what it cost her.

"The thing is, I'd like Steve to stay with me for a while. I've got a whole new life, and I'm making new friends, but they're not the same, so it would really help me and Will. Would you like to come as well?"

"It's nice of you to ask, but we can't afford to stay anywhere." Steve's mother replied, "Everywhere is so expensive, this time of year."

"It's not a problem. Cousin Sebastian doesn't like me travelling alone so books transport. How about coming back with me, today, having a meal and staying the night. No expense because you're my guest."

"You, Steve and Will were always good to each other. You go Steve. I can give you enough for your fare home tomorrow. How does that sound?"

Rick decided it best to agree. Steve's mother had always managed to feed Will, and he wanted to repay her kindness, and easing people into who he now was seemed to work.

"What do you say, Steve?" Rick asked and Steve nodded.

Leaving Steve to pack, Rick headed off to pick up the necklace before going to the hospital. His mother was still in ICU and still very drowsy. It was not a good time to give her a present, but he spoke to a nurse.

"Before she came in, I was a school drop out thinking about joining the army." he said, "It's still not time to tell her who I am now, is it?"

"I'm not sure she'll take it in." the nurse replied, "It's a wonderful story, so save it for when she can really enjoy it."

Rick grinned as he rummaged through his bag, "I keep telling people she can't eat properly yet, but they do insist on giving me stuff for her."

The nurse grinned in her turn, "We're not supposed to accept gifts, but it does seem a shame letting it go to waste. Thank you."

Rick headed back to collect Steve. He was not too embarrassed to hug his mother goodbye as he got into the limo though he rolled his eyes up to her, 'You be polite and do what Rick's cousin tells you'.

Steve was quiet, briefly missing his mother until he asked, "Why are we driving into Gresham Park? Hey, there's a helicopter there. They say some bigwig flies in to see his mother at the hospital …"

Steve trailed off, looking at Rick, "A snooty shop assistant calls you My Lord, and we're stopping by that helicopter. What gives?"

Rick grinned, "Shall we get going?"

Like Will before him, Steve was bewildered and confused by a helicopter flight then finding himself sitting in the private rooms of a castle. He was still taking in being greeted by an earl, except he was no longer an earl; Rick was. He just sat, dumbfounded.

"I've come to respect Richard's choice of friends." Sebastian said, "So of course, we should invite your mother. I think it's touching the way the three of you stood by each other."

"Thanks, but she hates staying with people. We could visit relatives, but she just gets wound up because it's never done her way."

"How about a chalet in a holiday camp?" Sebastian asked, "You, Richard and Will can look after her whenever she wants to go out, but indoors she can be herself. I'd suggest a cottage, but it might be harder finding one, and would I be right in thinking being squeezed into a holiday camp would be less daunting?"

Steve nodded, "She worried about not being able to pay my share of the taxi. I can't tell her about helicopters and castles. She'd freak out."

"I take it, Richard was careful not to freak you out." Sebastian said, "And I hope he's given some thought to the sleeping arrangements. You see, Steven, the keep looks impressive from the outside, but it was built to repel invaders, half of it is now a museum, so space is more limited than you might think."

"If Will doesn't mind, we could share a sleeping bag in one of the tower rooms. Steven can have our bed.

"Before you go, I need a word with you about tonight's party. Alcohol and drugs are banned but there will be plenty of sex. Let's face it, teenagers are looking for mates, and the island is pretty tolerant of the process. The point is, no-one is sure whether the party theme is about dungeons and dragons or prisoner and jailer. Young Seb was talking about being kept naked and in chains, so he can be captured by a gang of girls."

"Girls? I thought he was gay." Rick exclaimed.

"I don't think he cares providing the sex is good enough, and it's a bit of a challenge for the girls to prove he's straight. Paul was talking about making Chris his prisoner to show he belonged to Paul. You get the idea; everyone will dress to show their status not to be kinky, though you never know."

"I thought this was a kid's party." Steve said, "It sounds kind of wild."

"Yes, of course." Sebastian said, "You're new here. You could go as a priest, circulate and chat to your flock but no-one will try to defrock you, unless you invite them to, of course."

Steve stared wide-eyed as Rick asked, "How about Will and me?"

"Paul reckons you should join his chain gang with Charles, so he can keep an eye on you while you get used to it. It's not our first fancy dress party and island traditions have adapted to them. Many boys will find an excuse to be in little more than a loin cloth to show off their charms. The girls will dress in anything from damsels seeking a knight to black leathers and carrying a whip, and it's the girls who will choose the boys. You've mentioned boys have a lot more sexual freedom; well tonight, the girls get their chance."

"How about gays?" Will asked.

"Seb will be just as willing to cater for them. Other boys may realise they're out of luck with the girls and settle for each other. Anyone arriving together will be treated as a couple. You must remember, island traditions rely on us getting along even when storms cut us off from the mainland. Youngsters watch how adults behave at parties and copy it, so it's part of their lives.

"What I don't get, is how the island can be so different. Other islands aren't that different to the mainland."

"No-one can answer completely. I think it's because we're too far out to sea for the mainland to integrate us, much as they'd like to. We're self-sustaining if not profitable, but we're small enough to be a community. Our only real value in the past is, imagine if an enemy took it over and used it as a stronghold?"

Rick nodded so Sebastian continued, "As long as we could defend the island, we were left alone and of course, we played on its importance. The crown paid for the castle, the island didn't. We convinced the army the best way of moving troops was by rail. The last battle on the island was in the civil war. The island fought the Cavaliers and the Roundheads at the same time, and won. The tourist version glosses over a lot, so I'll tell you the real story some time, including the nastier bits, but now, you should be getting ready for a party."

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