All the Queen's Men

by N Fourbois

Part 3

Oscar was duly deposited back at Queen's in time for chapel. He dumped his weekend bag on his bed and hurried off to the service. His other dorm mates must have gone on ahead. He sat in the chapel looking around for Toby. He assumed he must be sitting up in the gallery behind. The exit from the church seemed to take longer than normal. The Headmaster knew Oscar's name and asked whether he had had an enjoyable exeat.

On the way back to Tippett Dominic caught up with him. "You looking for Smack, Oscar?"

"Yes, have you seen him?"

"He phoned ahead to say that there had been an accident…"

"He's not hurt, is he?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that. It's just that the traffic's at a standstill. He's near to the scene and they're just waiting for the police to allow them to turn round and drive the wrong way along the motorway. They will be one of the last and then they've got to find a diversion along with hundreds of other people." Oscar was visibly relieved. By now he and Dominic had reached the house. "See you after Prayers for a mentoring session?"

"Yeah, sure."

"It's stage two now you've had your first exeat. How did it go?"

"Fine. I slept most of the time."

"I see you've had your hair done. It's good."

"You're not supposed to notice. This should be my natural look."

"Don't forget I saw you at the Open Day. Laters."

Oscar went up to Alexander. Marcus and the Squalor were there. They'd heard about Toby. Oscar changed and put his clothes away. They all went down to Prayers. Afterwards Oscar went up to Isherwood. Sunday evening had become a convenient time for him and Dominic to meet. They chatted away and it became almost a casual question when Dominic said "Are you still a virgin?" Oscar nodded. "You and Toby still haven't … er, done stuff together?" It was the use of 'still' in both questions that gained Oscar's attention, as if they were expecting to, even expected to, and soon now. Admittedly Oscar had the date of their second exeat pencilled into his mental diary for the consummation of their relationship, and that was before asking Toby wanted to come home with him. He was finding it harder and harder not to go further, especially with all the temptations when they were in bed together, even if they were only to jerk themselves, not each other, off together, but for some reason both of their mentors were advising their 'mentorees' not to.

Dominic was getting restless in his chair, nervously so. "Oscar, how good are you at keeping secrets?" Oscar shrugged his shoulders.

"All right I suppose. Me and my sister have secrets with each other, usually stuff we need to talk about, but we can't tell Mum and Dad, like when I was certain I was gay, but couldn't quite work up the courage to come out. It doesn't matter now. I'm out and it's no big deal. She kept my secret and I keep hers."

"She's not a lesbian, is she?" he joked.

"No, no. Nothing like that."

After a long silence Dominic asked "Have you heard of the Inner Conclave?" Oscar thought it was a book he was supposed to have read.

"No."

"Good. That's fine." Dominic was still visibly restless in his chair. He would preferably have left it at that and change the subject. However, he had roused Oscar's curiosity and he knew the topic would not go away. After a great deal of thought, Dominic finally spoke. "Okay, this is what we call a test of merit." Oscar wondered who 'we' were, but was wise enough to understand that this was not the right moment to ask. "Before I continue, I want your solemn vow that until you are told otherwise, you are not to mention anything of what I want to tell you to anybody but me, and then only when we are here in my room alone." Oscar was itching to know what all this was about, perhaps wondering if his mentor might make a sexual advance on him. "Do you promise? It won't be you in trouble, but me, if you break the promise."

"I promise," said Oscar, looking Dominic straight in the eye. The conversation continued.

"As you know, Tippett House is the newest of the boarding houses and the only one built for its purpose. Naturally, it took four years to fill. It lasted until the first Third Form had finished the lower sixth and went into the upper. There were of course imports, gay boys who joined the school at an age older than thirteen, boys already in the school who were out and preferred to live within Tippett's specialised ethos and atmosphere. Know what I mean?"

"I know what you mean," answered Oscar with heavy emphasis for that cliché among others drove him up the wall.

"In those days when the house was a novelty, it became known as the Conclave or less subtly the Conclave of Queens. You know how this school loves nicknames. By the time a generation had gone through the school, the house was accepted as just another boarding house and it was seldom referred to as the Conclave any longer.

"Within the Conclave the elders decided to establish an inner circle of Tippett members, trusted boys who were dedicated and discreet gayboys and who wanted to enjoy the company of likeminded good eggs, protected from the less savoury, predatory types in the gay community such as the predecessors of Jackman that we talked about. He isn't the only one, by the way, just the most notorious and in your face. He thinks Tippett boys are easy meat. The elders wanted to be gay in a safe and unpolluted environment and so they formed in complete secrecy the Inner Conclave whose members were known only to one another and could be relied upon." Oscar nodded as a sign that he had comprehended what was going on. "The Inner Conclave carries on after you have left Queen's and its members are spread over the four quarters of the globe.

"Now from what I have told you so far, an astute boy like you will have worked out that I must therefore be a member of the Inner Conclave." Oscar nodded. "That is why you have been sworn to secrecy."

"But why are you telling me all this, Dom?"

"From the Open Day onwards all the new boys in Tippett, not only the third formers, were put under scrutiny and you have been selected as a potential member." At this Oscar's jaw dropped. "The elders in their wisdom decreed that, in an attempt to exclude those predatory, unsavoury creatures, only virgins were to be accepted into the Inner Conclave."

"So that's why everybody's been so solicitous as to whether I'm a virgin." Dominic nodded.

"And so far we have no cause to suspect you might be lying." Oscar took few moments to take all this in. "Of course, this is not just a question of filling in a form and paying a subscription, and there can be no cast-iron guarantee that there will be an earth shattering change in your life. If you were to be inducted, there would be further trials and ordeals, during which you would lose your virginity, or be deflowered as Stephen Fry calls it in his autobiography, or lose your front and back cherries in schoolboy language."

Oscar lay back on Dominic's bed and thought. His mentor had certainly roused his interest. He thought of his father whom he knew to be a Freemason, which he was a bit secretive about, but from what he had heard from him this was nothing like Freemasonry.

"Well, Oscar, this is 'make up your mind time'. You will never be asked again and never released from the vow you are under." Oscar's weakness was that by nature he was intellectually curious and he had swallowed the hook on Dominic's line.

"Okay, Dom, I'm up for it. The answer's yes." Dominic pulled him up off the bed and gave him a hug. They didn't even rub crotches and Oscar for one of the few fleeting moments of his adolescence wasn't even half hard. "When does all this happen?"

"When you are summoned."

"Not helpful, Dom."

"It could be tomorrow, it could be next February or March. It's rare for things to happen during the light evenings."

"But why me?"

"Enough! No more questions. You have just taken the first step on a thousand mile journey. You must preserve your mental and physical strength for what stands before you. Remember silence is golden and chastity is equally important, or you will be rejected. It's gone nine. You're supposed to be in your dorm by now. Give me another hug." Dom ensured that their crotches didn't meet.

Back in Alexander Oscar was overjoyed to see that Toby had arrived back safely and ignoring the others he went up and took him in a bear hug. In this hug their crotches did meet. It was at this point that Oscar realised that however much he had enjoyed the weekend with his grandparents and sister, he had missed Toby more. 'Am I in love?" he asked himself. "Don't I get a hug?" said Marcus.

"No. I don't like your brand of aftershave," and he went and gave token hugs to Chris and the Squalor, but so that he didn't feel completely out of it, Oscar put his hands between Marcus's legs and gave his balls a very gentle squeeze, more a caress. "God, Marcus, you are sooo disgusting at times. You've got a hard on from watching us hug." He hadn't.

"No, I haven't, you great big fibber. I'll prove it," but it was too late. By the time he had struggled with the buttons on his 501s, his stiff cock was clearly pushing out his boxers. The others all fell about laughing. Even Marcus saw the funny side of it.

"Okay, you guys," said Smack, "you know I spent most of my exeat sitting in a traffic jam…"

"Hyperbole," interrupted the Squalor.

"Wot?" said Smack, screwing up his face.

"Hyperbole. It's a figure of speech, exaggeration for the sake of effect. You did not spend most of your exeat in that traffic jam."

"Whatever. What I was going to say was what have you guys been up to this weekend?"

"I took my keyboard into town," said Chris "and did some busking at the railway station." The irony of the school's organ scholar with grade eight piano at the age of fourteen busking at his local station was not lost on the others and there was the full range of laughter from titters through giggles to guffaws.

"How much did you make?" asked Marcus.

"About ten quid in an hour."

"Is that all?"

"Well, it's a lot more than the minimum wage and it's ten quid in my pocket I wouldn't otherwise have."

"Did someone give you that tenner to play Far, Far Away ?"

"You ought to do some busking, Squalor. You might be able to afford a new joke book." From that moment Chris was known as the Busker. Smack, Squalor and Busker. That just left Oscar and Marcus to be renamed.

"So what did you do this weekend, Squalor?" asked Oscar.

"I started reading the Old Testament." This silenced the four.

"Exciting," said Smack eventually.

"More exciting than sitting in a car for hours on the motorway," riposted the Squalor. "Don't forget that the Bible is a history book among other things, and when you get to Leviticus and read the laws that the Jews had to obey, and in some cases still try to if they are strict, you start to understand things going on in the world. So what did you do, Oscar?"

"Slept most of the time. And, of course, went to my hairdresser."

"Mmm, nice," said Marcus in a Kenneth Williams voice.

"And what did you do, Marcus?"

"I was hoping you wouldn't ask because I don't want to boast, but… Gather round and listen in." They made a circle, arms on shoulders, and included Marcus. "At the end of the close where we live, there's a boy called William. We've known each other for years. We're about the same age, too. I have always fancied him. He's quite a looker and whatever he wears he looks good in it. His balls dropped at the beginning of the summer holidays. When I got home, I knocked on his door and the first thing I noticed was how much he'd grown in that short time. It took a bit of work, but at last I got my hand inside his trousers and jerked him off. I did such a good job that he wanted to do it to me. He needs a bit of practice, but for someone who's straight, he had a good time and I know I did."

"Wow! Respect," said the Squalor.

"He said he didn't realise how much better it was when someone else did it to you."

"Did he know you were gay?" asked the Busker.

"Nah." He shook his head. "Time for bed, methinks. I'm sleeping naked tonight. Anyone else?"

"Yeah," said the Squalor, "but all or none and on condition we have a big hug before we get into bed." The naked hug gave everyone the opportunity to check the others out and always made them feel horny. Toby and Oscar decided independently to sleep in their own beds that night. Before they put the lights out, the five lay on their beds and had a group wank.


Five minutes after Oscar had left, Dominic climbed the stairs to the top floor and knocked on the door of Olivier, the room of the Head of House. Robert hurriedly closed the Head of Houses' Notebook from which he was trying to learn some text and put it into the safe in his wardrobe. Finally he said "Come in." Dominic entered the presence.

"He's said yes, Robert. Oscar has taken the informal vow of secrecy and said he is interested in joining us."

"Well done, Dom. From what I have seen and heard of the new intake there are only the two candidates. That Marcus Downe was considered, but he is not a virgin, as he made pretty clear without being asked."

"So when is he being done?"

"I'll have to consult and co-ordinate the other Elders."

"I told him it could be any time between now and the end of March."

"We'll go for Saturday week. The school matches are in the morning and so everyone should be on hand after that. You're in charge of preparing him, Dom, and everything else can be left to the Elders."


And so term went on. Oscar was too busy with schoolwork and games during the week to think of much else. On the following Saturday he got a game of rugby in the U14B XV, but they had to travel away while the As with Toby were playing at home. However, the two boys managed to get to the cinema for the late afternoon showing. During the main feature they did hold hands, but nothing else happened. It was almost as if Toby were holding back, and Oscar certainly was.

They arrived back at Tippett for Prayers and immediately after Dominic grabbed Oscar and whispered in his ear "Oscar, you are summoned." At first Oscar wondered what he was on about, but the word 'summoned' rang a bell. "In five minutes you are to report outside the Photography Club room in the basement. Wear slippers and bring a clean pair of white gym socks with you. And don't tell anybody where you're going. You'll be back in your dorm before lock down."

The summons had made the adrenalin flow and he was inwardly excited, but at the same time apprehensive. He just had to appear outwardly calm so as not to arouse undue curiosity. Fortunately there was no one in Alexander to ask any awkward questions. He took a pair of white socks out of his locker, checked his hair and went down the two flights to the basement. He had not been down there since depositing his trunk in the storeroom at the beginning of term. The corridor was lit with a forty watt bulb and it took a moment for his eyes to accustom themselves to the gloom. Before he could think, the door to the developing room opened, he was led inside, the door was bolted behind him and the red light switched on.

He found himself in an anteroom with only Dominic for company. "Oscar, take your clothes off and put them folded neatly into this holdall… yes, all your clothes." Oscar obeyed. "Give me your white socks." When he was completely naked, Dom said "Put your slippers back on. Push your arms backward like a penguin. That's right." Dom slipped what looked in the sombre light like a choirboy's white surplice over his arms and shoulders and fixed it at the neck. "Give me your hand." Dom slipped a sock over it, followed with a white wristband. "Now the other hand." Oscar realised that both hands were virtually incapacitated. "It's to stop you playing with yourself," he joked. "We're almost there. I'm going to put this balaclava over your head. That's it. Can you breathe okay? And now this scarf over your eyes." Dominic guided Oscar across the tiny room. "Sit here and wait. I'm going to act as security guard to make sure no one comes down here. We certainly don't want to be disturbed by amateur photographers."

Oscar had lost any conception of time down in this silent, small basement chamber. Luckily it was warm, perhaps too warm, but warm enough to loosen his bollocks and allow them to hang naturally. He was dying to fiddle with them, but he was afraid of popping a boner, and in any case his hands were too restricted.

He heard the door to the photo lab open. Without saying anything, someone gently raised him to his feet and ushered him towards the sound of the opening door and got him to stand still at some point. A voice rang out, but Oscar didn't recognise it owing to the echo chamber effect of the photo lab. "Who are you?"

"Daintree, Oscar Daintree." Oscar was almost stuttering because he was so overawed by the situation.

"Your full name?"

"Oscar Daniel Daintree."

"Is it true that wish to join the Inner Conclave?"

"Yes."

"Do you know what the Conclave is?"

"Tippett House."

"Do you know what the Inner Conclave is?"

"No, not really."

"Comrade Gatekeeper, you will subject Oscar Daniel Daintree to the first ordeal." Oscar felt a hand come through the gap in his surplice and gently feel his balls and half hard cock.

"Comrade Eldest of the Elders, he has passed the first ordeal."

"Comrade Conductor, take charge of the candidate."

Oscar felt himself taken by the right wrist and conducted round the room. On the second tour he was stopped, his right wrist guided and through his covered hand he felt two balls and a cock. His hand was taken away. "Who seeks admission through the outer door?"

"Oscar Daniel Daintree," replied the Conductor.

"Has he passed the first ordeal?"

"He has, Comrade Keeper of the Outer Door." Oscar felt a hand fondle his genitals.

"He has passed the second ordeal, Comrade Eldest of the Elders." He was conducted round the room for a second tour and stopped. His hand was again guided and he felt two very tight testicles and a long thick penis.

"Who seeks admission through the inner door?"

"Oscar Daniel Daintree," replied the Conductor.

"Has he passed the second ordeal?"

"He has, Comrade Keeper of the Inner Door." Once more Oscar felt a hand fondle his genitals.

"He has passed the third ordeal, Comrade Eldest of the Elders." He was led on a third perambulation, then halted in front of what he took from the sound of the voice to be the Eldest of the Elders.

"Oscar Daniel Daintree, you have arrived in the Inner Conclave. You will have neither the opportunity nor the right to enter the Inner Conclave again unless you swear the Oath of Allegiance which every Brother and Comrade before you has done, upon the penalty of being shunned and cast out of all decent society. Are you willing to take such an oath?"

"I am."

"Place your left palm upwards. On it I place the holy icon of Saints Bacchus and Sergius, the patron saints of homosexuals. Place your right hand upon it and repeat after me:

'I, Oscar Daniel Daintree, … in this sacred Inner Conclave … and in the presence of its Brothers and Comrades … pledge my allegiance to, … and swear this holy and eternal oath … to maintain the secrets … and never compromise … the principles of … the said Inner Conclave … under the penalty of being cast into everlasting darkness.'

"Oscar Daniel Daintree, do you understand what you have just repeated?"

"I do."

"You have a moment to reflect for the oath is not binding until you seal it with your lips on the icon of our Saints Bacchus and Sergius. If you elect not to, you will be led from the Inner Conclave, never to return."

Oscar thought for thirty seconds. He addressed the icon. "Comrade Conductor, remove the blindfold." Once done, Oscar blinked and looked round the room which was lit by three candles. He saw lined up in front of him three people in black surplices and balaclavas, likewise his conductor and the gatekeeper. The exception was one seated and dressed like him down to the sock enclosed hands. "Brother Oscar Daniel Daintree, you are now a probationary member of the Inner Conclave, but to become a full member there are further ordeals for you to undergo and from which you must not flinch. Congratulations on what you have achieved so far, especially your steady bearing. In due time you will be summoned. Comrade Conductor, lead our new Brother from the Inner Conclave."

The door closed behind them. The Conductor took the socks off Oscar's hand. "You can get dressed now." He went outside for a moment and brought back Dominic.

"Okay," said Dominic, "when you're dressed, we'll go up to my room and I'll make some cocoa. Then we can chat." Oscar was surprised that it was only just after nine. Lock down was at ten on a Saturday.

Sitting in Dominic's room, Oscar was still in awe at what had happened in the past hour. "So what did you think of that?"

"Scary," replied Oscar. "There was no coercion, and yet there was an atmosphere of natural authority and discipline, but tell me. Why the socks?"

"A number of reasons really. A sign that you are a probationer. You will wear them until you have passed the final ordeal. It's a form of restraint in case the candidate flips and becomes violent. It's easy to slip a cord through the wristbands and you have a makeshift pair of handcuffs. It's also to stop what is an erotic and physical act like the ordeals becoming sex acts with skin to skin contact. Bondage mitts would be the alternative, but they reduce sensitivity too much."

"What's next, Dom?"

"You were told to await the next summons. You await the next summons and I don't know when that will be. I only had half an hour's notice of this evening. However, you must be ready to go when it comes. Get a plastic carrier bag and put your spare gym socks, a jockstrap, wet wipes and your own wristbands, white ones, in it. Keep them handy with your slippers at your station.

"Who was the other one in the white surplice?"

"C'mon, Oscar, think about it. You're supposed to be a bright boy. Why was he wearing the balaclava?"

"So that I shouldn't know who he was?" Dominic gave a sad smile as confirmation.

"Okay, off to bed. If anyone asks, say you were with me. Maintain your chastity until you're a full member and be prepared." Oscar turned to go, but when he reached the door, he looked over his shoulder and said

"Dom, when you were inducted, were you a virgin?"

"Of course."

"And are you only allowed to have sex with other members?"

"No. There wouldn't be enough to go round."

"Good night, Dom, and thanks."

"Hey, Oscar, haven't you forgotten something?" Oscar looked perplexed. "Don't I get a hug?" Mentor and 'mentoree' hugged, but Dominic ensured it was a chaste one.

When he returned to Alexander, the others naturally wanted to know what he had been doing. When Oscar said he'd been with his mentor, Marcus said "Has he been giving you a good pounding?"

"No. I told you. I'm still a virgin."

"What, still?" said the Busker, even though you and Smack sleep together?"

"Even though Toby and I have slept together," said Oscar. The subtle change of tense was missed.

"It might not suit your prurient minds, I'm a virgin too," said Toby.

"Okay, guys, since it's confession time, let's declare our sexual status," said Marcus. At this the Squalor and the Busker blushed deeply.

"So what's got into you two?" said Oscar.

"Nothing," they replied as they tried to pass it off.

"Something," contradicted Marcus. The pressure was on. The Squalor and the Busker looked at each other.

"Okay," said Chris the Busker. "It's bound to come out sooner or later. Are you going to tell them or shall I?"

"You can," said David downcast.

"Nothing to tell really," said Chris. "I was doing my organ practice. David came to turn the pages for me and… er, well… we tossed each other off in the organ loft. There was an immediate round of applause from the other three, whooping and cheering, and it was an excuse for a group hug.

"Keep the noise down, lads." One of the prefects had put his head round the door. "You can be heard all along the corridor. Something to celebrate?"

"Yes – no – not really," came the various replies.

"Quiet celebrations, okay? Good night, guys."

"Right then, Marcus," said Toby, "you started all this. What about you?" Under pressure Marcus blushed. After all, it's not a thing you can control. Sullenly he replied

"I've already told you. I told you about William who lives in the same close as me at home."

"Yees," said the Squalor, "you told us you got your hand inside his trousers. Have you perhaps omitted anything?"

"I didn't want to boast, especially as you girlies are way behind me."

"How to win friends and influence people," interjected Toby.

"I told you he's straight?" There were nods from the others. "Well, I took his front and back cherries."

"We've only got your word for that," said Toby.

"Please yourselves. You wanted to know. I didn't ask to tell you." Since the fight at the beginning of term there had always been a bit of a rub between Toby and Marcus. Acting as peacemaker, Chris said

"And what about here at Queen's?"

"You don't want to know," answered Marcus.

"I did ask the question," Chris reminded him.

"Okay, boys. I've had several shags since I've been here and I have fucked Jackman…" There immediate uproar of disgust, followed by shh! shh! "… and I've still got the jonnie in my trophy tin to prove it if anyone wants to do a DNA test on it."

"How could you?" said Oscar.

"But Jackman's a top," said Toby.

"So am I?" said Marcus, although I have been known to take it up the butt as in William's case."

"What was it like?" said David.

"Pretty yeuky. He doesn't get many points for personal hygiene. This was in School House changing room, just after he'd had a shower, though I think even the water tries to avoid touching his body on its way from the showerhead to the drain hole."

"I like that," said Oscar. "The Perve's slut." From that day forth Marcus became known as the Perve's slut, 'the Slut' for short.

"We'd better get our heads down, I suppose," said Oscar. "I'm feeling the effects of that rugby match."

"You want to get yourself fit," said Toby. "I'm going to have a lie-in in the morning and miss breakfast. Bring me something back to eat, Oscar."

"Does anyone want to jerk me off?" said Marcus.

"No, you can do itself," said Oscar "and turn the volume down on the groans and moans when you come. I want to get some sleep. Good night, everyone." At that Oscar climbed into bed and drew the curtain.

He thought of all that had happened to him that day, the rugby match, the induction and all that entailed, and he finally fell asleep, but not without first ejaculating inside his pyjamas.


Half term arrived and departed. Gran and Gramps had wanted to make it a little special for Oscar, but were quick to recognise that he was exhausted and that all he wanted to do was rest up. He went out one evening with Alison and Jimmy Butterfield to the local bowling alley. Two's company, three's a crowd, and Alison felt a little out of it since Jimmy and Oscar regaled each other with stories of their gay experiences, not mentioning, of course, the Inner Conclave. Indeed, he paid it little heed at all during the week, except that Dominic had told him he had to learn his Oath of Allegiance by heart if he was to proceed to the fourth ordeal. Oscar went to his hairdresser's on Friday afternoon for a maintenance job on his curls and blond colour. During the week he replaced his casual wardrobe, followed by a trip to the BHF charity shop. Anything he needed for school was paid for by his father's company, but for casual clothes he and Alison received an allowance from their parents 'to encourage them to budget and be economical'. Oscar told his grandparents that all being well he would be bringing Toby home with him for the next exeat. He just had to check with his parents. "You'll need to write a note to the Housemaster with the invitation so that the school knows that everything is in order."

And so at a quarter to seven on the second Sunday Oscar was deposited back at Tippett, ready to face the challenges of the second half of term. The clocks had meanwhile gone back and so he had to walk across to chapel in the dark. Luckily Toby had arrived in time and they took advantage of the dark to walk there together, momentarily holding hands and letting go, entwining little fingers and communicating the pleasure they felt in each other's company. Suddenly a voice bellowed out of the dark. "Benders!" The light from the nearby streetlamp prevented them from peering into the gloom beyond although they knew which direction it had come from.

"I recognise that voice from somewhere," said Toby.

"So do I now you come to mention it." They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

"We are, let's face it, in Tippett House," said Toby "and being a bender is an essential qualification for boarding there…"

"… and we are benders and proud of it. So it's scarcely news." They took each other's hand and quickened their pace towards to chapel, letting go short of reaching the well lit area.

Among schoolboys it is not the done thing to admit to liking chapel, but Oscar and Toby did. They didn't usually go to church at home and on the odd occasions they did, they found such a difference between the parish services and the school ones. The Squalor and the Busker also liked chapel services although there may have been an ulterior motive beyond their love of music. The Slut offered no opinion.

They sat though the service, enjoying the music. This was the first time that Chris the Busker had been allowed to play the hymns, but not yet entrusted with the recessional voluntary. Even he had to work his way up.

On the way out the Chaplain said "Oscar, I want you to read the second lesson next week. Are you up for it? Good. Come and get it from me during tomorrow's morning break." The Headmaster stopped Toby.

"I hear good things about your rugby, Toby. I must come and watch you. There's no reason why a headmaster should support the First XV all the time." It was small acts of recognition such as these that made Queen's such a happy school.

Oscar and Toby held back to allow the egress of the masses from the chapel. Now at the back of the great huddle of boys making their way back to their houses they could take advantage of Dylan Thomas's 'moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black… sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack' to walk anonymously back to Tippett, arm around the other's waist. Toby leaned over and placed a tender kiss on Oscar's lips. "Oscar, you don't know how much I have been wanting to do that."

"I'm pleased you did. You can do it again, if you like."

"I'm not sure we should. It might lead us on to do something…" He hesitated. "… to do something unchaste." Oscar thought what an odd word to use, but the thought escaped his mind at the speed of light as he shouted out into the empty night

"I've got it!"

"Got what?"

"The voice. I know who it is."

"Are you going to share, Oscar?"

"Think back, Toby. Think back to the Open Day. You were in the same group as me and Dominic took us round." Toby nodded his agreement. "Dom asked who was definitely coming to Queen's and one of the group said he was, but was going to ask to be in the house farthest away from Tippett."

"Oh, yes, I remember now. You're right. What was his name?"

"Salmon."

"Yes, Oliver Salmon. Do you think we ought to report it as bullying?"

"Nah, we'll wait for a proper case of bullying before we do that. Anyway, I have got a much better idea."

"What's that?"

"Walk back to the house with me after school tomorrow and all will become clear – I hope. Come on. We'll be late for Prayers if we don't hurry."

They arrived in the Tippett common room at the beginning of roll call. By now every boy in the house must have been able to recite the list of seventy-two boys by heart, but today there was one they hadn't heard before, although they knew the name. After the prayers were said and the Housemaster welcomed the boarders back from half term, he said "I want you to welcome Huw Fortinbrass who has come to join us from School House. He's in the third form and joining da Vinci dormitory." All the heads swivelled round to catch a glimpse of the newcomer, and mentally, to undress him.

"Isn't that Jackman's house?" said Toby.

"You're not wrong," replied Oscar casually. "I wonder. A victim of Jackman? We'll soon find out."

"By the way, my parents said I can spend the second exeat with you."

"Did they? That is fantastic. We'll have to share my room because my sister's got the other spare room."

"Oh, that's a blow," said Toby with a grin on his face. "We do that anyway at school."

"Yeah, but with three others, don't forget."


Toby waited for Oscar to get his books and then they made their way towards Tippett. "No, not that way, Toby. We're taking the scenic route today." A chill wind had sprung up. The warm, hazy, lazy days of summer were long gone; winter was just around the corner. "We're heading for the large holly bush."

"But that's Jackman's bush, the one he jumps out from behind."

"That's right, but he won't jump out at us because he knows he won't get any trade. So we've got to go hunting for him. You go round that way, I'll go round this and we'll do a pincer movement on him."

"Wodge jou two want?"

"Ah, ah! That's not a way to treat buddies come to do you a good turn."

"Good turn? You two?"

"Have we ever done you a bad turn?"

"S'pose not," he said in an incredulous tone.

"Are you going to listen?" said Oscar.

"Yeah, okay, but hurry up. I'm missing out on trade."

"There's a boy in third year – he's in Lee-Berners House – who thinks he's got the biggest dick in the school, bigger than yours, Jackman."

Toby scoffed. "So lightweight."

"Because he's in the third form and you're in the fourth he's a bit shy about approaching you and his mates say he likes to suck cock."

"Who is this kid?"

"Hold on a mo. We want a cast iron guarantee you don't mention our names and you put his on your 'secret' list." Jackman thought for a few seconds. His brain bowed out and his cock took over.

"Okay, I promise." Oscar reluctantly shook his hand. 'Must wash my hands as soon as I get in,' he thought.

"His name is Oliver Salmon and he is still in the closet because he is trying to convince himself he is not gay."

"I know the type. They're rather fun."

"Cheers, Jackman, and don't forget. Unless you want your balls chopped off, don't mention our names. All right?"

As they moved off, Toby said "Oscar, you are one wicked person. Machiavelli had nothing on you. You'll burn in hell."

"Was he gay?"


Routine and school started the next morning with the shrill ringing of the bell. Prep and projects kept Oscar busy, but he had a game of rugby to look forward to on Saturday. He therefore decided to go to bed early on Friday night, despite his dorm mates continuing to be lively. He came back from the washrooms, stripped his clothes off, went round and hugged his companions good night, put his pyjamas on, climbed into bed, drew the curtain and promptly fell asleep.

He was woken by someone shining a beam from a pencil torch in his eyes. "Oscar," came an urgent whisper. "Wake up. It's me, Dom. It's time to go."

"Go where?" whispered Oscar.

"Grab your bag and put your slippers and dressing gown on." Oscar got out of bed and did as he was told. He looked round the room in the half light from the full moon. The others were fast asleep. He looked across at Toby, fast asleep in bed. 'That's funny,' thought Oscar. 'He normally sleeps with his curtain closed.'

Outside the dorm Oscar felt more awake. "What time is it?"

"Ten to two." Dominic told him to take a piss, then took him down the stairs to the basement. Locked in the Photography Club anteroom he told Oscar to get changed – slippers, jockstrap, white surplice, black balaclava, white socks over his hands sealed with white wristbands. The door opened. The Eldest of the Elders commanded he should be brought forward to stand in front of him.

"Oscar Daniel Daintree, now a probationary members of the Inner Conclave, further ordeals stand before you, intended to test your faith, your steadfastness, your sincerity, your sexuality, none of which aim to injure or hurt you, but to prepare you to become a full member of our sensitive family of brothers. Are you prepared to countenance them?" He looked round the room. It was similar to before except that there were more in black surplices and balaclavas and still one in a balaclava and white surplice.

"Yes," he replied.

"Oscar Daniel Daintree, recite your Vow of Allegiance, holding the icon on your left hand and placing your right hand upon it." He allowed it to be placed by his Conductor. This time he could see it. He recited his Vow of Allegiance word perfectly. "Seal your vow with your lips twice on the icon. Proceed to the fourth ordeal."

A scarf was tied round his head and over his eyes. The Conductor instructed him to kneel on his hands and knees on what felt like a large cushion. He felt some cold gel applied to the crevice of his butt by some fingers in a latex glove which then inserted more inside. Something blunt was pressed against his hole, gently pressed, but gradually with more pressure until his sphincter gave way and the object slipped in. He yelped at the sudden pain, but it subsided after seconds and felt rather good. "Eldest of the Elders, Oscar Daniel Daintree has passed the fourth ordeal."

"That, Oscar Daniel Daintree, has opened the path to your ultimate fulfilment."

"It gets better after that," his Conductor re-assured him in a whisper.

"Prepare yourself for the fifth ordeal." Oscar sensed someone standing in front of him. His breath smelt of fresh toothpaste. A pair of lips were pressed through the opening in the balaclava against his, similar to the peck that Toby had given him the previous Sunday, quickly followed by the insertion of a tongue. Oscar had never experienced such a thing before, although he had heard his sister talking about it. Nature took over and he pushed back until his own tongue was in the other person's mouth. It made him feel tingly and it hardened him up in his jockstrap.

"Our comrade has passed the fifth ordeal."

"That, Oscar Daniel Daintree, represents your tenderness toward your fellow man. Prepare yourself for the sixth ordeal." The gag was removed.

"Just let this one happen and don't resist," whispered the Conductor.

"Kneel," came the command. Oscar knelt. "Open your mouth wide." He felt something metal being adjusted between his teeth. "Relax your bite." It was strapped on with velcro behind his head. "Can you move your tongue?" Oscar made an indistinct sound that approximated yes. To his amazement he felt what could be nothing else but a large soft penis tracing a line along his lips leaving a wet trail. He wanted to lick it off, but couldn't. The penis by now had stiffened and was probing his mouth. Oscar's tongue went to meet it and while he could lick it and trace all its features, he was unable to suck it, which he dearly wanted to do, although he had never sucked a dick before in his life. The dick withdrew. "Our comrade has completed the sixth ordeal."

"That, Oscar Daniel Daintree symbolises your acceptance of all within the Inner Conclave. Prepare yourself for the seventh ordeal."

Oscar was told to remain kneeling and support himself on his hands. Whatever was lodging in his hole was quickly withdrawn, giving Oscar a new feeling which he fleetingly enjoyed. The object was quickly replaced with what he realised was 'the real thing'. This time it felt hot and slipped in without any pain. He wanted the thrusts to go on forever, but they stopped all too soon. "Our comrade has passed the seventh ordeal."

"That, Oscar Daniel Daintree, has prepared you to accept the ultimate from any and every brother of the Inner Conclave. Prepare yourself for the eighth ordeal."

Oscar was made to stand. He felt a hand reach under his surplice just as his cock was going limp, pull his foreskin back and guide his cock into what must have been a mouth, for he grazed his shaft on some teeth which made him jump. He felt his dick being thoroughly tongue-probed and sucked, and just as he began to feel his juices rise, the mouth pulled away. "Our comrade has passed the eighth ordeal."

"That, Oscar Daniel Daintree, teaches you to give as well as to take. Prepare yourself for the ninth ordeal."

"This is never easy," whispered the Conductor. His cock still stiff from the blowjob, he felt something he'd never experienced before, but which could not be mistaken. It was the sensation of a condom being rolled over his shaft and his cock then being guided towards his partner's hole. "Push in gently," commanded his Conductor. "Now thrust as slowly or as quickly as you like." Oscar was enjoying this, amazed that he was being permitted to fuck another boy. He loved the feeling of his balls slapping against his partner's butt. He sped up, afraid that he might be stopped, but within five minutes his body shook violently as he spasmed into the condom deep inside his partner. "Our comrade has fulfilled the ninth ordeal."

"That, Oscar Daniel Daintree, provides all you need for a successful sex life."

He was made to stand in front of the Eldest of the Elders. "You stand before the final ordeal without which you are unable to partake of the full mysteries of the Inner Conclave. Are you prepared to undergo it." Oscar thought. 'To come all this way and fall at the last step? No way.'

"I am." The condom was removed from his cock and a rough attempt was made with a towel to clean up his crotch. He was given help to put his jockstrap back on and once more he stood before the Eldest of the Elders.

"Remove the blindfold." The Conductor untied the scarf. Oscar blinked and looked around, but was no wiser from what he saw than he was before. "Remove the right glove. We within the Inner Conclave have been through the same ordeals as you, and also the tenth which you are about to undergo. We are Comrades and Brothers and brothers metaphorically share blood. We cannot literally exchange blood with all our brothers and so the blood is passed down the line over the years from the junior inductee to the newest, symbolically to maintain the line. This is about to happen to you when your Brother Acolyte will exchange blood with you."

A table with two chairs was set up. Oscar sat one side and the Acolyte in white surplice the other. A tray with a medical kidney bowl and various articles was placed on the table. The senior Acolyte had his right glove removed. The Eldest of the Elders came down to the table. He took a swab, soaked it in surgical spirit and cleansed the two bare palms. He tore open the sterile wrapping and withdrawing a scalpel, put a neat nick in the palms of both Acolytes just below the thumb small enough not to cause serious injury, but large enough to cause a copious flow of blood. "Put your hands together as if you are arm-wrestling, rub your palms together so that the blood mingles thoroughly. That's right." The Conductor took their hands, cleaned them and put a plaster over the wounds.

"Oscar Daniel Daintree, you have survived all ten ordeals. May I be the first to welcome you as our full brother into the Inner Conclave. Ponder what you have been through and the seriousness of our society. Comrades and Brothers, I declare this Inner Conclave closed. You may remove your hoods."

The Conductor removed the glove from Oscar's left hand and then his balaclava. Meanwhile the other Acolyte had removed his and in the gloom he was the first person Oscar saw. He squealed like a little girl when he noticed it was Toby. He grabbed him in a hug and had so many things to say that he couldn't get any of them out. The first thing he managed was "But I saw you upstairs asleep in the dorm."

"Obviously," he grinned, but there was no time to talk for the others were crowding round to welcome Oscar. Robert as Eldest of the Elders was, as protocol demanded, the first, Dominic second followed by Nik, Toby's mentor, but it was hard to see him in the dark and in a black surplice, until he smiled. The welcome over, Dominic took Oscar outside so that he could get dressed in his pyjamas and dressing gown. He accompanied him back to Alexander. Oscar looked at his alarm. Five past four. He climbed into bed. He had a rugby match in the morning. He needed his sleep. He fell asleep straightaway. Toby was already in bed. Or was he?

Oscar had to get up at seven. The B XV game was away. Why did the Bs always have to be away? He felt odd. Tired, yes, but also an exhilaration that overcame that tiredness. On the way back from breakfast his path crossed Toby's as he went for his. "You know, Oscar," he said in a whisper. "That was a bloody good shag. We must do it again soon. Burger Star and cinema when you get back? We've got a lot to talk about and we can't do it at school."


It was almost three before the coach with the teams from the away games arrived back at Queen's. The bus disgorged its contents, namely the 2 nd XV, the U16s and the U14Bs. One poor victim was left at the back of the coach anxiously trying to pull his trousers on and up before he could be spotted by the driver or, worse still, a member of staff, but fortunately they had alighted first and the tinted windows prevented them from seeing what was going on inside the bus. Oscar slung his sports bag over his shoulder and headed for Tippett. His route passed Jackman's holly bush. No sign of activity there, but ten yards ahead coming towards him was Oliver Salmon. He didn't look particularly pleased to see Oscar. As he went past, he gave Oscar a filthy look and through clenched teeth said "Bastard!"

Oscar went round to the back of the house to the changing rooms and dumped his dirty clothes into the special baskets reserved for muddy sportskit. Deposited there already he saw Toby's rugby kit from the morning, unmistakable because of the pink jockstrap lying among it. He didn't know why he did it, but looking around to check that no one else was there, he took the pink jock, pressed it to his nose and drew in a long breath and then he did the same with his shorts. Sheer exhilaration and he felt himself getting hard in his trousers. He heard footsteps, hurriedly put the kit back into the laundry basket and carried on unpacking his own. He looked up and saw it was Huw Fortinbrass, the new addition to Tippett. "Hi, Huw."

"Hi, Oscar." Oscar continued to sort out his kit, putting his boots on one side as they'd have to be cleaned and dried out in the boot-locker room. Huw was obviously on tenterhooks and the reason for his being there was far from obvious. Finally he broke. "I say, Oscar, are you going to be long? I'm expecting a… um, a visitor."

"Sorry, Huw, I didn't realise," and Oscar scurried around, picked up his remaining kit and on leaving, said "Have fun, Huw." Entering the house, he thought he saw someone in his peripheral vision, but by the time he turned round this body had disappeared into the changing block. He could have sworn it was Jackman.

But Oscar had more important things on his mind, namely his date with Toby, his first where at last they could be entirely frank and open with one another. He had so much to ask him, so much to tell him. He went into Alexander and was greeted with silence. The curtain on Toby's bed was drawn. 'Oh, he must be catching up on some kip. I'd better give him a shake or we'll be miss the beginning of the movie.' He pulled the curtain aside and saw him asleep under his duvet. He gave him a gentle shake, and it suddenly dawned on him that he was shaking a rolled up blanket. "Ta daa!" Startled he looked around and was just in time to catch Toby leaping out from the Busker's bed. They ran across the room and took each other in a hug. This time it was a lovers' hug.


Oscar changed out of his school uniform and put on his 501s, a tanktop and a pullover. "I wouldn't put those on," said Toby pointing at his body-hugging jeans.

"Why not? Don't you like me in them?"

"I adore you in them," said Toby "and out of them." He winked. "Trust me."

"I've been trusting you rather a lot lately."

"And have I let you down?"

"No. Give me a kiss and let's finish off that one from yesterday."

"Plenty of time for that later," said Toby, "but here's something on account." The two embraced and their tongues jockeyed for supremacy. They didn't notice the door open. In marched the Squalor.

"Oh, sorry, guys." Out marched the Squalor and the door closed. Oscar and Toby broke and grinned at each other like two naughty boys.

"That'll go round the house like wildfire. I'm glad we're out this evening."

"I don't care," said Oscar and jerked his head back in camp defiance.

"Don't forget your anorak, cutie," said Toby. "I think it's coming on to rain."

"See you later, David," they said to the Squalor who was in the corridor, discreetly listening at the door.

"Just came to fetch some music," he replied. "I'm helping the Busker to practise the organ, if you…"

"Yes, we know what you mean," said Toby before David had a chance to finish his sentence.

"Cliché," said Oscar. "Enjoy."

"Have fun. We will," said Toby.

Oscar and Toby walked down the stairs and were about to leave by the front door when Oscar said "Hang on a minute. Let's go this way." They headed for the back door and outside Oscar put his finger on his lips to signal to Toby to keep quiet. They listened. Oscar tiptoed up to the window. Since it was growing dark outside, that made it easier for him to peer through the pane. "Ah, hah, thought so," whispered Oscar.

"What?"

"Take a look for yourself." Toby likewise tiptoed up the window and looked in. He had to stifle a snigger. The boys made their getaway and headed for the school gates. "So what did you see, Toby?"

"Jackman."

"And?"

"That new kid in the house."

"And?"

"Jackman had him bent over with his trousers down and he was giving him a good pounding."

"Right."

"How did you know about that?"

"I was sorting out my kit when Fortinbrass came in and wanted to know if I'd be much longer." They swiped their ID cards before going out of the gates. "Then as I was coming into the house, I thought I saw Jackman. Two and two make four."

"Nice one," said Toby.

They held little fingers entwined as they walked through what were now the dark streets on their way into town. It gave Oscar an erection, made worse, or better, depending on your point of view, as his trousers chafed against his glans each time he took a step. "Just a minute, Toby, I've got to do something. He put his hands into his pockets and re-arranged his nob so that it faced upwards. He enjoyed the heat it pulsed into his lower abdomen. "That's better."

"I could have done that for you," protested Toby.

"Maybe, but not in the middle of the street."

"It didn't worry you."

"That's different. Only one of us would have been arrested if a copper had come along."

"You're funny, Oscar," Toby grinned.

"Oh, by the way, I meant to tell you. When I was in the changing room sorting out my kit, I saw your jockstrap in the laundry basket and I took a good long sniff at it. I hope you don't mind."

"Not in the least, but I'd prefer next time you waited until I was wearing it," said Toby in a deadpan voice.

"Now that thought just hadn't occurred to me." They continued to walk into town, little fingers entwined, wallowing in an overwhelming feeling of ecstasy and well-being. "I thought you said it was coming on to rain."

"Did I?" replied Toby.

They made the cinema in nice time and didn't have to queue. "Hey, let's break the bank and pay the extra for the balcony," said Oscar. There were very few people up there, which he had guessed, and they could sit in the back row and have a perfect view.

"Phew, it's warm in here," said Toby and started to take his jacket off. So did Oscar. "Let me help you, Oscar." Oscar was just about to fold up his anorak and put it under his seat when Toby said "Wait a mo. Put it across your knees like this."

"What for?"

"Trust me."

The lights went down, the music struck up and the adverts began. It was only when the main feature started that the two boys snuggled up to one another. Oscar licked Toby's ear lobe with just the tip of his tongue. "I've been waiting seven weeks for that," said Toby.

"I've been waiting since Open Day for that," said Oscar, upping the odds. "It was you or Marcus. I'm glad I made the right choice." At that Toby turned his body and gave Oscar a full kiss on the lips, keeping his tongue in reserve for later. Oscar relaxed and let the sensations course throughout his body. He felt Toby's hand wandering. It was under his anorak and in no time it found its goal, Oscar's fly zip. In a trice it was down and Toby's hand was groping, groping and grasping Oscar's moist package. Now he understood why Toby didn't want him to wear his 501s and why he had to bring his anorak. Before the main feature was over, both boys' underpants were soaked with seminal fluid and their zips pulled back up.

"That will get the excess water off our bellies," said Toby.

The music played to a crescendo, the credits rolled and the lights went up. "Let's get out of here and find ourselves a nice quiet corner in Burger Star before it starts to get crowded."

"My treat tonight," said Oscar. "Gran and Gramps sent me a tenner for extra tuck this week. I think this counts as extra tuck."

Stepping into the street, Toby remarked "Oh, it's come on to rain. We'd better put our anoraks on," and they both began giggling uncontrollably. Passers-by gave them filthy looks as if to say 'stupid schoolboys'. No one smiled with a look at them as if to say 'two cute and very pretty gayboys enjoying an incipient love affair'.

They reached Burger Star without getting soaked. It was bad enough having wet undies without the rest of their clothes being soaked. They gave in their orders and waited for them to arrive. Between eating they craned their necks across the table and spoke in low whispers. "You didn't tell me about your rugby match, Toby."

"We won, I scored the winning try and the Headmaster was there just as he'd promised."

"Hey, that's great, man."

"Bit of a relief really. When you hold a sports bursary, they expect that sort of thing from you. What about your game?" Oscar wrinkled up his nose.

"All right, I suppose. Three all draw. Penalties. Neither side could make any breaks. Two good defensive teams and poor attack. Mind you, they had two stunning centres."

"What? Good players? Not bad, but I mean stunning to look at. Unfortunately we had separate changing rooms. They were twins and what's more, their team wore white shorts."

"Yeah," said Toby, "they're always a turn on. I'd prefer that to our navy blue. I bet they didn't have anyone who was wearing a pink jockstrap."

"I didn't spot any."

"I'll tell you what. You can borrow one of mine next week."

"That's if I can keep my place," said Oscar. It's all right for you. You're a natural, but I have to work hard for my place and then it's in the B side."

They carried on eating before their burgers grew cold. "Hey, Tobes, did I tell you about Olly Salmon giving me that filthy look and calling me a bastard?"

"Yeah, but what I forgot tell you, because at the time you were ravishing my body, is that you mustn't be too surprised."

"Why?"

"Two reasons. One, you took his place in the B team and as a result he had to sub for the As and didn't even get a chance to come on."

"Tough tittie."

"Oh, you're all heart, Oscar."

"And two?"

"I think this might have struck deeper. You know that you set Jackman on him?" Oscar nodded. "Well, evidently Jackman took you at your word and went after him. He not only gave Olly a blowjob, but also outed him afterwards and told everyone that Olly said it was one of the best he'd ever had, making it clear this was not the first. And it's all down to you that Oliver Salmon is out of the closet. So watch your back."

"Mmm, nice one. But we don't want him moving into Tippett."

"Now that's where the hidden power of the IC might come into play.

"And that's something else we need to talk about before we go back to school." Both boys looked around to see who was sitting near them so that they could judge if they might be overheard. Any number of Queen's boys might be in town at this time, none of them wearing uniform. Burger Star was the favourite outlet among the school members and, after only eight weeks or so, it was a 'big arsk' to expect a newcomer to recognise all of the seven hundred and fifty boys in the school, particularly out of uniform.

"Look, Oscar, I would feel out of my comfort zone talking about it in here. Can we do it on the way home?"

"Oh, I was going to find some dark alley, pin you against the wall and have my wicked way with you."

"Well, you can do that as well, if you want."

"We won't have time. I'm really looking forward to groping those two huge pears dangling between your legs."

"Oh, is that all. They're not dangling at the moment. They're quite tight actually. Anyway, I shouldn't worry about that. I'm sure something can be arranged before sunrise. Trust me."

"Strange really, isn't it? We're sitting here in a public place unashamedly talking about playing with your bollocks, yet frightened of mentioning…" Here Oscar lowered his voice even more. "… the IC."

Oscar checked his mobile. "It's time we went or we'll miss Prayers."

"If we're going to do this again, we'd better find out how to get a late pass."

"What exactly do you mean by 'this', Tobes?" Toby burst out into a guffaw, Oscar broke up in giggles and they had everyone staring at them as they left the burger bar. What they did not realise was that it was not the laughter that made them stare, but if you had two beautiful young persons walking through your midst, wouldn't you stare too?

They soon left the bright lights of the town behind them as the walked back to Queen's which stood on the boundary between the urban and the rural. The streets became empty of people and traffic and they could hold hands as they gaily walked along, releasing them if they heard footsteps or saw any shadowy figures moving in the distance. "So tell about the IC, Toby."

"Where do you want me to begin?"

"Well, as far as I could tell we were the only two third formers there. Why us?"

"Probably because we were the only ones that filled all four criteria."

"And they are?"

"Gay and out."

"But that applies to all the boys in Tippett."

"Let me finish, you impetuous little devil. The virgin thing. Do you remember how we never did stuff together even though sleeping in the same bed?"

"Yeah, everyone kept on at us not to lose our virginity, despite all the temptations. Now it's clear who 'everyone' is, that answers that mystery."

"And in its way it was a kind of pre-induction ordeal."

"The other two?"

"You had to fit in, socially that means. People with hidden strength, the pillars of society to be, almost despite their being gay."

"And the fourth?"

"You're not going to believe this. You have to be naturally incredibly sexually attractive." Oscar sniggered.

"Oh, yes, I am."

"Wot? Going to believe it or be naturally incredibly sexually attractive?"

"Both," and the two of them fell about in a fit of the giggles. "So what's the point?"

"Eventually to form an elite group of men who have no fears about being gay. That's what public schools do."

"What? Produce gays?"

"No, silly, produce an elite for, whatever people might think, egalitarianism just produces mediocrity. Even in its darkest days Soviet Russia had its elite schools and academies, and elite governing society. In four years' time either you or me will be Head of House in Tippett. There's a one in ten chance that one of us will be Head of School."

"Do other houses have the same as the IC?"

"Now, my dear Oscar, think logically. That you and I will never know, because it's a secret, in the same way that fifty, maybe more, maybe less, in the House have no idea of the existence of the IC. Also the strict criteria mean that the Jackmans of this world will never get anywhere near the centre of power, nor people like Marcus the Slut, because of lack of personal discipline, even though he passes the other three tests. He was actually being seriously considered for membership."

"Okay," said Oscar, "let's move on. You stole my cherries and I couldn't have asked for anyone better, but who took yours?"

"You did."

"Wot? Me? But you were there, already inducted."

"Yes, it's rather complicated, but I'll try to explain. Think back to the first exeat. Do you remember people saying I'd be late back because I was stuck in a traffic jam?"

"Mmm."

"I had in fact come back early and I was in the photo lab waiting for my induction. You wouldn't have noticed this, but most people were on exeat that weekend. However, sufficient members of the IC weren't, and so I was inducted. I knew your membership was being considered because once I was inducted, I became a member and could vote, but I was also under the Vow of Allegiance and so couldn't say anything. I'd undergone the first three ordeals, but couldn't undergo the remaining ones until another member, that is virgin, had been inducted. That was you. Virginity had to be lost to another virgin. That's why I was still in a white surplice, hooded so you wouldn't recognise me and with socks on my hands. There was no point blindfolding me and so when you went through your seven ordeals, I went through mine with you. Next time we meet we shall be in black surplices, but still hooded."

"That is fantastic. I was thrilled that you had taken my cherries, but now I know I took yours, well, that's not the icing, but the cherry on the cake. Ooh, I've gone all unnecessary."

By now they had reached the school gates. They swiped their ID cards, but at night they had to go through a turnstile. "One last question," said Oscar, "at least for tonight. Why all this emphasis on virginity?"

"Virginity equals purity. Everybody who enters… (Now that they were on school grounds, Toby avoided saying IC.) … enters in the same state of purity. However, it is recognised that because of their nature, the members have certain needs, probably more and stronger ones than their fellows in the other nine houses, and of course the temptations are greater, and so within the group, members can give those urges free rein and because everyone started pure, they remain pure whatever activities they take part in."

"Does that mean we can't do stuff with outsiders?"

"That is implicit, yes, but because there are no explicit rules there is nothing to stop you."

"Except you. All the time I have got you, I wouldn't want to do stuff with anyone else."

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