Alike in Dignity

by Michael Arram


It was after mass on Sunday and Roman had disappeared promptly following the choir dismissal, since his parents had been in the Hofkapelle congregation and he was required to join them for lunch out of town with relatives at Kesarstejne. Yuli had no such demands on him, so he made his way down into the chapel and chatted a while with Herr Pelikan, who was interested in their lieder project.

'Roman and I are sort of settling on the works of Wolstan Brauer of Hofbau, the court composer for the Marshal Prince of Tarlenheim. There are only three songs but there's something about them … the way the lyrics complement the tunes maybe. Romesczu can make them sound really awesome. So we're working on them for our first appearance as a duo next month.'

The Kapellemeister shook his head. 'Technically you're not a duo; you're just his accompanist, Yuli. But I know what you mean. I'll be interested to hear you both. Mattyas thinks there's a possible album there when you've worked out a repertoire of maybe fifteen songs between you.

'You know the choir and orchestra are issuing a CD of Christmas music, and the firm we're dealing with is looking to add to its classical list, especially Rothenian works. I'm afraid it won't make you boys much, if any, money, but it will add to your CV and help establish you as independent artists. We may have to find you an agent in a year or two.

'Excellent work on the Magnificat today, by the way, but rather less pedal next time. Anyway, uncover the piano and let me hear one of the Brauer songs. To my embarrassment, I've no acquaintance with his work.'

'Shame on you, sir,' Yuli laughed. 'He composed three mass settings and a Te Deum for the Victory at Metz.'

'Quiet, imp. You're getting above yourself. Okay, run and get your score.'

Yuli found Willem waiting for him on Domstrasse Tuesday morning. It was the first day of term across the city and the roads were full of children of all ages adorned with flowers in various artful ways. Willem offered his friend the usual garland made by his mother, who was talented that way. Willem frowned and tilted it on Yuli's hair till it was perfectly positioned.

'You're such a handsome bastard, Julius Lucic. The flowers make you look like some kind of prince, whereas they do not lend any beauty to the scabs and stitches down my face.'

Yuli took and squeezed his hand. 'There's more than one kind of beauty, Willemczu. I think we know where yours lies. Let's get down there. You really insist on this?'

'Gotta be done.'

So the boys headed down the hill along their usual route and, crossing the bridge, made their way to Bolslaw's house. He was waiting sheepishly outside, a scrawny necklace of sunflowers strung beneath his jowls.

Try as he might, Yuli could not do other than scowl at him. Not so Willem. 'Morning shithead,' he smiled, or at least screwed up the parts of his face that had some give in them. 'Ready for your last year of school?'

Bolo stared at him. 'Jeez, your face is a mess, Willem. Bastards did a number on you. Look you two, I've got nothing to do with my asshole brother and his loser friends. Believe me. My mutti kicked the cunt out last year when the drugs got bad. As far as I'm concerned the Arsenal is where he belongs.'

Yuli was gathering himself for an angry retort when Willem's hand clamped hard on his bicep. Willem could read him all too well.

'Yeah, yeah. Water under the Arsenalsbrücke as far we're concerned. Right Yuli?'

Yuli mustered a grunt. It seemed enough to reassure Bolo, who fell into step with them as they all three resumed their customary course to the Sudmesten Central gymno, though most of the conversation was down to Willem.

'So you're really gay?' Bolo eventually said to Yuli. 'And you and the Von Ebersfeld kid …?'

'Got a problem with that, Bolo?'

'No … I just thought …'

'Thought what?'

'That you and Willem were screwing, and you'd dumped him.'

Yuli rolled his eyes. 'You are so fucking dense, Bolo. You're gonna have to find more emotional intelligence somewhere if you're gonna survive Year 12.'

'Yeah … sorry.'

That was that, as far as the boys' rapprochement with Bolslaw Wyzinskij went. And once again Yuli realised Willem Kral was in more than one way a wiser man than he was.

The District Civil Court was packed for the judgement on the North Martzfeld case. Henry scanned the crowd from the back benches and saw that for once Dieter von Ebersfeld, the Burgomeister, was in court. His PA, Alfons Hadjek, was amongst the row of Nuevemesten suits perched on chairs behind him.

Rolf Abentauer of the Ruritanischer Tagblatt edged his way along the row and sat next to Henry on his bench. He looked around before speaking. 'Morning Henry. I can see people here from Strelsener Morgenspost, the Rotenisker Leuwen and … d'you know, I think that guy over there is from Bild. Any of your good friends from RTV here?'

Henry stood up briefly and craned around. 'Yep. Lady over there in the green suit. Irma Rauffensberh. So it looks like the 'battle of the boroughs' as you so elegantly put it in your last article is gaining traction in the press. What's going to happen, Rolf?'

'The lady judge will enter, and we will all bow to her and then she will read out her statement of the case before delivering her verdict, which will of course not be final.'

'Why so?'

'Because Henry, whichever side loses will immediately lodge an appeal in the Supreme Court, and we'll go through the same thing all over again at a later date. And I very much anticipate that whether or not the Supreme Court reverses the verdict we'll be off eventually to Kirchberg to see what the European Court of Justice thinks about it.'

'So it'll be a war of attrition?'

'Nail on the head, Henry. And the balance of resources is in favour of the Nuevemesten. So I know who it is I'll be betting on.'

At that point the court rose as the judge entered, and Henry got his pen ready. Rolf had a small laptop on which he began typing with a speed and facility that awed Henry. He shook his head and concentrated. With an admirable clarity the judge summarised the arguments in a way that made Henry feel like an idiot for not understanding them when he had listened to them live. She talked for fifty minutes, then paused and took a drink of water before concluding.

'The court has heard all these arguments and weighed them equally. No one contests the grant of 1683 or the long possession by the Altstadt of this city of Strelzen of the area called Strelsenerwald. But the nexus of the case is in fact whether the Diktat of the Second Republic in 1964 could essentially invalidate that tenure. The court has noted that the Diktat – number 2367 registered in the Central Archive of the People's Republic of Rothenia – was not contested by the Staroman and Council of Szcabnyi of the Staramesten of the day. This court has also considered the verdicts in several cases which have been heard by courts of the Third Republic and the restored Kingdom of Rothenia since the year 1990. I wish to call attention here particularly to the claim of the attorneys for the Staramesten that the many invalidated confiscations of property under the Second Republic from our kingdom's nobility are relevant to this case. They argue that these were executed by Diktat of the Central Committee and therefore in invalidating them the courts have in effect invalidated the legitimacy of the use of Diktat itself.

'This we cannot accept. Counsel for the defendant has argued prior possession in this case invalidates the Diktat, but has not adequately accounted for the fact that in 1964 the then authorities of the Staramesten did not oppose the transfer. The argument of counsel for the plaintiff clearly showed that the Diktat was accepted by the Staramesten authorities at the time as being for the common good of the city of Strelzen. Many other such Diktats have been uncontentious and indeed beneficial to the people of Rothenia and there would be no equity in contesting them. To assume that an act was invalid simply because it was executed by Diktat, as counsel also argued, would in fact undermine the public life of this realm. So the judgement of this court is that we find for the defendant, the Burgomeister and Ratsherren of the Nuevemesten, and that the area called the Strelsenerwald or North Martzfeld belongs to them by right of an administrative act of the Central Committee of the People's Republic of Rothenia of 1964.'

'Your tatti's on RTV News, Yuli leblen!' Della Ortolan called over to Yuli in the Year 12 Baccalaureate Study Centre which Sudmesten Central Gymnasium boasted, and to which he and his friends now had access. Its excellent facilities included a coffee area and a wall screen.

Yuli scooted over and sat on the arm of her chair. 'What's up?'

'It's the court case over Martzfeld. His side lost.'

'Oh yeah. I had an idea it was on today. He's been getting stressed, for him.'

'He's been on the steps outside the court being angry for the past couple of minutes. I'll turn it up … ah, no. The item's over. I've got the remote. Here, I'll switch to Eastnet 24.'

The screen showed a studio shot, with the presenter interviewing two talking heads, one of which was … 'Henry At-vood!' Yuli exclaimed. 'I've met him a couple of times. He's gay and really nice.'

Della laughed. 'Careful what you say. Romesczu might get jealous you're after older guys. What, did he make a pass at you, leblen? I wouldn't blame him.'

Yuli gave her a playful cuff round her head. 'No. The first time he was with his boyfriend, who's a real hunk. An army officer. With a boyfriend like that, he'd be nuts to go after my skinny butt.'

'It's a lovely skinny butt, and all the girls drool over your rear view. Doubly so when it's walking alongside Romesczu's skinny butt. I'll turn up the volume.'

Yuli concentrated on the TV. Apparently the Nuevemesten had won its case and the Staramesten was fuming, as it lost on a contentious point of law. The screen Henry was saying '… as far as the Nuevemesten is concerned the Dictatorship of the Proletariat lives on in Strelzen. Ironic, isn't it, that a CDP Nuevemesten mayor is relying for his victory on a Communist era Diktat? As good an illustration as you'll ever need that money has no politics.'

The studio presenter smiled and passed over to the other guest, a legal correspondent. His opinion was that it was a case the Supreme Court would jump at, as it had serious constitutional implications. He imagined the appeal would be filed within days.

'You'll get an earful of it tonight over dinner I'd guess,' Della observed. 'How're your … y'knows. Willemczu says they were swollen to the size of grapefruit.'

Yuli rolled his eyes. 'Trust him to get some amusement out of it. He exaggerates. I'm more worried about him. The bastards gave him a real going over and his face is a mess. D'you think there'll be a scar?'

'Well, the boy has no looks to lose. It could even be an improvement. Who knows? I don't love him for his face, any more than you do, leblen. It's his heart that makes him irresistible to me … well, that and his dick. He really knows what to do with it and wants to do it a lot. But I suppose you know that.'

Yuli raised a dark and perfect eyebrow. 'No. I mean, we messed around quite a bit as kids, as well you know, but we never went that far. He was a virgin when you and he got together.'

'Hmm, whatever. I'm pretty sure I have you to thank for training him up in the ways of love so well. If you two want to carry on doing stuff … just so you know, it is totally fine by me. A heart that big can be shared.'

Yuli looked down at her serious face. 'You really mean that, don't you. Thanks. But I don't think the need to test your generosity will arise. We seem to be going our own ways sexually, and he's very deeply into Della, believe me, for reasons I fully understand. You two fit together so well.'

They hugged and air-kissed, and Yuli went back to his study table. A little later, after the period bell, Roman wandered in with a crowd of other students and took up his customary place opposite Yuli. They exchanged their usual fond smiles, and that (apart from the occasional hand holding) was as far as their romance went these days in school, even though everyone, even their teachers, knew they were boyfriends.

After a while Yuli felt he had better mention the fact that their fathers were engaged in an epic lawsuit that had made the papers and TV.

Roman shrugged. 'I suppose they are. But Vater doesn't bring work home.'

Yuli had to agree that his father was much the same. 'Should we take sides, leblen? Your Vater has just taken my tatti out for a dusting, and got away with it. I should be offended. Honour of the Lucics and all that: apart from the fact that as far as lineage goes, we're very common.'

Roman laughed and then leaned forward to say quietly 'I realise I'm slumming it, taking your plebeian cock right up my baronial bum. But that just adds to the kinkiness and fun, don't you think?'

'I do indeed. Here's to sexual perversion and peace between the houses of Staufer von Ebersfeld and Lucic.'

'Er … bad day at work, tatti?' Yuli for once could not ignore the fact that his father was Staroman of Strelzen, especially as he had been given a recent and startling demonstration of what sort of prestige and power went with the job. It was easy to forget, as Radek Lucic prized his domestic peace, and it was only during election times that the job was allowed to impinge on his home.

There was a sharp look from his father. 'Not the best I've had, certainly Yuli.' He sighed. 'I was half expecting it though. The money Von Ebersfeld could bring to bear on his case was more than we could rival. Buy the best lawyers and justice gets drowned in a flood of cash. One niggling point of law was enough to stab our case through the heart. Now I expect his donors will want their pay-off in the division of the Strelsenerwald spoils.'

'You're not giving up are you?'

'God no. But it drags us into even more expense. The papers for an appeal are already drawn up. We're going to have to find a better bunch of lawyers to fight the next round. But quality costs, and there are so many other calls on the Staramesten's limited resources.'

Yuli leaned over and kissed his unusually vulnerable father. 'Stick with it, tatti. Me and Willemczu are rooting for you.'

'Any chance you boys could qualify overnight for the bar and take up the case on a voluntary basis?'

'Fraid not tatti. But I can write a heroic song and Willemczu could market it.'

'Every little helps, son.' His father laughed, and Yuli felt he had done his job as a loyal scion of the house of Lucic.

Henry was finally ready for his first Eurovision Song Contest management group meeting. He had mastered everything he could about the organisational requirements of the EBU and what the event demanded. He had carefully viewed videos of the last four contests, rather enjoyably doing so nestled in Ed's lap at home. His temporary administrative assistant, Magda Jolanka, had laid down the law as far as how these things should be done, and so he had dutifully compiled agendas and briefing papers.

Now at last, Henry was occupying the head of the boardroom table, with his team of twelve ranged on either side, and the opposite end of the table taken up by his chosen co-presenter, Hermina Beruskova. She was Strelsenermedia's established fashion correspondent, which filled a blind spot as far as Henry was concerned. Her skills as a live presenter were however an open and unresolved question.

'Okay boys and girls,' Henry began. 'Item One. Location. We have a list of ten possible venues. It's only that long because we looked as far as Hofbau and Zenden, but my own preference is Strelzen if we can swing it. All the places on the list are currently available as of mid-September, though we will have to look sharp. We are not spoiled for choice, as you will see. Some of the possibilities would need some serious work to upgrade to the standard we require, though the EBU will allot us capital funding for this. We also may have access to some private sources willing to offer sponsorship. Once we make our choice, we will need to contract with an international events team, which is Item Two on the agenda. So ideas?'

A Polish staffer from Features put his hand up. 'What's so important about staging it in the capital? There are only four Strelzen venues on your list and the provincial cities are going to be cheaper and probably more flexible.'

'True enough. Then there's what they call the "Strelzen und Zenden" dynamic here in Rothenia: the overprivileged capital versus the bucolic and backward provinces. It gets people energised. But with the international profile of Strelzen as "the world's most beautiful city" according to last week's New York Times, there will be an expectation that it will be the natural Rothenian showcase for the event. This year's Turkish extravaganza owed a lot of its success to being staged in Istanbul, so let's just begin with the Strelzen possibilities. Top of my list is the Rudolfinum, though it'll depend if the managers can shift a planned music festival, upon which they are not certain. Second is the glitzy new Peacher Indoor Sports Arena on the Rodolfer campus, which is currently free but perhaps a little too large. The upgraded Spa has some indoor capacity and bottom of my list is the old Humanist and Free Thinkers Institute on Festungstrasse South. The Horvath regime loved it for mass party events, so it's got capacity and is in relatively good condition, and it's not found a new use, so its management will be amenable. It'll be cheap to hire, but less cheap to fit out for the occasion.'

The debate went on for ninety minutes and in the end the decision was between the Humanist Institute in Strelzen and the brand new basketball arena in Zenden, with the issue being decided on grounds of expense. A couple of calls during a recess confirmed availability and cost and Henry's eventual choice was the Institute. After that, it was over to Will Vincent to organise contracts. The choice of which events firm to hire was deferred till references had been received from the shortlist the team had compiled, and so on to Item Three after lunch.

'Now people, here's where the interesting stuff begins: the selection of the Rothenian entry for the 2005 song contest, and how we go about it. And no, we can't enter Svetlana again. She's looking for new directions in her career, she says.'

Yuli and Roman were getting increasingly concerned, if also excited, about their first public engagement: the reception at the Residenz in honour of the incoming United States Ambassador. They had decided in the end on a performance of the three Brauer lieder, and had tested them in a lunchtime run-through in the gymno rehearsal room in front of a group of their friends, despite the shabbiness of the piano.

The reception was partisan, Yuli concluded, as the piano had done them no favours. While he felt it had genuinely not gone badly, there still was a problem. He eventually concluded it was neither him nor Roman, but the original score. He kept on seeing places where Brauer's melody and harmony went different places to those where his brain told him they might have gone, and to better effect.

'Okay, leblen,' he confided to Roman when they were on their own again after the run-through, 'I'm about to say something astoundingly arrogant, so bear with me. I think that the third song could be a lot better if I … er … arranged it.'

Roman's eyebrows rose. 'We've only got a week, are you sure? Not only that, but it's the best of them. I love the refrain: Edler herz, dar zu Bozh. Nevjetzij tugenz in aller muzh.' Roman sang the passage with intimate, quiet feeling, an effortless quality in his singing that invariably raised goosebumps all over Yuli's body.

'I've no problem with the refrain, it's the verses. Listen. This is how I'd play them, if I had my way, while preserving the general baroque ambience of course.'

Roman listened carefully, his brow contracted and his mouth moving silently. He asked Yuli to repeat the altered arrangement twice. Then he counted them both in, his eyes widening as he sang. As the last notes died away, the urchin grin that Yuli most loved about his face lit it up. 'That is just totally awesome!' he enthused. 'But can you write it up for me as a proper score. You know my limits, leblen.'

'No problem, baby. We've got software in the music lab which will generate paper copy, then you can take it home and memorise it. We have a deal?'

'We have a total deal. Which reminds me, Mattyas said we have to e-mail the Comptroller with programme notes by Wednesday, so you're gonna have to think how we describe what you've just done. '"'Edler Herz' by Wolstan Brauer, arranged J. Lucic" sounds so cool and grown up. At least no-one will think you're an arrogant teenage tick vandalising a much-loved Rothenian classic, since no one actually knows it exists … yet. But we'll change that. When do I get to see you in black tie, by the way? Any photos?'

'Radek! Our baby's all grown up!' Frau Lucic was genuinely moved, Yuli could tell, despite her usual irony.

Yuli had laboriously learned to tie a bow, at Roman's insistence. Ties on elastic were not acceptable, he had been informed. He adjusted it once more in the lounge mirror, and turned to meet a strange gaze from his parents: it had pride, affection and an odd sadness all mixed in. He went over to them and gave them the reassuring kiss and hug they seemed to require. Who was the grownup here?

'Your tatti will run you down to the Residenz, we can't risk your new finery on the tram,' his mother said.

'Car's down the lane end, son,' Herr Lucic informed him. 'Give me a ring and I'll pick you up after the event.'

'It'll go on till after midnight, tatti. But I think I can leave once the dancing's begun, which may be around ten-thirty.'

As bad luck would have it, the Lucic car had pulled up on Gartengasse and father and son were standing on the pavement saying their goodbye and good luck when a sleek grey Mercedes pulled in behind it and out got Dieter von Ebersfeld and Roman.

The two men could not ignore each other. 'Good evening, Dieter, how are things?' Herr Lucic said, civilly enough.

The Burgomeister gave a curt nod. 'Well enough, Lucic,' he responded, less than civilly Yuli thought. He caught the embarrassment in Roman's expression and the familiar hunch in his shoulders when the boy was uncomfortable. It had been something he had been seeing less and less of lately.

The baron squeezed his son's shoulder and murmured something, then got back in his car and drove off. Herr Lucic shrugged and smiled at Roman, reminding him that they'd met before and offered his hand. Roman had by now rallied, and if he was not any more communicative than usual, his eyes did not go down and he responded to the friendly greeting and handshake with a polite murmur and a sweet smile. He was, Yuli knew, trying hard for his sake, and he loved his Romesczu for it.

After he had waved off his father, Yuli gave a lopsided look at Roman. 'So your Vater now knows that "Julius from school" is in fact Julius son of Radek Lucic, the Staroman. D'you think that'll cause problems? I mean, since our fathers are on different sides in this law case thing going on at the moment?'

Roman was frowning, and Yuli had time to notice that the moody expression gave his boyfriend the look of a model in a shoot. Eventually he responded 'I really don't know. Vater never mentions work at home, and hasn't said a thing to me about politics. '

'They didn't seem that friendly.'

'No, suppose not. But why should they take that out on us?'

So Yuli shrugged, kissed Roman under the trees and they walked a while hand-in-hand until they began meeting people heading to the Reitschule Gate. Their palace IDs allowed them to circumvent the security queue by taking a forecourt entrance at the palace front.

They knew the way to the State Banqueting Hall, where they found green-coated staff putting the finishing touches to the flowers and tables. An assistant comptroller was on the lookout for them, and they were shown the elevated performance space. The piano was Yuli's old friend, the Steingraeber from the Hofkapelle, so he did not need to practice on it. A chamber orchestra was tuning up ready to offer musical background to the dinner, and Yuli and Roman were sent for now up to a viewing gallery above the ballroom until their presence was required. They were charmed to find a private table up there set just for them, with a white damask cloth, silver service, lit candles, a light meal and a choice of fruit juice and soft drinks, all courtesy of Her Majesty the Queen, as a note propped up on the salt cellar said. It was signed by the queen herself in blue pen: 'Harriet R.'

'Do you think she knows about us?' Yuli asked.

'With the resources of the Rotenisker Sichertsdienst behind her, it's possible,' Roman admitted, 'but more likely she's picked it up from the choir members she talks to, since we're out and proud there. Or maybe we're just a bit too obvious.'


'Ready to piss myself, leblen Yuli mine, and not in the sexy way you're not all that keen on.'

'Unusual for you, Romesczu. You're always so cool before performance.'

'This is different. It's sorta public in ways that the Hofkapelle is not.'

'Let's eat. The food's still warm under the covers.'

So the boys did the queen's generosity proud. While they ate, Yuli examined Roman's suit. It was obviously tailored and expensive, the lapels cut wide and laced with dark silk. He suspected the fine white shirt too was not off the hook. Afterwards they hung over the gallery edge and watched the guests assemble below and stand behind their places. As loyal Rothenians both, they stood straight as the king and queen entered and their national anthem played, and they stayed standing as the Star Spangled Banner followed, played with admirable gusto by the orchestra below them.

Then there was scraping, clinking and babble below as chairs were drawn out, courses were served, speeches and toasts made, and candlelight glittered on gold and silver plate. Most of the diplomatic corps was present, so the costumes and uniforms of the guests were colourful and varied. They had almost forgotten why they were there when a cough behind them told them their presence was required. Yuli's heart all but leaped out of his mouth.

They took their places on the dais, and waited for the orchestra to finish its rendition of Strauss the younger's famous Flaviener Waltz, composed to be performed at the court of Ruritania in the Strelsau of 1868. By now the conversation in the hall had subsided, and there was silence when the conductor finished, bowed to the audience, and then gave a smile to the young performers, to whom he held out an arm. Yuli gave his warmest glow across the piano to Roman, and once their eyes caught all his nerves disappeared. He played his entry and then the music began.

He had a sense that the hall was listening politely and with interest to the first two Brauer songs, but when Yuli began the introduction to his arrangement of Edler Herz and Roman's pure and clear voice rang out effortlessly in the first verse he was aware that polite interest had shifted to something else. As Yuli finally completed the coda, which was his own composition, there was silence and then a rising storm of applause. This was new. He stared at Roman. They had never had applause for their previous performances. What was he to do?

The conductor motioned him to rise from the keyboard, and come to the front. He looked at Roman as he took his place next to him. 'We bow, leblen,' Roman hissed. And so they did, on his mark. And then when the applause didn't die down, they bowed again: five times in all. In the meantime the assistant comptroller was whispering to the conductor, who called over Roman.

'The king and the ambassador would very much like an encore of your last song, Edler Herz.' So they performed it once more, and once more they had to bow through the applause, before finally being allowed to leave the dais, the orchestra rising to clap them off.

They stared at each other as they were ushered out of the hall into the ballroom next door. 'Er … that went well,' Yuli commented.

Roman sparkled with laughter in a way new to Yuli. 'They were being kind. We were actually crap, but we're so cute they felt sorry for us.'

'You don't believe that.'

'No, genius leblen mine. It was your arrangement and my voice. They came together perfectly. Wow! So that's what applause feels like. I really think it should be allowed in the Hofkapelle.'

'Well, that's that then,' said Yuli, possessed now with a sense of anticlimax. 'I suppose we'd best be getting off home, though I really feel like something else should happen, like we go off to the Wejg or something. But we're not seventeen yet, me not till next month and you not till January. I'll ring my tatti.'

So they made their calls and headed down the stairs to the garden doors. But before they sought out their parental lifts they kissed long and passionately in a dark corner of the Hofgarten they used for the purpose, and Yuli had time to go on his knees to pay homage to the occasion and bring off Roman orally. It was only when he exited through the Reitschule Gate into the streetlights of Brückestrasse and waved Roman off that he realised he should have been worrying more about his knees than not getting emissions on Roman's trousers. His new trousers were badly grass-stained. Shit. His father couldn't miss it.

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