Terre Nouvelle

by Michael Arram


The noise of the two returning boys and their tutor brought Ruprecht and Joerg back from their stunned state.

'Rupe! Hey doctor!' they called. 'It was amazing; not to mention macabre. There were big queues at the Friendly Society Hall.'

The boys breezed through the house and pounded up to their room without noticing the preoccupied state of both men. The pair ran back down wearing nothing but their shirts and shot off through the front door in the direction of the pool, hallooing and laughing. As he danced across the paddock Felix lifted his shirt and exposed himself to a grinning Ludwig, who was at work painting the rails. Then he threw his shirt away and scampered naked after Gilles.

Joerg was watching the performance through the study window. 'Very princely,' he commented.

'He's here to act like a boy, as free of constraints as is possible. It just so happens that – when in health – he's the bouncy, hilarious and occasionally outrageous sort of boy.'

'And queer. I admire you for the way you handle it, Rupe. He and Gilles are so lucky.'

'Give them credit. Their commitment to each other is unusual in adolescent boys, and it seems to be lasting. Their personalities interlock and they rarely conflict other than in play. You can see their mutual sympathy in the fact that it's hard to say which of them is the dominant boy. They seem to read each other's mind.'

'And they are so very sexual too.'

'They satisfy each other. They also are happy to hint to me at what they do. Erwin tells me the state of their bed can be quite disgusting, and he deals with it himself rather than allow the maids to be shocked.'

A hand sought Ruprecht's and a kiss followed. 'I'd like to sleep here tonight.'

'I was hoping you would. I do prefer sleeping next to another warm body. We'd better tell them fairly soon. They'll be utterly delighted; they're desperate to pair me off with anyone likely. My sex life is as absorbing to them as I have to confess theirs is to me. Expect to be badgered to death for details. They got more out of me than they should have as to what Anton Vinseff and I got up to. It fuelled a lot of their erotic ambitions, and also …'

'Also, what?'

'Let me confess this to you, Joerg. Gilles was not beyond looking at me sexually when he was in Chasancene, and I think he still has a crush on me, though it's contained by his genuine love for my brother. But there has been more than one occasion when he has been on the verge of making a sexual play. You'll help defuse that because Gilles is a remarkably moral creature for an adolescent boy. He would never intrude on our relationship.

'Now, I'm glad I got that off my chest. Let's have another drink and work out what we'll tell them about the medallion. They're fully caught up in our research, you know.'

The boys returned to the schloss well before dinner so they could bathe with hot water and soap, which they generally did together, judging by the amount of water on the bathroom floor after they left it. They approved the idea of a formal meal daily at seven, and they appeared at the study door in dark suits and crisp white ties well before Erwin rang the bell.

'Hello Dr Joerg! You still here?' commented the prince. 'Are you staying for dinner? Good. You can tell us about the bog people.'

Ruprecht looked up from the diagrams he and the doctor were poring over. 'We've considerably more to talk about now, Kreech. Hans has sent back what we thought was a coin, only it wasn't. It's shaken up everything we thought we knew about the early history of our world. Come see.'

The boys took the medallion eagerly and scrutinised both of its faces, then looked enquiringly at the men.

'That's English,' Gilles commented. 'But what's a European Union?'

Joerg shrugged. 'We have yet to find out, but let me summarise for you what the medal says, or implies. It was clearly struck to commemorate the actual Landing. It belongs to the very first days of humanity on Terre Nouvelle, when English, Francien and Alleman were equal partners in the enterprise. What do you two know of The Voyagers?'

'I've read it,' said Gilles, to Ruprecht's surprise.

'Really, Gillot?'

'Well yes, Rupe. You used to tell me and Cecile all those old stories when we were small at the inn, so I went looking for a copy one day, and Madame Celestin at the Librairie on the Rue d'Erdebête Jaune lent me one. It was kind as I didn't have the money to buy it. I was only thirteen. But I found that, with what you had told me, I could read and make sense of a lot of it.'

'Well Gillot, if that's so what do you make of the names on the back of the medallion?'

The boy scrutinised the list and looked up, surprised. 'Oh! It's Guillaume le Rou! He led down the fireships! And I know that name Kevin … that surely must be "Kevin Lengleis, le grand guerrier; des erdebêtes sauvages, le vrai vanqueur". He was one of the Twenty Companions of the great Guillaume!'

'Yes, and for the first time we know some of those men were historical characters and really were the leaders of the first humans on this world.'

Joerg chipped in. 'The kingdom of Kholnai is also something we now know more about. Its name is derived from the word "Colony", meaning the entire human settlement on this planet, a colony of another world called the European Union. But Kholnai wasn't just a kingdom of the English, it comprised all three peoples.'

Felix was fingering the front of the medal. 'Is this a map?'

'Yes it is,' Joerg replied, 'and it's the feature which is the most fascinating to us. There are three stars and three kingdoms figured on it. Since one of them is named in Francien, it must show that Colony had three kingdoms originally, one for each of the peoples, though here they're called "zones" or "circonscriptions".'

'What about these stars?'

'That's the most interesting thing. We reckon they mark the central settlement of each "zone", the original human homesteads on Terre Nouvelle, and we think we may be able to work out from the medal where they might be on the modern map.'

'Chasancene!' Gilles marvelled. 'The ancient Francien circonscription was based on Chasancene!'

'Near there, Gillot,' Joerg cautioned. 'We can't be certain with such a large scale map.'

Ruprecht sipped his wine. 'Oh, I don't know. Think of the local names. Vieldomaine: doesn't that now seem significantly like "Vieux domain" or "the old district"? And how about Chasancene: "Le chaise ancien" or "the ancient homestead"! The names people gave these places preserved memories of what they once were. It's obvious now we know. I think we're on the right track.'

'So when are we going?' Felix demanded.

'Ease up,' his brother replied. 'There are the Alleman and English zones to consider. The Alleman capital was quite a way north, somewhere west of Gerhardtsheim in the kingdom of Nordrecht. That's not an attractive prospect. But the English capital … we have to give that serious consideration.'

'Unfortunately,' Joerg cautioned, 'it was in one of the southern valleys of the Montenard Republic, and it won't be easy to work out which. Though of them all, it's the ancient capital nearest to where we are in Bernicia, and potentially – you have to admit, Gilles – the one most likely to give us answers, because we know the Kholnai English were able to ride out the collapse after the Landing. There may be more to find there than in Chasancene.'

Ruprecht smiled at the badly-concealed disappointment in his ward's face. 'Stop teasing the boy, Joerg. You know it's to Chasancene we're going to go. Forgive Joerg, Gillot, he's in a very queer mood.'

Joerg astonished Ruprecht by putting out a tongue at him out of sight of the boys. He looked very like a naughty urchin when he did. A tingle in Ruprecht's penis reminded him why he found the little man so very seductive. He suddenly wanted to be in bed with him very much, but he bridled his rising lust; there would be time enough for that later.

Felix had missed the by-play. 'So come on, Rupe. When are we off? Gillot really wants to see his mutta and vater. You know he writes to them and to his sister most days.'

'Fine, fine. Don't fret, kids. I'll talk it through with minheer Wenzel and see what arrangements need making. The doctor's been retained as your physician, Kreech, so he can accompany us without people complaining that he should be in Blauwhaven for Holy Week if we are away then. His two assistants are more than capable of looking after the church in any case. I don't suppose Meister Andrecht will mind the change of scene either.'

Felix giggled. 'Yes he will. He's been walking out with Fräulein Meisner at the town library. He's sweet on her. Gilles and I saw them kissing behind her parasol.'

'Well someone is going to be disappointed then. I'm sorry for that, but poor Meister Andrecht will have to pine away in Chasancene for some weeks. At least he can write very grammatical letters to his distant sweetheart to relieve his thwarted passion. By the way boys, you are not to tease poor Willem about his affair of the heart.'

The pair shot each other a look and then adopted pious faces.

Gilles was getting excited as he realised he was indeed going home to Vieldomaine. 'Come on Kreech, I've got to write to maman and tell her the news. Good night, minheer Rector. Will we see you tomorrow?'

Joerg exchanged glances with Ruprecht. 'I imagine so,' he replied.

Ruprecht observed that Joerg was still hesitant about displaying his nudity, and when he turned to face Ruprecht his hands covered his genitals reflexively.

'Would you rather I extinguished the candles?' he enquired politely.

'N-n-no,' the doctor said, but quickly slid under the sheets.

'Good, you've a sweet little body and it's a delight to look at.' Ruprecht joined the man in bed, laying his hand on his flat and taut belly. Joerg shuddered as he did and erected rapidly. 'Joerg, you're responsive to the lightest touch. Are you going to shoot over my sheets?'

'I don't know what'll happen if you touch my penis.'

'Then maybe you should touch mine. Get up here.' He threw back the bed covers and sat facing the small man. He arranged him so they were belly to belly, Joerg's thighs over his, their erections close enough that Joerg's occasionally touched Ruprecht's much larger member, jerking upwards every time it did and causing Joerg to squirm delightfully. They kissed for a long time.

'This is good,' Joerg sighed. 'What would you like me to do now?'

'Play with my cock, little one.'

Joerg put his hand on the hot, solid length Ruprecht displayed, far longer than Joerg's own, and rising well above the little man's navel. 'If you can ever get that in me, it'll reach up to my kidneys.'

Ruprecht grinned. 'You think? I'm hoping you'll want to try at least. But obviously not tonight. When I do, it'll certainly go further into you than other men I've bedded.'

'It'll probably breach my lower gut.'

Ruprecht's cock pulsed with the erotic thought just as Joerg grasped and explored it. The result was an issue of shining precum on to his purple glans. Joerg spread the fluid around the slit of Ruprecht's penis, causing him to gasp and his buttocks to lift.

'Mine doesn't put out that stuff,' Joerg commented.

'On a good day, it positively drips out of me. It'll make penetration easier. Lick it off, little one. It's not got much taste.'

Joerg seemed in two minds at first, but he shifted back and slowly brought his mouth close, then he licked out delicately with his pink tongue at a second droplet which had now appeared. He looked up at Ruprecht, raised an eyebrow, then went back and took the glans fully into his mouth, tonguing the underside and suckling gently at it, much to Ruprecht's enjoyment. After a few minutes Joerg pulled off, sitting back up to resume his position. They kissed some more.

Ruprecht brought their groins closer together, and as they kissed Joerg began humping his erection against Ruprecht's. The bigger man pressed him down on to his back and moved heavily on him. A ragged gasp in his ear and a feeling of wetness on his belly told Ruprecht that Joerg had climaxed as rapidly as before. It took him some minutes longer but eventually he too came, and the pair lay together a while in the afterglow, till their breathing became even.

They smiled in each other's faces. 'What can I do now?' Joerg asked.

'You might think of the state of the bed. Go down there and lick me clean.'

The idea seemed to stimulate Joerg, whose willingness to be directed was just as exciting to Ruprecht. Soon he was lapping at Ruprecht's groin and belly, strings of semen in his mouth as he looked up to grin at the bigger man. It appeared he could be incited into the less straightforward areas of sexuality between men. Ruprecht lazily wondered how far he might push him, for there were one or two forms of sex he would have liked to try but which some of his partners had recoiled from.

'Come back up here, little one,' Ruprecht instructed. 'It's time for a massage as a reward.'

Joerg's reaction to the stimulation of his nipples was as extreme as it had been before, though it took a lot more agonised bucking this time before he ejaculated with a loud yell. When he did, Ruprecht had his mouth ready to catch the heavy spurts. They lay back and, after more gentle kissing and stroking, they slept.

Ruprecht awoke to the sunlight streaming into his chamber, a small and rather pretty male face next to his, blond hair in its closed eyes. He watched Joerg slumber for a while, feeling something unidentifiable from what he had felt in his previous relationships with men, unless possibly his first, the boy Anton. Whatever it was, the little man's sweetness, submissiveness and vulnerability stirred him. He kissed him lightly on the lips. Joerg moved a little but did not wake. Sweet though the man was in repose, his breath was anything but, and the pair stank of the previous night's emissions. Ruprecht sat up to use the chamberpot at the side of the bed, and the tinkling and spattering sound of his urine hosing into the receptacle woke Joerg, who yawned then leaned up to watch, his cheek warm against Ruprecht's flank.

'Never watched a man piss before?'

'Er, no, not close up … it's fascinating.'

'Need to go?'

'Er … yes, but you'll watch me.'

'Not ready for that?'

'N-n-no. I don't think so.'

'No problem. There's a robe hanging on the door which is probably far too big for you. There's a nice new water closet at the end of the passage if you're willing to risk the journey.'

Joerg was padding naked across the boarded floor when a knock on the door heralded Erwin Wenzel bringing the hot water basin. Since he usually didn't bother to wait for Ruprecht's reply, as the basin was not easy to manage, he came right in, to be confronted with the little priest paralysed with embarrassment, hands covering his genitals and nipples.

Erwin didn't even so much as smile. 'Good morning, gentlemen,' he said evenly, quite unfazed. 'Shall I bring another basin up, or will you be alright with just the one? I'll run your bath, minheer Graf. One towel or two?'

'You're here early, doctor,' Gilles remarked politely, as he settled down at the breakfast table and helped himself to eggs and ham.

'Where's the Kreech?' Ruprecht headed him off.

'Glad you're here anyway, doctor,' the boy continued. 'Felix was hot in the night. He wasn't coughing or anything, but I was a little worried. He grumped at me when I suggested he get up just now. Could you …?'

'I'll go up, Gillot,' Joerg said, wiping his mouth with a napkin and heading for the stairs.

'Gillot,' Ruprecht continued, 'if you've not yet sealed your letter to your maman, you can tell her that we'll be in Chasancene at the beginning of Holy Week. We may stay for as long as a month.'

The boy smiled happily. 'That's perfect. It'll be so good to see papa, maman and little Cecile.'

'Do I understand they've returned to the inn?'

'Yes, when papa heard that King Scumbag had been put in prison after he got back to Ardhesse, he thought it safe to go back to the city. With his being caught up in a civil war I don't suppose there'll be much to worry about now from Scumbag's direction, do you think?'

'It would seem safe for a while, Gillot. Since Felix will be going we won't stay at the inn, you understand. He'll have to stay at the ducal palace; there's no escape from that.'

'Maman will be disappointed, I've told her so much about the Kreech.'

'Er … exactly how much?'

The boy looked sheepish. 'I just said we're close friends and always together. I couldn't mention the rest, you know. Maybe one day, but not till we're grown-ups.'

'She may guess however, mothers tend to do that.'

Gilles shrugged in a very Francien way, and picked up the papers. He gave his usual commentary on the Ardhessian War of Succession, as it was now being called. 'King Scumbag's had a reverse,' he observed, delighted at the thought. 'He attempted an attack on Mortenshaven at the mouth of the Fresch, but the Ardhessian Navy's loyal to the Duke and three of its battleships sailed close in to destroy his siege batteries in a heavy bombardment. That means there's still one city on the west bank of the river which is resisting him. Good news for the Duke.'

Joerg returned without Felix. 'It's gastric,' he informed them. 'Just a tummy upset. His chamberpot's overflowing, poor kid. He'd better stay in bed. How are you feeling, Gillot?'

'Me? Alright.'

'If you're feeling queasy, let me know. These bowel infections can be virulent. I imagine the whole house will be plagued with it for a week or more.'

'Ah! Ludwig's little brother was sick yesterday. Maybe it's in his house.'

'He was? I'll call in at his parents' cottage on the way home, all the family probably has it. There are simple measures to mitigate the effects. In the old days infections such as these carried off whole families of children, but as long as victims are kept hydrated with a patent formula of salts and sugars, there needn't be any danger. I'll get prescriptions made up.'

'So does this mean our trip to Chasancene's going to be delayed?' Gilles looked a bit downcast at the thought.

Ruprecht glanced at the doctor. 'No, we were never intending to leave much before Acclamation Sunday. We need to give a fortnight's notice to the Vieldomainois embassy in any case.'

'I'll update the letter then. I'd better go up and watch my Kreech puke.'

Once the boy had gone, Ruprecht reached over to kiss Joerg. 'You alright yourself, little one?'

The man rolled his eyes. 'I could die. The fact that your seneschal took it all so coolly didn't help much.'

'He certainly failed to detect our liaison; somehow I thought he'd have worked it out. I've just lost some of my faith in Erwin. But he would have had to know sooner or later. I have to say, your reaction was hilarious … Ah! Again with the poked-out tongue! I could jump you when you do such things. You really are adorable, Joerg.'

The special engine to which the Protector of Bernicia's personal carriage had been coupled pulled up short of Chasancene's Gare Centrale.

'What's the hold-up?' asked Gilles, looking elegant in his court suit, which now boasted the green ribbon of the Noble Order of Felix the Great of Ostberg, conferred on him by the prince for heroism in the face of the consequences of his bowel flux, as he said.

Felix himself was resplendent in his dress uniform as colonel of his own Fürstlich Liebgard, with gold-laced green tunic, white breeches and well-polished cavalry boots. He was holding under his arm the Allemanic helmet he would have to put on in due course. They had stopped en route at the Residenz of Ostberg to pick up the ceremonial wardrobe which had to accompany a semi-state visit to a foreign principality.

Ruprecht explained to a nervous Gilles that the delay to the train was so that the reception line and honour guard could assemble, and the state carriages be lined up.

The train jerked as the engine moved off again and slowly chuffed its way under the station canopy. With a flourish of drums, a regimental band blared out the Bernician anthem and a company of grenadiers of the Garde Ducale presented arms, the officers gracefully dropping their swords in acknowledgement of the prince as he stepped on to the platform. Well tutored, Felix put his hand to the peak of his helmet and kept it there while the band galloped on into Vieldomaine's national anthem, a pacey tune with a lot of bugle flourishes. Then he was introduced to the presentation line by Prince Louis François, the sixteen-year-old son of Duke Alphonse XII, the current sovereign, representing his father. Gilles paced behind Felix as his equerry, joined by the Bernician ambassador. Ruprecht and Dr Tannerman kept well back from the ceremony, merging with the group of functionaries who trailed behind the princes as they made their way through the concourse and out to the line of waiting carriages. The salute was still booming out from the fortress above them as they emerged into the grey spring afternoon. Ruprecht wished he'd remembered to bring an overcoat; he'd forgotten it was likely to be cold and damp in the Central Plains at this time of year.

The reception was as tedious as these events usually were. But it was impressive to witness the aplomb with which his youngest brother dealt with his situation in life: smiling around and talking to all degrees and ages of people with humour and confidence, and he was not yet sixteen. Ruprecht concluded with a touch of humility that Felix was far better at the job of being a prince as a teenager than he ever could have been at any age. Gilles had receded into the background but he too seemed quite at ease in the princely castle that loomed up over the humble inn where he had been a potboy only six months before. He was chatting in a friendly fashion to some young courtiers, his Francien background no doubt assisting.

Joerg had been given permission to take rooms at the Auberge aux Falaises below rather than have to put up with accommodation in the ducal château immediately above it. He had work to do, he said, and the Parmentier family was used to the eccentricities of scholars. Gilles would join him there as soon as the day's events were over and stay at the inn for the duration. Ruprecht however had to remain with his brother in the château, though he intended to walk down with the boy, if just to see Joerg.

'You are Monsieur le Comte d'Aalst-Blauwhaven, is that so?' a female voice asked behind him.

Ruprecht turned to find a middle-aged lady had approached. He bowed low, for his interrogator was clearly a woman of high degree; she was accompanied by two gentlemen of honour and a lady-in-waiting. He took a guess and saluted her as 'Your Imperial Highness.'

'You recognise me, young man? I don't believe we have met.'

'It is the Duchess of Vieldomaine who is addressing me, I believe.'

She inclined her head in acknowledgment. 'My dear Comte, I have been asked by my husband to make some preliminary enquiries as to your younger brother's standing. You understand me?'


'I would have preferred to have begun negotiations with your dear grandmother, such an old friend, but you are here and she is not.'

'Ah, of course, I see.'

'The boy will be sixteen in a few months, I understand. My younger daughter, the Princess Eloise, is about to become fifteen. We wish your grandmother to consider the possibility of a betrothal between the two. Are there any other such offers being considered at the moment?'

'None at all, ma'am, as far as I know. I shall convey your offer to the Princess Regent. Could I express my family's sensibility of the honour you are considering bestowing on us?'

The great lady gave a little nod to acknowledge her dynastic condescension, then continued. 'I have also been asked by a very good friend, the Marquise de Montaigue, to make some enquiries about His Serene and Most Excellent Highness's equerry. He is a Von Aalst, I believe; is he a kinsman of your ancient house?'

'He's my ward and the adopted heir of the seigneurie of Blauwhaven, ma'am.'

'Indeed? His fine air and his looks are drawing much attention from the assembly, and it happens the Madame Marquise has several daughters. Were you looking to marry the boy off the marriage settlement from the Montaigues would be very generous, I believe. There are no male heirs to the present marquis.'

Ruprecht expressed his thanks with all possible courtesy, and bowed the great lady on her way, wondering how much amusement he would be able to draw from the boys' horror when they learned of the plans being made for their futures.

The state dinner over, Gilles and Felix made their farewell to each other, the first time they had been separated in six months. Their mutual unhappiness was very touching.

'Come on, Gillot. It's only a few days, and your family is waiting for you,' Ruprecht eventually said.

'Go, Gillot,' Felix sighed. 'Just don't look at any other boys while you're gone.'

Gilles went to his knee, took Felix's hand and kissed his fingers. 'There is only one sovereign of my heart, Your Serene and Most Beloved Highness.' The boy said the words which such earnestness and dignity that they defied pomposity, and caused Ruprecht's eyes to smart. What was wrong with him that such a cynic as he could be was so moved by someone who was little more than a child? But he could not find it in himself to mock such naivety, as once perhaps he would have.

The pair walked down through the castle courtyards in silence, each wrapped up in their thoughts. Gilles had dressed down for the reunion with his parents, after consulting Ruprecht, and was just in shirt, check trousers and waistcoat, a proletarian red kerchief around his neck. The guards at the main gate in fact gave the boy a sidelong look as they left, as if to suggest he should be leaving by the kitchen gate.

They walked the lamplit streets back along the castle cliff and soon came in sight of the auberge. Gilles stopped them.

'Rupe, can I go on alone?'

'Certainly, Gillot. I'll give you some minutes. I'll just sit on the bench.'

'Thanks. Can I say …?'

'You don't need to, dear Gillot. I think I know what you have on your mind.'

The boy hugged him, whispering in his ear. 'Mon père et mon frère.' Then he walked back through the doors and into his mother's arms.

Before he was ready to enter, Joerg came out to Ruprecht. It seemed that for all his body shyness and sexual hesitancy the little doctor was conceiving a passion for Ruprecht. He even appeared on the verge of kissing his lover before remembering they were on a public street. Instead he sat and gave Ruprecht's hand a brief squeeze.

'Are you comfortable here, little one?' Ruprecht inquired.

'Far more so than I would have been up in the château, I think. How's the Kreech?'

'In his element. Mind you, his self-satisfaction won't last. The Duke of Vieldomaine has him in mind for his younger daughter's husband.'

'What! Oh God. Poor fellow. Still, the question was going to arise, and dynastic negotiations usually begin round about his present age. How are you going to handle it?'

'Me? It's Grossmutta's province. She'll know what to do, and knowing her she'll not force the Kreech into any such match without his free consent. She was pressured to match me up to several Bernician noble girls whose parents thought the future Lehensherr of Blauwhaven a fine prospect, and a Graf too. But she knew the way my affections went even then. That's just one of the many reasons I love her.'

'But here's a thing. It must be known in diplomatic circles that Felix is afflicted by the consumption. Doesn't that make him less attractive as a prospect?'

'In one sense yes, but in the pragmatic way that princely dynasties arrange matters, no. If he managed to father a male child on her before the disease finally kills him, Princess Eloise would become Regent of Ostberg on Felix's death and a sizeable and extremely wealthy chunk of the Confederacy would pass into the hands of the Imperial House, of which Vieldomaine is a cadet branch. I'd imagine that the chances and dividends are such that Felix would be offered quite a handsome marriage settlement to agree to the match. Maybe to the extent that the poor boy will come under pressure from great people other than Grossmutta to take up the option. But the Protector would be very much against it, I would guess, which would be the Kreech's trump card if it came to the crunch.'

'I knew there was a downside to being noble and princely, so thank you for confirming it, Rupe.'

'While all this is going on, I take it you're making plans for our digging campaign in Vieldomaine. What're your thoughts?'

'Ah well, I'd like it if you can get me access to the château. I realise we'll never be able to dig there, which is a shame. It's far and away the most likely site for any Kholnai base. But if I can at least make a visual inspection it will be a help. I managed to find some plans of the early castle, and I have an approximate idea where the ancient chapel might have been, the one with Guillaume le Rou's supposed footprint pressed into the rock. If I find English blue ware in the soil there, it may tell us something.'

'That should be fine. The castle librarian is an old friend and will get us access wherever you think would be significant. But what about the rest of our time here, once the Kreech is free of the ceremonial?'

'Holy Week will get in the way of things, at least until the Supper of the Betrayal and First Mass Sunday. There are one or two known ancient sites that might well be worth a look. I've made enquiries from a correspondent at the university about local legends and finds. He said he'd have a list for me by tomorrow.'

'Excellent. Then I'll just take this week as a holiday. I'll be down daily, but I have to attend dinner up on the hill, you understand. Erwin will look after you.'

Joerg snorted. 'I have difficulty meeting his eye.'

'Still embarrassed?'

'Traumatised for life, Rupe.'

'Well, well, take it from me you looked totally erotic when it happened. Now I'd better go in and say hello to my friends, the Parmentiers, and drink some of Alphonse's rather fine red wine.'

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