Call me Eild

by c m

Chapter 3

The next few days were some of the happiest of my life. Mikka came to my bed every night and we made love seemingly endlessly. What I had said to Tibor in answer to his question before I left for the negotiations had been true; Mikka and I were taking our time. I knew that he was afraid that it would hurt too much if I entered him, so I hadn't. We'd been happy to use our mouths and our hands on each other, and we loved just holding one another and kissing.

Over the five days, however, Mikka indicated that he would like to be able to have me inside him, so I began to use a finger on him, inserting it into him gently and with plenty of assistance. I told him that it might be a few days before he was ready - and that I was happy to wait. I also asked him if he would like to enter me.

'I would love that, Eild, but I thought unless I could provide the same for you that perhaps I shouldn't ask.'

I ruffled his hair.

'You should always ask for what you want. And I certainly want it.'

And that was the truth. I hadn't been fucked since that night with Tibor and while I'm no bottom boy, I like the feeling of a cock inside me from time to time.

Mikka was delightfully innocent about these things; his only experience of penetration had been with Tibor - and then he had been solely on the receiving end.

It turned out to be a most enjoyable voyage of discovery for both of us. Mikka's squeaks of pleasure as he pushed inside me turned to grunts of effort as he shed his inhibitions and became a thoroughly enthusiastic lover. When I climbed on top and rode him, he used hi hand to bring me to climaxes that left him with my seed in his hair and all over his face. He didn't care. And he saw how much I enjoyed it - and that made him want me inside him even more. So on the fifth day, having got him used to having two fingers inside him, we tried again. This time, although he was still very tight, I eventually ended up buried to the root in him. We took things very gently, and slowly I could see his features relax as the pain turned to pleasure.

'Oh feels so good. I'm so pleased we've done this. Thank you for so being so patient and so gentle.'

It was, perhaps, the slowest sex I have ever had - but it was also the most sensuous, and when I finally hit my climax it was with a shuddering pleasure. It reminded me of my first time with Brygg.

Afterwards Mikka just lay in my arms, kissing me and telling me he loved me. I wondered why I found it hard to say the same thing back to him. I adored him and I enjoyed his company as both a friend and a lover - but I'm not sure I felt love and I didn't know why.

During the day, if I was sitting and reading, he would sometimes just come and cuddle up beside me, or tell me to put the book down, get me to turn over, and give me a wonderful back massage. My cares and worries seemed to slip away under the touch of his fingers, and I usually ended up asleep. But all good things have to come to an end, and after five days I had a summons back to the palace.

Once again I was shown into Tibor's private apartments. he stood up, walked over to me and embraced me.

'You are looking very relaxed. That is good. You have enjoyed your break?'

'Thank you, yes. Very much.'

'And Mikka?'

'He is irreplaceable - in many ways.'

I saw Tibor smile.

'Ah I understand.'

I looked at him and saw his eyes dancing with pleasure.

'There are no secrets from you.'

'Not many, certainly. And I am pleased. You deserve each other. Now, to business.'

He led me over to a table where we sat facing each other.

'I have been thinking long and hard about what you said. I cannot believe that Joran would have done this - and I certainly do not want to believe so is a possibility, I have to admit. I have been considering how best to proceed. This is not easy, Eild. If he is indeed guilty, then his life will be forfeit - there can be no other sentence. And he is my friend.' He paused. 'But then so are you.'

He got up and went and stood looking out of the window.

'And once...that is 'if'...he is accused, then whether he is found guilty or not, there will only be enmity between the two of you. So understand, unless I find compelling evidence that he is behind what happened, then I will not have him charged. Can you accept that?'

'And if he were to try again?'

'Then that would be investigated in the same way.'

I thought about it. It was consistent and reasonable; I knew that, if possible, he wanted both of us to continue to serve him. I knew that if he had to order Joran executed, it would be the hardest thing he had ever had to do.

'I accept that. But how do you intend to investigate?'

'I will get him out of the city and have his apartment searched. There may be nothing to find - or there may be nothing left to find or perhaps we will find something. I am actively trying to find out where the assassins came from - and I know that Tyccho is trying too. I have also taken Barat, my spymaster who you know, into my confidence and he has his Thousand Ears listening. To be honest, Eild, I hope that you are wrong - but I also want to know who is responsible. I promise that, whoever it turns out to be, they will pay.

Now, to more pleasant things. It has been arranged that Tyccho and a deputation will come to the palace for the formal signing of our treaty in thirty days from today. I understand, as well, that he will be bringing his son Rollo who has asked to be the first to come and live here under the terms of the treaty that deal with boys of his sexual persuasion. I know that it is earlier than the boy actually needs to make this decision, but apparently he is keen to do so and Tyccho believes that it will help create the right atmosphere between our two nations. He also tells me that you offered to take him into your own household. Is that correct?'

'Yes - if that pleases you.'

'It will set an excellent example. There will be a formal dinner and you will need to make the speech of welcome. I don't imagine that that will tax you too hard?'

'I will be pleased to do it.'

'Good. In the meantime, I would like you to work closely with Barat. I want you to take over from him. Ambassadors I can find, but spymasters are more difficult and he will soon be coming to the age of retirement. In truth, Barat is the most important man in the security of the kingdom. Soldiers can fight and diplomats can argue - but he and his network can usually stop either of those becoming a necessity. He likes you and he trusts you as I do. But you cannot have Mikka working with you in this role. You understand?'

'Yes, of course.'

'And that will be alright?'

'He will do as I bid him, Tibor.'

I saw him look at me, long and hard.

'Very well. There is steel in you Eild. That is good. Now you must excuse me, I have a thoroughly boring Council meeting to attend. We will talk again soon. And I should like both you and Mikka to dine with me soon.'

'That will be a pleasure - we will look forward to it.'

As I walked back to my apartments, it crossed my mind that, while I had no doubt that Tibor genuinely wanted me to take over as his spymaster - and there was nothing that I wanted more - it would create a convenient opening for a new ambassador - so maybe Joran would get his wish. If so, it was a very neat solution from Tibor's point of view. It also made me wonder whether I should pursue my belief that Joran was behind the attempt on my life.

I discussed it with Mikka that night as we lay in bed together that night. I told him of my new job and apologised for the fact that he could not be a part of it - at least not yet. He was understanding.

'That's OK, Eild. And I know how much this opportunity means to you. As for Joran, I think you need to get to the bottom of things. If it WAS him, then who knows but he will not make another attempt. And I couldn't bear to lose you.'

He rolled over and kissed me. I sighed.

'You're right. Oh well, let's see how the search of his apartment goes and whether it turns anything up.'

I felt his hand slide down between my legs.

'Don't start anything you can't finish.'

'Oh, I'm going to finish it alright.'

His head disappeared under the covers and I felt him take me in his mouth. And he finished things spectacularly.

He really was very talented.

The search of Joran's apartment didn't take long. It was spartan almost to the point of asceticism. Apart from a very rich assortment of clothes, the rest of his possessions consisted of the simplest of necessities. There were half a dozen books on a shelf by his desk, and the desk itself contained nothing out of the ordinary. I idly looked at the book titles to see what his taste in literature ran to. There was a book on military tactics and another on physical training. Beside those was a biography of a well-known general of earlier times and a dictionary. The other two titles were more surprising; there was a book of poetry and another very thick volume of philosophy. He apparently had wider tastes than I had given him credit for.

His bedroom was that of a soldier; the bed itself neatly made with a simple bedside table. The drawings on the walls were rather more eye-opening, consisting of nudes, both male and female; most of them were engaged in sexual acts of one kind or another.

In his closet, alongside the extensive range of clothing, were items which suggested that his sexual tastes were somewhat less vanilla than I had thought on the basis of the one night we had spent together. I was grateful that we had been in an inn rather than back here. It appeared that he would have been even more dominant than he had been with me. I reckoned I had had a lucky escape.

But what there wasn't was anything that connected him to an attack on me. Perhaps I'd been wrong.

I told Tibor what we'd found - or rather hadn't - and I could see he was relieved. I also mentioned the surprising literature choices I'd seen. A frown crossed Tibor's face.

'The poetry I understand. He has always enjoyed that man's work - right from our school days together. But the philosophy is...odd. He is not only not interested in philosophy, he positively despises the thinking that that particular work sets out.'

I groaned.

'What's the matter, Eild, are you unwell?'

'No, Tibor but I may have been very stupid. There is a way of encoding messages that uses a book as a cipher. Both parties need to have the same book and the code works by finding the word you want to encrypt in the book and then changing it to a code that identifies the page, paragraph, line and then the word itself. The bigger the book, the better...unless you choose a book that looks out of place, or that doesn't belong. If - and it's still a big if - that's what Joran has been doing, we would expect to find the exact same book - in fact the same edition of the same book - in the house of whoever he was exchanging messages with. '

I saw Tibor slump in his chair.

'I hope you are wrong, Eild. I hope that there is another explanation. But this isn't over yet, is it?'

I shook my head, and then went over and put an arm around him.

'And we may never know, Tibor. Unless we can discover who and where the would-be assassins came from, then all this is is an oddity and not a plot. Let's see if Tyccho and his investigators come up with anything.'

He nodded.

'Eild, have you seen or spoken to Joran since your return from the negotiations?'

'No. I have had no cause to do so professionally - and at a personal level, as you may imagine, whilst things are not exactly frosty, we are hardly best friends.'

'Of course; I understand that. But tell me, Eild, if all of this proves to come to nothing, are you able to work alongside him again if I require it?'

It was a fair question - and one that had crossed my mind.

'If I can be sure that he had nothing to do with the attempt on my life, I will make sure that we have a good working relationship. I give you my word on that.'

'Good. That is all I ask.'

The next few weeks were a blur of activity. Working alongside Barat as his successor rather than as someone required to prove myself to him was an engaging, challenging and utterly absorbing task. I also worked stupid hours as is my wont when something fascinates me. Combined with the preparations for Tyccho's upcoming visit, there were hardly enough hours in the day.

The side-effect was that I was exhausted most days and my relationship with Mikka suffered. I was short-tempered and snapped at him when aspects of household management weren't perfect - even when I knew deep down inside that they weren't his fault. All I wanted to do at night was to sleep - and I knew that he found my rejection when he wanted to come into my bed hard to understand. On the one occasion when I relented, I treated him as little more than a sexual plaything, and ended up hurting him - and I was disgusted with myself in the morning. The worst part was seeing the hurt in his eyes over the next few days. I vowed that I would make it up to him.

As I discovered the depth and breadth of Barat's network of spies and informers, I was impressed. Barat himself could not have been more helpful.

'Eild, I know that you are not of our nation, but I have never worked with a man who has a mind like yours. It at once intelligent and devious.' He smiled. 'You remind me of me. And you can see and make connections that even I do not. I am impressed. But more than that, I can see that you both love and respect king Tibor as do I. That gives me confidence.'

He paused as a fit of coughing racked his body.

'Damned cough.'

He paused to take a drink of water.

'Modesty aside, Eild, I am regarded a spymaster to be reckoned with, but you will surpass me. And you will need to. As Tibor's power and influence increase, he will also attract more envy and more enemies. You and your network will stand between him and disaster - for him personally and for our nation. I will teach you everything I know and you must ask anything you want. You also need to be aware that you will yourself be the target of jealousy, suspicion and plot. The attempt on your life as ambassador will be as nothing compared to what is to come. But I have been working hard to discover the truth about that attempt. I know what your suspicions are - and for what it is worth I think you are right. I have nothing definite yet, but if I were to describe myself as a spider sitting at the centre of a web, then I am sensing vibrations along some of the strands of that web. Come, let me share them with you.'

What he had to tell was interesting but, as he had indicated, inconclusive. The most interesting observation was that he tended to think that my attempted assassins were more like hired thugs than professionals. He thought that their attempt was clumsy - despite the fact that the odds against them were greater than they had anticipated; which, as he said, suggested that they had not thought things through as carefully as they should have done. More interestingly, he said that he thought that this also betrayed quite a lot about the person who had hired them; it felt more like the work of someone who lacked imagination that that of a more thoughtful mind. I tended to agree.

Alongside the hours I spent with Barat, I also spent time thinking about the speech I would give when Tyccho and his delegation arrived for the signing of the treaty. I also had to work out what to do with Rollo; in my previous job it would have been easy to find a role for him, but things were different now; if Mikka could not work with me then Rollo certainly couldn't. The conjunction of their names in my head did give me an idea, however. Perhaps Rollo and Mikka could work together under my general authority.

And I needed to put things right with Mikka as well. I was genuinely very fond of him - and he had taken on much of the administration of my previous role while I was busy spending my time with Barat. And he had done the work both accurately and quickly. I sought him out late one afternoon.

'Mikka, could you spare me a few minutes?'

Where once there would have been a smile and an eager response, now all I got was a nod and a quiet 'Of course, Eild.'

I led him into my study and shut the door, then I went over to him and put an arm around his shoulder. I felt him flinch. I turned him to face me and put a hand on each of his shoulders.

'I am so sorry, Mikka. I have treated you not only unfairly but badly this past month. My tiredness is no excuse. Please forgive me?'

He looked up at me and held me with his gaze.

'I've been so unhappy, Eild. I know that being my master as well as my lover is not easy for you - but it is not easy for me either. You know I love you and would do anything for you. And that time in hurt me, Eild. You hurt me more than I can say - not just physically felt like you hated me. And you've not said more than a few words to me for weeks. Of course I forgive you - I can forgive you anything - but please either tell me it is going to be different or else release me to work somewhere else where I will not be reminded of you every minute of every day.'

He started crying and I have never felt so ashamed of myself. This beautiful boy who was bright, intelligent and hard-working wanted only my love and kindness in exchange. And he more than deserved it. And I had withheld it. I pulled him to me and ran my hand up the back of his neck into his hair, then I lifted his face with my other hand and wiped away the tears with my thumb.

'I'm so, so sorry,' I whispered, 'I promise I will never, ever treat you like that again.'

'Kiss me, Eild.'

And we did. Gently at first and then with increasing passion. It was the first time in a long while that I had held him with desire in my heart. My loins have always seemed to have a mind of their own and, pressed tightly together as we were, Mikka could scarcely miss the effect that his kisses were having on me.

Despite himself, I heard him giggle. 'Umm...have you finished work for the day, Eild?'


'Would you like a... massage?'

'Would that involve me taking my clothes off?'

He'd sucked his bottom lip in, and now he raised his eyebrows and nodded. It was so sexy.

'And would you need to take yours off as well?'

'Oh I think so. I wouldn't want to get the oil all over them.'

'Come on, then.'

I took him by the hand and we ran through the house to my bedroom. Thank heavens none of the servants saw us. Once there, our clothes were discarded in seconds and we were underneath the rugs on my bed holding each other close.

I let Mikka take charge of what followed and I realised just how much I had missed him. I promised myself that I would never let myself get back into the state that had led me to treat him the way I had. Our lovemaking was lengthy, athletic and satisfying. We ended up lying exhausted and somewhat sticky beside one another. Mikka put his head on my shoulder and ran his fingers over my chest and stomach.

'Did you realise that you called out 'Brygg' one of the times you came?'

'Did I? I'm so sorry he was my...'

'Cousin. Yes, I know. Tibor told me. Tell me about him.'

'He was a lot like you, Mikka. he had your blue eyes and your blond hair. And he was bright like you. We were born a week apart. His father was my father's brother. His family lived about an hour's journey from us, so although we didn't exactly grow up together, we spent a lot of the holidays together and we would visit each other at weekends. When one of us stayed over with the other we shared a bed from the age of about six. Temperamentally we were almost opposites; he was cautious where I was adventurous; he was studious where I just wanted to explore and play games. But that somehow seemed to work - a part of our personalities rubbed off on one another; I discovered a love of books and science and he became a fine sportsman and lost some of his inhibitions. The really funny thing was that at first I was the one who didn't care about being naked and he was a little shy, yet when we both hit puberty, he was the one who initiated our experimentation with each other. And he was the one who moved it on each time.'

'How old were you the first time you...experimented?'

'Actually I suppose it was before puberty. Maybe at ten we both touched each other's erections - such as they were. We were having oral sex with each other at twelve and he asked me to fuck him at thirteen. By the time we were fourteen, we both knew that this wasn't experimentation. And we knew what that meant. We spent the summer of our sixteenth year doing a walking trip together. We spent four weeks all on our own, camping out or staying in hostels. The best nights were the ones when we it was warm enough for us to lay naked with each other in the open air, lying on a blanket and looking up at the stars. We skinny-dipped in lakes and made love whenever and wherever we felt like it. And when we got home we told our parents about our feelings for each other.'

'How did that go?'

'Oh they weren't in any way judgemental about our love for each other, but they were distraught at the idea that we would become Dog Soldiers. The life expectancy of a Dog Soldier is very poor.'

'But Brygg didn't become a Dog Soldier did he?'

'No, Mikka. After we'd got home that summer and told our parents, Brygg became...withdrawn. We still saw each other and we were still very much in love, but I could tell that something was wrong. And that's when he told me. About the choice he wanted to make. And know the rest.'

'Are you still in love with him, Eild?'

'What?' My head snapped up to look down at him.

'Are you still in love with him? Is that why you called his name?'

I looked at Mikka in astonishment. 'Don't be stupid. He's dead. How could I still be....'

And then the realisation struck me like a hammer in my chest. I started to feel myself shake.

'Eild, it's alright Eild. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have said anything.'

My shaking was getting worse, and it seemed hard to breathe, but I forced the words out,

'No're right...I haven't let him go...I can't let him go...I loved him so much. So much.'

I felt Mikka put his arms round me. Slowly the shaking stopped and my breathing returned to normal.

'I know that I can't replace him, Eild, but I do love you.'

'I know you do, and thank you. I don't deserve it. I don't deserve you, Mikka.'

'You need time, Eild. But I will always be here for you whenever you want me or need me.'

'I need you now, Mikka. Please stay with me.'

'Of course, Eild.'

And he cuddled up close to me, kissed me gently on the lips, just once, and started to stroke my hair. The combination of physical and emotional exhaustion meant that I fell asleep almost instantly.

When I woke up it was to the smell of food. Mikka was standing by the bed.

'I've brought something for you to eat Eild - unless you'd rather bathe first.'

'Let's eat...then perhaps you could scrub my back for me in the bath.'

Mikka smiled. 'That would be my pleasure.'

I pulled on a simple white robe and went over to the table where two bowls of spicy stew sat. It was excellent, and I felt somewhat restored afterwards. I felt even better after the bath that followed - and the massage that followed that.

'Would you stay with me again tonight, Mikka?'

'If that's what you would like, Eild.'

'Yes, I'd like that very much.'

'Then I'd like it too.'

That night, the warmth and softness of his skin beside me reminded me again of Brygg. And I knew that Mikka was right; I still hadn't got over my cousin. But knowing it somehow seemed to make it much more manageable, and, as I lay there with Mikka sleeping peacefully beside me, I remembered Brygg's words to me, words that I'd buried for so long:

'I know that there will always be a place for me in your heart, Eild, but don't let me fill it completely once I'm gone. Bring your love and your light into the life of another. You will survive your time as a Dog Soldier - I know it; make someone else as happy as you've made me - but above all be happy yourself.'

'I will, Brygg,' I whispered, and then I put my arm over the sleeping form beside me, 'And thank you Mikka.'

Putting things right with Mikka seemed to lift a weight from my shoulders that I hadn't been aware was there. And the realisation that I wasn't over Brygg also explained why I had found it so difficult to say 'I love you' to Mikka. That problem hadn't gone away, or at least not yet, but recognising it meant that it was one less thing that confused me. Which was good - because I needed all the clarity and focus I could muster as I delved ever deeper into Barat's world.

The upcoming treaty-signing was also drawing ever closer, and I still had to work out what to do with Rollo. I decided to talk to Tibor about it.

'Good to see you Eild; you're looking a lot happier these days.'

'I'm enjoying the new job and I've put things right with Mikka; we had a bit of a hiccup that was entirely my fault - but then you probably know that.'

He just smiled.

'So to what do I owe the pleasure of your company today?'

'I wanted to talk to you about Rollo.'

'Ah yes. I've had an idea about that.'


'Hmm, yes. I hope you will approve. Whilst I am in no hurry to appoint a new ambassador, there is a great deal of important work for the foreign affairs team to work on. They are very experienced but I think a little...fresh blood...might help. You tell me, and I have heard the same from other quarters, that Mikka seems to be an intelligent and hard-working young man. And he has some experience of the work of the department through working alongside you these past six months. Whilst he is not yet ready to run that team, I wonder if you might feel that he would be capable of taking a role within it? And if so, then Rollo could work as his aide. It would be a good way for him to get to learn about how we do things as a nation, and it would be a useful extra source of information for the team. As a department, they also need to work closely with Barat - which means, very shortly, with you. I think you and Mikka make a good team, and while I cannot have him on the same intelligence team at the moment, to be in a department working closely with you would, I think, make the wheels run smoothly. What do you think?'

'I think it sounds perfect; I'm sure Mikka will be pleased with the new responsibility and you're right about it being a good place for Rollo to learn.'

'Good. Do you want to tell him, or me?'

'I'd be happy to - but I think he'd like to hear it from you. And an appointment from the king will carry more perceived...weight...with the foreign affairs team I think.'

'You're right. Perhaps you could tell him I'd like to see him tomorrow at, say, ten o'clock?'

I asked Mikka to join me for dinner that evening and passed on the news.

'What does he want to see me for?'

'Probably just wants to spend a few minutes with a beautiful boy.'

'You mean he wants to sleep with me?'

'No, that's not what I meant - though he probably would if you offered. I meant that Tibor likes beautiful things and he hasn't seen you for a while. '

He looked at me with those piercing eyes.

'You're just teasing me. I know you. And you know jolly well why he wants to see me, don't you?'

'I couldn't possibly say,' I replied.

'I hate you sometimes.'

I just stuck my tongue out at him.

When he returned, he was, almost literally, jumping for joy.

'It's brilliant,' he said, 'I really like working on all that stuff and if it means working - even indirectly - with you then that's even better. And I hear I'm to get an assistant.'

'Sounds like it.'

'The king told me a bit about him. He's quite young isn't he?'

'Yes, but he's bright - like you. I think you'll get along just fine. Just try not to drool over him in the office.'

'Why? Is he good-looking?'

'Very. But there a lot of reasons why this is both a good development and an important one. You are both foreigners - like me - but this sends a message. You are both here notionally somewhat against your will; you as a hostage and Rollo as boy escaping persecution, but both finding a freedom that you probably wouldn't have had at home. That sends a message too. Peace is not built on treaties but on the fact that nations no longer desire conflict. Finding mutually beneficial opportunities is an integral part of that. To that extent you are - or will become - role models. But the most important reason that you have been appointed to this role is because you deserve it. '

I saw him flush with pleasure.

'And where will Rollo sleep?'

I raised my eyebrows.

'NO...I don't mean it like that, I meant where will his living quarters be?'

'Here, with us. He will have one of the other bedrooms. And while you 'may not have meant it that way', it is true that he has the same sexual preferences as you and I. And if you two find yourselves drawn to each other, well, that would be fine, but be careful.'

'And what if YOU two find yourselves drawn to each other?'

'I think that's unlikely - if it does then we'll have to deal with it. But I'm not into seducing sixteen year old boys.'

'No, just seventeen year old ones,' he smirked.

'You know very well that you were every bit as keen to go to bed with me as I was with you.'

He held up his hands and smiled.

'Guilty as charged. Ummm...any chance of finding out if I'm still attracted to you tonight?'

'You're incorrigible. And yes please.' I grinned.

'Goody.' He paused. 'Umm, is there any progress on the attack on you?'

'No. Barat is still working hard on it and so is Tyccho from his end. What we really need to know is who they were and where they came from, but we've got nothing significant on that score yet.'

But that changed the following day. Both Barat and I were summoned to see Tibor. When we arrived he was holding a piece of parchment.

'Ah, come in both of you. A rider arrived from Tyccho this morning. They have performed an autopsy on the bodies of your attackers. Two of the bodies bore the same, small tattooed mark. It was covered by the hair in their armpits. None of Tyccho's team had seen it before - and it may or may not be significant - but it looked like this.'

He unfolded the paper and showed us a shape that looked like a double-ended anchor.

'The actual tattoo was only about half an inch in size. Does it mean anything to you, Barat?'

'Not instantly, but I will need to go and check. And my instinct, given that the marks appear to have been designed to be hidden, is that they are important. Have you seen anything like this Eild?'

I shook my head. 'No. It's nothing I recognise from the culture of my people. But I am hardly an expert on that.'

'Very well,' said Tibor, 'let me know if it leads you anywhere.'

Barat and I returned to his studio. It was, in fact, a complex of several rooms linked together, virtually filled with papers and reference books, charts and diagrams and all the paraphernalia of a man who had been running his country's secret service for more than forty years. He had served both Tibor's father and, briefly, his grandfather. But most important were his notebooks, going back over his whole career. It was these that he and I were chiefly working through in our time together. They provided a fascinating insight into Barat's mind and methods, and I knew that they would be critical in the early years of taking over his job until I had developed my own methods of working - and my own notebooks.

But it was not to these that we turned. Instead, he took me through to his reference room and selected two volumes from a shelf. He took one and gave the other to me.

'If this symbol is known to us, it will be in here - somewhere. I'm afraid that there are no short-cuts to this.'

The books were filled with hand-drawn symbols, marks and images. The book was divided into sections by type and I noticed that there were cross-references between some of the images. It had been constructed in a loose-leaf fashion, meaning that new pages could be added as necessary.

'How old is this?' I asked.

'Well, as I'm sure you've noticed, it is still a work in progress; it is continually updated and added to, but the oldest parts go back more than a hundred years.'

Three hours later, we'd both drawn a blank.

'So,' said Barat, 'what have we learned or what might we deduce?'

'How complete do you believe these books to be?'

'A good question. And the answer is 'very' fact I have never come across a mark that we could not identify, unless it is one that I have added myself.'

'Then my deduction would be that either this is extremely rare, or that it is recently created, or comes from a group that has only recently appeared in this part of the world.'

'Very good. I agree.'

'I am inclined to discount the last possibility; ethnically, the men were very similar to us. I also think the first is less likely; if these books go back a hundred years and may be reckoned as complete, then, rare though the mark may be, there is still a good likelihood that it would have turned up somewhere before. So we are left with a group that has only recently appeared. And that too tells us something, I think.'

'Go on.'

'If it has recently appeared, there is a distinct possibility that the group has been created in response to something new - or at least relatively recent. And whatever it is is something the group feels sufficiently strongly about to be prepared to kill for.' I paused. 'No, that's not necessarily right. It may just mean that they have a cause for which they are prepared to do other people's dirty work in exchange for funds that they can use to support their real cause.'

I saw Barat smile. 'I'm impressed. '

'But it's only guesswork - even if it is intelligent guesswork.'

'We rarely have all the facts in this game, Eild. We are tasked with joining the dots when usually many of the dots are missing. Being able to make intelligent guesses is at the heart of what we do. With all the facts and a modicum of experience, even a poor mind will be forced to the right conclusions. A mind like yours - and if I may be immodest, mine - is rare.' He sighed. 'Come, it's late. We will return to this tomorrow.'

I picked up my papers and headed towards the door.

'See you tomorrow, Barat.'

'Indeed. Sleep well.'

When I got back to my apartments, Mikka brought me a glass of cold wine and shortly afterwards announced that dinner was ready. The fresh fish that had been prepared was delicious. After dinner, I caught up with some of my personal mail, including a letter from my parents. I hadn't had a chance to catch up with them while on my official duties, but they told me how proud they were of what I was doing and how much they supported the new relationship that existed between our two nations, and how disturbed they had been when they had heard about the attempt on my life. I wrote them a reply promising that I would arrange for them to visit very soon if they would like to do so. That done, the prospect of cuddling up with Mikka in bed rapidly became too hard to ignore, and so I headed for bed. As I stripped, the piece of parchment with the design on fell from one of my pockets. I hadn't realised that I had picked it up. As I bent down to retrieve it, Mikka came into the room.

'What's that, Eild?'

I wondered if I should show it to him, but I couldn't think what harm it would do.

'It's a symbol - but not one that Barat recognises. I don't suppose that it means anything to you, does it.'

Mikka stared at it.

'I can't be sure, Eild, but yes, I'm sure that I've seen it before. Back before I was taken and brought here. '

I felt my skin prickle.

'Where did you see it, Mikka?'

He went silent, and then shook his head. 'I don't remember.'

'Please Mikka, think hard. It's important.'

'Why? What is it?'

I figured that if Mikka could help solve the mystery, then he needed to be brought into the picture.

'Mikka, what I am about to tell you is strictly confidential. Promise me that I can trust you.'

'With your life, Eild.'

'Good - because that may be exactly what I am about to do. And if this goes any further, then it is not my life that will be at risk, but yours.'

'You can trust me, Eild, I swear it.'

'Very well.'

'This mark was found tattooed on the bodies of two of the men who attacked me. We hope it will lead us to the truth about who they were and why they tried to murder me.'

'Oh my word.'

'Yes. So that is why it is so important that you remember.'

'Of course. Please, I need time to think.'

'Take all the time you need.'

'Eild, while this is on my mind, I'm not sure I can...'

'It's OK. I understand. I feel the same - and it's not like we won't have other nights.'

Mikka came over and kissed me.

'I'll let you know as soon as I've worked it out - if I work it out.'

'Sleep tight, Mikka.'

He flashed me a smile and headed back to his room. In truth I still wanted him very badly; but he needed the time and space - and I needed the answer he might hold.

…and I had a perfectly serviceable wrist.

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