Princely Love

by Flaulus

Chapter 17

By Saturday afternoon, Adrian knew he had a world-wide story that would run. It had everything, national politics, family drama and handsome, famous characters. Interviewing a couple of youngsters was tricky, so there were two camera teams. One filming the interviews and a fly-on-the-wall team filming the process. The star of the show was Timmy, proudly showing Adrian and the camera team around the studio.

"How come you know it so well?" Adrian asked.

"Dave needs to do presentations for his university application. We did some of it here. Do you want to see?"

Timmy didn't wait for an answer but pulled up a clip onto a screen, and the fly-on-the-wall team duly recorded it. Conrad and Jim stayed behind the cameras, sometimes chatting to the director.

"It's a bit weird for an interview, isn't it?" Conrad asked.

"Normally, we wouldn't interview them at all." The director replied, "It's sometimes difficult when adults get nervous but at their age they can get nervous and just clam up. In this case, we've got a couple of boys in the middle of the biggest story I've ever covered. Listen."

"You know I'm going to ask about those men who visited you." Adrian Chapman said, "Can you remember much about them?"

"Mine had dark hair, and his face was all crinkly. He looked really old." Steve replied, "He had a suit on but when social workers called after Dad left, they wore jeans. His card was all wrong too."

"What do you mean his card?"

"He gave me a card with his email address and phone number. Ever since Conrad came to our school, we've had lessons on security. His email ended .com and not .gov."

"My mum bashed him with a frying pan before he gave me a card." Timmy giggled, "He had blond hair, and I didn't like him because he stood over me pointing his finger. He said I'd get into a lot of trouble if I didn't say Conrad did things to me."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing. It's when Mum hit him."

"OK. Supposing I ask you what Conrad did to you?"

"You mean sex-stuff. He didn't do nothing. I helped Dave and Seb do the presentation then went home."

"Bingo." The director murmured just loud enough for Conrad to hear, "This is better than the real interview."

They listened as Steve interjected, "All we did was go shopping. He joked he was worried about forgetting to pay, but I reckon he was a bit scared doing it for the first time."

"OK! I reckon we can skip the formal interview and go with this. They know we're filming, but they're relaxed, and their replies are natural. We'll get a few complaints about Steve mentioning sex, but it'll be all to the good."

"The feature was broadcast that evening. It showed Adrian Chapman standing with the two boys. He had a microphone in his hand.

"We're going to show a conversation we had earlier. You've seen the tape, do you have any problems with it?"

"I shouldn't have mentioned Mum hitting him, should I? Could she get into trouble?" Timmy asked.

"He's got to come forward to complain." Adrian Chapman replied, "When he does, we'd love to speak to him."

King Constantine watched the interviews and other news for most of the day, deeply satisfied. For a few days, speculation about how degenerate Conrad spread through the papers even without any documents being released. Suddenly there was outrage that innocent teenagers could be used in such a cold calculating way. RNN found advertising withdrawn and donations tailing off. Jim's mother lost her job, and her family's firm had clients examining their involvement.

Unexpectedly, Richard Courtney found himself a posthumous hero who was overwhelmed by the task of dealing with the sex scandal. RNN had associated his death with Conrad, and the association stuck.

It was about ten days later, a Saturday, Conrad and Jim found themselves seated around a table with the king, the new prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

"For now, Conrad could declare an absolute monarchy, and have little opposition, and it's better for employees not to mention they work for the government in case they're linked to a high profile suspect." King Constantine said, "Opinion will calm down, but Conrad is now seen as a victim and not a villain. Do you remember the fuss when you highlighted slack police procedures? For now, if anyone is involved in this sex ring, everything is under intense scrutiny. The one thing we dare not have is anyone yelling cover-up."

"Allow me." Mr. Jameson, the prime minister, said, "I've come back in to clear up the mess in our party. You know about the Courtney-Fergusson plot, but because of your popularity, it's over. Anyone connected with RNN is tainted. As His Majesty has just said, the police have an unprecedented chance to go after people who normally think they're immune and arrests are starting. A good few MPs have suddenly decided it's time to retire due to ill-health and move abroad to sunnier climes. If most of the police are honest, then for the rest, it's become a lot riskier taking a bribe. There will be by-elections over the next months, and we'll get in a new batch of corrupt self-seekers but until public interest gets diverted to something new, we've got arguably the most honest government in history."

"Thank you for telling us, but that's not why we're here, is it?" Conrad said.

"No." Mr. Jameson said, "You once made a speech about not starting life as Crown Prince with a lie. It had an impact though RNN managed to dent your credibility some. However, you are now the honest face of government, and although the ammunition may have been slander and libel, you are also the general who stood fast and defeated your enemies, and right now, we need heroes."

"So you want me to become a government mouthpiece after all." Conrad said.

"That's why I'm here, lad." The Leader of the Opposition said, "We're pushing the government to reverse the cuts it's made. Health, Education and Welfare have all been targeted. The public mood is in our favour, but a General Election while the scandals are going on would be chaotic with members on both sides involved. Mr. Jameson will pull his party back from the extremist side so will support some reform."

"OK, I think I know where this is going now." Conrad said.

"I'd be disappointed if you didn't." King Constantine chuckled, "I don't think we can get you out of the public eye now, but we may manage a compromise. During the week, you go to school and stay with Mr. Poulson, but at weekends you stay at Elbourg and undertake royal duties. We're making it clear you're only available on weekends, and we'll also make it clear, we will not allow Conrad and Jim to do anything without the support of their friends, so I hope Billy and Sven are free. We've talked about you opening the odd hospital in the past, but we've dithered because you're still at school. Our embassy in Lisbon is having a reception next Saturday, and we want you to attend, that is His Royal Highness, Prince Conrad and Mr. James Poulson. Do you have any dates when you've made your own plans?"

"Jim's cousin is getting married." Conrad replied, "We finally got an invitation as a couple."

"A family event. Excellent. What's Sebastian Walker up to?"

Conrad chuckled, "He's had enough of being the responsible spokesman. He's become a host on a gay channel. It's a strictly under eighteen slot, before 9pm and all that, but he's getting more over the top with each show."

"I've heard him called the fairy princess though I suppose it's politically incorrect nowadays." Mr. Jameson said.

"Seb doesn't mind." Conrad said, "It's amazing seeing him on that show then seeing him at school the next day, all straight and macho. He's got some boyfriends, as well."

"Some boyfriends? I'm not going to ask, but he's not a suitable spokesman any more, is he?"

"He's the first to say it. There's no problem because he's training Billy."

It was the day of Jim's cousin, Georgina's wedding. Other guests were bemused by TV cameras and photographers filming as Jim and Conrad arrived at the church. After the service, the media managed shots of Conrad in the happy crowd as the married couple set off. It was enough for a thirty-second slot on TV, and a good spread on society pages.

Although gratified by the damage to the Bandon family, most, including Grandfather Poulson, avoided Jim and Conrad.

"I saw the press outside, Conrad." Grandmother Poulson said, "You must be trying to avoid more gossip, so I'm sure Jim could stay clear."

"The gossip is more likely to start if Jim and I seemed to be drifting apart." Conrad smiled.

"Well at least you don't have those other hangers-on today."

"Who? Billy and Sven? They're in France with Jean-Paul. It's one of his niece's birthday."

"They've gone off with a strange man. That sounds about right."

"He's not that strange. He's the French ambassador."

Grandmother Poulson had a strange, fixed grin as she walked away.

"I thought I was the black sheep." A boy about sixteen said, "You sure do it in style."

"Hi, Liam. Are you out on parole?" Jim asked.

"Licence, but there're all sorts of terms and conditions. I asked for leave because of Georgina's wedding. I said I wanted to meet my cousin's boyfriend and everyone got a bit odd when I gave the details. Don't worry, I'll just look at cars. I won't hot-wire any and spoil her day."

"OK! Your Royal Highness, I'd like to introduce my black sheep cousin, Liam Poulson. Liam, Prince Conrad."

"Should I curtsey now?" Liam asked.

"Not unless you want to add 'poofter' to your credentials." Conrad laughed, "Hi, Liam."

"Hi," Liam grinned, "I'm not supposed to talk to my cousins, so I'd better go."

"Why? We're not supposed to corrupt them either."

"I only came to get out for a few days. Why did you?" Liam asked.

"Come with us, and we'll show you." Conrad said.

They strolled out of the hotel foyer to see a row of cameras and behind them some spectators.

With a 'Come on' Conrad headed on past the cameras to the barriers holding back the spectators, mainly girls.

"Hello," Conrad said, "Who have you come to see?"

As the girl shrieked in ecstasy, Conrad thought he heard, 'You'.

"That's nice." Conrad said, as he moved along the barrier shaking hands, and signing autographs.

"It's a photo-shoot." Jim explained, "It's Conrad's job to be seen, so I stay back until he's ready."

Liam nodded as Conrad waved them forward.

"Can we get me and my friends in a selfie with this girl and her friends?" he asked.

They got the picture, shared to Jim's phone, before they strolled back to the wedding.

"That was weird." Liam said, "Do you do that all the time?"

"Not all the time." Jim said, "You can stay and chat to them if you like."

"Nah! I'm OK. We'd better say hallo to Georgina."

Georgina glared at the trio. Queers bringing the country down and criminals besmirching her day, but her husband burst out laughing as he shook their hands.

"You're my favourite guests," he said, "I hope you're plotting something spectacular."

"No. It's your day, we'll try to stay out of trouble." Conrad said, "Jim and I will dance the first dance, but that's it."

"A pity. Liam, will your partner get tongues wagging?"

"No. I didn't come with anyone. I'm supposed to hide behind a pillar or something."

"How about it, Georgina. How about a spot of matchmaking?"

"Certainly not. Come along, Matthew." Georgina said, "We have guests who won't embarrass us to greet."

"Why did a guy like that marry such a snooty cow?" Liam asked.

"If it's like my family, they compared breeding lineages and decided they'd produce a super snooty brat." Conrad replied, "I'm surprised Matt agreed though. He's a nice chap."

"It's not what I hear." Jim said, "He wants some sort of merger with the family firm, and what Matt wants, Matt gets. I'm off."

"Where to?" Liam asked, "We'll stick it until the bride and groom leave then we can go to my room."

"You can come back with us, if you like." Conrad said.

"You're staying at a different hotel. Which one?"

"We're staying with my parents, so it's Elbourg." Conrad said.

"Yeah, but you just asked me back. Where are you really staying?"

"Elbourg Palace. You know I'm a prince, so what's so surprising?"

"OK, but what about this?" Liam asked, rolling up his trouser leg to show a tag.

"Liam. Hide that thing. How you dare you show us up like that?" A voice called out.

"Come on." Jim snapped, "I've had enough."

He threaded through the crowd to find Mr. Poulson.

"Liam's about ready to explode, and I'm fed up with the lot of them." Jim said, "Can we just sneak out and go back to Elbourg?"

"I can tell them Conrad's father sent for him. You just seemed to follow."

"Do you know anything about tags. Liam's staying here and given it as his curfew address. Reception knows where he is."

"Is Brian on duty today? Talk to him."

The following Monday, Liam found himself standing in a judges chambers while his lawyer, Mr. Zeigler, and a representative of the probation service, Jon Morgan settled in comfortable chairs.

"I'm pleased to meet such a distinguished advocate as you, Mr. Zeigler, but I'm not sure why you're here. Despite generous conditions to allow him to go to his cousin's wedding, Poulson broke the terms of his licence on the first two nights of his release. He should be automatically returned to Mallion Young Offenders Institution, and be dealt with there." The judge began.

"Normally that would be the case, Your Honour. I was only briefed yesterday, and I'm not fully prepared. However, the magistrates at the sentencing hearing were not fully aware of Mr. Poulson's situation. Indeed, I'm tempted to ask whether his lawyer was representing Liam or his family, but for now, I'm content to ask for a delay in suspending Mr. Poulson's licence while I prepare my case. I can outline the reasons for this application, but little more."

"Very well."

"Liam Poulson and his cousin James Poulson attended another cousin's wedding. A relevant third guest was His Royal Highness, Prince Conrad. Although events were cordial enough during the service and the subsequent photo session, it became toxic at the reception. His Royal Highness felt he was only invited to add prestige to the event, and once the press were satisfied, he was no longer welcome. James Poulson was made to feel unwelcome because of his sexuality and Liam Poulson because of his criminal record."

Mr. Zeigler paused, aware he had everyone's attention as he continued, "The three boys were so uncomfortable they decided to leave and return to Prince Conrad's home, Elbourg Palace. This was early afternoon, well before Liam's curfew, but events became more complicated at Elbourg. His Majesty insists Prince Conrad takes part in official functions as much as possible. Because of his age, friends his age accompany him, and there was a reception for the scientific community that evening. Because of the short notice, only the two Poulson boys were available."

"You're saying Liam Poulson broke his parole conditions to attend a Royal event?"

"Not quite, Your Honour." Mr. Zeigler replied, "I've referred to the toxic atmosphere at the wedding, and the Prince's bodyguard who also attended agreed it was abusive and no court would ever put a minor in such a situation: if it was aware of the facts, that is. The Prince's security chief, notified the police station of the situation, and attempted to contact the monitoring service. You may understand, they have learned to be cynical in their dealings with their clients, and it took some effort to convince them Liam was indeed staying at Elbourg."

"I sympathize with them. It is a remarkable story. Do you have more to add?"

"I would submit, that since he was at Elbourg, the head of security was handling his case, and it was understood he would not leave the grounds without permission, he could be deemed to be in custody."

"I see, and pending an investigation into his family circumstances, you'd like him to remain at Elbourg."

"No, Your Honour, the French embassy."

"The French embassy. You are beginning to strain my credibility now, Mr. Zeigler."

"Again, I refer to the destructive family situation. Like James Poulson, Liam was expected to prepare for life as a businessman and no other career would do. Also like James, Liam preferred practical subjects to academic. Apparently Liam was banned from any course in Mallion that could be linked to motor cars, so he found himself on a woodwork course which he enjoyed. There is one person at Elbourg who should not be mentioned, so I'll say certain sources have a passion for model railways. Liam proved to be a willing and able student for the development of layouts. Just as passionate is the son of the French ambassador, Andre Reynard. Liam is being offered quarters in exchange for helping Andre with building his layout. The caveat is, one day's involvement does not mean the project will be a success, but the signs are good."

"Poulson, tell me what you are expected to do."

"Andre is eleven and shouldn't use sharp tools on his own." Liam began, "A firm was brought in to build the base but Andre wants to add scenery, and DCC control and other stuff himself. It works better if everything is soldered, so he needs someone with him."

"Why you and not a member of the embassy staff?"

"Dunno. Andre likes doing stuff, but painting, waiting for a coat to dry then painting again takes time. Andre goes to school, has homework and wants to spend time with his family, so it's been slow going since he got it all at Christmas. I guess I'll do it when he can't."

"I see. Do you get paid?"

"I don't think so. I've got a bed in the servant's quarters, I get food, and I like doing something." Liam replied, "When I know what's going to happen, I'll start looking for a proper job."

"Do you agree contact with your family would be harmful?"

"Yeah. I was happier in Mallion and this weekend has been out of this world."

"Mr. Morgan, I suppose you hear all sorts of fairy stories in your profession. What do you make of this one?"

"We did struggle with it at first, Your Honour, but the basic facts proved to be correct. Our task is to break patterns of behaviour, and my immediate assessment is Liam is taking advantage of his opportunity. We are happy for Liam's licence to be revised and extended as long he makes good use of his opportunities. Like Mr. Zeigler, I would like time to prepare a full report though."

"Very well. The curfew stands, but out of courtesy to the French embassy I order the electronic tag to be removed. Instead, Mr. Morgan will find a way of monitoring Liam Poulson without the suggestion we're bugging the place. Liam, you will abide by Mr. Morgan's requirements without further debate."

A few weeks later, Jim and Conrad were lying in bed together, quietly talking.

"I'm still not sure why Jean-Paul allowed Liam to stay on." Jim said, "OK! He's grateful to our friends for keeping the region stable or something, but it does seem odd."

"Dad sees Liam more than you do because he brings Andre to the palace, and says Liam is so patient with Andre." Conrad said, "Apparently, Liam easily made friends in Mallion, and Dad calls him a gentle soul. He's also interested in the palace history, so do you think he'll be apprenticed as a stone-mason like he mentioned?"

"I don't know. The stonemason is helping renovate the older parts of the palace, isn't he? Liam loves helping him, but his psychiatry reports indicate long term mental abuse. Mr. Ziegler reckons there're grounds for overturning the conviction because his lawyer ignored procedural errors while the family was pressuring him to cover it all up. He's got enough to deal with without deciding his future. Dad's still upset over the row with Liam's parents, and what's worse; Child Services are getting interested in the rest of the family. It's our fault, and we're trying to bring the family down like we did with Mum's side. Dad and I just aren't welcome any more."

"Does that bother you?" Conrad asked.

"No way. I'm getting help for my other cousins, so I'm happy. It's just difficult to believe there're no more problems."

"Yep, we can just lead normal lives." Conrad said.

"Yeah, normal. We're launching that new rail-link on Saturday, and we've got to attend the reception for the Chinese delegation."

"So what's the problem? It's normal for the Crown Prince."

"Yeah, and Brian couldn't stop laughing when we were banned from the mall. I know, he's a bodyguard and not supposed to intervene, but he could have pointed out who we are."

"I have my orders and too many youngsters think they get away with shoplifting. Not on my watch." Conrad quoted, "I wonder how normal Liam thinks it is to play trains with the King?"

"As normal as this." Jim said as he pulled Conrad close to kiss him.

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