A Bathys Serial
by Nial Thorne
Usual warnings. Reading further constitutes an unambiguous gesture of assent to the statement: I am not a minor person, nor in the company of a minor person. The story and the Bathys scenario are copyright © 2002 Nial Thorne. You may copy this for your own private use; all other rights reserved.
Comments very welcome at Nial_Thorne@hotmail.com
October 3, afternoon and evening: Max and Paul
It was a completely lazy afternoon.
We had flown down to Lakeport, and Lord Emek had made us welcome in his inn, giving us a room upstairs and then feeding us in his restaurant, a lunch of dumplings filled with spicy meat with a sauce of yoghurt and garlic. I had had a few glasses of white wine, although I noticed that Paul kept to fruit juice. After that, he had decided to go for a walk round the village.
I stayed myself to linger over the coffee. After our quite serious argument that morning, I wanted him to have time to himself. On the whole I was pleased with the way it had gone. We were bound to have disagreements, and it would be shameful just to overbear him with my authority. Nor would it work in the long run, because even though he was a child, he was a power to be reckoned with in his own right, the Prince, and he had the right to speak.
Emek brought Turkish delight, and pulled up a chair to share my table. He was a huge man, expansive and loud, shouting and hugging his way through life, and he had annoyed some of the more cerebral Lords beyond bearing. I loved him.
"Well, Max?" Before I could answer, he yelled over his shoulder, "Bring some more coffee, boy! Never leave a guest with an empty coffee cup, dammit, how often must I tell you?"
He had two boys working there, one about eight and the other fifteen, and in their short tunics they were certainly nicer to look at than the robots, and more fun, too.
"That's it, child!" The eight-year-old poured for me. "Don't spill it, or I'll take my strap to you!"
"That's if you could catch me, fat one!"
"Yeah, fat and lazy too!" yelled the other boy across the room.
Emek blasted them with a ferocious burst of Turkish, and they both collapsed, laughing.
"Are they Turkish too?" I said.
"The little one is. The other one's learning. Osman? Come here, wretch!"
"Watch out for him!" yelled his older friend, busy clearing tables. "He's got that look!"
Emek grabbed Osman and tickled him till I was sure he would wet himself, and sat him on his knee.
"Now, young man, are you still growing? Isn't he the cutest thing, Max?"
"Yeah." I tweaked his nose, and he giggled. "Why do they work here, Emek? You don't order them to, do you?"
"God, no, Max, what do you take me for? They live here, and they work when they like. Which is most days, in fact, when they aren't out sailing or swimming. And me and Danny, that's the other one, we've got a little thing going..."
"Danny's got tags!" squeaked Osman. "I'll have tags later, when I'm big, I'll have sex too, Danny said he'll make Emek!"
I laughed. The room was large and low and white, open all along one side, facing onto the waterfront. Just now it was empty in the afternoon sun, the tables waiting for the evening, the walls hung with nets and crayfish pots. It was happy place, filled with the happiness of the three people who lived here.
I kissed Osman's forehead and went up to our room to sleep off my lunch.
When I woke, Paul was sitting on the bed, his hand on my leg.
"Ugh... Hello, son. Had a nice walk?"
"Yeah. All along the front, and out into the country, along the edge of the lake. And I met some people too. You've been asleep for hours."
"I was tired. I've been tired for a long time, I guess, like you."
"Yeah. We'll be okay soon." He lent down and kissed me. "C'mon, it's nearly dark. Will and David'll be here soon, we need to get changed."
I had brought with me a fairly ordinary white tunic, although Paul insisted I wear a wide golden sash with it. He, on the other hand, had a pair of black stretch leathron trousers, so tight I had help him pull them on, a loose white shirt with long sleeves, and black boots. I'd see him dress up before; sometimes he looked chaste, sometimes adorable, sometimes sexy, and it made you want to protect him or kiss him or make gentle love. This time it was different, wildly different; he was more than sexy, he was downright raunchy, seething, and the effect was pure lust. I wanted to hurl him onto the bed and ravish him. I laughed.
"Good God almighty! You'll give poor Will a heart attack!"
"Maybe. Perhaps that's not such a bad idea."
I watched as he fastened wide leathron bands round his wrists, and used the mirror to adjust his golden fillet, the rounds of his arse in their black casing reflecting the red light of sunset; and I thought of what I had planned for him that night, and hugged myself.
"Ready? I think Emek's preparing quite a spread for us."
"Great!" he said. "I'm starving!"
"You won't be able to eat much in that!" I said, giving his bum a resounding slap.
We ran along the corridor and down the stairs, laughing, and into the dining room; but the atmosphere was different now. Most of the tables were occupied with people quietly chatting, and they stared at us as we hurtled in. We stiffled our laughter and adopted a suitably dignified pose, catching each others' eyes.
Will and David were waiting for us. David still had no tags, I noticed, but that was what I expected, and they seemed happy and at ease with each other, dressed this time in attractive embroidered tunics. I wondered who had chosen them. Neither of them could keep their eyes off Paul; I managed not to laugh.
Osman and Danny led us to our table and pulled out the chairs for us to sit. This evening they were in long sombre tunics, dark purple and black, and they were straight-faced, all ceremonial courtliness. They set a fifth chair, and to my delight, Emek himself joined us for our meal, while Danny set candles on the table. The room was lit by lanterns, and through the open side I could see their light flickering on the surface of the lake.
At Emek's, there is no menu. You just get what he has that day, and today it was huge meze. I gawped as the dishes arrived, two by two, little fishes and bits of crayfish cooked in a half a dozen ways, vegetables, salads, pastries, melon... Paul and David descended on the food, seemingly determined to try everything.
"Have you always been a restaurateur, my Lord?"
"No, Sir Will," said Emek. "I'm a geneticist."
"Really? What was your role in the making of Bathys, then?"
"Oh, lots of things. For example, take giraffes, now. We wanted to have giraffes, because they're tremendous animals, but Bathys is really too cold for them, so we had to adjust their metabolisms a bit. Then there's the dinosaurs. We had to start from scratch with them. And the dodos, and so on, we had to do a bit of work on them. Lots of things... But keeping a restaurant's always been my dream. Always." He smiled. "And a nice boy to keep me company, and now I've got two! I'm a happy man, Sir Will."
"Both the boys?" Will looked scadalised. "You... I mean, with the little one? He can't be more than..."
"Oh no," said Emek, laughing. "Not with Osman, although he's tried it on with me often enough. There's lots of time. I've got fifteen years to go for this cycle, he's got seventeen and Danny's got ten. Next time, we'll all be boys together, and I suppose Danny will take the lead..."
"It's... so strange," said Will.
"Aren't you - aren't you that guy who came late? Who they captured?"
"Yes. I was working in a boy's home, and they scooped me up."
Danny brought us a bottle of raki, and Emek poured it for Will, David and myself with a flourish. Paul asked for fruit juice, however, and Osman brought it for him, lime and lemon and orange, iced and with a sprig of mint. The raki was delicious.
"Did Bathys really make this?" I asked.
"No. It's from my store; I've got about five bottles left. The stuff she makes just isn't the same... I'm trying to get anise to grow here, but so far it's nowhere near as good. You like it, young man?"
"Yes, my Lord," said David. "But I've had it before."
"You're one of the boys at Sir Will's home, are you?"
"No," said David. "I'm not. Not any more. I live in Bathys now."
And he smiled. I hadn't seen him smile properly before, and the effect was magical.
"Well said!" bellowed Emek.
Finally the boys came and removed the ruins of the meze, and brought the next course: a whole fish each, grilled, crisp on the outside and moist within, with a yoghurt sauce.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Carp. Caught today!"
"I think I saw the guys who fished them," said Paul.
"Angus and Kostas? Yes, Kostas brought them this afternoon. They're good guys, even though Kostas is a Greek."
I felt David stiffen at this remark, and Emek noticed.
"So! You don't like that, young man?"
David blushed, but he did not back down.
"I'm from Croatia, my Lord. All my life... I lost my family to that sort of nonsense."
He stared at Emek directly.
"Yes. But let me tell you, lad, that Kostas and I, we understand each other, and there are no problems. And each of us has stories to tell as well, and we have told them. We understand each other."
There was a pause.
"I'm sorry, my Lord," said David.
"There's no need to apologise. No one need apologise for their story! Are you Sir Will's lover? I see you haven't got any tags."
"Not - not yet," said David.
He spoke quite calmly, but Will blushed scarlet.
"I still don't see..." he said.
"Don't see what, Sir Will?" said Emek, smiling.
"Sex with a child. I still find it hard to see that as anything but abuse."
"And what do you say to that, young David?"
"I'm fifteen. That's only six years younger that you. And I'm not a child. I've had sex hundreds of times against my will. I think... I think I've earned the right to choose."
They exchanged a long look. I felt Paul shift uneasily. I think he had guessed from the start where this conversation would go, and we were teetering on the brink of it now. Emek signalled to his boys; they removed the fishes, and brought us baklavas and coffee. And then, sure enough, it started.
"Boys in Bathys get pretty assertive, Sir Will," said Emek. "They know what they want, you'll find. Like this one," he said, looking at Paul. "Look at his tags, and you're what? Fourteen?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"That's so strange as well," said Will. "Why the tags, anyhow? Why the need to - to advertise what you've done?"
"Ah, well, Will," said Emek. "That's..."
"Please, my Lord," said Paul. "Can I explain?"
Their eyes met for a moment.
"Sure, Prince," said Emek, in an odd voice, and Paul sighed.
"The tags aren't in use at the moment. The whole thing is suspended, until Bathys has got going properly. But, you see... It's about what you were saying, really, Sir Will."
But it was David he was looking at, not Will.
"What you said about kids not having experience of sex, not understanding it. And mostly that's true. Especially for Bathys, because there's a lot of different kinds of sex here. Sex for love, sex for friendship, sex for fun. And sex to be kind, sex to comfort people, and so on. All different kinds, and you have to learn. That's what the tags are for, so that the grownups can teach us." He drew a deep breath. "If you do something with someone, if you say yes to that, then you get a tag for that. And that means that other people can do that with you."
"Why shouldn't they?" said David, puzzled, and Paul held his gaze.
"David," said Paul, "It means they can do it - even if, just at that moment, you don't want to."
There was a long silence. Then Will spoke.
"But - but that's outrageous! I've..."
"Please, Sir Will," said Paul, not taking his eyes off David. "Please be quiet."
David was staring at him, striken, and a single tear ran down his cheek. Paul grasped his hand across the table.
"Listen to me, David," he said, quietly. "Listen. It's not as bad as it sounds. It's only things you've already done, because you wanted to. And if you get distressed, really distressed, then Bathys will stop it. And in any case, it's suspended, like I said, at the moment. No one's allowed to do that at the moment."
David was crying quietly now, and at last Will stirred, and hugged him.
"I thought - I thought that here I'd be safe," he said. "But - but everywhere's the same. Wherever you go, people are just cruel and horrible..."
"It may seem like that, but that's not right, because everyone isn't cruel. Would you have sex with a boy if he obviously didn't want to, your grace?"
"No, son, I wouldn't. Of course I wouldn't."
"Nor would Sir Will, would he?" said Paul.
"Nor would I, David," said Emek.
"Nor would most people," said Paul. "Most people are not cruel and horrible, and most of them won't do it, not if you don't want to."
"But...but some of them will," whispered David. "I know."
"A few. We didn't get many people like that in Bathys, but there are a few. And there are others, who won't force us, but they will - push a bit, you know?"
"So, it's the same."
The hopelessness in David's voice was awful, and just at that moment, I hated Bathys and despised myself.
"It isn't the same," said Paul. "Even when it happens, it won't be as bad as you think, because they can't really hurt us or distress us, or Bathys will zap them, do you see? It won't be frightful and terrifying and painful, like it was for you, just - just not very pleasant. Do you see?"
"You don't understand what it's like."
"No, I don't," said Paul. "I don't know what it was like for you. I've had sex with my Dad, and that was for love. But as well as that - well, I had sex with one of the Lords, just because I was furious with him, and I wanted him to know it. And I had sex with a sad, angry Romanian kid, who'd been abused all his life, because I was sorry for him. And both those times I didn't enjoy it much, but it wasn't terrible. I don't know what it was like for you to be raped, I don't know at all, but I'm sure it was far, far worse than what I did. Do you see?"
David stared at him, and said nothing.
"Sex for love," said Paul. "You'll have that, and it'll be better than you can imagine, and it'll be there all the time. And if you want, there's sex for friendship, too, because you'll have lots of friends. But there's also sex for kindness, sex to comfort and even - even sex for duty. And what we have to do, and it's me too, David, we have to learn to do those, and then - try to like them. Because we can."
"I could - I could never..."
"That's what you say, but I think you're wrong. I think we can. And I'll help you, and so will lots of other kids, and so will Sir Will, and I promise it won't be too bad. I promise."
"The first day I came here, my Dad told me there were ravines and dangerous places in the forest and dangerous animals, and I said why? And he said - he said, because it's exciting. This stuff is the same, in a way. I hate it, but it's exciting. Does that make any sense?"
"Why do you think I wear these clothes?"
"I - I don't know."
"Because I like people to look at me and think about having sex with me. And you and Sir Will and Lord Emek, and my Dad, you've all been leering at me all evening, haven't you? And all these other people. Looking at my bum and my legs and wanting me, and I used to hate that. But now I love it. I wouldn't want to actually have sex with most of them, but... It's dangerous, but I love it. Do you see?"
David stared at him.
"Yes," he whispered.
"It can be a game," said Paul. "Frightening, but exciting."
"I dunno," said David. "I can't..."
"It's monstrous!" said Will. "How you can..."
"Sir Will!" said Paul. "What I'd like you to do is to stop preaching, and look after your boy, okay?"
It was the authentic snap of command, and I looked at my son, astonished.
"Lord Emek will give you a room. Take David up there and go to bed with him. Don't talk, just give what he needs. Will you do that? Am I right?"
For moment, Will seemed on the point of protesting again.
"Just him, Sir Will. Just concentrate on him, forget yourself and your problems, and give him your love."
"I..." Will drew a breath. "Okay. Yes, I will..."
He helped David to his feet, and Danny showed them out, hugging each other.
"I can see why they call you Prince, little friend," said Emek.
My son sank into my arms. I gripped him hard and kissed his head, overwhelmed by love.
"I hated that," he said. "I know all the arguments, but I still hate it."
"But you..." said Emek.
"He needed it. And anyhow, I have to support my Dad, I promised. But I still hate what it'll do to David, and lots of boys like him."
"And what will it do to you, Prince?"
Paul gave him a strange look.
"Now you can give me a glass of that raki, my Lord," he said.
October 2 - 3: Igor and Karl
We made love all that afternoon. Then we took a break for a meal at which he consumed so much food that I was slightly alarmed; after which we made love all evening.
I can scarcely begin to describe what that day meant to me. Remember, until then, although I had been surrounded all my working life by children, I rarely even touched one, and until I had come to Bathys, I had never imagined I would ever take my attraction to them into the physical realm. I had schooled myself to accept this; not to suppress the longing, I knew that that would never work, but never by the slightest hint to express it. And now - now he had taken me not just into the edges of that realm, but right into its heart. He was without inhibition, without fear, voraciously enthusiastic and he couldn't see the slightest reason to hold back; by turns affectionate, aggressive, gentle, yielding and dominant. To start with I scarcely knew what to do; I let myself be led, manipulated, almost, let him nudge and edge and coax me out of myself. But by the end, I was discovering my own assertion, learning to express what I wanted, what were my own needs. And all this, too, he consumed and absorbed with unqualified enjoyment.
It was late, late into the night when he suggested that we should go down to the beach and swim. I just laughed.
"Swim? Karl, it's nearly midnight!"
"So? Worried you'll get arrested?"
"You really want to?"
"Yes! You don't see. Now I'm allowed to do what I want! Have sex, eat, swim, whenever I want! And I shall. Because before, at the brothel..."
I just swung him into my arms and kissed him, marvelling that I, too, was now free to make such choices.
So we ran naked down the path to beach. The moon was up, and its pale light fell over the lake, as still and flat as a marble floor, and over the shore, and far, far away, like floating ghosts I could see the whitened shapes of the mountains.
"I... I've never been in the lake!" I gasped. "I - I can't swim!"
"Nor can I. We'll have to learn!" The water splashed round our ankles. "I came down here with Brent the other day. He can swim like a fish!"
We plunged in, up to our necks, droplets of water flying into the air and pouring round our bodies like oil. We stood and laughed at each other, and then I jumped him. We tumbled and splashed over each other, screeching like children, years of care and discretion flowing off me with every movement.
And then, as we gasped at each other, grinning, we heard, quiet but distinct and far, far away to the north, a long, strange cry, a kind of tenor hooting sound, wavering and then dying away; and at once it was joined by another; they seemed to interweave with one another, the long, slow phrases overlapping.
"My God!" I said. "What's that?"
"I've heard it before," he said. "I asked someone and they said it's a kind of dinosaur. It lives in the marshes up there..."
The cry made me feel cold and lonely.
"Let's go back," I said.
So soon we were in bed again, but this time, tired, we just hugged each other and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning we sat in a tangle of sweaty and filthy sheets, feeding each other breakfast. I had woken him by slipping inside him, astonishing myself; he had admitted me easily, and it was delicious. Now, from time to time, I found myself just laughing, looking at him and laughing for sheer joy. I had found what I wanted, what I hadn't even suspected I needed, and it was better than I ever imagined.
"There are some tags for you in the kitchen," I said. "A robot must have brought them."
"Good? Don't you mind people knowing what we do?"
"No. Why should I? The Prince has got lots, P2 and B2..."
"Tying up and spanking. Do you want to do that stuff?"
"Thank God," I said.
"I've done all that, but - no, not again. It's not me."
We smiled at each other.
"I don't mind people knowing," he said. "There are only twenty-seven Lords in Bathys, and one of them's mine. Why should I be ashamed of that? I'm proud of it, and I've never been proud of anything before. Are you going to claim me?"
"Karl! You want me to? Yes, if that's what you want. But - well, some people are waiting, till the resolution's repealed. So as to delay..."
"Oh, that. That doesn't bother me."
"It doesn't? Being made to have sex with people?"
"No. It doesn't frighten me. I know it frightens lots of the boys, but some of them - well, I think it excites them a bit as well. Not me. It isn't frightening or exciting; I've been doing it all my life. It'll just be boring, having sex with anyone but you. I've never, never enjoyed sex the way I do with you."
I stared at him.
"It's so difficult to believe," I said. "That you should want to do it with me..."
"What? Why? Why shouldn't I? All the boys love you, Igor."
"They do?" I said, incredulously. "I don't believe you. Why?"
"Because you're good and kind, and - and even though you're a Lord, you never put the boys down or make them feel small. You respect them, and they can tell. They all trust you. And they'll all envy me..."
"Can I... Karl, if I ask you something, don't worry about saying no. I won't mind. But, well, I'd like to ask."
"Would you - would you like to stay here? With me? Maybe just for a bit?"
He gave me a smile, and hugged me.
"I want to so much, but... The trouble is, I have to look after Brent. He lives in my Flat and I'm the only one... I mean, he trusts me. Do you know him? He - he doesn't speak."
"The doctor said it's probably something in his mind, because of something that happened. Anyhow, he nevers says anything. He can understand you, but he never answers. And the only one he trusts is me. Sometimes he nods for me, or shakes his head, just yes or no, but not for anyone else. So I can't leave him all alone. I'm sorry, Igor..."
"But that's no problem! He can stay too, there's heaps of room in this house! That's if you don't mind. What do you think?"
He hugged me again. And so, one day I was a sad, self-absorbed loner, haunting my white palace on the beach; and the next - I had a family.
October 3, morning: Michael and Amit
When I awoke, my bed was empty, and for a moment I wondered if Amit has once again left me alone. But then he appeared, carrying a mug.
"Coffee, my Lord..."
He was back on duty; but this time, I couldn't resist pushing him a little.
"Come here, beautiful."
I could see the fear in his face: the fear mixed with something else, something I recognised.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you for anything," I said. "Just a hug and a kiss."
He put the coffee on the bedside table; and he was onto me, frantic, gripping me, his mouth all over my face, and then we kissed, kissed for a long time, and he writhed in my arms. Somehow he had lowered his defences again; his inner self poured out, and I luxuriated in him.
Finally he quietened, and lay in my arms. I could have pressed him but I didn't. From what he had said the night before I knew now that I could crack him in an instant and force him into the open. But that wasn't what I wanted. I didn't want to conquer him; I wanted his gift, and I was happy to wait for it.
"I called Paul," he said. "It's funny."
"He was on the way to Lakeport with the King. They're going to stay the night there, and it's odd, because we haven't been apart that long for months. I... I'll miss him."
"You're fond of him."
"I love him, Michael."
"I suppose I do, too. I've come to love Max as well, you know? And Darren, and Igor. And some others. Strange..."
"You love lots of people. I'm more particular. I only love two: Paul - and you."
"Not Max?" I said, smugly.
"He's the King, and Paul's father. I respect that, of course I do. But no, I don't love him. Not really."
"I do not understand everything he has done, my Lord," he said, disentangling himself; the moment was over, and he stood up. "There is a lot about Bathys that I love, but also much that I hate, and I don't understand why he has done those things..."
"I'm as responsible as him. More, in a way. Many of the things you hate were my idea."
"It's different with you, my Lord... I have made some breakfast."
I took the hint and dropped it. We were just finishing breakfast, and I was contemplating a pleasant day doing absolutely nothing but enjoy his company, when I was called.
"Sir Paco wishes to speak with you, my Lord."
"Sir Paco? Oh yes, the cafe in town. Oh, very well, Bathys."
"My Lord? My Lord, I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm concerned about Tom. I saw you and Nicky carry him home yesterday. He lives opposite my cafe."
"Last evening there was an incident. He accosted a boy, and he would have been zapped if some people hadn't stopped him. He is always drunk and causing problems; I have to refuse to serve him, and there have been rows. My Lord, I thought you might be able..."
I sighed. But still, this was my job.
"Yes, Sir Paco. Thanks. I'll see what I can do."
Amit filled my cup again. He was always very attentive with such things, and I understood why, of course. It wasn't in the least servile; on the contrary, it helped him to feel in control, and I allowed it for that reason.
"I'd better go and see him," I said. "I can see this is going to be a long story."
"I'll come with you," Amit said.
"You don't need to. It could - it could be rather nasty."
He looked at me squarely.
"There's never any need to shield me, my Lord. I've seen everything. And I admit... after what you said, I'm interested. I'd like to see."
It wasn't the Bathys way to protect the kids, I reminded myself. I'd warned him, and that was enough. The only other thing I could do was pick up the pieces afterwards, if that's what was needed.
"Okay, then. Let's go now - with luck, this early he may be partly sober, at least."
We walked briskly through Southwall to the square. Paco was outside, wiping down his tables; I gave him a wave, but didn't stop. We knocked on Tom's door, and let ourselves in.
The door gave straight into the kitchen. It was a one-floor flat, and quite neat and tidy - but of course the robots would have seen to that. They hadn't done much about the smell, though; the place was fetid. Tom was sitting at the table, a cup of coffee and a bottle in front of him and a cigarette in his hand. He looked frightful.
"Oh God. Look, Michael, I'm not..."
"I was worried about you, man."
"Worried about me." He gave a dry laugh. "So you came along and brought - him. Why did you bring him on your - your mission of mercy, my Lord?"
"Amit wanted to come."
"Oh, did he." He coughed. "You thought you'd come and gloat, did you, boy? I'm supposed to apologise and beg your forgiveness, am I?"
"Do you think you have anything to apologise for, Sir?" said Amit.
His voice, high, cool and completely neutral, seemed to cut through the rank air.
"I strapped you. Often."
"I've had far worse beatings, Sir. You never came near to injuring me."
I was surprised. I'd expected Amit to stamp on his throat; forgiveness was not his strong suit.
"Do you think you should apologise for that?" Amit went on.
"Apologise? Fuck! Apologise?" He raised his head, and for moment there was a glint in his eye. "Bathys! This is Bathys, isn't it? If kids step out of line, you... you strap them. That's the idea, isn't it?"
"Hang on, Tom..." I said.
"Yes, that's the idea," said Amit. "That's why you've all got straps, I know that. Lord Michael, he's got one too!"
"Yeah," said Tom. "We've all got 'em. So, it's natural to use 'em, isn't it?"
"Yes, natural. Strap me, strap the Prince - strap us till we scream, right? And zap us too. It's all part of the plan, isn't? Give us a good strapping."
"Sarcastic little fuck! Yeah, that is the plan. How else can we keep the kids under control?"
"So - so why are you drinking youself to death, then, Sir? If it's all okay, why?"
"Mind your own fucking business! Fucking poncey snotnose..."
"I'll tell you what I think, Sir. Because I watched you. I watched you when you strapped us, and do you know what I think? I think you enjoyed it."
"No! No, I didn't!"
"Oh yes," said Amit, and there was the ghost of a sneer in his voice. "I think you really, really liked it, Sir Tom. I think - I think it made you hard!"
"I think that was it. There we were, little kids. Me, and the Prince, and the Prince is so cute, isn't he? Fair curly hair, and that smile! Oh yes. And we were naked, and we squealed and screamed and writhed... And you were hard. You nearly came! Poor little cute naked screaming kids, and you nearly came..."
"Stop it!" screamed Tom. "Stop it!"
"Yes. Yes... You talk to him now, my Lord," said Amit, and turned to the door. "And don't forget to to tell him what happened - when you strapped the Prince!"
He left us together. It was, you might say, a fairly unorthodox start to a counselling session, though not without merit.
October 3, afternoon and evening: Jack
"Who was that?"
Angus and Kostas came along the waterfront towards me, and I was struck by the way they walked, easy, relaxed, as if they owned the whole world and had all the time in eternity.
"The Prince, er, Prince Paul..."
They said nothing, but gave each other a look.
"Do you know him?" I said.
"No," said Angus. "Not really. Know of him, of course. How do you know him?"
"He just came and sat by me."
I didn't want to talk about it. They must have seen I'd been crying, but they made no comment.
"Come on, son," said Angus. "Let's have some lunch. Are you hungry?"
I was. It was only a couple of hours since breakfast, but I was ravenous. I held out my hands and they gave me a couple of crayfish pots to carry, their inmates crawling slowly around within, and we walked back to their house together. And as we walked, a strange feeling came over me, one I didn't recognise to start with; but they began to lay food on the table, just bread, some pickled fish and a few vegetables, and finally I knew what it was: I was happy. It was a strange happiness, shy and unpracticed and fragile, but it was real.
"So, tell us about the guys in your Flat," said Angus, as we sat down. "Are they nice?"
"I don't get on with them," I said; but as I said it, I realised that wasn't it at all. "I mean - well - they can't stand me."
"They - they're queer. Most of them. I don't mean..." I sighed. "The fact is, I've been a complete arsehole to them."
"Mm. Tell you what. Why don't you stay here with us for a bit?"
I was completely thunderstruck.
"I - wow. Oh no, I don't want to be..."
"We've got eight crayfish! We'll give six to Lord Emek and keep a couple for ourselves and have them for supper tonight! And you can come out and fish with us tomorrow, if you like..."
"Stay," said Kostas. "We like guests, and we haven't got many friends yet. Please, Jack."
They were both looking at me, and it was a feeling quite unlike anything I'd had for years. I wasn't the kind of person that people sought out for company. I smiled at them.
"Okay," I whispered.
"You look nice when you smile," said Kostas. "You should do it more often."
"Don't tease the boy, Kostas," said Angus.
I knew what he meant; it was the kind of remark that normally started a scrap with me, and even now I felt a tightening in my gut. But just at that moment I wasn't going to be pushed out my little patch of happiness for anything.
So after lunch I helped them get the rest of the catch from their boat, a dozen beautiful carp, and after that, once again, we had a siesta. Then Kostas loaded six of the crayfish pots and the tank of carp onto a trolley. Together we wheeled them along the waterfront, and at the far end there was a restaurant, one side open onto the lake, empty in the heat of the afternoon, with just a man and two boys sitting at a table playing backgammon, while strange, oriental music played in the backgound.
"Hello, my Lord!" said Kostas. "What about a few crayfish, then? And some carp?"
"Crayfish?" said the man, looking up. "Carp? And what the fuck should I do with them?"
"Just look! Look at the size. Wow! See this one? The mother and father of all crayfish... Just the thing for a Prince, eh? Twenty dollars apiece."
"Twenty dollars and your whore mother, Greek!" yelled the man, who I supposed was Lord Emek. "Ten! Ten for the lot, and that's a gift!"
They fell to bargaining with a will, and it took me a while to remember that, of course, it was all a game; there wasn't any money in Bathys! Not that you could tell, and in the end, after much walking away and coming back, cursing and yelling, they agreed on a price. Then they went through the whole thing again for the carp.
"Thanks, Kostas," said Emek finally, slapping him on the back. "Tell Angus, too. The King's upstairs sleeping off his lunch, and he'll be here for supper with the Prince, so they'll come in handy. You'll have a glass of raki?"
"My Lord, what a question!"
So Emek poured, and we drank, and to my surprise I liked it a lot.
"Hm," said Emek, when Kostas introduced us. "Red hair... Now, what did someone say? Who was it, now... Oh well, I'll remember later. Are you moving here, lad?"
"I - I'm staying with Kostas and Angus for a bit."
"Move here. You can't stay in a Flat for ever, and this place is still half-empty, we could do with some more life round here. And we need more fishermen, too, the lake's heaving with fish and I never have enough. And a few more good-looking boys like you would be nice..."
The amazing thing was, I found myself smiling at this. I couldn't think of anything to say, not yet, but I liked it.
So after that we wandered slowly back to their house, not saying much, just scuffing along the waterfront and enjoying the sun and the warmth of the raki inside us. And as the sun began to move down the sky, we cooked the crayfish and made some rice and a delicious sauce of butter and garlic; and we sat out on the waterfront to eat it, the lake chuckling by our feet, a bottle of retsina on the table and the stars above us; and it was the best day of my life.
"The Prince said I should tell you some things," I said. "About me."
Angus looked at me.
"When you're ready, lad."
But I was. And I found, just as Paul had said, that I could tell them everything, much more than I had told him; about my parents, and their cold, fierce religion, and the boy, the boy I had tried to forget, and the sweet, innocent games we had played when I was nine; and how my father had beaten me, and they took me to the home, cursed me in the name of their God and left me there. And what happened to me there, all of it, the horror of it, the older boys and the men; and how, finally, my fists had driven them off, and the life I had lived since.
I only wept a little, because the night was so fine, and when I'd finished, Angus took my hands in his across the table.
"Jack," he said. "Name your enemies."
And I listed them, as many as I could remember, the boys and the men, and when I had finished, he looked at me directly.
"You missed out two."
I knew what he meant.
"They cursed you, Jack. And the curse worked. It's fucked up your life ever since... They cast you off long ago. It's time you did the same. You owe them absolutely nothing."
"I know..." I whispered.
"Name your enemies!"
I sighed. It was desperately painful, even after all these years.
"My - my father and my mother."
"Yes. And where are they? Where are they all?"
"They're up... there. In England."
"They're in another world, Jack. Another world. You've escaped, and you'll never see them again. They have no power..."
I looked at him for a moment, and then I began to laugh. I laughed and laughed, and they laughed with me. I was beginning to realise truth, now. It would take some time before I absorbed it completely. But the fact was that those sad, bitter, hateful people no longer mattered.
And that's how I came to live in Lakeport.
Embers on the beach;
Our country, born in Autumn
Under golden trees.
-- Lord Christian