K. J. Pedersen
THERE WAS BLOOD everywhere. The right leg of my trousers was soaked through with it. My hands were sticky with it. I tried to get to my feet — I tried to escape the frenzy — but collapsed again to the ground. My knee hurt so much, I could not stand — my leg simply would not hold my weight.
If they’re using rubber bullets, why is there so much blood? I asked myself while waves of agony shot through my brain and across my forehead. My vision blurred.
There were shadows about me, and painfully brilliant white lights above. Shouts of anger, fear, the sounds of fighting ... they all merged. I was on the edge of losing consciousness.
Perhaps I blacked out for a moment. For when I opened my eyes, Jaroslav was missing. In the rush of violence, I had lost sight of him. He was hurt, and badly. Just a moment before, he was struck in the head, or in the face ... I couldn’t see what happened exactly from where we stood relative to one another. Then I was hit myself, right above the knee, and went to the pavement in a heap. I heard his wailing. And now ... he was gone.
Just a few feet away, a militiaman threw Lukas to the ground, and attempted to pin him there with a black nightstick. Because of my injury, and in the chaos, I could not move to help my boyfriend. I watched helplessly.
Another volley of shots were fired. I winced, instinctively brought up an arm to protect my face, afraid of being struck yet again. There were cries of pain, followed by a few random shots.
Through it all, Lukas struggled against the soldier. He grabbed the nightstick with both hands, and tried to fight back. The soldier thrust his knee into Lukas’s crotch. He let out an ungodly yowl. The soldier struck him once, twice, with his free hand, and then viciously pressed the nightstick across his throat.
He heard me, turned his head, and his eyes were wide with terror. He stopped resisting the soldier. The soldier adjusted his nightstick again and held it across my friend’s chest.
We were enveloped in thick, gray smoke.
I was pulled to my feet by two soldiers. They yanked my arms behind my back, threw cuffs about my wrists, and pushed me forward. I fell, face first, but managed to come down on my shoulder instead of my chin. Unable to stand and walk, they dragged me.
Lukas was lost somewhere behind us, still pinned to the gravel and asphalt.
A number of feet ahead, Mattæus was in handcuff’s too. He struggled, was struck with a closed fist in the back of head by one of his captors, and led away.
There was an explosive thhaupp. Immediately, an odd vibration surged through me. My fingers and toes went numb. The sound was followed again and again by more of the same ... thhaupp ... thhaupp. With each thrumming, cascading explosion, I was washed over by the same numbing sensations. The hair on my arms and back of my neck stood on end. There were hissing sounds too, and I saw out of the corner of my eye a light — white and blue — which arced, and danced its way through the crowd.
Six feet in front of me, and to one side, a workingman, a young fellow in his mid-twenties wearing a shabby shirt and threadbare trousers was struck in the face with a nightstick. Blood gushed from his nose and mouth. He was struck again, then forced to the ground.
The soldiers dragged me away, faster than before.
Then we were in the street. A line of reserve troops stood with their troop carriers in the middle lane. The tank which I saw earlier in the night was there, its cannon facing us. There were police officers too. Behind them, restrained, were the men and boys of the Christian Brotherhood of Labor.
They watched silently as we fell under clubs and a shower of rubber-sheathed bullets.
I hated them.
Their stares said: You’ve called this upon yourselves. The look of condemnation — of smugness even — enraged me. If it was their blood on the streets, would they look so fucking self-satisfied? At the time, as angry and hurt as I was, it was lost on me how many there were awe-struck, and filled with such terror, as they witnessed the State in action.
The sounds of fighting, of gunshots, of stunners, the crack of clubs against shoulders and skulls, slowly waned. In its place, moans of pain and anguish arose.
In the distance, an officer barked and made rapid gestures. One soldier responded to his commands, pinned a middle-aged man to an armored troop carrier. Another aimed an automatic rifle at his head. It was Grundtvig they were roughing up. The officer shouted at my friend’s father, but I could not hear what was being yelled over the babel and din. His hands, I noticed, were secured behind his back with wire, and as such, his wrists were raw and bleeding. His long hair was matted with his own blood. It flowed yet from a gash on his forehead, at the hairline, and down the side of his bearded face.
My eyes met the officer’s. His expression was ... cold. I quickly lowered my gaze.
A few moments later, Mattæus was forced into a troop carrier. He was followed by another man, and then a young woman. It was the same young woman who had told us where Grundtvig was earlier. She was with the FSW, and must’ve been important, because an officer followed her into the troop carrier. The two soldiers, my assailants, pushed me in same direction.
It was then, just before I was shoved headlong into the waiting troop carrier, I saw Jaroslav. The bright-eyed lad who had greeted us with such enthusiasm the night before, and who had talked so urgently with Lukas just minutes ago, was now being attended to by a medic inside an army ambulance. His face, neck, shirt, his hands ... he was covered in blood.
A rubber bullet had put out his eye.
* * *
We sat in silence together, Mattæus, Lukas and I, as the troop carrier moved swiftly toward the North Lancascir Detention Facility in the heart of Niew Lifrapol. The woman, I learned, was an elected representative of the FSW. Her name was Úna Ricsdohtor, and she was being interrogated thoroughly by the officer, a lieutenant. He could have been no older than twenty-two or twenty-three. The sparse growth of facial hair, so carefully groomed, exposed his youth. He asked her the most ludicrous questions: Was she a Red Republican? An anarchist? Did she have ties to the Black Flag Movement? Did she know of any plot to overthrow the government?
No, no, no, no, herra lieutenant....
And still he went on.
“Are you an Alemannian agent?” he said.
“No, herra lieutenant,” she said.
“Are you employed by the Francian government?”
“No, herra lieutenant.”
“Have you any contacts with the Ruthenian government?”
“No, herra lieutenant.”
He questioned her for some time along those lines, prying to see if she had any ties of any sort to the Eurasian Federation. Then he changed his tact.
“Are you opposed to the governing ideology of the Anglian Federative Republic?”
“Are you asking me if I’m opposed to the twin ideologies of oligarchy and plutocracy, herra lieutenant?” she said.
He said nothing and jotted down a quick note on his computer pad. I wondered if Grundtvig was being interrogated in a like manner — wherever he was.
“Your husband, Sigeberht, is Anglian, is he not?” the officer said.
“Ricsdohtor is an Anglian name,” she said. “My husband’s family is Anglian, yes. They are of the Suthfolc, if you must know, herra lieutenant.”
“But you are Hibernian, are you not, Úna?”
Úna was a common Gaelic name.
“My mother and father are both of Hibernian ancestry,” she said. “Is having Keltic blood now a crime, herra lieutenant?”
“Do you belong to the revolutionary Daughters of 1898 movement?”
“No, herra lieutenant.”
Addressing him as herra lieutenant following each question had become a subtle mockery of his authority, I realized. I lowered my face, so as not to be noticed by the young gentleman officer, and grinned lightly with approval at this gentle subversiveness.
Mattæus furtively bumped his shoulder with mine; he had noticed her disparagement of his office as well!
“Do you know of their plot to overthrow the government of the AFR and declare Hibernia an independent, socialist republic?” he said.
“I know of the Daughters of 1898,” she said. “But I have no ties to it, herra lieutenant.”
The Germanic occupation of Keltic homelands had long been a source of anger and resentment in Europa, and particularly for the Hibernians. The heavy yoke of the Anglian state had been upon them for hundreds of years. Was it not enough that the Angles had wrested Britannia from the Cymry and Gaels, that they needed the green meadows of Eire as well?
In 1898, after nearly a century of famines, pestilence, and the most severe oppression, the militias of the Red Republican and Peasants and Workers parties successfully expelled the long-standing and hated Anglian government, killed its proconsul, and declared Hibernia no longer a province of the Republic of Anglia, but a free nation-state: The Hibernian People’s Socialist Republic.
The republic survived for two weeks in Dún Laoghaire, Meath, Westmeath, Louth, Monaghan, and Armagh before the coastal cities and towns were bombarded by Anglian cruisers and battleships, from above by new weapons, airplanes and dirigibles, and the land was once more overrun by the Anglian army.
The Sons and Daughters of 1898 had formed immediately thereafter, and had each conspired and struggled to overthrow the Anglian government ever since. When Anglia joined the AFR in 2001, it was the government of the AFR which had become the focus of their activities.
Hibernia, they declared, would be free!
I was reminded of Shane, for he had always spoken highly of the Sons of 1898, and the so-called Red Republic of Eire. It was, I knew, a romantic notion on his part, but one which he held dear.
The line of questioning went on like that until the vehicle stopped suddenly and the doors were thrown open. We were pulled out of the troop carrier and herded into the detention facility.
Most police services were provided by private firms, but our violations of state and federal laws were apparently severe enough that we had been turned over to the North Lancascir Police Department, which was funded by sales taxes and fees collected by the shire.
Once inside, Úna Ricsdohtor was led down one hall, while we were led down another. I assumed she was to be interrogated by federal agents. Surely that was the fate Grundtvig faced as well. Would he be joining us soon? I wondered.
The detention center was white. Everything was white, the walls, floor tiles, doors, door frames ... everything, everywhere. The pungent odor of harsh cleaning chemicals hung in the cool air. The building was sterile.
Our manacles were released so we could be fingerprinted. As soon as we were freed of the cuffs, both Mattæus and Lukas were there holding me, helping me stay upright, and asking how badly I was hurt.
“My friend needs a doctor,” Lukas said to police officer who scanned his fingers for prints.
The officer said nothing more than, “Be still, or we’ll have to start again.”
Then another police officer jabbed our thumbs and drew blood for a DNA sample (as if there wasn’t enough blood already). We were all forced to remove our shoes, watches, rings and any other jewelry. The microwave emitter had destroyed my watch, and I had tried then, unsuccessfully, to rip it off because it had burned my wrist. The same was true of the ring Lukas had given me. I surrendered both to the police.
Later we were each questioned by a female police officer stationed at a computer terminal. In turn, we gave her our names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, and so forth. We were each assessed a processing fee — a rather substantial one at that, 22.50RS — and asked for our Consumer Identification Number. From there we’d be either billed, or, if funds were available, the fee would come out of a primary bank account immediately.
The Consumer Identification Number (CIN), which had effectively replaced Citizen Benefit Numbers (CBN) after the engineered collapse of the welfare state sixty years before, was not issued by the State, but rather by banks and other commercial institutions. As a result, and through the simple exchange and/or buying and selling of consumer information from one firm to another, there was a remarkable amount of information available on the Network about nearly every consumer/citizen of the Terran Republic. It was all there, from each consumer’s individual choices on the marketplace — what brand of breakfast cereal and toilet paper was preferred — to vitals such age, sex, address, school records. Even one’s genetic map had become readily available, and with it, one’s race, ethnic origins, family history, genetic disorders, and therefore one’s susceptibility to certain diseases. Everything was cross-referenced as well. And it was all available to any interested party ... for a fee, of course. (Naturally, for a more substantial fee, it was possible to have one’s information made secure. But because of the tremendous volume of information, such fees were prohibitive, even to members of the middle-classes.)
It was fitting and yet ironic that this self-proclaimed system of Economic Individualism had reduced the very essence of individuality itself to a commodity!
Finally, Mattæus, Lukas and I were forced into a large holding cell along with the ten other workers who were in the troop carrier with us. There were already four or five prisoners in the cell. One of them was a very burly man, heavily tattooed, and fierce-looking.
“Looks like the strike has been broken,” he said, and shook his head. “It’s too bad. I was with the CWC, when I was younger ... before things fell apart between me and my wife and kids.”
Another prisoner said over the first, “It serves you all right. Who do you think you are stirring up shit for the rest of us?”
“That’s it — that’s it alright!” said yet another. “Things are already hard enough for us as they are! We don’t need your kind making things worse!”
Lukas’s eyes flashed with sudden anger, but he wisely held his tongue. Another young man, a worker with abraded knuckles, raised his middle finger though.
I almost expected a fight to break out, but nothing happened.
Neither my brother nor Lukas was hurt badly enough to require any kind of medical attention. On the other hand, I was in need, and my brother and Lukas informed every police officer that passed by of the fact. After fifteen minutes, a police officer with medical training came into the cell.
He cut my trousers leg off at mid-thigh and got to work. The bastard pushed and prodded at the wound with some electronic instrument I did not recognize. I tried to bite my tongue, but could not help it, and cried out. He shook his head, told me to hush, and cleaned away a mess of coagulated blood. I shouted out again when the wound was reopened. Tears burned in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. The rubber bullet had merely broken the skin, but the abrasion was nearly four inches long, deeper than I thought, and the swelling about it was tremendous.
“Very odd,” he said as he examined the wound.
That was definitely not something I wanted to hear.
Then he touched my kneecap. It hurt, but not so bad as to make me cry out again.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “There’s no serious damage here, lad. But you had better stay off that leg for a while. It’ll be sore for a week or more.”
He washed the blood away with water and an antiseptic that smelled of mint, and then applied a false-skin bandage with a spray gun.
“Does anyone else need my assistance?” he asked. He saw the young worker with abraded knuckles. “Do you?”
The young man stared at him defiantly, but said nothing.
The police officer shrugged. “I suppose not,” he said. “Suit yourself.”
“We have the right to contact an attorney,” my brother said suddenly.
“In due time,” the policeman said, and left.
* * *
I lost track of the time.
It seemed that for only a second or two, I had laid my head on Lukas’s shoulder, and he had laid his head on mine, before Matti shook my shoulder.
“Wake up,” he said. “You two dozed off.”
Lukas opened his eyes, looked at me, then at Mattæus. He blinked a couple of times, rubbed his eyes, and yawned. “What time is it?”
“I don’t know,” my brother said. “It’s been a while. A couple of hours, I guess.”
I looked around the cell. Some of the workers were asleep on available bunks. Other were sleeping, sitting up. The young man with bloody knuckles, whose name I’d learned was Ash (a Northumbrian vernacular form of Æsc), was alert and talking in one corner with the tattooed, fierce-looking, former-CWC member. The other prisoners were asleep on the bunks.
An officer I had not seen before was at the cell door. He was older, in his early sixties, judging by his jowls and graying hair. (Obviously a policeman’s salary was not enough for cosmetic ‘Youth Treatments’.) He tapped on the bars with a short nightstick, and asked, “Which of you are Mattæus and Johannes Kirkagárd?”
Mattæus stood immediately. “Are you going to allow us to contact an attorney?”
I hobbled over to stand beside him. And, oh God, did my knee hurt.
He pointed the nightstick at Mattæus and then at me. “The two of you are brothers? Well, boys, your parents are here. They arrived ten minutes ago, and paid the fees for your release.”
“Parents?” I asked.
The officer nodded. “Yes. Parents. Plural.”
“Oh, shit.” I turned to Matti. “Father’s here.”
Lukas jumped to his feet and came to stand with us. “I need to talk to an attorney,” he told the policeman.
“In due time.”
“What is that, the standard response?”
“Behave yourself, young man.”
“Let me call my mother then!”
“In due time.”
Lukas ran his hands back through his loose hair. The topknot had come apart in the fighting and he’d lost the cord with which he kept it bound. Then he let out a frustrated grunt. “I have a right to call — ”
“So does everybody else in this room,” the officer said.
“I know that, but not one of us has been released from this cell since we got here. It’s been hours — ”
“I don’t believe you comprehend the gravity of your situation, young man.” The officer turned to Mattæus, and said, “Tell your comrade to calm down and learn some patience.”
Mattæus said nothing.
The policeman tapped the North Lancascir Police Department insignia on his breast pocket, and said, “Hilde — bring Herra and Fru Kirkagárd in here, would you?”
A few seconds later, my mother and father were led toward the cell by the woman who the older policeman had called. This woman — Hilde — had earlier input our information into the computer.
My mother was grim-faced; she looked worried. She was dressed in a simple house dress. I figured it must’ve been very late, and that she’d been summoned from bed. My father was visibly angry, his lips were pressed tightly together, his eyes were sharp. He was dressed in a pair of breeches, a linen shirt, and vest. Obviously, he too, had been awakened. Neither of them spoke to the other and kept a healthy distance between them.
I don’t know precisely what it was, what I saw, what I felt, but I knew at that very moment my mother and father truly hated each other. How contempt and resentment had given way to hatred in the space of a few short hours.... They must’ve had an argument after hearing we’d been arrested. Everything must’ve been laid bare between them. I felt a chill, looked over to Matti, and saw in his reaction ... he’d sensed it too.
The cell door was released.
“You two. Out of there. Now,” my father ordered.
We looked at each other, back to Lukas, and then at our parents. We stepped out of the cell together. And that was when mother noticed my injury.
“Johannes!” she cried. “What happened?”
“I was hit by a rubber bullet, mum.”
My father jabbed his index finger at Lukas. “This is your fault, Grundtvigsson! Your fault and your father’s!”
“Place the blame where it belongs, Herra Kirkagárd, with the state militia. They shot Johannes.”
“You listen to me, you little faggot: Stay away from my son,” my father shouted. “Do you understand me? I do not want to see your face ever again, Grundtvigsson.”
He ignored my protests, and pushed me forward.
I wrested my arm away from him, turned, and looked back at Lukas. “I’ll call your mother, Lukas. I’ll let her know where you are.”
The cell door was closed between us.
* * *
For as fractured as our family was, the pretense of normalness was upheld for the neighbors, my parents’s friends and business associates, for our grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, and particularly for those on the Kirkagárd side of the family. It was a lie, but one clung to for reasons of social convenience. It lent our family an air of respectability. And that was very important if you happened to be members of the middle-class. After all, dysfunctional families were supposed to have been symptomatic of the social ills of the 20th Century. Everyone knew now such evils were a thing of the past, a reminder of the dangers of political permissiveness and social egalitarianism.
More than anything though, the lie was meant to comfort us — Elisabet, Mattæus, Susanna, and I — to convince us we lived in a stable, supportive home. My mother was no less guilty than my father in maintaining the pretense. And I clung to it as a matter of religious faith.
Mother and father love each other — that was article one. When Mattæus would tell me otherwise — and he did so often once he realized the truth himself at twelve — I’d tell him to go to hell, and insist he didn’t know what he was saying. He was wrong; he’d see. Mother and father truly cared for each other. They just fought because ... well, just because sometimes parents fight.
I conveniently ignored the many times Matti and I hid under the bed together when we were little, much younger than twelve, and listened tearfully to the invectives he directed against our mum. Banished too were memories of their fights, of his insults, and of her numerous retaliations.
Not one word was spoken in the car as we returned from Niew Lifrapol. The tension though was horrific. The unspoken, but palpable, rage between my parents ... it was worse than what I knew awaited Matti and I. The family I knew, had grown up in, was a thing of the past.
It was only a matter of time now.
When we finally arrived home, Mattæus and I lingered on the driveway, not wanting to face what we knew was coming.
As soon as the front door was closed and locked behind us, my father grabbed my arm. He yanked it hard ... hard enough to hurt. “You lack discipline, Johannes. You fall short of every goal before you. It is disappointing enough that you aren’t number one in your class, and even more so that your grades fall short of the ninety-fifth percentile. It is tolerable though, I suppose. Disappointing, but tolerable.”
“Father, I try. I have a full plate: Football, schoolwork — ”
He cut me off with a flick of his hand. “Don’t give me excuses.”
“They’re not — ”
“This time though, you’ve gone too far. I thought better of you, Johannes, than that you would fraternize with common criminals.” His eyes bored into mine. “That is what these libertarians are — common criminals!” He paused, as if to let it sink in. “First thing Monday morning, I’m going to pull you out of Sceofeld Academy. Chancellor Reinhardtsón has fostered too permissive a spirit there. I’m going to have you enrolled at Acbeorg Christian Academy. You need the discipline only they can offer.”
“No!” I cried. “You can’t do that! The team needs me at Sceofeld!”
“The team, Johannes ... or Grundtvigsson?”
“The team and Lukas! He’s my right hand! He’s my best friend!”
“I do not want you associating with that boy — that faggot — any longer,” my father said. “Only God Himself knows what he’s tried to do — ”
“That’s quite enough of that, Eadmund,” my mother said.
He ignored her. “I am going split the two of you up, and that is all there is to it.”
“No, father. No! I will not — ”
“You will do as you are told.”
“Leave him alone!” Mattæus stepped between us. “Johannes and I stay at Sceofeld, together, or — ”
“Or we’ll run away.”
Father thought that was ridiculous. “Where to?”
“To Odense, to live with mum’s parents,” he said.
“This really has nothing to do with you,” father said.
“Nothing to do with me? I was there too!”
“Go to bed, Mattæus, I can stand only so much of your yapping.”
“Matti, please don’t make things worse,” I begged.
With a glance, Mattæus informed me I was a coward, and then climbed the stairs to our room.
“Mattæus is right, Eadmund,” my mother said. “Leave Johannes be. One irresponsible act on his part, in the face of all he’s accomplished — ”
Father snorted a dismissal. “One irresponsible act? One? I don’t know who is worse, Mattæus or Johannes.” He looked at me. “You’re both ... fuck-ups.” I was startled by this profanity; he seldom swore like that. “I expect nothing more from your brother. But you should know better!”
“You’re a boorish pig, Eadmund,” my mother said, then led me to the couch so I could get off my leg. She knelt, examined my leg for moment, and shook her head. She was angry too. “I would have never let you go to Lukas’s house if I’d known where you were going tonight, Johannes.”
I collapsed on the couch and held my right leg out straight ahead of me. My knee ached so bad. “Mum — ”
“Did you know that’s where you were ultimately headed tonight?”
I nodded. “It wasn’t planned ... but ... yeah, I figured Lukas would want to see his father tonight.”
“I should have pressed charges,” father said. “Lukas and Grundtvig both need to spend time in prison. Criminals, both of them!”
Mother rolled her eyes.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me!”
“I will not permit you take Johannes out of Sceofeld Academy.”
“No wonder our sons are such fuck-ups, Anna: You’re a permissive bitch! They’re spoiled rotten.”
“Spoiled rotten, is it? Take the mote from your eye! You’re a childish, indolent hypocrite!” she spat. “So Johannes and Mattæus are spoiled, are they? And what of you? You’ve known nothing but comfort and privilege your entire life, Eadmund!”
And with that, I was forgotten. They yelled at each other furiously, and I slipped away, upstairs.
* * *
Susanna was standing in the hall just outside the door of her bedroom, dressed in a nightgown. She was a young woman now, fourteen, and already very popular with the boys. She had bronze-colored hair, like mum and Mattæus, and fine features. Despite her physical maturity, she was still young. And she looked so much younger then, afraid of the yelling which echoed through the house.
She walked toward me carefully. “Why are mum and father fighting?”
“They just are.”
“Johan? What’s wrong? What happened? They were fighting earlier too. I mean, they were screaming at each other. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Go back to bed.”
“Are they getting a divorce?”
“Susanna, go to bed.”
She was on the verge of tears. “Johan, where were you and Matti tonight?”
“What happened to your leg?” Tears slipped from her eyes then. “Did you have to go to the hospital? Were you in a car accident?”
“Ssshh, Susi, ssshh. It’s okay.” I leaned forward and kissed my little sister on the forehead. “Go to bed. I’ll tell you everything in the morning.”
* * *
Mattæus was sitting on the edge of his bed wearing only boxer briefs. His hair was loose and hung on his shoulders. I saw the bruises Matthias-Paulus had left the other day during their gymnasium class, but there were no new injuries from tonight. He was lucky.
The image of that young worker clubbed in the face, not just once, but twice, flashed into my brain.
I closed my eyes.
As usual, Mattæus spoke Scandian with me, and I replied in kind.
“I’m trying not to listen,” I said. “I wish they’d fucking stop it!”
“We should go. We should run away to Odense. Mo’rmo’r and Mo’rfa’r would welcome us. They’d take care of us,” he said, meaning our mother’s mother and mother’s father.
I sat down on my bed, across from Matti, and said, “Maybe ... if things get worse. If father get his way and yanks me out of school.”
“If that happens, it wouldn’t be so bad to go then,” he said. “At least we’d be together.”
I nodded and looked at the clock beside the bed. It was after one in the morning. Just as I promised, I tried to call Lukas’s mother from the phone in our room as my watch/phone had been ruined, confiscated, and not returned. Her personal number just rang and rang. Then I tried the house phone, with the same results.
“None.” I yawned.
“Maybe the police called her just like they called mum and Eadmund,” he said. “She might have left her phone at home, you know.”
The fighting downstairs let up.
“Well, at least, they’ve shut up,” said Mattæus.
“I’ve got to get some sleep.” I stretched. It hurt. I winced. “God, Matti, my leg hurts so bad.”
Mattæus got up from his bed and helped me undress. I pulled off my shirt while he tugged at my shoes and socks. I unbuttoned my trousers; he pulled them off. He touched my knee accidently.
“Sorry,” he said.
The guest bedroom door slammed.
“They won’t be sleeping together any longer,” Mattæus said and placed his hands on my shoulders. Then he leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “I love you, Johannes.”
I looked up into his eyes, surprised by the kiss. He wasn’t the affectionate type.
“With all that’s happened tonight, I thought I should say so,” he said.
“I love you too.”
He went towards his own bed, but I caught him by the hand. “Sleep with me tonight,” I said. “Like when we were small.”
After he turned out the light, we pulled the covers back and laid down side by side. After a moment, he rolled onto his side, and put his arm around me. It was an innocent gesture, but it embarrassed me as we had nothing between us except for our underwear.
He must’ve noticed me tense up, because he said, “Don’t be ashamed — we’re brothers.”
I felt his arm about my chest, the beating of his heart, his breath on my shoulder, steady, easy. It was very much different than when Lukas held me, or when I held him. This, with Matti, wasn’t erotic, just comforting.
Soon he was asleep, but I did not follow for the longest time. There was too much on my mind, let alone the dull, throbbing pain in my knee.
I tossed and turned, and soon Mattæus rolled over, away from me.
I was worried about Grundtvig, but could barely comprehend what might happen to him. I didn’t know where he was. Was he in prison? What if he was charged with treason, or sedition, or compromising the security of the AFR? No, it was too much to think about.
And so I worried about Lukas. Compared to what Grundtvig faced, it seemed petty even to me. But it was easier. It wasn’t as scary. I thought of my father’s threat to have me removed from school.
I couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from Lukas.
Everyone said I was the best athlete at Sceofeld Academy, but in truth, I believed Lukas was every bit as good as I was. Individually we were good; together we were awesome. I admired Lukas as a man, as an athlete, as a bright mind and soul, as a comrade and brother.
No matter what, I would not allow my father to come between us.
And with that resolution made, I let sleep take me.
* * *
I jerked upright, awakened by the shout, and found Matti sitting up in bed, sweating profusely beside me. His face was wet with tears.
“Did you see? Did you see what they did?” he sobbed.
“It was a dream, that’s all.”
“No. No! Did you see what they did to him?”
I put my arms around my brother, smoothed his sweat-dampened hair, and hugged him tightly. “Who?”
“He had such bright eyes.” He wrapped his arms around me and bawled. “Oh God, Jaroslav! Did you see, Johannes?”
My stomach lurched. “Yes, Matti, I saw.”
* * *
To be continued....