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Call me Eild

by c m

Chapter 5

With the delegation gone, it was time to turn our attention to Mikka's visit home. Tibor sent word to Mikka's people that he was considering the introduction of staged visits back home as a reward for good behaviour. The message that came back was positive, and it was agreed that Mikka would be the first beneficiary of the policy. He would be gone for two weeks.

He was as well-briefed as Barat and I could achieve, and we had rehearsed him through as many situations as we could think of. Mikka proved not only to be a good learner, but to be a very good improviser when we threw things at him that we hadn't warned him about. We were both confident that he would do a good job.

Mikka spent the last night before he was due to set off in my bed. We made love gently and tenderly; neither of us was looking forward to being without the other for two weeks.

'I shall miss you, Mikka.'

'And I you, Eild. More than you can know.'

In the morning I waved him off and wished him godspeed. We had agreed that he would not try to send messages or letters while he was at his home. Apart from anything else, we wanted it to look as though he was relieved to be away and reluctant, but accepting, of the need to return home when the time came.

With Mikka away, I had to take responsibility for keeping Rollo occupied during the day. With Mikka, he had been spending time with the foreign affairs team where he seemed to have settled in well and to be well-liked. Mikka said he was bright and willing. I had no idea if they had slept together again; Mikka hadn't said anything and I hadn't asked. I didn't really want to interrupt my programme with Barat, so I asked Tibor if it would be alright if Rollo accompanied me to Barat's offices each day. I thought I'd set him to some of the codes I myself had been given to crack during the period that I was on probation. Tibor agreed.

On our walks to Barat each morning, I found Rollo to be an interesting, intelligent and agreeable companion; he had a wide range of interests from nature and science to drama and literature. He was also interested in politics - perhaps inevitably as the son of a politician like Tyccho. He also shared my interest in medicine and our conversations started to focus more and more on that. I wondered if he wanted to train as a doctor.

'Would that be possible, sir? I would like that very much.'

'We'll talk to Barat about it; he knows more about most things here than I do, but I don't see why not. And please, enough of 'sir', just call me Eild.'

'That would be amazing; thank you...Eild.'

'OK, but for now at least, I want to see how you cope with another of my interests; codes.'

'OK, Eild. Sounds fun.'

At Barat's offices. I told Barat that I would be spending the morning giving Rollo a crash-course introduction to codes, but that I would be with him later. I also asked him to think about whether, and how, Rollo might train as a doctor.

'A doctor? Mmm...good. I'll give it some thought.'

I sat down beside Rollo with a couple of books that I has used in my early days of getting to grips with codes. As Mikka had said, he was bright and he quickly picked up the basics of simple coding and decoding. I thought that I'd test him and left him with a piece that didn't actually conform to what I had shown him so far. I wondered how long it would take him to work that out and whether he would find the answer - which was covered towards the end of the second book.

'I'm going to be with Barat for an hour or so, then I'll be back, OK?'

'OK, Eild,' he said, happily.

Just under an hour later there was a thunderous tapping on the door to Barat's private office where we were both working.

Barat motioned for me to open it - and there was Rollo hopping from foot to foot and saying 'I've done it, I've done it...and it was very mean of you wasn't it?'

I couldn't help but smile.

'Bring the boy in,' said Barat.

I introduced them and they shook hands.

'So what are you so proud of doing?' Barat asked him.

'Well, Eild set me a code - but it wasn't one like he'd shown me. It took me a little while to realise that, but then I set to finding out what sort it was...and it was there in the book - but right at the end.'

'I see,' said Barat,' that was very enterprising of you. And what did the message say?'

'It said. 'I wonder if you'll work this out. If you do, come and find me.' So I have.'

'Well done, young man. That's the sort of mind I like to see. And Eild tells me that you might want to study to be a doctor?'

'Yes, that's right. Although codes seem to be a lot of fun too.'

'Eild is the greatest code-master I have ever seen. If you are interested, I'm sure that he will teach you as much as you could wish to know. But there is a need for only so many code-breakers, while there is always a need for more doctors. If you're interested, I have an old friend at the university, a highly respected doctor and surgeon, who is always looking for bright students of your age. Would you like to meet him?'

'That would be wonderful, sir.'

'Ah...old-fashioned politeness too. You have clearly been very well brought up - but please, call me Barat.'

'Thank you...Barat.'

'My pleasure. Well, I suppose I had better let Eild go to set you another puzzle, but I hope that I will see you again.'

'OK, Barat,' I said, 'see you tomorrow. And I'll set him something that will keep him out of our hair all day. Come on Rollo, that's enough for now; you've done very well indeed.'

I saw him flush with pleasure at my compliment and he turned his radiant smile on me. No wonder Mikka had said 'yes'.

Once back at my apartments, I said to Rollo that I would very much like it if he joined me for dinner that evening - if that wouldn't bore him too much.

'Oh no, Eild. I'd love to.'

'Good. See you about seven.'

And, duly at seven o'clock, he appeared - looking good enough to eat in the thinnest of white shirts through which you could see his chest and torso, and a pair of white linen pants that came down to his calves, below which his tanned legs ran smoothly down to a pair of spads. If he'd actively set out to seduce me, he couldn't have chosen anything more sexy.

Over dinner we talked in a little more detail about what becoming a doctor would involve, and also about the shared process we'd been through of announcing our sexuality.

'I'm so pleased that you have this option now instead of the ones Brygg and I faced.'

'Me too,' he said, flashing me that smile again,' and, do you mind me asking Eild, how old were you when you...knew?'

So I told him what I'd told Mikka. He nodded.

'Much the same for me...except, I have never had a 'Brygg'. I just knew that I loved other boys touching me in that way, and I was prepared to try it with anyone. I must have done stuff with maybe fifty boys or more. Mostly just wanking but no-one refuses to be sucked if you offer, do they? But I don't think any of those boys I went with were homosexual themselves . And then there was the house-boy. I know that you don't really have 'relationships' with servants, but he was the first boy to fuck me - and did so regularly for two years. I was thirteen when it started and he was nearly sixteen. I think he'd have liked to keep coming to my bed, but, well, as eighteen approached he was too afraid of being caught - with all the consequences; there have been a few since then - and others during those years, but they were mostly visitors who didn't face the same sort of sanctions our stupid nation imposes. They were all ages; the oldest partner I've had was forty. Most were gentle and kind but some were rough and hurt me. So I've had a lot of sex but no love. No real relationships. That's why I wanted to come here; a fresh start.'

My heart went out to him.

'Rollo...I had no idea.'

He smiled at me.

'No. And that's why I feel so bad about having asked Mikka to sleep with me.'

'Why do you feel bad?'

'Because he told me that you were special to him and it feels like I've broken the very thing I want so badly for myself.'

'He told you that we item?'

'Yes...well, no...but that's what 'very special' means isn't it?'

'Well... he's very special to me, Rollo. But no, we're not a couple or an item. You did nothing wrong by sleeping with him - provided that was what you both wanted.'


'Really, Rollo. You and Mikka are free to sleep with each other if you both want to. I'm very fond of him, and who knows where the path of our lives will lead, but right now we are teenage boys - like you...and It's OK to have some fun.'

'But it will still only be sex with him, won't it? It won't be a relationship.'

'That's for the two of you to work out. At the very least it will be sex with a very caring and loving boy who shares your sexual preferences and who will never hurt you, betray you or let you down. Those things will still have taken you a long way from anything you have enjoyed before. Didn't it feel different with him when you went to bed together?'

He nodded. 'Yes..yes it did. It felt like...he cared for me. He wasn't just using me - or me him. It was so nice.'

'Then celebrate that, Rollo.'

'But...he hasn't said that he wants to do it again.'

'Have you asked him?'

'No, because I thought you two...'

'That's very sweet of you, Rollo. And you're half right in that Mikka has told me that he feels guilty for the same reason as you do. But you're both being stupid. Very stupid considering how bright you both are. It's kind of you to be so considerate, but I meant what I said. You and Mikka are free to have sex together if you want. In fact you're both of you free to have sex with anyone you choose - if you both want it.'

'Thank you, Eild.'

'And...don't fret about being in a relationship. It will happen when it will happen. But sleeping around with just anybody isn't the way to find it. In fact, it would be pretty off-putting to the sort of boy who I think you are looking for, OK?'

He smiled. 'Yes, you're right. And Mikka 's right. You really are a lovely man.'

He got up from his chair, came over to me, bent down to me and gave me a kiss. Just one , but it lingered. I put one hand behind his neck and kissed him back. He tasted of honey.

Over the next few days, I gave Rollo harder and harder codes. He struggled with some of them, but he eventually cracked them all - except the last one. It was a pig - a double substitution, but when I showed him how to approach it he was furious with himself.

'How didn't I see that? It's obvious when you know how.'

'Not obvious, perhaps, but once you've seen it, you won't forget it. And actually, that's one of the reasons why I think you might be a truly great doctor. Once you've seen something, you remember it - and you have an enquiring mind. I think it's time we took you to see Barat's friend.'

In fact, I left it to Barat to do the introductions. When Rollo got back he was full of enthusiasm.

'OK, Rollo. As a matter of courtesy we ought to go and tell Tibor what we have in mind as it's not what was originally envisaged for you. But I don't think he'll mind.


I smiled. 'You're very keen...but why not. I'll try to arrange it.'

Which I did.

That night as I lay in bed, I dreamed of Mikka. I dreamed of him creeping into my bed and snuggling up beside me as he did. And then I wasn't asleep, and the body beside me was real. For a moment, I assumed that Mikka must have returned unexpectedly.


'No,' a voice said, 'it's Rollo.'

I turned over to face him.

'What are you doing here, Rollo?'

'Are you angry?'

'No, Rollo. I just...'

'Eild...I'm feeling a little home-sick. Mikka said if that happened it would probably be OK to come and have a cuddle with you. Is that OK?'

'Of course, Rollo, come here.'

I pulled him to me. What I hadn't expected to find was that he was naked. And the touch of his flesh against mine was electrifying. I could also feel that the cock pressing against my thigh was rigid. I felt my stomach lurch. He put an arm across my chest and lay there like that for maybe a couple of minutes. Then he spoke:

'Eild...what you said about having sex with anyone if we both wanted to...does that include you?'

I could scarcely speak.

'Well, yes,' I croaked,' principle...'

'I would very much like to have sex with you.'

I felt his hand drift down over my stomach and into my groin. I had been achingly erect from the moment I'd realised that he was naked, and I felt his hand close round the shaft.

'...and it does rather look as if you would like to have sex with me....'

By now his scent was in my nostrils, and whatever my head was trying to say, my body was telling it to shut up. Mikka's words came back to me - 'I'm only flesh and blood'.

'Yes, Rollo,' I gasped as his hand started to move up and down on me, 'I'd like that very much.'

His lips touched mine as he rolled on top of me and then lay there, spread-eagled over me. Lips to lips, chest to chest, stomach to stomach, cock to cock.

He kissed like an angel, his tongue exploring every recess of my mouth before he ran it down over my chin, down over my chest and stomach and into my groin. I felt the tip of it flick the end of my cock, and then the skin was being eased back and I was engulfed by the warm wetness of his mouth.

I was in heaven...but I desperately wanted to feel him, touch him and taste him as well.

'Scooch around, Rollo. I want us to do this to each other.'

He did as I asked, and I felt his erection against my lips. He was generously, but not excessively, endowed, and I slurped him into my mouth. I heard him groan. And then we were working each other, harder and faster until I felt him tense and then his cum was spurting into my mouth. I came seconds later. He swallowed every drop.

In the silence that followed, I had no idea what to say. Rollo didn't have the same problem.

'Fuck me, Eild. I want you inside me so badly.'

His hand was on my cock, stroking it back to life. And I wanted him.

'How do you want it, Rollo?'

'Doggy style, please Eild.'

I got off the bed and stood at the end. Rollo had shuffled down until his knees were on the edge. His hole was waiting, pinkly, for me.

I put my tongue on it and licked him.

'Oh, by the gods, one's ever done that before.'

I pushed my tongue inside him whilst reaching around to take hold of his cock. It was rigidly hard. Rollo was squeaking with pleasure when I entered him. Only as I drove my last inch into him did he groan.

What followed was sensuous and satisfying. He felt hot and tight around me, and he pushed and squirmed against me in a way that only increased my pleasure. All too soon, I was filling him with my seed and he reached his own climax shortly afterwards. Then he sighed with pleasure.

'Mmm...again please.'

'Again? You horny little beast.'

'Mmhmm...that's me. But this time I want to be on top of you.'

I pulled wetly out of him and went and lay on the bed. As he climbed on top of me, I saw his body for the first time in the moonlight that was spilling in through the window. His skin looked smooth and flawless except for a mass of pubic hair in his groin that looked virtually black in the monochromatic light. I noticed that his cock was already stiffening again as slid down me and took my thickly limp penis in his mouth. I felt myself hardening as he went to work on me, and then he was straddling me and impaling himself on me. I felt him wriggle from side to side until every last centimetre of me was inside him. He sighed with satisfaction, then put both of his hands on my chest as he pumped himself up and down on me, slowly at first and the faster and faster. I saw him biting his lip with concentration as the pace of his movements increased. He started masturbating himself with increasing urgency. Then I felt the familiar sensation in my balls.

'I'm going to cum, Rollo.'

He said nothing, but just nodded at me. A drop of his perspiration fell onto my chest, followed by white ropes of his cum that shot over my chest. The sensation of his muscles clenching around me sent me over the top, and I emptied myself inside him.

Spent, he collapsed on top of me. His breathing slowly returned to normal and then he lifted his lips to mine and kissed me, before rolling off to lie next to me.

'I've wanted you ever since I first saw you at my father's house, Eild.'

'So I take it that you aren't actually feeling homesick?'

He coloured.

'No. I apologise for that. How could I feel homesick here? This is a wonderful place full of wonderful people like you and Mikka - and wonderful opportunities. I could never have become a doctor in our country, Eild - you know that. I would either be facing death or a career as a Dog Soldier - like you. I'm sorry for tricking you.'

'You have nothing to apologise for, Rollo. I could have said 'no' if I'd wanted.'

He propped himself up on one arm.

'I'm so pleased you didn't. You were amazing.'

He lowered his lips to mine and kissed me again. And let his hand wander down into my groin.

'I don't suppose....?'

'Are you sure you don't want to switch roles, Rollo?'

'No. The prospect of giving rather than taking - at least where this is concerned - does not excite me...but the thought of you filling me again most certainly does.'

'I'm not sure I can, Rollo...'

But what he was doing with his hand suggested otherwise. He stroked me back to full hardness over the next few minutes, the lifted his legs up until his knees were beside his head.

'Take me, Eild.'

And I did. This time took longer. Much longer. But neither of us complained about that. When I finally exploded (well, let's be honest, dribbled) inside him, first light was already creeping over the horizon, illuminating his body in all its beauty. I led him to the bathroom where we washed each other all over, luxuriating in the hot water. We dried each other and Rollo put his robe back on before heading back to his room.

And I suddenly felt incredibly guilty.

But not guilty enough to refuse him entry to my bed twice more while Mikka was away. I am truly only flesh and blood. And then, suddenly, it was the day before Mikka was due to return.

Despite everything I had said about being free to sleep with whoever we chose, I was now in a quandary. I could not deny that sex with Rollo had been fun, but the prospect of Mikka's return suddenly made me realise that I was desperate to have him in my bed rather than Rollo. And I knew that I would have to be truthful about what had happened. I was suddenly scared that my weakness and my lust might have ruined what I now knew I wanted above all else.

Rollo solved the problem - at least in part. The last night we slept together he said to me:

'Eild, thank you so much for the past few nights. They've meant so much to me. But I know where your heart lies - even if you don't. I would love to sleep with you - and with Mikka - from time to time if that were possible, but I will never ever get between you two.' He went quiet, then, 'Umm...will you tell him that we've slept with each other?'

'Yes, Rollo. He deserves the truth. I hope it won't upset him. And of course you are free to sleep with Mikka once he's back - if you both want to. You have are...amazing, and I don't regret it for a minute, but you are right about where my heart lies. I hope you don't feel I've just used you.'

'Used me? Are you mad? If anyone has been used it's you! I was the one who came to you with the cock and bull story about being homesick. You're lovely, Eild, as well as being gorgeous. I'm the one who's worried that I've taken advantage of you.'

'No, Rollo, you haven't.'

'Then can I stay the rest of the night?'

'Of course.

He cuddled up to me like he had that first time he had got into my bed. But this time he just put a hand on my shoulder and fell asleep. Which was good; I wanted, and needed, to save my strength for Mikka.

I was up and about in good time the next day. I was both happy and anxious at the prospect of Mikka's return; happy that he would soon be back, and anxious because I wondered whether our suspicions would turn out to have been well-founded.

I knew that he was due back at the border at dawn. From there it was a six hour journey to the palace, so by twelve I was ready and waiting. By three he had still not appeared and I started to get worried. Then shortly before five, I saw a cloud of dust approaching the city and my heart leapt.

Thirty minutes later, there was a knock on the door of my apartments - and there he was.

He literally ran into my arms.

'Eild! I've missed you so much - and I have so much to tell you.'

'I've missed you too, Mikka. And...?'

'Oh Eild, I'm so is as you thought. The book was in his library...but more than that, he gave me something to bring back.'

'Something for me?'

'No. Something for...Joran.'

You could have heard a pin drop in the silence that followed.

'For Joran?'

'Yes, Eild. A message.'

'Have you looked at it? What does it say?'

'I haven't looked at it - it's sealed. And I assume it's in code anyway.'

I nodded. Of course it would be. How stupid of me. But my head was almost reeling at the implications and consequences of what Mikka had said. I took a deep breath and refocused. First things first.

'OK,' I said, 'time for all this later. You need a bath and a change of clothes - and I'll get the kitchen to prepare some food for you. Use my bath.'

'Will you come and... scrub my back?'

'I smiled. 'If you like.'

'I like.'

'Be with you shortly.'

I headed to the kitchen and told them to prepare food and wine for Mikka. Then I headed to my bedroom. Mikka's clothes were scattered all over the floor, and I could hear sounds of splashing. I went through into the bathroom and found him sitting in hot water up to his armpits. His golden hair was damp with the steam and I could just make out the outline of his body through the water. He flicked water at me.

'Don't just stand there, get in.'

I stripped and stepped down into the water facing him. My arousal was all too evident.

'Ooh...someone's pleased to see me,' he laughed.

I figured now was as good a time as any.

'I'm very, very pleased to see you Mikka. But there's something I need to tell you. I...'

'You've slept with Rollo.'

' did...?'

'Because I told him to. He probably said he was homesick.'

' told him to say that?'

'Yes,' he smirked, 'and did you enjoy it?'

'Yes,' I said grudgingly, 'I did. But I prefer you.'

'Prove it.'

So I did.

An hour later we were both dried and dressed, and Mikka was working his way steadily through a mound of food.

'Once you're ready, we need to go and see Barat and Tibor. Tibor is not going to like this. But tell me...what happened.'

And this is the story Mikka told me.

'Bear in mind that it's been two years since I left as a hostage, so when I arrived , my mother was waiting on the steps to greet me. 'MIKKA!' was all she said. Then she flung her arms round me and kissed me and hugged me as if she was trying to squeeze the breath out of me.

'OH's so wonderful. How are you? Have they treated you well?'

And then she let go of me and looked at me.

'But you've grown so much. You are almost a man. You must come and tell us everything. Your father is inside and we have all the family coming you to see you over the next few days.'

The she hugged me to her again.

'It is so wonderful to have you back - even if only for a short time.'

My father was more restrained, but nice enough.

'It's very good to see you again, my boy.'

We all sat down - and the questions started.

'So how are they treating you?' my mother asked.

'I am treated like some kind of upmarket servant by most of them. They like to humiliate me in every way imaginable. I hate it.'

My parents looked at each other. Whatever else they had been expecting me to say, it wasn't that.

'The king allows this?'

'Allows it? Hah! On my sixteenth birthday, he invited me to his rooms and gave me wine A lot of wine. I passed out - but I came to I was in his bed, naked, and he was...doing me.'

'He raped you?!' my mother was horrified.

'Oh yes. He said that at sixteen I was ready to be a man and he knew what sort of a man I was and that I should be pleased that it was a king who was making a man of me. It was awful and it hurt so, so much.'

'Oh my poor boy. The man is a monster. You are a hostage not a servant and much less some kind of sexual plaything.'

It's appalling,' said my father. He paused. ' You didn't do anything to encourage him to think you wanted it did you?'

'Father! How can you even think such a thing. I felt violated and humiliated - and of course the story was round the palace in no time. Which meant all the other boys started teasing me and some went further than that....,' I started crying and my mother rushed over and put her arms round me.

'Of course you didn't do anything to encourage him. Your father didn't mean that. This is wicked.'

'Please. Mother, Father do something to get me home. I don't want another eighteen years of this.'

'My boy, we are already doing....taking steps...that we hope will have you back here as soon as possible. Do they all treat you so badly?'

'Not all, no. There is a man called Eild. He is from a defeated nation like us, but he's a man whom the king has come to trust.'

'Hah, yes...their ambassador. What of him?'

'He has become my protector - indeed my friend. Like me, he bears the king no love but unlike me he cannot go home.'

'Cannot go home? Why not?'

'You know what his nation does to men who sleep with men?'

'Oh my god...he's one of those too? Like the king?'

I looked at him. His reaction had been everything I feared it would be, and I saw the look of distaste in his eyes and the slight curl of his lips.

'And has he tried to sleep with you too?'

'No, father. Whatever his nature so far as that is concerned, he has behaved with nothing but honour towards me. And anyway, all that matters is that, like me, he seeks revenge on Tibor. But he is happy to play a long game; to work his way into the king's trust so that when he acts it will be to bring the whole rotten edifice down and leave it to be shared between our nation and his.'

'He has told you that?'

'Yes, father.'

My father went very quiet.

'We have things that we need to discuss, Mikka. A lot of things. But for now you must be tired. Come, we will eat and then you must rest. We will talk more of this tomorrow.'

Mikka paused in his story.

'Well done, Mikka,' I said, 'It sounds as if the story you told made things move faster than we anticipated.'

'Maybe. Anyway, let me tell you the next bit...'

At that point, however, a knock on the door announced Rollo's return from work. He saw Mikka and literally ran across the room and jumped into his arms. Mikka swung him around, before letting his feet drop back to the ground and giving him a big kiss.

I'd wondered how I'd feel when they saw each other again, and was pleased that the only emotion I felt was happiness for the pair of them.

'MIKKA! It's so good to see you back.'

'It's good to see you too, Rollo. I hope you've behaved yourself.'

'You told me not to do anything you wouldn't do...and I can honestly say that I've obeyed you.'

I saw them look at each other and then burst into laughter. No prizes for guessing what that had been about.

'So how did it go, Mikka?'

I saw Mikka raise a questioning eyebrow at me over Rollo's shoulder. I made a quick movement of my head from side to side. Much as I trusted Rollo, this was not something to which he could be privy yet.

'It all went fine, Rollo. My mother was very pleased to see me, and my father quite pleased. And it was good to see some my old friends and relatives. But it's good to be back here with you two again.'

'Great.' He looked first at one of us and then the other, and then back again. 'Ah...I've interrupted something, haven't I?'

'That's OK, Rollo - no problem with coming in to say hello. But I just need a few minutes with Mikka on our own if that's OK?'

'Of course. Sorry for the interruption.'

'See you later, Rollo,' said Mikka with a smile.

'Sure, ' said Rollo, smiling back and then leaving. He pulled the door to behind him.

'It's nice to see him happy...and to see you happy too,' I said. 'And you do know that he's a little in love with you?'

'Mikka smiled. 'Well, he's certainly a little in love with you.'

'Mikka, I want you to...make him happy from time to time - assuming you want to.'

'He's never indicated that...after that first time.'

I snorted. 'I'll tell you what I told him; you're very dim for a bright boy. Of course he wants to. He just doesn't want to get between us. And he thinks that sleeping with you would do that. He's very sweet. And very wrong.'

'You'd really be OK with it?'

'Yes, Mikka. I don't own you. And we've enough lust, each of us, for more than one person. That doesn't mean I don't want you in my bed at every available opportunity, but... since you clearly encouraged him into my bed, I'm encouraging you into his.'

'OK, maybe...but tonight I am definitely yours. Two weeks is way too long - despite what we did in the bath earlier.'

We grinned at each other.

'Right, now tell me more of the story.'

'As it turned out, my father and I didn't have a chance to speak further the next day. There seemed to be a constant stream of relatives, both mine - who wanted to know how I was and how things were going - and those of the other hostages, who hoped I'd have news of them or who wanted to know when their sons or daughters might be allowed the same visiting privileges I had been given. As those of us who are hostages are scattered throughout the kingdom, I couldn't help with that very much, but I did give them to understand that if all went well with my visit then others would follow. I was careful to make them all think I was unhappy and couldn't wait to return home permanently. Some of them knew about the assassination attempt, but I just said I didn't know much about it - other than the fact that, ironically, you were probably the only person who had shown me any kindness.

The only issue I can see is that they might now be thinking that all the hostages are being treated as badly as I told them I was. The moment any of the others is allowed back to visit, they'll know that this is untrue. So anything you want to do as a result of my visit needs to be done quickly, I think. And my cover will be blown; I can't go back again.'

'You're right - and we need to act quickly anyway. Do you mind very much that you won't be able to visit your home again?'

'I'm sorry that I won't see my mother, but I know that my father is guilty of a serious crime for which he will be punished. And that bothers me not at all. And perhaps, if everything works out, my mother may be able to visit me even if I cannot visit her.'

'What about your friends?'

'I have new and better friends here, Eild.'

'You said that you knew your father is guilty of a serious crime; how?'

'Ah, yes. Once the rush of relatives had slowed down, a day or so later my father asked to speak with me again. I found myself back in his study again. He has a knack of making you feel small; it's horrible. Anyway, he asked me a lot of detailed questions about what I was expected to do during the day. I told him that I worked for you and that that's how I had come to know you. He asked again what kind of a man you were, and he asked me if I was absolutely sure you hated Tibor; he said that everything he knew about the king pointed to him being a man of good judgement, and that he was surprised that he had got it so wrong with you. He wondered if you actually got on well with the king, and the dislike was an act to see if it was me who had secrets and befriending me was just part of a plan to see I was plotting against the king in any way.'

'He's no fool your father, is he?'

'No - but at least he still believed that I hated it here and wanted to come home. So I told him I was as sure as I could be that that was not the case, but asked him why it mattered anyway; I told him that as far as I was concerned, even if I 'd misread things, you were still kind to me and protected me and that there was nothing for you to 'discover' about me as I certainly wasn't plotting against the king anyway. He went quiet, and then got up and went to stand at the window. He stood there, just thinking, for several minutes. Eventually he said "I can't tell you why, Mikka, but it matters." I sensed that he had been on the edge of confiding in me, but decided not to at the last minute. What can he have been going to say if it wasn't that you had been at the heart of a plan to get me home? But that if you really hated the king then you were a potential ally and not a target? But the important thing, Eild, is that while he had his back to me. I had a chance to look at his bookshelf closely...and, amongst other books on philosophy, was the one you showed me.'

'OK, slow down, Mikka. The fact that the book is there may be significant, but it is still perfectly possible that your father's interest in it is only as a philosophical text. And whilst it is tempting to put the explanation on it that you did, his reluctance to confide in you may be for other reasons. However, now that you've given me the background to your visit, I think it's time we took a look at the note he gave you for Joran. That is infinitely more suspicious and will, I dare say, provide the answer one way or another. We need to go and see Barat....but first I must write a note to Tibor; he'll be bursting to see us to know what happened, but we can't give him the answer until we've read the note.'

I drafted a brief letter to Tibor, begging his patience and saying that we'd be with him as soon as we'd resolved a crucial development. Mikka and I then headed off to see Barat.

'Ahh,' said Barat as we walked through the door, 'I see the wanderer has returned. How did you get on, Mikka?'

'That's why we're here, Barat,' I said, 'forgive my interrupting, but we have something very important that we need your help with.'

'How intriguing...tell me more.'

'My father gave me a note for Joran. It's sealed, but we need to open it in such a way that we can read it but not let Joran know we've done so.'

'Joran? I see.'

A troubled look passed over Barat's face.

'This is not good news, is it?'

'I fear not, Barat...but there's only one way to find out.'

'Can you open the letter?' asked Mikka.

'Oh yes, I think so. Come with me.'

Barat led us into the back room and put the sealed message on a metal work-surface. He then took what looked like a metal knife but with a thin, wide blade and heated it gently. He tested the temperature several times with his fingers before taking the blade and sliding it slowly but firmly under the wax seal.

'The temperature is critical,' he said, 'it must be hot enough to avoid breaking the wax, but not so hot that it starts to melt it. It has to soften just enough to come away from the paper.'

As the blade emerged from the other side of the seal, the flap on the paper popped open. Barat put the knife down and put on a pair of thin gloves. he looked at me.

'What are you expecting to see?'

'I hope I'm wrong, but I think that there'll be columns of numbers.'

Barat opened the paper and sighed.

'I fear you are right,' he said, turning the paper round towards me.

The columns of numbers covered about half a page. I took out my notebook and carefully copied them down.

'OK, Barat. Time to reseal it.'

Barat once again warmed the blade and held it against the base of the seal until it started to soften, and then closed the paper up and held the seal in place until it was cold, before handing it back to Mikka. Mikka turned it over in his hands, studying the area around the seal very closely.

'It's perfect.'

'Many years of practice, I fear.'

'Thank you, Barat. We'll go and decipher it and then we need to go and see Tibor. I'd like you to be there.'

'Of course, Eild. Just let me know when.'

'I'll send Rollo; I expect it will be later this evening; I can't see Tibor waiting until the morning.'

Barat smiled. 'Indeed not. Until later then.'

Mikka and I headed back to my apartments. Once there, we went into my study and took the philosophy book off the shelf.

'If you read out the numbers, I'll find the references.'

'OK, Eild. The first one is 74064.'

A nice easy one to start with. There weren't 740 pages in the book, and there weren't anything like as many as 64 words on a line, so that had to be page 74, line 6, word 4. I ran my finger across the line...'My'



That was trickier. Either page 122, line 3 or 31 and word 12 or 2 or it could be page 12, line 23 and word 12. Usually - although not always - you could tell immediately and if there was more than one plausible option, you just had to write them both down and the sense would be clear within a few further words. Here, the only sensible option was 'friend' as there was no word 12 and the other combination gave 'the.

It was laborious, but we proceeded doggedly through it. And this is what we were left with:

My friend, my son tells me that Socrates is no real friend to the king but is waiting to strike. Might this be true? Can you use this to achieve your aim? The second plan team are still available if a further opportunity to take Socrates occurs. My son says he is being badly treated. Please help him if you can.

I'd added the punctuation for clarity.

'Who's Socrates?' asked Mikka.

'Almost certainly me.'

'Why Socrates?'

'Think about it. It's a book on philosophy. My name is hardly likely to be in there, so they needed a pseudonym that would be there.'

Mikka reddened. 'Sorry, Eild, that was stupid of me'.

'Don't worry - and actually you have a good point in that as my name isn't there in black and white, Joran might claim it is someone else.'

'But it's pretty damning, isn't it?'

'Yes - but Tibor may want hard proof.'

'What will happen to my father?'

'I truthfully don't know, Mikka. If this is what it looks like, he is certainly guilty of attempted kidnap, probably of attempted murder and possibly treason if Tibor chooses to interpret an attack on his Ambassador as his personal representative as an attack on his own person. He may demand he is sent here for trial, or he might allow your people to try him.'

'What if they refuse...or if he refuses to come?'

'Then technically Tibor would be within his rights to start executing hostages. Or at least to threaten to in the hope that the parents of the other hostages would then put pressure on your government either to charge him or extradite him here. Or he could put a hostage on trial in place of your father.'

'You mean I could be punished for my father's crime?'

'I think that's very unlikely considering that you have been instrumental in finding out the truth.'

'So...what do we do next?'

'We send Rollo to Barat and then we go the palace.'

As we left my study, Rollo came bounding up to us.

'So...what's been going on, then?'

I put my hand on his shoulder.

'I'm really sorry, Rollo, but I can't tell you yet. It isn't a matter of trust, it's just that we have the tell the king first. But as soon as we can, I'll put you in the picture. Now, can I ask a favour of you?'

'Of course, Eild.'

'Please would you go to Barat and ask him to meet us at the palace a soon as possible?'

'Sure...and you mean what you said about telling me what's going on?'

'As soon as we can, Rollo, I promise.'


At the door, he headed off in one direction while Mikka and I went the other.

We met up with Barat in the grand entrance hall of the palace. I had let one of the secretaries know that we were there, and he had returned with a message from Tibor that we were all to go through as soon as Barat arrived.

'Right,' I said to Mikka and Barat,' time to let him have the bad news. I hope that he isn't going to be too upset.'

We walked down the length of the hall, through the formal receiving room, and out down the corridor at the other end, before reaching the doors to Tibor's private rooms. The guard acknowledged me with a bow of his head and then opened the doors.

I could see at once that Tibor knew we were bringing the news he most dreaded hearing. He gave me a half-smile and waved us inside.

'I'm not going to like this, am I?' he said.

'No, your majesty.'

'Oh god, if it's 'your majesty' then it really is bad. Come on, out with it. And don't call me 'majesty' again.'

I talked him through what we knew from the beginning. He was familiar with most of it, but I wanted the whole sequence of events to be fresh in all our minds - and to look like the deliberate set of acts that I believed them to be.

I got Mikka to tell him in his own words what had passed between him and his father, and the discovery of the code book on his father's shelves. And then about the message. At this point Tibor took his head in his hands.

'And what did the message say?'

I took the copy of the decrypt from my pocket and read it out.

'I suppose that Socrates is you, Eild, yes?'

'I believe so, Tibor.'

He went quiet for a moment before speaking.

'But there's a timing issue here, surely? How can the note Mikka saw on his father's desk have been from Joran? Mikka has been here for two years - and Eild has been here only a year.'

I nodded. It was an acute observation, but one that I had been thinking about.

'Indeed. But consider this scenario. Mikka's father developed the code to communicate with the group dedicated to getting the hostages back. The note that Mikka saw was a communication between them. The choice of book is instructive. It is something that would sit naturally on Mikka's father's bookshelf, but not on Joran's. But when Joran wants to make contact with Mikka's father about Eild, he is told to get - or is given - a copy of the book that is already in use. That explains the incongruous presence of the book in Joran's room. What has happened is that we have got very lucky; the two events are unconnected but they are tied together by the fact that both are using the same code. The first note was not from Joran and in all probability any notes that Joran HAS sent have been destroyed by Mikka's father. We can check the house but it would be monstrously foolish to have kept them. But that doesn't invalidate the chain of events around the attack on me.'

Tibor nodded. He was sharp and he could see the logic.

'So your hypothesis is that the objective was to have you captured and held for ransom against the release of Mikka and his fellow hostages. Had that happened, Joran knew full well that I would not contemplate such a thing, leaving you a prisoner in Mikka's country. If things went wrong and you were killed - as nearly happened, then that would also have been a satisfactory result. So Joran used Mikka's father to get what he wanted, knowing all along that Mikka's father would not get his son back even if his end of the plan worked. But if Mikka's father believed that this plan would indeed work and the exchange would take place, how on earth did he think that Joran would then have got what he wanted?'

Which was another acute question, and one that I had also had time to consider.

'I strongly suspect that I would have had a tragic accident. I can't prove that without interrogating Mikka's father, but I believe that the 'second plan team' referred to in the note are the ones who had been charged with that part of the operation.'

'How much time do we have?'

'The biggest problem is the last part of the note. To get his father to believe he was unhappy and desperate to go home, Mikka had to tell some fairly...lurid...stories. Once Joran gets the note, he will first of all be very suspicious because he knows that Mikka is not being badly treated, and if he communicates back that this is the case, then Mikka's father may also smell a rat. We have two choices; we arrest them both immediately or we risk letting Joran write a note back to Mikka's father and intercept it.'

Tibor nodded slowly.

'What's your advice, Barat?'

'I think we should act fast. It is impossible to be one hundred percent sure what Joran will do once he's read the note. We don't even know if he has other plans in place - or he might even flee the country. Of course, in the end it is Eild's life at risk here - and possibly Mikka's - rather than yours. '

'What if he denies everything?'

'Why don't we let him think we have more proof than we do, and see if we can trap him into an admission?'


'Why don't we say that Mikka's father told Mikka about the plot and that he's already under arrest?' I suggested.

Tibor looked at Barat. Barat nodded.

'It's worth a try. '

'Very well, 'said Tibor, 'so be it. I'll summon him here tomorrow morning. And I want you all here too. In the meantime, are you saying we let him have the letter or not?'

'I suggest that Mikka takes it to him tomorrow first thing, and that your summons arrives about twenty minutes later. That will be enough time for him to have opened it, but, based on our experience, not enough to have deciphered more than the first few words. He will almost certainly have to hide the letter in his quarters as he won't have completed the decryption, or he might just put it in his pocket. Either way, he will not be able to claim he has no idea what it is or disown it.'

'Do it,' said Tibor, '..and I still hope that you're wrong and that there's another explanation. Now go.'

By the time we got home it was late. Rollo was nowhere to be seen, and I assumed that he had gone to bed. At least that meant I didn't have to apologise for not being able to tell him what was going on - again.

By unspoken arrangement, Mikka followed me into my bedroom. We both stripped and got under the covers. It was wonderful to hold his naked body against mine again, but we were both physically and mentally worn out. Getting properly reacquainted with one another would have to wait. He cuddled up close and we must both have fallen asleep within minutes.

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