In The Service Of Princes


It was difficult for Freddie to say precisely why the young man in front of him was uncanny, but that he was not human was perfectly clear. Whether it was a certain unnatural light in his eyes, or a feeling that his form did not actually continue to be manifest if he took his eye off it, he was more like a character encountered in a vivid dream than a solid everyday presence. One thing Freddie was sure of, he was not seeing this young man with just his usual senses. Was this the ‘clear sight’ Jonas Niemand talked of? Yet oddly, the supernatural elven boy had seemed to him a more solid character than this manifestation.

A dryness in his mouth made an immediate reply difficult, and indeed Bastian intervened.

‘Freddie! You know who this is?’

‘It’s the spirit of Karl Wollherz,’ Freddie stammered. ‘You see him too?’

‘Well, yes!’

Freddie looked from his lover to the apparition. ‘Bastian, you don’t seem surprised. Is this the first time you’ve seen him?’

Bastian returned him a lop-sided look. ‘You’ve kept the lid on Jonas Niemand since Christmas, so you’re not about to chide me for keeping secrets are you?’

Freddie took a deep breath. ‘Of course not, Bastian. How could I?’

‘Good. It’s only been a couple of weeks, as it happens. I was taking my chestnut, Oliver, into the old barn in the stableyard at the back of the Sign of the Angel, the one that’s older than the house. He skittered as we went through the door, fairly near pulled me over, his nostrils and eyes flaring. I mastered him and was stroking his neck when an amused voice behind me said: “Ah, one of Brunhild’s finest descendants, I see. None but the best horses for a Wollherz, and that is right and proper.”’

I spun around and there was a dark figure in the doorway. So I challenged him. He didn’t give a direct answer, which is the way with his people as I’ve gathered. He just looked around and said: “I’m glad this place survived. We used to shelter the homeless children of the City Conduit in this barn before the Fenizenhaus was built. Such memories.” It was then I saw his face clearly, and there could be no doubt of his identity. It was the same as on the Wollherz portrait above the mantelpiece in our dining room.’

‘You seem to have taken it well.’

The manifestation had been standing patiently as the explanations were given. But now he asserted himself and gave a light chuckle, his humour the most human thing evident about him so far.

‘Herr Winslow, Sebastian’s a soldier, a profession for which I have a good deal of respect. The best of them are not easily daunted or confused, and the boy rallied well. I remember when I first encountered one of the Dead, upstairs here in this abbey when I was a child. I too found it disconcerting, though not alarming. Perhaps I might have been more alarmed had I been older. Children are very open to this sort of experience, I find.’

Freddie turned back to confront the spirit of Karl Wollherz. ‘Thank you, sir, for making long and involved explanations to my Bastian unnecessary, though I do not think that is why you appeared to him.’

‘No, young man, it was not. My dear old friend Jonas Niemand had already recruited you, and as usual he didn’t quite get the human consequences of his actions. I’m sure he knew of the relationship between you two perfectly well. But he did not really understand the strains his act would put it under. He still has a long way to go before he appreciates the course and consequences of human emotions. Like all of his people he is too focussed on the end of his plans, and he discounts everything else but the need to get there. But if you are to be an effective agent for Jonas, you need Sebastian at your side to help you. Jonas may well have considered that Sebastian’s loyalties might be to his sister rather than to you and his cause.’

‘And are you and your people friendly to Jonas’s schemes, sir?’

The apparition cocked an eyebrow. ‘We do want the same thing, you know. At least the Dead and Jonas do. I don’t think all of Jonas’s people agree with him by any means, and they’re beginning to find him annoying on the subject. A faction of them are very hostile to change and those who try to bring it about. So to that extent I suppose we and Jonas really are on the same side. Humanity is less than it could be, and badly needs help in the coming years. Amongst the Dead are great seers, and their council is beginning to see where the future might take our living brothers, and it is into great danger.

‘Jonas has worked some of this out himself and the solution he is pursuing interests us. He spent some time amongst humans when I was a living boy, and gathered together in those days a crew of those of us in whom he found a particular characteristic, what he calls “the mark of greatness”. It’s the same as he found in you, Frederick Winslow, and it is to be found particularly amongst men like you and Sebastian – men who love other men – as it was indeed in myself, for in my day I loved another man, though I was not lucky enough to be loved back in the same way.

‘In those days Jonas was particularly taken with the boy Wilchin, your great grandfather, Sebastian. He found unexpected traits within young Willem, and so he carried him away into the supernatural realm we called Fäerie. He takes those who interest him there, as he took you too Frederick. I now realise he does so to test the effect of exposure to magical forces on the human frame.’ He sighed and then smiled. ‘Just like a boy, throwing a rock into a calm pool just to see the splash.’

‘With Willem he had a remarkable success, one which drew the attention of the Dead, for the Council of Seers saw in his reckless experiments a promising thread that might lead to an eventual solution to the human problem. For he managed to mutate Wilchin into a genuine half-elf, mortal but with unprecedented magical skills and senses. And on one occasion, with a little help from me, he succeeded in taking the key step of transforming Wilchin into a winged creature.’

Freddie was mesmerised as the vast politics and manoeuvres of the World Beyond were unveiled to him and Bastian in a way he guessed had not happened to humans since the days when Karl Wollherz had been alive. ‘Why was that such a major event, sir?’ he asked.

‘That perhaps would be telling too much,’ Karl Wollherz replied. ‘But great advance though it was, it proved impossible to provide Wilchin with his wings outside Fäerie. Even there Jonas found it’s easier to do it with simpler and purer animals, such as the equine people I loved and amongst whom I worked.’

Bastian laughed. ‘That’s where you took Brunhild and gave her wings! My sister and I met her in Fäerie when we were children.’

‘That indeed is where she and many of her people now live and flourish as pegasuses, growing all the time in their own wisdom in a civilisation of a different sort to that of humans. But I believe that one day the two peoples, human and winged equine, may be able to live once more in the same world.’

‘Though not till humans have undergone their own change. Is that so, sir?’ interjected Freddie.

Karl Wollherz smiled and nodded. ‘You do indeed have the clear sight, Frederick Winslow. So that is the situation, or at least all of it you two boys need to know.’

‘And why do we need to know it, sir?’ asked Bastian.

The apparition gave a gentle smile. ‘As a former human, I know it’s important that you two have the knowledge so you can live and work together in sympathy. Secrets are the enemy of true and open love, and it shows how far yet Jonas Niemand has to go in understanding humanity that he does not realise that. One day he will, but that is as yet far in his future.’

‘You are a prophet, sir. Are you not?’ Bastian observed.

‘It’s a gift the Dead gave me when I still lived in your world. So believe me when I tell you that you pair of boys have important work to do to bring back balance between the powers of this world and the World Beyond. We aren’t asking you to work for us against Jonas. Our aims are the same as his: to rein in the powers that have been unleashed on Earth and placed in the wrong hands. You’ll find ways to do it together that you, Frederick, alone could not. So there, that’s all. But one thing I ask you to do for me is this. When you tell all this to dear Jonas, as you will, be sure to tell him this also: Wilchin and I did what he asked of us after we passed the Final Sea.’

With that last mysterious comment the manifestation of the spirit who had been Karl Wollherz simply faded into nothing and Bastian and Freddie were once more alone in the pillared aisles under the abbey of Medeln.


Bastian looked at Freddie with consideration across a sanded table in the tap room of the inn called the Rose on the market square of Tarlenheim. He took a long and deliberate pull of the local beer from the pot in which it had arrived. Freddie sipped at a rather fine local wine he had ordered. The two found they had little to say on their ride back from Medeln.

Eventually Bastian put down his beer and leaned forward. ‘Freddie, I think you and I should get a house together.’

‘What!’ exclaimed Freddie. ‘Where did that come from?’

Bastian relaxed and gave a little laugh. ‘It’s been on my mind for a while. You know what it’s like at the Sign of the Angel.’

‘Yes, and I also know how your mother will react. But you’re serious?’

‘Why not. Heavens, Freddie, we’ve both got good incomes, and it’s trying for me to have to negotiate the choppy waters between my parents every time I sit down for dinner. But the main thing is that the forces of Heaven and the Afterlife seem to want it as much as I do.’

Freddie thought about it. ‘I can see problems, apart from money. I couldn’t afford to buy and the rent would be steep if we took a house fit for Captain the Baron Sebastian Wollherz von Stock, not to mention his horses and dogs.’

‘True,’ said Bastian, ‘but I have money of my own. It’s not exactly a fortune, but it’s enough to set us up and after that we’ll get by on our joint income. I have some calculations here in my notebook.’

‘You are serious, Bastian! There are other things to worry about. If we sleep in the same bed, which I would think of as one of the main advantages, what do we do about gossiping servants? Come to think of it, what do we do about servants?’

‘Obviously that would be something to think about. And I have. There is a young Rothenian sergeant in my life company I’ve had my eye on: an intelligent fellow and the son of a house steward out in Merz. Not a great looker, but very competent and he wants out of the Leibgarde. He recently had an affair with one of his troopers which turned nasty and it’s left him in some danger. It’s something of a tribute to him that his men haven’t turned on him, as you might expect them to do. The other sergeants aren’t being so tolerant. He’d jump at the change of career, I think. Buying him out would leave him deeply in our debt, in more ways than one.’

‘What about general gossip? You’re a figure in Strelsau society and at the court. What you do gets notice, Herr Baron.’

Bastian shrugged. ‘Karl Wollherz got by in his day without scandal, people just regarded him as a confirmed bachelor. Then there was my eldest great uncle Jonas Antonin, Karl’s business partner. He must have been mentioned at the Sign of the Angel.’

‘I saw his portrait in the withdrawing room. If it was a true likeness he must have been the most beautiful man in Ruritania in his day.’

‘Many thought so. But he remained a bachelor all his days, and even now there are rumours of him and the set of men he associated with back in the days of King Henry. Yet he lived quietly, got a lot of respect in the profession and kept his head down.’

Freddie mused at this. ‘Jonas Antonin? There has to have been some connection with the elf don’t you think?’

‘We’ll ask the elf whenever we see him. The fact is, Freddie mine, there are a good number of acquaintances I have who partner up to get a house with another fellow. If you’re in your young twenties, not contemplating marriage and desperate to get away from the parental hearth, teaming up with a male friend is one way to manage. You know Alfons Wilics. He rents a house in the Sudmesten with his friend Voytek. Admittedly, the place is a mess and their money goes on drink and whores, but others manage it better.’

‘True. My colleague Waclaw shares a house off Judengasse with a friend he used to work with at the Rodolfer, and I think they sublet a room to a young law clerk to help make ends meet. My father back home won’t think it odd. In England hundreds of young unmarried gentlemen take and share poky little rooms in Westminster in the Inns of Court and Chancery.’

Bastian grinned. ‘Good! You’re considering it. We’ll talk more when we get back to Strelsau. Now then, Freddie. Let’s move on. I suggest we stay a few days here. The Tarlenheims have a big house in a park downriver of the town. We can go visit and inspect the new building the Marshal Prince is having put up, though no doubt you’d have been happier if the old house was still standing. I believe there’s a ruined castle on the hill above it too, which will entertain you more. Then there’s the collegiate church of St Fenice across the market square. I believe the family tombs in the Tarlenheim Gruft under the church are worth a look. And as we play the tourist, we can ponder what the forces of the World Beyond want us to do, yes?’


The house they settled on in the end was on the hill of the Altstadt, where both Freddie and Bastian were happy. It was also a sop to Bastian’s mother, since he could portray his choice as a reluctance to move too far from the parental home. Not only that but the house they selected was no less than the original Antonin family home on Westergasse, which used to be called the Sign of the Rabbit.

‘I’m bringing it back into the family, so father approves,’ he declared. ‘I’d never have argued for taking it on as it was when the Antonins inhabited it. But the next owners rebuilt the back of the house, so now it has a yard with stables and space for kennels, and the current landlord has had to refurbish the front rooms to make it fit for lease.’

A small number of servants were engaged, headed by Konrad Losman, the former sergeant of the Leibgarde who was deeply grateful to be bought out of the regiment and to enter Bastian’s domestic service as house steward. Freddie observed that Bastian had all the sharp commercial instincts of his family. Food, accommodation and clothing would be provided but otherwise Herr Losman was to serve without salary until the sum forwarded to him to buy himself out of the term of his enlistment was repaid, which would take eighteen months. Bastian intended to get very full use out of him, too.

‘Losman will be happy to preside over the stables as well as the house. He used to be farrier to the company before he was promoted sergeant. He can manage with just a stable lad. He reckons he can find a discreet page, who I think was a youth he once picked up at the barracks gate, a pretty boy called Ludovic who’s been loyal to him. An upstairs maid and a cook may be more difficult, but Losman is no fool, even if he proved a fool for love. He’ll find two discreet women amongst his connections. Now here’s a question. Do you want a horse of your own, or are you happy to borrow from my stable?’

‘Er … I hadn’t thought. But it would mean expense on my part, forage and so on, not just the purchase price.’

‘My thoughts exactly,’ grinned Bastian. ‘So I propose you pay a share of the stable expenses amounting to the value of the provision and maintenance of one horse, and you can then borrow one of mine when needed: but not the stallions, Freddie! The stallions I shall continue to keep in the regimental stables in the Neustadt, apart from dear Oliver, whom I wouldn’t trust to my current company servant. Father is generously giving me free access to his pasture closes in the town fields outside the North Gate of the Altstadt, so no cost there. A pity I can’t get a discount on the livery coats.’

‘Hmm? We have to have livery?’ queried Freddie.

‘I am a nobleman of a sort, so yes. What did you expect?’

‘I hadn’t even thought about it. Back home at Burlesdon rectory father just put the upper servants in black coats. Do I have a vote?’

‘I was thinking of red, which is the Wollherz livery colour. Come to think of it, I may beg some surplus coats from home, though doing it behind mother’s back may be tricky.’

‘Carry on Bastian, while I just sit back and marvel. You’re good at this.’

The pair moved into their joint home on Midsummer Day 1774, along with Bastian’s small pack of dogs, Oliver and three road horses, who were confided to Paulus, a deaf and dumb boy Herr Losman had taken as apprentice farrier from the Fenizenhaus, with Bastian guaranteeing the indentures.

Ludovic the page proved to be a cheerful and very handsome lad, who was delighted to be out of the slop house he had been living in on the questionable end of the Weg in the Neustadt. It was difficult to tell whether he was continuing his relationship with Losman, but Bastian thought not, and indeed Ludovic was soon very close friends with Paulus, close enough for him to take pains to learn for himself the sign language the Fenizenhaus taught its deaf children. Freddie was charmed to see the two youths silently conversing in the yard with the flickering of their fingers. Whether their relationship went beyond simple friendship between two good-hearted boys was not something Freddie ever found out, and he felt it would be prurient to try to satisfy that sort of curiosity.

They expected a visit from Sebastienne after moving in together and it duly occurred in August on her return to Strelsau from Glottenburg. She had been in the duchy with Princess Osra Madeleine, as the regent continued with her work of rebuilding Glottenburg’s finances and reforming its governance. A brief letter announcing her arrival informed them she was passing through on her way into Bavaria.

‘Her visit here may mean little,’ Bastian observed over breakfast. ‘Bessie can’t stand being under the same roof as mother for any length of time. That’s why she stayed on in the Munich house when father moved the family home back to Strelsau. Maybe she misses her adventures among the city’s link boys.’

‘Even so,’ Freddie remarked, ‘I’ll write to Frank Potts alerting him she’s on her way to Munich and to be on his guard. Where will she stay when she’s there?’

‘The villa out at Neuhausen most likely, though she still has old school friends in the city who’ll be happy to put her up. A couple of them are already married with their own households. With the powers at her command no doubt she could make anyone happy to put her up and forget to ask why she was there and what she was up to.’

‘I’d think she’d use those powers of hers pretty sparingly,’ Freddie mused. ‘She has enough other resources to get her way which won’t rouse suspicion, as we well know.’ He picked up another letter Herr Losman had placed on the table among a small pile of cartes d’addresse left for the well-connected young Baron Wollherz by his many friends and acquaintances in the city.

‘Hello!’ Freddie called out after breaking the seal. ‘It’s from my father. My little brother Charlie is on his travels now he’s sixteen. He’s finished at his grammar school and is matriculating to go up to Cambridge next year. In the meantime he’s badgered father to let him follow in my footsteps and travel abroad. He’s been invited by Lord Burlesdon to stay in the Munich embassy for a month, and father asks us to put him up in Strelsau and then see him safely on his way to Vienna and Rome, before he returns back to England for Christmas. Very good of father to stump up the costs. He’s travelling with his old friend Martin, son and heir of Sir George Griffiths of Yapham Manor: those two have been thick as thieves for years.’

Bastian raised an eyebrow. ‘ How close? Will they share a bed?’

‘Not that close, I think. And we’ll have to be careful when he and Martin are here. Any objection?’

‘Good heavens, no. You put up with my relatives without complaint. I’d quite like to meet the boy. Does he speak German?’

‘Not that I know of, but he’ll be capable in French. Father paid for extra tuition I know. I’d better mention his impending arrival at Munich when I write to Frank.’


Frank Potts was flustered when two of his concerns arrived on the doorstep of the British Embassy in Munich in the same afternoon, though the first of them at least was not so urgent. Mr Charles Winslow, gent., and Martin Griffiths, esq., did not possess cards to send in. The footman had not been warned of their arrival, and had no English or French, so Frank was called down to verify their questionable identities as respectable British citizens.

He found the pair on the pavement of a bustling Theatinergasse perched on a large trunk they were sharing, which they had hauled from the Altmarkt where the post carriage from Augsburg had dumped them. They looked up hopefully.

Frank could not but smile. ‘Hello you two. I’m Frank Potts, the junior secretary to the mission. You weren’t expected today, but it’s good to see you.’

Both lads jumped up and made two simultaneous and respectful bows, as if they had rehearsed them. ‘You’re my brother’s friend. He talks a lot about you,’ said Charlie Winslow with a relieved grin, which indeed left no doubt that he was Freddie’s brother. The footman decided the two were after all respectable and he and a colleague chased the boys away from the trunk, which they carried up into the entrance hall. Frank sent one of them to notify His Excellency that his young guests had arrived. He sent them up to the guest room with hot water to follow to allow them to freshen up and change. They were very much the worse for wear after several days’ travel in the Empire’s notorious public conveyances.

It was as Frank was awaiting their reappearance that the more pressing of his problems appeared at the embassy door. The card of the Baroness Wollherz von Stock was placed in his hand as he was still in the entrance hall. It was inscribed: Madame la baronesse pour Madame de Burlesdon et Ortenburg. So Sebastienne was making a social call on Lady Christina. He could not resist a chill running down his spine as the lady was admitted.

‘Dear Mr Potts!’ she exclaimed in her perfect English, with a charming smile. ‘I’m really so glad to see you!’

Fighting a sudden stab of fear, Frank covered his confusion with a bow and was reasonably composed when he straightened. ‘It’s good to find your ladyship back in Munich. Lady Burlesdon will be pleased. Are you staying long?’

‘I’ve not yet decided. This visit is more a holiday than business. It may seem odd, but I miss Munich, so much of my childhood and youth was spent here.’

‘Not to me, my lady. I’m still very happy to be here and out of England. Let me inform Lady Burlesdon you’re here. Will you be at her salon on Thursday?’

As soon as he had notified the countess of her visitor, Frank ran up to his office and composed a note to Freddie in Strelsau which he made sure was in the afternoon post bag. When he dropped it off and returned to the entrance hall, he found the two young travellers sitting on a bench looking around hopefully. Frank was just wondering how to get them into the ambassador’s busy afternoon schedule, when the door of the countess’s drawing room, opened and the lady herself appeared ushering the Baroness Wollherz out. They noticed the two boys, so Frank had to step up.

‘My lady, may I introduce Mr Charles Winslow and Martin Griffiths, esquire, the ambassador’s guests from Norfolk?’

The two young heads bobbed low, and as they rose again their eyes were wide and fixed on Sebastienne, rather than the countess.


As the junior secretary and nearest their age, Frank was inescapably nominated as the guide around Munich to the two Norfolk boys the next morning. He found them good company. He had no brothers of his own, but several sisters. He soon perceived they were still awed at their encounter with the baroness.

‘I say Mr Potts, but what a cracker!’ gushed Martin Griffiths, who was deeply smitten.

‘I should say,’ agreed Charlie. ‘Puts Letitia Morton in the shade: the belle of Walsham, Mr Potts. She’s left the town’s gutters full of the broken hearts of the upper form of the grammar school, on which she tramples. Une belle dame sans merci. But travel certainly does give you perspective, as old Freddie says.’

‘Hmm, well perhaps you should talk to Freddie about that particular lady before you make your final conclusions about fair maidens who are merciless,’ Frank commented. ‘The baroness has her own reputation.’

‘What! Good heavens!’ declared Martin, his eyes wide. ‘A femme fatale? Is she the elector’s mistress or something really scandalously juicy?’

‘Not at all. But from what Freddie tells me, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. She is very skilled with the sword.’

‘What! A lady who fights to defend her honour! There’s a thing. There should be more of it I say. The things Miss Morton says to her unfavoured courtiers are crueller than the cut of any blade. They wound the soul, Mr Potts. Women who take up swords and pierce your shoulder instead seem kinder to me.’

Martin seemed to be reflecting on his personal experience. It did not depress him for long. ‘So will she be at this salon thing tomorrow?’

‘She’s likely to be,’ Frank replied. ‘She and the countess are old friends.’

‘Capital!’ declared Charlie. ‘I’m sure she’ll liven things up. She was funny about Freddie when we chatted. She knew him so well! I hadn’t realised. I say, Mr Potts! You don’t think she and Freddie … I mean!’ The boy looked awed at the thought.

‘I think it’s more to do with the fact that Freddie shares a house with her twin brother in Strelsau. You’ll be seeing a lot of him when you go there. You can’t miss the resemblance.’

‘Twins, eh?’ reflected Martin. ‘Her English is amazing. I mean, she has a bit of a foreign accent and all, but I could have been talking to Miss Morton, she was so fluent.’

Charlie giggled. ‘That’s if that particular lady had ever spared you a word or even a glance, idiot! That’s why we’re here you see, Mr Potts. We have to pick up foreign airs and graces so we can go back and stun the tea parties of Walsham, and more importantly become of interest to Miss Morton, or failing her, her friend Miss Charlotte Andrews. We’re like knights on a quest. Not exactly the Holy Grail. More like a quest to make us wholly acceptable in polite company.’

Frank laughed. The pair were a bit of a tonic. He suggested they might feel free to use his given name.


Frank found himself in the Thursday salon in a group of gentlemen who were convinced that he was able to offer a British government view on the latest developments in North America. In fact they were better informed on the subject than he was.

‘It is very reminiscent to me, sir, of the days of Ancient Greece,’ said the most intellectual of them, a secretary at the ministry of war. ‘Take the example of Syracuse, a colony of the great city of Corinth placed across the Mediterranean Sea. It grew and prospered on alien soil and eventually fought and defeated the power of Athens, when the Greeks of the homeland dared to dictate how it should behave. This surely is what we see on the American continent. You British, a people who pride yourself so much on civic freedoms, have founded colonies which have outgrown your homeland. Now you find they will not be dictated to, and have their own idea of freedom.’

‘Indeed sir,’ said a cavalry officer, an aide to the Graf von Arco. ‘I was reading of the persecution that your government has launched against the city of Boston and the colony which surrounds it, whose name I find impossible to pronounce, so I shall not attempt it. Freedoms once given by solemn charter cannot be taken away with impunity. That, sir, is tyranny. We here in the Empire have seen the violent consequences when ancient rights are challenged and subverted.’

Frank found himself a little disconcerted to be defending a government the consequences of whose intolerance he had lived with all his life. He confined himself to mild observations about the rule of law and British commonsense, which he did not much believe. What a career diplomat I’m getting to be, he reflected. He began to understand why it was some men turned traitor to their homeland.

The two visitors from Norfolk had inevitably hung around Sebastienne Wollherz and were by that point occupying a sofa on either side of her, either laughing uncontrollably at her wit or heads together over what Frank assumed were scandalous, shocking or amusing confidences.

At the end of the salon Frank made sure to encounter her. ‘I hope the two boys from Walsham weren’t a trouble to you, my lady?’ he asked.

‘Good heavens, no! They’re a delight, dear Mr Potts; perfect examples of intelligent male youth: naïve, hilarious and imaginative all at the same time. They made me feel my age.’

Frank smiled. ‘I rather doubt that you’re even a half decade older than them, my lady.’

‘Maybe so, however I’ve long crossed a barrier they’ve yet to reach. Young Charlie is very like his brother, wouldn’t you say?’

‘In looks perhaps. He has the same healthy round-faced blonde appearance Freddie has, though I’d say Freddie might be called handsome, which is a distinction Charlie doesn’t quite attain. As for his disposition and character, I’ve not known him long enough to make any judgement. I believe he’s intended for the University of Cambridge and the Church of England, so I imagine there’s some seriousness there.’

‘Then all the more reason he should have fun now, before responsibility closes in around him,’ she reflected. ‘It’s been a pleasure to see you Mr Potts. Coming to this embassy is always coming among friends. I live a mobile life at the moment. My dear brother has managed to settle happily in Strelsau at a comfortable distance from the family home, as I’m sure you’re aware. I wonder whether I ever will, or whether I’ll continue a vagrant existence between apartments in several palaces at the whim of my employer.’

Frank could not help a smile. ‘Many of your sex would say you’ve managed to find a gilded life denied to most of them, other than the wealthiest of widows.’

‘You mock me, Mr Potts. Well, perhaps I deserve it. How are things here at the embassy?’

Frank was well into giving the lady a detailed insight into the workings of British diplomacy in the southern Empire before it occurred to him how free he was being with sensitive information. Something at the back of his mind was aghast at what he was saying, but there was no stopping it. When the lady smiled and thanked him he was distinctly aware of a pressure on his mind that was endeavouring to remove something from it. It left him momentarily confused after he had made his bow at the baroness’s departing form.

His mind quickly cleared and he remembered the conversation despite the intruding force she had brought to bear on him. He realised that he was not supposed to have been able to recall it, and there was only one explanation as to why he could. It was the after-effect of his encounter with Jonas Niemand. The elf had extended to him a measure of protection that prevented Sebastienne Wollherz taking full possession of his will. Frank might not be able to resist her powers but, unlike others, he knew when she was exercising them, and they could not alter his memory. He shuddered.

The day’s work was done, and it was a brilliant August evening outside. Frank took his hat and went out into the streets of Munich, heading east to the Isartor. He needed a long walk as he pondered what had just happened. He settled in a beershop near the city gate, and after a couple of drinks heaved a sigh and headed out and back into the fading sunlight. He walked directly into the path of two youths heading out of the city.

‘Oh, Mr Potts!’ said Charlie Winslow. ‘Er … lovely evening, isn’t it.’

‘Indeed,’ he replied. ‘And you have the look of two fellows who are determined to make the most of it.’

‘Oh … er … well,’ Martin Griffiths stuttered. ‘Lady Wollherz gave us some tips as to where two young fellows might go to have a bit of … er … harmless fun.’

Frank rolled his eyes. ‘I can imagine,’ he said. ‘Well, you’re at liberty to explore the city, and I may have some idea what the baroness was encouraging. My recommendation would be the Silberforelle bei der Mühle, next to the far bridge end; the girls are young and clean. But don’t drink too many of their beers before closing negotiations. Boys have woken up wondering why their purses were empty and what happened to valuable items they were sure they had come out with.’

Charlie asked anxiously ‘I say, Frank, you wouldn’t mention this to Freddie, would you?’

‘Of course not. After all, I just described to you what happened to Freddie when he made his first expedition there.’