In The Service Of Princes


Freddie ushered Teddie Carfax out, with an invitation to return to dinner when his business at the Residenz was done. He returned to the drawing room to find Little Frank looking preoccupied and still abstractedly kicking his feet. Freddie settled on the sofa.

‘Well … that was a packet of bad news and no mistake,’ he concluded. ‘What do you make of it all?’

The boy shook his head, as if to clear it. ‘It seems to me that Jonas was right. Landing Bessie with an object that looked very like a dead Frank Potts put her on the back foot. If my supposed death had got out it would have drawn unwelcome attention to whatever she was doing at Ingolstadt. Also I’d guess that my apparent decease may have made her unsure of her control over her powers. So she got her followers to dispose of the body, I assume. Then she did something cunning. Framing me as a traitor to the embassy to cover my disappearance was vicious, and all too credible to a certain sort of mind. But Lord Burlesdon doesn’t have that sort of mind.’

‘On top of that,’ Freddie added, ‘there was always an alternative explanation in your favour. The hole in her strategy is that the Bavarians rather then the French could be suspected of using you to disrupt the British mission, and even … maybe … of doing away with you. What I don’t get is how the Bavarian government could have been motivated by Bessie Wollherz to go along with her plans.’

Frank grunted. ‘I think I can. The weight of her spell when it hit me in the Hochschule of Ingolstadt was extraordinary. I think everyone else in that room had their minds wiped clean of anything but her will. Academics, soldiers and diplomats now exist only to do her bidding. Her myrmidons would have buried the lump of meat that was the dead Frank and made a convincing case on her behalf that I was a traitor and a fugitive. Meanwhile she must have been reassured that since I was deceased I could never pop up to dispute her version of events.’

Freddie nodded. ‘It makes what Jonas did all the cleverer. She’s clever, but not as deep as our elf. It gives me some hope.’

Frank gave a small smile. ‘But we still have to unmask her activity and in ways that people like Lord Burlesdon will believe.’

They sat meditating, and were still quiet when the door opened and in walked Bastian, back from the review. ‘Er … who’s the kid?’ he asked.


Theatinerstrasse was its usual bustling self, though perhaps a bit more bustling, in that Christmas was only a few days away and Munich celebrated the season with some obvious enthusiasm. Freddie smiled to himself when he remembered his first Carnival in the city. An illumination of the Nativity climbed up the east front of the Theatinerkirche. He had his post chaise walk slowly past the embassy and on up the street past the British embassy.

‘Keep your hat down low Bastian,’ he warned, ‘and you keep your head down too Frank.’

‘They are not going to recognise me,’ the boy complained.

‘Maybe not. But there are men watching the embassy from across the road at the Residenz, even if they’re trying to be inconspicuous. Who knows what’ll get back to Bessie?’

‘I think it’d be Herr Carfax they’d be most interested in,’ Bastian said. ‘Do y’know, after all that I’ve learned lately this city is beginning to feel sinister. Old Carfax is one of those figures they’d like very much to suck into their conspiracy, and with my rogue sister on the rampage they could well try to do it.’

Freddie had the chaise stop at the north end of the street, at the Hofgarten. He and his friends climbed down and Freddie paid off the coachman, who headed back south, hoping to get back to Passau for Christmas, as he said when he thanked the English milord for his generosity.

‘Enjoy the season, little fellow!’ he called down to Frank, who waved cheerily back at him. He was beginning to find that his current guise as a self-confident ten-year old might bring out the worst in hardened old sergeants, but in most people it was a passport to favours, sweatmeats and confidences.

‘Y’know Freddie,’ he piped up as the chaise rattled off, ‘a boy child with an adult sensibility is the perfect spy. No one suspects you. They assume you’ll pry anywhere because that’s the nature of a child.’

‘Good. Then take this note for Herr Mossinger and trot down to the embassy. It’ll explain we’re on our way, and to keep the back door gate on to Schwabingergasse open for us.’

As Little Frank dodged back off down Theatinerstrasse through the crowds, Bastian looked around and heaved a sigh. ‘What are we going to do about Bessie, my Freddie? What has she got herself into? What does she think she can accomplish?’

‘Hopefully Jonas will be back soon to tell us. But in the meantime, we’re going to have to do what we can to contain things, and reinstate Frank, that is, if Jonas remembers that he’s turned him into a child, or sees the point of turning him back into an adult. Dealing with elves is not straightforward. We don’t share enough common assumptions.’


James Rassendyll was delighted to see Freddie back at the embassy and gave him a very firm handshake, an expression of his relief. ‘My dear fellow, in the present circumstances in which we find ourselves, yours is a very welcome face. Now what news of Frank Potts?’

Failing to stop his eyes flickering towards the small figure in the doorframe of the ambassador’s office, inevitably Lord Burlesdon’s eyes followed his.

‘And who’s this young man?’ he asked affably, and extended his hand. Little Frank took and shook it, looking up to the earl with a wide grin.

‘Umm … this is my page,’ Freddie provided.

‘And what’s your name, sir?’ The ambassador asked directly of the boy in German, and was surprised to get an answer in fluent, indeed native English.

‘I’m Jonas … er … von Elphenburg, your lordship.’

‘My word, young fellow, German and English. You’re quite a find as a page.’

‘He’s also got abilities in French and Latin, my lord,’ Freddie added.

‘Hah! Better not let Prince Henry get to hear of your skills or he’ll have you working for him, not Mr Winslow. Anyway, you toddle off now to the kitchens, and Frau Abentauer will give you some gingerbread.’

Little Frank rolled his eyes, and with a proper bow to the earl, took himself off. Lord Burlesdon chuckled, and turned back to Freddie with a raised eyebrow.

‘So, you were asking about Frank Potts, your lordship,’ Freddie replied to the hint. ‘He has been in touch with me and as far as I know he is safe.’

‘That is reassuring of course Freddie, but we do need to talk with him.’

‘For the moment, my lord, that isn’t going to be possible, but he has shared a lot with us. Mr Carfax is hot on our heels from Strelsau and he’ll be bringing with him the details of these “Illuminati” King Rudolf’s foreign minister briefed him on.’

‘So there are “Enlightened Ones” at work in Bavaria. I could do with some enlightening myself, gentlemen.’

Freddie replied. ‘Frank was on their trail, sir. The Ruritanians began to get wind of their activities some months ago. They have something in common with the Freemasons, sir. They have regular meetings and keep an air of secrecy about their doings. Just like Freemasons they attract many well-connected people to their meetings, bishops, officers, ministers and merchants, or thinkers like Prince Henry’s good friend Dr Franklin of Philadelphia. The difference is that unlike the Freemasons the Illuminati have political ambitions and seek to pursue them, and to pursue them ruthlessly by any means.’

‘Ah,’ said the earl, ‘this must be bound up with Professor Weishaupt and his moral renewal scheme. Am I right? I always thought that there was something of a cult about the ideas he was propagating on my drawing room carpet.’ His eyes widened. ‘Good God Freddie, you’re not suggesting Lady Burlesdon is one of them are you?’

‘No sir. Professor Weishaupt provided them with a veneer of idealism and respectability and a cover for their plotting. But he is not the organiser of the plot the Ruritanians discovered.’

‘So who would that be?’

Bastian exchanged glaces with Freddie and replied. ‘That would be my sister, my lord.’

‘The Baroness Wollherz! My word. So this scheme has its roots across the Ebrendt and not in Bavaria. My dear Sebastian, how did she get involved in this?’

‘I think that’s a question which still needs an answer, my lord,’ he replied. ‘Maybe Mr Carfax will have more of an idea than we do. But you see now how this scheme entrapped Frank Potts. He got too close to them, so my sister did her ruthless best to destroy him.’

Lord Burlesdon frowned at his carpet as he considered the implications of these revelations. ‘Does Princess Osra Madeleine know about any of this?’ he eventually asked. ‘The baroness is one of her closest associates.’

Bastian responded. ‘We don’t think so, my lord. Had Her Royal Highness been part of the conspiracy, the government of King Rudolf would be more circumspect about countering it. My sister was deeply implicated in the recent civil war in Glottenburg and the finger points to her as the assassin of the late Duke John Casimir II in Württemberg. However much Princess Osra despised her son, she would never have procured his death. But there is no such restraint on my sister, I’m afraid.’

‘So what is the woman’s aim, then?’

‘Again sir, Teddie Carfax may have news to bring about that. But we fear that war in the south of the Empire and across the Rothenian lands is part of it.’


In the back kitchen yard of the embassy Frank Potts was in the meantime balancing a kreuzer coin on his thumbnail.

‘Hurry up, Pottie! Your turn!’ called Karl Abentauer, the youngest son of the embassy steward.

‘Wait. Gotta get it just right. One-two-three. NOW!’

The kreuzer spun through the air and chinked to the ground barely a nail’s width from the back wall.

‘Yes!’ Frank leaped in the air, then did a mad little dance as his new friends whooped. ‘I win! Gimme, Gimme!’

He ran over and picked up his winnings from the first game of pitch and toss he’d played in seventeen years, except here they called it Kopf oder Zahl.

‘I still got it,’ he triumphed. ‘Fellows!’ he announced, ‘the beers are on me!’

The other boys slapped him on his back, took the coins and headed for the Christmas stalls in the city’s Alt Markt, cheerily promising to be back soon with bags of fruit cakes and stone bottles of small beer. Frank watched them go, stuck in the embassy while Lord Burlesdon’s meeting was going on indoors.

‘You really like being a boy,’ a familiar voice came from behind him. Jonas was perched cross-legged and naked on a coal bunker.

‘I’d forgotten how great it could be, Jonas; how boys live for the moment and fall so easily into friendships. And the sheer fun everything can be.’

‘You can stay a boy if you’d like,’ Jonas said.

Frank gave a wry grin and shook his head. ‘No. I’m not going to put myself through the change again. And when all is said and done, Frank Potts can’t rewrite his life over the one he has just had. So can you put me back the way I was?’

‘Yes. I better had. And you can’t rewrite your life in any case. Sending you back to being a boy doesn’t add to your life, it just gives you a second lease of boy energy. It was an experiment I wanted to do. I was doing research, like your modern human philosophers do. I tried it first with turning dogs back into puppies, and that worked well. Then I had a go with my friend Wilchin. He was quite an old man by then. We tried it in Faërie, and it worked pretty well too. He managed to do the spell himself after a while, though it took a lot of his strength. You’re the first proper human I tried it on. Wilchin didn’t really count, since he was as much elf as human in the end.’

Frank was curious. ‘So didn’t it make a difference when I drank the waters of the River of Life? Didn’t that change me?’

The elf shrugged. ‘A bit, though it really just cleaned you up inside and outside. But you’re still properly human, Pottie. Wilchin spent ages in Faërie and other strange and sacred places; no other human has ever had his body so blasted with the forces of the Beyond. Also the Dead did something to him as well. They wanted to force the same change on him as I did, I think.’

Frank was increasingly intrigued by what he had got caught up in. ‘So why these experiments, Jonas? What’re you trying to do?’

The elf grinned and tapped his nose. ‘Not for you to know Pottie. Just say that there’s something wrong about humans I want to put right. So you enjoy being a boy for just a little longer, I’ll put you back, but not until this business is done. You’d not be safe as a man. Don’t forget, they think you’re dead. To see you alive would really complicate things.’

‘Thank you for all this, Master Elf. Faërie was wonderful, and the experience has been a gift beyond price. Do you want me to tell anything to Freddie and the others?’

‘Yes. Tell them the Antonin girl is in this city and she knows I am too. I think my friend Staszek’s granny told her I was on the loose. She’s dangerous as a result, ‘cos she thinks she has to move faster to beat me. And her plan is to start a war. She has some idea of what I am, though not enough sense to be as scared as she should be.’ As he sat there Jonas Niemand looked momentarily different and darker, his eyes fathomless black pits. Then he was gone.


Teddie Fairfax was announced late in the afternoon. He was dog tired from a whole day in the saddle, but he insisted on reporting to the ambassador immediately, though not before having a glass of port placed in his hand.

‘The Ruritanians were very forthcoming, my lord. After the recent civil war in Glottenburg they have agents everywhere, in Bavaria and all across the Rothenian lands. The minister told me these Illuminati have turned up on both sides of the Ebrendt.’

Lord Burlesdon nodded. ‘So we’ve discovered. What we’re not aware of is what it is they’re planning, other than that we won’t like it if it happens.’

‘From what I understand, my lord, their idea is that if ever the Rothenian lands can be reunited under one ruler a new era of peace and justice will begin in Europe and then the world.’

‘A-hah! I take it King Rudolf and his ministers are so unhappy because the Illuminati don’t believe the unifying force will be the Elphbergs.’

‘Exactly, sir. The Illuminati who have been rounded up and interrogated in Strelsau jabber on about a “Golden Child”, a sort of Rothenian messiah who will unify their lands and lead them to a great triumph over the forces of evil.’

‘And as we well know, Elphbergs tend to be redheads.’

‘They are indeed famous for it, my lord,’ Teddie replied with a smile. ‘The Illuminati fix instead on the last direct male descendant of Ruric the Rothenian, the Duke of Glottenburg, Willem Stanislas, who does have a head of rich blond hair.’

‘Good heavens!’ James exclaimed. ‘No wonder King Rudolf is agitated. These Illuminati want to restart the Rothenian Wars and set Glottenburg against Ruritania. The child duke is the king’s great-nephew too, and in the care of Princess Osra Madeleine, his sister.’

‘Yes my lord, and if I may say so this brings our embassy bodily into the whole messy business, in view of your close connection with Strelsau. Any such Rothenian War would be in fact an internecine war within your own family.’

‘And how do the plotters think they can break the long peace between the two Rothenian lands?’

‘I understand the prisoners were stubbornly resistant to attempts to get that information out of them, but the Ruritanian authorities can speculate and they’re looking at the Wittelsbach court, and suspect a scheme to stir up the old rivalry with the Elphbergs.’

‘I see,’ mused James, ‘the plotters would use an outbreak of hostilities to align Glottenburg with Bavaria, promising the Elector the contested province of Mittenheim.’

‘I imagine something like that would be the Elphberg nightmare, my lord.’

‘Hmph! Not just an Elphberg nightmare. It would destroy our own government’s hopes of a peaceful settlement of the Bavarian succession question, which depends on King Rudolf’s continued help.’

‘Anything else, Teddie?’

‘A lot of details, my lord, but nothing else as important.’

‘And Frank Potts?’

‘Disappeared, my lord. And for good reason I suspect. The Illuminati would like very much to see him dead.’

‘He can at least be confident his name is now cleared,’ the earl said with a sigh. ‘Off you go and lie down, Teddie. I have to catch up with the latest despatches about the American situation.’


Frank described his latest meeting with Jonas Niemand to Freddie and Bastian.

Freddie smiled at the boy, perched on a table top in his former office in the embassy loft. ‘Seems to me that you’re quite enjoying the present state of affairs, Frank.’

Frank shrugged. ‘It has its compensations. You forget the superabundant energy you had as a boy. Somehow everything seems more colourful too. Your imagination is at a different level. So yes, I am enjoying it, but I’m still ready to return to my adult form as soon as Jonas allows it.’

Bastian was brooding. ‘So the elf said my sister is here in Munich? I think I know where she may be then. The time’s come for me to go and confront her.’

Freddie shook his head. ‘Don’t do that, Bastian. I can understand why you would want to, but if it came to a confrontation she has powers to draw on you can’t imagine. She won’t hesitate to use them on you just because you’re her brother. Once you’re in her power she’ll know all about Frank and Jonas Niemand, not to mention Karl Wollherz and his people.’

Frank was of a different opinion. ‘I’m not so sure,’ he declared. ‘It seems to me Jonas was at a loss about how to deal with her. He was very reluctant to consider solving the problem by erasing her from existence. Seems to me that forcing the situation by Sebastian confronting her might do some good.’

‘How?’ an unconvinced Freddie asked.

‘Little Frank is right,’ Bastian came back strongly. ‘I have a feeling that it’s the right thing. Don’t ask me how I know, but there’s something pushing me that way.’

Freddie countered with, ‘Be bloody, bold and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm the Baron Wollherz von Stock’.

Bastian scoffed in reply, ‘Macbeth, Act 4 Scene 1. Not reassuring.’

Freddie sighed, ‘It wasn’t intended to be. But if we believe in Fate, maybe you’re right. We’re certainly in the hands of forces other than the mundane. Don’t you dare get yourself hurt.’

The boy Frank’s eyes were wide, as the penny seems at last to have dropped as far as his friends’ relationship was concerned. ‘Hang on, are you two …?’


Sebastian went in search of his sister where he knew she sometimes took refuge, the precinct of the Jakobskloster am Anger where she had been at school for years. He went alone, but he did not feel alone as he walked. When he entered the priory’s nave although the place was empty as far as he could tell it somehow seemed to him to be full of uncanny, silent movement.

As he approached the south door of the church into the cloisters of the nunnery he was hardly surprised to find a dark figure awaiting him. He bowed. ‘I half expected you’d be here, Master Wollherz,’ he commented.

‘My dear Bastian,’ the revenant said. ‘My associates and I commend your courage. We’ll help you in what you propose. You’ll find your sister in the infirmary chapel, just the place to put right what was wrongly done by your great-grandfather and my good friend, Willem Antonin.’

‘Why so?’

‘Why it’s the right place? You’ll see my boy. Bon courage!

Bastian knew the layout of the priory and headed down the east aisle of the cloister past the chapter house and through a tunnel into a second cloister beyond. There was a freestanding chapel in its centre, small though disproportionally tall. Bastian took a deep breath and walked the paved path across the grassy garth to the chapel’s west door. He found it ajar, and pushed it wide. He found himself in a dark space, the windows set high up in the walls. It was a mortuary chapel, the walls set with artfully arranged columns and displays of disarticulated human skeletons. The east end was a tall reredos constructed out of a baroque arrangement of carved marble thigh bones and skulls, Set at its peak was an effigy any Ruritanian would recognise, St Fenice of Tarlenheim. Bastian realised now what Karl Wollherz had meant when he sent him on his way.

His sister was seated in a stall to the right of the altar. She was regarding him with no friendly eye.

Bastian was at a loss as to how to begin the necessary conversation, a first between the twins. Eventually his sister started. ‘You should not have got involved with this business, Bastian.’

‘How could I not?’ he replied. ‘Whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish it’s hurting a lot of people, not least the man I love and his friends.’

‘That is unfortunate, but it’s what happens in wars, my dear. The end result will justify that and many worse things.’

‘I wish you could explain that to me, Bessie, and how you can be so certain.’

‘It’s Fate, my brother. You know we were marked out for greatness as children. We went to that other realm and there we were recognised as special. We are not as the others are, common. There is a power in this world and it recruited us … me … to do what is necessary to bring about great change.’

‘So that’s it?’ Bastian snarled. ‘You’re great and blessed and rules just don’t apply to Bessie? That doesn’t make you special, just deluded and selfish. You were given strange powers, for sure, but you don’t use them for any good purpose I can see, just deceit and coercion.’

‘Enough!’ Bessie cried and stood. She pointed at her brother who felt a sudden, terrible weight descend on his mind and his consciousness begin a descent into darkness. But abruptly and inexplicably his will rose to meet hers and his mind cleared. Startled, she sank back into her stall.

‘What did you just do?’ she eventually asked.

Bastian ventured a smile. ‘Not a thing,’ he replied. ‘Had you thought I’m proof against your witchery? Maybe I’m just too like you to be controlled by your powers.’ As he said that he thought he knew that Karl Wollherz and his people must have just acted to defend him. He remembered what Frank Potts had said about the ‘water-proofing’ Jonas Niemand had carried out on his mind to stop Bessie controlling it totally.

His sister glared at him. He could see her gathering her powers for another assault on his mind. He knew from past tussles between them that she could be wrong-footed, so he asked as if inconsequentially. ‘When Wilchin gave you his powers, did he caution you about using them?’

‘Eh? What d’you mean?’

‘Did he warn you about the World Beyond and the dangerous forces there?’

‘You mean his little friend Jonas Niemand? What do you know of such things?’

Stifling his irritation at being so dismissed by his arrogant sister as not a worthy player in the events she had triggered, Bastian answered equably enough. ‘Certainly I mean the elf, or whatever he is, but what about the elf’s rivals?’

‘Who? The other elves opposing him? Or do you mean …?’

‘The Dead and their Council, is what I mean. They aren’t going to ignore your meddling in their plans any more than the elves are.’

A sudden shaft of her will pierced Bastian’s mind, taking him by surprise. His control slipped and he sensed himself getting ready to spill all sorts of information that he thought his sister would like to know. But suddenly, nothing. The feeling of pressure was gone and it was as if he was freely floating. It was almost as if they were again sharing the womb they once had, before their conscious memory began.


Frank had gone back out into the kitchen yard of the embassy to be greeted as their guot Englischer freund by his new comrades with enthusiasm. The plan now was to make good use of the evening to go singing carols though the streets, and collect pfennigs from suitably impressed householders. Frank was reluctant until he remembered that St-Jakobs-Platz was within range of their expedition, and there was a door in the square behind which his current lady friend lived.

So, much to the delight of his comrades, he agreed that carol-singing was very much what they should be doing. His resolution faltered a little when he noticed that Karl Abentauer had secured a bag of eggs from the embassy pantry, but he hoped that he would be able to restrain any wilder outbreaks amongst the gang.

Frank’s resolution was shaken at the second door, from which sallied on old man armed with a stout stick with which he threatened to tan the hides of the noisy brats disturbing his evening nap. The fifth egg, that splattered the back of the man’s coat, was hurled by Frank himself. They raced off down a side lane past the little Sebastienkirch and on to the St-Jakobs-Platz.

The boys stopped to catch their breath, realising they weren’t being pursued. Frank looked around the familiar neighbourhood. Much to his surprise, pubescent child that he presently was, he still felt the same tingle in his groin as the adult Frank did at the thought of seeing his sexual partner. It seemed that sexuality occurred in boys earlier than he recalled from his first time growing through the change. His gang was muttering about which doors to avoid in the square. Apparently Frank’s Frau Melk was thought to be a likely contributor of cake and was well regarded amongst the neighbourhood youth.

So Frank sang his little heart out at her door and beamed nicely up at her smiling face when she appeared in the doorway. The lady seemed to catch his eye and he didn’t think he imagined that she gave him a close stare, before she looked off. Karl Abentauer got a lot of her attention, much to Frank’s annoyance. He was a good-looking boy with a forward and frank manner, and took delivery of a large bag of biscuits Frau Melk had come out to dispense to the singers.

Frank slapped the back of his head when Karl speculated that Frau Melk fancied him. ‘What? Jealous?’ the boy responded. A bad-tempered exchange followed which led to Frank walking off from the gang to cool down. So he was across the square at the Jakobskloster gate when a dazed Sebastian Wollherz emerged, stumbling into the night-time street.

Frank rushed over and tugged at the man’s arm. ‘Bastian!’ he called. ‘Are you alright? What happened?’