Chapter One

April 13, 1662
The Ducal Palace
Near Bremen, Holy Roman Empire

Lieutenant Tenber rode Zephyr, his beautiful Carlovainer stallion, through the gates of the Ducal Palace, the proud white steed’s hooves pounded a staccato signal of his approach upon the cobblestones. The Duke’s servants were always vigilant and as he rode up to the front door, he handed them Zephyr’s reins without qualm, he knew the horse would be taken to the ducal stables, wiped down, watered and if he stayed past sundown, fed and given a proper stall.

Why had the Duke asked to see him? It wasn’t like he was a retainer of the Duke’s, nor even a citizen of the Holy Roman Empire. He was led through the halls and onto the eastern veranda, where the view offered an unobstructed vista of the Weser, and beyond that, he could just make out the town of Bremen. It was a fine day in late spring, his eyes were treated to serene skies scrubbed by rain, green fields, and a peaceful bucolic panorama of river and fields and beyond, the gray blob that was the houses and buildings of Bremen.

“Ah, Tenber.” the voice came from behind him. Tenber turned to see the Duke Von Graustaf hobbling toward him. The Duke wasn’t so very old, in his late fifties, but he suffered still from a wound in his leg during the Thirty Years’ War, when he was a young officer with Wallenstein fending off the Danish and Swedish at Wölfenbuttel some thirty-six years before. It had left him a semi-invalid ever since, unable to travel save by carriage and dependent upon his staff to oversee his estates. And while Carlovain had been (at least in theory) on the side of the Danish in that struggle, he never bore the slightest animosity toward Tenber.

So Tenber smiled and bowed to the Duke without fear or any other emotion but puzzlement. “How may I serve you, my Lord?” he said courteously.

“It is how I may serve you.” the Duke returned. “I have received a letter for you from your King.”

“King Parmon?” Tenber was surprised by that, for ample reason. The new King of Carlovain was little more than a, wait. He would have passed the age of twenty a month ago, wouldn’t he, and thus have ascended the throne in his own right? The twenty years were those of the Carlovain calendar, of course, whose years were shorter than those of most of the known world, but still, quite emphatically now a young man. Pity, Tenber had met him last some six years before when he was but a teenager himself, and remembered a skinny, sickly, rather frightened looking child with an uncertain temper. Now that he could set aside the Regent, the kindly Lord Beran, and rule Carlovain himself, Tenber wasn’t certain what the young man would do.

Well, one thing he had done was send Tenber a letter. “I am grateful for you receiving it for me.” he said.

“Not at all, the King sent it to me along with some of his own correspondence to me, is all.” the Duke said. “Wrapped it up inside his routine papers to my Duchy, I fear I have read it, for I thought it was routine and intended for me.”

“I see.” Tenber said. “May I have it now, then, please?”

“I am having my servant fetch it.” the Duke said querulously. “I’m not sure what is keeping the lad, he seems intent on keeping me waiting for him at every turn.” The Duke’s temper was itself uncertain, understandable in a man busy with his ducal affairs and also living in a state of constant pain. “It doesn’t matter, I can tell you all it says. It says you are to return to Carlovain at once.”

“I?” Tenber was surprised. “But...but I have not finished my term here with you.” Tenber had joined the Duke’s army for a term of three (regular) years, and only two of those had passed. He wasn’t wasting his time here away from Carlovain, he was studying the new methods of warfare brought about in the past few decades. For over a century now, it had been the principle of the landknechts, a mass of men disciplined to fight as a unit, their main weapon the pike, against which the cavalry charge was helpless...until recently, when the tactics of cavalry had been adapted to overcome the landknechts. The concept of fighting men as a disciplined unit and the advent of the musket as a more and more powerful weapon (it had effectively ended the use of full armor, though some still wore breastplates and such in hopes of deflecting the soft lead bullet) had led to changing tactics and a change in the principle of war; Tenber hoped to learn and adapt these principles to ones that Carlovain could use.

“Why not?” the Duke said. “You’re a member of the Royal Guards, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes.” Tenber agreed.

“So why shouldn’t he want to take a look at you now and then?” the Duke said.

“You are correct, of course.” Tenber bowed, not that he agreed with the Duke, but to argue with a powerful man was usually a foolish thing.

“Ah, there he is now.” the Duke said. “Get over here with that.” he said.

“Yes, sir.” the young servant said, hastening forward.

“Young and clumsy and stupid.” the Duke complained pettishly as the youth neared them. The young man heard the remark (he was meant to, Tenber felt sure) and flushed, but proferred the tray with the letter on it to the Duke, on one bent knee.

“Not to me, you ninny, to him, it’s his letter.”

“Yes, my Lord.” the man stood, scooted over and knelt again.

Tenber took the letter and saw that the letter had in fact been sealed and that seal breached. The discoloration in the wax told him that the Duke had opened it and then attempted to reseal it, but the Carlovain “royal wax” had defeated that, showing brown edges where the attempt to reseal it had occurred.

He read the letter over carefully. The Duke, in his arrogance and petulance, had committed a grave breach of protocol, and whether he found it necessary to call the Duke out on this depended upon what the letter said.

But it was as short as the Duke had said, a simple couple of sentences, ordering him to return to Carlovain at once. It gave nothing of the reason for the summons nor did it mention any funds for his travel. Tenber sighed. His family was far from niggardly with the money they had sent to him, but the trip would be a financial strain upon him. He might even have to sell Zephyr in order to raise the funds, though such would be a shame indeed.

Well, the weather was fair, he could if need be ride horseback all the way back to Carlovain, though that would require him to pass through the Netherlands to do so, a people with no love for their northern neighbor, a foolish distrust that had been born centuries before when the Dutch had been part of Burgundy and Carlovain a territory its Dukes had lusted after. Indeed, the earliest Carlovain kings had been Burgundian (though independent from the Grand Duchy of Burgundy), but never had any king of Carlovain given even lip-service to a mere Duke however powerful!

Well, since he was to report to Carlovain at once, according to the letter, the possibility of delay in traveling through the Netherlands made his only real choice that of travel by boat. Trade at least was brisk between Bremen and Heslov, the capital of Carlovain, and ships sailed down the Weser, up the Carlovain coast, stopping at Fediresta, then on around Point Winseran to Heslov. The trip would take a week to ten days’ at most, and he would simply visit his home in Heslov and beg funds from his father until he could collect some pay from the Royal Chancellor.

He looked up from his note and the Duke was standing there still. “I thank you for this letter.” he said, deciding not to mention the breach of protocol. “I shall with your kind permission depart at once.”

“You should stay here the night and take the boat to Bremen on the morning.” the Duke said.

Tenber bowed again. “You are kind.” he said. “But I shall need to gather my belongings.”

“Nonsense.” the Duke said. “I’ll send one of my men down to collect it for you. Heavens knows they all have little enough to do most of the time anyway. And you’ll need someone to see to your things while you’re here.”

The Duke turned and saw the young servant standing there. “Are you still here, you fool?” he said.

“ did not send me away.” the young man stammered.

“I shouldn’t have had to.” the Duke said and the young man started to leave. “No, wait.” he said. “Don’t go rushing off like that, I might have need of you.”

“Yes, my Lord.” the man said, obviously giving up.

“This is Lieutenant Tenber of the Carlovain Royal Guard. He will be spending the night, so show him to a room upstairs and let him rest and freshen up. Dinner will be at sundown.”

“Yes, my Lord.” the servant bowed to the Duke, and then to Tenber and said, “This way, if you please, sir.”

Tenber followed the servant upstairs and found himself in a room that let out onto an upper veranda with the same view, even better. He was brought some wine and then left alone, and looked at Bremen, thinking about the journey to come.

“Enjoying the view?” came a familiar voice behind him.

Tenber turned around, this time with pleasure. “Alban!” He exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” Alban was a fellow officer though a native to this region of Germany. Unlike Tenber’s uniform with its purple jacket, which was the same he had worn from the court of Carlovain (a mere red sash marked him as an officer, there was no other uniform used), Alban wore a green and yellow tunic over a white shirt and high black boots over a quite thin set of leggings.

“Someone had to bring you your things.” Alban said. He pointed to the bundles in the corner.

Tenber was surprised by this. It was too soon for a messenger to have gone to the camp, gathered up all his things, and then ferried them here. “You knew I was leaving, then?” he said.

“The order came as soon as you’d left.” Alban said. “I volunteered to come with them, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a chance to say my farewell.” A smile lit the slender face. “I shouldn’t have cared for that.”

“Nor should I.” Tenber said. “It seems your lord has been reading my mail without permission.” He frowned. “I wonder how many other messages may have arrived for me that I never received.”

“Few or none, I think.” Alban said. “My Lord Duke is inquisitive, but I haven’t yet found any reason to suspect him of more than that. I think only that curiosity got the better of him, nothing more sinister.”

“Perhaps.” Tenber said. An awkward pause, then Tenber asked, “Will you be staying the night here?”

“Nay, not I.” Alban said. “I must return to the camp by nightfall, for my duties call. I merely wished for a chance to bid you safe journey.”

“And I wish you all good fortune in the future.” Tenber said.

Alban opened his arms and Tenber stepped into them to hug his friend.

“I shall miss you greatly.” Tenber said as he felt the strong back ripple under his hands.

“And I you.” Alban said. “Your country is fortunate indeed to have such a one as you in her charge.” He hesitated. “I can spare a few moments more. Are you expected downstairs?”

“Not until sundown.” Tenber assured him.

“Good.” Alban said and kissed Tenber’s lips. Tenber kissed him back, not surprised by this advance, for he and Alban had made love a score of times or more in the past six months. They might have done it longer, had Tenber been more sure of the young man, and had he not been among people who referred to Carlovainers as “Buggers” and not always softly and to his back. For himself, he had figured on living a monastic life for the three years of his study, until the day when a few drinks too many had meant he had taken Alban back to his quarters, and there found the hands unwilling to let him go. Tenber had afterwards regretted it, for drink would make a man do things he would regret, but Alban had found occasion the next night to join him once again and so their love affair, furtive but solid, had begun. Duties had separated them often, but the bond was firm as any could be when the ending was so clearly written beforehand.

And that time had come, a few minutes more and they would part for what could be forever and would certainly be years.

So this was to be lovemaking as a farewell. Tenber stroked the body, wishing they could make it more than it was, that he could undress this fellow soldier and taste the body that he had tasted so often before.

But they could be interrupted any moment, and while he was leaving Bremen, Alban must remain. For Alban’s sake, he let it be the hasty joining that was all they could now have.

So when Alban’s lips left his to taste his neck, he let them go, satisfying himself with being the recipient of affection, as Alban knelt onto the floor and his hands undid Tenber’s trousers. He leaned back and a table was there, he leaned against it and said, “Let us make haste, my dear friend, for I know not when a servant may enter.”

“I know that better than you, fortunate son of Carlovain.” Alban said. “I envy you in your return to that land, there to turn your back on the struggle between Catholic and Protestant, who unite only in their desire to deny their followers any pleasure in this world out of fear for the next.”

“Know that if you can come to my country, I and my fellows will make you welcome.” Tenber said. “Ah-ah!” for Alban now had withdrawn Tenber’s manhood from his trousers and those lips, those warm, wet lips, had taken hold of him, rich with familiarity, they caressed his body and moistened his shaft, the tongue a dancing follower that stroked over the underside of his cock and sent quivers of delight coursing through him.

“My friend, my dearest friend.” Tenber said softly. “I shall miss you so much.”

Alban’s answer was only to take him deeper, and when the entirety of Tenber’s ten inches of tumescent pole were inside his mouth, he began to bob his head not only up and down, withdrawing and pulling up on his pud and taking it back down again, but also he added a weaving motion that slid his lips also sideways and around Tenber’s column, while one hand held the base firmly in place.

Illustration for Captain of Carlovain, #1 As he could not count upon his privacy as inviolate in this palace where mail was opened, Tenber restricted his sounds of desire to whispered sighs, his lips wide open and exhaling them in pants of joy that shuddered back inside him to be expired once again. Alban was moving upon him with a speed they had never used before, the need for urgency was strong, then, Tenber told his body to seize this pleasure ere it be ripped from them by sounds of discord and scorn.

So his time of joy was brief, he had the strength of youth and the knowledge of a soldier that delight must sometimes be rushed if it is to be had at all, his cock’s pleasure built up in him with a rapidity that would have shamed him under other circumstances.

“Ah, ah, my friend, I near my time!” he gasped out. “Hurry but a moment longer, and I shall repay you in kind.”

Alban did, he left off the corkscrew motions and began a rapid up-and-down movement that was like a drumbeat, hard sounds that rebounded through Tenber’s body in waves of ecstasy.

“Ah, hah, I am come!” he panted. “I am come now! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah-ah-ah-HAHHHHH!”

He felt the heat of his load as it bubbled out of his cock and into Alban’s mouth, foaming about his cock as it was driven again and again into that warmth, it was like he was swimming in his own jism, for it encircled and engulfed and filled entirely the space between his prick and Alban’s mouth, and then Alban, without easing his movement at all, gave a convulsive gulp and the majority of the seed was removed.

Tenber’s ejaculation was over but his pleasure remained a time yet, and Alban gave him this as well, nursing him until his sighs of pleasure dropped down to a soundless exhalation, then he licked at the cock and stood up, a smile upon his face.

“Remember me in Heslov.” he said in tones that said he was leaving at once.

“But...but you need not go this minute.” Tenber protested.

“No, my best friend and comrade, I do need to go.” Alban said. “If you cannot hear the footsteps approaching, I can.”

And it was true, the roar of blood in Tenber’s ears had muffled it. Several pairs of footsteps coming their way.

He hastily refastened his pants and his hands nervously smoothed his hair which had not been disarranged. Alban gave him a hug which he returned, the hug broken too soon, too soon!

“Farewell, my friend.” Alban said.

“Farewell, Alban.” Tenber said, feeling his eyes moisten. “Until God grants we may meet again.”

“May it not be on the field of battle on opposite sides.” Alban agreed, and he turned and left without a backward glance.

As for the footsteps, they passed by Tenber’s room entirely, none entered. He cursed those unknown passersby vehemently, for they had taken Alban from him in a way that the King of Carlovain had not.

He looked out the window again, but only to judge the sun. He had just enough time to wash his face and dust at his clothes and it would be time for him to take dinner with the Duke.

For the first time since hearing of the letter from the King, he felt like he was leaving this place.

As he washed his face and hands, he wondered again why the King had sent for him. What would a new King need with a lowly lieutenant of the guard, when there were nearly a score of them back in Carlovain already?

Well, he was a soldier, and he had been summoned by the King. That should be enough.

He walked out of the room, flailing at his clothes with his kerchief as he went, a light dust of the road billowing around him, to be left behind for good.