Hello My Prince
A Gay Romance Novel
For my husband, the salt of the earth
BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Chapter 1 – In The Brothel
Attempt to hire Eric out – Eric makes a stand – A new job
At the former Palais Lejeune
The latch of the door clicked softly as Eric closed the small closet he had been forced to sleep in for the past four years. Since his father’s death, his stepmother had converted Eric’s home into an all-male brothel and had rearranged the use of the private rooms to her liking. Stepping into the corridor, he stroked the unfamiliarly rich clothing over his body, dispersing any wrinkle. Of course they were hand-offs from his older stepbrother, Stephen; in the past four years, Eric hadn’t received any new clothing.
Although Stephen was almost ten years older, his slender figure was more like the adolescent body of Eric, who was in the middle of his next growth spurt. Out of the corner of his eye, Eric saw Stephen emerge from his own room—formerly Eric’s—and meet his brother Bernard, the younger of the two.
When his father had married after Eric's mother's death, Eric had been twelve and looking forward to getting another mother. He'd learned that she brought two boys of her own into the family and had been ecstatic. However, every attempt to become a part of their tight circle was shunned by both brothers. Never allowing him to tag along or share their interests, they didn’t play or race with their newly acquired brother at all, but instead they ridiculed him at every opportunity, hurting him more than any physical blow ever could. The brothers were close; how much so Eric had learned just a year before when he saw them kissing each other. Both were blond, had almost no facial hair and slender bodies. Huge mounted rings usually adorned their carefully manicured hands, and both wore the latest fashion of clothes. They were petted and loved by their mother, presented as the sons of the house while Eric sat ignored and alone in the background since his father's death.
Pushing down his defeated old feelings, Eric straightened. Today would change everything. Their mother had given Eric the rich and embroidered clothes, and ordered him for the first time to join them in the brothel’s monthly gathering. The young man felt hopeful and proud, envisioning himself striding into the great hall, his mother hanging on his arm, acknowledging him as her son and the rightful heir to the estate. It was too much to hope that his stepbrothers would cease their merciless needling, though. He saw the glances shot his way and heard their snickers at his expense. Nevertheless, he greeted them politely and walked ahead to meet their mother at the bottom of the stairs. The blonde woman gave him a critical stare, and to his disappointment, her demeanor toward him was as cold as ever. His excitement lowered several notches upon her cool nod.
“You’ll do.” Then she turned to her sons and crooned over their new attire. Like a two twittering, colorful birds, they swept past him, excluding him as they descended into the hall. Judging by the murmurs and the sounds of violins, the assemblage had already started. The lonely boy swallowed the big lump in his throat caused by this setback and followed his family inside.
Scarcely an hour later, hands held onto Eric’s wrists, a heavy, sweating body covered his and a greedy mouth slobbered over his face. Eric twisted and fought, bit and wriggled—they would not succeed—they would not! They had taken everything from him, his room, his fine clothes, his horse, but they would not get his body. He fought with everything he had, and although he was just sixteen, he was fit from his riding and fencing while the man upon him was drunk and obese. At last, Eric was able to slip his sweaty wrist out of his stepbrother Stephen’s grasp. Pushing against the meaty shoulder of the man covering him, Eric used his knee to free himself and fell off the couch in the process. Stumbling away from it, Eric looked around wildly until his gaze locked on the gentleman’s belt, which held a rapier and a dagger. The room was much too crowded for the longer rapier, so he jumped for the dagger, unsheathing it before anyone could stop him.
His stepmother took a step toward him, but he put one knee back on the upholstery, reached for the fat man’s hair, and pointed the sharp dagger to his throat. “Don’t come nearer,” he spat out. While his heart thumped wildly, he addressed his stepmother. “I don’t care what you do with your sons, but I will never consent to serve your customers. I’ll do anything you ask of me, but this the line I will not cross!”
The woman watched him with narrowed eyes and thin lips, disregarding the whimpers of the customer being held at dagger’s point, or his stepbrother sneering at Eric. “All right,” she conceded, “your loss. Release him and get out of here! From now on, you will stay in the kitchen to earn your keep, my boy. No more fooling around—you will work—and don’t think you won’t!”
He took his ripped breeches and shoes from the floor, ignoring the babbling customer, who was being placated by the naked chest and nimble fingers of Stephen, and went out of the room, disregarding the other customers who hadn’t stopped their own proceedings. Every chair, every chaise longue in the former ballroom was occupied with bodies in different states of undress. Men were drinking and groping young male flesh, slobbering disgustingly wet kisses on smooth faces, and groping at the boys the house provided for entertainment. Eric turned away from the scene and left.
Any other type of work is preferable to this, he thought with disgust, although he knew that the prostitutes earned a living and often received valuable presents. As he went back to his own room and changed into his normal working clothes, a tight ring of disappointment squeezed his torso and choked his throat. Wrecking sobs could not be oppressed anymore, and he sank to his knees, hugging himself. All his hopes for a better future had been crushed, and his body shook helplessly. He had expected to stand next to his stepmother, not be bartered away to the brothel’s customers. It took several minutes before his eyes dried up and the shaking of his limbs ceased. Taking deep breaths until his composure returned, Eric went down to the kitchen at last.
Upon entering the warm room, he got a nod and a smile from Mrs. Helen, the cook. She was the only cook Eric had ever encountered who remained bony despite her profession. That was the reason she was still employed, as his mother suspected every servant of cheating her, but the thin Mrs. Helen seemed not to do so, given that she didn’t gain weight. Eric knew, however, that without permission, she took the leftovers back home to feed her four children, and considering her meager salary, he didn’t begrudge her for it. She had taken him under her wing, giving him extra food—despite contrary orders—being sympathetic to his adolescent appetite.
Pointing with her chin to a small pot on the table, she offered with compassion, “You should eat something, darlin’, there will be a lot to do in the next hours.” Thankful for the normality, he accepted a spoon from the small, shy scullery maid who blushed as he playfully tapped her on the nose. Paul, the driver, joined him at the table and discussed the types of carriages he had seen and the skittish horses he had attended to during the evening. In between, the temporary young waitresses, which his stepmother employed when needed, fetched bread, wine, cheese, and pies that Mrs. Helen had prepared for serving and brought them to the big hall. Sitting in the middle of this busy room, Eric calmed with the help of this familiar routine and felt right at home again.
As soon as he had eaten, he rolled up his sleeves and pitched in, carrying, fetching, and helping the overworked staff till the early hours of the next morning when the sounds of the orgy on the upper floors ceased and the house grew quiet at last. Mrs. Helen had been the last one to leave and gave him a hug before she closed the back door. As he had been told to stay in the kitchen, Eric puttered about, musing while waiting for his stepmother to appear.
After the day’s setback in joining his stepfamily, his yearning to search for a trace of his own grandmother returned with a vengeance. His mother had died giving birth to him, and he had lost his father early in life. One of the few things he could remember was his father telling him bedtime stories about Eric’s grandmother’s big success as a concubine. According to him, Eric had inherited her famous sensitive skin and coloring. Being robbed of both of his parents and without any other relative but his unloving stepmother and her sons, he had tried to find any picture or possession of his famous grandmother for years. Alas, everything she had earned had been sold long before he was born, and there was no picture of her at home. As an only child, he'd longed for a family, and although Eric lived in the house of his father, he had no connection, no possession of him, his mother, or any of his forbearers.
Brooding over any place he could look further to find remnants, Eric soon discovered he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer and sat down near the dying ashes of the big hearth, where he promptly fell asleep.
At some point later, a silk-shoed foot kicking his stomach waked him, and he opened his eyes to see his stepmother standing before him with her usual sneering face. “You don’t deserve any goodwill anymore! I have fed you and clothed you despite the desolate state your father left my sons and me. But enough is enough. You will sleep here in the kitchen and work with the other servants, and I will expect you to work hard to earn your keep. You will clean the fireplaces, the chimneys, the privy, care for the livestock, and muck out the stables; you will chop wood and help out in the kitchen. And any time I have reason to complain about you, you will be punished in front of all our guests. I’ll let the hired muscles bind you to the wall – naked—and everybody will be able to touch and use you.”
“I won’t serve the customers,” he protested.
“Yes, you made that clear, and I have agreed that you won’t be hired out. But I know about your skin and how sensitive it is”—her eyes turned to slits—“and if you are lazy or disobey, I will let them have their way with you.”
Eric swallowed. His skin was his weak point. Unusually sensitive since birth, it had intensified so that mere touching would arouse him sexually since his first wet dream. He had never thought of it as a disadvantage, in fact had enjoyed it, but these last weeks, his stepmother had shown him how easily he could be manipulated by it. She had lured him with promises of lust and satisfaction and offered him his choice of male companions to help him become accustomed to his body's sexual needs. In the beginning, he had reveled in the romps between the sheets, the sucking and touching with the rent boys. It had been fun, but now he was left disgusted when she tried to hire him out to a customer of the house.
Never again, he swore to himself. He wouldn’t degrade himself to serve customers in those ways; from then on, he would cover his skin, always wearing long-sleeved shirts and gloves in order to deny himself any bodily contact with the boys. He would just have to work as hard as necessary to keep his mind off his desires.
And so he did.
Chapter 2 – The Coming-out
A royal breakfast – Prince Branimir outs himself – plans to find a suitable partner
Six years later, in the royal palace
Branimir had known it would come. Although he appeared calm on the outside, his insides clenched and his recently consumed breakfast turned to stones in his stomach. Refusing any eye contact with those sitting around the table, he hoped the danger would pass, but no such luck.
“Have you seen any of King Dalibor’s daughters, Jaron?” His mother, Queen Asta, started the inquiry. Branimir wished his ears could shut down and keep the discussion out of his already troubled mind. It was always the same: As soon as his brother, Crown Prince Jaron, returned from a visit to their surrounding kingdoms, his parents would jump him for information about an eligible bride for his younger sibling Branimir. Patient as ever, Jaron described every female he'd met in court with great detail but a professional, distant eye, as he was married for twelve years now and loved his wife, Dana, dearly—as well as his ever-growing flock of children. Branimir knew Jaron tried to be helpful, but every word was a stone around his neck, and he tried to ignore the discussion taking place about the pros and cons of the women mentioned.
Instead, his mind drifted, and he remembered stolen moments in the stables with Peter, one of the stable boys. There had been the sweet smell of hay around them as they'd touched and rubbed their hard cocks together. The sun had shone in between the beams, and the feelings he had experienced then had been overwhelming and precious. Branimir closed his eyes and tried to recall the hard muscles under his hands again, but he almost couldn’t remember. Peter had married and went to live with his wife’s family more than a year ago, and Branimir hadn’t found anybody in the castle or among the nobles he trusted and liked enough to suggest an affair.
Unconsciously, he furrowed his brow. To make things more complicated, the older he got, it became clear to him that he didn’t want just an affair. Watching Jaron with his wife or his parents, deeply in love for more than thirty years, he wished for a similar partnership with a man. Somebody he could trust and love, somebody who would be a friend and partner. But where to look, whom to choose? And before that, he should tell his parents that he would never marry a woman. His stomach turned to knots around the stones that had already taken up residence there.
He didn’t want to disappoint them; they had loved him although he had not fulfilled the expectations of a prince at all. Neither was he good looking nor strong like Jaron, he had not the brains and persistence of his mother nor the strategic mind of his father. He was of average build, somewhat tall but with ordinary features: Brown hair, brown eyes, and his beard sprouted so uneven that he kept his face clean-shaven. His fighting skills with a sword were moderate at best, and his exercises with the battle-axe were still the talk of the palace. In the army, he had served as a scout, observing the enemy and collecting information, which was easy for him due to his unaggressive behavior and kind smile. Although he did excel in the use of a bow on horseback. He had instilled this skill after enduring a long hunt with enemy patrols—where he had been the fox and they the hounds—he never wanted to be so helpless again. Now in peacetime, he was a bookworm and loved collecting herbs in order to compose new teas. He didn’t dare add to that un-princely behavior a male lover, but he knew his time was running out.
Concentrating again on the conversation around him, he heard King Magnus, his father, grunt. “It’s high time for the little one to step into matrimony—Branimir, come on, boy, be a good lad and choose one of the girls your brother told you about. They all seem to be a good catch.”
“Uh, I thought we didn't need any more alliances, Father. The contracts have been signed, and are waterproof, aren’t they, Jaron?” Branimir tried to wriggle himself out of the tight spot.
“Honey, of course we don’t need a marriage to make the contract with King Dalibor work, but you are of age and at his court are a bundle of nice young women, bred for a nobleman’s life. Don’t you think you might find a suitable girl to fall in love with?” his mother chimed in.
I very much doubt that… But Branimir’s mouth stayed shut.
Suddenly, his father exploded. “Don’t sit there like that, boy! You cannot stay a bachelor all your life. You need a spouse and lots of children around you….”
“I don’t think the castle can stand any more—considering Jaron's brood…” Branimir dared to intervene—everybody was the victim of the children’s pranks at one time or the other. And although they weren’t serious, they kept everybody on their toes.
“Damn it!” his father bellowed, “You are twenty-six years, son. How much longer will you wait? Your brother married Dana when he was eighteen; I married your mother at the same age, and you?” The king frowned. “Your mother has presented every eligible woman from the local nobility to you; Jaron is looking for a girl in every kingdom he visits. And all you can do is look bored. For heaven's sake—WHAT do you want? A brunette, a redhead? What are you looking for?” The fervor went out of his father and resignation took over as he added. “We just want you to have a family for yourself!”
Branimir had enough—the guilt, the loneliness, the hopelessness of his situation made for an explosive mixture, and he stood up suddenly, placing his hands on the table, leaning toward his father.
“Don’t you think I want that? Don’t you think I am looking for a partner to love? Someone to hold and cherish, to laugh and quarrel with? My heart aches I am so desperate, but I cannot marry!” He choked on the last words and looked down in embarrassment, grabbing the edge of the table.
“Why—why can’t you?” His mother's concerned voice broke the silence.
Branimir raised his head slowly and watched as his parents stared at him in confusion. “Because—" He took a deep breath and added in a low voice, “because I don’t like women.”
His father looked taken aback. “You—what?” Complete disbelief gave his words a sting. But before Branimir could repeat his statement, a slow clapping filled the breakfast room.
Jaron’s satisfied smile accompanied his applause, and he added with joy in his voice, “At last, little brother, at last! It was high time.”
Branimir blushed but felt his stomach unclench. “You knew?”
“Knew what?” his father interrupted.
Jaron turned, still smiling, to their parents and said in a calm tone, “I knew that he loves men.”
The queen gave a surprised little “Oh!” and looked at the tense Branimir as if she hadn’t seen him for ages. A wondrous expression appeared on her face as she added in a very soft voice, “I see.” Then she stood up, reached across the table, and petted his cheek as she used to do when he was a child.
His father still sat dumbstruck, looking between his wife and his sons, but she took his hand resolutely and said with her normal voice, “I think there is something we should discuss, dear. Let’s return to the office and revise the taxes.” And she nearly pulled her husband away from the table.
On their way out, the sons heard their father stutter, “He—men, but why?”
When the door shut, Branimir sat down again, astonished about how easy his confession had been received—and he had been afraid about this for how long?
Jaron picked up an apple, peeled it, and turned to Branimir. “At last I can cease looking for a nice, young lady for you! Now tell me about it, do you have somebody in mind?”
An embarrassed little laugh escaped Branimir's mouth. “Not at all.” And he told Jaron the whole story. How he hadn't felt any inclination of touching girls since he was a teenager. How hard it was during training with the soldiers, all those distracting, glistening, naked muscles during practice, how he yearned to touch but didn’t dare. How, at last, he had fooled around with the stable boy and found release but not love. And finally, how he longed for a permanent partner, living with him in the castle under the approval of their parents.
Jaron listened calmly and thoughtful, then he said, “I don’t think you’ll get any trouble from our parents. Dad was shocked, yes, but Mom did approve. I am sure she will wrap him around her finger. The more pressing question is how will you find a partner? Although it’s not forbidden, it is not common among the nobility due to the maintaining of the noble lines and not many men act upon it officially. Do you have a way of recognizing gay man?”
Branimir sighed and shook his head. “I wish… and as the bookkeeper of the castle, I don’t meet with lots of men anyway.” He had found his call when the old bookkeeper had had a stroke and suddenly been unable to write. Branimir had helped him, as it was harvest time and they needed to catalog the provisions that were being brought to the palace. Bit by bit, he had learned the intricacies of managing such a large household, and he had been the bookkeeper ever since.
Jaron gazed out the window and said thoughtful, “If you don’t meet gay men in your line of work, we let the men come to you. How about a ball?”