Somewhere in the dark underworld of Telum, Inimician capital city
Ever since Artabanos?s coronation, there was only one place he could call home ? despite having a 1105-room palace at his disposal. Only one place he could truly be himself in, where he could laugh, have a drink, look at attractive people, and watch others ? not himself! ? dance. The Rainbow Hole was, judging by its name and how it looked on the outside, a stinky hellhole full of perverted old gay men. However, Artabanos had learned from a very young age to never judge a book by its cover, and when he went in one day during his younger years he had found the place to be incredibly welcoming and inviting. Here he had learned to dance, to make friends, but he had also learned to know his many lovers, all of whom had abandoned him before the night was over, and before he managed to get them to bed.
When he was symbolically married to Charlotte at age 26 despite preferring men, he had still been a virgin. His entire life he followed his conviction that it was better to lose one?s virginity at a later age, with a person close to one?s heart, than in one?s teenage years with some prick one couldn?t care less about. He never loved Charlotte, and couldn?t ever confess to the press the children weren?t his or that he preferred men to women. According to Charlotte, the children were ?an accident?, but even though Artabanos never took her to bed, he couldn?t swallow it, which is why she had to go. At age 36, he began balding, much to his distress, and now, four years later, he was bald and close to bursting. It was one of Artabanos?s shameful features. An Emperor, but a lifelong virgin. Now that he had thrown off the chains of marriage to someone he couldn?t love, all he could do was return to his usual spot in The Rainbow Hole, in the corner of the room, sitting at the bar with a glass of liquor in his hand, just thinking about all kinds of things (i.e. nothing).
Ever since he became Emperor he had had to call the owner before visiting, to ensure he wouldn?t disturb anyone. When his political takeover of the country was ongoing, he would quite often come to the bar and contemplate what he would do next. However, now that the process was complete and his benevolent dictatorship was established, he just came to drink away the huge emptiness in his life. He never thought the office of Emperor was so lonely and empty. He had everything he wanted: money, housing, estates, power, except one thing: someone to love. His life was incomplete, and he couldn?t be happy while that was the case. In the back of his mind he knew sitting at the bar getting drunk wouldn?t help any of his problems, but as Emperor there was no real way to meet new, interesting people in the street, at school, at work, or anywhere, as he was always accompanied by a security detail. Except here, where he trusted everyone. Even at banquets and dinners internationally, he was hugely jealous and envious of all those princes, kings, presidents and queens most ? if not all ? of whom were married, engaged, or had spouses. It had depressed him in the last months. There was no one he could love, not even those ghastly ? although cute ? children who were now living at his palace. The only love he received in is dreadful life was that of the Inimician people, who supported him in everything he did. But that was not a personal affection, far from it.
At around 11 PM, he had slipped out of the Imperial Palace wearing a disguise, and quickly made his way to the club, where he was kindly greeted by the owner, who was dressed in nothing but a tuxedo collar and undies, as always.
?Seems like you need company, Your Maj?, a voice to Artabanos?s left suddenly said, ?No Emperor ought to sit alone. Buy you a drink? I hear you like a good whisky?
Artabanos was slightly flabbergasted. ?Y?yeah, sure?, he said, stuttering slightly. It reminded him of his teenage years, when he was so introverted he couldn?t talk to strangers, but by attempting to appear nice, he would often appear even more awkward.
He was probably the most attractive man Artabanos had ever seen. His hair was a golden blonde, riddled with some darker brown strands, and was combed to the man?s right side. It made Artabanos a bit jealous: he had lost his own hair at a very young age. The man?s eyes were an enchanting emerald mixed with the most bright sky blue. Eyes to get lost in. Eyes to love. With his obsessive traits Artabanos had always been careful falling in love, but even though his wife?s ? oh so untimely ? death had only just been a month or so ago, he found it difficult to not look at the undeniably lovely man, who was probably a year or two, three younger than him himself, he estimated. Not that this mattered to him.
?I didn?t think you?d come here?, the man said, ?Kinda?. Lower class for someone like you, not? No disrespect, Your Maj.?
?Please?, Artabanos said, ?Don?t call me ?Your Maj?. I come here to just forget about being Emperor.?
This is why Artabanos never found someone he could love. He would always just say something silly or awkward, and the attractive guy would ?need a bathroom break?, which usually just meant he didn?t like him and wanted to get away without being offensive.
The man laughed. ?Okay, then what should I call you, Mr Inimicus??
?Artabanos or Artie will suffice, thank you.?
?Right then, Artie. What brings you here??
Artabanos was not sure he liked the man?s intrusiveness, particularly because of the sensitivity of some of his conduct recently. ?You know, getting away from it all?, he replied plainly, not daring to look the man into his eyes, despite their attraction. The man extended his hand and Artabanos shook it reluctantly.
?Right. Well I?m Richard. Rich or, if you prefer, Dick, for short?, he winked. Uncomfortably so. Artabanos was getting too old for this. Or was he? If he was too old for this right now, surely he should?ve taken the chance when he could. No, he was still fine, he supposed. ?Well?, he replied as he took his first sip of the trusty single malt he had been drinking at this place for years, ?I could indeed use company.?
?I thought you would. I didn?t think you as a bisexual who wants women would come here though.?
Artabanos considered confessing everything to this man, he seemed so kind. After a few seconds of silence, though, he frowned and thought: ?What the hell, this is a stranger I?ve ever met. What am I even doing?? and stood up, leaving his card with his personal phone number with the man. He downed his whisky and left, making a small detour around town before returning to the Imperial Palace.
National Imperial Council Meeting, June 25th
?Which is why, before Parliament adjourns, we need to establish our own position firmly and powerfully. Power has to flow smoothly ?and therefore slowly ? from the Commons to? well? us?, Basil Lawson ended his rant. For over an hour he had been ?discussing? ? i.e. holding a monologue ? about how the legislative powers from the Commons would have to be transferred over a longer period of time, starting from the Commons? adjournment debate on July 12th. Some others disagreed and didn?t see why power was not simply transferred immediately without fuss. As for Artabanos, he didn?t see why this discussion was even taking place.
However, he hadn?t been up for any discussions or debates recently. He had excused himself from the House of Nobles two days ago, hadn?t attended any NIC meetings except this once since last week, and had refused to show his face in the media, raising suspicion with vultures like Colin Hoskins from the ghastly Nuntius Inimici broadcast. ?Trying to be pro-me when they?re full of conservative loonies?, Artabanos thought, before realising he should look like he was paying attention to Lawson, another Centre-Conservative prick, but a loyal one, at least. Of course he was loyal, otherwise he wouldn?t be on the Council.
He was unable to focus his attention on anything having to do with management of the Empire or international politics. He hadn?t followed developments in the European Council whatsoever, and hadn?t had any contact with Eric Hitchens or the EU councillor, Ralph Jaevons. Every night, he slipped out of his Palace and drank his disinterest away at The Rainbow Hole, much to the dismay of that abhorrent woman who was supposed to be the caretaker of ?his? children. He felt like he was back in his late teenage years ? and that was not a good thing. Back when he was seventeen, he had attempted to kill himself over unanswered love and parental issues, bottling up everything he?d felt for three years.
There were only two things keeping him from retrying. For one, his sacred oath to the Inimician people and the constitution ? the latter of which he, admittedly, constructed, but still. He had had to swear an oath of loyalty and service before the Imperial State Crown was placed on his head during the coronation, and it was one of the few things he would always remain loyal to. He felt like he couldn?t just abandon the Inimician people to their fate, especially not with the awful political class he was trying so hard to abolish.
But the second aspect was probably far more important. Every night he went to The Rainbow Hole not just to drink, but also to meet Richard. He could no longer deny it: at forty years of age, he was in love. During NIC meetings, hearings and debates, he thought only of Dick. This is why he had been afraid of feeling too much for someone all his life: he quickly became obsessive and couldn?t control what he felt ? or was that normal for people who?d just fallen in love? All of those silly love songs suddenly made sense; all those romantic films suddenly drew tears instead of annoyance; and all those hours he lay awake at night, suffering from his long-time insomnia, were suddenly filled with thoughts about Rich instead of how he was going to bug his Cabinet next.
?Damn it?, he wrote one night one another loose piece of paper, _?Who and what am I? Once again, I visited The Rainbow Hole and I think I might?ve fallen in love with Richard. But is that even possible? I don?t even know anything about him. After just under a week since I met him, I still can?t stop thinking about him. He?s just....hot.... and I don?t like saying that. I really do love him but I?m struggling with it so badly. Every time he says something nice to me it gives me a boost, but at the same time a feeling of uncertainty.
?I would invite him to the Imperial Palace, but I?m afraid there?s a metaphorical sea between us. Since I saw him for the first time Richard?s dominated my thoughts. I would have to accept it, though, if he got into a romantic relationship with someone close to him. If this does happen, I?m sure I?m going to be wrecked, but I?d have to get over it. I?m not going to be romantically involved with Rich, so there?s no point in even thinking such thoughts. And despite that, I feel so much for him.?_
After reading this, however, he angrily smashed his paper into a ball, threw it at the Prime Minister?s head, stood up and left the room, leaving the other NIC members flabbergasted.
Personal quarters of the Imperial Palace
Saturday June 28th 2015, 9.56 PM
?What the hell was all that about, Artie?!?, Jeff Speller shouted, entering Artabanos?s bedroom. The Emperor was lying on his bed, staring at the ornate ceiling, specifically the engraved Imperial coat of arms in a shield above his bed. ?Tell me, or I swear I?ll organise a rebellion.? Artabanos hoped that comment was a joke, but with the allegedly dead leader?s influence he couldn?t be sure. ?I was having a bad day?, the Emperor lied ? although not entirely.
?You seem to be having a bad day every day these days.?
?Too many days in that sentence, Jeff.? Artabanos shifted his position somewhat. Even in his private quarters, he never took off all of his clothes, and was lying on his blankets wearing his blue velvet shoes, dark grey trousers, clean white shirt, pink suspenders and evenly pink tie. His formal attire made lying on the bed rather uncomfortable, made worse by the mess of food packaging and papers he had gathered around him.
?You?re not okay, and I notice so?, Speller replied, ?You know I?m your friend, Artie. We?ve known each other all our lives and have been working together for multiple decades. You can trust me.?
Before Artabanos could answer, some sort of queer bell noise sounded. As if by reflex, Artabanos reached his left arm and grabbed his phone, unlocking the screen with a single swipe and carefully reading the notification, before sighing, looking disappointed, and putting the phone back in its original position. ?What was that all about??, Jeff asked.
?Give me a call when you?re yourself again. I?ll tell the others you?re ill?, Speller concluded and left the room. ?Freaking zombie...?, Artabanos thought as he saw him leave. He turned on his side and curled up on the bed. There he was, a 40-year old Emperor, the most powerful man in the country, with nearly unlimited funds and millions of soldiers at his disposal, wrecked by a single person, a single feeling.
He was standing on the edge of the bed. ?And there?s a girl!?, the personal Imperial doctor said. Once the mess had been cleaned up, and the children brought away to post-birth care, Artabanos requested some time alone with his wife. She was asleep, and probably very attractive to men who would actually care. Artabanos couldn?t, however, and the children Charlotte had given birth to about an hour previously convinced him of what he was about to do. He dislodged the IV tubing and pulled out a syringe. He put the syringe to the IV and applied pressure. A colourless liquid made its way quickly towards Charlotte?s arm, and when the syringe was empty, most of it had already been inserted. The key ingredient Tetrodotoxin, which Artabanos had been advised to use by everyone he had spoken about the issue, would be the main working substance.
He woke up, bathing in sweat. He turned over, and quickly started thinking of different things before dozing off for a few minutes again.
Personal quarters of the Imperial Palace
June 29th 2015, 2.01 AM
?Is this even allowed? How can I feel so much for someone who?s so out of my league?
I?ve been too pushy. It?s one of my many faults. I closed off an email I sent to him with ?He Who Cannot Last Long Without You.? I hate myself. That was way too pushy and over the top. But, then when I meet him in The Hole I can?t do anything but smile, love, and wish. Wish it was acceptable for me to be with him. Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are very slim indeed. Still: there is always hope... And hope I do.?
Artabanos read over some of his scribbles and decided to stop trying to go to sleep. He put on his standard, dull clothes and took the back door of the Palace, walking out into the Teluminan streets. He didn?t have security with him, although he was quite certain he was being tracked by a dozen Imperial Secret Servicemen and ?women at all times. He had told Richard he might come over to the Hole tonight, but that he wasn?t sure he could. As always, Artabanos had gone over the conversation he was going to have with Richard multiple times in his mind, even though he knew nothing was going to be like he planned it.
The night was surpisingly chilly, so Artabanos put his hands in his coat pockets and put up his collar. He came across another piece of paper in his right hand pocket, not knowing he?d spread them around everywhere. Maybe that was a bit risky?
?I should probably find a life outside all of this, but my own mind and my inability to meet new people make that very difficult indeed. That is why I love Rich so much: he is always a listening ear, always provides a shoulder to cry on. And yet, he is also funny, shares my interests, and is an overall terrific guy.
He read the mindless text and decided to bin it. Before he could find a litter bin, however, he had reached The Rainbow Hole, where he saw Dick sitting next to the spot Artabanos always sat in. ?Hello Artie, he was greeted, ?I?ve been expecting you.?
The following conversation made Artabanos wish he?d followed through with his plans to repeat what he?d tried doing when he was a teenager. Richard told him he?d asked someone out, but was refused. It was like Artabanos?s world collapsed, but he couldn?t make this noticeable. The dim, pink light emanating from the fluorescent lamps hanging above the bar made Richard?s symmetrical features all the more attractive, and Artabanos decided the best thing to do was to just try supporting Richard as best he could, however much pain he suffered himself from the apparent interest Richard had shown in someone else.
?So yeah...?, Richard concluded after telling what had happened, ?I?m a bit.. well.. sad.?
?That?s fine?, Artabanos replied, ?We all are at some point, I ?? He was cut off by Richard tearing up. He awkwardly put his arm around him, and Richard rested his head on the Emperor?s shoulder. Was this what it was like? Being able to be with the person you love? Artabanos felt weird. On the one hand, he couldn?t be happier, but on the flipside, he knew this could never evolve into anything serious. What would the international community think? Paul, Michael, his closest allies, were not too accepting of ?homogays?. Surely their alliance was political, though, and what they did in their bedrooms was of no importance to the international co-operation?
Conflicting mind, conflicting thought, and the most wonderful man in the entire world leaning on his shoulder. Artabanos didn?t know what to do.
Somewhere on the streets of Telum
June 29th, 4.41 AM
A dim, low light started mixing itself with the clear bright illumination the street lanterns provided. The sun was rising, and soon enough people at the Imperial Palace would notice Artabanos was not in his bed. For about an hour he had been in the Hole with Richard, but Artabanos excused himself for no reason at around 3 AM, and since didn?t feel like going back to the Palace, he just walked and tried to clear his mind, which of course he wasn?t able to. Intentionally, he walked into the most infamous Teluminan neighbourhood, one of the few areas he hadn?t been able to police properly yet. Almost like a warning, a light drizzle started falling from the sky, which slowly but certainly evolved into a thick rainstorm.
Normally, he would?ve pulled out some kind of umbrella or hat, but he couldn?t care less about the rain right now. He didn?t care about the weather, about himself, about the Palace, about ?his? children, or even about the Empire. He wanted to get away from it all; but he didn?t want to go on holiday somewhere in the depths of northern Havvenskar or anything ? although he wouldn?t dare go to that country . No, he wanted to get away from being alive. Alive without Richard by his side. He wouldn?t even mind being assassinated by some thug in this neighbourhood, although even they seemed to be in bed or shunning the weather. Artabanos was drenched, but he didn?t give a damn.
After about half an hour, he couldn?t tell whether his face was wet with the rain water, or his own tears. His world was collapsing, and he couldn?t think of any other cause than Richard, although it wasn?t even Dick?s fault. It was his own, and he knew it. He bloody well knew his own mind was screwing him over, but he couldn?t do anything about it. He realised this was why he had never been in a romantic relationship: he became obsessed extremely quickly, and couldn?t focus his attention on anything but Richard.
He stopped in front of a bench and sat down, the twilight becoming ever brighter. The first person he saw moving the entire time he spent in the neighbourhood made his way towards him. He hoped the person was going to kill him. ?No?, he made up his mind, ?No, I mustn?t think that. Yet I do.? Artabanos could make out the figure, who was dressed in a black frock coat, was a man, but the sun had not quite given off enough light for the Emperor to make out the man?s face. When he had approached to about five metres from Artabanos, however, his face could be made out clearly, and what Artabanos saw made his heart jump.
All of a sudden, he was standing right in front of him, his eyes not letting go of him. ?I can?t?, Artabanos said, ?However much I?d like to... I just can?t.? Both of them were soaking wet from the ever increasing rain, the thick clouds blotting out most of the twilight. Artabanos knew he couldn?t rationally get romantically involved with Richard; but he looked into his blue eyes ? the hint of emerald ever-present ? and he felt nothing but admiration. ?This is like an f-ing romantic comedy?, he thought as Richard awkwardly put his hand on the Emperor?s cheek. Richard?s lips formed to kiss him. ?No no no no. Let?s... not?, Artabanos said. It seemed like all hope in Richard had just been crushed. Artabanos could feel the disappointment in his friend?s face, and after an awkward silence, Artabanos made the decision to go home. Richard didn?t say anything, even though he was the most talkative person the Emperor had ever met.
Walking home, his collar up, Artabanos started feeling bad. He did like Richard. He couldn?t be in denial any longer. Those five minutes he had just experienced had been great, albeit with a sad ending. Later, when he got back to the Palace, he was greeted by the caretaker of his children. ?It?s 5.30, Artie.? Perhaps those five minutes had been more than just five minutes anyway? Reluctantly retiring to his quarters, he couldn?t keep his mind off Richard. He had left him there, on that bench. Who knew, he might still be sitting there. ?I am in love with him?, he thought.
His indecisiveness was clearly noted by the caretaker, who asked: ?Everything okay, Artabanos??
?No?, he answered without explanation.
Leaving his quarters, he walked off and left the Palace again, not even caring about the rain, which had now turned into a major summer storm. He ran back to the spot, tears mixed with rain water.
He was still there, sitting in the same spot Artabanos had left him in.
Without hesitating, he ran right for Richard, who stood up, just as drenched as himself.
In an unlikely alliance of love, tears, and a lot of rain, they kissed. His lips were cold, but an inner warmth of love could clearly be felt within them.
When they let go, Artabanos felt bad and great at the same time. On the one hand, this was the happiest occasion in his 40-year old virgin life, and for the first time ever, he felt ? apparently mutual ? affection and love. However, there was no future in their relationship: undeniably, there was a kind of class divide between them. Artabanos could never afford to be seen with a man abroad, especially if they decided to marry.
The both of them giggled. ?Come?, Artabanos said, ?We?ll dry our sorry arses in the Palace.?
?Ooh, I?ve always wanted to go there?, Richard happily agreed. Together ? though not holding hands or any of that romantic stuff ? they made their way back, avoiding the caretaker and sleeping until late in the day in separate rooms.
Personal Quarters of the Imperial Palace
June 30th, 5.39 PM
?You better not be looking for a sugar daddy.?
?I?d?ve gone for a businessman, not an Emperor with limited personal wealth.?
Emperor Artabanos and his newfound love had spent the entire day in the Imperial Palace. Even though the monarch was supposed to attend the National Imperial Council and the House of Nobles, he?d called in ?sick? to avoid having to go. Instead, he would take Richard for dinner in the most posh place in the city ? of course, because he had to be careful not to get spotted by the press or attentive citizens, he had had to reserve an entire part of the restaurant so they could be shielded off from the public. ?Let?s go, shall we??, he said to Richard, who was still clumsily trying to get his tie straight. As a tie expert, Artabanos walked over to him and corrected Richard?s ? rather dull ? dark blue tie. He was, as always, boasting a brightly coloured specimen, and although pink might?ve been appropriate for this occasion, his pink tie was in the laundry, so he had to settle for yellow.
They made their way to the car Artabanos had reserved ? a car driven by a trusted driver, obviously ? which would take them to the Grand Imperial restaurant. No expense could be spared for Artabanos, of course, although he did have his doubts about the discretion of the event. Moreover, he still had his doubts about him and Richard. As much as he loved him, he knew they could never get into a relationship without either Artabanos?s abdication, or international controversy. Sunken in thought ? as usual ? he didn?t notice the car pulling up in front of the restaurant, and he had to be reminded by Richard tucking his suit. ?I know an Emperor must have a lot to think about, but let?s just enjoy ourselves, shall we??, he said, a suggestion which Artabanos couldn?t possibly reject.
The Grand Imperial was property of award-winning Inimician chef and restaurateur Sir Valentino Hookers. Artabanos had never been there, but he wasn?t disappointed with the dining hall?s interior. The room was decorated with Crystal chandeliers, bronze, and marble, and overlooked the Imperial Botanical Gardens. As the duo was seated by a waiter who looked at their ties quite oddly, Richard immediately began scanning the menu. ?Ooh, Guinea fowl pie for only Ƒ154. Lobster with potatoes, veal sweetbreads, beef Wellingtons. You?ve got a fine taste, Artie.?
Artabanos smiled as he opened his own menu. ?I?ve never been here either, Rich.?
?Yeah, you have to be ?Rich? to eat here, hehehe?, Richard joked. It was one of the worst jokes Artabanos had ever heard, but that made it doubly great. ?Well, let?s get some dishes rich in flavour, then.? Maybe that was a bit too cringey.
During the four-course dinner, the two men did nothing but talk. Artabanos had never been the talkative figure, but with Richard he somehow managed to feel like he could be himself, and when he could, he didn?t stop talking for ages. He tucked into the penultimate surprisingly small course of roast pheasant when he heard some elevated voices in the room next doors. He decided not to let his Emperor senses get the best of him, however, and he focused his attention completely on his new boyfriend ? or did he deserve that status? He wasn?t quite sure. For now, they were just friends (with a one-time benefit, so far).
When both of them had finished their exquisite desserts, they decided to have an after-dinner glass of Scotch, but when the waiter returned with the bottle, he was suddenly followed by a horde of journalists and press officers. ?Run?, Artabanos said plainly to Richard after quickly managing to shake his hand, who escaped through a back door without his face being photographed. The Emperor then picked up his wallet, left three Ƒ100 notes on the table, and made his way to the exit, shrouded by photographers. ?You?ve been found, Your Majesty! Where were you??
?Emperors? lives are busy, madam. I?m not completely well.?
Without answering any further questions, Artabanos entered his car, which brought him back to his quarters, where he couldn?t resist letting go a few bitter tears. What was supposed to be the best night of his life turned out to be a complete failure.
July 1st 2015
?The first days of summer should be a time of celebration and looking forward to the months to come. However, yesterday night?s happenings made me collapse even more. Those four hours I spent in the Grand Imperial with Richard were the happiest hours of my long life. I still had doubts about my feelings for him, but they disappeared completely in a matter of minutes. I sincerely love him. When we managed to shake hands at the end of the dinner, and I walked out of the restaurant, I realised how impossible our relationship is, and that I would most likely not be able to see him again. If I hadn?t been in a public space, and didn?t have a reputation to maintain, I would?ve broken down right there.
?And broke down I did. A 40-year old man, crying because of a crush. I didn?t know I was that immature. I cried and wanted to end it all ? I still wouldn?t mind, to be honest. Everything I looked foward to for the past week has come and gone; there was ? and is ? not much else for me in life.?
Artabanos stopped and looked at his horrific handwriting. ?Screw this?, he thought, ?I can sit inside and continue to be miserable, or I could actually try to do something about the situation.? Although, could he do something about the press? Could he do something about the international community not accepting ?homogays? among them? He was in charge of a large country with a fairly sizeable military and reasonable economic prowess, but for once, he felt utterly powerless. There was nothing he could do to be with the one person in his 4-decade long life he ever loved; he had never felt more horrible. He?d heard from friends and his long-deceased family how destructive a force falling in love could be, but he?d never believed it up until now.
He walked around in his giant bedroom, thinking and thinking and thinking, but the twenty mirrors, countless engravings, dozens of flags, hundreds of 18th and 17th-century books, and the large painting of his personal coat of arms, couldn?t make him any more decisive or more able to achieve anything. Jeff Speller suddenly knocked on the door: ?Hey, Artie. It?s me, Jeff. Can I come in?? But before he received an answer he opened the door and walked right for Artabanos. ?What was that all about, Artie??
Artabanos was frustrated. Angered, even. ?No!?, he said angrily, ?No, Jeff. You don?t just break into my room without me asking every two days. Get your sorry fat arse out of my Palace before I have you arrested. Get lost!? He pushed Speller out of his room and shut the door behind him, locking it firmly. ?I shouldn?t?ve saved that prick from execution?, Artabanos thought, but immediately corrected his own mind. Speller was a friend and probably meant well, he shouldn?t?ve been so rude to him. He opened his door and looked for the Green leader around his quarters, but didn?t find him.
Not only was he losing his love, he was also losing his friends ? and with them, political allies. And if he didn?t have political allies, his entire plan would become too unstable, and therefore it would be at risk of collapse. He would lose not only his wealth, but also his status, the opportunities to converse with the cr?me of European society, and most important of all, his power and influence. All because of a boyhood malfunctioning, his introverted character, his liberosis, and of course because of love. ?How very clich? indeed?, he thought as he lay down on his bed, turned off his fan and attempted to sleep - which failed, of course.
July 2nd, 5.43 PM
?Hey there, you?ve reached Richard?s phone. Call again later, or leave a message and I?ll call you back.?
Artabanos was worried. Worried and angry. Worried about whether or not Richard was still interested in him, whether or not he was still willing to meet him, whether or not he had gone into hiding after what happened in the restaurant. Maybe he?d been followed by some journalists anyway, and forced into keeping his face off the streets? However, that worry was taken away by the arrival of today?s Nuntius Inimici edition: ARTABANOS FOUND DINING WITH STRANGER ON 'SICK DAY'? Well.... at least those vultures hadn?t spotted Richard.
Suddenly, Artabanos realised how little he knew of Richard. All he had to contact him was his phone number. He didn?t have his address, no Facebook, no Twitter, nothing. All Artabanos could think of was to return to The Hole tonight, and find Richard there, if we was still interested in him at all. But surely he would realise the press wasn?t Artabanos?s fault? Although actually, it rather was. If Artabanos wasn?t Emperor of the country, this would never have happened. Once again, he was being screwed by his own life and his own situation. However, once again he decided it was better to return to trying to solve the situation, even though much of it was out of his hands.
?Care for a coffee??, Artabanos said to the caretaker of his late wife?s ? not his ? children.
She looked surprised. ?Sure...?
The Emperor made sure he added enough Benzodiazepine to her espresso.
He was early. Very early. Oh well, more time to drink, in Artabanos?s eyes. But also more time to languish in his own thoughts and become more unhappy with who he was, and what he was like. ?Hiya. The usual, please?, Artabanos said as he took his evenly usual place at the end of the bar. He scanned the entire place, but no sign of Richard. The familiar pink fluorescent light made Artabanos?s whisky look funny, and his suit ? he was, for once, not dressed in his full formalwear ? looked pale. He left his jacket at home since the day had turned out to be very sunny and warm, and since The Rainbow Hole was located in a cellar, the temperature there wasn?t much cooler.
After an hour or three, the barman came up to Artabanos: ?You?ve almost emptied the bottle, Artie. Sure you?re okay? I saw you on the news.?
?Then..?, Artabanos replied, but found it hard to find words, ?Then you know I?m not okay.?
The barman looked at him. He probably looked like a hobo, a failed businessman, or a recently divorced husband. He hadn?t shaved in two days, and with Artabanos?s beard growth, that was not a good sign. A grey stubble had formed on his whiskers, which most likely made him look like even more of a scrub. The fact he had a nearly ?empty whisky glass in his hand didn?t help either. ?Want to tell me what?s going on??
The alcohol made Artabanos a bit more loose, but definitely not loose enough to confess everything he?d thought over the last weeks to a man he?d only seen a few times. Although, was Richard not also a man he?d seen only a few times? It didn?t matter. ?It?s fine?, he said plainly.
?It?s that guy who used to sit next to you, isn?t it??
Artabanos looked at his glass. The many refills he?d had left their stains ? literally ? on the transparent glass, which consequently had made it dirty and sticky. He gulped whatever was left in it, stared at the floor for a few seconds, and said: ?Totally?, having given up all hope of ever seeing Richard again.
National Imperial Council meeting
July 3rd 2015, 12.22 PM
?We?re glad His Majesty has recovered, and are looking forward to working with Him again?. An approving mumble went through the chamber. Artabanos was sitting at the head of the large, slightly oval-shaped table, in the most beautiful meeting room of the Imperial Palace. There were more flags and engravings of important Inimician historical events than in Artabanos?s bedroom ? and that?s saying something ? and the light reflecting of the golden and bronze elaborations on the walls and ceiling was almost blinding. Artabanos thought his own head might have had a similar effect, but of course no one dared to speak up.
?Your Majesty, would you like to say something??, Basil Lawson said, in his usual pretentious, obnoxious, almost laughable voice, making Artabanos wish he?d had someone else elected (i.e. appointed) to the Council.
?I think you?ve heard enough in the local tabloids, honourable councillors?, Artabanos said, trying to appear as normal as possible and hide his immense grief. He quickly glanced at Jeff Speller, the guy he?d violently thrown out of his bedroom the other day, and he noticed Speller knew something was going on. ?Very well?, Lawson continued, ?I think that concludes our business for the day. Your Majesty, is the Council adjourned??
The seats emptied, but Artabanos stayed: he hadn?t finished his coffee yet. He looked at the remaining black liquid and uselessly moved his cup around in swift circular motions, not noticing Jeff Speller had taken a seat next to him. ?Tell me what?s going on, Artie?, he said in his temperate, calm, slightly camp voice, ?I can see you?re not okay.?
Artabanos looked up, moving only his eyes. He stared into the greyish optics under even greyer eyebrows and felt sincere concern. ?You don?t want to know, Jeff.?
?The thing is, I do.?
Private Quarters of the Imperial Palace
?Here. Drink up, you?re going to need it?, Artabanos said as he handed Speller a full glass of Scotch. He sat down in his usual comfortable recliner, and started telling Speller everything. About Richard, but also about his wife, ?his? kids, his unhappiness, his liberosis, his youth, his place at The Rainbow Hole, and everything else. He ranted on for over an hour, and by the time he finished, Speller had emptied the bottle of Scotch and Artabanos is tear reserves.
?Well...?, Speller said, ?That?s quite a story you have there, Artie. What I?d say to you is, screw them. Screw the international community. If you want to be with that man, you have the right to. There are many causes for fallings-out between friends and alliances. Power, land, resources. But I suppose love is a better cause than them all. Let go of your fears for international retribution, it?s not the business of Paul Craticus or Michael Solomon to decide what you do in your private life. Go for it, I?d say.?
?That?s the thing?, Artabanos replied, ?I can?t find him anywhere.?
?Spend every night, all night, at that club. I?ll excuse you with the NIC. He?ll show up there sooner rather than later.?
?Thank you Jeff. You?re the best friend a man could wish.?
July 4th, 12.14 AM
The Rainbow Hole
?Well... I won?t judge.?
Artabanos met the barman again, who, without asking, had a bottle of scotch ready. ?Not too much this time, my liege?, he said jokingly. But Artabanos wasn?t planning on drinking much. Well, not too much, anyway. No, he would have to keep a keen eye and look out for Richard, if he was going to come around at all. In about an hour, Artabanos had only one glass, and many a look around. He felt the unrelenting desire to be with the man he loved more than ever, even though he had only missed him for a few days. He thought about how he knew so little of Richard: he didn?t know where he was from, if he was even an Inimician national ? he did have quite an unusually posh accent ? or if he was from somewhere else, what he did for a living, if he had his own home somewhere. He knew virtually nothing about Rich, except that he was most definitely the most incredibly good-looking man he?d ever seen, and that his personality, albeit somewhat immature and reluctant, was the most appealing and fantastic character he?d ever had the honour of interacting with.
2 AM. Four glasses, no Richard.
3.30. Six glasses, still no Richard.
4 AM. The door opened and a very familiar silhouette appeared in the doorstep. ?It?s him?, Artabanos thought and smiled hopefully at the door. The figure began moving towards the bar, visibly flaunting its hair, as Richard always used to do. Artabanos?s body was filled with hope as the light started illuminating the figure, working up from the man?s feet to his upper body. Artabanos thought what Richard?s return would mean to him. He had decided to completely follow Jeff Speller?s advice to not care about whatever anyone else thought of what he did with his life ? which reminded him of last Eurovoice?s popular Angleteric entry. He would do whatever he wanted to, and right now what he wanted was to be with Richard. Oddly enough, for the first time in his life, he was actually obsessed with a person. His first ever crush hit harder than he could ever have expected, and even made him want to take someone to bed for the first time in four decades of virgin life. A desire which was most likely going to be fulfilled in a few moments.
When the figure became fully visible, Artabanos felt the most extraordinary feeling he?d ever experienced.
July 4th, 4.05 AM
The man had greenish brown eyes and black hair. Quite the opposite to what Artabanos expected. His hopes had, once again, been crushed. He knew he had only been in The Hole for one night deep in his mind, but he couldn?t stand the tensions at that moment. He?d failed. He?d failed again. He?d failed in the most basic of human instincts, for four decades now. And in recent weeks, when the first ? and probably last ? time Artabanos ever felt love finally came around, he?d failed again. He was, in fact, one big failure. He picked up the half-empty bottle and filled his glass, emptying it in a few gulps, after which he sighed and headed for the exit.
But before he was able to open the front door and walk back to the Imperial Palace, however, he felt a hand on his shoulder. In a swift ? albeit slightly tipsy ? movement, he turned around and looked right into the sky blue eyes of the man he?d given up his livelihood for. Richard stroked Artabanos?s cheek with his soft, tender hand, and quickly moved forward for a kiss. There were a lot of ?first times? in Artabanos?s life the last weeks, but his first ever French kiss was now a fact. He saw the bartender smile as he hugged Richard as tightly as he could, not being able to stop his tears. ?You?re late?, Artabanos said jokingly.
?An Emperor?s lover is never late. Shall we??
Ironically enough, Artabanos knew exactly what he was supposed to do. The bartender slipped a small, square-shaped aluminium foil package into Richard?s hand, after which Artabanos and Dick left the bar. ?You can?t understand how happy I am right now, Rich.?
?Oh I can. I?m just as happy.?
In all his hastily love, Artabanos had forgotten to disguise himself to the public, although there were few Colin Hoskins types on the streets of Telum at 4 AM, even though Friday night was the busiest of the week in the Inimician capital. He probably did get spotted by some members of the public, but he just had to hope they were too drunk to realise it was actually their Emperor, their absolute monarch, walking through the streets with his arm around another man. And even if they did notice, so what? Was what Jeff Speller had said the other night not true? Artabanos couldn?t care less. He was as happy as ever, walking through his city, in his district, in his Empire, with his boyfriend ? or was manfriend a more apt term? ? the first one he ever had in his forty-year long life.
When they reached the Imperial Palace, even the caretaker (or rather, deputy caretaker; the original was recovering from a ?tragic accident?) was asleep. ?Artabanos?s? children were sleeping at the end of a corridor completely opposite to where the Emperor slept, since he couldn?t be bothered hearing them cry all night. ?Anything to drink??, Artabanos offered.
?Nah?, Richard declined, ?I like to go straight to business.?
A few minutes after they entered the bedroom, a 40-year long epoch of Emperor Artabanos?s life ended.