~25~

Klaus sat up straight and gazed steadily at the ribbon of smoke curling from his cigarette. Having something mundane to focus on made it easier to listen to the familiar lecture yet again.

"When I was your age, I'd been married for years — and had a higher rank."

Had Klaus been of a less serious disposition, he might have laughed at his father’s utter predictability. How many times had he heard those words?

His father was pacing unhurriedly up and down the library of Schloss Eberbach. He had been here for two days. Having examined the schloss and grounds exhaustively and ascertained that his son had not defaced anything since his last visit, he was now intent on remedying the estate's only lack: an heir.

Klaus thought for a minute about resigning from NATO. About a life free of international crises, of brushes with death, of those moments of danger when the adrenaline sizzled in his blood. A life devoted to supervising servants instead of brainless petty agents and worrying over the grape crop and whether mildew might get at the accumulated (and valuable) clutter of twenty generations of Eberbachs.

Not to mention that other thing.

He almost gave a physical shudder at the mental picture. He took a swallow of his gin and said nothing.

"How long will you put off your duty to the line?" his father demanded. "How much longer do you intend to stay in NATO? It's high time you resigned and began to tend to the family estates. And married. And produced an heir to hand them on to. I don't understand why you delay." The Graf stopped and fixed his son with the same piercing glare the younger Eberbach had used to terrify across the globe. "Well? Answer me, Klaus! Why haven’t you married yet?"

Klaus felt a tightness in his chest. It had come at last, the moment he had been dreading since he was twelve years old. It petrified him in a way that no terrorist or KGB agent ever could.

But even as his heart pounded in his ears, a tiny part of him was relishing the chance to finally shock his father in a way he would never recover from. And end the tirades once and for all.

Accordingly, he lifted his chin, forced a breath into his reluctant lungs, and threw the words out before he could lose his nerve.

"Father, I'm a homosexual."

The Graf looked at his son in silence for a minute. His face had no particular expression. Not shock, not horror, not outrage, just blankness. Perhaps the news was even more shocking than Klaus had expected it to be. He steeled himself for the outburst. He wanted another puff on his cigarette, but at this moment he could not move.

"Did you think I didn't know that?" the Graf said at last.

Now the younger Eberbach's jaw crashed to the floor where he had expected his father's to be.

The Graf was regarding his son with impatience now. "Really, Klaus, did you think I was an idiot?"

Klaus was choking. "But... how did you know?"

His father frowned, pensive. After a moment's consideration, he shrugged. "I just knew. You'll understand when you have children of your own." These last words were accompanied by a sharp look, but Klaus resisted taking the bait.

"Why didn't you ever say anything?"

For the first time ever in Klaus's memory, his father looked ill at ease. "Well, really. What could I say?"

Klaus could understand that. Discussing this was intolerably awkward. Only it wasn't the reaction he had expected.

At a loss for words, Klaus frowned at the Eberbach coat of arms above the fireplace, the boar passant above a river, unchanged in Klaus’s memory just as nearly everything in his home was. Everything except his father’s words. He would have expected the ancient stones of the schloss to crumble at such heretical utterances, but the only sign of the cataclysm was his own spinning head.

Abruptly he felt a sting on his fingers. Cursing, he stubbed out his cigarette, which had burned entirely to ash without his noticing.

"I knew you wouldn't embarrass the family by making a display of yourself, curling your hair or wearing flashy foppish clothes or anything like that."

"But...." Klaus tried to frame his question. He had faced far worse consequences for far less serious offenses. He was feeling rather disoriented now, as if the laws of nature had suddenly turned inside out. By now he should have been disinherited, or defenestrated. "I thought you'd...."

"I hope you aren't irresponsible enough to imagine that this relieves you of your responsibility to produce an heir," his father interrupted.

"How can I marry knowing that — it wouldn't be fair to any woman for me to—"

"Were you planning on marrying for love?" the Graf demanded, with no small degree of contempt. "What are we, Americans?"

Klaus did not bother to argue with his father's dated concepts of Americans and Europeans. He knew better. "No, I wasn't, but...."

The Graf looked out the window at the gathering dusk, obviously discomfited by the personal discussion. They hadn’t discussed anything so delicate since right before Klaus had gone to university, when his father had delivered a rambling, awkward, euphemistic speech instructing him not to catch any social diseases. "Don't pretend to be naïve. Many discreet men of our station have mistresses, if their wives are — if marriage can't give them — if they...."

For the first time in his life feeling some sympathy for his father, Klaus rescued him from further embarrassment. "I understand."

"Yes, well." The Graf went to the sideboard and busied himself mixing a fresh drink. With obvious effort, he conceded, "I suppose your situation isn't so different, you could marry and...." His voice trailed off as he groped for words.

Klaus shot to his feet, now truly shocked as he never had been in his life. "You don't mean — that I should actually—" He stared at his father, poleaxed.

And for the first time this evening, his father actually looked surprised. "Are you saying that you... haven't been...."

Grasping at the now-ephemeral wisps of what half an hour ago had been inalterable facts of reality, Klaus stammered. "How could I? If I were found out, I would be demoted at the very least. And if my enemies had any reason to believe that I — cared about anyone, just as if I were married, then my wife or my — my — well, they could be taken hostage and I would have to—"

"Which is precisely why you need to resign and tend to the estate when you get married," the Graf stated in the tone of one pointing out the obvious to a small child.

They were back to the beginning. Klaus sat back down and put his head in his hands. Some battles could not be won.

 

 

Snippets

Eroica