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Hello! I'm still half asleep because of the darn hour they still insist on putting forward at this time of year. It puts me out for ages. Grinds tooth. :D


Poor [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope has had to beta this by phone, as her connection has not yet been re-established. They hope to have it done within 21 days! Meep! So I'm not sure when the new story will be posted, folks. We'll have to see.

However, here is the last part of Beyond Simla, which I hope you'll enjoy. Thank you so much for reading it and for all your kind comments, too. Hugs from Ru xxxxx







Grateful thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope for her excellent, patient, and long-suffering beta.


Part - 30



Elijah thought Dom brushed through the interview with the new general pretty well. It was held in the large throne room, and all the princes and Ian were present.

Dom had had a throne for Elijah placed next to his, and when they entered, side by side, Arjit Singh, the most senior prince, took Elijah's arm and conducted him to his place with a smile.

It was clearly seen by the senior household members that Elijah's place was at Dom's side.

There was a rustle of astonishment, when, a few moments later, Dom's supposed head wife appeared, and sat on a chair below the dais, on Dom's right. Dom and Elijah smiled and stood in acknowledgement of the Lady Aditi.

All were left to settle for a few moments, before Commander Boyd appeared with the new general, and a colonel that Dom and Elijah had seen at the garrison.

"This is General Sir Reginald Pooter Smythe Crompton Horn-Frampton Drax, your Majesty," said Billy, in perfect Hindustani. "And this is Colonel Arthur Matthew, with whom your Majesty is already acquainted."

If anyone present was surprised to hear Udom Singh addressed as 'Your Majesty' no-one showed it.

The general knelt before the two thrones without difficulty. He was a slim, grey-haired man, with huge mutton-chop sideburns and an impressive moustache. He was probably in his mid-fifties, but he might have been older. He had an air of quiet competence about him that Dom warmed to immediately, and he felt even more liking for the man when he apologised for his outrageously pompous name, and begged the king would call him Drax.

But Dom was aware of Billy's compelling green eyes upon him, and failed to exhibit any feelings whatsoever.

On the matter of Captain Wenham's disappearance, he said as Billy had instructed him. "The hills are, unfortunately, General Drax, full of renegades and outlaws from all factions. Sometimes they disappear, and those they intercept, tend to disappear with them."

"Captain Wenham, Sergeant Hill, and four of my best guards, went out on a routine reconnaissance. None - unfortunately for us both - returned. A thorough check has been made, but nothing was found. I am sorry, but that is all I can tell you."

It was clear from Dom's tone that the general would get no more from him. The man did not show any frustration or displeasure, but merely bowed, and thanked the king for his gracious welcome.

Billy glanced at Dom before ushering the general out. It seemed he had been regal enough, and cool enough for the Scot. Dom was sorry he was forced not to invite Drax to dinner. He seemed to be the sort of man he would like to talk with.

Perhaps later - when the memory of Wenham faded.

*

Billy came to them after dinner, where they sat, in Elijah's apartments, deciding whether a painting of a scantily draped Reubens Aphrodite should be replaced by one of Ganymede. Elijah had just decided that he would keep both, when Billy tapped at the door.

He sat, and accepted a glass of brandy before speaking. "You did very well, my lord. I thought 'Majesty' savoured more of kingship than 'Highness', so may I suggest that you use it? Especially with foreigners."

Dom waved a benevolent hand, acquiescing. Elijah thought he still looked tired, so he asked a question. "What did you tell him, Bill?"

Billy sipped his brandy before answering.

"I gave him Wenham's blood-stained cap. It seemed to satisfy him. I told him - truthfully - that you knew nothing of it."

There was silence for a few moments, before Billy spoke again. "I have spoken to Smithy. I had him brought here, with the general. I thought, as he and Hill were such good friends, it was politic to speak with him."

Dom nodded. "You were right; I had forgot Smithy."

Elijah asked the question. "Billy? Is he implicated?"

Billy smiled as he rose to leave. "No, thank God. He knew Hill was up to something, but he didn't know what it was. I believe him."

Elijah glanced up at him, alarmed, but Billy smiled reassuringly. "He thinks Hill died a hero, too. I won't disabuse him of that. Good-night, my lords. Sleep well. Tomorrow, Udai Singh and Jean-Claude begin the day with algebra."

*

The moon had risen above the mountains when Elijah felt Dom leave the bed. He waited a few minutes, and when he did not return, Elijah followed him. He was sitting in the window embrasure where the globes had been set before they were taken to the new schoolroom, and he was staring out into the lamp-lit gardens.

Elijah put his hand on Dom's shoulder, but the man did not turn.
"Come to bed," Elijah whispered.

Dom shook his head. "I cannot...I keep thinking."


"Of Duleep..." Elijah said, softly.

Dom looked up at Elijah in surprise, as Elijah nodded. "I had suspected before now, that this was troubling you."

Returning his gaze to the garden, Dom sighed.
"I was thinking how it was when he and I both got our first horses, instead of the ponies. Duleep and I thought ourselves men from that day, and went up into the hills with a couple of sais for company. We spent the night under the stars, with a blanket each for warmth. We talked and talked. Told each other of our hopes and desires. He was as my brother, Lij, and...I miss him so..."

Dom turned, then, and pressed his head into Elijah's belly. "I miss him..."

Elijah said nothing, for there was nothing to say. He just let Dom talk, repeating aloud all the dreadful details that had been crowding his troubled mind over the last few days.

When he had talked himself silent, Dom wiped his wet face on the sleeve of his nightshirt, and rising, took Elijah's hand. They returned to the bed, Dom lying with his head on Elijah's chest, and eventually, both slept. Elijah was happy that no mutterings disturbed Dom's dreams that night. Perhaps there would be other nights such as this, but eventually, they would cease, Elijah was sure.

A new beginning had to start somewhere.


Some Time Later

Jean-Claude had decided that the children of the palace needed a puppet show. It was, he said, an excellent educational tool. So, like the clever man he was, he built an enormous puppet theatre for them.

Dom was, of course, aware that there were other children beside his own living at the palace - there were several, after all, being taught alongside the prince - but he had never seen them all together. There were over two hundred of them, half of which startling number he was to witness on the afternoon of the first puppet performance.

Jean-Claude had asked for a large salon at the back of the palace to be set aside as a children's play-room, and to this chamber all the offspring of the senior servants were invited - together with Udai and Mooma - to view and comment upon the entertainment.

"I think that I am a little too old for puppets, Papa," Udai confided, as he and his sister took their place next to his father. Mooma, who was gripping Dom's hand tightly in anticipation of the treat, waved to a young girl she obviously knew.

Dom grinned at his son. "Well, I like puppets, Udai, and I have seen these. They are astonishing. So if I'm not too old, my son, to sit here and watch, neither are you."

Elijah was holding Fadi's little grandson on his lap. The boy, five years old, and very serious, his huge brown eyes sparkling with excitement, sat quietly as Billy and Jean-Claude came out to say a few words to their audience.

Jean-Claude, true to form, was wearing a red silk coat, and a monstrous silver wig, tied back with blue ribbons. Elijah whispered to Dom that he hoped that the puppets' strings would not get entangled in it.

The performance they were about to see, Billy informed them all, was a story not yet known to them. It was a tale called 'The Jungle Book', recently written by a man who had been born and had lived in India, and contained such characters as Mowgli, a boy orphan brought up by jungle creatures, and his best friend Baloo, the sloth bear, Bagheera the panther, Kaa, the wily python, and Shere Khan, the terrifying, fiercely wicked tiger. The children all gasped with delight at the prospect of being frightened half out of their wits.

The book, not long published, had been lent to Dom by Jean-Claude, to see whether he thought it suitable material for the children, and the king had enjoyed it so much, he ordered copies for the school library, and some for his own.

As the programme started, Udai began looking about him, affecting to be bored by this children's theatre, but soon he was as entranced as were the others, calling out to Mowgli as Kaa, or Shere Khan slithered or crept near.

An hour later the enchanted children were taken off for refreshments, and Billy and Jean-Claude surfaced, sweating, from behind the theatre's facade.

"Bravo!" Elijah cried, clapping Jean-Claude on the shoulder, and handing him a towel being proffered by a hovering servant, to wipe his flushed face. "That was wonderful!" He turned to Billy. "You have hidden your light under a bushel, Billy Boyd. When did you learn to manipulate puppets? For I can see it is a task that has to be practised well before attempting it."

Billy blushed. "Jean-Claude is a good teacher," was all he would say. Elijah left it there.

The two puppeteers drank some iced juice before rejoining the children. "There is still an hour left of the school day, my lords," Jean-Claude informed them. "We cannot appear to be lax disciplinarians - even the most well-behaved pupils will take liberties if one is too lenient. I will ask them questions concerning the animals they saw during the showing. It is surprising how much can be learned during play."

Dom and Elijah smiled at each other. Udai Singh would learn much in the care of these two thoughtful men. They went out into the garden to enjoy the sun.

*

The leaves had fallen from the trees, and a cool breeze was blowing from the north before General Drax felt it necessary to send a heliograph to the palace. He asked permission to visit as soon as it was convenient for the king to receive him.

Dom and Elijah had just returned from the Calcutta races, where Dom had seen one of his horses win the Hundred Guineas Ranjipore Cup. Elijah, sent off to do so by the Lady Aditi, had put a bet on the gelding for two hundred guineas. They all laughed that Dom's mother had won, at ten-one, almost as much as the horse was worth.

They returned to the palace to find Cecil had been called to Bombay again. "If he doesn't return soon, we shall be snowed in for the season, and he will not be able to bid you farewell, my love," Dom said, as he helped Mooma dig up the little plot the gardeners had given her.

Elijah raised his head to the afternoon sun. "I can feel the snow in the breeze, Dom. I hope he returns soon. I would not like him to leave for England without bidding me farewell. I have come to like him very well over the past months."

Mooma helped a worm out of the way of her father's trowel, and cast Elijah a beautiful smile. "Indeed," Elijah said, kissing the child who had wound her arms so sweetly about his neck, not even caring that her dirty hands were soiling his jacket. "Indeed, I am grateful to you for so much, Udom Singh. You have shown me what my heart is for, and I will be eternally grateful for it."

"Oh, I could kiss you, now, as Mooma did, my arms about your neck!" Dom whispered. Mooma flung her arms around her father. "Daddy kiss Mooma, too?" she squeaked, in English. Dom grinned.

"We shall have to watch ourselves around this little one!" he said, in French. "She understands too much."

"Ce n'est pas équitable!" the little girl pouted. Dom and Elijah looked at each other, stunned, and burst out laughing.

They saw one of the child's nurses coming to take her into tea, and Dom picked her up and carried her across the dug earth, and gave her up to the woman, who blushed, and bowed low before them.

Elijah wondered if the woman ever had come out of the harem before Dom's recent edict as he watched her take the child's hand and lead her indoors.

"Now," whispered Dom, in a voice filled with passion, "I will..."

Elijah sighed, regretfully. "Here is Uncle Arjit, Dom. What you would like to do to me will have to wait until later."

Arjit Singh strode purposefully down the paths. "A heliograph message from Lord Cecil, Eliyah. He is at the garrison, and will be here tomorrow. He says he must soon leave again for Bombay."

Arjit smiled happily as he saw the dirt marks on Elijah's jacket. "Your daughter is just as her mother was, Udom. Never happier than when digging in the earth!"

Chatting together amicably, they all went in to tea.

That night Dom showed Elijah just what he promised he would do to him if they had been alone in the gardens, and Elijah, panting with release, remarked - as well as he could between kisses - that he had enjoyed the demonstration very much indeed.

The next day Cecil arrived, accompanied by Colonel Matthew and General Drax. Dom, who had been won over by Drax's uncompromising stand on what he called 'bad soldiering', 'inept leadership' and 'needless army interference' in Indian matters, met with the trio in his own apartments.

Billy, who accompanied them in, made certain that he explained most carefully to the general how rare an honour this was.

As he bowed over Dom's extended hand, General Drax smiled at him. "This is a very good man you have here, your Highness. Commander Boyd would have done very well for himself in England, so I gather from the War Office. Except he refuses to return there, for some reason."

Dom nodded in acknowledgement. "You can be certain, General, that he is much valued here, by both His Highness, and myself."

Drax looked puzzled for a moment, before enlightenment came to him. "Ah, yes, indeed! His Highness! Her Majesty, the Queen has given us strict instructions to guard the palace of Ranjipore with our lives, as it has, her secretary wrote to me, one of her finest treasures within it. I see, now, what Her Majesty meant."

Elijah, sitting at Dom's side, had no notion what his cousin had meant; but Drax was staring at a man dressed in ivory silk, bedecked with sapphires not brighter than his eyes, and a smile on his lips that could charm the angels.

Drax had come to tell Dom that the garrison was to be under his control, but that he was also to counsel with Commander Boyd, if the need arose. The corrupt regime of Portman had damaged Indo-English relations almost beyond repair, he informed the king. It would not happen again.

Dom was certain that with Drax and Boyd, and the secret presence of Jean-Claude Dupont on the watch, Ranjipore would be safer than it had been for some time.

General Drax eventually bowed himself out, and Cecil heaved a sigh of relief. That he was bursting to tell them something was patent. As soon as Drax and Matthew had closed the door behind them, out it came. He handed a document to his brother with ill-concealed excitement.

"See, Elijah! Uncle Hubert is being recalled to England, and they have asked me to take his place. I am to return with him, to England, and will come back to Bombay in the spring. I hope," he said, turning to Dom, "that you will allow me to visit you here in the summer. I would very much like the company, as Agnes and the children will remain in England."

Dom said all that was proper.

Dom coughed as the door shut behind Cecil. "I have sent to London, Elijah, for something that I thought you would like to have by you. And I asked someone if they would care to bring it to you. Do you have it, Bill?"

Billy reached into the bag he was carrying, and brought out a small wooden toy, which he handed to his master.

Elijah stared at the thing, amazed. The only toy he had had as an unhappy young boy at Eton, which had lain beside him when he felt particularly sad. It was a reminder of the one woman who had ever shown him love - it was Nanny's horse.

It was good that he did not look up at that moment, for Dom's face was so filled with love for him that it would have made Elijah weep. Dom had been told so much of Elijah's parents cold behaviour towards their second son, that it boded ill for the pair of them if they ever strayed into Dom's orbit.

Elijah carefully examined it, caressing the shining wood tenderly between his fingers. "There is a wheel missing," he said, his voice soft with remembrance.

"So there is," Billy remarked, going to the door, and opening it. "And here is one who has it, guarded safe."

Elijah looked up and saw, framed in the doorway, a little plump woman, past fifty, with dark brown hair drawn into a bun, and apple-red cheeks.

Dom helped Elijah to his feet, for it seemed for a moment that he was not capable of movement. "Nanny Button?" his voice barely audible. "Dom, it is Nanny Button!"

"I know," Dom said, softly, and Elijah, heedless of protocol, kissed his love and strode across the room, to envelope his only childhood friend in his arms.

"Oh, Nanny Button, how I have longed to see you! They would not let me even write to you, and when I was old enough, I could not find you. or..." He kissed her cheek again.

Nanny Button put the wheel into Elijah's nerveless hand. "Now, Master Elijah - I mean, your Highness. Remember your manners, do! Go on then, introduce me to this king of yours!" she said.

"Udom Singh, this..." but he could say no more. Dom came forward, and kissed Nanny Button's hand - "just as if I was a duchess!" she said to Ian, later that evening, over tea in the Infirmary.

"Welcome, Nanny Button, to Ranjipore," Dom said, his eyes glued to Elijah's beaming face. "I hope the warmer climate of my land will help relieve your aching bones. In fact, I am certain that it will!"


Epilogue


Dom stepped back from the oil portrait Jean-Claude had just completed of him. "I do not understand it at all, Lij. Why is it in black and white? I have enough sepia tinted photographs of myself to fill two albums. Why paint me thus?"

Elijah moved to his lover's side, and stood beside him, examining the picture, carefully. "It is obvious to me, my love. But I see you cannot fathom it. Shall I ring for Jean-Claude to explain it to you?"

"No, indeed. I must try to see for myself what is so patently obvious to everyone else." Dom stood there for some minutes, looking at the picture from every angle, before admitting defeat. "Explain it to me, for I must be particularly thick-skulled. I cannot see it."

Elijah took Dom's hand. "It is one of the things I like most about you, Dom Singh. You are not aware of yourself in any degree."

He looked his life's love straight in the eye. "Jean-Claude painted you in black and white, my love, because - as he told me - there was nothing that he could do to add an iota of kingship to this portrait."

"Not clothing, nor crowns, nor jewels, nor coloured paints could add a fraction to your stature. You are a king, Udom Singh, in your every hair - the way you stand, the way you smile, the way you look at the world, and the people in it. Colour will not add to that which you have already in abundance."

"And you are my king, my own dear man. King of my heart and body and soul - now and forever." And standing before Jean-Claude's portrait, they kissed one another.






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