Early in the morning Jarvis and Fresth left the Convivium on their horses. For many miles they rode side by side in silence. Then the Novice asked, "Are you angry with me, Professed?"
"Really, I'm not."
"Would you like me to... to disappear?"
"What do you mean?"
"Not to see me any more."
"And how could you do that?"
"I could manage that, I think."
"Don't talk nonsense. The Regent entrusted you to me, at this point I am responsible for you."
"I will try not to be a burden to you."
"That would be almost impossible, Fresth. But this is not your fault."
"Nor your fault, either."
"I should not have asked you to make love."
"I would have asked you, if you had not. When I saw you, I asked to tend the maple garden..."
"I felt so incredibly attracted to you right away. At first it was just physical attraction. Really, but then..."
"But why come with me? You know that I can no longer make love with you, don't you?"
"I know, and I'm not asking you to."
"I don't understand you, Fresth."
"At times the love of the heart is so strong that is able to win over that of the body, to keep it under control."
"Is it not painful, for you?"
"Not so much as to triumph over the bliss of being near you."
Jarvis said nothing and they rode some more miles in silence. Then Jarvis said, "Let's stop and get down from our horses."
"Do you feel hungry? Do you want me to fix something? I have plenty of provisions."
"That's not a bad idea, but I have to talk with you. Since I have to take you with me, you have to know the real aim of my journey, so that you will not unwittingly be a hindrance to me."
"The real aim?" the boy asked with a vaguely surprised expression, but showing interest.
They dismounted. Fresth tied their horses to a tree and they sat on the grass. Then Jarvis explained his project to the boy in detail. Fresth listened with rapt attention, engrossed. From time to time asking questions.
At the end, he asked, "Then, the ideal Convivium that you hinted to me, is your real aim?"
"That is so."
"And making love, as you did with me, is just a ruse to make those who like their own gender talk to you freely."
"Not just for that, honestly. I liked you, and the others, very much. But certainly it was one of the reasons. Are you disappointed in me, now?"
"Disappointed? On the contrary! But why do you say that my presence will hinder you? In the various Convivia we visit, I will most certainly put in to sleep with the Novices, so you can have all your contacts freely as before. And, I can even help you at times, in one way or another. Both as I can talk with the Novices and discover other points for you, also because you will have in me a trustworthy person on whom you can count. Don't you think?"
"Well, yes, possibly. But we have to be extremely careful when making this inquiry. I wasn't so careful, at least with you. Luckily your Regent is an understanding and wise person. Not everyone is so; in some Convivia people like us live in a hell of worries, suspicions, fears. And in those places one has to move with utmost caution."
"Yes, I understand. Will you take me with you when you will be founding your Convivium?"
"Do I have another choice?" Jarvis smiled.
"You will have in me a faithful and sincere collaborator..."
"I have no doubt of that."
"Don't worry so much then, come on! You'll see that you'll barely even notice my presence. I will not be a burden to you, a hindrance. I swear it!"
Jarvis looked at him and, for the first time since the island's episode, he realized that he had smiled at him. The Novice answered with a smile and started to fix their meal. They ate and Jarvis showed him on the map the route they would take, then they resumed their journey. Along the way Jarvis told the boy about his previous visits. It was late evening when they reached Donated's Convivium. They were welcomed, Jarvis was given a cell and Fresth was relegated to the dormitory for Novices.
The Donated were mainly doctors and nurses, or social assistants. Where there was suffering, pain, they were present and available. Therefore they spent the most of their time out of the Convivium. The Donated Convivia were always built in places at equal distance from built-up areas, to cover the broadest possible zone with their presence. At times Candidates and Novices accompanied and assisted the United in their mission, but they mainly studied and prepared under the guide of the Masters. When they became Acolytes, they were already skilled nurses. Most of them continued their studies and became doctors, surgeons, dentists, chemists, and psychologists and so on, according their talents, and then became Professed. The best amongst them then became Masters. It was a kind of pyramidal structure with many Acolytes as it's base. To pass to a superior level, age was not at all important, but just the knowledge and the skill.
The atmosphere in this particular Convivium was tranquil. The ceremonies in common reduced to the minimum, the main common moment was in the morning at dawn, when all the united present in the Convivium gathered in the Great Hall to repeat, all together, the "oath of assistance". For the rest, the free time from service was mainly spent in studies or in training, individual or in small groups, in the research or in the preparation of the medicines. The Convivium had a large herb garden where they grew medicinal herbs and plants. Moreover at times groups of United left to tend the wild herbs that were not possible to grow in their garden. They also exchanged, amongst their various Convivia, herbs and medicaments, and also the results of their research.
Jarvis detected an indefinable tension despite the outward appearances of calm. It was decidedly different from other Convivia he had visited. He was not able to single out anybody with whom he could try a possible approach. There was a Professed, really handsome and attractive, called Haine, who made him think, from some slight signs in his actions, his glances, that he could try him. However something held him back. He could feel there was something dangerous in that man, even if he was not able to put his finger on it. The man was always very kind, perhaps even too much so, smiling, self-assured. He was evidently respected in the Convivium. He was a very good surgeon and it was said that he would soon become a Master; notwithstanding he was only twenty-seven years old. His tunic was always impeccable, well ironed, the white was pure and the green spotless. He seemed to have a very good relationship with the Regent, a wiry, tall man in his fifties, and an expert chemist Master.
At one point Jarvis thought that they could possibly be lovers. Jarvis attempted some discreet approaches with a few members of the Convivium, but always without any success. When he lead their talk to the ground he desired to explore, he received answers ranging from the statement that in their Convivium the problem didn't exist, to those who told that it could possibly exist, but they never heard anything on the subject. In the Convivium Archives, Jarvis discovered something really unusual and interesting - for the entire period of the current Regent and of the two before him, no sexual crime had been reported! Sufficiently odd to make him suspect. There could be a "live and let live" even superior to that he found in Fresth's Convivium, or everything was covered up for some obscure reason. Instinctively Jarvis leaned more toward this second reason, but he was not able to scratch through the atmosphere of apparent normality that reigned in the place.
After they had been there a week, one afternoon while he was walking in the herb garden, Fresth caught up with him and entreated him, "Professed, can we go for a short stroll outside?"
"What? Certainly." Jarvis answered reading an urgent invitation in the boy's eyes.
When they were outside, at a safe distance from the buildings, Fresth said, "I don't like this Convivium at all."
"You too find it strange?"
"More than strange. The Regent, Master Soha, and Professed Haine hold everybody and everything in their fist, inside there."
"What do you mean?"
"It is enough to have three witnesses to have a person beheaded for sexual crimes, isn't it?"
"Yes. So then?"
"There is an ironclad pact among the three. They share the novices."
"Share? Do you mean that they force the novices to have sex with them?"
"Precisely so - five Haine, four the Regent and four Master Soha. From time to time they choose a novice and take him to do research... I let you guess of what kind. If they try to oppose, they would be 'caught' by the three men in sexual intimacy with one of the candidates..."
"But nobody has ever been reported."
"Of course! Nobody wants to lose his head, it's better to lose his virginity, don't you think?"
"Are the Candidates also involved in this scheme?"
"Partially, but I don't have the numbers. And even the Acolytes and Professed, I think."
"How do you know all this?"
"A Novice. He sleeps near me. I liked him and so in the dark one night, I reached out my hand to touch him. For a while he let me have my way, but then blocked me and pushed me back. The next day he acted as if nothing happened. So, on the following night, I tried again - it went on like the previous night. But on the third night it was he to touch me. I let him continue and after a while I touched him. But then again, he made me stop.
"The day after, while I was helping him to pick herbs in the garden, he whispered, without looking at me, 'take the herbs to acolyte Malko. If he is alone, tell him I sent you and ask him if you can see the distilleries. And do as he tells you.' Because of the urgent way he whispered it, I complied. The Acolyte told me to follow him. He took me to the distillery, made me climb on the scaffolds supporting the big serpentine, we passed a catwalk and we were in a kind of barrow room from which the water fluxes are regulated. He told me to wait there and pinched my ass, winking to me. A while later I heard someone coming. It was the Novice, and we made love.
"Later he explained to me that Malko let the novices use that small room and in exchange they have to let him fuck them. Then he told me about professed Haine and the other two. It seems that it all works in this way here. The three men are interested only in boys between seventeen and twenty - before that and after they leave them in peace. But they control everybody - they know about Malko, as they know that when Master Pille gives his lesson on anatomy he always chooses a model on which to explain from 'live' and then, when all the other students leave, he fucks his model."
"You're saying that here, everybody does it?"
"No, there are also those who don't. But they keep silent; otherwise they could be reported by the three accomplices and beheaded. In any case all the Novices have to 'sleep' in their beds."
"But if three United of the Convivium allied against them, they could pay them back with their same currency, couldn't they?"
"No. Rumor is that six years ago three Acolytes tried this. The regent reported that they had fled, they disappeared. No trace of them was ever found."
"Do you mean... that they killed them?"
"Perhaps... Or possibly this is just a story artfully spread by the trio of accomplices to scare the others, who knows. But I think we would do well to leave this place!"
"Six years ago, you said? I would like to check to see if there is a record of this in the archives. And then we will leave."
In the archives he found the report of the three disappearances - on the same day, the thirteenth month of seven years before, the three young acolytes disappeared from the Convivium. The report said that there had been a search made for them, but they were not found and concluded saying that for some unknown reason the three youths evidently wanted leave the Order and not to be found. Jarvis shuddered with horror. He left the Convivium with Fresth as soon as possible. But he annotated the fact and told himself he had to find a way to stop such abuse of power and the crimes. He had to talk with Trake about this also, as soon as he got back. Since he left both Fresth's Convivium and the Donated one before the allotted time, he was one month ahead of his schedule. He thought to stay longer in the Righteous' Convivium where he had to pass. And possibly one of them could help him by giving him some hints about the serious problem.
Fresth interrupted his thoughts, "It was a nightmare, in there. Especially for the Novices. Just waiting to be summoned at any moment, 'go, be ready, I want you, now!' Not even being allowed to refuse. Gerog, the novice, in order to be free to make love with me, later had to be fucked by that fat Acolyte. And he has to undergo Haine's hunger as well. He said that Haine is not bad, in bed. But the way... 'Do that, do this, spread your butts, suck my pole...' as if they were just slaves. Isn't all this horrible?"
"Yes, it is."
"Gerog is a sweet boy, he doesn't deserve such a life."
"Nobody deserves such a life. But, tell me, did you like Gerog?"
"A handsome boy, filled with desire to be able to really make love, and not just to fuck. But in there sexuality is debased, rather a depravity."
"What would you do, if you had to live in that Convivium?" Jarvis asked, still trying to assess the boy.
"I'm afraid I would adapt as all the others have done, I would have to suffer it. I'd try to cut away a little corner not to die inside. The way Gerog does - during the night he often holds hands with his neighbor, while they fall asleep."
"Are they lovers?"
"No, they are just friends, they really do care for each other. At times they go to make love in the distillery, paying in turn for the use of that narrow room. His friend belongs to the Regent, who seems even to be a somewhat violent man, in bed. Amongst them there is a novice that none of them like. He too belongs to the Regent. He does all he can to please him, he possibly hopes to become another Haine, later."
"You discovered more in a few days than I could achieve in one month. You were very good." Jarvis said. The boy smiled, pleased.
When they reached the Convivium of the Righteous, Jarvis talked about the problem of the abuse of power and of bullying with a young Master.
The man listened to him, then said, "Unhappily there is little that could be done, unless all the united of that Convivium rebel at once. Whoever is reported cannot report another, according to the law. But if he, who make a report was reported by other people with the accusation of falsehood, something could be done. Certainly, the law demands that the report has to be done by three eyewitnesses just to avoid abuses of power, but if the three who make the report had previously agreed on a false statement, there is little that could be done. By the way, what else can be done? The fact that the law asks for three witnesses allows many to escape justice. And anyway this is the law and cannot be changed. The law is perfect. The only thing we can do is to apply it correctly - this is the task of us Righteous. God gave us the law because he knows that humankind is weak and tends to do wrong."
"If the law about sex crimes didn't exist, those three would not be able to use their perverse power."
"Don't talk nonsense, or rather heresy," the man's face turned to almost a scowl as he continued, "The law is right. It is man who is corrupted and takes advantage of it. If the laws about the sex crimes didn't exist, the entire world would be transformed into a huge pigsty, understand me! The family would disappear, the family that is the basis of our society. Soon then the whole of our civilized society would disappear. It is better that things like those you told me happen, than our society disappear. Those three are the exception that proves the rule."
"But law is duped in a thousand ways. Do you think, for instance, that all the adulterous people are caught and beheaded?"
"Oh no, certainly not. The ones caught are just one in ten. But thanks to this law adulterous people are but a minority. If there was not this law, there would be more adulterous people than faithful couples, believe to me."
"Can this not be only because the couples don't choose each other, but almost always the parents decide for them? Can this not be so?"
"The Encounter Festival is held exactly for this purpose, so that the two young people who would marry could choose each other. But if they decide to choose according to their parents preferences, this just means that they trust their parents' advice."
"Or rather that the parents have the means to force their children to choose as they want."
"Ah, Professed Jarvis, you should think on just being a good mystic and don't try to understand what is right and what wrong - leave that to us righteous!" the Master concluded.
Jarvis bent in acquiescence - it was totally useless continuing this discussion.
Two days after that discussion, Master Sawar, after lunch, approached Jarvis, "Professed, do you have time for two words?"
"Come to the library, at this time we can talk in peace." Jarvis followed him. They sat near the window looking at the Convivium facade.
"I heard you had a long colloquy with Master Gassel."
"Yes, an interesting conversation."
"I see. Master Gassel told us, you see. I wanted to tell you, you possibly were wrong in your choice, talking with him..."
"I was wrong? I don't understand..."
"Don't be alarmed. What I meant is that you probably thought that Master Gassel, being the youngest among us, was also the most open-minded. It is not so - not all of us Masters, in here, share his orthodoxy on principle. He is a valuable Master, without a doubt, but you touched a subject that concerns him personally, about which he is particularly sensitive and inflexible."
"That of the abuse of power in the Convivia?"
"No, not that, but adultery. The reason why master Gassel asked to be admitted to the Righteous Order is because he had to witness the many adulteries of both his parents, and this always embittered him very much. For a long while, when a child, he thought about finding two witnesses to report them, but he never found the nerve to do that, and he never forgave himself. Since then, he is particularly severe, just for this reason, towards all the so-called sexual crimes. Moreover, to make the situation even worse... When he was a Novice, he was not in this Convivium. Where he was, he fell in love with another Novice. He knew it was a crime, but he felt more and more attracted to his companion. And do you know how he solved his problem? He went to see the Regent and reported himself, so he was moved here. Do you see?"
"Oh my God, it is almost absurd! Therefore he should be particularly severe about eventual sexual crimes that could happen in the Convivium..."
"Well, the interesting point is this - he seems to be the only one here to be completely unaware of what happens."
"Do you mean?"
"As you certainly know very well at times among Novices, and not only among them, relationships develop of more intimacy than what it is presumed to be. He is sure that nothing like this happens here..."
"Those couples, I guess, are extremely discreet."
"Of course they are very discreet, but everybody knows, for instance, that the reason why in the sharing of the tasks, very often couples offer themselves as volunteers to clean the facade's statues. Do you see, those there?" he pointed. "To go to clean them they have to climb up using a wooden ladder that they bring up with them to go from one level to the upper one. And up there, behind the group representing Galil dictating the law to his disciples, there is a small room that in ancient times, before that marble group was put there, hosted the mechanism of a clock. At that time it was possible to access that small room from the interior, but then, when the clock was taken away, the door was closed with a wall. So the now empty little room is really comfortable and safe for those couples going there to clean... it became the classical 'appointed place'. There is also a rumor that somebody even placed a mattress there," the Master said giggling, "but this is not true. At times Master Gassel offers himself as a volunteer also, but then nobody else offers to help him. And he is amazed he always has to do the cleaning of the facade alone! He is really naive."
"Couldn't he possibly hope that somebody offers himself to be with him in that room?"
"Once someone tried it, just once. He escaped a report only because he played his cards smartly. When Gassel understood what the other wanted from him, he was indignant, and threatened to report him. The other pretended to be more indignant than him and accused him of misunderstanding what he meant, and in his turn threatened to report Gassel for harassment."
"And nobody never reported a member of this Convivium?"
"Just once, some years ago. The reported United was moved... Nothing tragic."
"But, from what you know, are there many transgressions in your Convivium?"
"No more than in others. The usual twenty-five or thirty percent? The price that any Convivium has to pay to exist. So many men living only and always among men... Who enter in the United not for a specific celibate choice, but for a thousand different reasons... You can't help it, it becomes unavoidable. As long as it remains on a level not scandalous and not of abuse, it is a personal concern of the individuals. Of course nothing is done to encourage that kind of practice, on the contrary... But it is useless to be too puritan!"
"Are there more 'appointed places', from what you know?"
"Oh, people's imagination is boundless. And to do that kind of thing, one doesn't need much space nor time. What is the appointed place in your Convivium, for instance?"
"The oven and the cistern, on occasion of their cleaning."
"Water and fire, the symbols of purity. Isn't this ironic? Here it seems that, besides the clock's cell, they use the laundry drying place, when it is out to dry, of course."
Jarvis told Fresth about his discussion, the boy nodded, "Yes, I got the same information in the Novitiate. And they also use the Medium Hall."
"The Medium Hall? It doesn't seem to me one of the safest places..."
"A novice told me that during the long lectures of the Pandects, it is enough that two people wanting to have sex manage to be assigned one of the small loggia on the third floor after the last pillar, be it the one to the extreme left or right. Then, as long as they remain leaning out of the baluster, they can safely touch each other and even penetrate each other, and they just cannot give each other head, because from below only one head would be seen... The pillar hides them from the view of the near loggia on the same floor."
"But what if someone arrived there while they are doing it?"
"All during the lecture no one can move for any reason, as the wooden flooring creaks too much. Therefore, as long as the lecture lasts, the couple is safe."
"Did you make love with that novice?"
"No. He has an Acolyte lover for two years now. But we exchanged confidences. And you? Did you make love with someone?"
"No, with no one."
"Well we still have a month to stay here, don't we?" the boy merrily said. But until a week before they left it seemed that there was nothing doing, even if they managed to gather several indiscretions and confidences.
The United were all in the Main Hall for a ceremony to which Jarvis and Fresth were not invited. So Jarvis thought to take advantage of that to go and bathe. Of course the large bathroom was deserted. He undressed, went to the small room for the ablutions, soaped and rinsed himself, then went to the waterfall room. He lay down on the wide tub so that he was just under the pelting of water, enjoying its agreeable massage on his skin. He was there for a few minutes when he heard the door opening. He looked - a real hunk, a young man was entering and he recognized it was Verseh, an acolyte. He looked at him with admiring eyes, and became aroused. Verseh, with an elegant gait, stepped over the brim of the wide tub and sank in the water. Then, lazily looking around saw Jarvis and waved him a greeting. Jarvis waved back. Then Verseh stood up and went closer to the young man. Jarvis couldn't avoid noticing the half erection that was bouncing between the young man's thighs.
"I thought I would be alone." Verseh said with a smile.
"Don't you take part to the ceremony?"
"I am exempt as I just came back from a mission. After a journey a good bath is the ideal thing, isn't it?" the acolyte said standing in front of him, almost as if he was not conscious, or uncaring, of his half aroused state.
Jarvis couldn't avoid giving the beautiful member, a glance from time to time, and he too became aroused. Verseh bent down to take some water in his hands and poured it on his chest, massaging it lightly. Then said, "Can you make me some room under the fall?"
"Oh, you can have my place," Jarvis said standing up. He noticed the fast glance of the other between his legs.
Then the acolyte, looking straight in his eyes, said with a light smile, "No, please, there is enough room for both of us. We just have to sit down very close..." and sat down inviting Jarvis to follow suit. Jarvis sat down again.
"Come nearer, or you will not fully enjoy the fall - it doesn't bother you, does it?" Verseh said with a wider smile. Their bodies were now touching, shoulder-to-shoulder and leg-to-leg.
"No, on the contrary..." Jarvis murmured. The Righteous, under the water, stretched out his hand and leaned it on Jarvis' thigh, "Is this massage agreeable on the skin?"
Verseh caressed his companion's thigh moving up towards his genitals, "Do you like it?"
"Very much..." Jarvis repeated.
Verseh reached his member, now fully erect, seized it and started to gently move his hand up and down, "Isn't it beautiful bathing in this way?"
"Very good, indeed," Jarvis sighed then added, "but what if somebody comes?"
"Come with me, then."
Naked, the two young men left the tub, Verseh opened a small door, they climbed a staircase and were on the roof.
"The tanning deck. It is somewhat cold this time of year, but we can warm each other, can we not?"
"Is it safe, here?"
"It is. I locked the door." the Acolyte said taking Jarvis in his strong arms and pulling him towards himself, he kissed him on the mouth, with lust.
Jarvis brushed his body against that of the other, searching with his erection that of his companion. Verseh pushed him on the floor mat and lay on top of him.
"How do you like making love?"
"In all ways," Jarvis murmured.
"Good, let's do it in all ways, then. We have plenty of time." the young man said gliding up and down on his body, licking and caressing it.
Jarvis turned under him so that he could reach the acolyte's erection just as the young man started to lick his member. They licked, sucked each other, then Verseh opened his way with his tongue between Jarvis' thighs from behind his testicles, until he reached the hole. He then started to lick it with extreme skill. Then he spread Jarvis' thighs and slipped between them, folded the Professed's body putting him in position and pushed the tip of his hard, strong member against the waiting hole. The mystic relaxed looking at the strong, athletic body that was about to take him. Verseh sank inside him, softly moaning with pleasure. Jarvis felt him enter, thick and long, felt it invade him, open its way inside him in a steady motion.
"You're mine, man!" Verseh murmured forgetting the formal words he should use towards the Professed.
"Do you like me?"
"Yes, you really are a great specimen. A shame you are about to leave."
"Why did you make up your mind only today?"
"I didn't know, before, I aroused you so."
"And how did you know, just now?"
"The way you looked at me, and how you became aroused for me."
"You are one of the handsomest men I ever saw." Jarvis murmured.
Verseh was now pumping inside him vigorously; "I like the way you let me fuck you - you are relaxed, but you also make me feel that you like it."
"And I like how you are fucking me. You must have all the men you want, inside here!"
"I can't complain, but I like you a lot."
"You are virile even while you are being fucked. And I like a real man. Not those like Gassel who seems so manly but then when in bed they only crave to be fucked and do little screams like half women."
"Gassel? Do you take Gassel?"
"At times. Did you know that even when he was twenty-seven, he was still a virgin? But now let's just think only to enjoy this splendid occasion." the young man said resuming to pump inside him with real gusto.
Jarvis really liked the way Verseh was taking him. When the acolyte felt near his orgasm, pulled Jarvis' head to himself and kissed him in his mouth, sucking at his tongue. He soon came holding him convulsively against himself and unloading inside him. Jarvis also held him tightly, tossing under him to increase their pleasure.
Then, without waiting to relax, Verseh rolled on his back taking Jarvis on top of him, "Take me, now! I'm longing to feel your beautiful cock fucking me. Go on!" he said girdling his waist with his legs and pulling against him, offering him his body. Jarvis hurried himself not to disappoint his companion. He entered him with a single, concerted push.
Verseh emitted a satisfied sigh and smiled in bliss, "Go on, fuck me and try not to cum too soon. Make me feel all of it, make me enjoy it!" he urged, his voice hoarse with pleasure and with a wide smile.
Jarvis did his best and didn't disappoint him. They dressed once more and went out, then Verseh told him how he conquered the irrepressible Master who now was dying for him.
"Nobody suspects about you two?" Jarvis asked him.
"No, of course. I'm not interested in spoiling his reputation. That's enough for me having tamed him. And giving him matter to meditate about his opinions. I like him physically, I just hope to be able to make him somewhat more manly, in bed."
"Where do you meet, to make love?"
"At his place. A couple of times each month, on the pretext of taking him some documents for his research. Because nobody suspects him, nobody can guess what I really go to do with him. But you, man... oh, sorry, you Professed Jarvis, tell me something about yourself, about your life. I am really curious about you."
Jarvis and Fresth left that Convivium some days later, after the Professed succeeded in withdrawing again a few more times with Verseh, with whom, after making love, talked about his Ideal Convivium.
They continued their long tour, visiting the other scheduled Convivia, until it was time to go back to Jarvis' Convivium. In all these months, even if at times he had the possibility, Jarvis never made love with Fresth again, nor did the boy ask him and neither did he let him know that he desired it.