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The Wewelsburg, Winter Solstice RY117LT

The Year-End Ceremony that we hold at the Wewelsburg at the Winter Solstice is one of my favourite annual celebrations, and this year it was going to be particularly special. It would be followed by the SS-Naming Ceremony for my new son, Berthold. Then, later in the evening the Knights would meet to welcome a new member into the Circle just after Midnight: Alois Dietmar, one of the major players within the Ahnenerbe’s Exotic Technologies section, as well as being a gifted blue-sky thinker.

For the most part, the year 117 had been a quiet year. I hadn’t suffered even a single attempted assassination. Primarily, I’d been concentrating on establishing a new thinktank into the study and development of magical energy generation, storage and transmission. This had largely been prompted by the fact that my father, Delwin, had been staying with Silvie and myself on and off since turning up to celebrate my birthday in June 115: something he’d never done before, and I doubt would ever do again. I assumed that he was hiding from one of his many enemies, but I didn’t ask too many questions. I’ve found that never helps with Delwin.

When he first arrived, he was bursting with blue-sky ideas for combining magic and Pattern energy, and wanting somewhere to work (obviously forgetting that his style of Pattern doesn’t work on the Inside for the most part). As luck would have it, this actually tied in rather well with some of the Reich’s own plans. We were about to lay down the hull of the first vessel in our new Kaiserin dreadnought class, our most ambitious naval project thus far. More to the point, the hope was that would could devise a way to power it using magical batteries, rather than spells and steam. To run the previous dreadnought classes purely on boiler spells needs a staff of at least twenty mages onboard at all times. If we could even halve that with some form of alternative energy generation and storage, those mages could be deployed more widely. Therefore, Delwin’s unexpected arrival was, one might even say, serendipitous.

Some of Delwin’s ideas were completely barking mad, as they often are, especially those involving blood and death magic, as they often do. Some were more sensible, however. One of these involved a theory that if a proto-Pattern – a construct containing the potential of part or all of a Pattern, but without needing to be drawn on a floor the size of a football pitch – could be built, it could be a very powerful source of energy. The trouble is, not being a Creator, he couldn’t do it himself, so he came to me and asked for my help with the research.

With this in mind, over dinner with the Kaiser one evening (dinners with Wilhelm have become more frequent since 106 or thereabouts…go figure) I proposed that we establish an official thinktank to look into the matter of magical storage and energy transmission. He seemed to like the idea, and in turn brought it before Reich Staff Council. They didn’t object, even though the idea came from me, and thus the Reich Energy Research Institute was founded.

My first choice of location was Danzig, one of our largest shipbuilding facilities, and the initially-proposed shipyard for the lead boat of the Kaiserin class, the Elsa. I changed my mind, however, when I discovered from the Lighthouse memories that, at some point in the not too distant future, Danzig would be seriously damaged by my old enemy General Vindex, aka my Least Favourite Nephew, Andrew the Psychopath. Rostock was the second option, and looked like a good alternative.

A city of over a million people, some military shipbuilding facilities were already in place at Rostock, but the majority of the industry and commerce was civilian. On the theory that Sable generally avoids attacking largely-civilian targets, in the assessment of my CSSD, Tristan Heydrich, it wasn’t as likely to be on the radar as Danzig. I suggested the location to the Staff Council, and after some spirited discussions, the city was chosen as both the dockyard for building the Elsa and the site of the RERI. Ground was broken in late-115, and the facility was finished in mid-116 (we’re nothing if not efficient, in the Reich, when it comes to building complex military facilities). Once it was complete, I popped it in its own Pocket Shadow, so I could adjust Robert’s rules to allow Delwin to access the Outside Pattern, and we got to work.

Roll on another eighteen months to December 117, and we were making progress. Delwin, myself and some of our senior scientists, including the aforementioned Alois Dietmar, had come to the conclusion that his proto-Pattern theory might actually be workable, and could be very useful for powering Reich materiel in the battle against Sable and elsewhere. The Elsa, which now had a recognisable hull in the dockyard, would be the first recipient of the fruits of our labours. Annoyingly for my father, it needed a combination of a Jewel or equivalent (i.e. me) and the Channelling abilities of a Creation Alternate (so, me again) to work. He proposed trying to deal with his own lack in this department using black magic and bloodshed, but while I don’t object to those on principal, neither was particularly useful aboard a dreadnought on a day to day basis. On the basis of that small disagreement, he packed his bags and headed back Outside.

Having my father around during that time had also had one other benefit. A personal one. Knowing he was a better geneticist than even myself, I asked him to help Silvie and I conceive a second child. Even for him, it wasn’t a quick process, but Silvie became pregnant at the end of 116, and our second son, Berthold Stefan, was born in September 117.

After his birth, we refrained from making a formal announcement until he’d been officially registered with the Imperial Council in early-December. Robert’s probable reaction, as he leapt to the inevitable wrong conclusions about my son’s origins, had been one of the reasons for the delay. Since his birth had been announced, however, I’d been expecting a call from my brother. I suppose I should have realised in advance that he’d choose Winter Solstice, Berthold’s Name Day, to make his views known to me.

The SS Naming Ceremony isn’t one that’s acknowledged by the Imperial Council, who prefer to formalise the identities of new members of the various Reich noble families in a more monotheistic setting: usually at St Rafael’s Cathedral, in Berlin. Given my civilian rank as Herzog von Bremen, I couldn’t avoid that altogether, so that was due to happen on 6 January 118, but for Silvie and I, it wasn’t the important date.

For those members of the SS who fall into both camps – noble and Kamaraden – such as myself, it is the SS Naming Ceremony that matters. On the child’s Name Day, as well as their name within their family, it is customary to add the name of their sponsor, possibly with a third to recognise a particularly favoured relative or someone that it’s politic not to upset. The Kaiser, for example. My nephew Conrad had stood as Sigmund’s sponsor. I knew who I wanted to ask to represent Berthold, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to ask, especially given his expected reaction to the news that my younger son existed at all.

It was about Noon when Robert called. I’d spent a rather snowy morning with Leon Stoltz, the Wewelsburg Kommandant, discussing how best to arrange the courtyard for the festivities of the afternoon and evening. The Year-End Ceremony, at which I would preside with the Knights’ Priestess, Irma Adler, was due to start at 14.00, to be followed by the Naming. I had just got back to my suite to warm up, hung my coat on the stand by the door, and had ordered a large pot of hot chocolate laced with brandy, and a stollen as a snack to keep me going until after the ceremonies, when I felt the stirrings of his call.

I glanced over to where Walter Reinefarth, head of the Honour Guard, was standing by the door into my suite and let him know we were about to have a visitor, then opened up the call.

“Fröhliche Wintersonnwende, mein Bruder,” I said, brightly.

“Rupert,” he replied, failing to match my bonhomie.

“Ah, Robert. Cheerful as ever I see, despite the fact that tomorrow, we’re halfway out of the dark,” I replied, “how can I help you?”

“I want a word…about Berthold.”

“You calling to congratulate me and Silvie? How very kind of you.”

“No, I’m calling find out what the Hell is going on.”

So predictable. With a sigh I offered him my hand.

“I had a feeling you might, eventually,” I commented, as he stepped through. At least I could enjoy a brief moment of satisfaction when he looked around the room and realised where we were. My private suite at the Wewelsburg…in other words, about the most “SS-y” place I could have brought him to.

“You’re at the Castle.”

“It’s Winter Solstice. Where else would I be?”

“I asked for that, didn’t I?” he said, thawing for just a moment.

“You did,” I answered.

And then the annoyingly pugnacious look was back on his face. Oddly, the rest of him looked reasonably business-like, given that he was dressed in a suit and tie.

Being December in the middle of a substantial continent, there was a chill in the air, but there was a fire roaring in the massive fireplace in the wall between the bedroom and lounge of my suite. Pine branches had been hung around the room, tied with red and gold ribbons, and I felt it had an altogether festive air. I indicated for him to take off his jacket, hang it in the stand, and sit by the fire and was moving to join him when there was a knock at the door. Reinefarth opened the door to a servant with the refreshments I’d ordered. He exchanged a few words with Bonner and Taube, who were guarding the outside of the door, and then let her in.

I gestured towards the table by the fire, indicating that she should put them down there, and she complied promptly. If she was surprised to see the King of Sable, she was either too polite, or too wise, to comment. Once she was gone, I sat down and indicated for him to help himself. He was obviously in a bad mood, though, as he wasn’t interested in partaking.

I draw out the inevitable, serving myself with studied patience, then sat back and gave him my full attention.

“Say your piece, mein Bruder.”

“I want to know why you’ve broken the agreement we made back in 105,” he said, without any further preamble.

Most of the time, nowadays, I actually like my brother, but by the gods he can be tiring when he feels he’s got a bone to pick with me. Knowing that this was a conversation I didn’t want Reinefarth hearing, I threw up a basic anti-eavesdropping ward around our little grouping by the fireplace before I answered.

“Have you bled on the floor in my vicinity, lately?” I asked.


“Have you bled on the floor in the vicinity of any of my agents’ lately?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Then exactly how could I have done what you’re accusing me of?”

“I imagine you kept some samples from Verrien. Or you acquired them some other way.”

“Yes, I imagine you do. However, I state here and now, that Berthold isn’t yours. He’s mine.”

“We both know that’s impossible.”

“Not for our father.”

“You’ve been in touch with Delwin?”

“He’s been staying at Panenske Brezany, on and off, for the past couple of years. Off now, as he’s headed back Outside. I’m surprised the ever-efficient General Graham hadn’t informed you of that.”

I chuckled to myself when he couldn’t come up with an answer to that one.

“This isn’t funny Rupert,” he snapped, “what the Hell’s our father doing here on the Inside? The whole point of the Inside is to keep our Amber relatives out.”

“He’d pissed somebody off, I’d imagine, and needed a bolthole” I answered, “I didn’t ask for details. In return for board and lodgings, though, he’s been helping the Reich with a number of projects.”

“Such as?”

“Tut, mein Bruder. I have no intention of sharing State secrets with you today, if you haven’t already learned about them from your intelligence people…now get the stick out of your backside and accept my hospitality. This is a special day for me. It’s my son’s Name Day.” I paused for a moment, but couldn’t resist adding, “MY son, not yours.”

He looked positively mulish, but at least he bent long enough to pour a mug of chocolate and cut himself some cake. I let him discover for himself just how much brandy the chocolate was laced with.

“I don’t believe you,” he said, as he stopped coughing.

“For fuck’s sake, Robert. How much of an idiot do you think I am? I gave you my word that I wouldn’t try to manufacture another Sigmund. I’ve kept my word.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“For the last what…fourteen-odd years?…we’ve been on better terms than we ever were before ‘99, and that’s suited me as well as you. Why would I risk that?”

“Prove it.”

“My you’re being tedious today,” I said, shaking my head in frustration.

I tweaked the ward, and called Reinefarth over.

“Walter, would you mind sending Hauptsturmführer Taube to the Berkanan Room to fetch my family. My brother would like to extend the greetings of the season to them.”

“Yes, Herr Reichsführer,” he said, smartly, and opened the door to carry out my orders. Then he stepped out to take Taube’s place and shut it behind him. He had been Head of the Guard since his predecessor, Lukas Ebert, died on Manira in 105, during which time Robert and I haven’t tried to kill each other even once, so he had come to realise that, for the most part, I should be safe with my brother.

“What the Hell are you doing, Rupert?” Robert demanded, once we were alone.

“You’re a geneticist. I’m going to let you take a blood sample from MY son so you can quit whining, and join me in celebrating his birth.”

“Are you serious?”

“Silvie and I thought that you and I might end up having this conversation. We agreed that it was the simplest way to prove that we were telling the truth.”

I could tell he had no idea how to react to that, so he covered his surprise by taking another drink of chocolate. Eventually he recovered himself enough to ask: “Why? Why did you feel you needed another child?”

“Surely everyone’s entitled to an heir and a spare, mein Bruder? Exactly how many spares do you have…?”

“That’s not the point.”

“We could argue the toss on that one, but I choose not to. Instead I’ll ask you this. How long is it since you saw Sigmund?”

“Eighteen months, I suppose,” he answered, “he’s been at school the last several times we’ve met at Panenske Brezany.”

“He’s changed…in appearance I mean.”


“It’s been hard…” I began, then decided I wasn’t feeling like offering him that much of an insight into my soul just then, “never mind, you’ll understand when you see him.”

With perfect timing, there was a knock on the door. Reinefarth opened it from the outside to admit Silvie and the boys, and then gave us our privacy.

At sixteen, Sigmund had grown into a tall, well-built, handsome young man. Already taller than my 5’10”, actually. That, alas, wasn’t the problem. As he’d grown older, he’d acquired less of a resemblance to me, and more of one to the last person in the world that I was comfortable with him reminding me of.

Robert saw it the moment he walked in. It was obvious. Not noticing Robert’s consternation, Sigmund’s face lit up when he recognised my brother. They had always been fond of each other, at least within the constraints imposed by the problems of the King of Sable spending time with the RFSS’s family, and I knew Sigmund had missed his “uncle”.

“Uncle Robert,” he almost shouted, crossing the room and embracing my slightly nonplussed sibling warmly, “it’s been ages! How are you? Why haven’t you been to visit?”

Oh, and loud. Did I mention loud? Sigmund is not the most restrained individual in the Reich.

“I’m well,” Robert answered, but I could tell he was slightly disconcerted, and not by my son’s enthusiastic reception “yes, it’s been too long. You’ve got tall since I last saw you.”

“That’s what Dad says, too. Are you here for the ceremonies? It’s probably going to be a bit chilly in the Courtyard, but the year-end fires will be burning, so as long as you’ve in a warm coat, you’ll be fine. You brought a coat, right?”

“I didn’t realise I needed one,” he answered, “but I’m sure it will be fine.” Then he disentangled himself from Sigmund and kissed my wife on the cheek, “Silvie, it’s good to see you.”

“You too, Robert,” she replied, then threw me a questioning look and I nodded, knowing what she was asking, “this is Berthold. Would you like to hold him?”

“I’d be delighted,” he answered, and gently took my son. He turned slightly, so Berthold wouldn’t be in direct view of Sigmund. I imagined that he’d satisfy his curiosity there and then, and strangely, I trusted him to do it with as little hurt to my son as possible.

“Dad’s been working for ages to make sure everything’s right for this afternoon,” Sigmund continued, hardly stopping for breath, “I asked him if you’d be able to come, but he wasn’t…ooh, stollen.”

And with that, he crossed to the fireplace and helped himself to cake. By the gods the boy can eat, but I can’t deny him the pleasure. It’s not as if he’s going to get fat, given that he’d proved himself to be a shapeshifter at the grand old age of ten, when he’d broken his arm falling off his pony. He’d been registered with the Forstapo ever since. I just wished I could ask him to shift to look like someone else.

About five minutes later, Robert handed Berthold back to his mother and I crossed to stand beside her.

“I owe you both an apology,” he said, and I could see that he was finally relaxing, “I don’t think I want to know what Delwin did to make this happen, but I can’t deny the result. Congratulations.”

“Sigi is right,” Silvie answered, “we were hoping you might join us this afternoon. Rupert wondered if you’d stand as Berthold’s sponsor, but we weren’t quite sure how to ask you.”

Well, at least that solved the problem of me trying to figure out how to put the question to him. He’d probably receive it much better from Silvie than me anyway.

“I’m honoured,” he replied, and seemed to mean it, “but if I understand the SS rulebook correctly, I don’t believe I’m allowed to.”

“Why ever not?” she asked, surprised.

“My understanding is that sponsors must also be Kameraden. I’m not serving SS, nor do I have any intention of becoming one. I believe that rules me out of contention.”

“Yes and no,” I answered, “why don’t we sit back down.”

Silvie, bless her, knows about conversations between my brother and I very well, and she also knows when to make herself scarce.

“Ertti, do you want to catch up with Sigi and me downstairs?”

“Yes. Why don’t you give Robert and I half an hour or so, and then we’ll find you in time to walk out to the Ceremony together.”

“That sounds good,” she answered, “we’ll head back to the Berkanan Room for now, then.”

“Mum, we just got here,” Sigmund protested, “I haven’t seen Uncle Robert in forever.”

“He just has some business to talk to your father about,” she told him, firmly, “he’ll join us very soon. And you’ll stay for the Ceremony, won’t you, Robert? Even if it can’t be as his sponsor.”

“Of course,” he replied, with a smile.

“I’m so very glad,” she answered, warmly, “come on Sigi.”

While Silvie kissed me goodbye, Sigmund finished the mouthful of stollen he was working on, and after a last look at Robert and I, he followed his mother out of the room.

“Christ, Rupert,” he said, finally, “he looks so much like Andrew did at that age.”

“And that, mein Bruder, is the problem.”

“Yes, I imagine it would be. I suppose it isn’t unprecedented. We are identical twins, after all…at least when you aren’t wearing your normal face.”

“It’s a cruel joke for the universe to play on me, though.”

“Karma?” he suggested, not entirely joking.

“Karma is one of those reasons why the Buddhist faith is not one of my favourites. Karma can be a bitch.”

“So you got father to create you a replacement? An actual child of your body. What does that mean for Sigmund?”

“Not a replacement,” I snapped, “never a replacement. Just…another.”

“I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”

“It was.”

“Does Silvie know how you feel about him?”

“How exactly could I tell her? ‘Doesn’t our son look like the man I’ve hated for as long as I’ve existed?’ ‘Darling, Sigmund’s growing up to look just like the chap I held prisoner at the Wewelsburg for ten years?’ Or even just telling her that the very sight of him makes me feel uncomfortable?”

“No, I suppose it isn’t really something you can discuss.”

“I may find it harder to be around him than I did when he was little, but I still love him dearly. It just…it’s like Stefan all over again.”

“Do you think it’s time fighting back?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t fail to see the parallels.”

“Neither can I,” he said, “you’re right, I shouldn’t have implied that you wanted to replace him. But what DO you want to do? Pre-Lighthouse, Stefan came to live in Sable, as it suited his nature more, but that doesn’t seem to be what you’re suggesting here.”

“I don’t know what I’m suggesting,” I answered, frustrated, “I certainly have no intention of organising a riding accident for my son and heir this time around. And it’s not like he’s dying because he’s an Alternate. Sigmund is a child of the Reich. It’s his home. He’s his Reichsjugend platoon leader…damned good at it too. He even loves the Castle. He’s been accompanying me here for the more ‘family-friendly’ ceremonies for years. One of his best friends is Johann Stoltz…the son of the Kommandant here. He just looks…”

“So like Andrew.”

“Yes. And to be honest, I’m not sure how to cope with that.”

“He’s Talented, presumably.”

“Very much so. We discovered that about a year after we discovered that he could shift.”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“He stopped a classmate from drowning in the lake at Schloss Bremen by making an air bubble around them both and bringing his friend to safety.”

“Bloody Hell, Rupert. Are you telling me that you’ve managed to bring up a decent human being…”

I think he was joking, but I imagine my expression told him exactly what I thought of that comment, so he continued in a slightly more subdued tone.

“Maybe one possibility, if you can manage with the status quo for that long, is let him come to SMC, when he’s ready…” he saw my expression, and put up a hand to ask me not to interrupt, “five years away from each other might soften it for you. You wouldn’t have to see him every day, and that might give you a chance to get used to the idea…or immunise yourself to it, at least. Obviously, he could visit you whenever he wanted to…holidays and such. He’d be completely free to come and go.”

“Assuming he wanted to be in such a different environment.

“Isn’t that part of what going to university is about? New experiences? Letting your children spread their wings?”

“Saving the honour of the woman you love in a duel to the death…?”

“It was supposed to be to first blood, and let’s hope it won’t come to that.”

“Are you willing to give me your word that you won’t try to brainwash him into become a proper little Sablelite?”

“If I was planning to be a dick about the whole business, I wouldn’t have let you keep him in the first place. Does Christmas Night 151 ring a bell?”

I shook my head.

“If you think about it, you’ll see what I mean,” he replied, “So yes, I give you my word. I won’t deny that I’d like him to see my world. In a way, it’s as much a part of his heritage as the Reich is…”

I suppose he had a small point, there.

“…but I have no intention of pressuring him. Now if he decides he likes Sable, that’s different. But it would be his choice, not anyone else’s, and from what you’ve said about him, I suspect it’s unlikely that he will.”

“I suppose time will tell.”

“Think about it. Talk to Silvie – about that, at least. It’s not a decision you have to make today. It’ll be at least a year before he finishes High School here. Maybe two.”

“More likely two. He’s bright, but he loves being with his classmates. We’ve occasionally had to have words about him not applying himself to his studies so he didn’t show them up.”

“Just let me know what you decide, and I’ll do my best to keep him safe.”

“I will,” I said with a nod. I grabbed some more hot chocolate and then continued, “Perhaps we can go back to this afternoon. As Silvie said, we want to you stand as his sponsor at the Naming Ceremony.”

“Which I don’t believe I’m entitled to be.”

“And I believe I was begging to differ. There is a precedent. Conrad stood for Sigmund.”

“I imagined that was because Wilhelm ordered you to arrange it.”

“Do you really believe that Wilhelm could order me to do anything to do with respect to my son and heir and SS tradition?”

I saw him pondering that one for a moment.

“Okay, fair point. So how did you swing it?”

“Simple. I gave him one of these.”

I concentrated for a moment, and a small velvet jewellery box appeared in my hand. I flipped the lid open to make sure it was the right one, and then handed it to my brother.

“What is it?”

“An SS Honorary Rank pin. That one isn’t at the same level as the one I gave Conrad, but it will give you the right to be there for Berthold.”

“I wasn’t aware you were on that good terms with Conrad back in 103.”

“Au contraire. Admittedly, we’ve disagreed on occasion, most notably that day the ALB was in Berlin, but I consider him a friend. And before you make some kind of sarcastic comment about that, let me pre-empt you. Yes, there are very few people I think of as friends, especially outside the SS chain of command, so I value the ones I have.”

“So what do I do with it?”

“Just wear it on your coat lapel, and no-one will comment.”

“About the King of Sable being at an SS ceremony?”

“About Robrecht Delatz, Oberstgruppenführer the Herzog von Worcester being at an SS ceremony. The name Robert de Lacy won’t be mentioned. Sable won’t be mentioned. And Silvie and Sigmund will both be delighted if you agree.”

From the complete lack of reaction to the rank I named, I wondered if he’d even taken that bit in. It would probably hit him in the Courtyard, during the Ceremony. I smiled to myself. He’d have fun explaining that one to General Graham when he got back.

“How long is it likely to take?”

“Three hours plus the party afterwards. Why? Is the esteemed Head of the Maze going to send the boys round to recover you?”

“No, but I probably ought to make a call to let someone know I’ll be away longer than I expected,” he answered.

“Where do they think you are? Not here, I imagine.”

“I mentioned something about checking in one with my Aurellian co-Deities.”

“Nicely vague, with the added benefit of being true,” I answered, with a chuckle, “I approve. So, will you do it?”

“You’d better explain what do I have to do, first, so I know what I’m getting into. I assume there’s some kind of legal standing to the presence of a sponsor?”

“The sponsor is a third party who has historically stood up to confirm that the child being named was of suitably Aryan parentage. After all, we wouldn’t have wanted just anyone to be entered into the SS family rolls. It was a guarantee, if you will.”

“Guarantee of what?”

“Well, obviously, if the child’s heritage was later disputed, the sponsor would be called to account.”

“In what way…no, don’t answer that, I can imagine.”

“No-one will ever dispute the heritage of the child of the RFSS and his wife, so you don’t need to worry about it.”

“No, I suppose they wouldn’t dare, however ironic the truth of that is. Okay. So if I say yes…what happens then.”

“We assemble in the Courtyard. The year-end fires will already be lit and Irma Adler, my Priestess…your grand-daughter in law, I believe…”

“My what now?”

“She’s married to Jürgen Kessler.”

“The Head of the Inside Waffen-SS?”

“Yes, Conrad’s son.”

“Oh this gets better and better,” he said, with a sigh.

“Keep up, Robert,” I answered, with a chuckle, “Conrad dislikes a cold bed almost as much as you used to, before you discovered monogamy. Anyway, Irma and I will conduct the Year-End Ceremony, which if we get the timing right, should finish as the sun sets this afternoon. Absolutely nothing about it should upset your tender sensibilities. Think of it as our Christmas service with less…well, Christ, really. Once that’s done, I step back to join my family and we move into the Naming Ceremony, which Irma will conduct on her own.

Assuming you agree, we approach the altar: myself and Silvie first, and you and Sigmund slightly behind us. I think you’ll find that while the form of words is different, the whole business should be at least somewhat familiar to you. After the initial formalities – the confirmation of his parentage, the calling for the blessing of the gods, that kind of thing – the Priestess will ask who stands as his sponsor. You state your name, rank and titles – the ones I mentioned a short while ago, not your Sable ones. She will ask if you believe the child is of suitable Aryan heritage, and that his name should be entered into the roles of the SS family. You say yes.”

“I suspect you’d shoot me if you didn’t.”

“Robert, really…this is a day for celebrations, not threats. Then, once you’ve confirmed he’s worthy, he will be presented with a candle and a small dish of salt, censed with smoke from burning pine resin, and ceremonially bathed with water. During the rite of water, he will be formally named Berthold Stefan…

“For his brother?”

“For his brother who will never be, yes. Berthold Stefan Robrecht Delatz. Then he’ll be returned to his parents who will turn to the assembled company. Hopefully there will be cheering and then we all adjourn to feast and get riotously drunk at the Naming Party, where Silvie and I will give out a few gifts.”

“No blood sacrifice or hideous torture?”

“Please, this is a family ceremony. The blood sacrifice and hideous torture come at the Knights meeting this evening.”

He looked at me, trying to figure out if I was joking. As it happened, given that we had an initiation to come later, I wasn’t, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing for sure. Instead, I checked my watch and then got to my feet.

“Well? Will you do it?”

“It seems important to you that I do, so yes.”

“Marvellous. I need to get ready, and then we should go and join Silvie and the boys. They’ll be dressed and waiting by now, and the ceremony is due to start in…” I checked my watch, “…about half an hour. Plenty of time to mingle.”

“Mingle with whom?”

“I’m sure you’ll find some familiar faces. Conrad should be here, for a start. Wilhelm has sent his apologies again, but I always expected that would be the case. But it’ll be a family affair. You know, Jochen, Jürgen, Tristan – I don’t think you’ve met him yet, but he’s brother Karl’s grandson.”

“Oh boy,” he said, with a slight gulp, and I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Give me ten minutes to get ready, and then I’ll lend you one a coat and we can head downstairs. You can make that call while I’m next door, and please finish the hot chocolate. It’s far too good to waste.”

Leaving him sitting by the fireplace, I went into the dressing room off my bedroom and attired myself appropriately for the ceremony, to wit, swapping feldgrau for my dress blacks, and grabbed a spare coat. Then I went back next door and handed the coat to him, before lifting my own off the stand by the door.

“A black leather trench coat? Really?” he said, with a snort.

“Lined with wool and with a lovely warm sheepskin collar, which is perfect for you to attach the pin to.”

“I’m regretting this already.”

“Please don’t,” I said, quietly, and I realised that I really meant it.

“I guess we should go, then,” he said, after a slightly awkward moment.

Then, with a sigh and an expression that definitely said “in for a penny, in for a pound” he put the coat over his right arm, and fell into step with me as I opened the door.