Written after climbing to the top of the Cologne Cathedral.
Elijah had known the moment Sean set eyes on the sign inside the cathedral that his partner was going to light up with delight, like Twoflower, the Discworld’s first tourist, arriving at the docks of Ankh-Morpork. Now there was a case of finding the perfect actor for a role, Elijah thought ruefully.
“Wow,” Sean enthused, “we can climb to the top of the cathedral spire. How cool is that! Come on.” He grabbed Elijah’s hand and tugged.
“No fuc-" Elijah caught himself just in time. After all, they were standing in a sacred place. “No way, Sean. That signs says there are 506 steps. I refuse to climb 506 steps up anything unless it’s to toss an evil ring in a fiery pit. But you go ahead without me. I can wander around the cathedral and take some more pictures.”
“But I don’t want to go without you, Lij.” Sean’s eager expression vanished, and disappointment took its place. “Look, it won’t be that bad, especially now that you’ve cut back on your smoking. We can stop and rest along the way if you’re tired. Besides, who knows when we’ll have a chance to visit Cologne again? This could be our one and only opportunity to climb the spire.”
A one and only opportunity that Elijah would have been more than happy to pass up, but he knew he was going to cave before the pleading puppy-dog look in those lethal green eyes. No wonder Rincewind, despite nearly overwhelming temptation, could never bring himself to abandon Twoflower, no matter how exasperating he was.
“All right,” he sighed. “I’ll do it.”
“You won’t regret it, Lij,” Sean promised, as he led the way to the booth to buy their tickets. Elijah wondered sourly why they had to pay for the privilege of torturing themselves this way. Someone should be paying them to climb the fuc-, that is, the stupid- spire.
Taking his ticket and trailing after Sean to the small doorway that led into the spire, Elijah thought with regret of his own plans for the impromptu long weekend in Cologne that Sean had suggested after filming on The Colour of Magic wrapped in London. Elijah had envisioned them spending lazy mornings in bed making love, afternoons drinking beer at an excellent brauhaus, and evenings dancing at a club in the gay section of the city. But Sean, not unexpectedly, had hit the nearest bookstore, bought several guidebooks and started compiling a list of historic sites for them to visit. It wasn’t until he mentioned a chocolate museum that Elijah had finally perked up, but that wasn’t on the agenda until later. Damn- uh- darn. He could’ve used a nice chocolate high to help him with the climb. Who cared if it was only ten o’clock in the morning?
The stairs were smoothly worn stone, very steep, and wound in a tight spiral up and up and up. Elijah’s thigh and calf muscles began to burn, and his breath to shorten, by the time he’d counted 87 steps. Geez, that still left… but he couldn’t face doing the math. He couldn’t even enjoy the sight of Sean’s gorgeous ass- uh, bottom- directly in his line of vision because the tightness of the turns and the narrowness of the stairs made concentrating on what his feet were doing absolutely essential.
“This is great, isn’t it?” Sean called back over his shoulder.
Argh. “Sure is,” Elijah ground out between gritted teeth.
The number of other tourists who were demented enough to tackle the climb was truly astonishing. The world was filled with Twoflower imitators, it seemed. He and Sean had to pause numerous times and flatten themselves against the wall to allow people on their way down to pass. And he could hear voices and footsteps echoing behind him from those who were following. Amazing. But at least those descending appeared more or less in one piece. That was hopeful.
“We can stop for a rest here,” Sean announced after what seemed an interminable amount of time. “We’ve reached the bell tower.”
Hallelujah! Gratefully, Elijah joined Sean on a small landing in front of passage with arrows pointing the way to where the cathedral bells were housed. His leg muscles were quivering like Jello, something that hadn’t happened to him since he and Sean had tried that particularly challenging position in The Gay Kama Sutra. The effort then, of course, had been totally worth it, but he doubted very much if a spectacular orgasm would be his reward for reaching the top of the cathedral spire.
“How are you holding up, Elwood?” Sean asked, resting his hand on Elijah’s shoulder.
“I’m about ready for my Sam to start carrying me.” Elijah was only half-joking.
“I only carry you up mountains, not churches. Let’s go take a look at the bells. It’s nearly 10:30, so they should be ringing soon. We don’t want to miss that.”
Oh no, we don’t want to miss that. Elijah rolled his eyes.
But he started to revive a little as they walked down the blessedly level passageway. The view from the narrow openings cut in the stone walls was spectacular, and he marveled at how far they had already climbed. Maybe he’d make it to the top without expiring after all.
There was a somewhat surly-looking individual inside a small glass-encased booth in the bell tower. He paid no attention to them as they stepped down onto the wooden viewing platform right in front of the largest of the cathedral bells. Elijah slumped onto a thoughtfully provided bench and studied the immense metal bell. Wow, it must be incredibly…
Elijah jumped and clapped his hands over his ears.
No wonder Mr. Surly was sitting in that booth. The glass was no doubt soundproof.
Sean had his ears covered, too, and he was grinning at Elijah. “Reminds me of that last ‘Heloise’ gig we went to,” he teased when the bells stopped sounding the half-hour. “Only not quite as loud.”
“I gave you cotton to stuff in your ears,” Elijah protested, laughing.
“It didn’t help much, let me tell you. Up you get, Elwood. No rest for the weary.” Sean held out his hand and pulled Elijah to his feet.
They walked all around the bell tower, Elijah snapping photos, and then headed back to the stairs to continue their trek to the top of the spire. Up, up, up they went, and Elijah started to feel like he was on the fuc- uh, frigging- stairs of Cirith Ungol. He could almost hear Andy’s Gollum voice hissing, “Climb, hobbitses, climb.”
There were no more cheerful comments from Sean, and Elijah thought his pace had slowed a bit. It made him feel fractionally better to know that Sean was suffering a little, too. Sometimes his partner’s unquenchable optimism was a total pain in the ass- uh, posterior. As they paused once again to let some downward spiraling tourists by, Elijah noticed the graffiti for the first time. The walls were literally covered in it from top to bottom. So-and-so loves So-and-so was written everywhere, along with individual names, dates, cities and countries. He’d never seen so much graffiti in one place before, including the New York subway system.
“Hey, Sean, hang on a minute,” Elijah said.
“You okay?” Sean’s handsome frowning face looked down at him.
“Yeah, but there’s something we need to do.” He fumbled with the flap of his messenger bag and dug around until he found a black magic marker. You never knew when a fan was going to stop you for an autograph, and he’d discovered it was best always to go around prepared. “We’ve got to write our names on the wall like everybody else.” He uncapped the magic marker and started looking for an empty space to write in. It wasn’t easy to find one.
He’d expected Sean, Mr. Law Abiding Citizen, to protest at the defacement of church property, but he only watched as Elijah drew a lopsided heart and wrote ‘Elwood loves Irish’ inside it. He supposed even Sean had to admit that it was a hopeless cause to protest, considering they were probably the ten millionth people to leave a memento of their visit on the walls.
“Think anyone will guess it was us?” Sean asked, one eyebrow quirked.
“Only our most rabid fangirls, but I doubt many of them will be coming this way.” Elijah capped the marker and stuck it back in his bag.
“Oh, you never know,” commented Sean, reaching out to trace the heart with his forefinger. “They’re a pretty determined lot. If they ever find out we were here, they’ll be scouring the walls with flashlights and magnifying glasses.”
“More power to them if they can find it,” Elijah said, grinning. “They’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”
The grin soon faded, however, as he toiled on up the stairs, legs aching. Eventually they emerged into a large open chamber and Elijah thought they were finally there. A number of people were collapsed onto the floor, worn out by the climb. But others were mounting a steep set of metal stairs that rose up from the center of the chamber.
“Nearly there,” Sean said encouragingly. “Just these stairs left, I think, and we’ll be at the top.”
“Just these stairs? Shi- uh, geez, Sean, do we really have to…”
Rincewind must have seen just such a look on Twoflower’s face any number of times, Elijah thought. Really, he should have auditioned for the role of the incompetent wizard with the spell stuck in his brain. He’d have nailed the part.
But he had to admit, when at long last he and Sean emerged at the top of the spire and stood gazing out at the magnificent vista of the city and the countryside beyond, with the Rhine like a broad silver ribbon running through the middle of it, that it had definitely been worth every cramp-inducing, lung-searing second.
“Wow,” he breathed.
Sean came to his side and draped an arm around him. “Glad you came after all, Lij?” he asked softly.
“Yeah. But you still owe me big time, Irish. I expect plenty of beer and chocolate to make up for it. And a massage in the Jacuzzi when we get back to our hotel room.”
“It’s a deal.” Sean hugged him close.
As he leaned against the sturdy warmth of his tourist’s shoulder, Elijah wondered if Rincewind secretly had a thing for Twoflower. If he didn’t, Elijah decided, he should.