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Mark Arbour

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Mark Arbour last won the day on November 24 2020

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  1. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 52

    How very perceptive. 😃
  2. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 52

    I suspect he’ll labor over that when he gets home, or on the way.
  3. May 8, 1801 The Winter Palace St. Petersburg, Russia Tsar Alexander was not the showman some monarchs were, and preferred intimate family dinners to large affairs embracing the whole court, but on occasion such ceremonies were necessary, and tonight was just such a night. Granger admired the way the palace had been transformed into a festive place for the event, with decorations accentuating the beauty of the rooms, and footmen there to offer drinks promptly, as one would expect of the Tsar of all the Russias. Since this was a formal event, he had worn his uniform adorned with most of his decorations and felt quite self-conscious as a result, even though he certainly wasn’t as ostentatious looking as most of the Russian officers. He had worn his Ottoman star but refused to don the chelengk the Sultan had sent him, which seemed sufficient to please the Ottoman envoy. He thought Daventry, with his sleek black jacket that was largely unornamented, looked much more elegant, especially since his powdered hair contrasted starkly with the black. Granger stood with Daventry, chatting about their latest correspondence from Britain, for their letters from home had finally gotten through to them. Everyone was healthy and doing well, and in fact there was no major news save a caustic letter from St. Vincent. “I have read all of my letters, and I am impressed that between the two of us we were able to divine the situation with the government quite effectively,” Daventry noted, even as both of them scanned the room, noting who was there, and who was talking to whom. “I think that is mostly due to your astute insights,” Granger allowed. “As usual, you underestimate yourself,” Daventry said, slightly annoyed at Granger’s modesty. “I received fulsome letters from Mr. Addington and Lord Hawkesbury,” Granger said, deftly changing the subject away from himself. “It appears that most of the new government is highly supportive of our decision to come to St. Petersburg.” “I received similar plaudits,” Daventry said. “You said most?” “In my packet was a letter from Lord St. Vincent that was not pleasant,” Granger said with a grimace. “What did he say?” “He wanted to know why I presumed to leave my command and go off gallivanting around Russia,” Granger said. St. Vincent’s words had stung him hard, as it was painful to think he may have been derelict in his duties as regard Valiant. “He told me that he would have expected me to have stayed with my ship, as is the sworn duty of every Royal Navy captain, so she could be an integral part of the fleet attacking Copenhagen.” “I wouldn’t worry about his words,” Daventry said. “We have achieved a stunning success here.” “As I mentioned, once one has vexed St. Vincent, he rarely relents and carries a grudge,” Granger said dubiously. “How can his opinion be so different than that of the rest of the government?” Daventry asked. “Ah, some information I have that you do not,” Granger said. “St. Vincent took the Admiralty on the condition that he be left alone to run it. That means he has created his own island in the government, one that does not coordinate with other departments. I am told he rarely attends cabinet meetings.” “That is quite interesting, and very dangerous,” Daventry said. “In that situation, all those members of the Commons you control, as well as your voice in the Lords, will have little impact on him.” “That is my read on it as well,” Granger said. “I fear that when I return to England, I will find no prospects of retaining command of Valiant, or getting any other ship for that matter.” “St. Vincent is not immune to influence,” Daventry posited. “I think you will find that he is,” Granger said. “Then you are lucky that it appears peace may be achieved in the near future,” Daventry said. “Perhaps,” Granger allowed. “Which brings me to another topic, somewhat related,” Daventry observed laconically. “When did you plan to return to England?” Granger grimaced at that question because he’d been struggling with it himself. He could have left a week ago, but he hadn’t. He was enjoying his life here in St. Petersburg, where he was quite enamored with the Tsar, and he had no desire to return to face an irate Lord St. Vincent. “The ice is now melted enough that transit is possible.” “Yet you are still here,” Daventry said. “And so are you,” Granger replied. He thought about things for a second, then continued. “I do not know why I feel this way, but it is as if there is some reason for me to still be here.” “You think God is speaking to you?” Daventry challenged playfully. “I think it is more likely to be an evil spirit,” Granger said, making them chuckle, then resigned himself to the inevitable. “I would suggest that we plan to leave within the next two weeks.” “I am amenable to that plan, unless your instincts are correct and something else comes up,” Daventry said. He scanned the room again then nudged Granger and gestured to the opposite side of the ballroom at a group of gentlemen. “The French have sent an emissary to convince the Tsar to go to war against us.” There was a man in the familiar French army uniform who appeared to be a general, but he was facing away from Granger, who could thus not be sure. “They will be wasting their time,” Granger said. “The Tsar has committed to allying with us?” Daventry asked excitedly. “The Tsar is committed to being at war with no one,” Granger said. “He wants peace to reform Russia and will only fight a war if he is provoked.” “He has told you this himself?” Daventry asked skeptically. No one, not even Daventry, knew how close Granger was to Alexander. “He did,” Granger confirmed. “I am convinced he was sincere.” “There is no harm in trying, I would think,” Daventry responded a bit dejectedly. “I think that actually there is,” Granger said. “He is a sovereign who is on a mission, and trying to cajole or nag or persuade him to follow a different course will most likely annoy him.” Daventry nodded. “Let us hope the French are that brutish.” The Frenchman turned around and Granger smiled. “Excuse me,” he said, and began to walk toward him. Daventry stopped him with his hand on Granger’s arm. “You cannot just walk up to the French envoy and start chatting with him. You will create an incident.” “I know that man,” Granger said boldly. “And if I create an incident, we can write it off to me being a boorish naval officer.” “No one would believe that,” Daventry said, even as he released Granger’s arm. The Frenchman had turned back to speak to the gentlemen with him, one of whom was Count Panin, while Granger strode purposely toward him. Such a direct approach attracted the attention of most of the guests, as if they expected Granger to draw his sword and plunge it into the Frenchman’s belly. He chuckled to himself, thinking even if he tried such a thing, his gilt sword, dull as it was, would probably merely leave a bruise. Granger noted Panin’s alarmed expression at his approach, and his reaction caused the Frenchman to turn around right before Granger was up to him. “General Duroc, what a pleasure to see you here,” Granger said, bowing respectfully. “Lord Granger, I had heard you were in St. Petersburg, and I am most glad to see that rumor is true,” Duroc said warmly. Duroc had been with Napoleon in Egypt, and after the Battle of the Nile, and it was he whom Granger primarily worked with to parole the French prisoners. Duroc had spent much time aboard Vanguard after the battle. Duroc was from a petty noble family, and although he had made his career in the army and was quite attached to Bonaparte, he managed to retain some of his aristocratic social skills. “It was a bit warmer when we last met,” Granger observed, getting a laugh from Duroc. “But the circumstances were similar, in that there had just been an English naval victory,” Duroc said. “Those happen so frequently it is hardly unique,” Granger joked, getting a laugh from Duroc. “Much as it is with our army,” he responded, alluding to perennial British success afloat and the seemingly unbeatable French army on land. “And how is your admiral? No doubt he is basking in the glory of an additional victory?” “And General Bonaparte is different in that way?” Granger challenged, making them both laugh. “You are quite correct,” he agreed, then laughed some more. “I heard rumors that peace talks are underway,” Granger said in a questioning way. “My information suggests they are just beginning, so we will have to hope they are successful,” Duroc said. “Indeed we will,” Granger said. “I apologize for interrupting you gentlemen.” “It was certainly no interruption,” Panin said smoothly. “It is fortunate you are indeed here, as I have some letters for you,” Duroc said. “I will make arrangements to send them to you.” “That is most kind of you, General,” Granger said. He bowed to the men, then left them. The courtiers resumed their business, as the hoped-for confrontation was clearly not going to happen. Life at Court could be tedious, so any excitement was welcome to liven things up. Granger assumed that the letters Duroc would carry would primarily be from Talleyrand, and that made Granger smile, as he enjoyed the wily French diplomat’s wit and insight. He was going to make his way back to Daventry, but his fellow peer was conversing with a count whom Granger found to be tiresome. The sound of laughter attracted his attention, and he turned slightly to see Countess von Lieven chatting with two younger army officers, both wearing Colonel’s uniforms. One was handsome, but the other more charismatic. This was quite a contrast from the dour young woman Granger had encountered thus far. Granger opted to walk over and chat with her. “My lord,” Countess von Lieven said coquettishly as Granger approached. “I am so glad that you are here.” “No, it is I who am glad, for your presence complements this room perfectly,” Granger said as he bowed and kissed her hand. “You are suggesting I am a sofa?” she asked, making all three men laugh. “Indeed, I am suggesting that you are as beautiful as one of His Imperial Majesty’s sofas,” Granger said. That made von Lieven chuckle, and annoyed the more charismatic of the two guards. “And who are you?” he demanded rudely of Granger. Granger was decidedly senior to a Russian colonel. Granger gave the young man his steeliest look. “You call me ‘sir’,” Granger snapped, in the same tone he’d used ever since he’d been promoted to lieutenant. The colonel only then seemed to understand his mistake. “I am sorry, sir,” he said respectfully. “I am George Viscount Granger, Captain in His Britannic Majesty’s Navy, a Knight of the Bath, and a few other things as well,” Granger said, as he flippantly gestured at his Ottoman star. That last phrase was said in a joking way. “A pleasure to meet you, my lord,” the man said, then he and his colleague excused themselves. “You chase away the handsome men who seek my company, as if you are protecting my virtue,” the countess said. “Protecting your virtue was certainly not my intention, quite the opposite in fact,” Granger riposted. “Then I should probably avoid being alone with you,” she said, batting her eyes a bit. “That is perhaps wise, but much less fun,” Granger said. “Perhaps,” she said. “It is wonderful to see you having fun, or at least pretending to,” Granger said with a broad smile. He glanced across the room where her mother looked at them in a disapproving way. “Much better than looking like her.” That made both of them laugh. “Stop!” she said in between laughter. “You will get me in even more trouble than I am already in.” “I think you will find that is my sole purpose in life,” Granger replied with a slightly lecherous tone. She rolled her eyes at that statement. “Your words were right, and I see that now. I am less popular with my mother, as she thinks I am acting like a harlot.” “One can only hope that is true,” Granger said, getting a playful slap on the arm for his insinuation. “You are the reason women are supposed to be dour and silent,” she said. “You are much too charming and vibrant to act like that,” Granger said, and smiled when his words embarrassed her. “I am told there is to be dancing after dinner.” “That is how things have been arranged,” she said. “I am wondering if you will save a few dances for me,” he said. “I will do just that, but only because I have seen you dance, and noticed that you are quite agile,” she said. “As are you,” Granger responded. “Perhaps they will play a waltz, and you can help me improve my footwork.” The waltz had made its way from Austria to Russia and was popular here with the younger crowd. People like the countess’s mother would probably view it as lewd and inappropriate because of the close body contact. Granger suspected that the more puritan society in Britain would feel the same way and fancied that it would be a while before it became popular in London. That was unfortunate, because he thoroughly enjoyed it, and was becoming an excellent waltzer. “You will probably step on my feet and rip my dress,” she said dubiously. “There is always some risk in exchange for a reward,” Granger noted sagely. “And what is to be my reward?” she asked flirtatiously. “You will get to be very close to me, and will be firmly in my embrace,” Granger said softly as he leaned in toward her ear. “That sounds like a penance, and not a reward, my lord,” she said, laughing. “If you really think that, you will avoid dancing with me,” Granger replied. “I will save at least one dance for you,” she said. “I will look forward to that,” Granger said, then bowed and kissed her hand in a very seductive way. Dinner turned out to be a rather formal and stolid affair, and Granger had not been gifted with charming people to chat with. He found that he spent most of his time gazing at either the Tsar, Pavel, or Countess von Lieven. Granger could understand quite clearly why the Tsar did not enjoy such events. Granger had several conversations with both Pavel and the Tsar about the Court in general, and the general consensus was that the Russian aristocracy was too conservative and not ready to take on a role in governing the country. It was one thing to manage estates and serfs, it was an entirely different scenario to influence foreign policy and state finances. Looking at them now, even this favored elite, Granger had to agree that they lacked the sophistication of his peers in Britain, such as Lords Grey, Hawkesbury, and Spencer. After dinner, when the ladies excused themselves and the men conversed, Granger caught the eye of the Tsar, who shook his head in an almost imperceptible way, to convey to Granger that their planned tryst for tonight was cancelled. And in a similarly imperceptible way, Granger nodded slightly, to acknowledge that he understood. Even those gestures, in this snake pit of an Imperial Court, could be imagined or understood by a very astute observer. Granger masked his disappointment and engaged in inane small talk with the cream of Russian society. The men rejoined the ladies in the ballroom, where shortly the orchestra began to play. The Tsar led out the Tsarina, then dancing became more random. Granger made his way slowly toward the place where the Countess von Lieven had been sitting, noting that there were several other young ladies gathered, gossiping in an obvious way. Granger timed his arrival to coincide with the time that the charismatic colonel delivered her back to her seat after completing their dance. She spotted Granger and deftly managed to get rid of her prior dancing partner. “I am wondering if you have a dance available, madam?” Granger asked with a bow. “Why my lord, I have decided to risk my health with you on the dance floor,” she said, grinning. He led her out to a minuet, which they effected with significant flair. He was going to do the polite thing and escort her back, but the band began playing a waltz. “I believe that to truly risk your life, or at least your feet, you must indulge me with a waltz.” “I am torn, because I have promised you such a dance, while if we dance twice in a row, the tongues will begin to wag,” she said. He took her into his arm in the correct pose, caught the beat, and they were off, swirling around the dance floor. He decided the waltz was much more exhilarating than the staid dances one normally found in English polite society. It seemed as if the song ended much too soon. “I am wondering what they would say if we danced again, and again, and again,” Granger said, raising an eyebrow. “I suspect we would see my mother’s expression implode from her frown,” she said, making both of them laugh loudly. “I do not want to cause you any problems,” Granger said, and made to lead her back, when she stopped him. “I do not care what she thinks,” she said, and so they danced. Granger began to understand what the prim and proper doyennes of St. James’s Court feared from this dance. His closeness to the countess, their mutual physical exertions along with the feeling of her in his arms and her brushing against him, had given him an erection. Thinking about it only made it bigger, and that unfortunately coincided with the end of a song. “Perhaps another dance?” Granger asked, although it may have sounded like a plea. “I will save you from this latest predicament,” she said, looking down at his groin boldly. Instead of another dance, she led him off the floor, using her body and her jacket to cover up his condition. Granger should have been horrified, and that should have shrunken him back to a normal size, but instead, he found that even more arousing. He was so consumed with lust he barely noticed where they were going. They ended up in a rabbit warren of rooms, where she opened the door to one and ushered him then closed it behind them. Granger noticed only that it was small, and it was perfectly appointed, then she was in his arms, their mouths met, and they were consumed with each other. For a woman who was a member of the Russian Court, Granger found her to be a very poor lover, focusing on groping and not caressing, acting as if there was barely time to enjoy the act of coupling. So just as Granger had taught her how to shine at court, he took his time, and taught her how to let her body go during sex. When they were done, lying side by side, appreciating the afterglow, she suddenly got a panicked expression. “You seem disturbed,” Granger said, even as they both got up and began replacing the garments they’d shed. “I have ruined my reputation,” she said sadly, then smiled at Granger. “I enjoyed that so much, it is probably worth it.” He chuckled. “You were exquisite,” he said, and gave her a loving kiss on the cheek making her blush. “In any event, I doubt your reputation has been harmed.” “How can you say that?” she asked histrionically. “People will have seen us leave. People will note that we’ve been gone for a long time.” “You will make up an excuse that you took me to see one of the Tsar’s paintings,” he said, then picked one he had seen so they could keep their story straight. “They will not believe it,” she said, even as they walked back through the small hallways, until they reached larger ones, and ultimately the big corridors of the palace. “I will tell you my read on this, as it pertains to Russian society,” Granger said, in a playfully pontifical way. “Please do share your words of esteemed wisdom,” she responded sardonically, making them both chuckle. “I think that as long as you do not have an affair with a man who is beneath you socially, you will not be scorned,” Granger said. “I personally think that it will enhance your reputation.” “It will be enhanced because people will now think I am a harlot,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Rather, men will think that there is a chance, if they are charming and attentive enough, that they may be able to conquer your virtue,” Granger said. “You must be a challenge, but not impossible.” “That is an interesting observation,” she said, and squeezed his arm. “I think I will follow your advice, even though it will enrage my mother even more.” “Then that seems like a very good reason to take just that course of action,” Granger joked back, making them both laugh. A number of hours later, Granger found himself in the carriage with Pavel and Daventry, heading back to Stroganov Palace. All of them had consumed a great deal of alcohol and were a bit rowdy as a result. “It was noted that you vanished for a goodly amount of time in the company of Countess von Lieven,” Daventry said in his suggestive tone. “Indeed I was,” Granger said. “The countess gave me some wonderful insights on some of the Tsar’s Titians.” “Titians?” Pavel asked with a snicker, making Daventry laugh at his sophomoric humor. “They are most lovely,” Daventry added. “They are,” Granger agreed. “I found them to be bursting forth with a beauty and an energy that was arousing.” They all laughed uproariously at that and continued to make jokes as if they were still at school for the rest of the ride home. The carriage pulled through the open gates and up to the portico. Granger got out of the carriage first and glanced around, enjoying the fact that the weather was no longer frigid. It had improved to the point where now it was merely cold. Granger spotted movement and turned toward it in time to see a human shape darting toward him. He instinctively grabbed for his sword, only to remember at touch it was the useless gilt thing. He need not have worried, as the shape was intercepted by two burly footmen. “What is going on?” Pavel asked, then repeated his question in Russian. The footmen stopped dragging the shape away and one replied. “What did he say?” Granger asked. “That man, or boy, cannot speak, so they do not know what he was doing,” Pavel spat. “Bring him here,” Granger said, a directive to be conveyed by Pavel to the footmen, who obliged him. They brought the shape over into the light and revealed him to be a man, or perhaps a boy he was so slight. Granger noticed his darker hair and coloring, and eyes that Granger had only seen on Chinese people before, but this man looked different than them. He was soaking wet and shivering as a result. That he was that wet was surprising, since there had been no rain. All of that was drowned out by his eyes, which conveyed not malice, but an intensity so strong Granger did not recall seeing anything like that before. “Do you understand French?” Granger asked. He shook his head. “English?” Granger asked, with little hope that he would. The young man surprised him by nodding and made a noise. Suddenly he pointed his finger at his own chest, then pointed his finger at Granger’s stomach, as if to indicate he had come here to see him. Granger looked back into his eyes and could feel the man’s desperation, and knew this was much more important than him just asking for a few coins to live on. “Let’s have him thrown out,” Pavel said with a growl. “No,” Granger said. “He has come here to see me, and I want to know why. Can we dry him off and warm him up?” “We can,” Pavel said with resignation. He snapped orders to the footmen, who led him off toward the kitchen. He was surprised when Granger followed him. Daventry grabbed his arm softly to stop him. “George, what are you doing?” “My instincts tell me that he has information to convey to me, and that it is important,” Granger said, then continued following him. “How do you know that?” Daventry asked, even as he walked along with Granger. Pavel joined them more out of curiosity than anything, so they continued their conversation in French to include him. “Perhaps it was his expression, or perhaps it is the fact that he was here, and soaking wet,” Granger said. “Can you explain how he got to be that way?” “I can think of a number of reasons,” Daventry said. “And all of them are probably suspicious, are they not?” Granger challenged. “And why can he not speak?” “There are a number of reasons for that as well,” he said, but more skeptically, as he started to understand Granger’s point of view. “And why is he here, evidently unarmed?” Granger asked. “If he were planning malice, he is remarkably bad at it.” Daventry thought about that. “It will certainly do us no harm to be charitable Christians and help dry him off, while getting the answers to your questions.” Pavel’s curiosity was also aroused, enough that he gave directions to have the young man cared for. He mostly shivered in front of the hot fire in the kitchen while Pavel spoke to him extensively in Russian and got mostly nods in answer to his questions. “He will need to be cleaned up, and then they will find him some clothing and bring him up to us,” Pavel said. Granger walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder gently. “They are going to warm you up, give you some dry clothes, then bring you to see me.” He got agitated, but Granger squeezed his shoulder to calm him. “I will hear you out.” That was an odd statement, since the man could not talk, but it seemed to suffice. The three of them strode through the bowels of the palace where the servants worked, a place Granger and Daventry had not yet seen. Those servants who were around were horrified to see them, making Granger think that Pavel spent little time here as well. They made their way to a sitting room and relaxed into comfortable chairs, as Pavel poured them some port. “I have not seen anyone quite like him before,” Daventry observed. “I had initially thought he was Chinese, but he is not,” Granger said. “You are correct,” Pavel said. “He is from one of the Khanates, and is a Mongol.” “Hard to see in him a descendant of the famed Genghis,” Daventry noted. “I would wait until we understand his story before we make that assumption,” Granger said, remembering those eyes. “I will give your Mongol warrior the benefit of the doubt,” Daventry allowed. They bantered about the evening, and shared court gossip for almost an hour before the young Mongol appeared before them. Now that he was not freezing, he seemed more relaxed, and not uncomfortable in these opulent surroundings, which surprised Granger. “Where did you come from?” Granger asked. He made writing motions, so Pavel gave him a piece of paper and a pencil. “Do you write?” He shook his head. “What good is paper and a pencil going to be, then?” Daventry asked, but shut up under Granger’s withering look. He drew a picture of a house with an ‘x’ through it, then a picture of bars. “Think of it as charades,” Granger said, to reengage them. “These bars, are they a prison or a jail?” He nodded emphatically. “You escaped from prison?” Daventry asked. He nodded again. “Which prison?” He gestured again at the house that was crossed out. “Do you have any ideas what this might be?” Granger asked Pavel. “A house that is no more,” Pavel said, then stiffened and asked the Mongol questions in Russian. He nodded enthusiastically, while Granger and Daventry looked on confused. “This is the Secret House,” Pavel said to them in French. “Secret House?” Daventry asked. “It is a prison that is part of the Peter and Paul Fortress, so it is a prison within a fortress. No one can escape from there,” he said. “Evidently this man can,” Daventry noted. “Perhaps I was hasty to so readily dismiss your Mongol warrior.” “Perhaps,” Granger said. “What is this Secret House used for?” “It is where the Tsar puts dangerous political prisoners,” Pavel said. “Are you a dangerous political prisoner?” Granger asked the man in English. He shook his head and stood up, then took off his shirt. He began to turn around, and they all expected to see the marks from intensive flogging, but instead there were two images seemingly carved into his skin. “What are they?” Daventry asked, even as they studied his back. “This one appears to be a bell,” Granger said, running his fingers over the rough edges of the scar. The Mongol nodded. “I would say this one is a bird,” Daventry suggested. The Mongol shook his head. “It certainly appears to be some sort of bird,” Pavel noted. The Mongol shook his head again. It had large wings, and a belligerent looking beak, so they were unclear as to how it could not be a bird. Granger pondered it, then realized that this was no mere bird. “I think it is an illustrious bird,” Granger said. The Mongol nodded. “An eagle, perhaps?” The Mongol nodded again emphatically, to show that they had finally interpreted the skin carvings correctly. “So we have an eagle and a bell.” “What does that mean?” Daventry asked. “Could these be symbols?” Granger asked out loud. The Mongol nodded furiously. “Perhaps from a coat of arms?” He nodded again. “Who has a bell and an eagle in their arms?” Daventry asked. Granger pondered it, and then the mystery suddenly became clear in his mind. “The eagle is a symbol of the Earl of Leicester, and the bell is a symbol for Lord Chartley.” The Mongol turned around and embraced Granger, so happy that he got it.
  4. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 16

    Merci! I’m sorry I don’t have a new chapter to post to celebrate.
  5. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 16

    February 3, 2004 Sydney, Australia Will We were lying on our sides, with Connie spooned up behind me. The lights from the city wafted through the window, not enough to disturb me, but just enough that I could see his beautiful skin contrasted with mine. I felt so safe and so loved with his strong arms enveloping me, and the heat of his body enhanced that feeling of security. “Mmm,” he purred, his lips against my neck, the vibration of his voice pulsing through my brain. I felt his dick start to harden, pressing against my ass. I giggled, then reached down and guided him back into me, and we made love again. “What are your plans for today?” I asked after I’d recovered from one spectacular fuck. “Got workouts at 9,” he said sadly. “Dude, that’s in five hours,” I replied. We’d spent our time here in bed, bonding physically as if that would make being separated easier. “You need to get some sleep.” “I can sleep when you’re gone,” he said. “When are you done today?” “Should be around 2:00, I’d guess,” he said. “What are you doing?” “I’ll probably hang out with Stef and Grand,” I said. “Want to meet me here when you’re done?” “I can do that,” he said, smiling. “We can ditch them if you want,” I said, not wanting him to feel he had to hang out with my relatives. “No,” he said, and shook his head emphatically. “I like them. They make me feel like I’m part of the family.” “You should tell them that,” I said. “For Grand, that would be one of the highest compliments you could give him.” “Why’s that?” “Because he prides himself on having good manners, and a big part of that is making sure the people you’re with feel welcome,” I said. He shook his head. “Your world is so different than mine.” “How so?” I asked curiously, since he never talked about his family. “It just is,” he said, trying to avoid the topic. I leaned up on my arm, while he was lying on his back, so I could look at him while we talked. “Every time the topic of your family comes up, you change the subject. What’s the deal?” He sighed, probably hoping that would shut me down, but I locked my eyes on his and he got that it wasn’t going to work. He sighed again anyway. “I’m not very close to them.” “None of them?” “No,” he said. “They didn’t handle me being a poofter very well.” “Oh,” I said, getting it now. “I told two of my brothers first and ended up getting into a fight with one of them,” he said. “Kicked his ass, which was pretty funny since he was calling me a fag and making it seem like I was a big pussy.” “I’m surprised,” I said. “I mean, in the states, usually younger people are much cooler about that. It’s the older people who seem to have issues.” “It’s a cultural thing,” he said. “It’s not cool to be gay in the Aboriginal community.” I nodded. “I know some black dudes who are gay, and it can be like that for them.” I thought about that some more. “Actually, I guess there’s parts of any culture in the US where they’re homophobic.” “You’re right,” he said. “You’re basically saying my family are just assholes.” “That’s not what I meant!” I objected, then he laughed, because he’d been teasing me. I smacked him playfully. “So after I fought with my brother, my parents found out. My mother cried, and my father told me that if I ever told anyone about it, he would disown me,” he said. “That’s pretty raw,” I said. “It is,” he agreed. “So if I’m outed, I probably lose my career and I end up as an orphan.” “That’s not true,” I said. “The fuck it’s not,” he said bitterly. “It’s not, because you can always be part of my family,” I said, and gave him a loving kiss. “Yeah, well that works as long as we’re together,” he said. “No, that’s not how it works,” I objected. “Dude, no matter what happens, we need to stay friends.” “Isn’t that a bit odd?” he asked, suddenly sounding strangely British. “Not really,” I said, my mind flashing to thoughts of Tony. Thinking of him was a little strange, but not nearly as freaky as it used to be. “I’ve been with guys and now we’re just friends, and they’re still part of our extended family.” “You say that, but it’s still weird,” he said. “Look, if things get rough, you call me, and I’ll book you a flight to the US,” I said. “You’ve always got a place to go.” “Not sure I want to leave Oz,” he said. “It’s my home.” “I can see that,” I said. “You may feel different if your worst-case scenario comes true.” “Nah,” he said. “There’s assholes here, but there’s mostly good people. Can’t see myself leaving.” “Not even for a really hot American?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. He shook his head and grinned. “That may do the trick.” “Regardless, whether you’re here or you come to the US, I got your back,” I said, and made him look at me so he would know I was sincere. “Seriously.” He didn’t say anything for a while, then a tear rolled out of his eye. “I’m going to be fine, but you don’t know how much that means to me. It’s tough to be out here and be all alone.” “Alone?” “Yeah,” he said. “If I’m outed, I lose my team, and those are the best friends I have in Sydney. I can’t go home, not that I’d want to anyway, because they’d cut me off. So it’s like I’m constantly walking on a tightrope, and if I fall, no one catches me.” “Until now,” I said. He grabbed me and gave me a big hug, and it felt like he was a drowning man grabbing onto a life preserver. At least it felt that way until our bodies reacted, and we ended up having sex again. After that, we drifted off to sleep, our bodies intertwined, and our lives seemingly intertwined as well. February 4, 2004 Sydney, Australia Will “I’ll keep this with me,” I said to the bellman, referring to my backpack. He looked at me a bit oddly, then nodded. “I’ll take these down to the car then,” he said. “Thanks.” I gave him some cash for a tip, then watched him wheel my suitcases out of the room on his cart. I stood in my room with my backpack in my hand, dreading the next few minutes: all that remained was to say goodbye to Connie, who was in the shower. I set the backpack down by the door and walked over to the window, gazing out at this beautiful harbor and city. Yesterday had been a huge emotional high. I’d gone out touring around with Grand and Stef, then Connie had met us for happy hour. We’d had dinner with them, then spent the evening alone. We’d had more sex than I could even remember, but more than that, we’d talked. Up until that point, our conversations were pretty shallow, just hanging out and enjoying each other casually. The last night, we’d gone deep. I’d told him about my life, about my fights with my father, and even 9-11. It always took real strength for me to do that. He’d talked more about growing up, and talked about his dreams. He was determined to help the LGBT community in Australia once he came out. I was surprised at how convicted he was about that. With Zach, he lived in the fantasy world where he’d be able to be in the closet forever, and never have to confront his gay side. Connie knew that it was inevitable, and he was basically just biding his time and focusing on his career until the time was right. I was distracted by the sound of the door to the bedroom as Connie opened it and came out. I was fully dressed, while he was just wearing boxers. God he was sexy. His dark skin seemed strained to the breaking point just to contain his bulging muscles. “He gone?” he asked unnecessarily. I nodded. “Took all my stuff except my backpack,” I said lamely, as I pointed to it by the door. “Guess this is goodbye,” he said. I felt the tears pooling in my eyes as I walked over to him and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him tightly. He returned my hug just was warmly, and we stood there embracing for a long time. He could feel the anguish in my body, which prompted him to speak, only he did it in an incredibly erotic way, by murmuring in my ear. “You OK?” “It’s a lot harder this time,” I mumbled, even as I fought my emotions so I didn’t break down sobbing. “Why?” he asked, which was a good thing, because his question made me think, and that made me less of a basket case. “Because you really opened up to me last night, and I know you so much better now,” I said. “I really like the person that you are.” He separated us and gave me a meaningful kiss, then smiled at me. “You didn’t like the person I was before?” he challenged. He was giving me shit now. “Asshole,” I said, smiling and shaking my head at him. “I will never forget you,” he pledged. “Never.” “You will always be a part of my life,” I vowed in return. I was starting to get all fucked up again, and prolonging this was going to do neither one of us any good. “I have to go.” He hugged me again, and I heard his silky voice say “Goodbye”, but his tone told me he was probably crying as hard as I was now. I separated us this time. “It’s not goodbye, it’s so long,” I said. He leaned in and gave me a kiss, then I turned away, grabbed my backpack, and all but fled from the room. I stopped outside and clenched my eyes shut, forcing the tears out of them. I had just started to wipe the tears away with my arms when someone handed me a handkerchief. “It’s going to be sad to see you leave,” I heard a voice say. When I opened my eyes, I saw it was the security guard who had fucked me. “Thanks,” I said, and wiped my eyes with his handkerchief. “Maybe I’ll be back.” “I’ll look forward to that,” he said with a smile. “Will you tell them I already went down?” I asked, referring to Stef and Grand. “They already left,” he said. I handed him back his handkerchief, but he stopped me. “Keep it.” “I’m hoping I won’t need it anymore, but thanks,” I said, and kept it anyway. I went over to the elevator and while I was waiting for it to arrive, I got my headphones out and put them on, that way I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I got in and largely zoned out, focusing on trying not to look like I’d been crying my eyes out a few minutes ago, even as the elevator seemed to stop at every fucking floor in the hotel. I got to the lobby and headed straight for the door, where I saw Tom looking around for me anxiously. I pulled off my headphones to be polite. “Got all your stuff loaded, just waiting for you,” he said. “Thanks,” I said, and breezed past him into the limo where Stef and Grand were waiting for me. I sat down across from Stef while Tom followed me into the car and sat across from Grand. The driver shut the door behind Tom, and we were off, headed to the airport. “Good morning,” Grand said, trying to inject some normalcy into the conversation. It was so awesome the way he did that, because he was so tuned into me, he knew that was just the kind of thing I needed. Stef wasn’t quite so good at reading me. “Are you alright?” he asked in a somewhat dramatic way, even as he put his hand on my leg. “I just need to get to the plane,” I said. He nodded but looked worried, so I avoided all of them by staring out the window and getting my last glimpses of Sydney. I dodged further conversation until we got to the plane. As soon as the car pulled up, Tom opened the door and hopped out, leaving it open for the rest of us to follow. The captain was there to greet us, as was the flight attendant, a handsome young man named Craig. “Welcome aboard,” the captain said, gesturing toward the stairs. “Thank you,” Stef said cheerfully, and led us up the steps. Grand followed him, while I brought up the tail end. Tom was busy making sure all our stuff got loaded into the cargo hold. We got to the door of the plane and I stopped and turned, gazing at the airport and the city beyond it. I turned back to follow them in and found two co-pilots instead of the one I’d expected. The first co-pilot was the same guy who was always on the plane. His name was Steve, he was in his early 40s, and was not attractive. This other dude had dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and looked to be in his mid-30s. This guy was smoking hot and looked like a younger Crocodile Dundee. “I don’t think I’ve met you,” I said, holding out my hand. “I’m Will.” “I’m Aldon,” he said. His deep voice and strong Australian accent were incredibly sexy. He shook my hand and I let my fingers linger a bit on his, getting a raised eyebrow and a smile from him. “I’m on board so you have enough pilots to fly without an overnight.” “I’m glad you’re with us,” I said, then went back to the flying room where Grand and Stef were relaxing. My arrival seemed to prompt them to fasten their seatbelts, so I conformed. “If you are so inclined, I would be willing to come back here,” Grand said to me. “That wouldn’t be a tough sell,” I said with a smile. “This was a whirlwind trip, but enough to pique my interest,” Grand said. “And perhaps Connie will be done with his season when you come back,” Stef offered. “Maybe,” I said, but I remembered Scott Slater’s words on vacation relationships: Once the wheels of the plane lifted off, it was over. If I came back, I’d have to remember that things could still be good between us, but they’d be different. “Everything is on schedule, Stef,” Tom said, as he came in and sat with us. He reached over and patted my back twice: such a simple, masculine gesture that helped me start to pull myself together. I heard the engines accelerate, moving the plane forward, the beginning of our long flight home. “We have a brief stop in Hawaii,” Stef informed me. “Maui?” I asked, hopefully. “Maui,” Stef answered. “How brief?” I asked. If it was a couple of hours, I might actually be able to surf for a bit. I ruminated on that, then decided it would be too big of a hassle. “Let us see when we get there,” Stef said, probably just to humor me. “As soon as we’re in the air, I’m crashing,” I said, then covered up my mouth to hide my yawn. “You did not sleep much?” Stef asked, raising an eyebrow. “I did not,” I said. “I was busy.” “No doubt,” Tom said, chuckling. I sat there and chatted with them until we were on our way, then excused myself and escaped to the bedroom, the one that was almost as nice as Stef’s. I closed the door behind me and sighed, my sadness at leaving Connie behind partially offset by finally being here in my own space with no one to bug me. I got the stuff I’d need for the flight organized, then took off my clothes and climbed into the bed. There were a bunch of pillows for decoration, but I was too lazy to do anything but push them away from me. I was almost asleep when I heard soft moaning from the other side of the wall, which was Stef’s room. I giggled to myself at that, then audibly chuckled when the moans turned to words. I pulled out my phone and put it on record just in time to pick up Tom’s voice, more of a growl. “Take that big cock, Stef!” he ordered. “Oh yes!” Stef responded. “Yes!” I stopped the recording, laughed a bit, then let the exhaustion of the past few days overtake me. I woke up when light hit my eyes, but I figured it must be the sun shining through the windows. I was too mazy to remember that it was daylight when I went to bed and there was nothing shining through the windows then. I began to drift back to sleep when the bed shifted as someone climbed in, then the covers moved as he adjusted them to cover himself up. I stayed completely still, even as I freaked out a little bit. It wasn’t every day that strange men climbed into bed with me. I thought about my recent sluttiness and almost giggled, thinking that such a thing shouldn’t really surprise me. I lay there with my back to this person and tried to guess who it was. It wouldn’t be Stef or Grand, and it wouldn’t be Tom, because he was sleeping with them. That meant it was either Craig or one of the pilots. I rolled over slowly and looked over to try to figure out who was in the bed, but the decorative pillows interfered with my view. When whoever this was walked in, the pillows must have blocked his view so he couldn’t see me. I removed the first one slowly and saw that the other person in the bed was facing away from me, so I slowly removed and tossed the other pillows on the floor. The other person rolled over and lay flat on his back, with an arm draped over his eyes. I could tell now that it was Aldon, our spare Australian pilot. I reached out and touched his chest gently, feeling his furry pecs, then let my fingers trace lower to his belly button, then lower still until I hit the thicker foliage of his pubes. He moaned and thrust his hips forward, as if trying to move my hand lower. I obliged and slid my hand down until it ran into something very hard. “Ah yes,” he moaned. I gently ran my fingers up his shaft, then used my thumb and forefinger to gently squeeze the head of his cock. He had a short but thick cock. Evidently my movements were too slow, so he began to undulate his hips, thrusting his cock back and forth into my waiting hand. His speed increased, as did his breathing, and I was pretty sure he was close, when all of a sudden he tensed up, and reached over to turn on the light, making me feel like I was hit with a spotlight. I positioned my mouth over his dick, even as I gently stroked it. He locked his eyes on mine for a few seconds, then grabbed the back of my head and pushed me down toward his crock, jamming his short cock into my throat. After that, it was all about him, but the cool part was he totally took over, grabbing my hair and holding my head in place as he fucked my face. His cock was short enough that it didn’t choke me, and since he was doing all the work, that left my hand free to work on my own orgasm. He varied his pace, making this last, until he’d had enough. I actually started coming right after he began to shoot. He didn’t warn me, he just flooded me, forcing me to swallow as fast as I could. He made me drink every last drop, then he pulled my head off his dick. I took the sheet and wiped my cum off his leg where I’d shot, then collapsed onto my back, smiling. I could sense that he wasn’t as happy as I was. “What the fuck?!” he demanded. “What were you doing in my bed?” I rolled my eyes at him, a typical straight dude who has to act all outraged afterward or it might mean he’s gay. “Actually,” I said calmly, “you’re in my bed. I was sound asleep when you climbed in here with me.” “So you decided to wank me off?” he demanded. “Dude, you hopped in bed with me, so I just grabbed a golden opportunity,” I said. “You could have stopped me.” “Well not after you got me all started up,” he objected. “What made you decide to sleep in here in the first place?” I asked. “Fucking douchebags,” he grumbled. “Those guys told me to crash in this room. Must have thought it was fucking hilarious.” So the pilots had pranked him, which was an asshole thing to do. “Assholes,” I said, just to know I shared his annoyance. He sat up and made to get dressed, but I put my hand on his back. “I’m getting dressed and sleeping out there, somewhere,” he spat at me. “No you’re not,” I said forcefully, finally pissing me off a bit. “You’re going to stay right here. I’ve got a plan.” “Right, your plan is probably to let me fall asleep and then fuck me with your monster dick,” he said. “So you were looking at my cock?” I taunted. “Fucking nightmare,” he grumbled. “You know, just fuck you,” I said, letting him see how annoyed I was. “You climbed into my bed, I sucked your dick, you liked it, I liked it, and now you’re being a complete asshole. I was going to try and help you out, but you can kiss my ass.” I rolled over on my side, facing away from him, then turned back to utter one last sentence. “Turn off the fucking light.” He turned off the light, which surprised me because he’d have to leave it on to get dressed. I lay there, wondering what he was going to do, worried that he’d come up behind me and strangle me or something. Instead, I heard soft snoring and shook my head. Normally I would have been too annoyed to sleep, but that encounter wore me out. Having sex then getting mad had offset the sadness of leaving Connie, so I drifted off to sleep. I woke up with a warm body spooned up behind me and an arm wrapped around my chest. It was so comforting that I forgot I was annoyed with him I relaxed back in him and dozed in and out of sleep for what must have been twenty minutes, when a jarring alarm went off, scaring the crap out of me. Aldon shoved me away as he turned around to turn it off, and that damn near knocked me off the bed. He turned off the alarm, then lay flat on his back. “Sorry mate,” he said cheerfully, then got more serious. “Sorry about before too.” “What’s with that?” I asked, even though I already knew the answers. “I’m not sure,” he said, confused. I moved over so I was lying on my side next to him, with a leg draped over his. “I think it’s because you’ve never done anything with a dude before, and that freaked you out. And since that was probably the best blow job you’ve ever gotten, you’re also beating yourself up for enjoying it.” “How the fuck did you know that?” he demanded. I laughed. “I’m pretty good at figuring out straight guys,” I said. “If you knew I was straight, why’d you grab my dick?” he asked, but in a way that wasn’t accusatory, it was one of curiosity. “You were hot, you were in my bed, and I thought you would be fun. You were,” I said. “Plus I was kind of with this dude in Sydney, and I was sad I left him, so that cleared my head.” “So you thought I was fun?” he asked with a really cute grin. “Now you want me to do it again,” I accused. “Doesn’t take a fucking rocket scientist to figure that out,” he said, making me laugh. As soon as I was over that, I blew him again, and it was even more fun. I was sitting on the bed, watching him get ready again. “Which one of those dudes set you up for this?” I asked. “Don’t worry about it,” he said dismissively. “Dude, this is as much about me as it is about you,” I said, then my eyes narrowed. “It was Keith.” Keith was the co-pilot. “How’d you know that?” he demanded, then realized he’d inadvertently given himself away. “Because every dude I’ve known named Keith is a total douche,” I said, making him chuckle. I remembered this dude I knew in Malibu named Keith Craddock, who was like the ultimate middle school asshole. He hung around with Tracy Buck’s little brother Travis, which pivoted my mind back to Zack, and that was a path I didn’t want to go down in my post-Sydney mourning state. “Now that you mention it, that’s been my experience too.” “So here’s the plan,” I said. “You’re going to go back to the cockpit and tell them that you slept great, and that the bedroom is comfortable. They’ll act surprised but tell them you ran into me and I told you I was crashing in the small bedroom. That’s the one where the pilots or staff sleep in if we don’t have a full flight.” “Then what?” he asked. “The rest is up to me,” I said cryptically. “Now help me change these sheets.” “Alright,” he said. We stripped off the nasty sheets that I’d blown a couple of loads all over, then remade the bed with the spare set that was in one of the drawers. I walked up front to the galley with him, where there was a laundry bin, then went back to the bedroom. I decided that Keith would probably use the bathroom before he went to bed, so I opted to hide in the closet. That made me think of Connie and Zack, appropriately enough. It was a big, walk-in closet, and I took that opportunity to go through my clothes to decide what I wanted to drag along to New York. When I heard the bedroom door open, I turned off the closet light, grabbed my headphones, and sat on the floor. It took Keith about 15 minutes to go to the bathroom and get in the bed. He was about 20 pounds overweight and tended to clomp around, so it was easy to follow his movements with my ears. I looked at my watch and decided to give him 10-15 minutes to get comfortable. I was pretty surprised when instead of hearing snoring, I heard light moaning. I cracked open the closet door and peeked out and had to bite my lip to avoid laughing my ass off. He had his laptop out and was clearly sexting someone, because he was slowly stroking his cock in between typing. He had a pretty small dick; I wondered if that was part of the reason he was an asshole. I stood up, put my headphones on, and walked out of the closet, pausing to flick on the light. “What the fuck are you doing?” I yelled, at damn near the top of my lungs. “What the fuck are you doing in my room?” “Shit!” he said, and grabbed the covers to pull them up, knocking his laptop onto the floor. “Dude, you are in my room, in my bed, beating off!” I said loudly. “I’m sorry, I thought it was OK to be in here,” he stammered, even as he pulled his boxers up while he was still under the covers. There was a knock on the door, followed by it opening up with Tom, Stef, and Grand walking in. “I was getting my stuff together for New York, I walked out of the closet, and found this dude beating off in my bed.” “I was just talking to a friend,” he mumbled, mortified. “I am wondering what possessed you to do that in the first place,” Grand said in his steely, annoyed tone that was hella scary. “I…I…” Keith stammered. “Not much fun when it happens to you, is it?” I asked. “I do not understand,” Stef said. “Keith told Aldon, our guest pilot, that he should sleep in my room, and that it was alright,” I said. “Isn’t that right?” That was directed to Keith. He was trying to figure out a way to get around this. “I assume that’s the case, because otherwise you’re just perving on me.” “It was just a little practical joke,” he said, as if it were no big deal. He got out of bed and started hurriedly throwing his clothes on. “This isn’t a fucking fraternity, asshole,” I spat. “There’s no hazing on this plane.” “Like I said, it was just a harmless joke,” he said. “Well, when it happened to you, it wasn’t so fucking funny, now was it?” I demanded. “This plane is worth millions of dollars, and the people on board are priceless to me. This is not the environment to play dumb ass games.” “You’re right,” he said. “I’m very sorry.” He’d rightly decided that the only way to save his ass was an abject apology. I walked up to him so we were about a foot apart, and poked him in the chest. “Don’t you ever fuck with me again!” “I won’t,” he said, looking down. “I’m really sorry. I’ll apologize to Aldon too.” “Fine,” I said, and stood aside so he could flee from my room. Stef and Grand looked at me, both with mild expressions of amusement. “You have interrupted my beauty sleep. I am going back to bed,” Stef said. He made to leave, but Grand hung back, so he did as well. “I am wondering what happened with the other pilot who was mistakenly persuaded to enter your bedroom?” Grand asked. “My understanding is that he slept quite well,” I said to him. Stef giggled, while Grand shook his head, and with that they left me to go back to bed. All of the drama had conveniently enough distracted me from leaving Connie, and I slept soundly.
  6. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 51

    There you go.
  7. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 3

    Will is the person I strive to be. I’m more like Brad, unfortunately
  8. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 51

    Thank you all for your comments. You make me smile, and motivate me.
  9. April 2, 1801 The Winter Palace St. Petersburg, Russia “You gentlemen may take that copy of The Times and peruse it,” Alexander declared. “Later this evening, Lord Daventry can meet with Count Panin to provide his evaluation, and Lord Granger can meet with me. You can return the paper to Count Panin then.” Panin did not look happy about that at all, probably because he was hoping that by watching them read the paper and the news, he’d be able to decipher some other piece of information from their reactions. It would have been a wasted effort since both Granger and Daventry were both quite able to keep an unflappable demeanor in situations such as this. “Thank you, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said, as he took the newspaper. He and Daventry bowed, then exited the Tsar’s chamber. They were able to bribe a footman to show them into a room that was empty but for a table, three chairs, and a light. Another bribe prompted him to light an extra candle. “Addington?” Granger asked again, completely confused. “A doctor’s son as prime minister?” Granger’s world was very hierarchical, where people had a place and they either remained there or made incremental steps to a higher level. Moving up the social ladder had taken his family generations to accomplish, so it was unreasonable to think someone else could just breeze in and assume one of the highest offices in the land without being to the manor born. “He is the Speaker of the Commons and he is a close friend of Pitt’s,” Daventry said ruefully. They began to pour over the paper, which delineated the ministerial changes. “This is not what I expected.” “What did you think was going to happen?” Granger asked. “I would have expected the opposition to take over,” Daventry said. “Fox and his boys.” Granger cringed at the thought of Fox as prime minister, and how unpleasant he’d be as a result. “That seems unlikely,” Granger noted thoughtfully. “The Foxites don’t control that many seats.” “Yes, and that’s where I was thinking of what the case has historically been, instead of what would likely happen right now,” Daventry said, frustrated with his inability to predict the future. “Spencer is out,” Granger noted sadly. “As are the other Portland Whigs,” Daventry said. “Fitzwilliam and Grenville are out of the government as well.” “That is disappointing, since I tended to find myself most comfortable with them,” Granger noted. “Why are they out?” “Pitt supposedly resigned over Catholic Emancipation, and those gentlemen were supporters of that measure,” Daventry noted. “They can hardly stay in the government when Pitt made it a measure of principle.” “They would have no choice,” Granger mused, recognizing the moral dilemma they faced. “Not if they wanted to be able to keep their reputations intact,” Daventry agreed. “But why Addington?” Granger asked. “I met him on one occasion, and he was a likeable enough fellow, but I don’t see him as the leader of the country.” He was a bit too friendly and chummy in Granger’s eyes, without much substance. “You must think about this from Pitt’s perspective,” Daventry said. “Addington is his friend and confidant, so Pitt will still have enormous influence over the government. Addington has been a good speaker and has friends in all the major factions. He is popular and unassuming, the perfect person to be the front man for Pitt. And perhaps most important of all, the King likes him.” “You are suggesting he is a mere puppet,” Granger summated. “That makes sense now.” “When I look at this list of ministers, it is obvious that the King selected many of them,” Daventry said. Granger studied the list and with Daventry’s perspective, he could see that the King had greatly influenced the choices. “Addington was handed a cabinet assembled by the King and Pitt,” Granger noted wryly. “The prior cabinet was almost at war with each other, so one wonders how this one, which will have no real loyalty to Addington, will function,” Daventry said. “Why will they not be loyal?” Granger asked. “Because they owe their positions not to Addington, but to the King or Pitt,” Daventry explained. “They will not feel the need to defer to Addington like they had deferred to Pitt.” Granger shook his head in frustration at the situation, where a man unsuited to be the Prime Minister had been shuffled into the spot and was surrounded by people whose loyalties lay elsewhere: he would indeed be a puppet. He focused on other parts of the paper. “The Times notes that many of the people outside of the cabinet have resigned,” Granger said, pointing at that text. Those members would be the second-tier members of the government, holding positions such as the Treasurer of the Navy. “Castlereagh, Minto, and Cornwallis are out.” “As is Canning,” Daventry read. “That is a shame since he is brilliant.” Granger frowned at that since he did not much care for Canning. “I find him to be quite full of himself, and unaware of his station,” Granger said huffily, revealing the aristocratic snobbery that lived beneath his beautiful blond hair. “Because his mother was an actress, and his father was a bankrupt merchant?” Daventry asked with a raised eyebrow, all but calling Granger out on that. “One would have thought he would have stayed in a ministry that was run by a doctor’s son.” “One would think,” Granger said. “With Spencer gone, let us see who they picked to be your new boss,” Daventry said playfully. Granger’s eyes settled on the name and he gasped with shock, something he rarely did. “Lord St. Vincent?” Granger cringed at the thought of what that strict and traditional sailor would do to the navy. Whatever it was, he would approach it with the single-mindedness and drive that he always did, and he would put up with no obstacles. “You served with him before,” Daventry said. “You have a good relationship with him, don’t you?” “I have served with him quite recently. In fact, I was with him in the Channel Fleet until you caused me to be recalled for this mission,” Granger said. “And aren’t you glad I did?” Daventry asked playfully. “Aren’t you having fun?” “The time of my life,” Granger said sardonically, even though he was enjoying his time in Russia now that Paul was dead. He found the new Tsar quite alluring. He didn’t want to think too much about the Tsar lest he have a visible physical reaction, so he changed the subject back to St. Vincent. “I would say that I have a fairly good relationship with St. Vincent, inasmuch as a subordinate can have one with him.” “Then why do you seem so apprehensive about his appointment?” Daventry asked. “Because he is very much a traditionalist, and that means that the Navy will be much less innovative with him in charge,” Granger said. Daventry looked confused and asked Granger with his eyes to explain. “Spencer, for example, encouraged efforts to improve ship design by authorizing ships to be built to many different plans. St. Vincent is much less adventuresome.” “How would that manifest itself?” Daventry asked. “Valiant exists because of Spencer’s willingness to experiment. She is a razee and cutting her down by a deck was an unorthodox method to get use out of a formerly obsolete ship,” Granger said. “I cannot see St. Vincent making the same decision.” “I suppose not,” Daventry said. “Spencer was seemingly on a quest to find the best ship designs, and thus improve the fleet. For example, the latest school of thought about frigates is that they should be longer, so they are faster and more weatherly,” Granger noted. “Spencer was willing to study and replicate captured ships, and to allow our own naval architects relatively free rein to try and build the best frigate. The premise is that once you find the best one, you can replicate it.” “But you must first experiment to find that one,” Daventry summarized. “Yes,” Granger said. “Spencer saw that as the logical progression, while I am positive St. Vincent will not. Instead, he will decide that the superiority of the Royal Navy is dependent on its officers and men, and that fancy and expensive designs are a waste of money. He will most likely pick an old design and build copies of the same ship, assuming that if it worked fine when he was a young captain, so it should still be fine.” “Still, you are on the positive side of this tyrannical man stuck in the past,” Daventry noted. “His appointment may not be best for the fleet, but it should certainly help your career,” Daventry said. While Granger may have snobbery as a character flaw, Daventry’s big personal flaw was self-interest. Granger gave him a slight smile to subtly point that out to his fellow peer. Daventry frowned at Granger’s perceptiveness. “We shall see,” Granger said. “In any event, I pity the dockyards.” “Dockyards?” “Dockyards,” Granger confirmed. “St. Vincent is one who, once he develops a grievance against something or someone, retains that and nurtures it, and will take his revenge when the opportunity arises. He has consistently railed against the inefficiency of the dockyards, so now he will make some changes.” “Do you think the dockyards are well-run?” Daventry asked. “I do not,” Granger said. “They are in great need of reform, but where perhaps a dirk would be adequate to trim the inefficiencies away, St. Vincent will use a broadsword.” “He will certainly alienate some administrators,” Daventry observed. “I think he will alienate almost everyone,” Granger said, making them both chuckle. When they had finished that comical interlude, they refocused on the paper. “Hawkesbury is to be Foreign Secretary,” Daventry noted, zeroing in on that ministry. “His father, Lord Liverpool, is to be President of the Board of Trade.” “God help Liverpool,” Granger said. In Granger’s mind, it was hard to imagine a worse position than President of the Board of Trade. Liverpool would be responsible for attending to the needs of the merchant community. “It would not be my choice if I were ushered into the cabinet, but it probably has considerable perks,” Daventry noted. Granger frowned at that since perks was probably synonymous for bribes. “What position would you want?” Granger asked. “I think the most interesting would be that of Foreign Secretary,” Daventry answered sincerely. “You have certainly demonstrated your diplomatic skills on this mission,” Granger noted, getting a smile from Daventry. “I doubt anyone in Parliament will ever know about it,” Daventry said. “In any event, Hawkesbury is to fill the role.” “I think Hawkesbury will do a good job,” Granger said. “He is intelligent and cultured.” “He is also inexperienced,” Daventry noted. “My understanding is that he has held a number of junior offices,” Granger observed. “That’s true,” Daventry said, reconsidering. “He is also quite close to Pitt, and his father is a friend of the King’s.” “That would help,” Granger said. “They appointed the Earl of Dartmouth to head up the Board of Control while Hobart has War and the Colonies,” Daventry noted. Granger forced his mind away from the memories of his oil bath with Lord Hobart when he’d been in Bombay. “I would have thought Hobart would have been better off with the Board of Control,” Granger said. Hobart was familiar with Indian affairs, which is what the Board of Control handled. “It seems to me that once someone comes back from India, they’re not welcome to be further involved in Indian affairs,” Daventry observed wryly. “It does seem that no one returns with their reputation fully intact,” Granger said, making them both think about Warren Hastings. “It is a good thing Bertie has no reputation to worry about.” Daventry laughed. “Indeed, that should not be a problem for him.” His finger suddenly pointed at a different item. “You are an uncle again. The Marchioness of Blankford has given birth to a daughter, named Amelia.” “That is good news, especially since it appears they are both healthy,” Granger said, staring at the birth announcement. “Why the name Amelia?” Daventry asked. “Is that a family name?” “It is not,” Granger said. “I would expect they chose it in honor of His Majesty’s favorite daughter.” “That’s quite an astute political maneuver your brother made,” Daventry observed. “I would think that the idea more likely came from his wife, her father, or my father,” Granger noted, as he had never really seen his brother demonstrate real political skill. He shook off thoughts of that and wondered why he was having a hard time experiencing joy over the birth of his niece. He decided it mostly because he worried about Caroline, and how she would react to this news. She would feel inadequate since she could no longer have children, and each child Davina spawned would be like a slap in her face. Granger opted to change the subject. “So what will you tell Panin?” “I will tell him that this administration is largely a continuation of the prior one, but they will probably be more focused on negotiating a peace treaty,” Daventry opined. “What makes you say that?” Granger asked. “Pitt and Grenville were the most opposed to peace with France, so with them out of the way, it may be possible to negotiate something,” Daventry said. “What will you tell the Tsar?” “I will tell him what you said, but I will add that it appears we are drawing from our second tier of talent,” Granger noted. Daventry raised an eyebrow and acted as if he were about to challenge Granger, wondering whether negatively evaluating the new government or revealing that they were not top players was somehow treasonous. Granger said nothing while Daventry considered that, and when Daventry realized there was actually no issue, he nodded in agreement. “That is an apt description,” he said. “I wish we would receive some correspondence from home. I would have a much clearer picture.” “I would suspect that communication will be delayed if there is a naval battle unfolding at the entrance to the Sound,” Granger noted. “It will make passage of vessels more difficult. In addition, there is still ice in much of this part of the world.” “That would definitely make communications slower,” Daventry agreed. April 22, 1801 The Admiralty Building St. Petersburg, Russia Granger had not worn his uniform since Paul was assassinated, primarily to avoid calling attention to the fact that he was an English naval officer, but in this case it was necessary. He had been invited to a meeting with the Russian equivalent of the British Board of Admiralty to discuss the recent battle at Copenhagen. Initial news of the battle had arrived a week or so ago, and since then, more and more details had emerged. He was told in his invitation that these naval officers wanted Granger’s opinions on the matter, but he was under no illusions as to their real purpose. The Russian press had published accounts from the Danish perspective, one that was damning to both Britain and Nelson, and Granger knew that he was actually here to defend his nation and his former commander. Granger had befriended some of the admirals here, while others would still be resentful over his treatment of the navy during his interrogation by Panin and Tsar Paul. Granger had not received correspondence from England since his first letters had gotten here, and he suspected that the Swedes were now interfering with their transit instead of helping deliver them. Despite that, he had received a huge piece of information yesterday in the form of a letter sent by Lord Nelson, attached to a copy of his official report of the Battle of Copenhagen, as it was being styled. Evidently somehow the letter had been included with the courier sent to the Tsar from Denmark, and Panin had not thought to intercept it before the Tsar gave it to Granger. Between what the Russian Press had published and Nelson’s letter, Granger felt he had been able to discern the basics of what had happened. The Admiralty Building itself was part of the naval complex, complete with building slips. Granger noted that there were two 2-decked ships of the line and a 3-decker under construction. He grimaced, thinking they would probably replace the ships he had disabled or destroyed just a few miles from where he was standing. The Admiralty Building was quite large and looked almost medieval. It had a moat around it and a channel in between two П-shaped buildings of the Admiralty. The building itself looked like a functional structure with only one interesting feature: there was a weathervane at the top of a large tower crafted to look like a ship. Granger thought that was fitting, as it emphasized the importance of the wind direction in naval endeavors. His guide led him toward a hall and Granger spotted a long mirror, so he paused in front of it to make sure that his uniform was in order. He had decided to eschew wearing a wig, which Tsar Paul had insisted upon but Tsar Alexander found annoying. In fact, the entire dress code had changed, with standard European fare replacing the Prussian fashions Paul had favored. Granger had been able to all but discard his hideous Russian clothes and revert to wearing the clothes he’d acquired in London or from Cochrane. His guide tried not to appear too impatient that Granger paused but his annoyance was evident. That in turn irritated Granger enough that he stood there longer than was necessary. He finished and they resumed their stroll. He walked into the room as his guide belted out his name and title, while Granger bowed to the assembled group. They had been sitting around a large rectangular table with maps and papers strewn on it, but they’d all risen to show courtesy. “Lord Granger, what an honor you do us by your presence,” Admiral Mordinov said as he strode over and took Granger’s hands warmly. Count Nikolay Mordinov was the Russian equivalent of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and an interesting fellow. Granger had spent a lot of time with him at social functions and found him to be a very liberal thinker and an Anglophile. He abhorred serfdom and was working with Mikhail Speransky to develop reform proposals for the Tsar. “You flatter me with your invitation, sir,” Granger said. “You seem to have recovered from last night, my lord,” Admiral Chichagov said with a knowing grin. Granger had played whist late into the night, and the longer he played the more he drank, so by the time they returned to Stroganov Palace, it was Daventry who had to help Granger. “I hide the ravages well, sir,” Granger said with a rueful smile, although he was fortunate to have avoided a hangover this morning. Pavel Chichagov was another person he socialized with and was also a devoted Anglophile. Granger had met him before in London when he had studied at the Royal Naval Academy. He had ended up marrying Elizabeth Proby, who was the daughter of one of the officials at the Chatham Dockyards. “Perhaps, my lord, you can give us your insights on this battle we have been slowly getting data on,” Admiral Semyonovich said gruffly. Granger did not like this man, who was coarse and abrupt, and he in turn seemed annoyed beyond belief that Granger was in Russia. “You are in a hurry today, Admiral,” Granger said, with a slightly sardonic tone. “I am happy to share my ruminations, but first I would appreciate any information you can share.” The man merely nodded in response. Granger began to sense the hostility that was palpable in the room. With the exception of Mordinov and Chichagov, the looks and attitudes he received were anything but friendly, but he had expected that. The Russian press had adopted the Danish perspective and had expressed their opinions accordingly. Most of the men in this room had probably accepted that as a factual depiction of things. “It seems that as soon as your fleet arrived off Copenhagen, your admiral threatened the Danes, forcing them to choose between abandoning their allies or facing destruction,” Semyonovich said with a sneer. Granger noted that Semyonovich had not used Granger’s honorific, so he responded accordingly. “The Danish government indeed found themselves in a tough situation,” Granger agreed, which seemed to annoy Semyonovich. “I am not interested in revisiting the underlying issues in this conflict, I am focused on the battle. I would ask you to do the same.” “A nice way to avoid having to answer for the way Britain bullies smaller nations,” Semyonovich replied. Granger turned to Mordinov. “Sir, I am happy to discuss this battle, but I am not willing to put up with insults, veiled or otherwise.” “I am unclear as to what has possessed Admiral Semyonovich to act so rudely,” Mordinov said with a glare at the others. “I will make sure that His Imperial Majesty is aware of the hostility directed to you, and from whom it came.” “That is most kind of you, sir, but I would not want to put you to any trouble,” Granger said, then stared at Semyonovich, his blue eyes cold and hard. “I can apprise His Imperial Majesty myself when I meet with him this evening.” The reminder that he had become quite close to the Tsar seemed to have a moderating influence on the others, but Semyonovich showed no change in his posture. “My lord, we were led to believe that elite units of the Channel Fleet, which we understand to be the premier ships in the Royal Navy, were almost beaten by Danish floating batteries,” Admiral Kuragin said, parroting the press reports that had framed a British victory as a virtual defeat. Granger appreciated the tactful way he had pulled them back on topic. “Sir, I would object to that characterization and assert that the Mediterranean Fleet is perhaps better, but that probably stems from my long service in that sea,” Granger said with a smile, getting a chuckle in return. “I am not sure that it matters, but most of the ships that attacked the Danes in the King’s Deep were not from the Channel Fleet but were in fact part of the North Sea Fleet.” “Really?” Semyonovich challenged. “Really,” Granger replied deadpan. “His Britannic Majesty’s ships Edgar, Defiance, and Bellona were part of the Channel Fleet. I do not know which fleet Ganges and Elephant were assigned to. Agamemnon and Edgar were both undergoing repairs the last I had heard.” Both of those ships had run aground and had substantial damage, so their presence told Granger how deep the Admiralty had dug to assemble the fleet sent to Copenhagen. “What of the others, my lord?” one of the others asked. “Polyphemus, Isis, Ardent, Glatton, Monarch, and Russell were part of the North Sea Fleet, sir.” Granger had excluded the frigates as was the custom in a fleet battle, which was about the ships of the line. “The press reports state that of these ships, three of them were three-deckers, my lord,” Admiral Kuragin said. To some, discussing the ships in detail may not seem important, but Granger understood the issue being raised here. The press had portrayed the British ships as being the cream of the Royal Navy, when that was certainly not the fact. Granger laughed. “It seems that the press reports here are no more accurate than in other countries, Admiral.” That got a chuckle from the rest of them. “The only three-decked ships of the line present were London and St. George, both of 98 guns. They were part of the reserve unit and did not directly participate in this action. Of the ships of the line who fought in the battle, seven were 74-gun two-deckers. Three of them were 64-gunners, fit to fight in the line but just barely. The Glatton is a converted East Indiaman and sails so badly she is one of the most unwanted commands in the fleet. Finally, the Isis has only 50 guns and is a little more than a large frigate.” “It would seem that you had 13 battleships arrayed against a somewhat rag-tag Danish opponent, yet they nearly beat you,” Semyonovich said. “My understanding is that there were 7 Danish battleships, of which one had been razed, along with several other ships, one of which was a floating battery,” Granger said. “It is important to keep in mind that three of the British ships ran aground and were effectively out of the action.” “You are suggesting you were outclassed?” Semyonovich asked. “I am not,” Granger said. “I am merely clarifying the differences. Britain’s fleet was mobile, giving it more flexibility while fighting, while the Danes were moored and could not maneuver. Against that, the shoals around Copenhagen are notoriously hazardous.” “It seems that Lord Nelson’s strategy was simply to charge in and blast the Danish ships to pieces, my lord,” Kuragin said. “That is most likely exactly what he planned, as it would be entirely in Lord Nelson’s character to do such a thing, sir,” Granger said. “I was with him at the Nile, when most would have held off the action until the morning, but Nelson charged ahead despite the risks and the darkness.” “Such impetuosity is not a good thing,” Semyonovich pronounced. “I am not familiar with your service history, Admiral,” Granger said innocently. “I am wondering if you have commanded a fleet in action, where your fleet was marginally smaller, but you were still able to annihilate 11 of your 13 opponents?” Semyonovich said nothing, while his colleagues hid their grins to various degrees. “Do you think his strategy was the right thing in this situation, my lord?” Mordinov asked. “I think that his strategy was sound, but as things turned out, it ended up seeming a bit rash,” Granger said. He saw the confusion on their faces so he explained. “If he had been a little slower, Lord Nelson may have realized that with the changes in Russia, a negotiated settlement may be possible, and that it was probably worth exploring without resorting to force.” “Then your admiral would have missed out on an opportunity for glory, my lord,” Chichagov said with a grin. “I fear that is a huge motivator for him,” Granger agreed. “It would appear that the only way Nelson was able to extricate himself from the pounding he was taking from the Danes was to send a duplicitous letter to the Crown Prince, threatening to burn the ships he captured with the crews still aboard!” Semyonovich said in a loud voice. “Ah yes, the infamous note,” Granger said dismissively. He pulled out his papers and read it to them. “To the Brothers of the Englishmen, the Danes: Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson has been commanded to spare Denmark, when she no longer resists. The line of defence which covered her shores has struck to the British flag: but if firing is continued on the part of Denmark, he must set on fire all the prizes he has taken, without having the power of saving the men who have so nobly defended them. The brave Danes are the brother, and never should be the enemies, of the English.” “Exactly,” Semyonovich said. “Surrender or we will burn you alive! Yet he had not defeated the Danes at all. In fact, he was at risk of losing a number of ships!” Granger shook his head dismissively. “As hard fought as it was, the end result of the battle was never in doubt. Nelson did not send that note from a position of fear, he sent it because he was angry. From his perspective, some of the Danish ships surrendered, but then before Nelson could take possession of them, fresh gunners were sent from the shore and the ships resumed firing. If that is true, it is a clear violation of the code of warfare.” “Perhaps,” Semyonovich said. “If it is true.” “I would further point out that while Nelson did not appear to have beaten the Danish fleet as badly as he made it sound, by the time the note got to the Crown Prince, the battle had changed such that it was in fact that dire for the Danes. One would assume that the Crown Prince would take a telescope or talk to his naval officers to ascertain that for himself before agreeing to a truce,” Granger pointed out. “My lord, are you suggesting this was a complete British victory?” Kuragin asked. “In the short term, perhaps,” Granger said cautiously. He was very frustrated with this battle and opted to let the others see his thoughts. “I think that both Britain and Denmark were forced into a situation where neither could effectively compromise. So to that end, by forcing the Danes to cease hostilities, it was a short term British Strategic victory.” “Why only short-term, my lord?” Kuragin asked. “Because the defeated Danish ships were obsolete and useless for sea duty. The seagoing Danish Fleet was safely hidden in the inner harbor. Nelson pulverized outdated ships and barges, but the major units of the Danish Fleet are unscathed,” Granger said. “Many sailors died on both sides so the Royal Navy could vanquish some hulks.” “That does not sound very glorious when you put it that way, my lord,” Chichagov said. Granger chuckled. “I suspect the press reports in Britain will focus on the gallant and hard fight, which it most certainly was, sir.” “What will your Lord Nelson do now that he has slaughtered innocent Danes?” Semyonovich asked. “First, admiral, I must strenuously disagree with your portrayal of Denmark as an innocent victim. But to answer your question, Lord Nelson is not in command, Admiral Parker is. I would expect Admiral Parker to proceed cautiously and first approach the Swedes in Karlskrona,” Granger said. “And if Lord Nelson is commanding the fleet, my lord?” Mordinov asked. “Then sir, I would expect a large British fleet to arrive off Reval shortly,” Granger said. That seemed to end their meeting, and after much glad handing and a small post-conference with Mordinov and Chichagov, he was finally able to extricate himself from the Admiralty. As he exited, he was surprised to find Admiral Semyonovich waiting for him. “Might I trouble you for a ride, my lord?” he asked respectfully. Granger was shocked by the change in demeanor, and was tempted to tell the man to walk, but his manners asserted themselves. “Of course, Admiral,” he said, and gestured for Semyonovich to precede him into the vozok. “I fear with the thaw, I shall have to give up my winter conveyance.” “It will be useful for a few more weeks, at least, my lord,” Semyonovich replied. “I wanted to apologize for being so rude to you during the conference.” That stunned Granger. “I am curious as to why you adopted such a confrontational approach.” “There were many in that room who would not have asked the questions I did, but who needed to hear your answers,” he said. “I felt that with my seniority, and my reputation as someone who is difficult to get along with, I would be the perfect foil.” Granger laughed at that. “That was most ingenious, Admiral. I am very glad you told me of your purpose. It now makes sense, and I hope it was effective.” Semyonovich had made a risky but clever move. He had confronted Granger in the meeting and had been pointedly rude, knowing that Granger was someone who had the Tsar’s ear. That had probably increased his reputation in the eyes of the other naval officers in the room, who would admire his courage. At the same time, he had relied on his ability to personally placate Granger so that he would experience no repercussions due to his actions. He was lucky his plan had worked.
  10. March 26, 1801 The Winter Palace St. Petersburg, Russia Granger slid off the Tsar’s big cock and allowed himself to collapse on the bed next to this man who was proving to be a most excellent lover. They lay there, panting from their exertions for a few minutes, just enjoying the afterglow. Granger felt the Tsar tense up, so Granger moved over onto his side so he could smile at him, a gesture which the Tsar returned weakly. “You do not seem happy. You did not enjoy yourself?” “I enjoyed myself,” he said. “Good,” Granger replied. “So did I.” “I never imagined that I would so enjoy being with another man,” he said. Granger sensed that this was bothering him, so he tried to throw him a psychological lifeline. “I think sex between men is underrated,” he said. “It is much different than sex with a woman, and part of the excitement is that difference.” “It is most odd that but for you, I really have no desire to be with another man,” the Tsar said. “That is probably the most flattering thing anyone has said about me,” Granger said. “I doubt that,” the Tsar said. “You have a seemingly limitless number of qualities.” “You are speaking to me as if you are trying to get me into your bed, yet that is most odd since I am already there,” Granger joked, getting a laugh from Alexander. After he was done, he got more serious. “Ruling Russia is a big task,” he said. “I hope I am up to the task.” “I have had the honor of meeting many of the crowned heads of Europe,” Granger said. “You are the most capable of them all.” “Even more capable than your own King?” the Tsar asked. “Now you make me feel as if I am speaking treason,” Granger grumbled. “King George is a good man, and a bit of a father figure to me. He is also stubborn and lets the desires of the church sway him away from his best interests.” “That happens in many countries,” the Tsar said, which was an understatement, in Granger’s opinion. “He also has the occasional bout of madness, which is challenging,” Granger added sadly. “He is not the only one,” Alexander said. “Both Sweden and Denmark have insane kings.” “I have met the Crown Prince of Denmark, but not his father,” Granger said. “My impression of him was that he thought he was much smarter than he actually is.” The Tsar laughed at that. “I think that is one of the most accurate summations of that prince I have yet heard. Such an attitude is not good to have when your country is at the mercy of virtually any other nation.” “It is not,” Granger agreed. “The King of Sweden strikes me as being very impulsive and erratic. It made my time in Stockholm quite nerve-wracking. One never knew if one was going to be welcomed or sent to a dungeon.” “Much as it was with my father,” Alexander noted sadly. “Yes,” Granger agreed. “Hopefully you can see how dangerous that is for a country, to have a monarch like that.” “Then how is it that your country does not suffer from the madness of your king?” “I think it is because in Britain, the king does not have absolute power,” Granger observed. “He must work with Parliament, and that acts as a curb on his illness.” “So when he takes leave of reality, Parliament steps in?” Alexander asked curiously. “Rather, Parliament runs the country on an ongoing basis, so when the king takes leave, as you noted, it leaves a void but not one that is immediately dire,” Granger noted. “How can one be a king if one is ruled by a parliament?” he asked. Granger knew that this young man was a child of the enlightenment, so this was definitely a leading question, probably an attempt to find out if Granger was a closet republican. “The king has great influence on Parliament, so he is not ruled by it, rather he rules with it,” Granger corrected. “He can impact elections, he can appoint peers to the upper house, and he can dissolve the entire thing.” “He elevated you to the peerage,” the Tsar observed. “Does that mean you are the king’s man?” Granger hid his annoyance at the implication that by making Granger a viscount, the king had bought him as if he were a whore. “I was elevated to the peerage due to my achievements, although that was in no small part helped by my family’s birth and influence,” Granger said. “I am always the king’s man, because I am loyal, but I do not always agree with him.” “In Russia, there is no distinction between the two,” he said. “I am not sure that is healthy.” “It would seem that there would be no outlet for frustrations,” Granger said. Neither one of them said anything, but their minds both flashed to the horrific events of the French Revolution, and what could happen if a lid was sealed on a boiling pot for too long. “What of your Tsarevich?” he asked, changing the subject. “The Prince of Wales is, well…” Granger hesitated. “A playboy who cares only for himself,” Alexander said, completing Granger’s thoughts. “That would be a succinct way to put it,” Granger said, chuckling. “You met the French king at Mitau?” he asked. “I did,” Granger said with dread. “He was not an inspiring figure.” “You mean because he is fat and dogmatic?” Alexander asked, making Granger chuckle. “And once again you have summed things up perfectly,” Granger said. “I am almost more worried that he will regain his throne than that he will not.” “And why is that?” the Tsar asked. “Because the King and his followers will return to a France that is very different, and while France has changed, they have not,” Granger said. “I do not think the French will tolerate that for long.” “They will if he has the army behind him,” the Tsar noted. “That will help, although I am not convinced that he would have their support,” Granger said. “My time in France led me to believe that their experiences as a country have brought them to the point where they will not go back to the way things were. And having overthrown a king before, I think they will be willing to do so again if he institutes martial law.” “That is the big fear,” the Tsar noted. “You give people a taste of freedom, and the next thing you have is anarchy.” “It is a risk,” Granger agreed. “I have not met the King of Prussia and the Emperor of Austria, and I know little about them.” “The Prussian king is weak, as is his state, while the Austrian emperor is brave, but the martial spirit has left his people,” the Tsar said. “It continues to amaze me that the vaunted Austrian army is now almost a joke,” Granger grumbled in agreement. “What of the Mediterranean Kings? What of Spain?” he asked. “The King of Spain reminds me much of the King of France,” Granger said, after thinking about it. “That is almost appropriate, since Spain is all but ruled by France,” Alexander said. “There, things are traditional, and there is little change. That would perhaps not be a bad thing if they did not have a minister who accumulated all of the power onto himself,” Granger said. “Godoy,” the Tsar said, getting a nod from Granger. “I fear that the Prince of Peace will take care of himself and leave Spain in a difficult situation,” Granger said. “You do not think his alliance with France was a good thing?” the Tsar asked, another leading question. “Spain’s wealth comes from its colonies overseas,” Granger said. “An alliance with France puts Spain at war with Britain, and severely limits those trade routes.” “And allows particularly enterprising British captains to acquire considerable fortunes,” the Tsar said with a smile. “Indeed,” Granger agreed. “My friends in Spain tell me that the alliance with France was a forced marriage none of them wanted, but when one has a very powerful neighbor on its doorstep, one sometimes has little choice. Perhaps not unlike Poland?” “Perhaps,” the Tsar said with a slight hint of annoyance, since Poland was a touchy subject at the Imperial Court. “What of Portugal and Naples?” “Portugal has a mad queen and is ruled by Prince John, who seems like a nice enough fellow, but in my opinion, the corruption in that country and its empire is like a wound that will bleed it dry,” Granger said. “Even here in Russia, we have heard of the chaos you caused with Portuguese colonial governors,” the Tsar said, surprising Granger. He didn’t realize that was an internationally known thing. Alexander was remarkably well-informed. “They’re a rum lot,” Granger said, getting a laugh from the Tsar. “The King of Naples is really the Queen of Naples. She acts much as Godoy does in Spain.” “To be ruled by a woman is dangerous,” the Tsar said. “Perhaps,” Granger said. “In Russia, you have had some very formidable and successful Tsarinas, no?” “We have indeed,” Alexander said. “But it is worth noting that such a woman is not compatible with a living Tsar.” “Then I can now see how you would perceive them as dangerous,” Granger said, making them both laugh. “The entire Neapolitan Court resembles a carnival. I find that country makes the Portuguese look like a model society.” The Tsar laughed again. “You are clearly not a fan of the Neapolitan royals.” “That is mostly true, but I had a young midshipman on my ship who was the Queen’s cousin, and he was an impressive young man, so perhaps there is hope for them,” Granger said. “I do not know why I feel like I can trust you with these conversations,” the Tsar said. “I instinctively let down my guard around you.” “That you do that is incredibly flattering,” Granger said. “Maybe it is because you know that I am honorable and will not use our conversations to cause you harm. And maybe the fact that I am not one of your subjects, and that I have no particular agenda to push on you, makes me less risky as a confidante?” “You have your own agenda, do you not?” he challenged. “I apologize. You are correct,” Granger said. “I would like to see Russia and Britain working together as strong allies. So if you were to damn me with an ulterior motive, that is what it is.” “That is hardly a damnable offence,” the Tsar said. “And when you return home, what will you tell them of me?” “I will tell my government that Russia is now ruled by a strong and intelligent Tsar, one who is capable of being a steadfast ally, and worthy of all their support,” Granger said. He stared into the Tsar’s eyes as he said it, so Alexander would see his sincerity. Alexander kissed Granger, then turned him around and pulled Granger to him. Granger felt the large Imperial cock probing him, then entering him, and let himself go as they went on yet another sexually blissful journey. When they were done, they ended up panting and satisfied, smiling at each other. “You will not tell them of this?” He had asked that in a joking way, but Granger sensed that he had serious concerns about it. “I will not tell anyone of our coupling, and I will pledge that on my word of honor.” “Thank you,” he said, and ran his fingers gently across Granger’s cheek in a loving way. “You did not have to say that.” “If I did not mean it, I would not have said it,” Granger said. “It just saddens me that our time together is to be truncated.” “Indeed? Where are you going?” the Tsar asked, confused. “Count Panin explained to me that you were worried that my presence would raise concerns about your accession to the throne, and that it had been facilitated with British gold,” Granger said. “He said that I was to be banished from Russia within the next few days, and that this was in my best interest.” “How would that be in your best interest?” the Tsar asked. Granger was extremely disturbed that the Tsar evidently knew nothing about this. He remembered Pavel’s warnings about how duplicitous Alexander could be, but was he doing that now? “By being escorted from Russia by your guards, I would be able to leave quickly, and perhaps arrive in Denmark in time to prevent a major battle,” Granger said. “Messengers were already dispatched yesterday to all the capitals in Europe, including your own,” the Tsar said. “I daresay it is unlikely you would reach Copenhagen faster than that.” Granger blanched at that, at being rightfully accused of the sin of arrogance, of thinking that he was the only person who could reach Denmark in time to stop the coming conflagration. “I must apologize for inflating my own importance,” Granger said sincerely. The Tsar smiled. “You have done a remarkably good job of fitting in here, but you are no less vulnerable to political intrigues than those who were born in this milieu.” “You are not worried that by my being here, people will assume that I was involved in your accession to the throne?” Granger asked, confused. “I am the Tsar of all the Russias,” Alexander said with a degree of pomp. “Who am I to be afraid of?” Granger smiled. “You must forgive me yet again. I have applied English standards to a Russian situation.” “A Tsar must always worry that a knife could find its way between his ribs, but such a thing usually happens for a reason,” he said philosophically. “One must be a bad Tsar, or there must be an alternate person claiming the throne for that to happen. I have not yet had time to be a bad Tsar, and there are no rival claimants to my power.” “Except, perhaps, your mother,” Granger said. “You were wise to caution me,” he said, and got a bit sad. “She tried all kinds of evil tricks to get me to crumble and become her puppet, but she finally realized it was not to be.” “I am glad,” Granger said honestly. “We have reached an understanding,” he said. “Besides, if you were to leave, then Lord Daventry would go with you, and that would not make my mother happy.” Granger laughed at that. “Daventry said much the same thing, and I chided him for being overly confident in his skills.” “They are useful, especially now,” the Tsar said. “I completely misread this entire situation,” Granger said. He was truly upset about that, that his judgment had been so off. “You were manipulated by Count Panin, who is a wily and experienced diplomat,” Alexander said. “He will come see me tomorrow and tell me that you requested this expulsion.” “Why would he do that?” Granger asked. “Count Panin has many English friends, including your Lord Whitworth, but that does not mean he has England’s interests at heart. He is a proponent of an alliance between Russia and France,” the Tsar concluded. “And by getting rid of me and Daventry, it removes a potential foreign obstacle to that alliance,” Granger concluded. “You see, you are quite intelligent,” the Tsar said. “Does that not bother you, that he is working behind the scenes against you?” Granger asked. “He is not working against me behind the scenes, he is working against England,” the Tsar said with a smile. “He is a useful servant, nothing more, nothing less.” “I understand,” Granger said. “In the future, if anyone should say something to you like this, you must come directly to me. If I were going to banish you from Russia, I would tell you myself,” the Tsar said. “I will gladly do Your Imperial Majesty’s bidding,” Granger said in a coquettish way, one that earned him the privilege of taking the Tsar’s dick up his ass yet again. After that, the Tsar got up, which Granger took as his cue to leave. He quickly got dressed, while the Tsar put on a dressing gown. “I will see you the day after tomorrow,” the Tsar commanded. “You will join me for supper, and I will show you my personal banya.” “I have learned to fully enjoy banyas, so I must thank Your Imperial Majesty for the privilege of experiencing yours,” Granger said as he bowed. He left the Tsar’s bedroom and conveniently enough found a candlelit tableau and mirror. He took a few minutes to fully inspect his appearance and to make sure his wig was on correctly, then cautiously snuck out into the corridor. He managed to avoid being sighted by anyone until he was in the main area of the palace, then made his way to the gaming area. He found Daventry quite inebriated, playing a dice game that looked similar to hazard. “George!” he said, slurring. “Daventry,” Granger said, and put his arm around his friend. “I have come to ruin your evening by dragging you back home.” “You are no fun,” he said, pouting. Granger playfully thought about suggesting that he ask the Tsar whether he was fun or not, even though he would never do such a thing. “Nonetheless, we must be going,” Granger said. He helped Daventry up, then kept his arm around his fellow peer to steady him as they wound their way down the Jordan staircase and to the main entry. It took some time, as Daventry was most unstable, but they finally arrived at the door, which was smartly opened by a footman. Granger was surprised to find his vozok there waiting for them. The efficient palace staff must have noted that he was leaving and sent a footman to rush ahead and summon his vehicle. He pushed Daventry into the vozok, causing him to land on his ass on the floor. “That was not very nice,” Daventry said, even as the vozok began to move. “I was hoping it would make you more alert so I didn’t have to carry you upstairs when we get back to Stroganov palace,” Granger said. “Someday, when you are this drunk, I will drop you on the floor of my vozok,” Daventry said, making both of them laugh. “You should indeed plan to do just that,” Granger said. The walk out of the palace, the blisteringly cold wind that had hit them, and now their laughter seemed to sober Daventry up a bit. “So where were you while I was losing my purse at hazard?” Daventry asked. “I was meeting with His Imperial Majesty,” Granger said. Daventry raised an eyebrow at that. “I thought I was the one with the most exalted connections here, but it seems that you have now eclipsed me,” Daventry said. “That is true, although I do not have to fuck His Imperial Majesty,” Granger said. He rationalized that statement, since he hadn’t fucked the Tsar, the Tsar had fucked him. “One must do what one must do,” Daventry said philosophically. “And did you find out when we are to be thrown out of Russia?” “We are not,” Granger said. “You didn’t find out?” Daventry asked, because he was still a bit inebriated. “No, we aren’t being banished, at least not yet,” Granger said. “Panin is trying to get us out of the way because he wants to see Russia allied with France.” “So the Tsar is not concerned that we will tarnish his reputation?” Daventry asked. “No, he is much more interested in you continuing to satisfy his mother and keep her out of his way,” Granger said. Daventry frowned. “It seems that I significantly underestimated your usefulness in that regard.” Daventry laughed. “It is probably the result of having so much practice.” “Indeed,” Granger said, chuckling with him. “Messengers have already been dispatched to alert the world that there is a new Tsar, so my plan to hurry and save the day is now quite irrelevant.” “That must be incredibly sad for you, not to be the white knight that the world is waiting for,” Daventry teased. “I am annoyed that you would think I am not the white knight that the world is waiting for,” Granger replied, pretending to be piqued. “I am just not the one to save it from the unfolding crisis in Copenhagen.” “Perhaps the fleet will take longer to get there, and the commanders will be dilatory,” Daventry said. “Perhaps,” Granger said dubiously. April 2, 1801 The Winter Palace St. Petersburg, Russia “This palace is truly beautiful,” Daventry said. He and Granger were standing at the top of the Jordan Staircase, where one could gaze upward at the stunning frescos, or down at the stairs with their gilted bronze railings. “St. James’s Palace certainly isn’t like this,” Granger noted, referring to the King’s main residence in London. “St. James’s is an outdated and unfashionable Tudor pile of bricks,” Daventry said callously. “It certainly does not inspire awe,” Granger said. His peripheral vision spotted a chamberlain heading toward him, so he turned to greet the man. “My lords,” he said, and actually appeared to be a bit breathless. “His Imperial Majesty bids you to call on him at once.” “At once?” Daventry asked, raising an eyebrow. That kind of urgent message was almost unheard of in a palace, where niceties were paramount. “I am sorry, my lord,” the chamberlain said. “Those were his words.” “We will gladly follow you,” Granger said. He and Daventry had to pick up their pace considerably to keep up with him, which prompted them to look at each other with raised eyebrows. Granger had initially thought Alexander was sending just for him and smiled internally at how much fun he was having with the Tsar, but the footman’s urgency as well as Daventry’s presence convinced him it was something much more serious. They were led past the Guards who kept the private quarters secure and up to the entrance to Alexander’s study. Two footmen opened the door smartly and the chamberlain walked in and bowed, then announced Granger and Daventry, who both entered and bowed gracefully. Granger felt his nerves tense when he saw that Panin was the only other person in the room. “Gentlemen, I am sorry to summon you so abruptly,” Alexander said smoothly. “We are always at Your Imperial Majesty’s disposal,” Daventry replied for both of them. “We have some information that I am sure you will find interesting, and we will convey it to you provided you will give us your evaluation,” Panin said. “This is not a Turkish bazaar,” the Tsar snapped, annoyed that Panin had turned what the Tsar probably considered a gift into a quid pro quo. “I am quite happy to share my thoughts with Your Imperial Majesty on whatever this is,” Granger said, to save Panin and to move the conversation along. He was now very curious about what they knew. “Excellent,” Alexander said, then gestured to some chairs around a small dining table. “Please have a seat.” No sooner had the four of them taken their seats than servants came out bearing food and wine. “We have received information that confirms a British fleet left Yarmouth on March 12, my lord” Panin said, clearly addressing Granger since it was a naval matter. “How big was the fleet, Your Excellency?” Granger asked. Panin glanced down at his papers. “At least twenty battleships, some which have three decks, and as many or more smaller craft, my lord.” “Do you know who was in command, Your Excellency?” Granger asked, because it was vital information, and because he was curious as to how much intelligence the Russians had gotten from their spy network. Panin looked nervously at the Tsar, because he was worried about revealing the depth of Russian espionage, but a frown from his master caused him to yield up the answer to Granger’s question. “Sir Hyde Parker supposedly commands, while his second in command is Lord Nelson, my lord.” “An interesting match,” Granger mused to himself. “How so?” the Tsar asked. “Your Imperial Majesty, both are excellent naval officers, but they are quite different. Sir Hyde Parker is from a naval family, and the tradition of the service is very important to him. He is known to be fussy and finicky, always focused on following the rules. He is quite concerned about his own comfort, but he is also a good strategist and planner,” Granger said. “Lord Nelson is a good strategist, but that is the only trait they share.” “Where is this fleet going?” he asked Granger, although they all knew the answer to that. “That fleet is headed to the Baltic, and it will first neutralize Copenhagen, sir,” Granger said confidently. “If they left on March 12, they surely wouldn’t be in a position to attack until a few weeks from now, my lord,” Panin noted. “I would suggest, Your Excellency, that when the attack happens is largely dependent on who is making the decisions in the fleet,” Granger said. “If Sir Hyde forces his plan into being, your timetable may be correct.” Daventry studied Granger carefully. “But you do not think that will happen,” he accused. “I do not,” Granger said. “I think that Nelson, when faced with the opportunity for a battle, will do whatever it takes to convince Sir Hyde to follow his plan. And I would not be surprised if Sir Hyde agrees merely to stop Lord Nelson from calling on him two or three times a day to make his point.” “And if Nelson is, in essence, in command?” the Tsar asked. “Then, sir, I think that the battle has probably already been fought, and we have not yet heard the news,” Granger said. “Lord Nelson would not waste time. He will approach this with all the energy and drive one person can muster.” “And you are convinced he can vanquish the Danes, my lord?” Panin asked skeptically. “There is no question about it, Your Excellency,” Granger said. “I am willing to wager it is so, and you can name the amount.” That neatly backed Panin into a corner. “Your words are quite persuasive, my lord,” he said. “Once the battle is won, what will they do next?” the Tsar asked. “Sir, please understand that I have told you my thoughts up to this point and I am almost certain I am right. What happens after that will require more guesswork,” Granger said modestly. “We are not planning to hold you accountable for your views, we are merely interested in your thoughts,” the Tsar said firmly. He was such a commanding figure and so attractive that Granger was glad he was sitting down lest he end up with an erection thinking about having sex with him. “Sir, if the fleet sustains a lot of damage, then Sir Hyde will be reluctant to enter the Baltic in force,” Granger predicted. “If it does not, he will still be cautious, but I think that he will once again be prodded into action by Lord Nelson. In that case, the fleet will first ensure that the Swedish fleet at Karlskrona is neutralized, and then they will sail to Reval. I would not be surprised if they were there by the end of April.” “Reval is not as easy to defend as Kronstadt,” the Tsar noted. “Draft orders for the fleet to sail here as soon as possible.” “As you wish, Your Imperial Majesty,” Panin said, even as he made a note on a piece of paper. “Lord Granger, I thank you for your candor,” the Tsar said. “We have another thing to discuss.” “As Your Imperial Majesty wishes,” Granger said. “There is a new government in Britain, just as you both had predicted,” he said. “I would like to know who these new people are.” “Begging your pardon, sir, but so would I,” Daventry said, making all of them chuckle. “The new Prime Minister is Henry Addington,” Panin said. “Who?” Granger asked, as he wracked his brain to remember who that was. “Addington?” Daventry asked, stunned. “The Speaker of the House? The Doctor’s son? He’s the new Prime Minister?” “That’s what this newspaper says,” Panin said, and handed Daventry a copy of the London Times. “Addington,” Daventry mumbled, and shook his head.
  11. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 15

    I think that Will's internal defenses, such that he can't fall in love quickly, is actually a mark of maturity. Of someone who understands the difference between love and infatuation, and someone who knows how painful a all-in short term relationship can be. I'm thinking back to when he was with Tony and Berto, and how he jumped in with both feet and got burned...you learn from shit like that. I think Will has a pretty good read on his situation. He's 17, about to go to college, and enjoying an interlude of travel That's a bad recipe for starting any kind of intense relationship. He's starting to do better with his temper.
  12. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 15

    February 2, 2004 Sydney, Australia Will When Stef and I had gotten back to the hotel, I’d gone down to the gym and worked out, then transitioned to the spa where I got a facial. After that, I lounged around in the sauna and steam room. I was pampering myself, or so I rationalized, when in reality I was just killing time until I was sure that Grand, Stef, and Tom were gone. That way I didn’t have to listen to them try to convince me to go to dinner with them, throwing out guilt and enticements which would have been wasted on me since I was so not into going out to a formal dinner. I thought about how much I missed Connie, and got pissed off that he wasn’t around, even though it wasn’t his fault. I went back up to my room to discover that there was a guard there blocking my way. He was a lot shorter than me, probably about 5’3”, but built like a rock. He had a square face and brown hair that was so short it was almost a buzz cut. He looked like the Australian version of a marine, or at least the pygmy version of one. “Excuse me, sir,” he said to stop me as I made to go around him. I was already in a bad mood since Connie wasn’t here, so having him block my path was super irritating. “I’m going to my fucking room,” I snapped. “Get out of my way!” “I’m sorry sir, but these rooms are occupied,” he said. “I’m Will Schluter,” I said, then gestured to my door. “That’s my room.” “Do you have any identification?” he asked. “No, just my hotel key,” I said, losing my temper with him. “If it works, then it’s my room.” He didn’t move. “Get the fuck out of my way, goddammit!” I screamed. He reluctantly moved aside, then I walked up to my room, slid the key in the lock, and it clicked open. “See!” I said, being a total asshole. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said. I walked into my room and slammed the door, then felt absolutely terrible for going off on that guy who Stef had hired, and who was only doing his job. It wasn’t his fault that I was all alone in this big city. There was a fruit basket on the table, a gift from the hotel since my room was so expensive. I snagged a banana and an orange from it, then took the rest of it out into the hallway. “Hey,” I said, to get his attention. He almost looked afraid of me as he walked over to the door. “Yes, sir?” he asked. “I’m really sorry I was a jerk a few minutes ago,” I said. “You were just doing your job.” He smiled at me, and it made him cute. “That’s no problem, mate,” he said, then seemed nervous that he hadn’t called me sir. “Call me Will,” I instructed, then handed him the fruit basket. “I’m going out so I won’t need this. It will give you something to eat while you’re driving away the Mongol hordes.” “Hordes?” he asked. “Invaders,” I said. He made to argue but I stopped him. “Take it. I’m not going to eat it.” “Well thank you, sir, er, I mean Will,” he said. “You need anything else, let me know,” I said. He looked like he was trying to decide whether to ask me for something, then changed his mind. “What?” “You mind if I use your toilet? I’m supposed to get a break in 45 minutes, but I don’t know if I can hold it that long,” he said. “Sure,” I said cheerfully, and opened the door to let him in. I led him through my room to the master bathroom, even though there was a half-bath out in the main room he could have used, but he didn’t know that. “I’m going to jump in the shower.” “Thanks,” he said. I stripped off my clothes in record time, then walked up to the sink, which was right next to where he was peeing. I grabbed a facial pad and pretended to be working on my face while I peeked over at him. He was a big boy, and it looked like he was getting bigger. He finished peeing and stroked his cock a few times to get the last few drops out, then a few more times as it started to get harder. I glanced at him sideways and saw him totally checking me out. When I turned and looked at him, my own dick almost hard, he freaked out and started to zip up his pants. I reached down and stopped him, then pushed his hands away and started stroking his cock. “Mmmm,” he moaned. “Don’t have much time.” “Neither do I,” I lied. I got a magnum out and worked some lube into my ass while he put the condom on, then he fucked me for all of three minutes before he came. He freaked out after he did, pulled off the condom and tossed it in the toilet, then mumbled some excuses as he all but ran out of my room. I laughed, then since he’d left me pretty high and dry, I jacked off in the shower. I got out of the shower and ordered room service, then while I was waiting for food, I spent time getting ready. I mulled my outfit choices and finally settled on some Diesel jeans that Stef had brought me. They fit me perfectly: they made my ass look good, they bulged out perfectly in the crotch, and they were baggy enough to look fashionable but tight enough to make me look really slim. The room service waiter arrived with my food and he was really cute. I thought about trying to seduce him so I could continue my slut-o-rama but decided to give my libido a rest. I ate my dinner at a more leisurely pace as I looked out the windows of my room and took in Sydney harbor at night. By the time I finished up, it was pretty late, primarily since I’d dicked around for most of the evening. Still, I left the hotel in a really good mood, happy to be in this awesome city. I walked through the park, feeling pretty cocky about my appearance, and pretty excited to see if it would yield results at the clubs tonight. I walked around Oxford Street just enjoying the vibe and the attention I got, then decided it was time to do some dancing. I went to the first club I’d gone to when I’d gotten to Sydney, the one where I’d first met Connie. The only other club I knew about was the one where I’d gotten kit-katted, and I really didn’t want to relive that experience. Since it was Monday night, there wasn’t the same massive line I’d encountered on the weekend, and I was able to breeze right in. I stopped in the bathroom to make sure my hair looked perfect, then went to the bar and ordered a drink. Even though I hadn’t had any problems at this bar, I ordered a beer. I avoided making eye contact with anyone except the bartender because I wanted to get my bearings first. That probably made me seem like an arrogant ass, but I think I inherited the need to acclimate to my environment first from my father. I took my beer and walked up to the place where I’d been standing when I’d first spotted Connie. It was awesome because there was an alcove where I could look out but wasn’t easily visible from the dance floor. The music flowed through my body, fueling my desire to dance, so I checked out all the guys, trying to decide who was both cute and a good dancer. I had narrowed my choices down to two dudes and was about to go over and hit on them when I saw Connie dance out onto the floor with a hot redheaded dude. I froze in shock. Wasn’t he supposed to be out of town with his mates? He could have called me, and we could have had a great time while I was here, but instead he blew me off. I felt the fury flying through my body, the rage that he would bullshit me and tell me he wasn’t in town and he was busy, only to find him out picking up trashy dudes. If I were being fair, I would have noted that the redhead wasn’t trashy at all, but I wasn’t in the mood to be fair. Connie and I had a pretty intense relationship, and he’d seemed upset when he left. Was that all just a lie, and was he happy I was gone? I almost growled in anger. He was so relieved to be rid of me that he wouldn’t even talk to me on the phone. A dude came up and asked me if I wanted to dance, and all I could do was shake my head. He walked away in a huff, and that only made me feel worse for being a dick. My emotions were like a runaway freight train. I was so tempted to put my beer down, walk across the dance floor and right up to Connie and give him a well-placed right hook. I balled up my fist in anticipation of doing just that, then through some miracle, I forced myself to calm down a bit. I slunk further back into my alcove and tried to decide what to do. I took another swig of my beer and spent about five minutes doing controlled breathing, and that largely removed my desire to seriously maim Connie. I looked back out on the dance floor to watch Connie and his redhead, and with a calmer outlook, I noticed that Connie was dancing with him in a detached kind of way. It was the way I’d dance with someone who was fun on the dance floor, but that’s as far as it was going. The other dude must have felt his vibe and they stopped dancing. Connie went back to his chair, which was off by itself, making him look like a loner. I gave myself shit for judging him about that, since I was hiding in a corner of the bar, while at least he was out in the open. Another cute dude, this one blond, walked up and must have hit on him, since they ended up on the dance floor. Just like before, Connie’s moves were as good as ever, but he seemed hollow and empty. It would be easy to blame it on the blond dude he was with, but that guy was a hunk. Shit, if I were scoping the club and not secretly staring at Connie, he would have been the first dude I hit on. That dude was way too hot to put up with Connie’s disinterest, so Connie ended up back in his chair. I took that opportunity to plan my next move, trying to analyze it as thoroughly as I did when I was in a battle with my father. When I’d first spotted him, I had been so tempted to go up to him and make a scene, but now seeing him look so lonely, I just couldn’t do it. Besides, if I did that, made a scene, it would make his presence here obvious, and while no guy here couldn’t miss him since he was so attractive, that kind of drama attracted negative attention. No matter how mad I was at him, there was absolutely no way I was going to out him. Another choice was for me to just leave, to sneak out so he didn’t see me, and then he’d never know I was here and that I’d seen him. I could then act like none of this ever happened. I laughed to myself when I visualized my father in this situation, and how he would so not do that. No, that kind of approach was way too low key for me, and I wasn’t genetically set up to handle it. Besides, if I did that, I’d be pissed at him and it would fester in my psyche, and it would probably slowly kill off any feelings I had for him. Then someday when he called me, I would probably rip him a new asshole. He really wouldn’t have a chance at that point to explain things, if that was possible, and that didn’t seem fair. He got up to dance with a different guy, one who looked like he might be Aboriginal too. The two of them together danced so well they were almost putting on a show, but just like before, I could tell Connie wasn’t into him. I walked around the club, trying to make sure he couldn’t see me, until I got to his chair. His coat was draped over it, so I took it and walked off to the side, where I leaned against another pillar. The pillars at this club were pretty convenient. I was closer to him now, so when he finally got tired of dancing with that dude, I could see the interchange and guess what they were saying. The other dude was trying to get him to leave and go somewhere to fuck, but Connie was turning him down flat. The dude walked off, kind of pissed off, while Connie walked back to his chair. He sat down and then his eyes opened pretty wide as he looked around, realizing his coat was gone. “Where’s my fucking jacket?” he growled, loudly enough for me to hear. A dude sitting not too far from him got up and said something, then pointed to me. I stood there, holding his jacket on the hook of my finger, away from my body. His eyes met mine and it was like time froze. His mouth opened up in shock, but what really surprised me was all the emotions his eyes threw at me. It was such a torrent it was hard to decipher, but it seemed that the two biggest were fear and sadness. I could not understand why he would direct those at me. I thought that our time together had been magical, yet here he was, looking at me like I was the fucking plague. I knew I had to leave before my emotional train went off the tracks again. I decided that if Connie wanted to get his jacket, he was going to have to have a conversation with me. I didn’t want to have that discussion here, so I turned away from him and quickly walked out of the club, carrying his jacket with me. If he chased me, I’d give it back to him. If he didn’t, I’d donate it to charity. I was walking pretty fast in an effort to make him book if he wanted to catch me, which was kind of a dick move, but whatever. He probably had to pay his tab, so I was damn near to the park before I heard his voice. “Will!” I ignored him and walked into the park, even as I heard his thumping feet as he ran to catch up with me. He didn’t say anything, he just fell in step next to me and I reduced my pace to a very slow walk. We meandered through the park like that, walking slowly while saying nothing for a few minutes until I stopped and looked at him. “Here,” I said, and handed him his jacket. I decided that if he took it and left, it would be just fine, because I’d said that one word with so much bitterness, he’d get how I felt. He took the jacket and swung it over his shoulder, which made him look even more sexy than before, and we started walking again. As we strolled together, saying nothing, the anger I felt toward him faded and was replaced by the pleasantness of just being with him, enjoying his presence. It dawned on me that he was acting pretty strangely, and that probably meant that he was pretty fucked up inside that thick head of his. That realization mellowed me, and he must have sensed the change in my mood. “Have a seat?” he said, gesturing to a bench. “Sure,” I said, and sat next to him. “You want to tell me what the fuck that was all about?” “You mean how I lied to you and told you I would be out of town?” he asked. “Yeah, that,” I said, and started to get pissed again. “I didn’t want to see you,” he said. Before I could lose it and go off on him, he added words that totally blew my mind. “I knew it would be too painful.” “Why would seeing me be painful?” I asked, confused. “I thought you had a good time when we were together.” He shook his head at me. “To you, this was probably some fun holiday fling,” he said. I was struck with how much sadness he put into those words. “So while you were enjoying yourself, I went and fell in love with you.” “Oh,” I said lamely as I digested his words and what they meant. Holy shit. No wonder he was upset, and no wonder he was avoiding me. I remembered how painful it had been all those years ago in Italy when I’d had to leave Berto, and how miserable I’d been. Then I remembered the searing pain when Zach had broken up with me. That had been agony, and I’d been completely fucked up. And now I’d done that to a dude I really cared about, inflicted that kind of pain on him. I felt like complete and total shit. “I love you, but you don’t love me, and even if you did, we can’t be together anyway,” he babbled on. “So when I hear your voice, or even worse, see you, it’s like a knife in my bollocks.” I had no idea what a bollocks was but having a knife in them sounded bad. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I said, even as I looked straight ahead, avoiding his gaze. “You told me this would be fun,” he said, almost yelling. “You said that I should break my rule and take the risk. You said it would be safe. Well it wasn’t safe, and now inside it’s like my heart is wallowing in crushed glass.” He certainly had described that in graphic detail, as if I wasn’t already feeling enough guilt. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I said lamely. I didn’t know what to say, so I let my mind go back to when I’d been in his position. That mental journey made me realize there was nothing I could do. He was fucked. My inner turmoil mellowed him, which was almost annoying, because that’s exactly how I would have reacted. “I know you didn’t,” he said, and ran his hand up and down my back. Here I’d damn near emotionally castrated him, and he was still reaching out to help me feel better. “I was just trying to protect myself. It’s been hell these past few days, and I was worried that if I saw you, it would start all over again.” I swallowed hard at that. “I don’t know whether I should leave or not,” I said, giving him a weak smile. “Well, you already fucked up my plan, so we might as well hang out while you’re still here,” he said, and smiled back at me. The smile faded to a frown. “I guess this would be easier if I thought you loved me too.” “I think it just takes me longer to get there,” I said honestly. “I think I’ve trained myself, thrown up a bunch of defenses, to make sure I don’t fall for someone fast.” “Why would you do that?” he asked, looking at me like an idiot. “So I don’t feel like you do right now,” I said. “When I fall, I fall hard,” he said. “That’s another reason why I had the one date rule.” “Tom said that when he saw us looking at each other, it was getting obvious that we were together,” I said. “You treated me really well, and that’s not something to be mad about.” “It is if it gets me outed,” he said. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that one of the coolest and sweetest parts of you is how loving and giving you are when you’re with someone,” I said. His expression told me that he was blushing even though it was too dark to tell. “I think that’s what you have to give up to stay in the closet.” “So I have to be a dick to a bloke I’m with?” he asked. “Either that, or figure out a way to hide your feelings in public,” I said. I wondered if that was yet another reason why I ended up with closeted dudes, because I could act like they needed me to act in public. “What a bunch of shit,” he said. “Yep,” I agreed. We sat there for a few minutes, saying nothing, then he stood up and held out his hand to help hoist me off the bench, yet another thoughtful gesture that could send all the wrong signals. “Fancy some Maccas?” he asked. “Some tucker?” I asked back with a smile, doing a pretty good Australian accent. “Look at you, a regular Aussie now,” he said, and shoulder bumped me. We went into McDonalds and ordered a bunch of food, then sat at the same booth we’d been in the last time we were here. We wolfed down our food pretty fast, but amazingly enough we managed to have a conversation at the same time. “You danced really well tonight,” I said, in between bites. “I always dance well,” he said. “Didn’t see you out there.” “I was too busy spying on you,” I said. He gave me an annoyed look. “Watched you burn through three different guys.” “You’re like a fucking stalker,” he said, but in a joking way. “I can’t believe you didn’t end up fucking that blond dude,” I said. “Nah,” he said, shaking his head. “He’s there a lot. Piece of trash.” “Really?” “He’s hot, he knows it, and he basically makes all the blokes at the club worship him before he’ll give them the time of day,” he said, even as he chewed his burger. “We’ve danced before, but even though he’s pretty on the outside, he’s a complete douche inside.” I laughed. “See, and I would have fucked him.” He laughed, and that seemed to coincide with us finishing up our food. “You still have time to go back there,” he said. “I’m reliving the night we first met,” I said, as I threw my trash away and put the tray on top of the garbage can. “I remember what comes next,” he said, winking at me. I led him across the street to the hotel, through the lobby, and to the elevators. We didn’t say anything as the car raced to the top floor. When we got out, there was a different guard there, but doing the same thing as the last guy: blocking the hallway to my room and Stef’s suite. “Mr. Schluter, Mr. Schluter asked you to check in with him when you got back,” the guard said awkwardly. “Instead, why don’t you buzz him and tell him I’m back, and that I’ll see him in the morning,” I said, as I zipped past him with Connie in tow. “Alright,” I heard him say, even as the door shut behind me. I walked over to the window with Connie and we stared out at the flickering lights of the harbor. “So beautiful,” I said. “It is,” he agreed. He put his arm around my waist, and I put mine around his shoulder, and we just stood there, rebuilding our wounded bond by not saying anything. The phone rang, making me jump a bit. I reluctantly broke my contact with him and walked over to the phone, picked it up, and hung it back up on the main unit. Then I took it off the hook again. “Solved that problem,” I said. “You want to see the view from the other room?” “Yeah,” he said with a grin, and I led him into the bedroom. Before, we’d had fun sex, wild sex, but this time we made love.
  13. March 26, 1801 The Winter Palace St. Petersburg, Russia As Granger got out of the vozok, he noted that while the temperatures were still frigid by British standards, the weather was not as cold as it had been. Not only that, but Granger was arriving at 5:00 in the evening, and it was still light outside. Spring was due to make its debut, and when that happened, the Royal Navy would begin its assault on the Danish fleet. Granger had not gotten any indication that the new Tsar would change Russia’s course and try to repair the rift with Britain, but that had been implied in the entire coup effort. He wondered if some sort of truce or détente could be agreed to quickly, such that further bloodshed in these northern waters could be forestalled. He remembered the bloody chaos after the Battle of the Nile and cringed at an unnecessary battle that was just as hard fought as that one had been. He pushed those thoughts aside and studied the huge edifice that was the Winter Palace, even as he walked toward the door. Alexei Stroganov, with his passion for architecture and art, had given him a history lesson about this place. It was not one palace, but a complex of them, including the Winter Palace itself and the Hermitage. It was also relatively new, having just been built over the past century. The footmen smartly opened the door for him, revealing a chamberlain who stood next to Panin. “Welcome to the Winter Palace, my lord,” Panin said, and strode forward to take Granger’s hands in what was an overly warm greeting, considering that the last time they’d met, Panin had been his prosecutor. “What an unexpected honor Your Excellency does me by greeting me personally,” Granger said, responding just as fulsomely. “You are scheduled to attend His Imperial Majesty, then he has commanded your presence for a meeting after that, my lord,” Panin said. “You will understand, I think, if we surreptitiously have you guided to his quarters.” “That is fine, Your Excellency,” Granger said, understanding quite clearly the bad impression it would give if he were known to be sequestered alone with the Tsar. “It was my intention to fill in the time until those events by showing you this palace, my lord.” “I am at His Imperial Majesty’s disposal, of course, but I am thrilled to have a chance to see the magnificence of this building and some of the art that is rumored to be housed here,” Granger said. “To be able to do that while spending time with Your Excellency is truly an added honor.” “I am glad you think so, my lord,” Panin said in a jocular way as he led Granger through the entry rooms. “Not everyone would agree with you.” Granger smiled. “I would have to believe that it is impossible to rise to such an esteemed position as yours without making a few enemies along the way, Your Excellency.” “An astute observation, my lord,” Panin said. “I am hoping that it is limited to just a few.” Panin led Granger through various rooms, all of them seemingly built to awe and impress a visitor, then ushered him into the Hermitage, which was much more intimate. Granger had been largely unimpressed by St. Michael’s Castle, but he thought the Winter Palace was really quite exquisite. They found themselves alone in a corridor, marveling at a Titian masterpiece. “I am amazed at those who have talent to create such a piece of art,” Granger noted, thinking that if he were given a brush with paint, he would be lucky to be able to illustrate as much as a mere square on the canvas. “It is not a talent I have, which perhaps makes me more appreciative of his efforts,” Panin agreed. “I am glad we have a chance to talk alone. I want to apologize for my role at your hearing.” Granger smiled. “Please think nothing of it. I did not see you as my prosecutor, but rather as a guide.” That was not really true, but Granger decided that some diplomacy would be best in this situation. “I was hoping you would view it in just that way,” he said. “One of my rivals created that forgery, and rather than denounce it as such, I considered it wiser to let the facts reveal themselves.” That was incredibly shrewd of Panin, since that rival had no doubt been significantly embarrassed when his plan backfired, while Panin’s reputation had undoubtedly risen. “And what would you have done if I had not been able to prove that it was indeed a forgery?” Granger asked. “I would have had to intervene to make that point, which would not have had a good result,” he responded. If he were being truthful, he would have said that he probably would have done nothing, and let Granger suffer whatever fate an angry Tsar threw at him. “I was relying on your brilliance in working your way out of that situation, and it appears that was a good call on my part.” “I would not call it brilliance, but I was glad to have the opportunity to be able to so clearly denounce that document,” Granger said. “There has been much fallout from the death of Tsar Paul,” Panin said quietly. “Indeed?” Granger asked. “Count von der Pahlen has been relieved of his posts and compelled to withdraw to his estates,” Panin said. “That is indeed a surprise,” Granger said as they strolled slowly down the corridor. Von der Pahlen had seemed to hold all the strings of power in St. Petersburg. He had the least to gain from a change in Tsars, so the fact that he had taken the risk to stage a coup suggested he had been confident in his ability to retain his influence. Apparently that had been a major miscalculation on his part. “A surprise to you and me, but not as big of a surprise as it was to von der Pahlen,” Panin said. Before Granger could ask him what caused such a huge change, Panin answered his unspoken question. “It was done at the request of the Dowager Empress.” “I did not realize she had that much animosity toward von der Pahlen,” Granger noted. “She blames him for the death of her husband and has told the Tsar that she will not support him if von der Pahlen is allowed to remain in St. Petersburg and is allowed to retain his posts.” “My understanding was that she was contemplating trying to seize the throne much as Empress Catherine had, so I would suspect that was an easy deal for His Imperial Majesty to agree to,” Granger said. “You are correct, although I think she envisioned such a seizure to be easy, when in fact it was bordering on the impossible,” Panin said. “I am impressed with how well-versed you are in Russian politics.” “It is not so hard when you are surrounded by such charming and brilliant people as I have been,” Granger said, referring mostly to the Stroganovs. “The Dowager Empress has agreed to confine herself to her appropriate rank and position provided she is recognized as the first lady of Russia,” he said. “And what does that mean?” Granger asked. “That means that she has precedence over everyone but the Tsar, and that includes the new Tsarina,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “That is not likely to make the new Tsarina happy,” Granger noted, although that was just a guess, as he had not had a meaningful conversation with Alexander’s wife. “It is not,” Panin said. “I hope you will excuse me for asking this, but how is it you have escaped from the former Empress’s wrath, when you were present when the Tsar was killed?” Granger asked this in a whispered tone, but it still alarmed Panin, so much that this skilled diplomat allowed his emotions to break through his otherwise impenetrable mask. “Who was there is not entirely clear,” Panin said, using an equally low volume. “I think that she allowed von der Pahlen’s banishment to satisfy her desire for revenge.” “We can hope,” Granger said, noting that Panin was, at least right now, in a most precarious position. “I have been confirmed in my post as His Imperial Majesty’s foreign minister,” Panin said, with a noticeable degree of pride. Granger hoped he did not think that insulated him from the future wrath of the Dowager Empress but decided Panin’s political travails were not his concern. “You are to be commended for landing on your feet,” Granger said with a smile, one that Panin returned. “I am anxious to resolve the issues between our countries,” Panin said, changing the topic. “I agree with Lord Grenville’s words to you, that Russia and Britain are natural allies.” “As do I,” Granger avowed. “How will you achieve that goal? How will you reconcile our nations?” Granger asked. “I would envision a message to your government proposing that all hostilities cease and that we begin lengthier discussions to agree on specific points of a resolution,” Panin said. “Do you think your government would find that acceptable?” “I do,” Granger said, realizing that by uttering those words, he had greatly overstepped his authority and was exposing himself to serious censure when he returned to London. But this was what Britain needed, and he was willing to suffer the consequences for doing the right thing. Besides, as he had traversed all this way and risked his own neck, he felt that gave him the right to make the decision. “Are you granted the authority to enter into such an arrangement?” Panin asked, deducing correctly that Granger was outside his bounds. “I am not, but if Lord Daventry and I signed off on such a document, it would be difficult for the government to refute it,” Granger said with a smile. He thought about how the government would be in a box over this, since they had hidden his trip to St. Petersburg from the public so they would be hard-pressed to turn around and denounce him for agreeing to such a treaty. Panin must have come to the same conclusion himself and found it funny enough that he actually laughed out loud. “If you find they run you out of England, you may return here,” Panin said. “That would be quite dangerous,” Granger said. “If that happened, I would have to bring my wife, and I fear that within a few years it would be she who was ruling Russia.” “I can well believe that. I have heard of your formidable wife,” Panin said amidst laughter. “There is one more thing.” “Go on,” Granger said. “It has raised eyebrows that you and Lord Daventry are in St. Petersburg and were here when the Tsar died,” Panin said. “There are already scurrilous rumors spreading that this is a British plot funded by British gold coordinated by the two of you.” “That is preposterous!” Granger said, forcing the outrage since it was not preposterous at all. “You are correct, but then again, rumors are usually based on lies,” Panin said. “Especially at this point in Tsar Alexander’s reign, you must understand that appearances are extremely important.” “I am concerned that this conversation will lead to me ending up in jail after all,” Granger said in a jocular way, even though that was a reasonable fear. “I can assure you that will not happen,” Panin said sincerely. “Rather, you and Daventry are to be banished from Russia, and escorted to the border.” “Banished from Russia and hustled out of the country as if we were…” Granger grasped for a comparison. “The King of France?” Panin asked, referring to Louis XVIII’s eviction not too long ago. “That is an apt description, and I should perhaps be flattered that Russia only banishes the most exalted of royal and noble visitors,” Granger said with a joking ruefulness. “Perhaps,” Panin said. “When is this to happen?” Granger asked. “Most likely within the next few days, largely depending on our ability to get an agreement done in that period of time,” Panin said. “I am unclear as to how having Daventry and me being cast out of Russia in an ignominious fashion will help the situation,” Granger said, rebelling against the idea of being so unwanted that he was evicted. It seemed debasing and struck at both his pride and honor. “First of all, it will demonstrate to the people that the Tsar is not the puppet of anyone,” Panin said. “It will also allow him to distance himself should any proof surface to validate the rumors that his ascension to the throne was fueled by British gold.” “Because he immediately cast Daventry and me out of his realm,” Granger concluded. “Correct,” Panin said. “If he were involved in a plot with you, it would be unlikely he would throw you out.” “Actually, that would make it more likely,” Granger observed. “That is very correct, but you and I can see that, while the rest of the Court will take it at face value,” Panin said. “There is another benefit that is more aligned with your own goals.” “Indeed?” Granger asked. “I sense that you are most anxious to return to England, and are also committed to trying to stop further battles between England and the Northern powers,” Panin stated. “That is an accurate assessment on your part,” Granger agreed. “Then by banishing you and escorting you to the border, His Imperial Majesty will be ensuring that you have a quick and safe trip, perhaps to a port that is not frozen such as Konigsberg, where you can hire a ship and more quickly reach Copenhagen,” Panin said. Granger pondered that for a bit and realized the advantages Panin spoke of. Before, when traveling to St. Petersburg, Granger had been concerned that they would be stopped by Imperial troops or harassed by zealous locals. With the Imperial Guard escorting him, there would be no interference, and they would be able to demand lodging and supplies if needed, as opposed to begging and asking for them. “I can see your point.” “I understand that this will cause you some consternation, that you will worry it will negatively impact your reputation,” Panin said, deducing Granger’s concerns in an irritatingly accurate way. “I think that we can ultimately come up with a way to make sure you are not damaged by this.” “And what would that be?” Granger asked. “I have not finalized things, so I would prefer not to be specific,” Panin said. Granger almost rolled his eyes at this diplomat and his Byzantine schemes. “Then I will place my trust in you,” Granger said, surprising the man. In fact, Granger did not entirely trust Panin, and knew that the man would take few risks over Granger’s reputation, but he really had no alternative at this point. “I can see the benefits of the plan you have laid out.” “I am glad you are agreeable,” Panin said, as he started to reverse course back to the Winter Palace. “I have grown to appreciate you as a fellow aristocrat and as a diplomat, and would not want to have a falling out over something like this.” “I am certainly no diplomat,” Granger insisted, trying to pretend that being considered one wasn’t mildly insulting. “You most certainly are,” Panin said. “But now we must go pay court to His Imperial Majesty. I was led to believe that Lord Daventry was going to join us, but I have not seen him yet.” “He may be indisposed,” Granger said, manfully wrestling down the giggle that threatened to emerge from him. Daventry was no doubt with the Dowager Empress. They climbed up the Jordan staircase, which was truly incredible, and got to a chamber that was filled with courtiers. “If you will excuse me, I will take my leave of you, my lord,” Panin said. His use of Granger’s correct form of address indicated that their informal chat was over. “Of course, Your Excellency,” Granger said. “Thank you for guiding me through this amazing palace, and for providing me with stimulating conversation.” Panin smiled briefly, they bowed to each other, and Granger started to scan the room, looking for Pavel or Daventry. He was fortunate enough to spot Daventry talking to some Baltic German nobles, and with a slight nod of his head, indicated to his friend that he should leave his current group and join Granger at the edge of the room. “I did not see you when I first arrived,” Daventry said. “Panin took me on a tour of the palace,” Granger said. They were both speaking in whispers, and they were also speaking in English, a language which was not well-used in this milieu, making it almost impossible for someone to eavesdrop on them. “We are to be evicted from Russia within the next few days.” “Evicted?” Daventry asked, stunned. Granger gave him a brief nod. “Imperial Guardsmen will escort us to the border.” “This is an outrage!” Daventry exclaimed, almost a bit too loudly. “As Panin would explain it, by banishing us it makes it look less likely that we had anything to do with the coup that put him into power,” Granger explained. “And by escorting us to the border, it will ensure that we are able to travel through Russia in its frozen state as quickly as possible.” “And why is speed so important?” Daventry asked. “Because you and I are going to execute a letter of understanding to basically end hostilities between His Majesty and the Tsar,” Granger said. “And as it is most likely that a fleet is already preparing to weigh in Britain to neutralize Denmark, if we arrive in time, we may be able to avert unnecessary bloodshed.” “I see your point,” Daventry said. “I am wondering if I would better serve His Majesty by remaining here.” “Why?” Granger asked. Daventry lowered his tone even more, as if that were necessary. “I seem to have a calming influence on the Dowager Empress.” Granger tried not to giggle at that, but wasn’t entirely successful, and got an annoyed look from Daventry in return. “That’s as may be, but my understanding is that an arrangement was worked out with her such that she will not try to make herself Empress. If that is the case, your work here may be done?” Daventry looked confused. “She will no longer require your efforts to calm her,” Granger added, then giggled again. “I’m so glad you find this amusing, George,” Daventry snapped. “I have turned myself into a prostitute for our country.” Granger could not stop from actually laughing at his statement, and Daventry found the comedy in it as well and laughed along. Granger was initially worried that would attract unwanted attention, but it actually made their conversation less conspicuous, since other groups were acting the same way. When their laughter had subsided, Granger addressed Daventry’s initial objection to leaving. “It really isn’t our decision at this point.” “I guess we will have to see how the next few days progress,” Daventry said fatalistically, and with that they ended their conversation and rejoined the other guests. Supper was a grand affair, with the new Tsar clearly intending to impress the select courtiers who were invited. The entire atmosphere was ebullient, as these people celebrated their freedom from their previous maniacal Tsar and looked hopefully at the handsome new Tsar who promised so much for Russia’s future. Of course, no one voiced those thoughts, but they were first and foremost in everyone’s minds. Granger found himself seated next to Countess von Lieven on one side, and a rather boring baroness on the other. “I suspect Your Lordship is pleased by the change in regimes,” von Lieven said, in a slightly accusatory way. “I think that should be understandable, ma’am, since Tsar Paul had me all but locked up in his palace, subjected to neglect and mistreatment by the staff,” Granger said. “Mistreated?” she asked, but a bit sarcastically. “Indeed,” Granger replied. “It was all we could do to get enough fuel for the fire, and the food was bad and not very plentiful. But the worst part is that my personal servants were assaulted.” “You will forgive me for noting that there are worse things than what you have described,” she said. “I would suspect that you would not feel that way if it were you who were in that position,” Granger said. “But then perhaps you are not accustomed to how a household is supposed to operate.” “My household is perfect,” she said defensively. “I’m sure it is,” Granger said sarcastically, enraging her. She retaliated by turning away from him and talking to the man on the other side of her, while Granger did the same thing and flirted with the tedious baroness. Their plates were replaced in preparation for the next course, at which point Granger sparked up a conversation with von Lieven again. “This food was excellent.” “I am glad you approve of His Imperial Majesty’s household,” she said with a sneer. “I am sure he will be relieved to hear your opinion.” “I approve of this Imperial Majesty’s household, not the prior Imperial Majesty’s household,” Granger said a bit irreverently. “I am quite sure that His Imperial Majesty would appreciate my opinion, as that is the mark of a good host, or perhaps you did not know that, despite your perfect household?” “You are quite awful, my lord,” she said petulantly. “Still, I cannot help but wonder that you surely must have had a role in this change,” she said very quietly, trying to bait him. Granger was annoyed in the extreme that she would raise such an issue in public, and was fortunate that their voices were muted enough that no one probably overheard. “I did not,” Granger said firmly. “I was pleased, as we have already discussed, but I am not the only one who felt that way. In fact, I am confident that your late brother would have shared that emotion.” She had to have known of her brother’s sympathies, if not his more active role in planning the coup, a suspicion concerned by the evident irritation of her expression. “Perhaps. His loss still haunts me, and it probably always will.” She’d let down her guard when she said that, and showed the kinder side of her that was usually buried. “His death was painful for all of us, and a tragedy for your family,” Granger said sympathetically. “It was, but you do not seem overly sad,” she said, as if Granger were still supposed to be in mourning. “Unlike you, I have learned to keep my emotions and feelings inside, and thus do not inflict them on others,” Granger riposted, then changed the topic. “Your mother is not here chaperoning you?” That brought back her annoyed look. “She has trained me so well, there is no need,” she said in a smarmy way. “She has trained you, indeed,” Granger said, chuckling. “You have learned to be as shrewish as she is, and you will end up just as unpopular.” “My mother is not unpopular,” she asserted defensively. “No?” Granger challenged. It was hilarious to taunt her like this, and to get her enraged such that she was almost visibly flustered. “What would you know of her popularity, or of society here at all?” she asked. “I would suggest that often outsiders are much more able to identify things that those who live in an environment never notice,” Granger said. “That’s as may be, but you are still wrong,” she said. “I am not, and you are being narrow-minded and not opening your eyes to reality,” Granger said. “You have taken your mother’s frosty and self-important personality and merged it with your youth and inexperience. The result is that what you take to be charming conversation is nothing more than schoolroom taunting.” “You insult me!” she said, outraged. “Rather, I see the potential in you if you would open your eyes and see that you can be quite engaging if you shed this evil skin you’ve opted to wear,” Granger said. “Much like a snake.” “You are just impossible,” she said, and turned away from him again. It was all Granger could do not to laugh out loud. He again engaged the baroness in conversation, dull as it was, until the plates were replaced again, and so the cycle repeated. “Look at the other people around this table,” Granger told von Lieven. “I would rather exchange places with any of them so I do not have to talk to you,” she said through almost gritted teeth. “Well, since you cannot do that, I think you should do as I ask,” he said. He gestured with a mere nod of his head at a Russian General and a Duchess laughing and smiling. “They appear to be having quite a good time,” she said. “I have certainly not laughed, at least out loud, while sitting here with you,” Granger said. “I do not recall the gentlemen on your other side showing much joy while you were engaged with him either.” “Perhaps it is the two of you, and not me,” she said. “Let us ask him,” Granger said, and leaned over as if to talk to him. She pushed him back into his seat. “Do not cause me problems,” she hissed. “It is you who cause yourself problems,” Granger said. “If you truly want to be influential, you must learn to make people enjoy your company. If people do not laugh or smile with you, not at you, when you are having a conversation, you have failed.” “Those may be the rules in your country, but not mine,” she said. “That may very well be, but as you are a Baltic German, this is not your country, you are just one of the many conquered people who are attached to the Russian Empire,” Granger said casually, knowing that would really anger her, having all but thrust a lance into her pride. “You make it easy to despise you, my lord,” she spat, then turned back to talk to the other gentleman. Granger internally rolled his eyes at this, her way of pouting at an Imperial Banquet. It was some time before she had presumably cooled down enough to converse with him again. “You still did not make him laugh,” Granger said. She actually smiled a bit. “If you have established it as my mission to make him laugh, I think you have set me up for failure.” Granger laughed at that, and that brought out her charming smile. “I have not had better luck with the woman to my right.” “I think that even if we were the most skilled conversationalists, we would find ourselves facing dour counterparts,” she said, making him laugh again. “You see that,” Granger said. “That is your natural charm coming through. You must let that out as often as possible. If you do, there is no limit to what you can achieve.” She thought about that for a bit, and then seemed to realize the point Granger had been trying to make. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I will have to find time to practice on you.” “That would be an honor, but unfortunately I will be leaving Russia shortly,” Granger said. He was surprised that she seemed genuinely saddened by that. “Why must you leave now, when it is still so cold?” “Because the Tsar is going to order me to,” Granger said. “Then I will have to hope our paths cross again,” she said. “I will look forward to that, and to seeing the woman you become in the years ahead,” he said. When the dinner ended and they stood up to escort the ladies to a drawing room, she stopped Granger before he could leave her and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Safe travels, my lord,” she said, and seemed to have tears in her eyes.
  14. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 14

    When you’re 17, what else is more important than sex? 😀
  15. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 14

    I just want you all to know that your comments keep me going! You guys crack me up and/or you make me smile. Thanks.
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