“It is stunning that what took us three days to transit while heading east has taken us two weeks going in the opposite direction,” Daventry grumbled.
“Our merchant friends are a lubberly lot,” Granger said with a smile. “You must also factor in the foul weather and winds.”
“I would suspect that saving those merchants will do much to erase your unpopularity with their brethren when they return to England,” Daventry speculated.Granger had spent most of his time over the past few weeks, whenever the weather permitted, transiting between the merchant ships or alternately hosting select captains aboard Valiant.
“That was on my mind when I opted to escort them,” Granger said.“As we have reached a détente of sorts with the Guild, and most of these ships are probably affiliated with that group, I felt it was probably a wise move.”
“I suspect it will be, although such charity has taken a substantial amount of time,” Daventry said.
“I fear that all of this has delayed our mission,” Granger acknowledged ruefully.“I think if I had opted to leave them to themselves, I would have faced a firestorm of complaints when we returned.”
“I know you are right,” Daventry acknowledged reluctantly.
“That privateer we chased off two days ago would have hauled away at least one or two of these ships,” Granger pointed out.They’d encountered a privateer that appeared German in build, but flew French colors.She had been no match for Valiant, especially since the seas had been rough.It was only her quick reaction in spotting Valiant and then avoiding the convoy that saved her from capture.
“Yet we are now significantly delayed in getting to St. Petersburg,” he said.
“We can forsake our spying expedition to Karlskrona if you like,” Granger offered, even though he thought it would be a bad move.He and Daventry paced the deck, with Granger saying nothing, giving Daventry time to think about it.
“I think we should peek in on the Swedes,” Daventry pronounced. “It is on the way, so any delay should be minimal.”
“Sail ho!” shouted the lookout.“Looks to be a sloop of war!”
Granger wrestled internally with climbing up to the foretop to ascertain who this visitor was, but he was feeling uncharacteristically lazy this morning, so he opted to wait for news to come to him.In any event, he had nothing to fear: a sloop of war was no match for Valiant.Instead, he continued his conversation with Daventry.“I think looking in on the Swedes is a good idea.”
“As Mr. Schein explained it, after peeping into Karlskrona, we will have an even better idea of how far they are in their winterizing.”
“Then that is what we shall do,” Granger said.“It may be very useful to ascertain not only their available forces, but their attitude toward us.”
“Land ho, off the starboard bow!” cried the lookout, interrupting their conversation yet again.“Looks to be Falsterbo!”
“We seem to have arrived at the entrance to the Sound,” Granger noted happily.“Once we have solved the mystery surrounding this sloop of war, we can rid ourselves of this convoy and head east.”
“My lord, the sloop is in sight,” Llewellyn said, gesturing forward.“She’s one of ours, and she’s showing her number.”
“That is very good news,” Granger said.He’d be able to deliver his dispatches and this convoy into the hands of this sloop.
“My lord, the ship is the Sprite, of 18 guns, Captain Lord Brookstone,” Llewellyn said with a smile.
“And that is yet more good news,” Granger said happily.Brookstone had first served with Granger as a midshipman aboard Belvidera, and was an excellent officer.“Please signal her captain to repair on board.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Llewellyn said, and then shortly thereafter reported to Granger that Brookstone had acknowledged.Granger watched as Sprite seemed to all but fly toward them, what with the wind on her starboard quarter.She was a beautiful ship and appeared to be a sister ship to Granger’s first command, the Intrepid.Her flush deck and sleek lines were clearly the work of French naval architects.
“You may signal the convoy to heave to,” Granger ordered.He waited until the convoy had acknowledged, then ordered the signal to be lowered, the indication that it should be executed.He deftly brought Valiant into the wind, then focused on Sprite, as she sailed to within half a cable of Valiant and hove herself to in a very well-executed maneuver.
Granger watched as Brookstone’s gig approached and hooked onto Valiant, noting how smartly turned out his crew looked.In short order, the young man hauled himself aboard, welcomed by the honors due to a commander.He saluted the quarterdeck then removed his hat in what Nelson had almost made a standard form of salute, exposing his bright red hair.“Welcome aboard,” Granger said affably.“What a pleasure to see you!”
“Thank you, sir, but the pleasure is most assuredly mine,” Brookstone said.Granger introduced him to those officers he did not know, and let him greet those he did, and then ushered him back to his cabin. “I see you are still with His Lordship, Winkler.”
“I am bound to him as surely as if I were a serf, my lord,” Winkler said.
“See if you can drum up some breakfast for us,” Granger said, even as he shook his head at Winkler’s impertinence.He led Brookstone to his dining table and motioned for him to be seated. He remembered Brookstone when he was a young midshipman, and looked proudly at this man who had evolved from that waif.He was polished and confident, and seemed to be one who had truly matured into the position of captain, even though his red hair and boyish features made him look younger than he was.
“I have dispatches for you, sir,” Brookstone said, and handed Granger a packet of letters.
“Were you being sent to find me?” Granger asked.
“I was, sir,” Brookstone replied.“Admiral Dickson has anchored in the Sound, and that has all but neutralized the Danes, at least for now.”
“That is a good thing then, especially for this convoy,” Granger said. Daventry chose that moment to emerge from his cabin.Granger made to introduce them, but they had already met.
“Lord Brookstone has been to Carlton House on a number of occasions when I have also been present,” Daventry said.He was a bit more formal than Granger would have expected, which surprised Granger.It was almost as if Daventry didn’t entirely trust Brookstone.“Otherwise, we don’t frequent the same haunts.”
“I am much more chaste than Your Lordship,” Brookstone joked.
“Most people are,” Granger added, teasing Daventry.
“You gentlemen would have me believe you are both pure as the driven snow, and I know enough about both of you to know that is not true,” Daventry said, raising his eyebrow in a challenging way, and deftly shutting up both Granger and Brookstone.
“I am sure you will find more meaningful reports in that packet, sir, but I am tasked to tell you that you are to act as if a state of war exists between His Majesty and the King of Prussia.”
“I had been going on that assumption, but you make it sound much more resolved than a mere guess,” Granger said quizzically.
“The Prussians have invaded Hanover, sir,” Brookstone said simply.
“That would certainly clarify things,” Daventry said ruefully.Hanover was the German kingdom from which King George I had come, and his successors seemed to have an enduring love for this territory as if it were still part of their realm.To the current King, George III, Prussia’s invasion of Hanover must be as bad as if they had invaded Northumberland.
“We were on a mission to take Lord Daventry to St. Petersburg, but we found this convoy under attack by two Russian frigates,” Granger explained.“After we chased the frigates away, we opted to escort the convoy to the Sound.”
“Chased them away, sir?” Brookstone asked, grinning.
“He captured both of them,” Daventry said, rolling his eyes at Granger’s modesty.
“The end result was that they went away and left the convoy alone,” Granger retorted.“In any event, I am going to saddle you with their care.”
“I do not have words to express my appreciation, sir,” Brookstone said, getting a laugh from all of them.Convoy duty was a grueling and thankless task.
“I was confident you would feel that way,” Granger said with a grin.“They are largely easy to deal with and obey orders better than most.”
“That is good news, sir,” Brookstone said.
“When you go on deck and study Valiant’s rigging, you will likely notice how it looks as if it is new, which it largely is,” Granger said.“I have found that these ships were only too happy to sell us what naval stores we needed.You may find it easier to acquire such items from them than from the dockyard.”
“Some hemp and pitch would not come amiss, sir,” Brookstone said with real enthusiasm.Keeping one’s ship in top shape was not easy with the miserly dockyards hoarding most supplies.The servants brought out breakfast, and that was their signal to discuss events in England and at Court, savoring the stories and tidbits of gossip Brookstone brought with him.After they were done, Brookstone returned to Sprite, while Granger reviewed his dispatches.There was nothing there that required an additional response from him, so there was no need to detain Sprite any longer.
“Valiant to Sprite: proceed,” Granger ordered Llewellyn.
“Sprite’s acknowledged, my lord,” Llewellyn relayed after reading Sprite’s response.“She’s signaling the convoy.”
“Excellent,” Granger said.“Mr. Weston, lay in a course for Karlskrona.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said.Granger paced his deck, even as he noted the actions Weston took, pausing briefly to watch Sprite shepherd the convoy into the Sound.“We’re on course my lord.”
“That was nicely done, Mr. Weston,” Granger said.“Walk with me.”
“It will be my pleasure, my lord,” Weston said, and they began the time-honored practice of pacing the quarterdeck together, such that when they got to the end of a leg they turned so they faced each other briefly before continuing on with the next leg.
“I wanted to talk to you about the Russian ships.I feel bad that we have not had an opportunity to do so until now,” Granger said.
“We have been busy, my lord,” Weston said with his typical smile.
“Indeed we have,” Granger agreed, since the convoy had taken up the bulk of his time, while Weston had been quite focused on acquiring stores from the convoy to repair Valiant’s rigging.“I do not recall our rigging ever being in such good condition.”
“The hemp rope we acquired was much better than that we used when we first commissioned her in Portsmouth, my lord,” Weston confirmed.“There truly is no hemp better than Russian hemp.”
“That is good news,” Granger said.“I had originally put you in command of the smaller Russian frigate because she appeared to be in much better shape and seemed seaworthy enough to make it to England.”
“She was a fine vessel, my lord,” Weston said.
“It was my intention to give you command of her and to send you back to England with a prize crew, one that we would have assembled by poaching men from the convoy,” Granger said with a conspiratorial grin.
“We would have been less popular with those vessels after that, my lord,” Weston noted, something Granger was all too familiar with.Merchant captains and their owners were most vociferous in complaining about men being pilfered from their ships.
“Lord Daventry persuaded me to change my mind, and I think that by doing so he did you a good service,” Granger said.
“My lord?” Weston asked curiously, since denying him command of the captured Russian frigate would hardly make it seem like Daventry was doing him a favor.
“With the political situation as it is, it is likely that the government will not want to call attention to any of our triumphs here in the Baltic, and it is also possible that they would direct us to hand any captured ships back to the Russians,” Granger explained.
“And if I were to return in command of such a ship, my lord, I would most likely be removed at once and shipped off on board the most convenient vessel available,” Weston said, grasping the situation quite clearly.
“That is most likely what would have happened,” Granger said.“I want you to know that if a suitable opportunity comes along to aid you in promotion, I will do whatever I can to make that happen.”
Weston smiled, his typical grin being a bit bigger than normal.“Thank you, my lord.To be honest, I really don’t worry about it that much, because I already assumed you were watching out for me.”
Some captains may have found that statement presumptuous, but Granger found it quite flattering.“Then we are of a like mind.I just wanted you to understand my reasoning.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Weston said cheerfully.Granger went below to stare at his charts and contemplate their voyage.
HMS Valiant, Off Karlskrona
Valiant lay hove to outside the base for Sweden’s deep-sea fleet while Granger and Weston stood securely at the maintop, staring into this fortified harbor.“I make 10 sail of the line and six frigates, my lord,” Weston said.
“That is my conclusion as well,” Granger agreed.“It looks as if only one of the battleships and two of the frigates are even close to being ready for sea.”
“I think it would take an ambitious dockyard at least a fortnight to ready those ships, my lord,” Weston noted.
“I think that’s a good estimate,” Granger agreed.In any event, it was almost guaranteed those ships would be winterized shortly.
“The others look pretty much buttoned down for the winter, my lord,” Weston said.“If I had to guess, I’d say that battleship was moored next to the pier because she’s next to go into hibernation.”
“These Baltic nations allow their ships of the line to hibernate just like bears,” Granger mused, getting a chuckle from Weston.“It is no wonder they don’t worry about stout construction.”
“Wouldn’t really need it,” Weston said, thinking out loud.
“Unlike our ships, which must be able to keep the sea through any season and in all but the strongest of gales,” Granger replied.The Royal Navy built strong ships for just that purpose, ships that were designed to last.“I daresay you won’t find a ship like Britannia or Victory still in commission with the Swedish or Russian fleets.”Those ships were over 40 years old and still considered excellent.
“I daresay you would not,” he agreed.“Looks to be a lugger heading toward us.”
Granger studied the ship that headed their way, one of these small coastal vessels with their queer rigging that seemed to be so prevalent in these waters.“She seems to be carrying a passenger.I can make out some gold lace, but little more than that.”
“I can’t see much more than that either, my lord,” Weston said.
“I think we should return to deck,” Granger said.“We can prepare to receive our distinguished guest, whoever he may be.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said with a smile.They descended to the quarterdeck, and then watched as the lugger closed with them.Granger had expected the Swedes to show a parley flag, but the Swedish ensign flew on its own.Granger decided that was either a very friendly gesture, or a hostile one.The passenger aboard the lugger had vanished, but regardless, Granger wasn’t worried about a lugger, and decided to assume that this craft and its intentions were friendly.He stood confidently, waiting to see what the little ship would do.The small craft hove to half a cable from them, then lowered a small boat.The passenger emerged, gold lace glittering in the sunlight, and descended into the boat, which began to promptly row toward Valiant.
“Who are they sending to treat with us?” Daventry speculated.
“I don’t know who he is,” Granger mused, “but he would appear to be a person of some consequence.”He had a yellow ribbon, presumably the symbol of some Swedish order.As he grew closer, Granger could make out his features.He appeared to be older, probably in his 40s, and was handsome now, suggesting he must have been almost gorgeous when he was younger.“Mr. Weston, let us assume this man is a general, and accord him those honors.Make sure a bosun’s chair is ready as well.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and attended to that.The boat pulled alongside and hooked on but did not bother to signal for the bosun’s chair.With the seas being relatively calm, evidently this stranger decided that it was low enough risk to board on his own.They watched the entry port as the distinguished man pulled himself aboard, managing to do it quite gracefully.He saluted the quarterdeck as was proper, and then strode forward to greet Granger.
“My lord, I hope you will forgive my impertinence by arriving on board without an invitation,” he said in fluent French.“I am Count Axel von Fersen.” For all of his vaunted stoicism, Granger could not stop his eyes from bulging a bit in surprise at meeting this distinguished stranger.This was the man who had been an intimate of, and a rumored lover of Marie Antoinette.He was the man who had tried to spirit the French Royal family out of France in 1791, organizing their disastrous flight to Varennes, and who had to flee France after that.
“Your Excellency, it is truly an honor to meet someone of your fame and renown,” Granger said with a courtly bow.
“I think, my lord, that is better served as my line,” von Fersen said with a smile, showing off some of his considerable charm.“And Lord Daventry.What a pleasure to see you again!”
“You have met?” Granger asked Daventry.
“I had the honor of meeting His Excellency at Rastatt,” Daventry said.“It was a most interesting time.”
“I met Your Lordship at the same conference where I met General Bonaparte,” von Fersen said.“You were decidedly more pleasant.”
“You did not hit it off with General Bonaparte?” Daventry asked, with a grin.
“He explained to me that it was an insult for His Swedish Majesty to send agents to France who were devoted to the prior regime,” von Fersen said, shaking his head with amusement.“I don’t suppose I’m his favorite person.”
“I don’t suppose you are,” Daventry agreed, making them laugh. While the conversation was amusing, Granger was mindful that they were hove to off of Sweden’s principal naval base, entertaining a very exalted Swedish official, and he was most anxious to find out the reason why von Fersen was here.
“Would you allow me to introduce my officers, Your Excellency?” Granger asked, to move them onto more pertinent topics.He found that he was once again thwarted by von Fersen’s charm.The Swedish Count was kind to everyone, and seemed to take a special liking to Mr. Genarro.
“And how do you find our Baltic climate, Your Highness?” von Fersen asked the young midshipman.
“It’s a bit colder than I’m used to, Your Excellency, and I’m told that the weather is only going to get worse,” Genarro said with a grimace.Granger shared his longing for the lovely Mediterranean weather.
“That is an understatement, Your Highness, but I suspect you will get used to it,” von Fersen said pleasantly.
“Forgive me if I do not share Your Excellency’s optimism,” Genarro said, making them all chuckle.
“Lord Granger, it is no surprise that you have assembled such a talented and charming group of officers,” von Fersen said.
“I must thank Your Excellency for your compliment, and note that I could not agree with you more,” Granger said.“I am quite proud of them.” The other officers, or at least those who spoke French, looked quite taken aback at such a strong endorsement from their captain.
“In any event, you are probably wondering what has brought me out here to visit your ship today,” von Fersen said.
“I had assumed that our charming company, as Your Excellency noted, would be worth the voyage in a small boat,” Granger said with a smile.
“And indeed it was, my lord, but I have come to ask you to indulge me in two things,” von Fersen said.
“Your Excellency?” Granger asked curiously.
“I need to return to Stockholm before the freeze, and as our own ships are all but embalmed for the winter, I have come out here to impose upon Your Lordship to take me there,” von Fersen said.
“Stockholm was not on our planned route, Your Excellency,” Granger said, even as he digested von Fersen’s request.A glance at Daventry showed him to be just as stymied.
“I understand, and I must apologize most profusely for so rudely imposing on Your Lordship,” von Fersen said smoothly.“But having you take me to Stockholm also enables me to impose upon you for a second favor.”
“Your Excellency?” Granger asked.
“His Majesty King Gustav has expressed an interest in making your acquaintance, and has extended an invitation for you to call on him when you reach the capital,” von Fersen explained.
Cavendish had explained that Sweden was their most reliable ally in the Baltic, and as they had already barely avoided battle with the Danes, fought an action against the Russian navy, and been instructed to wreak havoc where possible on the Prussians, it would also seem Sweden was the only real choice to provide Valiant with any kind of support should she need it.It would hardly be conducive to that relationship to refuse to accommodate an important Swedish diplomat and even less productive to refuse a royal invitation.Granger looked at Daventry and could tell he was thinking along the same lines.With only their eyes, they were able to communicate their inevitable agreement to von Fersen’s plan.“Your Excellency, you will please forgive me for even hesitating a moment to grant your request.We would be honored to convey you to Stockholm.”
“Your Lordship is too kind,” Von Fersen replied with a wily smile.“I have only to have my luggage transferred aboard, and I am prepared to begin.”
“Of course, Your Excellency,” Granger said, and gave Weston orders to attend to that.He summoned Winkler and told him to rig the cabin next to Daventry for von Fersen.That took little enough time, and then the lugger put herself about and returned to Karlskrona, while Granger met with Schein and Meurice to plot a course to Stockholm.Once they were safely on their way, Granger returned to his cabin to find it a hubbub of activity, as von Fersen’s servants got him settled in and Winkler prepared dinner for them.He found Daventry and von Fersen seated in the quarter gallery.
“My lord, I must tell you that I have never been so warm aboard a ship!” von Fersen exclaimed.Granger smiled and then showed von Fersen his stove, avoiding the men who were using it to cook their dinner.After that, Granger led them to his dining room table where they took their seats and indulged in some of the wine Granger had acquired from Corneille.
“This is French wine,” von Fersen accused with a smile.
“It is indeed,” Granger said, smiling back.“We acquired it in the Channel from a French ship.”
“That is most unusual, for you to trade with a French vessel, is it not?” von Fersen asked.
“The ship in question, and her captain, had conveyed me back to England when I was paroled, and I thought it would be ghastly bad manners to capture a man who had done me such a kind turn,” Granger said jovially, easily reverting to his Continental mode.
“Yet your admiral did not appreciate such largesse,” Daventry noted.
“He is more concerned with his purse than with certain niceties,” Granger replied, making all of them chuckle.
Winkler and his staff brought out food and left them.It took no time at all for von Fersen to become quite voluble.“This food is wondrous!I have not dined like this since I was last in France!”
“My chef is renowned in the Royal Navy, and I have to work to keep admirals from poaching him from me,” Granger joked.Lefavre was loyal, and would not leave his service.
“I am most glad for your victory in those battles,” Daventry added.
“I must say that I am surprised His Majesty was even aware we were in the Baltic,” Granger said.
“We have spies everywhere,” von Fersen joked, even though Granger and Daventry wondered if it were indeed true.“Your arrival in Copenhagen was too obvious to escape notice, and Lord Whitworth was not reluctant to divulge your plan to visit St. Petersburg.”
“There is no need for spies when His Britannic Majesty’s ambassadors are so willing to share information,” Daventry grumbled.
“Indeed,” von Fersen agreed.“In any event, King Gustav felt that it would provide an excellent opportunity to meet you, and to discuss Sweden’s position in advance of your trek.”
“And what is Sweden’s position, Your Excellency?” Daventry asked.
“Sweden is a reluctant member of this coalition, as you must surely realize,” von Fersen explained.“First of all, we have enjoyed a long and friendly relationship with your country, and we see no reason to upset it simply because the Danes are so inept as to cause an international incident.”
“Your views largely mirror ours, as you must realize,” Daventry noted. Granger wasn’t sure that he was willing to call the Danes inept in the Freya affair, but he kept his mouth shut.
“We are also most fervently committed to bringing down this horrible thing the French call a republic, and to ultimately restoring the natural and proper order of things,” von Fersen said with considerable vehemence.It appeared that he was indeed the devoted monarchist that he had been reputed to be.
“That is also our mission,” Daventry said.Granger wasn’t convinced that the restoration of the Bourbons was a prerequisite for peace with France, but the idea had a natural appeal to him, so he once again kept quiet.
“At the same time, Sweden is not in a position to fight a war against Russia, Denmark, and Prussia, and if we do not go along with this League, that is what we will have,” von Fersen said.“We would be hard pressed to defend Finland from the Russian hordes, Pomerania from Prussian troops, and our homeland from our Danish adversaries.”
“That would appear to be a formidable challenge,” Granger said, more to spur von Fersen on than anything.
“It is indeed, and because Denmark still has a hold on Norway, which is legally and morally a part of Sweden, we have a very long border to worry about,” von Fersen said.Granger and Daventry were both well aware of Sweden’s designs on Norway, so they said nothing to validate that assertion.
“I worry that our presence here will cause you difficulties, Your Excellency,” Granger said.
“My lord, you and your ship will be most welcome in Swedish waters, but sadly the current situation prevents us from as openly expressing that as we would otherwise like to do,” von Fersen said smoothly.
“What would you advise, in order to avoid arousing foreign suspicions?” Granger asked.
“I would recommend that you avoid frequenting large Swedish ports, ones with potential Russian spies,” von Fersen said.“There are some smaller islands near Gotland that would provide you with some basic sustenance, such as wood and water, while if you need something more substantive, an occasional call at a port such as Visby would be reasonable.”
“Then it would seem that after our visit to Stockholm, we should stick to less populated areas should we need shelter from a storm, or as you noted, for some basic stores,” Granger concluded.
“I am sorry the current state of affairs makes such precautions necessary,” von Fersen said.
“I am sorry about that as well, but I appreciate the direct way you have addressed this issue, as it will certainly help my planning,” Granger said politely.The next course came out, and that prompted von Fersen to rave about the food some more and took their conversation off into lighter topics.
I will try not to bail on you all again, especially for such a long time. I've got a few chapters of this story in process, so I should be able to make my goal of posting a new chapter every other week. Happy Bastille Day!