No guarantees I'll be able to keep up a regular posting schedule, but something to tide you over. Be careful out there.
Despite the frigid temperatures made worse by a brisk wind, most of the crew and all of the officers were on deck as Valiant crept slowly closer to Arensburg.The officers eyed this town and its fort through their glasses, while the men squinted their eyes as if that would clarify their view.Arensburg was on the island of Oesel, which seemed perfectly designed to restrict access to the Gulf or Riga.As if that weren’t enough, there was a spit of land which dipped down into the entrance to the Gulf, as if to make it narrower, and it seemed to hook inward, creating a large open harbor.This area was crowded with vessels which appeared to be deserted, as if they were sealed up for the winter.
“There is much more shipping here than I would have expected,” Granger noted to the deck at large.
“I did not expect the port to be this crowded in November, my lord,” Schein agreed.
“My lord, I think those are British ships,” Grenfell observed.They looked at the vessels with more interest, looking for signs of their nationality, and while it was difficult to ascertain at that distance, the rigging seemed to be that of English merchant ships.
“I make 27 of them, sir,” Kingsdale added.“There’s another ship, a cutter, flying Russian colors.”
Granger turned his attention to the fort.It was an old structure, one that seemed to validate Daventry’s assertion that it was too feeble to withstand a bombardment from Valiant, but would be more than adequate to intimidate commercial vessels.It seemed to provide an air of authority to the entrance to this gulf, as if to emphasize the Tsar’s control over it.From the flagstaff above it flew the Russian flag, flapping happily in the wind.Daventry looked back to Valiant’s taffrail, where the Union flag visibly proclaimed their nationality.“You are not flying a parley flag?” Daventry asked.
“I am not,” Granger said.“We tried to be polite in St. Petersburg, and all that got us was an attempt to capture us by three Russian battleships.If they want us to be more courteous, they will have to make the first move.”
“Indeed,” Daventry said with a chuckle.“They have not fired at us, in any event.”
“They have not,” Granger agreed, “even though we are well within range.While I have not hoisted a parley flag, I will not be the first to fire a shot.”
“I am also surprised that you have not cleared for action,” Daventry said, trying to figure out why his captain was so calm in the face of Russian artillery.
“If I saw smoke indicating they were heating shot, I would take that precaution,” Granger noted.He did not want to throw his whole ship into upheaval for no reason, and the force arrayed in front of him was not a fearsome one.“We have four 24 pounders ready to return fire, and we can quickly get the others into action.”
A dull thud came from the fort, where the puff of gunpowder smoke was quickly blown away by the wind.They watched as the cannon ball flew toward them and passed between the main and mizzen masts, slicing a backstay in the process.“They seem to have fired the first shot,” Daventry said with a rueful smile.
“Mr. Grenfell, you may commence firing with your guns,” Granger ordered.It only took a nod to Weston to prompt him to order men to start repairing the backstay.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Grenfell said briskly, then hurried down the ladder.They heard the rumble as the designated guns were run out, followed shortly by the loud sound of a discharge as the first cannon fired.They watched the ball arch through the air and smash into the ancient masonry walls of the fort.
“Good shooting, Mr. Grenfell,” Granger called down to the gun deck.Before Grenfell could respond, the next cannon fired, smashing into the walls of the fort much as the first ball had.
“Sir!” Mr. Genarro said urgently, his word punctuated by his teeth chattering in the cold weather.“They’re lowering their flag!”
“Mr. Grenfell, cease firing!” Granger ordered, even as he watched the Russian ensign come fluttering down.
“They’ve surrendered to us, my lord?” Weston asked in disbelief.Even though the fort was not set up to withstand Valiant’s artillery, it seemed inconceivable to him that the entire place would surrender so easily.
Granger smiled briefly, understanding very clearly what had just happened.“They have, Mr. Weston.”Weston looked at him curiously, waiting for him to explain.“By firing at us, and by taking return fire, honor has been satisfied, and now they may surrender without being accused of cowardice.”
Weston nodded, getting clarity.“Much as if it were a duel, and once shots are exchanged, the affair can be honorably considered closed.”
“Exactly,” Granger agreed.“You may heave to.If I am not mistaken, that is a boat rowing toward us and it appears to carry a man wearing a goodly amount of gold lace.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and executed Granger’s orders, even as the Russian pinnace approached them quickly.
“Do you have any idea who will be coming to greet us?” Granger asked Daventry.
“I couldn’t begin to hazard a guess,” Daventry said.“We will have to discover if he is loyal to von der Pahlen.If he is not, we could be walking into a trap.”
“I think that unless they are harboring a regiment in that town, we are safe enough from their tricks, and I would point out that they would have to dishonor themselves with such a maneuver, since they have surrendered,” Granger noted.
“People can interpret the rules of war to their own liking, and decide that reneging on a surrender was merely a deception and a legitimate ruse de guerre,” Daventry said.
“I would also point out that Arensburg is on an island, so they are cut off from the shore unless or until ships from Revel rouse themselves and come to chase us off,” Granger noted.
“We will hope for the best, in any event.” They studied the man in the boat, who was quite young, until staring at him seemed to become impolite.They focused instead on the entry port, where Weston had positioned sideboys and bosun’s mates, the same number that Granger himself would have received if he were boarding the ship.
The young man hauled himself through the entry port in an agile and graceful way, then turned to salute the quarterdeck.Granger allowed his eyes to take in his spruce appearance.He was wearing the uniform of a cavalry officer, with long black boots into which his tight white trousers disappeared.He had a white shirt and uniform coat, with a black vest worn over the top of it. It was an old-fashioned uniform, one that would have been more familiar some 50 years ago, but it looked remarkably good on him, especially as it was heavily adorned by gold lace.Granger raised his eyes to meet those of the young man, only once their eyes had locked on to each other, it seemed as if they were being pulled together as if by a force of nature.Granger had never experienced such an intense optical experience, and felt as if it were almost as if they were reading each other’s souls.Daventry shuffled his feet, presumably to remind Granger to speak, and suddenly the whole situation irritated him. It was all he could do to bury his annoyance and be polite, but that helped to steady him, and break the spell that had connected them.The young Russian man simply eyed him with an amused grin.
“Welcome aboard His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant,” Granger said in French, removing his hat and bowing with a flourish.“I am Captain George Viscount Granger.”
“What a pleasure to meet you,” the man responded in fluent French, mimicking Granger’s gesture.“I am Captain Franz Baron von Benckendorff, of His Imperial Majesty’s Chevalier Garde, and Governor of Arensburg.” For such a young man, he had a very deep and melodic voice.
“Allow me to introduce you to Lord Daventry,” Granger said, introducing the two of them, and stood watching as they exchanged formalities.It was interesting that the three of them had intuitively and non-verbally agreed to dispense with formal forms of address, subtly acknowledging their relative social parity.As a governor, a baron, and a captain in what was the equivalent of His Majesty’s Life Guards, this young man was person of some importance and influence.
“Sir, I have come to surrender the City and fortress of Arensburg to you,” von Beckendorff said to Granger.He bowed again and handed Granger his sword.
“Sir, I will accept the surrender of your city, but I will not accept the surrender of your sword,” Granger said.
“I must thank you,” he said, and smiled at Granger.Granger couldn’t stop the smile that forced itself across his face, but in the end it was the cold that reminded him to stay focused on the task at hand.
“Won’t you join me in my cabin, and we can make arrangements to secure the town?” Granger asked.
“But of course,” von Beckendorff replied, and followed Granger back to his cabin.Granger had been on deck for quite a while, so the warmth was heavenly, but von Beckendorff didn’t comment on it, so Granger didn’t either.Daventry followed them dutifully, and for once Granger was less than happy to have him along.He wanted to spend some time alone with this Russian who had all but cast a spell on him.
“Winkler, will you arrange for Lefavre to prepare some refreshments for us,” Granger told his chief steward as he led Daventry and von Beckendorff into his cabin.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Winkler said, and discretely gave orders to his staff while he brought the three men glasses.
“I have not been aboard many ships, but of those I have visited, this is the nicest cabin I have yet seen,” von Beckendorff said.“And it is so warm.”
Granger took a few minutes to show the young Russian his stove, along with various pictures and items that were usually of interest, then directed them to sit at his table.“We are curious to see British ships in harbor,” Granger noted coldly, bringing them back to the business at hand.
“Sadly, they were seized some time ago when the Tsar issued his edict ordering all of your ships and cargoes to be impounded,” von Beckendorff said apologetically. “We have left the cargo in the ships and sealed them for the winter, and the crews have been accommodated in the fort or in town.”
“I will expect them to be released immediately,” Granger noted, almost an order.
“We will do as you wish, but I would caution you that while the cargo was left aboard, the stores were removed,” von Beckendorff said.The nervousness in his voice was unmistakable.
“Are they ashore, and still intact?” Granger asked.
“They were taken ashore to feed the impounded seamen, and also to provide winter provisions for our people,” von Beckendorff said.“I fear that if you remove all of the stores, there are many in the town and environs who will starve.”
Granger paused to ponder this dilemma for a few moments, then voiced his thoughts.“I would like you to have one of your men work with my purser to evaluate how many of the stores could be restored to those ships such that none of the townspeople will starve.”
“That is most easy to do,” von Beckendorff replied, smiling broadly now that his minions were assured of having food for the winter.“I would recommend that you come ashore and take possession of the town.It would be good if you could land a respectable force.”Granger understood that the entire capture needed to look good, otherwise von Beckendorff may appear to be cowardly or disloyal in the eyes of the army, and ultimately the Tsar.
“Excuse me,” Granger said to his guests, then addressed Winkler.“Pass the word for Mr. Weston, Major Treadway, and Mr. Andrews.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Winkler said, and went off to fetch those gentlemen.
“I need to get in touch with Count von der Pahlen,” Daventry said.
“We have been expecting you, which is why the cutter in the harbor is all but ready to sail,” von Beckendorff said.“Count von der Pahlen is in Riga.You must go there to meet him.”
“You were expecting us?” Daventry asked curiously.
Von Beckendorff smiled slyly.“We knew that after your encounter with those two frigates, you would not be welcome in St. Petersburg.”
“I should think that after the Tsar finds out we sank one of his battleships, and disabled two others, I will be even less welcome,” Daventry noted wryly.
Von Beckendorff’s eyes bulged at news of this considerable achievement, but he gathered his thoughts quickly enough.“That is most certainly true.While St. Petersburg may not welcome you, you will be quite safe in Riga.”
“That is reassuring,” Daventry said confidently, although Granger knew that his attitude was largely faked.Daventry was aware of the stakes he was playing for, and very aware of the risks he was taking with this mission.
They were interrupted with the arrival of the three officers Granger had summoned.They stood as Granger introduced von Beckendorff to each of his officers.“I hope you will excuse me,” Granger said to von Beckendorff.“I will leave you to help Daventry plan his trip to Riga while I ensure we are ready to go ashore.”
“I must thank you for leaving me with such charming company,” he replied.
Granger led the three officers into his chartroom, where they could talk and not be overheard, providing they spoke in relatively hushed tones.“We are to take possession of this city on a temporary basis.The Russian governors of the town and region are friendly, so it is mostly a formality.”
“I understand, my lord,” Weston said.
“It is important that we present as imposing a force as possible, if only for posterity.Major, I’ll need you to take your men and make a military display,” Granger told Treadway. “And while your men always look splendid, it would be good if they were especially so today and our band were in top form,” Granger added.
Treadway grinned in response, because there was nothing he enjoyed more than situations like this where he was able to show off his marines as a polished and disciplined force.“Aye aye, my lord,” he chimed. “We are allowing them to surrender with full honors?”
“We are,” Granger said.“While they will have to stack their arms upon surrender, I will leave it to your discretion as to whether you allow them to ultimately retain their arms.”
“Of course, my lord,” Treadway acknowledged.
“The British ships in the harbor were impounded by the Tsar, and the men are being held in the fortress and the town,” Granger explained.“They are to be released, and while their cargo is intact, their stores have been removed.”
“Can we outfit them from the shore, my lord?” Andrews asked, recognizing that this was clearly his area of responsibility.
“The stores ashore are destined to support this community for the winter, and if we take them all, the inhabitants will starve,” Granger said.“I would prefer not to inflict that kind of suffering on these people.”
“Of course, my lord,” Weston said hastily.
“I have told Governor von Beckendorff that we will divide the ship’s stores to provide enough for the residents, and the remainder we will return to the ships.That will enable the merchants to get away from here, and hopefully reach more friendly waters,” Granger explained.“I would like you, Mr. Andrews, to work with the Governor’s people to divide the stores.I would think that half of what is there is an appropriate place to start.”
“I will take care of it, my lord,” Andrews acknowledged.
“Then you gentlemen may go attend to your duties,” Granger said to Treadway and Andrews.“Please ask Mr. Schein and Mr. Meurice to join us.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Treadway responded, then they exited the chartroom, allowing the cold breeze to unpleasantly blast into the small space.
“Mr. Weston, I’m going to rely on you to tend to the released British merchants.You can apprise them of our plan to restock their ships, and ensure they make it back to their vessels safely.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said.His words were followed by the arrival of Schein and Meurice.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” Granger said, and then explained their situation.“We need to find a port where these merchants may acquire stores to last them through their voyage back to England.”
“I would suggest that we start on Gotland, at Visby, my lord,” Schein said.“If they cannot find stores there, they may have better luck at Malmo or Falsterbo, near the Sound.”
“As I left word that Visby was where I would check for dispatches, that is doubly convenient,” Granger said.“Please inform the merchant captains that we will leave as soon as they are ready, and that we will escort them to Visby.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston replied.Granger left them and went back into his cabin to find Daventry and von Beckendorff eating some of the excellent snacks Lefavre had put together for them.He joined them and chatted about the town and its immediate region, while beyond the cabin they could hear the hubbub as Weston had the boats lowered and Treadway began to assemble men to obey his orders.
“If you gentlemen will forgive my hurried departure, I will go ashore and make sure everything is ready,” von Beckendorff said, even as he stood.“I will also make sure the cutter is ready for you, Lord Daventry, so you may transit directly there with your baggage, if that is convenient.”
“That is most convenient,” Daventry replied.
Granger escorted von Beckendorff to the entry port.“Major Treadway, perhaps you would like to go ashore and coordinate our arrangements with Governor von Beckendorff?”
“It would be my honor, my lord,” Treadway said.
Granger turned back to the Russian.“I will see you ashore shortly.”
“I will look forward to welcoming you,” von Beckendorff said.“I am not sure if your duties will permit you to stay ashore tonight, but if you can, we will show you our fair town and provide you with comfortable lodgings.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Granger said noncommittally, but smiling nonetheless.He watched as von Beckendorff lowered himself into the boat, followed by Treadway, then went back to his cabin.“I’ll be going ashore shortly,” he said to Winkler.“I may spend the night ashore.”
Winkler smirked at him briefly.“We’ll attend to your needs wherever you end up, my lord.”
Granger rolled his eyes at Winkler’s cheeky facial gesture, then moved on to find Daventry in his cabin with Boles and McGillivray, giving them instructions on packing.“I will leave you gentlemen to get ready for our departure,” Daventry said, then walked back out with Granger to the main cabin, where they sat at the table and snacked on some more of Lefavre’s appetizers.
“It seems that this is where we will see you off,” Granger said, and felt unusually apprehensive.
“What will you do?” Daventry asked. Granger had been pondering that very issue for some time, and only now had he galvanized his musing into a course of action.
“I plan to escort these merchants to Gotland where we can hopefully find them some more stores,” Granger explained.“It will also give me a chance to see if I have any dispatches waiting for me.Barring orders to the contrary, I will sail Valiant home.”
“You have opted not to stay in this frozen tundra and further harass the Russians and Germans?” Daventry joked.
Granger smiled, then responded.“I have.I cannot see that further irritating the Tsar will do us any good.We have already shown him it is wise to think twice before picking fights with us.In addition, the weather is miserably cold, and is bound to cause injury to my crew.I will not harm them for no good reason.”
“You think you can sneak past the dangerous Danes?”
Granger actually laughed.“I suspect they’re still busy trying to figure out what to do with that wreck of a French privateer we abandoned to them.”
“I suspect they are,” Daventry agreed.Boles and McGillivray came out toting Daventry’s bags.
“We’ll load this into the boat and await you on deck, my lord,” Boles said to Daventry.“And thank you, my lord, for accommodating us on your ship.”That last sentence was directed at Granger.
“You are always welcome,” Granger replied affably.Daventry’s men left the cabin, and left the two peers alone.“I wish you luck.Your mission is fraught with danger.”
“It is, but you have gotten me this far, and now I must handle the rest of the journey alone,” Daventry said.“Whatever happens, I do not want you to try and save me.”
“Why not?” Granger asked, confused.
“Because you will have a mark on you, due to your successful attacks on His Imperial Majesty’s forces, and it would probably end up that I had to try and rescue you rather than the other way around,” Daventry said playfully.
“You have so little faith in me?” Granger riposted back.
“I will trust you to use your judgement, which I have found to be sound unless it is involved in matters of the heart,” Daventry said.
“I would suggest I am not alone in that regard,” Granger said, raising an eyebrow.
“You are not,” Daventry replied, then he took Granger’s hands in his.“If I do not return, I would ask you to watch out for my child.”
“I am sure you will be fine…” Granger began to object, because he didn’t want to think of losing his friend.
“I most likely will be, but this is important.My wife is not attuned to our society, and I would like to go on this mission comforted by the knowledge that you will help my son or daughter make his or her way.”
“I will do that, and if you have a daughter, I will try to ensure she marries a man who is not as big of a cad as you,” Granger joked.
“I should think that is a relatively low bar to leap over,” Daventry responded.“Take care of yourself.”
“You too,” Granger said, and then they embraced in a hug that was full of the love of friendship.They paused to surreptitiously dry their eyes, then Granger escorted Daventry to the entry port and watched, as frozen as the weather, as he boarded the jolly boat and set off for the cutter.
“We’re ready to disembark, my lord,” Weston said, interrupting his thoughts.
“You may send the marines ashore in the launch and the cutter, Mr. Weston.I will finish my preparations and then we can take my gig ashore,” Granger said.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said.Granger went back to his cabin and let Winkler burnish his appearance to ensure he was resplendent enough to awe the Estonian masses, such as they were, then arrived on deck to find that the marines were already almost to the landing spot.
“You have the ship, Mr. Grenfell,” Granger said, then followed Andrews and Weston into the gig.A nod to Jacobs sent the small boat gliding toward the castle, which was evidently where they’d land.“I suspect this is but a demonstration of power, but we must stay alert,” Granger told Weston.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said.
“I will rely on all of you to glean whatever information you can about the current situation with the men you interact with,” Granger further ordered.Their acknowledgement was obscured as the gig slid up against the small dock, and Granger exited the boat onto the pier.Granger gazed at the waterfront and the castle and pondered that Arensburg would probably be a lovely place in the summer, but now with the frigid winds and iced planks on the dock, it was less than inviting.There was a large area adjacent to the pier where Valiant’s marines had formed up in two lines, two men deep, all facing forward toward Granger.Granger looked at the marines then almost chuckled, noting that their white breeches blended in with the snowy white background while their bright red coats stood out that much more. It almost made it appear as if they had no legs.
“Present Arms!” the sergeants shouted almost in unison, an order which was expertly executed in an almost simultaneous fashion.Granger saluted his marines, pausing to admire what a disciplined force they were.
“Right face,” Treadway ordered, pivoting the marines toward the fort.“Mark time!”At that, the marines began to march in position.
Von Beckendorff approached Granger, and while his facial expressions were serious, the twinkling in his eyes showed he viewed this entire ceremony as a charade.“Welcome to Arensburg.”
“Thank you,” Granger said.
“I have horses for you and your officers,” he continued, gesturing toward the waiting steeds.
“Excellent,” Granger replied.He mounted his horse and swung the beast over next to von Beckendorff’s.Treadway went up to lead the marines, while Weston took position on Granger’s other side.The three of them would remain near the center of the troop.
“Marines, form up!” Treadway ordered, and the marines formed into standard marching columns.Granger, Treadway, and von Beckendorff rode directly in front of the band, which made conversation a bit difficult.
“Marines, advance!” Treadway shouted, which put the column into motion and simultaneously started the band playing.They played “The British Grenadiers,” and with the drums keeping the beat the marines began to move forward.Granger and his party guided their horses along, maintaining their position in the procession.
“Your soldiers are quite impressive,” von Beckendorff noted.
“Thank you.I must credit that to Major Treadway,” Granger said.“How many soldiers are here in Arensburg?”
“There are 100 troops here, of whom 15 are from His Imperial Majesty’s Guard and accompanied me on my journey to visit,” he replied. “The remaining 85 or so are militia, and are not very reliable.”Granger smiled at von Beckendorff’s natural disdain for part-time soldiers.
“That is not a very large force,” Granger noted.
“It is sufficient to provide security for a town of 2500 persons,” he replied.
Granger stared at him, a little surprised at that.“I did not realize Arensburg was so large.”
“You will see it all shortly,” von Beckendorff said with a smile.
“The troops that came with you, His Majesty’s Guard, can you vouch that they will obey my orders while we have temporary control of this town?” Granger asked, his mind working feverishly, even as they approached the gate in the bastion.
“They will follow your orders if I tell them to,” von Beckendorff said.It was a cavalier statement that belied the bond between him and his men.
“Then I should like them to retain their arms,” Granger declared.That got a surprised look from von Beckendorff, since it was customary for those troops who were captured, even if they were afforded full honors, to stack their arms.
“That is quite the honor you do us,” von Beckendorff noted, even as he mused what Granger had said.
“I have no desire to fight the forces of His Imperial Majesty, and even though I have been compelled to do just that, I would not want to publicly embarrass his own guard,” Granger replied.“I think that makes things personal, when they are nothing of the kind.”
“Let us hope His Imperial Majesty appreciates your gesture,” von Beckendorff said skeptically.
Granger focused on this fort he’d captured, and marveled at this bastion and the ravelins, a testament to the influence of Vauban on siege warfare even this far from France.They entered a large open area, with the medieval castle towering in the background.The marines divided again, forming a column on either side of the gate to the castle as if to make an aisleway.Granger, von Beckendorff, Treadway, and Weston sat atop their horses at the end of the two columns.Upon Treadway’s orders, the band stopped playing.
As soon as the band stopped, fifes and drums began to play from inside the castle, and the Russian garrison came marching out.First out were the members of the militia, wearing green uniforms that looked to be of a similar fashion to those worn by the British Army before this latest war.They looked relatively tawdry and unkempt compared to Valiant’s crisp marines.The men marched toward Granger and his party and saluted, pausing to stack their arms, then they walked past the officers and assembled behind them.
The militia continued to play their fifes and drums and then the Imperial Guardsmen rode out, looking and acting nothing like the undisciplined militia.Granger easily recognized these men as crack troops.They approached his party and dismounted.Before they could stack up their arms, von Beckendorff stopped them. He spoke first in Russian, then repeated himself in French, presumably for Granger’s benefit. “As you know, we have surrendered this fort and city to His Britannic Majesty’s ship Valiant and her captain, Lord Granger.Lord Granger has requested that you keep your arms and your colors, as a compliment to your service and devotion to His Imperial Majesty.” The troopers saluted Granger smartly, a gesture which Granger returned, and then with the ceremonial surrender over he was free to take stock of this city he had captured.