Just in case you got complacent about cliffhangers. 🙂
Granger thought back to the coldest he’d ever been, when he’d traversed Cape Horn, and his mind was so fatigued it went off on a tangent to think longingly about Calvert, and how warm his body had been.A wave crashed into the ship and doused him with freezing water, bringing him back from his daydream.He’d been cold then, rounding Cape Horn, but he was colder now.The Baltic had largely kept quiet, as if it were allowing the frigid weather to bear the brunt of its battle against all ships in general and Valiant in particular.All that had changed last night, when a storm had come up with gale force freezing winds and large waves.The waves were actually not large, like one would find in the Atlantic, rather they were more like the waves in the Channel, which were choppier.It made for a safer, yet much more uncomfortable and wetter voyage.
He thought about his actions at Arensburg and Memel.It may have seemed foolish to pilfer stores from Memel, which was a key British trading port, and especially important to the Royal Navy, as that’s where the bulk of non-Scandinavian stores transshipped to Britain.And it may have seemed even more foolish to stir up trouble there to benefit a small settlement in Courland, and to try and earn the friendship of some Swedes on an island in the middle of this frozen sea.But the Prussians had to experience some pain for invading Hannover, and more importantly, if Daventry’s mission were to succeed, he’d need the support of Count von der Pahlen and his minions.Granger had aptly demonstrated the benefits to them of a warm relationship with Britain.In a similar vein, it was unclear how this quasi war in the Baltic would sort itself out, but as Cavendish noted, the Swedes were their best hope for albeit reluctant allies, and the island of Gotland, if friendly, could be an invaluable base for a fleet stationed here.Granger decided that the worst that would befall him for his actions was a private reprimand and a lawsuit from the Prussians demanding that he compensate them for the stores he’d taken.A private reprimand didn’t bother him, and he almost laughed out loud when he thought about how long such a lawsuit would take before it was resolved.Granger decided that any money the Prussians won from him would probably not be payable for so long that his heirs would have to worry about it, not him.
Weston sent up new watchmen, as he did every half hour.They’d spend their thirty minutes up there, then come down from the tops all but frozen stiff, only to be led below where they could thaw themselves out.They had installed the stove they’d captured at Kronstadt on the lower deck and had enlarged one of the scuppers to allow it to vent out the side.It normally had a remarkable effect on the ship, keeping it much warmer than he had anticipated.Unfortunately, with the ship in a storm like it currently was, the most they could keep burning in there were embers, and they gave off considerably less warmth.
He trained his glass on Ursula, which sailed along easily.Granger remembered that the spry little brig had been built just with the vagaries of this sea in mind.Valiant had been built to tackle much different waters, and was much less comfortable in these choppy, shallow conditions.The lookouts came down and the man who had been in the foretop, a sailor named Pine, came back and saluted.“Begging your pardon, my lord, but there’s land fine off the larboard bow.”
Granger frowned.“You did not think to call that down from the tops, Pine?”
“I’d just seen it when we were relieved, and I didn’t think I could yell loud enough that you’d hear me, my lord,” he said nervously.“I was fair sure I could report to you in person before I was able to get heard in person.”
There was no reason to browbeat this man.“Next time call from the top,” Granger said severely.“I’d rather you waste a few lungful’s yelling down from aloft than having us all run aground.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said sheepishly.
“Land ho, off the starboard bow,” called the lookout in the maintop.
“How far away?” Granger called back.
“Near on five miles!” the man replied.
“Now tell us about this land,” he said to Pine in a friendlier way, to indicate the time for scolding was over.He guided Pine into the chartroom and summoned Schein and Meurice to join them.It took almost no time to ascertain their location.To the larboard was the island of Gotland, and to the starboard was the small island of Gotska Sandon.
“The only good thing about this weather is that we have fair winds for Visby,” Granger noted.
“I don’t think we’ll get there in time to enter port before nightfall, my lord,” Schein cautioned.
“I think entering port tomorrow morning will be adequate,” Granger said.He went on deck and gave orders for Valiant to alter course to the south, and then he began to pace.They’d left Arensburg yesterday, and Granger’s emotions had been as turbulent as the weather.Most immediately, he missed the warmth and companionship of von Beckendorf.He was still unsure as to the depth of his feelings for the young guardsman, but he knew that he cared about him quite a bit.All the unique things about him, his smile, his laugh, his taste, his smell, were etched into Granger’s mind.
But while longing for von Beckendorf had saddened him, that was nothing compared with his concern for Daventry.Daventry had told him to head home to England, assuring Granger that he would be fine, but the letter von Beckendorf had received from von der Pahlen put a huge question mark on that assertion.If Daventry was caught by the Tsar’s secret police, or handed in by someone wanting to curry favor with the unstable monarch, what would Tsar Paul do to Daventry?He was a British civilian, albeit a peer, in Russia illegally.If Paul executed Daventry, would it cause an uproar, or would the world largely shrug its shoulders?Granger feared it would be the latter, and that meant that the only way for Daventry to survive was to do as von der Pahlen has suggested: he’d have to denounce Granger and his actions, and claim that they’d happened without his consent and were beyond his control.Granger would bear Daventry no malice if he took that step; he would just be happy that his friend was able to survive.But that was not Daventry’s way, nor was it Granger’s.It was an issue of honor, and in that case, one could not take the easy way out.
And so Granger paced, up and down his deck, until a familiar face appeared in front of him, forcing him to stop his walk.He blinked as he pulled himself out of his introspective daze, first to recognize that the face belonged to Winkler, then to allow his mind to return to the present, and finally to realize how incredibly cold he was, having been out on deck for quite some time.“My lord, we’ve got some food for you,” Winkler said.
Granger looked around to see that Kingsdale had the watch.“Quite so,” he said to Winkler.“Mr. Kingsdale, you have the ship.”
“Aye aye, sir,” Kingsdale said, and pretended to take even more interest in Valiant’s course and surroundings than he had before, even though Granger knew that Kingsdale had been effectively conning Valiant while Granger had been pacing.
He followed Winkler back to his cabin and ate a quick meal, then Winkler helped him out of his wet clothes and into his warm bed.Even the heat of the stove and the warmth of the bed was insufficient to eradicate the cold from Granger’s body.He lay there, his teeth chattering, praying for his body to warm up.
A knock at his door woke him up, but despite his nap, he was still shivering from the cold.“Enter,” he called brusquely.Weston came walking in and closed the door promptly, thoughtfully keeping as much heat in the room as possible.
“My lord, I am sorry to bother you, but dusk is upon us and we have spotted Visby some two miles away,” Weston said.
“I’ll be right there,” Granger said, and made to get up.
“I hove Valiant to, and ordered Ursula to do the same, my lord,” Weston said.“It is shallow enough that we were able to deploy the kedge anchor to keep us from drifting past the harbor.”
Granger paused to think about that, about how technically Weston should have consulted him before he’d done those things, but then he smiled at how good of an officer he was to have handled things so well.There was no need to nitpick over something like that, when in fact his initiative should be rewarded.Granger studied Weston and saw him not just as an officer, but as a man, with his large muscular frame and his growing self-confidence, and thought that both those things made him very attractive.“You did very well,” Granger said.“I am glad for it, for I have yet to warm myself after being on deck for most of the day.”
“I do not think I will ever be warm again, my lord,” Weston said, and it was possible to actually hear him shivering through his voice.
“The stove is not putting out enough heat?” Granger asked.
“No my lord, it is doing its job quite well, and that reminds me to thank you for it again, but it is a bit far from my cabin, and when it is this cold, unless I leave my door open, it is not enough heat to eradicate the chills.”
“I think that under the circumstances, about the only thing that will warm a person is body heat,” Granger said, taking a step he probably shouldn’t, but ultimately throwing caution to the wind.
“That is not so easy to find in a ship of war,” Weston said, his voice a bit husky now.
“If you do not mind sharing, you are welcome to join me,” Granger said.
“That, my lord, is an offer I will not refuse,” Weston said with a smile.Weston turned away and began to undress in a very hurried fashion, while Granger surreptitiously reached over and grabbed a blob of lanolin and slathered it on his ass.He told himself he was just being prepared, and that he wasn’t going to make any forward moves, then ignored his conscience when it called him a liar.
He saw Weston’s large naked body as he maneuvered over to the cot, with his large dick already half hard despite the cold.Granger rolled over onto his side, with his back facing Weston, who climbed into the cot and spooned up behind Granger.“You’re a bit cold, but that will fade, and then I will be glad for your warmth.”
They lay there in the bed, quite still, with Weston firmly up against Granger’s back, his right arm draped across Granger’s chest, while his fingers gently and lovingly stroked the area just below Granger’s heart.Slowly they began to warm up, even as Weston’s fingers expanded their range until on the upswing he stroked Granger’s nipple and on the downswing his fingers glanced across Granger’s navel.
Granger adjusted himself, moving back into Weston, but because Weston was so tall, his hard cock slid first against Granger’s hole and then along his taint, lodging itself against the back of Granger’s balls.Weston moaned softly and began to move back and forth, savoring the friction with Granger’s taint, but Weston’s strokes, and his warm presence had fully aroused Granger’s libido.Granger adjusted himself, then with Weston’s next gentle thrust, Granger lowered his hand down and guided Weston’s cock into his hole.
“God, this feels as good as I dreamed it would,” Weston said softly into Granger’s ear.Granger had always fantasized that sex with Weston would be almost animalistic, but it was nothing like that.He seemed to envelop Granger with his massive body, holding him tightly with his arms, while he thrust purposely but not quickly in and out, savoring the feeling of their coupling.Only when he was close did Weston reach down and begin stroking Granger, and brought Granger off a bit before he came himself.
“You have certainly warmed me up,” Granger said with a smile.
“That was a fantasy come true,” Weston said, as he kissed Granger gently.“I should get back to the wardroom.”
Granger nodded, then drifted off to sleep again, and this time he rested peacefully.
“Mr. Weston, I’ll have the anchor hove short,” Granger said, as the first signs of dawn showed themselves.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, with a little extra skip in his voice.Granger smiled at how much fun he’d been, and how even though it was horribly cold, he was much warmer than he’d been yesterday.
Granger looked out into the dark sea where a single light flickered indicating Ursula’s position “Mr. Schein, will you please tell the captain of the Ursula to prepare to get underway?” Granger asked.
“Of course, my lord,” Schein said, and took the speaking trumpet to the side and began belting out orders in German.That language sounded quite barbaric to his disdainful ear, which had been trained first on English, then on Latin-based languages.He neglected to remind himself that the entire Royal Family spoke fluent German.
“Anchor’s hove short, my lord,” Weston said.
“Very well, haul it aboard,” Granger said.Valiant was already hove to, so the only thing the anchor had done was stop their leeway.In no time at all, Valiant and Ursula had freed themselves from the bottom of the Baltic, and began drifting along with the wind, which was hopefully taking them toward Visby.Dawn arrived and displayed the lovely city approximately a mile away. The storm had abated, although the waves were still quite choppy and the skies were the color of iron.Granger was thankful that they did not have fog and that it had stopped snowing.
“I see we are at Gotland, my lord,” Baron Sluitsky said as he joined Granger by the rail.“It is an old city, long obsolete and eclipsed by the trade that now goes to Russia.”
“Yet they have managed to maintain their walls over the years, while I fancy few Russian cities have been able to do that,” Granger said.
“I am hopeful, my lord, that now that we have arrived here you will feel disposed to accept my parole and release me?” Sluitsky asked.The man never missed a chance to ask for his freedom, as if it were possible that he could catch Granger in a weak moment and he would agree.
“All in good time, Baron, all in good time,” Granger said soothingly.“In the meantime, I would be obliged if you would remain in your cabin until we are safely in port.”
“It is most confining, my lord,” Sluitsky said with a sniff.
“I commiserate with you, sir, but entering port, especially one that is potentially hostile, is fraught with danger and requires constant activity and attention on my part, and on the part of my officers.”
“I promise not to try to escape, my lord,” he said.The man would argue about anything.
“I appreciate your offer, but you must go below,” Granger said firmly.When he didn’t move, Granger called to Treadway.“Major, would you escort Baron Sluitsky to his cabin and post a guard.He will stay there until I order otherwise.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Treadway said.Sluitsky gave Granger a foul look, and then strode down to the wardroom with Treadway and a marine trailing him.
Now that he had removed the Baron, he was free to study the city more closely.It was truly a relic of the past, and looked much like a medieval city in England or France must have appeared.There was no fortress guarding the harbor, because the entire walled town was a fortress.Granger could spot a few smaller churches as well as one large one, what looked to be a town hall, along with quite a few houses and commercial buildings.When one was in London, the prosperous city was a bustling nerve center, one that moved at almost a frenetic pace, with crowds almost everywhere.This was nothing like that.It seemed as if people were going about their business at a much more leisurely place, one that was even more relaxed than one would find in the smaller cities of England.There were Swedish flags flying from both a flagpole in the harbor, and in front of what Granger supposed was the town hall.Granger glanced up to Valiant’s mainmast, where the Union Flag fluttered in the wind.
Granger heard the sound of a cannon firing and quickly trained his glass on the Swedish battery along the waterfront, just in time to see the smoke blown away by the wind.Everyone on board tensed up, as if wondering if there were a cannon ball headed for them, when the next gun went off, and the next.“Mr. Weston, please return their salute,” Granger said.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said, with just a hint of relief in his voice.
“Boat’s heading toward us!” came a call from the lookout, attracting their attention even as their own cannon fired off a salute.
Granger trained his glass on the lugger that was heading toward them, and spied a figure on the deck wearing quite a bit of gold lace.Granger studied that man until he recognized him.“Mr. Weston, that is the governor himself coming to greet us.You’ll need to reload as soon as the salute is finished.We’ll need 17 guns.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and belted out orders to the gunners, who promptly reloaded after firing.Granger had been a bit apprehensive about visiting Visby, but with the governor here in person, he relaxed.He’d met the governor, Baron Salomon Maurits von Rajalin, when he’d been in Stockholm, and had found him to be interesting and honorable.He had been a Swedish naval officer, and had served as the first governor of St. Bartholomey, when Sweden had acquired that Caribbean island from the French.During his time in the West Indies, he’d gotten to know Granger’s grandfather quite well, and Granger’s grandfather had vouched for him as someone who could keep his word.That had seemed to create an immediate rapport between them, and when court life in Stockholm had been dull, Granger could always share sea stories with the Baron.Conversation with von Rajalin was made even easier because he spoke fluent English.
The Swedish salute finished first, then Valiant’s guns went still, with barely a ten-minute interval between the cessation of salutes and the arrival of the lugger.Granger stood on the deck, watching the entry port.As soon as von Rajalin’s head was visible, the bosun’s whistles began to blow, and when he set foot on board, Valiant’s guns began firing all over again.The governor stood at attention, his expression stiff and formal, as the guns honoring him went off.He was of average height, in his mid-forties, and quite handsome and fit.His red hair had turned mostly gray, leaving very attractive streaks of the original color that made him seem alive and vibrant.Only when the salute was finished did his facial expression change into one that was much more pleasant
“Lord Granger, what a pleasure to be able to personally welcome you to Gotland!” he said.
“I was not sure if Your Excellency was planning to stay in Stockholm or spend the winter months here, so the pleasure at finding you in Visby is certainly mine,” Granger said, returning his bow.Granger introduced his officers, which was largely a formality since von Rajalin had met them when he’d been in Stockholm.
“I have brought a pilot here to guide you into the harbor.I hope you will feel welcome, my lord,” he said.
“Thank you, Your Excellency,” Granger replied.“Perhaps you would like to join me in my cabin for some refreshments?” Von Rajalin raised an eyebrow and gave Weston a considering look, since as a naval officer he realized that for Granger to delegate control of Valiant as she entered a strange port indicated that he had a great deal of confidence in Weston.
“That would be wonderful,” he said.
“Mr. Weston, I’ll trust you to get Valiant and Ursula safely into port,” Granger said.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said, but couldn’t help smiling at the confidence boost Granger had just given him.
Granger led von Rajalin back to his cabin and gave the Swede the requisite tour he had to give people who visited, then poured them both a glass and guided him to Granger’s gallery.“I have seen my share of captain’s cabins, but this is by far the nicest I have encountered.”
“Thank you,” Granger said.“I am most thankful for the stove, as I have yet to adapt to the cold weather here.”
Von Rajalin laughed.“I spent seven years in the West Indies, and it seemed that just as I got my body acclimated to the heat I moved back here and had to repeat the process for the cold.”
“My grandfather seems to thrive in that environment, but I am not sure I would be better at managing that heat and humidity as well as he does,” Granger said ruefully.
“I think it is an acquired taste,” von Rajalin said jovially.“I see you have captured a Prussian ship.What was her cargo?”
“She is carrying grain and other foodstuffs,” Granger said.
“We are in need of both those things,” von Rajalin said.From the nervousness in his voice, Granger suspected that the bad harvests may very well have hit Gotland as well.“I would be glad of a chance to have our officials work with your purser to acquire at least some of them at a fair price.”
“That will not be necessary, Your Excellency,” Granger said.“I have brought the contents of the Ursula here as a gift to you and the people of Visby.”
“A gift, my lord?Surely you can’t be serious!” von Rajalin said, amazed.
“You are taking a risk, providing us with a port and with friendship in a place where we have neither,” Granger said.“It is not reasonable for us to rely on your generosity without aiding you and your people as best we can. If you will permit me, I was envisioning that we could allocate some of those provisions for a grand Christmas feast, for your people and mine.”
“What a wonderful idea, and such a wonderful gift.Thank you very much.I now see why you are your grandfather’s favorite grandson,” he said.
“My middle brother is much more charming,” Granger said with a chuckle.
“And is as ethical as a snake,” von Rajalin said with scorn, then hastily corrected himself, worried that he’d offended Granger.“I must beg Your Lordship’s pardon.”
Granger laughed.“Your Excellency, I am very aware of my brother’s ethical challenges.No offense was taken.”
“You must forgive my horrible manners for not mentioning this immediately,” von Rajalin said hastily.“There is a man here from England, I believe he is a diplomat or envoy of sorts, and he will be most anxious to see you.It is good that you arrived when you did.”
“Your Excellency?” Granger asked curiously.
“The Honorable Angus Cochrane arrived a few weeks back bearing dispatches and instructions for you, my lord,” he said nervously.“He was ill when he got here, and he has gotten worse.”Granger had not seen Cochrane since they’d met in Rio de Janeiro and Granger had ordered him to return to England.The last he had heard of him had been from his brother Thomas after the capture of the Genereaux in the Mediterranean.
“What is wrong with him?” Granger asked, concerned.
“Our doctors are not sure,” von Rajalin said.“Their best guess is that he has gaol fever.”That scourge of fleets and armies was indeed a dangerous malady.
“I would like my doctor to come ashore with us to treat him,” Granger said.He saw von Rajalin cringe a bit, and Granger understood he had inadvertently insulted the Swedish doctors who were caring for Cochrane.“My doctor has extensive experience with tropical diseases, and Mr. Cochrane has been in such climes, so if that is his problem, he may be more able to identify it.”
Von Rajalin smiled grimly.“We do not often have cases of jungle fever on Gotland.”
“If you will permit me, Your Excellency, I will pass the word for my doctor and prepare to go ashore,” Granger said.His ability to be patient in the face of such news was almost beyond his control, but von Rajalin seemed to understand.
“Of course,” he said.They exited Granger’s cabin and came onto the quarterdeck just as Valiant was about to anchor.Doctor Jackson was standing by the rail with Andrews, watching intently at this city that looked as if it had been frozen in medieval time.
“Doctor,” Granger called.
“My lord?” Jackson asked, as he walked over to see what Granger wanted.
“Mr. Angus Cochrane, whom we met in Rio, is here with dispatches, and is very ill.It is suspected that he has gaol fever,” Granger said. “He will need your care.”
“That is serious, then, my lord.I will go and get some instruments and medicines,” he replied, and hurried off to prepare to go ashore.
“My boat can take us ashore.I sense that you will want to see Mr. Cochrane at once, and unfortunately in that regard, I fear time may be of the essence,” von Rajalin said with concern.“After you have called on him, then we will have more time for conversation.”
“Thank you for your thoughtfulness,” Granger said.Dr. Jackson came up carrying a bag, just in time to precede them into the boat.Granger went over the side first, as was customary, and as soon as his head disappeared, two additional sideboys and bosun’s mates took their station to usher von Rajalin down into the boat.Von Rajalin made polite conversation with them during the brief boat ride to shore, explaining some of the more interesting aspects of the town walls, but Granger was focused on getting to Cochrane, so he merely nodded politely.He was truly worried about Cochrane, but he even more interested in the news he brought.Would it be an admonition?Would he be recalled?Was there a new government in place?Had some terrible event happened, and they had sent Cochrane to extract Granger and Daventry from the Baltic?
There was a small crowd waiting for them, yet Granger found them quite odd.He merely smiled at these people who did not wave or shout as a British crowd would have, but just looked at them curiously.There was an old but well-maintained carriage that took them the few blocks to a house near the town hall.“Your man is in there,” von Rajalin said.“He has been quarantined, so you will pardon me for not accompanying you. I will leave my aide here to lead you to me when you have finished your visit.” A very handsome young man snapped to attention at the mention of his name, which looked slightly ridiculous. That he responded quickly to von Rajalin’s words indicated that he also at least understood English.
“Excellent,” Granger said.He managed to act calmly, even as he wanted to run across the street and into the house.He strolled up to the door and entered, followed by the aide, who interceded to explain things to the staff there.A few quick exchanges in Swedish seemed to clarify things.
“This way, my lord,” the aide said.He spoke in English, which confirmed Granger’s earlier conclusion.He led Granger and Jackson up a flight of stairs, one that was very steep, and more difficult to handle than a ship’s ladder.Granger wondered how they had managed to get a sick man up them.On the second floor there was an old woman sitting outside the door.She merely looked at them strangely as the aide opened the door, and ushered Granger and Jackson into the chamber.The aide did not follow them, so concerned was he about staying away from the sick man.
The room was hot, dark, and stuffy, but most of all it was the stench that was overwhelming.Granger had to bite back the bile in his throat to prevent himself from retching.Granger instinctively went over to the window, pulled back the curtains, and pushed the glass panes open.Light and cold fresh air flooded the room, making the odor much more tolerable.Granger saw Cochrane lying on a bed, looking unkempt.His cheeks were sunken in, and he looked completely dehydrated.“Better,” he mumbled, evidently appreciating the fresh air.After a few minutes, it started to get a bit cold.
“I think airing out the ill humors is a good idea, my lord, but let us keep him relatively warm,” Jackson said as he closed the windows.
Granger went over to the bedside and held Cochrane’s hand, which seemed to jar him from his stunned state.“My lord!”
“The last time we met, Mr. Cochrane, you were in considerably better health,” Granger said jovially, to try and keep his spirits up.
“I am not long for this world, I fear, my lord,” Cochrane said.
“This is Doctor Jackson, and he has been known to work miracles before, so let us hope he can do so in your case,” Granger said.
“I must speak to you alone,” he said urgently, with a furtive glance at Jackson.Granger was about to vouch for Jackson, but Jackson took the initiative.
“I’m going to go prepare some tonic for him, my lord,” he said, and left the room.
“We are alone now,” Granger said soothingly.
“I was sent here to find Daventry,” he said.“I have information I must get to him.”
“Mr. Cochrane, you are in no condition to go anywhere.If you will tell me what needs to be conveyed to Lord Daventry, I will find a way to get your information to him.”
“Please my lord, this is important,” Cochrane said.“I have been near death for days now, desperate to find a trusted person to convey this information to.”
“You are travelling alone, with not even a servant?” Granger asked, incredulously.
“The commander of the packet I arrived in was terrified of my sickness, and my servants deserted me for the same reason,” he said bitterly.“The Swedes have been kind, but I cannot reveal this to them.”
“Rest easy,” Granger said gently, as merely speaking these few sentences seemed to exhaust Cochrane.
“I cannot,” he said with purpose.He put his hand in his mouth and seemed to probe around with his fingers, while Granger just stared at him, trying to figure out what this dying man was doing.He finally pulled a small metal object from the orifice and handed it to Granger.Granger stared at what was obviously a key, covered in saliva.
“What is this?” Granger asked.
“I have done my duty,” Cochrane said, and then he died.