“Mr. Weston, please have the hands lay aft,” Granger ordered.He stood on his quarterdeck, savoring these last few minutes of command.His eyes took in everything as the whistles blew and the men came scurrying into the waist, while the marines and his officers lined up behind him.Winkler and Jacobs paused by the entry port, waiting for this ceremony to end, so they could start their new adventure.
“Hands assembled, my lord,” Weston said.
Granger raised his voice, but not to a full bellow, since they were in port and there was only a moderate wind today.“Men, I have received orders from London that have directed me to remain in the Baltic, but require me to send Valiant back home.I am therefore placing Valiant in the capable hands of Mr. Weston.We have achieved some marked, and lucrative successes on this voyage.”He was interrupted by raucous cheers from the men, lauding themselves for their victories.Granger let them cheer, then continued in a more measured tone.“I am unsure whether Valiant will be paid off when she returns to England.If she is, Mr. Weston and Mr. Andrews will work with Lady Granger to do their best to see you off this ship and keep you away from the press.”That got another round of cheers.“As most of you know, I have an old Abbey that I have set aside for the use of my crewmembers when they are not at sea.It will provide you with food and shelter.You must come there if you need either of those things.”
Granger stepped back, and Weston stepped forward, pulling out the letter Granger had written to him.“Orders from The Right Honorable Viscount Granger, Knight of the Bath, Commanding His Majesty’s Ship Valiant, to Lieutenant Garrett Weston. You are hereby requested and required to take command pro tempore of the His Majesty’s Ship Valiant.”
Weston folded his orders and put them in his pocket.“A good voyage to you, Captain,” Granger said.
“Best of luck, my lord,” Weston said, and almost seemed teary eyed at seeing Granger depart.
Granger didn’t trust himself to say anything else, he simply headed to the entry port, where Winkler and Jacobs scrambled down into the gig.As they left, the men manned the yards and cheered themselves hoarse, a gesture that caused tears to form in Granger’s eyes, requiring him to open them wide and expose them to the frozen wind.He raised his hat to acknowledge their cheers, which were cut short as Weston started rattling off the orders that would start Valiant on her way back to England.Granger avoided looking back, unwilling to be seen exhibiting such a human weakness in public.
The boat hooked onto the dock next to Ursula.Before Granger stepped onto the dock, he paused to give each member of his gig’s crew a guinea. The men thanked him, then Jacob’s assistant coxswain swiftly moved them away from the pier and hurried to catch up to Valiant, for the longer it took them, the more rowing they’d be required to do.
Granger watched them go only briefly, then strode up to Ursula, with Winkler trailing behind him, followed by Jacobs, who was carrying the last of Granger’s chests on his shoulder.The others had already been sent over from Valiant.He walked up the gangplank, musing at how much easier it was to access a ship this way, and how much easier it was to board Ursula, especially compared to scaling Valiant’s wooden walls.Schein was there supervising the loading of something into the hold, but promptly disengaged from that task and focused on Granger.“Welcome, my lord.”
“Thank you, Mr. Schein.I was going to get settled in my cabin, then I must go into town,” Granger said.“When will you be ready to leave?”
“The governor has given us some forage to sell on this voyage, so we should be ready to depart the day after tomorrow, if that meets with Your Lordship’s approval,” Schein said.Granger was loathe to delay more than was vital, but in this case, it was important to help Schein get his business off to a good start.
“That is a wonderful opportunity to start this commercial venture off on the right foot,” Granger said pleasantly.“I am assuming you worked out an arrangement with him?”
“Aye, my lord,” Schein said.“It seems that we are each 40 percent partners, while the governor is a 20 percent partner.”
“You negotiated an excellent deal,” Granger noted, as he’d expected von Rajalin to demand a third of the venture.
“It was His Excellency’s suggestion, my lord,” Schein said.
“Very nice of him,” Granger replied.“I’ll expect to leave on the morning after tomorrow.”The severity of his tone told Schein that’s as much of a delay as he was willing to tolerate.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Schein said.Granger retired to what would be Schein’s cabin normally, but which Granger had appropriated for this voyage.
“A bit smaller than we’re used to, my lord,” Winkler said, as he found places to stow Granger’s trunks.
“I think we will look back on this and decide this was one of the more pleasant places we stayed,” Granger said, dreading the trek to St. Petersburg.“I am going ashore.I suspect I will be staying there for the next few nights.”He was not in command of Valiant or of Ursula, so there was no reason for him not to stay in more comfortable quarters in town.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Winkler said.
Granger went up on the deck then strode off the ship, pausing to nod to Schein, who was busy, and more than willing to have Granger out of his way.Granger walked down the pier to the very end, getting curious looks from the stevedores that were working on other ships.He stood and watched as Valiant crept forward under reefed topsails, slowly and cautiously working her way out of the harbor. Granger remembered how he’d found her to be ugly and somewhat ungainly when he first took command, but now she looked beautiful to him, as he’d learned to appreciate all of her qualities.He saw the unhappy Baron Sluitsky gazing back toward him, or more precisely, toward Visby.Granger had decided to send him to England, to make sure he could cause no problems for Granger on his mission to St. Petersburg, and the Baron had certainly not been happy about that.Once she had cleared the port, she turned west and spread her sails, making the most of the fair winds in her quest to return home.Granger must have stood there for well over an hour, watching her as she sailed away, until she was barely visible on the horizon.
“For someone who does not like the cold, Your Lordship is certainly spending a lot of time in the open air,” Granger heard von Rajalin said.He suddenly realized how frozen he was.
“I am perhaps not thinking too clearly today,” Granger said, forcing his teeth not to chatter, and barely succeeding.“What has prompted you to come wandering down the pier?”
“I came to check on you, and Mr. Schein pointed me in this direction,” von Rajalin said.“Come, I will take you to the saunas, and that will warm you up.”
“That is most persuasive,” Granger said, smiling, as he turned his back on Valiant and headed into Visby.“Mr. Schein told me you had worked out an arrangement.”
“We have,” von Rajalin said.“I thought his name was familiar for a reason, and that reason is that I was the one to whom he owed the money.”That must have been an interesting meeting between Schein and von Rajalin, where Schein had to face the man whose money he’d lost.
“That was probably a bit embarrassing for him,” Granger said.
“I was not aware of the details on how he lost the money, as my agent did not fully acquaint me with the circumstances,” von Rajalin said, and was unable to hide his annoyance.“So now all is well.”
“I am glad you were able to forgive him, and hopefully your good deed will be rewarded by his success,” Granger said.They got to the sauna, and Granger stood in the background while von Rajalin belted out orders to the staff in Swedish.After a few minutes, an attendant led them back to the same room they’d been in, where a couple of young men were busy pouring warm water into the tubs.
“I did not think you’d relish a cold bath after freezing outside,” von Rajalin said.
“That was very thoughtful of you,” Granger said.He was a little surprised by von Rajalin’s attitude, because the last time they’d been here together, after they’d been intimate, he’d all but dashed out of the sauna with indecent speed. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome,” he said.They disrobed hastily and sank into the wonderfully warm water.Granger luxuriated in the warm liquid, allowing it to penetrate every crack and crevice of his body, simultaneously cleansing the salt and sweat while eradicating the worst of the cold.“And now we should visit the sauna.”
“With pleasure,” Granger said.He walked over to his clothes and took out the small glass bottle of lanolin he’d put in his pocket.He’d done so in anticipation of running into von Galen, but he would need it even more if he was to fuck von Rajalin. He followed the Swede into the sauna, admiring his muscular legs and ass.
He got up and poured some water on the stones, creating steam, and then sat across from Granger.“I enjoyed our time here before.”
“I did as well, but I was worried you did not,” Granger said.
“Why would you think that?”
“Because of the way you ran out of here when you were done,” Granger said calmly.The steam blurred his view of von Rajalin, but Granger could almost feel the anxiety and annoyance he felt at having to address this issue.
“I suppose that I was a little upset because I enjoyed it,” he said, his voice much softer than before.
“And that is bad?” Granger asked.
“It is bad to enjoy it that much if your partner is another man,” he answered.“Being with another man is not supposed to happen, but if it does, it is just a release; nothing more, nothing less.”Granger rolled his eyes at the Swede’s ridiculous moral code.
“My own code does not function like that,” Granger said firmly.“I think that the moral decision to be with someone must happen before one chooses to be intimate with that person.Once that decision has been made, I think one has an obligation to make sure the experience is as enjoyable for both people as possible.”
“To enjoy it is a sin,” von Rajalin countered dogmatically.
“To have sex outside of marriage is a sin, to enjoy it is not,” Granger argued.“If you don’t enjoy it, and don’t make sure your partner does, all you have done is condemned your partner to endure bad sex to assuage your guilt. How is that fair?”
“I have had no complaints,” von Rajalin said back angrily, because Granger’s arguments had bothered him greatly.“You seemed to enjoy it.”
“I did enjoy it, because I am attracted to you, and because I like you,” Granger said.“But I could have enjoyed it more.”
“Well I am sorry I disappointed you,” he said, and folded his arms as if pouting.
Granger got up and went over to von Rajalin’s side, and as his legs were spread, Granger sat down in between them, on his right one.“I was disappointed, because I was looking forward to being with you, and showing you how good it could be,” he said seductively.
Von Rajalin gave him a boyish grin that was truly irresistible.“You are mad because you were not in charge?”
Granger laughed.“I am used to being in charge.I think that if you were willing to surrender yourself to me, you would find it well worth the humiliation of defeat.”
Von Rajalin gestured down to his crotch, where his cock had grown to its fully erect state.“I yield my sword to you.”Granger took the initiative and gave von Rajalin a very thorough indoctrination in how to satisfy another man.Immediately after they orgasmed, they had to run out of the sauna almost as fast as von Rajalin had before, only this time it was because they had overheated themselves.“That was truly incredible,” he said to Granger.
“I am most definitely not disappointed this time,” Granger said, and gave him a loving kiss.They luxuriated in the area outside the sauna, just enjoying the heat and camaraderie.
“It is a sad thing to watch your own ship sail away,” von Rajalin said, reading Granger’s mind.
“It is, and it is something I have had to endure before.I did not suffer it well then, and I fear this time will be no different,” Granger said, revealing more of his thoughts than he normally would.
“I think you will have bigger challenges ahead,” von Rajalin said.“You are going to St. Petersburg.”
It was an accusation, a statement, and a question, all in the same sentence.Granger said nothing, pondering how to respond.It was quite possible that he had received orders from London sending him to Berlin or Vienna, or even to Stockholm, but that was highly unlikely.Von Rajalin had deduced his destination, something any thinking person could probably guess, so there was no reason to prevaricate with him.“Yes.”
“How will you get there?” he asked.“I am concerned that you do not try to take our ship there, as she will most likely end up crushed by the ice floes,” he added with a chuckle.
“I will do my best not to destroy our investment,” Granger said with a smile.“I will probably return to Arensburg and see if I can discern a way from there.”
“I wish you luck,” he said.“I cannot think of anything I can do to help.Going by way of Finland, with its endless archipelagos, would be almost impossible.”
“I am confident that I can find my way there, I am less confident about what I will find once I arrive,” Granger said, dreading how this trip to St. Petersburg would unfold.
“In that regard, you are not alone, as no one knows what it will be like when you get there.The Tsar is that unstable and mercurial, it may even depend on the day,” von Rajalin cautioned.
“I will have to hope I catch him when he is in a good mood,” Granger said.They were interrupted when von Galen entered.The young man looked terrified to find both Granger and von Rajalin in the room.
“I am sorry to disturb you, Your Excellency, my lord,” he said, and made to leave.
“Mr. von Galen, we were about to visit the sauna again,” Granger said.“It would please me if you would join us.”
Both of the Swedes were shocked at his invitation, and seemed to stare at each other intently, trying to figure out what to do.In the end, von Rajalin’s manners asserted themselves.“I would be pleased as well.”
Von Galen undressed, with both of the other men ogling his young, lithe body, and spent the bare minimum necessary in the bath before following them into the sauna.Granger knew he would have to take charge in this situation, and so he did, teaching both of those men how to effectively have a ménage a trois.The satisfied trio left the sauna, and headed to von Rajalin’s residence in town, where they indulged in good food, good drink, and more good sex.
December 26, 1800
“Cast off,” Schein ordered the men in German, or at least that’s what Granger assumed he’d said based on their actions.Granger watched as Schein got some sail on the brig, just enough to coax her gently from the side of the pier.Leaving port with a ship like Valiant, which was already anchored in the roadstead, was completely different than this, where one had to gently persuade the ship to distance herself from the pier, lest she suddenly swerve back into it and damage herself.Granger admired how Schein handled the vessel, showing probably more caution than was normal, but which was prudent since he did not know his ship all that well yet.He stood in the background until they had cleared the pier and were on a course to exit the harbor, then approached Schein.
“Captain, that was very well done,” Granger said to him.
“Thank you, my lord,” Schein said, and smiled to accentuate his words.
Granger began to pace the deck, staying out of the way, while ruminating on his own time in Visby.The past two days had literally drained him, as he’d spent his time with von Galan and von Rajalin, sometimes separately, but often together.Granger’s own versatility had made their threesomes much more pleasurable, but he found himself exhausted and sore from keeping up with both of those men.He thought of last night, and how they had moved together almost as if they had the skill of the ballet dancers he’d seen at the theater earlier in the evening.Von Galen had told him how unsatisfying von Rajalin had been as a sexual partner, but that was no longer a problem.Granger decided that if nothing else, he’d made life significantly better for those two men, even after he was out of the picture.
“My lord, your breakfast is ready,” Winkler said, interrupting his thoughts.
“Excellent,” Granger said, and followed Winkler back to his cabin.He indulged himself in a hearty yet uninspiring meal, and decided that he was being uncharitable, and that it would be wonderful if he weren’t so spoiled by his irascible chef.They had actually had a poignant moment before Granger disembarked from Valiant, when Lefavre had almost demanded that he be allowed to go with Granger, but Granger had dissuaded him.He had learned on his trek through Egypt that it was best to keep his entourage small, and there was no reason to risk such a valuable person as his esteemed chef.He finished his breakfast, then pondered what he should do for the balance of the day, when Winkler conveniently took over his schedule.
“My lord, I would like to try fitting some of these clothes for you,” he said.“I was able to coax Major Treadway to part with one of his dress uniforms, but I am unclear as to what I am to do with it.”
“I am not sure that we must do anything with it for the moment,” Granger said.“I am told that the Tsar appreciates nothing more than military displays and uniforms.That suggests that when I see him, should I have that opportunity, I should be dressed in such garb.”
“My lord, I don’t understand,” Winkler said.“Why would you not wear your normal uniform?”
“A very good question,” Granger said gently, so Winkler would know he wasn’t bothered by it.“I am not going to St. Petersburg in my capacity as one of His Majesty’s naval officers, I am going to St. Petersburg as a private citizen.If I wear a uniform as a Colonel of the Marines, that would give me something martial which will hopefully impress His Imperial Majesty, while not reflecting my most recent role as Captain of the Valiant.”
“I understand, my lord,” Winkler said, “but why would you go as a Colonel of the Marines?”
“You have clearly forgotten how exalted I am,” Granger said, pretending to be in a snit.“I was appointed as one of His Majesty’s Colonels of Marines when I returned from France on parole.”
“It is hard to keep up with Your Lordship,” Winkler grumbled.They spent much of the day fitting Cochrane’s clothes to Granger’s body, while Treadway’s uniform could wait until later.As Granger had noted, Cochrane had always been well turned out, but now that he was compelled to wear the dead man’s clothes, he could see even more clearly how true that was. Cochrane had adopted the use of trousers instead of breeches for anything but the most formal of occasions, and his coats were shorter in the front and mostly buttoned.Granger modeled them for Winkler and Jacobs, lamenting that they had but a small mirror for him to study himself.He had often thought that his second-best uniform, with its double-breasted coat, looked best on him, accentuating his slim body.In that regard, Cochrane’s clothes fit him much the same way, only because they were lacking even the toned-down gold lace of his second-best uniform, the effect was even more pronounced.
“You look quite handsome,” my lord, Jacobs commented.
“Thank you,” Granger said with a smile.“I fear I will have to take your word for it, as there is not a mirror aboard large enough to allow me to judge for myself.”
“One would think, my lord, that Mr. Schein would have such a device,” Jacobs said.He was often the irrepressible American, daring to crack jokes to his superior officer at the expense of Schein and his girth.Winkler looked alarmed, but there was no need, for Granger found Jacobs refreshing, and genuinely laughed.
“Perhaps after a few profitable voyages, he will acquire one,” Granger replied.
December 28, 1800
Granger was finishing his dinner when Schein entered the cabin.“My lord, we finally have Arensburg in sight.There’s a lot more shipping than I would have expected.”They had been plagued by fog in the morning, but it had now presumably begun to clear.
“Indeed?” Granger asked.He stood up and followed Schein onto the deck, then took out his glass and aimed it at the town and the harbor.He had been right, in that the fog was dissipating, leaving the steely gray overcast skies that seemed to be so common here.Granger was thankful that at least they hadn’t arrived in the middle of a blizzard.There were some merchant vessels in port, but there were also ships of war.The warships looked odd, and it took Granger a bit to discern what they were.“Mr. Schein, those vessels appear to match your description of ships of the Swedish archipelago fleet.”
“Indeed they do, my lord, but those are Russian ships,” Schein said.“I make one frigate, three sloops, and two brigs.”That was a sizeable force.
“Why would those ships be here at this time of year?” Granger asked.It was unsafe and uncomfortable for such shallow craft to be traversing about this far south.They would primarily be used for duties in the Gulf of Finland, and that was only in the warmer weather.
“I don’t rightly know, my lord,” Schein said, and seemed truly confused by it as well.
Granger scanned the vessels carefully with his glass, then moved on to inspect the fortress.Despite the frigid temperatures, there was a good deal of activity.Granger studied the uniforms of the troops and was surprised to see they weren’t those of the garrison, rather they resembled the small squad of dragoons von Beckendorf had brought with him.And then all of the pieces of this puzzle began to connect in Granger’s mind.“Mr. Schein, if I am not mistaken, those troops are from His Imperial Majesty’s guards regiment.”
Schein looked more closely through his glass.“Begging your pardon, my lord, but I think you’re right.What does that mean?”
“I think it means that the Tsar was so infuriated by our capture of Arensburg he pulled together some ships of his archipelago fleet, along with some of his guards, and sent them here to chase us away should we return,” Granger noted.
“That makes sense, my lord,” Schein said.“Especially his use of the archipelago fleet.”
“Why?” Granger asked, as that was the piece of the puzzle Granger did not understand.
“If you will pardon me for speculating, my lord, I would think that after the failure of the fleet at Kronstadt, the Tsar would show his displeasure by sending the archipelago fleet instead.There is no small amount of rivalry between the two,” Schein said.Granger nodded in agreement, as that was a plausible explanation for the ships in harbor.
“I suspect that if I were to enter Arensburg, I would find myself placed under arrest and dragged back to St. Petersburg,” Granger noted.That would be a disaster for his mission.It was important that he surrender himself to the whims of the Tsar, as opposed to allowing himself to be captured.
“I think that is most likely, my lord,” Schein said.“What will you do?”
Granger mused about that, then went back to his cabin in a hurried manner, trying to maintain his dignity.“I must apologize for my quick departure, but I think that if they see me, wearing my uniform, we would find ourselves boarded in short order.”
“That was most wise, my lord,” Schein said.
“There is no reason for Ursula to be denied access to the port or to be unduly detained,” Granger said, although it was more of a question.
“That’s correct, my lord,” Schein said.“Beyond a visit from the customs people, I’d expect we’d be left well enough alone.”
“Still, since this ship was one of the Prussian vessels we captured, we may be on the receiving end of more scrutiny than that,” Granger speculated.Schein nodded in agreement.“I need to get a message to Count von Beckendorf, and I need to remain hidden while we contact him.”
“Begging your pardon, my lord, but we could fashion some clothes from the slop chest for you so you fit in like a regular sailor,” Winkler offered. Granger had forgotten that he and Jacobs were in the cabin.
“And if I may suggest, my lord, I could go in town to try and find the Count,” Jacobs offered.“I know what he looks like, and I’ll just tell anyone who asks I’m an American.”That was entirely believable, since up until a few years ago, he was indeed a Yankee.
“Those are both excellent ideas,” Granger said. “Winkler, will you be so good as to go round me up some clothes for that purpose?”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Winkler said, and scurried off to do that.
“What about your men?” Granger asked Schein, talking about the crew of the Ursula. “Will they tell the Russian authorities I am here?”These were the sailors they’d rescued after the Boleslav exploded, so they were loyal Russian seamen not all that long ago.
“The men are most fond of you, my lord,” he said.“I can delay shore leave until tomorrow, and that will help.”If the men went ashore tonight, they’d be so drunk they’d quite possibly let on that he was on board Ursula.
“Thank you for that,” Granger said, “Still, a more tangible inducement may help.Would you be willing to speak to them, and ask them not to reveal my presence here, and if they are successful, I will give each of them a guinea when I disembark?”
“I will be happy to, my lord,” he said.“I should get back on deck anyway.”
“Of course,” Granger said, and felt guilty for detaining the man so long.This was his first time taking Ursula into a port, and he would be most anxious to be on deck.Winkler returned, and between his efforts and those of Jacobs, they quickly outfitted him as a regular seaman.
“You look as if you belong before the mast, my lord,” Winkler said with a smirk.
“I think this pose is more likely analogous to me performing in the theater,” Granger said ruefully.Winkler looked at him oddly, probably because he didn’t understand what the word analogous meant.
They rounded the point and Schein tacked Ursula neatly into Arensburg harbor.“Looks like they’ve sent a boat to welcome us, my lord,” Winkler said.Heading directly for Ursula was a longboat full of men, and with the exception of those rowing the oars and navigating the craft, the rest were soldiers.
“There is no need to tempt fate,” Granger told Schein.“I will go below and assist the anchor party.”
“I am sure they will appreciate the help, my lord,” Schein said.Winkler went to the cabin to make sure Granger’s trunks were locked and to hide any incriminating material, while Granger went forward to assist the sailors who were getting the anchor cable ready.Granger was incredibly lucky in that one of the men spoke English, and could interpret for Granger.
They heard the commotion as the longboat tied up alongside Ursula, then the stomping of boots as the soldiers came aboard.“The Russian is asking Captain Schein how he came to acquire this ship,” the man whispered to Granger, then listened to the conversation going on above him on deck.“Captain Schein says he bought the ship in Visby, and he showed the Russian his papers.”
“That’s alright so far,” Granger said.
“The Russian is now asking about you, and if you are the one he bought the boat from,” the sailor said.“The Captain told the Russian that he bought the ship from the governor, but that he had seen you in Visby, and you were rumored to be on your way home.He told the Russian that he saw your ship leave port two days before he left, and you were headed west.”
“Indeed,” Granger noted. All of that was true, to a degree.
“The Russian is threatening to inspect the entire ship and the cargo if the Captain does not tell him where you were going, but the Captain told him that was all he knew,” the sailor said, and looked at Granger nervously.“He says he may return later for more questions.In the meantime, he is ordering that no one leave or board this ship, and he is posting a guard to make sure his orders are followed.”That was most definitely not good, as Granger suddenly found himself not just confined to Ursula, but as a virtual prisoner aboard her.They heard more commotion as the soldiers left with the exception of a single guard left behind.
Schein attended to anchoring, then came below to speak to Granger.To forego unnecessary conversation that the guard could overhear, Granger told Schein that one of the crewmembers was kind enough to eavesdrop and interpret the conversation for him.
“I do not think this guard will be overly zealous in his inspections, my lord, but it is probably wise for you to stay below,” Schein said.“There is a cabin aft, below mine, which will serve.”
“Then I will remain in that cabin,” Granger said resignedly.