Granger stretched out in his bed, feeling languorous after having spent his evening last night talking to Daventry.He’d gotten to bed very late, but had been drunk and horny enough to wake von Beckendorf up and fuck him.While he’d been as much fun as he always was, Granger had not had a chance to spend any time with von Beckendorf this morning, and that worried him, lest the young man feel neglected.That worry caused him to stir, to sit up in bed as a prelude to going to seek out his Teutonic lover, when von Beckendorf saved him the trouble by breezing into Granger’s room.“Good morning,” Granger said pleasantly.
Von Beckendorf did not return his smile, but instead looked very sad.“It is not a good morning, at least not for me.”
“Why is that?” Granger asked with concern.
“I must leave at once,” he said, sitting on the bed next to Granger.“I have orders to go to Moscow.”
“Who issued these orders?” Granger asked a bit nervously, wondering if the Tsar was sending him there as punishment.Then again, from what he had gathered, being sent to Moscow was not generally considered a bad thing.
“Count von der Pahlen,” von Beckendorf said.“I am riding under sealed orders, on a mission he says only I can fulfill.”
“That is quite an honor,” Granger said, hiding his skepticism.To Granger it was obvious that von der Pahlen was sending von Beckendorf away, much as his own government had sent Valiant and her crew away after she’d returned from Rhodes.
“Perhaps, but it means that I must bid you farewell.I must leave at once.”
“I am wondering if you can spare just a few minutes,” Granger said in his most alluring way.He tossed the covers back and rolled over onto his stomach, exposing his naked backside.He could feel von Beckendorf smiling, then he could feel the rough texture of his wool uniform, then finally he felt von Beckendorf’s cock as it gently penetrated him.In a brief but satisfying tryst, they said goodbye in the most intimate way possible.
“And now, after such a wonderful interlude, I must go,” von Beckendorf said as he stood up and pulled up his pants.
Granger hastily put on his robe, then got out of bed and embraced von Beckendorf.“I am sorry to lose your company, but I understand you must do your duty.I will miss you, though.”
“I will miss you too,” von Beckendorf said.“You mentioned that you needed the services of a jeweler.”
“I do,” Granger confirmed.
“I have dispatched a servant with a note to my sister, explaining what must be done.”
“You can trust her?” Granger asked.
“She is my sister,” von Beckendorf asserted, acting insulted.
“I meant no offense,” Granger replied with a grin.“I have two brothers, and I don’t trust either of them.”
Von Beckendorf smiled back.“I can trust Dorothea, and so can you.Do not let her youth fool you into believing she is naïve.”
“I truly appreciate you finding someone else in Russia I can trust,” Granger said.
“If I do not see you before you return to England, think of me, and write to me.I will not forget you, but I worry that you will forget me.”
“I will never forget you,” Granger pledged earnestly, as he held von Beckendorf’s hands in his.Their eyes locked for a minute, both of them cringing internally at the pain of this departure, until von Beckendorf blinked, causing a tear to fall from his eye.He turned on his heel and almost fled from the room, and then he was gone.
Granger felt an incredible loss with his departure.Von Beckendorf had helped him along on almost every step of his way since they’d met in Arensburg, and he had grown to trust the Baltic German.Granger knew that if von Beckendorf told him something, it was the truth, although he knew that the man had no qualms about holding back relevant information.Von Beckendorf had represented security to Granger, and now that he was gone, so was Granger’s relative lack of worry about his current situation.
Granger summoned Winkler to help him get ready and took pains with his appearance, sensing that he would need to look his best on this day.He used that preparation to focus his mind and managed to banish his sadness over von Beckendorf leaving to the recesses of his brain, knowing that he’d have to summon it back later and grapple with it.
He descended the stairs and was directed to the library, where he found Daventry sitting at a table studying the contents of the metal boxes Granger had brought.“Good morning, George,” he said pleasantly.“Breakfast this morning is a casual affair.Please, help yourself.”He gestured to a table with a buffet of sorts set up.
“Good morning to you as well,” Granger responded, then helped himself to a goodly amount of food.He took it and sat at the table opposite Daventry.
“I heard your German was dispatched to Moscow,” Daventry said.
“I just learned of that shortly before he left,” Granger replied.“I am sad to see him go.He has been a trusted guide during my time in Russia.”
“Maybe that was one of the reasons he was sent away,” Daventry said.Granger’s brows furrowed, wondered if this Count von der Pahlen was so Machiavellian as to try to deprive Granger of a close friend and make him more vulnerable.Granger wondered if von Beckendorf’s sister would prove competent enough to help him out.
“I think it was rather so no one will know I am here,” Granger mused, amazed that he could be so bloodless about such a wrenching decision.
“I know that it vexes you, but I can see why such a plan was necessary,” Daventry said.
“I think there were alternatives to shipping him off,” Granger said, and was irritated that he could hear his own anger in those words.
“So when von Beckendorf returns to Court, what is he to say to the Tsar?” Daventry asked.“And when his dragoons talk, and rumors get out that he assisted you in violating the Tsar’s command that you are banned from Russia, how is he to respond?”Daventry’s logic was unassailable.Granger was intensely annoyed with himself for allowing his emotions to completely override his judgment and instincts.His love for von Beckendorf had blocked his ability to foresee their parting.
“Those would have been difficult questions to answer while still avoiding a firing squad,” Granger agreed ruefully.“Still, it would have been nice to have at least been given some notice.”
“You have all just arrived, and by dispatching him and presumably his men as well on the following morning, there would be little chance of the knowledge of your presence leaking out,” Daventry said.And again, he was right.The longer the dragoons were here, the more of a chance they’d have to talk to people.They were probably on their way to Moscow, and von Beckendorf’s sealed orders probably directed him to ensure they kept their mouths shut.
“I am intrigued by your count, who has so clearly thought through all these contingencies,” Granger said, referring to von der Pahlen.
“You will find him to be quite wily, and quite capable of betraying others so they take the fall rather than him,” Daventry said.“At the same time, he is polite in a German way.”
“In a German way?” Granger asked.
“It is my own term, and my own perception,” Daventry said. “Germans can be just as cultured as French, Spanish, and Italian gentlemen, but they lack the smoothness of their Latin brothers, and are just a bit tackier as a result.”Granger pondered that and realized that he’d subconsciously drawn the same conclusions.
“I wonder where we English land on that scale,” Granger joked.
“We would hope we are like the Latins, but are probably more like the Germans,” Daventry said ruefully.“Although I would credit you with being much more like a Latin.”
“I appreciate that compliment, and will return it,” Granger said, since Daventry was quite accomplished in a public setting.
“Not as compared to you,” Daventry said.“I did not travel to Mitau to call on His Most Christian Majesty, yet you did.”
“Such proud, foolish people,” Granger said, shaking his head at the emigres.
“If they are lucky enough to get another chance at power in France, they would be well-advised to learn some lessons from the revolution,” Daventry said.
“That is what concerns me,” Granger responded.“I do not see recognition of that in any of them, and I sense instead a stubbornness that blocks their ability to moderate their views.”
“His Majesty’s government does not seem overly enamored with the Bourbons, so it is quite possible they will not get the chance to make a blunder of returning to France,” Daventry said.
“Perhaps, but I would wager that Russian, Austrian, Spanish, and German monarchs are quite certain the Bourbons should regain their throne,” Granger opined.
“That is certain, yet it is British gold that oils their military machines, so we have more influence in this matter than one would imagine.”
“You are suggesting they are whores?” Granger asked playfully.
“And we English are their pimps,” Daventry said, making both of them laugh.He opted to change the subject.“These boxes you have brought me are invaluable.No matter how this mission ends, I will make sure the government knows that you made the right decision, bringing them to me.”
“It is good to be right once in a while,” Granger joked.
“You said you were going to abscond with some of my diamonds and rubies,” Daventry said, gesturing at the packets of gems.
“I think that you would be hard pressed to validly claim those as yours,” Granger countered.
“They are my responsibility, in any event,” Daventry said.
“I am going to engage a jeweler to make a star for the Tsar,” Granger said.
“George, you’re rhyming as if you were a poet,” Daventry joked.
“I am quite talented,” Granger riposted.“The star will be for the Knights Hospitaller.”
“And what will this star look like?” Daventry asked.
“I have made a drawing,” Granger said, and pulled that item out of his jacket pocket.“It will consist of a Rhodian star made of diamonds and lined with rubies, and then superimposed on it will be the crest of the Knights.”
“You’re an artist as well?” Daventry challenged as he looked at Granger’s detailed drawing.
“I did nothing more than copy the design from a very old book I found in one of the castles we stayed in for a few days,” Granger said.“You will probably remember from your history lessons that the Teutonic Knights and Knights Hospitaller were all but united at one time.”
“I spent most of my efforts on Greek and Roman history,” Daventry said.
“As did I, but fortunately there was an old Baron who educated me,” Granger said with a smile.
“That crest looks like a St. George’s cross,” Daventry noted, drawing their attention back to Granger’s design.
“It does,” Granger agreed.“I plan to send this star to His Imperial Majesty along with a letter apologizing for making him look like a buffoon in front of the populace of his capital.”
“I suspect you will phrase it a bit differently than that,” Daventry noted with a grin.
“I have also been working on that,” Granger said, and pulled out the draft of his letter.Daventry read through it and his expression became more and more surprised as he did.
“I think you have done a masterful job with this,” Daventry said, as he handed the letter back to Granger.“You’ll probably want to get the Count’s feedback as well.”
“I will do so, when I eventually meet him,” Granger said.
“You have not even been here a day, and the Count is too busy plotting and scheming to drop everything just to call on you,” Daventry joked.
“I rather think I’m important enough to warrant such attention,” Granger replied with faux arrogance, making them chuckle.
“I don’t understand how this Maltese star is going to make a difference,” Daventry said.
“I have learned that the Tsar has been incensed by the refusal of Spain and Portugal to recognize him as the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, and that was in no small way responsible for the eviction from Mitau of King Louis,” Granger noted.
“That was what upset him?” Daventry asked.
“That is what I have been led to believe,” Granger said.“The ambassadors of Portugal and Spain were banished from St. Petersburg and escorted to the border when their governments refused to acknowledge that he was the Grand Master.”
“It is sometimes difficult to fathom the sensitivities of eccentric monarchs,” Daventry sniffed.
“I am going to guess that having foreign dignitaries recognize him as such will make a highly favorable impression.”
“That is brilliant!” Daventry said, then got more thoughtful.“Assuming, of course, that our government is willing to grant the Tsar legitimacy in that role.”
Granger shrugged.“If we succeed in our mission, it will not matter.If we fail, we will probably end up dead or in jail.”
Daventry nodded.“Politicians rarely quibble when someone is successful and they can claim the credit.”
“Indeed,” Granger agreed.“So tell me of this Count von der Pahlen.”
“He is probably the advisor most trusted by the Tsar, and when he is in favor, has a great deal of influence,” Daventry said.It was clear from his tone of voice that he was impressed.“He is the military governor of St. Petersburg and the inspector of six military districts, which means that he has a great deal of control over the army.I believe he is also the governor of the Baltic provinces, although I am not sure how that is titled.”
“An impressive array of offices,” Granger noted.
“Ah, but that is not all,” Daventry said.“He is a member of the Imperial Council and of the Board of Foreign Affairs.His sympathies on Malta are probably with the Tsar, since he is the Grand Chancellor of the Knights Hospitaller.”
“Does that exhaust the honors this man has amassed?” Granger asked.
“I have neglected the most important post:he is the chief director of mail.”Granger looked at him curiously.“That means that he has access to everyone’s letters and that has made him the de-facto head of the Tsar’s secret police.”
“Well, for someone who is that exalted, I will make allowances for him not immediately calling on me,” Granger joked, making Daventry chuckle.
“I spent a lot of time with him on this journey, as you might imagine, and I must tell you he is most difficult to pin down.He is manipulating much of his plotting through Nikolay and Valerian Zubov.I am not sure if you met their sister, Olga, in London?”
“Ah yes,” Granger said, remembering her.“I saw her at the opera.She was with Whitworth.”
“When Whitworth was evicted from Russia, Olga went with him.She was his mistress.”Granger raised an eyebrow.“She had planned to marry him, but no one had bothered to explain to her that Whitworth was already betrothed to the Duke of Dorset’s widow.”
“That must have been a bit uncomfortable for Whitworth,” Granger said, chuckling.
“Indeed it was,” Daventry said in his animated way, the way he spoke when he was imparting juicy gossip. “Olga supposedly extracted 10,000 pounds from the Dowager Duchess of Dorset in order to make her go away.”
“So she is back in Russia?” Granger asked.
“Not quite,” Daventry said, grinning.“She stayed in England and set her sights much higher than Whitworth.When I left, she was one of the Prince of Wale’s mistresses.”
“Are her brothers just as ambitious?” Granger asked.
“They are,” Daventry confirmed.“They have a feel for how the Court works, and are well placed in their roles as von der Pahlen’s henchmen.”
“Why would von der Pahlen do this, plot against the Tsar?He has almost unlimited power.Surely he wouldn’t risk that?” Granger asked.
“In August of last year, the Tsar dismissed von der Pahlen and forced him to relinquish all of his offices,” Daventry noted.“Then in October, the Tsar returned them to von der Pahlen, and elevated him to his position of favor again.”
“Von der Pahlen was unwilling to trust his fate to someone so mercurial,” Granger concluded.
“Or insane,” Daventry said with a grimace. They pondered that for a minute, then Daventry took their conversation in a new direction.“I think that when you meet the Count, and anyone else for that matter, you should claim ignorance about these plans.”Granger noted that even Daventry was reluctant to blatantly utter the word ‘coup’.
“And why is that?” Granger asked.
“Your military background will make you more popular with the Tsar than I am, and if you profess a lack of knowledge, it lets you cut a more respectable figure than me,” Daventry said.
“As if that is not already the case,” Granger joked.
“This much is certain,” Daventry said, chuckling.
“So I am to be the figurehead, while you are working behind the scene to make things happen?” Granger asked, not a little annoyed at being consigned to a lesser role.
“In a sense, yes,” Daventry replied candidly.“Can you not see the logic behind such a strategy?”
Granger grimaced as he pondered that, and in the end, he realized Daventry was right.He was to be the polished courtier and accomplished warrior, with no apparent role in the coup.“So dealing with the Zubov brothers is your affair?”
“It is,” Daventry asserted.
“I can see what you are saying, but I suspect I will end up feeling much as I did when I was a prisoner in Paris.I was the star of the salons, but I was still a prisoner,” Granger said.
“George, I will tell you everything that is going on, and you can trust me to keep you informed, but if I do that, you must then be somewhat duplicitous when dealing with other people,” Daventry said.“Can you do that?”
“You mean I will have to lie,” Granger concluded.
“Possibly,” Daventry said.Deception as part of war was one thing, but straight out lying was a bit tougher to grapple with. Granger found it interesting that Daventry had no such scruples, and it made him wonder if that was the reason for Daventry effectively sidelining him.They said nothing as Granger pondered things, and Daventry took that opportunity to return to rummaging through the metal boxes.
Granger wondered if absolving himself of knowledge and involvement in this coup smacked of cowardice, in that it may seem he was avoiding it to escape being shot if they were found out.Granger put aside his initial pettiness over being excluded and thought about what Daventry proposed.Did Granger really want to be involved in all the details and intrigues revolving around this great plot?His answer to that was an unequivocal no.He had no wish to spend hours on schemes and drama that he would then have to lie about if he were cornered.What Daventry was offering him was the opportunity to be aware of what was happening without knowing too much.Further, this type of operation was something Daventry was much more familiar with than Granger was, and it was incumbent upon Granger to trust his fellow peer.When they had engaged the Russian battleships not more than a few miles from where Granger was now sitting, Daventry did not interfere or offer advice, because he had recognized Granger’s expertise as a naval officer.It was important that he do the same thing in this situation.“I understand what you are saying, and appreciate you explaining it to me,” he said, causing Daventry to look up from the contents of the box.“I will conduct myself as you have directed.”
“Excellent,” Daventry replied.“This way, once you are rehabilitated in the eyes of the Tsar, you can practice being a good courtier.”
“I have more recent practice than you,” Granger said with a smile.“I went to Mitau to call on His Most Christian Majesty, while you blatantly snubbed him.”
Daventry rolled his eyes.“I cannot see how a trip to Mitau would have been worth my time.”
Granger rang the bell on the table to summon a servant, and passed the word for Winkler.“I will show you just how valuable that trip was.”Winkler arrived and Granger asked him to bring him the diamonds he’d acquired from the duchesse d’Angouleme.
“I suppose you’re going to produce one of the members of the French Royal family, bound and gagged,” Daventry joked, making Granger laugh.
“No, they would have merely been a major inconvenience,” Granger joked back.“It is not easy to transport an unwilling human long distances in frigid weather.”
“It is if you have an incredibly posh sleigh,” Daventry noted.Upon their safe arrival here, Winkler had reunited the diamonds with their box.He carried it into the room and handed the carved case to Granger.
“Thank you, Winkler,” Granger said.
“Of course, my lord,” he said.“Will you gentlemen want dinner soon?”
Granger looked to Daventry.“I would relish a good meal,” Daventry said. Granger nodded his agreement as well.
“I will inform the butler, my lord,” Winkler said, and left them alone.
Granger handed Daventry the box.“This is quite impressive.”
“To be truly impressed, you must open it up,” Granger said.
Daventry did so, and his eyes bulged when he saw the diamonds.Granger had learned that Daventry had an appreciation for precious stones after they’d captured a bunch of them in Rhodes, so it was not surprising he would appreciate their beauty.“George, these are incredible!There are very few people in England with diamonds this exquisite!”
“They were a gift from Tsar Paul to the Duchesse d’Angouleme to celebrate her wedding,” Granger said.
“That would explain them,” Daventry said.“Paul would not want to appear cheap when dealing with other royal families.Russians are sometimes insecure about such things, since they were known as a backward nation for many years.”
“His gift reflects on him,” Granger agreed.
Daventry picked up each piece and eyed it carefully, taking into account its weight as well as the quality of the stones.“These diamonds are worth thousands of pounds,” he pronounced.“How much did you pay for them?”
“Five hundred guineas,” Granger said.Daventry stared at him, stunned.“It seems like I got a good bargain.”
“That was definitely worth a side trip to Mitau,” Daventry said.
“The Duchesse found herself in a position where she needed money, but she could not sell the Tsar’s gift to her to a Russian subject lest she offend him.I was at the right place, at the right time, and probably the only foreigner with five hundred guineas available to squander on diamonds.”
“There are many things about you that amaze me, George, not the least of which is your incredible luck,” Daventry said.
February 3, 1801
St. Petersburg, Russia
“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Granger said, as he bowed to Nikolay Zubov.As was the norm in Russia, they were all speaking French.Nikolay Zubov could almost be a giant, he was so tall.Probably forty years old, his whole being exuded physical strength.His face was not as compelling, with a hooked nose and high cheekbones that made his face appear puffy.
“I think I am lucky to make your acquaintance,” he said with a somewhat sinister smile.“This is my brother, Valerian.”
“Your lordship’s reputation precedes you,” Valerian said, with a bow.
“As does yours,” Granger said with a knowing grin, bowing to this man who was entirely different than his older brother.He had once been considered the most handsome man in Russia, and Granger guessed that he still was.The man had to be around thirty years of age, and had lost a leg in battle.The lack of that appendage made him even more attractive, as if to accentuate that he was the gallant general who risked all for his Emperor.
“Then I fear I am truly at a disadvantage,” Valerian said in a flirtatious way.It took all of Granger’s vaunted self-control not to let the man’s considerable charm have a visual effect on him.
“I think it would be ill-advised for you to meet with the banker until Lord Granger has met with the Tsar,” Nikolay said to Daventry, evidently reverting to the subject of their conversation before Granger had walked in the room.His brusque change of topic was boorish at best.
“I do not think we have the luxury of waiting that long,” Daventry objected.
“And I do not fancy meeting with a firing squad,” Nikolay snapped, revealing what was rumored to be his hot temper.Granger could sense that his attitude toward Daventry was causing his fellow peer considerable irritation, so he stepped in before he could provoke Nikolay into a duel.
“I do not think you will have long to wait,” Granger said.
“And when will you be ready to send a letter and this bauble to the Tsar?” Nikolay asked him in a nasty way.
“General, there is no reason for you to treat me so rudely, and with such disrespect,” Granger said in his most haughty of ways.
“I quite agree,” said a voice behind Granger.“I think an apology is in order.”
Before Granger turned to see who had spoken those words, he saw the ashen faces of the Zubov brothers.Nikolay immediately fell into line.“I must beg Your Lordship’s pardon.”
“Quite so,” Granger said, unwilling to let this man off the hook.He knew that if he backed down now in any way, he would have a much more difficult time with Nikolay in the future.He turned to greet this new arrival who had instilled immediate fear and awe into the Zubovs.
“Count von der Pahlen, please allow me to introduce my friend, Viscount Granger,” Daventry said.Granger studied this man who moved gracefully toward him, pausing at just the prescribed distance to exchange bows.He was of average height, and of average build, and moved with the grace of the courtiers at Mitau.If a cat took human form, it would probably look like von der Pahlen, Granger thought, then stifled that thought, lest it make him laugh.The Count wore a white jacket with a cravat tied in such a way that would have earned the approval of Beau Brummel, and had a number of medals pinned to his chest and hanging from his neck.
“Welcome to Russia, Lord Granger,” he said smoothly.“I understand your trip was not too arduous.”
“Thank you, Your Excellency,” Granger said.“I fear I fared better on my journey than you did.”
“We are used to the cold, whereas Lord Daventry was less acclimated to it,” he said, giving Daventry a friendly jab.“You were quite lucky to snap up the Duke of Courland’s vozok.There will be many covetous eyes on that vehicle.”
“That bodes well for my purse, then, as I will hopefully get a good price when I must sell it and return to England,” Granger said.
“As if money were something you had to worry about,” von der Pahlen said.“Perhaps you will be willing to share the completion date of the Hospitaller star for His Imperial Majesty, and then you can join me for some refreshments while these gentlemen continue their discussion.”
“It would be my pleasure, Your Excellency,” Granger said, then addressed himself to the group.“The jeweler has promised he will have the star ready by the day after tomorrow, and I have a calligrapher working on my letter, which will be completed by the end of the day.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Nikolay said.Granger nodded to him, then followed von der Pahlen from the study and into the drawing room.Granger poured them both a drink, then they sat in chairs arrayed at a ninety-degree angle, with a table in the space between them.
“I think it is very courageous of you to travel to St. Petersburg,” von der Pahlen said.Granger had the feeling he was dealing with someone who was similar to Talleyrand, but not as polished and not as smart.
“As Your Excellency noted, traveling in my vozok was relatively painless,” Granger said with a smile.“I felt it was necessary to deliver news to Lord Daventry, and to try and see if I could heal the wounds between our countries.”
“An interesting mission for you, since you are a Royal Navy officer, and it is that entity which has caused so much mischief,” he said.
“When one is in a fight for survival, one does not always have the option to let neutral nations trade with one’s rivals with impunity,” Granger responded.
“Yet now Britain finds herself friendless,” he said, with faux sympathy.
“We English have learned that being friendless does not preclude us from being victorious,” Granger said.
“For your sake, we will hope that history repeats itself,” von der Pahlen responded.