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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 38. Chapter 38

February 5, 1801

Kiryanovo Usadba

St. Petersburg, Russia


“I cannot remember when I have enjoyed a supper more,” Daventry said. They had focused on enjoying the food and drink in front of them, getting just to the edge of drunkenness. A relatively somber beginning had given way to a much more fun meal, as conversation had flowed in a relaxed way that normally didn’t occur when all six men were together. Granger cynically wondered if the Last Supper had a similar feel to it.

“I concur,” Granger said cheerfully. “Unfortunately, I need to repair to my room and acquaint Winkler and Jacobs with their directives.”

“You are too focused on what happens next,” Daventry chided. “Sometimes one must just enjoy today’s moments.”

Just then they heard a loud ruckus coming from the main entry consisting mostly of loud voices and military commands. “I think that perhaps your enjoyment of today’s pleasures is about to be ended whether I leave the party or not,” Granger replied jovially, partially because he was a bit inebriated, and partially because no good would come from jumping up from the table to see what was the matter. Winkler, Jacobs, Boles, and McGillivray had seemed somewhat terrified at first, but Granger’s calm manner compelled them to relax.

They stared at the door to the dining room, anticipating the arrival of the Tsar’s men. They had only to wait less than two minutes before an officer entered the room, followed by five soldiers. From the noise in the hallway, there were obviously more soldiers out there. Granger reasoned that even if they would have panicked and tried to flee, there was no chance of escape, which was yet one more reason to remain calm in such situations. He noted that the officer, who appeared to be a major, was wearing the distinctive uniform of the Imperial Guard as were all of his soldiers. “I have orders from His Imperial Majesty Tsar Paul to find Lord Granger and Lord Daventry,” he said imperiously in French.

“I am Lord Daventry,” Daventry said, as he stood up.

Granger mimicked his moves. “I am Lord Granger.”

“His Imperial Majesty commands you to attend him at St. Michael’s Castle tomorrow at two o’clock in the afternoon. His Imperial Majesty has graciously allowed you to remain here tonight, provided you give your word of honor you will appear as he has commanded,” the officer said. The formality of his voice and words seemed similar to those uttered by a chamberlain announcing people to a room.

“I give you my word of honor that I will appear at St. Michael’s Castle tomorrow at 2:00,” Granger said.

“I will give you my word of honor to that effect as well,” Daventry said.

“In the meantime, neither you nor your servants will be allowed to leave this building,” the officer said.

“We will comply with your orders,” Granger said, and got affirmative nods from everyone at the table to show their agreement as well.

“Then I will bid you a good evening,” the officer said, bowing ceremoniously as he did. Without another word, he turned and left the room, with his soldiers following behind him. That left them all somewhat speechless, since the officer had entered in a very martial way and took his leave in a much more polite manner. They sat there, all of them staring at the door through which the officer had departed, saying nothing for well over a minute.

“I think that is good news,” Daventry finally said, breaking the silence. All of them, including Granger, looked to him to explain. “If we were to be thrown in jail, they would have arrested us and taken us away.”

“There would have been no reason to delay the inevitable,” Granger said, coming around to his line of thinking.

“Precisely,” Daventry said. “There is another thing. The Tsar was willing to rely on our word of honor that we would show up tomorrow. In essence, he was saying that he trusts us.”

Granger smiled. “Indeed. This is a good sign that our plan may be working.”

“I would submit that we should still plan for contingencies, and also plan out our wardrobe for tomorrow,” Daventry said.

“Mine is already planned out, but I will agree to end this meal so you may attempt to be as organized as I am,” Granger joked, getting a chuckle from the rest of them. They repaired to their respective rooms, and Granger found himself sequestered with Winkler and Jacobs.

“My lord, do you think you’re safe now?” Winkler asked.

“I am feeling more confident that I am, but I cannot be sure,” Granger said. “For that reason, I am going to entrust these boxes and this coat to Jacobs. I have put my letters in them, and I have filled my purse. You may put the remainder of my money, or what can fit, into those cases. That should give you enough money to bribe your way out of Russia.”

“What of Boles and McGillivray, my lord?” Jacobs asked.

“I would like you to approach this as a team effort, but if you are separated, do everything in your power to assist them,” Granger said.

Jacobs swallowed nervously. “The reason I asked, my lord, is I was wondering how important your letters and dispatches was?”

“I don’t understand,” Granger said, not getting his point.

“My lord,” Winkler said, “we were worried that if we had to make a choice between staying back and helping Boles and McGillivray, and if we got caught and the dispatches were lost, how important are they?”

Granger smiled, understanding their point. “Boles and McGillivray are far more valuable than my letters, dispatches, and gold.”

“That’s most kind of you to say, my lord,” Jacobs said, relieved. It dawned on him that Winkler and Jacobs must have a similar relationship to Boles and McGillivray, and that they were probably close friends. Granger allowed his mind briefly to wonder whether the four of them had sex together, then wrestled his mind under control in a failed effort to stop the erection that was growing in his trousers.

As if that were not bad enough, a footman arrived at just that moment. Granger opted not to stand immediately, even as he raged at his body that would not obey him and allow his penis to become flaccid. This footman was fortunately one of the servants who spoke French. “My lord, Count von der Pahlen is here to see you,” he said. That was quite a surprise for von der Pahlen to call on him at this time of night.

“I will come right away,” Granger said, and stood up abruptly, tenting out his trousers as he did. He gave Jacobs and Winkler foul looks for their snickering, adjusted his erection, and hurried down the stairs to meet with the Count. He paused as he was halfway down the grand staircase to instruct the footman to go back up and get Daventry as well, just in case no one had thought to tell him the Count was here.

Granger strode into the drawing room and saw the Count by the fire, unsurprisingly. Standing next to him was a very handsome young man, with boyish features and curly brown hair. Granger decided that he was not quite as handsome as Valerian Zubov, yet to Granger at least, he seemed more attractive.

“Ah Lord Granger,” he said, and bowed to Granger in a courtly way. “I hope you will excuse my call at this late hour.”

“Your Excellency, it is good to see you no matter what the hour,” Granger replied.

“I would like to introduce you to one of my aides, Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov.”

“What an honor to meet Your Lordship,” Stroganov said, bowing with a grace Granger had not expected, and speaking French with apparent fluency.

Granger returned the gesture. “It is I who am honored.” He smiled broadly at this Russian count and recognized in him a fellow aristocrat. They bantered pleasantries around, then Daventry arrived and more flowery words were exchanged, until von der Pahlen finally moved on to business.

“The butler was not here when I arrived,” he noted, the annoyance clear in his tone. “A footman said you had removed him from his position.”

“He treated my staff rudely, which they were willing to tolerate, but when he treated me with gross disrespect that was a step too far,” Granger asserted strongly.

“He is a favorite of Prinsessa Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova-Dashkova,” von der Pahlen said. Granger remembered that she was the woman with her names all ending in the letter, a. He wondered if being her ‘favorite’ meant he was fucking her. “I fear you will offend her.”

“I have learned that when servants are rude to guests, it is not a reflection on the servants so much as their employers,” Granger said. “I would think that the Princess, when she hears of this, should be outraged that she should be humiliated by this man.” He saw Stroganov trying and failing to stifle a grin at Granger’s excellent argument.

Von der Pahlen smiled. “I will explain it to her in just that way, to make sure that she does. In the meantime, he can spend some time in Siberia counting trees.” They all laughed at that, although Granger wondered if there was some more sinister meaning in those words.

“I think it will do him good,” Granger said. “And you will find that the cook is quite capable of running this household.”

“That is useful information,” he said, then got to the point. “The Tsar was very pleased with your letter and your gift. He told those of us who were with him when he read it that you were truly a knight in the most chivalrous of fashions.”

“That is very flattering of him to say,” Granger said.

“It is,” the Count agreed. “Of course, he then went on a long-winded rant about the Spanish and Portuguese who would not recognize him as the Grand Master, and that deteriorated into rage at King Louis and a number of unimportant Italian and German princes.” That the Count would make such confidential statements in front of Stroganov marked Stroganov as a man of some importance.

“I am sorry you had to listen to such a diatribe,” Granger said.

“I am used to it,” the Count said, almost with a sigh. “So tomorrow you should arrive at St. Michael’s Palace at 1:00. I will make sure you have a room to compose yourself in, but it is important that you are on time. The Tsar values military precision, especially with his schedule.”

“We will be there at 1:00,” Granger said, so the Count knew he had heard him correctly.

“You should wear as many medals or decorations as you can,” the Count said to Granger. Stroganov smirked, making Granger blush slightly and disorienting him a bit.

“I will do as you ask,” Granger said, with a bit of dread. Then again, when one was wearing an excessive amount of decorations, did one not get compared to a Russian general? Evidently gaudy displays of valor were appropriate here in St. Petersburg.

“You both will be ushered into the throne room. Expect it to be quite full of people. There you will be handed the letter you sent and you must then read it out loud to His Imperial Majesty,” von der Pahlen said.

Daventry raised an eyebrow to signal his surprise, but Granger expected nothing less. Having Granger humble himself, more or less, in front of the entire Russian Court, would presumably atone for having three battleships destroyed by a large frigate on the doorstep to his capital. “I will do as His Imperial Majesty wishes.”

“If it is not too much trouble, Stroganov will remain here with you this evening and see you to St. Michael’s Palace tomorrow. He will also be able to provide you with any details I have missed, and answer your questions,” the Count said.

“As if your visit were not enough of a gift, leaving Count Stroganov here is even more of a present,” Granger said.

“Excellent,” von der Pahlen said. “Then I will take my leave of you and see you tomorrow afternoon.” Daventry escorted him to his carriage, while Granger poured a glass of wine for Stroganov and himself, and one for Daventry to drink when he returned.

“I hope you do not mind my company this evening,” Stroganov said.

“I was rather bored anyway,” Granger said, getting a pouting look from Stroganov.

“Then I will try to make your evening more exciting,” he said in a flirtatious way.

“That is your challenge,” Granger said, raising an eyebrow and getting a broad grin in return. Daventry chose that moment to rejoin them, effectively ending their flirtatious banter. “A glass of wine for you,” Granger said, handing him the goblet.

“Thank you, although I fear something warmer would be more welcome,” Daventry said, even as he shivered. “I fear I am not accustomed to this weather.”

Stroganov laughed, a beautiful noise that lit up his whole being and made him seem devilish at the same time. “Russian winters are notoriously frigid, and it is unusual for those not born here to adapt to them.”

Daventry laughed with him, as did Granger. “Then I will not flagellate myself for my inability to tolerate them.”

“I am curious,” Stroganov said, beginning a thought. “Why did you have Countess von Lieven deliver your message to the Tsar?”

“Her brother was my guide in helping me reach St. Petersburg, and has become a good friend,” Granger said. “He asked her to help me by referring the jeweler who crafted the star. She seemed like a good candidate.”

“I know her brother quite well,” Stroganov said. Granger thought that perhaps he detected a twinkle in the man’s eye. “His sister is not as personable.”

Granger laughed at that. “She is not. I could not understand how someone like her, speaking to a fellow aristocrat, albeit a foreign one, could be so arrogant.”

Stroganov laughed again, only this time even more heartily, so much that it took him a bit to get himself under control. “I am sorry, but your comment was hilarious considering you have so accurately described Baltic Germans in general.”

“I don’t understand,” Daventry said.

“You will find that Russians are not like her, and we are a friendly and gregarious people,” he said. “His Imperial Majesty’s subjects from the Baltic German states are more uptight and sensitive about their pedigrees. We Russians often make fun of them for it behind their backs.”

“That is good to know, since the only Russians nobles I have encountered thus far are Nikolay and Valerian Zubov,” Granger said.

Stroganov sneered at that. “Nikolay is a giant oaf, with a huge body that he uses to intimidate and bully people who are stupid enough to let him.”

“I thought Granger was going to end up fighting a duel with the man,” Daventry said, teasing Granger.

“Hardly,” Granger said. “If I had, I would have chosen pistols.” Nikolay’s size would have made swords or sabers a much tougher battle.”

“He was popular with the late Empress, and the rumor is that is because it is not only his arms and legs that are large,” Stroganov said, making them all chuckle.

“I would suspect that would indeed make him popular with some women,” Daventry said with a chuckle.

“Valerian is more polished, and more handsome,” Stroganov said. “He is popular with the women because of that, and because he does not limit himself.”

“You mean he will fuck anyone?” Daventry asked. They all laughed at that.

“That is exactly what I mean,” Stroganov said. “I think that tomorrow will go well for you gentlemen. Your letter, and the star, was masterfully done.”

“Thank you,” Granger said. “At this point, my biggest fear is for our four servants, who have loyally traveled with us.”

“And if something were to happen to you, you fear that these four men would be stranded in Russia, and all but helpless?” he asked.

“Something like that,” Granger said, since they were bright men, and certainly not helpless.

“I am confident that I can protect them and get them safely back to England,” he said.

“For that, we would be eternally grateful, and that would make our stay in a Russian dungeon that much more palatable,” Daventry observed.

“There is nothing palatable about a Russian jail, but you will not have to worry about them,” Stroganov said. He tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn.

“I must retire to my room and finish planning out my wardrobe for tomorrow,” Daventry said, then smirked at Granger. “Even though I don’t have baubles to pin all over my breast.”

“It is a shame you are not so exalted,” Granger said with feigned arrogance. “Perhaps I can lend you a medal or two.”

“I will avoid stealing your fame,” Daventry said. “I bid you gentlemen a good evening.”

“Would you care to join me as I attach medals to my clothes?” Granger joked, getting a chuckle from Stroganov.

“With pleasure,” he said. Granger led him upstairs to his room, where Winkler was waiting for him.

“Winkler, this is Count Stroganov,” Granger said, introducing them.

“A pleasure to meet Your Excellency,” Winkler said in his unpolished French.

“Nice to meet you as well, Winkler,” Stroganov said. “I have told Lord Granger that if tomorrow does not go well, you must come to me, and I will see that you and your friends are sent home safely.”

“I am most grateful to Your Excellency,” Winkler said, “but I am hoping that is not necessary.”

“As am I,” Stroganov said.

“I was going to take a bath,” Granger said to Stroganov. “Would you care to join me?”

“I usually bathe when I visit the banya,” Stroganov said.

“Sadly, I have not been able to do that for some time, and I find that I have become spoiled with being clean,” Granger said.

“I have a solution to that,” Stroganov said. “Tonight, I will join you here and make sure I am also sparkling clean for tomorrow, and then after the Tsar frees you from social exile, I will show you where the best banya is.”

“Excellent,” Granger said. He had but to nod at Winkler for him to go make preparations. There was a bathroom in a different part of this house that had twin bathtubs, so that would serve them well.

Granger and Stroganov stood looking at his coat for tomorrow, which was affixed to what seemed like a large pillow shaped like a man’s torso. “A most unusual device,” Stroganov said, referring to the pillow.

“I have never seen one of these before, but Winkler managed to locate it here. Apparently, it is something used in sewing,” Granger noted.

“Interesting,” Stroganov said, then looked at Granger’s uniform. “I am confused. I thought your Royal Navy officers wore blue coats.”

“They do, but I came here as a private citizen to appeal to the Tsar,” Granger explained. “As I am currently serving in the Royal Navy, I did not want to wear that uniform.”

“But this is also a uniform,” Stroganov said.

“I was appointed as one of His Majesty’s Colonels of Marines, an honor given to Royal Navy captains until they are promoted to admiral,” Granger explained. “I felt that the Tsar would appreciate a military uniform so I wanted to wear one, and this one serves my purpose because it is less official.”

“The red coats of your soldiers are famous, so he will definitely like that,” Stroganov said. “You do have a lot of medals. What are they for?”

Granger pointed to the two circular medals that would be pinned to his upper left breast. “These are medals I won in battle,” he said proudly, which was rare for him. “This is the medal for the Battle of St. Vincent, and this is the medal for the Battle of the Nile.”

“The one for the Battle of the Nile is larger,” Stroganov noted. “Is that because it was a more important battle?”

“No, I served as Captain of the Fleet during the Nile, and that is like being a junior admiral. It means I got a bigger medal, and less prize money.”

Stroganov laughed. “I suspect most would have preferred it the other way around.”

“I gave away my share of the prize money anyway,” Granger said, then realized that he’d opened up to this Russian and told him something quite personal, and at the same time his statement could have been perceived as if he were bragging. All of this was quite out of character for Granger, and he let it momentarily disturb him.

“That was a remarkable victory, one that was a huge event here,” Stroganov said. “You must think of a way to mention this to the Tsar. He will be impressed, as will the rest of the Court.”

“I am not sure there is anything to be impressed about,” Granger said modestly. “The recognition must go to Lord Nelson, who was truly responsible for that victory, which was more complete than any in recent memory.”

“Ah yes, your Admiral Nelson, who would then openly squire his mistress through Europe and desert his wife when he returned to England,” Stroganov said, shaking his head. “Only in England would that be considered a problem.”

Granger laughed at that. “I fear the politicians will use morals to justify their actions.”

“That happens here, but it is more subtle,” Stroganov noted. “I think this uniform looks good, but it will look even better when it is on you.”

Granger almost blushed at his flirtatious comment. “I must hope I am handsome enough to eclipse both you and Daventry.”

“That will be no problem,” he said. Granger almost rolled his eyes at that lie.

They were interrupted when Winkler arrived to tell him the baths were ready. Winkler helped Granger undress, while Jacobs performed that duty for Stroganov. Granger avoided staring at the handsome young man, and only dared to look at him after he had put his own robe on. Granger led him through the house to the large bathroom and found it empty but for the two large tubs filled with hot water.

Granger shed his robe and climbed into the tub, relishing the feel of the water as he sank into it. He was faster than Stroganov, so he was able to watch the young man shed his robe, exposing his body that was almost cherubic, one that could almost be pudgy but was not. His white skin made his light brown pubic hair stand out that much more. He turned away from Granger, giving him a view of the man’s back, with a gorgeous ass that seemed as if it were formed by two bubbles. Granger pulled his legs up lest Stroganov see his erection through the clear bath water. “This is wonderful,” he said, relaxing into the tub.

The two bathtubs were side by side, and they each sat at opposite ends of their respective tubs, so Granger’s head was next to where Stroganov’s feet were submerged, and vice-versa. In this way, they were able to look at each other and continue their conversation. “So you are an aide to Count von der Pahlen?”

“He would like to think so,” Stroganov said with a smile. “I am close to the Tsarevich. Inasmuch as it is possible, we are friends.” The last sentence referred to the considerable gulf between a member of the Imperial family and a noble, even a noble from a family as exalted as Stroganovs.

“Then why are you here?”

“You are not glad that I am here?” Stroganov said, flirting.

“I am very glad you are here, but I would suspect you would have a reason for taking on the responsibility of shepherding me to my appointment,” Granger sparred back.

“Perhaps it was so I could spend time with you and appreciate your handsome face and charming conversation,” he said.

“That is certainly plausible,” Granger responded in a faux-arrogant way, getting a chuckle from Stroganov. “But then, you had not yet met me, so you did not know how incredibly handsome I am, or that I am one of the most charming people you have ever met.” That brought Stroganov to full out laughter.

“Your reputation had preceded you,” he finally said, then got more serious. “The Tsarevich has heard a rumor that you were in St. Petersburg. He wanted to know more about you and Lord Daventry. He dispatched me to von der Pahlen.”

“Why would he find us interesting?” Granger asked. Surely there were a number of foreigners who visited St. Petersburg who were more distinguished.

“Because he is wondering why you are here, and if you are planning to put him on Russia’s throne,” Stroganov said, in a way that was part jesting, and part probing.

“It saddens me to disillusion you about the limits of my abilities, but I am not so powerful as to depose a Tsar and appoint his successor,” Granger riposted.

“Ah, but England has the money to make such a thing happen,” Stroganov said. He was remarkably well informed.

“England may, but I do not,” Granger said firmly, since it was true.

“Perhaps that is where your friend Lord Daventry comes in,” Stroganov said, boring to the truth of the matter.

“For that, you will have to ask Lord Daventry, because I am not familiar with his plans to supposedly change the regime here in Russia,” Granger said. That was a bit of a lie, but he justified it by noting that he said he was ‘familiar’, and that was true, since as they’d discussed, he’d dodged learning about details. “Why would that concern the Tsarevich?”

“He is torn between knowing how bad his father is for Russia, and also with a son’s loyalty to his father,” Stroganov said.

“I am looking forward to meeting the Tsarevich,” Granger said. “Whether he ends up on the throne of Russia in the near or far future, I am sure he is an interesting man.”

“You will find him interesting, but you will find his father to be intimidating, not because he is inherently cruel, but because he is so erratic,” Stroganov said. “Most people are on pins and needles around him, worrying about what will next come from his mouth or his pen.”

“That would be a very unsatisfying state to live in,” Granger said.

“Welcome to Russia, Lord Granger,” Stroganov said fatalistically.

The bath water was starting to get cold, so they finished washing themselves off then got out, grabbing the towels to dry off their bodies. Granger was having a problem not staring at Stroganov, so enticing was his body, when the young man caught him and smiled, raising an eyebrow. “You look like a cherub,” Granger teased.

Stroganov laughed. “I can assure you there is nothing at all angelic about my body.”

“Indeed,” Granger said, even as he swallowed hard. He hurriedly put on his robe and avoided looking at Stroganov, who would, Granger was sure, be smirking at him. He forced himself to hide his discomfort and be the good host, but when he turned to face Stroganov, instead of a smirk he found a very caring look. “Let us go back to my room, then we will figure out where you are to sleep.”

“You have a large bed,” Stroganov said. It certainly wasn’t large by Granger’s standards, but he wasn’t going to raise that as an issue. “As it is late, I would not mind sharing with you.”

“Then that is what we shall do,” Granger said, wondering how he would lie in the same bed with Stroganov and not try to fuck him senseless.

They arrived back at Granger’s room to find Jacobs and Winkler waiting for them. “My lord, we brought up some refreshments for you,” Winkler said, gesturing to the table, where there were some pastries set out.

“Wonderful, Winkler,” Granger said appreciatively.

“Your Excellency, your clothes were a bit dirty, so the washerwomen are taking care of them. They assure me that if they dry them by the stove, they will be ready for you in the morning,” Winkler said to Stroganov.

“Thank you very much,” Stroganov said sincerely. “If you are this efficient, perhaps I will keep you here in Russia regardless.” Winkler got a horrified look on his face, which made Granger, Stroganov, and Jacobs laugh uproariously.

“Begging your pardon, Your Excellency, but I’m inclined to return to England,” Winkler said in a bitchy way, since he was being made the butt of their joke.

“Then that is how it will be,” Stroganov said.

“I have one of His Lordship’s nightshirts for you,” he said to Stroganov.

“Thank you, Winkler,” Granger said sincerely. “I think we will enjoy these pastries, then go to bed.”

“Good night my lord, Your Excellency,” Winkler said, then he and Jacobs left the room.

They ate their pastries, then Granger excused himself to use his privy closet. He took a moment to slather his ass with lanolin, just in case he got lucky, then returned to the room to find Stroganov already in bed. He noticed that Stroganov’s robe was tossed on the floor, and that he hadn’t put on his night shirt, so Granger did the same thing. He climbed into his side of the bed and lay with his back to Stroganov, as that seemed to be the appropriate posture to take. He felt the warmth of Stroganov’s body as he moved so his torso was almost spooning against Granger’s back. “It is not uncommon for men to use each other’s bodies to provide warmth in the winter,” he said, almost cooing in Granger’s ear.

“It is a most welcome warmth,” Granger said, which prompted Stroganov to mold his body against Granger’s. The feel of his soft skin was such that Granger was almost overcome with horniness.

“It is also not unknown for men to enjoy some pleasure with each other,” Stroganov cooed. Granger felt his hard cock probing gently against his ass cheeks.

“It is not,” Granger said, moving his ass back toward Stroganov.

“And you would not be opposed to such an encounter?” Stroganov asked, as he thrust his cock against Granger’s crack, grazing his hole.

“Not at all,” Granger said, as he reached down and aligned Stroganov’s cock so with the next thrust it slid smoothly inside Granger.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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Mark Arbor, you said this chapter would have an interesting character. A man with a very recognizable name, Count Pavel Stroganov and his eponymous beef dish. The slavs do love their sour cream. I hope Granger likes it as well. lol😁 A good chapter with repartee and finesse. Granger does it again. Thanks!

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