“I had not expected last night would be so much fun,” Stroganov said.He had shown Granger that he was just as fun as the one being penetrated as the one doing the penetrating.For Granger, plunging into Stroganov’s soft, pliable ass had been one of his more memorable sexual experiences.
“I thought you said my reputation had preceded me,” Granger joked.While the sex had been good, he had felt a bond developing with Stroganov.It may have been based on their sexual compatibility, or it may have been based on their similar backgrounds, but it also seemed to be based on a sense of honor, one that permeated all that they did.
“That part was omitted,” he said.A scratching at the door interrupted the afterglow.
“Enter,” Granger said loudly.Winkler came in, followed by Jacobs, both of them carrying trays with food and drink on them.They both tactfully ignored the facts that there were two naked men in the bed and the room smelled like sex.
“Breakfast for Your Lordship and Your Excellency,” Winkler said.
“That was most thoughtful of you,” Stroganov said.Winkler picked up Granger’s robe and Jacobs picked up Stroganov’s and helped them into them, and they ushered the two noblemen over to the small table where the food was laid out.
“The maid is on her way up with your clothes, Your Excellency,” Winkler said.“I will return shortly to help Your Lordship dress.”
“Thank you, Winkler,” Granger said.
“He is quite devoted to you,” Stroganov observed.
“He is, and I am just as devoted to him,” Granger said.“We have endured much together, and the toughest times are when we are separated.”
“Why must you be separated?” Stroganov asked.
“We are not normally, but there have been times.The longest was when I had returned from India through Egypt and discovered that the French had invaded the country, which was quite inconvenient,” Granger said, getting a chuckle from Stroganov.
“I shouldn’t wonder,” he said.
“Winkler, Jacobs, and I managed to escape and book passage on an American ship, and while sailing past Aboukir I spotted the French fleet.A few days later we sighted Lord Nelson and our fleet.I had dispatches that urgently needed to get to England, but I also wanted to fight in the upcoming battle.I sent Winkler back to deliver the dispatches and I went on to fight the Battle of the Nile with Nelson,” Granger said. “He had a difficult passage back, and I ended up a prisoner in France.It seems that when we are not together, things go badly.”
“I do not have a servant like that,” he said thoughtfully.“I will have to ponder why that is.”
“I think that it was mostly luck on our parts.I met Winkler when I was just a midshipman, and he was wounded after a battle and his leg had not healed.I helped him recover from that, and offered him safety when no one else would,” Granger said, truncating the story considerably. “I think that our willingness to sacrifice all for the other, and to support each other without question, has made our bond so strong.”
“And how does Jacobs fit into that picture?” he asked.Granger was of a mind to tell him that Jacobs fit inside Winkler, but opted not to be that crass.
“That is yet another lengthy story, and one which will have to wait until I convince the Tsar I am not evil incarnate,” Granger said.
“And after that happens, where will you stay?” he asked Granger.
“I assumed I would remain here,” Granger said.
“That will be most difficult, and most uncomfortable,” he said.“You are a considerable distance from St. Petersburg, which is where everything is happening.”
“I had not really thought about that,” Granger said, stunned by this new dilemma, and annoyed with himself for completely failing to anticipate such a problem.
“Fortunately for you, I have,” he said.“You will stay with me and my family.”
“I would not want to inconvenience you,” Granger objected, as he had no idea what kind of living arrangements Stroganov had.
“It would not be an inconvenience at all,” Stroganov said.“Besides, there are additional benefits as we witnessed last night.”
“You are most persuasive,” Granger said, and leaned in to kiss him.They’d just begun when there was a scratch at the door, causing them to separate.Winkler and Jacobs came in and in short order helped both of them get ready to go to the palace.
“I think you look very good, my lord,” Winkler said, as he stood next to Granger admiring him in the mirror.
“You did an excellent job with Major Treadway’s uniform,” Granger noted.Winkler had enlisted seamstresses at various points on their journey to make some of the more difficult alterations, for they not only had to tailor the uniform to fit Granger, they also had to convert it into a colonel’s uniform.
“My lord, how will we get word about your audience with the Tsar?” Winkler asked nervously.
“Why don’t you bring Winkler and Jacobs with you,” Stroganov suggested.“They can wait at the palace, and after that, I can host you at my home.”
“Can you pack up our things that quickly?” Granger asked.
“I think we can be ready in thirty minutes, my lord,” Winkler said.
“That should be fine,” Granger said.He and Stroganov left Granger’s room, which was immediately convulsed in chaos as Winkler and Jacobs began to pack up their belongings.They descended the stairs and since Daventry hadn’t appeared yet, they opted to indulge their appetites and eat some more food.After a quarter of an hour, Granger excused himself and went upstairs to check on his fellow peer.
He found Daventry in his room, standing in front of the mirror as he worked on his cravat.“Good morning, George,” he said, then furiously untied his latest effort.“Damn!”
“Perhaps you would like to work on that while we are on our journey,” Granger suggested, even as he looked at his watch.
“Let me give it one more try, and if I fail, I will do just that,” Daventry said.“I hear you’re moving.”
“Count Stroganov offered to let us stay at his home in St. Petersburg, and while I haven’t formally accepted, it seemed like a wise course of action at least for tonight,” Granger said.“If that decision turns out to be for nothing, then Winkler and Jacobs will have been put through the rigors of packing, but in exchange they will know the results of our meeting that much sooner.”
“I can see how that would make sense, staying in the center of St. Petersburg, if you are to be part of the St. Petersburg social scene,” he said.
“If I am to be part of the social scene?” Granger challenged, since clearly Daventry was excluding himself from that equation.
“I think I will stay here,” Daventry said.
“If you would prefer me to stay here, I will do so as well,” Granger said, worried that he’d offended Daventry.
“George, we talked about keeping our missions here a bit separated and being in two different places helps us do that,” Daventry said soothingly.“We will still see each other often, but this will help both of us.”
“I have come to rely on your counsel and guidance, as well as your friendship,” Granger said, opening up to this man he had grown to trust completely.“I will seem adrift without you around.”
“You will still have those things, because I rely on you just as much,” he said.“If we were in London, would we not still be close friends?Would you trust me any less?”
“I would not,” Granger said.“But in London, we are not living in a land where everyone is potentially hostile.”
“If you think that, you have learned nothing from our battles with the Guild,” Daventry said severely.“It is just as dangerous; it is only the familiar scenery that makes it seem familiar.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Granger said.“Let us see how today goes, and then we can think about the future.I will most likely do as you recommend if that seems like the wisest course of action.”
“There!” Daventry said, admiring his cravat which was indeed tied quite elegantly.
“That was worth the extra time it took,” Granger said approvingly.
They strode to the stairway where there was a large mirror and paused to admire their reflections in the mirror.Granger almost felt like he was looking at someone else, so foreign did his red coat seem on him.He was objectively trying to decide if the blue naval uniform actually looked better on him, or if it just seemed that way because it was familiar.He concluded that the blue uniform did complement his appearance better because it brought out the color of his eyes, while the red uniform made his cheeks seem ruddy.He had his medals pinned to his chest, along with his two stars, and around his neck was the ornate Spanish Collar.The Red Sash from the Order of the Bath looked lost against his red coat.He had gleaming white stockings and breeches, black shoes with gold buckles all polished to a luster, and his gilt ceremonial sword.Daventry looked very elegant, and his lack of decorations made him seem quite svelte.He wore his signature black and gold colors.He had a jacket made of black velvet, with matching breeches, while the facings of the jacket were in an elaborate pattern embroidered bullion.His stockings, shirt, and cravat were all in white.The only detail left to complete was fitting their wigs on their heads, something they would do when they got to St. Michael’s Palace.“I think all of our efforts have indeed paid off,” Daventry observed.
They arrived downstairs to find Stroganov waiting for them.“It is time for us to go,” he said a bit nervously, as it was some fifteen minutes after their scheduled departure time.Granger was more relaxed about that, because he knew that time schedule had been padded to ensure they were not late.
Winkler and Jacobs approached him at just that moment.“My lord, we’ve got the vozok all loaded up and out front.”
“That was excellent work,” Granger said.“Let us go.”He led Daventry and Stroganov out to the gleaming blue vozok, and allowed them to enter into its warm cabin first.
“George, this is marvelous,” Daventry said.“I cannot believe I traveled all the way from Riga in that horrible contraption they called a sled.”
Even Stroganov was impressed.“This is nicer even than the one my father has.”
“I prefer to travel in style,” Granger said with the air of a dilettante, making the two of them chuckle.
“So tell us of this castle,” Daventry said to Stroganov.“My understanding is that it was just completed.”
“You are correct,” Stroganov said.“The Tsar commanded that St. Michael’s Castle be built and construction started in 1797, and was just finished a few months ago, although there is still work ongoing to complete the interior.”
“I have heard of the Winter Palace, and other residences,” Granger said. “I am curious why he chose to build a new one.”
“Kings and Emperors are often possessed to build things, if only for their own vanity,” Stroganov said.“In this case, the Tsar’s fears and suspicions were the driving motives behind St. Michael’s.”
“Indeed?” Daventry asked.
“St. Michael’s is built much like a medieval castle.It is surrounded by water and can only be accessed by a drawbridge.The Tsar never felt safe at the Winter Palace, which is not so fortified.”
“What is he afraid of?” Daventry asked.
Stroganov gave him a wry grin, as if to say ‘everything’, but opted not to.“He is most worried about assassins, or unruly mobs storming his palace, unlikely as that may seem.”
“Is the populace unruly?” Granger asked.
“They are not, and they are not the threat.It is a truly Russian irony that the people a Tsar has to fear the most are the Imperial Guard.I cannot imagine a regime change in Russia without at least the tacit agreement of the Guards, and it would most likely require their involvement.”
“That would indeed be a perplexing situation to find oneself in,” Daventry pondered, even as the wheels in his brain churned with this information he had probably already known, but was now contemplating more fully.
“I think you will find St. Michael’s Castle to be a very odd building,” Stroganov said, changing the subject.
“Why is that?” Granger asked.
“Because on the exterior it has four sides, and each of the four sides is constructed in a different architectural style,” Stroganov said.“One is done in French Classicism, another in Gothic, another in Italian Renaissance, and another I cannot identify.”
“That is odd,” Daventry said.“I am hard pressed to think of an example of a British castle or palace that was purposely designed such that its sides were of a different architectural era.Such things happen by chance, but not on purpose.”
“In my travels through France and Spain, I cannot recall a palace or castle like that either,” Granger augmented.
“And that is just one more thing that the Tsar has done that has raised some people’s eyebrows and made them wonder, albeit privately, about his mental stability,” Stroganov said.
“You think that is the case?” Daventry asked.
“I said some people think that, not that I think that,” Stroganov said smoothly, showing he was a good politician.They laughed at his deft reply.The one disadvantage of the vozok was that it had very small windows, which made it difficult to get a feel for the city that they passed through.It wasn’t until they were stopped by guards at the drawbridge and opened the doors that Granger got a good look at this building they’d been talking about.
“The guard has asked us to step out of the vozok,” Stroganov explained.They did so, standing there in the cold, while Stroganov explained who they all were.As they did other guards inspected the vehicle, and the trunks.It was clear they were taking no chances on letting an assassin into this moat-protected bastion of the Tsar.Granger ignored that commotion and focused on the building.It was as if one took a large, square castle but instead of stone walls, they had built the façade of a palace.In that way, it had that same solid shape but was softened by the multitude of windows and the pinkish colored walls.It would actually have looked quite grand but for the bizarre change in architecture from one side to the next.“We can go,” Stroganov said, breaking into his thoughts.
They reboarded the vozok and it moved slowly across the bridge and pulled up to a grand entrance way.They disembarked and strode up to the entry where footmen dressed in the Imperial livery opened the doors to usher them in.They were at the base of a grand staircase, but most of the beauty of the room was only visible beyond the entry.A chamberlain greeted them and then engaged in conversation with Stroganov.
“This way, my lords,” the chamberlain said.He led them up the stairs, letting them now see this magnificent room that contained a huge staircase and must have been entirely clad in marble.Once at the top of the stairs he led them through a door, then through another door into an anteroom that was small but comfortable, with four chairs.
“I will leave you to get ready,” Stroganov said.“I will return at 1:45 to get you and lead you to meet with His Imperial Majesty.”
“We are most obliged for your help,” Granger said, smiling slightly.
“Should have just stayed in the vozok,” Winkler grumbled.“It was warmer there.”
“You have to help me put on my wig,” Granger said.“If you would like to wait in the vozok after that, you may.”
Winkler and Jacobs had carried the large boxes that contained their wigs, and with some effort and fasteners, they managed to attach the uncomfortable things to their heads.“Damn things always make me itch,” Daventry growled.
“They are unpleasant,” Granger agreed.It was an unfortunate part of his existence that he had to wear one of these things whenever he was in the presence of royalty.“As you did not go to Mitau, I have worn mine more recently than you.”
“That is certainly not something I am jealous of,” Daventry said.
“Jacobs, will you see if that chamberlain fellow or one of the footmen is outside?” Granger asked.
“Aye, my lord,” he said, and got up to do just that.Granger could sense how uncomfortable both Jacobs and Winkler were in this potentially hostile palace and was going to help them escape to the vozok.
Jacobs led a footman in to see Granger, but since Jacobs spoke no French, the poor man had no idea what Granger wanted, and looked a bit nervous himself.“I would like to ask you to help my staff to return to my vehicle,” Granger said to the man.
“To your vehicle, my lord?” he asked.“It will be cold.”Winkler smiled at the concern this footman showed for them.
“While it is cold outside, I have a vozok and it is heated,” Granger said.
“Then I will be happy to assist them,” he said.
Granger turned to Winkler and Jacobs and spoke in English.“I will see you when this is over.If anything happens to us, seek out Count Stroganov.”
“We will do that, my lord,” Winkler said.Granger took a few coins from his purse and handed them to Winkler.
“To show our gratitude to this nice footman, and maybe to bribe him into getting you some food and drink,” Granger said softly and in English, which all but ensured the footman couldn’t understand him.
“Thank you, my lord,” he said, and then he and Jacobs followed the footman out, leaving Granger alone with Daventry.
“They would follow you to the gates of hell, and so would Boles and McGillivray,” Daventry said in an admiring way.
“As they are probably destined for that location along with the two of us, I suspect that will happen regardless,” Granger said with a grin.
“I heard what you said about Boles and McGillivray,” Daventry said, forcing Granger to continue this conversation.
“And what did I say about them?”
“You said their lives were much more important than mere letters or dispatches or gold,” Daventry said.“So now I think they love you more than they love me.”
“I should think that would be the case even had I said nothing,” Granger joked to deflect attention away from Daventry’s attempts to praise him.
“Let us hope the Russians find you as lovable,” he said.There was a scratch at the door and they both stood up even as the door opened.A footman opened the door then stood back as a man entered, followed by Stroganov.Granger had never met this man, but instinctively knew he was the Tsarevich Alexander.Alexander was tall, probably close to six feet, and quite handsome.Granger guessed he was about the same age as he and Daventry.The Tsarevich’s chin seemed to jut forward and then everything else, from his nose to his cheekbones, were staggered back from that large facial structure.His appearance was more German than Russian, which made sense since most of his ancestors were Teutonic.He had that same untouchable air about him that most Royals Granger had met seemed to possess, but he seemed perhaps even more aloof and withdrawn.Granger bowed, just as he would be doing for this man’s father in less than an hour.Daventry, who had not initially identified him as the Tsarevich, managed to hide his look of surprise even as he mimicked Granger’s gesture.
“Your Imperial Highness, please allow me to introduce Viscount Granger and Viscount Daventry,” Stroganov said.
“Welcome to St. Petersburg,” the Tsarevich said stiffly.
“Thank you, Your Imperial Highness,” Granger said, responding for both himself and Daventry, since he seemed to have his wits about himself a bit more.“What an honor you do us by calling on us.”Granger’s friendly tone seemed to disarm the man a bit.
“You have become the talk of the court, and you have charmed one of my dearest friends, so my curiosity was aroused,” he said with a smile.
“How fortunate for us, sir, that we were able to spark such enthusiastic gossip,” Granger said, making both him and Stroganov smile.
“After you have mended fences with my father, I would like you to call on me and share some of your experiences with me,” he said.“It is not every day one meets a man who has circled the globe.”
“I am at Your Imperial Highness’s disposal,” Granger said.
“I will see you in the throne room,” he said.Both Daventry and Granger bowed, and then stood back up to stare at his back as he exited the room.
“You certainly do attract the most interesting fans, George,” Daventry said, causing both of them to laugh rather loudly.His comment was funny, his tone was funnier, but breaking the tension made it the most laughable.
They sat down and Granger poured them both some wine from the decanter that was in the room.“We will hope this is not poisoned.”
“That would be a damnable end to a very long trip,” Daventry noted.“The Tsarevich seems almost shy.”
“He is a bit withdrawn,” Granger agreed, which was a bit worrisome, since the man would spend his entire life in pubic.Perhaps that’s why he was more reticent.
There was another scratch at the door, and when it opened it revealed Stroganov, who was alone this time.“The Tsarevich wanted to meet you.”
“That was most convenient, since I wanted to meet him as well,” Granger said, getting a grin from Daventry and Stroganov.
Stroganov looked at his watch.“It is time to go.”
“As you wish,” Daventry said.Stroganov paused by a mirror, a subtle hint to both of them to check their appearance.Granger took extra care to make sure his medals were straight, while Daventry’s wig had gotten a bit lopsided.With those adjustments made, they exited the room to find the Grand Chamberlain there, along with six Imperial Guards.
The Grand Chamberlain took the lead, preceded by two Guardsmen and succeeded by two Guardsmen.Granger, Daventry, and Stroganov followed them, and they were trailed by the two remaining Guardsmen. They traveled through two galleries that overlooked the central square, even as a number of courtiers looked at them curiously.They then went through a large dining room that sported views of the city and into a series of smaller rooms until they came to a very large chamber.The walls of this room were marble and looked similar to those in the Grand Staircase, with a decorated ceiling from which hung massive chandeliers.The room was crowded, but the people made way for their procession.They passed through the length of that room, heading toward another doorway, and paused just outside that doorway.
Stroganov handed Granger the letter he had written to the Tsar, while they heard the Grand Chamberlain’s voice reel out Granger’s and Daventry’s titles.As soon as he was done, the guards in front of them entered the room and stood at attention on either side of the door, while Granger and Daventry walked in.They automatically bowed as they went through the door, and only after they had risen up from that sign of respect was Granger able to take in the scene in front of him.The room was round, and in front of them was a raised throne on which sat the Tsar.He was wearing a uniform, although of which regiment Granger had no idea, and the uniform was covered with medals and stars.Granger tried not to smile when he saw that the gift he’d had created for the Tsar featured prominently on his right side.The room was teeming with courtiers, leaving just enough room for Granger and Daventry to approach the throne.They did so, bowed again, then waited for the Tsar to speak.
“We will hear your words,” the Tsar said crisply, invoking the imperial ‘we’.He seemed to be somewhat pudgy, with a nose that was flattened.Granger noticed von der Pahlen standing to his right.If von der Pahlen was like a human turned into a cat, then the Tsar was like a man turned into a pig.
“If it pleases Your Imperial Majesty, I would like to read the letter I transmitted to Your Imperial Majesty yesterday,” Granger said respectfully.
“You may,” the Tsar said.
“Your Imperial Majesty, I am pained to learn that in the execution of my duties as an officer in His Britannic Majesty’s Navy I have caused you significant distress, and given you the impression that my actions indicated a lack of respect for Your Imperial Majesty and Your Imperial Majesty’s realm.As a loyal officer to His Britannic Majesty, I must obey his orders, but as a Knight of three different chivalric orders, I recognize the obligation of fealty all citizens of the earth owe to such an esteemed monarch as yourself, especially when that monarch is also the Grand Master of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.While I am proud of my achievements in battle, even against the forces of Your Imperial Majesty, it has pained me to think of the anger you must have at me, anger which manifested itself in your banishment of me from Russia.To try and atone for that, I have defied Your Imperial Majesty’s commands one last time and have traveled here to seek Your Imperial Majesty’s pardon for being so vexing to Your Imperial Majesty.I have separated myself from my command and come here as a private person, not as a Captain in His Britannic Majesty’s navy and a Peer of Great Britain, to place myself at Your Imperial Majesty’s mercy.”Granger finished and bowed with a flourish, and gracefully offered the letter back to the Tsar.The Tsar took it from his hands in a distant way and handed it to von der Pahlen.It intrigued both Granger and Daventry that while both were involved in this scene, Granger was the one on whom the Tsar’s attention was focused.
“Just as it is the obligation of a knight to beg forgiveness for sins committed, so also is it the obligation of a monarch to forgive such transgressions,” the Tsar said.“You have shown yourself to be an honorable man, Lord Granger, and we will welcome you into our Empire with one proviso.”
“Sir?” Granger asked, confused, wondering what evil this Tsar had planned for them.
“We require that you and Lord Daventry convert to the one true faith, the Orthodox Church,” the Tsar said.Granger, despite his shock, noted the smirk of satisfaction on the face of the old prelate standing to the left of the Tsar.For once, he had no idea how to respond, and found himself speechless in front of one of the most powerful men on the planet.
“Your Imperial Majesty,” Daventry said, speaking for the first time.“As Your Imperial Majesty might imagine, matters of faith and our relationship with God is the most dear and precious thing we possess.”Granger noticed the Tsar’s eyes begin to furrow in anger.“Lord Granger and I would be happy to do as Your Imperial Majesty asks, but to make such a conversion meaningful, we must do so with a full understanding of the Orthodox faith.If Your Imperial Majesty would grant us the time to do that, we will do as Your Imperial Majesty wishes.”
“That is a reasonable request, Lord Daventry,” the Tsar said.“We will appoint a member of the church to guide you.Once you have embraced the true faith, you may leave Russia at your leisure.Until then, you will remain our welcome guests.”
Granger was unpleasantly surprised at the way these northern monarchs seemed to worry so much about his soul, much more than he himself did, but he accepted the situation as it was.“Thank you, Your Imperial Majesty,” he said, bowing low to the Tsar.