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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 40. Chapter 40

Finished a chapter in time for Thanksgiving (US).

February 6, 1801

St. Michael’s Castle

St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Granger stood in one of the galleries he’d walked through on his way to call on the Tsar as he mingled for the first time with the apex of Russian society. Daventry was off in a different room, no doubt either trying to find someone to bed or trying to advance his plan, but fortunately Stroganov was close at hand. A woman who looked to be about forty years of age moved gracefully yet purposefully toward Granger, and as other courtiers parted in front of her, he deduced she was a woman of some importance. She was very attractive now but must have been quite beautiful when she was younger and thinner. “The Empress,” Stroganov whispered in his ear. Granger was amazed at how well he could do that, such that no one could even tell he was talking. Granger faced the Empress and bowed with all the grace he could muster. As it got a smile from her, it must have worked. He noted that Stroganov had mimicked his moves perfectly. “Your Imperial Majesty, please allow me to present Viscount Granger.”

“Welcome to Russia, Lord Granger,” she said, with a complex number of emotions showing through her façade. Annoyance, interest, and a bit of fear were those which Granger picked up on. “You have certainly made this an interesting day.”

“I am glad I could create some excitement to amuse Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said in a mildly flirtatious way.

“I prefer to be excited in other ways,” she said, and now the look was unmistakable in her eyes: lust. Granger could fend off the ladies of this court, even an important duke’s wife or daughter, but he could not refuse the Empress of Russia. He opted to make the best of a dangerous situation.

“I am a man of many talents, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger replied. She held out her hand to him and he kissed it in a mildly sensuous way.

“I will expect you to call on me within the next day or two,” she ordered, then took her leave, with her maids trailing after her. One of them was the Countess von Lieven, who gave Granger a wily look.

“Lord Granger,” she said, curtseying.

“Countess,” Granger said, as he bowed and kissed her hand.

“It seems that your plan to ingratiate yourself with the Tsar was successful,” she said in her normal snarky tone. “Congratulations.”

“I could not have done it without your help,” Granger said. “Thank you.” She studied him carefully, as if to detect the sarcasm that normally infiltrated their conversations but recognized his sincerity.

“I am glad I could be of assistance,” she said. A fearful looking woman was glaring at her, and it was easy enough to deduce that must be her mother. “I will look forward to our next meeting.”

“As will I,” Granger said.

“I would like you to meet my wife,” Stroganov said, forcing him to focus his attention on a pretty woman with a long nose and brown hair, who seemed much more avant-garde than the other women Granger had met.

“Lord Granger, I understand you are to be staying with us,” she said, and held out her hand, which Granger bowed and kissed as was expected.

“I hope that will not be too much trouble,” Granger said, giving her his most charming smile.

“I am looking forward to it,” she said, then trailed off after the Empress.

“You are lining up liaisons with the Empress, von Lieven’s young bride, and my wife as well?” Stroganov asked in a teasing but slightly jealous way.

“I only have plans to liase with one person,” Granger said, winking at him.

“You cannot refuse the Empress,” he said in a cautionary way.

“Did you?” Granger asked.

“I was not given the opportunity to say no,” he said, and seemed quite saddened by that.

“I have not been given that opportunity either, but I recognize that my choices are limited, even though I will probably have to imagine you while I perform,” Granger said, even as he leaned in to whisper the last part in Stroganov’s ear, showing him that he had the same discreet whispering skills that the Russian Count had.

They were engulfed in another whirlwind of people, all of whom wanted to relieve the boredom of tedious life at court by talking to the young English peer who had so dramatically appeared in their midst. Granger was thoroughly enjoying himself, finding the people to be quite interesting and very cultured, although he continued to note the dated look of their fashions. He would be quite content but for one thing: he was ravenously hungry. Their trip to St. Michael’s had coincided with dinner, and he’d been too focused on meeting the Tsar to want to eat anything anyway. Now that it was approaching 4:00pm he was finding it hard to keep his stomach from growling in a noisy manner. He had soldiered on, fighting his hunger, but his gurgling stomach finally betrayed him. “You are hungry?” Stroganov asked.

“I am famished,” Granger admitted, almost happy to have his secret out.

“I will provide you with sustenance at our home,” he said. “You should invite Lord Daventry as well. I must take my leave of a few people. Meet me at the Grand Staircase.”

“I need to do that as well,” Granger said. He retraced his steps until he found Daventry sequestered with von der Pahlen.

“Ah, Lord Granger,” von der Pahlen said as soon as Granger approached them. To Granger, it almost seemed as if he were warning Daventry of his presence.

“Your Excellency,” Granger said to him in a pleasant way.

“I hope you will not find it rude for me to leave as soon as you arrive, but I fear I must see to a few things for His Imperial Majesty,” von der Pahlen said.

“I quite understand,” Granger said. They bowed to each other, then von der Pahlen and Daventry bowed to each other, and the Count walked away, leaving the two Englishmen alone. “I find that I am quite hungry, and Count Stroganov has invited us to dine with him,” Granger said to Daventry.

“I am suffering from the same condition,” Daventry said. He and Granger began strolling through the gallery and ancillary rooms, stopping to greet people who interrupted. What should have been a quick walk turned into a veritable journey. It was with great relief that Granger found Stroganov waiting by the stairs.

“I am sorry we were delayed,” Granger apologized.

“It was to be expected,” Stroganov said with a grin, even as he led them down the stairs and out the door to the waiting vozok. “I took the liberty of summoning your vehicle.”

“I am most appreciative,” Granger said. He leaned forward and removed the divider to the front and saw Jacobs and Winkler there. “The audience went well,” he told them.

“So we heard, begging your pardon, my lord,” Winkler said, reminding him that news travelled quite quickly among servants.

Granger closed the window and turned his attention to Stroganov, who took that as a cue to brief them on what they could expect when they arrived. “You will shortly meet my father. You will find him to be a very cultured man. He was a member of the commission on elaborating the new code of laws during the reign of Catherine the Great. After that, he has focused almost entirely on the arts. He is the president of the Imperial Academy of Arts and a director of the Imperial Public Library.”

“Impressive,” Daventry said. “As I have had more formal education than Granger, he will probably like me better.”

“He will probably see through your veiled attempts to be interesting,” Granger responded with a chuckle.

Granger had little enough time to chat with his traveling companions, as Stroganov Palace was just a little over a mile away. The palace itself was quite impressive from the exterior. It was baroque in design with a distinctive Russian flair, or so it seemed to Granger. It was painted a shade of pink, causing Granger to wonder at the extensive use of pastel colors when decorating stately Russian buildings. Stroganov Palace sat on the banks of a small river that Stroganov told them was called the Moyka, and was next to the Police Bridge, so named because of the police headquarters nearby. That bridge carried the Nevsky Prospect, the main road in St. Petersburg, over the Moyka. Granger had expected Stroganov to have a nice home, but was unprepared for something this grand, and on this scale. With its location and external grandeur, it was easily a match for Carlton House. “This is quite magnificent,” Daventry commented.

They passed through a gate, which seemed to be more of a portal, and into the courtyard of the residence. They exited the vozok and moved quickly to get to the buildings, for even though this space was sheltered from the wind, it was still quite cold. A footman opened the door for them as they approached, and once inside, they were greeted by a pleasant foyer which led to a large staircase. It was certainly not as grand as the staircase at St. Michael’s, but it was quite tasteful, with terrazzo flooring and red carpet runners. They climbed the stairs and Stroganov led them into an ante room. “If you gentlemen will wait here, I will go and alert my father that we have arrived.”

“Certainly,” Granger said, and then immediately focused on this room. The most impressive thing about it was the floor, which was made of marble of various different kinds, with a bullseye in the center that fanned out in a star shape to the outer edges, which were formed in different geometric shapes to complement it. Granger reluctantly pulled his eyes from the stunning floor and looked at the pastel green walls that were embellished with ornate white plaster decorations. There was a frieze that bordered the ceiling, which was otherwise unexceptional. Hanging from the ceiling was an enormous chandelier that glimmered from the lit candles that burned behind the crystal that shielded them.

Granger’s assessment of the interior décor was interrupted by Stroganov and a man who was a bit shorter than him, although it may be that age had shrunk him down, since he appeared to be in his late sixties. He was square jawed with sunken cheeks, and a long nose that was straight but for a prominent bridge. He moved smoothly with a grace Granger had only seen mastered among the emigres of Mitau. “Welcome to our home, gentlemen,” he said. His French was perfect, but more importantly, so was his accent. It was hard to tell he was from Russia.

“We are most grateful for your hospitality,” Granger said. Both he and Daventry bowed.

“I am certain you are hungry,” he said. “These men will show you to your rooms and have already worked to get your servants situated. After you have made yourselves at home, come down here and we will have supper ready.”

“A meal would be most welcome,” Daventry said. It was interesting that Granger was relaxed with this man, while Daventry almost seemed nervous.

Two footmen came up and Stroganov’s father gave almost silent directions to them. “I will come check on you in a bit,” Stroganov said. As soon as he did, the footman led them to their rooms. Granger and Daventry followed them up to the third floor and found a nice suite of rooms adjacent to each other. Granger grinned when he saw that his had a tiled room with a large bathtub. His bedroom opened into a sitting room, which then opened into Daventry’s room.

“Nice accommodations, my lord,” Winkler said, as he seemingly appeared out of nowhere.

“They are,” Granger agreed. “How are things for you?”

“The staff is right nice, my lord,” Winkler said. “Much friendlier than at the other place.”

Granger chuckled. “That is good to hear, since I suspect we’ll be staying here for a bit. Have you and Jacobs had a chance to eat?”

“We grabbed a bite while you were in the Palace, my lord, and the cook here is making us supper,” he said.

“Excellent,” Granger replied. “I am quite jealous, since I am all but famished, so you will excuse me if I take my leave and return downstairs to sate my hunger.”

“Of course, my lord,” he said. “We’ll unpack your things and have them in order directly.”

“I think that it will be acceptable, the next time I see the Tsar, for me to wear my normal uniform,” Granger said.

“I did not realize your audience with His Imperial Majesty went that well, my lord,” Winkler said.

“It did, and I am glad for it, because I think my blue uniform looks so much better on me, complimenting both my eyes and complexion,” Granger said with faux conceit.

“If you say so, my lord,” Winkler said. Granger chuckled and walked into the sitting room, where he found Daventry drinking a glass of wine.

“I have nothing to unpack, so I took advantage of that idle time to grab something to drink,” he said to Granger, and gestured to the side table where there was a decanter.

“I am glad for your resourcefulness,” Granger said, as he poured himself a glass.

“Today went better than I would have dreamed,” Daventry said.

“I am surprised you had so little confidence in my abilities,” Granger said, teasing Daventry.

“I have learned not to underestimate you, George,” he said.

Stroganov scratched at the door, then entered. “Thank you so much for such lovely accommodations,” Granger said.

Stroganov smiled. “I am glad you both are comfortable.”

“I will still need to be at Kiryanovo on occasion,” Daventry said, “but I am wondering if you would allow me to stay here when my presence is not needed there?”

“You are most welcome,” Stroganov said. “And now we must go eat.”

“An excellent suggestion,” Granger agreed. Stroganov led them back down the stairs and through the anteroom they’d been in. From there, they entered a large room with windows overlooking the river. The floor was done in different species of wood with a pattern that was similar to the marble in the anteroom. There were yellow marble columns decorating the wall near the windows, and on the opposite walls were matching marble columns that framed large mirrors. It reminded Granger of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, albeit on a much smaller scale. On either end of the room, fires blazed in the fireplaces, while the ceiling was made of ornamental plaster crafted to look like a fresco, and a frieze of pale blue and white plaster ornamentation smoothed the transition from wall to ceiling. “This room is spectacular.”

“I am glad you like it,” Stroganov said. “My father has spent much time redecorating this palace to make it more interesting.”

“He certainly has accomplished that,” Daventry noted.

Stroganov’s father entered the room in his smooth way. “Welcome. Please have a seat.”

“Thank you,” Granger replied. Stroganov and his father sat at the heads of the table, while Daventry and Granger sat across from each other in the middle. As soon as they were seated, servants brought out food, and they began to eat. “I must apologize in advance if our manners are less than perfect.”

Stroganov’s father laughed. “Please, when it is just us, there is no need to worry about form.”

“Is your wife not joining us?” Granger asked Stroganov.

“She is still at the Palace,” he said. “She will sup when she returns.”

Granger nodded to acknowledge his answer, then turned his attention to the father. “Sir, I have been to many palaces, but I am singularly impressed by how tasteful your décor is.”

“That is most kind you to say,” Stroganov’s father replied. “You called me ‘sir’. Since you are our most welcome guests, I would request that you refer to me by my first name, Alexei.”

“That is quite an honor you do us,” Granger said. “I would be happy to do that if you will call me George.”

“I agree most heartily with my countryman,” Daventry said. “My first name is Charles.”

“And mine is Pavel,” Stroganov said.

“I regret that I missed your audience with the Tsar,” Alexei said. “I heard you both acquitted yourselves admirably.”

“Thank you,” Granger replied. It was interesting that in this situation, he instinctively took the lead. Daventry seemed quite content with that state off affairs.

“The Tsar usually views me with favor, but I find it is easier to maintain that favor if I am not around him too much,” Alexei said.

“I often feel that way about the Prince of Wales,” Daventry replied, making them all chuckle.

“I understand that you are both to become good members of the Orthodox church,” Alexei said with a grin.

“I was certainly not anticipating that,” Granger said. “The King of Sweden made us attend a Lutheran service before we could leave Stockholm, and now the Tsar of Russia would have me convert to the Orthodox faith. While I can understand that these monarchs would be worried about Daventry’s soul, I am curious as to why they are worried about mine.” They all laughed at that.

“I had the same thought,” Daventry agreed.

“The church demands a hand and a say in everything,” Alexei said. “This is just their way of showing how powerful they are, in that they could compel the Tsar to make you convert to their faith.”

“Our clergymen are no less politically active,” Daventry said ruefully. “While our King is a man of devout faith, his heir is not as dedicated.”

“This much is certain,” Granger agreed, chuckling.

“I am wondering if your wife is also here?” Daventry asked Alexei. The tension levels at the table rose dramatically, and both Stroganovs had strained expressions. Daventry had clearly hit a nerve, and he had figured that out. “I apologize if my question was inappropriate. Please forget I asked.”

Alexei relaxed and so did his son. “Do not apologize, Charles. It is just that I have not been lucky in love.”

“I could just as easily have said that myself,” Daventry said, making Granger chuckle. “I have a wandering eye, so unlike George, I am an unfaithful cad.”

“We all have our strengths and weaknesses,” Granger said, in a way that was both supportive and comical.

“I have been married twice,” Alexei said. “My first marriage ended in divorce after six years, and then I met Ekaterina, Pavel’s mother.”

“Some mother,” Pavel grumbled.

“We spent much time in Paris prior to this horrible revolution, and that was where Pavel was born,” Alexei continued. “When we returned to Russia, Ekaterina fell in love with Ivan Nikolayevich Rimsky-Korsakov, who was ten years younger than her, and who was the lover of Empress Catherine. She often called him ‘Pyrrhus’ because he was so beautiful. Our marriage was over in all but name so I did not let this affair bother me, but unfortunately for her, she was caught in flagrante delicto with Korsakov. The Empress was infuriated, and abetted by Potemkin, she banished Korsakov. I divorced Ekaterina and gave her my estate in Brattsevo, near Moscow. They both still live there, as far as I know.”

“You forgot the most important part,” Pavel said, with a loving look at his father.

“I did, indeed,” Alexei said, returning that look. “As part of our divorce, I was able to retain Pavel, and he has lived here with me since he was a young boy. He is worth so much more than Brattsevo.”

“Having spent a few days with him, I would most definitely agree with you,” Granger said.

“You two appear to be brothers,” Alexei said to Granger and Daventry, but it was more of a question.

“I almost think that is an insult to you,” Granger said to Daventry, making both of them laugh. Granger explained the joke to the others. “I have two brothers. My oldest brother is rather dry and boring, while my other brother is one of the most charming men you would ever meet. At the same time, scruples rarely bother him.”

“I think we all have family members like that,” Alexei said.

“And I am not insulted,” Daventry insisted. “I would be honored to consider you my brother.”

Granger stared at him, stunned at such an admission of love, and in the midst of Russians they barely knew. “Then I will consider you as one.” They bonded briefly with their eyes, until the silence in the room became awkward.

“George and I went to school together, then our paths separated as he went into the navy and I went on to get more schooling,” Daventry said, getting them away from their maudlin bonding period. “We were good friends then, and since we were reunited a few years back in Greece, we’ve become even closer.”

“You were in Greece?” Alexei asked, his eyes wide with excitement.

“We were,” Granger responded. “I visited Tenedos on my way to take His Britannic Majesty’s ambassador to the Porte, and after that we visited Crete.”

“I have always wanted to visit Greece but have not yet had the chance. I tried to find artefacts from that country to adorn our home, but finding such items are difficult,” he said.

“Lord Elgin is our ambassador to the Porte, but I think he must spend a lot of his time scouring the countryside for relics. He has sent me a number of things, although they certainly have not been cheap,” Granger said.

“Lord Elgin is probably scouring the countryside to escape his horrible shrew of a wife,” Daventry said, making Granger laugh. They spent some time giving some examples of Lady Elgin’s awfulness to their Russian friends.

“I wonder if your Lord Elgin would be willing to assist me in acquiring some items?” Alexei asked.

“I am sure he would,” Granger said. “Perhaps we can write to him. I can enclose a letter of introduction, and you can tell him what you’re looking for.”

“That would be wonderful,” he said wistfully.

“George has also been to Egypt,” Pavel said.

“Ah, to see the Pyramids,” Alexei said wistfully.

“They are truly impressive, but I was only able to spend a few hours with them,” Granger explained. “I was traversing Egypt to return to England, and upon arriving at the Nile, I discovered that the French had invaded. It made touring those ancient sites a bit problematic.”

“I shouldn’t wonder,” Alexei said with a chuckle.

The servants arrived with the main course, which was beef covered in some sort of sauce. Granger cautiously took a bite, being skeptical that it would be good, but he was to be surprised. “This is marvelous,” he exclaimed.

“I am glad you like it,” Pavel said. “It is one of our signature dishes, known as Beef Stroganov. The sauce, which is the key ingredient, is made with smetana, a type of sour cream.”

“It is truly fabulous,” Daventry said.

“Before you leave Russia, I will give you both the recipe,” Alexei said. Pavel raised his eyebrows in surprise. “The only condition I must ask is that you use it for your own table, and do not give the recipe to anyone else.”

“I am willing to do that,” Granger said.

“I am as well,” Daventry agreed. They finished dining, then went into the library, which was more intimate, with darker woods such as would be quite at home in an English country house. They drank and shared stories until they were all quite inebriated.

“I think I must retire for the night,” Granger said, with significant slurring.

“I should do so as well,” Daventry agreed, and he was no more sober than Granger. They bade their farewells and then went up the staircase, although stumbling up may have been a better descriptor. They got to their sitting room and paused, then laughed for no reason. “I will see you in the morning.”

“You will,” Granger said, then walked into his bedroom to find Winkler dutifully waiting for him.

Winkler guided a very drunk George Granger to his bed and proceeded to remove all of his clothes. “Jacobs is probably doing the same thing with Lord Daventry, my lord,” he grumbled.

“I wonder if he is enjoying himself as much as you are,” Granger teased.

“I think, my lord, that the liquor you have drunk has impaired your judgment,” he said, making Granger laugh.

Now rid of his clothes, Granger slipped into his bed to find it deliciously warmed. Clearly Winkler had put bedwarmers in here earlier to make it this toasty. “Thank you for taking such good care of me,” Granger said to him sincerely.

“We make a good pair, my lord,” Winkler said with a smile. He walked to the door and was surprised when someone scratched at it. He looked to Granger in confusion, while Granger nodded to tell him it was alright to let whomever was there in. Pavel appeared, which was no surprise to Granger. He was wearing a housecoat and looked as if he’d snuck out of his room. Winkler smirked at Granger and silently exited the room.

“You must join me in this bed, which is wonderfully warm,” Granger said.

“With pleasure,” he replied, and shed his housecoat, revealing his attractive body. He climbed into bed with Granger, and even if they had been reticent about coupling, the alcohol they had consumed would have overridden that concern. When they were done, they lay side by side in the bed, panting and sated.

“I am so glad you came to bid me a good night,” Granger said in a jocular way.

“I have been plotting to do just that since we began our drive to St. Michaels,” he said.

“You are to be commended for your ability to make plans and see them through,” Granger bantered back. “Does your wife not worry that you are gone?”

“You obviously do not understand Russian marriages,” he said, shaking his head. “I love my wife dearly, but we both amuse ourselves with others. To be celibate here is almost a stigma.”

“It is like that in some parts of British society,” Granger said, ignoring that it was more likely prevalent.

“And is that how your relationship is with your wife?” Pavel asked.

“I have pledged to my wife that I will sleep with no other women, and she ignores my liaisons with other men,” Granger said honestly.

Pavel leaned up and stared at him in amazement. “She knows of this, and she is not upset by it?”

“She is not,” Granger said, although he suspected that Caroline was sometimes irritated by it. That made him think of Calvert and how Caroline did not like him, but after some deeper consideration, he decided that Caroline didn’t dislike him being with Calvert because he was a man, she just didn’t like Calvert.

“I do not think my wife would be so understanding, but it is possible,” Pavel said. “Has your wife had affairs?”

“She has, and one of them actually bore fruit. My youngest daughter is not of my blood,” Granger said.

“That does not seem to bother you,” he noted.

“It does not,” Granger said. “That my wife was so careless as to get pregnant by this other man seriously vexed me, but the child is mine as if it were my seed that founded her.”

“Most of us do not worry too much about such things,” Pavel said. Granger stared at him in confusion. “I am confident that my children are indeed my children, but if they are not, they are the spawn of one of Russia’s other prominent families. As we are all mostly interrelated, it is not such a problem.”

“I can see that,” Granger mused, pondering how the British aristocracy was similarly intertwined.

“So as long as my wife makes sure she picks her lovers from our own class, I have no cause to worry. If she were to pick someone of lower station, that would cause a scandal, and she would feel my wrath over it,” he said, and his eyes actually flashed with anger.

“She is safe from my clutches, but Charles is a renowned ladies’ man,” Granger said.

“I would not be offended if Charles slept with Sophia,” he said, referring to his wife. “I would be very jealous if you did.”

“I am glad I elicit such strong feelings in you,” Granger said, and then they kissed and coupled once again.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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14 hours ago, pickuptoy said:

“We make a good pair, my lord,” Winkler said with a smile. And they do. Winkler works hard for George, but he has shared seeing the world with him. And getting to do it wi Winkler. Honestly if Wink;er were of thth his lover Jacobs make it even better. George's life would not have been near as comfortable without Winkler his trustworthy friend. George and  Daventry may be as close as brothers, but I think he cares as much about Winkler as a brother also. I pray they are together for a lifetime

Pickup toy brings up the other close relationship Granger has. I believe if Winkler were the same social class as Granger things would even be closer if that would be possible. I add my hope that Winkler and granger will be together for their whole lives. 

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I dont think it has ever taken me 24 hours from uploading to read the latest Grainger saga! 

But the story was worth it! While Daventry make have more education and certainly more experience in the courts of Europe, somehow Graingers natural charm and sense of others manages to create a greater positive impression. His ability to sleep with anyone that can advance his cause is an added bonus!

Thanks, another great read.

 

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1 hour ago, Canuk said:

I dont think it has ever taken me 24 hours from uploading to read the latest Grainger saga! 

But the story was worth it! While Daventry make have more education and certainly more experience in the courts of Europe, somehow Graingers natural charm and sense of others manages to create a greater positive impression. His ability to sleep with anyone that can advance his cause is an added bonus!

Thanks, another great read.

 

LOL  This reminds me of the friend of mine. Back in High School, Jeff was a very book smart person but his common sense was not as strong. I believe George has the great ablity to read people. Rarely his he fooled. Add to that his handsome looks and his charm, he can out think or win over almost anyone. This is what we love about George. 

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The morality of that time appears to be,if you can do it without scandal, why not. Licence for the rich and powerful, as always. We still do not have intelligent debates about morality. Religious absolutism keeps us stuck in the dark ages. This is a bloody good read, I am so enjoying it!

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