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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 42. Chapter 42

A bit shorter chapter than normal, but I wanted to give you all something positive to think about as we head into 2021. Happy New Year!

February 8, 1801

Pavlovsk Palace

St. Petersburg, Russia


Granger lay in the Empress’s bed, flat on his back drenched in sweat, while the Empress lay next to him on her side with her head propped up. She smiled at Granger in what was almost a leer and stroked his pectoral muscles gently with her fingers. She was physically attractive, but Granger was having a hard time finding her attractive as a person. To her, this was just a fun physical rendezvous, something Granger was quite familiar with, but he had expected a bit more depth from the Tsarina. “You have turned out to be even more enjoyable than I imagined,” she exclaimed.

“It is easy to be at one’s best when one is with you, ma’am,” Granger replied modestly and a bit dishonestly.

“I have not known Englishmen to be so creative, and to use their mouths with such dexterity,” she said, as her tone became more whorish. Granger managed to avoid grimacing, both at the way she said her words, and because of the memories of that event. He had attempted to pleasure her with his mouth as he’d done with Caroline but discovered much to his dismay that personal hygiene was not one of Her Imperial Majesty’s priorities.

“I have found that most women appreciate my efforts, ma’am,” Granger said, forcing his own tone to be more solicitous. He leaned in and kissed her, pretending there was passion when there was none.

“And what of your Lord Daventry? Is he as skilled in the arts of love as you are?” she asked coquettishly.

Granger smiled back, a genuine smile, as he opted to throw Daventry to the wolves. “Ma’am, Lord Daventry is one of the most renowned lovers in London,” he said, even though he wasn’t sure if that was true or not. “He was in an unhappy marriage and has found himself enamored of many women.”

“And you are not like him?” she asked curiously.

“No, ma’am, I’m not,” Granger said. “I fear that I’m a terribly faithful husband.”

“That is most boring of you,” she said. Granger almost laughed at how he’d phrased his statements to be honest, while omitting the sex he had with other men.

“You said I was fun, ma’am, so unless you are contradicting yourself, I must not be that boring,” Granger flirted.

“I feel bad that I led you astray,” she said, and pouted.

“Ma’am, you certainly did not lead me astray, as if that were the case, I would not have been fun, and I think we already established that I am,” Granger responded.

She laughed at him, while he smiled back. “I was surprised at first that my husband allowed you to stay in Russia, and that he did not toss you into one of our prisons.”

“I was surprised about that as well, ma’am,” Granger joked. She ignored him.

“You and Lord Daventry are both accomplished and polished courtiers,” she noted. Granger was stunned at such praise from a member of the Imperial family. He fancied that most monarchs spent their spare hours annoyed at various members of their Court for committing any number of faux pas.

“That is quite the compliment you pay me, ma’am,” he responded modestly, making her smile.

“Yet of the two of you, you seem more honorable and distinguished, while Lord Daventry seems as if he is a bad boy,” she said.

“You continue to flatter me, ma’am, and I can’t imagine why,” Granger said.

“You can’t?” she asked and moved her hand down his chest to his abdomen, and then to his cock. She smiled when she was able to easily nurse it back to life, but only because he hadn’t ejaculated the last time. This time their coupling was faster, which made it more satisfying.

“I must thank you, ma’am, for such an exciting morning,” Granger said, hoping he could use that as an exit line. Unfortunately, she showed no signs of dismissing him. Horrible visions of being kept naked in her bed as a concubine almost caused him to panic, but he managed to maintain his self-control.

“What are you going to do while you are here in St. Petersburg?” she asked.

“My plan is to enjoy this beautiful city, ma’am,” Granger said. “I am told that the arts here are quite wonderful, especially the ballet, and I have enjoyed meeting with my Russian counterparts.”

“Some say you are here to plot against my husband,” she said, but with a much more vicious tone.

“Ma’am, I fail to see what I could accomplish against the Tsar of all the Russias. In fact, his displeasure compelled me to make this journey in the first place, and I would respectfully point out that winter is not the best time to visit Russia,” Granger asserted.

“It is not,” she said. “Which is why I find it hard to believe you would travel just to make peace with my husband.”

“Relations between our two countries are not good right now, ma’am,” Granger said.

“You insult me by stating the obvious,” she snarled.

“I apologize ma’am, but let me put it in context,” Granger said as firmly as he could and as loudly as he could without being rude. “The Tsar’s opinion of my country would not be helped if he were seriously irritated with me.”

She glared at him, mellowed, then nodded. “You did not want him to carry a grudge that would derail future alliances with England,” she mused.

“Yes, ma’am,” Granger said.

“Thank you for explaining it to me,” she said. “I feel much better about your motives now.”

“I am most glad of that, ma’am,” Granger said. She got out of the bed, so Granger did as well, and as soon as she started putting garments on, he began to get dressed. As she only put on a dressing robe, she was finished quickly, and went over to her writing desk and began drafting notes. Granger methodically re-dressed himself, making sure he left no trace that he’d been there, as if such a thing were important. He paused to admire her gilded bed with its cherubs at the poles at the foot, and a voluminous canopy crafted from silk in various patterns, all of which were pastel. He had still not determined why Russian architecture and décor was dominated by pale colors.

Fully dressed, he adjusted his appearance in the mirror, then went and stood in front of the Empress, who was seated at her desk and still writing. There was a beautiful wooden floor, and in front of the desk was a bullseye type circular pattern, and so Granger, with his love of symmetry and order, stood in the center. Her desk was simple and tasteful, which was contrasted by white porcelain statuettes which were quite garish. Granger bowed low. “I cannot thank Your Imperial Majesty enough for such a fun morning.” His reversion to her full title was an acknowledgment that relaxed bedroom conversation was now over.

“One moment,” she said, and continued to write. Granger stood there attentively, waiting for her to finish her labors. When she was done, she handed Granger three documents. “The first is a note instructing Lord Daventry to call on me on Wednesday at 10:00am.”

“I will convey that to him, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said with a grin, trying desperately to not laugh hysterically at having foisted off carnal duties to the Empress onto Daventry.

“The second is a draft from the State Credit Bank for 10,000 rubles, my gift to you,” she said. Granger gasped, as that was the equivalent of 500 pounds.

“Your Imperial Majesty is incredibly generous,” Granger said, even though he felt like a whore, having been paid for using his dick.

“And the third letter instructs the bank that it can advance you an additional 100,000 rubles based on your promise to repay that loan,” she said.

“Your Imperial Majesty, thank you so much,” Granger said earnestly. “You have made my stay in Russia much more comfortable.” This was truly excellent news. Granger would now be able to take his place in St. Petersburg society without worrying about being embarrassed over money. In addition, he would no longer have to worry about contacting bankers, and that would make him even more removed from Daventry’s schemes.

“I am glad to help,” she said. “My husband first seemed most anxious to get you out of the country, and now he seems to want you to stay. This way you can enjoy your visit, especially if it becomes more prolonged.”

Granger bowed and backed out of the room, concerned greatly by her statement. A footman appeared to escort Granger through the palace. On his way in, Granger had admired the stately Greek Hall with its green marble pillars and golden chandeliers, and the equally impressive Italian Hall which was round and had exquisitely crafted marble walls. On his way out, Granger’s mind was racing, trying to figure out why the Tsar was trying to keep him in Russia, and the lovely palace was no longer of interest to him.

His mental ruminations yielded no clarity on the drive back to Stroganov Palace, but he felt relief as the vozok drove into the central courtyard. He got out and hurried to the door, marveling yet again at how cold the weather was, until he made it to the front door. He strode confidently up the now-familiar stairs and went into the anteroom where he found Daventry sitting, looking pensive.

“Welcome back,” Daventry said with a snicker. “How was the palace?”

“I enjoyed it, but perhaps you will enjoy it more,” Granger said.

“What are you talking about?” Daventry asked seriously.

Granger handed him the note. “Her Imperial Majesty commands you to appear on Wednesday at 10:00am and perform your much-vaunted stud services.”

“You set me up for this,” he said, his eyes piercing into Granger’s. Granger could not maintain his self-control and snickered more.

“She noted that other Englishmen she had been with were much more boring than I was, and I told her that my reputation for pleasing ladies was eclipsed by yours,” Granger said.

“Bastard,” Daventry said, which brought Granger from a snicker to a full-blown laugh. “Even though you were right.”

“While there was a certain amount of this that was a bit of a practical joke, there is also another important reason for you to gain the Tsarina’s affection,” Granger said.

“Indeed?” Daventry asked, his curiosity piqued.

“She told me that the Tsar had been bound and determined to throw us out of Russia, but now he seems just as determined for us to stay,” Granger said.

“That is indeed interesting,” Daventry said.

The butler chose that moment to enter the room. “My lords, His Excellency asked me to inform you that dinner is ready.”

“Thank you,” Daventry said. He and Granger got up and followed the man into the dining room, where they found Alexei, Pavel, and Sophia waiting for them.

“I did not realize you had returned from the palace,” Sophia said to Granger with a knowing look.

“I have, not more than a quarter of an hour ago,” Granger said jovially. They all took their seats at the table and after food was brought out, the servants left them.

“And how was it?” Pavel asked, with real concern.

“Evidently if my current career in His Britannic Majesty’s navy does not work out, I have the option of whoring myself out,” Granger said with a grimace. “Her Imperial Majesty made me a gift of 10,000 roubles and directed the State Central Bank to advance me a line of credit of an additional 100,000 roubles.”

“You are quite expensive for a whore,” Daventry joked.

“We will see how much you get on Wednesday,” Granger responded, causing the three Russians to stare at Daventry.

“George told the Empress about rumors in London attesting to my skill as a lover,” Daventry said, giving Granger a foul look, which of course made Granger laugh.

“I feel guilty for feeding the Empress lies,” Granger joked.

“So we shall see on Wednesday if she likes me better than Granger,” Daventry said.

“I would suspect that will be visible based on how much money she gives you, and if she asks you to come back again,” Sophia said.

“Indeed,” Granger said. “I am more than happy to take my roubles and leave the accumulation of further riches to Charles.”

“Maybe she will give me enough money so I can buy a better vozok than you,” Daventry taunted. “That does remind me of another matter.”

“Go on,” Alexei said.

“I would like to send for my two men, Boles and McGillivray. I am hopeful that it would be acceptable for them to join me here,” Daventry said. Granger raised an eyebrow, since that all but ensured that Daventry had changed his mind and decided to stay at Stroganov Palace.

“Of course,” Alexei said. “As I have said before, you should treat this house as your home. You are welcome to stay for as long as you want.”

“I fear that may be a more generous invitation than you are envisioning,” Granger said. Alexei looked at him curiously, asking him non-verbally to explain. “Her Imperial Majesty told me that the Tsar had at first been determined to toss us out of Russia, but now he is just as determined to keep us here.”

The three Russians looked shocked and were speechless for a moment until Alexei got his wits about him and returned to his kind and generous self. “That is wonderful news for us, as it ensures we will be able to enjoy your company.”

“You are too kind,” Granger said. Pavel sat there deep in thought, and it was so evident Granger found himself staring at the handsome young man. The others picked up on that, until they were all staring intently at Pavel. Pavel suddenly seemed to realize all the attention he was getting and got a big flustered.

“I am sorry, I was just thinking of your words,” he said. “I have heard that the Tsar is furious with England and has taken steps to further inconvenience your merchants in this country.”

“Has there been some act that made him angrier?” Daventry asked.

“Rather, there has been talk with France of a rapprochement, or perhaps even an alliance,” Pavel said sadly.

“With France?” Sophia asked, stunned. “The same France that guillotined their rightful monarch?”

“The very same,” Pavel replied.

“I have heard that the Tsar sees this Napoleon Bonaparte as a ruler who will bring order to France, and that he will crush any further revolutionary fervor in that nation,” Alexei said.

“Does he not realize he is suggesting that a revolutionary will bring order where the revolution destroyed it?” Pavel demanded, outraged.

“I cannot explain the whims of the Tsar,” Alexei said firmly, a subtle reminder that the Tsar had agents, albeit co-opted ones, in their household.

“I have met Bonaparte once, when we were both much younger, at Toulon,” Granger said. “My impression of him was one of a driven and determined man, and one who was quite ruthless.”

“Perhaps he is the new Tsar of France,” Sophia joked, making all them chuckle except Daventry. Their eyes all turned to him due to his lack of joviality.

In fact, Daventry wasn’t jovial at all, and instead he looked quite alarmed, which was interesting in and of itself, since he was normally so stoic. For him to relax this much was actually a high compliment to the Stroganovs, indicating that he trusted them. He spoke softly and deliberately. “We are hostages.”

Now it was Granger’s turn to be alarmed. “Hostages?”

Daventry nodded while the rest of them contemplated their fate in silence. “That is quite possible,” Alexei said.

“Having two British peers in his grasp may seem like a substantial bargaining chip to His Imperial Majesty,” Sophia noted.

“This will certainly not endear us to the government,” Daventry said to Granger ruefully. Granger nodded, thinking of how Grenville and Pitt would alternately fret then become annoyed at their fate.

“You are assuming the government is still in office,” Granger said.

“Indeed,” Daventry agreed with a chuckle.

“Your government has changed?” Pavel asked curiously.

“We do not know, but it is likely,” Granger said. “Our Prime Minister, Mr. Pitt, had planned to provide emancipation to Irish Catholics as part of the Union with Great Britain, while His Britannic Majesty is vehemently opposed to such an action.”

“We understood that your king had no real power, and had to do Mr. Pitt’s bidding,” Sophia said.

Daventry chuckled. “The King is quite powerful, and it would be more accurate to represent the government as a partnership between him and the Prime Minister.”

“Who will win that battle?” Pavel asked.

“His Britannic Majesty,” Granger said. “Which is why we expect there to be a new government.”

February 10, 1801

Stroganov Palace

St. Petersburg, Russia


Granger entered the dining room and found Alexei, Sophia, and Pavel there. He smiled at Pavel a bit more broadly, remembering their passionate coupling no more than an hour ago. They had just taken their seats when Daventry arrived, looking a bit flushed, with a frown on his face.

They all took their seats, even as Granger smirked at his fellow peer. “It appears as if you have recently been exerting yourself,” he chided. “Or perhaps it is just the weather that has made your cheeks so red?”

“You are just a font of humor, George,” Daventry said acidly, making the rest of them laugh.

“Was your trip to the Pavlosk Palace not enjoyable?” Sophia asked with feigned concern.

“It was adequate,” Daventry said. He seemed to realize that none of them were going to let him off the hook with such a clipped response. “Her Imperial Majesty bid me to return on Friday at the same time.”

“I would have thought that would have pleased you,” Granger said, “since I did not get invited for another visit.”

“The Tsarina said you were an accomplished lover, although less passionate than I was,” Daventry said with a cocky air. “She attributed that to your loyalty to your wife.”

“I suppose that is a mark in my favor,” Granger said.

“I don’t think that was the case,” Daventry said. “She thinks it is quite boring and old-fashioned of you.”

Alexei laughed. “Such is the state of morality in today’s Russia, where fidelity is considered a flaw.”

Granger opted not to pursue that topic, since he certainly wasn’t faithful to Caroline in the way the Tsarina and Alexei imagined. “It would seem that this is all good news.”

“Indeed,” Pavel agreed.

“You have seemingly befriended the Tsarina, and you have acquired an outlet for your considerable sexual appetites,” Granger continued, enjoying the opportunity to tease his friend.

“I am not convinced she is sufficient to quench those appetites,” Daventry riposted, making them chuckle.

“One thing confuses me,” Alexei said. “It seems that all went well with your tryst, yet you seem unhappy.”

Daventry grimaced. “Her Imperial Majesty all but confirmed our worst fears that we are hostages here, and suggested that the fact we have not been provided with Orthodox tutors is proof of that.”

Granger, in what was one of his more impressive performances, hid the anguish that caused him and responded gracefully. “That would be tragic news if we were not blessed with such a generous host and such good friends,” he said, raising his glass in a toast to the Stroganovs.

“What you consider to be a burden is nothing of the sort,” Alexei responded. “In fact, having the two of you here with us is an honor, a pleasure, and a gift.”

“Thank you for both your kind words and your hospitality,” Daventry said.

“In fact, my major domo has told me that even your servants have become much loved downstairs,” he said.

“That was certainly not the case in Kiryanovo, where George had the butler bound and locked up and then seized control of the household,” Daventry said.

Granger refused to rise to the taunt. “I tolerate insubordination and rudeness badly,” he said vapidly. He then shared his story of his conflict with the butler at Kiryanovo and his final conversation with von der Pahlen.

Sophia shook her head. “The Baltic Germans and their arrogance are sometimes maddening.”

“I am unclear why we are expected to tolerate it,” Pavel said, echoing her.

“We are all one happy Russian family now,” Alexei said. “They maintain their arrogance because it is all they have left, now that they are as subject to the whims of the Tsar as much as we are.” It was interesting that he said that last sentence softly, to avoid eavesdroppers.

“Irish and Scottish peers must feel the same way,” Daventry noted, “but they are not arrogant.” Granger pondered that in fact it was the English peers who adopted that attitude, maintaining their station as those at the apex of the nobility.

“I am wondering if I may ask you a most personal question?” Sophia asked Daventry.

“Madam, you may ask me anything,” Daventry said, blatantly flirting with her. It was stunning that Pavel did not seem bothered by that at all.

“Did Her Imperial Majesty offer you any money to make your stay in Russia easier?” she asked.

Daventry grimaced, which made Granger smile. “She gave me a draft worth 5000 roubles.”

“Perhaps that means you were only half as satisfying as I was,” Granger said, then burst out laughing.

“Or perhaps she cannot afford to give me that much money every time I see her,” Daventry responded, albeit a bit lamely.

“Did she require the State Bank to extend credit to you?” Granger asked, unable to resist the temptation to tease Daventry.

“She did not,” Daventry said.

“If you find yourself short of funds, I will be glad to advance you what you need,” Alexei said. “And I will not require that you sleep with me.”

They all laughed riotously at that. “I thank you for your kind offer,” Daventry said.

“It was genuine,” Alexei responded. “And I extend that to you as well,” he said to Granger.

“You are truly kind and generous,” Granger said. He had gone to the State Bank yesterday and acquired some roubles while opening an account, and with his line of credit opened, it was unlikely he would need additional funds, but Alexei’s gesture in and of itself was endearing.

“I find the way Her Imperial Majesty treated you both so differently to be curious,” Pavel said.

“Her Imperial Majesty told me that she found both Charles and I to be accomplished courtiers,” Granger said.

“That is a high compliment from the Tsarina,” Sophia said firmly.

“It is, and I told her so,” Granger said, allowing himself to be proud of his and Daventry’s ability to fit into Russian society with grace and poise and to have avoided, thus far, any grave faux pas. “She also told me that she thought I was the more honorable of the two of us, and that Charles was a bit naughtier.” They all laughed at that.

“That is most definitely true,” Daventry confirmed, and winked at Sophia. “We were like that even back in school. Granger was always the upstanding one, looking out for everyone, while I was usually being punished for some heinous act or the other.”

“Usually,” Granger confirmed. It was actually an apt description of their time at school. It made Granger think of Arthur. Daventry had, in the ways of adolescent schoolboys, singled out Arthur as vulnerable, one who was vulnerable to being teased and to being pranked. Granger had been the one who had stepped in to defend him and enforce the rules, such as they were.

“Then why is she giving you less money?” Pavel asked. “One would assume she would like naughty boys.”

“She expressed concerns to me about my motives for coming to Russia,” Granger explained, getting clarity. “She was worried that I was here to try and overthrow her husband.”

“How would you accomplish such a thing against the Tsar of all the Russias?” Alexei asked in disbelief.

“Ironically, I asked her the same question. I explained that I came to repair my relationship with His Imperial Majesty lest his animosity towards me damaged the relationship between Russia and Britain,” Granger said. “After that, her attitude towards me mellowed considerably.”

Daventry nodded. “She would see me as more of a threat in that regard, and that would explain why she was unwilling to provide me with the resources to potentially cause problems.”

“Exactly,” Granger agreed.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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9 hours ago, Daddydavek said:

Poor George, having to perform for the Empress.  But at least he was handsomely rewarded and has the accommodating Pavel to assuage his torment. 

More please!

Yes, the thought of having to perform on a less than clean albeit enthusiastic woman, even for ready cash and an overdraft, would certainly put me off my breakfast!

Mr Arbour, Happy New Year, but you do put your long suffering characters through some extraordinary tests of stamina and fortitude...

Can't wait for the next test; mounting the cavalry, perhaps?🤗

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Thanks for another chapter. What poor George must endure. Happy New Year 

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Neither George not Daventry seems especially happy with their encounters with the Empress. I'm curious to see if anything develops between Daventry and Sophia, and how that would change the dynamics chez Stroganov. 

Thank you for the delightful NYE gift! Wishing you all the best for 2021. 

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Question about this story and the actual history----

So far this story creatively adds characters to history, but can I anticipate the plot will in future chapters follow what actually happens?

I first learned Tsar Paul I was killed in this chapter so I read more about it online.

"At the beginning of his reign Paul was naturally suspicious of potential enemies, so he built a castle in the center of St. Petersburg (St. Michael’s castle), which he believed would be safe and impregnable, so he spent almost all of his time there. That castle turned out to be a trap, however, and on March 12, 1801 the conspirators - noble officers from his palace guard led by Peter von der Palen, the governor of St. Petersburg - broke into Paul’s room. They brutally beat him and finally choked him with a scarf. The next morning, his son was crowned Alexander I. "


Is this story going to proceed staying within basic outline of the events in the  historical record? If so, the hostages will not be held for a long period and George can return to the sea.

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I read this chapter on New Years Day and thought about how Granger had grown during the Bridgemont saga. With that in mind, I went back to The Gunroom to reread the beginning and naturally I got caught up in the story. So here I am on January tenth after binge reading your excellent series. I am so impressed with the depth of your characters. The way you have inserted your characters with historical figures to bring events to life is remarkable. I thank you again for the pleasure your writing has brought me over the years. Bridgemont and CAP are two of my favorite series and I have come to appreciate them even more during these times of isolation and social distancing. I look forward to each new chapter with anticipation. Thank you again for sharing your remarkable talent!

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