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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 48. Chapter 48

March 23, 1801

St. Michael’s Castle

St. Petersburg, Russia

 

As soon as the Tsarevich left, Jacobs locked the door and joined Granger and Winkler in front of the fire. “I wasn’t expecting that, my lord,” Jacobs said.

“Until this day, I had not had an experience where a member of a Royal or Imperial family asked me to hide them in their palace,” Granger mused.

“Life with you, my lord, is always one big adventure,” Winkler observed drily.

“I try to keep things exciting for you, Winkler,” Granger said. He was euphoric from having been fucked by the Tsarevich, and he was in a playful mood.

“I apologize for not putting more pillows in between the two of you, my lord,” Winkler said with a smirk.

“I do not think that would have kept us more distant, in any event,” Granger said, making them chuckle.

“I am almost wondering who’s going to come through that door next, my lord,” Jacobs said. They really laughed at that.

Granger stood up and looked around the room. “I think I have recovered from my fever,” he announced.

“Already, my lord?” Winkler asked, surprised.

“It must not have been a tropical malady after all. It was probably a reaction to something I ate,” Granger said with a faked nonchalant air. “I think the staff here may have tried to poison me.”

“Wouldn’t put it past them,” Winkler sneered. “Begging your pardon, my lord.”

“Your antipathy is understandable,” Granger said to Winkler with a gentle smile.

“Regardless, you have made a miraculous recovery, my lord,” Jacobs said jovially, picking up on Granger’s mood.

“I owe it all to my doctor,” Granger said. “I plan to stay in my room, but I would like to get dressed.”

“Of course, my lord,” Winkler said. Granger opted not to wear his uniform, but instead put on one of the outfits he’d acquired here in St. Petersburg. Despite Granger’s urgings, the tailor had been incapable of adapting to more modern styles, and his clothes looked hopelessly old fashioned. He would not be seen dead wearing this in London, but here it helped him fit in better.

“I think when we leave Russia, I shall leave this suit here, cravat and all,” Granger said.

“It is a bit stodgy, my lord, but it does look good on you,” Winkler said, as he straightened Granger’s coat. “Why did you want to get dressed?”

“Because I sense that the chaos in this palace is dangerous, and we are wise to be alert,” Granger said. “It would not be likely for a rampage by the Imperial Guard, one that ended up with the Tsarevich having to fear for his life, to just end with no casualties.”

“If the Imperial Guard is on a rampage, my lord, who is going to stop them?” Jacobs asked.

“My understanding is that there are different regiments, and they do not always agree with each other,” Granger said. “So one group of out-of-control Guards may very well end up running into a similar group.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Jacobs said. “I fear I’m not entirely up on the procedure for a palace revolution.”

“Then I will continue to educate you,” Granger said, making them chuckle. They expected some kind of action on his part, but after he was dressed, he went back and sat by the fire. He didn’t tell Winkler and Jacobs that if a coup was going to happen, it would be tonight. There could be no other reason for Daventry’s note. He was surprised, though, that the Tsarevich was being pursued. Perhaps Daventry, von der Pahlen, and Orlov, had mixed up their orders and the assailants thought they were after the Tsarevich, and not the Tsar. Daventry or von der Pahlen would have been very clear, but Orlov was an idiot, so that possibility seemed quite likely.

Some time passed, and Granger focused on reading despite the noise from outside his room. Winkler dozed in a chair while Jacobs lay on a blanket on the floor near the fire, softly snoring. Granger smiled to himself thinking that here in his room was the picture of domestic bliss, while outside it was difficult to know what was happening. He could not quite eradicate the distracting sounds from the hallway, which pelted his brain even as he tried to remain unruffled and calm in front of his staff. Then Granger chided himself for worrying about such nonsense, since the two of them were sleeping. Despite the activity, Granger was surprised when there was a scratch at the door. Jacobs was alert and up in a flash, which Granger found incredibly impressive. It was rare for someone to be able to go from sleeping to alert that quickly. He looked at Granger questioningly, who first looked at his watch, noting it was a bit after 2 in the morning, then merely nodded, his signal for Jacobs to open the door.

Jacobs unlocked the door and opened it to reveal Daventry, looking quite polished. “George! I heard you were ailing!” he said cheerfully.

“Daventry!” Granger said. “You seem awfully happy at my sickly condition.” He got up and hurried over to his friend and embraced him warmly.

“You do not seem sick now,” he said. “So let us just say I am happy that you recovered.” Daventry’s upbeat manner fit in with the rest of their moods.

“I find your concern refreshing,” Granger said. “In any event, you asked for a distraction. I felt that my having a case of tropical fever in the middle of an Imperial Palace in the dead of winter was a reasonable way to accomplish that.”

“And you were correct, and successful, as you usually are,” Daventry said smiling. “What will you say when people ask about your miraculous recovery.”

“I will claim that the staff here must have tried to poison me,” Granger said. “They have given poor Winkler a black eye, so I will perhaps stir up some trouble for them in exchange.”

“You seem bound and determined to upset Russian households as you traverse through society,” Daventry said. “It is good to see you, but I bring news.”

“Indeed?”

“A group of men cornered and assassinated Tsar Paul in his room tonight,” Daventry said. “He was killed approximately forty-five minutes ago.”

“That is most unfortunate for His Imperial Majesty,” Granger said. “I wonder if this changes my circumstances?”

“The poor Tsar has been murdered and you are only worried about yourself?” Daventry challenged.

“I find it hard to feel sad for a man who glared at me most of the time I was in his presence,” Granger replied.

“I think we should be able to extricate you from this place,” Daventry said. Granger thought about that, and hesitated.

“Will you two allow me to converse with Lord Daventry alone?” Granger asked Winkler and Jacobs.

“Of course, my lord,” Winkler said. Both of them looked horrified, as one of the marks of good servants was to know when they weren’t wanted around, but Granger would salve their wounded pride later.

“Thank you,” Granger said, then led Daventry over to the fire where they both took a seat. Granger poured a glass for both of them. “Alexei was kind enough to send a few bottles over here. I think if he hadn’t have done that, I’d have died of thirst.”

“Perhaps you exaggerate,” Daventry said. “You can always open your window, grab some snow, and melt it.”

Granger chuckled, then got more serious. “You weren’t part of the group that murdered him, were you?” he asked quietly.

Daventry gave him a fowl look. “Of course not,” he said. “I was nowhere near him when he was killed.”

“You weren’t in the palace?” Granger asked, confused.

“There was a large dinner party here, one which I was fortunately able to attend without it immediately coming to the Tsar’s attention,” Daventry said.

“It is irritating to know there were fun parties happening while I was trapped in this veritable jail,” Granger grumbled.

“We all must suffer in our own way,” Daventry said, as if to taunt Granger even more. “Then after a bit, and when they were really drunk, a group of men that included the Orlovs, General Benningson, von der Pahlen, Panin, and a Polish general went up to force the Tsar to sign a document saying he was abdicating.” Daventry’s speech had changed to become faster and more staccato, a sure indicator of how much he was relishing all this excitement.

“Panin?” Granger asked, surprised.

“He is the one who fashioned the abdication instrument,” Daventry said. “Presumably it is written in a way to appeal to foreign governments.”

“Presumably,” Granger said. “I would think that the instrument would be useless anyway, as soon as the Tsar regained control of the situation.” Granger was conscious that if that had happened, if Paul hadn’t been killed, Granger would probably have been executed as Paul’s paranoia enveloped him after the event.

“I think they were trying to avoid killing Paul to fulfill their pledge to the Tsarevich,” Daventry said. “When the dust settles from all this, no one will know what happened, and they will say he died of some natural cause.”

“The winner gets to write the best report,” Granger observed wryly. “What caused them to ultimately kill him instead?”

“I think he was difficult, and must have given them a reason, although they probably were looking for the slightest of excuses,” Daventry admitted. “Even if the Tsarevich is sympathetic toward his father, those men knew that it would be impossible to eliminate his influence in the Empire without killing him.”

“I would think that’s true,” Granger said. No Tsar could feel safe on his throne if the previous Tsar were alive. He opted to change the subject. “Where have you been since I’ve been locked up in this ornate jail?”

“I’ve spent most of my time either with the Empress or at Kiryanovo,” he said. “Her Imperial Majesty will not be pleased by these events.”

“I can readily understand why,” Granger said. Paul was not a tyrannical husband, and he seemed to have an understanding with his wife. But his removal from office would seriously reduce her influence.

“I fear she is contemplating stepping in and seizing the crown for herself, much as Catherine did before Paul, and Elizabeth did before that,” Daventry said.

“I do not think the Tsarevich and the Court would agree to such a plan,” Granger said. He’d become relatively aware of the sympathies of his fellow aristocrats, and given a chance to be rid of Paul, they would be unwilling to shackle themselves with his domineering wife. Most were looking to the young Alexander to usher in a new golden age for Russia.

“I do not think they want that either, but to ensure she does not seize the throne, Alexander will need to be quick and forceful in taking control,” Daventry said.

“Let us hope he understands that,” Granger said.

“It was my intention to try and warn him of her schemes,” he said. “I am hoping that at the same time I can free you from this place.”

“I think you should reconsider that plan,” Granger said.

Daventry looked a bit shocked by that. “Why?”

“Because by being here in the palace, you are opening yourself up to accusations that you were part of this assassination plot,” Granger said. “Panin and Lord Whitworth are good friends, and Panin is also on good terms with Grenville.”

“Grenville is quite thick with Vorontsov,” Daventry mused. Vorontsov was the Russian Ambassador in London.

“Indeed,” Granger said. “And with all those connections, it will be easy for people to look back and blame England, or more accurately English gold, for playing a pivotal role in Paul’s murder.”

“I would think that just having us here in St. Petersburg would spark those suspicions,” Daventry said.

“That’s as may be, but if you are seen giving the Tsarevich council immediately after the death of his father, it is a bit more damning,” Granger said.

“Well I am already here, so where’s the harm?” Daventry asked. He clearly wanted to dive into the post-Paul Russian political drama.

“You are here, most likely, because you are worried about my health,” Granger said. “And as much as I would like to be rid of this place, I am going to stay here tonight. I think you should try to leave without attracting attention to yourself.”

Daventry got up and paced up and down Granger’s room a few times, then a look of resolved crept across his face. “You are quite right,” he said. “I allowed my excitement over my plan’s success to cloud my judgment.”

“It is understandable,” Granger said. “That leads me to pose a question.”

“Of course,” Daventry said.

“Earlier this evening, Pavel ushered His Imperial Highness into my room and asked me to hide him from the marauding guards.”

Daventry raised his eyebrows in surprise. “It seems that you have had an even more eventful evening than I have.”

“So it would seem,” Granger said, and was thankful it was night so Daventry would be unable to see him blushing furiously in just dim candlelight.

“So did these Imperial Guards actually materialize?”

“They did, and burst into my chamber most abruptly,” Granger said, acting as if he were a dowager who had been seen by a man in just her undergarments.

“I would suspect fear of catching the fever would have kept them out,” he said.

“It did not, but their quest to locate him was to no avail. I put in a performance worthy of Drury Lane, second only to the role played by Winkler in convincing the guards that he was not here,” Granger said.

“I suspect the Tsarevich will feel a sense of indebtedness to you for saving his life,” Daventry said.

“I certainly hope he does not.” Granger found that irritating, because he certainly didn’t want the new Tsar of all the Russias to feel as if he owed Granger anything. That was less a recipe for influence, and more of a formula to make the man resent him. “I am curious, though, as to why the guards were searching the palace to kill the Tsarevich.”

“Orlov gave his orders incorrectly,” Daventry said, shaking his head at the man’s idiocy. Granger almost laughed at how he’s been able to deduce that earlier. “I am glad you were there to save the Tsarevich.”

“So am I,” Granger said, and blushed again. He would have to remember to either control that reaction or not have conversations about it with Daventry during the daylight hours.

“I will call on you tomorrow and hopefully the new Tsar will feel disposed to release you from this place,” Daventry said.

“I am confident that he will,” Granger agreed. He ushered Daventry out and locked the door behind him, then went to summon Winkler and Jacobs from their alcove.

“I’m sorry…” Winkler began, but Granger cut him off.

“Do not worry about it, you were not in error,” Granger said. “Lord Daventry brought news. Tsar Paul was assassinated tonight.”

“Hard to feel bad about it, begging your pardon, my lord,” Jacobs said guiltily.

“I feel just as you do, Jacobs,” Granger said with a smile. “I think that I will go ahead and prepare for bed.”

Winkler helped him take off his clothes and led him to his bed, which had been remade and cleaned up since the Tsarevich left. Winkler must have accomplished that while he had been reading earlier. He allowed himself to sink into the soft cradle that it was, and was about to drift off to sleep when there was a scratch at his door.

Jacobs and Winkler were both in their alcove, so Granger hauled himself out of his coffin bed and went over the door. He opened it a bit to see who was there and was stunned to see the Tsarevich. He hastily opened the door to let him in, then closed and locked it. Granger bowed, a rather stunted maneuver considering he did it in such haste. “I am quite glad to see Your Imperial Highness again.” He used his prior title, not wanting to be presumptuous.

He smiled nervously. “I have gotten a promotion. I am now the Tsar. My father was killed tonight.” Granger could sense his inner turmoil and eased his manner accordingly.

“I would suspect that must be confusing and daunting and sad all at the same time, sir,” Granger said. He put his hand on the Tsar’s elbow and guided him to the settee near the fire. There they sat together.

“I feel bad for intruding on you again,” he said, smiling almost shyly.

“I thoroughly enjoyed our last meeting,” Granger said suggestively. “Perhaps that is why you stopped by.”

“You are very astute,” he said. He stood up and removed his trousers, exposing his quickly hardening cock. Granger stroked it gently, even as they kissed, then on the rug in front of the fire, they had sex again. Granger found that once he was not confined to a coffin bed, he was quite active. They both ended up sated and content, lying side by side on the rug, breathing heavily as they tried to catch their breath.

“That was truly amazing,” Granger said, stroking the Tsar’s ego. “If you manage Russia like you managed my body, you will achieve great things.”

“I hope that is so,” he said. “I know I can do better than my father, and I think that he was not of a good enough mind to be Tsar, but I am agonized by his death.”

“Because you feel responsible?” Granger asked knowingly.

“Yes,” he snapped. “I knew of the plan, and I did not object with the proviso that my father not be harmed. So when he was killed, I now have blood on my hands.”

“That was a bit unrealistic, don’t you think?” Granger asked.

“What are you saying?” he demanded, outraged.

“There can only be one living Tsar,” Granger said. “So if you must live with guilt over that, you must live with it, because the alternative would be to have your empire torn apart for years to come.”

He paused for a bit to ponder Granger’s words. “You are suggesting that this must be my own personal hell, because otherwise it would have destroyed Russia,” he said, nodding.

“That is what I am saying,” Granger said firmly. “And you must carry this guilt inside and not let others use it to manipulate you.”

“My mother is already doing that,” he said, shaking his head.

“You must not let her succeed,” Granger urged. “You must stand up and take the reins, because if you hesitate, she will grab them from your hand.”

“Like my grandmother,” he said.

“And your great grandmother,” Granger added. He got up to leave, so Granger walked him to the door. “If you allow them to use your guilt, then they will rule Russia, not you.”

“I needed to clear my head,” he said. “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Granger replied, and was surprised when the Tsar embraced him, a gesture which he returned just as enthusiastically. When they separated, Granger smiled, then broached a different issue. “Would it be acceptable to Your Imperial Majesty for me to leave this palace in the morning?”

“And how will you explain your sudden recovery?” he asked.

“I have a plan for that, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said, allowing his voice to sound a bit playful. “I will explain that I did not have the fever, but I was poisoned by the staff here.”

“That will certainly stir up some issues,” he said with a frown.

“If Your Imperial Majesty will allow me to suggest, I think that such an issue certainly provides you with good reason to make some major changes with the household staff,” Granger said.

The Tsar chuckled. “You may leave whenever you want, as I will not be staying here either. It would please me if you would make a point to let me know when you are departing, and if you would call on me the day after tomorrow.”

“I will gladly do whatever I can to please Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said, even as he bowed. The Tsar chuckled again, then opened the door slightly, and when he saw the hallway was clear, he dashed out and headed to his own rooms.

March 24, 1801

St. Michael’s Castle

St. Petersburg, Russia

 

“I am going to take my leave of His Imperial Majesty,” Granger said to Winkler and Jacobs. “I would ask that you have the vozok readied and pack up our things.”

“Of course, my lord,” Winkler said. Granger paused in front of the mirror to make sure his appearance was adequate, then strode to the door. Jacobs unbolted and opened it for him, and Granger emerged into the corridor. He fancied that the atmosphere felt entirely different here today, as if a huge cloud had been removed, but that may just be his imagination.

He descended the stairs, getting some strange looks from the other courtiers. Part of their confusion was that just yesterday they had all been in a panic because he was supposedly gripped by the fever, yet here he was seemingly healthy. The other part was that they were probably trying to decide if his unpopularity would carry over to the next regime. Granger walked along, acknowledging them in a polite but distant way so they did not have to risk tarnishing their reputations by being seen in friendly conversation with him.

Alexander was barricaded in his own rooms with several large guards outside and a chamberlain standing behind them, leaning on his staff in an aloof way, there to deter people who would unnecessarily disturb the new Tsar.

He strode up to them and stopped in front of the guards, but addressed himself to the chamberlain. “I am here to see His Imperial Majesty,” Granger said in his firm, commanding voice.

“Lord Granger, I am sure that His Imperial Majesty would be glad to grant you an audience, but he is quite busy today,” the chamberlain replied smoothly.

“His Imperial Majesty has told me that I am free to leave this place, but that I must take my leave of him personally. So I must insist, based on his instructions, that you alert him to my presence,” Granger said, acting a bit annoyed.

“One moment, my lord,” the man said. It took him five minutes to return, and during that time, Granger continued to stand right where he was, quite close to the guards, until one of them shuffled his feet to show his discomfort. The chamberlain returned looking a bit puzzled. “Lord Granger, please follow me.”

“With pleasure,” Granger said. He walked into the room and paused to wait for the chamberlain to introduce him. As soon as he reeled off Granger’s name, Granger bowed, then walked toward the new Tsar, who had a slight twinkle in his eye. Before he could get too close to Alexander, the Palace governor rushed over and physically blocked his path. When he did, he was standing directly in front of the Tsar with his back to his sovereign, something that His Imperial Majesty may well think was rude and insulting. “My lord, you must not be here,” the Palace governor said urgently. “You will infect His Imperial Majesty.”

“Sir, you have turned your back upon His Imperial Majesty!” Granger said, pointing out the man’s incredible faux pas. “Please, turn and do not embarrass yourself further.”

The man looked truly horrified now, as he quickly pivoted to face an angry Alexander. “But the fever…”

“I do not have the fever, sir,” Granger said with steely eyes. He conjured up anger by remembering how the staff had abused poor Winkler. “The quinine ended up curing my ailment quite effectively.”

“The quinine cured your fever that quickly, my lord?” the governor asked suspiciously.

“No, but drinking it caused me to vomit, and that probably saved my life,” Granger said. “It would seem I was the victim of a poisoning attempt, courtesy of your staff.”

“That is impossible, my lord!” he objected.

“During my entire stay, I have been treated most inhospitably, and while I was willing to tolerate that based on my strained relationship with the recently departed Tsar, I am not willing to put up with a cowardly attempt to end my life with poison!” Granger said with considerable outrage. He spotted Pavel standing near the Tsar, and saw him trying not to grin.

The governor was all but speechless. “Lord Granger, we are pleased to see you in good health, despite the considerable pain and suffering it took to get there,” Tsar Alexander said.

“Thank you, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said in a polite way.

“I understand clearly why you would want to leave, and you have my dispensation to do so,” he said. “You can also rest assured that I will investigate what happened to you. Your experience has made me fearful for my own health. I think I will move to the Winter Palace and hope things are better there.”

“I appreciate you taking the time to honor my request, and please accept my condolences over the loss of your father, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said.

“We would be obliged if you would attend us at a reception in two days at the Winter Palace,” the Tsar said.

“I will of course do as you command, Your Imperial Majesty,” Granger said. He bowed and backed out of the room, then strode confidently through the corridors and down the stairs to the courtyard. He found Winkler and Jacobs waiting by his trusty vozok, shivering in the cold. He hastily got in and compelled them to sit in back with him.

“Where are we going, my lord?” Winkler asked.

Granger realized that he had not made arrangements, he’d just assumed he’d be welcomed back at Stroganov Palace. He hesitated for a bit, worrying that he was being too presumptive, and then decided that regardless of where he ended up, that must be his first stop. “Stroganov Palace.”

Winkler relayed that to the coachman, and they felt the vozok almost immediately start to move. “Good to get out of there,” he grumbled to Jacobs.

“We are exceptionally lucky that not only did we leave, we left early,” Granger said. “His Imperial Majesty announced that he is taking up residence at the Winter Palace, so that will no doubt set off a cavalcade of people scurrying to move.”

“It was hard enough to get help with your trunks as it was, my lord,” Jacobs said. “They would have full on ignored us if there were others needing help.”

“I think they will have their own price to pay,” Granger said mysteriously. They said little on the short drive to Stroganov Palace, all of them relieved to be free from St. Michael’s and out from under the thumb of an angry and confused Tsar. Granger thought about the new Tsar and could not help smiling.

The vozok passed through the entry arch to Stroganov Palace and parked in the courtyard. Granger had come to appreciate how much that arrangements reduced the wind and made the cold weather more palatable. Footmen opened his door and helped him out, and he strode the few feet to the welcome warmth of the entry hall. “Welcome back, my lord,” the butler said and seemed to genuinely mean it.

“Thank you,” Granger said. “I have truly missed this place.”

The butler led him upstairs to one of the sitting rooms where he found Alexei and Sophia waiting to greet him. “Welcome back,” Alexei said.

“Thank you,” Granger said, and embraced both of them. “I got in the vozok and it wasn’t until then that I realized I was being quite presumptuous to just show up here without so much as a by your leave.”

“That is nonsense,” Sophia said.

“She is right, as usual,” Alexei said, smiling at his daughter-in-law. “You are to treat this as your home.” And to Granger, it felt just like that.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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1 hour ago, rjo said:

I want to thank David for his comments not only on this chapter but over the many years. Bravo  David!! Even though I took Russian history in college I thank you for filling in the details. Russian history is a tangled mess of murders, coups, and  power grabs. As I have said before, our hero, George, has been able to preform his mission with both skill, and the abllity to see all the threats along the way. He is so much more than the average naval captain. I don't believe anyone else ( a long  with to Winkler and Jacobs) could have done it better. Thank you Mark and Thank you David.

History has through the years been one of my great passions.  I truly believe that if we don't understand the past; we can never make a workable future.  

That being said, Mark has a true gift.  He obviously loves history as well; but he has the talent and drive to create real art with his knowledge.  So, while I will continue with my comments and blasts on occasion, let's all thank Mark for the real joy he has brought to our lives with his talent...

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Having commented already on the chapter, I would like to share something with you. When I started reading Mark's stories, I started with the CAP saga. I guess part of my love for those books was that many of the historical events I lived through  and after Will and Wade entered the picture I loved both the stories and them even more. However, now I am drawn to this saga even more. Like David I have always love history and like him I believe we must learn from it or we will repeat the mistakes of the past. However in this last book you have drawn me in even more. For some reason I am emotionally attached to these characters, this story and what happens to them even more than the CAP saga.  Something about it is more compelling. I wish I could put it into words but it is there. I can not thank you enough for your two sagas. But even more for this one. Thank you so much!!

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Well what an eventful life our hero is having. Somebody should write it all down ......

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He needs to get moving, lol. Just days until The Battle of Copenhagen!🤪

 

Joking aside: love your writing!

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