A Dangerous Climate (Saint-Germain #22)

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05.03.2019

With a melting sigh Zozia beckoned to Saint-Germain, offering with it a tantalizing smile. "You've been wonderful, Grofok, watching after me as you do. You might be born to the manner, you do it so well. Before you move to the new care-house tomorrow, let me thank you properly for your service." She purred a laugh at her jest as she loosened her pale-pink taffeta wrapper and lay back on the bolster at the top of her bed. "It's almost midnight. We might as well have the house to ourselves; everyone else is asleep. No one will pay any attention to what we do."

Saint-Germain was still in his mallard-blue satin knee-britches, silver leg-hose, and silver-buckled shoes, but his mallard-blue embroidered coat and honey-colored damask waistcoat were set aside in his portion of the bedchamber, and he wore only his ecru-silk chemise above his waist. "What is the reason for thanks, that you choose to express it this way?" The room was stuffy, the result of a warm and humid day, but neither he nor she paid any attention.

"Surely you know," she said provocatively.

"I cannot guess," he told her, keenly aware that she wanted him to succumb to her blandishments, and that thanks was just an excuse to lure him.

"Why, for your giving up your part of the bedchamber for my brother's use during his stay," she said, trying to maintain her seductive display. "That was quite a sacrifice to make for me. I want to show you I know how much you've done for me." Behind this gentility there was the suggestion of imperativeness that reminded Saint-Germain that Zozia saw herself as the master of their mission, and entitled to require compliance from him.

"That is hardly a sacrifice, since I have already agreed to occupy the new care-house while it is being finished; you and I do not share a bed in any case."

"No, we don't."

He could see the scowl that flittered across her features, to be replaced with a smile. "You have nothing to thank me for, Zozia."

She stretched sinuously, trying to show him the richness of her body. "Then why not enjoy our chance for passion? Can't that be reason enough?"

"This one last time," he suggested. "Before I go to the new care-house."

"Until my brother leaves. Yes. We will not be able to share our bodies while Benedykt is here, for he would believe that Arpad is being dishonored if he suspected that anything was passing between us. He's a stickler for appearances."

"By the terms you have set down for our enjoyment of each other, nothing is passing between us." He did not mention the small amount of blood he took from her when she was at the culmination of her passion; it was the emotion that nurtured him more than the blood itself, and he valued the fleeting intimacy she provided in those rare moments. He was aware he would have to tell her about his true nature and its requirements, but not now-there would be a better time for that, to explain that this fifth time together would be the last time their desires would be safe for her. He only said, "Yet you can take advantage of this night, if you decide you want to-"

She moved quickly, seizing his arm and pulling him down beside her. "Of course I want to," she murmured before she pressed her open lips on his and squeezed the luxurious sumptuousness of her body to his, turning her amplectance to an emphatic demand, with all her physicality set afire by the anticipation of what he could do to pleasure her. When he tried to pull back from her, she became more forceful in her pursuit, renewing her kiss and holding his arms more tightly so that he could not break away from her. "It will be at least two months that we won't be able to act on our appetites, perhaps not until spring, if Benedykt remains longer than the middle of autumn. The last ships should be gone by the end of October, if not sooner."

"That is what the sailors say," Saint-Germain conceded. "Once the ice starts to form, it will be safer for the ships to moor out in the river, and to remain there until the ice from Lake Ladoga has broken up and come down to the sea."

"Yes, everyone says that," she said, reaching for one of his hands and sliding it into her wrapper and onto her breast. "Then let's make the most of our opportunity. This is a good place to start."

He knew that much of her ardor came from taking command of his love-making, so he complied with her requirement, caressing and gently kneading her pliant flesh until he could feel her nipple rise. He untied the wrapper and let it fall open, and extended his attentions to her other breast as he stretched out beside her, close enough to feel the whole range of her response, but not so close that she would need to resist his nearness.

"You know the very thing I want," she whispered to him. "You do everything I like and nothing I don't like, and that is more delicious than what most men are willing to do. I wish my husband had your sensitivities. He only wants to spend himself as abruptly as he can."

"Not all men have an inclination for pleasing women, and for such men I apologize," said Saint-Germain, bending to kiss her shoulder, the voluptuous rise of her breasts; as her breathing deepened, he flicked her nipples with his tongue and followed that with kisses delivered slowly and luxuriously to her breasts, sensing the deepening arousal that ignited the sensuality banked within her so that she gave herself over to the exaltation of abandon that coursed through her. She tried to tell him how much pleasure she felt, but no words seemed adequate.

Caught in the thrilling excitement that he drew from her, Zozia wriggled to open all her body to him, urging him in an under-voice, "Don't take so long. I want to plunge into the carnal spasm as soon as I can. I must have my satisfaction. You don't have that release, so you can tune yourself to my melody."

"There is no reason to rush. You will have greater fulfillment if you are willing to take time arriving at your apogee of satisfaction. You will have a greater liberation of your senses if you let your body arrive at the point without urging." To demonstrate his assertion, he slowed his fondling and gave her a long, evocative embrace that stimulated her flesh from her neck to her knees, leaving her breathless and wild-eyed. Again he stroked her body, starting at her face, then down her neck, over her breasts and abdomen, employing a wide range of touching in order to provide the most awakening possible.

"You never did that before," she murmured, her body thrumming with the enhanced pleasure. "Why did it take you so long to-"

"You did not seek it until now," he told her gently as he at last eased her thighs apart.

"Tell me how you know these things." Her order was unsteady, and she shivered in anticipation of more rapture to come.

He wondered if he should tell her the truth: that he had learned her from tasting her blood, and decided that she would not believe him. "Your body is like a fine instrument, one I am learning to play. You teach me how you like to be sounded."

"You are willing to learn of me," she said, her eyes luminous.

"How else am I to bring forth your sweetest harmonies?" He kissed his way down her body until she took two or three sharp breaths.

"Not yet," she protested.

"No, not yet," he agreed. "This is just the start of your fulfillment." He slowed down his munificent caresses. "You need not be precipitate in your gratification."

"If you can discern that, you are a most accomplished musician." She trembled as he touched the little kernel at the top of her nether-lips; it jumped in answer to his feather-light stroking. "What instrument responds to such playing?"

He smiled. "The viola d'amore," he told her, and felt her hushed chuckle. "It makes such sweet music, and is so melic for those who play it."

"If the musician is talen-" She inhaled sharply as he slid two fingers into her, still taking his time, seeking out the sites of her greatest transports. He kissed her face, her breasts, then her throat, never hurrying, matching the intensity of his love-making to her rising need. This was better than anything he had done before, and she wanted to hurry to her completion of this joyous delirium even as she wanted to prolong the ecstasy that was building within her. Suddenly she jolted as the first moment of unloosened sensuality began, to be followed by another, and another, the intensity of which diminished slowly, leaving her replete, all passion spent. Gradually she released him, aware that she had been straining to hold him tightly to her, one of his hands caught between them until she moved far enough to allow him to extract it and to lift his head from her neck. She floated on the last vestiges of her delectation, then whispered, "That was wonderful. I'm going to miss having you here."

"You do not want to have any trouble with your brother, do you, Zozia," he said, thinking that Zozia had it in her to flout convention and dare her brother to accuse her of bad conduct. "You have your mission to consider."

"And so do you," said Zozia. "We'll have to remain in close contact, Grofok, but not as close as we have been, more's the pity."

Saint-Germain moved a little farther away from Zozia. "Do you want to disappoint the King?"

"Of course not. We both have our work to do." She reached for the closing sash on her wrapper and pulled it across her body. "It's just that I'm sorry to have to give up your company." She lowered her gaze. "When my husband returns, I know I'll feel the loss of your … understanding."

Zozia's avowal made Saint-Germain uneasy. He prepared to rise, his attention fully on her. "I will have my belongings moved by mid-day tomorrow. You will not have to endure any confusion on my account."

"Having you gone will be inconvenient, but it is necessary to-Not that I don't love my brother, but he believes it is his right and duty to direct me in everything I do." Petulance had crept into her tone, and she frowned in spite of the ragged laughter that punctuated her statement. "He doesn't think that I can find my way in life without him, or Arpad, to guide me. He prides himself on his position within the family. Furthermore, he expects to have his efforts and opinions respected."

"That must vex you," said Saint-Germain as he got to his feet. "If it would not put you in an unfavorable light with your brother, I would remain. But you have already said you would be held in his contempt."

"He knows about your pose, of course," said Zozia, "but you may find him trying to seek out as much information as he can in regard to my work here."

"He will hear nothing to your discredit, at least not from me," Saint-Germain assured her. "As for the servants, you have an impersonation to maintain; their gossip is part of your ruse."

"I'll try to convince Benedykt of that." She clicked her tongue. "I hope he'll understand."

"If he has any comprehension of your task, he will." Saint-Germain bent and kissed her lightly on the mouth. "Get some rest. You have a very busy day ahead."

She caught his hand in hers. "Do you have to go?"

"Tonight?" he asked.

"Tomorrow. You have many items to move, but can't you leave Hroger to attend to it? Benedykt isn't here yet."

"I could," Saint-Germain allowed. "But it would not be considerate. To have me leave upon his arrival will have a very suspicious appearance-rumors would fly that your brother has arrived to protect you, and that we have separated as a result of your family's disapproval."

She considered this, then sighed. "Of course. This way you are being of service to me and my brother, and the gossip will reflect that."

"Especially if you say how grateful you are that I have been willing to make my move to the care-house at so provident a time." He slid his fingers lightly along her shoulder. "You can turn this to good account."

She nodded slowly, ruminating; the cathedral clock struck one, which brought her out of her contemplation. "And what about Saari? Do you plan for him to remain in the stable with Gronigen?"

"Would you prefer he left? I can put him to work in the care-house if you find his presence unacceptable. But you may want to have him here, so he can be your messenger and guard." He lifted his brow speculatively. "Why not think it over and tell me in the morning what you have decided."

She looked away from him. "I'll do that," she told him, and pulled the summer-weight comforter over her, paying no more attention to him.

Saint-Germain went into his part of the bedchamber, trying to make up his mind about Zozia's expectations. While he reflected on her character, her marked tendency to believe in her own scenarios that anticipated events in her life, and her great disappointment when her prospects were unmet, he went about packing his smaller belongings into cases. He undressed and slipped into his chamber-robe, securing the three frogs down the right side of the garment of Hungarian cut in deep-red silk twill. As he took off his shoes, he could feel the power of the night sink into his ancient veins. Finally he sat down on his bed, deciding to rest for an hour or two. Stretching out, he was soon in the stupor that passed for sleep among those of his blood.

Shortly after dawn Saint-Germain was up again and dressed in his most practical clothing-a long leather coat the color of autumn leaves over chestnut knee-britches in heavy linen with an ecru chemise and high riding boots. By the time Hroger came to shave him, he was busy finishing the last of his packing.

"I've told Gronigen to use your carriage to carry your belongings to the new care-house," said Hroger in Imperial Latin. "The rest of the house is just starting to stir. In half an hour, breakfast will begin."

"Gronigen will have to bring the carriage and horses back to the stable here," said Saint-Germain in the same language. "There's no provision for keeping a pair and a coach at the care-house."

"It's all arranged, my master." Hroger put down his basin, prepared his brush and razor, then draped a towel over Saint-Germain's shoulders and under his chin.

Saint-Germain gave a faint, abashed smile. "I need not have wondered. I meant nothing to your discredit."

"I'm aware of that." He worked a froth on the bar of soap, then spread it on Saint-Germain's face; he reached for the razor and began working up Saint-Germain's neck, then along his jaw and his cheeks, his upper lip and chin. "This should do for another week. You're fortunate that your hair grows so slowly."

"Yes, and that you can see what you are doing; my lack of reflection is a nuisance."

"Dangerous as well," said Hroger. "It's the sort of thing that servants are likely to notice."

Saint-Germain went very still. "Has there been something-"

"Last night Salomea remarked that she had noticed that she couldn't see you in the Ksiezna's mirror when you walked behind her." Hroger paused. "I said it was probably an angle of the light. She said that it might be possible, but she hadn't seen such an alteration before. She's put the whole staff on alert."

"Then it is just as well that we are moving to help finish the care-house." He rubbed his face. "Do you think anything more is needed?"

"I think that the least said, the better; let the servants speculate." said Hroger, and changed from Latin to Russian. "The Ksiezna is still asleep, so perhaps we should wait until she's awake to move your things out of this part of the room. I will have Gronigen and Saari load up the trunks from the stable and take them to the care-house as a first load. They will be back here by ten o'clock if they start in the next hour."

"Take my red-lacquer chest in the first load; make sure it stays upright in the carriage. It has my medicaments and supplies; if the chest falls over, many vials and jars will break." Saint-Germain paused. "And the second chest, with my preparatory equipment-that should go in the rear compartment on the second floor." It contained all his alchemical apparatuses except an athanor; the alchemical oven was too cumbersome to put in a chest and carry. "I will have to discover whom to bribe to get the bricks I need to make my-"

"I know," said Hroger, cutting him off in case they were being overheard. "You will want one for your work with medicaments."

"That I will," said Saint-Germain, listening to the sound of Narkiss firing up the stove.

"Then I'll be going out to the stable shortly." Hroger gathered up his shaving equipment and left quickly and quietly, leaving Saint-Germain to look into the chest-of-drawers in order to select clothing for the next two days, until all his goods could be moved.

By four in the afternoon, the carriage had made three trips to and from the care-house, leaving Saint-Germain's side of the partition in the bedchamber empty of everything but a wash-stand and a bedstand on which an oil-lamp was placed. Saint-Germain looked around the room, then went to Zozia's side of the partition. "I think everything has been moved out of my side," he said to her as she sat in front of her dressing-table, contemplating her reflection in the glass while Salomea brushed her hair; he was careful to stand in such a position that he could not readily be seen in the mirror.

"Good. Then I assume you will spend the night at the care-house?"

"I will, since my bed is there, and so will Hroger. Gronigen and Saari will bring the coach and horses back shortly," he said with a bow.

"They will be welcome to their bunks in the stable, and their place at the table for meals." Zozia said this as much for Salomea's benefit as for any misunderstanding Saint-Germain might have. "You have much work to do, I gather, before the care-house can be fully moved."

"That we do. Tomorrow morning, joiners are coming to install cabinets, shelves, counters, and drawers, and I am expected to tell them where they are to be placed."

"All part of finishing the place." She kept up a manner of determined optimism, but Saint-Germain was aware of her dissatisfaction.

"There are double-pane windows to install, and an interior antechamber off the front door, so that no infection can easily get out." He bowed again. "I plan to be back when your brother arrives. You will have word from the harbor when the Apollo is approaching. You need only send for me, and I will be glad to join you here, or at any place you stipulate."

"You are most accommodating, as always," said Zozia. "I thank you for taking the time to settle our housing arrangements before he arrives. As you say, it makes things less awkward."

He could see that Salomea was listening, so he said more than he had at first intended to, assuming she would pass on whatever she heard. "Your brother has a delicate mission here, as you do, so it is fitting that the two of you should spend your private time together, going over the goals of your missions, as they are now redefined. You are in a unique position to guide him through the Foreign Quarter, and to make him known to the Residents and Embassies here."

She smiled enough to show that she appreciated his extra information. "It is what Poland expects." Her face became expressionless. "I am still shocked that Augustus II has been set aside in favor of Stanislas Leszczynski."

"Well, Stanislas is a Pole, and Augustus a Saxon," Saint-Germain remarked.

"True enough, although Stanislas is more corrupt than Menshikov," she said. "Still, Stanislas has extended my mission here, although his goals are somewhat different than Augustus' have been. I hope Benedykt will be able to tell me how I am to proceed." She pouted, but not as prettily as usual.

"Tell me what I am to do, since I have received no orders from Stanislas," said Saint-Germain. "I remain at your service, you know."

She flashed him a brilliant, insincere smile. "Always so well-mannered," she approved, flipping her hand. "Still, you have no new assignment that I know of. You might as well get to your new house. The household here will be dining in an hour, and by then, you will want to have a fire in the stove at the care-house."

"No doubt you are right," he said, coming to the side of her dressing-table and bowing to her; he could see Salomea glance in the mirror to try to find his reflection. He stepped back. "I will call on you tomorrow, and hope you will have news of your brother's arrival." He kissed her hand, which she had extended to him.

"You will be pleased to know him, Hercegek."

"It is my hope," he concurred politely. "In any case, let me know what you require of me then, as I suspect there may be some things I can do for you that have not yet occurred to you. Send me word when you have use of me."

She lilted a laugh at him. "How gallant you are."

He put his hand on his breast just under the elaborate knot of his neck-cloth. "It is because of you, Ksiezna." Then he turned and left, going out of the house and walking back toward the care-house, a freshening wind serving as a reminder that autumn was coming. He took note of the traffic on the street, surprised at how much it had increased since May. Taking care to look for the man who had been following him, Saint-Germain was unable to make him out in the confusion of sailors, workmen, servants, and foreigners; he walked a little faster, taking comfort in the busyness of the streets, for surely no one would risk attacking him with so many others about. He patted the skirt-pockets on his coat, feeling the francizca tucked into each; these small, expertly balanced throwing axes had proved valuable many times in the past. He lengthened his stride and kept on toward the care-house, trying not to watch around him too obviously.

The incomplete care-house was at the edge of the Foreign Quarter, a large rectangular box of a building, with six windows facing the street and six facing the rear of the house. All had the outer window-panes in place, but only three of the windows had their interior panes. The building was eerily silent, for the work-gangs had gone off for their evening meal. In the declining sunlight, the windows glowed as bright as lava, and the newly cut thick boards showed the marks of saws and hammers. Saint-Germain tapped on the door, waited, and tapped again, and heard the sound of Hroger's approach. Taking a last look around the street, he caught a glimpse of a man in a wide-brimmed Dutch hat and a simple coat half a block away, but a heavily laden wagon loaded with cut logs came down the street toward the newest buildings, and he lost sight of the fellow.

"My master," said Hroger as he held the door open. He carried an oil-lantern in his hand and placed it in the alcove above the door. "Come in. We have the place to ourselves tonight."

"Very good," said Saint-Germain, closing the door behind him as he entered the main room.

"Your chests and trunks are on the second floor, and they're in the rear room you selected." He pointed to the thick tiles on the far side of the room. "The stove will be brought in two days, I'm told. Until then, there is no heat."

"An inconvenience, not a real problem," said Saint-Germain, looking about to see the way the rooms were being framed. "This work-gang isn't Russian, by the way the walls have been set up."

"Livonian, or so their supervisor tells me," said Hroger. "They built barracks for the Swedes and that's why they've been put to work doing the same thing here. They've almost finished the stairs-there are no bannisters or railings yet, but the risers and treads are in place." He nodded toward the staircase half-way down the room. "It's well-supported, and should be enough to allow heavy loads to be carried up."

"In a care-house, that is almost necessary." Saint-Germain sniffed, smelling the sharp, distinctive odor of pine. "When do they panel the walls, did they tell you?"

"No later than five days," said Hroger. "There are sixty of them, and they know what they're doing." He continued on to the stairs and led the way up them. "The room we have reserved for your use? I have set up your bed and installed a trestle-table for you. Your chest-of-drawers is in place, and your wardrobe-fortunately it is a small one-and the other chests are stacked against the outer wall, under the window. The door will be in place in a few days, and the paneling."

"All to the good. What of Ludmilla Borisevna and Heer van Hoek?"

"They are packing their supplies now and by day after tomorrow they will bring all their things that they can here, and as soon as the two care-rooms are finished, they will transfer their patients. That should take about a week." He looked around the main room of the second floor. "The carpenters are making two rooms on the opposite side of this floor for them-Ludmilla Borisevna and van Hoek. This main room should be reserved for surgery and setting bones, or such is my understanding."

"A good idea," Saint-Germain approved. "Van Hoek will be relieved. He was afraid he would have to remove limbs where patients could see him do it, which would distress them all, and could lead to all manner of disruptions. Such things are more upsetting to watch than to do, and they are unpleasant necessities."

"As is true of so many things," said Hroger. He found an oil-lantern hanging on a hook near the top of the stairs, and used flint-and-steel to light it. "This should be a reminder that this place is occupied."

"Assuming we want to do that," said Saint-Germain wryly.

Hroger shook his head. "Well, those who have been watching you know you're here; it's the street-gangs we want to warn. They like empty buildings, not inhabited ones."

"And you, old friend-where is your place?"

"In your medicaments room, of course. I will have a bed and a closet, which will suffice. It will also keep the curious from exploring your laboratory." He very nearly chuckled. "Do you remember that impetuous footman in Bohemia, not quite a hundred fifty years ago? The poor boy almost collapsed when he saw your laboratory there."

"Things might not go so well here," said Saint-Germain. "You are right, as always, to take precautions."

"It is also convenient," said Hroger. "This way I can eat in private and not have to answer questions as to why I take only uncooked meat."

"That is a good plan," said Saint-Germain. "How many house-servants has Menshikov allocated to our use here?"

"I haven't found out yet. Kyril Yureivich brought a note from Ludmilla Borisevna today saying that she has been told that her request is being evaluated."

"Whatever that means," said Saint-Germain. "She's asked for twelve-I suppose you know," Hroger remarked. "Since you'll be paying their upkeep."

"It is probably the best we can hope for," said Saint-Germain. "We will have thirty beds to start with, and even with Kyril and van Hoek's man, twelve is barely an adequate number."

"Do you think you'll be granted the twelve?" Hroger asked, starting back down the stairs.

"I hope so," said Saint-Germain. "I paid a high enough bribe for them."

Text of a letter from Klaus Demetrius Krems, in Dresden, to Ferenz Ragoczy, Grofok Saint-Germain, in Sankt Piterburkh, in care of Arpad Arco-Tolvay, Hercegek Gyor, written in code and delivered on September 13th, 1704.

To the most respected Ferenz Ragoczy, Grofok Saint-Germain, the greetings of Klaus Demetrius Krems, on behalf of Augustus II, former King of Poland.

My dear Grofok,

As you are most certainly aware, the imposture you have undertaken with Zozia, Ksiezna Nisko, has been extended by order of Stanislas, recently elected King of Poland. Orders have been dispatched to the Ksiezna enjoining her to continue her work, and to include you in her mission, an arrangement that is simple enough for her, but difficult for you, in that your risk is greater than hers; she is a spy, you are an impostor. It is with that in mind that Augustus wishes me to ask you if you would continue your reports to me-the last two have been most valuable-on much the same terms as before. My one reluctance, and the reluctance is genuine, is that the aims of Poland and the aims of Augustus may not be always in accord now that Augustus no longer rules there, and the resultant cross-purposes may increase the risk to you for continuing your efforts on his behalf.

Send word as soon as you can as to your decision; I sincerely hope you will be inclined to continue on as you have been, and for the rest of the year: I will assume for now that you are willing to do this, for if you decide to leave Sankt Piterburkh, you will want the license of Augustus to accomplish it. In case we cannot have direct contact again until spring, I am instructed to send you the thanks and high regard of Augustus, and his assurance that his gratitude will not be lacking when next you meet.

May God guard and keep you.

Your servant to command,

Klaus Demetrius Krems

confidential secretary to Augustus II, formerly King of Poland

August 6th, 1704