A Dangerous Climate (Saint-Germain #22)

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05.03.2019

Yrjo Saari stood on the step of Zozia's house, staring at Hroger in grim determination, his presence seeming to cool the glorious morning sunshine, for although he showed proper deference he also determined to do everything he intended. It was not quite 6:00 A.M. and the household had only been up for an hour; Saari appeared willing to wait until sunset and longer, if he had to. "He said I should be allowed to talk to him, your master. I am determined to see him." His voice was flat, and his Russian had the first-syllable accents of Finnish. "I will not be deterred."

"Then I suppose you had best come in," said Hroger, standing aside to admit the former Watchman, curiosity increasing. He pointed to a bench near the stove. "If you would like a cup of tea, there is a pot of it on the hook," by which he meant the warming-hook attached to the metal chimney.

"I want to see Hercegek Gyor," he said as he made for the stove. "But I would like a cup of tea. Will the Hercegek join us shortly?"

"The Hercegek is occupied with the Ksiezna. It isn't my place to disturb him," Hroger said. "I will pour you some tea, and inform the Hercegek that you are waiting to talk to him as soon as it's acceptable to do so."

"I'll wait as long as I must." He sat down.

Hroger reached into the cupboard for a tea-dish, then took the pot from the hook and poured the dark, fragrant liquid into it. "Would you like butter or sugar?"

"A little butter," Saari said as if it were a major concession.

"Butter then," Hroger said, taking the tub down from its place on the top of the cupboard; he opened it and used the paddle to make a small curl. "Will this suffice?"

"It will." Saari nodded approval and relaxed enough to say, "Thank you."

"You'll want to let it cool a short while," Hroger recommended, sliding the butter onto the tea, where it quickly melted and formed a shiny puddle on the surface.

"I've seen the Ksiezna out in her carriage. She is Polish."

"Yes, she is," said Hroger, wondering what Saari was seeking.

"The Hercegek is Hungarian, I'm told. Not many Hungarians in Sankt Piterburkh," Saari remarked as he blew on the surface of his tea.

"Only one other that I'm aware of," said Hroger.

"Who might that be?" Saari asked.

"One of the embankment designers is from Buda. His name is Janos Czobor, I believe. He has constructed embankments along the Drina and the Drave, among other rivers. He has worked in Austria and Bohemia, as well."

"Then he's the sort of man the Czar wants here," Saari stated.

"So it would seem." Hroger wrapped his hands in sooty cloths, looked into the fire-box, then poked at the glowing embers.

Saari studied Hroger for the better part of a minute. "You are not Hungarian."

"No. I come from Spain." He did not add that when he had lived there, it had been a Roman province. "The Hercegek and I met in Roma, many years ago."

"He is widely traveled, then, your master?"

"Quite widely," said Hroger, volunteering nothing more on the extent of Saint-Germain's wanderings. He straightened up, put the poker back in its holder, and unwrapped his hands.

"The Czar is also widely traveled," said Saari. "He has been to Germany and Holland and England and France and Austria and Poland. Perhaps he has gone other places as well."

"Yes, he is well-traveled," Hroger agreed.

The silence that fell between them this time lasted until Salomea came into the main room, a bundle of freshly dried clothes in her hand. She regarded Saari in surprise, and waited for Hroger to explain.

"This is Yrjo Saari, one of the Finnish Watchmen."

"Former Watchman," he corrected.

"You're the one who's been in the care-house, aren't you?" Salomea asked, coming over to the stove.

"I have," said Saari, a bit embarrassed to admit it.

"The care-house helped the Hercegek after he was waylaid and beaten," said Salomea.

"I know. It was I and my men who found him and carried him to the care-house." He tried not to sound too proud of this accomplishment, but there was a kind of satisfaction in his voice that he could not conceal.

Salomea looked at him with increased interest. "No wonder the Hercegek was concerned for your recovery."

"He is an attentive man, most careful about his obligations," Saari approved. "He's been a great help to the care-house."

Watching the two of them, Hroger realized that they were attracted to each other; he sat back on the kitchen stool, regarding them with awakened interest.

"He is a most generous man," said Salomea. "He often extends charity when he can. Not many rich men do that."

"He has done that in my case," said Saari, and drank a little of the tea although it was still quite hot.

"It has been his habit for many years," said Hroger, thinking that Saint-Germain would not say so himself.

"A good man to have for a master," said Saari, a bit wistfully. "All men seek good masters, if they are honora-"

They were interrupted by Zozia calling from the other room. "Salomea! Go to the bath-house and tell them I will be there shortly!"

Salomea was immediately on her feet, her manner transformed into quiet submissiveness. "Yes, Ksiezna," she said, and went into the servants' room in order to leave by the back door; the two men heard it open and close.

Saari continued to drink his tea, but there was a thoughtful shine in his eyes and he looked carefully at Hroger, a measuring expression coming over his face. After a few minutes had passed, he said, "A very interesting woman."

"Would you like me to tell her you said so?" Hroger asked, amusement lurking at the back of his faded-blue eyes.

"No. Not yet, anyway." He went on with his tea, content to be quiet.

In less than ten minutes, Zozia emerged from her room, an Ottoman robe wrapped around her, her braided hair in some disarray, and wooden shoes on her feet that clapped noisily as she walked. "Is Salomea here?" she demanded, then stopped still as she realized that Saari was looking at her. Gathering her dignity, she said, "If she hasn't come back from the bath-house-"

"I am back, Ksiezna," Salomea answered from the servants' room. "I am ready to escort you to the bath-house."

"We'll leave by the back door," said Zozia; there was a hectic flush to her cheeks and she moved carefully as if she were not fully awake.

"Yes, Ksiezna," Salomea said, appearing in the door to the main room; she curtsied to Zozia and did not so much as glance at Saari.

"Bring my towels," Zozia ordered as she crossed the room.

"Of course, Ksiezna. I have them ready." She fell in slightly behind Zozia as they hurried from the room.

"My master should join us shortly," said Hroger once the back door slammed. "Unless he decides to dress for the day first."

"Does he need your help?" Saari sounded wary, as if his keeping Hroger from attending Saint-Germain could well lead to trouble between master and manservant. "Do you need to go in to him?"

"Not yet." He could see Saari was not convinced. "He will summon me if he needs me."

"You must know best."

Again the two waited in silence, and then Saint-Germain appeared in the bedroom doorway, still in his chamber-robe and wig-less. He nodded to the two men. "Good morning. I trust I see both of you well."

Saari got to his feet and ducked his head. "Yes, as well as is possible." He was a hand's-breadth shorter than Saint-Germain, who was slightly less than average height, but built like the trunk of a tree, so that even his respectful bow seemed a kind of concession. "As you see, I have answered your invitation."

With a slow return nod, Saint-Germain regarded Saari. "Heer van Hoek told me you still have some trouble to contend with."

"I have lost some of the coordination on my left side, which has left me leaning a bit," he explained uncomfortably. "And in spite of all Ludmilla Borisevna and Heer van Hoek could do, part of my hand is numb, and from time to time, I get dizzy headaches."

"I'm sorry to hear it." He came across the room to the stove. "I've been told you are not permitted to continue as a Watchman."

He took a last sip of tea and set the dish aside. "That's right, because I can't run very fast and sometimes my headaches limit my work-not often, but enough to bring doubt on my ability to do what must be done," he admitted, making an attempt to conceal his distress. "I wish I didn't have to give up that work. I have liked being a Watchman."

"What will you do?" Hroger inquired.

Summoning all his courage, Saari addressed Saint-Germain directly, reciting what was obviously a prepared request. "I would like to be your body-guard, Hercegek-you need one. Not the sort some of the foreigners have-strong men who keep others at bay-but as someone who can watch for trouble, identify those who may have reason to harm you, and make note of any untoward persons paying too much attention to you." When Saint-Germain said nothing, he added, "I know most of the thieves and robbers in Piter, and I can deter them from preying upon you, all without fuss."

"I do not like to think of myself as a man with enemies," said Saint-Germain, "but I am sure I must have them."

"And they are all the worse if you don't know who they are," said Saari.

"I will not argue that," said Saint-Germain, his voice dropping. "But I have no wish to offend anyone, which would only compound the problem."

"I'm discreet-Watchmen learn to be, because we see things that are best kept silent." Saari put his hand on his puukko, tucked into a rawhide scabbard on his belt-the skinning-knife was the traditional weapon carried by Finns, and Yrjo Saari was no exception to the custom. "I can also be silent and deadly, if that's called for. I may not be able to run as swiftly as I used to, but I know how to follow a trail and I can wait in ambush when ambush is called for."

"I hope I will have no need of such skills," Saint-Germain said with feeling.

"It may come to that, however," Saari said, "depending upon the enemy."

Saint-Germain considered this. "Shall we say we will try for a month, and at that time discuss what you have seen? I want no invented foes, or exaggerated dangers, presented to me as a way to ensure longer employment, simply an accurate report. Your candor will be more valuable to me than any fabrication."

Saari straightened himself as much as his body would allow. "I am a Finn, and I would disgrace myself if I were to offer false intelligence to you, Hercegek. Fables are for recitations around the evening fire, not for misleading those who do us good."

"An excellent distinction," said Hroger with a quick glance at Saint-Germain. "Think of how useful Natalis was," he said in Imperial Latin.

"Those were different circumstances; this man is not a thief," said Saint-Germain in the same language, but with a note of wariness in his voice. He thought for a bit, his memories casting back to Delhi, to the Jou'an-Jou'an camps, to Aachen, to Cuzco, to Moscow, and he said suddenly, speaking once more in Russian, "But what would be the harm? At the worst I will be alerted to danger, at best I will learn there is no danger and the alert is unnecessary." He held out his hand to Saari. "In a month, then. You may eat with the servants. I'll give you some Turkish sequins against your wages so you'll have coins in your pocket. Hroger, if you will bring me half a dozen? And two louis d'or, in case there are some here who will not take Turkish coins." It was a generous amount and all three of them knew it.

"I will be back directly," said Hroger, and went off toward Zozia's and Saint-Germain's bedchamber.

"You won't regret this, Hercegek," said Saari with feeling.

"I trust not," said Saint-Germain, taking a turn about the room. "I gather from this that you want more than employment; you actually do suspect something or someone of intending to do me harm."

Saari nodded. "When I was injured, one of the men who found me said it had to have been the same men following the Hungarian."

"They might have meant Janos Czobor," Saint-Germain suggested.

"They might have, but they didn't. No gangs have bothered him that I have heard of," Saari declared. "Everything points to you, Hercegek, and to a plan to cripple or kill you; I expect they will try again."

"Then you and I have much to think about, and we will need to prepare," said Saint-Germain. He stopped by the single bookcase in the house, with its one hundred thirty-four volumes in eight languages. "Can you read?"

"A little, Hercegek, mostly Finn, some Russian, and a bit of Swedish, if the words aren't too hard; I know German when I see it, but I don't know the words. A Lutheran priest ran a school in Pieksamaki, and my father sent me there for three years. I can do simple sums, too. That's one of the reasons they made me a supervisor."

In spite of all he had learned about this northern part of the world, Saint-Germain was still amazed by the high illiteracy he encountered: not only did most of the people not read or write, but a vast majority of the Russian clergy and nobles were also unlettered. "That is useful-and rare."

"I've found it so: both useful and rare." He paused. "Will you want me to write reports?" His uncertainty was obvious.

"Only if necessary, if there is some kind of official inquiry; other wise I would prefer not to commit much to paper," said Saint-Germain. He turned toward Hroger, who had returned with a small leather pouch in his hand. "Very good, Hroger. Thank you." He took the pouch and opened it, counting out the eight coins. "As agreed, Saari. If you accept these, you are in my employ."

Saari took the money with an expression of misgiving, as if he expected to see the coins vanish. "Kiitos," he said as he put the coins into the leather wallet attached to his belt.

Saint-Germain dismissed his thanks with a wave. "I am sure you will earn." He paced the width of the room. "If you will return tomorrow morning, at eight o'clock, we can arrange a schedule for you, and decide how best to employ your skills. Then you may accompany me out to the second treadmill-pump, and afterward tell me what you observe."

Saari nodded emphatically. "Do you want me in livery? I don't think it would be wise, but I know some of the nobles here insist upon it."

"I will see you are provided a badge for your sleeve, but otherwise, a degree of anonymity will stand you in good stead." Saint-Germain hoped he had a few of the Arco-Tolvay badges with him: three golden-billed storks rising in flight against a field of blue. Such a badge had been provided for Adolphus Gronigen and Hroger, but the other servants wore the five silver caltrops against three dented bands, brown, red, and brown, the arms of Nisko.

"As you say, Hercegek," Saari said, and prepared to leave. "Until tomorrow morning, then. I'll have a look around your stables, to see if anyone has been stealing tack or feed. It will be a first step, to assure you of my abilities." He ducked his head and made for the door, Hroger close behind him to see him out.

When Saari was gone, Saint-Germain turned to Hroger, speaking the Saxon dialect of seven centuries ago. "Well, old friend, what do you think? Am I being a too-suspicious dupe, seeing foes in every shadow?"

"I wouldn't have thought so, my master: Yrjo Saari is sincere in his purpose, and I doubt he would believe that there are foes in the shadows if there were no cause for consternation." Hroger went to pick up the plate Saari had used.

"But what would be the purpose of maintaining surveillance on me?" As he asked it, he reminded himself that he was a stranger here, with more than one thing to hide.

Hroger thought about it. "It may be more a matter of watching this household, not just you," he said at last.

"You mean that Zozia is the focus of their efforts?" Saint-Germain mulled this over. "Poland is supposed to be an ally of Russia. Why would a Pole be regarded with suspicion?"

"You assume it is the Russians who are watching you, or watching Zozia," said Hroger. "As you reminded me when we were in Roma to assist Niklos Aulirios in keeping his legacy, it was not only the Romans who were acting against you, and against Niklos."

Saint-Germain studied Hroger closely. "You have been thinking about this for some time, have you not."

"I have-since you were first attacked. The Watchmen said it appeared your attackers were Lithuanians, but that may be only a useful fiction. There are a number of Lithuanian gangs, and they are so easily suspected that no one will accuse them formally due to the risk of torture to the accuser. Many of the Lithuanians support the Swedes, some for the advantage they gain, some out of traditional alliances. You as an impostor can expect no support from Augustus if your masquerade is revealed, and the Russians will torture you, no matter what the situation, if you are denounced. Half the murders in this city go unreported, and there is as much gossip as information in the denouncements made, which torture only compounds." He put the dish in a European washtub behind the stove. "The first attack might have been an accident, of course. The second wasn't."

"No; it was deliberate," Saint-Germain agreed. "As I suppose the first was, as well, for similar reasons."

"Then it's a worthwhile precaution to have Saari guard you," said Hroger, and went on in Russian, "Is there anything more you require of me, or shall I go to the market now?"

"Come help me make myself presentable, and we can discuss this further," said Saint-Germain, also in Russian.

"What time does the English Resident expect to arrive?"

"Eleven o'clock. We have plenty of time." Saint-Germain headed for the bedchamber. "That iris-colored damask and ecru linen should do for a visit from the English Resident."

"With the English wig," said Hroger. "I have cleaned it for you, perfumed it so you cannot smell the charring, and reset the pigeon's-wings curls. You are lucky that the English wigs are so distinctive-they're not so likely to be stolen."

"All right-with the English wig; it's not as bulky as the German," said Saint-Germain. "Also the turquoise waistcoat."

He had been dressed for little more than twenty minutes when Zozia returned from the bath-house, her wooden shoes clumping as she hurried to her portion of the bedchamber, Salomea hastening after her. He rose from the chair where he had been reading and bowed to Zozia, who glared at him, then rushed on.

"Narkiss," Zozia shouted to their cook from her portion of the bedroom, "sausage and onions. In fifteen minutes!"

From the depths of the servants' room, Narkiss muttered his intention to do so. "I have to go out to the stable for eggs," he called.

"Then do it!" Zozia shouted back.

Hroger, who had been washing the dishes in the washtub, looked up. "My master?"

"We will learn in time," said Saint-Germain. He resumed his reading, his concentration fully on the account by a French Jesuit of his three years in Japan.

Hroger finished his chores and left to procure meat for the evening meal, some of which he would consume in private. Narkiss came in from the stable carrying a small basket containing four eggs and a large brown onion. He stopped in front of the stove, opened the firebox and thrust in a split log, then reached for the pan, and then for the tub of butter; as the stove heated once again, Narkiss chopped the onion, then put butter into the pan to sizzle.

Saint-Germain had covered almost fifty pages when Zozia emerged from the bedchamber, now resplendent in an amber gown with a Viennese farthingale and a long stomacher; her petticoats were revealed in the front, a multi-tiered profusion of straw-colored point-lace, which also cascaded from her elbows to her wrists. He closed his book and stood. "Magnificent, Ksiezna," he said with a slight bow.

"Where is my breakfast?" she asked, paying almost no attention to him.

Narkiss indicated the pan. "The onions are nearly ready. I have only to whip the eggs."

"Then do it," she said, and rounded on Saint-Germain. "I'm told you're taking on a body-guard."

"I am," he said. "Do you object?"

"Of course I object," she snapped, and stamped her foot. "How do you think it looks for you to have someone protecting you?"

"Given that I've been attacked twice, I think it will appear that I am being prudent," he said, unperturbed.

"Report the attacks to the Czar's officers and-"

"And be taken by the soldiers and tortured to determine if my accusations are valid? I would prefer not."

"Oh, very good," she jeered. "Everyone will say that." Her laughter was filled with fury.

"Very probably," he said.

"The Czar doesn't go about with body-guards," she accused him.

"No; the Czar goes about with his poteshnyes-far better protection than body-guards," said Saint-Germain.

Zozia stood still, her gaze fulminating. "It reflects badly on Augustus that one of his representatives must be guarded in the Czar's city."

"It would reflect poorly on the Czar if his ally's representative should be attacked again, or if you should be attacked," Saint-Germain said calmly, anticipating a vehement denial that never came.

"No one would attack me!"

Behind Saint-Germain, Narkiss broke eggs into a bowl and began to whip them with a slotted spoon. "Have your breakfast, Ksiezna. We can talk when you have eaten."

"You will not deter me so easily," she warned him. "We have to discuss your decision. I won't let you frighten me into agreeing to this foolishness."

"Why is it foolishness?" Saint-Germain asked her.

"It makes you seem epicene, and that makes all Poland look poltroonish."

"But I am Hungarian," he reminded her.

She glowered at him. "It is a slight to Polish honor, no matter what you are, because you're here on the order of Augustus. You would lack my rank even if you were Polish, so you should be willing to obey me. But I'm not going to tell the King that you have shown yourself to be a coward unless you force me."

"How does having a body-guard make me a coward? I mean to protect you as well as myself-is that not one of my obligations to Augustus? To see that you come to no harm?" he inquired as she pushed by him and went up to the stove.

"Don't wrap your cowardice in your duty to me: it's offensive." She watched Narkiss work the eggs and onions in the pan, her face shining from her exchange with Saint-Germain; she did not turn to look at him again, and so he left her to her breakfast while he went back to his book.

Text of a letter from Benedykt Rozmowaslad, Ksiaze Radom, at Gdynia, to his sister, Zozia, Ksiezna Nisko, at Sankt Piterburkh, carried by Royal Messenger and delivered on August 16th, 1704.

To the most exalted Zozia, Ksiezna Nisko, the greeting of Benedykt, Ksiaze Radom, her most loving brother.

Zozia,

As you may have already been informed, I will shortly take ship for Sankt Piterburkh, leaving from the harbor here at Gdynia for the mouth of the Neva. This journey will make four ports of call before arriving in Russia, and that means you will have this in hand at least three weeks before I reach you, since Augustus has given permission for me to send it via his own courier. You will have time enough to arrange for some kind of housing for me-the Polish Resident has already informed the King that he has no place within his allocated house to put me. You may experience the same difficulty, for from what I hear, you will not have much room to spare. I rely upon you and your fraud of a husband to arrange something suitable. I promise I will not interfere with your spying, which will please our King, little as your sham of a spouse may like it.

I have spent most of the spring at Sarna Potok overseeing the planting for the year and arranging for another four large fields to be cleared in anticipation of a goodly number of calves and foals by the start of summer. You may not believe it, but I think we can double our herds in the next three years if all goes well and neither the Swedes nor the Russians sack the estate.

Uncle Bartek has attempted once again to find me a wife, and once again he has failed. I have seen the woman-a Bohemian Graf-fen, and I am not inclined to accept the terms proposed. I may need to have sons before I'm old, but not with a woman with a squint and four black teeth. Uncle Bartek is very disappointed in me, or so he says; I have asked him to look further for a woman whose rank is nearly equal to my own, and whose lands and substance will complement what I have. So far, Uncle Bartek has not achieved such a proposed match. I have advised him to use you as his model, and find me a woman as much like you as is possible, in appearance, in position, and in wealth. He has said he may have to go as far as France to find what I seek, and I have told him to pack his bags. He may be the senior relative, but he cannot force me into an untenable marriage.

And speaking of untenable marriages, I understand your husband remains among the missing. We can but hope that he doesn't arrive in Russia to denounce your companion for trading upon his reputation and good name. Arco-Tolvay, as I recall him, is not the sort of man to swallow such an insult as your pretender represents; he would be inclined to make a denouncement at the very least. I must admit, I'm curious to meet his stand-in, for I believe he must have bravery to undertake this mission with you. From what Augustus has told me, it requires a man of daring to make your imposture a success. No doubt I'll be jealous of him, but you know best how to end that. And I am willing to admire his dedication to our Polish cause.

They say that Frederick IV is being careful regarding the Swedish advances, and has avoided throwing in the lot of Denmark with that of Sweden. Given that the Czar is besieging whatever the name of that accursed Baltic port may be, the Danes are holding back, awaiting the results of the campaign, and Frederick IV is a most clever King when it comes to alliances. Imagine having to base your fortunes on the whims of the Russians. You can surely tell me what you have learned for Augustus while I'm visiting that latest piece of Czar Piotyr's attempt to be European, or Scandinavian, or whatever he seeks to be this month.

The Apollo will sail in three days, and I should arrive by the end of August at the latest, bringing you cases of wine and barrels of food, for I am told that Sankt Piterburkh is in short supply of both, and such a gift should guarantee my welcome in your household. So until that time, my dearest sister,

I am your most faithful brother,

Benedykt

July 5th, 1704