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The Scarlet Eroica

Chapter Text

Paris, Feb 1, 1793

 

Daylight was waning, and the sentries on duty at Paris’ West Gate were looking forward to their evening meal and the pint of ale that would accompany it.  Traffic through the gate had slowed to a trickle, particularly since the latest edict restricted travel by aristos wanting to flee the city.  The lieutenant smirked at that thought; soon enough, the despised aristocrats would have more reason to flee.  Even now, the Committee was arresting the traitors, destined to follow their deposed king to the guillotine.

The creaking sound of a cart approaching the gate caught his attention, as did the doleful ringing of the bell carried by the old man following the death cart.  "Unclean!" the bell proclaimed, and the soldiers guarding the gate drew back as they cast uneasy looks at the slow-moving cart pulled by the old man’s hulking son.  The lieutenant took a quick look at the cart with its burden of bodies bound for the charnel pits and then nodded familiarly at the old man.

"A light load today, old father," he said.

The man shrugged eloquently.  "L’ange de la morte, she has her moods.  There will be more dead of the plague tomorrow, or next week."

The lieutenant faltered in his stroll towards the cart even as his men drew back further.  The word ‘plague’ still had the ability to freeze a man’s blood and anyone would think twice before risking its embrace.  He turned away from the cart, gesturing to his men.

"Open the gate!"

The cart made its slow way through the gate and down the winter-rutted road leading away from the city.  The old man followed, ringing his bell and muttering to himself, causing the few travelers they met to give the little procession a wide berth.  At a branch in the road, the half-wit son pulled the cart onto the path that led to the charnel pits outside the city.  A rough hut stood in the shadow of the woods, some distance away from the stench of death, and the half-wit halted outside of it.  He set down the handles of the cart and began struggling out of the harness.  The old man, moving quickly for his advanced years, hurried forward to help him with the stiff buckles.

"Are you all right, Lord Tournay?" he asked softly, in a more cultured tone than he’d used with the guard at the gate.

The man nodded, shrugging out of the rough straps with a wince, his shoulders unaccustomed to such heavy labor.  "My wife and son?"

The old man turned to the cart, flipping back the burlap sacking that had shielded the bodies from public view.  One of the corpses blinked at the sudden light, pushed up into a sitting position, and looked around.  Her eyes lit up at the sight of her husband and she held out her arms to him.

"My love!" she said, her voice anxious.  "Are we safe?"

"We are out of the city but not yet safe while we are in France," he said as he helped her down from the cart

The younger corpse sat up and grimaced as he brushed at the ugly pustules afixed to his arms.  "La, these will be the very devil to wash off!"

"Easier than blood would have been, Philippe."  A handsome young Englishman walked out of the hut as he spoke, and the young Vicomte de Tournay's face lit up.  

"John-Paul!  You are our savior, m’sier."

"Not I," John-Paul said, helping the young man down from the cart.  "The honour goes to that man," he added, gesturing toward the old man who was now leaning against the cart with his back toward them as he began wiping off the heavy make-up distorting his features.  "And he is Eroica."

"The Prince of Thieves?" the Countess de Tournay queried, casting an intrigued look over at the man.

"The very same, my lady," John-Paul said, bowing slightly to her.  "But we must move.  Soldiers will be patrolling the woods shortly and it is a long ride to the coast."

The man who had played the half-wit, now revealed to be the Comte de Tournay, turned to John-Paul.  "Never-the-less, we are in your debt, my lord.  You have stood our friend, as you swore.  If ever I may repay your kindness, be assured that I will."  

They mounted, the Comte and his lady on one horse, John-Paul on another with the young Vicomte de Tournay mounted pillion behind him.  As they rode off towards the woods and beyond that the road to the coast, a stocky man emerged from the hut bearing a basin of water.  Eroica pulled off the grey wig and his curly blond hair tumbled to his shoulders.  He plunged his hands into the basin.

"Well, Bonham?" Eroica asked as he splashed his face with the icy water.

"The old man and his son be inside, snoring o'er their pints," Bonham said, gesturing with his thumb towards the hut.  'They'll wake in the morn, none the wiser 'bout their part in today's doin's."

"Good.  I'll be happy to return to stealing artwork; smuggling out the de Tournays has nearly shattered my nerves."

"The Daydream be off the coast, m'lord, ready to sail for England once we're on board."

"Excellent."   He rubbed a wet rag over his face, finishing the task of removing the make-up that disguised his aristocratic features.  "Take no chances as you make for the coast – stick to the woods along the road and watch for patrols."

"You’re not coming with us, m’lord?" Bonham asked, watching as his employer shed his rough coat and heavy brogues, exchanging them for garments more suitable for his station in society.

"And miss my sister’s soiree this evening?" Eroica asked in mock horror as he settled the coat about his shoulders.  "She would murder me - it is her lord husband's birthday."

Bonham gave him a shrewd look.  "I expect it ain't Lady Margaret’s party but her guest list that draws you, m'lord, if Major von dem Eberbach be invited.  Still hopin’ to give him a tumble?"

Eroica made a face as he tied his cravat, knowing that without a mirror it wouldn't look as elegant as usual.  "Bonham, my blushes!"

"When'll you give up tha' pipe dream?"

"Never!" he said, standing up and shaking out his ruffles as he finished his transition from the Prince of Thieves to the foppish Earl of Gloria, Dorian Red.  His air changed from brisk efficiency to languid dreaminess as he said, "The Major is my Destiny!"

"Aye, m’lord, and he nearly punched you the last time you said that," Bonham said drily.  "And pulled his pistol on you the time 'fore that."

"His response is becoming less violent!" Dorian said brightly.  "A sign that he is relenting."

Bonham rolled his eyes.  "Keep telling yerself that, m’lord."  

Dorian laughed.  "I will spend a few days in Paris, Bonham, then my entourage will make its leisurely way to Brussels while I make a rather quick side-trip to Bonn.  There are a few pieces I want to add to my personal collection."

"James will have a fit," Bonham said drily.

"I'll bring him back something pretty to sell," Dorian promised.  "Have the Daydream standing off the coast of Belgium in a month."

"Aye, m'lord," Bonham said.  He gave Dorian a leg up, then mounted his own horse and spurred it after John-Paul.  Dorian watched until Bonham had reached the safety of the woods, then gave a cursory glance over the scene.  Satisfied that nothing would give away the game, he turned his horse onto the road and made his leisurely way back toward Paris.

Chapter Text

Soldiers poured into the Rue de Lille, heedless of the citizens of Paris going about their daily business who hastily pulled back into doorways and shops to avoid being run down.  Once they reached the Hotel de Tournay, the captain of the guard pounded on the door and, when there was no response, nodded for his men to  break down the door.  The soldiers rushed through the building, searching each of the floors and every room before returning to their captain.

"The house is empty, sir!" his lieutenant reported.

The captain swore.  "Search again!  Kitchens, basement, attics – they must be here!  Question the servants!  They must know where the Comte and his family have gone!"

"Captain!"  One of the men rushed in.  "We found this, in the Comte’s bedchamber."  He held out a single perfect red rose and a small square calling card.

The captain grabbed the card.  There, writing in flowing script, was a brief message.

 

Since France no longer knows how to cherish its nobility, I have stolen the Comte de Tournay and his family.  I will not be returning them.

From Eroica, with Love

 

The captain crushed the card in his fist, cursing the elusive thief under his breath.  "Find them!  Search the city!  Hunt down the Comte de Tournay and find me this damned thief Eroica!"

Chapter Text

Dorian Red, the 5th Earl of Gloria, paused on the threshold of the Grand Salon of the British embassy in Paris.  He assumed a dramatic pose, well aware of how he would appear to the assembled crowd.  A few years on the right side of thirty, he had been Blessed by nature with a taller-than-average stature, a slender and attractive form, and a face almost too pretty for a man.  As he disdained both wig and powder, he proudly displayed his own golden blond hair.  It cascaded over his shoulders in a riot of curls and tangled with the gold embroidery of his exquisitely fitted coat.  His deceptively indolent blue eyes studied the room, both to gauge reaction and catalog his audience. 

He noted that all the usual players were present: the British Ambassador and his wife, delegates from several of the German states, ambassadors from Spain, Italy and Austria, some of the French aristocracy, and a few members of the National Assembly.  His sister would no doubt be delighted at the success of her little party.

Margaret sighted him at that moment and pounced on him.  "Dorian, you’re late!" she scolded as she drag him over to where her husband stood talking with several members of the German legation.  "It's too bad of you!  Percy, tell Dorian how horrible he is."

"A thousand pardons, Meg, but it couldn’t be helped," Dorian said, in his most affected drawl.  "My cravat, you know."

Sir Percival Blakeney, the British Ambassador to the French Court, leveled his eyeglass at the article of clothing in question.  "Indeed, Gloria. it is dashed intolerable.  Don’t know if my credit can stand being seen with you in that appalling state."

One of the men with whom Sir Percy had been talking growled at the interruption and gave Dorian a cursory glare.  "Looks fine to me," Major Klaus von dem Eberbach said shortly.

"Kind of you to say so, my dear Major," Dorian said, affecting to be flattered by his words.  "But just look at it!"  He lifted his intricately tied cravat with one finger and then let it drop.  "It just lays there, limp – and limpness is not a trait that I’m accustomed to!"

The crowd that had gathered around the Earl of Gloria tittered at his ribald joke and Margaret lightly smacked his arm with her fan. 

Klaus rolled his eyes.  "The only thoughts in that empty head of yours are of sex and clothes."

"And of you, my dear Major," Dorian said, looking coquettishly at him through his eyelashes.  "Although not in conjunction with clothing.  Rather the opposite."

The crowd tittered again and Klaus scowled.  "Verdammt pervert."

Dorian opened his mouth to issue a rejoinder but at that moment the Ambassador's undersecretary, Sir Lawrence, rushed up to them accompanied by one of the Major’s men – the one he called ‘Herr B’.

"Lord Gloria, have you heard about the Comte de Tournay and his family?"

"Please, I implore you, do not tell me that they have been arrested!" Dorian said and shuddered.  "The Vicomte is a personal friend, and I cannot bear the thought of him in a filthy gaol – and without a clean change of linen!"

The Major curled his lip at the mention of clothes again but before he could retort, Herr B said eagerly, "Oh no! The Comte de Tournay, his wife, and their son the Vicomte have all escaped from Paris, just as they were about to be arrested!"

"That dashed thief, Eroica, has spirited them off," Sir Lawrence added.  "Left one of his demmed – beg your pardon ladies!  - cheeky notes."

" ‘From Eroica with Love’," Margaret said dreamily.  "So romantic!"  The other ladies murmured agreement, fluttering their fans.

"That dashed thief has stolen My Lady’s heart from me!" Sir Percy said with a laugh and Margaret gave him a brilliant smile that said quite the opposite.

Klaus scowled.  "The man is a criminal, a thief.  Jewels, artwork – and now people!"

"But dashed romantic," Dorian drawled, fanning himself lightly.  "Taking what he likes, leaving no trace behind.  And now vanishing with the de Tournays."

"He shall not have another such opportunity," said a harsh new voice behind them.  

The group turned, uneasy murmurs rising at they recognized the man.  Both the Earl of Gloria and Sir Percival raised their eyeglasses to study him, taking in his clothing - rough boots, black frock coat, country waistcoat, and the cockade declaring him a Jacobin - as well as the distinctive scar on his cheek.  Dorian visibly shuddered at the badly tied cravat around the man's neck and averted his eyes.

"And you are?" Sir Percival asked, raising his eyebrows at his unexpected guest.

"Citizen Franco Juliani," the man said, scowling at the English aristocrats standing before him.  He turned to Klaus, saying, "I am relieved to hear that you think little of this thief, Major.  You and I appear to be the only sensible men at this gathering."  Juliani looked around him with undisguised disgust.

Klaus scowled, not pleased to be linked to a damned frog.  "The thief is not without his good points.  He is competent at what he does and he is brave."

There were murmurs of agreement and more fluttering of fans, and the Ambassador deftly moved to change subjects.

"Herr B, I understand that you are soon to leave us?"

Herr B nodded and, after a cautious look at his superior, added,  "I have been assigned to the Court of Saint James, as a liaison between our delegations here and there.  I leave at the end of the week."

"What a happy coincidence!" Dorian exclaimed. "I am returning to London in a few days myself, via Brussels, on a matter of great importance."

"More clothes?" Klaus asked sardonically.

"Boots," Dorian said simply, gesturing down at his feet.  "The French are geniuses for fashion but their boot-making is atrocious.  Give me good English leather any day."  He gave Citizen Juliani an apologetic look.  "No offense intended, Monsieur."

Juliani looked the Earl up and down and curled his lip.  "Your entire person is an offense."  

He turned his back on Dorian, focusing his attention on Klaus, ignoring the angry mutters from the crowd around them. The Earl of Gloria was a great favorite with the majority of the diplomatic corps and they took the insult towards him personally.  Dorian, on the other hand, surveyed the Citizen with amusement.

"Major, I understand that many of your countrymen are sympathetic to our goals.  May I assume that you are one such?" Juliani asked, looking certain of a favorable response.

He was not to get one.  Major von dem Eberbach was given to harsh outbursts, even violence, toward the foppish Earl of Gloria.  However, the irritating pervert was his to insult, not this buffoon's.  

"No, you may not so assume," he said harshly.  "Your revolution may have had lofty goals at first, but it has become little more than an uncontrolled mob thirsting for blood.  You have murdered your king and invaded my homeland.  You receive no sympathy from me."

There was a gasp from the onlookers and Juliani’s face turned an ugly shade of red that made his scar stand out even more.  Klaus ignored him as he turned to Dorian and said curtly, "Lord Gloria, you will give me advice on having Herr B obtain such boots from London.  They cannot, of course, compare to good German boots, but I have to make due until I can return home."

A delighted smile lit up Dorian’s face and he gave Klaus a little bow in acknowledgement.  "Your devoted servant, Major."  He gestured toward a secluded area of the drawing room.  "Shall we talk privately?"

Klaus snorted.  "Don’t be an idiot, Gloria."  He stomped over to the punch bowl.

Dorian gave Juliani a flourishing bow, just to infuriate the man.  "Your servant, Citizen.  Margaret – ladies."  He kissed his fingers to them and then followed Klaus.

Neither man saw the ugly look that suffused Citizen Juliani’s face, or the white knuckles on his clenched hand.  But Margaret and Herr B saw, and each feared that the Earl and the Major had made a bitter enemy. 

Chapter Text

 

Part 2: Our Cast Expands

Chapter 1: New Orders

 

 

March 1, 1793

 

Major Klaus von dem Eberbach stared down on the Place de la Revolution from the offices of the Cologne Legation, temporarily lodged in the French Naval building.  In the past month since the beheading of the French king, activity in the Place had increased, and none of it pleasant. The guillotine seemed to be permanently placed there.  And with the creation of the Watch Committee and the subsequent arrests of many of the nobility and clergy of France, it looked like more would follow their king into the guillotine's embrace.  

 

He frowned as he watched the crowds gather in anticipation of the afternoon’s ‘entertainment’.  He, like Goethe and many other Germans of his age and station, had approved of the initial goals of the Revolution: equality for all and an end to the excesses of the nobility.  But the rise of the more extreme factions in the new government, the increased violence of the mobs culminating in the September Massacres, the death of Louis XVI, and now the bloody bickering between the two most prominent factions in the National Assembly, had left a bad taste in his mouth.  

 

Klaus turned away from the window, his attention once more on the letter from his father.  The French had invaded the Rhineland the previous year, and although they had not yet reached Bonn, the unrest in the area worried him.  He would have asked for leave to return to Bonn, had his duty not been elsewhere.

 

"Major!"

 

He turned towards his current superior, the consul sent from the Electorate of Cologne, with a scowl.  The man was an idiot, a fat toady to whoever was in power at the moment, and the Major had little respect for him. The fact that Herr Twittenheim didn't appear to notice his contempt reinforced his disrespect for the man.

 

"Sir," he said stiffly.

 

The Consul held out a document.  "Your new orders, Major.  You are to leave for London at the end of the week."

 

His scowl deepened.  "I prefer to remain at my post here, sir."

 

"Your sentiments do you credit, Major.  However, it is no longer safe for you to remain here in Paris, given your family’s connection to the Habsburgs."  He gave Klaus a patronizing smile, one that made the Major grind his teeth with suppressed fury.  The Consul’s own roots were plebeian at best, and in consequence he both fawned on and resented those of higher birth.

 

Klaus waved a hand in dismissal; he had never paid much attention to the family bloodlines, given that he had no intention of fathering another generation – that was his older brother’s duty.  "A distant connection at best, sir."

 

"Graf von dem Eberbach is concerned, and the Archbishop agrees that the execution of his brother-in-law puts any German of blood at risk.  Better safe than sorry, eh?"

 

Klaus took the papers, resisting the urge to snarl at the man.  "Yes, sir."

 

"You will take your Alphabets with you," the Consul continued, handing over another set of documents.  "Although once you are settled, you are to send back one of them to act as liaison between our offices.  Perhaps that sweet Herr G?"

 

He leered and Klaus resolved to send anyone but Herr G.  Perhaps Z would be best; Herr Z was intelligent and capable, although not as experienced as Herr A.  And he was a good Catholic German boy, not likely to succumb to the perverted attentions of the Consul.

 

"Is there anything else, sir?" he asked.

 

"You must seek an audience with the King and his ministers," Twittenheim added.  "England must come to our country's aid, before France swallows us all whole.  It is vital, Major.  You must not fail."

 

Klaus made a face but nodded his understanding.  The Prince of Wales held a lot of power in England at the moment, given George III's fluctuating health.  He also stood in the center of the decadent crowd that Gloria moved in, and Klaus knew that he'd be unable to avoid the man's society.

 

As if reading his mind, the Consul added, "Make some friends among those in the Prince of Wales' circle - that will help.  Your friend, the Earl of Goria, is a prime favorite - start there."

 

"Gloria is not my friend," Klaus growled but the Consul ignored him, advising him to go home to pack for his trip.

 

Klaus had never felt more like swearing.

Chapter Text

Part 2: Our Cast Expands

Chapter 2: A Misplaced Note

 

Klaus informed the Alphabets about their change in orders.  While Herr A and C were too seasoned to betray their emotions, the younger men's relief was visible.  He supposed that he couldn't blame them, even if he growled at them for their unprofessional displays of their feelings.  Paris wasn't a pleasant place to be at present, even if one wasn't an aristocrat or French.  Uncertainty was in the air and revolution had played hell with the most basic of services.  At the inn where he lodged the meals had become nearly inedible and the housekeeping even worse.  Perhaps England would be a change for the better, even if it was further from home.  And if he could secure the help that the Electorate needed...

"Where are Herr Z and G?" he asked, looking around the room and not seeing them.  

"Herr G had a fitting with his tailor," Herr A replied, "And Herr Z is securing a box at the theater for the Consul.  He is entertaining Citizen Juliani this evening."

Klaus frowned at that.  The less that his men had dealings with the current French government, the better Klaus liked it.  "Herr  D, inform Herr G of the new orders.  Herr C, contact the harbormaster and make arrangements to sail in three days.  The rest of you are dismissed except for Herr A - you are to be packed and ready for departure on Friday."

The men scattered to take care of their preparations while Herr A waited for them to clear the room.

"Major?"

"Herr A, you are the only married man in my employ but I need you with me in London.  You are free to make whatever arrangements are best for your family - I will see that travel documents are approved for them."

Herr A nodded.  "Thank you, Major.  I confess that I've been thinking about sending them home to Bonn lately, given the unrest here in Paris.  I will discuss it with my wife tonight and let you know our decision in the morning."  He picked up his hat and coat.  "Should I find Herr Z and let him know of the change?"

"No, I will find him - you go see to your family."

Herr A nodded and hurried out of the room. Klaus tidied his desk and secured the papers he wanted to review that night in his satchel, then donned his coat against the chill February weather.  Skirting the crowd gathered at the Place de la Revolution, he strode off towards the theater while he scanned the people he passed looking for Z.

Which is why he noticed Colonel Misha even though the Prussian agent was keeping to the shadows as he made his way down the street.  Klaus frowned, naturally suspicious about the other man's movements - they had tangled too many times in the past when their rival States' interests clashed.  

Careful not to be seen, Klaus followed the other man, ducking into a doorway when the Prussian paused in the shadow of one of the alleyways.  Another man stepped out of the shadows and Klaus recognized him as an agent of the Austrian government.  The two men spoke for a moment before the Austrian passed Misha a note and then hurried off. Misha looked around him for a moment and Klaus was careful to remain hidden.  Reassured, Misha opened the note and scanned it, then closed it and tucked it into the sleeve of his coat.  He turned and collided with a passing citizen; cursing the man, Misha straightened his disarranged clothing and then strode off again without looking back.

And didn't realize that the hastily concealed note had fallen from its hiding place and lay on the street.  

Klaus quickly snatched it up and stuck it into a pocket, not about to commit the same mistake, and continued on his errand.

Herr Z was just leaving the theater office when Klaus arrived and the change in orders was quickly given.  And so it was less than thirty minutes later that Klaus was settled before the fire in his private room at the inn, the door securely locked and the note opened in his hand - a note outlining a plan to free the imprisoned Queen of France and her children.

His first thought was to burn the note - it was too dangerous of a thing to be found with.  His second thought was to retain it against future need, should Colonel Misha attempt to undermine the Electorate in future.  It would need to be hidden, though, for to be found with it on his person would be a death sentence.  It would have to be locked in his work desk with his most private papers, then, first thing in the morning.  

With the grim but satisfying thought of how Misha could be bent to serve Klaus' mission, the Major settled down for a restful night's sleep.

Chapter Text

Part 2: Our Cast Expands

Chapter 3: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

 

February 1793

 

On the outskirts of Bonn lay the Schloss where the von dem Eberbach family made their home.   It was an impressive dwelling, originally one of the Eberbach secondary holdings, brought into the family through a prudent marriage with the illegitimate-but-acknowledged offspring of a Habsburg king.  It had become the family's primary dwelling during the Thirty Years War, after Swedish forces had sacked and burned the town of Eberbach.  The family had fled prior to the invasion, alarmed by the encroachment of fighting and the sickness that accompanied it, and had managed to convey many of their personal treasures to Bonn with them.  Among the most noted was their art gallery, containing one of the finest collections in the Holy Roman Empire.

High up on the castle walls, a figure in black crept along the shadows and entered through a tower door.  The thief, the Prince of Thieves indeed, made his way down the turret steps and through the silent hallways.  Eroica didn't fear discovery for he'd studied his prey with great care.  The Graf von dem Eberbach had moved to southern Switzerland at the start of the French hostilities.  His eldest son and heir, along with his wife and children, had recently gone to visit his wife's family in Brussels, and the younger son, Major Klaus, was in Paris.  The remaining servants had retired to their rooms after supper and the under-butler was in his private room with brandy and a cigar.  All of them were blissfully unaware that the choicest pieces of the collection were Eroica's target that night.

Eroica made his way to the side-door and slipped open the bolt, then eased the door open.  It moved soundlessly - partially due to the Eberbachs' attention to detail and partially because Eroica had been applying grease to the hinges during the past two nightly visits.  Outside waited the best of his band of thieves, armed with special frames to slip the small, valuable canvases into once they'd been taken down from the wall.  In the waiting wagon was also a crate for any larger painting that Eroica decided to take.  The band of thieves followed him up the staircase on silent feet, each carefully trained to be as noiseless as possible.  (James had been unleashed on new recruits, lying in wait as they made their way through a difficult obstacle course, ready to fine them for each minuscule noise made.)

Once they reached the gallery, Eroica silently pointed to the three small paintings that he'd selected.  Each of them had a potential buyer waiting, ones who had no qualms about the provenance of the art they acquired.  As the teams of two set about cutting each painting from the wire it was hung on, Eroica prowled along the gallery, looking for anything else that might be of worth.  At the end wall he stopped and stared for a long moment in appreciation of the painting before him.

It was a full body portrait by an unknown artist and the plaque simply read "Tyrian Persimmon".  Dorian Red of Gloria knew that name - all those of the Gloria family did.  The first Earl of Gloria, Luminous Red, had clashed with the notorious spy and pirate several times during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and it had ended with the Gloria earldom for Luminous and a watery grave for Tyrian.  But what caught Dorian's attention the most was the fact that Tyrian Persimmon could have been a dead ringer for Major Klaus von dem Eberbach.

A rueful smile touched Dorian's lips.  How ironic that Dorian should be so infatuated with a descendant of the notorious Persimmon!  He had always thought that Luminous Red's written account of their encounters contained more than a hint of attraction mixed with his hatred of Tyrian.  And in that moment he made a decision - he wanted this painting, but not to sell onward. 

He wanted Tyrian Persimmon for his own personal collection.  Frame and all.

He turned back to his men who had finished their tasks and were awaiting further orders.  Eroica gestured and Bonham came over so that he could murmur his  instructions, aware of how easily noise would travel along the gallery.  Bonham turned back to the crew and Eroica collected one of the containers so that his men would be free to carry the large painting.  

A short time later, with Persimmon's portrait carefully encased in the large crate, the wagon and its accompanying riders made their way towards Belgium and the Daydream waiting off-shore.

Chapter Text

Part 2: Our Cast Expands

Chapter 4: Blackmail is Such an Ugly Word

 

On Friday morning, Major von dem Eberbach sent the last of his belongings to his ship, the brigantine Leopard, under the care of Herr Z.  While he was not happy to be going to London with its foul weather and idiotic citizenry, he could not help but be relieved to be away from Paris.  During the past few days alone the number of arrests had doubled and every foreign national was being eyed with suspicion.  It would be good to be away from this revolution, even if he could not yet breathe good German air.

After turning over his key to the landlady, Klaus made his way to the office to collect the official files and documents too sensitive to risk leaving untended at the inn.  The Consul had also promised to have the letters of introduction to the Court of St. James ready for him.  However, when Klaus entered the offices of the German legation, he found that the Consul was absent.

"No doubt he's still in bed, or eating a second breakfast, the lazy slob," Klaus fumed.  "If we miss the tide, it will be his own damned fault!"

Klaus went to his desk and made quick work of transferring his personal and work papers to his satchel, then he frowned as he checked over them again.  The note that he'd found wasn't in the locked drawer where he'd secured it, or in any of the other drawers. "Where in the hell..." 

"Are you looking for this?"

Klaus swung around at the words and found Citizen Franco Juliani standing in the doorway to the Consul's office.  In his hand was a small piece of paper, and Klaus could tell from the distinctive folds that it was the note he'd found in the street.  The note that had been locked in his private desk.

"Does your New France include breaking into personal property and theft?" Klaus growled.

"One might question why you felt the need to lock such papers away," Juliani said, slowly unfolding the note.  " 'Inform your people that we will provide the Dauphin's location as soon as we know it.'  You are talking about treason, Major."

Klaus scowled.  "It's not my note, dammit.  I found it."

"Found?"

"I saw it dropped in the street and picked it up."

Juliani narrowed his eyes and smiled at him, an ugly sort of smile that made the scar on his cheek stand out even more.  "Very tidy of you, Major.  Which of your men dropped it?  Who are you trying to shield?"

"It wasn't my men," Klaus snapped.  "They were Prussians."

"Ah," Juliani said with satisfaction.  "I thought that Colonel Mischa might be involved, given his ties to the Austrian government."  He waved the note in the air.  "You should have reported this to the Committee when you found it."

"I am not French and I owe no loyalty to your Committee," Klaus retorted.  "It's none of my damn business."

Juliani scowled.  "When it concerns treason and threatens our government, it's everyone's business." 

"Well then, thank God that I'll soon be leaving France!  I want nothing more to do with you or your Committee or your damned country!"

"Ah, but your men will be coming back to Paris from time to time, won't they?" Juliani pointed out, a greedy and gleeful look distorting his features.  "To report to your boss, carrying orders back and forth.  It would be a shame if one of them fell foul of the Committee - and because of your lack of cooperation.  Perhaps that sweet Herr G that the Consul is so fond of?  Or Herr A, with his wife and family?"

Klaus scowled.  "That's blackmail."

"Such an ugly word," Juliani said, smirking.  "I prefer to think of it as a guarantee of your cooperation."

"In. what. way," Klaus bit out.

Juliani held up the note.  "You leave this with me.  You don't breathe a word about where or how you found it.  You don't tell anyone about its contents or warn your Prussian friends that I have it."

"They aren't my friends," Klaus snapped.  Then, reluctantly, he said, "What do you intend to do with that information?"

Juliani shrugged.  "Nothing, for now.  They will be watched and if they behave themselves...."

Klaus scowled but before he could say anything else, the Consul entered the office.

"Ah, there you are, Major!" Herr Twittenheim said, waving a document in the air.  "Here are your official orders, and letters of introduction."  He paused at the sight of Juliani and frowned.  "Citizen Juliani?  Did we have an appointment?"

"I just came to wish the Major a safe journey," Juliani said, tucking the note away in his pocket. 

The Consul looked surprised and, given the tension in the room, Klaus thought he'd have to be a bigger idiot than he was to accept that answer.  But Twittenheim just handed over the papers and told him to hurry.  "You don't want to miss the tide, Major!" he said.  "Say farewell to all your men for me - especially that sweet Herr G!"

Klaus scowled at him and then at Juliani but there was nothing else he could say in front of the Consul.  He had to accept that the situation, for the moment, was out of his hands.

Chapter Text

Part 3: England

Chapter 1: A Timely Arrival

 

Klaus stood on the dock at Dover, scanning the messages that had been waiting for him with the harbormaster.  He scowled and glared up at the threatening skies above him while his men exchanged worried looks.

"Verdammt English!  Verdammt England!"  As if in response, it began to rain.  "I hate this country."

"Major!"

Klaus groaned and covered his face with his hand.  That damned British fop!  It needed only this to make his miserable day complete.

The Earl of Gloria crossed the dock toward him, his assistant, Bonham, hovering close with an umbrella held over his Lordship's head.  "How delightful to see you!  Have you just arrived as well?"

"Ja," Klaus said shortly.  He looked around, wondering the odds on hiring transportation to London, never mind the problem about where they would stay upon their arrival.  Herr B would be relocated to the coldest, most miserable place on earth that Klaus could come up with.  Alaska or at least the Arctic Circle, if he could arrange it.

Gloria glanced around, his eyes alighting on the ship that Klaus's men were currently unloading.  "What a beauty!" he said admiringly.  

Klaus jerked his head around, wondering what had caught the idiot’s attention, and was surprised to see that the Earl’s attention was fixed on his ship, the Leopard.  "Ja," he replied.  "She is – "

"A brigantine," Gloria said, his eyes narrowing as he analyzed the ship before them.  "Seventy feet long and 125 tons, at a guess."  He turned to Bonham and said, "You can tell by the sails - her fore-and-aft main sail is set nearly in the plane of her keel instead of athwart. Makes it very fast and maneuverable."  He looked back at Klaus.  "How many swivel guns do you carry? Twelve or sixteen?"

"Ten," Klaus said, impressed despite himself.  Maybe there was something in the fop's head beyond clothes and flirtations.  "Reduces the number of crew needed.  We're a diplomatic mission, not a fighting ship."

Gloria nodded, then gestured towards a smaller ship a little further down the quay.  "That's the Daydream, my ship.  A schooner, light and fast with a shallow draft so we can dock in almost any depth of harbour, but she's not nearly as steady in a storm.  What do you call her?  Is she yours or does she belong to the Consulate?"

"The Leopard is mine," Klaus said, then added before thinking, "I thought you left for England weeks ago."

Gloria's face lit up, as if pleased that Klaus had made note of his movements.  "I left Paris then but I had a few stops around the Continent to make along the way," he said.  "And what brings you to our fair land?"  He glanced around at the "alphabets" gathered on the dock.  "And all your men?  Last time we spoke you seemed settled in Paris for the duration, with only Herr B sent off to London."

"Our orders have changed," Klaus said shortly, then he scowled.  "Not that they haven't been fouled up.  The Prince of Wales can't see us for nearly a month!"

"Of course not," Gloria said, a puzzled look on his face.  "Parliament is on its Easter session break and won't meet again till the start of April.  Nearly everyone of consequence has gone into the country for most of March."

Klaus swore and the men closest to him began to edge away, while Herr Z looked for cover.  The Earl didn't seem to realize the danger he was in, or perhaps he'd never experienced the Major's temper when thwarted.  "This verdammt country!  And now Herr B says that the house he leased for us in London won't be ready for occupation for another two weeks!"  He turned to his men and barked, "Herr D! Herr C!  You will scour the inns of this benighted town and secure us rooms!"

Gloria coughed, drawing Klaus's attention.  "If I might propose an alternate plan?  Castle Gloria is less than sixty miles from here.  If you and your men would consent to be my guests for the next fortnight, then you could easily travel on to London when your house is ready.  The City is only twenty miles beyond my estate."

Klaus frowned; it was a practical solution although it put him in debt to the frippery Earl.

"We can provide you and your men with a great deal of sport," Gloria added.  "The hunting and fishing are particularly fine and the North Downs walking trail is famous.  Then when you are ready to go on to London, I would be delighted to introduce you to the most important members of the Court."

That was too good of an inducement to pass up and, moreover, was part of his orders from the Consul.  "Thank you," Klaus said after a long moment of thought.  "Although there is no need for you to host all of my men - less than a dozen will be sufficient."

Klaus turned to his men, sorting them quickly into three lots.  Herr A and his family had secured their own house in London and they would proceed there directly, to meet with Herr B.  Accompanying them would be Herrs H through M, with instructions to get the house in London sorted as soon as possible.  Herrs N through U had been hired primarily for their skills as sailors and they would remain with the Leopard in Dover, with Herrs V and X alternating as couriers to Paris.  That left Herrs C through G, and Herrs W, Y, and Z to accompany him to Castle Gloria.  He put Herr C in charge of procuring a wagon to convey their luggage and the bulk of his men to Castle Gloria.

"Excellent!" Gloria said, beaming at him.  "Bonham can assist your men with the wagon - he is already hiring one to convey my own belongings," he said, turning to his assistant.  

Klaus thought that the look that Bonham was giving his master was meant to convey something important that he'd forgotten but then the man just sighed and said, "Aye, m'lord."

"And you and Herr Z are welcome to accompany me in my carriage," Gloria added, turning back to Klaus.  "It's new and well-sprung, and I have changes of horses scheduled along the way.  We'll be home by supper!"

The idea of being closed up in a carriage with the fop for hours on end was Klaus's idea of torture, but then Gloria said, "I have riding horses spoken for at the luncheon 'change, if you're of a mind to stretch your legs for a bit.  I find sitting in a carriage tedious in the extreme."

That notion suited Klaus perfected and he accepted with something near civility.  He handed over his travel bag to the coachman and, after giving final instructions to his men, climbed into the carriage. 

The carriage was indeed well appointed and quite roomy, and Klaus was relieved to find that the Earl placed him opposite him rather than forcing him to sit by his side. Another young man was sitting inside and he introduced himself as Lord Timothy Jones, a neighbour and friend of Lord Gloria's.  Jonesy, as the other young man insisted they call him, immediately struck up a conversation with Herr Z about the kind of sport available in the area.  Klaus watched him warily for a few minutes, suspecting that he might be a foppish friend or even lover of the Earl's, but Jonesy appeared to be one of those harmless sport-mad Englishmen so he relaxed his vigilance a little.  

Gloria immediately struck up a conversation about sailing vessels, describing his own in more detail and eagerly questioned Klaus about the Leopard, her history and his ownership.  Klaus was more than happy to talk about the skilled German craftsmanship that had created his ship and the modifications that he had personally requested.  Although he hadn't traveled as extensively as Gloria, who talked about sailing the Mediterranean with his late father, he had enjoyed any time he could spend aboard his ship.

"You really like her, your Leopard," Gloria said.

Klaus nodded.  "You once told me that you like beautiful things," he said.  "The colors of highly polished steel and fine woods are also very beautiful things."  He flushed and shifted a little uncomfortably.  "That was a foppish thing to say - "

"No," Gloria said, quickly, interrupting him.  "It was true and honest.  Do you know any German sailing songs?"

"Only one," Klaus admitted, then cleared his throat and began to sing.   It was a song that his father had taught him, when he was a boy, a martial song about the strength and patriotism of the German sailor.

Across the carriage from him, the Earl leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes and listened, a faint smile upon his lips.  "That was very stirring, and beautiful."

"My father used to sing it often," Klaus said.  "He was a naval captain when he was younger, before he inherited the title.  He sometimes allowed us on his ship, my brother and I."

"My father never had a profession - he loved to sail for pleasure and sport," Gloria said.  "The first Earl of Gloria was a privateer for Queen Elizabeth, and Father said that the sea was in our blood."

"And is it?"

Gloria shrugged.  "Perhaps.  I loved sailing with Father to escape from my mother; their marriage was not a successful one and Mother made home...unhappy.  And now I like the adventure - risking the open seas to visit new places and see new sites." 

They stopped for a second change of horses and luncheon at the George House in Aylesford, a decent meal of plain fare, just like Klaus preferred.   After they had finished eating, Herr Z and Jonesy settled down for a post-luncheon nap in the carriage while Klaus and Gloria mounted the horses that the Earl had bespoken.  The Earl's mount was a high-spirited mare and Klaus was once again surprised by Gloria's skills as he had the mettlesome mount settled after only a few minutes in the saddle.  Klaus's own mount was a large gelding bay, not as high-strung as the Earl's horse but neither was it a plod; a touch of the heels had the bay trotting easily alongside Gloria's mare.  They rode along the road for nearly two hours with Gloria pointing out the sights along the way, and Klaus thought that he hadn't enjoyed himself so much in many years. 

As they approached Westerham, Gloria said, ""The carriage will change horses here, but if you've a mind to ride an hour further, we can cut across the cart-roads after Godstone for the last five miles to Earlswood."

Klaus looked over at Gloria.  "Will we be able to give the horses their heads?"

"A race?" Gloria said, a gleam in his eyes, and Klaus nodded.  "You're on."

To conserve their horses, they dropped back to a brisk walk until Gloria turned them off the post road and onto a dirt track.  "That's Godstone Farms," he said, gesturing off to his left.  "It's three miles along here to Nutfield Lodge, and once there we can take to the fields and give them their heads."

Klaus nodded in agreement and followed the Earl as they made their way along the rutted cart-tracks.  "Is this your land?" he asked Gloria.  He knew that the Earl of Gloria was rumored to be one of the wealthiest men in England but knew that land didn't always equate to income.

"From Nutfield onward, and then north to Redhill, most of it is beholden to Gloria.  There are a number of tenant farms, of course, and woodlands and the villages, but Gloria itself is nearly two hundred acres." 

Gloria paused to open a gate into a field and closed it behind Klaus.  He pointed south-east with his riding crop.  "Castle Gloria lies in that direction, about a mile and a half."  He gave Klaus an impish smile.  "Just follow me."

And with that, Gloria set his heels to his horse and set off at a gallop across the fields, his laugh floating back to the Major.  Klaus was momentarily caught off-guard, but only for a moment!  He kicked his own mount into a gallop and gave him his head, chasing after the Earl.  Ahead loomed a hedge that Gloria cleared as if his horse had wings; Klaus urged his own horse to follow, gauging the distance to the hedge expertly.  The feel of powerful muscles bunching under him was thrilling after a year spent confined in the city of Paris, and he felt a laugh of his own escape as his horse sailed over the hedge.  He uttered encouragement to his horse, the gelding picking up speed, and as they crested the hill above the castle, Klaus caught up with Gloria.  Down the long lawn they raced, neck and neck, the gelding showing that what he lacked in fiery nature was well compensated by endurance.  Within a few yards of the courtyard, Klaus had achieved a clear lead.  He pulled his mount to a halt just shy of the gravel, rewarding his mount with a hearty pat and murmured praise.

Gloria pulled to a halt beside him, laughing so hard that Klaus thought he might be in danger of falling off his mount.  The Earl had lost his frivolous hat somewhere during that wild gallop and his blond curls were wildly disheveled about his flushed face.  Klaus didn't think he'd seen the Earl looking this healthy and manly in their entire acquaintance. 

"A triumph, Major!  I heartily congratulate you for your superior riding skills!"  

Klaus could feel a smile forming as he nodded his thanks; with his iron control he was able to display only a slight uplift of his lips.  Maybe this sojourn in the English countryside wouldn't be so terrible after all.

 

 

Chapter Text

Part 3 - England

Chapter 2 - A Weekend (or Two) in the Country


The stableboys ran forward to take the horses' head as Dorian dismounted.  The Major remained in the saddle, looking up at the castle with curious eyes before looking down at Dorian.

"It's not what I expected," the Major said.  "It's - old.  Traditional."

Dorian gave him him an amused look.  "What were you expecting?  Versailles?"

"Yes."

Dorian laughed and shook his head.  "Old family estate.  I imagine Castle Eberbach is much the same."

"Ja."  The Major dismounted and followed Dorian to the castle entrance.  "I understand now why you could host all of my men."

The door was opened by one of the footmen (who was also one of the rising lock experts in England) and the butler stepped forward to greet them.

"Welcome home, my lord," Jessup said, collecting Dorian's hat and riding crop before passing them on to the footman.  

"Thank you, Jessup," Dorian said, then gestured to Klaus.  "This is Major Klaus von dem Eberbach.  He will be our guest for the next fortnight, along with nine of his men.  Lord Timothy and Herr Z, one of the Major's men, should be arriving with the carriage shortly.  We will dine once they have arrived and have had time to refresh themselves.  The others are coming with Bonham and the wagons; they will no doubt arrive late in the night.  Please have Cook prepare a cold collation for their arrival."

"Very good, my lord," Jessup said.  "Your rooms have been prepared and the footmen will have your bath ready shortly."  He turned to the Major.  "Major, if you will follow me, I will show you to your rooms."

Dorian watched the Major follow Jessup up the stairs, knowing that his butler would settle Klaus in the best guest room they had.  Dorian checked the pile of letters awaiting his attention, holding onto the ones that required immediate reading, and then climbed the stairs to his own room.  His valet, Beck, was waiting to ease off his riding coat which he carefully set aside before kneeling to remove Dorian's boots.

"Beck, our guests for the next two weeks are the Delegation from Bonn.  Do not attempt to lighten the Major's pockets.  He's likely to catch you - and no, that's not a challenge!  We don't need him forming any suspicions about our activities."

Beck, who was also the best pick-pocket in England north of Italy, grinned up at him.  "And the rest of his men?"

"Practice, only.  Return anything you take - although if you come across anything of interest...."

Beck nodded and carefully set aside the boots to be cleaned later.  They both looked up as Jessup entered the room.

"The Major is in the Green Bedroom, my lord," Jessup informed him.  "He has chosen to rest and asked to be awakened in 30 minutes, and to have shaving water brought then.  Will his bags be arriving with the carriage?"

"His travel bag, so one assumes a change of linen if not the rest," Dorian said.  "Offer him the services of a valet - he might refuse but extend the courtesy."

Jessup nodded.  "I have assigned William to the task, my lord - he is the most discreet of the staff.  I'll also ask Beck and Henry to 'rearrange' the artwork in the public spaces," he added.  "The Major thought he recognized the portrait on the landing."

Dorian winced; he hadn't thought that the Major would be familiar with art - but then again, Holbein's style was distinctive.  It was too bad; the subject of the painting was a deliciously handsome young man, much too beautiful to languish in a museum so Eroica had rescued it.  "Thank you, Jessup.  We'll need to be careful around the Major and his men."

Dorian considered the situation as he reclined in the bath.  He'd have to be cautious about what he told the Major and where he allowed him to go on the estate.  And he'd need to make sure that the Major wasn't left to wander freely - not too much of a hardship, so long as the Major permitted his company.  Given their past interactions, it was a toss-up as to which way the Major would react.

The carriage bearing Herr Z and Jonesy arrived and, after they'd had the opportunity to freshen up, the four of them sat down to dinner.  The conversation was lively, with even the Major contributing to the discussion when it turned to the political situation with Europe.  The Major was particularly interested in learning more about the Prince of Wales and his court, which made sense as that directly impacted his mission.  He was less interested in the Court gossip, which was a pity for Dorian always found that the best information came from those who merely thought they were spreading a saucy tale.

The wagon with the goods from Eroica's latest heists arrived late in the night, long after the Major had retired, and Dorian slipped downstairs to assist in the removal of the paintings.  Tyrian Persimmon's portrait was hung on the wall in Dorian's bedchamber, to replace the one that had taken the place of the Holbein.  The other items were given to James so that he could collect the fees from the interested parties.  Since that would take James away from the estate for a few days, Dorian considered that a win-win.

The next morning was spent in settling in their guests, all of them weary after traveling by sea and land, and in the afternoon the Major borrowed the Small Drawing Room so that he could brief his men.  While they were occupied with those tasks, Dorian assembled his own men in the kitchen.  

"Whatever persuaded yer Lordship t' invite Uncle Germany to partake of yer 'ospitality?" Bonham asked, exasperated.

Dorian shrugged.  "A whim of the moment, Bonham.  I might be pardoned for occasional lapses."

"Yeh'll be beggin' pardon at the end of a rope if y' don't take caution," Bonham said darkly.  "And how are we t' pass off Larky 'n Jasper as proper servants I'd like yeh t' tell me!" He gestured towards two of the men, one who wore a patch in place of an eye and the other bearing an empty sleeve; both men were former soldiers and skillful with weaponry when needed.

"We won't even try," Dorian said decisively.  "Larky and Jasper, I want you to go down to the Daydream and wait there.  We'll have better luck passing you off as navvies, and you can ride back to Dover with the wagons."

Both of the men nodded.

"As for the rest of you, you will be filling in as valets and footmen, as Jessup assigns you," Dorian continued.  "Your primary tasks, however, are to keep a watch on the Major and the brighter of his agents - Herr Z, for one.  Jonesy, you've already made friends there so I rely on you to keep Herr Z in your sights.  I'll be accompanying the Major whenever possible, to distract that all-too-sharp eye of his."

James protested at that, his ready jealousy flaring up at the thought of Dorian spending time with others.  Dorian reflected to himself that he really needed to find another subject for James to focus his obsessive tendencies on.  He soothed the young man by reminding him of his financial relationships in regard to their latest heist, and James cheered up considerably.

The next day, Dorian spent the morning giving his guests a tour of the castle and its immediate grounds.  

"Castle Gloria was originally one of the holdings of the Earls of Surrey which gave the name of Earlswood to the woodlands surrounding the area," he told them as he led them through the older part of the castle.  "The family was staunchly Catholic for generations and it's said that the name derives from the motto of a former abbey -  'Ad majorem dei gloriam'.   Castle Gloria passed down through marriage to the Howards, and it was confiscated by the Tudors during one of their interminable squabbles over who adored them the most."

He paused at the foot of the stairs and gestured to a large painting that occupied most of the wall.  The man looked remarkably like Dorian, a fact that pleased Dorian enormously, especially given their respective careers.  "This is Luminous Red, the 1st Earl of Gloria.  He dropped his original surname and turned pirate after his father was unfairly hanged as a traitor to the Crown.  Fortunately, Luminous came down on the right side during the Spanish Armada and dispatched a fair number of enemy ships.  As a reward, he was created Earl of Gloria and given this property.  The family expanded their lands and fortune over the past two hundred years, and they acquired several splendid pieces of artwork as well."

Dorian looked over at the Major who was staring at one of the paintings on the staircase with a frown, the one that had replaced the Holbein portrait.  "You don't like that painting, Major?  I must admit that 'Boy in Blue' is not to everyone's taste."

"I thought it looked different last night," Klaus said, then shrugged.  "I must have been more tired than I thought."

"No doubt," Dorian said lightly.  "And at night the shadows on the paintings can make them look darker."

Dorian led them through the castle's numerous rooms, pointing out the history and the decor in turn.  Most of the Major's men were less interested in the history and the rooms, although Dorian could tell they, and the Major, were assessing the castle for its defensive possibilities.  However, Herr Z both appeared  interested in the history while Herr G was fascinated by the rooms and their furnishings.  It wasn't until they reached the armory that Dorian saw the Major really light up with interest and appreciation.

"I'm afraid that this is where my own knowledge is limited," Dorian admitted, gesturing towards the arrayed weapons.  "I can fence, of course, but I'm more of a threat to myself with the guns.  My father had a shooting range set up in one of the outbuildings but I'm afraid these haven't been fired much since he died.  I don't even know if they're in good condition or safe."  He turned towards the Major.  "Perhaps you would do me the favor of inspecting them while you're here?"

As the Major was very nearly petting the stock of one of the rifles, it took no further encouragement to get him to agree.  Dorian imagined that this would occupy a fair amount of the Major's time when Dorian couldn't be around to watch his movements.

That afternoon, Dorian had his gamekeeper (and arms expert) supervise the Major and his men in the armory and shooting range.  Rudy hit it off with the Major's men and won the grudging approval of Klaus himself, so the following day Dorian arranged for a shooting expedition.  He accompanied the group although not to shoot (not that Rudy would allow him to even load a gun much less aim it at anything), but instead to supervise the luncheon provided by the kitchen.  He had anticipated being highly bored by all of it but found that there was something alluring about watching the Major handle weapons so efficiently.  He idled away the hours making flower crowns and picturing those skillful hands in other pursuits, returning from the excursion so flushed that Beck checked him for a fever.

The fourth morning of their visit saw them mounted on horseback, or at least the Major, Herr Z, and Dorian.  Lord Timothy had ridden over from his own estate to join them for their ride and luncheon, and the warm greeting extended to Jonesy by both Dorian and Herr Z made the Major scowl.  Dorian decided that they'd visit the local village and take in the picturesque woods surrounding the castle, saving a tour of the larger estate till later in their visit.  Jonesy led the way down the Long Drive, riding alongside Herr Z and asking him about the previous day's shooting expedition.  

The Major, riding alongside Dorian, glared at Lord Timothy's back and said, "Lord Timothy appears very familiar with the area."

"He should be," Dorian replied.  "His family owns an estate in Reigate, about two miles west of here.  Our fathers were particular friends so we were often at each other's estates growing up."  He watched as the Major scowled at Jonesy and the penny dropped.  "Oh no, Major! Nothing like that!  We've been friends so long - it would be like kissing your own brother!"  He gave Klaus an impish smile.  "My heart is still entirely your own."

"Idiot," the Major snorted but to Dorian's eyes he seemed to relax a bit.

"The village isn't much to see," Dorian told him as they left the Long Drive and turned onto Earlswood Road.  "Closer to a hamlet - you have to go north to Redhill for the local church and doctor.  There's a weekly market and the Plough public house, a dame school and village hall, and a small store that sells just about anything needed by the locals.  When Father let me go into the village with him, I'd spend my pocket money on sweets at that shop.  And I had my first beer at the Plough - didn't much care for it, truth be told."

"Their beer or beer in general?" the Major asked.

"I prefer a good wine or spirits myself," Dorian replied.  "Mosel's Welnersonnenvul is very good and the bottle is a particularly nice shade of green.  Much better than any beer."

"You'd think differently if you ever tasted a good German beer."

Dorian grinned over at the Major.  "Is that an offer of returned hospitality?"

The Major scowled at him.  "Unlikely.  I'm stuck here in England for God knows how long and those damned frogs are crossing our borders every time we turn around."

"Still, I'll remind you of your words should peace ever break out," Dorian said.  "I'm an optimist."

"A fool, more like," Klaus grumbled.

They'd reached the village by then which was, in truth, little more than a country crossroads.  Beer was drunk at the Plough although Dorian opted for ale, and both the Major and Herr Z admitted it was thin compared to the beer back home,  Dorian bought several pennies worth of candy at the shop, for old times' sake, which he shared around as they road along the forest track back to the castle.  Herr Z expressed admiration for the beauty of the woodlands and Klaus approved of the well-kept paths, and so they found themselves in an agreeable mood as they arrived back at the castle for luncheon.  

Dorian swore out loud at the sight of a carriage pulled up in front of the castle, the Gloria arms clear on the door, his good mood shot to pieces.

"Lord Gloria?" Klaus said, clearly puzzled by his host's sudden burst of bad temper.

Dorian didn't reply; he slid out of the saddle and turned his reins over to a stable-boy before striding towards the entrance to the castle.

"Enemies of his?" he heard the Major ask behind him.

"Worse," Lord Timothy said with a sigh as he also dismounted his horse.  "His mother."

Jessup met Dorian at the door to take his hat and riding crop.  "The Dowager Countess and your sisters have arrived, my lord," the butler informed him.  "They are in the Large Drawing Room."

"Is Viscount Redhill with them?"

"No, my lord; just the ladies."

Dorian sighed.  The Large Drawing Room meant that his mother was preparing to stay for several hours instead of just a brief social call.  "Thank you, Jessup.  See that four additional places are set for lunch - Lord Timothy will be joining us as well," he added as the other three men joined him.

"Very good, my lord."

"Dorian!"

Dorian turned around at the sound of his name and found his youngest sister approaching him.  "Marie!" he said and embraced her warmly.  She was his favorite sister and he was sincerely glad to see her, although he would have preferred if she was alone. 

"I'm so sorry, Dorian," Marie said, returning his hug.  "I tried to talk Mother out of this visit but she insisted.  And she's in her 'martyred' mood as well."

Dorian sighed and turned to Klaus.  "Major, I heartily apologize for the ordeal you are about to undergo.  Believe me, it was not my wish that you should be subjected to this.  If you would like to punch me later for this, I won't blame you."

"I can endure anything," Major Klaus said shortly.  "Will you introduce us?"

"Of course - where are my manners?  Marie, this is Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, attache to the Court of St. James.  Major, this is my youngest sister, Lady Marie Red."  He turned to the other two men.  "You know Lord Timothy already, and this is Herr - " He paused, realizing that he didn't know Z's real name.

"Armand Zimmer," Herr Z said automatically.  

His eyes were fixed on Marie, his face filled with admiration.  She blushed and lowered her eyes but extended her hand to him for a clasp slightly longer than was proper before both recollected their surroundings and dropped hands, blushing.  Dorian watched the pair with amusement, then glanced over to see how the Major was taking the sudden interest in one of his men for Dorian's sister.  The Major looked resigned rather than annoyed and Dorian wondered if the young man often tumbled into love with pretty women.  He'd have to take the Major aside later and ask, for his sister's sake.

"Shall we go into the drawing room?" Dorian said, leading the way.  

The Dowager Countess of Gloria was propped in a corner of the couch, a vinaigrette held below her nose by her eldest daughter.  At the sight of her son, she snapped, "Dorian, it's too bad of you!  Entertaining foreign guests, and I have to find out from Benson, my dresser, who had it from her niece!"

"You should have stayed home, Mother," Dorian said, crossing the room to dutifully kiss her cheek.  "All this traveling can't have been good for your nerves."

"Much you've ever cared about Mama's poor nerves," said his eldest sister, waving the bottle under her mother's nose so vigorously that their mother coughed.

"Think of our limited society!" the Dowager said reproachfully.  "And about your sisters' prospects!"

"If you're trying to catch husbands for the girls, you'd do better taking a house in London for the Season," Dorian pointed out frankly.  His mother made a face, well aware that the young men who usually were to be found at Castle Gloria were not inclined towards female companionship.  "My guests are in England for a diplomatic mission, staying with me until the Royal Family returns to London - and I doubt that any of them are in search of a wife.  Nevertheless, I will introduce you."  

Dorian turned back towards the entryway as the three men joined him.  "Major, may I present my mother, the Dowager Countess of Gloria?  And my eldest sister, Lady Maude Howard.  Ladies, this is Major Klaus von dem Eberbach and one of his men, Herr Armand Zimmer.  And Lord Timothy you know already, of course.  There are about a dozen more of the Major's entourage about the place - I expect you'll see them at lunch."

The Major and Herr Z bowed their heads to the ladies while Lord Timothy crossed the room to catch Lady Maude's hand and bestow a mocking kiss to it.  She scowled and jerked her hand away from him.

"Don't you have a home of your own to go to?" she snapped at Lord Timothy.  

"Indeed I do," Lord Timothy said cheerfully, all too familiar with the moods of his friend's sisters.  "I've ridden over for the day to help Gloria entertain his guests."

"And how, pray tell, did you entertain them, Dorian?" the Dowager asked, her tone indicating that she expected the answer to involve drink and debauchery.

"We took a ride through the woods and to the village, Mother," Dorian replied as he crossed to the drinks cupboard.  He poured glasses of sherry for each of the ladies and then whiskey for the men, passing them around with Herr Z's assistance.  

"You, Major whatever-your-name-is," the Dowager said imperiously.  "Sit next to me."  She slapped the couch next to her briskly.

Dorian glanced nervously over at the Major, worried that his infamous temper would erupt at the peremptory summons, but the Major merely accepted his drink from Dorian and sat down at the end of the couch.

"Major von dem Eberbach," he said coolly but politely.  "It is German and perhaps too long for you to recall; you may call me 'Major', if you will."

Dorian turned away, biting his lip in amusement.  It seemed that the Major was accustomed to imperious older women; that had been a definite set-down but worded so politely that his mother couldn't object.  

He looked around the room at his guests; Herr Z had settled on the large settee between Marie and Maude and was attempting to give each of them equal attention but it was clear to Dorian that he already preferred talking with Marie.  He made a mental note to see that the were seated together at lunch.  Jonesy had slipped out of the room, no doubt to warn the rest of the castle's residents about the presence of the three ladies.  So Dorian had nothing to do but settle into a comfortable chair with his whiskey and study his family's interactions with their guests.

First: Augusta, Dowager Countess of Gloria.  Although his mother might bemoan reaching her fiftieth birthday, she was still a handsome woman and Dorian wondered idly why she had never remarried after nearly a decade of widowhood.  It wasn't because her first marriage had been a happy one nor had she been in love with his father.  Theirs had been a marriage of convenience; she was one of many daughters to a baronet with a small dowry and marriage to a Peer was no small feat.  And the late Earl, despite having a preference for male companionship, needed someone to give him an heir.  Unlike Dorian, he'd been an only child so there were no sisters to give him heirs.   His mother had no doubt expected to preside over lavish Ton parties and attend the many events of the Season on her handsome husband's arm, and must have been bitterly disappointed when her husband turned his back on Society after securing a bride.  The late Earl had been an art lover and an intellectual, and he had preferred to fill his parlor with artists and musicians and authors, as well as a parade of pretty young men as they caught his fancy.  Dorian could remember their arguments, his mother tearfully furious and his father indifferent and unbending.  Widowhood must have seemed a blessing, he thought, especially since her settlement had been enormous - nearly ruining the family fortune between that and his sisters' dowries.  It had taken all of Dorian's cleverness to come up with a way to rebuild the family fortunes and keep the lands intact, even if those means weren't legal.

He turned his attention to his eldest sister, Maude.  She had inherited the classic English style of beauty with her golden hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, unlike her next-youngest sister, Margaret, who was a raven-haired beauty.  Maude had married triumphantly in her first Season to the younger grandson of the Duke of Surrey and produced a son two years later.  She had lorded it over Margaret who'd had to settle for a mere baronet, even if Sir Percy Blakeney was one of the wealthiest men in England.  It was only after the unexpected death of her husband in a sporting accident that Maude had learned that her husband was a gambler who had lost not only his entire fortune but also Maude's dowry, leaving his wife and small son destitute.  And there was no help to be found from the Duke of Surrey for his progeny were numerous and he'd long since washed his hands of his profligate grandson.  Maude had had to move in with her widowed mother and live on whatever the Dowager was willing to part with.  Dorian had officially made his nephew, Theodore, his heir and bestowed his secondary title, Viscount Redhill, on the boy.  He'd also given Maude a small allowance with a separate one for his heir, both overseen by the boy's trustees, Lord Anthony Dewhurst and Lord Timothy Jones.  That was another reason why Maude despised Jonesy - her constant appeals to him for money were nearly always rejected unless they directly affected Theodore.  The years since her widowhood had not been as kind to her as they had to her mother, with discontent and spite carving lines into her face and fading her hair.

At the other end of the settee sat Marie, as unalike her two older sisters as possible.  She was two years younger than Dorian and was supposed to have been the "spare"; when it turned out she was a girl and not a boy, both of her parents had lost interest in her.  Pretty but not beautiful like her sisters, Marie had light brown hair and hazel eyes with a medium complexion.  She was also the sister that Dorian was closest to, in sentiment if not personality, for they had united against the teasing by their older sisters and the disinterest of their parents.  Marie was a biddable girl, and if she wasn't content to be a virtual servant to her mother and sister, at least she never complained.  She'd had a Season several years back, despite their mother's moans about the cost, but hadn't taken - no doubt due to her shyness and small dowry.  If she were to catch the attention of the affable Herr Z, and should that feeling be returned, Dorian would be happy to give his consent to their marriage.

The luncheon gong sounded, jolting Dorian from his thoughts, and he rose.  "Shall we go in to luncheon?  Cook wasn't expecting guests so you might have to put up with bachelor fare, Mother."  

He gave his arm to his mother to escort her into the room and saw that the Major did the same for Maude, which left Marie to Herr Z.  The rest of the Alphabet joined them at the table and Dorian handed the Dowager into the seat at the foot of the table with Herr C and Lord Timothy to either side of her.  He took his own place at the head, with Maude on his left and the Major on his right.  Beside the Major he settled Marie and then Herr Z, while Herr G was placed next to Maude.  The rest filled in the empty seats with the Dowager lamenting the uneven numbers of men.  Dorian ignored her out of long custom and gestured for Jessup to start the service.  Cook had managed a miracle of sorts and the meal presented left nothing for Dorian to blush about.  The behavior of two-thirds of his relatives was another matter, however.  The Dowager divided her conversation between boasting about her social connections and complaining about her financial restrictions, while Maude set about discovering the family standings and marital status of everyone sitting near her.  By the time that Dorian rose to lead the way back to the drawing room, he was nearly ready to die from mortification that the Major had been a witness to such a lack of propriety.  Not that the Major much cared for what was proper, but Dorian's pride had suffered a blow.

The Dowager took her leave after coffee, issuing an order for Dorian to bring his guests to dinner in two days' time.  "I don't know what I'll find to serve guests, but I will manage!" were her last words as her footman handed her up into her carriage.  

Dorian breathed a sigh of relief when the carriage disappeared from view and was startled by a barking laugh from the Major, standing nearby.  He hadn't realized that the man had followed him out; perhaps he wanted to make sure that the invaders had been finally repelled. 

"Major!  I would apologize for the lack of manners of my relations but I think I'd be better served to put a period to my existence."

The Major extracted his cigarette case from his pocket and offered it to Dorian before taking one and lighting it.  "Do you know," he said after taking a few puffs, "every time my father hosts a party, he makes a point of talking loudly about the breeding possibilities of every female he introduces to me.  It's fucking mortifying." 

Dorian couldn't help laughing at that and they stood for a long moment, smoking in companionable silence.  He reflected that it was the most comfortable that he'd ever felt when alone in the Major's presence.

 

Chapter Text

Part 3: England

Chapter 3: Getting to Know You

 

Klaus wasn't entirely sure what this emotion was that he was starting to feel when he was around the Earl of Gloria, he only knew that it was uncomfortable.  It had begun the day of their arrival at Castle Gloria and had grown stronger on the day that he'd met the Earl's family.  He couldn't blame Gloria - he'd done nothing except share a silent smoke in the castle's courtyard.  There was nothing about the event that should have troubled his sleep or made him restless during the day, and yet he was feeling both.  Fortunately, Klaus was well-practiced in avoiding uncomfortable emotions and for the two days until their visit to the Dowager, he was able to push on with only the mildest of discomfort.  And he had ways to combat the discomfort, to ease the nerves.  Gloria had looked puzzled when he'd asked if there were good trails for running, had told him he only needed to ask the stable-boys to saddle up a horse for him, but when pressed had pulled out a map of the area and pointed out a number of walking trails and riding paths through the property.  With this knowledge in hand, Klaus was able to plan a run of sufficient distance to settle his restlessness.

And so, early on the morning before their dinner with the Dowager, Klaus donned the loose clothing he wore for such a purpose and set out towards Nutfield Farm.   Leaving through the back door into the kitchen gardens, he skirted the stables and circled the family cemetery with its small chapel, then made his way east along the cart-track.  The downward slope from this direction was easy and the track was worn enough to make travel on it acceptable, although he needed to look to his feet to avoid ruts.  Gloria had told him that it was called Hogtrough Lane by the locals and Klaus thought that when wet it might well earn that name.  The few people he saw were workers heading out into the fields and he ignored the curious looks he received from them in favor of letting the exercise wipe away the cobwebs in his brain.  

After a mile and a half, he reached the farm where Gloria had told him he would be able to procure breakfast and rest if he wished.  Klaus had no need of rest after such a paltry run nor did he wish to fill his belly before his return journey, but he was pleased to walk for a bit about the manor farm to stretch out his legs.  From here he could see that the land sloped upward from the low-lying fields bordering the brook, up through the woods surrounding the castle, so that Gloria sat on the summit looking out over the area.  The roof of Castle Gloria was just visible above the treeline, like in one of those fairy-tale books his nursemaid had read to him when he was young.  

To the north-west was another large dwelling, visible across the pastures and small lake, but it was more like a manor house than a castle, and Klaus wondered if that was where the Dowager lived.  He asked the old woman tending the dairy and she laughed and shook her head.

"Lord, no!  That be Nutfield Priory, what is a school for boys, like," she replied.  "Herself does live in a grand house, I hear tell, 'n far enough away from Master Dorian for his better peace of mind, I reckon!"

"You know the Earl, then," Klaus said, accepting a glass of milk from her.  

"Well enough," she replied.  "When he were just a lad, he was always runnin' away from his tutors and such, and he come here to hide, like as not.  Friendly lad, he was - didn't like gettin' dirty and such with most o' the animals here but he was a one for the little 'uns.  Herself sent him 'way to school when the Old Earl died but he always come back here when he was home.  Stops by regular now, with the bailiff doin' his rounds - something the Old Earl never done."

"He's a good master, then?"

"Not seen none better," she said.  "Folks in these parts was worried he'd settle in London, fine young man like he is, but he has a genuine love for the place, not like the Old Earl.  Not meanin' to speak ill o' the dead, but folks is better off with the New Earl!"

Klass handed back the glass with gruff thanks and began his return run.  The track began to grow steeper as he passed what Gloria had said was Bower Hill Farm, and just to increase the challenge, he swung east to circle the castle and approach from the steeper side of the climb.  It was a good path, firm under foot and unrutted, giving him the freedom to sort through his conflicting thoughts about the Earl.  The man might be an annoying dandy, he might be an irritating fop, but there was no denying that he was a good landowner and that he had the respect of his people.  Klaus had seen that at the castle, he'd seen it in the village, and now had heard it from one of his tenants.  His father had drilled the importance of taking care of the land and its people into him since he was a boy, even if he was the second son and would never have to be responsible for the Eberbach lands, and he'd never forgotten those teachings.  If Gloria was a good master of his lands, then surely his other irritating foibles could be overlooked?  

By the time Klaus let himself back in through the garden door he was pleasantly tired and this restlessness was settled, at least for now.   


That evening they set out in Gloria's riding coach, accompanied by Herrs Z and G.  Klaus was uncomfortably aware of the closeness of the Earl's knees to his own and that the Earl's gaze was fixed on him, and his odd feelings poked at him for his attention.  He cast his mind about for a subject of conversation.  There was not much to see out of the coach window and all three of his companions appeared wrapped in their own thoughts.

"So this is your mother's home?" he asked.

Gloria looked startled at the abrupt question but shrugged.  "Technically, it's Theo's - that's Theodore, my nephew and Lady Maude's son.  Viscount Redhill is his official name, as he's my heir.  But my mother has leave to reside at Gatton Park until Theo's of age, and she certainly manages it better than my sister would!  Gatton Park came into our family about a century ago, following a marriage to the heiress of the Copely estate.  The original manor house was in the Domesday Book although many changes have been made to it over the centuries.  Major, I should warn you - if you were disappointed in the lack of grandeur at Castle Gloria, you will be delighted by Gatton Hall."  He laughed at the disgusted look on the Major's face.

As they drove through Redhill, Gloria pointed out a few of the points of interest.  "Redhill is a proper village with a church - Church of England only, I'm afraid, Major.  You have to go into one of the bigger cities to find a Catholic church for tomorrow's services.  I'm afraid that I don't attend church but my carriage will be available if you or your men wish to attend."

"Nein, for me," the Major replied, then glanced at Herrs Z and G.  "I will inquire of my men, should they wish it.  How old is your nephew?"

"Twelve."

"I have a niece and nephew also, although they are much younger."

"My sister married young," Gloria said.  "And was widowed a few years later so Theodore is her only child.  I hope that you get to meet him tonight - he is a delightful boy and I'm very fond of him."  

They entered an ornate set of gates and Gloria said, "My father spent a fortune to have the property landscaped by Capability Brown between 1762 and 1768, shortly after his marriage to my mother.  The grounds are thought to be exquisite, although I don't suppose that's of interest to you, Major.   There's a quaint old chapel attached to the manor house with a chaplain in residence although he gets little use; Mother prefers to attend services in the village where everyone can see her and admire her latest attire."

Having arrived at Gatton Hall, they were received by the butler and escorted to the Great Drawing Room through a marbled foyer that had the Major curling his lip in disdain.  Once they entered the drawing room, he saw that they were not the only guests in attendance.  It appeared that the Dowager had invited a dozen families to this dinner, and they were eying the Major and his men as if they were the main course.  The Dowager immediately latched into the Major and bore him from one cluster of people to another like a prize to be displayed.  By the time he'd been introduced to the fifth local squire and his eligible daughter or son, Klaus was contemplating the feasibility of fleeing the scene and making for London immediately, no matter the lack of accommodations there.

Fortunately, the Earl appeared beside them at that moment with one of his charming smiles for Sir Whoever-the-Fuck, who paused in his boring account of the last neighborhood Hunt.

"Do pardon me, Sir Edward," Gloria said sweetly, "but I promised the Major that I would show him the gardens before it gets dark."  

"Lord Gloria," Klaus growled.  "If you plan to talk to me about flowers, I really shall punch you."

Gloria let out a peal of laughter that brought the attention of the room on them, especially that of the Dowager still standing nearby.  She frowned at them disapprovingly.

"I'll never understand men and their tiresome fondness for fisticuffs," she said with a sniff.  "Still, I imagine that your true reason for touring the gardens is so that you can smoke one of your infernal cigarettes.  Go on, then; the dinner gong will sound in less than 30 minutes."

Gloria latched onto Klaus's arm and steered him towards the French windows that led onto an Italianate-style patio, and beyond that onto a walkway.  Once they were clear of the house, the Earl produced his cigarette case and lit one for each of them.

"I do apologize for all of this, Major," Gloria said.  "If I'd had any idea that Mother planned such a crush, I would have cried off.  It's appalling, isn't it?  Everyone in the area with even a scrap of social standing's here, and on little more than a day's notice."

"I feel like a damned peep show," Klaus growled, then took a deeply satisfying draw off his cigarette.

A dimple showed at the corner of Gloria's mouth (and when had Klaus started noticing the Earl's dimples?) and his eyes twinkled.  "Oh no, Major - more like the county fair, and you're the prize stud on display!"

Klaus was about to reply when suddenly a small object hurtled down the pathway and collided with Gloria, nearly knocking him off his feet.  He didn't seem alarmed by this event, instead hugging the little urchin in return.

"Theo, my darling boy!" Gloria said, then grasped the young boy's shoulders and pushed him back a bit.  "Playing truant from the nursery, I see?  Your mother told me that you were feeling poorly."

The boy scowled at that.  "Mama said I'd have to talk to ladies and kiss their hands.  So I pretended to be sick, even though Cook made tarts 'specially for the party.  Do you have to talk to ladies and kiss their hands, Uncle Dorian?"

"I'm afraid so."

Theodore's scowl intensified.  "When I am the Earl, I shall have lots and lots of parties, with no ladies!  You can come if you'd like, Uncle Dorian," he said generously.  "And your friend, too," he said with a nod towards Klaus.

"I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to attend," Gloria said gravely.  "For if you are the Earl, I shall be dead."

"Oh."  Theodore pondered that for a moment.  "That's deuced unfair!"

"I agree - and don't say 'deuced', Theo.  Your mother will think you learned that word from me."

Guileless blue eyes blinked up at them.  "But I did, Uncle Dorian!"

"Monster," Gloria said affectionately, tousling the blond curls.  "I don't know why you're still my favorite nephew.  Look here, dear chap, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine.  This is Major Klaus von dem Eberbach; he's with one of the German delegations to Court.  Major, this is my nephew, Theodore, Viscount Redhill."

Klaus bowed politely to the boy who blinked up at him before saying, "Aunt Margaret writes to Mama about you.  She says that you're nearly as pretty as Uncle Dorian.  Are you going to marry him?"

"Theo!" Gloria moaned, covering his face with both hands.  Klaus could see that his cheeks were flushed with embarrassment, something he'd never seen the Earl display before now.  He hadn't thought the man capable of it, to be honest, with how shamelessly he flirted with everyone in public.

"Uncle Dorian is rich and he's pretty and he's a Peer.  All Mama's friends try to set him up with their brothers and they're not nearly as interesting as you.  Can you really shoot a gun?  If you marry my uncle, will you teach me how to shoot?  Uncle Dorian is horrible with guns."

Klaus had very little experience with children, not having any of his own.  He'd rarely seen his brother's children except at family parties where they'd been trotted out by the nanny for fifteen minutes and they'd seemed dull and inarticulate.  This boy, however, was guileless and had the same lack of inhibitions as his uncle.  Klaus could see the resemblance between the two clearly, beyond the blond curls and pretty features, and his rarely-released sense of humor poked up its head.

"No, I'm not going to marry your uncle."

"Why not?" demanded Theo, clearly ready to do battle in his uncle's honor.

"Because he hasn't asked me," he said, succumbing to the little imp of mischief dancing on his shoulder, then turned to Gloria.  "Is that the dinner gong?  We mustn't be late - it would be rude to our hostess." He turned towards the patio.

Gloria embraced his nephew saying, "I'll make sure the nursery maid brings you some tarts, Theo," and then he hurried to catch up with Klaus.  "Major, you've never - in the entire time I've known you - worried about being rude to someone."

Klaus grunted acknowledgement of that and then said, "Klaus."

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's my name.  You may call me by it."

Klaus entered through the French door, aware that he'd left the Earl standing on the patio, stock-still with shock.  Smugly, he acknowledged that shocking the still-annoying fop was a very satisfying sensation, one that went very well with the odd feelings he'd been experiencing since arriving at Castle Gloria.


The next day being one of forced inactivity due to it being the Sabbath, Klaus had kept to his rooms to read over this papers once more.  The inactivity wore on his nerves and so it was early the following morning that he donned his running clothes and set out along the walking paths bordering the Gloria lands.  This time he made his way towards the Priory, circling the grounds and noting the familiar signs as the school stirred to life for the day.  It brought back of memories of his own school days although these lads appeared to be older, nearly college-aged, and sport-mad as most of the English to judge by their extensive playing fields.  The dairyman was returning with his empty wagon as Klaus made his way back up the track to the castle and he waved at Klaus.  Once again, he let himself back in through the garden door and stuck his head into the servants' hall to ask for a bath to be brought up.  

Klaus paused by the small dining room that Gloria called the Breakfast room - and what the fuck anyone needed with three dining rooms was beyond him - to get a cup of coffee to take upstairs with him.  Gloria was seated at the table, covering a yawn with the back of his hand, and his eyes widened at the sight of Klaus.

"Good heavens, Major!  Have you already been out exercising?  It's barely past dawn!"

Klaus scowled at the fop.  "It's half-eight and yes, I've been for a run."

"Lud!" Gloria said faintly.  "You actually enjoy running about, without anyone even chasing you?  Best stay away from the villagers - they'll think you are possessed!"

"You should try it," Klaus said, taking the first sip of his coffee, black.  The blend wasn't as strong as what he preferred back home, but then again, the coffee in Paris had been worse.  "Put some muscle on your bones."

"My dear Klaus, I prefer my bones just the way they are," Gloria retorted.  "And I have plenty of muscle!  I was on the fencing team at University!"

A gleam lit Klaus's eyes.  "Any good?"

"Very good!"  Gloria pushed back from the table.  "And I'll show you!  Meet me in the Long Salon in thirty minutes!"

Klaus hurried through his bath, anticipation simmering in his veins.  He loved a challenge, particularly as physical one.  And, not to be overtly modest about it, but he knew he was an excellent fencer.  Not that he was one of that Heidelberg lot with their honor scars - he'd never seen the need for such nonsense.  Just the feel of cold steel in one's hands, the knowledge of the damage that could be inflicted if one was careless, the control and wit one needed to best an opponent - that was enough for him.

He half-expected the Earl to turn up to the salon in one of his extravagant coats and heels, but when Gloria arrived (late, of course), he was sensibly attired in breeches and flat-shoes, wearing one of the new padded fencing coats.  He was also accompanied by most of the Major's men and half of the castle staff, carrying a case of weapons, two masks, and an assortment of refreshments.

Klaus scowled at his men.  "What is this?  Do you think we are an entertainment for your benefit?"

The men exchanged nervous looks and then Herr Z stepped forward.  "We were hoping to benefit from the display of your technique, sir."

"Oh, let them stay!" Gloria said as he tied back his hair with a scarlet ribbon.  "There's little else for them to do this morning, and we do need a referee."

"Very well," Klaus said, then regarded the Earl with a gleam in his eyes.  "If you are willing to have them watch you being beaten."

"We'll see who is beaten, Major!" Gloria replied, returning his look with fire in his eyes.  

They examined the case of bladed weapons, agreeing on foils and each testing the feel of their weapon of choice.  Klaus did a few stretches although he was still feeling loose from his run, then tested the flex of his foil while waiting for his opponent to finish his own stretching.  Then Gloria nodded at him, took his place in the middle of the salon, and donned his mask.  Klaus did the same.

The first few passes involved each of them testing the other, with thrusts and parries and reposts being traded evenly between them. The match ended with Gloria scoring a touch on a feint to break the tie between them.  They paused briefly to remove their masks and straighten their blades, then set to again.  This time Klaus proved himself the victor by two points as he successfully riposted and then later redoubled against Gloria's attacks.  He thought that he sensed the Earl tiring and smirked - superior conditioning would show, no matter what the Earl said.

Gloria removed his mask and wiped his forehead with the handkerchief that his man, Bonham, handed him.  "You're very good, Major," he said.  "Is there much need for sword fighting in your profession?"

"Not as a diplomat," Klaus said, "but I was also in the army.  Perhaps the training is simply superior to that afforded English school-boys and their 'hobby' fighting."

Gloria's eyes flashed at that but he said mildly, "Perhaps we should place a wager on the final match, then."

"I am not a gambler, Lord Gloria."

Gloria shrugged.  "A friendly wager only."  He tapped his lips with his fingertip.  "Whoever wins gets to plan a day's activities for both of us."  When Klaus hesitated, Gloria added, "Come now, Major - do you doubt your skill?  Don't you want to see me doing that run with you at the crack of dawn?  Or endure target practice for hours on end?  You might even be able to teach me how to shoot properly, something three tutors have failed at."

"I accept your wager," Klaus said, already picturing the Earl running along that rutted track, no doubt out of breath before the first half-mile was run.

They shook hands on it, then donned their masks and took their places once more.

Almost immediately, Klaus realized that he'd been played for a fool.  Lord Gloria was focused and he was fast, his attacks landing before Klaus was even aware that one had begun, with a precision that spoke of years of instruction by an Italian master.  In vain he tried to parry, only to have Gloria disengage and score a touch.  His one point was mostly by accident, slipping under Gloria's guard, but he wasn't allowed to repeat that action.  At the end of the match, Gloria had scored 5 points to his single one, and it was with reluctant admiration that he shook hands with the victor.

"So, Lord Gloria, what is it to be?" he asked.  "A day of art appreciation?  A visit with your tailor?  I warn you - I refuse to wear anything outlandish, no matter what you say."

Gloria smirked.  "I believe that I shall make you wait to find out," he said.  "Prepare yourself, my dear Major - the day after tomorrow you will find yourself in my hands."

There was something about the way that he said it that made Klaus shiver; to cover it, he stomped off to his rooms to change and then headed to the weapon range.  He felt the overwhelming urge to shoot something.


Despite Klaus's prayers, two days hence dawned fair and fine, with the weather unseasonably mild for March.  Klaus paced back and forth in the foyer, his scowl deepening as the minutes passed without a sign of the Earl.  Finally the doors were flung open and Gloria entered the room, arrayed in a pale blue coat over a silver embroidered waistcoat, with a froth of lace at his throat.  His hair was tied back with a matching silver ribbon and his hat was tucked under his arm.

"You're late," Klaus growled.

"Forgive me, Major - Klaus," Gloria said, with a slight bow of contrition.  "I had some difficulty in locating a basket."

"A basket?"  What sort of idiocy was this? Klaus wondered.

Gloria stepped to the side and the two footmen carried in a large basket, festooned with ribbons and flowers.  Klaus had never seen such a ridiculous thing in his life and said so, adding, "What the fuck is that supposed to be?"

"I thought -a pic-nic," Gloria said with a little smirk.

Klaus growled but grabbed his own hat and jammed it on his head.  "Fine!  Lead the way!"

Gloria led them out to the courtyard where a small carriage harnessed to a single mare waited, under the care of a groom.  Klaus eyed the contraption, then looked back at the Earl.  "This is yours?  Are we supposed to sit all squashed together with your coachman?"

"It is indeed mine, and I will be driving it," Gloria said, directing the footmen to attach the basket to the back of the sporting curricle.  "Don't worry!  I haven't overturned my curricle since I learned to drive as a young man."

"I'm not reassured," Klaus said but took his place in the curricle without another word. 

Gloria climbed onto the seat and took the reins from the groom, then expertly wheeled the mare around and down the driveway.  Klaus half expected the Earl's words to have been empty boasts but in fact Gloria proved to be skilled with the reins and after a few minutes, Klaus relaxed back into his seat.

"So, Gloria - where do you plan to take me on this excursion?  To some gardens, no doubt."

"I thought we might see some of the countryside before we stop for our luncheon," Gloria returned.  "And it's Dorian."

Klaus nodded in response, and there was silence for a bit as Dorian concentrated on his driving and Klaus on the scenery around them.  It was a pretty sight and when he asked if the lands they were passing belonged to Gloria, the Earl nodded.

"These are the Home Farms," Dorian explained as he gestured at the fields to the right of the road.  "You've no doubt run along the path on the other side, by the brook.  This is where most of the food for Gloria comes from, and quite a lot is sold onward.  Being so near to London provides a profitable market for estate goods."

"And do you manage these farms yourself?" Klaus asked.

"Not entirely," Dorian said.  "I have an estate manager who works directly with the tenant farmers and manages the books.  However, I visit each farm several times over the year, to make sure that the houses are in good repair and the land is being farmed well.  Any landowner who ignores his primary asset is a fool - and I may be an idiot but I'm not a fool."

"I am beginning to see that," Klaus said slowly, assessing the man beside him.  In Paris, he'd thought the man little more than a useless fribble, wasting his time on clothes and parties and pretty men.  Since they'd come to England, though, he'd seen other sides to the man, ones that he hadn't expected.  There was the lord and owner of a stately home, and the careful landlord, and the loving uncle, and the skillful fighter, and now the practical landowner.  He wondered how many more sides there were to the man, ignoring the part of his mind that added "lover" to that lists.

Dorian pointed out a building rising in the distance.  "That  was Reigate Priory before the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Now it's Nutfield Priory School, founded by Jeremy Bentham.  You won't know of him in Germany, but he's a bit of a social reformer - believes in education for all, no matter race or gender.  My father admired his beliefs and leased the priory to him, and I was a day-schooler there when I was younger.  We won't stop there today as they're on Easter Holiday and no doubt short-staffed."

They continued down the road, turning down the small lane that ran through the village of Nutfield, and Dorian pointed out several sights from his youthful adventures, before crossing over a little bridge that spanned Redhill Brook and then onto a grassy spot that overlooked the flowing water.

"I thought we'd have our luncheon here," Dorian said, slowing the mare down to a halt.  "Unless you have your heart set on lunch in a garden.  I would hate to disappoint you."

"Don't be an ass," Klaus said, stepping down from the seat and going to hold the mare's head while Dorian likewise dismounted.  The mare was tied to a post that seemed designed for that purpose, then they untied the large basket and carried it over to the grass between them.  

To his surprise, Klaus found that the contents were much to his taste, being sausages of varying sizes, some sliced for ease in eating, along with sliced and fried potatoes that had been sealed into a container to keep them warm.  To be sure, there was a box of small cakes and a dessert wine that Dorian put into the brook to chill, but there were also bottles of good German beer to accompany their meal.  It was exactly the sort of meal Klaus would have chosen, had he won the wager, and he eyed the Earl suspiciously.  Dorian, however, seemed to appreciate the meal just as much as he did so after a moment, Klaus relaxed and enjoyed his luncheon, even though eating outdoors like this seemed like a barbarian notion when not part of a military maneuver.  Between them, they polished off the meal and made a start on the little cakes.  Dorian fetched the bottle and, to his chagrin, discovered that glasses had been overlooked when the basket was packed.  Klaus just shrugged and took a swallow from the bottle, then passed it over to Dorian; it wasn't the first time he'd had to share a bottle with a companion.  Dorian seemed to have swallowed something the wrong way for he made an odd little choking noise, then quickly sipped to wash the offending morsel away before passing the bottle back.

After they'd finished their meal, Dorian lay back on the grass and sighed contentedly as he stared up at the sky.  

"Isn't it a glorious day, Klaus?" he said.  "It makes me wish I could stay here like this forever. What about you?"

Klaus made a little noise of negation.  "Too cold at night this time of year for sleeping outdoors," he said with the practical knowledge of a soldier.  "And bugs.  You wouldn't like them."

Dorian gave a little gurgle of laughter.  "So practical, Major," he teased.

"Someone has to be, and it's not you," Klaus grumbled, looking down at the reclining man.  A lock of hair had tumbled free from its ribbon, falling across Dorian's face, and without thinking, Klaus reached out to brush it away.  Dorian made that little choking noise again and Klaus's fingers slipped down to loosen his cravat a bit - really, he could hardly breathe with how tight it was!  "I was thinking about something in the carriage."

"Wh-what was that, Klaus?" Dorian said, his voice catching a bit still and Klaus looked around for the wine bottle but it appeared to be empty.  "What were you thinking?" Dorian repeated.

"So many sides to you," Klaus said, and his fingers seemed to have developed a mind of their own for they were tracing the other man's eyebrows and cheekbones and nose and lips.  Especially his lips, which were incredibly soft.  "Fop.  Engish Lord.  Uncle. Fighter. Landowner.  So many masks you wear.  Which is the real Dorian Red, I wonder?  Or is he someone I haven't seen yet?"

Dorian looked up at him, a serious light in his eyes that Klaus had never seen before.  "Marry me - and you can spend a lifetime finding that out."

Klaus hummed at that thought but then another idea took hold and he leaned down, just enough to press his lips against Dorian's.  They were indeed as soft as his fingers had discovered, and yet firm and manly, not like a woman's lips.  And there was a sweetness to them - was it the cakes or the wine, or was that Dorian?  Yet another mask to strip away.  He lifted his head just a fraction and then returned for another taste - 

Just as a large raindrop splashed down onto Dorian's forehead.

"Oh hell!" Dorian swore as they both sat up and looked up at the sky.  Clouds has formed that Klaus could swear weren't there a moment ago, dark ones that threatened rain.  

They hurried dumped the remains of their meal into the basket and secured it to the back of the curricle, then Dorian climbed onto the seat while Klaus untied the reins and passed them to him.  The rain drops were coming down a little quicker now, still holding off but not for much longer.  Dorian set the mare to a faster pace now, following the lane that Klaus had jogged down just a few days earlier, and they swept into the courtyard ahead of the rain, but not by much.  The footmen ran to hold the horse's head and both men dashed past them into the foyer.

"What an end to our day out!" Dorian laughed, shaking his hair loose from its ribbon and scattering the raindrops clinging to the curls.

"Does it have to be over?" Klaus found himself saying, and Dorian turned to him with his mouth and eyes wide with surprise.

Before either of them could speak, Jessup entered the foyer with Herr C at his side.

"Major!  An express has come from London - our lodgings are finally ready for us," Herr C said, holding out a letter.  "And the Prince of Wales has agreed to meet with our delegation tomorrow afternoon!"

"Damn and blast!" Klaus swore.  After nearly two weeks of silence, everything was happening so quickly that it made his head spin.  Or maybe that was the wine they'd drunk.  "We'll have to leave for London - tonight if possible.  Dorian?"

He glanced over at Dorian who was reading a letter that Jessup had given him while Klaus was reading the express.  Dorian's face was pale, so pale that Klaus wondered if he was about to faint, and there was a stricken look about his eyes as if his entire world had collapsed.

"Dorian?" he repeated, suddenly concerned.  "Is everything all right?  Is it bad news?"

Dorian looked up, then away, his mouth tightening before he managed a brief smile.  "No - it's nothing.  My sister, Margaret  - she writes to tell me that they've closed the British Embassy.  She and Sir Percy and their children are on their way from Paris to London."

"Is it war, then?" Klaus said gravely, knowing what closing the embassy portended.

"No - yes - I don't know!" Dorian snapped, then passed a hand over his eyes.  "Forgive me; I can't help worrying until they're safe on English soil."  He drew in a deep breath.  "You need to leave for London?"

"Immediately, if we can.  We have no carriage - "

"John Coachman can drive you and your men up this evening - it's a full moon and he can stay overnight in London.  You'll need to pack what you'll need for the morrow - the wagon can bring the rest of your belongings in the morning."

Klaus nodded.  "I will leave Herr G and Herr Z to accompany it, to make certain we leave nothing behind."  He hesitated.  "Dorian, I must go pack -"

Dorian nodded, mustering a smile.  "Of course, Major.  I'll send word to John that the carriage is to readied, and I'll have Cook make up a supper for you to take along - will two hours be enough time?"

"It will have to be," Klaus said gruffly, his mind already turning over the preparations he needed to make, the personal items that would need to travel with him and those that could be left to follow.  He hesitated and then added, lowly, so that only Dorian could hear, "I had a good afternoon.  I wish...."  His voice trailed off as he was uncertain what, exactly, he wished for.  More time with Dorian, certainly.  A chance to talk about them, about the future, perhaps.  But the mission came first - had to come first.  There would be an opportunity to talk later, when Dorian came to London himself.

"So do I, my darling," Dorian murmured, with a little catch in his voice and Klaus hoped that he wasn't about to start crying.  But instead he took Klaus's hand and squeezed it once, as if in farewell, then walked across the hallway to his study and closed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

Part 3: England

Chapter 4: The League is Born

 

Dorian lay on the daybed in his library, methodically shredding his handkerchief.  It was one of his favorites, edged with lace, but deliberate destruction was better than crying which, he knew, would make his eyes swollen and red, not an attractive sight - even for him.  Besides, Father had told him many times that no man was worth crying over (usually after tossing aside his latest amour), but then, Father had been fickle with his affections.  It was a trait Dorian had thought he'd inherited until he'd met Major Klaus von dem Eberbach.  And why did things have to go so badly awry, just when they'd had the most lovely afternoon and Klaus had finally kissed him?

He glanced over at the desk whereupon lay the letter from his sister, the one that had crushed all of his hopes and dreams.  In addition to the news that the British Embassy had closed, putting England and France on the brink of war, she had revealed that Colonel Misha Bärenjunge, the Prussian emissary to France, had been reported to the Committee for National Security and arrested for plotting to free the Queen and her children.  Not only that, the Colonel and his entire family had been sent to the guillotine.  And furthermore, she had written - for his eyes only for Percy would be cross with her if he knew she'd told him - the informer's name on the arrest warrant was Major Klaus von dem Eberbach.

He didn't want to believe it, not the man he thought he knew.  Yes, Klaus and Misha were bitter enemies, their rival states often in conflict.  But while he believed that Klaus could certainly kill a man in defense of his life or his country, to betray a man to the Regime of Terror smacked of an underhanded and cold-hearted nature that was quite abhorrent.  Could Dorian love such a man?  Could he, with his own secret to conceal, afford to trust such a man?  Could lips that kissed his so sweetly be capable of such deception?  

He felt quite sick at the idea and deliberately turned his thoughts away from the Major's attractive lips (the whole of his attractive face, really), trying to focus on something else.  A robbery was usually the cure for both melancholy and boredom, but there was nothing in particular that Dorian wanted and Eroica hadn't received any requests.  And really, it was all so tedious and far too easy lately - not a challenge at all.  The most exciting job he'd undertaken lately had been the rescue of the de Tourney's, from right under the noses of the French.  It was too bad that there weren't similar rescues to be made.

"Jessup's right - you look wetter than a rain cloud."

The familiar voice from the doorway made him glance over and then turn on his side, resolutely presenting his back.  "Go away, Jonesy."

"What happened, my dear?  The dashing major run off to London without even giving you a kiss in farewell?"

"He gave me a kiss," Dorian said, his voice sulky.  He was in a bad mood and he didn't want to be coaxed out of it.

Jonesy plopped down on the daybed by his feet.  "Did he?  Tell Uncle Jonesy all!"

"No."

"Unfair.  Didn't I tell you all about my first kiss?"

"Jonesy, I was your first kiss!"

"And?"

Dorian sighed and rolled over onto his back, resting his arm over his eyes.  "It's complicated."

"If kissing is complicated, your style has changed.  Or did the Major run away in fright afterwards?  I can well believe that."

"Read Margaret's letter.  It's on the desk."

He felt Jonesy move and heard the rustle of the paper, then Jonesy's sigh.  

"I see what you mean about 'complicated'.  It's not something that I would have thought your Major capable of doing, even if he hated the man."

"Neither did I."

"So what are you going to do about it?" Jonesy asked, sitting back down by his feet.  "Reject all society and join a nunnery?  Or go find another pretty face to fall in love with?"

"Klaus was more than just a pretty face."  Dorian sighed.  "I feel - helpless.  A child died, and his mother, and they did nothing to deserve it.  They died because the man I love betrayed them.  I feel...responsible."

Jonesy pulled his arm away from his face.  "My dear, how could you possibly be responsible?"

"I don't know!" Dorian moaned and covered his eyes again.  "Percy would have done something, not just sat around weeping."  

Dorian had adored his brother-in-law since he'd first popped 'round to ask his permission to marry Margaret.  Despite the Ton's general opinion that Sir Percy was an affable fool, Dorian was aware that the man was shrewder than he seemed.  Not only had the older man been a kindly shepherd for Dorian's venture into polite society, steering him clear of the hurdles that felled many a young gentleman, but he'd also dispensed good advice when the young Earl had discovered the true state of his inheritance.  And although he'd never disclosed his secret identity as Eroica nor the illegal means that he had used to repair his family fortune, Dorian was nearly certain that Sir Percy had guessed the truth.  

Jonesy sighed and rolled his eyes, too familiar with Dorian's raptures over his brother-in-law to be surprised at his entry into the conversation.  "All right, I'll bite.  What would the-most-perfect-brother-in-law have done to remedy this situation?"

"I don't know!  Something!  Marched into the Temple and rescued them!"

"Right; I can just see that," Jonesy said, nodding.  "After he's had a long consultation with his tailor about the proper attire for rescuing prisoners from certain death."

"Percy's not that bad!" Dorian protested and then added, honestly, "It would be a short consult, and he'd protest the exchange of a cravat for a belcher.  And being well-dressed for a situation is important."

"Percy would have needed the assistance of a gang of thieves, to break in to the Temple and get away again - which he doesn't have."  Jonesy paused.  "But you do."

Dorian peeped out from under his arm.  "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that, of all the men in England at this moment, you are the one most capable of slipping into the Temple and freeing their prisoners, right under their noses.  You helped the de Tourneys escape, didn't you?"

"Not from the Temple," Dorian said slowly, but the wheels were starting to turn in his head.  "The men would want a reason to do this - it's riskier than an art heist.  But why would I do something like that?  I take what I like, or what I can sell for a profit.  I'm not the altruistic sort, doing good for its own sake."

"No, but that's hardly your fault.  Practical self-interest is bred into the Red family line, all the way from Luminous Red Benedict."

"Yes, it is."

"But he did convince an entire crew of men to turn their backs on England and take to piracy," Jonesy pointed out.  "And then he led those same men willingly to war, and straight into Hell against the Spanish Armada.  And won.  Could not his great-great-grandson do the same?"

Dorian sat bolt upright as a bold thought permeated his brain.  Weren't there new stories about arrests and pending executions in France, on a daily basis?  Surely all of those accused weren't guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted?   There was no way that he and his men could rescue all of them, but surely they could free some of them and smuggle them safely out of France.  

"Jonesy, ring the bell!  Tell Jessup to summon the men to a meeting!"

While Jonesy was doing this, Dorian jumped up from the daybed and hurried over to the mirror above the fireplace.  It would never do to appear before the men as less than their assured and capable leader, not a love-sick fool.  His knew from experience that this pain would heal, in time, and there was no point in railing at the Gods.  After all, no one really died upon a kiss and only fools believed in blissful happy-afters.  And just maybe he'd find a way to right the wrong that had been committed by the man he'd loved so foolishly.

He straightened his coat and cravat, then pinched his cheeks to bring color back to them.  As he heard his men entering the room, he turned so that he could watch each of them in turn.  There was Beck, an expert pickpocket, and William, the best ropes and 2nd story man he knew.  There was Henry, their lock expert second only to Dorian, and Rudy, who knew everything about any weapon including how to obtain them.  There was Ozzy, the head groom, and Ben and Hal, the stable-boys - the three were gypsy-like in their ability to handle any horse.  There was Bonham, his trusted lieutenant and the coolest head in a crisis.  There was Elton, the estate manager, who worked with James to manage their finances - both the legal and illegal ones, and had a finger on the pulse of the black market.  And there was Jessup who kept things at Castle Gloria running on an even keel, and who could forge any document well enough to fool any expert.  They were more than just their names and skills, though.  This was the family that Dorian had chosen for himself, each a dear friend and comrade.  And it suddenly occurred to him that this venture was the most dangerous they'd ever undertaken, where failure meant the loss of their heads.  He looked at each of their faces, aware that a loss of even one of them would be a hard blow to take.  Did he have the right to ask this of them?

"Is somethin' wrong, m'lord?" Bonham asked.

Dorian took a deep breath and gathered his composure.  This wasn't his sole decision to make; all he could do was lay out the gains and risks of the venture, then trust each of them to decide for themselves.

"This afternoon," he began, "I received a letter from my sister.  Among other things was the news that Colonel Misha Bärenjunge lost his head to Madam Guillotine earlier this week - "

The men exchanged a puzzled look; while the Colonel hadn't been a personal enemy of theirs, his soldiers had put a wrench in their plans more than once.

" - as did his entire family," Dorian continued.

"Here, didn't 'e have a little nipper?" Bonham asked, then his face darkened.  "Damned Frenchies, killing innocent little tots!"

"Exactly!" Dorian said with a decisive nod.  "The Committee isn't content with sentencing to death those among the aristocrats and clergy who have committed offenses; now they are disposing of innocents, of children."

"Beggin' yer pardon, m'lord," William ventured, "but what had this t'do with us?"

"I have decided that I, for one, refuse to sit on my pampered arse for another moment," Dorian replied.  "I propose that Eroica and his men form a League with the express purpose of saving whatever lives among the condemned that we can.  I propose that we steal away their victims from right under the noses of that bloody Committee!"

The men erupted into babble, with some of the men excited about the prospect and some worried about the risks.  Dorian watched and listened, letting each of them speak, then finally held up his hand for silence.

"My dear lads, I know that this venture would strike fear into even the most courageous.  And make no mistake!  If you join me, you put your lives on the line, every one of you.  But if we do not do this, then who will?"  He paused.  "David faced down Goliath with only a stone in his hand, just a young boy but he knew that someone must take a stand against evil.  This is our Goliath. There are only ten of us, but fewer men have faced greater odds.  We do this, not for gain or glory, but because it needs doing."

Dorian paused again, saying gently, "There's no shame if you decide not to join me in this, and no one will blame you.  But," he added, lifting his hands and his voice, letting it ring though the room, "if you have the courage to follow me into the fire, to face down the Devil, then I promise that these be the crowning heists of our careers!  So who will join me?"

Shouts of "I will!" and "Aye, m'lord" echoed through the room, and then Herr G burst through the partly-open door.  

"Let me join!" he cried out.  "Please, Lord Gloria!  I want to help!"

Behind him came Herr Z, his face sober as he nodded his head.  "You must let us help, Lord Gloria.  Or should I say 'Eroica'?"

The room fell silent, each of his men looking to Dorian for guidance.  If he gave the word, both Herrs G and Z would disappear and no one would ever know what became of them.

"You're very clever, and that's both an asset and a threat," Dorian said to Z. "You also know how dangerous this is."

Z nodded, his mouth firm with decision.  "I can't just watch people die without trying to help.  And since I'll be going back and forth between Paris and London, I'm your best link for learning what is happening there.  Citizen Juliani and the Consul have become friends; it's likely that I'll overhear their plans."

"And the Consul is very fond of me, writing me every week," Herr G added eagerly, then made a face.  "He can't help bragging about the important people he knows and sharing gossip."

"You understand that no one can know about what we are doing," Dorian said. "Including the Major."  Herr Z started to protest but Dorian held up a hand to silence him.  "His views about the Revolution are well known and he will be watched.  If anyone should learn that he knows about our venture, not only his life but his honor and possibly his family's lives will be forfeit.  You both must swear not to breathe a word to him."

Both men agreed, reluctantly, then Dorian turned to his men.  "That warning goes for all of you.  No one must know of this outside of our League, not your families or your sweethearts."

"What about our noble friends?" Bonham asked, obliquely referring to two of Dorian's friends from University, Lord John-Paul Dewhurst and Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, who had assisted their illegal activities.

"I shall write to both, asking them to come here to discuss the venture," Dorian said, then he turned back to Z and G.  "You will be leaving for London tomorrow morning with the wagon so I will let you know of our plans in writing."

"How can we trust that what we receive is really from you?" Z asked.

"Good question."  Dorian crossed to his desk and pulled out a sheet of paper, then dripped sealing wax onto it.  He pulled off his signet ring and pressed it against the wax, then handed it to Z.  "Anything that I write to you will be sealed with this image of a rose.  Don't trust any instructions without it."

"Very well, Lord Gloria," Z said, carefully tucking the paper into his pocket. "What are your orders for us?"

"Listen and learn," Dorian replied.  "We need information.  We can't save everyone so our priority has to be the young, the innocent, families, and those who can most benefit France when it returns to sanity.  I wish we could save the Queen and her family but they will be too closely guarded - still, watch for any change in their routine."  He frowned.  "What we really need is a spy right in their midst, one who is privy to every plan and one who has influence.  Z, keep your eyes open for such a person, and G, pay attention to anything the Consul might say in that regard."

Both men nodded.  

"This is so exciting!" Hal said, eyes bright, and Ozzy cuffed his ear.

"It's dangerous, lad, and don't be forgetting!" he growled and Hal nodded, rubbing his ear.

"Ozzy's right," Dorian said, looking around at their small band, now numbering twelve.  "This isn't a game or a simple heist.  Lives depend on us, including our own."  

Then his lips curved into a smile.  "But, by Heaven, we shall make a story worth the telling!"

Chapter Text

Part 4: London

Chapter 1: A Lone German in London

 

April 1793

Major Klaus von dem Eberbach scowled down at the letter in his hands, then wadded it up and pitched it into the corner of the room.  Another rejection of a meeting with the Prime Minister, this time due to "urgent business in the North".  It was England!  What kind of buggering urgent business could they have!  It wasn't like their country was being invaded by France!

He sat back in his chair, scowling.  The meeting at the end of March with the Prince of Wales and his advisors had gone well.  Klaus had managed to hold his temper despite the Prince's wandering eyes and his inane babble about upcoming Society events that the Major just must attend!  It was worse than talking with Lord Gloria when he was at his silliest!  But despite the Prince's promises, meetings with the King and the Prime Minister had not been forthcoming.  They would be scheduled and then something would come up: the date had been mixed up or the meeting forgotten, one of the attendees had been taken ill, or business of State had interfered.  Klaus wasn't an idiot - he knew when he was being put off and he thought he knew why.  England didn't want to commit their support to any of the Germanic States and risk war with France.

"France has already fucking declared war on England," Klaus muttered.  "Why can't you Limey bastards do the same?"

The next letters in the stack were invitations to upcoming events - balls, soirees, horse races, a box for the opera, a reception for some damn dignitary, and a fucking art exhibition!  As if Klaus wanted to spend an evening staring at bloody pictures - probably full of fat naked women  - and make stupid small-talk about brush strokes and palette choices.  If he wanted to talk about Art, he'd talk with Dorian.  Lord Gloria.  Whatever the hell he was supposed to call him now.

Klaus got up and went to the window, staring with unseeing eyes out at the street.  He hadn't seen or spoken to the Earl of Gloria since he'd left the Castle - no, even then Dorian hadn't come out from his study to say goodbye. At the time, Klaus had been a little relieved - he wasn't sure how to take leave of a man he'd just kissed and had the suspicion that Dorian would cry, and what the fuck was he supposed to do then.  He'd received a polite note from Lord Gloria a few days later stating that family business was taking him back to Paris for a few days, and he'd thought it likely related to the letter from Gloria's sister.  But then he'd seen Sir Percy and Lady Margaret at an embassy party the next day so the problem couldn't involve them.  Both of them had been cool towards Klaus, unlike their affability in Paris, and he wondered if that was diplomatic or personal.  Did they simply not want to be seen encouraging one of the Germanic delegations, or did they know about the change in his relationship with Dorian and disapprove?  

But Klaus had been in London for nearly a month now and there was still no sight of Gloria.  He'd been certain that he'd find the Earl making himself at bloody home in his parlor one morning, or that Gloria would appear out of nowhere at some party with one of his teasing jokes.  He'd finally gone by Gloria House in Grosvenor Square, only to find that the Dowager and her daughters were in residence there, not the Earl.  They'd pounced on him like a cat on a mouse and only the arrival of other visitors allowed him to escape.  Klaus had set Herr G to locating Lord Gloria's lodgings and he'd paid a visit there on two occasions, but the Earl wasn't home either time.  And despite leaving his card with the butler, Gloria had yet to return the visit.  Such poor manners might be expected of Klaus, but Gloria had always been scrupulous about returning calls, even in the countryside.  

Which left Klaus with the unsettling notion that Gloria was cutting all ties with him.  Had Klaus made an error due to too much drink and had his kiss been unwelcome?  Dorian had seemed interested in him, but had it been a little flirtation to pass the time, not meant to be serious?  Or maybe Klaus had been such a bad kisser that Dorian had been repelled by it.  Klaus had enjoyed the kiss, had liked kissing Dorian better than either of the women he'd kissed in the past - but maybe that was his inexperience showing.  Dorian was a notorious rake and the list of his past lovers was numerous - perhaps he'd been disappointed that Klaus wasn't similarly skilled.  Or perhaps it was simply that, having proven that he could conquer Iron Klaus, Dorian was no longer interested and had moved on.

There was a pain in his chest at that and Klaus scowled so fiercely that he frightened a young man passing by the window.  Klaus wasn't some love-sick idiot to moon about a frivolous fop who didn't have a lick of common sense!  

He stomped back to his desk and flung himself into his chair, attacking the pile of correspondence.  The invitations he set aside for B and G to go through, as both had a better idea of which were essential for the Major to attend, which could be delegated, and which could be (politely) declined.  The next letter was in an unfamiliar hand and he broke the seal, then glanced down at the signature and scowled.  It was from that slimy bastard, "Citizen" Juliani, expressing the hope that he had settled into London and was finding his way among English Society.  Underneath the smarmy words was a veiled threat, an implication that Klaus owed Juliani a favor, and he felt a shiver of unease.  Then he scowled, balled up the letter, and tossed it into the fire.  No sanctimonious, self-serving Frog was going to get under Iron Klaus's skin!

Klaus frowned when he realized that there was little correspondence with the other Germanic States among the stack on his desk.  Brunswick and Baden, he knew, had a diplomatic mission at the Court of St. James, and he'd seen them a few times at social gatherings, but there were a number of smaller States with embassies in London, ones he knew were intimidated by Prussia and its army.  He scowled as he realized that he'd been carefully excluded from any political meetings among the Germanic nations and he knew why - it was that fucking Misha Bärenjunge!  No doubt the Colonel was also behind the cancelled meetings with the English cabinet - Hanover and Prussia were as thick at thieves!

He stomped out of his office, into the larger room where his Alphabet had their desks.  "Herr B!  You know all the gossip - find out if Colonel Bärenjunge is in London!  All these fucking rebuffs and reschedules - I'll bet that Prussian bastard is trying to stick a spoke in our wheel, to get aid for Prussia at the expense of Cologne."

There was a silence so thick that he could almost cut it, and Klaus glared around at the men in the room.  "Well?  What the fuck is wrong with you idiots?"

"Major," Herr A said tentatively.  "The Colonel was arrested in Paris and executed almost a month ago."

Klaus could feel his jaw drop open.  "Executed?  What the hell for?"

"For aiding the Royal Loyalists, sir."

Klaus couldn't think of a word to say and, aware that they were staring at him, he stomped back into his office and slammed the door, then leaned back against it and tried to catch his breath.

For aiding the Royal Loyalists.

Klaus felt a chill in his bones.  Juliani was behind this, he'd bet every last thaler he owned on that, and it was because of that note.  Klaus wished that he'd never seen it or read it, wished that he'd followed his first instinct and burned it.  He hadn't liked Misha, had taunted the Bear Cub whenever he could and rejoiced in his triumphs over the man, but to have his life ended like this, in dishonor and infamy!  And Klaus hadn't needed to ask about the fate of the man's family; he'd already seen the blood-thirsty savagery of the Committee.

He felt stifled, unable to breathe; after snatching his hat off the stand, he jerked open his door and stormed back into the common room.

"Since there's little to do at present, I am authorizing a month's leave for each of you over the next three months.  Herr A, schedule that leave for a third of the men each month.  Draw up a roster and leave it on my desk.  Herr B, Herr G, check the social calendar and the invitations on my desk - I need one of you with me for each event so schedule your leave accordingly.  I am going out for a walk."

Klaus strode through the streets of London, hardly aware of where he walked or the people who scurried out of his way.  Although he knew that the sun was shining (for once in this thrice-damned wet country), he felt chilled throughout his body.  The world seemed to have turned on its axis and he felt as if he'd been cut adrift.  His life used to be so uncomplicated when he was in regular military service; you knew who the enemy was and what your orders were.  But working in this frigging world of diplomacy was like trying to find your way through a maze in the dark, and Klaus had the feeling that he was lost inside with no key to the exit.

He looked up to see familiar steps in front of him and realized that his absent wandering had brought him to Lord Gloria's lodgings in Wimpole Street.  Hope flared - maybe he could talk to Dorian about the man they had both known, to ease his mind and his conscience.  He climbed the steps and handed his card to the footman who answered the door.  The man - Henry, he thought - came back a few minutes later, looking apologetic.  

"I'm sorry, Major.  His Lordship left for an important appointment just a few minutes ago."

Klaus's face set into stone; from where he stood, he could see the Earl's hat on the hallway table and the gloves lying next to it.  "Thank you.  Tell him I called on him."

The footman nodded and the door closed, and Klaus walked away slowly.  At the end of the block he turned around and stepped back into the shadows, and a moment later saw Lord Gloria run down his steps and into a waiting cab.

In the center of one of the largest cities in the world, Klaus had never felt so alone.

 

Chapter Text

Part 4: London

Chapter 2: Fling into Battle

 

Dorian leaned against the back of an elegant chair in the private parlor at his club and frowned.  "What do you mean, he didn't know?"

Herr G leaned forward from where he sat.  "When A told him that Colonel Bärenjunge had been executed, the Major was shocked!  Speechless!"

Dorian frowned and looked over at Lord John-Paul Dewhurst and Lord Timothy Jones. They were the only two who knew about the accusation against the Major, that he'd informed on the Colonel.  The three of them felt that it wouldn't be beneficial to tell Eroica's gang, and that it would be detrimental to team morale for them to tell G and Z.  

"Has the Major received any letters from Paris - not from Z or the Consul?"

G frowned.  "There was one from that horrible Citizen Juliani in today's mail."

"What did it say?"

"I don't know - it was sealed and the Major burnt it.  It must have made him angry, though."  He looked between the other men.  "He usually wads up correspondence that annoy him and tosses the letters about the room.  I have the devil of a time smoothing them out again for the files. He never throws any of them away or burns them, though."

"And he's only received the one letter from Juliani?"  G nodded.  "If he does get any more, you'll let us know, won't you?  And try to get a peek - it could be important."

G nodded and rose from his chair.  "I must get back; the Major's been in a queer mood lately and there's so much to do with leave being assigned."

"Yes, all right.  Send me a note when you know what days you're taking leave - we could use you again in Paris, if you're up for it," Dorian said.  "You were brilliant in the rescue of the Marquise of Leon's daughters."

G blushed at that, pleased at the rare praise for his work.  It had been his idea to disguise the girls as laundresses and smuggle them aboard ship in bags of washing.  They'd nearly been caught when the guard asking for their papers had accused them of having too soft hands for wash-women, but G - also disguised as a laundress - had jumped in and said that the girls were employed to fold delicate items, which needed soft hands.  The guards had released them and the rest of the rescue had gone as planned.

"Thank you, m'lord," he said, so flustered that he dropped his gloves. Promising to keep them informed, he hurried out of the club.

Once G had gone, John-Paul turned to Dorian with a frown.  "What do you make of that?  Why would the Major be so surprised if he was the one who informed on Bärenjunge?"

Dorian stood up and paced back and forth across the room.  "I don't know."

"You couldn't have been mistaken?  Maybe your sister got the story wrong?"

"I spoke to Sir Percy myself, privately.  He'd gone to the Committee to demand to know the reason for Bärenjunge's arrest and they showed him the warrant.  The informant was Major Klaus von dem Eberbach."

"Maybe he thought that Colonel Bärenjunge would just be arrested and locked in the Temple, or expelled from France," Jonesy said.  

"I suppose so," John-Paul agreed, then sighed.  "Dorian, we're not making much headway against the French.  We've saved a handful from arrest but none from inside the prisons themselves."

"We're not getting nearly enough information," Jonesy agreed.

Herr Z entered the room at that moment, accompanied by a man in a military uniform, Sir Andrew Ffoulkes.  They'd just arrived in London from Paris and Z hadn't even gone by the office to report to the Major.  

"I think I have our answer," Z said.  "Citizen Juliani was in the Consul's office just yesterday, complaining to him.  Robespierre has sent for the notorious Belgian spy, Tarao Bannai, to help root out the 'traitors to France'.   None of the Committee has ever met him and he's a master of disguise so they don't know what he looks like, but he will have official documents from the Committee - or would have, if Sir Andrew's men hadn't intercepted the courier."

Sir Andrew smiled broadly, holding up a courier's pouch.  "Here's everything you need to take his place, Gloria."

Dorian opened the pouch eagerly and pulled out the contents.  There was a contract confirming the terms of hire, the address for Bannai, French identity papers and travel documents signed by Robespierre himself, a badge identifying the wearer as a member of the Committee, and the tricolor cockade that every man in France was now required to wear.

Jonesy smiled at the travel papers.  "This will be very useful - I expect that Jessup can create some splendid forgeries from them."

"This address is in Antwerp. We'll sail there immediately and collect Bannai - I imagine he'd enjoy a little vacation in the English countryside," Dorian said with a laugh.  "Then I'll take his place and go on to Paris.  With his access, we'll know exactly what the Committee is up to and where they are keeping the prisoners we plan to rescue."

"Are you certain, Gloria?" John-Paul asked.  "You'll be right in the lion's den.  One mis-step and you'll lose your head."

"Then I'd better be careful not to mis-step," Dorian said airily, giving John-Paul his most confident smirk.  He put the items back into the pouch and handed it to Jonesy.  "Take this back to the house and get Jessup started on the forgeries. Tell Bonham to send for the Daydream.  I'm going to see what I can find out about our friend, Tarao Bannai.  Sir Percy knows people in the intelligence service."

He turned to Z.  "You'd best head to your offices - the Major will be wondering what's delaying you, and you can only blame a rough channel crossing once or twice."

Z nodded, then waited till the others had left the room before he stepped closer to Dorian.  "Why don't you come with me, say hello to the Major?  Sir Andrew said that you haven't spoken to him since the Major left for London."  

Dorian frowned slightly and shook his head.  "My dear Z, I have so much to do if I'm to impersonate this Bannai fellow - I simply can't waste time - "

Z frowned.  "A month ago you would have jumped at the chance to spend even a minute with the Major. Has something happened between you two?"

Dorian averted his face, toying with the lace at his cuffs to avoid having to look at Z.  "Of course not."

"You know that the Major doesn't mean half of what he says," Z said.  "If he was rude or insulting...."

Dorian summoned up a smile and glanced over at Z, saying, "Darling, I'm well aware that the Major's curses are affectionately meant.  No, I simply can't see him - "

He paused, thinking about the last time he'd seen the Major, just a little over an hour earlier.  Dorian had been on the staircase, out of view of the Major as he stood at the front door, and he'd feasted on the sight of the man like a starving man at a meal.  Klaus had looked tired and worn, as if London didn't agree with him, and Dorian had wanted to go down to him right then.  He'd wanted to pull Klaus's head to rest on his chest and soothe whatever was wearing at him, but then he'd seen the Major's face harden and knew he couldn't.  If he saw Klaus again, he'd end up blurting out everything - what he knew about Misha and about Eroica - and he couldn't trust Klaus not to betray them all.

He drew a deep breath.  " - I can't see him for a moment and then go away, and who knows when I'll return?  It isn't fair to either of us."

"If you say so," Z said doubtfully.

"I do," Dorian said firmly.  "You, on the other hand, should go see Marie. She's in Town, you know, at Gloria House - but don't go there!  Mother and Maude will eat you alive."  Confidentially he said, "I happen to know that she's attending the Duchess of Grantchester's picnic tomorrow afternoon, with the Countess de Tourney as chaperone.  John-Paul is going - he's sweet on the Viscount de Tourney - so I'll ask him to take you along."

Z blushed and stammered his thanks, then hurried out of the room. 

Dorian saw G's gloves lying on the floor and picked them up, tucking them into the pocket of his coat. He should be going - there was little time if they planned on leaving as soon as the Daydream made London harbor, and he needed to find out more about Tarao Bannai, but he felt suddenly weary.

He sighed and sank back down in his chair, closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.  There was noise from the billiard and card rooms, and outside on the street was the hustle and bustle of one of the largest cities in the world, but Dorian had never felt so alone.

Chapter Text

Part 4: London

Chapter 3: Into the Fire

 

May 1793

Finding Tarao Bannai was easy enough - the address in the courier's file was clear and discreet questioning of his neighbors revealed that the man lived there, although his description varied.  It was retaining Bannai that proved difficult.  John-Paul, pretending to be the French courier, had presented himself at the lodgings and the door had been opened by a one-eyed fisherman.  John-Paul hadn't even done more than say "Bon jour" before the man had knocked him over the head, stunning him.  A moment later, the Belgian spy fled from the house, incongruously disguised as a Chinaman.  Bonham and Beck had been waiting outside to "escort" Bannai to the Daydream but were now forced to pursue the man through the streets of Antwerp while Dorian tended to John-Paul's injury.  Just when Bonham thought they had him cornered, Bannai dove into the River Scheldt and disappeared beneath the water.  In vain did the entire gang search both sides of the river, and although they staked out his home and his favorite pub, there was no sighting of Bannai.  He had vanished without a trace.  The river-men, when questioned, told them that the Scheldt was a cold and dangerous river with currents that could sweep a man out to the North Sea, and it was to be supposed that Bannai had drowned.  

Dorian just hoped that the man wouldn't turn up in Paris, but since their "courier" had never had a chance to tell Bannai about the contract, he thought the risk was low and decided to proceed.  An investigation of Bannai's dwelling and personal things revealed a trove of disguises that impressed even Eroica, and Dorian was able to put together several costumes that seemed true to the Master Spy's character and at the same time would effectively disguise Dorian from anyone who knew him.

And so it was that Tarao Bannai presented himself and his papers at the Palais de Justice, headquarters of the Committee for Public Safety in Paris, at the beginning of May.  From the top of his greying hair, worn unfashionably long over his ears, to the soles of his serviceable short boots, he was a curious sight, and the secretary reviewing his papers stared at him in disbelief for several long minutes.  His head was covered by a large battered tricorn hat proudly bearing the tri-color cockade, which clashed with the long floral coat that covered the rest of his body.  His nose was large and the mustache under it even larger, and the size of his rounded belly made his back bow inward.  Across his chest he wore a sash bearing a number of honors, and on his left lapel he wore the badge of the Committee.

"And you are here to see Citizen Robespierre?" the secretary said doubtfully.

Bannai puffed himself up, his belly seeming to swell with pride.  "At his personal request!" he said, his voice sounding rusty with dis-use and sharp as a blade.

"Yes, I see," the man murmured, looking through the papers.  Then he sighted another man arriving and his face lit up at the prospect of passing this task on to someone else.  "Ah, Citizen Juliani!  This gentleman is here to see Citizen Robespierre and yourself."

Juliani turned to the man and raised an eyebrow at the sheer exuberance of the man's coat.  "And you are...?"

"Tarao Bannai, from Belgium."  Bannai extended his hand for a hearty hand-shake.

"Ah yes," Juliani said, looking him over doubtfully.  "The Belgian spy."  He turned to the secretary.  "Citizen Robespierre is expecting this man."

"You've heard of me!" Bannai said, delightedly.  "And you are?"

"Citizen Franco Juliani," he said shortly.  

"Citizen Juliani!" Bannai exclaimed.  "One hears about you, even in Belgium.  And about this Scarlet Eroica, who eludes you, yes?"

"He has," Juliani said sourly.

"But you will best him in the end!" Bannai declared.  "What is he - a common thief?  But you - you are cunning and patient, like the man fishing for trout.  In the end, you will set your hook in him."

Juliani looked taken aback but flattered by the praise.  "Well, I - yes.  Yes, I will."

Robespierre came out of the assembly rooms and spotted them.  "You must be the master spy, Tarao Bannai," he said, though he cast a doubtful eye over the patterned coat Bannai wore.  "Juliani, despite appearances, Bannai is an expert at infiltrating dangerous organizations.  Although I had expected something a little more subtle?"

"Ah, that is why I am the best!" Bannai boasted.  "I defy expectations!  You see a man wearing a dark cloak and hood, you are suspicious!  But me!" he said, thrusting out his round belly.  "You think here is a fool, a glutton, a peacock and so you fail to guard your tongue around me."

"Ah, I see what you mean," Robespierre said, nodding sagely.

"And tomorrow I shall appear differently, to blend in to the shadows," Bannai said.  "Your traitors and loyalists will not even see me."

"Good.  You will work with Citizen Juliani - "

"Yes," Bannai said with a nod.  "But you will not see me every day, Citizen!  Bannai is a master of disguise and might be anywhere in Paris, ferreting out information!  And elsewhere in Europe, for I have informants everywhere.  Bannai comes! he goes!  He is not seen!"

"He is a loon," Juliani muttered but Bannai didn't appear to have heard him.  "Bannai, we believe that Eroica is an Englishman, one of that upper class with French tutors and nursemaids, since he reportedly speaks French like a native."

"Unlikely!" Bannai scoffed.  "The English have not the capacity for adventure or intrigue - they are so dull!  And why would the English care about the French nobility - have you not been enemies throughout history?  Surely the Spanish or the Austrians have more interest in your nobles, and the Austrians love your Queen."

"Who knows why the English do what they do?" Juliani asked.  

"A point well taken," Bannai said, nodding sagely.  "With your permission, I shall go settle into my lodgings and then have a look around Paris.  It has been many years since I was last here."

"Very well," said Robespierre.  "Report back here tomorrow at noon - we shall want to discuss strategies for trapping this Eroica nuisance."  He turned to Juliani.  "That is your chief priority, Juliani.  If you cannot catch him, you'll be demoted."

"Until tomorrow, then!" Bannai said.  "Bonne nuit, Citizen Juliani!"

After collecting his papers, Bannai sauntered down the staircase and strolled across the courtyard.  A few minutes' walk brought him to the private lodgings that he'd secured and he unlocked the door and entered.  A pretty little maid was setting the table in the small dining room, her blonde curls escaping from the cap she wore.  A moment later, a stocky manservant came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel and then cocking his head as he sighted their employer.

"Well?" he asked, in un-servant-like tones.

Bannai pulled off his hat and the grey wig along with it, letting his golden curls tumble down to his shoulder.  "Very well, Bonham.  I met with both Robespierre and Juliani and they accepted me immediately."

"Proves these Frenchies 'ave no taste if they dinn't kick up at that 'orrible coat," Bonham sniffed, coming forward to help Dorian out of said garment.

"Did you have a chance to get the lay of the neighborhood?" Dorian asked the maid.

G nodded, abandoning the dishes for the moment.  "I went 'round all the shops nearby, on the pretense of getting food in.  I let them know that I was a simple country girl, unaccustomed to a big city like Paris.  A couple of the shopkeepers were eager to gossip, and the baker's wife seems to know everything happening in this part of town."

"Good; make friends with them and feel free to complain about your employer," Dorian said.  "The motherly sort are always keen for a sob-story - but don't make me a horrid brute!  I don't want some young lad deciding that your honor needs protecting and coming to knock me down!"

G laughed at that and fluttered his eyelashes.  "I'll do my best, Lord Gloria."

"And if you can arrange a few regular deliveries, it'll disguise the coming-and-going of the men here.  Explain that your employer has quite the appetite," he added, patting his padded belly.

 


When Bannai turned up for his meeting with Robespierre and Juliani the next day, both looked relieved that he'd traded in his floral coat for a blue watered-silk banyan worn closed over shirt and breeches.  It was more ostentatious than they might have liked but at least he didn't look like a garden.

"You've had a little time to look around Paris," Robespierre said.  "Is there anything in particular you wish to investigate closer?"

"These traitors of yours, the ones you've arrested," Bannai said.  "You have them imprisoned somewhere safe?"

Robespierre nodded.  "The Temple, Concierge, and La Force prisons, primarily," he replied.

"I should like to see these prisons," Bannai said decisively.  "To see if there are any weaknesses."

"Of course," said Robespierre, turning to Juliani.  "See to it," he said before departing on business.  There had been trouble lately from the Girondins in the Assembly and he needed to keep his eye on them, in case drastic action had to be taken.

"Unfortunately, I have business to attend so I shall have my assistant escort you," Juliani said, gesturing sharply to the one-eyed soldier hovering near the doorway.  "Mercier, Citizen Bannai is to be shown the areas of the prisons where the political prisoners are kept.  Answer any questions that he might have."  He turned back to Bannai to say, "I look forward to your assessment when you have finished."

Once they were both gone, Mercier looked at Bannai without any enthusiasm.  "Which do you wish to see first, monsieur?" he asked, resignedly.

Bannai rubbed his chin.  "Which is the closest?" he asked.  "And perhaps there is a tavern nearby where we can refresh ourselves afterwards?"

Mercier brightened at that.  "The Concierge is quite close, just across the way.  And on the way to La Grande Force there is an excellent tavern - my sister's husband's brother is the Master of the house there."

Bannai gestured for Mercier to lead the way, smiling to himself at his good fortune in having a lazy sod with a taste for drink as his guide.

 



"...And by the time he'd had his third pint, Mercier was in tears and had declared me his brother - he would have given me the keys to the prisons if he'd had them," Dorian recounted to his companions, seated around the dining table with him.  John-Paul, Rudy, and Beck had left the Daydream anchored off the coast to join him in Paris, in addition to Bonham and G.  "Lord, but the man can drink!"

"I hope you weren't matching him for drinks, Gloria," John-Paul teased.  "You haven't much of a leg for it."

"Unkind!" Dorian retorted, then admitted, "I swapped mugs when he wasn't looking.  But it was worth it - look!"  He spread out the sketches he'd made of the layout of the two prisons.  Gifted with near-photographic memory, Dorian had been able to recreate the layout of the two prisons he'd visited that day.

"The Concierge is the trickiest - it's right next to the Palais de Justice so there's no telling when one of the Committee might turn up.  The May Courtyard is where prisoners are brought in and taken out, and also  where any supplies are brought in.  There are only a few guards at the entrance from the street to the courtyard and they clearly don't expect anyone to break into the prison from that way.  As for the interior, the noble prisoners who can pay for their beds tend to be assigned individual cells, either alone or with their family, and the rest of the prisoners are in a single large room next to the infirmary.  Obviously, it's easier to access the latter but removing a prisoner from the common room would be noticeable.  However, the prisoners are allowed to walk about the prisoner's gallery during the day and most of them do, unless they're in poor health.  Roll-call is taken as they're returned to their cells but, quite frankly, it is absurd - most of the jailers are illiterate so they're guessing as they check off the names.  We could do much with that.

"La Force is a newer structure, much more simply laid out," Dorian said, drawing forward the other drawing.  "The men are housed in La Grande Force and the women in La Petite Force.  There doesn't seem to be much haste in ridding those residents of their heads, but we should keep an ear out for inmates who might need our assistance." 

"What about the Temple?" Bonham asked.

"I visit there tomorrow," Dorian said. "From what I learned so far, it is much more closely guarded.  The Queen and her children are being held there, in the tower section, managed by the Warden himself and soldiers loyal to him.  We will need to take great care if we hope to get access to any of them, but I will try to create opportunities for us there.  And we will need to vary our targets - too many rescues from one location will cause them to increase security."

Dorian turned to John-Paul.  "Any luck in securing uniforms for our men?"

John-Paul nodded towards G, liberated from his wig but still wearing his frock.  "Herr G's new friend, the baker's wife, has a sister who works in one of the laundries that service the uniforms.  We should be able to pilfer a few from there.  Rudy's already found us similar rifles - they're in the attics."

"Good."  Dorian smiled approvingly at Rudy.  "Have we heard from James about covering the cost for our venture?"

Rudy rolled his eyes.  "In length and at great volume, m'lord.  He wanted to take the crossing with me, so he could tell you in person that this is gonna turn us all into paupers,"  He paused.  "And then he came up with a scheme to recoup our losses - charging the nobles we rescue a fee."

"We will not be doing that," Dorian said sharply.  "Not that they'd have much, the ones in the prisons, but we're not robbing them on top of all they've suffered." 

He pushed away from the table and strode over to the window, staring moodily out onto the dark street.  The men exchanged looks, a little confused by Gloria's recent mood changes but willing to overlook them.  

"Think it's past time t' give Jamesie a new project, m'lord," Bonham said.  "Any painting needs liberating, fer a new owner, like?"

"Yes, have him look into that, Bonham," Dorian said.  He drew a deep breath and turned back to his men.  "The Count de Beaulieu and his family - his wife and young son - are imprisoned at the Concierge; I saw their names on the list.   I think they should be our first targets.   I've already thought of a half-dozen ways to smuggle them out."  He didn't look at John-Paul, knowing that he would be thinking about Misha and his family, at the guilt Dorian felt over their deaths.  

The men nodded in agreement to the idea, and ideas for their rescue were tossed about and finally agreed to.

"Well, should we have a toast?"  Dorian splashed wine into all their cups and raised his.  "Here's to our League and to mud in the Frenchies' eyes!"

"Here! Here!" the men said, and drank heartily. 

 



"What do you mean, our security is lax?" Juliani angrily demanded of Bannai.  "Our guards are loyal and they've been working at their posts for years!"

"My point precisely," Bannai said, rocking back and forth on his heels as he toyed with his mustache.  

"What do you mean?"

"They have become accustomed to the routine," Bannai said.  "There is no change so they become careless."

Juliani frowned at that but said nothing.

"And who knows they are working at the prisons - everyone!  Their wives and mothers, they brag about their men to all - to strangers!  A man who is seen to work at the prisons, whose family is known, is open to bribes, yes?  'It's just a few coins, enough to give your woman a new dress or ease your mother's aching bones - she will be grateful'.  And then they are looking the other way..."

Juliani's frown deepened.  "So you are saying that we should change the guards."

"Not the men themselves - I would not take bread from an honest citizen's mouth," Bannai said.  "Change their assignments - you have many prisons and many men.  Move them around, mix up the companies."

Juliani sighed and nodded.  "You have a point.  I will order the guard assignments to be rotated.  Anything else?"

"Yes, there is one matter.  I have heard rumors of Spanish spies in Marseilles, in league with the Loyalists, so I will be leaving for there in the morning," Bannai said.  "I will return in two or three weeks, depending on what I learn."

Juliani nodded again, looking a little relieved to be rid of the man for a bit.  "You will write me with word of what you find?"

"But of course!  After I smell out the traitors and spies!"  With a tap at the side of his nose, he took his leave.

Early the next morning, Tarao Bannai was seen to mount his horse, an endeavor that required both his servants to heave him up into the saddle.  Passers-by paused to eye the amusing scene, most of them feeling sympathy for the poor beast who had to bear such weight.  After giving his servants leave to visit their families during his absence, he rode off.  A short while later, the pretty little maid and the manservant locked the door to the house and set off, the young girl chattering excitedly about visiting her mother and sisters.  Meanwhile, Bannai departed by the eastern gate, his papers checked and approved by the guard there, and set off along the road to Marsailles.

None of this had anything to do with the undertaker sitting on his cart in one of the smaller plazas where executions of the less-famous took place.  He was an ugly man, scraggly grey hair hanging around his face from under his cap, and his squint seemed permanent from the rheumy nature of his eye.   An expert in horseflesh might have noted the similarity between the cart horse and the one that Bannai had ridden out on, but there was no such expert in the plaza.  In fact, there was not much of anyone present, for the executions for that day had been finished.  The soldier guarding the bodies was impatient to be done and away, and he snapped at the undertaken in irritation.

"You've already got your share!" he said, gesturing at the three coffins on the wagon.  "Be gone!"

"Top one's empty," grunted the undertaker, then squinted at the soldier. "Y'wouldn't begrudge me my fair share, would you, Citizen?"

The soldier scowled but the truth was there were plenty of bodies and a shortage of coffins, and he just wanted to be away from there.  He helped the undertaker's young apprentice lift one of the bodies into the empty coffin on top.  A bag containing the man's head - shorn of its locks which were prized by the old women watching the executions - was tossed in as well and then the lid was nailed down.  The undertaker flicked the reins and started at a steady plod towards the cemetery that lay outside the city's western gate.

If the soldier had known where the undertaker had been before arriving at the plaza, he might have been less willing to part with one of his bodies.  An hour previous, the undertaker had been called to the Concierge prison. The men at the May Courtyard's entrance paid little heed to the cart or its driver - people died in the prison all the time and an undertaker was a familiar sight.  They went about their business, thinking more about their noon meal and the pint to go with it than their jobs.  After all, it wasn't like anyone was coming out of the prison this way, except feet first.

In the courtyard, the undertaker and his apprentice lifted down the empty top coffin and set it on the ground, then opened the other two empty coffins still on the wagon.  The undertaker took a look around at the empty courtyard and then made a small signal.  From one of the darkened archways, three figures hurried out - a man, woman, and child - accompanied by two soldiers.  The three escaping nobles were handed up into the wagon, the woman and child lying on their sides in one of the coffins while the man settled quickly into the other one.  The lids were laid on top and lightly nailed down, then the empty coffin was lifted into place on top.  With another careful look around, the undertaker and his apprentice climbed back onto the wagon and drove towards the nearby plaza to fill their empty coffin while the two soldiers mounted their horses and rode out of the city on patrol.  

But that had been an hour ago.  Now bearing a load of full coffins, the undertaker approached the western city gate and brought his horse to a halt at a gesture from the sergeant on guard.  He handed over his papers, identifying him as an undertaker licensed by the Committee to dispose of the bodies of the traitors to France.  The sergeant looked at the paper and then up at the cart.  

"Right," he said.  "Open the coffins."

The undertaker grunted but jerked his head at his apprentice.  The young man made quick work of opening the top coffin and then, prey to a mischievous thought, tossed the bag containing the head to the sergeant.  He caught it and then, horrified by the feel of the bag's contents inside the blood-soaked fabric, tossed it back at the young man.  The apprentice caught it deftly, grinning while his master chuckled deeply.

"What's the matter, Sergeant?" the undertaker asked, chuckling.  "No taste for Madame la Guillotine's work?  The other two are even prettier!"

"Get out of here!" the Sergeant snapped, flushed with embarrassment and aware that his men were sniggering behind him.  "Open the gate!"

The apprentice tucked the head back in its coffin and slid the lid into place as the wagon made its way out of the city and down the road towards a little church and its cemetery.  John-Paul and Rudy, wearing their own clothes instead of soldier's uniforms, were waiting there under the cover of the trees with two extra horses.  They helped Beck, the apprentice, lift down the top coffin, adding it to the sad collection nearby that awaited burial.  The two other coffins were hurriedly opened and the Count de Beaulieu embraced his wife and son with tears in his eyes.

"I don't know how we can ever thank you," the Count said to the undertaker, his voice thick with emotion.  He had received word that morning that their appeal had been denied, and his agony at the fate of his wife and son had been acute.  To have been suddenly rescued was almost more than the overwrought man could bear.

"Just live well and be happy," his rescuer replied, waving away his thanks.  

"Are you - " the Countess began, her arms tight around her son still but her gaze on the undertaker.  

"Yes, he is, but we must hurry," Beck said, bringing forward the horses.  "We must make the coast before dark."

"Go with them," Dorian said to John-Paul, handing him papers.  "Have the Daydream take them to Bilbao - the Countess has relatives in Spain."

"What about you?" John-Paul said. 

"I'll go with Bonham and G.  Meet us in the cove near La Rochelle in five days - we'll sail for London.  I must be seen at the Royal Art Exhibition next month and Herr G's leave is nearly up."

John-Paul nodded and lifted the boy to sit in front of him on his horse.  With the Countess mounted pillion behind her husband, the four horses rode for the coast and safety.

Dorian waited till they were out of sight and then gave a sharp whistle.  Herr G, still dressed as a simple country maid, came out of the church, accompanied by Bonham in the guise of a peasant farmer.  Together they lifted down the empty coffins, then piled stashed baskets of produce into the wagon.  While they did this, Dorian hastily pulled a faded skirt over his trousers, wrapped a large shawl around his upper body, and stuffed the grey hair of his wig into a mob cap.  A judicious smearing of dirt over his face and arms completed the disguise.  Then he climbed up onto the wagon seat next to his 'husband' while their daughter settled among the cabbages in the back as they drove towards La Rochelle.

 


"What do you mean, you can't find the Count de Beaulieu and his family?" Juliani bellowed at Mercier two days later, his scar startling white against the red flush of his face. "When did they go missing?"

"No one is quite certain," Mercier replied, hunching in on himself in expectation of a blow.  "The Count was told that his pardon was refused two days ago, and the guard thinks they were at the roll-call that night and the next.  It was only when they were called for execution this morning that anyone knew..."  His voice trailed off as Juliani's face grew more red.

"A message for you, Citizen," the secretary said from the doorway. 

Juliani snatched the note from his hand and tore it open, growling as he recognized the rose stamp at the bottom. 

 

Citizen Juliani

The birds you seek have flown away to sunny Spain.

Adieu!

From Eroica with Love

 

Spain.  That was where that idiot Bannai had gone, to the border in search of enemy agents from Spain.  That fool had been right and Juliani was going to have to admit it to Robespierre, as well as the news that more aristocrats had been spirited out of Paris. 

Juliani growled in frustration and anger, not noticing as Mercier and the secretary prudently slipped out of the room.  He was too busy shredding the note into tiny pieces.

Chapter Text

Part 4: London

Chapter 4: Who is the Scarlet Rose?

 

June 1793

 

Major Klaus von dem Eberbach hated London with a passion that he reserved for very few things.  He hated the weather and the smell of the streets.  He hated the tediousness of Court and the insincere smiles of the public officials as they put off his requests for meetings yet again.  He hated the Ton parties with their inane chatter, the diplomatic functions and the tedious fencing with words.  He hated the English social world with its insincere smiles and incessant gossip.

And if he heard the name "Eroica" one more time, he believed that he would scream.

Everyone in London was talking about the thief and his League.  About his daring rescues - three in the last month alone, which Klaus could at least understand.  The man was a genius at planning, that was clear, and audacious, and brave.  But it was the speculation about his identity that absorbed the attention of everyone in London.  Klaus couldn't go to a party or a soiree without hearing idle speculation about just who was behind the clever disguises.  And it wasn't just at the parties - Klaus had heard his own men indulging in speculation (although at the sight of him they'd stopped gossiping and returned to their work speedily enough). The rumors that Klaus had heard would have one believe that Eroica was Castilian, a Maharajah from India, a giant from Timbuktu, a midget from the Andaman Islands, or a Red Indian.  And when he wasn't performing daring rescues, he was said to be a buccaneer or a bishop, a gondolier or a Gentleman.  No one really knew and it was The Talk of the Season.

Even here, in the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, Klaus heard people whispering about Eroica as he morosely wandered through the rooms.  He hadn't wanted to attend the art exhibition but Sir Percy had insisted.  Apparently there was some flaw in Klaus's character that Blakeney was determined to fix, in his indolent way, and if it helped him finally get an audience with the William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister, Klaus was (reluctantly) willing to accede to Sir Percy's demands.  He'd arrived with Sir Percy and his wife, but Lady Blakeney had seen someone she knew and the pair had stopped to talk to them.   Klaus, tiring of listening to gossip about people he didn't know, had continued his idle exploration of the gallery.  He couldn't care less about the paintings on display but Sir Percy had insisted that this was The Event to start off the most important month of the Season and that the Major would be remiss if he didn't attend.

And so it was that he turned a corner and unexpectedly ran into the one man he both wished to see and yet dreaded meeting: the Earl of Gloria.  The other man came to an abrupt halt, eyes wide and mouth forming an "O" of surprise, and Klaus had a moment to study the man that he had thought he was falling in love with.  Gloria looked well - a trifle pale at first and then flushed, but no doubt that was due to their unexpected meeting.  His hair was shorter than last Klaus had seen it, falling just shy of his shoulders, but as usual he wore it loose and without powder, with a high-brimmed hat on his head.  His coat was a rich blue brocade with accents of scarlet, his satin knee-breeches were black and fitted tightly to his shapely legs.  His stockings were clocked in red, his shoes had a square red heel, and he carried a beribboned cane in one hand and a fan in the other.  Gloria was the very picture of an English Courtier, but Klaus couldn't help but think that the man had looked better wearing country breeches and a tweed coat as he sat astride his horse.

"M-Major!" Gloria stammered.  

"Lord Gloria," Klaus returned, stiffly.

Gloria's cheeks paled again and for a moment Klaus thought he looked faint.  "I didn't think to see you here."

Klaus grimaced.  "Sir Percy insisted."

"Is my sister here, then?" Gloria asked.  "I believe she's avoiding me!" he added with a false-sounding laugh.  "I failed to bring her back a trinket from my last trip to Paris."  He looked down at his fan.  "Perhaps this will appease her.  I don't think it's quite my style.  What do you think, Major?"

"You're been back to Paris?"  Klaus knew that Gloria had been there in early April but why would he go there again, especially the way that matters stood between France and England.

"Oh, of course!" Gloria said airily.  "One must have new clothes for the Season, and where better than France?"

Klaus scowled.  "Given the current political situation, you should be thinking of other things than fashion!"

Gloria laughed merrily.  "Oh, I never think about politics, Major!"

Considering that a little over two months ago they had spent a very late night discussing politics over most of a bottle of port, Klaus found that statement ridiculous.  He scowled at Gloria.  "Paris is a dangerous place for an English nobleman to visit."

Gloria smiled, an odd sort of smile, and said, gently, "Ah, but not all of us want to stay in safe harbors all our lives."  

Klaus frowned, trying to sort out the meaning behind that.

"Pardon me, Major - I see my sister Margaret and must hurry to make amends with her.  Wish me luck!"  And with that, Gloria disappeared into the crowd.

The next time that he saw Gloria was two days later and due to a moment's impulse.  He had been to visit one of the other German delegations, determined to present a united front to the Prime Minister and appeal for England's aid against French incursions.  Finding himself in the vicinity of Wimpole Street, he decided to see if Gloria was at home to visitors.  He'd been trying to reconcile the Dorian he'd come to know while on his estate with the Lord Gloria of Paris and London, finding himself unable to do so.  Maybe if he saw him again, spoke to him without an audience, he'd find that other man.  

As he started up the steps, the door abruptly opened and there was Lord Gloria standing before him.  He looked as surprised to see the Major as Klaus was to see him, and for a moment there was a joyful light in his eyes and a smile on his lips.  Klaus drew in a sharp breath, his heart pounding; he could almost breathe in that Other Dorian like the summer air around him.  And then the warm smile disappeared, turning into the polite social smile and Klaus felt the chill of winter in his blood.

"Major!  How delightful to see you!  Only - I'm afraid that you've caught me just as I was leaving for my club."

"It's no matter," Klaus said woodenly.  "Sir Percy has invited me to join his family for the Trooping of the Colors this Saturday.  Will you be there as well?  Perhaps we can speak then."

"It would be delightful, but alas!  I must attend to a matter on my estate.  I will be gone for, oh, nearly a week, I expect!"

"Of course.  I won't delay you from your - club."  Klaus turned and descended the stairs.

"Major!"

Klaus turned around at the foot of the steps and looked back up at Gloria.  The Earl descended the stairs and stood looking at him for a long moment.  There was a wistful look on his face and a sadness in his eyes that caught at Klaus's throat.  

"It was lovely seeing you again," Gloria said softly.

Klaus couldn't speak for fear that he'd say something unmanly, or even beg the man to tell him what was wrong, why Dorian had changed.  Instead, he looked down at the ground and saw that the Earl's gloves had fallen out of his pocket.  He bent over to pick them up and held them out.

"You lost your gloves," he said gruffly.

"Oh, but they're not - " Gloria began, then his cheeks colored and he took the gloves, stuffing them back into his pocket.  "Thank you, Major."  

A cab drove up and Gloria hastily climbed into it, calling out the name of his club to the driver.  Klaus stood watching it drive off, his mind fiercely racing over the events of the past minute.  They had not been Gloria's gloves - they were too small for the Earl's long fingers and not as finely worked as the ones he wore.  That, and the blush, told Klaus that they belonged to Gloria's latest lover.  Whoever that was.

He ground his teeth together with a growl that startled a passing gentleman and caused him to hastily cross to the other side of the street.  Klaus stomped back to the office and, without a word to any of his men, stormed into his office and slammed the door behind him.


The next time that he saw Gloria was ten days later at a soiree hosted by the Duchess of Cumberland.  Gloria was standing in front of the fireplace holding court, with a bevy of young men and women seated around him, looking up at him adoringly.  It was so typical of the useless fribble, wanting to be the center of attention, and Klaus sourly wondered if one of them was his new lover.  Or was he already looking to replace that one with another?  Really, how could Klaus have thought for one moment that there was something substantial beneath the fashionable clothes and frivolous manners?  Maybe being isolated for those two weeks had corrupted his mind, made Klaus as effete and useless as the Earl.  It had been a lucky escape!

He nearly turned and left the room but a voice called out saying, "Oh, do tell us your new poem, Lord Gloria!"  The young woman looked around her for support and more voices joined in.  Klaus paused, curious to see just what sort of poetry the Earl was capable of producing, not that he cared at all for poems.  He leaned against the door frame, out of the sight of those in the room.

Gloria looked around at his audience and, with false modesty, said, "Well, all right, if you insist.  It's only a short poem."  He struck a pose and said, "Eroica, or The Scarlet Rose"

His audience burst into applause and he dropped his pose saying, "That's only the title!  I said short, not infinitesimal!"

There was laughter from his audience and Gloria struck the pose again, then began to recite:

"They seek him here
They seek him there
They seek Eroica everywhere
Angel or Demon
nobody knows
That damned elusive
Scarlet Rose"

His audience applauded and cheered and Gloria took his bows.  Klaus rolled his eyes; that was not a poem - it was doggerel at best and not worth the effusive praise it was getting.  He straightened up to leave, then paused as he saw Gloria pull something out of his pocket.

"Yours, I believe," Gloria said, leaning forward and holding out those gloves to a young blond man in his audience.  

Despite himself, Klaus leaned forward and craned his head to see who the recipient was, then clenched his jaw as he recognized the man.  It was Herr G.  His Herr G.  

Klaus spun on his heel and made his way to the front entrance, demanding his coat with a growl that made the servant nearly faint with fear.  For the second time in a fortnight, Klaus stormed his way through London, frightening even the footpads and pickpockets, making them look for easier prey.

By God, he thought; he would make Herr G wish that he'd been sent to Lapland by the time he was finished with him!

 

Chapter Text

Part 4: London

Chapter 5: The Creation of Man

 

June 1793

Dorian threw himself into cab's seat, swearing under his breath.  The Major's unexpected appearance on his very steps couldn't have come at a worse time.  Dorian had just receiving disturbing news from Z about new uprisings in Paris that could threaten their enterprise and was hoping to catch Jonesy and John-Paul at the club.  Both were scheduled to head to the countryside for Derby parties but, in light of recent events, there would need be some adjustments.

But for the moment, he could allow himself to dwell on the Major - on Klaus, and the look on his face when he'd seen Dorian.  At the Royal Academy of Art, Klaus had been stiff and their interaction had been uncomfortable.  But this time, it was clear that Klaus was both surprised and pleased to see him, and Dorian had forgotten to conceal his own pleasure at seeing him for a few disastrous moments.  But then he'd remembered and felt his natural smile stiffen and heard himself give a polite rebuff to the Major's greeting. He'd seen the dismay on Klaus's face, the wistfulness in those generally stern eyes, and had called out "Major!" before he quite knew what he was doing.  

Klaus turned back and Dorian went down to him, and for a long moment they stared at each other, mutual pain in their eyes.  Dorian almost relented, almost gave in to the urge to drag Klaus up the stairs and into the house where he would kiss him until he forgot just why there had to be this distance between them.

Almost.  Fortunately, his modicum of common sense asserted itself and he was away, using poor Herr G's gloves to dry the tears that fell unbidden from his eyes.


Jonesy was just coming out of the Club but he turned and went back in with Dorian.  They found John-Paul at the end of a billiard game, from which he excused himself at the end and went off with the two of them.  Once they were closed into a private parlor with their drinks, John-Paul turned to Dorian.

"What's toward?  You look as if the Frogs are on our doorstep.  Have they tumbled to us?  Z isn't arrested, is he?"

Dorian shook his head.  "Not nearly so bad but I fear that the cats are set among the pigeons."  He took a long swallow of his whisky.  "The Girondins are out; in fact, they are being rounded up and imprisoned."

"No!" Jonesy exclaimed.  

While none of them would weep for the fate of the Girondins, the fact was they were a moderating voice - such as it was - in France's new Assembly.  They had advocated for life imprisonment rather than death for the late Louis XVI and had probably been the only reason that the Queen hadn't met a similar fate yet.  

"There'll be a purge," John-Paul predicted grimly.  "Robespierre will take the opportunity to clear away all of his enemies.  And there'll be no stopping there - he'll be rid of every aristocrat as well as anyone who has spoken against him.  It'll be a terrible blood-bath."

"Is there any hope of getting the Queen or the children to safety?" Jonesy asked.

Dorian sighed.  "I doubt it; they'll be watching them more closely now.  I'll need to go back to Paris though, to see what I can learn."

"Are you sure?" Jonesy asked in concern.  "With the Frogs at each other's throats, it'll be more dangerous than ever."

"Ah, but you forget!" Dorian said, and then adopted Bannai's voice to say, "I am not French - I am Belgian!"

"What do we need to do, Gloria?" John-Paul asked.

"Cover for me here," Dorian said.  "Make it seem as if I've just left one place or I'm on my way to another.  I don't want there to be a suspicion that I've gone over to France right now."

"What about rescues?"

"We must leave the Girondins to their own devices, I'm afraid," he replied.  "They'd as soon turn us in, if only to save their skins.  The ones I'm worried about are the aristocrats not yet arrested, that they may be gathered up in the sweep.  I'll do my best to get them out of Paris at least, into the countryside where they have a greater chance of escaping over the border - towards the German states, perhaps.  Z might be able to assist me there, and I'll take a number of Jessup's forgeries with me."

With that decided, they parted company.


At the Duchess of Cumberland's soiree, Dorian received the accolades for his little rhyme with a sense of amusement that he managed not to show.  Over the past week, the legend of Eroica seemed to have grown by leaps and bounds, ironic since the League had had little to do with the newest rescues other than providing forged papers and escape routes.  And if all the reported sightings had been true, Eroica would have had to be triplets at the least.

Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he caught sight of the Major standing in the shadows.  When he looked closer, Klaus was gone - although Dorian wasn't certain that he had really been there.  Lately, he thought that he saw Klaus everywhere but he knew it was just wishful thinking.  Klaus had avoided him since their encounter on his doorstep, not that Dorian had sought him out, either.

There was a rustle of movement as the Prince of Wales and Maria Fitzherbert made their way through the throng of people.  Dorian bowed his head to the Prince.  "Your Highness.  Did you enjoy my poem?"

"Very clever, what?" the Prince said with a wide smile.  "However did you come up with it?"

"I was inspired by all the rumors.  And it rhymes in four places," Dorian replied.

"It does bring up a certain matter," the Prince said, waving the crowd around them away and moving to a quieter corner.  "I say, Gloria.  You are making a frightful number of trips to France lately.  You're not gettin' up to anything queer, I hope?"

"Lud, Sir!" Dorian replied in his most languid tone.  "Fashion alone dictates my moves.  So many rely on my expertise on these matters!"

"The Prime Minister has been after Us again, about restrictions on the purchase of French goods," Prince George said with a sigh.  "The man's a dead bore on the subject."  He fixed Dorian with a surprisingly astute look.  "Perhaps less travel to Paris would be wise, eh?"

"Oh, certainly, your Highness!" Dorian said easily although his heart had stared racing.  "I've brought enough fabric home with me to keep my tailor busy - Lord knows the Frenchies aren't using it!  I've never seen a revolution so badly dressed.  Now that everyone is equal, no one wants to make the clothes!  So much for French fashion."

The Prince of Wales laughed along with him and patted his arm, then collected his mistress and moved towards the dance floor.  Dorian was rattled by the conversation, though, and he made his way towards the door.  Collecting his coat and hat, he elected to walk home, his brain working feverishly on this new matter.

Jessup opened the door and as Henry collected his outer coat and hat, the butler said, "A pleasant evening, m'lord?"

"A troubling one, Jessup," he replied.  "The Prince is suspicious - someone in Dover has been carrying tales, I'll warrant."

"Do we need to cancel future operations?"

Dorian frowned but shook his head.  "We may need to look at other options, but Bannai needs to return to Paris before the end of the month.  I believe we need to implement Operation Macaroni."  He looked positively gleeful at the prospect although Jessup and Henry exchanged a grimace.

"Are you certain, m'lord?" Jessup asked.  "Isn't it a bit excessive?"

"Not in the least!" Dorian returned.  "Send word to Lord John-Paul, Jonesy, Herr G, Herr Z, and Sir Andrew requesting their attendance at a meeting of the League tomorrow afternoon.  Henry, you and Beck are in charge of making the sure the items are ready."

Henry sighed.  "Yes, m'lord."

Plans whirling through his brain, Dorian made his way upstairs to his bedchamber.  


The next afternoon, Dorian paced back and forth across the drawing room, impatiently waiting for his League members to assemble.  Jonesy, John-Paul, and Andrew had arrived nearly an hour ago and had been ushered upstairs by Henry and Beck.  A rap at the front door made him pause and a few minutes later, Jessup ushered Herr G and Herr Z into the room.  Z paused on the threshold, staring at Dorian.

"Good lord, Gloria!  What are you wearing?"

"Do you like it?" Dorian asked, spinning in place.  The coat he wore was extremely long-tailed and tiger-striped in gold and brown, with a pair of gold-colored satin breeches to match.  The waist of the coat was nipped in quite tight, displaying his figure to advantage, and the lace at his cuff and collars was frothy and full.  To complete the ensemble, he wore a pair of gold-colored shoes with jeweled buckles and high square heels.  On the table lay a hat to match, enormous and decorated with enough ostrich feathers to have come from one bird entirely.

"No," said Z baldly.  

Dorian grinned.  "Appalling, isn't it?  Wait until you see the Lads!"

Before anyone could say more, the door opened and in trooped John-Paul, Jonesy, and Andrew.  They were similarly dressed, each in a different pastel-colored brocade coat with matching satin breeches and intricately clocked stockings on their legs.  On their heads were large, ornate hats and they carried long canes in their hands.  It looked like a pastel rainbow had invaded Dorian's drawing room, and each of the men gave Dorian a baleful look.

"Gloria, there are limits," Jonesy said irately.

"I swear, Jonesy, there's a method to my madness," Dorian assured him.

"Oh, but 'tis madness!" Sir Andrew asserted.  "Spies and informants surround us - and we play dress-up!"   He kicked up his heel mockingly.  

"Gloria, I want to know why we've been forced into this get-up," John-Paul insisted.  "As we were coming down the stairs, Henry giggled at us!  Right in my face!"

"I think it's rather nice for a change," Herr G offered, looking over them enviously.  

Everyone in the room looked at Herr G and he blushed.  "It's quite - summery," he said, defensively.

Dorian paused, looking over his League, then turned back to G.  "G, you frighten me sometimes," he said, frankly.

"He can have mine, and welcome!" Andrew said.

Herr G's face brightened at that but Dorian shook his head.  "No, I'm afraid that the Major would murder both G and I for that."  

Herr G's face fell.

"At least tell us why we're dressed like - like damned Macaronis!" John-Paul snapped.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," Dorian said, quite serious now, and they all stopped muttering to look at him.  "Yesterday, at the Duchess of Cambridge's soiree, the Prince of Wales approached me.  He has his suspicious - he voiced them as clearly as possible without saying the words themselves.  He also hinted that the Prime Minister will shut us down if he finds out.  British-French relations are strained enough without 'rabble-rousers' making trouble!"

"Is that what the Prince calls us?" Jonesy demanded.  

"The Prince is sympathetic but you've read the papers - that's how Lord Pitt refers to Eroica and his men," Dorian said.  "We could be lumped in with the 'radicals' that Pitt abhors, even accused of Treason."  They all looked sober at that.  "And the point is - the Prince of Wales, Pitt, and no doubt many of Pitt's spies will be at the Ascot races this weekend, and they'll be watching us closely.  We must convince them that we are..."  Dorian searched for a word.

"Nincompoops," Herr Z said dryly.

"Exactly!" Dorian said, snapping his fingers and pointing at Z.  "Why, the very mention of the Scarlet Eroica makes me swoon!"  He artistically collapsed into a nearby chair, one hand draped dramatically over his forehead.  

The other men exchanged looks, acceding Dorian's point, although none of them looked happy about it.

"But Gloria!" Andrew said.  "It's easy enough for you to dress like this - you draw the eye in anything you wear.  We'll look like fools.  And however will I explain this to the men in my former regiment?"

Dorian sat upright, an earnest look on his face.  "You'll only look like a fool if you think you look like a fool.  Hold your head high and be proud of how you appear and no one will dare to snigger at you.  That's what I'm going to teach you this afternoon."

"Oh, this should be good," Z said, taking a seat on the sofa.  "I'm glad that I'm going back to Paris in the morning."

"Can I learn as well?" G asked eagerly.  "Even if I'm not dressing the part, one never knows what might happen in the future."

"Of course you may," Dorian said generously, glad to have at least one eager student.  "You see, it's all a matter of Perception."

"What is?" Andrew asked, bewildered.

Dorian sprang from his chair and drew himself up, striking a pose with one foot placed slightly to the front of the other and at an angle.  It displayed his leg to advantage and drew the eye up his leg to his body.  "Think of this, men!  In nature, which bears the most brilliant plumage - the male or the female?"

"The male!" Herr G replied promptly.  The other three glared at him and he shrunk in a little.  "Isn't that right?"

"Exactly!" Dorian replied.  "Think of the peacock with his splendid tail, the lion with his mane, the robin with his red breast!  All of them stand out - and why?  To attract a mate, of course!"

"But Gloria, we're not looking for mates," Andrew pointed out.

"Maybe not," Dorian said, "but Society will approve of the notion that you are."

"Speak for yourself, Andrew," John-Paul said and looked down at himself, then sighed.  "Philippe will laugh at me."

"Not if you present yourself proudly, head high and foot forward," Dorian said, tilting up his chin haughtily.  "You are dressing in your finest for his benefit, to make others notice you and thus draw attention to him in turn."

John-Paul considered this and then, reluctantly, arranged his body into a similar pose with his chin high and his back proudly straight.  Dorian made a slight adjustment to his hands and then smiled proudly.  

"There!  You look a picture!  How could Philippe not be proud to be on your arm?"

The exercise could not be said to be a rousing success, however by the end of an hour, Dorian had his students posing and walking with an air that suggested that each of them knew they looked exceedingly fine.  He dismissed them with the admonishment that they must take care with the shoes they chose to wear for Saturday.  They agreed to assemble at Dorian's house and ride to the Ascot races together, for moral support if nothing else.

Once they'd all left - and Dorian had cautioned Herr Z to be cautious and to look for his arrival in another week - Dorian collapsed onto the couch, lying supine to recover from the exertions.  He made a mental note to have Bonham look into other ports of departure for the Daydream as it seemed they were getting too much notice in Dover.  Perhaps Portsmouth or London, for variety, or one of the snug little coves along the coast.  They'd have to be careful if they went that route - Dorian had no desire to be shot or arrested as a smuggler.  With these thoughts in his head and exhausted by his day's activities, he fell asleep.  

 

Chapter Text

Part 4:  London

Chapter 6: The Ascot Opening Day

 

June 13, 1793


Klaus was in hell, of that he was certain.  Dressed in his best clothes and sitting in a carriage with two of his inane Alphabets, B and G, the former nattering at him about etiquette and horse racing and Society, while the latter fussed over Klaus's attire.

"I wish we'd had time to get you a new waistcoat, at least," Herr G fretted as he ran a brush over Klaus's top hat to remove the dust it had accumulated from disuse.  "And that cravat is intolerable!"

"What does it matter what I wear?" Klaus asked, irritably, and snatched back his hat.

"The entire Royal family will be present at some time over the four days of the Royal Meeting," Herr B said.

"Four days!" Klaus exploded.  "I have to spend four fucking days watching horses running around a circle!"

"No, of course not," B said soothingly.  "The first day is the most important and the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister will certainly be present.  The King and Queen will most likely attend the next-to-last day - they have a horse running in a race then, and neither of them are as keen on racing as the Prince."

"At least they have some sense," Klaus muttered.

"You wouldn't be able to get anywhere near Their Majesties, unless you were in the Royal party.  But the other Royal Princes and Princess may also be there today, and most of the Ton."

"The Earl of Gloria will be there today," G added brightly.  

Klaus glared at him.  "How in fucking hell do you know that?"  He'd been angry with Herr G since the Glove Incident, and he was aware that his behavior had confused his subordinate but that was his problem.  At least he'd given G enough work to do over the last few days so that he couldn't run off to flirt with the Earl.

"Lord Gloria supported us for membership in his Club," Herr B said, after a quick side-look at Herr G that made the younger man subside into his corner of the carriage meekly.  "It's helpful - we have formed several acquaintances among the other members that are useful for our mission."

Klaus scowled but didn't say anything more on that matter.  He had plenty to say on other subjects, though, especially on the stupidity of horse racing.  "Fucking waste of good horseflesh," he snapped.  "Breeding them to be fast is a waste - strength and stamina are what's needed for a good cavalry charge."

"Please don't say that to anyone at the races today!" B begged, his face pale with anxiety.  "The English are very fond of their horse races and this Meeting is considered the sublime completion to the Season!"

Klaus then voiced his thoughts on the English and their Season in highly vulgar German, making G squeak and blush in embarrassment.

Fortunately for his two companions, they had arrived at their destination and now joined the throng of splendidly dressed people making their way into the race course.  Herr B had procured tickets to the more exclusive of the two enclosures, probably through that Club, for which Klaus was at least grateful.  The thought of rubbing shoulders with the Great Unwashed in the cheaper section made him shudder.  At least the Unwashed Nobility in the more exclusive enclosure were cleanly dressed although most wore too much scent, even the men.  Now Klaus could see why both B and G had insisted that he dress in his best, a green light-weight wool coat with a brocade waistcoat.  Compared to the peacocks strolling about the grounds, he looked like a drab peahen but he didn't mind that.  At least his clothes were sensible, which couldn't be said for the hats that most of the women wore.

Herr A and his wife greeted them as they entered the enclosure; they had driven down in a separate coach with their two children.  A's wife was a pretty little thing and just beginning to show with her latest pregnancy, and A hovered over her in a besotted way that made Klaus's teeth grind.  God save me from fools in love! he thought.  Fortunately, they decided to find seats in the grandstand and left before Klaus's fraying temper could unleash itself on the pair.  He sent Herr G off in search of refreshment and breathed a sigh of relief for a moment of quiet.

Too soon, though, for a cheerful cry of "Major!" rang through the air.  Klaus closed his eyes and took a deep breath to mentally prepare himself, then turned around to see the Earl of Gloria approaching, accompanied by three other gentlemen, Jonesy among them.

"Good lord!" Herr B exclaimed at the sight of them.

"What in fucking hell...?" Klaus muttered as he warily eyed the men approaching him.  Gloria and his companions were arrayed in a silken rainbow of colors, their satin brocade coats and breeches coordinated to match.  Their cuffs and cravats were frothy bits of lace and their hats had more combined feathers than Klaus had ever seen when not on a bird, in colors that defied nature.  Their canes were nearly as tall as they were and ribbons fluttered from them, and the clocking on their stockings matched the embroidery on their waistcoats for gaudiness.  It was the most ridiculous thing that Klaus had ever seen in his life.

"My dear Major!" Gloria said as he came closer, a smile on his lips.  "How enchanting to see you here today!  I hadn't thought that horse-racing was a passion of yours!"

"It's not," Klaus snapped.  "What in hell are you dressed up for?  Is there a costume party?"

Gloria laughed, an affected sound that made Klaus's teeth clench.  "Ah, Major!  So droll!  But no, this is the latest fashion - do you like it?"

"No," Klaus said baldly.  He thought that Dorian had never looked more like an insipid doll, and something about his look made Klaus want to shoot something - or someone.

"A pity, but fortunately it is the Prince of Wales whom I am trying to impress," Gloria retorted, an angry glint in his eyes that told Klaus his pride had been pricked.

"Lord Gloria!"

Klaus closed his eyes and groaned as he heard Herr G's admiring tone of voice.  Of course that fucking idiot would like the frivolous fop even more like this.

"Herr G, so good to see you," Gloria said warmly, then held out another cane, this one shorter and without ribbons but still gaudy.  "You left this at the Club the other day - you really must be less careless with your things!  The porter there now thinks I'm the 'lost-items lad'.  It's an affront to my dignity, I tell you."

G accepted the cane with starry eyes and stuttered thanks, and Klaus ground his teeth.  They couldn't be more obvious if they tried, he thought irritably.

"Good lord, Gloria, is that you?" came another voice from nearby and the crowd that had gathered around the Earl parted for His Highness, the Prince of Wales.  

Gloria bowed deeply, then spun in a circle on display.  "A sample of the fabrics I brought back from the Continent, as I said the other day." He posed with one leg extended to display his stocking.  "What do you think, Your Highness?"

"Er, well..." the Prince of Wales began, clearly at a loss for words.  "The latest French fashion, I suppose?"

"Good God, no, sir!" Gloria said in shocked tones.  "The current French style is to dress like mummers at a funeral."  He shuddered.  "This cloth is French, the lace Belgian, but the style is English!  Let the Frenchies have their drab blacks - we English shall take their place as the arbitrators of Fashion now.  And our palettes are from nature.  So soft - so summery," he added with an amused glance over at Herr G.  

"Like the Peacock," added Sir Andrew, stepping forward to pose beside Gloria.

"Or the Lion," Lord John-Paul added as he prowled forward.  "The King of Beasts, in pastels!"

"After all, Splendor in Nature is the males' domain," said Jonesy, joining them in a line.

"Robin Redbreast, eh? " the Prince said and then added, "It is rather splendid."  His eyes traveled over their clothing with an air of reluctant appreciation that made Klaus roll his eyes.

"Exactly, Sir!" Gloria said with a nod that made the feathers on his hat dance.  

"Well, well, it's clear what you were up to with all these trips of yours, Gloria," the Prince began.

Klaus had had enough of this nonsense and stepped back, intending to escape while Lord Gloria's attention was elsewhere.  His movement, however, seemed to get the Earl's attention and he reached out to grasp Klaus's sleeve.

"Your Royal Highness, may I present to you Major Klaus von dem Eberbach?" Gloria said, pulling him forward.  "The Major heads the Delegation from the Electorate of Cologne and is a particular friend of mine."

Klaus ground his teeth at Gloria's simpering tone but bowed to the Prince of Wales.  "Your Highness."

"Ah, yes, Eberbach!" the Prince said.  "Met last month!  Been meaning to have you in for a chat about that problem with the French on your doorstep, what?  Speak with my secretary - he'll make an appointment."

"Thank you, Your Highness," Klaus said, and tried to find comfort in this small bit of progress.

"Now, Gloria," the Prince said, gesturing to the Earl to follow as he moved off towards the Royal Stand.  "You must tell me more about these fashions of yours.  Will you be returning to Paris?"

"Alas, no, Your Highness," Gloria replied.  "Paris is so dreary, so tedious these days.  Italy, now, that's the place to be - Genoa and Venice, especially!  Such colors and textures!"

As Gloria's voice faded into the distance, Klaus became aware that Herr B had been calling his name.  "Yes, what is it?" he barked.

"The first race is about to begin, Major," B said.  "We should join Herr A in the grandstand..."

"All right," Klaus said, turning away from the Royal Stand.  "How many races are there?"

"A dozen?" G said hesitantly and Klaus groaned.

"I'm going to need more beer."


The next time he saw Lord Gloria was halfway through the races, after Klaus had left the grandstand to visit the privies.  He was reluctant to return to the stands, bored with sitting and watching the races, and the chatter of everyone sitting around him was making his head ache - or maybe it was the cheap English beer.  He decided to walk about the grounds a bit although he had to give up his usual brisk stride for there were simply too many people idly wandering about.  Rounding one side of the grandstand, he nearly collided with a group of women who unfurled their fans to giggle behind them as they made eyes at him.  Horrified, he took a hasty step backward, only to collide with someone else.

"Careful, Major!" said an amused and damnably familiar voice.  "You're a bit unsteady on your feet today - too much beer?"

Klaus spun about and glared at the Earl of Gloria.  "Are you following me?" he demanded, his suspicions aroused.  "Why are you always mucking about near me?" 

Dorian sighed and covered his face with his hand.  "Oh, Klaus - " he began, only to be interrupted be another voice.

"Lord Gloria, I've been looking for you - oh, I do beg your pardon!  You are engaged with another."

Lord Gloria sighed and turned away from Klaus, and he could see the Earl summon up a smile.  "It is of no importance," Gloria said to the man approaching them. "And may I present my friend, Major Klaus von dem Eberbach?"

Klaus was pleased to see that someone else present was dressed sensibly.  He was a handsome man, some half-dozen years older than them, dressed in a blue wool coat and sober waistcoat, with a powdered wig and plain tricorn hat on his head. 

"Major, this is Prime Minister William Pitt," Gloria continued.

"Ah yes, Major," the Prime Minister said, briefly shaking his hand.  "I have heard your name mentioned.  You are from one of the German states?"

"The Electorate of Cologne," Klaus replied.  "I have been attempting to speak with you about - "

"Yes, yes, speak with my secretary, he'll arrange a meeting," Pitt interrupted, cutting him off with a gesture, then turned to Gloria.  "Now about these visits of yours to France, Lord Gloria.  They will not do!  They have declared war on us, and you are dashing about between here and there, for - for clothes!  How are we to assert the benefit of England's ordered society, guided by a responsible aristocracy and our landed gentry, while one of our most visible aristocrats is flaunting about the Continent in ridiculous and possibly contraband French fashions?"

Gloria raised a haughty eyebrow and said, frostily, "Although the cloth is French, these are English fashions.  And legal French silk, not smuggled or contraband - legal under your trade laws, I might add.  Although we wouldn't need to purchase French cloth if your disastrous Spitalfields Acts hadn't laid waste to our own silk weaving industry!"

Pitt gave him a stern look.  "We are watching you, Gloria, and your trips abroad.  Put one foot amiss and you will have to answer for it.  And don't think that getting Prince George on your side will help you - His Majesty listens to me, and not His Highness." 

He turned to give Klaus a cool look.  "And if you seek England's assistance against the French, Major, perhaps you should consider choosing your friends more wisely."  He touched the brim of his hat briefly.  "Good day, gentlemen."

Klaus watched with stunned dismay as the only hope he'd had of getting an audience with the King on behalf of the Electorate walked away, then turned on Gloria, furious.  "You damned idiot!  You know how important it was to me, for my mission, that I meet the Prime Minister, and how fucking long I've been put off - "

"I didn't know, actually," Gloria returned.  "How would I?  It's not as if you've bothered to talk to me - "

"I've tried but you're never fucking at home - or so your butler tells me when I call!"  Klaus snapped.  "And you just made me look like a fool in front of the Prime Minister!"

"All you care about is your bloody mission!" Gloria snapped back, clenching his fists and stepping in closer.  

"Of course I care - it's my job!"

Gloria glared.  "Maybe you should have picked someone else to spend a fortnight in the country with, then, someone who could have been more useful!"

"Maybe I should have!" Klaus snarled.  "It certainly ended up being a waste of my time!"

Gloria gasped at that, seemingly at a loss for words, and his face paled.  "And here I thought that you had enjoyed my company, as I enjoyed yours."

"Why in hell would you enjoy my company?"

Gloria flushed and looked away.  "You won't like it if I tell you."

"Can you just for once say the damned truth without making it into a drama?" Klaus snapped.

Gloria's jaw clenched and he lifted his chin.  "Because I thought I loved you.  My mistake, obviously."

Klaus saw red at that, and all the hurt he'd felt over the past month at being ignored, the pain at hearing Gloria speak of his feelings in the past tense, unleashed itself and he struck out.  Gloria went down, caught by surprise, and lay sprawled on the grass.  Klaus resisted the urge to hit him again, holding his ground as his subordinates suddenly appeared and rushed over.

"Lord Gloria!" B cried out, kneeling down beside him.  "How badly are you hurt?"  He helped Gloria sit up and whipped out his handkerchief to stop the bleeding of his lip.  

"Major, what have you done?" G wailed, looking around to see who else had witnessed the scene.  Those who had been watching the drama quickly turned away.

Klaus knew that he'd let his temper get the better of him and that there would probably be hell to pay - the Consul might even replace him if his actions had endangered their mission.  At the moment, though, all he felt was a numbness inside, which was better than pain at least.  "I apologize, Lord Gloria," he said stiffly but without any real remorse.  "If you want to call me out for this, I won't deny you the satisfaction."

Gloria looked up at him, the handkerchief pressed against his bleeding lip.  "Don't be stupid," he said crossly.  "I can't hit a barn with a pistol, and I'm clearly better at swords.   I may hate you right now but I don't want you dead, so what would be the point?"  

He let G and B help him up.  "Herr G, would you find Sir Andrew and tell him that I've gone home.  I've had enough sport for one day.  I'll send the carriage back for them."  

He went off, leaning more heavily on his cane than before but straight-backed and proud.  Klaus watching him for a moment, then turned back to see that his two subordinates were looking at him reproachfully.  He glared at them; he didn't know if he was angrier at himself or Gloria, but he didn't plan on analyzing his feelings at the moment.

"Don't start with me," he growled, and stomped off in search of alcoholic refreshment.  He intended to be very drunk by the end of the races, if at all possible.  

Chapter Text

Part 4: London

Chapter 7: I Will Forget You

 

June 13, 1793 - Later that day

 

As the carriage pulled up to his lodgings in Wimpole street, Hal - now acting as Tiger - jumped down to hold the horse's head while Ozzy dismounted from the box so that he could help Dorian down from the carriage.  Not that Dorian needed help - which he told Ozzy, although he was ignored.  

"That was a rum hit, me lord, and no question," Ozzy grumbled as he insisted on helping Dorian up the stairs.  "You want that me 'n the lads pay a visit to this here Major?"

"Good lord, no!" Dorian said, his words a little muffled due to the handkerchief still pressed against his injured lip.  "Best to just let it go."

"Who'd 'a thought," Ozzy said, shaking his head as he rang the bell for Dorian.  "Just goes t'show that you don't really know a person.  He seemed such a gentleman - had an excellent seat and soft hands on the reins."

Dorian thought wistfully about those hands, soft or not, and about his past fantasies about how well Klaus could ride him.  Reluctantly but resolutely, he pushed those thoughts away.  

The door was opened by Henry who looked shocked to see him, although it wasn't clear if it was Dorian's early arrival or his appearance that surprised him more.  Dorian turned to Ozzy to thank him for his assistance.

"Naught t' thank," Ozzy returned, with an uncharacteristic touch to his cap.  Dorian, who preferred to think of his men as more a family than servants, had never insisted on that sort of deference and was touched, knowing it was a sign of the man's concern for him.  "I'll head back t' Ascot t' collect the other gentlemen as soon as I've changed out the horse, me lord."

Henry closed the door and took Dorian's cane, apparently struck to silence by Dorian's appearance - which made him want to consult a mirror, to see just how bad the damage was.  Jessup hurried into the foyer, tugging at his coat and looking a little less than his prim self; Dorian reflected that his butler's romance with Cook seemed to be going well, the lucky devil.  "Good lord!" he exclaimed at the sight of Dorian.  "Whatever has occurred, m'lord?  Highwaymen or footpads?"

"Neither," Dorian replied, removing his hat and looking forlornly at the crushed feathers.  It had come off during his tumble and someone had stepped on the damned thing.  "I fell afoul of the Major's temper, that's all."

"He struck you?" Jessup said with a gasp.  "In public?"

"It's hardly the first time he's threatened violence," Dorian said mildly.  When they were in Paris, the Major had occasionally resorted to threats when Dorian's flirting had gone too far, in Klaus's opinion, but he'd not done more than pull a pistol on him.

"Henry, fetch Beck," Jessup ordered, taking Dorian's hat and walking stick.  "My lord, if you'll make yourself comfortable in the study, I'll fetch ice for that lip."

"I don't need ice," Dorian protested.  "It's stopped bleeding - it barely hurts."

"Of course, my lord," Jessup said, opening the door to the study for him.  "I won't be a moment."

That was the problem with having family retainers who'd known one since before their first heist, Dorian thought irritably.  They treated you as if in short pants still.  They never saw that you were a competent thief and an actual adult, always fussed over nothing.  He sat down on the chaise to unbuckle his shoes and kicked them off, breathing a sigh of relief.  He would have to see his cobbler about those shoes - they pinched his toes something awful.

Beck hurried in, also looking less than impeccable.  Dorian wondered if Jessup had transferred his affections from Cook, or if Beck also had a inamorata among the staff.  Really, was the whole household indulging in orgies once he was out the door?

"My lord!  Your coat!  Your breeches!" Beck cried, horrified.  He helped Dorian out of the coat, clucking about the blood on the lapels and the grass stains on his breeches.  "I don't know if we'll be able to get these stains out," he fretted.  

"It doesn't matter," Dorian said shortly.  "Throw them out or give them away, I don't care.  I can't bear to look at that coat anymore."  Every time he looked at it he knew he'd hear Klaus's hurtful words, see that fist flying towards him.  He shuddered.

Beck gave him a reproachful look at the idea that Dorian could be so cavalier about clothing but laid the coat over the back of a nearby chair, then came closer to take a look at Dorian's lip.  He frowned a bit, his fingers gentle as they ran over the broken skin and pulled back his lip slightly, then down to the bruise on his chin.

"Is it very bad?" Dorian asked anxiously as Beck pulled away, reaching for the icebag that Jessup was holding.  He knew that it was a frivolous matter but he'd always been proud of his unmarred good looks, his skin clear of blemishes or spots, and his lips smooth and appealing for kisses.

Beck produced a fresh handkerchief and wrapped it around the icebag.  "Not in the end, my lord, although the next few days the area will be swollen in tender.  The cut itself is small and aligned so the scar should be small - "

"There'll be a scar?" Dorian wailed.

" - but fortunately your teeth are undamaged."

"I suppose I should be grateful for the Major's aim and that it was at my chin," Dorian grumbled.

"If your lordship would lie back on the chaise and hold this against your lip," Beck said, proffering the icebag.  "We might be able to reduce the swelling."

Dorian sighed but reclined back on the chaise and allowed the handkerchief-wrapped bag to be applied to his lip.  The coolness first stung and then soothed his injury.  

"You should rest, m'lord," Beck said, going to draw the curtains.  "It's no doubt been a stressful day."

"I'm not a child who needs a nap!" Dorian protested - well, as much as he could with a compress against his lip.  But even as he spoke, he could feel his eyelids getting heavier.  He was already half-asleep when the door closed.


Dorian wasn't sure if it was the loud opening of the door or the sudden spill of light from the windows that woke him.  He sat up, feeling a little groggy from his impromptu nap, to find that his study was full of gentlemen in good spirits.  John-Paul and Andrew were debating the finish of one of the races while Jonesy requested refreshments from Jessup.  The butler, looking much more composed than earlier, offered the news that Cook had prepared a cold repast which would be laid out in the breakfast room shortly, before moving to the window to straighten the drapes.  

"Wake up, Dorian, you lazy sod!" Jonesy said, tossing a pillow at him.  

Dorian struggled up onto one elbow and Jessup inserted a couple of pillows behind his back to prop him up.  "If you lot don't quiet down, I'll have you thrown out!  My head hurts like hell."

John-Paul let out a whistle.  "The Major really did lay you out, then.  G was nearly beside himself and in tears."

"Mmm," Dorian said, his tone non-committal, and stifled a yawn behind his hand.

"A and B nearly had to pour the Major into his carriage," Andrew said as he splashed some brandy into a glass and then offered it to Dorian.  "Drunk as a wheelbarrow and prime for a fight."  He cocked his head.  "All right, there, Gloria?"

"Beck assures me that the scar will be small."

"A scar!" Jonesy teased.  "All the lads will be swooning at your feet, thinking it from some heroic adventure."

"Not if they were at the races," Dorian said drily.  "I don't suppose there's a hope that the gossips haven't heard?"

"Not a chance," John-Paul affirmed.  "Word is that you propositioned the Major and he planted you a facer."

Dorian moaned and collapsed back on the chaise, hands over his face.  "I won't be able to appear in public for months!"

"Only a week or so," Jonesy said cheerfully.  "And the way that chin looks, you wouldn't want to."

Andrew gave the others a stern look, then sat in a chair close to the chaise.  "What's the truth of it, Gloria?  I heard that Pitt was there as well - was he the cause?"

Dorian sighed and shifted till he was sitting up again.  "Only in a round-about way.  We may have convinced the Prince but Pitt is suspicious.  He seems to think we're involved in something that will discredit England but he doesn't know what."

"That we are Eroica's gang?" John-Paul asked as he leaned against the side of the chaise.  

"No, I don't think so.  More likely smuggling - he as good as accused me of wearing smuggled silk."  He frowned.  "He'll be watching us - that much is certain.  We can't risk taking out the Daydream for a while so we'll have to devise other ways to get to Paris, and other means to get those we rescue to safety."

"Is it wise to go back to Paris?" Andrew asked.

"I must - they'll get suspicious is Bannai is away too long.  I'll go there disguised as the courier for the German legation - it'll give me a chance to talk with Z.  And I'll plan on remaining there for much of the summer, as Bannai.  I might be able to ferret out more of their plans that way."

"And how will you explain your absence here?"

"The Season is about over - everyone will be heading to the country or watering holes for the summer.  I'll put out word that I've gone back to Gloria on estate business.  Meanwhile, I'll have Bonham and Larky look into another boat, perhaps a small fishing vessel, and you lot can work out some other options.  I'll send word through G when I plan to return to England and we'll meet then to talk about strategies."

They all nodded.

"Anything important happen after I left?"

Jonesy punched John-Paul in the arm.  "Johnny here is an engaged man!"

"What?" Dorian asked, diverted by this news.  "My advice actually worked?"

John-Paul laughed.  "Yes, but not with Philippe.  The one who needed to be impressed was his mother.  The Countess said that she hadn't thought that I had a proper notion of style or fashion, which didn't suit her goals for Philippe.  She envisions him as a leading light of Ton fashion after his marriage.  She heartily approved of my appearance and insisted that the Count bless our engagement on the spot."

"We'll have to toast your future," Dorian said as Jessup entered to tell them that supper had been laid out.  "Jessup, a bottle of champagne, please!" He pushed up from the chaise and made a face at the condition of his shirt and breeches.  "Go on in, all of you.  I must nip upstairs and change - I couldn't possibly sit down to a meal dressed like this!"

He ignored their good-natured teasing and climbed the stairs to his room.  Beck had anticipated his intentions and a fresh set of clothes was laid out on the bed.  Wearily, Dorian began stripping off his ruined clothes, pausing when he caught sight of himself in the mirror over the dressing table.  He dropped down onto the bench and, resting his elbow on the table, propped up his head and stared at himself.  His chin sported an ugly bruise that was already darkening to an ugly purple and the cut on his swollen lip was framed by dried blood.  His hair was tangled around his face and there was a smear of dirt on his cheek.  But it wasn't these imperfections marring his usual stunning looks that had caught his attention - it was the desolation in his eyes.

"I'll forget him," he told his reflection in the mirror.  "I've forgotten others before him, and Klaus wasn't even my lover."  He swallowed against the pain of that thought, the what-might-have-been fantasies that were dashed.  "He's just a man after all - I have plenty of other interests to occupy my time."  

Unbidden, though, came the memory of that lovely moment at the picnic.  He closed his eyes, savoring in memory the feeling of Klaus's fingers brushing back his hair, tracing the shape of his cheeks and his lips.  In his building fantasy, there was no inconvenient rain - instead, he fell back onto the blanket, his hand in Klaus's cravat pulling him down with him.  He felt ghost-lips press against his, warm and firm, a trace of wine on the skin making them even sweeter, those lips stealing away each breath of his.   Hands not his own loosened his clothing, lips and fingers traced his skin, moving down his throat, stirring his passion -

The sound of the door opening broke the fantasy and he opened his eyes, looking away to see his valet in the doorway.

"It's all right, Beck - I'll dress myself," he said in response to a question that hadn't been asked.  Then he turned back to his dressing table, briskly opening one of the little pots and applying an unguent to his lip, then smoothing moisturizer over his bruised skin.

But he avoided the eyes of the broken-hearted man in the mirror.

Chapter Text

Part 5: Paris Redux - A Single Piece of Courage

 

October 20, 1793


Along the streets of Paris, the inhabitants shivered in the cold October winds and quickened their steps to reach their destination faster.  They moved past shuttered churches and defaced street signs, pausing briefly at the butchers or greengrocers to see what food was available that day.  Prices were cheap, dictated by the new government in order to allow the poorer citizens equal access, but one could not buy what wasn't there.  The farmers and dairymen in the countryside were too afraid to bring their wares into Paris, afraid that the rough soldiers at the gates would damage or confiscate their goods, or that they'd be arrested on some charge lodged by another citizen with a grudge.  Trials were rare with the prisons so full, and an accusation was enough to land someone at the guillotine.  Even the former Queen, who had gone to the guillotine earlier that week, had been accused of everything that could be brought to bear and had endured a farce of a trial.  

Everyone was equal now, everyone a Citizen, but in Paris there was little worth celebrating.  

Along these streets walked a stranger, a man in a long, colorful coat with grey hair and a floppy hat.  He looked as out-of-place as a peacock among crows but walked with a certainty of step as if he'd always lived among them.  And why shouldn't he be assured?  The badge on his coat was that of the Committee, offering him a bit more safety against the Terror that was currently gripping Paris and all of France.  Others out on the streets averted their eyes as he passed and moved quickly out of his way, for none of them wanted to risk calling attention to themselves.  These days it was much safer to be unseen and unheard.  

Tarao Bannai stopped at the door of his lodgings, fumbling for the key before letting himself in and then securing the door behind him.  The house was empty and he sighed as he removed the hat and gray wig, releasing his blond curls to tumble down to his shoulders.  Another sigh, this one of relief, and he scratched at his scalp to ease the ache from having all that hair piled up on his head.  Even though he'd cut off nearly six inches of his long locks to make it easier, it was still heavy and hot under the wig.  Next he shrugged out of his long coat and hung it up, then unstrapped the false belly underneath his shirt and set that aside.  A banyan in Dorian's preferred color and fabric was hanging on the peg in the closet and he pulled it on over his shirt and rough trousers, then sat down to remove the scruffy boots.  Finally comfortable and feeling more himself, Dorian made his way into the kitchen to see what there was for his dinner.  He added wood to the banked embers in the fireplace, watching till it caught fire, then turned to the larder.  It was lamentably bare and he frowned; he'd have to don the maid's costume in the morning and go in search of more foodstuffs.  In the meanwhile, he pulled out what remained of a loaf of bread and some cheese, carefully cutting away the mold on both.  He laughed under his breath, wondering what the Ton would think if they could see the Earl of Gloria now.

A scratching at the back door had him instantly alert, a knife from one of his hidden sheathes instantly in his left hand while the kitchen knife stayed in the right.  He crept to the door and put his ear against it, and a moment later was rewarded by the sound of a little tune being sung on the other side.  The knives went back to their former locations, then he unbolted and opened the back door to let Herr Z into the house.

Z set the parcel he was carrying down on the table, rubbing his hands together briskly.  "It's a raw night."

Dorian nodded and turned to the fireplace, hanging a kettle on the hob.  "Tea will be on offer as soon as the water's heated.  In the meantime, help yourself to the whiskey.  There's bread and cheese if you've got a stomach for them, only a bit moldy."

Z shook his head over the meager fare laid on the table.  "Oh, Eroica!  What a sad come-down!"  He untied the bundle he'd brought, producing a lidded pot of stew and some fresh bread twists.  "My landlady had provided a better repast, enough for two."  His cheeks flushed as he added, "She thinks I'm off to see a lady-love."

Dorian chuckled and grabbed a pair of bowls.  "Only me, I'm afraid, and Marie would slit my throat if I set my cap at you.  I'm glad of the company, though.  I miss Bonham and the lads dreadfully."

"Speaking of which," Z said, producing a letter from his pocket.  "The messenger arrived today.  Bonham and your last 'clients' have arrived safely in Portsmouth."

Dorian unsealed the letter and scanned the contents.  "No trouble getting them to Miquelon, and the fishing boot worked well.  We'll have to remember that for the future, especially if we succeed in our final mission."  He carefully put the note into the fire.

"Our final one?" Z asked.

Dorian nodded.  "It's becoming too difficult to rescue anyone from the prisons, although I've been able to secretly warn several families before they could be arrested.  But there is one person that we have to try to free, if it's at all possible."

"The Dauphin," Z said, nodded.

"The King, even if he's only a boy and uncrowned," Dorian said.  "We were unable to save his mother but there might be a chance to get to the boy."

They were both silent, thinking about the former Queen who had been executed a few days earlier.  

"But the boy was separated from his mother in July," Z pointed out.  "No one knows where they took him or how he fares."

Dorian sat down at the table and gave Z one of his brilliant smiles.  "Ah, that's where you're wrong, my dear Z!  Our dear Citizen Juliani has been tasked by the Committee with reporting on the boy's health and security, and he is taking me with him - tomorrow afternoon!"

"Eroica!" Z exclaimed.  "However did you manage that?"

"By sewing a little distrust," Dorian replied.  "Robespierre is now the undisputed head of the Committee, the most powerful man in France.  And, like all men who come to power through evil deeds, he fears that he, too, might fall.  Citizen St. Just he trusts, barely, but not the younger men like Juliani who might seek to take his place.  I, however, have the advantage of having been hired by Robespierre directly; I am his man and he thinks me loyal through the purse-strings he holds.  Therefore, I am to go along tomorrow and then report to him directly," he added, in Bannai's voice.

"Then you'd better get some warm food in you," Z said, dishing out the stew.  'Wherever they have the boy, I'm sure that it's not comfortable."



As Dorian/Bannai followed the Temple commander through the prison the next afternoon, he wryly reflected that Z hadn't been wrong.  The Temple Tower was dark and dank, the smell of rot and urine everywhere.  Juliani looked very unhappy, holding a handkerchief over his nose to protect him from the smells, but Dorian had taken the precaution of rubbing a little peppermint oil on his fake mustache to help dilute the smells.

"This way," the commander said, unlocking a large oaken door.  

Inside was a medium-sized room furnished with a table and some chairs.  A cobbler's bench stood to one side with a young boy sitting at it, hammering at the sole of a shoe with little interest and less skill.  There was a fireplace for cooking with, oddly enough, a large wicker basket full of china beside it.  Some attempt had been made to make the room homely with a colorful cloth on the table and trinkets scattered about, no doubt by the woman who stood next the fireplace.  There were two doorways off of the main room, one room containing a decent bedstead and small dresser, and the other with a pallet of straw on the floor and a rough blanket tossed on it.  Dorian took all of this in with sharp eyes as he pretended to wander aimlessly about the room.  It was clear that the boy's wardens, Citizen Simones and his wife, lived in the small apartment with the boy, which would make it difficult to remove him while they were in residence.  Mrs. Simone looked to be the kindly sort, neat about her person and anxious as the commander put the boy through his "catechism" of espousing the French Republic.  Her husband was a different sort, scruffy-looking about the face although his clothes were well-mended and clean, but his red-cheeks and nose indicating that he probably spent more time drinking than repairing shoes.  

Louis-Charles himself looked a little thin and pinched, his cheek sporting an old bruise - no doubt bestowed by Antoine Simons - but it was his eyes that caught Dorian's attention.  They were older than an eight-year-old boy's eyes should be, with a look of hopelessness in them that caught at Dorian's heart.  He wanted to say something to the boy to lift his spirits and give him hope but he didn't dare, even if he had been alone in the room with Louis-Charles.  If they had any chance of succeeding in rescuing him, utmost secrecy was needed - and a young boy could not be trusted to keep secrets that were bigger than he was.  

The best that he could manage was to drop a scrap of paper bearing the Scarlet Eroica seal and the single word "courage!" next to the straw palette where the boy, not his caretakers, would see it.  After all, a little thing like that could be just enough to give one hope.

 

Chapter Text

Part 6: Gloria

Chapter 1: We Wish You A Merry Christmas

December 1793

 

"Dorian," Margaret Blakeney nee Red said, leaning over his shoulder affectionately.  "You know that you are my favorite brother."

Dorian glanced at his cards before selecting a low card to discard.  "I am, in point of fact, your only brother."

"Even if I had dozens of brothers, you'd still be my favorite," Margaret said, kissing his cheek.

Jonesy took the trick and led the next hand with a diamond, Andrew following suit.  Dorian frowned at his hand before following his partner with a higher diamond.  "No, Margaret, I will not host a Twelfth Night party at Gloria."

"Why not?" Margaret said with a little pout.  "Your parties are always the best, you know that.  You have plenty of room and Lord knows money is not an issue."

"Margaret!" Percy admonished lightly, tossing off a card out of suit.

"Why shouldn't I say that?  We all know that Dorian is as rich as - as rich as that old Greek fellow."

"Croesus," Dorian murmured, having read Classics while at Oxford.

"Exactly!"  Margaret frowned as he touched one of his cards.  "No, not that one."  

Dorian played another card instead, and Percy and Andrew both groaned.

"Margaret, you are the love of my life and I adore you," Percy said.  "However, if you persist in helping Gloria to cheat, I shall divorce you."

Margaret laughed.  "I don't need to help Dorian cheat, my darling!  You are terrible at cards."

"A party at Gloria would be an excellent diversion," Jonesy commented as he followed Dorian's lead and collected the trick they'd won.  He led with a club and Andrew played a higher card.

"Exactly!" Margaret said, patting her brother on the shoulder.  "And you need diversion.  You've been such a recluse these last few months."

Dorian took the last trick with a higher club than Andrew's, Percy tossing away a card again.  

Andrew sighed.  "You have the Devil's own luck, Gloria."

"Lucky in cards, not in love," Margaret said.  "People are saying that your heart was broken and you're hiding because of that."

Dorian frowned.  "My heart has never been broken and never will be."  He toted up the score while Percy shuffled the cards for the next hand.  "Very well, Mags," he said with a fond smile over his shoulder.  "I'll host a party at Gloria and you may play hostess.  Invite who you like - you know how many the house will hold.  Just let me know the list and menu before you come down for Christmas so that Cook can order in the necessary supplies and Jessup can hire additional help."

Margaret clapped her hands together in delight.  "Oh Dorian!  You are the best of brothers!  I do love you so much!"  She flew off to the writing desk to begin making lists of guests and menu ideas.

"I am indebted to you," Percy said as he dealt.  "Margaret would have been blue-deviled for days if you'd refused."

Dorian shrugged.  "She's right - I have been reclusive lately.  A party will do me a world of good."  

And divert any suspicion about his activities, he thought.  

He'd returned from France at the end of November after spending much of the previous five months on the Continent, telling Robespierre that Bannai need to return to Belgium on personal business.  His absence from London hadn't been an issue over the summer but had become more apparent when the Ton returned to London for the Little Season at the end of October.  Since his return to his lodgings in London, Dorian had run into several acquaintances who'd expressed surprise and concern regarding his sporadic appearances in Town.  Hosting a large Society event would allay any concerns, and since he wouldn't be needed in Paris at present, the timing was good.  

And it would take him out of the path of Major Klaus von dem Eberbach.  

Dorian had heard enough of the news from Z to know that Klaus had finally been able to get a meeting with the Prime Minister, and that a committee had been formed to look into the matter of an alliance with the Germanic states.  It seemed that the Major was everywhere in Society these days, according to G, and although the Major never sought him out at his lodgings, it was only a matter of time before they would come face to face again.  And Dorian planned to avoid that for as long as possible.


Dorian walked through the rooms of Castle Gloria, admiring the festive decorations.  The lads had put in a great deal of work over the past week, getting the place ready for the family celebration at Christmas and preparing for the Twelfth Night party in two weeks.  There was greenery everywhere and the Yule log was laid in the Large Drawing Room's fireplace, ready to be lit.  Cook had been making test batches of the menu options for the party, and Dorian ruefully reflected that much more of this and he wouldn't need much of a false belly to play Bannai.  The baskets for his tenants were all prepared for Boxing Day, the guest rooms had all been aired out, and extra help from the village would be hired in for the party itself.

The front door burst open and in swept his sister, Margaret and her two sons, followed at a more leisurely pace by Percy and, surprisingly, Herr Z.  

"My dearest brother!" Margaret cried out, rushing forward to embrace him.  "Are we late?  The roads were beastly - I'm simply frozen!"

"Your rooms are waiting and the fireplace is lit," Dorian assured her and Percy, then turned to Z.  "Herr Z, what a pleasant surprise!"

Z flushed, fidgeting with the hat he'd removed.  "I'm not intruding, am I?  Lady Blakeney assured me that I'd be welcome.  Mar - Lady Marie wished me to join the family for Christmas, although the Dowager didn't think it appropriate for me to stay at Gatton."

"My dear Z, of course you are welcome!" Dorian assured him.  "I was devastated to hear that you won't be in England for our Twelfth Night party but we'll have to make up for that with Christmas.  Jessup will show you to your room - the same as last time?" he said, casting a look over at Jessup and receiving his nod.

"About that," Margaret said, linking arms with her brother and following the others more slowly up the stairs.  "Now don't fuss at me but I've added a few names to the guest list I sent you," she began.

Dorian gave her an intent look and then sighed.  "Let me guess - the Prince of Wales?"

"And a few of his circle, no more than ten."  As Dorian started to open his mouth, she hastily said, "Mother has offered to host them at Gatton Park - you know she's a great friend of Lady Jersey.  They are at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton for Christmas and will be driving up to Gatton the day before our party."

"Very well," he said.

"And there are three more guests, who will need rooms here," Margaret said, glancing sideways at him.  "My dearest Percy has asked you to include Major Klaus."

Dorian frowned.  "Why?" he asked, looking up the stairs to where his brother-in-law had disappeared.  "Mags, you both know what happened at the races - "

"And so does all of the Ton," Margaret reminded him.  "Talk has died down since neither of you has said more about the incident.  But if you don't include the Major as a guest at the biggest party you've ever held, the talk will start again."

Dorian sighed.  "And I suppose that Herr B and Herr G will accompany him?  All right, I'll see that they have rooms prepared."

"Thank you!"  Margaret squeezed his arm.  "Now, what costume are you wearing?"

"I hadn't really thought about it," Dorian replied, then shrugged.  "I will come up with something.  What about you?"

"Titania, and darling Percy is -"

"Bottom?" Dorian said with a sly grin.

She smacked his arm.  "Silly!  As if you'd catch him with an ass's head!  No, he'll be Oberon, of course."

Dorian left his sister at the door to their suite and made his way to his own bedchamber. After that news, he needed a little time alone to recover his composure. He pulled back the curtain that he'd had installed over the portrait of Tyrian Persimmon months earlier; although he was reluctant to have the painting moved from his room to another part of the castle, he couldn't bear to see that face when he lay in his bed. Now he studied the painting, the beautiful but cruel face, and tried to prepare his heart for the presence of this man's descendant. Having Klaus here in his home would be agony.

Although....

A thought came to him and he smirked. Perhaps there was a way to turn this situation to his advantage. He rang the bell to summon Beck - there was no time to lose.

Chapter Text

Part 6: Gloria

Chapter 2: A Falcon in the Dive

January 2nd, 1794

 

Juliani was growing a little desperate.

Not that he showed it as he berated his lieutenant for, once more, failing to locate Eroica.  "Double the guards on the gates!" he ordered.  "Search every vehicle going through!"

Mercier nodded, not pointing out that they had already done all of these things.

"Search the town as well!" Juliani nodded.  "I will return in the morning and there'd better be news!"

He stalked through the streets of Paris, ignoring the glares from the people who scurried out of his way.  From nearby he heard someone spit, someone else mutter, but he ignored both.  The people of Paris were unhappy and there were rumblings against the rule of the Committee.  As the citizens muttered that they'd replaced their king with Robespierre, that man became even more paranoid.  Just that morning Robespierre had given Juliani an ultimatum - produce Eroica so that he could be sent to the guillotine or it would be his own head at risk.

Juliani entered the French Naval building and made his way to the offices of the Legation from Cologne.  

"Welcome, Citizen!" the Consul said, his greeting effusive, but was it a bit less warm than previously?  He'd thought the fat fool to be a dependable sycophant but it looked even that idiot was sensing that Juliani's fortunes had turned.  He bit back his anger at that - there would be time enough to make the man pay but right now he needed his assistance.

The Consul turned to the only other person in the room who was diligently bent over some document he was copying out.  "Herr Z, run to the Comédie-Française and pick up two tickets for tonight's performance."  He turned to Juliani.  "Madame Isabella is singing tonight, a treat not to be missed!"

Once Herr Z had left, the Consul led Juliani into his office.  "It is as you suspected," he said, holding up a piece of paper.  "I bribed the messenger to hold this back from the last diplomatic pouch.  It is a message for Herr Z and the handwriting is not the Major's."

Juliani heated the blade of a letter opener with a match, then slid it under the seal, carefully lifting it without breaking it.  " 'Send word if there are any changes to the guard'," he read aloud. " 'I will return in two weeks - sooner if needed.' And it's signed with that damned red flower!"

"So Z is one of Eroica's men?" the Consul said, frowning.  "I wouldn't have thought it - he's such a good German boy."

"Anyone can be bought or bribed," Juliani said, "although I suspect in this case it's your young man's heroic ideals at fault."

"Will you have him arrested?"  It would be a shame, the Consul thought, for Z was a bright young lad and he was fond of him.  But perhaps then the Major would send back Herr G, which would be a delightful compensation.

"Not immediately," Juliani said after a moment's thought.  "We don't want to alert Eroica or his gang to our suspicions, not until we're ready to spring our trap.  We don't know what this guard is that Eroica is interested in - it could be at any of the prisons where we hold the aristos, or it could be Robespierre's personal guard.  We need more information."  He heated the wax and sealed the note again, then handed it to the Consul.  "Be on the watch for any more notes and confiscate them before Herr Z can read them.  I will read them when I return."

The Consul nodded.  "Where are you going?"

"To London, and I will leave in the morning.  If Herr Z was recruited by Eroica then it is as we've suspected all along - Eroica is an Englishman, and more than likely one of their nobility.  I intend to seek him out on his home turf."

"But how will you be able to find him?" the Consul asked.  "He's hardly going to reveal himself to you and all those English lords will be on their guard against you."

Juliani smiled, and it was not a pleasant look.  "Ah, but I already have someone in place in London, someone who is part of their Society and above suspicion.  He will deliver Eroica to me, of that I have no doubt."

"You don't mean - "

"Yes," Juliani gloated.  And Eberbach [1] will deliver Eroica or he will pay with the lives of his own men!"

 

Chapter Text

Part 6: Gloria

Chapter 3: Klaus's Dilemma

January 5, 1794

 

Klaus stared at the outfit that William, the valet assigned to him at Castle Gloria, had laid out on the bed.  "You are fucking kidding me."

William shook his his head.  "Lord Gloria had this specially made up for you," he said, then added, "Oh!  It's a costume party, like - did Lady Blakeney not tell you that?"

"Lady Blakeney didn't say much of anything important," Klaus muttered.  

He'd arrived at Castle Gloria the previous afternoon, in a hired carriage with B and G.  Lady Blakeney had told him that Gloria was hosting "a little party for Twelfth Night - just a dozen or so people."  Which had clearly been an understatement if not a deliberate lie, for there were easily two dozen people milling about the downstairs rooms when they entered the castle.  As Jessup took his coat and hat, he cheerfully informed them that they expected another two dozen from neighboring estates for the party itself.  

"The Prince of Wales and his entourage have driven up from Brighton especially for the occasion, although they are staying with the Dowager at Gatton Park," Jessup said.  "You'll be in the same room as last time, Major, with William as your valet again."  He looked apologetically at G and B as he added, "I'm afraid that you gentlemen will have to share accommodations as we are quite full of guests."  He sighed happily.  "We haven't hosted such a large party since the late Earl passed on."

Dinner had been an elegant affair, with twenty-six people sitting down at the enormous table in a formal dining room that Klaus hadn't even noticed during his last visit (but then again, he hadn't seen the ballroom either).  Klaus had been placed on Lady Blakeney's right at the foot of the table, across from Sir Percy, which meant that Gloria was at the other end of the table, much to his relief.  Klaus had regretted his actions ever since Ascot even if he would have rather died than admitted that, and avoiding Lord Gloria for as long as possible was his goal.  Which failed to explain why he had accepted Lady Blakeney's invitation, returning to Gloria where he was bound to run into Gloria at some point.  He told himself that it was for his mission (and the little voice in his head deriding that sounded just like Gloria), and that he would do what he needed to do for his homeland.

But now, as he stared at the outfit that William laid out on the bed, he thought that this might be a bridge too far.  There was a light purple padded doublet with puff sleeves and insets of gold satin, and the most ridiculous looking knee-breeches he'd ever seen, stuffed like some sort of purple pumpkin.  A fine linen shirt with an enormous falling collar trimmed with lace went under the doublet, and there were long black hose and an elegant pair of black slippers for his feet.  Completing the ensemble was a long purple cloak with gold satin lining and an enormous red hat with a large white feather draped all along the brim.  It looked vaguely familiar, as if from a painting in a museum somewhere, and it was the most foppish thing he'd ever seen.

"No," he said emphatically.  "I won't wear the damned thing.  I'll look like an idiot."

"Everyone will be wearing a costume," William said, in what Klaus supposed was meant to be a reassuring tone of voice.  "Lord Gloria is dressing as a pirate!  And I heard that the Prince is coming as a roman emperor, in a toga!"

Which sounded even more idiotic than this purple pumpkin pants outfit, but not by much.  Klaus ground his teeth but surrendered to the inevitable and allowed William to help him put on the costume, which was more complicated than it looked, with strings holding the various bits together.  When he was dressed, he stared at his image in the mirror and allowed that he looked presentable.  The doublet was surprisingly comfortable and fit well and the cloak pinned on his right shoulder, leaving that arm free for combat, which seemed sensible.  (He thought wistfully about the swords in Castle Gloria's armory - but then, if he was armed, he'd be tempted to run any one through if they so much as smiled at his appearance.)  The pumpkin pants were still ridiculous.

On the landing he met up with B and G, as they'd arranged.  B was wearing some sort of friar's robe and carrying a tankard, while G was dressed in a scarlet tunic with green leggings and short hooded cloak, accompanied by a quiver (fortunately empty of arrows) slung over his back.

"Major!" G exclaimed, clapping his hands together with delight.  "How dangerously dashing you look!"

Klaus grunted, pleased with the "dangerous" part of that statement at least.  "What are you supposed to be?"

"Will Scarlet!" G announced, performing a little pirouette.  "And B is Friar Tuck!  Isn't this fun?"

Klaus doubted that this party would be his idea of fun but drew in a deep breath and prepared to endure the evening.  "Let's get this nonsense over with."

Lord Gloria was in the entrance hall, welcoming guests as they arrived for the ball.  He was dressed in a pair of buff breeches, a white shirt open to the waist, and a green leather jerkin , with a colorful red bandana tied over his glorious curls.  Klaus envied him the sheathed sword on his hip.

"Major!" he said as he spied them coming down the stairs.  "Don't you look a picture?"

Klaus gave him a sour look, gesturing down at the ridiculous pumpkin pants.  "Your doing?"

Gloria's eyes crinkled, clearly laughing at Klaus, then he looked past him to Klaus's men.  "Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet, as I live and breathe!  I believe that you'll find the rest of the Merry Men in the ballroom.  Oh, and Tuck - there's a buffet spread out in the dining room.  No ale but other spirits are available!"

Obviously dismissed, Klaus turned away only to have his attention caught as everyone around him went into a bow.  Klaus looked around to see the Prince of Wales entering with a large party of ladies and gentlemen.  The Prince was dressed in a toga - or at least a length of cloth wrapped around him and draped over one arm, while the rest of him was attired in black breeches and a white shirt with a crown of laurel leaves on his head.

"Gloria!" the Prince said heartily.  "Splendid turnout, what?"

"Your Highness," Gloria said, rising from his bow to welcome the party in.  "I trust that my mother has made you comfortable at Gatton Hall."

"Oh, tolerably, tolerably!" the Prince assured him.  "You know Mrs. Fitzherbert, of course," he said, presenting the lady on his arm, who was dressed as a Grecian goddess, fortunately with more covering than the statues and paintings Klaus had seen.

"Of course," Gloria said, inclining his head to the lady who was widely known to be the Prince's mistress.

"I hope you don't mind, my dear fellow,"  the Prince said, drawing forward a man whose funereal black clothing looked out of place among his brightly garbed fellows, "but I've brought along an extra guest.  This is Citizen - odd title, that, what? - Citizen Juliani, the special ambassador and plenipotentiary for the government of France.  Turned up at Brighton two days ago - quite a surprise!"  He leaned in closer to Gloria, as if to share a secret, but said loudly, "Gloria, this man came across the Straights of Dover in order to catch Eroica!"

Klaus could see the amused look on Gloria's face as he studied Juliani and vividly recalled their first encounter, especially Gloria's subtle snub.  And suddenly he couldn't bear any of this, not without a drink.  He made his way through the throng to the ballroom, grimacing at the champagne on offer but it was better than nothing.  He drained one glass quickly, then grabbed another to have something in his hand - and an excuse to avoid dancing.  And he certainly needed an excuse because his fucking costume seemed to be catnip to the others at the party, as both ladies and gentlemen sought his hand.  He caught sight of both of his idiotic men dancing with various partners and contemplated retreating to his room for the rest of the night, or at least to the dining room for something to eat.

As he left the ballroom, though, he found his way barred by Citizen Juliani.  "Citizen," he said curtly.  "Pardon me - I need some food."

Juliani stepped closer to Klaus.  "Major, I desire a word in private."

Klaus gave him a cold look, the memory of their last talk all too clear in his mind.  "I have nothing to say to you."

The other man ignored that, grasping Klaus's arm and all but dragging him to the end of the hallway where french doors opened onto the terrace.  "I have news that will be of interest, about one of your men - Armand Zimmer.  I believe you call him 'Herr Z'?"

Klaus jerked his sleeve away from the detestable man and scowled at him.  "What about Z?"

"Zimmer is conspiring with a gang of spies and traitors to France.  He is a member of Eroica's League."

"You're insane," Klaus snapped.  "Z is a good German boy, not a thief."

Juliani scowled at him.  "I have come across evidence -"

Klaus snorted.  "You've 'come across evidence' - would that be the same way that you discovered Misha's involvement with the Loyalists?  By stealing letters from other people?"  Juliani's cheeks flushed and Klaus nodded in satisfaction.  "Rooting through private desks, pawing through personal papers.  You have no morals.  This talk is over."  He brushed past Juliani, heading for the stairs.  Fuck this party and the whole infernal nonsense, he thought.

"Then when I return to Paris, Zimmer will be arrested, charged with crimes against France, and sent to the guillotine," Juliani said harshly.  "Unless..."

Klaus halted in his steps, slowly turning back towards Juliani.  "Unless what?"

"Unless you cooperate with my investigation," Juliani said, and it seemed that he had sensed that he'd captured Klaus's attention.  "As the Prince said, I am here in England to learn who Eroica really is.  You find that out for me and your Herr Z goes free."

"How would I know who he is?" Klaus asked impatiently.  "I am German, not English."

"I've seen the reports you've sent back to the Consul, and those of your men.  You are at the center of London society, a friend of Sir Percival and Lady Blakeney.  You go everywhere, know everyone.  You were invited to this party - "

"Unlike you, who had to sneak into the party," Klaus sneered.  

" - and one of Eroica's letters said he'd be here, at this party."

"Do your own devil's work," Klaus said.  "I won't be a part of it.  Eroica may be a thief but at least he's not a coward."

Juliani's face turned red, making his scar stand out ominously.  "Very well, Zimmer goes to his death and it is your fault.  And I will make certain that your name is on the arrest warrant - as I did with Colonel
Misha Bärenjunge."

Klaus growled and grabbed the man by the front of his coat, hauling him close.  "You bastard.  He was a decent man - and his family was innocent.  I should kill you."

"Do that and you sign Zimmel's death warrant and that of your own family."  Juliani sneered at the startled look on Klaus's face.  "Or didn't you know?  France captured Bonn, just before I came to England.  The Archbishop is our prisoner.  The noble houses are untouched - at the moment.  I believe that your father is still in Switzerland but your brother and his family are in residence in Schloss Eberbach, yes?"

Klaus released Juliani, almost violently pushing him away.  "You devil."

"That is your final word?  Very well."  Juliani turned away adding, "You have signed all of their death warrants.  Let that be on your conscience."

There was something cold and final in his words, and Klaus was struck by the certain knowledge that Juliani would do as he had threatened.  The man was clearly one of those mad idealists, the ones who had brought Paris to their knees, who had killed their king and queen.  "Wait!"  

Juliani turned back, his face cold.  "Well?'

Klaus licked his lips.  "How can I possibly uncover this Eroica?"

"You're an Intelligence Officer, and you're clever," Juliani said with a shrug.  "You will find a way."  

"And if I do, you will leave them alone?  Herr Z and my family?"

"You have my word," Juliani said.  "And I am a man of honor.  I expect news tonight."  With a mocking salute, he returned to the ballroom.

Shaken by the incident, Klaus turned away from the noise, seeking a moment's peace.  He opened the French doors and stepped onto the terrace, then dug out the cigarette case he'd tucked up his sleeve.  He pulled out a cigarette, then growled as he realized he didn't have a way to light it.

"Here, let me," said a familiar voice nearby.  Gloria lit a spill from one of the torches and brought it over, holding it while Klaus lit his cigarette.  Klaus took a deep draw, closing his eyes against the calm that the action brought, then belatedly offered the cigarettes to Gloria.  The Earl shook his head, pinching out the flame on the slender piece of reed before tossing it aside.

"Interesting friends you have," Gloria said mildly but there was a look of harsh judgement in his eyes that Klaus was not accustomed to seeing there.

Klaus let out a sharp bark of laughter.  "Friend!"  He blew out a thin stream of smoke into the chill air, glad for the small warmth that his ridiculous cloak afforded.  "Fucking hell, Gloria," he muttered.  "Why aren't you the sort of man a person can turn to when they're in trouble?"  

Klaus turned away to stare out into the night, across the bleak garden.  Everything he could see was bare and dead, so different from the lush young growth that had been everywhere when he'd last stood here.  It seemed somehow appropriate.  He rubbed his eyes, trying to sort through the dilemma he found himself in.  Either he betrayed his own principles, spying on people who trusted him in order to expose a man who was trying to do some good in the world, or he surrendered his trusted agent and his family to France's pitiful excuse for justice.  It was a dark path he walked and he couldn't see any light at the end of it.

A hand on his arm startled him for he'd thought that Gloria had left.  He turned to see the other man quite close to him, closer than he'd been in nearly a year.  His expression was troubled and sincere, and in a voice quite unlike his usual foppish one, he said, "Are you in trouble, Klaus?"

For a long moment their eyes met, with none of the artifices or veils that usually separated them.  Klaus opened his mouth to tell Dorian everything, to accept the tentative help that seemed on offer.

"Gloria!  What the deuce are you doing out here, eh?" the Prince of Wales's voice boomed out, breaking the fragile scene.  "I was trying to tell Bedford about that dashed poem of yours about Eroica only I couldn't remember the blasted start!"

Gloria's hand dropped and Klaus's arm felt suddenly colder.  "Coming, Your Highness."

Klaus stood till the sound of retreating footsteps had died away, then dropped his cigarette on the terrace and ground it out.  Then he took a deep breath and began planning his strategy for discovering the truth about Eroica.

Chapter Text

Part 6: Gloria

Chapter 4: They Seek Him Here

January 5, 1794

 

Dorian finished tying the bandana around his head and surveyed himself with satisfaction in the mirror.  While there were no family portraits of Luminous Red during his piratical days, it had been easy enough to sort out costume pieces based on what he might have worn.  Which was good because the Tyrian costume for the Major was quite involved and if he'd tasked his tailor with making two such elaborate costumes the man might have quit in protest.  

There was a tap on his door and, at his call to enter, Jessup came into the room.  "How does everything look?" Dorian asked his butler.  "Any issues with the temporary staff?"

"All is running smoothly, my lord," Jessup remarked.  "Cook had a bit of an issue with the champagne delivery but Ozzy and Rudy fetched the cases themselves so all's well."

"Good."  Dorian slipped on a pair of large gold hoop earrings and studied the effect.  "Any sign of a messenger from Paris?"

"No, my lord."

Dorian frowned.  "It's been over a week since my last message to Z and we haven't heard back from him.  I hope nothing has happened."

"G seemed to think that all was well with Z from his reports."

"Hmm.  Bonnai is due back in Paris at the end of the month, but I might have to schedule a trip over sooner than I'd thought.  Ask Bonham to get a ship crossing lined up once our guests are gone."

"Very good, my lord."

Deciding that he was ready, Dorian accompanied Jessup downstairs.  Many of the guests who were staying at Castle Gloria were already milling about, taking advantage of the buffet set out in the dining room, including Margaret and Percy.  And the other guests from the local estates were beginning to arrive, requiring Dorian to welcome them as host of the party. There was no sight of Klaus or his two agents, though, which he decided was a good thing.  Better to see the man when there were plenty of others around to serve as a buffer.  

Or so he thought, until the moment when he saw Klaus coming down the stairs dressed in the Tyrian Persimmon costume, looking like the painting come to life.  Dorian's breath caught in his throat and for a moment he stood poised on a cliff, a hair's breadth from hurling himself into the Major's arms.  (And how amazing those arms looked, draped in velvet and satin!)  Fortunately, the sour look on Klaus's face spoiled the picture enough that Dorian was able to keep his head.

"Major!" Dorian called out to him, turning his attention away from the new arrivals.  "Don't you look a picture?"

If looks could kill, Dorian would be lying dead on his foyer floor.  Fortunately, the Major's irascible nature was one of the things that Dorian found most charming about the man.  

"Your doing?" the Major said, gesturing at his costume.  He seemed particularly perturbed by the trunk hose which Dorian couldn't understand because they looked splendid on him.  Dorian's only regret was giving him the cloak as it prevented him from seeing if the back of the breeches fit as well as the front.  But then again, if he could see Klaus's arse wrapped in velvet he might not be able to resist the urge to touch and Klaus probably would kill him.

In the interest of prudence, and of staying alive, he turned his attention to B and G.  Herr G had taken charge of these costumes and he'd done a splendid job.  Even better was the joke that all the League members (except for Dorian himself) were dressed as one of the Merry Men, hiding in plain sight.  "Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet, as I live and breathe!" he said, privately surprised that G hadn't dressed as Maid Marian instead, given how much he'd enjoyed the missions where he'd dressed as a woman.  Maybe he'd thought that the Major would object - which he probably would.

Dorian directed them towards the refreshments, then turned to welcome the newest arrivals.  George, Prince of Wales, entered in his usually gregarious way, catching everyone's attention.  He had forgone a full costume, choosing instead to drape a toga over his usual dress, although a wreathe of laurels did adorn his head.  His face was slightly flushed from drink already - Dorian would bet that his mother had taken the opportunity to sit her company down to dinner first - but other than that he was in his usual good looks.  Maria Fitzherbert was on his arm as usual, looking regal as a Grecian goddess.  Dorian supposed that she was pretty enough although in general he failed to see what attraction women held, and he welcomed her politely.  His mother and Maude, he saw, had made very little attempt to dress up for the occasion, however Marie made a very convincing Maid Marion.  He wondered at the coincidence and whether or not Z was sharing things that he shouldn't, and resolved to find a moment to talk to her in private later.

"I hope you don't mind, old fellow,"  the Prince said, drawing forward an all-too-familiar man.  "I've brought along an extra guest.  This is Citizen - odd title, that, what? - Citizen Juliani, the special ambassador and plenipotentiary for the government of France.  Turned up at Brighton - quite a surprise!"  He leaned in closer to Dorian, as if to share a secret, but said loudly, "Gloria, this man came across the Straights of Dover in order to catch the Scarlet Eroica."

"Did he indeed?" Dorian murmured, aiming for a languid tone to disguise the sudden racing of his heart.  Was it possible that Juliani suspected him?  "Welcome, Citizen - although it's a trifle eccentric to attend a ball hosted by one of those aristocrats you so despise."

Juliani gave him a disdainful look.  "One day your precious monarchy will collapse and the people will rule England, just as in France."

Dorian raised an eyebrow.  "Perhaps it is the Revolutionary government that will fall," he said, "but let's not be churlish!  Your appearance is much too drab for such a festive occasion.  If you like, I can lend you some fashionable clothes. Say a jacket with splendid white and blue embroidery, with white knee-high boots to match?  You'll be a Gypsy Baron!  What do you say?"

"No," Juliani said sharply. "I am not a fool in fancy dress."

"You are no doubt hungry and thirsty which accounts for your unsociable manners," Dorian said coolly, then turned to the Prince.  "You will find refreshments in the dining room and champagne in the ballroom, Your Highness.  And I've asked the musicians to play your favorite dances."

Once the Prince's party had made its way into the main part of the house, Dorian turned to the footman.  "Henry, pass the word to the lads - we'll meet in the garden at quarter to midnight, under the excuse of preparing for the fireworks.  I mislike Juliani's presence here tonight - I expect he means trouble.  Jessup, I'm abandoning the welcoming duties to you; if you see Bonham, send him to my study."

Jessup nodded and Dorian slipped away from the party to his study to write out the notes to be delivered to Andrew, Jonesy and John-Paul with the same meeting request.  When he arrived, he found James huddled up in the big armchair by the fire, his arms wrapped around his knees.

"Jamesie, dearest!" he said, going over to the smaller man.  "Why are you hiding in here?  Why aren't you out enjoying the party?"

"You shouldn't have held it, my lord!" James wailed.  "This is all so expensive!  The food!  The champagne!  We'll end up destitute and starving!"

Dorian sat down on the arm of the chair and slid an arm around his little accountant, squeezing him reassuringly.  "No we won't, darling!  Just think about all the information we've gotten over the last two days, about some of the art collections of our guests.  I promise, once this is over, we'll plan a splendid heist and get back double what we've spent."

James brightened at that.  "Really?"

"I promise - and I'll let you sell every piece we steal, I won't keep any of them this time."

James looked decidedly more cheerful at this.

"Now wash your face and put on that nice new set of clothes I gave you last week," Dorian said, then paused.  "You haven't sold them, have you?"  James shook his head.  "Good.  I need you to do something very important for me this evening, Mr. James."

James brightened.  "Of course, my lord!"

"I need you to deliver a couple of notes for me - "

James pulled away, turning to glare at him.  "You're sending love notes to that scary Major, aren't you?" he said accusingly.  "You still like him, even though he hit you!"

Dorian sighed and rose from the chair, going over to his desk.  "They're not to the Major; they're to Jonesy and Sir Andrew and Lord John-Paul.  You like them, don't you?"

James nodded, the mulish look on his face slowly fading.

"Now hurry off and get changed!  By the time you return, the notes will be ready."

James hurried out of the room, nearly running over Bonham in the doorway.

"What's James so happy about?" Bonham asked.  "Thought 'e'd be blue-deviled for sure, the amount of money yer spendin' on this party."

"He was but I've given him something to take his mind off of that," Dorian said, frowning in concentration as he began writing the notes.  "Juliani is here as part of the Prince's party."

Bonham gave a low whistle.  "Ain't that a rum turn-out."

"Quite.  I know he's up to something, and Z's unusual silence is worrying me.  I have the feeling that they're connected.  What's the situation with boats for hire?"

Bonham shook his head.  "Nothing for at least a week, unless you're prepared to steal one."

"Hopefully it won't come to that," Dorian said.  "Make ready what you can - we might need to move quickly.  And for tonight, we'll have a short meeting before the fireworks but till then stay out of Juliani's sight as much as possible.  He saw you once as Bannai's manservant and we don't want him putting two and two together."

By the time James had returned, the notes were completed and sealed with the distinctive Eroica symbol.  As he put the three notes into James's hand, Dorian said, "Now remember, Mr. James, you'll need to be careful that no one sees you delivering them - you can be very clever like that, can't you, darling?

"Of course," James said proudly, then deflated a little.  "No one ever notices me anyways."

"I do, Jamesie, dear," Dorian said and kissed his cheek affectionately.  James flushed and then rushed off on his errand.

"I'm going to regret that," Dorian sighed, then decided that his next project after this was getting a love interest for James.  After all, not everyone should have to suffer just because Dorian's love was cursed by the gods.

Dorian made his way back into the ballroom, pleased to see that his guests were enjoying themselves and trying not to think about how it would be to have Klaus opposite him for the minuet or gavotte.  And as if he'd jinxed himself, his attention was caught by the sight of the Major as he left the ballroom.  There was a black figure in the doorway, stopping Klaus, and then the two moved into the hallway.  Curiosity pricked him and he made his way after them, only to be delayed by a half-dozen people wanting to complement the party or his costume or ask him to dance.  He responded as politely as he could, given the hurry, but by the time he reached the hallway, he couldn't see Klaus or Juliani.  

"That is your final word?  Very well."

There, that was Juliani's voice.  He glanced towards the front of the house but saw no sign so made his way down the hallway towards the terrace doors.  Klaus and Juliani were standing in front of the doors and Dorian paused, stepping back into the shadows of a little alcove.  He tried to listen to their words but they were indistinct until Juliani said, louder than before, "I expect news tonight."

Juliani turned away from Klaus, coming towards Dorian, and he retreated further into the shadows.  Once the man had passed, Dorian stood for a long moment, trying to make sense of this.  It was one thing to know that Klaus was working with the Committee, with Juliani, and it was another thing to have it confirmed.

And yet...

The tone of Juliani's voice wasn't that of a comrade, but had born the tones of a threat.  Why?

Realizing that he could only guess until he'd talked to the Major, he stepped back into the hall but couldn't see anything of Klaus.  The night chill caught his attention and he opened the doors to the terrace to see the Major standing there, staring at his cigarette as if it had betrayed him.  

"Here, let me," he said and grabbed one of the thin pieces of reed from the spill box, lighting it from the torch.  Klaus accepted the light and drew in a deep lungful of smoke as if he'd been dying for it for hours.  Dorian had never been a heavy smoker but he felt a twinge of sympathy for the man before he ruthless stomped down the feeling.  Now was not the time to give in to his emotions.

"Interesting friends you have," he said, trying to keep the judgement from his voice but knowing that he was only partially successful.

To his surprise, Klaus let out a sharp bark of laughter.  "Friend!"  The man exhaled a thin stream of smoke and rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand as if it hurt.  

Dorian stayed silent, frowning while he watched the Major as he silently smoked and looked out over the garden.  He seemed to have forgotten that Dorian was there, and when he spoke, it was in a low voice so that Dorian barely heard the words.

"Fucking hell, Gloria.  Why aren't you the sort of man a person can turn to when they're in trouble?"  

Dorian was startled by the deep pain in those words.  Almost against his will, he slowly moved closer until he could lay his hand on the other man's arm.  

"Are you in trouble, Klaus?"

Klaus turned to look at him in surprise.  For a long moment their eyes met, with none of the artifices or veils that usually separated them.  Klaus opened his mouth and, for one moment, Dorian thought that he was about to tell him everything.  Dorian held his breath, feeling as if the two of them stood outside of the world in that moment.

And then someone burst into their little bubble.  "Gloria!  What the deuce are you doing out here, eh?" the Prince of Wales's voice boomed out, breaking the fragile scene.  "I was trying to tell Bedford about that dashed poem of yours about Eroica only I couldn't remember the blasted start!"

The moment was shattered and Dorian could feel Klaus pulling away, retreating behind his walls.  He dropped his hand and sighed, then turned back to the Prince and summoned a smile.  "Coming, Your Highness."

But there was a new little flicker of hope inside his heart.

Chapter Text

Part 6 - Gloria

Chapter 5 - They Seek Him There

January 5, 1794, late evening

After two hours of skulking around the ballroom, Klaus had nothing to show for his effort.  He'd tried surreptitiously listening in to conversations, particularly when they mentioned "Eroica", but the only thing anyone was talking about was that idiotic poem.  Oh there were rumors and speculations, there was gossip and guessing, but no one seemed to know who this Eroica was.  Or if they did know, they were keeping very quiet on the matter.  Which made sense, he grudgingly had to admit.  Eroica would have been caught long ago if he and his men couldn't keep a secret.  And why Juliani thought that anyone at a ball might reveal anything worth knowing.... Well, clearly the man was missing what little sense he'd been born with.  Klaus was about to give it all up when he noticed something peculiar.

Or rather, someone peculiar.

A smallish man, with his dark curly hair loose and falling over one eye.  Not a servant - his clothes were conservative but of good quality and not what the other servants were wearing.  And yet he didn't seem to be one of the nobility for he clearly deferred to the few people that he approached.  No, and what caught Klaus's attention was the furtive way that he looked around him before he approached one of the guests.  Klaus's first thoughts were that the man was a pickpocket but what would such a creature be doing so far away from the richer prey of London?  And how would he have gained entry to such an event?  Plus, when he pulled the young man in the military uniform aside, the man seemed to recognize him and willingly stepped away from his partner.  They briefly chatted and then the military man returned to his partner, fiddling with the cuff of his jacket but not looking as if he'd lost anything like a fob-watch or purse.

And then the small man circled around the crowd and approached another man, only this one Klaus knew - it was Jonesy.  Jonesy smiled at him and they spoke for a moment, then the little man moved away again.  Klaus's eyes started to follow him but then Jonesy made a movement that drew Klaus's attention back to him.

He put a little note into his pocket.

Klaus rapidly cast his memory back, replaying the little man's first encounter - and yes, the military man might have been sliding a note into his cuff.   Of course, the little man could be delivering notes for any reason, even love billets, but he didn't have the air of one going about Cupid's business.

Klaus sought him out again, watching as the small man moved around the dancers and those watching the dancing.  (Gloria was not among the dancers, Klaus noted, which seemed odd.  He'd have thought that the man would be knee-deep in suitors.)  He saw the small man approach another vaguely familiar face and slip him a note, and Klaus frowned as he put a name to the face.  It was Lord John-Paul, a younger son of the Duke of Exeter and recently engaged to the Viscount de Tourney. He'd been one of those dandies at Ascot last spring, and just the type of young Blood who got up to all sorts of the mischief that bored young nobles did.  Hardly the type to be a thief - boxing the Watch or rubbing coach wheels with the Mail were more their sort of thing.  No doubt these notes were about some prank that his Set planned, but three notes being surreptitiously delivered during a ball deserved investigation.

Klaus followed the little man out of the ballroom and into the hallway, watching as he opened one of the doors that led to the servants' back passages.  Klaus had explored them when he'd visited, on a dull Sunday when there was nothing better to do, and he knew that this one led to the servant quarters upstairs.  Which, at this time of day and with the party at its height, would be largely deserted.  He slipped in after the man, unnoticed as he was looking down at something shiny in his hand.  Was he a thief after all, and had he stolen something from one of the guests?  Klaus shut the baize door behind him and quickly overtook the man on the first landing, pressing him against the wall.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" he demanded.

The little man's eyes went wide with fear.  "M-major!"

Klaus frowned.  "You know who I am?  Never mind - who are you?"

"J-James," he squeaked.

"What are you doing, sneaking about the castle?"

James drew himself up a little.  "I'm not sneaking!" he said indignantly.  "I live here!"

Klaus's frown deepened.  "I didn't see you before, when I stayed here in the spring."

James's eyes shifted away from his.  "I was away."

It was clear that the man was hiding something and Klaus lifted him a few inches off the floor, pinning him by his shoulders.  "You delivered notes to several of the guests.  What were they about?"

"I - I can't tell you!" James said, his voice a wail.  "It's a secret!"

Klaus scowled.  "So they were just love-notes after all."

"No!" James said, indignant again.  "Eroica wouldn't send love notes to them!"  He gasped as he realized what he'd said and squirmed in Klaus's hands.  "Let me go!"

Klaus deftly avoided a kick aimed at his knees.  "So they are members of the League.  What did the notes say?"  James squirmed and Klaus thumped him against the wall - not too hard, just enough to get his attention.  "What was in the notes?  Tell me and I'll let you go."

James sagged in his hands, looking up at him through the curtain of hair that fell over his face.  "I won't tell you."

"I mean Eroica no harm," Klaus growled.  "But if you don't talk, I will turn you over to Citizen Juliani who is much less nice."

James squeaked at that and said, hurriedly, "They're to meet in the garden by the rose arbor!  Before the fireworks!"

"And the man who gave you the notes?  Who is Eroica?"

"I don't know," James said sullenly.  "He wore a mask and a cloak.  He gave me a coin to deliver the notes."

Klaus considered this with a frown.  The man had been carrying something shiny - his reward?  And if Eroica was among the guests, he would take care to conceal his identity before approaching one of the servants.  Which made his task of finding Eroica even harder.  "What about his voice?  Was it distinctive - Scheisse!"

James had taken advantage of Klaus's lapse in attention to suddenly turn his head and bite Klaus's hand, hard.  Klaus automatically dropped him, swearing and pulling back to look at the damage.  Freed, James raced away up the stairs and out of sight.  Klaus briefly thought about chasing the little man down but James probably knew more hiding places than he did.  He would have to make due with the information he had.

He pulled out his handkerchief and wrapped it around the wounded hand; the sharp little teeth had drawn a little blood but Klaus had suffered worse wounds.  With time running short, he returned to the ballroom and made his way to the punch table.

Juliani must have been watching for him because a few minutes later he joined him.  "Do you have news for me?" he asked quietly as he poured himself a glass of punch.

"Ja," Klaus said, scowling down at the frothy mixture of fruit and champagne.  What he wouldn't give for a good German beer right now.  "They are meeting in the garden by the fountain after the fireworks have ended."

"A good plan," Juliani said.  "With everyone milling about in the dark, they won't be missed or noted.  And Eroica?  Do you know who he is?"

"No," Klaus said shortly.  "But he will be there."

"Good."  Juliani patted his arm and Klaus wanted nothing so much as to put a bullet into the man.  "You've done well."

"And my man?  Herr Z goes free?"

"Of course.  I am a man of my word."  Juliani smiled and consulted his pocket-watch.  "Well, it is eleven-thirty and the fireworks start at midnight.  We have some time and I find that hunting enemies of France makes me hungry.  Join me?"

"I find that the company has turned my stomach; I shall go find some bicarbonate."

Juliani scowled and turned away, stalking out of the ballroom.  Klaus stood for a long moment after Juliani had left, after making certain that the man was going to the dining room.  Then, making sure that no one saw him, he slipped from the house and into the garden.

In search of Eroica.

Chapter Text

Part 6 - Gloria

Chapter 6 - In a Spill of Moonlight He Was There

 

January 5, 1794, Just Before Midnight

 

Klaus hurried down the steps from the terrace to the garden, moving quickly in case anyone looked out of the windows or opened the terrace doors.  He paused on the lawn for a moment, in order to adjust his eyes to the dark, then made his way towards the rose arbor.  It was an excellent place for a clandestine meeting, he thought, with many good places to hide among the shrubs and trellises.  Which was also a liability for him as Eroica could be anywhere.  

He would have to risk calling out to the man, he decided.  "Eroica!" he said softly.  "Are you here?"  There was a noise from the house and he turned around to look back across the lawn only to see nothing.  Klaus started to turn back towards the arbor but suddenly there was a warm body behind him, an arm like steel around his waist, and the point of a dagger against his throat.  Klaus was torn between vexation at having been caught unaware and admiration for the strength of his captor.

"Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, I believe," the man murmured in his ear, his voice too soft for Klaus to be able to identify it. 

His breath was warm against Klaus's chilled skin and he couldn't help shivering at little.  Klaus was aware that with a single movement the other man could slit his throat and the danger made his pulse race.  "Eroica?"

"In the flesh.  How did you know I would be here?"

"I convinced James - the man who delivered your notes - to tell me the contents."

"I hope you didn't hurt him.  Why did you seek me out?"

"To warn you.  Juliani knows that you're meeting your men in the garden tonight."

"You told him," Eroica accused.

"I had to," Klaus growled, reluctant to admit a weakness, especially to this man.  "They've learned that Herr Z, one of my agents, is part of your League.  Juliani threatened to arrest him and send him to the guillotine, unless I help him learn your identity.  And my brother and his family are in danger as well.  But I had to speak to you first, to warn you.  I won't have your death on my conscience."

"What is one more life to you?" Eroica said mockingly.  "You already have Misha the Cub to your credit."

"That was not my doing!" Klaus said hotly, automatically starting to turn his head so he could face his accuser.  The knife tip pricked his skin and he took a deep breath to calm himself, staying still.  "When I was still in Paris, I found an incriminating note and hid it in my desk.  Juliani searched my desk and found it.  He tried to blackmail me to get my cooperation but I only agreed to keep silent.  So he put my name on the arrest warrant in retaliation.  I would never send an innocent man and his family to their deaths, any more than I can let you die because of me!"

There was silence for a long moment and only the chill of steel against his throat reassured Klaus that Eroica was still there.  "If this is true," he murmured, "then you are an even braver man than I had thought."

"I'm a fool," Klaus muttered.  "If Juliani finds out, Z will die."

"Do you think that I'd allow any harm to come to that boy?" Eroica said hotly, and for a moment Klaus thought the voice sounded a little familiar.  The man cleared his throat and then continued, in a low voice again, "You must leave, and quickly, before you are discovered."

"There is time - you are in no immediate danger," Klaus said.  "I told him you'd be at the fountain, and after the fireworks."

There was a soft, startled chuckle.  "You're a brave man to lie to the Citizen.  And clever - easy enough for him to believe that I escaped in the crowd.  But you, dear sir, must be seen with the rest of the party or he will get suspicious."  There was a pause and he said, lightly, "And your host will be missing your company."

Klaus snorted.  "Once, perhaps.  There was a time when he - when I - "  He broke off.  "Ignore me.  I've had too much to drink," he said, although in truth he'd barely sipped at a single glass of champagne.  

The knife tip moved away from his throat but the arm remained in place.  "So you - care about your host, the Earl of Gloria."

And there was something reassuring about that voice in the dark, or maybe it was the rush that came from walking the tightrope of danger, but he no longer seemed to have control over his words.  "I love him," Klaus said baldly.  "Not that it matters - he doesn't feel the same.  Once, perhaps, but not now." 

There was a sudden sound like a gun's retort and then a burst of color lit up the sky.  Klaus jumped, glad that the knife was no longer at his throat, and then he spun about but there was no one there.  

"Eroica?" he whispered but there was no reply.  The arbor was empty.  He was alone.


Dorian peeked out from behind the green wall of the arbor, watching as Klaus stomped across the lawn to join the rest of the guests.  Then he turned around and beamed in delight at Bonham.

"Bonham!  Did you hear that?"

Bonham scratched his chin.  When they'd seen the Major at the meeting place, Dorian had sent Bonham off to warn off the others and then Bonham had quietly returned to the arbor, in case his lordship needed assistance.  "Which part, m'lord?  About Z being in trouble or that Uncle Germany twern't the snitch we thought 'e were?"

Dorian waved those words away impatiently.  "No, no, no!  The important part!"  He paused.  "Well, yes, it's important that he's not our enemy after all, and of course we have to rescue Z, but did you hear the rest?"  He threw his arms open wide, beaming up at the sky which, appropriately enough, was awash with color and sparkling bits of light.  "He loves me!  I dreamed that he did - I hoped - and then it all went so wrong.  I thought it was all at an end, that he only felt hatred for me.  But - oh Bonham!  He still cares!" 

Dorian stepped out from the arbor, looking across the lawn to see where Klaus had gone.  "I must go to him!  I've been a fool -  I must tell him how I feel, assure him that our hearts still beat as one!"

"I'm sure you'll be very 'appy together," Bonham said kindly.  "Now what about - "

Dorian's sharp eyes caught movement in the dark and he said, quickly and loudly, "The missing bottles of wine?  I knew one of the hired help had made stolen them."  He could see that Bonham's mouth had dropped open in surprise at his non sequitur and added, "You were right to tell me.  And he's dead-drunk, is he?  Best see that he's tucked into bed before he disturbs the rest of MY GUESTS."  He jerked his head in the direction of their spy and saw that Bonham caught the movement as well.

Bonham cleared his throat. "Very good, m'lord.  Should I dock the cost o' the bottle from 'is wages?"

"Good lord, no!  He'd have to work for me for years to make up the cost!" Dorian laughed.  "No, just blacklist him from working here in future."  He turned around and peered at the man who was lurking nearby.  "Citizen Juliani?  Are you enjoying the fireworks!"

Juliani strode over, pointing an accusing finger at him.  "You, Gloria!  What are you doing out here?"

Dorian gave him a puzzled look.  "What am I doing in the gardens of my own house, after a fireworks show that I put on for my guests?" he asked in confusion.  

Juliani scowled.  "Have you seen anyone lurking about?  Here or over by the fountain?"

Dorian frowned in thought.  "Not lurking, precisely.  There was some giggling in the bushes over there - a lover's tryst no doubt.  Oh!  The Prince was chasing one of the Gordon girls around the fountain when I came out - is that what you mean?"  He peered over at the crowd who was starting to drift back into the house now that the show was ended.  "I think - yes!  The Prince is with Buckingham if you're looking for him - "

"I'm not looking for that idiot Prince, you fool!" Juliani snapped.

Dorian drew himself up and said, haughtily, "I'll thank you to remember that He is England's future sovereign and that I, as a Peer of the Realm, am honor-bound to defend him.  Should you insult His Highness again, it will be swords between us."

Juliani looked at him and curled his lip.  "You?  Wield a sword?  I'm not afraid of a useless aristo like you!"

Dorian put his fingers to his lips and let out a sharp whistle.  A moment later, two of the servants appeared behind Juliani.  "Our friend, Citizen Juliani, here has had too much to drink.  Kindly escort him to my mother's carriage and make sure that he remains there until she is ready to depart."  He turned a frosty look on Juliani.  "I do hope she doesn't stay much later - it's a cold night and your feeble excuse for French tailoring doesn't look very warm."

He watched as the two men frog-marched Juliani across the lawn and then sighed happily.  "That felt marvelous!"  Then he turned to Bonham and assumed a more serious tone.  "Inform the lads that we sail for France tomorrow - we'll leave here at first light so alert Ozzy.  We must get Z safely out of France, and the Dauphin as well if we can manage it."

"But we don't have a ship, m'lord," Bonham protested.

"What was that you said about possibly stealing one?" Dorian asked with an impish smile.  "I'm certain that the Major won't mind if we 'borrow' the Leopard for a bit!  It's to rescue his man as he asked and we will return it.  Besides," he added, and did a little pirouette of happiness, "he loves me!"

With a laugh of pure joy, he started to run across the lawn.

"And where will you be, if you don' mind me asking, m'lord?" Bonham called out to him.

"I'm going to go claim the man I love!"

Chapter Text

Part 6 - Gloria

Chapter 7 - This Dream of Sweet Love

 

January 6, After Midnight

 


Getting a private moment with the Major turned out to be a bit more difficult, Dorian discovered.  As the host of the party, he had certain obligations he couldn't ignore, although his most important guest - the Prince - soon departed for Gatton Park, a little worse for drink.  The Dowager and the rest of his entourage soon followed, and their departure signalled for other guests to call for their carriages.  That left only the dozen staying at Castle Gloria itself whom he left in the hands of the Blakeneys.  Sighting Klaus bidding good-night to his men, Dorian sprinted up the stairs to lie in wait for him outside his bedchamber.

As Klaus came down the hallway, he looked tired and for a moment Dorian thought about waiting, letting the Major get some rest.  But in the morning he'd be on his way to Paris, heading into danger, and hadn't Papa always said that one shouldn't leave important things unsaid?

"Major," he said, stepping out of the shadows.  "I need to speak with you."

Klaus started, and he must have been uncharacteristically wool-gathering if he hadn't been aware of his surroundings.  "Gloria," he said, and ran a hand over his face wearily.  "Can it wait? I'm fucking tired."

"It'll only take a few minutes," Dorian assured him.  "Please.  It's important."

Klaus sighed.  "All right, have your say."

Dorian opened his mouth, then closed it.  "This was a lot easier in my mind," he said after a moment.  "I had a whole speech mapped out."

There were voices from the stairway and Dorian knew that this would be worse with an audience.  He grabbed Klaus by the arm and pulled him into Dorian's bedchamber, quickly releasing him once inside and turning to press his back against the door.

"Sorry - I won't try to seduce you, I swear!" he said, seeing the thunder on Klaus's face at being man-handled.  "I just can't say this with an audience."

Klaus's scowl faded back into weariness and he sighed.  "This night never fucking ends," he muttered.  "I need a drink."

Dorian gestured towards the drinks cupboard across the room.  "Help yourself."

Klaus glanced over the collection of decanters and pulled the stopper on one to sniff its contents.  Satisfied, he splashed some into two glasses and brought one over to Dorian.  "Here; maybe this will help loosen your tongue."

Dorian took a sip, making a face at the strong flavour of the whiskey, then took another sip for liquid courage.  He watched as Klaus walked around the room, gazing curiously at its contents, and was thankful that he always kept the curtain pulled over Tyrian's portrait.  Trying to confess his feelings would be infinitely harder if Klaus got a look at the stolen painting.  

"So?" Klaus said, once he'd made a circuit of the room.  "You had something important to say?"

"Yes."  Dorian took another sip.

"Well?"

"Don't rush me!" Dorian snapped.  "The last time I tried to talk about my feelings you hit me!"

Klaus froze in the act of taking another swallow and lowered his glass to stare at Dorian.  "You wish to speak to me about your feelings?"

"Yes."  Dorian took a deep breath.  "That day, the day of the races, and what I said - I'm sorry, I said it badly and I made you angry.  But the truth is - I love you and I have for a long time.  Since we met.  Well, to be honest at first it was mostly lust because you are very attractive, but then as I got to know you better it became genuine affection and by the end of your visit this last spring I was irrevocably smitten and - eeep!"

Dorian found himself pinned against the door by the Major, a fierce look on his face, and for a moment he thought he was going to be hit again, or possibly strangled.  And then Klaus's mouth was on his, kissing him with an intensity that made Dorian glad that he was leaning against something solid because his knees went weak.

Klaus pulled back just a little, just enough to make Dorian's eyes meet his.  "You talk too much," he said, irritation and amusement combined in his voice.  

"Major," Dorian protested, trying to lean forward to recapture that exquisite mouth.

"Klaus," he said and then added, gruffly, "I love you, too."

And then his mouth was on Dorian's again, and it was heaven.  Or nearly so.  Dorian tilted his head just a fraction and coaxed Klaus into softening the kiss just a little, nearly sighing with bliss as their kisses got better and better.  One arm slid around Klaus for support, the other hand knocking off the large hat so that he could thread his fingers through that soft dark hair, and he heard a gasp from the other man that made him smirk with triumph.

Except that the Major was pulling away.  Dorian clutched at Klaus's arms to keep him near and heard him swear before returning his mouth to Dorian's.  

"I want you," Klaus muttered against his lips.  "Tonight.  Now."

Dorian's heart soared. "Yes!  I'm yours; I always will be."

Klaus pulled back again, this time a scowl on his face and Dorian wondered if he'd said too much, if professing his undying devotion now was a tad too soon.  "Gut.  And be warned - I do not share!"

Dorian vigorously shook his head at that, although even two years ago he would have tossed out any lover who had demanded his exclusive attention.  How much Klaus had changed his mind on so many things!  "Of course, my darling!"  

Klaus took another step back, and Dorian wanted to protest but Klaus was unfastening his cloak and tossing it away, then starting on the buttons of his doublet.  And yes, less clothes was definitely a wonderful idea.  Dorian began shedding his own, the jerkin unbuttoned and tossed aside, the shirt pulled over his head, and then his breeches unlaced.  Klaus had made less headway, swearing at the points that connected his trunk-hose to his doublet, and Dorian hurried to his aid before he damaged the fabric.  

Once the trunk-hose were unlaced and discarded, and Klaus stood in his shirt and stockings, Dorian couldn't resist the urge to reach out to him, to touch him, to lift his head to meet Klaus's kisses.  Which grew more heated as their hands found bare flesh, as they discarded their remaining clothes.  Dorian tumbled them down onto his bed, his hands and mouth eagerly exploring this new canvas.  Klaus was vocal in his appreciation but not passive, tolerating only so much before he rolled Dorian under him and instigated his own exploration.  They were too impatient for more than hands and mouths and bodies rubbing together, but it was ample for their needs.  Their passions mounted and reached their peak, Dorian crying out his lover's name and hearing Klaus's voice break on a swear and a groan.  

They clung together for several long moments after that, Dorian basking in the afterglow and Klaus apparently trying to catch his breath, and it was wonderful.  Then Klaus turned his head to rest his nose against the skin of Dorian's neck and muttered, "You're an idiot."  And it was just such a Klaus thing to do that Dorian began laughing helplessly.  

Klaus pinched him, not that it stopped Dorian from laughing.  "Stop laughing," he growled.  "If you'd said something earlier, we could have been doing this for months."

Dorian tried to restrain his amusement.  "You didn't say anything either," he pointed out.  "You could have mentioned it anytime in the past year."

He could almost feel the heat from Klaus's cheeks as he flushed.  "Not good with words," Klaus muttered.

"I know, darling," Dorian said fondly.  "And I was sending mixed signals, wasn't I?  First so close and friendly, then avoiding you?"  He felt Klaus's nod.  "I thought I'd got it wrong, that you didn't feel the same way, and..and then there were other things..."

Klaus raised his head, frowning.  "What other things?"

"It doesn't matter," Dorian said evasively.  "Just gossip and rumors, but none of that matters any more."  

He lifted his head just enough to brush his lips over Klaus's, and that was enough to distract the other man into another round of kisses.  Somewhere in the middle of all that, they cleaned up and got themselves under the covers, and fell asleep with their arms around each other and their legs tangled together.

Chapter Text

Part 6 - Gloria

Chapter 8: Reprise: Into the Fire We Fly!

January 6th, 1794 - early morning


When Klaus awoke, he was aware of three things: he was naked, he was in a strange bed, and he was alone.

He sat up and looked around.  Make that four things.  There was a painting across the room from the bed and the man in it was staring at him.  Klaus huffed.  Dorian had the bloody things everywhere, but across from his bed seemed excessive.  It was like staring into a weird mirror.

Klaus looked around, just to make certain that Dorian wasn't lurking somewhere around the room, and saw a rose and a letter lying on the pillow next to him.  He picked up the letter and broke the seal.

 

My darling,

I apologize for leaving you alone this morning, after such a wonderful night together.  Please forgive me, but I made a promise in a moonlit garden that I must keep.  I will return as quickly as I can.

Kisses,

Your Dorian

P.S.  I have borrowed the Leopard for a bit - I hope you don't mind.  In trade, I have left the painting that is across from you - although to be fair, it belonged to your family first.

 


With a growing suspicion, Klaus looked across at the painting and now the vague memory stirred, of having seen it in the gallery at Schloss Eberbach.  It was the "Man in Purple", a portrait of Tyrian Persimmon, and that was the costume he'd been wearing last night.  Odd to find it here.  His father would have never sold it, and his brother would have mentioned parting with some of the family heirlooms.  And there was something tucked into the bottom corner of the frame.

He slid out of bed and strode over to the painting, plucking out the card that was tucked between canvas and frame.  On one side was pressed a small red flower and on the other side were four words.

From Eroica with Love


Klaus let out a growl, part fury and part sudden and breath-robbing fear.  Dorian was Eroica, and he was going to Paris to rescue Z, right into danger and the possibility of death.  And he was going alone.  

Or was he?  If Z was one of his League, then who else among Klaus's men knew about this?

Pausing only to grab the sheet off the bed and wrap it around his body, he strode out into the hall and bellowed, "Alphabet! Report!"

A gratifyingly few minutes later, G and B tumbled out into the hall, both partly dressed and wide-eyed, especially when they saw Klaus's state of dress.  He ignored that, dragging both of them into Dorian's room and then thrusting the card and letter at them.

"Did you know about this?" he demanded.  "Did you know that Lord Gloria is Eroica?"

G squeaked and nodded.  "Major, I can explain - "

"Shut up!"  He turned on B.  "And did you know?  Are you part of this League?"

"No I'm not," B stammered, then straightened his shoulders.  "But I guessed that Z and G were, and A and I have been covering for them."

"You - what?"  

"And we would have joined him if he'd asked us." B added, with courage that Klaus had never seen him display before.  

'Fucking hell," Klaus muttered, and began pacing the floor.  "He's gone to Paris, to rescue Z - and Juliani knows about Z.  He'll be walking into a trap."  He turned to G.  "How many men will he have with him?"

"I don't know for certain," G admitted.  "They didn't tell me about this.  But Jessup will know."

"Of course he will," Klaus growled.  "The whole fucking bunch of them are probably thieves!"

"No, Jessup's a forger," G said, then slammed his hand over his mouth.

"Who else?" Klaus demanded.  "He can't be doing this with just the servants, he needs people with connections and money - "  He broke off.  "Jonesy, and Exeter's son, and that redcoat."

G nodded, then lowered his hand.  "You're not going to turn them in, are you, Major?" he asked timidly.

"Don't be a fucking moron," he snapped.  "He's going to need help in Paris.  B, get with Jessup and make a list of resources."  He frowned.  "Juliani will be watching for me, and for any of my men.  We're going to need disguises."  He looked over at G and narrowed his eyes in thought.  

"Herr G, any objection to wearing a dress and disguising as a woman?"

And Herr G smiled.

Chapter Text

Part 7: France

Chapter 1: Evading the Enemy

 

January 7th, 1794


Armand Zimmer, better known to his fellow agents as "Z", left the French Naval Building and breathed a sigh of relief.  The past few days had been trying ones, with the Consul acting in a more peculiar manner than ever.  He'd varied between hovering in the outer office, as if expecting a visitor, and hiding in his office.  And whenever the dispatch bag arrived he fairly pounced on it, only to toss it onto Z's desk in disgust after rooting through the enclosed papers.  Z wondered if the Consul was having family difficulties; his wife and children had remained in Bonn, and since the French occupation of the Archdiocese, they were all concerned about their families back home.  Or perhaps The Consul had embarked on an affair and was afraid that his wife had found out.  In any event, tomorrow was Z's day off and he was looking forward to an evening at the pub.

Only - he was worried as well.  Not for his family, for his mother and sisters were safely in Belgium with his aunt.  No, he was worried because he hadn't received a message from Eroica in nearly a week.  No response had come to his question about the guards at the Temple, and Z had news that Eroica would want immediately.  But with the Consul obsessed with the dispatch bag, he didn't think he could entrust a message through those means.  Which meant securing a private messenger who could be trusted -

"Ah cherie!  There you are!  You are so late tonight - I was worried!"

Z found himself with his arms full of a strange French woman, taller than him and wearing a vaguely familiar scent.  "Mademoiselle!" he protested, trying to push her away.

She kissed him on the cheek, overriding his protests.  "Such a shy boy!" she teased. "Look! I brought you something!"

Z protested again and then stopped at the sight of a perfect red rose.  His mouth snapped shut and he looked at the woman suspiciously.  "Gloria?"

"But of course!" 'she' teased, winking at him.  "Come! We shall have a drink together, yes?"

"Um, yes, of course," he said, wondering what his landlady would make of him bringing a woman back to his rooms.  "My rooms are this way - "

"Oh, but it is certain that your friends will be there, and i want to be alone with you, cherie!"

Ah, that explained this whole charade, thenGloria had somehow learned that Z's rooms were being watched. "Your place, then?"

"With my father sitting in the parlor?"  Gloria winked at him.  "We shall go to an inn, yes?"

Z nodded and let Gloria escort him to a nearby inn where a private room was acquired.  Once they were behind closed doors, Z collapsed into a chair and ran his hand through his short blond curls.

"So Juliani knows about me?" he asked Gloria.  "I wondered - I haven't received a note from you in over a week."

"Yes, and he approached the Major and tried to blackmail him into giving us up."  Gloria smirked.  "You can imagine how well that worked."

Z's face blanched.  "The Major knows?"  He buried his face in his hands.  "He'll send me to the worst post he can find!"

"I think you'll find that he's more sympathetic to our goals than we'd thought," Gloria assured him.  "He'll most certainly yell, though."

"What now?"

"Now we get you out of France," Gloria said briskly.  "It's not even safe for you to return to your rooms - there were soldiers watching it when I checked earlier.  A ship is waiting to take you back to England, and we'll arrange for your personal possessions to follow later."

"And what about you?"

"Bannai is still a safe identity, and I will remain as long as possible.  The Dauphin - "

"Oh!" Z exclaimed.  "I have news!  Mrs. Simons - the Dauphin's caretaker? - has become ill and her doctor recommended removal to the countryside."

Gloria looked interested by that news.  "When?"

"In two days, on the 9th," Z said.  "They've arranged for carters to move their belongings."

"And their replacements?"

"None."  Z grinned at him.  "It seems that the Committee has taken Bannai's words to heart.  The Dauphin will be supervised by the guards on duty, and they will be rotated daily."

"Excellent!" Gloria said, rubbing his hands together in delight.  "This is just the opportunity we've been waiting for!  Once we have you off to England we'll make plans - "

Z shook his head.  "You'll need someone to escort the boy to safety."  He paused and frowned.  "How did you get a ship? G said that we were having problems securing transport."

Gloria smirked.  "We may have 'borrowed' the Leopard."

"Gloria!"

"The Major isn't using it," Gloria pointed out.  "And it's a lovely vessel - such a pity to have it sitting idly in port."

"He's going to kill you," Z said, shaking his head.  "But that proves my point.  We just have the one ship.  I should help with the Dauphin's rescue, and then I can take him with me."

"Very well," Gloria said with a sigh.  "In the meantime, you'll stay at my house.  Here - change clothes with me."

Z raised an eyebrow at that - he was significantly shorter than the Earl and doubted that his clothes would fit the other man.  However, Gloria had retained his breeches under his skirt so there was no need for them to exchange those.  And Z's shirt was loose enough for Gloria although he had to forgo the coat, slinging it over his shoulders instead.  Z tucked his hair under the mop cap while Gloria tied back his distinctive curls and donned Z's tricorne hat.  Gloria tied a Belcher scarf casually around his neck and declared that neither of them would be recognized, should anyone have followed them from Z's office.  

"Bonham's at the house - go to the back door and tell him you're the new maid.  I'll go check out the carters - do you have their particulars?" Gloria asked.

Z had written down the name of the firm and Gloria tucked the paper into his pocket after glancing at it.  "You go first," he told Z, "and take your time to wander around the market, just in case you're followed.  I'll go out the back as if using the privies."

Z did as advised, wandering through the stalls and picking out a few winter apples for supper, but there was no sign that anyone was following him.  He went around to the back door of the house and knocked sharply, and when Bonham came to let him in, he gave him a startled once-over.

"I'd thought 'is lordship had shrunk!" Bonham laughed, ushering Z into the house. 

He grinned at Bonham.  "My place was being watched - Lord Gloria thought it safer to switch clothes." 

"Where's 'imself off to, then?"

"Checking out a carting firm," Z replied, pulling off the mob cap and tossing it onto the table.  "He's putting together a plan to rescue the Dauphin."

Bonham raised an eyebrow at that but said no more, turning instead to the supper he was preparing.  Z set down the paper of apples and went into the front sitting room where Sir Anthony and two of the other lads were sitting, working on bits of their gear. 

Sir Anthony smirked at him.  "You make nearly as fine a lady as G," he teased.  "What's to-do?"

"Lord Gloria's idea," Z said, settling into one of the chairs with a sigh.  "I'm to play the maid till I can be smuggled out of Paris; he'll have more details when he gets back."

Andrew nodded and went back to polishing his boots. 

A short time later, Gloria breezed into the room, tossing Z his coat.  "Success!" he said triumphantly.  "Bonham, gather everyone together for a meeting - we're going to free the Dauphin in two days!"

And Z, who had been on the sidelines through the past nine months of the League's existence, who had provided intelligence information but had not been part of rescues, felt a surge of excitement.  Action, at last!

Chapter Text

Part 7: France

Chapter 2: A Royal Rescue


January 9th, 1794

The inner courtyard of the Temple prison was a hive of activity on this morning.  Two carts were being loaded, watched by a mounted guard to make sure that nothing was removed from them - or hidden on them.  Two carters and their younger apprentice carried goods down from the apartment on the 2nd floor of the tower that Citizen Simons and his wife had occupied until now, watched by Madame Simons from the bench of one of the carts.

"Here, now!" she snapped as the apprentice hefted a chair onto the bed of her cart.  "Have a care!  Those were my grandmother's chairs!"

"Sorry, Citizen," the young man muttered, scowling at the older carter who had cuffed his head and nearly knocked the cap off of his dirty blond head.

"Only two more loads, Citizen," the carter told Madame Simons as he lashed down the table so it wouldn't fall off the cart.

"Good - " she began, interrupted by a spate of coughing that left her weak and pale.  

The carter chivvied the younger man up the stairs where a second carter who sported an eye-patch was buckling the straps to the large wicker chest that contained Madame Simons's china.  Nearby stood Simons, watching every item that was packed like a hawk.  On the other side of the room was a second guard, standing in front of the door to the cell that held the child that was the former Dauphin of France.

The Temple commander entered the room, looking around with sharp eyes.  "One moment," he said, gesturing for the carter to unbuckle the straps so he could look into the chest.  He nodded at the sight of the china and moved to the second wicker chest, this one containing soft goods.  After a quick riffle through the contents, he indicated that the carters could secure both baskets.  Then he turned to Simons.  "What about the boy?  How is he this morning?"

"Well enough," Simons said, and the guard opened the door so that the commander could look into the cell.  The child was sitting on his straw bed, his head bowed and expression downcast.  "He ate his breakfast like a good lad."  He pulled a small bottle out of his pocket.  "Give him his 'tonic' and he'll sleep through 'till the morrow - won't give you no trouble."

The commander nodded to the guard who took the bottle and went into the cell.  The boy could be heard protesting against drinking the contents but was clearly no match for a soldier, and a moment later there was silence.  The guard came back out and shut the door, resuming his place in front of it.

"The carters are nearly done," Simons told the commander.

The commander nodded.  "Good.  Here is the authorization to get you through the gates," he said, handing Simons a folded piece of paper.  "The guards will ride along, to make certain that you aren't robbed along the way."

Simons face brightened at that.  "Thank you, sir.  I was worried at that."

"Yes, well, the thieves in the countryside are getting bolder - " the commander began, then halted as shrieks could be heard from the main part of the Temple.  He swore.  "What the hell is the matter now?" He turned to the guard and said, "Secure the outer door when the room is clear."

"Yes, sir," the guard responded with a salute.  The commander hurried out to see to yet another disturbance in the Temple, which was becoming more and more frequent due to the crowded conditions.

The first carter had finished strapping up the china and started to heft the chest onto his back.  Simons hurried forward to assist him, knowing that there would be hell to pay if his wife's precious china was damaged.

The minute that they were out of the room, the three remaining men sprang into action, knowing that the diversion they'd arranged would be short.  Jonesy, the second carter, flung open the second wicker chest and Z, the carter's apprentice, scooped out all the soft goods except for one blanket, tossing them into an empty basket.  Meanwhile, the guard - Dorian - opened the door to the cell and gestured to the boy to hurry out.  Louis-Charles quickly climbed into the chest and Dorian tucked the blanket around him.

"Remember, Your Highness, to keep absolutely quiet," he cautioned and the boy nodded, his eyes wide and round in his pinched face.  "Good lad!"  

Dorian closed and locked the inner cell door while Jonesy secured the straps on the basket, then he helped lift the chest onto Jonesy's back.

"Just how did I land the role as 'mule'?" Jonesy muttered, securing the straps over his shoulders so that he wouldn't drop their precious cargo.

"It was all that bragging about your strength, mon' ami," Dorian teased him.

Z picked up the other basket and followed Jonesy out of the room, and Dorian closed and locked the outer door before pocketing the key.  Without that, it would be some time before anyone thought to check on the boy, and they would have to get a locksmith or break down the door.  He straightened his dark wig and hat, then descended the steps to the courtyard where Jonesy and Larky were securing the baskets on the second wagon.  Z put the  basket into the cart and hopped up to sit beside it while the two carters settled on the seat.  Simons climbed onto the other cart and picked up the reins, urging the horse towards the gate.  Dorian untied the reins of his horse from the post and mounted, and he and Andrew followed the carts that slowly made their way out of the Temple prison.

At the city gates they were only briefly stopped, the authorization from the Temple commander himself plus the two guards enough to prevent any impediment or search (and theft) of the goods on the wagons.  Once they gained the road, the two soldiers kept a sharp eye out for trouble - although less from highway robbers and more for "official" interference.  The hour ride to the Simons' cottage was uneventful enough, although it was clear that the rough roads hadn't helped Madam Simons's condition.  Her husband's face was anxious as he helped her down from the wagon.

"Best get her inside, Citizen," Dorian said briskly.  "We'll watch them unload and then accompany the wagons back to town."

Simons nodded and braced his wife as they went into the cottage.  The two carters made quick work of unloading the furniture while Andrew remained in the saddle and kept a watch over the road and the cottage.  Dorian and Z stepped into the shelter of the woods and once more changed clothes, Z slipping into the military coat and buckling on the sword belt, then donning the hat, while Dorian got rid of the wig and dirtied his face and clothes.  Then the pair lifted down the wicker chest containing the boy and opened it.  Louis-Charles looked at them anxiously and Dorian smiled.

"We're free of Paris, Your Highness," he said.  "Only a little bit further, and then you can have food and rest."  

The boy nodded and Dorian scooped him out, then handed him up to Andrew, who easily settled him in front of him while Z mounted Dorian's horse.  

Dorian looked up at the pair of them.  "Bonham is waiting at the safe house with changes of clothes for all of you.  Then tonight you can make your way to the coast where the Leopard is anchored.  You'll be safe once you're on board."

"What about you?" Andrew asked.  "Surely you can give up this masquerade now.  Remember - Bannai's body never turned up, and that's got me worried."

"It's only a few more days," Dorian assured him.  "Have the Leopard remain off the coast until I send word - it should be within the week.  If you haven't heard from me by then, sail for Dover - and feel free to cut-and-run should any French ships happen along."

"Gloria - "

"I have to contact the Austrians, arrange for the boy to get to his mother's people," Dorian said.  "And watch for the fall-out from Z's disappearance - the last thing we want is for the Major or his men to get in trouble for this.  I promise, I won't take any unnecessary chances. Jonesy will be here to keep an eye on me if you don't trust me!"

Andrew snorted.  "As if Jonesy was any good at countering any of your wild schemes!"  

Dorian laughed.  "Take care and ride safe!  Bonne chance, Your Highness!"

Once they were on the road and out of sight, Dorian turned to help Jonesy and Larky with the last few items, returning the soft goods to the wicker chest and strapping it closed.  Before too long, he was lounging in the bed of the wagon while his two men drove the carts back to Paris.

Chapter Text

Part 7: France

Chapter 3: A Trap is Spring

January 7-9th, 1794


"What do you mean, the Leopard is gone?"

Herr B looked at Klaus with trepidation, clearly expecting him to start yelling.  "The harbormaster said that Lord Gloria had authorization to take the ship," he said.  "It looked like your signature."

Klaus swore.  "What the hell does that damn thief need with my ship?  He has one of his own!"

"The local authorities had reported to the Prime Minister that the Daydream was making frequent trips to Paris," G told him.  "Lately, Lord Gloria was having to use fishing vessels and anything else he could lease.  Maybe he thought since you weren't using it....?"

"When I get my hands on him..."  Klaus growled.  "All right.  We'll take his ship instead."  He turned to Gloria's valet, Beck, who he'd convinced into coming along.  "Make it happen."

"Yes, Major," Beck said and led the way to the slip where the Daydream was berthed.  After a few minutes of conversation with the captain, Beck returned to them.  

"Captain Black is more than willing to take us to France, only he wasn't expecting to put to sea today," he told Klaus.  "He'll have to provision the ship - "

"We don't need provisions!" Klaus snapped.  "It's a short trip!"

"The French generally won't sell to English ships," Beck explained, having experienced this on previous trips with the Earl.  "It could take some time for us to locate his Lordship and Z.  And several of the crew are on shore leave - it'll take a few hours to call them back and sober them up.  He says we can sail first thing tomorrow morning."

Klaus swore again.  This was a hell of a way to manage an enterprise, he thought.  The crew of the Leopard had instructions to be ready to sail on an hour's notice - usually to transport couriers (including Z) to France and back.  

"Right," he said, rubbing his hand over his face.  "B, get us rooms for the night. G, stay here and make sure this fucking crew keep on task.  If we're not ready to sail in the morning,  it will be your neck!  Beck, see that the horses get back to Castle Gloria."

Fortunately for everyone, the crew of the Daydream was ready to depart from Dover the next morning.  Rather than land at Calais and spend a week on the coach-road, Klaus approached the captain about landing further down the coast so that they'd have a shorter land trip.

Captain Black nodded.  "His Lordship prefers to use Le Tréport just for such reasons."

"Any danger from the local authorities?"

The Captain laughed.  "Quite the opposite!  A number of the villagers are descended from Captain Luminous Red's privateers, particularly the ones who didn't get an English pardon.  The village has been friendly with the Red family for decades.  And while fishing is their chief occupation, they've also been heavily involved in smuggling."

Klaus grimaced.  "Sounds like Gloria's kind of people."

"It's good that you'll be arriving on the Daydream," the Captain added.  "The villagers don't take to outsiders as a rule.  Last outsider was a representative sent by the Revolutionary Committee to take control of the village.  He vowed to stop the smuggling and to punish every French traitor, to behead them with the guillotine he'd set up."  He paused.  "He was the first and last person to meet that fate.  Oddly enough, I hear that his reports are still sent to the Committee regularly."

Klaus gave him a intent look.  "Just out of curiosity - any of your relatives live in this village?"  

The Captain just smiled and tipped him a salute, then strode off to take the helm as his ship put out to sea.

The voyage was without incident, the waters a little rough in the crossing but then calmer along the French coast.  It was just about sunset when they put into port and Klaus was pleased to see that the Leopard was docked in the harbor.  He stormed off the ship and spent half an hour haranguing his captain for allowing the Earl to commandeer the vessel, then gruffly allowed that Lord Gloria could be very persuasive.  Klaus was also relieved to learn that Gloria was only two days ahead of them and seconded the Earl's order that the Leopard remain in port until he or his representative returned from Paris.

There was no way to continue on  till morning so once again he ordered B to secure them rooms while he set about locating transportation to Paris for him and Herr G, while B would remain in Le Tréport in case Gloria or Z returned there.  One of the fisherman pointed him in the direction of the stables where he found an elderly bespectacled gentleman sitting on a bench outside, enjoying his evening pipe.

The stable-owner, a Monsieur Smith, allowed that he might be able to accommodate Klaus.  "A horse and wagon, take you a day 'n a half to get to Paris," he said in suspiciously good English.  "Or two horses - you can make it in nine hours if you ride through.  'Course you can't carry much luggage -"

"I don't need luggage," Klaus growled.  "I'm not some fucking pansy needing three changes of clothes a day!"

Monsieur Smith squinted at him.  "You'll be this Major Klaus von dem Eberbach that his Lordship often speaks about," he said, with a jerk of his head towards the harbor.  "Saw you come in on the Daydream - wouldn't trust you with my horses otherwise."

Klaus acknowledged that he was.  "You know Lord Gloria?" he asked, surprised that the Earl had spoken about him, no matter how friendly he was with the town. "Friend of the family?"

"Of sorts," Smith said, his eyes twinkling at Klaus.  "I supplied the late Lord Gloria with most of his illegal brandy and French silks."

"A smuggler!"

"Not a sailor, no - I located and 'liberated' the goods, passing them on to the boat crews.  Till I retired," Smith added, then shrugged.  "My daughter married the Mayor; I settled down to be near the grandchildren."  He squinted up at Klaus again.  "Taught the current Earl everything he knows about thievery and helped hire his first crew."

Klaus glared at him.  "You helped him become a thief?"

"The Prince of Thieves."  Smith pulled the pipe out of his mouth and tapped it against the bench to empty it, then tipped in fresh tobacco.  "The current Earl - Dorian - inherited nothing but a name and a pile of debts, enough to choke a man.  He could have sold off, moved to the Continent, and lived well.  Only that would have put his tenants off the lands their families had worked for generations, and left his younger sister without a dowry.  So he found another way."  He shrugged and re-lit his pipe.  

Klaus frowned at that but allowed that Dorian's way had a certain honor to it, even if his actions were illegal.

"Besides," Smith continued, "Hisself could never abide just to play the Lord - there's too much of Captain Red's pirate blood in him!"  

"Much good that will do!  He's going to get his damn fool head cut off!" Klaus growled.

Smith cocked an eyebrow at Klaus.  "Which is why you're here in France instead of attending to your duties in London, Major?  You've got the same thirst for action in you, I warrant."

There was little that Klaus could say to that, so with a curt "good night" he left Smith to his pipe and went to seek his bed for the night.

 


The next morning dawned cold but fair as Klaus mounted his horse and, accompanied by G, rode off to Paris.  The roads were dry, for a wonder, although rain or snow threatened for the coming days so they didn't linger on their journey.  The horses were fresh and spirited, and by holding them to a trot or walk, they were able to avoid stopping except to stretch their legs at noon.  And so, at sunset on January 9th, they arrived in Paris.  

G led the way to a nondescript little house in one of the arrondissements near the center of Paris, producing a key to unlock it.  To Klaus's disappointment, though, the house was empty. 

"Someone has been here recently," he said, observing the fresh bread in the pantry and the cups and plates next to the sink.  

G nodded.  "No doubt Lord Gloria has stepped out for a bit - maybe to see Z?" he said anxiously.

"Z will be leaving the office soon," Klaus noted.  

"I'd better get changed - there should be some clothes upstairs."  G hurried up the stairs.

Klaus poked around the place, finding a number of robes that looked too large to fit Dorian in the larger upstairs bedroom, as well as wigs of varying colors.  There were also a variety of hats and cloaks, and Klaus availed himself of a plain looking black cloak as well as a stocking cap bearing the obligatory cockade.  He tied back his distinctive long hair and stuffed most of it into the cap, then wrapped the cloak around himself.  Peering into the large discolored looking glass, he decided that he should be anonymous enough to pass through the streets of the city.

G appeared a short while later, wearing a thick white blouse and a striped wool skirt, with a thick shawl wrapped around the shoulders for warmth.  On his head he wore a mob cap and his blonde curls had been artfully tousled to emphasize them; Klaus could also swear that his lips had been stained a deeper pink and his cheeks rouged slightly as well.  He scowled but allowed that G easily passed for a woman now - and he wondered just how G knew the way to create that illusion.  That was something he would need to interrogate G about later.

For now, they left the house through the back door, locking it again, and made their way towards Z's lodgings.  It had been decided that G would make the approach, pretending to be one of Z's sisters on a visit.  Klaus waited in the shadows, watching as G knocked on the door and was let in by the landlady.  There was something about the way that the landlady looked around, however, as if checking the streets for observers, that put Klaus on edge, and when two soldiers appeared from down the street, Klaus knew that Juliani had put men on watch.  Still, there was a chance that G's disguise would allow him to leave unhindered so Klaus remained where he was.  He waited, tense and ready for any sign, while the soldiers appeared to take up posts outside the door.  The door opened again and Klaus blew out a relieved breath as G appeared in the doorway.

"Major! It's a trap! Run!"

Klaus ran - but towards the house instead of away from it, pulling his pistol from its holster as he moved.  His abrupt appearance startled the two soldiers and he was able to deliver stunning blows to both, knocking them to the ground.  Into the house he went, to be met by another soldier; a well-aimed bullet to the shoulder took him out of the picture.  G was being held fast by a second soldier who was apparently still under the illusion that G was a woman, and at the Major's abrupt appearance, G stomped on the man's foot and then spun and delivered a well-placed blow to his groin.  Klaus grabbed G by the arm and headed back out the door, but the two soldiers outside had recovered enough to display their bayonets.  Klaus whirled around to make for the stairs, intending to take to the rooftop, but two more soldiers came thundering down with their weapons drawn.

The trap had been sprung.  Klaus and G had been caught.

Chapter Text

Part 7: France

Chapter 4: Days of Glory, Days of Rage

January 10-11th, 1794

 

Franco Juliani was enjoying the best day of his life.

He had returned to Paris from that benighted country, England, to learn that his trap had been more successful than he could have hoped.  He may not have captured Herr Z - which he had intended to do, no matter what he had told Major Eberbach -but his trap had secured the Major himself!  After the way that the man had made a fool of him at Castle Gloria, he looked forward to extracting the identity of Eroica from the Major, before sending him to the guillotine.  

Even that spy Bannai's presence couldn't through a shadow on his day.  No, he would look forward to showing that insufferable Belgian just what a true Son of the Republic could do to root out traitors to France!  

Juliani led the way to Le Forge Grande, where the two new prisoners had been taken after their capture.  He gestured for his second, Mercier, to unlock the cell and entered, relishing the look of loathing on the Major's face and the fear on that of his companion.

"Major!  Would you introduce me to your fair companion?" he asked, turning towards the slight blond woman.  Then he frowned for he had expected to find Herr Z, disguised as a woman so he could sneak back into his lodging to gather his personal things.  This person was unknown to him, and was shorter with more delicate features.  For a horrifying moment, he thought that it must actually be one of Z's sisters.  If so, she would have reason to visit her brother's lodgings and, moreover, the Major would have a valid excuse for accompanying her for protection.  The arrest of an innocent young German woman instead of a spy would make him a laughing-stock.  He had to turn this around, and quickly, and the only way out was through.

"Well, Major?" he snapped, turning back to the silent man.  "Or perhaps I should loosen your tongue."  He turned back towards the woman and delivered a stinging slap across her face, knocking her to the floor.

"Stop that!" Bannai said angrily, putting himself between Juliani and the prisoner, while the two guards jumped forward to grab the Major's arms before he could attack Juliani.  "You can't get anything out of the Major by treating this woman so roughly!"

"We don't need your help," the Major growled, glaring at Bannai and straining against the men holding him.  "Touch G again and I will kill you."

"G?"  Juliani frowned as he turned back towards where Bannai was helping the woman up.  That name sounded familiar - ah, yes!  The Consul was always going on and on about that pretty agent G, wanting him back in Paris.  Juliani smirked; he'd been right all along.  The Major and this agent of his must have gotten Z away and went back to clean up their tracks.  "The Consul will be glad to see you again - if I allow you to live.  Which depends on what you can tell me about the Major's traitorous actions, and what you know about Eroica."  

G glared at him, cradling his bruised cheek.  "Go to hell," he spit at Juliani.  

"I think you will get there before I do."  Juliani turned back to the Major.  "You are a fool, Major.  Why did you come back to France, at the cost of your own life?"

"Herr Z is one of my men," the Major said, his voice as cold as iron.  "I don't leave my men behind."

"Ah yes," Juliani said, curling his lip.  "What is it the English say?  Noblesse oblige?"  He gave a scornful laugh.  "That fool Gloria was the same way - threatening me to a duel to defend his Prince's honor!  Which reminds me."  He walked over to the Major and grabbed his cravat, twisting it to choke the man.  "You made a mockery of me that night.  You sent me on a fool's errand, telling me that Eroica would be by the fountain after the fireworks - and I only found that idiot, Gloria, who had me dragged to my coach - "  Juliani broke off, something in the set look of the Major's face sparking an idea.  He looked over at G, saw an anxious look on his face.

"Of course," he said slowly, releasing the Major's cravat.  "You knew that I wouldn't believe that he could be Eroica, but it makes sense!  He is an Englishman of means, a friend of the Crown Prince, with connections to other young Englishmen of his class!"

"You're an idiot," the Major snapped.  "Eroica was an art thief before he started rescuing your aristocrats.  Gloria is one of the richest men in England, able to buy whatever he wants.  Why would he risk his reputation to steal?"

Juliani shrugged.  "Why do the English do the things they do?  They are a mad race."  He paused.  "Perhaps Gloria only 'borrowed' the name, to conceal his true identity for this mad folly.  I doubt that the true Eroica would step forward to disavow his deeds and risk his own neck."

Bannai cleared his throat.  "Pardon, Citizen; it is all well and good to make these accusations, but you will need proof, yes?"

"I'll get it," Juliani said grimly, turning back towards G.  "The Major will tell me everything I need to know, or I will tear his man apart, bit by bit."

"And what will that gain you?" Bannai asked.  "Words mean nothing.  You need to bring this Eroica to you, to catch him."

"You're right," Juliani said reluctantly and turned to his men.  "Mercier, send word throughout Paris of the execution tomorrow of the traitor Major Klaus von dem Eberbach.  That'll bring Eroica!"

"If he's in Paris," Bannai said.  

"Oh, he's here," Juliani said with certainty.  "He came to rescue Z - no doubt the Major told him all about my threat."  He gave the Major a scornful look.  "They are no doubt lovers - and Eroica won't risk the Major's precious neck.  That English noblesse oblige again."

"But not in Paris, I think," Bannai said thoughtfully.  "He's proven that he knows the city too well, and no doubt he'll cause confusion and free the prisoners."

Juliani swore, acknowledging that Bannai was no doubt right.

Bannai stroked his chin in thought.  "We need someplace small, a village near the coast, perhaps.  With a guillotine handy.  I've heard about a place called Miquelon - "

Juliani shook his head.  "It's in the south, too near Spain and Eroica's allies."  His eyes lit up.  "Of course!  Le Tréport!  It's a small fishing village on the Dover coast.  One of my men has control of the place - an excellent man, splendid reports!  And it's only a day's ride away."

Bannai nodded.  "An excellent notion!  We should try to draw Eroica's man Z there as well.  No doubt he and his compatriots are in hiding somewhere in Paris.  Your Committee has watchful eyes at all the ports, according to Citizen Robespierre, so it would be difficult for them to escape.  How can we catch all of them?"

Juliani frowned in thought.  "Perhaps a note, sent to Herr Z's lodgings, telling Z and the others to join Eroica in Le Tréport.  No doubt Z has someone watching the place for just such instructions."  He looked over at the Major, wondering if he could coerce the man into writing such a note, but decided against it.  He didn't trust the Major not to include some code phrase that would warn his men that it was a trap.  And he couldn't write it himself, not withg the correct English grammar.  He turned back to Bannai, recalling his talents for deception and infiltration.  "Do you think you could forge such a letter, from Eroica?"

Bannai paused for a moment and then nodded, saying drily, "This I think I can manage."

"Good."  He turned back to his second-in-command.  "Mercier, arrange for a carriage at dawn tomorrow, to transport us to Le Tréport.  And a wagon with a squadron of your best men to accompany the prisoners!"  

Mercier released the Major's arm and saluted, going off to make the arrangements.  Juliani turned back to the Major.

"Well, Major von dem Eberbach," he said with great satisfaction.  "Tomorrow you will go to meet your God.  Do you wish for a priest?"

"My conscience is clear," the Major said, his voice full of hatred but no fear.  Bannai had been right, Juliani thought; this was not a man who would reveal secrets, even under the torture of himself or his men.  "Have a thought to your own sins, Citizen."

With a feeling of genuine satisfaction, Juliani left the cell and watched as it was locked securely.  He debated whether he should report this progress to Robespierre but then decided to wait.  It was unlikely that anything would go wrong but it would be better to present Eroica's head in triumph afterwards.



The next day dawned cold and damp, an overnight rainstorm having turned the roads to mud.  The wagon-driver gave as his opinion that it would take the better part of two days to convey a cart full of soldiers to the coast, what with the roads as they were.  Juliani almost reconsidered his decision to move the executions from Paris but Bannai was right, there was too much chance that something would go wrong.  And not just from Eroica and his men; the citizens of Paris were increasingly unhappy and might take arms with Eroica.  He decided that the soldiers would ride instead, as many as could be mounted on horseback,while the prisoners would ride in the carriage with them so he could keep his eyes on them.  Another pair of horses was added to the carriage and then the Major and Herr G were brought out in chains and secured within.  He settled in the seat across from the prisoners, prepared to watch them all the way to the coast.

Fortunately for Juliani's peace of mind, Bannai and G seemed inclined to sleep the entire journey, only waking when they stopped to change horses at noon.  And the Major kept silent the entire journey, glaring at Juliani in a way that made him glad that the man was chained to the carriage.  It was a long and uncomfortable journey, and Juliani was thankful to see the signposts for the village as the sun began to descend towards the horizon.  The carriage came to a halt along the quay and Juliani dismounted, then looked around for someone in authority.  Within a few minutes, a middle-aged man wearing a robe and a chain of office - both of which looked like they'd been hastily donned - hurried over to them.

"Welcome, gentlemen!" the man said, heartily.  "I am Henri Baijot, Mayor of Le Tréport.  Whom do I have the honor of addressing?"

"I am Citizen Franco Juliani, a member of the Committee for Public Safety."

The Major bowed low.  "Welcome, Citizen!  Lt. Fabron has spoken of you highly."

"Where is he?"

"Alas, he is investigating a possible smuggler down the coast.  They come onto shore under cover of darkness and he has gone to lie in wait," the Mayor replied.  "We can send word to him - my boy can run very fast."

"No matter," Juliani said.  "Where is your guillotine?"

The Mayor blinked at him.  "Why, it is in the square," he replied, gesturing down the road.  "But the blade is locked," he added.  "To prevent miscreants from misusing it.  Lt. Fabron has the key."

Juliani scowled.  "Send word to him, then, and be quick about it!"  

The Mayor bowed to him again, and for the first time appeared to notice the two prisoners who had descended from the carriage.  "At once, Citizen," he said, and turned to go.

"One moment!" Juliani called out.  "Have you seen any strangers around town?  An Englishman, in particular, with long blond hair?"

"No, Citizen, not that I have seen," the Mayor said.  "However, I was in guild meetings most of the afternoon.  I shall have my assistant ask the villagers if they have seen any strangers about."

"If they do, they are not to approach them," Juliani cautioned the Mayor.  "Send word to me immediately and I shall send my soldiers to capture them."

The Mayor nodded, then gestured to one of the villagers who was gawking at them.  "Pierre, show the Citizen and his men to the Plaza de Les Enfantes," he told him.

The man nodded and led the way down the quay and then up a narrow street to an open plaza where a guillotine sat on a raised platform.  It was indeed chained and locked and, to Juliani's disgust, the platform was decorated with painted red flowers.  In fact, the entire square looked more like a park than a place of execution, with flower bushes and benches along two of the sides.  He would have to speak to Lt. Fabron quite severely about this display, which could be seen by some less loyal Frenchmen as a mockery.

"And now we wait," Juliani said, rubbing his hands together in satisfaction. 

 

Chapter Text

Part 7: France

Chapter 5: The Final Duel

January 11th, 1794


"And now we wait," Juliani said, rubbing his hands together.  "It won't be long before Eroica and his men fall into our trap."

Klaus looked around at the empty plaza, at the chained guillotine with its colorful decoration, at the rapidly retreating Pierre.  He thought of what the stableman had told him and wondered what the villagers thought of this little invasion.  They might be friendly to Eroica but would they lend aid to friends of his?  He thought it was unlikely that Eroica would turn up himself; his aim had been to get Z out of Paris and then swiftly return to Klaus in London.  Dorian had no reason to think that Klaus would follow him to France; he would learn about Klaus's fate too late.

"Eroica is not such a fool," he said aloud.

"You had better hope that he is," Juliani said sharply, appearing irritated by Klaus's response.

"Why?" Klaus asked baldly.  "You will execute me whether Eroica turns up or not."

Juliani scowled and began pacing back and forth across the plaza, leaving Mercier to watch over the prisoners.  Klaus ignored him, looking about to assess the situation.

The strange man in the long banyan and floppy hat was watching Juliani with amusement; Klaus tried to recall what he'd heard about the Belgian spy but the man was notoriously elusive.  Bannai seemed to have little respect for Juliani, but also seemed content to let the man command this operation.  There was little help to be found in that quarter.

Klaus glanced over at G, pleased to see that he was maintaining good spirits in the face of certain death.  Herr G had shown ingenuity with the disguises, had withstood violence against his person, and now was almost tranquil although death was near.  He only regretted that it was at this last hour that he had come to find some value in the man.

"Herr G," he said quietly, "Your courage is admirable; maintain it.  Death shall be quick, of that you may be certain."

G looked at him, appearing to be startled by his praise.  "Sir, Eroica is already - "

"In England, yes, I know.  I saw that the Leopard was no longer at the dock."  He gave G a grave nod.  "We shall die together, bravely, and must trust  Eroica to avenge our death."

"But sir - "

Whatever G had planned to say was lost as the villager, Pierre, rushed back into the plaza.  "Citizen!  Strangers have been sighted at the quay! They are trying to acquire passage to England - two blond men!"

Juliani looked pleased by this.  "Mercier!  Take your men and go get them!"

Mercier hesitated.  "But the prisoners - "

"We can watch them - they are in chains and cannot escape," Juliani said impatiently.  

Mercier saluted and ran off, followed by his six men.

Juliani clapped his hands together briskly.  "We shall have him now!" he said triumphantly.  "Bannai, can I count on your assistance, should Eroica appear here unexpectedly?"

"No, I am afraid that's impossible - " the spy began.  

Klaus glanced over at the Belgian and, seeing that he had his back to them, he snorted.  The man might be a master spy but he was undoubtedly a coward.  But then the man turned, flinging off his large banyan, floppy hat and grey wig.  Down tumbled familiar blond curls, the ugly mustache and large nose gone, and there, standing in the plaza across from him, was Dorian, Earl of Gloria.  Klaus felt a thrill of pleasure at the sight of the man, ridiculous when it had only been a week since he'd last laid eyes on him.  He was becoming nearly as sentimental as that idiot - but oh! it was good to see him!

" - because I'm already here," Dorian finished with a flourish, then he smiled over at Klaus.  "Hello, darling.  You're looking well, considering the circumstances."

"Gloria," Klaus growled at him.  "What are you doing here?"

"Coming to your rescue, of course," he said.  "I much prefer your lovely neck and head as they are, my dear Major."

Klaus flushed at the flirtatious tone, well aware of their audience.  "You're supposed to be on your way to England with Herr Z."

"Never fear!  Z is safe, delivering a special package to the Austrians," Dorian said, then turned to Juliani who'd been staring at him in bewilderment.  "A Royal package, Citizen, plucked from the Temple prison.  Amazing how a mere lad can slip through your fingers so easily," he added, wiggling his fingers in the air.  "I imagine that there'll be the devil to pay once Robespierre learns that the Dauphin has been freed from the Temple and has, in fact, left the country."

"What?" Juliani exclaimed.  "Impossible!"

"Not for the greatest thief in the world," Dorian said with a laugh.

"Then I was right - you are Eroica!"

"At your service," Eroica said with a flourishing bow.  

"I knew there was something odd about that Belgian," Juliani snapped.

"Oh, he's real enough," Eroica said lightly.  "I 'borrowed' his identity.  Very useful, for learning about pending arrests and freeing prisoners."

"I have no doubt of that," Juliani snapped, then tilted his head as if hearing something.  He smiled.  "You've been very clever, but you shouldn't have revealed yourself so soon!"

Klaus heard the sound of running feet and a moment later, the soldiers burst into the plaza.  His eyes went automatically back to Eroica, hoping that he had some other trick up his sleeve.  However, the other man looked as surprised as he was.

"Guards!  Seize that man!" Juliani ordered.  "He is Eroica!"

Two of the guards ran forward but Eroica quickly unsheathed a sword, holding them at bay.

"Grab the Major!" Juliani ordered and the guards turned towards Klaus.  He managed to knock one of them down, despite his chained wrists, but then the others grabbed him by the arms.  "Now, Eroica - surrender or I will have the Major gutted right before your eyes."

Eroica visibly wavered, his eyes going between the soldiers and Klaus.  "If I surrender, will you set them free?  Both the Major and Herr G?  Let them take ship to England?"

"Dorian, no!" Klaus snapped.  "I forbid you to trade your life for ours!"

Eroica gave him a rueful look.  "It's my life to give, Major."

"Very well," Juliani said, nodding his head at the soldiers to release Klaus's arms.  

Eroica hesitated a moment longer and then tossed aside the sword.  The soldiers ran up to him, grabbing him by the arms and holding him fast.

"And now, Eroica - prepare to face your death!" Juliani said.

Eroica gave him a cool look.  "You forget - your guillotine is locked up and the key isn't here."

"Yes, well, we'll just have to improvise then."  He snapped his fingers and the men dragged Eroica up onto the platform while their four fellows formed a firing squad.  The two soldiers hurriedly descended and Juliani said, "Secure the Major.  Once Eroica is dead, he will take his place in front of the guns."

Eroica's eyes widened and he started towards the stairs, stopping as one of the soldiers aimed his rifle at Klaus.  "Juliani!  You promised that they would go free!"

"Yes," Juliani said, nonchalantly studying his cuffs.  "But an oath to a scoundrel is worthless."  He straightened.  "Soldiers, take aim!"  

The soldiers lifted their weapons to their shoulders, aiming at Eroica.  He paled noticeably but drew himself up tall and proud, meeting Klaus's eyes once before lifting them to stare straight ahead.  Klaus struggled against the soldiers holding him but he couldn't break free of their grip.

"And - fire!" Juliani ordered.  

Klaus closed his eyes in anticipation of the sound of gunfire.  He was not afraid for his own life but the thought of watching his lover die before his eyes was too terrible to witness.  But there was no thunderous report, no sound of gunfire, and Klaus opened his eyes.

To see that all the soldiers had their weapons pointed at Juliani.  

"You idiots!" Juliani shouted.  "He's your enemy, not me!"

Klaus gaped at the sight, hardly noticing as G grabbed his arm and tugged him out of the line of fire.

Eroica smirked as he descended from the platform, looking as cool and collected as if at a garden party.  "Citizen Juliani, permit me to introduce your soldiers," he said.  "Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, Lord John-Paul Dewhurst, Lord Timothy Jones, and the rest of the League."

The three lords swept off their French tricorne hats and bowed their heads politely to Juliani while the other three men scowled, no doubt used to their leader's dramatics.  G gave them all a little wave of greeting and one of them blew him a kiss.

"Where are my men?" Juliani demanded.

"Chasing a ghost," Eroica replied.  "They'll return before long - by which time we'll be long gone."

Juliani suddenly whirled and grabbed one of the swords from one of the soldiers, and stabbed at Eroica.  His quick reflexes allowed him to dance away without being skewered, then he grabbed Juliani by the back of his coat.

"Manners, Citizen," Eroica scolded.  "A gentleman always removes his coat before a duel."  He stripped the coat from the man, throwing him several feet away, then kicked his sword back towards him.  "Stand away!" he ordered his men as Jonesy retrieved Eroica's discarded sword and handed it to him.  "This pleasure is all mine."

The men obediently stood back while Sir Andrew unlocked the chains on the former prisoners' wrists.  Klaus paid little heed to him, his eyes on Eroica and Juliani as the two men saluted and crossed swords, Juliani lashing out at his opponent with a swift fierceness that brought Klaus's heart into his throat.  Eroica didn't seem worried, though, his expression calm and his movements sure as he parried the fierce thrusts and cuts.  Juliani advanced and attacked while Eroica seemed thoroughly occupied with rebuffing his attack and keeping his distance.  Then suddenly he went on the attack, driving Juliani backwards until he ended up with his back against the supports of the platform.  But instead of driving the blade home, he let the tip of his sword just flick through the knot of Juliani's cravat, neatly slicing the fabric in two before Eroica stepped back with a little bow.

"Your cravat looked a bit tight," he said lightly.  "Is that better?"

"You - you - " Juliani gave up on words and charged back into the fight

But now Klaus could clearly see that Eroica was playing with the other man.  A little flick of his sword and half of the buttons on Juliani's waistcoat scattered across the pavement.  Another flick and there went the rest, and next his waistcoat was parted neatly along the back.  Juliani was panting heavily by now while Eroica looked cool and collected.  It was inevitable that with the next pass Juliani's sword went flying, and he ended on his knees, glaring up at the victor.  

"Why did you even bother?" he panted.  "You could have disarmed me at the start."

Eroica shrugged.  "I always like to give a man a sporting chance."

Juliani rolled his eyes.  "Oh the English and their stupid sense of fair play!"

Eroica smiled widely.  "Exactly so, my dear Juliani."

"Well, finish me off, then, damn you!" Juliani snarled.  "Or do you lack the courage?"

Eroica hesitated and then gestured for Andrew to bring over the chains which he locked around Juliani's wrists.  "I think that, in this case, justice demands that you be returned to Paris.  I'll leave your fate to Robespierre and his Committee."

Juliani paled, no doubt knowing that he would end his life under the guillotine's blade.  "I'll tell everyone that you're Eroica!  Your own people will have you arrested as a thief!  You'll not have a day's peace if you let me live."

Klaus frowned.  "He's right."  He gestured towards one of the rifles.  "I can take care of him if you prefer not to."

"I appreciate the offer," Eroica said, stepping close to Klaus and bestowing a light kiss on his lips.  "But after his Committee reads this letter," he added, pulling a note from his pocket, "he will be thoroughly discredited.  Even if they believe him, I can always claim that I only 'borrowed' Eroica's name, as he himself suggested.  I imagine that I'll be the Toast of England!"

"Very well," Klaus said, reluctantly.  "If anyone tries to arrest you, though, I will shoot them."

"Thank you, darling!" Dorian said, beaming, and kissed him again.

In short order, Juliani was hauled to his feet, gagged, and wrapped in Bannai's discarded coat.  Eroica's note was pinned to his coat and then he was frog-marched to the carriage and secured inside by the false soldiers.  The driver watched this with puzzlement and then Sir Andrew turned to him.

"He's a very dangerous prisoner," he told the man in his excellent French.  "The other prisoners have been executed but this one is for Robespierre himself.  Once we return, you are to drive straight to Paris and deliver him immediately to the Committee," Sir Andrew ordered. 

The driver shrugged, resigned to driving straight through the night.  

Sir Andrew and the other false soldiers, with Klaus, G and Dorian wearing the coats and hats of three of the League, marched down the quay and boarded the Daydream.  Klaus paused on the deck while the others prepared the ship for departure, and he looked back towards the village.  The Mayor stepped out of the tavern and gave a sharp whistle.  A few minutes later, Pierre jogged into the village center, followed by the weary soldiers.

The Mayor moved forward to greet them.  "Good news!" he called out.  "The good Citizen has captured Eroica - he is secured in the carriage under the Citizen's guard.  You are to ride for Paris immediately!"

Mercier groaned and looked ready to protest but the Mayor made a gesture that brought out three buxom maidens, carrying a tankard in each hand.  "But first, my friends, a drink to ease your thirst!"  

He handed a tankard to Mercier who perked up considerably and gratefully downed the draft, his men following suit.  They had barely finished their drinks before their horses were brought forward for them to mount by the three remaining members of the League.  The carriage driver whipped up his horses and, followed by the soldiers, began the journey back to Paris.

The Mayor clapped Pierre on the back and gestured for him to enter the tavern, then shook hands with the League members before they headed for the Daydream.  He looked out towards Klaus and raised his hand in a farewell blessing.  

Klaus returned the gesture, then went below deck in search of his lover. 

Chapter Text

Part 7: France

Chapter 6: You Are My Home

January 11, 1794, evening

 

Dorian stepped up to the quarterdeck of the Daydream, nodding a greeting to Captain Black before moving to lean on the railing and look out over the sea.  A stiffening breeze ruffled his curls and he lifted his head to take in the unique smells of ship and ocean.  As much as he loved Castle Gloria, he had to admit that the sea was in his blood and he treasured his time on the Daydream.  

He turned to lean his back against the railing and looked out over the activity onboard the ship.  The regular crew were finishing up their duties and heading down to the Galley for the evening meal.  Herr G was seated on Rudy's lap, having his injured cheek tended to - well, if kisses could be said to have a healing power.  Dorian raised his eyebrows a little at that pairing and wondered what Klaus would have to say about it, but at least Rudy was their Arms expert so he might be accorded the Major's approval. 

Speaking of which, Klaus walked out from Dorian's cabin looking infinitely better than when he'd boarded the ship.  He had washed off the dirt of prison and changed into one of Dorian's more sober coats and breeches; not that emerald green was exactly sober but it definitely brought out the green of his beloved's eyes so he thought he might have to insist that Klaus wear that color more often.  Klaus climbed up to the quarterdeck and settled next to him at the railing, slipping an arm around his waist - an open display of affection that made Dorian look over at him and raise an eyebrow.

Klaus turned a little pink along his cheekbones but growled, "Don't say a word or I'll toss you over the side."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Dorian purred and rested his cheek against Klaus's shoulder.  It was convenient having a lover as tall as he was, he thought dreamily.  So comfortable for leaning on, and no crick to the neck when kissing.  "So what happens now?"

"London, of course," Klaus said, then sighed.  "I fucking hate London - but we'd best speak to the Prime Minister, get your story out first in case Juliani manages to stir up trouble."

Dorian made a face at that.  There were problems with that story, of course.  He would be closely watched, for one thing.  And if "Eroica" were to pull any more art heists, they would be laid squarely at his door.  "I suppose I could say that the original 'Eroica' passed on the name to me before he died."

"And he'd best stay dead," Klaus warned.  "Unless you like the idea of prison."

Dorian sighed but his brain was already thinking of ways to get around the problem.  Heists could still continue, he'd just have to change his technique and calling card.  It would be a challenge but that was actually good, as he'd been getting bored with the usual lately.

"I mean it, Dorian," Klaus said, sternly, pulling him around and into his arms.  "For as long as we are together.  I won't watch you be hanged or locked up."

"For as long as we are together?" Dorian repeated.  "How long would you say that would be?"

Klaus shrugged.  "I'm not interested in anyone else, and I'll be in England until the French situation is resolved, at the least.  Which could be decades, since no other country seems to care that Bonn has been occupied."  He frowned.  "Unless you were thinking of something....shorter?"

Dorian shook his head vigorously.  "No, no!  I like the idea of decades!  Stay forever, if you want.  Plenty of room in Castle Gloria, if you want to relocate from London, since you hate it."

"And you won't get bored?"

"Of you?  Never!"  Dorian cocked his head.  "Although, about the thieving..."

"Dorian," Klaus growled.

"But darling!" Dorian protested.  "I could be such help to you in your work!  I have friends all over the world and they hear things.  What if I learned that there were important German documents in - in the Vatican!  I could help you find them!"

Klaus hesitated, then asked, "Are there?"

"I don't know," Dorian admitted.  "But I wouldn't mind looking, just to be sure!"

"Fuck, no," Klaus said.  "You'd probably steal some valuable artwork.  Or the Pope."

Dorian's mind immediately began to formulate plans and schemes, only to have Klaus pull him closer and kiss him, hard.  Dorian pushed back a little and said, "But Klaus!"

"Hush!" Klaus ordered and kissed him again, this time wrapping his arms firmly around Dorian so that he couldn't get away.  Dorian surrendered - for now.

After all, there would be plenty of time over the coming years to change Klaus's mind.