General Gordon knew the Irish woman very well, and when he returned to Moscow he sought her out. He found her where he expected, at the Emerald Inn in the Foreign Quarter.
“Fiona, I have a special request.”
“General, so good to see you! Get over here, let me look at you, they didn’t damage you at all I hope.” Fiona proceeded to hug him and he reciprocated the gesture. “There, first things first, now what?”
“I have a soldier who needs assistance, he was wounded and has an infection that has gotten the best of him. He needs someone to care for him at the barracks, I thought perhaps Willow would be able to tend to him while he recovers. There are too many wounded soldiers in worse shape and I fear he won’t get the attention he needs, I could have him moved here if that suits you better.”
“Yes, General I would prefer that, I will be around in case they need me. I will make a bed for him upstairs and I will ask Herr Baum to help get him here. Who is this soldier that has demanded your special attention?”
“It’s Pavel Alexeyevich Ulenka.”
“The Baron’s son?” Fiona demanded.
“Yes, Fiona do you know the family?”
“Yes, General … or it’s a long story, please sit. I will send the lad over to the stables to get Herr Baum and I will explain while I get you some tea.”
Fiona set up the table and sat with the General to tell him her story.
“I am telling you this in the strictest confidence, I know I don’t have to tell you that but, there are consequences for my son if word should get out.”
“Who is your son?” the General started to connect the dots.
“Wiley Brodeur, he is …”
The General figured it out. “Your son is a soldier, fighting in the Ukraine, it is actually he who suggested I see Pavel, he had just arrived with a reinforcement unit and Wiley’s infantry was bracing for another assault from the Sultan.”
“You saw Wiley! He is well?” Fiona queried. “We have heard nothing from him for years.”
“They have been fighting with no relief, your son is a brave lad. There is talk of a treaty, the war may be over soon. It may be the last act for our Tsar Feodor, his health is failing and he has no heir. I am afraid there is going to be a challenge for the throne.”
“Have you tried to contact his father, Baron Ulenka?”
“Yes, but they don’t want him at the Summer Palace.”
“I know why, their daughter is in love with my son. Pavel’s friend from the stable, that is how they met and also how he met Katia.”
“I’m listening with great intent.”
“The girl … Katia, left the terem to look at the horses. She had been watching Pavel ride and grew so intrigued that she had to go find out for herself. That is where she met Wiley. Wiley was working for Herr Bron, let’s just say he owed him a favor, and stumbled upon her and gave her a ride back to the palace. It’s an unlikely match, but they fell in love, or at least they have the potential. They hardly know each other, they were kept apart, Pavel lied for them and thus lost his father’s trust.”
“Oh, Fiona, I would say it’s a very strong attraction, he knows of the betrothal and asked me to stop it somehow.”
“What can we do General? After these horrible years of war Wiley needs some happiness.”
“I have a plan to take care of the boy who is betrothed to Katia, I know his father, very well, I can get him to bring her here. They cannot argue if he should insist on an outing, she is betrothed to him, as long as they don’t find out what our actual plans are.”
“Katia, come quickly.” the Baroness called excitedly to her daughter. “You must get ready, I have Sasha and Hildegarde making ready for your afternoon with Dimitry Vasilliovich he is wishing to see you.”
“Mother, I have no plans, I haven’t even spoken to him since Annushka’s wedding.”
“You are his now, you do as he wishes. He wants to see you and spend the afternoon with you. You will be pleasant and do nothing to ruin this day. Perhaps he has decided to plan the affair.”
Katia walked to her chamber and shut the door. There were no more tears to fill her eyes. She felt she had cried enough to last the rest of her life. She instinctively went to the window and imagined Wiley waving back at her. How could this be happening? She loved one boy and was besieged by another.
At least she was confident that this day was not arranged by Dimitry Vasiliovich he didn’t have a spontaneous bone in his body, but it disturbed her to think of what the meddlers all around them were up to.
Katia left her personal servants at the door for the first time. The carriage pulled up and Dimitry Vasiliovich stepped out. He looked different to her. Without his mother nearby he seemed almost adequate. Before Katia stepped inside she realized there was someone else in their party — to chaperone. Dimitry Vasiliovich introduced General Patrick Gordon to her.
“My lord General,” she bowed her head as she climbed inside. “Hello dear child, I’m so glad to finally meet you. I have heard so much about you.”
Katia turned to look at her betrothed, who hadn’t moved a muscle, bewildered that he had more than two words to say about her. He smiled back and turned away.
“Dmitriy Vasilliovich, I need to borrow your young lady for an hour or so, would you mind dropping us off at the Emerald in the Foreign Quarter and come back later?”
“No sir, I will do that.” he seemed relieved.
Katia was wondering what was going on. The familiar sight of the Inn came into view and Katia reminisced on the marriage of her dear sister and the near disaster with the upstart that forced this bogus betrothal. She touched the arm of Dimitry Vasilliovich on the way out and he nodded acknowledgement to the gesture.
Katia looked to the General who was very tall and stood straight as an arrow. He extended his arm and she gratefully took it.
He looked straight into her eyes. “You can thank me later.”
Katia’s day so far was full of one odd occurrence after another, she had no idea what the General was alluding to.
Fiona met her at the bottom of the stairs. Katia ran to her and embraced her it had been almost a year since the wedding and since she saw her last.
“The General has someone he wants you to see.”
The General waved his hand to the stairwell and all three took the stairs to the rooms where Katia had stayed with her sister Annushka while they prepared for her marriage ceremony.
In the chamber was Pavel who was being attended by Willow. Katia fell to her knees alongside his bed. He opened his eyes and smiled, he struggled to sit up and she put her arms around him.
“Pavel, my dear brother, what have they done to you?”
“They have actually saved my life.”
“I meant the war — silly. The General has told me of the harsh reality of the men who fight for Russia.”
“I was with Wiley on the Dneiper River. My wound festered and I was with fever for quite some time. This lovely young lady has been by my side continuously, and without her I am afraid I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”
Willow sat next to Katia on his bed and he grasped her hand.
Willow hugged her, “Your brother is a stubborn patient.”
Katia detected something a little too familiar between the nursemaid and her patient.
“Herr Baum told me he would introduce me to Willow someday, but unfortunately this time he choose a day when I couldn’t run away.”
Willow squeezed his hand.
Herr Baum stepped into the room. “I was told there was a happy reunion going on in here.”
“Pavel, father really wouldn’t tell me you were here? What is wrong with him?” Katia stated as tears surprisingly filled her eyes. Wiley, what about Wiley?”
The General touched her shoulder. “He is on his way home.”