The Franklin Deception
The Franklin Deception
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Book 4 of the Dashkova Memoirs
- Historical Fantasy
- Supernatural Steampunk
- Myths & Legends
When Thomas Jefferson's longtime companion is murdered with dark magic, Katerina Dashkova and Ben Franklin must find the killer before the war-hungry Federalists learn the truth and use it to maneuver America into a war with Russia. Unfortunately, the unknown assassin isn't the only one causing trouble: a certain rusalka with a magical hold on Kat's future has made an impossible demand that will test her loyalty to her new country to its very limits.
Intro Into Chapter One
Intro Into Chapter One
As Benjamin Franklin, the Architect of the American Revolution, was bent over inspecting the crawl space beneath the Amberger house for unnatural creatures, I observed that his derrière was of the finest quality.
I didn't make it a particular habit to inspect his rear. Normally, the navy blue waistcoat he wore covered his sitting flesh, so I hadn't the opportunity to inspect it.
But bent at the waist, as he was, I could not help but admire his firm buttocks and long powerful legs. And though I'd been born in Saint Petersburg and not the Puritan west, thoughts even more lecherous than I was used to claimed my vision, bringing a feverish blush to my cheeks.
"Kat?" asked Ben, looking at me strangely. "Are you well? Your face is as bright as an apple."
I'd been so engaged into my erotic airs that I hadn't even noticed he'd finished his investigation.
"A bit of spring fever, I suppose," I said, waving a cool breeze into my face.
Ben raised a questioning eyebrow before going back to his investigation, this time crouched on his heels and using the bull's eye lantern to spy the web infested corners, saving me from the view.
It was a bit of a lie to claim I was having spring fever. The truth was that since I'd been trying to develop my magic, I'd been having flashes of, dare I say, lust. I'd been lustier than a Dutch West Indies sailor on shore leave.
"Are you certain you're well? I can continue this alone. Take the steam carriage back, and I'll have the head of the house lend me a steed," said Ben, standing again.
"Put worry out of your mind. I'm as fit as a fiddle," I said. "After the horrid streets of New York, I'd do just about anything than miss time in the Pennsylvania countryside. Maybe even pamphleteer for William Bingham."
I'd been trying to be witty, but mention of the prominent Federalist brought a scowl to Ben's lips.
He stalked around the house, the brass lantern clanging against his thigh.
I took a moment to enjoy the view. The Amberger's farm was on an idyllic swath of the countryside. If I hadn't known better, it could have been a section of England with long stone walls running between the farms and solitary oak trees majestically soaring above.
The streets of New York in contrast had been a dirty, filthy place with coal fumes hanging in the air, residents moving about with handkerchiefs held over their mouths. The steam engine, a boon for society, was also a nuisance for the sweet air.
I'd spent the last few months in New York with Thomas Paine, another member of the Transcendent Society, dealing with a series of disappearances surrounding the prominent Rothschild family. The missing family members reported the individuals would act in odd ways before up and leaving, succumbing to some hither unknown madness. The family assumed some curse had been laid upon them, though we could find no trace of said magics using the gauntlet that Franklin had acquired in Otherland.
I found using the silvery artifact grew easier with time, though I did not test its powers to throw lightning as Anne Bingham had done on the Brave Eagle before Koschei had thrown her to her death.
Eventually, the disappearances stopped, the family members returned with no trace of injury, and we decided that we'd driven whatever unnatural creature that was plaguing them away by our presence.
I found Franklin by an oak tree near the barn. He was staring at something in the branches. An old boot hung in the tree by its laces.
"What in blazes is that doing up there?" he asked.
Another leather boot, older and sun bleached, was perched on a slender branch.
"I see two others, though it's hard to tell with the foliage," I said.
"Mrs. Amberger reported the family loses a boot a week to whatever creature is causing this mischief. A few days ago, something threw a boot at Mr. Amberger, injuring his arm. Amberger is a proud man and didn't want to ask for help, but I've known his wife Miram for quite a long time, and she said he was quite frustrated about the situation. Do you have any inkling of what we're dealing with?" he asked.
I searched my memory for clues. Upon learning that the gods Perun and Veles were real beings from another realm, intent on disrupting ours, I'd been reading books of myth from all cultures, but especially Russian tales.
The god Perun, whom Franklin had allied us with, was associated with thunder and lightning. I found him to be a cross between Odin and Thor. Franklin had explained that the myths were a simplistic view of Perun and that he'd found his brief dealings with him more complex.
Veles, who opposed Perun and wished to escape Otherland into our world, was the god of the underworld. Franklin had nothing to say about him, since he had not met him during his time in Otherland. He'd only interacted with his hirelings, like Rowan Blade.
Books about these not-so-mythical creatures were hard to acquire, and the volumes I'd ordered from Lyons had yet to arrive. While most of the truth was obscured in myth, I thought it important to be prepared for any possibility.
"A few ideas, nothing worth speaking about without more confirmation," I said. "But tell me, Ben, why are we worried about a creature that steals boots and plays other innocuous tricks? This was the last thing I thought we'd be investigating upon my return. For all we know, it could be some mischievous children from a neighboring farm."
Ben squeezed his palms together, the veins on his forehead standing out. "It's the Federalists. They vex me. Even the Democrat-Republicans are moving lockstep. Day by day we move closer to a state of war, no matter how I try to manipulate them. America will launch an attack against Russia as soon as it has the vote for war unless we can stop the Federalists."
"Allow me to be the voice of dissent. Why not attack and hit them before they are prepared? Does America not have the greatest fleet of airships in the world? And the inventions you and Djata have been conjuring up in the workshop. Can't those lend their might to the cause?" I asked, thinking about the wheelchair-bound African scientist who called me Princess as an insult.
In truth, I already knew Ben's arguments against war. He'd lectured the points previously and I believed him. Powerful artifacts brought over from Otherland would give the Russian Empire an advantage, especially if we took the fight to them.
What I hoped to learn was more about the remaining royalty in Russia. Who really was in charge? Why had Rowan Blade thought me a natural ally? Because I'd been brought up in Saint Petersburg, or because my son, Pavel, still enjoyed the good graces of whoever had replaced the emperor?
I did not get those answers, as Ben, still fuming about the Federalists, waved his hand in my general direction, indicating he'd made those arguments before and he wouldn't bother repeating.
When he did speak, it was quieter and without the tinge of rage. "Fresh air can be quite the restorative, while sunlight is the bane of bad thoughts." He paused. "And I came at the behest of Miram Amberger to suss out this poltergeist, because her husband is an influential man with some of the Democrat-Republicans who need a bit more steel in their spines."
"Is it really that bad?" I asked.
With elbow cupped in one hand, the other hand positioned under his chin, Ben said, "These signs of the occult, pamphlets about prophecy, sightings of flying witches, and inanimate men starting fires in bawdy houses. They create a general feeling that magic is to be feared, especially when the source of the arcane is the enemy. A conclusion I cannot begrudge them since it's the truth. And fear leads to trust in those that can promise an end to that fear, which leads them to the Federalists."
"Which means William Bingham and his side are growing stronger by the day," I continued for Ben.
His eyes, which were normally a bright blue-gray, had lost the shading that made them like towering storm clouds over the sea. Instead, the gray prevailed, turning his gaze to the cloudy sky on a frigid winter's day.
"There will be a vote in two weeks on whether or not we'll go to war with Russia. April 17th, 1802. As I said before, once the vote is confirmed, our airships will launch a few days after the vote and hit the Russian Empire by end of May," said Ben.
"You have a plan, I assume?" I asked.
That spark returned to his youthful eyes. "Nothing solid yet. Working on a few things with Djata in the Thornveld. In the meantime, we have to do everything we can politically to turn the tide."
The implications being that what he and Djata were working on in the demi-plane they called the Thornveld was not a political thing. Involvement of the African scientist brought to mind a variety of guesses, though none were probably close. I would have asked what they were working on, but I knew that Ben would have told me if I were meant to know.
"So in other words, figuring out the identity of the shoe thief is paramount to America's future?" I asked.
Ben chuckled lightly. "The world turns on the smallest of hinges."
"Have you checked the area for the presence of magic?" I asked.
"Yes, when you were inside speaking with Miram," he said. "Traces of it, here and there, but nothing substantial."
"We know so little of how Otherland magic works," I said, frustrated.
An eyebrow rose. "I take it your personal studies have not gone well?"
I shook off the question, not wanting to think too much about it, or risk having another lustful event, and wandered towards the farmhouse.
It was a sprawling affair, rather large, even for the Philadelphia countryside. The Ambergers were gentleman farmers, much like the Jeffersons, or other wealthy owners who enjoyed the benefits of the farm without doing the work themselves.
"What's that building over there?" I asked, pointing to a structure away from the farmhouse and barn. It had a wide frame, darkened windows on the sides, and a bulge on the roof that was hidden by the row of trees nearby.
"A private chapel for holding service," said Franklin.
"I want to see inside," I said, setting off without waiting.
Something about the structure of the building tickled my memory without making clear the source. At first glance, it had similarities to a country barn, except for the windows. What I really wanted to see was the interior.
Once inside, I was struck by the simple and unexpected beauty of the country chapel. It had two rows of wooden pews of a handsome craftsmanship, including scrollwork along the sides. The chapel could seat thirty comfortably, which was a luxury for a private church. The darkened windows were made of colored glass and gave the light a heavenly quality.
Upon the altar was a silken sheet marked with a tri-bar cross. A painting of the Virgin Mary was displayed behind the priest's lectern. The bulge in the ceiling proved to be a modest dome painted in Byzantine designs: a picture of Jesus at the center surrounded by the twelve apostles.
"An Orthodox Church," I said. "I should have guessed given the Amberger name, which hails from the Prussian area. Which is why he has a private church; otherwise he might offend his Protestant neighbors."
"Aren't you a member of the faith?" asked Ben.
"The Orthodox Church is the official religion of the Russian Empire, to deny it was to court disaster. Catherine always made a point to observe the rituals, and I learned to do the same," I said.
"Do you believe this church has something to do with our investigation?"
"It might. Certainly, it suggests the character of our host. What other occurrences have the Ambergers observed?" I asked.
"They claimed that at times they feel something is watching them. Or they might hear the working of the father Mather or one of his sons in the yard, but then go out to find no one there. Furthermore, the horses have been let out of the barn a few times, though they said that could have been inattention and not sidhe mischief." Ben paused and studied me closely. "I see the gears behind your eyes furiously churning. What do you suppose afflicts this farm?"
At a quickened pace, I moved to the front of the farmhouse. There was a wide yard between the house and the barn.
The sunlight fell upon my back enjoyably. Standing at the center of the space, facing in a northerly direction, I cupped my hands around my mouth.
"Grandfather Domovoi! Please come into the house and tend the flocks!" I shouted in Russian.
I turned to the east, planting my feet solidly.
"Grandfather Domovoi! Please come into the house and tend the flocks!" I said again in Russian.
Ben's gaze flickered with amusement while his mouth was set sternly. I repeated it twice more, turning to the south and then the west.
When I was finished, the barn door rattled and a log from the pile near the porch fell off and rolled into the lawn.
"What did you say?" he asked.
"I invited it into the house," I replied.
He startled. "Why would you do this? Don't we want to drive it away?"
"Not all magics are trouble," I replied. "When I lived in Russia and took a new home, I always performed that ritual, even though I did not believe it, yet it helped me feel more at home. It calls the Domovoi, the house faerie, to the home to protect it. Knowing this Amberger comes from lands near my home, suggests that either he's never welcomed the Domovoi into his home or done something to anger the house faerie."
Ben seemed skeptical. "That's it? The mystery is solved?"
"Please tell Mr. Amberger that he should do as I just did and leave out biscuits, salt, and milk overnight," I said.
Ben tilted his head. "Are you certain of this? If he is offended by this suggestion, then we'll have done more harm than good. He is a practicing member of the Orthodox Church. The idea of house faeries might be contrary to his beliefs."
Religion in Russia was more complicated than in the Puritan west. Believers in my former home often spread their belief around, hedging bets against picking the wrong gods. Or used the rituals as a common bond, much as Catherine had done to legitimize her ascendancy.
"Tell him, then, to leave out biscuits and milk on his front porch. That the thieves will take it as a sign of respect and leave him alone," I said.
"This will work?"
"We'll learn soon enough. I thought the Domovoi were just a story until today," I said.
"Fair enough," said Ben. "You go on ahead. Besides this sage advice, I need to speak with Mather about the upcoming vote. I'll borrow a steed from him when I've completed my task. You probably want to get settled in after your time in New York."
"Yes, Aught's been sorting my dresses by some unfathomable system I cannot uncover. They're hanging randomly throughout the house on hooks she's installed on the ceilings and walls. Every time I turn around, I think someone's standing there. It'll take me the rest of the day to put it to order," I said.
The little golden automaton pangolin that housed part of Trisella's soul had been living with me since Franklin had sent her back from Otherland. She was boundless energy contained in a fox-sized being.
Ben chuckled lightly.
"Tomorrow, come by the estate. I think you'll be quite surprised with what we've been doing in the Thornveld," said Ben with that twinkle in his eyes.
I nodded and moved towards the steam carriage. As I placed my hand on the sun-warmed metal, a bit of sharp pain erupted in the depths of my mind where the prophecies lay in wait. It passed quickly, but the appearance of it was meaningful.
The multitude of prophecies I'd received from the Gamayun constantly lurked at the edge of my thoughts, teasing possible futures with strange feelings nudging me this way and that.
I couldn't be certain exactly what this nudge meant, but I guessed that whatever happened here today would have some impact on the future. I left the Amberger farm with almost certain knowledge that I would be returning some day.