Za tvoyo zdorov'ye! It appears Napoleon's not the only one invading, as Mayfair is experiencing an invasion of its own. And what a delightful invasion it is, for the modiste has received inquiries about sarafans, the jewelers have been questioned about headpieces, and the bakeries are getting requests for the likes of vatrushka. What a marvelous time to be alive! For one can only surmise what--or who--has prompted such interests in the first place.
"Lady Whistledown must be losing her touch, because I don't see what the issue is," Queen Charlotte shrugged, cutting her pirozhki open. She'd ordered the kitchens to fill them with boiled eggs and scallions. "I ate like this all the time when I was growing up. Sometimes, I think the ton needs to broaden its horizons. This actually happens to be my nephew's favorite."
"How is the Prince, Your Majesty?" Edwina Sharma asked. She was a radiant, bright-eyed debutante with brown skin and dark eyes. She didn't actually favor the pirozhki; she knew it would ruin her breath. Edwina figured she could avoid eating if she just cut it up, moved it around her plate, and kept the Queen talking.
"Still in Prussia, but I have summoned him here for the next season." She flashed her favorite a doting smile before turning to her old friend. "I trust you'll have a new wardrobe prepared for the season, Lady Danbury?"
"Don't I always?" the aging dowager shrugged, tea cup in hand. She didn't like the pirozhki either. Not only that, Lady Danbury wasn't particularly thrilled with the new "Russian craze" slowly sweeping the women of the ton. It was times like these that she was reminded of hust how gullible (and bored) Mayfair's elite really was. Just the other day, at the custard shop, she saw people eating various flavors of something called varenye; apparently, it was the latest addition to the menu.
"This Count," the Queen pondered aloud, "this...Lord Mironov. What do we know of him? Is he betrothed?"
"According to Lady Whistledown, he is quite unattached," Lady Danbury replied. "Never married either."
The Queen was perplexed. "He looks to be at least thirty. And why is he traveling with his stepmother in the wake of his father's death? Who is handling his family's affairs back in Russia?"
"There are questions, to be sure," Lady Danbury nodded, "but if anyone can find answers, I am certain your favorite rumor-monger shall."
"I wonder if the Count will stay until the new season," Edwina said. "Perhaps, that was his intention all along."
"I haven't seen a bachelor so eligible since the Duke of Hastings," the Queen blinked. "I wouldn't mind watching him make a match in Mayfair. It would be most enchanting."
"The Baroness Patridge did pay Lady Mironova a visit, along with her daughter and another debutante," Lady Danbury raised an eyebrow. "I believe she knew the Dowager in her youth; Eleanor was always spending time with the Worthington girls."
"I must confess, I am intrigued," the Queen smiled giddily. "Perhaps, I should have these Mironovs over for tea."
Despite being neither bored nor gullible, Lady Danbury was an admittedly curious woman. "Pray tell, ma'am...would I also be invited to this tea?"
In a short time, Elizabeth Mironova had developed a routine with Mayfair's favorite gossip writer: pick her up, skim her barbs, and throw her in the nearest fire.
Elizabeth hadn't returned to Mayfair to be the center of attention. She actually intended to coming during the last social season, when all eyes would be on the debutantes, but alas...Andrei had taken too long to die.
Now, every other day or so, there was some mention of her household in that infernal woman's writings. If Whistledown wasn't scribbling about her clothes or jewels, she was gushing about Adrik and his looks.
There wasn't much information for Whistledown to find, of course; he had no friends or family nor even business contacts in England. Most of what anyone knew about him was rumor and conjecture. So all Whistledown could do was focus on his appearance and the fact he was a foreigner. Which apparently, all the ton was doing now, for in addition to getting numerous invitations to dinners and winter balls, Elizabeth's servants were being interrogated about what sort of food and drink was being served in the Mironov household.
It was as though all of Mayfair had suddenly gone annoyingly mad for Russia.
Elizabeth supposed that was one advantage to the rumor-monger's ramblings; the woman had gone and spread a fever. It was true that overnight, she'd become something of a fashionable intrigue (if not icon), but at the end of the day, she was a 35-year-old widow and the interest in her would be short-lived.
Adrik, however, was a bachelor, and the vultures were about to descend.
The Count was in a dark, brooding mood, which meant something had gone wrong after he and the Dowager were left alone last night.
Iakov knew better than to speak, despite having a lot of opinions about those two. Instead, he took the Count's dressing gown, folded it and set it aside as the older man stepped into the bath. Usually, the Count always had some complaint about the temperature ("Slishkom zharko", "Slishkom kholodno"), but today he said nothing. The silence was deafening.
Iakov walked over to where a jug sat on a stand. "If my lord would like more water, I could--"
"Nyet," the Count him off, while staring ahead at nothing.
Iakov blinked, not really sure what was happening. As well as he knew the Count's tastes and preferences, it was hard to do his job if the man didn't communicate.
"No more water, sir?"
"No more anything," came the emotionless reply. He'd never sounded so desolate before.
Iakov now both confused and alarmed. The Dowager and the Count had been going back and forth since he first met them, unable to decide upon their feelings and take definitive action. He always assumed things would work out once the Count's father died, but apparently not. If anything, things seemed have gotten worse.
"No more chores for you," the Count finally clarified. "You're not my servant, Iakov. You never were. You're my ward."
Iakov really didn't know what to do with that.
The Count finally looked up at him, meeting his eyes. There was something haunted, yet also soft in his gaze. "Go send for a tailor. It's time you dressed like a gentleman."
Elizabeth found Adrik in the study she never bothered to use, furiously scribbling his signature over several documents.
"What's this Allegra says about you wanting to hire a new valet?" she demanded.
"I want to hire a new valet," he echoed mechanically.
"Why?" she blinked. "Are you sending Iakov home?"
"On the contrary, it's time I fully embraced him as my ward and heir," Adrik replied. "Our conversation last night made me realize something: my father is finally dead, yet I've remained shackled to his way of thinking. You know, he always warned me never to get too close to Iakov? Even though he practically left him in my care for years."
"And now the boy is a man," Elizabeth nodded. It was about time. She was personally quite fond of Iakov and had always been annoyed with Andrei's contrary stance that the boy was both a ward and a servant.
The price of being part of Andrei's "collection", she shuddered, remembering her own role in the Mironov household.
"And fine man he will make," Adrik stated resolutely. "I'm having him fitted for a new wardrobe as we speak and I'm notifying my solicitors of my decision."
"A fine gentleman," Elizabeth raised her eyebrow. "Fluent in four languages and plays how many instruments? Not to mention, he always was a good-looking boy. The ton will be all abuzz about him."
"And God willing, so will Lady Whistledown," Adrik prayed.
Next: The Prodigal Daughter