Congress of Vienna


It’s autumn – rose gold light, pumpkin spice lattes, cuddly sweaters (in the San Francisco Bay Area, the weather turned distinctly crisp last week). And Halloween was just last week. It was always one of my favorite holidays growing up, not for the candy but for the magic of masquerading as someone else (inevitably a favorite historical or fictional character) for the day.

Thinking about Halloween made me think about masquerade balls. I’ve always loved them in books. Costumes allow characters to highlight their personalities or to masquerade as someone quite different. And masks allow for all manner of intrigue, romantic or otherwise. My mind tens to run to suspense when it comes to intrigue. My idea for The Mask of Night began with the image of a masked man floating, stabbed to death, in a fountain, and Mélanie in black Elizabethan dress, reaching a lace-cuffed hand reaching into the water to examine the body.

Masked balls were a frequent form of entertainment at the Congress of Vienna. In a city filled with dukes, princes, kings, and emperors, where rules of protocol and precedence hung over most public events, masquerades provided unexpected freedom. Not to mention an opportunity for sexual and diplomatic intrigue. A masquerade at the Hofburg Palace marked the start of the Congress. At another masked ball at the Hofburg on 30 October, 1814, a masked figure slipped Prince Metternich a note from his political and romantic rival, Tsar Alexander, concerning Wilhelmine of Sagan, a woman they both pursued.

Costumes at these masked balls followed a variety of themes. At a masquerade Mettternich gave in November at his summer villa (which is the setting for a sequence in Vienna Waltz), the sovereigns were told to wear black and ladies were asked to dress in regional costume. Peasant dresses swirled on the dance floor, many stitched with enough jewels to feed an entire peasant village for a month. Lady Castlereagh excited comment by wearing her husband’s Order of the Garter in her hair. At midnight, many of the guests exchanged masks, adding to the masquerade mischief. And despite the glittering guest list, not all those present were monarchs and aristocrats. Metternich sent Wilhemine of Sagan tickets for her maid Hannchen and Hannchen’s daughters and even suggested Hannchen and Wilhelmine could switch masks if they liked.

In January, yet another masked ball at the Hofburg followed a glittering sleigh rideto the Schönbrunn and back. Only Lent put an end to the endless round of masquerades, though not to the romantic and political intrigue.

Do you enjoy masked balls in books, as a reader or a writer? What do they allow that isn’t possible in non-masquerade party scenes? Any favorite sequences in books?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mel/Suzette to Charles/Malcolm on their anniversary in 1814, a companion piece to his letter to her last week.

On the surface “All for Love” is an odd title for a post relating to Vienna Waltz. Despite–or because–of their myriad romantic intrigues, most of the characters have a distinctly unromantic attitude toward love. Very much including Malcolm/Charles and Mélanie/Suzanne. This week’s post is a riff on one of the Vienna Waltz discussion questions:

14. Many of the characters claim not to believe in love or not to believe love lasts, yet a number of them do things that are motivated by love. Which actions, by which characters, do you think most strongly convey love for another character?

I was intrigued by this question when I wrote it, and to be honest I’m not sure how I’d answer it myself. But I do think there’s a lot of love beneath the surface in Vienna Waltz. Adam Czartoryski risks his career, his hopes for Poland, and possibly his life to protect Tsarina Elisabeth. Metternich jeopardizes his position and his negotiating power at the Congress to try to recover Wilhelmine of Sagan’s daughter and later her missing letter. Wilhelmine, to a large degree, is driven by her love for her missing daughter. The need to recover her daughter even influences her love affairs. Talleyrand has very complicated feelings for Dorothée, though now I think about it they don’t per say influence his actions in the book. I think they will play a stronger role in the book I’m just beginning. Geoffrey Blackwell, a confirmed bachelor and cynic, takes the risk of proposing to the much younger Aline.

Malcolm/Charles keeps Tatiana’s secrets out of an emotional debt to both Tatiana and his mother. Later, he confesses those feelings to Suzanne/Mélanie, because his feelings for her trump his earlier promise. He also tries to make sure Suzanne and Colin would be protected in the event of his death. Suzanne lies to protect Malcolm, even after finding him kneeling over the body of the woman she believes was his mistress. Later, she tries to comfort Malcolm in his grief for Tatiana, despite believing he and Tatiana had been lovers.

Those are just some of the examples. What do you think? Which actions, by which characters, most strongly convey love for another character? Which character is protesting too much when he or she claims not to believe in love? Which character is the greatest romantic?

I’ve just posted a new letter in the Fraser Correspondence from the distinctly unromantic Aline (who nevertheless finds love in the course of the book) to her mother Lady Frances about Princess Tatiana’s murder.

I’ve been doing research for the third Malcolm & Suzanne book, which is set in Paris after Waterloo (the second book takes place before and during the battle). The setting offers me the chance to revisit many of the real historical characters in Vienna Waltz, including the fascinating Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, and her younger sister Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord. Both sisters were in Paris in that tumultuous summer, and both were involved in tangled love affairs. Wilhelmine, after a brief affair with Caroline Lamb’s brother Frederick, had become involved with Lord Stewart, Castlereagh’s hot-tempered half-brother, while Alfred von Windischgrätz (her lover in Vienna Waltz) was still pursuing her. And of course, Prince Metternich was in Paris as well and far from over Wilhelmine (I don’t know that Metternich ever entirely got over her). Meanwhile, Dorothée was continuing the affair with Count Karl Clam-Martinitz (which begins in Vienna Waltz). Her husband, despite his own numerous affairs, was far from complacent, and fought a duel with Clam-Martinitz. Prince Talleyrand, Dorothée’s uncle by marriage, had his own complicated feelings for Dorothée, which Dorothée perhaps reciprocated more than she would even admit to herself. The life of a Courland princess was never simple.

Courland, located in what is now Latvia, had been a semi-autonomous duchy nominally paying fealty to Poland. In 1795, Peter von Biron, Duke of Courland, Wihelmine and Dorothée’s father (who plays a key role in the backstory of Vienna Waltz), ceded the duchy to Russia. However, Duke Peter had purchased substantial estates that stretched to Sagan in Silesia, only a day’s journey from Berlin. He left Sagan to Wilhelmine, the eldest of his four daughters.

The four Courland princesses, Wilhelmine, Pauline, Jeanne, and Dorothée, grew up almost in their own court, with lavish house parties, a resident troupe of actors, a private orchestra. When Jeanne was sixteen she fell in love with Arnoldi, a violinist from the orchestra who had been hired to teach the music to the Courland sisters. Jeanne became pregnant, and she and Arnoldi ran off together. A Prussian officer discovered her and packed her home. Duke Peter disinherited her in a fit of temper shortly before he died. She had to give the baby up for adoption. Meanwhile, Count Wratislaw, Chief of the Bohemian Police, who became the girls’ guardian on their father’s death, lured Arnoldi back to Bohemia, probably with a forged letter from Jeanne, and had him imprisoned and executed.

Jeanne was married off to the Neopolitan Duke of Acerenza. By 1814, when Vienna Waltz takes place, both she and her sister Pauline (married to Friedrich Hermann Otto, Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen) were separated from their husbands and sharing a house in Vienna. Jeanne had a long time liaison with a Monsieur Borel, and the two of them were apparently like an old married couple.

Duke Peter’s marriage to his much younger wife, Anna Dorothea, had been a dynastic union. Dorthothée (who was ten years younger than Jeanne, the sister nearest to her in age) was almost certainly the daughter of her mother’s lover Count Alexander Batowski. Not long after Duke Peter died, the duchess ended her affair with Batowski and began a liaison with the Baron Gustav Amrfelt. Armfelt took a keen interest in the education of clever young Dorothée. Unfortunately the interest he took in Wilhelmine, then eighteen, was less fatherly. They began an affair. One night the duchess noticed someone had taken a candle and went to see who was abroad at such an hour only to find her daughter in the arms of her lover.

By that time Wilhelmine was pregnant. Armfelt, being an aristocrat, was not executed like Arnoldi, but Wilhelmine, like Jeanne, was compelled to give up her child, a loss that haunted her through the years and that drove many of her actions at the time of the Congress of Vienna (and in the plot of Vienna Waltz). She was hastily married off to the well-born but penniless Louis de Rohan, but her affair with Armfelt continued, with the three of the them traveling together and living off Wilhelmine’s extensive dowry. Eventually Wilhelmine shed both men, first breaking off with Armfelt, then divorcing de Rohan. She later married the Russian Prince Troubetskoi, but by 1814 had divorced him as well. In 1813, though in the midst of a love affair with the dashing cavalry officer Alfred von Windischgrätz (to whom readers of Vienna Waltz will know she would later return), she began an affair with Austrian foreign minister Prince Metternich. An affair which was still intense when the Congress of Vienna opened and then came to a spectacular end just before Vienna Waltz begins.

Dorothée meanwhile, much younger than her sisters, had fallen into adolescent love with Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski (the longtime lover of Tsarina Elisabeth of Russia, wife of Tsar Alexander). Czartoryski, though still in love with Elisabeth, was open to the marriage, but through the connivance of Dorothéee’s mother and Prince Talleyrand, Dorothée instead end up married to Talleyrand’s nephew Edmond. It was not a happy match. Dorothée, as Suzanne thinks in Vienna Waltz, loved books. Edmond, a cavalry officer, was more likely to be found with his horses or at the gaming tables. Or with his mistresses.

In 1814, Dorothée’s mother once again found herself losing a lover to a daughter. Duchess Anna Dorothea was Talleyrand’s mistress before the Congress of Vienna (he wrote very eloquent letters to her when Paris was falling to the Allies). But it was Dorothée Talleyrand took with him to Vienna as his hostess. In Vienna, he began to see her as more than his nephew’s wife, a story that begins to be dramatized in Vienna Waltz and that I’ll continue to explore in the book I’m now beginning.

What are some of your favorite real historical characters in fiction? If you’ve read Vienna Waltz, which of the real historical characters did you like best? What did you think of Wilhelmine and Dorothée?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Geoffrey Blackwell writes to Lady Frances just on the eve of the events of Vienna Waltz. Speaking of which, what did you think of Geoffrey and Aline?

Celebrating Vienna Waltz with Audrey and Nancy

The picture above is my wonderful editor, Audrey LaFehr, my wonderful agent, Nancy Yost, and me celebrating Vienna Waltz on my trip to New York last month. Vienna Waltz has been out for almost two weeks now. It’s so fun that people are finally getting to read it. So I thought I’d devote this week’s post to a Vienna Waltz discussion. Here are the discussion questions I did for the book (which are also posted in their own page on this site). I thought they might be good for getting the conversation going, but feel free to post any questions, comments, or speculation relating to the book (or to ask questions about the book if you haven’t read it ). And if you’ve read The Mask of Night,or have questions about it feel free to bring it into the conversation as well.

I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Aline Dacre-Hammond to Charles/Malcolm’s sister Gisèle in which she speculated about Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne’s marriage.

1. Before Malcolm told Suzanne the truth about his relationship with Tatiana, what did you think had transpired in the past between Tatiana and Malcolm?

2. How does being in Vienna at the Congress constrain the characters’ actions and/or free them to act in ways that might not be possible were they at home in London, St. Petersburg, Paris, or wherever their homes may be?

3. Both Malcolm and Suzanne keep secrets from each other. How might their marriage have been different if they had told each other the truth from the start? Or would they have married at all in that case?

4. Tatiana sets in motion an elaborate plot to regain what she sees as her rightful heritage. What are the parallels between the game she is playing and the more overtly political games being played at the Congress?

5. Do you think Malcolm would ever have told Suzanne the truth about Tatiana if Suzanne hadn’t found the locket?

6. Do Castlereagh, Metternich, and Talleyrand remind you of any present-day politicians? If so, in what ways?

7. Suzanne and Malcolm both frequently are playing a part, whether they are in disguise (as at the Empress Rose), or playing their roles as a diplomatic couple, or at times even (or perhaps especially) when they are alone together. At what points in the novel do you think each of them is the most wholly her- or himself without masks or deception?

8. How are Suzanne’s, Dorothée’s, Wilhelmine’s, Elisabeth’s, and Tatiana’s attitudes toward marriage and love shaped by their experiences in childhood and adolescence?

9. Compare and contrast Suzanne and Malcolm’s marriage with Fitz and Eithne’s, from their reasons for marrying, to their secrets and betrayals.

10. Several of the characters in Vienna Waltz fear the revelation of secrets about their personal lives. Do you think they have more or less to fear from their secrets being revealed than present-day public figures?

11. Did you suspect Fitz of killing Tatiana before the end of the book? Why or why not?

12. Malcolm says to Fitz that Castlereagh and Metternich are doing everything they can to put the French Revolution “back in the box. Quite ignoring the fact that the box broke twenty years ago.” How does this idea parallel some of the characters’ efforts to erase the past on a more personal level?

13. Suzanne and Malcolm struggle to balance their roles as agents and their duties in the diplomatic corps with being parents and husband and wife. How are the difficulties they face juggling all this similar to or different from those of a present-day couple?

14. Many of the characters claim not to believe in love or not to believe love lasts, yet a number of them do things that are motivated by love. Which actions, by which characters, do you think most strongly convey love for another character?

“Squaring the triangle” is a term the playwright hero of S.N. Behrman’s No Time for Comedy flippantly uses to describe what he does writing romantic comedies. I was thinking about this last week watching one of my favorite television shows, The Good Wife. The heroine is back together, at least on the surface, with the husband who betrayed her. Peter Florek is a deeply flawed character, yet I find him likable in many ways, and in last week’s episode I genuinely believed him when he said he’d fallen back in love with his life. I almost found myself wanting their marriage to work out. And that’s despite the fact that I really like Alicia’s colleague and old love, Will, and most of the time I desperately want the two of them to get together.

That’s the key to writing a really fascinating triangle, I think. Having all the characters interesting and sympathetic enough that one is somewhat torn about who ends up with whom. Which of course can create problems with also having a satisfying happily ever after, if such an ending is the goal of the story. As I’ve mentioned before, I think one of my favorite plays/movies, The Philadelphia Story, does this brilliantly in that both Mike and Dexter are sympathetic and possible options for Tracy (both much better than her stuffy fiancé George). I think often the viewer isn’t quite sure who will end up with whom. And yet the ending feels very right (at least to me).

Both Vienna Waltz and The Mask of Night have several triangles. I don’t really want Mélanie/Suzanne to go back to Raoul, at least not in that way (or mostly not in that way, to paraphrase both Charles and Mel in Mask). But I’m very fond of Raoul and I can definitely see that tug between them. As Jeanne adeptly pointed out in last week’s comments, he represents a world in which Mel can practice her talents to the fullest and be herself, whereas in Charles’s world she has to work more behind-the-scenes (though she manages rather a lot of adventure in any case). Raoul ended up much more sympathetic than I had at first envisioned when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, and I think that makes the dynamic among the three of them much more interesting. Not to mention that in addition to the residual romantic tension, there’s a spy dynamic, ideological issues, and a father-son story between Raoul and Charles that takes on more prominence in Mask.

The plot of Vienna Waltz is more or less built on triangles–the triangle of Tatiana, Tsar Alexander, and Metternich which forms the set-up of the murder discovery and investigation; Suzanne/Mel, Malcolm/Charles, and Tatiana (which, whatever else it is or is not, is certainly an emotional tug-of-war); and real life triangles such as both Metternich, the tsar and Wihelmine of Sagan, and Metternich, the tsar, and Princess Catherine Bagration (Metternich and Tsar Alexander definitely carried their rivalry into the boudoir). And then there’s the triangle which is still very much an open question at the end of the book of Dorothée, Count Clam-Martinitz, and Prince Talleyrand. Dorothée isn’t sure at the end of the novel which man she’ll end up with, and that’s certainly a real life triangle in which I can sympathize with all three participants.

What do you think of triangles in books, whether Vienna Waltz and Mask or others? What are some of your favorite literary triangles? Are there times when you’ve been dissatisfied with the resolution of a triangle?

Also feel free to use this space to discuss Vienna Waltz (with or without discussing the triangles in it) and to continue to discuss The Mask of Night.

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Raoul to Mel/Suzanne right at the time the events of Vienna Waltz begins.

Congratulations to Jeanne Pickering, who won last week’s drawing for a copy of Vienna Waltz. Jeanne, watch for an email from me so I can get your mailing details and pop the book in the post.

Only a week until Vienna Waltz is released. I’m getting very excited about having the book out there and seeing how reader react to it. This seems a good time to post another teaser excerpt. Here’s the scene where Charles/Malcolm and Mélanie/Suzanne begin their investigation together. It also includes a brief glimpse of young Colin. I’ll be giving away one more advanced copy of Vienna Waltz to one of this week’s commenters. To be entered in the drawing, comment on this week’s excerpt or post about fictional couples who investigate together.

I’ve also just posted another letter from young Charles in the Fraser Correspondence, this one to Lady Elizabeth.

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He took two candles in silver holders from a side table, lit them from the candelabra, and handed one to Mélanie. They went downstairs to the their bedchamber in silence. Charles set his candle on the chest of drawers. Mélanie eased open the door to the tiny adjoining dressing room. Her candle flickered over the cradle where their seventeen-month-old son Colin slept. His eyes were shut, one small first curled beside his tousled dark hair, the other tucked beneath the blankets. In the shadows beyond, her maid Blanca slept on a narrow bed, nearby should Colin wake.
Mélanie pulled the door to and set her own candle on the dressing table. “Charles.”
He had washed his bloodstained hands in the basin on the dressing table and was drying them with a towel. He looked up at her, his gaze black and questioning. A bruise was rising on his cheekbone from the fight in the alley. The events of the evening must have left emotional bruises that went deeper. Her throat thickened with all the words that could not be spoken.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Finding her like that must have been brutal.”
A muscle tightened along his jaw. “Yes.” He glanced away for a moment, drew a harsh breath, then begun to undo his frayed shirt cuffs, suppressed violence in the tugs of his fingers. “Though it’s hardly the worst sight I’ve seen. I suppose I should be grateful what I witnessed in Spain didn’t completely numb me to brutality.” His gaze shifted over her. “Do you need to bandage your hands?”
“I’ll be fine. Only minor scrapes.” She picked up the ewer, splashed water over her hands, and scrubbed them with rosewater soap, staring at the pinkish brown water in the basin. Her blood and Charles’s and very likely Princess Tatiana’s as well. “I can help you.” The words came out quickly, before she could consider a dozen other ways of framing the suggestion.
She turned to look at her husband. He’d pulled his shirt off and was wrapping himself in a wine-colored dressing gown. His fingers stilled on the braid-edged silk. “Mel–“
“I’ve helped you in the past.”
“On several occasions I’d have been lost without you. But–“
“You can’t claim that this will be more dangerous than what we went through in Spain.”
“My God, wasn’t tonight danger enough for you?”
“Tonight proves that if people are after you, I’ll be in danger in any case. I’ll be better able to protect myself if I know what’s going on.”
He grimaced. “To think I thought Vienna would be a safe assignment.”
“And I can be of more help here than I was in Spain. If you want to get at the truth of what’s going on in Vienna’s salons, you’ll have to get a number of ladies to reveal their secrets. They’re more likely to confide in me.”
He regarded her in silence for a long interval. Then he stepped forward, hesitated a moment, and as though yielding to a compulsion, brushed his fingers against her cheek. “You’re an extraordinarily generous woman. After tonight, your help is the last thing I have the right to ask for.”
She caught his hand and drew it away from her face, her fingers gripping his own. “Charles, there are a great many things we don’t know about each other. But whatever I may have blurted out in the moment, I can’t believe you killed Princess Tatiana.”
His fingers clenched round her own, then went still. “You were asking the obvious question. It’s what I’d have asked of you in the same circumstances.” For a moment she saw remembered horror smash through his eyes. The brutal shock of finding Princess Tatiana dead, the stark reality that she was gone. He released her hand. “You have the instincts of an investigator.”
“Well then. I’d rather be in the midst of the investigation helping you than on the sidelines imagining things.” About the dangers he was in. About Princess Tatiana and how deeply her death had shaken him and what she had been to him in life.
A twisted smile played about his lips, though his eyes were dark and raw. “I undoubtedly don’t deserve you. But I can’t deny this will be easier with your help.”
She released a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. “You never fail to surprise me, darling. Thank you.”
He shook his head. “You’re not the one who should be saying thank you.”
A dozen questions trembled on her lips. She bit them back, because she had no right to be that sort of wife. And perhaps because she was afraid of the answers. Instead she turned, putting her back to him. “Can you undo my gown? I don’t want to wake Blanca.”
His fingers shook slightly as he unfastened the tapes and pins that held her gown together, but his touch was as gentle as ever. The brush of his hands sent a current through her as it had from their wedding night, unexpected that first night, now familiar but no less strong. It was scarcely the first time he’d helped her undress, though usually it was the prelude to something they couldn’t indulge in tonight. Something he surely wouldn’t want to indulge in, though for a moment she knew an impulse to fling herself into his arms and blot out the events of the evening.
“Did Tatiana really sent you a note?” he asked as he tugged the last tape loose.
An effective antidote to amorous impulse. She turned round, the tattered gauze and satin of her gown slipping down to her waist. “Asking me to call at three in the morning.”
“Do you still have it?”
She hesitated. Easy enough to claim she had lost the note, and deception had become a protective instinct with her. But any evidence might be of help in the investigation. She reached into her corset. She had tucked the note there when she stripped off her gloves during their escape over the roofs.
Charles took the much-creased note and stared at it, his face carefully blanked (a trick he only employed, she had learned, when he was being very careful not to reveal anything).
“Is it her handwriting?” Mélanie asked.
“I can’t swear to it, but I think so.” He folded the note and put it in his dressing gown pocket. “My apologies. I don’t know why Tatiana summoned you, but I’m sorry you were pulled into the middle of this.
Mélanie removed the brooch from the bodice of her gown and placed it carefully on her dressing table. “As things played out, I’m rather glad I was there.”
“It was certainly very fortunate for me.”
She stepped out of her gown and put it in the laundry basket beside the dressing table for Blanca to see what she could salvage. “We never did get our story straight.”
“No. You received Tatiana’s note at the opera?”
She was rather surprised he remembered where she was supposed to have been this evening. “From a footman in the midst of the third act.”
“Who was with you at the opera?”
“Fitzwilliam and Eithne and Aline.” She started on the laces that ran down the front of her corset.
“None of them should make too much trouble.” Lord Fitzwilliam Vaughn, one of Charles’s fellow attachés, and his wife Eithne were close friends. Charles’s cousin Aline was visiting them from England and fiercely loyal to Charles. “What did you tell them about the note?”
“That Colin had been fussing earlier, and Blanca had sent word he was safely asleep. We all went on to Fanny von Arnstein’s after the opera, but Eithne had a headache and Aline was tired, so Fitz took them home soon after we arrived. I said Tommy Belmont would escort me back to the Minoritenplatz later.”
“So we can say I returned from Salzburg and went to Baroness Arnstein’s because I knew you’d be there,” Charles said in a quick, expressionless voice his gaze armored as though to staunch a welling of shock and pain. “With the press of guests her footmen will never be able to say for certain if I was there or not. Tatiana’s note was delivered to me there. You insisted on accompanying me to call on Tatiana, as you explained to the Tsar and Metternich. We came into the Palm Palace through the side entrance just before three to find Tatiana murdered.”
“That seems to account for everything.” She slipped the unlaced corset from her shoulders and added it to the pile of clothing. “Where did you receive Princess Tatiana’s note?”
“She sent it after me.”
“She knew where to find you?”
He nodded.
While his wife hadn’t had the least idea where he was. Of course fellow agents were in many ways more intimate than married couples. Mélanie glanced down at her chemise. Her nightdress was across the room, where Blanca would have left it tucked beneath her pillow. Why on earth should she suddenly feel awkward being naked in front of her husband?
She pulled her chemise over her head, tugging a little too hard. She heard a stitch give way. By the time she emerged from the folds of linen, Charles had crossed to the bed to retrieve her nightdress. She undid the string on her drawers with deliberate unconcern, stepped out of them, and took the nightdress from her husband. She could feel his gaze on her, but she couldn’t have said what he was thinking or feeling.
She dropped the folds of lawn over her head and did up the ties at the neck. The night air cut through the thin fabric. Or perhaps that was reality sinking in. Charles wasn’t the only one feeling the cold shock of the night’s events.
She sat at the dressing table, removed her pearl earrings and necklace, and began to pull the pins she hadn’t lost in their escape over the roofs from her hair. Charles draped her dressing gown over her shoulders, then retreated to perch on the edge of the bed.
“Tell me about Princess Tatiana,” she said.
She heard him draw a breath. She met his gaze in the looking glass. The barriers were up in his eyes as though what he felt was too raw even to contemplate himself let alone to share with his wife.
“Darling, I’m sorry,” she said, spinning round to look at him directly. “You needn’t–“
“No, you’re right,” he said in the crisp voice he’d use to outline a policy option to the Foreign Secretary. “You know next to nothing about her background, and you’ll need to if you’re to help me investigate.” He braced his hands on the bed behind him. “Tatiana was the daughter of a minor prince from northern Russia. She came to St. Petersburg at eighteen and married Prince Kirsanov, who was four decades her senior and from a considerably wealthier and more powerful family. She became a fashionable St. Petersburg hostess. Kirsanov died when they had scarcely been married two years. The bulk of his fortune went to his son from a prior marriage, but he left Tatiana enough to set up her own household. She took to spending much of her time in Paris.”
Mélanie dropped a handful of hairpins into their porcelain box. If control was what he needed she could match him. “Did her stepson resent her? Were there other stepchildren?”
“Several, I believe, though Tatiana didn’t talk about the family much. Are you suggesting they could have been behind her death?”
“Family often turns out to have the strongest motives when it comes to murder.”
“Very true,” Charles agreed, his voice model of cool dispassion, “but I don’t think Tatiana saw herself as much a part of the Kirsanov family. She even preferred her girlhood style of Princess Tatiana to calling herself Princess Kirsanova. The Kirsanov children had most of the family fortune and seem to have cheerfully ignored her. None of them is in Vienna.”
Mélanie pulled a silver comb through her tangled hair and forced herself to view Princess Tatiana simply as the subject of an investigation. “Was she a Bonapartist or a Royalist when she lived in Paris?”
“Tatiana was a Tatiana-ist. She had friends among Bonaparte’s court and friends among the Royalists.”
“She was dealing in information then?”
Charles nodded. “She was an agent for Talleyrand.”
Mélanie twisted her head round to stare at her husband. “Princess Tatiana worked for the French Foreign Minister?”
“Off and on for a number of years. Talleyrand’s always had excellent sources of information, and Tatiana was connected to powerful people in a number of countries.”
“But you said she worked for the British in Spain.”
Charles leaned back on the bed, resting his weight on his hands. “It was Talleyrand who sent her to us.”
“Talleyrand sent an agent to work with the British when they were at war with France?”
“He’d quarreled with Napoleon and resigned as Foreign Minister. He was still advising Napoleon, but he was afraid Napoleon had overreached himself. Sending Tatiana to us was a sort of peace offering.”
“He was talking to you behind Napoleon’s back.”
“And to the Austrians and the Russians as well I think. Survival tactics.”
“Some would call it treason.”
“If he’d got caught. Talleyrand’s rather good at not getting caught.”
“Was Princess Tatiana working for Talleyrand in Vienna?”
“I think she brought him information occasionally. But for all Talleyrand’s efforts, France isn’t one of the major power brokers at the Congress. Tatiana thought we could offer her more in terms of money and power.”
Mélanie tugged at the comb. The wind had wreaked havoc on her hair during their escape over the roofs. She picked at a snarl that had once been a ringlet, but a knot of dark hair still came away with the comb. “Her affair with Prince Metternich was some time ago, wasn’t it? The gossip isn’t very specific.”
“When he was in Paris for Marie-Louise’s marriage to Bonaparte,” Charles said. If Tatiana’s affair with the other man bothered him, he gave no sign of it.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s marriage to Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louise had taken place only four years ago, yet that had been a different world in which Napoleon had ruled a vast empire, and Bonapartist France and Imperial Austria had been allies. Hard sometimes to remember that Austrian Emperor Francis, host of this congress to divide up the remnants of Napoleon’s empire, was also the father of Napoleon’s young second wife Marie-Louise and the grandfather of their small son. These days political alliances broke up as quickly as love affairs.
Mélanie dragged the comb through her side curls. Her eye-blacking had smeared beneath her eyes. Or perhaps that was the strain of the evening already showing up. “And when Metternich and Princess Tatiana saw each other again in Vienna at the Congress–?”
“At the moment Metternich has eyes for no one but the Duchess of Sagan.” Metternich’s obsession with the beautiful duchess was the talk of Vienna. She had recently broken off their love affair, but Metternich plainly remained besotted. “But it’s obvious he’s still very fond of Tatiana. As he is of Catherine Bagration.”
Princess Catherine Bagration, the Duchess of Sagan, and Princess Tatiana Kirsanova. The three beauties who resided in the Palm Palace, all three linked to both Metternich and Tsar Alexander. “Given the number of women in Vienna,” Mélanie said, “one would think Metternich and the Tsar could find inamoratas who hadn’t shared the other’s bed.”
In the looking glass, she saw Charles’s mouth tighten. “I rather suspect that’s part of the attraction. Metternich and Alexander compete in everything, whether it’s women or who will draw the borders of Poland.”
Mélanie set down her comb. “Was Princess Tatiana involved with the Tsar before they came to Vienna?”
“Their affair began when Alexander was in Paris last spring at the time of Napoleon’s abdication. Though there may have been something between them in Russia years ago.”
Charles spoke in the same cool tones he had used to describe Princess Tatiana’s affair with Metternich. That seemed to be what was enabling him to get through from moment to moment. Mélanie watched him in the glass for a moment, then blew out her candle, moved to the bed, and climbed beneath the coverlet. “Did Princess Tatiana have enemies?”
“Everyone at the Congress has enemies.” Charles shrugged out of his dressing gown and slid under the covers beside her. Though they were talking about Princess Tatiana, something had eased between them. This, she had learned early in their marriage, was the place they could communicate best, putting their heads together over a shared problem. This and sometimes when they reached for each other in their darkened bed, where words weren’t necessary at all.
“Other former lovers?” Mélanie was pleased with how cool she managed to keep her voice.
“A great many I suspect. But I hadn’t heard of any being particularly jealous.”
“She never mentioned to you that she was afraid?”
He shook his head, though in the light of the single candle she caught the flash of anger in his eyes. Berating himself for not having seen the danger to the princess coming. “Tatiana was one of the least fearful people I’ve ever encountered. She had that in common with you.”
Mélanie drew her legs up beneath the coverlet and locked her hands about her knees. She wasn’t sure what she thought of her husband comparing her with Princess Tatiana. “Her lovers’ wives would have had reason to be jealous, though goodness knows both Princess Metternich and Tsarina Elisabeth must be inured to infidelities by now. And Princess Tatiana and Catherine Bagration were rivals for the Tsar’s affections. Could a woman have killed her do you think?”
“I’m not sure,” he said in the quick, taut, tones of an investigator. “I want to get a medical opinion from Geoffrey Blackwell tomorrow. On that and a few other details.”
Mélanie stared at the shiny green and gold threads in the silk coverlet. “Do you think she really summoned all of us this evening–you, me, Metternich, the Tsar? Or was her killer trying to arrange an incident?”
“To set the Tsar and Metternich at each other’s throats? It’s an interesting possibility. I wish I could have got a look the handwriting on the notes they received. But the killer snatched up a dagger that was already in the room instead of bringing a weapon. Which suggests a crime of impulse rather than something planned in advance.”
“Was the dagger an heirloom?” Mélanie conjured up a memory of the antique gold studded with rubies and emeralds. “It looked old but more Spanish than Russian.”
“I’m not sure,” Charles said. “She may have acquired it in the Peninsula.”
“The use of the dagger suggests it was a crime of impulse, but someone searched the room where she was killed. She could have been killed because of some piece of information she’d uncovered.”
Charles nodded. “You might call on Dorothée Périgord and see what you can learn.”
“We’re going to a dress fitting tomorrow.” Dorothée, Comtesse de Périgord, was Prince Talleyrand’s niece by marriage and his hostess at the Congress. She was also one of the few true friends Mélanie had made in Vienna.
Charles reached out and pinched the candle out between his fingers. “Do you think you can sleep?”
“If I can sleep with gunfire in the distance, you’d think I could manage it now.” Mélanie settled back against the pillows. “Charles.”
“Mmm?”
“Her locket being gone suggests the motive could be personal. Do you know what’s in the locket?”
“No.” The single word held sterling certainty. But it rang just a shade too bright. Or was she imagining things? For all her skills at reading people, sometimes she couldn’t be sure, even with Charles. Especially with Charles.
“Was the locket a gift from a lover?” she asked.
“Perhaps. It obviously meant a great deal to her.”
The bed creaked as Charles dropped back against the pillows, inches away from her. She could hear the controlled intake of his breath, but she knew he wasn’t sleeping either. She stared up at the dark frame of the canopy. Her muscles screamed at the night’s exertions, but it was her mind that would not be still. Charles had agreed to let her help with the investigation. He had answered her questions about Princess Tatiana with every appearance of frankness, had volunteered information of his own, had speculated over the mystery with comforting ease.
And yet she was quite certain that her husband was lying about something.

Following up on some suggestions from Sharon (thanks, Sharon!), this week’s update focuses on Charles’s mother, Lady Elizabeth Fraser (in Vienna Waltz, she’s Lady Arabella Rannoch). This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Elizabeth writes to Raoul in January 1799 (shortly after he’s had to flee the country in the wake of the United Irish Uprising). I hadn’t written a letter from Elizabeth before, but I found her voice came to me surprisingly easily. Below is a teaser from Vienna Waltz, a brief flashback to Charles/Malcolm’s boyhood in which Elizabeth/Arabella appears. Oddly, it wasn’t until some comments AnnaT made on last week’s post that I realized Elizabeth’s problems carry an echo of Percy Blakeney’s mother. An echo that wasn’t consciously done but perhaps was somewhere in my subconscious.

Do you have any questions about Elizabeth or Charles’s family or the characters’ backstory in general? Ask away!

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Charles’s first memories of Prince Talleyrand went back to the age of five. He and his brother had been riding in their mother’s barouche in Hyde Park, a rare treat. An elegant gentleman leaning on a walking stick stopped to speak with their mother. A cloud of powder rose from his hair as he bent in a courtly bow. Charles could still remember how the powder had tickled his nose (powder was becoming a rare sight in London by 1792). Talleyrand kissed their mother’s hand. When she introduced the two boys he nodded with a serious acknowledgement adults rarely afforded them.
“I know who you are,” Charles said, studying this interesting new acquaintance clad in the sort of full-skirted coat his grandfather wore. “You helped overthrow King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette.”
His mother drew a sharp breath, though a hint of laughter showed in her eyes. “Charles, that isn’t precisely–“
“On the contrary, Elizabeth. He is a perceptive boy. Just what I would expect from a son of yours.” Talleyrand inclined his head toward Charles. “You are quite right, Master Fraser. Though I fear matters have taken a sad turn in France just now. That is why I am enjoying the hospitality of your lovely country.”

Less than two months until the release date for Vienna Waltz! Here’s another excerpt, the first scene involving Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, another of the real historical figures who feature prominently in the book. This scene follows directly on the escape through the streets of Vienna I posted a bit ago.

Also, be sure to check out this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition. It’s the letter Raoul leaves with Lady Frances for Charles. I learned some interesting things about Raoul writing it. Let me know what you think (next week I’ll post an additional letter Raoul writes to Charles about Mélanie).

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“Good evening, sir.” Charles drew aside the curtains and handed Mélanie through the window. “My apologies for the inopportune entrance.”
“Never mind about that. I’m used to them. We need— Good God! I thought you’d gone to Baroness Arnstein’s after the opera, Mélanie.”
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and representative at the Congress of Vienna, stood by a round table that held a single lit taper, the only illumination in the room other than the coals glowing in the porcelain stove in the corner. His fair hair gleamed smooth, and he wore a dark blue dressing gown beneath which his cravat was still impeccably tied.
“I was at Fanny von Arnstein’s.” Mélanie breathed in the sweet relief of level ground beneath her feet and warm air coming from the stove. “I was called away.”
Castlereagh stared at her in the dim light as though he could not make sense of what he was seeing. Mélanie looked down. Her gauze overskirt was in tatters, the satin beneath was torn to reveal her corset and chemise, and in addition to the gash on her arm, she had scrapes on both her hands.
“What in God’s name were you doing dragging your wife into this?” Castlereagh asked Charles.
“I wouldn’t precisely say I dragged her.” Charles pulled a handkerchief from his breeches pocket and wiped the dirt and blood from his hands, then walked through the shadows to a table with decanters. Mélanie heard the clink of crystal and the slosh of liquid. “Do you mind, sir? I think Mélanie and I are both in need of fortification. It’s a bit of a strain having someone try to kill you.”
“Someone–“ Castlereagh’s finely arced brows drew together. “Who the devil tried to kill you?”
“I’m not sure. There were several of them. The man we tried to question was killed himself. After that the first imperative seemed to be to get out of there alive.” Charles crossed back to Mélanie and gave her one of the glasses. He squeezed her fingers as he put the crystal in her hand.
She took a sip. Cognac, of the best quality, available to the British without the need to resort to smugglers now the war with France had ended. It rushed to her head with welcome warmth. She looked down at the glass and saw blood smeared on the crystal from the cut on Charles’s hand.
Castlereagh struck a flint against steel. A lamp flared to life. “My dear Mélanie, you must be exhausted after your ordeal. I’m sure you are eager to go down to your room. I fear I need to speak with Charles before I can send him after you.”
Charles took a long drink from his own glass. “She needs to stay for this.”
“Fraser–“
“She knows too much.”
Castlereagh fixed Charles with a hard gaze. “You’re invaluable, Charles. But not indispensable. You’d be wise to remember that.”
“Believe me, sir, I’m well aware of it. But at the moment we both need each other.”
Charles’s gaze clashed with the Foreign Secretary’s across the room. All the wellborn young men Castlereagh had brought to the Congress of Vienna as attachés were expected to have myriad talents. To make small talk in five languages, to dance the waltz into the small hours and then return to the embassy and draft the third revision of a white paper before dawn. They were also expected to comb though diplomatic waste baskets for discarded laundry lists and bootmaker’s bills that might be code for something much more serious and to break those codes and pass them on to the Foreign Secretary. Every diplomat at the Congress was something of an intelligence agent. But Charles’s skills were more formidable than most. Though Charles and Lord Castlereagh frequently disagreed, Mélanie knew the Foreign Secretary had a great deal of respect for her husband. He gave him far more latitude than any of his other attachés.
Now Castlereagh inclined his head a fraction of an inch. “Start at the beginning.”
Charles drew a shield-back chair forward and handed Mélanie into it. Then he paced across the room and leaned against the drinks table. He took another deep swallow from his own glass. “Tatiana Kirsanova is dead.”
“I know,” Castlereagh said. “Why do you think I said we were in the devil of a fix?”
Charles’s head snapped up. “My compliments, sir. I didn’t realize your sources of information were quite so efficient.”
“You’re an excellent agent, Charles, but not the only one in my employ.” Castlereagh dropped into a wing-back chair. “Given Princess Tatiana’s role, I’d be remiss if I didn’t have a source among her staff. One of the kitchenmaids sent the news an hour since. Deuced inconvenient.”
Charles slammed his glass down on the drinks table. “She’s dead.”
“And I’m sorry for it. It’s still inconvenient.”
“God damn it, sir–“
“No time for personal feelings, Charles.” Castlereagh rested his fair head against the blue velvet of the chair. “How did you learn of it?”
Charles reached for his glass. The light bounced off his signet ring. Mélanie, used to reading the signs, knew her husband’s fingers were not quite steady. “I discovered the body.”
“Good God. The princess–“
“Sent for me tonight.” Charles stared at a bloodstain on his cuff that might be his own or Princess Tatiana’s. “At least the message seemed to come from her. I begin to question if it really did. She also seemingly sent for Tsar Alexander and Prince Metternich.”
“At the same time?”
“Quite. And she sent for Mélanie.”
Castlereagh’s gaze shot to Mélanie, then back to Charles. “You got there first?”
Charles nodded. “An hour or so after she died. Her throat had been cut. Seemingly by someone she knew and trusted.”
He took another sip of cognac. For a moment, his gaze was raw as an open wound. Mélanie’s own glass nearly tumbled from her fingers at the naked pain in her husband’s eyes. “I saw a man in the street in front of the house a few minutes later,” she said, a little too quickly. “I couldn’t make out any more than that he wore a greatcoat and top hat. He looked up at the window of the room in which the princess died. Then he disappeared.”
Castlereagh regarded her, his fine-boned face set in harsh lines. “What did the princess write to get you to call on her?”
Mélanie fingered a fold of tattered gauze. “Just that she had something important to tell me.”
“All things considered,” Charles said, his gaze armored again, “we’d better tell Castlereagh the whole truth. We can trust him as far as we can trust anyone.”
“Thank you,” Castlereagh said in a dry voice.
Mélanie swallowed. “Princess Tatiana wrote that she had something to say to me concerning Charles.”
Castlereagh grimaced. His gaze moved to Charles. “It can’t be coincidence. This must be connected to her other activities.”
“Probably. The question is how.”
“I hate to seem inquisitive,” Mélanie said, “but if you want me in this discussion, it would help if I knew what was going on.”
Charles regarded her. The moment of vulnerability was so completely gone she might have imagined it. Wariness was written in the lean, elegant lines of his body. His white shirt, splotched with blood and soot, gleamed in the shadows. “Princess Tatiana has been supplying us with information.”
Mélanie stared at her husband. “Are you saying Princess Tatiana was a spy?”
“She dealt in information,” Charles said. “Most people at the Congress do, one way or another.”

I’m in the midst of my second read through of the Vienna Waltz galleys. Reading the final chapters yesterday in which the villains are unmasked, I was reminded of a conundrum I face writing historical suspense. What to do with the villains after try are caught. In many of my stories the villains prove to be closely connected to the central characters, which means ending with an arrest and the prospect of a trial leaves a great many dangling ends that I don’t necessary want to be the focus of my next book. In Secrets of a Lady, Edgar and Jack both die in the dénouement, leaving Meg to go to prison (I’d still like to deal with Meg more in a subsequent book). In Beneath a Silent Moon, Evie also dies, killed by Tommy won escapes (definitely to be dealt with a in a future book). I’m not quite sure what the other characters would have done with Evie if she hadn’t died in the dénouement. It’s rather interesting to contemplate.

But the murderer can’t always conveniently die just as he or she is unmasked. In an as yet unpublished book, I have the murderer get away with the crime. In Vienna Waltz, because the events of the book are very much intertwined with real historical events and people, it was particular difficult to find a solution that worked with the historical record. Reading over the galleys, I’m pretty happy with the solution I found. You’ll have to let me ow what you think hone you read the book.

How do you feel about how plot lines are resolved for villains? What are some of your favorite resolutions? What do you think would have happened to Evie and Edgar if they hadn’t died at the end of their respective books? Writers, do you struggle over what to do with your villains?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is David’s reply to Charles’s letter from last week about the moral ambiguities of his work a a diplomatic attaché.

I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring the back story of Vienna Waltz in the Fraser Correspondence and now doing the same for my Waterloo book with letters to and from Charles and Mélanie in Brussels in the spring of 1815. As we’ve discussed, it’s interesting to be dealing with a time when Mel is still actively spying while at the same time very much aware of how much Charles means to her.

Here’s a video clip where I talk about the Fraser Correspondence and the Congress of Vienna:

Have the letters from Vienna and Brussels given you new insights in to Charles and Mel? What other issues or events would you like to see touched on in letters? What other characters would you like to see letters from?

Speaking of which, this week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is Charles’s reply to David’s letter of last week.

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