- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
THE ARTILLERY BATTERIES were trading hot words before Laurence had even left Hohenlohe's tent; already the fastest couriers were flying desperately after Brunswick and the King, and westward to call in the reserves from Weimar. There was no option now but to concentrate as quickly as possible and give battle. For his own part, Laurence could be almost thankful for the French catching them, if not for the suddenness of their assault; it seemed to him as it had to Temeraire, that the commanders had labored desperately the last week to avoid the very war which they had provoked and which all their men were prepared to endure; a stupid cowering sort of delay that could only wear down morale, reduce their supply, and leave detachments exposed and vulnerable to being cut down one by one, as poor Prince Louis had been.
The death-toll was hideous: from behind every garden wall and window the French sharp-shooters arose and put forth a ceaseless fire, and near enough every bullet found a mark; while down the straight-aways of the main tracks of the village the artillery pounded away, canister-shot breaking apart into deadly shrapnel as it flew from the mouths of the guns. But the Prussians came onward with irresistible force, and one after another the guns were silenced as they poured into the farmhouses, the barns, the gardens, the pigsties, and hacked down the French soldiers at their places.
The village was lost, and the French battalions were pouring out its back, retreating in good order but retreating nonetheless, for nearly the first time that day. The Prussians roared and kept coming onwards: behind the village they drew back together into line again under the shouts of their sergeants and threw the terrible volley-fire upon the retreating French again.
"That is a great success, Laurence, is it not?" Temeraire said jubilantly. "And now surely we will push them back still further?"
"Yes," Laurence said, full of inexpressible relief, leaning over to shake hands with Badenhaur in congratulation, "now we will see some proper work done."
But they had no further opportunity to watch the ground-battle unfold; Badenhaur's hand abruptly tightened on Laurence's with surprise, and the young Prussian officer pointed him around: from the summit of the Landgrafenberg the massed forces of the French aerial corps were rising, the heavy-weights coming to the battle at last.
The Prussian dragons gave almost as one a loud roar of delight, and full of renewed energy began to shout out taunting remarks on the subject of the French dragons' late entry to the field as they waited for the others to move into formation and close. The French light-weights, who had so valiantly held the field all day, made now one heroic final effort and kept up a sort of screen before the oncoming dragons, darting back and forth around the Prussians' heads to obscure their view, wings flapping distractingly in their faces. The bigger dragons impatiently snorted and lashed out here and there, but without much attention, rather craning their heads to see. Only at the last moments did the light-weights pull away, and Laurence saw the French were not coming in formation at all.
Or almost - there was one formation, the plainest imaginable, only a wedge, but made entirely of heavy-weights: in the lead one Grand Chevalier, leaner but with broader shoulders than Eroica, and behind him three Petit Chevaliers, each one bigger than Temeraire, and behind them a row of six Chansons-de-Guerre only a little smaller, incongruously cheerful in appearance with their orange and yellow markings. They might all have been formation-leaders in their own right; instead they made one enormous if lumbering group, surrounded by a vast unformed crowd of middle-weights.
"Well, that's never a Chinese strategy?" Granby said, staring. " - what the devil are they trying now?" Laurence shook his head perplexed; they had seen a few military reviews amongst the Chinese dragons, who operated aloft more nearly as men did upon the ground, drilling in lines and columns, and never in so confused a manner.
Eroica and his formation anchored the center of the Prussian line, and now with bared teeth he threw himself forward to meet the Grand Chevalier, crying out in a ringing challenge. The Prussian colors were streaming out from his shoulders like another pair of wings. The two formations increased their speed as they drew nearer one another; the miles turned into yards and then feet and then vanished all together. The collision was at hand - and then the moment was past, and Eroica turned round bewildered and indignant in mid-air: the big French dragons had one and all swerved to go past him and gone straight for the wings of his formation, the ranks of smaller middle-weights.
"Feiglings!" Eroica bellowed after them at the top of his lungs as they clawed and scattered his wing dragons. He had been left flying almost alone, and even as he came around to the attack again, three of the French middle-weights seized the opening and drew up alongside him. They were too small to do him any direct harm, and did not even try, but their backs were crammed full of men. No less than three boarding parties leapt over, almost twenty men, swords and pistols in their hands, grabbing at his harness.
Eroica's crew burst into activity to hold off the new threat, all the riflemen bringing up their guns, and a sudden spatter of musket-shot rang out, making the raised sword-blades sing in high, clear notes as the bullets struck them. Thick streams of gunpowder smoke boiled away as Eroica thrashed in the air frantically, head going this way and that as he tried to see what was going toward and protect his captain.
His efforts threw off many of the hapless boarders, who went flailing through the air, but others had already latched themselves on securely; and Eroica was throwing his own crew off their feet as well as the boarders. The confusion served the French with a lucky stroke: two lieutenants clinging to one another for support kept their feet after one of these mid-air convulsions, when all the crew had been flung down, and in the momentary gap they sprang forward and hacked off the carabiner straps of some eight men, sending them tumbling free to their deaths.
The rest of the struggle was sharp but brief, as the boarding parties advanced in force upon the dragon's neck. Dyhern shot two men and killed another with a saber-thrust, but then his blade lodged in the man's chest and would not come out again; and the falling body ripped it from his hands. The French seized his arms and put a blade to his throat, calling to Eroica, "Geben Sie oben," while they pulled down the Prussian flags and put the tricolor in its place.
It was a terrible loss, and one which they could not avert: Temeraire himself was being hotly pursued by five middle-weights, similarly overburdened with men, and all his speed and ingenuity were required to avoid them. Now and again a few men would take the desperate risk and leap across onto his back even though they were not very close; but few enough that Temeraire flung them off at once, with a quick writhing turn, or the topmen cut them down with sword or pistol.
But an Honneur-d'Or, greatly daring, flung herself directly at Temeraire's head; he ducked instinctively, and as she whisked by overhead a couple of her bellmen let go and dropped aboard directly onto Temeraire's shoulders, flattening young Allen and knocking Laurence and Badenhaur into a tangled sprawl of straps and limbs. Laurence grabbed blindly for some purchase; Badenhaur was with an excess of courage trying to throw himself atop Laurence protectively, and getting in the way of his putting himself back on his feet.
But the act was justified: he sank back gasping into Laurence's arms, blood spreading dark from a stab-wound through his shoulder; the Frenchman who had dealt the blow was drawing back the sword for another attempt. Granby with a shout threw himself against the handful of attackers and heaved them back three paces. Laurence at last righted himself and cried out - Granby had thrown off his straps to make the attack, and the pair of French officers seizing him by the arms flung him over the side.
"Temeraire!" Laurence shouted. "Temeraire!"
The earth dropped out from beneath his feet: Temeraire doubled on himself and plunged after Granby's falling body, wings driving. Laurence could not breathe for the sickening, dizzying speed of it, the blurred ground hurtling towards them and a humming like the sound of bees all around them from the flight of bullets through the air as they came low over the battlefield. And then Temeraire corkscrewed up and away, his tail smashing to flinders a slim young oak-tree. Laurence clawed himself hand-over-hand up the straps and looked over Temeraire's shoulder: Granby lay in Temeraire's talons gasping, trying to staunch the blood streaming from his nostrils.
Laurence rolled to his feet and went for his sword. The Frenchmen were leaping to the attack again; he smashed the pommel into the first one's face, savagely, and felt the bone crush beneath his gloved fist; then he ripped the blade free from the sheath and swung at the second. It was the first time he had struck a flesh-blow with the Chinese sword: it bowled the man's head off with scarcely any resistance.
From startlement and reaction, Laurence stood gawking at the headless body, its hand still clinging to its sword. Then belatedly Allen jumped to his duty and cut the Frenchmen's straps, so their bodies fell away, and Laurence was recalled to himself. He wiped his sword hurriedly and put it back away; hauling himself gratefully back into his place on Temeraire's neck.
The French had turned their successful maneuver against the other formations one at a time: the heavy-weights throwing themselves en masse against the wings, isolating the leaders so the middle-weights could pounce. Eroica was flying away wretchedly with hang-dog head, and not alone; three more Prussian heavy-weight dragons followed him in short order, all of them beating so slowly they were descending towards the ground between each wing-stroke and the next. The other members of their formations were milling uncertainly without them, slow to comprehend the abrupt losses: ordinarily the members of a formation so stripped of its leader would have at once gone to support a different formation, but having been all stricken at once, they were now mostly flying into each other's way, at the mercy of their enemies. The French heavy-weights massed again and brutally scattered them over and over, riflemen firing terrible barrages into their crews. Men were falling like hailstones, and the loss was so dreadful that many of the dragons cried out and yielded themselves in desperation, unboarded, to save their captains and the remnants of their crews.
The last three Prussian formations, forewarned by their comrades' fate, had drawn up in tight close ranks, protecting their leaders; but though they were successfully fending off the attempts at breaking in, they were paying with distance and position, drifting farther and farther afield under the steady pressure. Temeraire's own situation was growing increasingly desperate; he twisted and turned this way and that, constantly under fire with his own riflemen returning their own shot in bursts: Lieutenant Riggs bawling out the firing drill to keep them steady, though they were all of them reloading as fast as they could go.
Temeraire's scales and the chainmail with which he was girt turned aside most of those balls which came towards him by accident, though here and again one tore through the more delicate membrane of his wings, or lodged shallowly in his flesh. He did not flinch, too full of battle-fever to even feel the small wounds, but concentrated all his powers on the evasion. Even so Laurence thought in anguish that they too would soon be forced to flee the field or be taken; the long day's labors were telling on Temeraire, and his turns were slowing.
To quit the field, to desert under fire without an order to retreat, he could hardly imagine; yet the Prussians themselves were giving way, and if he did not withdraw, aside from the very great evil of their own capture, the eggs were almost sure to fall into enemy hands as well. Laurence had no desire to so recompense the French for having taken Temeraire's egg from them; he was on the point of calling Temeraire away, at least for a breath, when his conscience was spared: a clarion roar sounded, musical and terrible at once, and with breathtaking suddenness their enemies vanished away. Temeraire whirled around three times before he was satisfied he had indeed been left in peace, and only then risked hovering long enough for Laurence to see what was going forward.
The ringing call was Lien's voice: she had not herself taken part in the battle, but she was hovering now in mid-air, behind the lines of the French dragons. She had no harness nor crew, but the great diamond upon her forehead was glowing fiery orange with the reflected sunset, almost to match the virulence of her red eyes. She cried out again, and Laurence heard another drumming below: signals flying from the French ranks, and at the crest of the hill on a grey charger Bonaparte himself watching over the field, the breastplates of the feared Imperial Guard behind him molten gold in the light.
The Prussian formations dispersed or driven off, the French dragons had acquired a clear dominance over the aerial arena. Now in answer to Lien's call, they all moved together into a straight-line formation. Below, the French cavalry all as one wheeled and broke away to either side of the battlefield, all the horses spurred as quick as they could go, and the infantry fell back from the front lines, though keeping up a steady musket- and artillery-fire as they went.
Lien rose higher into the air and drew a great breath, her ruff under its steel diadem spreading wide around her head, her sides belling out like sails overpressed with wind, and then from her jaws burst the terrible fury of the divine wind. She directed it against no target; she struck down no enemy and dealt not a single blow; but the hideous force of it left the ears ringing as though all the cannon in the world had gone off at once. Lien was some thirty years of age to Temeraire's two, a little larger and more experienced by far, and there was not only the power of her greater size behind it but a sort of resonance, a rise and fall in her voice, which carried on the roaring a seemingly endless time. Men reeled back from it, all along the battlefield; the Prussian dragons huddled themselves away; even Laurence and his crew, familiar with the divine wind, jerked instinctively away so that their carabiner straps drew taut.
A complete silence followed, broken only by small shocked cries, the moans of the wounded on the field below; but before the echoes had stopped ringing away, all the line of French dragons lifted up their own heads and, roaring in full voice, plunged earthwards. They pulled up their dive just short of collision with the ground; some few, indeed, were unable to do so, and tumbled out of the sky to crush great swaths of the Prussian ranks beneath their bodies, though crying out in agony as they rolled over their own wings. But the rest did not even pause: dragging their claws and tails as they skimmed just above the ground, they went tearing through the stunned and unprepared ranks of the Prussian infantry, and they left great bloody ranks of the dead behind them as they lifted away again into the air.
The men broke. Before even the dragons struck the front ranks, the lines to the rear were dissolving into utter confusion, a wild panicked attempt at flight, men struggling with one another and trying to flee in different directions. King Frederick was standing in his stirrups, three men holding his frantic and heaving charger to keep it from throwing him off; he was shouting through a speaking-trumpet while signal-flags waved. "Retreat," Badenhaur said, gripping Laurence's arm: his voice sounded utterly matter-of-fact, but his face was streaked and dirty with tears, which he did not seem even to notice he was shedding; down on the field below, the Duke of Brunswick's limp and blood-spattered body was being carried back towards the tents.
But the men were in no frame to listen or to obey; some few battalions managed indeed to form into square for defense, the men standing shoulder to shoulder with their bayonets bristling outwards, but others went running half-mad back through the village, through the woods, which they had only just won with so much labor; and as the French dragons dropped to the earth to rest, their blood-spattered sides heaving, the French cavalry and infantry poured all down off the hill and streamed past them, roaring in human voices, to complete the ruin and defeat.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold