- 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 SMALL CASTLE had been built of red brick, a long time ago: wars had battered it; peasants looking for building materials had dismantled it; rain and snow had melted down its edges. It was little more than a gutted shell now, one wall held up between half-crumbled towers, windows that faced onto open fields on both sides.
Granby had been looking perfectly white beneath his sunburn, but he managed a steady voice as he stepped nearer her. He was holding the harness draped across his right arm, where she could see it plainly, without thrusting it at her. "My name is John Granby," he said. "We will be happy to - "
"Yes, yes, the harnessing," she interrupted, "Temeraire has told me about that."
Laurence turned and eyed Temeraire, who looked vaguely guilty and pretended to be very occupied polishing away a scratch on his breastplate; Laurence began to wonder what else he might have instructed the eggs in, as he had been nursemaiding them now nearly two months.
Meanwhile the dragonet put her head out to sniff at Granby; she tilted her head first to one side and then the other, looking him up and down. "And you have been Temeraire's first officer?" she said interrogatively, with the air of one asking for references.
"I have," Granby said, rather flustered, "and should you like a name of your own? It is a very nice thing to have; I would be happy to give you one."
"Oh, I have already decided that," she said, much to Granby's further consternation and that of the other aviators. "I want to be Iskierka, like that girl was singing about."
Laurence had harnessed Temeraire more by accident than design, and since then had never seen another hatching; he did not have any very clear idea of how it was supposed to go, but judging by the expressions of his men this was not characteristic. However, the baby Kazilik added, "But I should like to have you as my captain anyway, and I do not mind being harnessed and fighting to help protect England; but hurry, because I am very hungry."
Poor Granby, who had likely been dreaming of this day since he had been a seven-year-old cadet, every moment planned out with full ceremony and the name long-since chosen, looked tolerably blank for a moment; then abruptly he laughed out loud. "All right, Iskierka it is," he said, recovering handsomely, and held up the neck-loop of the harness. "Will you put your head in here?"
She cooperated quite willingly, except for stretching her head impatiently out towards the pot while he hurried to fasten the last few buckles, and when finally loosed, she thrust her entire head and forelegs into the still-hot cauldron to devour the remains of Temeraire's dinner. She did not need any encouragement to eat quickly; the contents vanished with blazing speed, the pot rocking back and forth as she finished licking it clean. "That was very good," she said, lifting her head out again, her little horns dripping with soup, "but I would like some more; let us go hunting." She experimentally fluttered out her wings, still soft and crumpled against her back.
"Well, we can't now, we must get out of here," Granby said, keeping a prudent hold of her harness; and a sudden storm of wings came above, as one of the patrol-dragons finally came and put its head over the wall to see what they were doing. Temeraire sat up and roared, and it backwinged hastily away, but the damage was done; it was already calling to its fellows.
"All aboard, no ceremony!" Laurence shouted, and the crew hastily flung themselves onto the harness. "Temeraire, you must carry Iskierka, will you put her aboard?"
"I can fly myself," she said. "Is there going to be a battle? Now? Where is it!" She did indeed lift off into the air a little ways, but Granby managed to keep his grip on her harness, and she ended by bouncing back and forth.
"No, we are not going to have a battle," Temeraire said, "and anyway you are too little to fight just yet." He bent down his head and closed his jaws around her body: the gap between his sharp front teeth and those to the rear held her neatly, and though she squalled in angry protest, he picked her up and laid her down across his shoulders. Laurence gave Granby a leg up to the harness, so he could scramble to her straightaway, and followed himself. All the crew were aboard, and Temeraire launched himself with a leap even as the patrol came charging over the wall: roaring he threw himself straight up into their midst, and knocked them all away like ninepins.
"Oh! Oh! They are attacking us! Quick, let us kill them!" Iskierka said with appalling bloodthirstiness, trying to leap off into the air.
"No; for Heaven's sake, stop that!" Granby said, clinging to her desperately while with his other hand he struggled to get carabiner straps on her, to latch her harness securely to Temeraire's. "We're going a dashed sight faster right now than you could manage; be patient! We'll go flying as much as you like, only give it a little while."
"But there is a battle now!" she said, squirming around to try and see the enemy dragons; she was hard to get a proper hold of, with all her spiky thorn-like protrusions, and she was scrabbling at Temeraire's neck and harness with her claws; still soft, but evidently ticklish from the way Temeraire snorted and tossed his head.
"Hold still!" Temeraire said, looking around; he had taken advantage of the temporary disarray of the enemy dragons to put on a burst of speed, and was flying fast for a thick cloudbank to the north, which might conceal them. "You are making it very difficult for me to fly."
"I don't want to be still!" she said shrilly. "Go back, go back! The fighting is that way!" For emphasis she fired off another jet of flame, which only narrowly escaped singeing off Laurence's hair, and danced with impatience from one foot to the other, with all Granby could do to hold her.
The patrol came on rapidly after them, and they did not give up after the cloud cover hid Temeraire from their sight, but kept on, calling out to one another in the mist to make sure of their positions, and advancing more slowly. The cold damp was unpleasant to the little Kazilik, who coiled herself around Granby's chest and shoulders in loops for warmth, narrowly avoiding strangling him or jabbing him with spikes, and kept up a muttering complaint about their running away.
"Do hush, there's a dear creature," Granby said, stroking her. "You'll give away our place; it is like hide-and-seek, we must be quiet."
"We would not need to be quiet or stay in this nasty cold cloud if only we went and thrashed them," she said, but finally subsided.
At length the sound of the searchers died away, and they dared to slip out again; but now a fresh difficulty presented itself: Iskierka had to be fed. "We will have to risk it," Laurence said, and they flew cautiously away from the thick woods and lakes, and closer to farmland territory, while they searched the ground with spyglasses.
"How nice those cows would be," Temeraire said wistfully after a little while; Laurence hurriedly turned his glass to the far distance and saw them, a herd of fine cattle grazing placidly upon a slope.
"Thank Heaven," Laurence said. "Temeraire, go to ground if you please; that hollow there will do, I think," he added, pointing. "We will wait until after dark and take them then."
"What, the cows?" Temeraire said, looking around with some confusion as he descended. "But Laurence, are those not property?"
"Well, yes, I suppose they are," Laurence said, in embarrassment, "but under the circumstances, we must make an exception."
"But how are the circumstances any different than when Arkady and the others took the cows in Istanbul?" Temeraire demanded. "They were hungry then, and we are hungry now; it is just the same."
"There we were arriving as guests," Laurence said, "and we thought the Turks our allies."
"So it is not theft if you do not like the person who owns the property?" Temeraire said. "But then - "
"No, no," Laurence said hastily, foreseeing many future difficulties. "But at present - the exigencies of war - " He fumbled through some explanation, trailing off lamely. Of course it would seem rather like theft; although this was, at least on the maps, Prussian territory, so it might reasonably be called requisition. But the distinction between requisition and theft seemed difficult to explain, and Laurence did not at all mean to tell Temeraire that so had all their food the past week been stolen, and likely near enough all the supply from the army, too.
In any case, call it bald-faced theft or some more pleasant word, it was still necessary; the little dragon was too young to understand having to go hungry, and was in more desperate need: Laurence well remembered the way Temeraire had gone through food in his early weeks of rapid growth. And they were in great need too, of her silence: if thoroughly fed she would probably sleep away all the time between meals for her first week of life.
"Lord, she's a proper terror, isn't she," Granby said, lovingly, stroking her glossy hide; despite her impatient hunger, she had fallen into a nap while they waited for the night to come. "Breathing fire straight from the shell; it will be a fright to manage her." He did not sound as though he objected.
"Well, I hope she will soon become more sensible," Temeraire said. He had not quite recovered from his earlier disgruntlement, and his temper had not been improved by her accusations of cowardice and demands to go back and fight: certainly his own instinctive inclination, if an impractical one. More generally it seemed his devotion to the eggs had curiously not translated to immediate affection for the dragonet; though perhaps he was merely still annoyed at being robbed to feed her.
"She is precious young," Laurence said, stroking Temeraire's nose.
"I am sure I was never so silly, even when I was first hatched," Temeraire said, to which remark Laurence prudently made no answer.
An hour after sunset they crept up the slope from downwind and made their stealthy attack; or so it might have been, save in a frenzy of excitement Iskierka clawed through the carabiner straps holding her on, and flung herself over the fence and onto the back of one of the sleeping, unsuspecting cows. It bellowed in terror and bolted away with all the rest of the herd, with the dragonet clinging aboard and shooting off flames in every direction but the right one, so the affair took on the character more of a circus than a robbery. The house lit up, and the farmhands dashed out with torches and old muskets, expecting perhaps foxes or wolves; they halted at the fence staring, as well they might; the cow had taken to frantic bucking, but Iskierka had her claws deeply embedded in the roll of fat around its neck, and was squealing half in excitement, half in frustration, ineffectually biting at it with her still-small jaws.
"Only now look what she has done," Temeraire said self-righteously, and jumped aloft to snatch the dragonet and her cow in one claw, a second cow in the other. "I am sorry we have woken you up, we are taking your cows, but it is not stealing, because we are at war," he said, hovering, to the white and frozen little group of men now staring up at his vast and terrible form, whose incomprehension came even more from terror than from language.
Feeling pangs of guilt, Laurence hastily fumbled at his purse and threw some gold coins down. "Temeraire, do you have her? For Heaven's sake let us be gone at once; they will have the whole country after us."
Temeraire did have her, as was proven once in the air by her muffled but audible yelling from below, "It is my cow! It is mine! I had it first!" which did not greatly improve their chances of hiding. Laurence looked back and saw the whole village shining like a great beacon out of the dark, one house after another illuminating; it would certainly be seen for miles.
"We had better have taken them in broad daylight, blowing a fanfare on trumpets," Laurence said with a groan, feeling that it was a judgment on him for stealing.
They put down only a little way off out of desperation, hoping to feed Iskierka and make her quiet. At first she refused to let go of her cow, now quite dead, having been pierced through by Temeraire's claws, though she could not quite get through its hide and begin eating. "It is mine," she kept muttering, until at last Temeraire said, "Be quiet! They only want to cut it open for you, now let go. Anyway, if I wanted your cow I would take it away."
"I should like to see you try!" she said, and he whipped his head down and growled at her, which made her squeak and jump straight for Granby, who was knocked sprawling by her landing unexpectedly in his arms. "Oh, that was not nice!" she said indignantly, coiling around Granby's shoulders. "Only because I am still small!"
Temeraire had the grace to look a little ashamed of himself, and he said a little more placatingly, "Well, I am not going to take your cow anyway, I have one of my own, but you should be polite while you are still so little."
"I want to be big now," she said sulkily.
"You shan't get bigger unless you let us feed you properly," Granby said, which drew her quick attention. "Come and you shall watch us make it ready for you; how will that do?"
"I suppose," she said, reluctantly, and he carried her back over to the carcass. Gong Su slit open the belly and cut out first the heart and the liver, which he held out to her with a ceremonial air, saying, "Best first meal, for little dragons to get big," and she said, "Oh, is it?" and snatched them in both claws to eat with great gusto, blood pouring out the sides of her jaws as she tore and swallowed one bite and another from each one in turn.
One of the leg joints was all the rest which she could manage, despite her best efforts, and then she collapsed into a stupor to their general and profound gratitude; Temeraire devoured the rest of his own cow while Gong Su crudely and quickly butchered the remnants of the second and packed it away in his pots; and they were back aloft in some twenty minutes, with the dragonet now lying heavy and asleep in Granby's arms, quite dead to all the world.
But there were dragons circling over the illuminated village in the distance now, and as they rose up one of them turned to look at them, its luminous white eyes shining: a Fleur-de-Nuit, one of the few nocturnal breeds. "North," Laurence said, grimly, "straight north as quick as you can, Temeraire; to the sea."
They fled all the rest of the night, the queer low voice of the Fleur-de-Nuit sounding always behind them, like a deep brass note, and the answering higher voices of the middle-weights following its lead. Temeraire was burdened more heavily than their pursuers, carrying all his ground crew and supplies and Iskierka to boot; it seemed to Laurence she had already visibly grown. Still Temeraire managed to keep ahead, but only just, and there was no hope of losing them; the night was cold and clear, the moon barely short of full.
The miles spilled away, the Vistula River beneath them unwinding towards the sea, black and glistening occasionally with ripples; they loaded all their guns fresh, readied the flash-powder charge, and Fellowes and his harness-men struggled all the way up Temeraire's side notch by notch with a square of spare chain-mesh to lay over Iskierka for protection. She murmured without waking and snuggled closer to Granby as they draped it over her body, hooking it to the rings of her little harness.
Laurence thought at first that the enemy had started shooting at them from too far away; then the guns sounded again and he recognized the sound: not rifles but artillery, in the distance. Temeraire turned towards it at once, to the west; out before them was opening the vast unbroken blackness of the Baltic, and the guns were Prussian guns, defending the walls of Danzig.
- 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