Black Powder War

Chapter 16

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.

They were grateful for the shelter nonetheless, Temeraire huddling for concealment into the square made by the ruined walls, the rest of them sheltering in the single narrow gallery, full of red brick dust and crumbled white mortar.

"We will stay another day," Laurence said in the morning; more an observation than a decision: Temeraire was grey and limp with exhaustion, and the rest of them hardly in better state. He asked for volunteers to go hunting and sent Martin and Dunne.

The countryside was alive with French patrols, and

Polish also, formed of dragons released from the Prussian breeding-grounds where they had been pent up since the final partition ten years before. During the intervening years, many of their captains had died in Prussian captivity or from age or sickness; the bereft dragons were full of bitterness, which had easily enough been turned to

Napoleon's use. They might not answer to discipline well enough to serve in battle, without captain or crew, but they could profitably be set to scouting; and no harm done if they should take it on themselves to attack some hapless group of Prussian stragglers.

And the army was nothing but stragglers now, all of them making only loosely for the last Prussian strongholds in the north. There was no more hope of victory; the generals had spoken only of securing some position that might strengthen their hands at the bargaining table a little. It seemed to Laurence folly; he doubted himself whether there would be any table at all.

Napoleon had sent his armies speeding across the sodden roads of Poland with not a single waggon to hold them back, dragons carrying all the supply: gambling that he could catch and beat the Russians before his food ran out and his men and beasts began to starve. He had risked all on one throw of the dice, and won; the Tsar's armies had been strung out along the road to Warsaw, wholly unsuspecting, and in three days and three battles he had smashed them in their separate parts. The Prussian army he had carefully skirted on the road; they had served him, they understood only too late, as bait to draw the Russians more quickly from their borders.

Now the jaws of the Grande Armee were closing in on them for the final bite. The army had spilled northward in desperation, whole battalions deserting at a time; Laurence had seen artillery and ammunition abandoned on the road, supply-waggons surrounded by clouds of birds feasting on grain spilled in struggles among the starving men. Lestocq had sent orders to the covert to send the dragon-corps to their next post, a small village ten miles away; Laurence had crumpled the dispatch in his hand and let it fall to the ground to be trampled into the mud, and then he had put his men aboard, with all the supplies they could find, and flown north as long as Temeraire's strength would allow.

What so complete a defeat should mean for Britain, he would not now consider. He had one goal only: to get Temeraire and his men home, and the two dragon eggs. They seemed now pitifully inadequate, when they should have to help be a wall around Britain, to defend her against an Emperor of Europe in search of more worlds to conquer. If he had been once again on that hill, in the brush, with Napoleon standing so close to hand, Laurence did not know what he would do; he wondered occasionally, in the sleepless hours of the night, if Badenhaur blamed him for staying his hand.

He did not feel any kind of black mood or anger, such as had occasionally fallen upon him after a defeat; only a great distance. He spoke calmly to his men, and to Temeraire; he had managed to get his hands on a map, at least, of their route to the Baltic Sea, and spent most of his hours studying how to skirt the towns, or how to get back on course after a patrol had forced them to flee out of their way, to a temporary safety. Though Temeraire could cover ground by far more quickly than infantry, he was by far more visible as well, and their progress northward did not much outstrip the rest of the army after all their dodging and evasions. There was little left in the countryside to forage, and they were all going hungry, giving whatever could be spared to Temeraire.

Now, in the ruins of the castle, the men slept, or lay listless and open-eyed against the walls, not moving. Martin and Dunne came back after nearly an hour with one small sheep, shot neatly through the head. "I'm sorry for having to use the rifle, sir, but I was afraid it would get away," Dunne said.

"We didn't catch sight of anyone," Martin added anxiously. "It was off alone; I expect it had wandered away from its herd."

"You did as you ought, gentlemen," Laurence said, without attending very much; if they had done anything badly, it would still hardly have been worth reproaching them.

"I take it first," Gong Su said urgently, catching his arm, when Laurence would have given it straight to Temeraire. "Let me, it will go further. I make soup for everyone; there is water."

"We haven't much biscuit left," Granby ventured to him very quiet and tentatively, at this suggestion. "It would put heart into the fellows, to have a taste of some meat."

"We cannot risk an open flame," Laurence said with finality.

"No, not open fire." Gong Su pointed to the tower. "I build inside, smoke comes out slow, from this," and he tapped the crevices between the bricks in the wall beside them. "Like smokehouse."

The men had to come out of the closed gallery, and Gong Su could only go in to stir for a few minutes at a time, coming out coughing and with his face covered with black, but the smoke seeped out only in thin, flat bands which clung to the brick and did not send up any great column.

Laurence turned back to his maps, laid out on top of a broken table-sized block of wall; he thought a few more days would see them to the coastline, and then he would have to decide: west for Danzig, where the French might be, or east to Königsberg, almost surely still in Prussian hands, but farther from home. He was all the more grateful, now, to his meeting with the embassy secretary in Berlin who had given him the now-priceless information that the Navy was out in the Baltic in force - Temeraire had only to reach the ships, and they would be safe; pursuit could not follow them into the teeth of the ships' guns.

He was working out the distances for the third time when he lifted his head, frowning; men were stirring a little across the camp. The wind was shifting into their faces and carrying a snatch of song, not very tuneful but sung with great enthusiasm in a girl's clear voice, and in a moment she came into view around the wall. She was just a peasant girl, bright-cheeked with exercise, with her hair neatly braided back beneath a kerchief and carrying a basket full of walnuts and red berries and branches laden with yellow and amber leaves. She turned the corner and saw them: the song stopped mid-phrase, and she stared at them with wide startled eyes, still open-mouthed.

Laurence straightened up; his pistols were lying in front of him, weighting down the corners of his maps; Dunne and Hackley and Riggs all had their rifles right in their hands, being that moment engaged in reloading; Pratt, the big armorer, was leaning against the wall in arm's reach of the girl; a word and she would be caught, silenced. He put his hand out and touched the pistol; the cold metal was like a shock to his skin, and abruptly he wondered what the devil he was doing.

A shudder seized him, shoulders to waist and back; and suddenly he was himself again, fully present in his own skin and astonished by the change of sensation: he was at once painfully, desperately hungry, and the girl was running away wildly down the hill, her basket flung away in a hail of golden leaves.

He continued the movement and put the pistols back into his belt, letting the maps roll up. "Well, she will have everyone in ten miles roused in a moment," he said briskly. "Gong Su, bring the stew out; we can have a swallow at least before we must get about it, and Temeraire can eat while we pack. And Roland, Dyer, do you two go and collect those walnuts and crack the shells."

The two runners hopped over the wall and began to gather up the spilled contents of the peasant girl's basket, while Pratt and his mate Blythe went in to help carry out the big soup-pot. Laurence said, "Mr. Granby, let us see a little activity here, if you please; I want a lookout up on that tower."

"Yes, sir," Granby said, jumping at once to his feet, and with Ferris began rousing the men from their own separate lethargies to begin pushing the broken stone and brick into something like steps up the side of the tower. The work did not go quickly, with the men all tired and shaky, but it gave them more life, and the tower was not so very high; soon enough they had a rope thrown over one of the crenellations of the parapet, and Martin was scrambling up to keep watch, calling, "And don't you fellows eat my share, either!" to more laughter than this feeble sally deserved. The men turned eagerly to get out their tin cups and bowls as the cauldron came very carefully out, not a drop spilling.

"I am sorry we must go so quickly," Laurence said to Temeraire, stroking his nose.

"I do not mind," Temeraire said, nuzzling him with particular energy. "Laurence, you are well?"

Laurence was ashamed that his queer mood should have been so noticeable. "I am; forgive me for having been so out of sorts," he answered. "You have had the worst of it all along; I ought never have committed us to this enterprise."

"But we did not know that we were going to lose," Temeraire said. "I am not sorry to have tried to help; I would have felt a great coward running away."

Gong Su ladled out the still-thin soup in small sparing portions, half-a-cupful to each man, and Ferris doled out the biscuit; at least there was as much tea as anyone could want to drink, situated as the castle was between two lakes. They all ate involuntarily slowly, trying to make each bite count for two, and then Roland and Dyer went around with the odd unexpected treat of fresh walnuts, a little young and bitter, but delicious; the purplish sloes, too tart for their palates, Temeraire licked up out of the basket as a single swallow. When all had eaten their share, Laurence sent Salyer up in Martin's place, and had the midshipman down for his own meal; and then Gong Su began heaving the dismembered joints of the sheep's carcass out of the cauldron one at a time directly into Temeraire's waiting jaws, so the hot juice would not run out of them and go to waste.

Temeraire too lingered over each swallow, and he had scarcely consumed the head and one leg before Salyer was leaning over and shouting, and scrambling down the rope. "Air patrol, sir, five middle-weights coming," he panted; a worse threat than Laurence had feared: the patrol must have been sheltering just at the nearby village, and the girl must have run straight to them. "Five miles distant, I should think - "

The meal behind them and the immediate danger before gave them all a burst of fresh energy; in moments the equipment was back aboard, the light mesh armor laid out: they had left behind the armor plates, several escapes ago. Then Keynes said, "For the love of Heaven, don't eat the rest of the meat," sharply to Temeraire, who was just opening his mouth for Gong Su to tip in the last mouthfuls.

"Why not?" Temeraire demanded. "I am still hungry."

"The blasted egg is hatching," Keynes said. He was already tearing and heaving at the silken swaddling, throwing off great shining panels of green and red and amber. "Don't stand there gawking, come and help me!" he snapped.

Granby and the other lieutenants sprang to his assistance at once while Laurence hurriedly organized the men to get the second egg, still wrapped up, back into Temeraire's belly-rigging; it was the last of the baggage.

"Not now!" Temeraire said to the egg, which was now rocking back and forth so energetically that they were having to hold it in place with their hands; it would otherwise have gone rolling end-over-end across the ground.

"Go and get the harness arranged," Laurence told Granby, and took his place bracing the egg; the shell was hard and glossy and queerly hot to the touch under his hands, so he even took a moment to pull on his gloves; Ferris and Riggs, on the other side, were wincing their hands away alternately.

"We must leave at this moment, you cannot hatch now; and anyway there is almost no food," Temeraire added, to no apparent effect but a furious rapping noise from inside against the shell. "It is not paying me any mind," he said, aggrieved, sitting back on his haunches, and looked rather unhappily at the remnants in the cauldron.

Fellowes had long since put together a dragonet's rig out of the softest scraps of harness, just in case, but it had been rolled up snugly with the rest of the leather deep in their baggage. They finally got it out, and Granby turned it over with almost shaking hands, opening some buckles and adjusting others. "Nothing to it, sir," Fellowes said softly; the other officers clapped him on the back with encouraging murmurs.

"Laurence," Keynes said in an undertone, "I ought to have thought of this before; but you had better draw Temeraire away at once, as far as you can; he won't like it."

"What?" Laurence said, just as Temeraire said, with a flare of belligerence, "What are you doing? Why is Granby holding that harness?"

Laurence thought at first, in deep alarm, that Temeraire was speaking out against the harnessing of the dragon in principle. "No, but Granby is in my crew," Temeraire said, obstinately, an objection which disqualified every man in sight, unless perhaps he had not yet formed an attachment to Badenhaur or the handful of other Prussian officers. "I do not see why I must give it my food, and Granby."

The shell was beginning to crack, now; none too soon. The patrol had slowed their approach out of caution, perhaps imagining that the British meant to make a stand from behind the shelter of the walls, since evidently they were not fleeing. But caution would only keep them off so long; soon one of them would make a quick dart overhead, see what was going on, and then they would instantly attack in force.

"Temeraire," Laurence said, backing away a distance and trying to distract Temeraire's attention from the hatching egg, "only consider, the little dragon will be quite alone, and you have a large crew all for yourself. You must see it is not fair; there is no one else for the dragonet, and," he added with sudden inspiration, "it will have no jewels at all, such as you have; it must surely feel very unhappy."

"Oh," Temeraire said. He put his head down very close to Laurence. "Perhaps it could have Allen?" he suggested quietly, with a darting look over his shoulder to make sure he was not overheard by that awkward young ensign, who was presently engaged in surreptitiously running his finger around the rim of the pot, and licking it clean of a few more drops of soup.

"Come, that is unworthy of you," Laurence said reprovingly. "Besides, this is Granby's chance of promotion; surely you would not deny him the right to advance himself."

Temeraire made a low grumbling noise. "Well, if he must," he said, ungraciously, and curled up to sulk, taking up his sapphire breastplate in his foreclaws to nose over and rub to a higher shine with the side of his cheek.

His agreement was only just in time; the shell did not so much break open as burst with a cloud of steam, speckling them all with tiny fragments of shell and egg-slime. "I did not make such a mess," Temeraire said, disapprovingly, brushing at the bits stuck to his hide.

The dragonet itself spat bits of shell in every direction; it was hissing below its breath in a strangled sort of way. It was almost a miniature in form of the adult Kaziliks, with the same bristling thorny spines all over, scarlet with shining purplish armor plates over its belly; even the impressive horns were there, smaller in scale; only the green leopard-spots were missing. The baby dragon looked up at them with glaring yellow eyes, hot and indignant, coughed once, twice, and then drew in and held a deep breath that made its sides puff out like a balloon. Abruptly thin jets of steam issued out of its spines, hissing, and it opened its mouth and jetted out a little stream of flame some five feet long, sending the nearest men jumping back in surprise.

"Oh, there," she said, pleased, sitting up on her haunches. "That is much better; now let me have the meat."

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.

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