Black Powder War

Chapter 5

"ANY DELAY NOW is disaster," Laurence said, and Tharkay sketched out the last stretch of their journey upon the smooth floor of the cavern, using pale rocks for chalk; a course which would avoid the great cities, past golden Samarkand and ancient Baghdad, between Isfahan and Tehran, and take them on a meandering road through wilderness and skirting the edges of the great deserts.

"We will have to spend more time hunting," Tharkay warned, but that was small cost by comparison: Laurence wanted to risk neither challenge nor hospitality from the Persian satraps, which would consume far more time in either case. There was something a little unpleasant and skulking about creeping through the countryside of a foreign nation, without permission, and it would be at the very least embarrassing if they were caught, but he was willing to trust their caution and Temeraire's speed to guard against the last.

Laurence had meant to stay another day, to let the men worst injured by the avalanche make some recovery on the ground, but there could be no question of that now with Lien on her way to France, where she might wreak merry havoc at the Channel, or upon the Mediterranean Fleet. The Navy and the merchant marine would be wholly unsuspecting and vulnerable; her appearance would not be a warning, for her white coloration would not be found in any of the dragon-books which ships carried, to warn their captains of fire-breathers and the like. She was many years older than Temeraire, and though she had never been trained in battle, she lacked nothing in agility and grace and likely was more practiced in the use of the divine wind; it made him shudder to think of so deadly a weapon placed in Bonaparte's hands, and aimed nearly at the heart of Britain.

"We will leave in the morning," he said, and stood up from the floor to find a disgruntled audience of dragons; the ferals had gathered around in curiosity while Tharkay made his diagrams, and, having demanded some explanation from Temeraire, they were now indignant to find their own mountain range little more than a scattering of hatch-marks dividing the vast expanse of China from Persia and the Ottoman Empire.

"I am just telling them that we have been all the way from England to China," Temeraire informed Laurence, smugly, "and round Africa, too; they have none of them ever been very much outside the mountains."

Temeraire made some further remarks to them, in a tone of no little condescension. He had indeed some experience to brag of, having been f锟斤拷ted lavishly at the imperial court of China after a journey halfway around the world, not to mention several notable actions to his credit; besides these adventures, his jeweled breastplate and talon-sheaths had already drawn envy from the unadorned ferals, and Laurence even discovered himself the subject of a gallery of appraising slit-pupiled stares after Temeraire had finished telling them he knew not what.

He was not unhappy for Temeraire to have an example before him of dragons in their natural state, without any influence of men: the ferals' existence offered a happy contrast with the elevated circumstances of the Chinese dragons, by which comparison the lot of British dragons need not look so very ill, and he was glad Temeraire so plainly felt his own position superior to theirs; but Laurence was dubious of the wisdom of thus provoking them into a more active envy and perhaps to belligerence.

The more Temeraire spoke, the more the ferals murmured and looked sideways at their own leader Arkady, with a jaundiced air; jealously aware that he was losing some of his luster in their eyes, he was ruffling up the collar of spikes around his neck and bristling.

"Temeraire," Laurence said, to interrupt, even though he did not know what else to say, but when Temeraire looked towards him in inquiry Arkady leapt at once into the breach: puffing out his chest, he made an announcement in grandiose tones which sent a quick murmur of excitement around the other ferals.

"Oh," Temeraire said, tail twitching doubtfully, and regarding the red-patch dragon.

"What is it?" Laurence said, alarmed.

"He says he will come with us to Istanbul, and meet the Sultan," Temeraire explained.

This amiable project, while less violent than the challenge Laurence had feared, was nearly as inconvenient, and argument was of no use: Arkady would not be dissuaded, and many of the other dragons now began to insist that they too would come along. Tharkay gave up the effort after a short while and turned away, shrugging. "We may as well resign ourselves; there is little we can do to prevent their following, unless you mean to attack them."

Nearly all the ferals set out with them the next morning, saving a few too indolent or too incurious to be bothered, and the little broken-winged one they had rescued from the avalanche, who stood looking after them at the mouth of the cave and making small unhappy cries as they left. They made difficult company, noisy and excitable, and quick to fall to squabbling in mid-air, two or three of them tumbling head-over-tail in a wild flurry of hissing and claws until Arkady or one of his two larger lieutenants dived at them and knocked them apart with loud remonstrances to sulk in private.

"We will never pass through the countryside unnoticed with this circus following behind us," Laurence said in exasperation after the third such incident, the echoes of the shrieks still ringing off the peaks.

"Likely they will get tired of it in a few days and turn back," Granby said. "I have never heard of ferals wanting to go anywhere near people, except to steal food; and I dare say we'll see them turn shy as soon as we leave their territory."

The ferals indeed grew nervous towards the afternoon, as the mountains began abruptly to diminish into foothills, and the smooth rolling curve of the horizon came clear, green and dusty and endlessly wide under the great bowl of the sky: a wholly different landscape. They whispered and rustled their wings together uneasily at the edge of the camp, and were very little use at all in hunting. As evening fell, the lights of a nearby village began to gleam faintly orange in the distance, half-a-dozen farmhouses some miles away. By morning several of the ferals had agreed amongst themselves that this must be Istanbul, it was not nearly so nice as they had expected, and they were quite ready to go home.

"But that is not Istanbul at all," Temeraire said indignantly, and subsided only at Laurence's hurried gesture.

They were thus rid of the better part of their company, much to their relief. Only the youngest and most adventurous remained, chief among them little Gherni, who had hatched in the lowlands and thus had a little more experience of this foreign landscape, and was quite pleased with this newfound distinction among her peers. She was loud in professing herself not at all afraid, and making mock of those turning back; in the face of her taunting, a couple of the others determined on continuing also, and sadly these were the most chest-puffing quarrelsome of the lot.

And Arkady was unwilling to turn back while any others of his flock remained: Temeraire had told too many stories, and those too vivid, of treasures and feasts and dramatic battles; now the feral leader evidently feared one of his erstwhile subjects might return at some future date covered in glory real or contrived, and challenge his standing; a standing founded less in raw strength - both his lieutenants outstripping him in this arena - than on a certain alchemy of charisma and quickness of thought, rendering his position the less easily defensible.

But he was hardly enthusiastic, for all the strutting bravado with which he concealed his anxiety, and Laurence hoped that he would shortly have persuaded the others to go. His lieutenants, called Molnar and Wringe - as best as Laurence could make out - would certainly have been happier to stay behind even without him, and Wringe, the dark grey, even ventured to suggest as much to her chief, which only succeeded in making Arkady fly into a passion and beat her vigorously about the head, accompanied by a verbal harangue which required no translation.

But that night he huddled close with them for comfort, the mountains having dwindled to distant blue majesty, and the rest of the ferals cuddled about them also, paying only half-hearted attention to Temeraire's attempts at conversation. "They are not very venturesome," Temeraire said, disappointed, coming to settle down beside Laurence. "They only ask me all the time about food, and how soon they shall be feasted by the Sultan, and what he will give them, and when they can go home: though they have all the liberty in the world, and could go anywhere they like at all."

"When you are very hungry, my dear, it is hard for your ambitions to rise above your belly," Laurence said. "There is not much to be said for the sort of liberty which they enjoy: the freedom to starve or to be slaughtered is hardly one to which most would aspire, and," he added, seizing the moment, "both men and dragons may with good sense choose to sacrifice some personal liberty for the sake of the general good, which shall advance their own condition with those of their fellows."

Temeraire sighed, and did not argue, but prodded at his dinner dissatisfied, at least until Molnar noticed and made a cautious gesture at taking a bit of the half-abandoned meat for himself: which made Temeraire growl him away, and devour all the rest in three tremendous gulps.

They had fine weather the next day, the sky clear and vast, which worked to excellent discouraging effect upon their traveling companions; Laurence was sure that evening would see the last of them turn tail for home. But they made only a poor show of hunting again, and Laurence was forced to send Tharkay with some of the men to try and find a farm nearby, and buy some cattle to make up the difference.

The ferals grew round-eyed at the great, horned brown beasts as they were dragged into the camp lowing in pitiful fear, and even more so when they were given four to divide up amongst themselves, gorging near to ecstasy. The littler ones lay on their backs afterwards, with their wings splayed awkwardly out of the way and their limbs curled over their distended bellies, beatific expressions on their faces, and even Arkady, who had done his best to eat nearly an entire cow alone, sprawled limp-legged on his side. Laurence sinkingly gathered they had never tasted beef before, and certainly not like this farm-raised cattle, fat and sweet-flavored; they would have made very good eating even for the finest table in England, and must have been ambrosial to the ferals, accustomed to subsistence on thin goats and mountain sheep, and the occasional stolen pig.

Temeraire put the seal to the matter by saying blithely, "No, I am sure the Sultan will give us something much nicer," after which Istanbul took on the roseate glow of Paradise: there was no more hope of shaking them.

"Well, we had better go on by night, as much as we can," Laurence said, in reluctant surrender. "At least I expect any ordinary peasant who sees us will imagine we are part of their native aerial corps, as much a cavalcade as we are."

The ferals were at least some use once having gotten over their fright; one of the littler fellows, Hertaz, greenish yellow stripes over dusty brown, proved their best hunter in the summer-yellowed grasslands: he could flatten himself in the tall grass and hide downwind while the other dragons stampeded animals out of forests and hills with their roaring; the hapless beasts would run very nearly straight into his path, and he often brought down as many as half-a-dozen in a single lunge.

The ferals were wary, too, for the scent of men, as Temeraire was not; it was Arkady's warning that saved them from notice by a Persian cavalry company, all the dragons only barely managing to get behind some hills as the troop came riding over the crest of the road and into sight. Laurence lay concealed a long time, listening to the banners snapping and bridle-bits jingling as the company went gradually by, until the sound had wholly faded into the distance, and twilight advanced far enough they could risk taking to the air once again.

The feral leader was smug and prancing afterwards, and while Temeraire was still eating that afternoon, Arkady seized the opportunity to take back pride of place, regaling his troop with a long and involved performance, half-storytelling, half-dance, which Laurence at first took to be a re-creation of his achievements as a hunter, or some similarly savage activity; the other dragons were all chiming in now and again with their own contributions.

But then Temeraire put down his second deer to listen in with great interest, and shortly began to put in his own remarks. "What is he speaking of?" Laurence asked him, puzzled that Temeraire should have anything to add to the narrative.

"It is very exciting," Temeraire said, turning to him eagerly, "it is all about a band of dragons, who find a great heap of treasure hidden in a cave, that belonged to an old dragon who died, and they are quarreling over how to divide it, and there are a great many duels between the two strongest dragons, because they are equally strong, and really they want to mate and not fight, but neither of them knows that the other also wants to mate, and so they each think they have to win the treasure, and then they can give it to the other, and then the other one will agree to mate to get the treasure. And one of the other dragons is very small but clever, and he is playing tricks on the others and getting lots of the treasure away for himself bit by bit; and also there is a mated pair who have argued over their own share, because the female was too busy brooding the egg to help him fight the others and get a bigger share, and then he did not want to share equally with her, and then she got angry and took away the egg and hid with it, and now he is sorry but he cannot find her, and there is another male who wants to mate with her, and he has found her and is offering her some of his own share of the treasure - "

Laurence was by now lost in the sea of events, even so summarized; he did not understand how Temeraire was following it at all, or what there was to be interested in about it; but certainly Temeraire and the ferals took passionate enjoyment in the entire tangle. At one stage Gherni and Hertaz even came to blows, evidently over a disagreement on what ought to happen next, batting at each other's heads until Molnar, annoyed at the interruption of the tale, snapped at them and hissed them into submission.

Arkady flung himself down at last panting and very pleased, and the other dragons all whistled in approval and thumped their tails; Temeraire clicked his talons against a broad rock, in the Chinese mode of approval.

"I must remember it so I can write it down, when we are home, and I can have another writing-box like the one I had in China," Temeraire said, with a deeply satisfied sigh. "I tried to recite some parts of the Principia Mathematica to Lily and Maximus once, but they did not find it very interesting; I am sure they would like this better. Perhaps we can have it published, Laurence, do you suppose?"

"You will have to teach more dragons to read, first," Laurence said.

A handful of the crew were making some shifts at picking up the Durzagh language; pantomime ordinarily worked quite well, as the ferals were quite clever enough to make out the meaning, but they were also quite happy to pretend they did not understand anything they did not like, such as being told to move from a comfortable place so tents might be pitched, or being roused up from naps for an evening stretch of flying. As Temeraire and Tharkay were not always handy to translate, learning to speak to them became rather a form of self-defense for the younger officers responsible for setting up the camp. It was rather comical to see them whistling and humming bits of it at the dragons.

"Digby, that will be enough; don't let me catch you encouraging them to make up to you," Granby said, sternly.

"Yes, sir; I mean, no, sir, yes," Digby said, gone crimson and tongue-tied, and scurried away to busy himself with a contrived task on the other side of the camp.

Laurence looked up from his consultation with Tharkay at hearing this, surprised, as the boy was ordinarily the steadiest of the ensigns, for all he was scarcely turned thirteen; he had never needed to be taken-down before, so far as Laurence recalled.

"Oh, no real harm; he has only been saving the choice bits aside for that big fellow Molnar, and some of those other boys too, for their own favorites," Granby said, joining them. "It's only natural they should like to pretend themselves captains, but it is no good making pets of the creatures: you don't make a feral tame by feeding him."

"Although they do seem to be learning some manners; I had thought ferals would be wholly uncontrollable," Laurence said.

"So would they be, if Temeraire weren't at hand," Granby said. "It is only him making them mind."

"I wonder; they seem to govern themselves well enough when given sufficient interest in so doing," Tharkay observed, a little dry, "which seems an eminently rational philosophy; to me it is rather more remarkable that any dragon should mind under other circumstances."

The Golden Horn glittered from a long way off, the city sprawling lavishly over its banks and every hill crowned with the minarets and smooth shining marble domes of the mosques, blue and grey and pink amidst the terra-cotta roofs of the houses and the narrow green blades of the cypress-trees. The sickle-shaped river emptied itself into the mighty Bosphorus, which in its turn snaked away in either direction, black and dazzled with sunlight in Laurence's glass; but he had little attention for anything but the farther shore, the first glimpse of Europe.

His crew were all of them tired and hungry; as they had drawn closer to the great city, there was a good deal more trouble to avoid settlements, and they had not stopped for more than a cold meal and an uncomfortably broken mid-day sleep in ten days, the dragons hunting on the wing and eating what little meat they caught raw. When they came up over the next rank of hills and saw the great herd of grey cattle grazing upon the wide banks of the Asian side of the strait, Arkady gave an eager bloodthirsty roar and dived at them instantly.

"No, no, you cannot eat those!" Temeraire said, too late: the other ferals were already plunging with cries of delight after the panicked, bellowing herd, and at the southern end of the plain, from behind the ramparts of a squat stone-and-mortar wall, the heads of several dragons, brightly adorned with the plumes of the Turkish service, hove up into view.

"Oh, for all Heaven's sake," Laurence said. The Turkish dragons leapt aloft and came on in a furious rush towards the ferals, who were too busy to notice their danger, snatching at first one cow and then another and comparing them in an ecstasy over their sudden riches, too overwhelmed even to settle down and begin eating. That alone saved them: as the Turkish dragons stooped towards them, the ferals jumped and scattered away, leaving almost a dozen cattle crumpled or dead upon the ground, just in time to avoid the reaching claws and teeth.

Arkady and the others at once darted straight back to Temeraire for shelter, flurrying around behind him, and making shrill taunting cries at the Turkish dragons, now sweeping up from their dive and coming on furious and roaring in pursuit.

"Run up the colors, and fire off a gun to leeward," Laurence called to his signal-ensign Turner, and the British flag, still brightly colored after their long journey but for the pale creases along the folds, unfurled with a crisp snapping noise.

The Turkish guard-dragons slowed as they drew near, baring teeth and talons, belligerent but uncertain: they were none of them more than middling in size, not much bigger than the ferals themselves, and as they drew nearer, Temeraire's great wingspan threw a long shadow across them: they were five in number, plainly unused to any great exertions, with odd, dimpled ridges of fat collected in front of their haunches. "Gone to seed," Granby said, disapproving; and indeed they were puffing a little after their first enraged rush, sides heaving visibly: Laurence supposed that they could have very little work, ordinarily, placed here at the capital and on such trivial duty as guarding cattle.

"Fire!" Riggs called: the volley was a little ragged, he and the other riflemen not wholly recovered yet from their temporary entombment in the ice and all inclined to sneeze at inopportune moments. Still the signal had the salutary effect of slowing the oncoming dragons, and to Laurence's great relief, the captain in the lead lifted his speaking-trumpet to his mouth to bellow at them, at some length.

"He says to land," Tharkay translated, with improbable brevity; at Laurence's frowning look he added, "and he calls us a great many impolite names; do you wish them all translated?"

"I do not see why I should have to land first and go underneath them," Temeraire said, and he descended only with an uneasy grumble, cocking his head at an awkward angle to keep an eye always on the dragons above him. Laurence also disliked the vulnerable position, but the offense had been given on their side: a few of the cows had staggered back up onto their feet and now stood trembling and dazed, but most of them were unmoving and certainly dead, a great waste that Laurence was not sure he could even make good, without application to the British ambassador locally, and he could hardly blame the Turkish captain for insisting they make some show of better faith.

Temeraire had to speak sharply to the ferals before they would land beside him, and at last even to give a low warning roar, enough to frighten all the remaining cattle into running even farther away. Arkady and the others came down with a surly, reluctant air, and they stayed only uneasily on the ground, wings scarce-furled and fidgeting.

"I ought never have allowed them to come with us so near, without giving the Turks warning first," Laurence said, grimly, watching them. "They cannot be trusted to behave among men or cattle."

"I do not see it is Arkady's fault at all, or the others'," Temeraire said loyally. "If I did not understand about property, I would not have known there was anything wrong in taking those cows, either." He paused and added, more low, "And in any case those dragons had no business lying out of sight like that and leaving the cows for anyone to take, if they did not like it."

Even once the ferals had at last descended, the Turkish dragons did not themselves land but set to flying in a slow but showy circle pattern overhead, very much to drive home their position of lofty superiority. Watching this display, Temeraire snorted and mantled a little, his ruff beginning to flare wide. "They are very rude," he said angrily, "I do not like them at all; and I am sure that we could beat them; they look like birds, with all that flapping."

"There would be another hundred to deal with shortly once you had run these off, and those like to be a different proposition: the Turkish corps are no joke, even if this handful have fallen out of fighting-trim," Laurence said. "Pray be patient and they will get tired of it presently." But in truth his own temper was scarcely less short; upon the hot, dusty field they were exposed to the full force of the sun, the baked ground unforgiving, and they had not carried much water with them.

The ferals were not long abashed, and began shortly to eye the slaughtered cows and to make muttered remarks amongst themselves; their tone was perfectly comprehensible, even where their words were not, and Temeraire himself said discontentedly, "And those cows will only go bad, if they are not eaten soon," much to Laurence's alarm.

"You might try and make the Turks think it does not bother you," he proposed, a happy inspiration. Temeraire brightened and spoke to the ferals in a loud whisper; shortly they had all sprawled out comfortably upon the grass, yawning elaborately; a couple of the little ones even began to whistle rudely through their nostrils, and the play occupied them all. The Turkish dragons soon tired of exercising to so little point, and at last circled down and landed opposite them, the lead dragon discharging his captain; a fresh occasion for dismay, for Laurence did not look forward to making either explanation or apology; with reason, as the event proved.

The Turkish captain, a gentleman named Ertegun, was hotly suspicious and his behavior alone insulting: he returned Laurence's bow with barely a twitch of his head, left his hand upon the hilt of his sword, and spoke coldly in Turkish.

After some brief discussion with Tharkay, Ertegun repeated himself in a middling sort of French, heavily accented: "Well? Explain yourself, and this vicious assault." Laurence's own command of even that language was sadly halting, but at least he could make some pretense of communication. He stumbled over an explanation, which had not the least softening effect upon Ertegun's offended mien nor his suspicions, which found vent in something very much like an interrogation on Laurence's mission, his rank, the course of his journey, and even his funds, until Laurence began to grow impatient himself in his turn.

"Enough; do you imagine that we are thirty dangerous lunatics, who have all together decided to launch an attack against the walls of Istanbul, with a company of seven dragons?" Laurence said. "Nothing is served by keeping us waiting here in the heat; have one of your men take word to the British ambassador in residence, and I trust he will be able to satisfy you."

"Not without great difficulty, since he is dead," Ertegun said.

"Dead?" Laurence said blankly, and in mounting incredulity heard Ertegun insist that the ambassador, Mr. Arbuthnot, had been killed only the week past in some sort of hunting accident, the details vague; and furthermore that there was no other representative of the Crown in the city at present.

"Then, sir, I suppose I must present my bona fides directly, in the absence of such a representative," Laurence said, very much taken aback, and wondering privately what he should do for lodging for Temeraire. "I am here on a mission arranged between our nations, one which can allow of no delay."

"If your mission were of so great importance, your Government might have chosen a better messenger," Ertegun said, offensively. "The Sultan has many affairs to occupy him, and is not to be disturbed by every beggar who wishes to come knocking at the Gate of Felicity; nor are his vezirs to be lightly troubled, and I do not believe that you are from the British at all."

There was a conscious satisfaction visible in Ertegun's face at having produced these objections, a deliberate hostility, and Laurence said coldly, "These discourtesies, sir, are as dishonorable to your Sultan's government as insulting to myself; you cannot seriously imagine we should invent such a story."

"And yet I must imagine that you and this rag-tag of dangerous animals coming out from Persia are British representatives, I see," Ertegun said.

Laurence had no opportunity to respond to this incivility as it deserved. Temeraire was perfectly fluent in French, having spent several months of his life in the shell aboard a French frigate, and he now intruded his massive head into the conversation. "We are not animals, and my friends only did not understand that the cows were yours," he said angrily. "They would not hurt anyone, and they have come a long way to see the Sultan, too."

Temeraire's ruff had stretched wide and bristling, and his wings half-rising from his back threw a long shadow, his shoulders coming forward with the taut cords of his tendons standing out against the flesh as he thrust his head with its foot-long serrated teeth towards the Turkish captain. Ertegun's dragon gave a small shrill cry and jerked forward, but the other Turkish dragons all by instinct backed away from the fierce display and gave him no support; and Ertegun himself took a step back, involuntary, towards the shelter of his anxious dragon's reaching forelegs.

"Let us have an end to this dispute," Laurence said, quick to seize the advantage, with Ertegun thus momentarily silenced. "Mr. Tharkay and my first lieutenant will go into the city with your man, while the rest of us remain: I am quite confident the ambassador's staff will be able to arrange our visit entirely to the satisfaction of the Sultan and his vezirs, even if you are quite correct there is no official delegate at present; and I trust will also assist me in making good the losses to the royal herd; which as Temeraire has said were the result of accident and not malice."

Plainly Ertegun was not pleased with this proposal, but he did not know how to refuse with Temeraire still hovering; he opened and closed his mouth a few times, then began weakly, "It is quite impossible," which made Temeraire growl in refreshed temper. The Turkish dragons all edged a little further away yet; and suddenly his ears were full of howling, caterwauling dragon voices: Arkady and the ferals were all leaping into the air, tails lashing, talons clawing the air, wings flapping, all of them yowling as loud as they could go. The Turkish dragons too began to bellow, fanning their wings, about to go aloft. The noise was horrific, drowning out any hope of orders, and then to add to the cacophony Temeraire sat up and roared out over their heads: a long threatening roll like thunder.

The Turkish dragons tumbled back upon their haunches with cries and hisses, fouling one another's wings, snapping at the air and each other with instinctive alarm. In the confusion, the ferals seized their moment: they darted at the dead cows, snatched them out from under the noses of the Turks, and turned tail as one to flee. Already mid-air, the others flurrying away ahead of him, Arkady turned back with one cow clutched in each foreleg and bobbed his head in thanks at Temeraire; then they were gone: flying at a great pace, on a line straight back for the safe harbor of the mountains.

The shocked silence lasted scarcely half-a-minute, and then Ertegun, still upon the ground, burst out into an indignant stammering flood of Turkish which Laurence, deeply mortified, thought it was better he did not understand: he could cheerfully have shot the whole lot of bandits himself. They had made him a liar in front of his own men and the Turkish captain, already eager to latch upon any excuse to deny them.

Ertegun's earlier obduracy had now been superseded by a more honest indignation, violent and very real; he was grown hot with anger, great fat droplets of sweat beading and rolling in long trails down from his forehead to be lost in his beard, furious threats falling over one another in mingled Turkish and French.

"We will teach you how we deal with invaders here; we will slaughter you as the thieves have slaughtered the Sultan's cattle, and leave your bodies to rot," he finished, making wild flourishes to the Turkish dragons.

"I will not let you hurt Laurence or my crew at all," Temeraire said hotly, and his chest swelled out with gathering breath; the Turkish dragons all looked deeply anxious. Laurence had before noted that other dragons seemed to know to fear Temeraire's roar, even if they had not yet felt the true divine wind, some instinct warning them of the danger. But their riders did not share that understanding, and Laurence did not think the dragons would refuse orders to attack; even should Temeraire prove able to singly defeat a force of half-a-dozen dragons, they could win only a Pyrrhic victory thereby.

"Enough, Temeraire; stand down," Laurence said; to Ertegun he said, stiffly, "Sir, the wild dragons I have already made plain to you were not under my command, and I have promised to make good your losses. I do not suppose you seriously propose to offer an act of war against Britain without the approval of your government; we will certainly offer no such hostility ourselves."

Tharkay unexpectedly translated this into Turkish, though Laurence had muddled through it in French, and spoke loudly enough that the other Turkish aviators might overhear; they looked uneasily at one another, and Ertegun threw him an ugly look, full of savage frustration. He spat, "Remain, and you will learn otherwise to your peril," and flung himself back towards his dragon, shouting orders; the whole flight together backed away some little distance and settled themselves in the shade of a small grove of fruit-trees bordering upon the road leading to the city, which they disposed themselves across; and the smallest of them leapt aloft and flew away towards the city at an energetic pace; shortly he grew too small to see, and vanished against the haze.

"And carrying no good news of us, to be sure," Granby said, watching his progress through Laurence's glass.

"Not without cause," Laurence said grimly.

Temeraire scratched at the ground, with a guilty air. "They were not very friendly," he said, defensively.

There was very little shelter to be had, without retreating a great distance away out of sight of the guard-dragons, which Laurence did not mean to do; but they found a place between two low hillocks and pitched a little canvas on poles stuck into the dirt, to give the sick men a piece of shade. "It is a pity they took all the cows," Temeraire said, wistfully, looking after the vanished ferals.

"A little patience would have seen them fed and you also, as guests instead of as thieves," Laurence said, his own sorely tried. Temeraire did not protest the reproof, but only hung his head, and Laurence stood up and walked some distance away under the excuse of looking again towards the city through his glass: no change, except now some herdsmen were driving cattle towards the encamped Turkish dragons, so they might eat; and the men were taking refreshment also. He put down the glass and turned from the scene. His own mouth was dry and crack-lipped; he had given his water ration to Dunne, who could hardly stop coughing. It was already grown too late to forage; but in the morning, he would have to send some of the men to hunt and find water, at great risk to themselves in strange country, where they could answer no challenge; and he had no clear idea what they might do next, if the Turks remained obdurate.

"Ought we not go round the city and try it again, from the European side?" Granby suggested, as Laurence came back to their makeshift camp.

"There are look-outs posted upon the hills to the north, against invasion from Russia," Tharkay said briefly. "Unless you mean to travel an hour out of the way, you will rouse all the city."

"Sir, someone is coming," Digby said, pointing, and the debate was moot: a courier-dragon was coming quickly from the city, with an escort of two heavy-weight beasts; and though the lowering sun was full on them, blotting out their colors, Laurence saw clearly silhouetted against the sky the two great horns thrust up from their foreheads, the narrower spikes like thorns bristling along the twisting serpentine lengths of their bodies: he had seen a Kazilik once before thus, framed against the billowing tower of smoke and flame rising from the Orient, at the Nile, as the dragon set her magazine alight and burnt the great thousand-man ship to the waterline.

"Get all the sick aboard, and unload all the powder and the bombs," he said, grimly; a scorching Temeraire could survive, if he could not evade, but even a small unlucky lick of flame might set off the store of gunpowder and incendiaries packed into his belly-rigging, with as deadly result for him as for that ill-fated French flagship.

They worked double-quick, leaving the round bombs heaped in small pyramids upon the ground, while Keynes strapped the sickest men down to boards to be secured into the belly-rigging; canvas and cloth were flung down billowing, and the spare leather also. "I can make a polite noise, Laurence; do you go aboard, until we know what they mean," Granby suggested; to Laurence's impatient refusal. The rest of the men Laurence sent aboard, however, so that only he and Granby remained on foot, well in reach of Temeraire.

The Kazilik pair landed together a short distance away, their scarlet hides vivid with markings of black-edged green, like leopard-spots, and licking at the air with their long black tongues; so close that Laurence could hear emanating from their bodies a low, faint rumbling something like the purr of a cat and the hiss of a kettle combined, and see even against the still-light sky the thin lines of steam which wisped upwards and away from the narrow spikes along the ridges of their back.

Captain Ertegun came towards them again, eyes narrowed and dark with satisfaction; from the courier dismounted two black slaves, who with great care assisted another man to descend smoothly from the dragon's shoulders; grasping their hands he stepped down onto a small folding set of steps, which they laid upon the ground. He wore a gorgeously appointed kaftan embroidered in silks of many colors, and a white many-plumed turban concealing his hair; Ertegun bowed low before him, and presented him to Laurence as Hasan Mustafa Pasha; the last a title rather than surname, Laurence vaguely recalled, and a senior rank among the vezirs.

This at least was better than an immediate assault, and when the introductions had been coldly concluded by Ertegun, Laurence began awkwardly, "Sir, I hope you will permit me to express my apologies - "

"No, no! Enough, come, let us hear no more of this," Mustafa said, his French a great deal more fluent and voluble than Laurence's, and easily overrunning his stumbling tongue; and reaching out the vezir grasped Laurence's hand in his own, with enthusiasm. While Ertegun, outraged, stared and colored to his cheekbones, Mustafa waved away all further apology and explanation, and said, "It is only unfortunate that you should have been taken in by those wretched creatures; but then it is as the imams have said, that the dragon born in the wild does not know the Prophet, and is as a servant of the Devil."

Temeraire bridled at this, snorting, but Laurence was in no mood to quarrel, full of relief. "You are more than generous, sir; and you may well believe me grateful for it," he said. "It is paltry in me to be asking your hospitality, having so abused it already - "

"Ah, no!" Mustafa said, dismissing this as of no moment. "Of course you are very welcome, Captain; you have come a long way. You will follow us to the city: the Sultan, peace be upon him, has already commanded from his generosity that you shall be housed in the palace. We have made quarters ready for you, and a cool garden for your dragon; you will rest and refresh yourselves after your journey, and we will think no more of this unhappy misunderstanding."

"I confess your suggestion is by far more appealing than the demands of my duty," Laurence said. "We would indeed be thankful for some little refreshment, whatever you can provide, but we cannot linger in port, as it were, and must soonest be on our way again: we have come to collect the dragon eggs, as has been arranged, and we must straightaway get them to England."

Mustafa's smile wavered, for a moment, and his hands still clasping Laurence's between them tightened. "Why, Captain, surely you have not come so far for nothing?" he cried. "You must know we cannot give you the eggs."

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