Black Powder War

Chapter 8

"NOW," THARKAY SAID, soft, soft, they were at the palace wall, and the night-guards had just gone past; he flung a grappling-line, and they scrambled up and over: no great trick for a sailor, the stone wall ragged-faced and generous with footholds. In the outer gardens, pleasure-pavilions stood overlooking the sea, and a single great towering column loomed up against the half-moon while they ran across the lawns; then they were safely across the open ground and into the thickets left wild upon the hillside, ivy blanketing scraps of old, old ruins, arches built of brick and columns tumbled onto their sides.

They had another wall to scramble over, but this one, traveling as it did all around the circumference of the vast grounds, was too long to be well-patrolled; then they made their way down to the shores of the Golden Horn, where Tharkay calling softly roused a ferryman to carry them across the span in his little damp boat. The tributary glimmered to match its name even in the darkness, reflections stretching long from window-light and boat lanterns on both of its banks, people taking the air on balconies and terraces, and the sound of music carrying easily over the water.

Laurence would have liked to stop and look over the harbor for some closer detail of the works he had seen the previous day, but Tharkay led him on without a pause away from the dockyards and into the streets, not in the same direction as the embassy, but towards the ancient spire of Galata Tower, standing sentinel upon the hill. A low wall encircled the district around the watch-tower, soft and crumbling and very old, unattended; inside the streets were much quieter; only a handful of coffeehouses owned by Greeks or Italians still lit, small handfuls of men at tables talking in low voices over cups of the sweet-smelling apple tea, and here and there a devoted hookah-smoker gazing out upon the street while the fragrant steam emitted in slow, thin trails from between his lips.

Avraam Maden's house was handsome, wider by twice than its nearest neighbors and framed by broad-spreading trees, established on an avenue with a clear prospect on the old tower. A maid welcomed them, and within were all the signs of prosperity and long residence: carpets old but rich and still bright; portraits upon the walls in gilt frames, of dark-eyed men and women: rather more Spanish than Turkish in character, Laurence would have said.

Maden poured them wine as the maid laid out a platter of thin bread with a dish of paste made from aubergines, very piquant, and another of sweet raisins and dates chopped together with nuts, flavored with red wine. "My family came from Seville," he said, when Laurence mentioned the portraits, "when the King and the Inquisition expelled us; the Sultan was kinder to us."

Laurence hoped he might not have a very dismal meal ahead of him, having some vague impression of restrictions upon the Jewish diet, but the late dinner was more than respectable: a very good leg of lamb, roasted to a turn in the Turkish manner and carved off the spit into thin slices, with new potatoes dressed in their skins and a fragrant glaze of olive oil and strong herbs; and besides a whole fish roasted with peppers and tomatoes, pungent and strongly flavored with the common yellow spice, and a tenderly stewed fowl which no one could have objected to.

Maden, who in his trade often served as a factor for British visitors, spoke excellent English, and his family also; they sat to table five, Maden's two sons being already established in their own homes; besides his wife only his daughter Sara remained at home, a young woman well out of the schoolroom: not yet thirty but old to be unmarried with so good a dowry as Maden seemed able to provide, and her looks and manner were pleasing if in a foreign mode, dark hair and brows striking against fair skin, very like her elegant mother. Seated opposite the guests, she from either modesty or shyness kept her eyes lowered, though she spoke easily enough when addressed, in a self-possessed manner.

Laurence did not broach his urgent inquiries himself, feeling it a species of rudeness, but rather fell back on a description of their journey westward, prompted by his hosts' inquiries; these were polite to begin with, but soon began to be truly curious. Laurence had been raised to consider it a gentleman's duty to make good dinner conversation, and their passage had furnished him with material enough for anecdotes to make it very little burden in the present case. With the ladies present, he made somewhat light of the worst dangers of the sandstorm and the avalanche, and did not speak of their encounter with the horsemen-raiders, but there was interest enough without it.

"And then the wretches lighted on the cattle and were off again without a by-your-leave," he said, finishing ruefully with the account of the ferals' mortifying performance at the city gates, "with that villain Arkady wagging his head at us as he went, and all of us left at a standstill, our mouths hanging open. They went back well-pleased with themselves, I am sure, and as for us, it is of all things wonderful we were not thrown into prison."

"A cold welcome for you after a difficult road," Maden said, amused.

"Yes, a very difficult road," Sara Maden said in her quiet voice, without looking up. "I am glad you all came through in safety."

There was a brief pause in the conversation; then Maden reached out and handed to Laurence the bread-platter, saying, "Well, I hope you are comfortable enough now; at least in the palace you must not be subjected to all this noise we have."

He was referring to the construction in the harbor, evidently a source of much aggrievance. "Who can get anything done with those great beasts overhead?" Mrs. Maden said, shaking her head. "Such a noise they make, and if they were to drop one of those cannon? Terrible creatures; I wish they were not let into civilized places. Not to speak of your dragon, of course, Captain; I am sure he is beautifully behaved," she said hastily, catching herself, and speaking apologetically to Laurence, with some confusion.

"I suppose we sound to you complainers over nothing, Captain," Maden said, coming to her rescue, "when you daily must tend to them at close quarters."

"No, sir," Laurence said, "indeed I found it wonderful to see a flight of dragons in the middle of the city here; we are not permitted to come so near to settled places, in England, and must follow particular courses to navigate overhead in the cities, that we do not distress the populace or the cattle, and even then there is always something of a noise made about our movements. Temeraire has often found it a burdensome stricture. Then is it a new sort of arrangement?"

"Of course," Mrs. Maden said. "I never heard of such a thing before, and I hope I never do again when it is over with. Not a word of warning, either; they appeared one morning as soon as the call to prayer was over; and we were left quaking in our houses all the day."

"One grows accustomed," Maden said, with a philosophical shrug. "It has been a little slow the last two weeks, but the stores are opening again, dragons or no."

"Yes, and none too soon," Mrs. Maden said. "How we are to arrange everything, in less than a month - Nadire," she called to the maid, "give me the wine, please," with only the barest pause, scarcely noticeable.

The little maid came in and handed over the decanter, which stood in easy reach on the sideboard, and whisked herself out again; while the bottle went around, Maden said quietly, while he poured for Laurence, "My daughter is to be married soon." He spoke in a queerly gentle tone, almost apologetic.

An uncomfortable, waiting silence fell, which Laurence did not understand; Mrs. Maden looked down at her plate, biting her lip. Tharkay broke it, lifting his glass, and said to Sara, "I drink to your health and happiness." She raised her dark eyes at last and looked across the table at him. Only for a moment, and then he broke from her gaze, raising the glass between them; but that was long enough.

"My congratulations," Laurence said, to help fill the silence, lifting his glass to her in turn.

"Thank you," she said. There was a little high color in her face, but she inclined her head politely, and her voice did not waver. The silence yet lingered; Sara herself broke it, straightening with a little jerk of her shoulders, and addressed Laurence across the table, a little firmly, "Captain, may I ask you, what has happened to the boys?"

Laurence would have liked to oblige her courage, but was puzzled how to understand the question, until she added, "Were they not from your crew, the boys who looked in on the harem?"

"Oh; I am afraid I must own it," Laurence said, mortified that the story should have somehow traveled so far, and hoping he was not compounding the situation by speaking of such a thing; he would not have thought the harem any fit subject for a young Turkish lady, any more than questions about a demi-mondaine or an opera singer from an English debutante. "They have been well-disciplined for their behavior, I assure you, and there will be no repetition of the event."

"But they were not put to death, then?" she said. "I am glad to hear it; I will be able to reassure the women of the harem; it was all they were talking of, and they indeed hoped the boys would not suffer too greatly."

"Do they go out into society so often, then?" Laurence had always imagined the harem very much in the nature of a prison, and no communication with the outer world permitted.

"Oh, I am kira, business agent, for one of the kadin," Sara said. "Although they do leave the harem on excursions, it is only with a great deal of trouble; no one is allowed to see them, so they must be shut up in coaches, and take many guards, and they must have the Sultan's permission. But being a woman, I can come in to them and go out again freely myself."

"Then I hope I may beg you also to pass on to them my apologies for the intrusion, and those of the young men," Laurence said.

"They would indeed have been better satisfied with a more successful one, of longer duration," she said, with a ghost of amusement, and smiled at Laurence's tinge of embarrassment. "Oh, I do not mean any indiscretion; only they suffer from a great deal of boredom, being permitted little but indolence, and the Sultan is more interested in his reforms than in his favorites."

The meal being done, she rose with her mother and they left the table; she did not look round, but went out of the room tall and straight-shouldered, and Tharkay went to look silently out of the windows, into the garden behind the house.

Maden sighed, soundlessly, and poured more of the strong red wine into Laurence's glass. Sweets were carried in, a platter of marchpane. "I understand you have questions for me, Captain," he said.

He had served Mr. Arbuthnot not only by arranging for Tharkay to carry the message, but also as banker, and, it transpired, had been the foremost agent of the transaction. "You can conceive of the precautions which we arranged," he said. "The gold was not conveyed all at once, but on several heavily escorted vessels, at various intervals, all in chests marked as iron ingots; and brought directly to my vaults until the whole was assembled."

"Sir, to your knowledge were the agreements already signed, before the payment was brought hither?" Laurence asked.

Maden offered his upturned hands, without commitment. "What worth is a contract between monarchs? What judge will rule in such a dispute? But Mr. Arbuthnot thought all was settled. Otherwise, would he have taken risks so great, brought such a sum here? All seemed well, all seemed in order."

"Yet if the sum were never handed over - " Laurence said.

Yarmouth had come with written instructions from the ambassador to arrange the delivery, a few days before the latter's death and the former's disappearance. "I did not for a moment doubt the message, and I knew the ambassador's hand most well; his confidence in Mr. Yarmouth was complete," Maden said. "A fine young man, and soon to be married; always steady. I would not believe any underhanded behavior of him, Captain." But he spoke a little doubtfully, and he did not sound so certain as his words.

Laurence was silent. "And you conveyed the money to him as he asked?"

"To the ambassador's residence," Maden confirmed. "As I understood, it was thence to be delivered directly to the treasury; but the ambassador was killed the following day."

He had receipts, signed; in Yarmouth's hand and not the ambassador's, however. He presented these to Laurence with some discomfort, and after leaving him to look at them a while, said abruptly, "Captain, you have been courteous; but let us speak plainly. This is all the proof which I have: the men who carried the gold are mine, of many years' service, and only Yarmouth received it. A smaller sum, lost in these circumstances, I would return to you out of my own funds rather than lose my reputation."

Laurence had been looking at the receipts under the lamp, closely; indeed in some corner of his mind such doubts might have been blooming. He let the papers fall to the table and walked to the window, angry at himself and all the world. "Good God," he said, low, "what a hellish state to be looking in every direction with suspicion. No." He turned around. "Sir, I beg you not repine on it. I dare say you are a man of parts, but that you should have orchestrated the murder of the British ambassador and the embarrassment of your own nation, I do not believe. And for the rest, Mr. Arbuthnot and not you was responsible for safeguarding our interests in the matter; if he trusted too much to Yarmouth, and was mistaken in his man - " He stopped and shook his head. "Sir, if my question is offensive to you, I beg you say so and I will at once withdraw it; but - Hasan Mustafa, if you know him; is it possible he is involved? Either himself the guilty party, or in - in collusion, if I must contemplate it, with Yarmouth? I am certain he has deliberately lied at least so far as claiming the agreements were not concluded."

"Possible? Anything is possible, Captain; one man dead, another gone, thousands upon thousands of pounds of gold vanished? What is not possible?" Maden passed a hand over his brow tiredly, calming himself, and answered after a moment, "Forgive me. No. No, Captain, I cannot believe it. He and his family are in passionate support of the Sultan's reforms, and the cleansing of the Janissary Corps - his cousin is married to the Sultan's sister, his brother is head of the Sultan's new army. I cannot say he is a man of stainless honor; can any man be so, who is deep in politics? But that he should betray all his own work, and the work of his house? A man may lie a little to save face, or be pleased to snatch at an excuse for escaping a regretted agreement, without being a traitor."

"Yet why ought they regret it? Napoleon is if anything a greater threat to them now than ever he was, and we all the more necessary allies," Laurence said. "The strengthening of our forces over the Channel must be of native value to them, as drawing more of Napoleon's strength away westward."

Maden looked vaguely discomfited, and at Laurence's urging to speak frankly said, "Captain, there is a popular opinion, since Austerlitz, that Napoleon is not to be defeated, and foolish the nation which chooses to be his enemy. I am sorry," he added, seeing Laurence's grim look, "but so it is said in the streets and the coffeehouses; and by the ulema and the vezirs also, I imagine. The Emperor of Austria now sits his throne by Napoleon's sufferance, and all the world knows it. Better never to have fought him at all."

Tharkay bowed to Maden deeply as they were leaving. "Will you be in Istanbul long?" Maden asked him.

"No," Tharkay answered, "I will not come back again."

Maden nodded. "God be with you," he said gently, and stood watching them go.

Laurence was weary, with a more than physical fatigue, and Tharkay utterly withdrawn. They had to wait a while, upon the riverbank, for another ferryman; the wind off the Bosphorus was enough to bring a chill to the air, though the summer weather was yet holding. Laurence roused under the bite of the sea-wind and looked at Tharkay: the man's expression unmoved and unmoving, settled into calm lines and giving no sign of any strong emotion, save perhaps something of a tightness around the mouth, difficult to make out in the lantern-light.

A ferryman at last brought his boat up to the dock; the crossing they accomplished in silence, only the wood-creak and the dipping oars to break it, lopsided and unsteady strokes, the ferryman wheezing, and the water rippling up against the side of the boat; on the far bank the mosques shone from within, candle-light through the stained-glass windows: all the smooth domes together like an archipelago in the dark, and the monumental glory of the Haghia Sophia above them. The ferryman leapt from the boat and held it for them; they climbed up onto the banks into the glimmer of yet another mosque, small only by virtue of comparison; there were gulls flying wildly around the dome, calling in their raucous voices, bellies lit yellow with reflected light.

Too late for merchants, now, even the bazaars and the coffeehouses closed, and too early for the fishermen; the streets were empty as they climbed back towards the palace walls. Perhaps they grew incautious, from the hour or fatigue or distraction; or perhaps it was only ill-fortune; a party of guards had gone by, Tharkay had flung up his grapple; Laurence was at the top of the wall, waiting to offer a hand, with Tharkay halfway up, and abruptly two more guards appeared around the curve of the road, talking quietly together; in a moment they would see him.

Tharkay let go and dropped to the ground, to get his feet under him, as they rushed forward calling; they were already grappling for their swords. One seized his arm; Laurence leapt down upon the other, bore him down in a tumble, and, hooking him by the scruff of the neck, knocked his head against the ground again for good measure, leaving him stunned. Tharkay was sliding a red-washed knife out of the other man's arm, pulling free of his slackened grip; he had Laurence's arm, helping him up, and then they were running down the street together, sprinting, shouts and cries in immediate pursuit.

The noise brought the rest of the guards running back, converging on them out of the rabbit-warren of the streets and alley-ways; the upper floors of the crammedin houses jutted out inquisitively over the streets, and lights were blooming from the latticed windows in their wake, leaving a trail behind them. The uneven cobbles were treacherous; Laurence flung himself skidding past a corner, just avoiding a swinging sword as two of the guards came out of another side-street, nearly catching them.

The pursuit did not quickly give over; Laurence, following blindly after Tharkay up the hillside, felt his lungs squeezing up against the bands of his ribs; they were dodging with some purpose, he thought, he hoped: no time to stop and ask. Tharkay stopped at last by an old house, fallen into ruin, and turned to beckon him in; only the lowest floor remained, open to the sky, and a moldering trap-door to a cellar. But the guards were too close behind; they would be seen, and Laurence resisted, unwilling to be caught in a mouse-hole with no exit.

"Come!" Tharkay said impatiently, flinging back the trap-door, and led the way down, down; down rotted stairs into a cellar of bare earth, very damp, and far in the back yet another door: or rather a doorway, so low Laurence had nearly to bend double to get through it, and leading further below were steps hewn not of wood but stone, round-edged and slimy with age; up from the deep dark came the soft plucking sound of dripping water.

They went down for a long time. Laurence found one hand on the hilt of his sword; the other he kept on the wall, which as they descended suddenly vanished from under his reaching fingers, and his next step went into water ankle-deep. "Where are we?" he whispered, and his voice went a long hollow way off, swallowed up by dark; the water washed the tops of his boots with every stride along the floor.

The first glow of torchlight dawned behind him as the guards came down after them, and he could see a little: a pale column stood not far away, shining wet on its worn pebbled surface, wider than his arms could span; the ceiling too far above to see, and at his knees a few dull greyish fish bumping in blind hunger, their seeking mouths at the surface of the water making little popping sounds. Laurence caught Tharkay's arm and pointed; they struggled against the weight of the water and the mud thickening the floor, and put themselves behind the pillar as the tentative torch-flickers came further down, widening the circle of dim red light.

A gallery of columns yawned away in every direction around them, strange and malformed; some in separate mismatched blocks, piled atop one another like a child's attempts, held together by nothing it seemed but the weight of the city pressing down upon them: a strain for Atlas to bear, not the crumbling brick and ruin of this hollow place, some cathedral hall long buried and forgotten. For all the cold empty vastness of the space, the air felt queer and very close, as though some share of that weight were bearing down on his own shoulders; Laurence could not help but envision the cataclysm of an eventual collapse: the distant vault of the ceiling disintegrating brick by brick, until one day the arches could no longer hold up their heads and all, houses, streets, palace, mosques, the shining domes, came tumbling down, and drowned ten thousand in this waiting charnel-house.

He clenched his shoulders once against the feeling, and tapping Tharkay silently on the arm pointed at the next pillar: the guards were coming into the water, with enough noise to muffle their own movements. The muck of the bottom stirred up in black swirls as they slogged on, keeping in the shadows of the pillars: thick mud and silt crunching beneath his boots, and gleams of picked-clean bone pale through the water. Not all fish: the jutting curve of a jaw-bone showed above the mud, a few teeth still clinging; a green-stained leg bone leaned against the base of a column, as though washed up by some underground tide.

A sort of horror was gripping him at the notion of meeting his own end here, beyond any simple fear of mortality; something hideous at forming one of the nameless uncounted flung down to rot in the dark. Laurence panted through his open mouth, not only for silence, not only to avoid the stench of mildew and corruption; he was bent over nearly at the waist, oppressed, increasingly conscious of a fierce irrational urge to stop, to turn and fight their way back out into the clean open air. He held a corner of his cloak over his mouth and doggedly went on.

The guards were grown more systematic in their pursuit: they ranged themselves in a line stretched the width of the hall, each one with upraised torch illuminating only a small feeble ring, but the edges of these overlapping to make a barrier which their prey could not cross unseen, as good as a fence of iron. They advanced slow but certain in step, chanted out aloud in unison, voices tolling low, chasing the darkness out of its last clung-to corners with reverberation and light. Laurence thought he glimpsed, ahead, the first reflections off the far wall; they were indeed drawing close to the end of the mouse-hole, where there should be no escape but to try and rush the line, and hope they could outdistance the pursuit again; but now with legs wearied and chilled both by trudging through the deep water.

Tharkay had been touching the pillars as he and Laurence dashed now from one to the other trying to keep ahead; he was running his hand along their sides and squinting at their surfaces; at last he stopped at one, and Laurence touching it also found deep carvings cut into the stone all over it, shapes like drops of rain with soapy-wet muck gathered in the ridges: wholly unlike the other unfinished columns. The line of searchers was growing ever closer, yet Tharkay stopped and began to prod at the floor with the toe of his boot; Laurence drew his sword and with mental apology to Temeraire for so insulting the blade began to run it also over the hard stone underneath the muck, until he felt the tip slide abruptly into some kind of shallow channel cut in the floor, less than a foot wide and thoroughly clogged.

Tharkay, feeling around, nodded, and Laurence followed him along the length of the channel, both of them running now as best they could in the knee-high water: the splashing echoes were lost in the inexorable chanting behind them, bir - iki - 锟斤拷ç - dört, repeated so often Laurence began to recognize the counting words. The wall was directly before them now, streaked with shades of green and brown over the thick, flat mortar, and otherwise unbroken; and the channel had stopped as abruptly as it had begun.

But Tharkay turned them: a smaller annex stood off to the side, two pillars holding up its vault, and Laurence nearly jerked back: a staring monstrous face loomed half out of the water at the base of the pillar, one blind stone eye fixed upon them, a dim hellish red. A shout went up: they had been seen.

They fled, and as they ran past the hideous monument, Laurence felt the first thin trickle of moving air upon his face: a draught somewhere near. Together groping over the wall they found the black and narrow opening, hidden from the torches behind a protrusion: stairs half-choked with filth, and the air fetid and swampy; he took reluctant deep gulps of it as they ran up the narrow passage and came crawling out at last through an old rain-gutter, pushing away the crusted iron grate, nearly on hands and knees.

Tharkay was bent double and gasping; with a tremendous effort, Laurence put back the grate, and tore a branch from a low sapling nearby to push through the empty hasp, holding it in place. He caught Tharkay by the arm and they staggered together drunkenly away through the streets; nothing to cause much comment, so long as no one looked closely at the state of their boots and the lower part of their cloaks: the banging upon the grate was already growing distant behind them, and their faces had not been seen, surely; not to put a name to, in that mad pursuit.

They found a place at length where the palace walls were a little lower; and taking more care that they were unobserved this time, Laurence boosted Tharkay up, and with his help in turn managed to scramble somehow up and over. They fell into a graceless and grateful heap some little distance into the grounds, beside an old iron water-fountain half buried in greenery, the water trickling but cold, and they cupped up greedy handfuls of it to their mouths and faces, soaking their clothing without regret: it washed away the stench, a little.

The silence was at first complete, but gradually as the roar of his own heart and lungs slackened, Laurence began to be able to hear more clearly the small noises of the night, the rustling of mice and leaves; the faint and far-off sound of the birds singing in the palace aviary beyond the inner walls; the irregular rasp of Tharkay's knife against his whetstone: he was polishing the blade with slow occasional strokes, to draw no attention.

"I would say something to you," Laurence said quietly, "on matters as they stand between us."

Tharkay paused a moment, and the knife-blade trembled in the light. "Very well," he said, resuming his slow, careful work, "say what you will."

"I spoke earlier today in haste," Laurence said, "and in a manner which I would ordinarily disdain to use to any man in my service. And yet even now I hardly know how I should apologize to you."

"I beg you not to trouble yourself further," Tharkay said coolly, never raising his head, "let it all pass; I promise you I will not repine upon it."

"I have considered what to make of your behavior," Laurence said, paying no mind to this attempt at deflection, "and I cannot make you out; tonight you have not only saved my life, but materially contributed to the progress of our mission. And if I consider only the final consequences of your actions, throughout our expedition, there is hardly any room for complaint; indeed you have rather steadfast brought us through one danger and the next, often at your own peril. But twice now you have abandoned your post, in circumstances fraught with innumerable difficulties, with a secrecy both unnecessary and contrived, leaving us as a consequence adrift and prey to grave anxieties."

"Perhaps it did not occur to me my absence would occasion such dismay," Tharkay said, blandly, and Laurence's temper rose at once to meet this fresh challenge.

"Kindly do not represent yourself to me as a fool," he said. "I could more easily believe you the most brazen traitor who has ever walked the earth, and the most inconsistent besides."

"Thank you; that is a handsome compliment." Tharkay sketched an ironic salute with the knife-point in the air. "But there seems to me little point in disputation, when you will not wish my services much longer regardless."

"Whether for a minute or a month," Laurence said, "still I will have done with these games. I am grateful to you, and if you depart, you will go with my thanks. But if you stay, I will have your promise that you will henceforth abide by my command, and cease this haring-off without leave; I will not have a man in my service whom I doubt, and Tharkay," he added, abruptly sure, "I think you like to be doubted."

Tharkay put down the knife and whetstone; his smile had gone, and his air of mockery. "You may say rather, that I like to know if I am doubted; and you will not be far wrong."

"You have certainly done all you could to ensure it."

"That seems to you I suppose perverse," Tharkay said, "but I have long since been taught that my face and my descent bar me from the natural relations of gentlemen, with no action on my part. And if I am not to be trusted, I would rather provoke a little open suspicion, freely expressed, than meekly endure endless slights and whispers not quite hidden behind my back."

"I too have endured society's whispers, and every one of my officers; we are not in service to those small-minded creatures who like to sneer in corners, but to our country; and that service is a better defense of our honor, in the face of petty insult, than the most violent objections we could make," Laurence said.

Tharkay said passionately, "I wonder if you would speak so if you were forced to endure it wholly alone; if not only society but all those on whom you might justly have a claim of brotherhood looked upon you with that same disdain, your superior officers and your comrades-in-arms; if all hope of independence and advancement were denied you and, as a sop, you were offered the place of a superior servant, somewhere between a valet and a trained dog."

He closed his mouth on anything further, though his customary seeming indifference looked now a mask imperfectly put on, and there was some suggestion of color in his face.

"Am I meant to take these charges as laid to my own account?" Laurence demanded, suffering at once indignation and unease; but Tharkay shook his head.

"No, I beg pardon for my vehemence; the injuries of which I speak are no less bitter for their age." With a ghost of his former wryness he added, "What incivilities you have offered me, I do not deny I have provoked; I have formed a habit of anticipation: amusing, to me at least, if perhaps unjust to my company."

He had said enough that Laurence might without undue speculation imagine the sort of treatment which had driven Tharkay to abandon country and companionship for his present solitary existence, beholden to none and of none, which to Laurence seemed utterly barren, a waste of a man proven worthy of something better; and stretching out his hand he said earnestly, "If you can believe it so in this case, then give me your word, and take mine - I hope I may in safety promise to give no less than full measure of loyalty to any man who gives me his, and I think I would be sorrier to lose you than I yet know."

Tharkay looked at him, a queer uncertain expression briefly crossing his face, then lightly said, "Well, I am set in my ways; but as you are willing to take my word, Captain, I suppose I would be churlish to refuse to offer it," and reached out his hand with a jaunty air; but there was nothing whatsoever insincere about his grip.

"Ugh," Temeraire said, having lifted them both over into the garden, examining with distaste the slimy residue on his foreclaws. "But I do not care if you smell bad, so long as you are back; Granby said you were surely only staying late for dinner, and that I must not go look for you; but you were gone so very long," he added more plaintively, before plunging his forehand into a lily-pond to wash it off.

"We were clumsy about it coming back in and were forced to find a bolt-hole for a little, but as you see all ended well; I am very sorry to have given you cause for anxiety," Laurence said, stripping off his own clothes unceremoniously and going directly into the pond himself; Tharkay was already submerging. "Dyer, take those and my boots and see what you and Roland can do with them; and bring me that damned soap."

"I don't see that it would answer if Yarmouth were guilty," Granby said, when Laurence, scrubbed and in shirtsleeves and breeches, had finished making his report of the dinner. "However would he have transported such a mass of gold? He should have needed to take ship, unless he was mad enough to move it away by caravan."

"He would have been noticed," Tharkay agreed quietly. "By Maden's account the gold needed some hundred chests; and there have been no reports from the caravanserai or the dockyards, of any movement near so large: I spent the morning yesterday in making inquiries. Indeed he would have been hard-pressed to find any transport; half the drovers have been ferrying in supplies for the harbor fortifications, and the other half have been keeping out of the city because of the dragons."

"Could he perhaps have hired a dragon, then?" Laurence asked. "We saw those dragon-traders in the East; do they ever come so far?"

"I have never seen them this side of the Pamirs," Tharkay said. "In the West men will not have them in the cities, so they could get no profit in any case, and as they are thought nothing other than ferals, they would likely be seized upon and thrust into breeding-grounds, if they came."

"It don't signify; he couldn't move gold by dragon, not if he wanted it back again," Granby said. "I don't believe you could give a dragon great heaps of gold and jewels to carry about for days and then ask him to hand it all back."

They had remained in the garden to hold their low-voiced discussion, and Temeraire now observed, in faintly wistful tones, "It does sound like a very great deal of gold," not disputing Granby's remark in the least. "Perhaps he has put it away somewhere in the city?"

"He would have to be part dragon himself, to be satisfied with hoarding so vast a sum, where he could not show his face again to make use of it," Laurence said. "No; he would not have gone to such lengths, if he had no way of taking away the money."

"But you have all finished saying that the gold cannot have been taken away," Temeraire said reasonably. "So it must still be here."

They were silent, and Laurence finally said, "Then what can be the alternative but at least the connivance of the ministers, if not their active involvement? And such an insult, Britain would have to answer; even if they wish an end to our alliance, would they deliberately provoke a war, which surely would cost them a greater sum than this, and in blood as well as gold?"

"They have been damned busy to see to it we should go away thinking it all Yarmouth's fault," Granby pointed out. "We haven't evidence to go to war over."

Tharkay abruptly stood up from the ground, brushing away dust; they had brought out rugs to recline upon, in the Turkish fashion, there being nothing like chairs in the kiosque. Laurence looked over his shoulder and he and Granby scrambled also to their feet: a woman was standing at the far end of their grove, in the shade of the cypresses. She was perhaps the same they had seen before, on the palace grounds; though in the heavy veil there was scarcely any telling one from another.

"You should not be here," Tharkay said, low, when she had come quickly towards them. "Where is your maid?"

"She is waiting for me at the stairs; she will cough if anyone is coming," the woman answered, cool and steady, her dark eyes never leaving his face.

"Your servant, Miss Maden," Laurence said, awkwardly; he did not know what to do. With all the sympathy in the world he could not in honor endorse a clandestine meeting or worse yet an elopement, and then besides he was in her father's debt; but if they asked him for assistance, he wondered how he could refuse. He fell back on formalities, saying, "May I present Temeraire, and my first lieutenant, John Granby?"

Granby with a start made her a not-very-polished leg. "Honored, Miss Maden," he said, pronouncing her name in a querying tone, and glanced puzzled at Laurence; Temeraire peered down at her with more open inquisitiveness after making his own greeting.

"I will not ask again," Tharkay said to her low.

"Let us not speak of what cannot be," she said, drawing her hand out of the deep pocket of her coat; but not to reach out to him, as Laurence first thought. Instead she held it out flat towards them, saying, "I was able to get inside the treasury, for a moment; though most have been melted down, I am afraid," and upon her palm rested unmistakable a single golden sovereign, stamped with the visage of the King.

"You cannot trust these Oriental tyrants," Granby said with pessimism, "and after all, we are as good as calling him a thief and a murderer besides. Like as not he will have your head off."

Temeraire was considerably more sanguine, as he had been permitted to go along, and therefore considered all physical dangers rendered negligible by his presence. "I will like to see the Sultan," he said. "Perhaps he may have some interesting jewels, and then we may at last go home again. Although it is a shame that Arkady and the others are not here to see him."

Laurence, not sharing this last sentiment at all, was himself hopeful for a good outcome; Mustafa had regarded the gold coin grimly, and had listened without even an attempt at counterfeiting surprise to Laurence's cold avowal that it had come to his hand from the treasury.

"No, sir; I will not name you my source," Laurence had said, "but if you like, I will go with you to the treasury now, directly; I rather believe we will find more, if you doubt the provenance of this one."

This proposal Mustafa had refused; and though he had made no admission of guilt, no explanations, he had said abruptly, "I must speak with the Grand Vezir," and gone away again; and in the evening a summons had come: at last they were called to an audience with the Sultan.

"I do not mean to put him to the blush," Laurence added now. "Poor Yarmouth deserves better, God knows, and Arbuthnot himself; but when we have got the eggs back to Britain will be soon enough for the Government to decide how they choose to make them answer for it, and I know damned well what they would say to my taking action in that matter." Indeed, he suspected dismally there would be a great deal said of his actions even in the matter of the eggs. "In any case, I hope we will learn this is indeed some machination of his ministers, of which the Sultan himself knows nothing."

The two Kazilik dragons Bezaid and Sherazde had returned to escort them once again to the meeting with proper ceremony, even though the three of them were scarcely in the air for a moment, only flying over the palace and landing in the great open lawn of the First Court, outside the front gates of the palace. Absurd though it seemed to Laurence to be ushered with such ceremony into a palace where he had slept three nights already, they were set in a row with the Kaziliks before and after, and marched in stately array through the flung-wide bronze gates and into the courtyard standing just before the gorgeously ornamented portico of the Gate of Felicity: in perfect orderly rows along the pathway stood the ranks of the vezirs, their white turbans brilliant in the sunshine, and farther back along the walls the nervous snorting horses of the cavalry in attendance pranced as they walked by.

The Sultan's throne, wide and gold and blazing all over with polished green gemstones, stood upon a gorgeous rug woven of many-colored wool and elaborately patterned with flowers and ornaments; his dress still more magnificent, a robe of marmalade-orange and yellow satin bordered in black over a tunic of blue and yellow silk, with the diamond-encrusted hilt of his dagger showing above his sash; and an aigrette of diamonds around a great square emerald held a tall spray of stiff feathers affixed to the head of his high white turban. Though the courtyard was large and crowded, there was scarcely any noise; the ranked officials did not speak or whisper amongst themselves, or even fidget.

It was an impressive display, calculated with success to impose a certain natural reluctance to break that silence upon any visitor. But as Laurence stepped forward, Temeraire suddenly hissed behind him, the sound carrying and as purely dangerous as the scrape of a sword-blade leaving its scabbard; Laurence, appalled, turned round to look at him in protest, but Temeraire's gaze was fixed to the left: in the shade cast down by the high tower of the Divan, piled upon herself in glittering white coils, Lien lay watching them with her blood-red eyes.

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