- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
"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.
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.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold