- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
THE WIND WAS freshening from the northeast, very cold; Laurence stirred out of his half-sleep and looked up at the stars: only a few hours had passed. He huddled deeper into his blankets by Temeraire's side and tried to ignore the steady ache in his leg. The deck was strangely quiet; under Riley's grim and watchful eye there was scarcely any conversation at all among the remaining crew, though occasionally Laurence could hear indistinct murmurs from the rigging above, men whispering to each other. There was no moon, only a handful of lanterns on deck.
Harris stood up from the gun and turned, grinning wide and gap-toothed, then fell with a look of surprise, his arm and shoulder gone. Macready was knocked down by his falling body; Laurence jerked a knife-long splinter out of his own arm and wiped spattered blood from his face. The pepper-gun was a blasted wreck: the crew of the Fleur-de-Nuit had flung down another bomb even as their dragon fled, and hit the gun dead-on.
A couple of the sailors dragged Harris's body to the side and flung him overboard; no one else had been killed. The world was queerly muffled; Calloway had sent up another pair of fireworks, a great starburst of orange streaks spreading almost over half the sky, but Laurence could hear the explosion only in his left ear.
With the Fleur-de-Nuit thus distracted, Temeraire dropped back down onto the deck, rocking the ship only a little. "Hurry, hurry," he said, ducking his head down beneath the straps as the harness-men scrambled to get him rigged out. "She is very quick, and I do not think the light hurts her as much as it did the other one, the one we fought last fall; there is something different about her eyes." He was heaving for breath, and his wings trembled a little: he had been hovering a great deal, and it was not a maneuver he was accustomed to perform for any length of time.
Sun Kai, who had remained upon deck, observing, did not protest the harnessing; perhaps, Laurence thought bitterly, they did not mind it when it was their own necks at risk. Then he noticed that drops of deep, red-black blood were dripping onto the deck. "Where are you hurt?"
"It is not bad; she only caught me twice," Temeraire said, twisting his head around and licking at his right flank; there was a shallow cut there, and another gouged claw-mark further up on his back.
Twice was a good deal more than Laurence cared for; he snapped at Keynes, who had been sent along with them, as the man was boosted up and began to pack the wound with bandages. "Ought you not sew them up?"
"Nonsense," Keynes said. "He'll do as he is; barely worth calling them flesh wounds. Stop fretting." Macready had regained his feet, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand; he gave the surgeon a dubious look at this reply and glanced at Laurence sidelong, the more so as Keynes continued his work muttering audibly about overanxious captains and mother hens.
Laurence himself was too grateful to object, full of relief. "Are you ready, gentlemen?" he asked, checking his pistols and his sword: this time it was his good heavy cutlass, proper Spanish steel and a plain hilt; he was glad to feel its solid weight under his hand.
"Ready for you, sir," Fellowes said, pulling the final strap tight; Temeraire reached out and lifted Laurence up to his shoulder. "Give her a pull up there; does she hold?" he called, once Laurence was settled and locked on again.
"Well enough," Laurence called back down, having thrown his weight against the stripped-down harness. "Thank you, Fellowes; well done. Granby, send the riflemen to the tops with the Marines, and the rest to repel boarders."
"Very good; and Laurence - " Granby said, clearly meaning to once again encourage him to take Temeraire away from the battle. Laurence cut him short by the expedient of giving Temeraire a quick nudge with his knee. The Allegiance heaved again beneath the weight of his leap, and they were airborne together at last.
The air above the Allegiance was thick with the harsh, sulfurous smoke of the fireworks, like the smell of flintlocks, cloying on his tongue and skin despite the cold wind. "There she is," Temeraire said, beating back aloft; Laurence followed his gaze and saw the Fleur-de-Nuit approaching again from high above: she had indeed recovered very quickly from the blinding light, judging by his previous experience with the breed, and he wondered if perhaps she was some sort of new cross. "Shall we go after her?"
Laurence hesitated; for the sake of keeping Temeraire out of their hands, disabling the Fleur-de-Nuit was of the most urgent necessity, for if the Allegiance was forced to surrender and Temeraire had to attempt a return to shore, she could harry them in the darkness all the way back home. And yet the French frigates could do far more damage to the ship: a raking fire would mean a very slaughter of the men. If the Allegiance were taken, it would be a terrible blow to the Navy and the Corps both: they had no large transports to spare.
"No," he said finally. "Our first duty must be to preserve the Allegiance - we must do something about those frigates." He spoke more to convince himself than Temeraire; he felt the decision was in the right, but a terrible doubt lingered; what was courage in an ordinary man might often be called recklessness in an aviator, with the responsibility for a rare and precious dragon in his hands. It was Granby's duty to be over-cautious, but it did not follow that he was in the wrong. Laurence had not been raised in the Corps, and he knew his nature balked at many of the restraints placed upon a dragon captain; he could not help but wonder if he were consulting his own pride too far.
Temeraire was always enthusiastic for battle; he made no argument, but only looked down at the frigates. "Those ships look much smaller than the Allegiance," Temeraire said doubtfully. "Is she truly in danger?"
"Very great danger; they mean to rake her." Even as Laurence spoke, another of the fireworks went off. The explosion came startlingly near, now that he was aloft on Temeraire's back; he was forced to shield his dazzled eyes with a hand. When the spots at last faded from his eyes, he saw in alarm that the leeward frigate had suddenly club-hauled to come about: a risky maneuver and not one he would himself have undertaken simply for an advantage of position, though in justice he could not deny it had been brilliantly performed. Now the Allegiance had her vulnerable stern wholly exposed to the French ship's larboard guns. "Good God; there!" he said urgently, pointing even though Temeraire could not see the gesture.
"I see her," Temeraire said: already diving. His sides were swelling out with the gathering breath required for the divine wind, the gleaming black hide going drumhide-taut as his deep chest expanded. Laurence could feel a palpable low rumbling echo already building beneath Temeraire's skin, a herald of the destructive power to come.
The Fleur-de-Nuit had made out his intentions: she was coming on behind them. He could hear her wings beating, but Temeraire was the faster, his greater weight not hampering him in the dive. Gunpowder cracked noisily as her riflemen took shots, but their attempts were only guesswork in the dark; Laurence laid himself close to Temeraire's neck and silently willed him to greater speed.
Below them, the frigate's cannon erupted in a great cloud of smoke and fury; flames licked out from the ports and flung an appalling scarlet glow up against Temeraire's breast. A fresh cracking of rifle-fire came from the frigate's decks, and he jerked, sharply, as if struck: Laurence called out his name in anxiety, but Temeraire had not paused in his drive towards the ship: he leveled out to blast her, and the sound of Laurence's voice was lost in the terrible thundering noise of the divine wind.
Temeraire had never before used the divine wind to attack a ship; but in the battle of Dover, Laurence had seen the deadly resonance work against Napoleon's troop-carriers, shattering their light wood. He had expected something similar here: the deck splintering, damage to the yards, perhaps even breaking the masts. But the French frigate was solidly built, with oak planking as much as two feet thick, and her masts and yards were well-secured for battle with iron chains to reinforce the rigging.
Instead the sails caught and held the force of Temeraire's roar: they shivered for a moment, then bulged out full and straining. A score of braces snapped like violin strings, the masts all leaning away; yet still they held, wood and sailcloth groaning, and for a moment Laurence's heart sank: no great damage, it seemed, would be done.
But if part would not yield, then all must perforce bend: even as Temeraire stopped his roaring and went flashing by, the whole ship turned away, driven broadside to the wind, and slowly toppled over onto her side. The tremendous force left her all but on her beam-ends, men hanging loose from the rigging and the rails, their feet kicking in mid-air, some falling into the ocean.
Laurence twisted about to look back towards her as they swept on, Temeraire skimming past, low to the water. VALeRIE was emblazoned in lovingly bright gold letters upon her stern, illuminated by lanterns hung in the cabin windows: now swinging crazily, half overturned. Her captain knew his work: Laurence could hear shouts carrying across the water, and already the men were crawling up onto the side with every sort of sea-anchor in their hands, hawsers run out, ready to try to right her.
But they had no time. In Temeraire's wake, churned up by the force of the divine wind upon the water, a tremendous wave was climbing out of the swell. Slow and high it mounted, as if with some deliberate intent. For a moment all hung still, the ship suspended in blackness, the great shining wall of water blotting out even the night; then, falling, the wave heeled her over like a child's toy, and the ocean quenched all the fire of her guns.
She did not come up again. A pale froth lingered, and a scattered few smaller waves chased the great one and broke upon the curve of the hull, which remained above the surface. A moment only: then it slipped down beneath the waters, and a hail of golden fireworks lit the sky. The Fleur-de-Nuit circled low over the churning waters, belling out in her deep lonely voice, as though unable to understand the sudden absence of the ship.
There was no sound of cheering from the Allegiance, though they must have seen. Laurence himself was silent, dismayed: three hundred men, perhaps more, the ocean smooth and glassy, unbroken. A ship might founder in a gale, in high winds and forty-foot waves; a ship might occasionally be sunk in an action, burnt or exploded after a long battle, run aground on rocks. But she had been untouched, in open ocean with no more than a ten-foot swell and winds of fourteen knots; and now obliterated whole.
Temeraire coughed, wetly, and made a sound of pain; Laurence hoarsely called, "Back to the ship, at once," but already the Fleur-de-Nuit was beating furiously towards them: against the next brilliant flare he could see the silhouettes of the boarders waiting, ready to leap aboard, knives and swords and pistols glittering white along their edges. Temeraire was flying so very awkwardly, labored; as the Fleur-de-Nuit came close, he put on a desperate effort and lunged away, but he was no longer quicker in the air, and he could not get around the other dragon to reach the safety of the Allegiance.
Laurence might almost have let them come aboard, to treat the wound; he could feel the quivering labor of Temeraire's wings, and his mind was full of that scarlet moment, the terrible muffled impact of the ball: every moment aloft now might worsen the injury. But he could hear the shouting voices of the French dragon's crew, full of a grief and horror that required no translation; and he did not think they would accept a surrender.
"I hear wings," Temeraire gasped, voice gone high and thin with pain; meaning another dragon, and Laurence vainly searched the impenetrable night: British or French? The Fleur-de-Nuit abruptly darted at them again; Temeraire gathered himself for another convulsive burst of speed, and then, hissing and spitting, Nitidus was there, beating about the head of the French dragon in a flurry of silver-grey wings: Captain Warren on his back standing in harness and waving his hat wildly at Laurence, yelling, "Go, go!"
Dulcia had come about them on the other side, nipping at the Fleur-de-Nuit's flanks, forcing the French dragon to double back and snap at her; the two light dragons were the quickest of their formation-mates, and though not up to the weight of the big Fleur-de-Nuit, they might harry her a little while. Temeraire was already turning in a slow arc, his wings working in shuddering sweeps. As they closed with the ship, Laurence could see the crew scrambling to clear the dragondeck for him to land: it was littered with splinters and ends of rope, twisted metal; the Allegiance had suffered badly from the raking, and the second frigate was keeping up a steady fire on her lower decks.
Temeraire did not properly land, but half-fell clumsily onto the deck and set the whole ship to rocking; Laurence was casting off his straps before they were even properly down. He slid down behind the withers without a hand on the harness; his leg gave way beneath him as he came down heavily upon the deck, but he only dragged himself up again and staggered half-falling to Temeraire's head.
Keynes was already at work, elbow-deep in black blood; to better give him access, Temeraire was leaning slowly over onto his side under the guidance of many hands, the harness-men holding up the light for the surgeon. Laurence went to his knees by Temeraire's head and pressed his cheek to the soft muzzle; blood soaked warm through his trousers, and his eyes were stinging, blurred. He did not quite know what he was saying, nor whether it made any sense, but Temeraire blew out warm air against him in answer, though he did not speak.
"There, I have it; now the tongs. Allen, stop that foolishness or put your head over the side," Keynes said, somewhere behind his back. "Good. Is the iron hot? Now then; Laurence, he must keep steady."
"Hold fast, dear heart," Laurence said, stroking Temeraire's nose. "Hold as still as ever you may; hold still." Temeraire gave a hiss only, and his breath wheezed in loudly through his red, flaring nostrils; one heartbeat, two, then the breath burst out of him, and the spiked ball rang as Keynes dropped it into the waiting tray. Temeraire gave another small hissing cry as the hot iron was clapped to the wound; Laurence nearly heaved at the scorched, roasting smell of meat.
"There; it is over; a clean wound. The ball had fetched up against the breastbone," Keynes said; the wind blew the smoke clear, and suddenly Laurence could hear the crash and echo of the long guns again, and all the noise of the ship; the world once again had meaning and shape.
Laurence dragged himself up to his feet, swaying. "Roland," he said, "you and Morgan run and see what odds and ends of sailcloth and wadding they may have to spare; we must try and put some padding around him."
"Morgan is dead, sir," Roland said, and in the lantern-light he saw abruptly that her face was tracked with tears, not sweat; pale streaks through grime. "Dyer and I will go."
The two of them did not wait for him to nod, but darted away at once, shockingly small in and among the burly forms of the sailors; he followed after them with his eyes for a moment, and turned back, his face hardening.
The quarterdeck was so thickly slimed with blood that portions shone glossy black as though freshly painted. By the slaughter and lack of destruction in the rigging, Laurence thought the French must have been using canister shot, and indeed he could see some parts of the broken casings lying about on the deck. The French had crammed every man who could be spared into the boats, and there were a great many of those: two hundred desperate men were struggling to come aboard, enraged with the loss of their ship. They were four- and five-deep along the grappling-lines in places, or clinging to the rails, and the British sailors trying to hold them back had all the broad and empty deck behind them. Pistol-shot rang clear, and the clash of swords; sailors with long pikes were jabbing into the mass of boarders as they heaved and pushed.
Laurence had never seen a boarding fight from such a strange, in-between distance, at once near and yet removed; he felt very queer and unsettled, and drew his pistols out for comfort. He could not see many of his crew: Granby missing, and Evans, his second lieutenant, too; down on the forecastle below, Martin's yellow hair shone bright in the lanterns for a moment as he leapt to cut a man off; then he disappeared under a blow from a big French sailor carrying a club.
"Laurence." He heard his name, or at least something like it, strangely drawn out into three syllables more like Lao-ren-tse, and turned to look; Sun Kai was pointing northward, along the line of the wind, but the last burst of fireworks was already fading, and Laurence could not see what he meant to point out.
Above, the Fleur-de-Nuit suddenly gave a roar; she banked sharply away from Nitidus and Dulcia, who were still darting at her flanks, and set off due eastward, flying fast, vanishing very quickly into the darkness. Almost on her heels came the deep belly-roar of a Regal Copper, and the higher shrieks of Yellow Reapers: the wind of their passage set all the shrouds snapping back and forth as they swept overhead, firing flares off in every direction.
The remaining French frigate doused her lights all at once, hoping to escape into the night, but Lily led the formation past her, low enough to rattle her masts; two passes, and in a fading crimson starburst Laurence saw the French colors slowly come drooping down, while all across the deck the boarders flung down their weapons and sank to the deck in surrender.
- 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