- 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
...and the Conduct of your son was in all ways both heroic and gentlemanly. His Loss must grieve all those who shared in the Privilege of his Acquaintance, and none more so than those honoured to serve alongside him, and to see in him already formed the noble Character of a wise and courageous Officer and a loyal Servant of his Country and King. I pray that you may find some Comfort in the sure Knowledge that he died as he would have lived, valiant, fearing nothing but Almighty God, and certain to find a Place of Honour among those who have sacrificed All for their Nation.
"You wished to see me, sir," Laurence said.
Yongxing completed a final line and set aside his brush without immediately answering; he took a stone seal, resting in a small pool of red ink, and pressed it at the bottom of the page; then folded up the page and laid it to one side, atop another similar sheet, and folded these both into a piece of waxed cloth. "Feng Li," he called.
Laurence started; he had not even noticed the attendant standing in the corner, nondescript in plain robes of dark blue cotton, who now came forward. Feng was a tall fellow but so permanently stooped that all Laurence could see of him was the perfect line running across his head, ahead of which his dark hair was shaven to the skin. He gave Laurence one quick darting glance, mutely curious, then lifted the whole table up and carried it away to the side of the room, not spilling a drop of the ink.
He hurried back quickly with a footrest for Yongxing, then drew back into the corner of the room: plainly Yongxing did not mean to send him away for the interview. The prince sat up erect with his arms resting upon the chair, and did not offer Laurence a seat, though two more chairs stood against the far wall. This set the tone straightaway; Laurence felt his shoulders stiffening even before Yongxing had begun.
"Though you have only been brought along for necessity's sake," Yongxing said coldly, "you imagine that you remain companion to Lung Tien Xiang and may continue to treat him as your property. And now the worst has been realized: through your vicious and reckless behavior, he has come to grave injury."
Laurence pressed his lips together; he did not trust himself to make anything resembling a civilized remark in response. He had questioned his own judgment, both before taking Temeraire into the battle and all through the long following night, remembering the sound of the dreadful impact, and Temeraire's labored and painful breath; but to have Yongxing question it was another matter.
"Is that all?" he said.
Yongxing had perhaps expected him to grovel, or beg forgiveness; certainly this short answer made the prince more voluble with anger. "Are you so lacking in all right principles?" he said. "You have no remorse; you would have taken Lung Tien Xiang to his death as easily as ridden a horse to foundering. You are not to go aloft with him again, and you will keep these low servants of yours away. I will set my own guards around him - "
"Sir," Laurence said, bluntly, "you may go to the devil." Yongxing broke off, looking more taken aback than offended at finding himself interrupted, and Laurence added, "And as for your guards, if any one of them sets foot upon my dragondeck, I will have Temeraire pitch him overboard. Good day."
He made a short bow and did not stay to hear a response, if Yongxing even made one, but turned and went directly from the room. The attendants stared as he went past them and did not this time attempt to block his way; he was forcing his leg to obey his wishes, moving swiftly. He paid for the bravado: by the time he reached his own cabin, at the very other end of the ship's interminable length, his leg had begun to twitch and shudder with every step as if palsied; he was glad to reach the safety of his chair, and to soothe his ruffled temper with a private glass of wine. Perhaps he had spoken intemperately, but he did not regret it in the least; Yongxing should at least know that not all British officers and gentlemen were prepared to bow and scrape to his every tyrannous whim.
As satisfying a resolution as this was, however, Laurence could not help but acknowledge to himself that his defiance was a good deal strengthened by the conviction that Yongxing would never willingly bend on the central, the essential, point of his separation from Temeraire. The Ministry, in Hammond's person, might have something to gain in exchange for all their crawling; for his own part Laurence had nothing of great importance left to lose. This was a lowering thought, and he put down his glass and sat in silent gloom awhile instead, rubbing his aching leg, propped upon a locker. Six bells rang on deck, and faintly he heard the pipe shrilling away, the scrape and clatter of the hands going to their breakfast on the berth deck below, and the smell of strong tea came drifting over from the galley.
Having finished his glass and eased his leg a little, Laurence at last got himself back onto his feet, and he crossed to Riley's cabin and tapped on the door. He meant to ask Riley to station several of the Marines to keep the threatened guards off the deck, and he was startled and not at all pleased to find Hammond already there, sitting before Riley's writing-desk, with a shadow of conscious guilt and anxiety upon his face.
"Laurence," Riley said, after offering him a chair, "I have been speaking with Mr. Hammond, about the passengers," and Laurence noticed that Riley himself was looking tired and anxious. "He has brought to my attention that they have all been keeping belowdecks, since this news about the Indiamen came out. It cannot go on like this for seven months: we must let them come on deck and take the air somehow. I am sure you will not object - I think we must let them walk about the dragondeck, we do not dare put them near the hands."
No suggestion could have possibly been more unwelcome, nor come at a worse moment; Laurence eyed Hammond in mingled irritation and something very near despair; the man already seemed to be possessed of an evil genius for disaster, at least from Laurence's view, and the prospect of a long journey spent suffering one after another of his diplomatic machinations was increasingly grim.
"I am sorry for the inconvenience," Riley said, when Laurence did not immediately reply. "Only I do not see what else is to be done. There surely is no shortage of room?"
This, too, was indisputable; with so few aviators aboard, and the ship's complement so nearly full, it was unfair to ask the sailors to give up any portion of their space, and could only aggravate the tensions, already high. As a practical matter, Riley was perfectly correct, and it was his right as the ship's captain to decide where the passengers might be at liberty; but Yongxing's threat had made the matter a question of principle. Laurence would have liked to unburden himself plainly to Riley, and if Hammond had not been there, he would have done so; as it was -
"Perhaps," Hammond put in, hurriedly, "Captain Laurence is concerned that they might irritate the dragon. May I suggest that we set aside one portion for them, and that plainly demarcated? A cord, perhaps, might be strung; or else paint would do."
"That would do nicely, if you would be so kind as to explain the boundaries to them, Mr. Hammond," Riley said.
Laurence could make no open protest without explanation, and he did not choose to be laying out his actions in front of Hammond, inviting him to comment upon them; not when there was likely nothing to gain. Riley would sympathize - or at least Laurence hoped he would, though abruptly he was less certain; but sympathy or no, the difficulty would remain, and Laurence did not know what else could be done.
He was not resigned; he was not resigned in the least, but he did not mean to complain and make Riley's situation more difficult. "You will also make plain, Mr. Hammond," Laurence said, "that they are none of them to bring small-arms onto the deck, neither muskets nor swords, and in any action they are to go belowdecks at once: I will brook no interference with my crew, or with Temeraire."
"But sir, there are soldiers among them," Hammond protested. "I am sure they would wish to drill, from time to time - "
"They may wait until they reach China," Laurence said.
Hammond followed him out of the cabin and caught him at the door to his own quarters; inside, two ground crewmen had just brought in more chairs, and Roland and Dyer were busily laying plates out upon the cloth: the other dragons' captains were joining Laurence for breakfast before they took their leave. "Sir," Hammond said, "pray allow me a moment. I must beg your pardon for having sent you to Prince Yongxing in such a way, knowing him to be in an intemperate mood, and I assure you I blame only myself for the consequences, and your quarrel; still, I must beg you to be forbearing - "
Laurence listened to this much, frowning, and now with mounting incredulity said, "Are you saying that you were already aware - ? That you made this proposal to Captain Riley, knowing I had forbidden them the deck?"
His voice was rising as he spoke, and Hammond darted his eyes desperately towards the open door of the cabin: Roland and Dyer were staring wide-eyed and interested at them both, not attending to the great silver platters they were holding. "You must understand, we cannot put them in such a position. Prince Yongxing has issued a command; if we defy it openly, we humiliate him before his own - "
"Then he had best learn not to issue commands to me, sir," Laurence said angrily, "and you would do better to tell him so, instead of carrying them out for him, in this underhanded - "
"For Heaven's sake! Do you imagine I have any desire to see you barred from Temeraire? All we have to bargain with is the dragon's refusal to be separated from you," Hammond said, growing heated himself. "But that alone will not get us very far without good-will, and if Prince Yongxing cannot enforce his commands so long as we are at sea, our positions will be wholly reversed in China. Would you have us sacrifice an alliance to your pride? To say nothing," Hammond added, with a contemptible attempt at wheedling, "of any hope of keeping Temeraire."
"I am no diplomat," Laurence said, "but I will tell you, sir, if you imagine you are likely to get so much as a thimbleful of good-will from this prince, no matter how you truckle to him, then you are a damned fool; and I will thank you not to imagine that I may be bought by castles in the air."
Laurence had meant to send Harcourt and the others off in a creditable manner, but his table was left to bear the social burden alone, without any assistance from his conversation. Thankfully he had laid in good stores, and there was some advantage in being so close to the galley: bacon, ham, eggs, and coffee came to the table steaming hot, even as they sat down, along with a portion of a great tunny, rolled in pounded ship's biscuit and fried, the rest of which had gone to Temeraire; also a large dish of cherry preserves, and an even larger of marmalade. He ate only a little, and seized gladly on the distraction when Warren asked him to sketch the course of the battle for them. He pushed aside his mostly untouched plate to demonstrate the maneuvers of the ships and the Fleur-de-Nuit with bits of crumbled bread, the salt-cellar standing for the Allegiance.
The dragons were just completing their own somewhat less-civilized breakfast as Laurence and the other captains came back above to the dragondeck. Laurence was deeply gratified to find Temeraire wide awake and alert, looking much more easy with his bandages showing clean white, and engaged in persuading Maximus to try a piece of the tunny.
"It is a particularly nice one, and fresh-caught this very morning," he said. Maximus eyed the fish with deep suspicion: Temeraire had already eaten perhaps half, but its head had not been removed, and it lay gap-mouthed and staring glassily on the deck. A good fifteen hundred pounds when first taken, Laurence guessed; even half was still impressive.
Less so, however, when Maximus finally bent his head down and took it: the whole bulk made a single bite for him, and it was amusing to see him chewing with a skeptical expression. Temeraire waited expectantly; Maximus swallowed and licked his chops, and said, "It would not be so very bad, I suppose, if there were nothing else handy, but it is too slippery."
Temeraire's ruff flattened with disappointment. "Perhaps one must develop a taste for it. I dare say they can catch you another."
Maximus snorted. "No; I will leave the fish to you. Is there any more mutton, at all?" he asked, peering over at the herdsmaster with interest.
"How many have you et up already?" Berkley demanded, heaving himself up the stairs towards him. "Four? That is enough; if you grow any more, you will never get yourself off the ground."
Maximus ignored this and cleaned the last haunch of sheep out of the slaughtering-tub; the others had finished also, and the herdmaster's mates began pumping water over the dragondeck to sluice away the blood: shortly there was a veritable frenzy of sharks in the waters before the ship.
The William of Orange was nearly abreast of them, and Riley had gone across to discuss the supplies with her captain; now he reappeared on her deck and was rowed back over, while her men began laying out fresh supplies of wooden spars and sailcloth. "Lord Purbeck," Riley said, climbing back up the side, "we will send the launch to fetch over the supplies, if you please."
"Shall we bring them for you instead?" Harcourt asked, calling down from the dragondeck. "We will have to clear Maximus and Lily off the deck in any case; we can just as easily ferry supplies as fly circles."
"Thank you, sir; you would oblige me greatly," Riley said, looking up and bowing, with no evident suspicion: Harcourt's hair was pulled back tightly, the long braid concealed beneath her flying-hood, while her dress coat hid her figure well enough.
Maximus and Lily went aloft, without their crews, clearing room on the deck for the others to make ready; the crews rolled out the harnesses and armor, and began rigging the smaller dragons out, while the two larger flew over to the William of Orange for the supplies. The moment of departure was drawing close, and Laurence limped over to Temeraire's side; he was conscious suddenly of a sharp, unanticipated regret.
"I do not know that dragon," Temeraire said to Laurence, looking across the water at the other transport; there was a large beast sprawled sullenly upon their dragondeck, a stripey brown-and-green, with red streaks on his wings and neck rather like paint: Laurence had never seen the breed before.
"He is an Indian breed, from one of those tribes in Canada," Sutton said, when Laurence pointed out the strange dragon. "I think Dakota, if I am pronouncing the name correctly; I understand he and his rider - they do not use crews over there, you know, only one man to a dragon, no matter the size - were captured raiding a settlement on the frontier. It is a great coup: a vastly different breed, and I understand they are very fierce fighters. They meant to use him at the breeding grounds in Halifax, but I believe it was agreed that once Praecursoris was sent to them, they should send that fellow here in exchange; and a proper bloody-minded creature he looks."
"It seems hard to send him so very far from home, and to stay," Temeraire said, rather low, looking at the other dragon. "He does not look at all happy."
"He would only be sitting in the breeding grounds at Halifax instead of here, and that does not make much difference," Messoria said, stretching her wings out for the convenience of her harness-crewmen, who were climbing over her to get her rigged out. "They are all much alike, and not very interesting, except for the breeding part," she added, with somewhat alarming frankness; she was a much older dragon than Temeraire, being over thirty years of age.
"That does not sound very interesting, either," Temeraire said, and glumly laid himself back down. "Do you suppose they will put me in a breeding ground in China?"
"I am sure not," Laurence said; privately, he was quite determined he would not leave Temeraire to any such fate, no matter what the Emperor of China or anyone else had to say about it. "They would hardly be making such a fuss, if that were all they wanted."
Messoria snorted indulgently. "You may not think it so terrible, anyway, after you have tried it."
"Stop corrupting the morals of the young." Captain Sutton slapped her side good-humoredly, and gave the harness a final reassuring tug. "There, I think we are ready. Good-bye a second time, Laurence," he said, as they clasped hands. "I expect you have had enough excitement to stand you for the whole voyage; may the rest be less eventful."
The three smaller dragons leapt one after another off the deck, Nitidus scarcely even making the Allegiance dip in the water, and flew over to the William of Orange; then Maximus and Lily came back in turns to be rigged-out themselves, and for Berkley and Harcourt to make Laurence their farewells. At last the whole formation was transferred to the other transport, leaving Temeraire alone on the Allegiance once more.
Riley gave the order to make sail directly; the wind coming from east-southeast and not over-strong, even the studdingsails were set, a fine and blooming display of white. William of Orange fired a gun to leeward as they passed, answered in a moment by Riley's order, and a cheer came to them across the water as the two transports drew finally away from one another, slow and majestic.
Maximus and Lily had gone aloft for a frolic, with the energy of young dragons lately fed; they could be seen for a long while chasing one another through the clouds above the ship, and Temeraire kept his gaze on them until distance reduced them to the size of birds. He sighed a little then, and drew his head back down, curling in upon himself. "It will be a long time before we see them again, I suppose," he said.
Laurence put his hand on the sleek neck, silently. This parting felt somehow more final: no great bustle and noise, no sense of new adventure unfolding, only the crew going about their work still subdued, with nothing to be seen but the long blue miles of empty ocean, an uncertain road to a more uncertain destination. "The time will pass more quickly than you expect," he said. "Come, let us have the book again."
- 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