Dark Hunger

Chapter 6


Chapter 6

THE WEATHER HELD clear for the first brief stage of their journey, with that peculiar winter cleanliness: the water very dark, the sky cloudless, and the air gradually warming as they continued the journey southward. A brisk, busy time, replacing the damaged yards and hanging the sails fresh, so that their pace daily increased as they restored the ship to her old self. They saw only a couple of small merchantmen in the distance, who gave them a wide berth, and once high overhead a courier-dragon going on its rounds with dispatches: certainly a Greyling, one of the long-distance fliers, but too far away for even Temeraire to recognize if it was anyone they knew.

The Chinese guards had appeared promptly at dawn, the first day after the arrangement, a broad stripe of paint having marked off a section of the larboard dragondeck; despite the absence of any visible weapons they did indeed stand watch, as formal as Marines on parade, in shifts of three. The crew were by now well aware of the quarrel, which had taken place near enough the stern windows to be overheard on deck, and were naturally inclined to be resentful of the guards' presence, and still more so of the senior members of the Chinese party, who were one and all eyed darkly, without distinction.

Laurence however was beginning to discern some individual traces among them, at least those who chose to come on deck. A few of the younger men showed some real enthusiasm for the sea, standing near the larboard end of the deck to best enjoy the spray as the Allegiance plowed onwards. One young fellow, Li Honglin, was particularly adventurous, going so far as to imitate the habits of some of the midshipmen and hang off the yards despite his unsuitable clothes: the skirts of his half-robe looked likely to entangle with the ropes, and his short black boots had soles too thick to have much purchase on the edge of the deck, unlike the bare feet or thin slippers of the sailors. His compatriots were much alarmed each time he tried it, and urged him back onto the deck loudly and with urgent gestures.

The rest took the air more sedately, and stayed well back from the edges; they often brought up low stools to sit upon, and spoke freely among themselves in the strange rise-and-fall of their language, which Laurence could not so much as break into sentences; it seemed wholly impenetrable to him. But despite the impossibility of direct conversation, he quickly came to feel that most of the attendants had no strong hostility of their own towards the British: uniformly civil, at least in expression and gesture, and usually making polite bows as they came and went.

They omitted such courtesies only on those occasions when they were in Yongxing's company: at such times, they followed his practice, and neither nodded nor made any gesture at all towards the British aviators, but came and went as if there were no other people at all aboard. But the prince came on deck infrequently; his cabin with its wide windows was spacious enough he did not need to do so for exercise. His main purpose seemed to be to frown and to look over Temeraire, who did not benefit from these inspections, as he was almost always asleep: still recovering from his wound, he was as yet napping nearly all the day, and lay oblivious, now and again sending a small rumble through the deck with a wide and drowsy yawn, while the life of the ship went on unheeded about him.

Liu Bao did not even make brief visits such as these, but remained closeted in his apartments: permanently, as far as any of them could tell; no one had seen so much of him as the tip of his nose since his first coming aboard, though he was quartered in the cabin under the poop deck, and had only to open his front door and step outside. He did not even leave to go down below to take meals or consult with Yongxing, and only a few servants trotted back and forth between his quarters and the galley, once or twice a day.

Sun Kai, by contrast, scarcely spent a moment of daylight indoors; he took the air after every meal and remained on deck for long stretches at a time. On those occasions when Yongxing came above, Sun Kai always bowed formally to the prince, and then kept himself quietly to one side, set apart from the retinue of servants, and the two of them did not much converse. Sun Kai's own interest was centered upon the life of the ship, and her construction; and he was particularly fascinated by the great-gun exercises.

These, Riley was forced to curtail more than he would have liked, Hammond having argued that they could not be disturbing the prince regularly; so on most days the men only ran out the guns in dumb-show, without firing, and only occasionally engaged in the thunder and crash of a live exercise. In either case, Sun Kai always appeared promptly the moment the drum began to beat, if he were not already on deck at the time, and watched the proceedings intently from start to finish, not flinching even at the enormous eruption and recoil. He was careful to place himself so that he was not in the way, even as the men came racing up to the dragondeck to man its handful of guns, and by the second or third occasion the gun-crews ceased to pay him any notice.

When there was no exercise in train, he studied the nearby guns at close range. Those upon the dragondeck were the short-barreled carronades, great forty-two-pound smashers, less accurate than the long guns but with far less recoil, so they did not require much room; and Sun Kai was fascinated by the fixed mounting in particular, which allowed the heavy iron barrel to slide back and forth along its path of recoil. He did not seem to think it rude to stare, either, as the men went about their work, aviators and sailors alike, though he could not have understood a word of what they were saying; and he studied the Allegiance herself with as much interest: the arrangement of her masts and sails, and with particular attention to the design of her hull. Laurence saw him often peering down over the edge of the dragondeck at the white line of the keel, and making sketches upon the deck in an attempt to outline her construction.

Yet for all his evident curiosity, he had a quality of deep reserve which went beyond the exterior, the severity of his foreign looks; his study was somehow more intense than eager, less a scholar's passion than a matter of industry and diligence, and there was nothing inviting in his manner. Hammond, undaunted, had already made a few overtures, which were received with courtesy but no warmth, and to Laurence it seemed almost painfully obvious that Sun Kai was not welcoming: not the least change of emotion showed on his face at Hammond's approach or departure, no smiles, no frowns, only a controlled, polite attention.

Even if conversation had been possible, Laurence did not think he could bring himself to intrude, after Hammond's example; though Sun Kai's study of the ship would certainly have benefited from some guidance, and thus offered an ideal subject of conversation. But tact forbade it as much as the barrier of language, so for the moment, Laurence contented himself with observation.

At Madeira, they watered and repaired their supplies of livestock from the damage which the formation's visit had done them, but did not linger in port. "All this shifting of the sails has been to some purpose - I am beginning to have a better notion of what suits her," Riley said to Laurence. "Would you mind Christmas at sea? I would be just as happy to put her to the test, and see if I can bring her up as far as seven knots."

They sailed out of Funchal roads majestically, with a broad spread of sail, and Riley's jubilant air announced his hopes for greater speed had been answered even before he said, "Eight knots, or nearly; what do you say to that?"

"I congratulate you indeed," Laurence said. "I would not have thought it possible, myself; she is going beyond anything." He felt a curious kind of regret at their speed, wholly unfamiliar. As a captain he had never much indulged in real cracking on, feeling it inappropriate to be reckless with the King's property, but like any seaman he liked his ship to go as well as she could. He would ordinarily have shared truly in Riley's pleasure, and never looked back at the smudge of the island receding behind them.

Riley had invited Laurence and several of the ship's officers to dine, in a celebratory mood over the ship's newfound speed. As if for punishment, a brief squall blew up from nowhere during the meal, while only the hapless young Lieutenant Beckett was standing watch: he could have sailed around the world six times without a pause if only ships were to be controlled directly by mathematical formulae, and yet invariably managed to give quite the wrong order in any real weather. There was a mad rush from the dinner table as soon as the Allegiance first pitched beneath them, putting her head down and protesting, and they heard Temeraire make a startled small roar; even so, the wind nearly carried away the mizzentop-gallant sail before Riley and Purbeck could get back on deck and put things to rights.

The storm blew away as quickly as it had come, the hurrying dark clouds leaving the sky washed shell-pink and blue behind them; the swell died to a comfortable height, a few feet, which the Allegiance scarcely noticed; and while there was yet enough light to read by on the dragondeck, a party of the Chinese came up on deck: several servants first maneuvering Liu Bao out through his door, trundling him across the quarterdeck and forecastle, and then at last up to the dragondeck. The older envoy was greatly altered from his last appearance, having shed perhaps a stone in weight and gone a distinctly greenish shade under his beard and pouched cheeks, so visibly uncomfortable that Laurence could not help but be sorry for him. The servants had brought a chair for him; he was eased into it and his face turned into the cool wet wind, but he did not look at all as though he were improving, and when another of the attendants tried to offer him a plate of food, he only waved it away.

"Do you suppose he is going to starve to death?" Temeraire inquired, more in a spirit of curiosity than concern, and Laurence answered absently, "I hope not; though he is old to be taking to sea for the first time," even as he sat up and beckoned. "Dyer, go down to Mr. Pollitt and ask if he would be so good as to step up for a moment."

Shortly Dyer came back with the ship's surgeon puffing along behind him in his awkward way; Pollitt had been Laurence's own surgeon in two commands, and did not stand on ceremony, but heaved himself into a chair and said, "Well, now, sir; is it the leg?"

"No, thank you, Mr. Pollitt; I am improving nicely; but I am concerned for the Chinese gentleman's health." Laurence pointed out Liu Bao, and Pollitt, shaking his head, opined that if he went on losing weight at such a pace, he should scarcely reach the equator. "I do not suppose they know any remedies for sea-sickness of this virulent sort, not being accustomed to long voyages," Laurence said. "Would you not make up some physic for him?"

"Well, he is not my patient, and I would not like to be accused of interference; I do not suppose their medical men take any kinder view of it than do we," Pollitt said apologetically. "But in any case, I think I should rather prescribe a course of ship's biscuit. There is very little offense any stomach can take at biscuit, I find, and who knows what sort of foreign cookery he has been teasing himself with. A little biscuit and perhaps a light wine will set him up properly again, I am sure."

Of course the foreign cookery was native to Liu Bao, but Laurence saw nothing to argue with in this course of action, and later that evening sent over a large packet of biscuit, picked-over by a reluctant Roland and Dyer to remove the weevils, and the real sacrifice, three bottles of a particular sprightly Riesling: very light, indeed almost airy, and purchased at a cost of 6s., 3d. apiece from a Portsmouth wine-merchant.

Laurence felt a little odd in making the gesture; he hoped he would have done as much in any case, but there was more calculation in it than he had ever been used to make, and there was just a shade of dishonesty, a shade of flattery to it, which he could not entirely like, or approve of in himself. And indeed he felt some general qualms about any overture at all, given the insult of the confiscation of the East India Company ships, which he had no more forgotten than any of the sailors who still watched the Chinese with sullen dislike.

But he excused himself to Temeraire privately that night, having seen his offering delivered into Liu Bao's cabin. "After all, it is not their fault personally, any more than it would be mine if the King were to do the same to them. If Government makes not a sound over the matter, they can hardly be blamed for treating it so lightly: they at least have not made the slightest attempt at concealing the incident, nor been dishonest in the least."

Even as he said it, he was still not quite satisfied. But there was no other choice; he did not mean to be sitting about doing nothing, nor could he rely upon Hammond: skill and wit the diplomat might possess, but Laurence was by now convinced that there was no intention, on his part, of expending much effort to keep Temeraire; to Hammond the dragon was only a bargaining-chip. There was certainly no hope of persuading Yongxing, but so far as the other members of the embassy might be won over, in good faith, he meant to try, and if the effort should tax him in his pride, that was small sacrifice.

It proved worthwhile: Liu Bao crept from his cabin again the next day, looking less wretched, and by the subsequent morning was well enough to send for the translator, and ask Laurence to come over to their side of the deck and join him: some color back in his face, and much relief. He had also brought along one of the cooks: the biscuits, he reported, had worked wonders, taken on his own physician's recommendation with a little fresh ginger, and he was urgent to know how they might be made.

"Well, they are mostly flour and a bit of water, but I cannot tell you anything more, I am afraid," Laurence said. "We do not bake them aboard, you see; but I assure you we have enough in the bread-room to last you twice around the world, sir."

"Once has been more than enough for me," Liu Bao said. "An old man like me has no business going so far away from home and being tossed around on the waves. Since we came on this ship, I have not been able to eat anything, not even a few pancakes, until those biscuits! But this morning I was able to have some congee and fish, and I was not sick at all. I am very grateful to you."

"I am happy to have been of service, sir; indeed you look much improved," Laurence said.

"That is very polite, even if it is not very truthful," Liu Bao said. He held out his arm ruefully and shook it, the robe hanging rather loose. "I will take some fattening up to look like myself again."

"If you feel equal to it, sir, may I invite you to join us for dinner tomorrow evening?" Laurence asked, thinking this overture, though barely, enough encouragement to justify the invitation. "It is our holiday, and I am giving a dinner for my officers; you would be very welcome, and any of your compatriots who might wish to join you."

This dinner proved far more successful than the last. Granby was still laid up in the sick-berth, forbidden rich food, but Lieutenant Ferris was bent on making the most of his opportunity to impress and in any direction which offered. He was a young officer and energetic, very lately promoted to Temeraire's captain of topmen on account of a fine boarding engagement he had led at Trafalgar. In ordinary course it would have been at least another year and more likely two or three before he could hope to become a second lieutenant in his own right, but with poor Evans sent home, he had stepped into his place as acting-second, and plainly hoped to keep the position.

In the morning, Laurence with some amusement overheard him sternly lecturing the midwingmen on the need to behave in a civilized manner at table, and not sit around like lumps. Laurence suspected that he even primed the junior officers with a handful of anecdotes, as occasionally during the meal he glared significantly at one or the other of the boys, and the target would hastily gulp his wine and start in on a story rather improbable for an officer of such tender years.

Sun Kai accompanied Liu Bao, but as before had the air of an observer rather than a guest. But Liu Bao displayed no similar restraint and had plainly come ready to be pleased, though indeed it would have been a hard man who could have resisted the suckling pig, spit-roasted since that morning and glowing under its glaze of butter and cream. They neither of them disdained a second helping, and Liu Bao was also loud in his approval of the crackling-brown goose, a handsome specimen acquired specially for the occasion at Madeira and still smug and fat at the time of its demise, unlike the usual poultry to be had at sea.

The civil exertions of the officers had an effect also, as stumbling and awkward as some of the younger fellows were about it; Liu Bao had a generous laugh easily provoked, and he shared many amusing stories of his own, mostly about hunting misadventures. Only the poor translator was unhappy, as he had a great deal of work scurrying back and forth around the table, alternately putting English into Chinese and then the reverse; almost from the beginning, the atmosphere was wholly different, and wholly amiable.

Sun Kai remained quiet, listening more than speaking, and Laurence could not be sure he was enjoying himself; he ate still in an abstemious fashion and drank very little, though Liu Bao, himself not at all lacking in capacity, would good-naturedly scold him from time to time, and fill his glass again to the brim. But after the great Christmas pudding was ceremoniously borne out, flickering blue with brandied flames, to shared applause, to be dismantled, served, and enjoyed, Liu Bao turned and said to him, "You are being very dull tonight. Here, sing 'The Hard Road' for us, that is the proper poem for this journey!"

For all his reserve, Sun Kai seemed quite willing to oblige; he cleared his throat and recited:

"Pure wine costs, for the golden bowl, ten thousand coppers a flagon,

And a jade platter of dainty food calls for a million coins.

I fling aside my bowl and meat, I cannot eat or drink...

I raise my talons to the sky, I peer four ways in vain.

I would cross the Yellow River, but ice takes hold of my limbs;

I would fly above the Tai-hang Mountains, but the sky is blind with snow.

I would sit and watch the golden carp, lazy by a brook -

But I suddenly dream of crossing the waves, sailing for the sun...

Journeying is hard,

Journeying is hard.

There are many turnings -

Which am I to follow?

I will mount a long wind some day and break the heavy bank of clouds,

And set my wings straight to bridge the wide, wide sea."

If there was any rhyme or meter to the piece, it vanished in the translation, but the content the aviators uniformly approved and applauded. "Is it your own work, sir?" Laurence asked with interest. "I do not believe I have ever heard a poem from the view of a dragon."

"No, no," Sun Kai said. "It is one of the works of the honored Lung Li Po, of the Tang Dynasty. I am only a poor scholar, and my verses are not worthy of being shared in company." He was perfectly happy, however, to give them several other selections from classical poets, all recited from memory, in what seemed to Laurence a prodigious feat of recall.

All the guests rolled away at last on the most harmonious of terms, having carefully avoided any discussion of British and Chinese sovereignty regarding either ships or dragons. "I will be so bold as to say it was a success," Laurence said afterwards, sipping coffee upon the dragondeck while Temeraire ate his sheep. "They are not so very stiff-necked in company, after all, and I can call myself really satisfied with Liu Bao; I have been in many a ship where I should have been grateful to dine with as good company."

"Well, I am glad you had a pleasant evening," Temeraire said, grinding thoughtfully upon the leg bones. "Can you say that poem over again?"

Laurence had to canvass his officers to attempt to reconstruct the poem; they were still at it the next morning, when Yongxing came up to take the air, and listened to them mangling the translation; after they had made a few attempts, he frowned and then turned to Temeraire, and himself recited the poem.

Yongxing spoke in Chinese, without translation; but nevertheless, after a single hearing, Temeraire was able to repeat the verses back to him in the same language, with not the least evidence of difficulty. It was not the first time that Laurence had been surprised by Temeraire's skill with language: like all dragons, Temeraire had learned speech during the long maturity in the shell, but unlike most, he had been exposed to three different tongues, and evidently remembered even what must have been his earliest.

"Laurence," Temeraire said, turning his head towards him with excitement, after exchanging a few more words in Chinese with Yongxing, "he says that it was written by a dragon, not a man at all."

Laurence, still taken aback to find that Temeraire could speak the language, blinked yet again at this intelligence. "Poetry seems an odd sort of occupation for a dragon, but I suppose if other Chinese dragons like books as well as you do, it is not so surprising one of them should have tried his hand at verse."

"I wonder how he wrote it," Temeraire said thoughtfully. "I might like to try, but I do not see how I would ever put it down; I do not think I could hold a pen." He raised his own foreleg and examined the five-fingered claw dubiously.

"I would be happy to take your dictation," Laurence said, amused by the notion. "I expect that is how he managed."

He thought nothing more of it until two days later, when he came back on deck grim and worried after sitting a long while again in the sick-berth: the stubborn fever had recurred, and Granby lay pale and half-present, his blue eyes wide and fixed sightlessly upon the distant recesses of the ceiling, his lips parted and cracked; he took only a little water, and when he spoke his words were confused and wandering. Pollitt would give no opinion, and only shook his head a little.

Ferris was standing anxiously at the bottom of the dragondeck stairs, waiting for him; and at his expression Laurence quickened his still-limping pace. "Sir," Ferris said, "I did not know what to do; he has been talking to Temeraire all morning, and we cannot tell what he is saying."

Laurence hastened up the steps and found Yongxing seated in an armchair on the deck and conversing with Temeraire in Chinese, the prince speaking rather slowly and loudly, enunciating his words, and correcting Temeraire's own speech in return; he had also brought up several sheets of paper, and had painted a handful of their odd-looking characters upon them in large size. Temeraire indeed looked fascinated; his attention was wholly engaged, and the tip of his tail was flicking back and forth in mid-air, as when he was particularly excited.

"Laurence, look, that is 'dragon' in their writing," Temeraire said, catching sight of him and calling him forward: Laurence obediently stared at the picture, rather blankly; to him it looked like nothing more than the patterns sometimes left marked on a sandy shore after a tide, even when Temeraire had pointed out the portion of the symbol which represented the dragon's wings, and then the body.

"Do they only have a single letter for the entire word?" Laurence said, dubiously. "How is it pronounced?"

"It is said lung," Temeraire said, "like in my Chinese name, Lung Tien Xiang, and tien is for Celestials," he added, proudly, pointing to another symbol.

Yongxing was watching them both, with no very marked outward expression, but Laurence thought perhaps a suggestion of triumph in his eyes. "I am very glad you have been so pleasantly occupied," Laurence said to Temeraire, and, turning to Yongxing, made a deliberate bow, addressing him without invitation. "You are very kind, sir, to take such pains."

Yongxing answered him stiffly, "I consider it a duty. The study of the classics is the path to understanding."

His manner was hardly welcoming, but if he chose to ignore the boundary and speak with Temeraire, Laurence considered it the equivalent of a formal call, and himself justified in initiating conversation. Whether or not Yongxing privately agreed, Laurence's forwardness did not deter him from future visits: every morning now began to find him upon the deck, giving Temeraire daily lessons in the language and offering him further samples of Chinese literature to whet his appetite.

Laurence at first suffered only irritation at these transparent attempts at enticement; Temeraire looked much brighter than he had since parting from Maximus and Lily, and though he might dislike the source, Laurence could not begrudge Temeraire the opportunity for so much new mental occupation, when he was as yet confined to the deck by his wound. As for the notion that Temeraire's loyalty would be swayed by any number of Oriental blandishments, Yongxing might entertain such a belief if he liked; Laurence had no doubts.

But he could not help but feel a rather sinking sensation as the days went on and Temeraire did not tire of the subject; their own books were now often neglected in favor of recitation of one or another piece of Chinese literature, which Temeraire liked to get by rote, as he could not write them down or read them. Laurence was well aware he was nothing like a scholar; his own notion of pleasant occupation was to spend an afternoon in conversation, perhaps writing letters or reading a newspaper when one not excessively out of date could be had. Although under Temeraire's influence he had gradually come to enjoy books far more than he had ever imagined he could, it was a good deal harder to share Temeraire's excitement over works in a language he could not make head or tail of himself.

He did not mean to give Yongxing the satisfaction of seeing him at all discomfited, but it did feel like a victory for the prince at his own expense, particularly on those occasions when Temeraire mastered a new piece and visibly glowed under Yongxing's rare and hard-won praise. Laurence worried, also, that Yongxing seemed almost surprised by Temeraire's progress, and often especially pleased; Laurence naturally thought Temeraire remarkable among dragons, but this was not an opinion he desired Yongxing to share: the prince scarcely needed any additional motive to try and take Temeraire away.

As some consolation, Temeraire was constantly shifting into English, that he might draw Laurence in; and Yongxing had perforce to make polite conversation with him or risk losing what advantage he had gained. But while this might be satisfying in a petty sort of way, Laurence could not be said to enjoy these conversations much. Any natural kinship of spirit must have been inadequate in the face of so violent a practical opposition, and they would scarcely have been inclined towards one another in any case.

One morning Yongxing came on deck early, with Temeraire still sleeping; and while his attendants brought out his chair and draped it, and arranged for him the scrolls which he meant to read to Temeraire that day, the prince came to the edge of the deck to gaze out at the ocean. They were in the midst of a lovely stretch of blue-water sailing, no shore in sight and the wind coming fresh and cool off the sea, and Laurence was himself standing in the bows to enjoy the vista: dark water stretching endless to the horizon, occasional little waves overlapping one another in a white froth, and the ship all alone beneath the curving bowl of the sky.

"Only in the desert can one find so desolate and uninteresting a view," Yongxing said abruptly; as Laurence had been on the point of offering a polite remark about the beauty of the scene, he was left dumb and baffled, and still more so when Yongxing added, "You British are forever sailing off to some new place; are you so discontented with your own country?" He did not wait for an answer, but shook his head and turned away, leaving Laurence again confirmed in his belief that he could hardly have found a man less in sympathy with himself on any point.

Temeraire's shipboard diet would ordinarily have been mostly fish, caught by himself; Laurence and Granby had planned on it in their calculations of supply, cattle and sheep intended for variety's sake, and in case of bad weather which might keep Temeraire confined to the ship. But barred from flying because of his wound, Temeraire could not hunt, and so he was consuming their stores at a far more rapid pace than they had originally counted upon.

"We will have to keep close to the Saharan coastline in any case, or risk being blown straight across to Rio by the trade winds," Riley said. "We can certainly stop at Cape Coast to take on supplies." This was meant to console him; Laurence only nodded and went away.

Riley's father had plantations in the West Indies, and several hundred slaves to work them, while Laurence's own father was a firm supporter of Wilberforce and Clarkson, and had made several very cutting speeches in the Lords against the trade, on one occasion even mentioning Riley's father by name in a list of slave-holding gentlemen who, as he had mildly put it, "disgrace the name of Christian, and blight the character and reputation of their country."

The incident had made a coolness between them at the time: Riley was deeply attached to his father, a man of far greater personal warmth than Lord Allendale, and naturally resented the public insult. Laurence, while lacking a particularly strong degree of affection for his own father and angry to be put in so unhappy a position, was yet not at all willing to offer any sort of apology. He had grown up with the pamphlets and books put out by Clarkson's committee all about the house, and at the age of nine had been taken on a tour of a former slave-ship, about to be broken up; the nightmares had lingered afterwards for several months, and made upon his young mind a profound impression. They had never made peace on the subject but only settled into a truce; they neither of them mentioned the subject again, and studiously avoided discussing either parent. Laurence could not now speak frankly to Riley about how very reluctant he was to put in at a slave port, though he was not at all easy in his mind at the prospect.

Instead he privately asked Keynes whether Temeraire was not healing well, and might be permitted short flights again, for hunting. "Best not," the surgeon said, reluctantly; Laurence looked at him sharply, and at last drew from Keynes the admission that he had some concern: the wound was not healing as he would like. "The muscles are still warm to the touch, and I believe I feel some drawn flesh beneath the hide," Keynes said. "It is far too soon to have any real concern; however, I do not intend to take any risks: no flying, for at least another two weeks."

So by this conversation Laurence merely gained one additional source of private care. There were sufficient others already, besides the shortage of food and the now-unavoidable stop at Cape Coast. With Temeraire's injury as well as Yongxing's steadfast opposition precluding any work aloft, the aviators had been left almost entirely idle, while at the same time the sailors had been particularly busy with repairing the damage to the ship and making her stores, and a host of not unpredictable evils had followed.

Thinking to offer Roland and Dyer some distraction, Laurence had called the two of them up to the dragondeck shortly before the arrival in Madeira, to examine them in their schoolwork. They had stared at him with such guilty expressions that he was not surprised to find they had neglected their studies entirely since having become his runners: very little notion of arithmetic, none at all of the more advanced mathematics, no French whatsoever, and when he handed them Gibbon's book, which he had brought to the deck meaning to read to Temeraire later, Roland stuttered so over the words that Temeraire put back his ruff and began to correct her from memory. Dyer was a little better off: when quizzed, he at least had his multiplication tables mostly by heart, and some sense of grammar; Roland stumbled over anything higher than eight and professed herself surprised to learn that speech even had parts. Laurence no longer wondered how he would fill their time; he only reproached himself for having been so lax about their schooling, and set about his newly self-appointed task as their schoolmaster with a will.

The runners had always been rather pets of the entire crew; since Morgan's death, Roland and Dyer had been cosseted still more. Their daily struggles with participles and division were now looked on by the other aviators with great amusement, but only until the Allegiance's midshipmen made some jeering noises. Then the ensigns took it on themselves to repay the insult, and a few scuffles ensued in dark corners of the ship.

At first, Laurence and Riley entertained themselves by a comparison of the wooden excuses which were offered them for the collection of black eyes and bleeding lips. But the petty squabbling began to take a more ominous shape when older men started to present similar excuses: a deeper resentment on the sailors' part, founded in no small part in the uneven balance of labor and their fear of Temeraire, was finding expression in the near-daily exchange of insults, no longer even touching upon Roland and Dyer's studies. In their turn, the aviators had taken a reciprocal offense at the complete lack of gratitude that seemed to them due to Temeraire's valor.

The first true explosion occurred just as they began to make the turn eastward, past Cape Palmas, and headed towards Cape Coast. Laurence was drowsing on the dragondeck, sheltered by the shadow of Temeraire's body from the direct force of the sun; he did not see himself what had happened, but he was roused by a heavy thump, sudden shouts and cries, and climbing hurriedly to his feet saw the men in a ring. Martin was gripping Blythe, the armorer's mate, by the arm; one of Riley's officers, an older midshipman, was stretched out on the deck, and Lord Purbeck was shouting from the poop deck, "Set that man in irons, Cornell, straightaway."

Temeraire's head came straight up, and he roared: not raising the divine wind, thankfully, but he made a great and thundering noise nonetheless, and the men all scattered back from it, many with pale faces. "No one is putting any of my crew in prison," Temeraire said angrily, his tail lashing the air; he raised himself and spread wide his wings, and the whole ship shivered: the wind was blowing out from the Saharan coast, abaft the beam, the sails close-hauled to keep them on their southeast course, and Temeraire's wings were acting as an independent and contrary sail.

"Temeraire! Stop that at once; at once, do you hear me?" Laurence said sharply; he had never spoken so, not since the first weeks of Temeraire's existence, and Temeraire dropped down in surprise, his wings furling in tight on instinct. "Purbeck, you will leave my men to me, if you please; stand down, master-at-arms," Laurence said, snapping orders quickly: he did not mean to allow the scene to progress further, nor turn into some open struggle between the aviators and seamen. "Mr. Ferris," he said, "take Blythe below and confine him."

"Yes, sir," Ferris said, already shoving through the crowd, and pushing the aviators back around him, breaking up the knots of angry men even before he reached Blythe.

Watching the progress with hard eyes, Laurence added, loudly, "Mr. Martin, to my cabin at once. Back to your work, all of you; Mr. Keynes, come here."

He stayed another moment, but he was satisfied: the pressing danger had been averted. He turned from the rail, trusting to ordinary discipline to break up the rest of the crowd. But Temeraire was huddled down very nearly flat, looking at him with a startled, unhappy expression; Laurence reached out to him and flinched as Temeraire twitched away: not out of reach, but the impulse plainly visible.

"Forgive me," Laurence said, dropping his hand, a tightness in his throat. "Temeraire," he said, and stopped; he did not know what to say, for Temeraire could not be allowed to act so: he might have caused real damage to the ship, and aside from that if he carried on in such a fashion the crew would shortly grow too terrified of him to do their work. "You have not hurt yourself?" he asked, instead, as Keynes hurried over.

"No," Temeraire said, very quietly. "I am perfectly well." He submitted to being examined, in silence, and Keynes pronounced him unharmed by the exertion.

"I must go and speak with Martin," Laurence said, still at a loss; Temeraire did not answer, but curled himself up and swept his wings forward, around his head, and after a long moment, Laurence left the deck and went below.

The cabin was close and hot, even with all the windows standing open, and not calculated to improve Laurence's temper. Martin was pacing the length of the cabin in agitation; he was untidy in a suit of warm-weather slops, his face two days unshaven and presently flushed, his hair too long and flopping over his eyes. He did not recognize the degree of Laurence's real anger, but burst out talking the moment Laurence came in.

"I am so very sorry; it was all my fault. I oughtn't have spoken at all," he said, even while Laurence limped to his chair and sat down heavily. "You cannot punish Blythe, Laurence."

Laurence had grown used to the lack of formality among aviators, and ordinarily did not balk at this liberty in passing, but for Martin to make use of it under the circumstances was so egregious that Laurence sat back and stared at him, outrage plainly written on his face. Martin went pale under his freckled skin, swallowed, and hurriedly said, "I mean, Captain, sir."

"I will do whatever I must to keep order among this crew, Mr. Martin, which appears to be more than I thought necessary," Laurence said, and moderated his volume only with a great effort; he felt truly savage. "You will tell me at once what happened."

"I didn't mean to," Martin said, much subdued. "That fellow Reynolds has been making remarks all week, and Ferris told us to pay him no mind, but I was walking by, and he said - "

"I am not interested in hearing you bear tales," Laurence said. "What did you do?"

"Oh - " Martin said, flushing. "I only said - well, I said something back, which I should rather not repeat; and then he - " Martin stopped, and looked somewhat confused as to how to finish the story without seeming to accuse Reynolds again, and finished lamely, "At any rate, sir, he was on the point of offering me a challenge, and that was when Blythe knocked him down; he only did it because he knew I could not fight, and did not want to see me have to refuse in front of the sailors; truly, sir, it is my fault, and not his."

"I cannot disagree with you in the least," Laurence said, brutally, and was glad in his anger to see Martin's shoulders hunch forward, as if struck. "And when I have to have Blythe flogged on Sunday for striking an officer, I hope you will keep in mind that he is paying for your lack of self-restraint. You are dismissed; you are to keep belowdecks and to your quarters for the week, save when defaulters are called."

Martin's lips worked a moment; his "Yes, sir," emerged only faintly, and he was almost stumbling as he left the room. Laurence sat still breathing harshly, almost panting in the thick air; the anger slowly deserted him in spite of every effort, and gave way to a heavier, bitter oppression. Blythe had saved not only Martin's reputation but that of the aviators as a whole; if Martin had openly refused a challenge made in front of the entire crew, it would have blackened all their characters; no matter that it was forced on them by the regulations of the Corps, which forbade dueling.

And yet there was no room for leniency in the matter whatsoever. Blythe had openly struck an officer before witnesses, and Laurence would have to sentence him to sufficient punishment to give the sailors satisfaction, and all of the men pause against any future capers of the sort. And the punishment would be carried out by the bosun's mate: a sailor, like as not to relish the chance to be severe on an aviator, particularly for such an offense.

He would have to go and speak with Blythe; but a tapping at the door broke in upon him before he could rise, and Riley came in: unsmiling, in his coat and with his hat under his arm, neckcloth freshly tied.

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