Dark Hunger

Chapter 7

THEY DREW NEAR Cape Coast a week later with the atmosphere of ill-will a settled and living thing among them, as palpable as the heat. Blythe had taken ill from his brutal flogging; he still lay nearly senseless in the sick-bay, the other ground-crew hands taking it in turn to sit by him and fan the bloody weals, and to coax him to take some water. They had taken the measure of Laurence's temper, and so their bitterness against the sailors was not expressed in word or direct action, but in sullen, black looks and murmurs, and abrupt silences whenever a sailor came in earshot.

Laurence had not dined in the great cabin since the incident: Riley had been offended at having Purbeck corrected on the deck; Laurence had grown short in turn when Riley refused to unbend and made it plain he was not satisfied by the dozen lashes which were all Laurence would sentence. In the heat of discussion, Laurence had let slip some suggestion of his distaste for going to the slave port, Riley had resented the implication, and they had ended not in shouting but in cold formality.

But worse by far than this, Temeraire's spirits were very low. He had forgiven Laurence the moment of harshness, and been persuaded to understand that some punishment was necessary for the offense. But he had not been at all reconciled to the actual event, and during the flogging he had growled savagely when Blythe had screamed towards the end. Some good had come of that: the bosun's mate Hingley, who had been wielding the cat with more than usual energy, had been alarmed, and the last couple of strokes had been mild; but the damage had already been done.

Temeraire had since remained unhappy and quiet, answering only briefly, and he was not eating well. The sailors, for their part, were as dissatisfied with the light sentence as the aviators were with the brutality; poor Martin, set to tanning hides with the harness-master for punishment, was more wretched with guilt than from his punishment, and spent every spare moment at Blythe's bedside; and the only person at all satisfied with the situation was Yongxing, who seized the opportunity to hold several more long conversations with Temeraire in Chinese: privately, as Temeraire made no effort to include Laurence.

Yongxing looked less pleased, however, at the conclusion of the last of these, when Temeraire hissed, put back his ruff, and then proceeded to all but knock Laurence off his feet in coiling possessively around him. "What has he been saying to you?" Laurence demanded, trying futilely to peer above the great black sides rising around him; he had already reached a state of high irritation at Yongxing's continued interference and was very nearly at the end of his patience.

"He has been telling me about China, and how things are managed there for dragons," Temeraire said, evasively, by which Laurence suspected that Temeraire had liked these described arrangements. "But then he told me I should have a more worthy companion there, and you would be sent away."

By the time he could be persuaded to uncoil himself again, Yongxing had gone, "looking mad as fire," Ferris reported, with glee unbecoming a senior lieutenant.

This scarcely contented Laurence. "I am not going to have Temeraire distressed in this manner," he said to Hammond angrily, trying without success to persuade the diplomat to carry a highly undiplomatic message to the prince.

"You are taking a very short-sighted view of the matter," Hammond said, maddeningly. "If Prince Yongxing can be convinced over the course of this journey that Temeraire will not agree to be parted from you, all the better for us: they will be far more ready to negotiate when finally we arrive in China." He paused and asked, with still more infuriating anxiousness, "You are quite certain, that he will not agree?"

On hearing the account that evening, Granby said, "I say we heave Hammond and Yongxing over the side together some dark night, and good riddance," expressing Laurence's private sentiments more frankly than Laurence himself felt he could. Granby was speaking, with no regard for manners, between bites of a light meal of soup, toasted cheese, potatoes fried in pork fat with onions, an entire roast chicken, and a mince pie: he had finally been released from his sickbed, pallid and much reduced in weight, and Laurence had invited him to supper. "What else was that prince saying to him?"

"I have not the least idea; he has not said three words together in English the last week," Laurence said. "And I do not mean to press Temeraire to tell me; it would be the most officious, prying sort of behavior."

"That none of his friends should ever be flogged there, I expect," Granby said, darkly. "And that he should have a dozen books to read every day, and heaps of jewels. I have heard stories about this sort of thing, but if a fellow ever really tried it, they would drum him out of the Corps quick as lightning; if the dragon did not carve him into joints, first."

Laurence was silent a moment, twisting his wineglass in his fingers. "Temeraire is only listening to it at all because he is unhappy."

"Oh, Hell." Granby sat back heavily. "I am damned sorry I have been sick so long; Ferris is a right'un, but he hasn't been on a transport before, he couldn't know how the sailors get, and how to properly teach the fellows to take no notice," he said glumly. "And I can't give you any advice for cheering him up; I served with Laetificat longest, and she is easy-going even for a Regal Copper: no temper to speak of, and no mood I ever saw could dampen her appetite. Maybe it is not being allowed to fly."

They came into the harbor the next morning: a broad semicircle with a golden beach, dotted with attractive palms under the squat white walls of the overlooking castle. A multitude of rough canoes, many with branches still attached to the trunks from which they had been hollowed, were plying the waters of the harbor, and besides these there could be seen an assortment of brigs and schooners, and at the western end a snow of middling size, with her boats swarming back and forth, crowded with blacks who were being herded along from a tunnel mouth that came out onto the beach itself.

The Allegiance was too large to come into the harbor proper, but she had anchored close enough; the day was calm, and the cracking of the whips perfectly audible over the water, mingled with cries and the steady sound of weeping. Laurence came frowning onto the deck and ordered Roland and Dyer away from their wide-eyed staring, sending them below to tidy his cabin. Temeraire could not be protected in the same manner, and was observing the proceedings with some confusion, the slitted pupils of his eyes widening and narrowing as he stared.

"Laurence, those men are all in chains; what can so many of them have done?" he demanded, roused from his apathy. "They cannot all have committed crimes; look, that one over there is a small child, and there is another."

"No," Laurence said. "That is a slaver; pray do not watch." Fearing this moment, he had made a vague attempt at explaining the idea of slavery to Temeraire, with his lack of success due as much to his own distaste as to Temeraire's difficulty with the notion of property. Temeraire did not listen now, but kept watching, his tail switching rapidly in anxiety. The loading of the vessel continued throughout the morning, and the hot wind blowing from the shore carried the sour smell of unwashed bodies, sweating and ill with misery.

At length the boarding was finished, and the snow with her unhappy cargo came out of the harbor and spread her sails to the wind, throwing up a fine furrow as she went past them, already moving at a steady pace, sailors scrambling in the rigging; but full half her crew were only armed landsmen, sitting idly about on deck with their muskets and pistols and mugs of grog. They stared openly at Temeraire, curious, their faces unsmiling, sweating and grimy from the work; one of them even picked up his gun and sighted along it at Temeraire, as if for sport. "Present arms!" Lieutenant Riggs snapped, before Laurence could even react, and the three riflemen on deck had their guns ready in an instant; across the water, the fellow lowered his musket and grinned, showing strong yellowed teeth, and turned back to his shipmates laughing.

Temeraire's ruff was flattened, not out of any fear, as a musket-ball fired at such a range would have done him less injury than a mosquito to a man, but with great distaste. He gave a low rumbling growl and almost drew a deep preparatory breath; Laurence laid a hand on his side, quietly said, "No; it can do no good," and stayed with him until at last the snow shrank away over the horizon, and passed out of their sight.

Even after she had gone, Temeraire's tail continued to flick unhappily back and forth. "No, I am not hungry," he said, when Laurence suggested some food, and stayed very quiet again, occasionally scraping at the deck with his claws, unconsciously, making a dreadful grating noise.

Riley was at the far end of the ship, walking the poop deck, but there were many sailors in earshot, getting the launch and the officers' barge over the side, preparing to begin the process of supply, and Lord Purbeck was overseeing; in any case one could not say anything on deck in full voice and not expect it to have traveled to the other end and back in less time than it would take to walk the distance. Laurence was conscious of the plain rudeness of seeming to criticize Riley on the deck of his own ship, even without the quarrel already lingering between them, but at last he could not forbear.

"Pray do not be so distressed," he said, trying to console Temeraire, without going so far as to speak too bluntly against the practice. "There is reason to hope that the trade will soon be stopped; the question will come before Parliament again this very session."

Temeraire brightened perceptibly at the news, but he was unsatisfied with so bare an explanation and proceeded to inquire with great energy into the prospects of abolition; Laurence perforce had to explain Parliament and the distinction between the Commons and the Lords and the various factions engaged in the debate, relying for his particulars on his father's activities, but aware all the while that he was overheard and trying as best he could to be politic.

Even Sun Kai, who had been on deck the whole morning, and seen the progress of the snow and its effects on Temeraire's mood, gazed upon him thoughtfully, evidently guessing at some of the conversation; he had come as near as he could without crossing the painted border, and during a break, he asked Temeraire to translate for him. Temeraire explained a little; Sun Kai nodded, and then inquired of Laurence, "Your father is an official then, and feels this practice dishonorable?"

Such a question, put baldly, could not be evaded however much it might offend; silence would be very nearly dishonest. "Yes, sir, he does," Laurence said, and before Sun Kai could prolong the conversation with further inquiries, Keynes came up to the deck; Laurence hailed him to ask him for permission to take Temeraire on a short flight to shore, and so was able to cut short the discussion. Even so abbreviated, however, it did no good for relations aboard ship; the sailors, mostly without strong opinions on the subject, naturally took their own captain's part, and felt Riley ill-used by the open expression of such sentiments on his ship when his own family connections to the trade were known.

The post was rowed back shortly before the hands' dinner-time, and Lord Purbeck chose to send the young midshipman Reynolds, who had set off the recent quarrel, to bring over the letters for the aviators: nearly a piece of deliberate provocation. The boy himself, his eye still blacked from Blythe's powerful blow, smirked so insolently that Laurence instantly resolved on ending Martin's punishment duty, nearly a week before he had otherwise intended, and said quite deliberately, "Temeraire, look; we have a letter from Captain Roland; it will have news of Dover, I am sure." Temeraire obligingly put his head down to inspect the letter; the ominous shadow of the ruff and the serrated teeth gleaming so nearby made a profound impression on Reynolds: the smirk vanished, and almost as quickly so did he himself, hastily retreating from the dragondeck.

Laurence stayed on deck to read the letters with Temeraire. Jane Roland's letter, scarcely a page long, had been sent only a few days after their departure and had very little news, only a cheerful account of the life of the covert; heartening to read, even if it left Temeraire sighing a little for home, and Laurence with much the same sentiments. He was a little puzzled, however, at receiving no other letters from his colleagues; since a courier had come through, he had expected to have something from Harcourt, at least, whom he knew to be a good correspondent, and perhaps one of the other captains.

He did have one more letter, from his mother, which had been forwarded on from Dover. Aviators received their mail quicker than anyone else, post-dragons making their rounds from covert to covert, whence the mail went out by horse and rider, and she had evidently written and sent it before receiving Laurence's own letter informing her of their departure.

He opened it and read most of it aloud for Temeraire's entertainment: she wrote mainly of his oldest brother, George, who had just added a daughter to his three sons, and his father's political work, as being one of the few subjects on which Laurence and Lord Allendale were in sympathy, and which now was of fresh interest to Temeraire as well. Midway, however, Laurence abruptly stopped, as he read to himself a few lines which she had made in passing, which explained the unexpected silence of his fellow-officers:

Naturally we were all very much shocked by the dreadful news of the Disaster in Austria, and they say that Mr. Pitt has taken ill, which of course much grieves your Father, as the Prime Minister has always been a Friend to the Cause. I am afraid I hear much talk in town of how Providence is favoring Bonaparte. It does seem strange that one man should make so great a difference in the course of War, when on both sides numbers are equal. But it is shameful in the extreme, how quickly Lord Nelson's great victory at Trafalgar is Forgot, and your own noble defense of our shores, and men of less resolution begin to speak of peace with the Tyrant.

She had of course written expecting him to be still at Dover, where news from the Continent came first, and where he would have long since heard all there was to know; instead it came as a highly unpleasant shock, particularly as she gave no further particulars. He had heard reports in Madeira of several battles fought in Austria, but nothing so decisive. At once he begged Temeraire to forgive him and hastened below to Riley's cabin, hoping there might be more news, and indeed found Riley numbly reading an express dispatch which Hammond had just given him, received from the Ministry.

"He has smashed them all to pieces, outside Austerlitz," Hammond said, and they searched out the place on Riley's maps: a small town deep in Austria, northeast of Vienna. "I have not been told a great deal, Government is reserving the particulars, but he has taken at least thirty thousand men dead, wounded, or prisoner; the Russians are fleeing, and the Austrians have signed an armistice already."

These spare facts were grim enough without elaboration, and they all fell silent together, looking over the few lines of the message, which disobligingly refused to offer more information regardless of the number of times they were re-read. "Well," Hammond said finally, "we will just have to starve him out. Thank God for Nelson and Trafalgar! And he cannot mean to invade by air again, not with three Longwings stationed in the Channel now."

"Ought we not return?" Laurence ventured, awkwardly; it seemed so self-serving a proposal he felt guilty in making it, and yet he could not imagine they were not badly needed, back in Britain. Excidium, Mortiferus, and Lily with their formations were indeed a deadly force to be reckoned with, but three dragons could not be everywhere, and Napoleon had before this found means of drawing one or the other away.

"I have received no orders to turn back," Riley said, "though I will say it does feel damned peculiar to be sailing on to China devil-may-care after news like this, with a hundred-and-fifty-gun ship and a heavy-combat dragon."

"Gentlemen, you are in error," Hammond said sharply. "This disaster only renders our mission all the more urgent. If Napoleon is to be beaten, if our nation is to preserve a place as anything more besides an inconsequential island off the coast of a French Europe, only trade will do it. The Austrians may have been beaten for the moment, and the Russians; but so long as we can supply our Continental allies with funds and with resources, you may be sure they will resist Bonaparte's tyranny. We must continue on; we must secure at least neutrality from China, if not some advantage, and protect our Eastern trade; no military goal could be of greater significance."

He spoke with great authority, and Riley nodded in quick agreement. Laurence was silent as they began to discuss how they might speed the journey, and shortly he excused himself to return to the dragondeck; he could not argue, he was not impartial by any means, and Hammond's arguments had a great deal of weight; but he was not satisfied, and he felt an uneasy distress at the lack of sympathy between their thinking and his own.

"I cannot understand how they let Napoleon beat them," Temeraire said, ruff bristling, when Laurence had broken the unhappy news to him and his senior officers. "He had more ships and dragons than we did, at Trafalgar and at Dover, and we still won; and this time the Austrians and the Russians outnumbered him."

"Trafalgar was a sea-battle," Laurence said. "Bonaparte has never really understood the navy; he is an artillery-man himself by training. And the battle of Dover we won only thanks to you; otherwise I dare say Bonaparte would be having himself crowned in Westminster directly. Do not forget how he managed to trick us into sending the better part of the Channel forces south and concealed the movements of his own dragons, before the invasion; if he had not been taken by surprise by the divine wind, the outcome could have been quite different."

"It still does not seem to me that the battle was cleverly managed," Temeraire said, dissatisfied. "I am sure if we had been there, with our friends, we should not have lost, and I do not see why we are going to China when other people are fighting."

"I call that a damned good question," Granby said. "A great pack of nonsense to begin with, giving away one of our very best dragons in the middle of a war when we are so desperate hard-up to begin with; Laurence, oughtn't we go home?"

Laurence only shook his head; he was too much in agreement, and too powerless to make any alteration. Temeraire and the divine wind had changed the course of the war, at Dover. As little as the Ministry might like to admit it, or give credit for a victory to so narrow a cause, Laurence too well remembered the hopeless uneven struggle of that day before Temeraire had turned the tide. To be meekly surrendering Temeraire and his extraordinary abilities seemed to Laurence a willful blindness, and he did not believe the Chinese would yield to any of Hammond's requests at all.

But "We have our orders" was all he said; even if Riley and Hammond had been of like mind with him, Laurence knew very well this would scarcely be accepted by the Ministry as even a thin excuse for violating their standing orders. "I am sorry," he added, seeing that Temeraire was inclined to be unhappy, "but come; here is Mr. Keynes, to see if you can be allowed to take some exercise on shore; let us clear away and let him make his examination."

"Truly it does not pain me at all," Temeraire said anxiously, peering down at himself as Keynes at last stepped back from his chest. "I am sure I am ready to fly again, and I will only go a short way."

Keynes shook his head. "Another week perhaps. No; do not set up a howl at me," he said sternly, as Temeraire sat up to protest. "It is not a question of the length of the flight; launching is the difficulty," he added, to Laurence, by way of grudging explanation. "The strain of getting aloft will be the most dangerous moment, and I am not confident the muscles are yet prepared to bear it."

"But I am so very tired of only lying on deck," Temeraire said disconsolately, almost a wail. "I cannot even turn around properly."

"It will only be another week, and perhaps less," Laurence said, trying to comfort him; he was already regretting that he had ever made the proposal and raised Temeraire's hopes only to see them dashed. "I am very sorry; but Mr. Keynes's opinion is worth more than either of ours on the subject, and we had better listen to him."

Temeraire was not so easily appeased. "I do not see why his opinion should be worth more than mine. It is my muscle, after all."

Keynes folded his arms and said coolly, "I am not going to argue with a patient. If you want to do yourself an injury and spend another two months lying about instead, by all means go jumping about as much as you like."

Temeraire snorted back at this reply, and Laurence, annoyed, hurried to dismiss Keynes before the surgeon could be any more provoking: he had every confidence in the man's skill, but his tact could have stood much improvement, and though Temeraire was by no means contrary by nature, this was a hard disappointment to bear.

"I have a little better news, at least," he told Temeraire, trying to rally his spirits. "Mr. Pollitt was kind enough to bring me several new books from his visit ashore; shall I not fetch one now?"

Temeraire made only a grumble for answer, head unhappily drooping over the edge of the ship and gazing towards the denied shore. Laurence went down for the book, hoping that the interest of the material would rouse him, but while he was still in his cabin, the ship abruptly rocked, and an enormous splash outside sent water flying in through the opened round windows and onto the floor; Laurence ran to look through the nearest porthole, hastily rescuing his dampened letters, and saw Temeraire, with an expression at once guilty and self-satisfied, bobbing up and down in the water.

He dashed back up to the deck; Granby and Ferris were peering over the side in alarm, and the small boats that had been crowding around the sides of the ship, full of whores and enterprising fishermen, were already making frantic haste away and back to the security of the harbor, with much shrieking and splashing of oars. Temeraire rather abashedly looked after them in dismay. "I did not mean to frighten them," he said. "There is no need to run away," he called, but the boats did not pause for an instant. The sailors, deprived of their entertainments, glared disapprovingly; Laurence was more concerned for Temeraire's health.

"Well, I have never seen anything so ridiculous in my life, but it is not likely to hurt him. The air-sacs will keep him afloat, and salt water never hurt a wound," Keynes said, having been summoned back to the deck. "But how we will ever get him back aboard, I have not the least idea."

Temeraire plunged for a moment under the surface and came almost shooting up again, propelled by his buoyancy. "It is very pleasant," he called out. "The water is not cold at all, Laurence; will you not come in?"

Laurence was by no means a strong swimmer, and uneasy at the notion of leaping into the open ocean: they were a good mile out from the shore. But he took one of the ship's small boats and rowed himself out, to keep Temeraire company and to be sure the dragon did not over-tire himself after so much enforced idleness on deck. The skiff was tossed about a little by the waves resulting from Temeraire's frolics, and occasionally swamped, but Laurence had prudently worn only an old pair of breeches and his most threadbare shirt.

His own spirits were very low; the defeat at Austerlitz was not merely a single battle lost, but the overthrow of Prime Minister Pitt's whole careful design, and the destruction of the coalition assembled to stop Napoleon: Britain alone could not field an army half so large as Napoleon's Grande Armee, nor easily land it on the Continent, and with the Austrians and Russians now driven from the field, their situation was plainly grim. Even with such cares, however, he could not help but smile to see Temeraire so full of energy and uncomplicated joy, and after a little while he even yielded to Temeraire's coaxing and let himself over the side. Laurence did not swim very long but soon climbed up onto Temeraire's back, while Temeraire paddled himself about enthusiastically, and nosed the skiff about as a sort of toy.

He might shut his eyes and imagine them back in Dover, or at Loch Laggan, with only the ordinary cares of war to burden them, and work to be done which he understood, with all the confidence of friendship and a nation united behind them; even the present disaster hardly insurmountable, in such a situation: the Allegiance only another ship in the harbor, their familiar clearing a short flight away, and no politicians and princes to trouble with. He lay back and spread his hand open against the warm side, the black scales warmed by the sun, and for a little while indulged the fancy enough to drowse.

"Do you suppose you will be able to climb back aboard the Allegiance?" Laurence said presently; he had been worrying the problem in his head.

Temeraire craned his head around to look at him. "Could we not wait here on shore until I am well again, and rejoin the ship after?" he suggested. "Or," and his ruff quivered with sudden excitement, "we might fly across the continent, and meet them on the opposite side: there are no people in the middle of Africa, I remember from your maps, so there cannot be any French to shoot us down."

"No, but by report there are a great many feral dragons, not to mention any number of other dangerous creatures, and the perils of disease," Laurence said. "We cannot go flying over the uncharted interior, Temeraire; the risk cannot be justified, particularly not now."

Temeraire sighed a little at giving up this ambitious project, but agreed to make the attempt to climb up onto the deck; after a little more play he swam back over to the ship, and rather bemused the waiting sailors by handing the skiff up to them, so they did not have to haul her back aboard. Laurence, having climbed up the side from Temeraire's shoulder, held a huddled conference with Riley. "Perhaps if we let the starboard sheet anchor down as a counterweight?" he suggested. "That with the best bower ought to keep her steady, and she is already loaded heavy towards the stern."

"Laurence, what the Admiralty will say to me if I get a transport sunk on a clear blue day in harbor, I should not like to think," Riley said, unhappy at the notion. "I dare say I should be hanged, and deserve it, too."

"If there is any danger of capsizing, he can always let go in an instant," Laurence said. "Otherwise we must sit in port a week at least, until Keynes is willing to grant him leave to fly again."

"I am not going to sink the ship," Temeraire said indignantly, poking his head up over the quarterdeck rail and entering into the conversation, much to Riley's startlement. "I will be very careful."

Though Riley was still dubious, he finally gave leave. Temeraire managed to rear up out of the water and get a grip with his foreclaws on the ship's side; the Allegiance listed towards him, but not too badly, held by the two anchors, and having raised his wings out of the water, Temeraire beat them a couple of times, and half-leapt, half-scrambled up the side of the ship.

He fell heavily onto the deck without much grace, hind legs scrabbling for an undignified moment, but he indeed got aboard, and the Allegiance did not do more than bounce a little beneath him. He hastily settled his legs underneath him again and busied himself shaking water off his ruff and long tendrils, pretending he had not been clumsy. "It was not very difficult to climb back on at all," he said to Laurence, pleased. "Now I can swim every day until I can fly again."

Laurence wondered how Riley and the sailors would receive this news, but was unable to feel much dismay; he would have suffered far more than black looks to see Temeraire's spirits so restored; and when he presently suggested something to eat, Temeraire gladly assented, and devoured two cows and a sheep down to the hooves.

When Yongxing once again ventured to the deck the following morning, he thus found Temeraire in good humor: fresh from another swim, well-fed, and highly pleased with himself. He had clambered aboard much more gracefully this second time, though Lord Purbeck at least found something to complain of, in the scratches to the ship's paint, and the sailors were still unhappy at having the bumboats frightened off. Yongxing himself benefited, as Temeraire was in a forgiving mood and disinclined to hold even what Laurence considered a well-deserved grudge, but the prince did not look at all satisfied; he spent the morning visit watching silently and brooding as Laurence read to Temeraire out of the new books procured by Mr. Pollitt on his visit ashore.

Yongxing soon left again; and shortly thereafter, his servant Feng Li came up to the deck to ask Laurence below, making clear his meaning through gestures and pantomime, Temeraire having settled down to nap through the heat of the day. Unwilling and wary, Laurence insisted on first going to his quarters to dress: he was again in shabby clothes, having accompanied Temeraire on his swim, and did not feel prepared to face Yongxing in his austere and elegant apartment without the armor of his dress coat and best trousers, and a fresh-pressed neckcloth.

There was no theater about his arrival, this time; he was ushered in at once, and Yongxing sent even Feng Li away, that they might be private, but he did not speak at once and only stood in silence, hands clasped behind his back, gazing frowningly out the stern windows: then, as Laurence was on the point of speaking, he abruptly turned and said, "You have sincere affection for Lung Tien Xiang, and he for you; this I have come to see. Yet in your country, he is treated like an animal, exposed to all the dangers of war. Can you desire this fate for him?"

Laurence was much astonished at meeting so direct an appeal, and supposed Hammond proven right: there could be no explanation for this change but a growing conviction in Yongxing's mind of the futility of luring Temeraire away. But as pleased as he would otherwise have been to see Yongxing give up his attempts to divide them from one another, Laurence grew only more uneasy: there was plainly no common ground to be had between them, and he did not feel he understood Yongxing's motives for seeking to find any.

"Sir," he said, after a moment, "your accusations of ill-treatment I must dispute; and the dangers of war are the common hazard of those who take service for their country. Your Highness can scarcely expect me to find such a choice, willingly made, objectionable; I myself have so chosen, and such risks I hold it an honor to endure."

"Yet you are a man of ordinary birth, and a soldier of no great rank; there may be ten thousand men such as you in England," Yongxing said. "You cannot compare yourself to a Celestial. Consider his happiness, and listen to my request. Help us restore him to his rightful place, and then part from him cheerfully: let him think you are not sorry to go, that he may forget you more easily, and find happiness with a companion appropriate to his station. Surely it is your duty not to hold him down to your own level, but to see him brought up to all the advantages which are his right."

Yongxing made these remarks not in an insulting tone, but as stating plain fact, almost earnestly. "I do not believe in that species of kindness, sir, which consists in lying to a loved one, and deceiving him for his own good," Laurence said, as yet unsure whether he ought to be offended, or to view this as some attempt to appeal to his better nature.

But his confusion was sharply dispelled in another moment, as Yongxing persisted: "I know that what I ask is a great sacrifice. Perhaps the hopes of your family will be disappointed; and you were given a great reward for bringing him to your country, which may now be confiscated. We do not expect you to face ruin: do as I ask, and you will receive ten thousand taels of silver, and the gratitude of the Emperor."

Laurence stared first, then flushed to an ugly shade of mortification, and said, when he had mastered himself well enough to speak, with bitter resentment, "A noble sum indeed; but there is not silver enough in China, sir, to buy me."

He would have turned to go at once; but Yongxing said in real exasperation, this refusal at last driving him past the careful façade of patience which he had so far maintained throughout the interview, "You are foolish; you cannot be permitted to remain companion to Lung Tien Xiang, and in the end you will be sent home. Why not accept my offer?"

"That you may separate us by force, in your own country, I have no doubt," Laurence said. "But that will be your doing, and none of mine; and he shall know me faithful as he is himself, to the last." He meant to leave; he could not challenge Yongxing, nor strike him, and only such a gesture could have begun to satisfy his deep and violent sense of injury; but so excellent an invitation to quarrel at least gave his anger some vent, and he added with all the scorn which he could give the words, "Save yourself the trouble of any further cajolery; all your bribes and machinations you may be sure will meet with equal failure, and I have too much faith in Temeraire to imagine that he will ever be persuaded to prefer a nation where discourse such as this is the civilized mode."

"You speak in ignorant disdain of the foremost nation of the world," Yongxing said, growing angry himself, "like all your country-men, who show no respect for that which is superior, and insult our customs."

"For which I might consider myself as owing you some apology, sir, if you yourself had not so often insulted myself and my own country, or shown respect for any customs other than your own," Laurence said.

"We do not desire anything that is yours, or to come and force our ways upon you," Yongxing said. "From your small island you come to our country, and out of kindness you are allowed to buy our tea and silk and porcelain, which you so passionately desire. But still you are not content; you forever demand more and more, while your missionaries try to spread your foreign religion and your merchants smuggle opium in defiance of the law. We do not need your trinkets, your clockworks and lamps and guns; our land is sufficient unto itself. In so unequal a position, you should show threefold gratitude and submission to the Emperor, and instead you offer one insult heaped on another. Too long already has this disrespect been tolerated."

These arrayed grievances, so far beyond the matter at hand, were spoken passionately and with great energy; more sincere than anything Laurence had formerly heard from the prince and more unguarded, and the surprise he could not help but display evidently recalled Yongxing to his circumstances, and checked his flow of speech. For a moment they stood in silence, Laurence still resentful, and as unable to form a reply as if Yongxing had spoken in his native tongue, baffled entirely by a description of the relations between their countries which should lump Christian missionaries together in with smugglers and so absurdly refuse to acknowledge the benefits of free and open trade to both parties.

"I am no politician, sir, to dispute with you upon matters of foreign policy," Laurence said at last, "but the honor and dignities of my nation and my country-men I will defend to my last breath; and you will not move me with any argument to act dishonorably, least of all to Temeraire."

Yongxing had recovered his composure, yet looked still intensely dissatisfied; now he shook his head, frowning. "If you will not be persuaded by consideration for Lung Tien Xiang or for yourself, will you at least serve your country's interests?" With deep and evident reluctance he added, "That we should open ports to you, besides Canton, cannot be considered; but we will permit your ambassador to remain in Peking, as you so greatly desire, and we will agree not to go to war against you or your allies, so long as you maintain a respectful obedience to the Emperor: this much can be allowed, if you will ease Lung Tien Xiang's return."

He ended expectantly; Laurence stood motionless, breathtaken, white; and then he said, "No," almost inaudibly, and without staying to hear another word turned and left the room, thrusting the drapery from his way.

He went blindly to the deck and found Temeraire sleeping, peaceful, tail curled around himself; Laurence did not touch him but sat down on one of the lockers by the edge of the deck and bowed his head down, that he should not meet anyone's eyes; his hands clasped, that they should not be seen to shake.

"You refused, I hope?" Hammond said, wholly unexpectedly; Laurence, who had steeled himself to face a furious reproach, was left staring. "Thank Heaven; it had not occurred to me that he might attempt a direct approach, and so soon. I must beg you, Captain, to be sure and not commit us to any proposal whatsoever, without private consultation with me, no matter how appealing it may seem. Either here or after we have reached China," he added, as an afterthought. "Now pray tell me again: he offered a promise of neutrality, and a permanent envoy in Peking, outright?"

There was a quick predatory gleam in his expression, and Laurence was put to dredging the details of the conversation from his memory in answer to his many questions. "But I am sure that I do not misremember; he was quite firm that no other ports should ever be opened," Laurence protested, when Hammond had begun dragging over his maps of China and speculating aloud which might be the most advantageous, inquiring of Laurence which harbors he thought best for shipping.

"Yes, yes," Hammond said, waving this aside. "But if he may be brought so far as to admit the possibility of a permanent envoy, how much more progress may we not hope to make? You must be aware that his own opinions are fixed quite immovably against all intercourse with the West."

"I am," Laurence said; he was more surprised to find Hammond so aware, given the diplomat's continuing efforts to establish good relations.

"Our chances of winning Prince Yongxing himself over are small, though I hope we do make some progress," Hammond said, "but I find it most encouraging indeed that he should be so anxious to obtain your cooperation at such a stage. Plainly he wishes to arrive in China fait accompli, which should only be the case if he imagines the Emperor may be persuaded to grant us terms less pleasing to himself.

"He is not the heir to the throne, you know," Hammond added, seeing Laurence look doubtful. "The Emperor has three sons, and the eldest, Prince Mianning, is grown already and the presumptive crown prince. Not that Prince Yongxing lacks in influence, certainly, or he would never have been given so much autonomy as to be sent to England, but this very attempt on his part gives me hope there may yet be more opportunity than we heretofore have realized. If only - "

Here he grew abruptly dismal, and sat down again with the charts neglected. "If only the French have not already established themselves with the more liberal minds of the court," he finished, low. "But that would explain a great deal, I am afraid, and in particular why they were ever given the egg. I could tear my hair over it; here they have managed to thoroughly insinuate themselves, I suppose, while we have been sitting about congratulating ourselves on our precious dignity ever since Lord Macartney was sent packing, and making no real attempt to restore relations."

Laurence left feeling very little less guilt and unhappiness than before; his refusal, he was well aware, had not been motivated by any such rational and admirable arguments, but a wholly reflexive denial. He would certainly never agree to lie to Temeraire, as Yongxing had proposed, nor abandon him to any unpleasant or barbaric situation, but Hammond might make other demands, less easy to refuse. If they were ordered to separate to ensure a truly advantageous treaty, it would be his own duty not only to go, but to convince Temeraire to obey, however unwillingly. Before now, he had consoled himself in the belief that the Chinese would offer no satisfactory terms; this illusory comfort was now stripped away, and all the misery of separation loomed closer with every sea-mile.

Two days later saw them leaving Cape Coast, gladly for Laurence's part. The morning of their departure, a party of slaves had been brought in overland and were being driven into the waiting dungeons within sight of the ship. An even more dreadful scene ensued, for the slaves had not yet been worn down by long confinement nor become resigned to their fate, and as the cellar doors were opened to receive them, very much like the mouth of a waiting grave, several of the younger men staged a revolt.

They had evidently found some means of getting loose along their journey. Two of the guards went down at once, bludgeoned with the very chains that had bound the slaves, and the others began to stumble back and away, firing indiscriminately in their panic. A troop of guards came running down from their posts, adding to the general melee.

It was a hopeless attempt, if gallant, and most of the loosed men saw the inevitable and dashed for their personal freedom; some scrambled down the beach, others fled into the city. The guards managed to cow the remaining bound slaves again, and started shooting at the escaping ones. Most were killed before they were out of sight, and search parties organized immediately to find the remainder, marked as they were by their nakedness and the galls from their former chains. The dirt road leading to the dungeons was muddy with blood, the small and huddled corpses lying terribly still among the living; many women and children had been killed in the action. The slavers were already forcing the remaining men and women down into the cellar, and setting some of the others to drag the bodies away. Not fifteen minutes had gone by.

There was no singing or shouting as the anchor was hauled up, and the operation went more slowly than usual; but even so the bosun, ordinarily vigorous at any sign of malingering, did not start anyone with his cane. The day was again stickily humid, and so hot that the tar grew liquid and fell in great black splotches from the rigging, some even landing upon Temeraire's hide, much to his disgust. Laurence set the runners and the ensigns on watch with buckets and rags, to clean him off as the drops fell, and by the end of the day they were all drooping and filthy themselves.

The next day only more of the same, and the three after that; the shore tangled and impenetrable to larboard, broken only by cliffs and jumbled rockfalls, and a constant attention necessary to keep the ship at a safe distance in deep water, with the winds freakish and variable so close to land. The men went about their work silent and unsmiling in the heat of the day; the evil news of Austerlitz had spread among them.

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