- 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
Tongues of Serpents
Kulingile took the news more equably. "I did not mean to die, anyway," he piped - the inflation did not seem to have altered his voice - "but I am glad, if it means I may eat more, and no one will poke at me for it." He put out his wings and flapped a little, which sent him going up alarmingly quick; Temeraire had to reach out and catch him by the tail-tip, and even then he stayed in mid-air, floating. "Look, Demane, look at me," Kulingile said, and flapping only one wing managed to spin himself about in a circle.
"It is certainly better than being a great solid lump upon the ground," Iskierka said, "and I do not mind if I do not have to carry you anymore, but that is a ridiculous thing for a dragon to do; you ought to come down or fly properly," but Kulingile's spirits were not depressed by this criticism, and Demane did indeed have to tether him with a rope, which Temeraire allowed to be secured to his harness, as the only rocks about were flat and inconvenient for the purpose.
The only other person displeased by the situation was Sipho, but as he had retreated into the solace of his studies, Temeraire selfishly did not mind that: it was a great satisfaction to him at last to have someone who might read the Analects to him aloud, correctly; if Sipho happened to find a character which he did not yet know, he would scratch it out large and Temeraire could give it to him, which served very well. It went a good deal quicker, and also Temeraire did not need to feel quite so guilty as if he had forced Roland or Laurence to write out a stretch of it for him large enough to see.
"You are getting hunchbacked," Demane said, disapprovingly, and poked Sipho between his shoulders; Sipho flailed an arm resentfully at his brother and spat, "At least I am not only spending all my time stuffing a fat dragon's belly, who can't bother to hunt for himself, even if he can fly, now."
It was not quite fair to call what Kulingile did at present flying: he had grown so used to dragging about on the ground that Dorset said he had failed to properly develop his instincts, so that now he had it all to learn from the beginning. Quite to the contrary of any natural assumption, it seemed that being so light did not help him at all. He might get off the ground very easily, but he would then float off in quite the opposite direction to the one he desired, and if he flapped too vigorously he would go caroming off anything around, and wrecked several trees in the process. Certainly he was not yet ready to hunt, although no-one could possibly have doubted his enthusiasm for that eventual day; he could not dive effectively at all.
Demane fetched his brother a clout across the ear. "You ought to be helping me, instead of sitting here wearing out your eyes," he said severely. "You are being very stupid: now we have a dragon, of our own, don't you understand? When he is grown a little bigger, he will be able to hunt, too, and fight; and then they cannot do anything to us we don't like."
"Who?" Sipho said; Temeraire wondered if perhaps Demane meant the bunyips.
"Anyone!" Demane said impatiently.
"Why would anyone do anything to us we don't like, unless we are going to war, and fighting them," Sipho said, "and if that is what you mean, then having a great huge big dragon will only mean you have to fight more, and the enemy will try and hurt you anyway, so that doesn't seem very safe to me at all."
Demane said, "I don't mean the enemy. The law has made the captain a prisoner, and taken all his property; what if they would try to take us, too? That is what I mean."
"Then we would run away," Sipho said, "except now we have a dragon following us around it would not be hard to catch us. And anyway," he added, spiteful and contradictory, "I expect they will not let you keep him, now he is going to live and be very big; they will want to give him to somebody else. And I don't care if they do."
Demane clouted him again, and stalked away, but later that afternoon he said to Roland quietly, "You don't suppose they would; take him away from me?"
"In half-a-second," Roland said absently, without looking up from the pistol which she had taken apart to clean, "if they had any chance of it; I think I heard that scrub Widdlow going on to Flowers about trying something of the sort." Demane did not say anything, and she looked up. "Don't be an ass," she added, "it don't work that way; ask Temeraire if he would have swapped Laurence, himself."
"Certainly not," Temeraire said, "although," he could not resist adding very quietly, so Dorset should not hear him, "I suppose Kulingile might be more fickle, but if he were, you might find anyway you prefer to remain among my crew; and you would certainly be welcome."
"That is quite enough murmuring; and inappropriate besides," Dorset said, without looking up, although Temeraire's throat felt much better by now, except when it was particularly dry, or they had not found very much water in a day or so. "I would hope that a grown dragon might have a little more restraint than to so resent a hatchling, I might add; I must consider it particularly shameful."
"What have you been saying to my captain?" Kulingile said suspiciously, picking up his head from his nap, which movement brought him back up off the ground, and trying to swim himself over to Demane managed to accidentally knock him and Roland both over into the sand.
"Nothing," Temeraire said, because he could not talk any more: Dorset had said so; and anyway he had only been trying to console Demane in case Kulingile should have proven false. If Kulingile remained steadfast, certainly no one would ever interfere, although Temeraire did think it was not quite so bad as Dorset painted it, when one considered that Demane had been his, first.
Laurence found that the resentment towards Demane, which had already been pronounced, easily transmuted itself in form: where the aviators had formerly criticized his daring to preserve a useless beast and thereby slow and threaten the recovery of the final egg, they now without any difficulty objected to his possession of that same beast as undeserved and unsuitable. There was a particularly strong understanding amongst aviators which held in contempt any sort of intrusion into the relationship between captain and beast, but as Laurence himself had known, this understanding might become flexible when the captain was not considered properly an aviator himself.
He remembered with distaste the coarse effort which had been made to separate him from Temeraire early in their relationship and prefer a proven lieutenant into his place, wholly disregarding all that the aviators had known of Temeraire's likely feelings on the subject, and even resorting to outright falsehood. Laurence himself had been too uninformed to object, at the time; he was now not so, but had no standing to speak even when he heard men muttering enviously and, past convincing themselves that it might be permissible to interfere, well on the way to embracing the idea as a duty.
Demane's temper was not one which would lightly brook such an insult, either, and he had also the means by which to resent it: though Laurence thought he was not yet fifteen, and a little short perhaps from the inadequacy of his childhood diet, he was filling out rapidly; and he had taken to sword and pistol and rifle with bloodthirsty appetite.
"I will not tell you to swallow it," Laurence said, "but I do tell you that any gesture, any act, which should demonstrate an uncontrolled temper, or a disdain for the rules of the Corps, can only create a worse prejudice against you, and make all the more unlikely that an official recognition will come; it will not come quickly, that much is certain."
"They none of them wanted him before," Demane said, glittering-eyed and angry. "They would have knocked his brains out, and left him to rot, or taken his food - "
"That is quite enough, Demane; they did their duty as they saw it," Laurence said; while perfectly accurate, Demane's resentment needed none of the encouragement of approval. "They misjudged, and you did not; that satisfaction ought to hold you against the natural murmurs of regret which any man might feel on seeing a boy advanced so greatly ahead of his years, and with so few opportunities as remain to them."
"They would not mind so if it were Widener," Demane muttered, meaning Rankin's hapless young signal-ensign, but subsided when Laurence regarded him sternly.
"Widener is a lump, so of course they would," Roland added to Demane scornfully, after he had slumped back sitting next to her in the shade. "Stop being so ungodly prickly. Of course they are all jealous now; they will get over it when you have been in a proper action."
"It is easy for you to say," he flared. "No one would ever say you are not an aviator, and talk of sending you back to Africa."
"And I suppose you have had to knock a lieutenant over for putting his hand in your shirt, then," Roland said, which brought Laurence's head up sharply, appalled. "No, I don't mean to say who," she added to Demane's immediate demand, before Laurence had even made an attempt, "he was drunk, and sorry after: really sorry, I mean, not just being a weasel. A weasel would have been afraid to try, I expect, now Mother is a lord admiral. Anyway," she went on, too candidly, "I don't know if I should have minded, if he had not been so drunk."
Much to Laurence's dismay, however, Demane showed as alarming and visible a predisposition to resent this, as the other; the whole business of which gave Laurence fresh cause for concern: he had been neglectful of his duty by Roland. She might not officially be under his command any longer, but certainly she was still his responsibility, and he had left her without sufficient evidence of protection. He had allowed her to run wild with the other ensigns and runners, though they were plainly reaching an age to make that inadvisable; it suggested a lack of care which could only encourage improper advances.
As there was not a single other female in their company, however, he would be hard-pressed to manage a chaperone at present; and he rather dismally felt Roland would not take with much kindness to supervision, in any case.
"What for?" Granby said, with that perfect disregard for reputation which Laurence could no longer be surprised by, and yet sigh for. "If she does decide to fancy Demane, or anybody else, it would be just as well if she got it out of the way early. Lord knows we would like to keep Excidium in harness at least two more generations, if he will have it; by now he knows our formations better than any ten officers put together. And you can see with Harcourt, there is no telling what may happen; it might take half-a-dozen tries to get a girl.
"No, but I will tell you," Granby went on, "I am a little worried about this business with Demane: I'll put a word in where I can, when I have got back to England, and I don't expect Admiral Roland will have any truck with this business of saying he isn't in the Corps. But that still leaves you with a good year and a half to manage, and I think Rankin means to encourage it, the rotter."
"So far as that goes, if need be we will remove to the valley, or find another," Laurence said, "and have done."
With Rankin's encouragement or no, Blincoln - evidently feeling that, as he had originally been offered the egg, he had some right now to try again - did make an attempt; he was a former rifleman, and while they were encamped took one of the guns and went out, in a surreptitious manner, to return with a fresh-killed cassowary, which he brought back and offered to Kulingile while nearly all the rest of the camp were sleeping. Laurence roused only in time to see Kulingile fall upon the carcass at once with evident pleasure, while Demane rolled up to his feet, his hands clenched by his sides, rigidly angry.
Blincoln did not look over, but in a low voice suggested, as he put out a hand to stroke Kulingile's side, that perhaps the dragonet would like another captain, with a proper rank and standing in the Corps, who might provide for him not only raw meat but the chance at real service.
"No," Kulingile said, eating unconcernedly, "I have Demane."
Blincoln paused and said, "Surely this is a very nice cassowary; I am glad you are enjoying it," beginning on another tack; but Kulingile said, "Yes, although the one which Temeraire gave me yesterday was a bit more fat; and the one Lieutenant Drewmore shot the day before had a better flavor," and indeed he had been used to be fed by so many, lacking the ability to hunt for himself, that it was not surprising he did not attach much significance to the gift.
The first attempt having failed, Blincoln would have withdrawn, but Demane confronted him: a head shorter than the lieutenant and some fifty pounds at least lighter, a slim dark figure trembling with rage, and he said, "You are a coward, and if you try and steal Kulingile again - "
He stumbled to a halt, not so much reluctant to threaten as unsure precisely to what degree, and Blincoln said, "I hope," with an air of stuffy superciliousness, "Mr. Demane, that you have better sense than to indulge in histrionics and unreasonable expectations: no heavy-weight can be managed by a young boy. Your passion is understandable, however, and I am sure if you should demonstrate perhaps some more sense - some cooperation - that you will find it a good foundation for future expectations, and a more steady and rational advancement in the Corps - "
Demane spat, comprehensively. "That for steady advancement, as though I would trust any of you cheats," he said, "and if you think I will ever help you take Kulingile from me, you are a great fool; as if he would have a lying sneak like you anyway, after you wanted to let his brains be knocked out with a sledge. As for being a boy, at least I am not a useless old scrub sent away because he did not deserve his old post - "
Blincoln slapped him across the face, which Laurence, on the point of intervening, could not call entirely unmerited, even if there were no shortage of blame to be credited to Blincoln's account in the situation; but the noise was crisp and loud in the dry air, and Kulingile's head snapped up from his repast to see Demane stumbling back under the blow.
Kulingile did not precisely spring: the motion was more peculiar, as he launched himself and landed against Blincoln still floating, but then he exhaled in a sharp, hissing way, and the swelled air-sacs began to deflate, so his real bodily weight at once began to tell, and Blincoln stumbled and went down beneath him. "You have hurt him!" Kulingile said, shrill and furious. "You have hurt him; Demane!" and opened wide his jaws to push out still more air, and Blincoln coughed and struggled to push himself free, gradually being crushed.
"Demane!" Laurence said sharply, turning to rouse Temeraire, who had just cracked open a sleepy eye; but Demane was already there at Kulingile's head, seizing the tethering-rope and tugging.
"No, come away, you mustn't kill him," Demane said urgently, "or there will be trouble: look, I am all right, you can't even see a mark."
"That is only because you are dark," Kulingile said, "and not squashy and red like him," but with some reluctance he allowed the sacs to inflate once more, and himself to be pulled away, leaving Blincoln gasping and wretched upon the ground, curling around what proved on inspection to be several broken ribs. Dorset bound these up without great gentleness. There were no further attempts; at least, none where Demane might see and object to them, and as he made a determined sentinel, this ruled out nearly any such slinking efforts.
The end of the endless journey came abruptly and unexpected: though Laurence had marked off each day their progress, and written estimates of distance and position in his log. This was for some time their only account, as neither Granby nor Rankin nor any aviator had any notion of keeping records which Laurence could even call barely adequate to serve as a proper second to his own, and Dorset kept voluminous and wholly useless notes on individual leaves, or berries, or the paw of one animal, and could not tell which way was west if the sun were going down at the time.
Laurence put O'Dea to the work experimentally, as the man at least could write a decent hand now that the rum had been sweated out of him; which did produce somewhat more successful accounts, if Laurence would have preferred to do without such descriptions as the Blighted Crimson of the earth here, which surely has drunk the Blood of the Heathen and unwary Traveler, and yearns to taste still more, and the wholly unnecessary dramatization of -
... the loathesome Creature gazed upon us long and meditatively, as if considering which to single out as its lawful Prey, tho the Carcase of the Offering lay before it limp and bloodstain'd from the Slaughter, ere it chuse the easier Course and withdrew beneath the Sands to devour the Flesh of the Kanga-roo and only dream instead of the Satisfaction to be found in a Repast accompanied by the piteous Cries of a more sensible Victim.
They had come now more than five hundred miles from the strange monolith through the endless desert landscape, shifting only a little to be yet more parched; they were drawing nearer the equator, and the heat scarcely to be believed: strange clouds racing overhead, and the sunsets vast and spectacular. They saw once in the distance two more plumes of fire, and endured half-a-dozen thunderstorms which sent water sheeting in violent cascades over the hard-baked ground, so the dragons had to leap aloft out of the torrents.
They could not be sure of their position: one single survey could not necessarily be relied upon; there were no landmarks known, or any way to be sure of their approach. Their progress upon the map showed them steadily nearing the coast, however, and one morning they came upon a broad band of verdant green, stretching away in either direction along the banks of a riverbed, flowing vigorously.
They cut its course again, some two days later, and after this each day the countryside grew less dry: the red earth slowly vanishing from sight as the trees grew closer to one another, and water now more plentiful. They were flying through the night, the cool wind rushing in their faces familiar and pleasant against Laurence's eyes, half-closing, and then Temeraire was descending, suddenly, to land upon the top of a low hill.
Laurence roused: the air was salt, and below them the moonlight was running silver across the water, a thin shimmering road stretched out vanishing to the dark horizon, far away. The sound of the ocean came lapping clear and liquid up the slope towards them. There were some lights down below - an encampment perhaps, but there were many of them; and Laurence thought perhaps even one or two out on the water, from the bobbing motion - night fishermen in canoes, most likely.
"We had better camp over here, and have a look in the morning, before we go blundering in," Granby said, his voice kept low not to carry, and Laurence nodded; there was not much chance of hiding Temeraire or Iskierka, but they found a heap of rock which the dragons might curl themselves around, and so have at least a little camouflage against a quick glance in the dark. They put up the small tents around them.
"It is something to think we have crossed the whole continent," Granby said thoughtfully, while they drank their tea, "but Lord! What a waste of time it will have been, if the egg has already hatched."
"If it has not hatched," Rankin said, "I wonder what you propose to do to find it and extract it; you seem to imagine that only because we have found some native village, we have found the end of our search." He stalked away to Caesar's side.
"Whether we have found the egg or not," Laurence said, "I think we have found the end of our road: it must be hatched, or very soon, and when we have reached so clear a terminus I hope they will not demand further pursuit, so vainly." He looked where Temeraire lay sleeping, silent but for the rasp of his breathing.
He slept by Temeraire's side; in the morning roused and said tiredly, "Yes?" before he realized he was being looked over by a native man: tall, with a curly beard gone a little to grey; he was otherwise built like a much younger man than his face would have had him, sinewy and muscled, with a spear held casually in hand; he wore a braided belt, from which was slung a loincloth, and nothing else. Two younger men, rather more wary, hung back a little way behind him.
"Laurence, perhaps he has seen the egg, or the other dragon?" Temeraire said, peering interestedly down, which despite the proximity of his teeth did not seem to disconcert their visitor. "Have you?" he asked, and began to repeat his question over in French and in Chinese.
"We will have to try and manage it with pantomime, and whatever O'Dea and Shipley can work out of their language, if anything," Laurence said, pulling himself up to Temeraire's back to see where the men had got to. "Mr. O'Dea," he called, and that gentleman turned and came down from the ridge, where he had been standing with several other of the convicts, looking down at the sea.
"Sir," O'Dea said as he scrambled down, "we should like to know if we have got to China properly at last."
"Certainly not; we have only reached the coast," Laurence said. "I had not thought to find you turned credulous, O'Dea; you can read a map."
"Well, Captain," O'Dea said, "I can; but I have seen Chinamen, too, and there are four of them down the hill there."
"What?" Laurence said, as the native man answered Temeraire, in fragmentary but recognizable Chinese.
"Galandoo says there are two dragons here," Temeraire said, turning his head around.
Laurence caught hold of the harness and scrambled down from Temeraire's back, and went to the top of the hill. Below in the harbor, a small, narrow-hulled junk was floating at anchor with lanterns at her stern and bow, still lit in the early-morning light. A small open pavilion of wood and stone stood some distance up the shore, all the corners of the roof upturning towards the sky, with small dragons carved and crouching on every one.
- 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