- 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
LAURENCE COULD NOT HAVE IMAGINED any more awkward and inconvenient period to their journey than to be kowtowed to in his plain and travel-stained gear by a dozen men better dressed, on the damp sand of the shore, when Temeraire had said, "I am Lung Tien Xiang, and this is the Emperor's adopted son, William Laurence," in Chinese, before Laurence could forestall any such introduction.
"Oh, how happy I should be," Temeraire cried, deeply grateful, "and I am sure Laurence could not but be honored by the gesture - " which proved even more splendid than Temeraire had ever hoped it might be: there was still some deep blue silk held in the stores, and green, and yellow thread to sew it with which looked almost golden; and it proved that Mr. Shipley had formerly been a tailor. Given the pattern of Jia Zhen's own formal robes and offered a small sum of golden coins, Shipley worked with great speed and energy, and even went so far as to try a little embroidery, at Temeraire's suggestion.
To cap his satisfaction and his feelings of deepest good-will, Tharunka said, when it was nearly ready, "Temeraire, the Larrakia have considered the circumstances, and believe that according to the law, it was not quite proper for the Wiradjuri to take my egg from you, even though you were in their country, as I am not anything which one would hunt. As they cannot give me back now, of course, they would like to know if you would accept instead some of these opals? That bit," she added aside, "was my own notion: I thought they might be very fine on those robes: how lovely they do look!"
"Now that," Temeraire said, feeling as though he must be aglow, "is what I must call civilized; and I am very glad, Tharunka, that you should have hatched with people of such consideration; if they have not any other dragons amongst them, that is not their fault, after all; certainly no-one could say they do not deserve to have them."
So the opals were sewn tightly onto the sleeves and the borders of the robe with fine thin thread, and Tharunka was quite right, they shone beautifully upon the dark silk; and when the whole was held up for inspection, no-one could have found any fault in it at all. "I will say it is something like," even Caesar grudgingly admitted, when he had nosed his head around it, and Iskierka jealously jetted some steam and said, "It is very unreasonable that Granby will not let me take any of these ships; if only I had any more of my treasure here!"
Laurence was stricken perfectly silent by their magnificence, when Jia Zhen presented them - at Temeraire's request, in the pavilion, so that he might observe. "Pray put them on at once, Laurence," Temeraire could not help but urge, as Laurence held their luxurious weight across both his arms and looked upon them, "for perhaps they might not fit perfectly; there is still time to alter the size, I think, before this evening."
Temeraire need not have worried; the robes fit without any alteration, and Laurence said, "My dear, I am very sensible of the effort - the consideration which should have gone into - " and stopped.
Temeraire said delightedly, "It is nothing, Laurence; nothing but what you ought to have had always, and how happy I am! I have not been easy about it, since I knew that I had lost your fortune; but I suppose anyone would rather have these than only some money in a bank. I do not think anyone could buy anything nicer anywhere."
"And - " Laurence said, " - and you are certain that this should be appropriate for the occasion - not, perhaps, excessive - "
"No; how could it be?" Temeraire said. "When Jia Zhen himself proposed them; and after all, Laurence, you are the Emperor's son: it is only suitable that you should have the grandest appearance."
"Oh Lord," Granby said. "Well, Laurence, you may call me a scrub, but I will be an honest scrub: I will swallow my gold buttons and silk coats and count my blessings. But at least you don't look a fool," he added, trying to be comforting, perhaps. "You look as though you might say Off with their heads! at any moment; but not a fool."
"Thank you," Laurence said, rather austerely: he felt a fool enough, and furthermore an outrageously false one, counterfeiting the appearance of an Oriental monarch and making, as it must seem, the most absurd pretensions to a station at once far beyond his own and utterly foreign to it.
And he could say nothing: if Temeraire's plain joy had not forbidden it, simple courtesy towards his hosts would have done as much, when so much effort and expense had been spent in the creation of the garments, and when they had been so ceremoniously presented. But Laurence was perfectly certain he had not put them on correctly, and also unable to persuade himself he would not look ridiculous both to his fellow Britons, and more surely to his hosts, who knew better; he was reduced to only the meager hope that they might not fall down while he ate; which event if it occurred should certainly draw the attention of the entire assembly, as he realized with dismay he was to be seated at the head, beside Temeraire.
The tables had been put out in the large and sprawling courtyard of the house: it was a little crowded for the servants to maneuver in around the five dragons who were all welcome guests, but if a few of the Dutch and Portuguese sailors did look anxiously at the large and well-toothed neighbors, no one protested aloud. Rankin had in the end condescended to make one of the party, at Caesar's earnest persuasion - "When there are so many foreign visitors," he had said, "it must look very strange for the senior, the most official representative of His Majesty's Government to absent himself, and perhaps convey a misleading impression of the relative authority of such representatives as will be present."
Laurence would gladly have sacrificed all false impression of the authority that he wholly lacked. Instead he was obliged to seat himself upon a large and elevated bench, which he suspected of being the Chinese notion of a throne, while beside him Temeraire gleamed as though he had been lacquered in paint, and displayed what fraction of his jewels he had not seen fit to load onto Laurence instead. He was seated on the other side beside one of the Larrakia chiefs, the oldest of their company, who regarded Laurence's attire with the unconcealed pleasure of a man enjoying an excellent joke.
The other aviators were a ragged and untidy crowd after their long journey and wore whichever garments they possessed that offered the least embarrassment; saving only Rankin, who had somehow kept with him untouched across an entire continent his formal evening rig. He cut the only elegant figure among them, down to his spotless stockings and the high polish upon his buckled shoes, with no decoration but his small buttonhole medal for valor and a simple, discreet stickpin of gold in his cravat.
"Only look how plain Rankin is," Temeraire whispered, with satisfaction, and Laurence sighed.
Jia Zhen began the event with a toast delivered in Chinese, of which Laurence understood only enough to blush still more for his own audacity, and which Temeraire unfortunately saw fit to comment upon in perfectly audible whispers, such as " - the generosity of Heaven in bestowing upon our humble outpost the presence of the most noble Celestial Lung Tien Xiang and the emperor's son Lao-ren-tze - that is a particularly nice turn of phrase, Laurence, the generosity of Heaven in bestowing, do you not think?"
At least after this, the worst of Laurence's mortification was at an end: the wine came around, the food was carried in, and a gathering of men more likely to be sticklers would have been hard-pressed to care anything for social niceties before the largesse of the hospitality. One might have anticipated some awkwardness from the motley company: the Larrakia elders, the Macassan fishermen, merchant captains from three countries and their first mates, all in their respective best; their hosts in their formal robes.
But these very extremes of appearance and manners in some wise made less difficult their meeting; if only through pantomime might most of the guests communicate with those not of their party, smiles and nods seemed to serve universally, and a raised glass required no explanation. The perhaps natural consequence was overindulgence, so that by the second course, the volume of laughter and conversation was rising steadily, and what formal etiquette any of the participants had preserved began to vanish quite.
With the increased potential for disaster. Demane, unfortunately, had been seated next to a younger Larrakia man, with Emily Roland on the stranger's other side; the young man was interested in her dress-sword, a fine blade with an elaborately engraved hilt, a gift from her mother. He managed through his scattering of Chinese and her own to make his admiration evident, and as she was no more proud of the sword than a cardinal might be of his office, she was by no means reluctant to show it away; and having displayed it, she tapped her chest and informed the young man, "Emily," to which he returned, "Lamoorar." From this the acquaintance proceeded swimmingly through several courses and eventually to the offer, on his part, of a braided wristlet; on which Demane, whose feelings had followed the progression with a visible increase of surliness, gave vent to a hissed demand that Roland reject the gift, on the grounds of impropriety.
"Stuff," she said. "I don't see why I ought to be rude; and you needn't be unpleasant, just because this fellow likes to be friendly," and when he would have remonstrated further, she turned her back, and offered Lamoorar a trinket of her own: a few glass beads she had acquired in Istanbul, strung upon a cord, which he accepted with a glance at Demane that a jealous spirit might sadly have interpreted as triumph.
Laurence observed the resulting spark in Demane's expression with alarm, and tried to think how he might intervene without disrupting his own awkward position. But the event was saved: at that moment, Kulingile managed to overset his emptied dish with the wreckage of the fish carcass upon all three of them. Forthing, sitting on Roland's other side, prudently changed places with her while the damage was repaired, and shifted Demane with Sipho, who with an air of smug and deliberate maturity offered Lamoorar a few words in the Larrakia tongue, which he had troubled himself earlier to acquire, while Demane tried to glare from Kulingile's other side.
For the convenience of all, it had been decided that Iskierka should take the second position of honor, at the leeward end of the table, so that her occasional jets of steam should not be blown upon everyone else. Granby was seated beside her, of course, and while she sighed in satisfaction over the elaborately layered dish of cassowary and crab and fruit, the American sea-captain leaned over from his own place, three seats down, and said to Granby, "I don't suppose you ever go wanting a tea-kettle. She's a big one and no mistake: what sort is she?"
"A Kazilik," Granby said, perfectly glad to brag, "a Turkish breed; fire-breather, of course," he added, proudly.
The American introduced himself as a Mr. Jacob Chukwah, of New York; his peculiar name was evidently of Indian extraction. He added, "My brother has one; but more along these lines," jerking a thumb at the smaller Kulingile, who was stretching out his neck yearningly to the whole tunny being set before him, stuffed to spilling-over with some sort of roast native root, and fried.
"I hadn't heard you had your own Aerial Corps, yet," Granby said.
"He is signed on with the militia, and they go in when they are called up, of course," Chukwah said, "but no, they are on the run from New York to the Ojibwe: dry goods out, mostly, and furs in."
None of the merchantment officers, with whom he might have shared a tongue, similarly made bold to speak across the table to Laurence: the dreadful state in which he sat precluded such familiarity even from his increasingly free neighbors, and when it occurred to him on the next pass of the wine that shortly the conversation would be past any real exchange of information, Laurence with some little struggle jettisoned his own sense of propriety, and leaning over asked the Portuguese captain, some few seats down, "You have French perhaps, monsieur?" in that language.
A little exchange sufficed to determine that Laurence shared with Senhor Robaldo, a native of Lisbon, a familiarity with a particular inn, which was enough to promote further conversation, leading as soon as Laurence could manage it to a discussion of the state of the war; he was anxious to know more of the attacks upon the cities in Spain, and Robaldo, he hoped, might know if the British had entered the field.
"Oh, the dog, the dog," Robaldo said, meaning Bonaparte. "Do you know, Mr. Laurence, what he has done? He has made allies of them, and ten thousand corpses still unburied in Spain and in France both."
"Sir," Laurence said, blankly, "your news runs too far ahead of me; I am lost. He has made allies of - ?"
"The moors!" Robaldo said with fervent, furious energy, not unaffected by the glass of wine he was gulping to wet his throat. "Dogs, dogs all of them; and he is shipping them to Brazilia."
"Are you talking of Brazil?" the younger American sailor asked across the table in English, Mr. Chukwah's first mate. "They have burnt Rio to the ground. We spoke to a whaler out of Chile a couple of weeks ago who had heard it in Santiago."
Robaldo groaned, when Laurence had translated this, and covered his face: he evidently had significant interests in the colony, lending his wrath a very personal intensity. "You would think his heart could not allow it! He was anointed by the Pope; but he is a heathen in his heart, a demon, a demon," and slid into his own language.
Rather less intimately concerned and better able to command himself in the face of the wine, being some six feet and more in height and solidly built, the American sailor, a Mr. David Wright, could offer Laurence more intelligence. "I'm afraid I don't know anything about what your redcoats might be up to in Portugal," he said, "but as I hear it, these fellows came out of Africa, the ones as burnt up the slave ports, and started in on some cities on the Med. They had a run at Gibraltar, too, but that went badly for them, so there's that for you."
Laurence was not much comforted to hear it. That the Tswana had intended some more thorough pursuit of their stolen tribesmen, the victims of the slave trade, he had learnt during his brief captivity among them; that they should have with such speed already realized their goal so far as to reach the coast of Europe was more than he would have dreaded. "Then it was not the French who sacked the cities?"
"No," Wright said. "The Africans went for Toulon, too, after they had done with Spain, and I guess that is where Boney got hold of them, somehow - caught some of them, or bribed 'em; but in any case he worked out some bargain with them, and he has been shipping them across the Atlantic since, on transports - by the dozen, I hear, and they are happy to go."
"He is setting them on our colonies," Robaldo said bitterly. " - the inhumanity is beyond words. No civilized nation could abide it."
"Well," Wright said, when Laurence had conveyed the sense of this remark, "I am sorry for them, but it puts pretty well paid to this stuff I have heard fellows say about the business, that the black fellows don't mind it. I would; I don't reckon I would sit at home quiet if I heard someone had taken my Jenny over the ocean and put her on a block, so I don't see anyone has a right to complain if they don't, either."
"I do not, either," Temeraire said, putting in, "and it seems to me that if anyone in Brazil did not like to be attacked, they would only need to give back the slaves, and then no one would wish to hurt them, either."
"I am afraid," Laurence said grimly, "that the better part of the kidnapped are gone beyond anyone's reach and are now in the grave; that news is not likely to appease the Tswana when they have crossed the ocean to hear it."
"I wonder how this gentleman will like it," Robaldo said, having gathered that Wright did not perhaps feel the full degree of sympathy which he felt appropriate, "when these African monsters have worked their way up the coast, and begun to pillage his cities: there is no shortage of slaves in his country."
"I don't mean to make light of the gentleman's trouble," Wright said, conciliatory, when he had understood. "There aren't any in my state, and we haven't missed them, either, so perhaps I don't see why folks can't do without. But I guess it would be hard if you have gotten used to it, years and years, and suddenly there is someone knocking down the door."
Chukwah leaned over the table and said, "Davey, you can tell that fellow, if you like, the Iroquois hatched thirty-two in New York alone this last year, so if these African fellows come to us looking for a fight, they can have one; and so can anyone else who likes, I expect.
"I've surprised you, I guess," he said with some perhaps pardonable complacency, looking at Granby, who had nearly choked upon the prawn which he was eating; all the other aviators at the table had brought their heads up from the profound attraction of their plates and cups. "Yes, the chiefs have come around to proper cattle farming, and it is working pretty well. I am thinking of jumping ship for it myself: they have more dragons than men to work them these days. A steady man, who doesn't get the jitters or lose his head aloft, can have a beast of his own in three years."
To punctuate this remark, Ensign Widener dropped his chopsticks entirely into his bowl, splattering himself shamefully.
"My brother says it is the course of the future," Chukwah continued. "What does it matter if you can't ship more than a ton, when you can get it from Boston to Charlotte in a week, hail, sleet, or storm? I am taking this load straight to Californiay, myself, to see if the Chumash riders will carry it over the Rockies for a share: and if they will, no bother with the Horn for us."
As deeply interesting as the development of the American aerial shipping should naturally be to himself and to every other aviator, Laurence was preoccupied and yet again baffled where Chukwah meant to get sufficient cargo to justify his making so obscure a voyage, and not only him but every other captain present.
He was on the point of speaking to inquire, when Temeraire leaned over and whispered, "Laurence, as we are nearly at the end, it would be very courteous if you were now to offer a toast yourself, and I have thought of a few remarks, if you should wish to make them." These Laurence had to parrot without comprehension; what little he might have understood, the liquor haze had by now consumed. They were received with utmost politeness and applause, but as he was mortally certain the same would have been true if he had inadvertently insulted the families of all the attendees, he took no great comfort here.
The toast completed, and the wreckage of the meal beginning to be removed, Jia Zhen rose - himself not a little wavery - and invited them to recline in more comfort upon makeshift couches which had been arranged along the wall of the courtyard; the tables were pulled apart and lifted and carried out, to open more room within the court, and the lights were put out. In the absence of the moon, the night was very dark, and the jetty was lined with red lanterns that glowed brilliantly both in their own right and as reflections upon the water.
A peculiar sound began: down upon the sand, one of the Larrakia men was sitting with some sort of an instrument, an enormously long pipe it seemed, which produced a deep, low, droning noise that resounded ceaselessly; he somehow did not pause even for breath. Two of the younger Chinese attendants were now standing at the jetty's end, holding long poles with lanterns at the ends, which they dangled over the water; a crowd of the younger Larrakia men were waiting upon it.
The company had grown quiet, muffled by the steady droning of the instrument and a sense of anticipation; no longer restricted to their seats, the guests gravitated towards the society of those with whom they could converse, but voices remained low. The tide was lapping in swiftly, high upon the shore, and the waves slapped at the jetty audibly.
"I suppose they might be showing a path to land," Temeraire said, peering up vainly into the night sky, but then the instrument ceased; in the sudden stillness, a low churning gurgle might be heard, traveling up the slope towards them from the bay, and the illuminated waters about the jetty shivered suddenly with many colors: gold and crimson and blue, rising up, and the great lamp-eyed head of a sea-serpent broke the surface and rose up and up, water streaming from its fins and in rivulets from the knotted brown seaweed which throttled its neck, like heaped strings of pearls.
There was a smattering of applause from the guests, a murmur of appreciation; although one of the Dutchmen said to one of the Macassan captains, in French, "I don't care; it makes any sailor's blood run cold to see one, or he is a liar."
The men on the jetty were heaving a tunny into the serpent's waiting, opened jaws; it closed its mouth and swallowed with evident pleasure, and they reached for its sides: beneath the seaweed lay chains, running through a network of golden rings piercing the serpent's fins and sides, and forming a mesh. The ends of these strands were now being drawn up onto the jetty, a heap of untarnished net, and being wound upon the capstan which Laurence had seen before.
Twenty men put hands to the capstan bars, and heaving together were bringing up a chest: carved of wood in a stretched egg-shape and banded with more of the gold, the size perhaps of the water-tank of a first rate; when it had breached the surface, another party of men set pulley hooks in it, and with a great effort it was swung up and onto the shore. The sea-serpent, watching, was fed another tunny; a second chest was drawn up, and then a third, of equal size, with the same maneuver.
The netting was flung back off into the water. Trailing it behind like a skirt of gauze, the serpent turned away and plunging into the water swam to the far side of the bay: a pair of yellow lights gleamed and a bell was ringing from another distant jetty which Laurence had not formerly noticed. As the serpent cleared away, the great head vanishing into ripples and froth, the red lanterns were lowered again to dangle above the water; all fell silent once more, and yet another serpent broke out of the water, blinking slow, garlanded with gold and gleaming kelp.
- 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