- 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
IN ANOTHER HOUR, there would have been nothing to do but stand and be pounded to pieces from either side; the little early warning was enough to try and disengage, at least, and Dalrymple at once issued the order for the retreat. Wellesley fought a brilliant rear-guard action, bloody and terrible, stretching his men to hold the full breadth of Napoleon's line while the rest of them withdrew behind that shield.
Temeraire flattened his ruff at this last remark. After all, he had Gong Su back now, and Dorset - even if Dorset was not quite so desirable as Keynes - and of course Emily and Demane and Sipho, and Fellowes and Blythe, and even Allen, so he had a perfectly respectable number, which in any case had nothing to do with the matter. "You had a crew before, and might have one again, yourself, and so might any of us," he pointed out, "so the question is not whether one is in harness, but whether one may choose to be, or not, and if it is only a choice between being in harness or being in the breeding grounds, that is not enough of a choice at all, when the breeding grounds are so boring; and that is the case even if one is in harness for the moment."
"Yes, but," Ballista said, and then paused until Majestatis, lying next to her, said bluntly, "Look, old worm, we are all doing what you say, so what if they should offer you something you want, if only you keep us quiet and fighting with the rest of the harnessed fellows? We all know they want to hang your captain - what if they should offer you his life?"
Temeraire paused in his turn. "Well, I am not going to let them hang Laurence no matter what," he said, with a hasty glance to be sure he had not been overheard, "but I do see: they might offer me a very large pavilion, or a great deal of gold." He rubbed a talon back and forth over his forehead, thoughtfully. "It would not be fair," he said at last, "if I took anything that should be for me only, when I should be getting it not for my own work but for all of ours: we are all sharing. So perhaps," he added, "one of you had better come along, when I go and talk to the generals again: one of the little ones who can go all about and let everyone know what it is they will give us."
"I will come along," Minnow said. "I have never been harnessed, and I don't look to be ever, so no-one can say I am inclined to go soft on them. Anyway I would like to see a general, I never have."
Temeraire stretched his head over to ask Laurence and Admiral Roland who was presently in command, and where they might be; which he thought quite a straightforward question. "Well, it isn't," Admiral Roland answered him. "It is still Dalrymple for the moment, I suppose. But he is likely to be replaced as soon as we get to Scotland and Government have a chance to take him out of harm's way: our harm, that is. If there is a lick of sense among them it shall be Wellesley in his place, but we ought not put our hopes so high."
"But then who am I to talk to?" Temeraire said. "I do not like to say so, but the others are not quite happy - after all our hard work, we have lost, and got no treasure, and they would like to know what use it is to keep on. Not," he added hastily, in case Laurence or Admiral Roland should think that he was a poor officer, "that we have no discipline, but after all, they are not harnessed, so they wonder why we are helping so much."
Laurence was silent a moment, and then he said, "We may as well speak to Wellesley: it cannot much matter who we have made arrangements with, if the war is lost."
Admiral Roland nodded and said, "I will tell you: now we have got the guns out of the way, I meant to send some of us back anyway, to cover the infantry when they come out of Weedon. It is too close to London, and Bonaparte has too many dragons by half. I think I have worked out where he is getting them from," she added. "He is using unharnessed beasts, too, pulled out of his own breeding grounds: I dare say that Celestial of his can talk them out of their caves as well as Temeraire can ours."
"I do not see that she needed go to any special effort," Temeraire said, with feeling, "when Napoleon is doing everything nice, and giving his dragons pavilions and treasure, too, I expect: I am sure no-one is complaining to her."
Admiral Roland snorted. "Well, whether she has had much work or not, I am confident this is the best explanation for how he has laid hands on a hundred spare dragons, in so little time; he hasn't taken a single beast off his eastern borders at all. And that means he can afford to spend a few dozen of them to harry our foot, on the march."
Laurence nodded, and Temeraire saw the danger plainly: with the infantry walking to Scotland, they would be an easy target on the road for aerial assault; and going at their creeping pace of twenty miles a day would be in striking range of dragons headquartered at London for a week.
"The unharnessed beasts can less easily be taken by boarding, if Bonaparte should manage to put together some clever little strike," she went on, "so it would be just as well to make Temeraire's regiment the guard; and let him hash this out with Wellesley, before we have a mutiny on our hands: I haven't the right to promise them anything, and you may be sure if I did their Lordships wouldn't abide by it. And if you do secure them any pay," she added dryly, "pray be sure it comes to the harnessed dragons, too: I am sure Excidium would not say no to a little treasure of his own."
"It seems a great bother to me, to be flying back," Armatius grumbled, when Temeraire had brought back the news: he did not much like always carrying Gentius around, but he was the least maneuverable of the heavy-weights, save Requiescat, so it fell to him nearly all the time.
"At least you do not need to carry a gun, too, in this direction," Temeraire said, "and flying slower we will be able to find more food. Anyway, we are going to go arrange for our pay, which is like treasure that is given you every month without your having to work for it, so you cannot complain."
Except the harnessed dragons sharing the park with them, who were disgruntled at not being allowed to come along and get some pay themselves. "Well, I am going back with you," Iskierka announced, and would not be dissuaded, no matter what Granby said; and to Temeraire's deep disgust Admiral Roland finally said, "No, it is just as well, Granby: she will only fuss, lying about in Scotland or going on patrol."
But despite this setback, it was in any case satisfying to be flying back south, even though they were not to stay, because it felt to Temeraire a little as though they were reclaiming their territory; or at least refusing to acknowledge it was not theirs anymore. He still did not like to fall back all the way to Scotland, no matter how much more secure it should be, for regrouping; but if they must do it, at least they should not have run there directly from the battlefield, with the French dragons on their heels all the way: and perhaps they would even have a little fighting, if the French tried to attack the infantry on the march.
WEEDON WAS VISIBLE aloft from a long way: the walls of the depot were built of thick grey blocks of granite, with tall narrow turrets at each corner reaching far into the air, bristling with pepper guns. Around the walls, enormous stands of long halberds and arrow-headed spears had been planted on the ground in lines, so a great company of men might sleep safe from aerial assault, and the remnants of the infantry and cavalry were bivouacked among them. It did not look at all comfortable to attack, and thanks to the defenses, Temeraire had to lead everyone else to land all the way on the far side of the camp.
Wellesley came the long distance out to speak to them with no good grace, especially as he had to walk most of the way. "What the devil are you doing here? You ought to be nearly to Scotland by now, and half my cavalry are in fits."
"We are here to protect you," Temeraire said, injured, "and also to talk to you about pay, and our rights, since we did not win treasure."
"Why, damn you, you can wait to bring the lawyers into it until after we have run the French out," Wellesley said. "Good God, you may be sure Bonaparte does not have to argue his way through every battle."
"If you would like to be compared to him," Temeraire said, "then Bonaparte has also made a marketplace in Paris, for his dragons, and built them pavilions, and he is not penning them up in breeding grounds, either, if they do not like to be there - "
Laurence laid a hand on Temeraire's leg, and Temeraire swallowed the rest of his remarks; it was difficult to remember that one must be respectful to a senior officer, even if the senior officer was unpleasant in return, and to have to think carefully about what one said, instead of laying everything out plainly, even if it was perfectly obvious and fair.
"Sir," Laurence said, "we have been ordered to cover your retreat," and handed Wellesley the note from Admiral Roland: a brief scrawl in her bad handwriting, which Temeraire could not quite read from overhead.
Wellesley scowled through the explanation, and then he crumpled the note and pitched it away; one of his aides hastily retrieved it out of the mud behind his back, to be sure it did not lie about to be picked up. "That woman is more to be relied on than half the general staff; it is a damned embarrassment. So this Chinese beast is managing Bonaparte's dragons for him? How did he get the creature to obey him in the first place? He was not there for her hatching."
"She is snobbish, so I suppose she liked that he is an emperor," Temeraire said, "and that he should make it easy for her to be nasty to me: she is a very unpleasant sort of dragon."
"I think perhaps you dislike her too greatly to be just, Temeraire," Laurence said, and to Wellesley said, "Sir, she had lately lost her companion before coming to France, and being bereft was perhaps more vulnerable to a kindness which ordinarily pride would have armored her against. But Bonaparte has not won her by any trick, but with a high degree of real affection, and certainly all the outward shows of respect; and he has materially altered the conditions for dragons under his rule, for the better."
"So anyone can manage a dragon, then, if you bribe the creature properly, and cosset it like a woman," Wellesley said.
Temeraire laid his ruff back. He did not think he was unjust to Lien at all, himself; but he did see that of course, Laurence's explanation was the more important one, for their own case, and even Lien was not just helping Napoleon because he had given her a few presents. Not that Temeraire would have said no, to a diamond as handsome as the one she had been wearing at the Battle of Jena; but that was after she had decided to help. "It is not bribery or cosseting, if you pay someone what they deserve, and if they do not like to help you otherwise."
"It is a good two thousand pounds to feed a beast your size for a year," Wellesley said. "Do you expect more?"
"Then give me the two thousand pounds," Temeraire said, "and I will undertake to feed myself, and put aside some of the rest, as I like."
"Hah," Wellesley said, "and when you gamble it away, and are starving, and you steal a cow to eat, then what is to be done with you?"
"Of course I would not gamble with treasure," Temeraire said repressively. "If I wanted to take someone else's treasure, I would fight them; and if I did not want to fight them, then I would not want to take it with a game anyway, because if I did win, then of course they would want to fight to get it back afterwards."
"And I suppose every other dragon has as much sense?" Wellesley said.
"If you prefer, sir," Laurence said, "you may pay them their board and a wage above it; the form matters little. The question at hand is, whether you will agree they have a right to pay, and to all the same rights and liberties under which any man serves."
"Why the devil ask me?" Wellesley said. "Go speak to Dalrymple, if you like. I have no authority to make commitments on behalf of the Government."
Laurence said, "Sir, you are likely to be appointed to the command, and to just that authority; we both know that their Lordships are not likely to overrule, in the broad strokes, what commitments you feel necessary to make to secure so critical a victory, nor even question them greatly, if those commitments should deliver to the effort a substantial force of dragons, which otherwise have no inclination to remain and to serve."
Wellesley tapped his boot again, and said nothing for a moment, looking at Laurence. "I can give you my word it will be considered, shall we say," he offered, "and I can promise your beast the two thousand pounds per annum directly, as he is so sure he may be trusted. And we need hear nothing more of your own - difficulties."
"Hah," Minnow said, putting her head over Temeraire's shoulder. "Just so: they are offering you something, only for you and your captain."
Wellesley started back: he had evidently not noticed Minnow sitting quietly on Temeraire's back, listening in.
"Yes, but I am not going to take it," Temeraire said, and lowered his head more closely, so Wellesley had to look at him directly. "I do not choose to wait, and rely on generosity: I know perfectly well how generous their Lordships are. If you would like our help now, then you may say how much it is worth to you, also now. And if it is not as much as I think it worth, I will tell the others so, and they will leave, I expect. I will stay myself for Laurence, but I will not keep the others for my own personal sake. And it is not very handsome of you to propose anything so insulting, either," he added reproachfully, lifting his head back away, "when you know I cannot fight you over it, because you are too small."
"Do you know, you are the most damned peculiar pair of traitors I have ever heard of," Wellesley said to Laurence. "Are you trying to get yourself into Foxe's Book of Martyrs?"
Temeraire snorted angrily: Laurence had read him bits of that book, and it was all about people who had died in especially unpleasant ways. But Laurence only said, "Sir, there are abundant proofs for any man, by now, that any nation which gives its dragons liberty and brings them into the life of the state, winning their loyalty direct and not merely by intermediaries, must profit by it to so great an extent that no enemy which does not follow the same course can long hope to mount an aerial force to compete with them. If you do not care to learn from the example of China - "
One of the young officers on Wellesley's staff, who had walked out with him, made a rude noise. "You need not sniff, either," Temeraire said. "China may not have so many guns as here, but there are thousands of dragons in the army."
"Thousands indeed," Wellesley said, skeptically.
"Six thousand two hundred and eighty-eight, my mother told me," Temeraire said. No one said anything a moment, and he supposed it might seem odd to be so precise, so he explained, "Because that is a lucky number - of course they have more dragons who can fight, but those dragons are not officially in the army."
"And if," Laurence said to Wellesley, "the population of France is not so great as that of China, if they should even achieve the same proportion of dragons to men and arable land, using the same techniques of husbandry which you may be sure Lien has conveyed to Bonaparte, their nation will shortly be able to field a military force of a thousand. Would you care to face that in five years, with the Corps at its present rate of growth?"
"Damn you, I am not in a mood to be lectured at with figures, as though I were in a boardroom in Whitehall," Wellesley said. "Very well. Your beasts will have their keep, and above that, the same wages as any other man in service under the Navy Board - "
"A shilling a day will keep a seaman's wife and children, and let him carouse on shore a little when he comes into port; it will not do as much for a dragon," Laurence said.
"And we don't want little coins we must keep track of, either, and cannot hold on to," Minnow put in. "A proper mess that would be."
Temeraire nodded. "No, and what we really want is to be able to go where we like. That is what I want promised, also: if we may go where we like, and do any work that is offered to us, then even should Government offer us unfair wages, we will work for someone else instead. And the same for harnessed dragons, too," he added.
"Any work that is offered to you?" Wellesley said. "By all means. As for going where you like - "
He and Laurence wrangled a long time, in low voices, over sums and coverts, and how much ought to be paid to a heavy-weight, over a courier, and so on. Temeraire listened carefully, but he did not know all the places which Laurence named, where coverts ought to be, and also he was not quite certain about the money. His breastplate, he knew, was worth nearly ten thousand pounds, but shillings and pence were new. They were interrupted at last only by the arrival of a breathless courier from the main camp, to inform them that the last stragglers from the battlefield had been regrouped, and were ready to begin the march to the north.
"I have no more time for this," Wellesley said. "Twenty coverts, on the Bath Road and the Great North Road, where they can go to sleep and be fed. As for pavilions, they can build the damned things themselves with their own shillings: set themselves up like admirals, if they like. And after this, they had damned well better keep in line."
"Sir," Laurence said, and made a bow: to Wellesley's back; the general had already turned and walked away.
LAURENCE FOUND HIMSELF almost at once the center of a large and interested audience of dragons, all pressing in and jostling for room to hear him, as soon as he had begun to try and explain to Temeraire and Minnow the system of coinage.
"So ten pounds will buy a cow?" Minnow said intently, "and a pound and a shilling is a bit of gold?"
"If it is twenty shillings to a pound, and twenty-four shillings a day," Temeraire said thoughtfully, "then that is nearly four hundred pounds a year for a heavy-weight - " performing calculations in his head, which produced a buzz of satisfaction among the other dragons.
"But where is it?" Iskierka demanded. "I did not come back to just hear numbers; what sort of treasure is that?"
Temeraire snapped at her a little. "It is reliable treasure," he said. "Not all of us want to be always running around picking quarrels and making difficulties, like you, all to grab more and more: this is for everyone every day who does their duty, like proper soldiers, and it is fair."
The other dragons were generally of his mind, if Iskierka continued to sulk, and agreed they were satisfied with their lot. But Laurence himself felt not a little disgusted, on having stooped to such back-room negotiations, at such a moment: maneuvering for personal interest, while Bonaparte marched into London and the French followed on their heels, felt more like treason to him than any of the acts for which he had been charged. "We must see to your dinners," he said, more out of an urgent wish to put an end to the gloating noise. "The Army will march at first light, and we must be ready."
In the morning, when the dragons had breakfasted and gone aloft, the first regiments were already out on the road, their pace sluggish enough that Requiescat remarked, near dinner-time, "Now, this is what I call a pleasant flight, no fussing or hurry." Temeraire only sighed.
"We might go over to them and offer to carry them, at least a little way, as many as could climb aboard us?" he suggested to Laurence. "I am sure they could go faster."
"Not without orders," Laurence said; he could well imagine Wellesley's reaction, or Dalrymple's, if the dragons should begin to fly towards the ranks, and likely panic some of the men and cavalry-beasts into running, after all the difficulty in forming them back into their regiments.
"It is only so dull: we might fly to to-night's rendezvous and back again three times over, before they have got there," Temeraire said, "and some of us more than that. What if Requiescat and a few of the others should stay pacing them, and we go ahead - or perhaps," he added, ruff coming up with enthusiasm, "we might go back, and see if we cannot pay Napoleon back a little, for everything which he has done." He peered back over his shoulder, to see how this was received.
"It is not your place even to propose such a thing, anymore," Laurence said. "You have accepted a commission; you are obliged to preserve discipline, not to undermine it - " Hearing himself thus condemned from his own mouth, Laurence abruptly stopped; he did not know how to speak to Temeraire of duty anymore, without being a hypocrite.
"I suppose," Temeraire said, regretfully. "It is not always so pleasant to be an officer. And I am sure Iskierka will complain, all night, and say more cutting things about going slowly, and running away, and not getting treasure." He snorted, and looked, and then said doubtfully, "Where is Iskierka?"
She had been flying sullenly to their rear all the morning, amusing herself by occasional wild darts into the heavy low clouds above, where her flames made gold and crimson and purple flashes through the white and grey, like a sunset in mid-morning. But Laurence did not remember her doing it the last two hours and more. Arkady was gone also, with a handful of the other ferals, and when questioned, Wringe had a guilty twist to her neck, even while she professed surprise and confusion.
Temeraire did not miss it, either. "But how am I to make Wringe tell me where they have gone?" he asked Laurence, and batted her reaching talons away from a bleating sheep. He had brought them down in a broad meadow, the better to interrogate the remaining ferals, and the other dragons were driving the luckless resident herd in towards them all, so they should make a meal while they worked out what Iskierka and the others had done. "No, you may not eat, until you have told me: they have made a great deal of trouble for all of us."
"I call that hard," Requiescat said, mumbling around a sheep. "It ain't as though we will not outstrip those redcoats anyhow, and nobody minds a snack, either."
"You may find it less pleasant when we have had to fly thirty miles back to catch Iskierka up, and then sixty on to the rendezvous," Laurence said grimly; and that the very best outcome they could hope for.
"Hum," Requiescat said, licking his chops thoughtfully, "that's so, but I don't see as we have to go finding her at all. She and those fellows know where the rendezvous is as well as anyone, and they have some men and their compasses with them, if they should get themselves lost like hatchlings. We can just go on and let them catch us up."
"They must know we would miss them, after they have been gone so long," Temeraire said, "so I expect that they have got themselves into a fight, and are probably all dying somewhere full of French bullets." He did not sound as though he would be very sorry to find as much the case.
Wringe squirmed as Temeraire pointedly translated this for her, but still said nothing. "Temeraire," Laurence said, low, "it is not only foolishness on her part; this is a challenge to your authority."
"Oh!" Temeraire said, and, having told Wringe as much, he added, "so now you will tell me, or else," and when she continued mute, he drew a great expanding breath and roared out, over her head.
"Payom zhe reng!" Wringe said, flattening herself to the ground, and everyone jumped. A gentle pattering like rain came from the trees in the path of Temeraire's roar, old acorns shaken loose into the dead leaves, and a few small birds dropping stone-dead. Gong Su promptly went in after them while Wringe muttered her confession: the miscreants had gone back towards London with a notion of taking some of Napoleon's army by surprise, winning either treasure or accolades. There had been no very well-formed goal; they had gone looking for a fight as much as for any practical reward.
"We ought to go on and leave them to catch up," Temeraire said, panting a little, still ruffled and angry, "just as Requiescat says, except then I dare say she will come back with two eagles or something like, and there will be no living with her at all."
Laurence did not like to ill-wish aloud, but if Iskierka had so overridden Granby as to make herself a deserter, she was unlikely to be guided in any other respect of sense, and he thought Temeraire's earlier expectation was the more likely to be met.
But Temeraire brightened after a moment and added, "Anyway, I do not suppose anyone can blame us for going after her, to fetch her back, Laurence? After all, she is very important; or so everyone says."
The roads beneath them were empty as they flew back towards London, warily and quick. The haze of dust which the British soldiers raised had already settled, and no sign of French pursuit. No-one much was to be seen out of doors, except farmers and herdsmen at their husbandry: cattle and crops cared nothing for Napoleon or politics, and implacably demanded all the same attention. But even these few men kept their heads low, and hurried through their work as much as could be done; by late afternoon the countryside seemed nearly deserted, with the sun yearning impatiently to its rest.
"We ought to see her miles off, if she is showing away as she always does," Temeraire was saying ungraciously, as they flew, and then he pricked up his ruff: a small speck in the distance, coming closer, had emerged from the clouds and begun to resolve itself into wings.
It was Gherni: a much-battered Gherni, panting with the speed of her flight, and her face mazed with a trickle of blood she ineffectually tried to rub off against her shoulder, now and again, only smearing it about into a brick-red film overlaid on her blue hide. Tharkay was with her, and he leapt down to Temeraire's back from hers mid-flight, like a boarder, but tethered by a long double strap of thick leather. He unclipped it from his own waist as soon as he had landed and latched on to Temeraire's harness; Gherni caught up the snapping-free loose end, which jangled loudly with small clapper bells, and wrapped it around her own forearm a few times.
"What is that?" Temeraire said, with interest, craning his head to see.
"I had it made in Istanbul, my last journey," Tharkay said, and to Laurence said, "Iskierka has been taken."
He led them to Arkady and the other deserters, huddled and licking their wounds in the shelter of a tall hill that shielded them from the road, casting an afternoon shadow long enough to conceal them from cursory observation from aloft. The red-patched feral roused when Temeraire came in to land, and mantled his wings defensively.
"That is enough, you shan't bristle at me," Temeraire said. "You knew very well you were behaving like a - " He paused, for consideration. " - like a scrub, or else you shouldn't have sneaked, and if you have been served out as you deserved, it is no-one's fault but your own. You had better to be sorry and promise not to do it again, than hiss."
"They broke away a little before noon," Tharkay told Laurence, as they squatted down and scraped clean a patch of dirt, for him to sketch out the action. "Well-managed: they had been going into the clouds all morning, and making a noise with their singing, so by the time we realized they had turned us around you were all far out of ear-shot. Granby's gunners shot off a few flares, but it was a hopeless effort.
"From there our luck was as evil as it might have been: two hours flying towards London without any challenge, so we were on Bonaparte's doorstep by the time we came on any other beasts; and then it was Davout's advance guard out gathering cattle: two Grand Chevaliers and another half-a-dozen heavy-weights. Of course all of them went directly for her; I think I saw sixty men jump for her back at once. Arkady grew remarkably less deaf to me, after that, and we managed to get away; but the French already had Granby trussed like a chicken on one of the Chevaliers and were racing him away as fast as they could go, with Iskierka flinging herself madly after them."
"I knew I ought never have let her have Granby," Temeraire said stormily. "Now look how she has lost him, and not even in a real battle. We ought to get him back and leave her to them, and good riddance."
Laurence exchanged a glance with Tharkay: it was by no means good riddance to lose their one fire-breather to the French, no matter how recalcitrant. "Did you see where they went?" Laurence asked, low.
"Straight for London," Tharkay said.
- 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