IT WAS NOT at all pleasant to wait, and wait, and keep waiting: Temeraire paced, and then went aloft to look in case there should be any sign, and then came back down and paced a little more.
"There is no one coming, is there?" Perscitia asked, a little anxiously, worried in another direction entirely. "No French dragons? Perhaps you should stop going up so much: someone might see you, and," she added quickly, "if we had to move, or had some fuss, it would make it hard for Laurence to find us again, on his way back."
Temeraire tried to settle; he could not help but see the sense in this remark, but he shook his head at her offer of a haunch of cow: the smaller dragons had gone out quietly hunting for all of them, but he did not have much appetite.
"It was not very fair of those dragons," Arkady said, "all coming on at us at once like that. If you ask me, they are all cowards. We should go fly in and get Iskierka out ourselves." He had recovered his spirits and was eating a sheep, which Lester had gone and fetched for him, with great cheer.
"We are not going to do any such thing," Temeraire said. "There are four times as many of them as of us, with guns and soldiers, and they will only have us down. Anyway that would not help us get Granby back: they will shoot him," and maybe Laurence, too, he added silently, anxiously. It was all the more unpleasant to have Arkady making such reckless suggestions, when it was all that Temeraire wished to do himself.
"What are we going to do, then," Arkady returned, "if they do not come back?"
"If they do not come back," Temeraire said, and paused, and lamely finished, "then we will think of something," not liking to imagine the prospect. He had thought Laurence was dead, and it had been just as dreadful in every way as if Laurence really had been dead. It made one unsure of the distinction between the event imagined and real, and therefore, Temeraire felt, any sort of unnecessary speculation perhaps a little bit of a risk. Laurence thought such concerns foolishly superstitious, Temeraire knew, but it seemed to him a danger not worth courting.
"What is he saying, the scalawag?" Gentius asked, scowling at Arkady milkily, in great disapproval: he was not very happy with the extra flying, which he had to endure on Armatius's back, or the uncomfortable state of their camp. "I hope he is properly ashamed of himself."
"No," Temeraire said, "he is not, at all, and he is making foolish suggestions, too."
"Well, pay no attention to him," Gentius said. "Now," and he lowered his voice, "I don't like to make you worry, Temeraire, but have you thought about what we will do, if they don't come back right off?"
Temeraire flattened back his ruff and, unable to repress the desire, went aloft to look again. It was beginning to grow dark, out towards the eastern edge of the sky, when he went high: there was a vague watery sort of moon near the west horizon ready to set, and a few plumes of dust here and there, herds of cattle. Not a sign of Laurence though, or of Iskierka; and then he looked back the other way and saw a Winchester in harness flying towards them.
Elsie landed panting. "Oh, we thought we would never find you: what are you doing here? Scotland is not this way; you are going back towards London."
"We are not lost!" Temeraire said, rather coldly: he did not much like Elsie. Hollin had been a very good ground-crew chief. Fellowes did his best, but he was perhaps not quite as attentive to the way the harness lay against one's hide, or as prompt in getting it off, in the evenings - not that Temeraire had much harness anymore at present, but it was the principle of the thing - and Fellowes was a little dull, if one were alone in the evening, and wanted a little conversation; besides, Hollin had been first - in short, Temeraire had not ceased to regret the loss. "We have not gone the wrong way," he repeated. "We are only waiting here for Laurence and Tharkay to rescue Granby: Iskierka has got herself captured."
"Oh, Lord," Hollin said, sliding down from Elsie's back. He had a satchel over his shoulder. "When did they go?"
"Hours ago," Temeraire said, despondently, "though Laurence said, they should likely need most the day to reach the city, on foot, and then if they could find where Granby was, they would not try and get him out, until it was dark, and nearly everyone asleep. So they are not late, at all; they are in good time," and did not mention that he had so lately been aloft looking for them, despite these facts.
Hollin rubbed a hand over his mouth and said, "I have a dispatch - "
"How large is it?" Temeraire inquired, and Hollin took out a folded snippet of paper from his satchel, handsomely sealed with red wax, and not quite so small that Temeraire could not see it; but as for reading, no. "You will have to read it to me out loud," Temeraire said.
"I am not sure I ought to," Hollin said, apologetically. "It says it is for Captain Laurence, you see here."
"I am sure Laurence would want us to know if it is anything important," Temeraire said. "Anyway, if it is orders for us, then I suppose that is just a mistake in addressing it by someone who does not quite understand that I am colonel of the regiment, myself."
Hollin hesitating looked around the clearing at the other men: none of them in rank higher than lieutenant, and that dubious.
"Stop looking at them," Perscitia said irritably. "It stands to reason that it is orders for us, and we cannot carry them out without knowing what they are; so either you had better tell us, or go back and see what this Wellesley fellow wants you to do: but if you ask me, he would only be annoyed you had wasted so much time going back and forth."
Hollin shrugged helplessly, but this argument carried the day: he broke the seal and read aloud, "'You are requested and required, to proceed without the loss of a moment to Coventry, and resume your duties in guarding the withdrawal, instead of - '" He paused in his reading, and then clearing his throat finished, "' - instead of whatever damned fool start you have gotten into your heads now. If you have forgotten the end of our last conversation, I haven't, and if you want pay for your damned beasts, you will keep them at their work.'"
"I do not see why everyone assumes that we are just dashing off madly, without thinking where we are going," Temeraire said, exasperated. "Of course we would be doing that, if Iskierka had not got herself captured, but she has, so Laurence has had to go rescue her; and we cannot go right away, because they are not back yet."
"Some of us might go back and join them?" Perscitia suggested, rather hopefully.
"No, we are staying all together from now on," Temeraire said, "and Arkady and Iskierka and all of the other ferals will fly out in front where all of us can see them, as they cannot be trusted to behave properly," and he translated this for Arkady's benefit.
"Bah," Arkady said, with a dismissive sniff, "you would have done the same, if you were not trying to play at being a human, and flapping along as slow as if we had to creep on the ground like them. They have nothing to complain of, we did not leave them in any danger. We would have seen if this Napoleon's army were chasing them as we came towards London, and there has not been any sign of them."
"I would not have done any such thing," Temeraire returned smartly, "because I would have had better sense than to go wandering off for no good reason and no particular notion of what to do, just to please myself - "
"We had very good reason," Arkady said, "we went to bring food back for everyone, that the French were stealing - "
"You did no such thing!" Temeraire said outraged. "Wringe told us, you went to get prizes for yourselves, and you did not mean to share with anyone at all."
Arkady had just enough grace to look momentarily uncomfortable, but no more than that. "Well, it was Iskierka's idea," he said, with a flip of his tail, and Temeraire snorted in disdain.
"But anyway," Temeraire said, turning back to Hollin, "that much is true: we have not seen Napoleon's army on any of the roads at all to-day, and we would have, flying back this way, if they were in pursuit. So he needn't worry..." He trailed off; Wellesley might not need to worry, but Temeraire realized he himself had every cause: Napoleon's army must be somewhere, and if it were not on the road to London, most likely it was all in London: where Laurence was, and Granby.
Of course he still could do nothing but fret: even if they had set off right away, there was no chance of getting to London before it was quite dark, and he did not need Perscitia's anxious whispered hints to know that it was mad to go trying to fly into a French camp at night when they had Fleur-de-Nuits about. "But in the morning - " he said, and then put down his head without finishing. There would still be guns, and thousands of men, and who knew how many dragons: it would still be quite useless.
"Perhaps he will be back before morning," Perscitia said in a tone so gloomy it left no doubt of her skepticism on that point.
"Well," Temeraire said to Hollin, "you had better go back and tell Wellesley that we will come as soon as I have got Laurence back, and he should not worry about the men, unless of course Napoleon has flown all his soldiers ahead to attack him," he added, hopefully: perhaps that was what had happened.
"We should have seen them going by, if that is what they were doing," Perscitia pointed out depressingly.
After Hollin left, the hours dragged. Temeraire slept fitfully and uneasily, rousing at every rustle or whisper to peer into the darkness, seeing nothing, and before dawn he was awake for good and uncomfortable, an unpleasant sharp ache in the underside of his jaw and all along his neck to his breastbone, where the knotted scar bothered him. He tried to crane his head down to rub his nose against it, but could not quite manage it: his neck felt very strange when he tried, and crackled as he stretched. He could not make his foreleg bend to it either, inward, and at last he sighed and laid himself back down upon the cold ground, thinking wistfully of the warm stone at Loch Laggan, or the pavilions in China.
There was a faint orange glow of coming sunrise in the distance, to the west; and then he raised his head again realizing that was quite impossible. "Oh, oh!" he cried, "wake up, everyone - " and flung himself aloft as Iskierka came blazing towards them, turning now and again to fire flames off into the face of her pursuit: some seven or eight dragons, trying to get near enough to board her again: there were a handful of men on her back struggling already - "Laurence!" Temeraire cried, straining his eyes to make him out among the dim figures.
She shot by overhead and the French pursuit all of them backwinged as Temeraire rose into their path, scrambling to avoid running into him. Temeraire opened wide his jaws and roared furious thunder on them, a P¨ºcheur-Raye point-blank in front taking the brunt of the attack. The French dragon wavered a moment mid-air, and then a great gush of blood came pouring out of his nostrils, his eyes bloodshot and strange. He sank from the sky tumbling over himself, and his wings broke beneath him like kites as he smashed into the ground.
Majestatis was coming up beside him and Ballista: the other French dragons, all middle-weights, turned tail and fled. Temeraire hovered a moment longer, panting with frustrate energy and confusion. Requiescat was rising, too, complaining, "What is all the noise for? It is too dark to fight."
"We do not have to fight," Temeraire said. "They have all run away."
"Oh, cowards!" Iskierka said, circling back. "They did not mind fighting when they outnumbered me." She turned her head back anxiously, glaring hotly at the French boarders upon her back. "Granby, you are well? Are you sure I should not just kill these men?"
"No: they have surrendered, and now they are our prisoners," Granby said. "There is head-money for prisoners," he added, wearily.
"I would rather kill them than have money," Iskierka said. "They hurt you."
"You have hurt him," Temeraire said, angrily, "and after I gave him to you, too," and he reached out urgently to take Laurence off her back. "Are you quite well?" he said anxiously.
"Yes," Laurence said briefly, in the way that meant he was not well at all, but he did not like to say anything where anyone else might hear. Temeraire sniffed at him surreptitiously: he did not think Laurence was bleeding, but it was so dark he could not be sure he was not missing some injury. "We must away at once," Laurence added, "they will bring more pursuit, and we have neglected our duty too long: we will have been missed."
"We have been missed, and Wellesley sent a very rude note, too," Temeraire said to him, turning his head back to talk, when they had all gotten under way, "which was not very sensible, but we have worked out that the army has all gone back to London: how did you get Granby away?"
"We had help," Laurence said. He was looking at something very small in his hand, which glittered a little, golden, in the early dawn light.
"Is that a prize?" Temeraire asked in interest, cocking his head to look at it.
"No," Laurence said.
The flight to rejoin the British Army was long, but at least uneventful: Iskierka gave no more trouble. If she was not much chastened, she was at least very solicitous of Granby, and willing to do nearly anything only to please him, and Temeraire had rearranged the order of flight, in any case, so she was directly under their eyes.
The ring was like a coal in the small breast pocket inside Laurence's coat, which his hand kept returning to touch: heavy beyond its weight, while Woolvey's blood dried cold and stiff on his stolen shirt. Laurence tried not to think of Edith, how she would learn the news, or what her fate would be, widowed and alone with a small child in the occupied city.
"He was a brave fellow, sir," Janus ventured: the old sailor had climbed over to Temeraire, who was lighter-burdened than Iskierka, for the trip. "Bad luck we had, there."
Laurence only nodded. He could not go back; his duty lay ahead.
They caught up Wellesley's corps that afternoon, and paced them the rest of the long way to camp outside Coventry, with a bitter wind blowing south: a taste of the weather they would have in Scotland. The men came marching dully along the road, falling out of step into quicker shuffling as they came at last to the cold comfort waiting for them: ground frozen solid as stone, covered with drifting flurries of snow. At least the waggons rolled easily, wheels clattering: the muddy road had frozen into uneven ridges.
"I don't see why we must be staying up here," Requiescat said, gliding into another slow circle. "There is a nice clearing here below us: we could see just as well from there if anyone attacked, which they won't, as we would have seen them sometime the last hundred miles."
"We mayn't land until the infantry are settled," Temeraire said, but then turned his head back and murmured, "Laurence, why mayn't we?"
"They have less comfort marching than do we aloft," Laurence said tiredly, "and will sleep in worse: the least we can do in solidarity is protect them until they have established the guard-posts, and lit their fires. If you went to your leisure while they yet struggled, it would only arouse envy and discontent."
Temeraire said, "Well, I can hover, but it is not very easy for the others to stay up: we had much better go down there and help them. We could pull up trees for them, for firewood - "
Laurence opened his mouth to say it would throw the men into a panic; but looking down at those slow and weary ranks, he did not think they had the energy to run, even if they had been half-dead with fear. "The smaller dragons, perhaps, might begin."
Temeraire turned and spoke to the ferals, and Gherni led down a handful of them, smallest, to go and pull out the old dead trees from the forest, shaking needles and dirt and squirrels out of the logs as they lifted them up, and carried them by twos and threes to the camp. The men mechanically breaking up the ground for ditches did not at first even notice the activity at their backs, and then only flinched when the first logs were put down: they stared up at the dragons with their shovels and pickaxes clutched in their hands. Lester, who had just landed, stared back at them curiously, and then poked his head over to look at the ground and asked them something in his own tongue.
"He wants to know why they are digging," Temeraire said, and, "No, no - " he called, and then went down himself, a descent which did send the men stumbling haplessly away, to stop Lester from picking one of them up: evidently with the plan of shaking him for answers, as if this would enable the man to speak the dragon-tongue.
"It is for a midden, stop being so foolish," he informed Lester, and then turning his head back to Laurence added, "and I suppose we may help them with this also: I can do what Lien did at Danzig."
She had used the divine wind there as the French dug their siege-trenches, to break up the frozen ground and make it easier for the men to dig. But it took several attempts, and the ruin of some fifty trees brought down by excess, for Temeraire to manage the same effect. "It is not," he panted, having taken a moment to breathe, "quite so easy as it looks. It seems to me it ought to be easier to roar just a little, than all-out; but it is not. I do not understand why. Not," he added hastily, "that I cannot do it perfectly well: if Lien can do it, so can I."
"Since you are having trouble, I will help, too," Iskierka announced, landing beside them, and before anyone could stop her, she had put her head down and blasted flame out onto the ice-packed ground.
A great cloud of hissing steam arose in the center of her strike, but for the most part the flames licked and billowed away to either side over the hard icy surface. Happily the ditch-diggers were by now established at a safe distance, watching rather nervously with their officers, and were not singed; but the fire caught in the heap of fallen trees which Temeraire had knocked down.
"Now see what you have done," Temeraire said. "Quickly," he called up, "fetch dirt, and put out the fires."
"Wait," Perscitia said, landing. "If we lay the logs down where you mean to dig the ditches, they will melt the ground, and the men can get warm while they wait."
"See, it has all worked out for the best," Iskierka said to Temeraire, brazenly adding, "I meant it so."
He flattened his ruff and said, "Then you may help put the logs in place, since you have so very cleverly set them on fire before they were lined up properly."
Laurence dismounted as they worked, and went to speak to the sergeant and his men and explain the scheme. "They won't come this way?" was all the man wanted to know, wiping a nervous dirty hand over his blond moustaches, and leaving them streaked and muddy.
"If they do, they will do you no harm," Laurence said, with no more patience, "and they are saving you an afternoon of hard labor after marching. When the fire in the logs has died down, you will find the ground easier to dig, and you may chop up the remains for tinder and sleep warmer tonight than you had any hope of doing."
Wellesley rode up on his dark horse, wrestling to keep it under control, the animal skittish and shy of flames and dragons both. "What the devil are you doing, then?" He did not wait for an answer, but threw an eye over the works and snorted. "Clever as foxes, I see. Well, don't stand there, man," he said to the sergeant. "Go and clear the rest of that brush. Goren, we'll have the wounded over here, nearest the fires. At least they can't get up and run away from the dragons like ninnies: half of 'em haven't legs anymore. And as for you and that beast of yours," he added to Laurence, grimly, "finish here and be at the clearings in an hour, no more: I have words for you I don't care to have interrupted."
The horse and the general wheeled away, aides in train, and Laurence went back to Temeraire, who was pushing the last few logs into place with a broken-off branch, to save his talons from singeing: the fire was still very hot. Demane was already off his back and vanished, as he was wont to do given even five minutes in reach of the ground. "Roland, go and fetch him out," Laurence said, and waited tapping his thigh until she came out of the woods some ten minutes later, half-dragging Demane along: he had a string of rabbits and squirrels already gathered from the wreckage the dragons had made, and looked surly to have been interrupted.
"Go set up a tent in camp, if you can," Laurence said, "and then see what you can do in the way of forage for the dragons. Janus, I am sure you can be of use to Mr. Fellowes, or Mr. Dorset."
"Aye, sir," Janus said.
"You may keep working here until it is done," Temeraire said to Iskierka, rather smugly, "since it was all your notion," and carried Laurence over to the clearings, where Ballista was already improving their comfort by smashing up shrubs and thornbrake with her barbed tail. Perscitia had managed to establish a remarkable bonfire, by setting several of the fallen trees into a tent-pole shape, and using the crushed and pounded wreckage for tinder, although she was now eyeing the towering blaze a little nervously: it had grown a good deal higher than her head.
"A handsome signal," Wellesley said sarcastically, when he came. "It is kind of you to spare Bonaparte the trouble of having to find us in the dark."
"You have a dozen fires lit just over the hill in the other part of camp, so I do not think it makes much difference that this one is a little bigger," Perscitia said, in defensive understatement. "And," she added with sudden inspiration, "this is so bright the Fleur-de-Nuits cannot come near us: it will hurt their eyes too much to see anything else around."
Wellesley only snorted at this justification, and turned to Laurence. "And I suppose you have another such clever explanation you would like to feed me - "
"Sir," Granby said, breaking in, "the fault was mine, for letting Iskierka run away with me - "
"I imagine there is no shortage of blame to parcel out among you," Wellesley said cuttingly.
"It is not Granby's fault at all!" Iskierka said, overhearing. "He did not like our going, and I am sorry now to have disobliged him; but I do not see why we ought to flap along after you like chickens, with no-one to fight all day. If we are supposed to protect you, we would do much better to go find someone who meant to attack you, and kill them before they did; so what I did was perfectly sensible, and it was just bad luck we got captured. And even so it has all come right in the end, so you haven't any cause to yell."
"Yes, I begin to see your captain might be wholly innocent," Wellesley said, eyeing her. "Granby, is it?"
"Yes, sir," Granby said, miserably.
"The next time this creature disobeys, you will cut her loose," Wellesley said. "You and your crew will be reassigned; as for her, I do not care if she goes in the breeding grounds or flies across the sea; if she won't follow orders, she is useless, and worse than useless when she induces others to risk good beasts after bad."
"Oh!" Iskierka said, jetting a hissing cloud of steam. "Oh, I am not useless! I have taken more prizes than anybody, I can beat anyone who tries to fight me - "
"Brawling does not impress me," Wellesley said. "We are here to win a war, not a single battle or a private mill; and any one dragon, like any one man, is expendable. The nation has managed without a Celestial or a fire-breather this long, and we will manage again without you if we must. If you are spoiling for a fight, you will have one when we are ready to give it to the French; until then, you are going to behave, or you can give up your captain and get you gone: we will find other work for him."
"Granby, you would never," she appealed, and poor Granby stood white and wretched and looked at Wellesley, and then he said, low, "Dear one, I am an officer of the King."
Laurence looked away. He did not know he could have passed a similar test. Temeraire was not willful, in the same fashion; his disobedience had been more deliberate and more grave than Iskierka's - but that was an excuse. If Wellesley, if any superior, ordered him to leave Temeraire, a simple plain order to go to another duty, and not as a means to abuse -
Iskierka made a low dreadful keening noise in her throat, and hissed out a whistling of steam so thick it clouded the ground around her feet; then she leapt away across the clearing and huddled herself into a heap of coils. Arkady sprang to her side and began speaking to her hurriedly in the dragon-tongue.
"I would not care if she did go away with them," Temeraire said, listening, "and if you ask me, it serves her just right. I should be very happy to have you back myself, Granby," he added.
"I beg your pardon," Granby said, looking wretched, and ran across the clearing after her.
"You have damned little room to criticize," Wellesley said to Temeraire.
"I am not always running off to please myself!" Temeraire said. "I have never disobeyed, except when someone tried to take Laurence from me, or hurt him, first; and when the Government tried to murder all the dragons in the world."
"So you have only been insubordinate or treasonous a dozen times or so, is that all?" Wellesley said dryly. " - No, save your breath and the rest of your excuses. Carry on this way again, under my command, and I will treat the promises I have made you as cavalierly as you do your duty: do you understand me? Both of you," he added, "as I see I cannot lay the guilt on your handler's shoulders alone; but I will be damned if I try and apportion the guilt."
"Yes, sir," Laurence said quietly.
"But we have not done anything wrong to-day: that was all because Iskierka ran off," Temeraire protested. "It is not my fault, or Laurence's."
"It damned well is, if you are her commanding officer," Wellesley said. "Do not let me hear you blame one of your subordinates again."
"Oh," said Temeraire, quelled, and looked a little ashamed.
"Now," Wellesley said, "if you have finished with this back-talking: since you have spent half the day flying hither and yon, I mean to profit by it, at least. Where is Davout bivouacked, and how many soldiers does he have on the road in reach of us?"
"But I told Hollin to tell you," Temeraire said. "They have all gone back to London."
"There were thirty thousand men behind us yesterday morning," Wellesley said. "I don't care if Bonaparte is chasing them with whips from morning to night and using dragons for supply, they cannot all have got back to the city in a day: you must at least have seen some sign, pickets or fires - "
"Sir," Laurence said, "there was no sign that any of us saw, either the beasts which flew off earlier, or when we pursued them; we saw Davout's regiments making camp around London, and Murat was in the city also."
"And I have already told you all," Temeraire said, "they can go fifty miles in a day, we have seen them do it, so - "
"It is one thing to move a brigade or two by dragon-back," Wellesley said impatiently, "another to move an army: you cannot put much more than two hundred men even on the largest beasts."
"That is not how they do it," Perscitia put in, unexpectedly. The other dragons had all been listening in to the conversation and the lecture with gossipy interest, though hanging back a little; now she put her head forward to interject. "They do not just take a hundred men and fly with them straight, all day. They take a hundred men and carry them as far as they can in an hour, and put them down, and those men start marching from there. And then the dragons go back and get the next hundred men, who you see have been marching all this time, so they are not all the way off, and the dragons take them forward for - "
"Wait, they fly back?" Requiescat said, and with much irritation Perscitia had to interrupt to claw a picture into the dirt, showing how the companies would each in turn be carried leap-frog over those in front of them, each receiving two hours of the dragons' time.
"And so on, until they have carried everyone a little way, and given them all a rest," Perscitia said, "and so the men can walk thirty miles instead of twenty, and the dragons fly everyone twenty miles on top of that, so the whole company has moved fifty miles, together."
She finished triumphantly, and Requiescat said, "Well, it seems like a lot of bother to me, just for an extra twenty miles; even I can make that in an hour or two," and she huffed in indignation.
Wellesley had a better appreciation of her explanation, however, and studied the diagram with a fierce, hawk-like intent. "So this is what Roland has been going on about, then?" He looked at Laurence and said sharply, "And can your beasts manage the same?"
"If the men would go aboard," Laurence answered him.
"They will go aboard if I have to shoot them," Wellesley said.
For all his harsh words, however, the next morning he took the Coldstream Guards apart, and addressed them personally; the seven Yellow Reapers and three Grey Coppers were lined up some distance behind him, facing away so their jaws and teeth could not be seen. They had been rigged out with rope and sackcloth, and his aides were all busily climbing over the dragons - to no purpose but the dramatic, as the rigging had already been thoroughly tried by the dragons themselves tugging on it.
"Men," Wellesley said, "this is a damned sorry state of affairs we are in. That Corsican upstart sleeping in the King's bed, and his bully-boys stealing cattle and wrecking the harvest: it is more than any red-blooded Englishman can bear, and we are not going to bear it, either, for much longer."
"That's right," a couple of men called back; a "hear, hear" and scattered mutterings of agreement.
"Every one of you knows they cannot outfight you, and we have learned they are not outwalking you, either: it is all one of Boney's tricks. Those damned lazy Frenchmen are being carted around half the day on dragon-back, that is how they have been getting the jump on us," Wellesley said, jerking his head back towards the dragons. "It is time we put a stop to it, and your colonel has solicited the honor for your regiment to go first.
"It is no treat to go aloft, so I rely on you all to make an example for the rest of the corps to follow. When your sergeants give the word, you are to go aboard the dragons, one to a company, one column to a side, filling the rigging from front to back. The first company which is aboard in good order will have the honor of carrying the flag when we give Boney his well-deserved drubbing, and an extra ration of rum in camp to-night.
"And I hope there is no man here more faint of heart than a Frenchman," he added, "but if there is anyone here who is too craven to go aloft for an hour, he may say so now, and be excused." He nodded to the colonel of the regiment, and himself turned and walked over to the dragons, to make a show of speaking with Rowley. No-one spoke, and the men filed in perfect order - with something even of a hurry - aboard the beasts; the rest of the army had been roused up to see it happen, and the dragons lifting off with the soldiers all aboard: with only a little prodding from the sergeants, the men aboard all jeered cheerfully at the regiments marching below as the dragons sailed away.
The first few days were a confusion of trying to match the supply to the men, at the end of the day, and more than one set of rations went astray; they did not manage to go more than ten miles beyond the usual distance, and the brigades on the road became a wretched muddle, with some regiments on each others' heels, and others separated by miles. The dragons were also not very pleased. "One of them poked at me with a bayonet," Chalcedony complained, indignantly, "and when I turned around and told him to stop, he shrieked: he is lucky I did not toss him off."
But a semblance of order was gradually imposed on the proceedings, and in the end, the march which ought to have taken a long slow month was completed in two weeks: the advantage of air transport told all the more as they came through the mountains, where the dragons carried the men over the worst stretches, anywhere snow and ice had made the road impassable. Winter was now upon them in earnest, and they flew deeper into it as they went north; until the Cairngorm range reared up startlingly close, one clear morning, and the frozen black waters of Loch Laggan, with the citadel looking down upon it from the heights.
"Oh, at last," Temeraire said, with relief, looking down at the courtyard with its heated stones dark and bare of snow.
But Laurence was looking at something else: there was a dragon already in the courtyard, a Papillon Noir gorgeously ornamented with iridescent stripes of blue and green, curled comfortably upon the stones with a flag of parley and a tricolor upon its shoulders.
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