IT WAS A VERY great relief to let off his last load of men and supply. Temeraire understood the necessity of moving as quickly as Napoleon, of course, and if he had been disposed to doubt it, Perscitia's calculations showed plainly how quickly the difference of thirty miles a day, even if it seemed only a few hours' flying, would add up day by day. But it was so very tedious to be going back and forth on these short hopping flights, an hour in the air, then letting men off, then flying directly back to have another load put on. It was impossible to fly quickly or freely with men clinging aboard to the makeshift rigging, and then there was all the unpleasantness of their dirt. His own crew were well able to handle such matters without getting him spattered, even little Roland, and since the passengers were only an hour or two at most aboard at a time, Temeraire felt it was not too much to ask that they show some restraint, even if they were crammed aboard. But some of them simply could not manage it, and if he only dived a little to catch a better air current, or twisted to keep on an updraft, he was sure to be soiled. All very well to say, he had scales; it would take a week of bathing before he felt at all clean again.
But the lake was frozen solid, so for the moment he had to content himself with rolling in the thick snow on one of the neighboring hills, until he was wet and cold all over. The encampment had been going up all day as they delivered men by air, and by now the officers were coming up the hill in irregular clusters to eat in the citadel, leaving their horses stabled away at the foot. Loch Laggan had an ample herd, and all of them having eaten, the unharnessed dragons began to circle down, negotiating with complex aerial maneuvers their respective landing places on the hill, whether within the desirable courtyard or near it, or in the clearings farther out.
"Do you suppose," Temeraire said to Laurence in an undertone, as he settled himself gladly down onto the deliciously baking-hot stones, "do you suppose that Celeritas will have forgiven me, for lying?" He put his head up over the squirming of dragons: middle-weights trying to fit themselves between and around him and Requiescat and Ballista, and Armatius, who smugly had claimed a place, with the other heavy-weights, thanks to Gentius drowsing yet upon his back. The light-weights and couriers were perched up on the walls and battlements, waiting for the outmatched middle-weights to give up before they began their own squabble over who would have a place.
Majestatis had ignored all the struggle, and taken himself a place just on the other side of the courtyard wall, to the south; Temeraire could hear Perscitia arguing with him indignantly. "You ought to go take a place in the courtyard," she said.
"I am very comfortable here," Majestatis returned placidly.
"You would be more comfortable in the courtyard," Perscitia said, "and you can have a place there if you only make a little push for one: you do not need this one."
"But I like this one, and I did not have to push to have it," he said. "The ground is warm."
She gave a sulky hiss. "I dare say you do not even know why."
"The hot water for the baths runs under this part of the hillside, too," Majestatis said.
There was a brief silence. "Yes," Perscitia said, "it must, because this is the lower side of the slope, and it must drain away somewhere, but how did you know that?"
"There is steam coming out of that crack in the ground there."
"Oh," she muttered.
"I am going to sleep now," Majestatis informed her. "I don't mind if you want to share."
"I do not want to share," Perscitia said, but a low deep rumbling breath was the only reply, and after another fit of grumbling she evidently reconciled herself: both of them were audible in their snores before the rest of the quarreling had even resolved itself into a settled order for the courtyard.
But there was no sign of Celeritas. The old training master did not sleep in the courtyard himself, of course, but in a private mountain-side cave; but he might come out to see them all, Temeraire thought, with some anxiety. He was not easy about having lied to Celeritas, when they had come to steal the mushrooms, and he had never had the chance to apologize properly. He was quite sure Celeritas would have understood and approved of the mission - at least, he was as sure as he could be, because anyone could take an odd start; but Celeritas might still be angry over being lied to and tricked into having let them in, unchallenged.
"He is not here anymore," a Winchester said: not anyone Temeraire knew, a small bright-eyed courier-beast, in harness; he was perched upon the wall behind them, out of the way of the confusion with all the new dragons coming in. "I think he has gone to the breeding grounds in Ireland."
"But whyever would Celeritas go to the breeding grounds," Temeraire protested; the little Winchester only fluttered out his wings in a shrug. "It is very boring in the breeding grounds," Temeraire said to Laurence. "I do not understand why he should have left his post here."
Laurence did not say anything for a moment, and then he said, oddly without conviction, "Perhaps he grew tired of the work."
He said nothing else, nothing more reassuring, and Temeraire looked at him sidelong: Laurence was sitting upon one of the low benches by the wall, looking again at the gold ring which he had brought back from London. He had not said where it had come from, and Temeraire felt a little shy of pressing him. Laurence seemed so very unhappy, and Temeraire did not understand properly why: they were together, not pent up anywhere, and soon they would have a splendid battle to take back their territory; and then the Government would pay them money. So there was nothing to be sorry about, except perhaps that they had retreated in the first place; but the rest would make up for that.
Temeraire sighed, and informed the squabbling Reapers, "You had all better leave some room. Maximus must be here soon, and the rest of the Corps; and ought not Lily be here already?"
Laurence raised his head. "They all ought," he said. "They were ahead of us."
He went into the citadel to try and find out where the others were, from the other officers; and meanwhile Chalcedony and Gladius and Cantarella finally won out over the other Reapers and settled themselves down, so the Grey Coppers and the Winchesters and the ferals could now squeeze themselves in amongst the rest, and then they were all warm and snug on the heated stones. Moncey and Minnow had settled themselves on Temeraire's back; he felt quite comfortable, ready for a proper drowse, and then the Papillon Noir raised his head and said, "How pleasant it is here! It is almost as nice as the pavilions the Emperor has built for us in Paris."
He spoke in English, with a curious accent, and many of the other dragons pricked up in interest. "Those are much larger, of course," the Papillon continued, "so no-one has to sleep outside if they do not want to; and there is a charming little stream which runs past them, so if one wants a drink, one only has to stretch out one's neck. But these are just as warm; at least, if it is not raining, or snowing." A little drifting snow was indeed coming down in that moment, and slicking the stone.
"I expect," Temeraire said, rather coolly, "that he is imitating the pavilions from China, which are very splendid."
"Yes, exactly," the Papillon said enthusiastically, "although Madame Lien says, he has made them even nicer. And we each have a box at the pavilions, where we can put our treasure, and the palace guard keeps watch over it when we are not there."
"Hum, and I suppose they don't take it," Gentius said, skeptically, cracking one luridly orange eye.
"No, never," the Papillon said. "I have three gold chains and a ruby there, and they are always just as I have left them; the guards will even polish them for me, if I ask them."
Everyone was very wide awake now, at "three gold chains and a ruby." "I have earned them," the Papillon said, seeing he had his audience, "by helping to build some roads, and for some fighting: and I have been promoted to captain for it, see," and showed off a handsome badge pinned to his harness: a round disk of some shining metal. "So can anyone, who likes to serve the Emperor," he added, significantly.
Temeraire laid back his ruff. "Certainly, if they do not mind helping someone who goes about stealing other people's territory, when he already has plenty of his own, and kills heaps of men and dragons to do it," he said coldly. "Anyway, we are getting pay, too; and I have been made colonel."
"I congratulate you!" the Papillon said. "How much have you been paid so far?" When Temeraire had made an awkward, sputtering explanation, the Papillon went on, "Well, I am sure the Emperor would pay you right away, and give you even higher rank, then."
There was a low thoughtful murmur going around. Temeraire put his head sidelong to nudge Roland, who was grudgingly doing lessons with Demane and Sipho - less of her own volition than at Sipho's insistence: he was beginning to outstrip her as well as his older brother, as Roland had never been very interested in studying. "You had better go and tell Laurence, that the French dragon is making all sorts of promises, which I am sure are lies, if only we would agree to serve Napoleon; and pray let him come and put a stop to it," he finished plaintively; he did not know how to answer the French dragon, who after all was offering just what he himself had asked for; except he did not want it from Napoleon, who had invaded England and made so much trouble for everyone, and who let Lien do as she liked.
"Oh, I will go at once," Roland said, with relief, and left; Demane said, "I will go too," and went after her.
"But who is going to check my work," Sipho called after them unhappily.
LAURENCE HAD NOT GONE farther than the great hall of the citadel: many officers were standing in scattered clumps, talking in low voices that the great vaulted ceiling blended with echoes into hollow unintelligible murmur, and he hesitated in the entryway a moment: few faces he knew, and fewer he chose to impose himself upon; then he saw Riley, in a corner of the room.
Riley wore a look half-dazed with exhaustion, and he said wholly tactlessly, "Hello, Laurence, I thought you were in prison," in a tone more puzzled than condemnatory. "I have a son," he added.
"Give you joy," Laurence said, and shook his hand, ignoring the rest of the remark: Riley gave it full willingly to be shaken, and gave no sign he noticed the omission. "Is Catherine well?"
"I haven't the faintest notion," Riley said. "The lot of them took off like a shot for the coast three days ago, and she insisted she could not be spared, if you will credit it: thank God we had already found a wet-nurse from the village, or I dare say she would have gone anyway, and let the child starve. Do you know, they must be fed every two hours?"
He did not know why the dragons had gone or where; what little attention he had to spare from the new child was devoted to the Allegiance: he had left her in dry-dock in Plymouth, recovering from their voyage to Africa, and with Bonaparte and his army now between him and the port, he fretted about her fate. "I am sure the Navy will keep him out of Plymouth," he said, "I am sure of it; but if he should somehow get a hold on the whole south, then - "
"Sir," Emily said, and Laurence looked down; she was panting at his elbow, and Demane beside her. "Sir, Temeraire sent me - very well, us - to tell you: that French dragon in the courtyard is preaching sedition, and trying to bribe everyone to go over to the Emperor, with pavilions and jewels and such: he can speak English."
"Where is the envoy?" Laurence asked Riley. "Do you know who they have sent?"
"Talleyrand," Riley said.
The conference was under way upstairs, in the little-used library chamber; Wellesley had gone to join the discussion, directly on their arrival, and he was, Laurence thought, the best hope of finding a senior officer who would appreciate the threat. But the room was barred off by guards and aides, among them ten Frenchmen in uniform like cavalry officers but altered for flying with long coats made of leather and heavy gloves in their belts. Laurence did not know how he might get word inside, until he caught sight of Rowley and called to him.
Rowley's personal disdain had not subsided, but he had just seen a month shortened to two weeks, on dragon-back, and though unsmiling he heard Laurence out, and said shortly, "Very well; come with me," and took him into the room by the side door.
Talleyrand had not come alone: he sat along one side of a long table, laid on for the occasion, with a Marshal sitting beside him: Murat, Bonaparte's brother-in-law. An odd pair: Talleyrand's long aristocratic face under his thinning fair hair almost washed out and pale next to Murat, who had thick curly hair and bright blue eyes in a face ruddy with weather and work, above a powerful frame: in his person every inch the soldier. Murat's clothing was of almost absurd splendor, seen close up: a coat of black leather with gold embroidery and gold buttons, over snowy stock and shirt, with gloves of black leather and gold on the table beside him; Talleyrand's of an elegance more quiet and correct.
Opposite them sat half-a-dozen ministers, in nothing like the same state, all of them marked with the long and hasty retreat from London, and the discomfort they must have felt at being, effectively, in a military camp: Perceval, the Prime Minister, looked especially drawn and unhappy. His Ministry was a shaky and doubtful matter to begin with, a collection of lesser evils and men he had cajoled into their posts: his predecessor Lord Portland's government had collapsed under the weight of the disaster in Africa, and the old man had refused to try and build another. Canning, the last Foreign Secretary, had tried for the post himself and, failing, had both refused to join the new Ministry himself, and blocked the Secretary of War Lord Castlereagh's joining it: leaving Perceval to make do with Lord Bathurst and Lord Liverpool; good men, but now more than any other time he needed the most gifted there might be, and though Lord Bathurst had been sympathetic to the cause of abolition, Laurence could not but acknowledge he was not the man anyone would choose to have sitting across from Talleyrand at the negotiating table.
Lord Mulgrave, the First Lord of the Admiralty, had preserved his post; Dalrymple sat with him, an old fat soldier, and neither of them looking a match for the Marshal. The weight of power and energy and composure was all on one side of the table: all the refinement and sophistication of the Ancien Regime married to the brutal strength of the Empire. Wellesley only, sitting at the other end beside Lord Liverpool, did not look half-defeated; and he instead was in a glittering temper: his jaw set coldly.
Rowley bent to whisper in his ear; Wellesley looked at Laurence and then leaned forward and interrupted the conversation going on in French to say, "What the devil is this? You come here under cover of a flag of truce, and meanwhile your dragon is in the courtyard trying to bribe our beasts with trinkets?"
Murat exclaimed at the accusation, and said, "I am sure there has been some misunderstanding. Liberte has much enthusiasm, but he would never mean to so offend - "
"I am sure General Wellesley does not mean any insult." Lord Eldon jumped in with apologies. "Surely Your Highness" - Bonaparte was fond of making his family princes - "must be familiar with the frank address of soldiers - "
Talleyrand watched all the discussion with half-lidded eyes, which flicked to Laurence a moment. He leaned back to one of his aides with a quick curled finger for a whispered consultation; then when the first exchange had died down, intervened to say, "Perhaps Marshal Murat and I will go and have words with Liberte, to ensure there is no more confusion: we have been speaking long, and a little rest, a little time, would do well for all of us." He pushed himself awkwardly to his feet, bringing the rest out of their chairs, and leaning a little towards Perceval said, "I hope we will have an opportunity to speak again; this evening?"
Bowing precedence to Murat, he let the Marshal leave the room, and limping out after him paused at the door to turn to Laurence and say, in a clear carrying voice, "Allow me to express again the thanks of His Imperial Majesty's government, Monsieur Laurence; and to assure you that you have a claim on the gratitude of France which the Emperor has not forgotten."
The graceful words cut him worse than knives. It was a pain dealt incidentally, Laurence was bitterly sure: Talleyrand had aimed rather at the ministers at the table, to discredit any report which Laurence might be bringing them. "Your government, monsieur," Laurence said, "owes me nothing; I did not act for their sake."
Talleyrand only smiled gently, and half-bowed again before he left the room.
"By God, the impudence," Wellesley said savagely, scarcely waiting until the door had shut, and in no low voice. "That arrogant pig - son of an innkeeper and a whore, and married to another; that, to be King of Britain - "
"They have made no such suggestion," Lord Eldon began; he was Lord Chancellor, having risen to the peerage as a notable lawyer, and thence to the Tory government for his steadfast opposition to Catholic emancipation.
"Do you imagine any of that upstart parvenu's circle mean to be content with something as mealy-mouthed as governorship?" Wellesley said. "Give him six months, and it will be King Murat, as soon as he has taken the Army and the Navy to pieces."
"No, the terms are unacceptable," Perceval said, without great conviction. "But these are a beginning position - "
"They are an insult from first to last," Wellesley said, "and ought to be rejected out of hand."
"One of his proposals, at least," another minister interjected, "gentlemen, I beg we consider, on its own merits, apart from any other: may I urge that a swift decision indeed be taken to send Their Majesties to Halifax, with all haste and all necessary considerations for their security?"
"Defeatist nonsense," Wellesley snapped. "Bonaparte is not coming anywhere near Scotland before spring, no matter what we do."
"All our scouts report his soldiers are all over the north of England already."
"Foraging," Wellesley said, "in small parties. We have two dozen outposts and garrisoned castles between London and Edinburgh, and he cannot march his army past them."
"Surely the least risk ought not be run. Bonaparte went from Berlin to Warsaw on the eve of winter - "
"Because half the garrison commanders threw up their arms and surrendered at nothing more than a fanfare at their gates. I have more faith in our officers than that."
"The King is not a young man," Perceval said, breaking into the increasing heat of Wellesley's exchange with the minister, "nor in the best of health - "
"No-one proposes he should expose himself upon the battlefield," Wellesley said, "but he can still address the troops."
Perceval paused, and heavily, quietly said, "The King is not in the best of health."
No-one spoke a moment; then someone said to Wellesley, in a conciliating tone, "If the Prince of Wales stays; or Prince William, and the King goes - "
Wellesley shrugged it away, a tight angry motion. "If you are determined to send him away, send him; and if you mean to give away his throne, too, make a parcel of it with whatever else these snakes are asking for, and let them preach sedition to the troops direct; why not?"
"Come, General Wellesley, this is surely overreaction - "
"If you believe for an instant they did not know perfectly well what the beast was about - "
"I hope we are not going to be distracted by some notion that Talleyrand, if not Bonaparte himself, seriously concocted a plan of subterfuge to be carried out by one dragon among others," Eldon said. "I have heard the idle chatter of the beasts; let us not read into it conscious and deliberate intent - "
"Sir," Laurence said, and bore the looks which he received for having the temerity to interject, "perhaps you are not aware that dragons learn their tongue in the shell, and do not ordinarily acquire another; it cannot be by coincidence that they brought a beast which could speak English, and easily communicate anything to our own."
"So let them be fed a second time, and it will drive any seditious thoughts out of their heads, if any managed to get in," Eldon said. "What else could Bonaparte possibly offer the creatures anyway?"
"Respect, if nothing else," Laurence said. "If you cannot see the neglect and disdain with which they have been treated has left them open to the meanest approach, the least offer of courtesy and reward - "
"That is enough from you, Laurence," Lord Mulgrave said icily. "You have done more good for Bonaparte than Talleyrand and Murat and any ten yammering dragons could achieve here, if we gave them every opportunity in the world."
Laurence flinched, and hoped he did not show it. Mulgrave had approved the fatal plan to send the sick dragon to France, in the first place; he had led the inquiry where Laurence had learned of it by accident; he had chosen the men for the court-martial, and personally overseen it, with deep venom.
"A man may be a wild enthusiast even without being a traitor," Mulgrave said, "and you are both; if you have been allowed to live a little longer, by counsel other than mine, you are certainly the last man on whom anyone of sense would rely."
Wellesley said sharply, "This is the distraction; and I dare say if Talleyrand could listen in he would congratulate himself on its success. Sir," he said to Perceval, "throw him out, I beg of you, and Murat with him. Every minute that flag of parley sits before the eyes of the army, you cut a little more of the heart out of my men. We ought to be speaking of the counterattack, not debating terms of surrender: that is what these are, however you like to dress them up."
"General Wellesley, you and General Dalrymple will forgive my bluntness," Lord Liverpool said, breaking in, "but unpleasant as these terms are, we may find them preferable to the ones he offers us in March. - I hope my remarks are taken as no reflection upon the Army. It is a plain fact that Bonaparte has beaten every army that ever took the field against him, the Russians, the Austrians, the Prussians, the Turks, and we ourselves. It seems to me we might well agree to whatever he wants, so long as the Army and the Navy are preserved a little while, and the King is safe; anything that will get him out of London and back to Paris. Then we can manage Murat - "
"Are you - " Wellesley cut himself off, and in a flat tone said, "While Bonaparte is in England, we can end this with a single victory - not only the invasion, but the war, this whole ten years and more of conflict. The last we want is to see him go; the only damned thing to be thankful for is he has put himself in our reach. In a month we will have fifty thousand men here; at Edinburgh another sixty, and a hundred and fifty fighting beasts, on our own ground; in a month - "
"Half the Grande Armee is sitting on the coast of France waiting their turn to come over for a share," Eldon said. "In a month, Bonaparte will have two hundred thousand men, or more."
"No, he shan't." The door banged, and Jane Roland came in, stripping off her bloody gauntlets: more blood streaked her face and hair, and stained her coat. "What?" she said to their startled questions, and looked at herself in the glass on the wall. "Oh, I look a fright. No, it isn't any of mine, I suppose it is that poor damned Frenchman's: I broke a sword on the fellow."
She took the glass of brandy anxiously offered her anyway, and drank it off straight. "Thank you, sir," she said, setting it down, "that puts life in one's breast. I beg your pardon, gentlemen, for coming in my dirt: I am fresh from the coast. He tried another landing at Folkestone: but he did not have as much luck as he would have liked, I imagine. We have settled his trick of harpooning: our smiths have give us some sharp wire, and by twos the courier-captains can cut up the ropes in a trice. Here are dispatches," she added, as Frette, trotting in behind her, laid packets down on the table in front of Mr. Perceval, "from Admiral Collingwood: taken six, sunk four, burnt two, of ships-of-the-line; and not a thousand men landed of sixty."
The noise her intelligence produced was extraordinary both in volume and in the change of tone, out of proportion perhaps to a victory that only left them no worse off, than they had been before. But even a small taste was sweet to those who had been so long deprived; Eldon was silenced, and Wellesley sprang up to shake her hand, before he had quite realized what he did.
"So he cannot bring over any more - how many men does he have, now?" Perceval said, urgently.
"He can still bring them by air, at night," Jane put in. "We can patrol, and so can the Navy, but we won't catch every Fleur-de-Nuit that slips over the Channel: they can carry as many as two hundred at a shot."
"He may send ten of them every night for me," Wellesley said. "He cannot make up more than our forces, before we are ready to meet him. Sir - gentlemen," he said, turning to sweep his eye over all the table, "no war was won at the conference table, but many have there been lost. Let me not see this a room of cowards, but of Britons. Give me your confidence and a hundred thousand men, and I do not fear Bonaparte. Will you?"
There was a pause; several men looked at Dalrymple. "Perhaps, a joint command - " one man started.
"No," Wellesley said, cutting him off short. "If you have not faith in me, choose another man."
The silence fell again, a moment's hesitation, but Wellesley had chosen his moment well; the glow of victory, of success, yet lingered, and carried the day: Perceval stood and put his hands flat on the table. "So be it. Lord Bathurst, you will inform our guests the parley is at an end. General Wellesley, you have the command, and may God be with you."
Not a minute later, Wellesley was halfway down the corridor outside, saying, "A wretched waste of time and spirit, but at least it is over, and no irreparable harm done. Roland, I need a hundred dragons, for transport - "
"I can't hand you off a hundred beasts when I have five hundred miles of coastline to watch," Jane said, matching his stride.
"I have another thirty thousand men to get here, and forty to Edinburgh," Wellesley snapped.
"Tell me where the men are to be found and where you want them landed, and I will contrive," she said, "with what dragons are on patrol, in flying distance."
"Well enough." He gave her a curt nod. "Rowley, get her the list of garrisons," he said, over his shoulder. "Tell me, what sort of supply do you imagine Bonaparte needs?"
"For the beasts? A hundred bullocks a day," Jane said. "More if he is heavy on fighting-weight beasts, and they are working for their supper. He is managing it, though: has foragers out, of course; and we have fewer dragons south of the mountains to eat up the supply."
He nodded. "Very good. I must get to Edinburgh, and get the rest of this army into order - "
"Wellesley," Jane said, "before you go, you will pardon me for saying: I can put the men wherever you need them; but I can't make Bonaparte come and meet you there. He is pretty well dug in at London, now, and come spring we are going to begin to have some trouble with supply ourselves. Scotland's herds can't support this number of dragons forever: we will be eating into the breeding stock."
He shot her a hard look. "You will oblige me," he said, "by not mentioning that particular difficulty in front of their Lordships. Damn, but I miss Castlereagh!"
She snorted. "I don't need a lecture on managing politicos who don't know a damned thing about my business."
"No, I imagine not," Wellesley said, grudgingly. "Well, bring me the army, and let me worry how to get the Corsican out of London."
Returning to the courtyard, Laurence found Temeraire in glad convocation with Maximus and Lily, also freshly returned from the coast: the two had unceremoniously displaced several disgruntled Yellow Reapers and a much-offended Ballista to claim places on the warm stones beside him.
"Yes, the egg is hatched," Lily was saying, "but it is not much use to anyone: only lies there and squalls all day, and I do not like the way it smells, not," she added loyally, "that any of that is Catherine's fault: I am sure that awful sailor is to blame. I ought never have let him marry her, and now she cannot even make him divorce her."
Harcourt was standing by them, with Berkley, but Laurence did not hesitate to approach, even inwardly: too weary and too soiled to dread anymore yet another awkward meeting. Catherine did not say anything at all, however, but gave him a handshake which he thought she would have liked to make heartier than her strength could presently manage. She looked fragile as an eggshell and nearly as white, so her pale red hair stood luridly against her skin, and the blued rings beneath her eyes. She had still the little thickness at the middle she had gained in her pregnancy, but her arms were thin of muscle and of strength: she ought to have been resting.
She caught his eye, and said sharply, "Pray let me not hear lectures; Lily cannot be spared at a time like this. He tried to land another sixty thousand men, did you hear?"
"I did, and I congratulate you on the victory," Laurence said: he did not have a right to speak, in any case, as Riley might. "And on your son," he added.
"Oh; yes," she said, despondently. "Thank you."
The French embassy was leaving: a small sheltering tent in domed shape was put up on the Papillon Noir's back, and Talleyrand was handed into it, clambering cautiously and slowly into his place; but Murat went up like an aviator to the life born, and latched himself on at the neck. The Papillon made a great show of shaking out his dappled iridescent wings and showing off a small but flashy medallion on his breast to the other dragons, as he was boarded, and he called cheerfully, "Good-bye! I hope you come and visit me, any time you like, in London or in Paris," before he leapt aloft.
Arkady made a rude noise, after him, and nosed his own dinner-plate medal, which Jane had awarded him a year ago by way of incentive for patrolling. "Yes, and good riddance," Temeraire said, looking after the vanishing French dragon with a cold eye. "I am sure it is all a hum, and he hasn't any rubies or gold chains at all."
Laurence was as glad to see them gone, but they left behind a long shadow, which would not be lifted save by a victory that seemed at the moment distant and unlikely. The terms Bonaparte had offered now would be generous by comparison, if he managed to maintain his occupation until the spring. One by one the outposts throughout England would be starved out, or pounded into surrender; then he would turn the besieging troops upon the port cities, and begin to cut off supply for the Navy. Meanwhile his dragons would be eating up British cattle, while their own beasts began to go hungry, and the melting snows would open up all the mountain passes to easy avenue of attack by his infantry. He had only to stay easy, enjoying the comforts of London, and wait.
"We are going out again on patrol to-night, along the North Sea," Maximus said to Temeraire. "Are you with us, this next run?"
"Patrolling," Temeraire said, with a sigh, "but yes, of course we shall go together; shall we not, Laurence? And at least," he added, "it is better than ferrying."
"You may have other duties, to your regiment," Laurence said.
It was no easy matter to organize the whole company of unharnessed dragons into patrols. Temeraire insisted the Yellow Reapers should be allowed to all go together, as they seemed to prefer, even though by the general rule they would have been used for balance in mixed groups; and Arkady's ferals, on the other hand, he divided up among many bands, even though they could not speak a word to the other dragons. "Yes, but they do not need to speak out loud to understand enough for patrols," Temeraire said, "and otherwise they will fly off adventuring, especially," he added darkly, "if Iskierka is let anywhere near them."
"She is a good deal improved, though," Granby said to Laurence and Tharkay, over dinner snatched one night, while they were all encamped near Newcastle. A little way back from the fire, Temeraire and Iskierka were squabbling at volume, and Arkady throwing in his occasional piece. "She makes as much noise," Granby added hurriedly, "but she has turned perfectly obliging: has flown all the patrols as neat as a pattern-card, and no haring off after prizes at all, or a word of complaint; for as much, I would gladly be captured five times over."
Laurence looked down at the fire; he yet felt too strongly, what Granby's capture had cost: he had heard nothing of Edith, though he had stooped so far as to beg Jane to make inquiry of the intelligence-officers. Spy reports came in by the dozens each day from London, but the arrest - even the execution - of a solitary British gentlewoman might be too insignificant to mention.
Tharkay said to Granby, "I would not for the world diminish your satisfaction, but perfectly obliging invites caution: a smaller improvement might be more secure. No creature in the habit of freedom is easily persuaded to adopt discipline," he added, giving a gobbet of meat to the kestrel, who observed their roasting rabbit with a cocked and eager eye.
"I am, too, disciplined," Iskierka said, overhearing. "I will not run off at all; and I am very happy to carry more," meaning cattle: they were each carrying half-a-load of supply along with their crew, Jane's compromise between transport and patrol. Half-a-load was enough for a party of even middle-weight dragons to move a full company with their officers, or to bring in supply for themselves, without weighting the dragons too much to fight; their own party was presently coming up along the North Sea coast, and gathering what supply they could find. Iskierka was already responsible for the transport of a dozen large black hogs, presently penned up outside the camp and squealing occasionally through their drunken haze; they had been dosed with the easiest drug to supply, strong liquor, and smelled powerfully of spirits.
"If you ask me, it is only an act," Temeraire said, disdainfully, "because you are trying to show Granby he ought not leave you. You know perfectly well we haven't any more."
Deer could not be successfully transported, panicking themselves to death before they could even be drugged, and fish did not keep; they were only good for feeding the dragons on the wing. Already cattle had begun to grow scarce, along the coast, and the more time they spent inland searching, the more risk of leaving an opening in their patrol where a substantial number of soldiers could be brought over: Bonaparte had dragons loaded down with men flying along the Channel and the coast, daily, waiting for just such a chance.
Tharkay said, "We will find more tomorrow," a puzzling degree of confidence; but the next evening he took Arkady into the lead and flew directly to an estate with several handsome dairy farms, which yielded two dozen bullocks; he watched the stupefied animals loaded onto the dragons with an odd, wry expression, which made Laurence wish all the more to ask how he had known; and equally made such an inquiry impossible. They were just over the border into Scotland: Laurence knew Tharkay had been embroiled in a law-suit here, although none of the details, and if Tharkay did not choose to volunteer them, respect dictated they could not be pursued.
The cattle completed their tally, but only just, and they found nothing more the rest of the way on their patrol, and on the flight to deliver their supplies to Loch Laggan: the farmers were grown adept at hiding their diminishing herds.
"Damn the lot of them and Boney, too," Jane snapped, when Laurence gave her the news, and rubbed the back of her hand across her forehead. "Tell him we have one week less of supply than I said," she told the aide hovering at her desk, the young man, an Army officer, at once nervous and impatient, shifting his weight side-to-side. "And no, he mayn't have twenty, he may have ten, and not all of those heavy-weights, either. Wellesley wants you," she added to Laurence, and tossed him a wax-sealed packet from among those upon her desk, "and as many as I can spare, in Edinburgh."
Laurence broke the seal and unfolded the orders, a single sheet, a few lines only, hastily and informally written, with no signature: Bring that fire-breathing monster, and however many more Roland will give you; the best fighters you have, and the more vicious the better.
He read it over slowly, and then folded it back up again; vicious was a cold indigestible presentiment in his belly. Jane, he thought, had not seen the contents; she would object as strongly as he would, and he looked up.
She had scarcely interrupted her work. "Frette, have Rightley take himself and five middle-weights to Inverness, and send a note to that damned colonel that if he don't get his men on board tomorrow night when the beasts land, I will have him up for a court-martial the next morning. We haven't time to waste on this nonsense," she said, handing off three orders at once. "Laurence, you may choose your beasts, anyone you like; formations make no nevermind."
He could not burden her. "We may have ten?" Laurence said. "Wellesley wants Iskierka," he added.
"Yes," Jane said, distracted, "you may as well take her; Lord knows it is a waste to have her patrolling, if there is skirmishing to be had. Oh, and here," she added, giving him a letter dug out of many others on her over-burdened desk, "you may read that here, although I cannot let you take it."
A hand had written, broadly and with many misspellings and stray capitals:
The Lady In Question is watchd, but, not yet Molestd; I have Contrivved, to Whisper in a few ears, that her Husb'd was a Nown Enthusiast and she Married Late in Desp'ration. May she one day Forgive This Slur aganst her, and upon the name of a Hero of His Country! I hope the Danger, of Arrest, is Passd. This is All I can convay Reliably, as she refuses to Receve Me as a Caller, but Gossip says she is Much Grieved and the Child continues Sick.
To-Morrow I am invitd to Dinner with Marshl Davout, but do not Expect Much as he is Close-Mouthd unlike M. Murat...
The letter had no signature. He read the section over twice, and gave it back again. "Thank you," he said only, and bowing left; he did not trust himself to say anything more.
TEMERAIRE WAS VERY PLEASED to be so singled out for a particular assignment, and even more to be let off the job of patrolling, and ferrying men about, however important it might be. The only difficulty was in deciding who should be chosen to come along. "Wellesley wants the best fighters you have, and the most enthusiastic," Laurence said, which was only fair, anyway, as those had the most right to be doing something more exciting than carrying the infantry back and forth. But there were more than ten deserving, and anyway it was only eight, because of course he should go himself, and another would be Iskierka, even though she did not merit the privilege at all.
It was this showy fire-breathing, which was not anything particularly extraordinary: anyone could set things on fire, if only you had a little bit to start with. Temeraire sighed, but anyway she was not of much use: she had already been let off carrying people, because it was difficult for many people to sit upon her with all her spikes jetting off steam as they did. So he had to put up with her; and then of course Maximus and Lily had to be asked, although to Temeraire's startled dismay, Laurence tried to speak against the choice.
"But it would be very unhandsome of me not to invite them for some real fighting, when I may," Temeraire protested, looking over his shoulder, lest Maximus and Lily should overhear, and be offended. Fortunately, Maximus was solidly asleep and snoring, under a blanket of nine Winchesters and little ferals, and Lily was presently encamped outside the far wall of the citadel just below Captain Harcourt's window, jealously: Catherine was gone inside to see to the baby.
"Harcourt is not well, I find," Laurence said.
"Yes," Temeraire said, "Lily thinks so, too, and that is as much a reason to ask her as any: she is quite sure Catherine must do better to go south, and have some real fighting, than all this flying back and forth in the wet. She takes cold so easily now, and ought not be so long aloft."
"Berkley don't take cold easily, because he is so fat," Maximus said sleepily, cracking open an eye, "but I would also like to go and fight."
So that was settled, but for the rest, Temeraire scratched his head a little. "Gentius may as well come with us, without counting against our tally," he said at last, "because it is not as though he can carry anyone or patrol: he is only staying here in Loch Laggan and sleeping. And we shall have Armatius to carry him. That would do very well for heavy-weights. I do not think I ought to take Majestatis or Ballista, for they are so very handy at managing the others, and I am not quite sure that everyone would mind so well, carrying the soldiers back and forth, if they were to leave also; and Requiescat, because no-one who is not a heavy-weight will argue with him, even if he must be told what orders to give."
He was a little puzzled how to leave them behind without giving offense, however, until he hit on the notion of giving them rank instead. "You do not suppose Wellesley can mind?" he asked Laurence.
"It is a capital scheme," Admiral Roland said in amusement, when Laurence had inquired of her. "Your militia had better be shifted under command of the Corps in any case, so we will make you a commodore instead of a colonel, and your officers shall be captains; although it will be damned difficult to manage epaulettes for them."
"Oh, epaulettes," Temeraire said, eagerly. A party of seamstresses had been recruited from the local villages around Loch Laggan to help sew carrying-harnesses, for the transport of the soldiers, and they were now induced to make up rosettes out of some of the leftover silk and leather. The results were not very like real epaulettes, nearer instead to enormous mop-heads of the brightest colors, with a little cloth of gold at the knotted center for some flash, and a great many ties to attach them to a bit of harness. But no-one minded that, in the least.
"I call that handsome," Requiescat said, admiring the bright green knot upon his shoulder from every direction, craning his head nearly upside down, and even Majestatis did not quite manage to affect his usual degree of amused disdain and kept glancing back sidelong at his own: it was in red, to go against his cream-and-black, and looked almost as fine, Temeraire thought, as his own pale blue matched set: he of course had needed two.
"Yes, and if anyone should be particularly clever at helping you to manage, you may make them lieutenants, and they may have a smaller one," Temeraire said. "So that is all settled," he added to Laurence, "and for the rest, let us take some Yellow Reapers. Messoria and Immortalis, of course, because they are our wing-mates, and also the two best of our unharnessed, and that will do very well, because I also want Perscitia: she is very clever, and," he confided, "if I leave her here she will offend someone, I am afraid. Anyway, we may need to manage some artillery."
The Reapers quarrelled it out amongst themselves, and finally settled that Chalcedony and Gladius should come, and Cantarella should take charge of the rest staying behind, and have an epaulette. Moncey got one for command of the couriers - it was nearly as large as his head but pleased him very well - and Minnow also.
So there was no quarrelling or ill-feeling at all in the end, which Temeraire felt a credit to his arrangements. "We are a very handsome company, are we not?" Temeraire asked Laurence, hoping to find him satisfied. "It is a pity about Iskierka, but no-one could quarrel with our choices, otherwise, I am sure."
"Yes," Laurence said.
"I have only been thinking," Temeraire said, with a sidelong look; he hoped it would not seem selfish, "that it would be just as well, if we got back the rest of our crew: not that we are not perfectly comfortable as we are," he added, "but a few more bellmen to manage some bombs, and it might be convenient to have Winston back, to help Fellowes - "
"Those who wished to return have done so," Laurence said. "I cannot require any man to serve with a traitor."
"Oh," Temeraire said. "But - " and stopped. It had not occurred to him that the crew had chosen not to come back: that they had rather be elsewhere, on another dragon, and with another captain. It seemed very strange to him, when he was now a commodore, and must surely have been more impressive, if anything. He wondered if perhaps Laurence was mistaken, or only shy of asking for them: perhaps they did not even know that he and Laurence were free. "But surely Martin, at least, or Ferris, would come," he said.
Laurence was very still a moment, and then he said, "Ferris has been dismissed the service," only because, it seemed, the admirals imagined that Ferris had been of some help, even though he had done nothing at all.
"But then where is he?" Temeraire asked. If Ferris were not with some other dragon, it stood to reason he would rather be with them; but Laurence said with finality, "Any communication from me must be wholly unwelcome."
Temeraire did not press him further, but privately he thought that perhaps he would write to Ferris: if he could get Emily or Sipho, perhaps, to take down a letter for him, and find out Ferris's direction; and then a dragon he knew a little from Dover, Orchestia, landed in the courtyard. She was back from a patrol, and his own midwingman Martin was with her crew, his bright yellow hair standing out against his green coat.
"Mr. Martin," Temeraire called out, seeing him go by, thinking perhaps to ask him over; and see if he knew, that Temeraire had been made commodore; and whether he was quite sure he would not prefer to go with them, on their own particular mission -
Martin started a little, at being named, and looked over; but then he turned his back and walked on into the citadel with the rest of Orchestia's crew - not even a word, or a gesture, and he had always been so very friendly.
"Temeraire," Laurence said, "you will oblige me very greatly if you will make no such gesture again."
"No, I will not," Temeraire said, much subdued; it was not only that Martin had ignored them: he had done it so very openly, as though he wanted everyone else to know he meant to do it. There was something particularly unpleasant to it: anyone might not feel like conversation, of course, but this was showing away how little he wanted it with them, in particular. "But," Temeraire said to Laurence, slowly, "does that mean he does not approve, that we took over the cure? Surely he would not have wished to see all those dragons dead - "
"Between two evils, he might have found that the lesser than treason," Laurence said, without lifting his head from the book which he was reading.
"Oh! Then I am not sorry," Temeraire said defiantly. "He may stay with Orchestia, for all I care; if she wants him."
He felt rather wounded, though, for all his bravado: and he had not yet understood the worst; he did not realize the implication of what they had done to poor Ferris, until that very afternoon: all of them assembled and ready to fly, his harness rigged out and his epaulettes bright in the thin wintry sunshine, and a runner had come to let them know they might go to Edinburgh, and he said, "Mr. Laurence, your orders, sir, from the admiral," handing him the packet.
"Yes," Laurence said, and did not correct the boy; he only took the papers and put them in his coat pocket; and for the first time Temeraire realized, looking closely, that Laurence was not wearing the gold bars upon his shoulders, which the other captains wore.
Temeraire did not want to ask; he did not want to hear the answer, but he could not help it. "Yes," Laurence said, "I have been struck the service, too. It does not matter now," he added, after a moment, when of course it mattered, as much as anything. "We must away."
LAURENCE STOOD BY THE PARAPET, looking out to sea, in the upper court of Edinburgh Castle. Temeraire lay somewhere in the dark covert below the castle, a great yawning darkness in the side of the illuminated city, which stretched out around the castle and down to the River Forth. Ships rose and fell uneasily on the water, and the wind blew sharp needles of frozen rain into his face. In the far distance he could see a handful of lights moving, too high for ships, too bright for stars: a few dragons on patrol.
"Another three hundred thousand of them buggers lying along the coast from Calais to Boulogne, just waiting for their chance," a sergeant of Marines said to his fellow soldier, as the two of them came by on their round, and he spat aggressively over the parapet towards the sea, as if he might hit the distant enemy.
They had not yet seen Laurence. Wellesley and his staff were inside the tower chambers; he had been left outside until called for, despite the night cold and wet, the stones slick with ice, and room enough in the antechamber for him to wait inside: a deliberate slight. The damp penetrated his cloak and his leather coat effortlessly. But he had chosen to stand at the limit of the parapet, out of the lantern light, so he could see farther out. It was only a romantic impulse: he could not see anything of real significance at this hour.
"He'll squeeze over another thousand to-night," the sergeant went on. "Every dark night, those fucking Fleur-de-Nuits carry them. The Navy shot one down two days ago, though," he added, with vindictive satisfaction. "Down into the ocean like a stone, and two hundred Frogs on its back, I hear: but more often than not they can't be seen."
"I heard as he burned Weedon to the ground," the young soldier with him ventured. "I heard, he set dragons on it, sent the whole place up."
"Fucking Jacobin buggers," the sergeant said gloomily. "Begging your pardon, sir," he said, seeing Laurence and touching his hat.
He nodded to them, and they fell silent, taking their post. A door opened in the side of the tower, and raised voices came drifting out while it sighed gently shut again: more heated argument, strategy and sacrifice. Laurence looked, but it was not Wellesley or one of his aides; it was an old man in nightshirt and bed slippers, muttering to himself as he came into the rain. His hair was grey and thinned out, matted without a wig, and he walked with the uneasy hitch of rheumatism as he groped his way towards the chapel across the courtyard.
"Is it the vicar?" the young Marine whispered.
"At this hour?" the sergeant said, doubtfully, and they both looked at Laurence.
Laurence crossed the courtyard to go to his side: the old man did not seem steady on the wet icy stones, and he was talking to himself, a stream of low unintelligible speech, which remained incomprehensible even as Laurence came close enough to make out the words. "Horses," the old man said, "horses and mules, and three weeks' grain, and Copenhagen; the fleet in Copenhagen. Thirty-three pounds."
He did not seem to notice Laurence's approach at all; until Laurence said, "Sir, should you not go back inside?"
"I will not," the old man said, querulous. "Is that you, Murat? Is that you?" He peered at Laurence's face, touched his coat, and, evidently satisfied, nodded. "You are not Napoleon; you are Murat. Are you here to kill me? Give me your arm," he said, abruptly peremptory, and, taking a grip on Laurence's arm, leaned on him heavily. He had fixed his gaze on the chapel, and started determinedly to limp on towards it. "They all mean to kill me," he told Laurence, confidentially. "They are in there talking of it now. My son is with them." He sounded neither indignant nor afraid, more as though he were sharing a piece of interesting gossip.
Laurence looked back at the tower, and then at the old man again, at his profile; and recognition came. "Sire," Laurence said, low and wretchedly, "may I not help you inside? You ought not be out in this weather." He dragged at the ties of his own cloak, and shrugging it off managed to put it over the King's shoulders.
"I will go to Windsor," the King said. "Napoleon is not there. Why may I not go to Windsor?" He continued his unsteady progress towards the chapel, and Laurence had either to pace him or let him go alone. "He is in London, he is in London. He is not in Windsor. I need not go to Halifax. It would be cowardly to go. Do you want me to go to Halifax?" he demanded. "My son wants me to go. He wishes me to die on the ocean."
"I would wish to see you safe, Sire," Laurence said, "as I am sure would he."
"I will not go," the King said. "I ought not go. I will die in England."
The door flung open again: frightened servants hurrying with cloak and umbrella to hold over him, and coax him back within; they gave Laurence no more than a glance, and he stepped back to let them work. The King's voice rose in protest over their guiding hands, and then died away again into muttering confusion. He let himself be drawn gradually back inside.
"Poor old fellow," the sergeant of Marines said, coming close to peer after them, for a glimpse inside the tower. "Gone out of his head, I suppose. Who was he?"
Laurence stood in the courtyard behind the closing door, rain running down his sleeves and his face like blood; stood and said aloud, "O God, I wish I had not done it."
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