Chapter 13

III

Chapter 13

TEMERAIRE PULLED CLOSE around himself, his tail coiled snugly against his body, and tried without much success to sleep; there were a great many things he did not want to think about, but so long as he continued awake, they clamored for his attention.

They had landed in Edinburgh covert only after dark, and found it wet and bleak and muddy, and the water of the pond not fit to drink: there were too many dragons buried there, too recently. So they had to take turns putting their heads below a thin run-off from the castle walls, which tasted unpleasantly green, and settle themselves uncomfortably between the two burial-mounds most widely separated. They were crowded, and there was plenty of room for one or another of them to go and sleep among the other mounds, but no-one at all proposed to go off alone; they rather huddled more closely. Laurence had left almost at once to go and speak with Wellesley, and he was gone a long time; enough that they had finished their dinner long before his return - a couple of old tough cows and three sheep, hacked up and pit-roasted with a great heap of potatoes, which Gong Su had organized the crews to procure: happily these took on some of the flavor of the meat and were not unappetizing at all, once they had cooked long enough.

"I don't hold with this cookery much," Maximus had said, licking his chops, having slowly and thoughtfully wrecked seventeen bushels of potatoes roasted in their skins, "but these are not half bad, if one cannot have a nice fresh cow, that is."

Temeraire took a long time over his own meal, but at last he had stretched it as far as it could go, and Maximus was eyeing the last pile of sheep-intestines hopefully, so Temeraire had to finish it off; and then he had nothing to do but lie uncomfortably in the mud, curled up small to stay warmer, and worry about Laurence.

"Of course he ain't happy," Gentius said sleepily. "The country overrun by all these Frogs, who would be happy? I would not think much of his sense if he were dancing a jig."

"But that is not the same as unhappy," Temeraire said, "when we are going to fight to make the French leave, and will have some battles soon."

Gentius cocked his head ruminatively. "Men like to be unhappy sometimes," he offered. "My second captain would come sit under my wing with a book and weep over it, most evenings. I thought at first she must be wounded, but she told me not to fret at all, she liked to do it; and the next morning she would be right as rain again." Temeraire was doubtful; he had never noticed Laurence weeping over a book, although sometimes he did not enjoy them very much.

But he did not quite like to press the conversation very far. To be perfectly honest, Temeraire was a little concerned - he was perhaps anxious - very well, he was afraid, that he might learn that Laurence was not so much upset as angry - He was afraid that Laurence was angry with him.

Temeraire had not quite understood what it would mean, for Laurence to be called a traitor. Of course, the Government meant to execute him or imprison them away from one another, but Temeraire had thought, with those two fates averted, that otherwise all would be much the same; and at first it seemed so: they flew together, and were given orders, and everything nearly like. But it was not the same at all. Of course there had been no other alternative but to take over the cure; only, Temeraire had not quite understood, before they went, that treason meant Laurence should be losing his life, and his crew, and his rank.

"At least," he said, "at least, you are still my captain; and after all, while there are many captains who have some sort of dragon, I am the only dragon who is a commodore - " But when he had tried this argument out privately to himself, it did not sound really consoling after all: puffing himself off, as though Laurence ought to be satisfied with Temeraire's consequence and none of his own - insult to injury, and Laurence had lost his gold bars, too.

Temeraire raised his head out of the mud and said, "Roland, do you know Captain Fenter's neck-chain, the gold one, with the emerald? It is not official, is it? Anyone might wear something of the sort?" It was a handsome piece which he and all the others at Loch Laggan had remarked, on the captain of a smug Anglewing named Orchestia; and, Temeraire thought, something very suitable to the captain of a dragon of elevated rank, however neglectful of him the Corps might be. "Do you suppose that Laurence might buy something like it, here in town?"

"I expect he could not afford it; the law-suit, you know," she said wisely, looking up from her boots, which she was blacking.

"What law-suit?" Temeraire said, puzzled.

"Over those slaves," she said, "which we let loose in Africa. Those slave-owners we carried back sued the captain, and I suppose he could not fight the suit very well, as he was in prison, so they have taken all his capital."

"Taken it?" Temeraire with difficulty kept his tail from quivering and thumping upon the ground. "Surely not all his capital," he said, in a struggling voice.

"I heard it was ten thousand pounds, or something like," Emily said.

"Ten thousand pounds!" Gentius exclaimed, horror-struck, his head jerking from the ground, the mud squelching dreadfully. "Ten thousand pounds! You did not say anything about ten thousand pounds gone. Why, that is ten of those eagles, or more," and everyone murmured shocked; even Maximus and Lily flinched, and could not quite look at Temeraire.

Temeraire felt quite staggered, and nearly ill. Laurence had not said anything beforehand; he had not said that all his treasure should be taken away; or so Temeraire tried to argue to himself. But it felt a very flimsy and weak excuse, and when he opened his mouth to make it to the others, he stopped without giving it voice. He had not troubled to find out, and now here he was, himself a commodore, showing away with jewels and two epaulettes, while Laurence had nothing but a plain coat growing every day more shabby.

"Ten thousand pounds," Gentius said again, censoriously, wagging his head from side to side. "You have certainly made a good mull of it," and Temeraire huddled himself down, feeling all the justice of the condemnation.

"But, if we had not taken over the cure," he said, rather small, "a great many dragons should have died, even who had nothing at all to do with the war, or France. It cannot have been wrong."

"If you ask me," Perscitia said, after a moment, "the French ought to have given you some treasure to make up for it, as you went on their account; at least, not precisely on their account," she amended, "but they did well out of it, so I don't think much of them letting you come out the worser, when you needn't have done it at all."

"Well," Temeraire said, and was forced to admit that such an offer had been made, and a most handsome one. "Only Laurence said no, because that would have been more treasonous," he finished.

"I don't see myself how getting treasure, after you had already done treason, could make it any worse," Chalcedony said. "After all, they are the enemy, and if they gave you treasure, they would have less, and that would be worse for them; so if you ask me, it would really have been making up for the treason, to take it," which struck Temeraire as a very just point, and one he rather wished he had thought of at the time.

"Only, I did not realize Laurence would lose his capital," Temeraire said unhappily, "so I did not think it would be so important."

"Well, well, you are a young fellow yet," Gentius said, relenting a little, "and you have time to make it up. Win battles, take some prizes while you are at it, and it will all come right in the end - Government will do you up right, if you are only heroic enough."

"But I have been very heroic," Temeraire protested, "and they have not been fair at all; they have even tried to take Laurence away from me."

"You ain't been the right sort of heroic," Gentius said. "You must win battles, that is the road. That is how my first captain was made, you know; they did not use to let Longwing captains be captain, properly. They called her only Miss, and there was a fellow aboard she was supposed to listen to, only he was a lummox and managed to be drunk out of his wits just when we had a battle to go to, and all our formation waiting." He snorted. "So she said to the crew - 'Gentlemen' - " and here he paused, rubbing his forelegs restlessly against one another, with a frowning expression.

They waited, and waited, and waited; although Temeraire was almost quivering with impatience: if Gentius's captain had gone from Miss to Captain, surely Laurence might have his rank repaired, in the same fashion -

"It is difficult to remember, the way she said it, exact," Gentius said defensively. "They don't talk as they used to, but I think I have it: she said, 'Gentlemen, seeing that our duty consisteth in going to war, I should judge this a sad excuse to fail in it, insofar as we expect to contrive without Captain - without Captain - ' Bother," Gentius muttered, interrupting himself, "I have forgot his name. But she said it," he went on, "and she said, 'insofar as we expect to contrive without his company, no worser an outcome upon the field than our absence will ensure, the which I will stand surety for: therefore will I still go, and any man who wisheth not to venture himself, under my command, may remain behind.'"

He rolled triumphantly through to the end of his recitation, but then had to wait for applause while his audience worked out just what had been said. "But I don't understand, did you win the battle or not?" Messoria said finally, puzzled.

"Of course we won the battle," Gentius said irritably. "And we did a sight better without Captain Haulding - hah, I have remembered his name after all - aboard, I can tell you that. I was writ up in the newspapers, even, and Government gave over and made her captain properly: because we had done well," he finished, with a meaningful nudge to Temeraire's shoulder. "That is the road: win battles for them, and they will come about, see if they don't."

"That is all very well," Iskierka remarked, "as soon as they let us have some battles. There he comes now, ask him when we shall be fighting," and she nudged Temeraire: Laurence was coming down the path from the castle.

Temeraire hardly knew how to look Laurence in the face; bitterly conscious now of his guilt, he half-expected Laurence to upbraid him at once. But Laurence said only, to Roland and to Demane and Sipho, "Go and rouse up the other captains; at once, if you please," and stood waiting and silent until the others had been drawn from their uncomfortable bivouacs. "Gentlemen, I have been commissioned temporarily, and given command of this expedition; you will find your written orders there, and I trust they allow of no ambiguity."

Laurence had a sheaf of papers in his hands, packets each sealed separately and inscribed with the other captains' names; he handed the orders to Sipho to carry around.

"Damned paperwork, with Bonaparte in our parlor," Berkley muttered. "Trust the Army for this sort of thing - "

"You will oblige me greatly, Berkley, by putting those orders by safe, somewhere they cannot come to harm," Laurence said, when Berkley would have crumpled the parchment. "I would be glad to know the chain of command quite clear, to anyone who should inquire, in future." All the other captains paused and looked at him, and Temeraire wondered puzzled why it should matter; the red wax seals affixed to the parchment were attractive, but they might be made anytime one wished; and Laurence had not kept one himself.

But Laurence did not explain further. Instead he went on, "The French are harassing our farmers with raiding bands, and so supplying the wants of their army. Our duty is to stop this predation, and so far as is practicable without undue risk to the dragons, to reduce the forces available to Napoleon."

There was a pause, and then Granby said, " - you mean - his irregulars?"

"I do," Laurence said.

"What does he expect us to do with the prisoners, cart them about with us in the belly-rigging?" Berkley said.

"There will be no quarter given," Laurence said. There was a heavy finality to his tone, which somehow warned off any other questions; the captains did not say anything even to one another. "We will begin in Northumberland, tomorrow, and work our way south. We leave at dawn, gentlemen; that is all."

They stood a moment longer looking at their orders and at Laurence, with oddly uncertain expressions; in the end they all drifted away back to their tents without another word said. Temeraire himself was at a standstill. He could not understand why Laurence should have taken the command. He was already in command, and it was important, was it not, for a dragon to have the post - Laurence himself had said as much. Temeraire did not mean to be selfish anymore, at all, now that he knew he had been selfish; if Laurence wished the command, of course he should have it, and yet, if it mattered for politics - for all the dragons -

He struggled over it; ventured at last timidly to ask, and added hurriedly, "I do not mind at all, for myself, personally, I am very happy that you are restored, and a captain now again. Only, if it is important - "

He was yet mostly coiled up with the others, but everyone else was asleep; the other men were gone into their tents. Laurence had told Roland and Demane and Sipho to go and sleep in his tent, and had stayed out, wrapped in his coat and cloak and looking over maps, which he had laid out on a small camp-table; he was marking them with a small wax pencil, here and there.

"In the present case, it is the more important you should not be in command, or anyone but myself," Laurence said.

There was something odd in his voice: queerly flat, as if he did not much care what he was saying, and he did not look up from his work. Temeraire wished very much it were not so dark, and he could see Laurence's face. "In any case," Laurence added, "whether the courts will believe you truly the commander is a proposition yet untried; and I hope you would not risk the lives and the careers of the other captains, unconsenting, for the sake of your precedence."

"But," Temeraire said, "are they not risking their lives anyway?"

"In battle," Laurence said, "not afterwards."

Temeraire did not much want to pursue; however dreadful to think Laurence was angry with him, it would be all the worse to know, to hear it from Laurence himself. "Laurence," Temeraire said anyway, bravely, "pray explain to me; I know - I know I have let you be hurt, because I did not try to understand well enough, and I do not mean to let it happen again, only I cannot help it, if I do not know."

Laurence did look up at that, his eyes briefly catching a reflection from the castle upon the hill. "There is nothing to help; I am in no danger."

"If they should be, so should you," Temeraire said.

"I cannot be condemned twice," Laurence said. "Pray get some rest: we have a hundred miles to fly in the morning."

"I WANT HIM BLED," Wellesley had said, in the tower room of Edinburgh Castle, standing over the map of England swarming with blue markers, with the icy rain lashing at the windows. Distantly, down the hall, the muffled sound of the King's voice was rising in some complaint; to Laurence it seemed very loud. "Every man to him is worth five to us. He must bring them across at great expense, and he must spend his dragons' strength to do it. And his men live off the land - he relies upon them raiding the countryside, feeding themselves and driving in cattle for the dragons, and keeping his supply lines meager and short."

"You mean you wish us to attack his irregulars," Laurence broke in, tired of evasions.

"His supply-lines, his foragers, his scouts." Wellesley thumped the map. "He has hundreds of small raiding parties scattered throughout the country north of London; he cannot survive long without them, and they are exposed. You will destroy every one of them you can find.

"You will not engage," he added, "any substantial party, with other dragons in number, or artillery: I do not mean to lose any of the beasts."

Laurence had expected something of the sort, from the tenor of Wellesley's summons; he was not surprised, and heard it with dull acceptance. The strategy was sound, coldly speaking: if Bonaparte began to lose men quicker than he could replace them, and found his supply growing short, he would have to accept a battle on whatever terms it was offered him, or withdraw entirely.

But dragons were not put to such a use in civilized warfare; Wellesley knew it, and so did he. Pragmatism alone held them too valuable to risk and too expensive to supply, save against a more substantial target, of strategic importance, than a small party of light foot armed only with muskets. But it was not pragmatism but sentiment which with a single voice called inhuman the exceptions made from time to time. There was little that aroused more horror and more condemnation from ordinary men than the prospect of dragons set loose against them; men had been court-martialed and hanged for it, even by their own side.

"Pillaging," Wellesley added after a moment, "of course, cannot be tolerated - "

"There will be none," Laurence said, "save what must be requisitioned to feed the dragons. Is there anything else?"

Wellesley looked at him narrowly. "Will you do it?"

There was little enough Laurence could now do, to repair what he had done; he could not restore the lives of the slain, or raise up ships from the Channel floor that had been sunk, or make recompense to all the ordinary countrymen whose livelihood and possessions had been raided away by an invading army. He could not repair his father's health, or the King's, or Edith's happiness. But he had already stained himself irrevocably with dishonor, for the sake of an enemy nation and a tyrant's greed; he could stain himself a little more for the sake of his own, and shield with his own ruined reputation those who yet had one to protect.

"I do not need written orders for myself," he had answered Wellesley. "But I require them for those other officers of the Corps involved: you may say merely that they must follow my orders."

Wellesley had understood very well, what Laurence offered him, and he had not refused it. The orders were written, and given him, and he had left Wellesley in his tower, and gone down and down, to the waiting covert.

It was a silent, grim camp in the morning, as they harnessed the dragons and the crews went aboard; twice or more, Laurence thought Harcourt almost meant to speak to him. But in the end they all mounted up and flew with no words exchanged. The cold wind in Laurence's face was welcome, and the steady beat of Temeraire's wings, and the silence; his small crew did not address him, and sitting forward on Temeraire's neck, they might have been alone in a wide-open sky; the rolling unmarred moors beneath them knew nothing of war or boundaries.

Wellesley's spies had reported already a dozen raiding bands or more, moving through the North Country, stealing from farms and seizing cattle; Laurence had marked them on his map, as best the reports could place them. But the enemy provided them instead a convenient beacon of smoke, easily visible ten miles off. It was a thin black coil turning lazily upwards from the roof of a great farmhouse, the fire mostly extinguished by the time they arrived: the rest of the village stood empty, when the dragons came down, but for two men in homespun: villagers, not soldiers, laid out in the road dead, with stab wounds flower-red upon their bellies; they had been bayoneted.

"The villagers shan't come out while we have the dragons here," Harcourt said. "If we leave them outside - "

"No," Laurence said; he did not mean to waste time on such things. He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "We are officers of the King. You will come out at once, or we will have the dragons tear down the houses until you do."

There was no reply, no stirring. "Temeraire," Laurence said, and indicated a small neat cottage near the end of the village lane. "Bring it down, if you please."

Temeraire looked at it, and said uncertainly, "Shall I roar?"

"However you choose," Laurence said.

"Ought I bring it all down at once?" Temeraire asked, turning his head to inspect the cottage; he darted a look back at Laurence, as if trying to gauge his real intent. "Perhaps, if I just took off this chimney - "

"Oh, you are taking too long," Iskierka said, and promptly blasted it with fire, the dry thatched roof going alight in a merrily crackling instant.

It burned fiercely, putting out sharp smoke; the flames licking out eagerly towards its neighbors; Laurence sat waiting, and after a moment a cellar door creaked open and a few men came forth, "Put it out, for God's sake put it out," one of them begged gasping. "All the village will catch - "

"Berkley, if you will be so good," Laurence said; Maximus took off the burning roof, and laying it on the ground scraped some dirt over it with a clumsy swipe, leaving it half-buried. Laurence looked back at the villagers, who stared up at him pale and sweating. "Which way did the French go?"

"Towards Scarrow Hill," the older man said after a moment, his voice still trembling. "With all our cattle, every last one - " The faint lowing of a cow from the woods made him a liar on that point, but Laurence did not care. "They left not an hour - "

"Very good; to quarters, gentlemen, and let the riflemen make ready," Laurence said over his shoulder, to the other captains. "Aloft, Temeraire, along the road."

They caught the French fifteen minutes later, and heard them first: singing a bawdy snatch of "Aupr®®s de ma blonde, qu'il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon" as they marched through a forested section: then they emerged out onto the road again, cattle in a string bellowing and throwing their heads, uneasy as they scented the dragons aloft. The men pulled irritably on the cows' heads and tried to drag them along. They did not look up.

Temeraire craned his head back and looked at Laurence. Ten dragons came on behind them. "Mr. Allen," Laurence said, "signal the attack."

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