Chapter 4

OVERNIGHT, ICICLES HAD grown upon the overhang of the cave, a row of glittering teeth, and now as the sun struck they steadily dripped themselves away upon the stone, an uneven pattering without rhythm or sense. Temeraire opened his eyes, once in a while, dully to watch them shrink back away towards the edge; then he closed his eyes and put his head down. No one had further proposed his removal, or disturbed him.

A scrabbling of claws made him look up; a small dragon had landed on the ledge, and Lloyd was sliding down from its back - "Come now then," Lloyd said, tramping in, his boots ringing and smearing field-muck on the clean stone. "Come now, old boy, why such a fuss, today? We have a lovely visitor waiting - a nice fat bullock will set you up - "

Temeraire had never very much wanted to kill anyone, except of course anyone who tried to hurt Laurence; he liked to fight well enough, as it was exciting, but he had never thought that he would like to kill anyone just for himself. Only, in this moment it seemed to him he would much rather anything than have Lloyd before him, speaking so, when Laurence was dead.

"Be silent," he said, and when Lloyd continued, without a pause, " - the very best put aside for you special, tonight - " Temeraire stretched out his neck and put his head directly before Lloyd and said, low, "My captain is dead."

That at least meant something to Lloyd: he went white and stopped talking; he held himself very still. Temeraire watched him closely. It was almost disappointing. If only Lloyd would say something else dreadful, or do something foul as he always did; if only - but Laurence would not like it - Laurence would not have liked it - Temeraire drew in a long hissing breath, and drew his head back, curling in upon himself again, and Lloyd sagged in relief.

"Why, there's been some mistake," he said, after a moment, his voice only a few shades less hearty. "I've heard nothing, old boy, word would've been sent me - "

It made Temeraire angry all over again but differently; that sharp strange feeling was dulled, and now he felt quite tired, and wished only for Lloyd to be gone away.

"I dare say you would tell me he were alive, if he had been hanged at Tyburn," he said, bitterly, "only as long as it made me eat, and mate, and listen to you; well, I will not. I have borne it, I would have borne anything, only to keep Laurence alive; I will bear it no longer. I will eat when I like, and not otherwise, and I will not mate with anyone unless I choose." He looked at the little dragon who had brought Lloyd up and said, "Now take him away, if you please; and tell the others I do not want him brought again without asking first."

The little dragon bobbed his head nervously, and picked up the startled and protesting Lloyd to carry him down again. Temeraire closed his eyes and coiled himself again, with the drip-drip-drip of the icicles his only company.

A few hours later, Perscitia and Moncey landed on the cave ledge with a studied air of insouciance, carrying two fresh-killed cows. They brought them inside, in front of him. "I am not hungry," Temeraire said sharply.

"Oh, we only told Lloyd they was for you so he would let us have extra," Moncey said cheerfully. "You don't mind if we eat them here?" and he tore into the first one. Temeraire's tail twitched, entirely without volition, at the hot juicy smell of the blood, and when Perscitia nudged the second cow over, he took it in his jaws without really meaning to. Then somehow in a few swallows it was gone, and what they had left of the first also.

He went down for another, and even a fourth; he did not have to think or feel anything while he ate. A small flock of the littler dragons clustered together on the edge of the feeding grounds, watching him anxiously, and when he looked for another cow, a couple of them rose up to herd one towards him. But none of them spoke to him. When he had finished, he flew for a long distance along the river and settled down to drink only where he might be quite alone again. He felt sore in all his joints, as if he had flown very hard for a long time, in sleeting weather.

He washed, as well as he could manage alone, and went back to his cave to think. Perscitia came up to see him, with an interesting mathematical problem, but he looked at it and then said, "No. Help me find Moncey; I want to know what has been happening with the war."

"Why, I don't know," Moncey said, surprised, when they had tracked him down, lazing in a meadow on the mountainside with some of the other Winchesters and small ferals: they were playing a bit of a game, where they tossed tree-branches upon the ground and tried to pick up as many as they could without dropping any. "It's nothing to do with us, you know, not here. The Frenchy dragons and their captains are all kept over in Scotland, farther up. There won't be any fighting round here."

"It is to do with us, too," Temeraire said. "This is our territory, all of ours; and the French are trying to take it away. That is as much to do with us as if they were trying to take your cave, and more, because they will take everything else along with your cave."

The little dragons put down their sticks and came nearer to listen, with some interest. "But what do you want to do?" Moncey said.

The official couriers were crossing the countryside in every direction, at all speed, and the afternoon was not yet gone before Moncey and the other Winchesters were able to return, full of all the news which Temeraire could wish. If the numbers reported were perhaps a little inconsistent, that did not matter very much; Napoleon certainly had landed a great many men, all near London, and there had not been any great battle yet to throw him off.

"He is all over the coast, and then the fellows say there is this Marshal Davout fellow poking about in Kent, south of London, and another one, Lef®®bvre, who is already somewhere along this way," Moncey said, pointing out the countryside west of the city, and nearest Wales.

"Oh, I know that one, he was at the siege of Danzig," Temeraire said. "I do not think he was so very clever, he did not make a big push to have us out, not until Lien came and took charge of everything. Where is our army?"

"All fallen back about London," Minnow said. "Everyone says there is going to be a big battle there, in a couple of weeks perhaps."

"Then there is not a moment to lose," Temeraire said.

They passed the word for another council-meeting, and everyone came promptly: the other big dragons considerably more respectful now, if Ballista still was patronizing as she said, "You are upset, of course, and no wonder; but I am sure if you tell them you would like another captain - "

"No," Temeraire said, the resonance making his whole body tremble, and looked away, while everyone fell quiet. After a moment he was able to continue. "I am not going to take another captain," he said, "a stranger; I do not need a handler as if I were one of Lloyd's cows. I can fight on my own, and so can any of you."

"But what is there to fight for?" Requiescat said. "Even if the French win, they ain't going to give us any bother, it will only be someone else taking eggs, just as careful."

There was a murmur of agreement, and Moncey added, a little plaintively, "And I thought you were on about how unfair the Admiralty are, and not letting us have any liberty."

"I do not mean to say anything for the Government at all," Temeraire said. "But this country is our territory as much as it is any man's; it belongs to us all together, and if we only sit here eating cows while Napoleon is trying to take it away, we have no right to complain of anything."

"Well, what's there to complain of, then?" Requiescat said. "We have everything as we like it."

"So you would quarrel over one wet unpleasant cave instead of another, but you would not like to sleep in a pavilion, which is never wet or cold, even in winter?" Temeraire said, scornfully. "You only think you have things as you like, because you have never seen anything better, and that is because you have spent all your lives penned up here or in coverts."

When he had described pavilions for them a little more, and the dragon-city in Africa, and added, "And in Yutien, there were dragons who were merchants, and all of them had heaps of jewels: only tin and glass, Laurence said, but they were very pretty anyway, and in Africa they had gold enough to put it on all their crews," there were not many dragons who did not sigh at least a little, and those who had some little bit of treasure on them looked at it, and many of the rest looked at them, wistfully.

"It all sounds a lot of gimcrackery to me," Requiescat said.

"Then you may stay here and have my cave, which is not a quarter as nice as a pavilion," Temeraire said coolly, "and when we have beaten Napoleon and taken prizes, you shan't have a share; Moncey will have more gold than you."

"Prizes!" Gentius said, rousing unexpectedly. "I helped in taking a prize once. My captain had a fourteenth share. That is how she bought the picture."

Everyone knew Gentius's painting, and a really impressed murmur went around: this was better than hypothetical jewels in another country which none of them had seen.

"Now, now; settle down," Ballista said, thumping her tail, but with a considerably more lenient air. "Look here, I suppose no-one much wants the French to beat, anyway; we have all had a go with them before, if we were ever in service. But the men don't want us unless we take harness and captains, and we cannot just go wandering into battles: we will get circled round and shot up. That is no joke, even for us big ones."

"If we fight thoughtlessly, just one alone at a time, we will," Temeraire said, "but there is no reason we must, and we cannot be boarded if we have no harness, or - or anyone to capture. We will be our own army, and we will work out tactics for ourselves, not stuff men have invented without bothering to ask us even though they cannot fly themselves: it stands to reason we can do better than that, if we try."

"Hm, well," Ballista said; this was a convincing argument, and the general murmur of agreement found it so.

"All right, all right," Requiescat said. "Very nice story-telling, but it is all a hum. Treasure and battles are well and good, but what d'you mean to do for dinner?"

They landed all together on the grounds the next morning at the feeding time, the cows bellowing invitingly in their pen, and the delicious grassy scent made Temeraire's tongue want to lick out at the air. But the other dragons all kept the line with him: no one even put their nose out towards the running cattle. The herdsmen prodded the cows forward, with no results, and looked at one another and back at Lloyd, in confusion.

Lloyd began going up and down the line looking up at them all in bafflement, saying to one after another in turn, "Go on, then, eat something," entreatingly. Temeraire waited until Lloyd came up to him and then bent his head down and said, "Lloyd, where do the cows come from?"

Lloyd stared at him. "Go on, eat something, old boy," he repeated, feebly, so it came out as a question more than a command.

"Stop that; my name is Temeraire, or you may say sir," Temeraire said, "since that is how to speak to someone politely."

"Oh, ah," Lloyd said, not very sensibly.

"You have heard that the French have invaded?" Temeraire inquired.

"Oh!" Lloyd said, in tones of relief. "None of you need worry anything about that. Why, they shan't come anywhere near, or interfere with the cows. You shall all be fed, the cows will come here every day, there's no call to save them, old boy - "

Temeraire raised his head and gave a small roar, only to quiet him; a bit of snow came tumbling down the slope on the other side of the feeding grounds, but it was not very much, a foot perhaps, scarcely deep enough to dust his talons. "You will say sir," he told Lloyd, lowering his head to fix Lloyd securely with one eye.

"Sir," Lloyd said, faintly.

Satisfied, Temeraire sat back on his haunches and explained. "We are not staying here," he said, "so you see, it is no help to say the cows will be here. We are going to fight Napoleon, all of us; and we need to take the cows with us."

Lloyd did not seem at first to understand him; it required the better part of an hour to work it into his head that they were all leaving the grounds together and did not mean to come back, and then he began to be desperate, and to beg and plead with them in a very shocking way which made Temeraire feel wretchedly embarrassed: Lloyd was so very small, and it felt bullying to say no to him.

"That is quite enough," Temeraire said at last, forcing himself to firmness. "Lloyd, we are not going to hurt you or take away your food or your property, so you have no right to go on at us in this way, only because we do not like to stay."

"How you talk; I'll be dismissed my post for sure, and that's the least of it," Lloyd said, almost in tears. "It's as much as my life is worth, if I let you all go out wandering wild, pillaging farmers' livestock every which way - "

"But we are not going pillaging, at all," Temeraire said. "That is why I am asking you where the cows come from. If the Government would feed them to us here, they are ours, and there is no reason we cannot take them and eat them somewhere else."

"But they come from all over," Lloyd said, and gesturing to his herdsmen added, "The drovers bring a string every week, from another farm. It is as much as all of Wales can do, to feed you lot; there's not one place."

"Oh," Temeraire said, and scratched his head; he had envisioned some very large pen, somewhere over the mountains perhaps, full of cows waiting to be taken out and carried along. "Well," he decided, "then you all will have to help: you will go to the farms and fetch the cows and bring them along to us, and that way," he added, with a burst of fresh inspiration, "no-one can complain to you, or sack you, because you will not have let us go off at all."

This solution did not immediately promote itself to the herdsmen, who began to protest: some of them had families, and none of them liked to go to war. "No, that is all stuff," Temeraire said. "It is your duty to fight the French as much as it is ours; more, because it is your Government, and it would press you if you were needed; I have been to sea with many pressed men. I know it is not very nice," he added, although he did not entirely see why they did not like to go; anywhere was certainly better than this loathsome place, and they would be doing something, and not only sitting about, "but if Napoleon wins, that will also not be very nice, and anyway, I dare say the Government will stop your wages if they learn you are sitting here with no dragons about. And if you come, we will give you a share of the prizes we take."

Prizes proved a magical word with men as well as dragons, as did the general conviction arrived at among the men through a deal of quiet muttering, that if they did not go, they should certainly be blamed, but no-one could complain they had not done their duty, if they followed the beasts when they ran off. Or at least, it would be more difficult to find them to complain.

"We might be ready soon as next week," Lloyd said, one last gasping attempt. "If you'd all just have a bite to eat, and a bit of sleep - "

"We are leaving now," Temeraire said, and rising up on his haunches called out, "Advance guard, aloft; and you may take your breakfast, too."

Moncey and the small dragons all gleefully leapt onto the herd, first for once, and went up still eating as they flew; it was perhaps a little messy, but much quicker to eat as one went. Minnow swallowed the head of her cow, and waved a wing-tip. "We will see you at the rendezvous," she called down. "Come on, then, pips, off we go," she said to the other courier-weights and they all went storming away rapidly northward and east, along the planned route.

"Now can we eat?" Requiescat said, watching after them plaintively.

"Yes, you may all eat, but have half now, and take the rest to eat along the way, because otherwise you will fly slow, and be hungry again anyway at the end of it," Temeraire said. "Lloyd, we are going to Abergavenny, or outside it, anyway; do you know where that is?"

"But we can't drive the herd all that way by tomorrow," Lloyd said.

"Then you will have to bring them as close as you can, and we will manage somehow," Temeraire said; he was done listening to difficulties. "I have seen Napoleon's army fight, and in a week they will be in London, so we must be, also."

"We are a hundred fifty miles from London," Lloyd protested.

"All the more reason to travel fast," Temeraire said, and flung himself into the air.


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