LAURENCE STOOD BEWILDERED in the empty grounds, and called Temeraire's name a few times. There was no answer but the mumbled echoes that the cliffs gave back, and the momentary attention of a small red squirrel which paused to look at him, before continuing on its way. Elsie landed again, behind him. "Not a wing in the sky, sir," Hollin said, "But we found - "
Elsie carried them up to a cave, reaching deep into the mountain face. Though the light was failing rapidly, Laurence could trace with his fingers the letters of Temeraire's name, carved deeply into the rock: so at least he had been here, and well enough to leave this mark. They managed to fashion a torch to inspect it, but the cave was too tidy, inside, to guess when his habitation had ended: no bones or other remnants of food.
It was only two days since the landing, but with as many dragons as lived in the breeding grounds, if the herdsmen had all abandoned their posts, and the regular delivery of cattle had been interrupted, the provisions would quickly have been spent. The dragons must have scattered from hunger, and likely in all the directions of the rose.
"Well, let us not borrow trouble," Hollin said, consoling. "He is a clever fellow, and it cannot have been so long since they left. There are some fresh bones down by the pen, from this morning by the look of them."
Laurence shook his head. "I hope he would not have been so foolish, as to stay to the last," he answered, low. "So many dragons will undoubtedly be eating up all the local supply, as they go, and he must have more food than a smaller beast."
"I am a smaller beast," Elsie said, a little anxiously, "but I must have something to eat, too, and there is nothing here."
They went to Llechrhyd, the nearest settlement they found, and bought her a sheep from a small cottager, who told them the village by some lucky chance had not been raided. "Flew off east, all of them, at once this morning," the old woman told Laurence, while Elsie discreetly made her dinner out behind the stable, "like a plague of crows: it was dark half-an-hour, all them passing over, and us sure they would fall on us in a moment; more than that I can't say."
"Hollin," Laurence said, when he had turned away, disheartened, "I cannot tell you what your duty is; we have no very good intelligence, I am afraid, and if he is flying to feed himself, we cannot well imagine where he may have gone."
"Well, sir," Hollin said, "they said to bring you back with him, and I suppose those are my orders until I hear otherwise. Anyways, I dare say we will find him tomorrow, first thing or good as. It's not as though he's so easy to miss."
But this was not reckoning with the confusion of dozens of beasts all flung out upon the countryside at once. Certainly dragons, in the plural, had been seen everywhere - dreadful marauding beasts, and no one knew what things were coming to when they were just allowed to go flying around loose. But as to one particular dragon, black with a ruff, no-one had anything to say.
One farmer thirty miles on, belligerent enough to be brave, had not hidden in his cellar during the visitation, and swore that a giant dragon had eaten four of his cows, informing him they were being confiscated for the war effort and he should be repaid by the Government. He even showed them where the dragon had scratched a mark in an old oak-tree for his reimbursement, and for a moment Laurence entertained hopes. But it was not a Chinese mark, only an X clumsily carved through the bark, with four scratches below. "Red and yellow, like fire," the oldest boy said, peering at them from over the window-sill of the house, despite his mother's restraining hand, and sank them completely.
Ten dragons had stopped to drink at the lake on the grounds of a stately house in Monmouthshire, the housekeeper told them, anxiously, and eaten some of the deer: ten neat X's were marked in the dirt by the lakeshore. "I am sure I could not tell you if they were black or red or spotted green and yellow, it was all I had to do to keep breathing, with half my maids fainted dead away," she said. "And then one of the creatures came to the door, and asked us through it if we had any curtains. Red ones," she added. "We threw outside all the ones from the ballroom, and then they took them and went away."
Laurence was baffled: curtains? He would have understood better if they had demanded the silver plate. But at least they were moving in a group, and in the earnest excuses for the pillaging, he thought he saw Temeraire's influence, if not his presence: it was so near a mimic to the Chinese mode, which they had witnessed, where dragons purchased goods by making their mark for the supplier.
The following day, they discovered another farmer with a collection of marks, who rather astonishingly was not unhappy: the dragons had eaten four of his cows yesterday, he agreed, but that very morning some men had come through with a string of cattle, and given him replacements, which he pointed out in their field: four handsome beef cattle, better in all honesty than the scrawnier animals in the farmer's own herd.
Seven dragons had been seen in Pen-y-Clawdd, four had landed by the river in Llandogo, and perhaps one of them had been black - yes, certainly one had been black. Then a dozen had been seen - no, two dozen - no, a hundred - numbers shouted by the crowd in the common room of an inn, growing steadily more implausible. Laurence gave it no credit at all, but a few miles farther along, Elsie landed them in a torn-up meadow, with a neatly dug necessary-pit on the low side away from the water, filled in but still fragrant, with signs of occupation by at least some number of dragons. "We must be getting right close, then," Hollin said, encouragingly, but the next day, no one had so much as seen a wing-tip, though Elsie went miles around in widening rings to make inquiries, for hours and hours together. They had one and all vanished into the air.
"WE WILL BE GETTING CLOSE to the French tomorrow, so beginning today we will fly when it is dark," Temeraire said, "and try and be as quiet as we can; so pass the word to everyone, not to fly somewhere if you see lights; or if you smell cows, because they will bellow and run and make a fuss."
The others nodded, and Temeraire rose up on his haunches to inspect their own pen of cattle. He missed Gong Su very much. It was not that cooked food was so much pleasanter, he did not care about the taste at all at present. But Gong Su could stretch a single cow amongst five hungry dragons, if only there were rice, or something else like to cook it with.
The farther they got from Wales, the more complicated everything became. Lloyd said that it was expensive to bring the cows so far, because they must be fed along the road, and they could not be brought very quickly, because they would sicken and stop being fat and good to eat. It helped a great deal that Majestatis had suggested the notion of borrowing cows, in advance, and using the later ones to repay; but if they were always flying about snatching cows from the nearby farms, the French were sure to hear about it: Marshal Lef®®bvre's forces were busy snatching cows themselves.
"Maybe we oughtn't be having the cows driven to us," Moncey said. "We could always go fetch them for ourselves, and come back."
"That is no good at all," Perscitia said severely. "The longer we must fly to get to the supply, the more food we must eat only to reach there and come back, which is a waste, and also it means more time flying back and forth, instead of fighting."
"Supply-lines," Gentius said, dolefully, shaking his head. "War is all about supply-lines; my third captain told me."
He had insisted on coming along, although he could not really see very well to fly anymore, and tired easily; but he was grown light enough that he could be carried along by any of the heavy-weights, and it was very satisfying to everyone to think they had a Longwing with them.
Aside from the difficulty about the food, Temeraire was pleased with their progress; he and Perscitia had devised several maneuvers, which even Ballista had allowed to be clever; and Moncey and the others had brought them a good deal of news about the French, although they could only sneak so close before it became too likely they should be caught; Temeraire was trying to think how they might better find a way to spy. They had worked out how to organize their camp so it did not take a great deal of room, by letting the smaller dragons sleep atop the big, which was warmer anyway, and after the first awkward day had learned to dig their necessary-pit far away from their water.
That had been very unpleasant, and five of the dragons had got quite sick, from being so thirsty they had drunk anyway, despite the smell. A few others had grown bored and gone off on their own, all of them ferals who had never served, but some of those had come back when they had not been able to find easy food on their own, which brought them straight back to the question of supply.
"We can go and fetch a great many cattle here, if they are drugged with laudanum," Temeraire said, "but it seems to me, if the French are going about taking cows, we would do better to eat their food first, instead of our own, and let them have the bother of gathering it; and that way we may fight and eat together."
It made a sensible strategy, they all agreed, and for Temeraire it was nearly more justification than cause: he wanted badly to fight. The urge to violence, not particular but general, hunger for some explosive action, was always stirring in him now, craving release, and Perscitia and Moncey often eyed him anxiously. Sometimes Temeraire would even rouse up, not from sleep but from some halfway condition, and find himself deserted: the others all flown away some distance, crouched down low and watching him.
"It isn't healthy, how he pens it up," Gentius said loudly after their meeting, not seeing Temeraire close enough to overhear. "You fellows don't know what it is like, having a really fine captain and losing her: it is worse than having all your treasure stolen. That is why he goes so queer, now and again. A proper battle, that is what he needs, a bit of blood," and Temeraire wanted it very much. He did not like the sensation of being a passenger, it seemed to him, in his own life, unable not to feel as he chose, and if a battle would repair it, he was almost tempted to go seek one out at once.
But he had brought everyone else along; he could not abandon them to their own devices now or drag them into a mindless squabble, even if he would have liked one. Instead he brooded on strategy, and when the urge grew more difficult to bear, he went away and curled himself tightly with his head against his flank, beneath the dark huddle of his wing, and murmured to himself from the Principia Mathematica, which Laurence had read to him so often he had it all by heart, and if he spoke low, and flattened his voice, he might almost imagine he heard Laurence instead, reading to him in the rain, safe and sheltered beside him.
But he need not have struggled so hard to keep it in: the very next morning, Minnow and Reedly came into camp flying so quick they had to skip-hop a few paces along the ground to stop, full of news: "Pigs," Reedly said, panting, "so many of them, a whole pen back of their army, and some of 'em are big as ponies."
"Pigs," Gentius said thoughtfully, cracking an eye. "Pigs are good eating, all the way through."
"Pigs are easy to keep," Lloyd put in. "We drive 'em into the forest and they will feed themselves, and you go in and take one when you want, or round 'em up to drive them along."
"And there are only a couple of old Chevaliers to guard them," Minnow said. "They are big, but lazy, and they were fast asleep when we saw."
"Very good," Temeraire said, attempting to sound cool and serene, although his tail wanted to thump the ground in an undignified way. "Lloyd, you and your men will go with Moncey and the Winchesters. You will wait until we have attacked, and drawn everyone off, and then you will go and take the pigs and bring them along here.
"Now," he said, turning, and swept a patch of dirt smooth with the tip of his tail. "Minnow, show me what the camp looks like - "
They set off a couple of hours before evening: Minnow and Reedly were very sure there was not a Fleur-de-Nuit with the company, and so they would attack at night, when everyone would be asleep and most surprised, and have the most difficulty in chasing after them when the pigs had been seized. The little dragons would come behind, that much was decided; and Temeraire after some thinking put one of their Chequered Nettles, Armatius, in front, carrying Gentius upon his back. Ballista and Majestatis went on either side of him, and Requiescat came behind them, and to either side of him a couple of Yellow Reapers carrying their flags.
These were not very elegant, only some velvet curtains tied up to saplings, but every real army had flags, and red was an auspicious color. Streaming out they made a fine show, especially carried by the Yellow Reapers to either side of Requiescat's orange and red. Everyone brightened as they billowed out, and the Reapers were especially pleased, and held themselves proudly. Even Requiescat turned his head as they flew and said, "Well, those are something like, anyway," to Temeraire, who only inclined his head, stiffly; he did not by then trust himself to speak.
They came near the camp with the sun already down behind them, and small cooking-fires lit, all over, among the tents. "Gentius," Temeraire said, "when I roar, you will go in first - only show them your wings, and spit somewhere near the guns, and then fly back to Armatius and go back to camp. You cannot see well enough to be spitting once we have flown in, but they will not know that, and I dare say it will make them very alarmed."
"Ha ha!" Gentius said. "Fighting again, at my age; I feel like a hatchling," and he fluttered out his wings a little, making ready.
Temeraire broke away and flew ahead towards the camp, climbing as he did, and hovered directly above it; the moon had not yet risen, and he did not think they would notice him. It was very peculiar to be so close to the enemy but not fighting yet, to start a battle when he chose; and not wholly comfortable. It had always seemed so very plain to him, and quite natural, when one should dart in and begin; but that was when he only needed to think of himself. Now there were so many others to consider, and the enemy, too. Perhaps, it occurred to him suddenly, there were a great many other French dragons nearby, which they had not seen or heard of, who would appear out of nowhere and turn the tide. Then they should lose, and it would be his fault; he should have lost the day.
The prospect was alarming as no ordinary fighting would have been, and Temeraire almost thought perhaps he would go back, and ask the others what they thought. He looked back northwest: he could just make them out, a great mass of shadows darker than the trees and the fields below. They were coming on as slowly as they could, wingbeats lazy so they drifted low and then swooped back up, describing great arcs instead of flying straight, all of them waiting for his signal. If only he might have a little advice -
But he was quite alone. He trembled, but there was no use being cowardly; there was no-one to help him, and he must decide. Below, the two Chevaliers slept just one hill beyond the low rough earthwork barricade, where the sentries strolled along the line, casually. In the camp, fires were scattered about, and some horses - the wind drifted a little, bringing some eddy with it, and one of the horses raised its head and whickered, uneasily; another pawed at the ground and tossed its head.
"Ce n'est rien, ce n'est rien," a man said, eating his supper near them.
Temeraire drew his lungs full, thought of Laurence, and roared out his challenge.
He kept roaring a long time. The Chevaliers jerked up in their clearing at once, their wings opening even before their eyes had, and began roaring furious answer, their heads twisting this way and that as they searched the sky for him. Men came racing from the tents about them; Temeraire saw a captain with flashes of gold on his shoulder, being put up. They sprang into the air half-crewed, men leaping for the harness from the ground as they rose.
"Je suis la!" Temeraire called out, propelling himself with great thrusts backwards away from the camp, and roared again. "Me voila!" They wheeled mid-air and came barreling straight towards him, teeth bared, and he hovered and waited and then dropped himself straight out of the way, his wings folded closed and tight while they shot by, white flashes of rifle-fire sparking along their backs - and behind them, Gentius came soaring gracefully down over the camp on his wide-spread enormous wings, and spat acid over ten cannon in a row.
Bells of alarm were clanging madly now, torches lit, men rushing out to form into rows as the handful of horses screamed and struggled against their handlers. Temeraire could not help a wild surging sensation of excitement almost overpowering, as Requiescat and Ballista and Majestatis came thundering down through the camp, claws and tails dragging through tents and pickets and fires all alike, scattering them, and the red banners glowing in the fires that bloomed at once all over.
He dived down and joined their long straight row, stretching his ruff wide. They tore across the full length of the camp without a pause, and whipped back up aloft trailing canvas and rope and anything else they had snagged upon their claws. Once they had gone high enough again they could not be shot, they pulled it all off and let it drop down upon the camp.
Perscitia had suggested the notion, as they had no bombs, "especially if you can get some tents pulled up, and drop them on the pepper guns," she had said, and it answered remarkably well - most of the tents bundled up as they dropped, but one luckily unfurled and floated down in a heap atop a company of infantry trying to aim the long-barreled pepper guns, the bayonets poking out of it and making them only worse entangled.
"Oh!" Temeraire said exultantly. "Oh, it is working! Perscitia, look - " but she was nowhere near to be seen, and he could not spend time finding her. The Chevaliers had wheeled about to come back, but they were holding off - the sizzling crisp of Gentius's acid was sharp in the air for anyone to smell if only they put out their tongue, and though it was dark, the fires leaping up from the camp glowed red against Temeraire's belly, and Majestatis and Requiescat and Ballista, enough to make it plain that there were four heavy-weights lined up opposite. Quickly Temeraire turned and roared out, "Chalcedony! Go around and at them!"
"What?" Chalcedony called back, circling himself in mid-air, to try and keep his place; he and the other Yellow Reapers and middle-weights were in a great mass waiting for their turn to have a go at the camp.
"The Chevaliers! All of you circle about and come at them, from behind, make them come towards us," Temeraire called back, impatiently.
"Oh!" Chalcedony said, and the Reapers jumped at it, streamed out in a flock, and whipped around the Chevaliers.
"Second line!" Temeraire cried, and the Anglewings and Grey Coppers all darted down in a pair of short rows, and made another pass through the camp, crosswise to the one the heavy-weights had made - they were all middle-and light-weights, but so especially quick and skillful they were hard to hit even under the best of circumstances, and the soldiers had all been aiming their guns up at the heavy-weights in wholly the wrong direction, so the circumstances were not at all the best, for the French anyway.
But a great many of the Anglewings were vain of their flying, and instead of going straight through, Velocitas and Palliatia and a few of the others were stopping abruptly mid-flight, cornering neat as a box and darting back the way they had come a little, then reversing again, or doing complicated interweaving tricks of flying. It was all just showing away, and Temeraire frowned at it, because they were taking a great deal longer than they ought, and would get shot. And anyway, it was meant to be the heavy-weights' turn to go again.
But he supposed that was selfish, and they would have some splendid fighting with the Chevaliers instead; but when he looked the Chevaliers were not coming towards them: they were too busy trying to defend themselves. The Reapers were darting at them in pairs, one from either flank, and as soon as the Chevalier turned to meet that attack, another pair would go at them from another direction. The Reapers were coming at them from below, so the men aboard the Chevaliers could not shoot them very easily. "Oh," Temeraire said, disgruntled; it was being very neatly done, but that was not what he had wanted, at all.
At least the Grey Coppers were behaving in a more practical way - while the Anglewings made their fuss, the light-weights were snatching up anything that came handy, tent-poles or young trees that came away from the ground, and whacking away at the camp with them, knocking down people and tents and spreading the fires even more.
"There goes a gun," Majestatis said laconically, pointing with his long talons: the French had managed to pull round one of their cannon the right way, despite the confusion, and a dozen men aiming pepper guns were standing with it.
"Come away!" Temeraire called down hurriedly. "Velocitas! Palliatia - oh, they are not listening!" and they paid for it: the cannon fired, canister shot; the pepper guns spat, and a general shriek went up from the Anglewings as the balls scattered over them. "Quick, Majestatis, we are fastest - "
"Hey, I ain't going to just sit here," Requiescat said, but Temeraire was already diving, roaring. "The gun for me," Majestatis called, as they plummeted, and he managed to bang over the hot cannon as he shot past, his wickedly long claws slashing ruin among the artillery-men.
Temeraire went for the Anglewings, bulling them along and up again, and nudging a shoulder under Velocitas, who had gotten worst-hit, a pepper ball right in the face. His golden-yellow head was speckled black and red everywhere, and his eyes and nostrils were already swollen up so dreadfully he could not see, streams of mucus dripping away from his face; he was moaning wretchedly.
And then Requiescat came down behind them going too fast for his weight and bowled through everyone, crashing through the camp with his wings spread trying to slow himself, and knocking soldiers and dragons both every which way as he drove a massive furrow down the middle of the campground with his talons and his tail.
"Aloft!" Temeraire called furiously, squirming himself free of several tents and shaking off a couple of soldiers who had been thrown on his leg. "Everyone aloft, at once!" He punctuated the order with a roar, a proper one, which he aimed towards the caissons of ammunition stacked neatly by the guns. The pyramids of round-shot trembled and collapsed, balls rolling everywhere across the ground, crushing men's legs, and the dragons all leapt aloft in the fresh confusion.
"Look, look," cried Fricatio, one of the Grey Coppers, as he climbed up, "look, I caught a horse," waving it in his talons.
"This is no time to be eating!" Temeraire said, but it reminded him of their real purpose, and he went up a little more to see: sure enough there were a great many shadows moving about near the pigs, and the gate of the pen was swinging wide open. "We have the pigs!" he cried, and everyone cheered noisily, and Temeraire added, "Now we can go!"
"Why?" Majestatis said.
"What?" Temeraire said.
"Why ought we go?" Majestatis said, and pointed down: all the soldiers were fleeing in a body eastward, routed, only stopping long enough to heave the wounded upon waggons, and drag them away. Aloft, the Chevaliers were turning tail and going, too, and the camp in all its flames was left deserted, to its conquerors.
"Well," Temeraire said the next morning, peering down the slightly charred barrel, "it is very nice, but I am not sure what we can do with it."
"Drop it on their heads, next battle," Moncey suggested.
"Listen to you talk; we shan't waste a real cannon like that," Gentius said. "What we need is some men to fire it for us. A proper artillery company. And we need some proper surgeons, too," he added, "for us and for 'em," meaning the prisoners, most of them wounded who had been left behind on the field. There were not very many of these; by the time the dragons had managed to put out the fires, nearly all the casualties were dead.
Lloyd and the men had helped the survivors away, and put up a tent for them, but that left all the dead men lying about. The battle had been very satisfying, if not quite as long or as ordered as one might have wished, and Temeraire was not sorry to have killed the soldiers: it was just as well, since otherwise they would have had to fight them again, and after all they had invaded. But he was sorry they were dead, and it made one rather sad to look at them.
Most of the ferals did not see what the difficulty was, and a couple were for eating them. Temeraire flattened his ruff in horror, and everyone else hissed disapprovingly, so this suggestion was withdrawn. "Yes, that is enough of that kind of talk," Gentius said. "But we can't leave them lying about, either. That ain't fitting; they were good enemies."
So a couple of the Reapers had dug a grave, perhaps a little deep, some twenty foot, and the couriers had collected up the dead and put them inside, and after they had filled the hole in, Chalcedony had respectfully stuck one of the least-charred French flags upright into the mound, and they had all bowed their heads solemnly for a moment, and then they had eaten some pigs.
Now they were beginning the work of picking through the remains of the camp. Most things had been burnt up, but for metal pots, buckles, cannon-shot, and most excitingly a great solid lump of gold, a heap of sovereigns melted all together, which had been found in the charred remains of a chest. Reedly had nosed it out onto the ground in front of all of them, and many heads had craned forward to look at it in admiration; it shone brilliantly in the morning sun.
"Well, how is it to be shared out?" Requiescat said, eyeing it covetously.
"We must put it aside somewhere safe," Temeraire said, "and when the war is over, we will take all the treasure we have gotten, like this, and have some splendid pavilions built all over, which we can all use whenever we like, which will be better than for us all to have only enough to buy a piece of a pavilion in only one place. And what is left over, we will use to get medals, for everyone, and everyone will have a medal to suit their size."
All approving this arrangement, a few dragons were detailed off - after complicated negotiations, resulting in Reedly, Chalcedony and another Yellow Reaper, and an Anglewing, all going together, when Reedly could easily have carried it alone - to escort the gold chunk to a place of safety back in the breeding grounds. The rest of them had fallen back to searching the camp with even more enthusiasm than before: then they had uncovered the cannon.
Most of the guns had been ruined; those whose housings were not burnt or acid-eaten had been spiked by their crews before being abandoned. One, however, under the protective weight of a smothering tent, had escaped destruction. It was a little pitted, and its wheels were perhaps a bit singed along the edge, but it was a real great gun, a good twelve-pounder, and they had plenty of balls around for it. There was even a store of gunpowder left, as the waggon full of powder had been kept some distance away from the rest of the camp.
"But how are the men to know what is to be done, if they are not already soldiers?" Temeraire said. He had seen the guns fired many times, aboard ship, but he did not recall perfectly just how it was managed. "Perhaps Perscitia can work out - " he looked, and realized she was not poking through the camp with the others, but was sitting near the water-hole curled up in a lump.
"Are you hurt?" he inquired, having gone over to her.
"Of course I am not hurt," she said, snappishly.
"Why are you sitting over here then, instead of coming to see; we have found some gold already, and maybe there is more."
"Well, it is not as though I will have a share," she said. "I did not do any fighting."
"Everyone had a chance," Temeraire said, injured; he did not feel he had been unfair. Naturally the heavy-weights ought to go first, if they could do the worst -
Perscitia looked away, and hunched her wings more snugly. "You may go away, if all you mean is to sneer, and be unpleasant. I am sure it is no business of anyone's, if I did not care to fight."
"I am not sneering, at all, and you may stop being so quarrelsome!" Temeraire said. "I did not notice that you did not fight."
She fidgeted a little, and muttered by way of apology, "Others did," glancing towards the other dragons.
"But why did you not, if you mind so much now?" Temeraire asked. "You might have, any time you liked."
"I did not like," she said, defiantly, " - so there, and you may call me a coward if you want; I am sure I do not care."
"Oh," Temeraire said, and sat back on his haunches. He was not quite sure what to say. "I am very sorry?" he offered, uncertainly. He supposed it must be very unpleasant to be a coward. But he had always thought cowards were wretched creatures, who would do something unpleasant such as steal your things, even if they knew they could not win fighting for them, and that was not what Perscitia was like, at all. "And you are never shy of quarreling with anyone."
"That is not the same," she said. "One does not get shot for quarreling, or have a wing torn up, or a cannonball in the chest - I saw a dragon take a cannonball once, it was dreadful."
"Of course," Temeraire said, "but one must just be quick enough, and then you can dodge them."
"That is nonsense," she said. "A musket-ball can go much quicker than any dragon, so it is all decided by chance, before you ever think of evading, or even notice that someone is shooting at you. If you are very quick, of course, then you are gone before they can have fired very often," she added, "so your chances are better, but they are best if you do not go anywhere in front of a gun at all. - And I am not very quick."
Temeraire rubbed the side of a talon against his forehead, pondering. "In China," he said, "only some kinds of dragons fight at all; a great many of them are scholars, and would not know what to do in a battle at all. No-one thinks any less of them, or calls them cowards; I suppose that is what you are."
She lifted her head, and Temeraire added, "Anyway, we are all perfectly happy to fight, so there is no sense in your doing it, when you dislike it."
"Well, I think just the same," she said, brightening, "only I do not like anyone to say I did not do my part; but there is no part other than fighting."
"We must work out how to use the gun," Temeraire said. "That would be very useful, and perhaps you can think of something we might do with it, to help us fighting, and that is a fair share, as no-one else knows how to do it."
This solution so suited her that by the end of the day, she had a dozen men working busily as a gun-crew. These had come to them along with another thirty, from the local militia, who had rather nervously come to the battlefield in the morning with their muskets, to see what had happened during the night. Reassured by the gaily flapping flags, they had come near enough to be pressed into service with cheerful ruthlessness by Lloyd and his fellows, tired of being hands for near sixty dragons as well as herdsmen.
The militiamen were abjured not to be such lumps when they cringed from Perscitia in fear, and lectured with great pomp by Lloyd on the need to stop Bonaparte, and then surrendered to her tender mercies. They spent the day working through the mechanics of the gun-firing, the swabbing, the wadding - steps Perscitia had pieced together by interrogating the men, on how their muskets were fired, and then every dragon who had ever been in service on board a ship or in a fleet action, and seen the great guns go.
It had been a little difficult: everyone remembered the sequence a little differently, and for a moment they were at a standstill, until she hit upon the notion of making a tally, of which order everyone recalled, and taking the most popular. By evening they successfully launched their first round-shot across the camp with a bang, to the great startlement of all the other dragons, napping full of pork and satisfaction.
"If we could only work out a way for it to slide properly, there is no reason you might not take it aloft," she said wistfully that evening, coming to join the discussion with all her old sense of assurance restored. She would happily have kept working, but her men having grown sufficiently used to her, their remnants of fear had at last been outweighed by their fatigue, and they had rebelled and demanded a chance to sleep and eat. "At least, maybe Requiescat might, and it could be set off upon his back; but the recoil, that is the difficulty."
"What to do next, that is the difficulty," Temeraire said, and bent his head over the information which Moncey had brought and sketched out into maps, wondering how they might learn what the French would do next, and how soon he might bring them to another battle.
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