TEMERAIRE COULD NOT call it a very satisfactory conversation, although he congratulated himself on putting an end to the threats against Laurence. But the generals were not very clever, at all, and whatever Laurence might say about superior officers, it seemed to Temeraire that if they were his superiors, then they ought to give him better orders than he could work out for himself, not worse; and some of them had wanted to run away, only because they did not have as many people.
"But, at least I have spoken to a fellow from the Ministry, and told him that we require voting, and pay, and he did not refuse; which I think is encouraging," he told the others, "and they have been sensible enough to let us manage the Fleur-de-Nuits how we like: only, now we must work out how."
"If we fight them here right at the camp," Perscitia said thoughtfully, the tip of her tail flicking urgently back and forth, "then they must come right to us, to do any good, and there will be enough light from the fires to see them at least a little, and we can fight them off straightaway."
"They need not fight you at all, if you are above the camp," Laurence said. "They need only dart in and drop their bombs and fly away again: they are sure to hit something of value, without needing to be particular about their targets."
"Perhaps if we should make a ring about the camp," Temeraire said, "and then if we heavy-weights fly patterns, back and forth across, then they cannot come in without our noticing them, and we can catch them and teach them a good lesson; they will not long keep at it."
"Yes," Admiral Roland said, "and tomorrow we will have not a one of you fit to fly, which Napoleon will have bought cheap at the price of sending out ten dragons, who are no good in the day any road. No; we can't spend near so much of your strength. Tonight every last heavy-weight of you must eat, and get at once to sleep; you have already been flying more than you ought, the day before a battle."
Unfortunately the good sense of this rather dull objection, which Temeraire would have liked to dismiss, was making itself felt in a palpable way; Requiescat was snoring noisily in his corner, even though he was supposed to be attending to their conference, and Temeraire could not deny that he himself felt his mind drifting to his dinner more than seemed fitting, with a battle ahead. He sighed, and acknowledged the justice of it.
"But the little dragons cannot fight so many big, without any of us," he said. "And we will need them, too, tomorrow; otherwise Napoleon will send all of his little ones against us, and even though most of us have not any crew to be captured, they will still tangle us up."
Admiral Roland rubbed her cheek with her knuckles and then she said, "Well, we can't spare the strength to keep them from the camp, so we had better keep the camp from them."
It was a little while before they could begin to put the plan in motion: Admiral Roland had evidently some arguing to do first, but at last the fires began to be put out, all across the camp, and the men to take down their tents, grumbling against the cold.
"This is boring," Iskierka said to him, dissatisfied, as they sat waiting: a large square of forest just beside the camp was being marked out for them by middle-weights. "It is not at all as good as fighting, and I do not want to sleep."
"Well, you must sleep, or else you cannot fight tomorrow," Temeraire said, although privately he felt rather much the same. "Now hurry, we do not have a good deal of time; the sun is already going down, and they will be sure to realize something is wrong, if it gets dark and they can see everything is ablaze."
"Yesterday you did not want me setting trees on fire at all," she said still grumbling, but leaping aloft she strafed across the marked square with her flame, until the trees began to catch; the middle-weights had pulled up a good broad line of trees all around, and clawed up the dirt, to make a fire-break. It made a fine blaze, pleasantly warm - "Temeraire," Laurence said, gently touching his neck, and Temeraire jerked his head up; it had been very comfortable to doze.
"I am awake. Is it our turn yet?" He leapt aloft, and studied critically the still-blazing trees. He could not just cry away at them, for if they fell athwart the fire-break, they would catch all the rest of the trees, so he went in a careful perimeter about them, and roared inward into the square. The fire-weakened trees crashed and fell in the most satisfying way, sparks flying up in great glowing orange clouds like small fireworks.
"Well, I suppose it is a little easier to knock them down," he admitted to Laurence, "after they have been burnt some; not that I could not have managed it alone."
"You must also reserve your strength," Laurence said. "Another pass, and that will have done it, I think; some trees left standing will do no harm. The signal, Mr. Allen," Laurence added, and when Temeraire had given the field another circle, the middle-weights came in dropping their loads of wet dirt, scooped up easily from the riverbed of the Thames with waggon-carts as shovels, and heaped it onto the remaining flames.
What was left would not have been much use as a real place to rest, the field a wet and smoky mess, covered with heaps of debris and the cracked stumps of trees poking inconveniently out of the ground at odd intervals. No-one could have comfortably stretched out in it without a great deal more work done to clear it out. But there were still a handful of fires crackling left, smaller, which the men dug rings around, to keep from spreading, and after a little shoveling here and there a handful of tents were put up, and from aloft it looked well enough, especially with the stuffed redcoats, coats and breeches filled with straw, which Admiral Roland's men had arranged about some of the fires.
"I like those," Perscitia said, eyeing the figures, and paced back a few steps to examine them critically. "One must be quite close to notice, and I dare say if one were moving quickly, it would be quite impossible."
"I hope it will do for the Fleurs, any road," Admiral Roland said. "And now, the lot of you, to the herds; and to sleep. Laurence, do you want your officers?"
"I would not have them removed from other posts, if they have been placed," Laurence said, "but I defer to your judgment, Admiral." Temeraire tipped his head and put his ear towards Laurence, puzzled a little, to hear better his tone, which seemed to him a little odd.
"Are you not happy?" Temeraire asked anxiously, while he waited for his dinner; the herdsmen at the pen were conferring together, about the rations which they could provide, with occasional anxious glances towards the sixty dragons patiently arranged outside the fence. Laurence had been so very quiet, since the conference. "We are together again, and we will soon beat Napoleon; I am sure the generals cannot help but see, when that is done, that we have done everything correctly. I see now," he added, "why they were ready to be so wicked: they are so very afraid of losing. And I cannot really blame them for being afraid, because they do not seem to be very clever; but they might at least be clever enough to see that they ought to let us manage things, if they are not very good at it themselves."
"I would not for the world diminish your spirits," Laurence said, after a moment. "I am very glad indeed to be with you again, and for the prospect of action; but I will counsel you against that degree of overconfidence, which lends itself only to disappointment. That," he added, lower, nearly to himself, "was perhaps as much as anything the cause of the Prussian loss."
"Well, they were very slow," Temeraire said. "And it seems to me so are these fellows, but at least now it cannot matter any longer, since we are to fight here: we do not need to hurry anywhere. Whyever is it taking so long?" He stretched his head out over the fence. "What is the difficulty?"
They did not have enough, that was the difficulty: less than eighty cows in the pen, and all the harnessed dragons to be fed also. "Then you must make soup, and roast and crack the bones to make it tastier, and so we can eat them more easily; and you might put some grain in it, and some vegetables," Temeraire added, to the rather perplexed-looking herdsmen. "Laurence, where has Gong Su gone to?"
"I do not know," Laurence said. "He was privately hired, not an official member of the crew, and my affairs have been in no kind of order. I have not been able to carry on any sort of correspondence, nor meet my obligations. I expect he must have sought other employment: I hope he was successful."
"I did not think all my crew would be taken away in this fashion," Temeraire said, feeling rather displeased, "or I would have brought everyone with us to France; except then I suppose they would all have been called traitors, too, and perhaps some of them would not have liked to go."
"No," Laurence said. "But I thank you for the reminder; I must make arrangements, while I can; I must make inquiries after Gong Su, and make good my other debts."
"There will be a great deal of time, after tomorrow," Temeraire pointed out.
Laurence paused and then said, "Best to clear away such things before a battle, my dear."
* * *
THE SOUP THE HERDSMEN at length managed was not very good, even though they were all hungry enough to eat it: the meat and vegetables in congealed lumps at the bottom, and not very pleasant, either, but squashy and flavorless. Only Gentius was pleased: he ate twice his usual amount, and pronounced it excellent, really excellent, and he would have another serving if there were any left.
"Not much like proper food," Requiescat said unenthusiastically.
"Well, tomorrow when we have beaten them, we will go and get our own herd, and perhaps by then, Laurence will have got hold of Gong Su again," Temeraire said, "and then he will make us a feast to celebrate, something very nice, perhaps, such as what they cook in the Imperial Palace."
"I will be happy enough with a proper cow, fresh," Requiescat said, and then sat up abruptly, throwing back his shoulders, as with a great thump Maximus came down in the clearing before them and rattled all the trees nearby.
"Hm," Maximus said, and drew himself up on his haunches, too.
"You are here!" Temeraire cried, joyfully. "Is Lily with you also? Are you well?"
"Right as rain," Maximus said absently, without looking away from Requiescat; they were both prickling up their spines and staring at one another directly in the eyes.
"Where is - Maximus?" Temeraire said, puzzled. "What are you doing?"
"Laurence!" a voice yelled faintly, from outside the camp, and Laurence looked up from where he was sitting and writing. "Laurence, get that damned lump of mine out of that camp, you have another Regal there!"
"Oh," said Temeraire, and roared, loudly, over their heads; Maximus and Requiescat both jerked violently and turned to look at him instead, blinking. "There, now do not start that again, we have a battle tomorrow," Temeraire said, "and you had better stop Berkley from running so fast, or he will have an apoplexy," he added.
Maximus turned his head and said, "You do not have to run, what is there to be running for?" as Berkley came nearly staggering into the clearing, and Laurence went to give him his arm to the fallen tree which Temeraire had pulled down for him to sit on.
Berkley stared from Maximus to Requiescat and back, very suspiciously, while he gulped for breath. "Pray do not worry, I will not let them fight," Temeraire said. "I would have thought you had more sense," he added to them severely.
"I was not going to fight," Maximus said, unconvincingly. "Only I have never seen anyone big as me before, except when I was still growing."
"The girls are bigger," Requiescat said, with rather a reminiscent tone. "But that is different."
"I do not see why," Temeraire said, "and it is not as though a Grand Chevalier were much smaller." He did not think he was much smaller, either, but that perhaps would be rather puffing himself off to say.
"Don't much like them, either," Requiescat said.
Maximus nodded vigorously in agreement. "And we are on short commons," he added. "I knew you must be back, as soon as they brought us this mess for dinner." He nudged Temeraire's shoulder with his head, in a friendly way. Temeraire wobbled, but managed with some effort to keep his balance.
"Tomorrow there will be plenty, and anyway, even if there were not, I dare say you could fly in opposite directions and find something, without having to quarrel over it," Temeraire said. "But where is Lily?"
"She is in Scotland," Maximus said. "Catherine has had the egg, so she cannot be flying to fight."
"I suppose I did not tell you before: a boy," Berkley said to Laurence, gloomily, "so no use to us; and ten pounds, damn him. Nearly killed her."
"The egg is very noisy," Maximus added.
"I hope they both do well now?" Laurence said.
"She can write and say so, which means she is only half-dead, I expect," Berkley said, and heaved himself up to his feet. "Have you finished your damned card-call?" he said to Maximus. "If this fine scheme of Roland's is going to do any good, you cannot be hopping all over the camp now it is getting dark. And you may carry me this time, instead of heaving yourself off without a word."
"I only wanted to come see Temeraire a moment," Maximus said, putting out one great curved claw for Berkley to climb into. "And now we have, so we may go."
"We shall see each other tomorrow in the fighting, anyway," Temeraire said, with satisfaction, and curled himself up to sleep with a sense of great contentment, only to be jarred rudely awake an hour later, by the queer muffled booming of bombs falling, and the popping voices of the pepper guns answering.
He put his head up and looked: he could not see anything much but the occasional white blooms of powder-flash from the ground, where the artillery-men were firing, and the great yellow bursts of flame as the bombs struck and burst. When there was no firing going on, he could only make out the faintest shadows of the handful of light-weights circling - mostly mongrels with better night-vision than most, Minnow and some other of the ferals, who had been organized into shifts to give some semblance of resistance to enhance the ruse.
"You ought to go back to sleep," Laurence said, rousing, and Temeraire lowered his head to nose at him carefully: how good it was not to be alone, and to know Laurence was with him, and safe; only it would have been better still if they might have gone fighting together.
"I will, in a moment," Temeraire said, privately hoping that perhaps the Fleurs might realize the trick, any moment now, and they should have to go and join in. But the French dragons were flying too high aloft, and the fires on the ground and the explosions of their own bombs dazzled their sensitive eyes too badly, particularly with the flash-powder being shot in their faces whenever the fighting detachment could manage: Arkady and some of his ferals, with their small crews, were taking a part.
He sighed and put his head down again, twitching as yet another of the bombs went off.
SILENCE WOKE LAURENCE, a little while before dawn: the bombardment had stopped. He rolled off Temeraire's arm and went to wash his face, breaking the crust of ice in the bowl and scrubbing as best as he could: there was no soap. Smoke still rose from the decoy field, but the sky above was empty and lightening quickly. The French would be on the move by now: an hour, perhaps would see them -
A bell was ringing, distantly, a frantic note in its voice, and others picking up the alarm, coming nearer and nearer, sounding all over the camp, and Temeraire put his head up and said exultantly, "It is time to fight."
He put Laurence aboard into an odd arrangement, with only the few straps of harness which Fellowes and Blythe had managed for him and Allen and Roland to latch on to; there would be no one more going up with them. He had considered whether to dismiss Roland back to whatever post she had abandoned, from concern that it might seem a reflection on Jane, a kind of endorsement she surely would not have chosen to make. But he did not know where she had been serving, and when he had inquired, Roland had put out her chin and only said, "I should prefer to stay, sir," and she shook her head when he asked her if she had been signal-ensign. "Fifth lookout, sir; I shan't be missed."
Of course, Emily had no need to worry about her future, which was quite settled: she would inherit Excidium, on her mother's retirement, a promotion guaranteed; Blythe and Fellowes were ground-crew masters and could always be sure of a place. Allen, however -
"No, sir, well," Allen said, stumbling over his words, "that is, they hadn't given me a place again, sir, aloft; I was with the clerks, so, it doesn't much matter for me."
It was, Laurence privately and sadly felt, a better place for him: Allen was hopelessly clumsy, and more than once had nearly accomplished his own end; but Laurence would not tell any man to stay behind the lines, who wished to be in them.
They now came stumbling from their small cold shelter, little more than a few branches laid down on the earth, next Temeraire's side, to keep them from lying in the wet. Laurence reached a hand down, to help them up, where before many dozens would have been.
"I am coming, too," another voice said, thickly accented; Laurence looked over and saw Demane standing already beside him, having come up the other side. The boy was bristling with arms: two smallswords, two pistols, two knives, all with mismatched hilts, and a sack of small bombs slung over his shoulder, which he strung onto the harness without waiting for permission. "No, you sit there," he told Allen, pointing farther back along Temeraire's shoulder to the lookout's place, and such was the air of decision that Allen meekly obeyed; though he had three years and a foot in height over the younger boy.
"Are you not assigned to Arkady?" Laurence said.
"We are of your crew," the boy said, meaning himself and Sipho, whom Laurence now spied down in the clearing, helping Fellowes and Blythe to arrange their meager supply of tools, waiting in case Temeraire should need to come back in for repairs. "Both of us, together. You said."
"That is quite right," Temeraire said, looking around, "and I am sure Arkady does not need him; he was allowed to fight last night," with a note of some disgruntlement, "and will be sleeping late, and I dare say we will have won by the time he wakes up."
So they were four aboard, where thirty were common and hundreds had been managed, all of them latched to the one thick band: it circled Temeraire's neck, and was joined by securing straps to bands about either of his shoulders, so it would not slide about. When they had all hooked on their carabiners, Temeraire sat up, and now Laurence could see past the trees to where a cloud of French dragons was coming, like bees, back and forth along the road: setting down great numbers of men and guns.
He had seen these maneuvers before, at the Battle of Jena, and he was heartened a little to see that the British Army was not waiting idly by, but guns were being hastily advanced to fire upon the French positions, before they could be secured. The guns moved slow, however, men struggling to drag them forward through the mud, and already the French were answering nearly as vigorously.
"They are beginning without us," Temeraire said, and his roar roused up all the dragons at once. "The enemy are here; are you all quite ready?" he asked them.
"No, wait, I have had an idea," the blue-green dragon said, the one called Perscitia, and leapt into the air; in a moment she had returned, with something in her talons which she laid down upon the ground: a heap of the sodden and ragged figures, stuffed with straw, from their decoy clearing; some were still smoking and charred. "Tie them on to us," she said, to the group of militiamen, rubbing their eyes, who had been sleeping beside her. "Tie them on, with rope - "
"They are quite wet," Temeraire said, sniffing at the figures. "I do not see the use of that."
"They will think you are harnessed!" Perscitia said. "Oh, and the paint, where is that black paint? Bring it at once, too, and make straps on them - "
"We have no time," Temeraire protested.
"Their dragons are not fighting yet," Perscitia said. " - very well, very well, we will do it only to the heavy-weights! Do you not see," she snapped, "they will jump over to try and board you, and then there will be nothing for them to latch on to, and you will have them off in a trice."
"Ha," Jane said with satisfaction, when she had landed with Excidium, only a little while later, and had the plan explained to her, while the men finished painting Requiescat with the false harness-stripes. "Yes; very clever. They will smoke it soon enough, but while the trick lasts, they will be jumping over to board you big ones by the dozens. All right, gentlemen," she looked over at Temeraire, "here are your orders, then: you unharnessed fellows will go in first, then, and go in close quarters at them. If you can draw their boarding parties, they will be undermanned when we come in, and we have the advantage in weight. He has only eight heavy-weight beasts brought up from the coast, as yet; I dare say he has had to send the rest back, for lack of food."
"And when you have come in?" Temeraire asked.
"Then I cut you loose against the flanks of their infantry," Jane said. "If we are all fighting aloft together, we will only get ourselves into a tangle, but you cannot do anything but good against them near to the ground, so long as you keep out of the line of fire of our artillery."
"And keep out of our acid, too," Excidium added, and leapt into the air.
"We have acid ourselves," the old Longwing Gentius muttered, from where he was perched aboard a big Chequered Nettle, Armatius.
Temeraire turned his head and asked, "Are you all quite secure?"
Laurence checked his borrowed cutlass and pistols, one last time. "We are," he answered, and they were aloft, with a great surging rush of wind, and many voices roaring as they rose.
Bonaparte's Armee de l'Air was seduced easily into trying again the strategy, which had served them so well at Jena, the cloud of smaller dragons rushing the heavy-weights, loaded up with men. Laurence looked away; thirty Frenchmen at once had flung themselves with enthusiasm and courage onto Requiescat's back, to face the large company they expected, and a shrug of the great Regal Copper's shoulders threw them off into the air, grasping and futile; and a few of them cried out as they fell, dreadfully, until the noise ended below.
"Ow!" Temeraire said, suddenly, jerking, and Laurence looked back to see that he too, had been boarded; but one of the men, an ensign, had caught himself by stabbing a knife into the flesh and clinging to the hilt. "Ow, ow!" Temeraire added, as the French officer drew another blade, and began crawling grimly upwards stab by stab.
Laurence tightened his hands uselessly, on the harness; if there was nothing for the man to cling to, there was also nothing for them to use, to climb back and fight him off, and the Frenchman was placed near the back haunches, where Temeraire could not reach with his claws. And where, Laurence realized, in a few more of his laborious steps, he would be placed to try and stab at Temeraire's spine. "Take hold the harness," Laurence said, to his small crew, and called forward, "Temeraire! We are well-secured, turn over and shake him free - "
The world spun sickeningly, and for all his effort Laurence's hands pulled loose from the harness, and left him dangling by the carabiner straps as they turned, once and twice spiraling, and righted again; all of them a little green from the close and rapid turn, and the two knife-hilts standing up alone from Temeraire's back, the small cuts trickling a little blood down his side.
"That has torn it, sir," Emily said, pointing; and Laurence nodded. The French had noticed their lack of success, and the loss of men: they were no longer trying to board, but turning a steady rifle-fire upon the beasts instead. Quicker than he might have hoped; but their attempts had borne some fruit, at least, and many of the French middle-weights and light-weights, who had so daringly come in close to the decoyed British heavy-weights, had paid for it dearly as well: blood ran freely down many a side, black and steaming in the cold air.
"Throw out a signal, Mr. Allen: we are made," Laurence said, and leaned forward. "Temeraire, you had better pull away now, and go for their flank - they have a weakness, there on their right; do you see it?"
"No," Temeraire said, rather reluctantly detaching himself from the P¨ºcheur-Couronne he was presently mauling about, who had with more valor than sense made a run directly at him. But the movement of men below caught his interest, after a glance. "Wait; I do, where that ditch is in their way, and they are having to go around - "
"Yes," Laurence said: the French lines were compressed, awkwardly, where the men were crowding to advance, and they made an ideal target for an aerial strike, which should drive a hole into Napoleon's flank not easily repaired. "Quickly, before they have got past - "
"Alors, la prochaine fois vous feriez mieux d'y reflechir a deux fois," Temeraire said to the smaller beast, before with a final lecturing shake he let it flee, and turning towards his fellows gave a roar unlike any Laurence had heard from him before: an odd inflected sort of sound, rising and falling in almost an eerie musical way. It pulled the attention of the other unharnessed beasts quickly, and they came peeling away from their individual battles with the French beasts, as the formal ranks of the Aerial Corps charging forward took their place.
As Temeraire banked away, Laurence turned in his straps to watch: the ranks of the harnessed beasts of the Corps were coming, not in their usual arrow-head formations, but drawn out into a single thin line of light-weights and courier-beasts and middle-weights. At intervals there was a small cluster: two middle-weights in front with a heavy-weight behind, like knots on a string; Maximus made one of them, red-gold and roaring, behind Messoria and Immortalis.
As the two forces met, the middle-weights clawed their way into the cloud of French light-weights, opening room for the heavy-weights to bull through behind them; the lighter British dragons engaging also, but only a little, slashing and continuing on, so the whole line advanced together through the French ranks, scattering them above and below.
It was as neat an answer as could be imagined, to the harrying French strategy, and now the heavy-weights were through and swooping with their tremendous loads of munitions: bombs and spikes dropping like a black iron rain down upon the French infantry and their gun emplacements. Laurence could see Excidium, those vast purple-and-orange wings spread wide as the Longwing darted low with a protective guard of two heavy-weights, and another who must have been Mortiferus, with a yellower cast to his wing-tips, on his flank. Their acid caught morning sun and sparkled, descending, and a hot grey cloud of smoke and agony rose in its wake.
The gap in the French defenses did not last for long; the French dragons regrouped and flung all their heavy-weights in a mass after the Longwings: three Petit Chevaliers, a couple of Defendeur-Braves, a marbled orange-yellow Chanson-de-Guerre. Together they massed some hundred tons and more, and descending with ferocity they could not be turned aside. Excidium and Mortiferus were forced back up into the safety of the British line, the other British heavy-weights turning to cover their escape, and the quick skirmishing cloud of the French harried them back away from the field.
Laurence was only a very little aware of the last of this: Temeraire leading them down they had stooped upon the infantry, shockingly low, and now the unharnessed dragons were wreaking a ruthless havoc on the awkwardly placed men, who could not easily get their guns up to shoot, compressed as their column was by the uneven ground. The great Chequered Nettle, Ballista, even landed herself fully on the ground a moment, and laid about with her massive barbed tail in great sweeps.
Temeraire was so close to the ground himself that Laurence was able to draw his pistols and shoot four men from his back, and Demane and Emily accounted for another two apiece, Allen another. It was more difficult to miss than to hit, at first, so packed were the French ranks; and then Laurence and his small crew were all standing in their straps and drawing swords, as a few of the soldiers leapt aboard daringly.
"Hi! Look there, the eagle, the eagle!" Moncey yelled in great excitement, darting around, but a young lieutenant shouted, "a moi! Vive l'Empereur!" and seizing the standard leapt into the ditch itself, quickly followed by the remnant of the company. All of the men knelt, heedless of the wet, and together they became a bristling mass of bayonets and rifle-fire, spitting at the dragons from below.
"Well, that is bad luck," Temeraire said, as they were forced to lift away for a respite; but Laurence could not agree: they had wrecked the advance on the French right flank for too little cost to call it anything but good luck, the very best. Some of the dragons had taken fire, and a handful were turning tail for the camp, with shots to their wings or heads, and one smallish Yellow Reaper being helped away by his fellows had a long dreadful bayonet-slash across the belly, which had lain him open to the white gleam of ribs. But they were yet more than forty in number, after casualties and those who had been up at night fighting, and in a few hours the latter would return to the field.
The opening gambits had been made; no decisive stroke yet had fallen. The aerial combat settled into the steadier, grinding work of attrition. "You must send some of your fellows to rest," Laurence said to Temeraire, when they had been aloft an hour, fighting nearly without a pause and in tiring style. The French had not made any more convenient mistakes, so it was all quick darting strikes whenever an opening could be seized, to get past the pepper guns and the rifles and do a little damage. "You cannot get worn down; the French dragons will take advantage as soon as they see you slowing too far. You see they are already going in shifts off the field."
"I suppose," Temeraire said, rather disconsolately, "only it is difficult enough already, with all of us, to manage to do any good; we have not got a single eagle, or even taken a gun. There was that one Majestatis broke, just now," he added, "but that is not as good."
"You are doing better than that; you have worn down their right flank, and the advantage to our own infantry will tell, more and more over the course of the day," Laurence said. "You cannot expect a quick victory; remember how long the battle lasted, at Jena."
It was still more of a struggle to make him go and rest himself; he would not do so until Laurence at last resorted to pointing out, "If you do not, then you will get more tired still; and if Lien should come in at the last moment - "
"Oh!" Temeraire said, "that would be just like her; I suppose I must - Ballista!" he called, "you must take charge, so I can go and rest, in case Lien comes sneaking in later. I wonder where she is hiding," he added, rather darkly, and craned his head up to spy the rear of the French lines, hidden around a curve of the river.
The sky was brilliant clear, and the sunlight though not warming was bright; Lien's red eyes and fragile white skin were vulnerable to such conditions, and likely, Laurence suspected, she would make no appearance, save in desperation. But if deception his suggestion were, it had sufficient good effect to make its own excuse; Temeraire grew rather drooping as they flew back to the clearings, and he fell with ravenous hunger on the dead horse which was laid out waiting for him, still in its cavalry saddle.
He shut his eyes and was asleep at once, after; Laurence climbed down to stretch his legs, and to let Fellowes and Blythe make their survey of the abbreviated harness while he made his own, walking up and down Temeraire's sides to see what injuries had been made. The two knives, Emily was now carefully removing, slowly, fresh blood trickling. The handful of stab wounds had crusted over, at least, but there were a good half-dozen musket-shot wounds, balls gone into the meat of Temeraire's flanks; and near one of them, Laurence was alarmed to notice, a puckered mark he had not before seen, a recent one: a ball had gone in, and not been removed.
"Sipho," Laurence said, "go and find Mr. Keynes; you know him? Good; find him, or Dorset, and bring them at once; with their kit." He dragged over a barrel and climbed up to lay his hand on the old wound; it felt a little hot and swollen, he thought, but perhaps it might only be the heat of battle, radiating from all Temeraire's muscles as he lay.
"Infection," Dorset pronounced with certainty, as soon as he had peered at it through his spectacles, and touched it with his fingertips. "My lancet, if you please, and have the tongs ready," he said to Sipho, and then he slashed deep through the pucker, past the layer of scales and fat. A gushing flow of white and yellow pus came running free with a dreadful sour stench that made Laurence turn his head away. Dorset did not pause even an instant, but seized the tongs and drove them in deep, and pulling away brought out the musket-ball, black and shining with fluid, even as Temeraire roared awake with a bellow that shook the trees and knocked Dorset and Sipho and Laurence all flat as he flinched.
"It is over already," Dorset said in answer to his shocked protesting, "and now you know why we take them out at once. It would have been more unpleasant if you were awake."
"I do not see much how," Temeraire said, rather bitterly, "and at least I should have been warned."
"And should have jerked twenty feet away, before I could have the ball out," Dorset returned unrepentant. "Enough complaining; now I must have the others."
"But I must go back to fighting," Temeraire said hurriedly, trying to escape; to no avail, and he put his head down, ruff flattened back, and muttered unhappily as Dorset went prying after the other balls, which at least were less deep.
"It will be done soon," Laurence said, stroking his head, and Demane came out of the woods carrying a small deer, slung over his shoulders, which Temeraire picked and nibbled on for consolation.
Excidium came down beside them with a rustling like heavy silk, his great wings folding shut, and his crew swarmed down in a rush to treat his wounds: only a few scattered claw-marks, and one musket-ball, whose removal he bore with perfect stoicism. Temeraire's complaints - Dorset was now searing shut all the cleaned wounds - promptly fell silent.
"Here you are, then," Jane said, coming over and spying Emily, who looked a little hang-dog as she was caught: red-handed literally, for she was standing and holding the blood-wet instruments for Dorset as he worked. "And has Sanderson given you leave from your post?"
"Anyhow Artemisia can only fly an hour at a time," Emily said, but there was rather a mulish gleam in her eye; Laurence did not imagine she had liked her mother's former demotion, nor serving with the usurper.
"Admiral," Temeraire said, "have you any more orders for us? I am sure we could be of great use in fighting them aloft with you; and it is not much fun just poking the infantry," he added, his brief studied formality failing him.
"You all do very well where you are," Jane said. "It is no time to be going off half-cocked, old fellow. I will go so far as to say I think we are nicely placed. He is making us work for every inch, but we are getting them, and soon we will have them up against the trees. Closer run than I would like, but Dalrymple was right after all, and I was wrong; it was a good chance to take."
"I was sure it would go well," Temeraire said, "but I would like at least one more eagle, before we make him run away again."
"If we take him," Jane said, and reached to scratch Temeraire's harness, against such tempting of fate, "I hope we will get more than his eagles; we will get him. Yes, he is here, himself," she added, when Laurence could not help himself but ask. "He is beyond the curve with his Old Guard, and his pet Celestial; a splendid creature, what I have been able to see of her."
"I knew she should be hiding from the battle," Temeraire said, darkly.
"Keeping them in reserve and her, too," Jane said, "but that will not be enough. We have our own reserve: Iskierka will be waking up any moment now, and the others who were out to-night."
"She fought last night?" Laurence said.
"Yes," Jane said. "One can't get her off the field once she is on it, not until the enemy has quitted; so I had Granby rouse her up when it began to get a little light, and chase off the last of the Fleurs. Then she was tired enough to sleep a while. She will wake up full of vim, and just what we need. Bonaparte has let Prussia go to his head, I suppose, and thought he could beat us with less than all his strength."
"I have just been thinking," Temeraire said, after a moment, "where do you suppose his Grand Chevaliers are? - and Marshal Davout; I have not seen his standards anywhere, on the field."
"Returned to France, I imagine, or still on the coast ferrying," Laurence said. "And Davout - "
"Portugal, last report," Jane said.
"Well," Temeraire said, "there were two of them west of here; we stole their pigs, but they had plenty of food besides that. And Davout is not in Portugal at all, we saw him north of London, two days ago."
"What?" Jane said, and did not wait for an answer; she was running to Excidium at once, shouting orders, and leaping for the harness and her speaking-trumpet; Excidium going up even while her ensigns latched her on. "Alarm!" Laurence heard her shouting, "sound alarm, enemy to the north," and flags were going out on every dragon as their crews caught the signal from Excidium's back.
Temeraire sat up. "Whatever is she so worried for?" he said, looking at Laurence rather indignantly, but Laurence had a dreadful, sinking sensation. "Aloft," he said, "come; we must go aloft as far as you can - " and when Temeraire had climbed high enough to make trees and hills and farmhouses all blur into the wide gentle curve of the earth, he paused, hovering, and in subdued voice said, "Yes; I see them."
Davout was coming, directly for their rear, with thirty dragons and twenty thousand men.
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