His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)

Chapter 8

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EVEN BEFORE THE pad of bandages had come off, Temeraire began to make plaintive noises about wanting to be bathed again; by the end of the week, the cuts were scabbed over and healing, and the surgeons gave grudging approval. Having rounded up what he already thought of as his cadets, Laurence came out to the courtyard to take the waiting Temeraire down, and found him talking with the female Longwing whose formation they would be joining.

"Does it hurt when you spray?" Temeraire was asking inquisitively. Laurence could see that Temeraire was inspecting the pitted bone spurs on either side of her jaw, evidently where the acid was ejected.

"No, I do not feel it in the least," Lily answered. "The spray will only come out if I am pointing my head down, so I do not splash myself, either; although of course you all must be careful to avoid it when we are in formation."

The enormous wings were folded against her back, looking brown with the translucent folds of blue and orange overlapping each other; only the black-and-white edges stood out against her sides. Her eyes were slit-pupiled, like Temeraire's, but orange-yellow, and the exposed bone spurs showing on either side of her jaw gave her a very savage appearance. But she stood with perfect patience while her ground crew scrambled over her, polishing and cleaning every scrap of harness with great attention; Captain Harcourt was walking back and forth around her and inspecting the work.

Lily looked down at Laurence as he came to Temeraire's side; her alarming eyes gave her stare a baleful quality, although she was only curious. "Are you Temeraire's captain? Catherine, shall we not go to the lake with them? I am not sure I want to go in the water, but I would like to see."

"Go to the lake?" Captain Harcourt was drawn from her inspection of the harness by the suggestion, and she stared at Laurence in open astonishment.

"Yes; I am taking Temeraire to bathe," Laurence said firmly. "Mr. Hollin, let us have the light harness, if you please, and see if we cannot rig it to keep the straps well away from these cuts."

Hollin was working on cleaning Levitas's harness; the little dragon had just come back from eating. "You'll be going along?" he asked Levitas. "If so, sir, maybe there's no need to put any gear on Temeraire?" he added to Laurence.

"Oh, I would like to," Levitas said, looking at Laurence hopefully, as if for permission.

"Thank you, Levitas," Laurence said, by way of answer. "That will be an excellent solution; gentlemen, Levitas will take you down again this time," he told the cadets; he had long since given up trying to alter his address on Roland's behalf; as she seemed perfectly able to count herself included regardless, it was easier to treat her just as the others. "Temeraire, shall I ride with them, or will you carry me?"

"I will carry you, of course," Temeraire said.

Laurence nodded. "Mr. Hollin, are you otherwise occupied? Your assistance would be helpful, and Levitas can certainly manage you if Temeraire carries me."

"Why, I would be happy, sir, but I haven't a harness," Hollin said, eyeing Levitas with interest. "I have never been up before; I mean, not outside the ground-crew rigging, that is. I suppose I can cobble something together out of a spare, though, if you give me a moment."

While Hollin was working on rigging himself out, Maximus descended into the courtyard, shaking the ground as he landed. "Are you ready?" he asked Temeraire, looking pleased; Berkley was on his back, along with a couple of midwingmen.

"He has been moaning about it so long I have given in," Berkley said, in answer to Laurence's amused and questioning look. "Damned foolish idea if you ask me, dragons swimming; great nonsense." He thumped Maximus's shoulder affectionately, belying his words.

"We are coming also," Lily said; she and Captain Harcourt had held a quiet discussion while the rest of the party assembled, and now she lifted Captain Harcourt aboard onto her harness. Temeraire picked Laurence up carefully; despite the great talons Laurence had not the least concern. He was perfectly comfortable in the enclosure of the curving fingers; he could sit in the palm and be as protected as in a metal cage.

Once down by the shore, only Temeraire went directly into the deep water and began to swim. Maximus came tentatively into the shallows, but went no further than he could stand, and Lily stood on the shore watching, nosing at the water but not going in. Levitas, as was his habit, first wavered on the shore, and then dashed out all at once, splashing and flapping wildly with his eyes tightly shut until he got out to the deeper water and began to paddle around enthusiastically.

"Do we need to go in with them?" one of Berkley's midwingmen asked, with a certain tone of alarm.

"No, do not even contemplate it," Laurence said. "This lake is runoff from the mountain snows, and we would turn blue in a moment. But the swim will take away the worst of the dirt and blood from their feeding, and the rest will be much easier to clean once they have soaked a little."

"Hm," Lily said, listening to this, and very slowly crept out into the water.

"Are you quite sure it is not too cold for you, dearest?" Harcourt called after her. "I have never heard of a dragon catching an ague; I suppose it is out of the question?" she said to Laurence and Berkley.

"No, cold just wakes 'em up, unless it is freezing weather; that they don't care for," Berkley said, then raised his voice to bellow, "Maximus, you great coward, go in if you mean to; I am not going to stand here all day."

"I am not afraid," Maximus said indignantly, and lunged forward, sending out a great wave that briefly swamped Levitas and washed over Temeraire. Levitas came up with a splutter, and Temeraire snorted and ducked his head into the water to splash at Maximus; in a moment the two were engaged in a royal battle that bid fair to make the lake look like the Atlantic in a full gale.

Levitas came fluttering out of the lake, dripping cold water onto all of the waiting aviators. Hollin and the cadets set to wiping him down, and the little dragon said, "Oh, I do like swimming so; thank you for letting me come again."

"I do not see why you cannot come as often as you like," Laurence said, glancing at Berkley and Harcourt to see how they would take this; neither of them seemed to give it the slightest thought, or to think his interference officious.

Lily had at last gone in deep enough to be mostly submerged, or at least as much as her natural buoyancy would allow. She stayed well away from the splashing pair of younger dragons, and scrubbed at her own hide with the side of her head. She came out next, more interested in being washed than in the swimming, and rumbled in pleasure as she pointed out spots and had them carefully cleaned by Harcourt and the cadets.

Maximus and Temeraire finally had enough, and came out to be wiped down as well. Maximus required all the exertions of Berkley and his two grown midwingmen. Working on the delicate skin of Temeraire's face while the cadets scrambled all over his back, Laurence could not hide a smile at Berkley's grumbling over his dragon's size.

He stepped back from his work a moment to simply enjoy the scene: Temeraire was speaking with the other dragons freely, his eyes bright and his head held proudly, with no more signs of self-doubt; and even if this strange, mixed company was not anything Laurence would once have sought out for himself, the easy camaraderie warmed him through. He was conscious of having proven himself and having helped Temeraire to do the same, and of the deep satisfaction of having found a true and worthy place, for the both of them.

The pleasure lasted until their return to the courtyard. Rankin was standing by the side of the courtyard, wearing evening dress and tapping the straps of his personal harness against the side of his leg in very obvious irritation, and Levitas gave a little alarmed hop as he landed. "What do you mean by flying off like this?" Rankin said, not even waiting for Hollin and the cadets to climb down. "When you are not feeding, you are to be here and waiting, do you understand me? And you there, who told you that you could ride him?"

"Levitas was kind enough to bear them to oblige me, Captain Rankin," Laurence said, stepping out of Temeraire's hand and speaking sharply to draw the man's attention away. "We have only been down at the lake, and a signal would have fetched us in a moment."

"I do not care to be running after signal-men to have my dragon available, Captain Laurence, and I will thank you to mind your own beast and leave mine to me," Rankin said, very coldly. "I suppose you are wet now?" he added to Levitas.

"No, no; I am sure I am mostly dry, I was not in for very long at all, I promise," Levitas said, hunching himself very small.

"Let us hope so," Rankin said. "Bend down, hurry up about it. And you lot are to stay away from him from now on," he told the cadets as he climbed up in their place, nearly shouldering Hollin aside.

Laurence stood watching Levitas fly away with Rankin on his back; Berkley and Captain Harcourt were silent, as were the other dragons. Lily abruptly turned her head and made an angry spitting noise; only a few droplets fell, but they sizzled and smoked upon the stone, leaving deep black pockmarks.

"Lily!" Captain Harcourt said, but there was a quality of relief in her voice at the break in the silence. "Pray bring some harness oil, Peck," she said to one of her ground crewmen, climbing down; she poured it liberally over the acid droplets, until smoke ceased rising. "There, cover it with some sand, and tomorrow it should be safe to wash."

Laurence was also glad for the small distraction; he did not immediately trust himself to speak. Temeraire nuzzled him gently, and the cadets looked at him in worry. "I oughtn't ever have suggested it, sir," Hollin said. "I'm sure I beg your pardon, and Captain Rankin's."

"Not in the least, Mr. Hollin," Laurence said; he could hear his own voice, cold and very stern, and he tried to mitigate the effect by adding, "You have done nothing wrong whatsoever."

"I don't see any reason why we ought to stay away from Levitas," Roland said, low.

Laurence did not hesitate for a moment in his response; it was as strong and automatic as his own helpless anger against Rankin. "Your superior officer has given you orders to do so, Miss Roland; if that is not reason enough you are in the wrong service," he snapped. "Let me never hear you make another such remark. Take these linens back to the laundry at once, if you please. You will pardon me, gentlemen," he added to the others, "I will go for a walk before supper."

Temeraire was too large to successfully creep after him, so the dragon resorted instead to flying past and waiting for him in the first small clearing along his path. Laurence had thought he wanted to be alone, but he found he was very glad to come into the dragon's encircling forearms and lean upon his warm bulk, listening to the almost musical thrumming of his heart and the steady reverberation of his breathing. The anger slipped away, but it left misery in its place. He would have desperately liked to call Rankin out.

"I do not know why Levitas endures it; even if he is small, he is still much bigger than Rankin," Temeraire said eventually.

"Why do you endure it when I ask you to put on a harness, or perform some dangerous maneuver?" Laurence said. "It is his duty, and it is his habit. From the shell he has been raised to obey, and has suffered such treatment. He likely does not contemplate any alternative."

"But he sees you, and the other captains; no one else is treated so," Temeraire said. He flexed his claws; they dug furrows in the ground. "I do not obey you because it is a habit and I cannot think for myself; I do it because I know you are worthy of being obeyed. You would never treat me unkindly, and you would not ask me to do something dangerous or unpleasant without cause."

"No, not without cause," Laurence said. "But we are in a hard service, my dear, and we must sometimes be willing to bear a great deal." He hesitated, then added gently, "I have been meaning to speak to you about it, Temeraire: you must promise me in future not to place my life above that of so many others. You must surely see that Victoriatus is far more necessary to the Corps than I could ever be, even if there were not his crew to consider also; you should never have contemplated risking their lives to save mine."

Temeraire curled more closely around him. "No, Laurence, I cannot promise such a thing," he said. "I am sorry, but I will not lie to you: I could not have let you fall. You may value their lives above your own; I cannot do so, for to me you are worth far more than all of them. I will not obey you in such a case, and as for duty, I do not care for the notion a great deal, the more I see of it."

Laurence was not sure how to answer this; he could not deny that he was touched by the degree to which Temeraire valued him, yet it was also alarming to have the dragon express so plainly that he would follow orders or not as his own judgment decreed. Laurence trusted that judgment a great deal, but he felt again that he had made an inadequate effort to teach Temeraire the value of discipline and duty. "I wish I knew how to explain it to you properly," he said, a little despairingly. "Perhaps I will try and find you some books on the subject."

"I suppose," Temeraire said, for once dubious about reading something. "I do not think anything would persuade me to behave differently. In any case, I would much rather just avoid it ever happening again. It was very dreadful, and I was afraid I might not be able to catch you."

Laurence could smile at this. "On that point at least we are agreed, and I will gladly promise you to do my best to avoid any repetition."

Roland came running to fetch him the next morning; he had slept by Temeraire's side again in the little tent. "Celeritas wants you, sir," she said, and went back to the castle by his side, once he had put his neckcloth back on and restored his coat. Temeraire gave him a sleepy murmur of farewell, barely opening one eye before going back to sleep. As they walked, she ventured, "Captain, are you still angry at me?"

"What?" he said, blankly; then he remembered, and said, "No, Roland; I am not angry with you. You do understand why you were wrong to speak so, I hope."

"Yes," she said, and he was able to ignore that it came out a little doubtfully. "I did not speak to Levitas; but I could not help seeing he does not look very well this morning."

Laurence glanced at the Winchester as they walked through the courtyard; Levitas was curled in the back corner, far from the other dragons, and despite the early hour, he was not sleeping but staring dully at the ground. Laurence looked away; there was nothing to be done.

"Run along, Roland," Celeritas said, when she had brought Laurence to him. "Captain, I am sorry to have called you so early; first, is Temeraire well enough to resume his training, do you think?"

"I believe so, sir; he is healing very quickly, and yesterday he flew down to the lake and back with no difficulty," Laurence said.

"Good, good." Celeritas fell silent, and then he sighed. "Captain, I am obliged to order you not to interfere with Levitas any further," he said.

Laurence felt hot color come to his face. So Rankin had complained of him. And yet it was no more than he deserved; he would never have brooked such officious involvement in the running of his ship, or his management of Temeraire. The thing had been wrong, whatever justifications he had given himself, and anger was quickly subsumed in shame. "Sir, I apologize that you should have been put to the necessity of telling me so; I assure you it will not arise again."

Celeritas snorted; having delivered his rebuke, he seemed at no great pains to reinforce it. "Give me no assurances; you would lower yourself in my eyes if you could mean them with real honesty," he said. "It is a great pity, and I am at fault as much as anyone. When I could not tolerate him myself, Aerial Command thought he might do as a courier, and set him to a Winchester; for his grandfather's sake I could not bring myself to speak against it, though I knew better."

Comforting as it was to have the reprimand softened, Laurence was curious to understand what Celeritas meant by not being able to tolerate him; surely Aerial Command would never have proposed a fellow like Rankin as a handler to a dragon as extraordinary as the training master. "Did you know his grandfather well?" he asked, unable to resist making the tentative inquiry.

"My first handler; his son also served with me," Celeritas said briefly, turning his head aside; his head drooped. He recovered after a moment and added, "Well, I had hopes for the boy, but at his mother's insistence he was not raised here, and his family gave him strange notions; he ought never have been an aviator, much less a captain. But now he is, and while Levitas obeys him, so he remains. I cannot allow you to interfere. You can imagine what it would mean if we allowed officers to meddle with one another's beasts: lieutenants desperate to be captains could hardly resist the temptation to seduce away any dragon who was not blissfully happy, and we would have chaos."

Laurence bowed his head. "I understand perfectly, sir."

"In any case, I will be giving you more pressing matters to attend to, for today we will begin your integration into Lily's formation," Celeritas said. "Pray go and fetch Temeraire; the others will be here shortly."

Walking back out, Laurence was thoughtful. He had known, of course, that the larger breeds would outlive their handlers, when they were not killed in battle together; he had not considered that this would leave the dragons alone and without a partner afterwards, nor how they or Aerial Command would manage the situation. Of course it was in Britain's best interests to have the dragon continue in service, with a new handler, but he also could not help but think the dragon himself would be happier so, with duties to occupy his thoughts and keep him from the kind of sorrow that Celeritas obviously still felt.

Arriving once again at the clearing, Laurence looked at the sleeping Temeraire with concern. Of course there were many years before them, and the fortunes of war might easily make all such questions moot, but Temeraire's future happiness was his responsibility, heavier by far to him than any estate could have been, and some time soon he would have to consider what provisions he could make to ensure it. A well-chosen first lieutenant, perhaps, might step into his place, with Temeraire brought to the notion over the course of several years.

"Temeraire," he called, stroking the dragon's nose; Temeraire opened his eyes and made a small rumble.

"I am awake; are we flying again today?" he said, yawning enormously up at the sky and twitching his wings a little.

"Yes, my dear," Laurence said. "Come, we must get you back into your harness; I am sure Mr. Hollin will have it ready for us."

The formation ordinarily flew in a wedge-shaped block that resembled nothing more than a flock of migrating geese, with Lily at the head. The Yellow Reapers Messoria and Immortalis filled the key flanking positions, providing the protective bulk to keep Lily from close-quarters attack, while the ends were held by the smaller but more agile Dulcia, a Grey Copper, and a Pascal's Blue called Nitidus. All were full-grown, and all but Lily had previous combat experience; they had been especially chosen for this critical formation to support the young and inexperienced Longwing, and their captains and crews were rightly proud of their skill.

Laurence had cause to be thankful for the endless labor and repetition of the last month and a half; if the maneuvers they had practiced for so long had not become by now second nature for Temeraire and Maximus, they could never have kept up with the practiced, effortless acrobatics of the others. The two larger dragons had been added into position so as to form a back row behind Lily, closing the formation into a triangle shape. In battle, their place would be to fend off any attempts to break up the formation, to defend it against attack from other heavy-combat-class dragons, and to carry the great loads of bombs that their crews would drop below upon those targets that had already been weakened by Lily's acid.

Laurence was very glad to see Temeraire admitted fully to the company of the other dragons of the formation, although none of the older dragons had the energy for much play outside their work. For the most part they lazed about during the scant idle hours, and only observed in tolerant amusement while Temeraire and Lily and Maximus talked and occasionally went aloft for a game of aerial tag. For his own part, Laurence also felt a great deal more welcome among the other aviators now, and discovered that he had without noticing it adjusted to the informality of their relations: the first time he found himself addressing Captain Harcourt as simply "Harcourt," in a post-training discussion, he did not even realize he had done so until after the words were out of his mouth.

The captains and first lieutenants generally held such discussions of strategy and tactics at dinnertime, or during the late evenings after the dragons had all fallen asleep. Laurence's opinion was rarely solicited in these conversations, but he did not take that greatly to heart: though he was quickly coming to grasp the principles of aerial warfare, he still considered himself a newcomer to the art, and he could hardly take offense at the aviators doing the same. Save when he could contribute some information about Temeraire's particular capabilities, he remained quiet and made no attempt to insinuate himself into the conversations, rather listening for the purpose of educating himself.

The conversation did turn, from time to time, to the more general subject of the war; out of the way as they were, their information was several weeks out of date, and speculation irresistible. Laurence joined them one evening to find Sutton saying, "The French fleet could be bloody well anywhere." Sutton was Messoria's captain and the senior among them, a veteran of four wars, and somewhat given to both pessimism and colorful language. "Now they have slipped out of Toulon, for all we know the bastards are already on their way across the Channel; I wouldn't be surprised to find the army of invasion on our doorstep tomorrow."

Laurence could hardly let this pass. "You are mistaken, I assure you," he said, taking his seat. "Villeneuve and his fleet have slipped out of Toulon, yes, but he is not engaged in any grand operation, only in flight: Nelson has been in steady pursuit all along."

"Why, have you heard something, Laurence?" Chenery, Dulcia's captain, asked, looking up from the desultory game of vingt-et-un that he and Little, Immortalis's captain, were playing.

"I have had some letters, yes; one from Captain Riley, of the Reliant," Laurence said. "He is with Nelson's fleet: they have chased Villeneuve across the Atlantic, and he writes that Lord Nelson has hopes of catching the French in the West Indies."

"Oh, and here we are without any idea of what is going on!" Chenery said. "For Heaven's sake, fetch it here and read it to us; you are not very good to be keeping this all to yourself while we are all in the dark."

He spoke with too much eagerness for Laurence to take offense; as the sentiments were repeated by the other captains, he sent a servant to his room to bring him the scant handful of letters he had received from former colleagues who knew his new direction. He was obliged to omit several passages commiserating with him on his change in situation, but he managed to elide them gracefully enough, and the others listened with great hunger to his bits and pieces of news.

"So Villeneuve has seventeen ships, to Nelson's twelve?" Sutton said. "I don't think much of the blighter for running, then. What if he turns about? Racing across the Atlantic like this, Nelson cannot have any aerial force; no transport could keep up the pace, and we do not have any dragons stationed in the West Indies."

"I dare say the fleet could take him with fewer ships still," Laurence said, with spirit. "You are to remember the Nile, sir, and before that the battle of Cape St. Vincent: we have often been at some numerical disadvantage and still carried the day; and Lord Nelson himself has never lost a fleet action." With some difficulty, he restrained himself and stopped here; he did not wish to seem an enthusiast.

The others smiled, but not in any patronizing manner, and Little said in his quiet way, "We must hope he can bring them to account, then. The sad fact of the matter is, while the French fleet remains in any way intact, we are in deadly danger. The Navy cannot always be catching them, and Napoleon only need hold the Channel for two days, perhaps three, to ferry his army across."

This was a lowering thought, and they all felt its weight. Berkley at last broke the resulting silence with a grunt and took up his glass to drain it. "You can all sit about glooming; I am for bed," he said. "We have enough to do without borrowing trouble."

"And I must be up early," Harcourt said, sitting up. "Celeritas wants Lily to practice spraying upon targets in the morning, before maneuvers."

"Yes, we all ought to get to sleep," Sutton said. "We can hardly do better than to get this formation into order, in any case; if any chance of flattening Bonaparte's fleet offers, you may be sure that one of the Longwing formations will be wanted, either ours or one of the two at Dover."

The party broke up, and Laurence climbed to his tower room thoughtfully. A Longwing could spit with tremendous accuracy; in their first day of training Laurence had seen Lily destroy targets with a single quick spurt from nearly four hundred feet in the air, and no cannon from the ground could ever fire so far straight up. Pepper guns might hamper her, but her only real danger would come from aloft: she would be the target of every enemy dragon in the air, and the formation as a whole was designed to protect her. The group would be a formidable presence upon any battlefield, Laurence could easily see; he would not have liked to be beneath them in a ship, and the prospect of doing so much good for England gave him fresh interest for the work.

Unfortunately, as the weeks wore on, he saw plainly that Temeraire found it harder going to keep up his own interest. The first requirement of formation flying was precision, and holding one's position relative to the others. Now that Temeraire was flying with the group, he was limited by the others, and with speed and maneuverability so far beyond the general, he soon began to feel the constraint. One afternoon, Laurence overheard him asking, "Do you ever do more interesting flying?" to Messoria; she was an experienced older dragon of thirty years, with a great many battle-scars to render her an object of admiration.

She snorted indulgently at him. "Interesting is not very good; it is hard to remember interesting in the middle of a battle," she said. "You will get used to it, never fear."

Temeraire sighed and went back to work without anything more like a complaint; but though he never failed to answer a request or to put forth an effort, he was not enthusiastic, and Laurence could not help worrying. He did his best to console Temeraire and provide him with other subjects to engage his interest; they continued their practice of reading together, and Temeraire listened with great interest to every mathematical or scientific article that Laurence could find. He followed them all without difficulty, and Laurence found himself in the strange position of having Temeraire explain to him the material which he was reading aloud.

Even more usefully, perhaps a week after they had resumed training a parcel arrived for them in the mail from Sir Edward Howe. It was addressed somewhat whimsically to Temeraire, who was delighted to receive a piece of mail of his very own; Laurence unwrapped it for him and found within a fine volume of dragon stories from the Orient, translated by Sir Edward himself, and just published.

Temeraire dictated a very graceful note of thanks, to which Laurence added his own, and the Oriental tales became the set conclusion to their days: whatever other reading they did, they would finish with one of the stories. Even after they had read them all, Temeraire was perfectly happy to begin over again, or occasionally request a particular favorite, such as the story of the Yellow Emperor of China, the first Celestial dragon, on whose advice the Han dynasty had been founded; or the Japanese dragon Raiden, who had driven the armada of Kublai Khan away from the island nation. He particularly liked the last because of the parallel with Britain, menaced by Napoleon's Grande Armee across the Channel.

He listened also with a wistful air to the story of Xiao Sheng, the emperor's minister, who swallowed a pearl from a dragon's treasury and became a dragon himself; Laurence did not understand his attitude, until Temeraire said, "I do not suppose that is real? There is no way that people can become dragons, or the reverse?"

"No, I am afraid not," Laurence said slowly; the notion that Temeraire might have liked to make a change was distressing to him, suggesting as it did a very deep unhappiness.

But Temeraire only sighed and said, "Oh, well; I thought as much. It would have been nice, though, to be able to read and write for myself when I liked, and also then you could fly alongside me."

Laurence laughed, reassured. "I am sorry indeed we cannot have such a pleasure; but even if it were possible, it does not sound a very comfortable process from the story, nor one which could be reversed."

"No, and I would not like to give up flying at all, not even for reading," Temeraire said. "Besides, it is very pleasant to have you read to me; may we have another one? Perhaps the story about the dragon who made it rain, during the drought, by carrying water from the ocean?"

The stories were obviously myths, but Sir Edward's translation included a great many annotations, describing the realistic basis for the legends according to the best modern knowledge. Laurence suspected even these might be exaggerated slightly; Sir Edward was very clearly enthusiastic towards Oriental dragons. But they served their purpose admirably: the fantastic stories made Temeraire only more determined to prove his similar merit, and gave him better heart for the training.

The book also proved useful for another reason, for only a little while after its arrival, Temeraire's appearance diverged yet again from the other dragons, as he began to sprout thin tendrils round his jaws, and a ruff of delicate webbing stretched between flexible horns around his face, almost like a frill. It gave him a dramatic, serious look, not at all unbecoming, but there was no denying he looked very different from the others, and if it had not been for the lovely frontispiece of Sir Edward's book, an engraving of the Yellow Emperor which showed that great dragon in possession of the same sort of ruff, Temeraire would certainly have been unhappy at being yet again marked apart from his fellows.

He was still anxious at the change in his looks, and shortly after the ruff had come in, Laurence found him studying his reflection in the surface of the lake, turning his head this way and that and rolling his eyes back in his head to see himself and the ruff from different angles.

"Come now, you are like to make everyone think you are a vain creature," Laurence said, reaching up to pet the waving tendrils. "Truly, they look very well; pray give them no thought."

Temeraire made a small, startled noise, and leaned in towards the stroking. "That feels strange," he said.

"Am I hurting you? Are they so tender?" Laurence stopped at once, anxious. Though he had not said as much to Temeraire, he had noticed from reading the stories that the Chinese dragons, at least the Imperials and Celestials, did not seem to do a great deal of fighting, except in moments of the greatest crisis for their nations. They seemed more famed for beauty and wisdom, and if the Chinese bred for such qualities first, it would not be impossible that the tendrils might be of a sensitivity which could make them a point of vulnerability in battle.

Temeraire nudged him a little and said, "No, they do not hurt at all. Pray do it again?" When Laurence very carefully resumed the stroking, Temeraire made an odd purring sort of sound, and abruptly shivered all over. "I think I quite like it," he added, his eyes growing unfocused and heavy-lidded.

Laurence snatched his hand away. "Oh, Lord," he said, glancing around in deep embarrassment; thankfully no other dragons or aviators were about at the moment. "I had better speak to Celeritas at once; I think you are coming into season for the first time. I ought to have realized, when they sprouted; it must mean you have reached your full growth."

Temeraire blinked. "Oh, very well; but must you stop?" he asked plaintively.

"It is excellent news," Celeritas said, when Laurence had conveyed this intelligence. "We cannot breed him yet, for he cannot be spared for so long, but I am very pleased regardless: I am always anxious when sending an immature dragon into battle. And I will send word to the breeders; they will think of the best potential crosses to make. The addition of Imperial blood to our lines can only be of the greatest benefit."

"Is there anything – some means of relief – " Laurence stopped, not quite sure how to word the question in a way which would not seem outrageous.

"We will have to see, but I think you need not worry," Celeritas said dryly. "We are not like horses or dogs; we can control ourselves at least as well as you humans."

Laurence was relieved; he had feared that Temeraire might find it difficult now to be in close company with Lily or Messoria, or the other female dragons, though he rather thought Dulcia was too small to be a partner of interest to him. But he expressed no interest of that sort in them; Laurence ventured to ask him, once or twice, in a hinting way, and Temeraire seemed mostly baffled at the notion.

Nevertheless there were some changes, which became perceptible by degrees. Laurence first noticed that Temeraire was more often awake in the mornings without having to be roused; his appetites changed also, and he ate less frequently, though in greater quantities, and might voluntarily go so long as two days without eating at all.

Laurence was somewhat concerned that Temeraire was starving himself to avoid the unpleasantness of not being given precedence, or the sideways looks of the other dragons at his new appearance. However, his fears were relieved in dramatic fashion, scarcely a month after the ruff had developed. He had just landed Temeraire at the feeding grounds and stood off from the mass of assembled dragons to observe, when Lily and Maximus were called onto the grounds. But on this occasion, another dragon was called down with them: a newcomer of a breed Laurence had never before seen, its wings patterned like marble, veins of orange and yellow and brown shot through a nearly translucent ivory, and very large, but not bigger than Temeraire.

The other dragons of the covert gave way and watched them go down, but Temeraire unexpectedly made a low rumbling noise, not quite a growl, from deep in his throat; very like a croaking bullfrog if a frog of some twelve tons might be imagined, and he leapt down after them uninvited.

Laurence could not see the faces of the herders, so far below, but they milled about the fences as if taken aback; it was quite clear however that none of them liked to try and shoo Temeraire away, not surprising considering that he was already up to his chops in the gore of his first cow. Lily and Maximus made no objection, the strange dragon of course did not even notice it as a change, and after a moment the herders released half a dozen more beasts into the grounds, that all four dragons might eat their fill.

"He is of a splendid conformity; he is yours, is he not?" Laurence turned to find himself addressed by a stranger, wearing thick woolen trousers and a plain civilian's coat, both marked with dragon-scale impressions: he was certainly an aviator and an officer besides, his carriage and voice gentleman-like, but he spoke with a heavy French accent, and Laurence was puzzled momentarily by his presence.

The Frenchman was not alone; Sutton was keeping him company, and now he stepped forward to make the introductions: the Frenchman's name was Choiseul.

"I have come from Austria only last night, with Praecursoris," Choiseul said, gesturing at the marbled dragon below, who was daintily taking another sheep, neatly avoiding the blood spurting from Maximus's third victim.

"He has some good news for us, though he makes a long face over it," Sutton said. "Austria is mobilizing; she is coming into the war with Bonaparte again, and I dare say he will have to turn his attention to the Rhine instead of the Channel, soon enough."

Choiseul said, "I hope I do not discourage your hopes in any way; I would be desolate to give you unnecessary concern. But I cannot say that I have great confidence in their chances. I do not wish to sound ungrateful; the Austrian corps was generous enough to grant myself and Praecursoris asylum during the Revolution, and I am most deeply in their debt. But the archdukes are fools, and they will not listen to the few generals of competence they have. Archduke Ferdinand to fight the genius of Marengo and Egypt! It is an absurdity."

"I cannot say that Marengo was so brilliantly run as all that," Sutton said. "If the Austrians had only brought up their second aerial division from Verona in time, we would have had a very different ending; it was as much luck as anything."

Laurence did not feel himself sufficiently in command of land tactics to offer his own comment, but this seemed perilously close to bravado; in any case, he had a healthy respect for luck, and Bonaparte seemed to attract a greater share than most generals.

For his part, Choiseul smiled briefly and did not contradict, saying only, "Perhaps my fears are excessive; still, they have brought us here, for our position in a defeated Austria would be untenable. There are many men in my former service who are very savage against me for having taken so valuable a dragon as Praecursoris away," he explained, in answer to Laurence's look of inquiry. "Friends warned me that Bonaparte means to demand our surrender as part of any terms that might be made, and to place us under a charge of treason. So again we have had to flee, and now we cast ourselves upon your generosity."

He spoke with an easy, pleasant manner, but there were deep lines around his eyes, and they were unhappy; Laurence looked at him with sympathy. He had known French officers of his sort before, naval men who had fled France after the Revolution, eating their hearts out on England's shores; their position was a sad and bitter one: worse, he felt, than the merely dispossessed noblemen who had fled to save their lives, for they felt all the pain of sitting idle while their nation was at war, and every victory celebrated in England was a wrenching loss for their own service.

"Oh yes, it is uncommon generous of us, taking in a Chanson-de-Guerre like this," Sutton said, with heavy but well-meant raillery. "After all, we have so very many heavyweights we can hardly squeeze in another, particularly so fine and well-trained a veteran."

Choiseul bowed slightly in acknowledgment and looked down at his dragon with affection. "I gladly accept the compliment for Praecursoris, but you have already many fine beasts here; that Regal Copper looks prodigious, and I see from his horns he is not yet at his full growth. And your dragon, Captain Laurence, surely he is some new breed? I have not seen his like."

"No, nor are you likely to again," Sutton said, "unless you go halfway round the world."

"He is an Imperial, sir, a Chinese breed," Laurence said, torn between not wishing to show off and an undeniable pleasure in doing just so. Choiseul's astonished reaction, though decently restrained, was highly satisfying, but then Laurence was obliged to explain the circumstances of Temeraire's acquisition, and he could not help but feel somewhat awkward when relating the triumphant capture of a French ship and a French egg to a Frenchman.

But Choiseul was clearly used to the situation and heard the story with at least the appearance of complaisance, though he offered no remark. Though Sutton was inclined to dwell on the French loss a little smugly, Laurence hurried on to ask what Choiseul would be doing in the covert.

"I understand there is a formation in training, and that Praecursoris and I are to join in the maneuvers: some notion I believe of our serving as a relief, when circumstances allow," Choiseul said. "Celeritas hopes also that Praecursoris may be of some assistance in the training of your heaviest beasts for formation flying: we have always flown in formation, for close on fourteen years now."

A thundering rush of wings interrupted their conversation as the other dragons were called to the hunting grounds, the first four having finished their meal, and Temeraire and Praecursoris both made an attempt to land at the same convenient outcropping nearby: Laurence was startled to see Temeraire bare his teeth and flare his ruff at the older dragon. "I beg you to excuse me," he said hastily, and hurried to find another place, calling Temeraire, and with relief saw him wheel away and follow.

"I would have come to you," Temeraire said, a little reproachfully, casting a narrowed eye at Praecursoris, who was now occupying the contested perch and speaking quietly with Choiseul.

"They are guests here; it is only courteous to give way," Laurence said. "I had no notion that you were so fierce in matters of precedence, my dear."

Temeraire furrowed the ground before him with his claws. "He is not any bigger than I am," he said. "And he is not a Longwing, so he does not spit poison, and there are no fire-breathing dragons in Britain; I do not see why he is any better than I am."

"He is not one jot better, not at all," Laurence said, stroking the tensed foreleg. "Precedence is merely a matter of formality, and you are perfectly within your rights to eat with the others. Pray do not be quarrelsome, however; they have fled the Continent, to be away from Bonaparte."

"Oh?" Temeraire's ruff smoothed out gradually against his neck, and he looked at the strange dragon with more interest. "But they are speaking French; if they are French, why are they afraid of Bonaparte?"

"They are royalists, loyal to the Bourbon kings," Laurence said. "I dare say they left after the Jacobins put the King to death; it was very dreadful in France for a while, I am afraid, and though Bonaparte is at least not chopping people's heads off anymore, he is scarcely much better in their eyes; I assure you they despise him worse than we do."

"Well, I am sorry if I was rude," Temeraire murmured, and straightened up to address Praecursoris. "Veuillez m'excuser, si je vous ai derange," he said, to Laurence's astonishment.

Praecursoris turned around. "Mais non, pas du tout," he answered mildly, and inclined his head. "Permettez que je vous presente Choiseul, mon capitaine," he added.

"Et voici Laurence, le mien," Temeraire said. "Laurence, pray bow," he added, in an undertone, when Laurence only stood staring.

Laurence at once made his leg; he of course could not interrupt the formal exchange, but he was bursting with curiosity, and as soon as they were winging their way down to the lake for Temeraire's bath, he demanded, "But how on earth do you come to speak French?"

Temeraire turned his head about. "What do you mean? Is it very unusual to speak French? It was not at all difficult."

"Well, it is prodigious strange; so far as I know you have never heard a word of it: certainly not from me, for I am lucky if I can say my bonjours without embarrassing myself," Laurence said.

"I am not surprised that he can speak French," Celeritas said, when Laurence asked him later that afternoon, at the training grounds, "but only that you should not have heard him do so before; do you mean to say Temeraire did not speak French when he first cracked the shell? He spoke English directly?"

"Why, yes," Laurence said. "I confess we were surprised, but only to hear him speak at all so soon. Is it unusual?"

"That he spoke, no; we learn language through the shell," Celeritas said. "And as he was aboard a French vessel in the months before his hatching, I am not surprised at all that he should know that tongue. I am far more surprised that he was able to speak English after only a week aboard. Fluently?"

"From the first moment," Laurence said, pleased at this fresh evidence of Temeraire's unique gifts. "You have been forever surprising me, my dear," he added, patting Temeraire's neck, making him preen with satisfaction.

But Temeraire continued somewhat more prickly, particularly where Praecursoris was concerned: no open animosity, nor any particular hostility, but he was clearly anxious to show himself an equal to the older dragon, particularly once Celeritas began to include the Chanson-de-Guerre in their maneuvers.

Praecursoris was not, Laurence was secretly glad to see, as fluid or graceful in the air as Temeraire; but his experience and that of his captain counted for a great deal, and they knew and had mastered many of the formation maneuvers already. Temeraire grew very intent on his work; Laurence sometimes came out from dinner and found his dragon flying alone over the lake, practicing the maneuvers he had once found so boring, and on more than one occasion he even asked to sacrifice part of their reading time to additional work. He would have worked himself to exhaustion daily if Laurence had not restrained him.

At last Laurence went to Celeritas to ask his advice, hoping to learn some way of easing Temeraire's intensity, or perhaps persuading Celeritas to separate the two dragons. But the training master listened to his objections and said calmly, "Captain Laurence, you are thinking of your dragon's happiness. That is as it should be, but I must think first of his training, and the needs of the Corps. Do you argue he is not progressing quickly, and to great levels of skill, since Praecursoris arrived?"

Laurence could only stare; the idea that Celeritas had deliberately promoted the rivalry to encourage Temeraire was first startling, then almost offensive. "Sir, Temeraire has always been willing, has always put forth his best efforts," he began angrily, and only stopped when Celeritas snorted to interrupt him.

"Pull up, Captain," he said, with a rough amusement. "I am not insulting him. The truth is, he is a little too intelligent to be an ideal formation fighter. If the situation were different, we would make him a formation leader or an independent, and he would do very well. But as matters stand, given his weight, we must have him in formation, and that means he must learn rote maneuvers. They are simply not enough to hold his attention. It is not a very common complaint, but I have seen it before, and the signs are unmistakable."

Laurence unhappily could offer no argument; there was perfect truth in Celeritas's remarks. Seeing that Laurence had fallen silent, the training master continued, "This rivalry adds enough spice to overcome a natural boredom which would shortly progress to frustration. Encourage him, praise him, keep him confident in your affection, and he will not suffer from a bit of squabbling with another male; it is very natural, at his age, and better he should set himself against Praecursoris than Maximus; Praecursoris is old enough not to take it seriously."

Laurence could not be so sanguine; Celeritas did not see how Temeraire fretted. Yet neither could Laurence deny that his remarks were motivated from a selfish perspective: he disliked seeing Temeraire driving himself so hard. But of course he needed to be driven hard; they all did.

Here in the placid green north, it was too easy to forget that Britain was in great danger. Villeneuve and the French navy were still on the loose; according to dispatches, Nelson had chased them all the way to the West Indies only to be eluded again, and now was desperately seeking them in the Atlantic. Villeneuve's intention was certainly to meet with the fleet out of Brest and then attempt to seize the straits of Dover; Bonaparte had a vast number of transports cramming every port along the French coast, waiting only for such a break in the Channel defenses to ferry over the massive army of invasion.

Laurence had served on blockade-duty for many long months, and he knew well how difficult it was to maintain discipline through the endless, unvarying days with no enemy in sight. The distractions of more company, a wider landscape, books, games: these things made the duty of training more pleasant by far, but he now recognized that in their own way they were as insidious as monotony.

So he only bowed, and said, "I understand your design, sir; thank you for the explanation." But he returned to Temeraire still determined to curb the almost obsessive practicing, and if possible to find an alternative means of engaging the dragon's interest in the maneuvers.

These were the circumstances which first gave him the notion of explaining formation tactics to Temeraire. He did so more for Temeraire's sake than his own, hoping to give the dragon some more intellectual interest in the maneuvers. But Temeraire followed the subject with ease, and shortly the lessons became real discussion, as valuable to Laurence as to Temeraire, and more than compensating for his lack of participation in the debates which the captains held among themselves.

Together they embarked on designing a series of their own maneuvers, taking advantage of Temeraire's unusual flying capabilities, which could be fitted into the slower and more methodical pace of the formation. Celeritas himself had spoken of designing such maneuvers, but the pressing need for the formation had forced him to put aside the plan for the immediate future.

Laurence salvaged an old flight-table from the attics, recruited Hollin's help to repair its broken leg, and set it up in Temeraire's clearing under his dragon's interested eyes. It was a sort of vast diorama set upon a table, with a latticework on top; Laurence did not have a set of the proper scale figures of dragons to hang from it, but he substituted whittled and colored bits of wood, and by tying these with bits of thread from the lattice, they were able to display three-dimensional positions for each other's consideration.

Temeraire from the beginning displayed an intuitive grasp of aerial movement. He could instantly declare whether a maneuver was feasible or not, and describe the movements necessary to bring it about if so; the initial inspiration for a new maneuver was most often his. Laurence in turn could better assess the relative military strengths of various positions, and suggest such modifications as would improve the force which might be brought to bear.

Their discussions were lively and vocal, and attracted the attention of the rest of his crew; Granby tentatively asked to observe, and when Laurence gave leave, was shortly followed by the second lieutenant, Evans, and many of the midwingmen. Their years of training and experience gave them a foundation of knowledge which both Laurence and Temeraire lacked, and their suggestions further refined the design.

"Sir, the others have asked me to propose to you that perhaps we might try some of the new maneuvers," Granby said to him, some few weeks into the project. "We would be more than happy to sacrifice our evenings to the work; it would be infamous not to have a chance of showing what he can do."

Laurence was deeply moved, not merely by their enthusiasm, but by seeing that Granby and the crew felt the same desire to see Temeraire acknowledged and approved. He was very glad indeed to find the others as proud of and for Temeraire as he himself was. "If we have enough hands present tomorrow evening, perhaps we may," Laurence said.

Every officer from his three runners on up was present ten minutes early. Laurence looked over them a little bemused as he and Temeraire descended from their daily trip to the lake; he only now realized, with all of them lined up and waiting, that his aerial crew wore their full uniforms, even now in this impromptu session. The other crews were often to be seen without coats or neckcloths, particularly in the recent heat; he could not help but take this as a compliment to his own habit.

Mr. Hollin and the ground crew were also ready and waiting; even though Temeraire was inclined to fidget in his excitement, they swiftly had him in his combat-duty harness, and the aerial crew came swarming aboard.

"All aboard and latched on, sir," Granby said, taking up his own launch position on Temeraire's right shoulder.

"Very well. Temeraire, we will begin with the standard clear-weather patrol pattern twice, then shift to the modified version on my signal," Laurence said.

Temeraire nodded, his eyes bright, and launched himself into the air. It was the simplest of their new maneuvers, and Temeraire had little difficulty following it; the greater problem, Laurence saw at once, as Temeraire pulled out of the last corkscrewing turn and back into his standard position, would be in accustoming the crew. The riflemen had missed at least half their targets, and Temeraire's sides were stained where the lightly weighted sacks full of ash that stood for bombs in practice had hit him instead of falling below.

"Well, Mr. Granby, we have some work ahead of us before we can make a creditable showing of it," Laurence said, and Granby nodded ruefully.

"Indeed, sir; perhaps if he flew a little slower at first?" Granby said.

"I think perhaps we must adjust our thinking as well," Laurence said, studying the pattern of ash marks. "We cannot be hurling bombs during these quick turns he makes, there is no way we can be sure of missing him. So we cannot work steadily: we must wait and release the equivalent of a full broadside in the moments when he is level. We will be at greater risk of missing a target entirely, but that risk can be borne; the other cannot."

Temeraire flew in an easy circuit while the topmen and bellmen hastily adjusted their bombing gear; this time, when they attempted the maneuver again, Laurence saw the sacks falling away, and there were no fresh marks to be seen on Temeraire's sides. The riflemen, also waiting for the level parts of the run, improved their record as well, and after half a dozen repetitions, Laurence was well-satisfied with the results.

"When we can deliver our full allotment of bombs and achieve perhaps an eighty percent success rate in our gunnery, on this and the other four new maneuvers, I will consider our work worth bringing to Celeritas's attention," Laurence said, when they had all dismounted and the ground crew were stripping Temeraire and polishing the dust and grime off his hide. "And I think it eminently achievable: I commend all of you, gentlemen, on a most creditable performance."

Laurence had previously been sparing with his praise, not wishing to seem as though he was courting the crew's affections, but now he felt he could scarcely be overly enthusiastic, and he was pleased to see the heartfelt response of his officers to the approval. They were uniformly eager to continue, and after another four weeks of practice, Laurence was indeed beginning to think them ready to perform for a wider audience when the decision was taken from his hands.

"That was an interesting variation you were flying last evening, Captain," Celeritas said to him at the end of the morning session, as the dragons of the formation landed and the crews disembarked. "Let us see you fly it tomorrow in formation." With that he nodded and dismissed them, and Laurence was left to call together his crew and Temeraire for a hasty final practice.

Temeraire was inclined to be anxious, late that evening, after the others had gone back inside and he and Laurence were sitting quietly together in the dark, too tired to do more than rest in each other's company.

"Come, do not let yourself fret," Laurence said. "You will do very well tomorrow; you have mastered all of the maneuvers from beginning to end. We have been holding back only to give the crew better mastery."

"I am not very worried about the flying, but what if Celeritas does not approve of the maneuvers?" Temeraire said. "We would have wasted all our time to no purpose."

"If he thought the maneuvers wholly unwise, he would never have solicited us," Laurence said. "And in any case our time has not been wasted in the least; the crew have all learned their work a good deal better for having to give more attention and thought to their tasks, and even if Celeritas disapproved entirely I would still count all these evenings of ours profitably spent."

He at last soothed Temeraire to sleep and himself dozed off by the dragon's side; though it was early September, the summer's warmth was lingering, and he took no chill. Despite all his reassurances to Temeraire, Laurence himself was up and alert by first light, and he could not wholly repress a degree of anxiety in his own breast. Most of his crew were at the breakfast table as early as he was, so he made a point of speaking with several of them, and eating heartily; he would rather have not taken anything but coffee.

When he came out into the training courtyard he found Temeraire there already in his gear and looking over the valley; his tail was lashing the air uneasily. Celeritas was not yet there; fifteen minutes passed before any of the other dragons of the formation arrived, and by then Laurence had taken Temeraire and his crew out to fly a few circuits of the area. The younger ensigns and midwingmen were particularly inclined to be shrill, and he had the hands go through exchanging places to settle their nerves.

Dulcia landed, and Maximus after her; the full formation was now assembled, and Laurence brought Temeraire back in to the courtyard. Celeritas had still not yet arrived. Lily was yawning widely; Praecursoris was quietly speaking with Nitidus, the Pascal's Blue, who also spoke French, his egg having been purchased from a French hatchery many years before the start of the war, when relations had been amicable enough to permit such exchanges. Temeraire still looked at Praecursoris with a brooding eye, but for once Laurence did not mind, if it would provide some distraction.

A bright flurry of wings caught his eye; looking up, he saw Celeritas coming in to land, and beyond him the rapidly dwindling forms of several Winchesters and Greylings, going away in various directions. Lower in the sky, two Yellow Reapers were heading south in company with Victoriatus, though the wounded Parnassian's convalescence was not properly over. All the dragons came alert, sitting up; the captains' voices died away; the crews fell into a heavy and expectant silence, all before Celeritas even reached the ground.

"Villeneuve and his fleet have been caught," Celeritas said, raising his voice to be heard over the noise. "They have been penned up in the port of Cadiz, with the Spanish navy also." Even as he spoke, the servants were running out of the hall, carrying hastily packed bags and boxes; even the maids and cooks had been pressed into duty. Without being ordered, Temeraire rose to all four legs, just as did the other dragons; the ground crews were already unrolling the belly-netting and climbing up to rig the tents.

"Mortiferus has been sent to Cadiz; Lily's formation must go to the Channel at once to take the place of his wing. Captain Harcourt," Celeritas said, turning to her, "Excidium remains at the Channel, and he has eighty years' experience; you and Lily must train with him in every free moment you have. I am giving Captain Sutton command of the formation for the moment; this is no reflection upon your work, but with this abbreviation of your training, we must have more experience in the role."

It was more usual for the captain of the lead dragon of a formation to be the commander, largely because that dragon had to lead off every maneuver, but she nodded without any sign of offense. "Yes, certainly," she said; her voice came out a little high, and Laurence glanced at her with quick sympathy: Lily had hatched unexpectedly early, and Harcourt had become a captain barely out of her own training; this might well be her first action, or very nearly so.

Celeritas gave her an approving nod. "Captain Sutton, you will naturally consult with Captain Harcourt as far as possible."

"Of course," Sutton said, bowing to Harcourt from his position aboard Messoria's back.

The baggage was already pulled down tight, and Celeritas took a moment to inspect each of the harnesses in turn. "Very good: try your loads. Maximus, begin."

One by one, the dragons all rose to their hind legs, wind tearing across the courtyard as they beat their wings and tried to shake the rigging loose; one by one they dropped and reported, "All lies well."

"Ground crews aboard," Celeritas said, and Laurence watched while Hollin and his men hurried into the belly-rigging and strapped themselves in for the long flight. The signal came up from below, indicating they were ready, and he nodded to his signal-ensign, Turner, who raised the green flag. Maximus's and Praecursoris's crews raised their flags only a moment later; the smaller dragons were already waiting.

Celeritas sat back onto his haunches, surveying them all. "Fly well," he said simply.

There was nothing more, no other ceremony or preparation; Captain Sutton's signal-ensign raised the flag for formation go aloft, and Temeraire sprang into the air with the others, falling into position beside Maximus. The wind was in the north-west, almost directly behind them, and as they rose through the cloud cover, far to the east Laurence could see the faint glimmer of sunlight on water.

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