Home > League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(17)

League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(17)
Naomi Novik

So he was very much at leisure to worry, and think up new sideways questions which might approach the question of Laurence’s health. None of these produced a satisfactory answer. Laurence was not tired; Laurence was not too hot, nor too cold; Laurence did not have the head-ache. Laurence did indeed recall vomiting over the side during that typhoon in the year six, but he did not feel the least inclination to be similarly ill at present.

“Laurence,” Temeraire said finally in desperation, “perhaps you have heard of typhus?”

“I have,” Laurence said. “It is going through the hospitals, I am afraid; poor devils.”

“Oh! The hospitals only?” Temeraire said, much relieved. “You would have no thought of typhus, would you?”

“What, of being ill? None whatsoever. Whence has this sudden concern for my health arisen?” Laurence said, raising his head from his pistols, which he was cleaning.

“Only, I do not quite understand,” Temeraire said, “how your father seems to have died in his bed, and you have been so very quiet—”

Laurence said, “My father was seventy-two, and had been ill a long time, my dear; I may hope for another two score years myself, if nothing should—” He stopped very abruptly.

Temeraire was immediately alarmed, and only more so, when Laurence said, “Temeraire, I beg your pardon. I am not ill; but it is true that my thoughts are occupied. I am sorry that I should have let you see it, when I cannot confide their subject to you; honor demands my silence at present. Having said so much, I trust you will not press me further.”

“And I did not, but I very much wished to,” Temeraire said to Churki, unhappily, that afternoon, when Laurence had left with Hammond on yet another social occasion. Laurence’s speech had done nothing to make Temeraire feel less uneasy: entirely the reverse. Laurence’s idea of honor was very peculiar, and nearly all-encompassing; it had led him into dangerous situations before now.

“I should think so,” Churki said. “Why did you not insist on being informed further at once? What if he has got himself into some difficulty, which you ought to manage for him? Men do not always like interference, and by and large,” she added, “I do not hold with unnecessary interference; they ought to be allowed to manage their own affairs. But there are some matters which a respectable dragon ought not allow to go forward among her people; why, I have known men to be lured out of their ayllu to visit a woman in another, and then they are snatched up by some other dragon and never seen again, all because their own dragon did not intervene soon enough.”

“Well, I am sure Laurence has not been visiting some woman,” Temeraire said uneasily; it did occur to him that Laurence had been attending all these parties, at which he understood there were a great many ladies all in very dazzling gowns; and Laurence did have odd notions about what might be due the reputation of a gentlewoman. “Perhaps you are right; perhaps I ought to inform myself. Roland,” he said, turning to break in on her sword-drill with Baggy, “Roland, you would not happen to know which party Laurence has gone to, this afternoon? You might go after him, and just keep an eye upon him.”

Baggy dropped his sword at once and sat down looking grateful for the respite: he was finally filling out his well-stretched frame little by little, but remained still very lanky.

“I mightn’t at all,” Roland said, with feeling, wiping sweat and strands off her brow; she wore her sandy hair braided in a queue, but a great deal of it had escaped during the practice: her enthusiasm for the exercise was considerably greater than Baggy’s. “I should have to put on a dress. You had better ask Forthing to go after him, or Ferris: he can do the pretty when he has to.”

“Ferris, certainly,” Temeraire said, mindful of the wretched condition of Mr. Forthing’s coat, which he could hardly bear to have seen even within the confines of the covert, much less out in the world, as associated with any officer of his; neither was his appearance at all improved by the large wadding of bandages bound up over the wound in his cheek. “—pray ask him to go at once, if you please.”

“I’ll go!” Baggy volunteered, and scrambled up and away with a flailing of thin limbs and an expression of relief.

Ferris went out in a condition of which any dragon might be proud: in a neat grey coat, freshly sponged down and with a golden stick-pin in the lapel, trousers faultlessly white and boots well-polished. “I will find him, never fret, Temeraire,” Ferris said. “I have enough Russian to ask about, and there aren’t so many aviators about that people won’t remember a flying-coat.”

“And perhaps you might find Grig for me,” Temeraire said to Roland, after Ferris had gone, just in case: if any other dragon had been nosing about Laurence, Grig was sure to know of it.

But Grig did not need to be summoned: he was at that very moment darting into the clearing in a rush. “Temeraire, some of those ferals have returned, that you asked to go west for you; but they have come in over Symerka’s clearing, and he thinks they are trying to get at his treasure.”

“Oh! What treasure has he got to speak of, but three silver plates, dented!” Temeraire said, in some exasperation.

But this paucity in no wise deterred Symerka, who was indeed beating aloft furiously, launching himself at the two cowering ferals, who together could have fit under one of his wings. Temeraire had to roar very loudly to get his attention; so that the entire infantry battalion at the foot of the hill burst out of their tents and began milling around, and a few of them fired guns in panic.

“These are my guests, who have come to bring us intelligence, not to take anything,” Temeraire said to Symerka severely, putting himself in front of the ferals. “You cannot be supposing everyone a thief, and jumping on them without so much as a word.”

“Well, as you are vouching for them,” Symerka said, “I suppose they are all right; but I am sure that one looked towards my plates,” he added, stretching his neck as he flew back and forth before them a few more times, before at last subsiding and returning to his clearing.

“I am sorry you should have had so unfriendly a welcome,” Temeraire said to the ferals: it was their chief come back again, and one other with her, a thin pale-grey creature almost as white as Lien, except with grey eyes instead of red. Temeraire was sorrier yet when the feral chief declared herself quite overset, and in need of restoration after their fright: she could not speak a word until they were fed. The quartermaster refused to be of any use, and in any case the dinner porridge would not be ready for another four hours yet. Roland had to be sent down to the city with a gold coin, and Temeraire then had to see this go down the gullets of his visitors in the form of two handsome round-bellied pigs.

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