Summary: Perscitia encounters two men at the London covert, and one of them is her captain.
Perscitia flew, very pleased with herself, to the London covert for a drop-off. One could no longer argue that she was not a very special sort of dragon. She had arranged for her fellows to fly the excess rock, cleared away to build their very fine pavilions, to men in the city who needed them to repair foundations ruined by Napoleon. Removing the jagged stones perfected their vistas and the Londoners gave them capital in exchange.
The pavilions were coming along splendidly. It was mostly her doing, she was sure that anyone could see that. At first, the pavilions had looked wonderful with their polished stones and the stream glinting as it flowed; it was almost like treasure. But then the weather got colder and the harnessed dragons began muttering it was ever so much nicer to sleep on the warm stones of the Loch Laggan covert.
Perscitia was inclined to think they were all great complainers. Pavilions were better than a cave at the breeding grounds. They were simply spoiled. But then she had the most brilliant notion--she would find a way to heat the stones and then no one could say living in a stupid covert was better. It took her longer than she cared to admit to figure it. It was most vexing to not be able to immediately hit upon a solution. In her frustration, she had snapped at poor Moncey, who was no help at all. With great difficulty, she had to concede that she rather missed Temeraire, even if he could be a great snob about books she had not read. At least he would have helped her planning; all anyone else did was moan ungratefully.
One of the militia men had suggested the pipes, proving humans were not entirely useless. Perscitia had never seen them before; they were too small for her claws, but one could bury these pipes underneath the earth, and they would carry steam from place to place. It was a capital scheme, even Gentius told her so. The steam heated the ground just like at Loch Laggan. The only problem was remembering to keep a fire going under the hot stones which made the steam when the little stream flowed onto them. For none of the dragons were small enough to work matches.
Once Iskierka returned from gallivanting about the globe, everything would be much simpler, so Perscitia called herself content. It was not her fault Iskierka was always flying off like a hatchling.
When she landed in the London covert, she had to wait while the men unloaded the heavy rocks from her belly rigging. The dragons of the Corps roused themselves long enough to offer sleepy greetings. Perscitia tried not to preen over much. They never would have paid her any mind before; she was certain.
She watched with interest as some dragons she did not know landed in formation, and the aviators went about their business unloading many packages. She was startled to see a man she would recognize anywhere among them. It was her captain. A warm feeling rose in her chest. She had not even known she was worried about him until relief filled her. It had been ever so long since she’d seen him, not knowing if he was well or even alive. He looked well, if a little thin, but he no longer wore captain’s bars.
She must have given a small chirp of excitement, because he turned and looked right at her. Recognition crossed his face, then he frowned and turned to go into a nearby building.
Oh, how that stung. Had she been a different sort of dragon, she would have flown at the Yellow Reaper he had come in on in a rage. She did not see why he would leave her to take a lower rank on a common Yellow Reaper. Everyone agreed there was nothing special about Reapers, not that she had anything against them in general. That one looked like a great bore; Perscitia could see nothing to recommend him. Certainly, someone who would steal her captain away must be an all together unpleasant sort.
Perscitia flew to an empty clearing, away from her friends in the Corps and as far from that terrible dragon as she could manage, where she coiled herself as tightly as possible. She felt ever so low and heavy, right down to her wing tips. She had not been this unhappy since she was sent to the breeding grounds. She rather wished she had thought to bring some of the treasure she had earned, that might make her feel grand—even if she did not have a captain.
There came the sound of tremendous wings flapping and Excidium landed in the previously empty clearing. “What are you on about?” he asked, without a greeting. “None of us can sleep with you making that dreadful noise.”
“Oh!” Perscitia exclaimed, indignantly. She had not been making a terrible noise. But if she had made a sound it was only a quiet and dignified keen.
She put her head under her wing and hoped he would go away, but he did not go away. Instead he nudged her with his nose in a concerned sort of way. She supposed she ought not quarrel with him. He was the flag dragon and had two very fine epaulettes, yet he had always been kind to her and never once said anything rude about her refusal to do battle. He was a very fine fighter himself and his captain was the Admiral.
“My captain is over there with another dragon,” she explained, low, “and he would not speak to me at all.”
“I did not know you had a captain,” said Excidium, thoughtfully.
“Yes, well he left for another dragon,” she did not feel he had yet grasped that essential fact, “because I would not fight.” This last she said more quietly, unsure if she should be embarrassed.
“Hmm,” said Excidium. He obviously thought it queer she did not fight, but he did not say anything against her. “Jane says you were ever so useful when Napoleon invaded. She quite liked your fire bombs.”
Perscitia should have glowed under praise from the Admiral, but she did not quite feel like glowing. It was very irritating.
“Oh!” said Excidium, with renewed good cheer. “But those chaps have just come from Gibraltar with intelligence for their Lordships, perhaps they did not hear how clever you have been, and how you taught us to move the infantry like Napoleon does, because they have been so far away. Pray, wait here and I will go tell Jane, then your captain will realize he has been wrong!”
Excidium sounded quite certain this scheme would work immediately; Perscitia was doubtful. He had never felt the sting of a captain leaving. Admiral Roland stayed with him always, and she made sure he got pay and epaulettes and a pavilion. He had not seen the coldness on his face as his captain turned. He could not remember being sent off to the breeding grounds and told he was no use. Perscitia did not think her captain would come, but still, part of her hoped.
So she waited, and waited some more, until finally she fell asleep and dreamed she was a hatchling again, learning to calculate the maximum distance a Grand Chevalier could fly against a strong headwind.
“There you are,” said a harsh voice, waking her. It did not sound like her captain, but for a moment she could almost convince herself. Then he said, “Walked all over this damned place looking for you. Why can’t you sleep with the other dragons? Too good for them?”
It wasn’t her captain at all. It was that annoying man, Wellington. Perscitia did not care if he was a duke now; she was not in the mood for entertaining guests. “Oh, what do you want?” she demanded, ungraciously.
“Ha!” he said, though she could not imagine what was funny. He was a very strange man. She never knew what he was thinking, a sensation she cared for not at all.
“I suppose you have heard we are going to Portugal,” he said. Perscitia had heard nothing of the sort; she had been busy building pavilions, but she certainly was not going to tell him that. “Roland says that damned Corsican has got that queer white beast advising him on how to use his dragons to advantage."
Perscitia sniffed. He meant Lien. “I have not met her but I hear she is unpleasant.” Temeraire had mentioned Lien was helping Bonaparte. He did not like her one bit and was always accusing her of mischief, as though she were behind all of his misfortunes. Temeraire went on about how intelligent Celestial dragons were but Perscitia had found many errors in his arithmetic, so she did not think this Lien could be much smarter than her. Though Lien was supposed to be a great Chinese scholar, Perscitia doubted there was ever a great need for poetry on the battlefield.
Lien had also sunk all those fine ships, which Perscitia did not approve of in the least. They may have had treasure on them.
“And you’re a great charmer, eh?” He said with a laugh. Then he added, “Roland thinks we should have a dragon strategist of our own and I’m inclined to agree after he rolled over those Prussians. ‘Course she’d have that great insubordinate lump of Laurence’s, but I’d rather have you.”
“Me?” said Perscitia, surprised and a little pleased. He had not been at all grateful for her intervention before, and she was inclined to believe he was mocking her even if it was very nice to be wanted. “I thought I nearly caused a mutiny,” she said, in what she hoped were cold and uninterested tones.
“Oh, hell,” he said. “You beasts are more conscious of perceived slights than half the House of Lords.” He sighed and then added, as if with great effort. “You were very useful and the battle at Shoeburyness; it should have gone much worse for us if not for your mad scheme.” That awkward overture made, he flung his hands into the air and added, more naturally, “Damned cavalry should have never broke rank; that lot is useless outside Wimbledon Common.”
Perscitia bobbed her head in agreement. “It is very silly to ride horses because they are not smart and cannot do equations at all.” Of course, horses would ride to war if their captain asked, but only because they were too stupid to known better. She flipped her wings loftily. “It is ever so much nicer to fly, besides.”
“You will come then?” She thought she heard a note of anxiety in his voice, but she must have been imagining it because he was always so brash and sure of himself. She craned her neck so she could see him more closely. The Duke did not flinch or turn away under her gaze. “I do not fight,” she admitted, a bit hesitantly.
“Wouldn’t need to go into battle,” he said. “Stay behind our lines and come up with plans that will throw them all ahoo—like firebombs. Ha ha.” He did not mention her lack of captain, so perhaps it did not matter so much after all. One did not need a captain, that was what Minnow always said.
“I will come,” she said, “but I must go back to my pavilion and secure it because someone will surely try to steal my treasure.” She eyed him side-long. “Do you have any jewels you need to bury?” she asked. She had heard dukes got a jeweled coronet, which was like a crown, but she had never seen him wear it which was queer. If she had a crown, she should never take it off save for polishing.
“Ha!” he said, which was no answer at all. If she were going to go all the way to Portugal with him, he might at least let her see the crown, or give her jewels or epaulettes.
“Pray,” she said, urgently as he was turning away. “Might I have a rank? Can one be one’s own captain?” For if she were a captain then no one could censure her for not having one.
Wellington thought on it, making her afraid he was going to say no, but when he spoke all he said was, “I suppose you must have a flag rank so the men will know to listen to you; though how silver stars shall be seen on those garish monstrosities Roland designed, I know not.” He considered her. “Perhaps if the epaulettes were green and the silver stars almost blue, it should match your coloring and not look wholly ridiculous.”
Perscitia leaned over and nudged him caressingly before she quite knew what she was doing. Unused to draconic affection, the Duke of Wellington nearly lost his footing, but recovered admirably by putting a hand on her soft muzzle. If she made a noise then, it was certainly not a dreadful one.