Home > League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(11)

League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(11)
Naomi Novik

All this had been required to turn his hand to the act, to make him bring the cure to France and give it into Napoleon’s hand. And even so, he had recoiled from the act at first. He had dreamt of the moment of crisis again only three nights ago; of Temeraire saying, “I will go alone,” and afterwards in the dream Laurence found himself in an empty covert, going from clearing to clearing, calling Temeraire’s name, with no answer.

With an effort, Laurence recalled himself to his circumstances: Temeraire’s head was lowered to peer at him, full of anxiety. “I am well,” he said again, and put his head on the dragon’s muzzle as reassurance. “I am not overset.”

“Will you not take anything? Gerry,” Temeraire called, raising his head, “pray go and fetch a cup of hot grog for Laurence, if you please; as we have nothing better it must do,” he added, turning back down. “Oh, Laurence; I am so very sorry to hear it: I hope your mother is not hurt? Have the French invaded them again? Ought we go at once?”

“No,” Laurence said. “The letter is a month old, my dear; we are too late for the funeral rites.” He did not say that he should scarcely have been welcome, with or without a twenty-ton dragon. “He died in his bed. My mother is not ill, only much grieved.” His voice, low, faded out without his entirely willing it to do so. The letter was in his mother’s hand, brief, sharp-edged with sorrow. His father had been hale and vigorous five years ago, still in his prime; she might justly have hoped not to be made a widow so soon. When Gerry came running with the hot cup, Laurence drank.

“In his bed?” Temeraire was muttering to himself, as if he did not understand; but he did not press any further for explanation; he only curled himself around Laurence, and offered the comfort of his companionship. Laurence seated himself heavily upon the dragon’s foreleg, grateful, and read the letter over again so he might at least have the pleasure of being unhappy with those whose unhappiness he had caused.

“I am sorry, Laurence; I do not suppose he could have heard that your fortune was restored,” Temeraire said, looking over at the wagon-cart, still piled high.

“He would have known me restored to the list,” Laurence said, but this was only a sop to Temeraire’s feelings. He knew that neither his fortune, nor his pardon and the reinstatement of his rank, which might restore him in the good graces of the world, would have weighed at all with Lord Allendale. That gentlemen could more easily have brooked his son’s public execution, on a charge he knew to be false, than to see his son laureled with gold and praised in every corner, and known to him as a traitor.

He might have told his father that worldly concerns at least had not weighed with him; he had acted only as his conscience had brutally required. But he had not seen his father since his conviction; he had not presumed to write, even after his sentence had been commuted to transportation, nor since his pardon. And they would now never speak again. There would be no opportunity for defense or explanation.

And Laurence could not but regard Temeraire’s extravagant hoard with dismay, although the Russians had been more astonished by his being willing to return any part of the treasure than by his keeping it entirely for himself. Laurence had asked how and where they should surrender the pillaged goods; the other aviators had only stared uncomprehending, and asked how he had managed to persuade Temeraire to surrender even the Tsar’s paintings, which could not have had a plainer provenance. He knew perfectly well what his father would have thought of a fortune obtained with so little character of law to the process.

But there was something too much like bitterness in that thought. Laurence made himself fold up the letter, and put it away in his pocket. He would not dwell upon what he could not repair. They were still at war; the French Emperor might have escaped, but the French army was yet strung out between Vilna and Berlin, what was left of it, and there would surely be more work to do soon enough.

There were other letters; letters from Spain: one from Jane Roland and one from Granby, with an enclosure addressed to Temeraire directly. Laurence meant to open them, but Temeraire said tentatively, “Laurence, I suppose you must begin to dress: Hammond will be calling for you in a quarter of an hour. Roland,” he called, “will you pray bring out Laurence’s robes? Be sure you do not track them in the dirt.”

Too late, Laurence recalled the conversation he had not attended; too late, protest sprang to his lips. Emily Roland was already with great ceremony and satisfaction unfolding the immense and heavily embroidered robes of silk which belonged to the son of the Emperor of China, and not to that of Lord Allendale.

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