Home > League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(6)

League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(6)
Naomi Novik

Temeraire flattened his ruff, not liking this speech very much. He beat away quickly, urgently. The river swung back eastward beneath them, snow blowing in little drifts across the ice. Over the next stand of hills, they found one smaller crossing already completed: tracks through the snow on both sides of the bank, and the ground atop the highest point on the eastern bank trampled and bared of snow, where dragons had lifted away the guns and followed the company. But the soldiers had already vanished into the trees on the western bank.

Laurence swept the countryside and the river ahead with his spyglass, anxiously. As little as he wished Napoleon to escape, he feared crossing the enemy’s lines. The Russian light-weights were not accustomed to any combat beyond their own internal skirmishing; they did not make a strong company, and now there were French dragons on every side, backed with guns and companies in good order. “We must begin to think of turning back,” he said.

“Not yet, surely!” Temeraire cried. “Look, is that not a Cossack party, over there? Perhaps they will know where Napoleon has gone.”

He flung himself ahead, eagerly. It was indeed a Cossack raiding party: seven small beasts, courier-weights perhaps half Grig’s size, each of them carrying a dozen men hanging off their bright hand-woven harnesses. The Cossack men were armed with sabers and pistols; their clothing was stained dark in places with dried blood. Parties such as theirs had been harrying the French rear all the way from Kaluga; they had been largely responsible for the speed of Napoleon’s collapse, but they had neither the arms nor the dragon-weight to meet regular troops. The chief man waved them a greeting, and Dyhern shouted back and forth with him in Russian, through Laurence’s borrowed speaking-trumpet; they landed, and Temeraire came to earth beside them. Dyhern leapt down and went to the Cossacks, carrying Laurence’s best map; after a quick conversation, he came back to say, “The Prince de Beauharnais is crossing over the next two miles with nine thousand men and twelve dragons: none of them are Inca.” Laurence nodded silently, grim with disappointment; but then Dyhern moved his finger further north on the map and said, “But there are two Incan beasts with the Guard company crossing here, where the river forks, with a carriage and seven covered wagons.”

“Only two dragons?” Laurence said sharply.

The Cossack captain nodded and held up two fingers, to confirm, and then moved his hand in a circle and flung it in a gesture westward, conveying flight. “He says all the other Inca dragons flew away west four days ago in a great hurry: they took nothing with them,” Dyhern said.

“They must have run out of food,” Temeraire suggested, but Laurence doubted. For the Incan dragons, all the potent instincts of personal loyalty were bound up in their Empress, now Napoleon’s consort. He was the father of her child, which had secured their devotion to him. That in extremis he should have chosen to send away those beasts who could have been relied upon to protect him, first and foremost, seemed unlikely.

“But we have not seen any other French heavy-weights, either,” Temeraire said. “None, except that poor Chevalier—so perhaps he had to send them all away, and kept only those two.” He was hovering, looking yearningly north, his ruff quivering. “Laurence, surely we must try. Only imagine if we should learn that he escaped us, so near—”

Laurence looked again over the map. Only the merest chance, and between them and the fork lay a force of twelve French dragons, and a strong company of men and guns. If the French should see a danger to Napoleon, and turn back in force—“Very well,” Laurence said. He could not bear it, either. “Dyhern, will you ask them to show you a way to come at the fork from the east? We must go around de Beauharnais, far enough to be out of sight, to have any hope of coming at his chief.”

Temeraire flew low, just brushing the snow from the tree-tops, and flat-out; setting such a pace that the small Russian dragons fell behind, just barely keeping in sight. Laurence did not slow him. Speed was the only chance, if there were any. If the Cossacks’ intelligence were good, then Temeraire alone could halt Napoleon’s party, if he arrived in time to catch them out in the open; then the Russian light-weights might catch them up, and provide a decisive blow. But if the Cossacks had been mistaken, if there were more heavy-weight dragons or more guns, a company too great for Temeraire alone to stop, then the Russian light-weights could not make victory possible. There was no chance, either, of going back to get the Russian heavy-weights—and just when their power might have told significantly, if the French truly had sent away all of their own larger beasts.

Hot Novels
  • Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris
  • Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Never Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #2)
  • Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculi
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • Fallen Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #1)
  • Forever Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #3)
  • Ugly Love
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3)
  • Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Bared to You (Crossfire #1)
  • The Destiny of Violet & Luke (The Coinc
  • Captivated by You (Crossfire #4)
  • Uprooted