Home > League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(8)

League of Dragons (Temeraire #9)(8)
Naomi Novik

By unconscious agreement, Roland and the boys were thrust back to make a final defense between the oncoming boarders and Laurence—a prospect which he could only find grotesque; and yet the fault was his own, for not taking more pains to fill out his crew. Forthing had no second or third lieutenant behind him, no older midwingmen who might have bolstered their resistance; there were no riflemen aboard.

Ferris and Dyhern drew their swords; they joined Forthing, clambering along the line of Temeraire’s back to meet the Frenchmen. Laurence drew his own sword and his pistol—the metal painfully cold to the touch; he could only hope it would fire.

The world turned over again, a dizzying spiral, and then suddenly they were in a steep climb: the Incan dragons were pursuing Temeraire hotly, trying to prevent him getting his breath back again; they were wary of the divine wind. Laurence had learned the trick of leaning hard into his straps, his boots planted firmly against hide, to keep from falling over during hard flying, but even so he could not avoid a disorientation that blurred all the world into meaningless shapes and colors.

He shook his head and blinked streaming eyes. The Guards had all kept their feet. Forthing climbed into range—he stood up in his straps—he fired his pistol; one of the Guards fired his at the same instant. A cloud of smoke, and the Guardsman fell; Forthing jerked, twisting around in his straps. A spray of blood burst from his cheek and was slapped back onto his skin by the wind, bright red around a torn bleeding hole: the bullet had gone into his mouth and through the side of his face. Another pistol fired off, the grey smoke anonymous; Laurence could not tell whether the shot was on their side or the French.

Dyhern was grappling with one of the Guardsmen; he was a big man himself, but the other, a younger man, was bearing him down. Ferris looked down Temeraire’s back, and then, greatly daring, reached down and unlatched his second strap, and let go the harness: he fell ten feet straight down onto the man overpowering Dyhern, and managed to catch onto one of his straps. Before the Frenchman could recover, Ferris had pistoled him in the face. He thrust the spent pistol into his belt, and bent to latch himself on in the dead man’s place; the corpse went falling away.

All sensation of weight abruptly vanished. Temeraire had opened just enough distance from his pursuers to turn; now he arced over, mid-air. He hung suspended a fraction of a moment, and then he was plummeting, down onto the two Incan dragons so close on his heels. The dragons shrieked, bending their heads away to protect their eyes from Temeraire’s claws and teeth, entangled with one another. The world fractured: Temeraire roared in the dragons’ faces as they all fell, the divine wind drumming beneath his skin again; he roared again, and a third time, his wings beating the air wildly. They were falling, all falling together; Laurence clung to the straps, straining, and saw the other men doing the same. Like being in the tops mid-gale, struggling to reef a sail. And then Temeraire smashed the two dragons together down into the riverbank beneath him, tree-limbs snapping, snow and ice erupting all around like gunpowder smoke.

Laurence shielded his eyes with his sleeve, but the flying snow thickly coated the top of his head, covered over his mouth and ears. They had stopped moving. If Temeraire had been wounded in the fall—

He dropped his arm only to see one of the Guardsmen slash his own straps and come leaping in four quick strides directly towards him. Emily Roland lunged at the man from one side, Baggy from the other; but he had more than a foot in height on either of them, and bulled his way past them. He had a saber ready in his hand; Laurence pulled up his own pistol and fired—with no result; the powder was too wet. He flung the pistol into the Frenchman’s face instead, and met the descending sword on his own: a brutal impact. The Frenchman pounded down on Laurence’s sword with main strength, trying to beat it out of his grip, and seized his arm.

The surface shuddered beneath them, Temeraire shaking himself free of the coating of snow. The Frenchman let go his hold on Laurence’s arm and seized his harness instead, to keep his footing. They were close enough to have embraced; Laurence managed to lean back far enough to club the man across the jaw with the guard of his sword-hilt. The man shook his head, dazed, but struck down again with his saber; the Chinese sword shrieked as the two blades scraped against each other, but held.

They were matched and straining; then the bright crack of a pistol, and hot blood and brains spurted into Laurence’s eyes. He jerked aside. Emily Roland had shot the man in the back of the head. Laurence wiped blood and ice from his face as Temeraire reared up onto his feet and shook himself steady. The two Incan dragons lay still and broken beneath him, shattered by the divine wind more than by the fall; the green-blue-plumed head had fallen back limply across the ice, a blaze of incongruous color.

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