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

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

Laurence looked back. The last two Guardsmen on Temeraire’s back had surrendered: Forthing was taking their guns and swords, and Ferris was binding their arms. All their fellows upon the dragons had been slain: the bodies of men lay scattered around the wreckage of the beasts.

Further up the river, the soldiers around the carriage stood frozen and staring back at them, clutching their rifles, pale. Laurence felt Temeraire draw breath, and then he roared out once more over all their heads, shattering, terrible. The men broke. In a panicked mass they fled, some scrambling and slipping up the river in blind terror; some flying back eastward, undoubtedly into the waiting arms of the Cossacks; most however ran for the western bank, vanishing into the trees.

Temeraire stood panting, and then he threw off the battle-fever; he looked around. “Laurence, are you well? Oh! Have you been hurt? What were those men about, there?” he demanded, narrowly, catching sight of the prisoners.

“No, I am perfectly well,” Laurence said; his shoulders would feel that struggle for a week, but his skin had scarcely been broken. “It is not my blood; do not fear.” He laid his hand upon Temeraire’s neck to soothe him; he well knew what the fate of the prisoners would be, if Temeraire imagined them responsible for having harmed him.

For once, however, Temeraire was willing to be diverted. “Then—” Temeraire’s head swung back towards the gilded carriage, standing now alone upon the bank and still buried deeply beneath the snow. He leapt, and was on the riverbank. He pushed the large wagon away, with a grunt of effort, and scraped the bulk of the drift away from the carriage with his foreleg. Laurence sprang down, with Dyhern following; they went to the door, which had been thrust half an inch open against the snow before it stuck, and dragged it open against the remnants of the drift.

Two women inside were huddled in terror half-fainting against the cushions: a beautiful young lady in a gown cut too low for respectability, and her maid; they clung to each other and screamed when the door was opened. “Good God,” Dyhern said.

“The Emperor,” Laurence asked them sharply in French. “Where is he?”

The women stared at him; the lady said, in a trembling voice, “He is with Oudinot—with Oudinot!” and hid her face against the maid’s shoulder. Laurence stepped back, dismayed, and looked back at the wagon: Temeraire reached for the cover with his talons, seized, tore.

The sun blazed on gold: gold plate and paintings in gilt frames; silver ornaments, brass-banded chests and traveling boxes. They threw back the covers: more gold and silver and copper, sheaves of paper money. They had taken only Napoleon’s baggage: the Emperor was safely away.

“IT DOES NOT SEEM reasonable,” Temeraire said disconsolately, “that when I should have liked nothing more than to have a great fortune, none was to be had; and now here it is, just when I should have preferred to catch Napoleon. Not,” he added, hurriedly, so as not to tempt fate, “that I mean to complain, precisely; I do not at all mind the treasure. But Laurence, it is beyond everything that he should have slipped past us: he has quite certainly got away?”

“Yes,” Hammond answered for Laurence, who was yet bent over the letters which Placet had brought them all from Riga. “Our latest intelligence allows no other possibility. He was seen in Paris three days ago, with the Empress: he must have gone by courier-beast the instant his men had finished crossing. They say he has already ordered another conscription.”

Temeraire sighed and put his head down.

The treasure remained largely in its wagon, which was convenient for carrying. Laurence had insisted on returning those pieces which could be easily identified, such as several particularly fine paintings stolen from the Tsar’s palace, but there were not so many of those; nearly all of it had been chests full of misshapen lumps of gold, which had likely been melted in the burning of Moscow, and which no-one could have recognized.

Temeraire did not deny it was a handsome consolation; but it did not make amends for Napoleon’s escape, and while he was not at all sorry that the Russian heavy-weights now looked on him with considerably more respect and had one and all avowed that in future they would listen to him when he told them not to stop, they would not believe that he had not done it for the gold. “I was doing my duty,” he had said, stiffly, “and trying to capture Napoleon, which is what all of you ought to have done, too.”

“Oh, yes,” they all answered, nodding wisely, “your duty: now tell us again, how much gold is in that middling chest with the four bands around it?” It was not what he called satisfying.

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