Victory of Eagles
The fifth book in the Temeraire series
Naomi Novik

For Dr. Sonia Novik,

who gave this book a home


Chapter 1

THE BREEDING GROUNDS were called Pen Y Fan, after the hard, jagged slash of the mountain at their heart, like an ax-blade, rimed with ice along its edge and rising barren over the moorlands: a cold, wet Welsh autumn already, coming on towards winter, and the other dragons sleepy and remote, uninterested in anything but their meals. There were a few hundred of them scattered throughout the grounds, mostly established in caves or on rocky ledges, wherever they could fit themselves; nothing of comfort or even order provided for them, except the feedings, and the mowed-bare strip of dirt around the borders, where torches were lit at night to mark the lines past which they might not go, with the town-lights glimmering in the distance, cheerful and forbidden.

Temeraire had hunted out and cleared a large cavern, on his arrival, to sleep in; but it would be damp, no matter what he did in the way of lining it with grass, or flapping his wings to move the air, which in any case did not suit his instinctive notions of dignity: much better to endure every unpleasantness with stoic patience, although that was not very satisfying when no-one would appreciate the effort. The other dragons certainly did not.

He was quite sure he and Laurence had done as they ought, in taking the cure to France, and no-one sensible could disagree; but just in case, Temeraire had steeled himself to meet with either disapproval or contempt, and he had worked out several very fine arguments in his defense. Most important, of course, it was just a cowardly, sneaking way of fighting: if the Government wished to beat Napoleon, they ought to fight him directly, and not make his dragons sick to try to make him easy to defeat; as if British dragons could not beat French dragons, without cheating. “And not only that,” he added, “but it would not be only the French dragons who died: our friends from Prussia who are imprisoned in their breeding grounds would also have got sick, and perhaps it might even have gone so far as China; and that would be like stealing someone else’s food, even when you are not hungry; or breaking their eggs.”

He made this impressive speech to the wall of his cave, as practice: they had refused to give him his sand-table, and he had no-one of his crew to jot it down for him, either; he did not have Laurence, who would have helped him work out just what to say. So he repeated the arguments over to himself quietly, instead, so he should not forget them. And if these should not suffice to persuade, he thought, he might point out that after all, he had brought the cure back, in the first place: he and Laurence, with Maximus and Lily and the rest of their formation, and if anyone had a right to say where it should be shared out, they did: no-one would even have known of it if Temeraire had not contrived to be sick in Africa, where the mushrooms which cured it grew.

He might have saved the trouble. No-one accused him of anything, nor, as he had privately, a little wistfully, thought just barely possible, hailed him as a hero; because they did not care.

The older dragons, not feral but retired, were a little curious about the latest developments in the war, but only distantly, more inclined to tell over their own battles of earlier wars; and the rest had plenty of indignation over the recent epidemic, but only in a provincial way. They cared that they and their own fellows had sickened and died; they cared that the cure had taken so long to reach them; but it did not mean anything to them that dragons in France had also been ill, or that the disease would have spread, killing thousands, if Temeraire and Laurence had not taken over the cure; they also did not care that the Lords of the Admiralty had called it treason, and sentenced Laurence to die.

They had nothing to care for. They were fed, and there was enough for everyone. If the shelter was not pleasant, it was no worse than what even the retired dragons were used to, from the days of their active service; they had none of them even heard of a pavilion, or thought they might be made more comfortable than they were. No-one ever molested an egg; the grounds-keepers would take them away, but with infinite care, in waggons lined with straw, hot-water bottles, and woolen blankets in the wintertime; and they would bring back reports until the eggs were hatched and no more of anyone’s concern; so everyone knew the eggs were safe in their hands; safer, even, than keeping them oneself, so even the dragons who had not cared to take a captain themselves, at all, would often as not hand over their own eggs. They could not go flying very far, because they were fed at no set time but randomly, from day to day, so if one went away out of ear-shot of the bells, one was likely to come too late, and go hungry all the day. So there was no larger society, no intercourse with the other breeding grounds or with the coverts, except when some other dragon came from afar, to mate; even that was arranged for them. Instead they sat, willing prisoners in their own territory, Temeraire thought bitterly; he would never have endured it if not for Laurence, only for Laurence, who would surely be put to death at once if Temeraire did not obey.

He held himself aloof from their society at first. There was his cave to be arranged: despite its fine prospect it had been left vacant for being inconveniently shallow, and he was rather crammed in; but there was a much larger chamber beyond, visible through holes in the back wall, which he gradually opened up with the slow and cautious use of his roar. Slower, even, than perhaps necessary—he was very willing to have the task consume several days. The cave had then to be cleared of debris, old gnawed bones and inconvenient boulders, which he scraped out painstakingly even from the corners too small for him to lie in, for neatness’ sake; and he found a few rough boulders in the valley and used them to grind the cave walls a little smoother, by dragging them back and forth, throwing up a great cloud of dust.

It made him sneeze, but he kept on; he was not going to live in a raw untidy hole. He knocked down stalactites from the ceiling, and beat protrusions flat into the floor, and when he was satisfied, he arranged along the sides of what was now his antechamber, with careful nudges of his talons, some attractive rocks and old, dead tree-branches, twisted and bleached white, which he had collected from the woods and ravines. He would have liked a pond and a fountain, but he could not see how to bring the water up, or how to make it run when he had got it there, so he settled for picking out a promontory on Llyn y Fan Fawr which jutted into the lake, and considering it also his own.

To finish he carved the characters of his name into the cliff face by the entrance, and also in English, although the letter R gave him some difficulty and came out looking rather like the reversed numeral 4; then he was done with that, and routine crept up and devoured his days. To rise, when the sun came in at the cave-mouth; to take a little exercise, to nap, to rise again when the herdsmen rang the bell, to eat, then to nap and to exercise again, and then back to sleep; and that was the end of the day, there was nothing more. He hunted for himself, once, and so did not go to the daily feeding; later that day one of the small dragons brought up the grounds-master, Mr. Lloyd, and a surgeon, to be sure that he was not ill; and they lectured him on poaching sternly enough to make him uneasy for Laurence’s sake.

For all that, Lloyd did not think of him as a traitor, either; did not think enough of him to consider him one. The grounds-master only cared about his charges so far as they all stayed inside the borders, and ate, and mated; he recognized neither dignity nor stoicism, and anything which Temeraire did out of the ordinary was only a bit of fussing. “Come now, we have a fresh lady Anglewing visiting to-day,” Lloyd would say, jocularly, “quite a nice little piece; we will have a fine evening, eh? Perhaps we would like a bite of veal, first? Yes, we would, I am sure,” providing the responses with the questions, so Temeraire had nothing to do but sit and listen; and as Lloyd was a little hard of hearing, if Temeraire did try to say, “No, I would rather have some venison, and you might roast it first,” he was sure to be ignored.

It was almost enough to put one off making eggs, and in any case Temeraire was growing uncomfortably sure that his mother would not have approved in the least, how often they wished him to try, and how indiscriminately. Lien would certainly have sniffed in the most insulting way. It was not the fault of the female dragons sent to visit him, they were all very pleasant, but most of them had never managed an egg before, and some had never even been in a real battle or done anything interesting at all. So then they were embarrassed, as they did not have any suitable present for him which might have made up for it; and it was not as though he could pretend that he was not a very remarkable dragon, even if he liked to. Which he did not, very much, although he would have tried for Bellusa, a poor young Malachite Reaper without a single action to her name, sent by the Admiralty from Edinburgh, who miserably offered him a small knotted rug, which was all her confused captain would afford: it might have made a blanket for Temeraire’s largest talon.

“It is very handsome,” Temeraire said awkwardly, “and so cleverly done; I admire the colors very much,” and tried to drape it carefully over a small rock, by the entrance, but the gesture only made her look more wretched, and she burst out, “Oh, I do beg your pardon; he wouldn’t understand in the least, and thought I meant I would not like to, and then he said—” and she stopped abruptly in even worse confusion; so Temeraire was sure that whatever her captain had said, it had not been at all nice. It was as painful as could be, and he had not even the satisfaction of delivering one of his cherished retorts, because it was not as though she herself had said anything rude. So he did not much want to, but he obliged anyway. He was determined he would be patient, and quiet, in all things; he would not cause any trouble. He would be perfectly good.

Temeraire did not let himself think very much about Laurence; he did not trust himself. It was hard to endure the perpetual sensation of deep unease, almost overpowering, when he thought how he did not know how Laurence was, what his condition might be. Temeraire was sure to know every moment where his breastplate was, and his small gold chain, these being in his own possession; his talon-sheaths had been left with Emily, and he was quite certain she was to be trusted to keep them safe. Ordinarily he would have trusted Laurence, too, to keep himself safe; at least, if he were not proposing to do something dangerous for no very good reason, which he was sadly given to, on occasion; but the circumstances were not what they ought to be, and it had been so very long. The Admiralty had promised that so long as he behaved, Laurence would not be hanged, but they were not to be trusted, not at all. Temeraire resolved twice a week that he should go to Dover at once, to London—only to make inquiries, to see they had not, only to be sure—but unwanted reason always asserted itself before he had even set out. He must not do anything which should persuade the Government he was unmanageable, and therefore Laurence of no use to them. He must be as complaisant and accommodating as ever he might.

It was a resolution already sorely tried by the end of his third week, when Lloyd brought him a visitor, admonishing the gentleman loudly, “Remember now, not to upset the dear creature, but to speak nice and slow and gentle, like to a horse,” infuriating enough, even before the gentleman was named to him as one Reverend Daniel Salcombe.

“Oh, you,” Temeraire said, which made that gentleman look aback, “yes, I know perfectly well who you are; I have read your very stupid letter to the Royal Society, and I suppose you are come to see me behave like a parrot, or a dog.”

Salcombe stammered excuses, but it was plainly the case; he began laboriously to read to Temeraire off a prepared list of questions, something quite nonsensical about predestination, but Temeraire would have none of it. “Pray be quiet; Saint Augustine explained it much better than you, and it still did not make any sense even then. Anyway, I am not going to perform for you, like a circus animal. I really cannot be bothered to speak to anyone so uneducated he has not read the Analects,” he added, guiltily excepting Laurence, in the back of his mind; but then Laurence did not set himself up as a scholar, and write insulting letters about people he did not know. “And as for dragons not understanding mathematics, I am sure I know more of it than do you.”

He scratched out with his claw a triangle, in the dirt, and labeled the two shorter sides. “There; tell me the length of the third, and then you may talk; otherwise, go away, and stop pretending you know anything about dragons.”

The simple diagramme had perplexed several gentlemen, when Temeraire had put it to them at a party in the London covert, rather disillusioning Temeraire as to the general understanding of mathematics among men. The Reverend Salcombe evidently had not paid much attention to that part of his education, either, for he stared, and colored up to his mostly bare pate, and turned to Lloyd furiously, saying, “You have put the creature up to this, I suppose! You prepared the remarks—” The unlikelihood of this accusation striking him, perhaps, as soon as he had made it to Lloyd’s gaping, uncomprehending face, he immediately amended, “They were given you, by someone, and you fed them to him, to embarrass me—”

“I never, sir,” Lloyd protested, to no avail, and it annoyed Temeraire so much that he nearly indulged himself in a small, a very small roar; but in the last moment he exercised great restraint, and only growled. Salcombe fled hastily all the same, Lloyd running after him, calling anxiously for the loss of his tip: he had been paid, then, to let Salcombe come and gawk at Temeraire, as though he really were a circus animal; and Temeraire was only sorry he had not roared, or better yet thrown them both in the lake.

And then his temper faded, and he drooped. He thought, too late, that perhaps he ought to have talked to Salcombe, after all. Lloyd would not read to him, or even tell him anything of the world at all, even if Temeraire asked slowly and clearly enough to be understood, but only said maddeningly, “Now, let’s not be worrying ourselves about such things, no sense in getting worked up.” Salcombe, however ignorant, had wished to have a conversation; and he might yet have been prevailed upon to read him something from the latest Proceedings, or a newspaper—oh, what Temeraire would have done for a newspaper!