Then Rue felt her bones breaking, felt a scream of unexpected pain pass her lips. Well, that was embarrassing. She was left panting, clinging precariously to a tree branch in human form. The branch was a lot higher up to human Rue than it had been to lioness Rue. Nevertheless, she swung around to hang from her arms and let go, before she could really think about it. She landed badly, ankle twisting. With no time to worry she limped towards the fray.

So it was that as the infantry came to their cavalry’s defence, they were just in time to see a pale British lady of aristocratic bearing and generous proportions wearing nothing at all limp into the firelight. Rue’s orange scarf, after much torture and two bouts on a weremonkey, had given up the ghost as a rum deal and stayed hanging in the tree. She ought to have realised that. But she didn’t until it was too late.

The Great British army had seen many things as it conquered the empire. Yet, they had never seen anything like Rue. Not an actual British female, entirely unclothed. The very idea.

Not a lot could stop an infantry in full march, but Rue supposed she was now one of the few to claim that dubious honour. If only some of the now conquered lands had known – naked aristocrats is all it takes. Rue stood up and dressed herself in nothing but sublime dignity. She tried to think about it as one of life’s new and exciting experiences.

The brigadier said again, even more surprised, “God’s bones, who are you?”

Rue ignored him and, with as much hauteur as possible, bent and retrieved Mis Sekhmet’s discarded silver mesh. It would provide no real covering but she had a feeling she might need it later.

The Vanaras, having already seen most of her, were not as easily distracted by the apparition of Nude Englishwoman. They took the infantry’s sudden stillness as an opportunity to retrieve fallen spears, preparing to defend themselves against the near-overwhelming odds of an entire regiment.

Rue, with great stateliness under the circumstances, made her way over to her ship. The Spotted Custard, in its dedicated pursuit of tea, was hovering off to the right side of the temple now, away from the stream. The crew watched the battle and tried not to get involved.

A rope ladder dangled.

Deciding that a naked Englishwoman in the middle of a jungle in India, no matter how unexpected, wasn’t worth any more of his valuable time, the brigadier returned to the attack. Bolstered by foot reinforcements, he barked out a new set of instructions. Tearing their eyes away from Rue’s rounded – and retreating – buttocks, the infantry obeyed the brigadier’s orders. They regrouped into that concentrated efficiency for which England was famous and marched forwards, pushing the Vanaras further into temple grounds, away from the advantage afforded by trees.

As Rue climbed the rope ladder, she noticed that the air support was almost upon them.


Those dozen weremonkeys were destined for annihilation. Should the infantry not possess enough leaded bullets to keep them down against all supernatural healing abilities, the dirigible floatillah was armed with ammunition strong enough to blast the group from above. It might not kill them completely, but it would certainly incapacitate them long enough to facilitate capture. There also was an ominous pinking in the eastern sky which meant that the sun was soon to rise. If Vanaras were anything like werewolves, such an all out attack could certainly kill all but the very oldest and strongest with the help of sunlight.

Rue landed on deck to find herself instantly surrounded by chattering crew. Prim threw a dressing-gown about her. Quesnel looked her determinedly in the eyes, telling her off for risking her safety in no uncertain terms, at the same time giving her a full report on the state of the engines. Percy was waving a piece of parchment at her and using a number of long legal words. Spoo was trying to explain something about tea pods and grappling hooks.

Rue could not have felt more at home. The moment her bare feet hit deck she relaxed.

She held up a hand for quiet. “No time to visit. Prim, do we have all the tea?”

“Yes, captain.”

“Spoo, could you switch the grappling hooks for a large fishing net – you know the one we use for hauling up cargo? Also, please put this silver one on the drop lines.”

“Yes, Lady Captain.”

“Percy, is the treaty as we guessed? Does the agreement specify Rakshasas?”

“Yes, captain – I mean to say, no, captain. I mean to say, Rue, the Vanaras are legally included under the pertinent clauses because the agreement only utilises the term supernatural. They simply need to sign it.”

Quesnel stopped yelling and reporting at Rue and said seriously, “You have a plan, don’t you, chérie?”

“Yes, I most certainly do. And don’t call me chérie in public.”

“So I may do so in private?” Quesnel brightened.

Rue snorted to cover a smile. “Crew, listen, please.”

Those assembled all straightened expectantly.

“Let’s steal this war away from them, shall we? Spoo, I want you and the decklings to use that silver net and target one particular Vanara – the one who is wearing more jewellery than the others. He is their Alpha. Try to catch him. Once you’ve caught him, keep him dangling – don’t reel him in, too dangerous. Let me know the moment you’ve got him secure.”

Rue pointed to two of the deckhands – larger bulkier men who did a great deal of the heavy labour that the smaller nimbler decklings couldn’t. “You two, man the rope net and try for the brigadier. Unless I’m wrong about personalities, those two will try to fight one another directly, so they should be close together. Understand?”

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