She dashed over. Spoo and her crowd of decklings who stood, muscling the three ropes that held the Vanara Alpha suspended below the gondola.

Rue rolled back the sleeves of her quilted dressing-gown. “Pull him up to this railing, slowly. Nice and steady.”

The decklings began to haul.

By careful degrees the Vanara came closer. When he was within arm’s reach Rue folded herself over the railing and flailed down, fingers stretching. She caught the whites of his terrified eyes – this man does not want to be mortal – precisely before her hand brushed his cheek. He craned his neck to bite her finger but it was too late. He was now suspended there – a mortal Indian prince netted out of legend, all dark eyes and liquid beauty. Rue was now a weremonkey once more, wearing a very proper English dressing-gown of ice-blue silk with pastel embroidered flowers up the front. Her tail made the back of the robe tilt up in a ridiculous manner. But at least she was covered. She thought that a nice tassel wrapped about her tail tip to match the tassels down the front of the gown would complete the look to the height of absurdity. Or possibly a fez. However, she had no time to attend to tassels.

She now understood why werewolves hated to fly. Her stomach turned into a hive of wasps that had been recently poked with a sick. All her muscles, many of them new and extra big, ached as if fevered. This had nothing to do with shifting shape. She felt queasy and dizzy. She contemplated succumbing to the vital humours in a faint, or having a bout of hysteria. On top of all that discomfort, it was as if she could sense the aetherosphere high above her. This was difficult to articulate, even in her own head, but she felt it in her blood like a thorny stinging blanket draped inside her, between skin and flesh. She had a certain instinctual knowledge that flying up any further and entering that grey nothingness would drive her mad with pain and loss.

She swallowed down all of it – her monkey face must look quite green – and put a supporting hand on the railing to steady herself.

“Right, decklingsss, pull him all the way in,” said Rue in her low slurring voice, surprised it wasn’t shaking with strain.

The decklings, with admirable lack of upset at their captain suddenly having a monkey’s face, obeyed her order.

Despite feeling ill, Rue stayed to act as muscle. She had supernatural strength and speed, so she was needed to keep their newest guest under control should he decide to fight. Primrose would not be as effective with this warrior, potent weapon of etiquette though she may be.

The mortal Vanara Alpha was docile under the ministrations of the decklings as they stripped him of his silver mesh. He stood tall and calm until he was entirely free. Once liberated, he made no move to try to fight or escape.

Rue nodded at him and made a gesture towards the poop deck indicating he should follow her. Percy couldn’t leave his post to translate so the Vanara must be taken to Percy. His bearing proud, the Alpha followed Rue with an air of one who was granting a favour.


They arrived at the tea trolley, where the brigadier and Prim were nibbling cucumber sandwiches. Percy was guiding the ship almost casually, biscuit in one hand, helm in the other.

Rue said, voice tired, “Pershy, how low can we shafely go?”

Percy looked at her. “Rue, you feeling quite the thing?”

“No, this floating as a supernatural is no lark. I feel like curdled milk. Can you safely take us down and still evade the floatillah?” Rue covered her mouth on an ugly burp.

Percy gave her a worried look and said, “If we go down much more, we’ll lose this favourable breeze. But if we have to, I will.”

Rue thought about it. They were not yet far enough out to risk loosing the advantage simply for her personal comfort. The floatillah, once it realised what had happened, could still chase them down before dawn. “No. We need speed. I’ll hold on a bit longer. Any sign of a likely clearing?”

“Yes, ten minutes to the north. See – there?”

Rue saw. “Very good. I can make it.”

Percy took her word for it and returned to his duties.

Rue sagged into one of the deck-chairs.

Gingerly, the Vanara did the same.

The brigadier stared at them.

After a pause, Prim poured them both tea.

“Milk?” she asked the Vanara.

He ignored her.

“Sugar? One lump or two?”

“Give him two,” Rue suggested. From her experience with the spicy native version, the locals took their tea sweet.

While Rue battled nausea and weakness to stay at least seated upright, Prim engaged the brigadier in conversation. The Vanara Alpha calmly sipped his tea with an expression of mild shock. No doubt he was as confused by this situation as everyone else. Or perhaps he was merely as surprised by the taste of British tea as Rue had been by the local spiced variety.

Nine and a half minutes later, Percy brought them in and down to hover below treetop height over a bare patch of land. They remained high enough so that neither visitor could jump to the ground without injury. Nor were the Vanaras and werewolves – who soon collected in the clearing to wait expectantly – able to leap up.

Fortunately they were low enough so that Rue’s stomach settled and the oppressive blanket feeling of the aetherosphere no longer troubled her with its spiky presence. In fact, she felt perfectly normal, or as perfectly normal as a girl can when in monkey shape. Percy left navigation to Virgil and Spoo, and joined them at tea to act as translator.

Rue found herself delighted with the civilised nature of it all. She guessed that she had about fifteen minutes before the floatillah arrived and opened fire. Could one broker an end to hostilities, rectify a missed opportunity for peace, and facilitate the introduction of a new species in fifteen minutes?

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