Negotiations, Rue soon came to understand, required a great deal longer than fifteen minutes and were better suited to a personality not hers. Not to mention someone who had mastery of monkey voice and face – she would keep slurring her words. The Vanara Alpha and the brigadier refused to see reason. They didn’t seem likely to come to an agreement before dawn, let alone before her beloved ship was attacked by her own country.

Percy had them almost to the ground and tucked away, partly hidden by overhanging trees. But as soon as the floatillah was close enough they would be easy to spot. The great red, dotted balloon of the Custard poked up too high, slightly out of the trees in such a way as to look like a massive embarrassed mushroom.

Around them in the clearing below, the monkeys and wolves cavorted together.

Lady Kingair had changed shape after Spoo helpfully tossed down one of Rue’s spare dressing-gowns. Occasionally, that good lady would shout something autocratic up at them. She wanted to know exactly what in all atmospheres was going on! Prim would lean over the railing and yell down as much of an explanation as she could.

Rue kept up with negotiations. Uncle Lyall sat in the background, amused by the entire situation.

The pack and the Vanaras settled into a game, something along the lines of chase my tail, chase your tail, flip over, and wrestle. Between these two species, at least, accord had been found. They remained determinedly oblivious to the fact that the floatillah was coming and that the werewolves may be cashiered and the Vanaras imprisoned. Rue supposed for the werewolves it was a little like finding a lost pack, knowing they were not alone in the world, that there were other types of shape-shifters. The Vanaras seemed happy to be out in the open at last, to reveal themselves to their wolf cousins.

Where is Miss Sekhmet? Rue wondered. The werelioness would be most useful in these negotiations.

Rue said to the Vanara for what she felt was the millionth time, “Jussssh sign the Supernatural Acceptance Decree and I’m certain our queen will see reason. The brigadier here would be bound by the termsss, yesh?”

Brigadier Featherstonehaugh huffed into his tiny excuse of a beard. “Well, I don’t see that it’s obvious these creatures are the same as werewolves, in which case…”


“Except that I can pershonally assure you they are immortal supernatural shape-shifters.” Rue waved her monkey tail at him in annoyance. “Ish no difference.”

Percy translated for the Vanara prince, who said, “We are not interested in your queen and her agreements.”

Rue tried to frown. It was challenging with a monkey face. “What if I offered you a treaty with a separate branch of the British government?”

The brigadier looked as if he would like to object but as Percy translated what Rue had said, the Vanara Alpha perked up.

“Nothing to do with Rakshasas or their alliance?”

Rue thought fast, calculating what she knew of the Shadow Council. How would her mother react? Dama, she suspected, would want peace. As potentate he tended to favour the most civilised non-violent road if possible. But he’d want his tea back. The werewolves and the Vanaras were getting along well enough that the Kingair Pack would return a favourable report to the dewan. So she could probably count on his vote. Her mother? Well, her mother could be persuaded eventually. So Rue felt safe in offering an alliance with the Shadow Council, as if it were an independent entity. The Vanaras need not be told of their intimacy with Queen Victoria. She wondered if the brigadier even knew of the existence of the Shadow Council. She would have to speak with circumspection around him. Nevertheless, it seemed the most promising course of action.

“My father,” she said, “has some business interests here in your land.” She purposefully did not mention which father. Better if the brigadier thought she spoke of Lord Maccon, otherwise he might let slip the fact that her adopted father was a vampire. The Vanaras wouldn’t like that at all.

Everyone looked perfectly blank at this seemingly unrelated statement.

“He, like you” – Rue acknowledged the Vanara Alpha with a nod – “ish a great fan of tea. Thish new breed” – she gestured at the spheres all around them – “will grow well in this climate, in the fields next to Tungareshwar Forest. If we were to offer the Vanaras a trade agreement, perhaps governorship and control of these new tea plantations? As part of an alliance?” Dama is not going to like this.

The brigadier looked upset. Rue turned to him and said under her breath, “Bloody John has its alliance with the Rakshasas. It’s time to balance the books.”

It was not an outright admission that she was going against the East India Company, but it was implied. If the brigadier was anything like most military men, he opposed the Company’s military influence. Rue listened to Paw’s pack gossip and more often than not they objected to the might of Bloody John. It was politically challenging because of vampire involvement in the Company, but Rue had guessed right, for the brigadier’s militant expression relaxed.

He huffed, more thoughtful than combative. “Are you saying this agreement would circumvent the East India Company?”

“Yes, exactly. And the Rakshasas.” She nodded at the Vanara prince.

Both men looked interested. Rue was pretty certain she’d get an earful from Dama about bargaining away his private tea investment for an alliance with local weremonkeys, but he was a reasonable man and if all else failed, she could use her daughterly wiles.

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