Percy said for the Alpha Vanara, “Tell me more?”

Then Percy said for Percy, “Oh, I say!”

The floatillah was upon them.

Cannons deployed out of the base of the airships, trained on The Spotted Custard.

Rue’s entire crew held its breath and stared at the brigadier. No doubt all of his subordinates in the floatillah had binoculars trained on him. The only reason they had not been instantly attacked was the fact that the brigadier was sitting unharmed in the company of a British lady, taking tea. It wasn’t exactly a hostile situation – Vanaras or not.

Beads of sweat appeared on the brigadier’s brow. If he signalled his ships to fire, indicating that he was a hostage, then he risked his own demise, as well as the end of any possible treaty.

Primrose reached one trembling white hand forward. “Please, good sir, call off the floatillah. For my sake?”

He looked to the pretty young aristocrat and said nothing.

“For all our sakes?” Prim pressed her luck, batting eyelashes.

Rue wondered if Prim would risk mentioning Aunt Ivy given that there seemed to be history between them. That proved unnecessary, for mere moments later, a lioness leapt aboard the ship, carrying Mrs Featherstonehaugh atop her back.

Mrs Featherstonehaugh was less excited to ride a leaping lioness than Spoo had been. She dismounted looking as fragile as fine china. She’d lost her cane and had to limp to her husband and the tea table, one of which – the husband – rose at her arrival.


“My dear!” He rushed to her. “The major let you go? I’ll cashier the blighter.”

Mrs Featherstonehaugh looked at the werecat. “The major had no choice, Jammykins. The lioness was most insistent.”

The cat in question disappeared belowdecks, no doubt to borrow another robe. If Miss Sekhmet would keep shifting form on board, Rue supposed they should stock a selection of those colourful drapes she preferred and assign her a wardrobe.

The brigadier looked at Rue. “Is that your cat?”

Rue considered, then used the escape she had given Sekhmet at the beginning of their acquaintance. “You know cats. They don’t really belong to anyone.”

Primrose said, still sitting demurely at the table, “Mrs Featherstonehaugh? Do join us for tea.”

Such a smart girl, Prim, for in that simple request, she had ensured everyone’s wellbeing. Mrs Featherstonehaugh couldn’t refuse tea and still be thought anything like a respectable lady. And the brigadier wasn’t going to let his floatillah attack a ship with his wife on board. He may risk his own life, but he wasn’t going to risk hers. Not again.

He waved away the looming ships, all casual, but there was a complex hand signal involved. They moved a little way off. The three ladies – Rue still a monkey – entertained the three gentleman with politics. And the three ladies, as is often the case when women of sense serve tea to men of passion, prevailed.

For the Vanara Alpha, Rue spun a yarn about this new breed of tea and how it might provide economic independence. She bragged of her personal political connections, implying that she could draw up an agreement based on the tenets of SAD that would name the Vanaras as allied not with the queen but with others, one of them a werewolf. Percy faithful translated it all and did not laugh once.

“In fact, I’m sure Percy here could write you up a nice mock treaty while you rest for the day. Would that be acceptable? Of course, I would have to take it back to England for the official seal of approval but I think I can guarantee it will be passed through committee. In the interim, if you, brigadier, would abstain from any further action?”

“Yes, dear,” pressed his wife. “Do abstain, do. It’s very manly to think seriously about a course of action and not go rashly dashing into war.”

“Is it indeed, Snugglebutter?” huffed the husband.

“Why yes, don’t you find, ladies?”

Grave nods all around.

Rue suggested, in a mild tone, “This new treaty, we might consider naming it the Featherstonehaugh Accord.”

The brigadier and his wife looked positivity delighted. The brigadier said, “Well, I am needed in Waziristan. If we could finish up here relatively quickly, I might just forget to file a report on this matter until I return from campaign.”

Sensing a favourable shift, Prim called for celebratory muffins and jam.

Muffins and jam seemed to sooth everyone’s temper, particularly the Alpha Vanara’s whose delight in the jam was that of a child discovering blancmange for the first time. Rue could sympathise. She often felt that way about really good jam, not to mention blancmange. And this was, after all, gooseberry.

The sun was soon to rise, at which point the werewolves would lose their wolf forms and the Vanaras – including Rue – their monkey shape. All but the very strongest supernatural creatures would be driven into shade and sleep, and any chance at further discourse would have to wait until the following night. Rue was prepared to land her ship and invite all on board, offering up sleeping quarters if she had to.

Muffins consumed, jam admired, and bellies full, Primrose said in her most motherly tone, “Well, dears, bedtime?”

Rue rose. “Perhaps, gentlemen, if we all slept on it? Percy, I believe it is time to take us to ground. Then, Spoo, I think it is safe to lower the gangplank. We have guests to accommodate.”

The brigadier and the Vanara Alpha were looking almost relaxed. The brigadier could even be called jolly.

Rue thought of Lady Kingair and her Scottish pack. “Do we have any shortbread?” she hissed under her breath.

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