Quesnel’s brow furrowed in real concern as he realised that her trauma was genuine. He paused his banter. “Perhaps, ladies, this is not an ideal environment. Should we return to the ship?”

“Certainly not!” objected Rue. “Prim and I can take a little rough talk, can’t we, Prim?”

Prim sighed. “Ask me that after we’ve found tea.”

And then there it was – a beacon of light within the mists of mixed society, a diamond in the mud, a teahouse in the rough. A quaintly old-fashioned little shoppe complete with pink and white scroll paint, flowers in the window, lace curtains, and silver bells at the door. Outside stood a number of differently sized gilt cages and a polite little sign suggesting if patrons did not deposit their animals there, said animals would also be supplied with tea. And one never knew how tea would affect a goat.

Quesnel steered them towards it and they attained the tinkling entrance with no further distress to ear or wellbeing.

“What an exhilarating place the Maltese Tower is,” said Rue, nodding to the hostess and taking the proffered chair with ease.

Primrose folded into hers with evident relief. “Perhaps a tad uncivilised?”

Rue agreed but added, “I like it.”

Quesnel disposed of their hats and returned to sit. “Mon petit chou, you are a strange creature. Lovely, of course, but strange. Are you feeling better, Miss Tunstell?”

Prim was still pale. Rue knew from experience that this was nothing a nice pot of Assam couldn’t put right, plus a bit of gooseberry charlotte and maybe some candied orange peel.

Quesnel’s solicitousness was touching, if rather more than strictly necessary. Still, Rue was disposed to think kindly upon anyone who liked Primrose. She was accustomed to losing male attention to her friend, and couldn’t really fault anyone for it. Much as Percy was deadly attractive to the ladies, his sister had a similar effect on the gentlemen. Rue gave a little mental sigh. No one would ever describe her as deadly attractive. She brightened a bit. Perhaps she could aspire to just deadly?


A girl in a pink and white striped pinafore arrived to take their order, and in a very short time they had a pot of tea, an orange with sugar on it for Rue, a gooseberry charlotte for Prim, and a welsh rarebit for Quesnel. Quesnel admitted shamefully that he did not very much like sweets. Dangerous character flaw, that.

Despite the revelation of this appalling shortcoming, it was a delightfully refined repast. Prim’s colour returned and Quesnel resumed distributing his attention equally. They might even have been said to be having a good time… until the lioness attacked.



Of course, it was startling. It’s simply not the thing one expects of a teahouse, even when travelling abroad, even miles up in an airship docking tower. Especially not miles up in an airship docking tower. But there was most assuredly a lioness among them. She came in through the front door, setting the bells tinkling like any ordinary patron, and then setting everyone screaming. Rue thought this a little much; after all, if a lioness wanted tea, why not give it to her? The animal in question was a sleek, beautiful creature, all golden fur and rippling muscles, but apparently intent on wreaking carnage and not on ordering tea. Whatever else was going on in that furry head, the cat clearly did not appreciate teahouses.

Do cats, Rue wondered, as a rule object to teahouses? If so, then there is something very much to be said in favour of dogs.

“But there is a sign!” objected Primrose in semi-shock. “A sign indicating pets aren’t permitted. Really, some people.”

While Primrose protested the indelicacy of it all, Rue resorted to some of Dama’s less official training. She shoved their table over and grabbed Prim by the arm, pulling her down to take refuge behind it. Not that the lioness was firing projectiles, but Rue thought that at least if they were out of sight they might enjoy a modicum of safety.

Everyone else ran for the door or the kitchen.

Quesnel, with disturbing calm, stripped off his jacket and rolled up one shirtsleeve to expose an emission device strapped to his wrist. It looked like it might shoot long bullets or possibly darts.

He crouched down behind the table. It was a tight fit for three, two of them in walking gowns, for it was after all only a tea table. Quesnel peeked around one side, wrist up, and aimed.

“No clear shot,” he said, turning to the ladies. “That beast is fast.”

People were yelling, furniture crashed, teapots shattered. The lioness was intent on maximum ruckus, overturning all the tables while servers stumbled out of her way, cakes flew through the air and the bells on the door reverberated as patrons pressed together seeking exit. There was panic everywhere but…

Rue straightened up to look over the edge of their makeshift barricade.

“What are you doing? Stay down!”

Rue batted Quesnel’s restraining hand away. “She’s not hurting anyone.”


“The lioness, she’s not actually doing anything to people. It’s only objects. Right now, she is savaging a sweets tray.”

Prim remonstrated: “Rue, she has upset many perfectly decent pots of tea. I call that a serious offence, if nothing else.”

One huge paw appeared on the edge of their table-top, then another, and then a smooth sandy-coloured head peaked over and looked at them. The cat’s whiskers twitched, giving her an aura of accusation. Rue had a horrible moment of swallowing down laughter – it was as if they were playing a game of hide and seek.

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