A small table and few spindly chairs were arranged under the shelter of some glorious flowering tree. Rue and Prim stepped.

Rue contemplated enacting one of her schemes. Miss Sekhmet had warned of danger. Should she reveal her true name? She looked to Prim for assistance in determining tactics.

Primrose was busy fluttering her eyelashes at the officer. She was equally identifiable. The name Tunstell had quite the reputation due to the baroness’s hats. Everyone knew that the Wimbledon Queen had had two children pre-metamorphosis because it had been quite the scandal at the time. Thus they couldn’t register the ship under Primrose or Percy’s names either. They might use Quesnel, but Rue wasn’t entirely certain that if she registered The Spotted Custard under his name, the Frenchman wouldn’t gleefully abscond with it.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the decision seemed to have been taken entirely out of Rue’s hands.

The officer gestured for the ladies to sit and introduced himself: “How do you do? I’m Lieutenant Broadwattle. On behalf of Brigadier Featherstonehaugh, I am charged with welcoming you to Bombay.” He looked back and forth between them before hazarding a guess. “You are Lady Prudence Akeldama? And you are the Honourable Primrose Tunstell?”

Rue swallowed a smile. “Other way around, but not to worry – it happens all the time.”

Prim simpered at the young man. “Fortunately, we are such dear friends we do not mind being mistaken for one another.”

“On some occasions we even encourage it,” added Rue.

“Ah, well, two such delicate ladies must, perforce, accompany one another.”

Rue was not one to be distracted by flattery, even by a dasher in uniform. “You were alerted to our imminent arrival?”

“You are earlier than expected, but we did have an inkling. The brigadier expressed his particular interest once the pack informed him of your connections. You’re aware that Bombay’s regiment is honoured by a werewolf special forces attachment?”


Rue brightened – shapes to steal. “Oh, how nice. Anyone I know?”

“The Kingair Pack?”

Rue winced. “Ah. I see.”

Prim looked at her sharply. “What?”

“Fringe relations. They advised Brigadier Featherstonehaugh of my coming?”

The officer nodded, smiling nervously at her reaction.

“Now I know why Paw didn’t fight harder to keep me home,” said Rue. “Werewolves. Interfering busybodies, the lot of them.”

“Rue, language,” remonstrated Primrose, fidgeting awkwardly in embarrassment.

Like a true gentleman, Lieutenant Broadwattle moved the conversation on. “Unfortunately, pressing business makes the brigadier unable to welcome you himself. Nevertheless I am charged with informing you as to his profound honour at being graced by a visit from the daughters of such collectively esteemed vampires, Tunstell and Akeldama.” Rue could read the truth behind that statement – they were an inconvenience. The officer continued, “I suggest, however, that you keep your ancestry private. We have tried desperately to civilise this country but vampires, I’m afraid, are not at all liked in India. Natives categorise them as Rakshasas, a folkloric daemon. We are told that the cultural practices of vampires are less sanguine in this part of the world. Although I have not had the pleasure myself.”

The two customs officials winced noticeably at the word Rakshasas and made small hand gestures to ward off evil. They were both Indian, heads wrapped in cloth, with dark eyes and impressively full beards.

The young officer moved swiftly on. “Werewolves, on the other hand, are most welcome. Many animals are considered, at least partly, sacred in India. Although they have no native packs – wrong climate – the werewolf curse is thought a blessing… with sufficient full moon controls, of course.”

“How novel,” said Rue.

“Not to mention forward-thinking,” added Primrose, smiling warmly at the two native men. She was trying to show that she had no hard feelings for their vilification of her relations.

One could not blame a people for disliking vampires. Vampires were like Brussels sprouts – not for everyone and impossible to improve upon with sauce. There were even those in London who disapproved of Dama, and he was very saucy indeed.

The young officer managed a weak smile. “If we could get on to the minutia, ladies? Because of your connections, we have tried to make this as simple as possible. Of course, in casual conversation when you are home, perhaps a favourable mention in polite company on the efficient nature of my regiment?”

“I assure you, thus far, we will have nothing but glowing things to say about the Bombay company.”

Lieutenant Broadwattle smiled radiantly, his slightly homely face made handsome by good cheer. “Here are your papers of registration for the airship. Spotted Custard, as I understand, is the name? You, Lady Akeldama, are down as primary owner, with three other members of rank listed as the Honourable Primrose Tunstell, Professor Tunstell, and one Mr Lefoux. Is that correct?”

“Indeed it is.”

“If you wouldn’t mind filling in your staff and crew roster for restocking purposes here?”

He handed Rue the stylus, which Rue immediately passed to Prim who kept better track of such things and had vastly superior penmanship. The two customs officers watched this, hawk-like. They seemed to be paying inordinately close attention to the proceedings. Oddly, they were as focused on Lieutenant Broadwattle as they were on Prim and Rue. Was Lieutenant Broadwattle under suspicion of misconduct? Rue cocked her head at the young man. He seemed twitchy, but nothing out of the ordinary for a gentlemen faced with Primrose in a pretty dress and good temper.

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