Rue felt utterly exhausted. It seemed to have been an overly long evening. The others looked much the same, but when they would have dispersed to their beds, Rue insisted that Quesnel, Primrose, and Percy join her in the stateroom for a consultation.

“Prim dear, would you make a note, please? I think we should stock additional crossbows, and darts both silver-tipped and wooden. Perhaps we should put some thought into a defensive training program for decklings and deckhands?”

Primrose nodded.

“Oh, wonderful,” said Quesnel. “You anticipate more such encounters?”

Rue said, “I come from a long line of people who attract trouble. It’s best to be prepared, don’t you feel?”

“When you put it like that, perhaps we should hire militia when we return to London?”

Quesnel was joking but Rue felt the suggestion was worth considering. “Prim, make a note of that too, please? I could ask Paw. He might know some candidates. Now, so we can get off to bed, the reason I asked you for a quick conference.” Rue fished about in her cleavage.

Quesnel looked away.

Percy said, deadpan and brotherly, “Rue, please spare us. We have already had sufficient appreciation of your assets for one evening.”

Rue gave him a quelling look and produced the slip of paper Lieutenant Broadwattle had given her. “As it turns out, the good lieutenant was Dama’s contact in the matter of the tea. You remember the reason we are in Bombay? This is what he gave me.”

The three passed the slip of paper between them. It ended up in front of Percy.


“It’s a code of some kind.”

“Yes, it is. Brilliant deduction, Percy. Now, you’re the don of this operation – what does it say?”

Percy stood to retrieve a roll of parchment and a stylus from a nearby sideboard. He began making notes and doing sums, while Prudence explained about Lieutenant Broadwattle being Dama’s redundancy agent and the fact that her real contact was the recently kidnapped brigadier’s wife, Mrs Featherstonehaugh. She also explained that she felt there was another interested party, also after the tea, represented by Miss Sekhmet and possibly the Rakshasas. While she had expected to be approached at the party, that element had never appeared.

Eventually, Percy looked up from the bit of paper. “Nothing basic. Nor is it algorithmic. It may be something I’m not quite able… that is… The numbers don’t translate to letters of the alphabet nor is it any variation or foreign language with which I am familiar. My guess is that it is based on a book of some kind. See here? The first is always a number between one and about two hundred, the second between one and thirty, then the third between one and ten. It follows that the first is a page number, the second a line number, and the last the word in. So each set of three numbers represents a word in a text, thus constructing a complete correspondence. Without knowing the book, it’s meaningless.”

Rue and Prim looked at one another.

Rue said, “I think we know the book. Prim, if you would be so kind?”

Prim scurried off to Percy’s library, returning a short while later clutching Sand and Shadows on a Sapphire Sea: My Adventures Abroad by Honeysuckle Isinglass.

Quesnel picked it up and read a few lines. He sputtered laughter.

Percy looked utterly mortified. “Why on earth would you think anyone would choose that as a cypher? And what are you doing with it, Tiddles? I thought we swore an oath never to grace it with––”

Prim said, “It’s not my copy. It’s Rue’s.”

“Rue, how could you?” Percy looked genuinely betrayed.

Rue held up a hand. “Before you accuse me of treating in family secrets, it was given to me by an agent of Dama’s at the Maltese Tower. I had no idea why or what for, and I didn’t know it had any bearing on your family. Now I suspect it is the means by which Dama transmits messages.”

“Isn’t it just like that vampire to use something so domestically embarrassing?” grumbled Percy.

Rue gestured encouragingly. “Go on. Test it and see if it works.”

Percy did so, paging through swiftly and jotting down words until he had a full message written out on his parchment.

While he worked, Quesnel asked, confused, “Why domestically embarrassing?”

“Oh, it’s nothing much, simply that Aunt Ivy wrote that book,” answered Rue.

Quesnel chuckled. “The Wimbledon Hive Queen? Fantastic. Wait until I tell Maman.”

“Don’t you dare,” instructed Rue. “It’s a family secret. You are now sworn to safeguard it to the grave as a potentially damaging moral hazard. Not to mention our communication cypher.”

Quesnel arched an eyebrow. “Am I, mon petit chou? I don’t remember any swearing.”

Rue narrowed her eyes at him.

Percy put down his stylus. “Well, there it is. The message makes perfect sense, so this book must be the code-breaker. Unfortunate indeed, but such is life.”

“Ever full of our mother’s embarrassments?” suggested Prim.

“What does it say?” Rue was dying of curiosity. She may have squirmed a bit in her seat. This was all so deliciously espionage-ish.

Percy passed it over so she could read it, at the same time offering up his own interpretation. “Essentially, he’s changing our mission. He found out about his agent being kidnapped while we were in transit.”

Rue examined it and then continued with her interpretation of the message. “It appears he wants me to go after Mrs Featherstonehaugh. He thinks she may have betrayed him in the matter of the tea and that’s why she was taken. The tea is in danger.”

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