“Very like. Now, I need you to get a message to him and they may not be very welcoming to strangers right now. See that long brick building beyond the steeple of that church? You’ll need to argue your way in and find the underground residencies. Say to anyone you encounter that you have a very important message for Kingair from Lady Akeldama about a recent upset. This is werewolf not military business. The werewolves might have left by now, but don’t give the message to anyone but Professor Lyall, not even Lady Kingair.”

Spoo nodded, small face very serious. “I understand, Lady Captain. What’s the message?”

Rue gave Spoo the stone monkey on the cord. She trusted her instincts, and hoped that Professor Lyall would know enough about local custom to connect this to the Vanaras. Was he scientist enough to figure it out or would he be trapped in the belief that there was only one kind of shape – wolf? Rue didn’t entirely believe Percy’s theory herself. Hidden weremonkeys? The very idea! But then again, it might just be outrageous enough to be true.

Spoo looked at the funny little necklace doubtfully. “That’s all?”

“And ask if I can have my dress and shoes back, would you? And Mr Lefoux’s hat, perhaps?”

Spoo looked scandalised. “I don’t think I want to know.”

“Good, because I’m not going to explain further.”

Spoo popped the monkey charm about her own neck. “Aye aye, Lady Captain.”

Rue was about to rouse the others to extend the gangplank, when Spoo waved an airy hand. “Gangplanks are for you proper types.” Without further ado she ran, grabbed a dangling rope on the landward side of the ship and leapt over the railing.

Rue’s hands went to her mouth, stifling a scream. Then she realised this must be a common deckling activity, for the rope was rigged to respond to Spoo’s slight weight. It belayed down rapidly but not too rapidly. Spoo continued swinging back and forth until it had lowered her almost to the ground, at which juncture she let go and dropped the remaining distance. The rope rebounded, winding back up to the ship, leaving Spoo alone on the mudflats. She stuffed her hands into her jodhpurs, lowered her cap, and scurried towards the military fortress in a purposeful manner.

“I wonder if I can get her to teach me that trick,” said Rue.


“Absolutely not,” said Primrose, coming up behind her. “Now come and have some tea. You look like death warmed over without exorcism.”



Everyone awoke from their naps refreshed. It was late night and the air had finally cooled. Primrose organised and served a delicious repast.

Unusually, it was Rue whose spirits flagged, for Spoo had not returned.

Rue tried to drown her worries in tea and conversation. Prim and Percy were both inexcusably cheerful. Percy was basking in the glow of his weremonkey discovery. Prim was luxuriating in the thrill of her recent acquisitions and enjoying chastising Rue for ungenteel behaviour. To top it all off, Quesnel had rediscovered his flirtatious good humour. The three eventually ended up engaged in a lively discussion on the subject of weremonkeys.

Quesnel was as scientifically charmed by the idea as Percy. “Imagine the possibilities. I mean to say, if India has weremonkeys, what about other countries? How ignorant are we concerning the evolution of the supernatural? Are there other forms of vampires? The Rakshasas seem a minor physical variation. What if there are other adaptive variations? It is thrilling to speculate.” His eyes turned to Rue encouragingly.

But even speculation could not draw Rue into the conversation. She kept glancing over the rail of the ship towards the land; trying to see in the darkness a small form scuttling back across the now diminished flats. The tide was coming in, The Spotted Custard floated nearer the promenade and yet Spoo was nowhere to be seen.

Did I give her too much responsibility?

Quesnel’s expression said much of his surprise at her lack of interest in such entertaining ideas as the probable existence of werefoxes somewhere in the Islands of Niphon and whether some variant of vampires might actually suck brains instead of blood.

Rue only shook her head at him and rose. Carrying her tea-cup and saucer with her, she made her way to the decklings, huddled together in one corner of the quarter deck.

One of them said, “Lady Captain, we wouldn’t want to betray one of our own, but we’re a mite worried. We checked the entire ship and Spoo is definitely missing.”

“I know. I sent her away.”

The decklings instantly relaxed. “Oh, that’s all right then.”

“However, I think we should make it easy for her to return. Take us as close as possible into shore and lower that useful little rope of yours so she can climb back up. Or, if that’s not how it works, drop over a rope ladder.”

“Very good, Lady Captain.” They scampered off to do her bidding.

Rue returned to the others.

“Conservation of mass,” Percy was saying, “would seem to dictate only certain animal forms are available for use. Are monkeys too small? We must ask ourselves this. After all, even the supernatural cannot defy physics. Rodentia and the like, we must assume, are right out. As are the more massive elements, like ungulates.”

Quesnel nodded. “Agreed. And I think we must acknowledge that mammalian bone and skin are also the only real option, the synchronicity of forms suggests nothing reptilian or invertebrate. Although that would be amusing, a werejellyfish.”

Percy’s hands were steepled in thought. On the subject of undiscovered shape-shifting creatures, Percy and Quesnel seemed entirely in accordance. “Or aquatic. Gills, you know.”

Most Popular