“They are under attack.”

Mrs Featherstonehaugh joined them. “What have you done, idiot girl?”

Rue glared at her. “I say! No call for insults.”

“Oh, I think there is. I had a good negotiation underway. They were beginning to talk to me, if not trust me. Then you come stumbling in here after a werecat and a professor and mess everything up.”

“Speaking of Miss Sekhmet, why is she trapped in a birdcage in lioness form? I thought they liked her.”

“I told them to put her there. I don’t trust her. Her agenda is unclear. She is new to this territory and not of their kind. She said she would negotiate with the crown’s representative but we have heard nothing from her in days. Then she shows up with a professor who clearly doesn’t represent the crown.”

“No,” said Rue. “That would be me, I suppose.”

Mrs Featherstonehaugh looked at her indecent attire doubtfully. “You don’t know for certain?”

“You were expecting someone else?”

“I thought once I notified Goldenrod as to my suspicions surrounding the Vanaras that he would send one of his agents.”

Rue sighed. “That message must have been intercepted. All we knew was that you had been kidnapped by dissidents. I was supposed to be following the tea. Nothing more. Then after you went missing I was supposed to find you and determine what you did with the tea.”


“Bugger the tea!” Mrs Featherstonehaugh showed her soldier roots. She cast her eyes up to the heavens for support. Not uncommon in those debating with Prudence. “Oh my goodness me! What is that?” She had finally, along with almost everyone else, looked up at the sky.

Rue followed her gaze. “Well, blast it!”

The Spotted Custard was headed in their direction, making speed – well, speed for a dirigible out of aether, which wasn’t very speedy at all, more a sedate breeze-born meander. She bobbed under the silver moon – a large spotted ladybird, running a search pattern over the forest, following the line of the sky rail, tacking back and forth in a zigzag pattern.

“I guess they got your signal,” said Percy to Rue drolly.

“Did I leave instructions for them to be the ones to rescue me? Did I instruct them to follow? They must have been tracking us all along or they couldn’t have got here so quickly. Quesnel. I’ll murder that Frenchman, I will.”

“Um,” said Percy. “You might not get the chance.”

The Vanaras, deducing that this new threat somehow had something to do with Rue and Percy, had turned their attention and their weapons upon them.

“Oh, this is wonderful,” said Mrs Featherstonehaugh. “Just wonderful.” She began desperately to explain the situation in Hindustani.

The Vanaras were having none of it.

“They think we encouraged the ship to follow to flush out their location,” explained an eavesdropping Percy unhelpfully.

“Yes, Percy, so would I under similar circumstances.”

Rue tilted her head back. Knowing the ship was well out of earshot, she nevertheless yelled up to it. “You muttonheads! Go away.” She turned to Percy as if this was all his fault. “What in the aether do they think they are doing? We don’t have any militia on board. Who do they intend to have rescue us? And what weaponry will they use?”

“Those biscuits Cook served yesterday were almost hard enough for ammunition,” said Percy in all sincerity and truthfulness.

“Don’t be flippant. No one on board knows how to shoot!”

Percy gave her a look that said he rejected all responsibility and that there was no way this could be other than entirely her fault.

The Spotted Custard spotted them, probably by the light of the bonfire. The ship headed determinedly in their direction, sinking down until she almost brushed the treetops.

Rue could see the faces of a few decklings looking over the railing, the ones who weren’t scampering about manning sails, venting gas, and hauling up ballast. They were grinning and waving madly. Everything was a lark to a deckling, even a major political incident.

Rue made frantic backup motions at them.

They were pushed aside to be replaced by Quesnel. The chief engineer was looking harried but smiled in relief the moment he saw her. He did not wave and he ignored her gesticulations.

Soon enough the Custard was close enough for them to yell back and forth. Which was also close enough for the Vanara to start hurling projectiles. The weremonkeys were armed with longbows, lances, and darts. Most of these bounced off the hull – the balloon section was shielded by the gondola – though a few gouged the pretty wood.

“My beautiful ship!” yelled Rue at the Vanara. “Stop it!”

Quesnel said, “Chérie, you’re all right!”

“Of course I’m all right,” replied Rue crossly.

“Where are your clothes?”

“That’s the first question you can think to ask? Quesnel, please don’t take this the wrong way, but go away. You’re messing everything up. I almost had things sorted.”

This was clearly not the reception the young man had anticipated. “We came to rescue you.”

Prim’s head appeared next to Quesnel’s, her poof of hair topped with a flowered straw hat decorated with an entire rose garden. She waved her handkerchief. “Toodle-pip, Rue.”

Another smaller head popped up. “What ho, Lady Captain?”

“Good evening, Prim. Spoo.”

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