Rue shook off the disorientation and crouched down, meeting Miss Sekhmet’s brown eyes through the bars. She wrapped a hand about one bar, the metal no longer burning her skin. She could see upclose that the Vanaras had wrapped a silver net around the lioness. It fastened at her neck and draped over her body in loops and coils. That would make it impossible for her to change shape. Even if she were strong enough to shift despite the weakening effect of silver mesh, she would then be left pressing sensitive naked flesh against it instead. That explained why she was still a cat – she needed the protection of fur.

Rue grinned. That she could help with. The cage had large threaded knobs holding on a door that dropped down. Rue grabbed at these, loosening them as much as possible. Then she reached in and buried her hands in Miss Sekhmet’s smooth sandy-coloured fur.



Ouch. After two stints as a weremonkey, Rue had almost forgotten how much more painful full animal shift was. Her bones broke and re-formed. Her senses altered entirely – her nose became primary, her ears secondary, her sight limited by the reds fading away. Given that everything was taking place under a silvered moon and in flickering firelight, colour was not so great a loss. It was a bit like suddenly forgetting how good cheese tasted: convenient in that it kept one from craving cheese; inconvenient in that one no longer got to eat cheese.

Rue’s whiskers twitched. The Vanara odour was all warm fur, dried moss, and some exotic fruit. They had neither the predator meat odour of werewolves, nor the carrion rot of vampires. A slight breeze wafted through the temple, bringing with it the overwhelming scent of tea plants. It caused her to sneeze sharply, once, before she named it in her head and forced it into the background.

Rue didn’t wait to see if Miss Sekhmet would determine how to get out of her birdcage. If she was smart, she’d stay there – safer until after hostilities. If hostilities happened. She was now fully mortal, after all. And hostilities could be damaging to mortals.

So far, however, the standoff hadn’t changed and didn’t look to. And now, Rue couldn’t argue with anyone, although she dearly wished to. Back to the cheese situation. Her tail lashed in annoyance.

Then out of the forest materialised the cavalry component of the British Army. Rue craned her head back – several large airborne dots were also heading in their direction. The brigadier had mobilised the float reserves. Most of the regiment was in pursuit of his beloved wife. Or the taxes. Or both. Rue could maybe support such action over tea, but taxes and wives? It seemed excessive.

The brigadier, distinguished by a particularly large and dictatorial hat, raised a large hand. Behind him the cavalry stilled, flanking the werewolves. Now the British outnumbered the Vanaras, and surely the infantry would follow soon.

Rue slunk through the line of tense Vanaras and the group of werewolves to leap into a tree near the brigadier. She attempted to hold her tail up in as non-threatening and perky a manner as possible. The tip was a bit difficult to control – it dangled and twitched like a small, furry, excited flag. Nevertheless, there was a gratifying gasp of fear and the sound of several rifles cocking, which suggested the cavalry thought her a real and dangerous lioness. She wondered how they reconciled the artfully draped orange scarf.


Brigadier Featherstonehaugh didn’t seem to notice her even when dangling above him on a tree branch. He was a large man on a large horse. He smelled of said horse mixed with expensive cigars, curry dinner, and coconut pastry. Clearly the loss of one’s beloved wife was not allowed to interfere with one’s enjoyment of supper. Beneath his impressive hat there was very little hair. He had pronounced eyebrows and a substantial moustache paired with an oddly diminutive beard.

He was accompanied by a young native gentleman in turban and British uniform, who was obviously his translator. This man was struggling to harmonise his position as herald in the face of a group of his own gods. He was bowing over and over to the Vanaras from his saddle.

The brigadier glared at him and said, “Stand to, soldier!” Then he turned to face the Vanaras.

“Monkey people,” he said. “Give me back my wife and the queen’s money, and we will be lenient with you.”

Mrs Featherstonehaugh limped forward into the light of the fire. She raised her cane in salute. “Jammykins!”

“Snugglebutter!” said the brigadier. He was easily twice the age and size of his wife, but there was evidently at least some affection between them if the tenor of their endearments was to be believed.

“They have been very kind to me. The Vanaras are good-natured civilised creatures, much like werewolves. And the empire has accidentally mistreated them.”

“Now now, Snugglebutter, you know the empire is never wrong. I’ve read of this phenomenon. It happens sometimes with impressionable young ladies, taken in by the enemy – they become sympathetic to local causes.”

Mrs Featherstonehaugh stamped her foot. “Jammykins, I have not gone native.”

“No, dear heart, no, worse. Now you hush up and let your Jammykins handle this. It’s the queen’s business. Don’t you trouble your little head about it.”

Mrs Featherstonehaugh gave Rue’s tree a desperate look. Rue was actually enjoying the spectacle. Prim and Quesnel had out The Spotted Custard ’s grappling hooks and were stealthily drifting about, throwing down and pulling up as many spheres of tea as possible. Since this was going on behind the Vanaras’ backs and they were concentrated on the army before them, none of them had noticed. A few of the cavalry were giving the Custard odd looks, but they were soldiers and knew better than to interrupt a brigadier with questions about custards. The werewolves couldn’t say anything even if they wanted to.

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