Mrs Featherstonehaugh could not argue further without sounding like a hysterical female unless she revealed herself as an agent of Goldenrod. She needed someone with official authority to stand up to her husband. Rue, even had she been able, was pretty certain she couldn’t reveal her position openly either. Besides, as a young, unmarried and mostly naked lady, she would have been summarily dismissed.

Brigadier Featherstonehaugh said to the Vanaras, “Who among you will speak in your defence?”

His assistant translated his words.

None of the Vanaras moved. They all remained quiet, weapons at the ready, watching their Alpha out of the corners of their eyes.

“Very well, you leave me no choice. I will take back my wife and Her Majesty’s money by force!” The brigadier raised up his sabre. “Company. Prepare to charge.”

The weremonkeys stiffened.

There werewolves all looked to their Alpha.

Rue tensed her muscles ready to leap. Although she wasn’t certain who or what she was going to leap at.

Then, into the silence, a voice said, “Wait!”

Miss Sekhmet walked into the firelight. She’d found a length of Vanara cloth from somewhere, which she’d wrapped regally about her body. Her brown shoulders were bare but for her long thick hair and the silver net, draped like a mantel. In mortal form she was only a little more tan-coloured than as an immortal, and still so painfully beautiful it was almost unreal. Somehow the wrapped cloth, the hair, and the silver net combined to make her look like a goddess of legend, more so than the Vanaras. Rue leapt down and ran to her, coming to stand at her left side. Lady Kingair was a heartbeat behind. The werewolf stood on her right.

The Vanaras, the werewolves, and the cavalry all stared in awe at the vision before them.


Behind the brigadier, in the jungle, Rue’s werecat hearing picked up the crashing of booted feet. The infantry was approaching. Above the forest, the float enforcements moved relentlessly forward. Soon the full might of the British military would be upon them. Miss Sekhmet didn’t have much time.

Miss Sekhmet said, “Brigadier, this is all a terrible misunderstanding. These are the Vanaras of the epics, weremonkeys, kinsmen to your very own werewolves. They have the right to petition for sanction under the Rules of Progression and the Supernatural Acceptance Decree.”

“Confound it, they kidnapped my wife!”

Miss Sekhmet pulled her slim shoulders back and said, “Not precisely correct. She took the initiative to come here and talk to them voluntarily. I think she is to be commended.”

“You? And who are you to involve yourself with my wife? And what about our taxes?”

Miss Sekhmet said obliquely, “I represent those interested in facilitating the safety and integration of supernaturals. Your wife made for a lovely ambassadress. Under her gentle touch, the Vanaras might have been amenable to an introduction. Now, however, we must work to salvage this situation.”

Rue thought that Miss Sekhmet must have had experience with negotiation – excellent use of the word “we”.

Mrs Featherstonehaugh said, “I rather overstayed my visit, Jammykins. It was no one’s fault. I have been treated with all honour as a guest here.”

Brigadier Featherstonehaugh continued to glare at Miss Sekhmet. “Oh yes? And who exactly do you represent?”

“I am not at liberty to say. Friendly interests, to be sure, sir,” replied the werecat primly.

The brigadier crooked a finger at his wife. “Now, Snugglebutter, you just come over to me. Slowly.”

Mrs Featherstonehaugh looked with desperation back and forth between her husband and the Vanaras. The Vanaras made no overt effort to keep her with them, but everyone knew the moment her husband considered her safe he would attack. He’d now have his eye not only on the missing taxes, but all the gold mounded up in the temple.

“Silly chit,” said the brigadier when she did not move. He gestured to one of his flanking riders, “Major Dwillrumple, fetch me my wife.”

Major Dwillrumple did not look pleased with this order. Said wife was standing behind a bristling line of Vanara spears and arrows.

“Sir?” Major Dwillrumple was an older, pudgy gentleman whose rank looked to be in his skill at strategy rather than with the sabre.

“Now, major.”

The major did as he was ordered, trotting his horse forwards slowly, both of them glistening with sweat in the firelight.

The Vanaras firmed their line, closing ranks as if they too were military trained.

Behind them, Rue watched Prim, Quesnel, and the decklings haul in another sphere of tea.

Mrs Featherstonehaugh, in a desperate attempt to forestall bloodshed, limped through the Vanara group and around the bonfire.

The major trotted up to her and bent to offer her a hand, swinging her sidesaddle in front of him. Mrs Featherstonehaugh clutched her cane awkwardly in her lap and looked terribly afraid. The major spurred his horse back to rejoin the ranks.

Mrs Featherstonehaugh stared at Rue the entire time, as if she were trying to tell her something mind to mind.

Everyone prepared for battle.

Rue looked to her ship.

Prim and her crew had managed to capture most of the tea containers. The bubbles rolled about the deck like many round brass eggs in a gondola-shaped basket. Rue worried they might fall overboard should the ship list in any particular direction. She wanted to yell up orders to keep the Custard steady, prevent tea-crushing accidents. But she still had no voice. In lieu of an actual speech, she turned to Miss Sekhmet and, lips curled away from the burn, bit at the silver mesh, trying to pull it off her.

Most Popular