Goliath Page 2

Why had he listened to Dylan and come back to this abomination of an airship?

"Are you quite all right, Prince?" Dr. Barlow asked.

"I just wish I knew what you Darwinists were up to," Alek said, a sudden quiver of anger in his voice. "At least if you were taking me and my men to London in chains, it would make sense. What's the point of lugging us halfway around the world?"

Dr. Barlow spoke soothingly. "We all go where the war takes us, Prince Aleksandar. You haven't had such bad luck on this ship, have you?"

Alek scowled but couldn't argue. The Leviathan had saved him from spending the war hiding out in a freezing castle in the Alps, after all. And it had taken him to Istanbul, where he'd struck his first blow against the Germans.

He gathered himself. "Perhaps not, Dr. Barlow. But I prefer to choose my own course."

"That time may come sooner than you think."

Alek raised an eyebrow, wondering what she meant.

"Come on, your princeliness," Dylan said. The eagle was now hooded and perching quietly on his arm. "It's useless arguing with boffins. And we've got a bird to feed."

Chapter Two

The eagle turned out to be quite peaceable, once Deryn had stuffed a pair of hoods over its cantankerous heads.

It sat heavy on her gloved arm, a good ten pounds of muscle and guts. As she and Alek walked aft, Deryn soon found herself thankful that birds had hollow bones.

The rookery was separate from the main gondola, halfway back to the ventral fin. The walkway leading there was warmed by the gastric channel's heat, but the freezing wind of the airship's passage sent ripples through the membrane walls on either side. Considering the fact that they were inside a thousand-foot-long airship made from the life threads of a whale and a hundred other species, it hardly smelled at all. The scent was like a mix of animal sweat and clart, like a stable in summer.

Beside her, Alek kept a wary eye on the imperial eagle.

"Do you suppose it has two brains?"

"Of course it does," Deryn said. "What use is a head without a brain?"

Bovril chuckled at this, as if it knew that Deryn had almost made a joke about Clankers in this regard. Alek had been in a touchy mood all morning, so she hadn't.

"What if they have a disagreement about which way to fly?"

Deryn laughed. "They settle it with a fight, I suppose, same as anyone. But I doubt they argue that much. A bird's attic is mostly optic nerve - more eyesight than brainpower."

know how horrid it looks."

A squawk came from beneath one of the hoods, and Bovril imitated the sound.

Deryn frowned. "If two-headed beasties are so horrible, how come you had one painted on your Stormwalker?"

"That was the Hapsburg crest. The symbol of my family."

"What's it symbolic of? Squeamishness?"

Alek rolled his eyes, then launched into a lecture. "The two-headed eagle was first used by the Byzantines, to show that their empire ruled both east and west. But when a modern royal house uses the symbol, one of the heads symbolizes earthly power, the other divine right."

"Divine right?"

"The principle that a king's power is bestowed by God."

Deryn let out a snort. "Let me guess who came up with that one. Was it a king, maybe?"

"It's a bit old-fashioned, I suppose," Alek said, but Deryn wondered if he believed it anyway. His attic was full of all kinds of old yackum, and he was always talking about how providence had guided him since he'd left home. How it was his destiny to stop this war.

As far as she could tell, the war was too big for any one person to stop, prince or commoner, and fate didn't care a squick about what anybody was meant to do. It was Deryn's destiny to be a girl, after all, stuffed into skirts and stuck with squalling brats somewhere. But she'd avoided that fate well enough, with a little help from her tailoring.

Of course, there were other fates she hadn't escaped, like falling for a daft prince in a way that filled her head with unsoldierly nonsense. Like being his best friend, his ally, while a steady, hopeless longing pulled at her heart.

It was just lucky that Alek was too wrapped up in his own troubles, and the troubles of the whole barking world, to notice. Of course, hiding her feelings was made a bit easier by the fact that he didn't know she was a girl. No one aboard did except Count Volger, who, despite being a bumrag, at least had a knack for keeping secrets.

They arrived at the hatch to the rookery, and Deryn reached for the pressure lock. But with only one free hand, the mechanism was a fiddle in the darkness.

"Give us some light, your divine princeliness?"

"Certainly, Mr. Sharp," Alek said, pulling out his command whistle. He gave it a studious look, then played the tune.

The glowworms behind the airship's skin began to flicker, and a soft green light suffused the corridor. Then Bovril joined in with the whistle, its voice as shimmery as a box of silver bells. The light grew sharp and bright.

"Good job, beastie," Deryn said. "We'll make a middy of you yet."

Alek sighed. "Which is mo than you can say for me."

Deryn ignored his moping and opened the rookery door. As the ruckus of squawks and shrieks spilled out, the imperial clutched her arm tighter, its talons sharp even through the leather of the falconer's glove.

She led Alek along the raised walkway, looking for an empty space below. There were nine cages altogether, three underneath her and three on either side, each twice as tall as a man. The smaller raptors and messengers were a blur of fluttering wings, while the strafing hawks sat regally on their perches, ignoring the lesser birds around them.

"God's wounds!" Alek said from behind her. "It's a madhouse in here."

"Madhouse," Bovril said, and leapt from Alek's shoulder to the handrail.

Deryn shook her head. Alek and his men often found the airship too messy for their liking. Life was a tumultuous and muddled thing, compared with the tidy clockwork of Clanker contraptions. The ecosystem of the Leviathan, with its hundred interlocking species, was far more complex than any lifeless machine, and thus a bit less orderly. But that was what kept the world interesting, Deryn reckoned; reality had no gears, and you never knew what surprises would come spinning out of its chaos.


She'd certainly never expected to help lead a Clanker revolution one day, or be kissed by a girl, or fall for a prince. But that had all happened in the last month, and the war was just getting started.

Deryn spotted the cage that the rook tenders had emptied, and pulled the loading chute into place above it. It wouldn't do to put the imperial in with other birds - not while it was hungry.

In one swift motion she snatched the hoods off and pushed the beastie into the chute. It fluttered down into the cage, spinning in the air like a windblown leaf for a moment. Then it came to rest on the largest perch.

From there the imperial eyed its fellow creatures through the bars, shifting from foot to foot unhappily. Deryn wondered what sort of cage it lived in back at the czar's palace. Probably one with gleaming bars, with fat mice served up on silver platters, and no smell of other birds' clart thickening the air.

"Dylan," Alek said. "While we have a moment alone . . ."

She turned to face him. He was standing close, his green eyes glinting in the darkness. It was always hardest meeting Alek's gaze when he was dead serious like this, but she managed.

"I'm sorry about bringing up your father earlier," he said. "I know how that still haunts you."

Deryn sighed, wondering if she should simply tell him not to worry. But it had been a bit tricky, what with Newkirk mentioning her uncle. It might be safer to tell Alek the truth - at least, as much of it as she possibly could.

"No need to apologize," she s#8220;But there's something you should know. That night I told you about my da's accident, I didn't quite explain everything."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, Artemis Sharp really was my da, just like I said." Deryn took a slow breath. "But everyone in the Air Service thinks he was my uncle."

She could see from Alek's expression that it made no sense at all, and without her even trying, lies began to spin from her tongue.

"When I signed up, my older brother Jaspert was already in the Service. So we couldn't say we were brothers."

That was blether, of course. The real reason was that Jaspert had already told his crewmates about his only sibling, a younger sister. A brother popping out of thin air might have been a squick confusing.

"We pretended to be cousins. You see?"

Alek frowned. "Brothers don't serve together in your military?"

"Not when their father's dead. You see, we're his only children. And so if we both . . ." She shrugged, hoping he'd believe it.

"Ah, to keep the family name alive. Very sensible. And that's why your mother didn't want you signing up?"

Deryn nodded glumly, wondering how her lies always got so barking complicated. "I didn't mean to mix you up in a deception. But that night I thought you were leaving the ship for good. So I told you the truth, instead of what I tell everyone else."

"The truth," Bovril repeated. "Mr. Sharp."

Alek reached up and touched his jacket pocket. Deryn knew that was where he kept his letter from the pope, the one that could make him emperor one day. "Don't worry, Dylan. I'll keep all your secrets, as you've kept mine."

Deryn groaned. She hated it when Alek said that. Because he couldn't keep all her secrets, could he? He didn't know the biggest of them.

All of sudden she didn't want to lie anymore. Not this much, anyway.

"Wait," she said. "I just told you a load of yackum. Brothers can serve together. It's something else."

"Yackum," Bovril repeated. Alek just stood there, concern on his face.

"But I can't tell you the real reason," Deryn said.

"Why not?"

"Because . . ." she was a commoner, and he was a prince. Because he'd run a mile if he knew. "You'd think less of me."

He stared at Deryn a moment, then reached out and took her shoulder. "You're the best soldier I've ever met, Dylan. The boy I'd have wanted to be, if I hadn't wound up such a useless prince. I could never think badly of you."

She groaned, turning away and wishing an alert would sound, an attack of zeppelins or a lightning storm. Anything to extract her from this conversation.

"Listen," Alek said, dropping his hand. "Even if your family has some deep, dark secret, who am I to judge? My granduncle conspired with the men who killed my parents, for heaven's sake!"

Deryn had no idea what to say to that. Alek had got it all wrong, of course. It wasn't some musty family secret; it was hers alone. He would always get it all wrong, until she told him the truth.

And that, she could never do.

"Please, Alek. I can't. And . . . I've got a fencing lesson."

Alek smiled, the perfect picture of a patient friend. "Anytime you want to tell me, Dylan. Until then, I won't ask again."

She nodded silently, and walked ahead of him the whole way back.

"Rather late with my breakfast, aren't you?"

"Sorry about that, your countship," Deryn said, plunking the tray down on Count Volger's desk. A splash of coffee sloshed out of the pot and onto the toast. "But here it is."

The wildcount raised an eyebrow.

"And your newspapers as well," she said, pulling them from beneath her arm. "Dr. Barlow saved them especially for you. Though I don't know why she bothers."

Volger took the papers, then picked up the soggy piece of toast and shook it. "You seem to be in rather a lively mood this morning, Mr. Sharp."

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