Imprudence Page 65

Percy crowed. “This is a copy of a recent Royal Society Bulletin in which it is announced that my paper has been accepted and will soon be published. I shall be famous.”

“Your paper?” Rue was suddenly suspicious.

“Your paper about what?” So was Prim.

“Werelionesses!” Percy crowed.

Rue and Prim stopped dead in their tracks. A garble of outraged dialects met the three tourists impeding the walkway.

“Percy,” hissed Rue, “you didn’t.”

“I most certainly did! Far more romantic and exciting than weremonkeys, don’t you think? And I’m the only author.”

“Primrose, and I mean this kindly, would you be awfully upset if I strangled your brother?”

“Go right ahead.” Primrose’s fine eyes were flashing. “Percy, how could you! Tasherit explicitly asked that her status as a supernatural be kept private.”

“I perjured myself in an official report to the queen by not mentioning her!” Rue added.

“We all agreed!” insisted Prim.

Percy came over truculent. “I didn’t agree. And I couldn’t very well let that insufferable inventor and his female confidante get the credit for the second most important discovery of the century.”

“Oh, Percy, Miss Sekhmet is going to be so upset.” Prim nibbled her lip.

“And that’s what really concerns you, isn’t it, sister?”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” Prim began walking again and the other two were forced to keep up.

“As if I don’t see those whiskers sniffing around—”

Rue could see where this was heading. “Stop it, both of you. Percy, you’re insufferable. You did this to get back at Quesnel and there is good chance we might lose Tasherit because of it. We need her desperately right now. She’s the best defence our ship has. Not to mention a fine friend and stalwart companion. How thoughtless of you.”

Percy narrowed his eyes. “Footnote doesn’t like her.”

“You can’t possibly tell me you feel the same? I thought you enjoyed Miss Sekhmet’s company. Or at least tolerated her more than most.” Rue was not going to let him sidle out of a bad decision.

“Well, yes,” Percy muttered, “but this is a matter of academic pride and standing! Surely she’ll understand the seriousness of my intellectual position.”


Up the Nile Without a Puff

Miss Sekhmet, as it turned out, did not understand the seriousness of Percy’s intellectual position. This was made evident shortly after Rue and Prim marched him belowdecks to face Tasherit and confess all. If she had been a lioness at that moment, she would have gone straight for his neck and no gentle nibbles about it.

Lacking cat form, Miss Sekhmet used language to eviscerate instead. “Idiot child! Have you any idea what you’ve done? The danger you’ve brought down on us?” Even lounging in a chair, she seemed to loom, vibrating like an ill-struck chord.

Percy was defensive. “The Spotted Custard has weathered worse. You’ll be safe here.”

Tasherit bared her teeth, square and human but still menacing. “That is not the us I’m worried about. You can’t possibly have thought me the last of my kind?”

Percy looked guilty. “Well…”

“You have endangered my pride. What little is left of it.”

“I don’t understand.” Percy, being a frightful booby, was never one to take his cherished book learning and actually apply it to reality. Presumably, he would find such a logical step quite silly.

“Werecats have been safe, forgotten, lost to antiquity, free of the concerns of you paltry mortals with all your petty wars and sad little dynasties. Our safety is in anonymity, not numbers. And what now? Now your ships with their nets and sundowner guns will be after us.”

“Why would they do that?”

“Supernatural status is a legal right, one that needs to be granted, not assumed. Without the Crown’s protection, we are the world’s most exciting big game. Did you forget your own past? Your Dark Ages, before werewolves were part of society? Perhaps you should go and discuss history with Lord Maccon. I am certain he has not forgotten. You wanted academic credit, Percival Tunstell? Now your name will be recorded for all posterity as the architect of werelion genocide. It wouldn’t take much. We haven’t many breeding males left.”

Percy was white, his freckles popping out like currents in a fruitcake. “How do you know?”

Tasherit slapped both hands to the table and leaned forward. “Muttonhead! It’s what the British Empire does. You couldn’t possibly think your expansion a glorious, enlightening, civilising force? All those books and you never once realised that is the song all conquerors sing?”

Primrose was moved to speak. “Now, now, I wouldn’t take it so far.”

Tasherit, colour high, eyes fairly shooting sparks of disgust, turned on her. “Wouldn’t you? And how might the Tasmanians feel about that? Wait, we will never know, will we? There aren’t any of them left. Or the rubber-workers of the Putumayo? And both are peoples classified by your government as human. Without any protection at all, my people are mere animals.”

She turned back to Percy. “Collectors. Explorers. Hunters. It doesn’t matter what you name them. You – you insect! – have let them loose on my people. Mine. I was a fool to trust you. Any of you.” She glared, including both Prim and Rue in this statement.

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