There were many things Jane Roland had little patience for. Bureaucracy was one. Heels were another. And a third would be impudent female dragons.
She was very grateful, quite suddenly, that Longwings were by and large sensible creatures, because this one was anything but sensible, and if she had been Jane's dragon – there would have been scales flying by now. And not Jane's.
"So I hear," Jane said, in a deceptively pleasant voice, "That you are being difficult for Granby."
She was less than impressed with the fog of steam, which she supposed was meant to be mysterious. She was even less impressed with the single eye that opened, looked her over, and closed, disdainfully. "I don't have to talk to you," she said, snippily. "You're not my captain."
What a little snotrag.
"No," Jane explained patiently, "I am not, clearly. However, I do give your captain orders, and if I so wished I could have Granby sent elsewhere until you behave, for which I'm sure he would be grateful."
Iskierka uncoiled in a flash, thrusting her head menacingly into Jane's face. "You wouldn't dare," she said, flatly. "And he wouldn't want to. Granby loves me. He wouldn't just leave and he certainly wouldn't thank you for it."
Jane did not flinch, staring back at the creature many times her size, eye to eye and nose to nose. "No? You're welcome to try me."
Iskierka wilted first, though she tried to pretend she did not, drawing her head up haughtily to avoid Jane's gaze. "I have not been any kind of bother to Granby. I wouldn't. And he's always happy to be around me and I'm sure you're just jealous because your dragon can't breathe fire."
Jane pictured what Excidium would say if he heard that, and remembered him referring to the Kazilik as 'that snippy little Turkish steamer.' Her mouth twitched, slightly. "You should know, Iskierka," Jane said sternly, "That the Corps does not look kindly on disobedient, recalcitrant, disrespectful dragons. You will think of me as your captain's captain, and you would rather deal with me than with the Admiralty, who you will have to deal with if this goes on any further. Is that clear?"
Iskierka put her head down and closed her eyes. "I'm not listening," she said haughtily. "I always do what Granby tells me to do. He's a dear and I'm his favorite dragon."
"You won't be for long if you keep this up." Jane tapped her leg with one hand, frowned, and tried a new tack. "We'll send you to the breeding grounds, and Granby can go back to being Temeraire's first lieutenant. He did like working with Laurence."
That got her attention again. Jane smiled inwardly; really, this one was just a jealous mistress. Iskierka hissed. "He wouldn't want to!" she said, though there was a plaintive note of nervousness there – still young enough not to know that her captain would never leave her willingly, not when he was John Granby. "And you wouldn't. You need me to fight, because I can breathe fire and no one else can."
Jane shrugged. "We've managed without a firebreather this long, I'm sure we can manage a bit longer. And besides, in the breeding grounds you will make lots of firebreathing eggs, and we can use them, since they'll be well-trained and manageable and understand when not to go running off looking for treasure."
Iskierka drew herself up in indignation. "I won't! I won't do it, I won't go or I won't make any eggs and I'll sulk forever, and you'll wish you had me."
"At the moment," Jane said coolly, pretending to examine her nails. "We are rather wishing we didn't have you. You are, after all, giving us a great deal of difficulty – and you are taking dangerous risks. If you cannot be trusted to handle men's lives with care, then you cannot be ridden, and then you are no longer part of the Corps. And no longer have Granby."
"I'm a dragon," Iskierka said indignantly. "You can't make me do anything I don't want. And I'm important. They all said so, when I was an egg, that I was important and vital and going to win the war."
"You are not," Jane corrected her, still trying to stay calm. "At the moment, you are a foolish, selfish, childish, and brainless little girl, not a real dragon at all. And I'm not the only one saying that. People are saying that Granby deserves better." They were not, of course, but there was one way to a proud and jealous heart.
Iskierka puffed up, looking royally furious. "He does not deserve better. There is no one better! He deserves me! Who is saying that? I will-" She huffed, breathing out a little tongue of flame that set some grass near Jane's boots on fire. Jane stamped it out and dug in her heels.
"You will do nothing of the kind. Iskierka, when I first entered the Corps, no one thought I was any good." That was true, more or less, though that hadn't lasted long. "And I didn't prove them wrong by pounding their faces in." Well, only once or twice, when they really deserved it. "I proved myself by doing better than them."
"I've got more treasure than any of them," Iskierka said hotly. "They can't laugh at me. I will take Granby and fly away with him, like Temeraire, and then they'll be sorry they laughed."
Something had to be done about that particular threat, Jane thought. If the other dragons got the idea into their head, and she was sure this hothead wasn't the only one…well, something to speak to Laurence, or perhaps Temeraire himself, about. "If you did that," she said menacingly, "Granby would hate you forever."
Iskierka wilted suddenly and surprisingly. "Then what am I supposed to do?" She nearly wailed, and if she had been a little smaller Jane would have smacked her. Another thing she could not abide: hysterics.
As it was, she hit her leg with the palm of her hand. "Put your head up and behave," she snapped. "The bottom line is that you have to prove them wrong. If they say you won't obey, you go meekly as a mouse. They say you can't follow orders, you follow them before they're given. Do you understand me?"
The young dragon put her head between her forelegs, expression now dismally unhappy. "But what if Granby doesn't like me anymore?"
Jane allowed herself to soften, just a little. "Granby will like you as long as you don't make yourself a pain in the rear for him. And if you do something wrong, then be sure to apologize. In truth, you're lucky; Granby's a far more patient man than I am."
Iskierka nodded, very slightly, and a satisfied Captain Roland turned to go. "What will I do without any treasure," Iskierka said in a small voice, and Jane sighed.
You just couldn't win them all.
"I suppose you'll have to make do somehow," she said dryly, and strode to find Excidium. At least her dragon was sensible.