"My dear," said Laurence, "I would by no means defer any pleasure of yours, but--" He gestured to the present state of his person, which admitted a full day of labor in both sweat and dust.
"Yes, of course you would wish to bathe first," Temeraire said quickly, as his tail swept back and forth over the stone floor of the pavilion in anxious strokes, "but pray do put them on at once, after."
The robes were spread across the plain silk wrappings that had heretofore enfolded them, beside assorted scrolls of parchment and canisters of tea from the package delivered by Lung Shen Li. Temeraire loomed in his excitement, exclaiming over every detail of embroidery, before swinging his head back toward one of the scrolls.
"You must forgive a mother's indulgence, she writes--it will give me comfort to know that my son's companion is suitably attired. Oh, are they not splendid? They are better than the ones from Jia Zhen, even without the opals," Temeraire declared, though he had to suppress a small twinge of regret, as the opals and the robe in question had since been sold to finance his and Laurence's present endeavors. He had felt the loss keenly, and was certain Laurence had as well, even if Laurence had hidden it bravely--but another look at the new gift dispelled all discontent. "And how kind of my mother to have sent them! You cannot be suspicious of her motives, Laurence--I hope you will not be," he added, a little severely.
"No, you are quite right," Laurence agreed.
"They will fit perfectly, I am sure," said Temeraire, although it struck him that Laurence was perhaps still somewhat leaner, after the privations of their journey across the continent, than he had been when the imperial tailors took his measure in China. But surely it would matter little when the style of the robes was so voluminously grand; and if Laurence must regain a lost stone or two to show them to best advantage, why, he would see to it himself. Indeed, he had been remiss not to think of it before; he did not at all like to be accused of neglecting Laurence in any respect, but they had both been working very hard these past weeks to build the pavilion, on rations rather shorter than anyone would want, as the cattle in the valley below were needed for breeding stock, and must not be eaten willy-nilly.
But no-one could dare say a word about neglect, not even his own conscience, after Laurence had bathed and dressed.
The sun had just begun to sink below the stone cliffs that buttressed the valley, flinging a sublime gleam across the heights and the pavilion, which as yet remained roofless, open to sky. As Laurence stood arrayed in the robes, in the bright silk that rippled and shone as glossy as dragon's hide, the very light seemed to crown him. Temeraire felt something well up in his breast, a bursting sensation like the onset of a roar--but a roar too deep and too tremendous to be given voice, even by a Celestial. There could be no fitter court, and no man better suited to rule it, he thought, at any palace anywhere in the world.
Of course Laurence was all modesty; he would only shake his head and glance down at himself with a peculiar wry expression, though now and again his fingers strayed to the black dragon embroidered across his chest. "Your mother is much too kind," he said at last, and then he laughed. "I cannot imagine when I will have occasion to wear it. We are hardly in line to be invited to any more state dinners, living as we are."
Temeraire lowered his head, more diffident than aggrieved. "No, but--" he scraped the stone floor faintly with his claws. "You might wear it for me," he suggested, "once in a while, and would that not suffice? For an occasion."
Before Laurence could make answer, or even lift a hand to reach and fondly stroke, he smiled upward, and Temeraire knew what his reply would be.