Curled up in the egg, he slept and woke. Outside the shell, he could hear the rise and fall of voices, and other sounds that he was slowly putting names to: the creaking of the sails, the wordless voices of animals being kept for food, the thump of feet on the deck, and the constant murmur of the sea, like his own heartbeat in his ears. The world moved, and the movement woke him and rocked him to sleep.
He wondered what the men around him looked like; he knew that looking was important, although for now his world was by turns red and black. That they were men and he was a dragon he knew, but had no idea what that meant. That he was important and special, he knew, but not why there was also worry in the men's voices when they came near, especially the few times that they did something that made a tearing noise and then put their hands on his shell, making dark five-fingered shadows against the red light.
He was itching with curiosity and increasingly frustrated by the lack of room to move; he wanted to open his wings and stretch his own fingers out in the light. But some inner voice said listen and learn and most of all wait; he had no idea what he was waiting for, but he felt it drawing closer, and so he curled himself up tighter within the shell and listened and learned.
He learned there were differences in the voices of the men; some were angry and some fearful, some happy in their work and some resentful of it. He wondered if work was something he would have to do or if it was only for those who were not special. He thought it would be interesting to try, and wondered how the men made the ship go across the sea and why it pleased them to do it. Answers always led to questions again; he would have chased his own tail if he could have turned round.
The best of the voices sounded like answers rather than questions. The hum of voices stopped when those voices spoke, and then there was the sound of things happening, feet moving and sails creaking. He liked listening to those voices, and liked it when those men came and put their hands on his shell and talked of things he didn't understand that he still felt meant soon. Something was soon; he would have held his breath if he had breathed.
Then suddenly all the voices were anxious, and all the world moving wildly; he knew about weather but not why weather should be frightening or make the world shake. Wind meant speed, and speed was good, but now speed meant voices raised desperately over the roar of the wind and the crash of the thunder. There was a while of relative quiet, and then a noise that sounded both like the thunder and not like it, and then after a while of waiting, new voices that sounded like the voices of men, but without words he could understand.
For a while this alarmed him, and then he understood that they were still speaking words, but new words put together in a new way. He turned them around in his head until they began to fit together, while all the time the sense of soon was growing. He understood less of what these men did or their reasons for it, but their voices were the same: some anxious, some pleased, some stronger and some weaker. He waited, and when at last the urge came to stretch and struggle against the shell that held him, this time the inner voice did not say soon but now.
It was cold when he lifted his head, cold and infinitely bright, and for the first time he breathed and struggled to stand, with a moment of dismay: this was the way it would always be now, no more floating, always fighting not to fall. Then he found his feet and scrambled down to what must be the deck. He looked around, nosing at things that he had heard but never seen, wondering what they were for and how they were made. He was hungry, but he wanted to see more than he wanted to eat.
The men watched him, and one of them spoke to him; it was interesting to see how the fear he could hear in the man's voice looked, but he did not find the man interesting. He liked the other man who spoke better. His voice was one of the strong ones, bringing calm, and he could see now how the others turned toward that one to see if they were doing wrong. He wondered what that one would say to him, and whether it would make him want to watch that one and hope that one would say he did well.
"Why are you frowning?" he asked. He did not understand everything that changed in the man's face when he spoke, but he understood the man's answer, and also the question that came with it. It was good to know the man's name, and strange to know for the first time that he had no name to give. It was the first time he felt that he was missing some part of himself, a feeling like hunger or the need for answers.
"May I give you a name?" Laurence asked, and when he agreed it felt like a choice and also like there had never been a choice. He waited, with the last of his patience, to hear his name.
"Temeraire," Laurence said finally, and Temeraire clutched the word close, proof that things that were missing could be found.