After being dismissed from Admiral Croft's office – after being put from Temeraire without warning, and without farewells – Laurence finds himself wandering vaguely through the island until Riley and Well snatch him up for dinner. It is a pleasant if forced affair, and does nothing to allay the oddly maudlin mood that has come over him.
The next day he learns that Temeraire has accepted Dayes as his captain.
And then Admiral Croft informs Laurence, “I am afraid that we have no posting for you at the moment, Commander. Orders have already been pushed through for a new posting – it would be quite a fuss to have you reinstated.”
Commander! As though he were not a post-captain by rank; it is a deliberate slight, and Laurence cannot help but know it. But now he is again forced to comply with Navy politics, so all he says is, “I quite understand.”
“Of course, there are always spots opening with this war,” says Croft vaguely. “I'm sure you'll enjoy a short leave back in England; what I would not give for a holiday myself!”
“And how long might that vacation last?”
Croft is visibly losing interest in the conversation. “It is impossible to say. But, well, at least you are not an aviator.” The admiral chuckles, like this is a little joke, and then stops. “ - Dismissed, Captain.”
Laurence does not look for Temeraire. He writes a brief note to Riley, not feeling quite like sharing his newly unfortunate circumstances in person, and then is obligated to take a slow, miserable transport back to England as the guest on a passing courier-ship. He spends the trip largely brooding, caught by flashes of shadows in the vessel's corners that recall the flash of blue eyes and a twitching tail.
I should rather have you than a heap of gold, Temeraire had said. But Laurence cannot resent him for choosing Dayes; there can be no betrayal. It is only natural for a dragon to prefer a proper aviator, after all, instead of a seaman.
Laurence never wanted to be an aviator, of course; he is likewise confident that Temeraire will be happier, and much better managed, in Dayes' hands.
So it does not seem right, that he goes to his bed each night with dreams of a huge, crackling voice calling his name amid dark waters.
Travel is uneventful, and by the time he arrives on England's shores Laurence is well ready for a rest in his childhood home. But it was perhaps too much to hope that Laurence would be welcomed with a warm reception; still, he cannot decide if it is better or worse to stumble upon Wollaton Hall while the Galman's visit.
Certainly his mother greets him warmly enough, and Lord Allendale is restrained, by the presence of their guests, into greeting Laurence with his own curt courtesy. It seems to Laurence also that Edith and her mother are somewhat distant in their niceties, but perhaps he projects; his new, uncertain circumstances might be leaving him a bit sensitive.
Lady Galman kindly inquires after the circumstances of his abrupt return. Laurence must tell her, awkwardly, that his circumstances have changed and the Reliant is no longer his; she looks sorry to have asked. Laurence will have to find time to explain to his family that he has been essentially demoted, but not, perhaps, in front of such guests.
It occurs to him that he might easily alleviate the brief discomfort of the moment by regaling this group with an infamous new anecdote – the finding of a heavy-weight dragon egg, and his own near-conscription into the Corps. But somehow he cannot bear the thought.
Finally his mother asks Lady Galman to check a new painting she's commissioned, and offers pointedly, “Perhaps you might take Edith on a walk of the grounds, William?” so that he has no choice but to offer his arm gracefully and escort her out.
Alone, Edith's awkwardness seems more pronounced. She asks politely if he has seen any interesting places, and he is able to offer a remembered incident about three quarreling traders in Cadiz, all speaking different languages. He again does not mention Temeraire, and again she does not really seem interested.
But, finally, he feels he must explain himself. “Allow me to tell you the circumstance of my arrival,” he says, and at last Edith looks at him.
So he does explain – slowly, haltingly – but it is not easy task, trying to convey the depths of Temeraire's bright questions, his curious mix of youth and wisdom. His bright eyes that trusted Laurence, and then seemed to adore him, right before they parted forever.
But Edith does not seem to understand.
“William,” she says at last. “I believe we are avoiding what must be said.”
He is caught off-guard, so wrapped in his thoughts of Temeraire. But her words are true nonetheless, and it shames him that she must say it first. “Pray forgive me,” Laurence offers carefully, “For my absences, I mean; I hope my letters reached you.”
“Yes. Of course. You are not with the Reliant, but you remain in the navy?” Edith studies the trees they pass, not looking at him.
“Without posting, but yes.” Thinking that perhaps Edith is reflecting on the chaotic schedule of an officer, he feels obligated to add, “I expect it may be weeks, or longer, until I am assigned again. I am sincerely sorry that we have not had more time to discuss – matters – but I am glad to see you so soon, Edith. Of course my first thought when I arrived in England was to see you at once,” Laurence explains.
“I see.” Rather than being pleased, Edith just appears deeply uncomfortable. And then, to Laurence's horror, she abruptly bursts into tears.
“It is just, of course I have waited!” She rushes to say, hiding her face. “That is proper, that was always proper, but it is like we know each other not at all, and I do not think I can do it, William, and be patiently accepting as you just disappear to the sea – I simply cannot – I need a proper companion, and, oh, this would all have been easier if you had kept the silly dragon!”
Edith looks mortified at herself, and Laurence no less so. His face burns, and before she can fumble through an apology that is not sincere, he says, “I apologize, Edith, I – I withdraw you from any obligation at once, of course - “
“Please do not think ill of me,” she asks miserably.
Laurence rather wants to ask the same, but manages to say, “Of course – nothing could induce me to do so,” and excuses himself to flee back to the hall like a coward.
Laurence says his farewells and leaves the house quickly, using further vague excuses of duty which thankfully forestall his from explaining the terms of his leave from the navy – namely, that he has no future plans whatsoever.
There is now nothing to truly tie him to England, aside from personal love and loyalty. Laurence has upward of seventeen-thousand pounds in the bank and little to do with it. Duty essentially obligates him to wait for a posting, or try to secure one through contacts, but he has even less desire to play politics around the officers' clubs at the docks, or send hinting, unwanted entreaties to old friends via letter. And through all this Laurence must remember, still, with pain in his chest, sapphire blue eyes and the clatter of claws upon a deck. He never said good-bye to Temeraire and he supposes he never will, but there is a strange desire in him, suddenly, to visit a covert if only so that he might see how the dragons there live.
But of course, that is the last thing he might do. Laurence has no idea how Temeraire would react if they saw one another; he cannot run the risk of stumbling across the little Imperial, though he wonders inanely how big Temeraire is now, and if he has reached his full growth, and whether he ever managed to breathe fire or spout water or do any of the other wonderful things he wanted to do. But Laurence cannot know. He cannot go to a covert. He cannot -
He cannot go to a covert.
There is nothing to stop him from surveying the dragon breeding grounds.
This thought is ludicrous as it is wonderful. Laurence supposes that random civilians are not permitted on the grounds, but workers must be permitted – must be necessary. Some might be aviators, but, as in the navy, others are probably men scrounged from England's fields and used for simple grunt-work. It should not overly difficult to gain access, if he hides his previous service and any connection to dragons.
It is an overly absurd notion, but suddenly vital. Laurence has a duty to his country, which he does not intend to neglect; but he has also a duty to a small Imperial dragon, one that hatched and imprinted and trusted him to do right, and he must be sure before all else that England is the right place for that trust.
First, however, he must determine where the breeding grounds are.
The man tells him that Laurence has died.
Temeraire does not want to believe him, but then he says truly awful things. The man says, “There was an accident in town. A little fire. Captain Laurence rushed right in. He saved this woman, but he died – I'm sorry – “
The man says, “But he died.”
And that, that is Laurence, that is utterly something Laurence would do, and Temeraire roars his frustration toward the air. The man says no, no, Temeraire cannot fly to the town, just as Laurence always tried to stop him from flying over towns: “You do not want to see the fire,” the man urges. “It is small, but the smell... and, well, there is nothing left of him.”
Temeraire lashes his tail. Claws the ground in denial. The thought does not disappear. He looks around and cries, “Laurence!” as though waiting for his Captain to materialize and disprove this stranger's lies. But they are alone, alone, utterly alone.
“Before he died he said we should be together,” the man says. “My name is Dayes; we can still fight, you and I. Even if your captain is dead.”
“You are not my captain,” Temeraire says.
Dayes winces a moment, then insists, “We can fight together against the French. A Frenchman set the fire – he would want it - “
“Fine!” Temeraire says, only to make this man go away. “Fine, very well, I will fight with you,” and the man looks delighted.
But he is not Temeraire's captain.
Laurence is dead.
They take a dragon-transport to Gibraltar. When they arrive there are many different dragons, and faintly Temeraire realizes that none of them look a bit like himself. Dayes asks him, enthusiastically, if he would like to chat with Laetificat, the great Regal Copper on whom he was First Lieutenant.
“No,” says Temeraire, and curls up alone in his borrowed clearing to sleep while cradling a little golden chain between his talons.
It takes yet more time to fly to England; he spends longer with Dayes on his back than Laurence ever flew with him, he notes. There are a great many odd things on land, but he asks Dayes about none of them, except to inquire when it is allowable to eat certain sheep or cows, remembering Laurence's odd advice about property. (Inevitably, Dayes responds, “No, do not eat that, and perhaps you should back a bit farther away - “)
Dayes starts to look frustrated with him.
They stop for a brief day at Dover, then fly in two days to Loch Laggan.
The training master there is a dragon of some yellow type; Temeraire does not know the breed, or any breeds, nor does he particularly care about it. But his name is Celeritas and he declares, “You are far too skinny – a diet of fish was clearly not enough.”
“He will not eat,” Dayes complains. “Although he takes fish the best, actually.” He slaps Temeraire's thigh.
Laurence always called him handsome.
Dayes takes someone named John Granby as his first lieutenant while they train. The two sit in Temeraire's clearing sometimes, trying to determine the rest of the crew assignments, and Dayes often complains:
“He is the dullest dragon, John.” The first lieutenant glances back a bit worriedly; Temeraire just tilts his head. “I swear, he says hardly a word to me – it is not quite what I imagined.”
“Give it time,” says Lieutenant Granby. “He just – well – the poor fellow has been through some things.”
They speak like he is not here.
“Oh, time, time, as though I have not waited years!” Dayes exclaims. Scowling sulkily, he asks Temeraire, “Can't you get over your damn navy-man already?”
“Now, there is no reason to be afraid,” the groundskeeper, Lloyd, keeps insisting. As though Laurence has not said a dozen times already that he is perfectly comfortable with dragons; he may, also, have implied that he grew up near a covert. “No reason,” Lloyd parrots, bobbing his head earnestly and searching a key to the gate in his patchy coat. “They do not scratch or bite – well – some of them are a bit bad-tempered, perhaps keep your distance - “
Laurence hums and says nothing.
There were fewer positions than he would expect at such a large place. Lloyd overlooks the dragons in general, with no apparent need of an assistant. The herdsmen are here frequently to push along some cows for the dragons, but working with them would be unsuitable because they do not enter the grounds except for a few minutes each day. His eventual task was seized with a little desperation, and if Lord Allensdale disapproved of the idea of any son taking to a trade, he would probably disown Laurence on the spot for this madness.
It is not as though Laurence is unaccustomed to physical labor, of course; the navy is far less glamorous than many people understand. Still, digging humongous necessary pits each day is a bit of a blow, even though he does not expect to be here long. He just needs to reassure himself that Temeraire will be well – that the coverts will treat him respectably – and then perhaps he can go back to the navy, or even retire, and think no more of it.
“It is Gentius mainly who needs this,” Lloyd prattles. “Too old to dig for himself, you know, his claws have gone poorly.”
“Will the others not help?”
Lloyd looks at him like he is a bit funny. “Why should they?” he asks. “Well, he is the Longwing; some of the little Winchesters have trouble too. Soft claws. Good-bye!” And without further instruction he is given a shovel, and also run of the grounds.
He finds the dragons himself, which is a bit difficult only because many of them seem to be hiding. It's a bit appalling to see many of the dragons, including the heavy-weights, crammed into tiny, drafty caves, although Laurence reminds himself it is their natural habitat; he finally finds the old Longwing, Gentius, at the far end of the grounds. The Longwing seems a bit thin, his dappled purple and orange coat faded and stretched with age.
“I was told someone would be coming soon to see me,” Gentius says when Laurence greets him. “It is a long time since I have spoken to any human but Lloyd, you know; my first captain, who I miss dearly, talked a great deal. It can be very quiet here.”
Gentius' claws are not just frail – they are practically twisted with age. It is no wonder he finds the hard, cold grounds of Pen Y Fan difficult to tolerate. “I am told you have a problem digging?” Laurence asks delicately.
“Oh, I am sure I could,” Gentius says. “But when I complained Lloyd just simpered and hired you, instead, which is so much easier; I am not going to argue with him.” And, well, neither is Laurence.
Of course, digging is hard work – harder than anticipated; he picks a spot downwind and his hands gain bad blisters within a few hours. He takes a break halfway through the day for lunch, then begins again; his hands crack open and start to bleed.
But Gentius is appreciative, and afterwards invites him into his little cave to talk. He shows Laurence a small picture in a burnished gold frame. The picture, which shows a woman in an old-fashioned uniform, is faded and rough with age. “My first captain,” he says fondly. Laurence recalls Temeraire exclaiming over a tiny, worthless rock of pyrite, and feels a sudden pang; he wishes he could have found some little gift for the Celestial before he had left, aside from the tiny chain that will be like no more than a ring. “I can't see her very well these days, but she was the most beautiful human I ever knew,” Gentius says.
“It is quite fine,” says Laurence politely, and adds on impulse, “If you like, I could acquire some polish from the town, and apply it to the frame; it would shine very well.”
The old Longwing is delighted. “Oh! Would you? My captain should be surrounded by the very best – what a lovely thought.” And he seems much warmed to Laurence thereafter.
He does indeed acquire the polish, though after a single day at the grounds he feel more inclined to sleep immediately. As Laurence walks back to the ground's gate on his second day he hears Lloyd trying to cajole two Yellow Reapers to mate, and shudders anew at the purpose of this place. While explaining the place of dragons in England to Temeraire he had mentioned the 'reservations' of England without pause; now, the purpose of these places is uncomfortably clear. He cannot understand how anyone, meeting the equal intelligence in a dragon like Temeraire, could think to demand offspring like it is a duty. In the service men might be put to many things, but not that; and these dragons, refusing to fight, are in any case the equivalent of civilians. Their obligations are less clear, and when Laurence considers the appalling affronts they face each day -
But he has not been here long. Perhaps they do not mind, perhaps the dragons are happy. And he hopes, with all his heart, that coverts are different, although with mounting unease he remembers the closed face of Admiral Portland, the sense that he was not just unworthy, but unadmitted to some strange secrets of the aviators.
He needs to know more.
Temeraire is excellent at drills and learns the flag-signals well enough to delight everybody; but except when working, he sits in his clearing all day. One weekend in early June he curtly refuses Dayes' unconvincing pleas to take the man on a leisurely flight above the covert.
“I do not want to go,” Temeraire says.
“I think it would be quite nice,” Dayes says.
“I will not go; you cannot make me and I would certainly not bring you along anyway,” Temeraire says.
Suddenly a shadow falls over the covert. Dayes flattens himself against Temeraire's side, and the Imperial twitches in irritation, looking up at the cheerful face of the huge Regal Copper he accompanies in formation. He recalls the name, after a moment. “Hello, Maximus.”
“Mind if I visit?” Maximus asks.
“I suppose not, since you already have.”
“Excellent! He doesn't mind!” Maximus calls, and then Lily, the Longwing, joins them too. With three heavyweights in attendance the spacious clearing is suddenly grown crowded.
Dayes seems both startled and pleased. “What is it you want?” asks Temeraire warily.
“You always seem so gloomy, I suppose I wondered why,” Maximus says. “And then I was told your captain had died, which makes much more sense; I wondered about this one.” Maximus nods at Dayes. “Thought we should visit, you know, be polite. I'm not sure what I would do if Berkley were gone.”
“Or Harcourt.” Lily sounds uncomfortable just at the thought.
But their captains are not gone, of course, and Temeraire squashes a sudden surge of resentment. “That is very kind,” he says stiffly. Dayes suddenly looks much less pleased with the visit, and with a mutter dashes from the clearing.
“Is it quite terrible?” Lily asks.
“It is the worst thing in the world,” Temeraire bursts suddenly. “And they all want me to pretend he never existed, and I cannot mention him, because Dayes and the others will say terrible things of him, if I do, only because he served in the navy. But he was greater than Dayes or even – even Admiral Powys or Admiral Portland,” who must be very important to be, after all, Admirals. Maximus and Lily nod solemnly.
“And I just want to see him but he is gone, and - “ Temeraire ducks his head, shivering. “...He would want me to fight for England but I think it is a terrible thing, how they treat dragons here.”
Maximus nudges him gently with his nose. “What do you mean?” Lily asks.
“My Laurence read to me every day, and washed me when he could, and he stayed with me at night and, oh, he was so very kind; I think he must have imagined the coverts to be a good place, but it is all so very cold here, and they use us. I think they just use us, and do not care a whit what happens, so long as we fight the French.”
“My Berkley cares.” Maximus seems a little offended now.
“Perhaps some of the captains do.” Temeraire is a little doubtful; he has not paid much attention to any captains, or to much besides his own misery. “Dayes does not, I think; and you have surely seen Rankin. But in any case this place could be much better, only no one cares. And no one cares if I miss Laurence, either, if only I will fight for them.”
Maximus nuzzles Temeraire again, comfortingly, and Lily leans against his side. This is how Captains Berkley and Harcourt find them when Dayes rushes the two into the clearing, gesturing and muttering too low for Temeraire to hear.
“Well, are you causing trouble?” Berkley asks. He doesn't sound particularly worried.
“No,” Maximus says. “But Temeraire is very sad, and Dayes is an idiot.”
Harcourt glances over then, too. “Lily, dear?”
“You can save my cow for later,” the Longwing assures, a truly noble gesture.
“Alright then,” says Berkley easily. He ignores Dayes' protests and pulls himself up onto Maximus' back; Harcourt sits between Lily's forehands. Watching them Temeraire feels a twinge of undeniable envy.
He turns his head from Dayes, and suggests, “It would be nice to talk to the other dragons in our formation, too. Perhaps I have been a bit neglectful.”
“Oh, please, will you read Plato's Symposium again?” asks Ambrosius wistfully.
“No, no, whyever do you enjoy philosophy so much? You said you would bring a new book on mathematics,” Perscitia protests.
“Can't we just have a novel,” Recquiscat grumbles.
Laurence tugs his shirt-collar hesitantly, feeling his lack of a neck-cloth like an odd ghost.
The other dragons, hearing about the polish he brought for Gentius, have had no hesitation in taking advantage; and Laurence had no heart to quell their requests, either, after seeing the miserable and dull conditions of the covert. He rarely has to dig at all now; one of the heavy-weights will open up a hole in the ground in one disdainful claw-swipe if he only offers to read or write for them, or perhaps bring in a shiny, useless bauble from the town.
Perscitia reminds him very strongly of Temeraire, except for her overwhelming anxiety, and so he is perhaps a little biased in bringing her books on mathematics and logic. But the other dragons don't seem to mind too greatly; they are all of them shockingly skilled at sums, and it is all Laurence can do, sometimes, to even understand their figuring.
It has become clear that dragons know and understand as much as humans – perhaps more than humans – which makes the sad conditions of the covert even worse as Laurence must observe them. Noticing Recquiscat trying to nudge over a smaller dragon, Laurence reprimands sharply, “There is no need for that; here, Moncey, come sit by me, and Recquiscat, sit back a little to make room; you can hear very well, do not pretend.”
Recquiscat grumbles but obeys. “Giving us orders like an admiral,” complains an old Yellow Reaper. “I came to this place to get away from silly humans and their rules, you know.”
“And do you enjoy the results of that decision?” Laurence asks dryly. The Reaper lowers his head and mutters.
“No, but that is not our fault,” Perscitia sniffs. “It seems we should have a better set of choices than to fight or live here.”
“You're only saying that because you are a coward, and will not fight,” Recquiscat tells her. “I could use a good fight against some Frenchies, myself.”
Laurence sets his book on the ground, eliciting a few scattered protests as the dragons sense their story-time being pushed back. “I have wondered that,” he says. “Some of you are still of good fighting age. So why do you not have captains?”
“Some of us don't want captains,” Laculla sniffs.
“Yes, but you are just a courier anyway, so no one cares,” says Cantarella tartly. Laculla bristles as the Yellow Reaper shoulders forward to bend her head toward Laurence. “I would quite like to fight! But I am not so good with taking orders, perhaps. I tried to take a captain for a little but he was exhausting. Eating cows and sleeping all day is very dull, but nicer than having to listen to some strange, annoying man who loves you when you do not love him back.”
Laurence winces. All rumors he heard about aviators would suggest that the bond between dragon and captain is unbelievably strong; he has heard it likened to an imprinting, so hearing this type of story is shocking. Only the capture of a captain is supposed to be able to force down a fighting dragon. Laurence supposes that a dragon with no affection for captains would not be permitted to serve, because the British could not be assured of their loyalty.
He explains this. Cantarella scoffs. “You men are not leashed, are you? Does your Navy hold your children or parents hostage to secure your loyalty? Of course not. And I think the idea is much the same. We could be trusted to fight without humans. If anything I would be of particular use in a battle, I think, because no one could ever board me. The French would have to kill me, or nothing.”
“Quite right,” Recquiscat agrees easily.
“I would rather not be killed, under any circumstances,” Perscitia mutters lowly.
“Did you all reject your captains, then?” Laurence asks. He wonders if Temeraire would have rejected him, given time, even without prompting. He wonders if Temeraire has forgotten him. It seems quite likely. Even with this unflattering image of draconic life, surely Temeraire must be happier in the company of other aviators and dragons.
But Perscitia lowers her head. A few other dragons avoid his eyes, too. “My captain did not want me,” says the little blue dragon at last. And that, perhaps, is worse than anything he might have imagined.
Laurence thinks again of Temeraire. “Oh,” he says.
This time, he has no argument.
Dayes is very dull. He does not read to Temeraire and even once tries to take his golden chain away – an attempt that Temeraire refutes so harshly the man nearly falls to tears. Granby must intervene and apologize to Temeraire, assuring him that Dayes meant no harm. Not that his is necessary; Temeraire knows that; Dayes is just stupid.
The other dragons at the covert are much more interesting. Temeraire learns that Nitidus is a bit shy but can be coaxed into curling up with Dulcia and will happily chatter in her presence; learns that Messoria has an odd habit of smoking cigars, very awkwardly, which Sutton holds up for her with great tolerance. (Dayes doesn't let him try one). And Immortalis -
Little is not Immortalis' first captain. He knows loss. He knows, but...
“Of course I was older than you,” the Yellow Reaper says when the topic arises. “I had time to know my captain, first. To have memories.”'
“I remember Laurence!” Temeraire protests, leaning in very close to the middle-weight. All the dragons are in Maximus' clearing, the largest, but even so the smallest dragons are draped over he and the Regal Copper like small ornaments.
“You may remember him,” says Immortalis, not unkindly. “But you were not together long enough to know him. That is a little sad, I think. And it is always hardest with your first.”
Temeraire decides, abruptly, that he doesn't much like Immortalis. “There is no need,” he says, “to say such things.”
“I only meant - “
“I saw him when I hatched,” Temeraire blurts. “I remember the first words he said to me. He read to me from the surgeon's book on dragon-keeping, and I remember all of it; we slept together in his cabin when I was smaller than a man and I remember that, too. He gave me fresh fish and told me stories about the Nile – and – I certainly know him,” Temeraire finishes.
The other dragons look awkward now. “Of course you do,” says Lily. Uncertainly.
“ - He called me dear,” Temeraire says, quietly. “...No one calls me that, now. I think I miss it.”
Lloyd beams at Laurence when they walk to the gate near dusk. “- A Longwing, coming here! Isn't that a lovely thought? Coming all the way from Gibraltar...”
“What's his name?”
“Oh, I do not know, what does it matter? But we may have a Longwing cross soon! And that is good, we certainly need some heavy-weight blood around. Perhaps,” Lloyd says hopefully, “You might have a nice chat with Gentius, and convince him to tell all the other dragons of his old war-stories? The girls are so easier to get in the mood when they're impressed, you know, so perhaps hearing about another Longwing...”
Laurence winces. “...Perhaps,” he mutters uncomfortably, and knows he will propose no such thing.
The fact that these grounds are ultimately a sort of pasture still does not sit well with him. Laurence dusts his clothes uselessly to hide his unease. Even if he no longer does any true work, thanks to the dragons, he must look the part; his clothes are layered in repeated coats of dirt and his face still sweats from a quick game of tag with a few couriers.
He would probably feel guilty about being paid for idleness if he didn't spend half his funds on these dragons anyway.
Today, in fact, he has another such purchase in mind. He says farewell to Lloyd and begins the long walk to the near town, Libanus, which hosts a small church, a mill, a scattering of farmhouses, and an inn. Laurence has yet to find proper lodgings despite spending over two months in the area, and the last location has made for an awkward sort of home.
Today, though, he has a different destination in mind. Laurence steps inside only long enough to switch into a somewhat cleaner outfit – such that his father would still be appalled, he can't help but know – and then lets himself back on the street for the short walk to Brecon.
The larger city hosts a theatre, which might have interested him once. Laurence spares the place a wistful glance and presses deeper into the city until he finds himself at a familiar door. He enters.
“Back again, Mr. Wheeler?” the local smith asks. “You'll have to come around the back, I'm afraid. It doesn't quite fit in the shop.” Laurence follows.
Of course a work like this should, rightfully, be done more by an artist than an ordinary blacksmith. Iron was only the basis for the hollowed slab, which itself reaches nearly up to Laurence's shoulder. Crossing gold-leaf patterns run around the edges and corners while the center boasts shining, beaten copper stretched into a reflecting sheet. The copper spells out wide letters:
Flying Gracefully in Death
“And that she does,” the man says, ignorant; Sententia was maimed by cannon-shot and could only fly in small loops. “Now that is a long life. What a queer tombstone, though, Mr. Wheeler. Are you certain you don't want a proper, well – stone? I have to accept some payment, but if you change your mind, perhaps we can - “
“No,” Laurence assures. “This will do quite well, thank you.”
The smith places the purchase on a small cart which Laurence can barely pull, but he doesn't have to take it far. The night has fallen properly by the time he wanders outside the city, toward the direction of the covert, and finds the circling couriers awaiting him.
Quietly, two dragons pick up the cart and bear it, metal burden and all, back into the grounds; a third dragon picks up Laurence and takes him, too. He never returns to his lodgings that night at all.
The next morning he stops by the front gate and finds Lloyd.
“The dragons seem happier today,” he says. “They seem to be recovering from Sententia's death.”
“Oh, who? That fussy little Winchester? They never live very long. She was too old to breed anyway, you know. It was about time.”
“Yes,” says Laurence. “Yes. Of course.”
“What in the hell were you thinking!” Dayes bursts as soon as they land.
They have just come back from their first, real battle – an unexpected one – and landed in Dover covert. Temeraire glances at him reproachfully. “Lieutenant Granby,” he requests. “Please get a surgeon for my leg.” The lieutenant rushes to do so.
“You ignored half my orders,” Dayes yells. At the other end of the clearing Maximus peers his head over the trees dividing their sections to listen in.
“Well they were very bad orders,” Temeraire says reasonably. “I did everything you said that sounded useful.”
“That – that is not the point! The decision is not yours! I am your captain, and you need to listen to me!”
Temeraire rears back. “You are not my captain,” he scoffs.
The whole clearing seems to fall silent. Midwingmen stop in their tracks, still holding bits of harness; riflemen carrying away sacks of powder and flares turn to stare. Granby, returning with a surgeon, gawks at them and blurts, “What?”
“Laurence is my captain,” Temeraire snaps. “Dead or not! I said I would fight for you. Well, I will do that, because he would want me to fight; but you are not a captain of mine, and I will not follow stupid orders I do not agree with anyway.”
“I'm your captain,” Dayes repeats feebly. His face is entirely bloodless.
“Of course you are not, you never have been, everyone knows that.” But, looking around, only Maximus seems unsurprised.
Granby grabs Dayes when he would say something more. “We'll talk about this later,” he promises Temeraire, who doesn't see that there is anything to talk about. But he assents and lets the surgeon work on his leg.
A few hours later Granby returns with someone called Admiral Lenton. The man strides up to Temeraire, assesses him, and says, “So, I hear you have no captain?”
“Of course I do not,” Temeraire repeats, a bit angry right now. “And I do not know why everyone taunts me with it today. My captain is dead. Dayes told me he died months ago. That should not be a surprise.”
“Hmm. Well, to be frank, we thought you had made Dayes your new captain.”
“But Dayes is a fool!” Temeraire protests. That man, replacing Laurence?
“So you will not have him?” Lenton asks. “What of someone else?”
“No, no one else,” Temeraire asserts. “If I cannot have Laurence... no one could compare. Never.”
“That is a shame,” Lenton says. “And a problem. We do not fight, you see, with dragons who will not accept captains.”
“Laurence wanted me to fight,” Temeraire says.
“I am afraid it has always been this way,” Lenton says. “You may change your mind, of course. You could have your pick of our aviators – it would not need to be Dayes.”
Temeraire considers this idea in silence, and then says at last, “No.”
He cannot betray Laurence, despite what his first captain would have wanted.
“Then we must send you to Pen Y Fan,” says Lenton. “It is a shame, and I am sorry for it when you have just become ready to fight. But I hope you will do well there, nonetheless.”
“Incoming formation,” Weedly says, wheezing slightly when he shoves his way between Gentius and Armatius. They're curled outside the elder dragon's cave. Laurence is only talking to the two old veterans right now, the other dragons half-dozing after their feeding. The mongrel Winchester adds, “You should hide, Laurence.”
“I do not need to hide,” Laurence sighs, but he does dust a little dirt over himself and find his shovel. “My apologies, Gentius.”
“Oh, I will finish the story later,” the old Longwing promises. “Then I will tell you all about the Monmouth Rebellion. We were so pleased the king was alright...” Gentius pauses. “Who is the king today, anyway?”
“Perhaps we will discuss politics later,” Laurence suggests, and steps away to make a pretense of working.
It is unlikely that the newcomers will come near enough to make note of him, but he must be careful regardless. The dragons are, of yet, only small spots in the distance. They number six. Five of the shapes circle around one notably larger body in a familiar maneuver. The dragon is either reluctant to join the breeding grounds or not entirely trusted. Laurence lowers his eyes and grips the shovel tighter.
He turns toward his task until Armatius comes over to say, “They've gone now; just left a single dragon. What an odd looking fellow, too. I suppose his captain must have died.”
Which means the poor thing will be in mourning. “Be kind, then,” he says. “And keep Recquiscat from bullying the creature.”
“As if he listens to me,” Gentius snorts. But he stops a mid-weight flying by, and calls, “Ask that new one to have a word, will you? Yes, of course I mean now.”
Laurence half-forgets the newcomer as he finds his bag. One of the dragons must have been looking for something, because it's half-savaged, and he sighs. A few books at the bottom remain intact, though. Ironic, that dragons should be transforming him into a proper scholar.
A loud thump recalls him to the present.
“Why, hello,” says Gentius idly, as though the dragon has invited himself. “It is nice to see someone new, very nice; though you are a bit young for this place, aren't you? I hope you will feel quite welcome here.”
“It cannot be worse than the covert,” says a familiar voice, and Laurence nearly falls over.
The words, the familiar rise and fall of that dignified accent, resound through his head like a haunting. Laurence nearly runs to Gentius' side, and when he does the sight takes his breath away.
Because it is Temeraire – Temeraire, here, and fully grown, with the addition of a magnificent webbed ruff that only adds to his foreign looks. Laurence can barely breathe, but the dragon takes one look at him and gives a startled cry that shakes the ground.
“Laurence!” Temeraire says. “Laurence – oh – am I dead? Am I dead with you?”
“My dear, no,” Laurence says. “I am so glad. I am so glad to see you.”
Temeraire wraps himself so fully around Laurence that the human cannot move, patting at him with frantic questing claws, and Laurence would not be anywhere else for all the world.
Pen Y Fan is the most remarkable place that exists, for all its ugly smells and blandness. Laurence is here, and happy, and alive, and Temeraire...
Someone lied to Temeraire.
It is not a notion he realizes all at once. His first hours at the covert are spent in delirious joy. Laurence is here, calling him my dear and showing him a nice cave, pulling out new books with promises of Latin and Mathematics to teach him. Laurence, promising that he will be here today, and the next day, and every day thereafter.
It is like a dream, but, no – it is the fog lifting away from a nightmare, revealing the sun at last.
And then, when Laurence pauses between telling him all about the local dragons, a thought occurs.
“Laurence,” he says. “Why was I told you were dead?”
Laurence pauses. He looks vaguely startled. “I could not say,” he says, and seems truthful. “My dear, I was told you had picked another as your captain, and so - “
Horror crushes Temeraire. “Never!” he cries, and snatches up Laurence to look him in the eye. Laurence only regards him fondly. “Laurence, I would not, I will not take another captain! And certainly not Dayes...”
Laurence's smile falters. “Dayes,” he echoes. “ - You have not told me of the covert. What was it like?”
Temeraire tells him all about the lonely fields and Dayes' idiocy, about poor Levitas and all the empty nights. He talks about the way he was treated as an animal when they thought he had no captain. Laurence's frown deepens with every word.
“But now we are together,” says Temeraire. “We can leave this place and go anywhere, can we not? Oh, Laurence, some of the other dragons whisper things about strange countries and places without war. We could go together.”
“No, my dear. We would be caught if we tried to leave – you brought back to the fields, and myself arrested, quite likely.”
“They shall not arrest you,” Temeraire bristles. “I have seen well what happens when I trust this government with you. I shall never do so again.”
“Temeraire - “
The dragon flicks his tail. “But it does not matter,” he says. “Only... Laurence, I do wish some of my friends at the covert could feel as wonderful as I feel today. Do not look so alarmed! We are together again – I cannot imagine anything so terrible that we cannot be happy with each other.”
Temeraire has made more friends.
They are at Temeraire's cave when Laurence arrives the next day. (Temeraire had not wanted him to leave, but the thought of being caught was too much a risk; some other day, perhaps, he will arrange to sneak in again. He has no desire to leave Temeraire so soon, either).
The dragons are talking loudly when he approaches. Temeraire raises his head and cries, “Laurence!”, when he arrives, quieting the noise a little as he sweeps around Laurence in a mess of black coils.
“Whatever is this?” Laurence asks.
“We were talking. Laurence, I am thinking that way dragons are treated in Britain is very wrong.”
Mutters. And then:
“What if they lied about all our captains?” a voice asks suddenly.
Laurence pauses and looks at a small Winchester that has nudged himself next to Temeraire. “What if they have always lied about our captains?” the courier repeats anxiously. “Maybe when it is said, oh, we are sorry, but your captain is dead, they really mean that our captain is old or... or does not...” his voice lowers, “want us.”
“Perhaps they lied about my Max,” a light-weight asks.
“Your last captain died a century ago,” says Gentius, not unkindly.
“I do not see how that matters!”
Laurence tries to calm the sudden rush of voices. “I am sure,” he says loudly, “that this is an unusual set of circumstances – the Corps would see no need to lie to all of you - “
“But if they have done it once, they could certainly do it again,” Perscitia interjects. “Perhaps they have – we would have no way of knowing.”
“I should not be surprised,” says Temeraire darkly. “They are always lying... and, oh, why did they do it?” He nudges Laurence again, anxious.
Laurence needs to halt this before the dragons become truly panicked. “It may have been necessary,” he justifies. “When there is a war, we need all of your assistance; surely the admiralty would only want to lessen the pain of any parting - “
“But it was not necessary,” Temeraire maintains. “I would have fought with you quite well, instead of coming here; and oh, Laurence, even if they need us, that does not matter. It is not right to lie, unless you are saying that it is right for them to trick us, because they can, only so we will work like slaves.”
Laurence winces. “That is not a comparison I would make.”
“Perhaps,” Temeraire says. “But we are certainly not free; I would be hunted if I left this place with you. And I think I should like to, anyway, only because I am not at all inclined to be obedient to this government of yours, which has done me no good and only tried to use me.”
Laurence is alarmed to see the other dragons listening closely.
“Perhaps,” says Perscitia, “You have said just the thing. We should not be obedient, not at all.”
“Shall we have a Revolution, like the French?” someone suggests.
Gentius snorts. “I do not believe the Revolution went very well for anyone,” he notes.
“Indeed not,” Laurence agrees hastily.
“I would instead suggest a Rebellion. I remember a few of those, I think some worked out. Some years ago the king was even killed, and a few very good compromises came of that.”
The dragons look far too interested. “Killing the king would not grant you goodwill,” says Laurence immediately. “If you are keen to gain yourself rights, there are better ways.”
And then all the dragons are looking at Laurence, expectantly, as they have looked to humans their entire lives. Towering over his head, talons and claws and teeth, they bend their heads and peer down as if he might be lost, and seem oblivious of the contradiction. They do not need his help. They do not need humans.
But they must live together, anyway – and dragons will no longer suffer captivity.
So Laurence says, reluctantly: “But I believe I know where to begin...”
In the end it's Perscitia and Temeraire who have most of the ideas. Laurence's presence is if anything a restraint, though a necessary one; he tells them what Parliament will and will not consider, though in some instances he is tempted to lend his voice and say, here, here, you can push for more, you are not asking for enough -
Because the government must concede. Laurence recognizes this truth with an uncomfortable lurch. There is a war, and Britain does not have the resources to quell a battle at home while also protecting her borders. She must yield. She must.
(And if she does not...)
He takes Temeraire aside, as Perscitia is strictly chiding Recquiscat about a few points, and says, “I cannot stop myself from finding this a selfish endeavor, my dear. Certainly I agree that dragons should be afforded better treatment, but to make such a fuss in the middle of war seems tantamount to treason.”
“I do not see why,” Temeraire tells him, “that I should care a whit for treason against a government which I never agreed to serve. I was born, and they took me, and I was told what to do; my own opinion never mattered. And I certainly do not think that a government should expect us to fight for their rules, or even suffer them, when they are being monstrous. I cannot be concerned with this war unless it seems correct, Laurence, and it seems to me that all of England is only wrong.”
“But if we waited until the war was over - “
“Then perhaps they shall never listen, or we will have to fight someone and create a new war of our own. If you are worried about the consequences I think this is our best choice, and quite frankly, I do not care about any problems so long as England is the only one being hurt, and not us.”
Temeraire waits for a response. When Laurence has none he reaches his head down, briefly, for a quick touch. “But I am sure everything will work quite well,” the dragon adds, almost guilty. And, giving Laurence one more glance, he turns and rejoins the others.
Laurence cannot well refute anything Temeraire has said. The dragons have no reason to fight for England; he cannot imagine that any human chained and directed from birth would possess the slightest fondness for their countries, or think kindly of their administration.
But if Laurence cannot halt the dragons – when he is not even sure he should – he can also not bring himself to condone their actions. Laurence continues to listen to the dragons' plans, and worries quietly, speaking out to delay them as much as possible.
But finally a crude proposal is hashed out; Laurence want to pray for the absurdity of it. They will write up a piece of legislation, Temeraire says, and offer it to Parliament like any other piece of law, and demand it be implemented; as though anyone will deign to read a proposal written by dragons, will care about it, will hold and honor it. Laurence does not know how to explain these things. He tries, and his efforts only make the dragons rage all the more at their human masters.
So somehow he helps write the proposal, instead, sitting pen-poised as dragons gather over his head and yell out ideas.
And, as the ink dries after their third day of planning, a tiny yellow-streaked courier zips around the cluster that has formed near Gentius' cave. The little Winchester finally lands on Temeraire's leg, and announces with something like confused hope: “The French have come across the Channel, and are sacking everything! Is that good? French dragons are treated better, are they not?”
Majestatis seems horribly offended, and begins roaring something about toads and cowards to Recquiscat. Temeraire meanwhile bows his head toward Laurence, who sits pale by his side. “I do not think,” he says, “that the French treat us that much better, Laurence.”
A cold, strange calm falls over Laurence in this instant.
Perhaps the dragons feel it. They gradually fall silent, and when every reptilian head has turned toward him, Laurence says, “They do not. But if we intervene, the French need not be in charge for long.”
Lights glitter from the London-houses as Laurence flies above on Moncey. From here the vague, hulking shapes of mid-weights are clearly visible on the outskirts of the city, but they seem not to alarm the bustling crowds in the street. It is only as the pair draw near that Laurence discerns dark uniforms – Frenchmen in London, some of them on patrols.
He has Moncey drop down near the road, and the dragon nudges him uneasily when he makes to depart. “Do not die, now,” the little dragon whispers. “Temeraire would go quite mad, I think, and things would be unhappy for everyone.”
Laurence thinks of the Celestial's pained roar, the warm heat of talons lifting him to the air for inspection. “I will not hurt him again,” he agrees.
His attire is so dusty and ruined that the guards at the gate give him only cursory inspection. He will have to avoid the scrutiny of officers on the streets, too, but that is only a minor concern.
The prime minister and a number of captive lords – and cabinet members - are being held at Kensington Palace. Laurence does not know if this is a nicety or a joke, but that does not matter; they are English hostages either way, and he will free them.
And get this damned treaty signed
Closer to the palace the houses start to rise higher in the sky, gleaming and polished stone that starkly contrasts his grubby clothes. French soldiers and Englishmen alike – some of whom are freely interacting with the foreigners! - give him suspicious glances. He isn't sure how he's meant to get into the palace until he sees Rybury.
Lord Rybury is one of his father's associates – a congenial man, but one who holds himself at a distance from anyone and everyone. Though stiffly polite, and completely loyal to the crown, Rybury has a subdued personality; it surprises Laurence not at all to see him standing several feet back from a Frenchman, nodding politely even as he stares into a middle-distance and radiates distaste.
He will do.
Laurence waits until Rybury makes an escape. He follows the man though a labyrinth of streets until they cross incidentally near a dark corner made by the wedging of two buildings. Laurence glances around and sees no one else; he rushes forward and drags Rybury into the shadows.
The man yelps and immediately starts to struggle.
“Unhand me at once,” he cries, outraged. “We were promised basic human decency, and if you mean to harass common English citizens - “
“Quiet, Sir,” Laurence snaps at once. Rybury stiffens again at his unaccented English, and Laurence manhandles him into position so that they are face-to-face. “I am no Frenchman, and there is no time for this.”
Rybury looks like he's seen a ghost. “You are dead,” he breathes. “William Laurence?”
- Dead? Yes. By now his family must have noted his absence, begun to speculate. He feels a flicker of guilt, then shoves it aside for later. “That does not matter,” he says. “I need your assistance. I intend to gain entry to the palace, to free the prisoners there.”
Rybury continues to stare at him for a moment. Then, to Laurence's surprise, he just nods. “Very well. What is your plan?”
Rybury grimaces through his vague explanation, but makes no argument. As they start out Laurence realizes, belatedly, that Rybury thinks him a spy; if his death has been reported, it is not a bad assumption.
They find a lone French lieutenant easily enough, rushing up fast enough that the man raises his bayonet with alarm. “Sir,” says Rybury, every inch of his breeding showing through a high-accent and upturned nose, “This vagrant has just informed me that one of your men is bleeding out back there.” He gestures vaguely to the way they came.
“Quelle!” The man exclaims, and asks clumsily, “Why you not help?”
“Your people are not my concern,” Rybury scoffs. The lieutenant scowls and points deliberately at Laurence, then behind him. Laurence obligingly leads him away.
Four minutes later he finishes hiding the lieutenant inside a sewer-drainage pipe and rejoins Rybury by the main road, now adorned in French uniform.
“Convincingly, now,” Laurence murmurs, and Laurence feels the man tremble briefly under his grip before loudly yelling about his “Unjust treatment” at the hands of these foreign invaders.
They make it to the palace easily enough. Passerby look at Rybury with either scorn or horror, depending on their political inclinations, and at Laurence not at all as his apparent prisoner struggles.
The areas around Kensington Palace are mostly deserted, whereas the palace itself is practically baricaded with supply carts, soldiers rushing and fro, and even a few small, sleepy dragons sprawled about.
“As-tu besoin d'aide?” a passing officer calls out as they pass.
Laurence shakes his head, yanking Rybury along more roughly. The man performs his role admirably, yelping and complaining that he is friends with a Duke, you know. They make it to the doors without trouble, where a captain happens to be talking to the soldiers on watch.
That captain glances at them casually, then looks again. “Qui es-tu? Quelle est votre groupe?”
Laurence knows enough French to understand the words, and can probably mangle a word or two without entirely giving himself away; but he does not dare get drawn into speech, which will clearly show his foreign accent. And here, now, a poorly-given answer might ruin him. Not that he has a choice. He opens his mouth, and just then a loud roar shakes the sky.
The captain looks behind Laurence, swears, and rushes away. The distraction has started, then. Glancing at Rybury, they immediately move into the palace/ The guards do not stop them.
Laurence isn't sure where to begin looking once inside, but fortunately another soldier spots them. “Un autre?” The man sighs. He waves Laurence to follow him up a flight of stairs. Laurence does so, hoping that there aren't multiple sets of prisoners in the building.
The hallways are as opulent as expected in such a place; it's queer to imagine the palace as a prison, a cage. But it does not make a poor one. Huge windows reach to the ceiling, and dragons from outside can peer in at them; Laurence spots a particularly curious Petit Chevalier watching as they pass, even as hastily-woken aviators clamber aboard her back. Laurence can still hear distant roaring.
Their escape is probably going to be messy.
Still, he manages a neutral expression and holds it until they stop in front of a door. The soldier says, “Il restera ici. Quel est son nom?”
“Qui l'a arrete, est-il important?”
Laurence pauses. Glances down at his sweating companion. Then, grabbing the surprised French guard, he tugs the foreigner toward the main hall and kicks him in the chest.
The guard's face still shows surprise when he lands against one of the great, blocky windows. Glass shatters in an ear-piercing screel, and Laurence yanks Rybury against the wall as two more guards rush from the indicated door.
They go flying out the window, too.
Rybury is gape-faced and pale. Laurence tugs him into the room to meet the bewildered faces of half of England's leaders.
“Gentleman,” he says flatly. “I have a proposition for you; but first, I suggest we move quickly.”
“We do not have that power, gentlemen.”
Most of the redeemed prisoners have settled for clustering together and remaining very, very quiet under the interested scrutiny of the renegade dragons. Hunkered down in a forest only an hour's flight from London, they nevertheless seem vaguely traumatized from the journey. But Prime Minister Grenville, to his credit, speaks with great calm.
Though Laurence wishes everyone would stop looking at him.
“We do not have it,” Grenville repeats. He pauses to straighten his jacket, nervously. “Only the King could declare a treaty without the approval of Parliament; we cannot ratify any agreements without more members.”
“Well, I suppose we can return to the breeding grounds,” says a nearby Yellow Reaper, philosophically. “I'm hungry anyway.”
Now Grenville looks alarmed. “But!” he rushes. “I am certain that we might come to a tentative agreement – one which will surely be honored and properly made into law if the French are routed - “
“If?” asks Temeraire. “I do not suspect they will be any trouble at all. Laurence, will you please have the minister sign something? I have noticed,” the dragon confides to Grenville, “That humans often stop arguing once things have been signed.”
“Ah,” the minister says, weakly. He turns to Laurence as though for help, wide-eyed. “Yes. Quite right...”
All told, it takes more than two months to entirely clear the French.
It is fortunate for the British that Napoleon's invasion was not so successful as intended; the first valiant efforts of Dover covert, supported later by a full blockade that effectively halted journeys over the Channel, means that less than half of Napoleon's intended force crossed into England. Still, their element of surprise was enough of an advantage to almost destroy her.
And now that the dragons have saved everyone, Temeraire thinks with genuine pleasure, of course they must be recognized...
“I am sorry,” says the minister politely. “But, of course, you know that circumstances have changed.”
“You will have to explain what you mean,” says Temeraire, equally polite. The Celestial's ruff is standing rigid, and by his foot Laurence covers his face with one hand.
“I am afraid that we are not able to fulfill the terms of the little agreement made with your kind. You understand, of course, that a promise made in such strenuous circumstances could not be well-considered. We will have to convene and discuss the matter further.”
“By which you mean,” Laurence interrupts, “That you will take none of it into consideration at all.” He pauses, plainly abashed, but Grenville does not deny it.
“Well, well, it was war.. You understand,” he repeats.
“No, I am afraid I do not,” says Temeraire. His wings ruffle and tremble with suppressed anger, but his voice is uncharacteristically sharp, careful. “I understand only that you made a promise, and now you are trying to break it; and worse, you do so after we have already completed our part in this.”
“There is nothing further to be done.”
“Oh; perhaps you think so. But if you will not be decent enough to hold your word with dragons, then I am afraid we will make you listen to us, instead.”
“Is that a threat?” the minister demands.
Temeraire considers. “Yes,” he decides. “Yes, it is.”
By morning the roofs are full of dragons.
The roofs of London, that is. Some people flee them, running past dozens of hulking, interested forms to leave the city entirely. Others board up their houses and hunker down, as though there is any protection that can be offered against many-ton beasts with claws and sometimes acid. And yet others take to the streets, shouting ineffectually as the dragons regard them with bemusement.
“We are not leaving,” calls Moncey from his neat perch on the spire of Westminster Abbey. A pair of curious Greylings shift and arrange themselves around the other spire, complaining to each other as they find good positions; bits of stone crumble from the old building every time they move.
Laurence walks by with one hand held against his head, a distinct migraine forming. He cannot stop fretting over the many passing dragons even as he laments the damage they're causing. Little of it intentional, of course; yet he can only think that someone will respond to this outrage with violence, and then everyone will become enmeshed in the conflict.
The dragons were specifically informed that Laurence would be making rounds and checking in on them; they were also instructed not to bring attention to this, so naturally Yellow Reapers nod when he passes, and Anglewings call out, “Hello, Laurence!”
Behind him the Malachite Reaper Bellusa keeps switching from roof to roof, not-so-subtly keeping an eye on him. He has no doubt this is done under Temeraire's strict orders. Neither of them are as subtle as they like to think.
After making his way back to Trafalgar Square – currently housing an old, dozing Lindorm who was probably the result of an early trade a century or so back – he turns and goes toward the Houses of Parliament, where Temeraire should be waiting with Gentius and Recquiscat. There he finds a distinct surprise, noticing on the lawns four large dragons he does not recognize.
A Regal Copper, a Longwing, and two Yellow Reapers sit around Temeraire and speak quietly with him. Moreover, they are plainly not ferals; the dragons sit in full harness with complete crews of aviators. Laurence slows his walk, recalling tales of dragon-captains being kidnapped for leverage, and skirts around so that his approach lets him come up on Temeraire's side.
“Oh, Laurence,” says Temeraire with delight. “Look, these are my friends from Dover!”
“...Very nice to meet you,” says Laurence.
“Oh, are you his captain, then? He was very sad without you,” says the odd Regal Copper.
“It is a shame that we are supposed to arrest you,” the Longwing adds, “But anyway I do not think we can, so at least there is that.” Her captain smacks her side and hisses something, too low to hear.
“Of course you cannot,” says Temeraire. “You see plainly that there are too many of us. And,” he adds, with an apologetic sort of air, “I am afraid that if you grab Laurence, I will really have to hurt you quite badly.”
The dragons seem unfazed by this. “It is just nice to see you happy,” says the Longwing. Her captain – an oddly young man, with very fair features – looks embarrassed.
“I do not think this arrest is going quite as planned,” says one of the Yellow Reapers thoughtfully.
“Our own plans are better,” says Temeraire. “Anyway, we only wish to speak with these government-people; we will not hurt anyone, but neither will we stay in the coverts. That is suppression and also against dragon-rights. Laurence has been reading to me much about human rights, you see, and I think we should have some too.”
The dragons nod cheerfully, and the Regal Copper's captain says, “Oh, to hell with it; I'm going in and dragging out some of these poncy lordlings. I don't even want to arrest you for this.”
“Me either,” the Longwing's captain – is that a woman? - confesses.
Which is how they accidentally get a formation of dragon captains to mutiny. This will probably work in their favor, but Laurence can only think sadly that he is probably going to get charged with sedition soon, and then Temeraire will really have no reason for restraint.
It turns out that having members of the Corps revolt is an even more alarming prospect than a horde of ferals – especially when Lily and Maximus, as they are called, leave and return with a few friends. Eventually someone comes out and agrees to speak with “William Laurence, or whoever is leading these damn creatures.”
“Not me,” says Laurence, very willing to shove off the responsibility for this – even though he is certainly at fault, too. “You want to speak with Temeraire.”
(...They do not, it turns out, want to speak with Temeraire).
“Now that you are done being silly,” says Temeraire, “Are you read to discuss this seriously?”
It has taken the better part of four days to assure Parliament that Temeraire is, in fact, the one they must negotiate with. Even this has been expedited greatly by the presence of increasingly impatient dragons roosting on London's oldest buildings, and Laurence dreads to think what resistance they would have met under other circumstances.
Three representatives stand before them today. Laurence recognizes only Grenville; he acknowledges that the other two lords, who are both so old they must squint to make out the dragons' outlines, were probably chosen because they are quite beyond fear – or the ability to see what they should be afraid of.
“We would like representation,” says Temeraire. “Dragons are a part of this country; so, we should be in Parliament too.”
“Madness,” murmurs Grenville.
“Ey?” asks one of the ancient lords.
“Also, I think Laurence would make an excellent lord,” says Temeraire.
“No,” says Laurence firmly. Visions dance around his mind – terrified lords and governors bowing nervously to hi demands while Temeraire looms pointedly in the background. “I really do have no ambitions in that direction, my dear. And actually I think I would enjoy a little quiet, when we are through here.”
“Oh,” says Temeraire, disappointed. “Very well. Then I think, first, that we should decide how many dragon representatives each house should have.”
“We have not agreed to this!”
“But of course you will,” Temeraire reasons. “That is why you are here, is it not? Because you know you cannot fight us, or do anything but say yes.” All three representatives sputter. “Also,” Temeraire adds, “I have also been learning many things about your government; in fact I think the way representation is decided should probably be fixed. And I think not enough people can vote. Perhaps we can amend these issues as well, after we have our own seats?”
The representatives look even less enthused now. “...Perhaps,” mutters one, with an apprehensive, squinty-eyed stare at Temeraire's wide teeth.
“Excellent.” Making an X on his oversized paper with a satisfied flourish of his inky talon, Temeraire turns to Laurence. “Do you see, Laurence? I told you this Government would see sense eventually.”
“Yes, my dear,” says Laurence wearily. “Yes, you did.”
The first thing Temeraire does with his new power is bully Parliament into issuing a decree that allows dragons to choose their own companions.
The second thing he does is to reach out diplomatically to an incoming Chinese delegation, who are very much interested in both him and Laurence.
Laurence misses the breeding grounds already.