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A storm passes

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The eaves of the pavilion were hung with large swathes of holly and ivy. Because of the heat, the sluggishly circulating air was ripe with the heavy scent of spices, heralding the mince pies to come. Between the boughs of greenery hung the many splendid gold and silver jeweled pendants that Temeraire had been awarded over the last decade. It was too hot for the braziers to be lit, so the finery glittered dimly in what light filtered in the windows.

Temeraire looked around the pavilion, beating his wings lazily, and sighed. The few other dragons sighed back. Temeraire sighed again, if only to feel air moving around him. They could not go flying because of the impending storm and it was much too hot to do anything but lay in a bored heap inside the cooler pavilion.

The only other sound was the scratching of Perscitia writing in absolutely tiny, precise, practiced strokes onto a large piece of parchment. Every so often, there was a tinkly tapping sound as she dipped her claw into the vase that now served as an ink pot, and an occasional small huff when she had to correct an error. The tinkling spoke enticingly of the sea, too far away to fly to, and the cool water baths that they would have once it was dusk.

The light filtering through the windows had dimmed significantly. The sky hung low with dark rolling clouds, tinged with a dirty grey-green. The dragons had been grounded for the afternoon because of the threat of lightning and great winds. It felt like an eternity had passed, hot and sticky, but the storm had yet to begin in earnest.

It was all very un-Christmas-like. Temeraire thought longingly of England its cold rain. He thought of visiting America again, or the great mountains that rose at China's south-western reaches with their true winter, with snow and wind so cold that he could not feel his wings.

Here, in Australia, it was surely too hot here to do anything, let alone find a suitable replacement present for Laurence in the few days before the feast.

His wings drooped and he sank lower to the ground, wriggling around to find a spot on the wooden floor that was cooler. It would be a few weeks until the stone from the quarry for the perpetually cool floor would arrive. For now he would have to make do.

"Cheer up, Temeraire," said a familiar voice. Temeraire scrambled up eagerly, whipping his head around to confirm who had spoken.

"Laurence!" he cried at the sight of the man. "You're here!"

"I was only gone for a little while," said Laurence, amused. None of the others made more than vague mumbles of greeting or a flick of an ear. Percitia didn't even look up. She only wrote faster.

"But every moment that passes is an eternity," Temeraire moaned, head and chest lowering to the ground again, "and no one will sing carols or play hide the lemon or do anything at all with me! I fear no one will come to the feast because it is so hot."

"After this storm passes and the clouds clear, my dear, you might yet have your feast."

Thunder rolled outside. Finally the pavilion echoed with the hiss and splatter of rain. It was not long after the deluge began that the cooling air wound its way through the room. Great sighs of relief rose to the rafters. Temeraire made to get up and cool off in the rain, but was stayed by Laurence.

"Not yet, dear. I think it will hail. It is like snow, but hard as ice. You will hurt yourself needlessly."

"Ah, but we have scales where you have thin skin," said one of the older dragons, Messoria, who had stopped in the culvert nearest the pavilion and was invited to join in the festivities. "Hail is like the bite of a mosquito to us."

A great clattering started on the roof of the pavilion, shaking some of the glass ornaments to jingling. Temeraire eyed them uneasily. Outside, curtains of water cascaded from the eaves and what looked like heavy snow poured down beyond that. The hail sprayed as it hit the ground, which was quickly blanketed in white. He thought about the denting and pitting the hail might do to his groomed scales if he went outside right then, and settled for sticking his head outside with his eyes closed. Soon enough his snout went numb from cold. It was bliss.

Messoria laughed a low laugh, like rolling thunder. She draped her tail outside lazily, just beyond the curtain of water, and flicked it. Drops of ice cold water splattered into Temeraire's sensitive ear, and he shook his head, sputtering. Volly also squeaked and shook a wing dry.

"I brought a new book," said Laurence to Temeraire once they had settled down again. "'Dialogue on the two new world systems' by Galileo. It may further our discussions on navigation." Temeraire could swear he heard Perscitia's attention on them sharpen and the two other dragons perk up.

They watched with interest as Laurence assumed his customary position on Temeraire's foreleg, opened the book to the first page, and in a louder than usual voice, began to read. Even the clatter of the storm seemed to hush in order to listen.

When the rain petered away and the clouds broke apart, the sun was setting in a vibrant blaze of deep red, so that every tree and pavilion looked like it was cast in bronze. At this point, Laurence finished the chapter and closed the book.

"I think I will go greet the guests now. Come join me when you are ready."

Temeraire snapped his head up so quickly he nearly unseated Laurence.

"Guests!" he cried. "Whyever did you not remind me sooner?"

Perscitia said something snide in the corner, but Temeraire ignored her. "We must see to them at once!"

Laurence smiled. "In good time, my dear. Let's first inspect the walking paths. I suspect they are rather damp right now."

The walkways were rather damp, but there was extra gravel on hand for this eventuality. Unfortunately, the field where the feast was to be held was now a small pond, and entirely unsuited for pitching a canopy. Dejected, Temeraire followed Laurence to the guest house.

"I suppose we could hold the feast in the pavilion," he mused sadly, "but it would be uncomfortable and not at all the same."

"Sometimes, simply having a solution will be enough. Let us be grateful for what we do have."

"Very well," Temeraire conceded. "Oh, but if we had rafts, and those little lanterns, wouldn't that be a grand scene, even if the dirt might be hard to clean out of your robe after..." He continued musing as they rounded the path to the guest house.

Laurence smiled. "That does sound like a plan," he concluded. "Why don't you go talk to the steward, and see what we can do." So Temeraire went.

The steward was a stolid man who was not put off by either dragons nor storms. He sent for the supplies for the rafts and set everyone to working, human and dragon, even the guests. Even while everyone was working, there was a festive atmosphere, and each person had the satisfaction of contributing a small part to the final holiday.

Meanwhile, Temeraire had not forgotten the other traditional part of the holiday, which was gifts. For most of the dragon guests, the promise of the slow roasted beef and pork at the feast was gift enough, and the pickier ones were appeased with a few glass and gold leaf baubles from Temeraire's collection. Laurence was taking care of the human guests, which left the question of Temeraire's gift to Laurence.

About a month before the feast, Temeraire had put in a special request to the butler, the steward, and everyone else he could think of who might know the answer to his quandary. Finally, the day of the feast, the steward said that the package had arrived.

It arrived in Laurence's hands, already open. "My dear," he said, sounding not entirely himself, "I believe the gift you ordered has arrived. I'm sorry it's been opened; it arrived as part of my mail, and the steward had asked me if I knew of an artisan who could craft something for you to gift."

Temeraire, horrified, made a strange sound and nearly snatched the package from his hands. "That's not meant for you to see!" He withdrew nearly immediately, his head behind his wings. "I only meant...not until the gift giving tonight."

"Temeraire...are you saying that this is your gift? For me?"

Temeraire nodded miserably. “Perscitia said it might not be in the best of taste,” he said, of the small miniature of the Reliant resting inside the glass bottle. He still quailed a bit inside at the memory. “I only thought you might want it to remember.”

"Oh, Temeraire," he said, and then did not say anything else for several long moments, merely looked at him. "Thank you," he said finally. "All that matters is that you gave it to me. I will treasure it. Thank you."

That, and the fact that Laurence had reluctantly donned his royal robes for the feast, cheered Temeraire right up, and he had a wonderful Christmas with his friends.