After weeks of being led through the desert, Laurence could almost — almost — forget what it is to feel cool water.
Temeraire loves swimming, loves flying. Laurence’s world has been flat since he left the ocean and now he is thinking in three dimensions again; the familiarity is almost as exhilarating as the flight.
Laurence fell in love with the sky all those years ago, when the shadow of a ship passed over him and he rose to the surface to see what it was. He falls in love with the sky again, swooping through it on Temeraire’s back, with the air rushing against him sweet and cold.
Vilya Laren sets foot on land for the first time at the age of nearly-twelve, after pulling himself out of the water on legs he is still new to using.
He claims to be human. He claims his name is William Laurence. He claims to have run away from home; that one is true enough. He joins the Navy, and sees the sea from above its surface.
The currents are familiar and yet strange, the undertows all but nonexistent. Low tide falls at the same place on the shore, but now it is a restriction of a different sort — We’ll have to wait until the tide’s in to leave, rather than Don’t go out there, the tide will fall and then you’ll be trapped. Laurence commits the tide charts to memory, relearns the currents, learns to think of himself as Will, learns how to use his legs, learns how to swim again in this strange new form without fins. This is the course he's set himself to. It doesn't matter if it's difficult.
The man’s name is Tharkay, and he says he will lead them through the desert.
Laurence has taken to the air well enough, but a desert is new, is foreign in a way that even the hills of England were not. He agrees to follow Tharkay through it.
Tharkay is as at home flying as Laurence is on the sea; he carries an eagle on his shoulder. He is a creature of the air as surely as Laurence is a creature of the water. Laurence does not trust him yet, but he thinks he could, in time.
Barstowe knows that there is something different about him. It is possible that he doesn’t, is is possible that he simply hated Laurence on sight for no reason at all, but Laurence knows the difference between what is possible and what is likely.
Barstowe knows that there is something different about him — though Laurence doubts that he knows what — and Barstowe hates him for it. After three days’ watch with no water except what Laurence’s crewmates smuggle him, Laurence thinks that just this once he could hate him back.
Barstowe dies after three months at sea, and Laurence is given water again.
Laurence has fallen in love with the sky twice, once as a mermaid at nearly-twelve and once as a human at thirty-one.
In Istanbul at thirty-four, emerging from a sewer with Tharkay at his side, he falls in love with the sky a third time.
The dragonet is very small, and its eyes are large and blue, and its scales are the black of a night at sea and very new. When it locks eyes with Laurence the look that passes between them might have been understanding, if either of them understood it.
Laurence names him Temeraire, after the ship that made him look above the water and fall in love with the open sky. He thinks for just barely a moment to name him Amirayo, for the sky itself on a clear day when the sunlight is warm through the water, and does not. Best not to give this dragon a name from a world he'll never know.
Laurence and Temeraire move into Tharkay’s estate.
It isn’t far from the sea — sometimes when Laurence and Temeraire go flying they pass over the wrinkled water — but usually they stay closer to home, flying over green hills and not grey waves.
Sometimes Tharkay comes flying with them, and he looks more at home in the air than he ever has with his feet on the ground, and Laurence is more at home by his side than he ever was in the sea.
Liu Bao looks him in the eye over the table. “Admiral Zheng sailed all the way to Africa,” he says, “but he died on his seventh voyage, and his tomb is empty. You have gone around the world more than once. Have you never been worried that you would die at sea, and no one would perform the rites at your grave?
Laurence answers as truthfully as he knows how. “No,” he says, “never, though I have feared the opposite — that I would die on land, and be buried in the earth, and I would never know home again.”
In the early morning in their tent deep in the Australian desert Laurence clings to Tharkay, breathes him in like water.