“Temeraire, that was very well done; very bravely done.”
“...Oh.” Temeraire looks at Laurence uncertainly. With a jolt, Laurence realizes that he has scarcely offered a kind word to the dragon since his hatching.
After a moment, Temeraire curls around Laurence hesitantly. His black hide is as warm as a furnace in the lashing rain, and his wings make a cover that dims the roaring gale to a distant backdrop. It was very well done of the dragon to so selflessly save Gordon; Laurence only wishes they could contribute in some other way as well, but after that desperate flight his arms feel like lead. He sighs.
And just as he is ready to drift to sleep, a panicked shout comes from the deck; “Captain overboard!”
Temeraire wants to try to help Riley – he does want to try – but they cannot see where the Captain has fallen into the water, and Laurence has to almost bodily restrain the dragon from lunging back through the storm.
“We saved Gordon, we cannot allow Riley to drown, I am quite capable,” Temeraire insists while writhing away.
“You are hurt – unaccustomed to flight – Temeraire, Riley is a poor swimmer. He is dead already.”
Temeraire goes very still.
“...But he was very nice, and not afraid of me at all,” says the dragon in a quiet, small voice.
Laurence keeps his arms around the dragon – and whether it is because he needs to be certain Temeraire will not fly away or because he cannot quite bear to let go makes no difference.
The gale keeps up for two more days. It occurs to Laurence that he could take command – should, perhaps – but Temeraire is confined to the deck and plainly frightened. He will not leave him.
Nevertheless the situation is dire. When Temeraire's food is not delivered Laurence goes to the galley to retrieve some meat himself and the cook tells him grimly that the stores have been damaged. “A barrel of drinking water lost, and we sprung a leak; nearly a quarter of ship's-tack ruined, and some of the meat spoilt. How we can spare anything for that creature now - “
“Thank you for your opinion,” says Laurence coldly. “If you prefer, you may certainly explain to the crew why it is wise to have a hungry dragon aboard; now, where is Temeraire's dinner?”
By the time the gale has passed, the Reliant and Amitié are well off-course. Laurence finds to his dismay that the temporary First Mate has been struck with fever to the point of delirium. Fanshowe is in command.
Fanshowe is not usually a bad officer, but he is ill-tempered and prone to bouts of nervousness. In this new and thoroughly unexpected position of command he seems entirely out of sorts – especially when the crew begins to complain.
The day after the gale ends, Temeraire wakes up and brightens at the sight of the clear, sunny skies. “Oh, it is excellent! Have you ever seen such a splendid day, Laurence? We are having good fortune at last.”
A nearby sailor curses lowly. Even Laurence grimaces; there is nothing quite so likely to bring bad luck as praising the good. “Yes, dear, it is a nice sight after the storm.”
“May we fly now?” Temeraire demands.
After some prevarication Laurence looks for the surgeon, but the man refuses to oblige him by checking Temeraire's wings. “Do you think I have the time?” he scowls. “Half the officers are down; tell that beast to wait a day, or make some use of him.”
Laurence curbs the reply that rises to his throat; he has no authority here, not anymore, and reprimanding crewmen for something so small as a problem of high tempers is no longer his purview.
He returns to the deck pondering the options available to him when a passing officer comments on the state of the Amitié, and Laurence asks, “Are they in bad condition?”
The two officers startle and eye him warily. Perhaps out of habit the elder, Hadaway, makes reply. “Not so bad as us, Sir, but they lost two men; and we are short-handed already.” Perhaps recalling Laurence's new position, he looks suddenly reluctant to talk. “But I am sure the rumors are untrue,” he adds.
Hadaway looks at his companion as though for aid; the other man mumbles something and beats a quick retreat. Hadaway shifts. “There is talk of a sickness – something the French brought from the African coast, perhaps, or their travels in the East.”
Laurence listens to this news with horror; illness hurts not only the bodies of men but their morale, and on a ship that can be disastrous. “But who - “
“Why are you idling? Hadaway, you are needed by the rigging, and you - “ the voice stops abruptly. It is Fanshowe.
Hadaway looks like he would prefer to be anywhere else. “Aye, Sir,” he says quickly, and takes the opportunity to beat a hasty exit.
“Mr. Laurence,” says Fanshowe stiffly. No accidental 'Sir' from him. “Surely you are needed to control the dragon?”
“He will control himself quite well; in the meantime I must find him a good meal.”
“We are all short,” says Fanshowe flatly. This is a bold lie; Laurence saw the fishers pull up a tunny just that morning. “If you are committed to being an aviator instead of a seaman, stay by him.”
Laurence stands where he is and watches Fanshowe until the officer's posture falters and the younger man starts to redden slowly with anger. Then Laurence bows his head very slightly. “Of course, Captain.”
Temeraire is very glad to see him return, craning his spindly neck from where he lies on the deck. “Oh, you are back. Is there food?” he asks hopefully.
“I am sorry, but not presently. I am sure something will be found soon; perhaps we shall try flying ourselves soon, after all, and look for fish.”
“That sounds very pleasant,” Temeraire agrees, any thought of hunger banished at the prospect of flight. When Laurence sits down Temeraire curls around him quickly, pushing his head against the man's shoulder and settling himself. “There will be land soon, yes? I am sure that will be very interesting too, seeing land.”
At this rate it will be some time before they reach Madeira. “You shall find it very pleasant, dear, and over land we may fly as much as you like. Now, stay still so the sailors may get by and I will read to you from this book of Politt's - “
“Four more – achoo – and I think Gibbs is getting it, too – achoo - “
The sneezing sounds almost exaggerated. Laurence tries not to roll his eyes. If Laurence were in command, he would tell the marines to quit gossiping and find some work.
He is not in command.
Laurence strokes Temeraire's neck and the dragon murmurs sleepily, twitching against his lap. His legs are becoming numb.
“We'd all be fine if that beast were gone.”
His fingers still. Laurence looks around, but the ones talking are hidden from view. Their voices drift across the ship nevertheless.
“It's a curse, is what it is. First the Amitié's bad run, now this? Captain dead, a gale, a blasted plague - “ Laurence scowls. He has heard of nothing but an outbreak of coughing and sneezing, save for the worrying fever of the First Mate. “ - it is too much.”
“Well, what can we do about it?”
“Like I said,” is the ominous reply. “Gibbs is getting sick, ain't he?”
The voices end there. Laurence turns his head toward the distant, bobbing figure of the Amitié as it sways across the ocean.
“Oh, Laurence, I am so very hungry...”
“Yes, I know,” Laurence says sadly. “We will have to risk the flight, dear. You may fish today.”
Temeraire straightens, immediately pleased. “I am sure that will suffice much better than anything the kitchen could get me anyway,” he declares. “Let us go at once.”
With the present mood he has not quite dared to make a makeshift harness. Temeraire is now perhaps half again the size of a draft horse, which makes him immense but not impossibly so. Laurence finds a seating that seems suitable, the dark hide soft as leather. “Gently, dear,” he says warily, and promptly throws his arms about the dragon's neck as Temeraire flings himself aloft.
Perhaps Temeraire has already forgotten him; he spirals quickly through the air, and Laurence tightens his hold with a strangled yell. “Temeraire!” he snaps.
“Oh! I am sorry,” is the anxious reply. To Laurence's great astonishment he stops abruptly in mid-air – Laurence nearly slams into his neck – and hovers in place by an odd circular motion of his wings. “Are you very injured? Did you fall?”
“I daresay you would know if I had fallen, either because I would be in the ocean or you would not be able to find me,” Laurence answers. “More careful, please, Temeraire. Try not to flip over.”
It is plainly difficult for Temeraire to hunt with this limitation, but he manages. Laurence is perfectly satisfied when Temeraire eats several large fish mid-air, proving that he shall have no issue finding his own food; furthermore the gore attracts sharks very quickly, and Temeraire eats one of these as well.
“It is not particularly pleasant eating, that one,” Temeraire decides. “But it suits well enough.”
Temeraire skims low along the ocean waves to let the water splash off the worst of the gore, then rises and heads back toward the Reliant.
He shakes himself when he lands, spraying water everywhere and eliciting angry mutters from nearby crewmen. Laurence glances around. “I will go find some rags, dear,” he says.
He goes down into the galley to grab some dirty rags, then heads back up. As he steps onto the ladder to go onto the deck a hand grabs the back of his coat and pulls him back down.
Startled, Laurence falls back and stumbles against two different bodies. He wrenches himself away at once, whirling around. “What is the meaning of this?”
Wash, and – Hadaway? Two of his own officers! “We cannot allow it, Sir,” says Hadaway. “We thought we would apply to you – here, while you were away from it - “
“Allow what?” Laurence asks blankly.
“The beast has to die,” says Wash.
Laurence recoils. Hadaway swiftly steps in. “Sir, it is ill-luck; you can see that plainly enough. It ruined the French ship and it will bring us down, too. If it dies - “
“He has a name, Lieutenant,” says Laurence coldly. “Temeraire is in no way responsible for a gale, or a tropical cold. I must recommend that you put such fanciful notions away at once; I will not tolerate them again.”
But the men only looked at him grimly. “Very well,” says Hadaway.
It does not sound like an agreement.
“I do not think that is a very good story at all,” Temeraire sighs. “The ending was so very predictable.”
“You are fast becoming particular,” Laurence laughs. He closes the book. “I will see if I can find a better tale to entertain you, then; someone must have brought a good novel.”
“Or, oh, you may certainly bring another of those medical texts, or something like,” says Temeraire wistfully. “That was rather more interesting, I think.”
“Something like, perhaps,” Laurence responds wryly. He himself was not particularly fond of the bloody diagrams, though he does not consider himself squeamish. He folds up the book and rises.
He is only halfway across the deck when someone throws him against the railing.
A roar cracks the air, and a hand wraps itself around Laurence's hair and jerks his head at a painful angle. Sea-spray batters his face as he gasps for breath against the painful press of the rail; the full weight of a man presses against his back, and something unmistakeably cold nicks his throat.
“Stay back,” a voice yells. “Stay back, you bloody beast, or I swear I will cut him open!”
The one way to threaten a dragon, Laurence recalls very suddenly, is to threaten their captain. Everyone knows that. But he had forgotten.
The roaring stops abruptly. There is a horrible silence. Then, very meekly, Temeraire's voice floats over the sea wind.
“Please do not hurt him. Please, do anything but hurt him.”
Laurence closes his eyes.
Then he snaps them open, looking again. There are boats coming over from the Amitié, all filled to bursting with crewmen originally from the Reliant as well as the French prisoners.
Wash is on one of the boats; Laurence recognizes him. He was never aboard the Amitié.
“You will stay still,” says the man behind Laurence now. After a moment he realizes the man is speaking not to him, but to Temeraire. “You will not intervene - “
Fanshowe is on the deck – not helping, but calling forth specific hands. He is giving orders to other men to tell the general crew to stay below; Laurence wonders grimly if it would help to give a shout, but he doubts it. The numbers coming to the deck are frightfully large – larger than Laurence would have assumed. Mutiny can happen to any captain under harsh conditions, that is what he has been told; he has never imagined it would happen to him.
I am not the captain, he reminds himself. It is scant comfort.
“We don't mean to be cruel, Mr. Laurence,” Fanshowe begins. Only the knife against his neck keeps Laurence from snorting incredulously. “But we cannot continue with that demon aboard, you understand? He has taken hold of you. Now, I am told it is bad luck to kill a demon – Politt assures me it is horrible luck.”
Bless the man. Laurence highly doubts Politt has had any willing part in this debacle, but for all his careless bluster the doctor is no idiot.
“But we cannot keep you,” Fanshowe finishes. “You will go with your beast on the Amitié. You will do perfectly well there, I am sure. Please know there are no bad feelings, Mr. Laurence – the crew does remember you were a good captain before.”
Laurence starts to laugh.
He cannot help but laugh; perhaps it is some symptom of hysteria, or madness even. His captor seems to think so, certainly. The grip around him loosens and suddenly Laurence finds himself free. He turns around to find Hadaway backing away warily, one blood-stained knife still grasped in his hand.
“These are superstitions,” he says. “A dragon cannot control the weather – and even if one could cause this illness, it would be a paltry sort of ability. No one has died. That is hardly ill-luck.”
“You are not ill,” someone accuses.
“Of course I am not ill; I have stayed apart from the crew for a week, and have spoken only to Temeraire - “
This is clearly the wrong course to take and Laurence stops immediately. But the sudden swing in the crowd still takes him by surprise. He tries again. “Some of you have served with me for years; I implore you to consider the full extent of your actions here today, and for tomorrow.”
They do not meet his eyes. “Tell your dragon to go to the Amitié.”
“We will die there,” Laurence informs him. Fanshowe knows this; they all know this.
After a moment Laurence turns. But abruptly Temeraire throws himself into the air. There are startled yells from the crew. A few grapple for weapons, but they are left standing dumbly as Temeraire wheels away for the lonely, useless shape of the floating Amitié.
“Now you,” Fanshowe says. Hadaway goes to a gunner and accepts a musket.
Laurence stiffens. Before he can protest this new betrayal a voice rises in protest from the assemblage. “I will not let you! I will not let you kill him!”
Midshipman Carver pushes through to stand by Laurence's side. Laurence stares at the young man, baffled. A few people stir uneasily.
“We are not going to kill him,” says Fanshowe impatiently. “We will aim until he is on the Amitié so he does not try any tricks. Do not be a fool.”
“That will still kill him,” says Carver quietly.
“Let God and fortune decide on that.”
But Carver stands his ground. “You will have to kill both of us,” he declares, and Laurence wants to groan; as though that will stop them.
Obviously, it does not.
“We are being perfectly civil, Mr. Laurence,” Fanshowe continues prattling as they are ushered toward the jollyboat. “A fine ship and food is more than is deserved for that creature - “
“You are entirely mad,” says Laurence bluntly. He chooses not to criticize the dubious wisdom of setting loose a French third-rate, lest they stick him in the ocean on a lifeboat and give Temeraire no room at all. But he does say, “How you propose for two men to sail a vessel of this size, in the middle of the ocean, I have not the slightest notion.”
“Then I suggest you turn all your thought toward that problem,” Fanshowe recommends. And with a nod toward midshipman Garnet the boat is loosed and splashes into the ocean.
Carver and Laurence reach the Amitié under Temeraire's anxious eye and behind them the Reliant grows smaller in the distance. Without a crew aboard the French vessel Temeraire, after some contriving, helps them get the jollyboat aboard.
Then as soon as Laurence is on deck he finds himself covered in dragon-hide. Temeraire twines around him jealously, glaring at Carver. “I do not understand what is happening, but I will certainly kill you if you hurt Laurence,” he declares. The poor man pales.
“Carver will not hurt me,” Laurence sighs. “He is here because he attempted to help, Temeraire; it is unkind to be rude after that.”
Temeraire shifts guiltily, but still does not release his hold on Laurence. “Why did they attack you?” he asks, more softly. “We did nothing to hurt them.”
“No; but sometimes no provocation is needed when people become afraid.”
“They attacked you because of me.”
Laurence does not answer.
Temeraire pulls away. His head slumps. “You have lost your ship – everything - “
“It does not signify,” Laurence says. Carver turns to him incredulously; “They mutinied, Temeraire; no amount of good effort on your part could have saved us from such a madness as that. And I shall certainly not want for company.”
Temeraire ducks his head. “That is very nice,” says Carver doubtfully. “But, Sir, we are stranded.”
“Then we had best change that,” he answers at once. Carver now stares at him with open disbelief. “We should begin by checking the supplies, and then the condition of the ship and equipment; I would be surprised if we were left with any extras. Help me lash down the tiller and we will go to the hold.”
The mutineers have not been entirely cruel. There is some freshwater, a little tack, and even half a barrel of salt-pork remaining for them. But Laurence judges that the water can hardly suffice to sustain a dragon for very long.
There are no spare lines, though he finds a little sail-cloth in one of the rooms. The quarters are treated to a perfunctory search and he and Carver turn up a few odds and ends – sewing needles and knives, small tools, leftover clothes and books no one bothered to take away – but the place is eerily empty.
They return to the deck where Temeraire is waiting. The Reliant is no longer visible on the horizon. “I judge that it would be unwise to continue to Madeira, as we may assume to cross paths with the Reliant and possibly find ourselves in an unfortunate situation. Do you concur?”
Carver startles. “Er. Yes, Sir.”
“Although if I were a little bigger, I am sure I could take them,” Temeraire grumbles.
“Santa Cruz may be our best option; I would not feel at ease heading toward the African continent in this condition,” Laurence notes. “The terrain is too uncertain, without more reliable maps. Temeraire, you will need to fish for yourself until we can restock.”
Temeraire agrees enthusiastically. Carver is less sanguine. “Sir, how will we restock, even if we arrive? We have no funds.”
“We must ponder that concern when we arrive; certainly it will not matter if we fail to do so.”
“...Yes, Sir,” is the miserable response.
Having two men means, in theory, that they might each work in twelve-hour watches steering the ship. The reality is that Carver cannot quite be trusted alone, so Laurence catches snatches of sleep on the boy's shift between helping him and wandering the Amitié, trying to patch up what damage he can. Even Temeraire, clever and quick, fast becomes able to lend the boy advice.
And of course there is much more to do on a ship then stare at the ocean, and other work that can only be completed together. Laurence sacrifices efficiency for prudence for awhile, but at some point it will be necessary to trim or change the sails. Most changes occur for the sake of speed or a shifting wind, and Laurence can let the Amitié drop to a pitiable knot-per-hour if he likes; but if a storm blows by there will be no help for it, and how he and Carver will ever get the sail up again after taking it down he cannot imagine.
For this reason the running rigging is checked almost constantly; the standing rigging is checked as well, with resignation. Laurence supposes that if anything happens to the actual mast they may as well pitch themselves into the ocean.
In short, they become quickly exhausted.
Laurence is sleeping on Temeraire's foreleg one day while the dragon tries to work out the intricacies of logical reasoning from a French book – Laurence has inexpertly traced a few proofs into the dirty deck, which they are only washing every few days – when Carver's voice rises over the wind. “Land! Captain, land ahead!”
Laurence falls over.
Joy is his first reaction, followed by confusion; bone-deep denial comes only seconds later. There is no land, not unless his calculations and idea of their position has been wholly and completely inaccurate. Temeraire raises his long neck, looking about with dragon-sharp eyes.
“Land looks very like a ship,” he observes.
And so it does, as Laurence finds when he joins the embarrassed midshipman. He notes the sails grimly. “I think I recognize her – a privateer, Portuguese. And here we look French, with no way of telling them otherwise.” He is quiet a moment.
“Can we ask them for aid, Sir?” Carver asks, slumping to the deck with relief.
But Laurence pauses. He looks back to Temeraire. Two English officers, stranded, the sailors might be willing to aid; would likely aid, given that England might pay them for the service.
A dragon-hatchling they may well sell to the highest bidder.
“We will fight,” he says abruptly.
“Oh, finally,” says Temeraire happily.
“A fight!” Carver yelps. “But, Sir - “
“Go clean the cannons,” says Laurence calmly, and wrestles the tiller from the boy. Looking utterly miserable, Carver at last relents and goes.
Without hands to trim the sails it is hard going to turn the ship in preparation for battle, but of course they cannot hope to outdistance the privateer. By this point their slowness will be quite apparent; a weakened ship is far too tempting a prize not to risk, even if the other captain cannot yet know the cause of their troubles.
But the Amitié has an advantage of her own.
“Temeraire, how fast can you swim?”
Temeraire is flapping his wings eagerly. At the question he turns to give Laurence a quizzical look. “Quite fast,” he says, which is not very helpful. “Why?”
Laurence explains, and within moments Temeraire is slipping soundlessly into the water through the leeward side. He vanishes under an ocean swell, only the raised bump of his snout nudging up through the waterline every few seconds.
It will be another twenty minutes, at least, before the privateers will be close enough to fire; given the Amitié's evident difficulties they may risk closing the gap even further. Laurence swiftly rigs the tiller and heads below.
Carver looks up when he enters the upper deck, then heaves himself at one of the carronades. “Sir, the wheels on these things are not as useful as they look,” he says sadly.
Frowning, Laurence joins him in trying to slot the carronade's muzzle out of the gun port. For a moment there seems to be no use at in the attempt; then with slow, aching increments the gun moves, and after the first few inches the wheels turn more smoothly so the gun can be put into place.
They fit two more carronades into the ports. The larger guns will be impossible to move without more men. “Make your shots count,” Laurence advises.
Carver looks as though he is seriously considering the merits of shoving himself out one of the gun ports.
Laurence returns to the deck, unlashes the tiller, and waits.
Cannons are notoriously difficult to aim, and the first wave of the broadside falls short of the Amitié. Or, most of it; there's a distinct crash from below, and Laurence can only hope they aren't taking water. “Fire!” Laurence shouts, hoping Carver can hear him over the roar and splash of the enemy fire.
A pause. There is one brief, short boom close at hand, and a cannonball tears over the privateer-vessel. A pause. Boom.
Laurence shifts, eyes scanning the ocean. The enemy vessel is turning for another broadside even as they maneuver closer. They don't seem to be in a particular hurry. Their weakness must have been perceived, because a signal ensign is already demanding their surrender. Boom.
Aiming high is not a bad thing. They hit the ship's foremast – a glancing blow, but it whips across the rigging-lines and causes damage enough. It makes a distraction, too; Laurence straightens when a dark shape throws itself out the water, clawing up onto the privateer's bow. Temeraire.
He can hear the shouts and yells clear across the ocean. Temeraire glints black and pale green, frothed in a tangled layer of seaweed. Laurence half-dreads the muffled retort of a musket – but of course there has been no sign of a boarding party, and of course the privateers are as-yet unarmed. He watches Temeraire snatch up a few men, his growls loud enough to be heard even on the Amitié.
After just a few minutes, all activity from the privateer stops. A meek flag of surrender rises into the air, and Laurence calls Carver back to the deck.
“I did not like that much, and I am sorry,” says Temeraire regretfully. The privateer crew looks blank and terrified, but even so one or two shoot him looks of complete disbelief. “It felt quite unpleasant and tricky, like when our crew attacked Laurence and threatened him so that I would leave. But you did shoot first,” he adds with just reproach.
The Portuguese ship is a brig, the Ira. Her captain seems sullenly resentful when Laurence arrives and Temeraire heaves his jollyboat from the water.
“I suppose we are your prize, then,” says the captain tiredly. His English is lightly accented. “Unless you will accept a compensation?”
“Under present circumstances, it would hardly benefit us,” says Laurence. “No; I have quite another arrangement in mind. But first, what is your name?”
“Captain Diniz Araullo.”
“I am Captain William Laurence, lately of the HMS Reliant. There has been a certain misfortune, and I and my midshipman have been misplaced; I am afraid we are underhanded at the moment. We will require the use of several of your men in crewing the Amitié.
Men around the deck bristle. Araullo narrows his eyes. “And why should we agree to that?” he asks slowly, perhaps sensing some advantage. His gaze flicks to Temeraire as though reassessing his threat.
Laurence looks between the Amitié and the Ira with a critical eye. He looks at Temeraire. Then he turns to the captain.
“We are headed ultimately to England,” he says. “But there is something we must do before even considering such a voyage.”
“We need another ship,” says Laurence. “A bigger one. But after our journey is done, I do not see what use we will have for it.”
Finally, the captain smiles. “Perhaps we can find an understanding after all.”
The privateers offer up likely spots to search for both the French, or perhaps pirating or slaving ships, with alarming rapidity. As it happens their eagerness is unnecessary; a pirate ship is spotted within two days.
Brigs are overmanned as a rule for their size due to the burdensome nature of the vessels, so the Amitié now seems much closer to being fully-fitted. Temeraire still insists on keeping Laurence close – which he in truth does not mind, not yet trusting to the honor of the economic privateers – and so he is on the deck when the lookout in the crow's-nest shouts an alarm. “Enemy ship! Pirates on the horizon!”
“Beat to quarters,” Laurence says; the order barely needs to be given. Men scramble by in organized chaos. He is disappointed, but not surprised, when the lookout reports that the pirates are fleeing.
“They are running?” Temeraire demands. “Why? They have not even seen me yet.”
Laurence stifles a smile. “We have two ships, dear, to their one – most pirates will flee from an honest fight. But, as you say, we have an advantage over them.” He places his temporary First-mate Nunes in command, then walks over to where Temeraire is fidgeting in eagerness. He barely fits himself against the dragon's back before they are in the air.
Temeraire flies faster than he ever has, and the wind tears at Laurence's cheeks. They gain on the pirate-ship with alarming speed; a brigantine, Laurence sees. “Higher, Temeraire!” he calls. “We must be above their guns, should they have time to load - “
Laurence almost goes sliding down Temeraire's back as they twist higher into the sky. The vessel draws very close; on the deck people are rushing around with guns and swords, making rows, as the ship's black flags billows in the wind.
“Astern, there, there is a space - “
“Yes, I see it,” says Temeraire, and dives.
Panicked shots ring out. Most of them go wide, and Temeraire swings over the deck low enough to sweep a foreleg and send half a dozen men crashing into the water. He gains the air again and wheels around; someone is shouting, “Un canhão, un canhão!” A cannon.
“Quickly, Temeraire - “
Temeraire roars during the next pass, and Laurence feels his bones rattle with the force of it. The sound, or perhaps the sight of a dragon bearing down on them, seems to quell the sailors briefly; the firing falters, and five more men are flung overboard. Someone gets a lucky slash at Temeraire's flank and he snarls.
Laurence twists around to survey the damage. As he looks he catches a glint of silver. “The cannon, Temeraire! Down!”
Temeraire twists into a lurching roll just as the cannon fires. The shot passes him harmlessly; Laurence is less fortunate.
The spin flings him through the air, left grappling without an anchor. Flying has given way to free-fall; he catches a glimpse of the chaotic brown and black pirate ship and then reaches toward the endless ocean.
Something snatches him from the hold of gravity. Laurence gasps as his ribs are compressed. “I am sorry, I am sorry!” Temeraire cries. The dragon cups his torso with one careful hand, then wheels back to the pirate ship and roars again.
The tiller, Laurence sees, is savaged; in the distance the Ira and the Amitié are approaching swiftly.
The shots taper down and then stop completely.
“...Laurence,” says Temeraire critically as the surrender is given, “I believe this ship will be too small.”
Laurence casts his eyes over the brigantine. He blinks. Sighs.
“...Well,” he says. “Capturing another ship will be even easier with three vessels, I expect.”
(As it happens, he is quite correct; the next pirate they encounter surrenders as soon as Temeraire appears.)
“I see you have some use at all,” says Araullo amiably, much reconciled to Laurence's presence after the easy capture of two ships. “Though if you are looking for ships large enough to carry a heavy-weight, you may have to seek out a dragon-transport, and those are not easy to find.”
Laurence sighs. It would hardly be right to let the pirates go free so that they can pillage from more innocents, and yet keeping them under his power sits ill with him. At least he has settled the matter of Araullo's payment; each ship carried a sizeable quantity of gold, some of which will be used for resupply but the rest of which went to the Ira as compensation for use of the crew and services rendered.
Araullo says he has no intention of betraying their deal; apparently, Laurence is 'interesting'. It is a somewhat new appellation which he is not sure he likes.
Dealing with the newest pirate-captain must now be a priority, so with some foreboding he bids Araullo farewell and calls for Temeraire.
Together they fly to the Laiska Joutsen, a fine Xebec,where the captain is waiting to discuss terms with him. Laurence... does not quite expect what he finds.
“Am I so beautiful you must stare?” asks Captain Viivi Peura with heavy sarcasm.
“No – I, that is, of course you are – I - “ Laurence fumbles hopelessly for a moment, which at least has the benefit of making Peura soften - if only because she is snorting at his foolishness.
She cannot be called a handsome woman by any standard of imagination; her hair, long and dark, runs in scraggly tangles to her waist and is held in place by a loose clip; her face is marked with the pocked dents which signify a survivor of smallpox, and her hands are covered in a number of small scars. But her eyes are quick and small, fiercely bright, and she watches him closely.
Her ship is, in fact, manned entirely by women. He supposes that there is not necessarily a reason to be shocked by this; certainly women just as much as men may be seduced by the same issues of society, the same base drives and desires which produce piracy.
She rolls her eyes slightly when he says, “late of His Majesty's Navy,” but listens, and tilts her head at the news that he is looking to find yet another ship. Her eyes flick over the four vessels in appraisal.
“Well, I suppose you can do it,” she says abruptly. “We have had some ill-luck, anyway; and you beat us fair enough. Maybe a dragon is just what we need for some real success.”
Laurence hesitates – he and Temeraire are hardly going to assist in piracy, and the notion cannot be supported. But a ragged cheer goes up the deck as this idea is parroted. The captain's word, it seems, has the weight of law.
He turns to other matters. “Are you not concerned that, traveling with a group of men, some of your women might find themselves compromised - ?”
The question shows itself to be absurd as soon as he says it. The woman gives him a grin that is all teeth. “Oh, I am sure they will be as compromised as they like. And if they don't like, we have our ways of dealing with handsy sailors.”
Behind the pirate-captain her first mate promptly presses a hand down her own breeches. Laurence sputters. The first-mate pulls out a tiny, serrated knife.
Captain Peura smiles pleasantly.
“...Very good,” Laurence chokes. “I am sure you know your own business, then.”
“I am sure we will make excellent profits together, Captain Laurence.”
“What made you do it?” Laurence finally asks one day. With the supplemental supplies of the other ships they are not in such dire straits but will nonetheless be landing in Santa Cruz soon. Temeraire has grown to over twenty feet in length and is becoming difficult to fit aboard the ships.
Midshipman Carver flushes and avoids his eyes. “I do not know what you mean, Sir,” he mutters.
“Duty asks for much; it does not demand that you spurn your fellows, lose your life, and make yourself an exile.”
“I could not let them do it, Captain. You harnessed Temeraire when I was too afraid; it could easily have been me.”
“So because I took the crew's blame, you had to join me so that two of us might suffer?” Laurence asks dryly.
Laurence sighs. The man has more honor than sense, perhaps, but honor is something. “I do thank you,” he says. “And I appreciate the intent very much - and, indeed, the company. I expect it would have been a hard time of it with just Temeraire and I.”
Carver looks at him askance.
“Sir... You hardly needed me, I think,” he says. “Look about you; you have already taken charge of three other ships, and two other captains who are... respectable as captains, if not respectable in society.”
“Three captains,” Laurence corrects.
Carver resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Ugh.”
“Captain Ferreira has clearly earned the respect of his crew,” Laurence begins patiently.
“His pirate crew,” is the impatient retort. Carver is becoming a bit lax in his manners, Laurence notes with disapproval. “Also, just because he's a pirate doesn't mean he has to be... such a pirate.”
Unfortunately, Carver's meaning is perfectly clear. Captain Ferreira of the Noite Vermelho has a peg leg, which in itself is no fault to him; he also has several garish tattoos, squints constantly, and growls “Arrr” between sentences when he talks through the swinging locks of his beard. Captain Peura had looked half-incredulous when they met, and the impression has not improved.
Nevertheless, the man's crew seems besotted with him, and Laurence is inclined to take that as a measure of a man's worth moreso than any outward appearance. He will withhold judgment.
“Anyway, I am glad to help you and Temeraire, Sir. I am glad you are his captain; those breeding grounds are not pleasant, you know. My uncle spoke of one he saw in Russia. They bound the wings of the dragons so they couldn't fly, he said, and no men ever went in there. They kept the dragons half-starved – it is not a fate I would want for him.”
Laurence sobers. “If that is so, then I am glad indeed for what circumstances allowed.” The thought does not bear for one to dwell on it.
They are due to make Santa Cruz in two days. Temeraire is equal parts excited and anxious at the prospect of sighting land for the first time in his short life. Though, Laurence is reluctant to warn him, the reception may not be warm.
“Many people have never seen a dragon, Temeraire; fewer welcome dragons into common society. I will appeal to the local governor to see if you may have liberty of the island, but in any case I am sure it will be an experience.”
Temeraire wants to be assured that the island-goers will not be a threat; he is still somewhat paranoid, and Laurence fears that the mutiny has been a scarring experience. “Perhaps if they are afraid of me I may accompany you to speak with the governor, so they will not hurt you?” Temeraire suggests. “Or, better, we may take the island as we did the ships, and certainly no one could hurt us then.”
Nearby, borrowed crewmen from the privateer and pirating vessels perk up. Laurence cringes. “No, dear. That would be pi – that would be a villainous act,” he amends. “Would you not find it offensive, if someone were to steal all that you loved? If...” Laurence grasps for an example. “If someone were to steal the Amitié, as they did the Reliant?”
Temeraire considers this. “It would be very unpleasant,” he says, glancing around slit-eyed. “...But I believe I would be quite well if only I had you, Laurence.”
The words are said very simply. Laurence pauses. “Oh,” he says quietly - and then clears his throat. “Of course you are all that is dear to me; nevertheless it is important to respect property.”
“But we have not respected the property of the Noite Vermelho, or...”
“There is quite a difference in fair battle,” says Laurence hastily. “I shall explain the difference later.” At this rate Temeraire will develop into a proper brigand, and through no fault of his own. “In any case, do not be distressed over Santa Cruz; we will be quite safe.”
“But if we are not, I should like to be better at fighting,” Temeraire says. “For a moment I was quite certain during our attack against the Noite Vermelho that you had fallen to the ocean, Laurence. It was not at all a pleasant notion.”
“I quite agree. We may try to fashion a harness, perhaps, but you are still growing, and I cannot see that we have any of the proper tools for the task. You must be more maneuverable than what is permitted while we fly together.”
“I am sure we can be perfectly maneuverable together,” says Temeraire stubbornly. “It took me several attempts to learn the trick of flying; surely we need only learn how to fly together.”
“Perhaps we may try?” Temeraire asks. “I will fly very low and try hard to catch you if you fall.”
“How very encouraging,” says Laurence wryly. But he agrees, and stands up. Temeraire's back is broad by now, and a man could easily walk up and down the length of him. For a sailor accustomed to walking the rails, it is an easy task to balance even as Temeraire bobs with the beat of his wings.
They do indeed fly low and carefully over the ocean. Laurence accustoms himself to the rhythm of flight by walking slowly up and down the dragon's spine, feeling the half-familiar planes of muscle shifting under his feet. The wind makes his eyes sting.
Then there is a telling tensing in Temeraire's shoulders; all at once he twists to the side. Laurence jumps and runs over the turning black hide as it shifts under his feet. He stumbles when Temeraire moves too fast – they are still going forward – but it is similar to balancing on rolling barrels, like he tried doing as a cabin-boy while the midshipmen watched and laughed. He was always excellent at that, too, and when Temeraire smooths back into a straight flight he throws himself upon the dragon's back gasping with exhilaration.
“Oh, oh, are you well?” Temeraire asks worriedly. Laurence grins.
“Very well, dear,” he says. “But we must mind your wings better next time – I believe we need more practice.”
Temeraire wholeheartedly agrees.
Nunes – a borrowed officer from the Ira and Laurence's acting First Mate – seems very uneasy about the prospect of having Laurence ashore in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Laurence is not sure why. “Surely you have not been talking to Temeraire,” he observes, examining his cravat one final time. His coat cannot quite be called respectable, but under present circumstances it is the most that can be managed.
“No, Sir,” Nunes says – a blatant lie, because the crew has in fact been warming very well to the amiable dragon. “However – you are aware that this land is a holding of Spain? That they should be most displeased if there – if there is a quarrel over it?”
“Yes, just as I told Temeraire.”
Nunes seems a bit relieved. “We cannot, of course, hope to quarrel with an entire country.”
“I cannot imagine any circumstance where we should like to.” Save for in the business of the war, of course; but Laurence cannot in good conscience direct the other ships into any engagement on behalf of England.
Nunes pauses. Squints at him. “...Yes,” he says, and to Laurence's bewilderment he now seems both suspicious and resigned. “Well, I suppose that is the most I might hope for, Sir?”
It certainly seems like a question. “We are only here for a brief visit,” Laurence reminds.
Nunes sighs. “Excuse me, Sir. I have some exigencies to make – drills – nothing to fret about...”
Captain Araullo seems perfectly content to let Laurence arrange matters, and Ferreira, so far as Laurence can tell, has set his crew loose into the docks for whatever devilry they might please. Ferreira has probably joined them at these activities, too. Peura is therefore the only one to join Laurence on-shore, apparently heedless of the stares she attracts.
After speaking with the dockmaster, a messenger leads them to the small townhouse where the colonial governor is at work. They wait for half an hour to speak with him, during which time Peura inspects her surroundings with increasing amusement while a desk-clerk watches her nervously.
“I should enter these places in a legal sort of way more often, I think,” she tells Laurence when they are given some fresh tropical juice as they wait. “How very polite everyone is.”
Governor Santana finally greets them with some irritation. “Well, now, what do you want? I do not have the time to greet every captain that comes through, and if you want a loan, there are people for that on the docks.”
“Sir, no,” says Laurence. “We will not prevail upon your hospitality more than is required; however, we thought to ask your permission for my dragon to make use of the island.”
Santana pauses, looking at Laurence with a face grown suddenly pale. “Dragon?” he asks.
“Oh,” Temeraire sighs; “They are all hiding; it does not make for such an exciting visit. Although I do like this land,” he adds, jumping experimentally. “It does not seem to move much at all,” which would be rather worrisome if Laurence were not so familiar with the strange sensation, when one leaves the ship after a long voyage, that the ground is constantly swaying.
At perhaps thirty feet Temeraire does not look so fearsome to Laurence, but he supposes any dragon might be intimidating to an island population entirely unused to the species. He is becoming notable cramped on the Amitié and seems glad of a chance to stretch his legs and not just his wings.
“That goat was also very pleasant. Are we leaving very soon, Laurence?”
“Most of our supplies have been purchased; we will wait for a good wind in the morning.” A Sunday, luckily. “However, there is some other business which I would address while we are here. News is necessarily scarce on the sea, but I believe there is a Spanish vessel in port as well.”
“Do none of the other captains know interesting things?” Temeraire wants to know.
Laurence smiles. “Nothing of the war, dear; I daresay it does not concern them, but a proper military commander should know something. Will you join me?”
Temeraire will, of course, so they proceed together to where the Spanish Tranquilidad lies in port. It does not take long to flag an officer and request a word of news with the captain; he has come running at the mere sight of Temeraire, apparently.
They speak in stilted French, which Captain Sala knows better than Laurence. “Yes, yes, the war; but why do you assume our news is more recent than yours? We have been stranded here for two months,” he adds, much to Laurence's dismay. “We have been trying to find the proper funds to supply passage to Spain, but we are not quite there.”
“But the governor - “
“Ha! This is a Castilian island, and Spain is far away. Why should they help a poor Andalusian sailor? They will turn a deaf ear to complaints from the king, and he will do nothing. You are English, you do not understand.”
Laurence is doubtful; Santa Cruz has not ejected him, despite Lord Nelson's attack on the island years before. He says as much, and Sala scoffs.
“Profit is a good motive – and you have brought a dragon.”
“But we would not - “ Laurence glances over his shoulder to where Temeraire is preening, obviously pleased to be such a deterrence. He lets the words trail into silence.
Sala picks up the conversation. “Well, I wish you luck on your voyage; but if I might entreat you to send letters for us, should you care to make a stop by our country, I am sure all my men would be thankful.”
Laurence can do better than that. His conscience can hardly let so many men remain stranded indefinitely. “Our complement presents an odd sight, and I am sure the Spanish patrols will question us on the way to England,” he says. “If you will sail with us it would do much to aid our passage. We have enough funds to pay your way.” That is, Ferreira and Peura do; but they surrendered their gold after being captured and therefore have no say in the matter.
Sala looks stunned. After a moment, he nods. “I could hardly hope for a better offer,” he says. “ - But, if I am to offer you safe passage, I must ask; what are you doing here?”
The Tranquilidad follows the other ships with minimal protest from the others; there is safety in numbers, and, Puera points out dryly, they are gathering some impressive numbers.
They still need to find a vessel large enough to accommodate Temeraire across the ocean, however. Laurence fears that within a week he will start to outsize the capabilities of the Amitié – it is two or three weeks yet to England. Sala's schloop-of-war is the smallest addition to their complement – no help whatsoever to this problem – but there are always ships sailing with the tradewinds, so now that they are back on course it is not unlikely they will find some vessel which they can bribe or appeal for aid. “Or conquer, apparently,” Peura had said with minimal sourness when this plan was relayed.
Mostly, Laurence is concerned that they will not find such a vessel; the ocean is a wide place, and they could easily sail for a week or more seeing no one, much less a ship of appropriate dimensions. But constructing such a vessel on Santa Cruz will take months, and he is unwilling to leave himself and Temeraire stranded at the mercy of a foreign government. This risk, at least, they will take; they may turn around with the Amitié and bid the other ships farewell if the search proves futile.
Two days of sailing shows calm seas, then three; the wind holds clear, but it is little solace. Filled with restless energy, Laurence leaves Nunes with charge of the ship and takes Temeraire to the air. At today's measurement he is forty-three feet, and the rate of his growth is only becoming more dramatic.
Temeraire has already eaten today, so they fly low at first and practice their usual maneuvers. Temeraire now wears a single band of black leather around his neck, nearly invisible against his hide, fitted with loops for Laurence to grasp if the dragon needs to hover vertically or twist quickly. Otherwise, he finds no need for a harness. He has heard of dragon-boarders and has determined that any attacks on Temeraire will go ill without a harness for enemies to use to advantage, though he does not share this reasoning with Temeraire.
After nearly half an hour it amuses Temeraire to break from maneuvers, flying high and peering back at the distant figure of their ships with a typical, draconic sense of possession. Laurence, however, leans forward over Temeraire's shoulder.
“Fly forward, if you would, dear – there, do you see that?”
“Is that a ship, Laurence?”
“A large one possibly. Go closer.”
Temeraire interprets this to mean he should dive very suddenly, and Laurence ducks against the dragon's neck as the wind whips at his face. As the ship becomes more clear he cannot regret anything, however. There are distant shouts as the crew presumably notices them.
“Let us fly back, Temeraire,” he suggests. “We will need to discuss our options with the others and change our course – we are close enough we shall not lose them even should they flee.”
Temeraire agrees, so they return at a breakneck pace. It is quicker to gather the captains for a meeting using Temeraire than by sending out jollyboats or using a gangplank, though only Peura and Ferreira seem pleased by it.
Everyone has a different opinion about how they should act. For example:
“We are certainly not firing upon a merchanter,” Laurence says.
“I hardly see why not, when we need what they have. We could take them,” Araullo adds.
Ferreira looks thoughtful. Sala gives them exasperated glares. “I am sure they will take payment,” he says, with an expression like he is restraining himself from saying more.
“Though 'tis a pretty vessel, arrrr,” is Ferreira's contribution. Laurence gives him a flat stare and the pirate's growl trails away into awkward silence.
(Peura rolls her eyes at all of them.)
The captains have returned to their respective ships by the time the foreign vessel is well within range. Laurence gives orders for a flag to be raised to show their peaceable intentions.
“So we... don't mean to fire on them?” Nunes asks.
Laurence isn't sure why his First-Mate assumes he is going to attack everyone. “No. We are not.”
Nunes looks doubtful. “Well, good, Sir – but you may want to tell that to Captain Araullo.”
Surprised, Laurence turns to see that the privateering ship is turning as though to pursue the junk and get into position for a broadside. He runs to find a signal-ensign.
It is probably due to the fact that the pirating vessels are being perfectly peaceable – probably expecting repercussions from Temeraire if they behave out of line, Laurence expects – that Araullo grudgingly returns to position. To Laurence's dismay, however, the Chinese ship continues to approach them. As a group they are necessarily slowed, so it is not difficult; what he cannot understand is why any single ship would desire to come upon a greater, unknown force at all.
Soon the ship is close enough for good inspection. It is a junk – a war junk, though not truly decked out for any long bouts of fighting despite the name, which only denotes its several cannons. More importantly the ship is prodigiously large, probably capable of carrying even a single Regal Copper on its deck without trouble.
In fairness, it would be very easy to begin a bout at this range. But quite unethical, of course.
“A gangplank, Sir?” Nunes asks. “Or will you go on Temeraire?”
“I will see if we can get close enough. They may fear an attack, but hopefully we can prove our peaceable intentions as our ships have made no move to be hostile.”
Temeraire himself is glad to be in the air again; in moments they are hovering over the Chinese vessel, and Laurence watches the foreign crew cautiously for signs of alarm. The Chinese crew is also watching them.
And they are... pointing, and cheering?
“Oh, excellent,” says Temeraire, and when they continue to wave at him he follows the gestures to land on the junk's deck before Laurence can voice an objection.
The cheers grow louder. Around them some of the Chinese are throwing themselves on the ground and bowing.
There are cries first of “Qin-Lung! Qin Lung!” and then, “Tien-Lung!”, after which the noise becomes practically a roar. Actually, some of the younger crewmen do seem to be roaring at each other excitedly. Laurence blinks.
“Well,” he tells Temeraire, “I do not believe they are afraid of you.”
The Chinese captain, Pan Zhong, is eventually identified by virtue of the fact that he seems to be the only person not fawning over Temeraire and is instead watching them very suspiciously. Unfortunately there is a problem; namely, there is no one among Laurence's company who can speak Chinese, and no one aboard the junk speaks English.
After prevailing upon the other captain's and their crews Peura informs him that she knows a little of the tongue. She accompanies him to the ship to serve as a translator.
Pan Zhong speaks very earnestly. Laurence turns to Peura.
“...I mostly know the trading words,” she says apologetically. “And the curses.”
Nevertheless they gather eventually that the crew was headed to Finland but, certainly, the captain is very willing to oblige them with use of his vessel - he is willing indefinitely, and spurns all offers of payment. Laurence is baffled.
“And whyever are they in this area?” Laurence wants to know. The usual route from a Chinese vessel to any of the European nations, to his knowledge, would be found to the west of their position. Their company has not properly come upon the tradewinds.
The Chinese captain gives a response that makes Peura stop and stare.
Shaking her head, Peura says, “They lost their navigator of sickness at the Cape. Four months ago. That's some poor sailing, there.”
“Four months from here to the Cape?”
“These idiots are lucky to be alive,” she says, half-impressed. The Chinese captain looks at her suspiciously, and she smiles back with a face that is all-innocence.
Whatever the motivation of the Chinese, their kindness is a stroke of good fortune Laurence will not turn away. Temeraire assumes his new berth at once and everyone seems well-satisfied with this arrangement.
“I believe the language is not so hard,” Temeraire confides later. “There is a certain pattern to it – and I do wish to know what they are saying.”
“Some of it can certainly be understood,” Laurence say mildly. Two nearby officers are pointing at them and whispering earnestly.
Of course, they are not the only subjects of conversation. Even among the East, Laurence notes, news of the war must be strong; he hears the muttered word 'Napoleon' quite often, often accompanied by sidelong glances at himself.
He is also surprised to find that there are a few women among the crew. He has heard rumor that Chinese women are notoriously reclusive, but these ones seem perfectly bold. It is hard for him to understand their purpose around the ship, though sometimes they seem to be working. He appeals to Peura the next day to come aboard and translate again.
“She is saying... something military?” Peura listens again as the Chinese woman rephrases her sentence, speaking slowly and clearly. “Military, no military... Oh, I believe the first word was, ex-military. Or something like. Yes, she and the other women are ex-military. I assume they are security, then.”
Laurence is very dubious of this translation. “You cannot be serious.”
Peura pauses, narrowing her eyes at him. “Why not?” she demands.
Laurence hesitates. “That is - how very fascinating,” he amends, going for the better part of valor. “I will have to learn more about their military traditions.”
Peura leans back, content.
Temeraire eyes the Chinese with half-pleased bemusement out of his peripheral vision, as though trying to pretend he is not ridiculously flattered by the way they admire him and murmur to each other. Laurence tries not to let his amusement show.
“Laurence, is there a particular reason you are eager to return to England?”
“A particular reason?”
“You continue to say we must return to England so that we might join the Aerial Corps; you explained what that is, on the Reliant, but not why it is so very important. I do not at all see why we should not stay on the ocean; I believe this ship will do quite well,” he adds, eyeing the fawning crew rather more than the vessel.
“For one, this vessel is not ours but has been graciously lent to our aid. And it is the duty of every English dragon to fight in the war against France.”
“But I am not an English dragon. They say I am Chinese.”
“...That is true,” Laurence cannot deny. “But you hatched on an English vessel, in English hands; and I am English.”
Temeraire makes a doubtful sound.
Grasping, Laurence adds, “The war is a very good, a very just cause, dear. We would fight to save many people from the tyranny of Napoleon.”
“These people think you are Napoleon, so I suppose he cannot be that bad.”
Taken aback, Laurence asks, “I beg your pardon?”
“They seem to think you are Napoleon,” Temeraire explains brightly. “And if you two are so similar I am sure he must not be so unpleasant - “
“Oh dear,” says Laurence.
Ignoring the continued skepticism of the Chinese regarding his real identity (“They are quite certain you're the Emperor – though you don't look much like any royal to me,” Peura says) they continue to sail for England. The Chinese seem subtly relieved to know where they're actually going; it is not pleasant to be lost in the middle of the ocean.
Temeraire enjoys his new audience. The Chinese applaud every time he emerges from the ocean clutching a new fish, and it seems that in their country dragons eat cooked food, because several of their chefs insist on making arrangements of rice and spices with the meat. Laurence is dubious, but Temeraire proclaims himself delighted with the efforts, and certainly his growth still seems alarmingly accelerated.
Several days after the run-in finds Temeraire swimming languidly behind the ships; every now and again he tries valiantly to fly straight from the water into the air, but it is an awkward maneuver. “Ducks do it,” Laurence tells him from his perch upon the dragon's back. It is a doubtful sort of encouragement. “It could prove to be a useful tactic one day.”
“Oh, I am sure I can do it, only when I try to push away, I sink, and my wings are very wet.”
It is after several days of this sort of practice that the Tranquilidad signals that they have spotted a ship.
Having no interest in pursuing another vessel, Laurence confirms the vessel's allegiances – flying Portuguese colors, but an Independent, the lookout tells him – and is quite ready to ignore the vessel. He stays in his spot on Temeraire's back until Nunes starts to signal for his input from the Amitié, at which point he sighs and convinces the dragon to take him to the frigate.
Temeraire neatly deposits him on the deck, then swims along the ship with his head peering over the railing. “Is there a problem?” Laurence asks.
“Sir, Mr. Rossem reports that the Portuguese ship is requesting aid.”
Laurence frowns. He will not ignore any request for assistance. “Detach the Tranquilidad and Amitié to meet them,” he decides, picking the faster ships. “Temeraire?”
“Oh, I would very much like to meet more men,” says the dragon eagerly.
Nunes clears his throat uncomfortably. “Sir, there is one aspect of the situation – that is – something you should know - “
“They are slavers,” the man says lamely.
Laurence pauses. “...I see.”
“What does that mean?” Temeraire asks.
Laurence pauses. “Perhaps you had best remain behind, dear.
Temeraire grumbles but agrees with minimal convincing
An unpleasant thought forming, Laurence brings two surgeons along with as many men as can be crammed into the two jollyboats that go over to the ship. It's bow proclaims it the Smiling Man. He grimaces.
They are met on the deck by a small, relieved crew. The captain springs forward and greets Laurence warmly. “Ah, Captain, how very happy we are to see you! We will be grateful, endlessly grateful, if we can purchase food from your ships; more grateful yet, if we can purchase space and the use of one of your vessels, perhaps that big one; our holds are crowded and we have been starving out for a week now,” confirming his worst suspicions.
“And yet you look very well fed,” Laurence says. “No, do not explain yourself. I will have your sword, if you please.”
His own men draw out their guns at the order; the foreign captain stops and pales in anger. “You coward,” he blurts. “When we have invited you aboard as friends - “
“It is no cowardice to shoot a rabid dog which will not stand down. Your sword, Sir.”
The man gives it.
The boarding party swarms through the deck and takes possession of the crew. “All clear up top, Sir,” reports an officer.
They find roughly two-hundred men and women crammed among the hold, though only half a dozen children. Laurence does not dwell upon this too deeply.
Striking the chains is a tense business. The men stir and watch the Amitié's crew suspiciously, barely moving or murmuring as they sort through the task. The woman are bound in some cases with loose shackles, but the men are bound together, side-by-side, and are hardest to free.
When everyone is free a slow thread of noise begins to rise and fall. Laurence glances at the other officers warily.
“...Perhaps we should show them the deck?” Carver offers. “To show they have liberty of the place?”
After a few men have come into the open air to no harm there is a great rush, and soon everyone is squinting around and staring at the officers. They cluster together and it is evident that several of them are counting the numbers of white officers. These numbers, of course, are few.
Then Temeraire peeks over the railing. “Are you finally done?” he demands. “Captain Sala is becoming concerned.”
“Oh, dear,” someone says.
Laurence does not want to use Temeraire as some sort of intimidation tactic – at least not in this case – but when he looks back the freed Africans do not seem frightened at all. They stare between him and Temeraire wide-eyed but do not seem inclined toward panic. There is more talking; several men are practically shouting at each other.
Finally, one men steps forward and bows his head very slightly – not to Laurence, but to Temeraire.
“Oh,” says the dragon. “Hello, can we help now?” Temeraire bows his head too, which is considerably more difficult, but the man seems satisfied.
They gather eventually that his name is Chifundo Abiodun. Not everyone seems to agree that Abiodun should be a representative of the ship – there are a few resentful mutters – but as these cannot be understood, and he seems to have a majority support, Laurence focuses on communicating with him. Temeraire in this instance is no small assistance; it is a sad thing when a dragon appears more naturally trustworthy than a man, he cannot help but think.
Inquiry with the Guineaman's officers informs Laurence that the ex-slaves originated from what westerners call the Gambia; they do not know the tribe, and Abiodun seems reluctant to say. Laurence is not sure how much he succeeds in speaking to Abiodun about their intentions, but the man does not protest when several officers from the Amitié and then the Tranquilidad stay behind to help direct the ship. The extended supplies brought over from the other ships probably go a long way toward softening the newcomers.
The ships' doctors are unenthusiastic about what they have found aboard. The doctor from the Tranquilidad pleads rest, but those from both the Amitié and the Ira remain with the ship even hours after the chains have been struck; privately they say there is much work and much recovery to be done, but most of that is a matter of time and rest.
When all arrangements are made Laurence reluctantly relinquishes the vessel to the mingled command of a Spanish sailor, Vicario, and Abiodun. Carver also elects to remain behind, somewhat anxiously, and makes his way around the deck trying to speak with everyone in what Laurence is starting to suspect may be several different languages.
As they return to the Amitié Temeraire asks what will happen now.
“We must return to the Gambia and the general region of these people's homes; I fear that many people sold into the trade are often captured by soldiers of surrounding territories, but if their own people survive in any part I cannot imagine where else they would wish to go. If it is not safe for them there, we will find a dwelling suitable for everyone.”
Temeraire seems quite doubtful of this prospect. “And if it is not safe, and there is no place suitable?
“...Africa is a large continent,” Laurence says. “Some of them must have kin or other connections. We will worry about that as complications arise. Do not be concerned, Temeraire.”
Temeraire does not seem comforted.
Their newfound prisoners sail with the Amitié because Laurence does not quite trust to their safety on the Smiling Man. He himself stays with Temeraire on the Chinese junk.
At some point he realizes he does not know the vessel's name.
“Oh, it is the Wenglong; is that not nice?” Temeraire asks. “The captain says it must be a sign of good fortune and prophecy that they have found me.”
Laurence does not see how these things relate in the least. “How so?”
“They say I am a Tien-Lung,” Temeraire says. “A very rare type of dragon.”
“An Oriental breed, I suppose; and I am sure among the very best,” he assures, purely to see Temeraire swell with pride.
“It means Celestial,” Temeraire adds.
“An excellent name.” He still fails to see the connection, until Temeraire adds, “The name means 'Regal dragon'.”
“You are getting vain,” he says, amused, but Temeraire only preens. “I am glad they have been able to tell you something, though I am sure we will be able to learn more about your breed when we reach England.”
“Yes, when we reach England,” Temeraire sighs. “You speak of so little else, and yet I can scarcely imagine when it will happen; we have already been delayed again, though of course it is no one's fault. Except those awful slavers, of course,” he adds.
The addition of the Africans means that they suddenly have many more mouths than expected. Slavers, Laurence finds, do not expect to feed their passengers with more than the bare necessities to keep them alive – if that much. With their depletion of stores it becomes necessary to head toward Gibraltar where they will be stopping at a port to restock before swinging back down toward the African coast.
Captain Sala is less than pleased with the tremendous detour this whole route will cause; going to the Gambia and back up to Europe will set them back at least a month. Laurence tells him to go alone to Spain – it a short trip from their position - but he declines to separate from the convoy, citing Laurence's payment of his passage and the fact that his crew could well still be stuck on Santa Cruz if not for that aid. The rest of the ships care less, but there is some protest about the choice of port.
Captain Ferreira looks uncomfortable, and for all the trouble that he has gone to in coming aboard the Wenglong to bespeak Laurence he seems oddly reluctant to talk. “It is, arrrrgh, not such a good port, that, Captain...” He stops and shifts anxiously when Laurence glares at him.
“...My ship may have hassled a few of the vessels there after we left the port of Tetouan,” he admits finally, dropping a bit of the atrocious accent.
Laurence raises his eyes skyward. “Very well; you may certainly stay back while we approach the shore, Captain Ferreira.”
“Well, it is only me lads quite want to see land - “ but he quails under Laurence's stare and does not argue further.
Peura, surprisingly, does.
“Sir,” she tells him later, “Now, I am not one to fuss - “ a blatant lie; “ - but, going to Gibraltar is plain stupidity.”
“And why is that, Captain,” he asks her with resignation.
“Well, Sir, I once stole a little skivvy from the port there, so they might remember me,” she admits. “ - and I heard even Sala say - “
“Do not tell me what Sala said; I respect him far too much,” Laurence sighs.
“Frankly, they will probably attack us on sight when they see this ridiculous group of ships.”
“We will look suspicious anywhere, I fear.”
“Yes, but Gibraltar is a naval base – a military installation – and you might be a navy-man, so I understand why the place appeals, but they won't understand why pirates and Spaniards and a Chinese merchant ship are going to their shores together, not with other ports nearby. They'll think they're being attacked.”
She is quite right, and he knows it. “Very well,” he says. “ - Yes, very well. We will go to Faro instead, in Portugal; it is closer anyway. And tell Ferreira, I suppose, so he will stop stomping around the deck; the sound hurts my ears whenever Temeraire and I swim by his ship, so I cannot imagine it is easy on him.”
Portugal is generally a neutral enough place, but Laurence's desire to go to Gibraltar was not due entirely to national pride. The Smiling Man was a Portuguese vessel; they do not dare bring it to dock with most of the other ships, though this is probably for the best anyway. A ship with a largely black crew is likely to draw second glances.
“We certainly do not want a quarrel with Portugal,” Nunes reminds Laurence anxiously as he prepares, again, to leave and request respite for Temeraire from the docking-master. “It is a small country, but they have a powerful navy nevertheless.”
“I fail entirely to understand why you think I am going to confront countries,” Laurence says, exasperated; Nunes only looks at him sideways.
Sala knows a smattering of Portuguese and comes ashore with him, but the dock-master only looks at Laurence incredulously when they mention Temeraire. “No,” Sala translates. “No, he says, certainly not; in fact he does not Temeraire anywhere near, and demands to know what nation he is from.”
Explaining that Temeraire is not technically part of any nation's aerial force quite yet fails to reassure the man. The docking-master's angry tone rises steadily until Sala looks very tense. “Sir, perhaps we had best leave,” he says at last.
“I quite agree,” Laurence concurs. At the door he glances back; the man is scrawling a letter on his desk, his pen slashing in quick, sharp motions. Laurence leaves with unease roiling in his stomach.
“Oh, you are certain we cannot go?” Temeraire asks wistfully. “It is not quite fair, Laurence. A ship is one thing; a ship is very small, and very important, because one must live on it and use it so much; but I do not see how anyone can claim to own land. There is so very much of it and no one has even created it themselves. I do not understand at all.”
“It is not a matter of fairness, dear – only prejudice.” Laurence regrets the bitter words immediately but cannot recall them. Temeraire is already watching him with interest, so he must explain. “People mark out territories for many reasons, but primarily to keep peace and prevent confusion. Imagine, there would be only chaos and resentment if one man arranged matters in an area all to his liking, and then someone else moved in and changed it all without any care. There must be boundaries. But certainly no one restricts movement across the land carelessly – not without just cause.”
“But we have done nothing.”
“No,” Laurence says. “But you are a dragon. And that is enough to make many men afraid.”
Temeraire is quiet for a moment. “I would not hurt them,” he says. “They need only ask to know that – I would not hurt them without reason, Laurence.”
“I know, my dear.” Laurence reaches out to touch his flank. “But this is only be the first time you will encounter such attitudes.” Of this, at least, he is certain.
It takes them some ten days to reach the Gambia.
The Africans leave the ship in groups laden with food, exiting in fits and starts; the crews scour the coast for slavers first to be certain that passage is relatively safe. Laurence would like to do more, but he gathers that such aid is not only unneeded but unwelcome. In any case the crew has become restless.
Furthermore, there is another matter to address. Not everyone wishes to leave.
The day the ships are docked Temeraire rests his on the rails of the Portuguese brig while Laurence overlooks the departures. Abiodun, the dual captain of the Smiling Man, approaches him with Carver. He delivers his message standing straight and proud, several of his crew hovering behind him.
Laurence gathers the general meaning of Abiodun's words but is certain he must misunderstand the man.
“He says he will remain with us,” Carver translates. “ - Most of them are heading to his tribe, the Tswana, but a few of them wish to remain with us.”
“He will sail as an escort to England out of gratitude; then he wants to take the ship and hunt down more slavers. He wants to free all the slaves.”
Laurence bites back his initial response. This should not be something to encourage – it is surely an enterprise to end in disaster, he thinks, and not a notion which any nation would tolerate for long. Yet at the same time he can hardly fault Abiodun for the impulse. He has more than sufficient motive for his rage, and the desire to help his countrymen can only be called honorable.
“...Very well.” Laurence is surprised when Abiodun slumps slightly with relief; did he expect an argument? With his clumsy knowledge of the native tongue, he tries to address the man in his own language; “We will be glad to have you with us.”
Carver repeats the words with better pronunciation. Abiodun nods.
When the ships depart, however, Abiodun stands on the deck of the brig and watches the receding coastline until it fades over the horizon.
It is a testament to the great breadth of the ocean how far they can go without spotting a single bit of foreign sail on the horizon. For days the convoy might continue, the ships spread out over the water with Temeraire circling like some great shepherd, and they might never view a single vessel. Three times in two weeks Laurence has seen the signal go up for a sighted ship; three times the signal goes up for a ship turning away. No one, not even a neutral merchanter or a small fleet of ships, wants to risk an encounter with a force of such a size. He is quite content with this.
The crews become restless by the third week, though. The unusual nature of their group presents its own diversions – Spaniards and Dutchmen on the same ships are trading languages, the Chinese cooks are vainly trying to educate their unimpressed counterparts, and more than one fool has been fished out of the sea while trying to swim over to the woman among Captain Peura's complement – but a lack of action is never good for too long. Laurence orders repetitive drills among the entire convoy, which seems to abate some tension, but not for long.
Anticipation rises as they approach their true destination. The Tranquilidad departs them near the Bay of Biscay. Captain Sala speaks to Laurence before he leaves to assure him again of his great gratitude, mentioning his plans to raise a number of merchantmen with his finances on the shore and from there continue trading with the East. “If our fortunes cross again, perhaps we may find it opportune to once more join strengths – you have been a curious ally, Captain, and I would be glad to fight with you again.”
Laurence cannot imagine that they they will meet once he is an aviator, but he thanks Sala nevertheless.
They keep a wide berth of England. A few marks southwest of the Isle of Scilly a call goes up – sails spotted. A skirmish.
Laurence impatiently finds a glass and manages to see the three french vessels – two frigates and a barque – turning in a horribly elegant broadside against a fourth rate and a fifth rate. He would tend to boast that the English can prevail even against greater numbers, but he does not like to make bets; and furthermore at least one of the English ships is turning sluggishly.
It only takes a moment for him to decide.
“Signal the Amitié if you please, and the Ira,” he decides, turning to the Wenglong's signal-ensign. After a moment's thought, he adds, “and the Laiska Joutsen. We will aid the English vessels; put the Noite Vermelho on defense of the remaining convoy. All other ships stay back.”
Temeraire shifts from one foot to another as he approaches. He barely waits for Laurence to grip the leather around his neck before launching into the air.
It is a common French tactic to fire at a ship's rigging in battle as opposed to the English tactic of attacking the hull. Often this causes the French to miss their mark entirely, but when their hits do land the effects are disastrous. Nearing the fray it is evident that their aim has been fortunate today; one of the English ships, the Antelope, is nearly still in the water. The 36-gun Nereide is trying desperately to defend her without much hope.
Temeraire's roar brings a brief lull in the gunfire; no one fires at him, however, and Laurence realizes that without a flag both sides are uncertain what his presence means. Temeraire's dark coloration and smooth, foreign appearance is utterly strange to both nations. The Celestial hovers briefly between the warring ships, taking advantage of the confusion, and then Laurence says, “The mast of that frigate, Temeraire – tear down their sails.”
Cheers rise from the English ships when Temeraire proves his allegiances. A glance back confirms that the Ira is approaching swiftly, the other ships following just behind. A furious hail of cannon-fire hums into the sky, and Temeraire briefly ascends out of reach.
“That is very loud,” he says. He sounds mildly surprised. “Laurence, it is difficult to attack a ship, and I do not much want to squash the people – do you suppose I might drop them in the ocean?”
“I believe that would do perfectly well,” Laurence agrees. “Do you see that coat? That is the French captain – start with him.” Relieved, Temeraire waits for a pause from the cannons before diving again.
Their ears hum with the pounding of the cannons; it takes awhile for Laurence to interpret the ringing silence spreading over the ocean. Finally he registers the boarding party on the first French frigate – from his own crew, nonetheless. The other two simply surrender after being surrounded, though a fierce battle is being undergone on the third ship. “Temeraire, I believe we ought to help,” he prompts.
Temeraire follows his gaze and dives to the frigate's deck. Ranks of Frenchmen scatter in fear; crewmen from the Ira and Laska Joutsen, more accustomed to Temeraire, take the opportunity to jump right over his tail and legs to batter away at French swords. Temeraire only has time to swipe half a dozen men into the water before the ship is won. He seems almost disappointed.
Laurence sets a prize-crew to head the ships and heads back with Temeraire to check the conditions of the other vessels. The Laska Joutsen has been hit under the waterline, but Captain Peura scoffingly waves him off. “The day I cannot patch a hole, in clear weather, I deserve to drown,” she says. Behind her the line of frantic officers bailing water seem a bit less sanguine, but she is stubborn. “See to those English ships of yours; they seemed to have it badly.”
Captain Semper of the Nereide has a similar attitude. The Antelope, however, seems likely to sink. “And this my first command,” the commander says gloomily. “We are preparing the boats to evacuate; no, no, there is nothing to do, we have tried. Though I must thank you for saving us from our fates in a prison-hulk, at the least. Now whatever is your name?”
Semper looks openly astonished when he provides it. “We had reports of your death!” he exclaims, momentarily distracted.
“Better than reports of mutiny, I am sure; now is there any way we may assist your crew, Captain?”
So it is that they slink into Plymouth with one English ship at their side, three French prizes, and six other vessels besides.
As they come into sight of the English coast, Nunes mutters “Sir we must not quarrel with England - “ and Laurence snaps, “Be quiet!” so loudly that across the deck there seems to pass a minute of perfect, unbroken silence.
Captain Semper and Captain Austin of the Nereide insist on going ashore first to explain matters to the nearest Admiral - “For, certainly you will only alarm them,” Austin says. Laurence is somewhat uncertain how to respond to this.
Temeraire is very curious. “This is England, then? It does not appear so very splendid, Laurence – indeed Portugal and Africa seemed much more interesting.”
“You must wait, dear – this is only a small portion of the Isle.”
“Well, as you say,” is the dubious reply. “May we at least see more dragons?”
“Yes, certainly. Captain Semper tells me he will at once send a message to the nearest covert – Portsmouth, quite likely. Or perhaps Weymouth if someone is present there.”
Temeraire sighs. “Seeing another dragon will be excellent,” he says. “You are excellent company, Laurence – but you are quite small,” and he has to laugh.
A day passes, and then another; yet no word comes from the shore. Peura sends over an officer with a message that basically amounts to, “We're not going to be hanged, are we?” which is a fair question from a pirate who still considers herself one. Laurence must admit to his own growing unease; he cannot account for the delay.
Finally on the third day he is roused by a fuss on the deck of the Wenglong. The commotion does not come from the Chinese merchants, however, but from Temeraire. “Laurence! Laurence!” The dragon calls. “Oh, I see him! Look, in the sky!”
Indeed, a dragon becomes slowly visible over the horizon. But within several minutes it becomes disappointingly clear that this creature does not begin to approach Temeraire's great size. The Celestial begins to look sincerely perplexed. “Laurence,” Temeraire whispers urgently, bending his head, “He is no larger than you! Is that normal?”
Laurence snorts. “He is indeed a bit larger, and it is not strange, my dear – he is a courier.”
“Oh.” But Temeraire still seems doubtful.
The pair make landing within several minutes. The aviator does not meet any of Laurence's preconceived notions of the typical service-man; his coat is neatly brushed, his bars and shoes polished, his cravat tucked tidily. “I am Captain Jeremy Rankin,” the man introduces himself. “I assume you are William Laurence – the naval captain who lost his ship to mutiny.” He looks Laurence up and down. “ - Well. The Corps are quite glad, certainly, that you have bothered to feed this beast of ours throughout your voyage; we will take him now.”
Laurence stares, taken aback. “I beg your pardon?”
“To get him a captain,” Rankin says. He puts a hand on the reins of his own dragon; following the gesture, Laurence cannot help but note a sad number of blisters that have risen under the harness-buckles of the poor creature. The little Winchester looks utterly miserable.
“You have misunderstood,” Temeraire says earnestly. “ - Laurence is my captain.”
Rankin glares at him before turning back to Laurence. “I see you are too free with him,” he says. “But that happens. Proper discipline can be found in the Corps, certainly. Now, if that is all?”
Clearly expecting that the matter is concluded, Rankin swings himself back into his harness. The Winchester sighs a little and straightens. Temeraire looks bewildered, hurt, angry. He turns to Laurence.
And Laurence -
“No,” he manages. He does not quite recognize his own voice. “No, I am sorry. You cannot take him.”
Rankin looks at him incredulously. “I beg your pardon?”
Temeraire sighs in satisfaction; it strengthens his resolve. “We are resolved to join the Corps, if that is necessary; we recognize our duty. But Temeraire's consideration - “
“I do not give one damn for his considerations,” Rankin says. “Nor should you, if you are any sort of officer, which I see you are not. He has one duty, which is to serve the Crown and his assigned captain; and you, Sir, are barely a naval-man.” Rankin sweeps a derisive eye over the Wenglong.
Laurence turns slightly as Pan Zhong approaches and speaks quietly to Temeraire. He regrets for far from the first time his inferior command of the language. Despite long exposure he has only learned a few words, and can only catch the phrases 'the captain' and 'what does...'
Whatever the Pan Zhong is asking, Temeraire's reply makes him angry. The Celestial listens to the response before telling Rankin, “Pan Zhong says that you cannot make me choose a captain I do not want, because Celestials are very important. And it is fate that I have come of Laurence, clearly, so I will stay with him.”
Laurence is rather doubtful of this interpretation (he catches the word 'Napoleon' among Pan Zhong's tirade and desperately hopes that the Chinese do not still labor under the misapprehension that he is the French Emperor) but he is not going to contradict either of his allies in this argument.
Rankin scoffs. “You are filling his head with fanciful notions – I suppose you read him fairy-tales at night, too,” which sometimes Laurence does. “Well, as you will. I shall take your response to the Admiralty and let them do with it as they will. We shall see what happens then.”
“So will we not be aviators after all?” asks Temeraire in a very small voice.
“Certainly that is our duty,” says Laurence dubiously. The docks are quiet this late at night; several men are pumping water up with heavy sighs, but otherwise the ship stirs little, too. “I have no objections at all against serving as your captain, Temeraire, if only...”
“What is it?”
“...That Winchester did not appear happy,” says Laurence lowly. He pauses. “Naturally, there may be privations in the service – hardships, certainly. That is a fact of a soldier's life. But those two were couriers, and so far as I might tell have undergone no battle. There is a difference between necessary difficulties and ill-use.”
Temeraire ruffles his wings quietly. “He did look unhappy, but he was also very small,” Temeraire says at last. “Certainly if someone tried to use me poorly, I would simply squash them.”
“Not if those people had many other large dragons to stop you, Temeraire. And England does have larger dragons than you – Regal Coppers, for example.”
Temeraire looks like he has a hard time imagining this, and rightly so. “Well,” he says at last. “I do not care if they have a thousand dragons, or a hundred thousand cannons; they shall never separate me from you, Laurence, and if this Captain Rankin returns I will only tell him as much once again.”
And in fact this is precisely what he says when Captain Rankin does return. Not that the man much cares.
“You impertinent beast,” Rankin says. “Here is what happens when you raise a creature without good aviator discipline; your monster is little more than a feral, Mr. Laurence, and I would call him useless if we did not need every beast for this war. As matters stand this is nothing less than desertion – treason. The admiralty orders you to report with Temeraire at once.”
Laurence has been listening with increasing grimness. “To what end,” he asks.
“That is not your business!” Rankin bursts.
“I would know nevertheless.”
The captain fumes. “He will be reassigned,” the man says at last. “As I have said – you cannot keep a heavy-weight, you do not have the experience!”
Two months ago Laurence may have accepted these orders. But he has long since reconciled himself to the idea of being Temeraire's captain; indeed, somehow the thought of being anything else has become utterly foreign. More important, though, is the utter misery which he knows will fall upon Temeraire with these orders. “It cannot be borne,” he says.
“I am quite happy with Laurence,” Temeraire says.
“No one gives a fig if you are happy! This is – this is insubordination!”
“Captain,” says the Winchester.
“Oh, shut up!” Rankin snaps. He turns to Laurence. “If you will not be sensible, you will be made to be sensible; and you will have no one to blame but yourself, Mr. Laurence, no one at all.”
The Yellow-Reaper is sighted around noon the next day. There is not quite enough room for it to land on the Wenglong so Temeraire picks up Laurence and alights briefly to go ashore. They sit on a craggy part of the beach and wait together for the Reaper to land. It is only carrying two passengers, a captain and lieutenant, and must thus have been on a short flight.
“You are meant to menace us, I suppose,” says Laurence.
“If so we will do a piss-poor job,” says the lieutenant blankly, eyeing Temeraire. “We thought you were smaller.”
Temeraire huffs irritably.
“I beg your pardon, Captain...?”
“Little, of Immortalis,” says the handsome captain. He eyes Temeraire piercingly. “And we both know who you are, of course.”
“Temeraire and I will not be parted,” Laurence says flatly. “And I am not in the least impressed with His Majesty's Aerial Corps. I will not allow for any ill-treatment to stand.”
The lieutenant bristles. Captain Little, however, watches him carefully. “Who has spoken with you before us?”
“A courier by the name of Jeremy Rankin - “
“Oh lord,” blurts the man's First Lieutenant, faltering with surprise. He winces at a glance from the captain, but even the Reaper's companion seems to agree with this estimation.
“One man... should not be viewed as indicative of the whole service,” says Little carefully. “I beg you to reconsider your views – at least far enough to speak with us a moment. We would like to discuss what has put you in this position.”
Laurence eyes the man warily. He has seen this before, men coming in to act cajoling when force has failed. But he does not fear the man's mid-weight. “Very well,” he says. “We may talk – briefly.”
“A bit farther back, please,” says Temeraire, who nudges Laurence away defensively. The Yellow Reaper eyes him narrowly.
But Captain Little just says, “Certainly,” and asks about the hatching.
Laurence details the capture of Temeraire's egg and the circumstances of the lottery that resulted in his harnessing. The two aviators wait patiently until he finishes; even Temeraire seems interested. “Well, your duty was plain enough,” Little agrees at last. “And keeping a dragon fed on the ocean is not easy, so that was well done. What sort of harness do you use?”
“I do not typically use a harness,” Laurence says.
“Do not – are you mad?” the lieutenant again.
“It has been suggested,” comes the dry retort. “Temeraire does have a bit of leather for gripping there, just around the neck – it suffices quite well.”
Little and his lieutenant stare at him incredulously.
“...Oh,” Little finally says lamely.
Since both the men seem to be grasping for a polite reply Laurence takes the opportunity to ask, “What are your orders from here, if I may ask?”
“You are to go to Loch Laggan for proper training – if he can be trained,” the lieutenant says. “He is somewhat old for it now. If that does not work I suppose it is the breeding grounds for him.”
Laurence pauses. “Where the dragons go without their captains, also, I understand.”
Both men shift uncomfortably. “...That can be negotiated, I am sure,” Little says awkwardly. The man glances at his Yellow Reaper with an expression Laurence cannot read. “ - One might visit.”
Laurence says nothing for a moment.
“But I do not want to breed,” says Temeraire. “I do not understand – Laurence - “
Laurence closes his eyes. He feels the stranglehold of a noose around his neck. “He will not go.” Swallowing past the dryness of his throat: “He will never go.”
“You will leave now,” Temeraire says suddenly. His tail is lashing furiously. “You will not upset Laurence – you will leave now.” With a jolt he shoves himself into the air, ascending higher into the sky at a feverish rate. The Yellow Reaper twists to watch him, and Temeraire circles menacingly, his snarls resonating down to the earth.
Little turns away. “...I do understand,” he says at length. “ - But the admiralty will not. You should be careful. Lords and politicians are not friends to those stronger than themselves, and dragons are always stronger. When you are ready, Granby.”
He climbs up the Reaper. His lieutenant hovers by the beast's leg and looks up at Temeraire with an odd air of hesitation.
“I apologize,” Laurence says. “I neglected to receive your name.”
“Granby – John Granby, sorry.” The man nods to him. “He has beautiful conformation, you know. Flies very well.” There's a bit of longing in the man's voice. “You would be very welcome at the covert – both of you.”
“We do quite well, but I thank you.” Laurence folds his hands behind his back. “I wish you the best of fortunes, Mr. Granby.”
Granby looks up at Temeraire one last time. The Celestial hovers briefly in one spot to peer down at them, tilting his head, and then swoops around in lazy, hawkish spirals. “And you the same,” Granby manages. Then, sighing, he turns to climb up the mid-weight, and soon the three are gone as though they never came.
They ship out by dawn the next day. “Perhaps we will sail near Dover,” Laurence tells Temeraire somehow hopelessly, “and find more sensible men.” Or, more likely, they may quit the country and find refuge somewhere else; he does not mention this possibility. But he is quickly finding he will do anything for Temeraire.
It is only after they leave that a boat rows out, barely catching them. The men aboard offer a letter to the Ira, who signals the Laska Joutsen,who convinces Temeraire to retrieve it for Laurence.
It is a missive from the Admiralty – the navy Admiralty. More specifically, it is a letter of Marquee.
This warrants a meeting of all the captains, and within an hour they're gathered together on the Wenglong's deck in a meeting. Pan Zhong eyes the letter thoughtfully, eyes darting between Temeraire and Laurence as the others debate loudly.
In the end, everyone is essentially in agreement; of course they are going to accept the offer.
“And let's get plenty of slavers while we're at it,” says Abiodun with particularly vicious satisfaction.
Even the Chinese vehemently reject Laurence's offer to finance a new dragon-worthy vessel. He cannot say why he finds this surprising.
As Temeraire ferries the captains back to their ships one by one Laurence is interrupted in composing his letter of acceptance by Captain Araullo. “I suppose we must be picking up more crewmen if you're keeping mine after all,” he says. Laurence feels a twinge of guilt he quickly rebuffs, but then the man adds, “Besides, at this rate we'll need heaps of prize-crews, I rather hope! Tell me, how have you found Nunes?”
“Nunes has been an excellent officer,” Laurence admits, turning toward the sky and waiting for Temeraire to meet them. He cannot help but say, “Aside from a few minor oddities, I could not ask for better.”
“Oh, his predictions?”
“That Romani blood will show; he is always making predictions. They always seem to come true eventually, though, I would not ignore him.” Araullo doesn't seem to notice Laurence's stare.
Just hours after they have set out from the English coast Temeraire hovers by the Amitié while Laurence sizes up an enemy vessel through his glass. On the deck Nunes sighs and says, “Sir, Sir... we really must not quarrel with the French...”
“I fear it is too late for that,” Laurence answers, and he gives the order to fire.