picture by Sphinx



An insistent poke on his arm woke him.

"Laurence! Laurence!" an urgent voice said. "We are under attack!"

Laurence blinked at the scaly black head drowsily for a moment before he remembered his newly acquired dragon. Somehow, Temeraire had managed to stretch across the distance between their cots without either of them falling out and now he was balancing awkwardly with his hind legs and tail still in his own cot and his head and front legs clinging to Laurence's.

"Do you think we should join the fight?" the little dragon asked, somehow managing to sound both eager and doubtful at the same time. "I would so love to be a warrior, but ... well, I don't know how to fight."

"You are too small as of yet," Laurence informed him. "You would only get hurt without doing much damage. I believe it will be best if you stay down here and trust in the crew to protect you."

Though if the ship sank, their chances of survival might be better on deck. Laurence listened for any clues to the situation, but all was quiet. Only the wind and waves were shaking the ship.

"Are you sure we are under attack?" he asked the dragon. "I hear no sounds of battle."

Temeraire nodded eagerly. "I heard a cannon shot. Not a very loud one, but it was definitely a cannon shot."

Not a very loud one?

"Perhaps it will be best if I go up on deck and check the situation," he suggested.

"Go?" Temeraire flinched, lost his grip on the cot and tumbled to the floor.

Laurence sat up worriedly to check on him, but the dragon was already back on his feet, now raising himself up on his hind legs to once again take hold of Laurence's cot.

"Go and leave me? No! You cannot! What if you get hurt? Stay here! Or let me come with you! I will protect you!"

"You are too small to fight," Laurence reminded him. "But I shall be careful and it doesn't sound like there is much danger. I still cannot hear any sounds of battle."

There was a distant rumble of thunder, though.

"There it is again!" Temeraire shouted excitedly. "The cannon! Did you hear it this time?"

Laurence laughed. "Why Temeraire, that is just a distant thunderclap. There is a storm somewhere nearby."

"Thunderclap?" Temeraire repeated quizzically. "But it sounds like a cannon."

"Yes, it does a little, but it is merely a phenomenon of nature and if it stays this distant it is no danger to us. I think it will be best if I do go up to the deck and make sure that Captain Riley is aware of the storm, though. You need not worry for my safety, Temeraire. There is no danger now. Only if the storm should come closer that might change."

"How so?" Temeraire asked, leaning against his legs to keep him away from the cabin door. "If it is a phenomenon of nature and not an attack, how can it be dangerous?"

"Why, the wind could blow water into the ship," Laurence explained as simply as he could. "And it would be very likely to blow us off course, so we might hit a rock or get lost. Or it might break the mast if it catches us unprepared and under full sail. But do not fear, there is very little danger of that as long as the captain and crew take the proper measures. There are few rocks here and we have an excellent crew. I am just going up on deck for a moment to make sure the captain is aware of the storm and then everything will be fine."

They would probably be blown off course if the storm hit them, though, and considering how much Temeraire ate, Laurence wasn't sure they had enough provisions to afford that. Luckily, the next rumble sounded more distant and when he reached the deck he found Captain Riley already on his way back down.

"The thunder frightened Temeraire," he said a little apologetically. "He thought it was a cannon."

Riley laughed. "Nothing so exciting. There is no ship anywhere near us as far as we can tell and the storm is moving away."

And so Laurence returned to his cabin to assure Temeraire that he would be spared the experience of a storm at sea, at least for this night.

An abrupt movement under his head woke him.

"Laurence! Laurence!" an urgent voice said. "It's a storm! I can hear the thunder and we have no crew here. What must we do?"

Laurence blinked up drowsily at the big scaly black head that was peering down at him, extricated himself from the young dragon's wings and immediately regretted it. It was raining heavily and he'd be drenched soon if he didn't get back under shelter.

"Why Temeraire, we are on land now. There is no danger, unless we are struck by lightning, which is very unlikely," he explained suppressing a yawn.

"But it is a storm," Temeraire said. "Won't we get blown off ... well, blown somewhere?"

"No, Temeraire, that only happens when you are onboard a ship. And possibly also when flying in a storm. We are on firm ground and not even in a building that might be blown over. If we just hunker down and wait it out all that will happen is that we will get wet."

"Oh," said Temeraire and pulled Laurence back under his wing. "Well, I can keep you dry in any case and I do not mind getting wet so much. It is like taking a bath. It makes you nice and clean."

"Laurence! Laurence! Is that thunder? I see no clouds or lightning and there is no rain."

"No, Temeraire," Laurence shouted. "Those are cannons. It is the battle. Fly faster! We must aid our soldiers."

Temeraire didn't answer. He was putting all his energy into his flight.

A deafening roar woke Laurence to be replaced by total silence. He jumped off Temeraire's leg shouting the dragon's name, but got no answer.

When he looked up he saw that the dragon's mouth was moving though.

"I can't hear you, Temeraire. The explosion deafened me for the time." Oh God, he hoped it was only temporary. "Can you hear me?"

Temeraire nodded and lowered his head to sniff Laurence worriedly.

"Don't worry, I'll be fine," Laurence assured him. "What caused it?"

Temeraire pointed out into the dark where some structure was on fire and people running away from it. Then he indicated that Laurence should get onto his back so they could join the fight.

He did still trying to get his bearings in the dark camp. That burning structure. What had it been? And then he remembered.

"No Temeraire! Don't go closer. Go higher! Get away from it. It's the munitions depot. There'll be more explosions."

Temeraire stopped and hovered, apparently confused. Then it was too late. The next explosion came and the shockwave threw them aside. Temeraire fluttered desperately, but couldn't right himself and they went crashing down to the ground, trees breaking in their path.

When he woke up again the sun was rising and Temeraire was nuzzling him worriedly.

"Laurence? Please say something, Laurence! I am so sorry! I thought it was a cannon shot. I thought I must help the soldiers. I'll never disobey you again. Please Laurence, don't be dead."

His whole body hurt and there were dust and splinters of wood and stone covering him and the area around him. But he could hear Temeraire's voice again!

"I'm fine, Temeraire," Laurence said weakly. "I'm fine."

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