picture by Sphinx
Tharkay regarded his thickly bandaged fingers. He couldn't move them at all right now, but was that due to the injuries or the bandages? Was there any chance that they'd heal completely, or was he crippled for life? How well could a man get by without the use of his fingers?
Surely it wasn't nearly as bad as losing an arm or a leg, and that was happening to so many soldiers these days. They got on well enough without the limbs if they survived the amputation. But they had friends and families to help them and received pensions from their governments. Tharkay was all alone. He needed his hands.
Then again it was merely the ability to move his fingers that was in question. What exactly did he really need to be able to move his fingers for? Writing, but whom would he need to write to? He could still carry other people's messages just fine. Tying knots. That was more troubling, but perhaps he could work out a trick for that. He'd already had to figure out some clumsy work-arounds in order to eat and drink despite the bandages. Shaving? Well, if he couldn't then he'd just have to grow a beard.
If he couldn't do it! He shouldn't worry about it so much. There would be time enough for that once the bandages came off and he'd be able to test the actual extent of the damage.
"I wish I could grant you the time to rest here until you are completely recovered," Laurence said, noticing what Tharkay was looking at, but unable to guess his thoughts.
"I'll heal just as well travelling as I will lying around here," Tharkay returned, perhaps a little more sharply than he had intended. Laurence was only being kind, after all. "I'd be no use to anyone here, but I'll find something to do on the road. I should be able to help load and unload the dragons even if I can't tie a knot at the moment."
"I worry that it might damage your hands further if you're forced to use them to climb about on dragonback."
Dragonback? What dragon? Poor Arkady was in no shape to fly and apparently not getting half as much pity from his peers as Tharkay was.
"Why, it really was only to be expected if you must trust yourself to one like Arkady," Temeraire had said when he'd first had a chance to get a look at the state Tharkay had been in right after his rescue.
Of course it was true that Arkady wasn't the most reliable of dragons, but how could he be expected to help anyone chained up the way he had been? He'd even done more than Tharkay had ever expected him to when he'd told his rescuers that he, too, needed help. It had been exactly because he had known that he could not rely on Arkady's help if anything went wrong that he had chosen him. Or well, to be honest, he had never even considered asking for another dragon. Whom else could he have requested, if he had, though? The other ferals were no more reliable than their leader and the British dragons in the service all came with a captain and crew that could not be spared from their posts and would only have slowed him down anyway. It was safer to travel alone and rely only on himself.
Perhaps if he'd had a dragon of his own. Dragons were not like men. If a dragon chose to bond with you he'd never betray you. But no dragon had chosen Tharkay and no dragon ever would. He might be good enough as a messenger boy for the corps, but certainly not as an officer, let alone a captain. They had more than enough candidates from their own ranks. Even Laurence had only gotten the chance by sheer luck.
Besides, it was only right. You had to give something back to your dragon in order to make it a fair relationship and while he knew that there were some captains that simply didn't care, Tharkay most certainly did. In his opinion a captain had to be as trusting and loyal to his dragon as the dragon was to him and Tharkay didn't think that he was capable of that. He'd had too many bad experiences. No, it was quite enough that he'd gotten to borrow Arkady when he'd needed him. The feral was more than good enough for him.
"I'll be in the belly-netting," Tharkay reminded Laurence. "Unless you desperately need a man with no experience as an aviator and barely able to hold a cup on your battle crew? I'm sure I'd make an excellent rifleman with the bandages so thick I can't even reach the trigger."
That earned him a laugh.
"I am not quite that desperate, no, and the Chinese won't let me put Temeraire in harness anyway. If they did, though ... Well, we really are short several crew-members and I doubt you would do any worse than our sailors, or the convicts we took on in Australia. Poor Temeraire. His crew really isn't what it was."
"I hear 'poor Temeraire' is quite happy just to have you remember him again," Tharkay remarked drily. "Really Laurence, how could you forget your dragon, but remember me?"
How indeed? He might have asked him in jest, but the question was burning in his mind. It didn't make any sense. It must hurt Temeraire so very much and ... just what did it mean for Tharkay? What was he, the half-blood adventurer, to gentleman officer William Laurence? There was hardly anyone that he could mean less to.
They were men of so very different backgrounds and standing in life, even with Laurence's history of 'treason'. That hardly mattered to Tharkay anyway. Laurence had done the decent thing, the thing he had deemed honourable and right. Of course it had been clumsily done. Tharkay would have found a better way if Laurence had thought to include him in the venture, a sneaky, dishonest one by which they would have gotten away with it, but should that lower Laurence in his opinion? If anything it raised him higher above Tharkay.
They had had their adventures together, of course, and he had rescued Laurence once, but what was that in comparison to what Laurence and Temeraire had been through together?
"I didn't forget Temeraire and remember you. I forgot several years of my life and both you and Temeraire with them. When I saw you, the memory came back. That of Temeraire as well as that of you."
"But not when you saw Temeraire. How often had you seen him in that time? Why me, Laurence? What is it about me that could bring back your memory when your own dragon that has been the most important thing in your life since his hatching, could not?"
Laurence shrugged. "I don't even know how I could have lost my memory in the first place, Tenzing. Perhaps it was just swelling in the brain after all. While it was there those memories were blocked, but they flooded back like a river when the obstruction was removed."
"And seeing me removed the swelling? Was it chased off by the ugliness of the sight, perhaps?"
"For all I know it might have been, but I am more inclined to call it a coincidence,” Laurence said as if he didn’t care. Was it possible that he did not? “Let the matter rest, Tenzing. I have recovered my reason and that is all that matters."
Of course it was, but Tharkay was still feeling uncomfortable, perhaps even frightened by his involvement in the matter.