Characters: Granby, Iskierka, Temeraire, non speaking part for Lawrence.
Characters and world belong to Naomi Novik, not me.
Summary: Bickering dragons
She winds herself about his chest, her spines wreaking terrible havoc with his new gold braid. A second eyebrow lost as she snorted disparagingly over Celeritas' polite, but repressive speech of welcome, and there are claw scratches all up his chest, across his shoulders, down his back and buttocks as she uses him as a ladder and a perch.
"He talks! They all talk too much." Her long, forked tongue is the colour of ashes and tastes the air delicately, as her head swivels towards the cattle-pens. Granby peels a lock of dark hair from his latest burn and resists the urge to buckle slowly to his knees. Once a whip-thin cord of scales, she is now over twice his own weight, and the parade-ground neatness in which he is drawn up, just to one side of Lawrence's crew, is wearing at the best of times. His legs tremble.
"I expect there will be poetry" she says, with scorn, Temeraire's efforts to teach her to write in the Chinese frames having come to naught when she sneezed and set them both on fire. Granby tries not to laugh at the memory of the sorrowful little piles of spilled sand going plink, plink as they cooled into glassy shapes by Temeraire's black talons. "I don't need to know poetry, I only need to know who to fight."
"Dear creature," he says, fondly, but not wisely, "you are such a termagant! Be thankful there isn't a scold's bridle in the country big enough to hold you, or our friends would surely have fitted you with one already."
"I should bite them in half if they tried!"
Next to him, like a row of houses raising itself from the ground, Temeraire's dark neck lifts and his indigo eyes fix themselves on the new Captain with a look of intelligent bullishness, like a scholar digging his heels in over some conundrum thirty thousand years old. His ruff fans out from his neck threateningly. "I will have you back, Granby, any time you care to come. I don't see why she should have you if she keeps hurting you like that. And she should mind what you say. I minded what Lawrence said when I was little, did I not, Lawrence? We could take Granby back - he is mine after all, and she could go to the breeding grounds where she wouldn't harm any of our friends any more."
Iskierka unwinds herself briskly, flows sinuously down to the ground where she arches, spitting sparks in Temeraire's face. It is as laughable as a tabby cat threatening an elephant, only more so, the difference in size being far greater. Not un-gently he moves her aside with a huge fore-paw, tilting his tendrilled head down to hear the civil, but urgent reproaches Lawrence leans forward to whisper into his ear.
Having had enough of formality - they should know better than to expect a child of whatever species, let alone his mercurial, hot tempered young dragon, to stand and listen to them drone on interminably - Granby breaks ranks and walks aside. Iskierka is there with him, instantly, her vividly coloured snout bristling with spikes, but her voice uncharacteristically soft. "You have got marks on you," she says, her wing tips drooping into the dust. "Did I burn you, John? Did I cut you? Is Temeraire right, and I hurt you?"
"You did hurt me a little," he says, unable to explain away the minor wounds in any other way than with the truth, and her tail joins her wings, dragging in the dirt.
"Maybe I should go away. Maybe I am too fierce to be with people, and you should go back to Temeraire, who is like a person himself. He doesn't burn his Captain by accident. He doesn't ever do anything wrong."
It seems a betrayal, and after he had to work so hard to get over his resentment of Lawrence, to become the kind of First the Naval man could respect, but he has other obligations now and other commitments. Besides, he cannot bear to see the heedless, ferocious little head bowed down with guilt. "I must make a confession to you," he says, as secretive as whatever it is Lawrence is saying to his own partner.
"You are my idea of a dragon, Iskierka. As you get bigger, you will learn not to harm your friends, but these scratches are a paltry price to pay to be the Captain of so high hearted, so zealous and so eager a beast as yourself. Don't tell Temeraire, but all that book reading is not for me either. He can keep his tactics. We'll be like Nelson - we'll just go straight at them, and the devil take the hindmost."
In her joy, she lets out a plume of fire that burns down the fence of the cattle pen, letting the panicked animals stampede hither and yon over the covert. The speeches wind to a rapid conclusion, and the heads of once bored dragons raise, watching their lunches go bellowing away down the hill. "Can I have a cow now?" says Iskierka, "And a golden necklace like Celeritas'?"
"And the throne of England, and the moon on a silver chain?"
"Is the throne covered in jewels?" she asks, giving it serious thought, and he laughs again, outraged and delighted in equal measure. Being her Captain is never going to be an exercise in diplomacy. It is going to be like riding a volcano - a volcano with wings. He can't wait.