Disclaimer: Temeraire and all characters were Created by Naomi Novik. I'm just a fan, imitating.
This story is set in the beginning of Victory of Eagles; SPOILERS
In which Mr. Tharkay accepts an important assignment.
Woolwich was chaos. Lines of soldiers were still pouring out of London in into the outlying areas. The sky was clear and empty and somehow all the more foreboding for all the calm and quiet above them. Emily frowned looking down on the retreating soldiers. There'd been no attack, not really, and they were giving up London. It made her almost sick to her stomach. She almost wanted to cry. Animosia lowered into the makeshift covert and swung her great head wearily to take in the view. The covert was crowded with dragons, from several fighting formations from London and Dover to couriers and other service dragons. The sight was at once promising and painful. Positive in that the crowd showed to a strong number of British dragons and negative in that there were no other coverts over another rise or in a nearby valley. This makeshift covert in Woolwich was all they had.
Emily stood fast while the ground crew removed Animosia's harness waiting grimly to be dismissed for the evening. It was closer to an hour later before she was released with the warning not to go too far in case they had to mobilize quickly. She ran immediately to the raucous corner of the covert where the feral dragons were gathered. Iskierka sat some ways apart from them watching the larger dragons from the fighting formations. She made no sign that she acknowledged Emily as the girl ran past.
"Demane!" Emily shouted as she neared the scattered crewmen. She was stopped by the jarring grip of a large grim looking aviator.
"Where're going?" Curran said gruffly, his face was dark from grit and his face shone with the sticky sort of sweat from heat and humidity.
"I was coming to visit Demane," she said and attempted to pull away from him.
He jerked her roughly for good measure, "We don't have time for this. Get back to your post Ensign. This isn't a play yard for little girls!"
"I'll have you know—"
"What? I don't care who you are; we don't have time for games. England is being invaded as we speak."
"Emily," Granby said as he approached them, "It's all right Curran, let her go. Emily, you should stay near Animosia in case we have to take flight quickly."
"Admiral Sanderson and Admiral Roland are going to be meeting with the Army Generals. I'm pretty sure we won't be moving for a few days."
"Emily, really," Granby said irritably, "You should get back to your post."
"Granby what's wrong with you?" Emily said giving him a wide earnest stare.
"It's Captain Granby, Ensign Roland," Granby said and then turned to Curran, "Could you excuse us, Curran, please?"
Curran touched his fetlock and stalked away slowing to glance back at them once or twice before joining several of the other feral captains at a fire pit.
"Now," Granby said and crossed his arms, "Demane is not here yet. With all the madness in this place I think it better if you return to Animosia—!"
"You need to go rescue Laurence!" She blurted out.
Granby looked shocked and found himself at a loss as Emily started to cry. He hesitated before putting an arm around her in an attempt to quiet her, "There's no crying in the Corps…"
"The French are here," Emily said, "In England… Granby, we need Temeraire… We need Laurence!"
Granby frowned thoughtfully and then said; "You know I have no power to bring him here."
"You have Iskierka," Emily said, "If Excidium was mine now I'd have brought Laurence and Temeraire back—"
"No," Granby interrupted, "I know you know better than—"
"Temeraire is the—"
"If Temeraire is going to help he'll have to decide to do so without Laurence. Emily, after all!"
"But Granby I—"
"They've gone again," Granby and Emily spun around to look at Tharkay. He seemed to appear out of nowhere.
"How long have you been standing there?" Granby said.
"Not long," Tharkay said. He was winding a harness in his hands wrapping the leather in a loose spool. "You were talking about rescuing Laurence."
Granby grimaced but Emily turned to Tharkay, "If Laurence was here," she said excitedly, "we'd have Temeraire."
Tharkay glanced at Granby; he looked like he wanted to smile.
"I say Temeraire is one dragon," Granby said, "You saw what they did after he turned himself in. The last thing we need is to start drawing more negative attention to the Corps by committing treason while the enemy is on our shore in order to rescue a convicted traitor."
Emily glared at him and Tharkay raised an eyebrow then turned to gaze in Iskierka's direction, "I think you understand what he's dealing with better than most."
Granby frowned thoughtfully; his dark brows furrowed. Then he looked at Tharkay directly, "We shouldn't be talking about this."
Granby stalked away from them. Emily looked up at Tharkay, still pleading.
"Would you rescue Laurence?"
Tharkay stared at her for a moment, expressionless. Then he shrugged, "I suppose I would not like him to be executed."
"It would be a hideous waste!" Emily said growing bolder, "Will you rescue him Tharkay?"
"How much will you pay me?" Tharkay said coolly, looking around.
Emily glared at him and her face reddened with anger. Then she dug into a pocket inside her coat pulled out a string of glass beads and the necklace Lady Allendale had gifted her. Tharkay smiled, these were the treasures of a little girl. He touched the glass beads and then said, "I cannot accept these—"
"But I don't—" Emily started.
"But I am in need of a rabbit—for my bird. If you could persuade your friend to oblige me, I will do what I can."
Emily brightened immediately and made as if to hug him, but Tharkay stepped back from her; adding, "I make you no promises. But I will do what I can."
"Admiral Roland," Jane looked up surprised to see Tharkay—especially since he hadn't been announced. She started to comment on it but Tharkay quietly informed her that Frette was, indeed, asleep at this very moment, and quite disinclined to notice anyone coming or going from her tent.
"Mr. Tharkay," Jane could little hide the weariness and frustration in her voice, "What can I do for you?"
"I should like a commission in the Corps," He said.
"Done," Jane said, "Congratulations Captain Tharkay."
He just looked at her, incredulous.
"Well?" Jane said.
"That was easy," Tharkay replied.
"Actually," Jane said rising from her seat to stand nearer to him, "You already knew I'd grant it to you if you should ask. So why the sudden change of heart?"
Tharkay shrugged. "I think this might be interesting. Everyone was dreading an invasion, and now that we are quite thoroughly invaded, it will be interesting to sort it out."
Jane moved away from him and walked over to the footlocker where her things were stored. She shifted items around and returned with a gently used set of Captain's bars. She reached up to pin it to his jacket but he stayed her hand.
"There is something," Tharkay said, "I would have the pleasure of serving beside William Laurence."
"Well," Jane said, dropping her arms. The brass rank clinked metallic in her hand. She offered Tharkay an exasperated look. "There's no helping that."
"I should not like to impose," Tharkay said, "But you've a Celestial on the side of France—who, by the way, have just invaded England—and our British Celestial is idling in Wales."
Jane, glaring at him, opened her mouth to protest.
"There are occasions where one must proceed with all due processes within the regulations and directives set before us; and there are times when one might simply attempt apology after the fact."
Now Jane was incredulous, "Do you mean we should—?"
"So long as I was following orders," Tharkay shrugged, "after all, what is the worst they will do? He's already sentenced to death as a traitor. If the French should take him what is there to stop him cooperating?"
"Laurence wouldn't—" Jane protested.
"You and I know that," Tharkay smiled, "But I dare say it would help bring the Admiralty 'round to our cause, among other things. They can hardly turn him away in this plight if he and the dragon were already here."
Jane returned his smile and tugged on his collar so that she could pin the rank to his shoulders. "Half a moment, Tharkay and you will have your orders."
Granby was frowning into the fire, trying not to listen in on Emily and Demane. The two of them were talking, heads bent conspiratorially, in a wild pastiche of Chinese, English, and what Granby could only guess was Demane's own native language. His shoulder still pained him though he'd been given a good prognosis. Aside from the pain, he had little restriction in movement.
Granby startled when Little sat beside him, showing him a bottle of finer spirits and hoping to raise his own. Little poured some of it into a dented tin cup and held it out to Granby.
"Is Iskierka still sulky?" He asked, concerned.
Granby took a swallow and made a face as it burned down his throat. He nodded.
"Immortalis is doing much better today," Little said.
Granby gave no response; he only stared into the fire. Little, who was disinclined to idle conversation gave up immediately and stared into the fire next to him. They passed the cup and shared out most of the bottle before Emily and Demane finally gave up their chatter and disappeared to their respective dragons. Granby sighed aloud as his eyes followed their departure.
"I do wish there was something we could do to help him," Granby said.
Little said nothing, but turned to look at Granby.
"When I think about some of the things Temeraire used to speak of and how Laurence seemed to want so much to make him happy…" Granby trailed off and took the cup from Little, "When I think about the troubles I have with Iskierka…"
"Even so," Little said, "We mustn't spoil them…"
Granby frowned. He was thoroughly drunk by now and fell immediately into tears. Little put an arm over Granby's trembling shoulders.
"I've ruined her," he said, sobbing, "She's spoilt, and it's my fault."
Little said nothing, but held him until the worst of his sobbing subsided.
"She isn't that bad," Little said.
"Not that bad?" Granby said, a little too loudly, "Immortalis and Nitidus—"
"They're still alive, and likely to receive no permanent damage." Little's voice was soft and calm, but there was a note of concern trying very hard not to be noticed.
"Oh, what will become of us now?" Granby said.
Jane stirred when Tharkay got out of her bed. He paused to look at her.
"It's after midnight," he said in explanation. He was moving around the space of her tent gathering his things.
Jane pulled herself up into a sitting position and stared at him; almost shocked that they had done this. It was not that she found thought him unattractive—only he was not someone she ever would have considered.
Tharkay made a rangy figure, rather like a feral creature himself. In the low light of the candles myriad scars stood out in sharp relief across his back and shoulders. Jane studied them surreptitiously while he dressed.
"Are those claw marks across your left shoulder?" she said.
He turned as if startled and then slipped on his shirt, "Yes." Tharkay replied but offered no other explanation. Instead he walked back to her map table where the remnants of a shared meal had been pushed aside and several maps of London and Dover laid out for planning. He perused them silently as he pulled on his leather vest and then his padded jacket. The brass Captain's rank glinted golden in the candlelight.
"You know," Jane began carefully, "If you should encounter some trouble on your way I cannot help you."
"I understand," Tharkay said, securing his jacket.
"No one can know about this until Laurence is delivered safely to British officials."
"And what guarantee can you make for his safety once they have him?"
"I can convince them to send him to retrieve Temeraire. I don't see that being a problem, given the current situation."
"And if he should be lost in the attempt?" Tharkay's question hung in the air unanswered and when he turned to look at Admiral Roland she was glaring at him.
"I'm choosing to trust you Mr. Tharkay," she sighed, "I hope you would do me the courtesy of deserving that trust."
Tharkay stared at her directly for several long moments the faintest hint of a smile played at the edges of his mouth. "I should be on my way."
A/N: Finally! New chapter! Thanks for reading!