Note: historical accuracy, dates and times, are here shoved aside for the sake of a good story. Thank you.
I have only read the first two books in Temeraire, so if Captain James dies horribly in some way, or Laurence never returns to London after that time, please don't tell me! This exercise is purely, purely for fun.
Also, a few character and place names come from the 'Charles Dickens Unscripted' show that I saw, as performed by L.A. Improv, a fabulous troupe of improvisational comedians. Look them up if you're interested.
Shortly after I moved into the care of my aunt Betsey Trotwood, near Dover, I learned that there would two things she would never tolerate on her green: donkeys and dragons.
We had a rich opportunity for the latter, for our home was fair near to the Dover covert – a day's journey to a human, and to a dragon nothing whatsoever. The very first aviator and dragon that I ever met were Captain James and his dragon Volatilus. They were well-known in the village but less so to my aunt's household, which consisted at the time of me, my aunt, Mr. Dick, Janet the chambermaid, and three other servants – plus the infallible and indelible ghost of my sister, Miss Betsey Trotwood.
All of us – minus my nonexistent sister – had gathered on the porch to watch the Battle of Dover take place – only in the distance, but we could see barely the fleets, for it was a clear day, and the French dragons could clearly be seen carrying their massive transports. And oh, we cheered when our English dragons pushed them back, hardly understanding what we were seeing. But understanding was not necessary to joy, and we toasted that night to the health of our English aviators and their brave, splendid dragons – all in very good humor until a loud crash sounded from the green.
My aunt was up at once. "Janet, to the ready! It may be donkeys!"
I have often wondered since if the old Valkyries could have shrieked their war cries with equal passion as my aunt did to defend her ground against donkeys. But Janet had already run out with the broom to whack the asine intruders. I ran out onto the porch to see, and saw Janet staring in shock before she cried, "Miss Trotwood! It's a dragon!"
"Even worse!" my admirable Aunt Betsey rose to the challenge. She stalked out onto the lawn. "Who are you?" she demanded, still a good twenty paces away. "And where do you get the impertinence to land on my lawn with that creature?"
The captain took off his goggles and I saw he was really a young man with red hair and a face already creased with smiles, but now pale with worry. "Well, ma'am – beg your pardon, but I think the impertinence comes from my right arm and a bad strike on my dragon's ribcage. He's injured so's we can't fly any further. We were fighting in Dover, but Volly isn't trained for – " he let out a groan of anxiety, "Please, let us rest here until Volly feels better and we can get a message to the covert. Please."
I did not hear much of the conversation that ensued, so caught up was I in staring at the dragon, which was lying supine and breathing quickly. It was the color of clouds – at this moment the same grey as the wisps scuttling in the night sky, and later, I would see, turning pewter grey in clear sunshine.
But my aunt didn't see that. Instead she turned to Mr. Dick and asked him his advice.
"Why," he said, "I say this man should be given some brandy, and perhaps bandages for the beast?"
My aunt took a deep breath. "Mr. Dick, what I would do without your advice I don't know and I don't want to find out. Janet! Fix up the spare room and fetch whatever hot drink Mr. –"
"James. Captain Langford James," the man replied, "and if it's all the same to you I'd like to have some linens and hot water brought out to take care of Volly here." He spoke very fast and never let a consonant go to waste. His requests were granted and he spent an hour taking care of his dragon – as he explained later, he knew enough of dragon first aid to "patch Volly up" – before he let his own comfort be seen to.
Of course there was a certain glamour mixed with fright in having a dragon staying in our garden (ultimately Aunt Betsey wouldn't let him rest on the green). I was quite taken with watching Volatilus – his proper name, as Captain James told me – eat a deer, two sheep and an old rooster, in a most satisfyingly savage spectacle. Captain Langford James told me that Volly always got hungrier after he was hurt, and he'd taken a sever raking from a French dragon over the Channel.
My aunt, mindful of her property, anxiously kept an eye – or two eyes, rather – on the dragon as it dozed away, and so she missed how her maid Janet attended personally to Captain James' right arm and scolded him in a manner quite unbecoming of a young lady's maid to a strange man.
Then – I heard this just before I was sneaking up to bed – Captain James laughed as Janet was leaving him for the night. I wondered if they were strangers after all. (It did not stop her from scolding him some more.)
This was not the only curious thing. Beauchamp Pew, the established, grey-haired tailor in Dover, came over because he'd heard a dragon had made an emergency landing. His interest was more properly in Captain James, who I gathered was known for his bottle-green uniform and easy smile in the local pub, the Elf & Dragon.
Mr. Pew, who kept his visit a secret from my aunt, or tried to, only wanted to be sure Capt. James was all right. Another sign was in how completely undisturbed Mr. Dick was by Volatilus – though when I think upon it now that may have been less a sign of familiarity and more of, well, Mr. Dick being himself.
The third sign was, I was putting away my marionettes before lunch the next day when I saw – just outside the nursery door – Capt. James and Janet tenderly embracing and kissing.
I watched, quite curious.
Capt. James smoothed her ruffled feathers – she said something low, which sounded not entirely happy, and he called her "Jennykins."
"Sweetling Jennykins," he said "I truly did not mean to frighten you or jeopardize your position. I swear I only landed by here because it was the first place my addled brain could think of. Is it so bad I thought my sweetheart in my distress?"
"Addled is right," she grumbled.
"Believe me, I was mad with panic – Volly was losing blood and dropping like a stone, I was all by myself, and I came here – where a little part of my heart never flies away, but roosts and rests and is always happy."
"You tease," Janet muttered, with that spark that my aunt said made her a troublesome maid but she'd be a great housekeeper. "You visit in town and I find you, we meet maybe an hour at a time – at most! Three hours over six months! And you land on my lady's lawn like some errant donkey? And you think I'm a ninny to be as upset as I am?"
"Did I say you are a ninny?" More kissing ensued. I wondered if Capt. James was aware that his "Sweetling Jennykins" was merciless when it came to my baths, the state of my clothes, or the number of biscuits in the parlor. But I had little time to wonder, because my aunt's shout came from the garden. "Janet! Dragons!"
James at once ran to the window in the hallway, and I heard him exclaim in surprise and delight, "I don't believe it!" Janet and I followed him as he ran down the stairwell and out onto the lawn.
I saw another dragon and rider approaching from over the sea. This dragon was far larger than Volatilus, and most beautiful – a deep black all over with wide wings whose edges stained to blue.
His rider (when he dismounted just on the edge of our green) was fair-haired and sun-weathered, and James recognized him as Captain Will Laurence, on Temeraire.
That is how I got to meet the legendary pair, and this just at the start of their adventures.
Now, I liked Captain James very well, but where he was rather forward and unrefined, Laurence showed manners and good breeding in top form. He was friendly with James, polite to my aunt and Mr. Dick, and quite kind to me. My aunt could not help hiding her surprise, after all we'd heard of the uncouth, rugged aviators.
She asked Captain Laurence over tea how he'd entered the aviators. Laurence started his story with "Well, I was until very recently the captain of the HMS Reliant, and we were out to sea when we met a French frigate…"
That was it. I was enraptured. A gentleman, an aviator, and a sea-captain like dear Mr. Peggotty? Mr. Laurence, it seemed, was everything I wished to be – not that I had wanted to be an aviator before I saw Temeraire swooping low over the sea, gleaming like a patch of midnight in the noonday sun.
My aunt must have seen my eyes sparkling for she warned me, "Now now, Trot, don't get any notions! Your sister would never get such thoughts as to run off and join the aviator corps – fine upstanding men that they are," she added politely to Laurence and James.
James laughed, and Laurence looked quite amused at something he kept to himself.
Feeling a bit of a fool, I snuck out to see the dragons in our little woods. Captain Laurence's dragon was much bigger than Volly, and blue-black, as I have said, and wearing a handsome collar of sapphire and pearls. I approached as silently as I could (not wanting to attract their attention) and realized, watching them talk, that Temeraire listened to Volatilus talk about deer and donkeys with an expression of great patience.
I realized Temeraire must be several degrees more intelligent than the smaller dragon. It had never occurred to me that dragons could be smart at all, in addition to being powerful fighters.
Presently Volly drowsed off – no doubt recovering further – and Temeraire fell silent, straining his ears – I think – to better hear the sea. I watched him in silence.
Then imagine my surprise when the dragon turned to look directly at me!
I almost fell over, and would have run away, but Temeraire said, "Oh, don't go, I won't hurt you."
His voice was as clear and refined as that of his Captain, and sounded quite young besides. Would you believe me, reader, if I said that my fear of the great, taloned, fanged creature quite shrank on hearing him speak?
"Are you sure you won't hurt me?" I asked.
"Why would I? You're the same size as the runners, the youngest people on my crew."
He asked me my name, and I told him, but adding, "I'm called Trot here." He asked how I came to be called 'Trot,' giving what I think was a smile. And when I had told him about my aunt and how she had adopted me after I ran away –
"Ran away? Why did you run away?"
"Because my stepfather was a very cruel man; after my mother died he put me to work in a factory making labels, taking me from my education and all of my friends."
Temeraire nodded and put his head on his front – paws? Talons? Claws? – and said, "No wonder you ran away."
I nodded, glad for his sympathy. I asked how he came to be known as Temeraire.
The dragon told me of his hatching, and how Laurence had named him after the fine ship of the French navy, and when he described his early life at sea and how he would catch fish for his dinner I quite lost all my fear of him.
By chance I mentioned Steerforth to Temeraire, and how I liked to tell him stories. I added that I wrote stories of my own in my free moments.
"Oh?" Temeraire then sat up – which re-awoke some of my fear – and spread his ruff. "May I see your stories?"
"Would you really like to?" I was all astonishment.
"Very much! I like to have Laurence read to me from books of all sorts; it is lovely to know another man's mind just through paper and leather. If you write I am very interested."
I bade the dragon wait a minute, then ran back to the house. Upstairs, in my room, I groped at the loose leaves of paper that I'd tied with a bit of string, and agonized over which one to select. They all seemed at once too unutterably foolish and petty to be brought before a great black dragon with a collar of sapphires and platinum. But I could not go back empty-handed. At length I picked the one I thought he would like the most – then, on reflecting that who am I to judge a dragon's taste – I picked the one which I thought was, simply, the best. I had edited the sheets of paper copiously and had meant to copy my story out again once I had paper to spare, but there was no time for that now.
I ran outside again, avoiding the tea room where Mr. Dick was now inquiring of the aviators if they ever flew kites on dragonback. I went back out to the green, heart pounding, feeling myself the meanest, lowliest little monkey who ever dared put quill to pen.
I approached the fence slowly until Temeraire said, "Oh, there you are! Pray come closer."
So I did, and by the light of the sun I hesitantly began to read. I can still remember the story: it was a foolish thing written in the style of the Canterbury Tales, I having become enamored with that work since moving in with my aunt. It was a tale that I fancied someone like Mr. Peggotty would have told, and indeed I had invented a new pilgrim, the Fisherman. Temeraire tilted his head to hear me better, and though I gulped at the sight of his ivory-white teeth and staring blue eyes, I read on, stumbling sometimes over my own edits.
When I finished, Temeraire gave a low coo, and I realized it was a sign of approval. A deep joy began to well up in me – then, I was very surprised to hear applause. I turned around to see Captains Lawrence and James leaning on the fence, smiling at me.
"Laurence," Temeraire said to his captain, "This boy is a genius! He just shared with me a story he wrote all by himself!"
"Is that so?" James asked. "Cor, that's as good a yarn as I've heard in a while!"
"Following in the footsteps of Chaucer, now, are we?" Laurence asked me. Behind him I saw my aunt and Janet run out of the house, and I heard them calling for me. "Trot! Trot!"
"I'm here!" I cried, but Laurence bellowed, with the voice of a true sea-captain, "All is well! He's with us!"
That did not exactly calm my aunt. She sprinted for the green, for once calling me by my Christian name: "David Trotwood Copperfield! What do you think you're doing?"
I ran out to her, more to appease her fear than mine. I let myself be hugged and scolded, but as she led me back to the house I could not help turning and bidding Temeraire good night. He returned it, and so did Captains James and Laurence. They quickly set to work harnessing their dragons, for Temeraire would support Volatilus on a flight back to the covert. That evening, they bid my us all a polite farewell.
Looking down at me with a scrutinizing glare, he said, "Now, Temeraire is young, but I trust his judgment. If he says you are a genius then he may be on to something. Your name…?"
"David Trotwood Copperfield," I said, honestly a bit baffled that he should forget it so soon after my aunt screamed it across the lawn.
"David Copperfield," he repeated. "I do believe that will be a name to watch." He smiled, shook my hand gravely, and left.
Captain James joined him in the garden; he had come running from the side door facing the sea, and looked uncharacteristically solemn. As they mounted their dragons I scurried for that door and found Janet. She was sitting on the steps, looking out to sea and trying to stop her tears and dry them all at once. I, feeling, quite overcome with sympathy, gave her a hug.
Startled, she stood up (almost dislodging me) and said, "Well, thank you Master Trot, but I am quite all right," notwithstanding a tremor in her voice. Together we joined my aunt and Mr. Dick waving good-bye to our visitors until they had flown out of sight.
That night I lay awake in my bed, and wondered why Mr. Murdstone did not send me, an unwanted stepson, to the aviator corps? Even now I could be an ensign to Temeraire, and sharing part of the glory of the Battle of Dover. Sure it was a thankless, dangerous, and solitary life, but what would if have cared if he could get rid of me?
Then I remembered he would have to pay funds for my education, and the meanest shred of glory I could win would be repellant to him, when he could just as easily stick me in a factory and forget about me forever. Even now my bitterness, though much assuaged, returned at the thought of that hated factory. Besides, perhaps my mother had begged him not to…
The door opened and Janet tiptoed in. She held in one hand a little candle, and with the other pushed towards me a plate of gingerbread smeared with cream. "You won't tell the Missus, will you?" she asked anxiously as I accepted the bribe.
I shook my head, and then when I swallowed, asked "Do you love Captain James, Janet?"
She looked away and smiled shyly. "A little… he's a strange man to love – he doesn't have much time for it, what with flying all around the globe and back on all days – but we can always find time for love, he and I."
When she left, I reflected that it was just as well I was not in the corps – dragon or no, in that life I certainly would never be able to further my education or write the story that Temeraire had praised.
Even in the dark of night I glowed, for that dragon, to become so famous in years to come, was among my first readers and literary admirers. Few things are sweeter to the young writer to find a nugget of praise from someone entirely disinterested and admirable.
And in the corps, after all, I never would have found this home with my dear aunt, and sweet Mr. Dick, and temperamental but good-hearted Janet.
And I would have forfeited also the gingerbread and cream.
I was quite content.
In later years, a few captains of the corps became occasional visitors from the Dover covert, though always sans dragons. This was how I met from time to time with Captain Lawrence, Captain Jane Roland (who I am sure would have become a hero to my sister, Betsey Trotwood), and of course Captain James.
In time, Captain James and Janet realized they could no more give up on each other than Volatilus could give up flying. And so, after a couple of years they were married, and she, rather than become a working-class oddity among the aviator's few wives, continued to work for my aunt until her fortunes were ruined. Then Janet moved onto the covert, where she became a part of the aviator community. She opened up a small flower shop in town, and I heard that she and James were always able to find a little time for each other.
As for Captain Lawrence and Temeraire, I met the former one day in London when my career as a writer was still fledgling. I recognized him, though it took him a bit of time to rediscover the scrawny, big-eyed boy in the clerk who stood before him.
Over a drink, I shyly told him my nom de plume by which he could find my stories in the papers, and he declared he'd share them with Temeraire as often as he could.
I did not see him again for many years, in which time he acquired some infamy and many adventures. But it turned out that after all, he and Temeraire never forgot me, and in fact Captain Laurence and Temeraire together commissioned me – my first and only draconic commission – to write the story of their illustrious career.
I was honored beyond words.