Chapter VIII

That Awkward Dinner You Wish You Could Forget…

Disclaimer: See Chapter Six.

'I take it by that self-satisfied smile of yours that things went well?' Laurence enquired as Nathan strode into the clearing where Temeraire was waiting, currently being loaded up with repurposed hat boxes, and Nathan's effects, which being mostly irregular in shape weren't quite as easy to make fit.
'Well, I got a commission, pay, something resembling respectability, and the benefit of the doubt from senior military figures in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and I'm pretty much guaranteed accommodation and food,-even if I have to pay board. Things turned out as well as I could've hoped for.' Nathan replied cheerily. 'So, where're we stopping tonight?' He asked, checking his watch: Twelve-Thirty PM, on the twenty-fourth of February.

'We'll be stopping at my family's estate in Nottinghamshire, then continue on to Loch Laggan in the morning.' Laurence replied.
'I thought you said there was some…' Nathan waved his hand vaguely, 'friction over your choice of career in that department,' said Nathan. 'Is it really a good idea to antagonise them? I don't particularly feel like getting caught in the crossfire.'
'Don't be ridiculous, it's the London season, my parents will be here, not out in the country.' Assured Laurence.
'Alright, but I think I'll sleep under the stars tonight. Or clouds, whichever eventuates.' Nathan replied, unconvinced.
'There'd be plenty of room to spare.' Assured Laurence.
'There'll also be servants; most of my adolescent and adult life, whenever I've tried to palm chores off to someone, I've always been asked: 'what did your last slave die of?' or 'since when did you have servants?' Which in essence translates to: 'do it your bloody self, you lazy bastard'.' Nathan replied.
'And what does that insight into your upbringing supposed to tell me?' Asked Laurence coolly.
'I'm independent and proud of it. I can look after myself, and I don't particularly like having someone asking if I want help dressing in the morning.' Nathan replied, referring to the second morning he'd been aboard the Reliant, when Laurence's steward had offered to valet for him. Nathan had taken offence at the perceived slight, resulting in a dressing down from Laurence, and him making a rather awkward apology to the steward.

'Suit yourself.' Laurence said reluctantly. 'Temeraire, are those containers giving you any trouble?' He asked the young dragon immediately afterward.
'They are quite comfortable; I do not notice them at all, except for Mr. King's gun and instrument case.' Temeraire assured him, looking down at them curiously, and with a look in his eyes that suggested he wanted to ask questions, but had decided to wait until later.

He reared up on his back legs and flapped to make certain the boxes in his improvised belly rigging were well-seated, just as Laetificat had done back on Madeira, and making Nathan doubly glad he'd made certain his two cases were locked securely, and the guns were unloaded and that he'd removed the firing pins.

'Look, I've already told you, it's just 'Nathan', he said in exasperation. 'You don't need to 'Mr. King' me unless the situation calls for formality.' But he gave up, as he saw Temeraire had his attention firmly fixed on Laurence.

'Can we not get one of those tents? It would be much more comfortable for you to ride out of the wind.' He asked.
'I have no idea how to put them up, though my dear,' Laurence said, smiling up at Temeraire's concern.
'But I will do well enough; with this leather coat they have given me I will be quite warm.'
'Which means I'll be comfortably warm.' Muttered Nathan, and smirked. Thermal underwear, he'd found, was worth more than it's weight in gold when flying.

'It must wait until you have a proper harness, in any case; the tents require locking carabiners. Nearly ready to go, then, Laurence, Nathan?' Bowen had come upon them without their notice, and interjected himself into the conversation. He joined them standing before Temeraire's chest, and stooped a little to examine Laurence's bandboxes. 'Hm, I see you're bent on turning all our customs upside down to suit yourselves.'

'Fair go, I've only got my guitar and my gun-case in there, the hat boxes are Laurence's; I'll just be preaching innovation,-namely: better ways of doing things.' Nathan said, indicating his hiking pack,-which although weighing close on fifteen kilograms full, and with his tent tied to it, he carried it without much difficulty. With the flying harness, and the pack's own straps, he looked a lot like a paratrooper minus all the guns, gadgets and grenades.

'No sir, I hope not,' Laurence said, at almost exactly the same time, slightly coolly, which Nathan was learning to recognise as irritation on the Captain's part. 'But my sea chest was awkward for him to bear, and these seemed the best replacement I could manage on short notice.'
'They may do,' Bowen said, straightening up. 'I hope you have as easy a time putting aside the rest of your naval thinking as your sea chest, Laurence; you must be an aviator now.'

'I am an aviator, sir, and willingly so,' Laurence said. 'But I cannot pretend that I intend to put aside the habits and mode of thinking formed over a lifetime; whether I intended it or not, I doubt it would even be possible.'
Bowen fortunately took this without anger, but he shook his head. 'No, it would not. And so I told- well. I have come to make something clear: you will oblige me by refraining from discussing, with those not in the Corps, any aspect of your training. His Majesty sees fit to give us our heads to achieve the best performance of our duty; we do not usually care to entertain the opinion of outsiders. Do I make myself clear?' Bowen asked, shooting Nathan a significant look at the last part.

'Most of the stuff I've picked up about war involve how to not die; and you needn't worry about my opinion on how you operate,-unless I see something that either disgusts me or I simply can't abide, in which case you, and most likely the whole of the Corps will know about it.' Nathan replied.
'Such as?' Bowen asked, suspiciously.

Nathan shifted a little.
'Well, I've already had to make concessions regarding child soldiers due to when I am, but slavery and child molestation are two things I'm strongly opposed to. The latter I feel entirely justified in killing the perpetrator of.' He said.
'You needn't worry about the latter; we take care of our cadets.' Bowen assured Nathan. 'As for the former…it's a non-issue in the Corps, no Captain keeps slaves, and not just because dragons have a rather loose definition of ownership, now I ask again: do I make myself clear,-to both of you?' He asked.

'Crystal.' Nathan replied easily.
'Perfectly.' Laurence said grimly. 'Sir, if you would be so good as to tell me what makes the covert in Scotland more suitable than this for my training, I would be grateful to know what to expect.'
'You have been ordered to go there; that makes it the only suitable place,' Bowen said sharply. Yet then he seemed to relent, because he added, in a less harsh tone, 'Laggan's training master is especially adept at bringing inexperienced handlers along quickly.'

I'll bet. Nathan mused, picturing just how hard a green handler would work to avoid a dragon's ire.
'Inexperienced?' Laurence said, blankly. 'I thought an aviator had to come into service at the age of seven; surely you don't mean that there are boys already handling dragons at that age.' He asked, unconsciously causing Nathan's jaw to drop in surprised dismay, before he snapped it shut with an audible click.
'No, of course not,' Bowen said. 'But you are not the first handler to come from outside of our ranks, or without as much training as we might care for. Occasionally a hatchling will have a fit of distemper and we must take anyone we can get it to accept.' He gave a sudden snorting laugh. 'Dragons are strange creatures, and there is no understanding them; some of them even take a liking to naval officers.' He slapped Temeraire's side, and left as abruptly as he'd come; without a word of parting, apparently in a better humour, and leaving Laurence hardly less perplexed than before.

'I'd take that with a grain of salt.' Nathan advised. 'And evidently, I'm going to have to watch my step a bit more than I thought if what he said about accepting anyone a dragon takes is a common occurrence.' He added grimly, before they mounted up, Nathan clapping his carabiners onto Temeraire's harness on his left side, While Laurence clamped onto his right.

The flight to Nottingham took several hours, time which Nathan spent mainly listening to his Ipod, alternating between an audio recording of Matthew Reilly's Seven Ancient Wonders, music, one of the Dragonriders of Pern series, and Dead in the Water,-A Ciaphas Cain audio drama.

When Temeraire paused in his flight a while to retrace a short distance to talk with Laurence, he ignored it.
They were discussing the training.

He wasn't worried.
He'd been in the scouts when he'd been ten right up until he'd turned fourteen; and he'd grown up on a farm. Early starts and hard work were nothing to him, especially coupled with his experience with martial arts classes.

His only concern was the people he'd be working with.
Laurence was okay, but there was friction between them: He found Laurence too formal, and Laurence found him too relaxed.
The other aviators were an unknown quantity, and the dragons were something else again.
From what he'd gathered on the flight to the transport with Laetificat's crew, interfering with another's dragon could get you drummed out of the Corps, or killed by the dragon you were attempting to woo.

Nathan had no intention of wooing, but he'd privately begun to wonder on how his friendly, free and easy manner with people would go over with the Captains and dragons. He'd found Temeraire to be good conversation, and assuming other dragons were similar to him, he could easily see himself getting along, but he knew it'd be a bad idea to antagonise the Captains.

Shaking the thoughts off as Temeraire continued on his way and Laurence began recounting about the Spanish armada, he irritably turned up the volume on his Ipod, and reset the song, which he'd missed most of, being too absorbed with his thoughts.
The song was Gumtrees by the Roadway.
Nathan had no way of knowing how ironic he'd find that in a few hours time.

Evening was far advanced when they came upon the manor,-which to Nathan looked a spitting image to Downton Abbey, from the soap-opera of the same name.
A lot of windows were lit up, and Nathan felt a suspicion form in the back of his mind.
Laurence said something, and after a moment, Temeraire descended towards a paddock a little to the south of the manor.
When they landed, Nathan unclipped himself and jumped to the ground, pulling his headphones out of his ears.

'Something you'd like to tell me?' Nathan asked sourly.
'I'm sorry Nathan.' Laurence said, the first time he'd used Nathan's first name. 'It looks like my parents may indeed be here.' He admitted, sounding resigned.

'Great.' Nathan replied without much enthusiasm. 'And I take it you expect me to walk into hell with you?' He asked, with bitter sarcasm.
'It would be rude of me not to invite you inside.' Laurence replied coolly.
'Not to sound like a whiny little kid, but what if I decline and just set up my tent?' Nathan queried.
'I insist.' Laurence said evenly.
'I still plan on sleeping out here.' Nathan replied equably. 'Just let me get my guitar and slip into something a little more presentable.' He said.
'You do realise that your clothing is a little outdated fashion wise,-even if it is from the opposite end of time from the usual sense of the expression?' Enquired Laurence.
'I can still manage to look like less of a country boy and more of an intellect,-It's all in how you carry yourself.' Nathan replied from Temeraire's other side as he pulled himself into his last fresh change of clothes:

A pair of black cargo pants,-this time with a white heraldic device with no discernible purpose but to act as decoration tattooed onto one leg,- a white shirt dyed with a blue criss-cross pattern, and a dark brown leather jacket with cream and maroon stripes down the arms.
Last of all, he went to a shallow pond and wet his hands, styling his hair as well as he could,-flattening it, and teasing the fringe from his brow, then fished out a small container from his bag, opened it and donned the final part of his ensemble:
A pair of rimless, square-lensed glasses with flex-metal arms. Reading glasses he hadn't been using recently.
Next, he crossed to Temeraire's chest and fished his guitar case from his improvised belly-rigging.

'I can't say there's much difference.' Laurence noted as he examined Nathan.
'Just wait until there's a bit more light; hopefully I'll look sharp enough to avoid ridicule; and if not, I can always just earn some respect as a musician.' Nathan replied with more optimism than he felt, hefting the heavy guitar case.

The footman who met them at the door stared openly and curiously at Nathan, and Nathan thought he read superiority in the man's eyes, but he put it down to how self-conscious he was feeling,-it must've showed.

Sure, he felt the fashions of the eighteenth and nineteenth, and indeed the early twentieth century were overblown and ridiculous, but his oversight in not acquiring any new clothes was beginning to seem less like a matter of taste, and more like a matter of bad judgement on his part.
At that moment, he only hoped there'd only be one knife, one fork and one spoon to contend with.

The footman returned, and asked, rather formally of Nathan:
'May I take your suitcase, sir?'
'It's not a suitcase, it's an instrument case.' Nathan replied.
'Mr. King plans to provide this evening's entertainment in return for a meal.' Laurence provided of his own accord, for which Nathan was grateful. He was still irked that he was about to be put into so awkward a situation, but at least Laurence had the decency to mitigate it.
'Right, if you'll just wait here, sir.' Said the footman, before heading in.'

Nathan set the guitar case down and proceeded to lean on it.
'Don't mind me.' Nathan said, casting a look at Laurence.
'I think I will mind you actually.' Laurence said, licking his lips apprehensively. 'If I leave you to your own devices I'm afraid you'll mortally offend half the people present; and considering the fact this is almost certainly a house party, the thought positively fills me with dread. The fact that you look positively outlandish doesn't help matters either.' He added.

'Okay, how badly do I stick out?'
'Like a black fellow in the King's court.'
'I thought that'd already been done?'
'Maybe so, but whatever impression you were trying to convey, I can assure you that you've only managed to make yourself look downright outlandish.'
'Good thing my being a gentleman is debatable then,-and look on the bright side: you won't be as conspicuous in your dress uniform.'
Laurence grimaced.
'Please don't-'
'Just because I'm socially inept, doesn't mean I'm retar-' Nathan caught himself, '-doesn't mean I'm an idiot.' He amended.
'I'm beginning to think I should've just left you to your own devices for the evening.'
'Too late now; just pray that people are in the mood for some music.'

The footman returned.
'Lord Allendale bids you welcome, I take it you would care to change before you join the company?' He asked.
'This is the best I can do, I'm afraid.' Nathan said, shifting self-consciously.

The footman tactfully said nothing.
'Very well, if you would please follow me.' Nathan hefted his case again as the footman lead him into the house, leaving a nervous looking Laurence to go and change into something less conspicuous than Nathan's current raiment.

Now, am I going to die on stage, or am I just going to die? Nathan wondered sardonically, as he made a stiff bow to a man he was introduced to as 'Lord Allendale.'

Of course, that wasn't then end of it.
No, then he was introduced to the man's wife, who at least wasn't attempting to stare a hole through him, even f she did look at him oddly.
After what seemed like a brief eternity, the introductions were done, and Lord Allendale deigned to speak directly with him.
'Tell me, sir, what brings a man, such as yourself, to my home, uninvited and unannounced?'

'My apologies, Captain Laurence was kind enough to offer me passage to Scotland, as he was heading there himself with his dragon for training; As I was heading there myself, I accepted. If I had've had any idea that it'd land me in circumstances such as this, without either introduction or proper attire, I'd have walked instead.' Nathan replied, cursing his lack of knowledge of social niceties, and hastily cobbling together his reply based on scraps of knowledge picked up from Master and Commander, Treasure Island, and a few other stories he'd read or seen that were based around the early nineteenth century.

Lord Allendale's look probably would've made Louise,-Nathan's other younger brother, a young man more interested in history and literature than socialising, and even more socially inept than Nathan was,-fidget uncomfortably, despite the fact he couldn't read body language to save his life.

'And what, pray tell, do you intend to entertain us with tonight?' He questioned, clearly, to draw the attention of his various guests.
Nathan had been furiously thinking all the while he'd been waiting for the footman's return to try and find an answer to that very question, and only now, here, in front of all these people did he find something he felt he could get away with as an ice-breaker.
'Amazing Grace. Though, maybe a little different to the usual version.' He answered confidently.

Getting no response either way, he hefted his guitar case once more and went and stood beside the fire, in full view of everyone before making himself busy tuning the instrument to his satisfaction.
When he was done, he stood and noted that Laurence had joined the company, and like them was watching him sideways while the rest of the evening's distractions went on.

He strummed the strings of his guitar, then began to play, before launching into the lyrics, in a slower, more serious tone than when he'd sung aboard the Reliant, or practiced on his own at the cottage on Madeira:

'Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, I was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.'
Privately, as he sung, he was pleased to see the arrogant superiority, disdain and covert stares die away to be replaced by something akin to genuine interest.

By the time he was finished, he was fairly certain that the company were willing to forget his clothes, just so long as he kept playing.
As the final notes died away, a polite applause went up.
He waited for it to die off a little, before he spoke.

'Thank you, thank you.' He said, looking around the room, speaking clearly. If he was going to be an entertainer for the evening, he might as well do it properly. 'For those of you whom do not know me, I am Nathan King, and I'll be providing some music tonight, which I can be tolerably certain most of it you'll have never heard before; with that in mind, I have a question I'd like to put to you fine folk:'
He looked around, and was relieved to see he did have the attention of a good few guests, and even Lord Allendale looked interested despite himself.

'What's the most gloomy thing you've ever heard of?'
This question took everyone off guard, but a sandy-haired man of about thirty answered him all the same:
'Romeo and Juliet.' He said.
Nathan nodded equably.
'Yes, Shakespeare had a tendency towards that sort of thing.' Nathan agreed with a nod. 'But, I think I know something that tops that.' He added, strumming the chords once again, before beginning:
'It's lonesome away, from your kindred and all, by a campfire at night, where the wild-dogs call, but there's nothing so lonesome, morbid or drear, than to stand in the bar, of a pub with no beer…'

If his first song hadn't caught their attention, this one certainly did: outlandish subject material, a simple, easy beat and,-so far as they knew,-completely new and original.
As he finished, he looked around and saw something dangerous on many of the company's faces: curiosity.

There was more polite applause, which died away quickly.
'Wherever did you learn that song?' Asked a young lady somewhere near the middle of the table curiously.

When I was twelve, in my room, practicing the chording until I could keep up with a recording. Nathan thought to himself, smiling at the memory.
It'd been a cause of much consternation from his two brothers, who had the rooms either side of his.

'On the road.' He said instead.
'Do you travel much?' Enquired Lord Allendale evidently curious himself.
Nathan chuckled.
'A bit more than I care to.' Which was only a half-truth. He liked travelling as much as he liked coming home to his home outside of Geelong, and catching up with friends and family.

Then he decided to take a gamble to try and dispel anymore questions, and with a silent apology to the original writer of the song he had in mind, he said: 'Actually, I've been travelling since I was about sixteen, there's a story behind it, and I've actually written a song about it, but it doesn't really go into specifics, and some of it I've added just because it suited the piece, if you want to hear it.'
A chorus of affirmatives was his answer, and as he strummed the opening chords, he nearly fumbled it, as he remembered something:

Before he'd left for Switzerland, his mother and father had attempted to talk him out of it, citing the dangers of so untested a procedure, and even his little sister Katherine had attempted to waylay him, by means of taking the solenoid from his car,- he'd been more surprised by the fact that she actually knew enough about engines to actually find and remove it, than that she'd gone to those lengths to try and stop him; It'd taken him the better part of an hour to convince his father to replace the solenoid and let him go.
And he even recalled the apprehensive look Katherine had given him as he left, and it nearly stopped him as he started to sing again:

'They had my future wrapped up in a parcel. And no one even thought of asking me. The day I turned fifteen I caught the mail flight, to find what else might be in life for me.'

The look on Laurence's face was one of grim horror, and Nathan briefly wondered if he'd dared too far. But to stop now would be to imply he actually knew something of the friction between Laurence and his family, and before he could sneak a look at Lord Allendale's reaction, he launched into the next verse:

'I rode on carts, with caravans, and lived on nothing,' he sang, hastily editing in passable substitutions for anachronistic terms, hoping desperately he wasn't fumbling the beat, 'served me right for wanting to be free,' he caught a look at the neutral expression on Lord Allendale's face as he kept on playing. Evidently he'd seen a parallel, though Nathan didn't care to hazard how similar the song's scenario was to whatever Laurence had done.
'Ah, well that's the way society looked at it. But it didn't seem to be that way to me; And the biggest disappointment in the family was me, the only twisted branch upon our good ol' family tree, I just couldn't be the person they expected me to be, and the biggest disappointment in the world was me.' He sang the chorus with just the right note of reminiscing bitterness.

It's a good thing I don't really need anyone to like me, and I was expecting hostility anyway. I might as well just keep playing this charade and see how it goes. He reflected resignedly, judging that he might indeed have gambled a bit too much, as he strummed a short bridge.

'A lot more dinnertimes than there were dinners. I learned a lot that hurt me at the time; then this quiet country boy went home a different man, with a memory of distance on my mind. But I always spoke too loud and laughed too often, maybe drank too many glasses down, and perhaps my clothes were older than I realised,-a relief to all concerned when I left town.' That at least, was one parallel that wasn't going to be drawn, he was fairly certain, though the song as a whole still probably could be construed as a subtle snub.

Yeah, he'd probably dared a bit too much.

'And the biggest disappointment in the family was me, the only twisted branch upon our good ol' family tree, I just couldn't be the person they expected me to be, and the biggest disappointment in the world was me. And the biggest disappointment in the family was me, the only twisted branch upon our good ol' family tree, I just couldn't be the person they expected me to be, and the biggest disappointment in the world was me.' The song ended abruptly as he strummed the last chord. He lowered the guitar to give his arms a rest, and was relieved to at least get some polite applause as opposed to boos and rotten fruit.

Laurence still looked like he'd seen a ghost, and Lord Allendale's look was reminiscent of a Russian winter.
'Thank you, sir, that was…a very well conceived song.' Lord Allendale said, coldly polite. 'Please, be seated and have something to eat, then maybe you can share a few more songs with us afterwards,' he added.
Nathan waved the compliment aside. 'You're too kind, sir.' He replied formally, before placing the guitar gently in its case and closing the lid.

The food, contraire to what he'd expected, was opulent without being excessive, and the conversation was just how he liked it:

Laurence, who was seated a couple of places down from him on the opposite side of the table looked like he was having as much fun as he'd had when he'd had to read Year of Wonders for his VCE English in 2011, and looking none too impressed at being largely ignored.

Nathan himself would've loved this treatment, but as he wasn't wearing the clothing of a class of people who were essentially pariahs, he attracted the odd inquisitive question about where he'd travelled, about his family, and other assorted contextually complicated questions.

It was a relief to him when he could get back up and sing, and the first thing he sang was a humorous song by Slim Dusty called He's a Good Bloke When He's Sober, which, given the majority of the men had drank enough to see the funny side of things a little, went over well enough to,-he hoped,-slightly overshadow the gambit he'd played earlier.

Then, positively feeling slightly vindictive, Laurence interjected:
'Sir, you will pardon me, I hope, but, do you know any poetry?' He asked, clearly thinking that Nathan's grasp of this would cause him to founder.
'Not a lot, no,' Nathan admitted. At least, not in the sense that I don't want to go having to explain it all. He added silently. 'But, there is one piece I heard in my travels I took the trouble to memorise. I've even managed to put a tune to it.' He said, again, privately apologising to the band that had originally put the poem to music. 'Would you care to hear it?' He enquired.
'If you would indulge us.' Laurence said with a nod.

In response, Nathan hefted his guitar once more, and strummed the opening chords:
'They lie, the men who tell us, in such loud decisive tone, that want is here a stranger, that misery is unknown, where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet, my windowsill is level with the faces in the street…' This poem, he was fairly sure wasn't that much of a risk: Amazing Grace, was pretty much an unofficial anthem for abolition, considering its author had forsaken the trade to go into the Church, and he hadn't copped any cold looks for it, and Faces in the Street was simply a poem about another form of social justice.
'…And so it must be while the world goes rolling 'round this course, that the warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse, and not until a city feels a revolution's heat, will it's sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street, so they're pouring on, they're marching on, to the drummer's threatening beat, and the war-hymns and the cheering of the faces in the street.' Once again the music ended abruptly.

'An intriguing piece,' Lord Allendale said, eyeing Nathan with a look that wasn't cold, or curious, or disdaining. It was calculating, measuring, and Nathan got the distinct feeling that maybe he'd piqued Lord Allendale's interest to the point the man might seek to find out more about him.
It was a remote possibility, but Nathan couldn't think of anything more plausible as to why the man would be giving him so narrow a look.

After the poem, Lord Allendale suggested they rejoin the ladies, and from there had Nathan recite Faces in the Street once again,-though this time he refrained from reciting a few central verses that referenced prostitution and flesh-pots, given the company,- after which Laurence made his excuses and quit the room.

Nathan however, stayed for another couple of songs, namely Holy Grail, which he passed off as another song he'd learned 'on his travels' and Seasons, which was a bit of a risk, considering the band that had penned it, but it was received with polite applause, and he used it as a closer, so he was able to quit the room before questions were asked about it.

When he made it to Temeraire's side and threw his Dryzabone over himself as a makeshift blanket, he couldn't help but allow himself a tight smile.
The evening had been every bit the ordeal he'd imagined, but at least he'd been able to at least save face and avoid open ridicule.

Laurence meanwhile, couldn't decide whether he wanted to strangle Nathan for his song about running away from home at a young age, or bless him for inadvertently choosing the poem to recite that he had, as it had evidently put wheels turning in his father's head in regards to ideas on how to promote abolition.

'I see, I will go at once then.' He said emotionlessly.
'What? No, I'm not disowning you, not that you don't deserve it, but I refuse to turn this into a melodrama for the world's benefit. You may stay tonight and depart tomorrow as you said you would. That will do nicely.'

Laurence turned to leave.
'Where did you find that fellow?' Lord Allendale asked as Laurence reached for the door handle.
'On Madeira, he had a misunderstanding with one of the press gangs, and I took his part when it became evident they would've beaten him half to death; he volunteered his services in capacity as a hand as a shibboleth to get into the Aerial Corps to avoid any future incidences like; he also agreed to pass on designs for new cannons and rifles he acquired in his travels, if the King and Parliament ratified a set of laws designed to limit civilian casualties and minimise the fallout of wars.' Laurence replied.

Lord Allendale sighed regretfully.
'A damned waste; he would've made a fine politician, and a potent champion for the cause.' He said, referring to the abolition movement.
'Indeed, sir; Goodnight.' Laurence replied formally, then left his father to his pondering.

'Mr King?' Laurence asked, and Nathan stood up.
'It's not morning already is it?' Nathan asked standing up, and rubbing his eyes.
In the starlight, he only just barely managed to turn aside Laurence's punch before it would've impacted in his gut.

'Hey, hey, hey, cool it.' Nathan said, springing back and bringing his guard up, only for Laurence's second attempt to take him full in the gut and drop him, winded.
'Laurence?' Temeraire asked in concern.
'Don't worry yourself Temeraire, I just think I need to teach Mr. King a short lesson in humility.'

Nathan sucked in two deep, shuddering breaths.
'If you're…referring to, that song…I sung earlier abut…being a disappointment to my family…I didn't mean to cause trouble.' Nathan ground out as he caught his breath, then stood shakily, and backed off a few steps so he'd have at least a second's warning in case Laurence decided to drop him again. 'I was only trying to discourage questions about my past.' He explained.
'Well you succeeded.' Laurence said angrily. 'And you managed to point my father in the direction of his own criticisms of my choice of career in regards to the Navy to boot.'

'I'm sorry!' Nathan repeated emphatically. 'In retrospect, I should've just fended the questions off, but it seemed a good idea at the time, and once I started playing, I couldn't stop, or it would've implied I knew there was friction between you and your parents. Honestly, if I knew if it'd cause you that sort of trouble, I wouldn't have sung that song.'

Nathan met Laurence's militant gaze easily.
Laurence was the first to move, but he didn't break eye-contact.
'Mr-' he stopped. 'Nathan. In future, you would oblige me greatly, if you refrained from doing something that you think might cause me considerable trouble.' He said.
Nathan thought about it for a second.
'Lighten up a bit, and don't put me in an awkward position like that again, and you've got yourself a deal. That sound fair to you?' Nathan asked, extending a hand.

Laurence held out his own hand, but Nathan withdrew for a moment.
'Don't shake, unless you mean it.' He cautioned.
Nathan found his hand siezed in a vice-like handshake.
'Deal.' Laurence said.

'What has you so distressed?' Asked Temeraire, wings half mantled, then swung his head down to regard Nathan suspiciously. 'What have you done to upset Laurence?' Temeraire demanded.
'I sung a song that was…a little bit too close to reality for people to not draw the parallels…evidently, it caused Laurence a bit of trouble.' Nathan explained cautiously, getting an inkling why most people outside of the Aerial Corps were afraid of dragons.

Temeraire swung his head to Laurence.
'Was your father angry at our coming?' He enquired, unknowingly impressing Nathan with his perception.
'It is an old quarrel at heart.' Laurence said heavily, settling himself on Temeraire's foreleg with a horse rug, and handing Nathan his coat as an afterthought. 'He would have had me go into the Church, like my brother; he has never counted the Navy as an honourable occupation.'
'And is an aviator worse, then?' Temeraire asked, sounding outraged to Nathan. 'Is that why you did not like to leave the Navy?'
'In his eyes, perhaps, the Corps is worse, but not in mine; there is too great a compensation.' Laurence replied, reaching up to stroke Temeraire's nose.

'Amen.' Nathan said, in a weary, heavy tone as he slumped down in the embrace of Temeraire's arms. 'Try not to crush me tonight would you?' He asked Temeraire, slapping the young dragon's forearm affectionately.

'Did your father not let you sleep inside?' Temeraire questioned, snorting, making trails of vapour, very like smoke trail from his nostrils.
'I always intended on sleeping out; less servants to deal with.' Nathan replied, shifting slightly.
'Oh, no,' Laurence said, sounding slightly embarrassed. 'I only I would rather be with you than sleep alone.'
'So long as you are quite warm.'

No danger of being cold. He's as good as a radiator. Nathan thought to himself contentedly as he began to drowse, and Laurence's voice became indistinct.
As he drifted fully into sleep, he unaccountably felt a deep, aching loneliness, and for the first time in a long time that night, he dreamed. He dreamed of his family.
Though, that was all he could say for certain.

Long, long time.

Sorry, but, you know, mid-year exams.

I hope a long chapter makes up for it.

For Story alerting, I'd like to thank: MissDarkAngel1280397, dragonshina, Captiosus, Old Girl Lost, and animelover1993.

For the Author Alert, I'd like to thank alexia795.

For the Favourite Story adds, I'd like to thank: animelover1993, Punishershadow and Penstriker.

Finally, for Reviewing, I'd like to thank: Hideout Writer, JAtkins, dragonshina, animelover1993, silentmidnightdeath and Culebra del Sol.

I hope this makes up for my absence.

'til next time:

No One-liners.