Author: Mary Crawford
Fandom: Naomi Novik's Temeraire.
Warning: I don't do warnings.
Posted: January 1st, 2007.
Notes: Written for Esteliel in the Yuletide 2006 challenge, aka the Obscure Fandom Secret Santa Project. Feedback will be treasured.
Laurence had had ample time to measure the confines of his cell; now he paced only to keep himself occupied, to keep from going mad through inaction. Six paces by six. The cell had stone walls, an ancient wooden door, a straw pallet, an ewer of water, a tiny window, and a small, square hole in the floor. According to the rudimentary calendar he had scratched on the wall with a chip of stone, it was the 18th of October.
It was intolerable. Five days since he had last seen sunlight; five days since the battle of Jena, and no word of loss or victory. No word of how Temeraire was faring. Had he gone into battle without Laurence? Had he been captured? Wounded? The thought weighed down his heart like a stone, and he could not outpace it.
Six paces; about turn. One, two--
There was a clang, and then his cell door swung open in a blaze of lantern light. Laurence halted and watched two armed guards enter the cell, wondering what was about to happen. It was too early for a meal, and the great clawmarks on his chest had healed well enough that he did not expect more medical attention; also, these men carried nothing but a couple of lanterns and the pistols they held trained on him.
The guards stationed themselves on either side of the open door, and then a third man stepped through. The door clanged shut, but Laurence hardly noticed it; he stared, amazed, at the man who had just entered.
"So. You are the gentleman who captured my dragon egg."
"I am," Laurence answered. There seemed little point in denying it. "Sir." He was certainly not going to address Napoleon by the exalted title he had claimed for his own.
Standing so close to Laurence, Napoleon looked even more commanding than he had on the summit of the Landgrafenberg. It was not his compact frame or the set of his shoulders, certainly not the nondescript uniform he wore, that made him appear dangerous, Laurence thought; judging from those, he might have been anything from a quartermaster to a captain of infantry. It was the blaze of intelligence in his grey eyes that riveted attention.
"I will tell you that we have secured Jena," Napoleon said. "And that the Prussians clamor for your return." He turned, beginning to pace, while the guards kept their pistols trained on Laurence. "I am debating whether I should ransom you."
He paced back and forth much as Laurence had, his arms locked behind his back. Laurence stood still, watching him, wondering what to expect from this strange meeting. Nothing could be less like an interrogation; it was as if Napoleon were a fellow officer who merely happened to be on the opposing side, who had no greater claim upon his attention than one British prisoner-of-war.
"Badenhaur?" Laurence asked, and when Napoleon frowned, added, "The young officer who was with me on the mountain?" in his awkward French.
Napoleon shook his head. "Dead."
Laurence bent his head. He, too, would have died from Lien's claws, if Badenhaur had not thrust himself to the front. Brave, and young, so young; what a waste.
"My dragon?" Deliberately he laid the claim to partnership, if not ownership; he wondered if Napoleon, who appeared to value Lien greatly, knew the difference.
"The Prussians hardly know how to contain him, I hear," Napoleon said, and Laurence exhaled, a wave of relief nearly driving him to his knees. Not captured, then. Alive. And of course Temeraire would be frantic, knowing Laurence was in French hands, or perhaps not even certain of that. He had to get himself out somehow. If they were truly willing to ransom him--
"I spared your life once," Laurence said. "Perhaps you will do me the courtesy of returning the favour."
Napoleon turned, his eyes flashing to Laurence's face. He stepped closer, then closer still, driving Laurence back against the stone wall. "Please, explain yourself," he said, quite calm, and Laurence tried to remember to breathe.
This man deserved the truth. "Lieutenant Badenhauer took aim at you, from where we lay concealed. I prevented him, and it was the scuffle that attracted Lien's attention. What happened after, you know."
"If that is so, why did you prevent him?"
Laurence shook his head. "We were concealed, you thought yourself alone; I am no man's assassin."
Napoleon's eyes measured him; they stood close enough that Laurence could feel his breath. "What will you do, if I ransom you?"
"Return to the war," Laurence said instantly.
There was a moment's pause in which nobody moved or seemed to breathe; then Napoleon smiled, his face transformed, and Laurence felt a helpless smile tugging at his own lips. The man's presence lit the room like a furnace.
"I will return you to your dragon," Napoleon said, and stepped back. "Until we meet again, Captain," he added in very creditable English.
"Au revoir," said Laurence, and smiled.