sparsenicjade
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Written for Yuletide 2009.

***


Certainly, Emily knew she was a girl. So she had been told, at least. And there was the way Laurence sometimes stammered in places where he wouldn't have, not with the rest of the crew. Pretending she didn't notice was not the same as not noticing, but it worked just as well in most instances.

It was only that, until the arrival of the garnets, it hadn't occurred to Emily that being a girl really made much of a difference.

The garnets were pretty, certainly. Only, Emily had never once seen her mother in anything shinier than a medal. The dragons liked things that shone, and Emily toyed with the idea that maybe she was part dragon. Her mother had never told her who her father was, and the Chinese had tales of children born of both. Granted, most of those children were gods who did things like saving the nation, or Emperor, or sometimes both. And they usually ended up in the stars, or some other place that Emily thought would be pretty boring if she had to stay there forever.

Then again, it wasn't as if she knew what went on in the stars, maybe there were battles and dragons and other adventures up there. She'd have to ask Temeraire. Temeraire knew everything. Well, mostly, everything. Sometimes Laurence or her mom knew things that Temeraire didn't know, but that was because Temeraire was a Chinese dragon and had ended up in England by accident. He couldn't be expected to know all sorts of English things. In any case, he would probably know about the stars.

Because she did like the garnets. She got the feeling she shouldn't have--Dyer had poked fun, calling her a girl, which he never did otherwise. It was just that it wasn't common that she was given something, not for herself. Nobody in the regiment was really given things for himself, except the dragons. Nobody seemed to need them, for that matter, except the dragons.

She knew, deep down, that being part-dragon wasn't likely. She had seen the egg Iskierka broke out of, and she had seen Catherine's ever-expanding belly. The two methods of childbirth weren't really compatible, she supposed, but it was a nice thought. It would mean there was something special about her, rather than just different. As it was--she fingered the garnets, the surface of them smooth and cool--she suspected she was more different than special.

*


Dyer was the one to tell her why she'd been given the garnets. Her reward for his honesty (and really, he could have been a little nicer about it) was to kick him where her mother had always told her hurt the most. ("Why there?" she'd asked, but her mom had just laughed, and told her she would figure it out for herself. She still hadn't.) Dyer had gone a rather pleasing shade of white and fallen over, the way some of the men did when they were shot off the backs of the dragons. For a second, Emily had felt guilty, but then he'd gasped, proving he was still alive, and the remembrance of his words, "It's because they think you're his by-blow," washed over her again. She wasn't precisely sure what a by-blow was, but she'd heard men curse enough to know when a bad word when she heard one.

She needed someone who would tell her what it was. That ruled out Laurence, certainly, and Granby, and really, anyone who wasn't Dyer, and she certainly was not about to approach him on the subject. It was sheer desperation that drove her to Temeraire. He wouldn't tell Emily if Laurence had instructed him otherwise, but Emily thought maybe Laurence wouldn't have. Sometimes Laurence thought his silence was enough to quiet everyone else.

She was thankful that no one had been much fussed by what she did with the garnets, not even her mother, who had mostly just been amused. Emily should have known, then. Her mother was never amused except when it was over something Emily should have known about, but did not. As a result, Emily had been left to her own devices as to where to keep the jewels. At first Emily hadn't been wholly sure of what to do with them--Temeraire always wore his jewels. The garnets were pretty and all, but heavy, far too cumbersome for everyday wear. (If she was half-dragon, she hadn't gotten her size from her father. Pity, she imagined Dyer would not be so quick to call her names and such, had she.)

Tharkay who came up with the idea of a hidden pocket in her travel kit. It was not perfect, as her kit was subject to all types of abuse, but it was the safest place she could think to keep them. It also made them easier to access when she needed them. She curled them into her hand as best she could and made her way across the grounds to where she had last seen Temeraire.

*


Emily climbed over Temeraire's front right claw and inched in toward his chest, where the breastplate he always wore lay. He said, "Oh, hello," a bit lazily.

The garnets were too small to fit anywhere on Temeraire--they circled around Emily's neck quite easily, but even Temeraire's limbs were considerably more substantial than Emily's neck. She considered the problem and hooked them around the chain that held the breastplate in place.

Temeraire looked down at what she had done. "Those are your garnets."

Emily shrugged. "You like jewels. Temeraire, what's a by-blow?"

Temeraire said, somewhat indignantly, "You cannot bribe me with items that are already mine."

Emily frowned. "You just said they were mine."

"Well, yes. But you are of my crew. Therefore, what is yours is mine."

Dragons had odd logic to begin with, and Temeraire more than most, but even so, "But you weren't getting to wear them before."

Temeraire drew himself up a bit and said, "Laurence says I mustn't covet the goods of my crew, it makes me seem petty."

"But you didn't covet it. I gave it to you."

Temeraire blinked at her. "Oh. I fear you misunderstood. To covet is to be envious of."

"Oh." Emily sighed. "Just don't tell Laurence, won't you? He'll get himself all in a snit about my education."

Temeraire looked uncertain, and Emily used the moment to force her agenda. "Then I'll be forced to ask him what a by-blow is, and you know how Laurence detests it when I ask him questions of an improper nature." She said the last part with as much of a regal and proper bearing as she could manage.

Temeraire deflated a bit. "I do. However, I fear it is nearly inevitable that you will ask him such a question."

Emily wasn't sure how to react to that. "Why?"

"Because," Temeraire admitted, seeming rather put out, "I don't know the answer."

*


Despite her threat, Emily was able to think of at least one alternative to going to Laurence, which she doubt she wanted to do anymore than Temeraire desired it to happen. She found Berkley without having to search too hard, as it was generally easy to hear the other captain from a distance.

When she had managed to get him alone--well, Maximus was there, but he was eating, so unlikely to pay much attention to either of them--she asked, "Berkley, do you know what a by-blow is?"

Berkley stared at her for a moment before bursting into laughter. Emily was not fond of being made light of, but Berkley did it to most everyone who wasn't Maximus, so she supposed that was all right. Finally he said, "I'm not certain Laurence or your mother would approve at all of me telling you."

"They wouldn't," she said frankly. "But I'll find out one way or another." It was true. She'd ask Dyer if worse came to worst.

Berkley laughed again, then sighed, and admitted, "I'm glad you're not my responsibility, Roland."

Emily didn't take offense. Berkley was glad most people weren't his responsibility. She said, "Well then?"

"It's what you are, in a sense. A child whose father isn't married to her mother."

Emily thought about that for a long moment. It seemed ridiculous to be insulted by something that was simply true. "Then why did Dyer say it like it was a bad thing?"

Something flashed in Berkley's eyes. "Because Dyer is no gentleman."

"Berk--"

He cut her off. "Outside the corps, particularly rich folk, like Laurence's people, they think it makes a person less. But it doesn't. Don't concern yourself for a moment that it might."

"But then why would Lady Allendale give me garnets? If it makes me something bad?"

Berkley sighed again. "That I can't explain. It's something you'll just understand, sooner or later."

"When I grow up?"

Berkley's smile was sadder than it usually was. "Probably long before."

*


Not two days later, Laurence approached her with the garnets, and placed them in front of her silently. Emily looked at them for a moment and said, "Temeraire can have them."

"Roland--"

"It's a lie," Emily said, not wanting to hear whatever it was Laurence would come up with to make her feel better. He was a good captain and all, but there were a lot of times when Laurence had no idea what to say as a person. "What your mother believes, it's a lie. I might not know who my father is, but you weren't even in the Corps when I was born. You hadn't met my mother."

"No," Laurence said softly.

"I'm not your-- I'm one of your crew. And I haven't noticed your mother giving garnets to anyone else amongst us."

"Rol-- Emily."

She looked up at that. She couldn't remember Laurence ever having used her Christian name. He looked horribly discomfited, and yet determined. He drew in a sharp breath, and said, "No, it's not true. But I-- I suppose I could be no more proud of you, if it were."

Emily blinked. "Oh."

Laurence nodded sharply and then turned and walked away, his stride military-crisp. In front of her, the garnets were gleaming, surely polished up by Temeraire. She reached out and hooked them around her neck, the weight there oddly pleasing. She could put them away later.


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