Pairing/characters: No pairings, the main character is Emily Roland - but lots of appearances from others as well.
Disclaimer: The characters and settings appearing in this story don't belong to me, they belong to the marvellous Naomi Novik.
Prompt: #1325 - Temeraire, Emily Roland, Everyone assumes that Emily will inherit captainship of Excidium after her mother. But will a Longwing accept a captain who's realizing she's female in body, but not in mind or spirit?
Summary: Roland has no idea if Excidium will accept him as Captain, he doesn't have the answers but he's hoping he can find someone who does.
Author's Notes: I owe a massive debt of gratitude to applegnat for the wonderful beta she did for me at such short notice. So much help, I can't even begin to explain it. Any mistakes that are left are my own. Also I'd love to thank whomever came up with the original prompt because I enjoyed writing it so much. I really enjoyed researching this story and as I thought others might be interested, I'll post some links to the things I reference at the end. Thanks.
In Which Dyer Raises A Troubling Matter…
Roland ran the leather across his boots again. It was not exactly that Laurence had said anything, as that he hadn’t, with the slight frown of dissatisfaction that usually meant – ‘This is not how things are done in the Navy’.
Roland had his doubts. He had had plenty of time to how things were really done in the Navy when he had been young and unnoticed and they’d been forced from one end of the world to another.
Of course the frown probably had more to do with Temeraire’s designs on parliament. He had decided, much to Laurence’s concern, that if it must be so difficult to attend parliament himself, then Laurence should stand in his place. Until they convinced him otherwise they were grounded in
Across the covert several of the ensigns and cadets were milling around the new Hatching Pavilion, craning to get the occasional look inside its forbidding walls.
They were being ridiculous of course; none of them were even in consideration, but news had broken this morning that Iskierka and Excidium’s egg had finally begun to harden. The whole covert was, undeniably, excited, even if it was likely to be months yet before it hatched.
Roland was so engrossed in their attempts to catch a glimpse of the egg that he did not at first notice Dyer approaching.
Dyer’s eye was noticeably blackened. Well, Roland would be damned if he would apologise for it. Instead he waited for Dyer to speak first.
It was an uncomfortable pause.
“I’ve come to say that I’m damned sorry for what happened last night,” Dyer said at last. “I should not have come upon you like that, it must have surprised you.”
“You should not have come upon me at all,” Roland pointed out.
“I suppose,” Dyer sighed sitting beside him. “It is just that I am a man and you are a girl and it seemed only natural.”
It had not seemed at all natural to Roland, to have Dyer suddenly leaping upon him in a hurried embrace and grappling for a kiss. But then Roland did not much feel like a girl and never had, and that was supposed to be a natural sensation as well.
“Still,” Dyer continued, “You needn’t have hit me so hard.”
“Well, I apologise for that,” Roland told him, not at all meaning it. It had been a reflexive, mostly unconscious if thoroughly effective gesture.
Dyer nodded his acceptance and they lapsed into companionable silence.
“Look,” Roland said eventually, “If you are so eager for a girl’s affection then there are plenty of places to oblige you in
Dyer silenced him with a truly horrified look, his face blanching.
“I could not… I mean I wouldn’t dream of… not the fir…” he stuttered and then trailed off, looking utterly mortified.
“You have kissed a girl before?” Roland asked, surprised. He himself had first kissed a girl years since in
For a moment Dyer looked as if he could not breathe, let alone answer and then he turned away sharply.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said with a note of finality and Roland was relieved to let the matter alone.
Across from them a clutch of excited, giggling cadets burst from the hatching enclosure. Pink and sweaty, they had clearly been secreted inside for some time.
“Oh the beasts,” Roland sighed without any real rancour. “I suppose we will have to go and upbraid them now.”
There were definitely some disadvantages to being made first lieutenant, even if he was never able to hide his pride at holding the position upon Temeraire, still the best of all dragons, except perhaps Excidium. Beside him Dyer laughed, there was still some tension there but at least he was relaxing.
“Leave them,” he said. “We got into much worse at their age, mostly due to you. They’re just excited and who can blame them. It is likely to be a rare dragon.”
Roland thought for a moment of Excidium’s selfish cleverness and Iskierka’s fiery unreliability.
“It is likely to be an abomination,” he stated firmly. “God preserve whoever harnesses it.”
“Still, it would be a fine thing to captain such a dragon,” Dyer said with a wistful tone. Roland merely grunted, he had long since learned not to encourage Dyer’s romanticism.
“Anyway,” Dyer said suddenly, returning from whatever flight of fancy his mind had been on, “It’s all right for you, you’re guaranteed a dragon. You have no idea what it feels like for the rest of us. Waiting.”
“No, I suppose I don’t,” Roland admitted. It was the end of the waiting that concerned him, his mother’s death was not something he could even begin to consider without feeling like he had been struck in the stomach.
Even the idea that now, with the war finished, it would be retirement not death that claimed her, held no relief. He could not picture his mother quietly withdrawn, the image did not exist for him, it did not feel real or possible.
“I may not even be given the chance of a dragon, and if I am, it might refuse my harness. And you do not have to face that fear either, I do not think dragons ever refuse their captain’s children.”
It was said almost as a question, and a foolish one. They had both been at Loch Laggan when Celeritas had grounded Rankin, deservedly. Though Roland had not thought about the matter much since and he supposed Dyer might have forgotten as well.
Yet now Dyer had raised the question, it was difficult to ignore. Difficult and horrifying.
Roland had spent his whole life in the silent understanding that as long as he survived and did not do something dreadful he would become Excidium’s captain on some far flung day. It had been a sometimes uncomfortable certainty.
But Excidium was a Longwing, and Longwings would only bare female captains and Roland had been growing increasingly certain that he was not female.
The realisation that his one certainty was not as secure as he had believed, felt like falling. It felt like the sickening moment as the dragon and harness slipped from your grasp before the carabiner jolted you back into the illusion of safety.
“Are you alright?” Dyer asked, startling him. “You look as if you had been thrown from a dragon.”
In Which Roland Discusses His Concerns with His Mother…
Roland swallowed his concerns about Excidium as best he could for the next month, as there seemed to be no one to discuss the matter with.
The idea of speaking with Laurence had crossed his mind only long enough for him to dismiss it. He had been young, but had been aware enough how Laurence had struggled and continued to struggle with the idea of him being a girl. Trying to explain to him now that, despite previous opinion and appearances to the contrary, he was actually a boy, defied comprehension.
He had briefly tried to talk about it with Temeraire, thinking that dragons might have some insight on the matter, but the dragon had been too caught up in his own concerns to pay much issue to the matter. Instead he had quickly turned the discussion to questions of why he should need to convince people of Laurence’s superiority to those currently in Parliament when his position as his own captain should speak obviously of his worth.
Still, it had dwelt on him and he had been relieved to learn that Excidium and his mother should be returning soon so Excidium might speak to his egg.
That also was another of Temeraire’s ideas, that as soon as an egg began to harden it should be educated on what to expect upon hatching. He had sulked for a week, unable to hide his disappointment when it had been decided that he should have the honour himself. The Corps could not risk every hatchling proving to be an unharnessed radical idealist.
In the end it had been decided that instead the eggs’ progenitors should shoulder the task.
The policy had, at least, provided the unexpected bonus that most eggs now hatched sooner, rather than later and though the hatchlings might prove choosier over their captains few now went entirely unharnessed.
Even if some dragons grumbled over the chore.
In the end, frustratingly, it took almost two days following his mother’s arrival for Roland to gain her company alone.
It always surprised Roland, on these scattered visits, how his mother, only a year or two the elder of Laurence, could seem so much older. But then his mother’s cares and duties ran much deeper, and even now that Napoleon had surrendered and withdrawn to
Still, she smiled at him warmly and embraced him firmly. So different from the formal reception two days previously. For this private moment at least she could be a mother instead of an admiral.
As they separated, she held him at arms length for a moment, surveying him critically.
“There is not enough colour in your cheeks,” she stated at last. “At least that is an answer. Laurence hesitated when I questioned him. Temeraire has not been flying enough, I shall have words with him in the morning. Whether this surrender proves any surer than the last, the drills remain important.”
“Temeraire is distracted,” Roland admitted.
“Oh yes, this foolish scheme he has dragged Laurence and half the Corps into.”
Roland laughed easily, and his mother matched him.
“Temeraire shall get his way in the end,” he told her.
“More’s the pity, and then half the dragons in the Corp will want their Captain’s in government as they have the leisure for such entertainment. Iskierka is already demanding that if Laurence runs,
“What was Captain Granby’s response?” Roland asked.
“Horror, mostly,” she replied with a chuckle and then changed tack abruptly. “Now what is it that you have been aching to talk to me about?”
Roland was unsure of how to begin.
“It is nothing,” he said at last.
“Do not be foolish. There is no keeping secrets from mothers or admirals, and it is clear you have been bottling something inside since I arrived.”
“Mostly nothing,” he corrected and then paused again.
It was not that he feared his mother’s reaction or any reproach. They had always been able to speak openly on ant subject. He simply did not know what words could describe the matter.
“Well?” She prompted, ushering him into a chair and pouring him a glass of brandy.
“I have been thinking about Rankin,” he told her.
“Never a pleasant prospect,” she interrupted. “His family are demanding that he be offered a dragon again.”
“You won’t let him?” Roland said quickly in surprise.
“Not if I can help it, and if I must, I shall be sure to warn the egg not to accept him first.”
“It was about Celeritas turning him off that I was thinking. Does it happen often? That a dragon will turn his Captain’s heir away?” He asked.
“Not often, but sometimes. Mostly it happens when a dragon will accept no one and go unharnessed instead. Rankin’s case is unusual, Celeritas accepted him at first. Are you concerned about Excidium?”
“You are no Rankin, and Excidium accepted me easily enough, I do not think you have anything to fear and I hope that it is years off since.”
Roland could not prevent the sigh that escaped his lips. He had hoped to feel reassured. His mother frowned slightly.
“I see, it is something deeper troubling you. You shall have to explain it to me, I’m afraid my deductive skills will only take me so far.”
“Longwings have only ever accepted female Captain’s?” Roland asked, knowing the answer but clinging to the last small hope of some relief.
“Indeed, thankfully,” his mother answered, with what felt to him like a horrid note of finality.
“Then that is what is worrying me. I do not feel much like a woman. What if Excidium turns me aside because of it?”
The words flowed quickly, and this time it was his mother whom sighed.
“I suppose I should have suspected this,” she said to his surprise.
“Yes, I know you have been courting.”
This was a surprise too far and Roland almost bolted from his seat.
“How?” He began in horror.
Currently he was courting three clever, charmed and occasionally confused girls in different parts of
“An admiral’s prerogative, I’m afraid, and a mother’s. It may surprise you, but there are always people willing to keep an eye on you for me and inform me of your comings and goings.”
“Not Captain Laurence?”
His mother laughed throatily.
“Laurence? Oh no. Do not be concerned on that account, he used to inform me of your schoolwork and conduct, though he always painted a far too glowing portrait of both, but he firmly believes your personal life should be yours alone. It was
That, at least, was a relief. He had only been courting one of the girls before Iskierka had been sent to patrol the Channel and keep out of trouble.
“There are many women,” his mother said in a matter of fact tone, “Who do not welcome the attentions of a man, who prefer the company of other women. It does not make them any less women themselves.”
“Oh,” Roland said, his mind momentarily blank, “I know.”
After all, he could direct her to three living in
“It is not just about that,” he tried to explain, “It is… I mean… I have always felt like a boy.”
“Well, that is to be expected. We have always treated you like any of the boys, it is only natural you should feel accordingly. But that does not alter that you were born a girl, Emily, do not loose any more sleep over this.”
Roland could only nod in mute acceptance, knowing that he should feel reassured. The things his mother had said were all true; but they did not feel right at all.
In Which Roland Endures Many Opinions…
Roland did his best to follow his mother’s advice and not worry. He even attempted to think more like a girl, without much success.
Wearing one of the few dresses he owned did not make him feel any more feminine. It mostly made him feel stupid. And no matter how he looked at the other Captain’s, none of them were remotely attractive, except perhaps Harcourt when she wasn’t pregnant, and that hardly seemed the point.
Eventually he’d tried to stop thinking about it. His mother was in fine health and perhaps this was something he would grow out of in time.
He had lasted four days, and then the papers had filled with the story of William Brown. A woman serving as a man aboard the Queen Charlotte for the last ten years.
Of course, then everyone had been discussing it, and it had been hard to ignore. Evenings in the dining hall had become almost unbearable as nearly every captain, lieutenant and midwingman had felt entitled to offer an opinion on the matter, even once the Midwingmen had left it didn’t stop.
“Well, it is not like this is the first such instance,”
Across the room Roland saw both his mother and Laurence, pause, glance up and frown almost in unison, though he suspected it was for very different reasons.
“Still, why ever do they do it?” Dyer asked and then flushed adding hurriedly, “I mean, I know why women are in the Corps; they’re needed. But the Navy isn’t like that.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Harcourt said, she was pregnant again and heavy with frustration.
Laurence did not react, his face still and unmoving.
“I suppose,” he admitted his voice even and reserved despite the knowledge that most people in the room knew that he himself had run away to sea.
“You haven’t expressed an opinion yet,”
“No I don’t believe I ever made her acquaintance.”
“But…” he burst and then fell silent, blushing.
“Well,” he said nervously, “I understand that a woman might dress as a man to further her career, but why do men dress as women?”
His question was met mostly with blank stares, though Roland noticed a few knowing glances, tight smiled; and Harcourt laughed softly.
“It is just,” Harley continued, blushing deeper, “That there are some places in
It only took Roland a few minutes of carefully worded intimidation once he had caught Harley alone, to get him to admit where those places were.
In Which Roland Seeks Some Expert Advice…
The streets of
It was an issue which had caused a great deal of rejoicing amongst the Corps, particularly amongst the dragons, as it made landing in the capital much easier; and a great deal of consternation amongst everybody else.
Still, even with Temeraire’s joyous comments still echoing in Roland’s ears, he was glad to finally leave the unprotected thoroughfares into one of the seedier, more secretive side alleys.
Harley had told him, reluctantly, that they were called Molly Houses and were places that gentlemen of certain tastes might gather to explore them. Though he had refused to say anymore than that.
More importantly for Roland, he’d admitted that one lay not too far from the covert, though the words were peppered with futile admonitions that they were not the sort of places it would be proper for Roland to go.
Roland was not concerned about breaking any social rules, he was used to it and at any rate he was dressed smartly in his best uniform, his breasts bound, and few people seeing him that way took him for a woman these days.
He was not worried either that Harley would reveal his whereabouts to anyone at the Corps. He did not seem to Roland the type who would tattle, especially against a superior officer. Even if he was tempted, it was unlikely he could bring himself to speak the words past his own embarrassment.
No, the only thing that scared Roland was that there might be none of Harley’s Gentlemen Ladies at the Molly House when he arrived.
Thankfully, this fear proved completely unfounded, as a small gaggle of the creatures were lounging outside the
“No rest for the wicked,” one of them said with a laugh, catching sight of Roland and prising herself from the wall she was leaning against.
She moved quickly towards him, the swaying of her hips causing the elaborate dress she was wearing to rustle and crackle softly.
“Hello Captain,” she said as she reached him, leaning in inappropriately close. “And what can we do for you?”
Roland felt confused and slightly breathless, there was no denying she was attractive, her perfume offering a lingering sense of fulfilment, but he could also see her adam’s apple and her shoulders were too wide.
“I’m not a Captain.” It was the first response he could think of.
“You can be a Captain with me,” she said softly, her hand reaching out to stroke his chest,
He took a step back quickly and the other girls laughed.
“Careful April,” one said, “you’re scaring him.”
Roland thought to keep down the hot blush that was threatening his neck.
“I’ve come to ask,” he said firmly, his voice seeming unnaturally loud, “Whether you are men or women?”
“I can be whatever you want, Captain,” April said across the others laughter.
“But…” Roland started, “Well… I don’t wish you to be anything. I just want to know.”
April took a step back, surveying him with a frown.
“Oh, you’re one of them,” all hints of seduction gone now. “You are not a watch man, are you?”
“No,” Roland reassured her.
“Then we’re men,” he stated firmly and Roland felt as if his heart had slipped a little.
“Are none of you women?” He asked
“If you are looking for a woman,” April said firmly, “There are plenty of places willing to oblige, without you gawking at us.”
“No… I mean,” Roland stuttered, aware that a note of desperation had crept into his voice. “Do none of you think you are women? Do you not feel more like women than men?”
There was a pause. A horribly solitary silence in which Roland found himself surveyed more closely.
“Ah,” April said at last simply. “You need to speak to Rebecca. She’s to be here in a while, go inside and wait, I’ll send her…”
“Him,” one of the others interrupted.
“Her,” he corrected undaunted, “In to you, she’ll have a pint of ale.”
* * * * *
Roland was forced to endure almost an hour of nervous anticipation before Rebecca arrived.
He felt shaken and had clearly looked it as he entered the
“Looks like the Mollies have gotten their claws into you,” he said conspiratorially as Roland reached the bar, already pouring a pint for him. “Have this to settle your nerves, son, an apology.”
Roland had taken it without speaking, nodded his thanks and settled at a table in the corner, mostly ignored besides a few curious glances and one gentleman who, spotting the green jacket, raised his hand in a familiar greeting only at the last minute realising his mistake.
Thankfully the House was mostly quiet, and Roland was free to muse in peace.
Having met the Mollies, he was no longer sure that this had been such a good idea, or whether he truly wanted to speak to this Rebecca or what to expect of her in any case. He was not, however, a man who gave into his fears, so instead he waited, rising only once to replenish his ale and secure a second for Rebecca.
When she at last arrived, she was not what he had expected, and thankfully she did not seem to be cut from the same cloth as the other Mollies.
She was certainly not as striking. Her dress was simple and her hair tied back sensibly at the base of her neck. She stopped, tall and sharp, glancing around the room, acknowledging one or two greetings, and then her eyes settled upon him.
She began towards him, her movements soft but not seductive.
It struck Roland that she reminded him of a woman, and not of a caricature of one.
She lowered herself into the chair opposite him without a word, the silence settling between them as she regarded him. Finally, after taking a long, appreciative sip of the ale, she spoke.
“I see April was telling the truth. What is it you wanted? Advice? Companionship? Reassurance?”
“I’m not sure,” Roland admitted, “the latter, I suppose, or rather I would like some answers.”
“There are precious few of those in the world. I suppose you wish to know whether what we are is real or our own imaginings.”
“Yes,” Roland said not bothering to disguise his eagerness.
“Then I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you already. I don’t know."
Roland didn’t know how to respond. Instead, he asked the only question that he could think of.
“Do you think you are a woman?”
Rebecca hesitated, taking another drink of the ale. He could tell she was carefully collecting her answer.
“I believe,” she said at last, “That I think like a woman, that I feel like a woman, that I hope and hurt like a woman.”
It felt a little strange to hear someone expressing so close a feeling to his own, even if their identities were so opposite.
“I understand,” he told her, reaching for her hand where it lay upon the table, she pulled it away, settling it in her lap.
“I feel like that,” he added, “and if we both feel this way, then surely…”
As he spoke, Rebecca looked away, her eyes scouring the room, for a moment he thought she wasn’t listening, but then she interrupted.
“It doesn’t prove anything. People may believe what they wish, it doesn’t make anything true. How do I know what a woman thinks, or if this isn’t how men think?”
Roland gestured at the door where the sounds of the Mollies’ laughter was drifting in.
“They don’t think it is.”
“Granted, they mostly think I’m mad,” she admitted and suddenly looking back at him, smiled. “And who’s to say they’re wrong? I was born into this body and while I may loathe it, who am I to deny it?”
“You don’t believe that,” Roland replied, suddenly more certain. Some of the weakness had left her voice and, he thought, perhaps she wanted him to challenge her.
“No, I believe I’m a woman. But as I said belief is a slippery thing.”
“Surely if enough of us believe what we believe, that gives it truth. There are others?” He asked, suddenly aware of the presumption.
“Yes. William Brown of course, I assume that is what brought you here now?”
“But how can you be certain that he is like us, and not like them?” He nodded at the door again.
“I can’t, I have never spoken to him, but I have spoken to others. Others like you and like me, they find me sometimes. And there are other stories. Like Jean Baré, she lived as a man for years. they say she sailed all the way around the world. And the Chevalier d’Eon, of course.” Rebecca spoke enthusiastically.
“Who?” Roland asked.
“Surely you have heard of her? I suppose her greatest deeds were before your time, but they were all spoken of on her death, five years ago.
“I was abroad then, far away,” Roland admitted, Rebecca gave him an appraising look.
“You have done well. The Chevalier was a French spy, an Empress’ maid, a secretary, a soldier, a man, then a woman, then a man again, and always a scandal. They used to bet on the Exchange on what gender he was and in the end his mouth said woman and his body said man.”
They sat in silence for a while, both thoughtful. Roland was pleased and impressed and troubled. In the end he could only voice the simplest fear.
“But they are no good, they’re French.”
Rebecca laughed, the first time she had. It was warm, but sounded more like a man than a woman, it felt odd to Roland now.
“Indeed? Very well, there are others. Others who are not French. The Greeks are full of such tales, and there was a Roman emperor who wore women’s clothing and took husbands, and begged his physics to fit him with women’s parts. And, you should like this one, there was a girl named Alfhild who was guarded by dragons so she shouldn’t have to marry, and when they were killed, ran away and dressed like a man and fought like a warrior.”
As she spoke, Rebecca became more animated. Her hands moved back to the table, though her fingers occasionally fiddled with the cuffs of her sleeve and she leant towards him slightly.
“How do you know all this?” Roland asked.
“My first lover used to tell me the stories, I don’t always remember the names but I liked the tales.”
Roland could not quite hide his surprise at the mention of a lover.
“How did he feel about…” he began to ask and then could not think how to finish the question.
“It suited him,” Rebecca replied. Her voice was still warm but with a new edge, a knowing tongue, a bitter taste. “He could take me to his elegant parties and parade me as a fine woman, and then he could take me home and bugger me as he wished.”
She must have seen the shock in his expression, for she smiled and added.
“It suited me as well, I was pampered and protected and given extravagant gifts.”
“What changed?” Roland asked.
“I think he began to truly care for me,” she admitted after a moment. “He thought that I felt like this because I was ashamed for loving a man. It hurt him; he wanted to cure me, to fix me. When he mentioned Bedlam, I fled.”
“My mother thought that as well,” Roland admitted, “That I only feel this way because I prefer girls to boys.”
“You should be thankful, when I told my father he chased me from the house with a cleaver… he was a butcher,” she added suddenly, “he was already holding it, I perhaps should have chosen a better time to speak of the matter.”
“This is no good,” she said with a laugh. “I have told you all my secrets and know only one of yours. What is your name?”
“Emily? No your other name.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you think I was born Rebecca? Have you not chosen a name for yourself? Emily… you could be Edmund or Edward.”
“It never seemed to matter,” he interrupted, “Everyone has always called me Roland, except my mother; and I could not ask her to call me something different.”
“In the Corps,” he explained, “Everyone is treated like a man.”
“Then you are very lucky, Roland; that is a luxury that few of us can afford. All it seems you need to struggle with is your own belief. Read some stories, give yourself time to think, let it settle here,” she leaned forward and reaching out touched the spot above his heart.
“It’s not that simple,” he told her. “In the Corps there are dragons who will only accept women, I am to be one’s Captain and I’m scared…
“That you will be refused,” she finished for him and he nodded. “Then I truly can’t help you. We all face that fear every time we offer ourselves to someone, the truth is only they know if we will be given despair or salvation.”
In Which Roland Takes the Dragon By the Horns…
Roland put off speaking to Excidium for as long as he could, though he followed Rebecca’s other advice. In particular he sought out stories, much to the consternation of those who noticed, starting with the Greeks.
Mostly they were useless. It was all people being turned inconveniently into women. Though one story stuck with him about Iphis who was born a girl and raised a boy and, finally because of love, truly changed into one.
In the end, though, he could not avoid the confrontation any longer, for his mother and Excidium were set to return to Loch Laggan.
Still he did not go down to Excidium’s pavilion until the final whispers of the rest of the covert had died away, half hopeful that the dragon would be asleep and he could delay the inevitable for a few months at least.
If Excidium was asleep, however, Roland’s approach woke him. One large eye cracked open and the head rose, turning in his direction.
Roland had been in Excidium’s presence many times before, though he had certainly never been introduced as his future captain. That was considered terrible manners and the dragons never liked it.
“Yes?” Excidium asked.
There was no time for manners.
“I’m to be your captain,” he said and then added quickly, “One day.”
It had been a long time since Roland had felt nervous of a dragon, not since
“Are you sure?” Excidium asked, “But you are a boy.”
Roland felt for a moment a strange mix of elation that made his head swim and horror that made him feel nauseous. He stepped back, one hand clutching his stomach.
“I know,” he said at last. “But they believe me to be a woman and when my mother can no longer fly, they mean to offer me to you as a captain.”
Excidium looked perplexed for a moment, as far as a dragon could look perplexed, his head tilted curiously.
“Well I suppose your body is female and humans have never been the smartest creatures, except for my Jane, of course; they may have made a mistake. We’ll just have to tell them they’ve made a mistake.” Clearly feeling the matter was settled he tucked his head back against his side, ready for sleep.
“But,” Roland said, not sure what to say next. If Excidium would not have him, then no Longwing would and he wouldn’t be offered to any dragon.
“Yes,” Excidium asked, cracking one eye open.
“What about me?” This isn’t fair."
“If we Longwings were fair,” Excidium said in a slow, grumpy voice, “Then you would not be here bothering me at all. Ask to be set to another egg.”
“How? They do not believe I am a man, and any Longwing they set me to will cast me aside. Why can you not make an exception?”
Just the thought of this humiliation burnt inside him. Mingling with anger and frustration and despair.
“We have tried to explain it to humans before, they never understand,” Excidium said dismissively.
“Try again,” Roland demanded the anger forcing him on.
Excidium’s head whipped up, a growl forming again, then he paused. The silence stretched out.
“Perhaps you would,” he said at last. “How does your body feel?”
For a moment Roland could hardly comprehend the question, it seemed to encompass so many things. In the end he had to settle for the easiest answer.
“It feels wrong. Like it doesn’t fit,” he was surprised how much it hurt to express this unspoken truth.
“That,” Excidium said, “Is how it would feel for us to take a man as our Captain.”
They were both silent for a moment, in the end it was Excidium who spoke first, his voice more cheerful.
“Still, you have a woman’s body, you could bear a child and then I could keep Jane. They couldn’t take her away until it was grown. That will do very well. I will find you a dragon. Now leave me alone or I shall change my mind.”
For a moment Roland was horrified. If it was not bad enough that his body had conspired to give him a womb now his mother’s dragon had designs upon him and then what Excidium had said sank in.
In Which Roland Finds A Belief…
The egg trembled, the pieces held together only by the sticky clear mucus, its tendrils creeping onto the floor. With a final shiver the hatchling was free.
Roland’s hand tightened on the harness. He was determined not to tremble.
The hatchling had something of both its parents, though it was difficult yet to tell who it would favour. Its body, still glistening, was the same deep blue as Excidium, its wings still twisted and clinging together looked long; but Roland could also see markings in black and red, like Iskierka’s, speckling their edges; and short horns were protruding from its head.
No, her head, Roland thought. He could see she was female, or looked female at any rate.
Taking a deep breath, Roland stepped forward. There were three other’s standing outside, clutching their own harnesses; all of them boys, all of them ready and he was determined not to give them a chance.
The hatchling was flicking pieces of egg from her hide, pulling the last big piece off and dropping it, she looked up and caught sight of Roland.
“Are you to be my Captain?” She asked.
“If you will have me,” Roland told her. He’d seen hatchings before and he was horribly aware how painfully wrong it could go. “My name is Emily Roland, may I give you a name?”
“Oh yes,” she said, sitting back on her haunches and her neck straightening upwards, “I’d like a name.”
There was a pause for a second. Her tail snaked slightly back and forth and Roland had to fight the urge to step backwards.
“That is a good name,” Ianthe suddenly said, “Now will you put my harness on? Excidium said that then I could be fed.”
With a feeling of relief and a joy so intense that it felt like a sharp pain at the base of his throat he could barely breath past him, Roland stepped forward and slipped the harness over the willing his neck. As he began to buckle the harness straps, picking off pieces of shell that Ianthe had missed, the herdsmen dragged in a freshly slaughtered goat. Ianthe sniffed the air eagerly, straining slightly against his hands.
The final strap secure, he moved with her to the carcass.
Around them, the harnessing over, curious faces began to peer into the pavilion.
“What are they looking at?” Ianthe asked, swallowing a large chunk of flesh.
“They’re looking at you,” Roland told her and Ianthe paused for a moment.
“Why? Is there something wrong?”
“No they just want to see you, you’re something new,” he said with sudden pride. “There’s never been a dragon like you before. You’ve very special.”
“Are you something new too?” She asked.
“I suppose I am,” Roland said with a slight laugh.
“Good,” Ianthe said and turned back to her feast.
In Which Roland Raises A Troubling Matter…
From the observation deck they could watch the entire hatching. Laurence could feel the tenseness of some of the other Captains. Excidium had insisted that his egg be offered a female captain first, and unjust as it may have been, Laurence knew few people had been pleased at the demand.
Jane, at least, seemed unbothered by the atmosphere. He saw her smile as Emily began to wash the hatchling down.
“I suppose,” he said softly to her, “That we should seek some more female recruits, in case the breed is a success.”
“I don’t think there is any need for that yet,” she replied. “You worry too much, Laurence. At any rate just because one dragon from a breed has accepted a female Captain does not mean that another will not accept a man. I suspect if less choosy dragons than the Longwings were offered women, you might know that.”
Her tone was teasing.
“What about Excidium?” He asked.
“Oh, I suspect he shall be very pleased with himself. Dragons are very much like children, if you leave them to tackle their own problems they will usually find a solution.”
Her eyes were fixed on Emily.
“And what will you do for Excidium’s future, now? I mean…” Laurence started realising how that must have sounded. Jane turned to him with a smile.
“Thankfully, that is already in hand. I’m pregnant, three months now. My family has always had a wonderful proclivity for producing girls and if not, as least we will have someone for Temeraire.”
* * * * *
For a really fascinating summary of transgendered history, this page is excellent. Here are some further links to some of the real life figures and legends mentioned in the story
It's proved difficult to find the truth about William Brown who was serving on the Queen Charlotte as the evidence seems to be hiding him/her (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brown_(sai
For a quick look at Molly Houses, this wikipedia page has a quick overview. For a more detailed look at homosexual life in the 18th century (slightly before the period this is set), which alas I had no space to explore, this article is excellent.
REBECCA AND HER DAUGHTERS
I took Rebecca's name from the following story, although that's as far as the inspiration goes, I think the story of a group of men dressed as women campaigning (somewhat violently) against injustices against the poor throughout Wales was too interesting not to share.
As Roland notes in the story there are quite a lot of tales of French transgendered (or cross-dressing) individuals. Even the Royalty could have been involved, as Henry III may or may not have cross dressed and been referred to as 'Her Majesty'. From this rough period of time though the most interesting figures are probably Jean Bare, the Chevalier d'Eon, Abbé de Choisy and George Sand.
The Roman emperor that Rebecca mentions is Elgabalus, who became emperor at the age of 14 following a rebellion. Some of his practices were not, perhaps, what the people putting him into power expected.
MYTHS AND LEGENDS
As Roland discovered, the Greeks have lots of tales of people changing genders - one of the best known is the tale of Tiresias who gained a 'woman's knowledge/talent' through his transformation. Transformations are also the main theme of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which features the tale of the hero Caenus who began life as a woman. My favourite of these Greek tales is that of Iphis and Ianthe, also found in Ovid. The Greeks, however, were far from being alone. Transforming genders exist in many cultural myths, legends and religious stories. For example, from Nordic we have the tale of Alfhild, whilst Hinduism contains the story of Brihannala.
Hope some of that is interesting. Thanks.