Call and Response (2252 words) by Grey_Bard
Fandom: Temeraire - Naomi Novik
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Perscitia & Temeraire
Characters: Temeraire, Perscitia
Additional Tags: Epistolary, Dragons, Humor, University, Cambridge, 1870's, Futurefic, non-human protagonist
Series: Part 1 of With an eye to the future...
Summary: Dragons, higher education and excerable poetry... Excerpts from the historic correspondence of Vice Chancellor Emeritus Perscitia OBE PhD PhD and the dragon Temeraire, circa 1870.
Note: Hey guys, let's play spot the stealth crossover!
What is this I hear that you have retired indefinitely to Australia? To be sure, the wildlife is fascinating, but it is not the best use of yourself. Indeed, I am currently beset with incompetence and lassitude at every side with hardly an ally to speak of. Majestatis is arguing for a "reasonable rate of change" which is very unreasonable indeed. Were it up to Majestatis, we should be living in caves still, without a proper pavilion between us. Yet he comes as close as any to having the ear of the Air Marshal, and the man is impossible. It is absolutely vital that we should be allowed dragons in service. To be forced to repudiate or await the death of a captain to receive higher education is morbid and unnecessary, robbing us of the minds of impressionable youth. What can possibly interest you so on this desolate continent? It hasn't even got opera, let alone libraries...
I would thank you not to speak of an entire continent in such an ignorant fashion. Indeed, it has libraries and for that matter opera, although of course they are hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Majestatis sounds quite trying, but you see, I am afraid Laurence has become old and the peace suits us both...
If you will insist upon voluntarily inhabiting that backwater, although why you should, I do not know, having lived in the worse parts of Canada, you must answer correspondence. Short of sea voyage or utter disaster, there will not be a repeat of that break in conversation that followed the first era of our acquaintance. I did not spend half a dozen years organizing the dragon post in order to be cut off from intellectual...
My dear Perscitia,
Though quite charitable and forward thinking, I worry that arranging your current endeavor on the basis of a commune may possibly prove unwise. For you see, it might provide complications to your goal of peaceful coexistence of dragons on a common campus, let alone education. If you would recall Requiescat and his most unfortunate behavior toward any cave not his own, the difficulties make themselves obvious...
I have never had the least intention of inviting that Requiescat into any endeavor at all, the thieving layabout. It would have been quite all right that we were all equal, for I am sure that as founder I would have been guaranteed to be equal to more than others. However, Moncey has spoken with our solicitor, so we now will not. He assures us that chartering as a corporation with a private trust is quite the thing, and is what all the better colleges do. It would not do to be seen as dangerous radicals. This is ridiculous for we are obviously dangerous radicals. (Though we have not recruited any fire breathers to date.)
Also ridiculous, scandalously unfair, is the fact that despite our most vehement protestations, we shall still be denied the dignity of degrees. To sit exams and pass them, without the least possibility of degrees is insulting. They are afraid that we should be better at it than they, and then what would they do? It is infamous! However, having secured the right to sit in on lectures at any college with a large enough quad and windows that open - and a dispensation to stand upon the grass, provided we do not walk upon it – I will not be dissuaded. I simply refuse. Three quarters of their mathematicians have not a penny on me, and the rest I should very much like to hear from.
Speaking of which, on your next journey to China, be sure to secure plans for this cunning magnification box I have heard so much of...
It will be some time before I return to China, but I believe that among the merchants of my acquaintance at least one shall be able to help. You are quite right, they are invaluable to draconic scholarship. It is a great pity that books are often so terribly small. I have read reports from Paris on an extremely promising page turning apparatus in development with the Academie des Sciences, and together perhaps...
I am aware it is only wise to be kind and patient with one's donors, but I am at my wits end with Caesar. Having taken it into his head that a Cambridge education is a requirement for all fine gentledragons, he is insisting upon the education of his egg, who I suppose is not an egg at all but offspring, yet more unpromising for all that. She is an affable thing, I am aware, but with the all intellectual acuity of a cockle. If there is a field she might excel at, I do not know it. Did you know, she referred to the stars as "God's daisy chain"? I do not even know where to start...
I am sorry to hear that your students will not all be of your choice, but is not education for the betterment of dragons? For a cockle to rise to the level of a middling scholar might be as great a success as a promising one taking a first, but perhaps she is not so very dull as all that. You must see that God's daisy chain shows at least a great deal more thought than a constant focus on cows. Might she have a future in theology? Has there ever been a draconic chaplain? It would certainly make for variety in the student body...
It was impossible that we should delay another term, so Moncey has secured the lease of a former livery stable and improvements have commenced. Five students are enrolled, which is pitiful, but an improvement on none at all, you must agree. Of course, it is nearer four, for one of them is Caesar's get. A poet she fancies herself, which is all very well, but she is not like your Donne or Eastern poets. She has written at least ten verses on the subject of pansies, yet she does not appear to know what color they are, nor shape...
… May I suggest the installation of floor heating? It is ever so much more efficient than heating the air, and warmer than an unheated stall. Plans for a floor heating scheme are enclosed, as well as those for the magnification box as requested. I am glad to hear that two of your pupils are so scientifically promising, although I feel it is my duty to warn you of the explosive potential of their favorite field. As you may recall...
I will own, none of us predicted how much greater the difficulty is of running a college, however miniscule, than managing a breeding ground. (Whatsoever similarities they may share.)
Not only have the young hooligans scared off no less than two cooks – and they ought to be grateful to have a cook, we both recall the days when roasted cow was an unheard of dream – but three of them set the chimney afire! Meanwhile, we find we have welcomed celebrity into our midst. Our resident poet has apparently won a prize from a chocolate drop company for a poem about a brave soldier who misses and dreams of his lovely wife and beautiful, delicious sheep, yet fights on in their honor. I and Moncey and indeed, many of of the students, found it unreadable.
Yet no sooner was her winning entry in the local papers, but she found herself invited to tea by the local ladies' literary society. It was a garden party, of course, to better accommodate her size, and they served her tea in a washbasin. She insisted upon having garlands wound about her horns so that she might have a hat for the occasion, the effect of which does not bear description. She recited the entire twelve stanzas, and they hung upon her every word. Apparently some were heard to state they had never suspected a dragon might be so articulate. And the silly young thing was flattered by this ignorant pronouncement!
My dear Perscitia,
I am very sorry to hear of Majestatis. Short sighted as he often was, I know you will miss him keenly, and his loss puts you in an inconvenient position. You must know that I cannot return to Britain at this time on whim, however great your cause. Have you considered soliciting Celeritas for assistance? He is held in the very greatest of respect and is not nearly so wedded to conventionality as one might expect of a dragon in his position...
On the advice of Arkady, I called upon the Air Marshal and apologized to him for shouting. He was quite in the wrong, of course, but it was terrible strategy on my part. I set before him numerous examples from our war experiences and history of how greater tactical knowledge improved military performance, but it availed me nothing. He laughed sadly and told me that was the problem – too much education gave dragons ideas. I should have liked to have told him that this was exactly the point, but restrained myself with great difficulty. Mentioning the military advantages of disciplines such as the sciences was equally unhelpful.
Speaking of which, you have not read "From the Earth to the Moon"? I hardly believe it of you, even sunk as you are into the mud of Australia. Surely it has reached your corner of the Earth. I encourage you strongly to read it, for the man has the numbers very nearly right! I am convinced that if Monsieur Verne could be convinced to devote several years of his time to the advancement of science rather than fiction, with the practical help of more empirical minds such as...
My dear friend Perscitia,
My warmest congratulations on your good fortune upon the success of your investments in the field of petroleum. John Wampanoag says your syndicate has become quite rich, which I am sure is useful when one is establishing a college. Tell me, will you be able to expand enrollment? It is only that I know an extremely talented young dragon not suited to the Australian country life at all, and it seems a bitter shame that he is not put to better work.
And what is this I hear of Iskierka attempting to breed her captain? Not only does he lack inclination, I would have thought he was no longer of an age. Hasn't Lily got one to spare out of Roland? Surely one of them must be a boy...
Celeritas came for lunch and complimented our in-floor heating, as well as our choice of cow. He has worked his will upon the various retired gentlemen of the armed forces, and the Air Marshal has consented to come our end of term fete. Accordingly, Moncey has invited every respectable dragon willing to attend to our humble campus...
I wish devoutly that you enjoy the greatest of success, and hope that you shall write me immediately after the festivities. May I suggest avoiding anything that involves very young dragons or small children racing? It is only that the competitive spirit seems to bring chaos upon....
I do not know where to begin, but I must begin somewhere. As you know, the Air Marshal was to attend the end of term fete. Celeritas therefore suggested we make him guest of honor, to award prizes and serve as master of ceremonies. This included presenting the student recitations. Unfortunately, we have only got five pupils so it was rather hard to refuse our resident poet, particularly given the partiality of the ladies' literary society, most of whom were attending the fete.
Moncey and I were rather hoping that she might fit her muse to the occasion. That she might perhaps write upon the comradery of her school days or the pure and halcyon joys of scholarship, but it was not to be. After making calf eyes at the Marshal all afternoon, she abandoned her planned poem about the dragon Cafall at King Arthur's court – which was dreadful, but at least well researched – to compose ex tempore. Staring deep into the Marshal's eyes, she proclaimed forth the greatest stream of maudlin treacle I have ever heard. At one point she compared a dragon's need for a captain to a "little geranium, seeking the sun". A little geranium, I ask you! I am beginning to have grave doubts about our educational experiment. This is not the independent and erudite spirit we had intended to foster in our students in the least.
After buttonholing the silly chit for the better part of half an hour, the Marshal was in the best of high spirits, and told me that she had quite changed his mind. Apparently, it became clear to him that an education had not damaged her draconic sensibilities or finer feelings, and that perhaps an education of "the right sort" might improve a dragon's conversation. Celeritas looks unaccountably smug, and I haven't the faintest idea why. Meanwhile while no declarations have been made, since then she will talk of almost nothing but the ideal the match between a wise, mature, experienced captain who has weathered the storms of life and the grace of a dragon's adoring heart.
Temeraire, the man now refers to her as his "little geranium", which I find rather rich given that he is a man and she is a fully grown dragon!
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