One of the oxen was being roasted with salt and garlic and persimmon wine; the second with pungent dried scallops and fermented bean paste; the third with lemons and onions and basil. All three were delicious. The cooks carved small slices for the hoven visitors (of which there were two dozen or so — I don’t know what they were doing), and split the rest between Csirnis and me, and quickly got another three oxen started.
“You get the best servants, Csirnis. Especially since they’re not even yours.” I told him. He and I were sprawled on the racetrack itself, facing each other. The cooks had given each of us a big square of oiled cloth in lieu of a table, and a fresh white tablecloth on top of it for each new course in lieu of a platter.
“May I boast a bit?” asked Csirnis.
“Please do!” I took the left foreleg of the scallop-and-bean-paste ox to gnaw on while he talked. One of the cooks trotted under my chin, hooves a-clop on the paved track, and poured a big ladleful of sauce on the bone. All the other cooks applauded their colleague’s bravery and punctilio. “You do have them well-trained.”
“Well, Zakuna is rather pleased that I came to visit,” said Csirnis. “His grandson and fourth-in-line for the throne was dying of cancer of the heart. The death-watch hadn’t quite started, but any week now. All the local papers were full of preemptive mourning. So I flew in, sat in front of the Golden Pagoda, and offered to heal anyone who came in the next hour. A few burns and cuts, and the stinkiest upset stomach you could ever imagine on a hoven, and they believed me. So Prince Ayave got driven up in the royal ambulance, and walked up to me — right between my forelegs — and politely welcomed me to his grandfather’s country. So I healed him too — three casts of the Great Titan Sanitarium. That made a bit of an impression on Zakuna. On the whole country, really.”
“Very convenient,” I said, crunching my delicious saucy bone.
“I asked Ythac to find me a place with a sick ruler. That was a quarter of the way across the world, so I asked for a sick member of the family. This sounded like a good choice.”
“You asked Ythac? The one who was going to Seek?” I asked.
“Not a strategically superb move, truly! I did not expect to be hidden for very long, but Ythac was in no hurry. Or, I suppose, he was distracted by the troubles of Llredh.”
A pair of hovens wheeled a child wrapped in blankets across the field. “O gentle dragon Cisirinis, O gentle dragon Cisirinis, please be so generous as to heal my daughter! She is dying from the same cancer that Prince Ayave was dying of!”
Csirnis hesitated a second. I raised my head. “May I do it, Csirnis? I’ve not taught you the Arcane Anodyne yet.” He spread his wings a bit and beamed at me. Which was more delicious than any of the oxen, really.
The child struggled in her wheelchair, trying to run away. She was only a few years old, and not so brave as her prince. I touched her with my tongue, and cast. The Arcane Anodyne filled her up and flooded out. Her fur brightened a bit, and she instantly felt well enough to tumble out of the chair and dash across the racetrack crying and screaming from fear. Her mother (one presumes) ran after her, calling for her to stop, and shouting that I would not eat her.
Her father (one presumes) threw himself on the racetrack in front of me, babbling incoherent thanks. I patted him with a forepaw, spattering him with delicious sauce.
“Are you going to eat him now?” asked Csirnis in Grand Draconic. “Or just marinating him for later?”
So I belched a tiny scallop-and-bean-paste flavored lightning bolt at Csirnis. The lightning didn’t much reach him, but the belch certainly did. He squeaked nicely, “Hey! I only marginally deserved that!” The hoven ran off, wailing.
Csirnis and I swatted at each other a bit. He laughs like golden temple bells ringing, when he relaxes enough to laugh.
Then Prince Ayave came trotting up, all worried and fretful. Csirnis introduced me as his fiancée, and explained that we were just playing. Ayave solemnly welcomed me to Ze Cheya, and offered me the Pagoda of Elephants to stay in.
“It’s not decent for the Zeanese to couple before marriage,” said Csirnis in Grand Draconic. “The Way of Gentleness doesn’t include that kind of gentleness. Or maybe they’re rough when they couple, I haven’t asked. So, separate pagodas for us.”
“What an odd custom. How do you know you’ll like your spouse, if you haven’t mated beforehand? What if he turns out to be, well, like Ythac?”
“I don’t fully understand hovens myself! Their ways are strange and exotic. And the Zeanese Way of Gentleness is one of the stranger religions, lacking real gods and all.” said Csirnis. “Fortunately I don’t need to understand very much.”
“May I stay with you for a day or two? This seems like a very nice place, and I’ve done enough rampaging to last me for at least, oh, through tomorrow lunchtime.”
He laughed. “Of course you may — did not the prince give you a pagoda? This is his territory, not mine. But in case that was no joke, please try not to destroy much here. It is a very pleasant place.”
“I’ll be good! And, if you don’t mind, I’ll obey the local customs about mating,” I said.
“That will make it easier not to destroy the place, certainly!” Which was only a little bit of a tease, the way he said it.