Coda: New Alignments
Nrararn was rather surprised to see Ythac tending me, and poked him with his sparky twirly horn until he slithered aside and let Nrararn groom me instead. Which is fine. Nrararn is a sweet little drake, and one that I actually could marry, and might. And I think he’d let me, for some reason that I cannot begin to understand.
He dug a bullet out of my inner eyelid. “You didn’t have the beautiful Uplifter day, it looks like, Jyothky?”
“Not very Uplifty at all, actually,” I said. “Well, I tried to.” And had to tell the whole story to the mating flight.
Arilash shook her head. “When you spend too much time around small people, you start getting tangled in small people concerns and small people feelings and small people fights. Sorry, Tarcuna, but it’s true.”
“Says the dragoness as she apologizes to the offended hoven,” noted Ythac.
Arilash whipped him with her tailtip. “It’s true, though, and you will see it in great awful clawfuls as you rule Trest. When we’re too close to them, we get all involved, and usually small people die from it. My parents were all political with their mhelvul, and kept having to execute this one for embezzling, or that one for threatening to sic Mother on his rivals, or the other one for being too harsh an overlord. And both my parents are the upliftiest Uplifters on Mhel.”
Osoth cocked his head. “To exhume this matter with a somewhat hypothetical air, albeit with an inadequate armamentarium of other hypothetical implements, which alignment might you subscribe to? You have just cast the effulgence of your intellect upon the bitter entanglements of the Uplifters. Yet that executionary act which spatters your speech with regret is one which Downcrushers do not deign to dread.”
Arilash peered at me. “Did he just say ‘yes’? I couldn’t tell.” I sort of blinked miserably at her. Nrararn took the opportunity to clean some nonexistant scoria off the tip of my muzzle, so I obviously couldn’t talk even if I had wanted to. (I hereby award a fiancé point to Nrararn for cleverness and another for kindness. Unfortunately my tally is weeks and weeks completely out of date.)
Arilash sat on her haunches, and groomed her left talon a bit. She quietly said, “Neither one suits me very well. There are all sorts of choices in the society of dragons which don’t suit me. Decent or slutty? Married or single? Uplifter or Downcrusher? Drake or dragoness, for that matter, though that’s not so much a choice as just a dichotomy. Why can’t I make up a new affiliation? Overflyer, let me call it. I’ll fly over the small people, I’ll tend to my matters, and let them tend to theirs. Everyone will be better off. Jyothky, you can come with me.” She sounded kind when she said that. Actually I think I was the only one paying the least bit of attention to mating flight etiquette in the whole conversation.
I just whiffled a bit, noncommittally. I mostly like small people, despite winding up killing them constantly.
Csirnis reared his head. “I agree that the choices on that dichotomy are unfortunate. Uplifter or Downcrusher, yes, but either way we are the rulers. If one has no love of governing, neither choice brings delight.”
Nrararn rose to the bait. “No love of governing, perhaps. But who shall tend the herds of cattle you and your mate and your spawn will require? Who shall weave and sew your tents? Who shall build your home? Or do you wish to live in a cave and chase boars and wild whales to eat?”
“I don’t know how to live the way I want,” grumbled Arilash. “Not about small people, and not about other things, either.”
Csirnis curled his tail over his forepaws, and looked more superior than he usually does. “In Ze Cheya, during the still-unfinished game of Hide and Seek…”
“I found you all,” said Ythac.
”… In the just-finished game of Hide and Seek, then, I experimented with a different approach. If Arilash calls hers Overflying, I shall call mine Withdwelling. I lived in Ze Cheya, in a home that the hovens gave to me, and I ate some quite delicious roast oxen and such that the hovens cooked for me, and I hoarded treasures ranging from amusing to exceptional that the hovens gave me as gifts. And, at the time, the hovens were glad to do all of that. I labored for them, you see. I was not terribly different from the cook at the noodle shop across from my home. I would happily live that way again. It gripes my conscience less than any other way I have lived, and provided for my comfort just as well.”
The rest of us looked dubious. Arilash said, “The aftermath gripes my conscience, and, with apologies to Tarcuna, I don’t even care about hovens.”
“Mine as well, dear Arilash,” Csirnis answered. “I have not mastered life yet. Still, the root causes of Greshthanu’s death and the destruction of Ze Cheya were largely outside of my attempt at Withdwelling.”
Ythac huffed and glared. “I count myself as a traditional Uplifter. I rule Trest, and I will yet make Trest as close to a utopia as I can manage.”
“You are more ambitious than I am!”
“For the sake of symmetry, then, I shall proclaim myself a Downcrusher,” said Osoth.
Nrararn stared at him. “Whenever I turn my back, you fly off to do archaeology and necromancy with a research expedition full of hovens.”
“We all have our little hobbies, Nrararn,” hissed Osoth.
“Distinctly uncrushed hovens,” Nrararn noted.
“And sometimes our little hobbies get in the way of our nominal philosophical positions,” Osoth hissed smoothly.
“I’m the Downcrusher here,” I mumbled. “I killed five dozen hovens today.”
“And you sound so pleased with yourself for it,” said Tarcuna.
“I didn’t want to!”
Nrararn flomped a wing over my back, which would be comforting if I could feel it. “You’re not a Downcrusher. You’re just willing to do what needs to be done, when the rest of us are a bit too squeamish.” (Three fiancé points to Nrararn for the day.)
I sprawled against him, and listened to Arilash and Csirnis debate impossible philosophical positions.