“Did something interesting just happen?”, Chevethna asked. She and Arthane had flown some three miles off, and, if the flagrant scents and bits of grass and brush caught in their spikes were any indication, had found an agreeable way to pass the time.
“Arilash quit the mating flight,” I mumbled.
“Oh, no!” She pounced on me to hug me. Which is not a very comforting thing for me in general, and I had to heal her belly a bit from where I lost track of what my left hind leg was doing. “What happened?”
“Arilash realized she wasn’t the sort of beast to get married,” I said, and explained everything.
“Your mating flight is having all the worst luck!”, Arthane proclaimed. He had breathed his spikes clean by now, and looked quite striking and dignified. “How many dragons have quit so far?”
“Roroku, Tultamaan, and now Arilash,” I said.
“I thought it was more…?”
“Ythac and Llredh got married early. I don’t think that counts as quitting. It certainly felt different: the right general idea, even if the details were a faint hint of hideously incorrect. And Greshthanu got killed. That’s not quitting either,” I said.
“So you’re down to three?” said Arthane.
“Four; that golden boy from Chiriact replaced Roroku,” said Chevethna. “Nobody actually left our flight. Splendorio as much as resigned halfway through, after it was clear he was going to be last. He didn’t exactly leave though. He just didn’t stay near the flight very much.”
“Splendorio would have been right at home in mine,” I said. “Or maybe not. He doesn’t sound melodramatic enough.” I drummed my talons on Chevethna’s flank. “We are now down to less than half a mating flight, a little more than a year in. Should we be doing something differently?”
Arthane looked quite innocent, which does not come easily to a vast blue and crimson monster. “Aside from not resigning and not getting killed?”
“Well, the four who are left. Should we go back to Mhel and petition the king for more dragons, do you think?”
Chevethna polished a non-blemish on Arthane’s flank. “It sounds somewhere between humiliating and offensive. As if to say, ‘Dear king: the flight that you so carefully arranged for me proved to be the worst-arranged mating flight in all draconic history, in a way that anyone surely would have realized from twelve minutes’ contemplation of the personalities involved.’ No insult intended to you, Jyothky, but nobody really thought you’d be the erotic centerpiece of a mating flight.”
“That would be Arilash. I was more the one who’d sometimes sneak off and destroy a bunch of heavy weapon emplacements or something. For reasons that have nothing to do with getting married.”
Chevethna laughed little blue and crimson sparks that matched her husband remarkably well. I’m sure she did it on purpose. “And by what cosmic law are those incompatible? You surely can bring a drake along when you go! A bit of twining between barrages is the height of good behavior and good fun!”
“I did,” I mumbled.
Arthane laughed, his mouth glowing an eye-aching blue. “Yes — Ythac! Not the drake of your dreams, if what Tultamaan said is true!”
Chevethna butted her head against mine. “Or is he? You were always very close to him.”
“The original plan was, I suppose, that I’d marry Ythac, Arilash would marry Llredh, and Roroku would marry Greshthanu. I think the king’s concept matched me to Tultamaan, figuring that he’s smart and I need some brains in the family.”
“I, too, am fortunate to have a mate with some brains!” roared Arthane, and breathed a spotlight on Chevethna’s head. She cuffed him, and I sulked while they mock-fought lovingly. When Arthane ripped up a tree to tickle Chevethna, I did breathe cold on it to wither its leaves and drag them back to the conversation.
“Sorry, sorry,” said Chevethna. “It’s actually wonderful to be married, even if you do have the misfortune to have chosen a huge lump of muscle and kindness without a bit of wits or courage like I did.”
“I have courage a-plenty! Consider this: Did I make the least attempt to escape your clutches? Who but the bravest could meet you with anything approaching equanimity?”
“Bravery I will grant you, my love, but you provide prima facie evidence about the witlessness,” said Chevethna. Then she glanced at me. “Oh, dear. We’re making Jyothky miserable.”
“Helping Arilash do that, is all,” I mumbled. “Is it actually worth getting married?”
“Yes. Well, I’ve been delighted with it. Never happier. Even having my career aspirations thwarted by the surprising machinations of a tyrant queen haven’t disappointed me a bit,” said Chevethna.
“Well, you’ll probably oust me sooner or later,” I said.
“No hurry! I’m happy to wait until Hove is fully conquered before fussing about whether I rule all of it or just two-thirds as your chief viceroy. I do believe you’re trying to change the topic, though, and in this you will fail. I roar the praises of marriage! There is no better alliance, there is no better friendship! There is also no better lover, but I guess that doesn’t matter much for you.”
I drooped my head. “Maybe a little. Once in a while it’s fun.”
Chevethna reared her head to me. “Well, consider this. You have your choice of the remaining drakes.”
“I don’t know. I suspect I’m going to come in last among dragonesses.”
She patted my face with fire breath. “I don’t know that it’s even possible with just one dragoness…”
“My mating flight has vastly expanded the frontier of what is possible. And I don’t mean that to sound the least bit encouraging.”