Evrath and Charimaan peered at him. “Is he being serious?”
“I wouldn’t say that he’s exactly serious about this, or about anything in life. If it’s not death, it’s not exactly completely important, to Osoth,” said Arilash. “But he’s sincere.”
“I am sincere indeed! On my own behalf I offer the legendary Mask of Velch-Memm, a beautiful work of the Erismythian Dynasty which I caused to be unearthed at Tvesdisopolis four years ago. It is not an item which I would offer as tribute in the normal course of events. Indeed, it is one of the greatest gems of my collection! As a token of my personal apology, it shall be yours. Or you can kill me in front of the queen, I suppose,” said Osoth, still on his back. He pushed the mask in a crate to the plaintiffs.
“That is quite a substantial offer,” said Evrath.
Charimaan prodded his husband with a very sharp foreclaw. “Remember your manners! Don’t say anything nice about it!” He turned to the inverted Osoth. “On contemplation of this puny mask, made from clay and unfaceted gemstones in a style most extraordinarily out of date even among hovens, we accept your apology and tribute.”
“Oh, get up,” I told him. “Nobody is killing anyone today.”
“Fewer opportunities for necromancy then!” said Osoth, rolling lightly and leaping to his feet in a shower of sand. “But you had actually asked me a question earlier, and I shall answer it if you wish.”
“We had?” asked Evrath.
“About why I neglected the courtesies due to the holders of a territory,” said Osoth. “And, as I had never decided to neglect those courtesies, the answer is a bit difficult. The answer may be displeasing and indeed stingingly offensive, but it may prove useful. I shall proffer it if asked, on the proviso that you admit, in advance, that I am not trying to offend you, and that, should combat be necessary, a Caramelle or some other less-painful sort of duel will suffice.”
The couple glanced at each other. “We accept these terms.”
“Excellent! I shall proceed to insult you by comparison. When I fly over the territory of, shall we say, Jyothky and Nrararn, I am immediately reminded of Jyothky’s battle against the undead god Xolgrohim, or the time she engineered a duel in which seven dragons defeated twice their number, say. When I fly over the territory of Ythac and Llredh, I think of their swift and devastating conquest of Trest. When I fly over the territory of Chevethna and Arthane, I remember that the two of them each came in first in their sex in their mating flight, and that they made two brave and mighty, if unsuccessful, attempts to conquer Hove. And so on.”
“Well, yes, these are all worthy and historied young dragons,” said Charimaan.
“You, I am afraid, are dragons whose histories are rather more obscured. I do not assert that you have no such deeds, or indeed even greater, in your past. I merely do not know anything about them. They are as opaque unto me as the living stone that is the bedrock of this very universe,” said Osoth. “You came in fifth? sixth? in your mating flights, and have kept your triumphs and grandeurs secret since then.”
“Sixth and sixth,” admitted Evrath. “And we lived quietly.”
“Now, were I to think about it with the full fervent fury of my thoughts, I would instantly raciocinate upon your rights as married landholders. But instead, due to the flighty state of mind that so often prevails when one is aloft, I brush the wingtips of my mind against your entire story. Its fluffy edges and uncertainties distract me; no single event nor pattern of might compels my attention. And so I neglect it.”
“It’s not that they’re an urning couple?” I asked.
“Not for me! I am fully congnizant of such mighty and triumphant urning couples as Quel Quen and Hhreamsen, and Ythac and Llredh. I give a certain amount of reflexive honor to highly-historied heroes. I give somewhat less to dragons who came in first in their mating flights and have lived quietly since then. Less still to seconds. Thirds are just barely above my own stature as an active and not wholly history-free bachelor, to say nothing of an unmarried second in a mating flight, though that is due to ridiculous events rather than personal merit: in the ordinary course of events I would be fifth —” He grinned at Nrararn; the two of them had been competing for fifth.
“And we are sixths,” said Evrath. “Despite us being married and holding territory, you do not regard us as your superiors.”
“I make no such arrogation! I merely assert that I do not instinctively regard you as my superiors!” said Osoth. “Your status in law is as it is, and I have already surrendered a valuable and beloved mask as a proof that I uphold that status, rather than denying or disputing it!”
Evrath glanced at the mask, which was quite as valuable as Osoth had said, and back to Osoth. “We are sixths. We are urnings. We are as we are. Are we condemned forever to an inferior status?”
Osoth peered back. “You have the ill-judgment to be alive — or rather, you have the ill-judgment to be alive and to ask a necromancer for advice. I have none that you would like to hear.”
“Well, I have some,” said Ressal. “When travellers fly across your lands, rise up out of your castle and greet them — or confront them — and defend your territory in the old and classical ways, with tooth and claw and breath, rather than the newer style of laws and customs. Where by ‘newer’ I think that they are three generations old, maybe four: a few grand-years, a few dozen times longer than I have lived. This is not very new.”
“I am not sure that the two of us could successfully fight a dragon like Arthane or Llredh,” said Evrath doubtfully.
“Which proves Osoth’s point about us,” said Charimaan. ”I’m not entirely sure that we deserve to hold territory.”
“Well, you might get beaten and battered now and then. But Arthane and Llredh have great territories of their own; they won’t be taking yours. And being willing to fight them as needed, even when it is hopeless, will at least start stories about you that reflect well on your honor. Not your skill or might, but at least your indominable spirit,” I said. At one point in my mating flight I had been working very hard on that principle. It was a disaster for me, but it might work better for someone else.
“I suppose that is the case,” said Charimaan. “A few unwanted duels might serve as well as a few unwanted cases at law. They will be faster, at any rate.”Support this project! Show that you're reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, and the writer at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom's books on Amazon. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.