The Final Judgment
“Well, that didn’t go nearly as badly as I was expecting,” said Quel Quen, when all things had been discussed and analyzed and understood. “When are the survivors going back out?”
(They mostly weren’t. But we had sixty-eight applicants for the next expedition, when they saw that it actually was a chance for honor and marriage.)
The EndSupport this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.
Romance among Drakes
Mirinxan found Vaareng alone on a hilltop, eating a large breath-broiled beast.
“Vaareng!” he called, circling above him. “I have for you a question!”
Vaareng looked up. “Perhaps I will have an answer for it, and perhaps not.”
“You will, for the question is this — will you marry me?” demanded Mirinxan. Such is romance among drakes.(º)
(º) Most of my readers and informants demanded that I take that sentence out, or modify it considerably. Instead I provide this footnote, stating that, in fact, romance among drakes is a highly variable topic.
“What? Why?” burbled Vaareng, failing to find a good answer.
“Because you are the most handsome and horny of the three dragons I am stranded here with, and the other two have pretty much decided to get married to each other. Plus you and I have some history working out romantic issues already.”
Vaareng thought a moment. “I was under the impression you didn’t like me very much.”
Mirinxan shrugged. “I didn’t. You are vain and stupid. You are also pretty, teachable, and — this is exceedingly important — available. For my part I am pretty, able to teach, and available, and more or less your only choice unless you want to twine with eleg. And, as they have exclusive pair-bonds, you would have to marry one.”
“I suppose that’s true. I imagine I could get used to you as a wi…a husband. I like you better than Meliavras, the dragoness I was expecting to win in my mating flight. And we have some practice in tolerating each other. Just don’t try to win any more sapphires off of me! They’ll be coming out of your own hoard too.”
Mirinxan laughed, more intently than the shared joke called for. “And you are not wholly vain or wholly stupid, especially compared to the eleg.”
“Oh, Driaith used the same methods on me that we are using on the eleg,” said Vaareng.
”… But we are instituting a selective breeding program on the eleg,” said Mirinxan.
“Exactly!” cried Vaareng. “Now come here this instant and selectively breed with me!”
“Oh!” said Mirinxan, and complied.
As of now (about six standard years later), they’re still a mated couple, and treating each other rather like a normal husband and wife of six years. Normal draconic ones, of course. They are learning to enjoy each others’ non-copulatory company in small doses, and they have been practicing fighting side by side in much detail. Not that there’s much for dragons to fight on Eleer.
Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the
characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at
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in My Claws, the prequel to this story.
and Dramatis Personae.
“The eleg are stupid,” said Nrusco.
“This has been noticed already,” said Vaareng. “Your simple proclamation does not do justice to the full matter. The eleg are not simply stupid. They are voluminously stupid, fluorescently stupid, pyroclastically stupid.”
“Yet they have invented bows and arrows, sewing, and basic agriculture,” said Nrusco.
“They have achieved the barest minimum of technology that one could achieve and be considered to have any technology at all,” said Vaareng.
“But they are too stupid to do so,” said Nrusco.
“What? Are you saying that some off-world power came and taught them these things? And, being too stupid, they forgot to mythologize it? Or are you saying that they used to be smarter but degenerated somehow?” cried Vaareng.
“Those are possible, I suppose. More likely, the occasional eleg is born somewhat smarter than the others, by chance, and invents a thing,” said Nrusco.
“Ah. But would not the inexorable process of evolution quickly concentrate and amplify their intellect?”
“Only if it were a reproductive advantage to be smart. Given that eleg seem to form exclusive pair bonds, it is not clear that a bit of intellect helps them reproduce. So evolution has no wind to ride,” said Nrusco.
“A pity. They are horrible company,” said Vaareng.
“We could provide it a wind. We could, say, kill off the stupidest of the adults. We could provide healing only for the smartest. We could institute a program of selective breeding, where the smartest marry the smartest, and the stupidest are sterilized,” said Nrusco.
“This would take quite a long time to work,” said Vaareng.
“We are going to be here for quite a long time,” said Nrusco. “We might as well do something that could give us some long-term benefit.”
“Very well. I shall do my part in this cultivation of the eleg!” cried Vaareng.
Ethical Considerations of Selective Breeding
There are serious ethical issues involved in doing a large-scale selective breeding program of intelligent persons. Especially killing off the stupidest ones. (Practical considerations too — I never got a good answer about how they measured intelligence. Badly, probably: it’s a slippery thing to measure under the best of circumstances, and their circumstances are close to the worst.)
But if the four drakes ever thought about the ethical issues, or considered for a moment that mass slaughter of the idiots was a matter one might reasonably have second thoughts about, they never told me, even when I asked directly.
Nor did most draconic readers of early drafts of this text. Csirnis and Itharieth did, of course, and Nrararn too, for which I am surprised and delighted.
But on the whole we are a vicious and horrible species. Me as much as any other dragon.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.
“So we are agreed, that we shall conquer Eleer and rule it, as four equal kings, each with primacy over a quarter of the world in case disputes arise,” said Vaareng in summary. The other three ¼-spread their wings in assent. Vaareng, the least artful of the four, had been chosen as the chairdrake by universal (viz. fourfold) acclamation.
So, how to do that?
“The eleg are stupid, weak-minded, weak-willed. Let us simply alight in a village — any village — Cwukment is near to hand and will serve. We proclaim that we rule Cwukment and all Eleer. Then we see what challenges arise against us, and defeat them. Probably with a sneeze of breath or a flick of the tail,” said Vaareng.
“As our chairdrake, we grant you the honor of doing so first,” said Mirinxan, who knew Vaareng’s weaknesses well.
“I shall do so, triumphantly!” cried Vaareng, and took wing for Cwukment.
Cwukment was a circle of sod huts where eleg families lived. In the center of the circle are a few more sod huts, built as large as sod huts can be built: storehouses, leatherworks, stoneworks, millery, shrine, and the village hall where meetings are held and all important matters decided. So at the start of the work-shift (Eleer’s linear sun is not useful for chopping time into days), Vaareng landed in his full drakely glory next to the village hall, and roared out, “Eleg, come forth!”
Which certainly got him a substantial audience of grosses of eleg in a matter of minutes.
Vaareng explained to his new subjects, “I am a dragon,” There is no eleg word for dragon, so he said it Petty Draconic. “A mighty creature from beyond the sky, one of four who have come to Eleer. We hereby declare that we are the rulers of your world. You shall do us homage, and obey us. We will raise you up from your simple and rude way of living, and you shall become noble and glorious and in all ways fit to be our subjects!”
The eleg peered at him, perplexed.
Vaareng tried again. “I am a dragon. My brothers and I rule Eleer. You are our subjects. You must obey us and honor us. We will treat you well and make you great.”
The eleg peered at him some more. (I never got a clear description of what the eleg look like, beyond “They’re Basic Bipeds and not very interesting to see.” (They smell incredible, by the way. They communicate by scent as much as by language, and their scent-repertoire has a gross of basic notes and endless variations and combinations. Dragons can perceive all these scents. We do not have the instinctive understanding of them that eleg have, though the Word-Fox can explain them. We can only produce them by means of illusion spells or other artifice, and not easily.))
Vaareng tried once more. “I am a dragon. I rule you now.”
The eleg yelped, finally understanding him. (Honestly the eleg are not quite as stupid as this makes them seem. They communicate by scent as much as sound. Vaareng was not puffing forth a vapor that foundationed his words. His actual scent, of proud and excited drake, was incomprehensible to the eleg; the most they could get out of it was some perplexing gibberish involving horseshoe crabs, concern for carnivores seeing out fertilized eggs, and perhaps something about milling.)
“Ah, you are a dragon. You rule us now,” said the eleg, and started filing into their village hall.
“Wait, where are you going?” demanded Vaareng.
“This is a matter for the village,” said an eleg.
Vaareng, having no particular idea what might be going on, let them process, discuss, and recess back into the square. It took a small fraction of an hour. The eleg announced to him, “You are not a dragon. You do not rule us now.” They started going back to their ordinary lives of farming, stonework, milling, leatherwork, and so on.
Vaareng picked up one at random. “I am mighty! I am a vast and powerful monster, I could crush you or bite you and make you die! I command powers that could burn Cwukment to ashes in a moment, without effort! You must surrender before me, or I will destroy you!”
The eleg looked perplexed.
Vaareng tried again. “Obey, or I will kill you.”
The eleg smelled complicated. Vaareng used the Word-Fox: fear, of course; denial, an urgent need to do ordinary chores, a resigned assertion that things must never change.
Vaareng sneered, “Last chance.”
The captive eleg thrashed miserably.
Vaareng bit its left ear off.
“I obey now!” wailed the eleg. “What must I do?”
Vaareng had no good answer for that.
Cwukment collectively decided that, while Vaareng did not rule the village, he would punish anyone who disobeyed him, so obedience was perhaps a good approach.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.
Stranded on Eleer
«I have terrible news for you,» I told Vaareng. «A vast monster arose and destroyed the base camp. Two dragons are dead, and the rest are fled back to Hove. And the portals are destroyed: you are stranded on Eleer.»
Vaareng had a great deal to say about that. To his credit, he started with, «What of Driaith?»
«Driaith is unhurt, and on Hove. Borybran and Jaraswat are dead, or close enough.»
The rest of his conversation was not worth recording. Then he told Mirinxan, Xilobrax, and Nrusco, each of whom wanted to express their opinions of the situation to me. I regret to say that these opinions were not entirely and uniformly pleased.
After a few weeks they calmed down, and decided to make the most of their predicament by conquering and ruling the best part of Eleer.
Eleer is a Predictable Platelet, a barely-tilted plane (loosely 1/12th of a degree) two hundred and fourteen thousand miles in diameter. One of the largest we saw, which alone made it worth having six dragons out exploring it. The linear sun which twirled in the sky above it had a delightful lluyew. The air was fresh and clean, and full of vast numbers of tasty birds. The greater part of the landscape was low hills or cute mountains, nicely forested (with giant ferns and herbs — the local botany had not discovered lignum, and thus there was nothing tree-like.)
The eleg themselves were the main rot in the roast. They are not too bright.
To be sure, they are smarter than any other native thing living on Eleer. And they are quite smart enough to set up little farming villages, to fight off all the predators with their spears and clubs and arrows, to sew animal hides or the big leathery leaves of the iẋops plants into clothing. Most small people spend a few gross-years at this degree of technology before clumping up into cities, inventing monumental architecture and writing and mathematics and law codes and musical scales and religion and beer-making and all the things that transform life from a way to pass the time until death into a vibrant and civilized experience. Or an amazing pit of misery, if you’re the wrong person. Civilized societies rarely manage to be kind.
The eleg, at least, managed to be kind. They had lived in their little villages for grand-years, lots of them — grosses of them, maybe.
Which is not precisely true. Once in a while some quirk of the weather or seeds gave them enough extra food in one place to multiply and have a village grow to a little city in size. That sort of thing was enough for chirs or hovens or other typically-bright small people to invent civilization. The eleg didn’t invent anything. They just blinked in confusion as their ill-placed latrines spread diseases, as their government-by-universal-agreement could never get universal agreement and never made anything happen, as the luck that had given them a good harvest vanished and their city starved back to village size.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.
The Obvious Arrangement
Itharieth and Psajathrion were flying wings-and-wings over the Khamrou mountains on Trest.
And Itharieth said, “I have a request to make of you, Psajathrion, and I hope you will not take it amiss. For it is a request with some difficulties and complexities attached to it. Not just attached to its granting, by the Lermon’s sermons! To the asking as well!”
“Well, if it is the sort of request which induces the scale-boil, I know how to prepare an ointment quite effective against it. And if it is the sort of request which scores the tongue of the requester, I have excellent healing-spells as well. And if it is the sort of request which summons a flying turnip-demon from the Realm of Excessive Dread, why, then, you shall attack it from the right, and I from the left, and we will fight it off as best we may, or die together trying.” The last few clauses as much as say that Psajathrion knew what Itharieth was going to ask, and would assent to it.
“Well, ahem, yes,” said Itharieth, presumably much heartened. “You and I have made somewhat a passtime or recreation of tending, informally, to the lives of the small people in this or that world. I wonder if you would be at all interested in a more formal arrangement by which we would assume responsibility, in the eyes of dragons at least, for some moderate region of Hove. They have a number of fascinating endemic biomedical concerns, you know — of which those mind-controlling parasitic worms must be reckoned first.”
“The prospect holds a considerable scientific and medical interest to me, I will say! But how would we get such a territory?” asked Psajathrion, just as if he had no clue about the answer.
“Well, there is only one reasonable way, by Jyothky’s riothkee!” (I don’t have one.) “And that is if we should marry ourselves to one another,” said Itharieth.
“H’m. Did you say ‘marry’, Ithareith? You are aware, I trust, that we are both drakes, and in any event we have not been on a mating flight together?” said Psajathrion.
“What? No, no — by which of course I mean yes — that is — Hoven customs — and the exploring company!” blithered Itharieth.
“Yes, precisely. How could I forget such things? Yes, I shall marry you, Itharieth,” said Psajathrion.
And the ceremony was performed about two months later. I gave them as territory a large slice of Damma, complete with eleven quite diverse ecologies and any number of unpleasant indigenous diseases. That should keep them happy for a few gross-years.
Everyone has asked me if Itharieth and Psajathrion are lovers.
So I asked them, “Are you lovers?”
“We have nothing exceptional to report in that regard,” said Psajathrion.
“By the Skyandrope’s plyanthrope, the situation is arranged quite as we wish it!” exclaimed Itharieth.
“But everyone is asking me what the details of that arrangement are,” I said.
“I imagine you explain to them that you do not know,” said Itharieth.
“I do! And they uniformly demand that I put to you the question,” I said.
“And of course the Queen of the Dragons of Hove holds her office largely to satisfy the prurient — or imprurient, as the case may be — interests of her subjects,” said Itharieth.
“Well, I admit that I am curious as well.”
Psajathrion ⅓-spread his wings. “Excellent.”
“Excellent?” I asked.
“Curiousity indicates a continued vitality of the higher and more abstract regions of the psyche,” said Psajathrion.
“And it would be a poor act of medicine if your curiosity were extinguished, by the Glycolisist’s psychologist! Fortunately Psajathrion is an excellent physician, and, for such professional reasons, will do nothing of the sort!” added his husband.
So I don’t know if their marriage involves any sort of copulation or body-play, or not. But they certainly cooperate quite well, and love each other quite well too.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.
The Restoration of Ystron-Mhavrieth
When Jaraswat’s crate was unpacked, a small and well-shielded niobium casket proved to contain a dragon-shaped sweater with a grand of neck-holes indicating as many languages spoken. There was no further information on it, but whose could it be but Jaraswat’s vanished student Ystron-Mhavrieth?
And where could Ystron-Mhavrieth be?
Tultamaan interviewed Lhury, the detective who had investigated Ystron-Mhavrieth’s vanishment.
“I understand that the Evidence you found was Incomplete. It was Inferior. It was not All It Might Be. If it were a dragon, it would be Myself,” said Tultamaan.
“Yes. Exactly,” snapped Lhury.
“Might further Evidence be of Any Use to the Investigation that is surely Ongoing?”
“There is no ongoing investigation. Nobody cares anymore what became of some unwise perverted bachelor drake who plotted against his mentor,” said Lhury. “Nor should they.”
“As it happens, Bachelor Drakes are the citizens of the world I have the Honor to call Home. The more Perverted and Unwise, it seems, the Better. From which you may Conclude whatever you Like. Well, Jaraswat is Dead or Gone Forever, or perhaps both at once. So it is About time to collect Ystron-Mhavrieth.”
“Dead, you say?” Lhury glared at Tultamaan with the painful glare that some light-breathing dragons develop. “Tell me of the circumstances of his death, and the evidence.”
So Tultamaan did, though he somehow minimized his own role in the affair and left off the other dragons’ names.
“I shan’t re-open the investigation. It was futile before, and after such time has passed, it shall be more futile,” snapped Lhury.
“Then you must have no further Need of any records or other Notes you may have taken during the investigation,” said Tultamaan, who had probably plotted the whole conversation. “So there is no Obstacle to providing me with them.”
“I suppose not,” snapped Lhury. “Here, take them, and pester me no more about one of my rare failures in detection!”
Lhury’s notes and clues were meagre enough. The greatest dragon detective was not much of a detective.
Tultamaan was more of one. He reasoned that Jaraswat would likely have put Ystron-Mhavrieth into some uninhabited world — uninhabited by dragons at least — or else Ystron-Mhavrieth would have been found long since. This could have been wrong in various ways: there are binding-spells and secret vaults, and disintegration-spells for that matter. But we do not think Jaraswat had mastered such potent magics. Basic travel spells are far more routine.
So, then, what non-dragon worlds would Jaraswat have been able to get reach-scales for? That was a small number indeed, for reach-scales to non-dragon worlds are rarely kept. Lhury’s investigation was not so cursory as to leave off tracking Jaraswat’s movements in the weeks before the vanishment, and Jaraswat did visit the Auxiliary Archives of the Royal Graulfnir Society of Sciences and Magics — and again in the week after the vanishment.
Which, when Tultamaan explored it, proved to be a large shed full of an assortment of scientific and magical detritus insufficiently interesting to be presented in the official Archives of that noble Society. It is catalogued unenthusiastically by some second-rate and severely bored graulf archivists. The visit of a dragon investigating a famous unsolved crime woke them up, and they tracked down the four reach-scales present in the Auxiliary Archives. One of them was in a distinctly claw-raked wooden box, scarred as if a dragon had clumsily tried to open it. Tultamaan started with that, and ended with that, too.
Tomblero, so designated by one of the few dragons who chose to visit it, is a Basic Ball in the middle of an ice age. It is cold. It is not wholly uninhabitable. The equatorial sea, unfrozen, supports a quite healthy ecosystem of fishes and octopoids. The scattering of un-iced islands and corner of a continent support a classical ecology of tall leafy trees and large fish-eating lizards.
One of whom was the delinguisticated Ystron-Mhavrieth, whom Tultamaan duly relinguisticated.
We have two rather divergent stories of what happened after that. Ystron-Mhavrieth simply says that he thanked Tultamaan with all the dignity and honor one gives to a drake who has just rescued one from a terrible fate. Tultamaan says that Ystron-Mhavrieth offered Certain One-Sided Erotic Recreations, and if he (Tultamaan) were going to indulge himself with drakes, he has far closer friends and former colleagues in the Expedition that he would ask first.
Ystron-Mhavrieth did move to Hove — where else? — and spent a great long while trading Jaraswat stories and semen with certain survivors of the company.Support this project! Show that you’re reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, the writer, and occasional other entities at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom’s books on Amazon, especially Mating Flight and World in My Claws, the prequel to this story. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.