“I have brought you a rabbit stuffed with caramelized onions, and with efforasze — that strong cheese — upon which you may break your fast this glorious place, with the dust of gods and small people all about us,” he said.
Well, it wasn’t quite breaking my fast. I had just scooped my breakfast out of the hutches, though, and rabbits are much nicer stuffed with onions and cheese. So I flew up to him, and politely snatched it out of his claw and devoured it. If you ever wondered why I’m so tubby, this sort of thing is why. It was pretty tasty. He must have brought it from his home, or something. My parents’ cooks aren’t very good.
“I have inspected your tribute, and find it adequate,” I told him. (That means “delicious”, when you’re talking about tribute. Or “excellent” if the tribute isn’t food.) “So I shall not drive you off with claws and teeth and breath. This time.”
He dipped his head and flew under me for a minute and a third. That’s etiquette, too. If I had been lying about not attacking him, he had just ceded me the advantages of height and facing. In theory I could have attacked him and had the advantage. Of course, if he’d actually been worried about it, he’d have had all sorts of extra defenses prepared. I’d probably have dived into a doomiess of surprise skeletons and flying ghosts, knowing Osoth. And he’s my fiancé and my friend and bigger than me. And nobody attacks like that anymore, it’s all sneaky feuds or honest blood-duels between friends. This stuff about manners is all very silly.
“What meditations do you perform here, Jyothky, in this dustyard of dead gods and dead mhelvul?” He actually talks that way.
“Not meditations, but ablutions, that the scourging sands may flense dry blood from my scales.” I answered. I don’t actually talk that way, but around Osoth I sometimes wind up talking that way. That’s got to count for something. I don’t know if it counts for him or against him, though. Is it imposing? Or pretentious?
“Oh, have you already hunted on this day?”
“Just in the barnyards of my parents’ small people,” I said. He looked a bit disappointed, so I added, “They do not stuff their stock with onions and the greatest of cheeses!”
He craned his head towards me, peering out of his fake eyesockets, his tongue darting. “You have tarried here overlong already, have you not, Jyothky? The blood of the farmers’ beasts may have been cleansed from your claws, but the blood at the corners of your eyes is dragon’s blood, or my tongue deceives me.”
“Sneaky sand!” I keep a close eye on my body usually, but I can’t keep a close eye on my eyes. A tenasensitive peek (that’s a sense observing structural integrity, in case you’re from a tenablind species) showed only the least bit of injury. I didn’t bother healing it. It’s not very good form to look like I can’t handle a bit of pain in front of one of my fiancés. Especially since handling pain is the only good part about not being able to feel.
(Which is a point in Osoth’s favor. Whoever I marry is going to have to pay attention to my little injuries. He showed me that he can do that. I suppose anyone can, but he knows he should.)
(Also, I’m sure you’re wondering why I wasn’t wearing any protectives. I had taken them off for sandbathing. The sand is fierce enough so that any good spell will think it’s attacking me, probably because it’s attacking me, and keep it away.)
“Sneaky indeed, for these sands are laced with the vengeful dead,” Osoth said.
“Sounds like you’d like them, then.” I really do talk like that. I should try to be more dignified now that I’m grown up.
“Indeed. I shall in time rip the secrets of ancient treasures long-lost from the unwilling spectres of the dead,” he said.
I didn’t know whether to be pleased or insulted. Pleased, because one of my fiancés should be thinking about his hoard, on the chance that he actually manages to get married. Insulted, because this is my family’s land. He’d bought safe passage with a stuffed rabbit, but there’s a big gap between safe passage and actual treasure-hunting.
So I hissed at him.
“Cterion, your mighty sire, has given me leave to undertake this endeavour,” he said. “Indeed, he has given me encouragement.”
Well, if Dad said it’s OK, I can’t complain much. (When I asked him about it that night, he said he was just being calculating. Treasure lost for centuries underground isn’t doing us any good, even if it’s on our land. And there’s, a priori, one chance in six that I marry Osoth, so treasure that he finds might do us — which is to say, me — some good. So why not let Osoth look? That’s the economics of Cterion for you.)
(I wonder if Dad told him about watching out for me getting injured?)
“Well, can I watch? I mean, I know there are all sorts of undead things in my bath-desert, but I’ve never actually met them.”
“Certes!” Necromancy has some major professional hazards. I guess the worst of them, for dragons, is having bits of archaic languages sneak into your everyday speech. “We shall descend under the shelter of my mightiest spells to the very heart of the desert, wherein I shall bind terrible spirits!”
(Maybe my father’s wrong. Do I really want my children to grow up talking like that?)
We flew down through the messy twisty winds to the iron scaffold. We ended up using my best protective spells, which are better than Osoth’s. Dad taught me the Ulthana’s Targe early on, when it was clear I would never be able to feel. It’s a family specialty. And Rankotherium taught me the Hoplonton. I’ve never been very good at it. But the Hoplonton cast badly is much tighter than the Small Wall, cast expertly, which is the best that Osoth knows. Osoth is very clever with fancy magic, like his necromancy. But I’m better with child’s magic, ordinary things like protection and shapeshifting and language and healing. Practical things. Basic things. The only things that an underage dragon is allowed to study. And since I’d been underage so long, I’d gotten good at them.
(So that means we’d complement each other magically, doesn’t it? Maybe I should marry him.)
Well, Osoth’s impractical magic is very impressive. He churned the indigo sands with his spells, and sieved them with sorceries, and caused them to swirl and spiral more than they ever do in the normal course of events. (Not that the normal course of events there is normal.) He scooped up a heap of broken bits of blue bone that didn’t look like anything more than the ordinary sand, and corked them into a sapphire bottle, and giggled and slap-slap-slapped his tailtip against the ground. I don’t think necromancers should giggle. I think they’re supposed to laugh hideous insidious laughs, but Osoth giggles.
“What did you get, Osoth?”
“Let us torment it and discover, O my fiancée!” he said.