“Dragons of Mhelvul! The dragons of Chiriact have cheated you!” he boomed, by way of introduction. “They promised a dragoness, but sent a drake instead!”
And that’s a big cheat! It means that one more of their drakes gets to marry, and one fewer of ours does. Or, two fewer if Arilash or I marry him, and by the end of the day he sounded like he’d be pretty tempting and sure to come in first. And the one or two drakes who don’t get to marry are one or two from our mating flight.
Osoth laughed a low, bitter laugh. “Our proud fiancée was in such a hurry to leave that she paid little attention to the bargain she was making.”
“A dead drake, but still flying! I do not approve of this unfairness!” shouted Greshthanu. He had been upset all morning. We all thought that he was Roroku’s favorite. Maybe he was, but she still didn’t actually want him. Now he was going to be stuck with Arilash, or me, or nobody.
“The concept is not wholly unappealing, nor wholly unobtainable,” said Osoth. “Though this one is particularly alive. I speak as an expert on the topic.”
“After I kill him, will you animate him?” asked Greshthanu.
“Back to Chiriact we will send him! Our opinions on drakes and dragonesses, this will show!” added Llredh.
“The one who kills him is not going to marry me!” shouted Arilash.
“Nor me!” I added. “Which pretty much means a wasted mating flight!”
“Kill me if you will,” shouted Csirnis, very high up and circling a deliquescing but still probably usable the Triangular Cyclonette. “But know this: Though you were sent a drake, you were not sent the least among drakes of Chiriact!”
“Oh? Who are you, then, Csirnis of Chiriact?” I yelled at him.
“I am Csirnis Tokà-Dnesś Varagirion.”
Right. Not the least among drakes of Chiriact. He probably is in line to inherit a continent, if not the whole world. He probably has a hoard bigger than our whole castle. I really, really wished I had much of a chance to come in first in the mating flight.
“Right,” said Arilash, a half-step ahead of me. “Where’s your hoard? Got anything more than you can carry under your scales?”
“I have not so much as a single shard of topaz, real or false. I abdicated hoard and title both.” said Csirnis.
“And why would you do a thing like that?” asked Llredh, hoping to diminish Csirnis in the eyes of his fiancées.
“In protest at my parents’ cheating. And various prior crimes to which I will be no party.” he said. Which certainly diminishes him in my eyes now. Not because he’s poor, but because he’s so proud. A drake who abandons that much, that easily, might well abandon wife and territory and children for no better reason.
“Not so that we won’t kill you the first night out?” asked Greshthanu. “If you’re coming on the mating flight at all — Arilash and Jyothky haven’t accepted you.” Arilash and I showed no signs of wanting to. The king, perched on the pyramid next to Tultamaan, looked a bit irritated, but didn’t choose to exercise his legal authority to dissolve the mating flight (kings never do that, not twice in a gross-year) or to ban Csirnis from it (which would have been humiliating for the king since he had already approved the exchange of Csirnis for Roroku). Probably he wasn’t interested in picking a fight with the royal family of Chiriact, probably because he’d lose any paws he slashed them with and then some.
“You may try to kill me now, or later, as you wish. But I am as deadly in battle as any dragon of our age, and more than most,” he said. It didn’t even sound very arrogant when he said it: just the pure elemental confidence of which arrogance is a cloying and obnoxious imitation.
There was, by this time, a bit of a stir among the older dragons. Most of them started off furious at Chiriact for cheating us. The more they heard from Csirnis, the less furious they could be. His decision not to wear veriception blocks was a very clever bit of tactics. When he explained that he was, in part, offering himself as a hostage to prevent a war between Mhelvul and Chiriact, everyone knew that he meant it.
I don’t remember the arguments very well. My parents and Arilash’s were more amused than anything; one of us would have a chance at a really splendid and pedigreed, if poor and irrational, husband. My fiancés’ parents were the most unhappy, for the same reason. They were the only ones who actually suggested attacking Chiriact. Nobody else really wanted to do that, since there are a lot more dragons on Chiriact than on Mhelvul, and we’d pay dearly for any revenge. Roroku’s parents had already left. Roroku’s friends were between those poles.
Arilash and I invited Csirnis down to chat more sociably. Ythac joined us. The other fiancés sat and glared at us, or joined the elders’ argument.
“So. Would you marry me, if I picked you?” Arilash asked Csirnis.
Csirnis’ eyes were like clear emeralds. “Yes, or Jyothky, if she does. I am landless, hoardless, subjectless. A drake like me can hardly be choosy.”
“Well, you are a pauper today,” said Ythac. “What will happen when you return to Chiriact and demand your old perquisites back?”
“I would get soundly trounced by some of the best warriors on Chiriact, I should think. And executed in some public and painful way, if I didn’t arrange to die fighting,” said Csirnis calmly.
“So you have no territory for a new bride, nor the hope of any!” roared Greshthanu. “Unlike myself!”
“True indeed. I would have made a better husband an hour ago than I am currently,” he said. “I did not come here for personal advantage.”
“You left on bad terms with your parents … are they the king and queen of Chiriact?” I asked.
He smiled at me, which was awfully impressive and presumably made my cloaca go fluttery, not that I could tell. “Yes, they are king and queen. I was expecting to leave on bad terms; they are not given to forgiving public insults so easily. But they goaded me, and in some fury I revealed two crimes which they had hoped would never be traced to them. I doubt that they will forgive me this grand-year.” (Twelve times twelve times twelve years, which is a long time, even for us.)
Ythac smiled his sticky-sweet smile, and said, “I’m sure it’s hard to stay angry at you, Csirnis.”
“I am pleased to hear that, Ythac, though I am not wholly sure my parents concur. They have had more than a little practice. Still, I feared that any other drake who came here would be torn apart. I was not sure that I would not be!”
“But you came anyways,” said Arilash.
“My parents were going to send Merigon, who is half-crippled and half-daft; he would have no chance. I demanded to be allowed to come in his place. They refused. With a certain amount of violence, distraction, and blackmail, I arranged that they allow me. Indeed, eager for some reason to keep me far from Chiriact.”
“That’s a brave and romantic story, and all true too!” Arilash’s eyes were glowing, and Ythac’s. I’m sure mine were too.