Csirnis curled his tailtip again. “Well, that’s a novel approach, to be sure, especially in a region recently troubled by floods and wars. How did it work?”
Greshthanu crashed his forewings together. “Brilliantly! Oh, there were a few troubles here and there. It started out badly, in fact, with bickering and fistfights! I had to hire a chief architect from Pdernuz, so that the project would not be run by someone from one side or the other. But after a few months the foundations were begun, and the two countries cooperated.”
Csirnis looked a bit alarmed. “Months? How long are months on Mhel?”
“Two days longer than standard months. Why, how long are months on pretty little Chiaract?”
“We have no moon, being in a Typical Toroid. We use standard months,” said Csirnis. “Months it is, then. I must admire your patience, to put up with discord for so long a time.”
“Ah, a bit of hunting, a few trips to Fohhona,” said Greshthanu. He and Arilash smirked at each other. Maybe no rumors about Dessvaria, but I had heard that Arilash wasn’t quite as chaste as she should have been. (Oh, I wrote that earlier: Roroko said as much, and Arilash too. I don’t know that they were telling the truth, but maybe.) I refused Greshthanu when he asked me, but maybe Arilash didn’t. (I wonder if my fiancés care more about chaste behavior, or prowess at lovemaking … actually I’m pretty sure that Greshthanu and Llredh don’t care much about chastity at all. I have some hope that Csirnis does.) “After a year or so, the palace was done.”
“What was it like?” I asked.
“Oh, very tidy, very cozy. A big cave of a room to sleep in, a bigger cave of a room for waking, some small people rooms for small people. We didn’t bother with a lavatory; the Rumzu is fine for such things. It was painted glorious marigold and aquamarine, with expensive paints imported from Gzathato.”
“Paid for from your own hoard? Or your parents’? Or what?” asked Arilash. I was wondering the same thing. He should be fattening his hoard for the mating flight.
“Well, no, of course not any dragon’s hoard. This was a service to my mhelvul. It’s only right and fair that they should pay for it,” said Greshthanu.
“And surely the mhelvul paid gladly, eager to provide for their own correction?” asked Osoth, smirking.
“They never complained!”, roared Greshthanu.
“Well, I don’t know nearly enough about the conquest of Mhel,” said Csirnis daintily. “But shortly after the conquest of Chiriact, my mother demanded a grand of pounds of gold from each city-state in a certain region. One city-state protested, saying that it was poor and half the size of the others, which was true. Mother, who was a bit of a Downcrusher, proclaimed that they should pay double.”
”Ûj,” said Osoth in Grand Draconic. Which means of course, “Any doom is proper for small people.” A simple, common word for a simple, common concept.
“I am not a Downcrusher!” snarled Greshthanu. “I did nothing of the sort! Ûj is a wicked philosophical principle! There is no fairness to ûj!”
“Oh, I’m sure Osoth was referring to my parents, who are, indeed, quite well-known Downcrushers,” said Csirnis. “No unnecessary inferences or comparisons need to be made to your own, far more generous, activities.” Osoth and Arilash and I struggled mightily, and mostly avoided smirking. Mostly.
“Well! That’s fine! After the palace was complete and the Cartharnese and Kbrenchese had proved that they could dwell side by side in peace, I promised that the worthiest of the two countries would get control of the disputed lands. For each of them had a reasonable claim to them, and no fair division could be made from first principles,” said Greshthanu.
“And how did you measure worthiness?” asked Osoth. “We are provided with twenty splendid senses, of which I esteem dangersense not the least. But I, at least, have no innate way to measure such a hazy thing as worthiness.” I considered biting him, but he was on the other side of the flight, and that didn’t deserve a breath.
“In the most natural way possible!” exclaimed Greshthanu. “With a triumph of applied philosophy. I had each kingdom in turn produce a great feast and symposium, at which they displayed for me the greatest triumphs of their culture, sophistication, and cuisine. The one that measured the highest, of course, would get the land. Perfectly decisive! Perfectly fair!”
“And you get two top-notch feasts,” I noted.
“Well, of course. And no, that’s not ûj, it’s simply an exercise in the displaying of superior culture. And Cartharn certainly took it that way! Oh, what a feast that was. Flounder stuffed with snails and peppers, glorious curries of plaintains and squashes, and a whole roast ox crusted in cinnamon and cumin and asafoedita half an inch thick.” (A dragon after my own heart, in that respect. One fiancé point for Greshthanu! A pity he lost so many other ones.)
“That sounds like a respectably tasty bribe for a nice slice of territory,” said Osoth.
“It wasn’t a bribe,” snarled Greshthanu. “It was a display of culture.”
“A display of cuisine, at least,” said Csirnis calmly.