Yesterday Verimet had sent me an invitation to Pdaalu’s fourth birthday party. That’s a very important birthday for mhelvul. For the very stupid reason that, at that age, the mhelvul could be controlled by their gods. They don’t have their gods anymore. Of course we control them collectively as much as their gods used to. Except that we’re benevolent about it. Their gods were usually more interested in sending armies against each other than in doing anything useful or decent for the other mhelvul.
We don’t let them fight each other much, pace Greshthanu’s clumsy matter of Kbrench and Cartharn. We definitely don’t let them starve or die of plagues either. Uplifters do this because it’s uplifty. Even a fairly downcrushy Downcrusher doesn’t find it economical to let all the slave peoples die.
Also, we’re nice. We control them by force. Not by insinuating psychic tentacles into their minds and depriving them of free will, or wracking them with agony if they disobey, depending on which kind of god it was. The Mhel gods were pretty horrid and clumsy. For one example I remember: the mhelvul have always hated their albinos. One year in the time of the gods, the mhelvul of Pdernuz rioted and burned several albinos alive. So the gods compelled every mhelvul (even the children, even the mhelvul who had tried to stop the burnings (not intentionally, they just commanded the whole region having forgotten that some people there might be innocent)) to submit coitally in a despised way to an albino. They pretty much raped the whole city, and the albinos the most of all. Naturally the mhelvul hated the albinos even worse after that. After Rankotherium and Dessvaria came to rule in Pdernuz, the mhelvul killed six albinos with knives in two days. Rankotherium found out who did it pretty fast, and executed them and their spouses. Nobody got raped, especially no mhelvul children. We punished the perpetrators, not the innocent, and certainly not the heroes. And the mhelvul don’t hate the albinos much more for it. They hate us instead, which is fine. (Or they did for a while. Now, generations later, we’re an ordinary part of life.)
Anyways. Even if there aren’t any more gods on Mhel, the mhelvul celebrate fourth birthdays specially. Even if what they were celebrating was actually repugnant.
(Actually, there’s one god on Mhel. Undead, not live, but whatever. Osoth has him caught in a sapphire bottle. I wonder if he’s revealed any treasures yet, or if Osoth will let him out before he goes to Hove.)
Verimet had invited me to Pdaalu’s fourth birthday party. I don’t think I was taking the place of a paingod, really. Most mhelvul fourth birthday parties go on perfectly well without a dragon being invited, much less attending. Not that the mhelvul could complain if a dragon landed and ate half the pastries or something. (I won’t say that I’ve never landed in a big outdoor mhelvul party and eaten half the pastries. I was eight the last time I did it.) But they’re mostly just mhelvul affairs. Verimet invited me because we went to school together. And I am sort of her patron — I’ve chatted with Rankotherium or Dessvaria on Verimet’s behalf a few times.
I don’t think Verimet expected me to come, when she invited me. I’d missed her daughter’s fourth birthday, and a dozen other major life events.
It was probably rather rude to have my secretary write a polite “No thank you” letter a month ago, and then have me write a more-eager-than-polite “Yes please and I’d like to bring a friend!” letter two days before the event. Oh, well, Verimet is rich. I’m sure she just told her cooks, “Oh, and by the way, we’ll need a bit more food. Enough for two dragons.” Then the cooks must have given that infuriating mhelvul-style nod that means “That’s impossible, we’re doomed, but we’ll do something.”
Then I got Ythac to come with me. This was not so easy.
“Why should I come to a mhelvul fourth birthday party?” he asked.
“Because it’s your last chance to come to a mhelvul party for a dozen years or more,” I told him.
“Good,” he said.
“Or because they’re fairly important subjects of your parents,” I said.
“Definitely not going,” he said.
“You get a wing up on my other fiancés,” I added.
He looked sort of sad at me and didn’t say anything. Usually he comes up with something arch when I say that, but not today.
“Good food?” I tried.
“That’s a good reason for you to go.” Oh, good, Ythac was back to the routine.
“An unshakeable excuse to get away from Rankotherium?” I asked.
“When is this party?” Predictable, is my friend Ythac.
The first practical issue was how to get there.
«Verimet rented the lawny half of Saint of Hermundro Park. I guess, best if we meet at Yaie Plaza, change there, and walk to the park.» I wrote. That made perfect sense to me. The park is full of flowerbeds and grassy lawns and such, and there’s no good place to land without leaving huge clawmarks. Which wouldn’t stop us for a second if we were doing anything important. But probably Verimet would have to pay for the damages. So I wanted to land in a nice stone-paved plaza.
«That makes no sense,» wrote Ythac. «If we’re going incognito, why change in the plaza with a grand of mhelvul watching?»
«We’re not going incognito. We’re just trying not to scare the four-year-old mhelvul by being gigantic scaly fangy clawy bulgey-eyed death-breathy lizard monsters at them.»
«What about four-year-old mhelvul in the plaza?» he asked.
«I don’t care about four-year-old mhelvul in the plaza. I just don’t want to spoil Verimet’s party.»
«Very well. I still don’t want to walk all the way from the plaza in mhelvul shape. It’s slow and tippy.» he wrote back. I’ve never seen him in mhelvul shape before, actually. That’s pretty usual — nobody but me really likes to take mhelvul shape.
(Except mhelvul, I suppose.)
(In case you haven’t seen one, a mhelvul is a basic biped. They’ve got very flat faces — at least, I think they’re flatter than most other basic biped faces, I’ve only seen a few kinds of basic bipeds so I don’t know for sure. Flatter than dragon faces, by a lot. They’ve got little tusks sticking out of the corners of their mouths, which the more elegant mhelvul dye in pastel colors, and lots of dark hair on top, and lighter hair elsewhere, and no tail to speak of. Five-fingered hands, clawrasp it; that’s caused more arithmetical problems on Mhel in the last few centuries than I can imagine.)
«How about Plujer Street?» That’s a big avenue on one side of the park. About five steps closer to the party, or five dozen mhelvul steps. He flies over his city often enough, but doesn’t walk in it.
«When do we go?» he wrote back.
«Now? Where are you, Jyothky? I thought you were at home.» (I had flown back home, with the Melismatic Tempest, courtesy of Arilash, to speed my trip. Useful grownup travel spell, that.)
«I’m just in sight of the shore. I’ll be at Pdernuz in a ninth of an hour. I suppose I shouldn’t stop and have a dolphin. They’re leaping and splashing down in the water.»
«Not unless you want to show up at the party all over dolphin blood,» he wrote.
«I guess that might be a bit rude.» Though it would wash off in the sea just fine.
«And you’ll be too full for party food,» he added.
«Me? Never!» But I didn’t stop to eat one.