At the Party
“Oh, wild jumping gods! Spotty! You came!” Verimet squealed, as if she were the schoolgirl she was when we met. She didn’t look much like a schoolgirl elsewise. Her hair was tied in the complicated knots of a clan-matron. Her robes looked a lot like Ythac’s, only she had the right to wear them. Her hat was rather less humiliating. Her tusks were chipped, and dyed a distinctly artificial lavender. She looked to be getting towards feeble. Mhelvul only live about eighty years, and Verimet was close to that.
“Of course I did!” I said. “This is the last time I’ll see you. I wanted to do it properly.”
Her voice got old and quavery. “Are you going to kill me?”
“OK,” I said. I didn’t much want to. But I’d killed Nenuet a few years ago, before the cancer could, and with a bigger farewell party and greater honors and less pain than death in a hospital would bring. She was another schoolmate, and not nearly as good a friend as Verimet. I could hardly refuse Verimet the same incendiary favor if she wanted it.
“Not in front of my grandson? Please, give me one more day!” she wailed, and her scent was full of fear.
“However you like, but soon,” I told her. “I’m leaving on my mating flight in a few days, and I won’t be back for a dozen years.” Verimet looked all horrified at me, so I asked her, “What’s so wrong, anyways? You don’t seem too unwell, and I haven’t heard that you’re in disgrace.”
Well, it took a whole twelfth of an hour for me to understand that she wasn’t asking me to kill her and didn’t want me to. She thought I was being cruel and tormenty when I said “last time I’ll see you” and “do it properly.” Ythac was smirking terribly, and writing me imaginary notes with sketches of me rampaging at a pile of mhelvul stick-figures.
I put Verimet in a comfortable armchair in the gazebo, and intimidated some of her servants into bringing her warm brandy, and let her recover from the shock of discovering that her old schoolday chum and occasional political supporter didn’t want to destroy her for any reason or none at all. Her daughter Abrythy and many of the relatives ran over to take care of her. I wasn’t going to help her recover, and it really wasn’t time to introduce her to Ythac. Ythac helpfully cornered the Arbiter of Civic Morality and started questioning him, loudly, about the morality of various sexual practices.
«What is frottage?» I asked him in an imaginary note.
«Something male mhelvul can do with their silly wiggly genitalia,» he answered. Hmph.
So I obscured myself with the Pyerthu’s Spare Hallucination, and went over the person the party was actually for. He was romping around on a tangle of ropes with a few other children. I knew it was him: he smelled the most like Abrythy. The ceremonial birthday wimple he was wearing should have been my first clue. But I’m a lazy dragon, never think when I can sniff.
“You’re four years old today, Pdaalu?” I asked.
“I’m four years! That is more than three years!” he said proudly. “Today is my birthday! In the park!”
“I know! I flew in ‘specially to celebrate it with you,” I said.
“You did not flyed! You not a bird!” he said. “You a person! You wearing shoes!”
I sat on a wooden bench, and Pdaalu climbed up next to me. “What does wearing shoes have to do with flying?”
“Birds do not wear shoes!” he said. “I wearing a wimple!”
“Birds don’t wear wimples,” I said. “So you must not be a bird.”
“I a bird! I a big sea-vulture! With a birthday!” he said, and flapped his wimple with his hands. His untruth was like the scent of rotten cheese to veriception, but he was obviously having fun making up stories, so I didn’t try to correct his behavior. I don’t think four-year-old mhelvul are trainable to tell the truth; our servants try to keep their children away from us mostly.
“Do you like sea-vultures?” I asked.
He jumped off the bench and started running and swooping around. “I catching fish! I eating fish! I catching fish for you too!” he said.
“Thank you! I am eating the fish you are catching for me!” I said, which was false enough to make me a bit rotten-cheesy too, but that’s OK.
“Here a fish for you!” He pulled a tulip out of a flowerbed and threw it at my face. I dodged the flower, but the mud from its roots got everywhere. I was living up to my nickname fairly well.
“No, no, no!” shrieked Abrythy, running over. “Don’t throw things at Spotty! Never, ever throw things at Spotty! Spotty, please, please, accept our apology … please spare him … he is a child, he knows nothing…”
Which was infuriating! “I am not here to kill anyone! Really! You must think that dragons have nothing better to do with their social calendar than go around murdering old friends and their families! What sort of a bloodthirsty monster do you take me for, anyways, Abrythy?” (Which in retrospect is probably the wrong way to phrase that.)
“We’ve taught him and taught him, never attack a dragon. But he didn’t know it was you, Spotty …” She threw herself to the ground and started grovelling properly.
“It’s just a flower, Abrythy. Get up, you’re scaring the children.” She didn’t get up, so I picked her up and held her over my head. “Besides, you did worse that that when you were a baby. You spit up all over me. Twice. I smelled of mhelvul puke for a week.” My own words weren’t much better than mhelvul puke to veriception — I don’t have a spell that protects me from perceiving my own lies. (Which is the real reason dragons tend not to lie very much. Most of the time we explain it with words like “honor”, and that’s all true of course, because dragons tend not to lie very much, but the core of the reason is, it’s noxious and disgusting to lie, even if nobody else can tell.) I didn’t spend nearly that much time with Abrythy; the actual baby mhelvul who left me reeky was her older brother.
She squeaked at me a bit confusedly. Pdaalu jumped up and down and tugged on my muddy skirt with his muddy fingers. “Flying! Mommy flying now!” So I put her down, on her feet, and picked Pdaalu up and waved him around in the air. He squealed.
«Have you ruined the party yet, Jyothky?» scribbled Ythac.
«Pretty much,» I wrote back. «How about you?»
«I have terrified the Arbiter of Public Morality into admitting that there are circumstances under which he ought to volunteer to be my catamite.»
«What a horrid thought,» I wrote.
«Yes, quite. My father will be so upset. Thanks ever so much for inviting me!»
I waved the guest of honor around a bit more. He flapped his arms and legs, and naturally wound up kicking me in the face. Abrythy covered her eyes and moaned, and smelled all terrified and doomed. I really can tell the difference between a child’s foot and a determined attack, even if I can’t feel the difference. But if the mhelvul were so determined to have me ruin their party, I decided to do it properly.
So I turned into a giant black sea-vulture. “For your birthday, you are going flying!”
“You a bird! You really a bird now!”
I snatched him carefully in my talons, and flapped my wrong number (viz. 2) of wings, and cheated a bit with a levitation spell, and carried him above the treetops. He started off squealing with delight, “I flying! I flying with a sea vulture now!”
Half a minute of flight was enough for him, and he started squeaking, “Down, down now! Put me down! Don’t do that!” Since this was as much for revenge as anything, I didn’t exactly hurry down.
But within the minute, I had deposited him in front of his mother, safe and unharmed. He ran over and wrapped himself in her arms, and caught his left tusk on her tunic and nearly ripped it. I glared at her, and said “I hope you understand what I meant with my little lesson!”
She nodded, though she was lying. She could hardly help it. I’m not sure what I meant with my little lesson exactly either. Something about power and friendly and such, I guess. Anyways, I glared at her a bit, but she started smelling too scared, so I smiled and excused myself and stomped over to the buffet table and ate most of the spicy crab appetizers and listened to mhelvul whisper to each other wondering how upset I really was (a tiny bit with them, a bigger bit with myself) and whether I was going to kill them all (no).
Since that wasn’t working very well either, I went to rescue the Arbiter of Public Morality from Ythac. We made our farewells to Verimet. I guess they’ll be final farewells. Which is sort of a shame, I won’t have any old childhood friends left except Ythac.
I wonder if there’s really any point to knowing anyone but dragons. Verimet went from being “roughly my age” to “a grandmother getting ready to dive into death” in less time than I took to go from “young girl” to “slightly adolescent girl”. Also I somehow went from “family friend” to “volatile nemesis”, too. That’s almost insulting. Just because I didn’t visit much in the last dozen years, probably.
Non-dragons are all obnoxious little squirmy things and I don’t like them much just now.
Well, I’m leaving Mhel soon enough. I’ll find out how well I like not knowing anyone but dragons for a duodecade.
Dragons are all obnoxious big scaly things and I don’t like them much just now either.