I know I talk about fighting a lot. It’s very important for dragons — we are predators after all! Lots of us try to get into at least one fight a day, a practice bout of sparring if nothing else. I don’t, I’m not that aggressive. But two days out of three, even for me.
First of all, simply clawing or breathing at somedragon once isn’t real fighting. Small people usually use words for what we mean by that. They might say, oh, “Your mother copulated extramaritally with a black poodle, and from this union you were born.” Dragons just attack, once, instead. It’s just as expressive. A light firebreath on someone who has firebreath (and is thus not going to be hurt so much by it) could be the equivalent of saying, “Oh, pish! Scurry off quickly for a romantic encounter with a dry starfish!” Biting someone’s neck hard might be more like saying, “How is it you do not stink more than you do? For surely your proper place in the universe is in the drain of the Grand Sewer, so that the filth of twelve grand mhelvul may flow across you you. Perhaps you avoid this situation because, comparing itself to you, even the filth itself would become proud.”
Actually, the small people way might be more creative.
Anyways, those aren’t real fights. Though they sometimes turn into real fights.
Rhedosaur’s Forms of Fighting lists 541 different kinds of standard rules for blood duels — those are the ordinary kinds of fights, one dragon against another, out for blood rather than any serious injury. That’s very silly, since lots of them are the same except for changing a number or a rule. Like, the difference between “Questro Intangible” and “Dominance” is that the “Questro” goes to four hits and the “Dominance” to five. Not really worth having two unrelated and unmemorable names for — or the ten others, since a fight in that form to one hit is a “Babble of Raises”, and a fight to twelve hits is a “Duello Prolongato”, and so on for the other numbers. The only name that makes any sense there is the “Dominance”, since usually actual dominance contests were done by “Dominance” in Rhedosaur’s day. Or occasionally a seven-hit “Krage’s Glory”, if they were feeling more fighty.
Then there are the variations that let you heal your opponent and have it count as a hit — that’s “Caramelle” for five hits, or “Quest for the Narnu” for seven, if you’re trying to follow Rhedosaur. Those are fashionable among my friends now. They’re a good combination of hard (‘cause if you’re paying attention, you can block the healing spell with your vô) and nice (‘cause you get to show your opponent that you don’t actually want to hurt them.) Rankotherium, Ythac’s father, despises this fashion and says it’s making us all soft and his son worst of all. I think he’s being ridiculous.
The most important distinction is between friendly and unfriendly fights. Mostly we have friendly fights. There are a few choices of rules to them, but mostly they end up being “don’t hurt your friends in ways they can’t heal.” So we usually strike at legs, wings, or tail — wings are the top choice, because they make a nice satisfying crunch when you bite them, and they’re easy to heal. Or shallow slashes at the body — deep enough to get through scales and hide, but not so deep that they get to entrails. If you’re very agile you can claw someone’s eye out. I’ve never managed that, but it’s very elegant if you can. Breath is fine, except darkness breath and other ones that leave long-term damage, but burning a hole through someone is no friendlier than biting one through. Pretty much, if the Great Titan Sanitarium — the first real healing spell that everyone learns, but not a very good one — can’t heal it, you shouldn’t be doing it in a friendly contest.
I have to be careful in friendly fights. I have, when I was young, kept fighting after I had lost because I didn’t notice I had been hit. That’s worse than losing, it’s rude. My friends usually remember to shout when they hit me. I’ve got the Sentrydog and such analysis spells to tell me about it too, but they’re sometimes stupid and I need to be careful.
Unfriendly fights are nastier. You’re still trying not to permanently maim your enemy. But it’s fine if you break their back, say, or do something else that will take them a few years to heal. Of course you’re obligated to save their life if you do something like that — if you break someone’s back while they’re in the air, you have to get them to the ground safely at least. All the minor wounds that matter so much in friendly fights either count just the same in unfriendly ones (“Watashi’s Coyote”, etc.), or don’t (“Tea for Disharmony”, etc.). That sort of distinction is how Rhedosaur got his 541 forms.
I’ve never been in an unfriendly fight. Dr. Dnazhvhens told me that I should avoid them. I’d be at a terrible disadvantage — I couldn’t tell if I had been hurt badly, so I wouldn’t know when to heal myself. Anyone in an unfriendly fight risks a years-long injury. I’d pretty much be begging for one. Not that unfriendly fights are all that common. Ythac has only been in one, I know for a fact, and that one with his father; he lost of course, but didn’t get injured very badly, because his father doesn’t want to hurt him. Arilash and Osoth have never been in one either.
If you do kill someone in a fight that’s not supposed to be to the death, you’d better start making reparations immediately. You won’t get away with much of your hoard or your status, that way, but you might get away with your life. This doesn’t happen very often though. We mostly know when to stop, and we mostly get very clear-headed and accurate when we’re angry.
If it’s a bigger fight than just one dragon against one dragon, the 541 choices aren’t enough. Then it’s time to make a war treaty. You agree in advance what the stakes in the fight are — when and where the fight will be, what can be destroyed, who can be injured and how much, what the penalties are if you go beyond those limits, and anything else. Like, the fight to drive adult children away onto their mating flight has some very strict and customary rules: the parents outnumber the children about two to one, and are trying to injure them some but nothing that will actually leave us injured for very long. They’re not supposed to kill us unless we won’t leave.
So don’t worry if we seem violent towards each other by small people standards. It’s all friendly. Or, if an unfriendly one shows up somehow, I’ll point that out.