Seduction of Tultamaan (Day 41)
I woke up this morning in a tangle of dragon. Last night I had gone to sleep alone and early, when Virtuet first rolled behind the Godaxle. Arilash was out frolicking with grace, enthusiasm, and … Greshthanu, I think it was. Llredh maybe. She evidently slithered in at some time in the night and decided to sleep on me rather than her own spot. I am evidently warmer or more comfortable than bare floor, whatever “warmer” or “more comfortable” are like.
I escaped from her clutches, getting some grumbly mostly-asleep protests, and waddled out of the girls’ cave to try to find Murghal and make him do something cooklike with whatever bits of dead desert mammals were left over. He’s not a very good slave, not very attentive — he spends most of the day chatting with Osoth or someone, or even bottled Xolgrohim.
Tultamaan was lying in wait for me on a sand dune. The sunlight gleamed on his brick red scales, setting them off against the dull red of the dune. Some scrubbly spiky desert plants vaguely echoed his bright green chevrons and the clusters of spikes on his head and shoulders. His useless forelegs were tucked under his chest, claws sticking out, just as if he had put them there the way anyone else would. He looked rather like an elemental spirit of the Ghemelian desert. I’ll bet he had taken a third of an hour arranging his body to best effect.
“A pleasure to see you come by my corner of our encampment, Jyothky,” he said.
“Good morning to you, too, Tultamaan,” I said.
“I trust and expect that you are here for Appropriate Purposes, as I am?” he said.
“Breakfast is appropriate at any hour of the day or night,” I said.
“Ah, the famous Jyothky appetite has come to visit. A pity that Another appetite didn’t come with it. That other appetite hasn’t exactly Overstayed Its Welcome, if you know what I mean. Its presence has not become Oppressive.,” he said.
“It’s too early in the morning for that,” I said. Meaning being bitten about my inadequacies, though I suppose it could have gone for fornication too.
“Ah! Now it is too early for that. Later on it will be too close to Lunchtime. After that, it will be too much in the Middle of Eclipse. Further on, it will be Far Too Midafternoony. It will be time for Lying About On Melted Rocks and Looking Appealing Without Actually Doing Anything About It. Then, of course, it must not interrupt Dinnertime. After that comes an hour of all-important Complaining That There Are No Books To Read. Then, of course, an early bedtime, so that you can rise from your cave early the next morning for yet another exciting day of Avoiding The Issue,” said Tultamaan.
“That’s not what I meant,” I said. I wrapped the Hoplonton around myself.
“A very apotropaic, that. A very good defensive spell. Just the thing to cast when your fiancé is having a pleasant casual conversation about a topic so near and dear to both of us. What better time for Seeing To One’s Protections? One can’t go Unguarded in the Presence Of One’s Lovers and Suitors, after all,” said Tultamaan.
“I cast it every morning when I get up. It saves my scales from little injuries that I can’t feel,” I protested. Which is perfectly true.
“Ah! That would be a Similarity between us, and a Difference. We are both a bit crippled here and there. But you do not feel Anything, and I feel things quite acutely. All Sorts Of Things,” he said.
“I am going to find the dragon who decided to use the same word for ‘experience emotions’ and ‘experience bodily sensations’, and assault him with unpleasant emotions and unpleasant bodily sensations until he really can’t tell the difference,” I said. (I say that regularly. It’s a sore spot with me. (And I’m going to bite whoever made up that set phrase, too. There’s no escaping touch words.))
Tultamaan would not be distracted by one of my favorite gripes. “Emotions can come with bodily sensations. Especially Bodily Sensations Which One Should Produce Upon One’s Mating Flight. And I use the word ‘produce’ with a Determined Intent. I do not insist that one ‘Experience’ them when one cannot. This behavior may distinguish one from one’s … dare I use so bold a word? … Friends.”
“What are the other drakes doing to you?”
That did distract him for a moment. “They are careful to propose contests which, while not strictly impossible with two legs, are certainly more challenging. Greshthanu suggests a footrace. Osoth suggests a calligraphy competition. Still, I suppose one Ought Not Complain. The others are generally too confident in their own superiority to bother offering challenges at all.”
“I have to feel… I have to sympathize with you on that. Arilash won’t challenge me much.”
“Another Point of Similarity between us,” he said. “Another thing we Have In Common.”
“Trying not to be ranked last in our sex?”
“Precisely. Though, like the other Similarity, this one comes with a Difference. When you are ranked last, you will find yourself married to a Drake. Indeed, he will be a Drake of Some Distinction. You may choose the second among seven.”
“I’m going to be ranked second. Not last.”
“That is a Truly Subtle Distinction when there are only two dragonesses. But we digress. For my part, I might perhaps — perhaps! — excel over Osoth or Nrararn. It is barely imaginable that I could excel over both of them. Ythac? Greshthanu? Llredh? Csirnis? Preposterous! One could challenge them to a contest of Complaining, one supposes. This one might win, but would earn one very little glory.”
“And this is, of course, your first mating flight. You will not need any further one to secure yourself a Wholly Satisfactory Mate.”
“Well, that’s an awfully optimistic way to think of any of you,” I said. “Csirnis is insane about honor and justice. Llredh is coarse and brutal. And so on down the list.”
“And down to me. Despite being Eloquent and Far More Intelligent and Sensible than Any Other Drake, I am somehow seen as Whiny and Cowardly. Even without consider the unfortunate matter of the forelegs. Yes. Your mate may not be Wholly Satisfactory. He may have a few Endearing Flaws. My mate will not have any Endearing Flaws. She will, simply, not exist at all.”