There are about two opinions about owning small people, with variations.
For Downcrushers, your small people are pretty much part of your territory or other possessions. You get them the same ways: conquest, purchase, trade, gift, whatever. You can do whatever you like to them: work them to death, kill them when they annoy you, trade them to other dragons, whatever’s convenient.
So you might expect them to be terribly evil greedy monsters who delight in destruction. But Rankotherium — for the most traditional Downcrusher I know, by how he talks at least — isn’t like that at all. He conquered Pdernuz and a goodly chunk of Mhel by breath and claw. Then he gave a lot of his new territory away to some other dragons, like my parents (who hadn’t done all that much) and Osoth’s (who did even less). He sat on Pdernuz very hard for a while, until his mhelvul learned not to fight him. And then he proclaimed a bunch of laws — and got the mhelvul to design some of them, in fact — and, pretty much, follows them himself.
Not because it’s right for him to do that — he considers it morally neutral — but because it’s convenient. He’s got a nice comfortable peaceful domain full of productive, compliant mhelvul. Also generally happy mhelvul, but he officially doesn’t care about that.
Churdle the farmer probably feels about the same about his cattle.
For Uplifters, your small people are the ones you’re responsible for. Usually that means the ones in your territory, or that you conquer, or buy, or trade, or whatever — the same things that Downcrushers say. I took responsibility for Tarcuna when I healed her, in Uplifter terms.
That’s a serious point of disagreement between the two sides. If my mother had been there when the gymnasium collapsed, and she’d healed Verimet, she’d have taken responsibility for her. (I was a dragonet at the time, so it wouldn’t have counted much.) Which would have annoyed Rankotherium considerably, since Verimet is certainly one of his small people too. So they probably would have had a fight, over what price Uruunma would pay Rankotherium — for a broken schoolgirl? Or a future high-caste matron?
But the real disagreement is over what you’re supposed to do to your small people. Theoretically Downcrushers will give any sort of orders or impose any sort of punishments, whatever serves the dragon’s purpose. Theoretically Uplifters will mostly do things for the good of the small people.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Like, Rankotherium’s small people have better doctors than my parents — he pays well for doctors; we can’t afford them. And better traditional schools, because Pdernuz has always been a very educated city.
But, well, my parents’ small people have better libraries. Rankotherium doesn’t let his learn much about their history, or much about science. It would not be convenient or peaceful if they made a few paingods and challenged him, say. We’re not so worried about that, or mother at least thinks that the mhelvul deserve to know what they used to do to each other, so, libraries.
And sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference. Rankotherium probably wouldn’t have healed Tarcuna, in my place. Unless it were actually convenient or fun or something (which it wasn’t).
I’m an Uplifter, I guess. Ythac certainly is — anything to oppose Rankotherium. Llredh is a Downcrusher through and through, so that “marriage” will be like my parents. I’m not exactly sure about the rest of us.
Of course, most Downcrushers (well, Rankotherium at least) pay attention to the welfare of their small people. And most Uplifters (Uruunma at least) don’t fuss too much about having slaves or servants as convenient, and don’t fret that the slaves don’t get much benefit beyond basic sustenance and livelihood.
I just thought of a very strange experiment. When I get back home, I’ll ask some of my parents’ small people which kind of dragon they prefer.