Churdle’s farm was looking a bit chewed around the edges, when I got there. A shed was in ashes, and the glass windows on the farmhouse were smashed and replaced by something that smelled like oiled paper. Which didn’t seem like a very good defense against fire, really. Hovens aren’t very good at tactics.
Five rather grim and rather injured farmers met me. I squeaked, “Hallo, Churdle, Joffinet, Marfy, all the rest!” Fortunately I had remembered to reread Day 48.
Churdle said quietly, “Joffee’s inside, on the couch. Can you help her, too?” I had to shrink to not much bigger than a horse to get inside, and that took some squirming, but I didn’t want to look any less impressive than I had to. The black-timbered farmhouse was a mess. They used to have shelves of china statues, intricate clocks, glass teapots, but they had been smashed to the ground, and swept in piles in the corners of the sitting room.
Three badly wounded hovens lay on the couches, shivering with fear and stinking with rotting wounds. Joffinet, who was about adolescent, had bullet holes in one leg, one arm, and one shoulder. Basanne, Joffinet’s mother, had been shot in the intestines and not cleaned up very well, and looked and smelled as if she was going to die in a few hours. “Oh, that’s not good,” I said, and started putting the Arcane Anodyne into them. So much for the wounds.
Basanne and my definitely-not-namesake rubbed at their sides and arms, where they had smooth skin and flat fur where they had just had septicemia. They thanked me for a while, but the only part I remember is Basanne apologizing for not having any delicacies to feed me. To which the only answer was, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I had breakfast this morning; last time I hadn’t eaten for two days.”
There was a mumble of light danger and a rumble of light engines from the driveway. The farmers looked scared, and scrabbled around to find rifles and an old sabre. Hooves clattered on the stone walkway, and deep voices growled, “Dragon-lovers! What’d you do, call your friend back?”
I stuck my head out the doorway. “I’m the only dragon-lover here, and I think I’m allowed.”
A dozen or so angry and poorly-armed hovens glared at me. “Dragon! Monster! Defiler of our country! We kill you now!”
They raised their guns, which, as noted above, mumbled light danger.
I reached out with my wings to sweep the guns out of their hands. Nothing happened; my wings didn’t get to them. I turned my head to look, and realized that all of me except the head was inside the house. My wings had hit the doorframe and I didn’t feel it. I am such an idiot. Or at least not used to fighting indoors.
And by the time I had figured that out, they had put a dozen bullets into my head and neck.
I glared at them. This was going to be awkward. «Ythac? Some of your hovens are shooting at me.»
«I’m sure it’s just a celebratory display or something,» he wrote back.
«I wish so. They started out by saying, “We kill you now!” I am sorry, Ythac. Oh, they just shot me some more.»
«Are you hurt? I know you can’t always tell.» So I had to check, but I wasn’t much. «What did you do to them?» he asked. So I had to explain.
«No real choice,» he wrote. «Kill them and their families.»
«You’re the ruler!» I scribbled back. «You’re in charge of justice! You do it!»
«Look: you antagonized them. You execute them.»
«I was just healing some of your other hovens! I was doing you a favor, having your subjects not die, contributing to the prosperity of your realm!»
«Interfering in a local dispute without asking me first! My, Jyothky, I do believe I have caught you in a violation of etiquette finally!» The fifth volley hit me in the left eye.
«All right, all right. Where are their families, anyways?» I answered, because I really was feeling bad about being so rude to him.
So I healed my eye, and killed the attacking farmers with forky lightning. Carefully; I didn’t want to break the farm any more than it already was. The friendly farmers howled. “Are any of you hurt?” I asked them, but they weren’t. “I have an errand to do, I’m afraid. Killing their families; that’s the punishment for attacking a dragon without permission.” They wailed incoherently.
I didn’t have far to fly; Churdle’s neighbors had been punishing him. A bit of flame, a bit of lightning, and two wives, one husband, six children, and various assorted livestock were dead as required by the oldest of draconic laws. The farmhouse next beyond that was a bit bigger, and eleven more people died for the crimes of their families.
The rest came from an old manor a mile away, a big house of stone and brick and black timbers on top of a hill, all surrounded by almond trees and gardens. The house shimmered upside-down in a reflecting pond by the front walk, where elegant blue-scaled fish swam. It smelled of roses, more than Perstra, even. Two children played at hoops on a gravel path. A heavy breath of flame roasted everyone in it alive, though I didn’t bother with the children outside. They ran away screaming, and I suppose they survived or something.
By then I was furious. At Ythac for making me do his justice. At the neighbors for attacking me and making me kill them. At Churdle for calling me in. At myself for not squirming my whole tubby body out of the farmhouse when the danger came. At my great-to-the-whatever grandparents for making a horrible law like that. At everyone, really.
So I breathed on the manor again and again. The wood in the walls burned, and the almond trees and aromatic bushes all around. The stone glowed red, then white, and then slumped and pooled as so much magma. I switched to ice breath, then, and the magma froze and cracked and exploded. I alternated, heavier and heavier breaths each time. When the flame came, the stone spattered and boiled. When the frore came, the stone froze and shattered.
«Jyothky? What on Hove are you doing to that building?» Ythac’s writing was small and precise, apologetic.
Well, there’s no breathing at him across the Horizonal Quill. «I promised that I’d crunch your wings up and then forgive you for, what was it, promising to marry me and then choosing another boy instead, remember?»
«You promised, but you’ve never done it yet. Want to now?»
«Yes. Where are you, Perstra?»
«Yes, but I don’t want to be seen getting chomped in public and not fighting back. I’m a very dignified ruler. Can I join you in Perspeckle?»
«Yes» He owns Perspeckle anyways.
I didn’t get around to it, though, because I got there much before Ythac did.
“Sacred suns, Jyothky, what happened to you?” squeaked Tarcuna. My brave and helpful fiancés were bravely and helpfully off cavorting with my rival.
“I got into a fight with some farmers. Outside Churry City.”
“What did they do to you?”
“Shot me, died. About what you’d expect.”
“What did they shoot you with?” She made me look at my face in a mirror.
“Oh, that’s just shards and scoria. I got a bit upset at a stone building afterwards.”
“Put your head down here.” She started prying bits of rock-splatter off of me with her one good arm. “Tell me what happened. You sound angry and miserable.”
“I was just going there to heal a friend … she’s a good cook …” and on and on, I probably whined at her half an hour, lying on my back, until Ythac got there. I didn’t bite him even once, though. I just lay there and let the two of them clean the ruin off my face.
“I’m going to transport those farmers,” Ythac proclaimed regally. “Move them halfway across the country to a new farm, and nobody will know who they are or why to hate them.”
I have the best friends in Hove.
Which would mean a lot more if I, personally, weren’t the worst friend in Hove.