Tarcuna’s Ancestral Home
Tarcuna’s family certainly had some status to lose. Their home was a substantial three-floor mansionlet on the side of a big park. Heavy oak trees guarded the front door, and flowering ivy dripped off the walls. A stone hoven danced on the back of a stone turtle in a little pond, and water dripped from her spread hands.
“Great-grandpa made his money in cans, you know,” said Tarcuna as she tugged on the doorbell.
“I don’t know. I don’t even understand,” I said. “Was he in a can? Or did the money come to him in cans? The Word-Fox doesn’t list that as an expression of abundance, but it’s not a very good fox with metaphors.”
Tarcuna said, “Neither of those. He invented a way to boil canned food quickly, and made a lot of money. We still —-”
A hoven man opened the door. His fur matched Tarcuna’s, red with grey stripes, though he wore his hair short and his bathrobe long. “Yes… Tarcuna? Is that you?”
“Your very own daughter, in the flesh.”
“Who were you talking to?” he asked.
Tarcuna stomped one hoof. “Not ‘Welcome home, dear child!’? Not even ‘Go away, you disgusting monster!’?”
“Come in, come in. I am glad to see you.” Tarcuna’s father held the door open, a corridor into a private universe full of knickknacks, bagatelles, flummeries, objets d’art, thingamajigs, whatnots, baubles, bric-a-brac, and novelties, but absolutely not a single whimsy. As Tarcuna walked through, he took her in his arms for a close hug. She tensed at first, and then hugged him back. Which left me, in the purse, rather squashed. A real snake might have been upset. My apotropaics are proof against paternal affection.
“Who is it, Mogen?” called a woman from deeper into the house.
“Tarcuna’s come back to us, Vetha!” Mogen answered.
Vetha came running, her hooves thumping dully on the antique carpet, her braid of red hair thumping on her back, her stench of confusion and anger all about her for anydragon who has a working tongue to smell. She glared at her daughter, and said, “You’ve been in the news lately.”
Tarcuna extricated herself from her father’s embrace, shoved past her parents, and sat in a big puffy chair with threadbare green upholstery in the parlor. I poked my head out of the bag and looked at walls full of dusty-framed photographs of self-important hovens, and stained glass lamps depicting three of the four suns. “Doing my part for the family reputation.”
“I’ll have you know that everyone thinks you’re being simply dreadful. Treason, they call it, and I can’t say I disagree,” said Vetha.
“Working with the government of Trest is treason? Or maybe it’s treason to be working to keep the dragons from killing too many more of us. Or perhaps it’s the bit about trying to get rid of the soul-stealing worms that’s the problem?” said Tarcuna.
“Getting monsters to conquer your country is treason, dear,” said Vetha, sneering a bit.
Tarcuna laughed. “I don’t have that kind of influence. I have kept them from burning a few cities and everyone in them, though. So if you really care about your reputation, you can tell everyone I’ve been more effective protecting us from the dragons than anyone else. Than everyone else put together, even.”
Vetha hissed, “What do you want here, Tarcuna?”
“To see you and Dad again. See if you’re ready to forgive me for the little things you disinherited me for, now that I’m a hero of the nation and all,” said Tarcuna. She was lying.
“I don’t think that’s exactly right, Tarcuna,” interjected Mogen. “The newspapers have not yet chosen to reveal that side of your saga.”
“Tarcuna! You started out as a pervert, then became a whore, and now a traitor and collaborator with the dragons!” said Vetha. “I’m at a loss for what you’ll come up with for an encore.”
“Apostasy, probably. After the worm ate me I stopped going to services,” said Tarcuna.
Mogen mumbled, “After moving in with a tappu lover, and a girl at that? The only think keeping you from apostasy proceedings is the lax state of religious record keeping and enforcement nowadays.”
“That plus a large black dragon in my pocket should just about do it, though,” said Tarcuna. “I should try to talk Llredh into repealing the apostasy laws. They’re pernicious laws anyways.”
“Why did you do it, Tarcuna? Why did you do it to us?”, cried Vetha.
“I didn’t do it to you. Kangbok I did to me. After she kicked me out, I had less than a week of free will before Elesma’s worm got me. After that I wasn’t thinking about you at all, or about myself either.”
Vetha was twisting a heavy tassle in her hands, and looking quite uncomfortable. “Lying isn’t a big addition to your list of crimes, Tarcuna. I suppose you might think you can’t dishonor yourself any more deeply. But that nonsense about cyoziworms isn’t even a very good lie. Nobody believes it. If I were you, I should just just say, ‘I needed money, so I took up the one trade that my natural inclinations suited me for and led me to.’”
Tarcuna frowned. “Let us leave aside the question about just why I needed money, when, after all, my parents haven’t yet managed to squander all of grandpa’s inheritance yet. Actually I didn’t need money that much. I was a waitress at Billy’s. But you really ought to believe about the worms. It’s true.”
“It’s preposterous,” said Vetha.
“It’s true. Prof. Wulpmegarn and lots of others saw them. That was in the paper too.”
“My dear Tarcuna!” Vetha’s adjective made my veriception sneeze. “There were three dragons in the room. Including the one who tortured Archconsul Shuvanne into surrendering the country! I should imagine that your Wulpmegarn would have been quite glad to swear to the papers that Virtuet is dark and Curset is light!” She sat up a bit straighter. “If he’s not an cunya altogether!”
“That’s not a word I approve of in the presence of my daughter,” said Mogen.
“What does it mean, anyways? It sounds almost like a certain rude word for one of the nicest parts of a woman’s body,” said Tarcuna.
“And it sounds almost like the last half of your name, which is where it comes from,” said Vetha. “And what it means is, a collaborator with the dragons. I don’t know for sure everything you’ve done, but I do know you’ve given us that word.” She crossed her legs primly. “At least you had the good luck not to use the family name for it.”
Tarcuna picked up a stained-glass lamp in her good hand, and threw it clumsily at the photographs on a wall. “And you aren’t so much a mother as an earthly incarnation of the Lady of Peppers.”
“We’ll have no more of that, young lady,” said Vetha. “Now get out of my house, and go back to your dragons, and stop troubling decent people anymore.”
They tossed a few more insults back and forth, with Mogen waving his arms and trying to calm them down. Neither one wanted to be calmed, though. Theirs was an old fight, and a bitter one.
“And how, exactly, are you keeping those dragons in line? The Magic Horn says you’re sharing a hotel room with one of them! I think that the implications of that word ‘cunya’ are very precise in your case, My Daughter the Traitor Whore!”
“I am doing no such thing!” said Tarcuna. Veriception said she was lying. Memory, of course, said she was telling the truth. I resolved to ask her about that, though I haven’t, yet. “I shan’t stay here and be insulted!” She got up, kicked the chair over, and clomped through the front door.
“If the truth is an insult, you are certainly living your life wrong!” shouted Vetha after her, sounding glad to get the last word.
Tarcuna pulled me out of her pouch. “Did I say something about you shouldn’t kill my mother? I didn’t mean it.” She was lying, but not very much.
I coiled around her wrist. “Yes, you did mean it. And even if you didn’t, I’m not killing people for your convenience. If you want them dead, you can do it yourself.”
“I’m almost tempted. I come back trying to apologize and make up, and she starts with the insults,” lied Tarcuna.
I didn’t much want to argue with her about that. “Try again in a few years. Once Ythac gets to work, being the dragons’ ally won’t seem like such a bad thing.”
Fortunately Tarcuna doesn’t have veriception.