We did our best to intimidate Tultamaan by surrounding him with eight dragons. That’s the mating flight, less Osoth who was off chatting with Ngassith and Irssaan, and with Chevethna and Arthane, their tails curled up together.
“As the loyal adjunct of the Tyrant Queen, I must ask you, Tultamaan, to give a full accounting of your dishonesties, evasions, and betrayals!” thundered Chevethna. Arthane looked determined and diligent by her side.
Tultamaan muttered, “And I suppose that mere Reason will not be sufficient to show that I am being Honest and Open in all Regards.” He crushed his veriception-blocks, and looked to Chevethna expectantly.
“That is a good start, but we’ll think better of you if you actually say something,” said Chevethna. Arthane giggled.
He tugged at his forepaws with his mouth a bit, arranging them on the sand. “As everyone here knows Perfectly Well, I found the mating flight Not To My Taste. It did not live up to either half of its name. There was altogether too little Mating going on compared to the other flights I have Enjoyed. And, while we certainly spent more than enough time in the Air, we did not actually acquire the common sense to Fly from the Deadly Dangers that Hove so generously provides.”
Arilash glared at him. “Your virility and your bravery are of similar sizes, as I very well know. I have twined more dragonesses than you have, and they liked it better, too. Why did you come back?”
“And why did you make an arrangement with Xolgrohim against me and my parents?” I added.
“That should Not be a Particularly Tricky Matter, Jyothky. I see no reason why one should not Defraud the wraiths of dead small people, even if they do happen to be gods. Making a wicked arrangement is no Great Matter of Grand Importance. Keeping it would be unconscionable of course. Xolgrohim’s message remains undelivered.” Tultamaan kept to the truth in this. “Instead, your parents know the Actual Nature of your situation.” That was a lie.
Half of us hissed at the lie in the last sentence. I roared, “Tultamaan! What did you tell them!”
Tultamaan flicked his tail as if brushing away buzzing insects. “I took the Insufferable and Intolerable Liberty of presenting your situation in a More Favorable Light than it actually is. I did not mention the Heinous Peculiarity of Ythac and Llred, for one thing. And I Intimated that your own Matters of Personal Affection were generally successful and pleasing, rather than being Barely Tolerable to either yourself or the occasional Innocent Drake whom you manage to lure into your Claspers.” Which was manifestly true, though I would phrase it rather differently and still have it be true. “So you see, I was being a Helpful and Considerate drake to you, and in no regard an Effective Co-Conspirator of Xolgrohim. Despite your Exceedingly Limited Degree of being either Helpful or Considerate towards me. You have no Cause for Complaint in this regard.” All true, or close enough.
I didn’t have much to say to that, except to mumble, “I suppose not.”
“And how much profit did you get from cheating Xolgrohim?” asked Ythac.
“I am afraid Xolgrohim got the best of the deal,” said Tultamaan.
Arthane chuffed, “Did Xolgrohim get anything at all?”
Tultamaan smirked. “It’s fortunate that you have Clever Advisors, Arthane, for you surely Need ‘em. Xolgrohim got rather less than nothing. His actual request was not granted, and I sent him his signal at a time when it was of No Use, or, rather, Less Than No Use, to him.”
“Then how’d he get the better part of the deal?” asked Arthane.
“His payment to me was in the form of the location of certain Caches of assorted Valuables. The first three were not there at all any longer. The fourth remained where he Said, but it was no longer Valuable. When I retrieved the fifth, I discovered a rather raging redoubtable Rankotherium at my rear. He is a territorial beast, to be sure.”
“My father ripped your wings off for that, I’m sure,” said Ythac.
“That he did not. He reserves such Pleasantries for you. He brought the matter to the attention of the king. This was one Factor in the king’s Suggestion that I might do best leading an expedition of Colonization to Hove on his behalf.”
Nrararn blinked at Chevethna. ”Tultamaan is your leader?”
Chevethna laughed. “He’s our twistiest lizard! Don’t trust a word he says, not even with veriception. He did lead us through the Cyclonette. And he did talk us into coming to Hove. He’s not in charge of the expedition though; I am.”
Tultamaan hissed a cloud of frosty fog. “I never claimed to be in charge of the expedition.”
Arilash thumped her tail on the ground. “Why did you come back here?”
“It is a world in which a bachelor dragon might achieve power and status. Mhel is less such a place that it might have once seemed.”
Arilash scowled. “Hove is no less dangerous than it was.”
“I brought Fourteen Skillful Dragons with me, in addition to the Two or Three of them already present,” said Tultamaan, nodding to Csirnis and Ythac and Llredh. “I hoped that would suffice. If Hove proved too troublesome, I can take advantage of Quel Quen’s directions to Orro, I believe.”
Arilash roared, “Are you simply trying to twist my tail? To ruin my mating flight, as you think I ruined yours?”
“Of course not,” said Tultamaan, truthfully.
Chevethna grinned. “You aren’t much of a truthforcer, are you, Arilash? Ask like this: Tultamaan, to what degree are you trying to ruin Arilash’s mating flight?”
Tultamaan scowled. “It is not my most important reason, which was obeying the command of my uncle, or, if you prefer, escaping from his annoyance and that of Rankotherium and such. It is not my second-most-important reason, which was my own profit and aggrandizement. I suppose it might be some lesser reason.”
Arilash spluttered bright sparks. “Lout! Idiot! Performer of futile tasks! I am perfectly capable of ruining it all on my own!”
Chevethna mewed at Arilash. “Don’t do that! It’s one of the happiest times of your life!” She nuzzled her husband to prove it.
The rest of us glared at them. We’re not ruining things on purpose, after all. Except for Tultamaan, I suppose.