Arilash dipped her head. “Then you’re better off not even thinking about marrying me, Csirnis.”
Osoth puffed graveyard dust. “By which I take it you plan to content yourself with Nrararn and myself, and our arrangement to tolerate a most limited and careful degree of adultery? You illustrate this plan most acutely with your fornications with, if I am not mistaken, one bachelor drake, one married drake, and one married dragoness. At least the latter two are married to each other. In this way you illustrate your careful and dedicated concern for the noble institution of marriage.”
Nrararn breathed a heavy lightning bolt into his paws, and started braiding it into his mane. “You and I must fight once more, Osoth, the longest and bitterest fight in Rhedosaur’s book. The loser — he must marry Arilash.”
Csirnis had caught his temper by the tail and was gnawing on it, but a dragon’s temper is notably hard to defeat. “Osoth! Nrararn! This is no time for frivolous insults! A single course is available to us! That is, we must cooperate to guide Arilash back to decent and proper behavior!”
“There’s no ‘back’ there. I don’t think she’s ever been decent and proper,” I said.
“Not really, no,” said Arilash. “Why d’you think I never wanted to fight you? I knew I was coming in last because of this. So why ache?”
”… I thought I was going to be last,” I said.
“Girls, girls! There is no need to quarrel!” said Osoth. “You can both be last!” Which is not a bit fair, since Arilash had betrayed him horribly today and I’d just been my usual mediocre self.
(Actually, maybe it is fair.)
Nrararn finished braiding his lightning. “So, my dear fiancée — my presumably-dear possibly-fiancée — what do you want to do now? What do you want to do ever, for that matter?”
“I was going to marry Llredh, you know. We would have shared drakes and dragonesses and small people and anyone else that caught our eager eyes. He would tend the territory, since he cares about that, and I do not. But I have finally admitted to myself that he is really, truly married to Ythac, and I am never going to be anything more than a minor amusement to him anymore. None of the rest of you would be at all suitable as husbands for me. Claw all the cyoziworms, anyways.” Arilash bit her left forewing, drawing blood.
Osoth nodded gravely. “The past future subjunctive is an admirable tense, of especial interest to necromancers. The ragged, simpering ghosts of the dead often speak of what they would have liked to accomplish. And what a treat, to hear that most delicious of tenses in the mouth of a ragged, simpering ghost of a dragoness!”
“Which is to say, stop avoiding the question, Arilash,” explained Nrararn.
“I am going to fly off. I will go where I will. I will couple with whomever I will — or triple or quadruple or more. I will scoop great fishes from the sea to eat, or steal cattle, or hunt deer, as the fancy takes me, and I will eat it raw or grilled with my own breath. I will sleep in a cave. I will raid small people now and then for a bit of treasure, or accept tribute for the favor of not raiding. I will live as a dragon ought to live, as our ancestors did in the distant past,” She swung her head around, full circle. “Will any of you join me? Or are you all too deeply entangled in the ways of small people?”
“I, for my part, approve of small people,” said Csirnis. “In many cases, their ways are good ways, and where they are not, we do not follow them.”
“And your social history is specious. Dragons have always married, one drake to one dragoness, in even the oldest stories that I know. So your main argument is not firmly between your teeth,” said Osoth. “The rest of it is accurate enough. Though of course all that predates our acquisition of astral magic and consequent exodus from Sśròu. Which, while it does not wholly confute your argument, does weaken it considerably. We are not our distant ancestors. We are smaller of body and greater of intellect and spirit than they were. And many of us prefer to behave accordingly.”
“I am not trying to live like some historical figure or other. I am trying to live the way that suits me. Which includes a great deal of freedom,” said Arilash.
“So you have not the slightest intention of marrying any of us?” asked Nrararn.
“I have not the slightest intention of marrying anyone who isn’t going to marry me. If you want to marry a dragoness who behaves like Uruunma, faithful to Cterion and up to her shoulders in small people affairs and living in one place for grand upon grand of years — that is not me.” She swung her head around again. “And by this time I know you all fairly well. I have loved you all — even Jyothky, though I never managed to get her the way I wanted. I hope to visit you again, to laugh and hunt and make love with you for a time, because you are dear to me and I am not doing this to avoid the dragons who are dear to me, not any of them. But I don’t think any of you would be happy as my husband, nor I as your wife. If we married, we would be Dessvaria and Rankotherium: always fighting, always miserable. Am I not right?”
“You have a particularly foetid way of showing how dear we are to you,” said Osoth. “Give me the honest stench of the grave instead. Miserable and full of woe it is, yes, but at least it does not betray.”
Csirnis flicked his tail. “I will have an honorable marriage, or no marriage at all.”
Nrararn laughed. “Still trying to score fiancé points with Jyothky at this late date, Csirnis? Osoth and I made a treaty for as dishonorable a marriage as we could tolerate. If that does not suffice, then farewell, Arilash.”
Good manners yelled in my ear to get up and take care of the matter. “Given that you broke the most basic custom of faithfulness on your mating flight and you won’t apologize and you won’t atone and none of the drakes will have you, it falls to the other dragonesses to drive you out of the mating flight.”
“Go ahead,” she said dully. She waved her vô and crushed her the Small Wall.
I didn’t breathe very hard. She didn’t fight back at all. I did chase her to the edge of Patthakadu, both of us flying without any travel spells at all. I caught up with her there, and healed her burns as if we had been fighting a Caramelle and roared as if it were a victory. She smiled miserably, and flew off to her other lovers, and her life outside of draconic society.
I flew back to the sorry shard of a mating flight that was left.