Well, it wasn’t a brilliant heroic fight. Tultamaan isn’t a great warrior. Neither am I. I started out by zooming far away and searing his side with lightning before he tilted his the Small Wall against it. He breathed back, but I was too far for ice to reach the first time. We got closer together, and we traded breaths for a bit. With the Hoplonton to block his cold breath mostly, and him having to guess which of my three I was going to use next, I got five hits that way and only let him touch me once. So he tried to get close enough to bite me. Being an arrogant beast sometimes, I let him. We were pretty well-matched that way. Which is shameful for me, since I was two claws up on him, but he’s quick with his neck and he’s still got hind claws. He was starting to catch up, eleven to seven. So I did a fast dive, taking a cold breath on the back, but getting far enough away so I could breathe lightning and he couldn’t do much of anything but block it and chase me. My fifteenth try at a lightning bolt got through. Twelve to eight, for a full Duello Prolongato.
Which got appreciative nods from the other dragons. Chevethna flew up to heal me, in case anyone was confused about who was queen and who had the queen’s ear, wings, and tail. (Confusion remains about who has the queen’s claspers of course.)
Tultamaan healed himself, and glared at Chevethna. “Your Support of your Supporters is lacking a certain Subtle Something.”
“Now that you’re not complaining about Jyothky, it is only fitting that you complain about me. Too much and I’ll make the same challenge. And I am not the smallest and slowest of us,” said Chevethna.
“Are we quite finished with the dominance contests?” asked Boruu. “While it is certainly a pleasure to watch our queen risk defeat for no particular reason — or to inspire loyalty in the shakiest of her troops, I’m not quite sure which — the original purpose of this gathering was to discuss conquering Hove.”
“Ah, yes. So it was,” said Arthane.
We arranged ourselves in a rough circle, with Tultamaan as far from me as possible, and Chevethna on one side of me and Ythac on the other. “Chevethna, perhaps you could tell us what’s going on in Ghemel?”
“I would say that Ghemel is well and thoroughly pacified,” said Chevethna, strutting into the center of the circle, her oddly-masculine blue spikes pricking the air. “Actually, I would say that Ghemel is well and thoroughly ventilated in heart and liver and lungs by the last few conquerors. Jyothky imperiously commanded us to go there and Uplift at the place. Which has worked splendidly. If you want the real reason I’m deferring to Jyothky, it’s because she’s been a fine general so far.”
“By ‘fine general’ you must mean ‘telling you to do something and then leaving you alone for a few months’?”
“Telling us to do the best thing and then not bothering us as we do it? My favorite sort of general, to be sure!” said Arthane.
Boruu poked the sand with a foreclaw. “A more effective general might pay more attention to details on occasion. Sometimes detailed tactics may be necessary.”
“I said nothing about ‘most effective’!” roared Arthane. “I said ‘favorite’! I enjoy a general who is in no great hurry that the city be conquered this year or a dozen years from now. A more effective general might complain when I take a week or two off to twine my wife!”
“What’s going on in the city?” I asked. I refuse to speculate or learn anything about Chevethna’s and Arthane’s intimacies.
“Hospitals are going on, and a great deal of healing by spells as well. That week or two we took off, we still spent a quarter of each day healing people. Nearly everyhoven in the city is suffering from harthene poisoning, asthma, or nerve damage from pain spells.”
Llredh reared his head. “Harthene poisoning, what is that?”
“A waste product of making torque batteries for those big ray guns. Xolgrohim wasn’t worried about safety precautions very much, and had them pour the stuff into a valley. It got everywhere. We had Hyxy come and breath-freeze the valley, so the hovens could at least pour concrete onto it and keep it from blowing around any more.”
Boruu cocked his head. “How sane are your hovens?”
“They are fearful. They are given to weeping and despair when they look upon the wreckage of their country. At times they fall down crying. At other times, they wander about numbly, often but not always without the wit to avoid obstacles and menaces. Occasionally they are violent and full of rage, often at the works of Xolgrohim, of Trest, of Uncle Holder, but sometimes at each other and occasionally at us. But for the most part, they are fearful. At the start of each eclipse and each night, I fly over the city, slowly and loudly, and breathe my most brilliant and harmless breath over all. They are comforted to see a mighty protector and a light against the darkness,” said Arthane.
“Me too. Well, ‘aroused’ more than ‘comforted’. I can take care of myself,” said Chevethna.
Boruu considered. “So I conclude that they are not very sane?”
“No, not very. But in a useful way,” said Chevethna.
“What about the gods?” I asked.
“I tried to teach Menes Hu healing spells, but they didn’t take. She’s been pretty helpful though. Khudris got one, barely, and then he slunk off. I don’t know where he went. I don’t know what became of Branner at all; he was gone by the time we got there.”
“How about the rest of the country?”
“We haven’t worked on it much. The northern and southern regions are anarchies, with a bit of an extended festival of revenge going on in the south especially. The eastern regions were a bit worse, but that’s finished now. We arranged for a partition, so that the ethnic groups who hate each other don’t live quite so close together,” said Chevethna.
Arthane flicked his tail. “Not a delightful answer. Many hovens were furious at losing their homes and businesses. Better than losing lives, I thought.”
Boruu frowned. “So, is Ghemelia conquered and under a proper dracarchy?”
Arthane shrugged. “Ghemel the city is ours by any reasonable measure. The hovens see us as rescuers and healers. They obey us without question. Perhaps this is because our orders mainly concern who will get healed and which buildings be rebuilt first, and other such needful things.”
“That’s not true! We forced them to have a festival the other week, and to perform their traditional songs and dances for us! Remember?”
“The Kashlak Tver, yes. They more asked our permission to hold it, so, in principle, we could have told them not to,” said Arthane. “In any case, we have been good conquerors, and are generally much loved by Ghemel. This is pleasant.”
Chevethna thumped Arthane in the face with her tail. “My much-loved husband omits the answer to the second half of the question. The rest of Ghemelia is under no clear authority. Local warlords rule here and there. Trestean brigades control a city or two, counting as foreign warlords.”
“They do?” Ythac sounded alarmed. “I thought all my armies had come back home. I ordered them to!”
“Ex-Trestean brigades, I suppose. They’re called Tresteans in Ghemelia. I’m not accusing you of anything, Ythac. Anyways, the eastern regions vaguely acknowledge our authority or perhaps just power. We haven’t really conquered them in any useful sense though. The rest of the country isn’t under a proper anything.”
Time to act regal. “Ghemelia is going to be one of the moral foundations of our presence on Hove. Anyhoven wondering what we are up to should be able to look to Ghemelia, and decide that we are not completely horrid. Chevethna, Arthane, are your claws full with Ghemel, or do you have time to work on the rest of the country too?”
“There is plenty for us to do in Ghemel. Would you rather we work on the city well, or on the whole country badly?” said Chevethna.
“I would rather that Ghemelia be worked on well. Ignissa and Gwixion, since you have come here today, I understand that you want to be part of our scheme?”
Ignissa dipped her head elegantly. I wish I could do that. (I can dip my head. I’m sure it comes out awkward and waddly.) “We want a domain of our own, and a generous one. We do not expect to get it without fighting or some sort of labors.”
I turned. “Boruu, please cast the Draft of Direction and find out which part of Gemelia would respond the most to Ignissa and Gwixion cleaning it up. They shall go there first. Perhaps the rest of Ghemelia will accept their direction better, having seen what they can do.”
He stared at me. “What, now?” I don’t think he was expecting me to give him any orders.
“Today we are deciding what to do. If you can’t manage the spell, O sorcerer of information, I will ask the king to do it.”
«As you usually do!» scribbled the king.
«Shush! I am trying to exert authority here!» I scribbled back.
Boruu frowned. “I … well, yes. I suppose I was expecting that we would make general plans and not worry about which province to go for first.”
“We have a general plan: insidious insinuation. We will be useful and benevolent for duodecades, and prove that hovens are better off under our rule. Aside from the practical and ethical advantages, this plan will put off for quite some time the day when Chevethna deposes me.”
Which got Chevethna blowing firebubbles at me for the rest of the meeting when I wasn’t looking.