The Conquest of Vlechinse (Day 944)
I’m not quite sure why Vlechinse brought out their whole army when we came to visit. They hadn’t done very much to us the last time we came to Vlechinse and fought them over Port-of-Zom. Or maybe that was a good reason: they wanted to show that they were brave enough to face us again. We weren’t persuaded, since they stank of fear all day. But they didn’t run away either.
Premier Clistei rather stank of fear too, poor hoven. He had six huge tanks with big twistor cannons on each side of him. That gave him no great chance of surviving a fight: there was nothing but the eighty-eight stairs leading to the front door of the Vlechinse parliament hall between him and us. “You have requested a meeting, O dragons,” he announced when we landed. “What do you want?”
This was an unduly difficult question. The answer was easy enough: I wanted to apologize for my part in wrecking Port-of-Zom. Because we — all the dragons — were trying to appear as friends to hovens and reasonable neighbors, despite a rather dubious start and some of us having conquered one big country. Also because I was, and am, sorry for killing all sorts of hovens, for all sorts of reasons that were mostly good at the time but seem rather petty now. Mostly I can’t do anything about it.
But of course one can’t say “I’m sorry for killing your soldiers when they tried to defend that city, and I’d like good relations between us so we can get started conquering your great-grandchildrens’ country. Or at least getting rid of your cyoziworms only without all the blood and flame this time.” One does not admit mistakes like that if one is honorable, and one does not admit plots like that if one is sensible. I’m not nearly enough of either one, but with Csirnis at my left flank I managed to be a bit more attentive. Nrararn and Osoth, whom I’d managed to talk into helping, are about like me.
I didn’t know the etiquette. It’s part of the proper way of dealing with free small people and free small-people countries, of which there were none on Mhel. I had had to ask Csirnis as we flew there. There weren’t any on Chiriact either, but of course Csirnis knows every etiquette.
“I come with demands for the people and the country of Vlechinse. In four days you must bring four grand of sick hovens to four hospitals in four cities. Each of these sick hovens must be suffering from a disease or injury against which hoven science is helpless. In those places, by our might, the sick hovens will get their healing.” The honorable approach is to arrogantly phrase your apology as a set of inexorable demands which must be obeyed.
Premier Clistei was no more familiar with this corner of etiquette than I was. “And what else?”
“I have presented the fullness of our demands upon Vlechinse!”, I said, which I hope is the right answer. I glanced at Csirnis with my left eye, but he was carefully impassive and dignified.
Clistei seemed a bit bewildered. “You are demanding patients to heal?”
“Other countries have felt the weight of our powers of healing!” I proclaimed. “Now it is the turn of Vlechinse!” Csirnis was clearly exerting himself to stay impassive, and Nrararn was out-and-out snickering. Fine. I will couple with Osoth tonight!
(And I’ll hope that that’s still an attraction anymore.)
The premier didn’t snicker, at least. He looked nervous and dubious. “What, precisely, do you hope to accomplish with this?”
“By this exercise we demonstrate our majesty!” I explained. Nobody found this persuasive, least of all me.
Csirnis butted his head against mine. “May I explain further?” I gave him
grudging eager permission. “In other lands, such as Ze Cheya, dragons live harmoniously with hovens, to the extent that hoven politics permits. Part of the harmony is based on a simple exchange: the dragon is a doctor in ways that hoven doctors are incapable of applying. In return, hovens provide things which hoven science and hoven craft and hoven hands can do. In my case, this is largely food, a place to live, and occasional presents.”
“That is Ze Cheya,” said the premier. “And what, precisely, do you hope to get here? Are you coming to live?”
“After we have finished with our healing, we shall depart from Vlechinse and cavort for some days in the sea,” he said.
“I am unclear on your motives, dragon of Ze Cheya,” said the premier.
“We wish to be regarded as valuable and welcome guests wherever on Hove we choose to travel,” said Csirnis, beautifully skirting between truth and apology. “Vlechinse has reason to regard dragons otherwise. The reasons are outdated; we no longer hold hovens responsible for the actions of the wormridden. So, we come to explain the matter further, in the most direct way possible. You have seen our powers of widespread destruction. Now you shall see our powers of widespread benefice.”
“And if we refuse?”
“Then six thousand, nine hundred, and twelve hovens will die, that we could have saved,” said Csirnis, so diplomatically that he actually used decimal numbers.
“You would simply depart?”
“We would be offended! We would depart, and not return any time soon. And we would visit each neighboring country, and work an extravagance of healing there. Your citizens would soon grow to understand the vast blessing that you cast aside,” said Csirnis. It always comes down to threats sooner or later.
“I shall consult with my cabinet,” said the premier.
“Take not overlong! In four days we shall expect our patients. If they are not there, neither shall we be there for overlong,” said Csirnis. He made a secret gesture, and we all took off in a thunder of wings, more or less simultaneously. The tanks pointed their twistor cannons at us as we left. It will be a long time before Vlechinse trusts us.
And a long time before we’ve earned their trust. I don’t know what we’d do without Csirnis. I should marry him straightaway.