Undercover (DAY 1126)
“Your cooks aren’t very good, I’m afraid,” Nrararn said to Ythac, digging a seven-inch shard of glass out of his gum with a claw.
Ythac nodded ruefully. “Haphazard and careless. I suppose we could go interrogate them and discover the perfectly ordinary and natural explanation of why Pern St.-Hermaph, who is widely recognized as one of the best barbeque chefs in all of Trest, accidentally leaves large chunks of glass in an animal intended for an honored guest of his master. If you like.”
Nrararn and I looked around the banquet hall. It was large enough, at least; it could have held eight dragons, not just four and one hoven. It was supposed to be a rectangular prism, which is a simple shape and ought to be well within the skills of the expert architects and building companies that Ythac had drafted to make his palace. The walls jogged crazily in the middle, though, where the surveyors had unaccountably made a whole hooflength of an error. I took a tenasensitive glance, and closed the blades over that sense; the entire room was rancid with tiny structural flaws. “Why do you put up with it?”
“Bah, the minor inconveniences, they are nothing to us,” said Llredh. “Mighty dragons, they dwell here! Effete comforts, they are not our urgent need! Your own flanks and wings, they have felt worse than some bit of glass! They have felt my claws, my fangs, when we contended as fiancés!”
Ythac shrugged. “I fired the first few incompetant hovens. Which produced such a wave of incompetance, you could never believe it. The gentleman who painted that wall did it with his eyes closed.” Ythac gestured with a wing; the one wall that was not bare concrete was a mess of blue and white streaks. “He said he did it that way so as not to get any paint in his eyes, truthfully. He said he usually wore protective goggles, but had neglected to bring them, truthfully. He said that he had forgotten them, lying. He said that he was in such a hurry to do the wall that he did not wish to go get another set, lying. He said he was sorry for any inadequacy in his work, lying. He said he wouldn’t charge us, true, but he was doing corvée labor anyways. I nearly killed him out of frustration, but how could I kill someone for just painting badly?”
“The crazy Uplifter, he is my husband dear! That crime, or far less, for that I could kill any hoven. When skill returns to them, then they deserve such mercies.”
“If you killed everyone who did badly by you, you’d have no subjects left,” said Tarcuna, who knows how to talk to us.
“Bah! Useless subjects, dead subjects, what is the difference to us?” roared Llredh, loudly, in Trestean. Then, more quietly, in Petty Draconic, “Actually the difference is fairly large, but we can hope that they are intimidated into better obedience by hearing that.”
I don’t think Tarcuna followed that, since she just said, “Unless you rescued a few from cyoziworms. Then you’d have a few completely devoted hovens.” Which got the two of them discussing the devermification plans, which were going as badly as everything else involving unwilling hovens. Worse, since most hovens don’t believe in cyoziworms, still.
“Jyothky, do you remember how Llredh and I flew out to Ghemel to help you and protect you against Xolgrohim? How we were prepared to dive into a trap to save you, though it turned out unnecessary?” asked Ythac.
“Yes, of course. I’m quite glad to have friends like you. Especially since you’re not just after my claspers.”
“I beg your pardon!”, chirped Nrararn. “I am not just after your claspers. I am after your matrimony!”
“You are after my claspers for life, then!” A certain amount of swatting each other with claws was obligatory (and fun) at this point.
Ythac waited for us to finish, and then he said, “I was wondering if you could do me a favor as well, Jyothky. There aren’t very many dragons I can ask, and not very many hovens I can trust.”
“What is it?”
“You like turning into a small person and, well, pretending to be one…” he said. I nodded, because it was true. “Could you lurk around for a while in small person shape, and, oh, find the special solution to all my problems?”
“I can do half of that,” I said. “I don’t know what I’ll find that you can’t find with finding spells.”
“You’ll learn things, you’ll get clues and hints. Maybe you’ll come up with something that can let hovens tolerate us better. I’m trying to be a good ruler, really I am, but I can barely get anyone to obey me at all, and when they do it always comes out all wrong.”
“I’ll go with her,” said Tarcuna.
“That you will not,” I told her. “They hate you more than Llredh, I think.”
“I don’t care what they think anymore. I’ve been despised as a woman-lover, then as a whore, now as a dragon-lover.”
“But if they recognize you, they will probably try to kill you. Then I’ll have to massacre some of them to rescue you, again, and that will just make Ythac’s lot that much harder,” I told her. “You can stay here and entertain Llredh.” Which got a snicker from Llredh and a snarl from Ythac. “And give me advice by the Horizonal Quill, so I’m not quite such a naive idiot all the time.” Which she accepted grudgingly. My minion isn’t any more obedient than Ythac’s subjects, though she’s certainly more determined to be helpful than they are.
“I’ll go with you,” said Nrararn.
“I don’t quite know why two confused hovens will do better than one confused hoven,” I said.
“I will be your pet cat. Your loyal and very clever pet cat, who follows you everywhere and only talks to you by means of the Horizonal Quill. And, incidentally, will blast any cyoziworm that shows up with lightning breath,” said Nrararn. I suppose he likes animal shapes. He didn’t mind being a duck, back in the mirror cave.
“Excellent. I’ve found you the best subversive group to infiltrate,” said Ythac.
“Did I agree to go?” I asked, because I hadn’t.
Ythac reared up and hissed. “If …”
“I was going to, but everyone kept trying to come with me, so I didn’t get the words out. Of course I will, Ythac.”