Ythac held court in his dining room, with Llredh, Osoth, Csirnis, me, and Nrararn in a circle before him. Tarcuna was on a stuffed chair between my forelegs. Wulpmegarn had a small desk covered with documents in front of Llredh, and kept looking over his shoulder at the large smouldering dragon behind him.
“We haven’t done very well against the worms,” said Ythac, by way of opening. “We would appreciate suggestions of what to do next.”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, but you haven’t done very well on anything to do with Trest,” said Tarcuna.
“The worms! This meeting is about the worms!” snarled Llredh.
“This meeting is about what I say it’s about,” said Tarcuna, who is entirely too brave still. “Do you think that I, out of all hovens and all dragons, want the cyoziworms to escape unpunished?”
Ythac hissed. “I do not doubt your passion about cyoziworms, nor your loyalty to Jyothky at least, but this is my meeting.”
Tarcuna laughed. “Fine, it’s about how you’re going to get revenge on the worms, with honor and justice. Will it do you any good to do that if you don’t treat Trest with honor and justice?”
“There is no question but that Ythac and Llredh will treat their domain with honor and justice, and with the greatest of care for their subjects,” said Csirnis.
“There’s no question that we’d like to,” said Ythac. “We haven’t done very well so far.”
“RARU! It is the rebels of RARU who break the country with the Limp Rebellion! It is Ythac and I who strive to repair it!” moaned Llredh.
I had to add, “It is everything and everyone. RARU is trying to drive you away, or at least make it too disgusting for you to live here. They are willing to let the country go to ruin to get rid of you, because they hate you intensely for some very good reasons. It is the violent ones, Barracks and their like, who kill the Grauzengs and the me’s and anyone powerful or effective who collaborates too much with you. It is the chiefs of gendarmes and the mayors of Churry City and their like, who have adapted more or less to the new regime and who are learning how to use it to their own advantage, to use your laws against their own enemies. Don’t just blame RARU.”
Ythac bit my tail. “You are leaving someone out. Two people, to be precise.”
“I’m not going to insult you in your own castle, Ythac,” I said, after I healed it.
“I will!”, said Tarcuna in a fit of unnecessary loyalty. “It is my mistress’s best friend Ythac and his lover and mine Llredh, who conquered my home country by violence. For all their good intentions, everything they touch turns to shit.”
Llredh hissed at her, “You! I touched you, outside and inside!”
“And I am shit in the eyes of my countrymen,” she said.
“Tarcuna! That is not how you speak to Ythac!” I pointed out.
Ythac dipped his head. “It’s a fine way to speak to me. I claim few virtues these days, but at least I am an honest monster and I appreciate the truth. It’s not anything I didn’t already know.”
Csirnis craned his head until his crest brushed the ceiling. “If you will be honest to speak, as well as to listen, what will you do about it?”
Ythac drooped. “I have no good answer. I am fighting the worms as best as I can, but they are too many and too scattered to make a good enemy. I make good laws and dispose of bad ones on all topics, but my subjects ignore or pervert my decrees. I cannot abdicate honorably. I cannot rule effectively.”
“Why can’t you abdicate?” asked Wulpmegarn, who really should have known better.
Ythac answered him, though he should have known better too. “Dragons never give up their territory. It can be taken from us in various ways, mainly by other dragons. It is a dishonor and a risk to the whole species to simply give it back to the original owners. It would suggest to small people that dragons weren’t their eternal and inexorable masters: it would encourage rebellions and weaken draconic rule elsewhere, and there is no good in that. For myself and Llredh in particular it would be a particular humiliation. I know of no other pairs of drakes who try to act like married couples. We need to be perfect; for there are many many tongues smelling us.”
Wulpmegarn said, “Tongues…?”
“Many dragons paying attention to us.”
Wulpmegarn frowned. “You choose to ruin Trest, rather than suffer embarrassment from other dragons?”
Tarcuna nodded. “That’s the way of things, with dragons. They weigh a bit of inconvenience or trouble for a dragon as the equal of a thousand hoven lives. They care only about the ethics and concerns of their own kind; we are nothing to them.”
“Which explains perfectly why I flew off and rescued you from Xolgrohim,” I said, in defense of my own species.
“I love you too, Spotty,” she said, infuriatingly, and meant it, even more infuriatingly. “But none of you went there before, when Xolgrohim was tormenting the Ghemelians. Not even you, Csirnis.” And the golden prince could not meet her square eyes. “And whatever good you try to pour into your dominion over Trest spills out of it faster than you can pour, Ythac, Llredh.”
“The difference between boy lovers and girl lovers, now I understand him! The boy lover, he is grateful for love, he does not breathe in your eyes! Not so the girl!”
Tarcuna shook her head. “I’m not trying to blind you, Llredh. Rather the opposite.”
All of us looked morose for a time.
“Ythac? If I can arrange for your defeat by hovens, would you abandon your rule of Trest?” I asked.
“If you can arrange for me to be defeated in a way that, first, lets us continue attacking cyoziworms (if we could ever figure out a good way to do that), and, second and just as important, doesn’t ruin whatever cinders of honor we still have left, I would be glad to,” said Ythac. Llredh nodded hard.
“I’ll see what can be done.”