Please Die for Trest
“You mostly took the blue oath, or maybe the purple oath, didn’t you?” I asked my prisoners.
“We did,” said Versley. “And we we’ll keep it, too, every one of us. Even if it means our deaths.” She wasn’t quite lying, but she wasn’t very confident either.
“I offer you a better way to risk your lives,” I said.
Sporthen scowled at me. “Pursuant to the terms of my purple oath, I summarily reject your offer.”
I pointed out, “You don’t even know what it is.”
“But you do know what my oath is. I shall not be violating it. One sentient species in here has a sense of honor,” said Sporthen.
“And naturally that species is the one whose gendarmes and local rulers toss their enemies into prison to get infected by cyoziworms,” I said. “And sets a surgeon’s house on fire and shoots her children as they try to escape.”
“The average dragon has killed more innocent children than the average hoven,” said Sporthen, careful to keep to the truth.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Branner and the other augmented soldiers were ahead of me on that, though. The Trestean occupation of Ghemelia was a bit on the perfidious side,” I pointed out. Branner scowled at me and didn’t say anything. I wasn’t entirely sure he could talk, since his augmentations had been turned off; he looked rather limp.
“The draconic occupation of Hove has been even more perfidious!” said Versley.
“No, it hasn’t. You’ve just seen it from closer,” I said. “And the worst of it was done by hovens to hovens, anyways.”
“The blame for it falls directly upon you! And are you even the least bit sorry, much less repentant? No!”
Which reminded me that I was here for applied philosophy, not theoretical. “Yes, actually, I am. I’m here to arrange for the hoven reconquest of Trest, or close enough.”
“Ah, of course. What could be more natural? The Black Curse himself infiltrates RARU, threatens us with every torture and doom, and drags us off to a punishment camp for the purpose of arranging the hoven reconquest of Trest,” said Quarri. (The Trestean media have been haphazard with my gender, among other details.)
“The gentleman has a point,” said Sporthen. “It is far from apparent why you, of all monsters, would have the least bit of concern for Trest. Considering that you leave a trail of blood and flame whenever you come here. You, even more than Ythac and Leredh, seem devoted to the unmitigated destruction of Trest.”
“I’m not, though. It just sort of happens that way a lot,” I said. (If that’s your best argument, you’re on extremely weak moral ground indeed.) “I’m on Hove for half a dozen reasons by now, and the dracarchy is bad for most of them. It’s making my best dragon friend and my best hoven friend both miserable, for one thing.”
“You have hoven friends?”, said Quarri with a laugh.
I hissed at him, “Tarcuna, for one. I was fond of Dr. Grauzeng too, as a comrade-in-surgery, but some hovens killed her for it.” Quarri sneered at me, but Sporthen and Versley were taken aback. “What, you thought I am a force of viciousness and meanness, a demon of Garchune existing solely to make hovens miserable?”
Nobody wanted to say anything to that, which probably meant that they agreed with it.
I reared my head and breathed a noisy cloud of sparks of lightning. “Anyways. This is your best chance to win a big measure of freedom for Trest. Ythac will accept individual challenges from you. If you win, he will relax his grasp on your country.”
Versley shook her head. “I somehow doubt that I could win a fight against Ythac.”
Branner stood up. “Give me my weapons, turn my augments back on, and I’ll take him on.”
“Not you. Your life is forfeit already for attacking Nrararn,” I had to point out.
Sporthen scowled. “So you summarily reject and exclude the three of us who actually have a chance against a dragon in a fair fight. I am a magistrate, an old man. What do I know of weapons?”
“Not that kind of challenge, Sporthen. Something where dragons and hovens can compete evenly. Algebra, maybe.”
Sporthen was nonplussed. “Algebra?”
“Yes, algebra, or some such. The judges give you and him a set of algebra problems. If you do better than he does, he grants you the victory, and abdicates.”
Sporthen frowned. “And in the event of a tie?”
“Ties are resolved in favor of the larger dragon,” I said, because that’s the usual rule.
Quarri asked, “And if I play and lose?”
“Ythac is putting up quite a large wager. It is only fitting that you offer something comparable,” I explained. “If you wager a cupcake or a book of poetry, and he wagers Trest, he will look ridiculous for taking it.”
“And if I had something worth as much as Trest, I’d offer it,” snapped Sporthen.
“Something comparably dramatic will do,” I said. “You can offer your life. You’ve already sworn a purple oath to risk it for Trest anyways.”
“It always comes down to hovens dying,” said Versley.
“Well, yes. But you’ve got better chances of surviving this time than most, and if you win, you win a lot.”
“Weren’t you going to kill us anyways?” asked Sporthen.
“Just the ones Ythac said I could: Branner and the other augmented soldiers,” I said. “You will not die, Sporthen, though I shall have you punished in all ways that Ythac allows.”
“So I’m dead if I do what you want, and I’m not much better off if I don’t. Pursuant to my oath, or to simple logic, I refuse to do what you want,” said Sporthen.
I hate lawyers, and everyone else who knows how to negotiate and make sense at it. “Fine. I won’t punish you otherwise.”
“You’re offering to spare us?” asked Quarri.
“If you challenge Ythac and win, I will spare you,” I said.
Sporthen frowned. “So we’re all to challenge Ythac … one at a time, I should think? … and the first one of us who wins, wins freedom for Trest. After that, are further challenges required?” Clawrasped magistrates, legalistically sucking all the drama out of the event.
I had to think about that. “No, once one of you has freed Trest, it’s free. I suppose you could challenge Ythac if you wanted to get anything more out of him.”
Sporthen nodded professionally. “And what assurance do we have that it will be a fair contest? From the sound of it, you aren’t even considering the possibility that a hoven might win.”
“That’s ridiculous. We’re doing this so that a hoven can win.”
Quarri shook his head. “Ythac wants to free Trest?”
“Ythac wants the best for Trest. His reign hasn’t been that,” I said.
“Then why doesn’t he simply free Trest?”
“It’s a matter of honor. He needs to do it in a way which doesn’t make him look weak or incompetent.”
Sporthen laughed. “But he’s allowed to look bad at algebra?”
“Algebra isn’t one of the dignities of a dragon. Though Ythac’s quite smart. And taking wagers from small people is honorable enough, once in a while.”
“I will do it! I am no coward, to fear a dragon in a contest of algebra!” proclaimed Quarri, lying on the second half. I’m pretty sure he was hoping to live. I suppose I can’t blame him for that.
One of the other night invaders asked Sporthen, “This is a conundrum. I have sworn to deny the dragons what they want, but in this case, the dragons seem to want just the same thing that we want.”
Sporthen shook his head. “The intent of the oath is plain: it is to remove the dracarchy from Trest. We can cooperate with dragons in matters of removing the dracarchy. Indeed, if I understand the situation, RARU and the Limp Rebellion have achieve their goals, more quickly and peacefully than we imagined possible.”
“You and your disgusting allies the cyoziworms and the corrupt hovens,” I said in the nastiest voice I could manage. “Oh, and with more help from Tarcuna than you will ever give her credit for.”
Sporthen, Quarri, and the other two magistrates agreed to challenge Ythac. The soldiers were disqualified, having already lost their lives, and the superintendant didn’t have the courage. I glared at the rest of the captives. “And will any of you challenge Ythac too? The more of you who do, the better your chance of success. And if the challenges fail today, I doubt you will get another opportunity, ever.” Versley agreed in her turn, and five other RARU leaders.
“Can I do it too?” asked one of Ythac’s gendarmes who was guarding the prisoners.
“I don’t see why not,” I said.
“I will too,” said another guard.
Twelve brave hovens, then.