After lunch, I dragged Csirnis into the sky by a forewing, more or less. “You avoided my question,” I said in Grand Draconic. I rather expected an annoying conversation of ‘which question?’ — ‘the one about whether I can marry you’ — ‘oh, you say that to all the drakes when you’re happy with them. What, you meant it as a real question this time?’ But this was Csirnis, who is the bravest as well as the most beautiful of drakes.
“The answer is not so simple,” he said.
“How could it not be? No dragoness will come ahead of me in this mating flight, so I choose first. I can choose you. It would be an easy choice: you were probably the best of the drakes even when there were seven, by nearly any measure, and where you were not first you were always a close and beautiful second.”
“Let’s fly over the ocean, so that the chance of collateral damage is less,” he said.
“It’s never a good sign when you need to worry about collateral damage when you discuss your relationships,” I pointed out, as we passed the reefs. (We didn’t end up causing any collateral damage.) “I have noted that you haven’t been around the mating flight very much for quite some time. I’m not expecting much of a surprise here, beyond simply being told that you’d rather be a bachelor than marry an incompetant dragoness like me, or an unsexed dragoness like me, or a murderous dragoness like me, or a selfish dragoness like me, or whatever other entirely-deserved adjectives you want to stick on me.”
“I might say such a thing, if the answer were an unambiguous ‘no’ and you insisted on knowing my reasons,” said Csirnis. “The situation is not so simple.”
“Please explain the not-so-simple situation,” I said. He looked a bit nervous, which never happens with Csirnis. So I put the Hoplonton around him, which amounts to calling him a coward in a very nice way.
“I may need that, indeed. It is customarily the dragoness’ prerogative to decide whom to marry. However, this is Hove, and we do everything backwards on Hove. There is no fair reason why the dragoness should choose, after all; that is simply a consequence of the scarcity of dragonesses. After Arilash left, Nrararn and Osoth and I discussed arrangements. We decided that the one of us, of our choice, would have the first chance to marry you. If, after a decent time, he prefers not to, then we revert to the traditional approach.”
“That’s Nrararn, right?” I kept all four talons firmly on my temper.
“That is Nrararn.”
“Why didn’t you press your case more?”
He looked diplomatic. “You are, currently, queen of the dragons on Hove. If I wanted to be involved in such matters, I would still be on Chiriact.”
I hissed at him, “That barely counts for anything. Twenty-two of us, and Chevethna will depose me as soon as she gets around to it.”
“I suspect not. For one reason among several, her followers are not particularly loyal to her. I believe that Arilash has gathered some of them into your camp already.” Which is more than I knew.
“Was that the only reason? Or even the main one? … And drop your veriception blocks when you say it. You’re brave enough to do that when you confront a whole world, you should be brave enough to do it when you confront your fiancée. Or whatever I am.”
He broke those spells on his vô. “There were any number of minor reasons, of which the amatory contrast with Arilash was somewhat important. There is an issue of future adultery…”
I snapped at him, “I know I’m not as good a lover as that coral reef there, much less as Arilash. If you want to marry me and sneak off with Arilash when you get pointy … you can ask! I’d probably be grateful for not being bothered!”
“Not your husband’s adultery, but yours.”
“I am the least likely adulterer on all of Hove! I can count on my wings the times I’ve actually wanted to twine with anyone, and still have wings left over. My husband won’t need to worry about my fidelity.”
“Unfortunately, you and he will, though not out of any wickedness on your part. I expect that few of your eggs are even one part fertilized, much less twice-fertilized by the best two drakes other than your husband on the mating flight, as those of a typical dragoness would be.”
I spat lightning near him, to rattle his wings with the thunderclap. “Whose fault is that? I’ve only had one drake around for most of the flight! The others decamped! Some to Ze Cheya!”
“The reasons are reasonable, Jyothky. The effect is reasonable as well. But if you want to have dragonets, you will have to either accept a very limited set of fathers for them, or arrange for a better set. And I don’t think you’d have so little regard for your own dragonet as to do the former. So, sometime, you will be coupling with some drakes you are not married to. Looking bored and annoyed, I’m sure, if not out-and-out reading a science textbook and pretending not to be involved while your consort humps away and simultaneously apologizes to your husband, who in turn reminds him that he, the husband, asked for it out of a basic biological necessity. Nrararn felt that he could be more sanguine in this circumstance than I could.”
I blasted my own foreleg with a lightning bolt, and wished I could feel it at all. Csirnis healed me, as if we were doing some sort of Caramelle. “I’m sorry, Jyothky. I should have chosen more respectful words.”
“I’m sorry too. I should have been a better fiancée.”
“In a mating flight designed to carry away all of Mhel’s dragons’ flaws, one could hardly expect perfection,” he said, which didn’t help all that much really.
“Nrararn was the most confident that he could come to love you quickly and best, of the three of us.”
“Gah, I’m going to get married for love too, like Ythac and Llredh?”
“Better than a marriage without love, or so I hear,” said Csirnis.
I glared at him. “I’m sure you or Osoth could manage it too. And I’m sure I could love any of you, for that matter, in time.”
“Probably so. Nrararn had somewhat of a head start, though.”