Tricking Rankotherium (Day 4566)
The preparations for a wedding are infinite in number and endless in duration; they are cosmic in scope and terrible to behold; they are as vast as the sea, and just as annoying to go swimming in. And, in our case, one or two came with a most considerable risk. There’s usually some danger: three sets of parents will be unhappy with the wedding under normal circumstances. Not that Osoth’s parents would be too surprised when he failed to marry; they can hardly have expected him to do very well in the mating flight. But Llredh’s parents knew their son’s prowess, and certainly should have expected that his chances were excellent. But the worst danger was Rankotherium: a mighty beast indeed, and well-known to despise his son’s tastes in love.
So I flew to Pdernuz this morning, melismas trailing from my wings, and a very nice book of Hoven biology, which we had an excellent artist of Katayay encrust with gemstones and vrexium swirls, for tribute. Rankotherium snatched it from me, beaming. “Why, this is most considerate of you, Jyothky. Hardly necessary as visiting-tribute, but I shall treasure it in my collection, and read it eagerly when I have a spare day or two.”
“Well, it’s not exactly visiting-tribute. It’s more of an apology in advance. I have a favor to ask of you, and not a terribly easy one.”
He wheeled over the edge of the sea, with Drumet Academy underwing. “Is this the sort of favor you would prefer to discuss in a private place, such as my palace? Or would you prefer to keep your lines of retreat open, and stay in the open sky?”
“Let’s go to your palace,” I said. I was fairly sure he wouldn’t kill me.
We came to his palace, and he shooed all the mhelvul out of the small audience chamber all hung about with the tropies of his victories over the paingods. I recognized Xolgrohim’s banner among the others. Rankotherium sprawled comfortably on the main floor, beckoning me to crouch next to him. “And what can I do for you today, Jyothky?” he asked in a friendly voice, though he smelled rather of worry and fret.
“I’m here to beg for your son’s life,” I said.
He smelled considerably more upset. “In the ordinary course of events, I should expect to find myself begging for my son’s life. He is, after all, my only surviving child.”
“We didn’t manage to do very much in the ordinary way, I’m afraid,” I said. “I don’t imagine you will much like the way the mating flight ended. Oh! I forgot.” I broke my veriception blocks, so that the truth of all my words would be obvious to him.
Which got me a big scowl. “Now, I am suspicious of you, Jyothky. I didn’t expect you to lie to me before. Now, I am sure that you will choose your words most precisely in ways that mislead me without outright lying.” Rankotherium is redoubtable in more than simply battle, and knows every trick a dragon might use.
“I’m sorry. Shall I put them back on?”
“No; that would be the worst of both worlds. Are you planning to trick me?” he asked.
“Sort of. I think you’ll be upset about the trick at the wedding, but glad of it a few days afterwards.”
He chewed a foreclaw for a moment, a vast and shining foreclaw, well-used and well-groomed both. “So. Ythac’s performance in the mating will enrage me, and you think I will try to kill him at the party?”
“Yes, exactly. But before you do, can I make a promise or two to you?”
“I’m not going to fly off and kill him now. I don’t even know where he is. Can you tell me the whole of the situation?”
“Ythac has asked me not to,” I said. Then I hissed, because I do have some pride, “And I don’t want to: you didn’t tell me some rather important things about Ythac before I went off on a mating flight and made an utter fool of myself in front of a dragoness and six drakes who knew all about it.” Rankotherium nodded, quietly, conceding the point. I continued, “I can tell you part of it: after the wedding, Ythac will be the king of the dragons on Hove, and I will be the queen.”
Rankotherium curled his tailtip around the leg of his throne. “A circumstance which will surely move any doting parent to a murderous frenzy, or, under the most rare of circumstances, to celebration.”
I sighed. “Some of the details will be enraging, hideously so, but I promised not to tell you those now.”
He twitched his tail loose. “You discovered something about how Ythac was known to occasionally pass some time before the mating flight?”
“I know about Kuro, and about various other drakes, yes, exactly.”
“Well, I shall hazard a guess: he is not wholly done with Kuro. He will marry you, but it is Kuro, not you, who will hold first place in his affections. Somehow he has persuaded you that this is a desirable arrangement for you as well. Speaking as, if I may be explicit, as the spouse of an unfaithful spouse myself, I suspect that you shall not find as pleasing as you might have hoped.” Grey and orange flames coiled around his muzzle.
I flattened my ears. “I’m sorry; I won’t tell you any more yet. I am at peace with the arrangements, though. I am worried that you will not be.”
“If that is it, I certainly shall not be!” he roared.
I was rather intimidated — I have rarely heard him roar like that — but pressed my case anyhow. “I want you to promise that you won’t hurt Ythac about it — or any of the other dragons of Hove, for that matter. For as long as I am queen and Ythac is king of Hove.”
He lowered his head, and chewed on the concept for a moment or two. “The final clause of that vow does a good job of reminding me that, whatever vile behavior Ythac has gotten himself into, he has not entirely made an unworthy child of himself.”
“He has not one bit!” And I spoke a brief peaen to Ythac, his skills and kindnesses and carefully-selected triumphs.
“That is all very well — and it is, indeed, very well,” said Rankotherium. “I give you your promise: I shall not hurt any dragon of Hove over Ythac’s behavior for so long as you are queen and Ythac is king of Hove.” He spoke the proper formula, without even changing ȑṳṡs to ȑṳsṡ. “Indeed, I shall grant you a greater present than you have asked for. I promise to forgive him entirely — at the celebration of the successful Great Separation of my first grandchild through him and you.”
I rather gulped at that, and choked on a small twistor-bolt burp. As of now, there is no chance that Ythac will be any father of any child of mine; we have never coupled. “Thank you. Indeed, great thanks.”
Rankotherium swung his great antlered head. “Let my son play with his catamites if he must. I shall teach him to have some observance of the forms of proper behavior and draconic society, if I can.” He belched out a great cloud of smoke. “And that, I believe, is what you came for?” I nodded. “Then let us take our leave of this sort of negotiation and trickery and blackmailing of old friends. I recognize that it is not so long before your wedding, but perhaps you can spare an hour for a pleasant visit?”
“I would be glad to. Just one hour, not even one and a third,” I said, for I was quite grateful on one paw, and quite busy on the other.
“Well, put your veriception blocks back on, and let us dine on stewed dolphin, and … perhaps you can tell me something of those twistor rays?”, said Rankotherium. He was a perfectly gracious host, which I find to be an excellent trait in a dragon who knows I am conspiring against him.