“I note that the theft of the Hove-oval is a sore spot with you,” I said, because after a duodecade or two of queening one starts to notice such things when they are crammed up one’s ears often enough. “I will take this injury into consideration should you wish for anything from Hove.”
“I could hope for no more!” said Quel Quen, presumably meaning that he could realistically hope for a great deal more. “But I return to the story. The reach-scale, of course, is a single scale, and allows only a single travel-mage to open paths to Anywhorld. It can be transcribed, with some great difficulty and with highly specialized tools — and considerable expense, I might add — onto steel ovals. I believe that Lliashatheny has made three sets of the tools; the one I am most familiar with — and plan to become less familiar with soon — is in the possession of Sckliara-Math on Chiriact. Reach-scribes such as Sckliara-Math charge quite high fees for their labors. Furthermore, they do not come cheap, nor, as it happens, are their prices moderate.”
“Ah, this explains both the steel oval that somehow came into our possession, and why its loss still gnaws on your wingtips. Oh! there were a dozen ovals, leading to a dozen promising worlds. All were stolen; were any returned?” I said, remembering the miserable first days of my adulthood.
“They were not, and I should be grateful for their recovery. Well, except for Plurdat. That infinite swamp full of frogs was less than promising.” Quel Quen chuckled smokily. “In any case, exploring at its heart is a very simple matter. We use the Pentagonal Cyclone to visit a world and get a reach-scale leading there. If the world is not of interest, be it uninhabitable or too dangerous or unpleasant, we close the Cyclone and destroy the scale, and that world is forever unreachable. If the world is of interest, we send the reach-scale off to be copied.”
”…And stolen” I added. “I imagine that the simplicity of exploring reveals a considerable complexity once the details seen.”
“It does, in fact!” exclaimed Quel Quen. “You have understood me completely! Indeed, so many complexities and even dangers that I wish to retire from the profession, and rest upon the few laurels and gold coins that I have achieved from many, many duodecades out-world. Or rather, from a few duodecades out-world, and many many duodecades at home distilling the out-world experiences into books and steel ovals.”
My tongue caught the scent of a pending implied request! “And have you yet chosen which world will have the honor of your most illustrious retirement?”
“The matter has not been entirely settled,” said Hhreamsen. Which meant, presumably that they had no idea whatever.
“Well, if I may be so rude and even downright vicious as to add another choice of world to the list of places which would grant you some modest fraction of the respect to which your many adventures and contributions to draconity ought to entitle you, please do me the great honor of contemplating returning to Hove to dwell,” I blithered courtsomely.
Both drakes grinned and ⅙-spread their wings. “We are of course entirely taken by surprise at this generous and unexpected offer!” As if they weren’t asking for it, and as if they didn’t know we’d accept pretty much anydragon.
“But a minor technical addendum remains,” said Quel Quen. “One is not entirely sure how to approach this issue in suitable courtly language, for it is not precisely the sort of issue that is discussed openly in court at all.” Which I immediately understood as saying that Quel Quen and Hhreamsen were lovers and wished to take advantage of Hove’s wicked, disgusting, and unsuccessful customs to be allowed to marry. And we would spend the next dozen minutes, or even hours, dancing around the point, unless I did something.
“Well, then, one mustn’t frighten the courtiers.” I peered at the stagehands working on their light, and the reporters who had no idea what we were saying. (And their recording machinery was off. We do enforce the death penalty for small people attempting to study Grand Draconic.) “Or give them horrid ideas, as the case may be.” The drakes flattened their spikes a touch, so I added, “One is not sure how one could shock or surprise the theatrical sort of courtier, especially since they don’t speak Grand Draconic, but it’s the principle of the thing. Let’s go flying and discuss the matter more plainly in the sky.” At which they grinned.
Above the Mnelnian Islands, Floret the tornado-tentacled sun gave every drake’s scale a pink shine. Not mine, I’m a matte-black monster of utterly uninteresting appearance. “So. This matter which is not to be discussed at court, and which makes Hove particularly interesting to you.”
“Well. I am given to understand that you, yourself, delight in amatory and amicable love of all sorts…” said Hhreamsen.
“Actually I don’t,” I said, rather sharply. “I have not the slightest sensation of touch, due to an accident at my Great Separation. Tangible pleasures hold not the slightest interest to me. I would be far happier if the topic did not happen to arise for the rest of my lifetime. Unfortunately, I seem to be the only dragon of this opinion, and I have fallen in with a pack of dragons who are rather obsessed with, as you phrase it, amatory and amicable love of all sorts.”
“Forgive Hhreamsen, O great queen!” cried Quel Quen. I fluttered my wings to indicate that forgiveness was upon him, and that it was a matter of no concern whatsoever. “He is a fine chap, but sometimes given to using the wrong pronoun. He meant, of course, that you, the collection of all dragons on Hove, collectively and generally delight in matters of love. Even variations on love that are not acceptable elsewhere among the dragon-worlds.”
“That is a respectable and sensible description of the dragons of Hove. Though I do not assert that the dragons of Hove are themselves either wholly respectable or wholly sensible,” I conceded. Our actual reputation is far, far ruder.