I have a small collection of involuntary hoven slaves. By “involuntary” I mean that neither they nor I have much choice in the matter. I rescued them by magic and surgery from the mind-controlling worms that infest a few hovens. Unless one is somewhat lucky and knows just how to do it (which we have only recently learned, or are still in the process of learning), the brain-nodules that compel the victim to obey the worm are often injured in ways that keep them somewhat active, condemning the recovered victim to a hopeless (or at any rate incurable) love. Often enough the hopeless love is of the person who performed the cure, though in one noteworthy case the victim escaped it altogether for three years, then suddenly found herself in hopeless love with the second bassoonist in an orchestra performance she was watching.
Hovens in hopeless love with dragons are rather more common, since draconic healing spells are quite helpful at the harder cases of rescuing hovens from worms. They are rather worse off. I don’t know who has it worse. Perhaps Llredh’s slaves, whom he treats as concubines and frequently require considerable healing magic afterwards. Or perhaps my slaves, with whom I am never physically intimate no matter how much they wish I would be, even though they know what happens to Llredh’s. Actually anyone who’s ever been wormridden is worse off than anyone who hasn’t, or so I hear.
Tarcuna is the oldest and most hopeless of my slaves. I rescued her on a whim when I first discovered the worms, before I knew anything much about them, and I did a terrible job of it. Her arm is half-paralyzed despite a lot of magic and surgery, and she has a vast hole in her mind where her sense of fear and self-preservation ought to go. She has been exceedingly useful to me in our conquest of Hove — or, equally, exceedingly useful to Hove in that she did more than anyone else in keeping our conquest limited and generally useful to the people we conquered. (Or, for “people we conquered” read “people we got ourselves hired by”.)
Tarcuna had not been permitted to attend my wedding. We weren’t sure that we would escape it alive, much less any small, defenseless, and injured people that we brought. Also I was afraid she’d explode from an excess of jealousy. (Hovens are not actually incendiary, but she has been spending too much time with dragons, and might possibly have picked up some of our worse habits.) She did not quite explode, but she kicks my husband in the nose whenever his nose is low enough. I won’t let him kill her, no matter how much she customarily deserves it. (That’s an obligatory obnoxious comment from me. Nrararn has never attempted to hurt Tarcuna, and treats her with plenty of dignity and respect, despite all the kicking. Nrararn is an utter gem.)
“Dragon marriages are peculiar. Or silly. Actually I’m sure they’re silly,” said Tarcuna to me, as she was sweeping my bed that night.
“Please explain, O Tarcuna, for I do not find them either peculiar or silly.”
“Well. The essence of a marriage is love, I should think. Hoven weddings are all full of love and love symbols — you can’t eat a meatball without it has the paired-larks symbol on it, or at least the linked circles symbol,” said Tarcuna.
“That’s weddings in the Trestean style. Each country or continent on Hove has its own form, as different from one another as larks from sharks,” I pointed out. I have attended an extraordinary total of four (4) hoven weddings, each on a different continent, each for a different reason, and each in a different shape.
“Yes, but they’re all about love,” said Tarcuna.
“Not in Ghemelia,” I argued, because Tarcuna was wrong. “Ghemelian weddings are practically business transactions between clans. Trading one scared and underaged girl for another, and incidentally giving each of them a husband in the process. Who has the right to all but rape her.”
“You’re a fine one to talk! When I met you you were on a mating flight, with six drakes who all but had the right to rape you!”
I flicked my tailtip. “Seven, at the time. Poor Greshthanu. I never actually got to copulate with him. The one time I asked, he behaved like I was trying to rape him. Actually, considering how terrible a lover I am, he’s probably better off dead than married to me.” I am not entirely serious about this, but I am not without regrets about my assorted failings and flaws.
“You’re not terrible. You’d be all I need,” mumbled Tarcuna, or rather mumbled some localized love-nodule brain damage through Tarcuna’s mouth. We have this sort of conversationlet at least three times a week. “Anyhow! On a mating flight, every drake bangs every dragoness, and if somedragon isn’t willing, too bad. That makes it rape.”
“I’m the only dragoness this gross-year who wasn’t willing, and I was willing, too, I just had to talk myself into it. And none of the drakes tried to force me.” I cocked my head. “Except Tultamaan, and the only force he exerted was the force of morality, logic, and custom.”
“And that’s all the force that’s usually applied to those poor Ghemelian girls, too! The ones you said were as good as getting raped,” said Tarcuna. She has the very annoying habit of ripping my wings off with my own words and stuffing them down my throat. “Anyhow. We’re not talking about how you got coerced into unwanted sexual activity by sociological forces on your mating flight. Or even in your marriage —”