What are less likely to do is to fly to the snug castle of Evrath and Charimaan, and to circle seven times and roar out their name each time. If they did so, and Evrath or Charimaan came out to speak with them, they would have the opportunity to give them some minor trinket in tribute, to speak a few sentences of apology for tresspassing, and to ask permission to hunt, fish, drink, and nap. Of course Evrath or Charimaan would immediately grant this request, and everyone would be happy: the traveller, the married couple, and the far-distant or long-dead dragons who worked out the laws of etiquette that should be followed when one dragon travels stops in the territory of another.
“So, do any travellers ever follow the proper protocols?” I asked them.
“In the last three years, seven travellers did so precisely. One was Arilash, on several voyages. One was yourself, and one was your consort Nrararn,” said Charimaan. (I am not one of Arilash’s lovers. Poor Nrararn is. He is married to the worst lover in all dragonkind, and he deserves a turn with the best now and then for putting up with me.) “Not fewer than thirty-one travellers neglected the proper courtesies. They included Llredh, the consort of the king, for which reason we are petitioning the queen for redress rather than the king. Of these, fourteen at least landed upon our territory and hunted from the herds of the small people who dwell there. At least! We do not patrol the Palisorian Pool, much less the other mountain lakes and rivers, and any number of other incursions may have occurred.”
“Any number? How many lovers do you think I have?” asked Arilash.
“I see no reason to contemplate this question, beyond noting that seven plus thirty-one is thirty-eight,” said Charimaan archly.
Osoth chuckled. “Thirty-six. Jyothky is scarcely any sort of leman of Arilash, and I don’t believe that Arilash entangles with Arilash in dithyrambic rituals either.”
“We are not here to judge Arilash’s behavior,” I pointed out. “Arilash is a free spirit, perhaps the freest of all astral dragons, and she does what — and whom — she wills. She is most properly regarded with awe and envy. You are not accusing her in your complaint! You just said that she herself follows the protocols. If you wish to accuse her of improper behavior for a dragoness, get in line behind the King of Dragons on Mhel. Or accuse yourselves too: drakes marrying drakes is a Hoven peculiarity, not allowed anywhere else.”
Evrath dipped his head and mantled his wings. “I beg your pardon. We are restraining our fury with some difficulty. And, as with a fire-breath blown on a single antelope that spreads and seeks to burn the entire forest, so too our accusations and angers are spreading to targets which are not appropriate. Few enough of the proper targets have come here today!”
Few enough of them had. My courtroom — a sand-dune overlooking the seashore in Katayay — could have held a hundred dragons, but had only seven: the two plaintiffs; Arilash; Osoth, Ressal, and Nrararn, three of her lovers; and myself. I had asked several others, but they saw no particular reason to attend, and I had seen no particular reason to ask in such direct terms as to force the issue.
“Fair enough,” I said. “But restrain yourself. The dragons who have come here are those who consider the matter important enough to bother with. I suspect you will get sincere and appropriate apologies from them without much trouble.”
“And therein is the scorpion in the spleen, that stings the tongue of the diner!” said Charimaan. “We are not considered worth apologizing to by most trespassing dragons!”
“My apology is going to start with this: the first four times I flew there it wasn’t anyone’s territory,” said Ressal. “I didn’t really notice that it had been claimed until I had come through three more times. After that, you know, I did make the proper requests.”
“We have no quarrel with you, Ressal,” said Charimaan. “We accept your apology in full.”
“And the queen’s consort is beyond reproach,” said Osoth. “Which leaves me, lagging behind, rather like a zombie who has lost one tibial ossicum, and must therefore hop awkwardly rather than walk. To make the ordeal more orduous, I seem to be representing at least thirty-four other dragons, many of them larger and redoubtabler than myself.”
Evrath raised his head high, above Osoth’s somewhat lowered head. “Represent yourself, at least! Why did you neglect the courtesies due to the holders of territory?”
Osoth meditated a moment, while Evrath’s tail stirred the sands of the dune like that of a very large and very annoyed cat. “The search for the answer is rendered difficult and troublesome by a single event, or rather, a single non-event,” said the necromancer at length.
“Stop fussing and obfusticating!” snapped Evrath. “We have not called you here to temporize!”
Arilash chuckled. “One does not hurry Osoth. He has the patience of a lich a grand-grand years dead.”
Osoth looked quite innocent. “Yes, indeed I do, but it is kept in a sealed ampoule of spun spinel in a chest warded with wicked words, along with a wide variety of other qualities and disorders of the personality ripped from corpses and spectres on two worlds. I do not use it routinely!” He blinked at Evrath, as if noticing the plaintiff’s agitation for the first time. “I could share it with you, if you wish.
Evrath snarled and spat sparks. “Another insult! Queen Jyothky, I demand justice and satisfaction here! This lout has just attempted to offend me, by subtle stabbing words!”
“Actually he’s just being Osoth,” I said. “He’s talked like that since we were dragonets, and he’s been more insulting when he was trying to talk me into copulating with him on our mating flight. Osoth, please try to speak plainly.”
Osoth snorted a small cloud of deadly graveyard dust, from his idiosyncratic necromantic-themed breath weapon. “I shall do more than that! Good Evrath, you occupy the center of the invisible but nonetheless pervasive Diagram of Cosmic Rectitude! Your words are as the flame of the veriflangent sun, burning away all inaccuracies into puffs of curdled ashes! In short, you are right and I am wrong. I have insulted you just now, an insult which I piled upon the insults of many failed visits when travelling! I offer no excuse save a certain love of playing with words that now and then overtakes whatever small scraps of common sense remain to me after duodecades of necromancy. I apologize! I am wholly in the wrong in this matter! I prostrate myself before you, wriggling my limbs and tail in a position in which defense is futile or impossible should you choose to strike with fangs or breath!” He did so, looking quite ridiculous at it.
Evrath and Charimaan peered at him. “Is he being serious?”