“Ah, you are doing that. I retreat; I yield the battlefield before you; I give ground; I depart with departing departingness!” Sgerecs took three small steps backwards, and sat on her haunches in the blue pebbles. “See?”
But Vaareng’s target was not Sgerecs, no matter how much he had been competing for her claspers up to previous day. “Meliavras! How can you imagine that this weak lump of a Tyozangi can be any sort of a worthwhile husband to you! He is feeble, he is cowardly, he is a poor competitor!”
Meliavras spat a fume of frost and mist in his general direction. “There is neither law nor honored custom that requires me to explain my choice to anyone but my parents.”
“You owe me! You have cast my life into ruin and dismalcy! I must somehow get a second mating flight, or I shall be a bachelor! Your debt is vast, an explanation is merely the start of it!”
Tyozangi shrugged, a flick of the wings. “Half of all drakes live as bachelors. Three from our mating flight were sure to do so. My wife owes you nothing whatsoever.”
Meliavras stood by her husband’s side. “Yet I shall give you the answer to the question you have asked: because I am generous enough to spare the words. You and Lergnance fought long and hard for the chance to marry my worthy rival Sgerecs. While you were thus occupied, Tyozangi courted me. He did not simply court me by proving his might against other drakes, though he did a bit of that. He courted me by showing that he and I made an excellent couple. Our breath weapons work well together, our hoards unite into a harmonious whole, our genetics should produce quick and clever children, we battle as two halves of a whole dragon. While he demonstrated this, you demonstrated quite clearly and distinctly that you were a strong beast in your own right, not part of a couple, and that you preferred Sgerecs to me. Very well: you can be a strong beast in your own right, and you do not have to try to join with me in any way ever again.”
“I shall join in battle with you, traitorous and untraditional woman!” cried Vaareng. He rushed at her, teeth flashing, intending to use his mighty size and tremendous strength (for those advantages were his) to bowl her over.
Meliavras slipped off to the right. As Vaareng turned to follow her, Tyozangi’s fangs closed on his left hind wing, catching in the medial bones, ripping the thick leather. Vaareng was far stronger and rather more massive than Tyozangi, and the lighter drake could hardly stop the heavier; but Tyozangi’s weight and hold slowed and twisted Vaareng’s movements.
Vaareng whipped his head back, intending to repel and punish the impetuous smaller drake with a quick bite, perhaps removing an eye or at least a large patch of cheek. His danger-sense sparkled, unalarmingly: neither Tyozangi nor Meliavras had much a priori chance against him. Melivras’ ice-breath poured over the back of his head, distracting him at the most crucial instant of his strike. His fangs closed on air, not Tyozangi.
“You might want to stop and decide what form this duel is in before you get much further,” said Sgerecs, with more than a touch of amusement. “If you’re lucky it’s just a Babble of Raises, Vaareng.” — That being a duel to the first blood, which Vaareng had already lost.
“A Duello Prolongato in the style of Terrace!” cried Vaareng, demanding the longest and most vicious sort. Surely, he thought, he could escape this temporary awkwardness, to deal swiftly with Tyozangi as he had so many times before on the mating flight, then Melivras at more leisure.
Dangersense warbled: three troubles were coming. Vaareng tilted his the Small Wall to block ice breath from behind, and raised a forepaw to deflect Tyozangi’s claws from his head. Tyozangi’s tail thumped across Vareng’s back heavily.
“Well, two can play at that game!” cried Vaareng, and readied the poison-stingered tip of his tail for an insidious blow. But Melivras’ fangs closed on that tail, just below the stinger. Vaareng’s sheer bodily strength shook the dull-gray dragoness from head to tail, but there was no loosening her jaws nor escaping her hold.
Indeed, the moment of taily distraction gave Tyozangi a moment to act. The smaller drake’s flame-breath poured in huge torrents past Vaareng’s uselessly ice-tilted the Small Wall, ravaging his face and boiling his eyes in their sockets.
Vaareng would have none of that! He cast the Great Titan Sanatarium, restoring his eyes and the scorched scales of his face. But the moment spent healing one wound was an opportunity for the two smaller dragons to honor him with others: a slice from dragoness claws in the muscles of his left hind leg, a bite from drake’s teeth severing an important artery in his throat.
He shook the two smaller beasts off by the cyclopean force of his body, and tossed them to the edge of the circle of pebbles. “What is he doing, Sgerecs?” asked Lergnance, who had evidently returned to his new wife.
“I think he is giving Melivras a present: incontrovertible evidence and absolute proof that her choice of Tyozangi was right.”
“No such thing! I am —” roared Vaareng. Then the flames of Tyozangi and the ice of Melivras fell upon him. He realized, too late, that one or the other of the couple had smashed his the Small Wall with a quick blow of the vô while he was tossing them aside, and he was broiled from the left and frozen from the right. He answered with a tight jet of flame at Tyozangi, but the other drake knew just what to expect from Vaareng, and had his own the Small Wall set most strongly against it.
Vaaring leapt at the other drake. Or tried to: Melivras’ claw-slash had left his left hind leg in a miserable state, and the leg did not entirely do what Vaaring had intended.