“Now, I like hemipenises as much as the next dragoness — actually a great deal more, since the next dragoness seems to be Jyothky — but getting confronted with three of them attached to a stranger isn’t really the best introduction. I said something along the lines of ‘Sit down and explain yourself’. Which wasn’t terribly witty, but I was actually a bit scared. He was a fair bit bigger than me, he was talking about his battles, and I was cornered in my cave and with only ragged old defensive magics on. I don’t usually need any defenses to speak of: I haven’t fought a duel since that one with Jyothky four years ago.”
“What was that about?” asked Nrararn. “Over me, I hope!”
“Over whether we’d eat the liver raw, like Arilash wanted, or grill it with hot spices and zangrel wine, like I wanted. She won. I was fighting badly ‘cause I was hungry,” I said. Which is to say that even a near-pacifist like Arilash needs to fight at times, the way a cat needs to hunt, or a hoven needs company.
“I might have had defenses from that duel still around when Vaareng showed up, actually. Anyhow, he didn’t try to force me or any such thing. He just talked. ‘Are you not Arilash, beautiful tan Arilash, known on a gross of worlds for the prodigious weight of her lust and her clever and incomparable refusal to marry?’
”‘There are certainly stories about me,’ I said. ‘The truth is, inevitably, far less interesting than the artistic embelleshment that stories make of it. Why speak the tedious truth of a dragoness who has, in effect, refused to finish her mating flight, and still enjoys a half-dozen drakes, when one can tell spectacular spurious stories of a pan-erotika who rarely passes six minutes without penetration by yet another phallus?’
“I suppose he only heard the last clause, for he repeated, ‘I have sapphires: the excellent sapphires of Mhel.’
“I blinked at him. ‘I too have sapphires from Mhel, for I was hatched and raised on Mhel. Why do you mention these sapphires?’
“He finally lowered himself to stand on three legs, still holding the sapphires in a glass jar in his forepaw, and to hide his midriff. ‘My mating flight was unjust and improper. I was ranked nearly second, yet the dragoness chose the far weaker and smaller fourth-place drake instead of me.’
“I misinterpreted him as best I could, to give him a chance to be polite, I suppose. ‘Well, if you want another mating flight, arranging them is a royal prerogative, so talk to Jyothky or Ythac. You won’t have much luck though. We don’t have any dragonets on Hove yet. I think I’m the only unmarried dragoness of any age, and I’m not hurrying to marry.’
“And he blathers something to the effect of, ‘I am not seeking marriage. I have sapphires! Behold them, their shine in the light, their lluyew!’
”‘Yes, you have sapphires, and yes, you have hemipenises. I have mountains. Take your sapphires and your hemipenises out of my mountains,’ I told him.
“He looked actually hurt. ‘But — I was told —’ I gave him a whole heartbeat to finish the sentence, but he didn’t. ‘I do take lovers now and then, as it pleases my fancy. There is no sure way to catch my interest. I copulate with heroes who have done great deeds, and artists who spin stone into beauty, and the consorts of royalty, and cute boys with pleasing fangs and pleasing conversation and nothing more. And I reject others of all these categories, if they do not appeal to me that day. I do not copulate for sapphires, not even the excellent sapphires of Mhel.’
”‘Oh, that’s how it is, is it?’ he snaps. ‘Then I shall become a hero, and do great deeds, and perhaps it is you who will be offering sapphires to me!’ And off he flies in a flutter of wings and smoke and misinterpretation.
Nrararn chuckled, and sparks of lightning danced around his muzzle and along his mane. “He has forgotten an essential fact. With twice as many drakes as dragonesses around, it is never dragonesses who offer sapphires.”
“Not true!” cried Arilash, because she knows that this topic bothers me. “If a dragoness wishes to seduce another dragoness, she is lucky if she can get away offering mere sapphires!”
“Which does not apply to your suitor Vaareng — or your customer Vaareng, as the case may be,” I said, because I knew this topic bothers her. “If you don’t accept sapphires, you ought to have a sign up posting what treasures are appropriate. A weight of gold pays for intromission of the smallest hemipenis. An equal weight of niobium for the middle one, since that will go for much longer. For the largest, nothing less than a valuable artifact will do.”
Arilash snarled, “I shall be sure to introduce such a fee scale shortly before the next time your husband comes to partake of pleasures with me! These prices will come out of your own hoard.”
“Well, out of your stipend, at least,” I said agreeably. We grinned at each other, to check that we had annoyed each other but not to the point of actual unhappiness.
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