Tultamaan was not insulted. (Actually he was insulted, but he regards the entire cosmos as a personal insult directed at him, with his own body and personality the fang-tip of it.) “I cannot see why those Facts, albeit Indisputable and the cause of much Unfortunateness in my life, could possibly be relevant to the situation. Except, of course, that I shall use them to Great Advantage.”
“How is that?”
“Why, Jyothky, I believe you have a mind that is Capable of Occasional Operation, should you be somehow Inspired to Force it into Activity, as is sure to happen nearly once a Duodecade. What role could a weakling and coward most usefully take, in the terrible and strange realms that adjoin our universe on all sides?” (Payment for Tultamaan is given in attending to him. As a tip, I let him insult me. I think it is worth it, to have another dragon who is entirely loyal and somewhat useful to me, especially without anyone’s genitalia getting involved. At least, I think so when I’m not talking to him.)
“It’s not obvious. You would seem temperamentally most suited to hiding in a safe place while other dragons take risks,” I said.
“Exactly! You grasp the Psychological Essence of the Matter! The Practical Details will make my actual contribution to the party. Do we have an agreement?” said Tultamaan.
I belched a flickering purple twistor beam. “You have made one of your rare mistakes, in concluding that my mind has actually become active. I have no idea what you mean.”
“Ah, you wish for the Detailed Explanation, having missed the Basic Clues that contain All the Necessary Hints, despite me Tossing them to you Beautifully Adorned with Metaphorical Purple Ribbons. I shall interpret this as you still meditating upon the Expense of the Monument to Graulfnir and somehow missing an Essential Word Here or There,” said Tultamaan with a sneer carefully calculated to stop one place short of annoying me too much.
“Wise counsellor! You have put your clawtip upon the very essence of the matter! I refer, of course, to the tip of your left front wingclaw, which has full mobility, or rather the appendage it is attached to has full mobility, rather than the claw more conventionally used for pointing, which in your case is paralyzed. I specifically refrain from referring to your disabilities, at least as long as you refrain from referring to mine,” I said, with an expression two-thirds confused and one-third admiring and entirely feigned, because that combination and such words are one place short of annoying him too much. “So, tell me your plan!”
He snorted frosty rings, as a sign that our mutual antagonism had been performed satisfactorily. “A Coward desires safety above all things. A Coward misfortunate enough to be Mighty will merely flee from dangers which a Clever and Dispassionate Observer would consider unworthy, and thus has no hope of either honor or utility. I am not that sort of Coward.”
“Indeed, you are not that sort of coward. For I myself have defeated you in duels, which would be quite unusual for a small and unimposing dragoness when fighting a drake who could be considered mighty. By a syllogism, then, you are not to be considered mighty.” (Hm. Perhaps I’m the one getting the tip of allowed insulting.)
“Precisely. I am the sort of Coward who has the Great Advantage to also be a Weakling. And I embrace these Terrible Flaws and turn them into Strengths of a Sort! I do not bother to flee from dangers, for I expect that to generally be Hopeless. I ponder my weaknesses, I seek out flaws in my protections, I contemplate how an Enemy or even mere Misfortune could cause me woe! And, as I am a Tolerably Clever Beast as well as a Coward and a Weakling, I devise Defenses! I protect myself! I encrust myself in Layer upon Layer of Invulnerabilities! I have contingency plans in place for a gross of disasters — and contingency plans in place case the first contingency plans fail!”
“I have noticed that you do spend the greater part of your allowance and salary on magic shields from magic-rich worlds, force-field generators from realms of great technology, and the like. Still, you have told me most of the story. Finish it off, for I am far too lazy and stupid to draw any conclusion from what you have said so far, and especially not the conclusion that you want to be the Chief Defensive Officer of the exploring company and use your considerable experience and personal flaws to protect the whole thing,” I said. (I need to get veriception blocks that keep me from noticing myself. I can’t even tell an obvious lie for the purpose of amusing a friend without the vericeptive equivalent of farting in my own face.)
“Ah! In that case, I shall complete the argument. I thus apply for the position of chief defensive officer, or captain of the guard, or whatever it shall be called. I have considerable experience and a personal flaw which render me particularly qualified for the post.” None of his usual excessive capitals, not even where he was quoting from me.
“Ah. No drake that you want to marry?” I asked.
“I shall have nothing to do with that particularly Unpleasant Amusement of your Administration. I have long since determined that Celibacy and Generally Not Thinking About The Topic is my best approach to Romance and to the Supposedly Pleasant Activities pertaining thereto,” said Tultamaan, with a disgusted grimace.
I had to ask, “Well, you have never, to my knowledge, said a single nice thing about urnings. Not that you have much nice to say of anyone, of course. You understand that this exploring party consists largely of urnings, and one of its purposes is to supply them with honor,” I pointed out. “How do you feel about being surrounded by them for some long period of time, working your hardest to protect them from whatever dangers come in these outer worlds, and having your own gains of respectability and honor inextricably associated with theirs?”
“This is hardly a New Concern for me. I have thrown in my lot with Hove, after all, and with the vast hordes of drakes who indulge themselves in Disreputable Passtimes with each other, and with the hovens too, I should imagine. To a certain extent you are the only dragon whose purity I trust. Not because you act pure, for you do not, but because you do not enjoy adultery and will stop it when the doctor ceases to recommend it,” said Tultamaan.
I snarled at him for two reasons. He chose the one he preferred to answer.
“True, I have not yet answered your question. I anticipate all of these Difficulties and Blots when I first conceived of the Concept of making this Proposal. I accept them. In reverse order, then. Third, whatever Status I achieve on Hove brings with it the association with the Worse Sort of Drake, so it shall make little difference to me. Second, I shall be working my hardest to protect Myself and all the other dragons with me. I would hardly achieve any sort of Honor if I ran off somehow and let them die. And First, I am an Extraordinarily Unappealing Drake. Which is unexpected in a certain light, considering my Beautiful Scales and Elegant Conformation. When I am at my most Unrealistic and Arrogant I blame it on my forelegs, but of course it is a matter of my Highly Refined Personality. I do not anticipate any entanglements or romantic problems with drakes, any more than I anticipate any adultery with dragonesses on Hove.”
“Are you complaining about me, that I will twine with other dragons I am not married to, but not you?” I had to ask.
“I have long since scrubbed the least bit of Sexual Interest for you and Arilash out of my psyche. It never done any sort of Good Thing to me Whatsoever. I refer to dragonesses like Psilia and Dessvaria, who behave rather like you and Arilash without even the Thin Excuses of doctor’s orders and, h’m, I cannot for the Breath of Me remember what Arilash’s excuse might be. Save that nobody would marry her,” said Tultamaan.
“Well, I think getting you and Arilash into separate worlds would make everyone happier. For my own part, I fear that my government will fall apart without the constant stream of insults and contempt for everyone at all and especially yourself. But without your insightful explanations and political advice, I should be a great deal happier. Oh, you wish to frown! Did I get that backwards again? Anyhow, Osoth decides who goes with him and who does what, but I shall support your application.”
“Thank you.”Support this project! Show that you're reading it by exchanging notes with the characters, other readers, and the writer at sythyry.livejournal.com. And/or buy Bard Bloom's books on Amazon. Also: Glossary and Dramatis Personae.