When Osoth finished his speech, while Tultamaan was quarreling with Gyovanth and Jaraswat, Vaareng sought honor and stature in the traditional way of drakes. He looked at the nearby drakes, and found that the one next to him was smaller in size but not embarrassingly so. He was rather unimpressively striped in pastel blue, cyan, white, and orange, and looked rather prissy. But he had a gleaming steel blade protruding from the tip of his tail, as if there were a dagger embedded deep in it, so Vaareng thought that he must not be an entire pansy, despite the size and coloration.
“Thou steel-tailed dragon! Who are you? It matters little to me! I am Vaareng, and I am mighty! I challenge you to a Questro, a duel to four touches!”
The pastel and steel dragon reared his head up. “I beg your pardon? I introduce myself: I am Psajathrion, and I am the physician. I do not admit to cowardice. I merely admit to puzzlement. Why are you challenging me? Are you claiming that I have somehow offended you? If that is it, why do you not state the nature of the offense?”
Vaareng laughed a smoky laugh. “Why, Psajathrion the physician! Why do we need there to be an offense, in order to fight? We are drakes! We love battle! We must contend, to see who is the mightier!”
“My own love of battle is simply this: it leaves many people injured in its wake, and thereby provides me with much business. The regular course of nature does so as well, so I am not wedded to battle. Nor to anyone else,” said the doctor.
Vaareng laughed a mocking laugh: hișsya-hișsya-hișsya. “Oho! Could it be that you are not a brave drake? Could it be that you are one of those who retreats in the face of danger, rather than lashing your daggery tail and charging in to bite and breathe? Could it be that you are of the sort to seek marriage with another drake? Could you be one of those?”
Psajathrion flicked his dagger-tail. “Cowardice is as cowardice does. I am here. I shall be in the next world, and the next, and so onwards until I die or all of us return home. This is not the vow of a coward, but it is my vow.”
Vaareng suspected Psajathrion of weakness, yet the doctor was large enough and powerful enough to be good prey. “You still decline to join in battle! Yet, what do true drakes do? Could it be you are not a true drake in some way?”
Psajathrion yawned. Small people yawn to indicate boredom; dragons yawn to indicate that they are heavily armed as well as bored. “Our current task is to practice, collectively, what we do when we come to a new world. Surprising as it may be to a youngster who has recently finished his mating flight — unsuccessfully, I take it? — we do not fight each other when we are in potentially perilous lands. Neither do we make an effort to incapacitate the physician.”
“Well, that is an excuse of sorts. We shall postpone our duel. You have accepted my challenge, have you not? Or are you a person of sub-draconic nature and vile behaviors?”
Psajathrion frowned. “I accept neither your challenge nor your false dichotomy. Cease trying to bait me. If you are unclear on your duties, go inquire of Tultamaan. He is the brick red drake with green chevrons and useless forelimbs, engaged in some important discussion or other, there.” Psajathrion pointed, and the light of Hove’s three suns twinkled on his highly-polished tailblade.
This amused Vaareng. “Hah, Tultamaan? Tultamaan! Tultamaan the cripple and Tultamaan the coward thinks he can be Chief of the Guard! Will he stay Chief after the first challenge, do you imagine? You could defeat him!”
“No, I couldn’t, because the doctor does not duel. And because I am good at my duties, and would not be good at his. And because the positions in this expedition are decided by royalty, and if they need to be rearranged they will be rearranged by merit and royalty, not by duels. Now I hear someone calling for the doctor, so I shall go be useful. You may be well-advised to go be useful too. If you have any use at all other than as a prospective patient, which you have not yet demonstrated to me.” Psajathrion pounced into the callous desert breezes, and flew off to the mountainside where a draconic voice was indeed bellowing, “Where is the doctor?”