Psajathrion flew to the calls for the doctor. He found a white dragon of no great size, cerulean and azure zigzags making brilliant lines on his scales, and short curved horns impractically plated in silver or something similar, holding a small hoofed beast no bigger than a large cat in a foreclaw. The white called up to him, “Ah, you are Psajathrion, the doctor? A pleasure to meet you! I am Itharieth, a student of the matter of living, but from a more theoretical aspect than yourself.”
“A pleasure as well, Itharieth. Usually when one calls for the doctor, someone is wounded or injured. You seem healthy. Is your pet afflicted somehow?”
“Not my pet precisely. I have never actually seen this particular creature before — I have named it a ninnygoat, Cervis imbecilis. But I do think it is not healthy, by Twiggett’s spigot!”
“I am unfamiliar with that spigot, or, indeed with Twiggett. Still, let me have a look at the goat.” Psajathrion took it in his foreclaw. The ninnygoat peered at him with dull, dazed eyes. “A rather passive beast. You say this one is wild-caught, Itharieth?”
“I plucked it from the rocks not twelve minutes ago, Psajathrion! The remarkable thing? It just stared at me and meandered rather than dashed to escape. Half a dozen in its herd did just the same. But — this is the remarkable part, by Geemir’s femur! — three other herds of ninnygoats elsewhere on the hillside dashed and scampered and capered and fled like the energetic and clever little prey-beasts they ought to be!”
“Why is this a concern of mine? I am physician to dragons, hovens, mhelvul, and herdbeasts. That seems to be plenty,” said Psajathrion.
Itharieth grinned. “It is a clue, by Xhnarinet’s clarinet! What has rendered this herd sluggish? A disease, a poison, a spray of noxious pollen, a torpor caused by a surfeit of brandy?”
Psajathrion spread his lips and ears in the dangerous gesture of a predator whose interest has been awoken. “Oho, I think you may be right. We have goats of our own. A plague among them would be some inconvenience at least! So I do care.” He peered closely at the ninnygoat in his hand, who belched and farted. “Furthermore its manners seem to be impaired.”
“My extensive studies of cervine behavior, made in a dozen minutes at a farm seventeen years ago, suggest that no goat has good manners.”
“Do you happen to have a healthy one?” asked the doctor.
Itharieth drooped his ears. “They were harder to catch.” It took four minutes and the Lure of Dreams, but one was acquired.
The physician inspected the two sleeping goats side by side, sniffing and tasting, probing with delicate clawtips and several sensoria both natural and instrumental. “Your theoretician’s intuition is quite correct, my good biologist! The stupified one has a certain subtle metallic bitterness to its scent and a coarsening of its internal structures that the healthy one lacks. It has a terrible case of — I have no idea what, but it’s quite distinct.”
“Shall we dissect them and inspect them from the inside?” asked Itharieth.
“Hum, generally considered bad for the patient,” said Psajathrion. “One often gets answers that way, but they are not wholly satisfactory in terms of medical outcome. Still, we have other methods. Let us sample the breath and blood, and effluvia if the goats are so generous as to provide us some. Actually, don’t we have an analysis mage in the party?”
“We do — the miserable-looking dragoness. Roroku.”
Roroku was duly acquired from the other side of a hill — the party was spread out over several sandy scrubby hills — and persuaded to cast the The Tongue of Kurila Dthiaspur in an advanced and subtle modality that spreads the results out in the air. The three scholar-dragons compared and discussed.
Itharieth said, “Well, the most obvious feature is this bulge present in the healthy ninnygoat, and absent in the sick one.”
Roroku curled her tail. “I’m very sorry to argue with you, but I don’t think so. That’s just plant matter, chlorophyll and such.”
Itharieth grined at her. “Oh, argue with me all you like. I’m often wrong, by the Gargantula’s tarantula! Are you saying that the healthy one has eaten more recently than the sick one? Did that make the sick one sick? Do these goats need to constantly be sucking down succulents to stay even the slightest bit intelligent? That seems unlikely at best!”
Roroku indicated a smaller bulge in the diagram. “Actually I think the other one was chewing its cud.”
Itharieth pried the sleeping goat’s mouth open. “That’s not a usual practice of goats, even hoven goats, but these are very small goats eating very rough food so I suppose they have made accomodations. I have taken us off on a useless tangent, as so often happens.”
Psajathrion, who knew the spell himself, indicated a jittery line towards the side. “Now this worries me. Would worry me if they were patients, rather.”
“What is it, O most elegant scalpel-tailed drake?”
“Metals. Unusual metals to find in a creature of Hove! Mercury is here, thralsnium here, lead here!” said the doctor.
“None of those are particularly healthy,” said the biologist. “And hardly surprising that they are bad for the brain and mind. I do believe you have solved the mystery, Roroku and Psajathrion!”