«I could not endure the shame of having a husband!»
«But you’re speaking of him as if he is one,» I said.
«What can I do?»
«Talk to him, make a sex treaty. Like a war treaty or peace treaty, where you and he agree on what you are to do in genital and relationship matters.»
«But he will ask for — things. For — activities. Undignified ones. Improper ones. Humiliating ones!»
I laughed, scaring the Damman ambassador quite smelly. «Oh, he wants you to take a turn at being the dragoness, does he?»
«Well, if this were a fair treaty, that would be a fair thing to ask for. But it does not need to be fair. It simply needs to be agreeable to both of you,» I said.
«So you’d support my side, that I do not need to dishonor myself in shape with him?»
Oh, dear. «Vaareng, I have no role in your negotiations. They are between you, and him, and Mirinxan I suppose. If two of you decide to marry when you return, I shall be delighted to officiate. But I will not be telling you or anyone else who to twine with, nor how.»
«I don’t wish to be a dragoness and open claspers to drakes!» he wrote.
«Neither do I,» I admitted. «But that is part of my marriage, and of many others.»
«… is it that bad?» he scribbled.
«For me it’s simply a bit boring. Dragonesses who can feel seem to enjoy it immensely. I haven’t talked much to urning drakes about precisely what they do with each other, but they seem to enjoy whatever-it-may-be immensely too.»
«I simply wish to conduct myself with honor,» he wrote.
«Honor in the eyes of Hove’s dragons is not quite the same as honor in the eyes of other dragons,» I pontificated. «You, and any bachelor who moves here, have several choices. You could be celibate. You could marry a drake and enjoy the rights and duties of any married couple. Your marriage could be a marriage of lovers, or a marriage of allies who are not lovers. You could be an unmarried libertine, enjoying drakes and the occasional libertine dragoness instead of civic rights and duties. None of those will be thought of as peculiar or dishonorable on Hove. You can also take a while and a few bachelor drakes on that expedition and figure out which of those choices suits you best. You don’t need to decide now. You can wait until you return to Hove, or even later. Though I’d recommend marrying when you get back, if you’re going to at all.»
«Honor offers you four choices,» I said. «It does not compel any one of them. Rejoice! You have more freedom in this matter than any dragoness!» (Deliberately paradoxical, since dragonesses ordinarily get to choose their spouse to some extent. Also a bit smelly-false, since Arilash and a few others have arrogated unusual choices for themselves.)
«I am unused to honor allowing choices,» he said. «I must think more upon this.»
«Enjoy your philosophizing!» I wrote. I was not terribly confident in the result; Vaareng never seemed to me a very powerful thinker.
Eventually the hhejŝṧhyant was set up to all mages’ satisfaction. Getting to other worlds was much easier from Narethy. It was in the middle of the Tsòn Cluster, rather than a long way off as Hove is, so the effort to open the Pentagonal Cyclone was less, and the stress on the hhejŝṧhyant similarly less. The mages were more used to it. And a serious mistake could destroy the base camp, but at least not melt half of Hove in the process.
World 39 was a new sort to us. It was small: no more than two hundred miles diameter. It was unbounded and hypertoroidal. You could fly in any direction, and, if you fly absolutely straight, you would return to the place you started. The world-surface was a Predictable Platelet, like Narethy, but it was, in effect, wedged against its own edges: if you imagine World 39 as a sphere, the world-surface was a plane through the center. A slightly tilted plane, at about 7º.
Which left it a strange world indeed. A dozen rivers ran down its surface, swift rivers, pouring down the distinctly tilted world-surface. They ran straight, and so they returned to the place that they started — pouring downhill all the way. Friction between the river-bed and the water limited their speed somewhat, so that the middle of the rivers ran at, oh, a hundred miles an hour or so. (We found other worlds where friction was a fiction, and similar rivers ran quite insanely fast.)
Pouring water produces some heat as it moves. Most of the world-surface was covered with a vast sheet of ice, dozens of feet thick. Around each river was a valley in the ice, melted clean by the river’s heat. We’re not sure, without spending a year observing, if there is some water-cycle that keeps the world in this state, or if water evaporated from the rivers freezes onto the ice sheet and is slowly emptying the rivers, and the world will end up inert and geologically dead.
It is, unfortunately, dead in the conventional sense. If anything lives there, Itharieth and Gimuse couldn’t find it.