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One Hundred Twenty One
Year Two Hundred and Sixty Four
Colonel Tegrath Ardioth forced his eyes to adjust for far distance vision and looked the gates to the orc tribe over carefully. They were closed, but he expected that. While it would have been nice to hide the approach of the Fourth Regiment, they’d been seen and a warning had been delivered to the tribe in time to secure the gates. The orcs were cunning and the gates were flush with the mountain they lived in, and yet, when open, were around twenty feet wide and more than wide enough for orcs to pass through at least six abreast if they wished. That would also allow wagons and carts to bring in supplies purchased or, more probably since these were orcs, stolen from the rightful owners. Arrow slits had been worked into the wall around the gate and undoubtedly there were other defenses that he couldn’t see just yet.
The horde this tribe had spawned had been nearly five thousand strong and now almost all of them either lay dead on the valley floor or were being burned to get rid of them before the corpses brought disease. The remainder of the orc tribe was here, numbering somewhere around a thousand. A little over half of them would be females, most of which were probably impregnated by the tribe’s warriors before they went off to die in the valley. While not trained as fighters, they could still pick up a sword or spear and were dangerous. The rest would be the personal guard of the tribe’s ruler and warriors who stayed behind to protect the tribe as it rebuilt to send out the next horde in approximately twenty or thirty years when the tribe’s growth outstripped its ability to feed its members.
Tegrath looked at his battalion commanders. “First Battalion will set up here,” he marked in the dirt with a stick. “Third will set up along this ridge to support First.” He looked seriously at the commander of Third Battalion. “As we all know, Second Battalion is down in the Underdark and securing the escape routes. That leaves me with only one infantry battalion and your archery battalion and that means the infantry will be outnumbered if they try a breakout on the surface. We’ve trained for this, but this is our first combat test for a combined arms regiment.”
Lieutenant Colonel Brightleaf nodded. “We’re going to do this by the numbers, sir,” she said confidently. “If the orcs open that gate, we’ll rake them with plunging fire until their lead elements reach One Batt. At that point we’ll focus on any artillery they might try to use, magic users and the last half of their force, if it’s large enough. If you change the firing plan, we’ll follow it. As soon as I’m sure they’re not going charge Three Batt, my healers and sorcerers will be detailed to move to aid One Batt as needed.”
Tegrath chuckled. Most of the clan’s dwarves were clean shaven, but he affected a short beard that gave his face an evil cast. “It would make things easier if they did charge you. Then I could wheel First Battalion and hit them in the rear, but I doubt they’ll be that stupid. And if they don’t sortie, we’ll crack them open just after sunrise.”
The sun was just rising over the mountains and the whole area was still in deep shadow as Colonel Ardioth watched the orc gate. During the night, a group of about a hundred orcs had tried to move through the Underdark passages, presumably to surface nearby and attack the besiegers from behind. They’d run headlong into Alpha Company, Second Battalion, who had stopped the advance cold while Beta Company had smashed into the flank and rolled the orcs up with only light casualties. Only a few orcs had managed to wriggle out of the trap.
He gave the gate one final inspection and reached out with his twee. Begin.
The ground shook slightly with each footfall as the kobold shaped iron golem strode towards the entrance to the orc caves. It carried a glass ball in one hand and a tremendous adamantine mace in the other. From where he stood, Ardioth could see a kobold standing still, her eyes closed as, using the circlet on her head, she operated the iron golem as if it were her body. He didn’t know how the circlet worked or even that it was forged at the same time the iron golem was, all he knew was that the Grey and the clan’s mages had produced this marvel and that, except once to kill a blue dragon, this was the first time one of them had been used outside of the valley.
As soon as it was close enough, the iron golem hurled the ball. It shattered on the gate. Ice formed across the surface of the gate as the air condensed from the extreme cold and ran down the gate to the ground to boil off and evaporate. Timbers and stone inside the gate groaned as the ice spread.
The iron golem swung the mace at the gate. Turned brittle by the extreme cold and internally torqued by the ice’s spread into cracks in the stone and wood, the gate split in two at the impact. The golem ignored the rain of arrows from the arrow slits in the wall and leaned forward to breathe a cloud of toxic gas through the shattered portion of the gate as well as the arrow slits and into the gatehouse. The arrows stopped.
The golem dropped the mace and pulled the largest pieces of the shattered gate down to open the gateway for entry. It picked the mace back up and smashed the gate until the rubble lay flat. Then it turned and returned to the Grey lines.
Ardioth waited a few minutes to see if the orcs would sortie. When they didn’t, he used his twee to send the command to the company commanders of One Batt, grimacing as he realized he was using the slang too. He repeated the orders to Lieutenant Colonel Brightleaf, feeling a brief pulse of pleasure when Three Batt rose, in companies, and, one company at a time, began leapfrogging forward to join Two Batt. The archers not advancing kept a close watch on the wall and the destroyed gate, ready to lay down suppression fire if needed.
It was not and, as the two battalions met, One Batt’s Epsilon Company rose and ran forward a hundred paces before kneeling, shields ready. As soon as they stopped moving, Delta company ran forward and past them another hundred paces before doing the same. In turn, Gamma, Beta and Alpha followed.
They weren’t under fire, but that could change at any moment and it was good practice for units still coming to grips with battlefield maneuvers. What was most eerie was that all communication was being done with the clan’s twee, meaning the entire advance was done almost silently, with only the footfalls and ringing of their armor sounding as they moved.
At fifty feet, sorcerers hidden among the infantry launched fireballs into the gate opening, targeting the sides where vision was blocked. Short lived screams revealed hidden defenders had been caught in the spells.
Ardioth was so focused on the advance that the twee message from Lieutenant Colonel Greeneye, named for the fact that the kobold had one green and one amber eye, made him jump. The orcs are fleeing into the Underdark. Second Battalion will kill as many as we can, but some will escape.
The urge to order a charge into the caves and hit the orcs in the rear was almost overwhelming, but Ardioth suppressed the desire ruthlessly. There had to be a rearguard waiting to ambush them and he’d be damned if he let his people get hurt unnecessarily. Understood, Colonel Greeneye, he told the kobold commander of Second Battalion. Do not pursue. We don’t know the local Underdark and, presumably, they do. What we can kill will have to do for the Grey.
He rose and headed for his troops as he sent the order to advance into the caves.
“I’m reviewing the battlefield footage for my staff meeting later today,” Rardur said as Iain sat down on the other side of the table from him. They were in the operations center in what used to be the old dwarven portion of the caves back when Solnys had segregated her people from the kobolds after first coming here. These days the dwarves still tended to cluster together, but they didn’t have their own section of caves anymore. “This was our first offensive campaign and I’m sure there will be a lot of lessons to be learned for future engagements.”
“I don’t doubt that you’re right,” Iain replied. “And sometimes, it’ll be worse. We had some people get pretty badly chopped up, but nobody on our side was permanently crippled or killed.”
“Most of the injuries were from traps they’d laid,” Rardur grumbled. “We can’t send scouts to find them ahead of the main body when underground because they’ll get slaughtered, so we have to absorb the hits from them and press on. I don’t like it, but I don’t see much else that we can do.”
Iain looked thoughtful. “Most people only trap the outer sections of their caverns. How fast can we dig a tunnel?”
“Depends on the stone and how stable the surroundings are,” Rardur said. “There are spells that can help that, but it’s going to come down to muscle, stone and stability in the end.”
“Not to mention we have to remove the stone to be able to throw troops through in any useful amount,” Iain said, still considering the situation. “Tunneling might be useful for avoiding traps and troops during a siege, but that’s going to be it.” He shrugged. “I can try to design a wand of finding traps that’s cheap enough to be given to our troops. It might give us a chance to set them off before we reach them or avoid them if we can. I don’t see it as ever being an export item, though, which is for the best.”
“Considering how much we use traps in our defenses,” Rardur nodded. “Those don’t get sold.”
Iain rose. “I’ll look at the records after you get done with them and see what ideas the review gives me. We’ve still got a long way to go before our military is where I’d like it to be, but,” he smiled, “Rardur, I think you have done an exemplary job so far.”
“Iain!” He looked up to see Shatris, followed by Fara. She looked at the table and her face lit up. “And Rardur too. Good. I need to talk to you both.”
“Is this important,” Iain asked.
“I think it could be critically important.”
He sighed and sat down, using his truewizardry to create a tea service on the table. “Fine. Help yourself.” He looked up at Fara. “Sit. If anyone attacks Shatris, I’ll throw myself at them while you get up and ready your spells.”
Fara stuck out her tongue at him and sat as Shatris poured two cups of tea and slid one to her bodyguard maid. Shatris frowned and sniffed her cup. “What tea is this, Iain?”
Iain cocked an eyebrow and poured himself a cup, picked it up and inhaled the steam rising from it. His eyes widened. “Oops. Apparently I wasn’t paying enough attention and didn’t make the herbal tea that I usually do. This is chai.” He sipped some of it and smiled. “Apparently my subconscious knew I wanted it. It’s black tea with some herbs and spices.”
Fara took an experimental sip and her eyes lit up. “This is excellent, but it’s probably too spicy for Shatris.”
Iain created a second teapot and some more cups. This kind of manifestation was easy as long as his attention didn’t waver, like it did when he accidentally created a tea he wanted instead of the one he intended. “And here’s the correct tea.”
Shatris poured a cup of the herbal with a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
“All right, what’s this emergency?”
Iain frowned. He’d laid so many sensors in and around every place that Raloric liked to hang out that he’d seen things he’d really rather not have, like Raloric rutting with his latest lover. He usually had news involving Raloric long before Shatris did, which made whatever she had to say very curious. “I don’t suppose he’s on fire.”
“That would be very nice,” Fara said with a dreamy smile.
“He and his generals are going to panic more than a little about what just happened here, Iain,” Shatris said firmly.
Iain’s frown deepened and then he relaxed with a shrug. “While I might admit that the first chai tea on this world could easily be something to get excited about, I don’t see it necessitating a panic on anyone’s part.”
Fara made a sound suspiciously like a choked off laugh as Shatris gave him an annoyed look. “It’s what you just did to those orcs, Iain.”
“There is no way Raloric is allied with them,” Iain said.
“Iain, that horde was over five thousand strong and you stopped it cold at the edge of the valley.”
“Most of it was planning and a bit of luck,” Rardur said. “And being able to track them in real time as they approached the valley didn’t hurt.”
“Five thousand orcs is a real threat,” Shatris explained. “Keltormir would have to mobilize at least two armies, both larger than the force you used, to track it down and destroy it.”
“That’s why we trapped it,” Rardur replied. “Chasing it all over the valley would have let it have the chance to hurt too many people.”
Shatris sighed. “Orc hordes are part of the world. For the most part, Keltormir and the other kingdoms accept that they will happen and hope they’re not the next target. You not only stopped the horde, you smashed the tribe that it came from. That’s going to send shock waves through Keltormir and the other elven kingdoms. Raloric is going to be worried that his military can’t stop yours and his advisors will push for him to deal with Grey before we get so big that they can’t.”
“That may already be the case,” Rardur said quietly. Shatris looked at him curiously. “Considering who Iain is married to, Raloric has to suspect that Vyshaan will hit him from the flanks if he attacks any of our colonies.”
Shatris shook her head. “That alliance is less than a century old. Nobody will think that it has been around long enough for the queendom to have a military alliance with Grey.”
Iain looked at an astonished Rardur. “And we just fell afoul of the vaunted elf lifespan and the way they look at time. Nothing less than two hundred years old is important to them because they definitely don’t live in the now. Sometimes it’s a wonder their food doesn’t rot before they get around to eating it.”
“That’s insane,” Rardur choked out.
“No, that’s the mentality that took eight centuries for the Elven Court to finally decide that the Vyshaantar had been bad and needed spanking,” Iain said quietly. “Anyone with half a clue should have known that almost immediately. And it took two thousand years, the open murder of an entire nation and turning the dark elves into the drow to make their head god get off his ass and form the Elven Court in the first bloody place.” He shook his head sadly. “What really irritates me is the only reason I can think of that the Court wasn’t formed earlier is that the elf head god, whom we shall not name while badmouthing him, approved of Vyshaantar consolidating all of the elven kingdoms under one rule, and he only got pissed off when they rejected him and turned to devil worshipping, and not because of all the destruction and death they caused.” Iain rolled his eyes. “It was the fact that he wasn’t going to be receiving the worship of this Empire of the Consolidated Tel-quessir that made him upset.”
Shatris was staring at him in shock. “Please tell me that this is only speculation, Iain.”
“I don’t have any proof of that theory,” Iain said reassuringly. “And the official party line is that Corellon is evenhandedly working to protect and nurture all of the elves. Except the drow.”
Fara frowned. “Then why did he allow the dark elves to turn to evil, become the drow and be forced into the Underdark?”
Iain shrugged. “I don’t know. The only thing I can come up with regarding that is his ex-wife must give the best head ever.”
“That’s gross, you know,” Shatris said quietly. “He was my patron god once and you’re saying that he allowed the dark elves to fall because of sex.”
“Shatris, I don’t mean to sound insulting, but reproduction drives everything that happens in the universe and, for mammals, reproductive sex is one of the greatest forces towards that end. As far as life is concerned, it’s sex that is purely for pleasure that’s the perverse thing.”
Fara looked at him curiously. “Then what really separates us from the animals?”
“Self-awareness and a drive towards group survival of the race that has led to a social construct called culture.” Iain picked up his tea and drank half of the cup. “Again, not to sound insulting, but the limits on behavior that we allow culture and society to impose on us is the only reason that you and Shatris and Naldryn and Solnys haven’t born my children by now. I like Rardur and I like Vatorin and I respect the hell out them and all four of you, but neither Rardur nor Vatorin could stop me.” He gave her a look that made her shiver. “And deep down, there’s a part of you that wouldn’t want to stop me because I am of good breeding stock and you know it. Our children would be very strong.”
“But that would be wrong,” Fara said.
“Right and wrong is part of that social construct Iain mentioned,” Rardur noted amusedly. “And it’s determined by a race’s culture. It is why orcs don’t see the same actions as evil that we do. They have a different culture and it has different societal rules, which has led to different ideas of what is right and what is wrong.”
Shatris looked from one man to the other. “It seems you two have been thinking about this a lot.”
Iain nodded. “The clans traditionally reacted to being attacked by, if possible, conquering and absorbing their enemies. We have been discussing differing cultures with an eye towards setting up the infrastructure to continue that philosophy the next time we are attacked by an orc horde or something similar.”
Fara’s eyes went wide. “You’d add orcs to the clan?”
“We are considering it. The problem is that adult orcs have been inculcated into their culture too completely, and that culture is very alien to ours in many ways. Very few of them would willingly transition to being clan and even fewer would do so successfully. In order to conserve a portion of an orc tribe that we smash, it may be necessary to remove the adults from the equation completely and only consider the children.” Iain grimaced. “And even then, we may only be able to use the youngest children for this. The older children would have to be eliminated too, and many of us are loathe to do that.” He shrugged. “Which means it may never really work.” He refreshed his tea. “We have a small number of half orcs in the clan now and they, for the most part, fit in well. There is no reason that anyone raised as clan couldn’t.”
Shatris leaned back in her chair. “How did the clans handle this during their formative years?”
Iain wondered who she’d been talking to about clan history, but it was a valid question. “The clans practiced a limited form of slavery when they conquered outlanders. The adults and any children over the age of three spent their remaining years as slaves while any children under three or born after the conquest were fostered out to clan families to raise as their own. While the slaves weren’t happy about it, most accepted the fact that their children would be free. That and the fact that the occasional uprising was put down completely. Due to the Sister’s prohibition on slavery, that’s not an option for us.” He shrugged. “The life of a slave to a clan wasn’t that different from being clan, and some slaves did actually join the clan that had conquered them, at which point they became free as well.” He blinked. “And I have to be somewhere else, so please excuse me.” He got up. “Oh, and Shatris?” She looked at him curiously. “I want to thank you for bringing me your insight into what Raloric may do when he finds out about the horde attack and our response. That’s useful and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. I was hoping he’d treat any story about the orcs just like he did the story about the dragon flight attack here, but you think otherwise.”
“How did he treat the story about the dragons?”
Iain smiled. “He denounced it as pure rubbish. There is no way we were attacked by so many dragons and not wiped from the earth. Officially he believes that the dragons never attacked us and we’re just telling that story to try and hide just how weak we really are. Behind the scenes, he must know that it was his childhood friend that sent them after us, probably with his blessing. The fact that we cleaned out the hoards of all of them and left signs to warn off the other chromatics will hopefully give him pause. Presumably Stilldreamer visited at least a few of them to try and see if anyone had made it back home and found our warning signs.”
He turned to Rardur. “Send me your notes once you’re done with your review and I’ll do the same once I’m done with mine.”
“I will, Iain. Be well.”
“Be well, everyone.” Iain headed down the passageway at a trot.
Year Two Hundred and Seventy
Rardur Darkmore dropped into the chair on the other side of Iain’s desk and tossed a fancy looking scroll onto it.
Iain eyed it suspiciously for a second before ignoring it. “Why are you on my schedule and what is this thing?”
“You are acting as the clan’s archivist while we’re waiting for this Theodora you told us about to join us. This is a historic moment.” The dwarf smiled. “That’s why the fancy ribbons and seals on the scroll. You might want to put that someplace for posterity.”
“I think your posterior has enough issues,” Iain shot back, “for you to want to add me shoving this scroll up your ass for storage to it.” He eyed the scroll without touching it as Rardur laughed. “What brought this on?”
“Keltormir and our little discussion about Raloric and his dreams,” Rardur said.
Iain eyed the scroll again. “Is this about the fact that we can do horrible things to them here in the valley but we’re too small to have an army big enough to go on the offensive when the time comes?”
Rardur nodded. “It is. I’ve been studying Raloric’s generals. Some of them, including your friend Duke Rhyem Ammanth, are fairly good at what they do and I wouldn’t put it past them to make sure that something happens on the other side of Vyshaan to keep Queen Helesatra busy while they try to deal with us.” His eyes met Iain’s. “Especially if this buddy of Raloric’s can stir up some dragons to cause trouble for your wife like he did for us.” Iain grunted sourly. He’d spent some time considering that dreadful thought too. “So I’ve been looking at what we can do if we have to face Keltormir alone.”
“You mean besides lose?”
Rardur nodded. “And I’ve been talking to the military leaders of the colonies.” Iain raised an eyebrow. “Some of them are within Keltormir’s reach and the others all have people eyeing them for their wealth too.”
Iain eyed the thing on his desk. “What’s in the scroll?”
“The first is an official clan proclamation. It names me the commanding general of all of the clan’s forces, not just the ones here in Grey Valley.”
Iain sighed. “I should have realized what was going to happen and named that damned valley when I moved here. You think I’d have learned, but I didn’t think I’d be building clan on this world and so didn’t worry about their stupid predilection for naming everything they touch.” He picked up the scroll and broke the seals. “I presume you’ve already worked things out with colony commanders and I’m not going to get a child turning up to bitch about us stealing power from her as governess?”
“You are not. We worked this out and then took it to the various governesses. You are the last person to learn about that part of this, but the first of them to learn about the rest, since you’re the Grey.”
“So am I going to get angry, whiny kids or an upset mate here for that part?”
“You shouldn’t, since this helps us all. Inside is the finished portion of a treaty of mutual support between the colonies and us,” Rardur said. “And a proposal for the first joint military maneuvers involving the armies of the valley and all of the colonies.”
Iain looked up at him. “You’ll need transport. I presume you want me and the mage’s guild to put in much larger permanent gates?”
Iain looked thoughtful for a moment. “We’ll take a page from Theodora again and build a gate nexus that all of the gates lead to. That gives us one place to secure.”
“It gives us one place that screws us if we lose control of it,” Rardur pointed out.
“Yes, but I can turn that into a death trap for anyone else that tries to take control of it. And we can always open temporary gates while spanking whoever attacked the gate complex.” Iain smiled coldly. “Trust me on that. So what’s the purpose of a joint maneuver?”
“We train together. By doing so, if we have to face Keltormir or someone else on an open battlefield, we do it as one army composed of all the clan’s forces.”
Iain went back to reading the scroll. “Is our combined army large enough to scare Keltormir? I haven’t asked the governors for data on their military forces recently.”
“Iain, if we train together and get everyone up to the standard you’ve forced us here in the valley to reach, which I will admit some of them are not and will take years to get to, I would then be willing to commit our forces against everything Keltormir has to offer without many worries. I’m always going to worry about something when my people go to war.”
Iain was the same way. “Will it be enough to go on the offensive if we must?”
“Definitely. And it’ll put paid to any of Keltormir’s armies as they have them currently designed.” Rardur smiled. “And if a few of the dragons that breathe our air, eat our food and stockpile our money would get their lazy bones in motion and help, it would go much faster.”
Iain chuckled. “You do realize that I’ve been horrible for you. If you say anything like that to pretty much any dragon, metallic or chromatic, who isn’t clan, she’s likely to pull your skull out of your head through one of your nostrils.”
Rardur laughed. “I think that would sting a little.”
“Probably so.” Iain looked at the scroll. “I’ll rewrite the proclamation so it’s at least in my handwriting so looks like I was involved in the writing and issue it. Where are the exercises going to take place first?”
Rardur looked surprised. “For secrecy, we’ll do them all in Chult.”
Iain shook his head. “You will not. Not all of our enemies are in Chult and everyone needs to get used to campaigning in the various terrains that the colonies are in. I’ll take a few days and do some scouting in some interesting places around the world that should provide suitably challenging environments for all of us to train in.” Iain smiled, but the warmth in it never reached his eyes. “April wouldn’t want me to do any less than my best to make sure we’re as strong as we can be, after all.”
“Oh, fuck,” Rardur said quietly. He’d learned that whenever Iain invoked the name of April, things on the training front were going to get very busy for a long time.
“Pretty much.” Iain put the scroll aside. “Did you ever think that your life would end up like it has? You went from exiled smith to general and with two wonderful wives.”
“They’re pregnant and in that first bitchy stage,” Rardur said with a grin. “I’ll deed them both to you right now.”
“If I didn’t know just how much the three of you love each other,” Iain said with an answering smile. “I’d make you do just that after that offer, especially since I record everything in this office.”
A look of horror swept across Rardur’s face. “Privacy!”
“Denied,” Iain said with a smug grin.
“No, my parents did eventually marry.”
Rardur chuckled as he leaned back in his chair. “All levity aside, Iain, I thank the Sisters every day for what I have and that I’m still here to enjoy it.”
“Iain, I’m a little over three hundred years old. I should be looking forward to my dotage and trying to figure out what I’d be doing in the twilight years of my life, but instead I am in better health than I was before we met. If I’d stayed that smith, I’d undoubtedly be dead by now, stabbed by some tribesman after I got fed up with their thievery and tossed one out the door. A mob of them would have come back and torn the place down to get me.” He grinned again. “And, if I weren’t here, Solnys would probably be chasing you and trying to become another Lady Grey.”
“Does that bother you?”
Rardur shook his head. “First, I’m not dead. Second, you missed your chance and she’s my wife now.”
“And that makes you a very fortunate man indeed,” Iain said. “When do you want me to issue the proclamation?”
“As soon as possible. Keltormir isn’t going to go away.”
“No, you’re right. I’ll do it within the next tenday.” Iain put the bundle of scrolls into a drawer. “Is there anything else you had planned for this meeting?”
Rardur pushed to his feet. “Come to dinner. Naldryn is cooking something new and I don’t want to face that alone.”
Iain chuckled. Naldryn wasn’t a bad cook. The problem was that her senses of taste and smell seemed to go a bit haywire when she was pregnant, resulting in some rather odd dishes when she insisted on trying her hand in the kitchen. Iain figured she was using cooking to fulfil some of those odd dietary urges that many pregnant women experienced. “Will Naldryn or Solnys be offended if I turn up unexpectedly?”
“They’d welcome you more than me right now, since you’re not the one who got them pregnant.”
Iain laughed. As a dragon, his stomach had become pretty much adamantine plated. “What time?”
“Say nineteen thirty?”
“I’ll be there.”
Iain sat cross legged on the floor, his eyes closed and his mind busy with various projects while he waited. He was only there for twenty minutes when the tread of the gold dragon returning made him open his eyes. The dragon, an adult in his dragon form, towered over Iain. “His Resplendence will see you now. This way, please,” he said politely.
Iain rose. “Thank you.” The dragon’s pace was much longer than Iain’s in his elven form and he fell into a fast trot to keep up as he was led down wide passageways that had been cleaned and only lightly carved, but from which Iain could feel the pressure of uncounted thousands of years.
That only made sense as this facility had been occupied, by gold dragons, continuously since the Days of Thunder over twenty thousand years ago.
The chamber that the gold led him into was huge, big enough for dozens of adult dragons to occupy without crowding. Here there was much more stonework, carvings cut so deeply into the rock that not even the passage of millennium could begin to erase them. On the far end of the chamber was a rise of stone, created by dragons and servants carefully removing all of the other stone comprising the floor except for this one mound so that it rose a dozen feet above the surroundings to show that the occupant was elevated above all other dragons, but also deliberately showing that the elevation was not truly much, compared to the size of dragons in general. It was a subtle reminder of the status of the king compared to the rest of the gold dragon population.
The mound was occupied by two dragons curled up, side by side. Iain approached to within fifty feet of the mound before bowing to the drake on the right. “Your Resplendence.” He repeated the bow to the dragoness on the left. “Lady.”
The drake inclined his head to Iain. “I am Nithraseth Aurumstrike. Normally an audience like this would be between only the two of us, but my mate, Vivahdri, wished to meet you. If you desire, she will withdraw after doing so.”
“I think it might be better if she stays,” Iain replied. “The perspective of a mature dragoness is always welcome.”
“Thank you,” Vivahdri said. “I should point out that a meeting with His Resplendence is customarily carried out in one’s true form and we were informed that you are a dragon. Why are you not before my mate as a dragon?”
Iain smiled. “I was hoping not to cause problems.”
Nithraseth cocked his head slightly “Oh?”
“We, and I mean we as dragons, all have a tendency towards,” Iain paused while trying to find the right word, “an arrogance that is based on our perceived superiority towards many of the other races. That arrogance often carries over into our interactions with dragons of other metals or even colors. It is possible that some of this arrogance is justified, and I would not necessarily dispute that, but I hoped not to trigger a negative response with my presence as I am not a gold dragon, so caution was recommended.”
Nithraseth’s chuckle boomed out of him and echoed around the chamber. “I will agree that many dragons are incredibly arrogant, but I would like to hope that I, at my age, am past all of that. What about you did you think might cause me to react poorly?”
“In my true form, I am substantially larger than you are.”
Nithraseth’s head straightened and lowered slightly towards Iain. “I find that hard to believe,” he said coolly.
Vivahdri nudged her mate hard enough to shift him sideways. He gave her a look and she laughed musically. “I believe I am seeing the very arrogance that Iain was concerned he might cause you to exhibit, my mate.”
Nithraseth blinked and he swung his massive head around to regard Iain for several seconds. Then he laughed suddenly and loudly enough to make Iain glad his magic and twee could protect his hearing. “That was well done, young drake. You tricked me into that reaction. Well, since you’ve told me that you’re bigger than I am and I reacted as you wished, you now must back up your claim and show us the truth.”
Iain nodded. “Yes, Your Resplendence.” He shifted to his adult dragon form. He bowed his head slightly. “Your Resplendence, Lady, I am Iain Grey.”
Vivahdri straightened. She walked down from the mound, around Iain and returned to her mate’s side. “I believe,” she said with an echo of her previous laughter in her voice, “that he was not mistaken, my mate.”
“So do I,” Nithraseth unfolded and folded his wings. “And it pains me to agree that I am not completely happy with this fact.” He shook his head violently. “But we are, hopefully, not going to fight today.”
“We are, hopefully,” Iain said respectfully, “never going to fight, except perhaps in some light sparring.”
“I believe that would be for the best,” Nithraseth replied. “Why have you petitioned for this audience with me?”
“I am here because I am aware of a case of unwarranted discrimination against a gold dragoness by either you or some of your functionaries and I seek to understand why this is going on and what we can do to end it.”
Nithraseth’s head tilted curiously. “I do not believe I am discriminating against anyone, gold dragon or not. Please elaborate.”
“Do you know who Xune Grey is?”
“I do not.”
“She is my adopted daughter and a gold dragoness. She is an adult and over two hundred years old. She has never been invited or commanded to attend any of the conclaves that have taken place since she has been an adult, even though some friends of ours and their children have. I seek to understand why.”
“You say that other golds know of her existence,” Nithraseth asked.
“We are friends with a mated pair of golds. The drake is Laraxithious and the dragoness is Tagiss.”
Nithraseth reached out and tapped a large brass bell that hung beside the mound. It rang deeply and a gold dragon guard popped from around a corner. It took in the situation in a single glance, decided there was no threat to destroy, and turned to the gold dragon king. “Your Resplendence?”
“Please ask the Record Keeper to come here immediately.”
The guard bobbed his head and was gone.
Vivahdri stretched her neck out and relaxed. “Why did this Xune not come here and ask these questions? Why did she send you in her stead?”
“She didn’t. She has no idea that I’m here and, when she finds out, she’ll probably yell at me a lot for interfering.”
Vivahdri laughed. “If you are not here for her, why are you here,” she smiled draconically, “for her?”
“My daughter, for better or worse, has decided that she wants to start having children. I don’t think this will be a problem and, in fact, I am certain that she will be an outstanding mother, but she wants a drake to sire her first child or three and the conclaves are where the single dragons congregate to meet and pay court.”
The gold dragoness nodded. “Why do you say, ‘for better or for worse’?”
“Children are always a blessing, but no person who has never had children can understand the tumult that accompanies such a blessing.” He smiled. “Such as when a young dragon starts teething when new teeth start to grow in, for example, no person who has never raised one can understand how much destruction they can wreak if they get into the wrong place.”
Vivahdri bugled a loud laugh that went on for a moment. “You are absolutely correct,” she said as she tried to get her laughter under control.
Iain’s head came around. “Someone is coming.” Vivahdri stopped laughing instantly.
A few seconds later an elderly looking gold dragoness walked slowly into the chamber. She was followed by a younger dragoness who stayed close and kept her head down. The ancient dragoness stopped not far from Iain and looked him over before turning to the king. “Your Resplendence,” she said in a voice that sounded far too strong to be coming from her body. “You requested my presence?”
Nithraseth nodded towards Iain. “Records Keeper, this is Iain Grey. Who is Xune Grey?”
“I have very little information on Xune Grey, Your Resplendence, and all of it comes from a single mated pair, Laraxithious and Tagiss. According to them, Xune Grey claims she is of mixed parentage, her mother being a drow elf and her father being a gold dragon.” She bobbed her head once. “Drow are evil elves who live far underground. They make war on everyone around them and they have no redeemable qualities. It was the council’s determination that she is not truly a gold dragon and therefore not worth bothering with.”
Iain took a half step towards the Record Keeper. “May I add to your store of knowledge, Record Keeper?” It took an effort, but he managed to keep his voice calm and even. “There are some gaps and some incorrect information in the knowledge you currently possess.”
The elderly gold looked at him disinterestedly. “You are not a gold dragon,” she pointed out.
“I am not,” Iain admitted. “However, that does not mean that I might not possess some kernel of knowledge that could be useful to you and your king.”
The Record Keeper did not look impressed. “You, sir,” she said with a faint note of disgust, “have a sly tongue.”
“I would disagree,” Iain replied. “Sly can mean cunning, but it implies deceit and I am not trying to be the slightest bit deceitful. I am here on behalf of my daughter. While it is true that she is adopted, I have never thought of her as anything other than my daughter and I love her and wish only the best for her. While that means that, yes, I would lie all day long for her, in this case it is not necessary. In this case, the doom that you and this unknown council have pronounced upon my daughter is based on facts that are incorrect and I wish to correct them. And the truth is that while my daughter would like to interact with gold dragon society because she is a gold dragon and is not evil, I am not going to lie on her behalf for such a purpose. She’s already going to be angry at me for being here without her knowledge. If I lied too, her wrath would increase tenfold. Finally,” he stopped. “Never mind.” He shook his head. “No, I think it needs to be said.” He looked at Nithraseth. “Hopefully this won’t anger you but we all know that the one easily exploitable character flaw that all dragons possess is pride. I use pride against the chromatics when I hunt them because it’s so easy to use. I’m not using it now, but it still exists in every dragon that draws breath.” Or is undead, he thought to himself but carefully didn’t articulate.
He shifted his wings. “I am here because my daughter would like to meet a nice gold drake for the purpose of having a child or two. I also hope to possibly forge some kind of good relationship with the leadership of the gold dragons, not out of hope for your aid, but because we’re all dragons, we’re not openly evil and, as much as we can, we should try to get along or even work together against common foes. I, however, am not desperate for either and I am not going to lie to you or try to use magic to sway you to my will. Using either or both is rude and the possible trouble it could cause to my clan isn’t worth the possible benefit. In the end, you are outlanders and my daughter is not going to die if she doesn’t get to breed with a gold drake first or even at all.”
He looked at the Record Keeper. “Not all drow are evil. There are some that are neutral in outlook and some few that are good. The drow that bore Xune is one of the good ones and a priestess of Eilistraee, who was once a goddess of the dark elves and now is a goddess of the drow as she seeks to rescue them, one at a time, from the evil that surrounds them.”
The Record Keeper regarded him. “What is the name of your daughter’s mother and father?”
“Only two people know that and, unless my goddess orders me to reveal it, there will never be three. All that matters is that Xune is my daughter, she is a gold dragoness, with all of the powers and abilities of a gold dragoness of her age and she is no more evil than Nithraseth here is. Neither Xune’s mother nor her sire know that they are such.”
“You are not supposed to refer to me by name during court,” Nithraseth said with an amused chuckle. “It violates the rules and long standing tradition.”
Iain bowed his head contritely. “I apologize for my rudeness, Your Resplendence.”
“How is it that the elf who bore Xune does not know it,” Vivahdri asked curiously. “I certainly remember every child I’ve had, whether I laid the egg or bore the infant.”
“Because her body was not ready to carry a dragon child to term, she had it very prematurely and believes Xune died after her birth. The drake who sired her does not know that this elf was pregnant with his child. I was supposed to have disposed of the infant’s corpse but, at the request of that same goddess Eilistraee, I managed to keep Xune alive and constructed an artificial womb for her to finish gestating in.” He shrugged. “Xune truly would have died if I hadn’t interceded on my goddess’ behalf.”
“We had believed,” Nithraseth said, “that all drow were evil.”
“Laraxtihious and Tagiss have met several that are not and can verify what I have said today. So can my mate, although she is not a gold and so Record Keeper here might not value what she has to say either. Or you can come to my valley and meet some of them.”
“Who is your mate,” Nithraseth asked.
“Her name is Arithallos and she is a silver from the Brightwing clan.”
“I know a Brightwing,” Vivahdri said. “He is a holy warrior of Bahamut.”
“I’ve met Arithallos’ youngest sister and one of her nephews. They both became clan and are now governors of clan colonies.” Iain shrugged again. “Of the spare dragons I have remaining who are not governors and not clan, I’m not sure I want to try to recruit Calazith. He’d expect to be offered a governor’s post and I don’t think he’d be reliable enough for my needs.”
“Who is Calazith?”
“He’s the first blue dragon I’ve met who isn’t evil. He’s a worshipper of Bahamut and the last living member of the Shimmerscale clan. That’s the one where the matron was trying to kill Tagiss, the previously mentioned gold dragoness who knows Xune.”
Nithraseth sat up straight in surprise. “You know a blue dragon who worships Bahamut?”
“He’s not a holy warrior, but yes. We met after Tagiss got me involved with her problems involving the Shimmerscales. We’ve maintained a cautious relationship ever since. He’s the only chromatic dragon living in the area I claim as my hunting grounds that I have not killed and he’s worried that one day I’ll change my mind and turn him into spell components. We stay in touch because he’s lonely and I’ve never been mean to him. He understands that if he finds a mate, if she isn’t like him, which is very likely, I’ll probably drive the two of them out of my area because I won’t want to kill him and he won’t want me to kill his girlfriend. He also knows that my feelings won’t stop me if I have to kill them both.”
“I want to meet Xune,” Nithraseth said. “And I want to meet her in her home territory.”
Iain’s wings rustled in his shrug. “I’ll set it up.”
Iain’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t otherwise react to the order. “Excuse me?”
The gold drake chuckled softly. “I am sorry if that sounded a bit preemptory, but I want to meet her as she truly is, not as she might want to present herself to me as after she has had time to prepare for my visit.”
Iain cocked his head and nodded. “That was well done. You realized I wasn’t happy with the order and neatly defused the situation before I could get my back up and say something that might result in a duel.”
Nithraseth laughed. “Gold dragons are good, loyal, obedient to the law and, as you pointed out, very arrogant since we are the most perfect creation of our most perfect god. I am supposed to know some ways of making even that group work together from time to time that is more efficient than ‘because I command this’.”
Iain shook his head slightly. His voice sounded like he was fighting hard not to laugh too. “Then my daughter is most definitely a gold dragoness. Shall we go?””
“Yes,” Nithraseth said. “Is it a long flight?”
“It is, but I was planning on making it much shorter. We’ll take my ship unless you say no.”
“Flying should be much faster than sailing on water at the mercy of the wind.”
Iain nodded. “Yes, but my ship flies, it flies much faster than most dragons can sustain and, if you take a bipedal form like a human or an elf, you and your mate can relax, drink wine and nibble on snacks during the trip, which I plan will take right around an hour as a water clock tells time.”
“I am not familiar with a water clock,” Nithraseth admitted.
“During our trip, the sun shouldn’t move more than two paw’s widths across the sky.”
“Then let us go,” Nithraseth announced.
“One question, is it just you two or will there be a retinue?”
“This is an unofficial visit,” Nithraseth said. “I will not need retainers for such.”
“Just checking. After all, Bahamut always travels with his seven guards and I wasn’t sure if you did the same because he did.”
Nithraseth’s wings twitched. “I hadn’t considered that.”
“He also doesn’t travel with his mate,” Vivahdri noted amusedly. “And I want to meet Xune too, so you are not leaving me behind.”
“Considering that, depending on which stories you pay attention to, Bahamut’s former mate is the goddess he’s at war with,” Iain said, “that kind of makes sense.” He blinked. “And that seems to be a common theme in powerful pantheons.”
Vivahdri eyed him curiously. “Oh?”
“Bahamut is aligned against Tiamat, who is possibly his mate and Corellon is arrayed against Lolth, who was once his wife, although she’d not anywhere near his power level as a deity.” Iain hmphed. “I’d may have to do some research into comparative religion and see what other pantheons have similar alignments.”
The Record Keeper cleared her throat. “Your Resplendence, shall I come along?”
“This is an informal visit,” Nithraseth said. “You will accompany us on our formal visit to Xune’s home later.”
“Yes, Your Resplendence.”
He looked at Iain. “Please take us to your ship.”
Iain led them outside and took to the air. “We have a short flight to the Lemon Sour.”
They flew with him easily. “That is an unusual name,” Vivahdri said as they flew.
“It’s a kind of candy or a type of flavored drinking alcohol,” Iain replied. “I was in a whimsical mood when I named it. Later I decided I liked it and never changed it.” He glanced at her. “I have some of the flavored alcohol on my ship, if you’d like to try it.”
“My mate likes trying new foods,” Nithraseth called from where he flew on the other side of Vivahdri.
“Well,” Iain said, “I’ll have to bring more cookies next time.” He began spiraling down to a landing in a large clearing. The golds joined him as he reached out with his twee. The Lemon Sour deactivated its cloak and shimmered into visibility as Iain shifted to his elf form. “I probably need to put a proper gangplank on her one day, but today we still climb the cargo netting.” He swarmed up onto the ship.
Nithraseth became a tall, muscular moon elf while his mate became a sun elf. She was wearing a nice dress but it didn’t slow her down as she climbed on board behind Nithraseth.
Iain got them settled down in some comfortable chairs while using his twee to preflight the vessel. He put together a trolley of snacks and drinks, including a bottle of lemon sour and some wine as well as the tea Kasserine had introduced him to and a pot of chai, which had become very popular in the valley after his accidental introduction of it. It was fortunate that they were already growing the tea and most of the other ingredients in Nambale.
Once they had what they wanted, Iain gently lifted the Lemon Sour off and climbed. Once they were above two hundred feet, he paused the ship and opened a portal five hundred yards in front of the nose of the Lemon Sour. “I have opened a gate in front of us that we are now going to go through because otherwise the flight would take a few days. We are going to a part of Toril that is called Chult. If you haven’t been there, it is hot and very humid so we’ll fly the rest of the way to give you a chance to acclimate a little bit to it.”
“Could you open the gate at the colony,” Nithraseth asked.
“I could, but security protocols for unexpected gates involves taking the colony to full military alert and then capturing anything coming through the gate. I made sure that the defenses of Nambale are very robust and they should be capable of bringing the Lemon Sour down in a very hard landing that I don’t want to experience again.” The ship headed for the portal and passed through, the gate closing being them as Iain checked his bearings and shifted the nose of the Lemon Sour a few degrees to port.
It was daytime, and from their height the screams and roars of the jungle passing below were distant and surreal. Vivahdri got up and moved to the side of the ship so she could look down. Nithraseth glanced at her, gathered up all of the chocolate cake brownies from the trolley and began eating his way through them.
Iain joined Vivahdri at the railing. “Lady,” he said politely.
“Court is over, Iain,” she said with a warm smile. “My name is Vivahdri.”
“My mistake. Are you interested in the jungle?”
“There are a lot of smells I’ve never experienced before. What is making all of that noise?”
“There are creatures down there that you’ll probably never find in the north where court is,” Iain replied. “Some of them are as large as we are in our true forms and many of them use sound to communicate for miles because the visibility down there is terrible once you’re under the canopy. And many of them are very fierce and roar a lot.”
“What do they taste like?”
“I haven’t tried them all,” Iain admitted.
“Of the ones you have tried, what do you think tastes the best?”
Iain frowned. “I’m not sure. The Parasaurolophus has tender, rich meat that is heavily marbled with fat that I would say contends with the best beef you can find. I think it’s even better when properly cooked.”
“Is that creature available at,” she frowned. “What is the colony’s name?”
“Nambale and they raise para as meat animals, so yes, I can probably arrange for a para for you to kill and eat.”
Vivahdri nodded. “I would like that.” She glanced at him. “Your daughter rules this colony?”
“She does. The title of the position is governess because she’s still subordinate to the ruler of the clan, but only him.”
“What position do you hold in your clan’s hierarchy?”
“I am the ruler of the Grey Clan’s holdings in our valley and I am the Grey, the ruler of the entire clan.”
“I see.” She was silent for a few minutes. “How did you come to adopt Xune?”
Vivahdri looked puzzled. “What is that?”
“I’m sorry, it’s a way clan say it’s something that I cannot or will not reveal unless you agree to never reveal it without my permission. I forgot you are an outlander.”
“You wish this to remain secret?”
“What I want in this case is immaterial,” Iain replied evenly. “I mentioned that the woman who bore Xune was a priestess of Eilistraee, the only good drow goddess. I am also a priestess of hers and my goddess told me that she doesn’t want the people involved to learn the truth about Xune’s parentage. Eilistraee asked me to adopt Xune.” He frowned. “And, after thinking about it, I can’t tell you anything more either.”
“Your goddess speaks to you? In person?” Vivahdri seemed excited by the idea.
“I am her only male priestess, which is why I’m a priestess. I am also not intrinsically good and she says she keeps a closer eye on me than on most of her priestesses to make sure that my behavior remains such that she approves of it. So she visits sometimes and we talk.”
She nodded. “I am not a priestess of Bahamut, but I have worshiped him my entire life. He has never spoken directly to me or sent a servant to speak to me in his name.”
“I am sure that he feels no need to monitor you as you are obviously the epitome of what a good gold dragoness is supposed to be. That is something to be said in your favor. It’s us troublemakers and questionable worshippers that get most of a god’s attention.” He eyed her for a moment. “May I touch you?”
“Why would you do that?”
“I’m a priestess and a priest. With a touch I can get a general assessment of your health. Dragons aren’t into much physical contact and I think it’s rude, in any case, just to grab someone’s hand without warning unless you’re in a very intimate relationship.”
She held out her hand. “You may touch me.” Iain gently took her hand and she looked at it. “Why is it very rude to take someone’s hand.”
“First, it violates someone’s right to their body if you touch it without permission and, secondly, the hand can be a very sensitive erogenous zone and I don’t want you to think that I am going to behave unseemly towards you.” He closed his eyes for a second. “You’re younger than I expected, but so much so that you would be classified as part of a May-December relationship.” His eyes opened. “You are healthy, but you could use some exercise, if only because you’re gravid and it’ll help ease everything whether you carry as a mammal or lay an egg.”
Her eyes went wide. “I’m gravid?”
Iain cocked his head. “You didn’t know?” She shook her head. “I smelled it when we met so I thought you knew. The touch was just to verify and to check your total health as well as that of the child. You’re not very far along, but the embryo is to the stage that you’re not going to lose it unless something bad happens.”
“You can smell when someone is pregnant?”
“You have to know what you’re looking for but it’s fairly simple. Of course, Bahamut isn’t a god of childbearing or life, so his priestesses might not be able to sense things like we can, but still, the scent of gravid dragoness is very distinctive.” He started to stay something else and stopped as he released her hand. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“What were you going to say?”
“In some ways, I’m a bit of a rogue. I am willing to flirt with almost any attractive woman at any time, even if it’s probably considered to be highly inappropriate by either the woman or the situation. I was going to say something that was a bit flirty and realized that I don’t know you very well and I don’t know what kind of relationship you and Nithraseth have. I certainly don’t want to cause trouble today.”
“You think I’m attractive?”
She’d asked. “I think you’re very attractive.”
“Even it is in many ways completely symbolic, my mate is the king of the gold dragons,” Vivahdri looked back at Nithraseth and smiled at him busily wiping brownie crumbs from his clothes. “He was already king when we mated and I knew that many dragonesses had born him children because he is powerful and also because he is a good male. I agreed that he would continue to have his dalliances and I, if given the opportunity, would have mine.” Her eyes returned to Iain’s. “I do not know you very well, and I certainly do not know you well enough to wish to dally with you, but I enjoy flirting.”
“I was going to say that pregnant dragonesses, regardless of the form they wear, smell very good and only the ones that I have gotten pregnant smell better.” He winked. “You don’t smell quite that good, not now at least.”
Vivahdri laughed. “You are a rogue, sir. Do you think I could smell that much better one day?”
“I think perhaps I shouldn’t answer that since your mate can hear this conversation.”
“Indeed I can,” Nithraseth said as he joined them. “I should warn you that Vivahdri prefers having sex as an elf. I don’t mind her being a bit of a pervert,” he smiled indulgently at her, “but we are dragons after all and I have found sex as a dragon to be far more pleasurable.”
Vivahdri’s cheeks turned pink. “Nithraseth!” She looked appealingly at Iain. “That doesn’t make me a pervert, does it?”
“I’m not a gold dragon and I am still learning about the society of gold dragons from Laraxithious and Tagiss,” Iain said evenly. “Therefore, I don’t know what is considered perverse by gold dragons and what is not. I do know that if you are considered a pervert by others besides Nithraseth, who might just be teasing you, then I would be considered even more of a pervert than you by those people.”
“I like having sex with women. If the woman is a dragoness and wishes to have sex as a dragoness, I will happily accommodate her wishes. If she wants to have sex as an elf or dwarf or human, I will happily accommodate her. And, with the understanding that I am not interested in having sex with creatures who are not sentient, if a woman who can shift wishes to experiment with other forms and wants me involved, in most cases we’ll make it work somehow.”
Nithraseth grinned. “You’re right. You are a bigger pervert than Vivahdri is.”
Iain gave a half shrug. “As long as the ladies involved are happy, it is a burden that I will bear.”
Vivahdri eyed him curiously as her blush faded. “What is the most perverse thing you’ve ever done?”
Iain chuckled. “Now that’s a question with a complicated answer. What is considered perverse changes from culture to culture and from person to person. As far as dragons are concerned, I think what has been almost universally the most perverse, at least in the beginning, is cuddling. Very few dragons that I have been involved with, outside of my family, cuddle or snuggle. It may have to do with the fact that scales aren’t conducive to snuggling, although dragons do curl up together or nearby.”
“Is snuggling fun,” Vivahdri asked curiously.
“It is a lot of fun.”
“I want to try it.”
“Great.” Iain smiled. “But you’re not going to try it with me. I don’t know you well enough to want to snuggle with you. Now, I’m going to change the subject.” He waved around them. “We’ll be going in for a landing in about thirty minutes at Nambale, the colony that Xune runs. Do you have any questions,” he glanced at Vivahdri, “of a nonsexual nature about where we are going?”
“I would like to eat one of these animals you offered to Vivahdri,” Nithraseth said.
Iain nodded. “I’ll take care of it. I do have to ask, when does it cross the line from gift to bribe? I am well aware that you don’t want to be offered bribes and I don’t want to seem to be offering you bribes.”
“What do you mean? Are you asking about the animals we wish to eat?”
“Nithraseth, Nambale raises those animals for consumption within the colony or for sale. You are not clan and I will therefore have to buy them from Xune or from a saleswoman who is also clan. I get a discount because I’m clan, but they’re not free. So I will purchase them and give them to you and Vivahdri to do with as you please.” He smiled. “Don’t get me wrong, in the scheme of things they’re not that expensive, but they don’t do well in the valley because of the cold winters, so I can’t offer you ones that I already own. I just wanted to make sure I don’t get a reputation as a briber or something since Records Keeper already seems to dislike me.”
“You are their king. Can you not just order two animals brought to us?”
“I could, but I won’t. TANSTAAFL is a thing here too.”
Nithraseth frowned. “What is that?”
“It’s an acronym for there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. It means that things that seem free are not. For example, the para was raised by someone. Even if they fed it on mostly grass, they took care of it, watched over it and kept it safe. That cost someone time and, if it was grain fed at the end to marble the fat better, the cost of the grain. That gives the animal value and I should pay for that value or else I’m cheating a member of my clan. As the Grey, I could commandeer things and they would seem free, but someone would have to bear the cost of that animal. I’m a dragon and I do have a hoard and I want to seem beneficent so I absorb that cost so my clanswomen don’t have to.”
He smiled. “Besides, if you really like the meat, then I might arrange with your servants for a steady supply of para. And when other gold dragons learn the king and his mate like this new animal to eat, they’ll want to try it too and then I have a business buying para from whoever owns them and selling them to gold dragons who live several thousand miles from Nambale and who are going to pay high prices for the convenience of having that animal delivered to their cave or home.”
Nithraseth clapped Iain on the shoulder. “I like you.”
“I like you too.”
Vivahdri smiled at him ‘Do you like me?” There was something in her eyes.
“That’s good, because I like you.”
Danger, Will Robinson. Iain managed not to laugh. “Well, hopefully you both will like Xune at least as much as you like me.”
Pteranodons inbound, his twee sent. They are on a direct intercept course.
Iain looked at the two gold dragons. “We’re about to be under attack by flying dinosaurs. You can either go down into the hold where you’ll be safe or you can stay up here and help with the defense.”
“We will fight,” Nithraseth was looking around interestedly. “Will this vessel still fly if we change to our normal form?”
“It will easily do so and it’s long enough and wide enough to handle your size, as long as both of you don’t spread your wings at the same time or start doing calisthenics. I’m going to turn to fly away from them since a stern chase is a long chase and it’ll give me more time to deal with them before they can attack us.” His lips pursed. “Unless they’re not wild and someone is flying them. Then there might be some magic users in the group.”
“That just makes it interesting, Vivahdri said with a feral grin. “Most magic is completely ineffective against us, after all.”
“True.” Iain reprogrammed the flight path and the helm obediently began bringing the ship around to its new heading. It accelerated until the Pteranodons were only slowly closing. “Can I ask that one of you guard each side of the ship in case they get past my defense?”
“We will,” Nithraseth said. “I will guard the left side.” Iain managed not to wince or correct him on his terminology. “How are you flying this craft if you are not in the spelljammer helm?”
“You know about those?”
“There are a few gold dragon scholars who seek knowledge among the stars,” Vivahdri said. “Before she took her post, the current Record Keeper was one such and she has told us something of her travels.”
“So she wasn’t always an,” Iain broke off before the words irascible old bitch came out of his mouth.
Nithraseth eyed Iain perceptively and smiled. “She does not seem to like you because you are not a gold dragon and therefore your accuracy, veracity and knowledge are automatically suspect. The Record Keeper records the details when she can and only gold dragons can report things exactingly enough to satisfy her craving for information.”
“Considering that I have my own prejudices enough that I don’t try to harp on the ones of others,” Iain said as he scanned behind them for the first sign of their pursuers, “I’d still like to point out that she gave out the flimsiest and vaguest of information to this council that then used it to forbid Xune from accessing the culture and history of her race and refused her the chance at meeting a mate and discovering how wonderful the love between a drake and a dragoness can be.” His eyes met Nithraseth’s. “And she did it by using secondary sources even though she could have easily asked Laraxithious or Tagiss to invite me or Xune for an interview in order to satisfy this supposed need for exacting detail and truth. Sight unseen, she and this council condemned my daughter to being isolated from gold dragon society for her entire life.”
“We are here to see if that decision needs corrected,” Nithraseth said calmly. “And if I need to address a weakness in the Record Keepers in general. You saw the younger dragoness who was attending to her? That is her apprentice and eventual replacement. If you are correct, and I do not truly know this yet, then it shows a weakness in my court that I will have to address and eliminate.”
Iain took a deep breath and let it out. “I wish to apologize for the display of bad attitude. It is unseemly, more than a little rude since you are my guests and, most importantly, completely undeserved. The situation is not your fault and so please accept my most humble apologies.” He chuckled softly as he looked past them over the stern where the first dots had appeared in the distance. “And you poor fuckers had to choose now to show up, when I’m irritable at things I can’t control.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “I didn’t think they were wild since they’re still following us, but now I can see they’ve got riders.”
Nithraseth and Vavahdri were looking at the dots. “I can’t make out any details,” Nithraseth said. “Not at this distance. Is this some magic?”
“No, my eyesight is just a little better than yours,” Iain said absently. “It’s yuan-ti. I see at least one of their abomination caste. It’s probably their leader. Yeah, just one. The rest look like half bloods.”
“Yuan-ti?” Vivahdri hissed softly. “That means you don’t have to parley with the evil beasts.”
Iain smiled as he refocused on his guests. “That is true,” he said cheerfully. “But I will still give them one warning. It’s protocol to give warning so that when the clan’s reputation grows, people will remember the bad things that happen to them when they attack us and will then start avoiding targeting us.” He glanced at them. “To your places, people. You are not, I repeat not weapons free until I shoot.”
“What does that mean,” Vivahdri asked.
Iain blinked. “It means do not attack before I do. If they have someone out there who is invisible and slips past me, sing out but do not attack until I release you to.”
“We will obey,” Nithraseth said.
“Thank you. Now get to your posts.” Iain quickly ran the flag of the clan, which was that damnable dragon mark in silver on a black background, up the flagpole to wave in the wind as both Nithraseth and Vivahdri shifted to their dragon forms. He heard some furniture break, but that could be replaced if they didn’t die or crash.
Then he moved between the watching dragons to the stern of the Lemon Sour and cast his communication spell, allowing the attackers as well as Nithraseth and Vivahdri to hear him speaking in a normal volume, regardless of the ambient noise level. “I am Iain Grey and I want you to take particular note of the flag this vessel is flying as you close to attack it. It is the flag of the Grey Clan and it is under clan protection. Those of you who survive what is about to happen to you should remember this flag and choose easier prey next time.” He smiled when they increased their speed slightly and he slowed the Lemon Sour just a bit to help their closure rate. Using his twee to inject the adjustment into his visual cortex, he outlined each enemy in cyan. When they entered the extreme range of his bow, the outlines turned red.
When they were well within his bow’s range, he summoned his bow and raised it, ignoring the surprised noise from Vivahdri. He reactivated the communication spell as he pulled an arrow from the holder and drew. “I see you have chosen poorly. I will begin by informing the abomination who is leading this group of yuan-ti that it is not the fall that is about to kill you, it is the sudden stop at the end.” He released.
The electrical affinity arrow took the Pteranodon in the throat. The pulse of electricity vaporized the arrow and the flesh around it, blowing the flying reptile’s head from its neck. It folded up and plummeted, the abomination’s scream trailing off after it.
“Next will be the half-blood with the red hair,” Iain said conversationally as he drew his second arrow. Her eyes went wide just before her steed’s head came off.
A half-blood pulled a wand from his clothing and aimed it. Magic missiles shot from it and vanished just before they touched Iain’s clothing or skin. Iain’s arrow took him in the chest and blew a fist sized gobbet of meat from his heart. “I didn’t give you permission to attack me yet,” Iain said as he released his fourth arrow, killing the wand wielder’s mount. “I do give you permission to run away, if you’d like to live, instead of me killing you.”
Instantly, the group broke and fled. Iain picked off one other yuan-ti before they were out of range. His bow vanished as he turned to face his guests. “Do you want me to pursue so we can destroy them completely?”
Nithraseth cocked his head as he looked down at Iain. “Do you not wish there to be survivors to carry your warning to their nest?”
“I do, but I understand that you might want to hunt them down and finish them off before they can harm others. There will be other evildoers who will attack clan and can serve as an adequate warning.”
Nithraseth looked sternward, where the yuan-ti were still barely visible in the distance. “Can this ship catch up with them?”
His voice was wistful. “They aren’t really that much of a threat and the captain of my guard would have harsh words for me. I didn’t bring her and my guard along, you see and so I am supposed to avoid fighting.” His head swung to look at Iain when the Iain burst out laughing. “What is so amusing.”
“My guard doesn’t even want me to think about fighting. If they’re not around it’s not safe for me and if they are around then they can do the fighting for me so I don’t have to.”
Vivahdri shifted back to her elf form. “And yet they are not here and you fought.”
“Needs must when the devil drives,” Iain replied. “And, just like your mate, I am beholden to powers that my guards must acknowledge as outranking both them and me. One of those powers sent me to this world over two hundred years ago and it forbade me to bring my guard with me. They are not happy but wait for my return and will try not to use me to vent their frustration on too much when I go back to them.”
“Is that why I have not seen your dragon species before?”
Iain nodded. “It is. As far as I know, I am the only pureblooded member of my race on this world.”
“What will your people think of what you have done on this world during your absence,” Nithraseth asked as he changed back to his elf form.
Iain’s voice was flat. “The people of my race would consider the fact that I love women who are not of my race to make me a degenerate. They would call the children I have had with them an abomination and shun them completely, if they didn’t actively try to destroy them. I don’t have much contact with the members of my race.”
Vivahdri smiled. “That’s it!”
“I didn’t understand why you came to us. You came to us because you see Xune as being treated the same way your children would be by the others of your race.”
Iain stared at her for several seconds. “I hadn’t considered it that way,” he said slowly. “But I think you might be right.” He looked at Nithraseth. “You might want to keep me far away from her.”
“Why is that?”
“She just ticked the third box on my list of things I look for in a woman.”
“I do not understand.”
“We all have things we look for in a prospective mate. It’s a list we keep in our head. I have one, you have one and Vivahdri has one. Each person’s list is personal to them and so unique, although many lists would seem similar. For example, a drake who comes from a small clan but is ambitious might want a dragoness to come from a line of proven breeders who regularly have clutches instead of single eggs.”
“I see,” Nithraseth said as he regarded Vivahdri. “I like a dragoness who is a little brazen, pretty and who is willing to accept the privileges and responsibilities that come with being my mate without having those make her arrogant and cruel.” She beamed at him.
“And, I suspect,” Iain said, “is still young enough to give you children, as a dragoness who is your age would not be able to.”
“Yes,” Nithraseth replied. “And what requirements of yours does my mate meet?”
Iain hesitated and Vivahdri smiled at him. “I would like to know too.”
“I’ll bet you would,” he replied. “You are a cunning little dragoness and those are always far more dangerous than most people know.”
She looked surprised. “Me, cunning? I am not cunning.” Something in her eyes pled with him to agree with her.
“My mate is many things,” Nithraseth said, “but she is not cunning.”
“Oh. I must have made a mistake then.” He shrugged. “It happens. It also happens that it means that you don’t have to keep me away from her.”
“What is it you look for in a mate,” Nithraseth asked. “Perhaps I can find you an interested gold dragoness.”
Iain chuckled. “I like women who are attractive, but my tastes in what is attractive are fairly broad. I also like my women to be strong willed but not too strong willed. A relationship shouldn’t involve one person controlling the other unless that’s what they like. And, finally, I like women who are intelligent. Yes, all gold dragons are far more intelligent than anyone else,” he smiled, “just ask them.” Nithraseth laughed as Iain continued. “But I am very smart and I need people in my life who are very smart too.”
“So my mate is still safe around you?”
“She was never in danger,” Iain said. He shrugged. “I need to take a sighting and figure out where we are so I can put us back on course for Nambale.” He bobbed his head. “I’ll refresh the snacks and then get us to where we’re going.”
Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani
April Grey - Duelist & beta
Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage
Pandora - Fiendish Archangel
Zareen - Nightmare
Sofia - Ria
Vanessa – Evangelion
Lucifer – Megami Sama
Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice
Heather - Elfqueen
Marguerite – Unicorn
Scheherazade – Dread Wolf
Irena – Sanctuary Goth
Lynn – Dire Wolf
Rosemary – Mistoffeles
Dianthus – Elfqueen
Candace – Nurse Joy (kami)
Bellona – Dragonqueen
Elizabeth - Vampire
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Clan
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
14 Wet Elves
Eirian - Silver Dragoness
Aurum - Gold Dragoness
Skye - Blue Dragoness
Emerald - Green Dragoness
Beryl - Red Dragoness
Julia - human
Ling - Cheetit
Matilda - White Tigress
Liadan - Twau
Sorrel - Armsmistress
Natalie - Blazicunt
Maria – Slutton
Rhea Silvia – Chimera
Alabaster – Dragoness (white)
Onyx – Dragoness (black)
Lapis – Dragoness (blue)
Garnet – Dragoness (red)
Iolite – Dragoness (purple)
Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)
Dabria (was Loviatar) – Dark Queen
Omisha (was Hel) – Demoness
Viersunuth great wyrm blue true dragoness
Talyl – drow commoner
Zarza – drow commoner
Sabrae – drow commoner
Sintree – drow commoner
Alyfaen Dinaen – drow, matron of House Dinaen
Phaerxae Dinaen – drow, former matron of House Dinaen, mother of Alyfaen
Selsharra of Evermeet
Myrna (Age 4)
Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)
Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)
Seraphina: Megami Sama
Miram: Angel (Age 5)
Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)
James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)