Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good.
|“I saw you with him again.”|
“Oh for the love of—“
“Don’t deny it. I’m tired of you denying it. Just admit that you’re interested in him.”
“Gilbraith, for the last time, I am not—“
“It’s because he’s younger, isn’t it? You think I’m too old. You don’t find me attractive anymore.”
“It’s only a few years. He’s not that much—“
“It’s three thousand years! He flashes that cocky smile with those fresh, white teeth and you just ache for the days when I looked like that.”
“Now you’re just—“
“No, I’m not,” Gilbraith growled, turning his massive, serpentine body to face his mate, and giving her a baleful glare. There wasn’t a great deal of room in their lair, what with the pile of coins and jewels that dominated the center of the yawning cavern. The two of them had spent the past few millennia gathering their loot and hoarding it away in this cave, but as the pile grew, the distance between the two great beasts did as well. Once, they had shared the center of the chamber… peacefully entwined in one another’s bodies each night. Now a mountain of cold metal separated them.
“Yes, you are. You know, this jealous streak was kind of attractive back when you were—“
“When I was what? When I was young? I’m not so old as all that.” Gilbraith glanced down at the blue scales that covered his body and gave a frown at how tarnished they had become. There was little shine to them, but then there was only dim light in the cave. The great dragon slithered forward a few steps to try and capture the sunlight that came through the tiny opening at the front of the cavern. For years he meant to increase the size of the entrance. It was such a pain for both he and Satrana to squeeze through the crevice.
“I wasn’t going to say young,” Satrana grunted, sending a mighty whiff of smoke spiraling up to the ceiling high above. “I was going to say—“
“What? What were you going to say?”
“Never mind. You’re impossible to talk to when you’re like this, and you’re like this a little too often these days,” she huffed, turning away and silently thanking whatever god might be listening for allowing her to complete a sentence.
“I don’t want you talking to him anymore.”
“You what?” Satrana growled, her deep voice betraying more than a hint of shock. “You’re telling me who I can and can’t talk to now?”
Gilbraith seemed to realize that he had inserted his claw firmly between his dull, yellowing teeth, but it was too late to back down now. “That’s right,” he snarled in return, trying to sound as intimidating as possible. “In this case, I am. That arrogant little worm has an eye on your treasure, and you’re too blind to see it, so I’m going to see it for you.”
“You’re insane,” Satrana incredulously stated. “That last wizard you ate must have been messing with some dangerous magicks, because your mind is muddled.”
“Anyone would agree with me on this,” Gilbraith said, unconsciously picking at a scrap of wizard’s robe caught between his teeth. “You’re the one who’s delusional if you think a young punk like that is interested in anything but your money.”
Gilbraith considered making a mad dash for the exit the moment the words were out of his mouth, but he was pretty sure his tired, pudgy old form would never fit out the narrow fissure before Satrana had turned him into a bloody mess. Silence filled the cavern for what felt like hours. Satrana stared at her mate in shock, her great jaw jerking up and down sporadically, trying vainly to form words.
“I’ll tell you what,” Gilbraith offered, desperate now to salvage both his argument and his marriage, “we’ll get the opinion of an outsider.”
“Who might that be?” Satrana finally managed to get past her clicking jaw. She was giving serious thought to removing her mate’s beady little eyes.
“Someone with no vested interest in our affairs,” Gilbraith assured her. He reached behind one of the large boulders that dotted the entrance to the cave, and fished around for a second. A tiny shriek followed the movement, and Gilbraith’s hand reappeared holding the small, struggling form of a man.
Satrana rolled her eyes. “A thief?” she sighed. “You’re going to ask his opinion? Just eat him, and we’ll go find another dragon. Urthgog should be in the area this time of year… let’s go ask her what—“
“That old hag? She hates men. She wouldn’t even listen my side of the story.”
“Then how about—“
“No, the human here will do just fine. Do you understand me, human?” Gilbraith asked, switching to the ugly, common tongue of men. The little man’s head bounced up and down like a frog stuffed with caffeine.
“Oh pleeeeeeease don’t kill me,” the sorry little fellow wept. “I wasn’t going to take anything, I just wanted to see it. A story to tell my children, you know? That’s all that it was. Harmless! I swear it was harmless! If you could only—“
“Shutup!” Gilbraith roared. “Now listen, you filthy little maggot. My wife and I need you to help us settle a dispute. Do a good job and provide the correct answers, and I might not—“
“Hold on!” Satrana shouted. “You’ve already biased him. You’re the threat now, so of course he’s going to side with you.”
“Nonsense,” Gilbraith grumbled. “Am I intimidating you, little worm?” he asked, giving the terrified man a shake. The man’s head did the frog thing again. “Wrong answer,” Gilbraith sighed. “What did I tell you would happen if—“
“Hello?” Satrana muttered. “I do speak human, you know. I hear everything you’re telling him. Look, no more threats. Just tell him what’s been happening, and we’ll let him decide.”
“Fine,” Gilbraith sighed, gently setting his captive on the side of the mountain of gold and jewels. Despite his terror, the man’s eyes instantly flashed to his surroundings. “Listen, little germ,” Gilbraith began.
“He probably has a name, you know,” Satrana said. “Why not ask it?”
“Now you’re trying to curry favor.”
The female dragon’s golden scales took on a reddish hue. “I… I am not,” she stuttered.
“Then why did you ask me to do that in human rather than in our tongue?” Gilbraith asked, a slight smirk crossing his face.
“Just tell him the story,” Satrana muttered.
“Okay human, here’s our situation… are you listening?” the man’s eyes were on a ruby the size of his fist, which was near his left hand. He jerked his gaze back to the dragon’s gargantuan face, which was hovering mere feet from his own. His head resumed frogging.
“Satrana and I have been married for quite a few years now, and we’ve had our ups and downs, but I’ve always loved her.”
“We’ve always loved one another, is what he means,” Satrana pointed out.
“Right. What she said. I’ve put up with her flirting in the past—“
“You’re not doing this very well,” Satrana growled. “Does the word ‘unbiased’ mean anything to you?”
“Fine, just the facts. We moved here awhile back and settled down to a life of collecting pretty things and eating whatever we felt like. It’s been nice, actually. Heh, there was this one time when we came across a sheepherder who’d fallen asleep, and his whole flock left. Well, after we ate him, we found it in—“
“You’re getting sidetracked,” Satrana pointed out. “Sorry little human, he does that a lot.”
“I do not,” Gilbraith grunted. “So anyway, everything was great, but she started wanting some adventure, and I tried explaining to her that there was no need for it, that we had everything that we could ever need right here. Well, she got edgy, and not too long ago this young hotshot moved into the neighborhood. So she starts going out and frolicking with this guy, attacking cities and looting wizards’ towers. I think she was having a midlife crisis, personally.”
“Shutup,” Satrana warned her mate.
“Right, so she says nothing is going on with this guy, but she sees more of him than she does of me. So, in order to save our marriage, I think she should stop seeing him and stay at home… maybe lay a few eggs for me.”
“I don’t want to be that kind of woman,” Satrana growled. “I don’t want to turn into my mother.”
“Ugh, neither do I,” Gilbraith shuddered. “But you could stay in sometimes… you know, maybe fix the place up a bit.”
“So you want her to stay home and be a housewife?” the human asked.
“Well… not necessarily all of the time, but a little more of it would be nice. I just don’t want her hanging around with that young punk.”
“He’s a threat to your manhood,” the human said, nodding quickly in agreement. “I know just what you mean. Take my wife. She’s been hanging around with this young thief, and he tells her all sorts of lies. She believes all of them. These young guys find a wealthy older woman and—“
“Hey!” Satrana shouted, slamming her claw down a few yards from their captive. The movement shook the pile of treasure and sent the hapless man rolling.
“Now that’s not fair!” Gilbraith roared. “He’s just giving his honest opinion.”
“Leave it to a man,” Satrana sighed. “We need a different judge.”
“No way. We’re not changing judges now.”
“Okay then, how about a second judge? They can reach an agreement together.”
“Who did you have in mind?”
Satrana reached behind a boulder and pulled forth another screaming form. She took the woman, shook her a few times in a misguided effort to calm her down, and then tossed her next to the still-struggling man on the mass of treasure.
“You’ve heard everything, haven’t you?” Satrana asked.
The woman nodded quickly in response, her eyes wide with terror and something else… anger, perhaps.
“So what’s your opinion on all of this?” Gilbraith asked, shifting his bulk to a more comfortable position. “Should she stop seeing this guy or not?”
“Well,” the little woman began, making a concentrated effort to calm down. “I don’t think she should be stuck at home if she doesn’t want to be.”
Satrana gave a slight smile.
“That’s not the issue yet,” the human male said. “She shouldn’t be seeing young guys when she has a husband at home. It’s disrespectful. If she stays home instead of running after her husband to rob dra-I mean, to terrorize the countryside, she won’t be seeing much of anyone, now will she?”
“And why shouldn’t she be able to do as she pleases… with whom she pleases,” she added, throwing a glare at the man. The bruised fellow sighed and rolled his eyes. “Why should he decide what she gets to do? What if she wants to rob dragon’s lairs?”
Gilbraith and Satrana glanced at one another, but neither of them spoke.
“Terrorize the countryside,” the man quickly corrected her.
“Right. But since her husband won’t let her do it with him, she has to find someone else. She doesn’t want to stay home and make babies. She wants to enjoy her youth while she has it, not sit at home and wait for a useless, cranky old man to come home and pay no attention to her.”
“I’m not that old,” Gilbraith and the human male muttered in unison.
“Maybe this woman wants to get her husband’s attention, so she fools around with younger men, even though she knows they’re not really interested in her for her looks. Maybe if he paid her a little attention, and spent some time outside the home with her, she wouldn’t be doing these sorts of things.”
Gilbraith grunted and began picking at his teeth once more. He glanced at his wife, who was giving him a hard stare, and then turned away. A few grumbling noises and a large cloud of smoke escaped his mouth.
“That may be,” the man said, edging closer to his wife. “Maybe the husband isn’t paying enough attention to the wife, but maybe if the wife would try talking to him once in awhile rather than running around with young pickpockets… maybe if she would tell him what it is she wants, he wouldn’t feel so confused and angry. Maybe if she didn’t make him feel old and useless, calling him a cranky old man, he would be there more.”
A few tendrils of smoke drifted from Satrana’s nostrils as she turned her head to avoid Gilbraith’s stare.
“Maybe you’re right,” the woman sniffed, placing a hand over her husband’s. “Maybe they’re both wrong.”
“Could be,” Gilbraith huffed, edging a bit closer to Satrana.
“Could be,” Satrana agreed. “You two have been very helpful,” she added, smiling at the two humans.
“That you have,” Gilbraith agreed. “Looks like you’re fixing things for yourselves, too,” he added with a big, face-contorting wink at the man. Now, if it’s not too much trouble, can you help us with just one more thing?”
“Sure,” the woman smiled up at the great, grinning beasts before her. “What can we help you with?”
Gilbraith’s grin widened, and his head came in closer.