The Dark Lord laughed. "First, the meat gift gives orders to the dragon. The dragon listens. Finally, Talora shows up, and keeps her mouth shut. How interesting!"
After enduring too many lectures from Itharias, Boy had always wanted to kick a wizard, or perhaps pull a white beard out by it's roots. I turned around and glared at the Dark Lord, tempted. "Shut up, you old fraud! If you were here to hurt someone, you'd have done it by now!" I decided he was ignorable, and turned to the dragon, who was not. None of the anger of a few moments ago. None of the sly calculation of a few nights back. He was amused. He started walking towards me, very slow, very majestic. Along the back ridge and wing bones he was a solid black, fading to a shining cream-gold away from the major features. He was beautiful. He was Big. His teeth were very white and very large. His breath was quite warm, perhaps even hot. He was far better than I at pretending he was in charge.
"Talora?" A brief pensive pause. "Help?"
"Oh, keep going! You're doing fine. Besides, everyone says I need to practice keeping my mouth shut."
'Friendly Master' was added near the top of my list of oxymorons. I had to stop retreating when I backed into a Dark Lord. He took me firmly by both upper arms, and held me square in place. I added 'Friendly Past Master.' Maybe I shouldn't have called him an asshole after all, true or not.
The dragon stopped with his very large teeth about a foot from my nose. "So. You manage to break Imyr's script, preempt Talora's peace making role, tell off Dardan here, and you still haven't figured out why you haven't been eaten yet?"
Boy swallowed, and shook his head no, all out of clever. After all those years of getting lectured by Itharias for being just a little less than perfect, he had the act down pat. Bow head. Clench hands together. Shift weight from foot to foot.
The dragon laughed - amused rather than cruel - and turned to a nearby rock. "No, Talora."
A burst of fog flourished briefly around the rock. When it dispersed, there sat Talora, wearing a brightly colored party dress in many shades of green. "No, what?" She was very polite, curious rather than argumentative.
"No to 'generous' in metals in meat. The offer is appreciated, but this one is not for your 'Used Virgins'. This one is mine."
It was perhaps just as well that the asshole was holding me up. Jackie and the princess briefly considered intervening, but decided to let Boy go with the aggrieved hurt innocence act. After years of handling the wizard, he is the best at what he does.
"She has potential." Was Talora actually going to argue with the dragon's tone of absolute certainty? He was not going to change his mind. He could not change his mind, once he had pronounced a decision like that. Yet Talora went on. "It would be a disgrace if she didn't receive a little more education."
The dragon rose an extra few feet in height, reeking anger, horribly insulted, and extremely pleased with himself. "You think I have slighted her education?"
Talora blinked, then laughed, her face falling briefly into one hand. "Of course not sir! Forgive me sir, I did not understand. Excepting the understandable matter of dragon lore, she has received an exceptional education!"
The apology was apparently accepted. His voice dropped in volume to its more usual reverberating thunder as he turned back to me. "Well, Boy. What have you got to say for yourself this time?" He then gave me The Look. I'd been dealing with The Look since I left New Jersey. The Look says someone is not as smart as he thinks he is. It says the wizard is vaguely pleased but more amused at his apprentice's little lessons, trivial though they might be. It waits eagerly for any sign pride and self respect, just knowing they can be shown to be empty. Finally, The Look asks a boy if he's still going to try to live up to a wizard's measure, or would he care to admit he's just a girl?
"Itharias?!" Every once in a while he let's me win a round. I think he feel it necessary for my morale.
"No, Boy! Of course not! I, at least, have grown. I'm Jalek now." He then turned to Talora. "Jalek the Clever."
Have you ever had a nearly irresistible urge to kick a dragon?