9. Good Manners

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Morg's tail gave a startled twitch, decapitating a treasure-cone and sending a shower of coins clattering across the great cavern. One coin, bent on escape, could be heard rolling into the next chamber until it faded from hearing.

"Hail, oh mighty serpent!" the manling repeated.

Morg gave his head a brisk shake and cleaned out his auditory clefts with the tip of a foreclaw.

"Hail, oh mighty serpent!" it repeated yet again.

The manling's voice was feeble and gravelly, but the sounds were unmistakable. By the wings of the Great Serpent! It was speaking. It scarcely seemed possible, yet there it was, the manling's fishy lips moving in time with the words. He pondered the situation. Just how did one address a talking manling? He knew of no precedent, and even the most ancient of legends never hinted at such a thing. If he killed it now, he would be spared the effort, but that flew in the face of greeting protocol, and Morg was not one to flout protocol. In the end, he decided to address it after the manner of his own kind. "Hail, oh despised spawn of the Cursed One," he said formally. His words were not intended to be impolite. He was simply stating the obvious truth.

This time it was Moribus's turn to be taken aback. He had not expected the dragon to accept the proof of his intelligence so readily. Like humans, dragons considered themselves to be the only enlightened race. "How art thou being called, oh Great Dragon?"

"We are called Mrrgkhtchkllk," Morg said.

"Morg-ka-chuk-a-luk," Moribus did his best to imitate the grinding of the tongue over the washing board texture of the upper palate. "And we are being called Moribus Ansol Polibdemus the Third."

From the long string of blubbery sounds, Morg could only produce a single rolling syllable, "Thrrdh."

Moribus prostrated himself on the ground and rolled over to expose his belly, making the gesture of obeisance a lesser dragon would pay to a greater one.

Morg inclined his head to one side, signaling to the manling that it could now rise and communicate with him as a subordinate. "We are well met, Thrrdh. May thine offspring be many and strong of snout."

"May the eggs of thine rivals crack and split," Moribus responded in kind.

Introductions complete, they were free to discuss whatever business was at hand. Typically, this had something to do with territory, killing or mating. Subtlety was a distinctly un-dragon-like concept.

"Thou art bringing much bat-stench into our treasure-home." Morg reached out to seize the manling. "For that we will be killing thee now."

"We would be honored to be killed by Great Dragon," Moribus said quickly. "But then we will no longer be telling Great Dragon many things great and unknowable."

Morg's outstretched claw encircled the manling like a cage but did not yet lay hold of him. His curiosity was piqued. "Thou speakest of mysteries?" The word in dragonspeak translated as: the place from whence the wind springs forth.

"Mysteries, forsooth. Third will be telling Great Dragon many great mysteries."

Morg considered the manling's offer. Putting his distaste aside, it would be foolish to squander such a rare opportunity to converse with one of the clever little beasts. "So shall it be." He retracted his claw. "Thrrdh wilt first tell Great Dragon of these great mysteries. Then we shall slay thee thereafter."

"Thou art most wise, Great Dragon." Moribus wiped sweat from his brow. He had passed the first test, but the next phase would be even trickier still. He had to keep the dragon interested and off balance while taking care not to say anything too implausible. Lying was a mortal offense among dragonkind. "Of what mysteries shouldst Third speak first? There are being a great many."

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