Tenpou strolled down the main staircase of Western Army HQ, out the main entrance between the saluting guards, and into the wide front courtyard: and there came to a sudden stop. Two tall figures were walking towards him, heads turned together in conversation. Pure white and pure black, a startling visual contrast: his own commander, Goujun, and Goujun's brother Gouen, commander of the Army of the North. Tenpou pulled himself to attention while assuring himself, out the corner of his eye, that every soldier in sight was doing the same.
The two dragon kings halted some three metres from him.
"Thanks for walking me back," Goujun said. "And thanks again for all your kindness, Gouen."
"Not at all, Third Brother. My renewed congratulations on this auspicious occasion." The two brothers exchanged a smile, suggestive of something that Tenpou couldn't pinpoint. Gouen put fist to breast and bowed, soldier-like; gave Tenpou a glance and a small nod; and then turned and strode off. Goujun came over to Tenpou's side, looking vaguely pleased with life. A small smile lurked about the corners of his mouth and he seemed for once actually happy.
"Well, Marshal. Anything new?"
Tenpou saluted. "No sir."
"Good. Come up to my office. We should probably review those dispositions while we have time." He started off and Tenpou followed in his wake, chewing his lip a little.
"Mh, sir-" he began as they mounted the stairs, "I know it's none of my business--"
"--but you're going to ask anyway," Goujun observed with unwonted geniality. "What is it, Marshal?"
"Ahh- what's the auspicious occasion that Gouen-sama was referring to?"
"My birthday," Goujun said serenely.
"Oh. I see." Birthdays. Of course: dragons are creatures of Down Below where the seasons turn and all living forms- dragons included- have an end-point to their existence. "Congratulations, sir. I take it you were celebrating together?"
"The four of us, yes. A rare pleasure. Tell me, Marshal, do you kami celebrate your birthdays? *Can* you, when time works so differently up here?"
"Well, not the exact day itself, no. We consider New Year's Day to be everyone's birthday and we count ourselves a year older then."
"But New Year's Day is an arbitrary date decided at the emperor's pleasure."
"Yes sir. But since we change so little over time, it's no great matter if our ages are as arbitrary as the day itself."
Goujun shook his head as they paced down the corridor towards his office. "Not knowing what age you are- it's hard for a dragon to conceive of."
"I'm sure it is, if you're used to the regularity of Below. I know it's none of my busi--" He stopped, catching sight of Goujun's sardonic eye. "Er, yes, well. But might I ask how old you are now, sir?"
"I see." Actually, he realized, that told him nothing. "Forty earthly years?"
"Forty dragon years. In earthly terms, two thousand three hundred and twenty-six."
"I... see." He didn't, in fact. "Is forty a good age for a dragon?"
"It's an important age for a dragon." Goujun pushed the door open and Tenpou followed him in. "That's why it merits a special celebration."
"I can imagine. Forty is umm a good solid age, I assume? A milestone?"
"A definite milestone." Goujun sat down in his chair and leaned back, radiating satisfaction. "I'm finally old enough to drink."