Jeric concentrated on not crying. He couldn’t feel his arms anymore, except for the waves of pain that came down every moment. He was so mad at himself, too. He couldn’t believe he had let himself be captured. Now he didn’t know what he was going to do. He closed his eyes for just a moment against the pain.
He must have passed out, because when he opened his eyes again, it was dark. He heard a whisper in his ear. “Don’t make a sound. Don’t move. I’m going to get you down.” He couldn’t see anyone, but he held himself very still. He felt tiny movements running up and down his body, and thin ropes moving against him. He felt the pressure against his shoulders loosen, and then he was being lowered through the air very slowly. He bit his lip to keep from groaning.
He hit the ground and the little voice in his ear said, “Stand up. Don’t use your arms.” He got his legs under him and pushed upward with all his strength. It felt like something else pushed against his legs, too. He staggered and stood. “Good,” came the whisper. “Now walk out of camp. Stop if I tell you to.” He stood and walked. At the edge of the next tent, he heard “Stop.” Then he heard the human voices, coming closer. He froze in the tent shadow. When the voices passed, he heard, “Go on.” He slipped out of the shadow and moved on. His arms hurt so badly he didn’t know how he kept moving, but terrified of being caught, he did. From tent shadow to tent shadow he slipped, listening for the tiny voice in his ear. Once, he started thinking about what the voice might be. He didn’t do that for long, the thoughts of what it might be made him start shaking. He decided that whatever it was, he would let it save him before he started worrying about what it was.
At the edge of camp, he had to wait several minutes while the patrol passed. They were so silent he would have walked right into them if the voice hadn’t told him to stop. Then he moved into the woods. He kept going for a while, but fatigue and pain caught up with him and he collapsed. It felt like he was lowered to the ground again, but he must have imagined it. Just like he must have imagined the whispered conversation he heard a little later.
“What have you done? You brought him back!”
“What? I should have left him there to be tortured more? He can’t use his arms!”
“I don’t care about one little human! My family can’t move at all!” The voice rose in anguish. Jeric wanted to say something to comfort it, but he just couldn’t find the energy.
“I know.” This voice was even softer now, comforting. “I know. But I think this one is more important than we know. He is so young to be able to bear such pain. I searched him too, before I woke him, and he carries, well-hidden, items from the empire. I don’t know what he is doing here, but I think he might be highly placed.”
“And what good will that do me?” The voice was soft again, but still vibrating with pain. “I need to save my family, not worry about well-born brats who go where they oughtn’t.”
“I caught a bit of mind-searching around him. It was past, just a little whisper remained. I think someone is looking for him. And where mind-searching goes first, perhaps people will follow. And when they come for him, they will find you, and your family.”
“Hmm.” The first voice was thoughtful. “That’s an idea.”
The voices faded as Jeric fainted again.
When he woke again, he felt much better. He was lying comfortably on what felt like a bedroll, and he was warm. His arms didn’t hurt so much. He opened his eyes.
“Ah. You are awake.” The voice came from a tiny dragon sitting on his chest. “No, no. Don’t close your eyes again. I am not a hallucination. I am your friend.”
Jeric opened his eyes again. “But what are you?”
“I am Captain Zerjerik, Mungeera. I am head of the war squadron of the Eplimos clan.” He drew himself up to his full height of six inches and smiled.
Jeric blinked. “I’m sorry. I have no idea what that means.”
Zerjerik looked around. “I don’t see Christalos. She is still on patrol. Perhaps I have time to tell you. When the dragons came to Thelios, the small body types, the Mungeera and Chromosa, felt that attack would be the best way to find a place for themselves in this complicated world full of many intelligent beings. The large body type, the Erbanima, felt that farming would be the best way to fit in, find a place, and not draw excessive attention to themselves. Erbanima are what you think of as dragons, I am sure. The Erbanima, being larger, won the argument. The dragons did not attack the humans. The Mungeera and Chromosa felt out of place, however. Also, the humans did not always agree with the Erbanima that there should not be war between dragons and humans. The Mungeera became the spies and surreptitious attack squads for the dragons. When humans attack, Mungeera retaliate. There is a squadron or two assigned to every clan and family of Erbanima. I am the head of the squadron assigned to Christalos’ clan.” Zerjerik sighed and looked suddenly sad.
Jeric said, “Wait. Don’t stop. What about the Chromosa?”
Zerjerik opened his mouth but another voice said, “What about them? Zerjerik, have you been telling the boy all the secrets of the dragons? No matter. It is morning, and there are humans nearby. Come, Jeric.”
Jeric rolled to his side to get up and gasped. He had forgotten his arms in listening to the tiny dragon. The voice behind him sighed and came around to his front. It was a much larger dragon, the one he had been tracking before his capture. “What are you doing here?”
It reached out with its front legs, balancing on its rear legs and stretching its wings for balance. It lifted him up and Zerjerik pushed him from behind. He landed on his feet.
“Come. I am Christalos. My family is in trouble and I need human help. There is a party of traveling humans nearby. If you belong with them, you will ask them to help me. Otherwise, we will wait until your humans show up.”
“What about the girl who was helping you?”
“Don’t worry about her. She is another strategy in the background.” They began to move.