The following is chapter eighteen of The Dragon Protector.  (Need to start at the beginning?  Click here to go to chapter one.)

Taliya pounded on the door for the hundredth time.  “I demand to speak to the governor.  I have a right to be heard.”

The problem was that no one heard her, not even the guards.  She had been led to the lowest level of the prison to the smallest room at the end of the longest hall.  One door.  One cot.  One stinky bucket.  No windows.  No light.  All she had for company was complete darkness and complete silence.

How had she let herself get caught?  She should have shoved her mother, grabbed the bag, and ran away.  That stupid boy had shocked her.  She had never even considered the possibility that her parents would have another child.  For one, her mother hated children.  For another, she didn’t think her parents would be granted the right to have another child after Taliya had caused so much trouble.  The fact that her brother existed made Taliya wonder what kind of favor her mother or father owed the governor.

The further fact that she was currently sitting in a prison cell made her believe she was the favor.

Taliya beat the door again, ignoring her sore hand.  When no one came, she crossed the room in two steps and collapsed on the creaky cot.  Hopefully Javan had been able to grab the bag with the map and scales and was already on his way back to Dusk Territory.  He had been with her when she hid the book of codes under some rocks.  Surely he would be able to read the book on his own, decipher the codes, and get himself through the portal with an egg.

She threw her arm over her eyes and tried to force sleep upon her.  “Useless.”  She huffed and returned to the door.  “I’m thirsty!  Bring me something to drink.  How would it look to the governor if you found me dead of dehydration before she had a chance to hang me?”

“Maybe you wouldn’t be as thirsty if you didn’t talk as much.”

A response.  She wasn’t expecting that.  And she certainly wasn’t expecting that response to come from a familiar voice.  She put her ear against the heavy wooden door.  “Javan?”

“Yup.  Sorry it took me so long.  I’ve been wandering this maze of dark hallways for hours trying to find you.  I’d let you out, but I don’t know where the key is.”

“The head guard wears it around his neck.  You’ll never be able to get it off him.”  She sank to the floor, sadness filling her next words.  “You can’t risk getting caught.  You must leave me and get out of here.  Go find the egg.  Take it to earth.  Finish your collection.”

“I’m not leaving without you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  I’m stuck here until they walk me to the gallows.”

“Then I’ll wait until they come to get you.  I’m invisible at the moment, so it’s not like anyone can see me.  When they open the door, I’ll sneak in, grab your hand, and make you invisible, too.  We can run out of here together.”

“These halls are too narrow, and there will be too many soldiers in the way.  We’ll never be able to pull off that kind of escape.”  She sat up a little straighter.  “But if you brought Micah–”

“We don’t need Micah.  He needs to stay hidden.  We have Varjiek.  I can have him set fire to the gallows as a distraction, then grab you and run.”

“That’s one way.”  She imagined the fire missing the mark and burning the people standing around the stage instead.  She shook the image out of her head and proposed a less destructive plan.  “Micah has the power to override the governor’s decree.  He can set me free with one word, and the governor has to comply.  I would be able to live in Zandador as a free woman without worrying about the governor’s guards hunting me down.”

She had to strain to hear Javan’s answer.  “That’s not nearly as fun, but I’ll get Micah.  In the meantime, swallow your spit.”

“Swallow my spit?”

“You said you were thirsty.  Drink your spit so you don’t die of dehydration before we have a chance to rescue you.”

Taliya chuckled.  “That’s not the kind of refreshing drink I had in mind.”  Nevertheless, she leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and swallowed a mouthful of saliva.  Somehow that simple act made her not feel quite so thirsty or quite so alone in the overwhelming darkness.

 

◊          ◊          ◊

 

Specks of sand tickled his face.  Micah brushed them off, turned over, and kept snoozing.  But when a wall of sand smacked his entire body, he immediately sat up, snatched the sword laying beside him, and tried to locate the source of the commotion.  Was it an animal?  The wind?  A person?

Two large, round eyes glaring at him under the early glow of the pre-dawn sky confirmed the first option:  a dragon.  “Varjiek.”  Micah blinked the sleepiness out of his eyes and stood, looking around for Javan and Taliya.  “Javan, there are better ways to wake a man up than to have your dragon throw sand in his face.”

Varjiek moved his snout so close that Micah could feel the breath from the dragon’s nostrils on his chest.  “Javan,” Micah said slowly.  “What’s with your dragon staring at me like he wants to eat me?”

Varjiek gave a slight shake of his head back and forth while keeping his eyes locked on Micah’s.  This time Micah decided to talk to the dragon directly.  “You’re not trying to eat me?”

He shook his head again and seemed to want Micah to ask him another question.  “Where’s Javan?”

The dragon snorted and sat down, keeping his head locked in place.

“Ah,” Micah said, understanding the dragon’s frustration.  “That’s not a question you can answer.”
Varjiek nodded.

“Okay.  Only questions with a yes or no answer.”  Micah smiled, intrigued by the concept of having a conversation with a dragon that was not his slave.  “Are Javan and Taliya here?”

A shake of the head no.

“Did they make it to Oer?”

A quick nod yes.

“Did they make it out of Oer?”

A nod and a shake.

“Yes and no?  You’re confusing me.  Which is it?”

Varjiek lowered his body to the ground, touched Micah with his nose, and swiveled his neck around to touch his back.

“You want me to come with you.”

A nod.

“Are they in trouble?”

A short, quick nod.

“Then let’s go.”  Eager for action, he gathered what few things he had and hopped on Varjiek’s back.  As they zipped away, Micah wondered what kind of trouble Javan and Taliya could have possibly gotten into in the insignificant factory town of Oer.

 

◊          ◊          ◊

 

Javan’s head hurt from the teleporting back and forth between the prison and the lake.  He had been tracking the head guard looking for an opportunity to take the key from him while making sure he didn’t miss Micah’s arrival.  He didn’t need Micah charging into the city on Varjiek without knowing what was going on.

If they didn’t arrive soon, though, Javan would have to stay in the city and somehow rescue Taliya on his own.  Noon was less than two hours away, and the crowd had already started to gather in the amphitheater to watch the show.

He sat down on a large stone by the shore and held his tired, hurting head in his hands.  “God,” Javan prayed, “help me find a way to save Taliya.  She would still be safe if I hadn’t made her come back here.  Please don’t let her die because of me.”

“Why is Taliya in danger of death?”

Javan looked up to see Micah standing over him.  Javan jumped to his feet, a sense of relief filling his anxious heart.  He wasn’t going to have to face this challenge alone after all.  He murmured a quick thanks to God, then said to Micah, “I’ll explain on the way.”

Let me guess, Varjiek said, keeping himself invisible, you need a ride into the city.

“Good guess,” Javan said.

Then let’s go.  Varjiek appeared long enough for Javan to see where he was standing.  Half of his scales had already turned golden.  All this flying has made me extra hungry, and soon I will not trust myself to keep from snacking on the people in the city.

“What did Varjiek guess?” Micah asked.

“It’s not important.  What’s important is that we get to Oer before the governor executes Taliya and before Varjiek wants to eat every person he sees.”

“Executes Taliya?  What kind of mess did she get herself into in less than a day?”

“The kind of mess only the king’s son can get her out of.  Like I said, I’ll explain on the way.”  The two men hopped on the hungry dragon and flew towards Oer.

 

The story continues with The Ghost.