Every day, in the middle of the afternoon, our class was herded into Dordford Gymnasium for some exercise. Dordford Gymnasium was a very big and very new building. Its big central room had four tall wooden columns carved with the faces of the now-dead mhelvul gods governing health and physical activity. (Well, I think really they were some of the earliest gods, and they demanded lots of hard labor from their subjects, but they got mythologized.) The gym teachers of Drumet spent their nights coming up with odder and odder games for us to play, which they swore were traditional mhelvul recreations. (I checked on some of them later. They really were traditional mhelvul recreations.)
Ghu-Mung-Ghu is a sport in which two teams of girls shove a small and very heavy wagon around, trying to get it into each others’ goal while the other team tries to deflect it by tossing small things under the wheels. The wagon is laden with sacks of grain if one is being traditional, or piles of protective gear and stone weights from other gym classes if it is loaded by a practical sort of gym teacher. Teams were picked in caste order, of course. I was the first of the artisan caste to be picked, of course.
Well, having one strong person on your team is all very well when it’s your turn to push the cart, but there’s some strategy too, and our highest-caste team captain was not nearly as good at strategy as theirs. Our team was losing, four to two. I pushed the cart very, very hard. The other team threw a rag under the wheel to turn it and slam it into one of the columns, the one for the god Mangu-Pdenru, whose domain is the strength of the back, and whom I swear I did not theocept as being a single bit real. Which they had done a dozen times before in that game.
The base of the column slipped out of its moorings and slid across the floor, conveniently towards the other team’s goal. The whole ceiling suddenly roared to dangersense, as intense as anything I had ever perceived. A quick tenasensitive glance pointed out that the whole building was now one large structural flaw.
It no longer seemed like a good place to be in a soft, small mhelvul body. So I got my own body back.
The girls and gym teacher promptly started screaming. I never did ask whether they were more scared of me or the the collapsing building. In any case, it didn’t seem like a very good place for them to be in soft, small mhelvul bodies either. I couldn’t do much about that, exactly. So I wingscooped and tailscooped as many of them under my belly as I could reach. If I favored my teammates, it is simply because they were closer, I promise.
And then the roof fell in. It seemed almost elegant, first the part where the column had stood, then the four huge beams connected to that, and then the outer quarters of the roof, one after the other. One of the beams caught me across the back, but of course I couldn’t feel it and didn’t notice until later.
After the whole roof had fallen, and some of the walls too, the mhelvul kept screaming. I’m not sure why. Dragons usually get very calm and quick in emergencies, which seems much more practical than yelping and panicking. I tilted a bit and dumped the bits of roof off my back. That part worked fine.
Then, I intended to go try to dig out the girls I hadn’t got under me. It was a bit of a challenge. There were small people all around, some of them under me and some of them hidden under piles of ex-roof. It wouldn’t do to step on someone I was trying to rescue. It certainly wouldn’t do to step on someone I already had rescued, and they were running all about and making that part harder. I mostly stood still and burrowed in the ruins with my muzzle, and picked out Verimet and two other girls, and the gym teacher. That’s all that was in reach.
I found a clear spot to step, and discovered that my hind legs would rather collapse than do what I wanted them to. I looked at them with sight and tenasense, but they didn’t seem to be much hurt. I decided to ignore them. I dragged myself forward with my forelegs to dig out the last five girls, three of them still living. Gunthet was dead, which annoyed me.
I still couldn’t move my hind legs or tail, though. It must have been two dozen heartbeats before I realized that, though my legs were fine, my back was broken. I knew a fine, simple spell for taking care of that. Unfortunately, it needs to be cast rather soon after the injury happens: one heartbeat or two, not dozens. I cast it anyways, but it didn’t do very much good.
The next hour or so was very, very confusing. Some small people thought I was attacking Drumet Academy. Lots of them tried to run away, which at least meant I didn’t need to deal with them. Headmistress Inth and some of the teachers thought that I had gotten upset, and ran out to try to calm me down and salvage what they could of the situation. Since I was very upset now that the actual emergency was over, the conversation didn’t go terribly well.
“Mighty Jyothky, we beg to know who has wronged you, so that we may torture them in your sight to appease your wrath!” declaimed the headmistress, in a shaky version of her lecturing voice.
“My back, I think,” I said. I wasn’t paying attention to her. I was thinking that my parents could probably heal me with better spells, if they could get there in time. I could fly home in two hours, except not without the back half of my body. The Academy could send a message, but it would take a few days to get there by boat, and that would never do at all. I didn’t (and don’t) have any long-range magic or anything. I was feeling a bit at a loss.
Inth didn’t quite see how my answer applied to her question, so she tried again. She declaimed, “Oh, tell us whom we must punish! Let us absolve our community of its crimes against you, even if half of us must die!”
“Rankotherium!” I shouted. That redoubtable beast was the ruler of Pdernuz, and a mighty wizard, and a casual friend of my parents. Surely the Academy could get a message to him quickly.
“Rankotherium…?” whispered Inth, too scared to declaim anymore. “We offer you any and all mhelvul for your vengeance, but we cannot offer you Rankotherium…”
“I don’t want vengeance. I want Rankotherium,” I said. I thought it made perfect sense.
Inth simply started crying, though. Much later, she explained to me that she thought I was dying, and that I wanted Rankotherium to avenge me. My parents could only take a limited vengeance on Rankotherium’s territory; too much and they would offend Rankotherium. But Rankotherium could do whatever he wanted on his own territory, and Inth thought I wanted that sort of revenge.
Verimet waved her hands from where I had put her when I dug her out. “Jyothky isn’t angry, I don’t think.” She somehow managed to translate from clear, coherent Pdeshlantine as spoken by a somewhat distracted dragon to clear, coherent Pdeshlantine as spoken by a somewhat distraught headmistress. And within a dozen minutes we had the riding instructor on the Academy’s fastest horse, galloping off to Rankotherium’s castle.
Rankotherium came flying in a hurry when he heard. He couldn’t completely heal me — it was too late for that — but he healed enough so that I could be moved without getting worse. He sent his son Ythac to tell my parents, who came flying over in their own hurry. They healed me a bit more, using the slow spells rather than the battle ones, but I still had to spend the next two years or so convalescing, because the slow spells are slow.
Rankotherium invited me to convalesce for some time in his castle. His official reason was that he could teach me better apotropaic spells so that the next time the roof fell on me it wouldn’t hurt much. And he did that — he taught me the Hoplonton, and some good child-magic style healing spells, either of which would have saved me in that situation, and quite a bit else, over the next year or so.
His real reason, though, was that I could get to know Ythac before the actual mating flight. Parents of young drakes are always trying to find an edge to getting their sons married. And what better edge than having your son have a year or more to befriend one of his fiancées?
That worked, too. Ythac is probably my closest friend. Which doesn’t mean I’m going to marry him. But it doesn’t mean I won’t, either.