Chapter 7

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            By the time Jaxx returned to the slave housing for dinner, the other boys had nearly finished eating. Not wanting to miss the meal completely, he only gave his hands a quick rinse with water from the pitcher and splashed some water on his face before running to his assigned place at the long table. He was ravenous from his full day of shoveling manure and spreading hay. With his mind still on the dragons, he barely noticed the other boys scooting as far away from him as they could as soon as he sat down.

The caretaker had shared an apple with him earlier in the day, but it had not been nearly enough to fill his stomach. He sighed, relieved to finally sit down to a full meal. He ladled some of the thin stew into his bowl from the pot set in the middle of the table and shoved a spoonful into his mouth. The taste made him choke. Blah, he thought, the cook had burned their meal again. Needing water to wash down the charred taste, he reached for a pitcher but one of the older boys pushed it out of his reach.

"Phew," said the boy next to him. "You stink of sulphur and dung."

Jaxx and the others looked around nervously for the overseer. They were not permitted to talk during meal times. When it appeared that the man had not noticed anything, the rest of the boys joined in the teasing: nodding, holding their noses, and moving their hands in front of their faces as if trying to wave the smell away.

Jaxx rolled his eyes. He knew they were only getting started with their bullying but he was too tired to care. He decided to ignore their taunting and hoped they would get bored quickly. He reached for the plate of hard bread, but the boy sitting across from him pushed it out of the way.

"Stinkos don't get to eat with us," the boy said. The others laughed.

Jaxx gave him a hard stare and gritted his teeth. "Please pass the bread."

Instead of sharing, the boys handed the plate down the line, each boy taking a chunk, until it sat at the end of the table with only one piece of crust remaining.

Jaxx's patience was wearing thin. What would they do if they knew he could speak to dragons, he wondered? He was tempted to tell them about his new-found skill, but realized that even if they believed him, which was not likely, it would only set him apart more than he was already. Jaxx grimaced at his plate and tried to choke down some more burned stew.

Gall, the largest and nastiest of the group, sneered at Jaxx, saying, "That dragon spawn sitting there spent the day with his own kind today." His shock of fuzzy orange hair bounced as he spoke, making his head look like it was on fire. "That's why he smells like them."

Jaxx glanced at Gall's chubby red face with its splotchy patches of freckles and his attention was caught by something green stuck in the wide gap between the boy's front teeth. His stomach turned.

The nervous laughter from the other boys spurred Gall on.

"So how did you like seeing your dragon mother?" Gall asked.

"Who is talking over there?" shouted the overseer from across the room, slapping his switch down on a table. As one, Jaxx and the others bent forward over the table and listened for the heavy footsteps that would announce the short, stocky man's approach. Several tense minutes passed while they waited for him to come stomping over to them. Holding his breath, Jaxx risked a glance in the overseer's direction and blew it out when he saw that the man remained in the corner, arms crossed, looking grimly around the room. Finally, the overseer turned his attention elsewhere and Gall began again.

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