Its big ears covered its face, and the little body really did feel like a hairy ball. Soft, with a fair amount of give, the Being didn’t immediately respond.
“I won’t hurt you. Are you hurt?” I pulled my knees up and made a small rest, putting it in my lap so I wasn’t hold it. Maybe that felt like I was squeezing it or holding it captive. I had basically been holding it close to my body or inside my clothes for the last day.
Rummaging around in the pack I’d pulled from Londe, I found my waterskin. I was desperately thirsty and hungry, and it had to be too. Maybe I could tame it with food and water.
Taking a drink from the narrow nozzle, I swallowed several times. I had to restrain myself from guzzling it all down greedily. It might take some time to find more water the next day. “Want some?” I offered it the bag.
The ears moved. I didn’t, almost holding my breath. Its body stayed still, but slowly, those ears curled up until they were like flower petals wrapped against the night, little rolls against the top of its head. Now I could see its face.
Wide, smooth brown eyes with diamond pupils stared at me. A pink nose twitched, the little nostrils flaring. The being’s mouth was on the end of a short muzzle, barely an inch off its face. Surely it couldn’t have teeth of any danger in a mouth that size.
So tightly had it been wound, I hadn’t even been able to tell where the Being’s arms pressed against its round torso. It wasn’t just a ball; it did have limbs. Arms, at least, with small paws or hands with opposable digits. Claws hung over the tip of each one.
Small, but pointy. I was glad he hadn’t scratched me. Yes… I had the sense it was a he. No real idea why, but it was just a feeling. Those small hands brought the spout of the water skin to his mouth and then it mimicked my movement, squeezing the bag. He had to use both hands to do it, though. Little sucks broke the quiet of the night, then a growl.
“Not too much,” I warned before he could get sick and waste the water. I tried not to snag the bag as I pulled it back. “Was that your stomach?”
Well, he was almost all stomach. Looked like it as least. I pulled out a packet of dried meat, hoping it wasn’t anything too closely related to the Being, as well as some nuts, and a bit of hard cheese that had smelled better. Probably should chuck that.
Giving him first pick, I held out the meat and nuts. “Try one,” I urged.
It whined, mewling and going for the arm with the cheese.
“Seriously? You want this? It might make you sick.” I was warning it even as I handed over the hard, crumbly cheese. Not my favorite. I liked the soft, smoked cheeses that spread easily across bread. “Take it easy.”
Little chitters escaped the Being as he practically inhaled the cheese, stuffing it in his mouth with both hands. He kept his eyes on me the whole time, staring.
“I’m not going to take it away.” My heart broke. How long had he been hungry?
“Do you want more water?” I held up the waterskin again, getting an idea of how little the Being had been given in captivity.
I stopped dead, staring in shock. He spoke! “You can talk? Understand me?”
“Water?” Those little arms reached, and I moved the waterskin closer on autopilot. He squeezed it, taking a drink.
When it finished, I closed the skin and put it down. I stared at the small Being. “You understand me? Did those trolls hurt you anywhere?” That’s what I was going to check next, but it would be easier to just ask.
“Daddy come?” His large, limpid eyes trained on my face.
“Oh hellfire.” I slapped a hand over face. This Being was young. Really young. That’s why he was so small, so scared, and was just depending on me to care for him. He might not be able to care for himself. Some Beings were born self-sufficient and others stayed with their family.
I didn’t even know what he was, but he needed help. I had no way to know how old he was, what his needs were… nothing.
Or if his daddy was even alive.
“Daddy come?” His ears started to unfurl. His chitters came back, but when I didn’t reply, they rose in a nearly painful cry.
“Shh! It’s okay.” I pulled the Being in close and patted it. He covered his face with his ears again.
“Papa, what’s going on?” Marces asked.
“Nothing. Just trying to find out something more about our little friend here.”
“That bug thing brought him in. Dropped him in a cage, just a little before you came. She said he’d grow up to be a gold mine. Called him a locus.”
“A locus?” I’d never heard of it. Or them. Were they Beings?
I sighed and leaned my head against the rocks behind me. “You’re going to be fine,” I told him. The locus. Whatever. “We all are.” I reached out with a free hand and stroked along Marces’ back.
There were so many problems still to solve. I had to get my family somewhere safe. Somewhere along the way, hopefully, we’d find out more about this locus business. At least I knew something he liked—smelly cheese—so I could feed him. He spoke. No one appeared to be severely injured.
After some rest, we’d get moving again. Just a little rest.
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