Connor wondered if they should argue with these people because going to the village might not be safe for any of them. On the other hand, they were going to ride which meant no more walking for a while.
There might be another problem.
"I am a human," Connor said before anyone had mounted. "Is that a problem?"
"None for us, Connor of Northgate," the man in charge said, and he who took Connor up behind him.
Connor hadn't ridden much in his life. He was grateful for it now as he looked back, trying to spot the enemy. Were they close? Would they catch them on the run?
They galloped along the trail towards the village, though at one point the man signaled a few -- those not carrying the refugees -- to head off on another path.
"They'll go to the Centaurs and tell them the trouble. We get along well enough with them. They were the ones who spotted you and sent us running this way."
"Good," Connor said. He didn't waste any more words.
They rode for far too long, and dusk had reached the world before Connor saw the village. It was no more than a few huts with no walls and no defenses. He looked around with worry as he slid from the horse, grateful to be back on his feet again.
"Trolls," Connor said, looking at the others. "This place won't stand up to the trolls. We dare not stay --"
"We have magic, Connor. And we'll use it here. You need to rest, all of you, for at least a few hours. We'll go on before dawn."
That sounded like a perilously long time, and yet not nearly long enough to sleep. Connor didn't know what to think.
The others took matters in hand. Connor went with Erlis to a hut of brightly woven cloth, the door open to the fading sunlight. There he threw himself down amid soft, fragrant blankets too tired to even care what happened next. He felt ill and feared the fever was coming back again.
"He shouldn't travel," someone said.
Connor awoke slowly, his throat aching, his body trembling. He blinked, looking around at the crowd of faces. He didn't know many of them, but he focused on Nylia and Druce. They both looked haggard and worried.
"Connor?" Nylia said softly.
"Go," he said softly. "Go on. Need to get to the others."
"We'll keep him as safe as we can," a stranger said. She had a lovely voice, and Connor wanted to believe her.
"Connor's right," Antisha said. She sounded worried, but he couldn't say it was about him. "We'll send someone back for him as soon as we can."
"Connor --" Nylia said again. Then her hand tightened on his arm. "Get well. We'll see you soon."
He watched, weak and narrow-eyed, as they left. Then the others went out of the hut, whispering things he couldn't quite hear. He wanted to follow, but he couldn't even sit up. Connor dropped back down, worried about being among strangers, but too weak to do more than close his eyes.
A day passed. Part of another. He sipped broth and worked at conserving his energy and thinking of ways to escape if he needed to. They didn't seem friendly, these Wildlanders, but he'd heard all his life that they were quiet and reticent people. He tried not to take their reactions to him personally.
Late on the third day, a young woman came in who looked vaguely familiar, though he couldn't say where from. She seemed nervous.
"The Centaurs are coming, and they have riders," she whispered.
He shook his head. Centaurs did not take riders -- not of their own free will.
"Magic," he whispered and started to get to his feet. He was wobbly but able to stand.
She nodded, glancing nervously at the door. "Come with me. We'll hide."
He didn't argue, letting her lead him outside and behind the hut. He only barely glanced at the little village and noted that everyone was at work as though nothing were going on. Wise people.
"Take me where I can hide," he said softly. "Then go. They can't trace me since I'm human."
"Oh." She looked at him, her eyes wide. "You know Liam? He's my older brother."
Don't forget me.
"I know him well," he said, trying not to sound winded, only a few steps away from the building.
"I worry about him. Everyone else says he can avoid trouble, but he never did, you know. He always did what was right. Though I do wish he would have told me who I'll marry. It would save so much trouble."
He smiled a little. They were already at the edge of the grass, but if they headed into it --
She bent and pulled several stalks straight up. The ground came with them, revealing a small tunnel within the stems on the other side. Connor went in first and started to tell her not to follow, but she had already crawled in and put the line of grass back into place.
"Careful now. If you brush against the plants, they'll move and give us away."
"You should go back."
"Not until I'm sure you are safe."
He crawled as fast as he dared, hoping they didn't have to go far. It turned out there was a maze of little paths through the tall grass, and from the prints, they were used by more than just the Wildlanders. He hoped they didn't run into anything that might give them away.
She directed him down to a stream bank and into a small cave. It had supplies -- a place where they must take shelter sometimes in a dangerous area. Or maybe this was their winter home. It had a well-lived look.
"Stay here. I'll come back for you."
He nodded and settled in.
He waited a day. And another.
She didn't come back.