Dragon And Soldier is the second book in Timothy Zahn's Dragonback series, picking up where Dragon and Thief left off. In this volume, Jack and Draycos join a mercenary group in the hope of finding out information about the mercenaries involved in the attack on the advance fleet of Shontine and K'da refugee ships from which Draycos was the sole survivor. It's a desperate move but Jack and Draycos are working against a deadline: they must find out who was behind the attack in order to save the rest of the refugee fleet that will arrive in less than six months time.
In joining the mercenary group - the Whinyard's Edge - Jack is put through a rushed basics course in how to be a soldier, but it is Draycos, his K'da warrior-poet companion, who ends up teaching him the more important lessons about what it really means to be a soldier and a warrior:
--"We are leaving, then?"
--Jack grimaced. "Look Draycos, I'm sorry," he said. "It just didn't work out. We'll back off, regroup, and try to get the Djinn-90 data some other way."
--"I was not thinking about the information," Draycos said. "I was thinking about those still in Shamshir hands."
--"What about them?"
--"Did you intend to simply leave them there?"
--Jack frowned down at the dragon padding soundlessly through the dead leaves at his side. Uh-oh. "Hey, I know how you feel about that sort of thing," he said cautiously. "K'da warrior ethic, and all that. But I think that asking Colonel Elkor for a rescue party is out of the question."
--"Certainly," Draycos agreed. "That means we will have to do it alone."
--Jack took a careful breath. "Look," he said, as if talking to a very small child. "I know you're upset. But you have to understand the realities of the situation. We're talking about two of us - you and me - against a whole mercenary force."
--Jack clenched his teeth. This was not going well at all. "We hardly even know these kids," he said. "Anyway, it's Alison's fault they're there, not mine."
--"Fault is of no matter," Draycos said. "They are your comrades. Your fellow soldiers. A warrior does not simply abandon those of his own side. Not when there is a chance of rescuing them."
--"Even if it means getting killed?" Jack shot back harshly. "We could, you know. Those guns of theirs aren't just for show. We go charging in, and they're going to start shooting. What happens to your people then? Hmm?"
--For a long minute they walked in silence. "Do you remember our first meeting, Jack?" Draycos asked at last. "Despite your objections, I took the time to aid a wounded soldier of the other side."
--"You kept him from burning his hands and neck in hot dirt," Jack said, grimacing at the memory. "And I still think it was a waste of time."
--"The point is that a warrior does that which is right," the dragon said. "Not because he may profit from it. Because it is right."
The action is fast-paced, making Dragon And Soldier a fairly quick read. My only complaint is that I would liked to have seen more about Alison Kayna, a girl of about Jack's age who joins the mercenary group at the same time. Like Jack, she apparently has a hidden agenda in joining the group, but we never really learn just what that agenda is. But it seems fairly certain from the end of Dragon And Soldier that we'll be seeing more of her later in the series.
All in all, this is a good continuation of the series and we can see Jack and Draycos (and even Uncle Virge, oddly enough) evolving as characters. Highly recommended.