A Meeting of Minds
Reluctantly, Eira accepted the knight’s offer. Taking her cloak with her, she closed the door and was immediately motioned toward a seat at Bernard’s table as he set two glasses down. She softly accepted, all the while looking around his otherwise unorthodox bedroom.
The chamber itself was crude and cluttered, paintings of scenery and surprisingly realistic portraits of royals and knights alike were all crooked on the walls, and he had only a thin slit in the stone wall for a window. His bed was messy, and all sorts of gadgets, gizmos, and strange devices alien to Eira clumped up any available table or shelf. Even the books on his study shelves were disorganized.
The only thing that seemed sacred among the mess was a mounted suit of armor, standing tall and proud with its metal gauntlets resting on the hilt of a grand sword. Like the other knights, there was a tunic over the armored chest. Unlike the standard uniform of purple and red, however, this one was special; a red lion had been stitched onto a design of black and gold, and the dark steel plating of the armor itself had clearly seen its fair share of use. Eira couldn’t help but admire the beauty in it, as well as the countless military metals hanging on the wall behind it. It didn't surprise her that this was also the tidiest part of the room.
“Wine?” Bernard offered.
“Oh, no thank you.”
“Good. I don’t have any.” He replied when he popped the quark off a bottle of hard liquor and poured into both of their glasses. Immediately he downed his drink before filling it up again, when he set it down and looked to the girl. “Now…what was your name again?”
“Eira.” She replied coldly as she took her seat. “Eira Aune. I believe you made me out to be a fool this afternoon.”
“Eira…Aune…hmm.” The elderly man simply scratched at his chin. “I, um, must have been under the bottle when we met.”
“My apologies Miss Aune, you seem like a very lovely young lady.”
“Thank you.” She forced a polite smile as Bernard downed another drink only to refill it. “I see you are a knight.” Eira looked to the suit of armor beside them. She seemed uneasy for a moment, knowing that if he was a knight, he worked with Tanner. The elder soldier stared at it for a longest time, a most concerning, glossy-eyed look over his rugged and wrinkled face.
“Aye. I once was.” Swallowing the lump in her throat, Eira looked back, and smiled again, this time more sincerely.
“You haven’t met High General Tanner have you? The one in gold plates?”
“That was once my position. I was great. The best. Had little kids run up to me in the streets as if they were my own, always smiling and laughing when they saw me. That was my favorite part. Not the wars, not the fighting, but coming home, seeing those children safe, seeing my friends safe. The people were like a family to me.” He smiled warmly, if for but a moment, as he grew lost in thought. “But…that was long ago. I don’t like to reflect much on it anymore.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, it’s just…the way you killed the Coffin Spawn. You did so quite well.” The two of them smiled much more warmly to each other. Bernard, just before taking another drink, set the glass down.
“I suppose I did didn’t I?” He chuckled. “Like I was just a young chap again eh?”
“Thank you for doing so by the way.”
“Tis a knight’s duty Milady.” Bernard said proudly as he stood up with a drunken misstep. He walked over to the suit of armor and eyed it as if it was an old friend, and knocked on its chest plate. With its hollow clank he smiled. His knuckles rested against the tunic, and he could feel the metal continue to vibrate long after the pings dissipated. It was as if it were his way of knowing that his old suit, his old friend, was alive. “Aye, tis part of chivalry. Unfortunately we don’t see much of that anymore. In my day, we were guardians, protectors of the people, no matter what their trade or economic position was. Today, these brutes do whatever they want. Food, drink, women, they’ll take anything and anyone. Can take a farmer’s land, life, and freedom right from under ‘em if they pay enough to the right lord.”
“It seemed very nice back then sir.”
“Aye it was!” Bernard laughed heartily when he looked back to his suit. “Bernard the Fair, that’s what they called me. Aye. Not fair as in good-looking mind you, no, there were others much better, but fair in my reasoning. Those…those were the days. I…I told you about the kids right?”
“You did indeed. Well…if you might excuse me, what happened? To the knights I mean.” Bernard turned his wide eyes to Eira, shuffling toward her as he eyed his door and window suspiciously.
“Promise me you aren’t working for Tanner. Or James. You aren’t here to spy on me? You won’t tell them about me?” Eira simply blinked at the idea when she nodded.
“It’s James.” The knight spoke breathlessly. “He’s running this kingdom into the ground. Has been ever since Her Majesty died and His Highness got ill. King Carl Piermont is too weak anymore to do much outside of his bed, so the prince uses him to do whatever he wants.”
“Aye. I don’t even want to know what he has done, or what he has Tanner do for him. All I know is that he’s very suspicious. So much as a sneeze around him may cause concern for witchcraft. Burn them right then and there he will. He’s been hunting for the Green People for years, thinking they’ll solve all of the financial problems he created. What with these pointless wars and all.” Eira felt her heart leap up into her throat, forcing her to swallow with a slow nod. She forced a polite smile. The old man had clearly forgotten her confession to him of her being a Green Folk.
“Oh you know, those children’s tales. Hmm...I think I’ve heard someone call them Green Folk once or twice. Or perhaps Fairy Folk? You know, those stories about people of the forest whose magic supposedly surpasses the gods. Unfortunately for us James never really grew up.”
“Of course. Yes. Tis a shame. I suppose my mother always called them Green Folk.”
“Now then, promise me once more you won’t speak of my damning tongue.” Bernard’s tone hinted at his desperation, giving Eira the impression that any act of deceit here wasn’t met with anything less than severe punishment. Yet, as sincere as she was about keeping his secret, she found it to serve her own purpose as well. Maybe, just maybe, this man could be her savior. The girl smiled.
“Of course Sir Bernard. I will promise not to speak a word. But…might I ask you for just one favor in return?”
The river was especially busy today, as the temperature grew hotter and hotter with the rising sun. It was always quite a scene to see during these times. Duck-billed dinosaurs were the most numerous, but there were numerous ceratopsians and stegosaurs, as well as countless smaller dinosaurs both herbivore and carnivore. These smaller creatures had to be wary while they drank, so as to not be squashed by the bigger ones.
Of the large herds, the males were first to drink, when they stoically stood guard against predators while the young and the females drank. Quenching their thirst was only part of their usual trips to the watering hole as duck-billed mothers gossiped and chatted with one another. The massive crocodiles lingering in the water, however, kept them from lowering their guard too much, and never allowed their children to wander.
Of the countless morsels available, there were but a few beasts the massive crocodiles were likely to stay away from. Typically the towering sauropods, which could crush them like ants with a single stomp, but there were a few carnivores as well. Namely, tyrannosaurs. This reminder surged through each and every one of their minds as Rex appeared at the river’s edge, with Rust closely behind him. When one went down to drink, the other eyed the crocodiles suspiciously. As such, most of the giant reptiles kept their heads above the water, revealing themselves and conveying that they meant no harm.
Aside from small talk from nosy duckbills, the two giants went about their business rather quickly, and with that, it was time to find some shade while they rested off their last big meal. As they went, Rust kept an eye on the highlands, where mountainous forests stretched up high into billowing clouds of fog. It was so different over there, and the acrocanthosaurus could only wonder if Giant or Crunch would really be problems for them down here in the grasslands.
Rex rested beneath a large tree’s shadow while Rust stood for a moment. A nap was all he really wanted, but he suddenly caught wind of a stinging scent in the air. It oozed with fear, and as the dinosaur looked around, he could not find the source. The herbivore herds were grazing and drinking like usual, and the carnivores were nowhere to be seen. The elderly beast scanned and searched, but it was of no real concern to Rex, who quickly dozed off in his afternoon rest.
The nap didn’t last long, perhaps less than a half hour, but it was more than rejuvenating, as the tyrannosaur yawned once he woke up. With a grunt he lazily blinked and cleared his throat. To his surprise, Rust hadn’t slept. Instead, Rex saw him speaking to a ceratosaurus and a raptor, the latter of which seemed unusually energetic.
He slowly got to his feet and approached his old friend at his side, when Rust turned with a sly grin. Thorn blinked up at Rex with wide eyes, unsure of how to introduce himself or even to at all.
“Rex my lad, this is Thorn, and uh…?”
“Swipe’s me name.”
“Right. Well, Thorn brings news from the forests. Perhaps we do have a reason to investigate up there.”
“Oh…?” Rex cocked his head and looked to the ceratosaurus.
“I feel like this is a perfect chance for an adventure lad. Like the ones your folks always had. We’ll simply do a little investigating.” The tyrannosaur looked to his old friend, who hardly seemed fit for long travels, then up at the misty forests above. He felt a twinge of ache in his chest. Thinking of his mother and father, Rex remembered them fondly, and missed them dearly. As he got to his feet, a smile lined his snout.
“Perhaps old friend, you would allow me to venture off? Thorn and Swipe here could lead me. That is, if you two are willing?” Thorn felt his heart sink while Swipe smiled warmly and jumped up.
“Brilliant idea Sa!”
“If you think you’re able. Don’t get in over your head though. If you do, head back here at once.” Rust said with a bittersweet grin. Rex nodded with a grin.
“Aye old friend. Thank you.” With that, Rust headed off toward the shady tree and laid down for a nap, when Rex and Swipe started toward the forest. Thorn stood still for a moment, swallowing the lump in his throat as he struggled to find a reason, any reason at all, to go back to those dark woods. The grasslands were too perfect. They gave a good meal here and there, and there was always plenty of water from the mountains rolling through. Why go through hell, even for someone as powerful as Rex?
He turned, watching Swipe leap up with every step he took as he spoke constantly to the tyrannosaur. Likewise, the young Rex listened politely to the raptor’s jabbering. Thorn looked back to Rust, who had already closed his eyes beneath the tree. A crossroads stood before him, he realized. Grow old and fat beneath that tree like Rust, or, as he looked back to the forests, die on an adventure at least someone was sure to remember him for.
Thorn swallowed his pride, and stamped out his hatred for Swipe in knowing he’d have to deal with him once more. With an unsure sigh, the ceratosaurus took off, catching up with Rex and Swipe, and uneasy about what his next trip the forests would bring them. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, this little adventure would bring him some sort of fulfillment and content.
Zaines had the honor of organizing a search party for Eira. How they would look for her, however, was entirely up to him. Even her own father had little say in the matter, as the young man rounded up men and women according to their skills. Young women, especially Cecile, were perhaps the quickest to offer their assistance, if just to give them a chance to talk to Zaines in the hopes of impressing him. As search parties departed, what remained were but a handful of men and women, who were then dismissed to their usual daily work.
Gunter stood tall with his bow in hand the whole time, like he did when he was a young man, but Zaines never spoke to him, or hardly even acknowledged him for that matter. In his theatrical manner, the confident young man kicked his bow up into his hand and reassured everyone that they would find Eira, and that she merely got lost in the morning fog. Myrtle hadn’t left the house since yesterday, as her deepest fears were realized with each passing moment. When Gunter approached Zaines, and suggested that he should be out searching for Eira as well, he was shrugged off, and given Zaines’ signature faux sincerity. The elder man frowned as he watched him leave, with a joke for his party to laugh at no less, when a glove landed on his shoulder.
It was Awel, the only one who seemed as worried for Eira as Gunter and Myrtle were. He wet his lips and nodded while searching for the right words to say. Soon enough Adelae appeared at his side, wrapping her arms around one of his and resting her head on his shoulder. She seemed equally as concerned as her husband in the matter.
“We’ll find her Mr. Aune.” He said softly. “I promise. With as much luck as Eira has, she’s someplace warm, if not on her way home already.”
“Thanks lad. You two better get going.” The couple nodded and went off into the woods, leaving Gunter with a moment to think. He could go back home, to try and comfort Myrtle and assure her that Eira was fine. Like he hadn’t tried it since Eira had left, he smirked. If Zaines wasn’t going to be as serious about his daughter as he or Awel were, then it was his job as her father to find her, regardless of what that cocksure pup said.
He bid Myrtle farewell with a kiss on her brow and grabbed one more bread roll before departing. Unsure of even where to begin, he started down the path Eira usually went down while out gathering plants by herself, one the others oddly did not think to venture down. It didn’t take long until he was far from their home, and soon began wandering aimlessly through the forest. He was careful not to call her name too loudly or often, out of fear of attracting unwanted attention from Wildeboar or Coffin Spawn, but an unrelenting urge to find her helped him to find the strength to keep calling.
Hopping across slippery rocks and babbling streams, Gunter hardly took notice to his unusually youthful energy during the trek. What he did begin to note was how the sloping hills he was so accustomed to were beginning to flatten out. It would have proved helpful in his search, if not for the endless trees hindering his thorough scans.
Morning was beginning to become noon, and as the Green Folk sat beside a stream to nibble on a bread roll, an overwhelming smell took him by surprise. Soon he could hear someone speaking. Almost inaudible at first, it quickly grew as a heavy presence began to preside around Gunter.
In a panic he darted off into the heavy brush nearby, not a moment too soon. As soon as he was hidden, a massive horned beast trotted over toward the stream and drank profusely. Gunter looked at it with wide eyes, having never before seen such a creature. From its large frill to its bird-like beak, the Green Folk couldn’t tear his eyes away from the impressive horns jutting out from its brow.
Soon after it appeared, more dinosaurs came into sight. First a small two-legged one, with a rounded, bony head and a sour look on its snout. It was next to drink with the triceratops, when two towering carnivores appeared behind them.
“What’s the point?” Blade snarled. “We have no leads. No directions. Nothing! I think it’s a trap.”
“Will your paranoia know no end?” Crunch grumbled beneath his breath while he too seized the moment for a nice drink. His tongue lapped eagerly at the once serene stream, which now rippled wildly with the two herbivores beside him drinking profusely. When the lead dinosaur finally turned back to the baryonyx, water droplets fell from his chin. “Why don’t you catch something to eat here? Something in your gut might make you less of a grump.”
“Bah! These waters are too shallow. Nothing here but little fish. Little bites. Nothing worthy of a meal.” He snapped before drinking as well.
“Careful. Your positive attitude might rub off on us.” The dome-headed dinosaur snickered. Blade simply rolled his eyes at her comment. Crunch walked across the water in but two strides as his nostrils flared.
“I smell something. Something...new.” He murmured. Gunter felt his heart stop. He would never want to be found by such fearsome beasts with so many teeth, claws, and horns, let alone ones that could talk. The moment had absorbed him so, when he thought of something. Eira! She spoke of talking creatures before she disappeared. A hand came up and scratched his chin. Could these beasts…? No, he thought. Impossible. But…there was a chance…
Crunch turned toward the dome-headed dinosaur.
“Crash, search around quickly. The smell is close.”
“Yes sir.” With that, the young pachycephalosaurus took off at a surprising speed. She darted on past Gunter far too closely, and he involuntarily jumped. The brush around him shuffled, catching the attention of the triceratops as he finished his drink. With a grunt he rolled that massive head of his around and around before investigating. While Crunch was too involved in his scans, Crash was running circles around them, and Blade, despite what he had said, searched the waters for a tasty morsel.
Much to his surprise, there actually was something in the water for the baryonyx. It caught his attention immediately, as it seemed almost too large for the rather shallow stream. Blade grinned as his long jaws parted and his long, curved claws prepared themselves for one quick strike. Like a well-orchestrated performance, his crocodile-like jaws snapped shut once his head lunged forward in a flash of movement.
Water splashed all around, but when he came back up, the baryonyx found that not only had he missed his prey, but that the fat catfish wriggled across parts of the water too shallow for it to swim through before disappearing into deeper tides some ways down. However, before it left Blade too embarrassed, it spun around with a slippery flop. The dinosaur blinked once, then became struck with confusion when he could have sworn the thing winked at him. It waved its tail once and it was gone.
“I must be exhausted.” He murmured to himself.
Meanwhile, Rampage scanned all around one particular bush and tried to peer into the thick bunch of vegetation, half-expecting some furry rodent to pop out and startle him. He turned his head so that one eye saw straight into an open hole. Fortunately for Gunter, the triceratops’ vision wasn’t so good in the dark, and the shadows successfully concealed him. Rampage backed away, relieving the Green Folk for but a moment when the dinosaur opened his hinge-like jaws and took a generous and savory bite out of the vegetation, just shy of Gunter’s hands.
Loudly he chewed and chewed, making gross noises as he ate. Crunch simply shook his head at his poor eating manners, but it was Blade, upon one quick glance to the side, who spotted something in that bush. With his impressive claws at the ready, his narrowed his eyes and turned toward the human.
“What is that?” He said softly, half-expecting it to be another trick played by his own mind. His words caught the attention of both Crunch and Crash, who also turned toward Rampage. The triceratops, likewise, looked back at them with absentminded eyes.
“What?” He asked with leaves spilling out from his mouth.
“Chew your food.” Crunch ordered before making his way toward the brush. Gunter felt his heart race at such a pace he hadn’t known in years, when his instincts commanded him to run. The vegetation that helped conceal him, however, wasn’t so willing to let him go as it first grabbed at his bow, then at his clothes and hood. He was quick to relieve himself of the bow, and with all of his might he pulled himself free, but not before landing out in the open before Crunch’s gang.
The carcharodontosaurus was first to hover over the Green Folk, followed by Crash. Rampage slowly inched to his leader’s side as well, but Blade pushed him aside, placing himself at his right side. Together the four dinosaurs stared at Gunter with as much awe and curiosity as Gunter did at them.
“That’s not…?” Blade spoke in a hushed tone. “Couldn’t be.”
“Green attire, pale skin, body like a stick. Crunch! I think we found her!” Crash jumped up in joy.
“Her?” Gunter asked softly. The dinosaurs quickly backed away in surprise, taken back by his words.
“It does speak.” Rampage noted. Crunch, however, kept his calm as he lowered himself down toward Gunter. Neither one seemed especially threatening, but their eyes never left the other.
“Are you Eira…?” The dinosaur spoke just above a whisper as his eyes narrowed. He cocked his head one way, then another, as he studied the man as best he could.
“You…you know Eira?” Gunter spoke breathlessly. “My daughter? Where is she?”
“You are the first we’ve found.” Crunch replied, before eying the Folk’s clothing and speaking to himself. “Intriguing…”
“What do you want? Why are you looking for my daughter?”
“Orders from Giant.”
“Giant?” Gunter blinked. The dinosaurs didn’t respond as they were too busy studying him, when the Green Folk brought a hand up to his graying hair. Giant? Eira spoke of something with that name before she disappeared? That Giant? “Wh-what does he want with my Eira?”
“We’re not sure.” Crunch said as he stood back up. “He said they met twice, and that he’d like us to find her and her people.”
“Oh we will be so well-rewarded for this! Ha! Imagine how fat we’ll grow.” Blade laughed.
“Never mind that. Might we know your name, father of Eira?”
“Tis Gunter. Gunter Aune.” A bit shaky, the bearded man stood. Respectfully the dinosaurs gave him plenty of room as they backed away.
“Gunter Aune, my name is Crunch, this is Blade, Rampage, and Crash.” Each of the dinosaurs nodded with their names. “It’s an honor to meet you.”
“Please. Do you know where my daughter is? Any idea at all? You must help me.”
“I must apologize but we do not.” The dinosaurs watched Gunter as his sights fell downward and his shoulders slumped. His little girl was still lost, and he had no idea where she could have gone. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes and rested his hands on his head, shaking it slowly as the hope within deteriorated. Blade, untouched by the man’s plea, leaned in toward his leader.
“So will we take him with us? To Giant?” Crunch watched the man and pitied him. He shook his head.
“No. He will have to rely on our word. If this Eira is lost, then Giant will take an interest. Our sincerest apologies Gunter Aune.” With that, the lead dinosaur began to wander back off into the forest, followed closely by Crash, then Blade and Rampage. When Gunter finally looked back up, they were gone, without leaving so much as a trace of their very being. They left him with one lingering question. Was it all real? Did he truly speak to them? Or perhaps it was some devious trick, the very one played upon Eira. Perhaps the one most important to him haunted him the most. Would they return her to him?
As pessimistic as he was about it, Gunter wondered if one of the search parties found Eira yet. He found his way home without getting lost, which discouraged him even further about his daughter’s whereabouts. As a girl who had been raised in the forest, she was just about as fluent in the woods around the village as he was.
He knew she was still alive. Call it a father’s intuition, but perhaps what left Myrtle weeping most was her knowledge in what had taken this long for Gunter to gather, that Eira wasn’t dead, but she wasn’t lost either. He could only imagine what sort of terrors she faced, especially with such fearsome beasts about. Gunter could only pray that Crunch, as soft-spoken as a beast his size could be, would find her and return her home safely.