The Great Escape
While Bernard prepared his speckled horse to ride, Eira tossed her wretched maid uniform aside and changed into her Green Folk attire. It felt nice to be back in her old clothes, and clean ones at that. She couldn’t help but smile as her hands grabbed at her sides, followed by a girlish jump. It was really going to work, she told herself. Bernard was really going to get her home. With a hand touching her mother’s necklace, she smiled and began toward him, counting all the reasons why sober Bernard was better than a drunken one.
The knight turned and offered his hand to Eira, ready to help her up into Christian’s saddle when something caught his eye. Before he could turn, however, something swooped down and pulled Eira’s hood back, revealing her golden-brown hair. It scared the girl half to death when she looked up. Tanner’s eagle gave a satisfactory cry before flying back around the stable and onto its owner’s arm. Turning, both of their hearts skipped a beat as they met eyes with Tanner. Without his usual guards or soldiers behind him, the lone general rested his free hand on the hilt of the sheathed sword strapped to his waist.
“I really hoped you would surprise us Bernard. And indeed you have.” The golden knight took a few steps toward them. “I hoped to see you ride once again. To see you reclaim your lost glory. And you, I had a strange feeling about you all along. From the moment when I saw you last night. You Green Folk are a mischievous lot. That was the one thing they got right in the fairy tales.” The eagle on his gauntlet took back to the skies when he unsheathed his sword, only to reappear on his shoulder. His sword, which must have been worth more than a peasant's lifetime salary, glinted elegantly. “I have a gift to present to His Highness, and you’ve come not a moment too soon girl.” Bernard took a step forward, standing in front of Eira so as to protect her.
“I’m taking her back to the forests Tanner, and you can’t stop us.”
“Can’t I?” Tanner laughed. “With one call I’ll have the Kaiser Guard here. As the former leader of the Guard you should know how formidable each one is. I hardly think you’ll stand much of a chance Clayville. Unless of course you’d like to face me yourself, but I’ll spare you the embarrassment old man. Now then, the Green Folk. Give her to me and I promise no one will know of this. Hell, I’ll buy you drink for it. Make that five.”
“Hop on the horse.” Bernard muttered to Eira.
“Hop on the horse and sit on the saddle.” He repeated in a harsher tone. Eira did as she was told, awkwardly hoisting herself up onto the horse’s back and feebly trying to find a comfortable position in the leather saddle when she looked down at the elder knight. Tanner didn’t seem to mind, as his eyes were locked with Bernard’s.
“So be it. Will you not put your sword back into service, if just one last time?”
“Nay Tanner, I won’t. Say what you will, but you won’t kill us.” Eira looked to the golden general, where she could see his eyes go blank for a moment. The world seemingly stopped for him, his pulse slowed down, and countless thoughts ran through his head.
“...You don’t think I will?”
“You would never kill your own teacher.” Bernard replied with a decisive nod. “You’re better than that.” Tanner hesitated, an uncharacteristic moment for him. The breeze died, and for a moment, he could no longer hear the applause and cheers from the spectators. He slowly sheathed his sword once more. With a defeated, almost relieved, sigh, both hands returned to his sides and his eyes narrowed. His eagle, eager for the bloodshed that would have followed, gnawed at his helmet in a desperate attempt to prompt him to attack.
“You’ve invested too much in emotion in me, Bernard. Perhaps it’s justified, what with the loss of your family. But listen to me when I say, it is fruitless. I won’t arrest you, and I won’t kill you, but I won’t protect you either.” He turned and cried out for the Kaiser Guard, which prompted Bernard to slap his horse as hard as he could on its rear end. With a surprised cry, Christian jumped once and took off, nearly running over Tanner as black-armored knights appeared seemingly from nowhere.
With his heart racing, Christian refused to stop, and Eira, unsure of how to control him, held onto his mane for her life, as opposed to his reigns. Black knights ran toward them, but the horse simply dashed on past them, with guards and soldiers waving their spears while he ran through the barren roads of the town and out into the countryside.
For miles Christian galloped, running down the lone dirt road Tanner and his men took when they brought Eira to the castle. He panted and snorted with fatigue, but the horse wasn’t about stop, especially after seeing so many spears pointing at them. It didn't take long for the girl herself to become exhausted simply from the arduous ride. She couldn’t be sure of how to control the steed, as Eira simply invested her best hopes in him. The cottages and farmland she remembered from her journey into the kingdom passed by swiftly, much to her relief.
Christian ran for at least an hour, until the exhausted creature slowed down to a sluggish trot. It was something Eira was quite thankful for, as she ran a hand through her messy hair and pulled her hood back up. Once her heartbeat slowed down, she looked over her shoulder, half expecting to see Tanner closing in on her. To her surprise and relief, however, there was nothing.
As she had no knowledge of horses or how to properly ride one, Eira relied heavily on Christian’s instinct as he made his way toward the forests. Although there was no distinguishable wall of trees to let them know where they were going, the two made their way through several wooded areas, a cottage here and there, and then nothing but trees. The path was little more than a road of leaves as the horse began to enter the misty woods. Almost immediately he snorted and hesitated. Eira could almost feel the hairs on his mane rise up in fear.
Cooing to him, Eira hopped off the horse and gently held onto his reigns. She tried to sooth Christian’s fears and tugged at the straps. Having never seen a horse in her life, the large creature seemed intimidating at first, but a few strokes of its snout helped to relieve her worries. It took a few times, but the steed looked at Eira with what she thought was trust, when he finally gave way. She led, wandering aimlessly until she could find something familiar, whether it be a marked tree, a rock, or hopefully, another Green Folk.
Eira hardly even thought about Christian, or what she would do with him once she got home. It was simply far too cruel to leave her savior out in these woods alone, plus she liked the company. If it wasn’t for Bernard, however, she wouldn’t be out here. She truly hoped he would be alright, after turning out to be such a great man. Bless his heart.
“So they tried bullying you into joining their gang?” Rex asked as he and Thorn walked along. The forests had lost the morning fog, but things continued to hold an air of mystique. At least they did for the ceratosaurus, who hardly blinked while they made their way into darker and darker woods. He looked back and forth endlessly, almost expecting to be jumped by Hopper and his lackeys again. If not them, then perhaps a beast more impressive than him. Swipe, meanwhile, was running circles around them as he chased after a fat dragonfly. Thorn wondered what he would do if he ever caught it, and whether he would actually eat it or simply release it to entertain him further, when he returned to Rex’s question.
“Aye sir. It’s had me wonder if everyone in these woods aren’t members of their group, as vicious as they were to us. You know fear and intimidation are quite useful, especially in these ominous places.”
“I’ll say. I had quite an experience here in my youth. I…admit I’m a bit uneasy here. Still. Hmm, I wonder what this being had in mind for you, or if he’s connected to Giant.” Thorn blinked once when his eyes grew wide.
“Come to think of it, he is. I believe.” The ceratosaurus looked up at Rex. “Swipe and I happened across a little flyer who had nothing good to say of Giant, and then that other beast seemed like he was working for some higher power.”
“Maybe. Do you know him?”
“I know of him, and Rust doesn’t seem to care for him.”
“You haven’t ventured out from the grasslands have you, sir?”
“Not for many years. I know some of these forest lands are mine, or at least they belonged to my parents, but no, I don’t care to come here.”
“I can’t help but wonder sir, why do you dislike this place so? What happened?” Thorn cocked his head to one side, sincerely interested in the tyrannosaur’s tale. Rex, meanwhile, looked down to the ground. For such an impressive predator, Thorn was surprised to see fear and apprehension pass through his eyes and very being.
“These forests hide strange things…especially in the fog.” He replied softly.
“Aye they do sir. Aye they do.” Clearing his throat, the tyrannosaurus tried to mask his apprehension by changing the subject, his voice now sporting a deeper tone.
“So what did you make of this bully you told me of?”
“Well sir, he has a whole gang of sickle-feet like Swipe here, but let me assure you, you’re more than enough to take him on, should something break out.”
“Alright then. I would care to thank you for taking me on my first adventure without Rust.”
“Of course sir. It is an honor.”
“Also, would you mind not calling me sir? It’s rather formal.”
“Aye sir.” Rex simply rolled his eyes on response, when his attention slowly turned to the trees around them. He couldn’t help but notice the pine trees all around him. Nothing quite like what he remembered as a child. Then again, what he could remember of the forest was often enveloped in fog.
“What’s your story, Thorn?”
“Mine? Meh, it’s nothing fancy. Fed myself alone for as long as I can remember, once had a mate of my own, but that was long ago.”
“Don’t. Life doesn’t always put us in its favor. It is simply that.”
“You sure don’t seem too bitter about it.” Rex replied as the two dinosaurs came to a stop at the edge of a bubbling stream.
“How can I hate all that I’ve ever known?” The tyrannosaurus nodded toward the ceratosaur respectfully. He felt his heart begin to race with this conversation. It would appear that Thorn had much to teach him. As they shared a mutual moment of silence, Swipe appeared once more and finally caught his prey with a single leaping gulp. He turned around to face the two larger carnivores, his crooked grin wide with pride and a glowing sense of accomplishment.
“What about him?” Rex asked as he nodded his snout in the raptor's direction.
“Dunno. Just met him the morning before in fact. Says he was kicked out of his old pack for being colorblind. Now I’m stuck with him. Such is my luck.” As Thorn finished his reply, Swipe’s face changed drastically. His eyes went wide and his grin dropped. With a single, sickening hack, the raptor coughed the dragonfly back up, only to watch it fly away once again.
“Ya see that? I almost had ’em!”
“Huh…” Rex murmured with a blink.
“Mmm-hmm. If I may, what are we going to do if we come across that gang again? Or even Giant?”
“Right now we should be worried about that gang. If we come across Giant, I don’t see any reason to be rash and jump to any conclusions around him.”
“Perfect. That gets rid of one threat.”
“Hopefully. We should get going.”
“Right.” Thorn turned to Swipe. “Hey lad, come get a drink while you can.” With a childlike grin, the raptor hopped toward them, just over the stream when he lapped up water for what seemed like minutes. “Hey now, save some for the fish.” The ceratosaurus made his way through the icy cold water, with Rex close behind.
“Oy! Here’s one right here!” Swipe laughed as he chased after a fat catfish. “Never thought I’d see one here really.”
“Oy, lad, come on, we’re leaving.” Thorn retorted. Almost immediately Swipe ceased to chase the fish as it continued to slip and flop through the shallow stream.
“I got ya Thorn! Lead tha way!” The ceratosaurus only rolled his eyes when he continued to lead through the forest. It was an odd feeling, being able to command a ferocious carnivore and little sickle-foot all at once. It was something Thorn could get used to, to be completely honest, especially with the vicious beasts lingering in the woods. The illusion of control, however, would only last a few more moments as Thorn felt Rex’s power over his shoulder. Quickly the much larger beast took the lead, as it was better to have him lead. That was something the ceratosaurus could easily concede. Better to have Rex face Hopper first than him. Suddenly he stopped, as something didn’t seem quite right.
“What is it?” Rex asked as he turned. Thorn turned toward the babbling stream and cocked his head.
“Hey lad, what was that thing you were chasing not a moment ago?”
“Me? Well, I saw a fat fish I did. Hoppin' all over the place. Why?”
“This water shouldn’t support something like that.” Thorn’s eyes narrowed as he approached the water slowly. “Not something that big.”
“What are you getting at?” Rex said softly with a tilt of his head. The ceratosaurus raised his head confidently as he followed the stream downhill, his expression quite stoic.
“Perhaps it’s not important, but I say we follow this. This fish has me curious.”