Hauled back into the confines of the servants’ quarters, Eira had difficulty making out faces as Bernard carried her through the crowd of nervous individuals. Everyone and everything had become a blurred mess. Tanner arrived behind them in a magnificent manner, his cape billowing as he followed the hollow knight. Bernard, meanwhile, couldn’t get over himself on how strong he felt. Whereas carrying the girl for this long would have proved difficult for the aged man, he now felt lighter than a feather, and Eira even less so in his arms. Perhaps becoming a husk had its advantages, he thought.
Tanner charged ahead of Bernard and went to Madam Martin, who was quick to see to it that the girl had plenty of room on the cold floor so that she might clean up and cover the wound on her brow. Other than a few bruises, that gash was the only damage she had received from the crashed cart, much to the others’ relief. With two servants at the ready behind her, one handed the elder woman a bowl with a wet rag. She used it to clean the deep cut from the dazed girl, and when Martin handed the dish back, it was immediately exchanged for a roll of bandages.
“Bring her something to eat as well. Stew, bread, anything.” Tanner commanded to a nearby servant, who quickly darted off toward the busy kitchens.
“And of James and Susan? Where are they?” Martin asked as she wrapped a ribbon of cloth around Eira’s head time and again. A moment of silence fell over the two knights, when the Eagle General spoke less than favorably.
“They...didn’t make it, I’m afraid. Killed by dragon fire.” The chattering chamber swiftly went quiet. James? Dead? Susan too? Hardly married an hour, the tragedy hit every person differently. Some felt like cheering, others sullen with sadness over the death of the royalty. The Green Folk perhaps had the most restrained excitement. If James was dead, then they could go home! That is, Awel thought, if Giant let them go.
Tanner left to find a new sword for himself, leaving Bernard and Martin to continue to tend to Eira’s injuries. The attention slowly helped her to come back to her senses, though they were still quite foggy. A servant arrived back and handed Martin a bowl of stew, which she slowly fed into the girl’s mouth without fussing with the wooden spoon. The piping hot recipe worked to clear Eira’s mind almost immediately, and with something finally in her stomach, she felt much better already. With Bernard’s assistance, she got back to her feet, thanked the two for helping her, and turned. Sure enough, all eyes were laid on her, some almost in a predatory fashion.
“What’s happening?” Adelae asked as she stepped forward from the crowd. Eira looked at her, touched the cloth wrapped around her head, and rested her fingers on her cheek.
“We...were riding when Giant attacked. He...he said some things, but I wasn’t listening. Then he killed them. He...he burned them alive.” Gasps filled the chamber. It made the Green Folk hesitate in her thoughts, when she continued. “Rex and Rust had arrived with Bernard and Tanner.”
“Who?” Several people asked together. Eira felt herself smile slightly, excited at the thought of her friends’ arrival.
“I know them. They’ll help us.”
“How? Against that dragon?” One person asked angrily.
“They have some strength themselves.”
“Then what should we do?” Awel asked. Eira thought for a moment. Surely they couldn’t run as James and Susan had tried to. She shrugged halfheartedly.
“I suppose we wait.” Chatter filled the chamber again, questioning this young woman and her judgement. Not caring much for the politics of the matter, Eira started back toward the stairs, when a metal gauntlet caught her hand and stopped her from proceeding further.
“Wait lass, where do you think you’re going? We just pulled you out of that.” Eira blinked once, but her expression was surprisingly calm, much to Bernard’s surprise. She wet her lips, then, in complete candor, she spoke.
“I’m going to watch Giant be torn in two.”
“I never suspected to see you two here if I’m being honest. How did you fare in the city?” Giant asked as the two parties closed the distance between them. “Quite well, obviously.”
“Your men lack discipline. They scatter at the first sign of confrontation.” Rust said casually. Giant chuckled.
“I figured as much. You see, in this form, I don’t need them anymore. But I do have obligations to uphold you see.”
“And what do you hope to accomplish here today?” Rex asked.
“Well isn’t it obvious? New world, new lands, fresh spoils! I admit it took a little backstabbing for me to be here today, but with this place, separate from ours, we can start anew. No borders, no lands given by birthright. These lands are fresh for the taking, and I humbly give out as much as I can, so long as I remain in charge.”
“It’s rather bold that you took a land you have no inkling of knowing about.”
“Eira gave me a good impression of what it is like. Those living here will continue to do as they have been doing their whole lives, and provide us with food for each commander I assign. We will live as gods here. How doesn’t that alone sound tempting?” Giant sneered.
“Because it’s not natural!” Rex replied. “There was nothing wrong with the way we lived.”
“Of course not, save, perhaps, for a short lifespan. I want to grow old and fat. I want to learn as much as I can in this lifetime, and pass that knowledge onto the next generation. Why don’t you?”
“I’ve lived more than my fair share of years. It’s nothing great.” Rust said.
“Ah but you’ve had it relatively easy, my friend, taking care of little Rex here after his parents perished. Noble of you, yes, but not everyone is so lucky to have a companion to make hunting easier, nor the size. That’s what I offered to my underlings. Food. Security. It’s all they want, and if they can go without hunger ever plaguing them again in their lifetime, oh the things they’ll do for you if you promise it to them. The carnivores have been promised these people’s endless supply of livestock, and the grazers have pastures that stretch far over the horizon.”
“These things you promise are finite. They will run out,” Rex said coldly.
“And there happens to be another kingdom next to this one I imagine.”
“That’s not a very healthy way of looking at it. You will run out eventually.”
“Not for many generations, my dear boy. Not for many generations. Now then, why did you two come to see me today? A stake in my claim perhaps?” Giant gave the two a contagious grin as he arched his head back.
“We came to stop you,” Rex replied.
“Stop me?” Giant scoffed. “I’ve already won, my good Rex. The monarch of this land is dead. What is to become of this place if no one takes up his mantle?” The young tyrannosaur felt his stomach drop. They were too late, and it did indeed seem that Giant had succeeded. He also had a point at this time. Without some sort of leadership and guidance, Rex wasn’t sure what the human race was capable of, be it beneficial or chaotic in nature. He simply didn’t understand them well enough. He visibly shrank back, when Rust stepped forward.
“Then maybe we decided you just need a good whipping.” Giant returned his words with booming laughter. It didn’t last very long before the dragon coiled back, much like a snake, his expression dark and sinister.
“Why didn’t you simply say so? If it’s a fight you want, my friends, you shall have one.”