Men & Monsters

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"Well, my dear..."

“Here, this will put luck in your favor tonight.” Myrtle breathed as she scurried all over the Aune household. What Eira received in her hand was a necklace, one studded with gems and jewels and heavy from all the precious metals it was made of. The young woman studied it for a moment, having never seen it before in her life, while Myrtle searched for the matching bracelet. “That’s what your father gave to me when we got married, as it was what his mother wore, and her mother before her. All the way back to when we first settled here. It should bring the best of luck any Green Folk could ask for herself.”

“I didn’t think you to be the superstitious type Mama.” Eira cocked her head while she ran her thumb across the necklace, fascinated by its age and beauty, and yet hesitant to wear it. She marveled at its unique sparkle, one that hadn’t faded a bit since its first owner wore it. Such history behind it, she thought.

“Tis but a habit of living in these woods. Oh curse it! I can’t find the bracelet. Your father won’t like this. Oh wait, here. Let me see you.” The two Folk women faced one another, and in response to Eira’s meek grin, Myrtle smiled widely as she clipped the necklace behind her daughter’s neck. “You look beautiful Eira. Now put your hood up. You don’t want the men to think you’re promiscuous. After all, Zaines has his eye on you.”

“Yes I know,” Eira sighed as she pulled her hood up over her hair.

“And what’s wrong with him?”

“N-nothing. It’s just…I don’t care for him that much.”

“Now Eira, if not him, then who? You know you missed your chance with Awel last…”

Yes,” Eira spoke sharply. “I remember.”

“All I’m saying is this; Zaines has everything you’d want. Food wouldn’t be a problem, he’s strong, he has something funny to say every…well, every once in a while, and I’m sure he wants a nice hearty son…”

“Mama, I don’t wish to think about that now. It only makes me nervous.”

“Don’t be nervous. So what if you don’t care for Zaines? He’ll take care of you dear. If nothing else, maybe you’ll find another boy tonight. Perhaps one from the next village over? That’d be good for diversity.”

“Mama, please,” Eira snapped. “Enough with kids.”

“Oh alright!” Myrtle stepped forward and fixed her daughter’s hair a bit, if just to make her more presentable. “I just want you to be happy and live easy. A grandchild wouldn’t hurt either.”

“Thanks Mama. I know. You know I’ll want my husband and I to take care of you too.” Eira and Myrtle kissed one another on the cheek before they departed. Once they climbed the steep stairs from their near-underground home to the outside, an overwhelming bonfire smell overcame them. Next came a glorious sight. A great fire stood at the center of the village, licking up at the towering tree branches as it spewed glowing cinders, which only faded into the night like tired lightning bugs. Not only did the fire spark with life, but Green Folk all around it moved with such vitality that one couldn’t pick the elderly out from the young adults.

Eira pulled her hood forward further, so that it nearly concealed her face in shadow. She clasped her hands before her, as was expected of a proper lady, while her concealed eyes watched all the activity around them. Children, with their never-ending energy, played a game some ways away from the bonfire. As they walked by, Eira could tell they were trying to mimic her own experience with a Coffin Spawn, as one boy tried his best to play the part of the monstrous creature. A girl played Eira, it would seem, in that she screamed for help until another boy, proclaiming himself as Zaines, wrestled the other boy after declaring he would save her. The harmless game made Eira smile as they walked on.

“Now Eira.” Myrtle turned just before they got to the larger crowd. “If anyone should ask about your morning, please don’t tell them about the, um…”

“Yes I know.” Eira forced a smile, her own eyes concealed in shadow. “I won’t tell anyone. The Coffin Spawn ran off, and that’s all I’ll say.”

“Very good. Now, if you should find yourself a good fella, I won’t scold you if you don’t show up until morning.”

“Mama!”

“I was there once.” Myrtle laughed. “Oh! There’s your father. Drinking no less. Enjoy yourself dear, you know the singles are those closest to the fire.” And with that, Eira’s mother walked away and joined her husband amongst his own friends and their wives. A lively group, full of interesting stories and jokes, unlike those her age, Eira felt tempted to join her mother, but she forced herself to look to the bonfire. There, she could easily make out the girl Folk from the western village, who prided themselves on their fine hats instead of hoods. Eastern villagers were likely there too, but they wore hoods with their cloaks like they did, so they were always harder to distinguish. There, numerous girls younger than Eira proved to be comprised of utter flirts and teases as men swarmed around them and danced alongside the giant fire. Older Folk, with their wooden instruments, entertained the couples with their music comprised of flutes, strings, and drums.

Sure enough more elder Folk sat there, warming up to the flames while the evening air chilled them, but it was mostly teens and young adults. So much as a hello or an eye-glance warranted an awkward dance, with those too timid to speak for themselves having to ask friends gain the names of their fancied partners, especially with the very young, foolish boys who had just recently been accepted into manhood. It was always easy to distinguish the boys from men, as the latter had been given the typical Green Folk cloak to wear upon their completion, while boys simply wore green hoods and cheap leather clothes they would surely grow out of.

Eira started toward the fire as she tried to avoid eye contact with eager young men watching her every move. Amongst the chatter in the air Cecile’s voice was one of the most prominent, followed by her girlish laugh every so often. As Eira’s heart raced with both excitement and dread, she found the best thing to do was simply sit and fold her hands over her lap. A well-carved log would be her savior as she sat at the very edge of it. An elderly widow sat at the edge of the log beside hers, smiling widely up at the girl as she took her seat. Expecting a pleasant conversation, one full of life experiences, Eira took her seat and accidentally bumped into someone.

“Eira!” A familiar voice responded. Looking up, Eira met eyes with another good friend of hers, Adelae. Overcome with excitement and surprise, she parted her lips to speak, but not before the other Green Folk went on. “So good to see you! How have you been?”

“I’ve been good. Thank you!” Eira took a moment to notice that Adelae wasn’t sitting directly forward. Rather, she was tending to someone else, her attention turned to her for the moment. “How are you in the next village over?”

“Oh it’s alright. Just settled in our new home in the western village. It just isn’t the same there without you though.”

“Same here,” Eira giggled. “W-what brings you here? To the fire?”

“Oh Awel’s caught a cold,” Adelae turned back to the person to her side, running her slender hand over his brow. Eira felt her heart skip a beat as she leaned forward, meeting eyes with the young man as he gave a weak, if exhausted, smile. Pale and skinny, Awel certainly wasn’t looking well. A ghost compared to what he once was, Eira thought.

“Awel. It’s good to see you. I hope you feel better soon.” She said softly, her tone quite sincere.

“Thank you Eira.” His voice was raspy and tired. “We were hoping to see you while we came.” Eira smiled.

“Well it’s certainly nice to see you two.”

“I wanted him to stay in,” Adelae replied. “But it’s been so long since we’ve visited with anybody. I hope you don’t spread this Awel.”

“If you haven’t gotten it yet, no one will.” The young couple shared a heartfelt snicker together before Adelae kissed his cheek softly, when she turned back to Eira.

“So, have you found anyone yet, Eira?”

“Well…no. Not yet.” It was one thing to have this discussion, one that she already disliked greatly, but to have it with none other than her oldest friend and now the lover to her old crush was, well, nigh unbearable. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Oh you’ll find someone special,” Adelae replied with a warm smile. “Just like we did.”

“Uh…right. Yes.” Awel seemed to snap back to before his mind wandered too far.

“So, anyone in mind?”

“Um…well, not really…”

“Hello Eira.” Came a voice the young woman hadn’t wished to hear that night. Shoving his hip, Zaines pushed the three Green Folk down the log and sat close to Eira, with one hand on his knee while the other dangled between his legs. Of course, he had a surefire grin on his face, when a glove came up and scratched at the scruff on his chin. “I was hoping to see you this evening.”

“Well, h-hello Zaines.” Eira swallowed the lump in her throat as her hands held one another tightly, until the knuckles turned white. She refused to give Zaines but a glance as she looked at the bonfire.

“Zaines! You’re looking good.” Adelae added. “How are things?”

“Well, I had to forfeit my great catch of the day. Father told me that a catfish that won’t suffocate on land is actually a Rusalka in disguise. You know, a water spirit? He said if you let her go, she’ll grant you a wish.”

“Oh really? And what wish did you make?”

“I wished for a fair wife.” Zaines glanced at Eira before looking to Adelae again. “Tis the only thing I want really.”

“I’m sure you’ll find her.”

“I am too. Say, Awel, it’s been too long old friend!”

“Yes it has.” Awel offered a limp hand for him to shake, but Zaines never took it. Rather, he seemed more intent on Eira. Likewise, Eira refused to give him the satisfaction of eye contact. She just wanted to get out of there. To be rid of such a prideful man, and one that likened her to a deer trophy no less. With an awkward gulp, Awel brought his hand back, taking Adelae’s in it. From the corner of her eye Eira watched helplessly as they squeezed their hands tightly together.

“So have you two heard about Eira’s encounter with a Coffin Spawn?” Zaines smiled.

“No! Eira, when did this happen?” Adelae looked to her old friend in disbelief.

“This morning.” Eira replied. She brought her attention on Adelae and Awel, trying to look away from Zaines at all costs.

“Well, what happened?” The young woman grinned with excitement as she held Awel’s hand firmly.

“Yes, tell us Eira.” Zaines laughed heartily. “After all, you did promise me this story.”

“I don’t see why.” Eira replied as she finally looked at the smug man beside her, then back to Adelae. “It isn’t very interesting at all. A Coffin Spawn attacked me, then it just sort of…ran off.”

“Oh my! You’re so lucky to still be here.” Adelae gasped.

“There must be more to it than that!” Zaines laughed. “Come now Eira, don’t be modest. You know that’s what I love about you, but this isn’t the time for that.” He took her hand in his, holding it firmly within his leather glove. He slowly brought another hand over it, placing it gently over her knuckles. This only sparked a swift jolt of panic in Eira’s chest, as she was finally forced to look Zaines in the eye. She gulped and blinked once. Her shocked expression, however, only made the young man’s heart race with excitement.

“I’m just not much of a storyteller like I said. That’s simply what happened.”

“Well give us details. Won’t you tell us a story? Tell us what it looked like up close.” Zaines was trying his hand at seduction, a trick that would leave most Folk women shaking at the knees, but Eira felt like a trapped mouse. She had to get away from her captor. Perhaps a bit of fresh air would suffice.

“Yes! I’m sure it’s much more interesting than that!” Adelae added. “Not many Folk can say they’ve lived after that.”

“Oh…well…I…um, I would like to, but if you’ll excuse me. I’ve been feeling faint all day from this anxiety. The beast of this morning you know.” And with that, Eira stood up.

“Please, let me escort you.” Zaines started as he leapt to her side.

“No. No, that’s fine.” Eira breathed. “Quite fine.” With a deep gulp she started off, leaving Zaines to sit back down, his ego unharmed by the numerous rejections.

“I think she likes you,” Adelae cooed with a smile as Eira walked away. This only prompted a prideful smirk from the young man. Zaines was the last thing Eira wished to think about as she broke away from the bonfire, however. She tried to hide from her parents and their group as she walked briskly into the forest, instead darting in and around other groups. Much to her surprise, she hadn’t been grabbed by someone who wanted to hear her story. Rather, she kept her head down, so as to conceal her face beneath her hood.

All she wanted was to get away, if just for a moment. That’s all, she thought. Just some fresh air to herself, free of that overwhelming bonfire smell or better yet, the even more overbearing Zaines. Simply a nice moment alone to clear her thoughts. She needed to rationalize things and slow her racing heart. Her hands came up to massage her face, rubbing the sides of her nose gently before sliding up toward her forehead.

As brush crunched under her soft shoes, Eira felt the fire’s warming glow fade as she ventured deeper into the woods. It wasn’t like her, she thought, to walk into the forest at night, especially with the eerie fog encircling the trees out there. Part of her was surprised she’d ever enter the forest again at all. As clouds of cold air escaped from her mouth, she brought her hands up to her lips as she closed her eyes. First thing’s first, she thought. With a mind full of calming things, from her mother’s compliments to something warm and welcoming, like freshly-baked bread or a nicely-pressed coat of fur, she tried to keep her heartbeat down. The last thing she needed was to fall over from a heart attack.

It proved to be futile, it seemed. As soon as Zaines faded from her mind, a chilling breeze brushed past her. When she opened her eyes, it gave her the feeling that something was watching her from within those woods. At this time of night, it could be anything, one thought at the back of her mind suggested. Her heart racing again, Eira turned and started for the village. The fire’s glow was so much more distant than she remembered, however. Towering trees and winding limbs only served to distort and hide the light, as if unwilling to let her leave.

She hadn’t ventured out that far had she? The fire’s light was but a flicker now, with the haze around her legs splashing around as she walked briskly, as if they were roaring tides. Her hands came back up to her lips, trying to slow her breathing down again as her lungs took in deep breaths of freezing air. As a hand came out to grace a tree’s trunk, she paused to collect herself. Such cowardice, she scolded to herself. A young woman in her own right, how would anyone worthwhile take her hand if she still feared such childish encounters with them? With a deep sigh she felt herself grow calm. The bonfire wasn’t that far away, she thought. It would be but a moment’s walk or two. The confident thought made her smile, when she heard a branch snap in the distance.

Her heart stopped.

The forest, once so silent and lifeless, was beginning to creak and moan as something moved about within with a slow, sure gait. Cocksure in fact. Eira was left frozen. If she were to run, she thought, her stalker might pounce, and if she should remain still, she’d be helpless. With an anxious gasp, she inched toward her home, but the rustling only grew louder. More branches cracked, and it quickly became too much for Eira to handle.

With a frightful breath the Green Folk darted off. But as she ran forward, Eira feared her home was truly too far to escape this hidden threat. Her terror peaked as she tripped on her own robe and crashed to the ground. Those outfits really weren’t much help for a Folk woman, much less one trying to run. But as the being got closer, Eira cried out softly at how helpless she really was. In the night, the threat could have come from anywhere, and she wouldn’t see it, even as her eyes darted all around. She felt its presence hovering in toward her, until it was overwhelming.

Hoping to salvage what little hope was left, Eira crawled forward, ready to leap back onto her feet when she heard something big creeping up behind her. With a fearful gulp, she peeked on past her shoulder, unsure of what to see. A great beast, towering over her like any of the trees around them, growled from deep within its throat like a savage wolf.

It quickly became impossible for her to get rid of a haunting image of dagger-like teeth in her head, as she pictured drool oozing past them. Perhaps this was what she deserved for trying to defy nature twice in one day. She felt death knocking at her chest, brushing up against the monster’s presence as it hovered just over her, ready to deliver one fatal bite. But just as with the Coffin Spawn, it never came.

“Eira?” The Green Folk stopped her fruitless crawl and looked up over her shoulder. Though it was indeed dark, and with a moon that had difficulty in piercing the forest canopy, it was hard to see any features on the creature. The general outline and deep voice, on the other hand, gave him away.

“G-Giant?” The dinosaur stood tall and cocked his head, smiling warmly as he watched Eira get to her feet.

“I was hoping I might see you again. You aren’t lost now are you?”

“No.” Eira’s mood swift shifted when a slight laugh escaped from past her lips. Smiling widely, a hand came up and gently brushed her brow and bangs. Her fingers rested at her temple, taking the moment in with a sense of disbelief. “No. I…um…my home…it’s over there.” She turned and pointed toward the eerie orange glow some ways away, but in the mist settling around them, it was still difficult to see through all the trees.

“There? I’m afraid I see nothing.” Giant said softly.

“Well, it’s there.”

“Wonderful.” Even in the darkness Eira could feel Giant’s wide grin warm her as he purred. “Then might I ask you what brings you out here at such a time? Certainly this is an hour filled with teeth and claws.” The girl paused for a moment as she crossed her arms. This prompted the dinosaur to cock his head inquisitively.

“I just needed a moment to myself.”

“Hmm. I see. So there are more of you? Others like you I mean.”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“Interesting.” Giant chuckled warmly. “To think all of you have been right here under my snout all along. I never would have imagined.” Eira forced a weak snicker as a hand brushed some hair over her ear. “Well then, I hope I wasn’t disturbing you. You…seemed jumpy there for a moment.” The two laughed again.

“No, no you weren’t. You’re a relief once again really.”

“Then what brings you out here if you’re so shaken?”

“Well…it’s…” Eira’s hands continued to dance around nervously, from fiddling with one another to playing with her hair. “It’s just men.”

“Men? You mean males yes?”

“Mmm-hmm. It’s…they all want to get married.”

“Ah. A lifelong partnership.”

“And…well at these evenings we have, they’re…very determined. Determined to marry girls like me.”

“I’m afraid I don’t see the problem.”

“Well…um, well boys make me sort of…nervous.” Eira laughed. “And after this morning, this one’s just been…following me.”

“Hmm. And from your tone I take it this fellow isn’t in your favor?”

“Not at all. He’s…crude. Strong yes, but…conceited and arrogant mostly.”

“Ah, one for modesty. Quite like yourself.” Giant spoke with a smirk.

“Why ye…I um, thank you.” She smiled at the dinosaur, caught off guard by the compliment.

“Think nothing of it. Eira, I must admit that…you have constantly been on my mind since we last departed. Here I thought we knew all there was to know of our world, and then you walked in. I truly must thank you for teaching me just how ignorant I was. You know, I’ve never met a critter quite like yourself. One with…fur should I say? Yes, the fur atop your head there. I have never met a beast with fur with which I could speak with like you. Most are wild and mute.” His heartfelt words once again caught the young woman off guard, leaving her dumbfounded for a moment as to how to respond.

“You…came looking for me?” Her voice was soft.

“Why yes I did.”

“And…you aren’t…pardon me for asking this, but, you are real?”

“I beg your pardon? Real?” The giganotosaurus cackled, but there was an underlying hint of offense taken in his words.

“I’m sorry! It’s simply…I-I told my mother about you. She didn’t really believe me. I’ve been wondering all day about what I saw this morning. It all now seems so unreal.” Slowly Giant lowered himself to Eira’s level, so that his snout nearly touched her. The girl brought her hands up to her chest, defensively taking a surprised breath. Then the dinosaur smiled again as his claws graced the very tips of grass blades.

“Tell me Eira. How in this little world of yours could you possibly imagine something like me?” The question made her lighten her pose up a bit, if just slightly, when she wet her lips.

“M-may I? I mean, may I touch your…your nose?” Giant’s smirk simply widened when Eira swallowed the lump in her throat. Slowly and hesitantly, she brought a hand forward, with the other remaining at her chest. With her fingertips gracing the dinosaur’s snout slowly, her other hand came forward. Her palms ran over his leathery skin, mindful not to get near the sharp teeth overhanging from his upper jaw. Surely her mind couldn’t make up such a magnificent creature, at least not so vividly as to let her touch it. Suddenly Giant’s nostrils flared, making a noise that scared Eira back into her defensive ball. The dinosaur stood tall with a deep laugh.

“Forgive me Eira! What’s in life if not a few laughs?” He composed himself a little bit, but he continued to speak with a chuckle. “My you are a timid creature.”

“T-tis my nature.” Eira replied with a shaky laugh. She really tried to enjoy herself as much as Giant did, but she found it difficult to. Perhaps it was his size, or her mind constantly questioning itself. Her shyness was once again hindering her, she thought.

“Anyone can change their demeanor my dear. All it takes is the perfect mixture of adversity and determination.” Rather than elaborate further, as Eira had expected him to, Giant didn’t go on. Instead, he stood there, studying her with a sense of curiosity one might find in a child. All the while he kept his signature grin, even when he played with his hands absentmindedly. For once he was the one who felt nervous. Not wanting to make a fool of himself, he cleared his throat while he waited for Eira to speak again. Eira, meanwhile, brushed the hair back over her ear for a third time when she looked back to him.

“Is…there something wrong?”

“No. Nothing at all.” Giant chuckled. “I am simply…intrigued. Forgive me should I appear a bit forward but…might I know more about you?”

“Oh. O-of course.”

“Excellent. Could I be so humbled then by meeting the others like you?” Eira paused for a moment, lost in thought in how her village might react to a giant beast entering their home. Immediately she saw arrows flying and slings hurling stones, especially from the jumpy young men, followed by the screams of women and children. She dared not think of how Giant would react, whether it be in fright or fury. With a blink she shook her head.

“I um…I’m afraid not. I fear of how they would react to you.”

“Ah, so you are all quite cautious then.”

“Perhaps not so much as me, but…yes.” She gave an apprehensive grin.

“I understand.” The dinosaur lowered himself back down to the Green Folk’s level, smiling warmly as he cocked his head. “Then might I be so honored as to spend the evening with you?” Eira felt her lips curl upward in a humbled smile. How Giant had so much more tact than any of the men seeking her hand was beyond her. If only he was a Green Folk himself, she thought. Hands at her chest, she found her fingers playing with one another when she nodded.

“Of course.”

“Very good. Then tell me about yourself Eira. My mind has simply run endlessly since this morning. Here, sit beside this tree, enlighten me, and let the both of us enjoy one another’s company.” Her smile widening like a little girl, Eira walked to the trunk of a rather old and crooked tree. There she sat and curled up into a snug ball, while Giant laid down before her, curling himself around the tree much like a tired dog might at its owner’s feet. Crossing his arms on the ground, the giganotosaurus kept his head up high as one question after another spilled out from his toothy maw. “What is that there which you wear? How do you make it? Do you know your parents well? I know some who never met theirs. What are they like? What do you call yourselves? This fellow you aren’t fond of, what is he like? What do you look for in a mate? My, you glow in this moonlight when you smile. Did you know that?”

Eira would go on to answer Giant’s questions to the best of her ability, and yet whenever she tried to ask him a question, he responded rather hastily, if at all, followed by another curious question about her. Still, she loved his attention. Despite being a great beast, Giant was more of a gentleman than any man she had ever met. That smile he had, confident and yet humble, sent shivers down her spine. Giant laughed at her life’s mistakes, and listened solemnly when she spoke of the troubles she faced, only to smile again she saw the irony in it all. How she wished he was human more and more as she went on with her life. For several hours they spoke, when Giant finally revealed that he was responsible for a rather large section of forest, one Eira and her kind resided in.

“But don’t worry. I will protect you and your kind as I do my own.” Eira would pet his snout affectionately with a grateful thank you, which he himself enjoyed tremendously. The night was late, when she told Giant of what her mother said of her staying out late, the dinosaur simply laughed. “I suppose that gives us all the time in the world.” Eira giggled softly to herself.

“I suppose it does.” The two would converse for much of the night, until Eira, undone by exhaustion, gently fell asleep beside the tree hovering over her. Giant would watch her sleep for some time, likening her to a helpless child. The content smile forever apparent across her soft lips, however, only meant that she felt herself to be safe in his company. He would take the moment to enter into a deep slumber himself.

As morning came, an especially thick cloud of fog rolled through the forest with the budding light, consuming the smaller clouds hovering just above the ground. Giant awoke and felt his heart race. His presence was needed elsewhere, but he couldn’t find it in himself to abandon the young lady while she rested. Certainly it’d be easy for a predator, like the Coffin Spawn Eira so fearfully spoke of, to sneak up on her. But as the mist only continued to thicken, the giganotosaurus found it impossible to abandon his duties. He felt himself torn. As he looked back down at her peaceful slumber, he couldn’t find himself to wake her, as he instead seized a moment to study her.

Finally, he forced himself to leave, when he scanned the misty forest one last time and stood tall. His eyes falling back down, he purred softly as he gently nestled his snout up against Eira’s sleeping form. He was met with a tired yawn before she curled up even tighter against the tree. With one fateful glance, Giant turned and went on his way, guided by little more than a smirk and the scents of old comrades and associates.

How he had enjoyed her company.
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