But where were the males? Where were Aladar, Yar, and Zini? Well, even in this slice of Nesting Grounds paradise, there comes a time when the ladies simply need time to themselves. Besides, the males were busily preparing for a mating ritual. Zini and Yar suggested this in memory of rituals past, when the lemurs and Aladar lived on the now-desolate Lemur Island. There was much to do as the newly matured dinosaur and lemurs anticipated a ritual to remember. One such male, a handsome corythosaur named Omar, had his eye on a certain female, not knowing that her mother would have other ideas. It wasn't as if Mom objected to her daughter finding the mate of her dreams; rather it was the realization that her daughter could not ever be like other dinosaurs.
So what was wrong with the young lady? Only her mother, brother, and friends knew the devastating effects of the girl's condition. It was an unknown malady that plagued her since childhood, yet thus far she had beaten the odds and matured into a beautiful female corythosaurus. Surely, with tender loving care, she will fulfill her destiny for the future of the Herd.
"Whew! It sure is a scorcher today. Glad to be in the shade. Nice breeze coming in off the lake."
Eema, the hundred-year old styracosaurus, settled beneath the shade of the broad-leaved tree, revelling in the brightly sunny day but not the heat. Of course, she had her good friend Baylene to provide even more shade. See, having a towering brachiosaur as a friend has its rewards. Baylene asked Plio about the lemurs' mating rituals, something she had never seen. Too bad, Baylene thought, that she would never take part in a mating ritual; she was, after all, the last of her kind. Besides, even if there was a nice elderly male brachiosaur around, Baylene would simply say, "No thank you." She prized her independence yet honored the memory of her long-dead mate of many years – too many to count.
"Oh Baylene," said the lemur matriarch, "the ritual is beautiful. We gather around our Ritual Tree. The females climb up the tree as the males are paraded before them. Each girl has a flower and gives it to the male of her choosing. Of course, the males always try to outdo themselves, doing backflips and generally showing off. Sometimes, and this happened during the last ritual, one male is left alone. Zini was usually the one left; last time he got his foot caught in the vines."
"Oh dear," laughed Baylene, "poor Zini. But of course, that last ritual ended so badly...I don't mean to dredge up old, painful memories."
"Nonsense, Baylene, for that's what we have: memories. I think it's great the men want to do up a mating ritual for all of our young couples."
Neera listened to this confab, rejoining, "I don't think the Herd has had anything remotely resembling a ritual. We just chose our mates and didn't make a it big deal. What Aladar suggested is wonderful, it's just too bad he and I can't take part in it."
"Or Hadron and I," said Sarama who rolled a plump, ripe peach to Ola. She turned to Vonda, the corythosaur matriarch, asking, "Will Quinten and Chanda be part of the ritual? I know Chanda has her eyes on Omar, but what about your son? He is of age, if a tad younger than his sister."
Vonda was about to reply when Eema joined in, "I noticed that, too. Omar is a good catch, Chanda, and I can't wait to help bring in your new hatchlings...And Quinten, now I see old Lillia's granddaughter has taken a shine to him. Vonda, you should be proud of your children, growing up so handsomely, taking such worthy mates. I know you're looking forward to new grandbabies."
Vonda, she of the mottled blue and tan skin and large dark green eyes, wished these ladies hadn't brought up the subject of mating rituals, hatchlings, or grandchildren. Of course, Vonda wanted very much to see her son and daughter mated and rearing children of their own, but...
Quinten was still very much a child, just a year shy of the official mating age, yet he possessed a deep intellect and quick wit. A somewhat shy, studious sort, he usually didn't mingle with the others of the Herd; he preferred to be by himself observing rather than participating. Quinten did not miss much, and he loved his sister so. Chanda, on the other hand, was full of life, a marvelous conversationalist, and always in the middle of everything. Of course, there was something about Chanda that almost everyone in the Herd knew – The girl was desperately ill, and that strange malady for which there was no cure began to manifest itself this year. She complained of blurry vision and chronic fatigue, yet she didn't let her problems hold her back. The one thing Chanda wanted was a loving mate and hatchlings to care for.
Her mother thought differently. Oh, Vonda, while she carried her unhatched eggs, wanted so much to have strong, healthy children. That wish, however, went partially unfulfilled. She laid six eggs that year, only to see four hatchlings die moments upon emerging from their shells. The two surviving offspring, Quinten and Chanda, were strong enough to live to adulthood. For that, Vonda was grateful, yet there was something amiss. While Quinten proved to be quiet, almost shy, yet oh-so brilliant, it was the daughter who, despite her vivaciousness, seemed sickly from babyhood.
Actually, the illness, if it could be called an illness, manifested itself shortly before Chanda entered puberty. She complained of tiredness; she would eat mounds of berries, but no greens, then promptly fell asleep for hours on end. Vonda didn't know what was wrong with her daughter, so she consulted Eema and Baylene, wise elderly ladies who took upon themselves as healers of the Herd. Eema didn't know what to make of Chanda's illness, but Baylene identified it right away. Seemed one of her distant relations had the same malady.
"It happened to Skylar, my cousin on my father's side," explained the elderly dinosaur. "We didn't know what to make of it. She was fine until just before she came of age, then she suffered the worst fatigue. Skylar was just tired all the time. And the strange thing was, she always seemed to tire if she'd gone long without eating. Then the attacks came. She would go into these fits of frenzy, shaking and screaming. My mother always made sure Skylar was near a food source, that is, if she had an attack, she was given berries or some other fruit to eat. After a while, the attacks subsided. But the awful happened: She went blind then lost the use of her right hind foot. A sore developed on that foot and never healed. Imagine having to travel great distances on a badly wounded limb. Poor dear, she did not last long. Skylar died just short of mating season. So young to go so soon."
That is what Vonda feared: The loss of her daughter. She knew there was nothing she could do about the girl's illness, but at least she could prevent Chanda from overdoing, stressing herself to the point of exhaustion. Vonda knew she still had Quinten if Chanda died, but a son is a son until he takes a mate; having a daughter is different. She hovered over Chanda since the girl was old enough to take her first steps and prattle, a habit Chanda deeply abhorred. So much did the girl want to be part of the young's activities, but her mother would say, "No, dear. I don't want you to strain yourself."
Not a moment went by that Vonda didn't admonish Chanda for not eating on time, or eating the wrong things. Although she loved her mother, Chanda hated the way Vonda hovered over her, monitoring her every move. Now, just days before the Nesting Grounds' mating ritual, Vonda voiced objections to Chanda's desire to find a mate and have babies. To Vonda, such an undertaking would tax the girl's constitution beyond endurance. Yet Chanda could not be swayed.
It was on this day, in the gathering of females under the tree, that Vonda had to answer Eema's inquiries as to Chanda's future.
"Eema," said Vonda with heavy heart, "surely you know of Chanda's condition. She can't possibly take on the responsibility of caring for a mate and hatchlings. It's far too risky."
Eema, or the other females, would not hear of it. Neera retorted, "Of course Chanda can have it all. She is of age, and our Herd must continue. We've endured sickness within our midst, and always we've managed to come through. Come on, look at your daughter and her intended. Omar is quite taken with her, and they make a splendid couple. I know if I suffered with an unknown illness, Aladar would stand by me, as I'm sure Omar will stand by Chanda."
"Listen to her," said Plio as she and Suri prepared the flowers for tomorrow's ritual, "Chanda is a big girl now. You must let go, Vonda. She can take care of herself, and she does have all of us to look out for her. But let her live her life – by herself."
Before Vonda could reply, her son Quinten came up accompanied by Yolande, Lillia's granddaughter. He seemed happy for a change, a tad less shy. Beaming, he addressed his mother, "Mom, Yolande and I are asking your blessing. Her grandma says we make a good match, so won't you say 'Yes'?"
What could she say? No? She looked at her son, a two-ton wonder with dark mottled gray and blue skin like his mother, dark eyes, and a well-shaped head crest. Too bad Quinten didn't use that crest to its full potential as did his sister.
Vonda gave her blessing to Quinten and Yolande's union, although she still had misgivings about her daughter's future life as mate and mother. Perhaps the others were right – Let Chanda go, let her live her life as she saw fit, without interference from Mom. If only it was that easy.
Her worst fears came true as she watched her daughter frolicking with the lemur and dinosaur youngsters. She could also see the intended mate, Omar, watching this touching scene. Chanda has so much love to give, although I fear for her well being; her health is in a precarious state although she does not show it now...
Suddenly, the play stopped as Chanda began to reel and faint. It is happening again...
"Chanda! What's wrong?," called out one of the lemur youngsters. There no doubt Chanda was going into shock. Omar rushed to her side, calling out to the other females, "Plio! Eema! Vonda! Chanda needs help!"
The girl became quite disoriented and agitated as the females rushed to the scene. The other males heard the cry for help, with Aladar and Yar immediately gathering sweet berries. Poor girl, thought a very concerned Yar, let's hope we got to her in time.
Copyright©2003 by PRP ("Crazedwriter")