The Last of Her Kind

Chapter 5


While the rest of the Nesting Grounds community continues to listen to Sarama's stories, a dumbstruck Baylene receives MORE visitors. Her long-dead siblings! What's the deal here? Read on...

"You know, Baylene, if the Fireball hadn't come, then things might have been a little different."

Those words came from Kenric, the wayward brother who inexplicably left the comfort of his family and herd decades ago. While his other sisters, Amber and Ember, took it all in stride, it was Baylene, the eldest, who regarded Kenric's abrupt departure as lack of character. But where was Kenric all that time? After his departure, Baylene never saw her brother again. Now, decades later, here in this cave, Kenric appeared to her as the vibrant, jovial brother she knew and loved.
Yes, deep down Baylene loved Kenric; it was his behavior with which she had a problem. And she could've used his good humor and easygoing style during those trying years. When Kenric left, Baylene felt that it was all planned out: He left the Herd for good reason, yet she wouldn't allow herself to miss him. Yes, she actually missed her brother during those awful years following...

"Er, Kenric," she began in a slow halting voice, "I am so sorry to snap at you so, but...What on earth is happening? I'm seeing so many faces from my past..."
The brother's eyes twinkled as he replied, "Dear Baylene, you are experiencing something called...Well, I'll let you in on this: The creatures who will inhabit this Earth long after our kind are gone will have a saying. 'This is Your Life, Baylene'."
Kenric gave his sister a loving smile then grew serious. "Darling Baylene, I had good reason for leaving; for you see, I felt guilty over your losing nearly all your hatchlings that year. I may not have shown it, but I felt for you. Then, years later, while I was away, word got back that the sickness returned and claimed so many, including your Quivier and Gemma..."

How did Kenric know about the Great Sickness when he was so far away from home? The answers lay with the intuitively gifted parasaurolophus they called Sarama and a feisty pteranadon from the high country named Glennis. The latter would finally make her way to the Nesting Grounds for the first time in a decade. What Glennis related at last caused the pieces of a painfully complicated puzzle to fall into place.

~~~~~~~~

Meanwhile, down by the lake, Sarama continues her story of tragic loss, selfless sacrifice, and awesome visions....
"The years rolled by as I matured to mating age. I watched my parents and grandparents age before my eyes. But it was Baylene's family who truly suffered."
Sarama's eyes briefly lighted up her mate and best friend. How much she loved him! How sweetly and beautifully he had fulfilled her life. Hadron was the sole rock upon which she leaned on during those trying times. How fortunate that the females in Sarama's family were able to have such loving and devoted mates. Mother Adam has Papa Japhet; Momma had my father, Zolan.

I was blessed with Hadron, who gave me many strong healthy children. He has been by my side throughout it all: The Great Sickness, losing my grandmother, and...

"Sarama," said Neera, interrupting the parasaurolophus' reverie, "I remember my mother telling us about the epidemic that swept the Herd, and that it nearly wiped out Baylene's kind."
"Yes," replied the parasaurolophus, "that was the same illness that visited our Herd before. According to my grandmother, this is what killed so many of Baylene's kind, especially the new hatchlings. Of course, when pestilence returned, it came back in a most insidious form; and this time, it did not discriminate."

She glanced towards the cave, sensed a presence, then said to herself, "And that is why Kenric left his family. He felt all the suffering was his fault..."

~~~~~~~~

Okay, let's rewind to those few day just before the Great Sickness. We now find a happy newly-paired Sarama and Hadron. The annual trek to the Nesting Grounds is months away. What's up with Baylene's family? Read on...
áThe Herd's many children born nearly two decades before matured into handsome young adults, ready to fulfill the previous generation's promise to maintain the Great Circle of Life. And so it came to pass that Sarama, the little parasaurolophus, grew up to become a sensitive, and sensible young lady. Her beauty was unsurpassed amongst her kind, and this beauty was not lost upon a young buck named Hadron. Come spring, the upcoming trek to the Nesting Grounds would be Sarama and Hadron's first as expectant parents. Everyone, especially, Mother Adah,á rejoiced that the Herd's future was secure. And so many well-suited pairings that year! From the parasaurolophus to the styracosaurs to the iguandons, the newly coupled eagerly awaited the arrival of yet another generation of hatchlings.
However, despite the joy, there was sorrow, for it during that same year that many of the brachiosaurs lost many their own. Too many had aged and contracted maladies peculiar to their kind. Of course that meant many weakened animals left vulnerable to the ravages of more serious illnesses.
The coming pestilence that swept the Herd that winter before the migration North, proved costly for so many. Like clockwork, Mother Adah's foreshadowing of this suffering finally rang true as the Herd endured a trial that left no one untouched by
tragedy.

Baylene's family was one of those hardest hit.

~~~~~~~~

It starts as a dull ache in the muscles. One feels tired, worn out. The explanations range from over-exertion, over-indulgence in food and drink, or, simply, advancing age. It's so easy to write it all off as such, but the disease is insidious that way -- It sneaks up, disguised as minor maladies. A simple, yet bothersome bug that will run its course in a couple of days.

Yet, as days roll by, those minor aches give way to raging fever, sudden nausea, and deep pain so unbearable, so indescribable. As a result, madness overtakes the mind. In years pass, when the disease was still somewhat isolated, stories filtered back of frenzied animals running amok, writhing in agony and hoping for death to release them from suffering. There were stories of the ground literally quaking -- pounding -- from dinosaurs pitching and struggling in the disease's clutches.

In extreme cases, many victims suffer respiratory congestion of the worse kind. Some animals, unable to expel the excess, eventually drown in their own fluids. Death came to the Herd so swiftly, so cruelly.

It struck down the old ones first, then it went after the young...

~~~~~~~~

"Mother Adah, you're moving a little slower than usual."

Thus said Quivier the brachiosaur to the parasaurolophus' matriarch. Indeed, Adah moved in a halted lethargic gait that often meant the usual ailments of old age. But this was no typical arthritic flare-up, for Quivier, himself just past middle age, felt the same way. Those first symptoms -- The deep throbbing pain in the extremities, and the general "blahs" -- were pretty much ignored. However, when a few of the younger members of the Herd began to complain of pain, nausea, and fever, Mother Adah finally realized that the great pestilence had arrived.

~~~~~~~~

The valley soon echoed with the collective groan of the ill and dying. Within those fleeting weeks many had passed on. Whole families were wiped out. A few lucky animals with means to get out fled this madness before the epidemic spread to their near and dear.
A pteranadon family fled to the high country far across the sea. Several Herd members simply struck out for the Nesting Grounds before the scheduled time. The ceratopsians, for some inexplicable reason, were spared the sickness, as if they had natural immunity.
Other species were not as fortunate. The parasaurolophus, iguandons, and brachiosaurs suffered heavy casualties. Baylene stood by her family as her mate, her sisters, and daughter endured the ravages of an illness unlike that which killed her babies long ago.

There was not much to do other than watch her loved ones suffer in agony.

~~~~~~~~

"Quivier, come. Try to drink..."
Leaning hard against her life mate, Baylene lead an unsteady and delirious Quivier to the river. A few days ago, he complained of soreness deep in his muscles and a general lethargy; his energy was nearly depleted. Over time, Quivier contracted severe chills, high fever, and pain that was so indescribable. He could barely eat; however, what little he did consume never stayed down. He could barely talk for the vocal cords became infected.
Baylene was becoming very alarmed as her mate weakened by the hour. Deep down she could feel it -- that unwitting premonition that death was imminent. It pained her to watch her beloved suffer such agony, yet she knew it was a matter of time before he would be free of pain.

Quivier, barely able to stand, wobbled a bit at the water's edge. He took time to watch his reflection and it nearly broke his heart. He had aged so rapidly within those few days. His skin lost it's gleam of health, taking on an almost ashen pallor. The eyes, heavily bagged and yellowed, lacked that sparkle that attracted Baylene to him so many years ago.
He took a raspy breath, turned to gaze upon his mate, then promptly collapsed in heap. Unable to move, the gentleman brachiosaur summoned every last ounce of strength and spoke to his mate in a low wheezing voice. "Baylene, the love of my life, I can feel Death upon me."
His breathing was ragged; the eyes failed to focus, yet he continued. "These will be trying times for you, my love. I'm near death; your sisters have taken ill as well. So many of our peers have fallen from this dreadful pestilence. I feel our kind will no longer regain the glory years..."

And with that, Quivier, still gazing upon his beloved, breathed his last. Baylene tried not to crack under the relentless strain of grief; after all, Quivier had stood by Baylene so many times, good and bad. He was there for her when the babies died so tragically; he was there when all hope seemed to disappear.
When Kenric so abruptly left, it was Quivier who comforted a silently seething Baylene. "My love, who knows what drove Kenric to such extremes. He had his reasons for leaving -- Don't blame yourself. Your brother has free will as the all of us. In good time, when he finally works out whatever is troubling him, Kenric will return."

But Kenric never returned. It had been several long years since the wayward brother departed. All Baylene could do right now is not brood over her brother but grieve for her dearly beloved mate. He had given her so many wonderfully sweet years of happiness. Now she had to summon up all her remaining strength to care for an ailing sister and daughter.

Good sister Ember approached from behind. She spoke softly. "Baylene...Is Quivier gone?"
The eldest sister sadly nodded, saying nothing. Ember's gait was somewhat unsteady but for some miraculous reason, she escaped the full brunt of the disease. As she neared her sister, she could detect in Baylene an almost embarrassing stoicism -- that sense that one should never see her fall apart. But Ember knew her sister all too well. The face may have not shown absolute grief and pain, but the eyes gave away the true depths of Baylene's tragic loss.
How horrible!, thought Ember as she coaxed her sister to turn away from this heartrending scene. So many have suffered, and the brachs had endured tremendous losses. Quivier was yet another addition to a mounting death toll. By week's end, more would be added; among those, two more of Baylene's kin.

~~~~~~~~

Across the river, lamentable moans emanated from the hadrosaurs. One of the Herd's grand patriarchs had just exited this life. Papa Japhet, faithful mate of Mother Adah and the sage of the parasaurolophus, expired the same time as Quivier.

Naturally his family deeply mourned his passing; as always, Mother Adah cared for Japhet just as she had always done. She fretted over her family so. Already the illness had claimed many of Adah's grandchildren, yet Sarama held onto her health. Earlier, Adah feared that her eldest grandchild, the one with the gift of prophecy, would go the way of Gemma -- rendered sterile with no chance of ever carrying on her species.á
But Sarama survived and worked tirelessly by her grandmother's side, caring for Grandpa, who was sinking fast. He, like Quivier, suffered the same symptoms: the nausea, aches, and fever.
The end came swiftly and Japhet's final words expressed his love for his mate and family. He had hoped to survive to see the birth of his great-grandchildren, yet realized that the disease rapidly drained his life away. With his dying breath, he expressed to Adah, "At least you will see the Herd's next generation."
To this Adah could only offer, "No I won't. In time I shall join you, but not after I'm completely assured that the Herd's far-off future is secure."

At the height of the epidemic, Adah focused not on just her family but on Baylene and an particular iguanodon. The former's ultimate survival depended on the latter's. You see, there was an iguanodon female who was about Sarama's age. She too would make her first trip to the Nesting Grounds; she was expecting her first hatchlings as well.
"She is the connection," Adah observed. She shared this with her granddaughter, adding, "When he makes himself known, Sarama, follow him. Don't brush him off -- and you will at first -- as he will be the key to our Herd's very future. Watch over Baylene as this stranger's presence will be crucial for her. He will inspire Baylene and she in turn will fulfill her destiny."

Sarama did not quite understand at first but, long ago, she and the female iguanodon crossed paths. Both met by the river and their eyes locked on each other. Perhaps Sarama, upon meeting this lady, finally comprehended what her grandmother was talking about. Of course Sarama never let on, except to her grandmother.áá
"I looked into this lady's eyes, Grandmother. I saw the stranger, yet to be born, within her," she related to Adah the day after Papa Japhet passed.á "I also saw Baylene, yet she was so old, but still wore her strength and dignity proudly. The stranger, this young outsider, will inspire Baylene."

Adah, whose own foreshadowings were always one hundred percent accurate, wanted NOT to believe Sarama. Especially upon hearing the desperate lamentations coming from the brachiosaurs' camp. The old parasaurolophus, near collapse from the heavy weights of age and personal loss, listened to Ember mourn the passing of two beloved family members.

An middle-aged styracosaur ambled over to the parasaurolophus' family, saying, "Adah, honey, how are you all faring? I'm so sorry to hear about Japhet...."
After the usual words of condolence, the feisty ceratopsian glanced over at the two grief-strickened female brachiosaurs drinking at the river. With a sigh she said, "That's a shame, for Baylene to lose her mate, her daughter, and her sister. Unless Kenric comes home, and I doubt it, Ember is all the family Baylene has left."

~~~~~~~~

Fast forward to the present...Sarama catches her breath after recounting such a tragic episode. But there is yet another story waiting to be heard. Read on...


"What a calamity! By the time we departed for the Nesting Grounds, we had lost nearly half of the Herd to disease. My grandmother survived her bout but was considerably weakened..."

Sarama glanced about her audience, which by now had learned nearly all of Baylene's history. But there was more.
"Sarama," asked Neera, "what about Baylene's brother? Did he ever return?"

"That I don't know," Sarama replied. "And no one else knows what ever became of Kenric. Perhaps he died of the same sickness; or, perhaps..."

"...Or perhaps, so many years later, he got the message but he never survived the journey home."

The voice came from within the crowd, a voice that boasted a distinctive brogue and burr despite its owner's infirmities. All eyes now turned to the bedraggled figure who seemed to appear out of nowhere. Her name was Glennis, a pteranadon approximately the same age as Neera and Aladar. Not too many of her kind around these days, thought Sarama.
After all these years since Aladar led the Herd to the Nesting Grounds, Glennis finally makes herself known. Oh she had lived here ever since the Fireball disaster; she was one of the later arrivals.
The other animals stepped aside as the pteranadon made her way toward the front. She had lived in seclusion most days; she seldom showed herself. Now, upon seeing Glennis up close, they realized why she remained in the shadows. After a few audible gasps from the Herd, Plio, the lemur matriarch, stepped forward to offer the pteranadon a hand.
As Glennis turned to face those who she thought shunned her, something made her glance towards the cave. Yes, she thought, all of this will finally come to an end. For Baylene will now learn the truth, the sacrifice Kenric and I made out of love and regard for the old girl.

If I'm correct, then my mother -- well at least her spirit -- should be there soon. Yes, I, like Sarama, have this knack for "seeing" things...

Finally, the pieces fall into place, and Baylene would soon find courage to face down her demons.
á



COMING UP:

TO CHAPTER 6

Copyrightę2000 by "Sarama"


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