Baylene, the elderly brachiosaur, upon hearing a hadrosaur singing a pretty song to her hatchlings, indulged in a reminisce. Eema, the hundred-year old styracosaur, heard the song as well, and she, too, was swept away to a time when the Nesting Grounds had yet to be founded. In fact, the first time that song was performed, old Gotoma had yet to be born. This valley, eons ago, was here, to be sure, but much younger, smaller, not as verdant and lush as it is now.
Pondering her friend's words, Eema ventured, "Legend says there was a valley almost like this one, populated by creatures much like us. However, many were the last of their kind, some within the final two or three generations to be precise. Ah, those majestic animals with their graceful long necks and tails. And such massive weight! Not as big or tall as you, Baylene, but just as impressive. There was one, and I believe you knew her..."
Baylene nodded although the recollection was a bit fuzzy. "They called her the 'Old One', yet I recall her real name...Prudence! Yes, that was her name. Of course, I was so young, not long hatched, but my mother spoke of Prudence with such fondest and reverence, I guess I'd known her all my life. She was quite aged then, not long for this life, and died before I was scarcely able to prattle."
She continued, "My parents often consulted her on all sorts of subjects. She had the reputation of being the oldest and wisest of her kind. Of course, like myself, she became the very last of her kind. Even the little ones she counselled unfortunately predeceased her."
Eema added, "She outlived them all. You know, my mother often talked of the great longneck herds that used to roam the earth. There was an elderly couple that the old folks used to talk about, had a grandson who was, if truth be known, a lot like Aladar. Now, what were their names? Help me out, Baylene."
"I believe," replied that lady, "and I may be wrong, their names were Donner and Sylvie. They had a son, Bron, and, as you mentioned, a grandson. Alas, the daughter-in-law died while the child was quite young. I believe they called the child Littlefoot. At least that is what we heard as children. So many herds coming and going, telling all these folktales dating from time immemorial."
"And," added Eema, "we don't even know if the stories are true, not with so many different versions flying about."
"But, Eema, this one is rather consistent. Say, wasn't there another one, someone had left that herd long ago but returned, only to remain in the shadows?"
Eema nodded, "Yep, and I remember that tale. The lady's name was...But in later years she went by 'Didi', and she had a tragic beginning..."
By now, both Eema and Baylene had an audience the entire Nesting Grounds citizenry and both ladies began to weave a tale of tragic loss and amazing rediscovery...
"Cera!", called out the beakmouth Ducky, "Wait up!"
"Come on, Ducky," said Petrie the flyer, "Me can see Cera from up here. She's almost there. Hey, I can see something she can't. Me thinks it's a herd coming." He hovered over long enough to make out some shapes. "Yep, it's a longneck herd. Hey, Littlefoot, me thinks it's our friend Ali, coming back for a visit."
"Oh," said Ducky, "I hope it is her. I like Ali; she is a very nice friend. She is, she is."
Bringing up the rear, Littlefoot picked up his pace. The very mention of Ali's name brightened his mood and put an almost dancing spring in his step. It had been many months since Ali first came to the Great Valley. That was when Grandpa got really sick, and the Old One said the petals of the golden night flower were the only cure. He recalled when he and his friends, despite their parents' warnings of wandering far from the Valley, ventured into the Land of Mists. Only Ali knew the way, and she was wonderful, even saved Cera's life after the precocious threehorn stumbled into a raging river. Poor Cera would have drowned, or, in a worse case, ended as that nasty bellydragger's lunch. Of course, Ali, being the first longneck Littlefoot had encountered (his grandparents and himself being the only of their kind in the Valley), held a special place in Littlefoot's heart. His grandmother teasingly said to Grandpa that, in time, their grandson and Ali would make a handsome couple. Littlefoot didn't quite understand all what his grandparents meant, but if the two young ones would, in the far-off future, end up as lifemates, that pleased Littlefoot all the more. Naturally, he and Ali were still kids, and kids don't usually make such long range plans. This he expressed to Grandma and Grandpa. He couldn't wait to grow up and have a family of his own, but he wanted to enjoy his young years as long as they lasted.
Finally reaching the top of the overlook, Littlefoot joined his friends, watching the approach of the longneck herd. Yes, just as Petrie said, it was Ali and her mother, along with Prudence, better known and the Old One. That lady was the oldest and wisest of all longnecks, and Littlefoot came to rever the dowager longneck, even looked forward to listen to more of her stories of days gone by, before earthquakes and changing landscape threatened the dinosaurs' very survival.
"Hey!," exclaimed Cera, "there's Ali and her mom, and all the other longnecks! Even the Old One's there."
Ducky was equally ecstatic. "Yep, yep, yep! It is Ali all right. Littlefoot, do you think your grandparents know the longneck herd is coming?"
"I think they do, Ducky. Here, we should get back to our folks to help greet our visitors. Come on! Race you back!"
That said, the little dinosaurs hurried back to their respective families, with the ever hungry Spike bringing up the rear. A big, strapping stegasaurus lad with an endless appetite, Spike was a boy of few words. Oh, he could talk when he wanted but preferred to listen than prattle. Besides, there was far too much good green food to eat. Why waste time talking when he could enjoy a nice snack?
And Spike did just that, gobbling up great clumps of ferns and foliage along the way. Ducky looked back and laughed. "That is my big brother, all right. He is always hungry. He is, he is."
Littlefoot joined in the good humor then saw his grandparents waiting for him by the lake. This was to be a fun time, what with the traveling longneck herd returning the Great Valley. What Littlefoot didn't know or his grandparents for that matter was this time the migrating herd was much larger than than it was during the last visit. According to Mr. Thicknose, the wizened pachyrhinosaur who also saw the herd's approach, observed that this was actually a merger of two herds. "Safety in numbers, Littlefoot," he said, "It is the surest way to survive. The more there are, the better the chances of warding off predators."
"Grandpa, I can't wait to see Ali again. She's such a nice friend. And I want to listen to the Old One's stories. I know I didn't understand what you said the last time, that she is the oldest and wisest of our kind. I appreciate it now, especially since it was she who said that the golden night flowers would cure you. She was right about the Land of Mists, too. It was dangerous, and even Cera was scared of that place. I told you about the bellydragger and her flyer friend; they tried to eat us, but we outsmarted them..."
"Yes, Littlefoot," said Grandpa lovingly, "You young ones took a great risk. But I am forever grateful. Although your grandmother and I worry about you, we know you are a resourceful lad. I wouldn't be here today if"
"If," Littlefoot said with a giggle, "I obeyed and stayed home. I couldn't do that, Grandpa. I didn't want you to die, and Grandma was so sad, and you're all I have. Well, I have my dad, but he isn't here, so..."
His voice trailed off as the herd made its way into the valley. Now this was odd, thought Littlefoot. This herd is much larger, just as Mr. Thicknose said, and there were a few familiar faces in that crowd. Even in the distance, Littlefoot could make out the shapes and faces. There was Ali and her mother, the Old One, and...And Bron!
"Dad!," he called out, rushing forth in the herd's wake. "Dad! It's you!"
He didn't even stop to greet Ali; she and her mother was far in the back anyway. All Littlefoot wanted right now was to reunite with his father the only connection between him and his long-dead mother. Well, he had his grandparents, and he resigned himself to look out for them as long as they lived. But this was his father, the one who, along with his mother, gave him life.
"Dad! Dad!," he exclaimed. "I'm so glad to see you again!"
He rushed to his father, immediately nuzzling Bron's massive snout with great affection.
"Littlefoot!," said Bron, returning the embrace, "I thought I'd never make it back this way. Hey, I bet you're anxious to see Ali again. She is here." He nodded to the back. "Back there with her mom. The Old One is up front, and I saw you rush past her. That's a pretty audacious thing to do."
"Au-da-cious? What does that mean?"
"Well, it means brave and bold. But for the Old One, it just may as well mean cheeky and rude."
Littlefoot was outdone. "Oops, I didn't know I was being rude. Sorry about that, Dad."
"Hey, don't sweat it. I'll smooth things over with her. But I'm here, and so is Ali. We'll be here a good many days, Littlefoot, so that will give us plenty of time to get to know each other again. Oh, I forgot...Where are my manners. Littlefoot, may I introduce Didi. She joined our herd just a few days ago. She is very nice but a little nervous. See, she got separated from her herd long ago. She was all alone when we found her, so she was more than welcome to join us, and we're happy to have her."
At first, Littlefoot didn't know why his father would introduce this strange lady longneck. She was pretty, with big brown eyes and gleaming black skin, and such graceful carriage. Could Didi be a new mate for Bron? Why, Littlefoot thought, would Bron throw away the memory of Mother and take on a new mate? It didn't make sense.
Littlefoot, while remembering his manners, merely smiled at the lady, saying, "Pleased to meet you, Didi."
The lady studied this little longneck before her, looking at him with peculiar interest. She then said, "Your father talks of nothing but you. He speaks of you so highly, how brave you are, and so selfless. I like those qualities in a young one." She glanced back, adding, "But I'm sure you don't to waste precious time talking with us grownups. I see Ali coming..."
She smiled at Littlefoot who immediately rushed to his special friend. Didi turned to Bron saying in a whisper, "Do you think he noticed, Bron? Do you think your folks will recognize me? While I'm thrilled to be among family again, I just as well prefer to remain in the shadows. Enduring one separation was bad enough, but to go through it again"
"Not to worry, Didi," said Bron, "Your secret is safe with me." He noticed Mr. Thicknose and Daddy Threehorn approaching. "Now if we can only convince those two to keep their mouths shut..."
TO BE CONTINUED...Go to Chapter 2
Copyright © 2005, 2006 by PRP.