The egg felt even heavier once Tristan walked into Sauropolis. He shifted his backpack, trying to make his aching shoulders more comfortable, but it didn't seem to feel any better. As Tristan's hesitant footsteps carried him further in, past the city's huge gates, he felt as if the city were a giant carnivore, swallowing him whole. Many of the buildings towered high above him, constructed to accommodate the largest of the dinosaurs. Since he was just a human, small, and insignificant, maybe his travel worn appearance and suspiciously bulging backpack wouldn't spawn curiosity in anyone.
Dinotopia's capitol city sounded even noisier than Tristan remembered. Carts and wagons squeaked and rattled, people shouted, dinosaurs growled, music played somewhere in the distance…and a high pitched blast coming from a whistle rang shrilly in his ears. He jumped at the sound and found himself staring stupidly into the angry face of a traffic guard.
"Get out o' th' way. You'll git run over ifn ya stand around gawkin' like that." The hefty man said in a tone of voice that meant business. He grabbed Tristan by the collar and yanked him aside as if he were no lighter than a small boy. Tristan felt the all too familiar heat of anger burn through his body. He was about to slap the man's meaty hands away from his collar when a huge bicycle taxi powered by a lambeosaurus sped past them, narrowly missing them both. The wheels hit a puddle in the street, spattering dirty water all over Tristan.
"Well, maybe that'll teach ya t' watch where yore a goin' next time." The man said, finally letting go of the teenager. He of course hadn't received any of the splatter from the puddle since he'd held Tristan securely in front of him like a shield.
Tristan said nothing in return as he swiped his dripping hair away from his face.
The traffic guard gave his bright uniform a quick pat, checking for mud splatter. After finding nothing, he gave a satisfied grunt and without even glancing in Tristan's direction, he turned away to focus on his duties once again. Tristan had been dismissed as indifferently as a fly being brushed from a sleeve. Tristan glared at him, tempted to wipe his muddy sleeve over the back of the man's neatly pressed shirt. But as hard as it was to let it go, Tristan forced himself to walk away. It wouldn't be good to draw anymore attention to himself, not unless he wanted someone to find out about the egg he carried in his backpack.
Continuing his trek through the city, Tristan made sure from that point on to watch his step. He didn't want to be jerked around anymore by traffic guards whether they were attempting to save his life or not. He realized now that a boisterous city was not the ideal place to raise an egg, especially in secret, but he needed help and his family was the only ones he knew to turn to.
At one point he considered taking a taxi to his destination, but as he watched them speeding through the streets, he decided against it, not wanting to be jostled around any more than he'd already been. He shifted his heavy backpack, concerned for the fragile cargo within. It would be ironic to have traveled all this way from the canyons on his own, managing to keep the egg safe and unseen, only for something terrible to happen to it once he reached his home city. It would be good to reach his family's apartment before anything else could happen.
Just as soon as the thought crossed his mind, someone bumped into him from behind—hard—thumping against his backpack. Tristan's patience, which had worn thin already, snapped. "Hey, watch it!" He barked as he whirled around.
He had no idea how fierce his expression looked as he found himself staring into the wide eyes of a girl. She stared back at him, seemingly frozen, with her mouth open. Tristan passed a hand over his face. He felt tired and irritable from traveling all day and the last thing he wanted to do was to apologize or try and come up with some sort of logical sounding explanation for his frustration.
The girl remained still, clutching a colorful crocheted bag tightly in her slender hands. She licked her lips and swallowed before finally speaking. "I-I'm really sorry for bumping into you. I…uh…I should've paid closer attention to where I was going."
"Yes." Tristan agreed his tone still gruff. "You should've." Then, dismissing her as unceremoniously as the traffic guard had done to him, he stepped away from the main hubbub of the street and carefully set his backpack down on an empty street bench. After loosening the drawstring, he peered inside. Dipping his hand into the backpack, he pushed away the insulated blanket he'd wrapped securely around the egg for warmth and added protection. As he rubbed the smooth surface of the egg and felt the familiar warmth and life radiating from it, relief washed over him. It was still safe and unharmed.
Glancing up again, he discovered that the girl had not taken his cue of dismissal and was still watching him with a fearful expression on her face. What was wrong with her? There was no reason for her to be afraid of him. He traced her gaze with his eyes and realized that she was staring at the long knife strapped to his belt. Why hadn't he thought to put the knife somewhere where it would be concealed once he reached the city? It was a wonder that the traffic guard hadn't noticed it. Out in the countryside, most folks didn't think much about it since knives were useful on the trail, but people in the cities were uptight about carrying anything considered a weapon out in the open. This was due to the third code of Dinotopia, ("Weapons are enemies even to their owners"), and also probably because Sauropolis was notorious for attracting lawless folks referred to as Dolphin Bay tramps. And these folks were usually rebellious, strapping on weapons mostly just for reasons of spite and intimidation, but on occasion they really were used to harm others.
It seemed as if Tristan could read the accusation printed across the girl's eyes; Dolphin Bay tramp. It was only a matter of moments before she would regain her composure enough to flag down a street guard to come and take him into custody to be brought in front of the city officials and tried. Then they would discover the egg and the truth would only sound like a story to them and he'd be permanently labeled a Dolphin Bay tramp. And what would happen after that? Punishment? Banishment?
Suddenly Tristan felt bad for being so gruff toward the girl. Not bad for her sake, but for his. He forced a smile onto his face, hoping it would do for a gesture of forgiveness.
His gesture must've been clear enough because instantly, the worry in the girl's eyes melted away. Apparently she took the smile as a friendly invitation too, because she bounded over to him, blonde curls bouncing against her round face. Tristan stepped back a little, but she didn't seem to notice. She smiled up at him in a happy, childish way. "Oh I'm so glad that you're not angry anymore. I'll try my best to pay closer attention to where I'm going next time." She hesitated, looking him up and down again. "Just for the record, you're not really a Dolphin Bay tramp, are you?"
Tristan just stared at her, surprised at her sudden switch of moods.
"Well?" She took a tentative step backward as if getting ready to run if she should need to.
Tristan finally shook his head. "No. Sauropolis is my home."
The girl sighed, clearly relieved. "Good. I'm always worried I might come across one. I've heard they can be pretty mean sometimes."
Tristan wondered if he should tell the girl that she was too trusting. Lucky for her he wasn't really a Dolphin Bay tramp because he could just as easily be lying to her.
"You want to know why I was so distracted?" The girl piped up, cocking her head to one side in a dinosaur-like fashion.
Tristan continued to stare at her, a little taken back by her sudden friendliness and quick conversation, especially after she'd seemed so afraid only a few minutes before.
Even though he hadn't responded, the girl just giggled and went on talking anyway. "Well, to be honest I was watching that brachiosaurus over there, trying to decide if it would be more thrilling to view the city from way up there on a saddle just behind its head or if a ride on the back of a skybax would be better. A brachiosaurus would move slowly enough for me to see all the sights, that's for sure, but a skybax could let me see everything at any angle I wanted." She wrinkled her nose. "But then again, I don't know. A skybax would probably go too fast for me to take everything in." What do you think? Would it be better to ride a brachiosaurus or a skybax?"
Tristan scratched his head awkwardly. She was looking up at him again apparently expecting an answer. Then he relaxed a little as he suddenly realized that her bubbly personality and fast changing moods reminded him so much of his sister, Tiana. "I would choose the skybax." He finally replied.
The girl sighed. "Oh, it's such a hard decision." Then she laughed again. "Of course, I guess it doesn't really matter anyway because I'll never get to ride a skybax, and I'd have to come up with some expensive trading material to get to ride one of those prestigious city brachiosaurs."
Tristan listened to the girl's chatter, wondering if he was going to be able to get a word in to say goodbye. He was tempted to simply walk away, but that would be rude and he didn't want to hurt her feelings again, much less risk the chance of her going back to thinking he really was some kind of rogue.
"So why are you still standing there with one arm inside your backpack? It looks funny, kind of like you were going to take something out, but forgot about it." The girl paused, blinking up at him expectantly.
This was the pause in the girl's seemingly endless flow of words that Tristan was waiting for; his chance to quickly bid farewell and leave, but he hadn't expected such an odd question to be hurtled at him so bluntly and it caught him off guard. "I uh…"
Before he could finish, the girl leaned forward, eyes sparking with interest as she peered into the backpack. It all happened so fast that Tristan hardly had time to think. "Oh!" The girl gasped, "An egg! So that's why you were so anxious when I bumped into you. I'm terribly sorry. I hope it didn't harm it." She looked up at Tristan, a quizzical expression on her face. "But…what are you doing with an…egg?"
Tristan hoped his face didn't show how nervous he felt. All this time he'd been so careful—through the whole trip in fact—without anything significant happening, and now that he was within a half mile of home, the worst thing he could think of had happened. A stranger had caught him with the egg and was asking questions about it.
"You really are a tramp after all, aren't you?" The girl said, a sudden frown creasing her pale brow. "And you've done something terrible. You've stolen an egg." She took a step backward.
Yes, Tristan wanted her to leave, but not like this. He quickly shook his head. "No, no no no. It's not what you think. You see, it's an orphan. I'm merely…uh…transporting it…you know…to a safe place." He was sweating now as he struggled to find words to explain his way out of this dilemma.
The girl narrowed her eyes at him and he could tell that she seemed to be thinking hard. Tristan quickly tightened the drawstring, secured the top flap, and pulled the backpack over his shoulders again.
"An orphan, you say?" The girl finally said. "Well if that's so, you're heading in the wrong direction. The Sauropolis Hatchery Reserve and Saurian Nursery is back that way." She pointed down the wide street veering off to the left.
Tristan rubbed his forehead, a habitual motion he made when irritated or worried. In this case, it was a mixture of both. "I—I know. I grew up in this city."
"Did you now?" The girl looked him up and down incredulously. "Well you sure don't look like it."
Tristan felt embarrassed and then annoyed. It was true though. He knew that his travel worn simple tunic and pants looked drab compared to the grand attire of all the folks milling about the city. Back at Canyon City (a small town despite its name) such frills and frippery would likely make everyone laugh—even the skybaxes. During his training though, Tristan had quickly grown accustomed to wearing simple clothes more suited for the hot and dusty canyon environment.
"I may not look like it, but I did. I've just been away for awhile." He hoped the girl wouldn't ask anymore personal questions. In his opinion she was a little too friendly—to the point of being nosy—and seemed to have no perception of personal space. He shifted the pack on his shoulders and looked up at the sky. "Hey, you know what? I've really got to be going." He patted one of the backpack straps. "Important delivery to make, if you know what I mean." He managed to paste on another smile and was relieved to see that it seemed to have the desired effect.
The girl relaxed again and returned the smile, though it was a much more reserved one than before. "Right, I'd better not delay you any longer. I've probably overwhelmed you already with my chatter." She sighed. "It seems like I'm always getting in trouble for talking too much."
Tristan resisted the urge to verbally agree. Instead, he concentrated on trying to look as innocent as possible.
The girl held out a hand in the universal Dinotopian greeting. "I'll let you be on your way now. Sorry again about all the trouble. My name's Poppy Harper, by the way."
Tristan touched the girl's hand briefly, returning the greeting. "I'm Tristan Starr, nice to meet you." He said, through his forced smile and gritted teeth. The last thing he wanted to do was to give out his name, but it would be rude if he didn't and he sure didn't want to confirm her suspicions of him being a Dolphin Bay tramp involved in kidnapping an egg and withholding it from its rightful place in a hatchery. That kind of information let loose in the city could bring him loads of trouble.
"Goodbye!" The girl said with a wave of her hand; seemingly back to her sunny self again. "Oh, and don't lose your way again, remember, the Hatchery Reserve and Saurian Nursery is that way." She gestured again in the same direction she'd pointed out before.
Tristan had already started forward in the direction toward home, but the girl's words stopped him as he realized that she wouldn't understand why he was still going the wrong direction. "Um…right." He mumbled, turning around slowly. Not wanting her to ask any more questions, he headed in the direction she'd pointed, hoping that she'd go a different way so that she wouldn't notice when he'd sneak back and head on down Grand Avenue, toward home. After taking a few steps he glanced behind him to see where Poppy was going. He sighed in relief to see her heading in the opposite direction.
Then, the girl suddenly turned, catching sight of him watching her. She smiled broadly and waved. "Breathe Deep!"
Tristan was rattled. He hadn't expected her to turn around too. "Fly High." He returned out of habit, along with the snappy skybax riders salute that all the cadets of the beginners' class were trained to use.
The girl stopped and stared back at him with a puzzled look on her face.
Tristan felt his stomach twist again, this time in real fear. Then, much to his delight, someone on the busy street bumped into the girl, distracting her. Ha! She got just what she deserved. Tristan immediately recognized this moment of opportunity. He spun around and hurried away as fast as he dared, hoping the girl wouldn't catch sight of him again and suddenly decide to follow him in order to ask more questions. However, in his haste, he forgot to go in the direction of the Sauropolis Hatchery Reserve and Saurian Nursery and headed on down Grand Avenue toward the apartment where his family lived. He did not look behind him again.