Moschops, Benjamin Chandler, 2014
Barrel-bodied and buck-toothed, he was not an attractive king. But his markings were strong, with bright stripes on his flanks and face, and in shoving matches he was undefeated. For these reasons, the pod followed him, the females welcoming, the other males submissive. His domain extended from the wood, through the meadow, to the edge of the lake country where anteosaurs lurked.
They were not alone. Bands of snorting Jonkeria, like lizard-pigs, strolled through the region, huffing and grunting, gnawing on pieces of dead things left near the forest, or harvesting the more delectable parts of weeds and roots. Little gorgonopsids, reptiles-cum-foxes, hopped through the underbrush, pulling amphibians from puddles or tails from lizards. They only needed to be watched during egg-laying season, when an unmonitored nest would lure them from their critter-catching games.
He had just one blemish: a scar on his right foreleg, a souvenir from a Titanosuchus attack three summers before. The hatchlings had grown into calves, mewling things that waddled indiscriminately between adults. They were mostly his children, though a few males had snuck quick screws with willing cows behind his back. The offspring of these pairings smelled different to him, unwelcome. He did not protect them. But his own kin he monitored with proud diligence.
Uneasy sounds came from the edge of the pod. The Titanosuchus—a cougar in monitor lizard’s clothing—had slunk from the wood. It padded around the small herd, dragged tail shushing against foliage, fangs glistening in the evening light. The pod knew that the predator would never attack a full-grown Moschops, but a juvenile was manageable and tempting. The calves were nudged by adults to the far side of the herd, then nudged again when the therapsid circled around.
The monarch followed the Titanosuchus, keeping step with the reptile-thing’s patrol. He hummed a warning, a deep tone that rolled from the chest. The predator replied with nothing, the only sounds it made were its body moving through the vegetation.
A small window in the pod allowed a baying juvenile—one of the monarch’s own—to wander into the open. The Titanosuchus darted, and the monarch bolted after it, head low, feet stomping. The two clashed before the one could catch the calf, the Moschops’s bony head nearly flipping the puma-lizard while a heavy foot came down and cracked one of the predator’s ribs. The Titanosuchus hissed, yelped, wheeled with its mouth agape. One tusk sliced a gash on the monarch’s leg, deep enough to bleed, but not deep enough to debilitate. The Moschops steamrollered the predator again, and the Titanosuchus fled.
The rest of the day his leg pinched when he walked. It would take some time for the gash to heal, but it did, leaving a shiny hair-thin line between the black scutes on his leg, the origin of which the Moschops king would never remember.