It is soon to be Princess Beatrice’s birthday. What should Bertie give her? It us the same problem every year. The Wicked Queen tells Beatrice to send Bertie on an impossible quest, to find a living dinosaur. It is a quest that takes Bertie to London and to Southern China.
Read by Natasha. Written by Bertie. Proofread by Claire Deakin.
Here are some of Bertie’s pictures from the National History Museum in London.
Hello, This is Natasha, and I am here with the latest story about Prince Bertie. As you may know, his stories are quite varied. Sometimes they are about his life on the pond, with the fishes and tadpoles. More often than not they are about the time when he was a human prince, as a boy, a teenager, and even as a young man. And of course, there is one person who is never far from his thoughts, as we shall hear.
The most precious time of year for Bertie is around now. We are coming up to that very special day when we remember Princess Beatrice’s birthday. But Oh, now that he is a frog, it is so hard for him to send her even a card, let alone a present.
In any case, what on earth do you buy a princess for her birthday? It can be a problem. Princesses do not lack for sparkly rings and tiaras. As for treats that you can eat, they are always watching their figures, and they are usually on a celebrity diet, like the one that is made up of truffles, caviar and champagne, so there is no point in giving them a boring old box of chocolates – but there is a solution. Fortunately, they can usually do with another designer gown. It’s fairly simple, you just ring up some famous Italian in Milan, give him her measurements, and ask him to run one up for her. If that was all Bertie had to do for Beatrice’s birthday, it would not have been a problem.
But Beatrice was not a run-of-the-mill sort of princess. Perhaps that was why Bertie loved, still loves, and always will love her so much. Some people say that she is eccentric. He thinks of her as unique. She likes to wander around markets looking for strings of beads, vintage pieces of enamel, flower-print frocks, and bits of silk to tie around her hair. You know, the gossip magazines call her the flower-power princess, or some even dub her Princess Hippy.
Even when Bertie was still a prince, he found Beatrice’s birthday to be a bit of a conundrum. What should he get her? He couldn’t even buy her a book or a CD. These days she did all her reading on her e-tablet that she carried around in her canvas handbag. She had a huge electronic library of novels, music and films. Once he bought her a watch, but the strap broke and it fell into the pond in the palace garden.
There was one year when Bertie gave his princess an extra-special present. It wasn’t even his idea, still less the princess’. It was all because of the wicked queen who hated him. In fact, she was totally exasperated by Beatrice’s barmy idea of marrying Bertie. One morning she swept into the princess’ room, just as she was brushing her long wavy hair.
She loomed up in the mirror behind her and said, “And just what is your loopy, impecunious, and incompetent prince planning to get you for your birthday? Last year he gave you a clockwork rat? What kind of gift was that for his future queen?”
“Dear stepmother,” replied Beatrice, who is the sweetest princess who ever walked on the face of the big wide world, “I do not care for extravagant gifts, but I would be so happy if he were to present me with a little token of his affection.”
“A token, who needs tokens? You will learn, my dear, that affection is for the birds. A proper prince would give his princess something romantic, like a solid gold grail or an offshore bank account topped up with lots of currency. ”
“Mama. For the last time, Bertie is a proper prince, and he would never give me something so vulgar. I should not allow him to do so.”
“Ha! Bertie, a proper prince? He’s Prince Nincompoop!”
“Please show some respect for my heart’s desire. He’s, he’s…”
But Beatrice could not finish her thought because her stepmother snapped, “Don’t interrupt! If Bertie is a proper prince, let him prove it. Send him on a quest – then we’ll see. And I don’t mean one of his stupid stand-up comedy acts. Let him show us that he can achieve something impossible. Then I’ll show him some respect, but not until then!”
“But asking him to do the impossible is not fair, how can it be?” Protested Beatrice who was now standing up, still holding her hairbrush, and with tears glistening in her big blue eyes.
“Of course it’s fair. Ask him to slay a dragon. What sort of prince worth his socks would turn down a quest like that?”
“But all living creatures are dear to me,” protested Beatrice, who is a vegetarian, and patron of various charities for helping animals in need, even the ones that aren’t cute.
“Well then, if you like animals so much, ask him to give you a pet – like, like, like… a dinosaur! If he can’t be bothered to find a pretty little dinosaur for his beloved fiancée, then what kind of husband do you think he will turn out to be? He’ll never do anything for you once you’re married, you know. He’s that sort of man. A soppy, guitar-strumming, lay-about loser. That’s who you are marring. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
Although Princess Beatrice knew that her stepmother was more than unreasonable, it did not stop those cruel words eating away at her lovely soul. All day she felt tense and in a bad mood. Of course she knew that Bertie was wonderful, but she so wanted him to prove it to her stepmother. When they went for a stroll around the palace gardens, and Bertie asked her for a little hint about what he should find for her birthday, she replied that she had always felt the lack of a pet dinosaur.
“Do you mean one of those ginormous lizard fellows? But they’re extinct, aren’t they?” Asked Bertie.
“Maybe the are,” said Beatrice. “If so, my heart is very sad about that. Mama says that in any case, you should go on a quest to find one for me.”
“Your Mama says a lot of things,” grumbled Bertie, who now understood that there was mischief afoot. Still, Bertie is a proper prince, and he does not like to refuse a quest, especially when had come from the sweet lips of his beloved.
Bertie had few ideas about where he should begin his quest for a living dinosaur. After a few days of puzzling over the matter, he took a flight in the royal jet to London, which is home of the National History Museum, a blue and white brick cathedral which is full of fascinating material about life on earth. He remembered from boyhood that there are some impressive skeletons there.
As you come into the main hall, you are greeted by a massive plant-eater, a diplodocus. It has an almost endless neck, and an even longer tail to balance it. In fact, this gentle giant is a cast of a North American skeleton, but it looks impressive enough. In the dark hall to the side, you will find many real fossils crowded together.
Bertie wandered over the metal bridges. They cast jagged shadows over the Victorian brick walls. The vaulted halls echoed with the excited chatter of hundreds of school kids.
The jaws of murderous munching machines lurked among the half light, the iron girders, and illuminated notice boards. The predators took springy steps on two legs as their heads glanced from side to side on top of loping necks. The four-footed herb eaters arched their bony backs to nibble luxuriant plantation.
He read out tricky names like Allosaurus – meaning “other dinosaur” – and even longer ones like Tuojiangosaurus (two-wang-oh-sor-us), the Toojian Lizard, a peaceful dinosaur which was the first stegosaur found in China. He marvelled at the broad bones of the three horned Triceratops who looked like he could easily demolish a building with his thick head.
He learned that that these prehistoric reptiles lived between 80 and 250 million years ago, and that their time on earth fell into three ages, the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Nobody knows for sure how they became extinct. Perhaps a giant asteroid from outer space collided with the world and filled it with choking dust.
Bertie thought how the skeletons looked powerfully spooky in their Victorian home. But these were long dead dinosaurs. His quest was to find a living one. To that end, he had arranged to speak to a renowned palaeontologist. His name was Dr. Dactyl and he spent his life studying the world as it was millions of years ago. Bertie met him in the Museum’s tea room. He brushed a pile of crumbs off the rubbery seat before they sat down around a square plastic table. Weary looking tourists sat around them, with children clamouring for toy dinosaurs from the souvenir shop.
Bertie had to raise his voice above the din, “I expect you get asked this all the time, at scientific conferences and the like. But are there any unexplored islands or empty volcanos where an adventurer might find a few living dinosaurs roaming around?”
Dr. Dactyl polished his glasses on his tie. “Interesting question,” replied the scientist. “But I’m afraid not.”
“But where was that place that Sherlock Holme found?” Asked Bertie, half-remembering the book called The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which didn’t actually have Sherlock Holmes in it, but never mind. Dr. Dactyl knew what he meant, because he too had read it as a a boy.
“I’m afraid that was just a story.”
“Just a story? Is there such a thing?” Pondered Bertie, before adding, “So no more sauropods ever again? Is that science’s last word on the matter?”
“Afraid so. Well I suppose…” replied the doctor, wanting to sound a little more open-minded, “well, there’s just a chance. Have you seen the film Jurassic Park?”
“Yes, it was jolly scary.”
“The idea of the film was that science might just find a way to reconstruct dinosaurs out of DNA. You would need a bit of skin or hair or egg that had been miraculously preserved for millions of years. It’s, well, pretty unlikely.”
“But not impossible….” said Bertie with a glimmer of hope in his voice.
“So nearly impossible as to be not worth thinking about,” concluded Dr. Dactyl. But Bertie already was thinking about it.
Back home at the palace, Bertie’s absence was noted by the queen. At breakfast, she glanced at his empty place and his unattended plate of egg soldiers and asked, “Where is he?”
The old king muttered, “Gone on a quest I believe.”
“Has he now?” Mused the queen. Later that morning, she telephoned the Royal Correspondent of the Daily Gossip and gave him an exclusive; Prince Bertie on Quest to find Living Dinosaur. The following morning, when the queen received her paper in bed, she was particularly satisfied with the strap line in bold that read:
“Bertie’s promise to Beatrice – he will not marry before he finds a dinosaur. ”
“Fantastic,” exclaimed the queen to the maid. “Problem postponed for a few million years.”
But the news was out that Bertie was looking for real dinosaur DNA. DNA, in case you don’t know, is a molecule that looks like a string ladder. It contains all the information that one of God’s creations needs to grow into a person, or a sheep, or a horse, or a buttercup, or a dinosaur. A strand of your hair, for instance, has your DNA code inside its cells. Everyone’s DNA is unique – just like fingerprints. The police can collect it as evidence at the scene of a crime.
Soon Bertie started to receive emails promising to help him find dino-DNA in return for large sums of money. One of them came from Yunan Province in China.
It read, “Hail Prince Bertie,
You want dinosaur DNA. I dig real dinosaur eggs. I give you spoon of yoke for $10 million. Bring cash and we do deal. This is real offer, but come soon. Many people are interested. Next month price may be 20 million.
Any sensible person, even Prince Bertie, should have realised that an email out of the blue such as this one was probably not to be trusted. But Bertie knew that his entire future happiness depended on finding some Dinosaur DNA. Sometimes, when people are desperate, they want to believe anything that gives them hope. He knew that there had recently been an amazing find of Dinosaur eggs in Yunan Province. And after all, there is such a thing as destiny, especially if you are a prince. A week later, at a cafe in the city of Kunming he met Hua, a young, smart and pretty chinese woman who worked at his kingdom’s embassy in Beijing. They ate croissants and drank Café au lait, because a French influence lingers on in Yunan. Bertie felt that this breakfast was the start of an adventure – and he was right. For the following six hours they drove up into the green rolling hills of Yunan, looking down at fertile valleys and stunning fairy tale lakes with little boats upon them. In some places, life had not changed that much for hundreds of years. They stopped in a village and saw two women fighting and slapping each other with fish. All the locals gathered around and cheered on the entertainment. Most of the houses were ramshackle, but others were quaint and made out of wood.
Elsewhere modernity was catching up fast. In places bulldozers were clearing shacks out of the way for new buildings. A bride in a white dress gingerly made her way to her wedding, stepping through churned up mud, debris and mess. Further up the road they stopped at a restaurant which kept live bunny rabbits squished up inside little cages. Bertie looked at a giant meat cleaver by the frying pan, and thought that it was a jolly good thing that Beatrice was not on the trip, as Southern China was no place for vegetarians. They used chopsticks to eat fried chicken and rice.
Hua said to Bertie, “I told you that we checked out China Jack. We could not confirm that he works on the university team at the dig. Any deal he is offering is bound to be highly illegal. I hope you don’t mind me saying this, Your Highness, but it is also probably a deception.”
“Er, Friends call me Bertie. Yes, I know this deal is highly dodgy. I’ll have to rely on the old intuition,” said the prince, as he tapped his nose.
They drove on, and towards late afternoon they came to the site of the dinosaur dig. They drove across a dirt track through fields, and found a temporary village set up by a stream. A security guard dozed in a chair. Another man was sweeping up a court yard. Other than that, there was precious sign of life. Hua prodded the guard and woke him up. She persuaded him to go inside and call up China Jack. After a boring wait of about an hour, China Jack turned up in a pick-up truck.
He was very friendly and shook Bertie’s hand vigorously. He offered cigarettes and spirit to his visitors, both of which they turned down. Instead they took Jasmine tea and sesame biscuits before taking a tour of the site. The work had been done. The international team of investigators had gone back to their universities around the world. They had left behind them part of the hillside where they had carefully dug up the brown earth. 190 million years ago, a flood had washed a nest of dinosaur eggs into the hillside where they had turned to fossils. The team had found 200 eggs with the fossilised bones of baby dinosaurs inside them.
“And would you like to see a Lufengosaurus egg?” Asked Jack. Bertie replied eagerly that he would.
Jack opened up the steal door of a stone hut, and turned on a lamp that had a bare wire sticking out of the switch. The draws of a cabinet were also locked by key. Jack carefully pulled a drawer open. It was full of soft protective wood chippings. He placed his hand inside them, and carefully lifted out an egg inside a plastic sample bag. It took two hands to hold it. It was black, almost like old crumbly brick or stone, but it was egg shaped all right.
“Wow,” said Bertie. “It’s beautiful. But does it have any DNA intact?”
“No,” said Jack, “This is a fossil. But inside my laboratory I have something even more special. It is something that has never been found before. The world has not heard about this yet. We only found it after the international team left. You will be the first outsider to see this. If I keep this inside China, it will make me famous. If you take it back to the West, it will make you very rich. 10 million dollars is nothing for a discovery of this sort – nothing.”
Bertie took a deep breath, trying to contain his excitement. Jack led them back inside the main building, and into his laboratory. First he gave Bertie and Hua white coats, surgical masks and gloves to put on. They pulled blue caps over their hair. They had to slip their feet inside clinical outer shoes. The lab must not be contaminated at all costs.
Jack undid the padlock on the fridge. He opened the door, and very carefully took out what looked like a plastic sandwich box. He opened up the vacuum packed container. Using some tweezers he delicately clasped a little piece of black substance of some sort, and placed it on a glass tray.
“This,” he said, “Is the first sample of dinosaur DNA to be discovered by mankind. What you are looking at is the fossil of an egg yoke, but inside it we found a tiny piece of shell. Somehow the shell had been preserved for 190 million years without decay. My laboratory in Shanghai was able to extract its DNA code. When you transfer $10 million to my bank account in Singapore, I will email you the code. It contains everything you need to grow a new living dinosaur.”
“Oh,” said Bertie disappointed. “I thought you were going to give me a sample which our scientists could test. When it is verified, we will send you the $10 million. We can shake hands on it. I’m a prince. My word is my bond.”
“That is not possible,” said Jack. “The sample is too delicate. It can deteriorate too rapidly. Even though I trust your honour, one little mistake would destroy this miraculous discovery forever. Mankind might never get a second chance.”
As Bertie and Hua sat down in the car, he was not sure whether to be excited or disappointed.
“There must be some way we can verify this,” said Bertie. Hua smiled knowingly.
“The journey was not wasted,” she said. “There are some checks that we can run. I picked up this.” And she showed Bertie a piece of blue material. “It is the cap that Jack wore. You see it has some of his hairs inside it. My boyfriend works in the laboratory of the national police department. He will run our own DNA tests and find out who China Jack really is. Maybe his DNA is on their criminal database. I get the feeling he is not a scientist. I studied biochemistry at Beijing University. Some of the terminology he used did not sound correct.”
By the time they returned to Kunming the next day, Bertie had already made up his mind that he was not going to succeed in his quest for a living dinosaur in China, not through this contact anyway. He had received more emails from China Jack urging him to transfer the money. It all seemed like too much pressure. Two weeks later, when Hua telephoned him with the results of the DNA test on Jack’s hair, all was confirmed. He was not a scientist, but a former General in the Chinese army. He had previously sold a fake painting to an unsuspecting auction house in Sydney, and had tried to pass off a counterfeit Ming vase to an American collector. In fact, his nickname in the criminal world was Fake Jack.
And Bertie was a little wiser, no poorer, but not closer to the end of his quest. Beatrice’s birthday was less than a week away. The queen was asking him if he wanted help gift wrapping his present. He had to hide in his bedroom for fear of bumping into Beatrice and admitting his failure.
He woke up at 5am. The birds were singing in the palace garden. He looked out the window and saw that the sky was dark blue. He could not see any stars, but he could imagine them, millions of lightyears away. Somewhere, out there, there must be a plant of the dinosaurs, he thought. Surely the earth was not the only place in the universe where lizards had grown to the size of houses?
“I wonder,” thought Bertie. “It’s a million to one chance but – sometimes a lucky number has to come up, doesn’t it?” Because this was not Bertie’s first quest, nor his strangest. If you are familiar with his stories, you will know that once, while travelling across Siberia, he met a certain Tarragona who was posing as a Mongolia Princess. In the end, Bertie discovered that she had a broken down space ship in the Gobi Desert. He gave her a diamond which she needed to power it back home to meet her fiancé. Tarragona had said that if he ever needed something from the other side of the universe, he should try calling her special number. It was very long, and had the prefix 00936754. She could not guarantee to pick up the signal – they could not always monitor earth, but there was a chance, just a chance…
Bertie had to keep dialling throughout the day. He only reached her at 9pm in the evening.
“So Bertie, your lovely Beatrice wants a pet dinosaur for her birthday. Well, well, well. I recall she was helping out at the donkey sanctuary, but this is something else all together.”
“Yes, rather a vegetarian one please. We don’t want to do the remake of Jurassic Park.”
A few days later, the day arrived. It was Beatrice’s birthday. She wasn’t having a party, just a little day out with Bertie. He didn’t say where they were going – it was to be a surprise. They drove out the palace, and out of the city.
“Oh how wonderful. Are we going to the seaside?” Asked Beatrice.
“No,” said Bertie mysteriously.
“A little village in the country?”
“No, keep guessing.”
At last they turned off the road at a sign that said, “Safari Park.” Beatrice clapped her hands and said, “Oh that’s perfect. You are so lovely Bertie. You always know better than me what I want to do.”
“Well be prepared for a surprise,” said Bertie, as they drove through the VIP entrance and up to the lodge.
Beatrice had to close her eyes as she walked through the gate of a new compound with a high log fence. Whatever was inside was a closely guarded secret.
“You can look now,” said Bertie.
And when she did, she saw the cutest, stubby legged, slightly clumsy, but totally adorable baby stegosaurus.
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