A Guard's Story
Story concept by Todd Jensen
Written by Brian Dumlao and Christi Smith Hayden

An excerpt from the journals of Brother Edmund

"For those residing in Castle Wyvern, living among gargoyles has become an everyday experience. Although they are different, these creatures that are stone by day and flesh by night hold no mystery from those of us that call this castle home. Visitors, however, still have both fascination and fear whenever they see these statues come to life. Recently, a couple from a neighboring fiefdom arrived at Castle Wyvern and had several memorable experiences with these unusual beings."

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern- Early afternoon

The sun shone brightly over the castle as its occupants scurried about, engaged in their daily routines. A select number of guards stood on towers overlooking the outside perimeter of the castle, watching for both approaching visitors and enemies. The remaining number were busy going over several drills taught by the Captain of the Guard's second in command. Squires were busy cleaning the stables and grooming the horses.

Prince Malcolm had asked the Captain of the Guard for a person reliable enough to carry out an important task. As he stood patiently in the Great Hall, waiting for one of the guards to appear, he began to hear the footsteps of someone running towards the hall. In a matter of moments, a guard of average height and curly brown hair appeared and knelt before the Prince. Although his uniform was similar to those of the rest of the guards, the markings on his sleeves and chest suggested that he was of higher ranking than most of the guards living in the castle.

"Your Highness, my name is Oliver. How may I serve you?" the guard asked.

"Lord Donal of Glencarrick and his lady-wife Ingrid shall be arriving at the castle this afternoon with their entourage. Until I can meet with them, I would like you to escort our guests from the gates and attend to their every need. Can you do this?"

"Yes, your Highness. I shall treat them well." Oliver stood and took his leave.

Once he arrived at the top of the wall directly above the gate, he spotted a tall, lanky man approaching the castle.

"Halt!" Oliver commanded. "What is your business here?"

The stranger answered, "I have a message that I must give to the one that calls himself the Archmage."

From his vantage point, Oliver could see that the man had no other intention but to deliver that message. He possessed no weapons and was dressed in a peasant's garb. Oliver signaled for the gate to be opened. Once the man entered the premises and the gate closed behind him, Oliver continued his watch for the Lord and Lady of Glencarrick.

  * * * * *

Forests outside of Wyvern

"Are you sure that this trip is quite necessary?" Lady Ingrid asked. She and her husband, Lord Donal, were riding horseback, accompanied by a small court of lords and ladies. Lady Ingrid was a fair, soft-featured woman of average height who had long, braided blonde hair coiled on her head like a crown.

"My dear, this trip is very important for both our estates," Lord Donal replied. He was slightly taller than Ingrid, with short black hair, a darker skin tone, and sharp features. "We must agree on what our border arrangements are with Wyvern, especially the fishing rights. I would like to get the best fishing waters for our lands."

"Yes, but what about those rumors of gargoyles living at the castle?"

"Ingrid, I am certain that there are no living gargoyles in Castle Wyvern. No respectable ruler would let such creatures live among his subjects."

"But it is all the rage, Donal. Do you suppose that..."

"I do not believe so, Ingrid. Prince Malcolm is certainly wiser than that."

As the party left the forest and entered a clearing in front of the castle, they took sight of the majestic Castle Wyvern. The sunlight reflected off  the castle, highlighting from afar the stone gargoyles that stood on the castle parapets. Lady Ingrid scowled at Donal as she said, "Well, Donal, it would seem that you are wrong once again!"

"They are merely statues... I hope," he responded with a look of worry on his face. Approaching the gates, the party stopped as Oliver called to them from above.

"Who approaches?" he called out.

A man-at-arms, bearing the crest of Glencarrick, a silver circle divided in three parts on a field of dark teal, dismounted from his horse and shouted up to Oliver. "Lord Donal and Lady Ingrid of Glencarrick. We are here to see Prince Malcolm on important business." As the man mounted his horse once more, the gates of the castle began to open.

Oliver emerged from the gates to greet them. He bowed before them and said formally, "Welcome to Castle Wyvern. My name is Oliver, and I shall attend to your needs until Prince Malcolm is ready to receive you."

"I should like to see our sleeping quarters. Our party is weary from the travel to your fiefdom," Lady Ingrid said petulantly.

"Of course, Lady Ingrid," Oliver responded. He led the party into the castle grounds and signaled for the gate to be closed. As they proceeded on horseback, the royal couple stared at the statues occupying the parapets. The look produced by the stone creatures was frightening indeed. The menacing poses produced by the unfurled wings and exposed teeth could put a shiver down any human's spine.

Lady Ingrid asked, "Are these creatures real?"

"The gargoyles? Oh, yes, quite real," Oliver said nonchalantly. "Be assured, milady, they are quite harmless."

"You mean to tell me your prince actually permits those beasts to dwell in the castle?"

Oliver shrugged. "Well, since we keep beasts such as hawks, hounds, and horses in the castle, gargoyles only seemed fitting. I've lived around them since childhood and they are more like humans with talons and wings to me."

"That remains to be seen," Ingrid snorted.

The guard gave a hidden smirk at that remark. He had grown up with the gargoyles as a child while his father was working on building Castle Wyvern. He could never see why people would loathe or be afraid of creatures that were so human-like in attitude and personality. "I shall have the squires tend to your horses while the servants can show you to your quarters." Oliver signaled to the lurking servants to emerge and attend to their duties.  As the party dismounted from their horses, one of the ladies of the court had difficulty getting down, her foot having become entangled in one of the stirrups. Oliver good-naturedly went over and gently removed the delicate foot from the twisted leather.

The maid blushed and looked away shyly after meeting his gaze with pale, blue eyes. "Thank you, kind sir." Her voice was soft with a slight lilt.

Oliver smiled sheepishly and blushed slightly at the remark. "It is nothing, milady. I am your servant." An older lady-in-waiting was there as he eased the maid to the ground, so he left her to the older woman's care and went to Lady Ingrid and Lord Donal. He began to lead them into the castle, his voice echoing in the high-vaulted entryway. "I shall personally see you to your rooms. You shall have the best of Wyvern's hospitality."

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern- Archmage's Quarters

"What?!" the Archmage thundered as he threw a flask of blue liquid at the source of his displeasure.

The lanky messenger hid under the table, just in time to escape the path of the thrown projectile. He had known that the Archmage would not take the news well, but he hadn't expected this kind of emotional outburst. As the liquid sizzled slowly down the wall, the messenger emerged from his hiding place and got enough courage to speak. "It is true. I was robbed and beaten on my way to deliver the herbs to you. The bandits have them now and, no doubt, they would want to sell them or destroy them."

The Archmage grew more furious as he heard the story in its entirety. He had spent three years looking for those special herbs; items that he planned to use in a magical spell. They had come from all over the known world, including the Saracen and Byzantine empires. They were collected by his many accomplices and were to be delivered to him in Castle Wyvern. Now all of that hard work was for naught because of those bandits and this bumbling messenger. No longer able to contain his rage, the Archmage took the Grimorum in his left arm and raised his right hand high in the air. A blinding white light emanated from his hand as he began to wave it in a circular motion. The air began to vibrate with the sound of electricity and the Archmage's voice.

"Fulminus veni..."

The Archmage stopped himself from completing the spell as a sly thought occurred to him. As the white-hot glow began to fade from his hand, the Archmage began to tap his chin, one eyebrow arching like a question mark. There was a way to easily recover his herbs and all he needed was a little help to convince a certain prince to do the work for him. He approached the messenger, who was hiding in one of the corners of the room, still trembling from the display of magic, and gave him a look of disgust.

"Come along, you bumbling clod," the Archmage spat, "I may still have a use for you."

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern- near sunset

Oliver led Lord Donal and Lady Ingrid to the courtyard for the final leg of a private castle tour. The guests were astonished at everything the castle had to offer, including large rooms, beautiful gardens, and a picturesque view of the sea. Truly, this stay would be even more pleasant if only those gargoyles never existed. The very thought of such savage creatures living among cultured humans both frightened and revolted the couple. As the sun began its descent into the horizon, Oliver turned to the Lord and Lady and spoke.

"I think it would be best if you would stand in the middle of the courtyard instead of close to the walls."

Lady Ingrid said defiantly, "Nonsense. We shall stay right here near the walls where it is safe."

"Suit yourself," Oliver sighed. Just then, a small granule of stone landed on Lord Donal's head, causing the couple to look upwards. Cracks began to form on the stone gargoyle statues as sounds like faint thunder began to be heard. The gaps between the plates of stone began to widen and the eyes of every being perched on the castle parapets started to glow, red in some and white in others. With a deafening chorus of roars, the gargoyles shed their stone skin and awoke from their slumber.

Lord Donal and Lady Ingrid had looks of fear on their faces as they saw, for the first time, how a gargoyle awakens. The dread was amplified when they realized that shards of stone skin were falling towards them from above. They fled towards Oliver's spot just in time to avoid being covered in gravel, the very same substance lining the elegant pathways in the courtyard garden..

"Don't worry, my lord and lady," said Oliver. "It is not so terrifying once you get used to it."

"You can get used to it?" Ingrid asked in disbelief. "All of this screaming and falling stone night after night?"

"Well, it is a small price to pay for their protection of the castle." After a pause, Oliver continued. "Excuse me, my lord and lady, but I must go to the dining hall and see to it that the feast in your honor will begin on time."

"Wait for us!" shouted Lord Donal, obviously afraid that the numerous gargoyles would harm the only two humans present outside of the castle.

Oliver hid a slight smile from the guests as he waited for them to catch up to him. Before entering the castle, he looked above to see that a certain blonde-haired female gargoyle was having some problems of her own. As she stepped down from her perch, three males had already come to her side. He shook his head and chuckled under his breath. The trails and tribulations of young love were not limited to merely the human species. With an amused twinkle in his eye, he assumed a pleasant expression and led the Lord and Lady of Glencarrick inside.

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern Parapets

Desdemona awoke from her slumber to face another night. It was nights like this that she wished she could laze about in bed like the humans did in order to make the night go by faster. Recently, a few of the younger male gargoyles had been trying to win her affection. At first, she was charmed by the fact that so many males wanted her heart. However, as time went on, the attention she received became an annoyance; no one would leave her alone.

Tonight proved to be no different. As she stepped down from her perch, three males had already come to her side. A white-haired, greenish-gray male had brought her some heather from the nearby hills. A blue-skinned, brown-haired male had offered to take her place on the castle watch that night. Finally, a light brown-skinned, black-haired male with an earring in his left ear had offered to help her with the hunt for the night.

"Not tonight, my brothers. The Leader's mate asked me to attend to some duties around the castle," Desdemona said as she gave a polite smile to each potential suitor, gently declining their offers.

The earring wearing gargoyle spoke. "But how is this possible? She has not arrived here yet and we were here since we awoke."

"She asked me to do these last night. Now if you excuse me, I must do them post-haste."

The male was about to speak again when his greenish-gray brother stopped him, signaling that this was not the best time to persue the subject. Seeing that no other course of action could be taken for now, the three males went their separate ways and attended to their own duties. Desdemona looked at the castle outskirts and decided that it would make her feel better if she left the castle for a while. As she prepared to take flight, a gray-skinned, black-haired female gargoyle approached her.

"You must be lucky, rookery sister, to have all those suitors waiting on you hand and foot, night after night," she said in an almost teasing manner.

Desdemona sighed and turned to her rookery sister. "It is more of a curse than a blessing." She paused before continuing. "If you want one, take one. That would be one less pestering brother for me to deal with." With that, she leapt off the parapet and glided for parts unknown.

  * * * * *

The Great Hall

The feast held in honor of the Lord and Lady of Glencarrick had just concluded and the visitors had asked Oliver to see if Prince Malcolm was ready to receive them. Upon entering the hall, the brown-haired guard saw that the Prince was already attending to the Archmage and the lanky messenger that arrived earlier that day. Hoping that they wouldn't take a long time, Oliver decided to wait in the Great Hall while the Prince listened to his subjects.

"Your Highness," the Archmage said. "This messenger has come to Castle Wyvern to bring you some disturbing news."

"And what is this news you bring to me?" Prince Malcolm asked.

The man in question bowed before delivering his story, glancing nervously at the Archmage. "Your Highness, I was sent here by your half-brother, Kenneth, to present to you a crucial document. However, on my way to this castle, a group of bandits surrounded me in the forest. They beat me and robbed me of the message that I was supposed to give you."

"You must take swift action to retrieve that message!" the Archmage interrupted.

A letter from Kenneth. No doubt it must have been important if he risked capture by King Culen to send it to me. "Do you have any idea what my brother wanted to tell me?" Prince Malcolm asked, still focused on the messenger but with a wary eye on his court magician.

"I am sorry, your Highness. I do not know what was in the courier pouch. I cannot read or write and therefore unable to pass on any information. All I do know is that it must have been very important if a few rogues wanted to steal it from me."

"I agree. I cannot afford to let that document fall into the King Culen's hands, especially if it is news from Kenneth." The prince stroked his chin as he contemplated his next move. Before he had any time to think over any options he might have had, the Archmage quickly spoke out his opinion.

"Your Highness," he said, "although it is not my field, I believe that you should deploy a few of the castle guards to scan the villages and surrounding areas to find the bandits that stole the note. You must do so quickly if you are to find these brigands and make sure that the letter never reaches the King."

Prince Malcolm gazed at the Archmage with a look of mild suspicion. "You seem especially concerned about this message, Archmage. Is there a reason why?"

"No, your Highness. I simply want to see to it that justice is served."

Prince Malcolm regarded the bearded wizard with a fathomless expression, clearly suspecting deception but unsure of its form. He spied his man-at-arms waiting the back of the Great Hall. "Oliver! Come forward!"

The guardsman came to stand before the prince's table, keeping a respectful distance, as all did, from the Archmage. "How may I serve you, your Highness?" Oliver asked, dropping to one knee.

"The Captain of the Guard is out overseeing the new recruits. Go find him and tell him of the stolen message from Prince Kenneth. He is to employ as many of the castle's men as he feels necessary to capture these thieves and recover the message."

"Shall I tell the gargoyles as well?"

The Archmage snorted but Prince Malcolm stroked his short-kept beard and nodded. "Yes, their assistance would be useful. You know which ones to speak to?"

"Yes, sire. The brown-skinned one and his mate that sings to the hatchlings. I know where to find them."

"Good man." Prince Malcolm smiled, satisfied that one crisis was on its way to a solution. "See to it."

Oliver rose and looked apologetically at the lord of Wyvern. "Forgive me, your Highness, but what am I to do with Lord Donal and Lady Ingrid? They wanted to have an audience with you tonight."

"Tell them that I apologize for the inconvenience, but important matters have arisen. I shall meet with them tomorrow morning."

Oliver acknowledged this and bowed before leaving to attend to the tasks at hand.

  * * * * *

Castle Hallways

"This is getting old!" Desdemona muttered as she ran briskly down the hallway. She was getting extremely annoyed. Her three hopeful suitors had returned and were pursuing her again, interupting her task of placing freshly colored wool tapestries in an empty tower to be dried. She instead had to hand them over to her friend, the castle weaver, who almost collapsed at the weight of the garments. Luckily, she knew just the spot to hide and wait for her followers to pass. The large tapestry, showing a stag being hunted by a pack of dogs was, she had noted previously, both an ironic depiction of her current situation and an excellent place to hide behind, since it covered a shallow niche in the wall.

Unfortunately, she realized as she pulled away the cloth, it was apparently too good a hiding spot.

"I was here first." said Thersites from the alcove testily. "I've already gotten quite comfortable, I'm not leaving without a fight". And with that the lanky gargoyle with the mismatched horns crossed his arms, settling back even more comfortably in the small niche, and got back to some serious sitting.

Desdemona knew better than to try to convince him to aid her. She would not, however, leave without making her point. Ignoring his plaintive cries she yanked the tapestry from its spot on the wall, and tossed it, in a lump, to the floor. Hearing voices, gargoyle voices, down the hall, she took off running to secure a new hiding place. So preoccupied was she, that she almost knocked over Oliver, who was on his way from  the guest chambers to the battlements outside.

"You again!" he exclaimed amusedly, "Still on the run?"

"Um...yes" she admitted "I don't suppose you know of anywhere..."

"Your sister's workshop in the tower perhaps?"

Desdemona considered. "That might actually work...thank you!". With that she leapt out a nearby window, spreading her double wings, and flew in the direction of the nearest tower. Oliver shook his head slightly, admiring the grace and beauty of a gargoyle in flight. Even his childhood friend, the ugly misfit who was so clumsy and awkward on the ground, was elegance in the air.

Seconds after Desdemona's departure, her pursuers entered the hallway.

"I'm SURE I saw her come this way," said the blue one.

"Well then, where is she?" asked the green one with the snow white hair.

"Maybe she went out that window...I say, Guard? Did you see our rookery sister pass this way?"

"Indeed I did", replied Oliver, "she was just winging her way to the stables."

"The stables it is then!" exclaimed the leader, and he and the second gargoyle  took off immediately. The third gargoyle, the one with rakish earring in his ear, seemed a bit suspicious. He stared at Oliver a few moments, and there was something in the look that made the guard highly uneasy. A few tense moments passed, and then the brown-hued gargoyle jumped into the window to take after his brethren.

"Oh, brother...?" he purred, looking over his shoulder at the beaked gargoyle attempting to become one with the wall. "They've been looking for you at the practice field. The leader's mate wants to review your sword skills." He smiled darkly and sharpened his index talon against the side of the window. "I'd hurry if I were you. Her parries and ripostes can be vicious when she's annoyed."

His mean-spirited laughter was lost in the other gargoyle's howls of dismay as the brown gargoyle glided away. Oliver shook his head and went on his way.

  * * * * *

Castle Battlements- overlooking the practice field

"Put yuir back into it, lads!" bellowed the Captain of the Guards at the latest crop of prospective recruits from the villages in Wyvern protectorate. He had the lot of them flailing away with wooden swords at some straw-stuffed mannequins, practicing striking the proper pressure points to incapacitate a man in battle. Some of the older gargoyles were nearby watching, the one they called Leader and his friend, the talkative one. They were clearly comparing the progress of their young warriors with the Captain's recruits and the human glowered at them as the talkative gargoyle made some clever comment that caused the normally stern-faced Leader to break into a roguish grin.


He turned to see one of his seasoned men-at-arms approaching. "Ho, Oliver! How goes it? Are ye done nursemaiding the milksops from Glencarrick for the evening?"

"Aye, fer enow." Oliver dropped the formal court speech for the comfortable  brogue of the common folk. "Prince Malcolm has a task fer us. A message from Prince Kenneth was stolen by bandits. He wants ye to organize a search party, take as many men as ye need and go through the villages an' countryside to find the thieves."

The Captain stroked his chin. "A search, eh? These awkward pups should be up to that task at least. Fetch yuirself a horse, lad. Ye an' few others can do the village here while I take the lads farther afield."

Oliver nodded and looked around his commander to the two gargoyles who were perched nearby, listening attentively. "Prince Malcolm would like to request yuir help as well, gargoyles. Eyes in the sky would be welcome indeed."

The gargoyle leader nodded. "Dinnae ye know which route the Prince's man took?"

"I had a word with him. He said he followed the Great Road all the way from Dumfermline. The bandits waylaid him at the ford and went upriver."

Leader turned to his companion. "Go tell my mate to start dividing the young ones into search wings and then get some of our rookery mates to oversee them. I'll be along in minute."

"Aye, I'm on my way." The barrel-chested gargoyle was over the side before he finished his sentence, gliding down to the field where an aquamarine female was scolding a young beaked male with a twisted horn.

"Any idea what this message is about?" the Captain asked, scowling at the gargoyle.

"None save that the Archmage seems right anxious to be gettin' it back."

The brown gargoyle snorted. "There be more to this than just scratches on a piece o' skin then. The man has plots within plots, all magicians do."

"Whether he does or not," the Captain said gruffly, "'Tis not for you or I to worry about. The Archmage is a servant of the Prince as are we all."

The gargoyle leader harrumped and glided down to join the others, his mate already grouping the youngsters into squads.

"Foul creatures," the Captain muttered. "Why do we have to involve them?"

Oliver shrugged. "The Prince seems to think they have their uses."

The older man sighed. "Well, let's be off then, lad. Trail's going cold and I'll be hung if I let those gargoyles find those bandits before us." The two men began to descend down the outer stairway to the castle grounds.

  * * * * *

Guest's Quarters

"Of all the nerve!" Ingrid shouted shrewishly as she and Donal entered the bedchamber. "We traveled all the way from Glencarrick to discuss urgent matters, and to him a few brigands are more important than us."

"My dear, Prince Malcolm did say something important had come up. Surely, we can wait until that has been resolved before we can be seen," Donal said reasonably in his usual calm tone of voice.

"Hmph! You're as uncouth as he is," Ingrid huffed. "I sometimes wonder why I married someone of a lower status than mine." As Ingrid sat on the bed, there was a long moment of silence, which was only broken when she noticed that Donal was about to leave the room. "And where do you think you are going?"

Donal opened up the door and turned stiffly to his lady-wife. "I would like to see more of this castle. It is a fascinating place and I must tour through it once more."

Ingrid looked at her husband with a state of shock entering her face. "You want to leave me here alone, in this room, and risk getting killed by those monsters just to see this place again?" Before Donal could respond, Ingrid spoke again. "Fine! Go ahead and leave! But don't be surprised if one of those creatures tears you to pieces."

Donal sighed at his wife's waspish commentary, as he had a thousand times before, and left on his solitary tour of the castle.

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern Stables

Horses nickered and whinnied softly in the dimly-lit stables, the deep shadows warm with the scent of fresh-cut summer hay. Oliver went to one of his favorites, a black mare with white socks and a blaze of white on her forehead.  He clucked to her as he led her out by her bridle to be saddled and as he began to throw a padded blanket on the horse, he heard a sneeze come from one of the haystacks.

"Who goes there?" Oliver shouted.

No response.

Fearful that an intruder had come to steal a horse, the curly-haired guard grabbed a nearby pitchfork and held it like a spear. Scanning the stables for anything unusual, he found nothing and dismissed the sneeze as a figment of his imagination. Leaning the weapon on a post, he continued to saddle his horse. He was almost finished, cinching up the belly strap, when he heard the sneeze again. This time, he pinpointed exactly where it had come from. With pitchfork once again at the ready, he approached the haystack and spoke in a commanding voice.

"Show yourself, thief, or prepare to be skewered!"

"Please, don't hurt me." The haystack burst apart to reveal the blonde-haired gargoyle he had met earlier in the castle hiding underneath. Oliver took a step back while he tried to calm his racing heart.

"Lass," he said, putting down his pitchfork. "What are you doing here? I thought that you went to hide in your sister's workshop."

"I was, but her inventions seemed too dangerous when she's not there to operate them. Still, it did give me a place to hide from those three for a while."

"You mean those three males that were following you earlier?"

She nodded. "Those three and many more. Night after night, all of the available males come to me and try to woo my heart. I desire none of them and no matter what I do to discourage them, none of them will ever leave me alone."

Oliver thought about the gargoyle's problem a bit. This was an interesting situation that it rarely happened to humans. Still, it was a problem in need of a solution and the brown-haired guard could only think of one. "Well, it seems to me, lass, that if you want the pestering to stop, you should let them think that you've given your heart to someone else. Then perhaps they will leave you in peace."

"Do you believe that this would work?" the blonde-haired gargoyle asked.

"Well, it's either that or continue to be chased night after night."

She nodded in agreement. "True. Thank you for all of your help."

"'Tis nothing," Oliver said. "Now you'd best be off before someone forms a search party to find you."

As the gargoyle left the stables to rejoin her clan, Oliver mounted his horse and joined the Captain of the Guard in their hunt for the bandits.

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern Hallways

Lord Donal walked through the castle hallways, admiring every last bit of what he saw. Very few people knew that he had a great interest in castle building and architecture. It had begun when he was a small child and his father was having a new castle built. Every day, Donal would go to the quarry and watch as each stone for the castle was perfectly cut to certain specifications. Ever since that time, he would look over every castle that he visited and had become fascinated with their unique designs.

Not only did this activity bring back fond childhood memories for Donal, it also served as an escape from the constant henpecking of Ingrid. If only he didn't love her so much, he would leave her in an instant. He knew it had been a bitter blow for her to marry the son of a minor lord when she was treated like a princess in her father's house but even she knew how vital their arranged marriage was to both their families. Deep in his heart, he knew Ingrid had grown to love him and her occasional spates of temper were easy enough to bear.

He continued his journey up a flight of stairs, now admiring the tapestry that hung on the walls. The scenes intricately embroidered upon it were ...unusual to say the least. Humans and gargoyles defending the castle, men and horses in battle on the ground, their winged allies engaging in combat from the sky. The color of the threads was still bright and new. Donal leaned in and sniffed; there was just a trace of the herbal scent of the plants used to dye the wool.

An unusual castle, the lord of Glencarrick mused. He saw lights at the top of the stairs and curiosity piqued, hurried towards them.

  * * * * *

Asrial's Workshop

The golden-haired gargoyle sat at her desk with a gear in a pumpkin-colored hand, taking a closer look at it with her specialized viewing device strapped around her head. As she examined the object for any imperfections, her rookery brother Goliath entered through a window to check up on her. She didn't notice him enter the room and still didn't pay any heed to him when he audibly cleared his throat. Seeing that Asrial was transfixed in her work, Goliath walked up quietly behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She jumped.

"Don't do that!" she screamed. "You scared the wits out of me."

"Sorry," Goliath said with a slight chuckle at the sight of her enlarged eyes in the goggles. "You always leave the world behind when you're thinking. You really ought to spend less time in your workshop."

"I can't do that, especially whenever I have an invention to work on. Speaking of which, I'm glad you came because I need your help." Asrial took off the device strapped to her head and went to a covered object that stood on a table. She took the cover off to reveal a contraption only another gadgeteer could understand. It was a small wooden box with spokes to hold several wooden gears, a few of which were already in place, and a leather belt with holes big enough for the teeth of the gears to go through. Aside from that, the device had no apparent use whatsoever.

Goliath looked puzzled upon seeing Asrial's latest project. "What exactly does this invention of yours do, rookery sister?"

Asrial looked at her invention and was dumbfounded. "I'm not sure what I want it to do. It is in its beginning stages, after all."

"You really need to get out of the workshop more often."

Asrial smirked and playfully hit Goliath in the shoulder. "Are you going to help me?"


The spiral-horned gargoyle leaned against Goliath's broad chest and looked into his face with sad eyes. "Pleeeeease?" she begged.

The lavender gargoyle clenched his teeth and gave a low moan. "I hate it when you do that."


"Because I cannot say 'no' to you."

Asrial smiled and skipped over to her desk to retrieve the gear she was working on earlier. Attaching the belt to the gears already fixed to the device, she fixed her gear to the end of the belt and gave it to Goliath. "I need you to attach this to the spoke at the end." While she held the device to keep it from moving Goliath began to pull on the belt. However, the gear would not reach the designated spoke.

"It's too short, rookery sister. It won't reach," Goliath said.

"It has to reach. A longer belt won't work properly with this device." Asrial continued to try and pin the invention down while Goliath continued to pull. However, Goliath's pull overwhelmed Asrial's strength. She lost her grip and the lack of resistance made Goliath fall on his back, causing the invention to be thrown across the room and out of the door. The crash that was heard when it hit the wall was accompanied by a man's sharp scream.

"Oh dear," Asrial said as she heard the noise. She pulled Goliath to his feet and ran to the stairway to find her invention shattered into a million pieces and Lord Donal standing absolutely paralyzed in fright. He hadn't moved a muscle since the device came within inches of hitting his face.

"Are you all right?" Goliath asked as he came into the hallway and saw the lord in a terrified state.

Lord Donal stood motionless for a few seconds before he was finally able to respond. "What?"

"Are you hurt?" Goliath asked again.

"Oh, no, no, I'm not hurt. I'm just a bit shaken, but I'm fine now. See, no injuries for me. I'm not injured," Lord Donal babbled.

Asrial fussed over the human, looking him over for any signs of damage. "I'm terribly sorry for almost hurting you. It shall never happen again," she said apologetically.

"It's quite all right," he said, flinching away from her gentle touches. "Accidents will happen. After all, this was an accident, right? Yes, it was just an accident. No harm done. Well, if you excuse me." Lord Donal began to back away slowly before he transformed his normal walk into a slight run. Goliath and Asrial merely looked at each other in bewilderment before they began to pick up the pieces of the broken invention.

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern Courtyard

Lady Ingrid went to the courtyard and looked at the moon up above. The only reason she had left her room was so that she could look for Donal and bring him back to his senses. Not being able to find him, she had decided to go outside and enjoy the scenery from there. For a moment, walking amongst the fragrant ornamental herb beds, she forgot all about gargoyles, husbands, and kings and decided to become lost in nature's splendor. For the first time since this trip began, she was happy. She plucked a sprig of lavender and began to sing a childhood song to herself as she basked in the glow of the moonlight.

Argus was in the garden burying a new bone that he had found. Even though he was a gargoyle beast, he still loved to engage in activities regular dogs did. As he was busy packing in the fresh dirt he had dug up only a moment ago, he heard a sound from the other side of the courtyard. It was both melodic and slightly discordant, perking up his ears. It was not unlike his own mournful howls, lonesome serenades at the moon, only with a distinctly feminine flavor. A female gargoyle beast? Here?

He trotted to the other side of the courtyard and discovered a pale woman with long golden hair producing that strange sound. She trilled up the scales, going higher in pitch and Argus's trot became a run. Ingrid didn't notice the beast running towards her until it was too late. Argus leapt towards her and pinned her to the ground affectionately. Ingrid screamed as the gargoyle beast was happily licking her face.

Diomedes and Demona were atop the castle parapets on night watch when they heard the screams. Without any delay, they jumped from their posts and glided down to investigate. Seeing that Argus was pinning down a woman, they took action. Diomedes pried the beast from Lady Ingrid while Demona helped to get the Lady of Glencarrick back to her feet.

"Are you all right?" Demona asked.

Lady Ingrid nodded until she looked down. "AHHH!" she screamed. "My dress!" Her clothes were covered with both animal saliva and dirt. Feeling helpless, Lady Ingrid ran inside the castle, screaming and crying.

Demona turned and faced Argus, who was still being held by Diomedes. "See what you did? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

Argus's ears drooped as he whimpered guiltily.

"That's it, you beast," Diomedes said. "You're going to get a bath. That should teach you a lesson."

Argus's facial expression turned to one of shock as he realized what had just been said. He howled in protest as he was being taken away by the two teenage gargoyles.

  * * * * *

Castle Wyvern Entrance

The gates of the castle opened as the search party returned from a futile search of the nearby village. Their hunt for the bandits was unsuccessful but it would be continued until the criminals were found. As he led his horse back to the stables, Oliver noticed the woman he had helped out earlier walking down the stone steps of the outer stairway. She glanced his way and smiled, looking away demurely as their eyes met. He watched as she drifted into the formal flower gardens.

"Well," he commented to his mare, "You're a female. What do you make of that?"

The black-and-white horse nickered and nudged him. He laughed and turned her over to the stable boy that appeared in the doorway, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. A brief wash by the trough, a rough hand through his unruly curls and Oliver ventured into the garden to find the lady sitting on a stone bench, delicate fingers drawing a spray of white roses towards her, inhaling their fragrance.

"Good evening, fair lady," Oliver said as he made a slight bow to her.

"A pleasant evening to you, good sir," she said, lifting crystal blue eyes to his. "How goes your hunt?"

Oliver sat down on the bench, a respectable distance from her. "Not well," he said. "Thus far, no one has seen a sign of the bandits. We shall try again at first light to find them." After a pause, Oliver spoke once more. "Might I ask why you are alone out here? The hour is late."

"After a day serving my lady, this is only time I have that is truly my own." She reached up and unpinned her modest wimple, sending ripples of burnished copper hair down her back. "You know how it is."

"Indeed." He couldn't take his eyes off the way the moonlight made her hair glow. "But a woman such as yourself should not be out here alone at this time of night."

"But I'm not alone." She glanced at him, cheeks flushed at her boldness. "You are here."

"I - I, um... " Oliver's cheeks burned hot and a thought occurred to him. "I have been a rude host. I have not properly introduced myself. My name is..."

"Oliver," the lady interjected, smiling sweetly. "I was present when you introduced yourself to Lady Ingrid. My name is Alice."

Oliver grinned. "Now that we are properly introduced, perhaps you'd like to tour the gardens." He offered her his arm and was gratified when she took it.

Oliver felt awkward walking with Alice at his side. Here was a woman of immense beauty and yet he was mute. He did not know what to say to such a vision. Worse yet, it seemed that Alice had some feelings for him. Now he was more afraid than ever to say something that might offend her. After a long while, he finally tried to make some small talk.

"Um, so, do you travel often with Lady Ingrid?"

"Yes," Alice responded. "I've traveled all over the country with her and her husband. I have visited many lands, so many in fact, that I sometimes cannot remember what our own castle looks like any more."

"I envy you. All my life, I have stayed within the shadows of Wyvern. Never have I seen the wonders of the outside world."

"There isn't much to see outside your fiefdom, Oliver. By far, this is the most beautiful place I have seen in all my travels."

They continued to talk as they wandered the castle grounds. More and more, Oliver began to feel more comfortable about being around Alice. He found her conversation loosening his tongue until he felt as witty as the wandering bard that visited Wyvern not long ago. They wound up on one of the outer walkways overlooking the sea, the crescent moon smiling down on its reflection below.

Wordlessly, Oliver reached out and stroked the blush curve of Alice's cheek. The smile that graced her cupid's bow lips was all the encouragement he needed. He let his fingers slip into the silken strands of her hair and leaned in for a kiss, pure and chaste, but as her lips parted, it soon became something much, much more.

From up above in the shadows of the tower, Desdemona looked on with joy. She was glad that her human friend was enjoying the fruits of love. She only hoped that she could solve her own heart's crisis so easily.

Familiar voices drifted towards her on the wind. The blonde gargoyle swore silently and curled up into a ball on the narrow ledge, cloaking her bright hair under her wings. Rushing wind caused by gargoyles coming in for a landing and the clatter of talons against stone marked their arrival on the tower roof above.

"Brothers, why do we even bother?" a deep voice said.

"Because our sister provides us such excellent sport," another said, his voice dripping with false charm. Desdemona knew that voice all too well; it was the lanky brown male with the black hair and earring. He could talk fish from the water into the frying pan and he knew it too. It made her uncomfortable for some reason.

"Aye!" a third male voice agreed. "And she's a fine prize for whichever of us wins her."

The deep voice snorted. "Well, brothers, if you two wish to pursue her, go ahead but without me. I'm no fool. It's clear enough that she doesn't care for our attentions."

"But, brother.... soon we'll run our fair prey to the ground and she will have to submit to the will of the victor."

"Bah." There was scrabble of footsteps followed by the muffled thump of someone jumping up on the tower wall. "Say what you like, that is no way to take a mate. I wish you luck in your fool's quest, brothers. I have better things to do."

Desdemona lifted the edge of her wing and peeked out in time to see her former suitor sailing away. It was the big greenish-gray one with the snow white hair. She watched him disappear and pursed her lips thoughtfully.

  * * * * *

An excerpt from the journals of Brother Edmund

"The first night of the Lord and Lady's stay at Castle Wyvern was not much of a success. A near-death experience with a piece of flying machinery and an 'attack' by a gargoyle beast did not leave a good first impression with the couple from Glencarrick. They cursed the creatures for leading them into these disasters and hoped that Prince Malcolm would get rid of them soon. Nevertheless, they were determined to see the Prince about the trade agreements between both their lands. However, they waited until sunrise before they ventured forth from their room again. As for Alice and Oliver, it was clear by the meaningful glances they exchanged that they were in each other's thoughts even if they could not be in each other's arms."

  * * * * *

The Village of Cockatrice

It was early afternoon when the Wyvern search party entered the village. Each man was focused on capturing the rogues so they could go back to their daily routines. However, Oliver's mind was preoccupied. Ever since that glorious night, all he could think about was her. Her voice echoed in his ears like a song from the heavens. Her face was like that of an angel: radiant and flawless. No one had ever made Oliver feel this way before.

"Oliver! Oliver!"

The voice broke the guard away from his trance. "Yes, Captain?"

The Captain of the Guard growled at Oliver in anger. "Quit yuir daydreaming and search the village. Those bandits still possess that note and we've got to find them before something terrible happens."

"Yes, sir." Oliver dismounted his horse and proceeded to interrogate the villagers in the market square, going about their everyday business. In a weaver's stall, a full-bodied woman with a knowing smile caught him fingering some blue ribbons the exact same color as Alice's eyes. She had no problem talking Oliver out of his coppers.

The rest of the guards searched in pairs for the bandits. "This is a bloody fool waste of time," muttered one of the new recruits to his partner as they wandered between the market stalls, cabbages and woodcuts of the king sharing shelf space.

Oliver gave the young man a stern look as he passed by. "Dinnae let th' Captain hear ye say that, lad. He's nae more happier about it than ye are."

The recruit looked suitably chagrined but Oliver couldn't blame him. It was becoming increasingly clear that they were on a fool's errand. In the last day and half, the Guards had methodically combed through about half the villages beholden to Prince Malcolm and had found nothing. The gargoyles had been slightly more successful, finding the place where the theft had happened and had tracked the bandits going in the direction of this village before they had to return to the castle at dawn.

The open door of a tavern beckoned to the guardsmen. "C'mon, lads," Oliver said, glancing around serendipitously for the Captain. "Let's see what sort of answers we can get in here."

"Preferably the ones best found in the bottom of a pint," the recruit said, his pace picking up. His less talkative partner also hurried towards the tavern door.

Oliver looked over the sparse crowd while the innkeeper brought over three pints of homebrew in cold earthenware mugs. There were two or three old men who looked like they were regular fixtures in the place, a couple of farm hands arm wrestling and one dapper fellow wearing a rakish tam and a fancy embroidered tunic beneath with his tartans. He was wolfing down a bowl of mutton stew in the wooden bowl before him, sopping up the juice with torn pieces of the round loaf of bread before him. Oliver was drawn to the man's boots and leggings, which were marked with splatters of light-colored mud. The village had mostly red clay; the only place that mud of that color could have come from was the river near the Great Road.

Oliver took his  mug and wandered over to the stranger's table. "Hullo, friend," he said pleasantly. "I see that you've been traveling."

The round-faced man looked down at his soiled footwear ruefully. "Aye, an' I have a horse wi' a wicked turn o' mind. If there's th' least bit of a puddle in th' road, he'll find a way to step in it and get th' muck on me!" He laughed. "Sit, sit! I haven't had a decent conversation wi' anyone but that devil of a horse in weeks!"

"You've been on the Great Road then?"

"Oh, aye. I'm on my way to th' capital in Dumfermline. I heard th' King will pay handsomely for proper charts of th' coastline." He patted the leather satchel on the bench next to him, stuffed with rolls of parchment. "Earn my bread as a mapmaker, I do! Cameron of Clan Mackay, finest maps an' chart in all of Scotland."

"Then mayhaps you could help us," Oliver said, sipping his beer casually. He pointed to the crest on his tunic. "I serve Prince Malcolm. Some bandits waylaid the King's man and stole a message to his brother, the Prince. We've trailed them from the river ford coming in this direction."

Cameron's eyes widened and he whistled. "So, THAT'S what all th' fuss was th' other night!"

The Guardsman's eyes narrowed. "And what would that be?"

"I was camping rough and was working by moonlight on a chart of th' constellations for some mad fool living in the Caledonian forest." He laughed. "Crazy as a loon, that old duffer, but he always pays in gold an' that's good enough for me. Anyway, I was sitting there on the ground when I felt it  kind of shaking and then I hears horses whinnying, an' I tells meself, 'MOVE, you idiot!' I barely made it into a thicket when all these riders thundered past."

"Did you see where they went?"

"Oh, aye. They nicked into a ravine an' disappeared. I expect there's a cave or summat back there. Th' whole area's riddled wi' them." He drained the last of his drink. "It's only an hour or so east of here by horseback. I can show you if you like."

"I'd like that very much," Oliver said standing up. He glanced over at the two recruits. "Which one of you is the swifter runner?"

The quiet one stood. "That would be me, sir."

"Good lad. I want you to run and find the Captain. Tell him to meet us at the east gate of the village." Oliver shouted after him. "And hurry!" The recruit was off, legs stretching as he passed over the doorstep.

  * * * * *

Guest's Quarters

"Ouch!" Ingrid glared back at her lady-in-waiting. "Wretched girl, what is wrong with you today?"

Alice blinked and paled beneath her crisp white wimple. "I beg your pardon, my lady," she said contritely and bobbed a little curtsey. She took a deep breath and tried focusing on the task at hand, brushing Lady Ingrid's hair and making sure it received its customary one hundred strokes. It was because of her lady's vanity that Alice kept her own red-gold locks carefully concealed beneath her wimple.

"I believe I'd like to have the five-part braid today, Alice." Ingrid picked out some brightly colored ribbons from her dressing table. "And weave these in it as well."

"As you wish, my lady." Her face was placid but inwardly, Alice groaned. The intricate braiding was difficult enough without the extra decoration. Fortunately, her deft fingers knew their task well, twisting over and under, a flash of satin mingling with the golden strands.

Her mind wandered pleasantly to the night before, of the guard Oliver. He wasn't her first dalliance nor the second, but he had a kind heart and that appealed to her. She smiled dreamily. He had such strong arms and she felt so snug and safe in them. Alice gazed out over the rolling hills and wondered when he'd return to the castle.

  * * * * *

The Bandit's Lair

The Captain of the Guard scowled at the shadowy woods ahead, the late afternoon sunlight filtering through the heavy foliage. "Yuir sure then, man? This is where ye saw the riders?"

"Yes," Cameron answered, "The ground is still soft here. You can see the hoofprints for yourself."

The Captain nodded at Oliver, who dismounted and crept forward cautiously. He knelt and examined the turf before him, looking back and nodding. "At least five riders," he said in a low voice, "Their tracks lead in but they don't lead out."

"No doubt, they know that they're wanted men," the Captain reasoned.

"An' if you don't mind, sir, that's why this is as far as I go," Cameron said firmly. "These hands were made for makin' charts not bustin' heads."

"That's quite all right, map maker," the Captain said. "If ye'll come by th' castle, Prince Malcolm will reward ye for yuir trouble."

"Then I'd best be on my way," Cameron said, lifting two fingers to his tam in a curious gesture, almost like a salute. "Easiest money I've made in a while." The dapper man turned and went back to the copse of trees where they'd left their horses.

The Captain raised his hand and beckoned his guardsmen forward. "C'mon, lads. Quietly now."

As one, the men from Wyvern spread out, the Captain and Oliver leading the majority of the party into the ravine and the remaining staying behind under the command of another man-at-arms to secure the area. The ravine gradually began to open up, widening into a sloping valley. Nervous horses were picketed beneath an ancient oak and wordlessly, Oliver sent a few of the recruits over to guard them. The rest of the men blended into the forest to await the Captain's signal.

Voices approached. "--Are ye sure we should wait for him? Th' boss will be awake soon and I dinnae want him lookin' for us, not in th' mood he's likely to be in."

"Aye!" a second voice interjected. "Business has got summat fierce! Ye cannae swing a cat without hittin' a thief these days!"

"Orders is orders," said a tall man in a blue tunic, emerging from what looked like tumbled rockslide.  As Oliver edged around for a better look, however, it became obvious that it was the entrance to a small cave. Three men followed the first out, their overgrown beards and soiled tunics proof that they had been living rough for the last few days.

"Wait for it," the Captain drawled out quietly, raising his arm slowly for the signal to attack. "Wait for it.....NOW!!!" With a roar, the guardsmen rushed from the woods and overcame the unsuspecting bandits. The men knew they were outnumbered and only put up token resistance.

The Captain grabbed the tall man by the front of his blue tunic and shook him. "Ye waylaid a man at the river ford less than two days ago. Where's the pouch ye took from him?"

"It's in the cave," the bandit answered scornfully. "Take it and good riddance. It wasn't a prize worth the effort."

"We'll let Prince Malcolm be the judge o' that, thief." The Captain tossed his head towards the cave. "Oliver! Take some lads and collect up their loot. We'll pack this lot and be back at Wyvern by nightfall.

Oliver went about his duties promptly, using a spare horse as a pack animal. His efficient bustling about wasn't so much for completing a job well done but the thought of the welcome Alice would have for him when he returned to her. He forced back a little smile.

  * * * * *

The Great Hall

"Plants?" Prince Malcolm asked. "I thought there was supposed a message from my brother, the King?"

The Archmage fingered through the pouch anxiously, murmuring under his breath. "V. planifolia, Bashoush, Cypressus sempervirens, Commiphora myrrpha ...."

"My lord, Archmage, what are you going on about?" the prince asked curiously.

The magician looked up sharply. "Just wondering what these plants are, your Highness. I'd better give them a thorough examination to make sure they are not poisonous."

"But the message from Kenneth," Prince Malcolm prompted. "Where's the message?"

"It must have fallen into the hands of one of the King's subjects. Then again, the messenger openly admitted he did not know how to read or write. Perhaps he only assumed it was a message." The Archmage stuffed the leather pouch under his arm and making a cursory bow, swept from the room.

The prince looked after the magician, shaking his head. "There are times when I just don't understand that man," he said to Lord Donal.

Donal nodded. "He would appear to be cut from the same cloth as my wife."

Prince Malcolm chuckled. "An excellent jest, my lord. Speaking of your lady-wife, I believe she was waiting for us in the courtyard. Shall we collect the fair Ingrid and go into dinner?" He gestured to his personal guard to follow him and Oliver fell in behind them.


Castle Wyvern courtyard

The Captain of the Guard and his small party entered the castle with the bandits, bound by rope, behind them. As the party was headed towards the dungeon, many of the castle inhabitants, including the gargoyles, looked at the parade of thieves. While the humans were genuinely interested at this sight, the gargoyles lost fascination quickly.

Othello was on one of the towers when he saw Desdemona looking at the incoming party from the other side of the castle. She was still someone of immense beauty and radiance to him. But, he thought, it is not right for her to be forced to love someone. It would be best if I sought out other females to cherish. As he began to turn his focus away from Desdemona, he caught sight of his other brothers ready to make another attempt in capturing the brown-skinned female's heart. Othello knew that she did not want their company at all and tried to think of a way to give his sister one night of rest from these vultures. An idea sprung from his mind when he saw the Leader's mate, Deborah, walking on one of the castle walls. Without delay, the horned gargoyle glided over to her and began to speak with her.

Desdemona lost her interest in the human arrivals. To her, the Captain had made another successful attemp at capturing rogue bandits and that was that. She was about to leave for other parts of the castle when Deborah approached her.

"I need you to find your rookery sister. You and her are on guard duty tonight."

Desdemona agreed. She had nothing better to do that night. Before gliding away to search for her sister, she caught sight of Othello, who was signaling for her to look behind. When she did, she saw that her two pursuers were disapointed at the thought of not having another chance to capture their quarry; they had the duty of hunting for the night's meal. Desdemona mouthed out the words "thank you" to Othello before she began her search. Clever brother, she thought. Maybe he's the one for me after all.


Lady Ingrid was sitting on a stone bench, reading a psaltery and pointedly ignoring three young gargoyle children cavorting with their pet. Her lady-in-waiting was watching, smiling in great amusement. Her stifled giggles drew the attention of her mistress.

"Really, Alice!" Ingrid scolded. "You'll just encourage the creatures."

"Oh, my lady!" Her blue eyes twinkled. "They're just like my little brothers back home, so happy in their mischief, the little imps!"

Ingrid leaned forward. "Gargoyles are nothing more than animals, Alice, despite how the people may view them. I'll never have them at Glencarrick, mark my words!"

Alice bowed her head contritely but looked up sharply. She went from her seat into a deep curtsey. "My lady," she hissed, "It is the prince!"

Ingrid prepared herself to greet Prince Malcolm in the manner of equals; after all, was she not a white Anglo-Saxon Lady in her own right? She rose gracefully, swan-like, poised with perfection.

There was a ghastly boom and the air was filled with flying sod and smoke, pelting everyone standing in the courtyard with particles of earth and stone. Lady Ingrid was livid. "DONAL!!" she wailed in full voice. "Just look at my dress!!"

The gargoyle beast tore itself free from the grasp of the three hatchlings playing with him and barreled towards the noblewoman, tail wagging.

Her eyes were as big as hen's eggs. "Oh, no..." was all she had time to utter before the beast piled into her, his rough tongue giving her an affectionate if a bit slimy greeting. Weakly, pinned under the animal, she struggled to free herself while the assembled humans and gargoyles stared at the spectacle in stunned silence.

A young lavender gargoyle glided down with a pumpkin-colored female in his arms. Her skin and tunic was stained with smoke and the end of her long blonde ponytail was singed. "Brother Edmund!"

The monk hurried towards them. "My word! What did she do to herself this time?"

The little female coughed. "I was in one of the sheds in the field, mixing sulfur with saltpeter and charcoal and the torch fell over. The next thing I knew I was airborne, tumbling head over heels into my brother's arms here." She looked wistful. "I'll have to remember what I did. It made such a lovely hole."

Her rookery brother looked at her disgustedly and snorted. "It made a good start on a moat, you mean. That 'lovely hole' could swallow up an ox."

Brother Edmund patted the male gargoyle's broad shoulder in sympathy. "Bring her along to the infirmary. The experience doesn't seem to have damaged her too much."

In the meanwhile, Oliver and the crested gargoyle pulled the dog-like beast off of Lady Glencarrick. Alice dashed in to help her mistress to her feet. Ingrid's blonde hair was pulled free from its braid, her perfect face was smeared with mud and dog slobber and her garments were disheveled.

"That's IT, Donal!! That's the last straw!" she screeched angrily, stamping her foot. "We are going HOME to Glencarrick and to the devil with the blasted fishing rights!"

"Very well, my dear," Donal said soothingly. "We'll go first thing in the morning."

Her eyes flashed. "We will GO as soon as I change my dress! I'll not stay another night in this unwholesome menagerie!!" With that, Ingrid turned on her heel and stormed into the castle. Alice cast a tearful look at Oliver before following her mistress.

Her husband blinked and turned to Prince Malcolm. "Um, I beg your pardon, your Highness, for the unseemly behavior of my wife."

Prince Malcolm held up his hand. "No, no, my Lord Glencarrick. Under the circumstances, I believe her actions are justified. We have the bare bones of a workable treaty governing the fishing rights between our lands. I suggest we continue our correspondence on the matter." He eyed Oliver, whose lovelorn eyes had followed Lady Glencarrick's maid until she disappeared. Clapping a hand on the young guardsman's shoulder, the prince asked, "What say you, Oliver? Would you serve as my representative to the house of Glencarrick?"

"I -- I," Oliver gulped. "I would be honored to serve you in any way you see fit, my Prince."

Malcolm smiled. "Then you shall accompany Lord and Lady Glencarrick to their estate. I suggest you get your things together as your departure seems to be iminent."

Oliver beamed. "Yes, your Highness! Thank you!" He left the courtyard at a run.

  * * * * *

The Archmage's Quarters

"Yes, yes," the Archmage muttered as he tested a pinch of dried resin. "Myrrh of the finest quality. Perfect."

"I'm glad."

The bearded magician looked up at the unexpected voice, his bushy eyebrows meeting like a great, gray moth over his eyes. He scowled at the dapper, round-faced man in his doorway. The foppish tam and embroidered tunic marked him as the sort of dandy that the Archmage had no patience for. "Be off with you, scoundrel! These rooms are off limits!"

"After my master went to all th' trouble to arrange for you to receive yon bag of herbs and exotic unguents?" He raised an eyebrow. "Your shopping list has attracted th' attention of some very powerful people."

"Speak plainly, man," the Archmage said coldly. "Do you serve the Sorceror Lord?"

"Nay, although we know of him." The man strolled in, boldly fingering the odd contents of the magician's littered work table. "My master has a message for you. 'It would please us to serve your ambitions. They complement our vision.'"

"Is that it?" the Archmage asked mockingly. "Do you expect an answer?"

"Nay."  The stranger looked directly into the magician's eyes, a thing most residents of the castle dared not do without fear of endangering their immortal souls. "Your actions will be your answer and my master will know when the time is right." He turned his back on the Archmage, casting a impudent look over his shoulder in leaving. "Nice doing business wi' you."

"Fool." And with that, the Archmage turned back to his dark and sorcerous arts.

* * * * *

Outside Wyvern Castle

Tearfully, Alice checked the last of the packhorses carrying Lady Ingrid's belongings. She hadn't even had time to say goodbye to Oliver and her mistress was in such a foul temper that she didn't dare slip away to look for him. With a heavy heart, she walked towards the placid mare that she shared with another servant.

Hoof beats thundered across the wooden drawbridge. Lord Donal called out, "There you are. Glad you could make it. Do you know a quick route to the Great Road?"

A familiar voice answered. "Yes, my lord. It'll cut two hours off the journey."

"Grand! Take your place up front and we will follow."

A dark horse with a pale mane moved up to walk at Alice's side. She looked up into Oliver's face. He extended an arm towards her.

"My lady? Would you do me the honor of riding with me?"

Eyes dancing, Alice smiled and took his arm, practically flying into the saddle behind him. She wrapped her arms around him and sighed contentedly, cheek against his back. "I thought I wouldn't get a chance to say goodbye," she said softly.

Oliver patted the hands clasped chastely around his waist. "If we're lucky, we'll never have to say goodbye." He smiled as she answered him with a tight squeeze. He  kicked his steed into a canter and headed for the open road and the world beyond Wyvern.

The End