From the journals of Brother Edmund:
"Death is a shock for the young, as the sight of it reminds us of our own mortality. Our lives could be taken away from us at any moment, anywhere in the world. The shock becomes less painful, however, in the company of true friends, as they remind you of life and the joys of living. True friendship, happiness, love, and the trust between a parent and a child makes life worth living. But there are those who have none of these things, and they should be watched out for, and guarded against. For these often seek to destroy upon the happiness of others, and feed off of the happiness of the pure. Life is a gift whose blessings are bountiful, and whose horrors are dark. But it is how we deal with these events that makes us whole.
The younger gargoyles gathered
near several of the elders in Castle Wyvern's courtyard.
One hatchling, a red beaked one, moved through the crowd until he
came to where two others waited -- a blue one and an
olive-colored one -- and landed in a crouch next to them.
"Hey, brothers. Did you hear about tonight's
Broadway shared a curious glance with his smaller rookery sibling. Together they looked back at Brooklyn.
"No," Lex said. "What about it?"
Brooklyn looked around shrewdly, then leaned towards them confidentially, a knowing smile set on his face. "I heard they're going to take us to the edge of the protectorate this time."
Broadway and Lex merely stared at him for a few seconds as the realization sunk in. They began to gape in wonder as they realized that they had never before been there, and that this was a big step in their growth as clan members.
"Wow," Lex said. "We've never been there before. What do you think it's going to be like?"
Agamemnon cleared his throat and spoke up, the deep bass tones of his voice rolling to the edges of the courtyard. "If all of you would gather round, please."
All the children of the clan gathered around the barrel-chested gargoyle for the customary speech before the excursion.
He began by clearing his throat once more, then began talking in his best portentous speaking voice. "As you know, this is once again the time for the excursion around the protectorate. The purpose is to get to know it, so that you may become better warriors, by knowing the surrounding terrain. This will help you in battle, as those who know the terrain have an advantage over those who don't."
He continued speaking in a toneless voice. Brooklyn pretended to fall asleep, and Lex and Broadway had to cover their mouths with their hands to stop from bursting out laughing. Brooklyn grinned and made his head loll to one side in imitation of sleep, while the other two looked on in amusement.
He abruptly stopped as Deborah shot him a warning glance, and his attention returned to the long-winded gargoyle's speech.
"And as some of you may have heard, tonight we will be going farther than ever before. We will be going to the edge of our protectorate."
Murmurs of excitement and curiosity met with this last remark, and Agamemnon held up a hand to silence them.
"You have been deemed old enough to go this far. But don't let it go to your heads. The rules still apply."
Brooklyn stopped paying attention and looked around as the brown gargoyle continued his speech. He seemed to actually take pleasure in boring humans and gargoyles alike to tears. He even talked to his opponents in battle, criticizing their fighting technique -- a stratagem that seldom failed to enrage his opponent.
The young gargoyle's wandering gaze shifted to the aqua-blue Deborah. She was Hudson's mate and second in command, and currently had an amused expression on her face as she watched Agamemnon continue his lecture.
She noted that he was beginning to shift topics, ever so slowly, and appeared not to notice the fact that even the gargoyles with the longest attention spans were beginning to grow bored. A merry twinkle in his eyes and a twitching motion at the corners of his mouth told her otherwise, however.
As one young gargoyle slowly began to fall asleep, Deborah walked over and clapped Agamemnon on the shoulder. Even she could only take so much lecturing, and she didn't want any of the clan's children to fall asleep.
She grinned at the brown gargoyle. "Time to go."
As the children prepared to glide, she leaned in closer to him, so that only he could hear what she was about to say.
"Besides," she whispered. "The rest of the clan needs some time off from them." She paused, grinning impishly. "And if I didn't stop you, the night would have been over by the time we were ready to leave." She looked over and saw Brooklyn staring at them, standing a few feet away. She was sure he couldn't have heard her remark.
Agamemnon allowed a lopsided smile to plaster itself onto his face, not noticing the young red gargoyle. "Yes, Second. But at some point I will have to talk to you about why it is improper to make a jest at another elder's expense. At some length."
She rolled her eyes as his smile expanded into a gigantic grin. He put a hand on Brooklyn's shoulder and walked along with him, towards the castle walls.
"Now then. Did I ever tell you about...." * * *
The group flew inland for a while,
until they neared the edge of Castle Wyvern's territory.
Several elders flew behind, making sure none of the children got
too far behind. Deborah and Agamemnon flew in front,
guiding the group.
The Leader's mate signaled for the party to land. She was the first to touch down, landing in a small forest clearing overrun by mosses, shrubs, and other plants.
Brooklyn looked around. "How come we're landing here?"
Agamemnon clapped him on the shoulder. "This is farther than you've ever been before." He looked around and took a deep breath. "Ahh...the forest smells so pure. And there is a distinct tactical advantage in knowing the terrain, whether it be plain, forest, or air."
Deborah looked around and cleared her throat, gaining the attention of the entire group. "Now remember. Don't stray too far. There have been several bandit raids in the area, including one where one of the prince's own horses was stolen. And everyone would be sad if one of you got hurt or killed."
Brooklyn looked down at the ground and began to dig a small hole in the turf with one of his talons. "Of course," he muttered under his breath.
Deborah looked up. "What was that? Do you have a question?"
Brooklyn thought fast. "Ummm...yeah. I was wondering if we were going to see any bandits."
Deborah laughed. "I hope not. But if we have to fight, all of you will have to stay back and let us do the fighting. When you get bigger you can fight alongside us."
Agamemnon readied himself for another long speech, and there was a universal sigh throughout the group. He scowled at them and let his gaze shift among them.
"How will you learn about the area if you don't have anyone to teach you? We could go back to the castle if you'd like. I'm sure there's some chores you could do instead." He successfully hid a smile from the group.
At this last proclamation there was a chorus of negation, and Agamemnon allowed himself a small smile. "All right then. Shall we begin?"
Brooklyn looked around as the elder began pointing out various weeds, trees, and other forest plants, talking in his usual boring way. Broadway walked up beside him and grinned.
"He's really boring, isn't he?"
Brooklyn grinned. "He almost put me to sleep back there."
The group continued onward, with Brooklyn and Broadway falling to the end of the group. They were primarily talking, not really listening to Agamemnon's speech. Brooklyn pitied the hatchlings in the front of the group.
A small, brightly colored bird flew in front of the red gargoyle, and he watched it fly off into the woods, stopping on a tree branch every so often. Brooklyn began walking away from the general group, but he was sure to stay alongside the main body. Broadway went after him, while Lexington followed, struggling to keep up with them.
"Wait up!" he called out.
Brooklyn and Broadway looked at each other, as if silently deciding whether or not to let the smaller gargoyle tag along. Finally Broadway shrugged his shoulders, and the two of them stopped, letting the web-winged gargoyle catch up with them.
Lexington stopped in front of them, breathing heavily. "Thanks, brothers. But shouldn't we stay with the rest of the group?"
Brooklyn pointed at the bird, which was looking at them with curiosity. "I've never seen a bird like that before."
Lex stared up at the bird. "Me neither."
Broadway frowned. "I wonder where it's going. Why don't we follow it?"
Lex looked back at the main group, which was slowly growing more distant from them. And following the bird would mean that they would go even farther away. "I don't know if we should..."
Brooklyn shrugged, feeling suddenly resentful. "Why not?"
Lex and Broadway picked up on his mood almost immediately. "What's wrong?" they chorused.
The red gargoyle dug a hole in the ground with a talon as he stared at the ground. "I heard the elders saying that the reason we go on these outings is because they want us to get away from them."
Broadway was astounded. "They said that?"
Brooklyn nodded solemnly.
Finally Lex spoke up. "So let's follow the bird." * * *
Brooklyn sighed. "So
we're lost. Now what?"
Broadway looked around, then pointed at the olive green gargoyle. "Well, if he hadn't said we should follow the bird, none of this would have happened."
Lex looked at him. "Me? He was the one who said the elders don't want us around!"
Brooklyn growled, his eyes beginning to glow. "Oh, so now it's my fault? Why don't you just blame it on the bird? Because if it hadn't flown past me, I never would have seen it! Or maybe we should blame it on the elders, because they were the ones who were talking about it!"
Lex crossed his arms. "It was still your fault."
Brooklyn sighed. "Look, none of this is helping. Why don't we find a way to get back?"
Lex looked around. "Well, we could climb a tree and see if we can find the rest of them."
He began to climb, with Broadway following. Brooklyn stayed at the bottom, then decided to climb up as well.
He looked up as a ripping sound came from above, and then Lex fell, landing on Broadway, who immediately lost his grip and began to fall towards a very alarmed red gargoyle.
Broadway landed on the ground with a thud. As he sat up, he looked around for Brooklyn, and looked down as he felt his weight shift slightly.
Brooklyn was pinned under him, a very unhappy expression on his face.
"Can't...breathe," Brooklyn gasped. Broadway got off of him, and Brooklyn took the opportunity to take a deep breath. He then stood up, stretching his back. As the vertebrae cracked and popped, he let out a small growling sigh.
Lex shook his head. "And I thought that would work, too."
Brooklyn grinned. "We may not have to wait for them to find us. The ground shook so hard when he landed that they'll come to see what fell down."
Broadway crossed his arms over his chest. "Ha, ha. Very funny."
Brooklyn craned his neck to look skyward, but the canopy obscured the view of the sky. "Um...we could pick a direction and follow it. Maybe then we'll find the others."
Broadway shrugged. "Okay. How about...that way?" He pointed in a random direction.
The red gargoyle nodded. "Whatever. Let's go." * * *
As they walked along, Lex began to
notice Broadway eating berries, nuts, and several things that he
couldn't identify and didn't want to. "Didn't you eat
back at the castle?"
Broadway looked at him and sniffed disdainfully. "Well, yeah, but all this wandering is making me hungry."
Lex rolled his eyes. "You'd better save some for the forest, otherwise the elders might get mad that you didn't leave anything for the animals to eat."
Brooklyn chuckled. * * *
After about an hour or two of
constant walking, the sounds of the sea began to intrude onto the
quiet foreboding of the forest. The smell of brine and the
sound of waves battering against the rocks made them realize that
they were on the edge of the ocean.
Standing on the seashore were about half a dozen horses, all without riders. Nearby a small, slowly growing village had been set up on the grassland near the beach. Numerous sounds emanated from within, and the horses that they were standing near began to paw at the ground and whinny rather loudly. Too loudly for the young gargoyles' tastes, in fact.
Lexington's eyes gleamed with curiosity. "The elders never said anything about this village before. We should go in and explore it."
Brooklyn hesitated. "I don't know...remember what happened the last time we did what we weren't supposed to do. We ended up here."
Broadway rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and that's how come we got lost. We listened to you."
Brooklyn considered. "Maybe someone saw the others. We could ask."
Lex looked at him and raised an eye ridge. "This could be where those bandits live. We gotta be careful."
Broadway looked a little unnerved at this possibility, but nevertheless followed the other two as they began to walk towards the village.
As they neared it, they began to notice that the construction differed from the rest of the building styles that they had seen at the castle. But since they hadn't been this far before, they decided that it was to be expected.
They mostly stayed in the shadows while walking through the town, but then they saw a patrol that was nearing where they were. They had to decide whether they wanted to hide in the shadows or not. Either way the gruff-looking men would see them.
Brooklyn looked around and saw a nearby house, with the door partially open.
"Someone's coming!" Lexington hissed.
Brooklyn nodded. "I know! Let's go in here!" He pointed to the house he had seen, and the trio crept through the shadows until they were inside.
Broadway closed the door, and leaned against it, causing a pot that was hanging there to fall on his head with a resounding *clang*.
"Ow!" He grunted, grabbing the top of his head with both hands, while both Brooklyn and Lexington began to laugh hysterically.
Broadway glared at them. "Stop laughing! It wasn't that funny."
Brooklyn snickered. "Then you should've been over here," he commented, and then burst out into gales of laughter once more.
Broadway frowned, but then his stomach growled, and he looked over at the hearth, where a chicken was roasting on a spit. Licking his lips hungrily, he grabbed the metal rod that was holding the chicken over the fire.
As the hot metal burned his hand, he had to juggle the metal rod to keep from burning himself. Finally he gave up and caught the chicken itself in his mouth, while Brooklyn and Lex applauded. Broadway grinned around a mouthful of chicken and bowed, his forehead almost touching the ground.
After removing the rod from the fowl and beginning to eat the bird, Broadway looked around the small house. It was a very small house, almost a shack, and Broadway found himself wondering who lived here.
He didn't have to wait long, as the door opened suddenly, and a small child walked into the house. Upon closer inspection, they saw that she was a girl, and she didn't even seem to be afraid of them, merely curious.
She had blond hair in two long braids, and brown eyes which sparkled with curiosity and wonderment. She was about as tall as they were, and appeared to be around ten or eleven years old.
"Who're you?" she asked, her voice betraying a slight accent of some kind.
Broadway swelled himself up to his full bulk and looked at her. "We're gargoyles," he explained.
She appeared slightly confused, but didn't let that hinder her friendliness. "Oh."
Lexington was almost jumping up and down with curiosity. "What's your name?"
The girl smiled brightly. "I'm Freyja Eriksdotter."
This set the trio back. She had a Norwegian name. And Vikings came from Norway.
"Are you a Viking?" Lexington asked, anxious and a little scared.
As soon as Lex was done speaking, Broadway jumped into the fray. "Yeah, are you gonna raid and pillage us? 'Cause if you are, we're gonna beat you up."
"Yeah! We're warriors!" Brooklyn bared his teeth and tried to roar, and the other two quickly followed suit. The result was a trio of faint puppyish yowls.
Freyja laughed and shook her head. "We're not raiders! My father's a fisherman. We came here from the Orkneys."
Lex pondered for a moment. "So you're not Vikings."
She shook her head. "No."
Broadway looked at her somewhat confusedly. "But we thought all the people from Norway were Vikings."
She continued to shake her head. "No. And people aren't Vikings, they GO viking."
Brooklyn frowned. "What?"
Freyja sighed, clearly irritated by his obtuseness. "When you GO viking you attack and burn and bring home all kinds of stuff. When I was really little my father went viking, but he and the other freemen came here and started this village instead. They wanted to 'settle here and make a new life for themselves.'"
Lex considered, then remembered their purpose for coming here. "Have you seen any others like us around here?"
She shook her head. "No. I've never seen any of you, and neither has anyone in this village. But we heard stories."
Broadway frowned. "So no other gargoyles came this way?"
Freyja frowned. "No. Sorry."
Brooklyn shrugged. "It's okay. We better get going, then."
Freyja stopped Brooklyn with a hand on his arm. "Can you please not tell anyone about us? Father says if people know we're here they'll be afraid of us. Like you were."
All three agreed, with Broadway hesitating slightly but finally agreeing.
She waved goodbye as they left the village, and they headed inland, after having no luck finding the rest of their group on the seashore.
"So..." Brooklyn began. "What did you think about that human village? It's kind of noble how they were trying to start over, and make a new life for themselves."
Lexington frowned. "I don't know. I mean, she said that some of the villagers used to be Vikings, and that they wanted to start over, which doesn't really make that much sense."
Broadway shook his head. "I think they're still Vikings! They're just waiting for the right time to attack."
Brooklyn turned to Broadway, and looked at him with some incredulity. "You don't believe her?"
Broadway shook his head. "She might _think_ they're really just farmers now, but what does she know? She's just a hatchling."
This statement made Brooklyn think of Deborah's comment about them. He sighed and lowered his head in sadness.
Lexington and Broadway looked over at the sigh and remembered what he had told them. Broadway frowned while Lex sighed unhappily.
Brooklyn sat on the ground and hung his head in dejection. "I don't even know why we're looking for them. Especially if they don't want us back."
Lex scrunched up his forehead, deep in thought. "Why would they take care of us if they didn't love us?"
Brooklyn raised his head, a glimmer of hope coming into his eyes. "I don't know. But we should find out anyway."
The other two agreed, and they set off once more, trying to find the other clan members. After walking several miles inland, they saw a small campfire ahead, and a group of several raggedly clad men sitting around it. Curious, the trio crept closer into the grove and hid behind a fallen tree, listening to the conversation.
"I still don't like it. We're stealing from innocent people."
Brooklyn gasped and realized that these were the bandits that the elders had been talking about. The other two hissed at him to be quiet and the man who had spoken looked around.
"Did you fellows hear that?"
One man shrugged and drank from a jug, ale dribbling down his chin and leaving a foam in his ragged beard. "No. Must be the ale talking to ya."
The man looked around warily and ran a hand through his greasy blond hair. "I still think it's wrong."
A rather large man belched loudly and addressed the blond man, wiping spittle from his beard. "You shouldn't worry. That small village a ways off will be an easy target. We can take the women for ourselves. The men won't put up much of a fight when we threaten their children. And his highness the Prince don't even know the village is there, so he won't be protectin' them."
Another man spoke up, sneering at the blond man. "I seen the way you hack up them people." He pulled out his dagger and ran a thumb along the blade. Then he drew it in a line near his throat, in approximation of cutting open the carotid artery. "You like it like that. I seen the look on your face." His lip curled, showing blackened and rotting teeth.
The blond-haired bandit snarled and shoved the man. The rest of the men laughed, alcohol dulling their common sense. The man with rotten teeth scowled and held up his dagger threateningly. Taking a swig of the brew, he stumbled to his feet and pointed the weapon at the man who had shoved him.
"You deserve what I'm gonna give you. But I'm gonna slash ya from the front, not from behind like you seem to enjoy doing."
The blond man drew his sword and stood up. He hadn't been drinking at all, and it showed in his movements. The men immediately cleared a space for the fight. Some of the less drunk ones tried to get them to stop, but neither would listen.
The man with the rotted teeth pulled back his lips in a fierce smile. "I'm gonna show you--"
One of the men scowled. "Domnall," he began, "ya know that we shouldn't fight amongst ourselves. How we gonna stick together?"
The blond man shook his head. "Ronchar's got ta learn a lesson."
Ronchar snarled. "Domnall, yer mother was a nanny goat."
Domnall smiled grimly and held up his sword. "At least my father wasn't a wild boar."
Ronchar scowled. Holding up his dagger and swaying slightly, he prepared to fight. "You're gonna die fer that."
Domnall chuckled coldly. "Try again, clod-head."
Ronchar lunged for Domnall, amazingly quick despite his obvious drunkenness. The blond-haired man sidestepped, and the other went staggering past him, crashing into a fallen tree-trunk. He grabbed the rough bark and pulled himself to his feet, muttering unintelligible curses under his breath, and braced himself against the trunk to leap back into the fight.
But then he let out a yelp as he saw the three small gargoyles staring at him from behind the fallen tree, fearful expressions on their faces.
The aqua-blue gargoyle looked at the other two. "Uh...I think we've been spotted."
Brooklyn nodded, eyes wide in fright. "Let's get out of here!"
All three broke into a run, dropping to all fours to move faster, heading away from the bandits' camp. They didn't care where they were going, they just wanted to get out of there. There were no tall hills or anything else they could use to get airborne, so they had to run away from the bandits, who had gotten up and were chasing after them. The three soon found themselves being gained on rapidly, as their short legs were no match for the adult human stride.
Reaching the village they had recently left, the gargoyles saw the horses still standing on the beach.
The young red gargoyle spun and saw that a few of the bandits had tripped, and were a long ways behind them as a result. He turned and faced the other two.
"I'll use one of those horses to go ahead and warn the village. You follow."
Lexington paused and looked at the men, who were rapidly getting to their feet. "Why can't we use the horses too?"
Brooklyn frowned and scratched his head. "I don't know."
Suddenly Brooklyn jumped about a foot in the air as Lexington was tackled by one of the men. Broadway prepared to attack the man holding Lex, but was grabbed himself. Brooklyn, not knowing what else to do, ran off toward the horses.
One man dove for him, grabbing his legs. Brooklyn snarled and kicked the man in the face, his claws leaving bloody gashes across the man's cheek. The human swore in pain and let go, putting his hands over the wound to stop the bleeding.
The young red gargoyle jumped onto a horse's back in panic. The horse, not accustomed to having such an unusual passenger, reared in fear and began running towards the village at full gallop. Brooklyn soon found himself spinning in mid-air and instinctively grabbed the horse's tail.
He closed his eyes as the blurring scenery made him queasy. It wouldn't have surprised him if his face was turning green. He suppressed the gag reflex and held on, even though his palms were getting sweaty. He opened his eyes and shook his head as his stomach began to churn with increasing ferocity.
Blinking rapidly, he saw the village approaching rapidly. Apparently the horse had first thought to run here when it had panicked. At that point the young gargoyle didn't really care, he just wanted off the horse.
He looked up and saw the horse had gone into the village, and several humans were staring at him in bewilderment. He turned his head back to look at where the horse was going, and his face registered shock and surprise at the fact that the horse was heading right towards one of the houses.
"Dumb animal," he muttered under his breath. "Can't you see where you're going?" He paused for a moment, then when it became apparent that the horse wasn't going to stop, he opened his beak to shout at it.
But he never got the chance. Just as he opened his mouth, the animal braced its legs and skidded to a stop. Brooklyn stared ahead and realized what was about to happen.
Brooklyn found he was prey, like every body of matter is, to the law of moving bodies. He found himself flying forward, straight towards the wall of the house. He had time to mutter something derogatory about horses before he collided with the wall.
Several of the villagers winced as they heard the sound of impact, and he rolled onto his back, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. He groaned painfully and tried to get up, but he was too disoriented to even stand straight. He blinked rapidly, trying to remove the spots from his vision.
Obviously the sight of a small red gargoyle riding into a village at breakneck speed had attracted the attention of the village, as a large group was forming around the scene.
Freyja ran up to him, her two blond braids bobbing as she trotted along. "What is it? What's wrong?"
The horned gargoyle swayed slightly and looked at her, his double vision making him confused. Finally the pain faded, and his head cleared. One of the villagers jovially remarked about how gargoyle heads were rock hard, even at night.
"Freyja! I saw the bandits! They're going to attack the village!"
Several of the villagers gasped. A few angry mutters about lying gargoyles pierced the night air. More of the people muttered concerns about the raiders, and how they were going to defend the village. The villagers began talking amongst themselves, and the crimson gargoyle pulled Freyja over.
"Um..." The young gargoyle hesitated. "Why don't they just fight the bandits?"
Freyja vigorously shook her head, her blond braids whipping back and forth. "They don't want to kill anyone. They don't want to do anything that will make anyone mad at them."
His beak fell partially open. "But they're bandits! They're worse than scum!"
Freyja's brown eyes gazed into his, and then she sighed. "Yes, it would be better for everyone if they were dead, but we're not sure if whoever rules this area would get mad."
He thought about it. "But what if they just scare the bandits?"
Freyja frowned. "They could." She paused and seemed to consider it. "That would probably work..."
The beaked gargoyle blinked and looked at her in confusion. "What? I thought you just said you didn't want anyone mad at you."
"But it's either them or us," she pointed out
Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah. And we could help a little."
Her face lit up. "Could you?"
He drew himself up proudly. "Sure we could! That's what gargoyles do! And they might need us."
The two approached a small cluster of adult humans, arguing amongst themselves. One loud-mouthed man was shouting above the rest, and gesturing angrily at the small beaked gargoyle, his blue eyes hard with anger. "He's a gargoyle. Why should he be telling the truth?"
A portly man with bulging muscles walked up to him slowly, with more than a hint of menace in his stride. The man that had spoken took an involuntary step backwards, away from the imposing figure. "We should believe him because he's a gargoyle. They're protectors, they protect people. And if he says that bandits are coming, let's get ready."
The prejudiced man scowled and walked away.
The burly man that had defended gargoyles walked over to Brooklyn, and peered down at him with a slight smile. "Hello, little one. Don't be afraid of fools like that. They'll never be able to harm you and your clan, not while there are decent folks around."
The young gargoyle suddenly found himself liking this man. He smiled. "Thanks."
The human grinned and patted the crimson gargoyle on the head, then walked away, whistling tunelessly.
Brooklyn turned to Freyja. "Okay. So how are we going to defend the village?"
She shrugged. "A few bandits are going to come, there's going to be a fight, a few will get killed, the rest will run off. We might get to help."
He blinked. "Okay...." She abruptly held up one hand, then pointed in the direction of the forest where the trio had seen the bandits duel. He heard the villagers mutter, and a lot of them drew weapons. "What's going on?"
"The bandits are coming." Then she grinned wickedly. "This is going to be fun!"
He looked at her, his eyes widening at her change in personality. "Fun?"
She smiled. "Sure! Watch. You'll see."
The villagers spread out slightly. Several were armed with rusty swords, most had clubs, and a few had vicious-looking sickles. The pale moonlight glinted off the weapons, reflecting in the eyes of the villagers, and occasionally shining upon a fierce grin here and there.
And then a bloodcurdling battlecry ripped through the air, and the bandits charged out of the woods. The villagers raised their weapons with an answering cry, and there was a CRASH as the two sides met. The bandits, expecting soft easy prey, were startled -- but they were also better armed, and the fight was dangerously even.
From where he stood on the edge of what was suddenly a battlefield, Brooklyn felt a strange detachment as he watched the humans fight. Until one bandit, breaking out of the main scuffle, saw him.
He froze, and the human moved toward him with a snarl, his sword out and glittering in the moonlight.
And then a heavy wooden stave struck the hilt of the sword where the bandit held it, sending the weapon clattering to the ground, and slammed into the pit of the bandit's stomach. The ruffian fell to the ground, tried to get up -- and found the blade of a scythe under his throat, the other end of the staff that had struck him, in the hands of a determined-looking villager.
The villager grimly moved the blade even further up the other's neck, forcing the bandit to look into the man's cold eyes. "Call your friends off," he said in a low growl.
The bandit gritted his teeth and tried not to flinch under the cold gaze. "Move the farm tool enough to let me shout," he snarled.
The eyes blinked, and the bandit felt the edge move away from his neck. He tipped his head back and gasped in air --
-- and the villager with the scythe grunted in pain and toppled forward. A blond-haired human -- another of the villagers! -- stood behind him, holding a heavy club. The cold blue eyes narrowed and he gestured for the bandit to get up.
The crimson gargoyle gasped as he realized the traitor was the man who had been shouting before. He was the man that had verbally attacked Brooklyn's race.
The traitor turned upon hearing Brooklyn's gasp, and glared at the young gargoyle. His eyes narrowed, and the hand which held his short-sword twitched slightly. A cruel leer slowly spread across his face, making the beaked gargoyle want to run and hide. He began walking towards the hatchling, menace in every step of his swaggering walk. He knew he would be able to kill a defenseless young gargoyle.
Brooklyn frantically looked around for Freyja, but the girl had disappeared. He fervently wished he could do the same, but his legs wouldn't move. So he stood, rooted to ground in fear, as the traitorous human advanced upon him.
Then Freyja appeared, darting into his field of vision at an impossibly fast speed. In her hand she held a tiny bright knife. The human didn't even see her, raising his sword for a deathblow that would sever the gargoyle's head from his shoulders.
Her hand whipped out, and the blade flashed silver in the moonlight. He grunted in pain and went down. She wasted no time, once again darting the knife towards the man. Only this time towards his neck. Brooklyn just simply stared at her, numb with horror. Then he twitched, and tried to regain his composure.
Freyja got to her feet, wiped off her knife, and gave a smile of grim satisfaction. "I got 'im!"
Brooklyn gaped. "How could you just kill him like that?"
Her grin faded to a look of mild puzzlement. "It wasn't that hard."
"But--" He struggled with it. "But he's dead. You killed him."
"He was going to kill you."
He had to admit that this point was valid, but his eyes kept going back to the man's limp body. "You didn't have to kill him."
"Why not?" She gave the knife a last swipe with the cleaning rag, and tucked it away in her belt. "This way he won't come back to hurt you again."
She honestly didn't seem to see a problem with what she'd done. Brooklyn shrugged, sighing. "Yeah, I guess."
The child looked around. "They got some of us, but we got more of them, and they're running away...." She shrugged.
He watched the remaining bandits fleeing from the village, back to their camp. He sighed. "But now I have to go."
Her small face furrowed in confusion. "Why?"
"I have to find my friends," he said simply.
Freyja nodded and smiled, her eyes sparkling. "Good luck." * * *
The young crimson gargoyle had
been walking for a few minutes when he saw several winged shapes
glide above him. He called out and they began to circle,
finally landing next to him.
Deborah cloaked her wings around her shoulders and walked up to him. "We were looking everywhere for you three!" Then she paused, blinking rapidly and looking around. "Wait, where are the other two?"
Brooklyn drew in a shaky breath, suddenly close to tears. "The bandits caught them."
Agamemnon frowned and stroked his beard. "And where would these bandits be, lad?"
Brooklyn pointed off in the direction of their camp.
Agamemnon cleared his throat and nodded. "Very well then. I suppose you can tag along if you like, but stay back. That is, if it's all right with you?"
He raised an eye ridge questioningly at Deborah, who nodded her head.
"You may come if you wish," she said, "but stay far back. If any fighting begins, we don't want you to get hurt."
The young gargoyle remembered what he had overheard her say. "Why?"
She blinked. "What do you mean, why?"
He looked up at her, masking his emotions carefully. "Why don't you want us to get hurt?"
She frowned, and knelt beside him. Taking him into her arms, she smiled softly. "We don't want any of you to get hurt. We love you, silly hatchling. You're our children."
He nodded, his fears banished. Then he smiled. "The camp's off that way." * * *
Back at the bandit camp, things
were not going well. After the men had treated their
wounds, a lone figure had walked out from the shadows. Many
quickly got out of the way of the figure, who was dressed
completely in black clothing. Those who didn't move soon
found themselves lying on the ground, painful bruises beginning
to quickly form on various parts of their upper torsos.
The cloaked figure's rage hung about him like a storm cloud, and most of the bandits got out of the way quickly enough. Finally he got to the center of the camp, where the leader of the bandits was sitting, eating part of a roasted game bird and looking not at all upset by the figure's sudden appearance.
The voice shook with barely suppressed rage. "I didn't order this attack. Why did you fools not follow my orders?" Then he saw the two bound gargoyle hatchlings, staring back at him with wide frightened eyes, and muscles twitched underneath the mask. "And what are these two doing here?"
The fat bandit drained the mug of ale and stood up to his full height. He didn't even reach the figure's shoulder, however. He looked up into the figure's eyes, which stared back at him coldly.
The black cloaked man spoke softly, his voice taking a dangerous tone. "I am in charge. You will follow my orders, or suffer the consequences, fool."
The fat man smirked. "Not anymore. I'm in charge now. Right, men?" This last word was twisted into a sneer, and he didn't even notice that none of the bandits had agreed with him. "They follow me, not you. So go crawl back into the hole you crawled out from." He pulled out a short dagger, holding it barely a hairsbreadth from the tall figure's chin.
The figure went very still. "So not only have you led a pointless attack and failed, you've also turned traitor on me. And even though you're faster with a blade than most, I'm afraid I'm going to have to teach you a lesson."
The fat man laughed, a sneer upon his lips. "With a knife to your throat?"
The shadowy figure smiled behind the mask. "You forget who I am."
In a motion too fast for the eye to follow, he reached up and grabbed the slob's hand in his own gloved hand, moving the blade away from his neck without apparent effort. The knife dropped as the masked figure squeezed. And kept squeezing.
The fat traitor sank to his knees in agony, tears streaming unimpeded down his face. "Please," he sobbed, "give me mercy. Mercy!" He screamed, as the pain from his broken hand overwhelmed him. The leader of the bandits let him go, drawing a gigantic sword from the scabbard on his back. At the sight of it, the fat man let out a scream of fear.
A low and ugly laugh came from under the figure's mask. With a gleam of pure delight in his eyes, he slowly traced the man's jaw with the tip of the sword, and the man shivered as the cold steel moved along his skin. But the figure sighed and sheathed the sword again.
"I would kill you, but it would be a waste. Next time your punishment will be worse. Let this be a lesson to you all."
Suddenly the air was filled with the howling bellows of angry gargoyles. The hooded man stared upward for a split second, then bolted for the forest. He stumbled as something landed on his back, and sprawled headlong into the brush.
From well behind his elders, a small beaked gargoyle regarded the downed leader with a smile. "We got one." Then he thought of Freyja, and his smile widened. "And he's not dead."
The bandits were already fleeing into the woods, followed by the masked man, who paused for a moment at the fringe of the trees, staring at the gargoyles with venom. "This isn't over!" he shouted, then broke and ran.
Deborah looked at the figure before he was obscured by the brush. "His voice...." She frowned. "Where have I heard that voice before?"
But nobody answered the question in the rush to untie the two hatchlings, and by the time they had been freed and comforted and hugged and scolded and taken back home, it had all but been forgotten. * * *
Back at the castle, the three were
getting soundly reprimanded by the adults. Possibly the
worst part of the scolding was Agamemnon's lecture.
"And so, as punishment, you three are confined to the castle for a while. We'll decide how long you deserve based on your future behavior."
All three sighed simultaneously, then glanced at each other. "You know," the web-winged gargoyle said thoughtfully, "that might not be so bad."