Links To The Past
written by Lex Wyvern
The dark waters of night lapped up on the beach, reflecting, in places, the light of the moon and the light of a house not far from where earth met water.
Within the house, a man in dark glasses sat in an armchair holding a stack of papers. At his feet, a large dog laid, seemingly asleep.
Jeffrey Robbins stopped running his fingers across the pages of Braille for a moment and reached toward a small table holding a tape recorder. As he shifted, several pages slid from his lap onto the floor and dog.
Gilgamesh raised his head and whimpered slightly as Robbins set the remaining pages aside on the table and began to hunt for the strays.
"Don't worry about me, Gilly," he said, placing a few more pages on the table. "I'll get them back in order eventually. Maybe I'll staple them from now on." He picked up the tape recorder and paced for a moment, collecting his thoughts, then cleared his throat and started recording. "Chapter One. The young man approached the inn slowly, worried the three men he was to meet there had discovered his secret. One of the men..." His voice trailed off and he stopped the recorder, then played back what he had just dictated.
"The young man approached the inn slowly, worri--"
Robbins stopped the tape, rewound it, and set the recorder aside. "Terrible. This just isn't working." He reached for the stack of papers, but stopped short on hearing a knock at the terrace door. "Who's there?" he asked as Gilly began to bark happily. The blind man moved toward the door and slid it open. Gilgamesh followed, and began to lick the hand of the visitor, who laughed and scratched the dog's ears.
"Hudson? Is that you?"
"Aye, Robbins," the elderly gargoyle said, entering the house and sliding the terrace door closed. "Thought I'd stop by for a cup of tea and some conversation..." He trailed off, noticing the papers on the table and floor. "...that is, if you're not busy..."
"I'm never too busy for conversation. Have a seat," Robbins said, smiling. "I'll start the tea."
As Robbins stepped out to the kitchen, Hudson picked up one of the Braille-printed pages on the floor. "Ye seem to have had a slight accident out here."
"Are there still papers on the floor?" Robbins replied from the kitchen. "A few of them slid away from me. I thought I'd found them all."
"Don't worry about it; I'll pick them up for you."
"There's no need, Hudson. I'll come get them in a moment."
"Ach, it's no trouble."
"Hudson, you're a guest here. There's no need to make yourself a janitor, too." Even from the kitchen, Robbins could hear the rustling of the pages as Hudson gathered them up. "I suppose I can't stop you, though."
Teasingly, the gargoyle replied, "I'm a stubborn old man. I would have thought you'd learned that by now."
Robbins laughed, re-entering the sitting room. "I suppose I should have."
Hudson looked at one of the pages in his hand, running his finger across the printing. "Reading tiny bumps canna be much harder than reading tiny symbols," he said to himself.
Hearing him, the writer said, "It's not. If you like, I can teach you to read Braille."
"No, thank ye. Teaching my students how to read keeps me busy enough." The gargoyle set the papers aside with the others and made his best effort at changing the subject. "What has been filling your nights lately?"
"Writing again. I finished a new book not long ago and had it published by the same company that did all my old books."
"I heard about that," Hudson said. "'The Sword and the Staff,' right? Lexington told me it spent several weeks on all the best-seller lists."
Laughing, Robbins replied, "That's the one. The publisher has signed me to write three more books set in the distant past. They're hoping for more successes, I guess."
"I'm certain you can write them. Lex said it was very good."
"Your friend read it? Tell him I'm glad he liked it. And it's good to know someone's got faith in me. I'm afraid I don't."
"What do ye mean?"
"Those papers you picked up-- they're historical documentation on a playwright named Christopher Marlowe. He was murdered at the height of his career, about the same time William Shakespeare began writing. There are people who believe they may have been the same man. I thought that would make an interesting subject for my next book, but... " He placed his hand on the papers. "This stuff just isn't inspiring me. I've been thinking about dropping the subject and finding another, but the thought of starting over on the research..."
Half to himself, Hudson said, "I could tell you some interesting stories."
"What's that, Hudson?"
"I was just thinking that I may be able to help you. I've spent quite a lot of time researching the past. Rather a proper hobby for a retired person such as myself."
Robbins sat back in his chair amazed. Hudson had just mastered reading, and now he was applying it to historical research? Remarkable. "And you're offering to share a few stories of what you've learned?"
"Aye; in fact, I've recently seen part of an ancient manuscript a friend of mine is working with. It's still being authenticated, mind you, partially because of the... rather controversial subject matter."
Robbins was intrigued. "Really. What's it about?"
"Ah..." Hudson thought quickly. "It's a group of stories from the tenth century-- or so it would seem. The reason for the uncertainty about their age is that these stories contain tales of gargoyles."
"Well, they do seem to be all the rage lately. Perhaps they were popular in the past, as well."
"Hardly," Hudson scoffed.
"Nothing; just clearing my throat."
From the kitchen, the whistle of the tea kettle could be heard. Robbins started towards it. "Sounds like the tea's ready." Hudson was relieved at having a moment to think about what he would say next. "I'll bring some out and you can tell me more about this manuscript."
"Actually, ah... I was able to talk my friend out of... transcripts... for part of it. If you'd like to hear some of the actual stories..."
Robbins returned with a tray holding the tea kettle, two cups, sugar and cream, which he set on a coffee table. Pouring the tea, he said, "I'd love to. When can you bring them by?"
Taking a seat facing the table, he glanced around. "Actually..." His eyes fell on a stack of papers within reach. He picked them up and waved them slightly, rustling the pages. "I brought them with me."
"Hudson, you knew just what I needed tonight," Robbins said, sitting on the other side of the table and taking a cup of tea. "Would you mind reading one of them?"
"Not at all," Hudson replied, taking the other cup of tea. He sipped from it while shuffling the papers about-- without looking at them.
Gilgamesh laid down beside his master's chair, facing the old gargoyle. Robbins sat forward slightly. "Do you think your friend would have any objection if I recorded you?"
"Go right ahead, Robbins. I'm sure he won't mind." Hudson lifted one of the pages up, then set it down again. "Ah, here's a good one. It's set in a Scottish castle called Wyvern... on the coast, I believe. The year was around 971 and the lord of the castle at that time was a prince by the name of Malcolm. The castle was a flurry of activity because a retired monk named Edmund had stopped there to rest from his journeys and strangers were always of interest..." *****
Castle Wyvern, 971
The slowly sinking sun cast the shadow of the castle over the approaching figure of a horse and rider.
The Captain of the Guard, a brown-haired man with a beard of the same color, and one of his men stepped outside the gates as the rider brought his mount to a halt and slid to the ground. "Pardon me, good sir," he said to the stern-faced Captain. "Could you tell me where I am?"
"This here is Castle Wyvern," the Captain replied.
"Castle Wyvern..." the man repeated, taking a map from his robe and unrolling it. "An interesting name."
"I assure you, lad, this is a very interesting place."
Attempting to re-roll the map, the man fumbled it into a puddle. "Never could roll these things up," he mumbled, retrieving the wet parchment and shaking it slightly. "Perhaps I should find a place to spend the night. I have been on the road since before dawn. Is there an inn nearby where I could stay?"
"Yuir a man of the cloth?" the Captain asked, noticing the cross around his neck and the plain brown robes he wore.
"Well, yes, but..."
"I believe we have room here."
"Here? In the castle?"
The Captain nodded. "I could have yuir horse stabled, as well, for as long as ye like."
"Oh, well, thank you, though I doubt that I will be staying more than a night or two," the man replied, taking hold of the reins and leading his horse forward. "Oh, pardon me," he said, shifting his soggy map and extending his hand. "My name is Edmund."
"This way, Brother Edmund," the Captain replied without taking the priest's hand.
Edmund looked up at the ramparts of the castle. "You have quite a few of those interesting statues."
"Oh," the Captain laughed. "They're much more than statues. But yu'll be seeing that for yuirself soon enough."
"Gargoyles?" Edmund said in an awed whisper. "Living with humans?"
"They provide protection for us."
"Still... I've never seen the two races living together."
"And just how much does a priest see?"
It was Edmund's turn to laugh. "I haven't always been a priest, Captain. Nor do I often choose to remain in one place for a long time. As a young man, I thought becoming a soldier would satisfy my wanderlust.... That's when I learned of the gargoyles. I longed to see them, but..."
"You couldn't find any living around humans."
"Like trying to find unicorns with dragons."
"Well, Brother Edmund, it would seem ye've found yuir unicorns." *****
Brother Edmund removed his robe and laid it neatly across the bed in his quarters. He turned to the window and noticed that the sun had nearly set. The retired priest took a moment to appreciate the sunset colors and silence.
The silence was interrupted by a high-pitched chatter. A small squirrel leapt from a pocket in Edmund's tunic, landed on the windowsill, and proceeded to scold the man.
"You thought I forgot about you, didn't you?" he said, reaching into another pocket. "The way you were twitching about all day, Baldrich, how could I possibly forget?" Edmund held his hand in front of the squirrel and opened it, revealing an acorn. Baldrich took the nut and began to nibble at it. Behind the squirrel, the sun dipped below the horizon. Instantly the air outside was filled with the roar of the awakening gargoyles.
Brother Edmund leaned out the window. Around him, a variety of winged creatures moved about on the walls of the castle, as well as on the ground, the walkways, and even in the air.
"Incredible," Edmund breathed. *****
The Great Hall
"Your majesty, I know I told your Captain that I would only stay one or two nights, but... with your permission I would like to remain here indefinitely."
Prince Malcolm pondered Edmund's request for a moment. "What can you offer in return for our permission?"
"My skills as a physician and swordsman."
"We had been told you preferred peace."
"For myself, your highness. All are free to choose their own ways of life. And for those who choose the life of a soldier, I would be willing to tutor them in swordsmanship."
"Not a bad offer," Malcolm replied. "And you are skilled in medicine as well?"
"I'm not an expert, but I could treat most injuries that might happen in the castle and provide aid in battle."
"Very well. You may have the room for a week. After that, we will work out your plans for the future." He dismissed Edmund with a wave of his hand.
"Thank you, Sire," the priest said, bowing slightly before anxiously leaving the castle interior.
Outside, he paused to take in the sights around him, reveling in his good fortune. For years he had hoped to find gargoyles, his hopes sailing at every statue he saw and falling every time he learned they were no more than that-- statues. But still his curiosity concerning these strange creatures remained strong, and now, everywhere he turned, he saw them. Edmund was determined to make the most of his stay at Wyvern.
Baldrich poked his head up and chattered at Edmund, who moved the squirrel to his shoulder.
"Incredible, aren't they, Baldrich?" he said, looking toward a small group of adult gargoyles. One cast a glance at him and motioned to the others. They turned in Edmund's direction and scrutinized him briefly, then moved away.
Baldrich suddenly began to chatter nervously in Edmund's ear. The priest turned and found three gargoyle children-- a beaked red one with stark white hair, a chubby blue one with small ridges on his head, and a small green one with unusually large eyes and wings connected to his arms rather than being separate limbs, all of whom looked no more than six years old-- staring curiously at him.
"You're... Brother Edmund... the new human, right?" the red one asked.
"Yes," the priest replied, offering his hand. "Pleased to meet you."
The youth grasped Edmund's wrist, and, after a brief hesitation, the priest followed suit.
Other young gargoyles looked on as the priest offered his hand to the blue and green youngsters, respectively. The others tentatively began to move forward, surrounding the priest curiously. He held out his hand to each, greeting them individually and showing each that he could be trusted as a friend. *****
"A good sword does not make a good swordsman," Edmund said, holding up a broadsword borrowed from the Captain of the guard. "There is no such thing as a good sword. Lay a hundred on the ground and they're all equal in battle-- essentially useless. But give each sword to a man trained to use it, and they become, in a sense, good swords. But remember this-- a weapon is only as good as the mind controlling it. You could have Excalibur itself in your hands, and it would still be useless in the heat of battle if you didn't know what to do."
Edmund had taken ten days to settle into life at the castle before beginning his demonstrations in swordplay. As he spoke, he noticed a few of the gargoyles moving in around the outside edge of the group of humans listening to him. Among them were the three friends who had been first to approach him and four others their age, as well as two groups of adolescent gargoyles. Good, Edmund thought, pleased with their interest. The children are too young to wield a sword, but perhaps these older ones will be interested in learning from me. Perhaps they will even be willing to be tutored-- I could likely learn more about their customs then.
He had noticed over the past ten days that most of the humans of Wyvern were only marginally tolerant of the gargoyles, a practice he found rather odd as he regarded them as worthwhile companions. One of his reasons for staging the demonstrations was to gain the interest of more than just the children, allowing him contact with those who didn't need constant monitoring. He intended to befriend as many as possible without imposing upon them.
He finished his demonstration almost subconsciously and began to gather the other weapons he had used while the human observers drifted away. An adult female gargoyle herded the seven children away, and one of the older groups followed. The others approached Edmund.
"Your teaching is impressive," a towering lavender male with long, black hair said. "Would you be willing to teach your techniques to us?"
"Teach him," a smaller, beaked male with a twisted horn said. "I'd rather not learn, myself."
"Forgive him," a slate-colored male said. "He prefers to keep to himself, and is trying to make us feel guilty for bringing him along."
"Perhaps I could find something you would like to learn," Edmund said cautiously, facing the beaked male.
A sly, conniving look spread across the youth's face. "Perhaps you could." *****
From the Journals of Brother Edmund
"I am fascinated by the gargoyles in residence here at Castle Wyvern. I have been staying within these walls (for the most part) for just over two weeks and am already establishing acquaintances with most of them, and even friendships with a few. Slowly I am reaching my new goal of learning all I can about gargoyle behavior and customs. It is interesting to me that, though they are essentially tolerant of most humans, many do form friendships outside their kind, and some have been quick to accept me as one of these friends. (Although I believe the elders may regard me as just another annoying human. I have noticed them leading the children away from my swordplay demonstrations. Still, the children come back.)
"Three children in particular have attempted to attend all my lessons. I can't say whether they are interested in my talks or me, as they are usually led away before I can speak to them. They are almost always together, illustrating well how loyal gargoyles are to their own.
"It is interesting that these beings should choose to forgo the use of names, referring to each other as 'brother,' 'sister,' 'friend,' 'mentor,' and so on. Though it may eliminate the problem of forgetting names (one which I have, on occasion, encountered), this practice does make it difficult to distinguish between them in this journal. So I have decided to assign names to them only for the purposes of writing. In public, I must be careful to not use these names, as I would rather not offend these fierce creatures.
"I would like to first mention 'Thersites,' one of the adolescents. He is easily distinguished from the others by a pair of large horns on his forehead, one of which is slightly malformed. He has the unusual beak-like mouth that I have seen on several of them-- a feature I have not noticed in any other creature. He also has a complete absence of hair, another feature prevalent among the gargoyles. He is somewhat shorter and scrawnier than the others of his rookery, and tends to perch away from the others during the day. I suspect he may be a loner, and perhaps a bit cowardly, but it is rather difficult for me to tell and I don't dare ask him, as to do so would be poor manners.
"Perhaps I should quickly make mention of the clan's leader and second-in-command. The leader, whom I will refer to as simply 'Leader,' is a rather distinguished tan fellow with blonde hair beginning to turn silver at the temples and a well-kept beard of the same color. The clan second I have only barely seen at this time, and know little of her. I am aware that she is the mate of the Leader. Rather than refer to her as 'Second,' however, I have chosen the name 'Deborah' for her.
"I have had the most contact with those of Thersites' rookery, and hope to discuss a few more before the sun sets.
"One of them, a rather tall lavender fellow with black hair, who looks like he could throw a horse with one hand, approached me after my first talk on swordsmanship and asked that I teach him a few techniques. Though he feels it is doubtful that he will use any in battle, he wishes to learn so that if he should ever have need of these skills, they will be available to him. His farsighted views are evidence of a sharp mind, which he is clearly not afraid to use. I have always enjoyed tutoring youths like him-- they learn quickly and remember previous lessons well. I have been tutoring him and one other, a slender blue female with bright red hair and quite some interesting golden jewelry one night each week. Though she does not learn quite as quickly as the lavender gargoyle, she has a great desire to learn these skills and seems to thoroughly enjoy the art of swordplay. However, she seems to not like me a great deal, though she is tolerant and even civil. The first night I thought perhaps she had asked to join us simply to be with the burly male, as it seems he is admired by all the females of his rookery. She does appear to be at least slightly interested in him, but pays strict attention to swordplay-- as she well should-- during lessons.
"I should also like to mention 'Asrial,' another female of the adolescent rookery. She is very creative and clever, I have noticed. I have had very little opportunity to speak directly with her, as she is usually occupied with some unusual endeavor. She is among those who loyally attend my talks, and as I suspect that I will be discussing her more in further entries, I am glad a name occured to me so soon.
"There is one other female with whom I have so far had only minimal contact, but I can see she will become prominent in my writings soon. She is a deep-orange colored adolescent with blonde hair and unusual split wings. Unfortunately, I have not found a name for her.
"The sun has nearly set, so I will take a moment to mention one more who has shown more than passing interest in swordsmanship, although he has shown no interest yet in learning the art. He is rather large (apparently this clan is not wanting for food) and tends to talk a great deal. A member of Leader's generation, he seems rather pompous, though intelligent. I am not certain I would want to teach him, as he seems to prefer being the teacher to playing the student. I have often heard him bellowing at others from across the keep, and would rather not be on the receiving end of one of these outbursts. For him I have chosen 'Agamemnon.'
"The sun has set and I hear the gargoyles waking. I shall write more tomorrow."
Brother Edmund blew on the ink of the last page, then set the book aside to allow the ink to dry.
"Baldrich," he called. The baby squirrel poked his head out of an open trunk containing Edmund's clothing-- what he had arrived with plus a few new articles. He lifted the squirrel to his breast pocket, which Baldrich slid into, then poked his head from. Edmund took up a candle and left his room, closing the door as he went.
Outside, he saw two groups of four gargoyles each moving off into the forest. Among the forms in one group, the good brother thought he recognized Thersites' asymmetrical horns.
"I wonder where they're off to..." Edmund said to himself.
"They're going hunting," a small voice replied.
Edmund turned to find the inseparable trio behind him. "Hunting?"
The smallest of the three nodded. "The team with the smallest deer has to dress both."
"Are you going to have a demonstration tonight?" the red one asked.
"I think he won't. He doesn't want the others to miss it," the chubby one said.
"Your brother is right. Some of those hunting have become students of mine. I would rather they not miss any demonstrations." The three children looked disappointed, so he added, "But if you like, I could tell the three of you some stories from my travels."
Their faces brightened. "Really?" the beaked one asked.
Edmund nodded. "Come. We'll find a good place to sit. And perhaps you could tell me a few stories as well." *****
"Why are we doing this?" Thersites asked, trudging along behind the other three male hunters. "Whose idea was this, anyway?"
The lavender gargoyle turned to his brother. "Obviously not yours," he replied.
"We don't really need to do this. There's plenty of food at the castle, and we can't see anything out here anyhow. And if we can't see anything, how can we catch it? More likely we'll be seen by some farmer who'll mistake us for thieves. And of course we won't be able to get away, stuck on the ground like this. We could have gone over the forest, but no, we had to walk. Can't use our wings to get out here. Oh, no, couldn't do that."
"Shut up!" Agamemnon bellowed. "We didn't come out here to listen to your constant complaining! We'll never catch anything if you keep letting it know we're coming!"
"Quiet, both of you," the deep-voiced one interrupted. "Look." He pointed beyond a few trees and shrubs to a large stag looking back at them. Abruptly the animal broke into a run. The four gargoyles pursued it.
The stag burst through a cluster of scraggly shrubs, driven only by survival instinct. It dashed across a river, slowing slightly, then tearing away on hearing the pursuing hunters splashing behind. It burst into a clearing and cut hard to one side, plowing into a tangle of briars. Struggling to break free, it tore ahead again as the gargoyles began to close in. With a frantic burst of adrenaline, the animal dashed ahead once more before collapsing to the ground, struck by a crossbow bolt fired by Agamemnon.
The four hunters gathered around the dying beast. Agamemnon crouched down and slit its throat with a small dagger. The deer quivered slightly, then stopped moving altogether.
The big male's eye suddenly caught sight of a narrow fissure in the rock nearby. "I've never seen this before," he said, turning from the dead animal and taking a few steps away.
Thersites looked to the object of his brothers interest. "Oh, wonderful," he groaned. "A cave. Now you'll probably want to go wandering around in there."
Agamemnon's eyes widened slightly. "Ah... perhaps we'd better not," he said, beginning to feel claustrophobic from merely looking into the cavern. "after all, if we go in there, we'll have to leave the stag behind. There are wolves out here who wouldn't mind having a free meal left for them. And even in they don't eat it, it will still have been lying in the dirt. And we have to eat this animal later. But if I... er, we take it back to the castle now..."
"Go," the other three said, tiring of his ramblings. Agamemnon slung the animal over his shoulders. "Is anyone coming with me?"
"I think I..." Thersites started, stepping forward. Then he imagined walking back to the castle... with only Agamemnon for company. He shuddered involuntarily and continued, "I'm going to stay here."
"Wonderful," Agamemnon grumbled, scowling at the youth. "I didn't ask if anyone was staying."
"Just go," the forth member of the group said. "You're on your own."
The older gargoyle huffed slightly and moved away.
"Well," Thersites said, turning back to the mouth of the cave, "this looks fun. I've heard stories about this kind of place. Did you know that giant spiders live in these kind of places? Oh, yes, they build enormous webs across the tunnels and wait for idiots like us to wander into the caves and get stuck in the webs. That's when the spiders show up," he continued as the other two hauled him into the cavern. "And they don't waste time, either. Chances are when the sun rises this morning, none of us will be turning to stone. We'll all have been eaten."
The lavender-skinned one turned to his brother. "There's no such thing as a giant spider."
"All right, maybe there isn't. But how can you be sure?"
"They're just stories told to keep children out of caves. They aren't real."
"But stories have a ring of truth to them. You can't prove to me that they don't exist."
"Believe me, they don't."
"So maybe they don't. But they aren't the only dangerous things living in caves. I've heard--"
"Relax," said their companion. "It's just a boring hole in the ground."
Thersites looked around. "You're right. Huh. No giant spiders... no little spiders... nothing." His eyes widened and he began to draw back to the entrance. "There's nothing alive in this cave. We should get out of here. Right now, if not sooner. There's something wrong with this place."
As Thersites rambled on, the muscular gargoyle reached up into a crack and drew something down. "Here," he said, dropping it into his brother's hand.
"Aaaah!" Thersites jumped back, flinging the spider back into the darkness.
"Relax, brother. It's just a very ordinary cave. There's nothing strange here."
"Ouch!" their companion said, stumbling. Looking toward the other two, he said, "I wouldn't say that."
He reached down and lifted the object he had tripped over. "It looks like a box of some sort," he said, examining it. "Carved silver." He opened it. "There's a scroll inside. It must be important. Humans wouldn't go to so much trouble to protect a piece of paper if it was worthless."
"I wonder what it says," the square-jawed youth said, looking over the scroll.
"Perhaps we could take it to Brother Edmund. I'd wager that he'd read it to us." Thersites started toward the entry, then turned back. "Well?"
"You believe he will read exactly what it says?"
The towering male placed the scroll back in its case and their companion closed and latched the box. "Let's go talk to Brother Edmund." He moved past Thersites and turned to him. "Aren't you coming? I thought you would be eager to leave this haunted cave."
Thersites followed his brother out, mumbling. "Oh, that's very funny." *****
"Look who's finally back," the blue female said, pointing to the three gargoyles approaching the keep.
"Where is the leader's mate?" Thersites asked.
"Your companion returned quite some time ago," the horned lass said as they neared. "The second is making sure your brother keeps his end of the bargain since his catch was rather small compared to ours."
"You were trying to bring down another stag, weren't you?" Asrial asked. "The rules were--"
"We weren't hunting," the imposing youth said.
"Not at all, Sister," Thersites added. "I swear. They found a cave full of giant gargoyle-eating spiders, and--"
The burly lad glared at his brother.
"Oh, right," Thersites said softly. "No giant spiders."
"We found a scroll in the cave," he said, "protected in a silver case."
"It sounds important," Asrial said.
"It may be. We are taking it to Brother Edmund in the hope that he will tell us what it says."
"May we join you?" the deep-orange skinned gargoyle asked as the other two females echoed her sentiments with their expressions.
"Of course," the young males' companion said. *****
"Who would have thought that such a boring life could entertain those three for so long?" Edmund inquired of no one in particular as he buttoned the front of his nightshirt.
Baldrich hopped to the corner of the priest's bed and scolded him noisily.
"All right, so it's not such a boring life, but I never dreamed they'd want to listen so long. I'm very sorry I kept you awake this late, Baldrich. next time I decide to turn storyteller, I'll put you to bed first."
The squirrel chirped and scampered across the bed, into a small box on the table beside it. He curled up in the cloths lining it, flipping his bushy tail over his head.
Edmund settled into his own bed and leaned toward the table to blow out the candles. Before he could, however, he was startled by a knock at the door. Baldrich's head popped up and he scolded the unseen callers for waking him.
"Who could that be at such an hour?" Edmund mumbled, standing and opening the door. He almost stumbled back when his numerous guests barged into the room.
"Brother Edmund," the breast-plated gargoyle said, pushing to get inside along with the others. "We would like to ask you a favor."
"We'd like you to read something to us," one of the females added.
Wonderful, Edmund thought. More storytelling.
"I would like to help you tonight, but..." He looked around at the gargoyles, who appeared to be doing their best to suppress their excitement over whatever it was they wanted him to read. "But... I don't even know what you want read."
"It's a scroll," the burly male said, "that we found hidden in a cave while hunting. It looks to be important."
"It's protected by this silver case," Thersites said, holding out the ornate box.
"Why don't you read it for yourselves?"
"Reading is a human custom, not a warrior skill," the third male said.
If I had a book for every time I'd heard that, I'd have a library to rival that of Alexandria, Edmund thought. Perhaps... no this time, I will do something about it. But not now.
"It's much too dark here," he said, slipping a cloak over his nightshirt. "I'll read it to you in the courtyard."
Baldrich chirped, and Edmund patted the baby squirrel lightly. "I'll try not to make much noise when I come back," he said, then followed the gargoyles to the courtyard.
Outside the good brother's window, a magician with grey robes moved away to find a suitable place from which to continue his eavesdropping.
As Edmund joined his eager friends in the courtyard, he noticed the inseparable trio scampering toward the waiting, growing group.
"Don't you three ever get tired of hearing stories?" he asked them.
"Of course not," the horned gargoyle said. "Why?"
Edmund chuckled softly. "You're welcome to listen, but I can't promise it's really a story."
"That's okay," the wing-armed one replied. "We just want to know what it is."
The lavender male stuck a torch in the ground and beckoned Edmund over to the well-lit area. He was handed the silver box and offered a bench on which to sit while reading the curious scroll. Several of the adolescents sat on the ground in front of him, and the inseparable trio, with several others of their rookery, settled down on the grass in front of the teens. Edmund smiled slightly, rather amused by the attention the illiterate gargoyles were giving the unidentified writings.
Brother Edmund sat and opened the box. He removed the scroll and unfurled it, causing a hush to fall over the waiting listeners. Dramatically, he cleared his throat and began to read.
"Recorded here is the account of those entrusted to protect the sword Galatine, favored weapon of Sir Gawain of the Round Table, and their journey to return it to his home.
"Following Sir Gawain's courageous death in battle, his retainers were given the duty of returning his belongings, armor, and weapons to his home in the north, including the enchanted sword Galatine.
"When the Picts and Angles of the northlands learned of the death of Sir Gawain and the departure of King Arthur Pendragon to Avalon, they began to raid the keeps of Gawain and his family. Several were crushed under the attacks and their contents pillaged by the raiders, and many more were endangered.
"Those entrusted to protect Sir Gawain's weapons and armor feared that if they were returned to one of his castles they would fall into the hands of the enemy. They carried the weapons north to Pictland--" Edmund paused momentarily to add "--that's an old name for Scotland-- where they were hidden, protected by magic, thus keeping them away from any who could use them for evil, waiting for a time when the sword Galatine may again be needed." Brother Edmund lowered the scroll and turned to the gargoyles.
"Is that true?" one of the children asked.
"I don't know," Edmund replied. "King Arthur was a real person, so I assume his knights and their weapons must have been as well." He looked at the scroll again. "There's a map here... and instructions with clues on how to find the sword. There's a river here... and a small waterfall. Here's the cave where the scroll was found, according to the map."
The curious male stood and looked at the map. "Yes, that's where we found it. And this is where the castle would be," he said, lightly poking the map.
"So it might be true?" another asked.
"We should go look for it," the slightly chunky member of the inseparable trio added.
"Yes, but not tonight," an older female replied, pointing to the east. "This night has nearly ended."
The gargoyles abruptly scattered, quickly making their ways to their perches before the morning sun caught them unprepared. Edmund stretched, yawning, and sluggishly made his way back to his chambers. The Archmage, still observing from afar, returned to his lair to form a plot to get his hands on the scroll. He had seen the gargoyles arriving with the box and recognized it as being important. When he saw them taking it to the good brother, his curiosity peaked and he followed them to learn more about the find.
If the story of that magic sword is true, he thought, and I can get my hands on it before those fool gargoyles, I could exploit its powers for my own benefit. The mage grinned maniacally. *****
"Ian! Ian!" The Archmage looked around angrily. "Ian!"
A scraggly child ran into the lab. "I'm sorry I'm late," he panted.
"You're forgiven," he mumbled. "Don't ever let this happen again!"
"Of... of course...." Ian stammered.
"I have a job for you. Distract our guest Brother Edmund for a time."
"That is not for you to know. Now go!"
Ian turned and ran from the Archmage's lair as the mage chuckled. *****
Brother Edmund yawned and stretched, sitting up. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then opened a small box and offered a nut to Baldrich while he swung his legs off the edge of his bed. he began to yawn again, but stopped in mid-motion on hearing a knock at his door. "I've certainly been experiencing more than my share of popularity here," he said quietly to the squirrel, who was too busy with his nut to react. "Come in."
Ian pushed the door open just enough to slip through. "Brother Edmund?"
"I heard that you were a soldier. Could you tell me what it was like? I want to be a soldier, too."
Edmund laughed cheerfully. "Of course I can tell you what it was like. What do you want to know?"
"Oh, everything. Tell me everything about being a soldier! Please?"
"That could take a long time, Lad."
"All right. Of course, I had to start training at an early age..."
As Edmund related the past events and answered Ian's frequent questions, the Archmage quietly crept up outside the window. He located the silver box on a table across the room-- out of sight of the good brother. With a slight gesture and a whispered incantation, he summoned the box to the window, where he removed its contents and sent it back before quietly returning to his lair.
In his lair, the Archmage unrolled the scroll and laid it flat on a desk. He seated himself, then dipped a pen into an inkwell and began to meticulously reproduce the map and clues. "If I start as soon as I return this scroll to that fool priest, I can reach the sword before those dim-witted gargoyles and they'll never even know about it." He laughed, satisfied with his accomplishment... until he read the first clue.
"Enter the cave when the full moon is
And follow the path marked by its light."
The Archmage looked at it again, then shouted in frustration. He would have to spent a whole day trying to decipher all of the clues before he could depart for the cave. *****
The Archmage carefully guided the silver case back into position, then moved away from the window. "Ian!" he called.
"I have to go," Ian interrupted. "My master is calling me."
"Then, by all means, go," Edmund replied. "Perhaps another time." Edmund glanced out his window to see that night had nearly fallen. "We'd best prepare for tonight's hunt, Baldrich. Come." *****
Thersites hopped from his perch to join the others.
"Brother," the deep-voiced male said to him, teasingly. "I can hardly believe that you would want to go back to that cave."
"I'd battle ten giant spiders if it could get me out of doing my chores," Thersites replied. "Well... maybe not..."
Brother Edmund joined the group in the courtyard, carrying a burning torch. "I have the map. It starts at the cave. Do you remember how to get there?"
The priest turned to see the inseparable trio and several others of their rookery crowded at his feet. "Oh, hello," he stammered, surprised by their sudden appearance.
"Are you going to look for that sword Gal... Galla..."
The little gargoyle nodded. "Are you going to look for it tonight?"
"Can we come with you?" the beaked member of the trio asked.
"Do you think it will be safe enough for them to come?" Thersites asked uncertainly.
"It doesn't seem to be a particularly dangerous quest," Edmund replied.
"And there are plenty of us to protect them if something should happen," the red-haired female added.
"I suppose they could come along."
"Come along where?"
The entire group turned toward the speaker-- the clan leader. "You aren't going anywhere without finishing your chores and running your battle drills, are you?"
"Well, we..." one started.
"You would be wise to avoid becoming involved in human doings," Leader said. "Let them take care of whatever it is this one wants to do." He pointed at Brother Edmund, who retreated slightly into the crowd. "And taking hatchlings away from the keep! How can you trust a human who would willfully endanger them?"
"We asked to go," the wide-eyed green one said. "No one invited us. Brother Edmund's not trying to endanger us!"
The Leader scowled at the child, who shrunk back slightly. "Do not trouble yourselves with human activities when you have warriors' activities to attend to," he cautioned before moving away.
"Oh, wonderful. What are we supposed to do?" Thersites groaned, moving away with the other adolescents. "Read the clues ourselves?"
"Do you think we could learn to read?" the scolded child asked his white-haired friend.
"Probably, if we could find someone to teach us."
"Maybe Brother Edmund..."
"Don't be so foolish," the chunky blue one interjected. "Leave reading to the humans. If we ever need something read, we can ask them. We have plenty to do ourselves. There's no time to bother with something as silly as reading."
The other two covered their ears and walked away. Their brother followed, leaving Edmund and Baldrich on their own.
"Well..." Edmund said to the squirrel peeking out from his pocket. "Perhaps later."
He returned to his quarters and opened his journal. But before he could take hold of his pen, his thoughts were interrupted by a face appearing at his window.
"Brother," one of the golden-haired lasses said softly. "We're meeting in the courtyard when the moon is above the castle walls. Can you join us then?"
"Of course," Edmund replied. "I wouldn't dream of missing this." *****
The reddish, beaked member of the inseparable three paused in his current errand long enough to check whether the moon was rising. He and his brothers were anxious to accompany the older gargoyles in the search for Galatine, and the three planned to do their best to join the party when it left the keep.
Seeing that the moon had not quite risen above the outer walls, he refocused his energy on quickly completing his current task of delivering a message for the Captain of the Guard.
As he passed under a lighted window, he became aware of a man's voice and, out of the curiosity of youth, stopped to listen.
"If I leave now, I should reach the sword soon... but the moon may not be high enough." The youngster huddled against the wall to avoid notice as the Archmage leaned out his window and turned toward the moon. "It looks high enough," the sorcerer said. "Those foolish gargoyles haven't left yet. I'll get to the sword before they do, and they'll think it was just another ridiculous story."
As the Archmage chuckled menacingly to himself, the young gargoyle under his window dashed off to find the others, his errand forgotten. *****
"What--" Edmund sputtered, flustered, as both the deep-orange lass and Asrial pulled him into the group of gargoyles waiting in the center of the courtyard. "What's the rush?" he finally managed to get out. "The sword's not going anywhere."
"Yes it is," the slender child replied. "I heard the Archmage-- he's going to find it before we do!"
"Then what are we waiting for?" the priest replied.
The had hardly taken five steps, however, when Agamemnon leaped from the wall, landing in front of them and effectively blocking their path.
"Our chores are complete," the lavender male said, chalenging the elder's authority. "You have no reason to prevent our leaving."
"Yes, I do," Agamemnon replied, scowling. "The hatchlings have yet to be tutored tonight."
"Why can't we go with them?" the web-eared member of the trio asked.
"You're much to young. And don't even think of trying to slip away unnoticed. Anyone not present will be punished!"
The children returned to the center of the courtyard, grumbling and whining.
"We'll never get to leave this place," the wing-armed one said. *****
"This is where you found the scroll?" Brother Edmund asked, gesturing toward the dark opening. The burly lad and Thersites nodded. "The clue says:
'Enter the cave when the full moon is bright
And follow the path marked by its light.'"
"So there should be some sort of trail here... but I don't see one," one of the males said, peering into the cavern.
"Perhaps we have to be inside the cave," the female with slightly curly blonde hair suggested, prompting the entire group to enter the hollow.
"And now what do we do?"
"Over there." The flame-haired lass moved away from the others and indicated a pale lighted marking pointing into one of the myriad passages branching from the main room. The others followed her down it.
"What's the next clue?"
As Edmund did his best to manage both the scroll and his torch, a female voice pierced the darkness.
"'In the cave you'll find the key
Which allows you the sword to see.
The key you find, a piece of stone
Through which light can pass alone.'"
The priest turned to Asrial, who stood behind him. "You memorized that?"
The adolescent shook her head. "I read it."
"You can read?"
"It's just something I picked up," Asrial replied shyly, starting ahead to look for the stone key. "The humans seem to find it useful."
"If you can read, then why did you ask me to read it for you?"
"I didn't understand what any of it meant until you read it."
Brother Edmund wondered about Asrial's answer. To him, it didn't seem to make much sense. He told himself that he would find out the real answer one day. *****
"Ian, what's the next clue? Ian?" The Archmage spun around. "Ian! Read me the next clue!"
"I-- I can't read," Ian sputtered, holding the scroll out to the sorcerer, who snatched it away.
"Stupid serf." The Archmage unrolled his copy of the scroll and read the clue aloud.
"'In the moonlight turn the key,
And the gateway you will see;
But only a warrior brave and true
May claim the prize he's been led to.'"
He scoffed. "Nonsense. Some sort of scare tactic, to frighten off anyone who might be trying to find the sword. Give me the key."
Ian placed a rather large crystal in the Archmage's hand. "Master, are you sure about this?"
"Don't second-guess me, boy." The sorcerer raised the crystal into the air and turned it to refract the moonlight. The pale light flashed through the crystal and struck the side of a hill. A flash of energy reflected off the hill and struck the Archmage. He cried out in pain as his hand was burned by the energy. The crystal key tumbled to the ground.
"Master, someone's coming," Ian warned, taking up the crystal. The two retreated into the brush and watched as Brother Edmund and the gargoyles entered the same small clearing.
Edmund held the scroll out to Asrial. "Would you like to read us the final clue?"
Asrial cleared her throat and read the last lines of writing.
"A warrior brave and true..." one of the others said.
"Count me out," Thersites replied.
"Foolish beasts," the Archmage hissed while the gargoyles debated who would be the one to use the key.
The crowned lass pressed the crystal key from the cave into the surprised male's hand. "Try it, Brother. You are a brave warrior."
The male sighed. He raised the crystal and turned it to refract the moon's light. The smooth sides of the stone flashed as the light passed through it and struck the hillside.
The ground trembled. Layers of sod fell away from the massive hill in dark clouds. When they cleared, the light still passing through the crystal reflected brightly against the door revealed in the depression left by the fallen sod.
One of the party stepped forward and tentatively reached for the door. Magic sparked across the door and the gargoyle backed away.
The lavender one stepped forward and reached towards the door. Nothing happened. He placed his hand against it, then pushed.
The massive portal swung silently open, revealing a vast armory of highly polished weapons and armor. In the center, balanced reverently across a pedestal, lay the sword Galatine, shimmering oddly in the light from Edmund's torch.
The purple gargoyle extended his hand and lifted the sword cautiously. Outside the barrow, the Archmage and Ian watched as the sword in the adolescent's hand began to glow. "Incredible..." the mage whispered.
Within the armory, the gargoyles and priest stared awestruck at their rookery brother and Galatine.
Without, the Archmage murmured, "I must get that sword! But how to do it...?" *****
The gargoyles and priest gathered at the edge of the cliff above the coastline. The towering lad and one other male took Brother Edmund under his shoulders and leapt off, followed by the remainder of the group. The lass with an armband had been chosen to carry the sword, and did so with the utmost care.
As the group veered back over the forest, a bolt of pure energy eminated from the trees. The carrier of the sword was struck. She lost her stability and her grip on Galatine; both she and the sword tumbled downward in an uncontrolable spiral.
The male who had discovered the scroll dove after her. Without hesitation, he snagged her around the waist, stopping her descent and allowing her to regain her wings. However, the sword fell out of reach. It descended too quickly to be caught by anyone in the group.
On the beach below, the Archmage stood against the cliffside, waiting for the sword to hit the sands so he could at last claim his prize. He became more and more anxious as the sword was about to hit its landing spot. He could only imagine the power he was to recieve once he touched the precious sword. However, his anticipation turned into utter dissapointment as Galatine missed its mark and hit rocks instead, tumbling into the surf, never to be seen again.
"Fetch the sword, you lazy twit! And hurry!" the Archmage shouted. Ian looked at the spot where the sword had landed and was hesitant about going in to retrieve it. The waters were too rough and he would surely drown if he were to venture forth into the ocean now.
"I cannot get it, master. The waters are too rough for swimming."
The Archmage screamed in anger. He was so close to getting a very powerful weapon and the chance slipped from his grasp. Finally admitting he had lost the sword, and still in pain from the burn inflicted on his hand in the failed effort to get the weapon, he began the arduous climb back to the castle. *****
"It's a pity that we lost the sword," one of the gargoyles said.
"I'm sorry I dropped it," the blue female said.
"Don't be, sister; it wasn't your fault."
"But I could have--"
"Don't blame yourself," Edmund said, crossing to her. "No one else is."
"I wonder why it reacted so oddly to you," another said to the male, who seemed uncomfortable with the attention he was now recieving.
"Perhaps because our fearless leader really is an unusually brave warrior," Thersites suggested.
The others laughed at Thersites' name for their rookery brother, who replied, "Fearless leader, brother?"
"You were the one to reveal the door," the deep-orange skinned female said.
"And you were the only one able to approach the door without being repelled by magic," Asrial added.
"You certainly seem fearless enough."
"Perhaps one day," Thersites said, "you'll be our leader, as well."
"Perhaps," the male replied.
"That certainly was incredible," the crowned female mused.
"Can reading reveal other wonders?" Thersites asked Brother Edmund.
The priest laughed good-naturedly. "This is only the beginning."
"Would you teach us?" one asked. The others began to voice their desire to learn as well.
"Of course I can teach you," Edmund replied.
As the gargoyle adolescents started towards their perches to sleep away the coming day, the children mobbed then.
"What happened?" one asked.
"Where's the sword?"
"Did you find it?"
"Was it real?"
One of the females crouched in front of them. "We'll tell you all about our adventure tomorrow night. The sun is about to rise, leaving us little time for stories now."
The group moved away, and moments later the sun rose, freezing them in stone. Brother Edmund yawned and retreated to his chambers to turn in as the other humans of Wyvern began to stir from their slumber.
The Archmage finally returned to his lair with Ian and began to bind the hand burned by the crystal key.
"Foolish boy! How could you have lost such a valuable sword?" he snapped. "I made it easy for you to take it and you didn't even make an effort to do so!" The Archmage took a leather strap that was hanging on the wall and began to lash at Ian with it. Once the ordeal was over, Ian sat quietly as the Archmage continued to vent his anger and frustration at the boy. *****
Hudson set the stack of papers back in place and sipped his tea.
Jeffrey Robbins sat back in his chair and stopped his tape recorder. He sipped at his tea and paused to absorb the tale. "That was some story," he said, then smiled and sat forward as something about the story struck him. "This Brother Edmund... he was a real person?"
"Aye," Hudson replied. "As real as you or I."
"Or so said the manuscript," the elderly gargoyle hastily replied.
"Those old fellows who gave the youngsters such a hard time about getting involved in 'human concerns'-- did they ever get caught up in the Brother's literacy campaign?"
"Eventually, many of them did. They could be stubborn back then. Sometimes... it took them a while to recognize a good idea."
Robbins smiled. "Some
things never change."