News From The South
Story Concept by Kathy Pogge
Written by Lex Wyvern
Previously on Dark Ages....
"They should pay. They should all pay," said Margaret.
"Yes." But not today. He would need more men, more loyal soldiers. Gargoyles were everywhere, even infesting his own beloved country. He would need many more men to kill them all. Then Margaret would be happy, and speak to him only of pleasant things, would stop reminding him of her death.
"Of course, my love," said Margaret. "And I'll be with you always. I swear."
Edward applied his spurs, and his horse sped into the night towards England and home.
* * * * *
News From The South
From the journals of Brother Edmund:
In light of the recent alliance between the humans and gargoyles here at Wyvern, it becomes easy to forget that relationships between the two races may be strained in other regions. In spite of the good they can do each other, it seems humans and gargoyles are rarely able to ally themselves.
It must be good to be king, a page thought, setting a highly-polished silver tray laden with a variety of fruits beside the throne. Ah, well, so much for pointless dreams.
King Edgar of England ignored the page and his tray, occupied with reviewing the reports of one of his myriad ministers and advisors. He had reviewed four other reports that day already. On an average day, when he had one, perhaps two to look over, he found the practice tedious to say the least. Tonight, he was hard-pressed to find an appropriate word to describe the reports.
Another page entered the room. "Announcing the arrival of His Grace, Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury."
"Send him in," Edgar sighed. "As for the rest of you, begone."
The various royal ministers and attendants went their separate ways, leaving Edgar and the newly arrived Archbishop Dunstan to themselves.
"My lord," Dunstan said, kneeling.
"Rise. Give your report."
"My lord, as you know, the issue of the gargoyles in this area is again becoming a problem."
"Dunstan, I have left the matter in your hands. This is not important when contrasted with the current problems with Scotland. I trust your judgment in this area."
"My lord, you should be informed of my actions nonetheless. You are king of all England--the final decisions should be yours whether the responsibility is mine or yours."
"A valid observation. Continue with your report."
"I understand you wish to make a peace offering to Scotland. I understand you feel the lands in Lothian would likely make a suitable offering."
"Yes... I have been considering that option. The area does lie quite close to Scotland. But the people will likely resist."
"The people are not brave enough to go against the will of their king."
"They have shown resistance to change in the past."
"Merely a show. I believe the area's gargoyles are behind that show of bravado. They have no real courage of their own. Perhaps if my lord were to send out a small force of troops, to smooth the way..."
Edgar thought for a moment. "A fine idea. Your party shall set out tomorrow noon."
"My lord, you wish for a mere archbishop such as myself to be a part of such an important mission?"
"As you said, Dunstan, the gargoyles are behind their bravery. You are in charge of the gargoyle situation."
"I understand, my lord."
"The actions taken shall be at your discretion. Dismissed."
A small group of musicians seated near one of the walls began to play. The tones of dulcimer, psaltery, lyre, and tambourine blended sweetly, underscoring the beginning festivities.
"I am sorry for what happened," a female gargoyle said.
"Nae, 'twas my fault for not paying attention," the wench facing her replied. "Ye couldnae known I would be passing below ye just as ye awoke."
"Still, I should not have been perched so close to the inner wall. 'Twould be better were I to stay nearer to the outside. I would imagine the Prince did not enjoy the addition of gravel to his dinner."
The wench chuckled good-naturedly. "Nae, but who would?"
Nearby, three of the castle men cautiously moved a table out into the courtyard. One tripped, dropping his corner. Before it hit the ground, however, one of the castle gargoyles caught it. "Mind if I lend you a hand?" he asked.
A gargoyle and a human emerged from within the castle, carrying several bowls of fruits. Both were good-naturedly laughing at a joke the human had told.
Edmund looked up from his journal for a moment. He found sketching in the pages of his book and keeping an eye on Baldrich and the young gargoyles playing with him simultaneously rather difficult, but as he was sketching the three inseparable ones, the act was simplified.
The young squirrel darted onto the shoulders of one of the children and leapt from them onto the head of the smallest hatchling.
"Ouch!" Lexington exclaimed. "Baldrich! Why'd you do that?"
Edmund chuckled softly as the squirrel scolded the hatchling and leapt to the ground to taunt someone else.
"Your left. Left. Your other left!" The human adolescent sighed.
"I'm sorry," the young man dancing with her replied. "It feels like I should go right."
"You're hopeless, John. Hopeless!"
"It's not my fault, Mary. Let me try again."
"That looks like fun," Desdemona said with a coy glance at Othello.
"Sister, you would honestly wish to learn to dance?"
"Why not? Come along, Brother."
"I do not want to learn."
"But I need a partner. Brother, if you do this for me, I promise I will accompany you on your hunting expedition."
"You told me you did not want to go."
"Please do this for me?"
Othello sighed. "Why do I let you talk me into these things?" Desdemona replied with only a smile as she led him out to learn the dance.
Demona watched as the couple made their way out to join the young humans as she stood with others of her rookery near the wall. Her rookery sister had a good idea whether her white-haired partner liked it or not. Demona watched attentively a few minutes and decided that 'dancing' was not as difficult as unarmed combat drills and looked far, far more pleasurable. She glanced coyly at her breast-plated beau. "Come, Brother," she said, taking hold of his arm.
"What?" Diomedes asked, startled.
"Come. We're going to learn to dance."
Edmund looked up again and took note of the four gargoyles dancing among the humans. That will certainly be interesting to write about later. He looked back to the book, but was distracted by a sudden shout of warning rapidly followed by a small form falling over his outstretched legs. A second small form collided with the first and fell over it.
"Get off me!" Lexington gasped.
Brooklyn stood. "Um... sorry, Brother Edmund."
"Don't apologize to me or anything," Lex grumbled, standing up.
"It was your fault."
"If you hadn't been chasing me!"
"If you hadn't snuck up on me!"
"Well, if you hadn't--" Brooklyn cut him off by pushing him backwards into Edmund's lap. Lex yelped, startled. "Why'd you do that?"
"Lads," Edmund said, "stop this. What do you hope to gain by fighting?"
Lex slid to the ground and sat near his brother. Both looked down at the ground, embarrassed.
"The two of you have been friends longer than I've been here. I'm sure it's hard for you to apologize, but in the long run..."
"Um... I'm sorry about chasing you..." Brooklyn mumbled.
Lex sighed. "I'm sorry I snuck up on you. I... just thought it would be funny."
Brooklyn smiled. "I suppose it was."
"If you could have seen the look on your face..." the smaller fledgling started to say as the two moved away.
Edmund smiled and returned to his work.
"Look at how much fun they're having down there," Thersites grumbled, leaning on the edge of the watchtower.
"Disgusting... isn't it?" Ajax asked, glancing down into the courtyard.
"Only because we can't be there. If I'd known skipping practice would land me up here tonight, I'd've waited until after the party to do it."
"A good idea... I think."
"It's too late now. I've just got to come up with a way to get down there." He turned to his brother, who appeared to be staring off into space. "Brother?"
"I think I saw something moving..."
"No, you didn't. There's nothing out there to see."
"There is... I think. Yes. Yes, I definitely did see something."
"It was a bird."
"No... no, I think it was too large to be a bird."
"So it was a really big bird."
"I don't think it was a bird.... I saw it on the ground... I think."
"Please, you're just trying to make work for us."
"I know I think I saw something."
"Oh, be quiet!"
Ajax looked sadly at his brother.
"Oh, all right!" Thersites groaned. "Where is that looker-thing our sister gave us?" He looked around on the tower until he found Asrial's binoculars. He raised them to his eyes and looked off toward the south, where Ajax indicated. He lowered them slowly and stared at his brother for a moment.
"Take a look," he said, holding out the binoculars. "You were right."
Prince Malcolm stood and cleared his throat. The crowd rapidly grew hushed. All from soldiers to hatchlings focused on the human at the head of the long table.
"Welcome to all of you, both human and gargoyle, on this night of celebration. Before our feast begins, I would like to raise a toast. To the continued health and prosperity of the brave leader of a brave and loyal gargoyle clan!"
Before the toast was complete, Hudson stood and cut in just as Malcolm finished. "I should like to add my own toast to Prince Malcolm's. To the long life, continued health, and enduring prosperity of--"
"Look!" a restless hatchling cried, pointing toward the castle gate.
The entire assemblage turned, curious as to what this hatchling thought was more important than listening to the opening ceremonies of the festival. They fell silent as Thersites and Ajax lead in a bedraggled group of humans and gargoyles into the keep.
"I... hope we didn't arrive at a bad time," one of the gargoyles said, his voicing lilting slightly with a slightly English accent.
"Not at all," Hudson replied, moving toward the group. "You are all welcome in this place."
"Chairs for our guests," Malcolm commanded. "They shall join in the feast."
"Our thanks, my lord," a female gargoyle replied, taking the chair offered to her. "Our supplies of food ran out several nights ago."
Servants carrying trays of food and flasks of water and wine gathered around to serve the travelers.
"What brings you to our home?" Desdemona asked.
"Our own is no longer safe for us," another gargoyle traveler replied. "When we left Lothian --"
"Lothian?" Hudson asked. "I had always heard the humans there lived well with the gargoyles."
"We prospered well, and benefited from the gargoyles' protection. In return, we allowed them to live peacefully among us."
"Naturally, there were misunderstandings, but never any serious incidents."
"Among the humans was a group which even treated us cordially, as close friends. But even in Lothian, they were still the exception, rather than the rule."
"Still, the populace treated you with respect, did they not?" Asrial asked.
"Yes... until recently."
"We barely noticed what was going on at first. It all started so slowly..."
Lothian Province, England
"Good afternoon, harper," a guardsman said to a wandering minstrel who looked almost as though he didn't want to be noticed. "New to our land, are you?"
"Aye, sir. Might you direct me to the nearest tavern?"
"Down that road a few paces. You can't miss it."
"Thank you, sir." The minstrel started away from the gate, then turned back. "The gargoyles on your walls... are they alive?"
"Nae, not now. When the sun sets, they'll be as alive as you or me."
"Don't be fearing them, now, harper," the guard said. "They'll nae be doin' ye harm."
"I see," the minstrel replied, turning away and narrowing his eyes. "I see very well."
The sun had nearly set by the time the minstrel reached the tavern. He looked up at the painted shingle hung by the door. "The Black Dragon Tavern," he read. "So this is the place Aelfgar mentioned. Pity about it..."
He entered and ordered a pint of ale, dropped a coin on the bar, then sat in a corner where he could watch as the sun set. To avoid suspicion, which no one would have felt anyhow, he adjusted the tuning of his lute between swallows of ale.
"Ach, another minstrel!" one of the tavern wenches complained while gathering several clay mugs from a nearby table. "There seems to be a plague of them lately."
"You can't have a plague of music," he replied.
"Ye can when 'alf the so-called musicians 'ave never touched an instrument before." She narrowed her eyes, glaring at him--or, more specifically, at his lute.
"Are you criticizing my abilities, wench?" he snapped, jumping to his feet.
"Leave off, minstrel," a voice from the bar said. "We're not needing any fights tonight."
The minstrel turned to face the speaker, a tall, well-built gargoyle standing at the bar. The barkeep handed him a mug of ale. "I am sorry I am unable to pay you, Anlaf," the gargoyle said.
"Think nothing of it. 'Tis the least I can do to repay ye for the protection ye 'ave given my tavern against the bandits about."
The minstrel scowled. "You let them drink in your pub?" he asked, chagrined.
"Aye, what of it?"
"Doesn't it bother you that they take up space which could be occupied by human customers who pay you in coin?"
"They provide protection."
"Protection doesn't put a shirt on your back."
"Nae, per'aps not, but it does keep it there."
"Human soldiers could provide equal protection, and would pay you at that. Unlike these beasts, who drink up yuir profits and would betray ye in a heartbeat."
"You'd be wise not to speak ill of my customers, harper. Especially when they are within earshot."
"Customers?" replied the minstrel, smiling internally at the crowd he was gathering. "You can't call someone a customer when he doesn't pay you. You would do well to not associate with such beasts."
"What beasts? They 'ave never be'aved ill towards us."
"Perhaps not yet. I heard about a farmer over in Herefordshire who felt the same way. Had a pact with some local gargoyles, rather like your own arrangement."
"He thought so. In return for their protection of his lands, he would provide them with food, shelter, and so on. Until last winter. Hit his farm hard. Hit the bandits, too. Not only did the farmer no longer need protection, but he couldn't afford to keep them about, either. Told them so, as well. Told them to leave, in fact. They got upset at that. Didn't like the idea. I hear they carried off his children. Wasn't much left of the one poor little tyke they found."
"Preposterous!" the gargoyle scoffed. "Why would they do such a thing?"
"Well isn't it obvious? After all, their supply of food had been cut off. They apparently needed something to eat."
"That's terrible!" one of the humans exclaimed. "Ye can't be serious, harper!"
"I am. I have heard things of these beasts 'twould make your head spin and your stomach turn." He took another swig of his ale. "Matter of fact, I have it on very good authority that the castle wizard in Essex was experimenting in the black arts."
"Trying to raise demons, he was," a traveling merchant within the city walls said, spreading the same stories as the minstrel. "And do you know what happened?" The group he had gathered shook their heads. "One of the castle gargoyles appeared."
Disgusted, the group moved away.
"In a cloud of smoke, in fact," the minstrel said, "just as the wizard was casting his spell. Summoned him direct to his chambers, it seems."
"Must've had an ill-temper about him," the gargoyle said.
"Yes, perhaps. Perhaps that's what the wizard thought. Tried again, he did. Same thing happened. That wizard got a bit of a scare at that. Been sticking to white magic since."
"Harper, begone. I'll not have your kind within these walls."
"Fine. But mark my words, men. No good can come of associating with gargoyles!" he spat over his shoulder as he left.
Behind him, the man heard someone say, "Still... what if there be a grain of truth in the stories?"
Chuckling, the minstrel returned to the walled city.
"Aelfgar!" he called out shortly after passing through the gates. "Aelfgar, I thought you'd continued on already."
The merchant turned. "Eadnoth, I've had terrible luck at turning these people. They just don't seem able to see the kind of danger they're in. And I can't move on before I've completed my task."
"You must not be telling the stories right, boy. The doubts are spreading. We won't have to be here much longer. Soon, this town will be divided. And once we've turned the humans against the gargoyles..."
"Should be simple enough now," the merchant chuckled.
"They wanted to turn the humans against you?" Thersites asked. "But why?"
"We're not entirely certain, but turn the humans they did. First the merchants and minstrels, then a few guardsmen and soldiers, all with the same intentions."
"To turn your allies into enemies," Edmund said. The children and hatchlings began to look nervous. The human children moved nearer to their parents, and the inseparable trio crowded around the good brother's feet while the other gargoyle youngsters moved closer to the older generations. Edmund leaned forward and placed his hands reassuringly on the shoulders of the two smaller hatchlings. The three looked up at him, worry showing plainly on their youthful faces.
"Yes," one of the gargoyles said, taking a sip of water. "And, unbelievably, it began to work."
"Might I give you a hand with those, ma'am?" a gargoyle asked.
"I didn't ask for yuir help, beast," the woman replied, struggling with an armload of cloth. Several folded pieces slid to the ground. The gargoyle crouched to pick them up.
"Didn't you hear the lady, monster?" a nearby man said. "She doesn't want yuir help. Now get out of here!"
The man stepped forward, brandishing a thick branch. "Begone! Now!"
The gargoyle raised his hands defensively and backed away into the shadows. Shaking his head, he climbed the perimeter wall and glided off to the Black Dragon.
He entered and proceeded to his usual place. "Barkeep--"
"Ye can't have nothin' 'less ye pay," the human replied. "The takes be goin' up an' I cannae afford ta pay th' blasted things if ye keep drinkin' up my profits."
The gargoyle sighed. "You know I have no money..."
"Here. Give 'im a pint," a man said, slapping a few coins onto the bar.
"I can't accept--"
"Sure you can. We're old friends." He slapped the gargoyle on the back, grinning. The bartender set down a mug of ale, which the man picked up and handed to the gargoyle. "Come. Join me."
They seated themselves in a shadowy corner near the back of the pub. "So tell me... what was that scene with the old man about? Thought you two had an arrangement."
"Had, yes. It seems we no longer do." The gargoyle took a swig of ale. "Strange how things have changed so much in so little time, Athelstan."
"Aye, it is rather strange at that. Though ye must admit the populace was never overly fond of you, 'twas never this bad before."
"I've noticed more new humans than usual arriving around here. Minstrels, vendors, soldiers... they may be connected to the recent... changes."
"'Tis possible. They both started 'appening at about the same time."
"I'm almost certain of the connection. I've heard one or two of them spreading their rhetoric.... It's hard to accept, though... the people actually believe much of what these men are saying about us."
"With them playing on the fears the people 'ave always had..."
"Athelstan, ye ol' mongrel," the barkeep called back, gesturing at a pair of new arrivals, "are ye goin' ta pick up their tab, too?"
The man looked up at the customers. "Aye, why not?" he shouted back. "I'll pay ye on my way out."
"Don't ye be fergettin', now."
A moment later, two more gargoyles joined Athelstan and the first one at their table. Three human men followed them.
"I 'ope you paid yuir own way," Athelstan said to them. "Canna afford to buy everyone's drinks, now."
"What do ye take us for, vultures?" one replied, chuckling. He pulled a chair from a nearby table and seated himself.
"What else?" Athelstan laughed. He turned to the gargoyles. "I'd wager you lads 'ave been 'aving a 'ard time lately, aye?"
"Aye," one said. "One of the villagers attacked me with a torch. I still can't think what I might've done to provoke the chap."
"And would you believe the humans are locking up their doors and barring their windows as soon as the sun begins to set?" the other added. "And of course they all refuse to deal with us now... if they even speak to us at all."
"I'm just wondering how long it'll be before the old man finally throws us out," the first gargoyle said.
"'E knows a profit when 'e sees it. 'E'll likely be the last ta bar yuir business. After all, 'e wasn't lyin' about the taxes goin' up."
"Aye, that's a fact. Looks as though King Edgar wants ta drive us out of our 'eads, relieve us of our funds, and toss us aside for 'is own gain."
"What?" one of the gargoyles asked.
"'E plans to use us as a bargaining chip--'and us over ta Scotland in the 'opes that it'll keep 'im from 'aving a full-out war on 'is 'ands."
"I too 'ave 'eard that rumor."
"As 'ave I, but I didna want ta believe it."
"It isn't a rumor," Athelstan said. "The King is goin' ta 'and our 'omeland over ta th' Scots."
"That must be the reason for the increasing number of strangers. They be wantin' to take advantage of us while they still can."
"Never could fathom humanity," one of the gargoyles said. "So often lacking in integrity, loyalty, honesty... how do such men become so powerful?"
A human laughed. "If only I knew!"
"At least we're not all like that," another noted.
"Aye. But those who aren't are few and far between. I doubt that out of nearly the entire province we have more than a dozen friends left uncorrupted by the stories being spread, if even that."
"Lousy tales, they are at that. 'Ave you 'eard the one about the boy in 'Erefordshire?"
"The one they claim was eaten?" a gargoyle chuckled. "Would never happen. You humans are far too bitter to provide a worthwhile meal."
One of the men tried to look mockingly sour, but failed as the six seated around him burst out laughing. He snorted and joined them.
"There must be something we can do to bring the other humans back around," a gargoyle said when the group had quieted itself. "Look at you four, after all."
"It hasn't been that long since their acceptance of us started to change. A month, maybe two... If we find something to do now, before they completely forget how things were before, perhaps we can make a change for the better."
"I'd suggest 'elping with the 'arvest, if it weren't for two things."
"Let me guess. They do it during the day, and they won't want our help. Right?"
Athelstan nodded. "And you know they won't want to share wit' ye over th' winter."
"Aye, it's that way every year. They always fear they won't have enough to go around. And they always have enough."
"Perhaps," one of the gargoyles said, "if we were to go on a hunt and add whatever we caught to the stores, the villagers might take it as a peace offering, even let us share in the supplies later on."
"Why should we be making the peace offering?" another asked. "We're the one's being wronged. They ought to be appeasing us."
"Brother, do you honestly believe we would ever receive a peace offering from those people?"
He shook his head. "When do we set out?"
"We need time to prepare, gather supplies--we'll likely be gone at least one full night, if not longer."
"Perhaps we should plan to be gone two or three nights."
"Would you four like to accompany us?"
"Aye, I don't see why not," Athelstan said. "I'll go. What about th' rest of ye?"
"Aye, I'll join ye."
"I'll go, too."
"May as well. I've been meaning to go out anyhow."
"Perhaps some others of our remaining friends would like to join our group."
"I'll speak to 'em. We'll meet ye 'ere tomorrow night."
"Outside," one of the men said. "'Else we might be tempted to sit an' 'ave a pint."
The others chuckled. "Then it's agreed," a gargoyle said when they had calmed themselves again. "We'll meet here just after dusk."
Three gargoyles landed just outside the Black Dragon, joining the group of seven gargoyles and six humans already amassed.
"Is this all of us?" one of the newcomers asked.
"Aye, it would seem so," one of the humans replied. "We'd best be off."
Those carrying supplies shouldered their packs and the group set out into the hunting lands.
"I don't understand it," a man within the tavern said. "Th' growin' season seemed so good."
"Aye, but it seems th' crops didna appreciate th' weather."
"Looks ta be th' worst harvest in years, it does. We're certain ta 'ave food shortages this winter," another farmer said.
"I warned ye ta plant more," one man said. "I warned ye in spring that th' winter'd be 'arsh. And last winter ye of all th' snow that'll be comin' down soon enough now."
"Ach, shut up with yuir predictions, Cenwulf. We've 'eard enough of yuir tales."
"Ye know my predictions are always right."
"Aye but that doesna mean we like them. Or like 'earing them."
A man seated back in a dimly lit corner grinned. Time to take action. "If it weren't for all those loafing gargoyles about, ye'd likely 'ave enough food to go about. But since ye 'ave ta share with them..."
"'E's right. We don't 'ave ta share our supplies."
"Aye, what do they do fer us that we should be givin' our food ta them?"
"They don't help with th' 'arvest--or th' plantin', neither. They don't 'elp us at all!"
"They do nothin' but eat up our food and take up space!"
"Why should we even be lettin' them stay 'ere?"
"If they weren't livin' off of us, they'd all be dyin' of starvation!"
"They're useless even ta themselves!"
"Someone 'elp me!" a woman cried, pushing her way into the crowd.
"Think ye can be one of the men, Lassie?"
"No, I need 'elp, please! My boy went out with th' sheep an' 'e 'asn't come 'ome!"
"Don't worry; 'e's likely takin' 'is time comin' back. 'E'll be 'ome."
"But 'is dog already came back. 'E barely made it--th' poor animal's lying dead outside m' door. Something attacked 'im!"
"Are ye sure?"
"Th' dog didna maul 'imself!"
"We'll go look for 'im, ma'am," a man said, standing.
"Do ye think it might be th' gargoyles' doing?" the stranger whispered to someone nearby. The suggestion spread like wildfire through the tavern, agitating the crowd as they poured out into the night.
The stranger followed them. If the others did their part, he thought, we'll have succeeded and Archbishop Dunstan should be pleased indeed.
"Over 'ere!" someone finally called after hours of searching. Others rushed to join him. "Look at this."
The grass and twigs littering the ground had here been crushed. The turf was torn up in chunks as though a struggle had occurred. The green and black had been stained a deep red, the red of blood, perhaps from the dog, or perhaps not...
The group searched the area more closely now that they had seen a sign of the boy.
"'Ere." A man lifted a shred of cloth and a broken stick.
"That's 'is cloak!" the boy's mother cried. "And 'is crook! Oh, no! No!" She broke down, sobbing.
"Just like in 'Erefordshire..." someone murmured.
"Yes... Aye it is like in 'Erefordshire!"
"They've taken 'im!"
"They'll come back for others!"
"Our children are in danger!"
"We 'ave ta do something!"
"Before they kill anyone else!"
"I knew they were no good!"
"We shoulda destroyed them long ago!"
"We still can!"
Raging and clamoring for vengeance, the mob swarmed toward the castle and surrounding village, Dunstan's agent among them, chuckling unnervingly.
The mob swamped the streets, rallying others to their mission.
As the sun began to rise in the east, a blacksmith lifted one of his heavy iron hammers. Others seized sickles, axes, and more of the smith's equipment and joined him in advancing on the sleeping gargoyles.
"I think they'll finally be glad to see us again," one of the gargoyles declared. "And if this isn't enough for them, I for one wouldn't mind taking another of these trips."
"I think this'll be enough," a human replied, straining from the weight of the stag he pulled behind him.
"You sure? They say it'll be a long winter."
The human only grunted, tugging at the stag. After a few moments, he grumbled, "'Old up a minute. Let me shift--"
"Shh!" a gargoyle interrupted.
"Do ye mind? I'm only trying ta--"
"I don't 'ear anything."
"You should be able to hear something this close. Hatchlings playing, wings rustling. Anything."
"Likely we're too far away to hear them."
"But I don't think--"
"Maybe you're wrong. Maybe we're not as close as you thought."
"I hope so."
"We can leave our catch 'ere and find someone ta 'elp us bring it in. That should give us a rest from 'auling these beasts about... and 'elp reassure ye, too."
"Aye, it should. But who'll stay behind?"
"I think we can all go ahead. We won't be long."
"All right, then, let's be off. But we're gonna 'old ye to that now."
The gargoyle laughed. "And what do you plan to do if we aren't right back and some hungry wolf takes a bit?"
"Send ye back out on yuir own ta replace what 'e takes," he chuckled.
"Oh, now I'm worried!" He darted ahead of the others. "We'd better hurry!"
"Get back here, Brother!" another gargoyle shouted. "We'll not be letting you steal our welcome!" She ran ahead with the intention to bring him back to the group.
Ahead she saw him standing still, staring up at the castle and village walls.
"Look..." he managed to whisper.
She gaped up at the wall more closely. "No... no, this can't be! No!"
The tops of the walls and the grounds around them were littered with shattered stone. She ran to them and picked up a fragment--a clawed hand.
"How could this happen?" she asked the others as they neared, drawn by her cry.
"The hatchlings!" another cried.
Horrified, the group raced to the gates. "Let us in!" one of the humans shouted. "Open the gates!"
From above, several villagers leaned over the walls. "You!" one shouted bitterly. "You traitors!"
"You ally yourselves with these beasts!"
"You are not welcome here!"
"This is our home!" Athelstan shouted back.
"Not anymore! You have chosen the gargoyles over your own kind--you betrayed your own race!"
"You can share their fate!" one shouted, raising a bow. Another handed him an arrow; he nocked it and sighted the weapon on the group below.
"There's no reasoning with them right now," one of the gargoyles said. "Everyone, back into the woods before they kill us all!"
The arrow lodged in the earth, inches from the tail of a fleeing gargoyle.
"What do we do now?"
"Get back to our catch and gather what we can from it," Athelstan said. "Then get as far away from this place as we can."
"Come! We'd best go warn them of what's happened."
"They deserve to know, Brother."
"I agree, Sister. But we should try not to frighten them. Just make them see."
"I don't believe it," the clan leader said softly. "We've always had a friendly relationship with the humans here."
"We'd had the same thing in our home, but what did it get us? Our clan is gone, our home is gone, our lives are gone!"
"I had heard about the attitude toward our kind growing rather frosted in the south, but... I never thought things could get so bad... especially so close to us," another of the resident gargoyles said.
"I have heard of clans in the heart of England being destroyed, but I thought then to be no more than rumors."
"I assure you, they aren't rumors."
"What will you do now?" the leader asked the newcomers.
"We haven't decided yet. When we left, all we thought of was leaving that horrible place.
"You are welcome to remain with us, as are your human friends, if you like."
"We thank you for your offer, cousin, but we are still too close to our former home to feel comfortable. Unless the others disagree with me, we will be moving on soon. But our friends may stay on if they like."
"Ye aren't safe traveling alone, my friend," Athelstan said. "I think I speak for all of us when I say we will go wherever ye do. We'll stay with ye for as long as it takes for ye to find a safe place to settle."
"Thank you, Athelstan. Our journey will be safer with you and the others to watch over us during the day. I understand the sacrifices you and the others are making for us, and I want to thank you."
"Think nothing of it, my friend. We 'ave lost much, just as you 'ave. We're in this t'gether."
"But you could have turned away at the gates."
"Could, maybe. But you know we wouldn't."
"You're certain you wish to move on?" the resident clan leader asked.
"Aye, we are," one of the newcomers replied. "Have you heard anything of the clans to the north?"
"Nothing similar to what has happened in the south. We assume they're doing well."
"Then we should go north, into Scotland."
"Agreed," another said.
"Will you at least remain the rest of the night?"
"Sunrise isn't long off. I think we'd best stay. Our thanks to you for having us, Cousins."
"You are welcome here as our kindred. We could not do otherwise."
The gargoyles awoke alongside their cousins to find their human companions waiting. "Supplies are being brought ta us," Athelstan said after the usual evening greetings. "We can leave as soon as we 'ave them, if ye all agree."
"Aye, I think it would be best to leave as soon as possible, to avoid involving our cousins here in our problems. They are so few here already... we'd best not endanger them."
A moment later, the resident clan leader, his second, and one other arrived with several sacks of dried food, water skins, and a few fresh fruits for the party to consume on their first night out. "Do you know what you will do now?" the leader asked.
"We hope to find refuge, and perhaps aid, amongst the Scottish clans."
"I wish you well, my cousins. Godspeed, and may you find what you seek."
"My thanks for what you have provided us. May your clan never suffer what ours has."
"I pray we do not," the leader whispered as the others gathered their human friends and glided away to the north, rapidly approaching the border between the two countries.
"Brother," one of the refugees whispered while airborne, "I don't want to sound as though I doubt your navigational skills, but how will we ensure we head north, rather than being turned around?"
"We're near the coast," the de facto leader replied. "We'll follow it into Scotland. Surely there will be a clan living at the sea's edge."
"That was many nights ago. After the first night's travel, we realized our human companions felt better on the ground. Though it slowed our progress to do so, we walked the remaining distance."
"We are thankful to have found you here," a female of the refugee group said. "We worried there might not be a clan here after all."
Around the newcomers, the Wyvern humans and gargoyles stared at these unfortunate souls, shocked. The story hit close to home for them. If they hadn't managed to change their recent behavior...
The party was over--no one had doubt of that. Slowly, the residents of Wyvern rose from their places from the table. Some quietly helped to clean up the remnants of the feast, while others retreated to their rooms or perches.
Brother Edmund approached the human refugees, stepping carefully around the hatchlings at his feet. He noticed several of the older gargoyles in the same predicament as they attempted to rise.
"I'm certain the clan leader will well attend to your friends' needs," he said. "If it doesn't trouble you to leave them, I can attend to your needs for the day. Baths and beds, perhaps?"
"It has been quite some time since we were able to sleep indoors, or bathe and change our clothing," Athelstan said.
"I believe we have accommodations for all six of you, and even a change of clothes if you don't mind a short wait while we find them," Edmund said, smiling and leading the group away.
Hudson joined the ten gargoyle refugees. "We 'ave room on our walls for ye to safely perch for the day, if ye like. If ye'll come with me..."
Conversation, if it existed at all in the courtyard, was stunted and choppy at the best. Most were lost in their own thoughts, and most, though they wouldn't admit to it, thought the same things as those to whom they were afraid to reveal these notions: What if the same tragedy had happened here?
Before long, the sun rose, freezing the gargoyles in stone sleep on the walls and cornices. Most of the humans turned in for the day, exhausted from spending the entire night at the ruined party; those who had slept the night took their positions to guard the walls, hearing word of the night's incident in passing from those whose places they took. The six Englishmen fell asleep quickly and slept deeply until just before sunset. Brother Edmund wrote a few pages in his journal, adding a little to the notes he'd recorded during the newcomers' tale, then too went to sleep--the last of those in attendance to do so.
The next night
"Brother Edmund," Hudson said, slightly uncomfortably. "I do not want ta impose on ye, but might ye attend ta th' hatchlings for a time while we meet with the refugees? I do not want to distract from this by 'aving them there, but I don't want to simply send them off, either. But I canna take one of my own out of this meeting; 'tis too important."
"Don't worry yourself," Edmund said. "I'll keep an eye on the lads and lasses."
"Thank ye. I'll 'ave them sent to your garden to meet you."
"Perhaps the library might be better. I'll have more room for them, and I'll be better able to keep track of them."
"Aye, perhaps so," Hudson replied after a moment of thought. "My thanks to ye for yuir help, Brother." He turned away and joined his clan, already gathering in the courtyard. He moved among others of his rookery, telling them to gather up the children. When they'd all been brought to him, he crouched down among them and said, "Brother Edmund would like to see all of ye in the library. I can't imagine what he plans for ye, but he promises ye'll enjoy it much more than this boring meeting."
"But--" one said.
"Shh! I want to see what Brother Edmund is doing," a second hissed.
"Don't ruin this for us!" a third added.
"All right. Come on, I bet I can beat you there!"
"I'll show you who can run faster!"
"Leader?" another asked. "Are you sure we shouldn't be here?"
"Go on and have fun, Lad. We'll fetch ye if we need ye."
As the children scampered away, one of Hudson's brothers leaned toward him. "We'll fetch you if we need you?"
"The wee bairns need to feel important. If they knew I was trying to keep them from this meeting, they'd do everything they could to stay."
"Aye." He shook his head. "I wish I could avoid this meeting myself. I've heard talk of what our cousins would like to do, and I do not like the sound of it."
"Dinnae worry yuirself; 'tis likely nothing," Hudson said, then started into the center of the group. "We've come here to discuss the issue of what can be done to aid our English brethren who came to us last night. However, I believe we do not need to discuss this matter in depth. We will welcome you with open arms if you wish to stay with us. And if you wish to continue on, we will provide you with ample supplies."
"You can do more to help us," the leader of the newcomers replied. "Your clans here seem very prosperous--rally the others to come to our aid."
"Come back to England with us. Bring others; come to our defense!"
"How can you even consider such a thing?" Demona cried. "This isn't our fight!"
"I do not want to sound cruel," Hudson said, "but I agree with the lass. Why should we take on a fight not our own? Especially one so far from our home."
"If you don't do anything now, you won't have to worry about going to the fight--it will come to you!"
"But our lives here are going so well," Agamemnon said. "We've had problems in the past, but the humans here have had the same problems among themselves. We have had the same problems among ourselves. They're unavoidable, and if everyone acted as extremely as you seem to think they do, we'd have no one left anywhere."
"You think you're safe here, but you don't see the whole picture of what is happening! You don't want to see how much danger you truly are in!"
"We are safe here! There is no need for us to leave our home for something we have no control over. If we fight them, relations will only grow worse."
"Cousins, there is no need for even you to return to your former home," Hudson said. "You have been offered sanctuary here. Why refuse it?"
"Because our home was wrongfully taken from us," the leader replied.
"We've all been wronged at some time. What matters is not what happens," Hudson said, glancing around at various members of his own clan, "but how we handle the consequences."
"But we cannot feel safe here! The humans--" the leader sputtered. "Humans destroyed our clan! They'll destroy yours if given a chance or a reason, whatever it may be! If you won't help us, please, at least separate yourselves from the humans here--don't leave yourselves at risk! Get your children away from that human and--"
"No!" Hudson bellowed uncharacteristically. "Our children are safe here. Humans are not our enemies. Nor are they yours! You traveled here in the company of humans--how can you turn your backs on those who protected you? How can you turn your backs on your friends?"
The group of refugees exchanged ashamed glances among themselves. After an awkward, tense moment, their leader sighed. "I am terribly sorry for what we have said to you. This is our fight alone--we should not have tried to involve you."
"Will you be staying with us, then?"
"No. We still wish to regain our home." He sighed again. "We will return to England."
"Are you certain this is the path you want to choose?"
"Yes," the leader replied. The other refugees nodded.
"We will provide you with supplies, then, and our best wishes for your luck to hold out."
"Thank you, cousins," the refugee leader said softly, turning to find his human companions. The other refugees joined them.
The group of refugees moved slowly among their Scottish cousins, making their farewells and receiving well-wishes. They then gathered up their human friends and the supplies given them by the residents of Wyvern. They leapt from the walls of the castle, having chosen to take to the air to speed their journey.
As the refugees glided off into the night, several of the Wyvern clan whispered among themselves, "Should we have allowed them to leave?"
"Did we do the right thing?"