Written by Todd Jensen
Story Idea by Alison Wilgus
Artwork by Danzeth and Jessica Entis
Previously on Dark Ages
DESDEMONA: Night after night, all of the available males come to me and try to woo my heart. I desire none of them and no matter what I do to discourage them, none of them will ever leave me alone.
OLIVER: Well, it seems to me, lass, that if you want the pestering to stop, you should let them think that you've given your heart to someone else. Then perhaps they will leave you in peace.
DESDEMONA: Do you believe that this would work?
OLIVER: Well, it's either that or continue to be chased night after night.
DESDEMONA: True. ---
OTHELLO: Well, brothers, if you two wish to pursue her, go ahead but without me. I'm no fool. It's clear enough that she doesn't care for our attentions.
IAGO: But, brother.... soon we'll run our fair prey to the ground and she will have to submit to the will of the victor.
OTHELLO: Bah. Say what you like, that is no way to take a mate. I wish you luck in your fool's quest, brothers. I have better things to do.
-- A Guard's Tale
* * *
DESDEMONA: You seem to be a nice enough sort, and having you around might convince the other males to leave me alone long enough to actually get some work done.
OTHELLO: A charade, then? A deception to play on our brothers?
DESDEMONA: Yes...something like that.
OTHELLO: That's rather dishonest of you.
DESDEMONA: Well... yes, but I'm tired of being interrupted in the middle of something each night because of some male trying to win my favor. And I'd also like to think we could become friends.
OTHELLO: Then it would be my pleasure to accompany you.
-- Ever Faithful
* * *
ARCHBISHOP DUNSTAN: My lord, as you know, the issue of the gargoyles in this area is again becoming a problem.
KING EDGAR: You are in charge of the gargoyle situation.
ARCHBISHOP DUNSTAN: I understand, my lord.
-- News From the South
* * * * *
From the Journal of Brother Edmund:
"It has been almost a year since I came to Castle Wyvern, and began to record my observations of the resident gargoyles upon these pages. And since my arrival, I have witnessed many events in their lives, some glad, some sorrowful. But none are so troubling as the hatred for them that grows in England, to the south. Since we were visited by the unfortunate souls fleeing persecution from that land, I have become all the more aware of the tragedy that has overcome the gargoyles that dwell there, and which threatens to make its way even to Scotland. The forces of ignorance and superstition are besieging this race, threatening its destruction. And sad to say, even men of the cloth disgrace themselves by participating in this unholy war, believing that the destruction of gargoyles is pleasing in the eyes of God.
"But will it end only with the gargoyles? Or will those of the children of Adam who support this race also be caught up in the whirlwind of prejudice? I fear that the latter will be the case." "Edmund and Balderich" by Danzeth * * * * *
The last rays of the departing sun faded from the western sky, and with a series of roars, the gargoyles mounted on the battlements of Castle Wyvern broke free from their stone shells. Fragments of their casings scattered over the walkways, quickly disintegrating into dust.
"What a glorious night," said the young blonde-haired female gargoyle whom Brother Edmund had secretly named "Desdemona" in his journals. For a few minutes, as the other members of the clan dispersed, heading to their various activities or posts, she gazed up at the stars gleaming in the heavens above. Then, she spread out her wings, and glided down from her usual perch on the battlements to the castle courtyard below.
Caping her wings, she made her way through the small crowd of gargoyles that surrounded her, glancing at each face as she passed it. The one whom she sought, however, was not among them.
"Looking for someone, my dear sister?" said a familiar voice behind her. She turned around, and recognized the speaker at once. It was the lean, saturnine-visaged rookery brother whose attentions she had noticed for some time now, and whom she was anything but delighted to see. He smiled at her, in what he had doubtless intended to be an expression of absolute charm. To Desdemona, it only appeared oily.
"Not you," she replied shortly, and brushed past him at once.
As usual, Iago appeared unable to take "no" for an answer. He followed after her, still smiling. "Observe how the moon hides its face tonight," he said, gesturing to the clouds that had covered the silvery orb in the night sky. "It knows only too well how its beauty is nothing compared to yours, and so must cower out of sight, rather than reveal its shame."
"I thank you," said Desdemona coolly. She continued to look through the courtyard for a different face.
In spite of her efforts, however, Iago continued to follow her about, making more of his witty little comments - or at least, to him, they doubtless seemed witty. "He seems to think that I am interested in him," she said to herself at last, after having heard more than enough of these. "Though why, I cannot even begin to imagine. There may be shiftier, more untrustworthy gargoyles in Scotland than he, but if there are any, I have not been cursed with their company."
Then, only a little ways to her left, she saw another rookery brother, the one with the bent horn and beak. She smiled with relief, and ran over to him at once, without even needing to look back and make certain that Iago was still behind her. Grabbing Thersites by the arm, she dragged him away from whatever he had been doing (as usual, not much), straight towards Iago. Thersites, needless to say, was protesting loudly all the way.
"I'd like to know what the meaning of this is, rookery sister," he said. "Can't you just let me mind my own business? Do I drag you away by the arm when you're right in the middle of something?"
"No, fortunately," said Desdemona. "But it's not myself who desired your company."
"Who, then?" asked Thersites. "Who in this clan has nothing better to do than send you off to drag me somewhere that I don't feel like going?"
"My brother," Desdemona replied, pushing him straight in front of Iago. "He was about to go hunting, and was wondering if you wished to accompany him."
Iago stared at Thersites, for once speechless in astonishment. Before he could speak, however, Thersites began to deliver his protest at once.
"Oh, so this is what it's all about," he said. "Wonderful. Simply wonderful. You want me to go traipsing about in those woods, so soon after it's rained, and getting close to winter at that. I can't think of anything I'd much rather do than risk catching my death from a cold that I'm almost bound to pick up in that damp, chilly forest. Especially if a snowstorm comes along, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if one did. Now that's definitely not my idea of fun, being buried in several feet of snow and not being found until the spring thaws."
"But - " Iago began. Thersites would not let him finish, however, but continued on with his lengthy speech.
"And if the weather doesn't get us, whatever lurks in the forest will. Just imagine if we come across one of those enormous wild boars, all glowing eyes and tusks sharper than lances, looking for somebody to pick a fight with. You may want to be gored by one of those things, but I most certainly do not. And then there's the likelihood of bandits, or even some leftover Vikings, with random bloodshed on their minds. Or even giant spiders. I'm sure that there's a whole nest of them in those woods somewhere, who'd like nothing better than a gargoyle to wrap up in their webs and feast on."
"There are no giant spiders - " Iago began again.
"Yes, you might know that and I might know that," Thersites interrupted again. "But do the giant spiders know that? No, I'm sure that they're just waiting for us to come along so that they can have us for supper. If you're that set on being eaten by them - "
But Desdemona was out of hearing range by this time, having quietly slipped away while Iago was still trapped by Thersites' tirade. "That one does have his uses sometimes," she said to herself, with a slight smile on her face.
However, she soon forgot about Thersites and Iago alike. For now she could see the very gargoyle that she had been looking for. A pale, powder-blue gargoyle, with long white hair, who was perched on the battlements above, looking out over the Scottish countryside to the east, apparently lost in thought. Quietly, she climbed up to his roost. "Desdemona and Othello" by Jessica Entis
He turned to greet her, smiling silently, and they shared a brief embrace. Then, without a word, they glided off into the night. * * * * *
The three black-garbed men reined in their horses, and gazed up at the two winged shadows that moved against the stars in the distance. Then they stared at each other, troubled expressions on their faces. Two of them clutched the crucifixes that hung from chains around their necks, tightly and protectively, and swallowed hard. The third, who sat on his horse in the middle, appeared calmer, but even he had an unsettled look in his eyes.
"Those must be the demons that His Grace warned us about in London," said one of the men at last, in a quavering voice. "I must confess, I had not thought them to be so terrifying."
"Yes, that they are, Father Edric," said the horseman in the center. "To think that the ignorant Scots still trust those creatures." He shook his head in disgust.
"The darkness still holds sway in this unhappy land," said the third rider. "Let us pray that, someday, these benighted people will realize the error of their ways, and cast out the monsters from their presence, even as our countryfolk have done in England."
"Wise and noble words, Father Aldhelm," said the rider in the center. "But we are not here for that purpose. We have a different errand that brings us here. And we have lingered here long enough. Let us continue on our way."
The three of them rode on their way, heading towards the gates of Castle Wyvern. * * * * *
Othello and Desdemona sat together on a hillside, near the castle. They gazed westwards at the sea, which stretched out of sight beneath the silvery light of the stars. Desdemona leaned against her lover's shoulder, and sighed contentedly.
"Such a peaceful night, my love," she said happily. "Do you not agree with me?"
"I do," Othello said, after a moment's hesitation, nodding nervously. There was a slightly uncomfortable look on his face as he spoke.
"I am glad that we were able to come here tonight," Desdemona continued. "Our first night together outside the castle. How lovely the sea is, so calm. So hard to believe that those are the same waters that the Vikings sailed upon to reach Wyvern and attack it, so many weeks ago."
Othello said nothing, but simply nodded. The faintly uneasy look on his handsome features remained, deepening slightly.
"Our leader seems more at peace these days," Desdemona continued. "His journey to his mate's grave must have been good for him. He still misses her, I am certain, but much of the pain has eased in his heart."
Othello only nodded again, still not breaking his silence.
"What do you suppose it will be like?" Desdemona asked him.
Her smile never wavered, but Othello's eyes widened. "W-what?" he stammered.
"To be mates, silly!" said Desdemona. She sighed again. "Wouldn't it be wonderful? And perhaps then our rookery brothers would leave me in peace...."
She continued to speak, but Othello hardly listened to a single word that she uttered. He swallowed hard. "Mates?" he said to himself, so low that she could not hear him. "So soon? But - we've only just begun to court!"
He jumped to his feet, almost knocking over his startled companion. "I - I have to leave," he stammered.
"What?" Desdemona asked him, staring up at him in bewilderment. "But why, my love? We only just came here."
"I must speak with the Leader," said Othello hurriedly. "Your words about him suddenly reminded me." And before she could say another word, he leaped off the summit of the hill, and glided back towards the castle.
Surprised and hurt, Desdemona stared after him, as he dwindled into the distance, then sighed and held her head in her hands. "What am I going to do?" she said to herself. * * * * *
Brother Edmund was seated comfortably in the castle library, reading quietly. Balderich, his pet squirrel, sat on his shoulder, busily munching an acorn.
Suddenly, the door was flung open, and one of Prince Malcolm's pages dashed in, panting frantically. "Sir," he gasped, then grabbed hold of the table to steady himself.
Brother Edmund put down his copy of the Venerable Bede, and looked puzzledly, though with an expression of paternal compassion, at the youngster. "Yes, Aidan?" he asked. "Is anything the matter?"
But the young page was so much out of breath that nearly a minute passed before he was able to speak. Edmund looked at him with a concerned frown, while Balderich chittered uneasily from his perch.
"Three men have come to see you, sir," panted Aidan, finally having recovered his voice. "They - "
But he was not permitted to continue further. For three men, dressed in the black robes of priests, suddenly pushed their way into the room. Aidan hurriedly retreated into a corner, as the newcomers swept the library with a cold, disdainful gaze.
"So, Edmund," the leader of them spoke, frowning at the pile of books piled up on the table before the monk. "This is where we find you hiding."
Edmund rose from his chair to greet his guests. "I bid you welcome, sirs," he said. "Although I fear that you have the advantage over me. You know my name, but I fear that I do not know yours."
"My name is Father Wulfstan," said the leader of the priestly trio. "My companions are Father Edric and Father Aldhelm. We are members of the household of His Grace Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury, Primate of England, and have been dispatched hither at his orders to search for you."
"The Archbishop of Canterbury himself?" said Brother Edmund in surprise. "Dear me, I had hardly thought that a simple monk such as myself would be so important in his eyes."
"It has been many years since we have heard from you," Father Wulfstan continued. "His Grace the Archbishop has been wondering what you have been doing. As have many of the lesser bishops of England beneath him."
"So we came hither, to learn for ourselves," said Father Edric. "And it is clear enough to our eyes that you seem to be doing nothing of great import." He shook his head in a dismissive fashion.
Brother Edmund grimaced at the man's patronizing tone, but said nothing. Aidan had slipped out of the library by this time, leaving him alone with the three self-invited guests.
"Will you not offer us something to drink?" Father Wulfstan asked. He was clearly the natural leader of the three, a tall lean man with penetrating gray eyes and brownish-grey hair, cut in the traditional tonsure of Rome. "It has been a long and arduous journey here through this untamed Scottish wilderness, to a castle built in the loneliest reach of this island imaginable. And of which we have not heard good report."
"Of course, good sirs," said Edmund. "My apologies. Pray you remain here, while I fetch some wine for you from the larder." And with that, he hurried from the library, while Father Wulfstan seated himself comfortably in the very chair that the monk had just vacated. Edric and Aldhelm pulled two other chairs up to the table, and sat down in them as well to join him.
"It would be so like him," said Aldhelm. "Dwelling in a barbaric kingdom whose people cannot even calculate the date of Easter correctly. And in a castle of evil repute, infested by demons."
"Too true," said Edric, nodding. "Have you heard the tales about this place? Only a few months back, it was attacked by a great sea monster, something almost surely bred in the pit of Hades. And not long before that, there was the visit from a monstrous ogre, and a man with two heads. I hardly like the sound of that."
"Neither do I," said Father Wulfstan. "And then there is the castle's resident sorcerer, the man known as the Archmage. I have heard enough about him to feel ill at ease, merely being under the same roof as he. To think that Brother Edmund should choose to house himself in such a place as this."
"Well, the Archbishop will soon have his report," said Edric. "And before we leave this accursed castle, we will know what course we are to take, to save this monk from its perils, both to his body and to his soul." * * * * *
Desdemona wandered down the castle corridor, lost in thought, and barely noticing which direction she was going. All that she could do was talk to herself, mulling over her problem.
"What shall I do?" she asked herself. "He is my friend as well as my love, and I cannot bear the thought of losing him. But I know nothing of his thoughts. How can I know what a young male thinks? How can I even discover how to handle him?"
She had no answers, and shook her head sadly. "I need advice," she said, with a sigh. "But whom can I seek it from?"
In her distraction, she rounded a corner of the hallway, and almost collided with Brother Edmund. To do the monk justice, he had himself been so lost in his own thoughts that he had barely noticed her.
"I'm sorry, my child," he said, looking at her concernedly. "Are you all right?"
"Yes -" she began, looking up at him, then suddenly stopped short. She looked at the kindly priest, who himself was gazing at her in a compassionate way, and then nodded thoughtfully. "Brother Edmund?" she asked.
"Yes?" he said.
"I need your help...." she began.
Brother Edmund frowned. "Now may not be the best time to speak, my child," he said. "There are pressing matters that I must attend to, and...."
"But this is urgent," she said. "I must have your counsel on this matter. It is of great importance to me." She looked up at him, her eyes pleading.
Edmund looked at her troubled face, then sighed. "Go to my study, and wait for me there," he said to her at last, in a gentle voice. "I will speak with you there, as soon as I can. Once I have attended to certain other duties of mine, I will join you, and provide what counsel I can."
"Thank you," she said. And with that, she rushed on her way.
Brother Edmund sighed again, and turned to Balderich, still riding on his shoulder, and looking more than a little discomfited himself. "I fear that Father Wulfstan and his companions may well look more than a little askance on what comfort I may be able to provide the maid," he said to the squirrel. "But what else can I do? I can scarcely desert her, Balderich. Not when she is so clearly in distress."
Balderich looked back at him, and chittered in reply.
"You are right, my friend," said the monk. "We can hardly keep our guests waiting. Let us be on our way, that we may serve them quickly." * * * * *
A few minutes later, Brother Edmund entered the library, carrying a tray upon which sat a decanter of wine and three goblets. The three priests were still seated at the table, speaking to each other in hushed tones. They looked up upon noticing him, and hurriedly broke off their conversation.
"Ah, Brother Edmund," said Father Wulfstan. "So you finally deign to return to us. You took long enough to go about your errand."
"My apologies, good sirs," said Brother Edmund. "I had a matter to attend to, on the way to the kitchens."
"I see," said Wulfstan, looking at Edmund and frowning thoughtfully. "Well, we shall let that pass, for now."
There was silence, as Brother Edmund poured out the wine in the goblets, and handed them out to the three priests. They drank from them for a while, then Father Aldhelm cleared his throat and spoke.
"We will be staying here at the castle for several days, Brother Edmund," he said. "We intend to keep a close watch on you and your activities, to see how you conduct yourself here at Prince Malcolm's court. When we have learned enough to satisfy us, we shall return to London, to give our report to the Archbishop."
"I see," said Brother Edmund, nodding. "Well, my friends, I thank you for your concern, then. And I hope that I shall do nothing here to give myself a bad report to His Grace."
"Of course not," said Father Wulfstan, smiling in an odd way. A way that made Brother Edmund shiver, in spite of himself.
"Now, if it please you, good sirs," the monk continued, "I must excuse myself from your presence. I have my duties to attend to, and cannot delay them. So, if I have my leave....?"
"By all means, Brother Edmund," said Wulfstan, still smiling thinly. "You are dismissed."
"I thank you, sir," said Brother Edmund. And with that, he quietly left the library.
There was a moment's silence in the room, as the three priests from the Archbishop's household looked at one another. Then, Father Edric rose from his chair, and departed as well. * * * * *
Othello sat on the battlements of the castle's westward-facing curtain wall, looking out over the sea, not saying a word. His face was even more troubled than it had been on the hillside with Desdemona, and he hardly seemed to notice either the great expanse of ocean stretching endlessly towards the west, or the stars that glittered in the night sky above.
"Ah, brother," said a voice from behind him. Othello turned, to find Iago standing behind him on the walkway.
"I must admit, I had not expected to find you here, my brother," Iago continued. "I just came up here to have some peace and quiet, after listening for almost half an hour to one of my rookery brothers deliver his explanation for why he does not wish to go hunting. I now know far more of his reasons for disliking the sport than any gargoyle has a right to know."
"Well, you are welcome here," said Othello, speaking slowly, only just barely noting his rookery brother's presence.
"Something seems to be troubling you, brother," said Iago, perching a few feet to his right. "Do you wish to share it with me? I can promise you, I am a good listener."
"Very well, then," said Othello. "I fear that I may have upset my love tonight."
"Yes, I noticed her returning to the castle, some minutes after you had done the same," said Iago. "And with a very troubled look upon her face. What happened, anyway, that so saddened her? You can tell me, my friend."
"She spoke of how someday soon, we might become mates," said Othello. "I - became alarmed, and fled back to the castle at once, when she told me of that desire of hers."
"Oh, dear," said Iago, shaking his head. "Yes, I can see how that might upset her."
"I treated her most cruelly," said Othello, "and I wish that I had not so grieved her. "But what else could I have done? Sat there like a fool, while she planned out the rest of our lives together? We have only just come of age, brother, have passed the trials to enter adulthood this very year. I hardly feel ready yet to become her mate, or anyone else's, for that matter. To tell you the truth, I have not yet even become fully accustomed to the fact that we are courting."
Iago listened thoughtfully, nodding. "Yes, most troublesome," he said, in a sympathetic tone of voice.
"I fear that we are running into things far too quickly," Othello continued. "But she sees things differently. What am I to do?" he asked helplessly.
"Do not be so harsh on yourself, my brother," said Iago. "I can assure you, you have done nothing wrong. You did what any sensible young warrior would have done. If anyone is to blame, it's her. She seeks to control your life utterly, to destroy your freedom and independence, to make you subject to her in every way. Trust me, my brother. You are far better off without her."
Othello smiled, just slightly, but enough to show that his gloom had been shaken off his shoulders. "I thank you, my brother," he said.
"Think nothing of it," said Iago, in a good-natured tone of voice. "After all, what are friends for?" * * * * *
"...and so, there was nothing for me to do, but return to the castle, and seek you out," Desdemona said to Brother Edmund. The two were now in the monk's study, Brother Edmund seated in his chair, while Balderich was now curled up, fast asleep, on the window-sill. Edmund listened intently, his fingers steepled in front of his face.
"You must care greatly about him, my child," he said at last, "to be fighting so for your relationship with him, after such a rejection."
Desdemona laughed bitterly. "That is what is so ironic about all this," she said to him. "Do you recall, Brother Edmund, how earlier this year, I was pursued by nearly every young male in the clan?"
"I believe so," said Brother Edmund, after a moment's thought. "That was during the ill-fated visit from Lord Donal and Lady Ingrid of Glencarrick, was it not?"
She nodded. "They never gave me a moment's peace," she said. "I could not go anywhere without stumbling upon one of them, ready to woo me. I tried to dissuade them from their attentions, but nothing would turn them aside. I was forced to spend most of my time hiding, behind tapestries, in the hay in the stables, and the Dragon knows where else. And I had to compete with one of my rookery brothers for those hiding-places as well," she added, smiling briefly before continuing.
"Ah, yes," said Brother Edmund, nodding.
"And then, a kind human guard spoke with me, and offered some friendly advice," said Desdemona. "He suggested that I choose one of my rookery brothers to court with, so that the others would leave me in peace. I thought over his words, and the more that I did so, the more I felt that he was right.
"But then there was the question of which of the young males I was to choose. The one with the crest like an ancient helmet was handsome and brave, but also not particularly imaginative. The lavender one was a friend, and I preferred him as such rather than as a lover. And then there was the one with the twisted horn - I never considered him for even a second. Then there was the lean one with the goatee and the earring - and I felt chilled always, by the way that he gazed upon me. I felt towards him the way that I would feel towards a venomous adder. And so it was with all but a handful of my rookery brothers - most of them did not seem right to me. With one exception."
Brother Edmund nodded, not saying a word.
"In truth," Desdemona continued, "my choice of him may have stemmed largely from his having simply been in the right place at the right time. And that he clearly longed after me, as well.
"So now I am struggling to save a relationship that I never even desired to begin with. It is just that - well, I have grown accustomed to his presence. To spending time with him, being in his company. And now, I cannot bear the thought of our being apart."
Brother Edmund nodded sympathetically, again. However, a smile curled his lips, one plainly to be seen. And one which Desdemona had clearly noticed, as well, by her next words.
"What do you find so amusing about my misery?" she asked him. "I see nothing in it to provoke mirth of any sort."
"It's not that," the monk replied. "What I am thinking of is something else entirely."
"And that would be?" she inquired.
"How wonderful it is," he said, "to see someone so much in love. Especially when that someone is as young as you."
His face grew more serious now, though still with the hint of the gentle smile at his mouth. "Speak to him," he said. "Tell him what you feel towards him, and why you do so. Let him know how much you care about him."
Desdemona smiled and nodded. "Thank you, Brother Edmund," she said. "You have been of much help to me. I will seek him at once."
And with those words, she jumped up onto the windowsill, taking care not to tread on the still-sleeping Balderich. She spread out her wings, and in a moment, was gone from the room.
Brother Edmund smiled again, and picked up his quill pen. Quietly, he dipped it into the ink well on his desk, and began to write in the book laid open before him.
Outside the monk's study, Father Edric straightened up, a disapproving frown on his face. He tucked the wax tablet on which he had been furiously scribbling with his stylus away into his robes, then turned, and walked silently down the corridor, back to the library. * * * * *
An hour later, Desdemona was seated on the battlements of the highest tower in the castle, looking and feeling very much at a loss. She had searched all about for her rookery brother, but had found not a trace of him. Nor had she found anybody who knew where he was, whether gargoyle or human.
Admittedly, many of her rookery siblings were away. Ever since the Viking attack on the castle that had cemented the alliance between the clan and Prince Malcolm's people, the gargoyles had taken to patrolling the lands about, to watch for any more invading armies and alert the garrison if need be. Not only was the Leader absent on these rounds, but so were many of the younger gargoyles, such as Goliath, Ajax, and Diomedes. Asrial was away in her tower, doubtless tinkering with another one of her devices; it was highly unlikely that she had seen any trace of Othello, so engrossed would she have been in her pursuits. Demona was unable to be found, as had often been the case with her of late. As for Thersites, he had likely found some hiding place to avoid being given any work to do, whether inside or outside the castle, as usual; Desdemona had no great inclination to search for him.
She looked down at the battlements below, and saw one familiar figure seated upon them. She recognized him at once as Iago, and sighed.
"I'd sooner ask a Viking where my brother is to be found than him," she said to herself. "But who else is there?" And so saying, she spread her wings, and glided down to land beside him.
"Greetings, brother," she said to him, noting with a shudder how he smiled eagerly - too eagerly - upon seeing her.
"Well met, sister," said Iago, his voice sounding almost leering to her ears.
"Have you seen my rookery brother?" Desdemona continued, speaking in such a tone of voice as to make it clear enough to him which rookery brother she meant. "I can find not a trace of him anywhere within the castle."
Iago shook his head. "I know his whereabouts no more than you do," he said, in a voice laden with regret. "I am sorry, my dear sister."
Desdemona sighed. "I thank you, my brother," she said, and turned to leave. Before she could depart, however, Iago placed his hand on her shoulder.
"My sister, I ~am~ very sorry about what has happened between you and he," he said. "But I would not wish you to fret too much over it. After all," and here he took a step closer to her, "there are other males in the castle." He smiled in what looked to her like a repulsive leer.
Disgusted, she swatted his hand away, and stormed off. Iago watched her go, without saying another word. An evil, self-congratulatory grin spread across his face.
Moments later, Othello alighted on the battlements beside him. "Did anyone come looking for me while I was gone, brother?" he inquired.
"No," Iago replied with a shrug. "No one at all." * * * * *
Brother Edmund sighed, and laid down his quill pen. He looked at Balderich, who was seated on the windowsill of his study once more, happily chewing on another acorn.
"You hardly know how fortunate you are, my friend," he said to the squirrel. "You've not a worry to weigh upon you. While I, on the other hand, have two problems to handle.
"First, there is young Desdemona. I know that I should be concentrating on copying this manuscript for the Prince's library, but my thoughts keep straying to her troubles. How is she faring with her love? Has she been able to mend their troubled bonds? And I can learn nothing of what has passed between them until sunset. Fortunately, that is not too far away, and I have not long to wait.
"But these emissaries from Archbishop Dunstan trouble me still more. I do not know for certain what brings them here to Wyvern, but I know much of their master. The Archbishop is a pious man, yes, but also stern and unforgiving. Even King Edgar would think twice before crossing him. And some of the stories that I have heard of him - " he shook his head.
"And Father Wulfstan and his friends seem of much the same mettle. No matter where I go, one of the three always seems to be there, watching me. Saying nothing, not once, but merely watching. I am loath to think evil of my fellow men of the cloth, but still, their presence does worry me greatly."
Balderich made no response. He merely continued to nibble at the acorn clasped in his front paws.
"I have not sounded them out on what their views towards gargoyles are," said Edmund. "But I can guess only too well. The tidings from England were all too clear on which way the wind blows there. Massacres are under way. Entire clans are being destroyed by the English, by the very people of the land of my birth. I sometimes wonder - how fare our visitors from a few months ago? Do they still sleep soundly in the day, and roam freely at night? Or has death overtaken them as well? If only I knew.
"And if only my fellow men could see past their fears and understand what gargoyles truly are. Then things would be better, for both peoples. But there seems little hope of that, in this year of Grace." He shook his head sadly. "And the worst of it is, they claim to do it in God's name. How it must grieve the Lord at times, that he should be made the pretext for the foulest of deeds."
The sun's last rays departed the western sky, and night fell. Brother Edmund returned to his writing, but had not been at it for long when a knock sounded at the door to his study.
"Come in," said the monk, without looking up.
The door opened, and Desdemona entered, accompanied by Goliath. The young female gargoyle was close to tears, and her rookery brother guided her to a bench standing against the wall, a troubled look on his face.
"Is aught the matter, my friends?" Brother Edmund asked concernedly, rising from his chair and walking over to them.
"Something is wrong with my rookery sister," Goliath said to him. "I do not know what it is, but she has been like this ever since we awakened. I did not know how I could help her, so I brought her to you, in the hopes that you might be able to find a remedy."
Brother Edmund nodded, and looked at the distraught blonde gargoyle.
"Is she ill, Brother Edmund?" Goliath asked him.
"Her malady is of the spirit, rather than of the body, my friend," Edmund replied, after a moment's silence. "I can bring her some consolation, and mend her heart. But it would be better if I spoke to her alone."
"I understand," said Goliath. He turned and quietly left the study, closing the door behind him.
Edmund picked up a small piece of cloth from his desk, and handed it to Desdemona, once Goliath was gone. "What troubles you, my child?" he asked her, in a gentle voice.
"He - he won't even talk to me..." she sobbed, angrily wiping away the tears. "I want to his perch, to find him, and.... The arrogant, conceited pig! He would no even look at me!"
She buried her face in her hands. "I don't know why I even bother...."
Brother Edmund sat down on the bench beside her, and held her four-fingered hand in his own five-fingered one, patting it reassuringly. "You only bother because you love him," he said to her, in a calm and gentle voice. "And you cannot - will not - give up on him because of this. It's only natural for young males to be uneasy and uncertain about courting. You simply have to talk him through it."
She looked up at him, her eyes still moist. "You are right, Brother Edmund," she said, her voice still unsteady but stronger now. "And you have been of much help to me. Thank you."
She rose from the bench and walked towards the door. But just as she was about to grasp the handle, the door swung open and Father Edric entered the room, a grim expression on his face.
Brother Edmund hurriedly rose to his feet, and Desdemona shrank back from the newcomer. The English priest strode into the center of the study, then turned to the startled young gargoyle, glaring at her with a look little short of revulsion. "Do you mind?" he asked her, in a voice so icy that it was a wonder that icicles did not appear on the roof above.
Desdemona hurriedly left the room, without a word. Father Edric closed the door sharply behind her, then stared Edmund fully in the face.
"Father Edric," said Brother Edmund, managing to keep his voice steady. "I - am surprised to see you."
"Yes," said Father Edric sharply, seating himself in the chair behind the desk where Brother Edmund had sat before Desdemona had entered the room. "I can imagine. What business did you have with that - that creature? It is hardly seemly for a man of holy orders to have congress with beings such as her."
"She came to me, seeking counsel," said Brother Edmund, remaining calm with an effort. "I could hardly turn her away. It is part of my duties to give aid to those who request it of me."
"I hardly think that those vows were meant to be extended towards such as she," said Father Edric. He leaned back in his chair, shifting himself into a more comfortable position. "You - speak with these creatures often, I imagine? My associates and myself have seen groups of the younger beasts assembling in the library, early in the evening. Why is that?"
"I have been giving them lessons, sir," said Brother Edmund, frowning slightly.
"What sort of 'lessons'?" Father Edric asked. "Not on religion, I trust?"
"No, sir," said Brother Edmund. "I do read to them from the Holy Scriptures, or from Lives of the Saints, from time to time, but that is not the focus of my teachings."
"All that I can say, then," said Father Edric, "is not to bother trying to save their souls. You can't save what doesn't exist."
Brother Edmund silently counted to a hundred, then spoke again. "Why do you ask such things of me, anyway? Sir," he added quickly.
"It is our duty to know them," replied Father Edric, smiling thinly. He rose from his chair. "I wish you a fair evening, Brother Edmund," he said, and left the room.
Brother Edmund shook his head, as he sat down again in his chair. "I must be careful, Balderich," he said to his squirrel. "If I had not stayed myself in time, I might have replied to him much harsher than I did. I fear that older habits of mine might have been awakened. Habits more befitting the housecarl who helped King Edred drive Eric Bloodaxe from York, seventeen years ago, rather than the monk and healer I have now become."
He shook his head again. "I still do not know what Father Edric and his friends intend," he said. "But I fear for the gargoyles. They clearly meet with little favor in the eyes of our guests." * * * * *
Othello and Iago sat on the battlements facing westwards over the sea, their wings caped about them. The night was a cold one, but neither of them noticed. They had other things to ponder.
"I should never have treated her as I did," said Othello, staring down at the ground far below him, at the base of the castle wall, rather than at his rookery brother or the sea. "For the second night, I have wronged my sister and love. I hardly deserve her, after all the times that I have turned my back upon her, ignoring her words."
"You are much too hard on yourself, brother," replied Iago calmly, shaking his head. "I've never known anyone so likely to drown himself in guilt than you. You have done nothing wrong."
"Nothing wrong?" Othello protested. "I refused to speak to her!"
"And you were right to do so," said Iago. "What fault of yours is it that she should charge up to you, only minutes after you had awakened, demanding that you speak with her, ranting and raving like a madwoman? None at all! Any sane gargoyle would have acted as you did."
"But is that reason enough?" Othello asked. "Would it not have been kinder to her to at least hear her out first?"
"Kinder to her, perhaps," said Iago. "But to yourself? I mean you no offense, brother, but you seem almost inclined to surrender yourself and your freedom into the keeping of a young female determined to bend you utterly to her will. You would do better to leave her alone, my friend. You are better off without her."
"Maybe," said Othello doubtfully. He kept his eyes lowered as he spoke. * * * * *
"This must be the last of them, Balderich," said Brother Edmund, fitting a rolled-up parchment scroll on the top of a small stack of similar scrolls and books. "Why Father Wulfstan and his friends wish to inspect the castle's annals, I do not know. But they have demanded them, and we have no choice but to deliver them."
Balderich scrambled up onto the monk's shoulder, carefully steadying himself. Edmund looked at him and sighed.
"I know how you feel, my friend," he said. "They have been at this for almost a week now. I can hardly get a moment's rest without their making some demand of me. I must guide them around the castle, show them every corner of it - save only the rookery, which they would not enter. They seemed to fear that setting foot in that place would pollute them. More of their suspicion towards gargoyles, I imagine. Small love they've shown towards any of the clan in all this time.
"And then there are the constant meetings with Prince Malcolm and the Captain of the Guard that they have demanded I arrange for them. The errands that I must run for them. 'Brother Edmund, refill my goblet!' 'Brother Edmund, fetch us some bread and meat from the kitchen!' 'Brother Edmund, bring us more books from the library!' How my legs desire a rest from these missions.
"If only I knew what they wanted of me," he continued, walking out of his study and heading towards the guest chambers that they had marked out for their own in the keep. They were accustomed to meet here now, rather than in the library, and interrogate him more times than he cared to count. "I have a feeling in my heart, my friend, that this is more than a simple investigation. Much more."
It was just then that he almost ran into Desdemona, or rather, the other way around. The blonde gargoyle had come storming down the hall like a living whirlwind, her eyes blazing crimson. One hand had grabbed hold of a struggling Othello by the arm, and was dragging him along in her wake.
"Brother Edmund!" he cried to the bewildered monk. "You must help me! She's gone utterly mad!"
Brother Edmund steadied both himself and the pile of books and scrolls in his arms, then turned to Desdemona. "What on earth is the matter, my child?" he asked her.
"I'll tell you what's the matter!" Desdemona retorted, her eyes still an enraged scarlet. "This - this male just called me a lunatic!"
"Perhaps you had better tell me the entire tale," said Brother Edmund to her, in a soft, compassionate tone.
"That I most certainly will," Desdemona said, her lovely face contorted in her fury. "I met him in the courtyard, full of determination not to let him elude me this time. And I tried to tell him that I was sorry that I had tried moving too fast with him, but that I still cared about him, and did not wish to see him acting like this.
"And what was his response? He said that I had better be sorry, that I was the one who was trying to control his life. That I had tried to cling to him like a vine, frightened him away, and then demanded to speak with him, ranting and raving, like a lunatic!" She glowered in Othello's direction. "Can you believe that?"
"And is this true?" Edmund asked Othello.
He said nothing, but merely silently nodded for an answer.
"Now, why do you think these things?" Edmund asked him, in a calm and gentle voice.
"Well," Othello began, "our brother said - "
But Desdemona would not let him finish. "Him?" she cried in disgust. Apparently, in that uncanny way gargoyles have, to make up for the fact that they have no personal names, she had realized exactly which member of the clan Othello meant. "You listened to him?"
"Please, both of you," said Edmund hurriedly, stepping between them before things could grow worse. "Sit down, and listen to me."
The quarrel stopped, and both gargoyles crouched down on opposite sides of the corridor. Laying his books and scrolls down in a careful pile on the stone floor, Brother Edmund now turned to Desdemona.
"I know that you feel hurt," he said to her, in a soothing voice. "But you must not allow your anger to get the better of you. You really do care about your brother, remember; you told me as much yourself. And that should be reason enough not to permit such petty quarrels to come between you and he."
Desdemona nodded silently. The monk then turned to Othello.
"As a man of the cloth for many years now," he said, "I can hardly say much about matters of the heart. But this I can say. It is natural for you to seek counsel from your rookery brothers, to guide you on your path when the way ahead seems doubtful. But their advice can only take you so far. In the end, it is best to consult your own heart, to trust it before the words of others. Trust your heart - and more than that, trust hers, as well. They may serve as the best beacons to guide you to safe harbor."
Othello nodded without a word as well.
Brother Edmund spoke to both for a while longer, along those lines, and at last, the two young gargoyles arose. Quietly, Othello held out his hand to Desdemona, who grasped it warmly. And they walked down the corridor, leaving Brother Edmund to gather up his load of books and scrolls again. The monk heaved a sigh of relief.
"I would that all my troubles could be solved as quickly," he said to Balderich, as he proceeded down the hallway himself. But he had just rounded a corner when he found Father Edric standing there, looking at him sharply, his arms folded across his chest.
"You have certainly taken your time today, Brother Edmund," he said sharply. "I was sent to remind you of your scheduled meeting with us. I see that you are late on your way to present the documents that we demanded of you to us."
"An unavoidable delay, good sir," Brother Edmund replied. "I had to provide assistance to an unhappy young couple."
"Well, you are done with that now," said Edric. "Father Wulfstan wishes to speak with you. Now."
Silently, Brother Edmund followed the English priest down the corridor, until they reached the rooms that had been assigned to the Archbishop's emissaries. Father Edric went in first, ushering Brother Edmund to follow him.
Father Wulfstan and Father Aldhelm stood there, gazing sternly at Brother Edmund. As he walked into the room, Father Wulfstan continued to stand directly before him, while Edric stood on the monk's left, and Aldhelm on the right.
"So you finally deign to join us, Brother Edmund," said Father Wulfstan sternly. "After wasting precious time giving advice to a pair of soulless monsters."
Brother Edmund started, but Wulfstan held up his hand, staying his voice. "Do not deny it," he said. "One of us was keeping watch on you, if in secret, all the while. And we saw well enough how much time you spend in the company of the demonic beings that inhabit this place, speaking to them as if they were Christian folk. Such behavior is not seemly, Brother Edmund. We do not approve - and neither, we can be certain, would His Grace the Archbishop."
"And you would have me turn my back on them?" Brother Edmund asked. "Ignore their troubles, even when they come to me, pleading for my assistance?"
"You taint your soul by associating with them," said Father Aldhelm. "Demons should not be treated with, but destroyed."
"Gargoyles are not demons," Brother Edmund replied. "They are beings as natural as you and I, or the beasts of the field." He stroked Balderich's fur tenderly as he spoke. "And are not they all children of God?"
"Not creatures of that sort," retorted Father Edric. "The Lord would never create such abominations, hideous destroyers whose very lives disgrace the world. Savages that belong in the fiery pits of Hades, not on the Earth with the children of men."
"You wrong gargoyles, to speak of them in this way," protested Brother Edmund. "I have spent less than a twelvemonth in this castle, but already during that time I have come to know that clan that dwells here. These beings are not monsters. They are noble and honorable folk, who have protected Prince Malcolm and his subjects against harm many times. When the Vikings attacked Castle Wyvern, it was thanks to the gargoyles that we were able to drive them back, and tame their fury."
"And it would have been far better for Prince Malcolm and his people if they had been slain by the Northmen, rather than imperil their souls by allying themselves with these monstrosities," said Father Wulfstan sternly.
Brother Edmund stared at him in shock, and was silent for a few moments, still recovering from this callous response. "Nor is Prince Malcolm the first to recognize the true worth of gargoyles," he continued. "I have read that there was a great king over the Welsh, five hundred years ago, who also made an alliance with them."
"I have heard of that king, as well," said Father Wulfstan. "Arthur was his name, or something like that. But he had a sorcerer for his advisor, whose father was the Prince of Darkness himself, or so the old tales say. No doubt it was through that warlock's evil rede that he made the pact - and he came to a bad end, slain in battle by his own son. That should be evidence enough that his treatment of those accursed beasts did not meet with Heaven's approval. Fortunately, our good King Edgar, under the wise counsel of Archbishop Dunstan, does not countenance similar unholy pacts. Even now, we are cleansing every shire in England of their presence, destroying every nest that we can find. If all goes well, our land will be free from them within a score of years."
"The people of France have also come to their senses," said Father Aldhelm. "We hear of the slaughter of these monsters in every fief in that kingdom - save in Paris, where King Lothar has foolishly spared a few, and he can surely be brought to the light, given time."
Father Edric nodded in agreement. "The Duke of Aquitaine has been especially vigilant in destroying those monsters," he said in satisfaction. "He and his chief lieutenant - I cannot quite recall the man's name; it was 'de Marduc', or something of that nature - have not left a single gargoyle alive in the entire duchy."
"They stain themselves with guiltless blood, then," said Edmund, shaking his head sadly. "How can you see gargoyles as soulless monsters, my brothers?"
"How can we see them as anything else?" Father Edric retorted. "They are creatures of the night, who turn to stone when the sun rises, and can only live and move when the world is plunged into darkness. What else can that be, but a sign of their wicked nature?"
"And there are many birds and beasts that also are wakeful at night," countered Brother Edmund, "and sleep during the day."
"And all of them also of evil repute," said Father Aldhelm. "Bats and owls, creatures long associated with the work of sorcerers and witches. Now, answer me this, Brother Edmund. The night is the time when the infernal powers are at their strongest, when the minions of the Evil One roam abroad freely. Why would gargoyles be only free to move then, unless they are demons or demonspawn?"
"Because that is when they are most needed," said Brother Edmund calmly. "Consider this, my brothers. In the hours between sunset and sunrise, the children of men are most under threat from the hosts of Hades. That much I can agree with you on. In such a case, surely the Lord would have seen to it that some remedy be made for them, that faithful guardians exist to protect us from the night-walkers? That the gargoyles were created as bastions against the perils that awaken then, to prevent those evils from overrunning the Earth? Ponder that, good sirs, if you will."
"That is all very fine," said Father Wulfstan, looking not the least bit impressed. "But we are not here to debate whether gargoyles are creatures of God or of the Devil. It is you that we are interested in." His two colleagues nodded, smiling slightly. It was clear that they had been no more moved by Brother Edmund's words than Wulfstan had been. "And it is time now to pronounce judgment upon you."
"Judgment?" asked Brother Edmund, uncertainly.
"Yes," said Father Wulfstan. "Brother Edmund, you have two choices before you. The first is that you may remain here, and continue to perform your duties to Prince Malcolm and his people, according to your vows as a monk. But you are to have no further contact with these gargoyles. You are not to speak with them, to teach them, to meet with them in any way. You are to assist and advise only the children of Adam.
"The second is that you leave this castle with us straightaway, and return to England, to present yourself to His Grace Archbishop Dunstan. And he will choose a new place for you to dwell, one where you will not risk the corruption of your soul through meetings with these creatures.
"Well, Brother Edmund? Which is it to be?"
There was a long silence. Brother Edmund lowered his head, staring at the stones in the floor before him, not speaking a single word. The three priests, standing about him like Job's comforters, did not speak either, but merely watched him, never taking their eyes off him for a second.
At last, he raised his face, and spoke. There was a tortured look in his eyes, as he uttered the words, a look of pain and anguish. And in his voice, there was the strain of reluctance.
"I will come with you," he said, "to face the Archbishop."
"Very well, then," said Father Wulfstan. "Go back to your quarters, and gather your things together. We leave for London before dawn." * * * * *
Brother Edmund returned to his room, walking slowly. Baldrich sat silently on his shoulder, his usual exuberance gone, as if he sensed his master's mood.
The monk was just beginning to gather his few worldly possessions, when three gargoyle hatchlings entered the room. A familiar threesome, one red with a beak, one with web-like wings, and a portly aquamarine-colored youngster.
"Brother Edmund?" the red gargoyle began. "We were wondering - " He broke off, suddenly noticing the monk at work, packing. "What are you doing?" he asked bewilderedly.
"I am sorry, my children," said Brother Edmund, turning to gaze at them. "I cannot speak with you long. I have to leave."
"Leave?" chorused all three hatchlings in unison.
Brother Edmund nodded.
"But why?" the little web-winged gargoyle asked.
"It's a long story," said the monk, shaking his head. "All that I can say is that I have to go back to England. And I probably won't be coming back, either. I'm afraid that this is good-bye, to all three of you and to your clan. I'll be leaving in only a few hours."
The three hatchlings looked at each other in bewilderment and concern, as they left the room and returned to the corridor.
"Brother Edmund's leaving?" said the fat little gargoyle. "He can't!"
"Yeah," said the web-winged gargoyle. "Who's going to tell us stories?"
"We'd better tell the elders about this," said the beaked gargoyle. 'Maybe they can do something." * * * * *
"Brother Edmund is leavin'?" Hudson cried in astonishment, half an hour later.
"That's what the children told me, Leader," Agamemnon replied. "And they looked very miserable about it, as well. They wanted us to find some way of stopping him from doing so."
"And have ye any ideas, then?" Hudson asked.
Agamemnon shook his head. "I was hoping that you might have a few," he said.
"None at all," said Hudson. "But maybe the Prince does. I'd better go speak with him." * * * * *
"Well, I do believe that we've finally resolved this treaty about the fishing rights, Lord Donal," said Prince Malcolm, staring across the table at the visiting Lord of Glencarrick. "I am glad that you were able to return to Wyvern to complete the agreement."
Lord Donal nodded. "So it's concluded," he said. He impressed his signet ring into the wax, as Prince Malcolm had already done, and affixed his seal to the bottom of the parchment scroll lying on the table between them.
"So how is your lady wife, anyway?" Malcolm asked.
"Well enough," said Lord Donal. "She refused to accompany me here this time. She's remaining in Glencarrick Castle, far away from any gargoyles. She had enough of them last time."
Prince Malcolm smiled slightly. "I can imagine," he said.
"The roads are getting more perilous these days, anyway," Donal continued. "There have been more bandits abroad of late. I am hoping that your brother the King will be able to do something about them, now that he is firmly enthroned."
"We've had our own share of trouble with brigands," said the Prince. "The Masked Bandit's followers are the worst."
"There are other troubles forming, as well," said Lord Donal. "Have you heard of Lord Olaf?"
"He was King Culen's younger brother," said Prince Malcolm. "He escaped from the battlefield where Culen was slain, earlier this year."
"I've heard that he's been seen in the outlands," said Donal. "Gathering disaffected men, loyal to Culen. I fear that he may be intending to make a new head, and make war against the King, to regain the Scottish throne."
"I had better send to Scone, to warn my brother, in that case," said Malcolm, frowning. "It seems that our troubles with the House of Indulf are not quite at an end."
Before Donal could answer, the door burst open, and Hudson burst in. The Lord of Glencarrick turned pale, and hurriedly sprang up from his chair to crowd out of the way. Prince Malcolm rose himself, to greet the leader of the Wyvern clan.
"Is anything the matter, old friend?" he asked the burly gargoyle.
"Aye, that there is," Hudson replied. "Brother Edmund is leavin' the castle. Do ye know about this?"
"Not until now, I fear," said Prince Malcolm, shaking his head. "I've been closeted with Lord Donal for the past few hours. Why is he leaving?"
"I dinna know exactly why," said Hudson. "But the hatchlings say that he told them that he was leavin' the castle, and forever too, it seems. And we felt that you might be able to stop him, Your Highness."
Prince Malcolm nodded. "I'll go speak to him, then," he said. "Perhaps I can persuade him to stay. Or at least, learn what has prompted him to depart."
He turned to a still-flabbergasted and speechless Lord Donal. "I wish you good night, my friend," he said. And with that, he left the solar, as did Hudson, leaving the Lord of Glencarrick all to himself. * * * * *
Brother Edmund had just finished packing his saddle bags, when Prince Malcolm burst into his room. "Your Highness?" the monk asked, turning to face the Prince.
"Brother Edmund, what is going on here?" Prince Malcolm asked. "Why are you leaving?"
"I have been recalled by His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury," said Edmund, in a flat and emotionless voice. "It seems that certain of my actions here have not met with his approval, or those of his messengers."
"His messengers?" cried Prince Malcolm. "Brother Edmund, I intend to have a few words with those English priests about this matter! Come with me!"
And with that, he stormed down the corridor towards the priests' quarters, Brother Edmund in his wake. The Prince's face was dark with anger, and his fists clenched tightly. "The gall that they show!" he muttered aloud. "The gall, to tell the folk of my household whether they may remain here or not! I will have some things to say to them about this!"
He burst into the room, with the fury of a thunderstorm. The three priests were seated at the table, quietly conferring, but arose to glance at him with mildly annoyed expressions.
"Might I ask what is the meaning of this?" Father Wulfstan asked, his eyebrows arched.
"You are demanding that Brother Edmund leave Castle Wyvern with you!" Prince Malcolm retorted. "I am telling you to revoke that order of yours, and now!"
"And for what reason?" asked Father Aldhelm.
"Brother Edmund is a valued member of this castle's household!" said Prince Malcolm. "A capable and dedicated healer, who has saved the life of many a wounded man with his skills! He is a fine and worthy teacher, a man of great learning, who has taught so many children their letters! A man of God, whose piety and devotion have impressed us all! You cannot recall him from here, even if your master the Archbishop commands it! And, more to the point, I will not permit you to do so!"
"Indeed?" asked Father Wulfstan.
"I am the lord of this castle, and brother to King Kenneth himself!" said Prince Malcolm. "And that gives my wishes some force here! You cannot withdraw him! And I do not even know what gives you the right to do so. The Archbishop of Canterbury has no writ here in Scotland. And Brother Edmund has committed no crimes. Not unless kindness and faith are now against the commands of the Church!"
"Are you quite done?" asked Father Wulfstan, after a few moments of silence. Neither he nor his friends had betrayed a single piece of emotion, throughout the entire speech.
"If my words are not enough to convince you," the prince replied, "I know not what are."
"Well, your words are most impressive," said Father Wulfstan calmly. "But wasted. We have come to take Brother Edmund back to England, and take him we shall. The Archbishop commands us, and if you have any troubles with his orders, you should speak to him about it."
"As for your arguments," put in Father Edric, "remember that Brother Edmund is of English birth, Prince Malcolm. And that is enough to place him under Canterbury's jurisdiction. Dwelling in Scotland does not protect him against that."
"And think well before you cross His Grace," added Father Aldhelm. "It is no easy matter to defy him. And it could even endanger your brother's statecraft. It is well-known that King Edgar and King Kenneth plan to meet at Chester, in two years' time, to conclude a lasting peace between England and Scotland. Crossing King Edgar's chief advisor could jeopardize those proceedings. Is that worth keeping a single monk here in your castle?"
"Come with us, Brother Edmund," said Father Wulfstan, turning his gaze on the English monk. "There will be no escape for you from what must be done. You are returning with us to London, and that is our final say." He turned back to Prince Malcolm. "This meeting is now over," he said, in a voice that brooked no argument.
Prince Malcolm found himself standing alone in the corridor outside. His fists clenched with anger again, but then he shook his head and sighed. Turning around, he walked down the hallway to his quarters, the look of a man who knows that he is defeated in his eyes. * * * * *
It was shortly before dawn when the people of
Castle Wyvern, both human and gargoyle, gathered in the courtyard
to bid Brother Edmund farewell. Prince Malcolm, the Captain of
the Guard, Robbie the dour-faced soldier, Hudson, Agamemnon,
Thersites, Ajax, Goliath, Demona, Asrial, Othello, Desdemona,
Iago, Diomedes, Argus, and even the hatchlings, were all there to
bid him farewell. Only the Archmage was absent - but the old
sorcerer had never shown much fondness for Brother Edmund, so
this hardly surprised anybody.
However, not one person in the crowd was able to say anything to the English monk. The three priests surrounded him at all times, barring the way of his friends, and gazing at them all sternly in a manner that discouraged approach of any sort. Silently, the four of them mounted their horses, and rode across the drawbridge.
Briefly, Brother Edmund turned his head back to face the people whom he had spent the last year with, sharing their joys and sorrows, their aspirations, dreams, and fears, their lives and their perils, and for a moment, a slight smile formed on his lips, as if to reassure them that he would be fine. But not one word did he utter.
As the horsemen rode down the road from the castle, the gargoyles climbed up to the battlements and perched themselves there, gazing as long as they could after the diminishing shapes of the riders. Many of the humans joined them, while others stood outside the walls, watching the four churchmen dwindle into faint shapes on the horizon, until they finally disappeared from sight.
And the sun rose. THE END.