Prince of Thieves - Part I
Written by Siryn
Idea by Kathy Pogge
Previously on Dark Ages
DEBORAH: His voice.... Where have I heard that voice before?
DESDEMONA: What exactly do you know of that masked brigand, anyway?
OTHELLO: Not much, beyond what the others have said. He's supposed to be very tall for a human, and he wears a cape around him to hide his appearance.
-- "Ever Faithful"
None of her "gadgets" had ever made fun of her, or kept her out of games as a child, or tried to make her feel like an outcast. Not once.
From the journal of Brother Edmund:
Throughout my lifetime, I have often heard it said that words are meaningless and only actions carry any worth. This is often untrue. Words do carry meaning, otherwise we would not use them at all. They can give us joy and bring peace to our lives. They can make us understand the world around us and help others gain such understanding. However, they can also hurt people, sometimes much more than a sword or arrow could ever do. Like certain herbs, sometimes words can be used to heal sickness as well as to cause it. Sometimes nothing can ever heal the wound to the soul, leaving behind a scar, forever on the person's heart. This leads him to do things no one could imagine. Recently, I was unfortunate enough to witness the result of what words could do to someone.
Castle Wyvern, the Great Hall
"Its yer duty to protect us!" shouted an angry, browbeaten farmer. Most of the country-people who were gathered in the Great Hall with him quietly agreed. Others from the group began to speak up.
"They stole every last penny I ad!" cried a local peddler.
"They ransacked my farm, and took all the food wed been storing for the winter!" said a second farmer.
"Ive even heard theyve stolen horses from your own stables, my liege," a woman claimed.
"Yeve got ta do somethin about these brigands, sire," an old man said. "They barged inta me home the other night, and beat me and me wife somethin fierce while they robbed us blind!"
Prince Malcolm calmly listened to the complaints, his finger gently tapping the armrest of his throne as he listened to each party tell their story.
Finally, everyone fell silent as one of the more important people in the group spoke up. "Please, your Highness," he said, "weve tried everything in our power to apprehend these bandits, but nothing has worked. Please, sir, youre our last hope against these ruffians."
The Prince slowly nodded. "And would these brigands happen to be led by a man wearing a mask?" he asked.
The mans eyes widened slightly. "Why, yes," he said. "How did you know?"
"Because," Prince Malcolm explained, "they have been a problem for months now. Their leader is clever, and brazen enough for three men. He even attacked me and my personal entourage when I went to pay homage to King Kenneth. I know the threat he poses to this area, and I intend to do something about it now."
Malcolm stood up from his throne, then continued to address the people gathered before him. "Rest assured," he said, "this problem will be dealt with." He turned to his Captain of the Guard. "Captain, I want you to arrange and organize a series of patrols to seek and capture this mysterious masked man and his band of thieves. I want them caught and brought to justice before they can do anymore harm."
The captain bowed and then left to carry out the Princes commands. The group of farmers and vassals, their worries put to rest for the moment, left through the front door of the Hall. They quickly left the castle, hurrying back into the countryside in the hope of reaching the relative safety of their homes before the sun set.
Not long after the last of the vassals had bolted the door to his home, the sun finally sank beneath the horizon, causing the nights shadow to stretch out over first the land, and then Castle Wyvern itself. One by one, as the darkness covered their stone forms, the gargoyles on the castle battlements awoke from their slumber, their roars echoing through the starry night.
Brother Edmund, as he was crossing through the castle courtyard, glanced up just in time to quickly evade a few falling shards of stone skin. A smile stretched across his face and he paused for a moment as he watched the gargoyles stretching from their daytime sleep.
"I dont believe I will ever tire of seeing that," he said to himself before continuing on his way. He had encountered something of a slow spot that week, so he had decided earlier that day to spend some more time with the gargoyles and add to the book he was writing. He was very curious and eager to learn about their strange culture, some aspects of which hed recently come to find absolutely fascinating. Obtaining the required information hadnt been much of a problem, as the young children, or hatchlings as the gargoyles themselves called them, and the adolescents of the clan had been more than willing to offer information to him. Lately, he had begun to engage in a type of trading with them - their stories for his lessons - and every single tale told to him had been carefully written down in the leafy pages of his book.
As he finished crossing the courtyard, Brother Edmunds attention was drawn toward a conversation among some of his older students.
"Im sure we will be able to find plenty of game tonight," he heard the one he called Diomedes claim to three of his rookery siblings.
"And how do you know that, brother?" the pretty female Edmund had named Asrial asked, a curious look on her face.
"Our lazy brother saw some deer out in the forest a few days ago," Diomedes answered.
"What was he doing out in the forest?" a tall, lavender-skinned male asked.
"Trying to avoid weapons training, what else?" the fiery-haired female Edmund had named Demona answered. Demona, Diomedes, and the lavender male laughed then, while Asrial simply stood there, smiling shyly.
When the laughter had died down, the lavender male turned towards Asrial. "So, will you be coming with us, sister?" he asked. Asrial paused for a moment, then slowly nodded her head. Together, the group proceeded towards the castle battlement, in preparation for gliding to the forest.
Brother Edmund headed towards the group, hoping to speak with them before they left, when three flashes of green, red, and turquoise knocked him helplessly to the ground and caused him to drop his book. He looked around to see who his assailants were, and found a small beak set between a pair of curiosity-filled eyes staring at him.
"Hello, Brother Edmund!" the hatchling greeted.
Edmund laughed. "I thought it might be you three," he said as he pulled himself up, while the small green hatchling returned his book to him.
"Could you tell us a story, Brother Edmund?" the green hatchling pleaded, tugging on the mans robe.
"Can you make it have food in it?" the chubby, turquoise hatchling asked.
His beaked rookery brother rolled his eyes heavenward. "Why does everything have to have food in it?" he asked.
"Well, shouldnt it?" the chubby hatchling asked.
"I think I can find a story that will satisfy all of you," Edmund said.
The three hatchlings excitedly sat as Edmund began to tell a tale about an adventure hed had in his youth. Edmund only got a small part of the way through the story, however, when the turquoise hatchling began to grumble.
"All this talk of food is making me hungry," he complained.
"But he hasnt even gotten very far through the story yet!" his crimson rookery brother protested.
The green gargoyle elbowed his perturbed brother in the shoulder, and then whispered, "Wed better just get him something to eat, or well be listening to his complaining all night." The beaked hatchling paused for a moment, then nodded in reluctant agreement.
"Will you tell us the rest of the story later, Brother Edmund?" the hatchling asked with pleading eyes. Edmund smiled and simply nodded his head. Grins flashed across the faces of the green and red hatchlings as they each grabbed one of their rookery brothers hands and led him away to the kitchen.
The forest outside Castle Wyvern
Diomedes rubbed his forehead tenderly after running into a low tree branch. Goliath shook his head, smiling, while Demona was barely able to hold back a chuckle.
"Are you all right, brother?" she asked.
"Huh?...Oh, yes. Im fine...I only bumped my- Ouch!" Diomedes said, as he collided with yet another branch. This time his misfortune succeeded in raising a deep chuckle from Goliath, while Demona finally lost control and started giggling. Diomedes glared sourly at his rookery brother and sister.
"Its not my fault!" he complained. "This blasted forest is just too thick!"
After a moment, Demona managed to regain control of herself, and she nodded at Diomedes statement. "Hes right," she said. "It looks as though our best plan of action, then, would be to flush the game out." Goliath and Diomedes murmured in agreement.
Asrial, who had been quiet the whole time, suddenly stopped, her eyes lighting up. "Ive got an idea!" she exclaimed. She reached into the satchel she always carried at her side, took out a few implements, and then began fashioning something on the ground.
"Yet another invention, dear sister?" Demona smirked. Asrial ignored the comment and began to explain her plan to her rookery brothers and sister.
"Im working on some snares," she said. "Once Im done setting them up, we can flush out the game towards them. Then the snares will do all the work of catching the game for us." She looked up, searching for the approval of her siblings.
Demona and Diomedes rolled their eyes at each other, but Goliath stepped in on behalf of his sister. "Lets at least give her a chance," he said. Demona and Diomedes mumbled something to each other for a moment, then they both reluctantly nodded their consent.
A half-hour later, though, Asrial was still immersed in the construction of her snares. By now, even Goliath was becoming restless for action.
"This is taking forever," Diomedes grumbled.
Demona turned to Goliath. "She listens to you, dear brother," she said. "Tell her to forget those silly snares of hers so we can finish hunting." She glanced up through the forest canopy at the moon, already high overhead. "I, for one, dont want to be out here all night."
Goliath hesitated for a moment, then sighed sadly and nodded his head in agreement. He walked back over to Asrial and kneeled beside her.
Asrial smiled when she noticed Goliaths presence. "Just a few more corrections and I think..." she said as she fiddled with one of the snares.
Goliath interrupted her. "Sister," he said as gently as he could, "I know how much this invention means to you, but...this is taking far too long...and we dont want to spend the entire night hunting..."
"Oh," Asrial said, her ears and wings drooping slightly. She paused for a moment, and then looked back up at her rookery brother.
"You and the others go on ahead," she said simply.
"What?" Goliath said, slightly shocked.
"You and the others go on and hunt while I finish up these snares," Asrial repeated.
Goliath frowned. "I dont believe its a good idea for us to separate like that," Goliath said, a concerned look on his face.
"Ill be fine," Asrial retorted. "I can take care of myself."
"But..." Goliath began.
"We mustnt be all night, brother!" Demona interrupted, causing Goliath to turn towards her. "Just let her stay here with her gadgets."
Asrial looked slightly stung at the word gadgets.
Diomedes nodded. "We really wont be that long, brother," he assured Goliath, "and we can come back for her after weve finished hunting."
Goliath looked back at Asrial, who simply smiled back at him. "Ill be fine," she insisted. "Just go on; don't let me hinder you anymore."
Goliath hesitated a moment before reluctantly agreeing. He followed Diomedes and Demona deeper into the forest, leaving Asrial to continue working on her snares.
But Asrial wasn't alone. From behind a cluster of bushes, two eyes gazed out. Their owner, a masked man, had been watching the quartet for some time. As he had watched them, the inside of his heart began to kindle and burn with ancient hatred and anger. The anger he possessed was at all of them but this one. The female they had left behind, with the odd satchel.
He watched her ever so closely. She still hadn't stopped tinkering with her "gadgets." He examined carefully what she was immersed in working on. It seemed to be some sort of snare. Thoughts raced through his mind. She was not like them. She was like himself, an outcast. He slowly began to edge closer, but then he caught hold of himself.
"No, not yet," he murmured to himself. With that, the masked bandit turned around and fled deeper into the forest.
"What the " Asrial looked up, startled by the sudden movement of bushes. She placed her hand on her chest and sighed in relief, "Just a nightbird." She looked down at the finished snares and smiled in pure satisfaction. Without hesitation, Asrial set up each and every one of her snares and began flushing prey toward them.
On another side of the forest, a band of men huddled close around a crackling campfire, finishing off the remnants of a meal. One of the men, grumbling, threw his wooden bowl on the ground.
"This is getting boring. When do we see some action?"
"He should be back soon," a second man spoke up.
"Oh yeah? Where's he off to this time?" A third chimed in.
"Out thinking, that's what he said," answered the second man.
"Look there he is!" One of the others pointed.
A figure in a hooded cap and mask entered the clearing. His walk was mellifluous, and if the men hadn't known him, they would have sworn he was some kind of ghost or demon. Hastily, the group rose to their feet, ready for action. The second man at the campfire walked over to the figure. He was one of the taller men in the group.
"We're ready to move out at your command," he spoke while grinning. The masked man waved him off, barely giving the man any attention or thought.
"The job for tonight's been scrapped." He said speaking in a low tone. "There are keep guards out everywhere. We'll have to lay low for a few days."
His words startled the bandits, and they exchanged questioning glances. For a few moments, they stood there, speechless. Then low murmurs and whispers crossed between them.
"What's up with him?"
"He's never been one to back down from anything."
"Shhh! He might hear you." The whispering ceased out of the knowledge and fear of their leader's temper. He had never been one to take any sort of criticism well. One of the men, a medium sized man with a slightly heavy build, leaped up on a rock, waving a chalice.
"Well then lads, since our little raid has postponed... I say we drink the blooming night away!" The other men loudly cheered at the idea and hastily grabbed themselves a bottle. The leader shook his head grinning slightly. He grabbed a bottle of his own amidst the men. Talking a gulp, he walked off alone into the words to think.
"I can't believe it... the three of us weren't able to catch a single deer between ourselves, but our sister caught all this!" Diomedes said enviously as he admired some of the catch that Asrial had obtained though her snares. Demona grumbled in agreement. Both of their prides had been hurt, and they were upset at the idea of being shown up by their sibling.
Goliath and Asrial were straggling behind the other two. "It seems as though, dear sister, you have gotten the better of us all. And I am sorry about earlier."
Asrial smiled. She was relieved that Goliath hadn't truly lost faith in her, and that he was courteous enough to admit his faults. "It's alright, " she said smiling shyly. "Perhaps next time, brother, we can all catch our full share of game." Goliath nodded.
As the quartet ventured back into the castle, stopping for a few moments to drop off the hares and wood cocks that Asrial had caught earlier with her snares, they ran into Othello and Desdemona.
"The Captain of the Guard is going to put together a hunting party!" Othello said hastily with much excitement.
"So?" asked Goliath rather puzzled as to why his rookery brother would be excited about such a common chore.
Desdemona chimed in. "This party is not going to be hunting game, brother, but bandits."
"Bandits?" asked Demona, her interest peaked. Both Othello and Desdemona nodded.
"They're about to pick who will go. Come along then!" Othello motioned as all six adolescent gargoyles bounded off toward the courtyard.
Hudson stood near the side of the castle, watching the eager trainees flocking into the courtyard.
"I really do appreciate you and your clan's help in this," the captain said as he walked up beside Hudson.
Hudson drew a heavy sigh. "At least it will be some good practice for these budding warriors." The captain nodded and left as Hudson walked to the center of the courtyard.
"All right, listen up," Hudson spoke in a calm but firm voice. "I'm sure ye all have heard by now that there have been some recent problems with a certain group of bandits in the woods. The captain, following orders coming from Prince Malcom himself, has asked us to help aid in their capture." A few of the young trainees exchanged dubious looks. The situation must be important if Prince Malcom himself was involved. Hudson continued on, "So I've given my consent on the account that it would be good practice for ye." Excited murmurs and whispers spread among the group causing Hudson to raise one of his eyeridges. "But let it be understood that these are serious matters and dangerous men. Don't any of ye be letting your guard down at any moment." After a seeing a few nods and hearing comments of agreement, Hudson began to choose who would go for the night. He selected Othello, Desdemona, Goliath, Diomedes, and Demona, but he still needed one more. Glancing over the group once more, he saw poor Thersites trying his best to hide from sight behind some of his taller rookery siblings.
Thersites, eyes tightly closed shut, spoke out in a pleading whisper, "Please don't let him call on me. Please don't let him call on me! Oh, plea-ahh!!!" The young gargoyle was startled by Hudson's clawed hand on his shoulder.
"I think you, lad, will complete the group for tonight's patrol." Hudson said with a slight grin. A look of shear horror came over Thersites face, causing some muffed laughter among his rookery siblings.
"Umm... ah... yes... well, I would LOVE to... but I wouldn't want to deprive any of my other rookery brothers or sisters such an opportunity such as this."
Thersites excuse didn't seem to affect Hudson one bit. "Donna worry. They'll get their chance as well, but tonight, you go out with the others," Hudson replied in a stern but gentle manner. Thersites wings drooped slightly in defeat. Diomedes, trying to hold in his laughter, put a reassuring claw on his brother's shoulder.
"Come along, brother. You can't expect to hide out in the castle for the rest of your life, and besides, you may actually have fun!"
Thersites gave his brother a sarcastic glance, "Oh yes, fun, we'll probably be gliding around all night until our wings are tired and find absolutely nothing!" Diomedes shook his head while shoving the reluctant Thersites towards the others who had been chosen for the hunting party.
"Why? Why? And why especially me?!?" complained Thersites as the group glided off to patrol with the Prince's soldiers. Hudson sadly shook his head and glided off in another direction to find Deborah and maybe have some much-deserved time alone with his Second.
Just before dawn, the soldiers and the patrol group came back empty-handed, having not laid eyes on one single bandit.
"See!!! I TOLD you we wouldn't find anything...but did you listen to me? No." Thersites grumbling comments earned him several angry glares from his brothers and sisters.
Night after night the patrol came back empty handed. They reported no sight nor sound of the bandits.
Back at the bandit's camp...
"What did you call me?!" shouted an angry, red-faced bandit.
"You heard me, braggart! Or is yer hearing gone as well as your mind!" sneered another. Within moments the two were engaged in a furious fistfight which was quickly broken up by the second in command.
"Stop that, both of ye, and calm down this instant!" he ordered harshly. Both men settled down, grumbling.
The Second couldn't take much more. The men were bored, anyone could plainly see that, and bored bandits would always lead to trouble. The band needed to pull another job to get the men's spirits back. Their leader troubled him as well. For the last several nights he had been slipping away, only to return angry and depressed. Putting one of the others in charge, he slipped away into the forest to find their leader.
The masked man was perched high in a tree, lost in thought as he stared at Wyvern castle. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of twigs snapping nearby.
"I was wondering when you'd show up," the leader spoke, not turning around. He recognized the step of his Second quite well.
"The lads are getting bored. They think you've lost your edge."
The leader grinned slightly. "Do they, now. I've been planning, and the soldiers of the castle have been thinning their ranks looking for us. Come on, it's time to go." The second grinned and nodded as the leader jumped down out of the tree. The two thieves then proceeded to head back to the camp.
The second stood up on a tree stump and rallied the men. "Come along, lads! Tonight, we attack the castle!" All the bandits cheered and raised their fists and weapons high, while a devilish grin crossed over the leader's face.
Back at the castle...
"Something's gonna happen, I just know it!" said a farmer trembling.
"It's gotten too quiet all of the sudden," spoke another in an unsure whisper.
The Captain shook his head as he overheard the comments of the farmers. This sentiment was carried among all the citizens. The bandits' previous series of raids had been awful, but it was nothing compared to the torture of silence - the agony of waiting for the next raid to suddenly occur. One of his soldiers came up to him.
"What are your orders for tonight, sir?" the young man asked.
The Captain looked back at the two farmers for a moment, "Send out more patrols. It will give the people some comfort and quite possibly drive those rogues away to some other hunting grounds." The soldier saluted and hurried off to follow the Captain's orders. The search parties left the castle and rode deep into the woods, leaving behind a mere handful of soldiers and gargoyles to protect the castle.
The masked man grinned from the shadows as he and his men saw the patrols ride off into the forest. After tucking his cloak behind him, he hurried to the castle wall and scaled it with quiet ease. Upon reaching the top, he came face to face with a somewhat sleepy guard.
"Huh? Hey What are you-?!" With one quick blow to the jaw, the soldier fell unconscious to the ground.
The leader then took several coiled ropes that had been hanging from his belt and threw them over the castle wall to his men. The men quickly and silently scaled the wall, one after the other. As they reach the top, they start speaking in low whispers, not being able to contain their excitement.
"It must be something big if were attacking the castle!"
"Or possibly our great leader wants us to lay low inside of the castle instead of that dark, cold forest!"
The masked man looked at his men, "Shhhh! Quiet!" He pointed them towards their destination. It was the castle treasury.
The guards at the treasury door were having a drink between them and laughing foolheartedly.
"Then I said, why go gallivanting around in the woods all night searching for those midnight bandits." Both men laughed then suddenly slumped to the ground as the cracking of bone was softly heard. Two thugs came out of the shadows and dragged the bodies of the soldiers away as the other bandits crept through the doors and began filling their sacks with coins.
Asrial was wandering aimlessly through the castle once again, trying to make sense of her latest project. "Maybe if I tie it with a sailor's knot it might " the sound of coins spilling upon the ground caught her ear. Asrial looked around and realized that no guards were about.
"That's funny... better take a look just to make sure." Asrial cautiously went into the direction of the sound.
"Now... let's see what's going on." Asrial dug around in her satchel and took out a vision-enhancing device that she had recently made. Placing it to her eye, she was able to see the entire scene. The two guards lay there, sprawled on the ground, and the vault door to the treasury was open! Asrial quickly shoved her device back in the satchel and moved silently toward the open vault door.
"Ooo yes sir! We'll all be making out like bandits, too - what in the blazes?!" The bandits looked wide-eyed as the huge door of the treasury slammed shut, leaving them in darkness. Asrial firmly wedged the door locked and ran to get Hudson.
"What are we going to do?!?!"
"They'll catch us for sure!"
"Shutup and give me a hand with this!" barked the leader. The rogues put their collective shoulders to the wooden door. After a few hard blows, the wood near the hinges began to crack. "One more!" bellowed the leader, stepping back to make a short running start. The men followed his lead. The door fell open with a resounding "WHOOMPH," a tangled pile of bandits on top of it.
"Let's get out of here. Now!" the leader ordered, getting back to his feet.
"But what about the gold?" asked one of the bandits. He was quickly silenced by his leader's icy glare. Within seconds, the group had climbed back down the walls and fled into the forest.
"They're in the treasury! I locked them all inside!" Asrial pointed hastily as Hudson, Brother Edmund, herself, and several castle guards ran towards the treasury. They were about halfway there when they all heard a hollow crash. By the time they got to the vault, they found nothing except for a door ripped from its hinges and two guards slowly coming to. The thieves were gone.
Hudson turned to Asrial, "Did you at least get a good look at them lass?"
Asrial nodded, "I saw one of them, right before I locked the door - a man in a hood and cloak. After that I ran straight to get you."
Hudson nodded as went over to the door. Suddenly something caught his eye. Examining the door thoroughly he stepped back slightly in shock.
"What is it?" Brother Edmund asked severely puzzled with the expression on Hudson's face.
Hudson raised a talon and pointed to the door. "No human did this." Hudson shook his head. "I canna believe its possible... This mark..." He pointed to the series of scratches across the door which had an odd distinctive pattern to them.
"What are you saying, friend?" Brother Edmund's curiosity was starting to mount as he sensed a story behind this raid. Asrial, as well, looked at Hudson, puzzled.
A heavy sigh escaped Hudson's lips, "It was a long time ago." His gaze met Asrial's. "You were but a wee thing." He shifted his gaze to included Edmund, too. "There was an egg in your rookery that was smaller than the rest. It didn't grow as fast as the others, and there was even some doubt that the egg would hatch at all. But hatch it did, though it was the very last. The child that hatched from this egg was different than all the others."
As Brother Edmund listened attentively he began to notice that Asrial now seems to remember this ill-favored rookery sibling. Her features grew sadder with each passing phrase.
A high-pitched childish squeal pierced through the silent night.
"I didn't do it!" The small and very worse for wear gargoyle child whined. His elders loomed over him with disappointment in their eyes. This one had been brought before them just last month for fighting with human children and stealing from the food stores. He had gotten off easy for that incident because the human child had taunted and teased Roland about his "ugly face". Although the elders had to admit themselves that Roland was rather ugly for a gargoyle, it did not excuse his misbehavior.
Hudson spoke firmly. "Lad, you were caught in the very act by the owner himself. Are you telling us that he lied about this?"
Roland bowed his head in shame and started to speak when a voice interrupted.
"I am not lying," said a human man walking into the room. It was the owner of the dog Roland had tormented earlier that night. Everyone looked up to acknowledge the man, except Roland who kept his head hung low. The man continued, "I know what I saw. This lad of yours was tormenting my dog. It was lucky that I came when I did otherwise I don't know what he could have done. "
"But I did-" Roland stopped short mid-sentence when the eyes of the elders focused upon him angrily.
The man ignored the child, "All I want to know is what are you going to do about this trouble maker?"
The other elders glanced up at Hudson who was immersed deep in thought. "Donna worry yourself sir...we too are concerned about this lad's behavior and we do intend to take the necessary measures."
The human, seeming satisfied, left to go on about his way. Hudson looked sternly at Roland. "Run along, lad, and we'll call ya when we have need of ya again."
Roland nodded slowly and stepped outside of the room. After Roland left, the elders gathered around and began to discuss what punishment would be most appropriate.
As Roland turned a corner in the hallway, he ran into a cluster of his fellow rookery siblings. They had been listening in on the whole affair.
"Boy, you're really in trouble now!" one of the boys said grinning smugly.
"They'll probably lock him in the rookery and throw away the key!" another one chimed in.
Roland clenched his teeth and clutched his fists tightly into a ball. "It wasn't my fault, the dog started it!" he spoke angrily through his clenched grinding teeth.
"Sure he did."
Roland's eyes lit up angrily as he shoved his fellow rookery brother into the wall. Growling, the boy got up and shoved Roland right back. Asrial pleaded to both of her rookery brothers to stop the fighting. Hearing the commotion and Asrial's cries, Hudson rushed to the scene and separated both boys immediately.
"That's enough now, all of you! You lads and lasses go run along." He waved his talon in Roland's face and then pointed it in the direction of the rookery, "And YOU, lad, go down and wait in the rookery since it seems that you canna control your actions!"
Roland bowed his head in shame, just catching a glimpse of Asrial and the others rushing off. Roland slowly trudged toward the rookery in disgrace.
"Stupid dog, stupid human, stupid elders, stupid siblings. I bet they'd all be sorry if I disappeared! Boy then they'd be sorry for what they did to me!"
Roland stopped dead in his tracks. Why not try it?
"I'll run away! Yes that will show them! Show them all not to pick on me!"
Roland quickly dashed off to the kitchen, snatched some hot, freshly baked bread, and shoved it into a small sack. On his way out, he also "borrowed" some fruit and goat's milk. He then bounded off into the forest, making sure that no one was aware of his departure.
Hudson and the others had finally reached their verdict.
"Lad, we have made our decision ye can come on out now." Hudson said while knocking on the wooden rookery door. Silence. Hudson spoke a little louder.
"Lad? Lad, are ye in there?" Hudson opening the door to the rookery went in followed by the other elders. They thoroughly searched the rookery.
A frown came over Hudson's his face. "He couldn't have gone too far. Come along then, let's find the lad."
Search parties were organized and went out and searched until a little before daybreak. They did the same the next night and the next. Still no sign of Roland. Finally, a search party brought back a torn piece of a child's tunic which had been found close to wolf spoor.
Hudson sighed heavily, "The wolves have been prevalent in the woods lately and-" he paused and slowly shook his head. "The poor lad must have been eaten."
Roland fumbled through the cumbersome sack, searching for any scraps of food that he might have overlooked before. Nothing, only crumbs. He collapsed to the ground in defeat, his tiny stomach growling loudly. He had run out of provisions and his earlier attempts to catch game were less than successful. Roland was beginning to have his doubts.
"Looks like this wasn't such a good idea after all," he grumbled. He was tired, cold, and hungry...VERY hungry. Through the forest he glanced longingly at the castle walls. He forced himself to his feet.
"Better turn myself in and get this all over with...." he said, talking to himself as he dug his claws into a nearby tree. He caught an updraft and glided off towards the castle.
Landing on the castle ledge, Roland called out in a meek voice. "Hello? Anybody here?" Silence was the only sound that answered him.
Roland sadly slumped, sitting on the ledge. "They couldn't have just disappeared could-" Just then Roland's attention was caught by the murmur of voices coming from the courtyard. Curious, he bounded to the courtyard for a closer look. A fire was burning in the center of the courtyard to provide sufficient light. As he peeked over the ledge he saw the entire clan young and old together speaking softly. He soon recognized what the gathering was about.
"A remembrance ceremony! I wonder who it's for?" Roland thought to himself has he edged further over the castle ledge, straining his ears to catch ever voice, murmur, and whisper of the entire clan Everyone fell into a hush as Hudson first stepped forward.
"Tonight, " he spoke in a heavy sad breath, "We have come to remember one of our own. A hatchling, who just a few nights ago was taken from us by wolves in the forest..." Slowly, a smirk spread across one side of Roland's face to the other.
"They think I'm dead!!" Roland softly giggled. He couldn't have planned this better himself!
"I'll stay low and listen until the whole ceremony's finished. Then I'll appear and they'll welcome me back with open arms! They'll forget all about scolding me being too busy caring for me and asking me if I'm alright!" Roland's heartbeat was twice its normal speed. He couldn't wait until the ceremony was over so he could make his grand entrance. However, this was not to happen.
As the gargoyles stepped forward, each of them tried desperately to show some remorse and fond memory of the little lost one. But all failed. It seemed as though none of their words could speak well of Roland.
"The lad was very troublesome... but surely he did have his good points. I canna think of any at this moment, but surely the lad couldn't have been all bad."
"He did help out... here and there but he never could keep his attention on his work... always scheming his way out of chores"
Roland's face became darker and more crestfallen with each "remembrance" of him. He turned away from the site angrily.
"They don't have ANYTHING good to say about me!" He spoke in a harsh whisper with clenched teeth. Tears had already begun to cascade down his cheeks, and his young eyes glowed violently in the night.
"They've never liked me! They've always hated me!" Roland fled from the castle, stumbling all along the way. He ran deep into the heart of the forest. When he could run no more, he sank his claws deep into a nearby tree. He tore at the bark shredding it to bits as his juvenile roar pierced the silent night scaring birds from their midnight roosts.
The night bandits huddled around the glowing embers and crackling flames of the midnight campfire.
"What could have gone wrong?!" questioned one.
"I thought the plan was perfect?" stated another.
"If it had been so perfect we wouldn't have gotten caught now had we?" sneered a third.
"So what are you saying?" a fourth asked.
"I'm saying someone fumbled up the operation," the third replied.
The comment started a small scuffle. Each of bandits argued that the other was to blame while denying fault. Roland shook his head at the worthless group and walked over to a stout and gnarled oak tree where he had built himself a platform. Perching upon it, he watched the scuffle for a few moments more. Then the rays of light slowly spread across his skin, transforming it back into its stone state and leaving a thoughtful expression upon the rogue gargoyle's face.
To be continued