Prince of Thieves Part II

Previously on Dark Ages.

“Please, your Highness,” he said, “we’ve tried everything in our power
to apprehend these bandits, but nothing has worked.  Please, sir, you’re
our last hope against these ruffians.” -A vassal of PRince Malcolm
speaking to the Prince - “Prince of Thieves - Part 1

The masked figure watched her for a few moments more before shaking his
head.  “No, not yet,” he said to himself.  And with that, he turned
around and headed deeper into the forest. - “Prince of Thieves - Part 1”

"No Human did this." -Hudson - “Prince of Thieves - Part 1

Castle Wyvern

   The Captain of the Guard was nervous as he walked down the hallway
toward Prince Malcolm’s room.  His men were still cleaning up the mess
in the treasury room, and he’d posted extra guards and sent out a search
party just minutes before.  But he still felt violated and embarrassed
at ~anybody~ having penetrated the castle’s defenses like that.

   Soon the Captain arrived at his destination, the wooden door leading
into Prince Malcolm’s chamber.  He hesitated for a moment, then knocked
on the door firmly.

   “Come in,” he heard from the other side.  Quickly, the Captain
entered the room, shutting the door behind him.  Inside, the Prince was
giving orders to one of the other soldiers, who was nodding as the
Captain entered, and then left a moment later.

   The Prince paused for a moment before speaking.  “Your report,
Captain,” Malcolm ordered.

   “Your Highness,” the Captain began, “the thieves seemed to have
entered the castle by scaling one of the walls.  They knocked out any
guards they ran into, and were in the process of looting the treasury
when one of the gargoyles locked them in.  When she returned with help,
however, the thieves had wrenched the door free and made their escape.
Or so they say.”

   The Prince looked at the man strangely, but before he could say
anything he was interrupted by a pounding  the chamber door.  After
being bidden to enter, the castle’s treasurer stepped through the door.
 He bowed, and said, “I have the report on our funds, my Prince.”

   “How much did those bandits take?” the Prince asked.

   The treasurer examined a scrap of parchment in his hands.
“Surprisingly little, your Highness,” he reported, “considering the
amount of time those ruffians were in the vault.  I’m still checking,
but I think they only made off with two dozen pennies or so.”  The
Captain’s face showed his relief, a look that was not lost on the

   “Something troubling you?” he asked.

   “Oh, nothing, your Highness,” the Captain answered.  “It’s just that
I’d hate to think that a bunch of unwashed highwaymen, led by one of
those beasts of all things, could get into the castle that easily.”

   “‘Those beasts’, Captain,” the Prince asked, arching his eyebrows.
“Exactly what problem do you have with the gargoyles here, anyway?”

   “I just don’t like them, your Highness,” the Captain said.  “They’re
unnatural creatures.”

   “Well,” the Prince said, a touch of irritation in his voice, “I owe
two of those ‘creatures’ my life.  I feel that that’s proof positive
that they can be trusted.”

   “But those two saved you against a band of brigands led by one of
their own,” the Captain pointed out.  “And it was a gargoyle who
‘managed’ to lock the same bandits inside the vault earlier tonight.
How do we know that this clan and their ‘brother’ out there aren’t
conspiring against us?  They claim this land as their own, too, you

   “They’ve been with us for too many years for that to happen,” the
Prince said firmly.  “And we protect them during the day.  They have to
know they’d lose that if they ever got rid of us.”

   “For all I know,” the Captain insisted, “they might have the bandits
replace us or something.  I’m not saying we do away with them, only that
we need to watch them.”

   The Prince sighed.  “We don’t have time for this kind of argument,”
he interrupted.  “Right now, what I suggest you do is adjust your plans
in light of this rogue’s unique abilities and his possible knowledge of
the castle.”

   The Captain bowed.  “I’ll see to it personally your highness,” he

   “And talk to the gargoyle leader as soon as he awakens,” the Prince
continued.  “See if he or any of his clan knows of anything that may be
of use in catching this fiend.”

   The Captain hesitated for a moment, then nodded and bowed once more,
though more stiffly this time.  “As you wish your highness,” he said, a
trace of an edge in his voice.  Then he turned and left, shutting the
door behind him.  He grumbled as he walked away, muttering about ‘those
blasted beast’ and ‘why do we need them anyway?’, as he went to fulfill
Prince Malcolm’s orders.


Roland’s Camp

   “How much time have we left?” asked one bandit, who was trying to
keep his impatient mind occupied by whittling away at a stick.

   “A few more hours at least,” another bandit replied, before taking a
gulp from a large jug of ale in his hand.

   “I still can’t believe how we could have fumbled up that job,” a
third, black eyed bandit moaned.  “We hardly got anything from that

   “What?” the second bandit quipped.  “That black eye not good enough
for ye?”  The other bandits in the camp roared with laughter at the
remark, while the black-eyed bandit merely mumbled angrily under his

   “It was dumb luck,” he said.

   “Aye,” the second bandit agreed.  “The captain wouldn’t have never
figured it out himself.”

   The first bandit stopped his whittling for a moment and laughed.
“That be sure,” he said.  “It was one of those gargoyles that caught us!
 Looks like those monsters are of some use after all!”

   The second in command, upon hearing that part of the conversation,
immediately walked over to where the three men sat.  Reaching over, he
picked the impatient bandit up by the scruff of his collar and glared at
him angrily.  “I think it would be best, man,” the Second said in a low
voice, “if you would hold your loose tongue.  Or must you be reminded of
our leader?  The one who’s been keeping money in your pockets and food
and ale in that forsaken belly of yours!”

   The man looked as though he would offer resistance, but then yielded
as he saw the look in the Second’s eyes.  The bandit wriggled free of
the Second’s grip and then scrambled behind some of his comrades.  The
Second continued to eye the man for a moment, then turned and walked

   When the Second was out of earshot, the black-eyed bandit turned to
his comrades.  “Why does he fawn over that oversized decoration,
anyway?” he grumbled.  “It’s not like we can’t smash Roland here and now
and be done with it.”

   “I know you have your doubts,” the bandit with the ale jug said.  “We
all have.  That leader of ours has been one furious fighter even as a
mere boy.  We all know of his temper quite well.  But he’s also good
‘social graces’.  I remember when the little squirt first found us...”

   The bandits edged in closer the man remembered how Roland had come
into their group.


958 A.D

   Clouds covered the sky, blocking the moon’s light and making the
night blacker than normal.  The only light illuminating the blackness of
the forest night was a small crackling campfire, forked flames reaching
up into the starless sky.  A ragged band of rough-looking men were
huddled close, trying to warm themselves while they ate their supper.

   “Bah!” a large, mountain of a man suddenly yelled disgustedly, and
then threw his bowl of half-eaten porridge to the ground.  He turned
towards the man who’d been chosen to cook that night.  “Ye have burnt
this porridge for the last time!” the large man said.  He pointed
towards the bowl lying on the ground.  “No beast in this wood would so
much as take a whiff of that stuff, much less eat it!”  Several others
nodded and murmured in agreement.

   The cook sneered back at the insult.  “It’s not my fault you blokes
can’t hunt if yer lives depended on it!” he said indignantly.  “I myself
would much prefer a fine wood cock in comparison to cooking this slop
you lads call porridge!”

   The large man shook his head.  “The hunting’s been poorer in these
woods than usual and ye yourself know that,” he said glumly.  Then a
smirk spread across his face.  “Besides, if your wood cock is as good as
yer porridge, I think I’d rather eat it raw!”  Soft laughter spread
among the group.  All in all,” the large man continued, “we aren’t as
bad off as that.  We have food, fire, and company to fight with.  That’s
enough for me right now.”  Several murmurs of assent came from the
gathered group, and then they went back to eating.

   Under the cover of the nearby trees, two softly glowing eyes watched
over the bandits, hungrily eyeing the food they were eating.  Their
owner looked at them for a moment longer, then slowly made his way down
from his roost in one of the trees.

   As he slid down the trunk, he accidentally brushed a taloned foot
against a branch, causing it to shake slightly.  The form quickly
stopped as he saw the sound grab the attention of one of the thugs.
“Huh,” he asked.  “Did you lads here something?”  His nervous eyes
darted all around, straining to discover the cause of the disturbance.

   “It’s just the wind,” one of the others said.  “I think this porridge
has made you lose yer sense, as well as yer stomach!”  Another soft roar
of laughter spread through the group, and they began to relax once more.
 The shadowy figure sighed and relaxed as well, before continuing on to
the ground.

   Behind the trunk of the old tree, the shadows stopped and then began
to dance for a moment, before slowly taking on the form of a small
gargoyle hatchling.  As the firelight danced on his homely features, the
gargoyle boy looked hungrily on at his target: the bowl of porridge the
large man had thrown to the ground.  He looked back at the humans, and
saw that they were still busy complaining about their supper and talking
about other things.

   “Now’s my chance,” the boy softly murmured to himself, and he
stealthily snuck towards the fire and group of drunken thugs.  Ignoring
the bandits’ occasional outbursts of laughter, the gargoyle kept his
eyes fixed upon their goal.  He edged closer to the rock where the
wooden bowl lay, gazing at the spilled contents as though it was

   Carefully, he stretched out his hand, his small claws reached out
struggling to reach the prize.  But, right as his claws begin to close
around the bowl, a large hairy hand appeared and grabbed him by his tiny
wrist.  He struggled to get free, but the hand’s grip was too strong,
and a moment later it was holding him high in the air.  The hatchling
admitted a high-pitched roar and waving his hands and toe talons in all
directions in an attempt to look fierce, but he only succeeded in
causing the bandits to laugh.

   The gargoyle slashed at the large man, the one who held him, but
though he left several scratches and bruises on the bandit, the human
left a few marks of his own on the hatchling before finally getting a
firm grip on his scrawny neck.  While the boy struggled in vain, the
large bandit brought him to the fire to get a closer look.  The
hatchling’s hands clasped tightly onto the large, hairy hand of the
human as it was raised high into the air and shown off like some prize
catch to the other bandits in the camp.

   “Look what we have here lads,” the large man said smugly, showing off
the little gargoyle boy.  “A thieving little gargoyle, out to steal our
dinner!”  One of the men, a skinny, unshaven thief with one eye, stepped
away from the others and went towards the large man.  Edging close to
the gargoyle, he looked at the boy and then held a dagger to his chest.

   “How long have ye been watching us, boy?” he snarled at the gargoyle,
showing his yellow teeth as he did so.

   The gargoyle boy hesitated for a moment.  The he swallowed his fear
and snarled right back at the thief.  “Long enough to know the cook
shouldn’t drink while he’s making supper!” he said.

   Roars of laughter spread throughout the band at the joke; the leader
pushed the one-eyed thief aside so as to get closer to their visitor.
The cook, however, clenched his teeth and stepped forward.

   “Bah!” he said scornfully.  “What does a gargoyle know about cooking

   The leader looked at the hatchling for a moment, then faced the cook
with a wide grin on his face.  “A lot more than you that’s for certain!”
he said, causing the other men to start laughing again.  For a moment,
the cook looked ready to kill the gargoyle, but then he looked at the
glare the leader gave him.  He hesitated for a moment, then backed away
in shame.

   The large man turned his attention towards the young gargoyle,
examining him for a moment.  “Ye’ve got spunk, lad,” he noted.  His
captive relaxed slightly, but still kept up his guard.

   “I hate spunk,” the large bandit continued, rubbing his chin with his
free hand.  “Still, with looks like yours, I guess you’d have to have
developed yer social graces.”  He turned toward the rest of the
assembled bandits.  “Don’t ya all think so, lads?”

   He let loose of his grip on the homely gargoyle, who then proceeded
to tumble to the ground.  Yet another round of laughter went through the
assembled thugs.  The boy quickly scrambled to his feet, glancing over
his shoulder in search of a likely escape route.  Unfortunately, there
were bandits on all sides of him now; he was trapped, and he started to
tense, ready for a fight if it came to that.

   But as the laughter among the bandits began to die down once more,
the mountain man motioned to one of the them.  “Give him a bowl!” he
ordered, pointing at the gargoyle.

   The hatchling’s eyes grew wide as one of the thieves shoved a bowl of
the burnt porridge into his claws.  The large man grinned at young
gargoyle as he patted the hatchling on his spiky shoulder.

   “Anybody brave enough to steal from us is worthy company!” he
announced, causing the boy to flash a grin back at the large bandit as
he began to devour the bowl of porridge.

   As the young gargoyle boy ate, one of the other bandits looked at him
closely.  “We need ta find a name for him,” he said.

   “What about, ‘Hey, you!’,” one of the others joked, causing a ripple
of laughter in the camp.

   But the large man shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “He needs a real
name.”  He thought for a moment, then said, “Hmmm...  I think I’ll call
you ‘Roland’, after my brother.  He was about as homely as you are, and
he had the same ‘wit’.”

   He turned towards the gargoyle boy.  “So what say you?” he asked.
“Do ye like the name?”  The hatchling thought about it for a moment,
then nodded his head before going back to eating.

   “‘Roland’ it is, then!” the large man yelled, and soon the other
chimed in their acceptance of the new member.


Some months later...

   The bandit gang had moved on, with new addition of the homely little
gargoyle boy to their band of rogues.  One night, as he was unloading
the supply cart, Roland smiled as he scanned the camp.  It wasn’t much:
some tents, a few carts, and a motley collection of odds and ends that
they’d either scavenged or stolen.  Certainly not anything as grand as
the humans’ castle.

   And the people here were merely common bandits, rough in manner and
dress.  Not ‘fine, upstanding citizens’ like the humans at the castle,
or vindictive gargoyles like his kin and the Elders.  But they accepted
him, regardless of his appearance or manner.  They had taken him into
their family.

   ‘Family’; the word echoed through Roland’s mind, mocking him with
images of his old family.  He saw his rookery brothers and sisters in
his mind, his entire clan, and for an instant sorrow filled his heart.
Then, the images turned into those of ridicule and teasing from his
siblings, of never-ending scolding of remanding from the Elders.  He
growled softly and clenched his fists as the memories flooded into him

   “They don’t care!” he said to himself.  “They never did!”

   “Who doesn’t care lad?” he heard from behind, causing him to turn
around.  Roland saw the huge man who had first taken him into the bandit
group placing his huge hand on the hatchling’s shoulder.  Just after his
first encounter with the thieves, Roland had discovered that this man
was the de facto leader of the group.

   Roland looked up at his new leader, and grimaced.  “My old family,”
he said sourly.  The leader nodded his head in understanding and patted
Roland lightly on the shoulder.

   “Well donna mind them no more lad,” the large man said.  Come on,
let’s go see if the cook has actually prepared a decent meal for us
tonight!”  The pair laughed as they walked off and joined the other
bandits by the campfire.

   As they ate supper, Roland would occasionally look back at the bandit
leader, a man who’d become something of a mentor to him.  When he’d
joined the bandits, Roland had been taken under the leader’s ‘wing’, and
thus was taught the ways of the highwayman.  Roland learned all the
tricks he could from every bandit in the band, and in exchange he showed
them a few tricks of his own.  The arrangement had worked out quite
well, and by now, he was almost to the point of being ‘just another one
of the men’ in their eyes.  The feeling gave him great satisfaction.

   After supper, Roland was told to go get more firewood from the
forest; the bandits would be moving out of it soon, and their supply of
wood for campfires was running low.  Roland was eager to help, and
quickly went to do his job, stopping along the way to get a few wild
apples that had been ‘acquired’ by the bandits from a village they’d
raided earlier that night.

   A few hours later, Roland headed back to the camp, several pieces of
wood under one arm.  When he arrived, he set the wood down in one of the
carts, and went off in search of the his mentor, hoping to learn a new
trick of the trade the bandit leader had promised to show him.  As
Roland approached the leader’s tent, his ears perked up at the sounds of
two men arguing.  Quietly, he snuck up to the tent door and peeked in.
Inside, he saw the familiar faces of his mentor and the one eyed thief
who’d talked to him roughly the first night he’d arrived in camp.

   “I want my fair share!” the one-eyed bandit snarled angrily at the
leader, throwing a small bag of coins to the ground.  “I deserve more
than this!”

   “You’ve gotten ~more~ than your fair share already,” the leader spoke
in a calm but serious tone.  “Take it, and be happy that you got
anything at all.”

   “Either give me my due,” the one-eyed bandit said menacingly, “or
I’ll give you yours!”  And with that he took a knife from his belt.

   The leader’s eyes narrowed as he saw the blade.  “Don’t try to
threaten me,” he said calmly.  “Now, take your share and be gone with
ye, before I have ye thrown out!”

   The one-eyed thief looked down on the ground, and then picked up a
small pouch filled with coins that was laying there.  He paused, then
turned his back to the leader and started to walk away.  For a moment,
the leader watched him, then turned to go about his other business.

   As he did so the one-eyed bandit stopped in his tracks.  “I’ll take
my share all right...” he said, then quickly spun around and threw his
knife at the leader.  It whistled through the air towards the leader,
but fortunately only grazed the large man’s cheek.  The leader turned
and, seeing who his assailant was, leaped at the smaller man.  The
leader tackled the one-eyed bandit, sending both men tumbling outside,
locked in a deadly embrace.  The leader threw punches left and right,
but the one eyed bandit was small and quick.  Scrambling to his feet he
ran to where his knife lay and retrieved it.  As the leader charged
towards him, he turned around and then plunged the blade deep into the
leader’s side.  The large man clutched at his side in pain, and then
took a few steps back before stumbling and falling onto the ground.

   As Roland saw this, his eyes burned white-hot, and he was suddenly
filled with a raging fury.  “NO!!!!!!!” he roared, and then charged the
one-eyed thief.  The human bandit had only a split-second to see the
approaching gargoyle before Roland smashed into him, and they both
tumbled into a dense thicket nearby.

   By this time, having heard the commotion, the other thieves had
arrived at the scene.  As they saw what was happening, a few rushed to
their leader’s aid, while others spread out, trying to find the
combatants and try to figure out what occurred.

   Suddenly, a slightly bruised and cut Roland emerged from one of the
thickets.  Breathing heavily, his eyes glowed brightly, and he stared
angrily at those gathered.  After a moment, he wiped the blood away from
his lip and uttered, in low harsh growl, “Who’s next?!”

   A low groan from behind a group of fear filled bandits snapped Roland
back to his senses.  He quickly ran to his mentor’s side, concern for
his leader replacing his anger.  As he did so, two other thieves, seeing
their chance, hurried into the thicket to check on their fallen comrade.

   Roland held his mentor’s hand as he looked down on the wounded human.
 “You aren’t gonna die are ye?” he asked, concern in his voice.

   The giant man chuckled slightly at the remark, then winced in pain.
“I’m okay lad,” he said.  “It takes more than some common penny-pincher
to get the best of me.”  He gave Roland a weak smile.

   Then Roland turned his attention towards the others who had gathered.
 Rising to his feet, Roland faced the entire camp, his narrowed eyes
barely glowing.

   “Any one that challenges the boss,” he said menacingly, “will have to
take it up with me first!”  As Roland growled out his challenge the two
thieves who had gone to look for their comrade reappeared, their faces
deathly pale.  Roland and the others turned their attention towards the
two men.

   “Donna you worry, lad,” one of them said grimly.  “We won’t challenge

   Roland looked back at the others, and they mumbled assent.  The
gargoyle nodded, and then went back to looking over his mentor, while
some of the other bandits went to help bandage him.

   Over the next few weeks, Roland helped run the camp.  He stood beside
the leader, guarding him during the night, and helped in making sure
that the leaders orders were carried out.  Eventually, the bandit leader
was once again back on his feet, and that night he gathered all the
members of the band around the campfire.  When everyone was present and
accounted for, the leader motioned for Roland to step forward.

   “Ye’ve done me a great service lad,” he said.  “One I won’t be too
soon in forgetting.  So it is with pleasure that I assign you as my
personal bodyguard and our second in command….in training of course.”
As the bandits laughed at the remark the bandit leader flashed a proud
toothy grin at the suddenly wide-eyed Roland.


971 A.D.

   “I wonder if we shouldn’t have smashed him back then when we had the
chance,” the black-eyed bandit thought out loud, rubbing his chin as he
looked at the stone form of their leader.  The older bandit started and
then quickly walked up and stared the black-eyed bandit in the face.

   “If we’d done that, our lives wouldn’t have even been worth a copper
penny!” he snarled, narrowing his eyes.  For a moment, things were
tense, until the Second separated the two of them.

   “Enough of this fighting,” he said, “all of ye!”  He stared back and
forth at the bandits.  “Whatever viewpoint you may have we must all
agree on this: that ‘little squirt’ has done us right over the years,
and has rightfully earned his spot as our leader.  If any of you have a
problem with that, you’re free to leave.  Or you can challenge Roland
when he’s awake, if you like...”  The Second turned towards the stone
form of the bandits’ leader.  “Though not many have seen fit to try.”
The remaining bandits all nodded and murmured in agreement as they
turned their gaze towards Roland as well.

   The black-eyed bandit looked for a moment as if he were seriously
thinking about it, then he relented.  “You’re right,” he said.  “For

   It was good enough for the Second, who let go of the man and turned
to go do something more useful than break up fights among his men.
Suddenly, the camp’s attention was drawn towards the woods nearby.  Two
ragged men, scouts sent into the woods by the Second, came scurrying in
from the woods, their faces showing expressions of fear and worry.
Almost like a plague, fear swept through the camp, causing the bandits
to start talking amongst themselves again.

   “What’s going on?” one man asked.

   “Are the soldiers coming?” asked another, causing several other
bandits to nod nervously.

   The Second raised his hand for them to be silent and glared sternly
at those who didn’t heed him.  Soon, the band had hushed itself, and
waited anxiously as the scouts caught their breath and took in a few
gulps of ale from a jug lying nearby.

   Finally, the scouts managed to quench their thirsts and catch their
breaths enough to speak.  “The castle soldiers are searching throughout
the woods,” one of the scouts said, through deep, heavy breaths.
“They’re asking everyone they see about us, and their getting
dangerously close.  We nearly got caught by them ourselves!”

   The second in command glanced over at other scout, who nodded in
silent agreement.  The Second quietly cursed, then turned towards the
rest of the band.  “Come along then!” he ordered.  “Let’s pack up and
move out before those blokes now that we’re here!”

   The rest of the bandits quickly obeyed, and within an hour the band
was traveling again, their possessions packed away and tied down in
carts.  Roland, bound in cloth and leather so as not to break during the
trip, had himself been placed on a specially designed cart which two
horses were now moving slowly.  By the time they had traveled several
miles, the sun slowly began to sink beneath the horizon.

   As night’s shadow fell upon the bandits, a shrill scream pierced
through the air, and a muffled explosion could be heard within the
cocooned form on Roland’s cart.  A moment later, the bandit leader
ripped free of the protective bindings, struggling until he’d gotten the
last of them off of his person.  He took a moment to assess the
situation, and then noted that they had changed position.  He looked
over the men, who had now stopped in order to see what their leader
might want.

   “Who ordered we move out?” he asked, his voice deadly calm as his
eyes scanned the band.

   The second in command and some of the other men stepped forward,
causing Roland to shift his gaze onto them.

   “I did, sir,” the Second said.

   Roland nodded, taking this into consideration.  “Why, may I ask?”

   “The scouts reported that there were soldiers from the castle
searching the woods, sir,” the Second.  “I had thought it best that we
get out of here before they found us.”

   Roland stood silent for several moments, thinking his Second’s words
over.  “I appreciate your initiative, lad,” he said, “but if you, or
anyone else in this band ever do anything like this again, moving camp
without my permission, he won’t have enough windpipe left to issue a
command. Is that understood?!”

   The bandits quickly nodded in agreement.

   “Good,” Roland said nonchalantly as he jumped down from his cart.
“Now turn us around, we’re heading back.”  Several of the bandits’ eyes
widen slightly in shock as they heard his words, and then they started
to whisper among themselves.

   “What?!” one of the bandits quietly exclaimed.

   “Is he mad?!” another one said to the bandit standing next to him.

   Then the black-eyed bandit stepped forward, causing the Second to
almost visibly groan.  “What is there to possibly risk our necks to go
back for?” the bandit said.  “And why should we listen to that kind of a
daft order anyway?”

   Roland raised an eyeridge and was about to reply to the accusation
when he could see several of the other bandits nodded in agreement to
the man’s opinion.  He would have discounted them, but they were his
older, more loyal followers.  For a moment, he thought, thinking about
what he was going to say and do.

   Then he said calmly, “We go back anyway.  It won’t be for long, and I
assure you that afterwards we will be leaving for safer territory.”
This seemed to satisfy the bandits, who quited down a bit.  Then Roland
headed off towards the horses, his Second quickly walking after him
while the bandits made to turn around and head back towards the castle.

   As they hurried towards the riding horses, the Second asked Roland,
“Can I ask why you really want to go back to the castle, sir?”

   Roland ignored the human for a moment as mounted a nearby horse.  As
he prepared to ride off, he turned towards the other bandits.

   “I have unfinished business to attend to,” he said in an icy tone.
“And you and they,” he motioned his claw towards the entire band, “are
going to help me.”


Courtyard of Castle Wyvern

   “Then what did you do, elder sister?” one of Asrial’s audience asked
eagerly.  One of the hatchlings had asked her to tell them about ‘all
the fun’ of the night before, and she had agreed to do so.  The group
around the shy female had grown quickly, and as she continued on with
her story, Asrial had to admit to herself  that she did enjoy the
attention.  It was so much better than the scorn she usually received
from others.

   “Well, go on!” one of the hatchlings said.  “Yes, please, go on!”,
another asked, wanting her to continue the story.

   “Well,” Asrial bit at her lip for a moment, trying to find the right
words.  By now she’d gotten to the part where she’d seen the bandits in
the vault.  “Well,” she continued, “then I...I...collected my courage
and slammed the door shut right in their faces.”

   Several of the assembled crowd, smiled and one even laughed.

   “They never had a chance,” a small, red hatchling said.  “Didja lock
them in?”

   Asrial nodded.  “Yes, I did,” she continued.  “And then I ran to get
the Leader and Brother Edmund...but,” her voice sort of trailed off, and
she got an embarrassed expression on her face.

   “But what?!” one of the hatchlings pressed, edging closer.  Asrial
looked at the closing crowd and began to feel packed in.

   Asrial paused a moment, then continued.  “ the time we
returned, the door had been ripped off its hinges and the bandits were
gone.”  She hung her head slightly in shame.

   Everyone fell silent for a moment, disappointment showing on their
face, along with a few looks of pity.

   “And ~that~,” Asrial heard Thersites say sourly behind her, “is that
we have to continue on with these dreadful patrols!”  Asrial quickly
turned to see Thersites and several of her other rookery siblings
approaching.  “I mean, she just ~let~ them get away like that, and...”
he began, but quieted down as he saw the stern glares his rookery
siblings were giving him.  “Well I...I least you tried,
sister,” he said quickly.

   “It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Goliath said, coming up to the front of
Asrial’s siblings.  “ At the least, you managed to prevent them from
getting away with much.

   Diomedes nodded in agreement.  "I’ve been talking with the Leader,
too,” he said, “and it seems as though our sister has also discovered
our long-thought-dead brother.”  Several of the others became wide-eyed.

   “You mean...the one who was always misbehaving,” Desdemona asked,
“the one who we thought to be eaten by wolves all those years ago?”
Several of the assembled gargoyles looked expectantly at Asrial.

   Asrial nodded, but frowned at the way her rookery sister had
described their brother.  “He wasn’t ~always~ misbehaving,” Asrial
quietly tried to point out.

   “As I recall sister,” Demona said, “that brother of ours was in
trouble more times than our brother over here has skipped training.”
She pointed towards Thersites as she spoke, causing everyone except
Thersites himself to start laughing.  The beaked gargoyle merely
grumbled disgustedly.

   “I remember how he used to constantly tell on me for skipping
training,” he said glumly.

   Diomedes grinned.  “Well then,” he said, “maybe our sister here is
right about our misfit brother not being all bad?”  Thersites rolled his
eyes at his rookery brother, as the group began laughing again.

   As soon as everyone had calmed down, though, they began berating
their brother again.  “He would always pull my hair and call me names,”
Desdemona complained.  “I don’t think he had any friends.”

   “Well...” Asrial began again.

   “‘Well what’, sister?” Goliath asked

   “What about that human, Oliver?” she pointed out.  “You know, the one
who left those months ago with those visiting human nobles.  I remember
he and our brother were always close.”

   Diomedes nodded.  “True,” he agreed.  “When our brother got himself
into mischief, that human boy was not always far behind.”

   “But that’s not what I...” Asrial started to say.

   But Diomedes, not hearing her, continued growling slightly.  “I, too,
seem to remember our brother as always trying to start fights and pick
on those weaker than himself, and for no good reason, either,” he said

   Asrial frowned at her brother’s words.  She tried to scan her
memories for any positive notes on the long lost rookery brother.

   “But he wasn’t all bad,” she tried yet again.  “Remember that time
when he helped keep that wild boar from killing me?”  Sadly once again,
her siblings found dark motives to what she tried to present as Roland’s
good side.

   “And as ~I~ remember,” Iago said, “he was the one who got it enraged
in the first place.”

   “He really didn’t mean it...” Asrial said softly, trying to fight
back.  “He said it was an accident that he got the boar mad like

   “How can you be so sure?” Thersites pressed.

   Asrial opened her mouth, struggling to say something in Roland’s
defense.  But she fell silent, her face filled with sorrow as she found
nothing.  She stood there for a moment, then turned around and started
walking away towards the castle walls, her head bowed low and her pace
quickening as she gained distance from them.  Her rookery siblings
looked at each other, then back at Asrial’s retreating form, puzzled by
her actions.

   “What’s wrong with her?” Othello asked.

   “Was it something we said?” Thersites said.

   “Yes, I think it was,” Goliath answered quickly before going after
Asrial, leaving a speechless Thersites behind.

   Asrial kept walking, not really caring about where she was going.
All she knew was that she wanted to get away from her callous brothers
and sisters.  She shook her head sadly; why couldn’t they at least ~try~
to see some good in their lost rookery brother?  Granted, he’d been
insufferable at times, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty about what
had happened to him.  It was incessant scorn like she’d just heard that
had driven him to run away from his clan; and now he was running around
with a band of lawless humans, most likely with no regard for the
Gargoyle Way in his heart.

   She shuddered inwardly; she received the same kind of scorn from her
siblings as her brother had.  Granted, it wasn’t as strong, and she
didn’t take the jeers as personally, but they still stung.  Was she
going to run away one of these days, too?  Asrial pictured herself stuck
in some cave, away from friends and family, with only her inventions to
keep her company, and felt cold...

   Before she knew it, Asrial found herself standing on the battlements,
the ocean spreading out before her.  She smiled as she realized that she
must have automatically headed towards a place where she could calm
down: her cave.  The one with the new inventions she was making.  It had
been the place where she’d first made her inventions, before she became
confident enough to show her ‘hobby’ to the rest of the clan.  Now the
cave was a place she sometimes went to when she was creating something
dangerous, or when she simply wanted to be alone from the others for the

   She leapt onto the battlement, and was just about to glide off
towards the cave when she felt a familiar reassuring claw on her

   “Is something wrong, rookery sister?” she heard a deep, male voice
intone behind her, and Asrial turned around to see Goliath, his face
filled with concern.

   “I...I...just...have some projects that I have been meaning to work
on,” she said hesitantly.  “I’ve been meaning to get this latest one
done, but I haven’t had the time.”  She bit her lip hoping that her
response was enough to satisfy her brother.

   Goliath was not convinced, however; he could see the look in her
eyes, a look of...pain, he thought.  “What’s wrong?” he asked again.
“You seemed...upset back there when we were discussing our brother.”

   “More like persecuting him,” Asrial said under her breath.

   Goliath raised a questioning eyebrow.

   Asrial sighed as she realized what she’d let slip.  Then she looked
Goliath in the eye.  “Why did you have nothing good to say about our
brother?” she asked pointedly.

   “There wasn’t anything good ~to~ say, sister,” he said, puzzled.
“Why does that matter?”

   For a moment, Asrial looked as though she were going to say
something, then she shook her head and turned away from her rookery
brother.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “I just...don’t want to talk about it
anymore.”  And with that, she leapt off the castle wall, spreading her
wings as she fell.

   “But-” Goliath said, but there was nothing he could do.  He could
only watch Asrial glide silently off towards her cave in the cliffs and
worry about his rookery sister.


The next night...

   Asrial sighed as she glided back to the castle with her rookery
siblings.  Below, she could see the Prince’s soldiers riding in through
the front gate, weary after the night’s fruitless search for the
bandits.  They were getting warmer on the bandits’ trail, though; they’d
managed to find the remains of a campsite the bandits had used the two
days before, and as the gargoyle patrol landed everyone felt confident
that they’d catch the bandits within the next few days.

   After the patrol landed, the flight leader dismissed them, and Asrial
and her rookery siblings dispersed.  Most of them, tired and hungry
after the night's futile search, headed for the kitchens for a quick
meal.  Her tall lavender brother smiled at her.

   “Come, sister,” he said, holding out his hand.  “I smell fresh bread,
hot out of the oven - your favorite.  Leave your creations for a while
and join me for a meal.”

   Asrial lowered her eyes and smiled shyly.  “It's tempting, brother,”
she said courteously, “and I thank you for asking, but I left things
half-done last night and you know how I am.”

   He laughed, a deep rumble in his chest.  “Very well, sister,” he
said, “but do not be surprised if there is nothing but crumbs when you

   Looking back, Asrial could see her lavender sibling watching as she
sailed away from the castle.  His concern for her was touching, she
admitted, and just a bit flattering to such a plain female as herself.
She smiled as she glided down the cliff face to her special cave.

   As she glided in for a landing, she caught scent of something that
caused her nose to wrinkle.  There was a strong odor of brimstone and
she frowned, knowing full well that her small supply of sulfur had been
securely put away.  It had been quite some time since she'd done any
alchemy experiments in any case, at least since the time she nearly
blown herself up when those two strange human nobles had visited.

   Asrial landed at the mouth of her cave, and took a few steps in when
her mouth dropped open in shock.  Her cave had been thoroughly
ransacked: baskets and bins were upturned; tools were scattered across
the floor.  The sulfur she had earlier smelled was strewn across the
floor, along with other alchemical materials, their bags torn to shreds.

   Then she noticed a broken mechanical form in the back of the room.
“Oh, no!” she cried, forgetting everything else as she rushed to her
latest project.  The wooden frame had been ripped apart and the leather
was torn to pieces.

   “It'll take me weeks to fix this!” Asrial exclaimed, as she examined
what was left of the device.

   “It'll take even longer than that, I can assure you,” came a voice
from behind her.  Before Asrial could react to the unknown stranger
behind her, a bag was thrown over her head and something heavy smacked
her behind the ear.  She sank to the floor, unconscious.


   The first thing to fill Asrial's nostrils as she regained
consciousness was the dusty smell of old grain.  The coarsely woven
fabric of the bag over her head pressed painfully into her cheek.  As
her head slowly cleared, she became aware of tightened leather bonds on
her hands, feet, even her taloned wingtips and tail.  When she tested
them, Asrial became aware that whoever had captured her knew of a
gargoyle's great natural strength, and had taken account of that.  As a
result, her bonds were secure enough that she could barely move.

   Taking a deep breath, Asrial concentrated on trying to free herself.
 The tight leather abraded her wrists as she struggled and the air
inside the bag became warm and stale as her breathing came quicker with
exertion.  After a little while, she began to gasp from the stale air in
the bag, and feeling light-headed she stopped.  Asrial cried out in
frustration, “Who did this to me?”

   “Why... I did, sister dear,” a smooth, masculine voice reverberated
in chilling echoes in her ears.  She could then hear the sound of
rasping footsteps, talons against stone, come closer.  “I’ve been
watching you for quite some time, you know,” the voice said calmly.

   Asrial could feel the fear rising within her, but she quickly quelled
it as best she could.  The words of the leader’s mate came back to her,
a scrap of memory from her rookery's earliest training sessions: ~“If
you don’t have a weapon at hand, then use what you have -- fang and
talon and wit.”~  The first two, she couldn’t do anything about, but
Asrial told herself firmly that there was no situation she couldn't
think herself out of.

   She took a deep breath of the stale air in the bag, swallowed, and
then calmly answered, “No, I’m sorry.  I didn’t know.”

   The light tapping sound combined with a barely audible swoosh became
louder.  Asrial’s captor spoke again, as if he hadn’t heard her.  “I
decided it was time for us to get re-acquainted, my dear, sweet,
sister,” he said.  His words dripped with venom, even though his voice
remained pleasant and conversational.  “I find you of...considerable
interest.”  Again, Asrial could hear the tapping against the stone
floor, this time louder still.

   “Brother?” Asrial asked, her heart pounding in her ears.  “Are you
the lost one?  We thought you were dead.”  She tried to appeal to him.
“We looked as hard as we could after you went missing, but we couldn’t
find you.”

   “‘Couldn’t,’” the voice inquired contemptuously, “Or wouldn’t?”

   “We tried,” Asrial explained, “truly.  I remember the search, even
though I was very young.  We searched all over the forest for you for
days.  But all we could find was a scrap of cloth from your loincloth.
We thought you were...”

   “Dead?” the voice asked.  Asrial could hear him clearly; he was very
close to her now.  She could see the dim outline of a three-toed foot as
it set down inches from her head, stirring up the dust and sending her
into choked coughing.  “Please,” she managed to rasp out, “please, I
can't breathe!”

     Suddenly, a sharp pain burned across Asrial’s cheek as the coarse
grain sack was quickly torn from her head.  She gasped sharply, from
both the choking dust and then from horror, as she looked into the pale,
cadaverous face of her lost rookery brother.

   The years had not been kind to him, not that he'd ever been pleasant
to look at, even as a hatchling.  He was a sickly yellow color, the same
as the flickering light of a single torch, and lean to the point of
emaciation, the bony edges of his brow ridges, cheekbones and ribcage
showing in gaunt prominence through his translucent skin.  Dozens of
short brittle spikes covered his skeletal head, one large spike curving
up from his forehead like a horn.  His wings were lined with spikes as
well, and the tapping sound she had heard earlier had come from the
mace-like knob on the end of his tail as it twitched back and forth

   “Not quite so pretty any more, are you?” he asked mildly, licking a
smear of blood from one of his talons.

   Her blood, Asrial realized belatedly, as her initial shock gave way
and she felt the warm trickle from a thin cut on her cheek.  “B-but,”
she stuttered in protest, “I'm not pretty.  I've never been pretty.  I'm
the odd female, the others tease me too.”  Unbidden, tears began to fill
her eyes.  “Why are you doing this?  What did I ever do to you?”

   Asrial’s captor dropped down to all fours, wings and cape forming a
dark puddle on the cave floor.  “Nothing,” he ground out between lips
pulled back from his teeth like a corpse.  “You did NOTHING!”  His dark,
glittering eyes bore into hers from hollowed sockets.

   “I don't understand-” Asrial began.

   “I've been watching you,” he interrupted, “or did you forget what I
just now said?  I’ve seen everything you’ve done, and you should have
been an outcast like me!  Always daydreaming, wasting your time making
~things~ when you should have been training.  But did the elders ever
punish you?  NO!”  His eyes burned white-hot, the only outward sign of
his emotions.  “Pretty sister was tolerated and cosseted and allowed all
kinds of second chances.”

   Asrial's lip trembled as she opened her mouth to speak.  “I--” she

   He slapped a hand over her mouth, cutting off her words, and leaned
closer, his hot breath on her skin.  “No one ever gave me a second
chance to try again!  No one ever liked me!  No one loved the ugly
gargoyle, not even you!”  He shoved her down hard to the ground and
stalked away, pacing in the darkness.

   “I left for a few days because everyone was punishing me for a minor
offense, one that wasn’t even my fault.  When I came back, I found that
everyone thought I was dead.  I saw my own remembrance, and not one of
my brothers and sisters had a kind word for me.  NOT...EVEN...YOU.”  He
swirled and pointed at Asrial.  “Nothing.  You said NOTHING!!!”  The
hard knob of his tail swung around and caught her in the stomach.

   Asrial gasped for air and managed to find her voice.  “What are you
going to do to me?” she said, her voice tiny with fear.

   A pair of eyes lit up in the darkness, two beacons of cold fire.
“I'm going to make you pay.”  His skull face seem to float in the
shadows, his pallid body cloaked in darkness by wings and cape.  “For
every blessing you received, for all that I was denied,... I ... Will
... Make ... You ... PAY!!"  Then he swept down on her like a vengeful
raven, talons and fangs bared.

   Her screams echoed in the cave for hours.

To Be Concluded...