The Fox Came Back
Written by Tas Vince Burrfoot
Previously on Dark Ages....
The first thing that he was aware of was a blasting, blinding light. A moment later, he thought he heard some kind of song, like a bird's song, but not quite, but that quickly died away. And then there was the feeling of stone under his feet.
He opened his eyes, glancing about. Nothing looked familiar. He inhaled deeply, and promptly sneezed. Dust!
There was a very heavy footfall behind him, and he darted forward a step, turning to look up into an exceptionally ugly face. A number of pointed remarks came to mind, but judging by the size of the person who had nearly crushed his tail, he decided not to voice them.
He turned around, coming snout-to-beak with a creature that he'd never seen the like of before. It hissed at him, exposing a few hundred tiny fangs, that looked like they were very sharp. He scrambled backwards, his paws slipping slightly on the clammy stone floor.
Reynard the Fox took stock of the situation. Here he was, wherever here was, in close quarters with an ogre, a flock of birds with teeth, and -- he blinked, eyesight still dim from the glare -- a guy with two faces and some kid with a harp.
And here I thought nothing interesting was going to happen this week....
Rhodri: "So it is you. Hello, Reynard."
Reynard: "And a talking fox is any stranger than a lizard with wings?"
Asrial: "This place was built to keep human invaders out, not enchanted foxes in."
Rhodri: "He reminds me of a few of my relatives."
A cool breeze blew over the crags that Castle Wyvern was built upon. However, it did not howl as was typical of the night noises on the sea. This night was particularly warm but not so hot that it was unbearable. The horizon let the first rivulets of red and orange claw across the shining waters and over Castle Wyvern's parapets. The stars and moon began to fade as the dominant daytime colors spread throughout the upper atmosphere.
Goliath felt the warm winds blow almost silently through the membranes between the ribs of his wings as he soared above the castle. He looked below to his quarry: a tower strung out high above the bulk of the castle. He descended slowly, finally landing on a stone window ledge outside of a beautiful stained glass window. Some tiny bright lights from within illuminated the window faintly. Without a second's hesitation Goliath opened the window with a creak and hopped inside.
A dark corridor stood before him and there were doors to the left and right. A candelabra hung above the hall, almost making it unbearable for eyes to look down the long corridor in the harsh light. At the very end of the corridor was an ash door that was slightly ajar. Goliath slipped silently towards it and opened the door so his massive frame could get in. Inside, the reddish colors flowed freely from the open windows and gave the stacks and shelves of books a very eerie appearance. The library had a marble floor which made it very cold when the castle cooled down on these long summer nights. Now it was like a huge block of ice as Goliath softly padded beyond many stacks of books towards the center of room. It was amazing how many different kinds of volumes there were scattered all around the library; there were many different colored jackets, thicknesses, textures, and smells. Goliath rounded one last corner before coming upon a scene that was rather confusing.
Surrounded by a huge pile of multicolored books, a young orange-skinned gargoyle sat in the alternating streaks of crimson and moonlight. Two ivory spiraling horns protruded from the rivers of golden hair which cascaded to just below the neckline of her blue home-spun tunic. Her prying eyes were quickly scanning through several pages of an ancient text that was gripped firmly in her talons.
She sat cross-legged on the cold marble floor and Goliath wondered how she could not get numb all the time that she spent sitting reading those huge books. Another rustle as she turned an old yellowing page of the weathered volume. The bag of tools that was usually flung across her right shoulder was laying beside her, cast away like some unwanted thing.
Goliath sneaked up very softly and Asrial looked up from her reading.
"Stop acting like such a hatchling, brother. I know you're there. I heard you come in." Goliath, grin as broad as a quarter moon, stepped out from behind a bookshelf and pointed to the increasing color leaking through the adjacent window. "Is it that late already?" Assuming her statement was true she frowned in frustration. "Oh, well," she shrugged. "Goliath! Be careful with that! Hasn't Brother Edmund taught you anything about books? They're not toys!" Asrial castigated the large lavender gargoyle as he flipped through a huge volume with placid fascination, reading some scattered words slowly. He looked up, blushing. "Come here and look at this." Goliath put the large book back in it's proper place and turned. Asrial held three red books in her talons. "I trust you remember these books?" Not waiting for answer from Goliath, Asrial continued, "They're the books that those monsters came from all those months ago. Take a look at this one," She quickly flipped the book open to the title page. "It's called Reynard the Fox. He's the one we couldn't catch." Goliath shuddered in recognition of the name. He leaned over Asrial's shoulder to get a good look at the page she was indicating. After a few moments of studying the old weathered page Goliath stated the obvious.
"There's nothing on it. It's blank. Why would you want to read a blank book?"
"Actually there are still a few words in the book here and there," here she turned another page to reveal a few dotted words across it, "Just no words that have to do with Reynard. Everything that relates to him has kind of, well, disappeared!" Asrial handed the book to Goliath so that he could look further.
"These books...they're so--big!" Goliath plucked the book from Asrial's talons and began flipping very fast through the pages. "I've never seen anything like them before."
"Be careful!" Asrial warned. "That's an old book!" Asrial tried to take the book back from Goliath but he held onto a page, ripping it out with a terrible shriek of paper. Asrial looked, very shocked, at the torn book and then to the embarrassed Goliath who was still holding the torn page in his talons.
"Er, sorry?" Goliath tried sheepishly, handing the page back to Asrial. "It was just an old book, and there's plenty more that you can read--"
"BLASPHEMER!" Asrial picked her herself up from the floor with amazing agility, books slamming to floor with a tremendous crash in her effort to get up. Goliath took one look at Asrial's angry features and made a dive for the nearest window. He made it just in time, Asrial cursing him all the way up to the nearby parapets. How was he going to talk his way out of this one?
The Next Day...
Water soaked his clothes to the bone and made him wet and miserable. His scarlet fur clung to him like barnacles on a rock in winter tides. His brand new red shirt and blue trousers could not possibly be washed because of all the dirt and mud that had been ground into them by the rushing waters. Of course the trousers and shirt weren't really his. He had "borrowed" them from a farmer. The baying of dogs could be heard in the distance and made his heart pound. It was just a simple shirt and trousers!
"Ah, bark all you want you dumb mutts," Reynard the fox suddenly spoke, rolling his eyes and nearly tripping on a rock below the river's surface. "That won't change the fact that you have a wasp's nest on your heads. And that nettle bush that you foolishly chased me through must be annoying your stupid masters now." The quick-talking fox found that the land beneath the rushing waters was beginning to slope upward steeply and soon he was shaking his coat clear of the heavy water, shedding his stolen clothes, and scampering into meadows.
He heard the dogs coming to edge of the other side of the river. Ha! It will take those humans and dogs at least an hour to get across that river! Reynard laughed to himself as he trotted back over to the hiding reeds by the river's waters. A dog snout appeared on the side opposite Reynard and quivered with the anticipation of the conclusion of the chase.
"Hey, buddy! Want your master's clothes? Here--" Reynard was cut off by a vicious dog snarl. But it wasn't a normal, every day, brainless dog snarl. Words actually came after the snarl.
"Ye better watch ye mouth, fox." the brown-colored dog bared it's teeth, "I might just tell my master to 'ave ye over for dinner--as the main course." Reynard gulped. "What's the matter? Ye doesn't got no snappy comebacks now, Mister Fox?!" the dog laughed hilariously. Reynard definitely did not like being on the receiving end of laughter.
"Why you son of a--" Reynard threw his wet and dirty stolen clothes at the laughing dog. The dog kept laughing and merely sidestepped the airborne pile of wet clothes. Reynard turned his attention to his keen sense of hearing which detected the rest of the hounds and humans crashing through the grass. Since when could dogs talk? They were such ignoramuses it was amazing they even had the ability of speech. Magical foxes taken from books could talk because they were smart and special and worthy enough to do that. But dogs?
"Move it, Red," a rough-sounding voice grunted from behind the bewildered fox. Reynard turned very slowly to meet the gaze of the most angry-looking boar he had ever seen in his life. The beast's coat was a shining red color and his eyes were almost completely blood-shot, giving the creature a hint of rabies. His two ten-inch long tusks protruded from his crooked mouth which was sprinkled with flecks of spittle.
"You're standing in my way," the creature snorted and walked decisively forward. He would have trampled the red fox's slight form in process had Reynard not jumped with incredible agility over the boar's head. Reynard turned to watch the boar strut across the riverside, grumbling to himself angrily.
"Hey! Where do you think you're going piggy?" Reynard called tauntingly after the woodland creature. The boar kept going as if he didn't hear Reynard. Before the talking fox issued another insult at the boar's retreating from, he began to ponder... Was it possible that this creature could actually talk or had Reynard had too much of that outdated bacon back home? And how rude he was, not listening to such an important creature like a fox. Just who does this freak think he's dealing with? Reynard asked himself. And why in the infernal regions is he talking?
"I don't suppose you escaped from a book?" Reynard tried. It succeeded.
"What in the red hot blazes is a book?" the boar asked, still walking away. "Anyway, watch your step, Red. Buncha gargoyles that way," the boar warned, stabbing a claw behind him as his voice faded into the distance.
Reynard looked incredulously in the way the boar had slunk off to. What the heck is the world coming to?! A dog and now a boar talking?! And who did he think he was giving a distinguished and important fox such as himself advice?
"I wonder if he meant Castle Wyvern?" Reynard mused. "Ah, those bunch of lizards couldn't handle me the first time. Maybe if I run into the smart blonde girl, she might be able to figure out what was happening. Or if they had if they had..." Reynard's tiny, white, sharp teeth gleamed in the moonlight. There were books written about this one so for some reason Reynard knew him--the "bard." There might even be a better explanation even if it was the scrawny cowardly one he had met. He might even have a little fun. "Maybe this time they'll be a little more of a challenge. Only one way to find ouuu--" Unfortunately the magical fox did not get to finish his thoughts for he was suddenly yanked off the ground by an invisible force as he was beginning to walk in the direction the talking boar had indicated.
The ground dizzily spin around his head in a myriad of sickening colors. He didn't know which was up or down but Reynard got the feeling he was being pulled somewhere by something. Then the force stopped pulling him but the world did not stop it's crazy dance around his head. As the spinning cylinder that used to be the world slowly went to a dim black color Reynard wondered who could have been so stupid to catch a clever talking fox such as he...
Two hours later...
"I wish that the Prince of Thieves could afford better than leather boots and armor for his men," the raven-haired man observed, his hazel eyes searching around furtively for his quarry and continually wringing his once magnificent green cape free of mud and water.
"And better repair of horseshoes. We've gone through this argument a thousand times, Osgar," the other taller one commented, shaking his long locks of blonde hair loose from his ocean blue eyes and leading their two coal black horses along the unstable riverbanks. With his other free hand he brushed the stubble that was just beginning to grow on his chin and pulled his leather boots from the mud with a sickening slurp.
"Yes, Cannech," Osgar spoke like he was holding his nose, "But I still wish Roland had never decided to send us all on this stupid mission."
"Ah, well," Cannech said, clapping his dark-haired friend on the shoulder. "At least we got to do a little adventuring together." Osgar immediately pulled his friend's hand off.
"Osgar doesn't like to be touched!" he yelled. Cannech hastily withdrew his hand.
"Hey, look, there's something in our trap!" Cannech exclaimed. Both sets of eyes caught notice of the small tree that they had set their trap in. Osgar scurried over to the base of the tree and looked up to see what was in the huge net while Cannech tethered the horses to a nearby tree. Sure enough there was a huge mass of fur inside. It was very dirty from the assorted twigs and debris that the creature had picked up from the river.
"I hope this was the creature Roland was talking about," Osgar growled, pulling the net down to ground level as Cannech trooped over. Cannech busily readied the cage while Osgar worked the limp body through the net.
"Roland's gonna be happy with us!" Cannech said, proudly puffing up his chest.
"Don't be so sure, friend," Osgar said, shoving the body into the cage with a swish of his forest green cloak and padlocking the door shut.
"Uh, didn't Roland say to put a cloth over him so he couldn't escape?" Cannech asked timidly.
"Of course he did, you dolt! I was just testing to see if you remembered!" Osgar muttered something about Cannech making a fine target for arrow practice.
"You know, you should really get that twitch looked at. It might--" After Cannech touched Osgar's shoulder to get his attention, a fight ensued. When it was over Cannech and Osgar both had a blackened eye and several scrapes and abrasions.
"Let's get out of here," Osgar grumbled. Cannech grabbed the cage and the two walked over to the tree where their horses were tethered.
"Wait a second! Are you absolutely sure that this is the fox?" Cannech stopped in his tracks, thinking. "I mean we're supposed to be looking for a talking fox and this one hasn't actually said anything yet," Cannech reasoned, taking a peek under the cloth that covered the cage.
"C'mere. Let me whisper something to you." Cannech ambled over and leaned down to accommodate his friend's smaller frame. Osgar cupped his hand over Cannech's ear. "Maybe we better put this one back!" he shouted. He promptly smacked his friend over the head. "Can I please do all the thinking here? Of course it's the one! Now be quiet for once." Osgar continued to grumble comparisons between the stupid fox they had caught and his equally stupid human companion as Cannech stuck his finger in and out of his sore ear.
"Who're you calling stupid?" a voice suddenly came out of no where as the two men were saddling up. Their two horses whinnied nervously.
"Who said that?" Cannech whirled on his horse to look back at the misty swamps behind them. Osgar commented again on Cannech's heritage and then urged his horse onwards.
Several hours later...
The two men had been riding for hours and it seemed that only one of them ever got irritable.
"Could you stop that infernal whistling?!" Osgar growled, spinning to face his happy-go-lucky companion.
"Sorry about that," Cannech immediately stopped in the middle of his merry tune for the sake of his friend's sanity. "Hey did you hear that?" Cannech said, stopping his horse to listen.
"Hear what? I didn't hear nothin'."
"Sounded like a moan or something," Cannech commented.
"It was just the wind," Osgar assured and continued on. Cannech nodded and also spurred his horse forward. Suddenly another tiny moan issued from the back of Cannech's horse.
"There it is again!" Osgar sighed angrily as he dismounted.
"Look, there was no noise. It was just the wind and your overactive imagination."
"It came from the cage. Let's just check to see if the fox is all right." Osgar growled and made his way to back of Cannech's horse where the cage had been tied to. He slowly lifted the crimson sheet from the top and saw the bars of the cage glinting in the early afternoon sun.
"See? There's nothing wrong wi--" In a flash of scarlet fur Osgar was knocked to the ground by the impact of something small hitting him in the chest. "What in Hades was that?!" He lifted up the sheet a little more and noticed that the bundle of dirty fur they had caught earlier was no longer in the cage.
"Hey where'd it go?" Cannech asked stupidly.
"I'm right here! You can't catch me 'cause you're slower than honey flowing uphill in January!" a high-pitched voice sung. The bushes to the left of the two thieves shook.
"There he goes!" Osgar growled. "I'm not about to let that lousy bundle of fur escape from me!" The green cloaked thief drew the dagger on his belt and crashed through the bushes like a stampeding elephant. Cannech shrugged and slowly followed after him. Strange, he thought, that he didn't hear any signs of a struggle. What he did hear, however, was Osgar's ohs and ows and a huge splash beyond the bushes. Cannech plowed on through the bushes as well, thinking his friend in danger. Smart fox, he realized as he noticed he had run out of ground to walk on. Just as Cannech had come streaming out of the bushes he saw that he was coming to the edge of some kind of drop-off. There was no room to stop and Cannech lost his footing. He went plummeting down a painfully thorny hill after his friend.
"A tragedy, really," Reynard laughed happily as the sounds of pain came up to his ears. Leaning on a small sapling that overlooked the hill leading down to a river he threw away the apple he had been chewing on and sauntered back to the glade where the two men had set him free.
The tired evening sun was at its last stages of setting when the men had started their campfires. The small blazes cast eerie glows about the woods surrounding the glade that the camp was set up in. The men all had long sharpened sticks with assorted animals skewered on them. They had done a great deal of hunting earlier in the day and were roasting their catches over the fires.
The clops of two sets of horse hooves could be heard over the muttered voices and crackling of the fires. In a flash the men snatched up their crossbows and the notching of arrows could be heard. Arrows pointed in the direction of the two hunchbacked figures on horseback who came tiredly into the glade. The two figures dismounted, tethering their horses' reins to a nearby sturdy tree branch. One of them went to the back of one of the horses, fiddled with something for a moment, and then joined his friend in walking to the fires where the men were seated. All present gave a small oath or gasp and lowered their weapons when they saw what had happened to the two of their own. The one named Osgar looked angry and continually muttered cursed and expletives under his breath. His green cloak was wet, muddy, and had several holes torn in it. His boots were also soaken wet, torn down to the heels, had several branches sticking out of the top, and sloshed water on the ground with every footstep he made. Osgar's face was caked with a little dried blood and mud and his eyes looked like they were about to close with sleep at any given second.
Directly after Osgar came his companion Cannech who looked a little better compared to his sullen friend. His hair was growing wild in every direction and his boots were also torn a little. His face was moderately clean save for a tiny rivulet of red streaming down his forehead. He was holding a small cage with a dark red cloth draped over it and seemed to be holding it tentatively as if something would leap out and eat him alive.
The men around the fire parted in the middle as their leader made his grand entrance. His black cape was the like the flurry of limbs on a huge spider, the dust swirling around his taloned feet. The sunset gleamed off of his clean, polished, ivory white mask and gave the leader of this band of thieves a rather roguish look. A good roguish look at that. But the two fiery hazel eyes gleamed with a shining malevolence from under the mask and gave the leader an edge that was expressed in his rough ways of dealing with those that made fun of him.
"Well, did you get him?" Roland growled expectantly at his two bedraggled men.
"You can drown the cursed thing for all I care!" Osgar grumbled as Cannech carefully handed the covered cage to their leader.
"How did you manage to catch him?" Roland asked amazedly, inspecting the cage.
"Let's just say that talking foxes don't like water," Cannech laughed nervously. Osgar growled angrily at his friend and then stumbled all the way back to his tent, grumbling some comments about not getting paid enough for abuse by talking foxes. But all the thieves in camp knew that their leader had sharp ears and as such they kept their comments to themselves or in very low whispers. Roland's eyes followed the angry thief and he turned to Cannech just as Osgar disappeared from view.
"What was he in such a snit about?" he inquired, inspecting the cage.
"I wouldn't suggest lifting that cloth if I were you," Cannech suggested. Roland shot him an icy glare. "Oops! Sorry. I forgot that we aren't supposed to advise you." The gargoyle glared at the nervous human for a few more moments until Cannech became uncomfortable.
"Well I guess, um, I guess I'd better be going now..." he said, backing up slowly. "It's getting late and--" Cannech suddenly fell over an exposed root of a large tree and everyone present laughed as he fell on his rear end. Cannech grinned sheepishly and then ran the rest of the length back to his tent.
The whole band of men turned back to their conversation and fires as soon as the two thieves had made their exit. Roland glared at the tents where the two thieves had retired for another moment and then went back to his inspection of the cage. He slowly lifted the crimson cloth off the cages top and peered through the metal bars. Inside was a ball of dirty red hair but actually looking to be in a far better condition than the two humans who had captured it. The creature suddenly stirred, blinking its innocent eyes and cocking its head trying to comprehend the world it had just been awakened into. Roland laughed merrily when he realized that this was just a simple fox. All that fuss over a tiny creature such as this...those two were blowing the whole thing out of proportion.
The moonlight shone off of the uncovered cage like silver in a forge as it swung back and forth on the handle that Roland held. The leader of the band of thieves walked up to his men who were still singing and eating around the huge fires. He eyed a man named Tormad seated near the entrance to the camp keeping watch. Roland tapped Tormad on the shoulder and explained that he was going to make a delivery to Lord Wallace and that he should be back by the following evening.
"Wait!" a voice suddenly interrupted Roland's journey from camp. "Are you sure you should really be going alone? I mean he's pretty tricky." Roland rolled his eyes. It was that fool Cannech again.
"I'm pretty sure I can take anything that little red ball of fur can throw at me," Roland snickered. Cannech nervously nodded and then made his way back to his place at the fire. The rest of the men still eyed Roland's cage with suspicion. "What're you all looking at?!" their leader yelled. "Go back to your gluttony!" Roland growled again for effect and then began to climb a nearby tree. When he reached the top he made sure the cage was secure once more, pulled back his black cape, spread his wings, and flew into the night. But Roland did not hear the little voice over the howling of the winds in his wings.
"He's gonna be fun..."
An hour and a half later....
Roland had always hated this trip. It always seemed to take so long just to fly around a huge forest. He wished he hadn't made his camp so far from civilization. He wished that he had a caravan to take him wherever he wanted to go. He wished that he had some one to talk to right now...
"Hey, mask boy, whatcha got in the cage? Bacon?"
Roland was startled by the sudden voice in his ear, and turned his head towards the sound. He was so engrossed in peering at the moonlit ground that he forgot to look where he was going. He only caught a brief glimpse of red fur when--WHAM!--he hit a huge tree and got tangled up the branches. As the pine needles jabbed his wings and arms mercilessly, the cage slipped from Roland's grasp and smashed to the ground, breaking the padlock off of the door.
Roland slowly tried to get out of his predicament in the tree branches, but heard loud cracks. He slowly moved his right hand over to free his left foot and then it happened. Three of the branches that were holding his midsection up snapped and the Prince of Thieves went tumbling to the ground.
"Ouch! Oh! Ah! Ouch! Blast!" Roland cursed as he found himself in a nettle bush. He jumped out in hurry, still pulling the tiny nettles from his rear end and along his arms and legs. He hurriedly moved his talons to his face to check for blood and then noticed that a familiar sensation was gone.
"Where's my face?! My face!" he screamed. Sitting on a rather large rock nearby, Reynard was laughing his head off watching the gargoyle covering his face and searching the ground for his mask. Another fox identical to Reynard was trotting around the broken cage, nervously eyeing its talking counterpart. Roland noticed the laughter coming in his direction and stared at the talking fox.
"That's gotta be the ugliest mug I've seen on anyone, human or gargoyle," Reynard laughed and darted into a bush.
"Why that little--" Roland looked to the fox that was originally in the cage staring up at him with those innocent and confused eyes. It quickly dashed off in the opposite direction that Reynard went as the gargoyle's fist clenched in anger. "Those fools! They can't get anything right! Can't tell a talking fox from a regular one!" Without a second to lose, Roland dashed after the insolent Reynard--and ended up in vine patch. Reynard laughed again on the other side of the bush as Roland tumbled down a small hill and into the patch of huge plants.
"Lookie what I got here, thief boy. Better come and get it!" Reynard grinned at the entangled Roland and held up a familiar white mask. The gargoyle growled with determination and scampered up the length of the hill, tearing the vines that held him. He caught sight of Reynard scrambling up a tree and ran after him.
"I'm not going to lose my payment just because of a scoundrel like you!" Roland yelled, his claws scraping for purchase on the trunk of the tree.
"Well, you may as well have little challenge while you're at it!" Reynard yelled back from one of the top branches. The Prince of Thieves couldn't explain the sudden splash of red he saw in one eye. He brought a finger up to the red and tasted it. It was not the salty taste of blood like he expected but a sour flavor. Sort of like...
"Hey Roland! Want some more raspberries?" Reynard asked as he lobbed another piece of the red fruit at the prince of thieves. The gargoyle growled and in a single leap covered the rest of the length of trunk. Reynard let out a little shriek and bounced away just in time to avoid Roland's enraged claws. Fortunately the snide fox had left Roland's mask and he quickly donned it with new vigor and energy. His eyes glowed white as he scanned the area for a glimpse of the scarlet fur that indicated his quarry was near. He saw a bush at the base of nearby tree shake. He quickly jumped into the branches of the next tree, forgetting all together that the limbs would not hold him. He fell again but this time his wingspan caught him and he alighted on the ground gently.
"Ah, you flying lizard!" a small voice came from beyond a brush covered hill. Roland ran towards the voice but then stopped, making sure that the fox wasn't leading him into a cliff or something like that. He saw no drop-off and then crashed through the bushes...and tripped over Reynard's foot. The gargoyle went down, falling straight into a bitterly cold stream. He brushed the water away from his eyes in the nick of time to see a red body jump over his head and land on the other side of the stream. Reynard grinned at the wet Roland.
"Had enough or are you thirsty for more? Get it? Thirsty! More! Hah!" Roland clawed his way to bank and the fox skipped just out of his reach. The now tired gargoyle wrung out his cape.
"My brooch! It's gone!" Roland yelled, searching his cape.
"Oh, is this it?" Reynard asked innocently, holding up a sparkling gold item.
"Gimme that you little thief!" Roland made a grab for Reynard's paw.
"Temper, temper," Reynard tsked, eyeing the item in mock appreciation. "And look who's calling who a thief! You know, when I was a young pup I never--" the talking fox cut his spiel short as he noticed that he didn't have an audience. He shrugged his shoulders and danced back up the hill, all the while licking his lips at the beautiful and obviously very expensive brooch that Roland had "donated" to his cause. It would fetch a handsome price. Reynard skipped happily to a nearby apple tree and plucked one of the ripe juicy fruits from one of the lower limbs.
"Yep, life's sure gonna be better when I make my new home in Castle Wy---hey!" Reynard suddenly felt his paws leaving the ground as he was yanked roughly into the air. He was staring into the eyes of an annoyed gargoyle. The brooch was snatched from his greedy paws and he felt his body being stashed back in the cage.
"Hey watch the fur, buddy, it's antique!" The crimson darkness closed around him.
"You've had your fun," Roland growled, putting his valuable brooch back in place. "Now shut up or I'll tan your stinking hide and use it as a doormat."
"Yeah, yeah. Your mother was a hedgehog," a voice came from under the blanket. Roland prepared to pull the fox back out and hang him, but then thought up a better idea to keep Reynard quiet. He swung the cage at a nearby tree but in the process the cage door clanged open again. Reynard sprang out.
"Ya know, I'd love to stay and chat with you kid but you're just too darn ugly!" Reynard laughed rather loud and rudely. Roland's eyes glowed and his teeth flashed in anger. He charged for the fox and ended up seeing stars as he hit the trunk of the tree that Reynard had been leaning against only seconds before. "H-o-w m-a-n-y f-i-n-g-e-r-s a-m I h-o-l-d-i-n-g u-p?"
In a daze Roland rubbed his head which was beginning to swell. Twenty red clawed fingers were held up before his eyes and the talking fox's words were strung out like clothes drying on a laundry line. Roland flopped back over, unconscious. Reynard cautiously prodded the gargoyle's body with his foot and deemed him a denizen of la-la land. He danced merrily around the Prince of Thieves' body and even threw some more raspberries. Before he left Reynard quickly took the brooch once again.
"Ciao, Spike!" Reynard laughed as he ran in the direction of Castle Wyvern. New places to explore and new stupider beings to torment. Reynard could barely contain his excitement. Just after the talking fox had exited the area a small blue jay came swooped down from the tree where Roland lay. It flew around the gargoyle's head and squawked angrily.
"Disturb my children's sleep will ya?" the bird asked as it pecked at Roland's mask.
He was tired of always having to do the night watch. It was always rather dull and boring and Beistan hated it that way. But when the almighty Captain of the Guard gave out each guard's particular assignment for the week, no one argued with him. That was, unless he wanted a fist planted on both his stomach and chin. He brushed away an errant piece of his light brown hair from under his cap and stared out into the night sky. His exhausted ocean blue eyes fell on his unsheathed sword leaning up against a far wall. He smiled faintly.
"It's good having at least you here, Raghnall," Beistan sighed, reaching for his sword's pommel. He slowly polished it with a nearby rag even though it was apparent that the weapon could be no cleaner than it already was. Beistan reached behind his back and pulled out a small black flask. "And you too, Dubni," he said lovingly, pulling the stopper from the top of bottle a taking a huge swig.
"So you named your sword Raghnall? I've heard of naming talking foxes, but mead bottles and swords?!" a voice reverberated around the castle walls. Beistan was suddenly very afraid as he pulled his twinkling sword closer to his body. His blue eyes nervously twitched from side to side as he watched the shadows at the edge of the moonlit woods. He heard the patter of small footsteps and his heart pounded in his temples. Beads of sweat glistened on the nervous guard's head and he pressed himself as close to the stone wall as possible.
A simple red fox came trotting out in the moonlight only a few feet from Beistan's boots. It blinked up at him with wide innocent eyes. The guard sighed in relief.
"Whew! Just a fox! Can you believe it, Dubni? I thought it was some beast from--"
"Just a fox?! I've have you know, sir, that I graduated from the animal kingdom's most prestigious college. Er, whatever the name of that was. Anyway, could you please let me inside? I'm dying to cause some chaos!" Reynard stood up on his hind legs and held his paws out as if to beg for a few gold pieces. Beistan's eyes were wide open in astonishment as he stumbled backwards. Tripping on a rock, the guard landed on the ground and skittered backwards on his hands and feet. After a few moments Beistan managed to find his voice.
"Talking fox! Talking fox!" he screamed, his hair whipping around his face wildly as he tried to unsheathe Raghnall--er, rather his sword, without success.
"Well that's rather rude! How would like me to come up to you and go," here Reynard held his nose and went trotting around on his hind legs like Beistan, "Talking human, talking human? No, I didn't think you'd like it very much."
"Demon!" Beistan's eyes were still as big as dinner plates and his hands were still trying to pull his sword from it's sheath.
"That's right, I am a demon!" Reynard made a very impressive hissing noise and wiggled his fingers in front of the terrified Beistan's face. "I'm Yarlseblargh, terrible demon fox ruler of the Ninth Pit of Baator, and if you don't let me in right this minute I'll curse your family to all look like squirrels!" Beistan was able to regain muscle movement in his legs and hurriedly opened the gate to admit the talking fox.
"Thank you, you're very kind," Reynard smiled sweetly and ran through the gates as Beistan let his legs drag him to the ground.
"Oh my good lord, that was close! Can you believe it, Dubni? A demon!" the guard asked incredulously of the black bottle as he unstoppered it. Beistan took one whiff of the mead and threw it away. "Stuff was bad anyway..."
Reynard gleefully rubbed his paws together as he saw the courtyard of Castle Wyvern ripe for the picking. He slowly sunk to ground level and slithered like a snake across the dirt encrusted courtyard and over to the rookery.
"Let's see if those gargoyles can handle me--" Reynard stopped in midsentence as another voice started talking.
"They feed us this raw meat! It's not even cooked!" The talking fox peeked around a corner of the castle to see a cat and a dog arguing. It wasn't usual barks and meows, but they were actually talking!
"Now this goes a little too far," Reynard whispered to himself. "Talking magical foxes, sure. Talking dogs and boars, maybe. But talking cats?! I don't think so..." Reynard tried to ignore the two voices and slipped over to the rookery's wooden entrance. He looked back to see the dog sniffing at the straw covered ground and the cat lithely slipping into a window above. One minute they were speaking and the next not. Reynard slowly looked with dread over his shoulder to pig pen in one corner of the castle. The pigs were wagging their tiny tails and grunting satisfactorily. Reynard nodded his head in approval, opened the door a crack, and crept inside. He didn't notice one pig stand up on his hind legs and point a trotter accusingly at another.
"Don't touch my mud bath again or I'll give you one right in the snout!"
"This is a catastrophe and I never want it to happen again," the elder finished his speech off, gazing down at the broken vase. Five wide eyed gargoyle youngsters stared up at him with a terror unmatched by anyone they had ever faced in Castle Wyvern. "Prince Malcolm is extremely angry about this and I don't have to remind you what happens when he gets mad."
"What?" a green, brown-haired female hatchling dared to ask, shivering as if Agamemnon was telling a scary story by firelight.
"He sends you to th' rookery!" the elder proclaimed, lifting a solitary talon up into the hair for effect, his silver and brown hair flying from the ridges along his face. Agamemnon scratched his beard as he considered the valuable vase that the five hatchlings had broke while playing with Argus in a hallway. "Perhaps we should--" Agamemnon heard a giggle. It came from the five seated hatchlings, specifically the typical trio of troublemakers. The green, aquamarine, and red-skinned hatchlings were covering their mouths or beaks, respectively. The other two female hatchlings were doing a better job, but any kind of disruption during Agamemnon's speeches was funny. "Who did that?" The five hatchlings pointed at each other. "Oh, never mind," Agamemnon brushed a hand over his face and heard several more giggles. "You know, when I was a young one," the elder puffed out his chest and looked like a bird performing a mating ritual, "I had respect for my elders!" Agamemnon hit his chest hard and coughed loudly, making the youngsters giggle even more. "Don't laugh. It's not polite."
The hatchlings pointed now to a spot behind the elder. Agamemnon spun around and came nose-to-snout with a grinning red fox. The fox hit his chest, coughing like crazy and prattling on about how one should respect one's elders.
"Why you insufferable--" Reynard scrambled out of the way just in time to avoid Agamemnon's windmilling arms.
"And one! And two! And three! That's right, keep it up!" Reynard shouted, running around the room with the elderly gargoyle in pursuit. Agamemnon stopped for a moment to catch his breath while Reynard leaned up against a wooden support. The hatchlings tried to suppress their giggles but the scene was too much. Agamemnon took another leap for the fox only to miss him yet again.
"Stay in one place, you blistering idiot!" the elder shouted, making desperate grabs for Reynard.
"Yeah, right, I'm gonna stay right where I am so you can catch me," Reynard laughed and Agamemnon made yet another grab. This time he was not so lucky as the talking fox leapt away and he crashed into a wooden support beam, knocking him unconscious. "Aw, you're no more fun than Roland. No challenge. Say kiddies, where's that big, dumb, lavender, winged lizard?" The hatchlings just giggled at the fox and Reynard smiled. "Oh well, I guess I'll be seeing you kids around," Reynard skipped out of the room and back into the courtyard where he scanned the castle looking for places to make more trouble.
He spotted the perfect place up on the battlements. His sharp eyes detected the grumpy old wizard locking the door to his laboratory shut. Reynard made his way to the stairwell and met the person he was seeking on the way up.
"Hey, I remember you! You're that grumpy old buzzard that everyone hates!" The Archmage was too shocked to speak and turned a great shade of red. As he prepared to zap the fox, Reynard snatched the ring of keys from his belt.
"Come back with those, you little thief!" the wizard chased the nimble fox up the rest of the stairs and onto the battlements.
"Just a few more adjustments," the female gargoyle muttered, squinting her eyes at a book she held between her feet and pulling one of several huge ropes on the pulley system that she had been working on for about five months. "Ugh. It's impossible to read this small text in this amount of light!" Just then Asrial heard a familiar laugh.
"Catch me if you can, old man!" Asrial looked towards the source of the voice and then slowly shook her head.
"Nah. Couldn't be." She continued raising her elaborate pulley system upward with loud creaks of rope against wood and metal. Reynard suddenly zipped around the battlement, making Asrial's blueprints take to the wind. "My diagrams!" she shrieked, looking for someone to kill.
"Whoops!" Reynard cried as Asrial grabbed him by the scruff of his neck with a jingle of the key ring he held in his right fist.
"Reynard! I've been waiting for this for a long time. I'm gonna tear you limb from--waah!" Asrial cried as she was wrenched off of the ground and hoisted into the air. Her eyes glowed an ominous red as she struggled to get loose from the pulley system that the clever talking fox had trapped her in. Reynard laughed his head off. He fell to ground and kicked his paws into the air he was laughing so hard. As he got up again Asrial saw tears streaming from his eyes and he wiped them away.
"You flying lizards are just too much!" the talking fox said.
"That's gargoyles!" Asrial growled, trying to pull her hands from the strong ropes that were tangled around her slight form.
"Whatever!" Reynard giggled again as the Archmage made his grand entrance at the stairwell, huffing and puffing like crazy.
"Where'd that rascal go?" the Archmage asked the trapped Asrial, who pointed to his lab door.
"My laboratory! No!" he cried, making for the door jamb where Reynard was casually examining his claws. Reynard slowly and deliberately shut the door in the old wizard's face. The next thing that the Archmage heard was the tell tale shudder of gears from within the lock. "Let me in you pest!" he yelled, pounding futility on the door with both fists. He heard a series of laughs as Reynard gleefully explored the room.
"Ooo, what's this one? Dragon's talon."
"I took great lengths to acquire that!" the Archmage screamed at the door.
"Never heard of it," Reynard said in a bored tone of voice. The tinkle of glass could be heard from within as a jar crashed to stone floor of the lab.
"Son of a demon!" the Archmage cursed as he fumbled within the pockets of his robes.
"That's Yarlseblargh," Reynard cried from within. "Of the Ninth Pit of Baator. What does this do?" A piece of yellowing parchment appeared very quickly into the angry mage's left hand and within seconds the door blasted open with a crushing magical blast of crimson. Another smash of glass could be heard and sparks flew out the door. "Ooo, that's hot. These things should have warnings."
"My mixing equipment!" the Archmage roared as he surveyed the destruction caused by the talking fox. "You'll pay for that with your life!" Green bolts flew from the infuriated wizard's hands and landed with shattering force on several objects around the room, adding to the destruction as he continually yelled "Fulminous Benite!" at the top of his lungs.
"Wow! I've never seen that many insects before," Reynard said amazedly as he pulled the cork from yet another bottle and a loud buzzing could be heard.
Suddenly the door to the lab slammed open and a blur of scarlet fur scurried past Asrial's inert form and stopped just before the stairwell that led to the courtyard.
"Those statuettes were priceless! AAAUUUUGGGHHH!" the Archmage screamed as he came running out as fast as the fox had, a few hundred bumble bees swirling around his head in a giant cloud. "You'll be my doormat before this night is over!" the Archmage managed to yell as he swatted the angry insects swarming around his nearly bald head. Reynard stopped his in tracks just a few feet from the stairwell and laughed again.
Asrial growled from her position in the pulley system and finished cutting away parts of the ropes that held her arms and legs with her claws. The ropes gave a tremendous squeal and snapped loudly, letting the insanely angry female gargoyle loose. Reynard quickly made his exit back into the courtyard with both the Asrial and the Archmage chasing him.
The talking fox quickly chose his next target, the washroom. He saw little trickles of steam rising from under the door so he figured there must be something worthwhile beyond it. He quickly closed the door silently behind him. In front of him was a small room with a washing board, tub, and shelves filled with soaps. At the end opposite the door lay a long corridor from which the steam was coming from. Reynard cautiously peeked through the doorway.
There were two separate washing stalls on each side of the hallway, one for males on the left side and one for females on the right. With a malicious grin on his face, Reynard grabbed a piece of soap and ground it into the already slippery tiled floor in front of the entrance to the washrooms. He crept over to where a brown loincloth was hung over a door of a steaming stall. Rivulets of water ran out from the wooden door and inside a deep voice could be heard singing loudly and rather badly off key.
Suppressing a laugh, Reynard grabbed the brown loincloth and bundled it up in his left fist. He ran the length of the corridor yapping his head off. A lavender gargoyle burst from the door from which Reynard had stolen the piece of clothing, a dull brownish-yellow sponge in his taloned hand, and confusion spread over his features. When he saw the talking fox his confusion turned to anger and he quickly grabbed a blanket that was hanging up to dry nearby.
"Reynard! How did you-- Why are you--" Whilst wrapping it around his waist in modesty Goliath slipped on the piece of soap Reynard had so cleverly placed there. With a yelp he fell on his back with a tremendous crash. The annoying blue female gargoyle with the fiery red hair came bursting out of a stall to the right and noticed her brother on the floor, a deep shade of purple crossing his face. Snapping the buckle on the belt that held her loincloth in place the gargoyle scampered along the length of the corridor, leaping across Goliath's body.
Reynard realized that he had better get out of the way just in time as the blue female crashed into the shelf full of soaps. He cackled again when she rubbed her hands uselessly against her eyes that were full of tears from the soap that had entered them. The other lavender one was struggling to get up now and he finally managed it. Reynard slipped towards the doorway--and right into the deranged Asrial's grasp. He quickly sidestepped around her legs before she could grab him and he dashed back out into the courtyard. Goliath ran after him, trying not to look Asrial in the eye. She stood in the doorway, waiting for her brother to chase the arrogant fox back towards her.
Meanwhile the blue female pushed the shelves off of her body with a bang and a crash of wood against metal. She slipped several times on the many soap bars that had been squished into the stone floor. The tears still blinded her but her eyes made out the outline of the door, moonlight streaming through it. Unfortunately she did not see Asrial's body. With a flurry of blue and orange skinned bodies, both female gargoyles toppled over and landed with a rush of dirt and mud.
"Blast you sister!" the blue female cried, her eyes flaring red.
"Well maybe you if you weren't so clumsy--" Asrial stopped in the middle of her blurb, looking down at something on one of her pouches. "My tools! They're broken!" Asrial snatched something from the pouch she was examining. The moonlight shined silver on a slender piece of bent metal.
"I must say that that's quite a twister!" Reynard commented as he stole a look at the bent tool and sped past the two angry females with the embarrassed Goliath in pursuit. The talking fox laughed as the lavender gargoyle slipped in some mud and nearly lost his blanket in the process. Asrial and the blue-skinned female did not have time to notice their fallen companion and were instead still arguing about who broke who's tool.
Reynard skidded to a halt as soon as he noticed his pursuers had stopped following him. He smiled blissfully as he saw the two arguing gargoyles in the doorway, one still wiping her eyes clean of the soap and the other still rubbing the rope burns she had received when falling down that pulley contraption.
"There's chaos in the air this time of year--" Reynard broke out into the most annoying ballad he could think of. The courtyard echoed with the ear aching wails and even Asrial and the other teary-eyed female gargoyle stopped arguing to look at the fox. Goliath's head slowly came up from the puddle of mud. Dogs nearby started to yap and howl along with Reynard's awful singing. Several doors slammed open on the nearby battlement as people came out to see what the horrible noise was. Reynard, quite satisfied with himself, ended on a torturous note. At the end the three gargoyles could be seen holding their tender ears in pain. "Any more requests?" Reynard grinned.
"Shut up!" the gargoyles yelled in unison, growling insanely. The talking fox slowly backed away from the advancing creatures--and slipped in a mud puddle. Brown wet dirt spattered Reynard's glossy coat and into his eyes, momentarily blinding him.
"I have one," a bedraggled voice came from behind the fallen fox. Reynard quickly scraped the rest of the mud out of his eyes and skittered around on his bottom to face the most angry old man he had ever seen in his life. "How about 'I'm Dead?'"
"It's been a blast, Archie. But now I gotta go," Reynard said as he nimbly evaded the Archmage's grasp, throwing the lavender gargoyle's loincloth up into the air, and causing the elderly mage to lose his balance. With a tremendous splintering of wood and a splash of mud the wizard landed in the pig pen nearby. Posts that kept the pigs in were knocked away by the Archmage's descent. Just before Reynard skipped off to stir up more trouble, he motioned to the pigs who grunted contentedly as they trotted out into the courtyard.
The gargoyles present were too shocked at the fox's antics to do much of anything. Their shock was broken when a pig started a conversation near them.
"Nice fellow, really. Although I get the feeling he likes bacon..."
Reynard was just about to make a little visit to the stables when his mischievous nostrils caught the scent of something...something he loved...
"Bacon!" the talking fox cried as the kitchen door slammed open. The chef was humming to himself so loudly that he didn't even hear the fox's entrance. Reynard licked his lips as he saw the bacon fly up out of the frying pan and land on the floor with a gut wrenching smack. Reynard scrambled over to the fallen bacon just as the chef reached down with a curse to pick it back up.
"Ouch!" the chef cried, sucking his hand after the hungry fox had bit it. "Get out of here you rascal!" he shouted as he grabbed a broom nearby and proceeded to push Reynard out of the kitchen with it.
"That's my bacon and you can't have it!" Reynard cried and slid under the broom's stinging embrace. The chef was scared witless by the talking animal and fell to the floor because of the sudden blur of scarlet fur that scurried under him.
"Mm, mm! I must--excuse me--I must say that this," Reynard pointed to the huge slice of bacon while he was chewing, "this is the best cut of meat I have--whoops, you should keep your floor more clean, you know--ever tasted!" The chef screamed, picked himself up off the floor, and ran for the door as fast as he could. Unfortunately Reynard had locked it and the poor chef ran headfirst into it. With a thump the man lay unconscious on the dusty floor.
Reynard made a sucking sound with his lips. "You need to watch where you're going too. It's not good to run out on a guest," Reynard said, seemingly quite satisfied with himself as he tore another strip from the bacon. "Now the stables and then," the fox paused to rub his paws to together for effect, "the maidens. Wha-ha-ha!"
The cows and horses were not used to that much noise. Pails clanged together and ladders fell from their resting places with a crash on the stacks of hay that sat all over the stable floor. The cows had not gotten milked in days which also contributed to their grumpiness. That lazy stable lad never did milk them on time...
Suddenly a flight of roosters and chicken came flying above the mooing cows' heads.
"Ah, forget it. I don't like chicken anyway." The cows turned their attention towards the speaker, a red fox walking on his hind legs. "Never liked beef much either. But you guys could come in handy right now." A whinny came from a black horse who swished her head nervously from side to side. "I think you'll do nicely," Reynard laughed as he opened the pens for the cows, who mooed with anticipation of freedom.
"There he is. Can you believe it?"
"You there!" Reynard whipped around to face four snarling human guards plus the one named Beistan whom he had tricked into letting him into Castle Wyvern in the first place.
"Can't a fox cause havoc in peace?" Reynard asked, placing his paws on his hips. "Have you tried the mud yet? It's the fad these days." The fox picked up a nearby pail full of the sloppy stuff leftover from the recent rains that had left the stables full of mud. Apparently the stable lad had neglected yet another chore. Reynard smiled at the wide-eyed guards.
"N-n-no! Wait! I'll give you some yummy candy," one guard nervously stopped Reynard's advances with a rushed wave of his trembling gloved hand.
"I hate candy," Reynard stated. The next thing the guards felt was the soggy brown stuff cascading down their heads. They screamed in anguish and bumped into each other in the confusion. "Now kids behave yourselves or no dessert after dinner." The guards yelled and grunted as they tried to get out of their tangled mass. As they pulled the mud out of their eyes they began yelling at each other. Reynard quietly slipped over to the horses' stable and let the livestock out. But before the beautiful black mare could get loose, he grabbed her reins and led her away.
Just as the talking fox and the mare reached the courtyard again, Reynard saw more guards crossing around to the stable entrance. Out of the corner of his eyes he noticed several women walking into a nearby entrance in the main complex of the castle. The same number of women were also walking out, their arms laden with freshly-pressed clothes.
"Now there's a prime target!" Reynard cried gleefully, stealthily leading the black mare towards the entrance after he had made sure all the women and guards had left the viewing area. Inside was just what Reynard had expected: a laundry room. Women slowly pushed dirty clothes down grooved metal plates and into tubs full of water. Clotheslines strung across the length of the laundry room laden with dripping wet clothes hanging to dry. Reynard swung both of his hind legs onto the mare who made a tiny snort and shook her mane. The fox shrugged it off and grabbed the reins with his paws.
"Hey buddy, how would you like me to sit on your back?" the mare snorted. Several of the women looked up.
"Oh, so horses can talk! Now I've heard everything," Reynard mused, examining the horse carefully. The horse whinnied again as if to assure the fox that she could not talk. Reynard nodded his scarlet head and with a trickster twinkle in his eye he urged the beast of burden forward. All of the women present stopped their scrubbing to listen to the clop of horse's hooves in the room. Their curiosity quickly turned to fear as a huge black mare with a small red fox astride it came crashing through the laundry room, knocking buckets full of dirty water aside, splashing it all over the room. The fox was actually saying something, if that was even possible, but the women couldn't make it out. Something about always wanting to ride a horse through a laundry room. None present even thought one second more about it as they fled in sheer terror.
As Reynard galloped through the laundry room he caused quite a commotion and soon the lovely sound of screams filled the air as the women knocked each other into the tubs whilst attempting to escape the fox's rampage. Reynard prepared to perform a trick on the horse's back but underestimated the mare's anger at having such an insolent little creature on her back. The black steed bucked the incompetent Reynard off her back and right into a clothesline. The fox's sharp claws promptly shredded through the line and through several garments hanging thereupon as well. With a great clamor, smashing of glass, and a rumple of clothes Reynard landed on an antique vase. After breaking it he was deposited on a pile of clean clothing where he lay stunned for several moments, shaking his small head to clear it of the cobwebs that threatened to lurk there for a long while.
A few seconds later his vision focused on the angry laundry women, several of them drenched to the bone with dirty water.
"Phew! You smell awful, simply awful!" Reynard said, holding his snout with one of his paws while the other swatted at the air in front of his face. "Might I suggest a mud bath?"
"It's that talking fox that those gargoyles were talking about. I bet we get a reward if we catch him. Grab 'im!" one bold woman shouted and the group surged forward, thirsty for Reynard's blood. The fox once again evaded several pairs of grasping human hands and dashed to the rear of the laundry room. His yellow eyes hungrily swept up the room in search of the black mare but she was no where to be found. Reynard felt a strange sensation on his tail and whipped around to see a rather homely looking woman grabbing hold of his tail.
"Gotcha," she said determinedly.
"Yes you do, madam," the talking fox said politely, batting his eyes rapidly. "Now let go!" Reynard snapped his tail from the woman's grasp and ran out the exit, back into the courtyard where several squads of guards were positioning themselves all over the castle. Each had a rather cruel-looking crossbow notched in the crook of their arms.
"All of this for moi?" Reynard asked, sneering at the guards.
"There he is," Asrial said, still rubbing the rope burns on her arms and legs. "Just like I told you!"
"Yup, here I am," Reynard giggled, grabbing a nearby chicken who promptly dropped an egg in his hand. "Catch!" Asrial caught the egg all right--right in her face. Reynard fell down on the ground, his body wracked with spasms of laughter as he watched the yellow and white egg slip down Asrial's angry features. "Look's like the yolk is on you!"
"I'll show you!" Asrial said, her face hardening into a mask of displeasure. She plucked the remaining parts of the yellow egg off of her forehead and threw them at Reynard. The fox laughed, easily sidestepping them. But apparently he didn't see the huge lavender gargoyle coming up behind him for in the next second he was plucked off the ground by Goliath's two huge muscular arms.
"Ah, Mr. Modesty," Reynard smirked. The lavender creature growled in response, his eyes flaring white. "Hey look, talking boar!"
"Where?" Goliath loosened his grip ever so slightly, looking for the imaginary creature that Reynard had mischievously mentioned. This was just the break Reynard was looking for. The red fox easily slipped between the lavender gargoyle's elbows and ran the opposite way of the guards, the steaming mad Asrial, and the confused Goliath. Arrows clanged around his feet and made him dance merrily as the guards let their arrows loose with twangs of bows and curses.
Reynard dashed into the closest room which happened to be a pantry. Several barrels of meat and vegetables were stored around the room in various positions. The talking fox cautiously perked up his ears as he heard loud meticulous chewing noises. His nose quivered at the familiar scent of stables... Reynard rounded a corner of the pantry and saw several of the horses and cows he had let out earlier munching luxuriously on some carrots and lettuce.
"Glad you guys are having fun, 'cause I sure am!" Reynard snickered, hearing the loud patter of booted feet outside the pantry.
"This is most assuredly more fun than being out in the pasture," a cow commented, chewing on a head of lettuce with a loud crunch. Reynard ignored the talking beast.
"Let's see, what can I use? Ah ha!" Reynard crowed as he noticed a drum of oil nearby. It was quite tall and Reynard tried to push the drum over to the door, but it was useless; he was simply too short. His sharp eyes quickly scanned the room again and in seconds he was grabbing the wooden handle of a butcher knife from a nearby table. With little chuckles Reynard slashed the soft spots in the tops of the drum and managed to tackle the thing, knocking it down and spilling the clear oil everywhere. The sly talking fox jumped over the creeping tendrils of the translucent stuff and stood about four feet from the doorway where he heard several shouts nearby.
"I'm in here you buffoons! Come and get me before I cause any more trouble!" The effect was just as Reynard had hoped. With a cracking of wood, the entrance to the pantry broke open and a huge squadron of red-faced guards leaped in, taking huge lungfuls of air. They looked to see a tiny innocent looking fox brandishing a butcher knife with some clear liquid dripping off of it.
"Poison!" one guard yelled, trying to pull his sword from his sheath. "Can you believe it, Captain? I told you so!" The man with the handle bar mustache next to Beistan rolled his eyes with boredom.
"Same old, same old, eh?" Reynard grinned as he leaped around the corner and over the unseen oil river.
"After it!" the sergeant yelled. Reynard listened with the cows and horses as the men came crashing around the corner--and every one of them slipped on the oil and fell flat on their faces. The talking fox was so pleased with himself that he was beyond laughing. Reynard waltzed out of the pantry, whistling all the way.
"Well that's a full day's work. Never fear, Castle Wyvern, the night is young!" Reynard cackled as the moon sparkled in his eyes. "But first a word from my sponsors!"
The red form quickly sprinted across the courtyard and back into the kitchen. The chef had long since abandoned the place and Reynard was glad of that. He looked to the stove where the pan that the chef had used lay untouched. There was a large door on one side of the room and Reynard curiously tip-toed over and opened it with a creak of rusty hinges. Inside was a relatively small room with salt draped meticulously like a light layer of snow everywhere. And the meat! Reynard thought he was in heaven! Rows and rows of the choicest slices of red muscle covered with salt preservative! The fox licked his lips greedily and grabbed a rather large chunk of bacon from it's place to his right and shook it free of salt. He hummed to himself as he exited the meat room, shut the door with his tail, grabbed several spice jars, and threw the bacon into the pan with a sizzle. The heavenly aroma drifted up to Reynard's waiting nostrils and he inhaled deeply with a contented sigh.
"Enjoy your meal, Reynard," a rough voice from behind the talking fox growled. "It'll be the last one you ever have."
"Good guess," the gruff voice spoke again, and Reynard spun around to face a very angry gray-colored wolf. The animal wore an orange colored top with green sleeves and lighter colored trousers to match. Isegrim bared his teeth with a bright flash of white as his yellow eyes blazed with fury.
"Heya! How are ya! Gooda see ya! Ya know I was on the road the other day and the darnedest thing hap--" Before Reynard could finish his remarkable tale, the angry wolf lunged at the talking fox. Reynard managed to duck and run right out from under the Isegrim's legs. The wolf turned with a confused expression as his paws slammed onto the hot frying pan. Then his confusion turned to pain as he howled with fury and whipped around to face the grinning fox.
"Looks like you learned to keep your paws off my bacon," Reynard said, slowly backing up. Isegrim continued to make choking motions with his smoking paws.
"You're not getting away, not this time," Isegrim growled, backing the fox up into a wall. "Last week you attacked my children while they were sleeping. This week you steal bacon from my kitchen. I've been waiting a long time for this."
"Yeah, me too," a deep voice growled to Reynard's immediate left.
"Oh, great!" Reynard grimaced, slapping his paws over his eyes. A huge brown bear lumbered into the kitchen, his hulking form covered with a simple monk's robe. It was dark shade of brown with a length of rope around his waist, a hood, and a small money pouch around his neck. The bear's fur matched his robe's color perfectly and his yellow eyes accentuated it.
"Don't even think of trying that honeycomb thing again," Bruin the bear growled, preventing the nervous red fox from escaping.
"Let's take a little stroll in the park, eh?" Isegrim growled, still wringing his singed paws. Reynard had no choice but to obey and the trio of talking animals headed towards the courtyard.
"And after he's declared guilty we'll put a beehive on his head," Bruin grinned, eyeing Reynard.
"And burn his paws with a frying pan!" the wolf growled, turning to face the nervous fox. Reynard had been caught before but this time he didn't have--
"Honestly Bruin and Isegrim, I must say I'm shocked!" a small but proud voice came issued from behind a row of freshly washed pots and cooking utensils.
"Nephew Grimbard! It's so good to see you. I was just explaining to these two fine gentlemen that I have done nothing wrong," Reynard said, hastily pulling his sore arms from Bruin's grip as a small black and white striped badger stepped into the light of the moon. He, like Isegrim, liked to wear expensive clothing--after all, he could afford it. A royal purple cloak went down to his knees where two very nice leather boots covered his paws. This night a forest green three pointed hat also covered the top of his head.
"Done nothing wrong except stealing my bacon and attacking my children!" Isegrim shrieked.
"And tricking me to get the townspeople to attack me!" Bruin chimed in.
"Now I'm sure my uncle would never do anything of the sort," Grimbard assured, running to Reynard's defense.
"I am not a crook," Reynard grinned, leaning against a pan which promptly toppled over, spilling the fox onto the floor and dashing his wits about him.
"Let's go," Bruin growled, pulling Reynard to his feet.
"Let him go," Grimbard proclaimed, "Or the king will hear of this!"
"My dear boy," Isegrim smiled like a freshly sharpened razor, "I plan on letting the king know of this creature's wicked deeds against the kingdom."
"The jury is assembling," Bruin informed as he looked out the window.
"C'mon," Isegrim said. He, Bruin, the captured Reynard, and Grimbard exited the kitchen.
"What did you do this time?" the badger whispered to his uncle as they reached the moonlit courtyard.
"Oh, it was nothing really," Reynard said casually, pushing his nephew's suspicions away with a flick of his paw. Grimbard raised an eyebrow and they continued their trek to the north end of the courtyard, near the entrance to the gates. Funny, Reynard thought, that there were no guards around to stop him when he needed them. Typical.
Suddenly the gates opened with a loud creaking noise and Isegrim stepped to side as a small form even meeker looking than Grimbard's entered.
"Ah, welcome, Tibert," Isegrim greeted the small gray and black cat. Tibert nodded a small meow towards the wolf and bear. With a swish of his blue robe he passed by Reynard with a tentative hiss of anger. "And what is your claim?"
"He tricked me into getting caught stealing from the humans," Tibert said meekly.
"You see Grimbard? Reynard is a liar, a thief, and a murderer," Bruin said pointedly. The badger brushed it off with an air of superiority. Bruin growled at Grimbard's insolence, but decided to keep his gloating until later when the trial began. Creatures started to filter through the gates more rapidly now and Reynard's eyes widened at the sight of so many accusers. Chanticleer the chicken attributed the stealing of his daughters' eggs to the sly fox and Kyward the hare claimed that Reynard had tricked him into falling for the old human snare trap. And the list went on and on...
Reynard listened to all of accusations without a word but then Curtois the sniveling puppy dared to complain that the scarlet fox had stolen his steak one cold night.
"How dare you?" Reynard snarled in an uncharacteristic anger. Curtois just smiled sweetly. "You little thief! You stole the steak from the Lion's palace!" The puppy's smile turned into a snarl equal to Reynard's. "Why if Bruin wasn't here I'd--" Reynard was cut off by a reassuring voice.
"Uncle, do you want to make the charges against you triple fold? I suggest that you be silent so that I might find a way out of this for you." Reynard always listened to his nephew's advice so he immediately shut his mouth as all the animals had begun to sit in rows in front of Isegrim, Bruin, and their captive.
"Friends!" Isegrim shouted, and the loud chatter halted within a few seconds. "We have been gathered here tonight to witness the charges against Reynard the fox come to order."
"Wait a minute!" Reynard cried out before the wolf could get any further. "King Lion is not here so you can't pass judgment on me."
"Oh yes, I can," Isegrim grinned at Reynard. "You see I am the ruling animal in the king's absence. And since the king is not here I may pass judgment." Isegrim then proceeded to call each animal up one by one to give in full detail what the fox had done to them recently. After a great deal of time Grimbard finally had his turn.
"As you all well know my uncle has been proven innocent before by--"
"Get the fox!" someone hollered before Grimbard could finish his speech and the huge animal congregation rushed at the imprisoned Reynard. Bruin prepared to throw the helpless fox at the bloodthirsty crowd. Ooo, Reynard thought, not good, not good.
"He stole my bacon--"
"--shattered my magical statuettes--"
"--soap was in my eyes--"
"--Blistering idiotic excuse for a fox mocked me while I was giving a very important lecture on--"
"Silence!" Prince Malcolm shushed the shouting crowd made up of humans and gargoyles. It seemed to be akin to the one that was attacking Reynard outside.
"Where's the fox? He's mine," a voice shouted from behind the assembled personages. The crowd parted for one Lord Wallace and a small contingent of his guards. He sauntered over in an uncontested snobiness to the table where Prince Malcolm sat.
"Lord Wallace," Prince Malcolm noted the arrogant noble who didn't even nod in response.
"I told you not to rip that page but noooo, you had to look at it. 'It's blank' you said. Well now Reynard has come back and we can't--" the angry Asrial paused as she and Goliath walked into the entrance to the Great Hall. Agamemnon gave a snort of disapproval when he saw the blanket still draped over the lavender gargoyle's waist and the Leader seemed to be trying to hide a gout of uproarious laughter. Deborah stood by her mate impassively, watching the scene unfold. The blue gargoyle who had soap in her eyes earlier stood nearby in the arms of Diomedes, laughing at her rookery brother's modesty.
"It's a long story," Goliath replied to the tacit question presented by his elder.
"I'd watch it Wallace," a rough voice from the back of the Great Hall growled. A cloaked gargoyle with an ivory colored mask stepped into the light of the torches, his glinting teeth shimmering in the light. Lord Wallace was taken aback for a few moments and then regained his regal composure. Asrial's jade eyes opened wide and she quickly managed to slip behind Goliath and into Deborah's comforting arms, hiding her eyes from the Prince of Thieves and suppressing a whimper. Every other gargoyle in the room looked at their long lost rookery brother in shock as well. Roland didn't even seem to notice his former clans' stares.
"Why is he here?" Deborah whispered to the Leader, her eyeridges coming together sharply as she stroked Asrial's golden hair reassuringly.
"I donna know," the Leader growled back, "But after this is all over we make a grab for him." She nodded and studied Roland's every move carefully.
"How dare you speak to me in that tone of voice Roland? I commissioned you to capture Reynard the fox and instead you let him loose in a castle?!" Before Roland could answer a rather loud ripping of cloth behind Malcolm's high-backed chair could be heard. Wallace ducked under the table defensively and everyone else stood in wonder as a dazed Reynard came into the Great Hall out of breath.
"You guys just don't give up, do ya?" he shouted outside the tattered cloth covering, brushing away some white threads that still clung to his glossy red coat. "Good evening, Your Majesty, " Reynard bowed mockingly at the hiding Lord Wallace and the astonished Prince Malcolm and gave a quick leer at the gargoyles present (Agamemnon in particular) as he ran the length of the long dining table. A few seconds later a rather angry looking wolf and bear, walking on their hind legs, came through the torn cover as well. "Hey Isegrim! You're 'it'. Ha!" the fox laughed as he zipped out the door. All present were too stunned to speak for several moments as a mob of angry animals spewed through the windows, the shaking of the floor sending several expensive silver dishes to floor with a resounding clatter. Grimbard was at the end of the mass still trying to convince all the animals of his uncle's innocence. Wallace resumed his seat after the angry procession had left and pushed his royal robes back into their stately position.
"That blasted thing ripped my tapestry," Prince Malcolm commented, spying the damage Reynard had done.
"I want you to bring me back that talking fox alive," Lord Wallace told Roland. The gargoyle shook his head sadly. "And," Wallace added, "I'm willing to pay you double what I promised."
"Sounds like that double-faced, back-stabbing, snake-bellied murderer has gone freelance," Diomedes muttered.
"Sorry, Wallace, but no amount of money is ever gonna convince me that I should go after that weasel," Roland said, ignoring the comments of his former family. Lord Wallace noted the crimson patch on one side of the gargoyle's mask. "This rare pets fling of yours is getting way out of hand. I could care less just as long as you're having me collect rare birds and fish and the like. But talking foxes is another matter entirely and if you want to go after Reynard by yourself be my guest." Lord Wallace didn't seem in the least perturbed by Roland's statement.
"Looks like you're a wee bit scared, Big Bad Roland," he smiled, pointing to the red spot on Roland's mask. The gargoyle growled in anger and took a few steps toward the smug human. "Triple then," Wallace declared, rising from his spot under the table. The olive skin below Roland's ivory mask crinkled in a bemused greedy grin but the smile quickly turned to confusion and then anger.
"My brooch! Where's my brooch?!" he cried, searching furtively around in his black cloak for the expensive item. His fingers curled into a fist in realization of what had happened. "That thief stole my brooch again!"
"Looks who's calling who a thief," Deborah said under her breath. Roland didn't dare even look at the female gargoyle.
"I'll give you a new brooch plus the triple sum," Wallace knew he had sunk a deal when Roland began to slink out of the room muttering curses about Reynard's kin.
"I won't need the brooch. Tonight a new fox fur rug will be tanning out in front of my tent!" Roland quickly exited, but not before bumping into a slight brown-robed figure.
"You're just letting him get away?!" Asrial cried as soon as Roland had exited.
"Lass, we may as well let him capture that troublesome talking critter and then we'll capture him," the Leader intoned.
"Two for the price of one," the fiery-haired one growled.
"No way, Balderich! There is just no way that I would let a man--er, fox, get off that easy," the man said, red-faced as if he had been arguing for a long time. The assembled personages looked curiously at Brother Edmund as if he were crazy: it seemed as if he was talking to no one. Suddenly a small brown squirrel popped out from his hood. The creature shook its tiny fists in the air with vehemence.
"How would you know anything about forest politics?" he fumed.
"I know just as much as you," Brother Edmund responded confidently.
"But you didn't know about King Lion. And he's a critical part of Reynard's punishment procedure. And anyway--" The two argued down the length of the dining room table without paying attention to anyone, reached the smashed stained glass window, and stepped outside where some pigs and cows were also arguing about who got fed better. Lord Wallace decided to follow Roland in search of his prize.
"This is getting a little too strange for us," Beistan said, taking a swig from a newly-attained mead bottle.
"Now look what you've done! Roland's stalking around our castle looking around for that cursed fox. If you hadn't ripped that page..." Asrial fumed.
"I don't know what you're talking about. It's just an old book!" Goliath's features softened as if he expected sympathy from his orange-colored rookery sister.
With a loud battle cry Asrial knocked Goliath to the floor, nearly pulling his decency blanket away in the process.
"Enough!" Prince Malcolm commanded. "I demand this stop at once!" Agamemnon ran over to where Asrial was nearly choking Goliath and pulled them apart as the blue female gargoyle suppressed a laugh nearby.
"I'll deal with you two later. Right now we've got to find this Reynard, skin him, and bring Roland in for questioning," Agamemnon growled, grabbing both gargoyles' wrists with a painful twist. The elder started to drag the two gargoyle teens out of the hall to look for the errant fox but a bedraggled muddy old man blocked their path.
"What exactly did he do?" the Archmage asked, wearily leaning on his staff and pointing to Goliath.
"The usual," Asrial growled, scrunching her nose up at Goliath who backed away defensively. "There was a blank page in the 'Reynard the Fox' book so he ripped it out while trying to examine it whose those nimble fingers of his!" The Archmage looked to Goliath as if to say "You idiot! My magical statuettes were sacrificed just because your imperceptibly moronic mind decided to rip a page?!" Goliath blushed a deep shade of lavender, even deeper than when he had slipped on the soap in the showers.
"Apparently the spell that Rhodri's lyre accidentally cast on the books' characters is growing weaker and weaker as time passes. That and because the fox's main life source, the book, has been damaged will eventually cause him to simply break down into raw magic." Spying the seven gargoyles' confused expressions, the Archmage said, "Considering the creature's particularly rambunctious and erratic behavior, I conclude that this cannot be good news. Therefore we must find the page that was ripped, mend it, and bring the fox back here before sunrise."
"I-I'm sorry," Goliath broke in, looking at his toes sheepishly. "But I'll catch Reynard. That is, if you would be so kind to let go of me, Elder." Agamemnon eyed Goliath, smiled, and released the grip on the lavender gargoyle's wrist.
"Aye. Bring back that snake-in-the-grass," the Leader laughed, clapping the lavender gargoyle on the shoulder. Goliath motioned to Asrial, who followed him, her anger gone as swiftly as it had come.
"Now let's go find that fox."
"I'll go find the book," Asrial said hastily, walking the opposite way that Goliath was going outside the Great Hall. Goliath grimaced for a moment at his sister's retreating form.
She's still scared of Roland, Goliath thought with a swift wave of anger. After what he did to her who wouldn't be? Quickly he banished the thought into the deep recesses of his mind and then ran off to catch the talking fox.
"Yup, this sure is the life," Reynard sighed, chewing nosily on a ripe red apple. "Those fools will never catch me. I am the king of the tricksters," the fox smiled contentedly as he threw away the core and leaned on a barrel of the stuff. "Heh, heh. Didn't mean it, Almighty Puck." The fox smiled as he looked to the kitchen ceiling. The white paint was peeling off by the foot. "They should really get that looked at--waah!" Reynard was yanked off his feet once again and few second later he was snout to mask-covered nose with Roland, Prince of Thieves.
"Oh look, kiddies, it's the freak show," Reynard said boredly.
"This time, you little hairball, I'm not gonna let you trick me," Roland growled, twisting the fur on Reynard's chest and ignoring the comment.
"Ouch! That hurts. And, by the way, you have awful taste. You should see a healer about the solidity of your head. I mean, the red blotch on your mask is so...eighth century." The olive gargoyle snarled dangerously and started to troop out of the room with the talking fox in tow. "Oh yeah, and get your eyes examined while you're at it."
Then Roland made the fatal mistake.
"Why should my eyes--eeeooouch!" Roland cried as a huge sack of flour hit him hard in the face, showering his sensitive pupils with the white irritating flour.
"Blasted son of a goblin!" he cried as Reynard laughed and zipped through the gargoyle's legs.
"That should keep you occupied for a while." Reynard snatched another red apple from the barrel and ate it with a loud crunch and a spray of juice. "Well I simply must going now--yikes!" Reynard barely missed being grabbed by Goliath's flailing arms. "You flying lizards just don't give up!"
"That's gargoyles!" Goliath and the temporarily blinded Roland yelled in unison.
"Whatever," Reynard sneered as he leaped out of the rear exit and into the courtyard.
"After him!" Goliath yelled, sprinting after the escaping creature. Roland waved him on, salty tears running down his mask as he attempted to purge the flour from his eyes. Goliath gave a quick frown in Roland's direction but then decided that a crazy talking fox left to run wild in the castle's courtyard would be worse than a inhibited Prince of Thieves.
"What do you mean 'he's just going to dissolve'?" Asrial inquired after she handed the weather-worn book over to the Archmage. Just then another canvas-covered window bulged inwardly and Reynard tumbled through the rip his claws had made and onto the cold floor. Prince Malcolm was in a fury by now and looked as if he was about to strangle the talking fox with his own hands. Reynard looked over his shoulder and trotted over to the suspicious Asrial and Archmage.
"Guys!" he whined. "You gotta listen to me! I'm disappearing!" Both human and gargoyle exchanged looks of empathy and then looked at the fox with distaste. "Look!" The red fox held up a paw. The red and black fur swirled up to the paw until the fur seemed to simply be erased by a crazed artist trying to get rid of a creation in a hurry.
"Just as I suspected," the Archmage pointed out.
"You gotta help me!" Reynard insisted.
"I don't know..." the Archmage started.
"...he has made something of a nuisance of himself..." Asrial finished, her eyeridges darting up sharply.
"Please! Please!" the red fox whined pathetically. Asrial grinned wickedly.
"Beg," she stated. Reynard feel to his kneels and wailed like a mere babe.
"Do you suppose," the Archmage mused, "that if we left him alone he'd turn into a puddle of ink?"
"Only one way to find out..." Asrial laughed as she pulled away from Reynard's pleas.
"You can't let uncle Reynard die!" a small voice from behind the gathered men and gargoyles spoke. The crowd parted for a small black and white badger.
"Grimbard! Nephew! Y-y-you can't let them leave me alone! I'll die!" Asrial raised another eyeridge at the fox, then at the badger's pleading features.
"There he is!" Lord Wallace's voice growled from the window. "Grab him, guards!" Several men trooped in from the courtyard and surrounded Reynard.
"Oh all right. Let's get to repairing that page," Asrial sighed. Suddenly the doors to the great hall swung open and in trudged Goliath.
"Ah ha! So this is where the little rascal has scurried off to. Come over here you little runt," Goliath growled, stumbling over to the chair where Reynard was sitting.
"Wow, I've never seen a flying lizard drunk before!" he said in feigned wonderment.
"That's GARGOYLES!" everyone shouted. Reynard looked hurriedly around and then spied something he didn't particular care for in the window.
"You're mine, fox," Isegrim wearily drug himself through the few remaining fragments of the tattered canvas, his tongue flopping from side to side like a discarded rag doll. Reynard jumped over Wallace's guard's heads and scampered along the length of the long dining room table, scattering all the remaining silver plates everywhere. Roland's flour covered face appeared like a horrible apparition from Reynard's nightmares at the end of the Great Hall and the fox skidded to halt at the end of the table. The talking fox looked to Asrial and the Archmage who were just about done repairing the page that went in his book.
"Hey Wallace!" The lord turned at the sound of Grimbard's sing-song voice. "That wolf can make regular objects into pure gold chunks!" Lord Wallace's eyes lit up at this and Isegrim turned, confused. The guards that had tried to apprehend Reynard just a minute ago gathered around the wolf and put him in the cage that they had planned for Reynard's capture.
"Heh, heh. Sorry Isegrim," Reynard chuckled, getting tiny glimpses of both wolf and human bodies as Isegrim struggled futility. He winked at his nephew.
"Couldn't help myself," Grimbard chuckled. The talking fox looked to Asrial and the Archmage just as they were finishing repairing his book. Asrial placed the ripped page neatly in its allotted place in the book and with a bright flash of blue sparkles the weathered page fused with the volume. The Archmage quickly chanted a few unintelligible words of magical power while placing his wrinkled hand on the book's cover.
"That should close the lyre's spell over the book," the Archmage sighed, collapsing into a chair after the energy consuming spell was finished. Asrial looked expectantly to Reynard's form just as the magical energies began to consume him.
"See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!" were the last words a talking fox ever uttered in Castle Wyvern. With a bright blue blast of magic Reynard was gone, along with every other magical creature wandering aimlessly in the courtyard. The animals that had been arguing in the kitchens, stables, and pens were silent and resumed their normal activities. There was a universal sigh of relief around Castle Wyvern as everything returned to normal.
Lord Wallace's guards were looking about for the vanished Isegrim but he was no where to be found. Everyone stood silent; for the moment, even Agamemnon didn't have anything to say. Suddenly all of the gargoyles present realized that Roland, aka the Prince of thieves, aka the Ugly One, aka the Wanted Gargoyle, was still in their midst.
" He is still here!" Goliath shouted. The grim lips below the haunting white mask snarled with anger as Roland slowly inched his way back to the ripped window covering.
"I'll be leaving now," he declared. "Fortunately for Reynard he will never cross my path again. For if he did there would be a new fox fur rug inside my tent."
"Grab him!" the Leader shouted at the blue-skinned female, Agamemnon, Deborah, Goliath, and Diomedes, who were closing in.
Goliath suddenly lunged at his rogue olive-skinned rookery brother. This gave Roland just the opportunity he needed. The Prince of Thieves easily sidestepped the lavender gargoyle, quickly exited out the uncovered window, and soared into the brightening pre-dawn sky.
"Go after him!" Agamemnon shouted at Goliath, who was still rubbing the sore spots on his arms from his unceremonious landing on the stone floor.
"Nay. Forget him. There'll be another day," the Leader declared, helping the lavender giant to his feet. He stole a look at Agamemnon's raised eyeridge. "It's almost daybreak. I trust you do not want to be stuck wherever he is going for the rest of the day?" The elder gargoyle gave a small sigh of resignation and trudged to the courtyard to await daybreak. The Leader smiled and the rest of the gargoyles helped the fallen to their feet just as the sun rose.
"I'll be taking my leave, Your Highness," Lord Wallace bowed low as he exited the Great Hall with his contingent of guards following. Prince Malcolm watched with unsuppressed relief.
With a traditional crackling of stone, Roland awoke in his tent. Home sweet home. After the ordeal the other night with Reynard, Roland wasn't sure he'd wake up in the first place. The gargoyle was angry that he had gotten cheated out of a handsome payment but he was also thoroughly happy that Reynard had gotten put back in the book. Although Lord Wallace hadn't been too happy about Reynard's escape, he figured that the talking fox was more than he could handle. Roland rubbed the sleepiness from his eyes and recalled the flour that had been placed in them the night before. He shivered uncontrollably. Truth was, if Reynard came back Roland would be the one in trouble, not vice versa. And that orange-skinned female that he had kidnapped a while ago looked pretty mad. Between her and Reynard...but he pushed those thoughts out of his mind quickly.
Stumbling over to the wooden chest at one end of the tent and opening it up, Roland tried to rub the remaining sleepiness from his eyes. His clawed hand scratched for purchase on the several identical ivory colored masks that lay within. Finally he pulled one out at random and put it his disfigured face in a hurry. The scent of heavily seasoned meatballs assailed his sensitive gargoyle nostrils with a punch. "Wonder what the cook's come up with for tonight..."
As Roland opened the flap to his tent he saw the fires and heard his men talking about their latest catches and prizes. He saw the cook stirring something in a huge pot nearby and went to see what it was. When he passed by his men they turned to give their traditional greeting to leader. But he noticed that they seemed to being trying to suppress laughter...every single one of them. Roland strode up to the cook and he too let out a tiny snicker.
"What's so blasted funny?" he growled, smelling the dish that the cook was handing to him.
"Y-yer mask, sir..." the cook managed to get out before going out into an all out round of resounding laughter.
"What about it?!" Roland asked, grabbing a mirror offered to him by another bandit. His normal olive-colored skin was there and his cloak and newly-attained brooch, and his-- "My MASK!" Roland cried upon seeing a hideous clown's face painted on it with a flourish. He turned it over and on the left cheek there was a bright blue pawprint and on the right was a message: "To My Greatest Fan."