DARK AGES - "Kindred Spirits"
Written by Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr. & Alan "Ordell" Coleman, Jr.
Artwork by Christi Smith Hayden
Outline by Christi Smith Hayden, with contributions by Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr.
* * * * *
Previously, on "Gargoyles"...
* * *
Broadway: "You are a bad influence on him. What would Goliath and Hudson say?"
Brooklyn: "Hey, Hudson would probably like it here. Remember in the old days, he used to go into the village and have a few drinks with that blacksmith he was friends with?"
Broadway: "Yeah, I'd forgotten about that. You know, sometimes I have a hard time remembering the old castle days. Somebody ought to get Hudson talking and write them down."
~ "Equality" ~
* * *
Angus: "Aren't there supposed to be two o' ye?"
Thersites [sighing]: "Yes... and technically, there are two of us, only one isn't here right now."
Angus processed this slowly in his almost-awake brain. He sat up the rest of the way, feeling a faint twinge from his back. Not for the first time, he found himself longing for the straw pallets and wattle-and-daub walls of a house long gone to ash by Viking torches, shared with a wife long gone to Judgment by Viking blades.
But memories were memories, and now was now...
* * *
Angus: "I'm an ironsmith, by profession. Prince Malcolm offered me a space for a new smithy on castle grounds. I may be better at forging weapons than at usin' 'em, but I'll try my skill at any task ye can think of."
~ "The Reluctant Hero" ~
* * *
Edmund: "I have . . .seen wounds like these on the battlefield before. She is amazingly strong, but I fear . An injury like this is . . . usually fatal. I am truly, truly . . . sorry."
Hudson [speaking to Deborah]: Ye canna die! Ye promised me! Ye can hang on until the sunrise, love, and all will be fine. Ye have ta hang on!"
Deborah: "Beloved . . . I have always . . .loved ye . . .I will . . .always . . . love ye. Ye are forever . . .in . . .my . .heart."
Hudson [as she dies]: "And ye in mine, always, my love..."
~ Alliances ~
* * * * *
The Village of Cliffside Watch, 974
The usual sounds of peasant industry filled the air between the trees and the seaside cliffs, as the villagers moved to finish their chores before sundown. The village rested almost casually against the side of the forest, the rolling sea just a short distance from its far-most edge.
The village wasn't large. It consisted of a few houses, a small block-shaped building that served as a store house for some foodstuffs and supplies, a separate place that housed a modest bakery sitting next to a tavern that sat beside to the main road, and the watchtower-- which held an annex for the village forge and guardhouse.
As steam and smoke drifted from the stack of the chimney atop the annex, the sounds of metal striking metal flowing through the early evening air, a pair of guardsmen stomped through the slightly moist earth towards it, talking to themselves as they lead a limping horse beside them.
"Never fails," one of the pair complained, "we just get back from Wyvern, an' that fool horse has tae break her shoe!"
Removing his helm, his partner ran a hand through his close-cropped hair, replying. "I told you she'd need a new pair nearly a fortnight ago." He reached over to give the animal a reassuring pat on its shoulder. "Didn't I tell you not to run her so hard over the road back?"
"I know, but I thought we could go a bit faster comin' back! After all, the Captain said we weren't tae waste any time gettin' back. Besides, the barleyman's had a new batch of ale drawn up, and I don't mean tae miss gettin' a taste."
The second soldier snickered. "More likely you'll get more than a taste!" he said, giving his companion a jesting poke in the arm. Even the horse seemed to snort at his comment.
"Oh, lay off you! Ah, just as well this happened now. Any more longer an' we'd have been stuck out on the road wi' out havin' any means tae get back, other than our own two feet," the first one replied, sighing as he rubbed one scarred hand over his thin beard. A whicker from the horse made him add, "Well, four feet, for some of us."
Nodding, his companion agreed, "Just as well. I understand the Prince wants us to start riding patrols every second night."
As they stepped over to the stoop, the heat was the first thing they felt; raw, blazing heat emanating from the thick stone forge that dominated the main portion of the smithy. To one side, a wooden rack supported several metal pieces - shoes, blades, implements - all in various stages of finish, gleaming in the dull orange light. A beaten-metal hood covered a good portion of the forge, venting the smoke and steam out into the air outside.
In front of this, standing before a flat-topped piece of iron that served as an anvil, the dusky-skinned form of Angus was bent over, pounding a piece of heated metal into shape.
"Hoy, Angus! D'ye have a moment?" the first soldier called, shouting over the din of metal against metal.
The man of middling-years didn’t pause in his hammering, but turned his head so he could face the two men-at-arms. "What brings you in tonight, Garth?"
"Horse threw a shoe," Garth explained, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to the horse outside. "An' we need her ready tae start out on patrol taemarra. How soon can ye have th' job done?"
Angus swiveled his head to look over his shoulder, his brawny arms never ceased in their shaping of the hot metal on the forge, "Luke!? Bring that horse in . . . have a look at her."
A boy appeared at his call - a well made lad of sixteen years with blond hair - dressed in a heavy apron, gloves, thick breeches and boots. "Yes, Da." He trotted out through a larger doorway to get the horse.
The smith finished his hammering and quenched the piece he had been working on in a nearby bucket, raising a hissing cloud of steam, then moved it to a rack beside the forge to cool properly. Only then did he stop his work and look at the two soldiers, rubbing one callused hand over his chin. "Can't make any promises. I've got a few other tasks that need doin', but... let's have a look first before we do anything else." He turned back, watching as Luke led the steed inside.
"Easy, girl," Luke said, masterfully leading her by the bridle as she limped to a halt before the men. The horse's ears twitched slightly, waiting patiently as the boy bent down to examine her lame hoof.
"Well, Luke?" Angus asked sourly after a moment.
"It's not too bad," the boy replied, somewhat cheerfully. "The left side split clean off... no nails left behind, Lord bless us. It should be easy enough to remove the broken part that's left."
Satisfied with the result of his son's examination, Angus looked to Garth. "If you don't mind waiting until tomorrow, I'll start work on a new shoe and have your horse ready by mid day."
"Thank ye, Angus! Well, We'll come by and fetch her by then," Garth replied.
Just then, one of the other villagers bustled into the smithy; the baker's wife, by the look of her white apron and flour-streaked hands. She was of ample size, and had to puff out her greetings to everyone. "Good evening to you, Garth! Conner! Back from the castle, I see. Oh, Angus? Did you finish with fixin' my carving knife? I hate to be botherin' you about it, but it's been three nights now, and-."
Angus cut her off sharply, "Yes, Lobelia! I have it all finished. Luke, go an' fetch it, please?" He set his hammer down, continuing to talk as his son walked over to one of the racks, and fished out a large bladed knife. "Just remember to be careful with it! Next time, I'll have to make a whole new blade for it."
Gingerly, the woman took the knife from the boy. "Why, thank you lad! And thank you, Angus. It's a boon to have you here. An' workin' today of all days..." She trailed off, seeing the dark look in the smith's eyes. "Well, good day to you, Angus! You too, Luke, and please pass my condolences along to your grandmother!" Gathering her skirt into her free hand, she quickly departed.
After witnessing this scene, the two guardsmen quickly said their farewells for the night and left the smith alone with his son. "What was that all about?" Conner asked Garth.
"It's something painful to repeat... especially in front of Angus," Garth replied in hushed tones, but his words still carried in the early evening air. "I heard tell from one of the people at the barleyman's that today marks the day Angus lost his wife, during a Viking raid a while back."
Soon enough, Garth, his words, and his companion were well out of sight, leaving the smithy very quiet; except for the sound of the fire in the forge crackling, and the odd snort from the horse. Angus snorted out a sigh of his own, then he turned to pick up another piece of metal and continue his work.
"Luke, see to that critter's broken shoe," he said dourly, "then put her in the extra stall until I have her shoe ready tomorrow."
"Yes, Da," Luke replied, slowly leading the roan-colored horse away. "Come along, girl. We'll get you settled in for the night."
Angus picked his discarded hammer up and started to work the new piece of metal, but his thoughts were elsewhere as he stirred the metal in the yellowish-red coals of the forge. "Really shouldn't have snapped at that old biddy like that," he muttered under his breath. "They only mean well and all... I just wish they'd let me be to remember her in peace!"
In truth, Angus preferred to mourn his wife in private, without everyone making pains to offer their condolences nearly every moment of the day. His former wife's own mother, Nanny, had nearly driven him spare around the breakfast table that morning with her carrying on.
"Oh, my poor, wee girl! To be taken away from us all those months ago by those wretched Vikings," she had wailed, dabbing at her eyes with the edge of her apron. "It's a fine thing to see you carrying on like you have been, Angus. Watching out for her boys and tending to the forge like you do. Even though it's been nearly three years since those heathens took her away from us..." After several hours of this, in the same vein, the smith finally called the boys to task before the sun had reached the tops of the trees, marching them to the forge to begin the day's work.
Angus pulled the metal out of the coals, taking note that the fire wasn't heating the metal well enough to shape it. "Luke? Where's your brother? The forge isn't making enough heat!"
Luke reappeared from the stables, quickly trotting over to where some new shoes for the barleyman's new draft horse were waiting for a final inspection. "I thought he was over by the woodpile, Da."
Angus dropped the metal to the stones that ringed the pit of coals in the forge, his sour tone turning into the first hints of anger. "Char that boy! I told him to keep the forge well fed!" Turning around, the dusky-skinned adult stalked out through a rear entrance, looking around sharply for his missing son.
"Sir?" came the startled reply, just before the pounding of feet from around the back corner of the annex heralded the approach of Angus' fourteen-year old son; all out of breath, carrying a few wedges of wood in his arms.
"Jonas! I thought I told you to feed the forge today?!" Angus scowled, thrusting a thick finger at the boy. "Where have you been all this time!?"
Sheepishly, the youth replied, "Sorry, Da... I was gettin' the wood, but I... well, I... I was..."
Angus crossed his arms, his hammer still gripped tightly in one fist. "You were what? Daydreamin' about joining the Prince's guards again!? Speak up, Jonas!"
Dropping his gaze, Jonas replied, "I... I was just thinking... about Mother, before she died." One look up at his father and, seeing the pained look in his eyes, he nearly stopped. "I... I mean, Nanny's been carrying on something awful all day, and when Luke and I went home to get lunch, she went on and on about missing Mother... and... well, I just kept on rememberin' what it was like... before... b-before..."
Angus sighed heavily. "All right, son, all right... enough!" He clapped Jonas on the shoulder gently. "I understand. We all miss her. But, we have our job to do now. Besides, I don't think your mother would have wanted you to while the rest of your life away, daydreaming about all the times we had together."
Jonas nodded. "It's just so hard sometimes..."
"It can only get better in due time, son," Angus replied with a half-smile. "Time has a way of healing all that ails us. You'll see."
"You're right, Da," Jonas replied, his mood lighted a bit more by his father's words.
"Of course I am," Angus said warmly. "Now, get after finding Luke. Your brother just put one of the guardsman's mounts in the stables, and he'll need help getting it settled and provided with feed and water for the night. Never mind about the forge for now. As late as it's getting we might as well close up, and get an early start tomorrow, eh?"
"Right, Da. I'll get to it!" With that, Jonas abandoned the armload of wood he had and started back into the building.
"Just be sure to tell your brother that we're finished for the night," Angus called after his son's vanishing back, "and when you're finished with that horse, the two of you get back home. I'll be along shortly."
"All right!" came Jonas' shouted reply.
Alone, the smith let his smile vanish like a candle flame in a sudden breeze. His entire frame drooped, as he leaned back against the stone wall of the smithy, both hands coming up to cover his face before smoothing back over his hair.
"Ah, love... the boy has the right of it," he sighed. "We all miss you terribly. Me the most out of all four of us. Ach! I was right... I am finished for the night!" Pushing himself away from the wall, Angus stripped his apron off and walked quickly back into the smithy, where he tossed it aside before snatching his shirt from a nearby stool. Before putting it on, he laid his hammer on the anvil and paused to watch as Luke and Jonas bustled about, coming and going from the stables with buckets of water from the trough outside.
"I sure hope Nanny's done with supper," Luke was saying to his brother. "As much work Da and I did today, I could eat a whole pig!"
"Hey! I did my share too!" Jonas said indignantly, which set the two off on a bout of good-natured teasing, as all siblings were wont to do.
Slipping his shirt on, Angus sighed again. "Aye, Anna, it's a shame... the boys and Nanny and I miss you, but we love you, all the same." Angus then jammed the ends of his shirt under his belt, walking away from the forge, headed towards the barleyman's house...
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, At Sunset
With a shattering of stone chips, Wyvern's gargoyles awoke.
Among them, Hudson yawned in a subdued tone, his mood somber as he reflected on what night it was; the night, three years ago, that his mate died... after the Viking attack. Turning to leave his roost, he spied his fellow elders coming together with a familiar one at their head.
"Leader," Agamemnon said, being as courteous as he could, "it is time."
Scowling, Hudson replied, "I know."
"Shall we call the others to gather?" the large gargoyle asked.
"Do as ye please!" Hudson groused. "Ye planned this... an' since there's no stoppin' ye... just, just get on wi' it."
Nodding, Agamemnon turned and motioned to the others to go gather the clan, before looking over the side of the tower, where he spied the younger fellow with a twisted horn on the wall below. "Young one!" he bellowed.
With a startled jump, Thersites froze and looked up at his elder, as did a few of the other rookery sibs standing nearby. "Yes?"
"Go and tell the Prince that we are about to begin the Remembrance," Agamemnon replied sternly, "and make sure they know we are holding it at the base of the watchtower, and that any of his court that wish to attend are welcome. After all, this is partially a ceremony for them, as well as for our leader."
"Oh, yes, well... um, are you certain that I should interrupt the Prince?" Thersites asked, waving his hands in an off-handed gesture. "I mean, well, he could be engaged in some, err, rather important business…."
Sighing briefly, the brown-skinned elder cut him off, "Just go tell the Prince, young one, before I have you do something you really don't like!"
With a squeak, Thersites scrambled backwards, nearly overturning a nearby barrel in his haste to get away.
Turning back to face his leader, Agamemnon said, "Come, Leader. You must be there to greet the others as they arrive."
Hudson's dark look did not abate. "Ahh, if I must." He started off towards the stairs, Agamemnon following in his wake.
"You must know we are doing this to remember our sister and the others," Agamemnon said, staying just behind Hudson as they descended the stairs. His dull voice echoing off of the stones, he went on, "And besides, the rest of the clan needs to be allowed to remember, too . The humans as well lost quite a few during the attack, and they must be allowed to remember them as well."
"Ye know my feelings on this matter, lad," Hudson said gruffly. "But, for th' sake of th' others, I'll allow this... ceremony to happen."
"Just so it is understood, my leader-," Agamemnon started to say, just before Hudson turned and gave him a look that made the rotund gargoyle nearly swallow his beard.
Emerging from the doorway at the base of the tower, Hudson could see that nearly all of the clan had assembled - from the youngest hatchling to the grizzled elders - all lining the parapet wall in rows, some even having to perch on the side of walls.
Hudson stepped away to join the others, leaving Agamemnon to take center stage. As he made his way to a place the others cleared for him, he spied Goliath speaking to Demona in a low voice. What made this remarkable was the fact that Diomedes was standing a few paces behind them; glowering as if he was contemplating an opponent before battle.
Just then, the Prince emerged from below, dressed in somber finery. Alongside him was the boy Marcus, followed up by the unlikely pairing of Robbie and the Archmage; the later looking very much like he wanted to be somewhere else. A feeling Hudson could definitely agree with at that moment.
"Sire," Marcus asked, casting a tiny fear-filled glance around at the assembled clan, "why must we come before these... gargoyles like this?"
"I explained what I was told some days ago, lad," Malcolm said lightly, hoping the boy wouldn't make a scene. "The clan is performing a Remembrance, to honor those that fell fighting the Vikings in the past. 'Tis one of the ways they never forget those that have departed this world."
Behind Robbie and the Archmage came some of the castle soldiery - their uniforms cleaned just for the occasion by Robbie's orders - looking very subdued, along with some of the members of the castle servants, all of whom supported the clan and their presence there. Arrayed among their number was the one cook that often favored them, as well as Moria and Anna, the two serving girls.
Malcolm paused to bow to the assembled clan, before he addressed the large brown elder. "Good eve, sir. We are assembled at your request for this ceremony," he said regally.
Nodding, Agamemnon beckoned for the humans to take their place to the one side, waiting for them to be still before he addressed the assembled host. Closing his eyes, he gathered his thoughts for a moment. "My brothers and sisters," Agamemnon intoned, "and our guests, we are gathered this night to a Remembrance of our departed ones. For all of us," he indicated his fellow gargoyles, "this is the night we lost our dear sister, our clan's second. She was our leader's mate, and a fine warrior besides. She taught many of our best warriors, as well as leading us in times when our leader was away on his duties."
Sighing, Hudson stood nearby, frowning as his brother continued on.
"She was an irreplaceable member of our clan. Her courage, and her beauty will be long missed by our leader, and us all. With her guidance, our clan was strengthened by her wisdom. Where we can find another like her... perhaps among the ranks of our younger generation? Who can say."
Listing as Agamemnon went on, Hudson rankled inwardly. He could tell what his brother was really saying: when shall we have a new second to replace her? Who shall help you to lead us, when you will not be there? Not wanting to show his anger before the others - especially the Prince and his court - he glanced about to see if anyone had seen his darkening mood. Fortunately, his rookery brother's usual tone of speech, not only had everyone nearly ready to drop off into sleep, but it also had everyone focused on him alone.
Slowly edging further and further back into the press of gargoyles around him, Hudson backed up against the near wall. A quick check revealed it faced out onto open ground outside the castle, so he slipped onto the stones, taking one more look around to ensure he wasn't seen.
When all he heard was Agamemnon's droning, he silently slipped over the side, and was gone...
* * * * *
Cliffside Watch, Outside The Village Tavern
While the rest of the village was drifting indoors, lighting lamps and candles to illuminate their homes from the advancing night, one place seemed to welcome the night with open arms. And that was the barleyman's tavern.
Two large tallow-lamps lit up the doorway on either side, highlighting the wooden sign that hung from the metal arm atop the lintel, swinging slightly in the night. The building itself was not large as some would have liked a tavern to be, but that suited Nicholas, the barleyman, just fine.
Sets of pewter and crockery mugs lined the shelves behind the bar, and plates and serving ware also lined the one wall just next to the entrance of the kitchen. The wooden bar, a piece that had taken him and the village woodsmith a month to carve, was sturdy and well polished, as were the few tables and stools that dotted the common room.
It was not a well-traveled tavern, like those on the roads to all-points outwards from Wyvern and the rest of Scotland, but the barleyman was proud of his place. He loved the close-in, comfortable feeling his establishment gave to his patrons; who were mostly the village men and the Prince's guardsmen who were stationed on the watchtower. Nicholas always made sure no one lacked for good drink and food when they came through his door.
Tonight was a typical night at the tavern. Nicholas started the fires in the kitchen and in the huge fireplace shortly before sunset. He made certain that each had a fair supply from the woodpile. His son, Peter, nodded to his father as he laid more wood on the pile. The barleyman had always been glad to have Peter, as the young man was a deterrent to rowdies and troublemakers-even throwing out some when it became necessary.
Next came the placing of the stacked stools and tables, giving each piece of furniture a quick cleaning with a cloth, just before it was time to check the kegs behind the bar, just in case they needed to go down into the cellar to get a newly filled cask. By this time, Nicholas' wife was putting the finishing touches to the first batches of food for the patrons. She could work magic around a cooking fire, and by the time the sun was kissing the horizon on its way to bed, the rich aromas of warm breads and hearty meats were filling up the main area of the tavern.
The regulars came in shortly thereafter, taking up their usual places in stools and tables all around the common room. A few of the new guardsmen - given a free night to "get used to the locals" - came in shortly thereafter, taking up a large table in the back of the room, where they soon had the air about them filled with lusty drinking songs. Of course, Peter stayed by the doorway, making sure that none of them caused any trouble.
Ale and food passed into thirsty mouths and hungry bellies, and before long, the smoke from a couple of pipes drifted into the tallow light, and life, at least for what passed in a tavern, went on, as usual...
* * *
After a while, as the sounds of singing and companionship leaked out from the open windows of the tavern, a dark shape winged down into the shadows just on the outside of the front entrance. Pausing for a second, the shape caped his wings and slowly edged closer to a nearby window.
"Ach! I should just go in," Hudson grumbled half-heartedly. "As much as yon people are carryin' on in there, they'd never notice me..." Still, he peered over the sill, blinking against the glow of one of the lamps set on the lintel as he looked on.
Several of the people inside were in a bright enough mood. A few, however, were peering into their cups or tankards, looking a misty-eyed, and obviously not from the spirits or ale. One old-timer, grizzled and bent, was muttering about 'three grown children... taken by the sword.'; another person, a young man barely showing a feathering of a beard, spoke to another about his sister, saying, "God curse all Vikings! She'd have been through courting Derick this year..."
Shaking his head in sympathy, Hudson told himself, "Aye, lad. 'Tis a bloody shame when ye lose th' ones closest to ye."
Just then, two men shot up from whatever funk they were in, each one going for the other's collar.
"You're lyin', Greg! I'd have never left Kenna to those dogsh!"
"Bah! You're hidin' in a wine barrel when thosh brigandsh came tae slaughter ush all, Keith!"
The first gasped, then snarled as he swung a wild haymaker at the second man, who dodged only because the first had to let go of him, making him plop down on his stool like a wet sack. He wasn't down for long, since he rebounded up with a bellow of surprise, almost falling onto his companion as they engaged in a donnybrook that, despite the fact they were in earnest, was nothing more than a windmill of missed blows, cursing, and general noise.
"Oi! Someone stop tha' noise!" Someone shouted from a corner table.
"Aye, do something before they wreck the place!" called another.
Nicholas watched the proceedings from behind the bar and quietly motioned for his son not to interfere. "They'll soon stop. They've done this before, an' all," he said to the concerned patrons.
True to his word, the two rowdies threw one last punch together, just as their legs collapsed beneath them, dumping them unceremoniously into a heap; looking for all the world like a parody of two lovers embracing.
"There, y'see?" Nicholas said solemnly, wiping his hands on his apron. "Peter. Show 'em to the door, son. Perhaps a few hours in the night air will clear their heads."
Grunting, Peter stalked over to the two, lifting each one by the arms before dragging them to the door.
Outside, Hudson ducked back into the shadows, watching as one body, then the other, came sailing out through the doorway, tumbling over and over before landing in a single pile. The barleyman's son gave them one last look and a contemptuous snort before he ambled back inside. When he was gone, Hudson looked at the two unconscious men somberly.
"Those lads... they might have something right," he thought aloud. Gargoyles were no strangers to human ales and wine, and while it wasn't unusual for one to imbibe once in a while, to do so over the loss of a fellow clan member or a mate wasn't common, either. "Perhaps I could... just this once, join them inside..."
He turned to step into the shaft of light coming from the doorway, listening as some of the patrons started up with another drinking song, with one of the more coherent persons taking a turn as a solo:
O', Her eyes they shone like diamonds
I thought her the queen of the land
And her hair hung over her shoulders
Tied up with a black velvet band.
I took a stroll down the broadway
Meaning not long for to stay
When who should I meet but this pretty fair maid
Come a traipsing along the highway
She was both rare and handsome
Her neck it was just like a swan
And her hair hung over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band.
Her eyes they shone like diamonds
I thought her the queen of the land
And her hair hung over her shoulders
Tied up with a black velvet band.
Listening, Hudson was suddenly reminded of his former mate. With a sad sigh, he edged back from the light, shaking his head. "Ach, what's gotten into ye, boyo!? Walkin' in there, ye more than would start a bigger ruckus than those two yon'!"
Slowly walking away, he found a low, stone wall dividing the tavern's common yard from another house. He quickly climbed upon it, pausing before launching himself into the night air. A fortunate thermal from the heat rising from the tavern's chimney lifted him over the village, allowing him to glide away...
* * *
Shortly, he found himself over the spot where the Viking battle had taken place. Taking a moment to circle, he faintly heard the shouts and yells - long since lost to the winds, but never far from memory - as well as the calls to rally and charge from the humans, intermixed with the roars and yowls of the young ones.
Feeling the sudden need to land, he spied a likely spot on a nearby ridge. Winging over, he soared in, memory making him stumble a bit as he touched down on the soft earth just beyond the stony edge.
"Sloppy," he muttered, capping his wings about his shoulders like a shroud.
Turning around, he took a measured step towards the edge, gazing out over the battlefield. Time’s rain and weather had nearly erased all evidence of the battle, but, here and there, some small reminder could be seen in the moonlight: the edge of a shield, three-quarters buried in the soil; an overturned helm, now serving as a place where water collected; a glinting of light off of some edges of a weapon of some sort, long since forgotten, now that its owner was dead.
Just the thought of the dead reminded him of his mate. "Ach... oh love. Why was it me that survived? Ye were always the more disciplined of th' two of us." He gazed out over the field, passing a hand over his eyes briefly as if to wipe the sight of such a place from his memory. "By the Dragon, why didn't ye hold on, if there was a chance ye could have lived come sunrise?"
Such thoughts made Hudson sigh loudly as he eased himself down, sitting with his legs dangling over the ridge. For a moment, the leader looked a lot older than he was, feeling the loss of so many lives. Bowing his head, one hand raised as if to heave it away, Hudson continued his moody vigil alone.
"I shouldn't have left ye alone," he said softly. "As bad as things were during that time, I should have stayed by your side."
A footstep from behind preceded a spoken question, "Who'd you lose, gargoyle?"
Slowly turning, not caring if this turned out to be a foe or friend, Hudson spied Angus as he stepped out from behind the scattering of trees that lined the ridge. The smith no longer wore his apron, but instead had a thin peasant shirt, a bit threadbare in places. A leather wineskin dangled from a strap over his left shoulder.
"What?" Hudson asked, not too sure he heard the question right.
"Well," Angus said, ambling closer to where the gargoyle was sitting, "I mean, I dinna mean to pry... but, I saw you comin' away from the barleyman's, after you were starin' into the window for a while." He made a small smile. "Anyone that stares that long into a tavern window, must be dyin' for a drop o' the spirits to wash his sorrows in."
Hudson bristled for a bit, thinking that the smith was clearly in his cups as it looked. "What concern is it o' yours?!" he snapped, his eyes just starting to glimmer.
The dusky-skinned smith waved his free hand in a careless gesture, before running it through his close-cropped hair. "It's just," he grunted, plopping down on the edge alongside Hudson, "that... that no matter how painful the memory, no one - and I mean either a man or a gargoyle - should have to suffer through it on his own. Even if he means to drink it away."
Hudson snorted, the glow leaving his eyes, even as he looked back down on the field below. "I had considered that, but my kind doesn't go drownin' themselves in drink... e'en if, the memory be painful."
Angus cocked his head in thought before lifting the wineskin to his lips, taking a long pull before answering. "It doesn't take the pain away, that's for certain. But, for some, it does make it a little more bearable."
Turning to look at the man seated there, Hudson gazed at him for a moment. "Just what sort o' pain would ye be wishin' to wash away with that?" he asked, pointing a talon at the wineskin.
At those words, Angus' expression drew into a pensive mask.
Hudson replied quickly, "Ach, lad! I... I dinnae mean tae-."
"It's all right," Angus replied quietly. The smith looked at the wineskin, then, with a sigh that seemed to come from his toes, he looked up at the sky above. "I had everything a man could ask for in this world: a grand house that I built myself, over there," he said, pointing vaguely, "on th' other side of the valley."
Hudson nodded, "I see."
"I didn't have a large forge to do my work, but business was good. Good enough to keep my family from starvin'! I had - still have, really - two strong sons, given to me by th' best woman in all of th' whole world..." He trailed off, a hard edge coming to his face.
"Then, THEY came."
"Th' Vikings," Hudson replied, understanding at once what the smith was meaning.
Angus jerked his head once. "Aye... the Vikings! Th' Devil take them... for all the good it does me to say that. They came in like a curse," he went on, bunching one fist savagely. "They burned my house down, looted my forge for all the iron and goods I worked so hard on... an' when my Anna tried to fight back..." Angus' voice became husky, as he recalled that horrible day. "When Anna fought back... they took her life."
Hudson couldn't find the words to say anything. He continued to stare in mute sympathy as Angus lifted the wineskin again, taking a longer pull that the one before.
"Mind you," he said at last, "I don't know how it is for your kind, but... my Anna was everything to me." He gave a short chuckle. "Heh, she was always full of vinegar, that woman of mine." A sad smile broke over his rugged features. "She had such... well, such a fire inside of her. So full of life. If she was here, you could see it, shinin' in her eyes." He sighed deeply once more, looking down at the wineskin in his hand, idly shifting it back and forth for a moment. "But, that's gone now. Th' Vikings took that light from me forever."
Hudson continued to stare at the smith for a moment longer, the same sad expression on Angus' face mirrored on his own. Turning to look at the sky himself, he said, "My mate was like the sea... beautiful, deep and fierce. In all the days I courted her, I never thought she'd have me. But she did. Oh, we'd fight like cats and dogs at times, for she was my Second... but she always loved me, no matter what."
Angus looked over at the leader. "What happened?"
Hudson pointed a hand towards the field below. "She was out there when the Vikings came, fighting with the young ones she'd trained as warriors. We were there to help the Prince's men, and she stayed with them, even when she was wounded because she knew she was needed."
Hudson's gaze dropped down to his own two hands, a new glimmer, one of tears, forming in his eyes. "I left her tae see tae others, during th' fight. I shouldn't have left her side, but... she never blamed me. Even... when she was dying in my arms, she fretted more for me than herself. Even though she was leavin' me, she said, she'd always be with me..." He trailed off into silence, unable to say anything more.
Without a word, Angus reached over, placing the wineskin into Hudson's hands...
* * * * *
Back on the parapets, Agamemnon finished his speech, much to the relief of most that were still standing. A scattering of murmurs preceded the parting of the crowd: the gargoyles heading off to their usual perches, while the humans left to return inside. Some were nervous, seeing how moody most of the gargoyles were after the ceremony. At least one, the Archmage, just didn't care.
Agamemnon was rather pleased with the way he had presented the Remembrance. The leader's mate would always be missed, Agamemnon thought to himself, but he hoped that a new Second would be chosen soon.
"After all," he said aloud, "our leader has had quite enough time to mourn her." Looking around for the leader, he started to say something more... when he realized that he couldn't see where the leader had been last; standing in the back of the crowd.
"Leader? Leader!?" He turned around, looking over the parapets and the varied towers, but he saw no sign of his rookery brother. Stomping along the wall, he peered down into the courtyard; the only gargoyles there were the Eldest, who was seated with her Apprentice, as well as several of the younger gargoyles.
Vaulting over the side, Agamemnon glided down, landing on the fringe of the half circle. "Sister, I don't mean to intrude," he said, nodding to her assembled host, "but, have you seen our brother about? I thought sure to see him at the end of the ceremony."
The Eldest shook her head. "Nae, I didn't see him, my brother. After you were done speakin' those fine words of yours," she said, her eyes glinting with a little mirth, "I came down here to speak with my Apprentice, and the young ones."
The Apprentice also replied, "I have not seen him either, my Elder."
Exasperated, Agamemnon tugged absently at his beard. "Where could he have... wait! He could have gone off on his own again," he reasoned, "to brood again over his life with his mate."
"But, where would he have gone, brother?" the Eldest queried.
"Who knows, sister?! But, he will not go missing for long!" Striding away, the large elder started calling out to the youths on the walls, calling them down to hear him. In a flurry of wings on air, several landed in the center of the courtyard.
Among them, Diomedes noticed Goliath and Demona together, and he growled, "So nice to see you, brother." He still could not quite forget his red-haired sister, despite Fuschia’s attentions, and was very resentful of the fact that Goliath seemed to be spending time with Demona. Even more, he was starting to wish that Demona would know the unhappiness that he himself had known for so long.
"What is wrong, Elder?" Goliath asked, not hearing Diomedes' barb.
"Is there danger? Someone injured?" came Desdemona's question.
"The Leader is missing," Agamemnon stated, watching as shock emerged on the younger gargoyles faces, "and no one saw where he went. It must have happened during the Remembrance." He raised one brown hand, holding off their excited gabble. "We cannot lose the Leader, so I want you young ones to assemble into pairs to search for him."
Watching him, the Elder and her Apprentice sat before the others; the older female watching with resigned acceptance, while the youngling was in awe of all the hustle and bustle. "What is he doing?" the Apprentice asked, nodding towards Agamemnon. "Why does he run around like he has no head?"
"The Leader has gone off to think about his mate," the Eldest replied, "and it worries yon brother to no end, no less. I have a feeling our Leader wanted to stay and listen to the ceremony. It would have been too much for him, since he must be thinking of his mate always." She closed her eyes in sympathy. "The Leader is strong, but not that strong."
The light-tan youngster looked up at the Eldest in wonder. "But why? The second was his mate. I for one would have thought he would cherish hearing the ceremony to remember her. Did you not watch your mate's remembrance ceremony?"
"Hush, child," the Elder said sharply, then in a softer tone she asked, "Did you know of the Leader's mate at all?"
Frowning, the Apprentice said ruefully, "Not as much as I would have liked to, but even I attended the ceremony. Why is it so hard for the Leader to hear others speak of his mate?"
The Eldest gazed at her little muse, thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps, my young one, it is a tale that is necessary for you hear, to fully understand what our leader is feeling. It ill be a good lesson anyway."
"Oh, please, Elder! May I?" the Apprentice asked.
Gathered around them, some of the youngest generation of the clan, including Brooklyn and Lexington, who were there looking for their roundish brother, nodded eagerly. "Please, Elder! Can we hear it? Can We?"
Chuckling at her audience, the Eldest smiled, "Ach, imps! Very well then, I shall make that tonight's tale and your lesson, Apprentice."
Meanwhile, Agamemnon had finished his diatribe, pairing off eight of the warrior generation to search for the Leader. "While you all have the moon to light your way, be very diligent in your searching! He may not have gone far, but, then again... he has been out of his fettle of late."
Goliath and Desdemona nodded. "We shall look in the sea cave. He was there once... when we took the Second there to be taken by the sea."
Desdemona nodded. "A good idea, brother. I just hope we can find the Leader swiftly."
Iago found himself paired with Ajax, must to his displeasure. "I'm sure the leader will be found... eventually. I can assure you that I will be attentive to this task. Unlike some as of late, who have been fawning by the light of the moon," he said, his last comment aimed at Othello.
Othello did not rise to the gibe, but from where he was standing with Demona, making a third pairing, anyone could see he was ruffled by the shift in his stance. "We shall not fail, my Elder." The light blue male said firmly. "My sister and I will not stop until he is found."
"We could check one of the villages," Demona added. "Someone might have seen him fly over."
Diomedes found himself paired with Thersites, who was looking off into the night, off in his own world. Even though half of his attention was on the pair of Demona and Goliath, the larger male saw Agamemnon's scowl, so he reached over to give the smaller one a poke. "Brother? Have you been listening!?"
"Hm? What?" Thersites looked around himself, the realization of where he was slowly came to him. "Oh, right! The Leader! Well, I'll leave the search to you all, brothers and sisters!" The horned gargoyle started to slip out of the group, but Agamemnon lunged forward and caught him by the back of his loincloth.
"Young one!" he shouted, "Do not think you can get out of this!"
"Awlp!" Thersites squawked, trying to dash away in a burst of motion, quickly finding that he was stopped cold by the larger mass of the portly elder.
"I've overlooked your laziness before, but this matter is serious. The Leader must be found!"
The younger gargoyle held his head down, absently rubbing his bald head. "Why send me? There are others better than I at tracking-."
"Quiet! I tell you to search, and so you will search," Agamemnon scowled, watching as Thersites nodded quickly. "Search everywhere, young ones. As I said, I doubt the Leader went to far, but I don't want you to take too many chances, understand?" A chorus of 'Ayes!' replied. "Now, be off! And return safely."
As the pairs made for the walls, Thersites said under his breath, "Fine thing! Leader is missing, and who does our long-talking Elder send out to find him? Me!"
Diomedes laughed silently, forgetting his dark mood towards Goliath just then, before jabbing his brother in the side, motioning for him to follow.
As they left, the Elder paused in her telling to watch the pairs depart. "Good luck, young ones. Bring our brother home safe," she said quietly.
The Apprentice followed her gaze. "Do you think they will find the Leader, my Elder?"
The old female returned her eyes to her attentive youngster. "Nothing is certain in this world, Apprentice," she said. "But, those older than you are clever and alert... well, most of them," she chuckled, quickly adding, "and, I feel they have the best chance of finding our Leader. Now, back to the tale at hand. After the Leader had courted his intended, they were declared before the entire clan as mates. And it was a marvelous night for such an occasion..."
As the Elder continued with her story of Hudson and Deborah, the Apprentice listened closely to every word and passage, taking in all that she could, while her rookery kin listed with rapt attention...
* * * * *
A couple of hours later, Iago and Ajax were soaring over a low field; a far off part of the countryside, filled with grass and little else, with no trees high enough to gain flight if they needed to land in a hurry.
Not seeing anything productive, Ajax finally spoke, "Brother, why have you led us out here? I doubt the Leader would have come this way. Look, even he would not come this far, not without the necessary means to launch himself homeward."
Iago sighed in frustration trying to keep his unimaginative brother from breaking his thoughts. "Please," he finally growled, "I am trying to concentrate. We must find the leader, and I must be the one to do it."
Ajax stole a small smirk. "If you find the Leader, do you really think that will aid in his decision of who will be Second, brother?"
Iago tried not to rise to that jibe, but he couldn't stop the growl that colored his reply, "I am the most logical of choices! Why wouldn't the Leader chose me?"
Ajax snorted, "Why not, indeed."
Iago suddenly dropped in altitude, swooping in to land on the field in a perfect landing. Ajax did the same, continuing to speak to his brother. "I mean, why the Leader would chose you over another one of our siblings is not for me to-."
"Silence!" Iago said sternly, cutting the fin-crested warrior off. "Enough of this twaddle! We each have a mission in life, brother! Mine is to rule, and yours is..." Iago stumbled around mentally. "Is... something I do not wish to know. But, for now, I do know that we must find the Leader." He took in his surroundings, turning about before he shot Ajax a dirty look. "Great. See what you've done? There are no trees here."
"Me?" Ajax said with a shout. "You are the one who landed!"
"Because of your badgering... oh, forget it!" Iago groused, searching about for something that could give them a boost back into the sky. "There," he pointed to his right, where a small rise seemed to lie, "we can find some altitude there, and continue our search." Iago started to walk away.
Ajax stood his ground, his arm crossed over his chest.
The slate-gray gargoyle turned suddenly, eyes wide as he beheld Ajax's disapproving visage. "Well? Are you coming?"
"No, brother," Ajax said simply, "I do not wish to accompany you any further. I think I will make my way back to the castle, and find someone else to help me search." With that, Ajax turned and started to walk back in the direction of the castle.
"Fine! The Leader will have your head when he hears of this," Iago snarled, whipping around to continue on his way. He consoled himself by muttering to himself. "Yes. Oh, yes... I will become Second, once I find the leader, and bring him back all, by, myself! Heh!"
* * *
A short distance away, Othello and Demona swung back into formation over an expanse of trees, regrouping after splitting up to try to widen their search.
"Any luck, sister?" the light-blue warrior asked.
Shaking her crimson tresses, Demona snorted, "Hardly. I stopped to ask one of the guardsmen, and he said I was the first thing with wings he had seen all night! Except for an old screech owl."
Chuckling, her brother replied, "I've had no better luck. I overflew two of the furthest villages and saw no sign of the Leader."
Sighing, Demona asked, "Where could he have gone to? It can't have been too far."
Suddenly, Othello barked, "Wait! Up ahead!"
"What!? Is it the Leader?"
Shaking his own head, Othello replied, "Nay! It is a clear space. Quick, down to the trees!" He dipped towards the forest below, followed quickly by Demona. He found a branch on one of the trees near the edge, where the forest dropped off into a grassy plain, moving over to allow his sister to join him.
"It's a good thing you spotted this in time," Demona commented. "There's nothing out there to launch ourselves from if we had to land."
Nodding, her brother said, "Come. Let us turn around. I doubt our Leader would have gone this way."
"You are right," Demona seconded, peering out over the rolling flatland. "He wouldn't go where it was so open, without the means to seek cover for protection."
"Then, let us go," Othello said finally.
But, just as they started to turn to leap back into the night, a voice called to them, "Brother? Sister?!?" Turning quickly, they soon spotted the running form of their slate-gray brother, pushing his way through the grasses.
While Othello was surprised, Demona couldn't hold back a smirk. "It seems our brother has become separated from his partner and grounded."
"Indeed," Othello sighed, folding his arms over his chest. "Come, we had better meet him on the ground." Jumping down, the pair stood by their tree, watching as Iago puffed his way to the edge of the forest.
"Thank you (huff!), my brother! (pant!) Dear sister," Iago said when he finally caught up with them; obviously winded from having to stick to the ground for so long.
Demona gave him a strange look. "Where is our other brother?" she asked innocently.
As out of breath as he was, Iago still managed to scowl, "The fool... He started (huh!) questioning my true motives... during our search, and (huff!) we separated. I have been walking... for ages! Luckily I found both of you."
"This is not good," Othello said, "Now there are two gargoyles missing."
"Ah, he is not missing! I left him," Iago countered, pointing back in the direction he had come, "back there! He's... most likely headed back towards the castle."
"Brother," Demona offered, looking to Othello, "if you would prefer, you two can go in search of the Leader. I know this area rather well, I can look for our missing brother."
Iago quickly asked, "Will you allow me... to rest a moment?" He reached down to rub at his sore feet. "I feel as if I shall never walk another step if I don't."
"That seems reasonable. We shall continue in that direction." Othello indicated, looking off on a tangent, back in the general direction of the forest.
"Good hunting then, brothers," Demona nodded. Turning, she sunk her talons into the tree they were gathered around, quickly shimmying up into the boughs. A quick look around, a leap, and she was off into the night.
Othello and Iago continued to stand - slouch, in Iago's case - against the tree, as the one waited for his brother to gain his second wind.
"Ah, blast it! I curse whoever made earth so hard that it causes such grief!" Iago hissed, probing a tender spot on the ball of his foot.
With a wry chuckle, Othello observed, "Our kind was not made for walking long distances, brother. Mayhaps, you will have a fine set of blisters by morning?"
"Hmph! It is a good thing a day in slumber will deal with such... troubles," Iago said peevishly.
"Why were you on the ground in the first place, brother," his light-blue companion asked. "Especially out in such a flat place as that?" A pointed talon indicated the way Iago had come.
"Ah, it matters not! I thought we could find the Leader out that way, and... well, what more is there to say?"
Othello sighed, not liking the way his brother's tone was grating on his nerves this evening. "Indeed."
"So, brother, all is well I trust?" Iago asked at length. "I understand soon that you and our fair-haired sister still look favorably on one another."
Othello smiled, if privately, looking up into the sky overhead. "Indeed. Things could not be better between me and my beloved."
"Oh yes, I did notice how lovely she looked tonight," Iago commented, complimenting his brother. "You are truly lucky to have her favor and her attentions." Iago paused, waiting for a response from Othello.
"Yes, this is true."
Slyly, Iago added, "Although..."
With a frown, Othello faced Iago. "Although what?" he asked, becoming annoyed at what his brother might be getting at.
"Have you ever questioned her loyalty to your relationship? There are plenty of other males for her to look at." Iago quickly held up one hand, saying, "Not, that you would be a lacking mate! But, with all of recent events with our rookery siblings, you can understand how one might feel, seeing how our pretty sister was claimed by one other."
"Our brothers have wished us well. I see none of them daring to challenge my love for her!"
Iago placed a consoling hand on Othello's shoulder, "And you are right, my brother! None would dare to challenge you openly... but, what if they tried to do so secretly? Think of who she was paired with tonight."
Othello narrowed his eyes, snorting. "I would not suspect him, my own brother and friend, of going after my love. And I trust my beloved completely!" He snarled, pulling his frame up to his full height. "Who are you to question her actions?"
Iago quickly backed up, both hands up as if giving supplications. "Forgive me, brother! I did not mean to upset you. It is just that... well, the females can be so fickle at times. I only sought to make you wary, lest you find yourself in a difficulty " He straightened up, seemingly over his foot pain. "Now, let us continue the search for the Leader. We must find him soon, before the dawn comes."
"Fine, brother," Othello said, his voice heavy with suspicion and worry. "Let us go." Together the two males ascended into the trees...
* * * * *
The Village of Cliffside Watch, Angus' House
On the other side of the village, in the lee of a small shelf of stone, sat Angus's sturdy home. It wasn't like his former house, but it showed the same caring craftsman's touch that he had put into the first. As small as it was, it was more than enough for a middle-aged man, his two sons, and their elderly grandmother...
Nanny came to the stoop, pulling her shawl around her shoulders as she peered out into the night. "Oh where is that man who calls himself my son-in-law?" she asked, speaking to no one in particular. The candle she held flickered mutely, casting what little light it could around the hovel.
The sounds of her grandsons - both finishing up the chore of cleaning up after dinner - leaked out from inside the house. Turning on her heel, she marched back into the house, thumping the candle down onto the lone table in the center of the common room.
"Luke! Jonas!" she said sharply.
"Yes, Nanny?" Luke asked, turning from where he was stacking plates above the hearth.
"Nanny?" Jonas seconded, in the middle of bending down to pick up the tub of dirty dishwater.
"Your father has come up missing, bless me! He was supposed to be home when you two got back from the forge," she explained. "I want ye both to go and look for him. He's probably dragged himself down to the tavern again."
"But it's dark outside. The tavern is -" Jonas said before he was cut off.
"I don't want to hear it. It's one thing for him to stop there for one mug of ale, after a long day's work," she groused, "but, on tonight of all nights he should be home with his sons and ken!" She shook her head, a few silver strands of hair escaping her head cover as she waved a plump hand at the boys. "It shouldn't take ye long. I know ye don't like to be out after dark, but I doubt any of us could have a good night's sleep not knowin' where your father was."
Both boys shucked their makeshift aprons and Luke muttered under his breath, "Da can take care of himself!"
"I know that, you scamp," Nanny replied, giving them both a shove as she ushered them out the door. "But, your mother - my poor Anna - will haunt me for the rest of my natural life if he orphans the two of you now! Now, go!"
* * *
Halfway to the village, guided only by a lone torch that Luke had remembered to bring, the boys made their way past the battlefield, where the skirmish between the bulk of the Viking raiders had happened.
Jonas stopped in his tracks, looking thoughtfully at the barren field. "Hey, Luke!"
His brother halted, looking back with an exasperated expression. "What now, Jonas? We need to find Da and get back home!"
"I was just thinkin'," Jonas replied. "What if Da went out there. On the field?"
Luke looked skeptical. "Why would Da want to do that? If he wants to remember mother, he'd most likely be at the forge, or back to where our first house once stood, or maybe where ma's..." He trailed off, unwilling to continue the thought.
"Well," Jonas replied, "d'you think he's at the tavern at this hour of the night?"
That question drew his brother up short. "No... Da may take a mug once in a while, but he'd never stay all night there."
Just then, Jonas tilted his head to look above him, and saw the silhouette of a gargoyle flying overhead, closely followed by another. Voices filtered down from above; "I still don't see why I had to come along! I mean, you and our other brothers and sisters are perfectly capable..."
"Luke! I recognize that voice!" Jonas reached out to grab the torch from his brother's hand, taking it and waving it in the air. "Hoy! Gargoyle! It's me, Jonas!"
The pair of shapes nearly skidded into one another, before they dove down from the heights, landing noiselessly beside the two boys. Emerging into the torchlight, came a gray colored gargoyle with a breastplate, and a familiar looking fellow with a beak and a twisted horn.
"I knew it was you!" Jonas grinned.
"Boys? Wait! You're the sons of that blacksmith," Thersites said, thankful for the distraction. He looked back at Diomedes, who merely stood there, staring at the ground.
"'Hello. It's good to see you again," Jonas said, knowing that this gargoyle would not hurt a fly, much less him or his brother. This gargoyle was probably to lazy to hurt any living being.
"I.. ah... indeed! But, what are you two doing out this late?" Thersites asked.
Before Jonas could reply, another voice called up from above the foursome. "Brothers! What have you found there?" Soon, two more gargoyles, Goliath and Desdemona, spiraled down to a landing beside them.
Thersites cursed silently, shooting Diomedes a quick look. "Well, um, we didn't find the Leader, but... well, these two boys were here-."
"Brother," Goliath said, cutting Thersites off from another rant, "peace. What business have we here with these two?"
Jonas and Luke started to explain, but a sudden growl from Diomedes silenced them before they got a single word out. "What business have you speaking with our sister," Diomedes blurted out, stepping in closer to Goliath.
"What are you talking about?" Goliath asked, confused at his brother's question.
"You know what I speak of," Diomedes continued, his mind not in sync with his mouth. "Our red haired sister..." A million thoughts and memories ran through his mind wrapped with rage and jealousy. This anger had been stewing slowly for a long time. All thoughts of his lately discovered love for Fuschia fled his mind as he realized that his red-haired sister seemed to have formed a new attachment to his lavender brother. Diomedes was determined that since Demona had made him unhappy by refusing to spend time with him, he was going to insure that she was not happy with anyone else. "You were speaking with her this night!"
"I speak with her no more that any of our other sisters," Goliath shot back, starting to get annoyed.
"Please," Desdemona interrupted, coming between them. "A fine way to act, especially in front of humans!" She directed her stare at Diomedes. "You are acting like a hatchling, brother! Now, peace! Let us hear what these young ones have to say." He silenced and backed away but still shot glowering looks in the direction of his brother and sister. "Now, child, what do you require of us?"
Jonas looked over the female. For a gargoyle, she was exquisitely beautiful, but he forced himself to think about the task at hand. "Our father," he started, looking at his brother for a second, "He has gone missing. We were wondering if perhaps you could aid us in the search."
Goliath grumbled low in his throat. "We are looking for our Leader. He's been missing himself since early this night."
"Our Nanny said he might be in the village tavern," Luke said, both he and Jonas grinning at the look of consternation on Thersites face. "But, we were discussing that he might be at the place where our former house once stood."
"Or the forge," Jonas added.
Goliath looked at his brothers and sister for a moment, lost in thought. "Perhaps we can help each other then. Brother," he pointed to Diomedes, "go return to the castle and tell the others of our progress. Sister, you and I will take this one," he indicated Luke, "to this place he spoke of." He then fixed Thersites with a hard stare. "You will go with the other boy to the village to search. While there, you can speak to the guardsmen to see if they have seen the Leader."
"But, but, but-!" Thersites started to babble, but Jonas put a hand on his shoulder.
"Come on, friend! It's not like you've never been here before!"
"Good luck," Goliath said. Together, he and Desdemona took one of Luke's arms to carry him aloft. The four departed, leaving the last two to head off alone... each on their own private mission with their own private thoughts.
* * * * *
The Village Tavern
Nicholas placed two full tankards on the wooden tray that Donna, who was his best barmaid, had placed before him. "There you go, lass! Two of my best for the Prince's men!"
"Thank ye, Nick," Donna beamed, whirling around amid the laughter and talk as she shimmied her way through the late night crowd. Everyone was in fine fettle, eating and drinking, and, thanks to the presence of a couple of the village guardsmen, no fights had broken out.
Approaching a table, Donna quickly transferred the foam-topped mugs to stand before the two men in livery. "Here you are, sirs! The best ale this side of the castle!"
Garth smiled in anticipation, wrapping one hand around his tankard. "Thank ye, lassy!" he flipped her an extra coin. "That's for the best service in all of that land!"
Giggling at his comment, Donna mock-curtsied before making the coin vanish. "Well, any time you need more, just call for me, sir!" with that, she was back into the thick of the throng, taking calls for more ale and other orders.
Grinning at his companion, Conner said, "You always spoil the wenches, Garth."
Tipping his mug towards his larger partner, the shorter guardsman replied, "It keeps my cup full, and them happy!" He then admired his ale, licking his lips in preparation for that first taste.
Shaking his head, Conner was about to say more, when he glanced at the doorway, a second after he stopped Garth from taking a swig. "Hey... look!"
Just as Garth scowled at his friend, but before he turned to look, everyone in the tavern fell suddenly silent...
...except for the two figures that ambled in through the doorway.
"Ah-HAHAAH! An' then," Angus was said, one arm draped over the shoulders of Hudson in a companionable way, "the lad looks at th' Lord an' says, 'Sir, I thought it was the scullery!'!"
Hudson brayed with laughter, one hand slapping Angus' broad back. "Och, Lad! That must have been a grand sight tae see!"
The patrons stared at the two, who were obviously halfway to being legless, if the empty wineskin dangling from the gargoyle's wing-talon was any indication. Angus and Hudson continued to laugh as they sidled up to the bar, oblivious to the nervous look Nicholas was giving them.
"Well, ye had to have been there!" Angus chortled. Looking over at the barleyman, he grinned and clapped him on his shoulder. "Nicholas! Old friend!" He indicated Hudson with grin. "My friend and I would like a tankard of your finest ale."
"Aye," Hudson said amiably, "one for each of us!"
Nicholas looked from one to the other, unsure what to do at first. Then, because routine was the best thing to do at times like this, he pulled down two pewter mugs, and quickly filled them. Plunking them down in front of the two, he said, "One shilling, for each of ye."
"Not a problem," Angus said, reaching for his coin purse.
"Ah, nay! Nay," Hudson quickly said, holding up one hand. "I'll be takin' care o' this one." He reached into his tunic, taking out two, slightly-bent gold coins, tossing them on the bar top. "I got those from the battlefield yon," he explained.
Nicholas quickly picked on up, examining it by one of the tallow lamps. "Lord bless me! It's a gold coin!" He grinned just as fast. "Well, if you find any more, gargoyle, feel free to spend them here."
Seeing how Nicholas had accepted them, the rest of the patrons turned back to their former activities, taking the presence of a gargoyle in their midst in stride.
Picking up their drinks, the smith and the leader of the Wyvern Clan took a deep pull, each one coming away from their mugs with fine expressions, smacking their lips.
"Ahhh! Now what did I tell you, eh?" Angus asked. "I bet you'll find nothing finer at the castle."
Hudson shook his head. "I dinnae know, Lad. I've never sampled the Prince's stock before."
"Well, here's to new experiences," Angus replied, raising his tankard.
"Aye," Hudson replied, having seen this custom during the banquets the Prince held sometimes. "Tae new experiences, then." They clinked their tankards together, before tipping them back for another pull.
Across the room, Garth and Conner watched in fascination, along with several of the other patrons, as the smith and the gargoyle drank toast after toast. "By my beard," the shorter guardsman said guardedly, "he certainly can act human, can he?"
"Well, whst did you expect, soldier?" a heavy-set peasant asked from a nearby table. "To have yon smith put it down in a bowl for him?!"
"Aye," another commented, "I've heard o' them protectin' the castle. One o' those can fight like ten o' the best fighters, if they're angered."
Conner, who was still watching the pair, glanced over to where a quartet of men were seated, scowls fixed on the smith and his companion; all outlanders by the look of their dress. "Don't look now, but if I miss my guess, we might just see how mad yon oldster will get."
Garth and the other two followed his gaze. "Ah, garn! I saw those four come in the village after nightfall! I think you're right about them being trouble, Conner."
Just then, one of the men nodded to his fellows, and, as one, they rose from their table to walk slowly towards the bar.
Oblivious to the approaching rowdies, Angus and Hudson called for another tankard, each one smiling, if a bit sad around the edges. "You know, gargoyle," the smith said, "perhaps we're not that much different after all."
"How d'ye mean, lad?" Hudson asked.
"Well... we both lost someone special to us," Angus explained, "but, we both have our duties, our ken and kin to take care of, and a good home to call our own. In spite of all that the world throws at us, we survive, and thrive."
Nodding, the leader replied, "You might have somethin' there, lad." Raising his mug, he added, "To old fools, then!"
Angus lifted his in answer. "An' to their survivin'!"
Suddenly, a voice hissed, "Demon lover!"
Pausing, the two looked over their respective shoulders, each spying the four men arrayed behind them. "D'ye mind repeatin' that, stranger?" Hudson asked evenly.
"I believe my companion said 'Demon Lover'," the leader of the four said again. "But I wasn't speaking to you." His gaze shifted over to Angus. "Now, I am curious... as to why a man like yourself would fraternize with such an...ungodly creature like that?"
Angus turned around slowly, seeming to sprawl against the side of the bar, on hand still wrapped around his mug. "An' just what do you mean by that, stranger?" He looked at Hudson, who had also turned to face them. "I'm just having a drink with my friend here."
One of the others snorted, "Dealin' with a devil, is more like it!"
The leader nodded in agreement. "These... creatures can come to no good, mingling with good people like us. Now... if I were the master of this place," he said, fixing Nicholas behind the bar with a hard look, "I would have chased this beast out of here the moment it set foot across the lintel."
At that statement, the other three shifted in stance; going from casual menace to at-the-ready, with hands bunched into fists.
"Here! Stop this at once!" Nicholas said sharply. "I don't want any trouble here! This gargoyle leads the bunch that roost at the castle, and I'll not have that lot down on my heads for whatever you've a mind to do with him!" Across the room, Garth and Conner got to their feet, motioning for a couple other guardsmen to do the same.
"Don't worry," the leader replied-- his voice like ice over a pond. "if any more of these creatures come, you will be well compensated. And, there is no need for you soldiers to rise... we can handle this, alone," he added. He took one look at Angus, raising one eyebrow. "Now, good smith, if you will stand aside, my friends and I will teach this... monster, the error of his ways."
A muttered agreement came from the others, as they started to close in on the two.
Angus and Hudson looked at each other, a silent accord passing between them. "Lads, the only one gettin' a lesson this night..." Angus said amiably.
"Is you," Hudson finished. Before any of the quartet could raise a hand, his tail snapped out from the side, tripping the nearest one to the floor with a crash.
With deceptive speed, the smith tossed the remainder of his tankard into the face of another rowdy. "Here, have a drink!" He then blocked the headlong charge of the third, smacking his face smartly against the top of the bar. "Here lad, no need to rush!"
"Right," said Hudson, reaching out to snag the leader by his collar, pulling him smartly underneath that arm, whereupon he tightened his lock around the man's head like a nutcracker. "Plenty o' room f'r all!"
As the rest of the bar watched in awe, the two soon had the four men well in hand, with two apiece tucked smartly under each arm, as they marched towards the door.
"Sorry about this, Nicholas," Angus called over his shoulder. "I know Peter usually takes care of this, but in this case, I'm sure he understands. Ah! Speak of the lad, and there he is!" Angus smiled to the stocky youth. "Be so kind as to get the door for these... fellows, would you, lad?"
Mutely, Peter obliged, shoving the two doors open wide, an unaccustomed look of awe on his face.
Hudson pulled his two parcels upright, giving the leader a tipsy, if somewhat cold stare. "Now, boyo... next time you plan on causin' mischief, just remember one thing: ne'er come between a mourner and his friends."
"It canna be good for your constitution," Angus finished. With a smile, he indicated the doorway. "My friend?"
"Wi' pleasure, friend." With that, Hudson smacked the heads of the leader and the other rowdy he held together: the crack of bone and against bone resounding through the silence of the tavern. He then gave a heave, and both unconscious forms went flying out into the night.
Angus looked at the two remaining rowdies, grinning as he saw a look of fear spread over their faces. "Y'know, that's not a bad trick! Let me try!" In a feat of dexterity, he flipped both men upright, one large hand encircling each head as he brought them together, as if striking flint to iron. Before their moans had lapsed, they joined their companions in the heap of bodies outside.
Smacking his hands together, Hudson smirked, "Well, that deals with those rogues!" Looking back at the tavern, his smile faded at the sight of all the faces, still looking on in shock. "Ah, forgive us for the interruption," he said apologetically.
Angus added his voice, "Aye... sorry, Nicholas. We dinna mean to let this get so it spoiled the night for everyone."
Before another word was spoken, the barleyman pursed his lips, then looked over to where the guardsmen were still standing. "Garth? You'd best lock up those scuppers, before they come to and start another ruckus." As the soldiers moved to do his bidding, Nicholas smiled at the two and said, "As for you two... I see those fools ruined your drinks." He quickly retrieved two more mugs, filling them to the rim with ale. "Come, have these to replace them. Donna! Get your tail behind the bar, and start filling everyone's cups! This round be on my head, to honor these two, for their level-headed actions, which prevented a catastrophe in the making!"
* * * * *
A short while later, Jonas and Thersites came walking away from the forge; having not found the boy's father there, they were on their way to the guardhouse.
"Now, now," the young gargoyle was saying to Jonas, hoping to console him, "I'm sure your father isn't lost for good. Well, what I mean is... perhaps the guards have seen him?"
"I hope so," the boy replied with a heavy sigh. "I don't relish goin' back home to Nanny, havin' to tell her I couldn't find father."
Thersites looked at the youth with sympathy. "I'd certainly wouldn't want to go through that," he said archly. As they got within sight of the guardhouse, the two spied a group of men outside. "Hullo!? What's all of this?" As they drew closer, they could hear a couple of the men were grumbling as the soldiers pushed them into the building.
"You have no right to do this!" a dark-haired fellow was grousing.
"Well, you should have considered that before trying to start a fight at the barleyman's," one guard Jonas recognized as the one named Conner. With a last shove, he pushed the rowdy inside, where waiting men trooped him and his companions into holding cells.
"Well, that takes care of that lot," another soldier said, satisfaction dripping from his every word. "We might want to consider askin' that old fella to join us one of these days. If his kind are as good as he was, we'd never have any more trouble with miscreants again."
"Right," Garth said with a chuckle, coming back out from inside, catching the comment in full. "And the day the Prince lets gargoyles in the ranks, we'll all grow wings!"
At that, Jonas and Thersites looked at each other, just before the young gargoyle came forward. "Um, excuse me? Did you mention, ah, something about a gargoyle... helping you?"
The soldiers looked around, seeing the two youths standing there. "Here, what are you two doing out like this? Especially you, young Jonas!"
"Please, sir," Jonas said quickly, "my father's been missing since this evening. Have you seen him?"
"My Leader has been gone as well," Thersites added.
Conner looked at Garth, a grin spreading over his face. "If you mean the old fellow, we've seen him, and your father as well! They're back at the barleyman's."
Jonas blinked in surprise. "He is?"
"What would the Leader be doing in a human's tavern?" the bald-headed gargoyle wondered allowed.
"Well, he was in there sharing a mug o' Nicholas' best with Angus," Garth explained, "when these four idiots tried to start up a fight with th' the two o' them." He jerked a thumb at the guard house. "Would have caused a right ruckus, but yer elder and Angus kept their heads about them."
Connor and the others chuckled. "These fools couldn't land a single blow!"
"And then," Garth said to Thersites, "that old dodger and Angus threw those trouble-makers outside, like sacks of wet grain! It was quite a sight, it was. At least, from my view."
Jonas grabbed Thersites by the arm. "C'mon then! We'd best get over there!"
* * *
By the time they had reached the tavern, the others had found them. Desdemona and Goliath, with Luke being carried between them, landed just as the two youths were within the glowing lights coming through the windows. A quick exchange, and the two boys and three gargoyles moved towards one of the windows to peer inside.
"Well?" Thersites asked Goliath, who was tall enough to look inside the window without assistance.
Goliath paused for a moment, just as a raucous chorus of song came through the portal. "They're both in there," he said at length, "safe and sound. Well... mayhap not so sound."
The boys laughed quietly and nodded, as the voices wrapped themselves around a familiar set of verses. "Shall we venture inside to see what's what?" Jonas asked the trio.
Goliath began to speak against that idea, but Thersites held his hand out, "Hush, brother. You worry to much. If our elder is in there, then why would they turn on us?"
"I agree," Desdemona seconded.
Together, the five trooped to the open door, looking in around the jamb. There, they watched as Angus and Hudson, arms around each other's shoulders and a tankard of ale held with the other, led the rest of the patrons in song:
O' follow the road, you'll find a fair lass
Whose looks are so renowned, the lads flock 'round to see
She'll sing you a sweet song and give you fine heather
To take to your loved one, who waits by the sea.
O' come lads, to horses and feet, if you’re after
The finest fair maiden the lads all want to be
A-courtin' and soon to be wedded forever
To my lovely young lass, who lives in Dundee.
Jonas and Thersites exchanged a look with each other. "By the dragon! What is that they are doing?"
"Well," the boy said with a grin, "Da's singin' 'My Lovely Lass From Dundee,' but I dinnae know what yours is singin'."
Thersites looked at his Leader and stuck his little talon in his ear, jiggling it slightly, "I didn't know the Leader could sing. Sounds more like somebody strangling a cat."
Jonas laughed, and headed over to his father. "Da! Da!!" he said, getting his attention.
Angus paused, letting the rest of the singers stagger on as he beheld his youngest. "Jonas? Son! What are ye doing here? Well, it dinnae matter!" He turned to get Hudson's attention, stopping him in mid-note. "My friend," he said proudly, pointing with his mug, "This is my son, Jonas. Jonas, this is ... this is the Leader of the gargoyle clan what lives in the castle... and just recently, a dear friend of mine."
"'Hullo lad," the elder gargoyle said, extending his hand for the boy's, and missing on the first try. "Yer father be a fine soul, and a good friend tae a body."
"Thank ye, sir," Jonas said politely, before he turned to his father with a relieved look. "Nanny has worried about ye all night."
Luke came up, flanking his brother. "He's right, Da. Why don't we go home?"
Goliath and the other young warriors came to Hudson as well, and he beamed brightly at them. "Lad, what ye be doin' here?" he yelled across the tavern.
"After the ceremony, one of the elders sent a search party to look for you," Thersites said peevishly.
"My Leader, we should return to the castle, too," Goliath said over his brother's tone. "The clan has been searching for you all night, and it is nearly dawn. Let us go home."
"Sounds like a good idea, lad," Hudson said, trying to rise out of the seat that someone had given him.
Angus sighed, "Well, if yer old Nanny sent ye out, let's not keep her waitin' then." He slowly rose to his own feet, his sons coming to support him on either side. Together, the two new friends bid the other patrons good night, receiving many glad tidings in return, as the young ones guided them outside.
Once out in the night air, Angus turned to face the gargoyles, holding onto his son's shoulders with a smile. "My new friend," he told Hudson, "It's been a grand night, and the company was just as grand. "perhaps we will do this again sometime?" he asked amiably
Grinning, Hudson removed one arm from where Goliath had draped over his shoulder." Of course, Angus. I'd be honored tae to this again." He hiccuped. "But, 'praps a few weeks from now?"
Chuckling, Angus offered the elder his hand in return. They shook hands, sealing a pact of friendship between them.
* * * * *
* * * * *
"Black Velvet Band" - by The Irish Rovers.
"My Lovely Lass from Dundee" - title by Christi Smith Hayden, words by Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr.