Second in Command
Written by Shauntell Holm
Story Idea and Outline by Rahsaan Footman, Anna Hansen, Jonathan Cotleur, and Stephen Sobotka, Jr.
Artwork by Shauntell Holm
Previously on Gargoyles…
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, A. D. 974
Great roars and howls filled the air as the sun sank behind the horizon and gave way to night. The previous night had been an interesting one, particularly for Hudson.
As he awoke he took a little longer to go about his business than the rest of the clan. He had spent most of the night with Angus, the smith, and unfortunately stone sleep didn't completely heal a hangover. Still, his conscience was a little clearer now after the discussions they had shared. He realized now that he would always miss his mate, but he also realized that he still had a responsibility as leader to his clan; and he had to find a new second in command. It was the only thing that would ensure stability in his clan for the future.
Hudson watched as the other elders gathered around for a short discussion near a quieter portion of the castle. He was determined to tell them he was ready to choose a Second. He had waited long enough, and by now the others had just about given up on getting him to choose. As he greeted them, he was not at all surprised when he saw the young apprentice there as well. After all, she was needed to help record all that the clan would endure. A good history was needed, in order that future generations would be able to learn of their ancestors and continue the gargoyle way.
"Brothers, sisters," Hudson called to them. The other elders turned to him in surprise. "I have an announcement tae make."
"What is that, Leader?" asked the Eldest with a sly grin. Her many years had made her a shrewd judge of character and she had an idea from the glint in his eye of what might be coming. She studied him a moment more, after noticing how tired he appeared. "Leader, are you feeling well? You look rather pale."
Hudson grinned lightly at her as he rubbed his aching head. "'Tis nothing that a nice hot cup o' somethin’ can't cure," he told her, then turned all business again. "As I said, I've an announcement to make." He stood a little straighter as the elders gathered closer to listen. "As ye know, I've been needin' to choose a second in command, should anything befall me."
"That is all too true," grumbled Agamemnon. "Ye've had us waitin' an entire blazin' three years!"
"Aye, I know," Hudson replied with a sigh. "Fortunately a new friend was able to help me break through the ice of me own troubles the other night, and now I can go on doin' what I need tae do." He looked the elders in the eye, and winked at the young apprentice. She was full of excitement, as usual, and beamed when her leader praised her for the work she was doing. "I will begin a search tonight for a new second in command. I will look for one who is young, strong and intelligent. Those factors will be necessary in order for him or her to lead well."
"Aye, that's a fact," said a dark grey elder.
Goliath chuckled as he, Othello, Demona and Iago walked along the parapets below the elders. He could see the trio down below causing mischief, as usual, and was wondering if any of the elders had noticed their antics yet. He listened as his brothers and sister spoke about many things, but mostly about the event with their Leader last night. None of them had expected to see their leader drunk and laughing the way he was that night. And with a human no less! It had caught everyone off guard.
"I had no idea one could act like such a fool when drinking that foul liquid," Iago commented coolly. "The Leader must really have been in a foul mood to start."
"I care not what happened last night," Demona said. "I am only glad that Leader is finally improving in his moods. His spirits have not been this bright since before the Second died."
"Aye," agreed Goliath with a smile, turning back to his kin. "I wonder if now he will be able to choose a second in command. We could surely use one."
"Indeed," said Othello as he lightly jumped from perch to perch. "We've waited long enough. Waiting any longer could bring us trouble."
"I think the entire clan can all vouch for that," Iago grumbled a bit as he hopped off the parapets. "And besides, the Leader could use another companion."
Just then he heard the sound of older voices above them. He looked up in surprise to see the Leader and the rest of the clans elders perched atop the higher parapets discussing something rather important, by the looks of it. Curious, Iago began to scale the wall to get a little closer and to listen. But from the mixed chatter of those below him, it was difficult to make out what was being said. However, there were a few words that Iago heard as plain as day: Second in Command.
"Quiet!" he hissed to his two brothers and sister. "The Leader is discussing a Second with the elders!"
"What!?" gasped the others, and they quickly gathered on the wall next to their brother. They couldn't believe their ears! The Leader was finally going to choose a Second in Command!
"How will you choose a Second?" asked one of the elders. "Will it be of the younger generations, or from our own?"
"It will be from the younger generation: the adolescents." Hudson replied. "I'll watch them and then make my decision in about a week’s time." He walked around in a circle. "I'll put them through a series of tests, and at the end of each night we'll gather together to discuss th’ actions of each participant. But determining the next test will wait until th’ next night."
"What will the first test be?" asked a female elder.
"First we will need to determine the hard workers from the lazy ones," Hudson told her. "We'll get the youth tae share in duties around the castle. Look to find the ones who are most helpful and the most eager to help. Being helpful, and being able to attend duties is one rule in being clan leader."
The others nodded. This would require more observation on their part, but they already had a good idea of who the lazy and industrious ones were.
"Are we agreed to this?" asked Hudson, and the others nodded. "Good. Now, let us go and prepare for this first test. It will start tomorrow night."
The elders nodded again, and then they all departed to do what they needed to do.
Goliath, Demona, Othello and Iago talked excitedly amongst themselves. This was great news indeed. The leader was finally choosing a second in command! And someone from their generation no less!
Othello was quietly amazed that his leader thought of them so highly. He knew that it made sense to have someone from one of the younger generations to train, but had figured that someone would be picked from the generation before theirs. "I would have thought one of the group before us…"
Demona looked thoughtful. This was a good opportunity to prove herself to the others in the clan She grinned a little as she thought of the recognition it would bring her. "No, brother. The elders recognize youth and skill. They realize that the next Leader should lead the clan for a long time."
Goliath shook his head. "I believe that we all have an equal chance. The Leader will make a wise choice by observing all of us. However, the choice will not just be based upon our actions tomorrow. I’m sure that the Leader will have more tests in the nights to come."
Iago was another matter. What wonders I could do if I were to become Second, he thought coldly as he glanced at Goliath and Othello. He grinned slyly at his brothers and sister. "Yes, I’m certain that they will be watching us carefully."
"This is exciting!" Demona said as she and her brothers continued their walk along the parapets. "We're finally going to have a Second in Command!"
"Yes, but we will still need to stay alert," Goliath told her with a grin.
"And we will need to keep this quiet," Iago added and the others looked at him. "We shouldn't let the elders know that we know of their plans."
"Agreed," said Othello. "But what should we do?"
"I suggest we each alternatively eavesdrop on our elders at the start of each evening," Iago said after a moment of thought. "That way, we'll know what we are to be tested on that night."
"That is a good idea!" Demona said quickly.
"I am for it," added Othello, though somewhat cautiously.
Goliath hesitated. "I don't know," he said. "That is cheating. If the elders were to find out, we would be removed from the running."
"Come now, brother," Iago cooed as he placed his hands on Goliath's shoulders. "It is not cheating when we are only learning of our test. That part doesn't matter, so long as the elders are impressed." He shrugged. "Besides, what they do not know can not hurt them, agreed?"
Goliath still hesitated.
"Come brother," said Demona taking his hand. "If only for the excitement of it."
Goliath looked at Othello, and saw that his brother was nodding. "Oh, all right," he said with a surrendering sigh. "But I still don't like it."
"Excellent!" Iago chuckled as he started towards the courtyard. "Now, why don't we meet the rest of our rookery in the courtyard. I'm sure we all have chores to attend."
The three young gargoyles nodded and followed him down.
* * * * *
The next night. . . . . .
Bustling roars shattered the evening’s silence as the Wyvern gargoyles awoke. Their stone skin shattered and fell to the parapet floors, littering the walkways and providing yet more cleaning duties for everyone within. And immediately upon awakening, each clan member set out to perform whatever task they chose before the elders started assigning chores. Some younger gargoyles ran to seek a hiding place, like Thersites, but others wanted to help. In fact, a few were far too eager to help. And, those few included four young gargoyles knowing that tasks were needed of them to prove themselves in becoming the Second in Command.
Agamemnon was strolling about the towers whistling a thoughtful tune to himself as Demona and her three brothers approached him. They seemed quite excited about something, save Goliath who was a little more resolved.
"What is it ye want, lassie?" he asked her, knowing that they were up to something.
"Well, we were wondering if there was anything we could do to help out around the castle," Demona replied, gesturing towards her brothers. "Is there any hunting that needs to be done? Patrolling? Anything?"
"Uh," Agamemnon said scratching his head, confused by their sudden enthusiasm. "Well, there are many things that need to be done tonight, lass. Why don't ye jus' divvy it up between ye four and do what each feels needs to be done most?"
The others looked at each other and nodded.
"Fair enough," said Iago. "Come, brother. Let us see what we can do." And he began to depart with Othello.
After they had gone, and Demona and Goliath had left as well, Agamemnon was left to stare at them in bafflement. "I don’t know what they’re up to," he wondered aloud, "but this change in behavior is very nice. It’s always good to see when the young finally grow into a sense of responsibility….although I wonder….perhaps they overheard…." He trailed off into thought for a moment, then shook his head and walked away. That just wasn't possible.
* * * * *
Diomedes sighed with irritation as his rookery brothers and rookery sister dashed about the castle and bossed everyone around. They were being far to eager to help and it was driving him crazy!! He had to become like Thersites and hide just to stay away from them. They were either ordering him around or being too helpful.
However, the worst of them were Demona and Iago. Those two were finding just about anyone they could and ordering them to do what they were told.
As Diomedes thought about it, it was actually quite humorous. Enough so, that he forgot to his obsession with his red-haired sister for a while. Each of the would-be-leaders went about his or her business in a different manner. Only moments ago Thersites had run off as fast as he could to escape being seen by an all too-willing-to-help Demona. He had managed to hide in the storerooms for some time before he had been found by Iago. That was where the difference came in. When Demona came to you, her intentions were innocent and she honestly wanted you to help. Iago, on the other hand, was calculating and put others in the highest profile tasks he could find—then made sure that the everyone knew that he was the one who had organized the tasks. Gargoyles were trying to avoid him more than any of the others. He always seemed so – ruthless in his methods.
Sighing, Diomedes pulled out of his hiding place and looked around. He spotted his sister Desdemona and approached her. "Sister!!" he called as loudly as he dared. She turned to him. "What do you make of all this?"
Desdemona half giggled and half sighed. "I am not sure," she told him as she turned back to watch Goliath and Othello. "Our two brothers seem to be less intrusive than our hard brother and sweet sister." She pointed to Othello. "Look there, my brother seems to have caught the eye of our elders."
Diomedes looked and saw that she was correct; but it wasn't as though he hadn't already noticed it. And besides, those two were able to catch the elders’ eyes without even trying. But it was still plain to see why. Othello was dutiful in his work and did what was needed of him and when it when it was needed. He was also careful not to push things too far.
However, Goliath was even less intrusive. He helped an elder or two with the training of the younger generation, and even with the training of a few of his own generation. Asrial was down there, and seemed to be amused by her brother’s efforts. But she was also touched by his caring, as were many others. He demonstrated patience and understanding with all of those he taught. It was a trait he had always quietly possessed but was now becoming very apparent.
Nevertheless, the clan was still being put through a frantic pace with these two. No one could do anything on their own without the four youngsters rushing in to lend a helping hand.
"You want to go out in the middle of all of this?" Diomedes asked her with a grin.
Desdemona looked at him. "No," she said with a sarcastic laugh, and they turned to find a place of peace for a while...
However, they were quickly stopped by Iago.
"Going somewhere?" he asked with a sly grin.
Desdemona and Diomedes looked at each other. "Oh no. . . . " they sighed.
* * * * *
Up on the battlements, Hudson sat alone in deep thought. He had seen the four young gargoyles scurrying about the castle and had begun to wonder what they were up to. They seemed to be the most interested in all that was going on, considering that he was looking for a second in command. But they were being much too eager. The clan and even a few of the humans had begun to complain. It made him chuckle, actually, to see all those young gargoyles scurrying about trying to fix things up for others of their clan.
Nevertheless, Hudson was beginning to feel sorry for his rookery kin and other members of the clan. But if he interfered now, he would make it very obvious that something was going on.
Sighing, he turned from the sight and headed into the library. He couldn't read, and probably never would, but so far it was the quietest place in the castle.
Later that night. . . .
Demona snickered to herself quietly. Iago was still at it. He was still ordering people around while she and a few others took a few minutes’ break. Then she blinked. She could see Asrial among the group Iago was instructing, but she was no longer there as a trainee or victim of Iago's ambition. She was actually helping him to train the younger generation. She showed patience and understanding while he showed only a will to be obeyed. Demona stared thoughtfully.
Nevertheless, it made her smile.
Suddenly, a thud! made her turn in surprise to see her lavender brother landed beside her. He released a long, heavy sigh as he lowered himself to the stone floor nearby.
"Good evening, sister," he said pleasantly. "Mind if I join you?"
Demona shook her head with a bit of a flush. She still wasn’t quite sure how she felt about her brother. But for the first few moments, not a word was spoken between the two.
"You know," Goliath said with another sigh. Demona looked at him. "This has been a rather exciting night." He looked at her. "But I'm still not so sure about it."
Demona studied him for a moment. She knew what he was referring to. He didn't like eavesdropping on the elders the way they had all planned.
She smiled. "Well, I for one, am enjoying myself," she said and Goliath regarded her. "True, it may not be the most fair way of doing things, but there are others joining in on the efforts as well. We are not the only ones." She put a hand on his shoulder. "And besides, the Leader will choose the one who he is looking for. The tests are not finished yet, and there are many in our rookery."
"True," agreed Goliath with a nod of his head. "But we still have a better edge than most. I worry that our - showing off - will lessen the chance that the others will have."
Demona sighed and shrugged. "Do not worry so much," she said looking down at their rookery. "They will do fine. It is a contest, nothing more. Just like the Trial of the Warrior-- only in this contest there can be only one winner."
Again Goliath nodded and looked at Demona. He watched her as she watched the hatchlings try to escape Iago and smiled when she giggled. She was right of course, but he still preferred to do things the right way. Nevertheless, things were going as they probably would have without the eavesdropping, and things were still being done in a fair manner. Everyone was being given a chance, and that was the way it should be done.
Sighing, he turned to follow Demona's gaze and smiled when Asrial looked at him. Demona looked at him as he turned away and smiled softly at his turned head. She liked her lavender brother, but still thought that he was too fair at times.
* * * * *
The next night. . . .
Othello glided as silently as he could to reach the spot where he could hear as the elders had stopped to meet just minutes after awakening from sleep. Undoubtedly they were meeting again on what the night’s next test would be. He sat there listening for several minutes as the elders continued to discuss tasks for the clan, and when the discussion was over he left to tell his rookery kin of the news.
However, he didn't notice that Hudson had spotted him leaving. The older gargoyle frowned thoughtfully as he watched the younger one glide away, but said nothing to anyone.
Goliath, Demona, and Iago waited anxiously for Othello to arrive. They greeted him with excitement as their brother landed among them.
"Well, brother," said Iago. "What is happening now? What is the next test?"
Othello turned to his brother. "Our cowardly brother and clever sister are no longer in the running," he told them. "Apparently they were not working hard enough."
"That's no surprise for our brother," Demona commented dryly. "But what of the test?"
"We are to be tested on how well we help others," Othello replied looking at her. "It seems very similar to our tasks last night, but we are also to be tried on patience and understanding."
The others nodded while Iago rubbed his hands in anticipation. "Well, what are we waiting for!?" he chided with a chuckle as he dashed forward and grabbed hold of his brother's arms. "We've got a contest on our hands!!"
Goliath and Othello grunted in surprise as Iago pulled them along, and Demona followed behind them with a soft giggle at her brother’s antics.
* * * * *
Just like the previous night, Goliath, Demona, Iago and Othello fell all over themselves to help others. First: Demona and Iago volunteered to help with any hunting duties; second: Othello saw to the needs of the elders, and third: Goliath once again helped with the training of the young. Mostly, however, he trained those of his own age. Of course there was an elder or two who were there to help him out, but he did a fine enough job without them.
In fact, all of the youngsters did a fine job. Tasks were done well, things were kept neat and tidy; and for a time it appeared that there would not be as much bustle as there had been the previous night. But that was a misconception.
After only an hour or so of peaceful tasks, Iago and Demona returned from their hunting duties just as the Eldest was trying to climb down from one of the perches. They could see the Apprentice just to the side and knew that there had been another session between the two. Immediately, they dashed over to help.
"I've got you, Eldest!" Iago shouted as he neared her. "Lean on me, I'll help you down."
"Oh no you don't!" Demona retorted as she chased after him. "I'm going to help her!"
The Eldest turned to them in surprise and smiled as they both reached out a hand to help her down. "Why thank ye, young ones," she said a bit breathlessly. "Och! Me old bones dinnae move so well anymore."
"Of course, elder," Iago purred as he gently pulled on her left hand and steadied
her with his right. However, the Eldest didn't move far. Someone else was pulling on her from the other side. He looked in annoyance as Demona pulled the Eldest in the opposite direction.
"Hey!" he cried in anger.
"I told you I will help her!" Demona growled as she tugged on the Eldest.
Iago snorted. "You most certainly did not!" he snapped and pulled even harder on the Eldest's arm. "I told you!"
"I think not!" Demona argued and pulled some more from her side of the elder.
The Eldest chuckled a little. "Come now, ye two," she chided gently with good humor. "'Tis not a contest."
"It is too!" Iago and Demona shouted and the Eldest blinked at them with surprise.
Not too far away, the trio: Lexington, Brooklyn and Broadway, all sat watching as Demona and Iago fought over who would help the Eldest. Their heads looked from side to side as they followed the movement of the Eldest's body as it was pulled about by the two over-anxious gargoyles. The Eldest seemed amused, but the farther the argument went the more annoyed she became. The Trio could hear her yelling, "Stop it ye two! Stop fighting!" But neither would listen.
At one point, both young gargoyles had a strong grip on either of the Eldest's arms. They continued to pull on her while arguing the entire time. Finally, the Eldest had had enough.
"That's enough!" she shouted. Iago and Demona stopped and looked at her in surprise. "Och! I'm not an object to be battled over with such pettiness! Let me go, I'll climb down on my own."
Demona and Iago looked at each other, scowling.
"LET ME GO!!!" the Eldest shouted in anger-- and they both released her and stepped back, shamefaced.
The Eldest sighed. "Thank ye, I . . . " She stopped suddenly. She wobbled back and forth uncontrollably, flinging her arms about trying to stay balanced. She had been so off-balance while trying to fight the young gargoyles hold that now that she was free. . . .
She toppled over the edge with a startled cry.
The Apprentice screamed and rushed to the ledge. "Eldest!" she cried.
Iago and Demona gasped and tried to grab her as she fell, but she slipped by them and continued to fall towards the ground. Just before she hit, Goliath and Othello, who had been observing the struggle with some concern from nearby, swooped in and caught her.
"I have her," Othello announced and Goliath released his hold on the Eldest's legs so he would not knock Othello off-balance while the other was gliding with his precious cargo.
"Thank ye, lads," breathed the Eldest with a shaky sigh of relief. She looked at Iago and Demona as Othello gently set her down on the ground. "Ye’re a little more help than some others I know."
Her stare made the two gargoyles turn away in guilt.
"What happened!?" cried Hudson and Agamemnon as they rushed over with many of the clan. "We saw ye fall from the parapets."
Agamemnon looked at Demona and Iago. "What did the two o' ye do!?" he roared in amazement. "What on earth was the cause o' fightin' o'er the Eldest!?"
Demona and Iago fumbled, looked at each other, then looked around and down, but neither of them spoke.
"I say they should be punished for this," said another elder.
"Aye," agreed another older male. "Perhaps they should be confined to the rookery if they canna behave like adults."
Demona and the others gasped. The elders looked sternly at them, but said nothing further.
"Nay," said the Eldest and everyone looked at her. "I believe the two o' them have learned their lesson." She glanced at them, then turned and walked away with the Apprentice helping her along. "Just let it go."
The others looked at each other, and some members of the clan left the area. But Hudson, Agamemnon and a few other elders lingered. And unaware to anyone else, they secretly filed the incident away for further discussion on the next night.
Watching from just a short distance away, Brooklyn, Broadway and Lexington shook their heads in disbelief. They even subconsciously stepped back into the shadows to keep out of sight of the upset gargoyles.
"There's no way I'm even gonna look like I need help until this is over," Lexington griped softly
"Me neither," agreed Brooklyn with a nod.
"Me neither," said Broadway emphatically, and they all walked away.
* * * * *
Much of the night was still left as Demona crept over to where the elders were gathering. They had called for another meeting before the night ended, and luckily Othello had heard about it in time or else they would have been in the dark. His overhearing had happened on accident, more or less, but it was still lucky for her and her brothers that he had found out.
And so, Demona listened closely as the elders spoke.
"Well," grumbled Agamemnon as he folded his arms. "What word do ye have for us now? Are those two quibbling hatchlings goin' to be taken out o' the runnin'?"
Hudson shook his head. "Nay," he said as he faced his comrades. "That was an unsightly display, I agree, but they are among the most eager of the contestants. I prefer to let things continue to play out on their own."
Agamemnon sighed, but nodded his head in agreement. The other elders did likewise.
"What shall the next test be?" asked a female elder with dark hair that was greying at the temples. "Is it really to be tonight? We've had enough excitement as it is, Leader."
"Aye, I know," said Hudson. "But a new idea came tonight, and I wanted to test it out on the youngsters before the night is up."
"Very well, then, Leader," said another female elder. "What shall it be?"
"I want tae test these young ones on how flexible they can be with different tasks," Hudson told them.
The others considered that for a moment. "It is a good idea," said one of the male elders. "I wouldn't mind seein' a bit o' humility in there as well."
Hudson chuckled. "That'll be there, brother," he said. "That'll be there."
"So," said Agamemnon. "Is it decided?"
Once again the elders looked amongst themselves. "Yes," said a tall greyish-lavender male. "I think we are all in agreement to it. Leader, with yuir permission we will go and start preparing for the tasks."
Hudson nodded. "Go on then," he said. "I want tae get this o'er with before the night is through."
The others nodded and began to depart.
With her own little nod, Demona also departed. But as she did, she knocked over a small pot.
"Eh?" said Hudson and turned to where the sound had come from. He wasn't too surprised to see Demona leaving as the elders left the area. "Hmmm. . ." he mumbled and walked away.
* * * * *
Sometime later, the elders greeted the threesome who were already in the courtyard, waiting after Demona had quickly briefed them. Many others of their rookery were there as well, after being gathered together by a few elders, and now they all waited to be assigned their tasks.
However, for Demona, attending tonight would be impossible.
"Girl!" shouted the Archmage as she headed towards the courtyard. Demona turned to him in surprise with a despairing groan. "Come with me! If you are ever to be a sorceress you need to be more diligent in your studies and I have need of your help!"
"But I. . ." Demona began but didn't get a chance to finish as the Archmage pulled her along.
"No buts, girl," the Archmage growled. "My patience with you has grown thin! Now come along or no more lessons for you!"
Blast the luck! the Archmage thought sourly as he pulled Demona along towards his study. I really want to work on training that boy, Marcus! But because of the Prince, I can't do much now! He looked back at her as she looked back at the courtyard. Nevertheless, I don't want to get rid of this one. She does have a good potential and is currently more useful helping me than the boy would be.
With another frustrated growl, he gave Demona a tug. "But, Archmage,…" she started.
"Quiet, girl. If you want to learn magic, you must learn that your time is not your own to spend in lazy pursuits. If you want to be just another warrior, then go back. If you want true power, then you will stay and learn what I can teach you." He looked back at her under beetled brows and she saw the power glinting in his eyes. That decided her. It was power, of a different type, true, but power nonetheless.
Demona sighed and glanced back at the courtyard. The elders were handing out assignments for the evening. She was not going to be able to perform any of her tasks tonight. . . whatever they might have been.
* * * * *
Iago muttered as he sprinted off to help a few of the castle guards. Apparently a peasant’s cart had become mired in the roadway before arriving at the gates. This wasn't the sort of job he was used to, nor was it one that he would normally willingly do. But, it was part of the task and to become a potential leader he had to be cooperative - at least to some extent.
"Need any help?" he asked as he reached the cart.
The guards and the peasants looked up at him. The peasants were stunned at his appearance, but a few of the guards were more than relieved.
"Ah, lad!" one of the guards called as he stood. "It's good that yuir here. A gargoyle’s strength would be much help now."
"What do I need to do?" Iago asked as he surveyed the cart and mud.
"Help us lift and pull it out o' the pit," the guard said as he circled around the cart’s rear. "Once that is done, then we'll need to fill up the pit so no one will get stuck there."
Iago grimaced inwardly. "Very well, then," he said and took a position holding the cart. "Let's begin."
The guard nodded, and as one everyone began to work.
It took the guards and Iago only a few minutes to get the cart out of the hole, but it took them nearly an hour to fill up the hole. While the guards gathered the needed dirt and scooped out the mud and water, Iago helped the peasants to pick up any belongings that had gotten knocked out of the cart during the fall into the hole. Then, as the dirt was brought in he helped the guards to fill in dry dirt into the hole and then pack it down until it was good and solid.
When that was done, Iago sighed gratefully as he leaned against the castle wall and wiped his forehead with his hand. He felt something dry and wet and sticky touch his brow and looked at his arm, then down at the rest of himself.
"Humph!" he said in disgust. "I'm in need of a bath."
* * * * *
In another part of the castle, Othello growled with deep humiliation. He couldn't believe that the elders had assigned him to the task they had! Helping the serving girls mend a tunic dress for one of the elders was fine, but actually wearing it?
Luckily, not very many of his rookery kin had passed by to watch the scene unfold. But for those who had, a small giggle would cause him to glower with impatience and embarrassment.
"Are you nearly finished, yet?" he asked one of the girls for the umpteenth time.
The girl giggled. "Almost, dear," she said as she continued to sew. "Be patient."
Othello grumbled some more. He had been patient, but one could only take so much teasing.
* * * * *
In the courtyard, Goliath waited as Agamemnon finally came to him. There were many members in his rookery and it took several elders to assign everyone tasks. Many of the gargoyles were grumbling this evening as the tasks that they had been assigned. Some were rather unusual. Only Goliath and his sibs knew the real reason why. He wondered quietly if he should come clean and let the elders know what he and his sibs had been doing.
"Lad, is somethin' wrong?" asked Agamemnon and Goliath looked at him in surprise. "Ye looked disturbed for a minute."
"Uh," stuttered Goliath with a sheepish grin. "Uh, no - no, nothing is wrong, elder. I was just thinking about something."
Agamemnon studied him for a moment, then pushed it aside. "Well, no matter," he said. "Lad, yuir duty for the rest o' night is tae tend the eggs in the rookery. And don't worry, there will be a few others down there tae help ye if needed."
Goliath started. "The eggs in the rookery?" he said in confusion. "But I have never been down there before." He paused. "At least not since I hatched."
Agamemnon smiled. "Aye, I know," said Agamemnon as he began to walk away. "Either way, that is yuir task tonight. Do what ye can before dawn, agreed?"
Goliath sighed and nodded. "Agreed," he said and walked towards the rookery.
On his way, giggles and chatter caught his ear. Curious, Goliath turned to see a few of his rookery, mostly females, gathered at a window.
"What is it?" he asked them as he approached. "What is happening here?"
One of his rookery sisters turned to him while giggling. "It is our brother!" she cried. "He is being used as a dummy while the serving girls mend a tunic dress for one o' the elders!!"
Goliath looked inside the window. The sight that greeted him made him chuckle indeed. But he tried to hold it back for his brother’s sake. Othello looked incredibly uncomfortable and was blushing deeply from all the teasing rookery kin. However, he did seem to be taking it moderately well.
Othello looked at him and he shrugged.
"Do not worry, brother," Goliath said as carefully as he could. "This will not last much longer."
Othello snorted in reply and folded his arms across his chest.
"You will hold still, lad," chided the lead seamstress as she put a hand on his leg. "Otherwise ye'll be pricked by the pin."
Othello grumbled, but held still as told.
The serving girl looked at the gathered gargoyles. "Now run along, the lot o' ye," she chided. "I'm sure ye all have things of yuir own to do.."
Goliath, though still chuckling, nodded his head in agreement. "I agree," he said as he turned to look. "Good luck, brother."
Othello sighed as Goliath and the others dispersed. Then quite by surprise he heard the words he had begun to believe he never would.
"There ye are, lad," said the third girl as she checked the tunic. "We're through here."
"Finally!" Othello cried and practically jumped down from the stool and rushed for the door.
"But wait!" the girl cried and he looked at her. "We need the tunic."
Looking down at himself, Othello sighed, slipped off the tunic, handed it to the girl, then dashed out of the room as fast as his feet could carry him.
* * * * *
Goliath was still chuckling as he neared the rookery. He was surprised to see that the doors looked smaller than he remembered. They were even a bit worn in places. But they were still the doors to the rookery where he had hatched; and the doors that led to his next test. But it was such an odd one!
Goliath pushed open the doors and listened to them creak loudly. They were large and heavy, providing good protection against any invaders - at least those who were not too large a threat. The Vikings were foes to be feared, but there were none here. There were only the dark stairs that led deep inside the rookery; the place he often remembered in his dreams but never dreamed of seeing again. Then, step by step he began to descend into the rookery. What light there was, was provided by an odd moss that naturally glowed in the dark. Also, there was torch light down below suggesting that others were present watching over the eggs. But judging by the sound of the voices, and their pitches, he recognized the egg attendants as female.
Goliath was greeted by the females after finally emerging into the large space where the eggs were kept.
"Why hello, rookery brother," said a sooty black female and he looked at her. "What are ye doin’ here?"
"Um," said Goliath with a shrug. "I came down to see if there was anything I could do to help." He looked around. "The elders said that I was to help down here."
His sister looked at him slightly funny. "Well, normally the eggs don’t require much care, but every now and again, some of us must check them over to make sure that they are developing properly," she said while sitting near one of the eggs and Goliath nodded.
"Ah," said his sister as she checked an egg. "Well, in that case, let's get ye started." She stood and motioned for him to follow to another group of eggs.
* * * * *
Later that night, Goliath released a tired yawn as he exited the shower rooms. Dawn was close by now and he had spent a lot of time in the rookery. His sisters and the female elders that were down there had been grateful for his help. They had provided him with enough to do and had kept him busy most of the night. Tending to the eggs was not as difficult a task as he had thought it would be, but the care that went in to looking after them was necessary. If anything were to fall and crack one of those eggs, the poor hatchling inside would be no more.
After his rookery chores, he had helped out with just about anything that was required of him. None of that had been part of the test for the night, but he had felt the need to lend a helping hand when one needed it. In fact, he always felt that way.
As dawn had neared things had begun to slow down and there wasn't much to do. So, he had taken to the showers to refresh himself. Showering always felt good and gave him a little extra lift when he needed it. It was even a time where he could be by himself, and just think without any disturbances whatsoever.
But now, he was out of the shower and heading for his perch. On his way there, he found Asrial wandering around the castle trailed by a group of hatchlings trying to figure out the device she had made of rope and sticks. It looked like some sort of toy because the hatchlings were trying to take turns playing with it.
"Good evening sister," he said cheerfully as he approached her. She greeted him with a smile. "This invention is a new one, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Asrial rather proudly. "I came up with it earlier tonight. It’s just a puzzle. You need to get the rope untangled from the sticks." She shrugged and the hatchlings giggled as they tugged at the various parts. "I wanted to show it to you earlier tonight, but you have been busy in the rookery."
"Ah, yes," said Goliath, and grew silent for a moment. Then he shrugged sheepishly, and added, "Well, I am here now."
Asrial smiled, then glanced towards the brightening sky. "Come, we had best prepare to sleep," she said politely, taking the toy from the hatchlings and approaching her perch. "Dawn is near."
Goliath nodded and followed her, and as the sun rose over the horizon he chose his most fierce pose and froze. Stone sleep had beckoned.
* * * * *
The Next Night. . . .
Hudson sighed as he noticed Iago take position a short distance away. He knew the lad was eavesdropping. Several of the younger rookery had been doing just that for the last few nights. However, he was going to make no attempt to stop the eavesdropping. Sooner or later, one of the younger gargoyles would stand out from the others, and then he could choose an acceptable Second in Command.
Hudson returned his gaze to the rest of the gathering elders and made ready to give them his latest speech. He knew they had been quite pleased lately with the way he was taking charge again. They were especially thrilled that he was at last choosing a Second in Command. The clan had gone three full years without one now and his leadership was in serious need of an heir of sorts. There was always the possibility that something might happen to him; and, while another elder could take his place for a while, the leadership had traditionally been passed to a younger generation when the leader reached a certain age.
"Well?" said a grey, beaked elder as he faced Hudson. "What's yuir decision for tonight?"
"Any news on last night’s tests?" asked the elder’s mate.
"Aye, there is," said Hudson sadly. "I'm afraid the fiery haired lass will nay be considered any more. She has potential, but she is not reliable. In fact she wasn't even present last night."
"That is not good," said the Eldest in as equal a sad tone. "She was doin' so well. Why do ye suppose she didna show up?"
"Did she get cold feet?" asked another female elder.
Hudson shook his head. "Nay, I dinna believe so," he told them. "However, I still don't know why she disappears. She seems unwilling to discuss the matter and I’ll not push it."
"The poor girl," said a brownish male elder. "Must have found something else a little more exciting to do and forgot as her clever sister often does."
Hudson sighed. "No," he said, "but we'll not discuss that any further. I have decided that this night’s test is to be a test of combat skills."
"Combat skills?" said the Eldest. "But there are already so many excellent warriors in the bunch. It will be difficult to find the one who stands out the best."
"Not necessarily," said Agamemnon thoughtfully. "There are two or three under consideration' that are superb fighters. One o' them will most definitely make a good Second."
Hudson nodded. "Aye, but that's not all that will do it," he said as he began to pace around. "Being a leader is more than fightin' skills. It is good decision making, flexibility with tasks, and patience and understanding with others o' the clan." He stopped pacing and faced his comrades again. "Tomorrow night is the last test. It will be the one test that will truly find us the one we need."
"What is it?" asked the grey, beaked elder curiously.
"That must wait until tomorrow night," Hudson said as he turned and began to walk away. "For now just see that the young are given proper tasks. This meeting is adjourned."
As the elders began to disperse, Iago felt different emotions swell inside of him. He was greatly disappointed that the leader hadn't foretold the next night’s test, otherwise they would have been prepared for it beforehand. Still, tonight’s test was one he knew he could perform well. The elders wanted to see a good fighter, and they would.
With a satisfied grin, Iago quickly glided off to tell his brothers and sister the latest news, while being careful not to be seen by the elders. His rookery kin were waiting anxiously as he arrived, and he had good news to tell; except for Demona. He was more than happy to see that Demona was out of the running. It meant less competition, and a surer chance for his victory.
"Well?" said Demona anxiously. "What news?"
"This nights test is for combat skills," Iago said ecstatically. "We are to show the elders how well we can fight."
"That is wonderful!" said Othello. "Surely the elders could make their decision then."
"Not until tomorrow night," Iago replied, and then he paused as the others talked excitedly, and then cleared his throat with perfect timing to deliver the bad news. "But there is some bad news, I'm afraid."
The others stared at him.
"What is it?" asked Demona.
Iago put his hands on her shoulders. "I'm afraid your disappearing last night cost you," he said with as much false sympathy as he could manage. "You're no longer in the running."
Demona was stunned silent. "I - I see," she said softly and looked down. There was silence for a long moment.
"I am sorry sister," said Goliath gently as he wrapped a companionable arm around her. "You would have made a good Second."
"Anyone of us would have," Iago reminded him, "however, I, and many others, do wonder where it is that you disappear to, dear sister."
Goliath looked at him sternly. "That is our sister’s choice, and she will tell us if she wishes – or not. Leave her be."
"I wasn’t prying, " Iago said, smoothly, "merely curious. My apologies, dear sister."
"Indeed," agreed Othello as he took his sister’s hand. "I am sorry for this loss, sister."
"Yes, well. . . " said Demona disappointedly as she turned. "I tried. Good luck, brothers. I hope one of you succeeds."
Iago grinned as she departed, while Othello and Goliath watched her retreat with disappointment themselves. Nevertheless, the contests would begin soon and they needed to prepare. So, the three of them headed for the courtyard to begin practicing before the night’s trials began.
* * * * *
Many gargoyles stopped and stared in curiosity as Goliath, Othello and Iago practiced their combat skills together. Goliath was conservative and thoughtful, watching their moves and staying on top with calm and ease. Othello was also doing very well, but he and Iago were fighting just a little too fiercely. It earned a few appraising nods and looks; but a few gargoyles were a bit disturbed with the fierceness that Othello and Iago displayed. Even Goliath was amazed, and knew that if he had paired with either of them tonight, he would have to fight harder than he usually did in a practice run. He knew that there were times when a gargoyle had to be fierce, especially when he was defending himself and others, but discretion was needed as well. What would someone else think if he or she saw such a fierce display? It certainly sounded and looked like they were out to do some serious damage to each other.
Shaking his head, he continued his own practicing until stopped by their Leader’s call.
"Here now, lads!" Hudson called as he approached them. "Take it easy or ye'll have no energy for the rest of you work this night." He paused as Iago and Othello stopped another fierce battle. "Or I could be mistaken."
The two of them looked at each other and grinned. Goliath just grinned and shook his head, but he was still not sure what to think of their motives.
"Well then, come along, lads," Hudson said with a shake of his head as he turned. "Yuir real practice is about to begin."
Nodding, the three young gargoyles followed after him with Demona watching them go from a point on the parapets above. Her eye was on Goliath, wishing him luck, yet wishing that she could have still been there too.
* * * * *
Sometime Later. . . .
"Oooh!" several of the clan cried as they watched Iago and Othello fight in pairs.
Their sparring partners were receiving an incredible beating. None of the clan had seen those two fight like this before. Their partners were becoming fatigued fast and were very disconcerted with this change in behavior. Yet Othello and Iago's ruthless onslaught didn't stop until their partners finally went down and the mock fight was ended with a yell from Agamemnon.
"All right, that's quite enough o' that!" he shouted in amazement.
Othello and Iago stopped to look at him, panting and a bit surprised. It seemed as though they had surprised even themselves. "Now, out of the ring the both o' ye. There are still a few other pairs that need tae take their turn."
Othello and Iago nodded, and offered a hand to their sparring partners to stand. But their partners refused their help and even hurried to get away from them. Shrugging, the two psyched warriors exited the ring, and were again surprised when many of the clan seemed to quickly step away from them.
"What's wrong with them?" Iago asked and Othello shrugged.
Agamemnon sighed while rubbing his head, which was beginning to ache. There were still a few more pairs to go through, but after this display he was wondering if they should stop and continue later on in the evening? What if the other pairs were just as ruthless?
He looked at Goliath who stood in one corner in the outer ring waiting patiently with his partner, Diomedes. They looked poised and ready, and Agamemnon decided to let them have a go.
"Ye two," he said pointing to them. They looked at him. "In the ring. Ye’re up next."
Nodding the two brothers stepped into the ring and took position. They took a defensive posture and waited for the signal to begin. When it was given, they sprang into action.
At first, the watchers looked on breathlessly, thinking that these two would fight just as ruthlessly as the first ones had. But to their continuing interest, things happened very differently. These two fought very well, yet they held back as needed, and thought their fighting through instead of rushing in and frightening their opponent. Both were calm and controlled; and, when the other was knocked down or they made a good move, they each recovered well and continued their fight. Because of this, both tired out less quickly and became less agitated. Neither of them were seriously injured, unlike the sparring partners of Iago and Othello, and made good marks in the elder’s eyes. Everyone began praising their fighting and shouting encouragement, while Iago and Othello watched in their own amazement and even scowled with jealousy. Othello, however, watched the fight appraisingly, and even learned of the mistakes he had made.
Perhaps, he wondered, he and his brother had gone a little overboard?
A few minutes later, the fight was ended as Goliath came out the victor by trapping Diomedes on the ground. They congratulated each other as they exited the ring, receiving even more points from the elders. Iago and Othello had done the same thing, even tried that with their partners, but their partners had run away from them as quickly as possible.
"Very good, lads," Agamemnon praised them in relief. "I hope the other sparring is as good as yuir performance." He glanced at Othello and Iago. "Now, let's see if we can add a combination of the two examples we've seen tonight. Just don't get carried away."
The others chuckled and Othello and Iago shrugged. Then Agamemnon pointed to Desdemona and Fuchsia. "Ye’re up next," he said. "Get ready."
The two females took position in the ring, and their sparring match began.
* * * * *
Goliath released a long sigh as he finally walked away from the courtyard. The contests had gone well, but he was still amazed at how ruthless his two brothers had become. Why had they decided to fight like that? Did they think that was what the elders were looking for?
Goliath himself wasn't sure, but he hoped he wouldn't see that side of his brothers again.
Just then a soft sighing caught his attention and he turned a corner to see Demona sitting at his perch. She was in deep thought and looking glum. The night skies were beginning to brighten with signs of an approaching dawn and he approached her to see if she needed to talk.
"Um, sister?" he said and she looked back at him in surprise. "May I join you?"
Demona regarded him a moment, then nodded as she returned her gaze to the view before her. She was silent as he sat down beside her and neither of them spoke a word for moments after that. Goliath looked at her and sighed. He wasn't quite sure what to say to her. She didn't seem to be taking things to hard, but she was still glum.
"Are you all right, sister?" Goliath asked her. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Demona glanced at him. "I don't think so," she said, returning her gaze to the landscape. "It's just my life is-is so complicated. There is so much obligation and stress. . . . I hardly have any free time for myself anymore."
"Obligation and stress?" said Goliath in confusion. "Is that why you didn't attend last night?"
Demona nodded. "Yes."
"I see," said Goliath, though he really didn’t, as he shifted position and leaned his elbows on his legs. "May I ask where this obligation and stress comes from?"
Demona was silent for a moment. "No, I don't think so," she said at last.
Goliath quirked an eye-ridge. "May I ask why?"
Again she shook her head.
Goliath thought a moment. He could see that she was stressed, but she wouldn't talk about it. Why was that? Was this what his brother had been going through? What was she afraid of and why wouldn’t she confide in the rest of the clan?
"Brother?" said Demona and Goliath looked at her. "What do you do when you are learning something from someone that you want, but it conflicts with other things that you want and you feel that this person is not teaching you enough? And what if this person isn't trusted by others?"
Goliath regarded her in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"Well, what if someone was training two people in a particular field, and the teacher started paying more attention to the second student instead of to you?" Demona asked trying not to give things away.
"Uh," said Goliath as he tried to decipher this. "Well, I suppose you could just be patient and help out the master however you could. I suppose you could even help out a little with the newcomer’s training."
Demona didn't seem satisfied by the answer. "But, what if this teacher is too harsh and gives you more duties than you could handle?" she asked, trying to get a better answer. "What if he was taking you away from those people and places you also needed to be at? It's almost as if I have to work extra hard in order to justify how much time I spend with this - teacher. It's like he doesn't even want me there."
Goliath thought for a moment as he looked below them to other gargoyles who were moving about the castle heading for their perches before the sun rose.
"Well," said Goliath with a sigh. "I would suggest that you leave this fool. He isn't a teacher if he is not teaching you. If you want to learn - whatever it is you may be learning- find a teacher who is fair and open." He paused. "But sister, why are you asking me this? Are you learning something from someone? If so, who is the teacher and what is the text?"
Demona looked away and didn't answer.
Goliath shook his head. It was definitely a gesture that told him she was not willing to tell him. "Sister," he said gently as the dawn quickly approached. "Do not stay in a situation that makes you unhappy. And realize that I am only here to help, and I can only help so much. It is difficult for me to give solid advice when I know so little of what is happening in your life. If telling me what is going on is a bit uncomfortable for you for now, then know that I am at least here to listen if you need someone to talk to. But, don't keep us in the dark for too long."
Demona looked at him and smiled. He had said something similar to this before, and she knew he was right. Still, to tell the clan she had been learning magic. . .
"Thank you brother," she said as she stood, and turned to stone.
* * * * *
The Next Night. . . .
Goliath sighed irritably as he glided to the spot where the elders were supposed to gather. The word had come to him earlier that night through Iago just where they were going to be. Each night the elders gathered in a different spot, and yet, Goliath and his other three kin always managed to find their location. This eavesdropping was making him increasingly uncomfortable, as it went on night after night. He shook his head, regretting that he had agreed to go along with this scheme and glad that it would be the final night.
He had little enthusiasm as he landed and leaned in to listen. This was such an underhanded way of finding out exactly what was to happen in the next test. It disheartened him to think that he could be willing to stoop this low just to have an edge and make it as the new Second in Command. He was not even sure now if he even wanted the job!
Still, it was a nice challenge as he thought about it. His thoughts turned to his sister. Demona had been left out of the running because she had failed to show up and participate the night before last. This secret ‘obligation’ worried him. She had been grateful enough that he had been there to lend an ear at least, but he had come away feeling frustrated and very upset. He sympathized with his sister, but knew there was little he could do for her until she was willing to really discuss her problems honestly. He hoped that one day she would come out with it, and that the stress on her would ease. She was a fine warrior, and a good friend.
He wished her well with all his heart.
"All right now, quiet down!" the brownish male elder shouted and Goliath bent low to listen. "Our leader has somethin' tae say tae us!"
Instantly the area was quiet and Hudson stepped forward a bit so he could be seen by all gathered elders. "Thank ye, brother," he said as he cleared his throat. "As ye know, tonight is the last test." He paused as the others nodded. "But, I have disturbing news."
Goliath and the other elders perked their ears in surprise.
"Th’ Rogue and his men have been raiding a nearby village," Hudson said, and excited chatter flittered through the gathered group. Goliath studied each of them in worry. "I have spoken with the Prince and it is agreed that we will go out and look this over. We will take a few elders and all the youth that are still being considered for Second. I think this would be a good opportunity to test them out on the battlefield."
"A good plan," said a grey female. "But what will that prove?"
A good question, elder, Goliath thought to himself as he stood and turned from watching the meeting. What will any of this prove? This is not right. If I, or any of our clan, is to become the next Second, it will be done fairly.
He opened his wings and launched himself into the air to glide down to where his brothers had been waiting for him. He couldn't listen anymore, so he would meet them and tell them what he had heard.
But as he left, the chatter from the elders ceased, and Hudson started speaking again.
"This will PROVE, my brethren and sisters, that the younger rookery will know how to use teamwork," Hudson said and sighed. "At least that is what I hope they will do. The most important thing about being Leader, about fightin' on the battlefield, is the use of teamwork. Without it the battle is lost; and so are lives."
A green-gold female stepped forward. "But that is such a difficult test," she said. "There are so many excellent warriors; and they all work together so well."
"Aye, they do," Hudson agreed. "But there are still those who don't work quite so well with others. We will be looking out for those of both types, and I will choose the one who shows the most promise. The one who works with his brethren and sister and thinks not of himself when others are in need. That will be the key."
The elders looked at each other, then nodded with smiles.
"I think we are in agreement to this, brother," said the green elder.
Hudson nodded. "Ye and the others gather the contestants into the courtyard. We'll be leavin' as soon as I have finished meeting with the Prince."
Nodding, the elders quickly bustled off to gather up the youth.
* * * * *
"That's it?" asked Iago eagerly. "That's tonight’s test?"
Goliath nodded. "Yes," he said. "We are to be tested on the battlefield."
Othello and Iago glanced at each other. "Well, that shouldn't be too hard," said Iago. "Better than last night I'm sure."
Othello grinned thoughtfully. "Indeed," he said with a shiver of anticipation. "I do believe the others were quite. . . amazed by our display last night, brother."
"Indeed," Goliath muttered and turned to leave. "Look, gather some of other sisters and brothers. I want to go and speak with our clever sister."
Iago and Othello watched him go, then shrugged and left to do as asked.
Goliath smiled as he entered Asrial's tower. No matter what had happened within the last year, she was still the one he sought out when he needed someone to talk to. He wasn't sure if he was really going to go into detail about what was happening; he just needed his friend’s company.
"Sister?" he asked as he walked up to her. She turned to him from reading a book. "Is it all right if I join you for a few moments?"
Asrial smiled. "Of course, brother," she said as she set the book down. "What was on your mind?"
Goliath sighed as he leaned against her workbench. "A lot," he said. "I am disheartened by events of the past few nights?"
Asrial raised an eyeridge. "What on earth for?" she asked, taking his hand. "You are doing so well."
"That is what troubles me," Goliath said. "My two brothers and I have been unfair." He glanced at her. "You've noticed how we seem to know what is going to happen each night, correct?"
Asrial giggled. "It has been rather obvious," she said. "Especially last night." She paused. "Why is that anyway? Are you and our brothers spying on the elders?"
"We were. The elders are looking for a new Second," Goliath replied. "And it was my turn tonight. . . But, I couldn't do it. I was able to tell them most of what they wanted to know, but I'm sure the elders had more to say about they wanted to see tonight."
"Do the elders know you have been doing this?" asked Asrial.
"I think Leader does," said Goliath thoughtfully. "He doesn't seem to want to worry about it though. I think he feels that perhaps the tests would determine what he wants to see regardless." He shook his head. "But I still disagree with what I've done. I don't even know why I really agreed to it from the start."
Asrial smiled. "Don't worry, brother," she said. "I'm sure that the elders won't reprimand you. I think they're more concerned in finding someone with the good qualities for a Second just now."
"But you can't be a Second or a Leader without honesty, sister," Goliath argued in concern.
Asrial's smile just grew wider. "Well, then maybe what you've done tonight hasn't gone unnoticed," she pointed out as she picked up her book. "I think your example will be known. Besides, the elders know what they are looking for, and they will make a choice based on how you do things, whether or not you had foreknowledge."
Goliath thought about that for a moment. "Perhaps you are right," he said and stood to his full height. "Well, I might as well get this over with. Thank you for listening, sister."
Asrial nodded. "Now get goin' before you're late," she said and Goliath left the tower with a smile.
* * * * *
In the courtyard, there was much hustle and bustle. Much of the younger generation was present and waited and listened as the elders told them of the Rogue’s raiding. They were stunned and enraged, and all of them wanted to help those in need. They were gargoyles after all, and gargoyles protect.
"Now, split into yuir groups and gather with the group leaders," said Hudson as he stood at the battlements facing outward. "We are leaving now. Fight yuir best lads and lassies, and be careful. We’ll nae let this bandit hurt folks under our protection."
He raised his fist and held it in the air. "Now, on to battle!"
The gargoyles roared, and assembled themselves as told. Then all of them followed their leader to battle.
* * * * *
Silence replaced all the excitement the gargoyles had shown only a short while ago. They were stunned silent by the scene before them. All around them were the remains of Roland's previous attacks; burnt and smoldering houses, wounded villagers, and even a line of shrouded bodies off to one side. A few gargoyles who were still in the air reported after a few moments that they had spotted the raider's line of retreat, and the gargoyles headed off in pursuit.
However, it would be an hour before the gargoyles would finally catch up with Roland and his men. They looked as though they had only stopped for a break, but were definitely planning on another attack on another unsuspecting village. They had many supplies and loot with them, but would need more to sustain their numbers. The gargoyles were determined not to allow this to continue.
"What are we to do, Leader?" asked Diomedes as he huddled with his group next to the raiders’ campsite. "There are many of them."
"Aye," said Hudson as he examined the scene and watched the raiders laugh and eat. They hadn’t bothered to post more than a token guard, confident that there was no pursuit. "We'll need tae surprise 'em." He gestured for Agamemnon to come. "Brother, tell the group leaders to have their groups surround the camp. I'll give ye the signal to attack after they're ready."
Agamemnon nodded. "Aye, brother," he said as he turned. "I'll wave to ye."
Hudson nodded as Agamemnon departed and continued to watch the thieves. Several minutes passed before any sign from Agamemnon and any of the other group leaders came to Hudson, but when it did. . .
"Attack!" Hudson yelled, and the gargoyles sprang to life.
"What the . . !" gasped Roland as he jumped to his feet choking on a drink. He stared in amazement as his former clan laid siege to his men. "Fight back, men!" He roared as he grabbed a weapon of his own. "Kill them all! Remember what I told you!"
The men didn't even need to be told. Roland had given them such orders long ago, and they many of them remembered past encounters with the Wyvern clan. They battled in earnest, giving the gargoyles a fight to remember. After all, if this clan’s numbers could be reduced, it would be that much easier for Roland and the mistress, Atalanta, to destroy them completely in the future.
However, the gargoyles weren't about to let that happen, even if they didn't know that particular plan. They heard Roland's command and doubled their attack. They became more fierce in those few seconds than they would have in a few minutes.
Othello roared as he took down one of Roland's men, and looked around. Though the fight still raged on around him, he watched as Goliath and a few other of his rookery tackled Roland. Growling, he rushed off to join them, but didn't see the particularly large thug approaching from behind him.
Desdemona snarled and tossed two of the thugs into a line of their companions and gasped at the sight that was revealed to her as they fell. Othello was rushing off to fight Roland, but didn't see the human behind him who wielded a huge club. "My love!" she cried reaching out to him. "Look out!"
Othello gasped and looked back at his love, then behind him. The human cried out and swung the club, and though Othello raised his arms to block the blow, he was still struck hard.
Goliath grunted as he was thrust back by a kick from Roland. With a snarl he rushed in and barreled into his former brother, knocking him down. But as he was about to follow up on this advantage, his sister’s shocked voice rang through the air.
"My love! Look out!" Goliath heard Desdemona cry and he looked in time to see Othello take a blow from one of Roland's thugs. He gasped as Othello went down, and watched as Desdemona pummeled by that same human while trying to reach her brother’s side.
Goliath looked from Roland to his brother, uncertain what to do. Diomedes and Fuchsia were slashing away at the bandit leader and looked as though they could hold on, but he wasn't sure that Othello could. Another thug was approaching with a sword, and there was no question in Goliath's mind what would happen if he didn't do something.
Screaming a terrifying roar, Goliath turned and charged with all the speed he could muster to crash into the thug. The thug saw him coming and stopped, stunned by the giant who barreled down on him with such force. His first instinct was to fight, but this gargoyle rushing for him was just too big. . . and he wasn't hurt. He ran off before Goliath even reached him to find another gargoyle who wasn't -- quite so large. As he did that, Goliath skidded to a stop and stared at the human with satisfaction, then looked down at his brother. Othello stirred with a groan. He wasn't seriously hurt, but he could not be left lying on the ground with the fight raging on the way it was.
Feeling torn, Goliath looked from his brother to the battle and back. Desdemona had been forced back to another spot of the camp and couldn't be reached Diomedes and Fuchsia were still battling Roland and they weren't getting anywhere. Every gargoyle here was battling hard. Even so, they fought to keep their skins, throwing blow after blow to show their enemies they would not be taken down so easily.
A yell came behind him and he turned to in time see another human charge him. He rose to a defensive position but didn't even have a chance to fight.
In a flash Iago was there, relentlessly pounding on the human in a fierce display of strength and anger, and in no time the human went down. Goliath continued to watch as Iago pounced on another human, and another and another. He glanced at Othello, and realized he didn't care if he didn't get to be the second in command. He would lose his part in this if he left to help Othello, but he didn't want his brother hurt further.
Othello came first.
"Rookery brother!" Goliath called to Iago. "Help me! Our brother is wounded; we need to get him back to the castle!"
Iago looked at him and snorted. "Are you daft!" he cried as he threw a human thug off of him. "If I leave now I'll not become the second in command!"
"But that matters not!" Goliath argued. "Our brother is hurt!"
Iago growled in reply, and ignored Goliath. He continued to fight and even left Goliath where he was with a still unconscious Othello, and Goliath shook his head in disbelief and frustration. He turned and began lifting Othello into his arms, then dashed off through the fray to get his brother safely away from the battleground.
As he left the fight waged on.
"Everyone, to me!" Hudson called urgently, and the gargoyles gathered around him. The human soldiers from Wyvern who had caught up with them just a short while ago battled on while the gargoyles regrouped and discussed a new strategy. "Listen, this is what we will do. Get into the air and form a circle around these thugs. We're goin' tae use the swingin' gate maneuver to round them up and end this battle."
"A good plan," Iago purred breathlessly. "But we'd better act fast, the soldiers won't hold out much longer."
"Aye," said Hudson as he stood. "GO, Now!"
The gargoyles broke apart in unison, taking to the air and forming a tight circle. Some of the castle soldiers watched them, and seeming to understand, they spread out to repeat the same encircling movement from the ground. Very few of Roland's men recognized what was happening, but Roland knew exactly what was going on.
"Retreat, men!" he called as he leaped into the air and glided away. "Retreat!"
Many of the thugs looked at him in surprise for a moment then quickly reinforced their attack and managed to break through. Still, not many escaped as the gargoyles swarmed in from the air and pushed them back into a tight circle. The soldiers joined the gargoyles and began fighting the remaining thieves, and after a short time the thieves surrendered.
A great cheer rose from the young gargoyles as more soldiers began to arrive. The fight was over and now as the wagons arrived they needed only to round up the remaining thugs and take them back to the castle dungeons.
"Good job, the lot o' ye!" Hudson praised as the gargoyles gathered together. "Now, let's return home. There are a few wounded gargoyles and humans among us and we must get them back tae the castle."
Nodding, the gargoyles complied and started their journey back to the castle.
* * * * *
Goliath stood in surprise as his clan began to return from the battle. To his relief Othello was recovering, and showed no signs of serious injuries. All he needed was a good day of rest.
"There you are, brother!" cried Desdemona in concern as she landed beside him. "We were worried. You and my beloved disappeared."
"Yes," said Goliath. "He was wounded, so I brought him away from it." He looked among the returning gargoyles. "Is everyone all right? How fares the battle?"
"We have won," said Desdemona. "Though many of the thieves, including Roland himself, got away, there are many here to be thrown into the dungeon. The belongings of the villagers will be returned to them in a short while, but we need to rest first."
"Aye," agreed Goliath glancing at the brightening sky. "It will be dawn soon."
Desdemona nodded, then patted his shoulder. "Thank you for saving my beloved," she said and started to walk away. "If you do not mind, I will see to him."
"Of course," said Goliath and watched her go.
* * * * *
The Next Night. . . . .
Stone skins burst as the last rays of sun faded from the sky. The gargoyles roared as they stretched to life. Life had been renewed this night, and even parts of it had been refreshed.
Othello awoke with a gratifying growl. He was alive and healed now because of his brother. He sat up from where he lay in the infirmary, and smiled as he was greeted by Desdemona. He was most touched that she had watched over him during the day. "Hello, sister," he said pleasantly.
"Hello brother," Desdemona replied. "Are you intact?"
Othello nodded as he stood. "I am fine, thanks to our lavender brother," he said and looked around. "How fare the others? Did we win?"
"Yes," replied Desdemona. "But come, we need to meet with the clan."
Nodding, Othello followed Desdemona out of the infirmary. They journeyed to the courtyard where they were met by many of their rookery. Nothing really important was happening; they were just mingling and chattering about last night’s excitement. There was much anticipation as well, for tonight the Leader had announced that he would choose his Second.
"Sister, brother!" Fuchsia called to them excitedly and they turned to her as she rushed up to greet them. "Isn't this exciting? We've won a battle, and now the Leader will elect one of us for the Second in Command!"
Othello and Desdemona smiled. "Yes, it is very gratifying," said Othello. "We have gone long enough without one."
"Who do you suppose it will be?" asked Fuchsia.
"No one knows," said Desdemona. "The choice is yet to be made."
Fuchsia nodded at this, and was about to make another comment when the leader and a few of the elders started gathering the clan. Young and old were gathered together at a call from their elders and waited to hear what it was the Leader had to say.
"What is it?" asked Demona as she, Goliath and Asrial joined them. "What is going on?"
"I do not know, sister," replied Desdemona as they moved closer to the Leader. "Perhaps he is going to tell us his decision for the Second in Command."
Fuchsia clapped her hands ecstatically, her eyes on Diomedes, who had been her latest romantic interest. "Oh, I hope he does!" she said as she looked up at the perch the Leader had chosen to make his announcement. "I am sure my brother would do a fine job."
Goliath and the others looked at each other and chuckled.
"My friends," Hudson called to the clan and everyone grew silent to listen. "As ye know, it has been three years since we have had a second in command, and I have neglected the responsibility to choose one. I have been too distracted by the loss of me mate to be concerned with it, and too stubborn. I wanted to go without a second for a while, but that was foolish. Without a second, should something happen tae me, there would be no one to take my place and lead the clan."
There were nods and spoken words of agreement.
"Now, however, that has changed," Hudson said as he paced back and forth as much as he could on the small perch. "And, as many of ye have guessed, I've begun testing many of the youth for just such a job. Many of the young gargoyles did not pass. Some were even removed from the running. But there were others who still persevered.
"All of those tests were tests of strength, intelligence, flexibility with tasks, and a use of understanding with fellow clan members. Few demonstrated these and other qualities as well as the one whom I name tonight."
He paused a moment and faced the crowd of gargoyles who were now being joined by a large crowd of humans. They too, were curious. "However, choosing a second was not an easy task. There were many gargoyles that I have considered for the second in command, but this particular young male impressed me most with his loyalty to his rookery siblings. He even showed patience with other members of the clan, and the necessary need and ability to show flexibility with tasks handed to him. He was always as helpful as possible, even on the battlefield."
Hudson turned with a proud smile towards Goliath's group, and he and Othello both held their breath in anticipation. They were both excited, but only one was somewhat reluctant to take the position if it was handed to him.
"Lad," said Hudson reaching out a hand to Goliath. "I have chosen ye as me Second. Congratulations."
Immediately the clan started to cheer, and Goliath was immediately receiving pats on the back. He regarded his clan with confusion, nervousness and some reluctance.
"But, I can not do this," he said and the cheers stopped. Hudson looked at him. "Leader, I am honored that you would choose me, but - but I am hardly worthy of this post."
The clan started speaking up for him, trying to tell him he was wrong. Iago on the other hand, who had been standing off to the side feeling as confident as ever, glared at his brother. He was completely shocked that Goliath would be chosen. After all, in his eye Goliath had left the fight, abandoning it to save their brother. He had forfeited his chance to win! How dare the Leader choose him!
Hudson regarded Goliath and smiled. "Lad, do ye think the other elders and I didn't notice that ye and a few o' yuir rookery have been eavesdroppin' from time to time? I doubt that would o' changed much in the decision I made." He reached his hand out to Goliath again as Goliath, Othello, Iago and Demona fiddled about sheepishly. "Lad, I need yuir help. Ye've shown a maturity and patience that is necessary in the leadership of our clan. I know of no one else who has done as well as you. Join me lad?"
Goliath started to reach out to grasp Hudson's hand while his rookery kin and others started cheering him on again.
"Go for it, brother!" said Javin proudly as he placed a hand on his brother's shoulder. "You're a role model to so many already. You've shown forgiveness and patience with me - even when I didn't deserve it. The Leader is wise in this decision. Please, don't turn it away."
"Aye, brother," said Othello and Desdemona. "We know you can do this."
Goliath listened closely to the words of those he loved the most. They all supported him, and even though there were those who didn't, it was clear no one else besides himself really had any objections to his being named the Second in Command. He looked back to Hudson, whose hand still waited to be grasped by him; and with a smile and a deep breath he took Hudson's hand.
"All right," he said as Hudson helped him to stand beside him on the parapets. "I will join you, Leader. I will be your Second."
Immediately the clan was cheering again, and they started to gather closer. His rookery was the first to get closest, and even the ones to join him on the parapets.
"Good show, my brother!" Demona laughed as she embraced him. "I'm so happy for you!"
"Congratulations, brother," Othello said as he came forward and offered Goliath the traditional handshake. "The leader has made a wise choice. I wish you success with all that you do, and my support."
"Thank you brother," said Goliath as he turned to Iago as he stepped up to him.
But Iago said nothing. He only presented himself with a nod and a smile. Goliath smiled and nodded in return, not realizing that Iago was seething inside. Iago didn't believe Goliath was worthy of the task.
"Congratulations lad," said Agamemnon as he came forward and shook Goliath's hand. "I've watched ye these last few years, and I must say Leader has made a wise choice here. Ye've shown much promise. I knew it would be ye. Best o' luck tae ye."
"Thank you," said Goliath and turned to Hudson. "Well, what do I do now?"
Hudson smiled and patted his shoulder. "Yuir training will begin tonight, lad," he said and turned to the clan. "Our Second has been named. Gather yuirselves now at the dining table. It is time to feast in honor of this night’s event." He turned to the Eldest and her Apprentice. "Perhaps ye and the Apprentice will honor us with a tale, eh?"
The Eldest smiled as she put a hand on the Apprentices shoulder. "We would be honored, Leader," she said, and then started to head for the dinner table.
Once at the dinner table, laughter and the clan's usual chatter filled the air. But Iago did not feel like talking or even laughing. He couldn't stop staring at where Goliath now sat next to the clan Leader. He was enraged over the fact that Goliath had been chosen as the Second in Command despite the fact that he had first been reluctant to take that position. Not only that, but Goliath had stolen what Iago knew should have been his. He didn’t seem to truly appreciate the honor and power that he had been given!
Iago kept quiet through out the whole telling of a story presented by the Apprentice; but his eyes, growing brighter with hatred and anger, never left Goliath. From this day forward Iago swore he would care little for his brother. He would hate him forever, and do what ever it took to dishonor him before the clan. After all, Goliath was garbage to be thrown out. He was a nuisance, and undeserving of the clan’s support.
* * * * *
Later That Night. . . .
Demona sighed happily as she walked about the castle in thought. She couldn't remove thoughts of Goliath from her mind, and she wondered why. Demona still wished that she had been the one to be chosen for Second in Command. And yet, she found that she was not as bothered by it as she had first thought she would be. In fact, her smile grew brighter the more she realized that she was genuinely impressed by Goliath. She was even happy for him.
Demona blushed a bit as she thought about how proud she had been of him, and how she had hugged him when the choice had been revealed. He had seemed very surprised when she had held him like that, but hadn't argued either. He had been grateful for her support, and for her friendship. From this night on, she decided, things were going to look up.
"Child!" the Archmage hissed from nearby. "Where are you girl! Get down here now!"
Demona sighed and her mood deflated for a moment. There was the heart of her problems. The Archmage might not be teaching her as much as she could learn, but he was the only teacher available in magic. Her breastplated brother had not been able to accept her secrets and it had ruined things between them. She prayed now that it wouldn't ruin her newfound closeness with her lavender brother, although she despaired of anything more, since her lavender brother seemed to be infatuated with her clever sister. But she was determined now to continue in her chosen path, determined that somehow her magic would become something for the good of the clan and she would be able to practice it openly one day, determined that she would find the right opportunity to somehow make the others understand. With this new resolve, she went off to her lessons with a slightly lighter step and a new glint in her eye.