DARK AGES - "Serendipity, Part One"
Written by Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr.
Outline by Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur & Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr.
Artwork by Christi Smith Hayden
Based on material by Patrick Toman and Christi Smith Hayden.
* * * * *
Previously, on "Gargoyles"...
* * *
Desdemona : "Our joining ceremony was not as elaborate, but do you remember, beloved?"
Othello : "How could I forget? [smiles gently]... We were the first of our rookery to stand before the Leader and the circle of Elders to swear our love before the clan."
* * *
Elisa : "No. Nuh uh. Hey, what about this one?" [shows Angela a picture of a simple wedding dress] "...it's a Clive original,"
Angela : "Who?"
Elisa : "Someone who'll meet with Fox's approval,"
* * *
Broadway : "What was it like for you, Goliath? I mean you don't have to tell me if you don't want to...What was it like for you and Demona?"
Goliath : "No... Those were different times -- we were all different then. It was a time when she was not Demona or even my 'Angel of the Night', but simply another of my rookery siblings who, like myself, was lonely..."
* * *
Demona : "Don't misunderstand me, I am very pleased to see you taking a mate... But it also makes me sad... because it reminds me that I once too had a mate and now I am alone."
Angela : "You are not alone anymore... I know that now things are different between you and Father but surely there must have been a time when your feelings for him were just as strong as my feelings are for Broadway."
Demona : "Yes... There was a time, long ago, when I dared to believe in an impossible love...."
* * *
Goliath : "And it all began with a mating..."
~Something Old, Something New~
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, 974
The clan's roars, yowls, and cries filled the evening sky after the last of the sun's light skittered behind the horizon; the ruddy-redness vanishing as if trying to outrun the sound of their awakening.
Giving himself a good stretch before climbing down from his roost, Goliath turned expectantly to face the high watchtower, smiling lightly as Hudson touched down. "Good evening, Leader."
"Guid day, lad," the older gargoyle said, hiding a yawn behind his brown-skinned hand after taking a deep breath of the early summer air. "I see you are in fine spirits this night."
"Yes," the lavender youth replied, favoring the night with an appraising look. "Since the Equinox, we've had fair weather, and good hunting. It makes my brothers and sisters pleased to be able to find ample game so quickly."
"'Tis good that the game is so plentiful this year," Hudson agreed, "which reminds me, lad. I need you tae lead the hunting party this night." He pointed out a few of Goliath's brothers and sisters that needed to take a turn on the hunt.
"It will be done," Goliath replied. "But, where will you be this night, Leader?"
"Ach, it's high time we started teaching the younger ones the finer arts of tracking," Hudson explained. "Aside from meat, we might as well do what we can tae gather th' last of the wild roots, berries, and such, before the animals get the best o' them. Yon brother," he added, indicating Agamemnon, who was speaking to some of the other elders, "is best for th' speaking part o' th' lesson."
Guarding a smile, Goliath nodded. "Very well, my Leader. I will see to the hunt. We will return soon." With that, he leapt off the wall, gliding over to where a knot of his rookery kin were gathering.
Smiling with satisfaction, Hudson watched as Goliath called his brothers and sisters together, organizing them for the task ahead. "Ah, the lad is doing well... so far." Chuckling, he turned to see the burly form of his fellow elder coming closer. "Well, brother! Ready tae help with the young ones this night?"
"As ever, Leader," Agamemnon replied. He had been in a better state of mind since the task of choosing a new Second was done. "With you and I, the youngest will quickly learn what we can eat and not eat out in the bounty of the land."
Bracing himself for his brother's eventual speech-saying, Hudson nodded slowly. "Aye... that we will. Well! Let us go and call the scamps to task then!" Before they could walk another step though, two of the younger warriors approached; each one looking rather apprehensive, but smiling nonetheless.
"Leader? Might we have a moment to speak with you?" the tall, light-blue fellow asked.
"It is a matter of great importance," his orange-tan companion added, absently pushing a lock of her blonde hair behind one of her horns.
Giving Agamemnon a querying look - and getting one in return - Hudson asked, "Well, what do the two o' ye wish tae say then?"
The two youths turned to look at one another, their smiles growing deeper. "Well... Leader, we have...." Othello started to say, but he stumbled over his words. "That is... what we mean to say-."
"We have decided," Desdemona said, coming to her love's rescue, "that we wish to become mates, and would ask if you would grant us the honor of performing our confirmation before the clan."
Hudson's eyes widened, his eyebrows crawling up over his forehead. He could almost sense his burly brother doing the same thing. "Lad... lass... are you sure about this?"
"Aye. Choosing to become mates is not something to take lightly," Agamemnon put in behind him. "To choose to become mates at your age... well... it is hardly ever done!"
Othello and Desdemona seemed taken aback by his statement; hesitation seeped from their faces for a moment, but the young male quickly shored himself. "We understand your words, my Elder, and we both know we are both much younger than other mated pairs." He looked into his love's eyes, his grave features melting into a look of affirmation. "But, we both want no other for our mate."
"My love speaks the truth, my Elders," Desdemona said, grasping Othello's hand firmly. "We both wish this. I could not see my life going on, without him by my side."
"Nor mine without you," Othello replied. With her supporting him, he faced the two elders again. "Leader, we both want to share in our joy with the clan. Will you not honor us, and perform the confirmation ceremony for us? Tonight?" As one, they looked anxiously at their leader.
Hudson blinked, about to say what he thought should be said: You're too young, far too young to be understanding what committing to one another means. But, looking at the two gargoyles standing before him and his brother, holding on to each other as if shielding themselves from an oncoming storm, he had a change of heart. Maybe it was because of his talking with Angus, or any number of things, but...
"Leader? Brother?" Agamemnon prompted. "What is your answer?"
Blinking again, Hudson replied, "We cannae let the two of ye have the ceremony..." The couple flinched, half expecting the disappointing words, but then smiled anew as Hudson grinned and completed his sentence, "...at least not until yer brothers an' sisters return from their tasks this night."
"Oh, Leader!" they both breathed.
Placing a hand on each of their shoulders, Hudson went on to say, "An occasion such as this merits the presence of th' entire clan. So, we'll have the ceremony later tonight after the hunt. Does tha' meet with your approval, young ones?"
"It does, Leader," Othello said gladly, clasping forearms with Hudson in gratitude.
Desdemona threw her arms around the elder leader in glad gratitude. "Thank you, my Leader! We shall be patient then, until tonight." She suddenly drew back with a gasp. "I must tell my sisters! We need time to prepare!" She fixed her intended with a fond smile. "And you must tell your brothers, as well."
He grinned ruefully. "Indeed I must. By your leave, Leader?"
Hudson waved them on. "Go, th' two o' ye! We'll have your ceremony in th' lee wall later."
As the two young lovers departed, Hudson chuckled at their exuberance, a chuckle that turned suddenly into a sigh when he saw the disapproving scowl on Agamemnon's brown face. "Brother... I know what ye are thinkin'."
"Can you be so certain? Leader," Agamemnon said with a rustle of his wings, his tone slightly disbelieving, "I cannot understand why you would let them go through with this! At their age-."
"I know, brother," Hudson snapped lightly, cutting the large-waisted warrior off before his words turned into another lecture. "I know. But, you saw the looks in th' young ones eyes... I've no doubt that they have th' same feelings in their hearts as well. An' that kind of feeling just cannae be reasoned wi', no matter what." He fixed his fellow elder with a knowing look. "Did anything ever sway ye from your mate, once you knew that she was th' one?"
Agamemnon paused, the meaning of his leader's words sinking past his objections. Then, with a sigh, he bowed his head. "Aye, brother. You speak the truth."
Patting his rookery brother on the shoulder, Hudson said, "They are young, my brother. They have yet to deal wi' living two lives together as one; the good times, an' the bad... an' all th' middling in between. But, they will learn, as we all did, on what all who love must do to live as one."
With a wry grin, Agamemnon replied, "And they will at least have us to aid them on this journey... should they have need of us, eh?"
With a laugh, Hudson agreed, "I have a feelin' they will figure it out on their own. But, yes, they will always have the clan to be there for them." Sighing, the graying leader motioned to the courtyard. "Well then, shall we be on wi' our task this night, my brother?"
"Indeed, my Leader. Let us," said Agamemnon. Together, the two elders vaulted down from the heights, their wings slowing their descent as they glided down.
* * * * *
The usual events that preceded nightfall at the castle were well underway by then: guards switched places with the afternoon watch; some of the servants went around lighting torches and braziers to illuminate the castle; and Robbie stood in front of the main entrance, speaking sternly to a pair of men who had been lax in their duties - if indicated from the chagrined looks on their faces - as a set of men on horseback prepared to leave for one of the outlying villages.
The clan was also out on its business as well, a few ascending to the overwatch to aid the guards there. Many of the elders had gathered around a small fire, lit so they could ward off the coming evening chill, and the few of the young warriors not on the hunt were starting on their menial tasks to prepare for the returning hunters.
The Eldest was in her customary spot, seated with the Apprentice at her side, speaking of another tale of the clan's past, while several of the other younglings were sitting on the ground around them, enraptured by the tale.
"And so, our dark-haired elder met the boar head-on, coming together wi' such a chorus of shouting and grunting, that his fellow hunters all thought he would cause the mountains to fall down!"
"Ooooo!" the young ones said in awe.
"They fought for nearly a night, locked talon to tusk, muscle against muscle," the Eldest said, linking her fingers together, mimicking the look of a boar's tusked snout with one hand. Several of the hatchlings were on the edges of their talons, hanging on every word. "Finally, our brother heaved with all of his strength, and tossed the beast back, where it landed on where his companion's broken spear shaft was! Still exposed from where it had been broken off in the tree, it ran the boar through and through... and that, my young ones, is where we first learned how to capture wild boars for our winter Solstice feasts."
The young ones all cheered, while the Apprentice made several nods -- her quick memory storing the tale in her mind. "That was a great story, Eldest," she said smiling. "A truly heroic tale."
"And it taught a lot of our kin one of the larger points of hunting wild boar, Apprentice," the Eldest replied.
"Eldest," one of the other young ones asked, "d'you think th' warriors will get a boar for our Solstice feast this year?"
"Mmm, that sounds good!" A turquoise lad in the back said aloud.
His crimson-colored companion with a beak poked him in the belly. "You always talk about food!"
The roly-poly hatchling grumped at his rookery brother, "It is what I like!"
With a laugh, the Eldest said, "Enough you two! We'll have to wait until the time for Solstice comes to see if we'll have boar again, and not before."
Just then, Agamemnon called out over the courtyard, "All young ones! 'Tis time for your lessons!"
"Oh, good! Our tracking lessons!" another hatchling said gleefully. Suddenly, there was an exodus of small, multi-colored forms scampering across the yard, their passing sounding like a mad stampede of claws against stone.
The Eldest looked to her Apprentice, seeing the look of consternation on her tawny face. It was obvious she wanted to join her rookery kin, but duty to her place as record keeper-in-training held her back.
"Do you wish to go, my Apprentice?" A quick look from the younger female's green eyes told the Eldest all she needed to know. "Ach, go then, young one! We'll have time for more lessons later."
Smiling hopefully, the young gargoyle bobbed her head. "Can we?"
A wave of one aged hand and a grin preceded the Eldest's reply. "What part of 'go' do you not understand, lass?" she chuckled. "Yes! Be on with you, or I'll never hear the end of it later."
With a fast spoken "Byyourleave, Eldest!", the Apprentice took to her heels and scampered after her brothers and sisters. She arrived with the group, just as Agamemnon was about to begin his lecture in the lighted shelter of the lee of the courtyard. He shot her a quick stare, to which she smiled apologetically, before he addressed the cluster of younglings around his feet.
* * * * *
The Parapets Above
Together, Demona, Ruth, and one of their other sisters walked alongside a very happy Desdemona, talking among themselves about the impending ceremony that night.
"It's wonderful, sister," the other sister - a lithe female with the colors of violet, bittersweet, and fuchsia coloring her skin - was saying. "To think, to be the first of us to be mated!"
"Aye," Ruth seconded, "And to have yon brother for your mate... ah, you must feel the luckiest female of our entire clan!"
Demona kept her tone neutral, but her words were congratulatory, "And it is a fair night for holding your confirmation, sister."
Desdemona nodded, even though a small frown crossed her face for a moment. "I just hope our brother, the Second, doesn't keep the others out all of the night on the hunt." She nervously uncaped her wings, then caped them again.
Fuchsia giggled. "Oh, come now, sister! He needs to keep your intended out for a little while, at least until we can prepare you for his eyes, during the ceremony."
At that, Desdemona relaxed a bit. "Oh, you are right! I just cannot decide what to do though! The leader said we would have the ceremony when the clan was gathered later, after the hunt."
Demona faltered for a moment as she remembered that she was supposed to have lessons with the Archmage and Marcus later in the evening. She quickly recovered. "I'm sure we can find you suitable arraignments, sister."
"We shall, and I know just the thing," Fuchsia said, leaning in close to whisper something to Desdemona for a moment. With each word, the blonde-haired female's smile spread wider and wider. "Agreed, sister?" the light-purple female asked, pulling back with a grin.
"Agreed! But, where can we find it?"
With a wink, Fuchsia held up one talon. "I know where an entire field of it lays! Come, if we hurry, we can gather enough and be well back in time to prepare you for your ceremony!" She looked to Demona. "Will you help us in this, sister?"
With a smile she really didn't feel, Demona replied, "Yes, my sisters. I would be happy to help."
Just then, the foursome heard the sound of Agamemnon's voice from below. Pausing, they turned as one to look over the side of the wall. There, in the courtyard, they saw the elder and the Leader, standing in the center of a half-circle of the younger generation; all of whom were trying to listen to the large elder's words as he explained the difference between certain kinds of roots.
"Ugh! There goes our elder again," Demona sighed.
Fuchsia seconded, "Going into his long-winded speech form, again!"
Their blonde-haired sister mock-scolded them, "Sisters! Don't be so rude towards an elder behind his back! Just because he likes to talk, doesn't mean he is that bad of a being!"
"Our sister is right," Ruth replied with a small smile. "He really isn't that bad... for an elder, anyway."
This drew shocked looks from Demona and Fuchsia, and a rather amused look from Desdemona. "Are you mad or something, sister?" the fiery-haired female said archly. "One might think you actually like our Elder-Blowhard!"
Ruth didn't reply, as she was still looking down at the gathered clan members in silence.
"Ah, leave her be," Desdemona said, speaking to the other two. "We need to get to that field before the others return. Sister," she added, speaking to Ruth, "when you are done gazing, please come and join us soon, eh?"
Ruth continued her silence for a moment more before she blinked - as if waking up from somewhere - and asked, "Wh-What?"
Chuckles from the other three made her flush, but Desdemona quickly took her by the hand. "Come, sister! We have much to do and little time to finish!" As a group the four made their way into the night, leaving Agamemnon to drone on below...
* * * * *
Asrial’s Cave Workshop
"Hmmm, perhaps a little more (umph!)... and, that doesn't look (ugh!) straight! Perhaps (ouch!) if I just..."
Asrial's voice and the sounds of her tinkering drifted around the natural cavern. Lining the walls where the ghosts of her former experiments and inventions lingered, her viable machines and models stood on watch, mute in their assembly while she tinkered with something on the main workbench.
"Now! Where did I put that clincher?" she mused, looking at her latest project with half an eye. Fortunately, she had asked to be dismissed from hunting this night, and was looking forward to a evening alone. "Ah, now I recall," the pumpkin-colored female said brightly, ambling over to where a haphazard pile of old tools lay on another workbench.
Just then her sharp ears picked up the sounds of whimpering. Someone sounded as if they were in distress.
"Who in the world-?" she asked herself. Turning to face the cave entrance, she barely had time to freeze as a rather nervous, and obviously distressed Thersites burst in. Whirling around, he flattened himself against an adjoining wall.
"W-why me? WHY me?!?" he muttered, his voice shivering with stress as he tried to disappear into the wall, unaware that Asrial was watching him from nearby. "I-I mean, why me? Surely, the Second didn't choose me for the hunting party, b-but is that any excuse to make me work? I mean, doesn't anyone believe in having a night off around h-here?" He sighed expansively. "Oh, why can't our elders find someone else to pick upon?"
While his rookery sister looked on with a mixture of light disgust and fascination, her beaked brother slowly peered around the corner to look outside. His eyes widened when he heard the sound of voices echoing on the cliffs.
"I know that young scupper is about!" one voice groused, obviously belonging to one of the clan elders.
"Well, he's managed tae lose us again," a second voice replied. "'Praps he headed intae th' kitchens again?"
Nodding enthusiastically, Thersites quietly muttered under his breath, "Yes! Yes! Go look there!"
"Ach, he won't be there! He knows what happened when we found him, after the one cook caught him in that flour sack."
Asrial nearly laughed out loud at the comical way Thersites winced at mention of that memory.
"Well, let us check around th' rookery, then. It has been ages since he hid down there." The voices moved off, their echoes fading into the night as they moved away.
Thersites sighed slowly, taking a moment to stop and collect himself. "They'll never look for me in here. Our brainy rookery sister's inventions scare those skeletons like the plague!" He then looked left and right, as if he suddenly realized just where he was. "I just hope I don't accidentally get blown up just by being here--"
"Hello," Asrial interrupted him flatly.
"AWLP!" Thersites shouted, stumbling over a device on the floor and falling into a single tangle of arms and legs. He rubbed his sore backside, before he suddenly realized that he was caught! He scrambled to his knees, just in time to see Asrial standing there, looking at him with arms crossed. "S-S-Sister?! My... h-how are you this evening?"
Asrial wasn't in the mood to be humored, especially since hearing his comment about being blown up, just by being in her workshop." What are you doing here?" she asked knowingly.
Just then, the voice of one the elders returned, louder than before, "I heard something, I tell ye... sounded like it came from th' young one's workshop!"
"Ooo, MICE!" Thersites turned a paler shade of green, listening to the approaching claws on the cliffside. "N-no, nonononoNO!" He looked around quickly, taking a half step in nearly all directions before he faced Asrial once more. "Please, you have to hide me!"
Asiral stepped back a pace. "Hide you!?"
"Please! You don't understand what they have in store for me! They want me to (gulp) help the Prince's men clean out the stables!"
"A Herculean task, to be sure," Asrial quipped, recalling one of the tales Brother Edmund told them, a long time ago.
"Sister! I do not wish to spend the rest of this night knee deep in horse dung," Thersites said, shooting a look over his shoulder as sounds of his older clan mates came closer. He fell to one knee, hands clasped towards Asrial in a begging gesture. "Plu-ease, my smart and clever sister, don't let them do this to me! I will do unto thee any service you would require! Get a posy from the meadows! A hair of the Great Cham’s beard!"
Asrial waved her hands quickly, "All right! All right!! Cease, brother!" She looked around the workshop, and spied the large oaken barrel that she had recently cajoled from the friendly cook. "Quick, hide in this!" she said, moving to open the lid.
"Oh thank you, sister!" Thersites quickly leapt into the opening, but he suddenly balked. "Wait! What was stored in this?!?"
"Oooh!" Asrial shoved him down forcefully, slapping the lid down before she scooped up a small piece of machinery she was working on. She quickly sat herself on top of the barrel before assuming a pose of innocent industry, just as the sound of the elders came from the cave entrance.
"Lass? Are ye in there?" came the query.
"Aye, I-I am! What can I do for you, Elders?" she replied, hoping this wasn't a mistake.
The black night background framed the two older gargoyles as they peered into the chamber with some hesitance. The one - a black colored female with brownish hair - said, "Ah, lass... we, eh, were wonderin' if ye had seen your lagabout brother anywhere?"
"Aye," the second Elder added, a reddish fellow with a short beak and silvering hair. "The Prince asked if we could get a few strong lads to help with the horses tonight, and we've been looking for him for a while."
Asrial smiled. "Nay, Elders. I've not seen that particular brother this night. Since I awoke, I've been in here, working on a new idea to collect rain water." She turned to pick up a short length of earthenware pipe from a stool nearby. "You see? We make enough of this piping to travel from the highest points of the castle, down to where the ends meet up with a large tub or barrel on the ground. Then, when it rains, these collect the water, and fill the barrel like so? See?"
The one Elder scratched his head. "Ah, oh! I see... I think?"
The older female gave Asrial a skeptical look. "Ahem... that's fine an' all, lass. But, we still need to find your wayward brother. Come, brother. Let us check the rookery, and leave this young one to her... inventin'. Good eve, young one." With that, they both turned to leave, soaring away from the cliff’s edge.
"Good eve, Elders," Asrial sighed, listening attentively until she was sure they were out of earshot. Then, she leapt from the top of the barrel, quickly tossing her knickknacks aside as she reached for the lid.
However, Thersites burst out, gasping for air and coughing as he tried to clamber out. "By the (Cough! Cough!) DRAGON! Where (cough!) did you get this…" he breathed, trying not to shout and give himself away again, "this barrel, sister!"
Asrial reached for her rookery brother in concern. "From the kitchens! The cook was going to just have it thrown out, but I convinced her to let me have it."
"No (cough!) wonder," her brother with the twisted horn replied acidly. "That... that was filled with the aroma of apples! Oh, I like (cough!) them, well enough! But when all you can breath and smell is old apple smell--."
"I understand, brother, I understand," Asrial said, trying to keep him from coughing himself off of his feet when a sudden fit lurched him into the workbench. "Here! Be careful!"
Thersites quickly calmed down. "Sorry... I couldn't help it." He emitted a small cough, almost as an afterthought.
Asrial eyed him sternly. "Look, I don't mind hiding you just this once, but if you are going to remain in here, please be careful of my inventions! And don't get in my way, because I tend to move around a lot when working."
Nodding, Thersites replied, "Very well, sister. I shall behave."
"Good." With that, Asrial turned back to her current project, muttering to herself as she examined the jumble of parts.
Meanwhile, Thersites stood there, hands folded before him as he slowly looked around the workshop. "You know, now that I'm here, I, well... I don't see what those old skeletons have to fear from this place. I mean, it isn't all that bad, really." He slowly started to pace along the one wall, peering at her collection of inventions. "After all, what's to be afraid of a collection of things like these?"
Asrial looked up for a moment, frowning at the bits in her hands. "Plenty, if you don't know what you are doing around them, brother."
Thersites blanched a bit. "You make a good point, sister." He turned and spied an odd looking assembly of ropes and pulleys, which appeared to be obscuring the arm of a smaller version of the castle's catapults. "I mean, if you don't know what a contraption does, then... say! Just what is this one supposed to do?"
Asrial turned her head quickly. "Do not touch that!!!" she said sharply, just as her beaked brother's talons were just a bare inch from the trigger. She quickly added with less harshness, "That is an experimental device for tossing sacks from the ground to the upper part of the granary I've been working on. Touch that, and the entire machine will tear this place apart."
Yanking his hand back, Thersites muttered, "Why have it set to go then, if it is that dangerous?"
"I'm trying to see if the armature will or won't crack if subjected to a constant weight," Asrial replied. "It would not do for the Prince to lose a full sack of grain, should the arm break in the middle of a toss."
"Oohhh," her brother commented. "Well, then..." he stated, looking at another device, "what would that one do?"
Asrial smiled, looking at a small-scale model Thersites indicated. "Oh, that's something I've been working on for the Prince's elderly visitors. It's supposed to help them get up to the higher parts of the towers, where the guest rooms are." She nodded when he started to reach for the pull-string. "Go ahead," she offered, smiling when he tugged it, making the model work.
"Amazing! Well, it's better than slogging up a flight of stairs, that's for sure," Thersites commented. He then turned thoughtful. "That thing-umy you told the elders... that pipe to collect rain water?"
"Oh, that's something I've recently been working on," she said proudly. "Ever since I thought about last summer a few days ago - you remember? When it was dry for a while and there was little water to be had - I thought about how something could be done to supplement the water in the well."
"Now that would be something!" Thersites said heartily. "I can remember when Leader started parceling out the water the humans let us get... even then, it was only two bucketsful." He turned to look at Asrial with a new light in his eyes. "You know, when I called you 'clever' earlier, sister, I was trying to win your help in my desperate hour... but," he sighed, "now I see you really are the clever one."
Asrial stood back, placing her hands on her hips as she scrutinized her rookery brother. "You really mean that?" she asked, a little self-consciously.
Lifting his shoulders, Thersites replied, "Of course. Well, I mean... look, sister. These things you make, no one understands them, and, well, a lot of them are afraid of them as well. But, I can see now where they would really be of a use to us. Oh, and the humans, too. I guess." He grinned, a tad sheepishly, and added, "I mean, I'm beginning to see a little bit now..."
"Well," Asrial replied, genuinely surprised by his honest answer. "Thank you for your kind words, my brother." After that, the two of them lapsed into an uneasy silence; neither one sure what to say next.
However, they both were saved when Ruth burst through the cave entrance, calling, "Sister!? Oh, sister! There you are!"
"Sister? What is all the rush?" Asrial asked.
"Oh no! It's not another Viking raid? A plague? Bandits?" Thersites groaned.
"Nay! I've come to fetch you to help with our sisters," Ruth explained, ignoring Thersites' tired jibes. "Our sister with the yellow hair has chosen to become our august brother's mate! They're going to go before the elders tonight for their confirmation!"
Asrial and Thersites both had reactions: hers was joy, his was disgust. "Oh, but that's wonderful!" Asrial said with a clap of her hands.
"Wonderful... the first dig of a spur, and yon brother is saddled for sure!" Thersites griped, earning a slap on the shoulder from Asrial. "Ouch!"
"Silence, brother," she replied with a half-tolerant smile. "When is the ceremony to begin, sister?"
"As soon as the rest of the clan returns for the evening meal. Oh, the elders have decided to turn it into a celebration feast! With the little ones going out to gather berries, nuts, and roots, and the Leader bespeaking the Prince for some fruit and wine, it is sure to be a grand time! Och! I forgot! Our pretty sister wanted you to come help her with the preparations, since you can tie intricate knots!" Ruth shot a sideways glance to Thersites. "I guess I should tell you that you need to come as well. The Elders need help preparing a large fire in the courtyard."
The beaked warrior gave her a lopsided smile, "Well, fire building is better than working in the stables any night!"
Looking back to Asrial, Ruth asked, "Will ye come, sister?"
With a happy smile, Asrial nodded. "For the honor of my pretty sister, I shall!"
* * * * *
In The Forest
Goliath was poised, every muscle tense as a steel cable, as he crouched on all fours in the underbrush. Sniffing quietly, he could sense the two-year buck, somewhere in the trees ahead. A slight smile of satisfaction curled around his lips when he finally saw the deer step into a clear space ahead. Talons tensing in the dirt, he slowly inched forward, sliding among the leaves like a slab of silent night.
Ahead, the deer paused to nibble at some tender shoots, unaware of the predator that was creeping along behind it.
Finally, Goliath came to a halt just a few feet away; the wind blowing towards him, effectively making him all but invisible to the witless buck. With a quick intake of breath, Goliath bunched himself like a coiled spring...
... then, with a BELLOW that made the branches overhead shake, he burst out of hiding, flaring his wings as his eyes lit up like miniature suns. The suddenness of his actions caught the buck off its guard. On pure instinct, it bolted away, heading through the trees towards a small gap between two massive oaks.
Perfect, he thought, lighting out after his quarry to harry it along, hoping it didn't swerve in its flight. But, as he planned, the buck shot arrow-straight, right towards the gap. The lavender youth roared again, spurring the buck on faster. In a second it would pop through the gap, and then the trap would be sprung! He watched as the deer ran on... coming to... then, in a mad scramble of legs and hooves, burst through...
And, was off like a shot!
"NO!" Goliath cried in dismay, shooting through the gap himself, doubling his speed to catch up to the buck. For a minute, he closed distance quickly, till the animal was within a hairs breath of capture. Then, with all the indignity that the moment could possess, he slammed into a trunk that seemed to leap at him from out of nowhere!
As the buck scampered away to freedom, Goliath stayed plastered against the trunk for a moment before sliding to the forest floor with a groan. He was silent for as long as it took another form to walk over to his prone one.
"Well... that did not go at all well," Javin said listlessly.
Shaking his head as if to put his brains back where they belonged, Goliath looked up at his hunting companion with a grimace. "Why did you not spring at it when you had the chance, brother? That is the third one we have lost this night!"
Javin reached up, absently scratching at the center one of his three horns. "I... I guess it just didn't... feel right, at the time."
Sighing, Goliath dragged himself upright. "Brother, you said the same thing about the first two we found. Will it ever feel 'right' to you? We have to bring back at least one buck this night!"
"Why should we even bother," the chestnut-brown gargoyle replied, his tufted tail lashing moodily. "The others should have plenty for the celebration this night... it is, just... a waste of time."
Goliath looked up sharply. "A waste?!? Brother, why are you saying such things?"
Now Javin was the one looking at Goliath, albeit crossly. "What does it matter to you?"
Blinking, Goliath started to say something, but kept his tongue instead. "Come... I need a drink before I can see if we can try again." Getting to his feet, he swayed a bit, trying to get his balance. "I think... there was a brook in that direction. Let us go."
A short walk later, the two youths found the burbling stream winding around a bend, through the trees. While Javin stood idly on the bank, Goliath hopped out to a flat rock in midstream, bending down to scoop up a few handfuls to drink.
Refreshed for a moment, Goliath faced his brother again. "This is the worst I have seen you in a long time, brother. What has you so ill in measure?"
Javin refused to answer, his attention fixed on a twig at his feet as his hands fingered his belt. At length, he mumbled, "I cannot say."
"Brother, sometimes I don't understand you. You are one of the brightest of us all, but lately you've been so closed to us all... surely what ails you cannot be so bad?"
The dark-haired warrior burst out angrily, "What would you know, brother!? Has your world become so twisted that you don't know up from down at times? You say you don't understand me, but you can never understand me! So stop trying to understand and… just… let… me… BE!!!" With that, he turned away and stomped off into the trees, giving Goliath no chance to reply or even protest.
Left to watch numbly after him, the lavender gargoyle tried to get over the shock of his brother's rage. "I do not pretend to know what is going on with your life, my brother," he said aloud, "but I will do what I can to help you. As your Second... how can I do less?"
Suddenly, the sound of more gargoyles came through the trees behind him. Turning, he spied the forms of Othello, Diomedes, and Ajax stomping along; the latter carrying a healthy-sized deer apiece on their shoulders.
"I do not like it," Othello was saying, crossly tossing his white hair behind his shoulder. "I made the last kill!"
Diomedes chuckled. "But it is your night to shine, brother! You shouldn't be subjected to menial tasks, just before you become mate to our dear sister."
"All I know is that I have to carry his kill," Ajax said dully, just a moment before he spied Goliath ahead. "Hello, brother! How went your hunt."
Putting thoughts of Javin aside for the moment, Goliath answered, "Not very well. Our brother and I missed several this night."
"Ah, it matters not," Diomedes said, after giving the lavender youth a quick smirk. "Between us and the other pairing, we have enough for our brother's celebration tonight."
Missing the hidden barb, Goliath nodded. "All right then. Let us go home... tonight, we have more than enough reason to celebrate!" he said warmly, smiling at the sudden deepening of color on Othello's face.
The others chuckled as well, and together, the foursome headed back through the trees where a clearing would allow them to glide home to Wyvern.
* * * * *
Sometime Later, A Portion of Forest, SE of Castle Wyvern
Amid the stillness of the night, an pale-brown form ran doggedly through the copse of trees, breathing heavily, kicking up gouts of earth underneath its feet.
"Ahhh... (pant!) n-no! (pant!) No! (pant!) Must not (pant!) stop!"
Leaning against a fallen trunk, nearly collapsing it into splinters since the wood was rotted through with age, the figure paused in her headlong flight. Gasping for draughts of badly needed air while the being's sea-green eyes darted about fearfully, it stared at shadows for threats that either were or not there.
The shelter of the thick trunks of the trees that were standing blocked the view of the countryside, while also throwing a canopy of branches overhead, masking the moonlight. Outwardly, it seemed like the perfect place to hide. To rest and sleep...
"No. NO! " the figure said, angry at herself for even thinking of sleep. "No rest... (pant!)... not yet!" Shoving her body erect, she scrambled over the log and forced herself onward.
Pushing her way through the trees, it seemed she was using up every erg of her strength to make herself go faster. Slapping branches and kicking small stones out of her way, she eventually reached the end of the copse. With a burst of speed, she flew into the opening and stumbled, landing heavily on one leg.
"Ahheeh!" she cried out in pain, trying not to scream it over the countryside. Hands flew like hawks to the injury, probing for a sprain or break. A gush of relief seeped through her tiredness when she found no damage. Panting through the pain, which settled into a dull ache, she raised her face to look over her shoulder...
... and nearly fainted when she saw the lights. Lights of a stone castle on a seaside cliff.
Tears she had fought before now flowed in thanks. "At last... (pant!) I found it! I found IT!"
Forcing exhaustion down, she rose back to her feet, unlimbering her wings with chain of needle-point pricks of soreness as she half-galloped down the hill. When she felt she had gathered enough speed, she launched herself skyward...
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, The Courtyard
As the bonfire crackled merrily to the side, the clan watched in a gathered mass, while the elders formed a nearly-complete circle before the small dais of stones that several of the clan had placed there. Atop this stood Hudson, smiling down at the two figures who took up the center of the circle.
On the one side, Othello - his tunic cleaned and his hair gathered into large tail behind him - was standing, looking as nervous and happy as any male, human or gargoyle, about to take that one big step.
Opposite him, Desdemona - her usual halter and skirt replaced with a simple shift dress of white, and an intricate garland of heather, woven together to crown her head - awaited him with an equal look of anticipation, and love.
"Tonight, we come together as clan, tae witness the joining of two young hearts," Hudson said, addressing the entire gathered host. He turned to cast his eyes on Desdemona. "Of all th' decisions a female warrior must make, th' choice of a life mate is perhaps th' gravest of all. He will stand at her side, guard her back an' be a source of comfort for her for as long as he lives."
The clan leader paused, turning his gaze to Othello. "And th' male must be just as wise when he chooses a female tae court," he continued, "because should she choose him, she will be his chief advisor an' most cherished ally for as long as she lives."
"And so," he said with warmth, "now our sister comes before her clan tae declare her choice as mate. Sister, do ye affirm yer choice?"
"Before this, my clan," the blonde female said, her emotions betrayed with a slight tremor in her voice, "I swear my love and affirm my choice." Her eyes never left Othello's face, relishing the smile affixed there.
"Brother, you have been chosen by this female," Hudson continued. "Do ye accept th' challenges that th' future might hold for th' two o' ye?"
"Before this, my clan, I swear my love," the light-blue male said softly, but distinctly.
"Then let it be known," the Leader said solemnly to the gargoyles assembled, "that these two are one in th' eyes of th' clan." Oblivious to the roars that rose around them, Othello and Desdemona embraced, rubbing their brows together.
From the side, Goliath added his congratulations with the others but his heart was not in it.
"Lovely ceremony," Thersites said sardonically. "It couldn't happen to a nicer fellow." He laughed harshly. "Better him than me."
"Why do you say that?" Goliath asked.
"Love is too complicated an emotion," Thersites answered. "One moment you're free to do as you please and then the next, you can't do anything without consulting your female. I don't know how the mated males stand it." He glanced over at the newly-mated couple. "While they're busy being romantic, I'm going to raid the mating feast. Coming, brother?"
"In a bit, brother. You go on ahead. I... need to get some night air." With that, he vaulted up to the closest parapet, taking a moment to watch as the clan dispersed for the feast. Sighing, he turned away, settling down on a perch overlooking the courtyard and the outer land beyond the wall below.
"And so it begins..." he said moodily. "My brothers and sisters begin to pair off. No doubt there will be more ceremonies to come." As he brooded over this, the one he had witnessed tonight merely drove home the fact that he was terribly, terribly alone.
Letting his eyes wander, Goliath soon located Asrial in the crowd below, speaking with her violet colored sister. With her golden hair and spiral horns shining in the torch-light and her tunic dress seeming to shimmer as well, she looked as lovely as ever. Since the Leader had been training him to be Second, the time he had normally spent with her had slowly vanished, and while it bothered him, she accepted it with grace and her usual logical wit. And, while she wasn't being openly courted by his brothers, he had a feeling that she liked it that way.
Out of the blue, Othello called out to him from where he and Desdemona were taking a drink with the Eldest. "Brother! Come and drink to our happiness!"
"Yes! Come down and celebrate with us!" his new mate added cheerfully.
Goliath smiled, rising to glide back into the throng... when a pale speck wobbled into the periphery of his eyesight.
"Help... please... help me..."
Frowning, he turned to stare at the speck, just as a guard from the overwatch called out, "Something approaches in the sky!"
Grateful for this sudden distraction, he flared his wings and vaulted skyward, soaring out to meet whatever it was that - while seeming to be buffeted back and forth on the wind - continued to slowly advance towards the castle. Within a couple of wing strokes, he covered the distance between himself at the object, gasping in surprise when he saw...
"A gargoyle?" He could see it was female, but she wasn't like himself; having a long, equine face, solid hoof-like feet instead of the three-toed kind he had, and her wings were feathered instead of leathery or bat-shaped. It was those same wings that were barely keeping her aloft, and she was covered in dirt and mud; as if she had fallen into a ditch or two. But, her eyes were fixed on the keep behind him, filled with stolid determination.
Realizing that she might not make it before she fell out of the air in exhaustion, he looped around, coming in from behind to quickly scoop her into his arms. She let out a neighing scream, which came out weakly due to her tiredness.
"I beg your pardon, stranger," he said, hoping his calming voice kept her from knocking them both out of the sky, "But I can see you are very tired. Allow me to take you inside the castle."
The female turned, her eyes taking him in before she sagged against his arms, her sigh laced heavily with gratitude. "I thank you (huff!) friend! For (pant!) a moment I (pant!) thought I was (pant!) in mortal danger."
Recognizing her clipped accent, he observed, "You are English!? You must have come a long way."
"You are more right (pant!) than you know, my friend," she sighed tiredly after her breathing calmed down. "I've flown for... two nights straight... to reach this place."
Surprised, Goliath asked, "But why, friend?"
She closed her eyes, her words starting to drift away as exhaustion overcame her. "My clan... is in danger... and Wyvern is... our only... hope." Finally, she lapsed into unconsciousness and said no more.
"Brother!" Demona shouted from above, swooping down from one of the towers. "What is it?"
"Sister!" he said, looking at her with grim concern. "Fly on ahead and tell the Leader that I have someone to see him." The set of his jaw sent chills down Demona's spine. "Something has gone terribly wrong for our English cousins."
The red-haired female turned and raced back to the castle, vanishing behind the wall before shouting, "Summon the healer! Leader! You're needed!"
"Here! What's this?" an elder called out, amid the sudden rise of consternation from the clan.
With a burst of speed, Goliath soared over the castle wall - surprising a pair of guards in passing - to spiral down into the middle of the celebration with at THUMP! He knelt quickly to place the English stranger on bench near the dais stones, catching a glimpse of Asrial as she dashed away to get her medicines.
Amid the sea of questions from the others, Hudson stepped forward with a puzzled scowl. "What is it, lass? Is summat th' matter?" His answer came when he spied the horse-faced female on the bench next to Goliath. "Quickly, some water!" he ordered. "She's exhausted!"
Ruth was at the strangers side, a flagon filled with hastily-poured water. Raising her head, she placed the cup to the stranger's lips, but the female was unconscious.
"Stand back! Give her some air," Asrial shouted, coming forward with a bag of herbs and medicines she had made, thanks to notes Brother Edmund left behind. Goliath and the others pulled back, and knelt to check the stranger's neck a moment for a life beat. "She lives, but the exhaustion has claimed her!" A quick rummage through her sack, and she removed a vial of something and a small sachet of herbs. "Sister, mix this with the water. It will give her strength." Waiting until Ruth had done as she asked, she popped the cork on the vial, waving the opening under the stranger's nose.
The aroma quickly filled the female's sinuses, and she snapped awake with a cough. "PHAUGH! Wha--?"
"Peace, friend," Asrial said soothingly, motioning for Ruth to give her the fortified water. "Drink this. It will dispel your fatigue."
The English female sipped hesitantly at first, then, as the herbs started to counter her exhausted state, she sat up to drink easily. "Thank the Dragon!" she said at length. "I feared I would not make it to Wyvern!"
The Leader squinted at the newcomer from the side. "Lass, do I know ye? Ye seem familiar somehow."
Gulping down a few more swallows of the fortified liquid, the strange female lifted her eyes to his face. "Yes, my clan and I came here many years ago from England. We were having trouble with the humans in our area and came to ask for help." Her voice took on a hard edge. "You refused us so we went back, but our home was no longer our own and we were no longer welcome."
The Leader exchanged a troubled look with his fellow elders. "Och, lass, we dinnae know it was tha' bad for ye."
"It doesn't matter. The past is the past," she said as she shook her head, her mane of sallow hair.
"What has happened to the others? Your clan?" Goliath asked.
"I'll explain," the female said, finishing the last of her water, "but the tale in itself is more terrible that what you and your clan did to mine..."
* * * * *
Prince Malcolm's Court, Shortly Thereafter
Prince Malcolm had accepted the summons from the clan leader with a firm grace - since he had been woken from a sound sleep - and was now dressed and seated on his throne in the main hall, having summoned Robbie to attend this unscheduled audience.
"Please, kind lady," he said with a nod to the English gargoyle, who was standing between Goliath and Hudson, "tell us what has befallen your kinsmen?"
The female - whose sea-green eyes reminded Malcolm of the daughter of one of Kenneth's retainers, a lass named Cornelia - began to speak: "After being turned away from our homeland in the south, we fled northward back into Scotland. We wandered for nights without knowing where we were going... only that we had to find sanctuary... somewhere." She paused, as if remembering a stray memory, but she shook herself and continued. "Finally, we came across a hunting party whose leader had fallen ill. One of our numbers was skilled in herbs, like your clever sister," she said in aside to Hudson, "and he prepared him a restorative potion.
"Who was this nobleman, lady?" Malcolm asked.
"He called himself Rayvn," she replied, snorting. "When he was recovered enough to regain the road, this nobleman invited us to come back with him to his castle, a good two days journey from here." She spread her hands and sighed. "We all were in need of rest, with many of our small number in need of being carried, so we accepted. Our leader said that we would trouble him for only a few days, while the young and old among us regained their strength."
"Aye," Malcolm said gravely. "And this is where the trouble begins?"
"Yes," she admitted crossly. "Within a few days, it became clear that Lord Rayvn regarded our presence as some sort prize, a way of achieving status among his peers. We learned - from what few of us with sharp ears could catch from his servants - that he planned to have us displayed before his guests, calling his new 'treasures.' To him, we were to become his property, like a herd of cattle!"
Both Malcolm and Robbie scowled at this. Hudson and Goliath, even though they had heard the tale before coming to the Prince, renewed their own dark frowns.
"I have heard of this Lord Rayvn," Malcolm said at length. "And this does not surprise me. He invited me and my court to a feast at his castle once. Claimed he had some 'natives of some foreign land to show me... his latest pretties'!" Shaking his head, he added, "I did not accept the invitation."
"What happened after then, lass?" Robbie asked. "Surely you didn't stay a moment longer in that toad's company?"
"Our leader went to Lord Rayvn after we heard those words. He thanked him for his hospitality, the food, and the shelter, but my leader informed him that we would now be on our way." She clenched one three-fingered fist. "That's when Lord Rayvn ordered his guards to surround him, and also had most of us brought before him under the watch of a double score of men. This human told him and us, that in no uncertain terms, that our clan was now a permanent part of his collection."
This made Goliath growl softly with menace.
A grim smile crossed the female's face. "Fortunately, our leader had the foresight to position some of us so that in the event that things went badly, we could fly free to get help." The smile faded when she went on, saying "But he had men with nets waiting on the towers... and I alone managed to get free. He sent riders to harry me and bring me back, but I avoided capture, and since then I've been running as long as night held sway, to get here to your castle, Prince."
"I see, lady. But, why come here, if anywhere at all?"
Looking at Malcolm steadily, rising to her full height, the English female replied, "I spoke with the clan that shares this castle with your people, and what I ask of them, I ask of you. For what you did not offer before, when my clan came to your gates months ago. Will you return with me and set my people free?"
The Prince barely mulled over another moment. Standing from his seat, he stepped over, until he was in front of the female, nearly nose to nose. Extending his hand, he said solemnly, "To make up for our error before, I will offer whatever aid my people can produce to gain your clan's freedom. You have my word on that, lady..." He paused, then said ruefully, "I know it is not the way of gargoyles to take a name, but, so that we may remember you and your clan better, may we call you Cornelia?"
Hudson and Goliath sighed, remembering ground already covered since their kind first met with humans.
The English female blinked for a bit, then, with a firm smile, she took Malcolm's arm in a forearm grip. "True, we do not name ourselves... but, for the sake of my people, and for your memory, I will agree to this and be known to you as... Cornelia." She released him and asked, "Now, how will you help my clan?"
Motioning to the other two gargoyles, Malcolm replied, "Let us discuss that matter right now, Cornelia..."
* * * * *
After a short time, Hudson, Goliath, and the newly-named Cornelia emerged to speak with the clan. After a short exchange, Hudson explained what had been discussed in their meeting.
"Th' Prince has heard of this Lord Rayvn, and agrees tha' we should give aid for our English cousins," he said, his face like a thunderhead waiting to spit lightning and thunder, "an', while he had been invited not long ago for a visit tae Ravyn’s castle. Th' Prince was not planning to attend... until now."
"What d'ye mean?" Agamemnon asked. "Prince Malcolm has always been fair an' just wi' us, but all those nobles stick together like geese! He would defend this noble, rather than go against him."
Shaking his head, the Leader disagreed. "Not this one. According to th' prince, this Lord Ravyn prides himself on being a self-made man. His title was granted him in battle an' his lands a prize o' war."
"He'll nae be an easy adversary to overcome," said the Eldest, her gnarled hands folded over the knob of her walking stick. "But, if what yon cousin tells us holds true, his pride an' vanity, though... that might be his undoing."
"Aye, exactly what Prince Malcolm proposes for th' rescue. An' for tha' he asks that the clan combines wi' his men on this. We will divide into two groups. You," the Leader looked at Goliath, "will take a small scouting party ahead with our cousin. Search out th' weaknesses in his defenses an' try to discover where he's holding th' others." He then looked out over the rest of the clan. "I will take a second group an' accompany Prince Malcolm's party. We'll wait for ye at th' border of Ravyn's lands. It's his hope that Lord Ravyn can be shown th' error of his ways, but if not, we mean to teach him a hard lesson about ownership."
Cornelia stepped forward. "I can show you where to go to reach the castle. I ask to be a part of the scouts' party."
This drew concerned looks from the clan. "Are ye sure 'tis wise tae do so, lass?" one elder asked.
The equine gargoyle bristled, "I'll not stand by and rest while my kin lie languishing in that accursed keep!"
Hudson looked at Goliath, who replied, "If you wish to come, then you will be welcome. I would ask that my brothers and sisters, if any wish to volunteer for the scouting part of this mission, please say so now."
Ajax quickly said, "I’ll go."
Javin spoke up shortly afterwards, and - much to everyone's surprise - the newly-mates volunteered to go as well. Despite protest from Goliath and Hudson, they refused to be left out.
"You will well need us, Brother," Othello said. "If this human is as bad as our English cousin tells us, We cannot stay safe while you go forth to show him his errors!"
"And I will never go without my beloved," Desdemona said. "We will fight at your side, Brother. Together."
Before anyone could say anything more, Thersites piped up, "Ah, well, before I get chosen I might as well go too!" Looking around at everyone's shocked - and for some, amused - expressions, he replied, "What? Can't a fellow change his mind once in a while?"
Goliath chuckled. "You can, my Brother, and you are welcome to join us. As are you two as well," he said, directing the last part at the newly-mates. "We have just enough for the scouting party-- ."
"Except for one more," Demona broke in. "I volunteer as well. That shall make the party an even eight."
Hudson nodded. "Fine, lass. We have enough then. Lad," he said, getting Goliath's attention, "be ready to leave at sunset taemorrow. The Prince will have his column ready to ride by dawn, and those of us traveling with him will leave then. As the scouts, you will be able to travel the swiftest."
"Aye, Leader," Goliath replied. Soon, the clan broke ranks to head off to make preparations. Motioning for the volunteers to gather around him, the lavender youth intoned, "Make yourselves ready. I suspect we will be facing Lord Rayvn's men before the others, so it's best we be prepared. Take only enough food and water that can be easily carried for a few days journey. We must travel swiftly if we are to probe his defenses and find our English cousins."
A chorus of nods and "Aye's" came back from his party, and they all moved away to get ready...
...except for his red-haired sister, who was standing awkwardly before him.
For a moment, Goliath stared at her, remembering how she had been shunning her siblings as of late, participating in drills and hunts only as Leader required of her. Rumors of her being in the company of the Archmage came to the fore... but he brushed them aside.
"Why?" he had to ask. "I don't mean to be rude, but it has been some time since you've sought your rookery mates' company."
She caped her wings around her shoulders, the elbow spurs jutting out like ornamental hooks. "I have heard the story of our English cousin and I did not like it. Gargoyles should never be subject to a human's whim. They must be free." She lifted her eyes to his. "I want to make that happen, brother. Take me with you and every skill I have is yours to command."
Goliath merely nodded approvingly and replied, "I will welcome your skills. Be ready to leave first thing tomorrow..."
* * * * *
The rest of the night passed quickly, with preparations for the Prince's column going rapidly after selecting three sturdy wagons to carry Hudson's group. The scouts placed their supplies in Asrial's lab, then took up places on the overwatch to await the coming dawn. There was much concern among the gargoyles and the humans that were to stay behind, but the Prince left one of Robbie's lieutenants in charge, while Hudson had Agamemnon take charge of the clan.
Finally, as false dawn lit the skies, the Prince emerged with Robbie to take charge of his men. At the same time, Hudson had a quick talk with Goliath and his party.
"Just remember, all of ye," he said gruffly, "ye need only tae find out where the English are, and what weaknesses we can exploit in Rayvn's defenses. Take no foolhardy risks! We will wait for ye at th' border."
His Second nodded. "We will do our task, Leader," Goliath said, reaching out to clasp the bearded Elder's forearm. "You can count on us." The others nodded in agreement.
"Then," Hudson said with a small smile, "I'll be seeing ye next on the border. Good luck, my young ones." He leapt off the tower with a snap of wingtips, gliding down to join the others in the Prince's column...
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, The Following Night, Sunset
Just moments before the sun vanished from sight for another night, its warm rays touched a double quartet of gargoyles seated on the two watchtowers that framed the main gate. As the light slid away, almost reluctantly, the guards posted there stepped back. 'Their lieutenant felt uneasy, as did many others in the castle, since the departure of their leader earlier that day.
Stone shivered, cracked, then burst apart as the eight gargoyles came to life. At once, Goliath and Cornelia turned, finding the guards there.
"Did the Prince leave as planned?" the Wyvern Second asked.
The lieutenant ignored the ill feelings inside as he answered, "The Prince's column left an hour after sunrise this morning. They should be just a half-day on the road ahead."
Nodding, Goliath replied, "My thanks." Facing the others, he said, "Gather our provisions. We are to leave at once."
Othello nodded, motioning to his brothers, the crested one and the one with a twisted horn. "They should be in our clever sister's room. Come." The trio left, but not before Othello paused to smile briefly at his mate.
The English gargoyle was looking off in the direction that Lord Rayven's castle lay in, her frame taut with anxious energy. Goliath saw this, as did Desdemona and the others. Coming to her side, the young Second said, "Do not worry, Cornelia... we will not stop until your clan is free once more!"
The equine female shuddered. "I keep seeing the look on my Leader's face, when Rayvn had him dragged out to see the rest of us either captured or fleeing. I will not rest until that... human pays for his insolence!" Her hands closed into fists, promising dark deeds for the self-made Lord.
Demona's thoughts echoed her English cousin's words. "He will think twice before trying to imprison one of our kind again. Once we deal with him," she said, placing a consoling hand on Cornelia's shoulder.
Just then, Othello, Ajax and Thersites arrived with their small pouches of provisions. "Well," he said testily, "here we are!"
Goliath motioned to everyone to take a satchel, pausing to make sure at least two of them held flint for fire, and a water skin each. "The column is well ahead of us, so we'll have to travel fast. Cornelia, point the way for us."
Cornelia turned back to face the way she had come once more. "If the map your Prince Malcolm showed me is correct," she said, leveling a talon towards the horizon, "we go that way."
With that, Goliath spread his wings wide. "Then we go, now!" With a leap, he was airborne, with the English female a second behind him, the others quickly following suit...
* * * * *
TO BE CONCLUDED...