DARK AGES - "Serendipity, Part Two"
Written by Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr.
Artwork by Christi Smith Hayden
Outline by Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur & Stephen R. Sobotka, Jr.
Based on material by Patrick Toman and Christi Smith Hayden.
* * * * *
Previously, on "Dark Ages"...
* * *
HUDSON : "Lad... lass... are you sure about this?"
OTHELLO [looking into Desdemona's eyes] : "But, we both want no other for our mate."
DESDEMONA : "My love speaks the truth, my Elders...We both wish this. I could not see my life going on, without him by my side."
* * *
HUDSON : "We cannae let the two of ye have the ceremony... [grins] "at least not until yer brothers an' sisters return from their tasks this night."
* * *
GOLIATH [On the hunt, speaking to Javin] : "This is the worst I have seen you in a long time, brother. What has you so ill in measure?...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?"
JAVIN [Angry] : "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!!!"
* * *
GOLIATH [catching the English escapee] : "I beg your pardon, stranger, but I can see you are very tired. Allow me to take you inside the castle."
CORNELIA : "I thank you (huff!) friend! For (pant) a moment I (pant!) thought I was (pant!) in mortal danger. I've flown for... two nights straight... to reach this place."
GOLIATH : "But why, friend?"
CORNELIA : "My clan... is in danger... and Wyvern is... our only... hope." [Faints]
* * *
CORNELIA [Speaking to Malcom] "...I avoided capture, and since then I've been running as long as night held sway, to get here to your castle, Prince."
PRINCE MALCOM : "I see, lady. But, why come here, if anywhere at all?"
CORNELIA : "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?"
PRINCE MALCOM [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..."
* * *
HUDSON [Addressing the clan] : "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."
* * * * *
Serendipity, pt. 2
The Prince's Column, A Day Out From Wyvern
As the men rested and saw to their horses, wagons, and feet, Malcolm called Hudson and his Captain, Robbie, to his tent. So far, the march had gone well, with only a few minor troubles when the wagons carrying the gargoyles became stuck, but the Prince was concerned for the goal of their march.
"I'm worried about what we shall do when we arrive at Lord Ravyn's borders," he confided with the gargoyle leader and his Captain. "I promised Lady Cornelia that I would do everything possible to free her clan, but now that I recall details from what some have told me about his lands and castle, it may not be so simple."
"How so, Prince?" Hudson asked, not liking Malcolm's tone.
The Prince pointed to a map he had spread out on a low, camp table. "This is the border of Wyvern's lands, where they touch those of Ravyn's. Beyond that, he has a single road that leads from one end of his lands to the other, with the halfway point being his castle proper."
Robbie grunted, "Easy to keep track of people that pass through his lands. And with a lot of the land hazardous to travel, even on foot or horse, that road is the only choice to take."
Nodding, Malcolm continued, "And, while I can't confirm it now, my sources state Ravyn has placed three garrisons on each branch of the road. While the three on the far branch aren't a concern as of yet, it is the three directly on the branch in front of us that worry me."
Hudson could now see the Prince's concern. "Well armed?" he queried.
"From what I heard from a messenger that had to take my reply to Ravyn's invitation, they hold enough men to fill one score and ten," Malcolm replied, shaking his head. "We have two thirds that number with us now, plus the eight gargoyles you brought with us."
Sighing, Robbie slapped a hand on the table. "The best thing we can do is hope that the scouts can find a way past the garrisons, or perhaps a hidden route to the castle that Ravyn doesn't know about?"
"Lad, that isn't likely, even though my young ones are skilled warriors and trackers," Hudson replied sagely. "The real key is to locate the English, and figure out a suitable plan to get us to where they are."
"Wouldn't they be in the castle proper? Seems to be the most likely place," Robbie asked.
"From what I remember about Lord Ravyn when I first met him, he strikes me as the kind of man not to take chances," Malcolm replied. "My guess is that he has the English split up, with the youngest and oldest held separated from the rest in another location, to ensure that they can't rally to escape without knowing if the rest of their number are safe or not."
Hudson nodded, agreeing. "He might also have th' Leader in a secure place as well. The clan would not willingly leave wi' out him." He saw the looks the two humans gave him and shrugged. "If I were this Ravyn, I would have done th' same."
Prince Malcolm nodded absently before saying, "Right. Either way, we are still a couple of day’s march from the border. If the scouts started off as soon as they awoke, they should be there faster that we are; perhaps in another day or so." He tapped the map for emphasis. "When we are within a half-day's distance, we will wait where we told your Second where we will be. After they tell us what they found out about the situation in Ravyn's lands, we'll make our further plans..."
* * * * *
The Scouting Party, Within A Day of The Border
In the dark, eight forms moved through a grove of trees, trying to be silent as wraiths.
At least most of them were trying.
Pausing to examine his stubbed foot, Thersites growled as he tried to rub the pain away. This earned him a grimace from Othello, who was bringing up the rear with Desdemona.
"Are you able to continue, brother?" Othello's blonde-haired mate asked. "We still have a long way to travel."
The gargoyle with the twisted horn looked up presently. "Well, I guess I must, no matter if I can or not! I mean, I can't very well stay here, waiting for it to get better--."
"Good," Othello said, reaching down to unceremoniously haul the slacker to his feet, propelling him along as he urged the others to catch up.
They didn't have that far to go. They found Goliath and the other three standing in the middle of a small patch of clear space between the trees, watching as their English companion, Cornelia, was hunting along a thicket of bushes for something.
"Oh! It has to be here!" she cursed under her breath. "It must! I recognize this place from my flight from Ravyn's lands!"
"Could you be mistaken, cousin? I mean, you were in a hurry..." Javin said.
Just then, the equine female let out a gasp. Then, with a smile she yanked one of the bushes away. In its place, the gaping maw of a small cave could be seen.
"I knew it was here! I slept here when the sun was about to rise," Cornelia commented. "Otherwise, I'd have been exposed while in stone sleep."
Goliath nodded. "It is good that you remembered. Now it can shelter us as well." He turned to face the others. "Brother, go inside to make sure no animal has claimed this place as a home," he said to Thersites, then turned to Ajax before the dodger could complain. "We also need some wood for a small fire."
The crested gargoyle nodded mechanically. "It will be done, Second." He moved off to find some deadwood in the dark forest.
Meanwhile, seeing he wasn't going to get out of this one, Thersites crawled slowly into the cave. For a time, all that could be heard was his muttering, sniffing, and an odd curse thrown in when he knocked his head against something. Eventually, he emerged, brushing dirt and something else from himself as he scowled back at the opening as if insinuating that it was all the cave's fault.
"No animals in there, brother," he reported to Goliath with a disgusted look. "But, there must have been at one time."
Demona got one whiff, and moved upwind of him. "Obviously!"
Cornelia started to apologize, but Goliath waved it away. "We've been in worse places, cousin. This will have to do for the night. But, we will need to find a stream to clean up in come sunset."
"Send our brother out to find it," Demona said, not meaning to be hurtful, but her words still made Thersites wince.
"In the meantime, after our other brother returns with the wood, we'll get a small fire going and prepare for dawn," Goliath said, giving her a look of rebuttal.
Ajax soon returned with the wood, and after they started a contained blaze with it, they had some of their rations for a meal. Thersites returned after leaving for a bit, reporting that a small stream was within a short distance from the cave - clear and deep enough for them, and perfect for rinsing off in.
Soon enough, dawn arrived, and the eight squeezed into the cave. Goliath, being the last one in, put out the fire and buried its remains before he entered with the rest, pulling the bush across the entrance to hide them well...
* * * * *
The next night, sunset came, and the cave shuddered with the wakening of eight cramped gargoyles.
Pushing the bush away, Goliath quickly scrambled out, urging the others to do the same. With a stretching of limbs and much snarling and growling, the others quickly emerged to shake off the remains of their dusty shells of rock.
"Come, we'd best be off," Cornelia said, anxious for them to hurry along.
"After we've had a bite?" Ajax asked, looking to Goliath.
"And another wash," Thersites added with a grimace.
The Second took only a second to mull it over. "We’d be better to rid ourselves of this mess first," he said, indicating the offal covering them. "But then we must leave quickly. We need to be at Lord Ravyn's borders before this night is half done. "
"Which means we don't eat until then, I'll wager," Thersites grumped softly.
Goliath shot his brother with the twisted horn a look. "We'll make do by eating on the wing. Let us go to the stream and be quick!"
* * * * *
At the same time, Hudson and the gargoyles with the column awoke, finding themselves rocking on the wagons at the rear of the column.
Hudson was quick to order them to a galloping watch. "Move yerselves! I need tae speak wi' th' Prince." Launching himself, the Leader quickly passed the armored men on horse below, finding Prince Malcolm just behind the front of the march.
Landing beside him, the grizzled gargoyle nearly spooked the horse, but the Prince quickly got his mount under control.
"Ah, good evening, Leader!"
"As good as any, Highness. What is the word on our progress?" asked Hudson.
"My daytime scouts tell me that we are two days march from Lord Ravyn's castle, and the border is just over the next ridge. If your scouts have made good time, they've already crossed his border and are well on their way there," Malcolm explained.
"If th' young ones haven't run intae any trouble, we should hear back from them soon enough." Hudson frowned for a moment. "I just hope that the English are unharmed."
Malcolm matched the gargoyle’s black look with one of his own. "I don't normally take punitive actions against my neighbors, Leader. But, as I told Lady Cornelia, I will not stand by while anyone--human or gargoyle--is being held from living freely."
"But what do we do about his lieutenants and the men that look to him," Robbie asked. "Surely they will claim we're attempting a hostile takeover of their lord's holdings."
Malcolm looked back with a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I've thought of that, and I believe I have the best solution." Sitting back down, he reached for a quill and a fresh sheet of parchment. "Call for our best runners, Captain," he ordered, "I believe our kind King Kenneth will want to know of what is happening in the edges of his realm…"
* * * * *
As the scouts glided along, Demona looked back as her newly-mated brother and sister rose up through the clouds, both looking flushed and a little disheveled, with happy smiles on their faces. With a scowl, she waited for the reaction of the lavender-skinned Second, who flew up from where he and Ajax were flying overwatch to glide level with them.
"Are you two, all right?"
Othello couldn't wipe the smile from his face, but he did reply levelly, "Aye, my brother. We both are."
"The two of you just be careful," Goliath admonished. "We can't get separated from each other, being this close to our objective."
"We will... keep that in mind, brother," Desdemona said, a chuckle undercutting her reply as the two soared ahead to take the lead, their hands joined together.
Beside Demona, Thersites snorted. "Disgusting... You'd almost think we'd brought along a pair of lovesick hatchlings on this mad quest."
Cornelia slid into place next to them with Javin right beside her. "What is wrong with the way they're acting?" The English gargoyle gave the two lovers an apologetic look as they flew on. "I was so ashamed to have disturbed their mating ceremony but it was so generous of them to volunteer to come free my clan. If they wish to snatch some small bit of happiness for themselves along the way, I say it's all for the good." Her equine face lengthened as she sighed bitterly. "I've learned that you must appreciate what little you have in this world before it's taken from you forever."
Javin made his tone light as he said, "Come now, fair cousin! Have heart! We will do our best to free your clan and all shall be as it should be, you'll see!"
Cornelia's reply came as a wan smile. "I pray that everything shall be as you say, dear friend, but forgive me if I seem reserved about our hopes for this rescue. Except for my time at Castle Wyvern, my faith in dealings with humans has been disillusioned lately."
Demona's frown deepened, but before she could comment, Goliath joined the conversation, saying, "You must not let the actions of a few color your opinion on the human race. There are good and bad among them, just as there are good and bad among our own kind."
"Truly?" Cornelia asked, genuinely intrigued.
"Regretfully so. Among my own rookery, there was one who chose leave the ways of the clan and now lives the life of a bandit chief. It is a pity, but none of us dare not call him brother, for his actions are beyond contempt."
"And don't forget that enormous female that attacked us during our Trial of the Warrior," Thersites added quickly. "It's gargoyles like her that give the rest of us a bad name."
"Still, she was a fine figure of a female," Ajax said from above them all. "I can't help but wonder what kind of a mate she might have made."
"Brother!!" Thersites exclaimed, flipping over to stare at the crested warrior. "Surely you wouldn't consider her as a possible mate when you have so many others to choose from?"
The gold-toned Ajax struck a noble pose. "Why not? She might have been misguided but she had many admirable qualities which would have redeemed her."
"Good qualities? Since when was avarice and mayhem considered admirable?"
Demona glided a wingspan's distance away from the others as her mismatched rookery brothers began to squabble. What was wrong with her rookery kin as of late? Ever since her fair sister and her love chose to become mates, everyone seemed to be deciding to talk about prospective partners! Was it something that just came over a body, or was there some other force at work here, she asked herself.
So wrapped inside her thoughts, she didn't notice she was drifting until she found herself several wing lengths away from the others. Cross with herself, she was about to turn back, when a large hand took her gently by the arm.
"Careful, sister," a low voice said in her ear. "The winds are fickle tonight."
Blinking, Demona looked up, and found the Second's face near hers, his dark eyes filled not with cold aloofness-as her chest-plated brother's were lately-but with warm humor instead. Unfamiliar feelings tugged at her as her nostrils filled with his spicy, male scent, making her heart sound like a steady thunder in her ears. Reluctant to pull away from his side, she found her lips curving upward in a smile instead of their habitual frown.
Without sounding condescending, Goliath simply said, "Sister, you are quite lovely when you smile."
"I don't know what to say," Demona stammered, an unfamiliar heat rising to her cheeks. "T-thank you, brother. It's very kind of you."
"It is merely the truth. We see so little of you. No longer do you join in the nightly hunts or patrols unless the Leader commands it and since you've parted company with our breast-plated brother, you rarely attend the revels and skydances."
Shrugging offhandedly, the azure female replied, "I've found my own company to be sufficient of late." Flipping the subject around, she carefully asked, "But what of you? It seems you are always on the Leader's errands. I've noticed you've scarce time for making merry."
With a rumbling sigh, Goliath nodded. "This is true. However, anything worth having is worth working for. The Leader has chosen me for reasons known only to him and I feel it is my duty to live up to his expectations. If it means a few less feasts and dances then so it must be." He gave his rookery sister a speculative look. "At least for now."
Demona blushed under his gaze, unconsciously turning away from him. "Perhaps I have been too solitary of late," she mused. "Thank you, brother, I had not realized I was spending so much time away from the clan." Feeling his eyes on her even as she looked ahead, Demona cleared her throat and asked, "So, tell me, how fares our clever sister?"
Now it was the Second's turn to feel uncomfortable, if the pinkish shade rising on his cheeks was any indication. "She... fares well enough. She is busy working with the blacksmith's apprentice on her mechanical projects," he answered at last. "As you said, it has been some time since you have socialized with the rest of us, so perhaps you did not know - our clever sister and I are simply good friends, nothing else."
"Oh! I-I'm very sorry. You two were always close, even as hatchlings." She spread her hands apologetically. "We always assumed, well..."
"I know," Goliath sighed, "I had hoped so as well. There are times when I wish things could have been different, but realistically, I know that she would never be as contented as the mate of the Second than she would be tinkering away in her cave. I wish her well, no matter what fate brings."
They glided together for the next several minutes in silence, both casting sidelong glances at each other, catching themselves looking and turning away.
"Why am I acting this way?" Demona chided herself silently. "I was never like this with our breast-plated brother!" Unnerved by her timid demeanor, she lifted her chin to say something new...
Demona and Goliath started, then both glanced behind them. Their newly-mated sister was streaking towards them, her double set of wings extended fully to catch the night air. Her eyes were wide and troubled.
"What is wrong, sister?" the Second called.
"Soldiers!" she called. "There are soldiers in the forest!"
Goliath quickly called to the others to close in. "Lead the way, sister!"
As the group dashed away, with Desdemona in the lead, Javin and Cornelia found themselves at the rear of the cluster. Already taut with worry for her kinsmen, the equine warrior had been helped by Javin's attentiveness and his presence.
"I hope what your sister found won't hinder our efforts," she commented, looking askance at the brown-skinned youth beside her.
Javin said nothing.
Cornelia spoke again, "After all, it's my first hope that my clan can be freed from Ravyn's prison. We've all suffered through much recently... and, while I wish it had been easier for us, our chosen path has made us a lot closer. It's always a good thing to be close to the members of one's clan."
Javin's eyes had been straying towards Goliath as she spoke. The memory of how he had nearly betrayed Goliath at the urging of his light brown-skinned brother with the earring flared suddenly in his mind, and he winced outwardly.
The tan-colored gargoyle caught his expression. Concerned, she nevertheless held her tongue for the moment.
* * * * *
A Location On The Scottish Border
Shortly, having to drop to the ground to travel on foot, the scouts reached the cusp of a ridge, overlooking a valley that lay several miles east of their original flight path. Quickly, Desdemona led them to where Othello was hidden in some bushes, watching what appeared to be a camp of encircled tents.
Goliath was relieved to see his brother was all right, but, as he observed the camp below, he grew faintly annoyed. The men inside it were going out of their way to be inconspicuous, from the way they camouflaged their tents, muffled their horses, and even had their fires sunk into deep pits in the ground.
Crouching by his rookery brother's side, he whispered, "Odd... they're trying very hard to be unnoticeable." With a look to Othello, he asked, "How is it that you and your mate discovered them?"
"Ahem. Well, we were, um, well, involved ---" The blue-gray male cleared his throat awkwardly, "-when suddenly, we were interrupted by a sentry."
"Did he get off a warning?"
Othello scowled, "No, I didn't let him have a chance." Gesturing with a hand to a heap in the shadows nearby, he added, "I'm afraid, I was rather... upset when he surprised us."
Coming up with the others, Demona knelt to examine the fallen human. "He won't be coming around anytime soon. It's a wonder you didn't crack his skull, brother."
His brown-skinned mate patted his arm affectionately. "But under the circumstances, my love, you acted magnificently."
Standing beside Ajax, Thersites made a gagging sound.
Separating herself from Javin, Cornelia took one look at the human, before she fell to her knees and gasped. "No... No! It can't be!"
"What is it?" Javin asked.
Cornelia snagged the front of the soldier's leather jerkin, pulling it into the light of the moon to show an insignia; an embossed circle-and-bird in flight, painted black with accents of bright scarlet. "This... This is Lord Ravyn's mark! This man works for him!"
Goliath frowned. "But we shouldn't be anywhere near his castle yet." He took a folded piece of a parchment from his belt pouch. "This is a copy of one of Prince Malcolm's maps. Look here," he pointed, "according to this, we are at least five leagues from Lord Ravyn's castle."
Ajax glanced at the map, then turned to squint at the encampment below. "Say what you will, brother," the crested warrior said, "but I can see the same markings on the tents below. And look, he has a large number of war steeds as well as foot soldiers. This is not a common hunting party to my thinking; they lay in wait for someone."
Othello nodded in agreement. "That is what I thought as well! While I was waiting for my mate to return with you, there was a great deal of activity. A few riders came and went." He pointed to a large tent near the center of the camp which flew a scarlet banner. "Several men went into that tent and are still there."
"How curious," Goliath murmured, rubbing his chin in thought. With a move out of habit, he reached back to catch Thersites, who was trying to slink into the shadows. "Brother, I have a little job for you."
"Oh, no," The gargoyle with the twisted horn gulped, his expression dropping to make his beaked face look even longer. "You couldn't possibly mean--"
"But I'm not the heroic type!!" The smaller warrior quickly thumped Ajax on the chest. "This is more what you should be looking for! Strong, brave, and--"
"And for all that, he lacks the guile and stealth I know you to possess in vast quantities." Goliath smiled grimly. "Go, brother, and find out just who is in that tent."
Looking to the others, and getting not one crumb of sympathy from them, Thersites grumbled under his breath, "Mice!" He trudged up the ridge behind them, and a few minutes later, they all heard the hushed whoosh of his launch into the air. His sooty coloring blended seamlessly with the night and he was soon lost from sight.
The English gargoyle chewed her lip nervously. "Are you sure this is wise? I don't mean to question your judgment, Second, but--"
"Do not worry," Ajax answered for Goliath. "Our brother may shirk his duties and complain loudly about his troubles but he is as swift on the wing as he is with his tongue and when he does not want to be seen, he won't be."
Goliath smiled proudly. "He may not look it, but he is a trustworthy sort."
Cornelia snorted softly. "I wish I had your confidence, cousin," she said, giving Goliath an apologetic look immediately after.
* * *
Minutes slipped away as the gargoyles perched among the rocky outcropping of the ridge. A few of them jumped at the sound of horses neighing softly to one another from where the men had them picketed, but no one in the camp saw where the scouts were.
The tension festered, until even Goliath's patience reached the breaking point. It was all he could do to control himself when the blue female put a hand on his arm, making him flinch harshly.
"Easy, brother!" Demona said in hushed tones. "I have been thinking. If these are indeed Lord Ravyn's men, then he has divided his forces. Perhaps we should consider pushing on to his castle to rescue our English cousins?"
Goliath mulled her suggestion over. "If this is a major part of Ravyn's forces, his castle might be less protected. Your idea has merit, but let us wait until our brother has returned. I would prefer to know more about our enemy before rushing into any plan."
"Well (smack!)... if you ask me," a voice from behind them said, sounding like it was talking through a mouthful of something, "as enemies go (crunch!)... this one is not too shabby."
Whirling around, the party spied Thersites, perched somewhat insolently on a rock while he gnawed at what smelled like a roast leg of chicken.
"No dry battle rations for these soldiers (gulp!)," he said, holding his prize up. "Their field kitchen is as well-stocked as the one back at Castle Wyvern." He tossed a tied-up bundle into Desdemona's arms. "I took the opportunity to liberate some extra provisions for us."
"You fool! You could have been caught!" Demona bristled.
Her brother snorted, grinning. "Men with full bellies sleep deeply. A clumsy hatchling could have made his way through that camp without anyone being the wiser."
"Why you--!" Demona snarled, her hair standing on end with anger.
"Enough!" Goliath said sternly, stepping between them. "Save your ire for later!" Turning to Thersites, she asked, "What did you find out? Are these Lord Ravyn's men?"
"I should say so. That insignia is positively littering the camp." Thersites gestured with the half-eaten bone. "I managed to make my way to that central tent. Our brother was right, there is some sort of strategy meeting going on in there. I split an eye slit along one of the seams of the tent and there were four or five men huddled around a map. I never heard him called by name, but their leader is a dark-haired man with light-colored eyes."
Cornelia stepped forward. "Amber-colored? A strange, pale gold?"
He tapped the chicken bone against his chin. "Yes... yes, now that I think of it, they were an odd color for a human. He wore black save for that bird-in-circle emblem all in scarlet in the middle of his tunic."
"Then it is Lord Ravyn!" the English gargoyle said eagerly, her eyes blazing bright scarlet. "That means that my clan is very lightly guarded."
Demona had a gloriously radiant expression on her face. "It is as I suspected, brother! Let us leave these humans here and fly on to Castle Ravyn to rescue our English cousins!"
Their spy cleared his throat. "There's something you should know before we all go on some daring rescue. There was a lot of talk about a envoy from Normandy, 'an inner circle' and plots within plots, but the thing that got my attention is that their route is going to cross the one that Prince Malcolm is taking to get to Ravyn's castle."
Goliath's blood froze. "Are you certain?"
"I had a clear view of the map. If Prince Malcolm's party makes good time, they'll be meeting this rogue lord and his soldiers sometime tomorrow."
The crested one looked up from counting on his fingers, looking at the camp once more before saying, "This force out-numbers Wyvern's men by two score! If we do nothing, Prince Malcolm will be slaughtered."
"But this may be the only opportunity we have to rescue my clan!" cried the English gargoyle. She gestured to the crimson-haired blue female. "My cousin here has the right of it. Let the humans fend for themselves! There's no way of knowing what Lord Ravyn's intentions are towards your prince - they might not even meet at all - but my clan needs us now!"
Javin agreed, "Yes, Second. Let us make the most of this situation. Even if they meet, the guardsmen have faced down Vikings and rabid sea monsters. So they should be able to handle Ravyn's men."
Desdemona put in anxiously, "But it will be daytime! The Leader and his party will be in stone sleep and carried along in wagons, unable to defend themselves."
Drawing himself up, Ajax added, "I do not like the idea of leaving here and risking Prince Malcolm to meet an ambush alone... It seems cowardly. If we rout these brutes now, we will ensure our allies' safety and strike a blow to our enemies."
Goliath finally cut through all the arguments. "Enough! You all have valid words, but the Leader put me in charge of this party, and I will decide what we will do." Looking at each one, he watched as they all nodded in agreement. He had to hold his blue-skinned sister's eyes for a few extra moments before she ducked her head as well. Finally, he addressed Cornelia. "Cousin, I know how urgently you wish to liberate your clan, but this is an opportunity to cripple our enemy that we may never have again."
Cornelia started to protest. "But--"
Goliath cut her off with a wave. "Trust me, Cousin. We will rescue your clan... but, only after we deal with this raiding party. If all goes well, we will have kept them from ambushing Prince Malcolm and we will have delayed their return to Castle Ravyn."
"How will we manage that, Brother?" Othello asked.
Looking around at the riveted, attentive faces of his siblings, Goliath nodded and motioned them closer, taking one talon to scratch some lines into the earth. "Listen carefully. This is what we're going to do... first, we must deprive the humans of their horses. Without them, they cannot flee nor head for Castle Ravyn to warn their fellows." Looking to Thersites and Desdemona, he nodded. "That will be your task to release them and drive them away into the woods." He then looked down at his sketched map. "They also must not have access to their wagons or whatever weapons they have along with them." Smiling to his newly-mated brother and their crested sibling, he said, "That is your task. Put fire to them, and we'll also have a find diversion to work to our advantage."
Goliath then faced Demona, Javin, and Cornelia. ""All right," the lavender male rumbled in his deep voice, "I've left the most difficult task for us." Staring directly at the English gargoyle. "Cousin, you alone know the face of our quarry. He will be heavily guarded, but without him his followers will be disorganized and confused. We will capture him, and force the rest of the humans to surrender."
"That... might work," Demona admitted.
"It will take one or two of us to take him," Goliath continued. "Whichever of the four of us manages to succeed, it will be up to the other two to watch their backs. If Ravyn's men are as fanatical as they seem, they might try to counter our attempt." He fixed each of them with a firm stare. "No matter which of us gets to Ravyn first, the others must be ready for anything." He looked to the first two pairings. "Once the horses and wagons are dealt with, everyone cause as much confusion among the rest of the humans as possible. When we have Ravyn, head for his tent to aid the rest of us. We all know what is expected of us?"
"Aye!" came from his siblings.
"Yes," Cornelia nodded, but there was a hard gleam in her eyes. "But, pray I don't get to Ravyn first!"
Goliath growled. "Then let us not waste a moment more. We have to secure that camp before sunrise."
As the other pairs dashed off to follow his orders, Cornelia settled back with the rest to wait for the moment to strike. In front of her, the lavender Second hunkered down with his azure sister, exchanging a few brief whispered words between themselves. With a soft sigh, she looked to her side, expecting to see Javin there, but he was crouched down next to a bush several feet away.
With a frown, she slipped over to his side. "Cousin? Is something wrong?"
Javin did not reply, sitting back on his haunches with a stone face. But, the English gargoyle could see that he was looking directly at Goliath.
"Cousin! Listen to me," she whispered sternly. "I do not know what you are thinking, but you need to join the rest of us. We need you to help carry out the Second's plan."
"Why? His plan will succeed without my help," Javin stated, his face falling into a scowl. "Besides, it's not like I have to do anything."
"That is where you are wrong! Your lack of inactivity could doom the plan at its most crucial point," Cornelia pointed out. "And put not just our lives in jeopardy, but also those of my kin as well. I don't pretend to know what troubles you have with your brother, but you must snap out of this now!"
With an angry hiss, Javin replied, "You can't possibly know what I am going through, where my brother is concerned!"
Cornelia reached forward, snagging the front of his tunic in her talons to roughly pull him forward, so that they were nose to nose with one another. "You're right!" she snapped curtly. "I can't. But that is not what concerns me. Not right now. All I care about is our capture of Ravyn, so that I may somehow free my clan before this whole affair is over with. And I'll not stand for you botching your part in this plan, just because you and your Second have a grievance between you!"
With a shocked look, the brown-skinned warrior stammered, "C-Cousin, I-I-I..." He finally dropped his head, unable to look at her. "I... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause you to worry."
Easing up on her grip, Cornelia said, "When this is all over, deal with your grievance then. But for now, I need your help. You did tell me early on that you and your clan would do everything they could to gain my clan's freedom." With a less harsher tone, she added, "Prove yourself a gargoyle of your word, cousin."
Taking a bracing breath, Javin lifted his head with a nod. "I shall... and I won't fail you, or my brother, fair Cousin."
* * *
On the one side of the camp, a fair-sized herd of horses stood, tethered to long ropes stretched between stakes. Since the men presumed they were totally undiscovered, they had a lax watch. Perfect for two lithe gargoyles to go slipping past them, into the columns, where quick use of talons loosened the steeds from their moorings. It was a fortunate thing that none of the beasts reacted greatly to their presence.
Thersites did have to stifle a sneeze. "Oh, bother! Why must I always be plagued by horses!?" he said under his breath.
"Shhh!" Desdemona hissed, making short work of one of the pegs holding down one of the lines. "Be quick and quiet, or our Brother's plan will come undone!"
At the sounds of footsteps on earth, both young warriors ducked behind the closest horse, as one of the sentries ambled towards their place in the herd. Walking past, the human gave the horses a cursory glance, snorting a bit before he continued on his watch.
Thersites sighed heavily once the man was out of earshot, quickly looking over to see Desdemona's scowl. "All right! I'll be careful!" Rolling his eyes, he ducked over to the next line, reaching for more tethers to cut...
* * *
Near the supply wagons, Othello and Ajax made a discovery that chilled them slightly: Ravyn's men had a few catapults on wheels lined up alongside the covered carts. The latter were filled with much in the way of weapons, food, and water.
"There is enough here to keep these soldiers on the march for days," Othello gasped.
"And those siege engines would make short work of either the Prince's column or the Norman-led one, if used properly," Ajax added.
"Then we shall disable these," Othello said, reaching into an nearby wagon to rummage around, coming out with a large hammer. "And then, set fire to those. Did you bring a flint, brother?"
Ajax's hand slipped into his satchel, coming out with a gray rock and a flat piece of steel. The gold-colored warrior nodded. "But, what do we do for setting the fire?"
With an exasperated sigh, the light-blue gargoyle cast about, before he reached over to grip on of the handles of the massive cog-wheel on the nearest catapult. Pausing to listen for any humans nearby, he pulled slowly but surely, eventually ripping the handle free. With a small smile, he flipped it to Ajax with a grunted, "Here," before moving off to start work on the engines.
Ajax caught the piece of wood with a huff of non-comment. Turning, he crept towards the supply wagons, just as he spied a pile of black pitch. A sudden smile lit his usually stoic face. Reaching out, he snagged a small barrel nearby. Emptying it of its cargo of stone shot, he methodically scooped several handfuls of the tarry, black substance into it.
With that tucked under his arm he strode off, fumbling for his flint...
* * * * *
Lord Ravyn's Tent
Seated on a low stool, the darkly-dressed figure of Lord Ravyn looked down at a collection of maps on a nearby table, while eating some of the food his servant had prepared for him. Nearby, his trusted lieutenant stood at the ready, calm and passive.
"Everything is coming together," the dark man laughed, slapping one thigh in his amusement. "Soon, I'll have everything I need. That Prince Malcolm thinks he has everything with his castle and his gargoyles. Well, now I have my own castle, and," he guffawed, "thanks to my recent guests, he's no longer the only noble with a clan of his own."
"If you say so, sire," his lieutenant said.
"Of course I say so! Eh? I am a master of my own lands," Ravyn said, waving his hand to emphasize his meaning. "I have a private army of the best soldiers that can be hired... at the expense of gold, of course! After we see to this 'inner circle' I've heard tell about, I'll soon have all I need to gain my proper place in this world."
A low voice rumbled from one corner of the tent, "Whatever your plan is, human, you will not succeed!"
A wide grin split Ravyn's face. "Ah... I think one of my little songbirds is singing to me!" Turning around, he fixed his stare on the manacled form crouched before him. "And what an old song it sings. Really, my dear Draco, you should know by now that when I lay the foundation of a plan, it always comes to pass. And, always in my favor."
With a sneer, the deep-green skinned gargoyle glared spitefully at his captor. His draconian shaped head shook angrily, his deep-set nostrils flaring. "You'll not find favor for long, tyrant! Especially when my sister returns to free my kin!"
"Oh, you mean your little horse that fled? Bah!" Ravyn snorted. "We ran her off a while back! A lone gargoyle can never be a real threat to me."
Flexing against the heavy chains around his body, the English Leader growled, "So long as one gargoyle is free, you will never truly be safe! You can never hold all of us against our will! One day, your guard will drop, and you'll lose everything you hold dear... I promise you that!"
Bursting out with more laughter, Ravyn looked to his officer. "Do you hear that? Even in chains, with all of his clan under my personal protection back at my castle... and he makes threats!"
The lieutenant merely shrugged impassively, while the English gargoyle bristled.
Cutting off his mirth with a cold stare, Ravyn's two eyes gleamed in the light of the tallow lamp on his table. "Face reality, my creature. So long as I have you under my personal guard, your kin will not dare to attempt to escape their new home. And, while they are where they are, you cannot hope to threaten me." With a smug look, he leaned back on his seat as he wrapped on hand around a flagon of mulled wine. "You are now mine, gargoyle, and you and your kind will serve me for the rest of your lives... and, if the Norman envoy gives me the boon I seek, that will be a very, very long time."
* * * * *
As the moments passed on, Goliath looked down on the camp anxiously. Off to one side, smoke began to curl up from the wagons on the outskirts of the camp. At the same time, the horses on the other side of the camp started to shuffle off into the trees on the other side. Seeing all was in readiness, he turned to Cornelia and the others. "All right," the lavender male rumbled, "be ready. We’ll go for Lord Ravyn as soon as the chaos begins. Are you ready, Cousin?"
"Yes, I just hope your kin succeed in their tasks," Cornelia replied.
"The time has come to find out," Goliath replied. Motioning for them to take their places, he rose to step towards the edge of the outcropping. "Let us go!" With Javin and Cornelia off to his left, and his blue-skinned sister at his right, they all launched themselves into the night sky. As they sailed in, one of the horses screamed and an entire tether of animals bolted into the forest. There was a faint yelp and series of thuds as if someone was being reluctantly dragged behind.
As expected, the commotion drew the attention of the humans. A collection of groggy soldiers burst from their tents. Seeing their mounts scampering away, they shouted and charged off after their mounts.
"Looks like our brother and fair sister did their part," Demona said. As the quartet neared the center of the camp, a wagon wheel came flying up out of the darkness below. Amid the growing chaos, several of the wagons burst into flames before rolling towards the tents. Several soldiers rushed out to stop the blazes, many just getting out as one of the catapults flew apart, sending its main shaft tumbling end over end into the tent to pin it to the ground.
"And our brothers as well," Javin added, swerving out of the way as more wreckage came sailing through the air. As more screams and shouts of the soldiers erupted into the night, the gargoyles sailed on, seeking their ultimate quarry...
* * * * *
Below, Ravyn heard the commotion developing outside, pausing in the middle of taking a sip of wine. "What is that noise!?"
The English gargoyle tensed, but he recognized the sounds of distress. "Sounds as if your camp isn't as secure as you thought," he smirked.
Slamming his flagon down, the self-made lord shot to his feet. Motioning to his lieutenant, he stormed out of the tent, hoping to silence his men before they attracted someone's attention... only to see half of his camp in flames, while the rest of it was a shambles of running men, scared horses, and scattered tents.
"By the Dragon!" he swore as he drew his sword. "What manner of madness is this? Who is attacking us?"
"I'm not sure, sire," his officer said. "Bandits, perhaps!"
"Bandits wouldn't be this brash," Ravyn bellowed. "You men! To me! I want the heads of the fools that dare to attack me, and I want them now!"
Suddenly, a voice seemed to shout from above, "That is the one! That is Lord Ravyn!!"
"Dive!" a second one ordered, "Grab Lord Ravyn. Sister, scatter the crowd with me!"
Looking up, Ravyn and his men barely had time to set themselves, when a pair of flying forms plummeted from the sky. The lead one looked like a blue devil with fiery hair as she dove alongside a larger, purplish male. Together they rained blows on the soldiers that were mustering before their lord, scattering them like sheep before a wolf. Several tried to raise arms against her, but she and her lavender partner smote them aside with ease.
Behind her, two more gargoyles swooped in, bracketing the black-clad noble. With hands outstretched, they snatched him off of his feet, soaring back into the air.
"Lord Ravyn!!!" a man shouted. "To arms! Demons have captured our Master!"
In the air, Javin and Cornelia had their hands full of the black-clad noble. Unlike the usual humans that found themselves airborne, Ravyn kept his wits about him, and his sword as well. Slashing wildly, he cursed the two soundly, leaving the majority of his blows to fall on the brown-skinned youth.
"Foolish human! Stop struggling! You will fall to your death!" Cornelia cried, barely avoiding a wayward slash that cut through a fold of her tunic. With a shriek, she flared her wings and backed away, leaving Javin alone to carry the burden.
Drawing back, Ravyn aimed for the young gargoyle’s head as he snarled, "Unhand me, beast! Or I will have your guts for bowstrings!"
Just then, a voice like silken steel snarled, "You seem too overly fond of playing with sharp things, human... Let's correct that little problem." Before the noble could react, a stinging whipstrike smacked the sword from Ravyn's hand.
With a cry of pain and rage, he watched as his sword cartwheeled away, landing with a thud in the soil below them. Looking up, he spied Demona hovering nearby, her eyes alight like tiny coals. Enraged, he started to kick and squirm violently, not caring if he fell.
"Hold him, Brother!" Demona moved in to help, but Javin could barely keep his grip on the squirming noble and keep himself airborne any longer. As they spiraled down to the ground, he bravely kept his grip on the prisoner, followed closely by Demona.
Hitting the ground with a grunt, Ravyn tried to get one hand free to snatch up a dagger from his belt. A tan blur from the side knocked the blade loose, allowing Javin to reassert his hold.
"Let’s not got get prickly, you cur," Cornelia snorted, looking at Ravyn in disgust. "Cousins, are you all right?"
"I’m all right," Demona replied.
Javin growled, "Never better! I just (umph!) have my hands full just now!"
* * *
Desdemona and Thersites clobbered a pair of men who were running pell-mell through the chaos before galloping towards the large tent in the center of the camp. Fortunately, the men on the outskirts weren't coordinated enough to make much of a obstacle for them, but the ones nearer the main tent were another story.
"Oh, where are the others when you need them!?" the dark-colored slacker said under his breath, watching as three armored men turned to charge at them. His question was answered when several barrels rocketed in from the side, colliding with the men and sending them tumbling away, all elbows and kneecaps. From the same direction the barrels came from, Othello and Ajax emerged, both panting and covered in their share of bruises and cuts.
"Beloved!" the blonde-haired female cried out happily. The two embraced quickly, but she pulled back to ask. "Are you hurt?"
"Nothing to worry about," her mate assured her. "Come, our brother will need our help at Ravyn's tent!" Together, the quartet charged off into the fray once more.
* * *
Cornelia and Demona stood over Lord Ravyn, while Javin, who now had the leverage to use his strength, twisted the human's arms around behind his back. They were joined by Goliath, who had finally scattered the last of the men from around them.
"Release me! Your leader will suffer unless you let me go!" Ravyn seethed.
The English female's eyes lit up like red-hot firebrands. "Not as long as we have you, villain!"
Smiling, Demona nodded in agreement. "And once we have our cousins free, we will make sure you can't harm another gargoyle again!"
Just then, an articulate yell burst out from behind her. Whirling around, she had time to hear her brother's shout of warning, and a flash of silver that flew like an arrow towards her chest. Reflexes nearly weren't enough, but the abrupt appearance of a solid wall of lavender and a shove from a brawny arm sent her vaulting into the sky. Then, the only sound she heard was the deep bellow of pain that drowned out everything else.
"Second?!" Cornelia shouted, reaching for a nearby rock. With a rage-born motion, she smote the knife-throwing human with a barely-aimed toss into his chest. A moment after, Goliath pounced on him and yanked a second dagger from his nerveless hand.
By then, Demona drifted back to the ground, just in time to see Goliath flipping the dagger over to Cornelia. "Watch him!" he growled, just before looking up at his rookery sister with eyes that smoldered with a cooling rage. "Are you all right? When I saw him draw the dagger, I was afraid I would not reach you in time."
Demon's eyes flickered down to the red ribbon of blood on his forearm before she stammered, "Y-You-you took the blow meant for me?" Returning her eyes to his, she simply smiled.
With a smile in reply, Goliath reached up and just touched his knuckles to her brow ridges. "I would gladly do it again, for a smile such as that..."
Cornelia cleared her throat politely. "Not to interrupt, but what do we do with this scoundrel now?"
The lavender Second turned reluctantly from his red-haired sister, narrowing his eyes at the man in black before them. Leaning close, he growled, "Lord Ravyn, I presume?"
The man nodded, a look of defiance on his features that was slowly ebbing when the rest of the rescue party appeared at the side of the others.
"We would like a few words with you. But first, call out to your men and tell them to surrender," Goliath ordered.
"I will d-do no such thing!"
With a snarl, Goliath seized the front of the noble's cloak, hefting him easily off the ground to dangle before him. "I suggest you reconsider. Unless you wish us to hunt them down... one by one."
Without his men to support him, Ravyn saw he had little choice now. Raising his voice, he called out into the night. "Listen to m-me, men... Do not attack these... c-creatures! If you do, they might harm m-me!" A few shouts of acknowledgment answered him, coming from several scattered locations all over the camp and in the woods.
"Good," Goliath nodded. "Brothers, go and start rounding up as many of his men that you can find." He then turned to Thersites. "Go and find the Prince's column. We will need his aid to round up the rest."
* * * * *
Castle Ravyn, The Next Night
The captain of the watch muttered as he emerged from his cothold, struggling into a tunic as he glared at the young guard who stood before him, trembling.
"I'm s-sorry, sir," the unshaven-youth apologized, "but I didn't know what to do, since Lord Ravyn left us with s-strict orders--."
"I know that already," the captain said crossly. "What is going on that made you wake me up from a sound sleep!?"
Walking backwards towards the gates of the castle, the young guard could only stammer, "I-It's something I-I don't know what to do about, s-sir!"
Shoving the man aside, the captain stomped towards the gate, cursing the ineptness of the rag-tag bunch of young men his master had left behind. "Blast it all! I'm a soldier, not a wet-nurse! It was foolish to take all of the seasoned men with him on his mission. Bah!" Coming up to the gate, he went to the door set into its lower panel and shoved the metal plate covering the peep-through aside. Looking out, he spied a man standing there, dressed in the garb and colors of a captain of Wyvern.
"I'm sorry. The Master isn't allowing visitors tonight! Come back in a fortnight."
The man--Robbie--turned away to address someone out of sight. "It's the watch captain, Your Highness." Just then, the man stepped aside, and the visage of Prince Malcolm appeared, looking very sternly at the hapless man on the other side.
"P-Prince Malcolm!?" the captain gasped. "Y-Your Highness! This is a-an unexpected--!"
"Enough with the pleasantries, Captain," Malcolm cut him off sharply. "Open the gates at once."
The captain balked. "But, sire! I have orders from my Master--!"
Malcolm motioned behind him, and four men brought Lord Ravyn into view, bound in the same heavy shackles he had once used for the English gargoyle. "As you can see," the Prince said, "we have higher authority than your Master. Now, open these gates!"
Backing away, the captain swallowed thickly. It was then that he heard growls and cries from above. Looking up, he spied several new gargoyles landing on the ramparts amid the watch, sending the inexperienced men scurrying for cover.
"Heavens preserve us!" he muttered under his breath. Calling to the gatehouse, he shouted, "Open the gates, you fools! Do it now!"
Soon, the two massive doors swung inwards, allowing the Prince and Lord Ravyn to enter, followed by what appeared to be a legion of troops. The Wyvern soldiery quickly fanned out, taking up overwatch and guard positions around their lord and the captured one.
With a look upwards, Malcolm nodded to Hudson, who was speaking to two gargoyles, one of whom the captain recognized as the leader of the English prisoners. In a flash, the two separated, gliding off with several of the new gargoyles towards the castle, headed for the far tower, where the prison cells were, and to the main hall.
"My lord?" the man asked, looking to his bound Master. "What is the meaning of this!?"
"It is quite simple," Malcolm said, smoothly interjecting himself before Ravyn could speak. "Your lord conspired to hold a clan of gargoyles against their will within these walls, in hopes to have them bow to servitude for his own means. We are here to liberate them, and ensure that such an act never happens again."
The captain blanched. "Y-You don't have the power to do that!"
"Indeed I do!" Malcolm squarely faced the man, arms crossed over his chest. "I have already sent runners to King Kenneth, with word of what has been happening here. When they return, I suspect they will have papers granting me the right to strip your master of his title and his lands. A man that tries to gain by treachery and slavery has no right to call himself 'lord' or 'master'." Looking over the soldiers that had come out to witness what was happening, the Prince pitched his voice to carry. "From now on, you men will never obey another command from your former master. Lord Ravyn is under arrest, and will be placed in his own dungeon to await the judgment of the King. Until such time, this castle and all its lands will be under my protection, until a new lord can be chosen that will govern them with wise and proper judgment."
* * *
Later, a welcome reunion between the English gargoyles commenced on the parapets above. In particular, the English leader was swamped with glad tidings from his kin.
"We all thought you had been tortured or killed," a leonine female said, her eyes brimmed with tears.
"It was torture enough, not knowing if any of you were alive or safe," the draconian male said, accepting handshakes and hugs all around. Eventually, he came to Cornelia, who was sporting a pair of very misty eyes herself. "As for you, I am pleased to see your escape managed to gain all of us our freedom in the end." Placing a hand on her shoulder, the English leader smiled a toothy grin. "Without you, we'd all still be prisoners of Ravyn's schemes."
With a smile, Cornelia shook her head. "It wasn't all my doing, my Leader." Turning, she indicated the Wyvern clan with a wave of her hand. "Without the aid from our Scottish cousins, I'd have never been able to succeed."
With a nod, the draconian male stepped forward, just as Hudson stepped away from his young ones, and together they both clasped hands. "Thank you, Cousin."
"Nay. It is I who should be thankin' ye," Hudson said solemnly. "We dinnae help ye once, an' for that we are shamefully sorry. But, we were given a second chance when we learned of yer imprisonment, an' for that, we are proud tae have done all that we could to help."
"Still, we owe you a great deal of thanks. Had it not been for your young Second's bold plan to take Ravyn's camp by surprise," the English male said, nodding to indicate Goliath, "I would still be trapped within Ravyn's web."
Goliath came up to stand by his leader. "I did only what I felt we needed to do."
"And for that, I am grateful," Cornelia replied. "I wanted to rescue my kin and leave the soldiers alone, but that would have been wasted, since Ravyn would have either killed or captured your Prince Malcolm, and still held my Leader as a captive."
Nodding, Goliath said, "I am please to see that you have your clan back, Cousin. What will you do now?"
The draconian leader replied, "Well, the clan and I had considered returning to England before we were captured." Seeing the looks of surprise on the faces of the Wyvern gargoyles, he explained, "We know what we fled before, but England is still our home. Many of our English cousins have fled from the persecution of the humans, but, most of us feel it would be better to perhaps die on our native soil than to languish in the wilderness, in exile."
Both Hudson and Goliath shared a look of understanding. "I see," the elder said sagely. "It is a dangerous path ye choose tae take."
"Yes. But, in the end, it is the one that we have chosen."
"Well," Hudson sighed, "We wish th' lot o' ye a safe journey, and hope that ye will survive."
"But, should you have need of a safe haven," Goliath offered, "never forget that you can always come back to our home. It will always be open to you." He looked to Hudson, seeing his elder nod in approval.
"We shall never forget that, Cousin," the draconian leader replied. Reaching out again, he shook forearms with them both. "Thank you once again, and travel safe to your home as well." Turning to Cornelia, he said, "Come, Sister. We have to get the clan moving while we still have the night to do so."
Nodding, Cornelia turned, just as she spied Javin standing off to one side, watching his brothers and sisters speaking of their coup on Ravyn with their fellow clan members. "Just a moment, my Leader," she said. "There is something I must do first." Walking away, she made her way over to Javin side.
Sensing her presence, the brown-skinned male turned to face her. "Fair Cousin?"
"I wanted to thank you for not letting Ravyn go, in spite of the drubbing he gave you," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You did your part well, and because of that the plan succeeded."
Grunting, he said softly, "You are welcome." With a smile, she leaned over to touch her lips to his cheek, which made him jerk upright in surprise. Turning to look at her, his hand reached up to touch the place, a question filling his eyes.
"'Tis something the humans do from time to time," Cornelia explained. "I felt it would be a proper reward for a gentle soul like you." Just then a call from her kinsmen rang over the castle. "I have to go, Cousin. Be well on your journey home." She turned to go, moving swiftly to join her clan as they made to take off into the night.
Watching her go, Javin felt a smile--a genuinely felt one--slowly form on his lips. "Safe journey be yours... my Fair Cousin..."
* * *
Much later, with a portion of his men left to garrison the castle until King Kenneth could send his men to take over, Prince Malcolm mounted his horse and gathered the remainder of his column together to begin the journey home.
"We've done a good service here," Malcolm said to Robbie as he took to his own steed. "And, hopefully, we shall never have to do so again."
"Aye, my Prince. 'Tis truly a sign that we live in dark times when men like Ravyn covet station and power," Robbie said bitterly.
"Ah, but it is good when just men can show such men the error of their ways," the Scottish prince countered, grinning up at the Wyvern clan on the walls. "With a little help from some special allies." Motioning for his captain to take the lead, he added, "Now, let us return home. We have our own people waiting for us there."
"As you wish, my Prince. Co-LUMN! Forward!"
As Robbie started the humans homeward, Hudson watched for a moment before turning to his warriors. "Th' Prince has th' right o' it... let's go home." Spreading their wings, the gargoyles leaped skyward in singles and pairs, gliding slowly over the advancing column below.
One of the last pairs to leave were Goliath and Demona. Taking a moment, the two looked back at the castle, now somewhat subdued with the garrison in place.
"We should have hung that human up by his heels for what he did to our cousins," she sighed crossly.
Goliath shook his head. "Our English cousins are free," he said gently, "that is all that matters now. The humans will deal with Ravyn in their own fashion, and they'll see to it that he never becomes so powerful that he will ever be a threat again." Reaching out to her with one hand, he added, "Besides, I wish to return to our home. There is nothing more for us to do here."
Turning to face him, Demona stared at his hand for a second, before placing her own into it. "You are right, my brother... let us both go home."
With a smile, Goliath unfurled his wings. "And so we shall... together." With that, they both dropped from the wall, catching the wind to soar upwards, their hands remaining linked together....
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, A Few Days Later
A short time before sunrise was due at Wyvern, the column returned through the main gate. The castle burst into life as the subjects boiled out to hear news of the journey, and the fate of Lord Ravyn. There were smiles all around, especially from Marcus, and at least one unsmiling face: that of the Archmage.
Above on the walls, Hudson and Goliath were mobbed by the elders, wishing for details of the taking of the camp and the release of their English kin. As the Leader told all about the Second's daring plan, Goliath found himself the center of attention by his own generation, and the younger one below it.
"'Twas risky at best," Hudson said, nodding with approval at his young Second, "but it came off wi'out any trouble."
The Eldest echoed Hudson's accord. "But, now our cousins are free, and we have a grand tale to add to our memories."
From the younger warriors, laud after laud came out to heap on Goliath's humble shoulders. As he stood there with Demona by his side, he tried fending off all the good-natured hullabaloo.
"You did well, Second! I just wish I could have been there to see it," Diomedes said, even though his eyes narrowed at the looks Demona was sending towards Goliath.
Asrial spied the way her blue-skinned sister and her former beau were standing together, but she said, "It was very brave of you to conceive such a plan, Second." Smiling to the newly-mates, she also added, "and you were there to help it come to success, sister!"
Desdemona looked up at Othello with pride. "We all had our parts to play, clever sister."
Fuchsia held one hand to her breast, "And for our brothers to have been there as well! Our brown-skinned brother actually had to tackle Lord Ravyn himself!"
Javin waved her words away with a grin. "I wouldn't wish that part on anyone else! Holding onto that human was like trying to wrestle with an animated set of pots and pans, with a butcher knife attached!" Everyone had a good laugh at that, except for Diomedes...
Just then, Hudson's voice called out, "'Tis nearly dawn! Take to yer places... Taemorra we'll have a fine celebration for our victory."
As everyone took to their perches, Asrial had just settled on her lone one when she looked down to see Goliath take his... and Demona come alongside to join him nearby.
"Ah well... 'tis like I told him on the eve of the Equinox," she sighed, a bit of sadness in her tone. "Still, they do look happy together. As long as he is happy, that is what really matters." As a smile framed her peach-colored features, her thoughts wandered for a bit, coming to rest on the words of her fair sister...
"You’re beautiful and interesting. Best of all, our brothers don’t see you as an object... I’ve seen a few brothers with their eyes on you and not just our good hearted one."
Suddenly a small outburst broke out from below. Looking down, she saw her brother with the twisted horn being confronted by their long-winded elder; the latter looking very cross with the former.
"Ye may have done a fine job on the mission, lad," Agamemnon was saying, having cornered Thersites against the wall of the parapet, "But, that doesn't take away from the fact ye shirked your duties before the young ones had their confirmation ceremony." Holding up one hand to forestall the younger warrior's babbling, he added, "For the next week, ye will have extra duties to deal with, on top of your regular ones!"
"B-b-but, my Elder?! Is this any way to treat a hero!?" the beaked youth yammered.
With a smile, Asrial shook her head at her brother's antics. As the first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon, they froze that smile, leaving it there until the sun set that night....
* * * * *