THE WEDDING, PART 1: NOT WISELY, BUT WELL
Written by: Jonathan Cotleur and Shauntell Holm
Artwork by Shauntell Holm
Outline by: Anna Hansen and Jonathan Cotleur
* * * * *
Castle Wyvern, 975 AD
The candle flickered as Marcus turned the page of the large antique book. His eyes followed the Latin text with intensity as he fought against his own fatigue. He blinked, and was unable to hold back a yawn. He turned the next page, and his elbow hit the goblet of aged water sitting to his side, untouched up until now. It twirled onto its side, spilling, and rolled off the edge.
Marcus reacted quickly, lifting the heavy spellbook a few inches from the table to let the spilt liquid drain past. He set the book aside gingerly, careful not to let his fingers get caught beneath.
He frowned. The water had not extinguished his candle, even though it stood as little more than a waxy stump on the wooden tabletop. Not that it would have been of consequence, for the sun was sure to rise within minutes. He had stayed up well into the morning hours. Such a schedule had been necessary as of late, although it wasn’t completely devoid of any benefits. At least it provided him with sanctuary from the unsightly creatures that prowled the castle’s halls and battlements at night. It was due primarily to the onset of his Prince’s marriage to the lady of Normandy that he was on such a schedule. He knew little of her, in truth, except that his Prince was wildly infatuated with her and possessed by a mixture of impatience, nervous excitement, and trepidation for the coming union.
As the event had drawn nearer, things had become steadily worse. At first, it was, "Marcus, I would like you to have a part in the marriage, your lessons with the Archmage will have to be put off for a little while", but soon it had become: "Marcus, please, put down that pagan script. We haven’t much time until Lady Elena arrives, and you must be on your best. Now let us rehearse." It continued downhill from there. When he wasn’t practicing or errand-running, he was busy in discourse with his nervous Prince: "Marcus, what do you think of Elena?"
Marcus was honored that Malcolm would confide in him and even seek his opinion, but it was all detracting from his time with the Archmage. He didn’t know what he thought of Elena! He did not know her. The only thing that stuck in his mind was how at ease she had seemed with the resident non-human inhabitants of the castle. Malcolm had a pact to uphold with the beasts for protection, something Marcus could not approve of but understood. But for a Princess to be so comfortable around them was a rare and slightly unsettling facet. Marcus dared not mention this to his Prince, though.
He sighed, his thoughts moving to the Archmage and his reaction to events, as he bent down to pick up the fallen goblet. Suffice it to say, his master wasn’t understanding about the matter. In the magician’s opinion, as he had related it to Marcus on more than one of the rare opportunities on which he had been able to seize him from Prince Malcolm, the entire marriage was an idiot’s farce blown out of proportion. Marcus didn’t know about that, but he did know that the events leading up to the marriage had been a farce indeed. Both men, Prince Malcolm and the Archmage, had been vying over possession of him. And he was growing tired of it. Since the Prince was the Prince, he usually won in these struggles. But the Archmage wasn’t letting up an inch, and so usually that meant harder lessons. Although this was the first time the Archmage had actually gone so far as to assign him a reading assignment to do on his own.
He set the goblet back on the table tentatively, eyeing the spilt water. It sat in a puddle on the tabletop. He considered the coming dawn and his own fatigue, and wondered if he should simply call his reading to an end and leave. By morning the water would be gone. But the table was wooden, and he knew that if he allowed the liquid to seep in it would cause rot. He could use the sleeve of his robe to wipe it up, but a more alluring idea stirred in his thoughts and he reached for his spellbook.
When he found the appropriate page, he touched his finger to it and wetted his lips. Then the chant began. An exotic dance of words reverberated into the empty, hollowed halls outside his room. The goblet began to wobble slightly, and then sporadically for a second, followed by stillness. Marcus paused involuntarily for a brief moment, before realizing the error of doing so and hastily resuming. In moments the water on the table began coming together. It coalesced until, from the center, a tentacle sprung up and arched into the goblet. Marcus beamed as he continued to chant and the water traveled through the arching tentacle in a backwards stream, returning to the goblet.
As this ritual completed itself, there was an astonished intake of air from the vicinity of the doorway. Marcus froze when he heard it, sudden fear seizing him. The only ones to pace these walls at this hour were the Prince, or else one of the guards, and neither was a welcomed option. Prince Malcolm would no doubt confiscate his spellbook and ground him for good from the Archmage's teachings for pushing his ward to study so late. But a guardsman was the more disturbing option. A stranger witnessing him perform his magic, especially such a feat as he just accomplished, was at the core of his deep unwanted thoughts. He spun around to face the arrival, his mind racing, already putting together a defensive plan. He would scare whoever it was away with threats of telling the Prince on them, if it were indeed a guardsman as he most feared.
But when he saw who stood at his door, all expectations were shattered, and his plans unraveled. He stared, gaping. A clamp held his voice box.
Those sharp spiraling horns. The carnivorous eyes. Arching, clawed, reptilian wings.
"I have a machine that cleans spills," it said, its lips peeling back to reveal large, sharp fangs. "Would you like to see it?"
It tilted its head curiously, invitingly. Marcus could only stutter, "You - you’re not supposed to be here."
It paused momentarily, with a semblance of subtle hurt and surprise echoing upon its features. It appeared a mockery of human mannerism to him, mimicked in the way that a demon would play a role among innocent living. Only this one was without camouflage, speaking as if expecting to be spoken back to with familiarity, like a demon that does not realize its true form has been unveiled before its victim.
But of course he knew these thoughts to be senseless, irrational: the product of his fear. What would the Archmage say of fear? A useless emotion, perhaps, just as he saw most others.
"I’m not going to hurt you," it assured. It sensed his fear, he realized. He shook it away, attempting to marshal himself. He was acting juvenile. These beasts were under the Prince’s authority.
He gathered his voice in his throat, and prepared to speak. He would tell it to leave, claim that it was trespassing, threaten it with retaliation from the Prince for disturbing him. Just as he was going to do to the guardsman. But then the creature surprised him by taking a step forward, entering the room all the way.
Marcus took a reflexive, unmeasured step backwards, bumping into the table. It slid violently, causing the newly-refilled goblet to tip over and splatter its contents over the floor.
The creature, who he now realized he knew from the others as one interested in human techniques, stared down at the fresh spill with a pained expression. "I’m sorry--"
She looked up, more curious than stunned. To illustrate his demand, he quickly picked up the fallen goblet and threw it at her. The cup struck her on the shoulder, and he received his desired effect.
"Do not come near me again!" he threatened obtusely. "For if you do, I shall find the machine you speak of and destroy it!"
Her eyes filled with hurt. "I’m sorry for the intrusion," she said in a chastened voice, leaving the room in embarrassed haste.
Marcus stood in his place for a few moments longer, staring at the empty doorway where the gargoyle had been and where the goblet now lay. What had happened to threatening her with the Prince’s authority?
"If she hadn’t caught me so unawares..." he stated, to the empty room. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, and turned back for his spellbook, which he gently closed.
* * * * *
Asrial sighed nervously as she exited Marcus' study chamber. She kept wondering about his outbursts as she headed in the direction of her workshop. Would he really destroy her inventions? Or was he speaking merely out of fear? She was fairly sure it was the latter.
She sighed morosely. Marcus had been rumored to be of intelligent mind. She had visited him in the hopes that they could find common ground-- perhaps become friends. She’d never had a real human friend before...
She laughed at what, in her disheartened mood, she identified as her own naivete.
As she came to her tower, relief and yearning swelled in her. The sun was almost ready to rise, but as the rest of her rookery went to their perches, she sought the seclusion of her workshop. She stopped when she spotted her lavender brother walking about pensively in front. He was not sad, she observed, just thoughtful.
She approached him tentatively, keeping her ultimate destination ambiguous as she went in the general direction of the tower. When he didn’t notice her, she greeted him, and he looked up. Surprised, but happy to see her, he smiled and returned her greeting.
"Are you on your way to your workshop?" he inquired thoughtfully. "The sun is almost risen." Asrial smiled internally. Goliath still felt the need to remind her of such little technicalities, knowing her as well as he did.
She shrugged, grateful for his friendship even in light of the end of something that might have been more. "I was just going to clean up a little and fix whatever needs fixing," she lied. Conscious of her dim mood, she decided to go on, to keep her observant brother from discerning her unhappy thoughts. "What occupies your thoughts, brother?"
Goliath replied unevenly, "Oh, uh, I was just contemplating... our fiery-haired sister."
Asrial nodded, overt in her casualness. "Oh. Were you thinking anything in particular?"
Goliath stalled, struggling for an answer.
Asrial smiled seeing his hesitation. "Brother, do not stray from telling me," she told him encouragingly. "I am happy for you, and our sister. Don't be afraid to come to me to talk, if ever you need to. She is my rookery sister, and I want for nothing more than to see you both happy."
Goliath smiled, gratified. "Thank you, sister," he said.
"You're welcome, brother."
"Now," he said, suddenly curious as he looked back at Asrial, "what weighs on your mind? You seemed troubled, before being so successful in covering it up." He grinned warmly.
Asrial sighed, sadness retaking her. "Well, I went to see Prince Malcolm’s ward, the young boy we took into the castle two years ago." Goliath nodded, signaling that he knew of the boy. "Well, I found him studying... and I suppose I frightened him a bit."
Goliath cocked his head. "How?"
Asrial shrugged. "I don't think he's used to gargoyles, brother," she replied sadly. "I seem to believe he's frightened of all of us. He told me to go away and threw a goblet of water at me." She paused, and Goliath's eye ridges lifted in surprise at what she said. "I wasn’t hurt, just surprised," she added, debating whether to finish. "I was even more so when he threatened to destroy my machines if I came any closer."
Goliath growled softly. "Do you think he would really try to destroy one of your devices?"
"No, I don't think so," she said. "He was just trying to act brave. Trying to get me to leave." She looked at her brother. "He seemed embarrassed as well as scared. I really don't think he meant what he said."
Goliath nodded at that, but was still unsure, as evidenced by the deep look in his eyes.
"I advise you to be careful, nonetheless, sister," he said calmly.
Asrial nodded in the way he recalled her nodding to the elders years ago when they would suggest she take up another occupation in place of her inventing.
"Well, I will bid you good-morning, brother," said Asrial with a contented sigh as she turned to go inside the tower. "I have some things I need to do."
Goliath let it go. He gave his own good-morning before turning to leave. He started to head towards his new perch-- the perch for Second in Command. He felt the move was unnecessary, and slightly uncomfortable. Such changes for status were a human invention, one he suspected was inherited by his elders, although Leader insisted that it was the custom of the clan. But in spite of this, he felt his perch was the best place to think, wherever it might be. It was the spot he could feel most secure at.
On his way, he caught sight of Iago staring hungrily up at the Second's perch. He appeared to be in a grumpy mood, again, as he was so often lately. Goliath knew the source of his ill-pleasure was his failure, as he saw it, to achieve the position of Second, but he knew he would get over that disappointment in time, and decided to greet him.
* * * * *
Iago sat hunched on his perch like a haggard crow, sighing irritably as he gazed at the perch his rookery brother now inhabited during the day. He really was not sure why he bothered to stare at it until his insides churned, only that he wanted the position of Second in Command. He writhed with disgust as he recalled how Goliath had achieved the position. Leader was a blind fool. Goliath was not at all suitable for the position of Second in Command. He carried it like nothing, always with something else in mind, something other than his duties as Second.
Iago sighed, again, grumbling as he turned quickly from the sight of the Second's perch. It would bother him forever, he realized, and there wasn't anything he could do about it now. There had been a choice when the trials were still going on, though. He could have done something then and not bothered with all the foolish fairness he and the others had participated in. If he had not shared the information that he had obtained when it was his turn to eavesdrop, he would have had the decisive edge over all of the others. They would have been running like blind mice, just as the rest of his rookery had been. But no, he had been so sure of himself.
It irritated him to the core.
"Rookery brother?" came a deep voice behind him, followed by heavy footfalls, and Iago was filled with nausea. It was Goliath, his Second in Command. Come to make converse with the subservients. "Is something wrong? You look - disappointed."
"Oh," Iago replied snidely as he turned to Goliath, trying not to look too closely at him, "I was just - thinking. Wishing, I guess, that I could be Second." He hoped the bluntness would succeed in deterring his brother from conversing further, but Goliath was unfazed. So he continued, "But the position is filled, and there is a good gargoyle at the helm. I'm sure the elders were wise in their choice. I'm sure you'll do a fine job, brother." He shuddered to himself, the saccharine words seeping into him like needles, but if there was no way of overstepping his big lavender brother, the only other option was to please him.
Goliath answered, now noticeably fazed, "Thank you, brother. I'm glad you have faith in me." He stepped up beside his brother and hopped atop a parapet.
Iago writhed. He did not enjoy the friendly proximity. He arched, his chest swelling painfully. Finding the silence intolerable, he asked with spite, "How are you finding your new position?"
Goliath replied earnestly, not noticing the bite of Iago’s question. "In all honesty, brother, I have found that not much has changed in my life."
Iago felt his anger well up inside him. Was Goliath patronizing him or was he serious? He could not fathom such a dismissive attitude. He needed a way to hurt Goliath, he needed to relieve his anger somehow. His lips curled into a smile as he thought of the answer.
"Tell me, what of your relationship with our rookery sister? How does it progress?"
Goliath hesitated. "Which of our rookery sisters, brother?"
Iago beamed. "Why, our fiery-haired sister, of course. I tend to think she adores you, no?"
Goliath grinned and chuckled. "A lot of people do," he said, a bit curtly. "But, yes. She adores me as much as I adore her. I tend to think that as long as I am with her, things will be fine."
Iago sneered as Goliath lay back into a more comfortable position. Didn't the fool realize that others could be watching? This sort of relaxation was not the way of the warrior.
Iago put the thought aside, and grinned, returning to his conversation. "Well then, that proves that you two have grown very close in the recent time."
Goliath nodded. "We have."
"It is rather interesting that your relationship has strengthened, seemingly, as you became Second. Is that not odd, brother?"
This earned Iago an inexplicable look from Goliath, and he grinned inwardly with satisfaction. "I'm sure our sister loves you for who you are, of course, and not just for your position. After all, the idea of our sister loving you for your position just doesn't suit her, does it?"
Iago locked gazes with Goliath, noting with extreme pleasure the sudden change in Goliath's complexion. The brown gargoyle broke his gaze to let out a laugh, and Goliath smiled. "Yes, it does not at that," he conceded, the doubt vanishing from his mind. "Until sunset, brother."
Iago added his farewell as the mighty Second left for his perch. Once he was out of eyesight, the smaller gargoyle snorted, but grinned as he contemplated the seed of doubt he’d succeeded in planting. He might not ever be able to become Second, but he could bend Goliath whenever it suited him. It was dormant now, but all the seed needed was to be watered...
* * * * *
Goliath proceeded to his perch with renewed thoughtfulness. Iago’s conversation reinstilled enthusiasm for his blooming relationship with Demona. He decided he would like to see her. He had a few short moments before dawn would bloom over the horizon; he would seek her out...
But as he rounded the corner of the battlements, to where his perch awaited him, he was caught off-guard by the sight of Demona there already. With her were three of the young ones: the snow-haired beaked one, the smaller green one, and their round blue sibling. Goliath recognized them as the trio that often associated with one another, usually with troublesome results. They were about to carry away some buckets of water and rags when Goliath came upon the scene. When Demona saw him, her eyes widened with surprise. "My love!" Her cheeks flushed at the sound of the word coming from her mouth.
She hurriedly instructed the trio to leave the buckets and rags where they were; she would collect them later. As she ushered them aside, Goliath asked, "Did you... have cleaning duty, sister?"
So relieved from their duties, the trio scampered off to capture what few moments of wakefulness remained to play. Demona, now alone with Goliath, clasped her hands anxiously in front of her and let a broad smile consume her face. "You came early," she revealed. "We - I, had wanted to surprise you."
At first, Goliath did not understand, and stared on bewilderedly. Demona glanced down, and Goliath followed her eyes with his. They widened when he beheld the spotless, smooth surface of his perch.
As their playful laughing echoed from afar, she explained, "It gave the three youths something to be occupied with so that the cooks could go about their work." She smirked. Goliath glanced from his perch to those surrounding it. His was now cleaner than all the others, in a very noticeable way. As if his perch had been transformed into a throne at the head of a table, around which all the other members of the clan now sat in plain, common chairs.
"You need a perch fit for a Second in Command," she added encouragingly.
Goliath hesitated as he gazed on the beautifully-washed stone block before him. "Sister - Beloved - Love, do you... is my position important to you? My position as Second, I mean?"
Demona responded with a puzzled look. She regarded him for a moment. She did not understand his meaning, but felt she should answer with confidence. "Yes, of course, beloved. It is very important to me."
The sun rose, freezing them on either side of the unused perch. The expression of concern reflective in Goliath’s eyes was lost as they glazed over with stone.
* * * * *
Later in the Day
The Archmage paced his room, muttering silently to himself, when Marcus came to the door. He pushed it open hesitantly, seeing that his teacher was preoccupied. It was too late to go back, though, for his presence had been detected.
"What are you doing here?" the aged sorcerer asked, pausing from his pacing and muttering. His tone was surprisingly level.
Marcus gestured timidly with the large, heavy book that he carried between his arms and explained that he had completed his assignment.
The Archmage waved it off. "I don’t have another one to give you right now."
Marcus sunk. He had hoped for a lesson, or at the least an opportunity to demonstrate what he had learned for evaluation.
"Besides," the Archmage went on, "hasn’t the Prince ruled that you shall be tutored in his chambers while his ward, and that you are not to come here?" His tone was becoming more irritated. Irritating himself, Marcus had been able to deduce, was something the Archmage excelled at. His teacher’s displeasure at having to lug all the necessary books and materials to and from the Prince’s chambers was evident to anyone who was unlucky enough to cross him in the halls en route.
Marcus was going to explain how he sneaked away in between training sessions for the upcoming wedding, but decided against bringing it up. The mention of the wedding would only fuel the Archmage’s anger.
"Never mind," the Archmage said sharply. "I wish to be alone. Close the door on your way out."
Glumly, Marcus obeyed, leaving his teacher to resume his pacing and muttering.
* * * * *
The Next Night
Goliath shattered his stone skin with a fierce flex of his muscles. Demona, who stood before him, snarled like a panther as she broke free of her own stone casing. Then they turned as one to watch as the rest of the clan awoke, and were greeted by a surprise. The castle was full of humans tonight. There was a bustle in the air that was not usually common for Castle Wyvern.
"What do you suppose is going on?" asked Demona in confusion, turning tentatively to Goliath.
Goliath shook his head and climbed atop his perch to dive down and take a look. "I don't know," he said as he opened his wings and lifted off. "I will endeavor to find out."
Demona watched him go, then glided away herself.
* * * * *
Hudson gently alighted next to Prince Malcolm, who stood surveying all the preparations for the coming wedding between himself and Elena.
"My prince," Hudson greeted, and Malcolm turned to him. "I dinna mean ta disturb ye yuir highness, but I am wondering... what is happening here." He gestured towards the hustle and bustle and all of the newcomers wearing fine clothing. "My clan and I awoke to this and are rather," he sighed helplessly, "confused."
Prince Malcolm chuckled and waved a hand. "'Tis nothin' alarming, old friend," he reassured the gargoyle as he watched the crowds. "Only the guests for mine and Elena's wedding. They have all come to help with the preparations and to rejoice with us when the day finally comes." He drew in a deep, wistful breath of the surrounding air, reveling in it as if it smelled of sweet perfume. His smile lifted.
Hudson grinned at Malcolm’s elation and turned towards the grounds again. "I'm sure they're not used ta gargoyles bein' about," he said and patted his friend's shoulder. "I'm glad for you, this night. I remember my own ceremony when I was mated to my beloved. I wish you both the best of luck."
Malcolm nodded sincerely. "Thank you," he said, turning earnestly to the old gargoyle. "I hope you and yuir clan plan to attend."
Hudson released an exasperated sigh as he beheld the bustling humans, half-familiar faces and half alien. "Actually, I think we'll stay out o' the way," he said with a chuckle. "I think we'd only find ourselves swept under foot."
Malcolm chuckled. "Perhaps, old friend," he said. "Perhaps."
Hudson quirked an eyeridge. "Where is your young ward in all this?"
Malcolm breathed. "Ah, Marcus. He’s been training very hard, you know. For the event." Then his complexion faded. "My including him in the ceremony has put a bit of a hindrance on his lessons with the Archmage. He’s a good lad, but the devotion he shows to that art... is subtly unnerving." He looked to Hudson for agreement, and the gargoyle gave it with a firm nod. "Still," he digressed, "I suppose... one day... he may grow into a fabulous magician. Though hopefully decidedly less dark than his teacher." He grinned, and Hudson smiled in return.
"It’s just... I do wish the lad could take up more normal... and well, yes.... mundane, studies. You know what I mean. History, reading, and writing - besides Latin. To these areas of study I can identify, and so can others. They earn respect and status, not... ostracism." His voice lowered. "Somehow, I doubt his mother would’ve approved."
Hudson nodded his understanding, humored by Malcolm’s euphoria.
* * * * *
Asrial grunted as yet another human bumped into her. All of this fuss was driving her crazy. So far there were seamstresses, cooks, serving staff... and that was only naming the ones she could identify with confidence. From overhearing the conversations of the various humans, it was all for the wedding of Princess Elena to Prince Malcolm, something that had been planned for a while now. She recalled mention of it at some earlier point, but like most castle events she paid very little attention to it. But now it was actually starting to commence. She surmised that what she was experiencing was the bustle of the night directly preceding the ceremony. At least, she hoped.
Her tower, although she couldn’t see it above the heads of so many humans, she knew to be just up ahead. Many of her clan seemed to be dealing with the same thing she was. All of the commotion was too much for them. For a taste of irony, she was actually one of the few directly confronting it. Those who didn’t wholly leave the premises to take glides, took to higher perches to watch from a distance. She glanced up at some of the latter, silhouettes against the dim moonlight. Looking up at them, she got the feeling of being swept along a rapid river, her siblings all on ledges above the water, observing safely.
The hatchlings were another matter. In a small out-of-the-way portion of the castle, the clan's children laughed and played together, sometimes bringing in a few of the older groups to join in their happy antics. This made Asrial grin, because a few of her rookery brothers were there too. Even Javin was there, and he seemed a little more open than he had ever been before. Some of the clan still tended to steer clear of him, but it was a lingering feeling. One that she supposed would vanish altogether soon. He looked up at her and nodded a hello. She politely returned the greeting.
"Oof!!" she yelped suddenly, and stumbled back in surprise. Her eyes gleamed as she saw she’d made her way to the stairwell leading up to her tower, then they refocused on the person she’d bumped into and grew vacant. "Hello, Marcus," she said apprehensively.
The boy looked up at her with horrified eyes. He stepped decisively away from her, the book he carried in his hands momentarily forgotten. In a crowd, running into one of the beasts was not as heartstopping, but it being her, he was swept into fear. Of retaliation for what he said to her last night, perhaps, in the deep recesses of his subconscious.
"No, it's all right, I won't hurt you," Asrial said quickly. "I'm sorry for bumping you, I didn't see you."
Marcus didn't say anything.
Asrial sighed heavily, then inched away, trying hard not to frighten him further. "I'm sorry, Marcus," she said gently, then quickly turned and left for the stairs.
Marcus watched her go, relief taking the form of a deep sigh. He stood where he was for a minute before he was startled by a sudden Thud! He jumped and turned to look as a huge lavender male straightened in front of him. A great snorting breath exited his nostrils, and he watched carefully the departing back of his rookery sister, Asrial.
Terrified, Marcus stepped back, his foot gently pushing aside a pebble that rested at his feet. This caught the gargoyle’s attention and the burly male turned to gaze down at Marcus, surprised. The gargoyle seemed curious at seeing Marcus, and even a little suspicious. The two of them held gazes for a moment before Marcus finally turned and ran.
Goliath watched Marcus for a moment, raising an eyeridge. Then he sighed unconcernedly and walked away. He needed to speak with Asrial. He had decided he would take her up on her offer on talking to her about Demona whenever he needed to, and right now he needed too.
* * * * *
Goliath found Asrial just a few feet away from her tower talking to one of their rookery sisters. Both of them turned to greet him with mild surprise, the other sister seeming to beam with excitement. What could her Second want?
"Sister?" asked Goliath, placing a hand on Asrial's shoulder. "May I have a word with you?"
Asrial nodded, excusing herself from her rookery sister. "Of course, brother," she said cheerily. "What do you need?"
Goliath sighed hesitantly as he lead her off to the side, further still away from her workshop. "I have decided to take you up on your offer, sister. I have found a recent need to talk to someone about some - concerns that I have."
"Very well, brother," Asrial concurred soberly. "What do you need to talk about?"
Goliath rubbed the back of his head with uncertainty as he sat beside her. "Well, I think..." he began, then stopped. He was silent for a moment, then looked at Asrial. "Do you think our red-haired sister is more in love with my position than with me?"
Asrial regarded Goliath with surprise. "What do you mean?"
"Well," Goliath said as he clasped his hands nervously, "I was speaking with my brother the other night and he seemed to think that maybe my sister loves me for my position. He made a good point on how she has begun to pay more attention to me lately because I am now Second." He shook his head and looked at her again. "I know it can’t be true, but the point he made has had me wondering lately."
Asrial nodded slowly, taking it all in. Then she smiled and said, "I too have noticed this change. But I doubt it has anything to do with your recent position. She seems to be around more, free of whatever phantom obligations she was tied to before." She smiled reassuringly and grasped his shoulders. "Our sister has a good heart, brother. You needn't fear that she doesn't love you for who you are. I know that she does."
"I know," Goliath said with a sigh. "I know that my concerns can't be true, but now..." He paused. "Now that the thought has occurred to me, I can't seem to be rid of it." He looked at her. "It is important for me to know that she loves me for who I am. Far too often in the past, nearly every rookery sister in the clan was vying for my attention. I was seen more or less as a prize. A body with strength and many other things. The female who has the ‘lavender beauty’ is a special one indeed." He sighed, wrinkling his nose. It was the most overt show of petulance Asrial had ever seen in her brother.
"I realize most of their intentions were innocent, but - I never felt comfortable with the way they spoke to me or approached me. And I was always too nervous to say anything because I didn't want to turn around and seem ungrateful."
Asrial smiled. "Unfortunately, I can't really relate to your blight, brother. But I do know that you have a right to answer for yourself and tell others that you need your personal space. There's nothing wrong with that."
"Yes, I know," Goliath said, and a few moments of silence fell. "I just wish that there was a way for me to know for sure that our sister loves me for me. As I love her... I love her, with all my heart. Everything I have."
Asrial forced a smile as Goliath grew absent. She patted his shoulder before standing. "Just trust her, brother. You'll find what you need to know eventually."
She blushed, and added lightly, "Without trust, there can be no clan."
* * * * *
Demona approached the three young troublemakers, smirking to herself when she heard them begin to whisper amongst themselves that she was coming.
"What have you three been up to?" she asked them playfully, as all three snapped to attention in unison.
"Uh, nothing," the large turquoise one responded.
"He’s right," the green one agreed, nodding his head.
"Nothing happening here," the red one finalized.
"Oh," Demona replied, nodding her head deliberately, "Well then, I’ll just be going. But it would be a shame if you’ve gotten yourselves into another mess like the one involving the broken egg..."
"Oh, no, it’s nothing like that!" the blue one assured instantly. His white-haired rookery brother slapped a hand to his face, as their smaller, green brother sunk his shoulders in defeat.
"Oh... so there is something going on, after all," Demona said, her tone betraying her humor. "You know," she proceeded, bending down to her hands on her knees, "I was able to help you out of your first mess."
Blue tapped his fingers anxiously, eyeing his two brothers. He was about to speak, when his red brother cut him off. In a hushed whisper that was supposed to be inaudible to Demona, he said, "Better not. Remember, she’s close to the Second." Understanding seemed to dawn on his blue brother’s features.
Demona smiled, her heart lifting at the mention of them being close, as she drew in a wistful breath.
* * * * *
"That's right," Demona’s voice declared, "I'm very close to the Second."
Goliath stopped cold upon the declaration, and looked below him to where Demona stood facing the three young rookery brothers. A sinking feeling began to swell in his chest, as if his heart was being drawn down by a heavy anchor. After a moment’s deliberation, he pivoted his wings to swoop down to the scene.
As he descended, he heard one of the trio declare, "You might be mated to him one day." He saw the contented smile on Demona’s face, before she caught sight of him. He quickly looked away so their gazes wouldn’t lock. Demona looked back to the youngsters, dismissing them.
She did this just as Goliath alighted before them. Demona could sense something wrong with Goliath, but she smiled in spite of the indication. Goliath returned the smile, but it was hollow.
The trio seemed uneasy under the intimidating shadow of the Clan Second, almost sheepish, as if they’d been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
"Brother," said Demona, "I was just speaking with our little brothers. They were being mischievous again." She turned to them. "Were you not?"
The trio grinned with that same sheepish manner, and Goliath grinned and shook his head despite the things that were weighing on him. "Go on, little brothers," Goliath told them gently. "You're not in any trouble - at least not yet. Now, if you'll excuse us I'd like a few words with our sister."
The trio nodded and quickly scampered off. Goliath and Demona watched them go for a moment before Goliath finally motioned for her to sit. Demona sat beside her love and waited for him to speak. When he didn't, her eyes fell into despair.
"Brother? What is it you want to talk to me about?"
Goliath looked at his sister nervously. He didn't know which words would be the best to use. "I’d like to know..." He stopped, frustrated with himself. He realized that maybe he didn't want to know the answer he sought from her. He was fearful of it.
"Brother?" Demona prompted, seeing his hesitation, "Whatever it is, you know you can tell me."
"Well, I..." he began, but was cut off by a loud cry. Goliath was relieved, but then concerned, as he and Demona looked in the direction of the outburst. It had come from Asrial’s tower.
"Quickly, with me!" Goliath shouted, snapping into action. He and Demona took wing, gliding low over the crowd of humans that shrieked and shrank back as they past. When they arrived, they found that Iago and Othello were already there. They were both bracketing a shambles, something that looked like the remains of one of Asrial's inventions.
"What in the..." Demona hissed, and rushed inside the tower with Goliath alongside. They found Asrial kneeling on the floor with Desdemona sitting next to her, trying to calm her down.
"What happened here?!" Goliath boomed in concern as he knelt next to Asrial. "Sister, what happened?"
Asrial looked up at him. After taking a few breaths, she seemed to calm down considerably. "My cleaning machine is ruined!" she cried grievously. "Someone deliberately fiddled with it, and now it's ruined!"
Desdemona added in a low voice, "Fiddle does not do justice to the state of the machine. It is in shambles."
Demona nodded. "We saw it."
Growling angrily, Goliath turned back to his sister. "Who did this?" he asked, in what would have been construed as a demand to anyone else. "Do you know who did this?" His voice reverberated with his fury, and he suggested accusingly, "Marcus..."
Asrial sighed thoughtfully. "I didn’t think he’d act on his threat..." She sniffed. "But I did run into him just outside the tower before coming up. He seemed very on edge."
Goliath's eyes flashed white. Little doubt now remained in his mind of who was guilty. "I saw him there as well," he bellowed with authority. "He must be responsible."
"This is awful," said Demona as she helped Asrial to stand.
"It is," Desdemona agreed, "But, brother, do you know for sure that this Marcus is responsible?"
Asrial sighed heavily as she began to pick up the last of her machine. Demona and Goliath watched her, both hesitant to let anyone but Asrial tend to it. Goliath’s anger built with each scrap she picked up. It was destroyed utterly. There was no way she could possibly rebuild it, unless from scratch.
Goliath breathed in slowly to relax his tensed muscles. "You’re right, sister," he replied to Desdemona, "we cannot know for sure. But at the moment," he watched Asrial, "he is the only suspect."
Demona turned to Goliath. "Something must be done about this. The evidence we have must be acted upon. We should question Marcus."
Goliath shook his head. "No, Marcus is a human. He falls under Prince Malcolm’s authority. It is no one but Leader's place to look into this. I will report it, but he will need to bring it before the Prince."
"But Leader isn't here, brother," Othello reminded as he approached Goliath.
At Goliath’s blank response, Desdemona explained, "Leader left the castle with some of the clan to visit his friend, the blacksmith."
"And in the Leader's absence," Othello continued, "it is the Second's job to take charge of the situation." He slammed his fist into his palm for emphasis.
Goliath growled with uncertainty. His own anger, while controlled, was still present, and every point of Othello’s argument seemed to draw it to the surface further. It was making it difficult to think.
"The Prince is occupied with the wedding arrangements now," Asrial pointed out meekly. "We probably shouldn’t bother him. It wouldn’t be right."
Othello seized on Asrial’s words. "Our sister is right, brother, the Prince is so preoccupied with his marriage that he will not pay any mind to this! The only option is to seek Marcus out ourselves."
"And take justice into our own hands?" Desdemona challenged. "It is not our place to govern the humans."
"But my love, he has intruded on us. That makes it our right," Othello defended.
"Our right to hunt down this boy like vigilantes?"
Othello threw up his arms with a frustrated growl, and Desdemona turned back to look at Goliath. "Do not take any rash action, my brother."
Iago, who had been observing the exchanges passively, saw an opportunity with Goliath’s indecision. "If you can’t take action against this boy," he announced acidly, "then perhaps Leader chose the wrong gargoyle to be Second." Othello stayed decisively silent, but it was written on his face that he clearly agreed with Iago. "Perhaps you don't have the courage to do what must be done."
Goliath bristled in anger, as Desdemona whirled on their brother with repressed fury. She knew what he was trying to do, and she wasn't about to let him do it. "That is enough," she scolded him. "Let our brother decide what action is best to take, and allow him the space in which to do so."
Goliath, buckling under the pressure of everyone else’s opinions and his own anger threatening to break the boiling point, looked to Demona for help. "Sister, what do you think I should do?"
"You are the Second in Command," she replied firmly. "So act like the Second in Command."
The words took a few minutes to sink in, but then Goliath could not hold back any longer. He roared with anger. Raising a fist dramatically, he confronted Demona. "Is that all I am to you?!" he cried, "the Second?!"
Before Demona could respond, Goliath stormed off, leaving his astonished siblings in his wake.
Desdemona turned and glared furiously at Iago, who only turned away and kept on grinning, as Demona looked after Goliath’s exit with shaky eyes.
* * * * *
Goliath's mind was in a whirl. He was too angry to think. He had become pressured from other members of his rookery. Desdemona had been the only one to really jump to his defense, which angered him further, because Demona should have been the first to do that.
He bunched his fists together as he circled the parapets, unconscious of the disturbance to the humans below, who looked up to see his massive silhouette flying furiously above their heads with brightly glowing eyes.
He was still circling the castle, trying to let the cool air soothe his anger, and perhaps hoping the problem would eventually be swept away on the breezes, when he spotted a small boy sitting on one of the ocean-facing walls. His eyes narrowed as he neared the boy, and he confirmed that it was Marcus, his head in a book, obviously studying.
Still seething, he came to a point over top of the boy and folded his wings to let himself drop. Marcus noticed Goliath’s shadow pass over, but didn’t look up before the heavy gargoyle landed with a deafening Thud! mere inches in front of him. The stone cracked under his feet, his strong taloned toes gripping it fiercely. Marcus looked into the brightly-blazing eyes of the huge beast, and almost felt their heat. With talons bared, Goliath roared, "Did you destroy it?! Did you destroy her machine?!"
Marcus jumped back, screaming in terror and dropping his book. He hesitated for a moment, his breath caught in his throat, staring in horror-struck awe at Goliath as his heart threatened to suffocate him. Goliath stayed his ground, waiting for the answer. Instead, Marcus broke into a run.
Goliath leapt onto all fours and chased after him down the battlements. Marcus felt himself trembling as he ran, tripping and swerving as he went. He couldn’t stop heaving, drowning in his fear and gasping for air. He stopped when Goliath leapt over him and landed, again, in front. Goliath reached forward and grabbed him.
Marcus found himself in the claws of the giant, being held up by his arm. He tried to squirm free, but it was impossible.
Goliath repeated his question. "Did you destroy her machine?!" Goliath snarled, and Marcus cried out. "Did you destroy it?!"
Marcus shook his head feverishly, shaking with terror. "N-no! No!" he cried. "I was never near it! I-I don't even know what it looks like."
Before Goliath could continue this line of questioning, someone landed on the battlements beside him. His eyes glanced to the side to see Hudson. They lost their glow upon the sight of his leader.
"Lad!" Hudson cried, his eyes reflecting his horror. "What the devil do ye think yuir doin'? Put the lad down now!"
Goliath breathed a growl, and looked back at Marcus. He hesitated for a moment as he locked gazes with the frightened boy. Then he gently set the lad down and turned slowly to Hudson. Marcus wasted no time scrambling to his feet and racing away. Goliath’s anger almost completely subsided in the shock of seeing Hudson, and now the reality of what he’d done was beginning to sink in, as Hudson laid it out to him in heated words.
"You were attacking that boy, lad!" he began to lecture, not hesitating to show his anger. "You know the importance of maintainin’ peaceful relations. If ye have a problem with even one, we need to report it to Prince Malcolm, not rush off in a rage and attack him. Especially not a wee child!"
Goliath shuddered and looked away guiltily. A sickening feeling was already forming in his stomach, as if he were falling ill.
"We as gargoyles must not take it upon ourselves to discipline the humans," Hudson went on, stepping closer to Goliath, "Or else we risk disruptin’ the fragile balance of harmony within th’ castle." He sighed heavily as he gazed at his Second, anger showing plainly on his face. As the realizing expression on Goliath’s face finally began to set in, he felt the anger lessen and sympathy swelled in its place, but not uncoupled with extreme disappointment.
He went on, more candidly, "The others briefed me on what happened in my absence. I got back just in time, it would seem." He paused. "Tell me, lad, what would ye have done had I not showed up? The boy’s answer was no. Were ye acceptin’ that? If not... what would ye have done to get the answer ye wanted?"
Goliath didn’t reply. His eyes only deepened with horrific realization. He remembered the feeling of loss and desperation at that moment. What would he have done?
"Whatever else is goin' on, ye canna' let it affect yuir level-headedness and judgement'."
The older gargoyle sighed.
"I must say, I'm very disappointed in ye, lad," Hudson said solemnly. "In this first true test of yuir position, ye’ve failed. I wonder if I made the right choice for Second when I chose ye."
Goliath stared at Hudson, stunned, unable to speak. He only hung his head in shame, quenching the burning sensation that he felt in his eyes. It was a sensation he never remembered feeling before. Out through his quenched eyelids, a few tears slipped out.
As Hudson debated how to act, others began to arrive. Goliath remained there, like a monument to his own failure, for all to see. When Desdemona laid eyes on him, she lowered her gaze sorrowfully. Othello looked on in pain, feeling himself shudder at the thought of being in his brother’s position. Asrial was there as well, stunned-looking, with hurt in her eyes. In the back, Iago shifted uncomfortably. He wanted to take joy in what he was seeing, but even he couldn’t help feeling disturbed by it.
Hudson ground his teeth. He thought about what Desdemona and Asrial had told him concerning the outburst with Demona. Perhaps Goliath was in need of some discipline in more areas than one. Hudson sighed, a sigh that signaled he’d come to a decision.
"Lad," Hudson said, causing Goliath to flinch somewhat, "I've decided ta temporarily remove ye from yuir position as Second in Command. It'll stay that way till I decide on a course of action."
Goliath looked up, mortified. All around him his brothers and sisters were gathered, all but Demona. With no words spoken, Goliath left.
From afar, Javin watched Goliath’s exit, his mouth gaped. This couldn’t be. The noblest warrior of the clan. The respected of all the elders. Second in Command.
Javin’s own tribunal had not been so harsh. He had but to weather his brothers and sisters as they passed. Goliath was on display. His head hung in disgrace.
No, this wasn’t right. Goliath disgraced, while he stood back and watched safely. The thought made his stomach turn.
* * * * *
Goliath collapsed onto a parapet in a deserted area of the castle. There weren’t many such spots this night, with all the humans about. But they didn’t bother him. His only concern was escaping his clan mates.
From a corner, there was a rustling sound. Goliath heard it, but paid it little mind. He remained seated, his head sunk into his palm as he thought over what he’d done, the stripping of his position, and what repercussions were yet to be seen.
Javin approached tentatively. "Brother?" he called softly.
Goliath looked up with surprise to see his brown-skinned rookery brother standing before him. "Brother," he returned inaudibly, his voice failing him. He cleared his throat, and tried again. "Brother."
Javin rubbed his arm anxiously as he took in Goliath, in his defeated pose. The unwavering demeanor of the once proud warrior had been reduced to a sagging, lifeless cradle of his former self.
"Brother," he repeated, "I’ve come... because I saw what happened... as everyone did, or will learn of shortly. I just... I wanted to tell you, that I stand by you. That I am here for you." He gulped, as his voice began to constrict. "Because when I came back from the cave that night with our sister, and the truth came out about what I did, she stood by me... as much as she could... even though everyone else was... horrified, and appalled, by what I’d done. And when you came back, brother, you forgave me. You forgave me without any forethought, any hesitance, any doubt..."
Goliath looked up, and Javin’s eyes shook upon making contact with his. "I see you as you are, and I cannot help but feel disturbed. As I did in the cave, when I had you at my feet. Because you’d been too honorable to fight me as I’d fought you. No matter what you’ve done, brother, I know one thing. That it was not motivated by anything dishonorable, or selfish, or uncaring. Because it is not in your nature to be those things."
Goliath blinked, touched. But his melancholy did not lift. "I thank you, my brother. But I have lost my position as Second. Regardless of my motivation, I have disgraced myself. And there is no way I can make amends. Not to our leader... not to our blue sister. And right now, I’m not even certain what I should be feeling over the latter. Did I lose her, or was there nothing true to lose in the beginning?"
Javin narrowed his eyes on Goliath, taking a seat beside him. "What’s more important to you, brother, your position or your love?"
Goliath looked up, startled. "I..."
"I have seen you two together. You love each other, but because of your position, you have lost her." Javin went on, knowing he was going on a limb. "Who really let their position influence them?" Goliath’s eyes lost their focus, Javin’s words sinking in. "To reclaim your love, brother, you must forego your position. You put it before her. Now you must put her before it."
Goliath straightened, causing Javin’s eyes to widen. "You are right, brother," he concluded. They met gazes, and Goliath drew in a deep, rejuvenating breath. "I never thought of you as any less than my brother, but now I would like to think of you as my friend." He extended his hand.
Javin stared it him for a moment, overwhelmed, then took it. They locked each other’s arms in a traditional warrior handshake.
* * * * *
Demona took refuge under the shadow of one of the western towers, her face in her hands as she sobbed quietly to herself. Images of her beloved standing before Leader with his head bowed in shame and disgrace before all their rookery flashed in her mind. She felt a vice constricting her heart, strangling her from inside her chest, and all she could do was sob. It wasn’t relieving the pain, but she couldn’t do anything else.
She had approached the scene just as their leader made his pronouncement to Goliath. She had stopped, unable to come nearer. Staring at the backs of her rookery brethren, and beyond them, atop the battlement, her love, all pride extracted from him, she could not face it. She could not face any of them, especially Goliath. Because it was her fault.
With Diomedes, it had been her lack of communication that spelled the end of their relationship. But since then, things had changed. Goliath was more accepting of her secrets than Diomedes had been, and as a result, she felt more comfortable around him. Goliath seemed to love her for who she was, and nothing else. The Archmage began to spend less time with her, following the arrival of Marcus, and she had done little to deter this. His lack of attention towards her seemed the ideal circumstance. With her lessons out of the way, she could devote her time to her love instead. Oh, she still wanted her magic - that need would always burn in her bones and soul - but she wanted her love as well. A burden seemed to lift as she came to this realization.
But despite all this, she’d still managed somehow to do something wrong. Her shoulders slumped in dejection, again. She did not know what it was, only that it was her fault. How could it be anyone else’s? And now, she’d not only ruined their relationship, she’d cost Goliath his position as well!
From behind her, concealed in shadow, someone heard her weeping. He watched the young female, her body convulsing with every sob, observing with a precautionary stare. At last, he approached, his body slowly melting out of the shadows.
Demona heard his approaching footsteps, and looked up. Her eyes gazed on the face of her visitor in agony. Her first impulse was to wipe away the tears, and stand at attention. Weakness would surely earn her admonishment. But to her surprise, he did not appear to be disapproving.
"My poor child," he said as he stepped up to her, what appeared to be genuine sympathy reflecting in his eyes. The usually icy blue countenance was now somehow softer and more caring. "What ever is the matter?"
Demona sniffed and blinked her eyes as she rose gradually to receive him. "It is nothing, Archmage," she tried to assure him.
"Nonsense," the sorcerer insisted, reaching forward. She felt herself shrink and flinch slightly under his touch, expecting it to be hard, but found it to be gentle instead. She looked up into his eyes with genuine surprise. "You must tell me, child. What has happened? Who has hurt you?"
"No one," she answered hastily. Her eyes darted to the side. "I’ve hurt myself."
"You mustn’t be so hard on yourself," the Archmage replied. "You did all you could. You gave him all you had. It is not your fault that things have ended the way they have."
The words caused Demona to grow cold, but the Archmage continued. "I have missed my apprentice. I know that you have great potential, and I would like to see you realize it. I have neglected you, I admit. That was wrong of me. But can you forgive me, and come back?"
Demona hesitated, but finally relented. "I would like that."
The Archmage smiled broadly. "There we are, then." Demona smiled in return meekly, her tears still fresh on her face. "That’s right, that’s what I want to see. A nice, big smile. I will leave you now. Remember that I am here for you. You will come later tonight to resume your lessons?"
Demona nodded, and the Archmage drew back. With a smile still on his face, he turned from her. As he did the smile twisted into a satisfied grin. Marcus had his advantages, but lately those had become more and more offset. This latest development with the wedding proved to him that his original apprentice might still have some use. Pleased with his success in re-acquiring her, he walked off.
Behind him, he heard someone new arrive; a gargoyle, by the sound of the footfalls and caping wings. He glanced back to see the lavender gargoyle present, and melted back into the shadows, unobtrusively.
Goliath and Demona held each other’s eyes. "Leader... has assigned me here, on the battlement," Goliath explained numbly. "He has assigned posts to everyone of our rookery, for Princess Elena’s arrival."
Demona nodded. "She is to arrive shortly, then?"
Goliath nodded. "Yes, to be wed tomorrow eve."
A silence ensued. Then, Demona asked, "Do you still love me?"
Goliath’s eyes filled with agony. "That is what I wanted to ask you."
Demona reacted with unveiled surprise as she asked, "Why?"
Goliath’s shoulders slumped as he looked gloomily toward the ground. "Because I am no longer Second."
Demona stared at Goliath with wide, unbelieving eyes. Understanding swept over her, and she stepped quickly up to him, laying her hands on his arms and acquiring his gaze. "Of course I still love you! I love you for who you are, not what you are... but I couldn’t live with myself if I cost you your position, for what it means to you."
Goliath embraced her, overwhelmed with relief. He closed his eyes, holding her to him, and Demona returned the affection with ardor. "I’ve lost my position, the only thing that would have been worse is losing you... I would not have been able to live with myself. I love you." Demona didn’t respond, but strengthened her embrace as she buried her head in his chest.
* * * * *
Prince Malcolm stood with regal formality to receive the caravan as it came through the castle gates. Malcolm smiled as he laid eyes on the Norman ambassador, but at searching the rest of the caravan, his face fell.
"We are much pleased at your safe arrival, Ambassador. But where, prithee tell, is my bride?"
* * * * *
Goliath stood atop the tower watching his younger self and his Angel of the Night embrace on the battlement below. He sighed, filling with melancholy. He remembered the moment well; it was etched into his memory, never to be forgotten. The happiest moment of his life, that he could recall, prior to the Viking attack.
His thoughts were interrupted by a swoop of wings as someone landed behind him. "You're away from your post, lad. I said the battlements, not the tower."
Goliath turned to behold his old mentor, as he was before becoming so. He stalled in his words, as the rugged, old warrior examined him critically. "Lad, is that you?"
Goliath could not respond, nor keep his mentor from crossing the tower and looking over the side to see his former self and Demona parting in their passionate embrace. Hudson started, whirling on Goliath. "Sorcery!" he exclaimed, overtaken in alarm. Goliath muffled him with his hand.
* * * * *
The Norman ambassador regarded the anxious Prince Malcolm. "It was hoped that by travelling in secret we could avoid the attentions of rogues and thieves."
"We were wrong," a feminine voice added, catching Malcolm’s attention. A woman pulled back her hood to reveal herself as the Lady Elena. Malcolm’s eyes beamed. From behind, the Archmage approached with an apprehensive look on his face. He seemed to search for something.
Princess Elena went on, "But zeez kind strangers rescued us most valiantly... and saved my life." She pointed to three newcomers. One, a man of esteemed appearance, but dressed in a strange, silk-like black garment, stepped forward.
David Xanatos bowed gallantly.
To be continued...