Previously on GARGOYLES:
BROOKLYN: Who is this Macbeth guy, anyway?
LEXINGTON: The name sounds kind of familiar. Wait a minute! Goliath was talking last night about a play with that name, by some new writer named Shakespeare.
BROOKLYN: Ever read it?
BROOKLYN: Maybe we should.
BROOKLYN: That Shakespeare guy even wrote a play about them. "A Midsummer
BROOKLYN: Parting is such sweet sorrow.
The darkened exhibit room was briefly lit up by a fiery glow, as Brooklyn and the Phoenix Gate materialized in the middle of it. The red gargoyle landed atop one of the display cases, with a whoomph. Grumbling, he sat up, and looked about him.
"Well, this obviously isn't the Eyrie Building," he said aloud, irritably. "Again." He glowered at the Gate in his hands. "You really could hurry up getting me back home, you know," he said to it. "What's taking you so long about it, anyway?"
With a sigh, he climbed down from the case, and looked about him. Nobody was about, and the lights of the room were all off. Fortunately, his vision was keen enough in the gloom, thanks to being a member of a nocturnal species, that he was able to make out his surroundings.
"Looks like some kinda museum," he said aloud, examining things. "Wish I knew where, though. And when. Why couldn't the Gate have had one of those little contraptions installed in it like all the other time machines, that lets you know what year it is? It would really make life a lot easier for me."
He looked at the display case that he had landed on. A small assortment of ancient-looking bronze knives and other such objects lay on the cushion within it. The label read, "Artifacts of the Beaker People".
Brooklyn looked down at the Gate. "You really have a weird sense of humor."
Footsteps suddenly sounded in an adjacent corridor, some ways off but drawing closer. Brooklyn stiffened. "Oh, perfect," he muttered to himself, in a lower voice. He quickly dove behind the display case and crouched down low on the floor, barely even daring to breathe as the night watchman drew closer. Any moment now, he would be entering the room.
"All right," he whispered to the talisman in his hand. "You got me into this, how about getting me out of it? You've got just a couple of minutes before the guy comes in here."
The watchman's footsteps drew even closer, and the glimmer of his flashlight came into view at the far end of the hall. Brooklyn held his breath. And then, the Gate suddenly began to glow again.
"Thanks," muttered Brooklyn, even as the Phoenix Flame enveloped him and the Gate. And then the world around them vanished, to be replaced by another.
Snow clouds were scudding rapidly across the night sky above a stone castle, leaving cold glittering stars in their wake. A young man, pale-haired and pale-faced, clad in black tunic and trousers, stood on the castle's battlements and stared upward into the night. He gave an abrupt, convulsive shiver and looked down.
Pale hands tucked a black wolf's-fur mantle over his shoulders from behind. "It's getting cold out here, Amleth," said a gentle voice.
"Margrethe," he said quietly, without turning around.
The young woman standing behind him pulled her own gray fur cloak more tightly about her shoulders, her coiled blonde braids gleaming in the starlight. "Your mother the queen is worried about you," she told him.
"Is she indeed?" Amleth did not attempt to disguise the bitterness in his voice. "Did she send you to me?"
"You know better than that," Margrethe said in mild reproach.
The young prince dropped his face onto his folded arms, closing his eyes. "Yes, of course I do, Margrethe. Forgive me." A note of self-mockery slid into his muffled voice. "There is no reason I should be a churl as well as a craven."
She moved to rest her hands on the battlement beside him, and for a moment they just stood there. "They're still at the Yule feasting below," she said after a while.
Amleth raised his head and grimaced. "Kettledrums and mead. I can hear them from here."
"Just as well you weren't there," Margrethe said, with an impish smile. "It gave me an excuse to leave for a while." She ran her hand along the stone railing beside him, her smile fading. "You still wear black."
"Another worry for my lady mother." He gave a gusty sigh. "She fears that my continued mourning means," and his voice went sharp and bitter again, "that I do not accept her new husband as a father."
"Imagine that." She watched him with concern. "Won't you come inside? Even if you don't join the revel? Gerutha is not the only one worried about you. I'd not have you do yourself injury."
He gave her a painful smile. "That's two people, then."
Margrethe sighed. "Amleth, please come in. You've been ill before with the cold." She paused. "They'll be wondering where I am. I should go."
"I'll come inside in a minute." He reached for her hand and held it a brief moment, then released her. "Rest you gentle, Margrethe."
"Sleep you sound." She lifted the skirt of her gray wool dress and disappeared into the tower. Faintly, from within, he could hear her footsteps going down the stone stairs.
Amleth turned and gazed upward again. The clouds were nearly gone now, and he could see most of the stars, hanging in their frost-patterns in the winter sky. He found the pattern that the Greek and Roman astronomers had called Orion the Hunter, and tracked downward to the bright Dog-star.
It was the stillness of the night that saved him, that allowed him to hear the faint whistle through the air where there was no wind. He jerked aside and turned at the same time, and the iron club that would have crushed his skull instead cracked against the stone battlements.
Amleth's hand went for his knife, and the world before his eyes was a flickering of disjointed images: the man with the club was far larger than himself, wearing fur, his head bare, a small wicked throwing-axe at his belt -- a brightness of red fire in the air above him -- the battlements at his back, stone solid and unyielding -- the jeweled dagger whirled through the air as the iron bar knocked it from his hand, and the assassin raised it high --
And a clawed red hand caught hold of the club, wrenched it from the man's grasp, hurled it from the balcony. Amleth had a blurred, confused impression of glowing white eyes and white hair, a sharp muzzle and back-curving horns, and a whirl of leathery wings; the assassin was jerked off of his feet and into the air, and then a winged figure was standing on the battlements and holding the man by the front of his fur tunic, dangling him in midair off the balcony.
The winged creature turned to look directly at him, the white glow in its eyes fading. Its skin was red as riverbank clay, its face swept forward in what he now saw was more a beak than a muzzle. The horns that curved back from its brow held back a wild mane of shaggy white hair; wings sprang from its shoulders, and a long tail switched back and forth like that of an angry tree-cat. Amleth braced himself against the wall and tensed to fight for his life.
And then the creature opened its beak and spoke to him. "Are you all right?"
His breath was still coming quick, heaving in great gulps of the frosty air. Unable to speak, shaking in delayed reaction, he nodded.
"Don't be afraid," it said, its voice low and husky and oddly gentle. "My name's Brooklyn. I'm a gargoyle. I won't hurt you."
"You..." Amleth breathed the word like a prayer. "You saved my life." He shook his head, sharply, and tried to speak with a little more formality and steadiness. "I am Amleth, son of Horvendil King-that-was, and I thank you."
The -- gargoyle? -- paused for a moment, looking from him to the man it still held at arm's length over the drop to the stones far far below them. "Do you know who this guy is? And why he was trying to kill you?"
Amleth opened his mouth to speak, and the man gave a sudden twist, pulling his tunic free of the clawed hand that held him. The creature let out a cry of dismay and grabbed for the man again, but its talons closed on air as Amleth rushed to the parapet and hung over it, looking down.
The assassin made no sound as he fell into the dark below.
The young prince struck the parapet with his open palm in frustration. "I do not know who he was," he said, low. "Nor who he served."
"Well, it looks like someone wants you dead," the gargoyle said. "Could there be more of them?"
"No," Amleth started to say, then paused. "There may be. I did not know there were as many as one." He stared over the edge of the parapet for a moment longer, then turned away. "Will you come with me inside? If there are others, I would as soon not beard them this far from any aid." He lowered his head, and laughed quietly.
"What's so funny?" the winged creature wanted to know.
"Nothing of importance," Amleth told him, almost merrily. "Only that they have been telling me for some time that my wits are diseased, and I but wonder if they do not have the right of it after all. Are you certain you're not an hallucination?"
"Ninety-five percent positive," it said dryly. "Can we go inside?"
Brooklyn followed the prince down the stairs that led spiralling down from the tower top. The stairway was only dimly lit by an occasional pinewood torch, but the gargoyle seemed to have no trouble finding his way down. Before long, they reached a corridor, and Amleth led Brooklyn down it, slowly and cautiously, until they reached a door. Amleth looked about cautiously, then opened the door and ushered Brooklyn inside.
Brooklyn looked at Amleth's quarters, and let out a low whistle. "Nice place you've got here," he said. His eyes widened as he looked at the books and scrolls on the small wooden shelf, the writing desk with a small stack of parchment scrolls upon it, and even a map of the stars placed on one of the walls. "You read a lot?"
"I have a scholar's tastes, yes," said Amleth, nodding. "It's an oddity I have. The nobles think that learning is foolishness." He shook his head, a bitter look upon his face. "While they busy themselves with fighting, hunting, and carousing. Nearly every night, they feast and drink in my uncle's hall, long into the night. And they call these a waste of a man's time." He indicated the books and scrolls.
Brooklyn shrugged. "You're the prince, aren't you?"
"All the worse that I should waste time on frivolities," the young man said. "Indeed, it was likely because of my books and scrolls, more than my lack of girth or years, that my uncle rather than myself took the throne."
The gargoyle peered at an illustrated manuscript, with beautifully detailed capital letters in a language he couldn't read. "Yeah, some of my clan used to disapprove of reading, too. When I was a hatchling. A child," he added at the prince's confused look.
"I still hardly know what you are," said Amleth. "You call yourself a gargoyle, but that word, as I said, is one that I do not know. Even in the books that I have read, I have never seen the word. I hardly know what you are -- unless you might be a troll."
"A troll?" asked Brooklyn.
"I know little about trolls. Nobody here at court has set eyes on them for years. Some say that there are none left in Denmark -- a few say that there never were any, that they were only old tales to frighten children with. But there are still the legends."
"About hiding under bridges and trying to eat goats?" asked Brooklyn. Amleth looked at him puzzledly, and he shook his head. "Never mind. Tell me about these trolls."
"All that I know is what I've heard," the prince explained. "Trolls are beings of great strength, surpassing even that of a berserker in a battle-frenzy sent by Odin. They are short of stature, but broad and mighty. And when the sun rises, they become stone."
"Become stone?" asked Brooklyn, sounding interested. "Is that so?"
"So they say," Amleth replied. "But we do not even know if there are any still remaining in Denmark. Some say that they live in the hills and forests, far from the haunts of men, but others say that they are all gone -- if there ever were any, to begin with. I have heard that there were some who dwelt among the Britons across the sea, and that a great king actually formed an alliance with them, but that may be no more than travellers' tales."
"Doesn't give me much to go on, then," said Brooklyn. "When you were talking about those trolls, I was wondering if they might be gargoyles, like me. Those stories about them don't say anything about their having wings, Amleth, do they?"
"Not as far as I know," the prince replied.
"Well, maybe they're something else, then," said Brooklyn, looking disappointed at that. "All gargoyles have wings, after all. Maybe those trolls are a group of Oberon's Children, then, or something like that."
Amleth stared at him thoughtfully. "I hardly know what to make of your words, Brooklyn," he said. "They seem stranger to my ears than anything that I have ever heard before. I wish that I could help you." His mouth curved in a half-smile. "A stranger's troubles might be a change of flavor from mine own."
"Troubles?" asked Brooklyn. "Want to talk about it?"
"There's few enough here I can talk to," Amleth said. "Except for Margrethe; she and I have been friends, and more than friends, since we were children together." He sighed. "But there's nothing I can tell her that she does not already know."
Brooklyn seated himself cross-legged on the fur rug. "You could tell me about it," he said. "I'm probably here to help you out, or something."
Amleth looked at him oddly, then shrugged. "Why not? It will pass the time...and," he shivered a little and hunched forward on his chair, "I do not think that I will sleep tonight. The dreams will be worse than ever now.
"It all began two months ago, when my father Horvendil returned from a boar hunt in the woods outside the castle. He returned, I said, but not in a manner that I had been expecting...."
The familiar hunting horns sounded in the courtyard, the sign that his father had returned to the castle. Amleth looked up from the scroll he'd been studying, a history of Rome by Livy, and stood, listening to the horns. They were not blowing the usual melody that announced a successful hunt, they were sounding the mournful blasts that signified --
He started towards the door, his pace quickening as he neared the great hall of the castle, until he was nearly running as he descended the stairs. Murmuring voices were gathering around him.
And then, he was out of the great hall, and descending the stairs that led to the courtyard. Outside, the hunters were standing in a half-circle around a horse, with a body slung across the animal's back. And many of the castle people already clustering about them, speaking worriedly. One of the men had not survived the hunt, and a sick feeling was growing in Amleth's gut as he searched the courtyard for his father, and for his uncle Fengon.
"Horvendil!" It was his mother's voice, Gerutha the queen, but ragged with such pain as he had never heard in it before. In a sweep of blue skirts she was past him, flinging herself across the body tied to the horse, her red-gold braids gleaming in the light of the falling sun as she wept.
Amleth stood and watched, his heart cold within him. I will not weep. I will not shame my father.
And then Fengon was standing beside him, reaching out to steady him by the arm. "My prince and nephew," he said, bowing his head first to him and then turning to Gerutha, "my queen and beloved sister. It grieves me, your Highness, but I must share with you these ill tidings. The noble King Horvendil, my liege-lord and my brother, is dead."
"Dead, Fengon?" asked another voice. It was Lord Offa, King Horvendil's chief advisor. He was an old man, who had long since abandoned the battlefield, and now confined his combats to the council chamber. "How did this come to pass?"
"The King, myself, and Ragnar of Odense here" -- Fengon indicated one of the warriors in his retinue, who stood close beside him -- "became separated from the rest of the party, and encountered a wild boar of surpassing size and strength. The King chose to encounter it alone, and was slain by its tusks. We slew the boar ourselves, to avenge him, and have borne it back to the castle." He indicated the slain boar, two beaters almost staggering beneath its heavy burden as they carried it away to the kitchens. "But it was too late to save the King."
"I grieve with you," said Offa, shaking his head. "Your brother was a goodly king. Denmark shall never know his like again."
"I agree, Offa," said Fengon, nodding. "Might I have a few words with you, apart from the others? Relating to certain matters of grave import that this untimely death means for us and for the realm?"
"Ah, yes," said Offa, nodding. "I quite understand. Margrethe -- " He gestured to his daughter, who stood in the entry to the great hall with one delicate hand covering her mouth. "Margrethe, see to the Queen."
She dropped a quick curtsey and hurried to the weeping Gerutha's side. They stood there for a few moments, young woman and older woman, as Offa and Fengon conversed in low voices. Amleth ignored them all for the moment.
He approached his father's body, his head bowed, silent but with tears forming in his eyes. As he stood there, two servants raised Horvendil from the horse to bear him to the great hall, and Margrethe gently led the Queen away from the body, casting a worried glance at Amleth.
"Let him lie in state," called Fengon to the two servants. "And have him arrayed in his attire for battle, with helm and hauberk, sword and shield, before he is laid to rest. My brother shall go into the grave properly bedecked to feast with Odin Allfather in Valhalla."
"I shall see to the preparations myself, uncle," said Amleth, raising his voice and struggling to keep it steady. "If that is well with you."
Fengon was silent for a moment, as though pondering the matter. "Yes," he said at last. "It is fitting that you oversee these matters. You have lost a father, and I a brother -- but state matters must take precedence over personal grief." He gave a sad smile. "Go with them, my prince. I shall attend to the housekeeping."
Amleth nodded, and followed the servants to the great hall, in silence.
"They had already washed the blood from my father's body before I noticed it," Amleth said. "I -- I saw the wounds in his chest, the wounds they'd said were made by a boar's tusks."
"And...?" prompted Brooklyn.
The young prince's voice hardened. "And unless they were attacked by a boar with edged spear-points on its tusks, it was no boar that slew my father."
"A spear?" Brooklyn rubbed his chin with one hand. "So your father was --"
"My father was murdered," Amleth bit off. "I cannot think otherwise. But it was my uncle's testimony that this was the cause of my father's death. And if the boar was not my father's slayer, then that can only mean -- "
"Do you think that your uncle would do that sort of thing?" Brooklyn asked, frowning.
"If you had asked me such a question two months ago," said Amleth, "I would have said 'no'. But now, I am less certain. I loved my uncle almost as much as I loved my father. He was always kind to me, never mocked me for my scholarly pursuits, even took some interest in them himself. I am loath to believe that he would perform such a deed. But I know what I saw, and what he said he saw. And I very much fear that the boar that slew my father now wears his crown."
"So your uncle's now King?"
"Aye," said Amleth. "He was elected to the throne by the nobles, at Lord Offa's urging. Within a month of my father's death and burial, Fengon sat upon his throne -- and took my mother to wife."
"That soon?" Brooklyn raised his brow ridges. "I mean -- just a month after her husband was killed -- "
"My thoughts as well," said Amleth. "The haste was unseemly, and I was not the only one at court who felt thus. But wed they were, all the same. It was Offa's urging, as well -- he felt that it would strengthen my uncle upon the throne all the more thereby."
"You know, there's one thing that I don't understand about all this," said Brooklyn, after a moment's silence. "Why didn't you become king when your father died, Amleth? I mean, among humans, that's usually the way that it seems to work."
"Not always," Amleth replied. "It is the great lords who choose the next king, from his close kinsfolk. And they passed me over, when they debated the matter in council. In their eyes, I was an untried stripling, fitted more to pore over books and scrolls than to wield a sword." A strong note of bitterness entered his voice. "I very much believe that the Lord Offa had some part in persuading them thus. Not that I had any real longing to become king, Brooklyn, look you. I loved my father, and would rather that he were alive once more, rather than wear his crown."
Brooklyn nodded soberly. "I know what you mean. My clan's leader was missing for a long time, and I had to take over the leadership. But all I wanted the whole time was to have him back again and not have to be leader anymore."
Amleth looked at him. "You do understand. No one else but Margrethe can imagine why one would not want to be king."
"Well, looks like you don't have to, now," Brooklyn said.
"My uncle has shown no outward change, since becoming king," Amleth continued. "He has continued to display naught but kindness to me -- but I wonder now at his true reasons for so doing. One thing I do know: I am no longer permitted to leave the castle. My uncle says that he is concerned for my safety, that I am his only heir until Queen Gerutha gives him one, that he cannot permit me to come to any harm."
"But you don't buy it," Brooklyn finished.
Amleth was silent for a long moment. "That man who tried to kill me just now," he said.
"I said that I did not know who he was, nor whose man he was, and that was true. But he allowed himself to die rather than tell us anything. And that in itself tells me one thing: he was a berserker. Sworn not to outlive his lord in battle, and sworn to perish rather than betray him." He looked down. "And there are only a small number of lords who have berserkers sworn to their service, and my uncle is chiefest among them."
"One other thing," said Brooklyn, after a moment's silence. "You say that there was some Ragnar of Odense fellow who was also there when your father got killed. Couldn't this mean that maybe your uncle was telling the truth? Or do you think that they're working together?"
"That, I fear, is possible enough," said Amleth. "Ragnar is one of my uncle's own liege men; I suspect that he may have been Fengon's accomplice to the deed. He is certainly high in the new king's favor now, which gives my heart many misgivings."
"And does anybody else know about these worries of yours?"
"Only the Lady Margrethe," said Amleth. "She is daughter to Lord Offa, and lives here at court. She is the only friend that I have within the walls of this castle. And I have shared my doubts with her, though with her alone. I can trust nobody else. Except perhaps you, good --" He paused, and seemed embarrassed. "Forgive me, friend; if you told me your name, I have forgotten it."
"My name's Brooklyn," the gargoyle said again.
"Brooklyn?" The young prince's brow furrowed. "That is 'broken land' in the tongue of the land to the southwest, if I remember my studies. Are there trolls in the nether-lands, then?"
Brooklyn sighed. "I told you, I'm not a troll."
Amleth gave a low chuckle. "Nay, nor are you a figment of a brain-sickly prince's madness, but I must take you for one or the other. You must forgive me if I prattle somewhat, my friend; I'm afflicted, you see."
"Come off it, Amleth," Brooklyn said as gently as he could. "You're not insane any more than I'm a troll, and you know it."
The prince looked away, and when he spoke his voice was muffled. "I think perhaps it would be easier if I were." A note of bitter self-mockery slid into his tone. "Here stand I, the only son of my slain father, and I dare not stir a hand against his murderer -- " He thrust himself from the chair in one violent motion, and pounded one fist against the stone wall. "Merciful gods, my uncle! Did my ancestors offend the gods in some way, that our family is cursed like that of Atreus, kin slaying kin? And worse, for never was that house cursed with cowardice. Orestes did not hesitate to punish his father's murderer -- nor his adulterous mother," and his voice broke on the word, "who conspired in the deed." He sank back into the chair and covered his face with one hand. "Being mad would be easier than being a coward. I cannot do as Orestes did. Odin forgive me, I cannot."
There was an uneasy silence before Brooklyn spoke. "Amleth, I don't think you're a coward. Trying to kill your uncle single-handedly wouldn't be brave, it'd be stupid. If you don't succeed, he'll probably kill you. And if you do succeed -- he's the king, isn't he? What do they call people who kill kings around here?"
"'Your Majesty,' as often as not," Amleth bit off sharply. "My father was king, and his slayer now sits on his throne."
"But your uncle's got the support of the soldiers and the nobles," Brooklyn pointed out. "Who supports you?"
Amleth's jaw tightened, and he looked away. "No one," he said. "No one but you." He turned to the gargoyle with unguarded pain in his eyes. "There is no one else to stand with me. You are my only friend, Brooklyn." He gave an odd wince. "Such an uncouth name. Is there aught else I might call you, my friend?"
Brooklyn shrugged. "It's the only name I've got."
The young prince looked thoughtful. "There was a man I have read of in my studies," he said, "an ancient Roman, who stood alone against an army of his foes and held a bridge in defense." He smiled. "To fight alone against countless foes may be madness, but a nobler madness than my own. It would do great honor to you both to call you by his name."
"His name being?"
"Horatius," Amleth said.
Brooklyn shrugged. "If it's easier, you can call me that. I've only had a name at all for the past couple years, anyway."
"So what must I do and how can I do it? Firstly, to stay alive; secondly, to bring my uncle to justice if I can. Though I am uncertain if I can even do the first. I cannot leave the castle, and I cannot challenge my uncle directly."
"You got that in one," said Brooklyn. "You'd have to be insane to just march up and call him a murderer."
"Yes," said Amleth, nodding somberly. "I would have to be insane...." His voice suddenly trailed off, and his eyes lit up. "Horatius, you have hit it!" he cried.
"Um, I don't quite follow you," said Brooklyn puzzledly.
"It is a tradition that we in Denmark have," said Amleth. "Those who are mad have been touched with Odin's finger, and fall under his protection. And those who raise a hand against the mad earn the wrath of the Aesir as punishment. Were I to pose as one witless, my uncle would not dare slay me, lest he and his incur Odin's vengeance. My person would be sacrosanct."
"Yeah," said Brooklyn, "but do you think that you can get away with it? I mean -- if your uncle figures out that you're just faking it, you could be in a lot of trouble."
"Maybe," Amleth replied. "But it would be hard to prove my sanity." He grinned suddenly. "There was a troupe of players, friends of mine, who visited here often when I was younger, and for a time I wanted to join them. I can counterfeit grief, or the pangs of love, or proud contempt, or what-have-you, as well as any of them. I can surely counterfeit madness. And in truth, many would say that it is no marvel for a youth who has but recently lost his father to lose his wits. No, I believe that my uncle would not act against me.
"And there is precedent for it," he continued. "The Roman chroniclers say that there was a time when Rome was ruled by a tyrant named Tarquin, who put many of his lords to the sword, for the slightest of causes. There was a nobleman named Junius Brutus who feigned madness, so that Tarquin would believe him harmless, and so not act against him. In this wise, Brutus lived, long enough to find a means of exiling the king and freeing Rome from his misrule. If such a stratagem worked for him, it may also work for me."
"And let's just hope that your uncle hasn't read the same book that you have," said Brooklyn.
Amleth paused for a moment, frowning. "Doubtful," he finally said. "In truth, he reads few books, as is the way with most of the court. Save for myself and Margrethe, there are none here who are very learned."
"So that problem's solved," said Brooklyn. "Now, what can I do to help?"
THREE DAYS LATER
Fengon and Lord Offa stared down from the window into the courtyard below. Amleth was climbing up onto a horse, and seating himself in the saddle facing backwards, an eager gleam in his eyes. The King of Denmark and his chief advisor watched for a while, then turned to face each other.
"The unfortunate overthrow of a noble mind," said Offa sadly, shaking his head. "It is such a pity to see him sink into the depths of madness. At least the gods have been merciful enough to make him harmless to others in his condition."
"I do not know, Offa," said Fengon, frowning as he spoke. "I very much doubt that he is harmless, or that the gods have aught to do with this."
"But it's known well enough that madness comes from the Aesir," Offa protested. "It is the curse -- or at times, the gift -- of Odin Allfather himself! How can you say otherwise, my lord?"
"Because I am not entirely convinced that my nephew is mad," Fengon replied. "Is he indeed insane, or merely pretending to be so? I have misgivings in my heart, that point towards the latter."
"And what leads you to believe that, sire?" Offa asked.
"It is a suspicion that gnaws in my bones," said Fengon. "Offa, I would have some proof positive that my nephew has truly lost his wits. He may be feigning the loss rather, to lead us astray."
"And why would he act thus, then?" Offa asked.
"I do not know," said Fengon. "But I know Prince Amleth's wits. And even the shock of his father's death and mother's remarriage would not be sufficient enough to drive them from his head. No, there is something else afoot. And I want to know what may be behind it."
There was a low rumbling of thunder in the distance. Brooklyn sighed, as he squatted on a shadowed corner of the tower's battlements, staring miserably at the dark clouds massing on the horizon, blotting out the stars. "Looks like it's gonna be a really nasty storm," he muttered. "Hope I won't have to stay out here too long."
Looking about cautiously to make certain that none of the guards saw him, he began climbing down the side of the tower wall cautiously. One of the windows set in it looked in upon Fengon's quarters, and from time to time, he would meet with Lord Offa in secret consults. Brooklyn had listened there the past few nights, hoping to learn something, some clue that could let him know for certain whether Fengon had been behind King Horvendil's death or not. So far, he had heard nothing pertaining to that, although he had heard enough of other matters to know that Amleth's recent behavior had begun to perturb his uncle considerably. And that Fengon was clearly planning to take some sort of action in response. But what form that action would take, Brooklyn had no clue as yet.
He paused outside the right window, and steadied his grip on the stone wall. Then, he thrust his head around the corner of the window, to watch and listen.
Fengon was seated at the table, opposite Offa. Both men seemed perturbed as they sat in their chairs, their eyes barely on the chess game that they were playing. As Brooklyn listened, the king spoke.
"So you are still unable to learn why my nephew acts as he does, Offa?"
"I have learned nothing," said Offa, shaking his head. "Unless, as I still believe, he has run mad with love for my daughter."
"And that I still will not believe," Fengon replied. "My pardon, old friend, but I cannot accept the notion that my nephew has lost his wits through love. He simply does not act thus -- at least, not to me. There must be some other reason for the manner in which he behaves."
"If you say so," said Offa, with a shrug. "But I do not feel convinced at all, my lord."
"Nonetheless, we still have a problem in dealing with him," said Fengon. "We cannot permit him to remain here, Offa. It is far too dangerous. I fear that if he stays under our roof, he may at some point carry out some rash act that could cause us much grief. It would be best to send him away, to another king's court. At least, for a season, until his madness passes, and it is safe to have him dwelling in our presence again."
"If that is what you deem wisest, my lord," said Offa, nodding. "Where shall we send him?"
"No difficult question to answer," Fengon replied. "I had it in my thoughts to send Prince Amleth to our ally, Ida of Bernicia. It would do much to further our concord with the Angles in Britain, and the sea voyage might well do my nephew much good."
"A worthy suggestion, my lord," said Offa again, nodding. "Most commendable."
There was suddenly a knock at the door. "Who is there?" the king asked.
"Ragnar of Odense, to have words with you, my lord," said a voice on the other side of the door. "I would speak with you."
"Enter," said Fengon, almost carelessly. "Private matters," he explained to Offa, turning back to his chief counsellor. "If you would leave us now -- "
"Of course, my lord," said Offa. He rose from his chair and left the room, as Ragnar entered it.
"We are alone?" said the heavy-set warrior, once the door was closed behind the departing advisor. "Nobody can hear us?"
"Nobody," said Fengon. "Well, speak your mind, man."
"I have come to ask when you will choose to reward me for my services," said Ragnar. "You promised me the holdings at Roskilde, sire. And as yet, I have not been awarded them."
"Ah, yes," said Fengon, seating himself in his chair once more. "Well, Ragnar, it distresses me to give you ill tidings. But the truth of the matter is, I cannot grant you your request."
"What?" cried Ragnar. "You dare break your word?"
"There were certain -- complications regarding the estate of Roskilde," said Fengon calmly, "that I had not known of when we first made our arrangements. Trust me, I will find some suitable enough reward to grant you, soon enough."
"You play false with me, and do not deny it!" bellowed Ragnar in anger. "You cheat me of my reward, you villain! Why, were it not for me, your brother would still be king!"
"True," said Fengon, "but Horvendil is now in the grave, and I am king in his place. If you are not satisfied with my rule, then remember this. You helped me arrange that little 'accident' for my brother on the hunt two months ago. If you remember our agreement, then you surely also remember other aspects of our alliance."
"And you do ill to cheat me of my share of the spoils," said Ragnar.
"And how do you intend to deal with that?" asked Fengon, utterly calm and matter-of-fact. "Remember, you cannot expose my deed without exposing your own part in it. And then you would only share my fate. While, as king, all that I have to do is to make it appear as if the guilt was yours alone, and your life would be short indeed. Particularly if it were to become known that your man who was found dead on the rocks was attempting to slay my beloved nephew...."
"On your orders!" Ragnar protested.
"And who would believe it if you told them? When all know the love I bore for my brother, and still bear for his son?" Fengon's voice dripped sincerity, and only his faint smile told against the honesty of his words.
"You are hardly fit to bear the name of king!" shouted Ragnar. "Odin would turn his face from you in a moment! Loki makes a fitter patron for you, as one 'Prince of Liars' to another!" And with that, he drew his sword, and lunged at Fengon.
Fengon's own sword was out in a moment, and the two blades rang as Brooklyn watched in fascination. For a couple of minutes, they were at each other, parry and thrust, until suddenly Ragnar dropped his sword, holding his arm painfully.
"And let that be a lesson to you," said Fengon to his henchman coldly. "Never, I repeat, never seek to cross me again. Else you will be less fortunate. Now go, and speak not of this to any. Do you understand?"
Ragnar nodded mutely, and staggered out of the room. Fengon seated himself in his chair again, without a word.
Brooklyn had heard enough. He silently glided back to Amleth's tower, to give his report.
Another crash of thunder, closer now, resounded as Brooklyn climbed through the window of the prince's chamber. "Thor throws his hammer about with much fury tonight," Amleth commented, listening as he sat in his chair, looking up from the book that he was reading.
"Would you mind not mentioning hammers?" asked Brooklyn. "I've had a few bad experiences with them.... Anyway, I eavesdropped on your uncle, Amleth, and you were right. He and Ragnar were behind your father's death. And it was one of Ragnar's men who was trying to kill you that night I came here, but on your uncle's orders."
"Then I was correct," said Amleth quietly. "It was my uncle's doing."
"Yeah, and I think that he's getting suspicious," Brooklyn continued. "He and Offa were planning on sending you out of the country for a while, before Ragnar barged in. I think that they want you out of the way."
"And I fear that my uncle means to do more than simply have me absent from court," said the prince troubledly.
"You mean, as in arranging a little accident for you along the way?" Brooklyn asked.
"Or even at the home of whichever king or lord he wishes to send me to," said Amleth. "Which one has he chosen, Brooklyn? Do you know?"
Brooklyn nodded. "Some guy named Ida of Bernicia. Do you know anything about him?"
"Aye, that I do," said Amleth. "He rules over the Angles in the north of the isle of Britain. He is said to be a mighty war leader, who has defeated the Britons many times, and even took one of their strongest castles for his own. And he is a staunch ally of my uncle's, to boot. If Fengon had any foul play intended, Ida would be a likely enough man to assist him in it."
"Well, we'd better do something about it," said Brooklyn. "I don't suppose that you could pack a few shirts and a toothbrush and sneak out of the castle before they tell you that the boat's leaving for Britain?"
Amleth shook his head. "I doubt that my uncle will permit me the opportunity," he said. "Well, unless Odin sends us some good fortune, the nature of which I cannot even imagine at present, it seems that there will be no avoiding the visit to Bernicia that Fengon intends for me. I doubt that I will be able to escape it."
"So you're giving up?" Brooklyn asked him. "Just like that?"
"Hardly, my friend," said Amleth. "There is no hope to escape the sea voyage to Britain, I said. That does not mean that I have no hope of escaping whatever fate my uncle has arranged for me at the other end of it."
Brooklyn nodded. "You've got plans, then?"
"Indeed I do," Amleth replied. "Only forming now in my head, of course. But when I know more, they can take shape all the better. And then I can share them with you."
Margrethe pulled her cloak more closely about her and appeared in the arch leading out onto the battlement. The storm had passed, but pale gray clouds chased themselves across the dark sky like ghosts. A wind gusted over the stones, loosening a few gold strands from Margrethe's braids. Otherwise the night was cold and silent.
"Amleth?" she said hesitantly, stepping out of the archway.
His head appeared around the corner of the wall with alarming suddenness. "Margrethe! You came."
She let out a small laugh that was part gasp. "Great Freya's cats, you startled me." Then she sobered. "Is there something wrong? Why did you send for me in such a remote place?"
"I needed to talk to you out of the way." He took her hand, and led her towards the low wall, so they could look out over the rocky landscape. "There's good and bad that I must tell you, beloved. The good is that we have a new ally. Someone who will help me bring my uncle to justice."
"An ally?" Margrethe brushed back one of the loosened strands of her hair, her forehead creasing. "Who?"
"I can't tell you. Margrethe, do you trust me?"
"You know I do," she said.
"Then trust me now. His...his appearance is somewhat frightening, but he is as noble a heart as I could hope for in a friend. I'll introduce you to him as soon as we're sure it's safe for him to be seen."
Margrethe nodded. "And the bad news?"
"The bad is that my uncle is still trying to get rid of me. He intends to send me to Britain or somewhere as remote, and perhaps to make certain that I never return. But my friend will be with me, and he will provide me some protection against whatever my uncle has planned."
She paused, considering. "You're quite sure you can trust this friend?" she finally asked.
Amleth nodded, sobering. "With my heart of hearts -- as I trust you, beloved. You're the only one I've told. They'll be sending me away soon, and I -- I wanted to warn you: whatever happens, know that I have a friend at my side, and don't worry." He released her hand and turned away.
"Perhaps you truly are mad," Margrethe spoke under her breath, but fondly.
Apparently the young prince heard her, for he turned, with an elaborate stage flourish of his cloak. "Ah, my lady, I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw." He bowed extravagantly, then darted into the archway, and vanished.
Alone on the lonely, dark battlement, the girl could only stare after him for a moment, completely at a loss for words. Then soft laughter rose into the silence.
Amleth entered the great hall of the castle. The court was assembled, Fengon and Gerutha seated on their thrones, Lord Offa standing stiffly at attention beside the King's throne, holding his rod of office, and Margrethe standing a little ways behind her father. Amleth scanned the faces of the nobles and courtiers present, before bowing low before his uncle.
"Rise, my nephew," said Fengon, addressing him in a good-natured tone of voice, but with the full force of royal dignity and authority behind his words.
"You summoned me, uncle, and I have come," Amleth replied, straightening himself. "What would you ask of me?"
"It has come to our attention," said the king, "that our royal cousin, Ida of Bernicia, wishes for our aid. There are signs that his neighbor, Lord Outigern of the Britons, plans to make war upon him, to avenge Ida's capture of Bamburgh from his folk five winters ago. Ida has hopes of an alliance with our court, that he may quash Outigern's folk upon the field of battle with full assurance."
"Full assurance, by Thor's nose!" Amleth declared happily. "And?"
"It is our desire to honor Lord Ida by sending unto him a scion of Denmark's royal house, to accompany our messengers. Lord Offa and myself gave this matter much thought, and chose to dispatch you thither to Bernicia, that you might be a part of this embassy."
"An embassy, an embassy, gone to sea in a sieve," the young prince chanted. "Their heads are green, and their hands are blue.... So you entrust me with this embassy, uncle?"
"We do indeed," said Fengon. "And it is to be hoped that the sea air may restore you to your rightful wits, too, good nephew. Your antic disposition has troubled both your mother and myself long enough; we would have it cured."
"Then I thank you most humbly, uncle," said Amleth. "Shall we saddle our great sea-cats, then, and depart?"
"Sea-cats will not be necessary," Fengon answered gravely. "A ship of ours is being laden for the journey, and will depart on the morrow. And you shall travel on board, safe in your cabin."
"Safe! By Freya's elbows, I thank you for that, uncle." Amleth bowed with a flourish. "Safe in my cabin. Or as safe as anywhere." And with that, he turned to leave the great hall -- and then, stretching his arms out widely as if to imitate a bird or bat in flight, rushed from the room, letting out a whistling noise as of wind rushing past.
Fengon looked at both his queen and Lord Offa. "Let us pray that the gods do restore his wits to him, while he is gone from our court. I do not know how much more of this I can stand."
"So this is what I have learned," said Amleth to Brooklyn in his chamber that evening, shortly after the gargoyle had awakened from his stone sleep. "My uncle is sending both myself and Lord Sighere to Bernicia, as part of the embassy. Although whether we will both return to Denmark when our business there is concluded, I do not know."
"What's this Lord Sighere like?" Brooklyn asked.
"Another lord whom I trust as little as I would trust a fanged adder," Amleth replied. "He has much land bestowed upon him since my father's death, ample estates and herds. And he has always agreed to do whatever my uncle bids him do, with such eagerness that I very much suspect him to be the King's, body and soul both. If my uncle is planning treachery against me, then Sighere would be a fine instrument to achieve it."
"What do you suppose he'll do?" Brooklyn asked. "Push you overboard in the night and hope that the sharks get you?"
Amleth shook his head. "I have other suspicions," he said. "My uncle has entrusted Lord Sighere with a sealed letter, to be presented only to Ida upon our arrival at his court. He claims that it lists the terms of our agreed-upon alliance, but I have my own doubts. It would not be unlike my uncle to place within that letter certain instructions to Ida, pertaining to me."
"I get it," said Brooklyn. "Something to the effect that you're expendable?"
"Exactly," said Amleth.
"Well, then, we'll have to do something about that," said Brooklyn. "If we could just find a way to get you out of the castle before the boat leaves -- "
"I doubt that it would work," the prince replied. "If I simply flee the castle before the ship departs, it would arouse too many suspicions, and suspicions pointing in the wrong direction. I would have to live the life of a fugitive, sacrificing Denmark to my uncle's ambitions forever. No, there has to be another way."
"And they'll probably send you off to Britain in the daytime, too," said Brooklyn. "Which will put something of a cramp in my being able to help you."
"Not necessarily," said Amleth, after a moment's thought. "The boat is surely being prepared for the sea voyage at harbor already. If you were to make your way there tonight -- "
"I see," said Brooklyn. "I could smuggle myself on board, the night before the ship leaves. Just as long as I can find some out-of-the-way place to hide in."
"I would recommend the hold of the ship," the prince replied. "Not many go there, after the goods have been stored in it, and it is dark enough that you could hide in the shadows, without the crew's knowledge. And then, you would be safely stowed on board, when it departs at first light."
"I'll try it, then," said Brooklyn, scrambling up to the window-sill and perching on it. "And then we'll see where things go from here."
Amleth watched him go, and then sat down at his writing-desk, took out quill and ink and vellum, and began drafting a letter to Margrethe. It would not be long before they came for him.
Brooklyn awoke from his stone sleep in the hold, stretched, and gave a roaring yawn. The floor rocked beneath his feet, and he spent a few startled moments regaining his balance.
"Ship's well at sea by now," he said aloud. "Time to find Amleth and blow this popsicle stand."
As silently as he could, Brooklyn climbed up atop the sacks of grain and barrels, through the opening in the ceiling above, and found himself in a dark narrow wooden hallway. He crept along, meeting nobody, until he came to a closed and bolted door, where he paused, frowning.
"It could be Amleth's cabin," he said to himself. "On the other hand, it could equally well be Sighere's. And he'd take an awful lot of explaining if I barged in on him."
He hesitated, then finally tapped three times on the door.
"Horatius?" asked a welcome voice on the other side. "Is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me, Amleth," Brooklyn replied in a low voice. He carefully worked the bolt with his clawlike fingers, and then opened the door. Quietly, he slipped into the cabin, and closed the door behind him.
Amleth's room was paneled in dark wood and sparsely furnished, with only a bed, a small table, and a single chair in it, and a single porthole closed by a wire lattice. Amleth was seated on the bed, moodily reading by the light of a flickering oil lamp swinging from the roof, that shed only a dim radiance. He put down his scroll and rose as the gargoyle made his way in.
"Is all well with you, Horatius?" he asked.
"You seem to have adjusted well enough to the sea," said Amleth, standing in an unsteady fashion, and coming close to losing his balance at times. "Far better than I, certainly."
"Yeah," said Brooklyn, "well, I've done a bit of sea-voyaging. Not that much, but just enough to help me out a little."
"You have travelled much, then, Horatius," said Amleth, sounding interested.
"Yeah, you could say that," Brooklyn said wryly. "Especially lately -- "
Before he could say further, however, he was interrupted with a number of cries from without. There was the sound of running feet tramping on the wooden deck, gathering for some reason.
"What do you suppose all that's about?" Brooklyn gestured at the door.
"I do not know, Horatius," said Amleth. "Unless...." He frowned. "I can hear something."
Brooklyn pricked up his ears and listened. "So can I," he said. It was the sound of faint cries, drawing closer, cries that sounded fierce and savage.
"It would seem that we are under attack," said Amleth. "Jutish or Geatish pirates, most likely. The seas are often troubled with them. Some must have sighted our ship."
"Pirates again," said Brooklyn in disgust. "Wonderful." He glanced at the Gate at his belt sharply. "And don't even think of doing what you did last time," he said to it.
"I beg your pardon?" Amleth asked, sounding bewildered.
"It's a long story," said Brooklyn.
"In truth, their arrival may well have been timely," said Amleth thoughtfully. "In the confusion, Sighere and his men will not notice our escape. The pirates' attack is the distraction that we need."
"Yeah," said Brooklyn, "but where do we go?"
"The ship would not be far from the shore," Amleth replied. "Not at night. Can you fly us safely inland, Horatius?"
"Well, it's 'glide', not 'fly', actually," said Brooklyn. "But, yeah, I think I could. Won't Sighere and his friends come looking for us once they notice that you're gone?"
"With the fight under way, that will be a long while," said Amleth. Already the first sounds of battle outside could be heard, the metallic clang of sword against sword and raucous shouting. As he spoke, the prince was wrapping the scroll in a bit of oilcloth and tucking it into a chest underneath the bed. "I imagine that Lord Sighere will have other worries for now. And even when they discover my absence, how can they know which way we went? Fliers leave no tracks to be followed. Neither do swimmers, for that matter."
"Then we'd better get moving," said Brooklyn. He seized hold of the lattice on the window, and tugged at it with all his might, ripping it free from its setting. "Climb onto my back," he told the prince, who did so at once. Then, crouching carefully, he climbed out through the now-open window, and up the side of the ship.
In the darkness, they could see the shadowy form of a longship with a dragon-headed prow, much like the warships that the Vikings had used, grappled alongside Sighere's ship. Torches burned brightly on the pirate vessel, as the shapes of its warriors rushed at the Danes, their swords and axes gleaming with fiery light. In all the confusion, there was clearly no thought being given to Amleth himself. And across the water, visible as a darker outline against the deep-blue sky and the emerging stars, was a shoreline of cliffs.
"Now!" cried Brooklyn. "Hang on tight, Amleth!" And with that, spreading his wings out wide, he soared off into the night, his princely burden clutching on tightly. Nobody saw them go.
"So, do you have any idea which way your uncle's castle is, Amleth?" asked Brooklyn. The prince and the gargoyle stood on cliffs beside the shore, cliffs that reminded Brooklyn achingly of where Castle Wyvern had stood back in Scotland. Before them stretched a forest, sparse trees and underbrush amid craggy rocks.
Amleth shook his head. "We're in the wild lands," he said. "Men seldom come to this part of Denmark, and leave it even more seldom. The wild country is unmapped, and none dwell there save the beasts and the birds. And, some say, the trolls."
"Doesn't sound too encouraging," said Brooklyn. "You can't exactly walk up to a wolf or an eagle and ask for directions to the nearest village."
Amleth looked up at the rocky hills before them. "If we could but climb to higher ground," he said, "perhaps we might see something that could guide us in our journey," he said. "What say you, Horatius?"
"Worth a try," said Brooklyn.
"Let us hope that we can reach the summit before dawn," said Amleth. "We will need a safe place to encamp during the day. You may be in no danger from the beasts of the woods as stone, but the same can hardly be said for me. And I do not relish the thought of facing a bear or boar alone, with no more than a dagger to protect me."
The two of them made their way through the woods, until they reached the high ground of the hills, a few hours later. Brooklyn looked up at the night sky, and frowned.
"Dawn's not far away," he said. "See anything?"
"Naught but the forest about us," Amleth replied. Then he frowned, and squinted slightly, looking at something in the distance. "No, I see trails of smoke, in that direction." He pointed to the east. "There is a town or village that way, surely," he said.
"Well, we know where to head for, tomorrow," said Brooklyn. "For now, I'm ready to find somewhere safe to perch, and wait for dawn. I could use a good day's sleep."
The ledge where they stood was not at the very summit of the hill, but only halfway up. More rock rose upwards, and in the side of the hill, there gaped the mouth of a good-sized cave. Brooklyn eyed it thoughtfully.
"I hope that it's not inhabited," he said. "At least, by nothing bigger than a rabbit." Then he sniffed the air thoughtfully.
"No, something's there, all right," he said. "Something almost familiar. I wonder if -- "
"'Ware, Horatius!" shouted Amleth in alarm. The red gargoyle turned his head around in time to see the prince stepping away from two short but burly figures, that had just appeared from a corner in the ledge. They were now advancing upon him with glowing eyes, growling suspiciously.
"Trolls!" cried Amleth, drawing his dagger.
"Well, they're gonna regret meeting us, then," said Brooklyn, preparing to lunge at the newcomers. He was just about to spring at them, when he got a better look at them in the moonlight -- and paused, his mouth open wide. "I don't believe it," he said.
The two creatures, he now saw, were gargoyles. Gargoyles no taller than Lexington, but built more like Hudson, stocky and muscled. They wore loincloths made of animal skins, and had thick, tangled hair and beards. Their features were clearly those of gargoyles -- glowing eyes, tails, four-fingered hands and three-toed clawlike feet, horned brow-ridges over their eyes -- with but one exception. Their wings were stubby little web-like things, like Lexington's but much smaller in proportion to their bodies.
The two gargoyles had clearly seen him now as well, for they halted in their onrush. Both stared at him, the angry glow fading from their eyes. At last, one spoke.
"What do you here, stranger?" the "troll" asked, in a thickly-accented voice. "And why do you bring a human here with you?"
"Uh, greetings," said Brooklyn, raising one hand, palm forward, in what would hopefully look like a peaceful gesture. "My name's Brooklyn. My friend and I are lost. We didn't know that there were any gargoyles living here."
"Which is what we want the humans to believe," said the first troll-like gargoyle. "And you endanger us by bringing one of their kind here."
"Aye," said the second gargoyle. "And you bear a name, too. A human custom, not befitting a gargoyle at all." He and his companion both looked at Brooklyn with grim suspicion.
"My clan lives among humans," Brooklyn explained. "We kind of picked the habit up from them."
"Your clan dwells among them?" asked the first gargoyle. "You are either very bold or very foolish to do so, then, stranger. Humans are very dangerous."
"Not all humans," protested Brooklyn.
The two troll-gargoyles exchanged glances. "Foolish," one said.
Brooklyn shook his head. "My clan made peace with the humans we live with. They protect us during the day, and we protect them at night. Why, our leader even -- " he broke off, paused for a moment, then continued, "calls a human his best friend."
"And you yet live, after adopting such a practice?" asked the second gargoyle, frowning.
"Do I look dead?" said Brooklyn. "Yeah, where we live, there are a lot of humans who'd like nothing better than to pound us into rubble. But there are some who look out for us. Not all humans are gargoyle-haters. He certainly isn't," he added, indicating a still astounded-looking Amleth.
The two gargoyles looked at each other, and frowned. But before they could speak, there was movement from the cave, and more gargoyles emerged. Brooklyn and Amleth turned to stare at them.
All the gargoyles in the small gathering, male and female alike, were roughly of the same build as the two that had first appeared, and all sported the same underdeveloped wings. They stared at Brooklyn and Amleth, their eyes wide open in amazement. "Strangers?" one of them asked at length, one who appeared to be the leader. "And one of them a human?"
"Well, yes," said Brooklyn. "This is Amleth, prince of Denmark. He's my friend."
"We have little time for humans," said the clan leader, "whether they be princes or not. They have given us nothing but misery." He glowered at Amleth.
"Not all humans, surely," Brooklyn tried again.
"Aye, all humans," said the leader sharply. "These lands were our home once, until they began to multiply in them. They surprised us during the day while we slept, and shattered us in our sleep. Some of us survived their attacks, but not many. At last, we had to withdraw here, to hide far from their haunts. We have little trust in them, stranger."
"True enough," said a crone-like female gargoyle, looking sharply at Amleth as she addressed Brooklyn. "And now you have brought one of them here. He may tell the other humans where we roost. Then they will climb this hill in the daytime, and destroy us all, down to the very last egg in the rookery. It is a foolish thing that you have done, indeed."
"Amleth's different," said Brooklyn. "I mean -- if he really did hate gargoyles, do you think that I'd be having anything to do with him?"
The clan's leader frowned, looking at the two of them long and hard before he spoke. "Perhaps not," he said. "Though he might be seeking to deceive you."
"If the truth be told, good sir," said Amleth, stepping forward, and delivering the astonished gargoyles a courtly bow, "until a few nights ago, I had believed you and your kind to be nothing more than myths. But then I encountered Horatius, and learned otherwise. And from him, I learned the true nature of your kind. If you have as much honor and loyalty in your hearts as does my friend here, then I feel that I have no reason to fear you."
"Words are just that," said the gargoyle leader suspiciously. "Words. Breaths of air. How do we know that you are not like those others of your kind, who drove us into these hills long ago, slaughtered us whenever they found us, and smashed our eggs? And we had done them no wrong, none! It was generations ago, but the memory still lingers with us. Our kind forgets little."
"We had our own problems with humans," said Brooklyn. "Believe me, I could tell you quite a few stories about that. Humans killed all but two of my rookery brothers."
"Then you know what humans are like!"
"Yeah, I know what humans are like. They're like us." He spoke louder, over the startled murmuring of the other gargoyles. "Some are good, some aren't. And some hate anything that isn't their own kind." He pointed at Amleth. "But he's not like that. And I hope you're not like that either.
"Look, there were times when I would have agreed with you about humans. But there are some who've done a lot to help us. And I want to tell you something: if you only see them as enemies, you'll lose any chance of gaining them as friends and allies. One of the gargoyles in my clan did just that, and it brought her nothing but misery. Is that what you really want for yourselves?" He stared around at them. "If it is, then count me out of this cave, thanks."
The troll-like gargoyles turned away from him and began conferring among themselves, their voices too low to make out their words. Brooklyn turned to Amleth, a concerned look on his face.
"Do you think that they believe us?" Amleth asked.
"I certainly hope so," said Brooklyn. "'Cause if they don't, we could be in pretty big trouble."
"Well, if worse comes to worst, we can always escape," said Amleth. "You could bear me and glide away from here. Their wings look too weak to bear them; I doubt that they could follow us."
"True," said Brooklyn. "But it's getting very close to sunrise. I'm not sure that we could land before that happened, and I definitely don't like the idea of turning to stone a few hundred feet above ground."
"You could be right," said Amleth. "Let us hope that their decision is not an unfriendly one."
Before Brooklyn could speak, however, the first rays of the sun lit up the horizon in the east. With a cracking, grinding noise, he and every other gargoyle on the ledge turned to stone. Amleth was left standing outside the cave alone, with nothing but statues surrounding him, left speechless in fresh wonder. He then looked closer at the faces of the petrified trolls, and saw alarm and fear on those that had been gazing towards him, when the dawn came.
"You believed that it was too late, and that I am now free to take advantage of your defenseless condition," said the prince thoughtfully. "You need not fear me, kin of my friend. Your lives are safe with me."
The sun set in the west, and myriads of cracks formed on the stone gargoyles on the hillside. Amleth had awakened about half an hour before, and had finished eating from his provisions when both Brooklyn and the "trolls" burst from their stone shells, fragments flying everywhere. The gargoyles stretched and yawned, then turned towards him.
"We live!" said the crone-like female gargoyle in astonishment and utter disbelief. "The human spared us!"
"That's just what I've been trying to tell you," said Brooklyn. "Amleth's one of the good guys. He was here all through the day when you were stone, and he didn't harm a one of you. Shouldn't that mean something?"
"A trick," said the crone doubtfully.
"What kind of trick?" demanded Brooklyn. "He knows where you live now, and he was standing here while we all slept -- if he meant to hurt you, what else would he need?"
The gargoyles exchanged silent glances. At last, the leader spoke.
"Well, human," he said, "it seems that you are different from others of your kind. That is of some relief to us. But we very much suspect that most of your race are not as merciful as are you."
"That may change," said Amleth. "Should I live to become King of Denmark, I will make peace between my folk and yours. Humans and tro -- gargoyles will be allies and not enemies. This I swear by my honor and by my hope of Valhalla."
"King of Denmark?" the leader asked, staring at the young prince.
Brooklyn quickly explained about Amleth's story, the other gargoyles listening patiently to the end. They were silent for a time, until their leader spoke once more.
"We wish you well, then," he said. "We cannot give you aid more than this. In that direction" -- he pointed with one taloned hand towards the east -- "there is a human town, less than a night's journey away. The bolder young warriors of our clan sometimes venture to its edge, to forage when they have to. Belike there you may find some shelter -- at least, the human may."
"My thanks, good sir," said Amleth, giving him a courtly bow. "And I vow to never disclose this your home, unless you give me leave to do so."
"And I likewise," put in Brooklyn. "Your secret's safe with us. Now, I think that Amleth and I had better glide over to town."
"Glide?" asked the leader puzzledly.
"With my wings," said Brooklyn, displaying his. "Um -- you guys don't seem to have much in the way of them."
"We have skins between our arms and our bodies," said the leader. "So they are meant to be wings?"
"You mean none of you have ever glided?" Brooklyn asked.
"Never in our clan's memory," said the leader. "We do not glide; we walk, or climb. Flight is for birds alone."
"Poor guys," muttered Brooklyn, sounding sympathetic. He turned to Amleth. "Ready to go?"
"Ready, Horatius," said Amleth. "Let us be off."
Brooklyn picked up Amleth gently, then sprang off the cliff, soaring off into the night. The other gargoyles watched them leave, staring long after them in silence.
"You had better wait outside the town," said Amleth to Brooklyn, when they landed. "I doubt that we want your presence frightening the townsfolk."
"Yeah, I can imagine," said Brooklyn.
"I will make enquiries, and learn which way to take to reach my uncle's castle," Amleth continued. "Hopefully it will not be a long journey."
"Have you decided what you're gonna do when you get back?" asked Brooklyn. "I mean, there's going to be a lot of tough questions to answer if you show up there when you're supposed to be in Britain. Not to mention that your uncle's bound to try something else next, when he finds out that that scheme didn't work."
"I will think of something," the prince replied. And with that, he headed towards the village.
Brooklyn sighed and took up his position, sitting down on a rock amid a small clump of trees. "Hope nobody comes by," he said aloud. After a moment, he took the Phoenix Gate out of his pocket and looked down at it for a moment. "So what's your angle on all this?" he asked it. "How come I get the chance to help some folks and not others?"
He turned the Gate over and over in his hands, looking down at the gold and blue, tracing the hairline crack down the center with one talon. "It's been fun, but think you could get me home soon? They're going to be worried about me." He stretched out on the rock and looked up at the stars wheeling overhead, folding his hands behind his head. "And I'm getting seriously homesick."
Margrethe, daughter of Lord Offa and lady in waiting to Queen Gerutha, wandered through the courtyard of Castle Elsinore, singing quietly to herself.
"He is dead and gone, lady, he is dead and gone...."
Gerutha watched her pass and turned to face her husband. "You see? That sweet child, distracted with longing for my son. Fengon, was it truly necessary to send him away?"
Fengon lifted his hands and let them fall again. "You saw him, Gerutha. He's ill with wandering about here. The sea air will do him good."
Gerutha shook her head. "I do hope so."
"Hope?" Margrethe had turned about and was facing them with bright eyes and hectic color in her cheeks; her voice was high and mournful. "Nay, I'll not speak of hope this day, not when Prince Amleth is dead at sea. Oh, my only love, and he's gone forever!"
"No, lady Margrethe, Amleth isn't dead," Fengon soothed. "He'll be returning home before the moon's changed twice."
"Dead he is, dead and gone," Margrethe insisted, "and the horrible sea monsters will chew his bones! Oh, dear Gerutha, most wretched and unhappy of mothers...." She rested her hand for a moment on the Queen's, and spoke with sorrowful conviction. "There is no comfort, none, for either of us. We can but wait to meet him in Asgard."
Gerutha patted her hand meaninglessly. "Why don't you go and walk in the gardens, dear?"
"I shall," Margrethe said in half-dreaming tones, "and imagine that he is alive and on the sea, to return home to us. And remember him as if he were here with me, talking on the properties of flowers. Rosemary, that's for remembrance...." She wandered away from the royal couple, who remained where they were, watching her and shaking their heads sadly.
And then she turned a corner out of sight and let out a heavy breath, closing her eyes for a moment as she leaned against the wall. "Amleth," she breathed quietly, "all the gods grant that you're well, and that you return soon. I don't know how much longer I can continue this."
There was a rustling in the underbrush, and Brooklyn whirled to face it. "Who's there?" he demanded in a low voice.
"Horatius?" The prince came struggling through the brush, wrapped in a cloak that he hadn't been wearing when he left. "Good tidings!" he said delightedly. "Nay, better than good! Nothing short of wonderful! I have found friends here!"
"Friends?" asked Brooklyn. "Who are they? I thought that I and Margrethe were your only friends."
"The only friends at the castle," Amleth replied. "But do you recall the troupe of players I told you of before?"
"Yeah?" Brooklyn asked.
"They are in the village! And on their way to perform at the castle," Amleth continued. "I introduced myself to them, and told them how I must return thither, but hidden from my uncle's eyes. And it was not long before we hit upon a way to accomplish this. I will travel with them, disguised as one of their own. In this way, I can attain the castle without my uncle or Lord Offa knowing."
"Well, that does sound useful," said Brooklyn. "But where does that leave me?"
"Yes, that is a problem," said Amleth. "I cannot introduce you to them, Horatius, and it would be difficult to hide you from them in their encampment. However...." His voice trailed off.
"Wait a minute!" said Brooklyn. "I've got an idea. You've found out which way they're going, Amleth?"
The prince nodded. "I have the general direction, yes," he said.
"Then you can tell me," Brooklyn went on, "and I can glide back there. I can hide in your room in the daytime until you get back, and maybe do a little more spying. And then once you arrive, we can figure out how to solve this uncle problem of yours."
"Yes, that might work," said Amleth, thoughtfully. "I believe that you have hit it, Horatius. It might be perilous for you in my absence, but I can trust you to hide from my uncle's spies."
"That still doesn't settle the question of how we're going to expose your uncle," said Brooklyn. "Shame you don't have that letter to Ida with you, you know. If you presented it before the court...."
"...Presented it before the court," Amleth repeated thoughtfully. He tapped his fingers on his belt, thoughtfully. "You may have given me another idea, Horatius. Do you know the tale of the Cranes of Ibycus?"
Brooklyn shook his head. "No, can't say I do. How's it go?"
"Ibycus was a traveller in ancient Greece, who was set upon by brigands and murdered," said Amleth. "In his last moments, he cried out to a flock of cranes flying overhead to avenge him. It so befell that, later on, his murderers attended a play where the Furies appeared upon the stage, in so fearsome a guise that their souls were filled with a cold dread. So frightened were they that when they saw the cranes fly above, one of them cried out, 'The cranes of Ibycus!', and thus revealed his guilt, and that of his comrades."
"So...we find some cranes?"
"Not precisely what was in my thoughts, friend Horatius," said Amleth, grinning with excitement. "Come, I'll tell you about it as we go along."
Brooklyn alighted on the tower ledge, and cautiously peered into the window. He had initially intended to glide straight to Amleth's chamber, but some gut feeling had led him to halt outside Fengon's private council room first. He quickly noted the presence of both the king and Lord Offa, standing by the fireplace.
"We have received word from Lord Sighere, my liege," said the old counsellor.
"What, already?" Fengon asked in astonishment. "Was the journey to Bernicia that swift?"
"Nay, sire," Offa replied. "But the ship met with misadventure along the way. It was assailed a few nights since by Geatish sea-rovers, and in the chaos of the fray, Amleth was spirited away by someone unknown. Sighere found his cabin empty, and the lattice of the window torn away by some great force. A search was conducted, but not a trace of the prince was found. Sighere saw to it that a courier left at the ship's next mooring, to make his way hither with all the haste that he might, that he might deliver these tidings."
"And they have no idea what befell my nephew?" Fengon asked.
"None at all," Offa replied, shaking his head. "Oh, there are rumors. You know how superstitious men of the sea are. Some hold that it was a sea monster which broke in and carried the prince off in its maw -- although why it only chose to eat him, and spared all else on board, none can say. Others claim that one of Aegir and Ran's daughters managed to lure Prince Amleth away into the watery depths. But whatever the case may be, he is gone."
"I see," said Fengon thoughtfully. "Well, it appears that our worthy nephew is gone. Drowned or carried off by pirates, most likely. A sad fate for the son of my good brother Horvendil, as well." He shook his head.
"Should I bring word to the Queen?" Offa asked.
Fengon shook his head. "I will do it," he said. "It is my duty, as her wedded lord, and step-father to her late son. And I will do whatever lies in my power to ease her sorrow."
"A most wise decision, my liege," said Offa, nodding.
"And while we speak of children," Fengon continued, "I have been meaning to ask you, old friend. How fares it with your daughter?"
"Still mad, I fear," said Offa. "The finger of the gods has clearly touched her as well, alas, and I know no remedy for it. Would that I did. Who would ever have thought that insanity was contagious?"
"Yes, 'tis most odd that she should have caught madness from her lover, and so soon after his descended upon him," said Fengon, frowning. "If I can find any means in my power to help her, depend upon it, I will. Perhaps the coming players' entertainment will lift her melancholy from upon her."
Offa nodded, and took his leave. He quietly walked out of the room and shut the door softly behind him, leaving the King to himself.
Fengon chuckled uneasily, as he seated himself in his chair by the fire. "Well, Ida will have small use for my letter now," he said, speaking low yet loud enough, though he did not know it, for Brooklyn to overhear him. "Someone or something has relieved Sighere's ship of its princely burden, before it could ever reach Bernicia. Perchance the sea-gods have indeed chosen to rid me of my troublesome nephew, without my needing to lift a finger to do it myself. I will need to offer them a few sacrifices by way of thanks."
"Don't enjoy it for too long, King Fengon," Brooklyn muttered under his breath. "Your nephew's coming back soon enough." And with that, he scaled up the wall, as quietly as possible, to reach the prince's quarters.
"Now come along, sweet, be merry," Gerutha cajoled. "The players are here and they'll be performing soon. Oh, you mustn't frown so, dear Margrethe! Will you not give us a smile? You're so much prettier when you smile...."
Margrethe patiently endured the queen's bubbling speech, and allowed herself to be led into the hall and seated with the rest of the ladies of the court, carefully maintaining the expression of delicate sorrow on her face. Chairs had been set up facing the dais at one end of the hall, and from underneath her eyelashes she saw the troupe of players bustling about it, setting up the sparse scenery they used.
"Your most lovely Majesty," said a cracked and quavering voice before them, "and ladies all, may I say that it is seldom that a poor player like myself is privileged to see such a garden of fairest flowers as you are this night.... But what ails this one white lily?"
Margrethe looked up to see an old man, hunched and bearded and wearing a flamboyant cape, looking up at her with gentle inquisitiveness from underneath a gaudy hat. One of the players, she realized, and curbed her automatic response of delight to a faint sad smile.
"A melancholy afflicts her, master player," explained the Queen.
"Melancholy? What ever for?" The old fellow turned his head on his frail neck to look at her again. A thoughtful frown line appeared between Margrethe's eyebrows; surely she had seen that gesture before...?
"Ah, she's in longing for Prince Amleth, master player," Gerutha said in comforting tones. "Sweet pretty child that she is, I cannot bear to see her thus distressed."
"Be not distressed then, pretty lady," he entreated her. "Why --" and he caught her eye, staring directly at her -- "your young prince might be anywhere."
Margrethe blinked at him.
"Surely, my lady," and did the old man's voice quaver a little less just then, become the voice of a younger man?... "surely you know the tale of the cranes of Ibycus?"
And one eye, bright blue and no older than herself, winked at her.
For a moment her mouth made a little O of recognition, then she smoothed it into the sad smile again. "I do, master player," she said softly.
"Then you know for yourself, is't not so? Gentle ladies, may our play please you." The player turned and began to limp back to the stage.
More members of the court arrived in the hall and settled into their seats. One member of the player troupe began to play softly on a set of pipes, signaling that the performance was about to begin. Servants began to move about the room, extinguishing torches one by one until just a few were burning, including a row in brackets at the foot of the stage. Their flame illuminated the raised platform upward with a flickering, red-hued light.
The piper continued to play, heightening the intensity and mood of his notes. Onto the stage two players entered, portraying a king and a queen. The mock-jewels on the crown of each gleamed in the torchlight, the shadows enhancing the scene, making their costumes seem richer than they really were. "Our play begins in the court of King Hlothgar and Queen Gudrun, who ruled a distant kingdom both wisely and well," declaimed the old man in the brightly colored cape.
The king and queen embraced lovingly as a group of players in the garb of nobles came onto the stage, led by a red-caped nobleman and one in a red hat who fawned beside him. The old narrator looked with distaste on the two. "Little knew they what was planned by Yngvar, brother to the king, and his liegeman Thorfinn...."
The nobles held horns or weapons of the hunt; the piper's music increased its tempo as if to suggest the thrill of the chase, the excitement. Turning to join the hunt, the king grasped the queen's hand, extended his arm full length as he walked away, then let go. The queen waved fondly at the group with a handkerchief, her eyes on the king. Then she left the stage. Moments later a man with a boar's head-piece perched on his shoulders lurched on stage, miming the actions of a beast.
Many of the hunting group pointed in excitement and readied their weapons, except for the red-caped Yngvar, who watched the king intently and mimed whispering to Thorfinn.
The boar began to run among the other players, who ran about as if to stab or capture it, moving in a wild choreographed dance. "Amid the excitement of the hunt," the old narrator continued, "none of the noblemen noticed when Hlothgar became separated from the band. None, that is, but two who were watching him with great care...." And the player king stumbled out of the dance, followed by the man with the red cape and his crony with the red hat. The others took no notice as Thorfinn seized the king, holding him down. The horrified king's mouth opened in a silent cry for help as Yngvar sprang upon him, stabbing him. Hlothgar slumped in death while Yngvar and Thorfinn rejoined the boar chase.
One of the nobles saw the king's fallen body -- stopped -- made gestures of shock and grief, beating at his chest, the others joining him. Four of them lifted the king's body above their shoulders and carried him along the stage. As they did so, the king's crown slipped from his head. Yngvar eagerly snatched up the crown and kissed it.
From the audience, there was a stirring.
The queen re-entered, saw the nobles carrying her husband, and fell to her knees, face buried in her hands. Yngvar put the king's crown on his own head and approached her, touching her shoulders as if to comfort her. But Gudrun pushed him away. He tried again, pulling a flower from his pocket. She pulled away, turning her face from him, the skirts of her dress spreading about her on the stage. He reached out and took her hand. Slowly, she turned, looked into his face, then got to her feet, relenting.
With a strangled cry, Fengon lurched to his feet. A startled murmur ran through the court as he shouted, "Lights! Give me some lights!"
The old player who had been narrating suddenly straightened to his full height, pulled off the gaudy hat and flung it away, and then tugged at his long grey beard, which came away to reveal --
"The king rises," Margrethe cried. "The cranes of Ibycus are upon you!"
"I call Thor and Odin Allfather to witness," Amleth shouted above the clamor, throwing aside his player's cloak and drawing his sword. "This is I, Amleth the Dane. And I am come to prove my uncle's villainy upon his body!"
"And I, Fengon the king, say that you lie to gain the throne that was your father's," snarled Fengon, drawing his own sword. "Let the gods judge between us in clean battle! None to interfere!"
"Aye," said Amleth sharply, "none to interfere. Not even you, Thorfinn," pointing at Ragnar with his sword. "Take care that your role becomes no greater than it already is, and we shall be minded to show you mercy. And this promise, unlike others, shall be kept."
Ragnar gaped at him; Fengon drew in a hissing breath. "You babble, nephew," he spat. "You shoot words like darts in a darkened room."
"And despite the dark I have hit the mark -- is't not so, uncle?" Amleth stepped forward, his sword ready. "Come on, sir, I am for you."
"Odin witness that I am in the right!" cried Fengon, his eyes ablaze with fury. He lunged at Amleth with drawn sword. The surrounding nobles clustered in small groups in the hall, watching fearfully; Margrethe hurried to the Queen's side and hovered there, her eyes never leaving Amleth, hands clenched into fists at her sides, as if she would leap forward to her beloved's aid.
"You slew my father, uncle." Amleth spoke in a snarling undertone, ducking the king's first blow, and parrying the attack with his own sword. "And you tried to slay me."
"I was a fool to entrust your death to Ida's hands," retorted Fengon. "You couldn't leave well enough alone. You had to examine the body and see the wounds. None of this need ever have happened! The nobles named me king, and you could have been my successor!"
Amleth parried a vicious overhand blow and backed away, circling. "And now what, uncle?" he demanded, all but spitting the last word out. "You have lost, and you know it. Even if you slay me and live, you have exposed your guilt before the court. How many saw you start when the players re-enacted your crime before your own eyes? You have proclaimed yourself kinslayer and usurper by your own actions!"
"Not quite," Fengon replied, a laugh in his low voice. "Of course I started at that re-enactment; who would not, to see himself so foully slandered? And then to find that this was all a murderous scheme of yours to seize the throne from me, through trickery and falsehood! That alone, told well to the nobles and the Queen, will be enough to justify my slaying you, as a false nephew and conspirator against the crown."
Amleth clenched his teeth and rushed at his uncle with a barely contained roar of rage. The older man gave ground before him, then sidestepped at the last moment, allowing his nephew to crash through the light wooden doors that led to the cliffside terrace. Sprawled on the flagstones, Amleth rolled catlike to one side and came to his feet, lifting his blade barely in time to block a swipe that would have cut his head in two.
The lords and courtiers crowded about the doors as the two men fought upon the terrace, their swords striking each other, sending out sparks. Amleth was younger and lighter, but Fengon stronger and more experienced. Slowly, he began to gain the upper hand. Amleth was pushed back, step by step, though yielding ground only reluctantly. His back was to the low wall that encircled the terrace; then a quick dive to one side saved him from an injury, and Fengon's sword struck sparks from the stone, knocking away a chip that fell from the terrace to the crashing waves far below.
Brooklyn emerged from the stairs at the top of the tower to look down at the fight below. "Fengon's winning," he muttered to himself. "Doesn't look good for Amleth." With a strange sense of deja vu, he sprang off the tower's parapet, spreading his wings wide to catch the air currents, and swooped down towards the fight below.
With a clatter, Fengon sent Amleth's sword flying from his hand, and raised his own blade for the final blow.
It never fell. Brooklyn dove out of the sky towards the King, giving a loud roar as he came -- a roar that mingled with the screams of the courtiers as they saw him. Fengon turned around, and stared upwards at the glowing-eyed apparition swooping upon him from above, wings outspread. His eyes widened in horror, and his sword dropped from his hand.
He stepped backwards to escape the demon, setting his back to the terrace wall as Brooklyn landed on the stones before him. "B-begone!" he quavered. "It wasn't me! I did nothing!" He pointed a trembling hand at his court. "They'll tell you -- it was a boar -- and, and I am king! You cannot touch me! I am king!"
Brooklyn advanced upon him with a low growl, his eyes burning white. "You are no king," he said in a voice loud enough to be heard by the entire court. "You are a murderer."
Fengon tried to retreat further, teetered on the edge of the parapet, and with a loud, despairing cry, he plunged down into the darkness and disappeared from sight.
Brooklyn barely spared the falling King a glance as he turned to Amleth. "Are you all right?" he asked the prince.
"I believe so," said Amleth, nodding. "Thank you, Horatius."
He walked over to the terrace wall, and gazed down. "So passes my uncle," he said. "I am afraid that I can hardly mourn his death. But all the same, I can hardly regret the fact that I was not the one who felled him. The gods have clearly taken it upon themselves to avenge my father's death, and their doom has been pronounced on the murderer."
There was a moment's silence. Then Amleth turned to Brooklyn. "You had best hide yourself quickly," he said. "You are the one thing that I cannot explain to the rest of the court, Horatius, and it would be safer to leave you out of this."
"I understand," said Brooklyn. "Meet you back in your room, then." And with that, he spread out his wings, and took off from the cliff, riding an updraft into a rising spiral. Below him, as he watched, the courtiers began spilling out of the hall onto the terrace, and Margrethe flew out of the press of people to throw her arms around Amleth's shoulders.
"Well, how did it go?" Brooklyn asked the prince as he entered his chambers.
"I revealed all to the court," Amleth replied. "Save you, of course; the rest of the court assumed you were a messenger of the gods, and I did not gainsay them. After all, who's to say they are wrong?"
Brooklyn shrugged and gave a grin. "I won't argue if you won't."
"After the response of Fengon to the play," Amleth continued, "and Ragnar's own confession, it was no difficult task. Even Offa had to face the truth. And my mother, as well." He shook his head. "I pity her, truth to tell, Horatius. She was no conspirator; she had no knowledge of it from beginning to end. It can be no easy thing, to learn that her second husband slew her first -- and also sought to take the life of her son."
"Yeah, I can imagine," said Brooklyn. "So you'll be king now?"
"So it would seem," said Amleth. "And I intend to make peace with the trolls -- or gargoyles, as you called them. I will tell my people how they helped me when I was in need, and that I mean to fully return the favor. My hope is that there will be peace between my folk and theirs, a lasting peace and concord in Denmark."
"I hope that it stays that way, too," said Brooklyn.
Before he could say more, however, the Phoenix Gate began to glow. Brooklyn stared down at it, then sighed. "Here we go again," he muttered. "Looks as though we're off once more."
"So soon?" Amleth cried, staring at his friend. "Will we ever meet again, Horatius?"
"Good question," Brooklyn replied, moments before the flame engulfed him. "But I don't know whether it's to be or not." And then he was gone.