The King's forest had always been peaceful, quiet, serene.
Owls hooted in the moonlight while animals settled down for the night.
The grass waved in the light breezes that pervaded the woods in the
nighttime to counterbalance to the rustling of the branches up above.
Humans had considered this place haunted by spirits, though, so none came
near the place unless it was with good reason. Royal decree held that anyone
caught hunting beneath these trees would be instantly killed. Times were
troubled enough without taking such risks.
A fiery sphere abruptly burst into existence, upsetting the gentle balance of the woods and dropping a red gargoyle, unburned and unharmed, into the midst of the King's forest. As the Phoenix Gate's portal closed behind him, Brooklyn picked himself up, and brushed off the brambles and twigs.
"First I land in a palace, now this..." Brooklyn grumbled to himself, standing to find out where he had landed this time. The darkness of the vegetation closed about him like shadow creatures waiting to pounce in the night. An owl's hooting gave the woods an eerie sense, almost like an old horror film. But this place seemed somehow familiar in a way to Brooklyn--he couldn't quite place it, but he knew it was there. He noticed he had landed on a trail, for a well-worn dirt path snaked into the woods. He didn't have much choice, so he followed the trail. Before leaving the spot of his arrival, Brooklyn took the Phoenix Gate, which was still clutched in his hand, and slipped it into the leather pouch on his belt.
The boat gently rocked on the serene waves of the sea
near the King's forest. The beach was small; literally no sand or rocks
at all before the beach met the scraggly underbrush of the forest. The
waves gently lapped at the shore as two female figures, one tall and slender
and the other shorter and full-bodied, walked across the beachhead. They
whispered in some undertones, apparently talking about an object that the
slender figure clutched to her chest. In a brief moment, the moonlight
caught a gold crest on the cover of the book, but quickly the slender woman
drew it closer to her body, and the glimmer disappeared.
Mary and Finella had finally made it back home to Scotland from the mystical isle of Avalon, but there was no happy family or friends to meet them; in fact, there were probably dozens of "King" Constantine's soldiers out looking for them and Princess Katherine. She had escaped to Avalon with the Magus and Tom, Mary's son, and Mary was still deeply saddened at the loss of her child. Still, she kept telling herself that it was for the best. She could only hope that someday they would be reunited.
Mary and Finella had been talking about what they were going to do to keep the Grimorum Arcanorum safe from Constantine's hands. There would be many soldiers to get around and they would never feel truly safe until they had gotten rid of the magic book in some way. Even then the price would never be lifted from their heads, until perhaps Constantine's reign ended. Then Mary and Finella would travel back to Avalon...maybe. Nothing was for certain now that the extra roll of fate, the Grimorum, had been added to both women's lives. They just had to ride it out and see what happened.
"Halt!" Both Mary and Finella nearly jumped with fright as a brightly-garbed man stepped before them, blocking any further attempts to move forward on the heavily wooded path. Mary cautiously held the Grimorum to her chest so the solider would not see the gold gleam of the crest on the front cover.
"What is yuir business here?" the man demanded.
Finella looked him over and recognized the man as a king's guard by the emblems and colors on his clothing. He also carried a wicked-looking spear whose tip gleamed eerily in the moonlight. She smiled sweetly, raising her chin to look him in the eye as she often did when she wanted to intimidate a subordinate.
"We are pilgrims, crossing through the King's woods on our way to the abbey at Helmdale." She regarded coolly, even as her heart raced. "I hope to take the cloth there." Her skin crawled as the soldier looked her over, an arch look on his rough face.
"Huh. Tell that one to th' king, milady. He might find it as funny as I do."
"No, I'm afraid we must continue on our journey--" Finella tried to sweep past him imperiously as she would have done in her former days, but the guard blocked her path. He lowered his spear tip menacingly and gestured for them to precede him up the forest path.
"My Lady Finella, yuir likeness is well-known amongst th' barracks. Come wi' me," he commanded, "Yuir king would like a word wi' ye." The two women showed no signs of fear or even panic, but resigned themselves to their fate. It seemed that even Finella's lies couldn't get them out of Constantine's reach.
Brooklyn didn't have any idea of where to go. Apparently
one had to know these trails very well or else get hopelessly lost. As
he was now. He sighed in despair. He hoped the Phoenix Gate would get him
out of here before he died of boredom. Brooklyn came around a natural curve
in the woods and the trees bent over slightly, forming something almost
like an arch.
But before Brooklyn could enter the arch, he heard the snaps of some branches being stepped on coming from the east. He cautiously crept behind the nearest tree so as to get a better view. A minute later, three figures appeared in the adjacent path to the one Brooklyn had been walking on. Brooklyn saw the glint of a spear being held to two of the figure's backs. He couldn't quite see in this light.....
The three figures stepped into a sparkle of moonlight and Brooklyn saw two women and one man. He recognized one of the two women captives from somewhere long ago....but where? Shrugging the feeling of dejá vu off, the gargoyle watched as the guard snapped angrily at the older woman who had tripped on a tree root. He jabbed at her with his spear.
With a battle cry, Brooklyn broke his cover in the dense foliage and
attacked the unknowing guard. He pivoted on his heel instinctively and screamed, jabbing his spear upwards, but too late. Brooklyn's frame slammed into the guard, sending him sprawling on the shining emerald grass. He tumbled head over heels and hit a rock that was protruding from the ground. Luckily, his helmet saved his skull from being mashed to a pulp. He shakily picked himself up and charged at Brooklyn once more, this time with his spear out in front of him. Brooklyn calmly stepped to the side of the guard, yanked the spear from his hands and smashed it into several pieces. Unfortunately, the momentum of the guard kept him going, and he plowed into the woods. He did not reappear and the crackling of branches could be heard as he made his exit.
Brooklyn turned and expected to see that the two women he had saved to flee in fright. But instead the women were standing there, apparently unaffected by the whole scene. Something didn't feel right...maybe they were his enemies as well? They came closer and Brooklyn cautiously watched their every move.
"Thank you," the one with lustrous golden hair began, "for saving our lives." Brooklyn saw them now more distinctly. The one that had just spoken appeared to be quite young, probably in her mid-to-late twenties. A flowing sky blue gown covered her slender frame and a band of gold tied her hair up neatly. Her carriage and bearing was noble, aloof and out-of-place in this wilderness. The other woman, clearly a peasant, was covered by a rather dirty cloak and had kind, motherly features. She wore some sandals that had been fitted with covers, just barely protecting her feet from the onslaught of the thorns that groped through the underbrush.
For a few seconds Brooklyn was struck speechless. He had very rarely been thanked in this manner before. Sure, back in Manhattan, the people he had saved from a mugging or worse, sometimes thanked him if they weren't nice enough to run away first.
"You're....um...welcome." Brooklyn said haltingly. "Why was he treating you that way?" Like a thunderbolt out of the heavens, it hit him. He recognized one of the women...Mary. That was her name. He remembered her from the last night of the castle, when she had tried to hit him with a stick when she thought her child was in danger. As to whether she recognized him or not, there was no indication but something in her former attitude to gargoyles had changed, for she made no move to attack him.
"There is a price on our heads, good sir," the blonde woman began. Brooklyn looked expectantly at her as she continued, "I am the Lady Finella, formerly consort to King Kenneth. For reasons that we do not know, Constantine has learned we carry this book," she gestured to Mary, who revealed the extremely old brown book from beneath the folds of her cloak, "and he will do anything to get it, even if he has to kill us in the process."
"What kind of book is it?" Brooklyn inquired, curious now. "What does he intend to use it for?"
"It is th' Grimorum Arcanorum," Mary answered. "It belonged to a sorcerer called the Magus."
"I know this book," Brooklyn said wryly, "And the Magus as well. What does this Constantine want with it?"
"We're not sure but it can't be anything good." Finella shrugged. "We think perhaps he wishes to go to Avalon, kidnap Princess Katherine, and destroy her precious gargoyle eggs in punishment for spurning him."
"And my Tom's there as well," Mary said fiercely. "I won't let that black-hearted devil anywhere near him!!"
Brooklyn knew that he had no choice this time...he had to get involved in history or risk Angela's rookery. He was surprised that Mary wasn't curious why he was not still in the Magus's stone sleep. It suddenly occurred to him that he probably looked different now. After all, it had been over two years since the clan had revived in New York City. Good food and plenty of exercise had filled him and his rookery brothers out since they were still maturing into adulthood. Plus, it would seem that they were far away from Castle Wyvern now--possibly in the adjacent lands of Katherine's uncle. If Mary considered him to be a entirely different gargoyle, then Brooklyn saw no reason not to continue the charade.
"Then I will protect you for as long as I can..." Brooklyn trailed off, not knowing how to tell them that he was a traveler from another time and place. But he was content that at least the people he was protecting appreciated his company and accepted him. It was quite a change from the days at Castle Wyvern when the gargoyles were merely "tolerated" instead of taken into account as guardians and friends.
The three travelers made an unlikely sight; the gargoyle, the mother, and the maid. They were not likely to bothered, however, Brooklyn looked for signs of trouble, Mary held the book close at hand, and Finella tried to think of ways to avoid Constantine's men through her knowledge of the kingdom. The woods were getting quite dark now and there was very little light with which to guide them. The forest was already showed signs of the bushes and trees thinning out to make room for a large clearing. There was just a hint of wood smoke to tickle a gargoyle's sensitive nose.
"Hmmm," Brooklyn said, rubbing his nose thoughtfully. "Any villages around here, ladies?"
"I don't know," Finella said with a faint frown. "I'm not sure exactly where we are anymore."
"Constantine has uprooted whole villages," Mary commented. "Nothing is where it was anymore."
Brooklyn jumped up into the branches of a nearby tree. "Then I'll go find out. If it's soldiers, I'll lead them away. If not, I'll be back soon enough."
The red gargoyle soared high over the edge of the forest, reveling in the clean, pine-scented air. He laughed a little, thinking how accustomed he had gotten to the pollution in the twentieth century. He coasted over the clearing, noting the tell-tale signs of human habitation. Small herds of cattle and sheep dotted the landscape and in the distance, faint lights casting glowing shadows around small buildings. It seemed to be a small settlement of sorts and from a distance, it seemed safe enough.
Brooklyn checked the position of the moon in the sky. There should be enough time to get the women to the shelter of the village if they started right away. He turned on a wingtip and returned to the forest.
It was a very cold night. Rain poured down in sheets upon
the tiny huts of the soldiers of Constantine the Third. Fires burned dimly
in the soldier's huts and smoke curled in little wisps and quickly dispersed
in the cold drafts above the huts. Constantine's building was greater than
all of the soldier's huts put together. It was a massive structure, built
to move on the road with a war camp. Now it served its purpose in hunting
down the Grimorum Arcanorum. Smoke came in much greater quantities from
the makeshift chimney of his tent.
The soldier nervously licked his lips as he walked in the ankle-high muck, the mud sucking at his boots. It never rained this hard before, he thought, the heavy drops pinging off his helmet as he approached his destination. The insignia of the former king, a swan and a lion, stood emblazoned on the sides of the tent. The swan was supposed to represent the peace and diplomacy of the country and the lion was supposed to represent the loyalty and willingness of the people to fight for what they thought was right for their country. The soldier snorted. "Things are a far cry from th' days under Kenneth's banner. Manorless folk right an' left, wayward women with magic books, bloody gargoyles comin' out of nowhere..." He kept up the non-stop grumble all the way to Constantine's tent.
Water dripped off the roof in buckets and flooded the soil around the tent. It was lucky that the tent was partly waterproof, or it would have been long flooded from the rain. An overhang covered the entrance, along with a red carpet leading inside. Two guards stood under the overhang, spears at their sides and the king's insignia crafted into their breastplates.
Desperately, mind working a mile-a-minute, he tried to figure a way out of this predicament. He remembered back to the time that he had accepted the assignment from his king, the assignment to find and exterminate the two women and get the magical tome. He and a handful of the king's best men had been chosen for this task, and he had to be the one that failed! He had indeed found the two women along with the book and captured them when that ugly creature had swooped down and beat him to the catch! He might have even killed the women already and taken the book...he didn't even want to imagine what "King" Constantine would do to him when he told him the bad news. And what if it was true that the creature had taken the book? He would REALLY be in trouble.
He sighed one last time and stepped under the overhang and onto the red carpet. He remembered to wipe his feet--he shuddered thinking of what had happened to the last man who neglected that little detail. The two guards recognized him and pulled their spears from the darkened entrance to Constantine's chambers. He cautiously entered, ready for anything.
Inside, a fire burned brightly in the center of the chamber, a chimney above it to catch the smoke and whisk it away on the night winds. A dark satin fabric lined the ground and maps of all sorts hung on the walls and on tables. There was a minute desk in one corner, piled high with maps covered with red circles. The areas indicated by the circles showed where Constantine's guards had scoured in hopes of find the two errant women.
A sharp *thunk* drew the soldier from his survey of the elaborate tent. He turned his head just in time to see another sharp dagger slam into a target board that was hung on a pole, striking directly in the center. Constantine loved to practice his throwing skills all the time; he was always honing his skills for battle. He was particularly good at hitting his mark which he did now. "King" Constantine was stalking around the room like a panther, throwing the daggers at the board and watching them time after time as they hit the bull's eye.
"Um...sir?" the soldier asked nervously, reluctant to make his report.
"What do you want?" he snapped irritably. "I don't have time for this!" Constantine's sharp features seemed just as pointed as the daggers he threw. His face was haughty and his dark locks curled around his golden bejeweled crown. A loose-fitting black cloak hung over his shoulders and his sword lay half-sheathed nearby. The soldier quickly glanced away. He knew this was the worst time to do this. Constantine was clearly angry about something before and this would make him even angrier about his news.
"I, uh, came across the two fugitives in the woods." he commented, trying to sound as casual as possible. One last dagger thumped into the board and Constantine whipped around and grabbed his soldier by the collar.
"You captured them, didn't you?" Cold eyes turned on the soldier. "Where are they?"
"No, your Majesty, please forgive me! Th' Lady Finella an' her servant had gargoyle to protect them. He was a tricky red devil, more than a match for me. I-I beg for your mercy, my lord. I did my very best," the soldier whined, and he fell to his knees on the floor. Constantine turned his back to the soldier, letting the man wonder about what was going to happen to him.
"This could be useful to my cause." Constantine mused, stroking his recently shaved chin. 'But on the other hand...it could mean much trouble--that is if a gargoyle is involved.' He sighed inwardly. 'So hard to get good help these days.'
Trembling, the soldier watched the dark-haired man pacing before him. He wondered what punishment he would be dealt at his king's whims.
"Leave me." Constantine ordered.
The soldier hastily got up to his feet, relief flooding his body. "Yes, sire. Thank ye, sire, for yuir forgiveness." He turned quickly and began to walk towards the entrance, a great weight lifted from his shoulders. It was rare that bad news such as his escaped punishment.
Barely audible, Constantine snapped his fingers and the two guards from the entrance entered. They blocked the soldier's further efforts of leaving. The soldier whipped around to face his king, his face blotched with fear and dread
Constantine looked over his shoulder and said smoothly, "I always forgive those who are dead." He flicked his eyes at his personal guards. "Do it."
The two cold-faced men seized the hapless soldier by both arms, his mouth working wordlessly and his eyes wide and pleading. They dragged the doomed man away into the darkened woods outside.
Irritably, Constantine flicked another knife into the target. This was getting tiresome and it was distracting him from his main goal of establishing his reign as high king of all Scotland. His advisors had come to him weeks ago with the news that Finella had re-emerged from wherever she had been hiding but the Princess Katherine and her pet magician, the Magus, were no longer traveling with her. Constantine could care less about Finella personally but she knew too many things, the truth behind his rise to the throne and the whereabouts of the Princess.
Those were good enough reasons alone to pursue Finella. If he could reclaim Princess Katherine, marriage to her would legitimize his claim to the throne. After their first son was born, he could dispose of her easily. It had come as a bit of a shock when it had been revealed that there was a third reason, and the thought of it brought greedy daydreams of power without limits.
Constantine took up his sword and buckled it on, heading out into the camp. He passed his guards overseeing a few foot soldiers filling in a shallow grave. They eyed him fearfully but kept working.
"Give the men this message," Constantine told his guards bluntly, "Find the women AND the book or face the same fate as their former comrade." The two men stood rigid after hearing the orders and then separated, one remaining to supervise the workers and the other to follow his king.
Constantine almost laughed. He loved to see that look of terror on men's faces when they heard their death sentence laid upon them by their executioner. He went on to consult his 'advisors,' altering his course slightly to the west and down the main road into the heart of his camp. His men sat around their campfires, their eyes turning eerie colors in the firelight. The sharp contrasts of light and dark cast many bizarre and misshapen shadows over the ground and tents, giving the camp a haunted appearance. Many of the men stood and bowed to their king as he passed, but he didn't even give a glance at his loyal followers...and perhaps not so loyal. He was sure that there were always those men who were out to betray him and take his crown just as he had done to the previous king.
On the north side of the camp, he came upon a large and brightly-lit tent. It had two figures embroidered upon the soft cloth; one was a silver half-moon with a face woven onto it and the other was a golden sun smiling in the light of an oil lamp burning from within the tent. These two figures symbolized the wizard's council in Constantine's camp. There were no guards outside the wizard's sanctuary, and there was no need of it. Everyone knew that it was not wise to anger those who dealt in the mystic arts for a wizard's wrath could be even worse than Constantine's mercurial outbursts.
He had called for their help on several occasions but he was uneasy about how they gave information. They seemed almost like seers sometimes--giving him mystic clues to what his future held. They could be very annoying at times, but Constantine had learned to control his temper around them--especially since he knew that he was basically under their power if he let one little outburst of anger lash out at them. He calmed himself for the approaching encounter, straightened out his clothes and scabbard, and promptly rung a bell that was posted outside the veiled entrance.
"Enter," a voice boomed from behind the darkened tent flap. Constantine lifted the fabric covering the entrance distastefully as if it were some evil spirit. He saved his best manners for his dealings with the wizards, carefully cleaning his muddy boots before treading into their carpeted domain. Incense hung heavy in the air above the low fire lit in a brazier raised in the center of the tent. Five figures sat around the glowing embers, their faces shaded by the cover of their hooded robes, the color of their garments and the elaborate embroideries on them telling the rank of each mystic.
The wizard that was the highest in this group wore a silver robe with the likeness of a dragon and moon as his crest, woven in gold thread, signifying that he was a mage of the highest degree. Constantine bowed slightly in the wizard's presence and the head wizard returned the favor, removing the hood, firelight reflecting off the head wizard's bald head and ancient face. He motioned for Constantine to sit, gesturing to an empty Romanesque chair.
"Great wizard," Constantine began, bristling at the humbling way he always had to address them, "I came here to ask you a question."
"And why else would you be here?" the head wizard asked emotionlessly. "You wish to know of the Great Book."
"Why you--" He cleared his voice. "Why, you are correct, as always."
"It is not a difficult guess. It is the first thing you think of in the morning, the last thing in your mind when you sleep at night."
"I wish to know how truly necessary the Grimorum Arcanorum is to finding the one I seek, Princess Katherine. Why should I waste any more time chasing after two foolish women and a book?" The five wizards conferred together for several minutes, but the exchange of words was so quiet that even Constantine couldn't hear a word that was being said. Finally, they all returned to their proper positions and the head wizard began to speak again.
"We have foreseen that the book is the key to finding the Princess," Constantine began to thank the wizards for their help but was cut off, "And also, that it is necessary if you are to succeed in becoming High King. It is a very powerful book indeed. Wield its power wisely or die trying." With this proclamation, the head wizard dismissed Constantine with a nonchalant wave of his hand. Constantine knew better than to speak again, so he left immediately.
"Is he gone?" the head wizard asked.
A younger wizard in a blue robe rose and looked through a hidden peephole. "Yes. He's strutting through the ranks, the arrogant cock-o'-the-walk." He looked back at his superior. "Do we really need this fool?"
"For the time being," the silver-clad wizard said. "All the auguries point to Constantine being our tool in gaining the Grimorum. It has the power of the centuries in its pages, used by the greatest magic users from the Mage of ancient Rome to Merlin Ambrosius." His eyes were lit from within as he focused on things only he could see. "And soon, very soon, its power will be ours."
Constantine thought about the wizard's words all the way
back to his tent, muttering absently to himself. "What exactly DID he mean
when he said 'Wield it's power wisely or die trying?' Did he mean to say
that if Constantine were to get the Grimorum and use it for wrongful purposes
that he would die?" This was most certainly something not to be dismissed
as mistake on the wizard's part; after all, they rarely missed the target
when it came to predicting the future. He would have to consult them again
when he had the book and then perhaps they could get him to Avalon and
he could get around the "dying" part.
He noticed that conversations around the campfires hushed upon his approach and resumed hurriedly after he passed. It seemed that the word had spread about their comrade's fate. He smiled grimly. Nothing like the fear of death to inspire more diligence in their searches. It was too easy to motivate people by fear to do his bidding! He walked straight past them and into his tent. He decided to get some rest, stifling a yawn--it was going to be a long week. Before he retired for the night, he called out to the two guards posted outside his tent.
"Get me the head huntsman."
The mismatched travelers silently strode into the grassy
clearing. Moonlight began to streak down upon the glossy meadow as they
came soundlessly over the first hill to view a panoramic view of the valley.
As they stood on the hill, Brooklyn estimated it would be at least five
miles until they reached the crude village. He could even see in the distance
a few dim fires. They had to be cautious when approaching since there was
no telling how they might be received by the inhabitants.
"If you approach them just right, perhaps you ladies can camp there for the night." Brooklyn suggested. "It seemed to be a small farming community from the air."
"How long do ye think it will take us to get there?" Mary asked.
"Perhaps an hour," Brooklyn said. The night was wearing on and they were all tired. It was slow going on foot
"Could you glide us there?" Finella asked, testing the wind with her finger.
"But--what about Constantine's men? They'd shoot us down if they saw him gliding us above th' treetops!" Mary protested.
Finella shook her head in disagreement. "We'll be fine if he skims the ground. We don't have to make it all the way there, just far enough that we don't drop dead from exhaustion."
"Well," Mary looked at Brooklyn speculatively. "Do ye think ye can carry both of us?"
"One at a time, yes, but both at once?" Brooklyn frowned. He considered it; together both women probably weighed less than Bronx and he could manage him if the weight was balanced just right. "Well, I think if one of you rides on my back and the other in my arms, I might be able to manage it."
"Excellent! We have no time to lose!" Finella already had her arms around his shoulders and was waiting impatiently for Brooklyn to pick her up. Mary bit her lip as she looked at Brooklyn, hesitating before taking her place between his wings, her pudgy arms gripped tight around his neck. Brooklyn picked the steepest part of the hill to take off, but to his dismay, Mary and Finella had thrown his balance off completely. It took a couple of minutes, but eventually he adjusted to it and with the added assistance of a convenient gust of wind, was covering ground at a steady pace.
"Well, it's not my best flying form," Brooklyn commented, his voice strained, "but whatever works." He set his sights on the lights on the horizon and concentrated on getting there in one piece.
"Ye called for me, my Lord?" the man asked.
"I have a job for you. One that I'm sure you'll like." Constantine had finished a brief nap and was now seated across from his head huntsman at his dining table. An oil lamp let a little bit of light play on the two men's faces, not unlike the little bit of light that was left flickering in their souls.
The huntsman wrenched a entire leg off the roast boar before him, tearing into it greedily, and wiping his greasy fingers on his tunic. Everything about this man was revolting--it was almost as though he went out of his way to be as unpleasant as possible. The wizards and the huntsman were two very distinct and different entities, yet both unnerved him greatly. But unlike the wizards, Constantine was not afraid of this man. It might have been the huntsman's bad table manners; the man ate like a wild beast and acted like one too. But Constantine knew that even the huntsman and his band of hunters came in handy sometimes.
"So what is this job ye want me to do?" he asked, chewing a big hunk of meat with his mouth open. Constantine tried not to lose his dinner as he explained.
"The two fugitives I wish to catch...I trust you know of them?"
"I am having some difficulty acquiring them."
"So I've heard!" the huntsman snickered, juice dribbling out the corners of his mouth and tiny bits of meat spraying across the table. It was a gruesome spectacle. Constantine slammed his fist on the table, rocking everything on it and almost made the huntsman choke on his dinner.
"I'm sure you have." Constantine angrily stated. "I want you to find the two fugitives, kill them, and bring me back the book. Is that understood?"
"What's in it for me?" the huntsman arrogantly asked.
"The executioner's ax on your neck if you don't succeed," Constantine replied coldly, "But your weight in gold if you do."
"Hmmmm..." The huntsman raised an eyebrow and wiped his hands on his tunic. "Seems to me that yuir quarry's to crafty to be caught one-on-one. I'll need to borrow some of yuir soldiers to flush 'em out."
"Take whatever you need." Constantine's eyes hardened. "Just get them or it's your head."
"I'll be on my way then. Trail's gettin' cold," he declared and promptly got up and left the tent. Constantine smirked as he heard the man's sloshing boots sucking into the mud as he left the grounds in search of his men. There was no way the fugitives could get away from him now. They had trained hunters and trackers on their trail. Now all that was left to do was to wait.
"I wish the rain would let up," Constantine said to himself, laying down upon his sleeping cushions once more. "That's the strange thing about this country," he puzzled before he closed his eyes again, "It'll rain here for hours, yet twenty miles away the weather will be perfect...."
The growl from his empty stomach had grown louder in the
last hour and was threatening to take on a personality of its own. Brooklyn
had carried Mary and Finella for as long as his wings would permit and
had gotten them fairly closer to their destination. Brooklyn hadn't any
food since Rome, and Mary and Finella had been moving constantly
ever since their skiff returned from Avalon, snatching what they could
eat on the run, so that for all three of them, a hot meal was only a memory.
As they got closer to the lights of the village, the more their mouths
watered in anticipation of hot food and drink awaiting them. This
spurred them on a little and before they knew it, the cluster of thatched
houses and crude huts lay before them.
But then there was still the risk encountering their enemies.
"It seems harmless enough, no signs of any soldiers," Brooklyn said decidedly. Looking at the two bedraggled women, it was clear that they wouldn't get much farther without food, provisions and at least some idea where they were going. "I'll stay here in the cover of the trees. You two go get all the necessary supplies."
"But why don't ye come with us?" Mary asked.
"Well-I, uh, I might scare them off."
Finella snorted and jiggled the coin pouch on her belt. "If you do, they probably don't deserve to have our money either. Now come along."
Brooklyn smiled. He could do nothing else but admire Finella's views on life. He shrugged, not knowing what to say, and fell in behind the two women.
As they walked into the village, some of the people came to the doors of their huts, all simple folk, farmers, tradesmen, hunters. Dirty little children's faces poked out here and there from behind their mother's bodies. Finella frowned and walked forward stiffly but Mary couldn't help seeing Tom in each child's face and her eyes glistened with tears. The villagers' eyes followed them but compared to their own impoverished existence, the sight of a gargoyle walking by was the least of their worries.
Brooklyn was saddened by this spectacle. Constantine lived a rich life in a kingdom that wasn't even his, starving everyone else to death in the process. Brooklyn sighed, thinking of the world in the twentieth century, and how people were starving to death there too because of this same reason, if not the same circumstances.
"If we band together against Constantine and his evil oppression, we can win the day!" Brooklyn's attention was drawn to a man standing atop a roof of one of the huts of the village, speaking to a cluster of men. He was strongly built with sandy hair and wearing a tattered guardsman uniform beneath a draped tartan.
"He will kill us before we can even make a move to stop him!" a voice shouted from the gathered crowd. Other voices fought to be heard.
"Just let him overcome us!"
"Nay! Think of our families! We cannae risk it!"
"Nothing can get worse than it already is!"
"Actually, it can." Some people gasped as Brooklyn's distinctive voice rose above the crowd. "I've seen what men like Constantine can do. He doesn't care about your lives or anyone else's but his own. If you don't join together to stop him now, what's to stop him from toppling all the other kingdoms? Do you want others to suffer the way you are right now?" Several people in the crowd started talking amongst themselves in a loud murmur. Then voices started raising from the crowd.
"I will join the fight against Constantine."
"And I." More and more voices vowed their allegiance to Constantine's downfall and soon the whole village was in an uproar. The man that had been speaking to the crowd earlier looked at Brooklyn and nodded his head in thanks.
"My friends--we have much work to be done tonight. Let us waste no time!" Immediately, the man started handing out various jobs--from weapon shaping to making defense plans for the village.
"You spoke well," Finella commented to Brooklyn as the trio headed for the local tavern. "I dinnae know that a gargoyle would have an opinion on politics."
"I get around." Brooklyn commented sarcastically.
"Nay, don't be so modest. You've probably given these villagers the backbone to stand up to Constantine. After all, it only takes one spark to start a fire, and perhaps they'll be an example to other settlements. Constantine may be able to withstand one simple village's attacks, but not if all of them band together."
Brooklyn shrugged. "We'll see," he said simply, reluctant to commit himself further.
To the north end of the village, a local tavern stood solemnly nearly a cluster of huts. It was shabby to say the least, but it looked like the only place to get a decent meal and be on their way. As Brooklyn brushed aside the skin that was covering the door, he immediately noticed the staring faces. He stared back passively while Finella and Mary came in, and then everyone went back to their business.
The tavern was small, but it accommodated the little business it got. Light was provided from several stubby candles scattered throughout the tables. People played games of chance and drank, some too drunk to get up off the floor. There were no barmaids, just a makeshift counter to the far back of the darkened tavern. A huge man stood there, exchanging money for drinks and food.
"A few bikers breaking beer bottles over their heads," Brooklyn mused, "and this dive would fit right in some of the seedier parts of Manhattan." Finella and Mary both shot him a puzzled took and he smiled sheepishly. "It's not important, ladies. Forget it."
Finella lead them through the gloom and they sat down at a rickety table near the counter, waiting to be served.
"What'll it be today?" the man behind the counter asked, pouring a drink to another waiting customer.
"We'd like a meal, please." Finella answered politely.
"Even Ugly there?" the serving man sneered, wagging a finger at Brooklyn. The gargoyle glowered but said nothing. The man just laughed. "We don't serve animals in here."
"He can go eat in th' troughs!" Several laughs erupted from all around the tavern. Brooklyn was barely controlling himself. Even in Manhattan he had never felt this much anger or resentment towards humans.
"Be glad I'm not Demona," he said scornfully under his breath, almost laughing thinking of how she'd handle this situation, probably with a spiked mace. Abruptly, the laughter in the tavern was cut off. A man was silhouetted in the tavern's doorway by the fires from outside. Everyone was looking at him with awe. It was the man that had been trying to persuade the villagers to fight Constantine earlier.
"This gargoyle is my honored guest here. You will all treat him with respect and dignity. Is that understood?" the man said in a firm, quiet voice to gathered patrons of the tavern. Mumbled replies issued forth from several people, and the man apparently seemed satisfied. He walked over to where the astonished Mary, Finella, and Brooklyn sat.
"May I sit here?" he asked, clear green eyes fixed on Finella as he smiled in a genuinely friendly manner.
"Sure." Brooklyn scooted over on the small bench to make room for the man. "And thanks."
"Bah, it was nothing." the man smiled again, " I should be thanking YOU for helping me convince these down-trodden people to overthrow Constantine." The man waved the bartender over. "My regular beer, if you please, Connor. And for my honored guests--" he left his sentence open for Mary, Finella, and Brooklyn to order what they had been trying to earlier.
"What do you have?" Finella asked, in a not-so-kind tone this time.
"Uh--we've got some roast fowl, vegetable stew, bread--that's it, I think." Connor said hesitantly.
"Then bring it, my good man. We are quite famished!" Finella ordered.
Grumbling, the serving man went into the tavern's kitchen, behind the counter, to fetch the food. After he was out of sight, the man started talking again.
"Where are my manners?" He smiled winningly at the ladies. "My name is Garrett, formerly a guardsman of the local lord but now a rebel."
"I am Lady Finella and this is Mary," she paused so long enough for Garrett to kiss her hand politely and nod to Mary and then continued, "and this is our gargoyle companion, Brooklyn."
"Pleased to meet your acquaintance." Garrett had a handshake like an industrial vise. Brooklyn winced slightly, and then returned it.
"The pleasure's mine," Brooklyn said.
Garrett continued his introduction. "I am part of the head council in this village. I was chosen along with three others to keep order in the village. Unfortunately, that hasn't worked out so well in these hard times."
"What has happened here?" Brooklyn asked curiously.
"Our former lord fled when Constantine crossed our border. Now we're taxed so heavily that many people have lost their homes, jobs, livestock. Some people have even had to sell themselves into slavery along with their families to pay off the debt."
"Is that not good enough reason to overthrow Constantine?" Mary asked.
"No--their spirits have been beaten. It has been very hard to rally any kind of support. But perhaps now we will have given the people their strength back so that we may prosper again." Just then Connor brought over steaming wooden platters and bowls to their table and set them down. The food smelled delicious.
"Please, do eat. Connor is an excellent cook," Garrett said, and took a sip of beer. Brooklyn had to admit that hunger was the best sauce, turning simple peasant fare into a fine banquet. The ladies were also enjoying their food with relish; Finella delicately eating her stew with her best court manners to Mary nibbling on a chicken leg with greasy fingers.
"So, tell me why three such peculiar travelers have come to our village?" His sharp eyes passed over them. "And why you keep that book with you?"
"It is a long, somewhat complicated story," Finella said, shrugging artfully.
Garrett smiled. "They always are. Try me."
Finella and Mary exchanged a look. The blonde woman sighed deeply. "I was a noblewoman in the court of King Kenneth. Constantine fancied me so I chose to leave the court when he came to power. The book is a family heirloom that I didn't dare leave behind, that's all. He took everything else I possessed."
"It's the same thing with our money. He always claims he needs to raise the taxes for one reason or another. But of course they are not justified."
"Nothing is ever justified with Constantine. He didn't deserve that crown in th' first place!" Mary said angrily.
"What do you mean?" Garrett asked, suddenly very interested.
"Dinnae you know?" Finella asked, concerned.
"No. What in blazes are you talking about?!" Garrett was starting to get upset now.
"King Kenneth was murdered. Constantine caught him alone and did the deed himself, taking the crown for himself." Finella looked down, the barest glimmer of remorse cracking her polished veneer. "I was there at the time and I'm one of the few people who know the truth, another reason for me to stay far, far away from Constantine. He has probably spread lies to have the people believe he is the rightful ruler. But he is not."
Garrett looked like he was in shock. "I don't believe my ears." he said. "Although, I can't say I'm surprised. My lord suspected something of the sort before he was forced into exile with the other nobles. When the people hear this, they won't stand for it. Kenneth was well-loved in a way Constantine never will be." Garrett took a sip from his mug before continuing, "I think that it's best you stay here until tomorrow night. Then you may continue on after the gargoyle has awakened from his sleep."
"That sounds like a good enough plan." Brooklyn nodded.
"All right, then, it's settled." Mary said, finishing up her meal.
"I suppose we should find a place to rest ..." Finella trailed off.
Garrett smiled at her. "My home is at your disposal, milady. It's not elegant but you and Mistress Mary can rest in comfort. I will be busy preparing our defenses anyway and can easily stay elsewhere."
"Thank you, gracious sir, you are too kind."
"It's nothing--compared to what you've done for us. The knowledge you've given me tonight is priceless. Connor, put together a little something to tide our friends over on their journey and--" Garrett was cut off as the skin serving as the door was tossed violently aside. A boy not yet past his teens entered the tavern and ran up to where Garrett was sitting.
"Sir! Constantine's men approach!" the boy shouted breathlessly. In an instant, everyone in the tavern was either running out the door or crowded around the messenger for other news.
"I think now would be a good time to leave," Brooklyn commented.
"That it is," Mary said as she hustled behind the counter, pushing an astonished Connor out of the way to collect some supplies for their getaway.
Garrett stood. "Brooklyn, we could use a warrior who can strike from the air. Will you stand with us?"
Finella put her hand on the gargoyle's arm and said frantically, "I can't let Constantine find me here. We have to go!"
Brooklyn frowned. On one hand, she was right, they couldn't risk it, but on the other, these people needed all the help they could get. "I have sworn my word to protect the Lady Finella," he said finally. "Once I have gotten her to safety, I will try to return and help your forces in battle."
"I understand. Return to help us if you can, if not..." Garrett clasped forearms with Brooklyn gargoyle-style. "Then I wish you, Mary, and Lady Finella the best of luck. Good journey!"
"You too, and I'm sorry for all the trouble we've caused you." Brooklyn said, a tinge of regret in his voice.
"Not at all, my friend." Garrett shook Brooklyn's hand one last time and departed with the rest of the tavern's patrons.
The gargoyle watched him go. "Finella, we better get going. We don't know what they're here for but Constantine probably tracked us here."
"I suspect that's the only reason for them to attack a small village such as this in the first place," Finella answered. Mary returned from the kitchen, lugging some supplies in a sack.
"Come along, you lot!" Connor bellowed, brandishing a large knife. He cut a long slit in the back of the tent, opening a escape route for them. "Head towards the hills, most of the women and children are on their way to the caves now."
"C'mon, let's get moving!" Brooklyn shouted over the great clamor that had swept through the village like wildfire. Brooklyn made sure Mary and Finella were behind him and slowly they cut an intricate path through the flood of residents. They saw Garrett and the village men preparing their assault along the mud-and-wattle fence that formed the village perimeter. Luckily, it seemed that Garrett had given some forethought to such an eventuality and would not be caught unprepared. He and three other volunteers were throwing spears to the men and some others were working on unveiling a catapult and other defense mechanisms. Grim-faced archers of both sexes took their positions.
Brooklyn, Mary, and Finella slipped out into the back part of the village. The going was slow, recent rains having turned the solid dirt into mud, making travel rather treacherous. A mother burdened with a heavy pack and three small children in tow slipped on the trail ahead of them. Her youngest child fell face-first in the mud.
Mary bustled forward. "There, there!" she said soothingly, letting the child's own tears help wash his face before dabbling at his cheeks with a corner of her apron. "It's going to be all right, poppet. We'll help you."
Brooklyn and Finella stared at her for a few seconds. Mary looked back sternly.
"It'll only take a few minutes to get them to safety and it's on our way besides." She nodded her head at the fallen women. "So, be a dear, Brooklyn and give the lady a hand." Mary turned her attention back to the child as she stood and perched him comfortably on her hip. "Auntie Mary will make everything all right, yes, she will. No more tears then!"
Brooklyn shrugged and lifted the woman up, taking her heavy load from her. A grubby hand tugged on Finella's skirt and she looked down into a grubby, frightened face. The noblewoman made a little distasteful frown, sighed, and gingerly took the ragged little girl's hand.
Slowly, they made their way with the others up into the rocky hills. Just before they reached the cave, there was a sound like rumbling thunder, and the refugees turned to see a wave of horsemen and soldiers pouring into their valley, heading straight for their little village. Several of the women began to weep at the thought of perhaps never seeing their loved ones again.
"I can't just leave without doing something," Brooklyn said softly. He looked resolutely at Mary and Finella. "Keep going up into the mountains. I'll catch up." He unfurled his wings and was off, soaring back down to the battlefield.
With a gust of wind, Constantine's tent flaps blew open
and a breathless, tartan-clad boy entered. His cheeks were flushed from
running and he fought to control his breathing.
"Yes?" Constantine asked, lifting up from his sleeping cushions.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir," the boy began.
"Then it better be good," Constantine warned.
"Yessir," the boy began again, "Your hunters have tracked the two fugitives and the gargoyle in a small village just to the south of your camp." Constantine sat bolt upright, in process hitting his head on a pole that was part of the structure of the tent. The poles that made up the rest of the tent tilted and waggled precariously.
"I should hope they are in process of catching the fugitives."
"Um, yes, but there is a slight problem." the boy hesitantly revealed.
"Problem?" Constantine asked dangerously. "What problem?"
"Your soldiers have engaged the villagers in battle and someone has organized them, sir. They're actually putting up a good fight." The boy stood there nervously, looking at his feet.
"Perhaps these rebels need to learn to respect their king. Fetch me the commander of my army!" Constantine said to the boy, who quietly left the tent, breaking into a run before the flaps fell shut.. After the boy left, the royal usurper took his golden crown and placed it on his head.
"King once more...." Constantine trailed off, hopes once again high for finding the Grimorum and Finella. Then he would have total and complete power. The other petty kingdoms would not dare to stop him with a powerful magical book in his hands. Constantine smiled as he looking into a mirror leaning against the tent wall. The jewels sparkled in the small light of an oil lamp.
"If the crown fits..."
The night sky above was a huge vast emptiness, sprinkled
delicately with tiny stars and a half-crescent moon. But below the celestial
scene, there was no peace. A huge piece of flaming pitch was thrown into
the sky by catapults of the villagers towards Constantine's soldiers. Cheers
went up as they saw brilliant bursts of flame erupting in the midst of
their enemies. The soldiers retaliated, sending a bitter lesson to the
inexperienced villagers. A storm of arrows whistled all around them. Those
with the presence of mind to keep their shields stood their ground. Those
without ran for cover.
"Connor!" Garrett shouted over the chaos. "Connor, the catapult!!" Getting no response, the former guardsman fought his way through the panicking peasants.
The heavy set tavern keeper lay besides the siege engine, hand slipping down from the winch, an arrow in his back. The grass grew crimson beneath him.
Garrett set his jaw grimly. "By the Dragon, Connor, you will be avenged." He motioned to some men hiding behind the catapult. "Come along, you lot. Connor set the crank for us. Let's make his last shot count!" Pulling and pushing, they aimed the great machine at the approaching army.
Beyond the battle, Constantine's hunters moved around
hidden up on the valley's edge. They had spied the mass exodus of the women
and children, so they knew they had to hurry and catch them before they
got too far away.
"I hope his Worship dinnae expect us to join in th' fighting," a gruff man said from the back of the group.
"Nay," another voice spoke up, "Those farmers down there dinnae have a chance."
"Let the king's men have their fun." The head huntsman had been watching the outflow of refugees carefully. "We're here after a quarry of a different sort, lads, and I'd wager they've slipped out with that lot up there."
The gruff man spoke. "Aye, if they've got a gargoyle with them, it'd be ideal. That's the kind of terrain they like."
"Never bagged me a gargoyle," the head huntsman said thoughtfully.
A coarse laugh came the group. "I hear they taste like chicken." Several other hunters laughed.
"We'll have to find out then, won't we, lads?" The huntsman and his small party of men skirted the battle zone and headed for the hills.
Constantine was at the head of the column, riding next
to his commander as they led the remaining troops out to join the assault
on the village, when his horse whinnied and reared back in fright.
"Whoa, Samson! Steady....steady...." He held the reins firmly and glared into the darkness. "Who's there?"
His silver robe glowed incandescently in the moonlight, the head wizard stepped forward, flanked on either side by his fellow wizards, blocking the road. He crossed his arms. "We have sensed the presence of the Grimorum Arcanorum. We will join you in recovering the book."
Inwardly cursing, Constantine's face stayed pleasant as he answered, "We would be honored, great wizards." He watched as one of the lesser wizards whistled and five saddled horses came towards them. They mounted their steeds and took their place directly behind Constantine. He twitched and the hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he felt five pairs of all-seeing eyes on him.
He growled and quickened the pace.
The villagers all heard the roar of the soldiers' battle
cry as they charged the village.
"Archers, arrowstorm NOW!! Spears and pikes, get ready!" Garrett called out as he re-adjusted the catapult's trajectory.
Twenty spears immediately went up in attack form. The soldiers rushed forward with cries of madness, man after man falling beneath a rain of arrows, but still Constantine's men closed in....fifteen feet....ten feet....five feet...
The battle began with the crash of steel against steel as shields flew up in defense and swords and spears clanged against them. The villagers fought with such fury, even Constantine's men were not ready for it. Spearheads ripped through some of the weaker wooden and skin-covered shields, killing those unfortunate enough to be behind them. Swords reduced spears to kindling as they hacked through those that opposed them.
"I knew that gargoyle was all talk," Garrett heard one of the men manning the catapult say. The ex-guardsman glanced up at the sky. He had only met a few gargoyles in his life but his former captain had always spoken highly of their sense of honor. "Where is he?" Garrett whispered under his breath. "Don't let me down..."
Suddenly, without warning, an eerie battle cry from above split the darkness. Soldiers and villagers alike looked up to see a red-skinned demon bearing down on them, a good length of fence railing in his hands. The terrifying creature swept through the ranks of the foot soldiers, driving them into the ground with wide sweeps of his improvised weapon.
"Brooklyn!" Garrett grinned and took full advantage of his sudden appearance. "The gargoyle is with us, neighbors! Let's drive these fools out of our valley!!" He took careful aim at the back ranks of soldiers and let fly with a second volley of flaming pitch.
Brooklyn neatly evaded the medieval napalm and watched with some satisfaction as it scattered the troops. Most of them had wised up and were retreating. He swung over the village and landed on a rooftop near the catapult.
"You've broken their spirit," Garrett called up to him. "My thanks, friend."
The red gargoyle grinned and waved off the compliment. "No, you and your men did the hard part. I just helped out." He pointed his beak towards the eastern sky, which was beginning to lighten. "I've got to go. Daybreak will be here soon and I must find a roosting spot as well as see to the Lady Finella."
"Tell her as soon as we clean up here, I'll come for her. My offer is still good. She and her servant will be welcome in my home."
"I'll pass that along," Brooklyn replied. He launched back into the air, circled the village as Garrett led the villagers in a rousing cheer and disappeared towards the mountains.
His departure did not go unnoticed.
"Blast!" the huntsman said under his breath, seeing the
gargoyle soar past them towards the mountains. Even though he knew it was
futile, one of his men seized an arrow from his quiver and shot it at the
now distant gargoyle. It missed its mark by a wide margin.
"Sorry! Bit of a crosswind there."
"Never mind," their leader said gruffly. "He'll head straight for the women. We're almost at the caves now and daylight will take care of the gargoyle. This will be an easy job if we're quick."
"Hurry up, Rory!" the battered soldier hissed to his companion
staggering behind him. "We'll be free and clear once we're in the forest!"
"Well, well. What do we have here?"
The soldier looked up at the dark-haired man with the crown and gaped in fear. "Um...I-I..."
"They can't possibly be deserters," Constantine said smugly, "because everyone knows the price for desertion in my army is death. Therefore, you must be... messengers, yes -- messengers from the battlefield." His eyes hardened. "And so, my good men, what news do you have for me?"
Rory elbowed him in the ribs. "Yuir Majesty, I'm afraid th' battle has taken a turn for the worst. Someone has organized these villagers. They fight like a well-trained militia. And they have an unholy alliance with a gargoyle."
"A gargoyle, you say?"
"Yes, your Majesty. He swept right through our ranks, a fiercesome brute, red as the devil he was with fiery white eyes!"
"He's right," said one of the lesser wizards. He had a rolled up piece of leather with a polished piece of glass in either end held up to his eye. "The creature is over there, flying towards those rough hills on the far side of the valley."
The head wizard's eyes lit up and a look of pure avarice came over his face. "Then that is where we shall go." He urged his steed into a gallop, as did the others, racing towards the craggy peaks.
Constantine watched the wizards go with mixed feelings. He was glad to have their beady eyes off his back but he was more than a little distrustful of their motives. He frowned and said to his commander, "Put these men back into the ranks. Let's put an end to these rebellious scum."
One of the villagers, a middle-aged woman with graying
hair stepped out of the cave with a loaded crossbow, flanked on either
side with women armed with bows and spears. "Gerrout wi' ye, Mistress Mary!"
the woman called out. "Th' men aren't th' only ones that kin fight! They'll
not harm our wee bairns!!"
"They'll be okay!" Brooklyn yelled, grabbing Mary and hauling her up the steep hill after sure-footed Finella. "We can't let Constantine get the book!"
The huntsman nearly crowed in triumph as he saw the arrow
narrowly miss the gargoyle's wing. The tricky crosswinds whistling through
the narrow almost certainly insured that creature would not be able to
fly away and he was apparently protecting the woman with him. She turned
and the huntsman saw the large leather-bound book in her arms. A gleam
came into his eyes and he thought greedily of the gold that he had been
"Come on, men!" he thundered. "Let's get them!"
They rounded the corner to be met by a barrage of arrows, stones and assorted debris being hurled at the hunting party by women of various ages and gangling youths. His men were falling all around him; he could hear their screams. A grim-faced woman pointed a crossbow directly at him and belatedly, the huntsman remembered one of the most important rules of the hunt.
Never go into the den of a female with cubs. She'll fight to the death.
"Dawn is approaching. I've got to get you to safety
before I turn to stone." Brooklyn said nervously to Finella and Mary, glancing
behind them for signs of pursuit.
"Don't worry, Brooklyn," Finella said assuredly, "We'll think of something."
"I was talking to th' other women. It might best to hide in those crags until tomorrow night." Mary said, pointing to a series of rugged peaks carved by erosion . "They said it's riddled with caves."
"Maybe I should glide up there." Brooklyn suggested.
"Too risky. If we do, the hunters would be able to shoot us down with arrows easily. It's not that far...we can climb." Finella said. They walked toward the base of the mountain and slowly made their way up to the crags. For Brooklyn, the going was easy, since he could simply climb with his claws and dig in with his feet. Finella seemed almost like a natural mountain climber with her agility and strength. Mary was not used to such strenuous activity, huffing and puffing, but kept up with Finella and Brooklyn closely.
The sky was starting to turn pink, and it was only minutes until the sun rose. They were getting very tired and Brooklyn had grown weary of constantly looking back to the fringes of the forest for any signs of movement or activity. Mary was struggling up a steep embankment when she lost her balance and slipped. Finella caught her just in time to see two arrows smack into the dirt beside her. Brooklyn quickly leaped down and pulled Mary up. She looked past them and gasped.
Behind them, on the wide ledge in front of a large cave, were five robed figures. They were standing inside a circled pentagram, drawn in chalk on the rough granite slab. Standing at the point closest to them was an ancient-looking man in a silver robe intricately embellished with golden embroideries. His finger were woven together in a strange gesture and as his sharp eyes passed over them, Brooklyn felt a chill pass over him.
"Welcome." His voice was cold and hollow. "We have been waiting for you, Timedancer."
Brooklyn frowned and stepped in front of Finella and Mary. "Who are you? What is this?"
"We are the Brotherhood. We seek knowledge -- of the past, the present and the future." He flicked his eyes down to the pouch on Brooklyn's belt.
The red gargoyle flipped his wings around his shoulders. "The only knowledge I have for you is that we're not staying."
"You and the women may leave," the wizard replied. His gaze grew flinty. "But the Grimorum Arcanorum and the Phoenix Gate will remain here with us."
"Nay!" Finella protested indignantly. "I don't know who you are, old man, but I don't trust you any more that I trust Constantine!"
"Foolish girl, Constantine would have wasted the Grimorum's power." He smiled, a slow slither of his lips across his face. "We know exactly how to harness its arcane energies."
Brooklyn had seen that look before on Demona, among others. Whoever this guy was, he was dangerously short one burrito of a combo platter. "No way, pal. I've seen first-hand what happens when the Grimorum falls into the wrong hands."
"You forget, gargoyle, you're cursed to turn to stone." The head wizard pointed with a great flourish. "Behold, the sun!!"
"Take the book!" Finella thrust it into his arms. "They can't have it if it turns to stone with you!"
"Wait!" Brooklyn yelped. He wasn't sure he wanted to be saddled with another magical talisman. Just as the sun's rays were beginning to peep past the eastern horizon, the Phoenix Gate flared to life with a high-pitched scream and a coruscating ball of fire. In an instant it had engulfed Brooklyn, Mary, and Finella. The women's screams as the eerie flames took them echoed off the granite formations of the crags. When the blinding effect of the Gate wore off, they were gone.
In their place stood three identical women clad in sky blue gowns with hair of black, silver, and gold. They regarded the wizards coolly.
The black-haired one spoke. "Sisters, what shall we do with these foolish old goats? They have meddled in our affairs."
"Truly, sisters, too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing," said the one with golden tresses. "Perhaps they need a change, a new start on life."
"An excellent suggestion, Phoebe," said she of the silver-white hair. "An occupation that requires very little thought, I think."
As one, the three Weird Sisters turned and focused their will upon the human wizards. Their bodies contorted, changed, the astonished look on their bearded faces being the last vestige of their humanity to go before five mottled brown goats struggled out of now-useless robes. The goat with the longest horns and the thickest beard nibbled delicately at the gold embroideries on a silver sleeve.
Of the three women, there was no sign that they had ever been there at all.
The next thing he knew, Brooklyn was again floating in
the limbo of the timestream. Mary and Finella were there too, yet extremely
shook up. They didn't seem to be aware of their surroundings, or perhaps
they thought this was the land of the dead. Brooklyn quickly floated over
"Are we dead?" Finella asked dumbly, surveying her surroundings.
"Uh, no, Finella, we're not." Brooklyn didn't know how to begin. "I, uh, don't know quite how to put this....I'm sort of what you might call a time-traveler."
"Time-traveler. See, I accidentally came into possession of a powerful talisman that allowed me to go forward or backward in time and space. I'm really from the future. I was the one of the few that survived the massacre at Castle Wyvern and was frozen in the Magus's stone sleep."
Finella was heartily confused, but Mary's eyes narrowed and she stared hard at Brooklyn. "I remember ye....ye an' wee green gargoyle were playing that great beastie th' night before th' Vikings took th' castle. I wasn't sure so I dinnae want to say anything." She smiled apologetically. "Ye all looked th' same to me then, so I dinnae take much notice of you."
"It's all right, Mary," Brooklyn said, smiling back.
"You wouldn't know what happened...or WILL happen to my boy, Tom, would you?" she asked eagerly.
"Tom?" Brooklyn looked a little confused.
"He went to Avalon to protect yuir clan's eggs."
Now it was Brooklyn who lit up with realization. "You mean the Guardian," he said carefully, wondering what he could safely tell her of the future. The hopeful, anxious look in her eyes decided for him. "Yes, Tom made a fine Guardian. He did and still does a good job protecting the gargoyles on Avalon. My rookery brother's mate was raised there and she's always spoken highly of him."
Mary sighed in relief. "I thank ye, Brooklyn, wi' all
my heart. Just knowing that that my boy will be all right makes my burden
easier to bear."
"I'm not sure but I think we're almost at the end," Brooklyn said, noting the appearance of light at the end of the timestream vortex. "I certainly hope so."
"What EXACTLY is this place?" Finella asked curiously.
"All I know is that it transports me to different times and places at random. I never know exactly where I'm going." Brooklyn just finished speaking when they fell out of the Gate's flaming portal once more.
Luckily, the landing was a soft one on a field of thick grass. As the three travelers picked themselves up and wiped the loose grass off their clothing, they noticed that the flowers were in full bloom and the moon was high overhead.
"What shall we do? Constantine may still be--" Mary started.
Brooklyn finished, "--long gone by now. I think we were in the vortex long enough to be past Constantine's reign. This is the valley the village was in, see the landmarks, and look," Brooklyn said, pointing to a grand manor house just behind them, with its majestic flags waving peacefully in the breeze. A small, prosperous settlement had been established, tidy houses clustered around a village square a mile past the manor. "It seems there's a new ruler here and perhaps you'll be safe here."
Mary and Finella reluctantly agreed, and their hearts soared at the thought that they might not ever have to be on the run for the rest of their life. They entered past the high walls surrounding the estate with no problems and proceeded into the courtyard. A fountain trickled merrily here and a few people lingered around , obviously waiting for something to happen. The travelers decided they had better wait to see what exactly was going to happen.
The huge doors of the manor house opened with a clang and Brooklyn, Finella, and Mary looked nervously in that direction, waiting for Constantine to run out and yell to his guards, "Seize them!" Several people came out of the castle, walking towards them. Brooklyn recognized the man in the lead as Garrett, the man in the village who had so bravely fought against Constantine. His garb was no longer a simple Guardsman's but the rich colors of a noble. A group of men followed behind him in strict ranks like well-trained soldiers.
Garrett looked straight at them, suspiciously at first but then with gradual recognition. He beamed as he halted his men and broke formation. "Brooklyn! Lady Finella! Mistress Mary! I thought I'd never see you again. It's been ten years!" His eyes drank in Finella's beauty. "Truly, time has not touched you, milady."
Finella lowered her eyes and exchanged an amused look with Mary.
"Tell us, Garrett," Brooklyn asked, "What happened that night? We saw the second wave of soldiers sweep into the valley but we were too far away to help."
Garrett tore himself away from his rapt contemplation of the noblewoman. "It was a dark time for us, I'll tell you. We did our best against Constantine, fighting with all our strength until our weapons were spent and we'd thrown everything including the blacksmith's anvil at him."
Brooklyn winced. "Ow."
"It would have been grand if it had hit the scoundrel but as it was, the anvil saved us. It took out several yards of fencing and the cattle stampeded, giving us time to flee into the hills. Constantine won that one, but it cost him dear. He lost all of his wizards and when I made my way to my former lord in exile, I told him what Lady Finella had said about King Kenneth being murdered. Many of the high-born nobles were unhappy with Constantine and that was all it took to unite them. Two years later, Constantine's head was on a pike and we had a new, just king."
"The valley's prospered," Mary observed, looking around. "You seem to have done well for yourself."
Garrett still had enough guardsman left in him to act embarrassed. "Well, as reward for my services during the war, the king granted me a title and a bit of land. I'd grown fond of this valley so I returned here with a few of the original villagers. It's been a lot of work but it's been a grand life for us all."
"A title?" Finella eyed the ex-guard with renewed interest. "You mean, you're Sir Garrett now?" She dipped into a regal curtsey.
He laughed and took her arm, lifting her back to her feet. "No one who ever knew me in the old days is required to call me Sir." He lifted her hand to his lips. "And my offer still stands, Lady Finella. My house and all its comforts are yours for as long as you wish it."
Her cheeks flushed a rosy pink but she held her head up high. "Then, Garrett, would you be so kind as to show me your house?"
Garrett took her hand and placed it on his arm as he escorted Finella into the fortress-like manor house, smiling and talking attentively to her. It was a bit early to tell but there seemed to be a great deal of mutual attraction going on.
"Well, unless I'm misreading the signs, I think the Grimorum may be on its way to having a new home," Brooklyn said with a wry smile. "And Finella, as well. Now you can live without worry of Constantine ever interfering with your lives again."
"'Twill be strange gettin' to know this new world." Mary admitted.
"Well, at least you weren't thrown one thousand years into the future!" Brooklyn laughed, looking at the confused look on her face. "Don't ask, Mary. It's a very long story."
A long-legged adolescent boy with fluffy blonde curls
was hurrying by with a large basket of vegetables and fruit. He passed
them and then stopped to look back. "Mistress Mary?"
She smiled. "Aye, lad. That's my name."
"I thought it might be you! I was just a child but you helped my mother rescue my brother and sister and me when we were naught but wee bairns. I don't remember much beyond your face an' the sound of your voice. My sister said when we were all hiding and scared, you sang to us an' made it all better."
Mary squinted at him, recognition blooming in her eyes. "Bless me! You're the little tyke that fell in the mud!"
The boy flushed and smiled sheepishly. "Truth be known, Mistress, I still fall over these big feet o' mine." He nodded towards my house. "My mother works in th' kitchens. I know she'd love to see you."
"Aye, I think I'd like that too."
"Well, I guess I'll be go--" Brooklyn felt that tingling sensation again, and suddenly he was yanked from reality. He saw the smiling faces of Mary and the boy slowly distort and twist until they disappeared from his vision. He was once again in the vortex of time, floating endlessly. He once again saw the light and was ready for another hopefully soft landing.
Before he knew what was happening, Brooklyn felt himself being pulled from the vortex. He struggled, but invisible bonds seized him, keeping all his appendages immobile, even his wings and tail. His eyes lit up in fury, but there was nothing he did could free him. He felt his body being lowered into a dark place. Fog floated in from somewhere and there was a strange musty smell. He looked around but all he saw was the fog and the eternal darkness.
"Hello? Is anyone there?" Brooklyn called out, and immediately an echo bounced back at him. Then, with a flash of white light, three figures appeared before the captive Brooklyn. He recognized them all too well.
"The Weird Sisters!" he yelled.
"You are the servant of prophesy." the one with golden hair stated emotionlessly.
"You will dance to the music of the ages." the sister with black hair said.
And lastly the white-haired one spoke, "Forever throughout all time."
Brooklyn nearly screamed in anger and frustration, because of their words, and of frustration because he couldn't get loose from his magical bonds.
"What makes you think I'm going to do anything for you?!" Brooklyn asked incredulously.
"You cannot refuse."
"You have no option."
"Prophesy has chosen you, Timedancer." With that final statement from the Sisters, Brooklyn was hurled back into the vortex and his arms were freed. Before he knew it, he was closer than before to the end of the vortex.
"What did they mean 'refusal is not an option?'" Brooklyn asked himself out loud. He shook his head and growled in frustration. "They have got to be three of the most IRRITATING women I've ever met." He yelled into the vortex. "If we meet again, Weird Sister, it will be TOO soon!!"
Abruptly the vortex stopped spinning, and with a dizzying drop, he fell through the Phoenix Gate into a new and different dance.