Written by Carolynn "Aerie" Marie
Outline by Rahsaan Footman
Previously on Timedancer…
Brooklyn dashed after Etolie, following her up the cathedral's stone steps to the loft. He overtook her at the first landing, throwing himself in front of her.
"Etolie, you need to calm down!" He put his hands on her shoulders. "I understand your concern, but you can't just hurt every human that comes-"
She slapped his hands away. "You have Sata," she said coldly. "If what I fear is true, what shall I do? I will be alone." Even as she spoke, her eyes wandered towards the door to the loft only a few steps away. There was a crazed look on her face. "Isolation is the worst sentence."
"Xavier!" Andre interrupted. "I’ve found something. It’s … eggs."
"Omelets! Even better!" Jean laughed.
Xavier ground his newly-stolen shoes into the mud in a rage. "You threw my hard-earned loot into the river for a bunch of EGGS?" Brooklyn’s eyes glowed in defiance. Xavier snarled at him and turned to Jean. "Where are these eggs?"
Andre smiled. With a well-aimed kick, an entire stack of hay went sliding into the river, revealing the vulnerable nest.
Sata felt her muscles tighten. She knew where this was going. "No!" she roared, struggling, but someone shoved her face first into the dirt again.
"Destroy them," Xavier snapped, waving his hand at Andre and Jean. He gave Brooklyn a cruel kick in the ribs. The gargoyle yelped, doubling over in pain. Xavier simply sighed, almost sympathetically. "You will see now, gargoyle," he said softly, tickling Brooklyn's chin. "I always win."
Andre and Jean nodded mechanically, then raised their swords over the nest to smash its unborn occupants…
~ To the Soul ~
* * * * *
* * * * *
An enraged scream from the sky interrupted Jean’s train of thought. His neck snapped back in time to see a howling demon dropping onto him and Andre, ramming into them with the force of an enraged bear protecting her young.
Grateful for the moment’s distraction, Sata twisted her body around and kicked Pierre off of her. He crashed into Henri, and Brooklyn, no longer feeling a sword to his throat, eagerly threw both men off of him into a confused pile.
Etolie lifted Andre and Jean to her face. "You are brave enough to attack hatchlings," she growled. "What of me? I can be a true challenge."
She didn’t notice when Xavier pulled a musket from his belt and aimed it at her unprotected back.
"No!" Brooklyn whipped his tail around, catching Xavier by the back of his legs and tossing him into the air like a roulette ball.
The shot went wild, and a 3-inch lead ball missed Etolie’s skull by a few inches.
Xavier hung in the thick night air for an eternity before he crashed down to Earth in a broken heap, his leg at a funny angle, and Brooklyn winced at the man’s enraged roar as he clutched his leg in pain.
Sata grabbed him by his collar. "I believe you have something of mine," she commented, tearing her sword from his belt. She released him as Henri and Pierre tackled her from behind, sending the three of them into the mud.
She twisted and flipped, landing squarely on her feet, grappled them by their belts, and forced them to the ground. Etolie eagerly threw Jean and Andre into the tangled pile of arms and legs.
After several confused moments, the men finally gathered themselves and scrambled for the woods, clutching their bottoms and cradling their aching scalps.
One of them hesitated as if unsure what to do. There was a snap as Brooklyn’s wings flared, and he bellowed loudly enough to have been heard back in Paris.
His offensive stance decided the men. They bolted into the woods like terrified rabbits pursued by hounds.
Brooklyn gave a content nod, but his face set into a deep scowl when he realized Xavier had miraculously disappeared during the last seconds of the fight.
A roar from behind made him jump. Etolie flew by him on all fours, her sinewy muscles coiled for a spring. He grabbed her by the waist and held her back, but all he got for his trouble was a smack across the face. She wiggled out of his grip and landed in the mud, gathered herself, and was off and running again.
"Enough of this," Sata growled to herself, sheathing her swords. She took a running leap and tackled Etolie from behind, sending both females into a lake of mud. Etolie gagged on the muck, screamed, and almost succeeded in flipping Sata off of her.
Sata was quicker. She had Etolie by her arms before the other female could growl.
"You can’t go after them!" Sata cried, nose to nose with her captive. "The eggs need you. You have no time for retaliating against every human that crosses your path." Etolie snarled in protest. Sata only tightened her grip. "There is no honor in killing needlessly. You are the eggs' only hope. You need to stay!"
"Etolie!" Brooklyn roared. "The eggs need your protection, not your vengeance!"
The words were sweet magic. Etolie went limp in Sata’s arms. Brooklyn hesitated, then nodded at his mate. Sata slowly released her hold.
The dark-blue gargoyle pulled herself from the mud, which clung to her every move as if not wishing her to leave. Her dress’s brilliant crimson had already turned a moody dirt color.
Etolie rubbed her wrists where Sata had grabbed her and muttered, "I saw a wagon train about a kilometer away, up the river. They’re heading north."
Brooklyn pounded his fist into his open palm. "Perfect! Come on, let’s go check it out. Sata-" His mate coughed and drew her swords.
"You take Etolie. I shall be fine." The weapons made a soft singing noise as they danced through the air, almost as if they were happy to be back with their beloved owner. "No one shall harm these eggs."
At Brooklyn’s confused expression, she whispered in his ear, "She understands you. She needs someone right now who knows what she is going through, Brooklyn-san. Go." Her hand came to rest on his shoulder. "I’ll be waiting."
A relieved grin grew on his face. "Got it."
* * * * * * * * *
Brooklyn struggled to keep up as Etolie raced around and about the forest’s trees, missing the jagged branches by only inches. She broke the trees’ protective cover in an explosion of flying branches, her wings flaring to catch an updraft.
Over the sound of his blood gurgling in his ears, he thought he heard her chuckle.
"What’s so funny?" he asked, pulling up alongside her.
"I just noticed something," she answered, not bothering to slow down.
"The eggs," she shouted over the scream of the wind. "I was afraid before, that because I ran away, I wasn’t worthy of caring for them. That because I didn’t die with my clan instead of running away like a coward, I wouldn’t be a good protector. But when I saw those humans almost smash them, I suddenly wanted nothing more than for the eggs to live, and I protected them." Her face showed amusement for the first time in several nights. "It surprised me."
Brooklyn almost laughed, but cut himself short as they flew over a small rise.
"Looks like someone else needs a rescue!" he yelled, pointing down below. In a little clearing by an overgrown dirt path, a camp of brightly-colored wagons was swallowed up in a desperate fight between its inhabitants and intruders. The terrified screams of horses and humans alike made him twitch.
"That’s the camp I told you and Sata about!" Etolie roared over the noise. She shrugged. "Peu importe. It doesn’t matter much."
"Come on! I’ve got an idea!" His wings suddenly pulled back into a steep nose-dive. There was a scream of wind as he rocketed straight downwards.
Etolie banked left in her confusion. "What are you doing?" she cried after him.
"Saving your eggs!"
She dove after him, muttering to herself as she went.
* * * * *
"Regroup! Regroup!" someone cried from beneath the crowd of flying swords and firing muskets, but the fight had reached such a point that no one could tell from which side the command had been from.
A young man broke through the crowd and rammed a thief square in the chest, knocking him into a group of men. The entire throng fell into one another like a stack of dominos.
The youth punched the air. "How’s that for a Gypsy greeting?" he crowed. But the men diligently climbed to their feet, and there was a unanimous hiss of metal as swords were pulled from their sheaths.
His eyes popped in bewilderment, then he drew a dagger from his belt and flipped it expertly into his other hand.
"Come on, now," he said, beckoning to the group. "Let’s see those fighting skills of yours."
One bearded fellow elbowed a companion and winked, then walked up to the Gypsy with a smug expression on his face. The other didn’t move from his crouched position. The man’s smirk disappeared as he threw a punch, but there was a flash as the Gypsy ducked and grabbed him by the arm and threw him over his shoulders. Despite his size, the man landed several meters away in a thick cluster of pricker-bushes.
"Agh!" Crash! "Oooooooooooh…" The groan faded off with its owner.
The thin Gypsy dusted off his hands then spread his arms wide in a welcoming gesture. "Who’s next in line?"
Some men’s mouths fell open in terror, and others scrambled backwards in a panic, uttering frightened cries as they fled.
He crossed his arms and chuckled to himself. "Oh, Jacques. I always knew you had that knack." But then he noticed that they weren’t looking at him, but overhead. Several of his Gypsy comrades were also dropping their weapons and fleeing for the wagons. The horses screamed as they pulled on their harnesses. One animal snapped free of its tresses and bolted into the woods.
Intrigued, Jacques craned his neck upwards.
There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Stars winked back at him from their massive black frame. A full moon lay still on the sky’s dark canvas, and the throaty cry of an owl rose from the trees.
"They’re afraid of the dark?" he mused. "Whatever can-"
He gasped as two large creatures appeared out of the darkness from above, their claws spread and jaws agape as they descended on the camp with intimidating roars. They flew straight at the ground, and for a second, he thought they were falling to the earth. But at the last moment their wings unfurled, caught an updraft of air, and sent them speeding like a pair of mad demons through the camp. Gypsy and thief alike scattered like chickens before a fox.
A strangled sound escaped from Jacques’ throat. "Not again," he growled to himself, baring his dagger before him. "First gargoyles, then thieves, and then gargoyles again! This is beginning to make Paris look like a summer festival."
* * * * *
There was a shrill cry as Etolie tackled a group of thieves. Some fell face-first into the mud. Others scurried away on all fours.
"Etolie! Heads up!" Brooklyn threw a man to her. She caught him in her steel grip and looked at him, square in the face. Her eyes melted from their dark color to an angry red, and her lip rose over her fangs. The thief’s eyes went wild in a panic as she leaned in close to him.
"Boo." He fainted dead away.
Brooklyn, watching this, chuckled to himself. Etolie smiled at him. Her mouth suddenly fell open. "Brooklyn! Look out!" He ducked as a cutlass flew over his head. Etolie threw the man in her arms into the attacking thief. The two collided and hit the ground with a groan.
The bandits were starting to get a sense that this was a battle they couldn’t win, and a few started a mad run for the woods.
Suddenly, all of them were running, yelling and cursing as they went.
Brooklyn noticed that Etolie couldn’t stop giggling. He appeared at her side, arms crossed, a smug look on his face.
"See? That was pretty easy." He nudged her, then turned around. "C’mon, let’s see how the Gypsies are do-"
He stopped short. He was staring down the gullet of a loaded musket. "-ing…" His hands instinctively flew up. "Hey! Calm down! We’re not-"
"Why did you attack us a few nights ago?" the thin Gypsy demanded, training his gun on Brooklyn’s snout. A soiled, velvet hat was worn over his long dark hair, and he wore a thin gold earring in his left ear. His clothes were more thread and patches than cloth, and looked like hand-me-downs from a rich Parisian. He couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old.
"We don’t take kindly to strangers. Particularly ones who raid our camp in the dead of night." A growl from several armed men behind him seconded the notion. Wagon doors creaked opened a few inches. Curious little heads peeked outside.
Brooklyn took a tentative step forward. "No! We were just trying to-" Wham! His eyes snapped down to his side, unhurt but surprised. A young girl in a bright red dress glared back up at him.
"Careful, you," she warned, waving a copper pan. "I don’t need you gargoyles hurting my brother again." Her coal-dark eyes showed she’d carry out the threat.
Brooklyn felt Etolie tense up in preparation for an attack. He’d have to do some fast-talking or else both Etolie and the Gypsies would fall on each other.
"Hey, I never-"
"Watch him close, Jacques," another man whispered into the youth’s ear. He eyed his tail, his wings, his odd clothes, and finally his fangs. He started snickering. "Looks almost like a … a mulo. Or a vampire." He whistled. "Take a gander at those teeth."
Jacques laughed. "I’d lean more towards a monkey, myself."
Brooklyn growled. "Hey, lay off the beak jokes. I’ve been getting enough flack from that lately as it is."
He felt smug by the way Jacques looked momentarily thrown. "You understood what I said?"
They didn’t have a chance to continue. The crowd silently parted as a barrel-chested giant appeared, and a brawny hand fell on Jacques’ shoulder. "Before you start shooting, let me at least question them, Jacques." Beneath its rough demand, the voice held a hinting tone of authority. Jacques frowned at Brooklyn in distrust but relaxed his grip on the trigger.
From behind him stepped a straight-backed Gypsy who could have easily been mistaken for a gentleman. The broad lapels on his coat were brightly striped. His silver buttons were cleaned and polished. His scarf was tied in a neat knot about his thick neck. From the way he carried himself it would have been difficult to distinguish him from a nobleman.
From behind him appeared a chubby little boy in darned pants and a shirt. He hugged the man's leg for protection, gazing at the gargoyles with a child’s fascination.
The man gave the pair a withering glance for a moment. "Well, I have to admit you two have picked an odd way of meeting. I am Tomas, one of the elders of this clan." His massive hands swung in the direction of the gathered Gypsies. His eyes narrowed in scrutiny. "What are you doing here? We have never meant harm towards any of your kind."
"They’re going to attack us again!" the girl cried.
"Calm down, Rosa," an old man ordered, squinting his one good eye at her in disapproval. She turned red, but lowered the pan in compliance.
"Frankly, I’m inclined to do the same myself, considering our … experience with your kind," Tomas continued, then bowed his head to the old man. "Thank you, Joseph."
Brooklyn eyed Jacques, but the musket had already disappeared. In fact, there was a look on his face he couldn’t read, almost of admiration.
"Thanks," the brick-red gargoyle muttered, still annoyed at the gun in the first place, as he looked to Tomas. "We don’t mean you harm. We were just chasing away those guys who jumped your camp."
Tomas raised an eyebrow. "We thank you for your assistance …"
"I’m Brooklyn. This is Etolie."
"… Brooklyn. But the danger is over, and you are free to leave."
Etolie gave Brooklyn a cold stare, but he wasn’t about to give up so easily. Tomas turned back around as he ran after him. "I know this may be asking a little much, but we need your help. We need transport up north."
"You two?" The look on the Gypsy’s face was of amusement. "Surely your wings were not given to you for a novelty."
"Not for us. Our eggs." There was a collective murmur from the Gypsies around them. They didn’t sound eager of the idea of allowing gargoyles and their eggs into their camp.
Brushing all dignity aside, Brooklyn held his hand out to Tomas in a plea. Several of the men started for their swords at his sudden movement. "We don’t have any other way of getting out of here. Where are you heading?"
Tomas glared at him, then to several men at his side, who returned the look. After a long moment, he answered, "Calais. We can purchase supplies there and take the back-roads to get to Prussia. They welcome emigres trying to escape the Revolution."
Brooklyn snapped his fingers. "Hey, that’s perfect! If we work together, we can make travel easy for the both of us."
The Gypsy leader’s glare deepened. "We want to get away from the Revolution." He cast a wary glance at Etolie, who was giving him a disgruntled look. "And trouble. And the only way we will have that is if we get to Calais as quickly as possible, without distractions."
His brow knit together into an even darker look. "I will be blunt. We don’t trust you."
"You can’t trust anyone now," Brooklyn countered. "We have to trust you as much as you do us. We wouldn’t be risking our lives and our eggs’ lives in your hands like this if we meant to harm you. Besides, brute strength comes in handy."
Etolie piped up from behind. "It is a long way to Calais, and I doubt bandits are the only trouble you will encounter."
A few more murmurs.
"They saved our children," an elder commented, patting her grandson on the head. "We can only repay them for their kindness. Elders, think with your hearts, not your heads."
The child next to Tomas tugged on his pant leg in boredom, causing the Gypsy leader to cast a glance downwards. His face momentarily softened. When he glanced back up, his face was once again hard as granite.
"We will give you a wagon and an animal to pull it, in payment for your aid. If you can keep up with the caravan then so be it, but I won’t slow down for you. That is all you will expect from us." He turned and started to walk away.
Brooklyn nearly doubled over, and his legs wobbled. He had never felt so relieved.
Joseph poked a long, bony forefinger at Jacques. "Do these two a favor, and bring them that old vurdon and Hob. She should be able to pull it." Jacques eyed Brooklyn strangely again before disappearing into the crowd.
The two gargoyles watched as the Gypsies dispersed, heading back to their wagons and families. Etolie and Brooklyn stared at each other for a few moments before the reality of the situation sank in.
"Your plan worked?" she asked, surprised.
He whistled softly in amazement. "Come on. Let’s get Sata and the eggs. We got a train to catch."
* * * * *
The slings were Sata’s idea. Taking long strips of cloth left over from Father Robert’s robes and tying them in a sling around the neck, each gargoyle could carry several eggs at once. This method worked so well that all thirty eggs were transported within two hours.
They returned to the Gypsy camp to find an old wagon and a sturdy little pony waiting for them.
The wagon itself was a dreadful disappointment. Its brilliant red and green finish had faded over the years. Now it looked like nothing more than a sad, silent reminder of a traveling circus. Long ago, there was gold finishing on the doors, but nothing remained now save for a tarnished plaque in the shape of a flying bird.
The traces were warped inwards, and at first the pony jostled and rubbed against them in discomfort. Sata, losing patience, snapped the last foot off the traces, and the pony was finally able to fit.
"This vurdon is old," Jacques said, "but it should do the trick." He stepped to the side to allow the gargoyles past. Crossing his arms, he leaned against the peeling doorframe while they inspected their new home. His face set into an annoyed glare.
It was more like a tomb then a wagon. The straight, tan floor planks had turned a puckered slate gray, as if the wood had dried out in an oven. Where the wood had warped, the entire floor had yawned open. To fix this problem, tar had been stuffed into cracks, giving the floor an uneven feel. The entire space couldn’t have been more than 10 by 5 feet.
It was old. So old that whenever they walked the floor groaned and shrieked like a dying old man.
As Brooklyn’s eyes quickly adjusted to the dark, he realized the wagon’s small size was due to the lack of floor space. There was a black stove in one corner, a small table, some chairs, a stack of dry firewood, and several other signs of things that made a place a home. Next to the stove hung a rack of ladles and kettles, and the glass windows were dressed in colorful drawstring curtains. There was a water-damaged trunk in the corner, with a curious little doll resting against its side, its glossy black hair in a thick braid and dressed in a long, red dress.
It was old and drafty, perhaps, but not without memories and warmth.
"Behind those curtains are some cots," Jacques called from the doorway. "Doubt you’ll need them yourselves, but they could come in handy with those." He peered curiously at the two eggs in Etolie’s arms, earning himself a soft growl from the protective female.
"Mommy’s very angry," he commented with equal enthusiasm. He cocked his head at Brooklyn. "Now that we’ve the chance … when we were talking before-"
"A gun to the head is hardly classified as a conversation," Etolie grumbled under her breath.
"-and my pal and I were speaking, you understood what we said?" His coal-dark eyes were alight with interest.
Brooklyn glanced at Sata out of the corner of his eyes. She raised an eye-ridge in questioning. He looked back to the thin Gypsy. "Yeah. What of it?"
The brick-red gargoyle’s face twisted in disgust. "Let’s get some things straight. I’m as much a demon as I am a monkey."
Jacques’ French accent dissolved, and a new, rougher one appeared in its place. "Then you DO speak Romani." His eyes glittered in newfound respect.
"What?" Sata inquired, understanding the foreign words as much as Brooklyn did.
Etolie looked as confused as ever, not knowing that the two gargoyles understood any known language thanks to the Phoenix Gate.
"Romani," Jacques said, his voice losing it's impatient tone. "Our language." He laughed, then doffed his hat and bowed to Brooklyn. "A true Romany Rye, you are! A true Gypsy Gentleman, as we say. No one else knows our language except for those who have lived among us, and it’s pretty difficult to learn. Well, our French helps us communicate with the Gadje, but I haven’t heard many of them speak it. I’m impressed."
Brooklyn noticed that, for the first time, the thin Gypsy had actually set foot inside the wagon doorway.
"Now, then," he rambled on excitedly, his voice gaining strength, "there’s a tool box under the wagon seat. Has a hammer, tar for cracks, if you need it, and a few other odds and ends. Brush, comb, hoof-pick for Hob. There should be some oats, bread, and dried meat under the cabinet. Snuffbox by the stove. Axe and water bucket by the door.
"Oh, put out the fire when you’re not around. The stoves may be safe, but they’re old, and we’ve had some fires from unattended stoves. I don’t want you setting my wagon alight. Now I have to share a wagon with my uncle and his wife." He looked slightly disgruntled, but only for a moment before he smiled again. "Well, that's about it."
He tipped his hat with a flourish and left, closing the door behind him.
Sata crossed her arms and took in the pitiful surroundings. "It is an … interesting home," she commented after a minute, peering up at the rough-hewn planks that formed the ceiling.
There was a whistle from outside, followed by a pony’s whinny and a groan as dozens of wagon wheels came to life.
"They’re leaving already?" Etolie cried.
Brooklyn ran outside and hopped into the driver’s seat then, taking the reins in his claws, gently slapped the pony's withers. She whickered gruffly and started a brisk trot. The wagon behind them bounced and jostled its way over the dirt path.
"Ai! Mefiez-vous!" Etolie yelled as several eggs rolled around in the cots.
"Ara! Brooklyn-san! Dozo!"
"Sorry!" Brooklyn grumbled under his breath, then gave a gentle pull on the reins. As if the reins were an extension of her body, the pony immediately slowed to a quick walk.
"Yeah, hey, sure, no problem." Brooklyn frantically yanked on the reins as the pony started to wander from the path. "Hey. Hey! Where do you think you’re go-" He jumped as Sata’s hands descended on his own from behind, and she rested her head on his shoulder.
"Would you like a little help?" she asked innocently.
"Dozo," he said, embarrassed but eager to please.
Sata noticed his flushed face. Her voice was very soft and understanding. "It can’t be too different from riding a horse." She wrapped her hands around his and gave the reins a gentle tug to the right. The pony obediently veered back onto the path and trotted to catch up to the rest of the wagons.
Several hours later, the pony balked and refused to walk another step.
"I don’t blame you," Brooklyn said to him, sighing and wiping his sweating forehead. "I’m pooped." The pony whickered softly in response, white lather running down her sides.
"We are stopping?" He turned to find Sata and Etolie peering at him from the doorway, each with an egg cuddled in their arms.
"The pony’s had it for tonight." He looked up at the horizon. The inky blackness was slowly melting into a fiery red. Only a few stars were still visible, but they, too, were disappearing with the coming morning.
He pulled the wagon off the path and set the brake. His claws were thick and clumsy in undoing the harness, but after some wrestling the buckles came free, and he tethered Hob to a tree within easy reach of some grass.
"I suppose this is it," Etolie said softly as the Gypsy wagons kept their steady pace north.
"They were very kind in giving us these things," Sata replied, trying to remain optimistic.
Etolie only snorted in disagreement.
They gathered into the wagon and bolted the door. The wagon was incredibly dark inside with the curtains closed, like the catacombs. Etolie shivered.
"I guess we could do with a few Japanese lanterns, too," Brooklyn said, his tone only half-teasing.
Etolie brushed a curtain aside to watch the sky. The sun slowly climbed its way over the hills, casting its light upon the entire valley. Before her eyes clouded over in a stone sleep, she found herself gazing at a slowly brightening sky.
* * * * *
"What do they want?"
Jean reached into his saddlebag and, pulling out a chunk of tobacco, took a bite. "They say they ran into some trouble while at a Gypsy camp. Said something about winged creatures splitting up their group. What do you make of it?"
He jerked his head towards the rabble of men who watched the pair nervously from the roadside. They had obviously run into something huge. Their clothes were torn, their hair mussed. Most were missing their weapons, and several held swords that had been snapped clean in two. Their eyes were sunk into their heads. They looked as if they had died and just been revived.
Xavier spat at the grass. "They’re our gargoyles, all right." He glared at the thieves with disdain. "They’re a sorry a lot as I’ve ever seen."
He groaned as he stood up. Supporting his weight on a makeshift cane, he stared downwards. His broken leg was tightly bandaged, a mockery of his encounter with those cursed beasts. "At least I took this like a man."
"Think we should swear ‘em in?"
"Sounds reasonable," Xavier replied, throwing his cane at Jean and climbing down from his horse. The little man barely caught it, surprised at his leader’s sudden gain of strength. He shot a look to Andre, Henri, and Pierre. The other three merely stared back.
Xavier clasped his hands behind his back as he stared at the thieves, taking this pathetic picture in. Then he smiled warmly. "I see you lot have had quite a run-in with the devil." The men glanced at each other, chagrined. "Oh, don’t look that way. Look at what they did to me. And I’m as ready to give up as a fox in a trap." He walked among them, glancing at one then another, moving with relative ease on one leg.
"I hear those creatures took a hard day’s work from you. You look as if you would have had some extra Gypsy gold in your pockets if those winged devils hadn’t shown up." He thumped one fellow on the shoulder. "I’m ready to make a business proposition with you lot. Have any of you heard of a gargoyle?"
The blank looks from the crowd already told him his answer.
"A creature recently harbored by the people of Paris, they were destroyed several nights ago. The people were smart. They needed gold for their bread, so they took it out of the beasts."
He gave them a mock look of surprise at their puzzled glances. "You did not know? Their blood is made of gold."
There was stunned silence for several seconds. It was suddenly broken by a man’s roar of, "Right, and mine’s made of silver!" There were barks of laughter.
A few other men were silent, but their eyes lit up in wonder.
"You don’t believe me? I thought some of you wouldn’t. It’s rather farfetched. But, you know, they turn to stone during the day. Have you ever seen one during the day?" Men shook their heads. "I thought not."
"I’ve seen them," someone from the crowd cried eagerly. "They’re stone by day, flesh by night. Seen it myself."
"Have you ever killed one?" Xavier inquired.
"No, sir," the speaker admitted frankly, "so I wouldn’t know if their blood is gold. But if they can be stone by day … I guess anything is possible." There were some whispers from the crowd, intrigued by this new bit of information.
"Good man! Is there a fellow here who doesn’t want a little money for his purse?" The men didn’t stop their excited whispering.
"I can get you them!" Xavier thumped his chest. "You show me where you saw them, and together, we can bring them down! Who here’s for joining up with me and my comrades?" A hearty roar went up from the group.
He smiled, then turned to Andre. "I suppose we still have those two barrels of rum?"
"I should think so, Xavier."
"Good. Break them open and let the men help themselves. After a little rest, we set off."
Another roar went up from the men as they scrambled for their drinking mugs.
Xavier leaned against his horse with a content nod. He peered down at his newly acquired ring. He loved its crown emblem and blood red glow. It almost made him feel like a noble, himself.
* * * * *
The sun sank below the dark gray and green horizon of the forest. Roars erupted from a seemingly abandoned Gypsy wagon, and seconds later Brooklyn walked outside, wiping the sleep from his eyes. He stretched the kinks out of his back and gave a loud, long yawn.
Overhead, a flock of starlings scattered in fright as his deep roar echoed off the clustered trees.
From the tree where she was tethered, Hob gave an answering whicker. Brooklyn gave the black pony a pat on the muzzle. She tossed her head and butted him beak-first into the ground, then started a frantic pocket search for treats.
Brooklyn gave a muffled growl, tensed, and popped his beak from the earth. "Pleasure to meet you, too," he muttered. Hob gave a loud whinny and bobbed her head as if agreeing, happily munching on something gold and blue and…
He frantically pried the pony’s mouth open as best he could and wrestled the Phoenix Gate away. Luckily, he didn't see any teeth marks on it, but it was coated in spittle. The new moon’s light gleamed off its surface, and he couldn’t help but get the feeling the Gate was actually annoyed. He stuffed it back into his pouch, drawing it firmly closed.
Hob whickered in disappointment, but butted him in the shoulder. He was about to shove her back when he stopped. Frowning, he ran his hand along the pony’s flank. By the way she was breathing, she had been exercised during the day. And there were still some grains of oats left on her mouth. Someone had tended her while the gargoyles had slept.
Curious now, Brooklyn started walking down the path, and as he came over a hill, he saw the entire Gypsy camp sprawled out before him. His mouth fell open.
"Brooklyn-san? What troubles you?" Sata appeared at his side, a loaf of bread in one hand and a browned apple in the other. She stopped short and frowned. "I thought they had continued north-" Her mate was already stumbling down the path towards the Gypsies. Sata took another delicate bite of bread, swallowed hastily, and followed him.
He found his way through the crowd of children, dogs, and horses until he saw Tomas, kneeling down to inspect a wagon’s axle as if it was a laboring animal. Several children, ranging from toddlers to young adults, formed a ring around their leader as they watched his work in earnest. They would have to do this sort of work themselves one day.
Eager to help, several of the children gathered together a tree limb and shoved it underneath the wagon. They threw their weight against it in a weak attempt to lever it.
Sata and Brooklyn exchanged looks before the latter knelt next to Tomas.
"Do you guys need help?"
The children looked at them nervously with wide eyes.
Tomas kept his back to them. "We are just finishing up some repairs to some of the wagons."
"Our horse was fed and exercised," Sata said, crossing her arms at her waist in gratitude. "We thank you very much for your aid."
Tomas saw the curious looks from the children out of the corner of his eye. "Our debt is sufficiently repaid, then."
Brooklyn raised an eyebrow at the children’s struggle. He grabbed the wagon by its base and easily lifted its back end, sending several of them onto their backsides or skittering out of the way. Tomas gave a deep, rich laugh.
"That’s one way of going about it!" Making sure Brooklyn had a good grip on the wagon, he grabbed a mallet and slid his thick body underneath.
A little girl stared up at Brooklyn in amazement as the repairs were completed and the wagon gingerly lowered to the ground. Her plump dark face suddenly broke into a wide, toothy smile. A few of the others giggled.
Brooklyn grinned, but he froze when he felt Tomas’ hand on his shoulder. "Good work-" the man started.
His eyes darted toward the other Gypsies. Several of the women had appeared from the wagons, bundles of darning in their arms. Rosa appeared from behind in curiosity. Her eyes were cloudy and unreal as if she had been drugged. It was a look of intense observance.
"It doesn’t matter much, anyway," Tomas added. "I’m likely to leave you sorry statues in the morning." His eye flickered. It was so quick that it took the gargoyle a second to realize he had winked at him.
He turned around to find Rosa staring straight at him. She gave a little half grin, as if satisfied that he wasn’t a threat, and went back to her work. He realized that in the space of several seconds, he had just been found acceptable.
Sata watched as Tomas turned back to several other wagons and started yelling orders. "What is it?" she whispered in Brooklyn’s ear. He chuckled.
"I know what game he’s playing," he whispered back. "He’s a good actor. Don’t you see? He’s staying behind on purpose, so we won’t be left alone."
A hum of agreement came from her throat. "That is very hospitable of him." She was silent for a minute, but she was too curious to stay so for long. "I wonder why he changed his mind about allowing us to stay? They didn’t seem to trust us when we first came."
Brooklyn shrugged. "I think he just understood. He seems to be a family man, himself," he added as a little boy ran up to Tomas, giggling. It was the same child they had seen with the Gypsy leader upon their arrival.
"A ‘family man’?"
"You know … a father. A guy who has some kids and a wonderful mate." He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, a wide grin on his face.
Sata laughed. "You like children?"
Brooklyn winced as he felt a tug from behind. Looking over his shoulder, he found two little boys straddling his tail as if it was a horse. They flashed him wide grins. He grinned back, then bobbed his tail. The two squealed as the "horse" came to life.
"In small doses," he cracked, turning back to Sata. But he was grinning.
She was about to say something when her stomach grumbled. She tore off and hungrily swallowed another slice of bread, then reclined her head against his chest. She fell asleep in this position, her mouth curled into a content smile.
* * * * *
"They might have gone this way." Henri drew a line in the dirt. "That would account for the side path right here."
One of the new men pointed at the dirt map excitedly. "Oui, oui! This was where the Gypsies were."
"They couldn’t have gotten far," Henri declared smugly. "A caravan only moves so fast."
Xavier tapped his chin thoughtfully. "You don’t suppose," he said slowly, "they could have met with any other travelers?"
"Not without being shot at. Be surprised if the Gypsies didn’t put a musketball through them at first sight."
Xavier closed his eyes and shook his head, sighing. "There are far more bizarre things in this world." His face darkened. "Gargoyles surely aren’t the first odd thing to happen in France."
Jean appeared several feet away, nervously playing with his sword’s hilt.
"We’ve checked the entire area, Xavier. Nothing."
Henri and his master looked at each other. The latter’s face darkened even further. There was silence for a minute. "Nothing at all?"
"Three-toed prints … leading into the woods."
Xavier gave a snort. "You call that nothing? You’re usually more attentive, Jean." He thought for a moment, then threw a canteen to him. Jean tilted his head back and allowed the water to spill over his lips, then wiped his mouth against his sleeve. His breathing was ragged, tired.
"Poor Jean. All worked out," Xavier commented in a dead tone.
Jean finished drinking before continuing. "Ah! Well, anyway, they’re a little odd. For gargoyles carrying a bunch of omelets, the prints don’t seem too deep. And look." He rubbed something into his master’s hand. Xavier held his hand to his face and raised an eyebrow. It was black mud.
The newer man in the group grunted. "Same as the stuff the Gypsies had all over their wheels."
"We found this a little further down the path. It’s the same as the mud around the original prints. They were trying to cover up their trail, but it looks like they were in such a hurry they didn’t have much time."
"How many days travel?"
"I’d say a week." He snickered. "At least, that’s what Andre thinks… and we both know how little he does of it…"
"Rally the men," Xavier cut in. "We set off immediately."
* * * * *
One week later…
The surrounding French countryside was dark as pitch that night. The stars, staring down to Earth from their black canvas, were the only source of light. Swarms of fireflies had appeared with the first signs of nightfall, and the Gypsy children dashed after them, scampering under wormy, decomposing trees and splashing through nearby brooks in a mad race to see who could catch the most. In the bare patches of starlight filtering through the crisscrossing network of branches overhead, they looked more like little elves at play.
They had no trouble tracing their way back to their camp. The light from the bonfires and the singing and laughter of Gypsies were clearly heard over the singing of the crickets. The adults dashed around the camp, setting up spits with roasting hedgehog and pig. The children stumbled in pairs out of the forest and the elders immediately swooped down upon them with orders to aid their families. They didn’t need more encouragement; they obediently ran off to help.
Brooklyn watched all this from the stoop of their wagon, sipping river water from his mug and massaging his shoulder. All the work over the past week had been agonizing. He and Etolie were more than eager to help the Gypsies with repairs, animal tending, and travel, if it meant their keep. But he was glad to know they were taking the night off for partying.
He chuckled. The rushing about and the elders giving orders to the children reminded him a bit of Wyvern. It was very familiar …
That thought clouded his mood.
His mood darkened even further by a loud yawn from inside the wagon.
Sata had been irritable lately. In-between naps, he found her grumbling at him for the littlest reasons. He saw she didn’t mean it. Her Oriental upbringing demanded a samurai to keep a cool temperament at all times, and he felt her instinct and training fighting each other.
It was a continually losing battle.
He started when he felt her supple hands begin to massage his shoulder.
"You are tired, Brooklyn-san," she whispered, yawning. "You should rest."
"Nah, I’m fine," he replied, ignoring her annoyed sigh. He nodded towards the Gypsies. "Looks like they’re planning on partying till it’s 1799."
"You are tired," she reiterated. "Shouldn’t you be sleeping, then?"
"I’m fine!" he snapped. He realized he sounded harsh, so he quickly added, in a very soft tone, "But thank you for asking, my love."
"Hmm." Her hands removed themselves from his shoulder, and he heard her feet retreat back into the wagon. "I shall check on the eggs."
The brick-red gargoyle sighed. "Smooth, Brooklyn," he muttered to himself. "Real smooth." He was about to start berating himself with every curse he knew when he felt something sharp slap against his back. He whirled around to find Jacques with a handful of pine needles at the ready.
"Ah! Mulo!" he cried, laughing, ignoring the annoyed glare on the gargoyle's face. "Will you ask your fair wife and the beautiful blue lady if they would accompany my family for a night of singing and dancing? And if you refuse, my friends and I will have to carry you three out by force," he added, winking. Several youths appeared behind him, ready for the challenge.
Brooklyn failed to keep a straight face. "Hey, what is this? A carnival?"
"Correction, my friend! A party, Rom style!"
* * * * *
The rich scent of roasting meat permeated the camp. The clay-wrapped hedgehogs were taken from the coals of the fire. The Gypsies then peeled the coating back, thus removing the burnt clay and the animals’ spikes at once. After that, they feasted on the succulent meat. That and the roast pig and bean soup made the party truly enjoyable.
Brooklyn found a place to sit for himself and Sata and Etolie, in a corner of the group near a cluster of trees. They weren’t there very long when several young boys found them, the little ones toddling after the bigger ones.
"Dance! You HAFTA dance," the littlest one ordered, chewing on his shirt’s sleeve.
"Shh! Don’t be rude," an older boy hissed, poking him in the side.
"I’m up for some dancing," Brooklyn jumped in, not wanting the young one to be upset. The little boy gave him a big grin and latched onto the gargoyle’s hand. His tiny fist barely circled two of the gargoyle’s talons.
"Come, come!" he continued. "I show you. See, you clap your hands like this, and tap your feet, when the music plays…" The pair were soon lost in the crowd.
"Me?" another little boy inquired nervously, tugging on Sata’s kimono. The ragged look that had stayed on Sata’s face the past couple of nights instantly dissolved.
"I would be honored," she replied, bowing low. There was a smile on her face as the child took her talons in his hands and led her into the circle of dancers.
Etolie straightened her spine and tucked her legs underneath her body, content with being by herself. She didn’t mind sitting alone.
Someone in front of her coughed. She peered upwards to find a young Gypsy girl holding a bowl of soup and a hunk of pork to her. Etolie looked at the food, then the human, then to the food again. Hunger finally won over instinct, and she cautiously took the bowl and meat from the girl’s hands.
The firelight illuminated her face, and Etolie recognized her instantly. It was Rosa. She plopped down next to the gargoyle, curling her naked toes in the dust and spreading her skirts around her like a tent.
"I don’t suppose we ever thanked you for helping us before," she commented idly, tearing a piece of pork apart with her front teeth. "The last gargoyles we encountered almost hurt Jacques, so I was a bit frightened, you know. He’s my big brother," she added, and pointed to the group of laughing, dancing Gypsies. Jacques was in the center, leading a circle of dancing little girls who were too young to dance with the adults.
Brooklyn broke through the crowd, sweating from the exercise. He held out a hand to Etolie, who stared back at him dumbly.
"Care for a dance?" he asked, grinning. "You can’t sit by yourself all night."
Etolie smiled. "I suppose…." She took his hand, and he instantly pulled her into the dancing ring. The others clapped and laughed and sang as they twirled. Sata watched from the sidelines.
"Enjoying yourself?" Jacques inquired, mouth full of pork.
Sata regarded him with interest, then smiled. "Yes." She looked at Brooklyn. "He’s trying to cheer her up."
"She’s very sad."
"She is in mourning."
The Gypsy knew better than to pursue the subject further. "He seems to understand that. You know, I think it’s working. She seems to be healing."
The jade-green gargoyle laughed softly, watching her mate as he tripped and landed in the dust. He and the rest of the dancers stopped to laugh. "It is going both ways, I believe," she added, pleased to see him happy for the first time since they had left Paris.
Brooklyn looked up at her from his lying on the ground. Their eyes met, and he beckoned to her. Sata left her seat and took his hand, and they both followed the dancers in a tight circle, kicking their legs and twirling their bodies to the beat of the music.
Halfway through, one of the elders wobbled to his feet and waved his hands wildly, distracting the dancers. The singers quieted.
"Phralale!" he called, his thin voice rising on the summer night air. "Brothers! We have had enough of this eating and revelry. We need some stories."
Another elder bustled to the front of the group. "Who would like to start? Tomas?" Tomas shook his head ‘no’, smiling.
Sata bowed to the woman. "If it pleases you, I know a few, from my own clan."
The elder smiled a queer little half-grin, then nodded. Sata made herself a seat in front of the fire. The elder threw another stick onto the pile of embers, and the fire roared and flared. The children’s eyes widened, and they leaned forward to listen as Sata cleared her throat. The firelight cast shadows against her face, illuminating her dark hair and high cheekbones.
Brooklyn rested his head on his hands as he gazed at her hair, black as ink, and sighed wistfully.
"Long, long ago, in a very small village, there was a boy whom everyone called Issun Boshi, or ‘the Inchling’, because he was so very small…"
Jacques listened intently to the story, barely noticing when Etolie appeared at his side out of the dark. "When we arrived, what first group of gargoyles were you referring to?" she whispered.
He nodded, keeping his eyes on the storyteller. "Outside of Paris, a night or so before you came."
"Oh, sure," Rosa added, handing her brother another bowl of soup. "One was particularly nasty. Dark as midnight and howled like the devil."
"Françoise," she echoed softly. "You saw him. I almost forgot that I was the last, before I was reminded …" She sighed, covered her eyes with one hand, and wandered off to their wagon.
She suddenly felt a strong need to check on the eggs.
* * * * *
"One, two, three, heave to!"
Jacques gritted his teeth and dug his fingers under the statue’s base. The men shakily lifted the stone form of Brooklyn, his body frozen in a sitting position. They raced down the wagon’s stairs, skirted some trees, and mounted the elder’s wagon before easing their load onto the floor.
One of the women rose up from her cot with a sharp exclamation. "What are you doing?" she demanded.
Tomas’ large head appeared from behind the statue. "Besh, besh," he said soothingly. "Their wagon lost a wheel. We’re moving the statues in here. It’s the only wagon with enough room, I’m afraid." As if on command, more men appeared from behind them with Sata and Etolie in tow.
She puckered her lips and looked at the other elders for their opinion.
"Don’t forget the eggs," Joseph finally said with approval.
"Already done." Several of the children and women entered with the eggs in their arms. Rosa followed last, making sure the younger ones had a good grip on their slippery bundles.
Everyone set the eggs comfortably in a corner of the wagon. They were carefully wrapped in the tattered remainders of Father Robert’s robes, once a snow white but now a slate gray from the dirt and dust of travel. A few extra blankets were added to the pile to soften the blows from any bumps in the road, and the group stood back to admire their handiwork.
"Now all we need is a frying pan," Jacques snickered, breaking the awed silence.
Rosa burst out laughing.
"Yes, to hit you on that fool head with," Joseph returned, earning some giggles from the children. "Don’t let the blue one hear you say that, or she’d be on you like a dog to a rabbit."
He waved the others away. "Go on, all of you. We all have some work to do before starting the day’s ride." The crowd dispersed out the doorway, all heading off to their own early-morning chores.
Rosa trailed behind the others, still thinking of the nest of eggs inside the elders’ wagon. That was when she looked downwards and realized she was still clutching a gargoyle egg to her chest.
"Gadje! Gadje!" someone cried. Rosa almost dropped the egg in alarm. Squinting her eyes against the new morning sun, she saw clouds of dust rising up on the horizon, followed by the heavy panting of horses. Behind the horses came a group of at least two dozen armed men.
"Police?" she wondered aloud. No, police would be wearing the tricolor sashes of the new Republic and all the men would have had horses. These were no government officials.
But whoever they were, they would certainly be suspicious to find a Gypsy girl carrying an enormous spotted egg. They were too close now, and she was too far from any of the wagons to run for cover.
She did the only thing she could do. Ripping apart the buttons on her summer coat, she stuffed it inside, nestling it between her coat and her bodice. She tried to slip the buttons back through their holes, but the egg’s immense size now made that impossible.
"Come on, come on," she whispered, frantically trying to button her coat with fingers grown thick and useless. The sound of panting horses grew louder, sending her into a panic.
It wasn’t working. She tore off the sash that formed the belt for her dress and tied it around the outside of her coat. It was ugly looking, but effective, totally hiding the egg from view.
Her hands flew behind her back as the horses were reigned to a halt.
She kept her eyes on the ground. A saddle creaked as someone climbed down, boots crunching in the dirt as they made their way towards her. Her hands slowly gathered themselves protectively around her now large stomach. The boots came to rest right in front of her.
The suspense was agonizing. Slowly, she allowed herself to glance upwards, only to find herself staring into the suspicious eyes of a stunted, hook-nosed man.
"What do you want?" she demanded, forcing back a thickness that was forming in her throat.
He raised an eyebrow at her. She looked petrified.
"Jean never was much for conversation." A tall, well-built, cold-looking man with equally cold eyes dismounted from his own horse, walking towards them with a slight limp. He pulled the cloak off his shoulders, revealing a bandaged leg. He stared at the girl’s swollen stomach, but only for a moment.
Rosa felt Tomas’ hands descend on her shoulders protectively, and she felt Jacques’ presence with him.
"Can I help you?" he asked, in a way that sounded like he wasn’t very eager to do so.
"Bonjour, my good man," the one with the limp replied, but his voice was taut and short-tempered. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Xavier." Tomas didn’t accept his offered palm. Xavier narrowed his eyes and withdrew.
"I don’t suppose you have found anything interesting, lately."
"How do you mean?" Tomas slowly steered Rosa towards the wagons. Jean blocked her path.
Xavier twisted a large, ruby ring around his forefinger as he spoke. "You are out here more than I am, mon ami," he said lightly, keeping his eye on the ring. "You tell me. But, of course, there always are odd things out here, late at night.
"I will be frank with you. Several … creatures, gargoyles, you understand, have evaded justice by taking to the road, and my men and I have been hired to apprehend them. Sources tell me they attacked some men here over a week ago. Am I correct?"
"We haven’t seen them," Jacques replied evenly. "Not since that night. We fired our muskets at them, and they took off, shortly afterwards." Rosa slowly retreated to Jacques’ side, and he put a protective arm around her. Jean stared at her swollen stomach, then at her face. He looked too suspicious.
Xavier looked down at several of the children who watched him. They backed up in alarm. He only smiled, then looked at Tomas.
"You know," he said with a deep laugh as he gestured to them, "their clothes look very old. It must be hard making a living right now. No one can afford buying herbs and having their fortune told and getting their pots and pans repaired, not during a revolution." He cast a glance at the wagons. "You’ve been traveling hard. My guess is you’re trying to leave France before things get even worse. Traveling can be very expensive."
He pulled a cherry-wood box from his saddlebag. The flower design cut into its top was carefully polished, and the box’s new hinges squeaked when he opened it. Inside was a complete set of silver forks and knives and spoons, and even a butter knife, all neatly wrapped in velvet.
"You can get a good price for it, or even melt the silver down for money," Xavier continued, taking out a knife and making a point of examining it. "All yours, if you know where they are."
Tomas crossed his arms across his chest. "I would like to take your offer, but I’m afraid we’ve seen nothing of them since that night."
"What do you say, boy?" Xavier twirled the knife in the youngest of the children’s faces. "Seen any creatures?"
The child stared up at him as he sucked on his thumb. The Gypsies tensed, eyes lingering nervously on the men’s weapons.
"Yessir," the little boy replied, then quickly stuck his thumb back into his mouth.
"Oh, you have, have you?" Xavier leaned in closer. "Where are they?"
His face fell. "What do you mean? You just said you’ve seen them."
"Lass week, sir."
Xavier snorted. He placed the silver back into the box and closed the lid with a bang. "I see."
The looks on the Gypsies’ faces were apprehensive. But it didn’t seem like nervousness due to strangers in their camp. It was more like they were afraid of a secret being discovered.
Xavier frowned. The Gypsies outnumbered his men, and he didn’t have the element of surprise. They certainly couldn’t fight. Not now, anyway.
He cleared his throat. "Well, sorry to have interrupted you," he said briskly. He gave a brief glance to Jean, who was still inspecting Rosa with distrust. His henchman gave her a final glare before mounting his horse. She and her brother both sighed in relief.
Xavier mounted his own horse with some difficulty and pulled his cloak back around him. He smiled down at them, the rest of his face hidden by his hood. It was an eerie smile.
Without another word, the men turned and continued on down the path.
For a full moment, at least, no one in the camp spoke. Mothers gathered up their children. Men harnessed their ponies and put out the breakfast fires. No one spoke. They didn’t need to; even before the order to move out was given, all the wagons stood in a neat, single line, ready for the day’s travel.
The elders quietly climbed the stairs to their wagon. The first thing they saw upon opening the wagon door were the three gargoyle statues, all crouched in front of the stove. In the corner, the nest rested patiently against the wall, waiting.
"Wait a minute, Aunts and Uncles." Rosa quickly mounted the steps and hurried through the door. She undid the sash from around her waist and pulled open her coat, spilling the gargoyle egg into her arms.
The egg joined its brothers and sisters in the nest of cloth.
* * * * *
"Quoi? We just leave?" Jean asked as the band continued down the path. He sounded vaguely disgusted. "Just like that?"
Xavier was very quiet in his response. He was calculating something. "They are nervous. We stumbled upon something that we weren’t supposed to. I believe they know exactly where that gargoyle and his eggs went. The tracks we discovered also point to the Gypsies." He was silent for a moment. "If only we had the element of surprise… oh, well. I can’t fret about that, not now."
"Then why are we leaving?"
"They will think they are safe. Until we return and catch them off-guard."
"They’re Gypsies. They’ll be gone by then. We’ll never even know exactly what was going on!"
Xavier turned to Jean with a surprised, glassy look in his eyes. "Thank you very much for volunteering, my impatient friend. Why don’t you stay behind and keep an eye on them for us?"
Jean blinked while the men behind his back snickered.
* * * * *
"… they wouldn’t fight because there were more of us," Tomas sighed, leaning against the elders’ stove. He popped open the lid and added some more kindling. "If they had attacked, we would have been able to hold them off."
Brooklyn had to bite his lower lip to keep from snapping back. "I can’t believe this," he muttered instead. "This guy is upset because we threw his stolen goods into a river and took his barge. I didn’t even know it was his at the time. You guys could have been hurt."
Etolie was seething. "Which way did they go?"
"Focus on the eggs," Sata said. "They need you more than anything, now." The blue gargoyle’s face softened.
One of the elder women patted Brooklyn on the shoulder. "Well, there’s only one thing left to do. We must continue on to Calais by a different path."
Tomas sighed, then nodded. "She is right. Xavier took the road we were taking, and we could meet up with his band at a later time." He walked out the door to give the order to the wagons. There was a soft jolt as the horses turned and headed down a bumpier, less-used road.
Etolie raised an eye-ridge. "This Xavier will not return, will he? He saw that we weren’t around. Besides," she continued, puffing herself up, "if they come back, I will show them a thing or two about fear. He is not so dangerous."
She jumped as another elder appeared beside her. "Jekh dilo kerel but dile hai but dile keren dilimata," he said softly, shaking his head. At her puzzled expression, he translated into French, "One madman makes many madmen, and many madmen make madness."
Outside, the horses whinnied and ground to a halt. The wagons stopped short so quickly that they turned and bumped into the trees. Everyone grappled for something to hold onto as the wagon bounced, then set heavily back onto its wheels.
Sata peered out the window, instinctively drawing her weapons in the process. She narrowed her eyes.
"What is it?" Brooklyn asked, joining her.
"A carriage," she answered softly. She didn’t put away her swords, but instead nodded to a pile of old clothes in the wagons’ corner. "Can we borrow these?"
The elders slowly nodded. Satisfied, Sata found some cloaks and threw them to Etolie and Brooklyn. She pulled one around herself, drawing the hood firmly over her horns. She smiled.
"Do I look suspicious?"
"Nope, you look beautiful." Brooklyn twirled a cloak around his shoulders. He pulled the hood over his head, covering his thick white mane and alien beak. "It’ll work."
Etolie hesitated for only a moment before tying the cloak around her, shielding from view her horns and hind legs and feet. "We must stay close together," she whispered, easing open the wagon door.
The trio padded silently through the dust, keeping in single file like a group of praying monks. They climbed through some bushes and stepped over fallen trees until they reached the carriage. Tomas’ eyes widened at the sight of them, then relaxed. It was the only sign he showed of being surprised.
"Interesting," he said succinctly, then focused on the carriage. "It might be abandoned." One of the wheels had shattered, tipping the entire monstrosity onto an angle. It now lay against a tree, one side’s wheels flailing in the open air. The traces holding the horses had snapped and allowed the animals to escape.
The group quietly stared at the mess as if surveying a burial.
"It happened recently," Etolie said finally. "Look at the tracks. They’re fresh-"
The door groaned open, then slammed shut. The gargoyles looked at each other, then at the door distrustfully. Sata’s swords sang as she pulled them from her obi.
There was another creak as the door was pushed open by a large, wary hand. A young man, hair curled and adorned with a tall beaver hat, peered out at them.
Two little heads followed, each with long curls and covered with a light cotton cap. A plump, pale face followed, mouth open in distress.
It was a middle-aged woman and two little girls, probably no more than ten years old. The girls were dressed in identical muslin dresses, with ankle length skirts and high sashes. Their mother wore a tight, white waistcoat under a blue and red trimmed dress, her hair covered by a tall black hat and decorated with a tricolor cockade. Her hat now hung half off her head, and her makeup was smudged.
The young man was about Jacques’ age, but that was the only similarity between the two. His attire consisted of a long, square-cut waistcoat, tight black breeches, stockings, ruffled shirt cuffs, and a tall black cravat tied about his neck. He glared at the strangers critically.
His mother and sisters weren’t so disdainful. Their eyes grew as large and round as plates at the group of cloaked strangers.
"Can I help you … sir?" the boy asked, inspecting the Gypsy’s clothes with a critical air.
"We’re not the ones who appear to be in need of assistance," Tomas returned, looking at the sorry state of the carriage.
He sniffed, but his mother interrupted.
"You are not the police?" she asked, her face paler than ever.
Tomas frowned. "Hardly."
A flicker of color returned to her face. "Oh, are you heading north? To Calais, by any chance?"
"I am, madam."
"Oh, thank God! Oh, introductions … I am Madame de Bernier, and these are Emilie and Noemie." The twins gazed up at Brooklyn curiously. He tugged the hood around his face even tighter. "And this is Louis." The young man glanced at her sharply, as if his name wasn’t worthy of telling.
"Could you … would you allow us to ride with you?" she continued hurriedly, desperately. "Paris is … the entire city has gone mad, you know. Simply mad. It is hardly safe anymore for my children and I, vous savez. The revolutionaries are after anyone of noble lineage. Mad. Simply mad-" She was rambling, begging.
"We’re not much trouble, and we have money to pay for the journey if necessary." She quickly pulled a purse from her pocket and started a mad search for coins. "I don’t eat a lot. My weight, you know. And my daughters are very … well-behaved."
The gleam in the little girls’ eyes told Brooklyn the exact opposite.
"We have enough visitors." Tomas and the gargoyles exchanged glances. "There’s no room to accommodate all four of you."
The twins gave a loud cry of disappointment.
"But, Maman," cried one, her hair a mass of dark auburn curls like her mother, "what about the boat? You said we’d get to ride on the boat on our way to London."
Brooklyn’s ears perked up.
Madame de Bernier was turning pale again. "I … I’m sorry, Emilie, but Maman does not know if we are going, now…"
"Tomas," Brooklyn whispered. The Gypsy leaned over next to the brick-red gargoyle in earnest. "Take them on."
He visibly flinched. "What?"
"Let them come with us," Brooklyn repeated. "They’re not much, are they? I mean, we only have another night or so until we reach Calais, at the pace we’re going. They might come in handy for my family."
Tomas stared at him. "You are insane," he muttered between grit teeth. "Very well. If it helps you. But if they are any trouble …" He suddenly realized the family was watching him. He sighed. "Please, you can accompany us."
The girls squealed and jumped up and down until their mother was able to silence them. Louis looked almost appalled.
"Mother, are you mad?" he hissed in her ear, watching the disguised gargoyles and Tomas.
The plump woman’s face darkened. "If your father were here," she returned acidly, "he would have made the same decision. It is too dangerous a time to fret about appearances."
"It isn’t right-they’re Gypsies, for Lord’s sake-"
"If you don’t shut your mouth," she returned, "I will for you. You’re a grown man now. Don’t make me treat you like a boy." She immediately turned and started to pull down bags from the carriage.
"We have to tell them," Brooklyn whispered to the Gypsy. He nodded slowly in agreement.
Tomas put up his hand again, causing Madame de Bernier to stop. "There is something you must know, before you come with us. Our traveling companions are … a bit of a different nature."
As if on cue, the trio pulled the hoods back from their faces. The twins’ eyes shone, and they giggled. Their mother merely dropped her purse, and her hand went to her throat.
"C’est odieux!" Louis cried in horror. "Gypsies and gargoyles? This is madness…" His mother elbowed him in the side. His mouth snapped shut, but his eyes still burned.
"It is all right with us," she said placidly, keeping her voice tightly controlled. "I have heard of them, from the gossip in Paris."
Brooklyn leaned in towards Sata and Etolie. "Did you guys hear that conversation between Louis and his mom?" he asked, for once glad of his oversized ears.
"Bien sur. I was starting to actually like these humans," the dark blue female started, then blushed when Brooklyn turned to her in surprise. "The ones in Paris were horrible, but these Gypsies are not terrible. Now I am thinking these people are just an exception to the rule."
"A very rude boy," Sata said with disgust, watching Louis. "One must sacrifice in a time of war."
The brick-red gargoyle snorted in agreement. "As far as he’s concerned, there isn’t a war."
* * * * *
The Gypsies spent a good portion of an hour unloading most of the items aboard the Bernier’s carriage. Madame de Bernier obviously didn’t travel light. It was a notion that was confirmed when Brooklyn unpacked a full court gown, dripping with real gold tassels and silk bows. Strong as he was, he twitched when he picked it up.
"A memoir," she explained. "It is the only thing I still have of my husband’s. He bought it for me in the summer of 1776. I remember it because it was the year of the American War of Independence."
"Won’t you get in trouble for carrying something from the Versailles court?" Etolie asked.
"As long as they don’t find it, mon amie." She looked a little calmer, now that the initial shock of seeing live gargoyles was over.
Sata watched the unloading while she polished her swords. "All this for one family?" she wondered aloud. "Too much extravagance is a bad thing."
She peered down at her feet to find the twins gazing up at her, their mouths hanging open.
"You’re pretty," the one with blond curls said. Sata was sure it was the girl called Noemie.
"I like your horns," Emilie giggled, then gasped at her swords. "Can I play with those? Papa never let me play with his sword."
Luckily, Jacques appeared behind them with his hands behind his back. "Guess what I have for you two?"
The girls’ eyes widened even further. It was an exciting night for them. Gypsies and sword-wielding gargoyles, all at once!
"Sorbets? I’m hungry."
The Gypsy smiled nervously. "Not quite." He pulled two little stitched and ragged dresses from behind his back.
"They’re … interesting," Emilie started, her little pug nose wrinkled in disgust.
"Are we playing dress-up?" Noemie inquired, inspecting the clothes with interest.
"We could get in trouble with you dressed like the that, so you’re going to wear a disguise."
"A disguise?" the girls asked at once. Suddenly remembering their manners, they both gave two wobbling curtsies and bowed their heads. Jacques deposited the clothes into their arms, and they scampered off to the wagons to try them on. He smiled, then went to Madame de Bernier with a plain dress for her and an old suit for Louis. Brooklyn was still pulling all sorts of things off the carriage, from bundles of white gloves to a complete set of Diderot’s Encylopedie.
Both mother and son merely stared at him when Jacques presented the articles of clothing to them.
"Madame," he said, exhausted, "you can’t let other travelers see you dressed like that. It will make them suspicious. And we have to pass by officials to get into Calais. They’ll know you’re not simple Gypsies, not dressed like that."
"Mother." Louis put his hand on her shoulder. He looked almost worried. "This isn’t good for Emilie and Noemie. It’s not appropriate, not lady-like-"
The middle-aged woman slowly pulled the pearl earrings from her ear lobes and took off her gold necklace and placed them in her pocket. "I understand," she said to Jacques, straightening up and accepting the clothing. She sighed, then daintily shuffled her feet towards the wagons.
Louis raised an eyebrow at the clothes, then to the Gypsy. "You must be jesting."
Brooklyn looked up from his work and rolled his eyes, frustrated. "Look, if f you want to keep your head, I suggest you put your ego aside for now." Both men turned to look at him. Louis’ face turned purple.
"Do you know where I got my name?" he demanded. "I was named for our King-"
"Before or after he lost everything from the neck up?" Brooklyn wondered to himself.
"-and I certainly don’t need anyone telling me to dress in rags-"
"You are barely older than I am," Jacques interrupted. "That makes you perfectly eligible for the guillotine, you know."
Louis’ proud, arrogant face fell at that. He started when Sata and Etolie appeared next to him. "Think of someone besides yourself for once. Your sisters, perhaps," Etolie said, remembering how Brooklyn told her to put aside her vengeance for the eggs’ sake. She smiled at the memory.
"Whom do you think I’m worried about?" Louis demanded. "Ever since my father was executed, I’ve done nothing except think of my sisters. They’re all my mother has left, and if anything happened to them, she’d die of grief."
"Emilie and Noemie have nothing to fear from us, Louis," Jacques said.
"Nor Tomas-sama," Sata added. "We are different, perhaps, but not dangerous. But other people can be, and your family is in great danger is you are discovered."
Louis stared at her for a second, allowing her words to sink in. He peered down at the clothing as if he were peering at something positively loathsome. Chagrined, he slowly followed his mother to the wagons to dress.
* * * * *
Jean’s large nose poked its way through the brush of the forest. His mouth fell open as the gargoyles gathered into their wagon and, seconds later, the caravan slowly stared its long trek north.
"I knew it," he muttered under his breath, scrambling to his feet and gathering up his water canteen and boots. "Wait till Xavier gets a word of this, monkey. You’re finished! Ha!" He frantically stuffed his feet into his boots. Losing his balance, he tripped over a log and fell face-first into the mud.
* * * * *
"Did you see that? A funny little man, in the bushes," Emilie said, peering out the wagon window. "Think we should tell Maman?"
An elder looked up from her tending the stove and frowned, causing even more wrinkles to appear on her ancient face. "What man?"
The girls shyly pointed out the window. The old woman’s frown disappeared, and a worried expression took its place.
"I have to tell this to Tomas. Stay here," she told the girls, and she shuffled as quickly as her worn old legs would allow out the door.
* * * * *
The band of thieves drew their swords as a small shadow galloped through the bushes and landed on the ground in front of them. Andre picked the newcomer up and threw his sword to the figure’s throat.
"Non! C’est moi, idiot!"
The big, burly man squinted, then released his captive with a laugh. "Hey, it’s Jean! Phew!" he roared once he saw the mud covering his face. "What happened to you?" The men gathered around him, and Xavier had to push his way through the crowd to get to his spy.
"Just down that way, about ten miles. Going to Calais, they said," Jean gasped, choking for air. "They turned off onto a back road-"
"Probably to avoid us," Xavier finished for him, stroking his lip. He suddenly laughed loudly. "What did I tell you, men?"
"Should we go back?" Andre asked.
"Non, of course not." He pointed further on down the road. "This path leads to Calais. Why backtrack when we can just meet them there?"
* * * * *
"Go! Go!" Jacques cried as he ran past the wagons. The drivers immediately cracked their whips, sending the ponies trotting and galloping down the path. "So keres? Don’t stop! Keep going! Don’t stop!" Upon reaching the last wagon, the elders’ wagon, he ran alongside and hopped onto the stoop, pulling himself out of reach of nearby trees’ branches.
Inside, the gargoyles, Gypsies, and gentry sat or stood silently, ignoring the bumps and rattles the wagon made as it pitched over rocks and fallen branches. Etolie sat in the corner with the eggs, curling her body protectively around the nest to soften the blows to the little bundles. Every bump made her head buzz, and so she grit her teeth and buried her head in her outstretched arms.
That didn’t work, so she crawled next to Brooklyn. "We reach Calais, soon," she started haltingly. It surprised him how much she had changed in the past two or three weeks. Now she could talk without snapping at someone or throwing a fit. Even so, sometimes she would break off in mid-conversation and stare off into space, and tears would form in her eyes before she had a chance to brush them away and act like all was well.
He noticed her hesitance. "Something wrong?"
She looked up into his eyes. "You said, when I first met you two, that you and Sata were travelers, oui? I can stay with you, can’t I? If you travel, and have nowhere to go, it isn’t hard to settle down for a few months. The three of us can raise the eggs together."
The brick-red male flinched. He had never thought this would happen. "We can’t."
"Why not?" Etolie’s eyes widened in dismay.
"Etolie…" He stopped for a moment, searching for the words. "Sata and I aren’t … what you think. We have no say in where we go and when." He saw her open her mouth to question him. "Just believe me when I say that. The point is, we can’t stay with you."
Her face fell. "The eggs are the children of the clan. How can I raise them? One isn’t a clan."
"With any luck, you won't be alone," Brooklyn said cryptically.
She raised an eye-ride in questioning, and her mouth opened to say something. It was then that Jacques popped his head through the wagon door. "Is everyone all right?" he asked, breathing heavily from the running.
The twins looked up from a book their brother was reading them. "Can the horses go faster?" Emilie asked, eyes shining. "We want to drive." Louis acted as though she hadn’t spoken and only continued to read.
"Can you spell 'Relief'?" Brooklyn groaned in jest, clutching his stomach. "I’m feeling sick."
The thin Gypsy looked at him apologetically. "We are going as fast as we can. If Xavier has spies, then that means he’s not given up."
"How long until we reach Calais?" Sata inquired.
"We should reach it by tomorrow night, if we keep the horses going. It’s another fifty miles or so."
Sata’s eyes widened. "Will that not kill the ponies?"
"They’ve ridden harder, believe me," Rosa said. "They’re very sturdy animals." The jade-green gargoyle looked like she felt that wasn’t true, but didn’t argue about it nonetheless.
Brooklyn saw the expression on her face and curled his arms around her shoulders. "You look exhausted."
Sata shook him off. "I’m fine," she growled. Her mate’s ears fell, and he turned away. Her eyes widened, suddenly realizing how impatient she sounded.
Brooklyn looked up in surprise as she put her hand on his arm. "Gomenasai, Brooklyn-san," she apologized softly. "I’ve been irritable to you, lately."
His ears perked up, and he gave a quick sigh of relief as he caught up her hands in his. "I was worried about you, Sata-chan," he returned in an equally gentle voice. "I thought you were just as sick as I’m feeling." He smiled feebly, still ill from the wagon’s jostling.
"I love you," she whispered, reclining her head on his shoulder.
"Ai stiteru yo," he returned. He stroked her ink-black hair delicately with his claws, not even minding when she fell asleep in his arms.
* * * * *
The next night, outside Calais…
Tomas entered the elders’ wagon to find the gargoyles hidden underneath their cloaks, hoods drawn firmly over their faces and old gloves pulled over their hands to hide their claws.
"You are ready?" he asked gruffly, peering out the windows.
"Ready as we’ll ever be," Brooklyn returned. "Didn’t think you guys would be back so soon."
The burly Gypsy cleared his throat. "I must warn you … the stores in Calais were nearly empty tonight when we bought our supplies. We’re not sure but it seems as though something is going on near the docks."
Madame de Bernier, who was busy dressing the girls in their Gypsy costumes, looked up in alarm. "How will we ever get to our ship, now?" She nervously tugged on the kerchief covering her hair, and the hoop earrings in her ears jangled as she tossed her head.
Louis pulled a musket from his belt. "If we have a problem, Mother, I will protect you and Emilie and Noemie," he promised, cocking the trigger.
"Fighting is an option," Sata agreed, pulling her swords from her obi and going into a fighter’s stance. The twins gulped and exchanged frightened glances.
"Our caravan won’t be escorting you into the village," Tomas said. "It’s impossible to get through. There’s more carriages and horses blocking the streets than you know." He stopped, cupping his chin in one hand and staring up at the ceiling. "You know," he added, thoughtfully, "one wagon could perhaps navigate through without many problems. It could hold the eggs."
"I’ll go with them," Jacques offered. "Someone has to bring the vurdon back." He glared at his sister, her eyes full of hope. "What? Are you mad? You can’t go. I went with Tomas this evening to buy supplies. It’s a madhouse."
"Wherever you go, I go, too," she cried, stamping her foot. "I can protect you."
The thin Gypsy growled in defeat, then doffed his hat and scratched his head. Rosa smiled, knowing she won the argument.
"Whatever we’re doing, we have to do it, and fast," Jacques continued, eyeing his sister. "The city gates close at ten o’clock. That’s only thirty minutes from now."
One of the elders spoke up. "Take this vurdon, then. It already has the eggs in it."
Brooklyn punched his fist into his open palm. "Great! Okay, everyone got their costumes on?" He looked around at the group, at the gargoyles in their cloaks and the gentry hidden under their Gypsy disguises. For a touch of realism, Rosa had painted the family’s faces a light brown color with some walnut juice. The girls’ hair had been covered with neckerchiefs and Louis had been given a wide-brimmed hat.
"If we’re going to pull this off, we have to work together," he continued. "Everyone up for the challenge?" All around the circle, heads started nodding. "Perfect." He turned to look at Tomas, and he held out his hand. "You’ll never know how grateful I am for this. I’ve only known one other leader as strong as you, and I haven’t seen him in a long time."
Tomas’ granite-like face softened, and he clasped Brooklyn by the fist, not the wrist, like gargoyle custom. "I’m honored … Brooklyn." He smiled, one of the few smiles he had given during the trip.
"I … am very grateful, too," Etolie said. She hesitated for a moment, then slowly offered her hand. Tomas stared, then took it, and even he winced from her tight grip.
"God help whoever bothers your eggs, miss," he laughed, giving a little bow.
Everyone settled back as the elders left the wagon, leaving only the gargoyles, eggs, the Bernier family, and Rosa and Jacques behind. Madame de Bernier stopped as Brooklyn touched her hand.
"Madame," he said, giving a sweeping bow to her, "when your family begged Tomas to let you travel with us-"
"You convinced him," she finished, eyes shining. "I know. I heard it all. You don’t know how much that meant to me and my children."
Brooklyn blushed slightly. "Well, I gotta ask a favor of you, to help my own family."
"Oh, anything. Name it, by all means."
He cleared his throat before continuing. "I know this might be much but … about the ship you’re taking to London…"
* * * * *
Jacques kept his head bowed in respect as the guards eyed the wagon. He managed to look up, the first thing catching his eye the large sign that bore the city’s name. It hung on the beam overhanging the main gates.
The guard looked at him, then the wagon, then back at him.
"Where are you going, Monsieur?" he barked.
"My family and I are going to buy food, sir. We’ve been on a long journey."
The man snorted, running his fat fingers along his thick moustache. "Where are you coming from?"
"No place, sir. We’re always traveling."
"I’m well aware that Gypsies are always traveling." The tone in the guard’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. Behind him, the other guards watched Jacques with equally suspicious eyes. "Do you have anything we should know of? Foodstuffs, ill persons, or animals, other than your horse?"
The thin Gypsy kept his face devoid of emotion. "No, sir."
The guard narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, inspecting his face, then nodded to his men. They slowly encircled the wagon, checking for anything of interest. One pudgy fellow glanced in a window, only to find a group of cloaked figures sitting quietly around the wagon’s stove. One woman was patiently sewing in a corner, her daughters on her lap. He raised an eyebrow, then shrugged.
"Rien de special," he said with approval. Jacques glanced heavenward and mouthed a silent ‘thank you’.
"Allez! Allez!" the head guard barked. The Gypsy scrambled into the driver seat and smacked the reins against the pony’s withers. The animal grunted and began a brisk trot into the city gates.
He navigated the small wagon through the maze of cobblestone streets, flying by the uneven blocks of bakeries, blacksmiths, and flats. The pony panted and groaned then finally skidded to a halt, almost throwing Jacques out of his seat. Adjusting his askew hat, he stared ahead of them.
On the horizon above the sea of rooftops sat large, white clouds billowing in the wind. He squinted, realizing he was staring at canvas sails. With a sharp slap of the reigns, the pony whickered and took off like a shot for the wharves.
The pony galloped several blocks, dragging the wagon behind it as if it were dead weight, before balking. Jacques’ normally high spirits fell. They were stuck behind a huge crowd, all eager to board.
"We have to get off here," he yelled into the wagon, above the shouting of the crowd.
All three gargoyles peered out the wagon door, making sure their faces were properly hidden.
"How can we transport the eggs?" Etolie asked.
"I have an idea," Jacques called back, slapping the reins again. The pony turned and trotted around the crowd, then towards the ships. He gasped, then reined the wagon to a grinding halt.
"What the-" Brooklyn started.
Mobs were roving the docks, dragging people off the ships and towards a makeshift guillotine set up in the center of the wharves.
"Sans- cullottes," Madame de Bernier whispered, gathering the girls to her side protectively. And in the far corner of the crowd …
Brooklyn bared his fangs. "Xavier," he growled.
* * * * *
"Aw, what in the-" Jean spat, staring at the crowd.
Xavier and his men stood silently to the side of the throng, not daring to trouble the revolutionaries pulling the nobles off the boats. It was obvious that quite a few former aristocrats had the same idea of escape, only the mob seemed to have a similar idea.
"You say there was a rich family with them?" Xavier asked Jean, never keeping his eyes off the crowd.
The weasely little man shrugged. "Looked like it. When the mob finds them, they’ll find the gargoyles."
Xavier smiled. "Perfect." He turned to his men and ordered under his breath, "Split up. Whichever man finds and brings me the beaked one, alive, gets 500 livres and all the rum he can drink."
"And the gold?" someone asked from the back. "The gargoyles’ blood?"
"Oh, yes, of course," he answered. He couldn’t help but laugh under his breath as the men scattered like a pack of wolves.
If he had been paying closer attention, he might have noticed the small, impoverished family that slowly traveled straight past him under his nose. And if he had watched even closer, he might have even noticed that the luggage they carried looked extremely heavy. Almost like they were carrying large, round rocks.
* * * * *
"This is it," Madame de Bernier whispered, stopping the group in front of a large ship.
The girls gave an ‘oooooh’ of amazement. The gargoyles were no less amazed. Her mainmast stretched 130 feet from deck to cap, and 110 feet from bow to stern. Her weight couldn’t have been more than 800 tons. The carved figurehead of a large, tan-colored bird rose from her bow, its mouth frozen open in a silent scream. Brooklyn had to force down a laugh. The figurehead was that of a Phoenix. That was when he noticed the ship’s name inscribed in its port side in large, black ink. Le Phenix.
What they were staring at was not a ship, but a Titan. It appeared to stare back down at them.
"Hurry, before the mob notices us," Madame de Bernier continued. Louis helped her up the plank to the deck, shielding both his little sisters’ eyes from the sight of the guillotine, rapidly rising then falling as person after person was escorted to its cold, metal jaws.
"Who are you?" came a sharp voice, full of authority. The group found itself face to face with an aging man, neatly dressed in a suit and with a large fob and watch hanging from his chest pocket. "I can’t have delays, and peasants certainly are delays."
Madame de Bernier straightened up indignantly. "Captain Toussand?"
The man started, shocked at her knowledge of his name. "And who are you, Madame?"
She peeled the neckerchief from her head, revealing her long auburn locks. "Madame de Bernier, widow of the Duke de Bernier. Now let us on this ship!"
Captain Toussand gave a laugh at her angry expression. "Oh, pardonez-moi, Madame! I did not know." He inspected her, from feet to head. "Well! That is quite a disguise! The trip must have been hard." His face was solemn. "I was sorry to hear about your husband. He was a great man."
The trio behind the family caught his attention. "More guests?"
"We will pay for these three, right here," Madame de Bernier continued hurriedly, herding her daughters onto the deck. "The other one," and here she gestured to Jacques, who stood obediently nearby, "is simply helping us with our … luggage." She glanced at the dozen or so bags at their feet.
The captain nodded. "Very well. Shall I have your luggage taken down to the hold for-"
"Non, s’il vous plait!" Etolie broke in, startling him. "Please, we’ll keep it with us."
"Very well, mademoiselle." He puffed out his chest. "Let me know when you are ready. Someone will escort you and your luggage to your cabin. Pardon me. My second-mate needs my assistance. The ship sails in a quarter of an hour." He quickly headed for the bow.
"How many more?" Madame de Bernier asked, turning to the gargoyles.
"So far, we were able to fit sixteen in all the bags," Sata explained. "The other fourteen are still in the wagon with Rosa."
"We set sail in a few minutes," Brooklyn said. "Quick, empty your bags and give them to me. I’ll get the eggs."
"Just you?" Etolie looked worried.
He nodded. "Xavier won’t notice if only one person is running back and forth." He slapped his forehead. "Aw, geez! You guys still need to be taken to your cabins to get the eggs out of the bags …"
"We’ll hurry," Madame de Bernier assured him.
He shook his head. "No, there’s no time. We leave in fifteen minutes. Don’t worry!" he called as he ran down the plank. "I’ll think of something!" Madame de Bernier watched him go, then quickly hastened to their cabins with the first bag of eggs.
Something out of the corner of Brooklyn’s eye made him skid to a halt. A group of unshaven sailors sang as they stacked crates up in nets, then pulled them up from dock to deck. Behind them lay a large pile of discarded netting and gunnysacks.
One sailor turned around to grab another sack, then stopped in puzzlement. He could have sworn there were a dozen or so of them right there on the top of the pile, just a minute ago …
* * * * *
After going to the wagon and back to the ship twice, Brooklyn was almost done. He threaded his way through the crowd, careful to not tread on anyone’s foot and get a punch to the face. The wagon loomed closer and closer, and he made a final dash, sprinting up the stairs and inside.
"How is it going?" Rosa whispered, carefully loading the last of the eggs into the large sack he held open.
"Good enough," he answered, peering out the wagon’s window to the docks. "How many more?"
"This should be it." She smiled as the last egg was carefully placed in the bag. "There’s five in here. Be careful not to bang it up against anything."
"Yeah, don’t want any yolk on my face." He shook her hand. "Thanks." He gathered up his load and bolted out the door.
Rosa waved to his retreating back then crossed her arms across her chest in prayer.
* * * * *
Andre shaded his eyes as he scanned the crowd. The moonlight barely illuminated the torch-lit docks, something that made him spit a curse.
"I can’t see a thing," he muttered.
Jean, cowering next to the giant, merely shrugged. "Neither can I. Hope Xavier is doing better than we are."
"Not as well as you think." Xavier appeared next to them, his face growing darker by the moment.
Andre squinted. "Xavier, wait, look there."
Jean narrowed his eyes. "What?"
He pointed to a cloaked figure not fifty feet away, hunched under a large sack as it bobbed its way through the crowd. Carefully concealed as it was, every few strides the cloak would part just a few inches, showing a sliver of red through the crack.
The burly giant sneered. "It’s him."
Xavier whistled to several men nearby, and jerked his head towards their prey. Both groups of men acknowledged each other and quickly split up, coming at the unsuspecting gargoyle and his precious cargo from three different directions…
* * * * *
Sata’s eyes widened. She couldn’t cry out; Brooklyn was too far, the crowd too loud. "He does not see them!" she cried to Etolie. Beside them, Louis and the twins watched, too frightened to turn away.
"Get down," Louis ordered, causing the group to crouch to the deck. "They’ll see us."
"What about Brooklyn?" Etolie demanded. "We can’t leave without him, mon ami! He still has some eggs!"
"They will backtrack and find us, and most likely alert the mob," Sata continued. "We have to get Brooklyn and leave, quickly."
There was silence for a minute. Then came a quiet little sniffle, which quickly grew into loud, terrified sobs. Sata and Etolie exchanged glances, then hurried over to the twins, who were too busy crying to even notice that they were being cuddled.
Louis watched this in a stupefied silence, watching as his little sisters cried, terrified of their family being discovered. As he watched, his face suddenly hardened.
"Give me your cloak." He held out his hand to Etolie. She stared at him as if he had gone mad, and he wiggled his fingers in impatience. "Give it to me, now! Please, trust me on this!" She unfastened the clasp and handed it to the young man, ducking below the broadside of the ship to hide from the crowd.
A few feet away, several sailors who were busy pounding oakum into the deck looked in their direction in suspicion. Sata quickly undid her own cloak so Etolie could hide from prying eyes, and both females huddled beneath the cloak.
"It’s red," Louis continued as he hurriedly fixed the clasp around himself, "and it’s dark out. They probably won’t be able to see me too well."
Sata’s eyes widened. "What are you doing?"
Louis finished and straightened his spine. "Thinking of my family, like you said I should." Nevertheless, his face had turned a terrible ashen color in the last few seconds. "Tell my mother I’ll meet her in London. I have the money on me to board another ship."
The twins gazed up at their brother in amazement. Emilie wiped her nose with her handkerchief and sniffed. "Will … will you be all right?" she asked in a warbling voice.
He kissed her and her sister each on the cheek. "Of course," he answered softly, but he didn’t sound very confident. Pulling the cloak tightly around him, he dashed down the plank to the dock.
* * * * *
Brooklyn scrambled onto the Phenix’s deck, carefully setting down his bag and joining the others in hiding. His mouth fell open as he saw a dark red dart fly through the crowd, knocking over people and upturning crates as it went. A mob of men followed close behind, cutlasses flying.
"Oh, my God," came Madame de Bernier from behind as she exited the cabins. She opened her mouth to scream, but her hand went to her throat instead. "Oh, my God…"
Even as she gasped, there was a deep, vibrating groan from within the ship as ballast was given off. The Phenix turned to its starboard, shuddering as it slowly went out to sea …
* * * * *
"Which way did he go?"
Suddenly, a red flash darted across the men’s field of vision.
"Get him!" Andre roared. At the order, the men stampeded after their prey, aiming their muskets and drawing their cutlasses in preparation.
The figure flew through the crowd, ramming people and throwing empty crates into its attacker's path. It dodged under a wagon, rolled out the other side, and scurried across the dock.
Andre whipped out his musket and took careful aim. A cloud of gunpowder exploded into the air as a musketball headed towards its target.
It missed the figure’s waist by an inch and lodged into the wooden planking of the dock, sending up splinters of wood. The figure tripped and landed headfirst along the dock, and there was a groan as its head cracked against the floor.
"We got him!" Jean cried triumphantly, ignoring the curious stares from the crowd. He tore the hood back, then jumped as the young, unconscious face of Louis stared back at him.
Xavier stared at the boy for a moment, his face turning darker and more contorted by the second. "I had him!" he hissed. "I had that monster-" He dragged Louis to his feet by his throat, pulling his musket from his belt. Louis now came alive, gasping for air and kicking furiously in a vain effort to free himself.
"You took him away from me!" he roared, cocking the trigger.
A hand came out of nowhere and clamped onto Xavier’s, throwing the musket from his grip. It skittered across the dock and lost itself under the sea of legs. Louis fell with a thump onto the dock.
"What has this boy done?" a man in the dress of the Sans-cullottes demanded hotly. "Is he a traitor to the Republic?"
Xavier’s cool temper was gone by now. "Don’t meddle in affairs that aren’t your own," he hissed thinly, trying to pull his hand from the man’s grip. But the San-cullottes’ eyes weren’t focused on him, but the curious ruby ring on his forefinger.
"Where did you get that?" the man asked. He tore the ring from his finger and inspected it, then gasped. "The King’s insignia! This is a noble’s ring. Traitre!"
Xavier reeled. The crowd was surrounding him now, murderous glints in their eyes. He fumbled for his musket, then remembered that he had lost it during the scuffle.
"No, you misunderstand, mes amis!" he laughed unconvincingly. The human wall closed in even further. His eyes widened in a panic. "No, you don’t-No! It isn’t-" His face hardened as Jean, Andre, and the rest of his men looked at him, then at the mob, and slowly retreated into the crowd.
"You cowards!" he screamed, even as men rushed forward, binding his hands. "You can’t desert now! Traitors!" Spittle flew onto his chin as he shouted, while the mob dragged him up the steps, throwing him onto the guillotine’s wooden bed.
He looked upwards, even as the wooden clamp was fixed about his neck, only to find the cold, metal jaws of the machine staring back at him hungrily. His eyes dilated as he realized what he was staring at.
The last sound he heard was a metallic ‘thunk’ as the switch was thrown, and the rusty squeal of the blade rushing down on his neck.
* * * * *
"Some party, eh?"
Louis jumped as the comment was whispered in his ear. He didn’t even have time to grapple for his musket when powerful hands dragged him to his feet and spinning him around.
"Jacques!" he cried, heart thumping.
The young Gypsy smiled and spread his arms. "The only! Now, do you want a turn on that, or should we head back to the vurdon?" he inquired, looking at the guillotine.
Both men hurried past the crowd to the Gypsy wagon. Louis stopped, then waved as the Phenix pulled out of port.
* * * * *
"It’s Louis!" Emilie screamed, bouncing up and down on the ship's bulwark.
"He’s alive!" Noemie shouted.
"He’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive!" the twins chanted together, linking hands and dancing in a circle.
Madame de Bernier’s hands covered her mouth, and tears ran down her plump cheeks.
Sata put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Don’t worry. He is alive, and said he would meet you in London."
The woman gave a relieved laugh, but shook her head. "Oh, it is that, of course," she hiccuped between her tears. "But it isn’t just that. It just is," she added hurriedly, glancing at the slowly shrinking figure of her son, "that this is the first honorable thing I have ever seen him do in his seventeen years. I have never been so proud as a mother."
And she burst into sobs, alternating between tears and laughter as she went.
* * * * *
Several nights later…
"London," Brooklyn whispered as the Phenix pulled into port. The fog over the Thames River parted momentarily, allowing the view of London’s infamous Tower to come into view. And behind it rose St. Paul’s Cathedral.
"What now?" Sata whispered.
"Hope Fate’s on our side tonight," her mate returned, kissing her on the cheek.
The gargoyles quickly unloaded the eggs with brief good-byes to the Bernier family, hiding them in a little alcove near the water, just behind a shop that was closed for the night.
When they were done, Brooklyn dusted off his hands as he watched the little nest. "Etolie-"
The blue gargoyle held up a hand to silence Brooklyn. "Wherever you must go, take Sata. I want to watch the eggs for a while." Her eyes turned a deep crimson. "Believe me, no one will dare harming them."
* * * * *
"Wow, look at this place." Brooklyn whistled as he and Sata jimmied open St. Paul’s side doors, slipping carefully threw and closing the door softly behind them. "It’s almost like Notre Dame."
Sata inspected the pews and lines of old candles in their holders. "Why are we here?"
"It’s the best place to start, I guess," her mate answered, gazing up at the rafters.
"What are we looking for?"
"Trust me, you’ll know when you find one." He stopped in front of the pediment on the cathedral’s southern side. There, erected in the center, was a stone Phoenix, and under it was carved the word Resurgam.
"What does this mean?" Sata appeared next to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"The Latin’s rusty, but I think it means, I shall rise again," he answered, cocking his head. "This is the second reference to a Phoenix in the past several nights. I wonder if it’s a meaning…"
"Perhaps it’s hope. The Phenix brought the Bernier family home after a long journey. This Phoenix," She tapped the pouch at his waist, "will, too. I believe it." She linked hands with him, gazing at him with pure love in her eyes.
There was silence for a minute, and Brooklyn turned an even deeper red.
Suddenly, from the darkness of the balcony above, something metallic hit the floor. It skittered across the marble and faded off. The two looked at each other, then upwards. Sata slowly drew her swords as a dark figure flashed across the balcony and behind a pillar.
"Who’s there?" Brooklyn demanded.
A large figure dove off the balcony, landing in the center aisle with a thump and drawing its cloak around it protectively.
"Who are you?" Brooklyn asked again.
The cloak suddenly parted, showing them a pair of feathered wings.
"The question is," the figure said, coming into the light. The shadows retreated from its face, revealing a large beak, tan fur, and a deep frown. "-who are you?"
Even Sata lowered her swords, too shocked to move. Brooklyn just stared, mouth hanging open.
"What are you doing in here?" the gargoyle demanded. His eyes grew when he realized what he was staring at. "Well, strike me blind!" he laughed. "What are a couple of gargoyles like you doing in a place like this? I thought I was the only one who came here to think and be by myself from time to time."
Brooklyn finally found his voice. "Searching for … well, you!"
The gargoyle frowned. "The name’s Peter. Do I know you?"
"Brooklyn, and this is my mate, Sata." The brick-red male clapped a hand on Peter’s shoulder. "Do you have a clan?"
Peter looked more puzzled than ever. "I hope this isn’t some sort of recruitment thing, because if it is, I warn you right now I’m not much good with a sword."
"Not the sort you’re thinking of." Brooklyn gestured to the cathedral doors, hopping up and down like an excited hatchling. "Follow us!"
* * * * *
"-well, Lord knows what you two are doing in a back alley like this!" Peter whispered as the trio landed at the mouth of the alley.
"Not quite two of us-" Sata started.
Without warning, Etolie leapt out of the darkness, tackling the threat to her eggs. Both landed in a heap on the cobblestones. Peter put his hands over his head as she pinned him to the ground.
"Well, missy!" He laughed. "Quite a fighter, aren’t you? I give up!"
Etolie’s mouth parted in surprise. When she realized what she had done, her dark-blue coloring flushed a light purple. "D-Desolee, Monsieur, mais je ne-"
"What the bloody-"
"Communication barrier," Brooklyn sighed, slapping his forehead again. "Great."
Etolie quickly slid off of Peter, allowing him to stand up and run his claws through his feathers. Turning to Brooklyn, he said, "Well! Learned a bit of Paris talk back when I was a hatchling, ya know! Lemme try!" Turning to Etolie, he said, "Euh, bonjourno, madam. Comme vouz?"
His face fell as she clutched her sides and started laughing. "Well, I DID say I learned it when I was a hatchling."
The dark-blue female’s face softened as she took his talons in hers. "I learn English when young, too," she said softly, trying to hold back her giggling.
"Phew!" Peter said, relieved. "I was afraid we’d have to learn hand signals or something. Now, what’s this about eggs?"
She gestured to the alley. Peter puckered his beak and whistled at the sight of all thirty eggs, neatly snuggled in the back. "Well, we’d better get you all to a safer place. Can hardly raise a rookery in the back alleys of London, you know."
"Where can you take them?" Sata asked.
Peter tapped his beak, pondering, before a smile broke out over his face. "I know of a place."
* * * * *
One night later…
"Here it is!" Peter said, reining the carriage they had rented to a halt. "Like it?"
The gargoyles peered out from the back. A large, white-brick estate loomed on a grassy knoll in front of them. It looked like any other mansion.
Save for the beast relaxing on the front lawn.
"Hey, there, boy!" Peter crowed, hopping down from the drivers’ seat. The beast, a light brown creature with horns jutting from its cheekbones, lifted its head. Upon seeing him, it jumped up and tackled him, barking as it went.
The barking brought several other gargoyles from the house.
"What is this?" demanded a badger-like female in a dress and apron, banging open the front door. She waved a wooden spoon threateningly above her head. "I’m trying to cook and I keep hearing-Peter! Where the devil have you been?" She stopped when she realized he wasn’t alone.
"Sorry for being so late, Susan," the beaked male said hurriedly. "Hope I’m not too late for tea, am I? Well! Set out the extra china! We have guests, my good lady! Where’s Edmund?"
"In the … the …," Susan stuttered, staring at the gargoyles behind him. Sata and Brooklyn bowed while Etolie curtsied.
Another gargoyle followed Susan outside the front door, his lion’s mane hanging wild and his eyes set in slits.
"Ah, Edmund! Brother!" Peter cried, clapping him on the back. "Well, chum, guess what I found in the-"
"Where on Earth have you been?" Edmund asked. "We’ve been looking all over for you. You probably ran off to see the city again, haven’t-" The sight of the new gargoyles made him stop mid-sentence.
There was a cry as the rest of the clan poured out the doors. To Etolie, it looked like feeding time at the Versailles zoo. Lions, eagles, badgers, deer … a stampede of animal-like gargoyles swelled into a mass in front of them, all demanding to know what was going on. A few younger ones scampered through the crowd. They giggled and whispered to themselves, keeping a careful eye on the new arrivals.
Edmund held up his hands for silence. The din slowly dwindled till it was nothing.
"Everyone, inside," he ordered. "We don’t need passers-by noticing this little reunion, you know."
He turned to Susan, who was still staring at Brooklyn and his group in shock. "And, Susan, would you be so kind as to lay out the tea?"
* * * * *
"So, let me get this straight," Edmund said, reclining into an overstuffed chair. "You traveled three weeks through northern France, tracked by thieves, and got past the mob and out of Calais, with your lives?" He sighed, shaking his head. "Well, I must hand it to you. You are the craziest bunch we’ve met up with. Bravest, too."
"I was banking on the fact that you guys would be around," Brooklyn explained, sipping his drink. He, Sata, and Etolie sat comfortably on the couch opposite Edmund as Susan offered them more tea. The rest of the clan had managed to fit into the living room, all too interested to listen to these newcomers to leave.
Peter slid into the last seat on the sofa with his own teacup, and he sidled up next to Etolie. The blue female only blushed, but remained silent.
"How did you think that?"
"I’ve heard stuff," Brooklyn continued, thinking back to when he met Griff in Manhattan. There were old memories, too, from when he was a hatchling, of unfamiliar gargoyles trekking to Wyvern with tales of problems in England that made them leave their home.
Edmund laughed. "Well, ‘stuff’, as you say, worked for you. Fate certainly was on your side. Now, we probably have room for you three in the guest room on the top floor. You can pile your belongings in there while you settle in-"
"It is not us, Edmund-san," Sata interrupted. "Just for Etolie. And the eggs."
Edmund sputtered, spilling tea on his lap. "What?"
"The eggs," Etolie piped up in her heavily-accented English. "We bring them, in the wagon. We put it in your barn for now."
The English clan buzzed. Edmund silenced them with a wave of his hand. "Impossible. I truly am sorry, but we can’t."
Brooklyn stared at him for a moment, and he slowly rose out of his seat. "What? We risked our necks to get out of a country at civil war to protect these eggs, and you say no?"
Edmund sighed. At least he had the sense to look apologetic. "I’m sorry," he repeated, "but thirty eggs? Look," he continued, leaning forward, "we’re hidden from the people of Britain, and we want to remain so. We can’t keep hidden with an extra thirty gargoyles roaming the English moors. It’s impossible! What I’m saying is," he finished, "we can’t do it. I’m sorry, but the French clan is on its own."
"You say that as if it is the French against the English!" Sata said, eyes burning red. She stood up, her teacup spilling all over the rug.
"Yes, it is!" she cried, interrupting. "This is not a matter of clan against clan, of who is better than the other." She pointed out the curtained windows, toward the barn where the wagon and its precious cargo was stored. "There are few gargoyle clans left. You can not turn them away. There is more to life than just … survival."
The other gargoyles in the room suddenly came alive, nodding in agreement and whispering amongst each other.
"Let them on, Edmund," a young gargoyle said.
"Yes! Let them!"
Edmund turned to look at Susan. She smiled warmly, spreading her hands in questioning. "We’ve been hidden well enough for this long, what can a few more do?" she asked.
His face softened. "You are right." He nodded to Brooklyn. "We’ll take them."
Brooklyn leapt upwards, punching the air with a victorious shout. He turned and pulled Sata into a big hug, laughing as he did so. "We did it!"
"You did it, Brooklyn-san," she whispered, kissing him.
Etolie watched this quietly, smiling with relief. She felt a touch at her thigh and turned, finding Peter watching her with interest.
Before she could do anything, he took her wrist, turned it over, and kissed the back of her hand. "Welcome to the family, mademoiselle," he whispered to her, in his thickly-accented French.
His accent was so terrible, his face so warm and friendly, she couldn’t help but laugh as she threw herself into his arms.
* * * * *
One month later…
"They’re hatching!" a young gargoyle squealed, running into the mansion. He was so busy making the announcement he barely noticed when he ran, beak-first, into a wall. Picking himself up, he galloped into the dining room, where most of the gargoyles were seated for tea.
"What?" Edmund roared, jumping up from his seat. "The French eggs?"
"Yes!" the little one squealed. "The new ones!"
Brooklyn wrinkled his nose in confusion as the entire English clan scattered, some heading upstairs and others towards the cabinets to get supplies. "Just the new ones?"
Susan fumbled with a pile of blankets for swaddling the newborns. "Ours aren't due for a few more years, yet," she said coolly, handing out supplies to her rookery sisters. "Now, if we all would be so kind as to go, in a dignified manner, if possible."
Her request was ignored. There was a stampede to the house’s cellar, and much pushing, shoving, and cries as toes were treaded on.
The badger-like female pushed her way to the head of the crowd. "Shush, you lummoxes!" Susan barked, then snorted as she bent down to the eggs. "Honestly, you all work so hard to get these, and then you gallop about as if you want to tread on them." She sounded so severe that several of the younger ones giggled.
"Ooh, now," she cooed, then looked into the crowd of eager faces. She sought out Etolie from the bunch. "I believe these eggs are yours, dearie. Ours are set farther against the wall."
The dark-blue female scurried through the crowd and fell at the elder gargoyle’s feet. "Which? I can not see. Which one hatches?" Susan merely smiled and placed one of the eggs into her arms.
Everyone crowded around as a thin line slowly formed and ran down the egg’s side. Within seconds, a spiderweb of cracks ran around and about the egg until a tiny, light brown, four-fingered hand slid its way through, grappling for something to hold onto. Etolie hesitantly offered her fore-claw, and the little hand found and clutched it tightly.
She peeled the rest of the egg apart, rubbing off the thick, sticky mess that coated the hatchling like maple syrup. As soon as it was free, it sniffled, then wailed.
Etolie gave an amazed half-gasp. "Just like Elan," she whispered, tears forming. "Oh, just like her. She is beautiful."
Peter tickled the hatchling’s nose, causing the creature to cease its crying. It looked up at him with wide, awe-struck eyes.
Then it sneezed, straight in his face.
The entire clan broke up with laughter. Peter merely wiped at his beak and grinned. "She has a powerful set of lungs, at least."
* * * * *
It was another two hours before all the eggs were finally hatched. A total of 30 healthy, plump little gargoyles in all.
"… has the face of Francoise," Etolie rambled, stroking one hatchling’s cheek. It squealed, and snuggled against her chest for warmth. A few seconds later, it was asleep.
Her face had lost its ragged, dark color. She was now lighthearted, Brooklyn noticed, as she picked up hatchling after hatchling, and telling Peter and the other gargoyles all about her clan. She was going to need a lot of help telling the hatchlings about their parents when they were old enough to listen, he knew.
"She has healed," Sata commented, watching the gathered clan from the side of the cellar.
"Yep," Brooklyn affirmed, wrapping his wings around her. She felt his chest lift, then lower as he gave a sigh.
"So have you," she added.
Rather than deny it, he actually smiled and said, "You know what? Yeah, I feel better about … it."
"You didn’t tell me before," she said. "About ‘it’, I mean, Brooklyn-san. Remember, talk to me if you ever feel lonely or sad again."
He buried his face in her ink-black hair. "Sure," he whispered. "Thanks for being supportive before." He blinked, his vision starting to dance in front of him. "Whoa, that was strange."
A second jolt hit him like a club to the head. "Um, Sata…"
Her eyes widened. "I understand." She clutched him even tighter.
Etolie pranced over to them, surprised at seeing their long, solemn faces. "You are leaving?" she asked. "You said you did, without warning." Before they could respond, she smiled. "Thank you. I … we will never …" She hesitated, searching for the English word. "We will never forget you."
"That’d be hard to do," Peter affirmed, sliding an arm around her shoulder.
"Keep a good watch on those eggs," Brooklyn said. He stared at Peter’s face even harder. The more he thought of it, the more Peter looked like Griff. He bit his lip to keep from laughing aloud. Not only had they saved a clan, but perhaps they had even set up Griff’s ancestor with a female!
Etolie and Peter stepped back several feet, hugging each other for support as the Phoenix flame bubbled and encircled the two time-traveling gargoyles. Through the fire’s thin membrane, Brooklyn could see the other English gargoyles, all standing and watching, the hatchling snuggled protectively in their arms.
He peered down at Sata, who was watching him with a mysterious look on her face as her hair was tossed wildly in the wind. "Yeah?"
"You said before that you loved children, hai?"
He grinned. "Yeah, I’ve gotten to like them a lot on this dance."
"Good." She nestled in even closer to his ear, and softly whispered, "because now we’re timedancing for three."
Brooklyn's jaw dropped. "You mean it?" At her affirming nod, he laughed and hugged her tighter. It was the last thing the English clan saw before the ball of fire disappeared, taking its winged occupants with it.
* * * * *