A Word of Explanation: The Guardians
is a spinoff series of stories, set in the future of my
ongoing saga. "Lyre, Lyre" could be considered the first of these.
February 25, 2018
Alexander Xanatos switched off the vidphone,
well pleased with himself. It was a
feeling that lasted until the door to his office was opened a few moments later, and he was
once again brought back to the grim reality that faced the inhabitants of the world's second-
"Hi, Amburger," he said. The nickname which had once sent her into fits of irritation
now only drew a vague, distracted half-smile. Alex abandoned his attempt at levity. "How is
Amber Maza took a deep breath. "He's dying, Alex. My father is dying."
He closed his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Amber."
"You have to help."
"I've already done everything within my power, you know that. Both scientifically and
magically. The attempt to heal him with an infusion of his own reconstituted DNA didn't do the
trick, my spells only slowed down the disease. It's too virulent."
"I'm not giving up! You wouldn't, if it was your father."
"You know I'd move heaven and earth if I thought it would do any good. So would
Patricia. But even if she used Hecate's Wand to turn him human --"
"The disease might still finish him off. I understand that. But there's a way. I need the
His eyes flew wide open, then he attempted to mask his reaction. "The Phoenix
Gate? Why would you --"
"Okay." He sighed. "How did you find out?"
"I pay attention. You forget, Alex, you always forget. I'm not a child! I'm not stupid! But
because I age slower than the rest of you, everyone treats me like a kid. Sebastian is younger
than me, and you let him in on your schemes."
"I never thought you were stupid, Amber. But you're right ... it's hard to look at you and
remember that you're really eighteen. And even if you looked it, I'll probably still always think
of you as my baby sister."
"The point is, I'm not. I'm old enough to know what's going on."
"Who else has figured it out?"
She gave him a look. "Come on, Alex, I may be curious, but I'm discreet. As far as I
know, I'm the only one besides Patricia and Sebastian who've figured it out. Not even Aiden
and Elektra suspect."
"That's something, at least." He rubbed at his beard, a recent acquisition that thus far,
his fiancee Patricia was less than wild about. She claimed it made him look too much like his
father, and failed to see that that was the point. "But why? What good would the Gate do?
Sending him back in time won't cure him."
"I'm going to go."
He sat up straighter. "What? Are you kidding? Go when? What for?"
"There's someone in the past who might be able to help. It could be Daga's last
chance. You have to give me the Gate."
"Even if you're right, someone else --"
"Don't you dare say someone else! He's my father!"
"And he would never allow this!"
"Who else would he send? It wouldn't be fair to ask any of the rest of the clan. It
would hurt too much for them to go back. I can function by day and by night, I can take care of
myself, I'm the best choice!"
"What you're talking about is terribly dangerous!"
"Another reason not to send anyone else! They've got mates, children to think of. If I
never came back --"
"Your parents would be devastated. So would the clan. So would we all!"
"But I wouldn't be leaving behind a grieving mate, orphaned hatchlings."
"It's too risky, Amber! If someone has to try this, how about me, or Sebastian?"
"Rrrrargh!" She lunged at him and slammed her fists on the top of his desk hard
enough to make the paperweights jump. Her deep brown eyes shifted briefly to hot orange.
"Because he's my father and I'm not going to sit on my butt and watch him die!"
"The Gate's not ready; it hasn't even been tested yet --"
"I don't care!"
"Damn it, Amber, I'm not going to be responsible for your death!"
"You'd rather be responsible for Goliath's?"
"If you have to blame someone for that, look Demona's way. She's the one who stole
the Seven Vials."
"You're the one that sponsored the expedition that found them. Or should I blame
Brendan and Dakota for digging them up? Or my mother? She's already blaming herself! It
doesn't matter, Alex! If you won't help me now, you're as good as letting him die!"
Her implacable illogic was making his head ache. "Amber ..."
"What would you do if it was your father?"
"That's not fair."
"It's the same thing! Except it wouldn't be your father, would it, he's immortal, you
can't know how I feel!"
"Bullshit!" Alex shouted back, hammering a fist of his own on the table. "He's not
here, I'll never see him again! Or my mother! So don't you tell me that I can't know how you
Amber relaxed back. "There. I finally got to you."
"What are you doing?"
"Trying to make you understand. I'm sorry I had to hurt you and piss you off to do it,
but Alex --"
"All right. You win. You can use the Gate. But if it breaks and traps you in the past, or
leaves you dancing through time or something, don't come whining to me."
"That'd be a good trick," she said with a grin.
Alex got up, shaking his head. "I must be crazy. Letting you talk me into this." He
crossed the room and pressed his forefinger onto a jewel set in the brow of a squat ugly
statuette that crouched like a toad on one of the shelves. The shelves shimmered obligingly
and vanished, revealing the portal to his other office.
"You're re-making the Cauldron?" Amber asked as she followed him in and looked
He nodded. "Had to melt down a lot of robots to recover all the original metal. But
after we found that scroll telling about the Cauldron's other uses, I realized it was worth more
to me in its proper form."
"What next, the Eye of Odin?"
"No chance. Even I'm not greedy enough to try and pluck it back out of his head."
Amid the clutter of artifacts and spellbooks was another desk. No sleekly ultramodern
expanse of hematite and onyx this one, it was a hulking behemoth standing on carved
clawfoot legs, the surface scarred and scorched and pitted. The chair behind it was equally
massive, upholstered in what Alex had no reason to doubt was genuine dragonhide. He sat
and reached for a glass dome on a gold base, the sort of thing one might expect to see
covering a clock. Instead, only a cloud of indigo-shot smoke roiled within.
When he touched the base, the smoke cleared and a tiny creature materialized under
the glass. It was less than the length of Alex's hand, and looked like the result of a union
between a puffer fish and a wasp.
"Send for Patricia," he commanded.
The miniature demon winked out, leaving the dome clear and empty.
"Don't touch that!" Alex cried as he saw Amber about to pick up the Scepter of
She jumped, and withdrew her fingers. "Why?"
"Because you're not trained in magic, and so just holding it would cause you to burst
"Oh." She eyed the ruby-and-diamond-studded golden rod with respect.
A new portal opened in the opposite wall and Patricia St. John stepped through from
her study at the Sterling Academy, looking like she was heading to a luncheon at the country
club rather than to this place set just slightly outside of the real world. She wore a crisp linen
suit, and when she bent over to kiss Alex on the cheek, he smelled the lilies of her perfume.
"Hello, Darling." She settled into the other chair, this one formed from a single pillar of
crystal, and crossed her legs. "Hello, Amber; I was so dreadfully sorry to hear about your
"That's why we're here," Alex said. "Amber wants to borrow the Phoenix Gate."
Patricia's sculpted eyebrows rose slightly. "It's unfinished."
"No time like the present." He opened a drawer and removed a heavy mahogany box
with brass hinges and clasps. Inside was the shield-shaped plaque of milky blue framed in
gold. The phoenix curled across the front.
"Will it take me to Scotland, too? Or will I arrive back in time here in New York?"
"All time travel is teleportation too, dear," Patricia explained with just a touch of
condescension. "Otherwise, frankly, time travel would be useless to us."
"I don't get it," Amber frowned.
"Well," said Alex, lifting the Gate from its bed of crushed black velvet, "The Earth's
spinning, plus going around the Sun; the solar system is moving with the galactic spiral, the
universe is expanding, all that good stuff. So, if you just traveled through time, you'd arrive
to find the Earth wasn't there yet, or had passed you by. You'd end up floating in space. Or in
the heart of a star."
"Thus, moving across distance is just as much a part of this as is moving through
time," Patricia concluded silkily.
"So it will take me to Scotland," Amber persisted.
"That's the plan." A faint red-gold light, nearly the same color as his hair, began to
ooze from Alex's fingers over the Gate. "Luckily, we completed the language-acquisition spell
already, so you'll be able to understand people."
Patricia swept her hands in a graceful, mystic pass and the gnarled length of Hecate's
Wand appeared between them. She wove it in an intricate pattern, speaking words of power
too softly to be heard. A spill of white mist issued from the end of the wand.
Alex forgot all about Amber, forgot all about his surroundings. As he sank deeper into
the spell-trance, the only other being he was aware of was Patricia, their magics mingling in a
way even more intimate than making love. Fused mind and soul, they directed the sorcerous
energy to meld with the Gate, infusing it with power, finally bringing it that last step to
"There," Alex breathed. "Done."
"How'd you find it, anyway?" Amber asked. "I thought it was lost in time and space."
Alex grinned at her, a grin only a couple of steps removed from his father's
characteristic smirk. "We didn't find it. The old one still is lost in time and space."
"The ... old one?"
"We made a new one," Patricia said. "So do be careful with it, won't you? I'd hate to
see all that work go to waste."
"I'd hate to see me go to waste, so I'll keep that in mind."
"Do you know the words?" Alex blew on the Gate to cool it, then passed it to Amber.
"Sure! Sebastian and Orpheus and I used to play Phoenix Gate all the time! Desflagrate --"
"Not here!" Patricia and Alex chorused.
"This," Patricia declared, looking at him, "is not the best idea you've ever had,
He chuckled wryly. "Could be because it wasn't my idea."
Castle Wyvern, Scotland
September 11, 940 AD
"Come back here, ye little scamp!" she
called, brandishing the scrub-brush. "I'll have
that mud off of ye if I must chase ye from now 'til daybreak!"
He bounded away from her, laughing. A crowd of other hatchlings, led by a blue-grey
male and a golden-skinned female, dashed between them to abet his escape. She made
mock swipes at each of them with the brush, and their giggles rebounded from the walls of
The clan's second-in-command and some of his rookery siblings were just coming in
as the rogue youngster raced for the exit. The second seized him, and carried him, squirming
all the while, back to her.
"Och, ye've got his mud all over yerself," she fussed.
"Nay, old-mother, keep away from me with that thing!" he replied. "Ye did yer share o'
that when I was a wee one."
"And as for ye," she scolded, but in such a way that the youngster knew she wasn't
really cross with him, "I think ye should make yer apologies."
Imitating their human neighbors, he executed a respectful bow. "Forgive me, mentor."
"I do, lad ... but mind yer old-mother!"
"Ill-mannered little brutes," a beaked female of deep crimson skin remarked. "The
humans are a bad influence on them."
"No, they're just young," her mate, whose unusual elbow and knee blades had earned
him the nickname "Dirk" by those selfsame humans, said as he slid an arm around her
shoulders. "You'll see, when you and our sisters breed, the result will be much the same."
She sniffed, and what caustic thing she said next was beyond the old-mother's
hearing. She returned her attention to the now-contrite male who stood before her.
"Now, then," she said. "I can barely recall, are ye blue or green under all this mess?"
He laughed. "Purple, old-mother. Like you."
"Ah, that's right." She ruffled his sable hair fondly.
"Can we go see the castle later? I heard the second tell the leader that it'll be done
soon. When do we get to perch there, all of us, instead of just the warriors?"
"Soon enough, I'd warrant. And ye'll be a warrior not much longer after that. Should ye
grow into these wings, what a warrior ye'll be!" She shook one of his wings, and grimaced at
the dried mud that sifted down. "How did ye ever get to be such a mess? What on earth were
He shrugged. "Nothing."
"Were ye, now? Funny, that's always what I was doing when I was yer age. Have ye
thought to practice yer letters, or have ye been too busy making mischief?"
"I was, but she took my slate." He pointed at one of his sisters, who was currently
protesting having order restored to her mass of scarlet hair by one of the other rookery
"Aye, she's one that's always into trouble." She applied the brush diligently, clucking
over the condition of his feet. "Were ye up to yer knees in the muck?"
"Yes, old-mother, and throwing it at each other too."
Just then, another hatchling went by, one of his ears caught in the firm grip of a
rookery father. He was not just covered in mud but caked with it, particularly around the
face and chest, and he stuck out his tongue at his brother as he went by.
"Throwing it, were ye?" The old mother hid a smile. "Good aim."
"He was picking on my brother and sister," her young charge said defensively.
"Teasing them. I had to make him stop."
"There, now, I think ye're as clean as I can get ye. Come along, the river will take care
of the rest."
"The river? But it's too cold!"
She pinched his brow ridge playfully. "Should have thought of that before ye went
playing in the mud."
He trooped alongside her willingly enough. The old-mother caught some of the other
rookery-parents glancing her way in disapproval. There were six of them, delegated to tend
the hatchlings while the rest of the clan hunted, scouted for approaching dangers, and
assisted the humans. The others had their hands full with multiple youngsters to tend. She
had just the one. The leader allowed it, for trying to keep up with more than one was too much
of a chore for her advanced years. But still, some of the others resented her for it, and felt she
was indulging that one particular hatchling.
They were wrong. She was indulging herself. Let them fault her for it. She cared not.
The cave entrance let them out onto the rocky slope of a steep hill facing the sea. What
had been, for most of her long memory, a quiet clifftop washed only by the sound of the
wind and the waves, was now a bustling hive of activity.
At so late an hour, past midnight, most of the humans were asleep. The collection of
wooden shacks around the unfinished stone walls housed the quarrymen and masons and
blacksmiths and carpenters and their various families, apprentices, and those who provided
food, goods, and services. Some of them worked by night, for the great physical strength of
their gargoyle allies was of much help in moving heavy blocks of stone. And thanks to the
gargoyles, more than one human life had been saved that might otherwise have been lost in
long falls from the rickety wooden scaffolding that surrounded the castle.
She could still remember when her clan had never seen humans. Now there were
hundreds of them, bringing with them their beasts and their noise. But there were benefits to
the association, as well. Not all of her clan could see those benefits, other than the
introduction of baked bread, which had swiftly become a favorite among the gargoyles. But
she could. Humans to protect their home by day when the gargoyles were at their most
vulnerable, and the opposite at night.
The humans were willing to trade for the plentiful meat the clan caught. Metal
weapons, jewelry, and even a few articles of clothing had found their way into the possession
of the gargoyles. The old-mother herself had given up her halter and loincloth in favor of a
warm, soft woolen gown.
And they could learn from each other. Though here, the clan was least willing to take
advantage of that. Only a few of them saw any worth at all in learning to read and write. None
took any interest in the humans' religions, or in becoming farmers. But she knew a few of her
clan had become intrigued by some of the various crafts and skills. Likewise, the gargoyles'
prowess at hunting and fighting had drawn great admiration from the humans.
Yes, a beneficial association all around. Or at least, that was how she saw it.
She led the youngster around the castle, listening with quiet pride as he pointed out
the various features of the battlements and towers. His generation seemed to accept the
construction with wholehearted enthusiasm. But then, it had been begun when they weren't
many years out of the egg, so it was something they'd always known.
"This castle will always be yer home," she told him. "So ye must always protect it."
"I will, old-mother," he said solemnly.
"Good. Now, into the river with ye!"
He dove in, splashed about, submitted to a bit more scrubbing, and when he
emerged, his lavender skin was gleaming with rich good health. The exact shade her own had
once been, when she was younger. When her hair had been as dark as his, before she'd
begun to grey and fade like an old flower.
"Wings out," she said.
He extended them fully, and she checked the membranes to be sure they'd gotten all
the mud. Satisfied, she yielded to his pleas to tour the castle.
"Good evening, Old-Mother," a man's voice hailed from behind them.
"Prince Corwin, a pleasure to see ye." She inclined her head toward him.
"I've seen this lad with ye before, haven't I? God be praised, when he gets his full
growth he'll be a giant! A veritable Goliath!"
"Goliath?" the old-mother asked.
"From the Bible, a giant of the long-ago times, a great warrior."
"Aye, a great warrior, that he'll be," she said proudly. "How goes the building, Prince?"
"It goes well. My brother the king is right pleased with our progress, though yet thinks
me mad for allying with gargoyles. He'll sing a different tune when we've set back our first
"And how fares yer lady-wife?" the old-mother inquired.
Prince Corwin's expression darkened. "Nae verra well after the loss o' the babe, but
she lives and grows stronger every day. With ye to thank."
"I'm only glad my medicines could help. Would that they could've done more!"
"There will be other babes," he said confidently. "Sooner or later, that womb o' hers
will let my seed come to fruit."
The old-mother looked at the hatchling, who had grown bored with their conversation
and was watching the craftsmen and the soldiers, and said nothing.
"'Twas yer knowledge and arts that brought me to speak with ye," the prince went on.
"Are ye ailing, sir?"
"Nae, nothing of the sort. Come this way."
"Old-mother, may I --"
"Verra well, lad, run along. But stay out of the way."
The prince led her to one of the completed towers, up a spiral stair. "This room," he
said, opening the door with a flourish, "is for ... ye!"
"What?" she gasped, stepping into the chamber.
It was round and spacious, with windows overlooking the courtyard and the sea. The
floor was deep in fresh rushes, the walls hung with heavy tapestries. The widest of the
windows gave onto a balcony just the right size for landings and launchings. Near the center
of the room was a large table crowded with pots and vials.
"Och, my lord, 'tis too grand, too much for me!"
"I'll hear none of it. Whatever ye need to work yer craft, ye'll have. I assure ye, Old-
Mother, 'tis not purely from generosity that I've done this. Yer service be too valuable to me."
"If yer clan and mine are to live together, 'tis only right we use our skills to help each
other. But this ... 'tis na the gargoyle way."
"Much of what's been done these past ten years has na been the gargoyle way. Nor
the way of my people. We're making a new way, together. Yer wisdom will benefit both."
"An' what use would I be having of a bed, then?" She gave him the ghost of a
winsome smile that had been devastating to her rookery brothers, oh-so-many decades ago.
"Surely my prince was na thinking o' making me his mistress?"
Corwin's laughter rolled and thundered against the roofbeams. "'Tis all I can do to
keep up with the mistresses I've got! In truth, good lady, 'twas only that I failed to think. Ye
especially of yer clan seem not so different from us, and so it had slipped my mind. I'll have it
"Nay, ye may as well leave it. By the look, 'twas all but constructed within the room --"
"Aye, that it was."
"And a fine piece o' work it is. Besides, I'd be lying were I to tell ye my old bones
wouldn't appreciate a place to rest myself now and again, especially in the winter when the
nights are so verra long that it seems the healing sleep will ne'er come." She ran a hand
admiringly along the posts.
"Ye'll accept my gift, then?"
"With pleasure, Prince Corwin."
Light and heat.
The old-mother reeled back, squinting against the brightness as a ball of fire and
lightning grew suddenly from nothingness. A shadow-shape flickered within the sphere.
Prince Corwin swept her gallantly behind him and drew his sword.
The fireball winked out as quickly as it had come, but did not leave the room as it
was. Now, instead of the two of them, there were three.
"Sorcery!" Corwin leapt and swung.
The girl who had come from the fire gasped as she saw a sword coming for her
throat. She flung herself backward and kicked as she went down, one large and oddly clumsy
shoe striking the prince's forearm. His blade clattered against the wall.
"Nay!" the old-mother cried, interposing herself between them. "Hold, my lord! 'Tis but
"'Tis a witch! Ye saw the means by which she came!"
"I'm not a witch," the girl said from the floor, sitting up. "I'm a friend!"
"The Devil may wear a pleasing face," Corwin said grimly, reaching for his knife.
"Stay yer hand a moment," the old-mother pleaded. "She seems to mean no harm.
Who are ye, lass?"
"A friend," she repeated. "Please, I need your help."
"Where've ye come from? Who are ye?" Corwin demanded.
"I'm called Eolande," she said, and the way her eyes shifted made the old-mother
sure she was only partly telling the truth. "I've come from far away. I didn't mean to surprise
you; I thought you'd be alone." This last said with an appealing look at the old-mother.
"And how came ye here, lass?" the old-mother asked, seeing out of the corner of her
eye that Prince Corwin was relaxing slightly.
"This." She held up an object of blue and gold. "He's right; it is sorcery, but I'm
not a witch. Or a devil. I'm here because only you can help me save my father's life."
"Stay there," Corwin commanded, and drew the old-mother aside. "What make ye o'
"I dinna think she's a danger to this castle or this clan. If she's truly come seeking my
help, I canna turn her away."
"But magic ... I dinna trust magic."
"Ye have a Magus as an advisor," she reminded him.
"I dinna fully trust him, either," Corwin said sourly. "Too ambitious by half, that one.
But I'll take to yer judgement on this, Old-Mother."
"Thank ye, my lord. Let me speak with her alone, and I'll report to ye forthwith."
He nodded brusquely both at her and Eolande, retrieved and sheathed his sword, and
left the chamber.
"Now then, lass. That were quite an entrance. What mean ye, that ye need my help?
What could be so dire as to have a pretty thing like ye seeking the aid o' an old gargoyle like
me?" She moved closer, studying her visitor.
A tall, fit, well-nourished lass. Perhaps fifteen summers of age. Her clothing -- linen
undertunic, fine woolen surcoat, hooded cloak -- were of exceptional make, the stitching so
tiny and even that the best seamstress in Scotland would have been awed. The dyes of the
cloth were rich and vibrant.
She was indeed pretty, with dusky skin and night-black hair. Something about her
face struck the old-mother as odd. Her eyebrows, which upturned just a bit at the outer ends,
each with a small bump. And her teeth ... they were whiter and straighter than anything the
old-mother had ever seen in the mouth of a human, but two on the top and two on the bottom
looked longer, sharper.
"I didn't want to say too much. I still don't know what I can tell and what I can't. But my
real name's Amber, and I come from the future. I'm ... I'm part of your clan."
The old-mother's eyes narrowed. "What mean ye by that, lass?"
"Well ... it's easier if I show you." She removed her cloak. Beneath it, she seemed to
be wearing a thin cape of violet hue. Then the 'cape' unfolded.
"By the Dragon," the old-mother whispered. "Wings!"
"My father is a gargoyle."
"It canna be!"
"But ye look so human!"
"I get that from my mom."
The old-mother held to one of the bed posts to support herself. "Yer mother is
"My father's clan is ... descended from yours." Again, that slight shifting of the gaze.
"This castle is our home."
"Human and gargoyle ... and ye say ye come from the future? How far?"
"Um ... a long time. Over a thousand years."
"So this castle the prince has built yet stands, a millennium hence? And my clan is still
strong and well?"
"Yes, that's right, mostly."
"And more allied with humans that e'er any of us suspected!"
"If it makes any difference, there's only one other like me, my Aunt Elektra. Well, two
if you count Aunt Delilah, but ... never mind, that's too hard to explain."
"Why've ye come to me?"
The girl spoke carefully enough to make the old-mother wonder just what she was
leaving out. "Our elder, Hudson, is ... the living memory of our clan. He knows a lot about the
history of the castle. He told us about you, the best alchemist ever."
"This Hudson of yers is too kind."
"You mean you're not an alchemist?" Her whole face became a mask of despair.
"Nay, lass, I am, though I dinna know about being the greatest one ever. It seems
mayhap history was a bit generous with reports o' my skill."
"But you can help me."
"I dinna even know what ye need."
"My father is sick." She swallowed and blinked several times. "Dying. None of our
medicines can heal him. We can't lose him, he's the leader of our clan, the greatest warrior in
the world, all of the other clans look up to him, my mother would be shattered without him, he
can't die, he just can't! There was nothing else we could do, they were ready to give up, so I
came back to find you. Please, please, you have to help. I can't fail him."
"Shh, shh, calm yerself, lass. I'll do what I can for ye. But in the meantime, what are
we to tell the prince? Or my clan? This alliance is shaky at best; I dinna know what they'd
make of ye! They could see ye as proof that our kinds can live together, or they'd view it as
the death o' both races."
"Probably the second, if they're anything like people in the future. But no one has to
know. If I keep my wings hidden, I can pass for human. Even by day."
"Ye mean ye dinna turn to stone?"
"Only when I'm really tired, or hurt."
"If we're to pass ye off as human, then, best to ask the prince to give ye a room. It'd
seem strange were ye to spend too much time among the gargoyles. I'll tell them ye're an
apprentice, come to ask me some questions."
"Thank you. I promise, I'll be careful. I don't want to goof up history! Alex says I
can't, that whatever I do is whatever I did and it won't make any difference, but I don't really
want to put him to the test."
"And it may be best for us all if we didna know too much about the future."
"Yeah," the girl sighed, a strange and haunted look touching her dark eyes.
The old-mother almost asked, but decided her own words were true -- it would be
best not to know. She opened the door and they descended the spiral stair, emerging on a
battlement above the stables.
"Old-mother! Old-mother! Pwyll let me fire his crossbow!" He waved to her from the
courtyard, then stopped and stared at the girl behind her. Glancing back, the old-mother saw
the girl returning the stare with intense fascination.
"He's so young!" the girl marveled.
"Fourteen summers," the old-mother replied. "Have ye no other hatchlings in yer clan?"
"Oh, we do; they hatched eight years ago." She smiled. "Little imps. They're always
getting into my things."
"That's the way of hatchlings. Bundles of trouble, bundles of joy."
"He looks like you."
"Aye, that he does."
He bounded up the stairs. "Pwyll let me fire his crossbow, and I hit three times out of
"Verra good!" the old-mother praised, rubbing her knuckles along his brow ridge.
"This is --"
"Eolande," she supplied.
"Yes. Eolande. She's come to study with me for a time."
The two of them clasped forearms and greeted each other. The old-mother had the
oddest feeling that Eolande was forcibly restraining herself from sweeping the hatchling up in
"Have ye worked things out yet, then?" Prince Corwin inquired, approaching along the
"Aye, my lord. Our visitor will be staying on for a few nights ... might there be a room
she could use?"
"I'll see to it."
"I'm sorry I kicked you," Eolande said, turning from the hatchling to the prince. "You
"So long as ye dinna do it again, ye'll be a welcome guest in my castle. I am Prince
Corwin of Wyvern, brother to the king. And ye are Eolande, of ...?"
"I've na heard of that village; it must be far from here. Ye came all this way alone?"
"We'll be needing to find her a companion. A lass so young should na be going about
by herself," Corwin said to the old-mother.
"She'll be studying with me by night, but aye, my lord, by day some company may be
well." Eolande started to protest, but the old-mother put a hand over hers. "Remember, this be
na yer home; 'tis different here. The prince's men be good and loyal, but ..."
"But the presence of a fair lass can turn a man's thoughts in other ways," Corwin
finished. "Methinks Meg Bywell would be a good choice. Her husband's away, and they've na
yet any children. I'll send for her at once."
Eolande made a graceful curtsey. "My thanks, Prince Corwin."
September 16, 940 AD
It was so dark!
More so than any other night Amber had ever known. She'd been on a few camp-
outs, but even the unspoiled wilderness out past Xanatopia hadn't been like this.
Maybe it was all in her mind. The knowledge that there wasn't an electric light burning
anywhere on the face of the planet made the sky seem blacker, the stars more brilliant.
"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep," she murmured.
"Aye, they are," Old-Mother replied. She stripped leaves from stalks as they walked,
dropping them into the basket she wore over her arm. The minty-spicy scent of the herbs
tickled Amber's nose. "D'ye have them still, in yer land? Sometimes I hear Prince Corwin's
forester fretting that should he allow the peasants free cutting, they'll leave the land bare.
Though it seems impossible, to me."
"Back when I was born, everyone was worried about the trees. It's better now, though.
The forests are protected, and since people don't need wood for fuel anymore ..."
"How do they warm their homes, cook their food?"
"Bake their bread?" young Goliath cut in, eyeing Old-Mother's basket pointedly.
She smiled and stroked his hair. "Verra well, lad, I've made ye wait long enough.
Eolande, would ye care for a piece o' bread? 'Tis maslin bread with nuts baked in."
"Thanks!" Amber took a large bite of the dark loaf, then had to chew and chew before
she could continue. "First it was wood, then coal and oil, then electricity and solar power --"
Goliath laughed. "The sun? How do they use the sun to keep warm at night?"
"They'd ... well ... uh ..."
"She's telling stories, old-mother. This land of hers sounds too fanciful to be real."
"No, really, it's true, I'm just trying to think of how to explain it! You know how
sometimes, even after sunset, the rocks trap the heat of the day?"
He nodded, still looking at her shrewdly.
"Well, some people found a way to make ... a special kind of rock ... that collects the
sun's warmth and saves it, so they can use it later."
Exhaling a disbelieving snort, Goliath said, "And even so, I've never seen anybody
use the sun to cook."
"Ye've never seen the sun at all," Old-Mother pointed out.
"I've never heard of such a thing either," he persisted. "She's making it up."
"I'm not!" Amber protested. "You'll --" the word 'see' was on her lips but she bit it
back. "You'll just have to believe me."
His brow ridges furrowed doubtfully at her. "Sounds like sorcery to me."
"Anyway," Amber said, speaking to Old-Mother, "about ten years ago, my Uncle Xan's
people discovered a new way, a cheap and clean way, to make all the power they need. Of
course, being Uncle Xan, just because it was cheap to create doesn't mean he didn't stick a
hefty price tag on it."
Judging by Old-Mother's expression, she didn't believe it any more than Goliath did,
but was too polite to say as much. "We're nearly there; the hillock's just beyond that stream."
"And that's the last thing you'll need? You can make me the potion?"
"Aye, lass, though it'll take some time to brew."
"A week, mayhap."
They crossed the stream by the thin glow of the rising moon, Amber being careful to
keep the hem of her outfit clear of the water. She had new clothes; Prince Corwin's hospitality
had turned exceedingly generous when she had insisted he accept the gift of a square-cut
ruby ring. Alex's idea, it never hurts to take along a few trinkets to bribe the locals, and ever
since Xanatos Enterprises had bought up all that land in Central America, he'd had more
jewels than he knew what to do with.
She spent her days in the company of Meg Bywell, a short and very buxom girl who
was seventeen -- a year younger than Amber herself -- but had already been married for three
years. Not only that, being assigned as Amber's official daytime chaperone still left Meg's
nights open for other pursuits. Like warming the prince's bed.
The inhabitants of the castle accepted her readily enough, for the most part. The
princess was a pale and wan lady, rarely stirring from her chamber where she was recovering
from a recent miscarriage and various unspecified (and possibly psychosomatic, Amber
thought ungenerously) illnesses. The guards did ogle Amber just as the prince and the old-
mother had warned, but so far it was nothing worse than she got walking through Central
The only one of the whole court that really bothered her was the Magus. Not the same
Magus that Aunt Angela and Aunt Elektra spoke of in such familial terms, but a sallow-faced
youth of about twenty who listened lots, said little, and watched everyone with glittering eyes
that revealed nothing of the thoughts behind. If he had a name that went with his title, no one
had yet mentioned it in her hearing. Nor had he introduced himself by any other name. Just
Magus, and filled with so many questions that Amber was starting to have trouble keeping
track of all of her lies.
She had glimpsed a few of the other gargoyles, enough so that it made her heart
ache just thinking about how large the clan was, and how terrible the massacre fifty-some
years down the road would be.
The clan's leader was shorter than she expected, but built wide and solid as a
fireplug. He had pale blue wings webbed like those of Uncle Lex and Aunt Aiden, and a bony
triceratops crest. Uncle Lex's father? Probably; the leader's mate was a petite and slender
female with olive-green skin and a cap of yellow curls exactly like those of little Finella.
She'd also seen a female who had to be Uncle Brooklyn's mother; the red skin,
white hair, and pronounced beak just couldn't be missed. Her mate had vicious-long bladelike
spurs on his elbows and knees, stirring some sort of memory that Amber couldn't quite recall.
The part that really took some getting used to was Goliath. He was so cute! She
could hardly wait to get home and get him healed, so that she could tease him about how
cute he'd been as a kid! Oh, how he would squirm!
He'd ranged ahead while she and Old-Mother stopped to gather plants. Amber had
learned more about herbary in the past few nights than she'd ever known in her life. Not that it
would be of much practical application back in New York.
"How come the clan doesn't keep track of whose child is whose?"
"I take it yer clan does?"
She nodded. "Though they really only started it just before I was born; Hudson and
my father were a little old-fashioned and Aunt Angela had to put her foot down about it."
"I dinna know what it's like for yer clan, but here, life is hard and death comes quickly.
Ten years in the shell be a long time. Warriors can breed, then die before they see their eggs
hatch. That would leave orphans. I've seen what comes of human orphans with no one to
care for them. This way, none o' the hatchlings are deprived o' their parents, because they've
a whole clan o' parents. The raising o' them is shared. 'Tis considered unseemly to favor one
hatchling over another." Her face darkened sadly, and she cast a glance Goliath's way.
Amber didn't miss it. "But you do?"
"Ye noted he looked like me; would it seem strange to ye to hear that he's my own?"
"No, not at all. It's just strange to hear you say so. It not being the gargoyle way and all."
She sighed. "I'm old, lass. There are those in this verra clan who'd na believe I was
e'er young, but I was. My mate was the leader before the leader we have now, and our first
breeding season was almost a century and a half ago."
"Wow," Amber said respectfully.
"Six times, I chose to breed, and six times, I could na carry my eggs to term. Then
came the seventh time, twenty-five years ago. All the clan and my mate besides insisted I was
too old, that I'd put my own life at risk e'en to try." She set down her basket and sat in the
grass, staring at her hands where they lay folded in her lap. "Ye canna know what it was like
for me. Ye're so young, with all yer life and hopes yet before ye. Ye canna know what it is to
have the flesh bitter on yer bones, the pitying looks o' the rest o' the clan, the sounds o'
playing hatchlings like daggers in yer breast."
Amber sat beside her and touched her shoulder. "You're right, I can't."
"They were right, I was too old. But I'd na be denied. There I was, among the others,
heather in this hair that had gone all to grey, seeking that one last desperate wish."
"But it worked."
"Aye, it worked ... and it cost me my mate."
"He was old as well. He'd given up the leadership twenty years before, and wanted
nothing more than to spend his nights in a dry, warm place telling stories to the young ones.
But no, I in my pride, I in my stubbornness, would na relenquish my last chance. D'ye know
how it is for males in the breeding season?"
Amber nodded. "The scent. Pheromones. It makes them ... um ... excitable." She
blushed; 'sex crazy' had been the phrase that first came to mind after having heard her aunts'
discussions, but that was hardly something she felt comfortable saying to her own grandma.
"Aye, that it does. So he flew me, he bred me, and his heart failed him. I'd killed him,
killed my own mate. And all for an egg that I'd probably na be able to bear anyway. I was so
careful. Ye ne'er saw a more careful gargoyle. I didna fight or hunt, I didna even glide. I spent
all those months scarcely daring to move lest I upset the egg. Then, at last, the time came.
But I couldna bear to leave my egg to be mixed up with the others, ne'er to know. Not after all
I'd been through, all I'd sacrificed and lost. So I marked it. I tended to that one myself. I all but
lived in the rookery, not wanting anything to happen to that egg. When hatching-time came,
I was terrified that it'd na hatch at all, that all my hopes for ten years would be so much dust.
But hatch it did."
"My son. I've lost my mate, seen the rest of my rookery brothers and sisters die over
the years. He's all I have left. And so, though I know 'tis not the gargoyle way, I do favor
him over the others. Because he's mine."
"I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
Old-Mother seized Amber's hand tightly. "But ye know something. About him. I can
tell that ye do. I've seen how ye look at him. If he's to die young, if I'm to outlive him ... the
world canna be so cruel!"
"No, it's nothing like that! I swear! He's going to be a great warrior, a great leader."
"You, and this whole clan, will have every reason to be proud of him."
They finished gathering plants. Goliath returned with a pair of game birds that Amber couldn't
identify, and they praised him extravagantly.
"If ye're quick," Old-Mother told him, "and hurry them back to the cave, ye might be
able to talk someone into putting them over the fire and ye can have them for supper."
"I want to show my brother first."
"Go on, then," she said. "We'll be along."
Grinning, he headed off in the direction of a meadow where the younger gargoyles
gathered. Amber watched as a blue-grey male -- Uncle Coldstone? Could it be? -- and a thin,
gangly female came to meet him. Then she blinked, rubbed her eyes, and looked closer. That
thin gangly female had a blaze of hair as red as a fire engine.
"It's her," she breathed.
"What's that, lass?"
"Ye've been so keen on herb lore, come here, I want ye to see this."
"Okay." She followed the elderly gargoyle away from the meadow and along the river. "Looks
like there was a flood here or something. The bank's all washed away."
"Aye," Old-Mother said sadly. "Two years ago. There was a village not far from here;
it was washed out, utterly destroyed. One of the clan died then too. Trying to help save them.
Such a sweet, pretty lass, she was. But I didna bring ye here to show ye that. Look there, on
the far side. Where that brook runs down the mossy rocks. D'ye see it, on the ledge?"
"That white flower? The one that shines?"
"That's the one. Lady's veil, they call it. They say 'tis magical."
"Lady's veil," Amber murmured. "So that's what it looks like."
"Ye mean ye've heard of it?"
"Sure, from Alex --" She broke off, all her senses suddenly alert and tingling. She
noticed that beside her, Old-Mother had grown suddenly wary as well.
"Come, lass!" Old-Mother said in a low tone. "Back to the castle."
"Nay, dinna move," a man's voice drawled lazily from the shadows. "Dinna move a
muscle, old one, else we'll put so many crossbow bolts in ye that ye'll look like a bristle-burr."
"Brave words from someone who hides in the dark," Amber challenged.
"Hear that, lads? The lass is eager to get to know us!" He pushed through a screen of
bushes, and she was surprised she hadn't smelled him a mile off. His tunic was so stiff with
food-stains it could probably repel a blade. The eyes that regarded her avariciously were set
deep in an unkempt, unshaved face.
By contrast, the next man who emerged was clean-cut and not unattractive. His
clothes were of the same poverty-level quality, but an effort had been made to keep them
clean and mended. The last of their lot was a big ham-handed lout wielding a quarterstaff.
"What are ye about, then?" Old-Mother demanded.
"Just a little robbery," the smelly man said. He leered at Amber. "And mayhap a little fun."
Her stomach rolled, but from distaste rather than fear. "Don't count on it."
"All right, lass, let's see what ye've got in those pouches."
"Okay, okay." She reached into one. "Oh, here's something interesting. Want it?"
"Aye, quit yer playing and give it over," he said, coming closer. "What've ye got
"It's ... a fist!" she announced, and popped him square in the nose.
His head snapped back and she clawed at the crossbow but he doggedly held on.
While they were wrestling for it, the clean-cut one stepped up and tried to grab her, while the
third snatched at Old-Mother's basket of herbs.
Amber back-kicked, her clunky leather shoe catching Clean-cut just below the knee.
He yelped but hung on, one arm trying to encircle her neck while the other clamped across
The smelly one managed to fire. The bolt tore through Amber's clothes and grazed a
line across her hip. She let go of the crossbow and leaned back, letting Clean-cut support her
weight while she lifted both feet off the ground and drove them at Smelly. He flew backward,
Clean-cut lost his balance, and Amber landed in his lap with the hard cartilaginous nub that
had never grown into a proper tail. He yelped again, this time an octave higher.
She rolled into a crouch and Smelly leapt on her from behind. Her instinctive reaction
was to flare her wings and hurl him off, but her heavy cloak hampered her so the best she
could do was a sort of convulsive heave. It worked anyway, because when he felt the strange,
alien movement beneath her cloak, he sprang off of his own accord.
A solid fleshy thunk and a feminine groan of pain made her whirl. Old-Mother had
been driven to her knees by a blow from the quarterstaff. Her attacker stood over her, ready
to hit her again.
Enraged, Amber ran at him. At the last moment, she executed a spinning jump-kick
she'd been taught by Alex's mom when she was barely old enough to walk. Her foot flashed
up and out, high as her own chin, and cracked into the side of his head just above the ear. He
flipped onto his side with a thud that shook the earth, dazed.
"Old-Mother, are you all right?"
"Behind ye, lass," she gasped.
Amber turned again and here came her former dance partners, bruised and limping
but still game. And to make things all the more festive, a few more of their friends had come
out of hiding, when it had evidently looked like these three weren't going to be able to handle
one old gargoyle and one slip of a girl all by themselves.
"Come on, then!" Amber shouted, reaching for the clasp of her cloak.
"D'ye mind, old-mother? It's been a slow night," the male gargoyle who had just
dropped into the midst of the ruffians asked as he seized a human in each hand.
"Be my guest," Old-Mother said.
He nodded to her, then slammed the two men together and tossed them indifferently
in a heap. The rest, proving that the average IQ of thugs hadn't changed much over the past
thousand years, decided that leaping into the fray was the smarter move and proceeded to do
Amber gawked helplessly.
He had the bronze skin, buff sinewy body, and curly blond hair of a California surf-
god. The Kahuna of Castle Wyvern. She burst into giggles, then clapped her hands over her
mouth to shut herself up.
Old-Mother tottered to her feet and Amber got ahold of herself enough to go to her
side and support her. But her eyes kept being drawn back to the hunk in the scanty loincloth
and tight leather vest.
"Who's he?" she sighed, and realized she sounded like an idiot schoolgirl mooning
over some teen idol like Armando DiCaprio -- he's so dreamy!
"Our clan's second-in-command," Old-Mother said.
Just then, the bronze male was confronted by a human with a sword, and drew one of
his own to meet the challenge. Starlight glinted on the curved blade.
"No way!" Amber nearly shrieked, sounding eerily like Aunt Birdie in her own ears.
"What did ye say?" Old-Mother looked at her sharply.
Amber clapped her hands over her mouth again.
September 17, 940 AD
"'Tis already faded to a scratch. Ye
should mend well." The old-mother wrung out the
cloth she'd used to clean the wound on the girl's hip. It was now covered with a clean cloth
and a poultice of herbs.
"Thanks, Old-Mother." She straightened her garments.
"Amber ... Eolande ... och, what's this business of two names? Isn't one enough for ye?"
"I didn't want to use my real name openly, just in case. You know, leaving a record or
something. I didn't lie, though; I am called Eolande sometimes ... my friends and I each had
play-names we'd use in our games."
"Peculiar, but if it pleases ye ..." She sat across from the girl. "Child, I dinna want to
know, but I must ask. Ye called the second-in-command Hudson ... the same name as ye told
me was that o' the elder o' yer clan. From so many centuries in the future."
"I didn't mean to."
"But ye did say it."
"What does it mean, lass?"
"Oh, Old-Mother! I can't tell you!" She twisted her hands fitfully. "Alex told me this
might happen, but I didn't listen. I know the past can't be changed, so it won't do any good to
warn you about what's going to happen, all it'll do is take your hope away. I shouldn't have
said anything about who I am and where I came from, but if I hadn't, you might not have
helped me. I don't want to hurt you, Old-Mother! I really don't!"
"Ye've already told me that my son grows to be a warrior and fine leader. That's
enough to ease my mind greatly. All else I want to know is how our second and yer Hudson
can be one and the same. I've lived two hundred years; how could he live a thousand or
"He ... it's complicated. And I really shouldn't give away the future!"
"Amber, I promise ye, what ye say to me will ne'er go beyond this room." She folded
her wrinkled four-fingered hands over the girl's smooth five-fingered ones.
"There's magic involved," Amber admitted. "In about fifty years, Hudson and a few
other gargoyles of your clan will be ... well, kinda sent forward in time. In a way. They end up a
thousand years in the future. There aren't many other gargoyles left then. A few other clans, in
different parts of the world. So, the ones from here settled down to start rebuilding their clan."
"My son ... is he one of them? Is that how ye know so much o' him?"
She nodded with downcast eyes.
The old-mother's breath shuddered in her lungs. She finally, reluctantly said, "He's yer
father, isn't he?"
"How'd you know?"
"Ye said my son would be a leader and a great warrior. Ye also told me that yer father
"Our clan's leader, and a great warrior," she finished. Her chest hitched. "I blew it. I
didn't mean for you to figure out that part. But yeah. It's true. He's my father."
"Which makes ye ..."
She pressed one trembling hand to her brow ridges. "And the life ye've come back to
have me help save, 'tis his life."
Amber nodded again.
"My son ... a thousand years from home ..."
"... mated to a human," Amber said fretfully, as if expecting recriminations.
"... and dying of the plague." She rose on unsteady legs and went to the balcony,
where she could look down over the courtyard wall and see the hatchlings practicing their
gliding under the watchful eye of the leader's mate. That was a task normally given to the
second-in-command, but he was no doubt still closeted with Prince Corwin for the questioning
of the surviving ruffians.
Amber hesitantly approached and stood beside her. "Old-Mother? Do you still ... like
"What? Och, lass, I like ye fine. Why wouldn't I?"
"Because of what I told you ... because of ... who I am."
"Come here, child." She opened her arms to the girl, held her. "I like ye fine, dear one.
These past nights, I'd already begun wishing ye were my own. Now I find that ye are. My own
flesh and blood. And I'm glad, more glad than I can say, that I've this chance to know ye."
"Me too," Amber said brokenly. "I wish you could come back with me."
"I wish that too, lass. How I'd love to see yer clan. But my place is here. I canna leave
my son, my clan, the castle."
"I know ... you didn't, so you can't."
September 20, 940 AD
"Someone put them up to it," the second-in-command
growled. "But they're na telling who."
"Uh-huh," Amber said. "Oh ... what?"
"Are ye all right, lass?"
"I wasn't paying attention. Sorry. Did you say that someone put them up to it?"
"Aye," he repeated patiently, "but they're na saying who."
"Oh." Get ahold of yourself, stupid! she hollered inside her own head. She made
herself sit up straight, instead of leaning over with her elbows propped on the wall and her
chin cupped in her hands so she could gaze dreamily at him. "What can we do?"
He raised both arms to rub at the twin rows of stubby bumps that poked through his
hair. The gesture pulled his vest tight against his chest and abs, and Amber promptly slid
back down with her chin in her hands.
"There's na much, I'm afraid. They've had a good beating already ... ye did
uncommon well for a lass, by the way; I've ne'er known a human female that cared to fight
She caught herself before she could giggle inanely. "I've had a little practice."
He chuckled. "Ye'd almost make a fine gargoyle!"
"I meant it as a compliment."
"I know ... never mind. So those bozos are going to get away with it?"
"They could have hurt Old-Mother. Isn't there any way of finding out who's behind it
and what they want? They tried to rob us but all we had was Old-Mother's basket of herbs."
She didn't mention the bag of jewels or the Phoenix Gate, both of which she'd secreted away
in the currently-unused rookery cave beneath the castle.
"Nay, even the Magus says he canna make them tell the truth. I'd advise ye to just
watch yer step, and should ye go out at night, see if there's a gargoyle to escort ye."
"I'd like that," she said, and that time a little bit of giggle did escape. Dammit! Knock
"Meaning no disrespect to the old-mother, but she's not as ready a warrior as once
"I'll be careful. And I'll look out for her, too; she's very special."
"Aye, that she is." From the rugged land beyond the castle, the leader shouted for his
second-in-command. "I must be going now. Will ye be at the prince's feast tonight?" He
hopped up onto the battlement and paused for a moment to test the air, wings half-open, the
taut muscles of his calves flexing and tail sweeping slowly from side to side in preparation for
Amber's mouth went dry and she had to work at being able to speak. "Wouldn't miss it."
"I'll see ye then." He sprang from the wall, his loincloth fluttering not-quite-indecently.
"Oh, somebody pinch me," Amber murmured under her breath, then slapped herself
lightly on each cheek.
"I know what you're thinking," a voice snarled in her ear.
She jumped and spun and found herself face-to-beak with the crimson-hued female. "I ...
I don't know what you're talking about."
"Don't you?" She advanced, backing Amber toward the curved wall of the tower. Once
Amber's back was set to the stones, the she-gargoyle slowly raised one leg, balancing
casually on the other, and pressed her foot to Amber's stomach. Her middle toe, with its high,
arched raptor-claw, curved down enough to make sure Amber could feel the sharp point
through her clothes. "Stick to your own kind!"
"You think you scare me?" Amber was this close to making trouble, but with a
monumental effort of will she wrestled her temper into submission.
"If I don't, you're more of a fool than I thought."
"You're making a big mistake."
"No, human, you are!" The claw dug in painfully, but Amber didn't flinch.
"Here, what's going on?" Prince Corwin hurried toward them. "Be there some
"No problem," Amber said, keeping her eyes locked with that of her antagonist. "A
discussion, that's all."
The female bared her teeth, but lowered her foot. Her claws clicked and scraped on
the stone. Without a word to the prince, she dove from the wall and glided to meet the other
"That one's got a temper," Prince Corwin said. "There be those who are na verra
pleased at the prospect o' our alliance, and she's one o' them." He shook his head. "Mayhap
tonight's revel will help."
"Mayhap," Amber said. "Sorry to bother you."
"Feel free to bother anytime." He winked, and ran his thumb along the line of her jaw,
then briefly across her lips, while she was standing there too stunned to react. Then he was
on his way, leaving her rooted in place.
When he was gone, well out of earshot, Amber groaned. "Oh, this is great. This is all I
need. First the Magus following me around, now this! No thanks! Zaza and Daga didn't raise
me to be a notch on anyone's bedpost, no one's Mistress of the Week!"
The feast that night was in honor of Princess Inghean's birthday, but the princess herself
had begged off with various somatic complaints. That didn't stop the rest; all day, the castle
kitchens had been busy roasting and baking and frying until the air was alive with delicious
Guests had come from near and far to see Prince Corwin's completed castle (and
maybe stare at his new allies too). Garlands and flowers adorned the courtyard, where long
trencher-tables were being set up and draped in colorful cloths. Torches blazed, a jongleur
entertained a flock of children, minstrels played lutes and pipes, guards stole kisses from
maidservants, and the gargoyles overlooked all with bemused expressions.
Amber hurried up to Old-Mother's chamber. "Sorry I'm late."
"Na to worry, child. 'Tis coming along. Hand me that red pot, if ye would. I was about
to add the ground dragon bone."
"Real dragon bone?"
"Aye, real enough. Now, ye watch closely; if we've done this properly, the mixture
should turn yellow for a moment." She scooped a spoonful of coarse whitish stuff out of the
pot and stirred it into the nasty brown-grey glob cooking in her brazier.
"It did!" Amber cried jubilantly. Then reeled back, coughing. "It stinks, too."
Old-Mother gestured at her shelf. "Sprigs o' dried mint, there in that sack; that'll take
the worst o' the odor."
Amber hastened to fetch some for her, and once Old-Mother had crushed the sprigs
into the brazier, she was able to breathe more easily again.
"Will it be ready soon?"
"Verra soon. Ye'll have it by tomorrow night." Old-Mother put a copper lid on the brazier,
a lid with a hole in the top. From the hole, a clouded glass tube led to a clay flask. "The mix
must needs boil, and the steam will collect and drip into here, and that'll be the potion ye
need." She rubbed her fingertip under the end of the tube and showed Amber the collected
moisture. "There, d'ye see?"
"And this'll do it? This'll make him well?"
"I've done the best I can by what ye described to me o' his symptoms and how he
came to fall ill." Her face turned grave. "When ye get it back to him, heat it and have him
breathe o' the steam. If this doesna work, I dinna know what more ye can do."
"It will work," Amber said. "It has to. Will there be enough?"
"Och, aye, lass. Too much, most likely. Ye'll have all ye need and more besides. Now,
come, let us go to the prince's revel."
They went out on the balcony and looked down. Servants were bringing huge
amounts of food to load the tables, and the mead and ale were flowing copiously.
Amber noticed something, and sighed. "Look, Old-Mother. It's me."
"What mean ye, child?"
"Down there. The gargoyles all clumped together over on that side, the humans all
clumped together on that side, barely getting along."
"Ye're not at ease with yerself?"
She huffed air out through her teeth. "Sometimes I really envy Aunt Elektra. Her
mother was a gargoyle, so she hatched from an egg, was raised like a gargoyle along with the
rest of her rookery siblings, and was all grown up by the time she realized she was half-
human. But me, I was raised right from the start knowing what I was. There was a breeding
season, that's how I was born, but the rest of the clan laid eggs. So I wound up being ten
years older than the rest of the hatchlings, even though we were all conceived at the same
time. I'm not really one of them. But I wasn't really one of the older ones like Alex, Patricia, my
cousins Tom and Dee, because I grew up slower. I don't really fit in anywhere. Dr. Kurt says
that's why I was such a pain in the tail when I was a kid."
"I dinna think ye're a pain in the tail," Old-Mother said, smiling.
"But look at them!" She pointed down. "They can barely get along with each other; is it
any wonder I can't get along with myself half the time?"
"I'll tell ye something that one o' our elders told me when I was a lass. Ye must learn
to accept what canna be changed, for there be no point in raging against it."
Amber nodded. "I know ... but it's so hard! Sometimes, I want to be like a regular
human girl -- go to school hang out at the mall, go on dates. But sometimes I want to be like a
regular gargoyle, too."
"Just be ye, child. Just be ye, and ye'll find that's good enough."
"But in the meantime, keep my wings hidden so your clan doesn't freak out."
"Aye, that too."
They went down to the courtyard. Amber saw that of all the gargoyles, only Old-Mother,
the leader, the leader's mate, and the second-in-command moved with ease and
sociability among the humans. Not that all the humans, or even most of them, reciprocated.
She spied two groups, hatchlings and children, staring at each other from opposite
sides of a patch of no-man's land. When she got closer, young Goliath waved and rushed to
greet her with an exuberant tackle that took them both down. Amber laughed out loud and got
choked up at the same time, thinking of all the times she as a small child had greeted his
adult self much the same way.
On her back, she hefted him with her feet, enjoying his delighted yell as she balanced
him, then twirled him in circles. When she set him down, he wobbled in a dizzy circle and
plopped down on his tail, laughing.
She was instantly mobbed by hatchlings and even a couple of the bolder human
children, all wanting to play. She complied happily until she set down an ivory-skinned blonde
female and a twilight-blue female pushed her way to the front.
"Oh ..." Amber sat up and looked into the hatchling's eyes, half-hidden by a tumble of
She cocked her head inquisitively to one side. "My turn?"
Deep breath. Smile. "Your turn. Here goes!"
"All right, all right, enough o' that," Old-Mother scolded, wading into the sea of little
ones. "'Tis time for yer supper." She helped Amber up as they scampered off, then peered
after them, following the direction of Amber's gaze. "What's the matter, child? D'ye know her?"
Amber slowly nodded. "The poor thing. She's got a long, hard life ahead of her. But
you know what? Even after all she did, I still feel ... compassion for her." Realizing she'd said
way too much, she coughed and cleared her throat and changed the subject. Several of the
humans were watching her scornfully. "Oh ... looks like I made a scene. Ladies of quality do
not roll in the dirt with packs of youngsters."
"Which is why ladies o' quality dinna have much fun," Old-Mother said. "Though I'd say
at least some o' them, the males in particular, were more interested in how yer skirt rode up."
"Oh. Oops." Amber grinned shamefacedly, straightening her clothes and beating the
dust from them. "I didn't even think about it."
"But ye gave the hatchlings a fun time, and look there."
She looked, and saw that a few of the children had warmed up and were now shyly
approaching the hatchlings. One, a big strapping boy who seemed the boldest of them, was
even showing young Goliath and little Demona how to play a game that involved tossing rings
at a stake in the earth.
"That was verra clever o' ye, lass," the second-in-command said, coming up alongside
Amber and Old-Mother. "Bringing the wee ones together as friends, that's what we need."
Fancying she felt smoking, burning eyes eating holes in her, Amber didn't look up or
around for her crimson-hued acquaintance. "Humans and gargoyles aren't all that different on
the inside. They can get along."
"Aye, so we're hoping." He stared thoughtfully into the distance, in the direction of the
river. "That's what my angel o' joy used to believe, and I mean to prove her right."
Old-Mother touched his elbow-spur sympathetically. "She's missed, lad. But ye know
she died doing what she thought was best. Protecting."
Amber looked down, deeply and horribly ashamed of herself; she'd known about
Hudson's mate, Old-Mother had even mentioned it to her a few nights ago, he was still in
mourning ... and it didn't change the fact that she had a ravening crush on him. Made it worse,
even, because now she was also wanting to cuddle and console him. Not good thoughts
to be having about the guy who was practically her grandpa!
She mumbled something to excuse herself, and wandered off among the revelers.
Instead of dwelling on her silly girlish awkward weird semi-incestuous fantasies about the
younger Hudson, she thought about Old-Mother, her wisdom and advice and calm good
"If only I could be more like her," she mused aloud. "Instead of the loose cannon that
Uncle Xan always said I was, or the spoiled brat Aunt Angela thinks I am."
She passed a narrow, dark opening while she talked to herself.
A pair of hands shot from it, seizing her by the arms and yanking her into the
shadows. Before she could lash out or yell, a forefinger and thumb gleaming with blue-violet
light clamped across her brow.
September 21, 940 AD
The old-mother picked up the clay flask
and snugged it down in a leather case that
was tied to her belt, so that the movement as she walked would keep the potion mixing,
prevent it from settling.
Mingled pride and sadness filled her. Pride because she'd done it, she'd brewed the
potion that would save her own son's life. And sadness? Why, because now it meant the time
had come for her granddaughter to leave.
If she could but find her granddaughter, that was. She'd not seen her yet this
evening, though the poor dear was most likely sleeping.
She went to Amber's room, knocked, and waited. When there was no reply, she
pushed the door open and found herself looking at a made bed and a room all in order, but no
sign of the girl.
One brow ridge climbed a little. Surely not the prince ...
She turned. "Magus, good evening."
"The lady Eolande wonders if you could meet her below, in the cave."
"In the rookery?"
"The very same."
"Why ever would she be down there?"
He shrugged. "She asked me if I could give you the message. I'd be pleased to show
you the way."
"It's na been that long since I've been to the rookery, Magus."
She started down, into the courtyard, aware that he was trailing after her like a puppy.
Poor lad. He'd tried to win the girl's notice with what he must have thought were clever and
insightful questions designed to show off his own intelligence; how was he to know that the
last thing Amber wanted was an inquisition?
The castle had been built directly over the rookery cave. During the construction,
since there were no eggs currently awaiting hatching, the gargoyles had let the cave stay
abandoned. The others, a larger and interconnected series of caverns, housed the hatchlings
and most of the clan while they slept in stone.
The door to the rookery was flanked by crumbling pillars, and the stairs beyond were
unlike those crafted by human masons. These had been shaped by gargoyle hands, and
subject to long years of smoothing by the passage of gargoyle feet.
A single torch burned far below. The old-mother started down into that black and
orange flickering darkness, and the door slammed shut behind her.
She gasped, but as she began to turn, she was seized and a cold blade was brought
to her throat.
"Down," the Magus said harshly. "Steady and nice, no tricks, or I will cut you."
"What are ye doing?"
"Down, I said!" He prodded her under the jawline with the point of the knife. "I
apologize, alchemist; I know the prince greatly respects you. But I have need of you as ... an
They reached the bottom of the stairs and the old-mother saw Amber, chained hand
and foot, with a leather gag bound across her mouth. Her eyes reflected the torchlight so that
they almost seemed to glow with their own fiery radiance.
"Sit," the Magus commanded, pushing the old-mother toward one of the raised tiers of
stone that ringed the straw-strewn rookery floor. "Now, then. Let's have a discussion, shall we?"
He waved his hand, and a bolt of violet energy issued from it to rip the gag from
"You vile disgusting son of a --"
The Magus put the knife against the old-mother's neck again. "It would be such a
shame to see this elder get hurt."
"Why are ye doing this, Magus? Ye know it'll only end badly for ye! What can ye
"The source of her power!" He jabbed the knife at Amber. "I felt it when she first
arrived. There's magic around her, and I mean to have it!"
"Ye sent those men to attack us!"
"But they failed. It's so hard finding good help. I realized I had to take matters into my
"I'm no sorceress!" Amber said.
"I know that. If you were, there'd be no way of taking your power from you. But you
do have magic. An item, perhaps. I know how to sense the presence of enchantments. You
have something. And you'll give it to me."
"Don't be a fool," the old-mother said. "She'll give nothing to ye, ye villainous wretch!"
"I think I can persuade her. After all, I do have you."
"Harm me, and ye know the prince'll have yer head. Provided my clan doesn't get to
"If they even know who did it. Wouldn't it be ironic if the very girl you took on as your
apprentice, treated as a friend and even part of your clan, turned out to be guilty of your
"That's low," Amber said. "You kidnap me, knock me out with a spell, leave me
chained up down here all day, and now you threaten my ... threaten her. You're slime."
"If you had told me what I want to know, none of this would have proved necessary. If
you hadn't been so stubborn --"
"Okay. Let her go, and I'll tell you."
"You must take me for an imbecile. Let her go? And have her bring a clanful of
gargoyles and the prince's guards down on me? No, you give me what I want first, and then I'll
consider freeing both of you."
"I can't get it for you when I'm in chains."
He hesitated, and Amber rolled her eyes.
"You must be really scared of us," she said scornfully. "No wonder you're so
desperate to get more magic; your own must be just a bunch of cheap parlor tricks and
"Fear you? Ridiculous!" He made a grabbing motion with his hand and spoke a few
words in Latin, and a glove of violet light floated to Amber. The insubstantial fingers curled
around the chains that held her, and tore them apart as if they'd been woven of reeds. "But
"I know. Don't try anything funny."
"It's okay, Old-Mother. Everything's going to be okay." She went to one of the walls,
wiggled a loose stone until it came out, and withdrew a small bag from the space behind it.
"Yes!" the Magus crooned. "Yes, that's it, I can feel the magic."
"These are jewels," Amber said. "Rubies, mostly. I gave one to the prince, set in a
ring, but the rest are right here. Is this what you want?"
"Magical jewels!" His sallow face was flushed with greed, his eyes wildly alight. He
took a step away from the old-mother. "Yes! Toss them here."
A slight grin flitted across Amber's face. "Have it your way." She flung the open bag,
and a tumble of rubies wheeled through the air like cardinals in flight.
The Magus yelled in shock and outrage, and leaped to try and catch them. As he did,
the old-mother rose from her seat and struck him with her tail. He went headfirst into the
Amber shot her hand back into the hole in the wall and came out with a blue and gold
object. "Come on, let's get out of here!"
They raced for the stairs.
"Fulminos venite!" the Magus shouted from behind them. A blast of searing white
energy missed them by inches, striking the door and welding the hinges.
"It willna open," the old-mother said. She looked back, and saw the Magus at the foot
of the stairs, both fists wreathed in blazing white.
"Okay, we'll do it my way!" Amber said.
February 25, 2018
Elisa Maza sat at her mate's bedside,
holding the heavy dead-weight of his limp hand
in her own and replaying in her mind the events on Mount Rainier. Except, in the replays, she
was quicker, and all of the disaster had been averted.
She remembered how the massive mountain shook beneath their feet in sporadic
tremors. How the glaciers capping it had creaked and cracked, sending runnels of snow and
crushed ice tumbling between the rocky outcrops. How the sky had reached above, pure
black and pristine, and the state of Washington was laid out below like a quilt in a hundred
shades of green bathed in the full moon's light.
The Dying Moon, the oracle had called it.
She remembered how Alexander's hover-jets had been rendered powerless by the
perimeter defenses. How the rest of the clan had been delayed by their battle with the
Nightstone Assassins, leaving just her and Goliath to make it through to the spot where
Demona was planting explosives.
"No, Demona!" Goliath called as he landed with Elisa in his arms. "Killing the humans
isn't the answer, it was never the answer, and I still have no intention of letting you do it!"
"Goliath, you fool!" she called back, and laughed an insane laugh that made the skin
crawl on the back of Elisa's neck. "This won't kill your precious humans!"
Elisa and Goliath exchanged a glance, both knowing that if there was something
worse than death, Demona could come up with it.
"Then what? Why?" he asked.
"We'll both get what we want," she said. "Not a single human will die ... except those
that go out in the volcano's blast, but that would happen anyway. I'm not causing this
eruption, just hurrying it along. You should be helping them evacuate, if you care so much!"
Rainier shifted and rumbled again, and Demona planted another bomb. Elisa saw that
the device had been modified, with a clear capsule at the end that looked to be made of glass
or plastic. It contained greenish liquid.
"She's put stuff from one of the Vials in there," Elisa said.
Demona laughed that insane laugh again. "It's not one of the deadly ones, I already
told you! This is from the Fifth Vial. The eruption will blast it high into the atmosphere. It'll
come down with the rain, all over the world. Not a human on this wretched planet will be able
to escape its effects."
"What does it do?" Goliath demanded.
She stopped what she was doing and turned the full force of her crazed gaze upon
him. "They'll be barren. Every single one of them. In a hundred years, this planet will be clean.
It'll be ours again. Only gargoyles will be left. But see, Goliath? I'm not killing anyone. It's just
... widespread birth control."
"No, Demona. We won't let you do this. You cannot do this."
"Why not? I've lost every one of my children. Why should the humans be allowed to
go on breeding?"
"Angela's still alive!" Goliath protested.
"She may as well be dead! You know how she hates me! And don't tell me it's all my
fault. I see it in your eyes that you're about to, and I'm sick of hearing it, Goliath! Sick of
hearing it, do you understand me?" She drove the last explosive device deep in the earth as
emphatic punctuation. The mountain shook again, as if in agreement.
Goliath began his steady advance. Demona straightened up and rolled her eyes at
"Oh, give up!" she cried. "I'm not hurting a hair on a single human head!"
"But you're still acting in hatred and evil."
"You won't be happy until one of us is dead, will you? All right, Goliath, if that's how
you want it ..." She fished in her belt and threw something that winked and flashed in the
moonlight like a large diamond.
Elisa saw what it was, knew what it was. One of the Vials, spinning toward Goliath.
She leaped and dove, reaching, reaching, and ... caught it, an instant before it would have
smashed open on the ground in front of him.
Then the reinforcements arrived, the rest of the clan, having fought their way through
the Assassins. And drove Demona off. And when they still weren't able to remove all the
devices in time, the combined force of Aiden, Alex, and Patricia were able to create a massive
ward that contained the eruption, trapping the gases and ash inside and preventing them from
reaching the atmosphere.
A job well done, another fantastic last-minute save.
Yes, that was how it should have gone ... and in the darkened bedchamber high in
the tower of Castle Wyvern, Elisa berated herself scathingly for being too slow, just a half-
second too slow ...
Because the Vial that Demona had thrown had struck bare rock and shattered, and a
wet cloud of scarlet-black mist had engulfed Elisa ... the stink of it like the sour soil of an old
grave ... and Goliath had roared her name, bent down, reached into that cloud to pull her out,
and then it was in him. The deadly-to-gargoyles poison of the Seventh Vial.
She had never, in all their years together, heard him scream. But he'd screamed then,
screamed like he was being turned inside-out. By the time he struck the ground, alternating
between convulsions and a horrible deathlike motionlessness, Demona was already making
Everything after that was a blur. Elisa had barely cared what happened with the
volcano. All that mattered to her was her mate, sealed in a quarantine-ward aboard one of the
hover-jets, the rest of the clan not allowed to come near.
The dawn will heal him, they'd said, they believed, they wanted to believe, and
when dawn came he turned to stone just like always, but when dusk came that night, home in
Manhattan by then, he was no better. Worse, even. And failing. Fading. Dying.
And Elisa, though she'd been right in the center of that cloud, hadn't suffered so much
as a case of the sniffles.
Now, next to him, she glanced at the triple-paned window of the observation room
where the clan came to look in on their leader. Empty. She'd seen Amber there an hour or so
ago, her face set in lines of agony over not being permitted even to come into the room.
Elisa rested her forehead on Goliath's arm. Dark hair liberally salted with pure silver
fell forward on either side of her face. Was there more silver now than there'd been a week
ago? She wouldn't be at all surprised.
"Don't leave me," she pleaded, though the doctors insisted he couldn't hear her,
It would almost have been easier if he looked like he was dying. But the disease
had not wasted his body, hadn't made him pale or sallow, hadn't left him seething with sores.
He looked just as he always had -- noble, stern, proud. If anything, it had lent him a sheen of
robust good health, the way a high fever could make the cheeks rosy and the eyes bright.
Elisa looked up, startled, as a fireball she hadn't seen in more than twenty years
expanded in front of her and then just as abruptly vanished.
So it was, wearing a medieval costume and gripping the Phoenix Gate in both hands.
She noted that Amber wasn't alone, but Elisa's first overpowering concern was for her
"Amber, honey, you can't be in here! He's contai --"
"It's okay, Zaza. I've brought help."
Elisa's eyes shifted to the other figure. "Oh ... my ... God ..."
The old-mother glanced at the dark-haired
human, assessed her, and put it away for
further contemplation later. She turned all of her attention to the male gargoyle on the bed.
"We'll need a means to heat the potion," she said to Amber, suddenly aware that
while she could understand herself and them perfectly, she was speaking in a different
language. That, too, got pushed to the back of her mind. "Quickly, now, child!"
"Here!" Amber went to one of the many wonders and marvels of the room. It was a
small box with a windowed lid that opened in the front. "Can we microwave it? Zaza, do you
have a bowl?"
"In the cabinet beside the mini-fridge," her son's mate said automatically, stunned.
"Explanations later, Zaza." Amber came up with a bowl of the clearest glass the old-
mother had ever seen and brought it to her. "Here, try this."
Trusting that the girl knew what she was doing when it came to these strange
wonders, the old-mother tipped the clay flask and the potion poured sluggishly into the bowl.
Then Amber whisked it into the small box, slammed the lid, poked with her fingers at some
buttons, and the inside of the box lit up like the dawn. The old-mother could see the bowl
revolving, the potion thinning as it heated.
"Will we need to take some, too?" Amber asked.
"I dinna think so. Ye and I both breathed enough o' the steam while it was brewing to
make us immune."
The light in the box went out. Amber opened it and brought the warm bowl to the side
of the bed. The old-mother tore a scrap of cloth from the sheets -- the most blindingly white
fabric she had ever seen! -- and dunked it into the mixture. She wrung out the drips, the
steam rising in tendrils between her fingers, and laid the cloth over the male's face. It
bellowsed slowly in and out in time with his breathing.
The old-mother exhaled in satisfaction. "Now, 'tis but time." She stepped back and let
herself look at him. "He's grown to be just as I imagined he'd be."
The human woman came forward. "You ... you're his mother, aren't you?"
She turned and they regarded each other curiously. "Aye ... and ye're his mate. What
be yer name, lass?"
"Elisa Maza." She offered her arm, and they clasped in the manner of gargoyles. "What ...
"Yer daughter came seeking my help. I didna expect to pay a visit myself, though."
"I had to get us out of there," Amber said. "The Magus would have killed us both!"
"The Magus?" Elisa frowned.
"Not the same Magus, I'm pretty sure. But he was going to take the Phoenix Gate.
Thought it was the source of my magic power, or something like that. He had us cornered. If I
hadn't used it, he would have blasted us to bits!"
"Wait, wait." Elisa pressed her fingertips to her temples. "Let me see if I understand
this. Amber, you used the Phoenix Gate -- where the hell did you get the Phoenix Gate
anyway? -- to go back in time?"
"To the year 940," Amber said. "Because I heard Hudson telling Aiden and Elektra
about Old-Mother and her alchemy. I thought she could help. I was right."
"So ... so you can heal Goliath?" She looked at the old-mother, and there was such
loving hope in those dark eyes that any last reservations the old-mother might have harbored
about this human mate of her son's melted away instantly.
"Aye, lass. The potion will cleanse him o' the illness, and he'll be well again."
Elisa tilted sideways and Amber was there to hold her. Tears of relief ran freely down
While mother and daughter wept in each other's arms, Goliath stirred. He raised one
hand very slowly and felt the cloth over his face, then drew it away. His eyes were open and
aware, and when they fixed on the old-mother, a remarkable series of emotions ran through
"So," she said, her voice cracking, "ye finally did grow into those wings."
"You!" he gasped. "You're ... here? This can't be!"
"I'd have thought so myself, but yer daughter would have it otherwise. She brought me."
"But I ... I saw ..."
"Shh, shh. It doesna matter now. I'm here for a time, though I canna stay forever."
At that, Amber raised her head from Elisa's shoulder. "Why not, Old-Mother? Why
can't you stay?"
She looked into Goliath's eyes. "'Tis as ye said. I didna, so I canna. But for now, I am
here, and I've been given the greatest gift o' all, to see my clan's future. To see my son."
"Dark Ages" presentation by Greg Weisman at the Gathering 99 (I know, I know ... it doesn't follow what he said,
but it's not the first time I've changed things to suit myself)
"Home for the Holidays" fanfic by Christi Smith-Hayden
Recent discussion on castle-building in the Station 8 Comment Room
Story fragment about adult Amber sent to me by Lori Summers
"The End of the Whole Mess," short story by Stephen King