by Christine Morgan
A Noble Indiscretion Christine Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org) comments welcome
Author's Note: The characters of Gargoyles belong to Disney. There might be some non-graphic subject matter herein that some might regard with unease.
Midsummer's Night, in the Year of Our Lord 988. Folly to record these events, albeit in this secret journal to be ever kept from other eyes? Mayhap, folly indeed. Yet, 'tis best to do so that I might face the Lord our God with a clear conscience when the time comes for He and I to meet. And for Katherine, may she if she ever reads of this find some measure of understanding in her heart. I would not have this dim her memories of me, her father, nor turn her with more unreasoned anger against our good vassals the gargoyles. I wonder if this is ever to be so. At Katherine's bedside yestereve we spoke of that very thing. She fears them greatly, despite their many kindnesses and good deeds. Their recent actions are confusing to her, for although at eleven she is not far from attaining her womanhood, she remains in many ways a child. This is mine own doing in part, for I have indulged her whims and permitted her to remain carefree of her duties as a princess. By rights, she should already be considering suitors, this task of even greater import as my years are advancing upon me and the threat of violence from the northern lands becomes worse despite our steadfast guardians. Illness or violence could at any time carry me swiftly from this world, and it is my failing that my daughter is not yet prepared. But it is the gargoyles I speak of, and their recent actions which have gone on these many weeks and I am told will continue for weeks more. Katherine is frightened, believing them to be doing fierce battle unto one another, and I could not find the proper words to explain to her. Would that her mother lived, for 'tis a matter best left for a mother to explain. Her nursemaid I confess was of no help at all, the old harridan but giving me but scornful looks when I could not restrain mine own grinning countenance as I did attempt to reassure Katherine that battle was for once far removed from the minds of the gargoyles. For, their new young leader Goliath informs me (young indeed, he is near twice mine own age but in truth seems some youthful as they have a span of life half untouched by time, ageless as they are in stone by daylight hours) that the gargoyles elect to breed. 'Tis a matter of their own choosing, that all of their young might be born apace. The last such birthing, or hatching as it may be, did take place when I myself was but a youth. And although I have been many years a man, those youngsters are but only now nearing readiness to take their places as warriors among the clan. So it is that, for some time now the skies have been graced by sights doubtless perplexing to the young and innocent mind of my precious Katherine. Not so for the others of the castle! I foresee that next year will bring a goodly crop of infants to the women of this castle and its environs! Inspiring indeed it is to observe the majestic passions of these magnificent creatures! I daresay many assignations, trysts, and other diversions have occurred betwixt the men and women hereabouts, caught up in the general excitement. The castle guards are hard pressed to keep their minds on their duty, distracted as they are by sights such as we beheld yestereve, Goliath and his red-tressed mate locked in fierce embrace! But I am some comforted by the knowing that, should any dare attack the castle, such intrusion will but bring about even more bloody recompense for the interruption! Katherine, however, doth be too girlish yet to understand and mistakes their actions for harmful. Already she sees them as naught but monsters, and hath ever blamed them for our misfortunes. When some four years ago I was struck down by the Archmage's poisoning, in his bitter revenge for exile, my daughter did turn a blind eye to the brave gargoyles that risked all to bring me the antidote and saw only their failure to prevent the initial attack. Ah, but she is stubborn in her way. Much like her mother. If even my assurances that the gargoyles do but endeavor to provide for the continuing defense of the castle unto the next generation fell on the deaf ears of mine daughter, I can but imagine her horror should ever she learn of my own indiscretion. As of yestereve, such thoughts were utterly unknown to my mind. But oh! this night has ever changed my life! My wife is lost to me, along with a son who lived scarce long enough to be christened that his soul might be welcomed into Heaven. I had not, these years past, made any effort to seek another wife and sire sons, despite the oft ungentle urgings of my liege and kinsman the king. I was blessed fortunate for a marriage which, made for alliance's sake, turned swift to love. I would not dim that memory. Indeed, I have lived a monk's life since my wife's death. Katherine is mine sole heir. Someday she must marry, and I have mayhap been lax in mine duties as a father for not making her a proper match as of yet. For I look upon her and see but a child, not a girl fast approaching womanly years. I must address this. I am to visit the king's court this autumn, I shall take her with me and let it be known to the king's loyals that she will soon be in need of a husband. This I know will bring some grief to the young Magus, who has ever been most fond of her. But surely, wise as he is for his tender years, he must see that there shall be no marriage with Katherine for him. We of Wyvern are held suspect enough in the eyes of the people for taking such constant advice of the mages, first the Archmage and now his former apprentice. The Archmage proved a betrayer, and while I do not doubt the Magus' loyalty, I know that none would accept him as their rightful lord were he to wed a princess. Further, since his service is already lifelong sworn to us, it is not politically expedient. If there are any that I could trust with the matter to be revealed herein, it would be the Magus. He lives with one foot in a different world, more accustomed to the strange and mysterious. But he is even at fifteen more boy than man in some matters, while in others seems many times my elder. Further, I recall once the Archmage saying unto me that the magic consumes them with such a fire that mere yearnings of the flesh are pale and weak in comparison. Thus, his is not for these many reasons a counsel I could seek. I did give some thought to confessing this business to the gargoyles themselves. Not Goliath, certainly, for although he is the leader, he is young and may be given to overly strenuous expressions of his opinions. And his scarlet-haired mate, his second-in-command, would also be a poor choice as she has made no secret of her temper. Nay, if I sought the counsel of any gargoyle, it would be wisdom of the prior leader. But he and some of the others of his generation, along with many of the younger ones, have taken brief leave of the castle. Nominally to help the younger ones learn more of the land hereabouts in preparing to be warriors, but also to give the breeding pairs some privacy. Not that they are prudish with their matings! Nay, we have seen that well and often! And so it is that I am left only with this parchment to record that which plagues me. And which, although I see in reading over what I have written, I have shied from for many pages now. So let it be said! I have, this very night, lain with a gargoyle! There. The words, committed to ink, now seem even more truthful, and a burden lifted from my mind. Am I shamed by this? She is not human, yet she is a good and lovely creature of a noble, thinking race. They are not beasts, although this is the claim of many who are ignorant or foolish. This was no loutish barnyard dalliance. I am troubled more by my failure to remain faithful to the memory of my wife. In truth, it may be verily because of her race that I yeilded to temptation. No woman save mine own wife had appealed to me. But this lass is no woman, for all that she is undeniably female! Surely, this cannot be the first time that human and gargoyle have joined. We are not blind to their beauty, inhuman though it may be. In my youth, my friends and I would often gaze admiringly upon the she-gargoyles in their unconcealing attire. I cannot believe that, in all the years our two races have shared this land, no others have had similar thoughts or taken similar actions. Even so, it remains a matter I can hardly discuss. To my soldiers and servants I must remain somewhat distant. To the king and other nobles-born, I dare not reveal this for fear that their reactions would be horror and loathing, for they know little of gargoyles. And Katherine! My very soul shies at the thought of her knowing! It is perhaps best forgotten, but I cannot will it from my memory even if I did so desire. I would want to remember this night always, to remember her! Warm, it was, even for Midsummer. The languid heat seemed to make even stronger the headiness of the frequent mating flights. This night, I fear, made my assurances to Katherine a lie, for there was a battle, brief but bloody, as one male tried to challenge another for a comely golden-hued female. Not even Goliath's order could stay their hands, and it was only by force he could seperate the combatants. It seemed this night impossible to take a step without being confronted by impassioned sights or sounds, both in the skies above and in the very castle hallways. Guardsmen, chambermaids, lords and ladies, all seemed to be indulging their desires. I recall being thankful that the gargoyles had chosen this year and not some five years later, when Katherine would no longer be a child. Goliath himself assured me that their breeding season would reach its height tonight, and then taper as autumn drew nigh. Soon, he said, 'twould be time to prepare the rookery and the clan's thoughts would turn more toward egg-tending than egg-making. In the meantime, of course, he politely gave apology for the state of affairs their affairs did cause. Our discussion was cut short by the arrival of his mate, who with one artful turn of a well-formed leg not only rendered Goliath unfit to speak further but entranced several of my guardsmen as well. I myself was not immune from thoughts I had believed long dormant, but knew that I could afford no trysts with castle women, lest I find myself obliged to wed. I envied some of my cousins, whose conquests were legendary and who saw no wrong in spreading their seed liberally throughout their villages, but I had never been of such mind and was unlikely to change now. Unseemly indeed, for Malcolm after his long fidelity and celibacy to of a sudden seize a serving wench or seek a peasant girl in the fields! To better remove myself from these distractions, I saddled my mount and rode along the bluff. There among the rocks and sea-mist, I was well aware of gargoyle pairs diving and embracing, but their wild cries did not seem so overpowering when not redoubled and echoed by the walls of the castle. Still, it did little for my peace of mind. I turned my steed instead inland and came in time to a ring of standing stones. Great monoliths and slabs they were, placed by some ancient hand and their meaning lost to all. In the time of mine grandfather, Druids yet made use of those stones and believed them to be places of great power. But those odd folk had been hunted and feared even more so than gargoyles, and it had been long years since their kind had been seen. Elsewise, surely they would have had some use for this place on Midsummer's Night. My steed, I tethered some ways distant, for when I tried to lead it within the ring it became ill with unease. True, there did seem to be raw energies in the very air, but I found it to be more stirring than affrightening. I dare say, I did even glimpse for a time what it must be have the powers of a mage. Some entranced by this, I explored amidst the stones, until mine ears were caught by the oft-heard familiar sweep of wings. Quickly, I hid myself with the intent of making my departure, assuming it to be a pair of mates and not wishing to intrude upon their joining. Lo, 'twas instead a single gargoyle, one which I knew by sight but not by name. For, excepting Goliath, whose name was given almost in passing as a jest by mine father upon remarking that he was in truth a giant among his kind, the gargoyles saw naught of import in the naming of things. Verily by sight I did know her, for she was remarkable among her clan for her skin of such ivory-white as to seem made of the very substance of the moon. And further celestial could she be described, with hair bright as a morning sun and eyes akin to stars. I wondered at her presence alone, for to mine eyes she was a goodly fair female, lithe of limb and of such gentle roundness of form that a human woman might have envied her. I knew not what the males of her kind found most appealing, but her wings seemed finely shaped and the small blunted horns which lined her brow did also descend along the sides of her throat and along her shoulders, and in a row running the graceful length of her back and tail, which itself ended in a spiked ball not unlike a mace. So it was that she seemed to me the manner of creature that would not be lacking companionship, and as such all the more surprising it was to me when she, upon folding her wings, did sink to her knees amid the silent stones and commence weeping as if her heart would break. These tears alarmed me, for I had in my time seen many moods of the gargoyles but never such a spate of sobbing. And ere I knew my own mind, I had approached this distressed damosel, for no gentleman born could do otherwise. It did come to my mind to fear for my safety if she took offense at my intrusion or witnessing of her anguish, but how could I leave her to her misery? And so I knelt myself beside her and offered a cloth to dry her tears, and inquired to the cause of her grief. Suffice to say, as I did survive to write this, she did not in sudden fury rend my flesh from my bones. Rather, after some alarm on her part and reassurances on mine, she revealed to me the reason for her presence here. It seems she had for many years been muchly desirous of a male of her clan, who, unknowing of this, had taken another as a mate. While most times she was able to live peaceably with his decision, she found this chosen season too painful in her unrequited love. Nature bid her breed, all about her were others engaging in just that, her very clan's survival depended upon a new generation of eggs. Further, there were and have often been an abundance of males and scant females. She would have had a dozen or more suitors eager to attend her, but she was as I have said, no unthinking beast to be won only by the most worthy. Her heart was, for all it beat with a different rhythm, not so dissimilar to that of a human. She said not which male was the object of her love, but I came to guess that it was none other than Goliath himself. Which worsened her plight, for he was pledged to a mate who would brook no straying, even were it in his noble character to do so. I have ever been made weak by a lady's tears. What man has not? Eve herself in the Garden of Eden may have fared better to give way to weeping rather than lay blame at the serpent, for surely even the wrath of God Almighty might have eased in the face of it. So it was, seeking to comfort, I settled my arm about her shoulders in the manner of my kind, but also brushed my knuckles against the small horns of her brow, as I had seen her kind do in wordless affection. Too closely, our situations aligned. Here was she, unable to bear the attentions of another gargoyle in having lost the one she loved. And I, likewise, unable to cleave unto another woman in memory of my dear wife. Ah, but such was our undoing! For I was no gargoyle, and she no woman! As the realization of this slowly dawned upon us both, we found the quality of our consoling embrace had changed. Not since my wedding night had I beheld such a glorious creature! The feel of her skin, the firmness of her flesh, the different yet not unwelcome configuration of her form, all of these things were as sweetest honeyed mead to me. She was the wild wind made solid, the sea before a storm. Within the circle of mine arms she moved in such ways I had never imagined. It was neither a fevered rutting nor tender lovemaking, but something between which yet held pieces of both. I feared I might prove inadequate for her tastes, having had occasion to observe that males of her kind were often grandly structured, yet I believe that I gave her as much delight as I myself found. She uttered no words to the contrary, at least, and is not of such artifice as a woman might be as would seek to placate a man with false assurances. So great her effect upon me that even now as I write this I feel a stirring in my loins, although earlier in my exhaustion I would have sworn 'twould be Michalmas ere I regained mine strength. Alas! the night waned too soon, for gladly would I have tarried more hours there with her. But encroaching day urged our return to the castle, that we both might rest from our wearisome yet delightful night's labors. Seperate we returned, the both of us unknowing what reception we might find if the truth became known. For, she confessed to me, not in her knowing have gargoyle and human joined as we did, and she is rightfully afeared of her clan's disapproval. And I much the same, with the added surety that mine own kind would fail to understand, and my dear Katherine would be stricken with horror. And so it is that we must bide this secret well. Tempting though it be, there must be no repeat of this night past. I dare not risk the alliance between the gargoyles and my people. There have been troublesome rumors of fierce-bearded raiders from the north, and so I must keep the safety of this castle as my first concern. Lo! the sun has long since risen, and I am yet awake. But ere I retire to mine bed, I shall spare one last look upon the battlements, toward my ivory angel in her timeless sleep. I pray that she takes solace and finds renewed hope in our brief love, just as I have done. The Eighth Day of January, in the Year of Our Lord 989. I am, after lengthy absence, returned to this mine castle and home. I had not intended such a prolonged visit to my kinsman the king, but an unseasonable illness coupled with alarming tales of war from the north did keep me some weeks longer than I had meant. The illness yet lingers, but I was compelled to make the journey home despite Katherine's concerns. She fears for my health, dear child. Ah, but this is a mere passing infirmity. By spring, I warrant, I shall be in the fit again. To this journal, though, I have not come to record my conversations with the king and our fears regarding these northern warriors. That I will make note of elsewhere. There is another matter, strange and troubling, that I must needs mention here. It has been several months since I took my leave of Castle Wyvern. The breeding season of the gargoyles had passed, to the relief of many. As I had predicted, their example did inspire much imitation among mine people, and this spring will see a bountiful crop of bairns. The gargoyles, too, seem to have bred well. Their females, typically so lean and warlike, have grown great and gravid with eggs. 'Tis a fair comical sight to witness their efforts at gliding and landing, although it has been learned well that to laugh is inviting certain danger. In fact, one squire was so unfortunate as to express mirth untimely, and earned such a look from Goliath's mate that it struck him as a nearly physical blow. It sufficed to topple him from the battlements into a manure pile, much to the jolliment of three juvenile gargoyles that happened to be nearby. But of more concern to me is that, unthinkable as it may seem, she of whom I have previously written is among her sisters in being heavy with egg. Yet she remains mateless. I am forced to consider the most obvious conclusion, although it doth seem naught but sheer madness. Can it be that she carries the result of our night's passion? My mind turns to the old tales. A place of power, on a night believed by most to be ripe for magic, at the height of their season. Might it not be possible? And if so, what consequence awaits? If she were human, honor would demand that I wed with her. But she is not, and I pale to think what would happen if I announced my intent to take a gargoyle bride. And what form might such offspring take? Would it even survive? Would it be noticeably manlike and thus give the secret? If 'tis mine, then 'twould be of the royal blood. But outrageous to name as an heir, for would human or gargoyle heed the word of one which was not one nor the other? And unimaginable to be in line for the throne! If 'tis mine, then 'tis my child! Brother or sister to Katherine! Which would either finally win her heart to the gargoyles, else inspire her hatred even more. The deed is done, and we shall but have to wait until the egg is laid and hatched to see if any of this is aught but conjecture. The Eleventh Day of March, in the Year of Our Lord 989. My illness, which I thought but a passing thing, is worsening beyond hope of even the young Magus' wisdom. He fears, though will not voice it to Katherine, that I will not see year's end. She must know, for she must be prepared to rule. A terrible burden to place on a girl not even thirteen. Would that I had found her a suitable husband! The eggs are laid, now two weeks agone. Well and close have I attended the progress of the mothers, who have weathered the winter and heavy rains of the spring far better than I myself. The rookery, a deep cellar vault, is no longer so empty. Some near twoscore of eggs, soft-shelled and mottled violet, rest in beds of hay as humble as that which did cradle the son of God. Among those eggs are two which are unusual. One is of a duller hue and thicker shell, which Goliath tells me is the mark of a watchdog. There is one of that kind already, a hulking blue beast, goodhearted despite his ferocious aspect. He is the only one, with no female of his kind, so it is unknown to me how this watchdog egg has come to pass. But it is the other that concerns me more. Her egg. For so it must be. It is unlike its fellows, being smaller and pale, with mottling pink as a newborn infant's skin. The gargoyles are puzzled by this. They pay no mind to which female births which egg, for all are treated with equal affection by the adults and considered the children of the entire clan. None know their parents, all born in the same generation are considered brothers and sisters yet also ultimately mates. Because of this, they would not think to question the mother, and learn the truth. Even she does not mark the egg as her own. In fact, the small egg is largely ignored. As if they fear it to be damaged, malformed. They do not mistreat it, but nor do they lavish it with care as the others receive. I myself dare not express unseemly interest in the egg. Yet, in my heart I know, I doubt no longer. It is mine. My child. Folly to write this, I wondered when first I set to do so. Or is it best to make matters clear, should there ever come a time when the succession of Wyvern is in doubt? I pray that it shall never be so, that my dear daughter Katherine shall rule long and wisely and pass on the title to her own children. Yet it is possible that she should die without issue. And if that be the case, may my leige and kinsman the rightful king take into account the matter I herein didst relate, unusual though it was. * * EPILOGUE: AVALON "By the powers!" the Magus said softly. The chest had been a wedding gift from Katherine's mother to her father, brought all the way from Normandy. Katherine had been loathe to leave it behind, using it to pack her belongings when they left Castle Wyvern in the wake of the Viking attack. Even when fleeing the usurper king, Constantine, she had insisted on bringing it along. To very Avalon itself. In all of that time, in all of those travels, she had never noticed the old and folded papers tucked deep in the corner. The Magus was certain of that. If Katherine had found those papers, she would have bespoken him. He smoothed the pages absently. The ink of Malcolm's confession had not faded much over the years, and in his strong script the Magus was greatly reminded of the man himself. Even the final entry, scant months before the prince succumbed to his illness, was only marginally faltering. Across the room, bent to her studies, was Elektra. "I am blind, else a fool! Why did I not see it before?" the Magus murmured to himself. There had always been something different about her, setting her apart from her rookery brothers and sisters. Hatched last, from the smallest egg, Tom had opined her to be the runt of the litter. But she had grown fastest, attaining physical maturity well before the others. Less formidable, she was, and of more slender build. Her skin was creamy-fair, the bony spurs along her brow and elbows no more than token nubs. With her wings draped over her shoulders and her thin tail hidden, she almost seemed not a gargoyle at all. And -- this he must have known on some level but never consciously until now -- she resembled Katherine. It was there in the straight and smooth brown hair, in the shape of her eyes, her pensive mouth, her graceful wrists and throat. Yes, there they were, the clues and signs that he should have seen. He was torn between shame and relief. Relief because Prince Malcolm, a man he had always admired and respected, Prince Malcolm himself had been lovers with a gargoyle. If one such as he, a man so fine and noble, could do so, then there could be no wrong in it. Elektra glanced at him curiously, sensing his stare. How like Katherine she was! In candlelight, she could almost be mistaken for the Katherine of his memory, the Katherine that he had loved and lost through his own inaction. He'd deemed himself unworthy of the princess when he could no longer offer her his magic. In time, she, needing the attention he could not bring himself to provide, had turned to Tom although he was seven years her junior. "Magus?" Elektra asked, sweeping back her fall of hair. He was unable to answer, and her curiosity changed to concern. She rose and came to him, reaching to touch his face in a manner she knew he liked. He flinched away from her, troubled beyond his ability to express. His heart must have known this while his mind remained ignorant. Why else would he have come to care for Elektra so? She had ever been his favorite, of all of the hatchlings the quickest to learn, the most attentive student. In time, the fondness of a teacher had become something more. Now, though, it was plain! He had seen in her a reflection of Katherine, and most shamefully misused her honest affections to ease his decades-old longing. "Magus, what is it?" She was hurt now as well as concerned. Both of her hands -- human hands with their full complement of fingers, why had he not noticed that clear sign? -- settled along the sides of his jaw, turning him to meet her gaze. She seemed so young and innocent. Speaking now of his thoughts would only cause her pain. "Nothing," he said, and enfolded her in his arms. "Nothing at all." * * The End
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