Lost and Found Christine Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author's Note: The characters of Gargoyles belong to the folks at Disney and are used here without their knowledge or consent. The other characters are my own. It helps if you've read my other fanfic, in this case especially "Where You Need to Be." And thanks to Christi, for inspiration with her "Little Blessings."
Hudson (voice over) : "Previously, on Gargoyles ..." Quick flashes through scenes from various episodes and fanfic: Tom to his mother, as they load the eggs into wagons: "I counted thirty-six, Mother." Constantine points his scepter at eggs nestles in the straw of the stable. "You have thirty-six very good reasons to obey me." Katherine, the Magus, and Tom on two egg-laden boats; Tom's mother Mary and Lady Finella on a third with the Grimorum, sailing away from each other. Angela says to the trio, "I have fifteen rookery sisters back on Avalon." Boudicca and Bronx greet each other with excited sniffs and grunts. Jericho says to Elektra, "With Angela gone, Elswyth in love with one of Oberon's get, Hippolyta too caught up in being a warrior to even think about mating, and you locked away here, that leaves only twelve females to eighteen males." "Avalon had sent you through time," Goliath says to Finella and Mary. SCOTLAND, 1976 Eibhlin Driscoll sighed as she stretched, pressing her weathered fists into the small of her back in hopes of relieving some of the ache before she had to bend again to lift the sodden damp sheets into place on the line. "Sure as Liam has one o' those fancy machines that washes an' dries," she said to herself, thinking of her brother's most recent letter, full of the marvels city life afforded. "Just as he's fancy machines to cook for him an' clean for him, an' all else a wife would do. Giving him even less reason to marry an' make a responsible man o' himself." She suffered a brief but amusing vision of Liam's ideal wife, like one of those robots in the motion pictures, all gears and polished steel in the shape of a woman, clanking and clattering around his house. It brought a smile to her lips, and smiles were rare things these days even if they were at her brother's imagined foolishness. "Mother! Mother!" She turned and saw Galen running toward her full-tilt, his fine red hair flying. It was gone too long again, one more thing to tend before much longer. He got to look more like his dear lost father every day, and the pang in her heart swiftly put an end to her smile. Although he looked like Danny, Galen's spirit was Liam's. He yearned for the future with his uncle's love for all things bright and modern. Of late he'd befriended a student who'd been poking about that old wreck of a castle on the seaward highland, an American who didn't mind trading local lore for tales of his own country. Ferguson was his name, and at least he was of Scottish descent. He was likeable enough, but Eibhlin worried that he was filling her Galen's head with unreachable dreams. "Mother, look what Kenneth gave me!" She frowned faintly. She'd raised the lad to speak more formally of his elders and didn't care for this American habit of children using the given names of adults. Galen either didn't see or chose not to heed her frown and thrust some gadget at her. It was chunky white plastic, with a dark screen glowing with little red rectangles of light. Under the screen were plastic buttons with arrows inscribed upon them. "It's a game, Mother, see, football as they play it in America! This is my team --" he tore it from her hands just as she was beginning to get a good look at it and fiddled with the buttons. Mechanical, unsettling noises emerged from the plastic gadget's innards as the lights jumped around on the screen. "An' why'd he be givin' ye this?" Galen's smile evaporated. "It's a goodbye present. He's gone and completed his work at the castle, and he's going home." She tried not to show her relief. "Is he now? That be too bad." "Aye, and do ye know what? There were ladies with him, two of them, one as pretty as ye e'er did see! Like a princess from one o' the old stories, she was!" Her lips pursed. "I thought he wasn't wed," she said, adjusting her opinion of Mr. Kenneth Ferguson even lower if he had been exposing her boy to the loose habits so common of Americans. "He isn't," Galen replied, puzzled. "Ne'er mind, son. Ye didna know these women, then?" "Nay." He sighed wistfully. "But he's taking them back to America with him, Mother. America!" "Is he now?" she said carefully. Her son clutched the game. "And someday, someday, Mother, I'm going to go there too!" * * "He'll ne'er get to see America now," Eibhlin said softly. Douglas Kearney patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. He wished desperately but vainly to be anyplace else, preferably in a tavern with a mug in front of him, but Eibhlin had once been his sister's best friend and he couldn't leave her with naught but the priest in this time of need. She tenderly laid some white plastic gadget on her son's pale, folded hands and bent to kiss his forehead. "Go with God, my son. Tell yer father and uncle I'll be along soon enough. Soon enough, I warrant." "Uncle?" Douglas said, startled. "Aye." Eibhlin took a deep breath. "I didna have time to tell ye before, but a telegram came the day before Galen fell sick. Liam ... Liam be dead too." "Och, Eibhlin." "Shot. Not a robbery. Political. Liam ne'er did have the luck he deserved, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time." Douglas looked at the ground. Bad enough that he didn't know what to say to a woman who had just lost her only son. Now she'd lost a brother too, buried far from home instead of here on the hillside with his parents and grandparents. "At least it was quick," he mumbled. "Aye, quick it was. Quick, both o' them taken from me in a mere span o' days, one by bullet and one by fever, and nary a thing I could do." She turned away from him and sobbed bitterly into her handkerchief. Douglas shuffled his feet uncomfortably. She spoke of Liam lacking luck, but she herself seemed to have little of it either. Husband just a few years in the ground, parents taken too soon, and now just Eibhlin alone. Even his sister couldn't comfort her, for though Heather was here, she too lay beneath a thick blanket of earth and grass. He could see her headstone from where he stood. Eibhlin looked into the small coffin one last time, touched Galen's face, and then nodded to Douglas. "Close it now. Let him rest." * * She put on her shawl against the damp chill and paused to look back at her house. Always before, it had seemed to her to nestle cozily in the glen. Ever since Galen's funeral, she saw it only as huddling there, wrapped in its own misery and a shroud of trees. When her husband had died, the house and her heart had felt empty, but still full because of her son. She had needed to be strong for Galen. Now there was no one but her. Chores filled the days, but the nights were endless. She lay on her hard bed, night after night, listening to the wind sigh in the trees and the sea roll distantly against the bluff. She'd begun walking, eating up spans of time and distance, trying to weary herself so that sleep came instead of eluding her and leaving her staring into the ticking darkness, counting off the remaining hours of her life by the chime of the clock. Her walks usually took her along the river, sometimes as far as the ring of standing stones. Usually that circle of ageless monoliths put her at peace, but today, feeling as if she'd aged a decade or more in the week since Galen's death, the thought of the stones offered no comfort. She turned her face toward the sea and walked and walked, losing herself in happier memories of sunlit days when she and Galen would wander the countryside, him scampering ahead in the heather and bringing back feathers and stones and flowers for her to identify. She remembered the stories she'd spun for him of the hill people and their magical parties. How he had loved those stories! The harsh salt-smelling cold of the wind brought her back to herself, and she realized that she was standing on the rocky highland, overlooking the slate-grey unforgiving sea. Lost in her memories, she had walked nearly all the way to the ruins of the castle. Not even two weeks ago, this had been Galen's favorite place. He loved to clamber among the tumbled stones, explore the vine-grown walls, make faces at the fearsome gargoyles atop the tower, and search for souvenirs. His room at home, which she still hadn't been able to clear out, had one whole shelf devoted to things he'd brought home. Viking arrowheads, scraps of rust-eaten metal that might have once been weapons, a spoon that might have been real silver beneath centuries of grime and tarnish, part of a snarling face captured in stone, a clawed and three-fingered feminine hand. And lately, scraps of paper with sketches on them, drawn by the American as he studied the place. Eibhlin sat on a log and wept. It seemed like forever since her son had been taken, it seemed like only yesterday. She knew he was safe and fine in heaven, and wished only that she didn't have to wait so long to see him again. Finally, feeling somewhat cleansed, she decided to go up to the castle herself and see what there was to see. It had been years since she had looked on the place with the curiosity and joy of a child. Maybe she could recapture her son's delight, find a new trinket to take home for him, or just bask in a place that he had known and loved well. The clouds lessened a bit, as if approving of her decision. She picked her way over the wreck of the wall and paused in the overgrown courtyard. To her left was a campsite near the remains of a guard house, offering some shelter against the elements. Traces of the American, Ferguson, but not the dump heap of pop cans and food wrappers she expected. He seemed to have taken care to keep his camp well, and cleaned it before he departed. She looked up, up to the highest point. A stone figure loomed there, draped with vines, carved in a pose of thought with chin resting upon fist. Below that statue were others, all different, in fearsome or protective poses. Those were the only ones that were whole. The rest, for the bases and remains of clawed feet or tails spoke of dozens more, had all been smashed. Vandals, no doubt, proving their bravery against the old haunted castle. Many of the loose stones still had features, here an eye or a horn, there the fold of a wing. She climbed higher to get a look at the intact ones. She remembered scraps of legends she'd heard at her great-grandfather's knee. Galen had loved those old tales. No wonder he liked to play here, probably imagining that the gargoyles really did turn to flesh when the castle was in danger. What a frightful thing if it had been true! A ten-year-old boy who adored comic books and space adventure movies would relish the thought, but as Eibhlin examined the massive muscular form of the topmost one, she shuddered to think what destructon such a beast would wreak! The workmanship was excellent, which she'd never realized before. The stones all around her and beneath her feet were rough- hewn, but there was not a chisel mark upon the statues. They had also weathered the centuries far better than the rest of the castle. Of a better quality of rock, perhaps. She studied the rest of them. All different, all hideous, not something a body would want to meet in a dark night or indeed any other time of day. She wondered at the sculptors, what hellish visions had inspired such creations. The more she lingered, the more she had the idea that their stone eyes were shifting to follow her every move, that soon she would hear the grate and shift of their ponderous but lethal movement. She pulled her shawl tighter and shivered. To think that her beloved son had spent his last days playing in this horrible place! She was seized by a sudden urge to pick up a chunk of rock and lay about those monstrous faces, obliterating them. Instead, she fled the tower so hastily that she very nearly plunged headlong down the curving flight of stairs. She didn't stop until she was out of the castle and at the head of a steep path leading down to the sea. "Ye're not thinking o' going down there?" she asked herself. It looked like an impossible descent. One misstep and she'd fall screaming to her death. Death in the cold, cold sea, assuming she didn't break her neck or shatter her skull by landing on the jutting fangs of the rocks. Follow her husband into the sea? Why not? He had been taken from her by water and Galen by fire, although it was a fire that raged inside of him, a fever burning him away. If she did fall, she would be rejoined with them. She could never risk damnation by purposefully throwing herself to the waves, but if she fell, if the path crumbled beneath her, that was surely God's will. Eibhlin started down the path, not even moving with particular care. Once a large rock gave way under her foot, but by then her stride had carried her past and she didn't even miss a step as the head-sized stone tumbled away. Down and down, toward a rocky curve of beach at the base of the cliff. There seemed to be something on the beach, a boat of sorts. No fisherman, surely, not at this time of year. Probably a wreck, cast up by tide and wind. Still, as she got closer, it seemed in good condition for a wreck. Nearly perfect condition, she saw as she reached it, but by then she was more perplexed by the craft itself. It was no fishing boat, no aluminum tub with a witty name in peeling paint on the hull, not even a rowboat. It was of an unusual style, old-fashioned, akin to the sort of thing they had in the museums. Boats like this had not been used for centuries at least. The nearly-new condition caught her attention again. This was no museum relic deposited here for some unknown reason. And it had obviously not been randomly left here by the sea, for it was in the most sheltered nook and even tied to a spur of stone, and if Eibhlin was any judge of those furrows in the gravel, it had been dragged up the beach from the water's edge. She couldn't tell if it had happened yesterday or a year ago, but guessed that it was fairly recent. She peered inside and at first glance thought it was empty except for a bunch of soggy straw in a dank foul-smelling mass at the bottom. Then she glimpsed a bit of cloth stuffed under one of the benches. She reached in and felt the sodden wool. She pulled it out, wondering if it was a blanket or a garment or what. It was a blanket, but she was riveted by what had lain behind it. Far back beneath the bench was a large, rounded object. Her first gruesome thought was that it was a skull, before she realized that it was too large and shaped all wrong. "What in the world ...?" she murmured, and stretched her arm to touch it. The surface was hard and faintly pebbly, and strangest of all, warm! At least, warm compared to her chapped, red fingers and the dispirited chill permeating seemingly all else in the world. She worked the object out from under the bench. It rolled onto the heap of water-rotted straw and lay there, its shape all too clearly revealed. "An egg?" Eibhlin asked herself. But sure enough, an egg it was. Bigger than any egg she'd ever seen, so big that her first thought was that it belonged to one of those funny-looking birds that put their heads in the dirt and thought themselves well-hid, until she admitted that it had to be to large even for that. It was pale purple and blotched with darker spots of an unhealthy-looking shade that made her think of the color her husband's face had been when Douglas and Connor brought him home dead and swollen. She ran her hand over the curved surface. The texture, both leathery and pebbly, unfamiliar but not altogether unpleasant. No bird she knew of could produce an egg like this. Her mind turned briefly to legends of sea serpents and Loch Ness and the like, and then even more briefly to the space adventures Galen had so adored. Unable to come up with a reasonable explanation, she set herself to wondering what to do about it. Take it to town and show the veterinarian? Push it, boat and all, back to the sea and let the sea take care of it? Leave it here for whatever fate awaited? But ... the faint warmth of it! Warmth meant life. There had been too much death lately for her to abandon any living thing, no matter how strange it might be. It probably wouldn't hatch, whatever it was, but at the very least she could take it home out of the rain. She removed her shawl, wincing at the cold, and bundled the egg into a crude sort of sling so her arms would be spared some of the weight. It rested against her belly, bulging out in front of her like a pregnancy. The thought almost made her smile. She ran her hands over the bulge, remembering how she had carried Galen beneath her heart, feeling him kick and turn within her womb. She made her way back up the path much more carefully than she'd descended, mindful now of the egg in front of her. * * SCOTLAND, 1978 Rob Kearney grumbled to himself all the way to the crazy woman's cottage. He didn't like working in the grocery. Hated the red smock and the hat shaped like of-all-things-please-Lord an _apple_. Couldn't stand having to fall into raptures of gratitude to his uncle Douglas for landing him the job in the first place. And now here he was, doing something even worse than stocking shelves or swabbing up the mess when some brat pulled down a row of pickle jars. Trudging what felt like a hundred miles in the rain to make a delivery, all because that stupid git Fletcher had gone and run the truck into a ditch. Claimed he was swerving to avoid a sheep, but Rob figured he'd been drunk as a sailor. His blindingly bright yellow slicker at least hid the smock, but the comfort he felt at being able to leave the apple hat behind was very small when considering that it had been replaced by a horrible lime- green rain hood that his mum would give him holy hell if he didn't wear. The heavy package crackled in his arms, dry and secure beneath its oilskin wrapper. Flour, ham, beans, butter, nothing out of the ordinary. He knew the younger kids thought the Driscoll woman was a witch, what with her living all alone in the farthest place from town. But if she was a witch, she sure wasn't getting her eye of newt from McKenna's Grocery. He didn't believe in witches, but he did believe in crazy people. His own grandfather had gone raving through his last few years, convinced that spies were aiming ray guns at him. The old fart had even taken to wearing tinfoil all around his skull, which made an apple- shaped hat not _so_ bad by comparison. Nobody had of course seen the Driscoll woman doing anything _that_ noticeable. But on the few occasions she did venture into town, she scuttled like a hunted thing and hardly spoke to a soul. Uncle Douglas and the rest of the family talked about her in a sad hush, about how she'd never been right since her son and husband died. Witch or not, crazy or not, there was one more reason Rob hated making the long trek out here. It was just too close to the castle for comfort. Not that he believed it was haunted or anything sissy like that. Sure, as a kid he and his pals had done their share of swapping stories about the Viking ghosts and monster statues that came to life, but those were just stories. Just stories. In reality, the place was dangerous not because of haunts but because it was old and falling down and if any nosy kids went poking about they'd probably get flattened by a falling beam or something. Sure. Falling beam, or a part of the old wall that would up and give way. Or someone would get ballsy and start climbing around, then fall and break his stupid neck. No ghosts. No monsters. Scary stories that did well to keep the kids away, that's all. Still, although the castle wasn't even in sight, he felt his skin tightening as he walked along. He'd have given a lot to be anyplace else, even if it was in the stockroom pricing soup cans. At least there he'd be out of the rain, and maybe picking up some tunes on the radio. He came over a rise and saw the cottage down in the gully, surrounded by trees. There was a garden as nice and tidy as his mom's, a rocker on the porch, eyelet-trimmed curtains in the warmly-lighted windows. Not a slab of gingerbread nor black cat to be seen. As he started down, he uneasily realized how dark it was getting. He'd really been dragging his feet on the way out here, and now it was dusk already, made gloomier by the rain. He'd wind up making the trip back in pitch blackness. Couldn't ask the Driscoll woman for a ride, because if she had a car, she wouldn't need to have her groceries delivered every week. Adding a few swears to his grumbles, he opened the garden gate and climbed the porch steps. He rapped three times and started unwrapping the oilskin from the package. No answer, but he heard a startled commotion within. He sighed and rapped again, but before his fist fell the third time the door popped open so fast that he took a giant step back and nearly ended up on his butt in the garden plot. There was a witch in the doorway, grey hair frizzing out every which way, eyes blazing and haggard. Rob uttered a short shriek and took another step back, this time tottering off the porch. He stayed on his feet, but only barely. The witch, clutching a mouse-colored shawl around her skinny shoulders, stared blankly at him for a moment, then seemed to recognize him. "Oh! Robbie! Just a minute!" She popped back into her lair and closed the door. Rob leaned on the porch rail, wishing for his skittering heart to settle down, unaware of being called Robbie, which was something he normally hated. His nerves were jumping like toads in a frying pan. She bustled out onto the porch again, closing the door behind her firmly. Hiding something in there. A bubbling cauldron? A dead man all cut up and ready to be cooked? Rob suddenly remembered a story from his childhood, the devil's grandmother hiding the hero in the hems of her skirts so he could get the answers to his three questions and win the princess and half the kingdom. But if the devil caught him, he'd be eaten. "Quick, lad, quick!" she demanded, thrusting a handful of wrinkled bills at him and gesturing impatiently for the bundle of groceries. He handed it over without a word and took the money, trying not to let her lizardlike hand clamp over his wrist and drag him inside, skin him and chop him and boil him into broth. He stuffed it in the pocket of his slicker without even counting to see if there was enough for a tip. By the time she was back inside, he was already out the garden gate and pelting up the hill fast as his legs could carry him. * * Eibhlin dropped the groceries indifferently on the table and hurried back to the corner nearest the fireplace, where the egg was rocking and shaking in its nest of old blankets and rags. For two years, she had shared her home with the egg. She knew she'd gotten a touch peculiar, fussing over it as if it was a human babe. She didn't knit it little clothes or take it for strolls or anything like that, but she talked to it, sang to it the old lullabies that she once sang to Galen. It provided companionship in its mute way. She knew people who talked to plants, talked to cats. This wasn't so different. Already isolated by her distance from town and by her grief, it was a short step to become a recluse. No one had been inside to visit except Douglas Kearney, but even his reaction ("Och, now, that'd make a big omelet, wouldn't it?") proved to her that she had to keep the egg safe. Otherwise there would always be someone wanting to take it, break it, study it, scramble it. She couldn't let that happen. So, for two years she had tended it, turning to see that it warmed evenly, being unaccountably pleased to note the dark blotches take on a richer amethyst shade. Never had she expected anything to come of it. The egg simply filled a void in her life and made it possible for her to go on. And tonight, tonight just as she'd finished her supper and was about to start the washing-up, the egg began moving. When she'd heard the rustling, her first thought was that a rat had come up through the floorboards. She didn't know if rats could gnaw through a shell that thick, but she wasn't going to let them even try, so she had dashed over weilding her dishcloth like a weapon. Only to find that the source of the noise was the egg itself, quivering in its nest. Now she dropped onto her footstool and gasped as she saw that a thin crack had appeared in the shell while she'd been dealing with Robbie. Just a crack, but she knew what it meant. It was hatching. The crack widened, and for the first time in a long time she wondered anew what had laid this egg. What was in there, about to be revealed? Her throat and chest constricted in fearful anticipation. The shell bulged outward. More cracks raced across it, letting loose an ooze of thick reddish-yellow fluid. Eibhlin held her breath. The egg burst apart. A small figure toppled forward and let out a squall of displeasure. It was covered with slime and bits of shell, but even with all of that Eibhlin could clearly discern its shape. She jerked away, knocking over her stool and scuttling backward until she ran into the sofa and huddled there, hands pressed to her mouth, eyes wide. She could see the tiny wings sticking up over the edge of the nest like shark fins as the creature moved and struggled. It flopped over onto its back and she couldn't see it any more. And then it began to cry. The helpless, despairing, I'm-all-by- myself wail of an infant. Eibhlin began to cry too. That plaintive summons was impossible to deny. She crawled back to the nest. The creature was waving its arms and legs and tail, fists clenched, face screwed up. A triangular chunk of shell was pasted right to the end of its nose. "Och, ye poor wee bairn." It opened its eyes and looked directly toward the source of her voice. Its wails subsided into hitching gasps. She reached gently down with her dishcloth and began clearing away the slime. Whatever it was, she could see that it was a boy. "It's all right, laddie," she said soothingly. He raised his arms to her, three-fingered hands curling in the old achingly familiar needing gesture. She lifted him into her arms and carried him to the sink, shoving aside her dishes. "A nice bath, now, that'll do ye good." She lowered him into the warm soapy water and he gurgled happily. His color was revealed to be a fine blue-grey, like the sky on a hazy spring morning. His hair was as thick and curly as that of a cherub, and pure white. Horns rose from his brow and spiraled back and down nearly to his fan-shaped ears. His wings were the darker grey of a thundercloud, not the wings of a bat or a bird or any other beast she knew, but each one was split into two parts. His little tail ended in a solid round knob. No newborn, this, she saw as she bathed him. He held his head up, looked around alertly, tried to grab anything that came within reach. He seemed to her more like a babe of several months' age, full of curiosity and mischief and fun. When the bath was done, he began keening and opening his mouth. She saw four tiny pearly nubs but no other teeth. "Hungry, are ye, laddie? Well, now, I've no way o' knowing what to feed the likes of ye!" She could improvise, though, and a few minutes later her charge was sucking milk contentedly through a hole poked in her old hot water bottle. She watched him as he lay on the rug, supporting the bottle with both hands and both clawed feet, his wings spread flat behind him for balance. There was no denying it. She knew what he was, what he had to be. Somehow, incredibly, impossibly, a gargoyle. * * By the time the sky began to lighten, Eibhlin was near dropping from exhaustion. No sooner had the gargoyle baby finished his bottle than he'd astounded her by hitching his way across the rug, snagging up little puffs of it with his claws, moving slowly but determinedly to explore his surroundings. Anything and everything he found on the floor went straight into his mouth. He managed to fasten his jaws around the leg of the coffee table, and by the time she pried him off, his fangs had made deep marks. He caught hold of an afghan on a chair and pulled it and the daily paper all over himself in an untidy pile. She risked a moment to throw herself together some supper, but by the time she returned to the living room, he'd gotten into her sewing basket and had half a spool of thread wound around him. It took the better part of an hour to untangle him, the task not helped by the way he chortled and kept grabbing at the thread, her hair, her fingers, and anything else he could reach. She turned on the radio and he was fascinated by the sound, turning his head this way and that, giving her a chance to eat. She'd forgotten how much a bundle of trouble a bairn was. Newborns at least started small and helpless, doing naught but laying about. The parents had a chance to get used to it as they grew and became more active. But this determined little lad was no newborn for all he'd just broke shell. "Ye seem not to have an ounce o' weariness in ye," she remarked. He glanced her way and grinned, a funny sight with but those four tiny fangs peeking from his bluish gums. But eventually he did begin to droop and yawn, a pleasing sight for Eibhlin was more than ready for bed. She gathered him onto her lap and rocked him, crooning a lullaby. He stiffened in her arms, snapping her out of her light doze. She sat up in alarm, sure that he was choking or convulsing. His little limbs were tense, his skin roughened. Before her very eyes, he turned to solid stone. Eibhlin leaped shrieking from her chair, and he slipped from her grasp because he was heavier now than she remembered or expected. She juggled him, caught him, clutched him with panicky tightness, and ran for the door. Just as her hand closed on the knob, she stopped herself. What was she doing? If she went dashing into town screeching like a banshee about what had happened, they'd think her insane. They already thought she'd slipped a bit. And where would she go, anyway? The doctor? The veterinarian? The stonemason? She turned away from the door and studied the small statue. He was frozen in the middle of a sleepy-eyed yawn. Even the clumsy diaper she'd rigged for him, having a real time of it with that tail in the way, was now grey stone. Eibhlin was too tired and confused to think on it further. She put the statue back in the nest where the egg had been for so long, on a fresh blanket and warm by the glowing coals of the fire. Then she stumbled to her own bed and collapsed like a dead thing. * * She awoke nearly as stiff as a statue herself. Groaning, she rolled onto her side and peered at the bedside clock. Since Galen's death, she'd only gotten a few hours of sleep a night, spending the rest of the time lying awake listening to the emptiness in home and soul. Now, exhausted by trying to keep a step ahead of the young gargoyle all night, she had gone and slept most of the day away. After a quick stop in the bathroom, she hurried to the nest in the corner. The little statue was exactly as she'd left it. Not for the first time, she wondered if any of it was real. Had it really been an egg she lugged back from the cliff's base? Suppose her mind had been playing with her all along? Suppose what she was really looking at now was nothing but a stone, had been a stone and never anything else, to which her imagination had given life and features? She sank into her chair and rubbed her fingers over her temples. The people in town thought that the strain of losing her husband and brother and son all close together had undone her mind. Was she mad? But no, Douglas had commented on the egg. Unless she'd imagined that, as well. Maybe a visit to the doctor or the priest was in order. Her only concern was that either of them might think she needed help, help of a straitjacket nature. She could be taken from her home, locked up, put in a ward. Those troubling thoughts were interrupted by a sound like a heavy boot on a thick-iced pond. She looked in that direction and gasped. The statue was covered with hairline cracks, racing over the surface, widening even as she watched. Arms and legs and wings and tail all flexed together, and the stone burst apart in a shower of flakes. Revealing beneath, his blue skin unharmed and unmarked, the baby gargoyle. He completed his yawn and grinned at her, then made what she had already come to know as his hungry-face. She rose, amazed, and plucked him from the nest. He snuggled against her familiarly as she warmed and filled his bottle. Another night had begun. * * It took six weeks before the simple and beautiful thought came to her. Six weeks of adjusting herself to nights. Six weeks of being grateful that the gargoyle slept through the entire day, no matter how peculiar the fashion, remembering Galen's countless wakings and fussiness. She named him Angus for his great strength, and already he knew to babble "mamma" when he wanted her attention. And then, one night as she was spooning the meat paste he preferred to milk into the gaping chasm of his mouth, she had that simple and beautiful thought. Angus, a gargoyle, spent the entire day as stone, but turned to flesh at night. The only times she had been to the ruins of the castle, where other gargoyles roosted, had been during the day. Thrilled with excitement, she bundled Angus into a woolly blanket, grabbed a flashlight, and set out through the creeping mist. Once she was out in the chill, spooky night, doubts came flooding in. Surely such creatures couldn't have gone unnoticed for so long. If no one else, at the very least the American who had camped there would have seen something out of the ordinary. But Angus had to have come from somewhere. That egg hadn't come from nowhere. There had to be others of his kind in the world. As the brooding hulk of the castle came into view, she doused her flash and picked her way by the diffuse moonlight. She strained her eyes peering up at the high tower. Angus burbled enthusiastically, goggling at the change in scenery, and she hushed him gently. Now that she was here, nearly to the very wall, she realized that if her thought was correct and the gargoyles here _did_ come alive, they might demand the return of their child. That was almost enough to send her scurrying back to the shelter of her cottage. Then again, if that was the case, why hadn't they come looking for their little lost bairn? She had to know the truth. And face the truth. If Angus would be better off with his own kind, she had to give him that chance. She hadn't even known such creatures were real; how could she reasonably expect to raise one properly? The child had wings, by God, wings that might very well be for something other than decoration. Suppose he had the potential to fly? _She_ couldn't teach him. Resolute, she passed through the gap where the great gates had once been. The courtyard was eerie by night. Shadows lurked and danced in every corner. The soft tread of her steps echoed and rebounded, loud as a marching army. Piles of rubble loomed threateningly on the walls. She stopped in her tracks, struck by a new thought. Those piles of rubble -- had they once been living creatures too? She flipped on her flashlight again and slowly swept it around the courtyard and the heights of the keep, counting to herself. When she reached fifty, she quit her count, heartsick. If she was right, those gargoyles hadn't been the victims of vandals but of a massacre the likes of which she'd never seen. She aimed the flashlight up, its beam a ghostly glow in the mist. Up and up, to the half-dozen motionless figures posed menacingly above. Motionless ... because they really were, or because they'd seen her light and were trying to avoid detection? Sure as such brutes had nothing to fear from one lone woman, who was doing naught but bringing back one of their own! She found the long, curved stair and started up. Angus squirmed in her arms, reaching for everything they passed, once tearing loose a length of vine, another time getting such a grip on an iron torch bracket that he nearly pulled her off stride. At last, they emerged onto the round roof, where the biggest of the gargoyles knelt as if in thought. She stepped nervously closer. "Hello? Excuse me?" He did not move, and she saw that he was still covered with dense vines. She beamed the light on him. Cold, plain stone instead of warm, living flesh. Her heart sank, but Angus was entranced. She carried him over to the large statue and held him up near the face, moving some of the vines so he could see. Unafraid, the baby gargoyle reached right out and honked the big one's nose. Eibhlin sobbed and laughed at the same time, remembering how Galen used to do that to his father. Feeling a wee bit foolish for what she was about to do, she addressed the gargoyle. "I dinna know how this lad has come to me, but I swear to ye I'll care for him as best I can and look after him as if he was my own." The gargoyle didn't answer, of course, but she felt better for having done it and Angus looked up at her solemnly as if he understood what she was saying. "Come on, laddie," she said, kissing him on the forehead below his horns. "Let's get ye home." * * SCOTLAND, 1998 Douglas Kearney sighed with relief as his truck rattled to a stop in front of Eibhlin's place. It was no longer as isolated as once it had been. Ever since that young American fellow with the Greek name came in and spread his money far and wide to rid the area of that mouldering old castle, the people and the area had prospered. Just over the hill between Eibhlin's house and town was a development of new homes, still smart and tidy after five years. The old road itself, though, was in a dismal state of disrepair out this far, and the truck bounced something awful. Douglas rubbed his tailbone and grimaced as he slammed the door. He was well past sixty now, and beginning to feel it. Today was a bright and sunny day, though the wind was strong. But at least his arthritis didn't pain him as much as it did on the damp days, of which there were so many. All was pretty much well with the world, far as he was concerned. His outdoor supply shop had just done a thriving business, thanks to a group of college students from America who were spending the summer hiking and camping in Scotland. His only nagging worry was Eibhlin Driscoll. He hadn't given her much thought over the years. Just a nod here and there in town, respecting her grief and then when her grief had eased, respecting her wish to be left alone. So it had come as a surprise to him when she'd called this morning, begging a favor. Approaching the house, he passed an awful sculpture she kept in the garden. He didn't know where she'd gotten such a hideous thing. He thought most of the ladies who put statues in their gardens preferred gnomes or geese or sweet-faced little girls. He didn't give it a second look but rapped briskly. "Eibhlin? It's Douglas. I've brought ye the medicine." The crisp brown bag crackled in his grip. "Doctor Struan says ye can pay him next time ye're in town, but he wants ye should call him today." The door opened, and Douglas almost dropped the bag. "Eibhlin? My God, woman, what's happened to ye?" She waved it off. "I'm old, Douglas, same as ye are." He made as if to step in, deeply concerned, but she barred the narrow opening with her body and would not let him pass. Old? Aye, she was only a year or two his younger, but she looked ancient! Her hair had gone a fine white, so that the sun slanted through it and he could see her scalp and how it was drawn tight over the skull. She was thin as a rail, her hands haggard claws that trembled as she reached for the medicine. "Ye're too sick to be out here alone. Come and stay with us for a time." "Nay, I cannot," she sighed wearily. "Sick, aye, that I am, but I canna leave now. He's so young yet. He still needs me." "Who still needs ye?" "I'll be well." Even as she said it, her sunken eyes slid away from his and he knew as well as she did that she was lying. He started to put a hand on her frail shoulder and stopped, afraid that she might break apart under his touch like a brittle empty husk. She turned away. "Thank ye, Douglas, for bringing it out. I just couldn't bear the walk today, even be it to the bus stop." "Ye shouldn't be alone," he pressed. "I'll not be," she said as she closed the door. "Och, but what will he do when he is, I wonder?" * * Angus stretched, casting off his stone skin with a satisfied shake. He was almost knocked flat by the wind, which bent the trees nearly to the ground as it whipped down the hill and through the hollow. The windows and shutters clattered noisly. Overhead, the stars were just beginning to come out in the east, while the west toward the castle was still golden. No, not toward the castle. Aye, it was still to the west, that much be true, but much much further than ever before. He wondered how long it would be before the idea that it was well and truly gone sunk in to his mind. A few years before, when the men had come to tear it down and take it away, he'd been devastated. The castle was a second home to him, once he'd grown so that his mother thought him big enough to go out alone at night. He only wished he'd been bigger, as big as the gargoyles on those high walls. Then the men wouldn't have been so quick or so brave with their machines! He'd done what he could, but he hadn't even been twenty yet, small as a boy of ten, so his protests had to take the form of malicious mischief. Sneaking around at night, evading the watchmen, trying to damage the machines that were being used to pull apart the walls stone by stone. He'd been satisfied to hear them complain of ghosts, but dismayed when their fears hadn't stopped the progress. Evidently the siren song of the American man's money was more powerful than one small gargoyle. And now the castle was gone. Gone, taking the only other creatures of his kind with it. He knew he was different. He'd seen enough on the telly and the rented movie tapes to know that most everyone else was human. The only time he'd seen creatures that looked anything like him was in fanciful shows of space or magic worlds. Or atop the tower of the old castle. True, those gargoyles never moved nor spoken, but in his heart he had always believed that they merely slept. That one night, one grand night, they would awaken and find him. He loved his human mother, but he needed to know who he was, where he came from, what it meant to be a gargoyle. He sighed and ran his claws through his tousle of white hair, which the wind rearranged at once, then brought his tail around to smash a fat beetle crawling along the garden path. From inside, barely discernable, he heard a crash and a thump. "Mother?" he called, springing alertly to the door. At first, in the small kitchen, he saw nothing but the eggs and ham set out on the counter. His breakfast in the making. And then he saw her. She lay by the stove, a plate broken on the floor beside her. She was trying to rise, but her weak hands kept skittering out from under her. He was at her side in an instant. Small he may be, but she'd always told him she'd named him for his strength, and she weighed next to nothing as he picked her up and carried her to the couch. "Dying ..." she said. "No! Mother, dinna say such things!" He chafed her hands gently, the skin like parchment, the bones fragile as those of a bird. "Where is yer medicine?" She gestured, her breath whistling thinly in her throat. He tore open the bag, couldn't manage the cap with his claws so he bit it off, and shook the pills into his palm. He gave her two and helped her was them down with water, then stood fidgeting while he watched her anxiously. She looked up at him and smiled. Instead of reassuring him, it only worried him more, for she seemed as if she was lit from within, translucent, that he could see the threadbare cushions through her body. She patted his hand. "Och, Angus, I do love you," she whispered. Her eyes drifted closed. "Mother?" He fell to his knees and found the bare flutter of a lifebeat in her stick-thin wrist. Dying, she'd said. No! She couldn't! She wouldn't! Angus ran to the phone and dialled the doctor, not caring anymore if his secret came out, only wanting someone to come, someone to help, someone to make it all better. The wind howled laughingly in the chimney as a recorded voice informed him that the line was out of service. "No!" Angus cried. He ran back to the woman, then to the phone to try again, then to the door. He had to find someone to help. He'd never wished more than now that he could fly, but even if he could the wind would throw him clear to Edinburgh like a piece of litter. The door was torn out of his grasp and banged loudly against the side of the house. Angus dashed out into the wind-tossed night, desperate to find someone, anyone. In his blind panic, he'd gone more than a mile before he realized that he wasn't even headed for the village. He was going the other way, toward the bare ugly gouge where the castle had once stood. As if, somehow, he would have been able to find help even if the castle had still been there. As if the stone gargoyles would have come to life at his urgent pleas. He was about to double back, tears of distress and anger at his own stupidity clouding his sight, when he saw a blurry glow of light. He scrubbed his forearm across his eyes and saw that it was a campfire. Someone to help! He plunged through the brush, coming out on a rise and looking down at a large circle of tents and sleeping bags. They were down in a low place, sheltered from the worst of the wind by the rise. He saw people, young humans, sitting on rocks and logs, leaning forward intently. They were listening to an older man, silver-haired with a low, compelling voice, who was engrossed in the telling of a ghost story. Angus didn't pause. He needed help, he needed it now, and without thinking about what he was doing, he went down the hill in a big ungainly leap with his wings unfurling wide behind him. He landed in their midst, casting a huge and distorted shadow. "Please --" was as far as he got before the night rang with screams. Angus screamed too, scared half to death by their reaction. People were running, fainting, tripping over each other, shrieking, praying. Bedlam. Buffeting each other. One young male crashed through the campfire and kept on going, kicking up a cascade of sparks. Angus clutched at them as they ran past, trying to beg them for help. Those that he touched tore free with renewed terror. A large figure rose in front of him. Angus looked up, saw steely eyes and a grim expression, and a black-gloved fist that caught him on the jaw and sent him sailing backward. One of his widespread wings struck an ice chest and he cartwheeled. His legs slammed into a log, the ball on the end of his tail fetched him a sharp crack on the head, and he collapsed into a dazed whimpering pile. He cringed as the man approached. The man stopped a few feet away, feet braced in a fighter's stance, the hem of his black coat snapping in the wind. He glowered so fiercely that Angus stifled his whimpers despite how bad he hurt. After a long, hard scrutiny, the man's glower turned puzzled. "You're but a child," he said. "Why did you attack us?" "I didn't," Angus gasped. "I saw you clawing at the others. Are you in league with Demona?" He clenched his fists threateningly. It was too much. Angus started to cry. "I wanted somebody to help!" he wailed. "My mother is sick! I dinna know anybody named Demona!" The man went to one knee next to him, his expression softening. "There, lad. I believe you. I'll help you, if I can." Angus shrank away. "Ye hit me!" he cried accusingly. "I'm sorry. I thought you were attacking my students. Come. Let me help you." The man offered his hand. "My name is MacBeth." * * A private university course teaching Scottish history, culminating with a month-long trip. It seemed like the perfect way to spend the summer. He even thought he might suggest it to the administration of the Sterling Academy, when he returned for another semester in the fall. And it had gone without a hitch, until a pre-adolescent gargoyle had burst into camp and sent his students scattering like hens in an earthquake. MacBeth shook his head ruefully as he easily kept up with the youngster. He'd have plenty of explaining to do, assuming he could even find all of them. The gargoyle had said his name was Angus Driscoll, making him the first one of the breed MacBeth had met with a last name. He looked strangely familiar but nothing at all like Demona, so his initial suspicion that this was one of her get was allayed. Angus put on even more speed. "There's our house!" House? MacBeth looked. Sure enough, an ordinary, if small and ramshackle, house. With electric lights, though those wouldn't last long in this wind. Many times today, he'd heard the rustle and crash of Mother Nature clearing her deadwood. Sooner or later, most likely sooner, one of those falling trees would tear out the power lines and that would be that. This was something new. Gargoyles that lived in houses like ordinary folk? But then, by all accounts there were supposed to be no more gargoyles in Scotland, so who was to know what was true? "Mother! Mother!" The gargoyle boy raced inside, and MacBeth followed, braced for trouble. He saw the woman, took one glance around the interior, and understood much in a moment. A human woman and a gargoyle child, living a life of isolation but happiness. Everywhere his gaze fell, he saw evidence of that. The tattered childrens' books, the unskilled drawings held to the refrigerator with magnets, a shelf overflowing with the old standbys of boardgames. The two of them, woman and child, alone against the world, happy with each other. Angus was hovering over the woman, his hands fluttering as if he was afraid to touch her. MacBeth moved nearer. He saw her careworn face, the lines now eased by the ultimate peace that he himself was forever denied. Her eyes were closed. She could have been sleeping, but for the stilled tide of her breathing. A slight smile was upon her lips, testifying that her final thoughts had been pleasant ones. "Mother?" Angus' voice quavered. "She's gone, lad," MacBeth said kindly. "She's at peace." "I left her," he sobbed, dissolving into a tearful pile. "She was all alone! I left her all alone!" MacBeth placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He knew there were no good words. There had been no good words when the Hunter slew his father, or when his son died by Canmore's blade, or when his dear lady Gruoch had finally breathed her last and he'd been unable to go to her because the world must needs believe him dead. No words to comfort the survivors. Through hundreds of years, hundreds of wars and plagues and disasters, he'd seen the living weep for the dead. The dead were beyond all suffering. The living felt enough for them all. He let the lad cry himself out, standing silent in prayer for this woman, who must have been a goodly lady to lock herself away and keep a gargoyle child safe from harm. How had it come to be? he wondered, but waited to ask. He turned his mind instead to a more pressing question. What now, for this lone child? There was only one answer. * * MANHATTAN, 1998 "Just because he says it's a surprise doesn't mean it's a trap," Lexington argued. "I prefer caution." Goliath began a sweeping descent toward MacBeth's manor. "I thought we trusted him now?" Lex said. "I mean, you're going to invite him to the wedding, right?" Goliath snorted. "Inviting enemies to a wedding seems to be the custom at the castle these days. Or have you forgotten Xanatos and Fox?" "But he's not our enemy!" "Still, I prefer caution." "Okay, okay," Lex sighed. He tapped his communicator. "You guys getting this?" "Loud and clear," Brooklyn replied in his ear. "Don't worry, you'll be back in plenty of time for yout hot date with Aiden." Goliath shot him a look, and Lex shrugged guiltily. No laser cannons rose into view this time. No hired thugs leaped from the shadows to pummel them. Only a fountain spraying softly in the warm night air, and a pair of French doors opening to reveal MacBeth. "Goliath! Glad you could come." He strode forward, extending a hand and also showing himself to be unarmed. Goliath clasped it, his manner stiff and formal. "Congratulations are in order, I'm told," MacBeth added with a sidelong grin. "When is the big day?" "Halloween," Goliath replied, thawing a little. "We would be honored if you would attend." "I wouldn't miss it." "There's a bachelor party, too," Lex piped up wickedly. Goliath looked down at him. "A what?" he rumbled in alarm. "Lex, you idiot!" Brooklyn raged over the communicator. "It was supposed to be a surprise!" MacBeth laughed loudly. "I trust I'll be invited to that as well?" "Sure," Lex said, cowed by the continuing stream of curses that Brooklyn was inventively spewing. Goliath pulled his earpiece out, rolling his eyes. "Of course. But why have you summoned us here?" "I've found something that belongs to your clan," MacBeth said. "Let me show you." Intrigued, Goliath followed him into the library. What he saw made him stop so abruptly that Lex ran face-first into his back. The vast leather chair, strong enough to support Goliath's build comfortably, left the youngster with his talons swinging several inches off the ground. His claws were clenched nervously on a book. His face was drawn with worry. Goliath seized MacBeth by the shoulder. "How --?" The young gargoyle looked up, and his eyes widened in recognition. "It _is_ him!" he gasped. He looked at MacBeth. "Ye spoke true!" Lex gabbled into the communicator, and was cut off by Hudson's determined reply. "Who are you?" Goliath asked the child, slowly approaching. "My name's Angus," he replied shyly. "I knew ye were but sleeping! I did!" "A human woman found his egg in a boat, abandoned by the shore near Castle Wyvern, twenty years ago," MacBeth said meaningfully. "Aiden's mom!" Lex cried. "Finella and Mary!" "One of the eggs of our clan?" Goliath said. "That didn't make it to Avalon?" "Always the trouble with luggage on a long voyage," MacBeth chuckled. "I found him over there, and thought to bring him home." * * Angus was overwhelmed. His head kept swiveling from one gargoyle to another as MacBeth told them the whole story. They were familiar, all of them except the female who had hugged him and called him "little brother." There had been no females locked in stone on the castle walls. "Hey, Goliath," the green one closest to Angus' size said suddenly, "doesn't he remind you of someone?" They all looked at him. He squirmed fitfully, though the red one gave him a friendly wink. "Aye, he does," the kindly older one, whose name was Hudson, declared. He looked at Goliath. "The lad be the image o' yer rookery brother when the lot o' ye were young." "Coldstone!" the rest chorused. "Before," the green, Lexington, added. "So just as I am your biological daughter," the female said, "that means Angus is probably Coldstone's son!" She giggled. "So you're his uncle!" Goliath rumbled deep in his chest. "This is becoming confusing. It was simpler when the hatchlings looked to the entire clan as their parents." The female giggled a little more. "But he also sort of reminds me of Gabriel, and _he_ looks a lot like Corwin. I wonder if they're all brothers?" "Of course they're brothers, lass," Hudson said. "Ye're all brothers and sisters." "She means like the way humans reckon it," the red one, Brooklyn, chimed in. "Like Talon is Elisa's brother." "I suppose it is possible," Goliath admitted grudgingly, seeming uncomfortable. "Most of the females laid more than one egg." "You mean you didn't keep track of your young?" MacBeth asked. Goliath looked like he wished someone would change the subject. "The females laid the eggs. Males did not intrude during that time. How many and which ones were known only to them. And once the rookery was full, we all took turns watching over the eggs." "Yeah, when you weren't dumping off that duty on us kids," Brooklyn said with a grin. "Hey, Angela, what's wrong?" She was staring into space, her pretty mouth pursed in thought. Then she whirled to Goliath, her eyes bright. "So I could have ... a brother?" "Technically, yes, it is possible," he said, resignedly now that everyone appeared so fascinated with this topic. "Do I have a father?" Angus asked. He'd been trying really hard to keep up with everything, but he wasn't used to being in conversation with more than one person. A weird look passed among the gargoyles. "That's going to be a trick to explain," Brooklyn said. "Yeah, and what are we going to tell _them_?" Lexington wondered. "If we even knew where they were," Angela said. "Hey, kid, you hungry?" the last gargoyle in the room, Broadway, asked. He'd been flipping through the book Angus had been reading, a good one full of exciting stories about King Arthur and his Knights of the Table Round, but now he set the book aside. "Do you like pizza?" Angus thrust out his lip, knowing that the adults were holding back some secrets from him. But the thought of pizza worked its magic, and he decided there would be plenty of other times to ask his questions. He slid off his chair and nodded. "So I suppose this means you'll keep him?" MacBeth asked, patting Angus on the back. "If he wishes to go." Goliath crouched before him and looked him seriously in the eye. "Angus, you are by blood a part of our clan. We would all be very pleased if you returned to the castle with us. But the choice is yours." "Where else would I go? Mother Eibhlin is dead ..." he blinked away the ever-ready tears. "You'd be welcome here as well," MacBeth offered. "It's been rather nice having a child around the place." He lowered his head and thought. Finally he looked up at MacBeth. "Thank ye, sir, but 'tis time I learned about being a gargoyle." "Of course, lad." MacBeth shook his hand. "Come and visit an old man, though, will you?" He promised to do so, and let his clan lead him outside. As Goliath stepped up onto the wall, his wings covering the whole sky as they opened, Angus said in a very small voice, "I dinna know how to fly." Brooklyn immediately got between him and Hudson. "Don't you go throwing him over the side the way you did to me!" he scolded the elder. Angus quailed. "What?" "He's jesting with ye, lad," Hudson assured him. "Thinks he's got wit, he does. I've ne'er thrown him, not but what I'm tempted to try it now!" The others laughed. "We'll teach ye, lad," Hudson went on. "Ye'll pick it up in no time. Here, take my hand." Angus did, and let Angela hold his other one. They hoisted him, giving him a few experimental swings, and then the three of them jumped together. * * The End
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