Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and are used here without their creators' knowledge or consent. Contains some adult situations and violence (probably no more than a PG-13). Author's Note Additional: This story had been kicking around in my head for a long time, mostly because of Jericho and his constant bitter griping about his father's choice. But after what Greg had to say at the Gathering '98, it all fell into place. This is the 50th fanfic in my ongoing saga!
"To be or not to be ... that is the question." Hamlet, William Shakespeare
"For every decision that's made, the alternate decision is played out in another reality." -- Red Dwarf Season IV, Episode 5, 'Dimension Jump'
994 A.D. "Och, Magus, what have ye done?" Princess Katherine touched one of the statues unbelievingly. "Princess ..." the white-haired young man breathed. "I thought ..." "Bring them back!" Goliath took a large threatening step toward him, brandishing a large, threatening fist. "I cannot! The page with the counterspell was burnt!" He backed up rapidly, distraught, clutching the Grimorum Arcanorum to his narrow chest. Goliath turned from him to stare in agonized horror at the statues. His mentor, three young warriors, and their watchdog, all frozen in stone by night! And no way to undo it? He barely heard the Magus telling the princess how the spell would last until the castle rose above the clouds -- a fanciful way of saying never. The castle in question towered above him, smoke still rising from smoldering heaps of timbers. Piles of rubble on the ramparts marked the places where his thriving clan had once perched. Weapons littered the courtyard and battlements. Bows with cut strings, axes with weakened handles, swords with blunted blades. How quick, how thorough the betraying Captain had been! No clan, no mate, not even his revenge. Just the hollow, empty victory that had come when he'd snatched the princess back from the brink of death while the Captain and Haakon plummeted past and into the rocky, unforgiving sea. Humans were gathered all around him. Wounded guards, weeping women, terrified peasants, wailing children. Of them all, only three would meet his tortured gaze. The princess, the Magus, and the boy who had come to warn him that his friends needed help. The boy's mother glanced up at Goliath for one fearful moment, then tried to pull her son behind her skirts. "We've done ye a great wrong, Goliath," the princess said, putting her hand on his arm. Bitterness welled up in him like bile. Now she would extend a kind hand? Only a night ago, when he and his angel love had approached her in her throne room, having driven off the Vikings in unqualified triumph, her tone had been haughty, her words cruel. But put him desolate and alone in the ruins of his clan ... "The eggs in the rookery will soon hatch ..." Goliath said, more thinking aloud than speaking to her. The princess laid a hand over her breast. "We will look after them as if they were our own." He shrugged her off and went to the statues. One by one, refusing all help, he carried them with the greatest of care up to the tower and placed them in positions of honor. Most of the humans went about their own business, dousing flames, collecting what supplies they could from the ravaged castle. But those three, the Magus and the princess and the boy, lingered near him. The boy's mother hovered nervously nearby. "I cannot undo this magic," the Magus said softly as Goliath emerged onto the top of the tower with the final statue, that of his adored mentor and the clan's former leader. "But I can cast my spell one last time, and let you join them." He set his mentor on the highest parapet, traditionally reserved for the leader of the clan. "Rest here, old friend. I'm not worthy of that perch any longer." Turning to the Magus, he said, "The oblivion of stone sleep is a luxury I cannot afford. I must think first of the eggs, the hope and renewal of my clan. They will need me to guide them." "Ye canna do it alone!" Katherine protested. "I will stay and help you," the boy volunteered. "Tom!" his mother gasped. "Ye dinna know what ye're saying!" "I do, Mother! The gargoyles were my friends!" "Tom, ye're not staying here by yerself!" "No, he's not," Katherine said decisively. "I will stay as well." "Princess!" The Magus reached, drew back. "It is not safe for you here!" "I have been unjust to the gargoyles, Magus. The Captain may have betrayed us, but his heart was kinder than mine. Had I not given them insult, perhaps I would have kept his loyalty. This is my burden to bear. I must atone for it." "Then I, too, will remain," the Magus said. "I dinna expect ye to share my fate, Magus." "There is no fate I would rather share, princess." He downcast his eyes, missing the look that came into hers. "And it seems I, too, have much to atone for." "No," Goliath said. "My clan has already failed you once, princess. I cannot protect this castle and your people on my own." "I've failed ye, too, Goliath. That makes us even. We've relied on yer clan and taken ye too much for granted. Teach us. Teach my guards, teach lads such as young Tom here. Be my new Captain of the Guard. Together, we'll all protect this castle, humans and gargoyles alike. And this will na happen again." The humans nearest enough to hear murmured in consternation. Stay? With the scattered survivors of Haakon's army still about, the castle in flames, the croplands torn to pieces? To help a gargoyle? Their fears warred visibly with their deep love for the princess, for Malcolm's young and capable daughter who had ruled his land so well since his death. She had the determination of her mother, the people said of Katherine. Not that many remembered the Princess Elena, who had died several years ago with the babe that would have been her second child. But Elena was a figure of legend, a fearless woman who had survived an attack by brigands. Her escort slain, herself injured, she had nonetheless eluded her assailants and made her way to the castle. She and Malcolm had been married that very night. And they had not been the only pair to swear vows of love, Goliath recalled. Although he and his angel had not had tokens to exchange, they had made their pledges to each other. To be one, now and forever. Now she was gone. He would never soar with her again, never do battle with her by his side, never caress her twilight-blue skin or feel the velvety embrace of her wings. Why hadn't he listened to her? If he had taken all of the gargoyles with him in pursuit of the Vikings, instead of just his mentor ... the castle would still have been breached, the humans slain or captured, but his clan would be safe and alive. He clenched his fists and roared his rage and grief to the sky, cursing himself for the arrogance that had made him boast of how he could scare off those cowards all by himself. "Let us help ye, Goliath," Katherine implored. "As you will, princess," he said wearily, the last of his strength spent in that one soul-wrenching roar. "But I cannot accept your offer to be Captain. My first responsibility is to the children of my clan." He glided down to the courtyard, then descended the wide stone steps to the subterranean chamber that housed the rookery. There, nestled in piles of straw, were the eggs. He counted them -- thirty-six, most of mottled pale lavender a shade lighter than his own skin. One was darker, the mark of a watchdog. And one was small, pinkish, somehow lonely even surrounded by its siblings. "You will be great warriors," he promised the eggs. "You will grow wise and strong. In time, you will make our clan great again." He sat in the darkness, thinking of his rookery brothers and sisters. In the terrible events of the past few nights, the loss only struck him with a single great bludgeoning hand. Now, in the midst of unborn children whose parents would never see them hatch, he thought of each individual member of his clan, and those thoughts were like knives piercing him. His brother, his favorite brother. His brother's comely golden- skinned mate. He even found it in himself to grieve for another of their brothers who had always been trying to drive a wedge between them. The elders, the young warriors whose first real battle had been their last ... Just as he could not give in to the welcome silence of the Magus' spell, nor could he give in to tears. He had to be strong for the sake of the eggs, for the sake of their home. A commotion from above drew him from his black mood. A youthful voice, the boy, Tom, called for him. "Goliath! Ye must come! Quick!" He sprang up, dread wrapping cold tendrils around his heart. Would this madness never end? The Vikings, it had to be the Vikings, coming back for another assault. And then a wavering feline screech made the very stones shiver in their foundations, sent Goliath's heart slamming wildly against his ribs. He took the stairs in two large bounds, bursting into the courtyard and scattering startled humans like hens. He nearly trampled Tom, who pointed to the tower. "There!" Against the dull russet glow of the heavens, against the clouds tinged red by the smoke and flames ... a winged shape. Goliath could not breathe, hardly dared believe his eyes ... "My ... angel?" Joy flared through him. He knew that form, knew every inch, every curve. She was whole, unharmed! She landed atop the tower and seize the princess by the front of her gown. "All because of you!" his angel shrieked, and hurled Katherine over the battlement. "Princess!" The Magus lunged, too late. Goliath sprang to the top of a wagon and from there into the air, gliding desperately. For the second time that night, he caught the princess as she fell. He spiraled up around the tower, saw his love stalking toward the Magus, saw the Magus raise one spectrally-shimmering arm defensively. "No!" Goliath shouted. "My angel, no!" She whirled toward the sound of his voice. "Goliath? Oh, Goliath!" He thumped down, released the princess. Katherine stumbled into the supportive circle of the Magus' embrace. "You're alive!" Goliath started toward her, awestruck, his hands still remembering the coarse roughness of the crumbled stone that had been piled upon her favorite perch, his hands longing to erase that memory with the touch of her warm flesh. "No! Don't touch me!" She backed away from him, tears welling in eyes that were no longer scarlet with fury but deep and dark with anguish. "But why? My love --" "Why didn't you listen to me?" she wailed, echoing the question he'd asked himself not all that long before. "Why didn't you take all the gargoyles? It would have worked! But now look! Look what's happened!" "What would have worked?" She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. He took her by the shoulders, held her close. She was shuddering like a leaf in a gale. He could feel her trying to pull away, and would not allow it. "Don't!" she cried. "Tell me," he urged. "Why did I even come back? Why couldn't I remember our last farewell, remember you loving me? I should have gone away and never returned to this place! Better you think me dead than to have you hate me!" "My love!" He cupped her chin, made her look at him. "I could never hate you. Why do you say such a thing?" She closed her eyes, tried to turn her head away. "It's my fault, Goliath. I destroyed our clan!" "You?" "I made a bargain with the Captain. With the gargoyles away, the Vikings could sack the castle. Then, when all of the humans were gone, we could come back and reclaim it as our own! But you didn't listen! You left us here!" "You ... what?" he gasped strengthlessly. "Because of her!" Through a storm of weeping, she still managed a hateful glare at the princess. "We defend her castle, and she thanks us by calling us beasts?" "I am so verra sorry for that!" Katherine's eyes were near to overflowing now too. "You will be sorry!" she swore, her body tensing as she readied to pounce. Goliath nearly crushed her in his arms. "There will be no more killing!" "I will have blood for blood!" "Was the insult she gave us worth the lives of our clan?" he demanded. "Look where your anger has already brought us! No more! Enough lives have been lost, human and gargoyle alike!" "How can you still defend them after all they've done to us?" "If I did not, everything I've done would be for nothing." "Look around you, Goliath!" She pointed. "Our clan is in pieces! Look at them -- trapped by sorcery! You and I are the last!" "No. There are still our clan's children to think of. Our children, my love." "Then let us secure this castle for them! Let it be their home!" He slowly shook his head. "We cannot do it alone. There are three dozen eggs in the rookery. Can you and I hunt for, and protect, so many? The humans have agreed to stay and help look after them." "You mean they were going to leave, and you talked them into staying?" She stared up at him, appalled. "We chose to stay," Katherine said gently. "To make up for what we've done. We did yer clan wrong, to be true. I regret my harsh words, more than ever now that I see it caused ye to strike such a bargain. We can bear this guilt together, all of us, and go on from here." She moved away from the Magus. "Let her go, Goliath." The Magus silently begged him not to. In that moment the two of them shared a perfect understanding, that as soon as Goliath released his mate, Katherine's life would be forfeit. "Let her go," Katherine repeated. He loosed his grip. "If ye slay me," she said, standing defenseless with her arms at her sides, "ye'll have yer revenge and yer satisfaction. My people will leave. The Magus will lead them from here and never return. If that's yer wish. But Goliath is right. Yer children may go hungry. Will ye soothe their empty bellies with tales of yer vengeance? Will they starve proudly, do ye think?" "Gargoyles do not need humans!" "But children, any children, need providers and protectors. We can be both to each others'. Let yer anger rest. Goliath forgives me, and ye. Let us not dishonor that by failing to forgive each other, and ourselves." "I don't seek your forgiveness!" "Yet I seek yers. We have both been wrong." "I ..." she began, and stepped forward. Goliath tensed, meaning to intervene, and he was aware of the Magus doing the same thing. But they froze, stunned and nonplussed, as the two fell against each other and burst into tears. Man and gargoyle shared another moment of perfect understanding -- that neither of them comprehended females at all. * * They called her Angel. The castle priest wasn't overly pleased about it, and it took Goliath a long time to get used to his pet name for his love on the lips of others. But he came to understand, and so did she, that humans felt more comfortable and familiar with things if they could name them. "And, after all," she admitted to him one starswept evening as they stood hand-in-hand atop the tower with the winter wind rippling their wings, "it's not as if a human named me. They're only calling me what you always have. How can I find fault with that?" The castle below them was abuzz with activity. Word had come several weeks back that the king was dead, murdered by a treacherous knight named Constantine. The king's son was in hiding, presumably gathering forces of his own to retake what was rightfully his. Wyvern, being so isolated and generally regarded as strange -- what other castles had gargoyle defenders in this day and age? -- was not caught up in the turmoil. It was regarded as a holding of little consequence, ruled as it was by a mere woman. The most recent arrivals brought news that Constantine planned to tour his newly conquered land, expecting his lords to swear their fealty to him. This had been the source of much debate recently between Katherine and her advisors. "I will swear my loyalty to the crown," Katherine had told them. "To the crown, but na to the man who has usurped it. And someday, God willing, that crown will be where it belongs, on the head of my cousin Maol Chalvim. But I will take no action against Constantine while he is here. We have too much to lose." The castle had been repaired of the damages caused by the Viking attack, and now was busy readying for Constantine's visit. His flag, the golden gryphon claw on a field of crimson, hung above the doors. "My love, look," Angel said, pointing out across the fields. A lone rider was approaching the castle. Even from here, they could see that he was so weary he nearly fell from the saddle. "A messenger," Goliath said. "And not good news, if he's ridden so hard. His horse can barely keep its pace." They watched as the rider came near, hailed the guards, was admitted into the castle. "Whatever this news is, we should hear it." By the time they reached Katherine's audience chamber, though, the news had already been given. The princess was pale but her eyes were bright with anger. The Magus was the very picture of misery. Tom, who served as the court page, was livid. "You're not going to marry that devil, are you?" "Hush, Tom," his mother Mary said. "Who sent ye?" Katherine demanded of the messenger. "The Lady Finella, once ward and bride-to-be of your uncle King Kenneth." He glimpsed the gargoyles, jerked with alarm, then returned his attention to the princess. "Is something the matter, your highness?" Goliath asked. She couldn't bring herself to say it, she was so infuriated. "Constantine means to take the princess as his wife," the Magus said, sounding as if a blade had gone through him. "By marrying her, he plans to legitimize his claim to the throne." "I've heard talk of this Lady Finella," Mary said. "She's said to be foolish over Constantine. If he takes another wife, that leaves her out." "No longer," the messenger said. "My lady has come to despise the king with all of the passion she once felt for him." "Must you do this?" Angel braced her fists on her hips defiantly. "Tell him to --" "I have several verra good reasons to obey him," Katherine said quietly. "We canna afford a war with the king." "He's not the king!" Tom stomped his foot. "He's a murderer!" "There's nothing I can do, Tom. I must marry him, or all of my people will suffer his wrath." She looked over at Goliath and Angel. "And he has no love for gargoyles. Yer eggs will na be spared this time." Angel's lip curled. "Let him try!" "There must be another way," Goliath said. "I know little of your customs of marriage, but aren't you given a choice?" "Aye," she sighed. "My father should have married me off years ago, but wanted to respect my wishes. Had I heeded him, I'd be wed now, and Constantine would have to look elsewhere." "Then marry someone else!" Tom said. "Quick, before he gets here!" "Tom, Tom," she laughed bitterly, shaking her head. "I've no suitors, especially none that would risk defying the king." "You have one." The Magus came forth and took Katherine's hands in his. "Och, Magus! I canna ask ye to do this!" "No, princess. I'm asking you. Will you marry me?" "Magus ... the king ... ye'd put yerself in too much danger ..." It was, Goliath thought, as if the rest of them had faded from the room like ghosts. "I love you, Katherine, to the ends of the earth and beyond. Marry me, and we'll face Constantine together." She looked deeply into his eyes, her own shining like jewels. "I'd be honored to have ye for my husband." They leaned toward each other, meaning to kiss, but young Tom picked a bad moment to give a loud cheer. Katherine blushed and smoothed her gown, then glanced at her audience with their identical wide grins. "Just as my father did, we'll be wed this verra night!" Goliath, amused, noted that the Magus wore an expression that he'd only seen once before. It had been the night he, his Angel, and their mentor had returned from the Archmage's cavern. That gruelling battle had been one of the most challenging of his life, with their foe laughing as he blinked around them in a ball of fire that grew from the blue-and-gold phoenix he wore on his chest. Although their mentor had been left scarred, in the end, the gargoyles had triumphed. The Archmage had plunged into a chasm, his final words a desperate shouting: "Desflagrate muri tempi --" ... followed by a jarring thud. With the Grimorum in their possession, they had returned to the castle where the prince lay poisoned and ill. When they'd delivered the thick tome into the hands of the young Magus, his face had looked much as it did now -- awe, wonder, delight, the realization of a long-held yearning. Only now, as Katherine smiled up at him and gave the order for the wedding preparations to be begun, that expression was multiplied a thousandfold. * * The to-do that followed Katherine's announcement made the previous buzz of activity seem like a sleepy drone. One and all were wholeheartedly enthusiastic, although surprised at the suddenness of it. Which led, of course, to speculations for the reason for such hurry. But even the prospect of a too-soon-after-marriage birthing, which humans generally regarded as most delicious scandal, was greeted with delight. There had been too much death, so new life was more cherished than ever. Angel shook her head indulgently. "They make such a fuss over the simplest things!" "It is their way." Goliath shrugged, although he, too, was smiling. He knew tonight's business would mean trouble with the king, but it was impossible not to be affected by the humans' happiness. Mary and some of the other women whisked Katherine away to see if her mother's wedding gown could be made to fit her in a matter of hours. Tom rallied the other children and took them, under the watchful eyes of his Angel, out to gather what flowers and fragrant herbs could be found. "Goliath?" He turned to see the Magus, and inclined his head. "Yes?" "It would mean much to me ... to both of us ... if you and Angel would stand with us tonight." Goliath raised a brow ridge. "In the ceremony? We know little of such things. What would we need to do?" "By custom, the duty of the best man is to assure that those who oppose the wedding cannot burst in and carry off the bride. Katherine and I are agreed that there would be none better suited to the task than you." "I would be pleased," Goliath said. He noticed that the Magus' joy had given way, in a very short time, to nervousness. "Is anything the matter? You don't think that the king --" "No, no." He forced a laugh. "I never thought this would come to be. That I would take a wife, any wife, least of all the princess. It's taking some getting used to." Goliath nodded sympathetically, remembering how jumpy he and his brothers had been the night the elders had led them into the rookery that their mates might declare a breeding season. "Yet you love her." "With all my heart," he said fervently. "That," Goliath said, putting a hand on the man's shoulder, "is all you need." "There is one thing more I need, in truth, and that is ... advice." That brow ridge went up again, higher this time. "Advice, Magus? About what?" "About ... marriage." Strange to see him so hesitant, when he was usually so composed and well-spoken. "As I said, we gargoyles know little of such things. Prince Malcolm's wedding was the only one I've personally witnessed -- most humans seem to prefer having such ceremonies by day. Perhaps the chaplain would be better suited to giving such advice." "Oh, it's not about the ceremony." He looked out over the land, took a deep breath, paused. "It's ... what comes after. The ... wedding night." "I see?" Goliath said, making it a question, not seeing at all. "For our marriage to be binding, it must be ... consummated. Otherwise, Constantine would have grounds to order an annulment. He may well try anyhow, but we must not give him any weapons to use against us." "Mm-hmm," Goliath prompted, still quite puzzled. "And why is this a problem? So you shall ... consummate." The Magus swallowed. "Yes." They looked at each other. Finally, Goliath spoke. "If I am to advise you, I should know what we're talking about." "I've never been with a woman before," the Magus confessed with much difficulty. "Oh!" Goliath nodded. They were talking about mating! He should have known. Humans were fixated on it, burdening it with stigmas and meanings instead of enjoying it as a natural outpouring of affection and desire. Now that he thought of it, he could recall several instances where he'd overheard guards talking amongst themselves, always carefully out of earshot of the Magus, speculating as to his apparent lack of interest. They wondered if he had lost that elemental drive, if his tastes ran to something other than females, if he were some sort of gelding. Seeing how discomfited the Magus was, Goliath did his best to keep a straight face. Then his eyes flew wide as he realized what the man was asking. "And you want ... advice? On this matter? From me?" "I have nowhere else to turn." He glanced at the guards in a way that told Goliath that not all of their remarks had in fact been as out of earshot as they'd hoped. "Ah." He drew his talons in a thoughtful line down the side of his face. "Well. Hmm." "One cannot pursue magic and chambermaids at the same time," the Magus said defensively. "I did not mean to imply ..." Goliath coughed, cleared his throat. "Magus, I am not familiar with the ... habits of humans. Whenever we observed such encounters, we always thought it best to give those concerned their privacy. I know humans place importance on that. So there are bound to be ... differences." "I'm aware of that. But from what I've seen --" and here it was his turn to try and keep a straight face, though Goliath knew instantly that he had in mind a certain clan leader's reunion flight with his beloved Angel, a flight that had obviously not gone unnoticed, "-- the general idea would seem to be much the same." Except for whatever it was that you did with your tail, his expression added silently; the whole castle was wondering about _that_ one. Goliath coughed again. "Ah. Yes." "If, perhaps, you would tell me whatever you would tell a young gargoyle?" "We have no such formal discussions ... generally, the young ones learn by observing, and eventually imitating, their elders. But I can tell you what my own experience has taught me about females, and you might ... modify it to suit your purpose." The Magus sighed in mingled embarrassment and relief. "Thank you, Goliath." * * Always her friend, for as long as she could remember. Always her friend, and now her husband. Katherine had suspected the Magus had long held feelings for her, but as he'd never spoken, never acted, she had let her girlhood daydreams wither. But now, here they were, man and wife. Of course, she told herself, he did it only to save her from the fate of Constantine. His words of love, sweet as they'd been, had been meant to let them both believe that they were doing what their hearts wished instead of scurrying into marriage as a cowardly escape. But these were hardly thoughts she should be having at her wedding feast! And for a feast thrown together on such short notice, she couldn't help but be proud of how her people had outdone themselves. Her mother's gown had fit nearly perfectly. Young Tom had led her to the altar, where the Magus waited. Angel and Goliath stood with them, producing the rings when called for, and for the first time, everyone seemed to accept them as fully belonging to the castle. A new beginning, for all of them. She had suffered one pang of sorrow that her father hadn't lived to see this day, but then took comfort in the knowledge that surely he and her mother watched over her from above. Now she was wed. The Magus sat beside her, and when she touched his hand, he smiled in a way that made her doubt her earlier thoughts. A sweet anticipation ran through her though she tried to quell it. If this was truly a marriage for form's sake only ... But she didn't want it to be for form's sake only. She wanted more. Love, children, him. To explore and enjoy all the secrets she heard her ladies gossiping and giggling over. Did he want the same things? She knew there had been women before who had taken it into their heads to try and seduce the Magus, to wear him as a prize or trophy. But none had succeeded. None had even come close. They cattily tore him to pieces later, telling themselves and each other that he was a cold fish, as sexless as a stump, soothing their wounded pride with that bitter balm. The feast was done, down to the last few crumbs and bones on the platters, and the minstrels had played until their fingers grew weary. Now a bevy of women, led by the beaming Mary, surrounded Katherine. "It's time to get ye abed, highness!" Lady Alys tittered madly. Ribald cheers from her soldiers greeted this proclamation. But even in the midst of her blushing acquiescence, Katherine did not miss how they looked at her new husband, how some of them leaned conspiratorially close to each other to make scornful comments. Prove them wrong, Magus, she thought as they led her from the room. Prove them all wrong! A warm fire blazed in the bridal chamber. The linens on the large bed had been strewn with petals and herbs, the posts hung with charms for fertility. Katherine was quickly helped out of her wedding dress and into a nightgown of palest mauve with satiny ribbons at the bodice and sleeves. Mary brushed her hair until it shone like polished wood, and used that moment to whisper so that the others could not hear. "Will ye be flying the sheet tomorrow?" Katherine blinked at her, then remembered the custom and grimaced. "Is that necessary?" "I've a bladder of chicken's blood if ye --" "Mary!" she gasped. "Nae, nae, 'tis a trick many a so-called virgin has used. Just struggle a bit, and crush it, and he'll be none the wiser." She winked. "Unless he's already ..." "Mary!" She drew herself up regally. "There has been no one! I go to this bed a virgin!" And I pray, she added to herself, that I don't rise from it the same way! Mary bowed her head, chastened, and put the brush away. "I meant no harm, princess, nor insult to ye." "Here they come!" Lady Alys reported gleefully. "In ye go, then." Mary pulled the covers to Katherine's chin. "No sense giving every man in the castle a peek, now, is there?" Usually, Katherine knew, the lords and knights would use the time while the bride was upstairs to ply the groom with a few more mugs of courage, then tear half his clothes from him and escort him to the bed chamber while singing lewd songs. Not so this time! Thankfully! Lady Alys held the door open a crack with her eye pressed to it, then opened it as the men approached. They all looked awkward and off- balance, knowing what they should be doing (drinking and singing) but also knowing how fundamentally wrong it would be to do so this time. The Magus came in and halted just inside the room while Mary shooed the rest of the ladies out and followed them. Then the door was closed, the footsteps receded (now with some muffled singing), and the two of them were alone. He wore his robes, his finest ones. The ring she'd placed on his finger glinted in the firelight. His white hair gleamed soft and silken. She had always longed to feel its texture, and knew that this night might be her chance. Hoped that it would be. He drank in the sight of her, not that there was much to see as Mary had all but buried her in blankets. "Princess ..." "Husband." She smiled. "What is yer real name? If ever I knew it, I've forgotten it after all these years." "My name? Why?" "Well, I canna call ye Magus in bed." She sat up, letting the covers fall to her waist. "Princess ... Katherine ... I ..." he averted his gaze as if from the Gorgon's serpentine countenance rather than his welcoming bride. "If ye dinna wish to come to bed, I understand," she said gently. "But I hope ye dinna think that I've only done this to escape Constantine." "The thought did cross my mind," he admitted. "And thus, I'd not want to presume ..." "Do ye love me, as ye said? If ye do, then come to me, husband." She held out her arms. "Michael." He moved to the edge of the bed, now letting himself look at her with such adoration and longing that she thought she might melt from that alone. "That is my given name." "Michael." Somehow she'd been expecting something different, something otherworldly and strange, but she decided that she liked it. Slowly, his motions still flavored with dreamlike unbelief, he touched the chestnut fall of her hair, the smoothness of her cheek. She closed her eyes and sighed. "I never dared hope ..." he said, tracing one finger lightly over her face. "You are so fair, so lovely." "Why did ye not speak sooner?" "Your father the prince did his best to discourage me, as kindly as possible. You were meant to marry a lord. Not a wizard. Not the pupil of the Archmage, his enemy. Any suit of mine, I thought doomed before it began." "And now I am yer wife." She turned her head slightly, leaning into his caress. "But is this what you truly wish? I would not for all the world cause you sadness." "Ye never shall." "Might I ... sit with you, Katherine?" "I've been hoping ye would." Twinkling eyes glanced shyly up at him. "And more besides. 'Tis our wedding night, after all." "I'd not want to disappoint ..." he murmured, leaning closer. Their lips brushed, and for a moment she thought he would pull away. But his hesitation passed and the next thing she knew, his arms were around her. The dams and walls guarding their passion crumbled away, loosing a wild torrent. She felt the fire within him that she'd thought burned only for his magic, now burning for her. The intensity of his need would have frightened her if her own had not matched it. They fell back across the bed, somehow divesting each other of robes and nightgown without ceasing their frantic kisses. She had never expected this, imagining instead that she would have to coax him, convince him. That they would curiously, even timidly, find their way together. But the same storm swept them both up, dashing apart the last of their reserve. His hands seemed to leave trails of white-hot flame as they moved. He rained kisses upon her, each one like a spark that glowed against her flesh. "Michael ..." Katherine moaned, sinking her fingers into the long white hair that felt just as she had hoped it might. "Yes, husband, make love to me!" * * The stone walls were not thick enough. Goliath and his Angel didn't miss the startled and re-evaluating expressions on the faces of many of the humans at the sounds of passion that came from the bridal chamber. "Are we the only ones who thought those two had blood in their veins?" Angel wondered. "As opposed to ice water?" "Apparently so," he rumbled, amused. She tipped an ear toward the stairs, grinning. "And they said our breeding season was noisy!" "It was," he reminded her, extending his tail to coil around her ankle. "Oh, is that your game, my love?" she purred. Their actions were hidden by the table, and to all appearances they were merely sitting in the places of honor they'd enjoyed during the feast, watching the revelry. Although the minstrel was exhausted, some of the younger folk had collected bowls to serve as drums and made their own tunes for dancing. "Game?" He inched his tail higher, tickling briefly behind her knee. She raised her goblet nonchalantly, looking innocent while her tail slid quickly up and under his loincloth. Goliath jumped, sending his own goblet clattering to the floor. Her low, throaty laugh was at once challenging and inviting. "I think we've stayed long enough," he said. "Not yet, we haven't." "What are you doing?!" "You started it. Now, quit squirming, you'll attract attention." "Angel ..." He had to grit his teeth as she started doing the most alarming and delicious things -- how come, in all this time, he'd never learned that the females knew a few tail maneuvers of their own? "Hush, Goliath. You don't want me to stop, do you?" He managed a strangled groan that was meant to be, "No!" "I didn't think so," she said smugly. "If you continue," he warned when he could speak again, "there will be consequences!" "Hmm, what would happen if I did ... this?" His talons dug trenches in the tabletop. "Or, perhaps ... this?" "NNNNRRRAAARGH!" All eyes swung his way, but he was past caring. He nearly overturned the table leaping to his feet. One arm caught Angel around the waist, pulling her out of her chair. She kicked and struggled playfully as he sprang onto the wide ledge and out the window, dragging her with him. * * 995 A.D. "You're what?" Constantine asked, as if he was certain he'd misheard the first time. "Married," Katherine said calmly. "To ... him?" the usurper king demanded incredulously. "Even so," the Magus replied, stepping forward to stand at his wife's side. "I won't allow it. I'll have it annulled." "Ye canna do that, my lord. We're well and truly wed." Katherine shrugged and spread her hands. "If ye'd made yerself known sooner ... but there's nothing that can be done!" In the king's entourage, a blond woman in a blue gown allowed herself a small, triumphant smile. Katherine saw it, but luckily, Constantine did not. "Nothing?" He reached for the hilt of his sword. "If you were untimely a widow ..." Swoop-thump! Constantine whirled, found himself face to face with Goliath and Angel. "That would be ... unwise," Goliath said. "Ye canna think that I'd marry the man who killed my husband," Katherine chided. She and the Magus shared a warm glance, and then she added, "What then of my babe?" "Your ..." He looked to her waist, noted the thickening bulge. He slammed the half-drawn sword back into the sheath in disgust. "Fine! My best wishes to you! But someday you'll regret this, Katherine. You could have done much better." "I'll be the judge of that," she said, skirting the very edge of contempt. He scowled, but Goliath glowered, and that was the end of that. Constantine departed Wyvern with undue haste the very next day. * * 998 A.D. "Goliath! Goliath! They're hatching!" Angel charged into the courtyard where her mate was instructing several of the castle youths in combat. He left off at once, turning eagerly toward her. One of his students had launched a blow and was unable to check his swing in time. It glanced off Goliath's shoulder, and the lad who had landed it went grey with horror. But Goliath barely noticed. "Are you sure?" "Come and see for yourself!" She tugged him toward the rookery. The people of Wyvern watched them pass, and news spread eagerly from one set of ears to the next. Their castle had become a sanctuary, a safe haven, an isle of serenity in the ongoing strife that had characterized Constantine's short reign. Now there was a new king, a nephew of murdered Kenneth, who permitted his cousin to rule her isolated holding as she saw fit. Even with the eccentricity of gargoyles. The stone tiers above the sunken floor had never looked so empty. Now, if ever, was a time when the entire clan should have been gathered to witness the arrival of the next generation. The females might lay the eggs in private, but when hatching-time came, the whole clan was supposed to be present. "Our future," Angel said. "We're not the last. We're not alone." Goliath put an arm around her and they watched as the eggs rocked in their nests of straw. "May we join ye?" At the doorway was Katherine, her infant daughter Dierdre held to her breast. The Magus stood behind her holding their son Bowdyn, and thirteen-year-old Tom crowded in trying to see what was happening. Goliath looked at Angel and she understood it was up to her. By permitting the humans to stay, she was taking the final step in admitting them into the clan. They had no right to be here ... if not for the humans, the hatchlings would have more than two parents. But by that same token, she and Goliath had no right to be here either. The blame was shared among all. So, too, should the rest. "Come," she said. "There should be more than just Goliath and I to welcome them to the world." Just then, one tiny taloned foot kicked a hole in the first egg. The shell rolled, split apart, and dumped a wailing baby gargoyle into the straw. Angel bent and gathered up the little one, wiping the fluids away. "There, now. It's all right." The lavender-skinned hatchling stared up at her and gurgled adorably. "Look at her," Katherine exclaimed. "A wee angel in miniature! Ye should call her Angela!" Goliath reached over and touched the hatchling, who instantly clamped onto his finger and tried to eat it. Her pointy fangs nearly drew blood. She pulled herself up, grabbing onto a clump of Angel's hair and earring. "Ow!" she said good-naturedly, disentangling it. "Angela ... I like the sound of that!" "How are we to name them all?" Goliath pondered. "We'll help!" Tom said as the second egg burst into pieces, spilling out a grey-green male. "He could be Gabriel, like the Archangel!" All that night and the next, they tended newly-hatched gargoyles. The Magus, even with his education, was hard-pressed to come up with names for them all. Biblical (Malachi, Jacob, Ruth), gemstones (Tourmaline, Carnelian, Onyx), classical (Ophelia, Laertes, Thisbe), and local (Corwin, Boudicca, Angus). "Look at this one, my angel," Goliath said, lifting a feisty, wiggling male. "He has your coloring. And your temper," he added as the hatchling let out a surprisingly loud squall of irritation. "Joshua," the Magus suggested. Angel frowned. "No ... I don't care for it." "Well, then ... Jericho," he threw out tiredly. "Magus, that's a place, not a person," Katherine teased. "Jericho." Goliath nodded. "Yes. That will do. Your name is Jericho," he told the hatchling, who had by now caught hold of one of Goliath's brow ridges and was trying to clamber up his face. At last, there was only one egg left. "D'ye think that one is all right?" Katherine asked. "It's not like the others." Goliath picked it up, cradling the small pale pinkish shell in his hands. "Sometimes, they do not hatch," he said sadly. "It is warm, but I feel no stirring." "Can't ye break it open?" Tom urged. "It would be a shame to lose even one of our children," Angel said from where she sat in the straw, with hatchlings tumbling and crawling all around her legs. "Here," Tom said, producing a knife. "Crack it with this!" Goliath accepted it, carefully braced the point against the egg, and tapped on the hilt. The shell was far thinner than the others, giving way easily. Moments later, a small, still form came into view. "A girl," Katherine murmured, holding her own daughter close. "The poor bairn!" "She was not developed properly," Goliath said, shaking his head as he examined the misshapen hands, the frail wings. "Perhaps it is better this way." The hatchling coughed and began to cry in a thin, reedy voice. "She lives!" Katherine touched the light-brown silky hair, so like that which crowned baby Dierdre's head. Goliath and Angel looked heavily at each other, neither wanting to be the first to say it. "You are the leader, my love," Angel finally said. "Whatever you think must be done ..." "What are ye talking about?" Tom demanded. "Ye don't mean to ... ye can't!" "Even if she lived to maturity, she'd never be a proper warrior," Goliath said. "She would always be sickly, a burden to her clan." "She's just the runt of the litter!" Tom protested. "Ye can't kill her for that!" "Kill her!" Katherine pressed a hand to her mouth in horror. "Och, Goliath, ye mustn't!" "We already have so many healthy ones to care for ..." Angel said. "Then we'll look after her!" Katherine scooped the ivory-hued hatchling from Goliath's grasp. "You are only making sorrow for yourself," Goliath said, but did not attempt to take her back. "She'll survive," Katherine declared. "I'll see to that. She'll grow as a sister to my own children." "As you will, princess." "And if she lives," Tom said belligerently, "ye'll train her as well. She's still a gargoyle, after all! She deserves the chance to be a warrior, and a part of the clan." * * 1010 A.D. "Well, Goliath, we've proved ye wrong," Katherine said proudly. "Elektra lives, and is stronger than ever. She is even growing faster than any of her siblings." "I admit it, princess. I misjudged her. Thank you for intervening." "It astounds me how like Dierdre she is," the princess confessed. "They're like sisters of blood as well as raising. Look at them." Goliath did, seeing the two females playing together in the little garden that Tom's wife Moll had planted alongside the stable. The hatchlings were twelve years old now, which made them equivalent in size to Tom's six-year-old son Kieran. But Elektra towered over her siblings, looking closer in age to eight or ten, though still frail by gargoyle standards. She did resemble Dierdre, Goliath saw. And Katherine, too. They all had the same light brown hair, the same pale blue eyes, the same fair skin. When Elektra sat with her wings caped and her tail hidden, it was almost as if she wasn't a gargoyle at all. If she didn't turn to stone with the dawn like the rest of them, Goliath might have been inclined to wonder. "You wanted to inspect the battlements," Goliath reminded the princess. "I think you'll be pleased. The masons have --" "Rargh!" A blue bundle of energy sprang from the shadows, landing on Goliath's back. Talons scrabbled for a hold, bracing themselves on his wings. Claws dug into his ears. "Got you!" "Jericho!" Katherine scolded. "Have ye no manners?" Goliath's laugh rolled deep and merry. "Attacking me, are you? We'll see about that!" He plucked the lad from his shoulders and shook him until red hair flew and Jericho's squeal of mirth echoed from the walls. "I'm going to be a great warrior!" Jericho announced. "Just like Goliath!" "That you will! Now, what are you doing up here? I thought Angel was taking all of you hunting." Jericho made a face. "I'm tired of chasing scared rabbits that she's already snared and loosed in the field! I want to hunt real game, fight real battles! Besides, they're done. Angela and the other _girls_ wanted to go collect flowers," he finished disdainfully. "Well, we can't have you running loose and getting into trouble!" He ruffled the boy's hair. "Go find your brothers, and I'll start teaching you how to use a bow as soon as the princess and I finish what we're doing." "A bow? Really?" Jericho's eyes lit up. "Can I be first?" "Of course," Goliath chuckled indulgently. All but skipping in excitement, Jericho hurried off, yelling for Gabriel. "He's a scamp, that he is," Katherine said. "Yes, but there's the making of a good leader within him." "How could there not, given his lineage?" She smiled. "He and Angela do take after their parents. Ye and Angel must be proud of yer children." "We are proud of all of them. Why should we make exceptions? It is not the gargoyle way to favor one hatchling over another." "Even for yer own son and daughter?" "Daughters and sons belong to the entire clan. How would we know whose children are whose?" "Ye have eyes, don't ye?" She shook her head in amazement. "Have ye not seen that those two are yer own flesh and blood? Look at Jericho -- why, once he grows into those wings and great oversized feet of his, he'll be as tall as ye, but with his mother's coloring. And Angela, with yer hair and skin ..." "It doesn't matter," he said. "They are all our children, and we, my Angel and I, are their only parents." She nodded, and her tone said that she would let him have his way even if she thought he was being silly. "Verra well, Goliath." But as she started up the stairs toward the battlements, he paused, and let his gaze find Jericho where the lad was wrestling in mock battle with some of his brothers. From there, he looked to Tom and Kieran, teaching the watchdog Boudicca to retrieve a cloth ball. The ball had sprung several seams and was trailing its stuffing as the green-gold puppy raced in circles with Kieran giggling at her heels. And from there, to the balcony, where Bowdyn, tall for his fifteen years and already showing the light blond fuzz of a beard on his chin, stood in consult with his father the Magus. A son, Goliath mused. My son. But what was he thinking? He had nineteen sons, all of them fine and strong. And many daughters as well. To show any preference was not the gargoyle way. * * 1018 A.D. Elektra watched alone from the window as the gargoyles, her rookery brothers and sisters, assembled for their warrior training. No longer one of them. She could not deny it any further. The differences in her were becoming too great to allow the comfort of self- delusion. They had hatched twenty years ago, all of them. But here she was, already with the outward appearances of physical maturity, with the figure of an adult female while her sisters were only beginning to show signs of adolescence. It might not have been so bad, had she not lagged so far behind Dierdre. Her crib-sister, as Tom called them, was a woman now, with a husband and children of her own. Inseparable friends as children, they had grown apart. And so here is Elektra, she thought. Distant from her clan, now distant from her family as well. Family. So she had always felt them to be. Katherine, who had been as a mother to her. The Magus, father and teacher in much the same way Goliath was father and teacher to the rest of the clan. Tom was like a much-loved uncle, his children her cousins. Prince Bowdyn had always been aloof and somewhat resentful of her, for he'd been forced to share his parents' affections not only with his baby sister but with a gargoyle foundling-child. His resentment had grown when it became clear that she alone understood the Magus' art. Bowdyn himself knew he could not have his magic and still inherit Wyvern, but that had not stopped him from taking a bitter view of Elektra. Even so, even with all of that, she had let herself be lulled. Even fancied herself human, ridiculous notion! No longer. It had finally come clear to her. Dierdre's husband was high in the favor of the current king, and while he bore no great enmity toward gargoyles, neither held he love of them. When he had invited the family to spend the winter holidays at his hall, it had been made most clear that Elektra would not be warmly welcomed. She had pretended other reasons to stay, much to Dierdre's relief. With her family gone, she'd tried to renew her friendships with the clan, but found that she had grown apart from them, too. They thought she put on airs, tried to be human, and she could not deny that charge. Hadn't she even been mistaken for human on occasion? Hadn't there been that courtier, so flattering in his attention until Bowdyn pointed out that she was a gargoyle? He'd drawn away from her at once, and ever thereafter glowered at her, as if the deception had been her fault. Goliath and Angel were unfailingly kind to her, but she knew they wondered what it was that made her so different. Wondered what kind of future she could have. They weren't alone in so wondering. More and more, that question consumed her mind. She knew of the difficulty of her hatching, of the tenuous balance in which her life had been suspended. What had happened to her egg to make it unlike its fellows? What had happened to her? Despairing, knowing that she would never find answers, she turned away from the window and set about tiding the princess' chamber. They'd packed for their trip in something of a rush, and those winter garments discovered to be in need of mending were hastily tossed aside. Well, she told herself, trying to brighten her mood, if there was one thing these long-fingered hands were skilled at, it was sewing. She fetched needle and thread and went to work. As she was putting everything away in the large trunk that had belonged to the princess' father, her hand brushed something. A large squarish lump in the lining. Tracing its shape, she decided it was some sort of book, and found the hole where it had slipped through and become trapped. A book would help pass the time, she thought, and began to read. * * 1030 A.D. "If they breach the walls, we'll all be done for! If we only frighten them off, they'll return by day and the humans won't be able to hold the castle." Jericho's voice dropped harshly. "You know what happens then." "What would you have us do?" said quiet Thisbe breathlessly. "Not take the battle to them?" "That very thing!" Jericho turned in a slow circle, catching and holding each of his siblings' gazes. "Who's with me?" Some of them looked away, but none disagreed aloud when Gabriel stepped forward with Angela by his side. "We all are, brother. It's time we put our training to good use." "Good." Jericho nodded sharply. "Ophelia, Hippolyta, Corwin, you're the best archers among us. Find the Viking commanders and shoot them down. Jacob is the quickest and has the keenest eyes; he'll scout them out for you." "That's hardly fair fighting ..." Corwin began. Hippolyta whirled on him. "Would you rather be fair, pretty-boy, or alive? They showed no such courtesy to our leader!" "Well said." He flashed her a strained grimace that was a shadow of his usual winning grin. For a moment all of them fell silent, trying not to think of the image that would forever be imprinted in their minds -- of Goliath gliding to catch his beloved Angel as she tumbled boneless from the catapult strike that had rendered her unconscious. Of a Norse-accented voice bellowing from the flame and thunder of the army, "Arrows away!" and a volley of hissing, whistling shafts blotting out the moon. Of Goliath twisting in flight, shielding Angel with his body so that the arrows plunged and bristled into his back. Of his fall, only barely checked by Jericho, Gabriel, and Angela, who had borne the two adults to earth while the rest of their siblings looked on in horror. Now Goliath lay nearby, watching and listening but not speaking, while the Magus and Ruth did their best to stanch the apparently endless flow of blood. Angel was crumpled beside him, and even in his extremity of pain, Goliath cradled her head gently to keep it from having to rest on cold ground. Jericho went on. "Malachi, Angus, Deborah, you're the strongest. The battering rams are yours, tear them to kindling. Speaking of kindling, Carnelian, Laertes, get behind their lines and light fire to their supply wagons." "I will stay and tend to Goliath and Angel," Ruth said as if expecting him to argue. "Good. Miriam, help her." He paused, then added, "We'll need someone to stay here and guard them, in case any Viking slip past the defenses." "I will stay," Icarus replied at once, his tone thanking Jericho for finding a way to leave him behind that didn't make him feel like a cripple, and useless. "Tourmaline --" he faltered when he saw how her eyes were alight with shining admiration, "you take Thisbe, Zachariah, and Elswyth. Spook the horses." "What of the rest of us?" Ezekiel asked eagerly. "Arm yourselves," Jericho said. "You're with me." As they scattered to do just that, Jericho heard Goliath speak his name and went to him, kneeling, on earth grown dark with blood. He tried not to look at it, tried not to see the arrows that pierced so deep that the fletching was only barely visible, the arrows that the Magus could only remove by cutting away skin and flesh. To look would shatter his last belief in Goliath's invulnerability. Instead he fixed his gaze on that lined, careworn face. For the first time, he noticed the grey that was beginning to appear in Goliath's sable mane. That, too, unnerved him. Goliath and Angel were not supposed to grow old. They were supposed to be forever young. A love such as theirs had to be eternal. He cast those thoughts away, and met Goliath's dark eyes. "You're a born leader," Goliath said. "I'm a made leader," Jericho corrected, gripping Goliath's shoulder as if he could send his own life force into that wounded body. "I won't disappoint you ... Father." Goliath began to cough, the spasms wracking his frame, causing the barbs to shift and move in his back and inflict new injuries. He bore it stoically, but Jericho uttered a low cry of pain as if he himself felt the hot bite of steel. How could he leave? How could he leave, when he might return to find Goliath gone? "Go," Goliath managed to say, as if reading his thoughts. "Protect ..." more coughing, and his hand clamped down on Jericho's with agonizing force, "protect the castle. Lead your clan." He understood then that Goliath was saying goodbye. But he would not weep, would show only strength. Not trusting himself to speak, he could only nod. "You'll do well," Goliath said. "Now ... go." Jericho resolutely turned from that scene and found Prince Bowdyn atop the wall, attempting to rally his men. Wyvern had never been a populous castle, and less so since the massacre thirty-six years ago, but what soldiers they had carried the benefit of good training. Between Goliath's skill, Angel's cunning, and the good-natured but firm guidance of Tom, now Captain of the Guard, those few men were each worth three Vikings. The Vikings still had them greatly outnumbered. They were led by one Olgar Helgasson, son of none other than the dreaded Haakon. He had been little more than a babe in arms when his father died, raised all his life burning with the desire to avenge. "We canna hold them back!" Bowdyn pounded his fist on the wall. Although he greatly resembled his father the Magus, he had inherited his mother's noble bearing and, so Jericho heard, his grandsire Malcolm's strong jaw. "My gargoyles are ready, highness," Jericho said. Bowdyn gave him a scathing once-over, and Jericho was all too aware that while he was nearly Goliath's match in height, he had yet to fill out. Still, that left him more than a match for a human, a fact he would be happy to demonstrate if they had the time. "Yer gargoyles?" Princess Katherine cut in, before her occasionally quick-tongued son could make a remark he might quickly regret. The woman, her brown hair now liberally streaked with silver, stood as tall and proud as ever, despite an uncontrollable trembling in her aged hands. In recent years, she had yielded almost all of the duties of rule to Bowdyn, but was still the princess, still beloved of her people. "Goliath ... he's na ... he canna be ..." "The Magus and my sister Ruth are caring for him," Jericho said, meaning it to be reassuring but hearing the thickness in his voice that told of unshed tears, of certain fate. "Angel has also been struck down, and has yet to regain consciousness. In the meanwhile, Goliath has entrusted me with leadership of the clan. And we are going into battle." "Jericho, nae!" Katherine cried in dismay. "We canna lose ye, too!" He just looked at her, not needing to say what he'd already said to his clan. She remembered. She understood. At last she bowed her head. "Aye, then, ye must." "Are yer warriors capable?" Bowdyn asked. Jericho forced a smile. "You forget, highness, that we are not as much younger than you as we appear to be. Your kind age while you sleep; our kind does not. Our waking hours have been filled with training. We may lack experience, but --" he broke off, looked to the courtyard, then back to Bowdyn, "we have reason to fight." "So be it," Bowdyn said after a stern glower from his mother. "Captain!" Tom left off advising the sentries. There was a momentary lull in the battle, the Vikings having fallen back to regroup. Although they'd brought down both Goliath and Angel, it hadn't been without terrible cost to their troops. "The gargoyles prepare to attack," Bowdyn told him. "Instruct our men to do what they can to aid them." "From within the walls, or without?" Tom asked cannily. Bowdyn snorted. "Have we men willing to leave the walls for an assault?" "Kieran's riders are willing, highness," Tom said, with great evident pride in his son. "I dinna like opening the gates, even for a moment." Bowdyn drummed his fingers. "Have them ready at the gate," Jericho suggested. "Then, if our attack disorganizes the Vikings, as we hope, send them out to strike." "Aye, that'll do," Tom said without waiting for Bowdyn's approval, and went to give the orders while the prince glared. "He yet thinks of me as a boy," Bowdyn muttered. Jericho forced another smile. "He yet calls us eggs, so you're some better off!" Moments later, he rejoined his clan. They were wary but excited, most eager for their first taste of real warfare. Those that weren't masked it well. "Let's show them," Jericho said, "how we protect our home." Thirty young warriors followed him from the battlements, full- throated battle cries ringing. It wasn't clean. That was Jericho's first thought as he got a close- up look at the carnage below. Not clean. The men didn't go easily into death, but kicking and thrashing and fighting for life. Blood and bodies were everywhere. Men slipped in the entrails of their comrades, their horses, their foes. The horror of it, horror that all Goliath's teaching couldn't properly instill, smote him like a blow. He heard outbursts from his siblings, but none of them wavered. Each went as they had been assigned, to the supply wagons or the catapults or to seek out the commanders with as deadly a hail of arrows as had greeted Goliath. Later, he would remember little. Just a grim determination to survive and to kill. He would later hear from captives that the Vikings had been told by their spies that only two adult gargoyles guarded Wyvern and that the rest were children. Thus, they had felt they could risk an attack at dusk, when the castle's human defenders would be at their weakest. They had not counted on the fate that now befell them. His clan descended on the Vikings like divine judgement. The night became a turbulent hell. Spears and missiles arced up toward the gargoyles, were easily avoided, fell back amid the churning troops. Men were plucked screaming from their saddles, thrown onto the upraised swords and axes of their fellows. Kieran's riders charged into the fray. Olgar Helgasson bellowed orders, until Ophelia's arrow transfixed his temples. Jericho lost himself in the fire and fury. Lost himself, until a banshee howl shattered the heavens and made everyone on the field, man and gargoyle alike, stop as one. The banshee howl was Angel's, and Jericho knew of only one thing that could make her voice such a cry. A terrible fist of grief crushed his heart. Moments later, she appeared on the wall, one wing hanging awkwardly and one leg bent from the catapult shot that had nearly taken her life. Her eyes blazed with such scarlet light that they seemed to cast their glow over the entire land, tinting all with the hue of blood. "No," Jericho whispered, knowing what she meant to do. Ruth appeared beside her, gesturing, imploring, but Angel shook her off and leaped, gliding clumsily but purposefully into the thick of the fight. Her claws began scything, a harvest of Vikings falling like wheat. "Stop her!" Corwin and Onyx were nearby; Jericho pulled them with him as he sped in that direction. "She means to get herself killed!" Viking with a spear, looming unseen behind Angel as she gutted a horseman. Jericho's warning swallowed by the din. But then Angela was there, her tail whipping around the spear and yanking it from the man's grasp. And Gabriel, seizing the man's neck in the crook of his arm and snapping it sideways with a hard jerk. Angel ignored all of this and went after the next human, trampling and gouging the fallen wounded beneath her talons. Her leg buckled, spilled her amid the dying. One of them had presence enough of mind to grab up a knife and stab at her, grazing her chest and ripping through the membrane of her good wing, pinning her to the ground. The man she'd been about to kill now came at her with a deadly crescent-shaped hand axe. "Corwin!" Jericho pointed. Corwin hurled a spear into the man's back. But as he fell, the axe swept forward on a course that would bury it in Angel's skull. Gabriel kicked the weapon, slicing his foot to the bone but deflecting it enough so that it missed Angel and finished off a Viking who was just beginning to rise. Angela reached Angel, pulled the knife loose before Angel could shred her wing with her struggles. "Let go of me!" Angel snarled. "Don't do this!" Angela wrapped her arms around the older female despite her struggles. "We need you! Angel, we need you!" Jericho landed. "Get her back to the castle!" "No!" Angel lashed out at him and he darted his head back just in time to spare himself some vicious slashes. "I have to finish this!" "We'll finish it!" he shouted. "Goliath is --" "I know!" He bit his lip until it bled. "I know. We can't lose you, too." "Don't leave us," Angela said, almost begged. "Please, Mother!" She fell apart in Angela's arms like a broken doll, and gave no more resistance. Gabriel and Angela lifted her between them, carried her toward the castle. Now Jericho saw others of his siblings, wounded, fleeing back to the shelter of the stone walls. But the Vikings were retreating, panicked, only pockets of fighting left. He saw Ezekiel wielding his staff, a large ring of men with broken limbs or cracked skulls piled around him, but behind Ezekiel, Thisbe was pale with dread as she tried to bandage Jacob's leg, the small tan gargoyle gone faded yellow from loss of blood. The others, all around Jericho, had wounds ranging from scratches to severe. He saw their faces, so scared and hurt, but they had come too far. They had to finish it, as he had promised. Horses pounded up to him. He recognized Kieran and his men; was surprised to see Hippolyta also on horseback. The surprise vanished the moment he glimpsed her wings, peppered with holes. She must have flown through a hailstorm of arrows. "Get back to the castle!" "This isn't done yet!" she shot back. "I cannot glide, but I can ride! And while I can ride, I can fight!" Pointless to argue with her, he knew that. Glancing around, he saw that Corwin was still nearby, and Zachariah, Laertes, and Onyx. All appeared in fairly good health, minor injuries only, and the light of battle still blazed in their eyes. "We can take them!" Kieran said. "We've got them on the run already! Let's drive them into the sea from whence they came, what say ye?" "Follow me," Jericho said, and led the way. It was ridiculously easy, that last effort. A few Vikings, a handful, no more, fled into the deep woods with Kieran's riders in pursuit. The rest died trying to defend themselves from the diminished, but even fiercer, host of demons that dove shrieking from the sky to rend and slay. Some reached their ships, but Laertes and Corwin hastily improvised burning arrows to set the wooden crafts aflame. "Victory is ours!" Onyx cried, waving the sword she'd seized. "Celebrate later," Jericho told her. "Back to the castle!" They were greeted with cheers as they approached. The Vikings had been thoroughly routed. Tom's soldiers moved in businesslike ranks across the field, taking prisoners, mercifully dispatching the dying. The battle was won, the castle safe. Jericho found that it meant far less to him than he'd always thought it would. Where was the honor in this? He finally understood what Goliath had been trying to teach them. They needed to be warriors to survive, to protect their clan and their home. But they were not warriors for the glory of it. Only a fool would find pride in this madness and death. He saw similar realizations on the faces of his siblings as they glided over the devastated land and into the courtyard. Their first battle had been something they'd all anticipated. Now they yearned for their shattered innocence. This was no hatchling game. The other gargoyles were gathered solemnly around Angel, who knelt in private, untouchable anguish. None of the others spoke, or moved except Ruth, who went quietly among them and gave or coaxed or forced healing attentions. Angela stood closest to Angel, but was overcome by her own sorrow and weeping against Gabriel's chest. At their feet was a heap of gravel and dust that made an outline on the crimson-stained earth. Jericho took a deep breath, and let it out in a quaking sigh. He went to Angel, kneeling at her side. He took her hand in both of his. She did not look up, but he sensed that she welcomed what scant comfort the touch offered. Another figure knelt on Angel's other side, took her other hand. Princess Katherine, with the Magus standing behind her. Others joined the circle -- Tom, Kieran. Elektra should be with them, Jericho thought, and it startled him into realizing how long it had been since he or any of them had spoken of their runaway sister. "He was the greatest warrior I've ever known," Katherine said softly. "And I know he'd be proud of all of ye." "Deborah?" Jericho asked without turning his head. His sister, she of the prominently unattractive nose horn and the celestially beautiful voice, came forward. "Yes, brother?" "You and Laertes are the musicians, the singers. Make a song, so that we and our descendants will never forget Goliath's bravery and devotion to his clan. A song of how he chose to stay, and give us life and a future, when all else seemed lost." "We will," she promised. Angela wiped her eyes. "Our children's children must learn it and pass it down. If it takes a hundred years or a thousand until this castle rises above the clouds, there will be gargoyles who remember Goliath, gargoyles there to greet his friends." * *
Continued in Part Two ...
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