Author’s note: this is an excerpt from a story I’ll be publishing in full later on, in my ongoing series "Life Goes On". It’s told largely from Angela’s point of view, from what she saw and what her guardians told her while she was growing up. Enjoy! ---KYT
By Kimberly T.
Angela had been told that before she and her rookery siblings hatched, nearly four years after they had been brought to the shores of Avalon, life for Princess Katherine, Guardian Tom and the Magus had been easy and sweet. That had changed rapidly once all thirty-six eggs had hatched. They’d had some warning of the imminent hatching from observing the way the shells would rock when they were touched. They’d laid in a huge supply of smoked meat, fruits and vegetables to shred and grind into paste for feeding them, and created a huge stack of diapers from the softest sheets they took from the empty bedchambers, with holes cut for where they thought the tails would go. But even so, they still weren’t really prepared for the reality of caring for thirty-five hatchling gargoyles and a watchbeast puppy, all squalling for food and attention from sunset to sunrise.
Roughly two weeks after the hatching, the adolescent Tom having judged himself strong and knowledgeable enough to survive on his own for a little while, he had the Magus teach him the traveling spell and had set out on a skiff, leaving Avalon to see if anyone had found a way to break the spell on the adult gargoyles yet. Both the Magus and Katherine had begged him to reconsider, to stay with them where it was safe, but he insisted that someone had to go, and he was the only one who could be spared for it. For if the gargoyles lived again, they owed it to them to bring them to Avalon as well, to reunite them with their newly-hatched children. Besides, they could use the adults’ help in raising thirty-six hatchlings; they scarcely had time to breathe between sunset and sunrise, caring for so many crawling and mewling infants all at once, and gathering food for them took so much of the daylight hours as well that they were all on the edge of exhaustion. He promised that if, once he reached the shores of Wyvern, he found the gargoyles still in stone by night, he’d return to Avalon immediately. If the skiff and Avalon’s magic took him straight to their old home as he’d hoped it would, he should be gone for less than the span of a day and night, which would be only an hour to the others if what the Magus believed about Avalon’s time was true.
Tom had set out that golden afternoon, with Katherine and the Magus bravely smiling and waving for him until the mists of passage had concealed his craft, then falling weeping into each other’s arms. He was barely twelve years old, by their reckoning; still so young, and the outer world could be so harsh to the innocent… But they’d scarcely had time to dry their tears and start preparing for sunset and the awakening hatchlings when the skiff returned, with Tom on board alone and shaking his head. He’d arrived at an inlet on the rocky coast within sight of the castle, had made it to the ruins just after nightfall and had seen with his own eyes that Goliath and the others were still stone at night. He thought he’d heard human voices, likely bandits, in the forests nearby, but no other signs of habitation; evidently Constantine and his descendants had decided to leave Wyvern abandoned and in ruins, rather than rebuild it. Still, he refused to give up hope that someday, somebody would break the spell. The Magus had written down in his journal pages, which he’d inserted into the Grimorum Arcanorum before their flight to Avalon and his forced relinquishment of his most prized possession, of his folly in transforming the gargoyles and his search for a counterspell. He knew his mother and Lady Finella would have been keeping their eyes open for a man who knew both magic and kindness, like their own Magus, and if they’d found one they would have passed the Grimorum on to him and begged for his help. Perhaps that magus or his descendents were experimenting with a counterspell even then! He’d wait a few more years, then go out again, he vowed. In the meantime, he had meat to dice for the hatchlings…
For the next two decades, Tom went out once every few years to see if the gargoyles had been freed from their spell, but each time he returned in disappointment. Most times, he returned within an hour of Avalon’s time, but once he did not return for over six hours, time enough for the hatchlings to awake and wonder what had happened to him, and for Princess and Magus to bite their lips and cast fearful glances at each other even as they tried to reassure the hatchlings that he would return soon. When he did return, it was with battered armor, a bloody gash in one arm and an assortment of bruises, but he smiled brightly enough when he saw them all. He related to the hatchlings about the adventure he’d had in the outer world, while Katherine and the Magus tended his wounds. Instead of bringing him directly back from the shores of Wyvern, which had always happened before, this time the skiff had set him on the banks of a river in England, where he’d helped a village called Stratford-Upon-Avon fight off a group of bandits that had been terrorizing the town. One of the village’s leaders had offered the kind stranger, who wore a fine sword and armor like a knight but had no horse to ride, both his proud bay horse and his pretty eldest daughter if he would stay with them and guard against future attacks. Tom had thanked him but courteously refused; as he’d explained to the hatchlings, "I had to return here, dear eggs, where my home and family are. To where my heart is," and he’d looked directly into Princess Katherine’s eyes and held his hand out to her as he said it.
Katherine had blushed and ducked her head shyly, but then had smiled at him and put her hand in his. The Magus had stared at them both with something like pain and rage in his eyes, but had said nothing, only turned away to tend to the hatchlings. Little Angela and Gabriel had seen it all, though, and had noticed that after that, Guardian Tom and Princess Katherine were as apt to hug and kiss each other as the hatchlings, while the Magus grew more quiet and sad-looking. Even young as they were, the gargoyles figured out that the Magus was sad all the time because he didn’t have a special friend like so many of them had special friends, like Tom had Katherine, Gabriel had Angela and Michael had Menalippe, to hug and tickle and kiss and play with. So, (as Gabriel and Angela had solemnly explained to their bemused guardian,) since they’d been taught to share and take turns at everything, they decided that they would all take turns being his special friend. It always brought a smile to his lips, even if it was an odd smile sometimes, when that moon’s special friend would hug and tickle and kiss him (even Uriel, Atalanta and the other hatchlings with beaks for mouths, who had to be careful not to peck when they kissed.)
Even though he and Princess Katherine were special friends now, Tom still went out alone every few years, but as the years went by, he did not always return empty-handed. When the gargoyles were about twenty-four years old, he had come back with a skiff full of eggs, a dozen odd-looking birds and a puzzled expression on his sunburned face. This time he hadn’t gone to Wyvern at all, but to a strange island under a blazing hot sun, where a little brown man scarcely three feet high, whom he suspected to be a Fey, had taken one look at him as he’d pulled the skiff onto the beach and started jumping excitedly up and down, jabbering something about a gathering and somebody called Oberon. Once Tom had made it clear that he had no idea who this Oberon person was, let alone what he was gathering, the little man had been very disappointed for a few seconds; then he had brightened again, and had hauled on Tom’s arm to get him to come with him. He’d followed the Fey to another beach, not far away, where he’d seen these odd clumsy birds, looking like big fat blue-gray chickens with hooked beaks, and their nests full of eggs just lying in the sands. The little man had made it clear that he expected Tom to take as many eggs and birds as he could away with him, back to Avalon. Evidently, these birds were as helpless before the new men coming to the island as a gargoyle in daylight, and they were rapidly being killed off. It was the words ‘helpless’ and ‘last of their kind’ that had made Tom agree to the plan, more than the green light flashing in the little man’s eyes, and together they’d collected every egg and bird on the beach and put them in the skiff. When Tom had said that he still needed to know before returning to Avalon whether or not the gargoyles at Wyvern had awakened, the little man had scurried up to the top of a tall, strange-looking tree that was crowned with leaves over five feet long, and had scurried back down again ten minutes later saying that the winds had told him the gargoyles at Wyvern were still stone by night. Tom had seen enough magic at work by now that he believed the Fey, and so the skiff had returned him to Avalon with the eggs and the strange flightless birds.
The gargoyles were delighted with these new pets, and promised faithfully that they would not kill any of the adult birds, and would indeed help to hatch and raise their eggs. It had been such fun to help turn the eggs and keep them warm, and so exciting the night they had hatched! And the clumsy little chicks had been so cute, bobbling about the castle… and pooping everywhere they went. That had not been cute, and it soon became obvious that these birds simply didn’t have enough brains in their heads to be castle-trained. But neither did they have brains enough to avoid being eaten by the island’s other wildlife, so they couldn’t simply be turned loose outside either. After an experiment or two in diapering the birds (that didn’t work out at all well), it was just decided to keep them penned up in an inner courtyard, bring feed in to them and periodically shovel out their leavings. They produced so much of this doo-doo, as Princess had called it when the hatchlings were in diapers, that the birds became known as the doo-doo birds, and after nearly a year of cleaning up after them (much, much worse than sweeping their own gravel off the battlements), Gabriel picked out a large isolated beach on the island’s southern shore, and the clan had made sure it would remain isolated by building a ten-foot-high wall of stones around it clear to the waterline. Then they’d transported all of the flightless birds there, wished them well and went back to life as usual. (They’d flown over the wall from time to time on patrols, and at last report all the doo-doo birds were doing well.)
That had been the gargoyles’ first experience with raising hatchlings and young of other species, and it had not been the last. It seemed that after that, nearly every trip Tom had made to the outer world had ended with him bringing some other strange species back with him. The Magus concluded that the magic of Avalon was not sending Tom where he wanted to go, but rather where he needed to be, and on those occasions he’d been needed to help these other creatures in danger of dying out. Thankfully, no other species were quite as helpless as the doo-doo birds, and all had been set free to roam the island after the first generation had become old enough to fend for themselves. (The gargoyles had wanted to keep some of the prettier and nicer animals as pets, but their guardians persuaded them to stick with the more common forest creatures, and leave these new species alone to breed in peace.) It had become a sort of joking saying among the gargoyles, whenever Tom had gone out; "What kind of animal is he going to bring back with him this time?" But Angela had what she thought was an equally important question: was he going to take anyone with him this time?
Many of the gargoyles were curious about the outer world, but Angela above all the others burned to know more about it. She’d read the six books that their guardians had brought with them to Avalon, and the three books of stories and knowledge that the Magus had painstakingly recorded since their arrival, several times over. She had always been right there at Tom’s feet whenever he’d come back from a trip, eager for every scrap of detail about everything he’d seen and done. The last few times he’d gone out, she’d begged him to take her along, but he’d refused, saying that he’d sworn to protect all the eggs to his last breath, and he might well be breaking his word if he took her with him when he didn’t know for certain where Avalon was going to send him that time. The last time he’d gone out, four years before the attack of the Archmage, she’d thought she’d force him to take her along by gliding out and landing on the skiff just before the mists of passage enclosed it, but he must have anticipated that, because that time he’d gone out by day instead. Angela had fumed in frustration upon waking up that evening and swore that next time he was due to go out, she’d sink every skiff but one, and sit on that one day and night until he took her along! She’d seen everything the island had to offer, and just had to know more about that great wide world out there waiting for her…
Tom returned from that last trip in a few hours, disappointed to report that the elder gargoyles were still sleeping in stone. (He also brought back with him in the skiff as passengers not only a new breed of pigeon, but a half-dozen young creatures that were like baby horses, except they had stripes painted on their heads and the front halves of their bodies, and several more adults tethered to the skiff and swimming alongside it. He said the one person he’d talked to on the second little side trip Avalon had sent him on, a very dark-skinned fellow, had called these beasties ‘quaggas’.) It was two nights after that last trip out that Menalippe and Michael had come back from the forest with disheveled clothing and excitement radiating from them like moonlight…
That finishes the excerpt, and my version of Tom’s travels. You’ll have to wait a while to find out the rest of the story!