Author's Note: Yes, I realize I haven't updated this in forever. I'm actually a little stuck. I said before that I planned to fast forward certain chapters (like I did a few chapters ago) but I find myself both wanting to write more about Avalon and wanting to fast forward all the way to the mid twentieth century, and I'm trying to figure out how to balance the two. Please bare with me. Oh and the Avalon clan looks about 6 - 7 years old in human terms. I did the math ^_^ Also I quite unintentionally added three small easter eggs about a book series I'm very fount of, so if you find them, brownie points for you. As always ideas are welcomed and please r&r!
Demona felt odd, like she had somehow slept too long. It did not help at all that she was waking up for a second time with another human standing in front of her. This one, however, she recognized almost immediately. He had aged a few years over a decade, but otherwise had not changed much from the tall though physically unimposing figure she remembered from Castle Wyvern centuries earlier from her perspective. She snarled, but unlike the boy, this one stood his ground though the unease in his posture was evident.
The Magus acknowledged her with a nod. "It has been a long time."
"My children," her voice was even but undeniably chilling. "Where are they?"
Macbeth stood to the side, no doubt watching her for any sign that she might lunge for the wizard's throat. She would not. Not yet, but it was good to know she could still keep the former king on his toes. If the Magus was taken aback by her abruptness he did not show it much.
"Please," he indicated the path that wound its way to the castle in the distance. "This way."
Folding her wings about her shoulders she began to walk after him with Macbeth bringing up the rear. It would have been easy enough for her to take to the air and be at the castle within moments, but Demona needed to collect her thoughts. Three centuries since the destruction of the clan at Wyvern. She had given up hope of finding the clan's offspring a century earlier. Even if they had survived to hatch they would not have lived that long. Never in her dreams had she imagined this.
Her mind drifted centuries back to when she stood on the tallest tower of the castle and watched the three humans carry the gargoyle eggs away from the ruins. The devastation of the loss of her mate and the rest of the clan had robbed her of her usual aggression. She might have flown down, killed the humans, and taken back the eggs, but what then? As she had told Macbeth's queen two and a half centuries before, she had nothing to offer her children. Had that really changed at all?
She was so lost in those thoughts that when the large front gates of the castle loomed before her, Demona was almost surprised. And she certainly did not have time to prepare herself for the two small figures that glided down from the walls and landed rather unevenly before them.
"Magus!" the young girl who had landed in front launched herself at the man like a ball of energy. Macbeth held back a laugh. Apparently childhood enthusiasm was the same no matter the species.
The wizard patted both youngsters on the head, and their gazes instantly turned to Macbeth and Demona. There was a long moment when the two children and the newcomers stared at each other in wonder. The female gargoyle knelt for a better look at two of her clan's offspring, while the old king remained standing, not wishing too intrude too much on the moment.
"What's your name?" the yellow haired boy asked politely.
"Demona," it did not even occur for her to be surprised by the question.
"I'm Gabriel," he said. "You're from the real world, aren't you? We've never seen a grown up gargoyle before."
"The Guardian said you're from our clan," the girl chimed in.
"Yes," for some reason Demona studied at her just a bit more intensely than she had the boy. "I... didn't know you survived."
"We've been living here on Avalon," the child declared enthusiastically. "Princess Katharine, Magus, and Guardian have been taking care of us. Who's your friend?"
She looked up at Macbeth, who took this as a cue to enter the conversation. He had never seen such a young gargoyle before and also hunched down for a better look at the little girl. The curiosity was mutual since none of the youngsters had ever seen anyone other than the three humans who raised them. The young gargoyle reached out and tentatively touched his beard.
"Why does your hair grow on the bottom of your face?" she asked. Both the Magus and Tom were clean-shaven so it must have looked odd to her.
"Angela," came a stern but not unkind voice from the gate. "That's impolite."
Both Macbeth and Demona had been so preoccupied with the gargoyle children that they had not noticed the gate open or the woman who was now walking towards them. She was perhaps a few years over thirty in garb that Macbeth instantly recognized as belonging to the Scotland of his own time. He guessed this must be Princess Katharine, and the look of distaste on Demona's face confirmed that suspicion. The lavender skinned girl pulled back and took on the unmistakable look of a child that had just been scolded.
"Sorry," she gave Macbeth an apologetic pout.
"That's quite alright, lassie," he smiled. "I'm old. Old men often wear beards."
"Oh," she looked like she wanted to ask more questions, but luckily the princess was at her side and gently nudged her back in the direction of the castle.
"Let's give our guest some room to breath," the woman advised. "We can all come inside for some food and talk there. Alright?"
"Okay," Angela smiled happily and ran off after her rookery brother who followed the Magus back inside.
The woman straightened her skirts and gave Macbeth a warm smile.
"I'm Katharine," she introduced herself.
"I'm called Macbeth," he bowed slightly, "and I believe we're kinsmen. Kenneth II was your uncle, correct? You're Maol Chalvim's cousin."
"You know of my cousin?" her eyes lit up.
"He was my grandfather," Macbeth laughed. "Which makes you my distant aunt, I suppose."
"Ach, forgive a woman her vanity but you are older than I," her own smile made it clear that the comment was not meant to be unkind. "Let us say cousins."
"Agreed," Macbeth nodded. "It's good to see family again, no matter the title."
"And we will speak inside over some food," Katharine said. "You must tell me all of how Scotland fares these years."
She then turned to Demona, but the gargoyle's eyes focused on the castle. Even here outside the gates, the sound of children at play could still be heard. It was the quiet that finally got her attention, and she turned to face the princess. Macbeth tensed. Demona may not have known about the spell that had turned the last of the Wyvern clan to stone, he knew there were bad feelings between the two women. Which was why he was relieved when his cousin bowed deeply in a sign of respect.
Demona did not know what to say. A part of her mind replayed her life in Wyvern, and every insult, every superior and haughty look the princess ever sent in the direction of her clan. Everything that made her want to leap for Katharine's throat. But then... then the more immediate memories of the two children looking at the human woman with such trust and adoration. It made her feel jealous and angry but also oddly grateful. The impact of the memories of the past softened ever so slightly.
"We would all be honored if the two of you joined us for dinner," Katharine's smile was not without a hint of nervousness. "Please come inside. You've just met Angela and Gabriel, but there are thirty-four more you have not seen."
The followed a few steps behind the princess, though Macbeth kept intermittently lagging behind and catching up. His eyes kept wandering as he attempted to keep track of all the faces of the gargoyle children that kept appearing and disappearing just as quickly, curious and a little cautious of their visitors. They were a few steps behind their guide when he fell into stride beside Demona and lowered his voice.
"I'm wondering," he tried not to sound too curious. "Are any of these... yours?"
If he thought he was prying, Macbeth was surprised by her even response of, "They're all mine."
"That isn't exactly what I meant," he knew about the way gargoyles raised the hatchlings as children of the entire clan, but he thought his question had been clear.
"I know what you meant," the red haired woman replied. "My answer stands."
"There are thirty-six of them," he persisted. "Thirty-three, discounting the three beasts I saw. I'm fairly certain it is physically impossible for all of them to be yours."
Demona stopped, seeing he was not about to let this go. "Was Luach yours?"
The old king scowled at her, momentarily forgetting that he was the one who brought up the subject. "In every way that matters," he said angrily.
"As they are mine," the gargoyle was unusually clam. "In every way that matters."
She continued on, letting him fall behind once again. Macbeth shook his head, trying to clear his mind of the implication of her earlier comment and force himself to remember that the mentality that worked for humans did not always work for gargoyles, even when the human and gargoyle in question where himself and Demona.
* * * * * * * * * *
Bowls of fruit were set up on the table near the fireplace of the castle's great hall. The children ate in record time and wanted to stay to bombard their guests with more questions, but Katharine shooed them all away to play in the yard while the adults talked. Demona would have followed them if she did not have questions of her own to ask the humans.
"Goliath and the other five survivors of the massacre," she said once the children were well out of earshot, "how did they come to be cast in stone even through the nights?"
Her gaze was fixed on Katharine so she did not notice Macbeth and the Magus straighten and lean in ever so slightly to listen as well.
"I do not know," the princess replied calmly. "They came after us when the Vikings took us hostage. Goliath defeated Hakon, and my former captain perished as well. The gargoyles flew ahead when we gathered to return to the castle. They wanted to make certain the path was clear of any survivors of Hakon's band. When we returned to Wyverm, we found them in stone."
"And that is when you took the eggs."
"Aye," the other woman nodded. "Had I known you still lived, I would have, of course, sought you out. Please do not think we stole your children."
Demona was silent. She could not very well tell the princess that she had been there when the humans were loading the eggs onto the carts and done nothing. In the end, even she had to grudgingly admit that it had turned out the better decision if not a completely conscious one. Even if she could have protected all thirty-six young gargoyles till adulthood, there was a good chance they would have been lost at Canmore's hands when the rest of her clan had been. And if not him, perhaps someone from his brood.
They needn't know these things, she thought, scanning the humans around the table. Not even Macbeth knew about the Hunters, and Demona deemed it for the best.
"I hold you at fault for nothing," she told the princess. "My... thanks for keeping them safe."
From the corner of her gaze, she saw Macbeth smile approvingly. No doubt he was impressed she was thanking a human other than himself. Demona found it odd as well, but then again with the exception of her alliance with Macbeth, this was the only time she had witnessed humans helping gargoyles at their own expenses.
A glance at the tall windows and quick assessment of the late night sky told her they had spent many hours in conversation. It would be dawn again soon.
"Where do the children sleep?" she asked rising.
"There is a large room a level above," the Magus pointed upwards. "Avalon is peaceful, as I have said, but we deemed it best to have them spend the days inside until they are older."
She nodded and left without another word. At that point the conversation switched to the affairs of the outside world, especially Scotland. Katharine was eager to hear news of her home and of any other surviving members of her family. When Macbeth told her about Duncan and Canmore, how he himself came to power, his reign, and historical demise, the princess just shook her head sadly.
"I wish I could say I am surprised, but politics has always been a bloody business, turning kin against kin. What little time I spent in my uncle's court was more than enough for me to realize that and be gland I am no longer part of it."
"I wholeheartedly agree," Macbeth nodded. "I miss my wife and my son, but not the crown."
"Do Canmore's descendants still rule in Scotland?" she asked out of curiosity.
"Actually, no," he thought for a moment, recalling the large liefy family tree of the Scottish monarchs. "He had many many children. Five of his sons sat on the throne at one point or another, and I'm certain he has surviving descendants, but King Alexander III who ruled up until eight years ago is the last monarch I know of who can claim to be descendant from Canmore. There was one girl, Margaret of Norway, but I am uncertain of the true story. There has been great unrest in Scotland lately. Many candidates have come forth, but none have been crowned. I've even heard talk of an English monarch..."
"The Scots would never tolerate a foreign ruler," Katharine frowned, and just for a moment Macbeth could see the haughtiness in his kinswoman that had so annoyed Demona. Not that he could blame her. The idea did not sit well with him either.
"The world is becoming increasingly more complicated," he finally said. "You do not feel the passage of time in the same manner as I, but believe me, dear cousin, when I say that these games of thrones are all but meaningless in the grand scheme, whatever it is. Kings will clash, bringing about with them storms of swords, rise and fall int turn, but the people will go on. As for Canmore and his line... to be perfectly frank, I do not think I have the strength to think of him with anything but pity, so I try not to think of him at all."
* * * * * * * * * *
It was not hard to find the room the Magus spoke of. The castle was large, but once she got up the stairs, Demona only needed to follow the laughter and sound of children playing to find them. She stood in the doorway and watched them without being seen for a moment, marveling at the fact that they seemed so like any other group of rookery siblings despite the fact that they had no clan to raise them. It made her think of her own brothers and sisters, of her mate... her chest constricted in pain.
When they saw her, the youngsters rushed forward all talking at once, some introducing themselves, others asking more questions. It was still a bit difficult for her to try to keep track of so many names at the same time, but she did commit each child's face to memory. She had told Macbeth the truth: they were all her children, but some faces were just a little harder to look at than others. She had a good guess of where the boy, Gabriel, had come from. Her rookery brother and sister should have been here, should have had some chance to know their children as well, to know their son. And try as she might, Demona could not keep her gaze from lingering on Angela for just a few seconds longer than the others.
"Can you sing?" a girl – Demona thought she remembered her name was Ophelia – asked.
"Not very well," she told at her rookie daughter. "I'm made for battle, not songs."
"Oh please!" Angela looked at her with big dark eyes. "Princess Katharine knows lots, but we've heard them all."
She thought for a long moment, then remembered something. A song a mother used to sing to her son, one of great meaning and sadness and hope.
"I know one," Demona said finally. "I heard it long ago from a... friend."
She sat, wings wrapped around her shoulders their ends trailing on the floor like a cape. The young gargoyles all gathered around, some sitting close, others standing a foot away still a bit wary of the stranger. Angela, by far the boldest, climbed into into her lap looking up for permission only after the fact. Her mother smiled and patted her dark hair affectionately. She had only heard fractions of this particular song. Demona could not remember parts of the tune or even some of the lyrics, but the children did not seem to care.
Macbeth has been waiting just outside the door, once again not wishing to intrude, and did not enter until the sun had risen and the singing stopped. The sight of Demona surrounded by her children made him smile, even as he wondered when she'd heard the song Gruoch used to sing to their son.