|Author's Note: The characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney
and are used here without their creators' knowledge or permission. All
others belong to the author. Mature readers only due to sexual content.
December 2001; 13,000 words.
#5 in a series.
When the mists lifted, we were treated to a
scene of such unparalleled beauty that none of us could for some moments
so much as speak.
We were aboard our craft, the Mists' Passage,
a gift from Queen Titania. Upon this vessel, we had already made several
journeys, hither and thither in the between-world that divides Avalon from
Earth proper. Some of these journeys had been tragic, others glad, none
without the flavor of danger and adventure. We had lost one of our number
to death and another to true love. We had befriended some humans and made
deadly enemies of others. We had seen rain and snow and the desert of Egypt.
Nothing had prepared us for this.
A full moon, lambent white, spread fans of
light across the gently rippling surface of water so clear that it could
have been hewn from purest glass. High above, thin clouds skated with amazing
rapidity o'er the star-dusted heavens, testimony of a wind-stream of great
strength. But the air down here was still so that our sail hardly belled
from its spars. Below in the water, darting among the shoals and reefs,
were multitudes of fish. Their silvery shadows chased about, schools of
them moving in teeming concert.
Behind us, and indeed all around us as far
as the eye could see, rising spires of stone encircled the island. These
spires made a barrier that from here looked complete, a dark silhouette,
a ridged wall that the lower edge of the moon just cleared.
The large island, toward which we were moving
at the current's mild pace, was a lush paradise. Even from here, we could
smell the fragrant perfume of fabulous tropical blooms. The beaches were
bone-pale, a waterfall plunging from a high cliff a narrow ribbon of quicksilver.
The vision was pristine and unspoiled. No
lights save that of the moon illuminated the scenery, no sound but for
the hoot and cry of birds and small animals disturbed the night. It was
a destination as exotic as any visited by Odysseus in his travels, untouched
by human hand.
I estimated the island at its widest to be
ten or twelve miles across, and that was all without knowing how far it
might extend in length, approaching it head-on as we were. It was perhaps
larger than Avalon, and dare I say, perhaps as beautiful. It lacked the
central volcanic peak, the Heart of Avalon which I personally had experienced
all too well, and it lacked the shimmer of faerie radiance that welled
from Oberon's palace like the Borealis, but this natural wonder was breathtaking
in and of its own right.
We stood at the prow of our craft in silence,
ranged along the rail. We totaled five, four gargoyles and one human. Birdie
had joined us in Egypt, where Cassius had left us to stay with his mate.
I did not envy Cassius. He faced a difficult
path ahead, but he faced it gladly. His Khepri was a creature of loveliness,
but she was a Daughter of Ra and more accustomed to waking by day and sleeping
in stone by night. The rest of her clan had long-since died, out, leaving
only herself and a brother who had been killed shortly before our arrival.
With her medallion, an item of enchantment, she could choose to be flesh
by day or by night, else she and Cassius would have never had more than
an instant of contact at sunrise and sunset.
No, I did not envy Cassius … and at the same
time, I did. We all did. For he had found love. Found a mate. Their inherent
problems were nothing to him compared to the joy of attaining his destiny.
He had left Avalon believing that his true love awaited him, and he had
The rest of us had not come with goals so
Tourmaline, our leader, had been craving and
conscious of status since she was a youngling. Yet now that she led a clan,
albeit a small one, of her own, she was finding it not quite what she'd
desired. Too, she was beginning to show, and the swelling of her normally
wasp-thin waistline made her cross each time she set to cinch her swordbelt
around it and found the buckle could not reach to the same hole as hitherto
it had. Or perhaps the egg within reminded her too painfully of her falling
out with Jacob and her general difficulties in matters of matings and love.
Ezekiel wanted only to be with Tourmaline,
doggedly wooing her despite one cold rejection after another. Just why
he wanted her was something of a mystery to me. True, she was quite comely,
and the glow of motherhood had lent her shifting emerald skin a luster,
softened the imperious angles of her features … but her treatment of him
was as unlovely as her appearance was fair. Yet Ezekiel was determined.
He had, it seemed to me, viewed dark Cassius' decision to remain in Egypt
with relief. For now only Icarus and I remained as dubious competition
to our mottled-green brother's suit.
Icarus, too, was a puzzle. He rarely spoke,
this taciturn brother of ours. At home among the clan he had kept largely
to himself. This proved him more of a challenge when there were but half
a dozen of us upon a relatively small vessel. If he desired healing, some
place or being with the power to repair his shattered wings and smooth
the scars that marred his hide of iron grey, he would have done better
to plead his case to Oberon's Children. Instead, he had followed Tourmaline
into this uncertain world where his hampered gliding ability ran the risk
of doing us detriment.
And then there was myself, Corwin. I suppose
it is fair to say that I joined this little band as much out of my own
curiosity as a wish to keep an eye on them. I'd promised my sister Fia
that I would, for Jacob's sake, watch over Tourmaline's hatchling. Further,
I was rather glad to leave Avalon because ever since I'd thrown myself
into its Heart, I was abashed by the attention that deed had earned. Not
quite gratitude, mind … the Children couldn't bring themselves to
offer thanks to a mere mortal, but it was disconcerting to know that everyone
on Avalon knew of my sacrifice, which I had done when none of them would.
"Wow," Birdie said into the awed hush that
had fallen over us. The fifth in our company, a recent addition, she was
a buxom young woman with a tousle of black hair and a ready grin. She had
been weary of archeological pursuits in Egypt and joined us, expecting
to eventually wind up someplace closer to home.
I echoed her sentiment, and breathed deeply
of the aromatic air. Floral scents and salt spray mingled pleasantly.
"Where are we?" wondered Tourmaline, consulting
one of our many maps.
"It certainly seems, what's the word, equatorial,"
I said. "That wall-of-stones feature shouldn't make it hard to identify."
"Are we putting ashore?" asked Icarus.
"Isn't that why we're here?" Ezekiel countered
with a shrug.
He raked his long, unkempt hair out of his
eyes and peered keenly at the island, perhaps already anticipating a hunt.
He was nowhere near the archer Hippolyta had been, but few of our clan
had been so skilled at tracking. In that, Ezekiel's lack of wit and cunning
served him well – he could wait long hours without becoming bored, lying
in ambush for his prey.
"We put ashore," Tourmaline declared. "But
I read a chary optimism in her tone. If this
place was in truth as peaceful as it appeared, it could well be the homeland
for which she'd been hoping. A home of our own. To every appearance, it
was quite perfectly isolated, cut off from the world by that towering barrier.
The Mists' Passage was shallow-bottomed
enough to anchor only a few yards from the beach, which was strewn with
flawless shells in such delicate colors that one hardly dared to touch
them lest they fracture like daydreams.
I felt, as my talons touched down in the sand
that was still warm from the day's baking sun, like an explorer coming
to some uncharted land. None of my senses foretold of peril. It did seem
safe, as well as beautiful. A clan could prosper here. Yes, it is fair
to say that I saw the appeal it might hold for Tourmaline. She would be
having nesting urges soon, wishing to find a secure rookery and furnish
it to her specifications with dried grasses.
The greenery came nearly to the water's edge.
Many of the plants were richly laden with fruit instead of flowers, plump
soft-skinned fruits that came loose at the merest nudge. They could have
been poison, I suppose, but trusting to the natural hardiness of the gargoyle
race, I bit deep. My teeth tore through the thin skin and into the pulpy
flesh, loosing a flood of juice that sent me reeling with delight. It was
at once so tart as to make the mouth pucker, and so sweet as to suffuse
one's entire being. Sticky runnels of juice spilled down my chest.
Around me, the others were similarly experimenting.
Tourmaline found a plant with long stalks that, when bent or broken, released
a thick sap that numbed upon contact. She was not the healer Ruth was,
but given our recent experiences, could well see the benefit in such an
Ezekiel wanted to set off hunting straightaway,
but when Tourmaline refused, contented himself by cracking open hard-hulled
gourds with blows from his ironwood staff and collecting fallen wood for
a fire. It seemed unspokenly decided that we would make a pleasant camp
here upon the beach and enjoy this small paradise.
Icarus trudged down the beach, head low in
an attitude of severe glumness, but as he stopped and bent periodically
to collect items from the beach we surmised that he was gathering shells.
When he wearied of that, he ventured out into the mild surf. He lacked
any weapon save his own claws, yet those soon showed their worth as he
stabbed again and again into the water and emerged with wriggling, glistening
fish. We would feast, and well, tonight!
Birdie joined me in picking fruit, unashamedly
gorging herself and then splashing her face and hands clean in the sparkling
sea. I then helped Ezekiel pile wood, and strike it alight. Soon we had
a festive blaze, and the crisp aroma of frying fish made our stomachs growl.
We ate until we were fit to bursting. Our
diet these past many nights had consisted of foods brought with us, preserved
by magic, but fresh fare was always most welcome. The fish was white and
flaky once the crackling scales were peeled away, and in truth all we lacked
was wine. No one, though, showed any initiative to go back to the Mists'
Passage and fetch some. We made do instead with the juice of the fruits,
the syrupy liquid Ezekiel discovered inside the gourds (which themselves,
the meat forming the walls of their hollow spheres, were nutty and chewy
when roasted in the embers), and water from a spring that flowed nearby.
"Perhaps," I said when some hours had gone
by with no signs of trouble, "Avalon decided we needed a vacation."
Only Birdie was near enough to reply. Ezekiel
had asked again to be allowed to go hunting, and Tourmaline, lulled by
the pleasant evening, acquiesced with a nod. She herself had admired Icarus'
shells and set off to collect some of her own, perhaps with an eye toward
crafting some jewelry. Icarus did not go with her but proceeded to explore
the beach in the other direction, which was rockier so that he carried
a stout length of driftwood as a walking-stick.
"The only thing missing," said Birdie, stretching
out on the sand that was now warmed by the fire rather than the residual
heat of the day and gazing up at the moon, "is … well, sunlight, for one
… and a sexy cabana boy."
I sat down beside her, digging troughs with
my hind talons. "Cabana boy?"
"To bring towels, rum drinks, or oil to rub
all over me."
"Wherever can we get one of those?" I inquired
with a grin.
She rolled onto one elbow and regarded me.
"That's right, you'd like that. Better make it two cabana boys."
"Sadly, there seem to be none here save us."
"Might as well enjoy it while we can." Birdie
sketched idly, using her forefinger as a stylus. "Hey, Corwin?"
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Isn't that one?"
"Smart guy, you know what I mean."
I reclined, spreading my wings and crossing
my arms behind my head. Some ways off, I could hear Tourmaline exclaiming
over her discoveries. "Ask away, then."
"How'd you find out you were gay?"
A chuckle escaped me. "Until Aiden told me
the term, I did not know that I was. I only knew that I found males far
more appealing than females."
"So you've never been with a female?" A hint
of challenge was in her tone.
"That depends on your definition of being
"Don't go all Clinton on me. You've never
been to bed with a female?"
"We don't use beds."
She flicked a spray of fine granules at me.
I laughed. "Oh, very well. I have done much
with females, this I grant you, but never fully paired with one. As it
happens, I was not unpopular among my sisters when we were younger. I was
well able to please them, and they liked the fact that I did not expect
anything in return. It was not all that different from braiding their hair,
or kneading their muscles when they ached. A friendly service, a favor."
Birdie had propped herself on both elbows
now and was staring at me. "So you'd … service them."
"Oh, yes," I said. "With hands or mouth or
tail, as they pleased."
"Yeah, I've heard about that tail thing,"
she muttered distractedly. "But they didn't reciprocate?"
"There was no need. I enjoyed performing those
tasks, but it was hardly sexual."
"On my part, I should clarify. They were sensual
experiences, of course, very much so. However, there is quite a difference
between sensual and sexual."
"Fair enough," Birdie allowed after a pause
to consider this. "Didn't you ever want more from them? Didn't you ever
get turned on?"
"Not by my sisters, no." I eyed her whimsically.
"Is this some precursor on your part to an attempt to seduce me?"
"Even if it was, I can tell it'd be doomed
to failure," she said with a laugh and a toss of her dark curls. "Besides,
I'm kind of seeing someone. Okay, so he's probably thousands of miles away
and would never know …" she trailed off, sweeping me with a gaze as I rested
there on the beach with the moonlight painting my gold skin with a veneer
"I'm sure that were I attracted to females
I'd find you most tempting," I told her, and winked.
"That's the politest let-down I've ever gotten."
Her lips pursed pensively. "So, got a boyfriend?"
"No, I am mateless," I said. "Alas, it has
been a sadly celibate life for me since the breeding season began. Many
of my brothers had sported in our youth, but the older we got the more
their attentions turned solely toward females. Save for Liam and Pericles,
who seem to enjoy each other as much as they enjoy their mate, Garnet."
"Two guys, one girl, all mates? Now that's
the way a threesome ought to be. Makes more sense."
"There are a few such triads on Avalon, although
the Magus did tell us that our rookery parents bonded as pairs." I rolled
to my side, my chin in one hand, and sighed. "Had things gone differently,
I suppose it is not impossible to think that Hippolyta, Jericho and I might
have made such an arrangement."
Birdie choked and spat out a bite of fruit.
"You need not tell me his sorrowful fate,"
I said. "Aiden and Lexington already gave us that sad news."
That did not seem to be on her mind as she
looked me up and down. "You and Jericho?"
"This startles you?"
"Well, yeah, a little."
"He was not always as you knew of him. From
what I have heard, he was corrupted greatly, and turned to evil deeds.
Long ago, on Avalon, he was not like that."
"You and Jericho," she said again in a somewhat
"What is it?"
"That just would have been … I'm speechless.
And believe me, that doesn't happen often."
"Speechless," I said with a tilt of my head
and a hoist of my brow ridge.
"I hardly ever saw him close up," she said.
"There was this one time, in my apartment, and he was fighting MacBeth
… and they were both just so damn sexy … and you, Corwin, are a total hunk
yourself. The two of you together … okay, now I can kind of see why guys
are so obsessed with girl-on-girl pornos. Because you two … that would
be totally amazingly hot. I'm getting all flushed just talking about it."
I looked, and she was. Her face had gone dusky,
and her warm hazel eyes were limpid.
"He and I were very close," I said. "Even
after he chose to no longer indulge in loveplay with me. That would have
been about the same time Tourmaline set her cap for him, and if I were
the kind to keep a grudge I might hold that against her for distracting
him from me. But even so, we remained friends, he and I. If only I'd been
able to speak with him, I might have gotten through to him --"
"Hey, Elektra tried, Angela tried, everybody
tried. No one can stand up to Demona when she's determined. Don't beat
yourself up over it."
"You forget … in our time reckoning, it has
only been a few months since he was with us on Avalon and all this evil
was ahead of him. For you, he's years gone already."
She passed that off with a nod and a shrug,
returning to what was to her the more important topic. "You and Jericho.
"And Hippolyta," I said, remembering fondly.
"Almost. Oh, but she was cross."
"Ideally, from her perspective, being with
two males should have meant that both would be concentrating their efforts
on her. As you indicated."
"No kidding, that's how it should … oh. Didn't
work out that way, I take it."
"I think she always felt a bit resentful that
I captured Jericho's attention that night …"
A fever had swept the clan ever since Angela,
Gabriel, Malachi, and Ruth brought back their astonishing discoveries.
They had spied on Princess Katherine and Guardian Tom making love in a
meadow, and been inspired to copy the acts that they had witnessed. Now
it was the talk of the clan, everyone eager to try these new deeds.
In truth, the notion was hardly new to us
males. We had for some time been aware of the peculiarities of our genitals,
if not precisely the purpose. Each of us had experienced at one time or
another, and usually an inopportune one, a sudden and inexplicable stiffness
there, turning loincloths into tents (or, in the cases of some, pavilions).
We had further, upon innocent enough experimentation,
learned of the sensations that could be had by rubbing and stroking these
members of ours. It was something that by tacit unspoken agreement we did
not tell our sisters. They might not have understood, as they had no such
members of their own. They might think it strange, or revolting. Or they'd
laugh in that mocking way exclusive to females alone.
Whatever our reasons – and I do not think
it ever occurred to one of us that our sisters might have ways of experiencing
similar sensations on their own, not until that night of clandestine spying
– we males kept the knowledge to ourselves. We joked about it, of course,
teased each other, made sly references and looked all innocence when our
sisters wanted to know what was so funny.
Eventually, in some strange transmutation
perhaps brought on by the prideful and competitive male nature, we took
to gathering in small groups and showing off our prowess. Who could rise
first. Whose was largest. Who could bring himself to climax first. Other
In these competitions, I found that I had
quite the advantage. For the mere thought, let alone the sight, of my brothers
with their loincloths cast aside was enough to raise me to immediate stiffness.
I had noticed this quirk of mine before, for when they would be sneaking
looks at the budding breasts of Angela, Ruth, or Ophelia, I would be gazing
on sculpted chests, taut abdomens, thickly-muscled thighs.
Our secret gatherings only inflamed me all
the more. To watch my brothers caressing themselves, their eyes half-lidded
and their breath hastening … the sight of them … Malachi, the largest of
us, with truly epic proportions … Uriel proving that his beak was not his
only prominent feature … I would be all the more aroused by them and their
actions. I could have finished first every time, so impassioned was I,
but I found even greater pleasure in slowing, prolonging, enjoying that
spectacle which was going on all around me.
One night, Deucalion took me aside and remarked
upon it. He, I'd noticed, often had the most difficulty getting into the
spirit of things. He was quite striking, the aquamarine of his skin contrasting
with hair as blue-black as ink, and his wings were handsome with a small
extra strut at the top. He asked me why I was so adept at this newfound
hobby of ours, seeking my advice.
Now, Deucalion was known best for his woodworking
ability, so I knew he was clever with his hands. I could not fathom how
he would need my help. Nonetheless, I was glad to give it.
We went off together, and I demonstrated for
him. Somehow, having him watch me was a thrill of its own, and made me
bold. When he set out to follow my example, I acted. I covered his hand
with mine and guided it. He fell into the rhythm I had set and together
we brought him to a shuddering conclusion.
This had had a pronounced effect on me, despite
my having spent only a short while before. Noting this, Deucalion laughed
and suggested that I show him once more. And I, still feeling bold, said
that he should test his ability on me. He acquiesced.
I shall never forget that. It was one thing
to be gripped by my own hand, something altogether different and amazing
to have Deucalion touching me. He was hesitant at first, and I think my
sudden groan startled him, but when I did not push him away, when I urged
him on, he grew more confident. Up and down in sure, firm strokes … and
soon he was rigid again and there was no question that I should reach out
and encircle his length, and match his movements. We finished together,
and both of us were left shaken and dumbstruck by the intensity of it.
Had we been instructed more about the business
of the flesh, I doubt that these things would have ever happened. But our
education was left mostly to the Magus, and he never broached such subjects.
Sex was a non-issue, so to speak. We were told nothing of it, neither good
nor bad. We were left to our own devices and observations.
Thus, there was no reason why Deucalion and
I should not tell the others about our encounter. It intrigued them. Most
were quite eager to try for themselves. My second such time was with Malachi,
and as his hands were likewise bigger than mine, it took both of mine to
get the job done that he could for himself do with one.
Throughout all of this, none of us ever thought
to touch one another anyplace else. We remained ignorant of our wing joints,
that sensitive spot at the base of the tail, even the tail itself. No,
only that one part, that jutting promontory of our malehood, commanded
our entire attention. We never embraced in any other way, nor kissed. Not
until that night when Gabriel and Malachi revealed all they had seen and
done, just as Angela and Ruth were confessing the same to our sisters.
It was quite astounding news. Most of fascination
to me was the description of how Princess Katherine had taken Guardian
Tom's member in her mouth. This was something I yearned to try, and although
I have always been agile, I wasn't able to perform such an act upon myself.
And I was divided in my desire – to have it done to me, and to do it to
I did not have the opportunity to even broach
the subject to any of my brothers. They, like starving beasts, threw themselves
onto the hitherto untouched feast of our sweet and welcoming sisters. They
became to a male obsessed with breasts and lips and other parts of the
It was a wild time for our clan. Only demure
Elektra remained wholly apart from it. Even shy Thisbe warmed to this newfound
fancy of sex after some coaxing. The females had voracious appetites for
love, insatiable, wanting more when every male in view was drained and
This led to some of them cornering me one
night. It is a daunting thing indeed to be out minding one's own business
and turn to see that four females, their eyes aglow with passion, have
blocked one's retreat. I was face to face with Garnet, Ruth, Angela, and
Coira. Lovelies, all, yet they terrified me.
Angela especially was insistent. She caught
hold of me and pulled me into their midst, a place that I warrant many
a male would have given a limb to be yet nonetheless alarmed me. Slim feminine
hands were thrust down my loincloth. Garnet was nibbling and licking my
wing joints as if they'd been coated in honey. I was all but smothered
in Angela's ample bosom … and I felt nothing.
Ruth noticed it first – as well she should;
the hands down my loincloth were hers, so clever at healing and now put
to this other pursuit. They could not comprehend my reaction, or lack thereof.
I pleaded headache and escaped them to a safe distance. There, counting
myself lucky to have gotten away with my hide intact, I turned back in
midair to see that three of them had surrendered to each other's caresses.
Of Coira, there was no sign.
I presumed that she had gone back in search
of a more accommodating male. Perhaps my former lovemate Deucalion, who
had been muchly with her of late. But I'd only gotten a few winglengths
away when she swooped down and bore me to the ground.
Coira was of a similar skin color to Angela,
a light lavender that was most becoming. Her hair was a rich dark blond,
her tail ended with four spikes, and rows of blunted diamond-shapes made
up her brow ridge, knee, and elbow spurs. She was the best aerobat in the
clan and showed it with how deftly she caught me. A worthy female … most
of my brothers would have envied me my plight.
I hit the earth with such a thud that it drove
the breath from my lungs. Before I could move, Coira was straddling me
and had my wrists pinned above my head. Her hair was hanging in my face
and she was beaming, as happy as she might have been had she felled a stag.
She told me they should not have mobbed me
like that, nor been so overbearing. She told me she understood that I must
be shy, that I would do better with only one female and not a crowd. And
all the while as she was apologizing for their forwardness, she was stripping
me of my loincloth and busying herself with her hands, and kissing me wet
Trying to free myself without harming her,
trying to explain what I lacked the words to explain, I only succeeded
in flipping us over so that I was atop her. Coira, limber as a minx, had
her legs locked 'round my waist and her arms 'round my neck. She rolled
her hips, and we were in all ways giving the appearance of coupling,
save that of course I was flaccid as a wilted petal.
Yet she would not let me go. She was determined,
and I perceived that my only chance of getting out of this alive was to
satisfy her some other way. Else she might, in some fury of frustrated
passion, rip out my throat or deprive me of the organ that failed to meet
I ceased my struggles and began kissing her.
It did nothing for me, but cost me nothing but my time, and her response
was gratifying. Drawing upon what I'd learned in weeks of observation,
I fondled her breasts and petted the small of her back until she was writhing.
At her urging, I ducked my head to the cleft between her legs and, having
not witnessed any of that activity quite so closely, did the best that
Evidently, my performance was passable … though
not enough because Coira was begging for more. At a loss, looking
down at my member that stood so readily at the merest glimpse of Jericho
or Cassius bathing, I wondered if closing my eyes and imagining one of
them might do. It did not seem so. But I had to do something else Coira
would never relent. In desperation, I brought my tail to that needful center
To this day I am not sure what possessed me
to do what I did next. It must have been some instinctive behavior held
deep in my mind, for I never would have consciously thought of such a maneuver.
I flexed my tail in a curling, undulating motion, and the next thing I
knew Coira was shrieking to the stars, her eyes fiery rubies. Then she
I rose from her, astonished and not a little
afraid. My first horrified thought was that I'd killed her, but she was
breathing steadily and wore a small, blissful smile. My second was the
realization that Angela, Ruth, and Garnet had been close enough to hear,
and were even now charging through the underbrush to see what had made
their sister shriek so. If they found me … if they knew … they'd be after
me again before I could blink.
My fears in that proved unfounded. The trio
of them did come to find Coira, and revived her. She seemed dazed,
luckily for me too dazed to answer their queries, and needed their support
to totter back to the castle on unsteady legs. I was absurdly flattered,
though in no hurry to repeat.
That was the beginning of my admittedly odd
reputation among my sisters. Coira eventually confided in a few of the
others, though for reasons of her own (she would later tell me that she
didn't want to share) she withheld the truth of the tail.
I began to be sought out, though never again
ambushed and so suffocatingly ravished. Once I was comforted in the knowledge
that they would leave my loincloth alone, I found I quite enjoyed making
my sisters so happy. They, in turn, seemed to relish having all of the
endeavor be focussed on their pleasure, selfless as I was.
Except, of course, that I wasn't nearly so
selfless as they made me out to be. Not that I resented the time
I devoted to my sisters, but I remained ever aware that my own desires
were going unmet. My thoughts kept returning to the oral delights that
I had by now seen many of my brothers enjoying, but that I had yet to either
perform or receive.
Of all my sisters, it was quiet Thisbe who
noticed this. She caught me one day watching Angela and Laertes. I was
so rapt, so fixed on his face as he stood with eyes closed and expression
one of sheerest bliss as he combed restless fingers through the loose fall
of Angela's sable mane, that I did not hear her approach or know she was
there until her dark brown hand fell upon my shoulder.
I nearly leapt out of my skin, and that made
her giggle. Then, serious again, she dipped her gaze with maidenly coyness
to the swelling beneath my loincloth and most politely asked if I wished
the same treatment as Laertes.
I did consider it, credit me for that. But
in the end I declined, for by the time I had done considering it I had
dwindled visibly. If there is one great truth about loveplay, I've determined
it is this: if you must stop to think it over, you may as well cease then
Thisbe was not offended, giving me a simple
sweet kiss instead. By then Angela and Laertes had finished and gone back,
disheveled and smiling those smugly satisfied smiles that I had grown so
used to seeing on my siblings of late. I was not yet ready to rejoin the
clan and as I climbed to a high spot from whence to launch myself, I spied
movement and understood that I was not the only one to have been surreptitiously
observing the couple in the glade.
I knew them at once by their hues. That shade
of azure and that blaze of brilliant red hair could only belong to Jericho,
Gabriel's second-in-command. And the white-gold hair marked the copper-skinned
beauty beside him as Hippolyta. They were stealing away so stealthily that
I had to follow.
They came to a place even more secluded, a
grotto where the rocks were so coated with moss that they were soft as
cushions, and a trickle of water from a spring in the cliffside made delicate
music as it rained into a pool below. Here, both of them bright-eyed and
urgent, they began unfastening one another's belts even before they'd come
to a halt.
I never tired of watching Jericho. He was
magnificently formed, exquisitely endowed, and he pursued his pleasure
and that of his partner with a particularly lascivious fire. Now, impatient
but matching Hippolyta's fervor, he had her bare to the night sky and was
embracing her from behind, cupping her breasts and nuzzling the side of
her neck. Their tails formed a braid of copper and blue.
After some while of this, he wheeled her about
and ungently pushed her down and beseeched her to do to him as Angela had
done to Laertes. At this, I looked on in speculation for I had yet to see
proud Hippolyta undertake this act … she seemed in some disdainful way
to regard it as inappropriate. But her blood was high with need, and she
dropped to oblige him.
Her inexpertise did them a mischief and Jericho
drew away with a hiss, cradling himself. Her teeth had not broken the skin
but the very idea was enough to make me wince. By way of amends, she threw
herself against him and stroked and massaged until he was inspired to resume
their activity. Yet he had not entirely forgiven; he turned her again and
bent her to knees and elbows that he might enter her in that position with
her tail curved around his hip.
I was fortunate to have a splendid view of
his backside, of the muscles in his back and legs flexing and working.
I was filled with the craving to touch him, to run my hand from the nape
of his neck to the base of his tail, and before good sense could intervene,
I leaped from my perch to do just that.
My landing on the soft moss was not silent,
but went undetected by the pair all the same. Hippolyta's head was down,
her hair swinging, uttering low, breathy growls in time with each thrust.
Jericho made no sound but held her tightly by the hips to pull her back
to meet him.
Surprising him in the heat of passion could
spring back violently upon me … he might well spin and strike before he
knew who it was. Yet I could no more resist than I could resist the compulsion
of stone sleep when the sun peered over the horizon.
I did as I had so longed to, a single firm
stroke from nape to tail, along the sensitive span that lay between his
widespread wings. Jericho let out a shout and did not attack me, but spent
with a sudden, startled convulsion.
He withdrew from Hippolyta and spun to face
me, chest heaving. I could not help but laugh, although laughing at temperamental
Jericho was never wise. To my relief, a moment later he burst out with
mirth of his own and settled for punching me in the shoulder hard enough
to rock me back a pace.
Hippolyta, interrupted just on the verge,
was less in a good humor. She regarded me with flashing eyes and told me
in a tone that brooked no nonsense that I had best finish what Jericho
Well, that I could not quite do, but I did
settle down beside her and caressed her in the manner that I knew she found
delicious. Jericho was about to leave but her tail snaked out and snared
his ankle, and before long she had one of us on either side of her and
two sets of hands busy with her many charms.
We fell somehow into a three-way embrace,
and I was very conscious of the brushed-leather feel of Jericho's skin
against mine. Hippolyta was transported, crying out soft exhortations to
us both. How many times she gained release, I lost count. I became so caught
up in our actions that I could not tell if it was her or him touching me,
but the mere prospect that it might be him was enough to have the natural
Aware of this, pressing insistently as it
was against her leg, Hippolyta wanted me to couple with her. My objections
were weak, my attempts to pull away forestalled as Jericho crushed the
both of us against him. He was laughing, urging us on, and to emphasize
it reached between my legs to give me an encouraging squeeze.
I stammered out a protest, not at his touching
but at its cessation. Hippolyta heeded none of this and turned to Jericho,
thinking that if I would not oblige, he might. He told her that he would
but that a bit more encouragement was needed, and if she would just … carefully,
mind … try again to take him in her mouth …
She groused at this and claimed that she did
not know how. And I, as though I had planned for this very moment, volunteered
to show her.
Now, I had never done it either, but I had
thought of it for seemingly ages. Jericho looked startled and slightly
askance, but when Hippolyta immediately agreed to watch and learn, he lay
back on the mossy rocks and allowed me to proceed.
With Hippolyta's head bent so close to watch
that her strands of white-gold hair mingled with my pure white, I slowly
traced the terrain of Jericho's abdomen and pelvis with both hands. The
contrast of our coloration, gold against blue, was striking and alluring.
I kissed all around his groin, smooth skin against my lips, him shivering
as my breath offset the cool of the night. I could smell Hippolyta's musk
mixed with his own, could taste it when I flicked and slid my tongue along
the thick shaft of his member.
He groaned in a sound that seemed mostly helpless
surrender and rose up hard and erect at my ministrations. Mindful of Hippolyta's
error, I was cautious of my teeth, and aside from that I simply did to
him what I imagined would feel best to me. His response was gratifying
beyond belief. Twisting himself about, he contrived to place himself so
that he could return the favor, all without dislodging from my attentions.
It was unquestioningly the greatest ecstasy
I had ever known. At some point, lost in my delirious fog, I dimly realized
that we were neglecting Hippolyta entirely, so fascinated by our activity
together. Good manners should have prompted one or the other of us to reach
out with a tail and draw her near, but we were far beyond manners by then.
All in the wide world that mattered to me
was the feel of him in my mouth, and the warm lapping and suction provided
by him on me. I was rushing, plummeting, soaring, my senses gone mad. My
climax was imminent, unstoppable.
I yielded to it with a cry, giving just enough
warning for Jericho to move his head. With short, hard rubs of his hand,
he coaxed every last milky jet from me, which spilled to the moss glittering
like pearls in the white light of my glowing eyes.
Overcome, I had allowed him to slip from my
mouth but before the quakings had subsided from my body I took hold of
him and again engulfed him. He thrust eagerly, so that I could barely breathe.
What did I care for breathing? I wanted him, all of him, and when his hands
closed quite roughly on the sides of my head, his claws digging into my
scalp, I relished the intensity of it.
He called out, very nearly roaring, and his
body went rigid from head to tail. Muscles and tendons stood out in sharp
relief. He expected me to draw away as he had done, letting go my head
that I might, but I only pressed to him all the firmer, drew him deeper.
He loosed in a flood, hot liquid heavy with the taste of minerals. Roaring
in earnest now, back arched, and then collapsing to a breathless heap.
I sat up and the world swam and reeled around
me. With a moan that was more of an amazed mewl, I fell back again and
found my head pillowed on Hippolyta's thigh. She had remained and watched
all, and once I had recovered my wits enough to make coherent sense of
the world, she scolded me sternly for what I'd done. I had, she claimed
indignantly, only been supposed to show her, and then presumably she would
have taken over. Jericho, his head resting on her other thigh so that we
were eye to eye across its taut coppery expanse, scoffed weakly and said
he had no complaints, none in the slightest.
That night was one of priceless treasure to
me, always remembered and never matched, never surpassed despite the many
other evenings I spent pursuing those delights with others of my brothers.
There is something to be said for first times.
But alas for me, it could not last. Eventually,
and especially after the events that so forever changed our benign and
undisturbed life on Avalon, I saw my brothers devoting themselves less
to casual loveplay – what Angela referred to as frolicsome matings – and
fixing their adoration on particular females.
So too did our sisters opt to forego their
playful antics. I think we all grieved some at that, for they made a symphony
of beauty that even I could appreciate. To see them swimming and splashing
one another and embracing in the pool of seven falls was to believe in
an orderly and designed universe, for such a wonder could not have happened
by mere chance.
I was soon left with no company save that
of myself, though when Oberon's Children returned to their court for their
Gathering, I found myself the object of no small interest from fair folk
male and female alike. It is both flattering and frightening to be desired
by gods and goddesses. I well knew the peril that might come my way by
spurning their advances. Fortunately for me, their reunion was rife with
affairs among the immortals themselves and they perhaps regarded we lowly
mortals as not deserving.
Even so, these past months have been lonely.
Once pledged to their mates, thoughts of infidelity would not so much as
cross any of my brothers' minds. And of the mateless males that remained,
none were disposed as to establish any frolics with me … nor particularly
was I with them.
Had Jericho remained, it might have been different.
How so, I cannot say – following his break with Tourmaline, he was bitter
toward all females, and whether Hippolyta or even fair Elektra could have
swayed him, I know not. I like to console myself by thinking that had they
not, he and I might have formed some lasting arrangement, but I must admit
the unlikelihood of it. He was a creature of complexity even then, passionate
and intense but with a darkness within him.
As for myself, my future … it is as unclear
as the mist that closes around us.
I had not intended to tell out my entire life's
story there on that moonswept beach, yet my audience did not seem in the
least bit bored by it. Birdie was agog, open-mouthed and blinking long
slow blinks of her long dark lashes. The flush that had arisen in her rounded
cheeks was still there, pinker, though clearly not with embarrassment.
"Well," she finally said, "that beats my sordid
past all to hell and gone. I may be sleeping with a thousand-year-old man,
but I think you win."
"Was it a contest?" I asked with a grin.
"No contest, that's my point."
The moon was now directly above us, so large
and luminous that it seemed one could reach up and pluck it from the heavens
as easily as we plucked fruit from the trees. Birdie and I still had this
stretch of beach to ourselves, Icarus having wandered so far along it that
he was a dark dot against the pale sand and moonlit ripples that passed
for waves here in this sheltered paradise.
I glanced around for Tourmaline, saw her seated
on a rock that rose above the low waves. Her skirt was hiked nearly to
her waist and she presented a lovely sight with her knees drawn up and
her wings trailing behind her. She was pinching holes through the thin
shells one by one and stringing them onto a cord, oblivious to all else.
There was no sign of Ezekiel. I confess, I'd
half-hoped that he and she had gone off together and that my haughty sister
would finally succumb to his wooing. It would be good for her, better for
Birdie was contemplative, and I had talked
myself out with nothing more to say. I added a few branches to the dwindling
fire and reclined again, and tried to pick out enough stars and constellations
to hazard a guess as to our location. It was a hopeless task, as the moon
outshone all but the brightest of them. Further, the fast-moving clouds,
testifying to the brutal speed of the wind, interfered with my view.
As I was thus engrossed, a distant sound caught
my ear. I bolted up, scattering sand and showering Birdie with it as my
wings swept out. For I had heard a roar, a gargoyle roar, as unmistakable
as would have been the swift shadow of a winged shape across the face of
More, although the sound had been fleeting,
I knew it was not Ezekiel, and the rest were accounted for.
I called out to Tourmaline, who was rising
with a curious tip to her head as if wondering what she might have heard.
She loped to join us with a half-finished chain of dainty coral-hued spiral
shells dangling from one hand. Icarus, too, turned back.
"Are you certain?" my doubting sister asked
when we had regrouped and I told her what I surmised.
"As sure as I can be," I replied.
Rather than be overjoyed by this news, Tourmaline
frowned. "I had begun to hope this island could be ours."
"But if there are other gargoyles here --"
"We have no way of knowing if they are friend
or foe," Tourmaline finished for her, icily.
Birdie was undaunted. "That attitude's not
going to help."
"Khepri was friend," I said. It was perhaps
the wrong thing, for Tourmaline's lips tightened and I suddenly understood
that she viewed Cassius' decision as a defection, and a judgement on her
Icarus reached us, a pouch at his belt filled
with the shells that he'd gathered. "Where is Ezekiel?"
"He went hunting," Tourmaline said.
And then, what should have been apparent from
the beginning touched me like a breath of frost. I saw that awareness pass
from one to another of us in a flash. The roar had been one of combat.
Tourmaline spat an oath and whirled, searching
"He went that way, last I saw," said Icarus.
It was good enough for a start and we set
off toward the fringe of green to find trees sturdy and high enough to
let us aloft. Birdie came gamely along. She was an armload but negligible
weight to a strength such as any gargoyle possessed. I clasped her to my
chest and sprung.
We had no trouble pinpointing the sounds of
a conflict. Grunts and roars. The unmistakable thwack! of ironwood
on flesh and bone. This last was followed by a familiar battle cry, which
was cut off in a cough and the crunch of a hard blow.
Tourmaline, in the lead, backwinged in astonishment.
I was behind her and very nearly collided with her. Icarus, struggling
along – he required strong updrafts to support his damaged wings, and the
breeze here was so mild as to be all but nonexistent – strained to catch
There, below us, was a sight that made me
falter in surprise as well.
A natural clearing, a plain of stone that
resembled a grey lake frozen into hillocks and swells, stretched out before
us. It was ringed with the dense vegetation, bordered on one side by a
turbulent river that showed more whitecaps than the ocean itself. The shape
of this clearing was more lozenge than circle and the moon illuminated
it as clearly as had it been a stage.
Center stage, therefore, stood Ezekiel. He
held himself as if it would have pained him to be fully upright, listing
to one side and favoring that leg. His ironwood staff was held crossways
before him in a guarding pose.
Ezekiel was neither the largest nor the smallest
of our clan, brawny but of no greater than average height. He was utterly
dwarfed by his opponent.
"By the Dragon …" breathed Tourmaline.
"His wings!" I exclaimed.
"His horns!" she added.
The stranger bristled with them. Horns and
spurs, sprouting from every joint and sweeping back from his head in a
branching antler set more impressive than that of any stag. He was a riot
of colors, too – his torso bright yellow and banded in scarlet that continued
up his neck and fanned out to his wing struts, his limbs and tail red-orange,
the membranes a vivid, iridescent blue.
With all of that, it was still his wings that
were his most astounding feature. They were enormous. Their span might
have been thirty feet or more when fully extended, though at the moment
they were half-caped and trailed behind him on the ground like the at-rest
tail of a peacock.
He was half again as tall as Ezekiel, too,
and comparably broad. He advanced on our rookery brother with fists clenched
to the size and probably solidity of boulders.
"Who the hell is that?" Birdie cried.
We none of us bothered to answer, only diving
as fast as our wings would carry us. As we closed in, I cried a warning
to Tourmaline. For there were others, a half-dozen of them or more. Males.
Huge. They were as brightly colored, as incredibly winged and horned as
the first, though I saw great variety in the design and hue of them. These
others hung back at the north edge of the clearing. Many of the males looked
battered, some having little interest in the battle as they nursed their
Tourmaline stiffened. Her gasp was as jagged
as a bag of broken glass. She pointed, and when she turned her head to
look at me, black strands of hair floated around a face that had gone pastel
The stony earth was littered with small, twisted
heaps that I wish I could have mistaken for rock formations, driftwood,
even the corpses of animals. But there was no denying that the pitiful,
scattered things were piles of gravel too regular to be anything other
than dead gargoyles. Small ones. Hatchlings.
Things moved in the shadows at the south edge,
opposite the gathering of males. Small shapes, not so small as the hatchlings
but surely no larger than Fia, or little Aiden. I could barely see them,
so well did they blend with the colors of the night.
And then we were spotted. A crescendo of howls
erupted from the males. Ezekiel threw a frantic glance, brief but long
enough to let us read the relief there.
Brief as it was, that glance almost cost him
dearly. The biggest male propelled himself in a massive leap. Ezekiel saw
it coming at the last possible instant, or felt the rushing air of his
motion, and threw himself aside.
I hated bearing a human smack into the midst
of such a scene, but what choice did I have? I dropped, landed, and noted
with dismay that both of my feet could not have filled the canyons of that
Alighting beside me, Tourmaline stifled an
oath. Her gaze was fixed not on the massive male but on something behind
Ezekiel. I hazarded a look and bit back an oath of my own.
A female gargoyle, small and blue-grey with
darker markings like the shadow-stripes of palm fronds, was huddled on
her knees. She clutched two hatchlings to her bosom, and none of the three
made a sound although the hatchlings' faces were contorted in deadly terror.
Our abrupt arrival had thrown this clan of
savages into perplexity. Even the big male hesitated. A gabble of grunts,
accompanied by broad gestures, passed among the rest of them. I took the
momentary reprieve to get a closer look at them and noted additional curiosities.
None of them wore a stitch, for starters.
They were all as bare as the night they'd been hatched, having neither
jewelry, nor weapons aside from those nature provided. Even the most modestly-endowed
of these males would have displaced Malachi's status in our youthful competitions.
They were so laden with horns that I wondered how they could move without
discomfort. Upon closer inspection, they seemed to be dusted with a fine
coat of oily hair, or feathers … or the feathery hair one might see upon
The big male apparently dispensed with the
intellectual concerns and concentrated on the important matter. His roar
blew my hair back. I was deafened but for a buzzing ring in both ears.
His arms swung out and knocked Ezekiel and I apart.
I spun crazily and only barely managed not
to snap my wing struts as I rolled to a halt. Oh, for the relative softness
of the sand! The rocky scree tore at my skin. I finally came to rest feeling
as though I'd been tumbled in a cyclone.
The male thrust his arms at the sky and flung
out his wings. It was a move accomplished with great effort on his part,
so it seemed, but the display, the effect, was one that took the breath
away. I saw that I'd underestimated their span by a significant fraction.
He screamed triumphantly, even as his wings trembled at full extension.
Tourmaline and Icarus had gotten to us now,
while Birdie had prudently backed up. They helped Ezekiel up – he was bleeding
in many places and favoring a twisted knee. My vibrant, arrogant sister
then whirled on this incredible male.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded
in her most queenly tone.
The male's response was a guttural but colossally
loud grunt. Steam – I swear I did not hallucinate this – puffed from his
nostrils as he snorted. His talons pawed at the stony soil, raking it into
The rest of his clan spread out to better
stare at us, and now that I could see them more clearly I began to distinguish,
though not to understand … the large, bright, many-horned ones with the
mighty wings were all males. The females were smaller, lacked much in the
way of horns or spurs at all, and their hues were uniformly drab. Grey,
green, dun-brown, or muted blue, they seemed made for concealment with
patterns of spots or stripes. Ezekiel, with his mottled green hide, could
have blended into the jungle as well as any of them or better.
The females clustered together, hissing and
glaring at Tourmaline with vivid red eyes. Not a word of speech came from
of them. These grunts and hisses, and gestures, seemed to be their only
way of communication. Even so, it was plain that our presence discomfited
them tremendously. Violence was in the air, ready to ignite into bloodshed
at the first spark, and there was Tourmaline ready to strike the flint.
"Sister," I whispered urgently.
She heeded me not, standing as defiant as
ever. And for all that the females were looking on her hatefully, the males
seemed extraordinarily fascinated. No wonder – in this light she looked
blue-violet sheened in emerald, and the gems of her sheath and swordbelt
sparkled at her waist. She was a figure to reckon with by any means, moreso
compared to the plainness of the others.
"He was going to kill her hatchlings," Ezekiel
said hoarsely, indicating the cowering blue-grey female with a jerk of
his head. "I think he killed all the others."
This news was sufficiently horrific to leave
me gaping at him. I had been, in what little part of my brain that was
left over for trying to make reason out of this chaos, been trying out
scenarios that involved some mortal accident or plague. But murder? The
willful and deliberate murder of … a quick look showed me it had to be
at least eight, maybe as many as ten … and hatchlings all, no older than
two or three years.
"We better get out of here," Birdie said.
Thus far, the savage clan was all too busy with their reactions to Tourmaline
to pay much mind to the rest of us, even owing that one of us was a human.
The males continued their guttural debate.
It occurred to me that a function of Avalon's magic was supposed to enable
travelers like us to communicate sensibly with any and all we might encounter;
yet that spell had either failed, or this language was so rudimentary as
to be no more than the noises made by dumb beasts.
A picture, a sensible explanation, was beginning
to form. I had no time to explore it, however, because the large male had
tired of the opinions of his clan and took a single mighty stride that
brought him towering over Tourmaline. His interest in her was readily apparent,
and I confess that I was dumbstruck at the sight. In its length, girth,
and enormity, it was no tool of love but a weapon every bit as formidable
as the horns and claws that stuck out from him at all angles.
Tourmaline could not help but be aware of
this, but my brave sister stood her ground and drew Sir Bodwyn's sword
with a silvery chime of metal. It flashed in the moonlight.
I would have given much in that moment for
Hippolyta's bow and unerring aim. We had nary a missile weapon among us,
and only Tourmaline's sword and Ezekiel's staff, and were otherwise left
to our own fists and talons. I saw this grim awareness on Icarus as well.
And Birdie lacked even those things.
The male spread his wings again and uttered
a roar that would have bent saplings flat. He inflated his chest and beat
upon it, and his tail slammed the ground hard enough to make pebbles dance.
I needed no translation spells to understand he was declaring a claim on
Tourmaline, and more understanding came within my grasp.
She was having none of it. The blade scythed.
It missed emasculating him by a matter of inches and carved a long bloody
line in the flat musculature of his lower abdomen.
His cry was more of an interrogative than
anything else. One hand brushed, came away wet with the blood that was
darkening his … plumage, really, is the only proper word. Those hairs like
feathers, I could think of no other way to describe it.
A stir disturbed the watching clan. I nodded
to my brothers and we chose that moment to make a threat display of our
own. Leaping forward as one – a harmony hampered by Icarus' habitual restriction
of motion and Ezekiel's wounds – we threw wide our wings and roared, light
spilling hotter and brighter than moonlight from our eyes.
Their response left much to be desired. I
was quite conscious of many a disdainful snort as they surveyed us. Our
lack of horns and spiny excrescences failed to impress, and as for our
"It's enough to make one feel most inadequate,"
The big male, bewildered and in pain, batted
at Tourmaline as if to knock her aside. She met his hand with her blade
and sheared deep, nearly severing his forefinger. The blow still sent her
stumbling back a few paces and the male, enraged now and with a bellow
that shook the island, charged at us on thundering feet.
He reached Ezekiel first, mayhap because Icarus
and I had altogether unconsciously retreated a step while our green brother
held his ground. He swung from the heels, putting his back and every ounce
of force into it. Ironwood smashed across a kneecap, shattering the bony
spur there and driving the male's leg brutally sideways.
The giant went down with an earthshaking impact.
And here was yet another difficulty inherent in those incredible wings
– the weight of them dragged him down, as if he were swathed in heavy sheets
of canvas. His grace deserted him. He wallowed and howled.
Tourmaline sprang forth, lips drawn back from
her fangs and the sword raised high as if she meant to plunge it through
him and nail him to the ground. But Ezekiel stayed her with a shove and
a snarl, and such ferocity, such defiance from him of all gargoyles,
stunned her into immobility.
Ezekiel, eyes burning-white, spun and rained
down a vicious punishment on his faltering foe. The male quit trying to
rise and tried instead to cover his head and genitals. Now he was bleating
like a wild sheep caught in a mire.
Icarus and I exchanged a look as if each to
ask had the other ever seen, or even imagined, such an attack from Ezekiel.
True, he had laid into the necrivore in Michelle Jessec's backyard, but
this was more brutal by far.
The male collapsed, the light in his eyes
whiffing out like a blown candle. A silence fell. None of us, our clan
or the savages, seemed to take a breath as we all waited to see if the
male would crumble away. But he did not; Ezekiel had stopped short of slaying
and settled for beating him into unconsciousness.
I waited tensely for the rest of the males
to leap into the fray, but they did not. They averted their faces, and
their postures became defensive, submissive, slinking. One by one, they
sidled away into the underbrush, not so stealthily as they might have wished
with those vast wings dragging along in their wake and their colors standing
out in bright brilliance.
The females lingered, some still hissing at
Tourmaline with the bitter envy unique to the fairer sex. Some slunk forth,
bodies projecting nothing but grief, and scooped up handsful of what must
have been their slaughtered children. Then they, too, crept away without
Ezekiel was breathing in a pained wheeze.
He had forgotten his hurts in the heat of battle but they were coming home
to roost now. I could see the sharp aches reassert themselves one by one.
He listed alarmingly and Icarus and I rushed to prop him up. Needing no
urging from Tourmaline, we started back toward the beach and the waiting
My heart was sore. Our paradise had turned
out to be a place of savagery and violence. I was braced for the return
of the primitive gargoyles, bent on annihilating us, at any moment. We'd
landed here well enough but none of us were in much of a shape to climb
trees, or glide. Our only hope was the swiftest possible retreat through
"Guys?" Birdie's voice was wary.
We turned, supporting Ezekiel between us.
Tourmaline had been in the lead, slashing a path through leaves and vines.
The blue-grey female, she with two hatchlings
cradled to her breast, was behind us. As we looked at her, she hunkered
low and made a peculiar, ingratiating, whining noise.
"Go on," Tourmaline said stridently. "Go!
Back to your clan."
"Leave her alone," said Ezekiel.
He pulled from us – it was easy, as we were
so incredulous that we failed to even try to hold him – and went to the
strange female. She inched closer to him, and raised large pleading eyes.
From the shelter of her hair, the hatchlings regarded him around mouths
stuffed full of their little curled fists.
"Oh, boy," whispered Birdie. "I think I'm
figuring this out."
Upon close inspection, the female was not
so drab as I had initially thought. True, her coloring was muted and her
markings were meant more to conceal than to stand out, but she was nicely
shaped and pretty enough once one got used to the fact that she, like the
males, was covered in soft, downy feather-hair. It was longer on her head
and in a mane down her back, thick on her wings so that they gave the impression
of grey pampas grass.
"Ezekiel, what are you doing?" Tourmaline
demanded as she got over the shock of having him dare to contradict her.
"I believe," I said, "that he's won her."
"Don't be absurd, Corwin!"
"No, golden boy's onto something," Birdie
said. "It explains the whole enchilada. Why the males were so much bigger,
with those colors and wings and all. Sexual selection. Males competing
to show they've got the stuff, winner gets the best mates … or, hell, all
the mates. Like lions. I'll bet you anything that the old clan leader kicked
off not too long ago, and that big stud back there was killing off the
hatchlings to make the females ready to breed again."
I failed to see what enchiladas had to do
with it, but otherwise Birdie's supposition aligned neatly with what I'd
been thinking myself.
"Well, tell her to get past it." Icarus was
eyeing the surrounding wall of deep green nervously, no doubt expecting
the fronds to part under the onslaught of the primitive clan, all of them
screeching for blood.
I shared his concern, but was more taken by
the development of this new female, and what it could mean to our merry
wanderers of the night. "Ezekiel, I'd wager that in her view, you challenged
that male for her, and bested him. Thus, she is now yours."
"That is the most appalling thing I've ever
heard," Tourmaline declared.
"From the female who bred on the outcome of
a race?" I countered, and earned such a hateful look that Medusa herself
would have blinked.
Meanwhile, the blue-grey female was still
looking appealingly up at Ezekiel and hugging her hatchlings to her, and
it became suddenly clear that she was waiting, in terrible dread, to see
if he was going to wrest them from her and dash their small skulls to the
ground. Ezekiel, realizing this, went ashen in horror.
"I won't hurt them," he said in the same soothing
tone I'd heard him use on an injured doe. Just, however, before he snapped
the doe's neck to end her suffering. I blanched. But Ezekiel extended a
hand to the female.
She sniffed it gingerly. From beneath the
curtain of her hair, the hatchlings craned forth to attempt to do the same
and she snatched them back, whimpering.
Ezekiel crouched, lowering himself to her
eye level. Tourmaline made an outraged sniff but I took her firmly by the
wrist and held her back when she would have intervened. Icarus was grumbling
and nervously clenching and unclenching his fists, his attention on the
jungle and not on this peculiar little drama. Birdie edged near to me,
torn between Icarus' opinion and my own.
The bolder of the hatchlings – neither were
anything to write home about, being patched with scraggly grey and black
striped down, but by the red and yellow undertones I guessed that this
bold one was a male – poked its head forth and snuffled at Ezekiel's fingers.
He petted the fuzz behind its brow ridge, and the female crooned inquisitively.
"You cannot be in earnest," Tourmaline said,
ignoring my pinch on her arm. "You're not thinking of bringing that … that
…" She floundered visibly. "That … Neadergoyle and her whelps with us!"
"Why not?" Ezekiel's normally befuddled, genial
face turned to her with an expression of resolution I'd only seen there
once before, when he would have fought me over an incident having to do
with Beth Maza. "Why shouldn't I? She's mine now. I won her. You heard
I wanted to ask him to leave me out of this
but it was far too late. For good or ill, I was in it and I barely even
knew my own stance.
"Uh," said Birdie, "it's kind of … oinky,
don't you think? Your prize, your chattel, your barbarian love slave?"
"Cassius found his mate," Ezekiel said
belligerently, and now he was all venom directed at Tourmaline.
I was taken aback, though not a fraction so
much as she was. And although it is mean-spirited to say, I must admit
that I took a certain snide pleasure in seeing her like that. She had spurned
him, and yet now it seemed she'd been quite happy to have him following
her around like a hopeful pup, worshipping her. To have her place so rudely
supplanted was not at all welcome.
She blustered a bit, and then said, "Mate?
Ezekiel, think what you're saying! I will not have it. You cannot bring
this stray into our clan. She … she's barely even gargoyle! She
cannot speak … she's hardly even sentient! You'd do better to have mated
"Well," said Ezekiel ponderously, watching
the hatchlings. Both had emerged partially from hiding and were sniffing
at him, while the female crouched tensely but with a cautious hope dawning
in her eyes. "So she's not very bright. Neither am I. You've said so yourself.
And who's to say she can't learn? We could teach her."
Tourmaline was rendered mute by the offensiveness
of the entire affair. Her mouth worked.
"Settle it one way or the other," urged Icarus.
"Every moment we wait is a moment closer to ambush and death. Settle it,
or stay … I'm for the boat."
It was more than he usually said at a stretch
and it did make sense. Birdie indicated with a nod that she was with Icarus,
and I was quite leaning that way myself. But what to do?
"Tourmaline," I said in what would have been
a mollifying tone to anyone not as predisposed to be cross with me as she
was, "what's the harm in it? Let him bring her along. This may be why Avalon
sent us here."
She scoffed and tossed her hair back. "For
So that Ezekiel might have his subnormal plaything? A love slave, as Birdie
"I wouldn't force myself on her," Ezekiel
said. He clasped the female's shoulders and drew her gently to her feet.
She was a tiny thing, reaching barely to his
collarbones, and I wondered with a wince of discomfort just how under the
stars the disparity in sizes among the genders had resolved itself in the
actual act of breeding. I studied her closely, particularly her face.
"Methinks that there is a spark of wit there,"
I said. "Ezekiel may be right. She can learn our language and our ways."
Then, because my patience had failed me when it came to Tourmaline, I added
with a measure of spite, "And come now, sister, it isn't as if you'd been
actively welcoming his suit. Why should he not look elsewhere?"
I was in more danger then from her than from
the entire clan of savage gargoyles. My gut was taut and braced for the
steely invasion of Sir Bodwyn's sword as it pierced my golden hide. Her
hand went so far as to rest on the hilt, and her eyes flickered like hot
coals. I had hit a nerve indeed, but it was a valid one, and she knew it.
With what was probably considerable effort,
she composed herself and even made as to seem dismissive and disinterested.
"I care not. But Icarus speaks true and we should be off, and with haste.
Do as you will, Ezekiel. Stay, or bring her. I care not. It isn't as if
it matters to me. Why should it?"
Continuing in that vein, Tourmaline whirled
and struck off in the direction of the beach and the boat. She punctuated
her continuing monologue with swipes and slices at the undergrowth.
"For someone who says she doesn't care," Birdie
said in a very low voice to me as we followed, "she sure is going on about
We were not attacked, though more than once
the skin on the back of my neck and between my wings prickled, and not
in the pleasant way. They were aware of our progress, these strangers,
these savages, and we could only hope that they were satisfied to see us
leaving and would not hinder us.
The sight of the Mists' Passage, bobbing
on the all-but-nonexistent surf, had rarely been more welcome. Our bonfire
had gone to a bed of embers with the occasional lick of flame. We should
have seen to it, extinguished it, but a growing sense of trepidation had
seized us all and we were eager to be aboard and away.
Furthermore, the speeding wind above had begun
to blow in a thicker, fluffier, rain-heavy form of cloud. I realized that
the wind itself might be a good explanation as for the long isolation of
this clan, for surrounded as their island was by what seemed to be an impassable
wall of stone. To attempt to glide high – assuming one had wings that functioned
– would be to risk being tossed and buffeted beyond all endurance.
It was with sorrow that I left this island
that had for so brief a time been as good as home. No more fish and fruit,
no more reminiscing on the warm beach, and as Ezekiel had been distracted
we'd never even known what kind of game might prosper in those jungle groves.
But we climbed aboard, Ezekiel coaxing his
new companion onto the deck with a care and a tenderness that we'd never
seen in him before. Tourmaline observed this with seething, but now silent,
envy and took her place at the helm with a stubborn cast to her jaw.
I'd not envied Cassius the challenges he would
surely face in his relationship with Khepri. But now, oh, it was plain
that Cassius had the better of it … at least he and Khepri could speak.
Whereas with this stranger, we did not even know if she had a name, and
she came burdened with two tiny hatchlings that could only complicate things
all the more.
Even so, the hopeful smile on Ezekiel's face
as Icarus and I poled away from the shore and into the deeper, but still
glass-clear, waters was a sight to behold. For him, and at least for now,
it was all worth it.
Thus we continued, our clan now increased
by three and with more wedges driven between us. Into the mists, into Avalon's
whim, toward whatever hidden destinies might await us in this wide, wondrous