Pilgrimage
Greg Bishansky

The Vatican, 1050 A.D.

She scoffed at the idea. A gargoyle in the Vatican? A gargoyle before Pope Leo IX? A gargoyle attending a Papal Jubilee? She thought he was joking; then she thought he was drunk. It took weeks, but he had convinced her. It could help what few remaining gargoyle clans in Europe survive. Perhaps even prosper. So she agreed. He had left Bodhe as his regent, and she had left her second to lead her clan in their absence.

Now, after weeks of travel, and weeks of boredom, the sun set and Demona burst out of her skin, finding herself inside the Great Hall of the ancient Vatican palace. Collective gasps filled the halls at the sight of her. The priests and cardinals kept a safe distance as the guards held onto their weapons, ready to attack her in the blink of an eye.

"We are displeased, Macbeth," the Pope's translator spoke sternly as the Pope himself whispered into his ear, his hands clutching his scepter, "that you would bring this demon onto our sacred grounds."

"Demona is no demon," Macbeth said as he slowly approached the throne and kneeled down on both knees. "She is my primary adviser. She and her kind have been a godsend for my kingdom. They protect our borders, they protect our people, and they contribute to our community. There are still some clans left; they can do the same for you if you approach them as friends."

The great hall erupted with talk. Some spoke among themselves, some shouting to be heard. Demona's keen gargoyle hearing picked up offensive remarks at her presence, ridicule of the name Macbeth had bestowed upon her, and naked hatred of her kind, while others prayed for guidance, hoping that she would just go away or get struck down from the heavens. There was something she could agree with them on; she did not wish to be here anymore than they wanted her here.

Demona looked over at Queen Gruoch; her face betrayed her fear and embarrassment. Gruoch did not want her here either. Not that she was surprised; even in Scotland when they couldn't avoid each other's company, the queen regarded her with unease and suspicion. Not that the gargoyle was fond of her either. How Macbeth lived with Gruoch was beyond her. Love takes all kinds, she thought.

Gruoch approached her husband and whispered into his ear. "Perhaps we should go, my love."

"Perhaps you are right," Macbeth replied as he squeezed his queen's hand.

"No," Demona finally spoke. "I will not jeopardize the importance of this pilgrimage with my presence."

"Demona." Macbeth got to his feet and approached her. "There is no need to…"

"I'll find my own way back to the castle," she stormed off; refusing to allow her king to see her eyes blaze red, a detail that was not lost on the priests and guards present.

~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~ : ~

Demona lurked on the castle balcony, wondering how much Macbeth paid the lord of the castle to allow her to stay. She was not surprised. Embittered, yes, but not surprised. She had been back here for hours, and while she tried not to allow her thoughts to dwell in that direction, she could not help but fear the possibility that Macbeth would trade her and her kind for his eternal soul. Finally, she heard voices. Macbeth and Gruoch had returned, accompanied by one other. But from the sounds of it, their visitor wasn't staying.

"I will not send my daughter to live in your kingdom, Macbeth!" the man all but shouted.

"Edward, your daughter is five years old," Macbeth replied. "There is plenty of time for you to come out for a visit, meet the gargoyles and see they are not a threat to you or to Margaret."

"I had hoped that when she came of age in a few years, we could marry her and Luach. But as long as you and your court cavort with demons, you will not find an ally among my friends let alone me."

"Then we have nothing left to discuss. You know the way out." And with that, Edward the Exile was gone.

"You were lucky His Eminence did not excommunicate you!" Gruoch yelled as soon as Edward was gone. "Edward could have also secured an alliance with England as well as the Swedes. You should not have brought her."

"We have an offer to marry Luach to Finnghuala of Angus, Grouch. I am not concerned." He then laughed. "Besides, the Pope did not excommunicate me."

Finally, Demona stopped eavesdropping and entered the chambers through the balcony. "I would be more than curious to learn how you pulled off this miracle, Macbeth."

Gruoch bowed to her husband. "I will be in the bedchambers," she said as she turned to leave the room, leaving Macbeth alone with Demona.

"I gave the Vatican gold," he explained. "Then I gave gold to the poor waiting in St. Peter's Square. I intend to return on the morrow to give more."

"You open your chest, and your god changes his mind," she said. For a moment she thought of her kind's god. She dismissed it; it was her golden-haired rookery sister who was interested in such things.

"You said it, Demona. Not I."

"Why did you bring me?" she asked. "It could have jeopardized everything."

"It didn't," he answered.

"How do I know that?" She spoke quietly yet sternly. "For all I know, once we return to Scotland, my clan and I might not survive the first day."

"If you truly believed that, would you still be here?" Macbeth put a hand on her shoulder. "After all we've been through, Demona, do you believe I would turn on you now? My kingdom would not exist without you; my family would not be alive without you."

"What if your tithings were not enough, Macbeth?" Demona demanded to know, as she forcefully removed his hand from her shoulder. "What then, Macbeth?!"

"Then perhaps the Vatican was not God's house," he answered. "The God I believe in does not believe you are demons. I know that in my heart."

She did not expect this. Of every human she had ever met, every human she had ever dealt with, none had expressed such a sentiment before. All she could respond with was a flat "I see."

A deafening silence lingered in the room for several moments; Macbeth was the first to break it. "And what is in your heart, Demona?"

"My heart," she asked. What was in her heart? What was he asking?

"After all these years, have I not earned your trust by now?" he asked, trying hard and just succeeding at sounding like he was not pleading for an answer. "After we built a kingdom together? After we…" Neither of them had mentioned their initial pact again after they made their bargain. It was an unspoken agreement. She was not going to let him violate it now.

"You have my trust, Macbeth." Demona said it. What's more, she meant it. At first she forced herself to say it, but now like a great weight had lifted, she was happy to say it. She placed both of her hands on his shoulders, and smiled. "I trust you, Macbeth."

For a moment they looked deep into each other's eyes, before Macbeth removed her hands from his shoulders, and took her right hand in his and, like a good gentleman, kissed her knuckles. "You honor me," and this time he delivered a half bow, "my lady."

"The honor is mine, Macbeth." She beamed. "Together we will change the world."

"So it's the world you have your sights set on," Macbeth laughed warmly. "I'm afraid, in my lifetime; all I can hope to accomplish is to change Scotland for the better. But you'll outlive me for a good many years. Just be good to Luach when you do."

The two of them laughed together. It was the first time in ages she could remember sharing a good, long laugh with a friend. How long had it been since she had a friend? She had a clan, but she had focused too much on their very survival to forge friendships with any. And yet, with this human, she had found genuine friendship. By the Dragon, if Goliath could see her now.

"It's late, and I must not keep Gruoch waiting," he said as he turned towards the door. He stopped and looked back, bowing again. "Until sunset, my lady."

"Until sunset, my king." Macbeth smiled and left, and she returned to the balcony, looking out over Rome.

"Change the world," she said to herself. "What a foolish sentiment. After this, I doubt very much I'll set foot out of Scotland ever again."