"Gather 'round hatchlings, I have a very special story to tell you." Shamrock chuckled as the young hatchlings in his care immediately dropped whatever they were doing and hurried over to him.
"A story? But Shamrock, it's not bedtime yet!" Phoenix looked anxiously up at him, clearly worried that he was planning on sending them to bed early. Shamrock smiled at her.
"I know. Stories aren't only told at bedtime and it's important that you hear this one before they get here."
Shard, ever observant, picked up the clue. "They?"
Shamrock's emerald green eyes shone with excitement. "I'll explain after the story's finished."
The hatchlings settled down to listen as Shamrock began to relate the tale. Within a few minutes, they knew the story he was telling him. It was one of their favorites.
"But Shamrock, we already know this one!" Flame protested.
"You've never heard all of it."
Ireland - 1469
The young female gargoyle raced through the night, her tears blinding her so she could not fly. She had traveled this particular path too many times to need to see it though and, when she felt the gentle, welcoming hum of the stones' power around her, she knew she had arrived. She knew she was safe. Sinking to the ground, she allowed herself to give in to the misery she felt.
As she cried, in one small corner of her mind she noticed how the stones' hum began to shift slightly. It distracted her from her pain just enough. Her sobs began to ease and her tears slowed to a trickle. Then she felt something lightly pat her shoulder and a warm, concerned and very familiar voice spoke soothingly in her ear.
"It is all right now. I am here and no one will harm you."
The female raised her head and looked into the gentle emerald eyes of her oldest and dearest friend. "I know. I always feel safe here. That is why I came tonight. She... she scared me."
"She? What happened?"
"Remember I told you about our Mistress of the Rookery's death a few nights ago? Well, the Chieftain has chosen a new Mistress. I spoke to her tonight." The tears threatened again as the memory of that meeting came back to her in all-too-vivid images. "There is... she has no feeling for the hatchlings or eggs at all! She is even less caring than the old Mistress!" The last came out in a sob as she started to cry again. "If only we had a Guardian!" It was almost strangled by her sobs, but he heard it.
She looked up, surprised out of her tears. "You know, a Guardian! Like in the old legends."
He shifted slightly as though uncomfortable and his dark green wings caught the moonlight and glittered as though they were speckled with stardust. "Ah. I have never really paid attention to the legends." He smiled at her shyly. "Tell me about this Guardian of yours."
She smiled shyly back at the handsome Gargoyle she had known for so long. "The legend says that a long time ago, back in the Age of Magic, there were seven great rookeries. One night, a human woman with a babe came to the largest of them. The woman pleaded with the Mistress to take the child into safekeeping, because her husband had threatened to have the babe killed. Such a thing had never been done before, but the Mistress was touched by the love the woman showed for her child and agreed. She offered the woman safety too, but the woman refused, saying that she needed to try to persuade her husband to change his mind so they could be a family again. The next night, the woman returned to the Rookery with her husband. The woman was happy, but the Mistress saw the look in the man's eyes and knew things were not as they should be. When he saw the child, he became enraged and tried to attack it with his dagger. Only the Mistress's quick intervention saved the babe's life, but in doing so, she was injured.
As she fell to the ground, there was a great flash of light and one of the Shining Ones suddenly appeared. He was furious. He had heard the woman sobbing every night because she was alone and because she could not have a babe of her own. Her cries had touched his heart and he had granted her wish. Now her husband was causing her more pain. The Shining One asked the woman what he should do with her husband and she pleaded with him to spare the man's life, but to make sure he could never harm the child. He did so. He turned the man into a cat. Then he healed the Mistress's wound. He was pleased with her and he asked her to name her reward. She replied that her only wish was that she could do more to guard the young ones in her keeping. He granted it. From that night on, the Mistresses of the seven great rookeries had a special power. They were connected by magic to all the hatchlings and eggs in their care so they knew whenever one was injured, or afraid, or sad. They could use the link to find those that were lost and they could use it to brighten the lifespark within those whose sparks were fading. They became known as the Guardians of the Rookeries." The female smiled up at her friend and then looked distressed. "I am boring you!"
He looked as though he was seeing another time and place, but his attention quickly returned to the female at his side when she noticed. "No! You are not! You could not..." He looked into her eyes, twin mossy pools that suddenly seemed unfathomably deep. He could feel himself falling and, although he knew he should not give in, he could not resist their call any longer. Leaning towards her, he kissed her gently. In that single touch, he knew he was lost. When she whispered his name, he knew he was found.
Ireland - 1554
She ran into the circle of standing stones and stopped, breathless at the sight of him. He stood strong and proud, bathed in the moonlight that was their shared legacy. His emerald eyes gleamed with love as he looked at her and she knew her eyes told him the same. As he strode towards her, she remembered the first time she had seen him. She had been sitting in the heart of the stone circle crying because the Mistress had been unkind when she had heard the voices of the stones change their soothing tune. Looking up, she had seen him walking slowly towards her. They had been mere hatchlings then, although he had always seemed so much older than her. Now they were grown and the cycle was almost complete. At the thought, her mind filled with the doubts that had plagued her since her realization of what was to come. They had never spoken of this. She wanted to believe all would be well, but conditions in the Rookery were getting worse and there had been things he had told her of his clan that worried her. Still, he had to be told.
"My love? What is it? What is wrong?"
He knew her so well! "Nothing, I hope. It is just that I... that we..." Her hand moved instinctively in a protective caress as old as time. He gasped, his hand halting as he reached for her.
"No. Oh no." It was not the reaction she had been hoping for.
Tears filled her eyes and she turned away. "I thought you would be pleased. I am sorry." Then strong hands pulled her into a warm embrace and his voice rumbled in her ear, trembling with emotion.
"I am pleased! Truly, I am! It was just a surprise." He held her for a long moment before he spoke again. "This... could complicate things." At her squeak of distress he hurried to explain. "You have told me of your Rookery, but since my... clan does not have one..."
She nodded slowly. "I know. I do not like the idea of our egg being anywhere near that awful place, but I believe I can persuade the Mistress to let me care for it myself." She smiled sweetly. "No harm will come to our egg. I promise you that."
"I believe you." He hugged her again, holding her close so she could not see the indecision and pain in his expression.
Ireland - 1649
Starwing stood within the circle of standing stones, eagerly waiting for his beloved mate. He tilted his head up and closed his eyes, allowing the light of the full moon to wash over him and silently reveling in the tingle of magic within it. He was happy. Never in all his years had he been so happy. He had a mate he loved with all his heart, who loved him in return. They had the three most beautiful and precious hatchlings in all the world and it was only a matter of months before their fourth child hatched. Life was wonderful. Except... He sighed heavily, his joy sinking beneath the weight of the fear that had been growing every night for the last four hundred years. Ever since the night he had first seen her.
He had never meant to do it. 'Do not be seen' was a warning all his clan heeded. Yet when he had seen her crying, he had not been able to resist offering her comfort. From that first awkward pat on her wing had come a friendship like none he had ever known before, or since. From that friendship had come a love like none he had ever dreamed of finding. But he was always aware that every moment they were together, he risked more than the heart he had willingly given her. Had it been his life alone, he would have gladly paid the price, but there was always the chance that a greater price might be asked. One he was not willing to pay.
"So this is where you have been betraying your people."
The voice came out of nowhere and Starwing's eyes snapped open in shocked horror as his mind screamed a denial. There was no doubt about it though. The one standing on the opposite side of the circle was no figment of his imagination. Starwing forced himself to remain calm.
"I have betrayed no one!"
"Just look at yourself! Your very appearance condemns you!"
"I am hardly the first though, am I?" Starwing shot back, furious at himself for not sensing the danger and even more so at the one he had once called brother.
"Perhaps not, but you are the first to have brought your dalliance to this place of power!"
"It is not a dalliance! I love her!" He knew immediately that he had fallen into a trap, but it was too late. The words could not be unsaid.
"So you betrayed your people for love?" The voice was scornful.
"There has been no betrayal!"
There was silence for a moment, then a derisive laugh. "You mean she does not know? You claim to love her and yet you have not told her? She claims to love you and yet she has not seen through your disguise? What does that say about this... love of yours?" There was a malicious note in the voice now, as though the speaker was taking pleasure in causing his opponent pain. Then the voice hardened into steel. "She will find out and when she does, it will mean her death. You will be responsible for that. Of course, it would be far simpler to just get rid of the problem but I wonder if you could live with yourself if something... unfortunate were to happen to her."
His blood seemed to freeze in his veins at the thinly veiled threat. "If anything happens to her..." He trailed off, silently cursing himself for responding when he knew there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening. If his opponent willed it, she would be dead immediately. Then his opponent spoke again, his words bringing a surge of hope mixed with despair.
"Of course, if you were to break off your little... arrangement... No real harm has been done so I suppose I could simply... forget about this. After all, what is a little favour between brothers?"
There was a soft gasp at a break in the circle of stones. Starwing whirled around and found himself looking into the horrified eyes of his beloved. He was only vaguely aware of his brother's amused voice, but the words snapped him out of his daze.
"Oh, too bad. It looks like that deal was offered just a little too late."
Starwing moved forward, desperate to explain but even more desperate to keep her safe. He sensed his brother leave and knew there was only a little time. "You have to go! Leave here now and never return! You have to forget about me!" His eyes pleaded with her to trust him, even though he knew she had lost all reason to do so.
She stared at him in disbelief. "Who... who are you? Who are you really?" She saw the answer in his eyes and stumbled back. "All this time. Was it... was it just a game? Did it... did I ever mean anything to you?" Now her eyes held the plea, but it was one he did not dare to answer. With a cry that shattered not only the still night, but also his heart, she turned and ran from the circle of stones.
Ireland - 1649
"Can someone tell me why there is a clan of Gargoyles trying to get inside the standing stones? More to the point, why the stones are not allowing them entry?" The King's voice was mild enough, but there was a gleam in his eye that told everyone present just how irritated he was. Since his gaze was directed at his youngest son, it was clear where he was placing the blame for his irritation. As he had done for the past four moons though, the young prince merely shook his head slightly and stared down at the ground. The King glared at him and opened his mouth, clearly intending on making his son speak, then shut it again as a tremendous wave of power echoed from somewhere beyond the stones. The King frowned. He had never felt anything like that before, and yet, there was something oddly familiar about it. He looked around to see if any of the others had noticed it and paused in surprise at the look in his youngest son's eyes. "What is going on up there?"
The second youngest Prince smirked. "It sounds as though the Gargoyles have just learned of my little brother's dalliance with one of their... females." He had his sly eyes fixed on his father, so his younger brother's fist took him completely by surprise and knocked him off his chair and onto the cold stone floor.
The King scowled down at his sixth son before regarding his seventh son thoughtfully. "It seems you have some explaining to do."
"I fell in love with a beautiful female who loved me in return. To keep our secret, I pretended to be something I could never be. He found out," the young prince glared at his older brother, "and threatened her life if I did not stop meeting her. Only," his voice trembled and he paused to steady himself, "she overheard the conversation. She has never seen me in this form, and now she never will."
The King scowled and started to speak, but his youngest son interrupted. "She is innocent! If any harm befalls her because of this, I will do everything in my power to turn the injury back on the one who caused it. No matter who it is." There was no doubt in anyone's mind that he meant it.
"Not so innocent that she did not tell her clan about us though is she? They would not be at the circle if they had not been told about it!" The prince instinctively flinched at the furious look in his younger brother's eyes.
"I trust her! She would never have revealed the truth! Something must have happened!" As soon as the words were spoken, he went still. It was as though he had not allowed himself to consider such a thing until he had spoken it aloud.
The King raised his hand for silence. Before he could speak though, a low hum began to echo all around them. Everyone listened intently to the voices of the stones, but the message was puzzling. "They urge us to go above, to set right what has been made wrong." The King had barely finished speaking when a sound that had not been heard across the land for over a thousand years suddenly filled the great underground hall. The ground trembled as a mighty roar rose out of the earth itself. It was a primal cry born from a primeval magic and while it echoed it spoke of danger and despair, necessity and a love so strong that it defied everything to exist.
As it faded, the shaken King looked around at his people. He frowned. His youngest son was nowhere to be seen.
"By the Great Circle, what is going on around here?"
The moment he saw them, his heart knew them but his mind refused to dare hope. As he gazed at the three hatchlings huddled beneath the fourth's wings, he could barely bring himself to speak.
"Why have you come here?"
The eldest of the four raised his head and looked up, his familiar emerald eyes showing surprise and confusion, but no fear. He blinked and his wings tightened almost imperceptibly around the three in his protection. He gave no response.
"Why have you come here? Answer me."
His voice was stronger that time and he could see its effect on the hatchling. The young one took a deep breath and the Prince could see the effort he was making to keep calm.
"We came to find our father."
It was the answer he had been expecting, and yet it was not. There was no judgment in the hatchling's voice, no silent query, no demand for acknowledgment. He did not know. But the Prince had to be sure.
"What makes you think he is here?"
"This is where he and our mother used to meet."
Such innocence in that simple statement! A truth spoken without any of the innuendo and accusation which usually accompanied similar words. It was the truth as seen by a child's eyes and it was far closer to reality than anything, other than reality itself, had been for what seemed like an eternity. In that moment, he knew that his older brother's sly taunts had come perilously close to accomplishing one thing. They had nearly tainted his purest memories. As his mind filled with reminders of her, her laughter, her grace, her love, he wanted nothing more than to be with her. As he looked at the young one before him, that thought became a question.
"Why are you not with your mother? Why are you not in your... Rookery?"
That dreadful place! He had done what little he could but he feared it had not been enough. Had their mother sent them to him for protection? She had never known of the protective spell he had placed on her, or that the spell would also protect the hatchlings of the eggs she carried.
"Our mother... something happened to her."
The news struck him like a blade of iron through his heart. For a moment, his vision went dark and all he could see was the anguished expression on her face the last time he had seen her. Somehow, he managed to drag his thoughts back to the present in time to hear the rest of the hatchling's words.
"The Rookery is not safe. There is dark magic there and it is hurting us all."
There was such worry, such urgency in the young one's eyes. Those eyes. They seemed to burn into him. It was like looking into a mirror. But when had they become so much older than his own? Unable to bear the reminder any longer, the Prince had to look away. Even then, the eyes continued to haunt his mind, making it difficult for him to speak.
"How do you know this?"
"I... I think it is because I am a... Guardian."
The words rang through the circle of stone as her words rang through his mind. For a moment he was stunned and he instinctively turned back to the hatchling. The moment their eyes met, he knew it was true. The familiar magic was indeed there. He felt it. He had not dreamed it could be. He had not known such a thing was even possible! True, he had granted the power before, but to pass it on in this way... No, surely it could not be! His mind flew back to the night she had spoken of the legend, never knowing that the one to whom she told the tale had in fact been a part of it. He went further back into his memories and something stirred.
"A Guardian? No. You cannot be. Only females of your kind are ever Guardians."
He was sure of that. It was part of the power. Yet, as he looked at the young male before him, the Prince suddenly knew he was wrong. When the hatchling spoke, his words were not unexpected.
"I can sense the lifespark in hatchlings, even when they are only eggs, and I can make it glow brighter if it is only faint. I know when a hatchling is hurt or scared and I always know where they are so I can find them quickly." The smallest hesitation, but he continued on. "When the Mistress of the Rookery tried to take my sister from me, something happened. I woke up and we were outside, with my brother's egg."
Rage. It filled the Prince like only one emotion he had ever felt before. The force of it was so strong, he trembled with the need to restrain himself from acting upon his instinctive need for vengeance. Someone had dared try to harm one of those few precious to him. They would pay. But first, there was still much he did not know. He had to learn what had happened. Had to learn what was, and was not, known. His control on his anger was so tight he could barely spare the strength to speak.
"You call them your sisters and brother... You have mentioned your mother and father... I thought your kind did not keep track of such things."
The answer was hesitant, but as simply truthful as only a child could be. "I can feel the connection."
The rage began to cool as reason intervened. To learn what had happened, the story must be told in the hatchling's own way. The Prince took a deep breath to ease his impatience and released it in a long sigh. "Begin at the beginning..."
The hatchling frowned slightly. "I do not know how it began. Mother never spoke of our father, except to say that we would meet him when we were older because it was too dangerous for us to meet him before then. She was always so happy and the Rookery felt nearly safe whenever she was there with us.
At first, I was the only hatchling. None of the eggs in the Rookery were hatching. Then one night, Mother brought two eggs to me and told me to keep them out of the Mistress's sight. I could... feel that they were different. The sparks within them were alive and stronger than any I had felt before. Within a few days though, the sparks began to weaken. I could feel them and I did not know what to do. The weaker they became, the more frightened I was. Finally, I pleaded with them in my mind to get strong again and... I sort of pushed my sparks into them to make them stronger. I kept doing it whenever they weakened until they finally hatched. None of the other eggs had sparks, until ten years ago, when Mother brought me another egg to keep safe. There were no others until four moons ago when one of the clan females brought an egg to the Rookery. I tried to keep it safe, but..."
He hesitated and shivered. It was the first sign of fear he had shown. "Earlier tonight, I slept for a time. It was only a little while, but when I awoke, the egg was gone. I overheard the Mistress talking to the Chieftain. The clan is getting suspicious. Their numbers have fallen in the years since I hatched and they have begun asking about their eggs and where the hatchlings are. The Chieftain is not happy and the Mistress is desperate. She has made a bargain with a human Mage. He is to give her eggs that will hatch in return for eggs that will not. Except, one of the eggs she gave him..." He closed his eyes and bowed his head. The Prince could barely hear him. "I failed to keep it safe."
The sorrow in his voice was too much for the Prince. He had listened in growing horror to the tale. Things in the Rookery were worse than he had known. He moved, intending to offer what little comfort he could, but froze as the hatchling's next words brought with them pain so strong he almost fell to his knees and wept.
"Mother never even saw the little egg. It came to the Rookery a few days after she stopped coming."
"Four moons ago..." the Prince whispered, remembering what the hatchling had said earlier. He closed his eyes against the pain as the memories filled his mind. It had been four moons ago when he had last seen her. Suddenly, he had to know what had happened to her.
"You say she stopped visiting the Rookery?"
The hatchling nodded sadly. "I heard the Mistress and some of the females talking. They said she had gone mad. She has been roaming the hills and dancing here at the full moon. That was when I heard about..." He hesitated then looked up. His eyes seemed to search into the Prince's soul as though the hatchling was wondering if he should go on. After a moment, he made his decision.
"The Mistress claimed that Mother had been abandoned by her mate. She said the Chieftain had questioned Mother and she'd told him she had 'lost her own dear love' and then that she'd been tricked."
Emotions warred within the Prince. When the hatchling paused, he could stand it no longer. "She told the Chieftain about him." He jerked back in shock as the hatchling's head snapped back, his emerald eyes ablaze with anger.
"No! She did not tell!" He calmed a little. "Not then at least."
The Prince was almost shaking with relief. "Then, when?"
The hatchling suddenly sounded very young, and very tired. "After I found the egg gone tonight, I went to the Mistress to find out what had happened while I slept. That was when I overheard her talking to the Chieftain. He was angry with her and not even hearing of her bargain with the Mage satisfied him. She told him that she thought it was a curse, but not human magic. She made him believe my father's clan was behind it. After the Chieftain left, I realised that the Mage must have taken my egg as part of the bargain. I thought if the Chieftain knew it would hatch, then he would surely make the Mage give it back. I went to tell him and I saw... He was..."
His wings began to shake uncontrollably and he whispered the rest. "Mother. He made her tell him where she and father had been meeting. Here at the Stones. She did not want to, but he hurt her until she did. She said that he was gone from here, but he would not listen. When she told him father had nothing to do with the Rookery, he grew angry. But she was right."
Now the Prince was shaking, with the effort of controlling his rage. "How do you know?"
The hatchling's voice suddenly strengthened and his trembling stopped as he raised his head. His eyes were so intense they seemed to burn into the Prince's mind. "When I returned to the Rookery, my youngest sister was ill. Her lifespark was almost gone. I went to strengthen it and that was when I felt it. There was a shadow wrapped around it, feeding from it. I felt it and I knew it. I have felt it before. It's the shadow I feel whenever I'm called to the Mistress's chamber. Whatever is happening in the Rookery, she is behind it!"
The Prince tensed at the news. He had known that someone was behind the dark magic he and the rest of his clan had sensed. It was a curse born of evil and one he had not been able to turn, although he had tried many times. The magic that had formed it was ancient and had more power behind it than he alone could counter. For one female Gargoyle to be controlling that much power was unthinkable. She might believe that she did, but it was far more likely that someone else was involved. For the first time though, the Prince had somewhere to start searching.
Everything within him cried out for him to go to his beloved, but at the back of his mind one thought had the power to hold him within the circle of stones. If the others found out, his mate and their children would be in even more danger. Yes, he could save her. They could take their precious hatchlings far away, but in the end surely it would only delay what would occur. As strong as he was, he could not defend them against all of his clan combined. He hesitated, torn by indecision, and his gaze instinctively went to the hatchling he had not seen for almost a hundred years. A wonder he had never known before suddenly filled his heart and time seemed to stop.
The hatchling had eased open his wings and was looking down at the three smaller hatchlings he held safe. The two young females were looking up at him with adoring looks as they cuddled close to him, each one resting a hand lightly on the tiny newborn hatchling. The Prince's eyes took in the scene greedily. He had never seen the younger three before, let alone all four of them together. His beloved had managed to sneak their firstborn out of the Rookery once, but it had been too dangerous for her to do the same with the twins. A hunger rose within him and tears burned in the back of his eyes. They were his and he would do anything to keep them safe. Even if it meant he could never be with them.
"Heed me well. I am going to go and rescue your mother. Until I return, you will be safe here. No harm can befall you if you remain with the circle of stones. No matter what you see, no matter what you hear, let nothing persuade you to leave the circle."
Hope shone in the hatchling's eyes. "I understand. Thank you!" The Prince was gone before he finished speaking. The hatchling smiled at his sisters and brother. "He said he'll rescue Mother."
The elder of the females looked solemnly up at her brother. Her eyes began to shine faintly. "He did not lie, but he is not as he appears. His true self is hidden, even from his own heart."
The younger female nodded and then frowned slightly as her eyes began to shine like her sister's. "His heart is kind. He means us no harm, but he fears the harm others may do us because of him."
The young male nodded thoughtfully and closed his eyes for a moment. The clouds shifted slightly in the night sky and moonlight shone down on his dark green wings. They sparkled as though stardust had fallen on them. The hatchling opened his eyes. "My heart says to trust him."
In the shadow of the largest stone, something stirred.
The hatchlings grew still as wings beat upon the air outside the circle. The young male kept his sisters close, remembering the stranger's warning. It could be a trick. Then she ran into the circle, her eyes filled with tears even as she smiled and threw herself down to the ground before them so she could catch them up in her embrace. She was safe! The hatchlings hugged her and she held them as close as she could while her tears slipped unheeded down her cheeks. "My little ones!"
The Prince stopped just within the stone circle and watched the reunion. He trembled with the need to join them, but he restrained himself with the knowledge that they would be safe only if they forgot about him. He had the power to make it so. It had been selfish of him not to do it before. He had wanted her to remember him forever, but those memories were dangerous. He would never forget her or their hatchlings. It would have to be enough. With tears blinding him, he slowly raised his hand and began to gather the power for the spell.
Another hand rested on top of his arm and his father's voice echoed in his mind. *There is no need, my son. Your mate and hatchlings have nothing to fear from us. Indeed, I doubt if they have much to fear from anyone.* There was an odd note in his mental 'voice'. Slowly, the Prince turned to face his father. One look at the King's face was enough.
The rule had always been that their kind should not reveal their true identities to anyone else. The punishment for breaking the rule had always been exile for the rule-breaker, and sometimes death or torment for those who had learned the truth. It seemed that the King was willing to make an exception in this case.
*Thank you Father! The night is almost past. If they can remain here tomorrow, I will take them somewhere safe tomorrow night. You have my word on it.*
The King smiled slightly. *We will speak of that later, as we will speak of many things. For now, there is much to be done. We must gather the People and turn the curse that stalks the Rookery back to its source. Such evil cannot be allowed to continue.*
The Prince stared at his father in shock. An exception to the rule was one thing, but this suddenly seemed to be something far more. *Father? I... I do not understand. What do you mean?*
The King looked over at the group of Gargoyles and did not take his eyes off them. *I have always believed that if you want to know something, you should find it out for yourself rather than rely on someone else's word. When you left the hall, your elder brother was a little too eager to come after you. I forbid him to leave the hall and came here to see for myself what was going on. I heard most of what you and the young one said. It made me realize many things, not all of which were pleasing, I admit. It changed everything. Then you left and I learned something more...* He turned back to his son and regarded him thoughtfully.
*The rule was made because, for our kind, boredom has a tendency to result in dalliance with the humans who fascinate so many of us. But humans are a fickle race, and diverse in their emotions and reactions. That makes them unpredictable and that can lead to danger. A human who discovered that her lover was one of our kind could react in so many ways, not all of which would have been beneficial to us. It always seemed to me that Gargoyles would be the same, only more so since they have far more knowledge of us than the humans do. There have been exceptions made for certain humans in the past, but I did not believe a Gargoyle would ever merit the same. After all, the exceptions are only made where love exists and who among us could ever love such a creature?*
The Prince's eyes flashed in sudden anger. *I can! I love her and I would trust her with my life!*
The King smiled and the Prince's anger faded as he realised the question had not been intended as an insult. *That is what makes you unique, my son. Of all of us, you are the first to have ever regarded one of her kind as being anything more than an amusing diversion. There have been others who have felt the same for human women. The ability to see a person's heart, rather than their outward form is a rare gift that, sadly, few of our kind possess. I say sadly because sometimes the gift does not result in love alone.*
The Prince grew still as he realised what his father meant. Among their kind, children were rare. Mere dalliances were usually childless, but where there was love... Sometimes, a fey child would be born. One who was not of their kind, but who was not entirely human either. For some, it did not end well, but there had been others and some of them had been... extraordinary. From the moment his first son had been born, a new set of fears had plagued his mind and heart. His kind were not unknown for taking children into their halls, especially if the child was already tied to them by bonds of blood. For that reason, he had kept away from his children. Only once had he given in and allowed himself to see his firstborn son. The tingle of magic he had felt when his hand had touched the hatchling's had been enough to renew his resolution. Now though, it seemed that his worst fear was about to be realised.
The King saw the panic his son could not quite hide and immediately cursed at himself for handling things so badly. *Fear not, my son. Your children are beyond our reach. We can take them into our protection, but only for as long as they wish to remain with us. Surely you know...* He saw the truth in his son's eyes and cursed himself further. *No, I see you do not. Your children have the blood of our line within them, yes, but they also have the blood of their mother's line. They are safe from us, as is their mother, because they are Gargoyles. There is a covenant that has been between our kinds since ancient times. It is not easily broken and to do so would create far more chaos than anything but the strongest of reasons could ever justify.*
The Prince's mind whirled as his father's words overwhelmed him. *They... they will not be harmed?* It was all he focus on. His father's smile reassured him even as he confirmed it. *But... my brother said...*
The King's eyes darkened from moss green to obsidian with his fury. *He lied.*
He looked towards the Gargoyles huddled on the grass in the center of the circle and his rage left him as he marveled at the children he had never believed could possibly exist. He turned to his son and smiled. *Go to them. I believe they would like to meet their father, in his true form.* As his son hesitantly stepped forward though, he halted him with an amused look. *I said your true form. Not the form born of your body. The form born of your heart.* He almost laughed aloud at his son's obvious shock. *I would rather like to see it myself.* He smiled at his son and, after a moment, his son smiled hesitantly back.
"We looked up and saw the stranger approaching us across the circle. We couldn't understand why our mother suddenly seemed so sad. Then he smiled at her, and at us, and began to change. My sisters and I were too young to understand it all then. All we knew was that the Shining One who had rescued our mother had turned into one of our kind. He had light tan skin and reddish-brown hair like the girls', green eyes just a shade brighter than mother's but the exact same shade as ours, and dark green wings that glittered like stardust in the moonlight, just like mine. We looked at him and we knew. I felt the bond just like I felt it with my sisters, brother and mother. My sisters could see the truth for that is part of their power. We all knew that he was our father."
For a moment, there was complete silence in the Rookery. Although the hatchlings had all heard the story countless times before, they had never heard it told that way, or with that ending. It changed everything they had ever believed about the story. As usual, Phoenix was the first to find her voice again. "Your father is a Prince?" The small female looked up at Shamrock in awe. He smiled and nodded silently.
Flight and Flashfire looked at each other before returning their attention to the older Gargoyle. Flashfire spoke for both of them. "Why haven't you ever told us that your father was one of the Shining Ones? We always thought he was a Gargoyle!"
Before Shamrock could respond, Shard's quiet voice broke the expectant silence. "He never told us because he never finished the story before. Whenever he reached the part where he met the stranger, we always thought we knew how it ended, so we gave it that ending every time." When Shamrock smiled and nodded at him to continue, Shard looked seriously around at the other hatchlings. "The story's usually about how Shamrock found out he was a Guardian. This time it was about how he met his father." He looked up at Shamrock thoughtfully. "I think he told us the new story because his father is coming here and he didn't want us to be scared of meeting him."
Shamrock's smile widened and he gently ruffled the clever hatchling's hair. "Exactly right, Shard." He looked around at the other wide-eyed hatchlings and his emerald eyes sparkled with excitement.
"I received a message from Mother a few nights ago. She and Father will be here later night."
The silver portal shimmered like water in the moonlight as four figures passed through it and into the courtyard of the Watchtower, where Raven was waiting to greet them. After a few minutes of intense conversation, the young Chieftain nodded and began to lead the visitors towards the Rookery.
Shamrock noticed the worried frown on his Chieftain's face. The slight uneasiness he had felt since awakening earlier that night became an all-too-familiar feeling of warning. His mother's message had not hinted of any particular reason for the sudden visit, the first in fifty years, but he had known in his heart that it would not be for a simple family reunion. He felt his brother and sisters tense and knew they were thinking the same thing. Something was wrong. Shamrock's eyes darted from Raven's face to those of the visitors and he frowned slightly. His mother and father looked serious, though not particularly troubled, but he didn't recognize the other two visitors at all. He felt a tingle of power in the air. Beside him, his sisters suddenly gasped in surprise.
"Grandfather!" Rory's excited shout split the night's silence as he broke away from his older siblings and ran towards one of the other visitors, a solemn older Gargoyle who bore a striking resemblance to the two younger Gargoyle males with him. The Gargoyle's stern face relaxed into a familiar smile as Rory reached him and the next moments were pandemonium as the two females quickly joined their brother and all three tried to hug their grandfather at once.
The King's laughter rose over their excited voices and Shamrock almost smiled. As good as it was to hear his grandfather laughing though, his presence was worrying and his appearance was more worrying still. In the fifty years since the Ravenstone Clan had moved to the Watchtower, his grandfather had visited only a handful of times before, and never in the form of a Gargoyle. Although he had long since accepted his son's preferred form, the King had always chosen human guise for himself. Until now.
As Shamrock watched the reunion from the shadows of the Rookery entrance, he noticed something strange. Although the unknown male Gargoyle was standing only slightly apart from the others, it was as though there was some kind of barrier around him, keeping him isolated from the noise and celebration. The Guardian's eyes narrowed in concentration as he called to his power to help him see the nature of the barricade. His power told him that, and more besides. The information was unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome. A lot had changed over the years. Allowing his power to sleep again, Shamrock considered the Gargoyle for a long moment, this time seeing with his eyes what his power had shown his heart.
The Gargoyle's eyes held a mix of pain and grief as he watched the reunion. His taloned hands clenched tightly at his sides and he held himself tense and still, as though he was afraid to relax in case his movements betrayed his emotions further.
Shamrock slowly stepped forward into sight. The Gargoyle's eyes snapped to his and the anguish in the mist-grey orbs was enough to make Shamrock forget all the cutting remarks and sly comments that had once been made to his sisters and himself.
"Hello Mother, Father, Grandfather." Shamrock smiled at each of them as he drew near, then he turned his gaze on the fourth Gargoyle. "Uncle." For a moment, his voice had no inflection and the older male seemed to sag as he began to turn away. "You are welcome here."
The soft voice, filled with warmth and genuine welcome, made the older male turn back, to see if the words were meant for him or the others. Shamrock smiled and he began to tremble. Suddenly, the emotions within him were simply too much.
Shamrock blinked in astonishment as his Uncle, usually a proud, cold creature, sank to the ground with a low moan of agony. He could sense the powerful emotion behind it and instinctively moved to his Uncle's side and lightly touched his shoulder. His power coursed through him and into his Uncle, easing his torment and calming his fears. When he had done what he could, Shamrock looked up at his parents and grandfather. "What has happened?"
Stonesinger shook her head sadly. "'Tis Heart. She went off by herself and now she is... missing." At her last word, she shivered and the Gargoyle beside Shamrock moaned softly.
Starwing pulled his mate close and his emerald eyes locked with his eldest son's. "There was a Mage in the area. We believe she went there and was captured, but now we can't find any sign of either of them."
Shamrock frowned. He knew Heart, his Uncle's mate, had a fear of humans, particularly human Mages. "Why would she have gone near him?" His grandfather answered.
"Because he was traveling with a young male Gargoyle." Oberon, High King of the Faeries, looked into his grandson's shocked eyes and confirmed Shamrock's stunned thoughts. "Heart believed it was the hatchling from the egg that was stolen from you."
As Shamrock struggled to overcome his disbelief, something Shard had said two nights earlier flickered through his mind. He had just told the hatchlings about the egg and Shard had used his gift to see what the future held in regards to it.
"It shall be soon."
It was a moment before Shamrock realised he'd spoken the words aloud. Shaking himself out of his daze, he slowly stood. He could feel his power surging within him and he suddenly knew that the time had come. Looking around at his family, he smiled slightly.
"What are we waiting for? We have a rescue to plan."
On to the next chapter