Section I: Sapient Races
Section II: Beastly Races
There is absolutely no reliable proof that gargoyles have ever existed on
our world, none aside from myths and tales of drunks scared in the night.
Some say that the bones of rock which can be unearthed in some places are
the remains of gargoyles – or at the very least, that these bones prove
that once there were creatures made of stone. Certainly an intriguing
suggestion, yet I have to admit that the bones I have seen do not fit my
views on bird bones. Not only are the rocky bones much larger, their shape
is wholly different.
has been reasoned that this is because the gargoyles required a particular
kind of magic for flight in the first place, so that there was no need for
their bodies to assume the light and sprightly form of ordinary birds.
(These reasoners, I wish to add, are those who claim that the reason for
the gargoyles’ absence in the past millenium has been a downturn in the
tides of magic, that the supply of magical power is at its lowest in our
time and once magic will be better accessible and available, that
gargoyles shall once more roam the skies.) That argument, I fear, rings of
their desire to find proof of gargoyles, rather than to divine the origins
of the stone bones.
then include this text on gargoyles in a compilation devoted to the wealth
of beasts and beings we know to exist? Ah, well, dear reader, there have
been other instances where my fancy has been tickled by a story, or by a
tale I have heard in the proper setting.
why should I not turn to a story to introduce you to the tales of
gargoyles? I have chosen one of my personal favorites, Of the Ambling
Knight Sir Clairbold of Amaldis by Hrolfwald the Keroullian Dove, a
tale I first read as a young lad – in secret, hidden in a small storage
chamber, by the light of a drippy candle that constantly burned my fingers
with its hot wax. Ah, the memories of childhood! How fondly I recall that
candle, despite the pain it – and its many companions I used up in
reading – caused me.
I should add a preamble to this excerpt, one to put more perspective on
the book and Hrolfwald himself. Not least of all because I might deathly
offend a dear friend of mine, the famed Archer Melt of Milonisi, so
rightfully called The Divine. He has made his opinions on Hrolfwald known
to me in many a letter, so that I have selected one of his writings for
this book – written in Archer’s so familiar tone. (Familiar to me, I
hasten to note, but perhaps not to his many readers in the world who have
never met The Divine.)
“Hrolfwald was a fool, take my word for it. Knight-errants and all the idiotic inventions with which he has soiled so many pages – yet his is the best writing that exists on that topic. If one can imagine that his rambling narrative can possibly be called ‘good’ in any way. Was there ever a point to his words? Any besides filling as many sheets of paper as possible with his splotchy ink? The man blotted out every word at least twice, replacing it with another – generally less suitable than his previous thought. Writing like that only proves the writer’s cluttered and directionless mind, that is all. I pity the geese who gave their feathers for this senseless task.
“But Hrolfwald is famous. Infamous he should rightfully be – or better still, forgotten. I know that you, Lestrovar, appreciate his work, for whichever reason a mind as reliable as yours has plunged to these depths. There are all too many others who believe Hrolfwald to have been a great creator of deep thought, those who call him the Keroullian Dove. A very unfitting byname, for Hrolfwald was as undovelike as a human being can be.
“Hrolfwald used to visit me in my cage on the Apple Island occasionally, around the turn of the last millenium. As you might recall, that was the time when not only the fools’ champion rose to his fame, but it was the time when my own writings came to the attention of the world. The attention, but not the acclaim that greeted Hrolfwald. I grant the Keroullian that he at least had the good taste to recognize my work, and it may have been a touch of vanity that made me allow him to stay with me during his visits to the isle.
“He was in his mid-forties when I came to know him, a portly and ugly creature with a face that would have sent a ratpeople mother scurrying away from offspring as deformed as this. Still, he had a jovial and friendly manner, no doubt a result of his appearance. (As you might have noticed, the deformed tend to develop either into bitter, angry persons, or the affable kind who win over their interlocutor by a charming personality. A few decades ago I devoted a tale to this; Sirch can look up the title for you if you care to learn more.) Hrolfwald took his wine quickly, ever more likely to regal an audience with his tall tales. For a while he was rather amusing, considering that I was inebriated when listening to him.
“Yet after a while I started to note that he reacted rather vilely when anyone pointed out an inconsistency in his narrative, beginning to shout that it was a true episode in the life of a great and valid hero – no matter that few of the tales took place in recognizable settings, and those which did had little in common with the locations that I myself had seen or heard of. Nor did it matter to him that his fables were wild and rambling enough to make a solid head spin as if a gallon of wine had flowed down its throat. No, dear Lestrovar, Hrolfwald believed his tales to be true – and worse, he believed himself to have been that famed hero of his imaginings, that Clairbold who also hails from his hometown of Amaldis.
“One day he presented to me the first pages of his book, so blotchy that I had Sirch transcribe them into a readable form. You could never dream of the curses old Sirch produced during this task, let me only mention that it took my utmost to keep him from setting the original sheets aflame after he was done. Of course, after I had read Hrolfwald’s drivel, I would have gladly handed Sirch the candle to rid us of those sheets. Back then, the title was Memoirs of The Knight of Ambling, as if more proof of Hrolfwald’s madness were needed. If the tales he had concocted before – both in our drunken rounds and published – had been silly diversions, now this was an abyss of dread.
“I still find it hard to believe that this disaster of spilled ink could have possibly outsold my own The Old Man’s Conversation with the Messenger of Death! Granted, that my tale was much improved in a later revisal, yet even in its original state, a single page contained more poignancy and value than all the writings Hrolfwald has concocted.”
That much, I believe, is enough to give you an impression of what good Archer thinks of Hrolfwald. It is certainly true that Archer is by far the better writer. To name him in the same sentence with Hrolfwald seems close to sacrilege – yet the truth remains that the Keroullian Dove’s tales have given flight to many a young reader’s imagination and set them on the path toward knowledge and further reading. (Little though Archer does appreciate it, I only started reading one of his works because Hrolfwald’s Clairbold mentioned it in the Ambling Knight.) Now then, let us delve into the tale, taken from Chapter XXXI of his book, after Clairbold has left the Twin Mountain Fortress and crossed the River of Forgetfulness – being the first to retain his memories, although his companions were less fortunate. (Take note that Hrolfwald does not call the gargoyles by their customary name, rather he prefers the word ‘rockbird’. Nevertheless, it is clear which species he is describing.)
“’Hold, Cinantero!’ firm Clairbold commanded his steed, at which words the proud horse immediately put its hooves into the ground to stop its gallop. The knight raised the visor of his helmet, to peer ahead of the party’s location.
“Behind the pair, keeping an uncommon distance, Oggod and Widargelt slowed their horses to come abreast with their leader’s steed. ‘What have you seen, Master?’ asked Oggod who despite the loss of his memory was seated as solidly as ever on the back of his shaggy mare. ‘Is there danger ahead?’
“’I do not yet know, my good servant,’ replied the knight, then nodded to Widargelt and said, ‘Honored companion, I would ill-serve my lady if I were to permit you to carry on at the pace of my servant and myself. Therefore I ask you to ride into the shade of yonder elm tree, by the merry creek where you may rest your bones and water your horse.’
“Immediately, Oggod cried out, ‘Then you must have seen danger, Master! Though my recall is hazy, my heart tells me that only danger could lead you to part with a companion such as Widargelt who has granted us the joy of his singing for the past three days!’
“At hearing that, Widargelt raised his chin, flashed his deep eyes at the knight and complained, ‘Master Knight, I have more to lend you than a song to brighten a ride. I carry a sword, surely my hand will know how to guide it better than my mind. Have I not retained the faculty of riding? The faculty of speech? If danger shall await us, then I, Widargelt, will face it alongside you, Master Knight, this I pledge!”
“His face set in a worrisome frown, Clairbold gave these words some thought. True that both Widargelt and Oggod had kept some of their skills, despite drinking deep of the River’s waters. Yet it was Clairbold who had to decide for them, now that their minds had been swept clean by the waters. Watchful he also was of the oddity that now Widargelt seemed bolder than he had before. Mayhaps this was a quality that his lady, fair Ludancie, had discovered in her highest-born suitor, the one that had led her to select him over his rivals for her affection, despite his boldness being buried beneath his ordinarily powdered wig and face.
“’Honored Widargelt,’ the knight inquired, ‘your hand may have escaped the River’s spell, yet it cannot see with your eyes, nor can it recall how to assail a specific opponent properly. Would your hand know whether a giant is opposing you, or a dwarf? Would your hand know at which height to strike, which blows to defend against? No, I cannot allow you to continue. Stay your sword till not only the hand but the mind is able to guide it properly; stay your sword till it must defend that which is most worthy. This the service to my lady requires of me, brave companion.’
“Still Widargelt seemed willing to ride along with the knight, yet the shadows of doubt settled on his face as the truth of Clairbold’s words found their way into his heart. ‘Your lady, Master Knight, seems a cause most worthy if she can command a soul as noble as yours,’ he relented and bowed before Clairbold, then took the reins to lead his horse to the elmtree’s shade.
“Clairbold returned the bow, unseen by Widargelt, his eyes gleaming with the memory of fiar Ludancie. ‘Yes, worthy she is,’ he whispered. ‘May you prove worthy of her as well, my lady’s husband.’
“Then, having no more time to spare on the affairs of the heart and the imponderabilities of fate, Clairbold spurred on Cinantero and rode on down the path, followed quickly by Oggod who cried out, ‘Master, tell me what you have seen, I beg you! Is it a giant? Or is it another foe?’
“Clairbold answered, ‘Look beyond the hill over there, good servant. What do you see?’
“Oggod needed a while to reply, having to adjust his own glance to the direction his master had indicated, and then to search his blank mind for the meaning of what his eyes detected. ‘I see a cloud, Master, that is all. Are not clouds ordinary things of no concern?’
“’They are if the sky is gray with them, or if they are the white pillows of the heavenly gods,’ Clairbold explained calmly, ‘but not if it is a single cloud as dark as the night, in turmoil from a stormy wind I cannot feel. I have never seen a cloud like this, wherefore it might be a menace, conjured up by evil.’
“’Evil like the foe you have told me of? The Wizard?’
“Clairbold agreed, ‘It is possible. The Wizard has taken many shapes, and many a minion of his was sent to keep me from fulfilling my duty to my lady. But do not fret yet, good servant, for the cloud might not prove dangerous. We have to look more closely to find which side it owes service to, if any.’ Although his words, full of purpose and conviction, were enough to appease Oggod’s mind, the knight’s own heart was beating faster, invigorated by the thought of engaging the Wizard once more, a fiend so vile that his name was not mentioned even by a soul as brave as Clairbold.
“Measuring the pace of his horse closely, as much as he controlled his heart – for every knight knew well that the hurried warrior is one who calls the Messenger of Death -, Clairbold rode on, not resting his eyes on his surroundings, no matter how lush the forest grew, how merrily birds raised their songs and cavorted in the air. No, his gaze was riveted to that cloud beckoning him onward, over the meadowed hill, to the valley that lay beyond.
“To his agitated heart, eternities seemed to pass, during which Clairbold practiced swordstrokes in his mind – a habit that had proven fortunate on many an occasion, for it strengthened his mind and taught his hands to be ready for combat.
“’Master,’ Oggod asked when they were about to reach the crest of the hill, ‘the cloud is riding low in the sky. Does a cloud rain its own substance to the ground, rather than drops of water?’
“’It does not, good servant,’ Clairbold replied instantly, for he had also noticed that parts of the dark cloud seemed to detach all the while from the mass in the sky and drift downwards. ‘Ready your staff, for you might have need of it to defend yourself.’
“Oggod cried out, ‘Defend myself? Master, since I am your servant, as you have told me, I must have sworn an oath to be as faithful a companion as I can, wherefore I must aid you in your assault rather than stay behind. Why, I might as well have stayed with Widargelt and listened to his happy songs!’
“Clairbold halted his horse for a moment, raised his visor to scrutinize his companion with cheer exalting his heart. How much he valued the River of Forgetfulness now that he found how deep honor and bravery dwelled in his servant! Truly, he could not ask for a better man by his side than Oggod. Not knowing what danger awaited, armed only with an oaken staff – one that Oggod’s stubby fingers could barely clasp safely -, he was willing to aide his master in every respect. ‘Good servant,’ Clairbold raised his hand in salute, ‘you make me feel proud. You have earned yourself the governorship of a whole island, and I hereby pledge myself that upon our vanquishing of the Wizard, Clairbold of Amaldis shall do his best to see you rewarded in that manner.’
“Moved by the severity of the knight’s words, Oggod lowered his head. ‘Master, surely my words do not merit such a pledge. Indeed the oath I must have sworn requires me to do so, wherefore no reward is needed save the knowledge of accomplishing the good deed.’
“’Dear Oggod,’ Clairbold said to that, ‘while you hold true to the oath you speak of, I shall be no less true to mine own pledge. But now – let us ride on and see whether the cloud yonder is for ill or not!’ With those words, the knight resumed his ride, and soon their horses reached the top of the hill, granting them the long view down into a valley that seemed little different from the one they left behind.
“The difference lay in the presence of a small village, with the road cutting through its peaceful lodgings, the walls of mortared stones – such as could be found in nature, in nearby quarries -, the thatched roofs well maintained, gardens behind each house with their crops in full bloom, the gaiety of their colors good for lifting the heart of the dourest soul.
“Yet that was merely what the village must have looked like in the morning, for now it was devastated by the cloud’s offspring, dark shapes that infested each of the houses, tearing off the thatching, to reach the stones beneath. Clairbold breathed deeply, now that his eyes could see the black shapes more clearly, while Oggod gasped, ‘Master, those are no clouds! Those are creatures! Much like the birds of the forest, but – Master, are they made of stone?’
“Clairbold nodded, while he unsheathed his mighty sword, letting the sun grace the gleaming metal of Vanquisher. ‘These are rockbirds, born of the spewing mountains of the northern lands, imbued with life by dark Shenaumac. Some grow as large as a mountain themselves, and when they die are often mistaken for a natural range. Fortune rides by our side, for these are still young. Look, the largest only measures the size of an oxe, and I am sure my blade may still cleave its body. Yet, dear Oggod, you cannot aide me in this task for your staff would splinter on a rockbird’s hide. Take care instead of yonder villagers who gape at the destroyers of their homes, tell them that a knight has come to drive away the rockbirds, lest they attempt foolishly to do so with their own meager weapons.’
“Clairbold did not wait for his servant’s nod, nor for Oggod to fulfill the task set him, instead the knight rode Cinantero forward into the midst of the deserted village, to meet the rockbirds with the steel of Vanquisher. His visor shut, his breath caught warm in the helmeted confines, his heart afire with the prospect of battle, Clairbold entered the village.
“Yet his heart’s desire found little room to blossom, for few of the rockbirds were within reach of his sword. The knight swung the steel, with the might of his arm behind it, but again and again Vanquisher met only the stone of the walls rather than that of the rockbirds’ skins. Only occasionally a rockbird was careless enough to let a talon rest too low on a house, or a feathered back. Then Vanquisher would bite the rockbird, chip off stone, to little effect, not rewarded by squawk or squirm, nor by any blood that might be contained in the stone bird. Beaked faces of supreme hideousness gazed down at the mounted knight, their gnarly brows and malformed cheeks having little of the likeness of a bird, yet neither that of any other creature that Clairbold had encountered in his journeys. Their beaks were short and stubby when compared with the length of the body, though in close proximity their size seemed immense, no less so when they ground pieces of stone and rock between their edgy halves. Eyes built for glowering crimsonly from their all-encompassing bulbous globes set high on their skulls, wings made of feathers as rocky as their body, yet smooth and shiny like polished granite.
“’Engage me, foul beasts!’ cried Clairbold and raised his sword high over his head, Vanquisher’s edge no longer as gleaming as before but growing dull from encountering rough stone.
“The rockbirds did not heed his command, while they continued to devour the village’s stones, to greedily swallow the rocks, the mortar crumbling from their beaks.
“Frustration ravaging his soul, Clairbold had to leave. His shoulders heavy with guilt, the knight rode out of the village, accompanied not even by a triumphant shriek but only the noise of the rockbirds’ stony meal. Gathered near the road were the people of the villagers, their faces dulled by their hope evaporated when Clairbold could not free them from the assault of the rockbirds. One raised his voice to shout, ‘What manner of knight are you that you cannot fight a flock of birds?’
“’Quiet, peasant!’ interjected Oggod loudly from the perch of his horse. ‘What do you know of fighting? Do you know how to hold a sword? Have you braved the rockbirds yourself?’
“’I would have,’ the villager retorted in anger, ‘if you had not sung the praise of your knightly master.’
“Clairbold opened his visor again. ‘Good man, you would have fared no better than I have. The rockbirds do not notice even a chipped talon, what would they worry about a pitchfork bending on their backs?’
“’So say you!’ the villager cried and hefted the fork he had leaning against his back. ‘I will have the rockbirds’ words on this account and measure them against yours, Knight!’
“Ready he was to run towards the village, yet none of the other peasants seemed similarly decided, and one – his hair grayed, his beard long and kempt with tender care – raised his hands before asking, ‘Master Knight, will the stony birds destroy only our houses? I have seen you ride through their swarm unopposed. Here you are unharmed, despite your own attack on their lives. Do the birds not care for flesh?’
“Clairbold shook his head. ‘It seems to be as you say. From my teachings, I cannot say for certain, for my curriculum did not offer more than a few lessons on beasts as rare and unfamiliar as these.’
“’Then,’ the bearded man concluded, ‘our lives are in no danger. Our homes are destroyed, but we can rebuild once the birds are sated.’
“The first man turned towards the second villager, shook his pitchfork furiously as he said, ‘All our possessions destroyed? All our tools gone? How will we rebuild? How shall we bring in the harvest? As if that were not enough, you cannot trust the knight’s words, not when he himself admits that he does not know much of rockbirds. No, I say, we fight and we save our village!’
“A discussion ensued in which most if not all the villagers took part. It would only be a tedious affair for the reader if we were to retrace all the cries sent hither and yonder, every comment, and every gesture. Let us just say that none of the villagers could decide on a course of action, adding to the frustration of Clairbold who, hearing the noise of destruction behind him, could not offer any saving alternative.
“It was then that Oggod moved his horse closer to his master and asked, in a tone of naïveté born of his forgotten memories, ‘Master, why do the rockbirds not eat the dirt of the ground? If they appreciate the stone in the buildings, they should also find sustenance in earth for it is much like stone, is it not?’
“Clairbold could only shrug. ‘The dirt and the mud, good servant, are not stone. They are what remains of the trees, of the plants, and of the beasts of the land.’
“’Oh,’ replied Oggod and furrowed his brow. ‘Then they do not like the taste of dirt?’
“Sometimes it can be the simple words that cause the greatest epiphanies. It was so now when Clairbold listened to Oggod’s deduction, spoken from a mind nearly as fresh as a newborn babe’s. ‘Ingenuous Oggod!’ he said proudly. ‘You have found the solution to our quandary! Quick, you villagers, listen to me! My servant has found a way to rid you of the rockbirds, but we need your aid in this endeavor.’
“The first villager, belligerent as before, answered, ‘The way is clear, Knight, it is the way of the weapon!’
“’No,’ contradicted Clairbold, ‘it is the way of the peasant who tills the ground. Gather what shovels you have rescued from your homes, and what else you have to lift dirt and fling it on top of the houses. That will sour the taste of the fine stone in the buildings, to the displeasure of the rockbirds.’
“His conviction restored, the villagers could not help but obey as fast as his words reached their ears, since the knight had recovered their hopes and granted them new faith in salvation. A short while later the villagers, led by Clairbold and trusty Oggod, returned to their homes, armed with a peasant’s tools for a battle that might have led many a knight to cry hot tears of shame, for no blood was shed, no cries of war were shouted – unless the worksong sprightly raised might be counted -, and not clean, gleaming steel fought the combat yet weak iron and cloth. The former dug dirt from the ground of the gardens behind the houses, the latter – fashioned into slings – thrust their earthy load upwards, to shower over their own homes, and also the homely winged creatures.
“Clairbold felt no shame when he watched the villagers work, instead joy and proud relief when the rockbirds now shrieked in alarm as the dirt, some of it still moist from an early morning’s rain, hit them and found its way into their beaks. Some shook themselves, tried to disgorge whatever of the substance they had swallowed, to no avail.
“An hour passed, with the toil continuing, but the sweat was well rewarded when over the course of that hour, one rockbird after another lifted off the devastated houses to rejoin their fellows circling in the air above. Fewer and fewer flew down, and only two or three thought of attacking the villagers who soiled their food. In those instances, it was Clairbold who came to the defense, reliable Vanquisher finally finding its long-sought occasion to prove its worth once more.
“Then, finally, the last of the birds had taken to the skies, screaming its disappointment over the meal made unappetizing. Accompanied it was by the cheers of the villagers who, although their village had suffered serious damage, had won a victory over the terrible beasts and now, with new-found pride, could engage in the rebuilding.
“’See, Master,’ Oggod told Clairbold soon after, ‘a noble soul such as you can always find a way to best a foe.’
“Clairbold shook his head. ‘No, dear Oggod, in this case it was you who came upon the solution. Perhaps your own peasant roots, though currently forgotten, have guided your thoughts, while my nobility precluded me from seeing this option. But now, let us return to Widargelt and take up our path again!’”
Demrodd, the Keroullian Dove