The Stolen RosebyIrishWolfhound©
He awoke. He could feel the stiffness in his limbs.
And then the cold wind blew across him, bringing memory with the chill. The battle he had waged against the dark lord. His companions falling one by one.
And finally…alone…surrounded by demons…he was taken.
They did not finish him there, but dragged him back to their foul lair. In that darkness he lost all sense of time. There were only hours of pain, torture and taunts, followed by blessed loss of consciousness.
Until he awoke in this cold place. Slowly…carefully… he sat up. The chill wind gusted again. He wrapped his wings tightly about him to keep warm.
He looked down at himself. Short arms and legs covered in scaly skin. From his back sprouted leathery wings. Touching his face he felt a long snout, not his bearded face.
Rising he looked about him. He was on a flat portion of the cathedral’s roof. Gathered around him were other creatures that resembled him. A hideous collection of damned souls, laughing and hooting at him in his confusion.
“How?” he muttered. “How!!!!” he raged at the sky.
But the only answer was the mocking laughter of his fellow gargoyles. Somehow he’d been transformed to one of them.
The wind blew again. This time it carried a high thin voice. The darkling lord’s whine.
“Thought you that good could defeat me? Know you now that you were over-proud. For such arrogance I have made you into a creature of the roof tops. With them you shall perch by day, and in the dark you will haunt the city. And thus you will remain…for all eternity. Unless…”
“Unless what?” cried the broken warrior.
Laughter in the wind.
“Unless you can find a wise lady love. For only she will see your true form. Such creatures are rare, impudent one, and most unlikely to look at you and see who you really are.”
And the laughter faded in the wind.
At that, the gargoyle host launched themselves upon him. Biting and kicking and screaming foul oaths. Although transformed, he was still a warrior. He lashed out with powerful kicks and heavy blows, whittling down his opponents. As their numbers shrank, they retreated, cowards that they were. They would only attack such as could not defend themselves. He was too difficult prey for them.
He retreated to a small niche in the wall and pondered the situation. Darkness was falling. He would prevail, somehow, this he knew.
As the moon rose the other gargoyles stretched their wings and launched themselves from the rooftop. They sailed into the night, bent on mischief.
Not by knowledge, but by instinct, he too swooped down from the perch. If he were to be a gargoyle, at least for now, then he must see how they lived.
He watched as they made sport, harassing lone travelers, and peering into windows to frighten small children. They fell on garbage heaps beside taverns and fought like curs over scraps to eat.
No…this he would not do. But after a day or so he realized that hunger must be fed. So he slipped into the smokehouses of rich men and took as he needed, vowing to repay them once he was returned to human form.
He did no molesting of innocents, but spent his nights flying over the city, seeking he knew not what. He knew it was there, whatever it was.
By day he joined the others, perched on the eaves of the cathedral. Looking like stone, they kept vigil, watching the townspeople far below. Many days passed this way.
One day, in the early morning sun, he spied a lady walking in the town square. She paused at the fountain and watched the water splash there. Even from his aerie he could see she was sad. He could almost hear her sighs.
From the fountain, she walked to the house of a white wizard. Just outside the wizard’s house was a stall kept by a flower seller. He was just setting up shop for the day. She stopped there, and smiled for a moment before going in. The merchant tried to sell her his wares. She lost her smile then, shook her head, and went on her way.
Always the same each day. Crossing the square at daybreak. The fountain. The flowers. The wizard.
At first he thought she must be the wizard’s daughter. But after a while he noticed she would depart from there at evening and go to a nearby inn. And some times she carried large tomes with her. “Whatever was she doing?” he wondered.
At last, curiosity drove him to fly at night and try to find the window to her room. He swooped from window to window seeking a glimpse of her.
There…at the uppermost window…he glimpsed her. Head bent over some ancient volume by candle light. He landed lightly on the ledge and carefully peered around the frame. She was so absorbed in her reading she didn’t see him there. Pausing, she stretched to relieve the cramped muscles in her neck and shoulders. And then, for the first time, he saw her face. Fair of skin with blue/gray eyes and golden hair. A face of an angel, he thought as a sweet, wistful smile came to her lips. He clung there in the darkness, just watching her read until she put the candle out and retired to her bed.
Day after day he watched her make her journey to the wizard’s dwelling. Night after night he would alight softly at her window and continue his vigil. For he was enchanted.
He was also fascinated. For he could not see what it was she read every night. In truth, it was unusual to find anyone who read in this world except priests and sorcerers. He could count on one hand the number of men he knew who could read, besides himself. And he’d never seen a woman do so. Whatever could she be reading?
One night, it was unusually warm. She left the window ajar when she went to her bed. He continued to cling there, hearing her breathing fall into the slow steady rhythm of sleep. Easing the window aside, he slipped silently in to her tiny room.
He crept to the table where she studied and glanced over her books in the moonlight. Books on magik, every one of them. She studied to be a witch! One of that unholy breed whom he had attacked and who had crushed him, leaving him in this horrid and twisted state. Rage burned within him. Suppressing the snarl that formed in his throat, he turned towards her bed prepared to extinguish her life with one swipe of his talon tipped hand.
But as he did so, he saw her sleeping. A sweet light seemed to radiate from her face. He saw her smile, as if in some pleasant dream. He could not touch her.
He turned back to her table. He flipped a few pages of the uppermost book. It did contain spells. Good ones. Spells to heal the lame and to relieve pain. Charms to ward off evil such as that which afflicted him. She studied white magiks only, not sorcery.
Mayhaps she could undo the spell the dark lord had cast on him? But no, for she would be but an apprentice and could never break the evil of a 1000 year old sorcerer.
He turned again to watch her sleeping. She murmured in her sleep and in the warm night air she kicked the covers aside. Her hands moved gently over her gown, as if mimicking the attentions of some lover. His breath caught in his throat. He moved closer.
There were such among the gargoyles who bragged of their ability to take maidens in their sleep. Incubi they were called. Foulest of creatures. As he thought of such deeds, he sensed a power radiating from him. It seemed to envelope her in a reddish glow. Her soft sighs turned to moans and the motions of her hands more intense. He felt his own ardor rise in response. He stepped closer, reaching towards her and…
No! He’d not do such a thing. ‘Twas evil and below him. He dampened his own passion, and watched her return to restful slumber.
He turned to leave. Two steps to the window. A foot on the ledge…and he stopped. Turning back, he leaned over her sleeping form and lightly kissed her. He perceived a faint scent…roses he thought. A soft sigh from her, and then he leapt into the darkness.
The next day he watched her cross the square from the inn. As always, a pause at the fountain. And then the walk past the flowers. Watching more closely he saw that she was admiring the red roses. Obviously she loved them, but judging from her cramped quarters was too poor to buy such luxuries.
That night, as darkness fell over the square and the flower seller was packing up for the day, he swept down from his perch and swiftly lifted a rose from the stall.
He returned to his nightly vigil at her window. After he judged she was fast asleep, he used a talon to gently slip the latch. He crept over the ledge and again watched her sleeping. He remained there through the night, peering at her, but not touching. For he was certain she slept so lightly that his slightest caress would wake her. Yet he yearned to do so, from the bottom of his soul. His hands, even in this form, ached to lightly sooth the troubles from her brow and glide through her golden hair.
As the first faint glow appeared to the east, he leaned over her once more. Again the passion rose and she moaned in response. He quickly gave her the lightest of kisses and left the stolen rose on her pillow.
Night after night he returned and watched her study. Night after night he would slip in to her chamber with his plundered blossom in hand. And then a gentle kiss and the leaving of his gift.
Some nights as she studied, he would see her lift the rose and savor it’s scent with a puzzled frown. She had attempted to stay awake the first few times he returned, to discover who invaded her privacy by night. But he found that he could will her into a deep slumber while watching from the ledge. After a while she seemed to accept that whoever was leaving her the roses meant her no harm.
Every night his passion rose higher. Always he kept it in check. But the desire grew stronger and stronger. However, his love for this lady far exceeded his lust. For indeed, he had fallen in love. In spite of knowing that he was cursed to his hideous form for all eternity, he did love her.
One night he almost touched her. His fingers brushed the fabric of her thin gown. Her breasts rose towards his hand and the glow surrounded them both. With a wrenching cry he leapt out the window and retuned to the cathedral roof.
This must end, he knew. He must go away before he lost all control. Perching there, he clenched his fists in frustration. Feeling a sharp pain, he realized that her rose remained in his hand.
Then he saw her emerge from the inn, taking her usual path towards the fountain. Her walk was slower and sadder. Somehow he knew. Knew that she had awoken as he fled and looked for her rose…and found none.
He would give her this one last rose before departing. Swooping down he perched on the edge of the fountain as she arrived. He stretched out his hand to give her the rose, prepared to flee and never return.
She saw him there and cried out in shock. His deformed visage in the early morning light had startled her. He dropped the rose at her feet and turned to fly away.
“Wait…” she said. And he paused, facing away.
Slowly…very slowly…she circled to look at him. He cast his eyes down in shame.
“You. It’s been you all the time. But in my dreams you were a tall and fearsome warrior.”
One bitter tear trailed down his cheek as he looked up. He nodded, then flexed his legs as if to jump into the air. But again she spoke.
“Wait! Stay a moment. You but startled me when you appeared. I do not fear you.”
And she looked at him with curious eyes. Gentle eyes. Sad eyes.
“Yes…I see it now. The battle. The demons. And pain…such pain.” She reached out to him and touched the tear upon his cheek. She brought her finger to her mouth and tasted the salty water.
“Then I see love. Burning passion and shame. But love over all.”
For she was a witch, and could see through the glamour that evil had placed upon him.
And leaning forward, her lips lightly brushed his head. As she did so a high shrieking wind tore through the square, as if a creature had been slain somewhere distant.
And the scales upon the warrior’s skin turned to chain mail. The wings became a cloak. His talons changed to gauntlets.
He stood before her then, returned to his true form. He bent and kissed her, finally enfolding her in his arms as he had ached to do for many nights.
“It was you…the warrior.”
They passed the rest of their days together then. They lived in a small cottage in the forest. She helped the folk around with their ills. He acted as the shire reeve…protecting them from such evil as might appear.
He was not a handsome man, and many wondered what drew her to him with such passion. For they did not see how he gazed upon her when they were alone. The smoldering look that filled her with an answering glow.
For while he had returned to human form…he had not lost all of the gargoyles powers.