By Kimberly T. (e-mail: kimbertow AT yahoo etc.)

Author's note: Yes, I've been absent from this series for a long time; over a year. I never forgot 'Life Goes On' and all its fans, but I've had a series of RL issues and another fandom getting in the way of my Gargoyles fanfic-writing. Plot bunnies for Avatar: the Last Airbender are steadily eating away at my brain (and breeding even more plot bunnies), but I still have some Gargoyles stories left in me; the trouble is getting them from my brain into the computer for sharing with readers…

Escape from Avalon, Part 1: State of Siege

Goliath, Hudson, Bronx, and Angela, along with the New Orleans Clan gargoyles Ursula, Yvette and Marie, had arrived on Avalon's southernmost shore barely moments ago, instead of the harbor below the Palace as they had the last two times Goliath had been here. And now, as they wondered why, they heard the faint tolling of a bell.

Goliath looked wide-eyed at Angela, who was staring right back at him; they both knew that only one bell had ever been forged on Avalon. "The iron bell?" she asked, fearing the confirmation.

"I think so," Goliath rumbled, "And that means something is seriously wrong. All of you stay close, and be ready for anything." They silently got out of the pirogues and dragged them further up the beach, and Angela and Goliath began searching for foliage to cover them with, to disguise them just in case.

It was while they were dragging some large leafy branches back to the pirogues that they heard a voice hissing at them from the direction of the forest… and heard Marie, who'd evidently seen the newcomer, hissing to Yvette, "Mine!"

Angela dropped her branch and turned, saw who was hissing and beckoning to them and hissed to the New Orleans females, "He's taken already. Nimrod, what's going on?"

"I'll explain later. Right now, get over here quick, all of you!" hissed the gray three-horn-crested male, one of Angela's nineteen rookery brothers, as he gestured urgently. "Follow me, fast but as quiet as you can," he whispered to them as they hurried over. "The bell's too faint out here for any real safety."

"Safety?" Angela hissed to him as she followed him into the forest, the others right behind her and Goliath bringing up the rear, guarding their backs. "Safety from what? Oberon's Children? Why are you ringing the iron bell? We promised Oberon we wouldn't do that anymore!"

"A lot has changed in the nights since you left, sister," was all Nimrod would say as he led them deeper into the forest, closer to the sound of the bell. Along the way they met Ophelia, who was standing in a clearing listlessly picking berries off of bushes.

Ophelia looked up as they hurried through the clearing, and Angela was silently horrified to see the dark circles under her rookery sister's eyes and the utterly drained expression on her face, as though someone had sucked all the life and joy out of her. But a little of her bright spirit seemed to return when she saw them, and she fell in beside them and took Nimrod's hand as they hurried closer to the ringing of the bell.

The sound of the iron bell was becoming very loud when Angela noticed a change in the foliage around them; it reminded her of The Green, the rain forest that the Guatemalan gargoyles had been protecting in the outer world. She remembered the two gargoyles who had left the Green in their company, to plant seedlings and samples of their rain forest's rare and special plants on Avalon where they would be kept safe forever. Speaking up to be better heard over the bell, she asked Ophelia, "Are Jade and Turquesa still here?"

"Aye, luckily for us if not for them! We're almost at the heart of the New Green, as they like to call it," Ophelia tossed over her shoulder just before they came to a clearing. A small hut stood in the center of the clearing, a rough wooden hut with, of all things, a tall steeple on top of it. Angela recognized her rookery brother Theseus perched in the steeple, listlessly leaning against the frame but with one hand determinedly yanking on the rope tied to the bell, clanging it in a steady rhythm.

Down below the steeple, Gabriel sat on the steps to the hut's small porch, steadily and grimly sharpening a sword with a whetstone. Boudicca lay at his feet, listlessly gnawing on a huge thighbone. Ophelia called out to them as they drew near, "Gabriel! Boudicca! See who's come to help us!"

Boudicca immediately sprang up barking and wagged her long forked tail in happy greeting at the sight of them. Gabriel looked up at her words, and his grim expression seemed to lighten for a moment when he saw the newcomers, but he gave no words of greeting, only nodding curtly to them as he set the sword and whetstone down and gestured for them to follow him and Boudicca inside the hut.

Inside the hut, they saw Jade and Turquesa lying face-down on cots, trying to sleep, with great wads of material stuffed into their ears to muffle the tolling of the bell. Gabriel tapped their wing struts to rouse them, and they groggily got up. Both the Guatemalan gargoyles were plainly exhausted, and Jade said hoarsely as he saw Goliath, "How nice to see you again. A pity it couldn't be under better circumstances."

"Forget such pleasantries," Goliath rumbled, his expression thunderous. "What in the world is going on here?"

"Goliath? Is that ye? Please God, let me not be dreaming this," came weakly from a room off to one side, and they looked over to see Guardian Tom leaning against the doorframe. This time Angela could not restrain her gasp of horror and dismay. When last they'd seen him, Tom had been hale and hearty, in excellent shape for a man approaching fifty years of age. Now he looked to have aged another decade or more, in what should have been less than ten days.

"Oh, Tom!" Angela cried out as she rushed over to him. "What's happened to-"

"Hush now, and let's go talk elsewhere," Tom interrupted as he gently laid a finger on Angela's lips. "Let our princess get all the sleep she can; 'tis hard come by, these days." Gabriel wordlessly gestured them towards another room in the hut, one which they had obviously been using for storing food. The tolling of the bell was slightly more muffled here, and Tom sighed as he said, still pacing his words to be heard between the dull ringings, "I trust ye can live with the sound of the bell; we've had to, in the last few days. We keep it ringing at all times, day and night; it's our only protection now, against the Fey."

"But Oberon swore he'd never do you harm, in return for sparing his life when he tried to get rid of us all!" Angela protested. "He even made you his honor guard!"

"Aye, and we still are," Nimrod said bitterly. "We still must dance attendance on his Majesty when we are awake, lest he accuse us of being oathbreakers and raise his power against us personally, as he threatened when we first tried to leave. So every night, our bravest and most patient warriors must leave the New Green and glide to the castle, stand about and look pretty for Oberon, and return here, barely beating the dawn, to sleep in or near the hut and the safety the bell provides. Two of our warriors have turned to stone between here and there, but so far Jade, Turquesa and Tom have managed to find them and bring them to safety. But one of these days, one of the bad Children will find them first…"

"But why is our old home unsafe now? Oberon gave his word!" Angela nearly shouted in her outrage.

"Aye, for all his word's worth," Tom said bitterly. "For the first two nights after ye left for the outer world, all was well; Oberon gathered his Children, and as they came to court, he made it plain enough to them that the eggs were his honor guard and not to be bothered or involved in their petty schemes. Then on the third night he summoned Boudicca, and went with her to the outer world. We heard that he was using her to track down one of his wayward Children, a trickster named Puck."

Angela, Goliath and Hudson all exchanged glances, their faces sick with dawning realization and horror, as Tom continued, "He came back a few minutes later without Puck, but with Boudicca and his queen Titania at his side. Then he left again, saying something about a newborn babe, and the queen followed an instant later. They returned together shortly after, still without Puck, and with Oberon in a wrathful mood indeed. He said not a word what had happened to any of the court, only that Puck would not be joining them, now or ever again; he was banished from Avalon forever. And soon after that, the trickster nature of some of the Children became too strong for them to resist, and they began playing little pranks on us.

"Nothing worrisome at first, just wee things like changing the drink in a mug from wine to vinegar. Wee things that could possibly be blamed on our own carelessness, instead of one of the Fey being playful, as they still remembered Oberon's decree. But then they grew bolder, and began to do more bothersome things, like causing us to trip over objects that appeared under our feet, then vanished into thin air. That's how my sweet Katherine broke her hip."

Angela gasped in horror; in the medieval lifestyle she'd been raised in, a fractured hip for a human usually meant spending the rest of a severely shortened life bedridden. Tom reassured her, "Queen Titania healed her, bless the Lady, but when no action was taken against any of the Fey who could've done it, they grew bolder still. We've had to deal with bread that turned to stone while ye chewed it, tunics and loincloths that became fanciful dresses or vanished entirely without warning, weapons than turned into flowers and vermin in our grasp… Then three nights ago, when the eggs awoke we discovered that sometime during their stone sleep atop the battlements, two of them had disappeared; both Menalippe and Michael, gone as though they'd just vanished into thin air, not even any gravel left behind on their perches!"

"Noooo!" Angela wailed for her lost rookery brother and sister, while Goliath clenched his fists and ground his teeth in frustrated rage and grief. Hudson convulsively grasped the hilt of his sword, as though wishing for an enemy to run through right then, while Tom continued: "When Gabriel went before Oberon himself to demand either our siblings' safe return or vengeance for their demise, the Weird Sisters changed his voice to that of a yappy little lap-dog, then muzzled him for 'speaking without the proper respect'! We've since gotten the muzzle off, but his voice is still that of a wee dog! 'Twas obvious then that we had no protection any longer, and we could not fight them all, so we fled."

"Oh, Gabriel!" Angela turned to the Avalon clan leader, but he pulled away from her touch, turning his face to the hut's window. It was plain from his body language that he didn't want her sympathy, and her lip trembled as she let her arms fall to her sides again.

Jade spoke up now, adding, "When they discovered that Oberon had sealed off the mists of passage surrounding Avalon so they could not leave, they came here, to the New Green, and started ringing the bell to make a sanctuary. The Avalon clan had helped us to plant all our seedlings when we first arrived; now we help them by taking our turns ringing the bell during the day, so Tom and Katherine may get some rest."

Ophelia stepped in then, to add, "Not all the Fey are menacing us. A few are even trying to protect us from their fellow immortals' mischief; the ones known as Coyote, Grandmother, and Lady-of-the-Lake. When warriors have been caught by sunrise before reaching this forest, Coyote and Grandmother have stood watch over them until we could retrieve them safely. But several of them bedevil us as often as they wish, the worst of the lot being the Weird Sisters, Raven and the spider-beast Anansi, and would likely be on us even now if we didn't keep the bell ringing at all hours."

"Oh, by the Dragon…" Goliath sank to his knees and buried his face in his hands, groaning in despair. "The ruin we've brought to our children!"

"The ruin ye've brought?" Tom asked incredulously.

"Aye," Hudson said bitterly. "The ruin we brought down upon ye when we prevented Oberon from taking the babe, Alexander! He came to Manhattan hunting Puck, and instead found his queen Titania and her half-breed daughter Fox, who'd just given birth to a wee male babe with potential for magic. Titania and Oberon decided that the babe should be taken from his parents, and brought to Avalon t'be raised and taught magic. The boy's sire had long been our enemy, and his wife was no friend to the clan either, but we still helped them and the trickster Puck fend off Oberon until we could get him to agree to leave the babe in his mother's arms."

"And when Oberon returned to Avalon, he took his anger against us and turned it on you, our clan's children!" Goliath said bitterly. "I should have just let them take the babe, and to the Dragon's den with Xanatos and Fox!"

"It-it's all my fault," Angela whispered, her eyes wide with horror as tears trickled down her cheeks. "I did this…"

Ursula looked at her with a raised brow ridge. "How is this your fault, dear?"

Angela turned to Ursula with horrified eyes. "You were right; it's wrong for gargoyles to give their sons and daughters special treatment! But after I found out Goliath was my father… he didn't want to treat me any differently than before, but I kept demanding it, calling him Father and pestering him to call me his daughter, until I got what I wanted! And when we arrived in Manhattan just in time for the battle with Oberon… He told Titania that he'd come to understand the love a parent has for a child, and that's why we fought Oberon instead of helping him, and now look what's happened! Menalippe and Michael… Gabriel… All my fault!" as she sank to her knees and broke down in sobs, while Ursula looked stricken.

"Och, no, lass!" Tom went over to her and rubbed her wings comfortingly. "This disaster isna' of yuir making. We raised all of you as we'd have raised human babes, and 'tis no surprise that ye've come to be as much human in nature as gargoyle. And a human child will raise up empires, or destroy them, to get his parents' acknowledgement that he is their flesh and blood and heir! So ye could blame the princess and I, for having raised you so," as, looking over Angela's head, he cocked a challenging eyebrow at Ursula, "but I'll have none of that; the fault lies solely with Oberon, that spoiled brat of an immortal who breaks his word with us while insisting we keep ours, and refuses ta let us leave now that we're more than ready ta go! Och, I should have killed him while we had him helpless in front of us, when we first forged the bell!"

Goliath shook his head. "If you had, the wrath of Titania and the Weird Sisters would have fallen on you. Titania helped us to beat him that first time, as recompense for helping to save the world earlier-it's a long story. But she would not have let us kill her liege lord and husband. We would have been destroyed if you'd swung that sword."

"And placing blame is useless anyway," Hudson added. "Not when our first concern is getting the lot of ye off this accursed island, and back to Castle Wyvern where ye've always belonged!"

"Castle Wyvern?" they spun around to see Princess Katherine leaning tiredly against the doorframe, having just awoken. Her exhaustion was still etched in her face, leaving her looking gray as Nimrod's hide and far older than her sixty-one years of age, but she straightened up with a touch of her former spirit as she queried, "The castle still stands?"

"Aye, and it stands atop the tallest building in Manhattan! Xanatos bought it and moved it there, and denied it to us for years, but gave it back to us in gratitude for helping to save Alexander. And since that battle resulted in Oberon breaking his covenant with our children, the man canna' deny giving the lot of ye a home there as well!"

Goliath lifted his head at last, his spirits starting to rise as well. "If he dares try deny any of you, he'll answer to me! But first, we must find a way to get you off Avalon. So merely rowing far enough out doesn't work?"

Tom shook his head. "Instead of the mists appearing, the currents will push ye back to land, and break yuir boat upon the rocks for trying."

"So we must convince Oberon to let ye go. And I have an idea of what might do it," as Hudson actually smiled. "Princess, ye recall the old days, when ye called us beasts and monsters?"

Katherine blushed and ducked her head. "Ye've no idea how much I regret ever even thinking such words."

Hudson waved her apology away. "Done is done, and ye've raised our eggs well; that pays all debts. But do ye recall some of the things that were said about us? Particularly during that unexpected breeding season, just after thy father passed on?"

Katherine blushed harder, while Tom looked quizzical; he'd been only a babe in arms then, far too young to remember anything. "Aye. But I know now that most of them were untrue!"

"One or two were true enough. And for the rest, well, mayhap Oberon hasn't been around gargoyles long enough to witness a breeding season, so he'll have no way to know what's true and false. We can hope, anyway," he added honestly, as they all gathered around him with the glimmerings of hope indeed stirring in their eyes. "Now, here's what we'll do…"


Pilandok the Fey crouched high in a tree just barely within sight of Oberon's castle, hiding while wondering what he should do. No, not what he should, but what he could do.

He was not one of the powerful Fey; not at all like Puck or Odin or Zeus. They could command the earth or sky as they pleased, but little Pilandok, who'd been scorned as 'the runt of the litter' more times than he could count, could scarcely do more than create illusions. Even shape-changing, which most Fey could do with ease, was difficult for him and took hours instead of mere seconds. If he blew hard enough he could stir up a breeze to fill the sails of his little outrigger boat, but it took enough energy that he'd preferred to let the world's own winds and tides sail him from shore to shore as he'd explored what many mortals referred to as the Indian and southern Pacific Oceans.

In centuries past, Pilandok had prided himself on being a trickster, using his cleverness and illusions to play tricks on those clumsy humans and outwit them time and time again. Nothing on as grand a scale as Loki or Coyote (or as malicious as Loki's, either), but enough to teach those humans a lesson from time to time; the usual lesson being that they should be kinder to those smaller than them, and that cleverness was better than brute strength any day. But then those humans had gotten clever themselves… and figured out how to temper iron and make weapons out of it. After his third close call with a steel blade, he decided his human-tricking days were over and it was time to just stick to animals for company.

The island of Mauritius had been a good place to live, for several centuries. Always warm, plenty of food, and no danger of any sort other than the occasional bout of nasty weather. . No human or other Fey lived there, so there was no one to bully him about with their greater magic, or hurt him with iron or try to trap and force him to work magic for them. When boredom overrode his sense of self-preservation he'd traveled to other islands and continents as well, letting curiosity guide him, but eventually returned to Mauritius. While he was there he enjoyed watching his pets; the dodos who made their home on the island too. Not very smart birds, certainly no good for conversation, but they had been fun to watch as they bobbed and cooed and clucked at each other in the forests, gorged themselves silly on tambalacoque fruits when they were in season, and danced their awkward courting dances before laying their eggs on the hot beach sands.

Then roughly three hundred and fifty years ago he'd returned to Mauritius, after spending a few decades in the Philippines again, and discovered that in his absence, white men had discovered the island and settled there. White men, and their horrible cats and dogs! Cats and dogs that found the dodos easy prey; with their heavy bodies and tiny wings, the dodos could not fly away and were too slow to run away from them either. Even the pigs that the white men had brought and set loose to root in the forests for their food, seemed to delight in savaging any dodos that crossed their paths. And the white men ate the dodos as well, trapping and shooting the adult birds for their dinners, and scooping dodo eggs out of their warm shallow sand-nests to cook for their breakfasts. By the time Pilandok had returned to the island, its once-burgeoning population of dodos had been reduced to two small flocks.

Pilandok had scrambled to herd one of those flocks to a beach that the white men hadn't settled on yet, and kept them safe there for over a month, but he'd been desperate for another, better solution. He'd thought he'd hidden his outrigger boat well enough, but after gathering the first dozen birds and preparing to go to sea with them, he'd found to his dismay that a group of sailors had found it, and were playing with it like a child's toy! And even as he watched from hiding, one great clumsy oaf snapped the outrigger off as his fellow humans jeered. Without the boat, he couldn't leave the island with his pets, to try to find another safe place for them to live. And he'd spent enough centuries observing humans to know that sooner or later, in their lust for wealth and property, the white men would swarm over and settle on each part of the island, including the beach he'd chosen as refuge. He could hold them off with illusions and trickery for a long time, making them believe some even more powerful, malevolent and fearsome spirit lived there, but he knew that their greed would eventually overcome their fear; the refuge wouldn't last forever. Pilandok himself had still had one way of escaping the island, but it was a way that the poor flightless dodos couldn't use as well, and he'd been reluctant to leave them behind to be slaughtered to the last poor bird.

Then a skiff had arrived on the beach, a skiff with a magical aura he'd recognized instantly; it was from Avalon! A skiff with another of those accursed white men aboard, but this one had seemed different from the sailors on the other side of the island. A mortal servant of Oberon, Pilandok had thought at first; he'd been sure that the skiff had come to take him to Avalon, that Oberon had declared the Scattering over centuries early, and the time for Gathering had come again! But the mortal, who called himself Tom, had known nothing about Oberon or a Gathering. After some confused chatter back and forth, Pilandok had finally understood that a few mortals and gargoyles had somehow sneaked onto the island of Avalon and been living there for centuries, venturing out periodically to see if more gargoyles could be found and brought there.

Pilandok had been both disappointed and bitterly amused. After all the havoc that had been wrought when Fey had fought against Fey in the War of the Courts, the island of Avalon had given voice through the Queen; the Voice that was heard so rarely but that even the King of the Fey obeyed. Avalon had demanded peace to recover from the ravages of war, and Oberon had enforced its will, forcing all the Fey to depart from its shores for a thousand years and setting the Weird Sisters as sentries to ensure none tried to sneak back home. But while there were no Fey on the island, it was perfectly happy to have mortals living on it…

And the dodos were mortal birds, weren't they? Pilandok had seized on the idea in an instant, and imparted it to the mortal Tom. He'd been sure that he'd have to either threaten the mortal with an illusional monster or bribe him with fairy gold to get him to comply, but Tom had agreed to take the dodos back with him to Avalon—and to not feed them to his young gargoyles—without need of either threats or bribes. It had been surprising, to learn that some humans were kindly creatures after all.

Scarcely an hour later, the skiff had been headed back to Avalon with all the eggs and adult birds they could gather in a short time. And once the skiff had been taken back home by the magical mists, Pilandok had climbed a high tree, spent the rest of the day slowly turning his ears into great gliding wings, then let the winds take him away from Mauritius forever.

He'd spent the next few centuries wandering through Africa, finding safe places here and there on the continent (places far, far away from Anansi's hidden city), and staying until more white men and iron came and he felt it was time to move on. And finally, one glorious night, one of the Weird Sisters had come and told him that the Gathering had come at last! He'd been so happy that he'd hardly minded the disgust and contempt in Phoebe's eyes, as she'd grudgingly told him that Oberon had commanded everyone to return, "Even you, runt. Try not to get stepped on before Oberon sees you," before vanishing in a burst of light to tell someone else the good news.

And now he was back on Avalon, but it hadn't taken long at all for him to remember why he'd initially been happy about the Scattering. Anansi had been delighted to see his favorite victim come back within his reach again, as delighted as Pilandok had been dismayed. And then Raven had apparently decided to have a contest with Anansi, as to who was the better tormentor! Finally Pilandok had been forced to hide in the mortals' quarters, cowering under the shelves that Tom kept his armor stored on; being so near to so much iron made his senses tingle painfully, but better that than to endure what Anansi and Raven wanted to do to him! The mortals had taken pity on him, and let him stay after discovering him there; Tom had even draped a wool blanket over him and pretended ignorance when Raven had come by to ask if they'd seen him.

Tom had recognized Pilandok when they'd discovered him, introduced him to the mortal princess and one of their gargoyles, and told him that the dodos were thriving on a southern shore of the island, in a spot that had been made safe from most predators. Pilandok had been touched that they'd taken such good care of the dodos, and swore that he owed them a boon, before shamefacedly admitting that there really wasn't much he could do to repay the favor.

But then something had happened in the world outside; something to do with the great Trickster Puck, he'd heard. Word had spread across the island that when Puck hadn't returned for the Gathering, Oberon had decided to go out and bring him in himself. He'd come back later without Puck but with the Queen Titania on his arm, and rumor was that he'd ordered one of the chambermaids to turn herself into a wet-nurse capable of nursing a part-human babe, before going to the mortal world once more. Titania had quietly followed him a moment later (and had also, so rumor had it, casually blasted back a minor sprite that had tried to scramble through the portal after her.) Several minutes later the king and queen had returned together… but still without Puck, and Oberon had been in a foul temper indeed.

Such a foul temper that the whole island seemed to hold its breath; even the Tricksters laid low for several hours, not wanting to draw any attention to themselves lest the King decide to take out his anger on them. Oberon usually found their pranks amusing, and gave them free reign to prank and torment his other subjects as they pleased, so long as no lasting damage was done. But no one forgot what he'd once done to Loki, who'd been noticed tormenting a weaker Fey while Oberon was in a bad mood; the trickster's screams had no doubt lasted for days, though no one had been able to hear them.

But eventually, Oberon lost the scowl he'd been wearing and the Fey court resumed their usual pastimes, including the tricksters. From where he was still hiding in the mortals' quarters, Pilandok had heard Anansi come to the door again and sweetly inquire of Tom if he had been seen nearby. Tom had once more pretended ignorance of the little Fey hiding under his armor, even though by that point that everyone surely knew it was pretense. Anansi had stalked away, but that time he'd left something behind; a strong thread of spider-silk, magically rendered invisible and suspended in the doorframe at ankle-height. The next person to go through the door, the gargoyle Pericles with a pitcher of water for the princess, had tripped over the thread and gone sprawling.

And Oberon had done nothing. And Pilandok had begun to get very worried. When the Fey had first began returning to their home, Oberon had made it clear to everyone that the gargoyle clan now living on the island was his honor guard and under his protection. And he'd been looking right at Raven when he'd said it, a very pointed look that everyone knew had meant: No Tricks. But now a trick had been played on a clan member, and everyone knew it; the spider-thread had turned visible after being tripped over. But Oberon did nothing to Anansi, no punishment or even a warning… and that meant that his royal protection was now withdrawn.

The Tricksters realized it, too. A campaign of minor tricks began immediately, though the first few were just annoying instead of harmful; testing the waters, in case Oberon decided to officially notice them after all. But when nothing was said or done to them, the pranks started getting worse, and taking a darker turn. The night that the gargoyle Gideon's spear had turned into a python and started to strangle him before he clawed it to shreds, Pilandok had said a sad farewell to the humans and gargoyles and had shamefacedly crept out of the castle, to seek out one of his old hiding places in the forest. He'd gone unmolested by the great tricksters, who found the gargoyles to be much more fun to torment than the little runt.

Three nights ago the gargoyles had fled the castle, and when they'd found that Oberon would not let them flee the island entirely they'd gone to a distant shore and made a sanctuary for themselves there, enforced by iron's knell. Deprived of most of their prey, some of the great tricksters had begun seeking him out again, but so far Pilandok had remained safe; he'd chosen as his current hiding place the branches of the rowan tree that was Queen Titania's favorite. No one knew exactly why Titania had long ago declared this particular tree to be important to her, but… no one crossed Titania. All the other Fey gave this tree a wide berth, touching neither its roots nor its berries. All except Pilandok, who was small and slender enough to crouch in the branches unseen and unheard while he wished futilely he could do something to help his mortal friends…

"Little Pilandok."

Surprise tearing his gaze away from the distant castle, Pilandok glanced down at the base of the tree—and froze in sheer terror. He'd been seen in the tree after all—by Queen Titania herself!

He threw himself down out of the tree to land cowering at Titania's feet, begging unashamedly for mercy. "I touched not a leaf or a berry, I swear I did no harm to the tree, I only sought sanctuary from the great tricksters! Please, your majesty, have mercy and spare this most unworthy runt from the terrible wrath of your displeasure!"

Queen Titania gave his pleadings a coolly raised eyebrow. "Cease your babbling, little one." He instantly fell silent, quivering. "It has been said, that, for a time, you kept company with the humans and gargoyles who dwelled in the castle."

Pilandok swallowed hard. "Y-yes, your majesty. Th-they showed me kindness."

"Indeed. Little Pilandok, this is a time of change for mortal and Fey alike. I have let you find sanctuary in the branches of my tree, not only now but in ages past before the Scattering. And now your queen requires you to do her service."

Pilandok touched his head to the ground at her feet. "As my sovereign commands. Name the service, your majesty."

Titania told him.

Moments later, Pilandok screamed.

To be continued! (soon, I promise!)