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St patricks gargoyle, p.1
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.1

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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St. Patrick's Gargoyle


  Katherine Kurtz

  St. Patrick's Gargoyle

  S&C by Ginevra

  ISBN: 0-441-00905-0

  An Ace Book February 2001

  Cover art by Jon Sullivan.

  Cover design by David Rheinhardt.

  This E-BOOK is NOT for sale!!!

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any rresemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  For Mobi, Tiger, and Kat, who are very fond of gargoyles

  Chapter 1

  In the bitter cold of a late December night, the gargoyle's sharp gaze scanned restlessly over the deserted streets of Dublin. Not far below, the clock in the tower of St. Patrick's Cathedral began to strike midnight. The sound of the bell reverberated on a breeze brittle with the promise of snow, skittering among the city's chimneys and across frostkissed slate roofs. Very soon, the rhythm was picked up by other clocks elsewhere in the sleeping city.

  Revelling in the music that sang freedom, the gargoyle stretched batlike wings and gave a snort of satisfaction. From his lofty vantage point behind the tower's stepped Irish battlements, invisible from street level, he had guarded this part of the city for centuries. Only once each month, when the moon was dark, did he customarily descend from his windswept eyrie to prowl among the shadows.

  The clock in the bell tower finished striking midnight, and the gargoyle flexed his wings again, breathed a deep gargoyle breath, and exhaled. As he did so, dense shadow sighed from the stonecarved jaws - darkling manifestation of a gargoyle's true essence - and he plummeted toward the pavement below, only slowing with an abrupt whoosh of suddenly extended wings as he touched down gently instead of splatting on the pavement. In less than a blink of an eye he was hidden in the soft-edged shadow of a frost-glittering buttress, casting a glance around to see whether anyone had witnessed his descent.

  The street was empty and silent, just the way he liked it, with snow flurries dimming the electric glow of the wroughtiron light standards along Patrick Street, which fronted the cathedral. He had much preferred gaslight, though he needed neither. Furling his leathery wings, he turned to skulk along the side of the cathedral, ghosting from shadow to shadow. Catching a hint of movement in the back of a frosty window, he briefly bared his teeth at it, but he knew it was only his own reflection.

  The old churchyard and adjoining park afforded far less cover than the looming bulk of the cathedral, but they were also deserted at this midnight hour. Vigilant nonetheless, the gargoyle streaked above one snowy footpath in a blur of speed and plunged into the murky darkness of St. Patrick's Well, scaly wings bumping and scraping against the ancient stone as he fell.

  The chamber in which he landed was redolent of pigeon droppings and the foul, dank smell of stagnant water, littered with rubble and the refuse generated by humans- empty soda cans and cider bottles and paper trash. Ignoring this evidence of mortal sloth, the gargoyle squeezed through a series of drains and ancient culverts to emerge in the system of medieval tunnels that still connected St. Patrick's with Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, and St. Michan's Church, on the other side of the Liffey.

  Down the close, musty passageway he sped on his midnight errand, the tips of his closefurled wings striking sparks whenever they brushed the low ceiling, talons scuffling hollowly against the stone underfoot. A creature of the night, he could see well enough in the inky darkness, but as he passed beneath Dublin Castle and approached his destination, the lightlimned outline of a door beckoned, and a distant murmuring sound grew gradually more distinct.

  He pushed open the door to a barrage of agitated voices and the fierce, ruby-glowing gaze of more than a dozen other gargoyles milling in the vaulted chamber beyond.

  "Hey, Paddy, we were beginning to worry you'd be late," one of them called, to murmurs of greeting and agreement from several others, as they all began to take their places along rockcut tiers like a small amphitheatre.

  Late, indeed! As Paddy settled between the venerable Christ Church gargoyle, known as C.C., and their colleague from St. Audoen's, another very ancient church, he reflected that in all the centuries he'd been guarding St. Patrick's, he'd never once missed or even been late to the monthly conclaves that all duty gargoyles were obliged to attend.

  Beside him, the St. Audoen's gargoyle resumed harping on his usual complaintone that was certainly justified, if grown somewhat tedious through repetition, since nothing could be done about it. A few years back, the crypt of the church he'd guarded for centuries had been turned into a Viking heritage center - an outrage, so far as its guardian was concerned. The old synod hall at Christ Church had suffered a similar fate, now housing a tourist venue called Dublinia. The gargoyle of St. Audoen's hadn't yet been turned out of his living, because the building was still standing - and since it was the only truly medieval church in Dublin, the city fathers were unlikely to simply knock it down - but guarding tourist attractions was hardly in the same category as guarding sacred buildings. All the gargoyles were increasingly concerned about the conversions.

  "It's the foot in the door, I keep telling you," the St. Audoen's gargoyle was muttering under his breath. "'Lo, Paddy. First they take over the crypt, then it's a chapel or two, then it's the whole lot! I just don't understand the big fuss about Vikings. The Vikings were terrible people. They raped and pillage - despecially, they pillaged!"

  "I never liked Vikings much, either," the Christ Church gargoyle agreed. "Back in the old days, we used to give 'em whatfor! Remember the time I turned a Viking into a puddle of putrid flesh?"

  "Did you really?" said the relatively junior gargoyle who guarded the Four Courts, sounding both eager and scandalized, as several of his elders rumbled acknowledgment.

  "Before your time, kid," said the gargoyle from St. Werburgh's, not far above their heads. "You civic gargoyles'll never see the kind of action we used to see in the old days. I say the rot set in when the Georgians stopped putting gargoyles on churches!"

  "It was before that," said the Trinity College gargoyle.

  "I blame it on the Reformation-Luther, and Calvin, and that crowd. No proper sense of how things ought to be, and no sense of humor!"

  "Yeah, but at least the Protestants still remember it's supposed to be the Church Militant," said the gargoyle from University Church, an elegant Roman Catholic edifice over on St. Stephen's Green. "My building's all right, if you like Byzantine decor, but you look at most of these modern Catholic churches - not one goddamn gargoyle! No bell towers, either. How do they expect to defend the faith?"

  "Good question!" one of the Church of Ireland gargoyles agreed. "People think those little pointy spires on our bell towers are just for decoration. Boy, would they be surprised if they knew the things were surface-to-air missiles!"

  "But will He let us use them? No!" the St. Audoen's gargoyle pouted. "I liked things better when He was an Old Testament God, and we were His avenging angels. Why even bother to call us the Church Militant anymore?"

  "Yeah, and most of these new churches don't even have bell towers, much less missiles," said another. "Or, if they do have towers, they've got electronic bells!"

  "Not at St. Patrick's, we don't," Paddy pointed out with pride. "We've got a full ring of real bells and missiles! Back when they were making all that fuss about the city's millennium, my bell team rang a full peal of Grandsire Caters. That's more than five thousand changes without a repeat! Took a good three hours. Now, that's ringing."

  As several other gargoyles agreed that the feat was, indeed, something to be proud of, two more gargoyles burst through the door, engaged in an angry
and animated disquisition.

  "It's this modern generation: they got no respect!" one of them was saying. "Somebody said some cherubs in the churchyard saw the whole thing - but these days, nobody's gonna pay any attention to a bunch of naked putti!"

  "Yeah, but what're ya gonna do?" his companion replied - a tough old gargoyle from the Presbyterian Church in Parnell Square. "Street punks! Lager louts! They litter the streets with empty cider cans and cigarette butts, and scribble graffiti on the walls illiterate graffiti and they throw up on the sidewalks, and piddle in doorways-"

  "I know what I'd do, if I ever got my hands on the culprits!" the first one grumbled. "In the old days, we would've set their piss on fire! St. Michan's used to be a damned decent place."

  "What ever are you talking about?" the Dublin Castle gargoyle demanded. "What's happened at St. Michan's?"

  "Where've you been?" one of the new arrivals asked disdainfully, as he flounced into his place.

  "At my post!"

  "Let's don't us fight," the second newcomer said. "You know the vaults under St. Michan's?"

  "Of course."

  "Vandals broke in and trashed the place a couple of nights ago."

  A horrified chorus of "No!" greeted this revelation.

  "Yeah, got pissed on cider, busted up some coffins, set a couple of fire - seven roughed up that crusader mummy who made it back from the Holy Land."

  "But, that's disgraceful!" said the Trinity gargoyle. "All apart from the disrespect for hallowed ground, that's where Bram Stoker got his inspiration for the crypts in Dracula! I remember when he was writing that. I used to watch him pacing back and forth in Trinity Yard, mumbling under his breath about vampires. 'Course, everybody knew he was a little strange...."

  "Well, what are we going to do about it?" asked the very practical gargoyle from the Unitarian Church on St. Stephen's Green. "Didn't anyone notice anything suspicious?"

  "Who can tell, with tourists all over the place?" another grumbled. "Over at St. Andrew's, they've turned the place into a damned tourist information center. I spend my days having my picture snapped by hordes of Spanish tourists! Or French, or Italian, or-God help us - Germans. At least the Brits and Americans speak the language - sort of."

  "At least you aren't overrun by crazy people dressed like Vikings!" the St. Audoen's gargoyle muttered darkly.

  "Let's get back to the point," said the somewhat officious gargoyle from the Lord Mayor's residence at Mansion House. "I don't think any of us are particularly pleased with recent trends in building conversions, but we've all had to adapt to the times."

  "Yeah, but there's a limit," said the Christ Church gargoyle.

  "That's right," the St. Audoen's gargoyle agreed. "Who was the bright spark who thought of putting a Viking heritage center in one of the oldest churches in Dublin? The city fathers spent centuries trying to keep Vikings out!"

  "Hey, it costs money to maintain these old buildings," the Mansion House gargoyle pointed out. "For the most part, I think the city planners do the best they can. Think of all the great old buildings they've saved. We don't have to worry about filthy lucre, but humans do."

  "Yeah, beancounters," said a crusty old gargoyle from north of the Liffey.

  "Now, wait just a minute," said the Custom House gargoyle, who called himself Gandon, after the building's architect. "I, for one, am rather grateful to the beancounters."

  "Yeah, you would be," said St. Werburgh's gargoyle, whose building was falling down around his ears. The Custom House was regarded as the city's most important architectural jewel, sited between the last two bridges on the Liffey, just before it flowed into the sea. Burned in 1921, during the Troubles attendant upon Irish Independence, and subsequently rebuilt, it recently had been the focus of further loving restoration entailing some six years and several million pounds.

  "We're straying from the point again," said the Mansion House gargoyle. "And I really don't think we should be so hard on the city planners. Despite their many faults," he emphasized, glaring at the others to silence the incipient grumbles, "they save a lot of our homes, when they take on restoration schemes. Restoration is always preferable to demolition."

  "And now who's straying from the point?" said the gargoyle from the Dominican Priory in Dorset Street, not unkindly.

  "Yeah," said a crusty old gargoyle from Collins Barracks, which recently had become the new home of the National Museum. "And who wasn't doing his job when St. Michan's got trashed?"

  "I hardly think we need to go casting blame," said the exceedingly proper gargoyle from the Catholic Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street, a stately classical building whose design required that no trace of its gargoyle be visible from the street. "St. Michan's hasn't had its own gargoyle for centuries. He got reassigned when the Georgians tore down the old church and rebuilt on its foundations - went off to Paris, as I recall. In any case, it's hard to have proper gargoyle security on a mostly classical Georgian building - and we are spread awfully thin. We all do the best we can."

  A stout gargoyle from atop Leinster House, seat of the parliamentary chambers of the Dail and the Seanad, gave an exasperated sigh. "We aren't going to get anything done if we don't stop bickering among ourselves and making excuses."

  "Yeah, just like the government," Paddy muttered, to snickers from the Trinity gargoyle and the little stone monkeys from the front of the old Kildare Street Club, who rattled their pool cues against the stone floor and made rude noises.

  The meeting continued for a while longer, still plagued by periodic interruptions, but eventually a stepped-up neighborhood-watch plan was agreed upon and the gargoyles dispersed. Paddy spent the rest of the night prowling the streets of Dublin, for only in their shadowforms did gargoyles have this mobility, and then - except in unusual circumstances - only for the twenty-four hours immediately following the monthly conclaves.

  He ranged among the shadowy back streets and alleys of the city until nearly dawn, watching for evildoers and occasionally spotting another gargoyle on similar patrol, but the increasing snowfall was keeping most people indoors. The clock on St. Patrick's was striking seven as he approached - and saw the flashing blue lights of an ambulance and several grad cars pulled to the curb outside the south door, which was standing open.

  Keeping to the shadows - fortunately, still plentiful at this time of year, even at seven o'clock-Paddy eased his way closer into the shelter of a buttress to get a better look at the people clustered at the back of the ambulance. Young Philip Kelly, one of Paddy's favorite vergers, was sitting on the back bumper and holding a compress to his forehead, while a uniformed garda wrote things down in a small notebook and an ambulance attendant applied a bandage to Kelly's hand. There was blood down the front of Kelly's dark purple cassock, and one eye was swollen shut.

  "They took a couple of silver alms basins from beside the high altar," Kelly was saying. "Probably would've got more, but I guess I interrupted them."

  "Valuable, I take it - these alms basins?" the garda said, looking up.

  "I'll say. Irreplaceable. Really big and heavy, with Georgian hallmarks. And they'll probably be melted down for the silver."

  "Afraid you're probably right. Anything else missing?"

  "I don't know. I didn't have time to notice. They were here when I came to open up for Morning Prayer - two guys. The dean is on his way."

  "I don't suppose you saw which way they went?"

  "Oh, I did, indeed: right up Patrick Street, heading for the North Side. Car was an old red banger. Afraid I didn't get a reg number."

  That was all Paddy needed to know. He was really furious that punks had dared to mug young Kelly - and in the church, no less! And how dare they steal things from his cathedral?!

  Restraining his indignation, he streaked up Patrick Street toward Christ Church, determined to find the red car and its occupants before it got too light to move around freely. The sky was brightening already, despite the snow, so he would need to hurry. And if he'd had no luck b
y midnight, it would be a full month before he could alert his fellow gargoyles - unless, of course, he called a special conclave, which wasn't often done. By then, the thieves would be long gone.

  He met the Bank of Ireland gargoyle coming out of Christchurch Place, and summoned him briefly into the roofless but elegant ruin of St. Nicholas Without, to brief him about the break-in before heading on through Temple Bar. The Bank of Ireland gargoyle might be a fussy old busybody, but from his rooftop post atop the graceful building that formerly had housed the Irish Parliament, overlooking College Green and the entrance to Trinity College, he saw and heard just about everything that went on in the center of Dublin. He would have the word out to the other gargoyles as quickly as anyone.

  Across the Ha'penny Footbridge and eastward along the quays Paddy sped, stopping briefly to confer with the rivergod heads who graced the arches on the O'Connell Bridge - who grumbled at being disturbed-then heading into O'Connell Street itself.

  There, on a sudden whim, he paused to inquire of the Anna Livia statue reclining in her fountain - the "Floozy in the Jacuzzi," as the irreverent were wont to call her, or sometimes "Anna Rexia," for she was very thin. (Dubliners were wont to bestow irreverent nicknames on their city's notable landmarks, and had given rhyming epithets to many pieces of popular street sculpture. Across from the Provost's House in Trinity College was a lifesized bronze statue of sweet Molly Malone, her name immortalized in song, who had "rolled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow." She was known as the Dolly with the Trolley, or the Tart with the Cart. Over near Liffey Street, the seated statues of two weary shoppers had been christened the Hags with the Bags.)

  Indeed, little Annie did look more like a goodtime girl than the noble goddess of the Liffey, more interested in good craze and a bit of a knees-up than in stringing together two thoughts in a row. But she'd been civil enough, the few times Paddy had spoken to her - not a gargoyle, of course, and no more mobile than the orators' statues lined up along the center island of O'Cormell Street, or the classical statues adorning the Four Courts complex or the General Post Office; but they were only meant to Watch, after all.

 
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