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St patricks gargoyle, p.19
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.19

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  Watching Brother Richard, Templeton attempted to follow suit, but the ground was hard, and his lighter blade resisted, bending, until Paddy assisted him. The gargoyle/angels were echoing the action all around them, spiking their angelic blades into the ground like so many bars of a glowing cage. But before they could complete their circle, the chamber suddenly was filled with a glare of tawny radiance and a stinging wind that roared like a blast furnace.

  "Stand fast!" Brother Richard shouted, bearing down on the quillons of his sword, as the ground around them bellowed forth dozens of terrible, misshapen fire-forms wielding spears and scythes and jagged tridents. "Do not despair, for God is with us!"

  Templeton was already following the Templar's example, though a glancing buffet from one of the demons - for such they must be - made him stagger, with one elbow hooked around the blade of his sword and the other hand locked over the hilt. The sudden invasion of demons had also overturned one of the golden cherubim, and another was teetering under the assault of several of the fiery attackers - hateful imps and demons, who struck sparks from the settings of the gems as they prodded at the head with pitchforks and spears, keening and cackling with malevolent glee. The gargoyles had swarmed in at the first sign of trouble, and were beating off some of the demons, but more kept coming, and the assault went on.

  "They seek to shatter the head, to free the Baphomet!" Brother Richard cried, hurtling around to try to raise the fallen cherub. "If they succeed, the Baphomet will be free!"

  In that instant, one of the imps noticed that two of the defenders were merely human. A swipe at Brother Richard had no effect, for he was immune to injury in any mortal sense, but Templeton was more vulnerable. Under a piercing glare from the imp's burning eyes, he felt something tighten in his chest like the clench of an iron fist. A cry escaped his lips, and he would have crumpled, had not the Templar caught his weight and borne him to his feet, with a grip on the old man's forearm as icy as the grave.

  "Do not give in!" Brother Richard implored, tugging Templeton toward the toppled angel. "You must help me right the cherub! Mortal life is worth nothing, if they free the Baphomet - and Satan's minions have already breached one of the defenses!"

  Staggering, pain throbbing down his arms, Templeton went willingly nonetheless, for the hatred radiating from

  the fiery demons left him in no doubt of the evil present. So malevolent were these servants of Darkness that the very air seemed to reek with their defiance and frenzied intent to free what lay imprisoned within the golden head - an entity that, if once released, would wreak untold havoc upon the world.

  "Non nobis, Domine!" Brother Richard shouted, as he seized a wing of the toppled angel, grunting as he tried to heave it back into position. "Non nobis... sed nomini tuo,.. da gloriam! Help me, my brother!"

  "Non nobis, Domine!" Templeton gasped, silently finishing the response in his heart as he ducked his head and shouldered his way to Brother Richard's aid. Somewhat oddly, he could not seem to feel the touch of any of the demons as he passed among them, though his movement clearly pushed them aside, and seemed to be strengthened by the ancient Templar motto, which had also been their battle cry.

  Non nobis, Domine-Not to us, Lord, not to us but to Thy name be the glory! His own order had used another battle cry, but they had all fought the same good fight, all those centuries ago in the Holy Land. And Paddy and the others had warned him that it was a battle he was being called to wage.

  Setting his hands on one of the golden wings of the toppled angel, he cried out as the gold seared his hands, but in that instant he knew that to falter now was to die in spirit as well as in body. He could feel the buffeting of darker wings as he and Brother Richard heaved the guardian angel back into position, but he could sense, also, the fiercely benign protection of Paddy and the others, mostly shielding the two human knights from the fury of their fallen brethren. His hands felt like the very flesh was melting from the bones, and pain was pounding behind his eyes, clenching his chest, but surrender to the pain was not an option.

  "Move around to the end now, and set your hands on the wings!" Brother Richard ordered, himself advancing as if against a heavy wind toward the golden angel at the other side of the stone plinth.

  In a daze that somehow began to distance him from the pain, Templeton did as he was bidden, a part of him amazed that the flesh did not slough off his hands as he shifted his grip. The burning touch of the gold had become icy cold, hardly less painful, but now he became aware of gigantic, armored arms enfolding him from behind and clasping gauntleted hands over his, where they clung to the golden wingtips - part of Paddy, for the first time directly visible, without a black mirror, solid and reassuring. More important than mere sight, he fancied he could feel the peace of that powerful embrace as a shielding mantle, somehow insulating him from the evil maelstrom all around.

  "Now avert your eyes and pray as you have never prayed before," Brother Richard cried, "as I reconstruct the bindings!"

  Templeton obeyed, lips moving in recitation of the time-honored prayers of his faith, but he could not resist stealing an occasional glance from beneath lowered lashes. Though he had a vague notion that the Templar's next words were in Hebrew, he could not be sure.

  That mattered little, however, because whatever the language, the power in the words became physically visible, like gossamer rainbow bubbles streaming from Brother Richard's lips. They seemed simply to dissolve away at first, dispersing aimlessly like tiny, localized firework displays- dancing pinpoints of red and blue conjoined. But then, a few at a time, some of the bubbles began to attach themselves to the golden cherubim and to the be gemmed head - much to the fury of the milling denizens of Darkness.

  Templeton cringed from their anger and frustration, that battered at his very soul, but he did not allow his hands or his prayers to falter. Calling on the Blessed Virgin and all the saints to protect him and to strengthen Brother Richard in the work they shared, he prayed that whatever evil threatened here might be driven back, in the name of God.

  "Ave, Maria, gratia plena!" he whispered under his breath, which now was corning hard. "Pater Noster, qui est in coelis..." And then, repeating again the ancient Templar motto: "Non nobis, Domine! Non nobis, sed nomine tuo da gloriam."

  The words and the prayers interwove with the iridescent bubbles still streaming from Brother Richard's lips. The prismatic array reminded Templeton of the promise symbolized by God's gift of the rainbow, after the Flood, and suddenly he knew that they would succeed.

  Slowly the bubbles obscured the features and then the very form of the golden head, each succeeding layer damping the strength of what was contained therein and rendering it impotent. The rainbows glinting on the four cherubim, rather than obscuring them, united in a single shimmering veil of unquestionable power and goodness that reinforced the binding contained within the span of the four sets of wings.

  Templeton could feel the power vibrating up his arms and resonating deep in his diaphragm, numbing him to the tips of his toes. Where his hands still gripped the cherub's wingtips, he could see the edges of the rainbow veil wrapped around his wrists like multicolored gloves. A tension building in the very air around him made it hard to breathe, constricting his chest like tight bands.

  But though the sweat was pouring off him, he did not loosen his death-grip on the golden wings. Nor did his prayers cease. A part of him was still aware of Paddy looming right behind him, enfolding his soul in angelic protection, even if the strength of his body was slowly ebbing; and all around, as the minions of Darkness began to abandon this foothold on physical creation, the other gargoyles streaked after, to harry and pursue them from this place.

  All at once, with a vast subterranean rumbling, the entire stone plinth upholding head and golden cherubim began to sink into the earth. This movement brought a cry of triumph to Brother Richard's lips, and he released his death-grip on the golden wings. Templeton, too, drew back his hands, sinking wearily to his knees as the Templar stabb
ed both arms toward the golden head in a final gesture of command, consigning the Baphomet to its prison once again as it sank from sight beneath the earth for another thousand years. In an instant, even the opening had disappeared, leaving only a sheen of heavy dust on the floor of stone and earth.

  The silence that followed was broken only by the old man's ragged breath as he sagged to the floor on hands and knees, distantly concerned about the continuing tightness in his chest, though he felt no pain. Only gradually did he become aware that the surrounding murmur of the gargoyles' voices had become a wordless paean of victory interwoven with the murmured thanksgiving offered up by Brother Richard.

  But when he managed to lift his head, the gargoyles' angelic trappings had vanished and the illusion of mortal life was draining away from his Templar companion, now leaning heavily on the taloned arm of the Christ Church gargoyle. The little cat was crouched on C.C.'s shoulder, gazing down on the failing knight with wise cat compassion.

  "My brother, forgive me," Brother Richard whispered, in a voice as cere as the grave-clothes already growing visible beneath the semblance of life he had assumed. "The ending of this task I must leave to you, for I can no longer stay in this long-spent body. But very soon we shall meet again."

  With that, the light of intelligence drained from the hollow eyes, ancient flesh withering and shrinking once again under leathery skin as the body seemed almost to collapse in on itself. Even as Templeton gasped with the shock of it - and knew the portent of the pressure still clenching his own chest - the last vestiges of the Templar's pure white habit melted away like the snow outside, leaving only a mummified corpse in C.C.'s tender embrace.

  This the senior gargoyle gently gathered to his massive gargoyle chest as Paddy hunkered down beside Templeton. The old man grimaced and rubbed at his left arm, a wary look of apprehension tightening his face, but Paddy only shook his great gargoyle head.

  "Not yet, friend Francis," he said gently. "And not here."

  "Then, I’m not having a heart attack?"

  "Like I said: not yet and not here. You need to take Brother Richard back to St. Michan's."

  "And then?"

  "Don't worry," Paddy said. "I've called someone to come along with you."

  "But-"

  "Come on, get your sword. We need to get Brother Richard back to the car. And you don't want it found here, do you?"

  "I guess not..."

  Still rubbing at his arm, Templeton dutifully hauled himself to his feet and staggered over to pull his sword from the ground - there was no sign of Brother Richard's - following a little woozily as the other gargoyles streamed back into the corridor and started toward the staks, the cat leading the way and C.C. bearing what remained of Brother Richard.

  Chapter 21

  In something of a daze, the old man managed to follow them up the stairs and into the still darkness outside. The stairwell sphinctered closed with a faint sucking sound as Paddy followed, the last of them to exit. Templeton turned to look, but the opening was gone, as if it had never existed. The snow had stopped.

  "Don't worry, it's secure for another millennium or so," Paddy said. With Paddy's arm around his shoulders, Templeton hardly even noticed that they walked right through the iron bars to leave the ruined church. "And it's all thanks to you and Brother Richard. You did a great job. You were really brave."

  "I don't feel brave, I feel scared," Templeton said dully, as they trudged back along the path toward the graveyard gate and the street lamps beyond. "I’m so tired, Paddy. I don't know if I can do this."

  "Of course you can," Paddy replied. "This will be a piece of cake, compared to what you've already done. Besides, there's your help," he added, just as Templeton set his heavy hands on the gate. "She's waiting for you beside the car."

  Caught in the process of shouldering the gate wider, Templeton stopped dead in his tracks to stare, clutching at the iron bars for support. For he knew that slender figure communing with the little gargoyle on the radiator cap of the old Rolls Royce, one hand tracing the line of a stubby chrome wing. He knew that mane of fiery hair blazing under the streetlights - the glory of County Kildare!

  "Maeve!" he cried.

  Her smile, as she turned at the sound of her name, was like sunlight flooding his darkness, bespeaking the profound affection that had sustained and enriched their lives together through more than half a century of marriage. A strangled little cry caught in his throat as she lifted her hand in an oh-so familiar gesture both of greeting and of longing.

  He had no memory of crossing the twenty feet or so of paving that lay between them; only that, all at once, he stood breathlessly before her, weaving a little on his feet, not daring to touch her for fear of shattering the illusion- for, illusion it surely must be! How could it be his own darling Maeve, standing here before him with snowflakes tangled in the fire of her hair?

  "Maeve," he said again, this time breathing the name almost as a prayer - for, illusion or not, she was so very beautiful - even more beautiful than he remembered.

  "Aye, and you are my own dear love," she whispered, smiling - and lightly brushed the knight's cross at his throat with a trembling feathertouch.

  And the touch was real! With a sob, he caught her hand in his and pressed it to his cheek, feeling the sweet caress of her other hand against his cheek.

  "Maeve," he whispered a third time, drinking in the measure of every well-beloved feature.

  "Happy Christmas, Francis," she said softly. "How I have missed you! But we must not linger here, my love. You must take Phyllida back - and Brother Richard...."

  He heard her speaking through a haze of pressure at his chest - but no pain - and he caught his balance against the car door, suddenly lightheaded, afraid that his knees would cease supporting him.

  "Sweet Jesus, I’m tired, Maeve - so tired!" he murmured. "I don't know that I can drive."

  "Of course you can, you silly man!" she said. "I shall help you." Her blue eyes danced, teasing, laughing, blue as the sky-Patrick's blue! - eyes for a man to drown in. "Let me sit close beside you, as I did for all those years, with my arm through yours and my hand on yours, and help you shift the gears.... May I not do that?"

  Wordlessly, wonderingly, he nodded, groping past her for the door handle. He opened it and handed her in - as he had done for all those years - then pushed it gently closed. A tartan hillock already loomed in the back seat of the car, the little cat hunkered down on its summit, and somehow he knew, as he made his halting way around the boot to the driver's door, that the rest of the gargoyles were already inside. He shed his sword as he went, furling its belt around the scabbard, and fumbled it into the passenger foot-well before he eased into the driver's seat. Sitting seemed to revive him a bit. If only he could have a little nap...

  "Francis, we must go," he heard her say, the words jarring him back to his last remaining obligation.

  With a faint sense of curious detachment, he found himself mechanically going through the proper sequence with hands and feet to start the car and get it into gear.

  "How I did love this old car," Maeve said, as the engine rumbled to life. "Is it Marcus who'll be driving her next?"

  Nodding, he released the brake and let the big Rolls Royce creep forward, hauling at the steering wheel to make the U-turn back in the direction they had come an hour before.

  "I wouldn't trust her with anybody else," he said. "He drove her today... no, yesterday.... Didn't miss a shift. He knows how to treat a lady...."

  "He does," she agreed. "Such a fine young man. And I’m glad he loves our Phyllida. I like to think that she helped him turn out the way he did. He's been a good son to us, Francis. Do you think he'll ever find some lovely girl to share her with, the way you shared Phyllida with me?"

  "I think maybe he has," Templeton replied.

  "Has he really?" she said, with a little coo of pleasure, her hand resting lightly on his on the shift knob. "Tell me, Francis, tell me!"

  "Well, her name is Cái
t. She's a doctor."

  Talking about Marcus and the fair Doctor Cáit helped him concentrate on his driving as they drove the two miles back to St. Michan's. It also helped take his mind from the growing numbness in his hands and feet and the pressure in his chest - still not pain, for which he supposed he had Paddy to thank, but an almost overwhelming weariness. The gargoyle said not a word, but Templeton knew he was there behind the seat.

  By the time they had crossed the Royal Canal and headed off along Parnell Street, Maeve was helping him to steer as well as shift, because he couldn't really feel his hands anymore. Fortunately, there was almost no traffic. His vision had started to go a little funny as they made the turn into Capel Street, and the sweat was pouring off him as, together, they hauled the big car around the turn into Mary's Abbey and Chancery Street, which skirted the back of the Four Courts.

  "We're nearly there," Maeve whispered, as he braked for a red light at Church Street. "I know you can do it."

  "Just run the light," Paddy said quietly, from the seat behind. "There's nothing coming and no one watching."

  Though Templeton had never been inclined to break traffic laws - the big Rolls was too conspicuous - he was too tired to argue. Though he did slow almost to a stop, casting a look in both directions, the road was clear as Paddy had promised - and St. Michan's was just ahead.

  "The gate just past the church is open," Paddy said, pointing with a scaly arm between the seats as Templeton made the turn into Church Street. "Just pull in there and park."

  Nodding, Templeton did as he was told, concentrating hard to navigate the very wide Rolls Royce through the very narrow gate. The cat jumped onto the back of Maeve's seat to watch. He could hear her purring in the utter silence that settled on the car after he had switched off the ignition. He was shivering as he fumbled blindly with the headlamp switches.

 
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