Gargoyle: one of my favourite architectural features. I took many photos of them at Norwich RC Cathedral when I went there for a conference once and we had a ‘special’ tour, including the roof. But ‘gargoyle’ is also the #writephoto prompt for this week, from KL Caley at New2Writing.com. This comes in at 1200 words, and is yet another post-Princelings story.
Gargoyle Trouble, Anyone?
The northeast tower rose into the sky, giving a view out over the marsh, over the dunes, out over the white surf of the rollers, and on till sunrise. The view was unplanned. There should be a roof in the way.
King Fred stood, carefully balancing himself on the blackened rafters, and reaching out to the crumbling walls. Anything to help him increase his feeling of security. It did help to look out, rather than down. His imagination raced all the way down through the wrecked tower. The pain of a fall, the inevitable collisions with remains of staircases, jumbled blocks of stone, cracked or not, and a final collision with the ground over two hundred feet below.
“Well,” he said, once he’d regained a steady voice. “It’s much as I expected, really. What do the stonemasons say?”
“They’ve refused to touch it.” Fred had put Prince Engineer George in charge of all the rebuilding work for the castle, although of course he had a team of specialists working for him. George was no expert in stone. Flying machines and energy sources were more his thing. But he knew how to run an engineering project, and he’d come up against an unsolvable problem. The only idea he’d had was to bring his brother up to see for himself.
“But why? I mean, they did the towers at Buckmore, at Deeping, and several other places. I was a bit put out they’d left us till last, but then… Castle Marsh was always left out of things until we came along.” Fred had been patient, acknowledging other people’s need, but his ire had grown as castles with minor problems, and he tried not to let himself think this way, and minor kings, who hadn’t done nearly as much for the Realms as he had, let alone George’s contribution to society… oh stop it, you’ll get fussed and slip off this beam.
George continued to stare out at the marsh. Probably at the flying boats on the waterways. Fred always looked at the land where food was being grown, or the people moving around, or, if he really felt relaxed, at the waves. He started pondering why the dunes had the form of stationary waves. He must map them some time.
“Have you started thinking of something else?” George interrupted.
“Good, on the one hand, I haven’t seen that look on your face for ages. But bad. Concentrate. It’s the wreck of the tower you need to think about.”
“I still don’t see what the problem is, I mean, you’ve got the framework coming up around it just fine, so it’ll be safe enough.”
“The scaffolding, yes. The seafarers at Roc have developed a new line of business, putting it up for the next construction project, taking it down when they’ve got another on to move it to.”
George waited, looking around the top edge of the stone tower, where the roof started. He didn’t have to wait long.
“What about us, though, your majesty?”
The gravelly voice from near Fred’s feet made him jerk: he grabbed hold of the tiny crevice he had found on the wall before he lost it. Where was that coming from? Oh… the gutterpipe… why?
“Hello, I don’t think we’ve met,” he said, reverting to his standard method of addressing someone when he had no idea what was going on.
“Not as such, no. Although my friends around on the northwest tower say you’re a good chap, given to thinking about winds and stuff, and don’t give them any bother.”
“Your friends… I think I need to sit down, George.”
“There’s nothing—” George started, but gravel voice interrupted.
“Oh, come and sit on me, then, you’ll be quite safe, I assure you. Lean against the wall and hold on to my wings if you need to.”
“Wings…” Fred whispered, looking down to his right, where the gutters drained into an elaborate structure jutting out from the tower. It had a face. The nose faced outwards, but the eyes were on the side, and the one nearest him was definitely eyeing him up. “Oh, I see you now. Nice to meet you, I’m sure. What’s your name?”
“My friends call me Huldra. I’m the watch-gargoyle of this tower.”
“Erm,” what was he doing talking to a stone gargoyle? “Erm, are you stone, or alive?”
“The two are not mutually exclusive, you know. I’m part of the castle, and you know the castle does things for you. I help.” There was a definite huffiness in Huldra’s tone.
“Ah, help. Yes, we need help. Our workers have refused to come up and repair the roof. I suspect they’re afraid of you.” A glance to George told him he’d guessed right. “Obviously we’d like the tower repaired, in its entirety. Um, how does that sound to you, and, er, the rest of the gargoyles?” There appeared to be eight, one at each point of the compass.
“Are we going to be knocked down?”
“Why should you be knocked down? You’re part of the tower, aren’t you?”
“They talked about demolishing the wall and rebuilding it.”
“Ah. Let me consult George.”
“Yeah, let’s find out what George knows about it.”
George looked back at Fred and shrugged. “He wouldn’t talk to me about it, and I know you have a way with castles. I’m sure now we understand the problem we can fix it.”
“Fix it how?” Huldra huffed.
“Well, I reckon we could either put special struts around you while the rebuilding is going on, so you stay in place and they work around you. Carefully, so you maintain your structural integrity, or we take you down, store you, and put you back when the construction reaches that stage. Which would you prefer?”
Fred relaxed, then wobbled, and clutched the walls again. George seemed to have got the measure of this. Maybe he could go down now. On second thoughts, maybe he should wait for George to guide him again.
Huldra grumbled a lot, but staying in place seemed the least worst option. Then George suggested they could visit each gargoyle and hang out in their towers, if they fancied a break from duty.
It might have been a trick of the wind, but Fred swore that the wings twitched and the stone changed colour, brightened up a little.
“Done! When do we start?”
“I’ll check with the master stonemason, and let you have the schedule as soon as we’ve redone it. A couple of days, probably.”
Fred followed George back down the tower, watching his hand and foot placements carefully, egged on by George’s ‘just there, that’s right, you’re doing fine’ and other encouraging noises.
“That’s done, then,” Fred said, as they stood at the bottom, brushing the dust off their coats.
“There is one thing,” George said.
Fred raised an eyebrow.
“You might like to go round every other gargoyle, explain the conversation with Huldra, so they know we know about them. Sort of kingly thing to do, don’t you think?”
‘Kingly thing’ indeed. Fred took a short breath and let it out again. Yes, he might as well. Negotiating with the local gargoyles, whatever next?
© J M Pett 2022