Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-six
Kingdom of Marle
Friday night — 6:57 p.m.
“How much do you know about your mother’s family?”
Surprised, Jacob’s head wrenched over to look at his father.
“Sorry,” Sam said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“I thought you were asleep,” Jacob said.
“Just a nap,” Sam said. “I usually take one before dinner. Of course, usually it’s in my warm bed with the lovely Delphie by my side.”
“Where did the lights come from?” Sam asked.
“They appeared,” Jacob said. “I wanted to see what the Denver Post said about the earthquake and the site. The lights and newspaper just appeared.”
“And the electricity?” Sam asked.
“Electrical plugs.” Jacob pointed to the indoor wall plugs along the ceiling of the sewer junction.
“Wall plugs?” Sam sat up to look. “In all my years of doing underground, I’ve never seen interior wall plugs in a sewer main.”
Jacob laughed. Sam got up and walked over to Jacob. He kneeled down.
“Beer?” Sam asked.
“Just a couple,” Jacob said. “Would you like one? They’re cold.”
“Sure,” Sam said. “I’ll have it with my . . . Oh look, I’ve been upgraded from tuna to salmon.”
Sam chuckled and picked up the salmon pack.
“I do like salmon better,” Sam nodded.
“You were saying something about Mom’s family,” Jacob said.
“How much do you know about your mother’s family?” Sam repeated.
“Uh, they moved to Leadville around the time of the silver rush,” Jacob said. “They purchased the Marlowe mine and used their skills to get in where no one else could.”
“Anything else?” Sam asked.
“Mom had a sister and her father died protecting Delphie from Johansen,” Jacob said.
“Why do you ask?” Jacob asked.
“Do you mind if I tell you a story?” Sam asked. “It’s long, and I have no idea if it’s true. It was in a book Celia inherited when her father died. The book is in my room downstairs.”
“I don’t remember a book in that room,” Jacob said.
“Celia hid it,” Sam said. “I’ll show you when we get home.”
Jacob nodded and Sam fell silent.
“You were going to tell me a story,” Jacob said after a while.
“Oh, you want to hear it?” Sam asked.
“Sure,” Jacob said.
“It’s long, and I don’t know if it’s true,” Sam repeated.
“I have time,” Jacob said. “Does it matter if it’s true?”
“Sort of,” Sam said.
“All stories have been told before,” Jacob shrugged. “True or untrue, they are still interesting.”
Sam nodded. He drained his beer and opened another. Jacob was about to ask again when Sam took a deep breath.
“A long time ago . . .”
Friday night — 7:05 p.m.
“What’s with them?” Tanesha whispered to Jill.
Standing in the kitchen area of the loft, Jill, Sandy, and Heather looked over to the sitting area where Otis, Bruno, and Anjelika were arguing.
“They do that a lot,” Jill said.
Katy raced out of her bedroom wearing her footie pajamas. She slid across the hardwood floor to her mother.
“What’s going on?” Katy asked.
“Your grandmother is arguing with her father again,” Jill was loud enough for her mother to look up.
A gargoyle sauntered out of Katy’s bedroom and started across the loft. Scooter caught scent of it and chased it around the loft.
“Your grandfather would like to tell you a story,” Anjelika said.
“About what is happening,” Otis said. “About our babies.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Anjelika said.
“She thinks I am an old man with old stories,” Otis said. “But sometimes, the old stories teach us about the present.”
“The gagul’ya would like you to tell the story of the kingdom of Marle,” Bruno gestured to the large gargoyle that was warming itself by the gas fire.
“I’d like to hear it,” Heather said. Sandy, Tanesha, and Jill turned to look at her. “We’re not doing anything but worrying. Maybe a story will make all of this make some sense.”
Jill watched Sandy and Tanesha. When they nodded in agreement, Jill said, “I’d like to hear the story.”
“I would too,” Valerie said as she came out of the nursery with Jackie.
Jill settled next to the fire and Sandy sat next to her. Katy squeezed in between the women. Tanesha took a seat on the couch near the windows and Heather sat next to her. With Jackie in her arms, Valerie sat near the end of the couch. Seeing everyone gather, Charlie nudged Nash. He looked up from their video game.
“We want to hear,” Noelle said from where she, Sissy, and Yvonne were painting their nails.
“Come over.” Jill waved over Yvonne, Noelle, and Sissy. Charlie and Nash got up from their video game and took seats on the floor.
“No one knows if this story is true,” Otis said. “But like all of the old stories, it has endured.”
“The gagul’ya will correct you if you stray,” Bruno said.
“This is very good,” Otis said.
Friday night — 7:07 p.m.
“It was a long, long time ago, when the world had fewer people and less good fortune.” Sam picked up another beer and opened his pack of salmon. He sat down next to Jacob and Jacob offered him a cracker. “Somewhere in Europe, maybe England, there existed the small kingdom of Marle. People had lived in the kingdom of Marle since the beginning of time . . .”
“But . . .,” Jacob started.
“It’s a story, son,” Sam said.
“The harvests were good,” Sam said. “The people were prosperous and very happy. Their ruling king was benevolent and kind. He was well known to be able to move objects with his mind and he always knew the future. His wife was known to have a powerful tongue. The king and queen would use their skills to keep the kingdom free of intruding eyes. Alexander the Great, among others, was turned back at the border. The kingdom flourished in obscurity.”
“Sounds lovely,” Jacob said.
“It does,” Sam said. “There is a painting in the book that makes the kingdom of Marle look like something out of Disney. In fact, that’s part of the story. Walt Disney based many of his stories on the blissful and beautiful kingdom of Marle. After all, there was never again a land where people lived with such harmony, peace, and prosperity.”
“What happened?” Jacob asked.
“What usually happens,” Sam said. “Love. The third son of the last king and queen of Marle was restless. Not interested in his studies, he spent most of his life exploring the outer edges of the kingdom. He was an accomplished rock climber, hiker, skier, and . . . well, he was able to get around easily. On one such journey, he fell in love with a Celtic maiden.”
“That can’t be good,” Jacob said.
“It was not,” Sam said.
Friday night — 7:11 p.m.
“The Celtic version of the story says that the young prince of Marle raped the maiden,” Otis said.
The gargoyle screamed and flapped his wings. Otis raised a hand and nodded.
“Yes, yes,” Otis said. “The Marle story says they fell in love. In the way of love, they set up a small hut on the border of the two kingdoms. They lived and loved for at least a year until there was a baby on the way.
“The young prince assumed the maiden would move home with him to be his bride. But the prince had not land and, as a younger child, no claim to the throne. To the maiden, he was a wealthy foreigner who would, of course, move to her home. They argued. In a fit of rage, she threw him out of their home. He started to make his way back to the kingdom of Marle when he was set upon by her brothers. The young prince’s defenses were weakened by his despair. They easily killed him.”
The gargoyle hissed and the gas logs flared.
“That creature is not happy,” Yvonne said.
“No, he is not,” Otis said. “The brothers brought the young prince’s head to their sister; only then did they discover that she was with child. Her father swore an oath that his daughter’s violation would only be soothed by the death of every male in the royal family. The Celts went to war against the kingdom of Marle.”
“But they couldn’t find it, right?” Katy asked.
“That’s right, my dear,” Otis said. “They searched for months and could not find the kingdom. As the months passed, the baby grew inside the daughter until it was near time for him to be born.”
“Him?” Jill asked.
“Yes, him,” Otis said. “The father threw his daughter out of his home. In labor, she stumbled to the border of the Kingdom of Marle and begged for assistance.”
Otis stopped talking. His eyes glistened. Just then a gargoyle appeared on the back of the couch where Jill was sitting. Scooter gave a low growl in warning; the gargoyle taunted him. Barking, Scooter rushed the couch, and the gargoyle disappeared. They laughed at the dog’s confusion over the disappearing gargoyle.
“May I have a glass of water?” Otis asked.
Friday night — 7:17 p.m.
“What happened to her?” Jacob asked.
“No one is quite sure,” Sam said. “The book said she died in labor. Celia’s grandfather, her father’s father, said that the prince’s mother heard the girl cry and went to get her. When the queen opened the border to get the girl, the Celts attacked. They sought their revenge by raping the women and killing the men of Marle. They started with the queen.”
“Horrible,” Jacob said.
“Yes,” Sam said.
“And the king?” Jacob asked.
“Killed him outright,” Sam said. “The book and Celia’s grandfather agree on this.”
Trying to understand what the story could possibly mean, Jacob nodded.
“Horrible,” he said again.
“You’re forgetting the queen,” Sam said.
“I assumed she was dead,” Jacob said.
“Yes, most people underestimate women,” Sam nodded. “Remember she had Valerie’s skill. She could talk anyone into anything.”
“What did she do?” Jacob asked.
“She survived her brutal treatment,” Sam said. “She survived the horror of her husband’s execution. The Celts killed every male in the kingdom, including the children. They violated the women and girls. Their blood lust unsatiated, they killed the women of childbearing age or older. They herded the girls onto an ox cart. To attest to their victory, they tied the queen to the ox cart and made her walk behind it. On their way out of the kingdom, the queen convinced them to let her go. They beat her and left her for dead. When the cart was out of view, she went her son’s lover and her grandson.”
“Wow,” Jacob said.
“Yes,” Sam said. “Your mother had that kind of power.”
“Injured and disfigured, the queen could only crawl. Still, she worked her way to where she’d last seen the mother of her son’s child,” Sam nodded. “When she got there . . .”
Friday night — 7:25 p.m.
“The mother was dead,” Otis’s eyes flicked to the girls in his audience. “She had been killed by her own father.”
“And the baby?” Jill’s voice was filled with horror at this dark story.
“Yes, the baby . . .” Otis took a long drink from his wine glass.
Friday night — 7:27 p.m.
“What happened to the baby?” Jacob asked.
“No one knows,” Sam said.
“What does that mean?” Jacob asked.
“The ending of the book is torn off,” Sam said.
“Seriously?” Jacob asked.
“Yes, the back binding and those pages are torn away,” Sam said.
“But . . .” Jacob gave his father a long look. “What did Mom’s grandfather say?”
“He told the story a little differently,” Sam said. “When the queen was a little girl, she’d been left alone quite a bit. Her best friends were mice and . . .”
“How Disney,” Jacob said.
“ . . .gargoyles,” Sam said.
“The statues?” Jacob asked.
“They were living creatures then.”
“Flying monkeys?” Jacob asked.
“Gargoyles,” Sam said. “You remember that she had the gift of persuasion.”
“Like Valerie,” Jacob said.
“Exactly,” Sam said. “The queen made a contract with the gargoyles.”
“What does that mean?” Jacob asked.
“No idea,” Sam said. “Celia said her grandfather would nod as if that meant something, but she was never really sure what it was all about.”
“You think we’ll ever know?” Jacob asked.
“Doubt it.” Sam shook his head.
Friday night — 7:27 p.m.
“No one knows,” Otis shrugged. “The baby, the queen, no one. The story is lost or . . . You remember that she was able to convince people with her words. Maybe she . . .”
The gargoyle near the fireplace flapped his wings and screamed, “SILEO!”
They gasped and stared at the creature.
“He would like you to be silent,” Bruno said to Otis. Jill’s grandfather nodded his head as if he understood. The gargoyle spoke directly to Bruno. “He wants that I give rest of the story. I translate. Okay?”
Bruno looked at Otis, who nodded. The bodyguard glanced around the room before turning back to the gargoyle.
“Go,” Bruno said.
The gargoyle began to speak.
“The queen’s family and the gargoyles had long friendship,” Bruno said. “The queen spent every summer caring for baby gargoyles. They loved her; considered her family. When she married the king of Marle, a small flock of gargoyles swore allegiance to the king and his heirs. The queen and her gargoyles were never separated. When the queen was set upon by the Celts, the gargoyles defended her valiantly. Wild Celts frightened of the defenders of good — the gargoyle. The Celts tied the queen and brought her with them. Between the Queen’s gift and their natural terror for the gargoyles, the Celts left the Queen unsoiled. But they are not stupid. The Celts cover her mouth so she no use her gift. The gargoyles were bound only to queen; they no way save king or people.
“When they reach border of country, Celts throw queen from the cart.” Bruno nodded to Otis and he smiled. “Queen sent gargoyle to find the child. They found the child near death on border of the land. They brought baby to queen.”
“Unable to return to her country, her home, the queen set out across Europe with grandson,” Bruno said. “The grandson grew to a kingly young man. In time, he married and had many babies, daughters. They had much happiness, but grandson was half Celt. When his wife was going to have son, the Celt came out. He slaughtered his own child to fulfill the vow made by his Celtic grandfather. Unable to live with what he had done, the grandson hung himself. The queen, and young widow, and girls move across the continent of Europe, but not before the queen made the gargoyle swear an oath to protect the male children in the line of Marle.”
“That’s why they are here?” Jill asked. “To protect the boys?”
“That’s what he says,” Bruno nodded. “Celtic blood continues to run in the line of Marle, so the father must be away when the child is born.”
“Mom’s father’s mother died giving birth to him,” Valerie said. “If these creatures were there to protect her . . .”
“Celtic blood runs in a lot of veins,” Bruno nodded. “They were wild, violent people. They raped their way across Europe. Many have Celtic blood. The Celtic blood takes over, and person with no knowledge of story will be drawn to fulfill the oath sworn all those years ago.”
“My great-grandmother was . . .?” Valerie asked.
“Murdered,” Bruno said. “According to the gargoyle. Murdered by the neighbor. The gagul’ya was able to save the child, but not the mother.”
“Why didn’t the gargoyle save the mother?” Tanesha asked.
“Seems agreement is for baby boys only,” Bruno translated what the gargoyle said in answer to Tanesha’s question. “They are sad when mother die, but there is nothing they can do.”
“Why did Mom survive?” Valerie asked.
“Because of you, Valerie,” Bruno said. “You have gift of persuasive speech. You kept mailman from entering the house. Do you remember?”
Valerie stared into the middle of the loft. After a moment, she nodded.
“He wanted to use the restroom,” Valerie said. “Delphie told me to make him go away. I . . . I didn’t know what I was doing. I . . .”
“Do any of us have Celtic blood?” Jill asked.
Bruno posed the question to the gargoyle. The creature flew to each person in turn.
“We are Slavic,” Bruno pointed to himself, Otis, and Anjelika. “Jillian, you are not Celt. Your friends . . . No. One baby, in the room. The tiny one . . . Yours.”
Bruno pointed to Sandy.
“Rachel?” Sandy asked.
“The father,” Bruno said. “He is full Celt. Very dangerous. Valerie and her baby have Celt too from queen’s grandson, but they are female.”
They turned to look at Valerie.
“So does this child,” Bruno pointed to Katy. “But . . . they say they’ve never seen a female with the capacities of this child. She is new, stronger, more able to . . . survive.”
“Me?” Katy asked. “I’m just Katy.”
“You’re very special to me.” Jill kissed her hair. Sandy tickled her.
“What would it take to break the curse?” Heather asked.
Everyone turned to look at Heather.
“I’m dead serious,” Heather said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m not okay with Jill living with some bullshit ancient curse on her head. Plus, Val wants to have more kids.”
Bruno stared at Heather.
“Ask him,” Heather said.
Bruno posed the question to the gargoyle. The creature let out a sinister laugh.
“He says it must be done by the father,” Bruno said. “Before the babies are born.”
“How do we get in touch with Jake?” Valerie asked.
Bruno and the gargoyle both shook their heads. Jill jumped to her feet and pointed at the gargoyle.
“You and I made an agreement,” Jill said.
“They have not been spoiled,” Jill heard the gargoyle speak in her mind. “They are comfortable.”
“I want to talk to him,” Jill said. “We can relay what needs to happen.”
The gargoyle shook his head and spoke in a flurry of Latin.
“He says . . . no . . . contact with the father.” The gargoyle was speaking so fast that Bruno was struggling to translate. “Will kill the babies.”
“What about by cell phone?” Sandy asked.
“Creates an emotional, psychic link,” Bruno translated.
“I could call Aden,” Sandy said. “I could tell him what you tell me word for word and . . .”
“Aden could call Jake,” Valerie’s voice held her cheer.
“The Celt?” Bruno sneered. “Never.”
“He’ll talk to me,” Sandy said. “Not Jill.”
“What if I call my dad?” Tanesha asked. “Or better yet, my mom can call.”
Everyone turned to look at Yvonne. She gave the creature a sweet smile. The gargoyle gave a sinister laugh.
“It will work,” Bruno said. “It will work.”
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