The Gargoyle Chronicles
Deep in the recesses of time the thoughts of a lonely gargoyle brew, up on high, decaying in vain with the acid rain…
This is the story of the life of a gargoyle, sort of... nothing is ever quite what it seems here in The Gargoyle Chronicles. It will be a series of seven short stories, yet they are all be linked in some way to make it a complete novel...
The vellum of the page creaks open; the volume traces millennia, before settling, at first, around 1250 AD. The pages tell of history and mystery and many things, but mostly they tell us about Félix, a gargoyle perched firmly atop Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Created from the imagination of one mind, while shaping a block of pure cliquart limestone; master mason Guiiame gives the world Félix, Notre Dame Cathedral's final gargoyle.
"How's it hangin' Gargoyle?"
"How would you feel if you spent years with a cathedral up your clacker?!?"
Félix is in no way politically correct, yet he has a habit of making politicians more correct. He also takes them to task... and it is a long way down from the western bell tower of Our Lady of Notre Dame.
Follow his life from creation to oblivion, through plagues and revolutions, wars and revisionism. See how a naive block of stone can show the world about love and loss, revenge and sacrifice during his 800 year vigil over Paris, and see just how much of his own soul Guiiame carved into the garishly chiselled features of this most watchful and wondrous creation.
The watcher persists while the spiritless fail to act
His deepest humility masking a reticent huberous in his own fortitude
Abstention feeding the desire to observe
However chaste of spirit, it is the lives of those he watches that he desires
Cemented in charitable intention, drowning beneath the weight of his own avarice
His patience muted by the rage buried in the possibilities of a life never lived
Yet the envy in his weary eyes cannot disguise his satisfaction as the watched succeed in their lives
Soup du jour.
Pea soup or crème de champignons.
Yes, that’s what it was, but a little more white. Lurking in the darkness; sprouting where no man can see without light. A sloth of a broth… a primordial soup.
If that qualifies as a memory, then it is the first thing I remember. After the soup came the latent strands of millions of dying calcium carbonate organisms, crustaceans and forgotten creatures, sinking to the bottom of the primordial soup. Diligently building, layer upon layer; compacting, compressing and enfolding into darkness.
The blackness is the next thing I remember. All stony and cold; lost beneath the surface of an ancient sea, yet to be named and no longer remembered.
I enjoyed my primordial soup, so warm and inviting; filled with the memories of generations. All those brief encounters with time, severed so cruelly in their prime. Each fibre now a part of my being, compressed in the cold, combined into a single lost soul. Memories merged as one in the depths, awaiting redemption and ascension beyond time and space.
I am no longer soup.
I am reborn.
I am stone.
The Stone Mason
Fear the things that you can see, fear the gargoyles on the cathedrals, just remember that they are made and designed by men, so they be not demons... they are only demons from the mind of a man.
Le crap, la merde, C’est des conneries! Oh, excusez-moi mesdames et messieurs. This is an English imprint and I forget myself.
Where was I? Oh, right… shit! Bugger me that hurts! Stop poking me in the… oh, look, I can see. Blurry, yet clearing, but what is the thing, beyond the light? My primordial sea? A swill of possibilities; a haloed vision, vibrant and smiling.
“Papa, what is this?”
Ah, get your finger out of me eye.
“That, daughter, is his eye.”
“Why does he have only one and why is it all the way to the side?”
“Ah, so many questions, so little time, but I will make time for you Arianne, because you are my only surviving daughter. Just don’t tell Maman.”
“But the eye, Papa?”
“Yes, he has only one, because I have not yet carved the other.”
“Will you do the other eye next?”
“Why is it on the side and not in front?”
“So he can watch over us from all directions.”
“Why does he not just turn his head?”
“Because he is made of stone, daughter. He cannot move, but he can watch and with his eyes at the side like a falcon, he can see to both sides, up and down.”
“Carve the other one, Papa… I want to see… I want him to see!”
The pain of the chisel was as intense as the pride the stone mason portrayed in his work. Blow followed delicate blow, yet I did not flinch, for fear of betraying my burgeoning life. I stared forwards and the gaze of the stone mason’s daughter matched the intensity of my situation.
I drifted beyond the chisel, searching for distraction, vision still blurred and head aching. The fear of betraying signs of my own life became my focus, as did life itself. Where does life begin and what is the essence of life? I suppose that life for me began millennia ago; somewhere amidst the therapods and the primordial swill. Did the essence of those forgotten creatures give their life for me, or to me, or did this stone mason carve it into me? The stone mason, the man before me, whose shape is little more than a chink of his chisel and the hearty snort of his nostrils.
Ouch! Le crap, sorry, I should have said shit, my apologies. Oh, look, I can see this way and that.
My eyes were filled with the wonder of a small girl’s cool blue eyes. They sparkled with possibilities, draped slightly wildly by a dank mop, which dropped in the occasional burgundy ringlet beyond her shoulders. I could see little else; she was so close. Her chin was indiscernible, cupped firmly in her hands until one reached out and traced its way along the side of my chiseled facial features.
“He is cold, Papa.”
“Of course he is, Arianne. He is made of stone, limestone. A stone very special to Paris. He has lain buried far beneath the city since before there was a Paris.”
“How did you find him?”
“I found him in the stone. Do you not know about the stone? It speaks to…”
“I know, Papa. The stone tells you to cut here and smooth there. I have heard your stories to Philippe and Aubert since I can remember.”
“You were not supposed to be listening. You should be listening to your mother when you are in the kitchen.”
“I hate the kitchen!”
“Now, now, daughter. We all have our place, as does this creature.”
“So you tell me, Papa, but you have not said where you found him, before you saw him in the stone.”
“Ah, yes, the stone. I did not find the stone. It was a miner who found the stone.”
“A miner… what is a miner?”
“You should know, you are a minor.” The wordplay was clearly lost on the young girl, so the stone mason continued on with a chuckle, clearly amused by his own wit. “A miner digs a hole into the ground. He digs and digs until he finds precious things, like copper and tin, salt and stone. This stone is a limestone called cliquart. It is very soft when under the ground, which makes it easy to mine, yet it grows strong above the ground.”
“I know not.”
“Because I am but a humble stone mason. As I said, we all have our place before God. Yours is in the kitchen, mine is with the chisel, and his is out there with the great cathedral.”
“What do you call him, Papa?”
“I call him Gargoyle.”
“That is a silly name. What do you call him, really?”
“This is not one of my joke names…”
“Like Alex Craimant?”
“Ah, you heard this one too. Do not tell Maman, but yes. He is a Gargoyle. Have you not heard of La Gargouille, the monster from Rouen?”
“Marguerite, what are you teaching this girl? Sacrebleu… sit, daughter and I will tell you. La Gargouille was a monster who lived near Rouen, many years ago. It was a dragon of a creature with bat-like wings, and a long neck; a hideous monster which breathed fire from its mouth. It terrorized the countryside, burning crops and clawing the children of the men who fought it most bravely.”
Arianne’s eyes were pools of wonder and fear now; wide and attentive, her mouth a mirrored pool of fascination.
“Go on, Papa.”
“The monster’s terror, the reign of La Gargouille, lasted for many years, season after season. Then one year a very great man, a priest later called St Romanus, subdued the beast. He shielded himself with his own crucifix, stretched out before him. It repelled the flames, setting La Gargouille alight. St Romanus threw his blackened crucifix at the beast. End over end it tumbled, striking the beast in the chest. Hardened by the gargoyle’s own flames, it pierced his heart and brought the beast down. St Romanus, bless him, hail Mary, Jesus and the Holy Father, let the beast burn, but its head and neck, tempered by its own fire, remained. That victory is why all priests no longer take a wife, so there is always a pure soul in each village to slay the monsters of the swamps and forests. And you know, La Gargouille’s head can still be seen, mounted on the walls of the cathedral at Rouen.”
“Really, Papa? Have seen it? Is your gargoyle an exact copy?”
“Well, er… I have never been to Rouen, but the description has been passed down to me. You see, the beast was condemned to an eternity of spouting water instead of spitting fire, and hangs as a warning to all those non-Christians; to protect the Church and to ward off evil spirits.”
Arianne was transfixed. “And the water through its throat, is that where we get the word gargle?”
“Yes, why not.”
“And now it is time to help your Maman with dinner.”
“But, Papa. is the gargoyle not missing something?”
“He is missing many things as yet.”
“What goes there?”
“Why his nostrils, of course.”
“Carve them, Papa. Carve them now. How ever shall he smell Maman’s cooking without them?”
“Yes, yes, of course, but only if you go off to the kitchen.”
Arianne sprang up and scampered across the straw into the kitchen where her mother was busy chopping vegetables for the family’s supper. The house was one large space, workshop and living area separated by a few oak beams, which bore the shape of the tree trunks from which they were carved. The stone mason leant in close and eyed me with suspicion.
“So, Mr. Gargoyle, did you buy all that, or do you know better? I have given you a neck and head, ears and eyes; would you dare to smell and talk if I completed your face? I wonder.
Let us see then, for nothing gives life to stone like the hands of Guiiame of la Cité.”
I could see my new features slowly forming in the eyes of Guiiame; mere reflections perhaps, yet with each new feature the room around me came to life. I could taste the powdered limestone in my mouth as it took shape, and smell the herb encrusted legumes Arianne stirred meticulously, as taught by her Maman.
“Philippe, pass me the finer chisel.”
“Is the workshop clean, Aubert?”
“All but at your feet, Papa.”
“Good lads. You can wash for supper.”
“But can we not watch the birth of your latest gargoyle?”
“Not if your Maman has a say.” Guiiame paused and studied his two boys; both older than Arianne, and both already well-versed in his trade. He beamed with pride at their enthusiasm for his creation. “Be quick and clean and return. I will try not to do too much before you do.”
“You never do too much too quickly, yet you are never boring.”
Guiiame beamed as the boys shuffled off through the straw flooring, less cautious of its protective qualities than they could have been. Guiiame studied me again, blowing gently into my slowly forming nostrils. His breath was not nearly as pleasant as his wife’s cooking. In fact, it was more pungent. It took all my garguile to prevent myself screwing up my nose; the nose Guiiame had carved to perfection.
“Dinner, Guiiame, boys.”
Guiiame threw a protective cloth over my head and all was darkness. I could no longer see the stone mason’s family, nor could I smell their food. All I could smell was the rancid weave I had been draped in, so I pricked up my ears to listen in.
“Maman, why do not the boys cook?”
“Because they carve and sculpt. Philippe, spoon not hands. You are not your Papa. Guiiame!”
“Hands were made for picking things up, Coquette.”
“Do I look like I walk the street?”
“Then don’t call me such names, at least not in front of the children.”
There was a hint of a bashful smile in Marguerite’s voice as Guiiame fumbled noisily for his wooden utensils.
“The boys are not children anymore, Marguerite. They should be men soon and masons like their old Papa.”
“Fifteen and sixteen summers do not make them men. Can they carve a gargoyle or a chimera?”
“What is a chimera, Maman?”
“Not now, Arianne. Well, Guiiame, can they carve as I described?”
“Tomorrow they will. Tomorrow they will carve a wing each.” There was silence following the mason’s bold prediction, so he continued by answering his daughter’s query. “A chimera is a grotesque, Arianne. It is a little like a gargoyle, but for decoration only. A true gargoyle drains rain water from the roof and away from the walls of the cathedral.”
“Will we really carve the gargoyle tomorrow, Papa?”
“Yes, Philippe. It shall be our family’s contribution to the great cathedral, but first you must pass your tests.”
“I can carve a straight line and a curve.”
“Can you carve your name, wait for it, in Latin?”
“I can too.”
“Well, Aubert, you have a voice, and a strong one at that, but do you know the commandments?”
“Yes, Papa, all ten.” The duality of the boys’ response showed confidence and years of practice.
“What is five and five?”
“Thirteen and eight?”
“Thirty-five take seventeen?”
“Good, good my boys, and you Arianne?”
“She does not need the numbers, Guiiame. I have lived without them these thirty-two summers.”
“Forty-three take twenty-four?” Guiiame’s whisper was more annoying than the pet name he had used for his wife judging by her huff.
“Very good, daughter. Remember, letters and numbers never hurt no man. If it is good enough for the priests, who can pass their knowledge to no son, then it is good enough for my daughter. And I put my foot down on this, wife. Her stew is superb. Could you do as much at ten, Coquette?”
“No, my lover, but I had three elder sisters to learn first.”
“Well, I think you made the most of your slender time, Coquette.”
The room was silent, except for a few giggles exchanged by the three children of the house. Marguerite and Guiiame seemed to have trouble ignoring their children during dinner, but long into the night, when all was dark, they seemed to ignore the fact they all slept in the one room. Deeper into the night Guiiame’s snoring rasped away as if his workshop was in full swing.
* * *
“Show me your commandments, Philippe. And yours, Aubert, side by side.” The stone mason stood quite pensively; one hand buried beneath an armpit the other lost in his beard. “What do you think, Gargoyle? Should I let them loose on your back?”
It’s only letters, but then I’m not sure of the difference between letters and wings, so fine by me.
Guiiame seemed to be convinced and it was his hands that found me in amongst the stone. A broad smile parted his whiskers as Moses would have. They both had faith in their people.
“Pass me the broad chisel, Philippe, and the fine one, Aubert.”
Ah, the smiles on those two boys, so soon to be men. They almost stumbled over one another in their haste, much to the amusement of their father who stood arms crossed over my incomplete form.
“What do we do first, boys?”
“We work on the working stone, for practice.”
“Good, slide it over and find an unused side.”
The boys were quick to slide the working stone into position, watching their father intently, greedily drinking in every chisel position and the pressure of each tap of his wooden mallet. Within a few hours a wing emerged from Guiiame’s working stone. It was rough, but then it had been carved by three hands and each set had experimented on the feathers created by the others.
Arianne joined the session mid-morning. She plonked her basket of food unceremoniously on the table, much to her mother’s chagrin, before disappearing into the rear of the workshop. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her tiny fingers running along the rough edges soon to become my wings.
“It is alright, Mr. Gargoyle, my brothers are very good at what they do. You will be the ugliest gargoyle in the heavens above Paris.”
Guiiame was clearly satisfied at this point. Following a brief pause for food, he found his sons hovering over me, discussing their approach.
“This must be the top of the wing.”
“The longest most complete feathers.”
“I see Aubert is already thinking like you, Philippe.”
“No, Papa, I always think like you, but I do think.”
“You’re not here to think, my boy.”
“But one cannot carve and sculpt unless he thinks, so what is on your mind, Philippe?”
“The wing, can it, can it sweep more and be longer, as if it was about to take flight?”
“That is a different idea and not like the other gargoyles already raised, but it is such a fine detail I do not see anyone noticing. What do you think Aubert?”
“I… I think it is a fine idea, Papa.”
“Come on then, boys. We have work to do. The cathedral will not decorate itself, despite the prayers of the holy men in their dresses.”
Arianne sat before my eyes stroking the space between my ears as the boys carved a wing each, her eyes seemingly on mine, but clearly drifting over my head to my shapeless back. The chisels the boys wielded were kind, each blow releasing little more than a sliver. I could feel my wings take air, preparing for the breeze. Each blow from the boys was reflected in the deepening pools that were Arianne’s burgeoning pupils. The eyebrows above, knitted in concern, were darker and seemingly manicured compared to her slightly
matted hair. She scratched her scalp idly between the strokes on my head. Her cheeks twitched with thought; ideas flashing beneath her brow, suppressed by the contradiction of place before talent. What was her special skill? Could she make me a partner or was life to be as solitary as it was silent?
“Now, Mr. Gargoyle… this must be terribly boring for you, just lying there. What if I tell you what I did today, would you like me to? Stare if you agree… there you go. So, I began the day as I would any other, with breakfast, but that must be a boring detail for someone who doesn’t eat.”
No, tell me of food. Tell me how it tastes and how it feels to swallow. What is the thing your mother kneads with her hands and why does she put it in the hole with fire? Will it not burn?
“After breakfast, which was finished before sunup, Maman and I walked to the markets. So many people, so much noise, so much to choose from. You would like all the smells with your new nose. And your eyes, already so wide and alive, would have a flood of new images. You see, we live on an island, I think it is called Île de la Cité. Papa said a priest told him this is the oldest part of the city, named for an ancient tribe who lived here so long ago no one remembers them, only their name; the Parisii. Because of them the Romans, another people long dead, called this Paris. The river that flows around our island is called the Seine. Papa does not know why. Your nose would not like our river. There are many boats and things floating on it. Maman says it is an upside down river, for the silt at the bottom seems to be at the top. I would not go in there. I cannot swim. Perhaps it is upside down so the Christ can walk across it to the new cathedral when it is finished. Another one of your feathers is finished. It looks very smart. Would you fly me somewhere when they have finished you? Would I be too heavy for you?”
“Oh, here we go, more cooking lessons. You are so lucky you do not have to eat.”
I didn’t like to see Arianne skulk off, but without her there I could observe the tiny furry creature as it gnawed on the straw spread across the floor. The creature, with dark, beady eyes, was very fast, especially when Maman’s broom came sweeping by. Not now, though. She is busy with other things I cannot see
The creature and I sit and watch each other through blank eyes, not really knowing what the other is; just long enough for dinner to be called and my cover to be thrown over once more
The Stone Mason’s Daughter
This is where everything you thought you’d ever read you obviously hadn’t and where every drop drips off the gargoyle’s mouth with anticipation.
“Hey, Mr. Gargoyle, I found something for you, but you cannot tell. See, I found it by the market. It fell from a grand carriage. Maman said there was a princess inside. I’m not really sure what a princess is. I have never seen one. They say princesses are always pretty, but perhaps she is not so pretty because she threw this away, see.”
Arianne held up a strange object. Certainly there was not anything like it in the mason’s workshop. It was oval with a fine engraved handle and a shiny yellow colour about its edge, something I had not seen before. The centre held the splintered image of a terrifying creature. If this was the portrait of a princess I could see why she threw it away.
“Is it not beautiful, Mr. Gargoyle?”
“They call it a glass or a mirror. Although it is cracked, I can still see what I look like.”
No, you are far more pleasing to the eye than the princess creature. Do not look upon the gorgon’s head, fair Arianne.
“You can now see what you look like and see what a fine job my brothers have made of your wings the past few days? See.”
Arianne held the mirror up to me again, higher this time. I could see the familiar winged pattern her brothers had carved on the working stone, but there were two wings in this mirror. Were these indeed mine? They were fine, much more so than those on the working stone. Arianne dipped the mirror to show the wings split by a gutter running down to a set of ears and then, and then there was… the monster.
Oh crap, it’s me.
“Why the long face, Mr. Gargoyle? You are a beautiful specimen, so finely carved and with so much love. People will flock for miles to see you, all stunningly white, but not until you have a throat and some legs. They will not be long now.”
“Won’t be long? Won’t be long until what? Until I am complete, until I can fly?
Arianne held the vanity mirror up to her own face, tugging at her cheeks and creating a false blush as she did. What an odd pliable surface these humans had, not at all as robust as my stone. She wet her eyebrows with her finger and tussled her hair without satisfaction, before secreting the mirror in her own private corner of the house.
“What have you there, little sister?”
“That is what you always say. Show me this thing.”
“No, it is nothing!”
Philippe pushed Arianne aside, into the arms of Aubert, who clung onto her with a smirk, his eyes intent on his elder brother’s actions. Arianne’s secret plunder was soon unveiled. Philippe held the vanity mirror out in front of his face and pranced about the workshop with his head flung back haughtily.
“Do I look any finer now I have seen myself? Why, yes, I am indeed a fair specimen; a little shattered, yet quite princely.”
“Give it back!”
“Why? Do you think this will make you a great beauty? Do you think you will marry a man more than Papa if you have such things?”
“No, Philippe, it was not for me. It was for the beast, but now I see there is another beast in the room, and it is you.”
Aubert laughed so hard that Arianne broke free. She immediately lunged at her elder brother, but he was tall and continued his faux-prance with the mirror held high above his head.
“Give it back!”
“I, I do not think so, I find myself drawn to the beauty of my own self.”
“What beauty could you possibly spy in the mirror?”
“More than you could, Arianne.”
“I think you use it to search for your bald spot.”
“What, never. I shall soon have a beard like Papa’s.”
“Only on your back, like the beast you are.”
Aubert involuntarily wet himself, before slapping his legs together with embarrassment. The damage to his recently expanded man-parts was unexpected. Philippe continued to berate his sister while his younger brother writhed in the straw.
“Call me beast, as you wish. At least I know what I am. I do not pretend to be anything but a stone mason. What do you pretend to be in your sleep, Arianne, and who else but Aubert do you refer to as beast?”
“Mr. Gargoyle, of course.”
Arianne may have been indignant, but Philippe could not help but laugh in the face of such stupidity.
“He? That is not a he or a Mr. - it is just stone.”
“You do not know.”
“I know Papa is skilled, but naught besides a magic touch from a witch could bring life to that beast. His wings are fixed to his sides and soon he will be affixed up high where no one will see Papa’s handy work and my feathers. Who will know of him or us then?”
“I will know.”
Philippe grabbed his sister by the collar of her dress and drew her up close to his face.
“No sister of mine would be called fool, do you understand? You will not speak of such things again or we will not even find a mason willing to take you in, let alone a pauper. No sister of mine will be called mad, do you understand?” Philippe did not shout. He spat his words out through clenched teeth. “We all have our place, Arianne, and the life of a mason in these times is a fine enough prospect. What more could I wish for you, if I wish such a life for myself.”
Philippe pulled Arianne in closer still. She was terrified now, he was so near a man, but he wrapped his arms around her warmly. It was a brief moment, disrupted by the entry of their parents. Philippe pushed her away roughly and slapped the mirror into her hand, before pulling Aubert up onto his feet.
“What goes on here?”
“Nothing, Papa, just a game.”
“And Aubert’s hose?”
“Aubert has laughed too heartily as usual, Papa.”
“Must our nostrils suffer so for your laughter, Aubert?”
The three children looked decidedly guilty and although their parents said little, it was as if they knew everything that had transpired in their absence. A diversion was required and Arianne seemed to understand this.
“When will he be finished?”
“Aubert never seems to be finished, the boy is a fountain.”
“No, Papa, the gargoyle.”
“Ah, perhaps today. We have but one final touch to make him complete.”
“You cannot do that husband.”
“And why not? He is the final gargoyle to be raised. Does not a humble mason deserve recognition?”
“A humble man needs no recognition. God is your witness. God knows how you toil. Can you not remain humble before him as the other masons do?”
“I have been forever humble. Humble in stature, humble with the home I provide, and humble in the recompense I request for my labours. Do I not deserve this small thing? Do your children not deserve the same?”
“What is it to do with the children?”
“Let me do this thing and I will show you.”
The sparkle in Guiiame’s eye was unmistakable. He waved his boys towards me, disappearing beyond my line of sight. I could not see them, but I could feel them scraping away at my back.
This took hours.
Arianne and her mother busied themselves in the kitchen. I could just make out their progress with my left eye. Endlessly chopping and stirring and seasoning. Oh, the tedium, so much work to produce faeces; not my idea of a good time. Why were my nostrils made so big?
“Go and get your Maman, Aubert.” Guiiame’s voice was as close to a whisper as he could manage in his gruff tones and Aubert did not have to make his way into the kitchen; he was met halfway. “Ah, Coquette. Come, the boys have a surprise for you.”
“Just come and see, woman. What do you think?”
“It is writing; what good is that to me?”
“It is what it says, Maman. See, this is Papa’s name; Guiiame. Next is Philippe and then Aubert. The other side of the gargoyle’s throat begins with you Maman. See, this says Marguerite and then there is Arianne.”
“You see all this here, daughter? Our entire family for the cathedral?”
Marguerite rushed at Guiiame who hit the floor with a thud; a scattering of straw spreading like an impact pulse in all directions. She smothered him from above with kisses while the children groaned. I found the exchange fascinating, but did not know if she was angry or sad. Was she eating him? Why did her eyes leak so? Did he not taste as he should?
The workshop fell silent, except for the gentle simmering of the pot above the hearth. Arianne stood before me quivering slightly, water flickering with the fire in the corner of her eye.
“When does he go to the cathedral?”
“Tomorrow, perhaps the next day.”
“Is that enough time to carve his other eyes?”
“What other eyes?”
The gentle simmering grew louder.
“The eyes in the back of his head. If he is outside and if he cannot move his head, how will he see someone coming from behind?”
“He does not have to, let me show you.”
Arianne stepped aside and the world of the stone mason’s workshop was laid out before my intrigued eyes. There was little natural light in here, just a few lanterns hanging without formation from the beamed ceiling. They flickered above the straw-strewn floor, animating the stalks into finger puppets, which seemed to pop up like inquisitively timid meerkats.
The domestic picture was soon obliterated as the stone mason threw open the great wooden doors, flooding his workshop with sunlight. The stone mason’s beastly shadow stretched out across the floor to my perch. His great ape-like arms attaching themselves to his Neanderthal form. His actual body was powerfully built, but less threatening; forearms, biceps and shoulders sculptured out of Apollonius of Tralles classic playbook. The mop atop the mason’s head foretold Arianne’s, his darting eyes tagging every detail, yet they were the only real detail on a face bristling with beard; the original hirsute hijab.
Guiiame stepped out into the afternoon sun. It bathed the cobbled street outside in a brightness I found unimaginable; if only I could blink. My stone skin beamed, brightening the workshop with my reflected presence. If my eyes weren’t already wide open, they would be wider still. The images out in the street, ghostly halos at first, sharpened gradually into forms which seemed to mirror the family with who I lived.
“You see there, the great cathedral of Notre Dame?”
Yes, I see. It is a marvel of stone, much as I am.
“I do not understand, Papa.”
“Come outside and I will show you. Follow the twin towers into the clouds. Once your eyes are up there, near the top, you will see the tiniest creatures hanging from the walls.”
“Oh, I see, so he has no need of eyes in the back of his head; the cathedral has his back.”
It was true; the cathedral protected the protectors and Arianne had found me a nest of fellow gargoyles, leering out over the tower walls. My wings itched to take flight, so I could perch myself up high alongside creatures of my own ilk. This is why Guiiame’s God had created me; to watch over this magnificence, brilliantly white in the afternoon sun. However, darkness descended upon the view.
I watched Guiiame’s family step back inside the workshop doors as the sky began to fall, soft and wet. The cobbles glistened as the people out in the street slipped along frantically, their hands over their heads. The breeze ruffled my stone feathers. It smelt familiar, like the wet straw near where Aubert had collapsed with laughter.
I did not like the smell of the street, so much to comprehend. There were too many odours on the breeze. I could not place a single one, having no point of origin to discern their probable cause. Then there was the noise. The clatter of hooves and cartwheels on the cobbles, the shouts of street vendors and the cranking of pullies lifting yet more stone up onto the cathedral’s heights. The mess of humanity was as exhausting as it was fascinating.
The sky fell in buckets now, with great flashes of light and a rumbling that shook the ground beneath my makeshift perch. Guiiame retreated further and made for the first of the two oak doors just as the deepening sky was ripped apart by a jagged flash; the gnarled finger of God smiting the cathedral. Was Guiiame’s God displeased with the work of man or was he reaching out to touch it with pride?
A fragment of stone fell from the tower, tumbling over and over, shattering into thousands of possibilities as it hit the cobbled surface at the base of the cathedral. Arianne squealed; Philippe wrapping a protective arm about his little sister as Guiiame stepped back out onto the street for a closer look.
“It is alright, no one has been hurt, the rain has scattered the usual collection of craftsmen and labourers. There is nothing to fear daughter, just a storm and a bolt of lightning.”
“It was the finger of God!”
It was; I saw it too.
“Such an imagination, daughter. What meals you will cook us with such an imagination.”
“Yes, there are more uses for the imagination than carving stone. Look at the cathedral; see its coloured glass in the great rose window? It is a thing of beauty meant to be seen from the inside, just as the illuminated books of the monks are. There is more to the cathedral than the perfection of the soaring walls and these things would not exist if we had no food and no women to bear the men who create such things.”
“It is just cooking, Papa.”
“Never belittle someone who does not have the letters and numbers if they can create something else. Go and find out how your Maman’s creation for tonight is going while I finish your friend here.”
Arianne was clearly not convinced and skulked off to the kitchen once more while Guiiame was true to his word. He spent the evening and the next morning chipping away at me lightly while polishing my stone smooth. The boys joined in with these tasks and once I was near complete, the workshop doors were kept wide open. Guiiame was revealing to all Paris the final decoration of the cathedral towers, proudly so, and why not? I was garishly delightful as Arianne continued to show me in her vanity mirror; something that still cracked me up.
Some of Guiiame’s final touches seemed unnecessary as he drew a crowd mid-morning. He gave me a wink before sweeping his arm low and wide, drawing in his newly discovered disciples with a beaming smile.
“Welcome to the workshop of Guiiame, master mason. Creator of all things grand, eloquent and mysterious. Feast your eyes on our latest creation. Behold, La Gargouille.” The crowd gathered gasped as one. “This beast is from the family of Guiiame. Yes, these are my mason sons, the future of Paris.”
Guiiame’s disciples responded with a generous round of applause, before being dispersed by a thunderous set of hooves, which clattered to a halt at his workshop doors.
The carriage door swung open, requiring attention; it had mine. The golden trim also drew my eyes, as the bustling robes squeezed through the narrow exit, before the voice above demanded the attention of everyone within earshot. It received due attention as expected and as required.
“You there, Mason. Why cannot I see you up there on the cathedral walls? Do you not know of the damage? Why do you not see to it with haste?”
“Your Eminence, I…”
“Are these urchins yours?’
“Yes, your Eminence.”
“Why do they smell so? What do they do?”
“My sons are also masons; they helped me carve the final decoration for the cathedral.”
“For my cathedral, Mason. What would that decoration be, besides the new stone required for the very top?”
“It is here, your Eminence. Behold, La Gargouille.”
Guiiame bowed low, his back towards me, before stepping aside; leaving me face to face with the robed one. The man, all puffy with chins, was not startled by my appearance. He smiled, almost knowingly, before laughing deeply and leaning in close enough for me to smell the wine and garlic on his breath.
“Are you prepared to do your duty, Gargoyle, to ward off evil spirits from my cathedral?”
Your cathedral? Did not Guiiame make it?
“If you are the last, then Notre Dame will be complete within my reign. Why is it still here, Mason?”
“My sons are just cleaning off the dust.”
“Then you can see to the damaged stone on the cathedral tower. I want the best up there to assure this does not happen again. Notre Dame will be my mark on the history of this great city; a testament to my grandeur, a church for all and a cathedral for the ages. See it is fixed now!”
“Yes, your Eminence.”
Guiiame affixed a leather belt around his waist and hung a few carefully chosen tools from it. The robed one took no notice; he was still contemplating my garish looks, a small scented cloth held to his nose. Yes, I could smell it, despite the hovel where I had been created. It seemed my grand nose had a purpose after all, yet although I was beginning to enjoy the variety of odours from the house, as well as those from the streets of Paris, I could not imagine smelling the same thing every day.
The mason’s departure broke the spell and the carriage soon clattered off with his Eminence inside. I was left with the grandest view in Paris; Notre Dame in all its glory. My future home, dripping with the protective throats of my own kind.
Arianne sat down next to me and draped her arm over my neck. She so liked to tickle me between the ears and I enjoyed the sensation; soon I would only have the heavens to perform that ritual.
“So, Mr. Gargoyle, do you like the view? Do you like your new home?”
I like the view from here. I like the smell of your Maman’s cooking. I like your Papa’s jokes.
“If we look carefully, we may see Papa. He has sometimes climbed the tower before and once with Philippe. Philippe said that you can see the whole world from up there. You will see the whole of the world, every day and every night you will see the bright city lights.”
A city of lights.
“I think I shall climb up and see you some time. Would you like me to visit you?”
“I could tell you about all the things I see in the street, from this angle, and you could tell me… well, perhaps I could guess what you see.”
No, no, I could tell you.
“No, Maman, not now.”
“Now, Arianne. Dinner will not cook itself.”
“Sorry, Mr. Gargoyle. I have to cook. You can watch the street for me and watch out for Papa. You can tell me all about it later.”
Arianne skipped off through the straw, lifting her linen dress above her knees as she did. She seemed happy with her life despite the drudgery of the cooking lessons. Her brothers seemed just as content to smooth down my wings and polish my nails. If I could smile, less garishly, I would.
A troop of soldiers sauntered by outside, seemingly more concerned with their appearance and its effect on the young ladies, than in keeping the peace. The cathedral beyond was now bathed in sunshine and I could spy tiny figures scaling its heights. Two in particular stood high up on the bell tower, peering over the precipice to survey the damage.
Hello, Guiiame. I would wave if I could, but would you see me down here? If you are so small how big am I to you?
Guiiame was so high up, so close to his God, and so proud of his creation. I knew I would enjoy being a small part of it, but what was this? Guiiame’s partner slipped and is hanging from the tower. All is well, Guiiame has him, but who has Guiiame?
Help, Arianne, Maman!
Guiiame and his partner were so small, dangling there. Why did no one hear my cry? Why will nobody come to their aid?