Story idea by Todd Jensen
Written by Todd Jensen
Artwork by Amber
(note: this takes place one week before "Reprisals")
BROADWAY: Who was this Merlin? Just another stupid magician?
MACBETH: He was a singular spectacle. A bearded old man who took a ragged boy and with magic and wisdom turned him into the greatest king this world will ever see.... Merlin's magic was stronger everything - except the human heart.
-- A Lighthouse in the Sea of Time
KING ARTHUR: I must begin another quest, to find my friend and teacher, Merlin.
MORDRED (to Lancelot): My advisor.
(The mysterious figure who was speaking to Mordred quietly walks away) (
-- The Ill-Made Knight, Part Three
MYSTERIOUS PERSONAGE (to Darien Montrose): King Arthur and his companions must be permitted to find Merlin, without any further obstacles being placed in their path. Is that clear?
DARIEN: Yes. Yes, it is.
-- The Watching Eye
* * * * *
Camlann, Southern Britain - early 6th century A.D.
The lone horseman rode across the plain, where the battle had only lately raged. The field was littered with the bodies of the fallen, bodies that he did not wish to look at for long. Britons, Saxons, Jutes, Angles, Picts, Irish, all joined in death. The carnage had been severe. It had truly been a wicked day of destiny.
There was only one person on the battlefield, however, that concerned the rider. He had not glimpsed him among the slain, and he still hoped to find him among the living. If there were any living anywhere here, after the slaughter.
"Merlin?" came a voice up ahead, in the gathering darkness. "Is that you?"
"Bedivere?" Merlin asked, spurring his horse forward. "You still live?"
"Barely," replied the knight, now coming into view. His armor, surcoat, and cloak were dented or tattered from the fighting, but his helmet was doffed and his features clearly recognizable. Another familiar figure, half-conscious, was leaning on him, one whom Merlin knew at once. So his pupil was indeed still alive - though Merlin doubted that it would be for long, if he did not act quickly.
The old wizard dismounted and hastened towards the two warriors, with far greater speed than one would have guessed from his years. "So the battle took place?" he asked. "Are there any other survivors?"
Bedivere shook his head. "Arthur and I are all that is left of the Round Table," he said. "All the other knights were slain."
"And Mordred?" Merlin inquired.
"Dead, by the king's own hand," the knight answered. "And most of his company with him - only those who fled the field survived."
"And Mordred's advisor?"
"Among those who escaped," said Bedivere.
"I thought as much," replied Merlin grimly. "I doubt that his hour has come yet. He's more suffering to inflict upon this world first."
Bedivere stared at him bewilderedly, but said nothing. Merlin gazed troubledly at the now all-but-unconscious High King of Britain, whose eyes seemed only barely able to register the arrival of his old tutor. "Arthur's been wounded," he said.
"By Mordred," said Bedivere. "The traitor gave Arthur his death-wound, just before being slain. I don't know how much longer he will live."
"Long enough for us to undo the harm, I hope," said Merlin. He helped the knight shoulder his royal burden. "You returned Excalibur to the Lake, I presume?"
"It was Arthur's last command, while he could still speak," Bedivere replied. "The Lady has taken the sword back. I saw the arm rise from the water to receive it."
"That is good," said Merlin. "Now, help me take Arthur to the Lake, Bedivere. I know a way to save him, but we must act swiftly. If I'm right, we will have people waiting for us there."
"People?" asked Bedivere.
"Acquaintances, and relatives, of a sort," replied Merlin, as he and Bedivere helped pull the dying Arthur across the field. "Not exactly friends, but they're the only ones that can help. I hope that they're there. It took me quite a while getting them to agree to the business."
Arthur moaned in his half-conscious delirium. "Merlin?" he asked. "Is that you?"
"Yes, Arthur," said Merlin, speaking quietly and gently. "Don't worry. We'll get you to safety."
"Just where?" asked Bedivere. "Our army was destroyed. Camelot is defenceless against our enemies. Mordred is gone, but there are still Saxons enough in Britain to carry out another war, and a number of our own chieftains who will be only too glad to take advantage of our weakness. There's nowhere in Britain that's safe for Arthur now."
"The place that I'm thinking of is not in Britain," Merlin replied. "Nor anywhere in this world."
Bedivere stared at Merlin, but again, said nothing. And a few minutes later, they arrived at the shore of a wide lake, with clumps of sedgeweed growing at its edges. A lake overcast with mist, and from out of that mist, a shape emerging. Merlin nodded. "They've come, after all," he said. "Thank goodness."
The shape became clearer, and resolved itself into a grand-looking barge with brightly-colored sails. Three women stood in the boat, tall, stately, and beautiful, dressed in flowing robes. One had silver-colored hair, one golden hair, and one hair as dark as a moonless night. The three of them gazed at the High King and his two attendants, and there was no sign of friendliness in their eyes.
"Thank you for coming," said Merlin, ignoring the hostile expressions on their faces. "Phoebe, Selene, Luna, we have a wounded king to bring to Avalon."
"Oberon will not be pleased to see him," said the black-haired woman sharply. "It is an affront to him and to us, to have his domain profaned by the presence of a mortal."
"I've already spoken with Oberon about this, Selene," replied Merlin imperturbably. "He isn't pleased about this, as you said, but he's agreed to it all the same. And that means that you have to as well."
"He is not of our blood," said the white-haired woman. "The mysteries of Avalon are not for human eyes to behold."
"He won't be beholding much of them, Luna," said Merlin. "He'll be asleep for nearly all the time that he spends there Now please, just help me get him into the skiff. We haven't much time to waste with him. We may be immortal, but Arthur isn't, and particularly not now."
The three women frowned, but said nothing. Merlin and Bedivere helped ease Arthur onto the barge, laying him on his back. The Weird Sisters simply stood to one side, making no effort to help.
"Where are we going, Merlin?" asked Arthur, in a weak voice.
"To Avalon," said Merlin, reassuringly. "The only place where you may be healed of your grievous wound. You'll be safe there."
Bedivere jumped down from the barge back onto the shore. Merlin turned his gaze towards King Arthur's last knight, and spoke to him. "Go to Camelot, and tell anybody who remains there what has happened," he said. "Arthur is not dead. He has been taken to Oberon's mystic isle of Avalon, to sleep and find healing. And when Britain stands most in need of him, then he will return."
Bedivere nodded, though with an unhappy look upon his face. "Farewell, my king," he said, bowing his head for a moment. And then he turned from the bank, and walked away.
The barge slowly began to drift away from the shore towards the mist-veiled center of the lake. As it did so, Merlin spoke the old incantation needed to reach Avalon, the one that he had read long ago in the pages of the Grimorun Arcanorum, in a voice clear and resonant.
"Vocate venti fortunate ex rege Oberonis, et hic navis fluctum regate ad orae Avalonis!"
The mists swirled about the barge and its five passengers. Arthur stirred and moaned slightly. The Weird Sisters paid him no attention, but watched Merlin silently. Merlin shook his head. "Typical," he muttered under his breath. "Just typical of those three."
The sight of Avalon soon loomed out of the darkness, and Merlin could clearly discern the fiery beacons that welcomed visitors to the island's shores. He could also clearly make out two figures waiting on the shore, two figures whom he had been expecting. Oberon, Lord of the Third Race, and his wife, Queen Titania. Oberon was frowning as he watched the barge and its passengers approach.
"This could be tricky, now," said Merlin to Arthur in a low voice. "It took me quite a while to talk Oberon into this, and it looks as if he might be having second thoughts already. I'm not sure that this is going to be easy."
The barge reached the shore, and Merlin helped a nearly-swooning Arthur off it onto the ground. Again, he noticed, the Weird Sisters made no effort to assist him. They merely rose up from the barge, floated over to the land, and alighted close beside their king and queen, without saying a word.
"So you have brought him," said Oberon, staring down at the wizard with a disapproving glare in his eyes.
"We still do not like this," the faerie king said. "He is not of our kind; he should not be here. It is an insult to us to grant asylum to a mortal, even a dying one."
"Arthur isn't just any mortal, Lord Oberon," Merlin replied. "He is the Once and Future King. You've heard me say so before."
Oberon nodded, in such a way as to indicate that he did not particularly relish those memories. "He is still a mortal. We have no great wish to have one of them upon our island."
"He has nowhere else to go," said Merlin. "There's nowhere in Britain that's safe for him now. The Round Table was broken at the Battle of Camlann, and Arthur's kingdom will dissolve into a lot of smaller kingdoms, all fighting each other. The Saxons will easily conquer them all, one by one, and Camelot itself will be sacked and leveled."
"The quarrels of humans are no concern of ours," Oberon coldly answered. "Do humans concern themselves with the wars that ants wage upon each other?"
Merlin sighed. "Maybe not," he said. "But how about the wars that your people wage upon each other? You didn't completely strip the Unseelie Court of all its powers when you banished it from Avalon. The Unseelies are weak now, but they'll regain their strength someday. And trust me, I know that Arthur will be needed when they return. You'll need the best on your side when the Rising takes place."
"And you dare speak of the Unseelie Court to me, when your father was one of them? One of the traitors?" Oberon glowered at Merlin with greater anger.
"I'm no fonder of my father than you are," Merlin replied calmly. "Trust me, Lord Oberon, I've disowned him. I know it and he knows it. Why do you think he had Nimue lock me up in that tower in Broceliande for all those years? And anyway, who my Da was doesn't change the fact that you won't be able to defeat the Unseelie Court on your own next time. Not unless you want a repeat of what happened all those thousands of years ago. Trust me on this one: I can see things in the future, and one of them is that Arthur is needed for that hour. He has to come here, so that he can survive."
"Merlin is right, my lord," said Titania, speaking for the first time. "I have no more love for his father than do you, husband. Possibly even less, in truth." Her face grew hard for a moment, as though she was remembering something particularly unpleasant. "But Merlin is not his father. He has repudiated the Unseelie Court and its designs. For that matter, he was not even born when the war took place."
"True," said Oberon. "But he was born to be the Unseelies' champion against me, in the time of the Rising. That I do not forget."
"Let's not get into Third Race politics at the moment, shall we?" asked Merlin anxiously, stealing a glance at Arthur. The High King was still barely conscious, but his breathing was difficult, and his face pale. Merlin had kept a piece of his cloak pressed to the wound in his side, but wasn't sure how long it would hold back the bleeding. "The important thing is this. Arthur has to sleep here. And let's face it, Oberon. You owe me one. You're not about to refuse to pay back a favor, are you?"
Oberon looked at him, still frowning.
"You won't even be meeting him after today," Merlin continued. "He'll be sleeping in his hollow hill, far from your palace. Entirely out of the way of you and your Children. You won't even know that he's here."
"I would much rather that the reason for this was because he was not here at all," said Oberon. Then he sighed. "But, very well. I have given you my word on this matter already; I suppose that I had better keep it. But keep him far out of my sight at all times, I warn you. The less that I see of him, the better."
"Right-ho," said Merlin. He shifted the king's burden a bit, to help him walk the better. Arthur was fading fast. "I hope that there's still time to get him to the hill," the wizard murmured as he walked up the path leading from the shore. There simply has to be."
"And I trust that we will be seeing as little of those two armors that you brought to the Hollow Hill earlier," Oberon called after him. "You know well enough that anything wrought of that metal is not welcome here in Avalon."
"Trust me, it's necessary," Merlin replied, turning back to face the faerie ruler for a moment. "Those suits of armor have to be here, to guard Arthur while he sleeps. Let's just say that I don't trust all of your Children to let sleeping kings lie." He glanced sharply at the Weird Sisters, who returned his stare without any sign of emotion whatsoever in their eyes. "I promise you, the armor won't be leaving the Hollow Hill. Not while Arthur sleeps here, anyway."
And with that, he continued on his way up the path.
* * * * *
Arthur's sleeping-place was as impressive now as it had been when Merlin had last been there, to see to its arrangements. The great bier in the center, which he had laid the dying king on just moments ago. The single bridge spanning the chasm about the bier, the only access that any might have to Arthur Pendragon. The niches lining the walls, each one honoring a great knight of the Round Table; Merlin had felt it appropriate. The skylight shining down directly upon the bier. All just as he had planned.
He stretched out one hand over his pupil. "Sleep, Arthur," he said gently. "Sleep and find healing."
Arthur's eyes closed, and the color returned to his face. His breathing steadied, became more regular. Merlin gingerly pulled back the king's cloak from the wound in his side that it had been pressed to, to note with satisfaction that the wound was already closing up. Arthur was safe now, safe at last. He would sleep here, undisturbed, until he was needed once again.
"Farewell, my friend," he said gently. "Until we meet again."
He turned away, and walked down the steps from the bier, advancing towards the bridge. The two suits of iron armor that he had brought to Avalon shortly before were positioned there, as if standing at attention. He looked them over thoughtfully, then passed between them. Turning about to face them squarely, he raised both hands up high and spoke, in as loud and impressive a voice as he could manage.
"Stand ye both watch over him, as faithful guardians," he cried. "Protect him from all who intrude here, until the time of his awakening comes!"
Light streamed forth from his fingertips, striking the armor, and a fierce wind blew about the wizard, stirring his white hair and beard. Both suits glowed for a moment, then stirred, moving of their own accord. Each raised its sword for a moment, as if saluting the High King's advisor, then resumed its original position.
"The sentries are in place," said Merlin, with an approving nod. "That should take care of any trouble-makers dropping by." He frowned thoughtfully, and his eyes developed for a moment a far-away look. "I hadn't even thought of that," he said to himself, after the moment had passed. "These things really will be a lot more useful than I'd expected. Although I don't think that Oberon and those three harpies are going to like it very much."
He walked down the bridge towards the entrance of the Hollow Hill. As he reached the doorway to the underground chamber, he paused in his path. His face grew stern, and his blue eyes cold. Clenching his hands, he spoke, slowly and bitterly, addressing his words not to himself this time, but to a person somewhere else.
"Now you've done it," he said. "All the things that you did to me, I can forgive. But what you did to Arthur, that I cannot. I know well enough that it was all your doing. Lancelot and Guinevere, Mordred, they were just your pawns, witting or unwitting. This day was your handiwork. You've all but destroyed my best friend, and you've undone all that he built. And that I'll always remember. Always."
* * * * *
London - September 1997.
Cavall whined as he rubbed his snout against his master's hand. King Arthur absently petted the gargoyle beast, while continuing to stare at the table before him.
"He's been like this for the last few days now," Griff said to Leo and Una, glancing troubledly at his liege lord seated in the corner of the room in back of the shop as he spoke. "Absolutely dejected. I tried to snap him out of it all the way back to London, but nothing's worked. It's the worst 'down in the dumps' case that I've ever seen."
"When did it start, anyway?" asked Una.
"Well, I've been noticing it for some time now," said Griff. "Little traces of it by the time of our visit to Carmarthen. But I'd been hoping that it was something that would quickly blow over. It obviously didn't.
"It really started showing itself after our visit to Drumelzier up in Scotland. Arthur'd read something about a 'Merlin's Grave' there, and thought that he should look into it. We didn't find a thing. No clues for Merlin's whereabouts - as usual - and not even any trouble this time. No sign of Morgana or any other troublemakers. It was after that that he really started getting depressed."
"He's given up all hope of finding Merlin?" Leo asked.
"Exactly," said Griff. "Let's face it, we've been to practically every place that Merlin ever did anything at trying to find some trace of him. Broceliande, Tintagel, Stonehenge, Carmarthen, Bardsey Isle, the works. And so far, we've uncovered nothing. Oh, we've had a lot of grand adventures, I won't deny that. And we've even done a few good things, like helping Macbeth out with the McFergus case - or finding that clan up in the Caledonian Forest." He smiled for a moment, before coninuing. "But we haven't found one decent clue about where Merlin is. It's almost as if he vanished off the face of the Earth."
"Maybe he really is dead, then," said Leo thoughtfully, after a moment's silence. "After all, he was only a halfling, and that might not have been enough to give him immortality."
"Maybe," said Una. "But we can't be certain of that. After all, Arthur and Griff haven't even found a grave for him."
"We've got to find some way to snap Arthur out of it," said Griff. "I really don't want to see him this way. I don't suppose that either of you have any ideas?"
"None so far," said Leo. "Unless we could find another quest for him to try his hand at, something other than Merlin."
"Perhaps," said Griff. "But what? We've already found Excalibur, so it can't be that. We could try the Grail, but I haven't the foggiest idea where to start looking. Nearly all of Arthur's knights went looking for it, and only three of them ever found it."
"It might not even be the best solution to the problem," put in Una. "The Once and Future King has committed himself to this quest, after all, and he can hardly abandon it at this point. I certainly feel that that is how he would respond to such a suggestion."
"I think that you're right, Una," said Griff, nodding. "We'll just have to keep on looking. Though I don't know where to search next. If there's been one place in Britain that's got anything to do with Merlin that we haven't visited, then it's clearly hidden itself so well that it doesn't show up in any of the books we've read."
"Maybe he's not in Britain any more," suggested Leo. "Maybe he moved somewhere else."
"But where?" asked Griff. "That's the problem. The world's a pretty big place, after all. He could be anywhere. We can hardly search all across the entire globe."
"We'll just have to think of something," said Una. "It is a pity that Cavall can't exactly sniff out Merlin, the way that he could sniff out the king in Broceliande."
Griff nodded. "And there is another problem," he said. "I've just remembered something that Macbeth said, when we started on our quest in London. Maybe Merlin doesn't want to be found. I mean, it has been fourteen hundred years, and it's quite likely that he wants some privacy now. And if he doesn't want to be found - well, he's a powerful enough wizard that he can make certain that nobody can find him. Not even Arthur."
"I hadn't even thought of that," said Leo, frowning. "That *does* make things more complicated, if that's the case."
The bell on the front door to the shop suddenly rang. "Must be a customer," said Leo. "We'd better go see what he wants."
"Right-ho," said Griff. "I'll see what I can do with Arthur."
Leo and Una left the back room to attend to their customer, while Griff walked over to the table where Arthur was seated. For a few minutes, he stood there, watching the king, not saying a word. At last, Arthur looked up at him.
"Maybe I was awakened too early indeed," he said to the griffon-like gargoyle sadly. "Maybe I should have returned to my sleep in Avalon after the Archmage and his followers were defeated."
"Nonsense, Arthur," said Griff, shaking his head. "We'll find Merlin yet! We just haven't found him in any of the obvious places, that's all."
"But we have nowhere else to look," said Arthur. "We can hardly search every village in Britain to find him, Griff. There are far too many of them. I do not even know what form he now takes. He was always skilled at disguising himself, and many was the time that I failed to recognize him in the shape that he wore. How would we know him if we found him?"
"We'll find a way, surely," said Griff. "We found Excalibur in New York, after all. Surely we can do the same thing with your teacher."
"But we had a riddle to guide us in recovering my sword," said Arthur. "We lack similar assistance in our quest for Merlin. A difficult riddle is better than none at all."
"Well, yes," said Griff. "Pity that we can't go look for Nimue again and ask her if she's got any ideas. But I suppose that she's no wiser than we are "
"True," said Arthur, shaking his head slowly.
Leo and Una entered the room at that moment. "Who was it, anyway?" Griff asked them.
"Somebody who wondered if we had some new book out by a Mr. Hawkins," said Leo. "I didn't even know that it existed, but he gave us a good description of it. We'd better see if we can order it from the publisher in case he comes back."
"What's the book about?" asked Griff.
"Something about the Welsh roots of the Arthurian legends," said Una. "Pity that we couldn't tell him that we had a much better expert on those here than this Sylvester Hawkins could ever be."
"Sylvester Hawkins?" asked Arthur, lifting his head up suddenly.
"That's the name that he gave us," said Leo. "He's supposed to be some scholar living in a little village somewhere in Yorkshire. I'd heard a bit about him; he cropped up in one of the magazines that we sell here. In fact, I think that we've got an article on him in one of them. I'll go look for it."
"A good idea," said King Arthur, rising from his chair, a look of interest now shining in his eyes. "I would like to see it very much."
"Anything that particularly interests you in this Hawkins chap, Arthur?" Griff asked.
"Indeed there is," said Arthur. "It was something that I remembered. Merlin sometimes went by the name of 'Merlin Sylvester', back in my time."
"And Mr. Hawkins' first name is Sylvester," said Una. "But I think that it's surely nothing more than a coincidence."
"But Merlin was named after a hawk, as well," said Arthur, his eyes now gleaming with eagerness. "A small breed of hawk known as a merlin. I'm beginning to wonder now if this could be the answer."
"Well, with all due respect, Arthur, it looks to me as if you're grasping at straws," said Una, with a shrug. But before she could say anything more, Leo returned with the magazine wide open, to the article on Sylvester Hawkins. He handed it to Arthur, who looked it over thoughtfully, then stared at the accompanying photograph, his eyes wide open in amazement.
"Maybe I was trying too hard with the name alone," he said, after a moment's silence, his voice now excited. "But the picture goes beyond that! Do you see it, Griff?"
Griff looked at the photograph. It showed a thin gray-haired man with an aquiline nose, a long white moustache growing just beneath it, and bright bluish-gray eyes overshadowed by thick bushy eyebrows, glimmering with a keen intelligence. After staring at it for a moment, he spoke.
"It looks a lot like the vision that I saw of Merlin's face, back in the Caledonian Forest."
"And it looks like the Merlin that I knew in Camelot," said Arthur, putting the magazine down. "The beard is gone, but the other features are still the same. Griff, I hardly think that this can all be a coincidence. We may have found Merlin at last!"
* * * * *
"Did you hear that, Bruce?" asked Stephen eagerly himself, turning up the sound.
"Indeed I did," said Bruce, nodding. "It looks as though they've finally done it."
"And about time, too. You don't know how tiresome these tailings are becoming. Or how unnerving. If I never have to see again what I saw at Stonehenge, it'll be too soon."
"You said it," said Bruce. "Now let's just hope that we can find out where this Sylvester Hawkins fellow can be found."
* * * * *
"He lives in South Yorkshire," said Arthur, reading the article. "In a little village called Farthingham, to be precise. A rather obscure place, I must admit. And probably the last place I'd have thought to look for him."
"Same here," agreed Griff. "But then again, if he didn't want to be found, it probably made a lot more sense for him to go there than to somewhere obvious like Tintagel or Carmarthen."
"I have been a fool," said Arthur, nodding. "I should have taken such a thing into consideration. Especially after what Northgalis told us at Bardsey Isle: Merlin no longer dwells in any of his old haunts. Well, it hardly matters. We seem to have found Merlin at last, Griff. Now all that we have to do is to head for Farthingham, and see if we can speak with him."
"Then you'd best make haste at once," said Una. "There's no telling how long he may choose to remain there. He could take it upon himself to move at any time."
"You are quite right, my lady," said Arthur. "Griff, Cavall, we depart for Yorkshire tonight."
* * * * *
Farthingham, South Yorkshire," said Stephen, scribbling it down in his little notepad. "Got it. Now to tell Mr. Montrose."
Bruce handed him his cellular phone, and Stephen quickly punched a few buttons, as he held it up to his ear. The phone rang a few times, and then a voice spoke. "Darien Montrose speaking," it said.
"It's me, Stephen, sir," said Stephen. "Good news. This Arthur chap's finally found where Merlin lives!"
"Really? And where's that?"
"A little village in South Yorkshire called Farthingham," said Stephen. "He calls himself Sylvester Hawkins, apparently. The chap's heading up there right now to meet him."
"Splendid, splendid," said Darien's voice.
"Do you want us to go after him, sir?" Stephen asked.
"No, I think not," said Darien. "You two have done enough for me. I'll take over from here."
"Right-ho, then, sir," said Stephen. And with that, he switched off the phone. "And now it's over," he said.
"Not quite," said Bruce.
"What do you mean, not quite? We found out where Merlin was, didn't we? And we told the boss, and he said that we don't have to do any more spying on the bloke. How can it not be over?"
"He hasn't sent us our cheques yet," Bruce replied.
"True," said Stephen with a shrug. "I'd forgotten that."
* * * * *
In his London office, Darien Montrose hurriedly dialed a certain number on his desk phone, and anxiously waited, listening to it ring. At last a voice answered. "Yes?" it asked.
"Darien Montrose, sir," said Mr. Montrose. "I have good news for you. We've finally found out where Merlin is."
"Indeed?" asked the voice, sounding intrigued and eager. "Where is he?"
"A village in South Yorkshire called Farthingham," said Darien. "He calls himself Sylvester Hawkins now, but this Arthur chap definitely feels convinced that it's Merlin."
"I see," said the voice. "Well, well, well, that is very good tidings, Mr. Montrose. I stand in need of some at this time. Well, I thank you for informing me."
"Is there anything more that I can do for you, sir?" asked Montrose.
"No," replied the voice. "I will be taking full charge of this situation now. You have served your purpose, Mr. Montrose. Your part in this hunt is over."
"Of course, of course," said Darien. "And you won't forget that I helped you, sir, either?"
"Not at all," said the voice. "Mr. Montrose, you will not find me ungrateful. When Merlin is mine, you shall be richly rewarded." And with that, before Darien could say anything more, he hung up.
* * * * *
Nicholas Maddox replaced the telephone on its receiver, and then switched on the office intercom. "Mavis?", he said.
"Yes, Maddox?", his Executive Vice-President's voice replied.
"Run things here for me in Manhattan for a few days, please," he said. "I'm taking the next flight out to London. Something's just come up, and I need to handle it personally. Something very important."
"Very well," said Mavis. "Any special arrangements?"
"I doubt it," said Maddox. "I'll just be taking Garlon with me. I don't think that I'll be wanting anybody else here to help me out with this. After all, it's something of a personal affair."
"Very well, then," said Mavis's voice. And with that, Maddox switched off the intercom. A cold smile formed on his face, as he looked at the map of Britain on his desk.
* * * * *
"How long do you suppose it'll take us to get to Farthingham anyway, Arthur?" Griff inquired.
"Well, there'll be the usual packing to do," King Arthur replied. "That'll take time - perhaps another day or so. We can't depart before sunset tomorrow, obviously. And we can't use the roads or other forms of transportation. It'll be the usual cross-country wandering. I'd say that it might take a few days. Possibly a week, even."
"Well, we're hardly running a race," said Griff. "I imagine that Mr. Hawkins will keep."
"Griff, I do believe that our quest is almost over," said Arthur, his eyes shining eagerly. "We may have finally found Merlin."
"Best not to say that until you actually get to Farthingham, Arthur, with all due respect," said Leo. "You know what they say about counting your chickens."
"True," said Arthur, with a shrug. "But I can't see what can possibly go wrong this time."
* * * * *
Cambridge - four days later.
Professor Morgana Cornish poked at the fireplace again. "A cold evening like this one," she said to herself, "and the fire would have to burn low. Central heating is starting to look better every day. And I would use it, too, if I could only trust these modern-day human contrivances."
The flames on the hearth finally leaped upwards anew, and Morgana nodded with satisfaction. "Much better," she said, and turned to walk back to her armchair. When she heard it.
It was the sobbing of a young woman, in a voice that Morgana knew only too well. "Mother, why?" it asked, between its tears. "Why?"
Morgana stared horror-stricken at the heart of the flames, where a face was beginning to form. "Morfydd," she said, in a quiet voice, doing all that she could not to let herself tremble. "I - I can explain -"
"Why did you have to do it, Mother?" asked Morfydd's voice from the fire. "Why?"
"Morfydd, listen to me, please," said Morgana, retreating from the apparition in the fireplace. "The cloak was meant for Arthur, not for you. I had no idea that he would make you wear it. Listen to me, Morfydd, I beg you!"
"You killed me, mother!" was all that Morfydd's voice would say. "You killed me!"
"No!" cried Morgana, closing her eyes against the flames, which were by now shaping themselves into Morfydd's form. "No!"
She opened her eyes, and looked around at the familiar surroundings of her study. "It was only a nightmare," she sighed, leaning her forehead against her hands. "Nothing more than that. I must have dozed off again."
She looked down at the paper that she had been reading before falling asleep, and sighed. "Will I never be free of the memories?" she asked herself aloud. "Never?" Then her eyes blazed with a cold blue fury, and her hands clenched.
"When you are dead, Arthur," she said, slowly and clearly, "then it will be over. And then I will be free."
There was a knock at the door. Morgana looked up. "Who is it?" she asked.
"Ms. Cornish?" It was the voice of her assistant, Roger Greene. "You have a visitor."
"A visitor?" asked Morgana out loud.
"A Mr. Nicholas Maddox, ma'am," said Roger. "From New York City. He says that it's very important."
"Maddox," muttered Morgana to herself. "The name sounds familiar. Now where have I heard it?" She mulled it over for a moment, then shrugged her shoulders. "Send him in," she said.
The door opened, and an aristocratic-looking dark-haired man entered the room. He wore a conservative business suit and carried a walking stick with the top carved in the shape of a hawk's head. He had keen grey eyes and a neatly-trimmed moustache. He halted at her desk. "Professor Morgana Cornish, I presume?" he asked her.
Morgana nodded. "And you are Mr. Nicholas Maddox?" she asked.
"Of Maddox Technologies," he replied. For somebody from the States, he had a very cultivated voice, with an excellent British accent. Now that was something that definitely startled her. "A prominent multi-national company that you may very well have heard of."
"Ah, yes," said Morgana. "That Nicholas Maddox. I was wondering where I had heard your name before. Well, this is not a very good time to call, Mr. Maddox. I'm right in the middle of reading over these papers. Maybe another time?"
"I think that you'll find my business of some interest to you, Ms. Cornish," said Nicholas Maddox calmly. "Or do you prefer Madame La Fay?"
Morgana stared at him, speechless, for a moment. "What do you mean by this?" she cried, when she had at last found her voice. "How did you learn about that? I thought that I had been extremely careful in hiding my true identity from the world - ". She broke off, realizing that she had already said too much.
"I have my resources," Mr. Maddox replied calmly. "And you need not worry, Morgana. Your secret is with me.
"Then what business do you have with me?" she asked him. "Why do you wish to trouble me with old memories?"
"I understand that you and your brother Arthur Pendragon have been at odds for quite some time," said Maddox, sitting down in the chair opposite her desk and speaking in a low voice. "He's brought much misery into your life, and you long for retribution. But so far, all of your efforts to destroy him have failed."
"Come quickly to your point," said Morgana.
"I was wondering if you were interested in forming some sort of alliance," said Maddox. "As it happens, the former High King of Britain is making a visit to a small village in Yorkshire. There is a particular resident in that village who interests me, and who may be familiar to you as well. Merlin Ambrosius, Arthur's tutor and chief advisor."
Morgana sat up at that. "So he has found Merlin, after all," she said.
Maddox nodded. "I have been searching for that wizard for several years now," he went on. "I know that he is still out there, somewhere, but was never certain just where. And then, I learned of King Arthur's own search, and decided to use it to help me. Thanks to it, I now know where to find Merlin. He and Arthur will be making contact before too long, and I intend to be there. I have my own plans for that wizard, after all."
"So how does this concern me?" Morgana asked him.
"It had occurred to me that an alliance would be of profit to us both," said Maddox smoothly. "Combining your magical abilities with my technology, we could defeat Arthur and bring Merlin into my clutches. You would be able to reap your long-sought revenge upon your brother at last. And I would have his wizard. Together we would be able to vanquish them both. What say you to that?"
Morgana frowned silently for a few minutes. "I will be permitted to determine Arthur's fate myself?" she asked. "You will not cheat me of that?"
"The Once and Future King is yours," Maddox replied, "just as long as you leave Merlin to me. I have my own plans for him, which I would rather were not hindered or disrupted."
"Your own plans?" asked Morgana. "And just what are they, perchance?" She looked at him thoughtfully, arching one eyebrow. "Are you planning to use him to pick the winning horses in a few races? To predict how the stock market will go? Turn a few rivals into toads?"
Maddox chuckled in an odd way, and shook his head. "It is nothing so paltry as that, believe me," he said. "I have much more serious reasons for seeking that wizard. Well, what say you, Morgana? Do we have an alliance?"
Morgana nodded. "That we do," she said. "Now tell me about these provisions of yours."
* * * * *
Farthingham, South Yorkshire - six days later.
The boy walked along the side of the road, his school knapsack on his back, humming an old Welsh tune to himself. He was around thirteen or fourteen years old, with a thick mop of curly fair hair that covered the tops of his ears, a skinny youngster dressed in an ordinary-looking sweater and slacks. He stopped briefly to glance at a few of the trees and to examine their leaves, noting how they were starting to turn, smiling a little at the sight. "Autumn on its way, I see," he said to himself in a voice of clear satisfaction.
He glanced over at a few of the houses on the other side of the road, and then suddenly frowned. A tall brown-haired man with a ponytail, moustache, and beard was approaching the local pub. He wore a heavy dark overcoat that covered his other garments, but the boy could distinctly make out the outlines of what looked like a sword beneath it. He stared hard at the man, a troubled look in his pale blue eyes.
The man opened the door to the pub, and went in. The boy stood watching for a moment longer, then dashed on his way, a positively apprehensive expression now forming on his young face. He turned a corner and ran up to a small stone house with a tiled roof, the word "ESPLUMEOR" written over the door. Opening the door, he hurried inside, closing it behind him.
"Back from school already, Emrys?" asked the man in the den, glancing up from his desk. He was an elderly-looking person, perhaps in his middle sixties, with grey hair, thick eyebrows and a drooping white moustache, almost like a conventional wizard out of a fantasy artist's drawing. "You usually take your time coming home, after all."
"I know," said the boy, pulling off his knapsack and placing it on a handy chair. "But this is something of a special situation. He's here. In the village."
"He?" asked the man, rising from his desk and coming out into the hallway. "Which 'he' are you talking about, Emrys?"
"The king," said Emrys.
The old man looked shocked. "He wasn't supposed to be wakened this early yet," he said. "He's ahead of schedule. Any ideas how it could have happened?"
"None," said Emrys, sinking down into a chair in the hallway. "I don't even understand how he came here. Weren't we keeping a low profile?"
"Well, not quite that low," said the old man, frowning. "There was that book, with my photograph on the back of it. Maybe publishing it was not such a good idea after all."
"You could be right," said Emrys. "And it probably would be like him to figure out the significance of that name. 'Sylvester Hawkins.'"
"I did think that it was a giveaway, myself," agreed the old man. "Well, what's done can't be undone. And how were we to know that somebody would awaken him early?"
"Yes, it is a pity that foresight is so unpredictable," agreed Emrys, with a rueful nod. "But he's going to be asking questions about you in the pub. I just know he will. And then, he'll be coming over here." He shook his head. "This is the most inconvenient time for him to appear. Why couldn't he have chosen something else to do, rather than looking up his old teacher? Couldn't he learn to stand on his own two feet, without Merlin?"
"The man probably was at a loss for what to do when he was roused from his slumber," offered Sylvester. "Think about it, if you will. It's highly unlikely that the manner of his return was what he'd been expecting. He wakes up to find that it's been over fourteen hundred years since he was taken to Avalon. The Saxons' descendants are now part of Britain, so there's going to be no question about ousting them. There's a new royal house that's replaced the Pendragons, and one that can't do much more than lay foundation stones and give speeches. Knighthood is a thing of the past, except for the cinema and pageants. This world is completely foreign to him. Surely you didn't expect him to be able to function in it without a little help from an old friend?"
Emrys shook his head. "No, I suppose not," he said. He sighed again.
"Do you think that he saw you, by the way?" asked Sylvester.
"I doubt it," said Emrys. "He wasn't looking in my direction. And even if he had, I'd have been just another kid to him. Thank goodness for that."
"I probably should have cautioned the landlord at the Black Horse not to say anything about me to strangers asking questions," Sylvester Hawkins continued. "But that would have only created more talk. The best thing to do will be to act innocent when he comes here."
"I guess so," said Emrys with a sigh. "I don't like deceiving him, but it's better for all of us."
"Still, it could be worse," said Sylvester. "We could have been discovered by a different party."
"Please, don't say that," said Emrys with a shudder. "Not even in jest. You've no idea how often I have nightmares about *him* finding us." He stared out into space, a worried look in his eyes.
* * * * *
"So that's Farthingham," said Morgana, surveying the distant village from the top of the hill where she stood. She turned to Maddox, who was standing beside her. "And that's where we'll find Arthur?"
"And Merlin as well," said Maddox. He still bore his cane, but now wore over his clothes a suit of dark blue armor, very high-tech looking. On the upper right-hand corner of his breastplate appeared a strange emblem: three crimson slashes. Perched on his shoulder was a robotic falcon, its wings folded up.
"What is that, anyway?" Morgana asked, staring at the metal bird.
"One of the products of my arms factories," Maddox replied. "I call it 'Peregrine 2.0.' It should be very helpful in dealing with our targets, I believe."
"And that design?" asked Morgana, indicating the three red scratches.
"A symbol adopted by some clients of mine," the businessman said. "I did quite a bit of trade with them; I even sold them the Peregrine prototype for their operations. And their emblem seemed rather appropriate for this mission."
"So why are we lingering here?" Morgana inquired. "Why do we not continue on to that village?"
"Patience, Ms. Cornish, please," said Maddox, holding up one hand. "I'm expecting some help to join us here." He scanned the horizon to his left, shading one eye, then nodded in satisfaction. "Ah, here they come now."
Three people climbed up the hill to join them, a few minutes later. The first was a very ordinary-looking man with mousey-brown hair, dressed in plain dark clothing. The other two were a tough-looking blond man and a woman with short red hair, both clad in similar suits of armor to Maddox's. Maddox nodded approvingly. "Ah, good, we're all here. Garlon, this is Morgana Cornish, Professor of Celtic Literature and Mythology at Cambridge. She'll be assisting us as our ally on this little venture."
"Charmed, I'm sure," said the mousey-haired man. He nodded briefly at Morgana, who was looking at him thoughtfully, then turned back to his employer. "These are my recruits," he said. "Banquo and Fleance. They used to work for our old friend Castaway, and managed to escape the break-up of the Quarrymen last year. I thought that they would be suitable assistants for us."
"I trust that they're reliable," said Maddox, looking at them for a moment and frowning. "As I recall, there were a few problems with the help that you employed in the 'Coyote 5.0' business last October."
"Banquo and Fleance aren't quite as chaotic as the 'terrible twins', I assure you," said Garlon. "I kept tabs on them during my observation of the Quarrymen. They're reasonably level-headed."
"I'm glad to hear that," said Maddox. "And you explained to them about our mission as well, I presume?"
Garlon nodded. "The basic facts. I left out anything that would take too much explaining, but they know the essentials."
"Excellent," said Maddox. "Now let us be on our way. We still have to reach Farthingham by tonight. Follow me, all of you."
Morgana was still looking at Garlon and wrinkling her brow concernedly. "There is something familiar about you," she said at length. "I can't quite place it, but - have we met before?"
"What do you think?" Garlon replied. He looked at Maddox, an expression of puzzlement now showing on his features. Maddox returned the look, and motioned for the brown-haired man to walk beside him some ways ahead of Morgana and the two mercenaries. "Yes, you're right," he said in a low voice. "It's her."
"Is this wise?" Garlon whispered back. "I mean, she is notoriously unstable. Almost as bad as that red-haired gargoyle, in fact."
"True," replied Maddox, nodding. "But you know the old saying. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend.' She loathes Arthur Pendragon with a passion, and that will make her a useful enough ally to us. And when dealing with Merlin, we will definitely need all the help that we can get."
* * * * *
"Sylvester Hawkins?" asked the landlord of the Black Horse. "Oh, you mean the bloke who lives at the Esplumeor."
"The what?" asked Arthur.
"That's what he calls his house," said the landlord. "I'm not sure just what it means. Sounds French. I never was very good at French. Anyway, he's an odd sort. Comes in here occasionally, but never has that much to eat or drink. Lives alone, too, except for his ward. A kid named Emrys. Scrawny little fellow, and keeps to himself, too. They're both funny chaps."
"Well, thank you," said Arthur, finishing his pint. He paid the man, and left the pub after getting directions to the Esplumeor.
A few minutes later, he was at the house in question. It seemed a surprisingly ordinary place to find Merlin in, just another cottage of stone and slate like all the others in the village. The one feature about it that caught his eye were the stones in the corners of the house's yard. Each stone was a miniature standing stone like the ones that he had seen at Stonehenge, with odd runic characters inscribed on its side. Arthur briefly glanced at these, a thoughtful look in his eyes. Then he walked up to the front door, and knocked on it.
The door opened, and the old man whose picture he had seen was standing there. "Can I help you, sir?"
"Merlin?" asked Arthur. He looked at the man discerningly. "Is that you?"
"Is anything the matter, sir?" the old man asked sharply.
"Merlin, it's me," said the king. "Arthur Pendragon, your pupil! I've been searching for you all across Britain, and at last I've found you!"
"I fear that you have mistaken me for someone else," said the old man in an increasingly testy voice. "My name is Sylvester Hawkins, not Merlin. I do not know why you choose to bother me, sir, but I am a busy man, and do not tolerate strangers. Now kindly be on your way."
"But, Merlin - " Arthur began.
"Good day to you, sir!" said the old man. "And just be glad that I don't tell the constable about you!" And with that, he slammed the door shut in the king's face.
Arthur stood looking at the door in a shocked silence for a moment. Then, with a sigh, he turned around and walked back down the garden path, shaking his head.
* * * * *
"Weren't you a little harsh on him?" Emrys asked Sylvester Hawkins concernedly in the hallway. He had been quietly standing in the background, just out of sight, listening to the exchange.
"Maybe," said Sylvester. "But it was necessary. A sharp response of this sort will discourage him from ever coming back. I'm sure of it."
"I'm not," said Emrys. "From what I know of him, he won't give up that easily. He sounded certain enough that you were Merlin. And he'll simply puzzle over your behavior and try to find a solution. He *knows* that something is going on around here. And let's face it; he's right. We both know that he's right about Merlin living in this village."
"So do you have any ideas to get him to leave?" asked Sylvester.
Emrys shook his head. "None," he said. "None at all."
* * * * *
The sun was setting when Arthur reached the place where he had left Griff and Cavall in their stone sleep. Both of them broke free from their shells with the usual stretching and roaring only a couple of minutes after his arrival. Griff turned to Arthur at once. "Well, did you find him, Arthur?"
"Yes," said Arthur, in a troubled voice. "But there's the problem. It was Merlin. The face was the same, the voice, the mannerisms. But he seemed unhappy to see me. He denied being Merlin, and ordered me to leave." He shook his head again. "I simply do not understand it," he said, scratching Cavall behind the ears now. "I simply don't."
"Maybe it wasn't Merlin," said Griff. "Or maybe he really doesn't want to be found, after all."
"That might be the case," said the king. "But I will not leave this village until I have some answers. Griff, we are going to return to Farthingham. All three of us."
"If you insist," said the griffin-like gargoyle, frowning. "Though I don't know for certain that this is a good idea."
* * * * *
Garlon emerged from the shadows that lay between two of the houses, and pulled out a pair of binoculars. He held them up to his eyes and gazed around until he spotted the house that the three figures were heading for. The one with "ESPLUMEOR" written over the door. He nodded, and motioned to Banquo and Fleance, close behind him.
"So why does your boss want us to go after that old man, anyway?" asked Banquo.
"He has his reasons," replied Garlon with a shrug. "Reasons which do not concern you. All that I will say is that Mr. Maddox is very anxious to secure Mr. Hawkins. That should be good enough for both of you."
"Not those two again!" Fleance suddenly groaned. She had seen King Arthur and Griff, and shook her head in dismay. Banquo had responded similarly, upon sighting them as well. Neither of them seemed to recognize the gargoyle beast accompanying them, but it was clear that they did not view it as an encouraging sight, either.
"They are familiar to you?" asked Garlon.
"We ran into those two in New York last year," said Banquo. "Back when we were working for Macbeth. It was one of the worst nights of our lives. Especially when that stone dragon came to life."
Garlon looked about to ask a question, then shook his head. "Some other time, I'm sure," he said. "Right now, we have a meeting to attend." And with those words, the three of them moved forward.
* * * * *
Arthur knocked on the door once again, Griff standing on one side of him and Cavall on the other. There were a few minutes of silence while they waited, and then the door opened once more. Sylvester Hawkins stood in the doorway, glowering at the three of them.
"I told you to go away!" he snapped at Arthur. "And take your friends with you!"
"Merlin, will not you please listen - " Arthur began.
Griff suddenly pricked up his ears. "There's somebody coming this way," he said. "Three somebodies, in fact, by the sound of it." He turned around to face the street, Cavall doing the same and even Arthur turning his head and drawing Excalibur from its scabbard cautiously. Sylvester Hawkins frowned troubledly, but said nothing.
Three shadowy forms moved closer. Cavall growled, his eyes glowing white. Then he sprang towards them, snarling.
"Bad dog!" said the leader, pulling out a small gun-like object. "Heel!" He pressed the trigger, and a beam of white light blazed out of it. Cavall sprang to one side, and the laser struck one of the paving stones of the garden path instead.
"More intruders," said Sylvester in disgust. "Cannot a scholar get any peace and quiet these days? The village constable is going to hear a lot about this come morning! A lot!"
Griff and Arthur hurried towards the intruders. They had come clearly into sight now, the mousy-haired leader, and two very familiar figures whom Arthur quickly recognized from his visit to New York, at the very beginning of his adventures in the modern world. "So you've quit Macbeth's service, have you?" he asked.
"I thought that you two looked familiar," said Griff, diving for Fleance. She fired a laser at him from a device mounted into the sleeve of her armored suit, which the griffin-like gargoyle easily dodged. It struck a tree in the garden, quickly reducing it to ashes. Sylvester glowered at the results, commenting "Vandalism!" in a disgusted voice.
"You choose strange people for knights these days," said the brown-haired man to Arthur, dodging a blow from Excalibur. "Humans no longer good enough for you?"
"They are loyal friends," said Arthur sharply. "And they certainly are far better company than you, whoever you are!"
"I've got him in my sights!" yelled Banquo, pointing his blaster at Cavall. "Time to go to that big kennel in the sky, you ugly mutt!"
The laser shot out of his weapon with a blast, straight towards Cavall. The gargoyle beast dodged the beam, which continued straight past him. Arthur turned around only to see, too late, where the beam was headed. Straight for the old man standing in the doorway.
The blast struck Sylvester Hawkins straight in the chest, sending him staggering back with a cry. "Merlin!" cried Arthur, horror-struck. He sent the mousey-haired man's gun flying from his hand with a blow from Excalibur, then rushed to the side of the fallen scholar.
The fighting suddenly halted, as the attackers stared at the sight. The old man lying upon his back in the open doorway, Arthur bending down over him, a shocked look upon his face. Griff and Cavall also turned to take in the scene. Nobody spoke for a long moment.
"Congratulations," said the mousey-haired man to Banquo in a sharp voice. "Oh, very well done! One simple scouting mission, and you kill the target! You know perfectly well that he was supposed to be taken alive!"
"Hey, it was an accident!" Banquo protested. "I was aiming at the dog!"
"It hardly matters," retorted the man to him sharply. "Now fall back! We have a lot of explaining to do to the Master. Or rather, you two do. We go, now!"
He turned and vanished into the shadows. Banquo and Fleance stared at each other in bewilderment for a moment, then turned and followed just as Griff and Cavall prepared to lunge at them. However, the two gargoyles turned around almost at once, to come to Arthur's side.
Arthur was holding the hand of the motionless Sylvester Hawkins, an utterly desolate look in his eyes. "There's no pulse," he said, in a wooden voice to his friends, barely looking up as they approached. "No life in him. He's dead."
"I'm - I'm sorry, Arthur," said Griff, kneeling beside the scholar's body. Cavall trotted over as well, whimpering as if he sensed his master's mood.
"To have come all this way," said Arthur, releasing Sylvester's hand, which fell limply to the ground, "and then this! He's dead, Griff! Merlin's dead! Just like that!"
"Sylvester?" came a young voice from behind him. And then "Arthur?"
Arthur rose to his feet, and turned around. A thin fair-haired boy of about thirteen or fourteen was standing at the foot of the stairs in the hallway, staring at the scene on the doorstep. He approached the three questers, frowning troubledly. "What on earth is going on here?" he asked.
"Who are you?" Arthur asked him.
"Emrys Hawkins - " the boy began. He looked down at the body. "Oh, dear," he said. "What happened to him?"
"He was killed," said Arthur bleakly. "Struck down by one of those lightning weapons."
"Not exactly killed," began Emrys. "You can't kill a simulacrum, after all. They're not really alive, and - ". He broke off. "Oh, dear," he said again.
"A simulacrum?", echoed Griff.
Emrys nodded. "An artificial creation," he said. "The magical equivalent of a human lookalike robot. Of course, you really need to know your alchemy before you can create one properly, but do it right, and you can deceive everybody into thinking it to be the real thing." He stared down at the lifeless body again. "And become extremely fond of it, at times. I'm sorry to see him go. He wasn't really alive, but I'll remember him a lot more fondly than many flesh-and-blood people that I've known. He's going already."
Arthur stared back at the body, and barely prevented himelf from gasping. Sylvester Hawkins was dissolving before his very eyes, like a pile of melting snow. Within moments, only a puddle was left. Arthur and Griff both stood down, looking at it, neither one speaking. Cavall sniffed at it suspiciously. Then, they turned to look at the boy.
"Who are you?" asked Arthur. "I mean, really?"
The boy sighed. "I should have known that I couldn't avoid this," he said. "The truth is, Arthur, you were right about Merlin living in this house. You simply were looking for the wrong Hawkins. In fact, I'm Merlin."
Arthur and Griff both stared at him, neither of them breaking the silence.
Emrys - or rather, Merlin gave a sheepish grin. "Sorry about that," he said.
* * * * *
"He's dead?" asked Morgana, staring at Garlon in disbelief. The brown-haired man had just finished delivering his report and was now facing the enchantress and Nicholas Maddox, Banquo and Fleance both standing behind him, ill at ease.
"That he is," said Garlon. "My apologies, sir," he said to Maddox. "It was an accident on the part of the hired help." He glanced sharply at Banquo as he spoke.
"I find it hard to believe that he could perish just like that," said Morgana. "Felled by a piece of technology. I had small love for him, especially after what he did to my mother, but still - I would have wished a nobler end for him. Nothing this ignominious."
"It wasn't him," said Nicholas Maddox, speaking for the first time. "He would never have died so easily."
"Sylvester Hawkins isn't - " began Garlon, incredulous. "But everything pointed to his being in this village! In that house! If Sylvester wasn't our target, then who is it?"
"The boy," said Maddox, thoughtfully. "Emrys Hawkins. Yes, I should have known. He was always fonder of that name. He would have assumed it in this age."
"So it's that child who is the one," said Morgana. "A mere lad. How odd that he should take that form."
"Hey, wait a minute!" said Fleance to Maddox. "You mean to say, you gave us all this fancy gear so that we could capture some teenage kid for you?"
"Trust me," said Maddox, with a slight smile curling his lips. "He is no ordinary boy."
* * * * *
"You're Merlin?" repeated Arthur, staring at the adolescent boy before him.
"I know," said Emrys ruefully. "Kind of a let-down, isn't it?"
"You're a lot younger than we'd expected," said Griff, frowning.
"It's a long story," said the boy. "Maybe we'd all better come inside and discuss this better. Before those hoodlums come back. I'm sure that they won't be gone for long. Especially not considering who the mousey-haired one was. It's plain enough to me who's behind all this. And it's just what I've been afraid of for some time now."
He closed the door, and locked it. "This way," he said, leading them into the living room. It was a small room, with a couple of brown padded armchairs and a sofa surrounding the gas-log fireplace, and a few bookshelves crammed with tomes of all shapes and sizes, some musty leather-bound works, others new and gleaming paperbacks. "Please, make yourselves comfortable," he said. "Be seated. I'd serve refreshments, but I really wasn't expecting company."
Arthur sat down in one of the armchairs. "Just why have you taken this form, Merlin?" he asked. "The last time that I set eyes on you, you were the very image of Sylvester Hawkins - except that you had the beard that he lacked. Why have you become a youngster?"
"An accident," said Emrys ruefully. "You remember my little Crystal Cavern on Bardsey Isle?"
"Indeed I do," said Arthur. "We even visited it on our search for you. We found it ransacked, and the Thirteen Treasures gone."
"Ransacked?" Emrys asked, looking interested, though not particularly alarmed. "By whom?"
"The Queen of Northgalis," said Arthur. "She almost destroyed us, too. I hope that she did not get the Thirteen Treasures."
"Oh, don't worry about them," said Emrys. "Actually, I'm the guilty party behind their disappearance. I couldn't take them with me to Avalon, because most of them were made with human magic, and Lord Oberon doesn't hold with that sort of thing on his island. And I couldn't just leave them behind, not this time. So I had to relocate them. But more about that later.
"Now, I go there to sleep every so often, to replenish myself. And that was what I was doing for the last decade. Only, when I awakened, something must have gone wrong. I found myself in this form. It's the youngest that I've ever been since starting these regenerations of mine. I tell you, it was quite the humiliating experience." He shook his head. "I'm still trying to understand exactly what went wrong, and still can't find the answer. Well, it doesn't matter. It just means that I have to go through my teen years all over again. Not exactly the pleasantest of prospects."
Cavall sniffed at the lad, who stroked the inquisitive beast on the head as he continued speaking. "Of course, I realized that I couldn't remain there for long," he said. "I've been keeping one step ahead of my ill-wishers for over a thousand years, and up till now, I felt pretty confident about keeping them at bay. But this changed everything. I was now suddenly a child, and my powers were not what they'd been. My magic is quite weak, in fact. Not exactly novice level, but pretty close to it. I don't think that I could use it to ward off their attacks the way that I could before. So the only thing was to become even more incognito than before. Especially since we're this close to the Rising."
"The Rising?", asked Arthur.
"I'll explain later," said Merlin. "Well, my first thought was to find shelter on Avalon. I'd be safe there from my enemies. I'd even visited it a few times while you were asleep, just to check up on you. So, once I'd taken care of the Thirteen Treasures, I left for the island at once.
"I got there to find out that Oberon and his Children had returned there - they'd been gone for a thousand years, and were just getting back. And sharing the place with a bunch of gargoyles that had settled there - but I suppose that you'd know about them. Unfortunately, Oberon was in one of his usual foul moods - he'd run into some trouble at Manhattan; I don't know the details - and wouldn't let me stay. He told me that you'd awakened from your sleep and left, and that I should do the same. So I had to go back to Britain, and find somewhere to stay there.
"I chose a little village in Yorkshire. Nobody would think of looking for me there, not considering that nobody associates either you or me with this part of Britain. Anybody who came looking for me would head for Brittany or Cornwall or Wales or some place like that. My regular hunting grounds, so to speak. Nothing like choosing a non-Arthurian site to fool the hunting party. And it would have worked, as well, if I hadn't made the mistake of writing that book."
"I thought that Sylvester Hawkins wrote it," said Griff bewilderedly.
"That's what I wanted people to think," Merlin explained. "Sylvester - well, he was the adult guardian that I knew I'd need while I was still a kid. I simply brewed him up in my cave before I left it. After that, I had the perfect foster-parent to make everything look normal. A sort of combination of my older self and my tutor Blaise. And so nobody asked too many awkward questions about me.
"The book, of course, was a huge error. I'd just happened to be reading a lot about the controversy over whether I and Arthur had ever existed or not, and couldn't resist taking part in it. So I wrote my answer, and had it published under Sylvester's name. I should have known that it would attract attention. But even I hadn't thought that it would attract yours. If I'd known that you were out there, Arthur, I'd have been much more careful about my choice for a nom de plume."
"And here you were all this time," said Arthur. "Hiding in Farthingham."
Merlin nodded. "I was sorry to have to put you off like that, Arthur, and to use Sylvester Hawkins for it. But I didn't have that much choice. I was afraid that you might have been followed by spies. And besides - well, I really found it embarrassing to be this young. I didn't want you to find me in this condition. It's too much of a humiliation. Nobody wants to see his teacher regressed to childhood."
"It is unsettling," Arthur agreed. "But who are these spies, anyway? And why are you so worried about that mousey-haired man, Merlin? It's almost as if you feared him."
"With the sort of magic that I've got at my disposal, it's easy for me to fear," said Merlin. He looked at one of the bookcases for a moment, and frowned at it. One of the books removed itself from its place on the shelf, and floated over to him. It was only halfway across the room when it fell to the floor. The boy sighed, and shook his head.
"It would have come straight to my hand before," he said. "I just don't have it the way that I once did. I simply don't have the oomph now to do anything on the level of the Sword in the Stone, not without a lot of preparations with human magic. And you know what they say about mixing magics. I'm vulnerable now, almost defenceless. And if Garlon's master finds me - " he broke off uncomfortably.
"Garlon!" said Arthur. "The name sounds vaguely familiar."
"It should," said Merlin. "He was around in your time, after all. In fact, he murdered a few of your knights in the back, unseen and treacherously. He was one of the few enemies that you had that you never could bring in to justice."
"I remember now," said Arthur, nodding. "Many of my knights searched Britain for him. They all returned empty-handed."
"That was the brown-haired man you saw," said Merlin. "And if he's here, so is his master. He'd want to see my death in person." A slightly bitter look marred his features as he spoke, bearing the hints of a long anger, much longer than fitted his seeming few years.
"But how is he still alive?" asked Griff. "Is Garlon a halfling too, like you and Nimue and Morgana?"
"Worse than that," said Merlin. "Much worse, believe me." He paused. "You know about Nimue?"
"We met her in Broceliande," said Arthur.
"How is she, anyway?" Merlin began. "It's a while since I last saw her. Actually, I don't think that I've seen her at all since she freed me from the Tower of Air, and - sorry. There I go, rambling again. I am going to need to do something about it." He shook his head. "This is no time for these sort of reminiscences. We're about to be under attack. And it'll be a small miracle if we get out of this alive."
* * * * *
"We need to make our assault, now," said Maddox, looking at the village. "And we've lost the element of surprise. They'll be ready for us."
"And we'll need to do this carefully, too," said Garlon. "We don't want a lot of interfering bystanders. It's a small wonder that the first attack didn't wake up all of Farthingham." He glanced sharply at Banquo and Fleance as he spoke.
"I've handled that," said Morgana, walking back to them. "A judicious sleeping spell, sent out over the village. I don't think that it will have any effect upon Merlin, but it should deal with these humans. It might even handle my brother and his companions, though I can't be certain."
"Well done, Ms. Cornish," said Maddox, with an approving smile. "Let us be off, then."
The five of them walked into the village, making their way quietly down the road. No sound drifted from out of the houses to meet them; no lights shone in the windows. Except for one cottage. Maddox glanced at Garlon. "Is that the one?" he asked.
They reached the garden, and Maddox glanced at the rune-inscribed stones at the corners. "A primitive spell of protection," he said, nodding. "Impressive, what he can do when he puts his mind to it. And that would certainly render him and anyone else within immune to Ms. Cornish's enchantment. He must have known I would be coming for him. Still, he forgets that there are other weapons to use against him than sorcery." He smiled to himself, then spoke to Peregrine 2.0. "Attack," he said.
The mechanical bird swooped off his shoulder, and flew straight for the door, screeching as it came. Two miniature laser guns emerged from its eyes and fired at the door, forming holes in it. Maddox lifted his cane and walked quickly after it, followed by the others. "It ends tonight," he said in a low grim voice.
* * * * *
"The attack's begun," said Merlin worriedly, starting at the sound.
Arthur held out Excalibur. "Well, time to put them to rout again," he said. "Griff, Cavall, come with me."
"Arthur, I really think that you should know what you'll be dealing with - " Merlin began as the king and his followers exited the living room. Then he sighed. "Same as ever," he commented to the furniture. "I'd been hoping that he'd have matured a little after fourteen hundred years. Of course, he was sleeping all that time."
The front door came crashing down, and a metal falcon-like object swooped in, crying out harshly at them. Arthur hurriedly thrust Excalibur at it. The mechanical bird veered off, then did so again as Cavall leaped at it.
A dark-haired man with a neatly-trimmed moustache, clad in a suit of dark armor, stood in the doorway, a hawk-headed cane in one hand. Garlon, Banquo, and Fleance moved in and stood to one side, facing the king and his friends. To the other came an all too familiar dark-haired woman in a green and brown trouser suit, a long dark mantle worn over it.
"Morgana!" gasped Arthur in shock. "Is this your doing?"
"Not mine," the halfling sorceress replied calmly. "His." She indicated the armored man. "I merely serve as his ally. But then, to attain my reckoning with you, I'd side with the Devil himself."
"Which isn't too far from what you've actually done," said Emrys, standing at the back of the hallway, and eyeing the woman sadly. He then turned his attention to the dark-haired man.
"So you finally deign to show yourself," said the man to him, in a cultured British accent. His voice was calm and even, but with an undertone of smoldering anger. "You have hidden from me long enough."
"And who are you?" asked Arthur, preparing to advance on the leader of the intruders. Banquo and Fleance blocked his path, however, their guns pointed at him.
"Nicholas Maddox of Maddox Technologies," said the man. "And that is all that you need to know."
"So that's what you call yourself now," said Emrys. "I should have known. I thought that that name in the papers sounded familiar." There was a moment's silence, as he stared at Maddox with a mixture of fear and bitter anger. "Father," he said.
"What?" Arthur and Morgana said almost at once. Arthur glanced back at Merlin, then at Maddox, absolute bewilderment showing on his face. Morgana stared at her ally, and moved slightly away from him, a distinctly uneasy expression on her face.
"Yes, my father," said Merlin. "Nicholas Maddox, also known as Madoc Morfryn, Lord of the Unseelie Court." He almost spat it out.
"You certainly show little delight to see me, my son," said Maddox to the boy, in a tightly controlled voice. His eyes seemed to smolder as he spoke.
"And does that surprise you that much?" asked Merlin. "After everything that you've done? After how you tried to have Vortigern's soothsayers put me to death? After how you impersonated me and got Arthur to drown all the children born on May Day?" Arthur stared at him at that moment, and was about to speak, but the youth continued. "After how you tricked Nimue into locking me up in the Tower of Air for several years? After how you used Mordred to bring down Camelot? Believe me, I had a pretty good suspicion who that secret advisor was all along. It was your doing, wasn't it?"
"And what gives you the right to judge me?" Maddox retorted, his restraint vanished now. He advanced towards Emrys, his cane at the ready. "You're not the one who spent ten thousand years banished from his homeland! You're not the one who saw some - some upstart - get everything that you ever wanted in life! You're not the one who had to undergo the humiliation of being reduced to something little more than a mortal!" He managed to regain mastery of himself. "You betrayed me long ago, son! I never forgot it! Never! Not after fifteen hundred years! The old saying is correct. How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child."
Banquo and Fleance looked at each other in disbelief during the speech. "Why do we always wind up working for the weirdos?" Banquo said.
"You said it," said Fleance. "And this guy really takes the cake for weirdness." Garlon shot her a quick glance and she fell silent at once.
"You never told me that Merlin was your son," said Morgana, looking at Maddox almost accusingly.
"And does that make any difference to you?" asked Maddox, turning back to her for a moment. "He's your enemy as surely as Arthur ever was. Who helped Uther Pendragon impersonate your father and deceive your mother? Who trained Nimue to foil your plots against your brother and thereby cost you the lives of your lover and daughter? I would think that that would count for something in your eyes."
"And just what are you, anyway?" asked Morgana. "Clearly not a mortal, to have survived this long. And I've heard enough stories about Merlin's parentage to have little trust for you, if you are his sire."
"And you will throw away your vengeance, because of what I am?" Maddox asked. "If you do that, Morgana, then you are a fool. *And* a traitor to your family."
"Not half as much a traitor as you are," said Arthur grimly, breaking in. "What sort of man are you, to slay your own son?"
"You did the same to your son, when he betrayed you," Maddox retorted. "Surely you remember that. And surely you remember the pain of his treachery to you, Arthur Pendragon!"
"Merlin never betrayed you at all!" Arthur retorted. "Because he was never on your side to begin with!"
"A mere quibble," said Maddox. "In any case, I have had enough of words." He took Emrys back into his gaze again. "I want it over between us," he said. "After fifteen hundred years, it ends tonight." He motioned to the mercenaries and Garlon. "Attack!"
Banquo and Fleance readied their guns at Griff and Cavall. The two gargoyles sprang at them, dodging the blasts, and quickly knocked the mercenaries off their feet. Cavall stood on Banquo's chest, growling savagely, his eyes glowing white.
The robotic falcon swooped down towards Arthur, who struck out at it with his sword again. The bird swerved again, narrowly avoiding a collision with the wall, and swooped down for Emrys, this time. The boy raised up one hand, as if shielding himself, and mumbled something in Welsh. A bolt of blue fire shot out from his fingertips, and narrowly grazed one wing. The falcon drew back, only to this time come into contact with Excalibur's blade. Arthur's sword struck it head on, shattering it into a shower of metallic parts.
Garlon was letting loose a few more laser shots at Griff, who was dodging them, while Banquo and Fleance were wrestling with Cavall on the floor. The gargoyle beast looked as if it was gaining the upper hand. Morgana stood by, still looking uncertain, while Maddox extended his cane at Merlin. "Enough of this!" he cried. "Die, traitor child!"
Twin laser beams shot out from the hawk's head's crimson eyes. Emrys ducked as they struck the wall, leaving smoldering holes. Maddox came a step forward, only to be blocked by Arthur. "Out of my way!" the businessman cried in fury, his eyes blazing.
"If you seek Merlin's death, then you will have to seek mine first," said the Once and Future King, his face set. "I have not searched for him for over a year only to lose him so soon after I found him."
"Then you die with him," said Maddox, his voice almost hissing as he spat out the words. He struck out at Arthur with his cane as though it was a sword. Arthur parried the blow with Excalibur.
Emrys reached into his pocket, a rueful look on his face. "I was saving this for an emergency," he said, pulling a small golden orb the size of a marble out of it. "Oh, well, I suppose that this counts." And with that, he hurled it out onto the floor, just a few inches away from where Banquo and Fleance stood.
The orb burst open with a flash, and from out of its remains there arose a sepulchral hooded and robed form, holding an enormous scythe in its hands. It loomed over the two mercenaries, raising its weapon high, without saying a word.
"That's the last straw!" cried Banquo, bolting from the door, Fleance right behind him. "Gargoyles and wizards are bad enough, without this!"
"Next job we take, a nice regular one," said Fleance. "No more gargoyles, dragons, magic swords, or anything like that! Somebody else can handle the weirdness!"
The apparition dispersed just as they exited the front garden and disappeared into the night. "Always was partial to a little Grim Reaper illusion, myself," said Merlin with a satisfied smile. "Well, that should improve the odds a little."
"Not quite," said Morgana, now stepping forward. "I do not fully understand what is going on here, but that hardly changes anything. You have a lot to answer for, Merlin Ambrosius, if this is indeed your new form!"
"Oh, no, not that business again," said Merlin backing up. "Morgana, it's been fifteen centuries. Can't you just let it go?"
"Without you, my father would never have died!" cried Morgana. "He might have slain Uther and delivered Cornwall from the tyranny of the Pendragons! My mother would never have been betrayed and cheated, deluded by your enchantments! Arthur would never have been born to cost me my family! It was all your doing, Merlin! All yours!" She held up her hand, and a blast of green fire shot out from it. Merlin ducked, the spell only narrowly missing him.
"Morgana, what are you doing?" cried Maddox, turning away from Arthur and glowering at her. "Merlin is mine, or have you forgotten?"
"And whatever he's done to you pales beyond what he's done to me!" said Morgana. "All that he did was to refuse to serve you! What he did to me and mine was worse! Much worse!"
"Do not trifle with me, Morgana la Fay," said Maddox grimly, advancing upon her. "I am warning you. Cross me and I will make whatever you underwent from your brother and my son seem small by comparison."
"Just how?" asked the halfling sorceress mockingly. "Don't think that I haven't learnt about the Unseelie Court in my studies over these centuries, Madoc Morfryn. Oberon stripped you of your powers when he expelled you from Avalon. That's why you're compelled to act through technology. If you had your old strength, you wouldn't need such toys as metal hawks."
"I hardly need my fay powers to deal with you," said Maddox, his eyes flashing in anger. "Garlon!"
His mousey-haired servitor released Merlin to leap towards Morgana and seize hold of her, pinning her arms to her sides. Maddox pointed his staff at her. "And now it ends for you," he said.
"Not quite," said Arthur. He threw Excalibur swiftly at the businessman's cane. The sword struck the walking-stick, snapping it in half with a fury of sparks. At the same time, Griff and Cavall impacted Garlon head on, forcing him to release the enchantress.
Arthur retrieved Excalibur in the moment of confusion, and held it out to Maddox's throat. "Go now," he said to the man sharply. "You may be of the Third Race, but if what my half-sister says about you is true, then you are now mortal enough to be slain. And even if she is wrong - Excalibur is leavened with iron."
Maddox looked about him. Garlon was helping himself up from the floor, still a trifle groggy, Peregrine 2.0 was reduced to a smoldering heap of robot parts, and Banquo and Fleance had already fled. Then he retreated to the door, Garlon with him. As he stood in the doorway, his eyes fell upon young Emrys, who had been watching the fight ever since his release with a concerned look on his face.
"The hunt is not over," he said to the boy, in a cold, still voice. "Remember me, son. Remember me." And with that, he turned and walked off into the darkness. Garlon did the same, melting into the night as if he had suddenly become invisible.
"And a good riddance to them both," said Griff. "Now we still have to decide what to do about you," he added, turning towards Morgana la Fay. The halfling sorceress stood in the middle of the hallway by herself, Arthur, Merlin, and Cavall all looking at her cautiously, uncertain looks on their faces.
"You might have had enough of your so-called chivalry to spare me, Arthur Pendragon," Morgana said to her half-brother, "but I will hardly show you the same. Gorlois's ashes will not permit it. And neither will my daughter's ashes." She spat out the last word with particular emphasis and hatred. "You burned her alive. My precious Morfydd. You burned her alive!!" Her voice had now risen to almost a crescendo of hysteria. "And now you will do the same!"
She had lifted her hands in a gesture, but before she could complete it, Merlin reached out to touch her. "No," he said to her in a quiet voice. "Sleep, Morgana. And let your anger sleep with you."
Morgana turned to glower at the boy, but her eyelids suddenly drooped. She staggered back, then fell upon the floor, sprawled out. Arthur stared down at her in astonishment, then turned towards Emrys.
"Is she dead?" he asked.
"Not on your life," said Merlin. "I have no desire to kill her or anyone else, Arthur. You should know me well enough for that. She's only asleep - and will remain that way for a few days. Long enough for us to be away from here."
"For us?" asked Arthur.
"It's no longer safe for me to stay here," said Merlin. "Not when 'Daddy Dearest' knows about this place. He was only temporarily driven off, and he'll return with a small army next time. We'll need to find a fresh haven for me."
"But where?" asked Arthur.
"I'm not sure just yet," said the boy. "I think that we'd better go to London first, and work all that out. That is where you came from, after all, isn't it? Having a couple of its gargoyles with you and all?"
"So you know about our clan?" asked Griff of Merlin.
"This is Merlin that you're talking to," said Emrys, smiling. "I know all about the country estate. I haven't visited it in quite a while, though. Actually, I haven't seen too many gargoyles for a long while. The last time that I can think of was about 1000 years ago, back in Scotland. I stopped by one of the castles disguised as a minstrel and had a run in with the local clan." A wry grin appeared on his face. "But that's another story."
"So you're coming back with us?" asked Arthur hopefully.
"I might as well," said Emrys, with a shrug. "I've nothing else to do. And I'd be glad to meet this clan at London too - just so long as its members don't have names like 'Piccadilly Circus', 'Trafalgar Square' or 'Fleet Street.' And you probably need me now, Arthur. You were awakened prematurely, granted, but - I guess that you'll be wanting my services. There is a lot to do ahead."
"Anything to do with your father?" asked Griff.
"I'm afraid so," said Merlin. "The time of the Rising draws near. Don't ask me how I know; I just know. Oberon has already called the Gathering on Avalon, and his Children must remain on that enchanted isle for a long while, unless he gives them leave to depart. Which he won't do that often, knowing him. The Unseelie Court will be forged anew, and Madoc will renew his old war. And it'll be up to us - and others - to stop him. Oberon can't risk another direct confrontation. Not after what happened last time. It falls to the mortals now to hold the darkness back - and to a few halflings, too. Such as myself."
"I take it, then, that Britain does need me after all," said Arthur.
Merlin nodded. "Not just Britain, but the world." His brow furrowed with concentration. "Maybe you weren't awakened so far ahead of time," he said. "It's hard to say. Prophecies can be so tricky. Believe me, I should know. And the Unseelie Court isn't the half of it, either. Assuming we survive it, there's still the business of what lies ahead after that. Such as the Holy Grail."
"The Grail?" asked Arthur.
"It's still out there, too," said Merlin. "And you may have to do something about it as well. Another quest, most likely. Though it won't be easy. The whereabouts of the Holy Grail is one of the great mysteries of the world. That and why it's called cargo when it's sent by ship, and shipment when it's sent by car. Believe me, I'm still trying to figure that one out." He shook his head. "There I go, acting like Cousin Puck again," he said ruefully. "Sometimes I've got more trickster blood than I think is good for me. I certainly can't imagine where I got it from. All my fay blood is from my da, and we've seen that he doesn't have that much of a sense of humor."
He looked about him. "I really don't want to have to leave this place. Oh well, I've had several homes. One more won't hurt anything. And I am itching to see London a little. It's been a while since I last was there. I could always do a little sight-seeing."
Arthur turned to Griff. "He may be right, my friend," he said to the griffon-like gargoyle. "It seems that our quest is over."
"You could be right, Arthur," said Griff, nodding. He and the king glanced at Emrys, who was scratching Cavall by the ears, the gargoyle beast clearly enjoying the attention.
"Or then again," Arthur continued thoughtfully, "it may have just begun."