DISCLAIMER: All Gargoyles characters are the property of Walt
Disney and Buena Vista Television, and are used without their consent.
This story is not being written for profit, but merely to continue an undeveloped
plot-arc in the series.
"Previously, on Pendragon" (King
Arthur Pendragon, once High King of Britain, stood looking at the distant rocky crag, upon which the ruins of Tintagel Castle still clung. He could hear the roar of the Cornish sea about its sides, and felt the sea-breeze as it ruffled his brown hair and tugged at his dark overcoat.
"So that's the place where you were born," said Griff, walking up beside him, Cavall not far behind.
"Well, begotten, not born," said Arthur. "I was actually born in Uther Pendragon's Roman palace in London. I understand from what I've heard that it's a common mistake."
"Are we looking for Merlin here?", asked Griff. "It seems a fitting place for him."
"True," said Arthur thoughtfully, "but I'm afraid that we're not. We came here for a different purpose."
"And what's that, Your Majesty?", the griffon-like gargoyle asked.
"To revisit my past," said Arthur. "That's what Nimue advised me to do at Broceliande, remember. Tintagel and I go back a long way. And not all the memories are good ones, I fear."
"What do you mean?", asked Griff.
Arthur was silent for a moment, his grave blue eyes troubled as he absently scratched Cavall behind the ears. "My father Uther was not a man to be proud of. He had been decent enough when he was still heir to his older brother, Ambrosius. But raising him to the High Kingship changed him - or maybe revealed something about him that he had kept previously hidden. He turned into a harsh ruler, almost a tyrant. Oh, he did do some good things. He held the Saxons and Angles and Picts at bay, he kept the peace in Britain, he continued to repair the roads and towns that had been damaged in the wars with the invaders. But he was ruled by his appetites and his whims, not by justice or reason. And trouble often came of it.
"And worst of all was the trouble that came when he wanted the wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, the Lady Igraine the Fair. It caused a civil war between Cornwall and the rest of Britain. And that war had particularly fateful consequences for me...."
CORNWALL - THE LATE 5TH CENTURY A.D.
"All that I can say is that he's been in a foul mood all week," said Sir Ulfius of Ridcaradoch, Lord Marshal of Britain, as he and Merlin approached Uther Pendragon's royal pavilion. "The siege has not been going well, and he's getting testy. Testier than usual, in fact."
Merlin nodded. "I had been hoping that Uther would be a responsible High King, like his brother," he said. "It seems that I was wrong."
"Only too wrong," said Ulfius grimly. "This is madness, Merlin, madness! Duke Gorlois was always one of the staunchest and most loyal vassals of the High King! He fought valiantly at the Battle of Conisburgh. It was his counsel led to Octa and Eosa's defeat at Mount Damen. And when Ambrosius and Uther first landed at Totnes, in fact, Gorlois was there to greet them, and at once swore his oath of fealty to them and became their man. He's done so much to help us hold Britain from all its foes - and this is how Uther repays him. Invading Cornwall, burning its fields and villages, slaughtering its people, besieging or reducing its castles - and all because he wants the Duke's wife! I tell you, he's lost his wits!"
Merlin sighed unhappily, as he glanced for a moment at the castle of Dimilioc, surrounded by the tents and siege engines of Uther's army. Within its stern grey walls, Duke Gorlois and his garrison were resisting the High King's assaults - had done so for a week. And so far, had managed to turn back every attack, had even made a few sorties and set fire to Uther's catapults and battering rams. Yet Uther continued the siege, with utter pointlessness, for the Lady Igraine, his real goal, was not in Dimilioc at all. She was in the castle of Tintagel, Gorlois's strongest fortress. A keep that three men could hold against an army. So even if Uther could sack Dimilioc - which seemed highly unlikely - he would be no nearer to gaining Igraine than before.
"I wish that I had seen this coming," he said. "Perhaps I could have averted it. Distracted Uther from the lady, somehow."
"Well, it's too late for that now," said Ulfius. "I've summoned you because I was hoping that you could speak some sense to Uther. Cure him of his irresponsible lust, before he endangers the entire kingdom. We've already imperilled ourselves in mistreating Gorlois thus - and what happens when the Saxons in the east learn of the civil war, and think that the way is free for them to attack Britain once more?"
"I hope that I can reason with him," said Merlin. "But I can't promise anything. There are many forces too strong for reason to vanquish - and I fear that Uther's desire is one of them."
They entered the pavilion as Merlin spoke. Uther Pendragon was seated at his desk, examining a rough map of Dimilioc and its immediate surroundings with a sour look on his face. He looked up at the two arrivals, glowering at them. Then he saw that one of them was Merlin, and his glare faded, to be replaced with an approving smile.
"About time that you got here, Merlin," he said. "If ever I needed your help, it's now."
"I heard about your war on Duke Gorlois," said Merlin. "And I came to see if I could do something about it."
"Which is what you can do," said Uther. "You're the finest wizard in Britain, Merlin, so do something about Gorlois. Call down enchanted fires to reduce him to ashes. Level the walls of Dimilioc with an earthquake. Turn his knights to stone."
Merlin looked at the High King sharply. "Have you forgotten whom you are speaking to, Uther?", he asked. "I am not some hireling sorcerer raining down death and destruction at a tyrant's whim, without any consideration for the lives thus taken. There are enough of those about in the island; consult one of them if that is what you want. But I'll not assist you in this insane war against a loyal vassal, one who has done a great deal for Britain."
"Loyal vassal?", roared Uther, clenching his fists. "The man left my court without my permission! What sort of loyalty is that?"
"Better than the sort of loyalty that you showed him," Merlin replied. "I know well enough what was going on in your palace in London, when Gorlois and Igraine were present at court. You constantly eyed the lady, and made no effort to conceal your desire from her or her lord. Is it any wonder that the Duke and his wife left your court? What choice did they have, after the unwelcome attention that you showered Igraine with? What king is it who lusts after the wives of his subjects? A tyrant, and not a true king!"
Ulfius stepped away from Merlin a trifle uneasily, as if sensing that the wizard might have gone a little too far with that speech. As for Uther, he was clearly enraged by Merlin's words.
"Be grateful that you are such a mighty wizard, Merlin," he said, his eyes flashing in anger. "Else I would have had you put to the sword for such words. I am High King of Britain. The laws are mine, not yours. Nobody tells me what I may or may not do."
Merlin shook his head worriedly. "'King' is not the word that I would choose to describe you at this moment," he said sadly. "'Tyrant' would be much more fitting."
"And that is your final word on the matter?", asked Uther. "You swore to serve me, Merlin! You made that oath at my coronation, blast you!"
"I consider what I am doing far better service than if I had agreed to assist your lusts," Merlin answered calmly. "Uther, give over this war. You'll do Britain no good thereby, or yourself, for that matter. What would your brother think if he could see you now, destroying his dream?"
"Leave my brother out of this, Merlin!", said Uther sharply. "I am not Ambrosius, and never forget it!"
"I never have," Merlin calmly replied, "and thanks in part to such actions as this. Uther, I cannot and will not countenance such measures as you are currently taking. Believe me, I have a foreboding upon me that a great deal of trouble will come from your lust."
"And that's your final word?", asked Uther. "You'll give me no help at all, Merlin?"
Merlin was silent. He suddenly began to stare up at the roof of the pavilion, as if he could see something there that neither the High King nor Sir Ulfius could. Ulfius looked concernedly at the wizard, then nudged him in the hopes of releasing him from his trance. Merlin didn't seem to notice, however. It was only after a few minutes had passed that he lowered his gaze to meet Uther's face again.
"I will help you," he said gravely, a troubled look in his eyes. "But not to destroy Gorlois or level Dimilioc. I still say that I will not abuse my powers so, and nothing that you can say or do will change my intentions. But I will help you with Igraine."
"And just how do you plan to do that?", asked Uther.
"Tonight, you will ride to Tintagel Castle," said Merlin. "Igraine will receive you there, and there will your longings be satisfied."
"Unlikely," said Uther, with a contemptuous snort. "If there's one thing that I know about Igraine, it's that she's a faithful wife to Gorlois. She'd admit no man to her chamber save only her husband. Truth to tell, she was the one who was discomfited by my attentions to her in London, not the Duke. Doubtless she was the one who talked him into fleeing back to Cornwall, for that matter."
"Yes, what you've said about Igraine is correct, Uther Pendragon," said Merlin. "But tonight it will be different. For when you come to Tintagel, you will take on the likeness of her lord and husband, and she will believe you to be he. I can arrange that, through my arts."
"Indeed?", asked Uther, staring at Merlin with interest.
"A simple illusion," said Merlin. "One that will give you Gorlois's semblance for a few hours. Long enough to deceive Igraine." He spoke the words with an uncomfortable look on his face, as if he was not fully reconciled to this plan of his.
Uther was silent, apparently thinking the matter over. Then he smiled. "Well, Merlin, it seems that you have your uses after all!", he said, actually laughing. "Very well, then, I will do as you have advised."
"For a price," said Merlin, almost at once.
"A price?", asked Uther, looking sharply at Merlin. "And what will you name in return?"
"That if you have a son by Igraine - and trust me, I know that you will - it must be sent away as soon as it is born to be fostered in a household of my choosing," Merlin replied. Noticing Uther's stare of suspicion and consternation, he added, "I'll explain later, but I can assure you that this is for the best. And more for your son's benefit than mine. Are you agreed to this?"
Uther shrugged. "You'll be needing to ask that favor from Duke Gorlois, not myself," he said. "But, I accept."
"Meet me at the edge of the camp near sunset," said Merlin. "And then I will place the shape-shifting spell upon you." And with that, he turned around and left the pavilion. Ulfius followed him.
"Why did you agree to it?", the knight asked the wizard bewilderedly, in a low voice. "I thought that you disapproved of Uther's lusts whole-heartedly."
"I did and I still do," said Merlin. "But I also know the future. And this is something that I have seen. Uther and Igraine are meant to have a son, and this son will be the greatest king that Britain - perhaps even the world - will ever have. I've known about this king for years now - even spoken about him in my prophecies - but now I know who his mother is to be. Uther and Igraine have to come together, and this seems to be the only way to do it." He shook his head and sighed. "I just wish that there was a better way."
"So it's the child that you're interested in," said Ulfius. "I should have known, from the way that you showed so much interest in it when you were making your bargain with Uther. But why have him brought up in secret?"
"You know Uther as well as I do," Merlin replied, looking the knight full in the face. "Better, in fact, for you're at court more often than I am. Now, would you feel safe having Uther shape this child's nature, to mold him?"
Ulfius shook his head. "I see your point, Merlin," he said. "So you wish to have him fostered away from the court, where Uther cannot be a corruptive influence upon his son. Assuming that the son is seen as his and not the Duke's."
"Oh, it will be known to be Uther's," said Merlin. "That I also have foreseen. But you're right, Ulfius. I have to entrust the prince to a nobler family. One that can raise him properly. And that won't be found in Uther's palace. No, it must be a fostering. It's done often enough in Britain anyway, so Uther won't find anything that out of the ordinary about it. And it's not the child that interests him, anyway. It's Igraine."
"But do you consider it safe to send Uther off to Tintagel, even disguised as Gorlois?", asked Ulfius. "If anything there goes wrong - "
"Oh, I won't be sending him off to Tintagel," said Merlin. "I'll be going with him, to keep an eye on things. The Duke would probably have an escort of some sort."
"Then I had better go as well," said Ulfius. "Can you include me in this enterprise, Merlin? I've no more love for it than do you, but somebody has to watch over Uther. And four eyes are better than two."
"By all means, then," said Merlin, smiling. "Meet me at the outskirts of the camp, Ulfius, along with Uther, this evening. And then we'll make our night ride." He looked upwards as he spoke, and then murmured, "And may I be forgiven for what I am about to do," the good cheer gone from his face now.
Morgana looked up at her mother with troubled eyes. She had been unable to sleep that night, and so had come to Igraine's chambers to sit up with her and be comforted.
"Your father will be home soon enough," said Igraine soothingly, stroking her daughter's raven hair. Morgana was the youngest of her three daughters, only eight years old. Morgause and Elaine, the twins, were both fourteen, and soon would be likely to find husbands; both were currently asleep in the sleeping-chamber that they shared with Morgana. They had been troubled about Gorlois's long absence themselves, but not to the level that Morgana was. She was the closest of the three to their father, and always was the first to greet him whenever he returned from the wars, from a hunt, or a visit to the High King's court. And he would sweep her up in his arms like a protector, letting her know that when he was home, she was safe from all the perils that might lurk without the walls. Her guardian against whatever danger might be abroad in Cornwall: wolves or boar, bandits or Irish raiders, faerie-folk or rogue gargoyles or dragons. And with him away, she now felt very much alone.
"But what if he doesn't come back?", asked Morgana, her dark blue eyes starting to show the signs of tears forming in them now. "What if that bad king's killed him?"
"Don't worry about that, child," Igraine told her gently. "Your father's not going to be killed. He'll come home to us. You'll see." But even as she spoke the words, a slight shiver crossed her heart, and she knew deep down inside herself that this was not to be. She felt troubled by the sensation. She had almost forgotten her true nature, the past that she had never shared with her husband, though she had shared all else with him. Vaguely, she wondered what Gorlois would think, if he knew what his wife really was.
From the courtyard without, there was suddenly a horn blast, and the sound of dogs barking. Then, the sound of racing footsteps, and a knocking on the door.
"What is it?", asked Igraine, rising from her chair and gently setting her daughter down.
"My lady," said the steward's voice from outside the door. "Your husband has just arrived. He wishes to be with you."
"My husband?", cried Igraine. "Here? Is the war over, then?"
"Not quite," replied the steward. "But he tells me that he has escaped the besiegers of Dimilioc, and come to visit you, to assure you and your daughters that he is safe and well as yet. He is here even now."
"There, see?", said Igraine, turning to her daughter with a reassuring smile on her face. "Father's come home, just as I told you he would. You've been worried for nothing, Morgana." And so have I, she told herself. These forebodings must be nothing but foolish worries. I've been allowing my fears to get the better of me. It can't possibly be my Sight.
The door opened and her husband came in, a burly grizzled man dressed in riding clothes, the scars of many fierce battles to be seen on his face and arms. "My lady," he said, approaching her, an eager look in his eyes. "It has been a very long time."
"Father!", cried Morgana, rushing towards the duke. Then she stopped short, hesitating. A troubled look passed over her face, and for one moment she seemed about to say something. Then it passed, and she walked up to him. "Is the war over?"
"Not yet," said Gorlois, looking down at her with a slightly bewildered expression in his eyes. Igraine wondered about it briefly, but then put it down to weariness from the siege and the long ride, particularly the climb up the narrow causeway leading to the castle gates. And her imagination playing tricks upon her. "But it will be, I promise."
Morgana frowned, but before she could speak further, Sir Brastias, one of the duke's chief knights, entered the room as well, his helmet tucked in the crook of one arm. He looked down at the child, and patted her on the head with a smile. "You'd best run along to bed now," he said. "It's late. I'm sure that your mother will be able to explain everything to you in he morning."
Morgana stared at Brastias for a moment, uncertainly, but then yawned, suddenly sleepy. She walked out of the room, and Brastias followed her out, a sudden uneasy look on his face which bewildered Igraine. That, and for a moment, she thought that she had sensed something about her husband's knight, something that seemed vaguely familiar but couldn't quite name. More imagination, no doubt.
"Are you well, my lord?", she asked Gorlois.
He nodded. "But tired, so very tired," he said. "Let us to bed straightaway. I have been so long away from you, my love. So very long away."
"And I from you," said Igraine, nodding. And paid no further heed, for the rest of the night, to the forebodings that she had had earlier.
It was different in the morning, however. Only a few hours after Gorlois and his two knights, Brastias and Jordan, had left Tintagel, a weary messenger, his tunic and mail ripped and bloodied and one arm hanging limp by his side, staggered into the castle courtyard, with a demand to speak to the Lady Igraine at once. And when she received him, she heard an alarming story.
Early that night, Duke Gorlois had made a sortie upon the High King's camp, and had been slain in the fighting. With the duke dead, the garrison at Dimilioc had seen no alternative but to surrender to Uther Pendragon. Furthermore, Uther was now on his way to Tintagel, to demand that castle's surrender as well. And it seemed that, with Gorlois gone, there was no other way but to yield up to the victorious High King.
A shadow passed over Igraine's heart, as she heard the messenger's tale. If Gorlois had been killed in the battle, then who was it that had visited her at Tintagel that night? She was about to wonder aloud, when she checked herself. It was too dangerous to speak of these things now, after her husband's death. She would have to remain silent, not breathe a word of the visit to anybody. And hope for an answer to the mystery.
Uther's heralds reached Tintagel not long afterwards, with a message from their master. Uther wanted peace with Cornwall, and chose to bring this about by taking the duke's widow to wife. He was unwed and needed a queen to ensure an heir to the High Kingship; Igraine was now a widow and needed a protector for herself and her daughters. A marriage seemed the best solution. Igraine shuddered within herself at the thought of this, for she could easily guess that Uther's real motives for this request were quite different. But what choice did she have? She surrendered the castle to him, and agreed, though not without a heavy heart, to be his queen.
Morgause and Elaine were shocked enough by the news, but Morgana was devastated. She spoke to nobody for a week, and spent all her time by herself, sobbing uncontrollably. Her grief was the strongest when Gorlois's body was brought back to Tintagel to be buried in the castle chapel, and she fell upon it as it lay in state, weeping without a single word. Igraine tried to do everything that she could to comfort her child, but could think of nothing. And only a week later, she and her daughters had to bid Tintagel farewell, and follow Uther to London, for the royal wedding to take place.
LONDON - THREE MONTHS LATER.
"But why do I have to go to Amesbury, mother?"
Igraine sadly looked down at Morgana's upset face. "Your stepfather feels that you need to be put to school there," she said, as gently as she could. "Believe me, he only wants to help you."
"No, he doesn't," retorted Morgana bitterly. "He hates me. Just like he hates my sisters. That's why he sent them away."
Igraine shook her head sadly. Her daughter did have a point, she had to admit to herself. Just after the wedding, Uther had sent Morgause and Elaine off to the northern reaches of Britain, with almost unceremonious haste, to be married to King Lot of Lothian and King Nentres of Garlot. They were of age to be wed, it was true, but Igraine had still felt uncomfortable with the way that her new husband had done it. Almost as if he was anxious to get both stepdaughters out of his sight. Certainly his announcement, just one day after both of the girls had left the city, that he wanted Morgana sent off to the nunnery at Amesbury for schooling, until she was old enough to be married off to another one of his vassals, made his feelings on the matter of her children plain enough. Whatever he felt for her, he had nothing but a strong dislike for her daughters, and was all too anxious to have them as far away from him as possible.
There was only one child of hers that he seemed to show any fondness of, in fact, and that was the one growing in her womb. The one that must surely have been begotten that night in Tintagel that she received her visitor, the one who looked like Duke Gorlois but was not he. Uther seemed certain enough that the child was his, but Igraine feared that it was otherwise. Only by magic could anyone have impersonated her late husband so perfectly, and it was obvious enough to her what manner of being was most likely to have done it. Maybe even one of the Banished Ones. Not for the first time, she wondered just what manner of being her fourth child would be. She hurriedly put such thoughts aside, and turned her attention back to Morgana.
"You'll see your sisters again some time, I'm certain," she said. "Maybe they'll come back to court for the Christmas feast. Maybe you'll come back from Amesbury for the festivities as well."
"No," said Morgana. "King Uther doesn't want us around. He wants us out of the way. That's what he's doing."
Igraine sighed. "Maybe," she said. "But he is the High King of Britain, after all. What can we do about it?"
Morgana simply scowled. "His men killed Father," she said. "He sent Elaine and Morgause away. He's locking me up at Amesbury. It isn't fair. He's a bad man."
Igraine wondered what to say to her daughter, but before she could think of anything, the door opened, and Merlin entered. "My lady," he said to her with a bow. "Might I speak with you for a moment? Alone?" His eyes fell concernedly on her daughter as he spoke, as if to say that he did not wish to talk to Igraine in Morgana's presence.
Igraine frowned at this, but nodded. "Run along now, Morgana," she said gently. "I'll talk to you later, after Merlin's left."
Morgana did not seem too happy about this, but she left the room. When she was gone, Igraine looked firmly at her visitor. "What business have you with me, Merlin?", she asked him.
"Serious business, I fear, Your Highness," said Merlin. He seemed extremely uncomforable, and fidgeted with the oaken staff that he carried, and with his long greying beard. "I hardly know where to begin."
"Tell me, anyway," said Igraine. She did not know what to make of the wizard as yet. She barely knew Merlin, although she had heard much about him. Of all the advice that he had given Uther Pendragon, and Ambrosius Aurelianus before him. Of his magical knowledge and his prophecies of the future. And of all the rumors over who his father was. She had heard those tales in particular, and had her own suspicions as to just whose son Merlin was, though she never spoke them aloud. She kept her own counsel about Merlin, just as she did about a great many matters.
"It's about your child," said Merlin, after a moment's hesitation. "The one that you will give birth to in six months time. I must tell you about its father."
"And how do you know that?", Igraine asked, looking at him suspiciously.
"I will explain in a moment, my lady," Merlin answered. "Now, on the night that your husband was slain at Dimilioc, you were visited by a man who could have been his very twin, so much alike was he in form. Am I correct?"
Igraine stared at him, now almost shocked. "You know of this?", she gasped, once she had found her breath. "But I told nobody."
"Well, that wouldn't do much good, I fear," said Merlin. "There were other folk at Tintagel besides yourself who had seen him. The guards who admitted him into the castle. The stable boys who took care of his horse, and those of his attendants. The steward who welcomed him. Trust me, my lady, you were not the only one who knew the secret. You did what you could, but there was no way that you could keep it private. But it was not from any member of your old household that I learned of this."
"And if you know who my visitor was, perhaps you could name him," said Igraine. "Merlin, I must know who he was."
Merlin bowed his head before speaking. "Your husband, my lady," he said at last. "Your new husband."
Igraine stared at him, too shocked to speak. The wizard sighed unhappily, and continued.
"Uther was disguised by one of my own spells," he said. "He took on the likeness of Duke Gorlois to such an extent that you were deceived. It was Uther Pendragon that you took to your bed, and who fathered your child."
Igraine continued to stare at him, not uttering a word. Merlin flinched from her gaze guiltily, and it was a few minutes before he spoke again.
"Believe me, I would rather not have taken part in this whole sorry affair," he said. "I never wished to carry out this cruel deception upon you. If I had not foreseen that you and Uther were meant to have a son, a son who will someday do great things, I would never have done this deed. And even doing it, I did not carry it out lightly."
"Why are you telling me this?", Igraine asked him, speaking at last.
"Because I could not leave you in the dark any longer," said Merlin, his head bowed. "And because I felt the need to confess what I had done to you. To ask you for forgiveness."
"And why should I forgive you?", asked Igraine sharply. "Why should I forgive you for this act of yours? Answer me, Merlin!"
Merlin made no reply. He looked down at the tiled floor, almost helplessly.
"Do you realize what I suffered, when I realized that the man who visited me that night could not have been my husband?", she cried. "Do you have any idea how often I feared that he was not a man at all, but something else? That I feared that my child to come had no human blood in him at all?" She stopped short just then, realizing that that last cry of hers had revealed too much. But Merlin looked up and nodded.
"You have betrayed no secret to me, my lady," he said gently. "I've long known that you are no daughter of the race of men, Lady Igraine. You are one of Oberon's Children, fully of the faerie-folk by birth, who merely chooses to masquerade as a mortal."
"And for too long, as well!", said Igraine bitterly. "So long that my skills must have rusted for lack of use, or I should have pierced the false semblance that you placed upon King Uther, and seen him for what he truly was! I should have returned to Avalon years ago! Then none of this would have happened! But I lingered in the human world unwisely, and now this tragedy has befallen me! And a tragedy that was partly of your making, Merlin Ambrosius!" She transfixed him with a cold stare from her ice-blue eyes.
"I am sorry, my lady," said Merlin, stepping back. "How many times must I say it?"
"More times than there have been days since the world began, before I can even begin to forgive you," said Igraine. "You helped Uther achieve his lust, helped him have his way with me! You ill-used me, Merlin! That scheme was worthy of your father, if ever any scheme was!" Seeing the look of shock on the wizard's face, she added, "Oh, I know your secret as well as you know mine. Half of Britain says that your father was a demon, and they are not far from the truth. I know you well enough, as son to one of the Banished Ones. The traitors whom Lord Oberon expelled from Avalon for eternity! Do you realize that I feared for a time that my visitor was one of them? Do you realize what torture you put me through?"
"Believe me, my lady," said Merlin sadly, "I regret very much what I have done to you. If there is any way that I can make amends to you, any way that I may help you - "
"I need no help from you, Merlin," she replied. "And if our paths never cross again, I will not weep. You aided in my betrayal, Merlin; you tell me that you regret that, but you helped it just the same. And I hope - no, I pray - that someday you yourself will be betrayed by a woman, in payment for how you betrayed one!"
Merlin looked at her helplessly, almost pleadingly. Then he turned and walked out of the room, without a word. Igraine bowed her head in silence herself, and did not watch him leave. A single tear fell from her eyes and fell upon her lap.
As Merlin walked silently down the corridor, Morgana watched him from the shadows where she had been hiding, listening intently to his interview with her mother. Her dark blue eyes stared after him with silent hatred, and her small hands clenched themselves. A slight hiss escaped her lips, like that of a serpent or of an angry cat. Only when he had turned a corner in the hallway and disappeared from her sight did she turn and walk away to her room.
"It was shortly after that that Merlin made arrangements for my fostering, and which of the lords was to bring me up," said Arthur, looking at the ruins of Tintagel Castle rather than at Griff with an unhappy sigh. "And when I was born, he had me taken to that lord's castle, to be raised far away from the court. Neither Uther nor Igraine saw me again.
"And now you know why Tintagel gives me such pain, Sir Griff. It reminds me of the shame upon my house. I was begotten by a lustful king upon a cruelly deceived woman, rather than in proper loving bonds of husband and wife. The guilt has clung to me ever since I learned the tale of my birth, and I have never been able to shake it off from my shoulders. I know that it is not truly my guilt, but it feels as though it were."
Griff was silent for a moment, while Cavall looked up at his royal master, obviously not understanding what Arthur had said, but sensing his mood. "I - I don't know what to say, Your Majesty," he finally said. "That is one story that I certainly had not known."
Arthur nodded. "I only came here once in my life. I was visiting Gorlois's cousin Mark, who ruled in Cornwall after the Duke's death. It was not a pleasant stay, and while I can blame Mark for much of it - he was ever a poor host, and had small love for me - much of it was the shame that I felt at the deception that Uther practiced upon my mother. It casts a shadow over me to this very day."
Griff was silent for a moment. In the east, the sky slowly lightened. At last, Arthur spoke.
"It'll be day soon," he said. "Are you certain that you and Cavall will be safe here in your stone sleep?"
"This seems pretty much an out-of-the way spot," Griff replied. "I don't think that there'll be too many people coming by, Arthur."
"Very well, then," said Arthur. "I'll go to explore the town and the ruins of the castle. And I'll rejoin you after sunset. Sleep well, both of you." He patted Cavall on the head as he spoke.
Moments later, the two gargoyles solidified into stone with the usual grinding sound, having time enough to adopt their usual fearsome-looking poses before petrifying. And Arthur walked down the hill towards the small town outside the castle.
In the ruins of the castle, a solitary figure stood, gazing down at the ground in silence. A figure cloaked and hooded in black, its face shrouded by shadow. Standing motionless, and unstirred by the wind that blew through the shattered walls of Tintagel.
"He's come back," the figure finally said, in a low voice, speaking to the ground, or perhaps to something beneath it. "He's finally come back. And now, the wrongs that his family did to you - to us - will be avenged."
Arthur Pendragon had seen many wonders in his time. An arm rising from a lake, clasping a splendid sword by the hilt. Giants, dragons, the monstrous boar Troit, the bizarre Questing Beast that bayed like sixty hounds wherever it roamed. The enchantments of Merlin and of other wizards and sorceresses. Even a vision of the Holy Grail, hovering over the Round Table one Pentecost night. But none of these had filled him with such amazement as did the village of Tintagel.
The thing that caught his eye was his name. It seemed to be everywhere, in nearly every institution that this town had to offer. There was a King Arthur Car Park, a King Arthur Hotel, a King Arthur Bookstore, and much more. There was even a Merlin's Tea Shop, indicating that his old tutor and friend had clearly not been forgotten here. And all manner of mementoes of his reign, most of which somehow struck him as somewhat tawdry. Particularly when he spotted, just outside the King Arthur Bookstore, a small basket filled with plastic swords, billed as representations of Excalibur. Arthur shook his head, uncertain whether to feel offended or amused. His name here had practically become a - what had Macbeth said the word was again? - franchise.
Well, the first thing to do was to start looking around for some sort of information. He decided to start at the bookstore. It seemed certainly the most promising place to find anything useful to help him in his search. He opened the door and stepped inside.
Even after what Macbeth had told him about his reputation in the 20th century, he had hardly been expecting the wealth of books about him and his knights to be found inside. Books written by people with such names as Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Sir Thomas Malory, Alfred Lord Tennyson, T. H. White, Mary Stewart, and many more besides. And not books alone. There were also reproductions of paintings of scenes from his life on display here. Arthur stopped to look at a picture of himself as a youth, drawing the sword from the stone.
Now that, he had to admit to himself, took him back. The painting wasn't particularly accurate in its depiction, but it still was enough to trigger old memories, memories of the day when, as boy of fifteen, he had his first encounter with the sword Excalibur. The encounter that changed his entire life....
LONDON - THE LATE 5TH CENTURY A.D.
"Arthur! Blast you, Arthur, where are you? You're never around when I need you!"
"Coming, Kay!", called Arthur, answering his older brother's summons. He raced across the snow-covered field to where Kay was waiting impatiently for him, as yet unmounted but standing by his caparisoned charger. Already armed and helmed, with his jousting lance in one hand, his shield in the other.
"Well, it took you long enough, Arthur," said Kay sourly. "Of all the squires that I could have had, I had to be burdened with you, little brother. Always dawdling or losing things. Like my sword."
"Your sword?", Arthur asked.
"Yes," said Kay sharply, pointing to his belt. "Do you see anything there, Arthur? Or rather, anything not there? My sword is missing. Go back to the inn and fetch it for me, straightaway! This is my first tournament, and I don't want to appear for the jousting without a sword! I'd be mocked at by all the other knights! Run back and find it, quickly!"
"Yes, Kay!", said Arthur at once. And he turned around and raced for his horse, to ride back into the town and to the inn where his family was lodged.
He wasn't sure just how it was that he had forgotten about Kay's sword - assuming, of course, that he was the culprit, rather than his brother. Kay was often losing things, and blaming them on Arthur - he'd been that way for years. But on this occasion, it was easy to understand how the sword had gotten overlooked. It was one of the biggest tournaments ever held in Britain, a match in the fields outside London on New Year's Day. Great kings and lords from all over the island were present: King Lot of Lothian and Orkney, King Urien of Rheged, King Nentres of Garlot, King Leodegrance of Cameliard, King Mark of Cornwall, and more. There were even royal guests from Gaul, such as King Hoel of Brittany and King Ban of Benwick. Sir Ulfius, the Lord Marshal of Britain and the closest thing to a Regent since Uther Pendragon's death half a year ago, was himself officiating. It would probably be the most splendid jousting that the island had ever seen.
And, as if that was not enough, it was Arthur's first time in London. All his life until now, he had lived on the manor of his father Sir Ector, and never once strayed off it. He had never seen London, only heard of it from travellers staying in his father's hall, or from his Roman tutor Falco. All the stories had assured him that it was now past its prime, a city slowly falling into decay and desertion as the Saxons drew nearer, but still a marvellous sight to behold. He could hardly believe his good fortune when Sir Ector had told the family that they were going to London for the New Year's Day tournament, to be Kay's first joust. In fact, for the next week, he had been almost unable to sleep, so eager was he.
And London had not disappointed him. Later, he would notice how there were houses that stood empty, streets whose paving-stones were chipped or missing, with weeds starting to sprout in the cracks. But for now, it was the wonders that he thought of. The great walls that encircled the city, built by the Romans themselves, crowned with proud battlements. The castle known as the Tower of London, said to have been built by Julius Caesar himself and standing upon the White Hill by the river Thames. And St. Paul's Church, the most splendid church in Britain, in whose yard stood a great block of stone with a sword thrust into it. Arthur had wondered, when he had first passed by on his exploration of the city, what the significance of this sight was, but he had never gotten around to asking anybody. He was still wondering, but now was not the time to muse upon such a subject.
Given the general excitement that not only he, but all his family had felt, Arthur supposed that it was not too surprising that they should have all forgotten Kay's sword that morning. Well, nothing to do but go back to the inn and fetch it. He mounted up on his horse, Llamrei, and galloped off.
Several minutes later, he was struggling with the door to the inn, and muttering words that his lady mother would not have wanted him to use under his breath as he did so. Locked. The innkeeper and all of his staff must have left to see the jousting. In fact, everybody in London must have done so, for the streets were deserted, even of beggars and pickpockets. The only living things that he had seen since passing through the town gates were a few stray hounds and some pigeons.
Arthur considered forcing the door open, but then decided against it. The innkeeper would not be amused at such a form of entry. No, he would not be able to find a sword for his brother inside. He'd have to look elsewhere.
As he remounted Llamrei and rode back towards the city gates, he suddenly halted. An idea had suddenly occurred to him. A desperate one, and he wasn't certain that his parents would ever have approved of it. But - why not go to the churchyard of St. Paul's and try seeing if he could pull the sword out of the stone there? He wasn't certain that he could work it out of the stone, but he had to try, and it certainly wasn't doing anybody any good where it was. He could always return it once Kay was done with it and the tournament over.
The more that he thought about it, in fact, the more he liked it. He turned Llamrei about and rode for the church.
A few minutes later, he dismounted outside the churchyard, opened the gate, and walked up the snow-covered path leading to the church door. Before him stood the large stone block, dusted with snow itself, and the sword itself thrust into it. Arthur reached out one hand, and took it by the hilt. One gentle tug, and it was free from the stone.
"There, now," he said to himself, as he walked back to where Llamrei was waiting for him. "That was easy enough. Pity that there's no scabbard with it, but I suppose that Kay can manage." And with that, he was riding back for the tournament. "I hope that I haven't missed anything," he said to himself.
A few minutes later...
"This is not my sword!", cried Kay indignantly, looking over the weapon that Arthur had presented to him.
"Sorry," said Arthur. "The inn was locked up and I couldn't get inside. But I found a sword thrust into a stone at St. Paul's, and pulled it out instead. I'll bring it back afterwards, once you've finished with it."
Kay glared at his younger brother for a moment, then turned
the sword over in his hands. "A fine substitute," he said,
grumbling. "The hilt doesn't sit comfortably in my hand. And
you could have found a sheath for it. Well, I suppose that it
will have to - ". He broke off suddenly, looking at it much more
closely. "You found it at St.
Paul's?", he asked.
Arthur nodded. "Does it make any difference?", he asked.
There was a moment's silence. "No," said Kay at last. "No, it doesn't. Yes, I believe that it will do quite nicely. And now if you don't mind, I have to see my father before the tournament begins. I - uh, want to tell him about this carelessness of yours. As my squire, it's your duty to make certain that I have all my gear with me before we leave for the jousing field." And with that, he walked off.
"What was all that about, Arthur?"
Arthur turned around, to see his cousin Bedivere standing there, staring off after Kay. Bedivere was a couple of years younger than Arthur, an ordinary-looking lad except for a stump where his left hand should have been, lost in a Yuletide boar hunt three years ago. Bedivere had joined his uncle's family two years before that, when the rest of his family had been slaughtered by Saxon raiders that had sacked their manor and he alone escaped. He got along quite well with Arthur, and the two, in fact, felt more like brothers than like cousins. And like Arthur, Bedivere considered Kay a person whom muteness could only improve, especially since he had been subjected to tongue lashings from Ector's older son many times since he had first come to stay.
Arthur briefly explained the incident to him, Bedivere's eyes widening as he listened. "You took a sword from a churchyard? Arthur, have you lost your wits? Isn't that like stealing from a church?"
"It isn't stealing," said Arthur firmly. "I'm returning it afterwards, I said. And besides, it was only in the churchyard, not the church itself."
"That still counts as robbing a church, I'm sure," said Bedivere uneasily. "I hope that the bishop never finds out about this. Else you could be staring an excommunication in the face before Twelfth Night."
"It won't happen, Bedivere," said Arthur, shrugging it off. But he was unable to continue further, for Kay rejoined them just then, still carrying the sword, Sir Ector following close behind.
"Arthur?", asked Sir Ector, looking down at his younger son and his nephew. "Bedivere?"
"Yes, father?", Arthur asked.
"Kay has been telling me a very strange tale," said Ector, a stern look on his face. "A tale involving a certain sword thrust into a stone in the churchyard of St. Paul's."
"Now it's trouble," said Bedivere in a low voice. "I told you that you were in for it, Arthur."
Arthur looked up at his father, and played down the rising panic that he was starting to feel. Surely Kay hadn't told him all about this business of taking the sword! And even if he had, surely Ector would understand! It had been an emergency, after all. But he calmly stood where he was, and said nothing. Running orfeigning ignorance wouldn't help anything.
"Kay tells me that he pulled this sword out of the stone that I mentioned," said Ector. "And that this thereby makes him the new High King of all Britain."
"What?", both Arthur and Bedivere gasped in unison. They stared at a smug-looking Kay, their eyes looking about ready to fly out from their sockets. This was something that neither of them had been expecting in the least. At last, Bedivere was able to find more words to say.
"What does that have to do with being king, uncle?", he asked.
"Much," Sir Ector replied. "Let us all go back to the churchyard, first. All of us," he added, his eyes looking Arthur firmly in the face. And Kay suddenly appeared to be a trifle uneasy.
Arthur and Bedivere looked at each other, and then shrugged. There seemed to be nothing for it but to accompany Ector and Kay back to London, and to St. Paul's. So, without saying a word, they followed them back to the churchyard. Behind them, the trumpets blared to mark the beginning of the tournament, and the crowds cheered as the first two knights entered the lists and rode at each other, lances at the ready. But all that would have to wait until later, as far as Arthur and his family were concerned.
In the churchyard, Ector motioned to Kay, who handed him the sword. Ector, in turn, handed it to Arthur. "Place it back in the stone," he said.
Without a word, Arthur did so. The stone had a small slit in it into which the sword fitted very nicely. Ector turned to Kay. "Now, try to pull it out," he said to his older son.
"Pull it out?", began Kay. "But father, I've already done that!"
"Then you can do it again," Sir Ector calmly said. "With all three of us watching."
Kay sighed, and grabbed hold of the hilt with both hands. He tugged on it until his face had turned red, but not one inch did the sword budge. At last he had to let go, rubbing his hands together painfully.
"Now you make the attempt, Arthur," said Ector, turning to his younger son.
Arthur closed one hand around the hilt, and gave a slight tug. The sword flew free from the stone as easily as if it had been from a scabbard, its blade gleaming in the winter sunlight. It had hardly needed any effort on his part to draw it out, just as before. Arthur looked at the magnificent sword for a moment, then back at his father. Whom, he saw to his amazement, was now kneeling before him, a look of awe on his face. Ector motioned to Kay and Bedivere, who also, after a moment's hesitation, went down on their knees.
"Father, what are you doing?", cried Arthur at last. "Why do you kneel to me?"
"Because I am not your father, Arthur," said Sir Ector, in a low voice. "Nor is Kay your brother. You come from higher blood than do any of us here."
"What - what do you mean?", asked Arthur. "Of course you're my father! You are my father, aren't you?", he added, his voice wavering. "Please say that you are!"
"I can't," said Sir Ector. "I can't, my lord. That would be an untruth. You were only my foster-son. I raised you at your true father's command, pretending that you were my own offspring, until the day came that your true heritage revealed itself."
"My true father?", asked Arthur. "What do you mean?"
Ector was silent for a moment, before he spoke. "Your true father was Uther Pendragon, late High King of Britain. And your mother was his queen, the Lady Igraine the Fair of Cornwall. You were merely nurtured in my household. But your true blood has shown itself now." He arose slowly, and walked over to the stone. He brushed off the snow that covered it. "Read what is written here," he said.
Arthur, still stunned at the revelation that he had just received, looked down upon the stone's surface. And there, in gold letters that blazed forth as if they had been inscribed with fire, were these words: WHOSO PULLETH THIS SWORD OUT OF THIS STONE IS RIGHTWISE KING BORN OF ALL BRITAIN.
"You are High King of Britain now, Arthur," said Sir Ector. "Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther."
"But - but it can't be!", Arthur protested, finally finding his voice. "I can't be Uther's son! Can I?"
"Indeed you can, and you are," said a familiar voice, almost at his elbow. Arthur swung around, to see his tutor Falco standing there, dressed in his usual flowing robes and mantle, his long grey beard curling its way down to his belt. "I'd be careful swinging that thing, if I were you, Arthur", he said, pointing to the sword, which Arthur had forgotten he held in his hands. "You wouldn't want to cause your teacher an accident now, would you?"
"Falco?", asked Arthur, staring at his teacher. "What are you doing here? I thought that you were back at Father's castle."
"Falco no more, Arthur," the old man replied, with a smile. "Now that you've pulled the sword from the stone, and revealed your true nature, you should learn mine. I am really Merlin Ambrosius, once chief advisor to your father Uther Pendragon, and your uncle Ambrosius Aurelianus."
"Merlin?", gasped Arthur, taking a step backwards. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that Kay and Bedivere were looking equally dumbfounded. But not Sir Ector. The way that he so calmly received Merlin's revelation of himself was enough to indicate - . "You knew all this time, Father?", cried the youth.
Sir Ector nodded. "Only I knew Falco's true name, Arthur," he said. "I had to, since I was part of the plan to have you secretly nourished. But nobody else could know. It would have raised too many questions had the son of a minor baron received tutoring from Merlin, great mage and advisor to kings, himself."
"This is all too much for me," said Arthur, swallowing hard. "Why is this happening, anyway?"
"Because you are the true and rightful High King of Britain," Merlin replied. "Excalibur has demonstrated it."
"Excalibur?", asked Arthur, looking at the wizard blankly.
"The sword that you have in your hands," said Merlin. "The finest sword ever made, wrought in the smithy of the mystic isle of Avalon. Its name means 'Cut Steel' in the tongue of the Third Race, and that is precisely what it does. It can cut through even the best armor forged by human smiths as easily as a normal sword cleaves through cloth. Excalibur was made for you, and has been waiting for you for centuries."
"But why me?", asked Arthur, looking at the sword in his hands now. "Why was it meant for me?"
"Because you need it," said Merlin. "Arthur, I can tell you this. You are meant to be the greatest king that this land has ever known, or will ever know. And you will have many perils to face, many foes to defeat. Excalibur was made for you that you might be able to overcome and vanquish them. Already it has revealed your true lineage. By drawing it forth from the stone, you have declared yourself the rightful heir to Uther's throne."
Arthur looked down at the sword in his hands again, then at Falco - no, Merlin - then at Ector, Kay, and Bedivere. At last, he found his voice. "I'll need time to think about this, Merlin. A lot of time."
"But not too much," said Merlin. "We have to announce you now to Sir Ulfius, and to the great lords of the kingdom. We have to let them know that there is a High King in Britain once more."
Arthur turned to Sir Ector, and issued the first command of his reign. "Fa - Sir Ector, I pray you to return to the tournament and tell the kings and lords there what had taken place. And take Kay and Bedivere with you, I ask as well. I would be alone with Merlin."
"As you bid me, my liege," said Ector, with a bow. And he left the churchyard, Kay and Bedivere following him without a further word. Arthur watched them depart, then turned back to Merlin.
"So Uther Pendragon is my true father?", he asked the wizard uneasily.
Merlin nodded silently.
"And Igraine is my mother? I can't speak with him, I know, but I can at least speak with her, surely?"
Merlin shook his head. "She's gone home, Arthur," he said. "I'll explain how, another time. But you won't find her anywhere in Britain. She wants nothing more to do with it." He sighed. "Not too great a surprise, in truth," he added. "Uther treated her ill, by parting her from her children, so soon after he wed her, and she already a newly-made widow. And much of that partly my fault."
"I've heard much about Uther Pendragon myself,:" said Arthur. "And I never liked what I heard." And then, the fear that had arisen in his heart the moment that he had learned his father's true name burst from his lips. "Merlin, will I be like my father? Another tyrant? Will I become like him, because I am his son?"
A troubled look passed over Merlin's face, and he was silent for a moment before speaking. "I hope not," he said, in a low voice. "I truly hope not."
Then the uncomfortable moment passed. "But that's not likely," he said. "Sir Ector gave you a good upbringing, Arthur, and taught you to distinguish right from wrong. I feel certain that you will be a better king than your father ever was. A king who will rule with justice and compassion, rather than with the sword. So there's nothing to fear from that quarter."
He smiled. "Now come, Arthur. You have your people to meet." And he led the youth from the churchyard.
Arthur turned his head away from the picture, returned to the 20th century and the bookstore in which he was standing. The memory had been a strong one, of the day in which he first found himself High King of Britain.
Well, not entirely. Not all of the lords, he recalled, had been willing to accept him. A few had, such as Leodegrance of Cameliard, and Sir Ulfius had certainly given him his vote of confidence. But most of the under-kings had followed King Lot of Lothian and Orkney, and protested that a beardless boy of fifteen be raised to the High Kingship. They demanded that they all attempt the sword first, before accepting him. And even when Arthur proved the only one who could pull Excalibur from the stone, they demanded a further trial, on Candlemas. And on Easter, after that. And then on Pentecost.
But each time, Arthur had been the only person who could pull Excalibur out of the stone. And in the end, most of the grumblers had been forced to yield. Lot would not, and left the city with Urien and Nentres and a few other kinglets. But the other lords gave him their oaths of allegiance, and he was crowned High King of Britain in St. Paul's.
He had forgiven Kay for his deception, for that matter. Nuisance his foster-brother might be, but he had seen his error and accepted Arthur as High King. And he was a very orderly and efficient man, too. Arthur appointed him as seneschal, a position which Kay filled at court to the end of his days. However, his chief appointment was that of Merlin. He declared the wizard his primary advisor, and an honored member of his court henceforth. And in the years to come, he had good reason to be glad of that decision, for Merlin's instruction and aid in those early years of his reign had always been valuable.
"May I help you, sir?", asked a woman. Arthur turned around, to see that one of the sales clerks was speaking to him.
"Ah, yes," he said. "Do you have anything on Merlin, ma'am?"
"Quite a bit, sir, " she replied, and showed him to a few shelves. "You'll find several books on him here, sir."
Arthur thanked her and scanned the titles. Most of them were apparently works of fiction, such as a trilogy by a woman named Mary Stewart, but he found one title that seemed promising. "The Quest for Merlin", a hard-bound book, quite sturdy-looking. He opened it and looked over it briefly. It contained a number of chapters on the wizard, and on the legends about him, and places associated with him. Arthur read a few pages, then decided to purchase it. It would probably help him with his search.
He paid for it at the counter from the money that Macbeth had given him shortly before arriving in London. It took a while to figure out which coin represented which amount of pennies - these were certainly nothing at all like the Roman coins that had been used in his reign - but finally he paid the proper amount. And with that done, he walked out of the bookshop, his new purchase in his hands, wrapped in a small paper bag.
All in all, though he still felt uncomfortable about the way in which his name seemed to be used simply to sell all manner of goods, he couldn't help feeling impressed by the fact that he was still remembered in Britain, and as a hero-king. He had feared, as he lay dying on the field at Camlann, before Merlin had come to take him away to Avalon for healing, that the memory of his achievements would not outlast him. The Round Table had been broken in the last battle, and most of his knights had been slain. Sir Lancelot was overseas in Gaul, unlikely to ever return, and his nephew Gawain already dead and buried at Dover. Guinevere, his beloved queen, was parted from him forever, cloistered in a nunnery by her own choice. He had no heir to pass on the throne to, and without a successor, the alliance of British kingdoms that he had led would surely shatter, leaving the island open to Saxon raiders once more. Most of the gargoyle clans that had been his friends had been destroyed by Mordred and his rebels. Even the fact that his traitorous son had perished in the war that he had started had not consoled him. He had feared that he would be remembered only as a failure, a king who died amid ruin and darkness. But now he knew that his name had endured, to be honored by later generations. Even this silliness at Tintagel confirmed it. It seemed that he had done something right, after all.
He was jerked from his reverie to see a woman standing on the other side of the street, watching him. A young-seeming woman with long dark hair and a pale face, dressed in an elegant trouser-suit with a midnight-colored mantle over it. There was something familiar about her - if he could only place it. He found himself walking towards her.
"My lady!", he began. "If I could have a few words with you - ".
And then, she was gone. Gone so swiftly that it seemed almost like magic to him. He turned to the nearest person, and motioned to get the man's attention. "Did you see her?", he asked.
"Who?", the tourist replied.
"The woman that was standing there," he said, pointing to the empty space where she had been. "A dark-haired woman, wearing a black cloak. Do you know which way she went?"
The tourist shrugged. "I haven't seen anybody like that," he said. And with that, he went on his way, looking at Arthur in an odd manner.
Arthur troubledly looked again at where the woman had been standing. He knew her from somewhere, he was sure of it, and yet he could not put a name to her. He just could not remember who she was. It was nothing short of frustrating.
"I came here to find some answers," he said to himself. "But the only thing that I have found is a new question!"