DISCLAIMER: All Gargoyles characters in this story are the property of Walt Disney and Buena Vista Television, and are used without their permission. This story is not being written for profit, but merely to continue an unfinished plot-thread.
"Previously, on Pendragon" (Griff)
King Arthur stood on the pavement alongside Tintagel's main street, lost in thought. The sky had clouded over, and a gentle drizzle had begun. He hardly noticed the rain, however. He was too busy wondering over the woman that he had just seen.
There was something familiar about her, he just knew it. As if they had met before. However, he could find no way to explain how he could possibly recognize her. His time in Britain had been fifteen centuries ago. In the time since then, everybody whom he had ever known must have since grown old and died. Well, almost everybody. He was certain that Merlin had not. And Nimue clearly had not. But it was clearly unlikely that there were any other survivors left in the human world from the days of Camelot. So how could this woman have been somebody familiar to him?
Nor could it be anybody that he had met since his awakening. He had met very few people since then, and even fewer of them human. The only woman that he had encountered in this century that looked anything like the one that he had sighted was Detective Elisa Maza, and although it was possible enough that Avalon had sent her to Tintagel, assuming that it had not permitted her and her friends to return to Manhattan by now, the woman did not resemble even her that much. For one thing, she had been much paler than Elisa. And also, he somehow couldn't imagine the detective wearing anything other than the black shirt, blue trousers, and red jacket that she had been clad in when they had met on Avalon. No, it clearly wasn't her. Nor did he think that it could be Nimue in disguise. And the Lady of the Lake was surely back on Avalon, called thither by the Gathering that Nimue had told him of. So if it was none of them, then who was it? The only other human - or human-like - women that he had met since his awakening had been the Weird Sisters, Princess Katharine, and the female warrior who had served Macbeth in New York. And this hauntingly, almost maddeningly, familiar figure was clearly none of them.
He shook his head. He clearly wouldn't be finding any answers, just standing here and puzzling it over. The best thing to do, it seemed to him, was to continue with his exploration of the town.
He looked at the building that he was standing next to, a good-sized one made of stone. The sign in front said "The Hall of Chivalry". He wondered about what that might mean. It was probably just another means of making money off his name, he thought with a sigh, but still worth investigating. He opened the door and walked in.
The place turned out to be something more like a museum, of sorts, devoted to his story. There were more books about him on sale here, and in the rooms adjacent, various displays about he himself and his knights. There were stained glass windows set in the stone hallways, each one depicting the blazon of a different knight or king from his time, with a placard beneath describing that knight's deeds. There were more books about himself on glass-cased shelves, and a large tablet mounted on a wall, listing all the members of the Round Table. Arthur recognized most of the names, but a few were strange to him. Clearly somebody had made up a few new members since his departure. And there were a number of paintings of the events in his reign, although he quickly noticed that his old friends and foes depicted in them did not look very much the way that he remembered them. But he supposed that that would have to be inevitable; the people who had made those paintings had lived long after the downfall of Camelot, after all, and couldn't have known.
There was even a small round table in one room, which he stopped to take a look at. His first thought was that somebody had clearly gotten the story wrong, since this table could only seat twelve knights plus himself, rather than the full hundred and fifty that were mustered at the original Round Table at its height. But in all fairness, a table that large would never have fit into the room, and there was something special about the number twelve. At least they knew the names of his followers, as could plainly be seen by the fact that they had been inscribed in the surface of the table. He walked about it, reading them, and remembering.
Sir Kay, his seneschal and foster-brother. Sharp-tongued and pessimistic, but a loyal warrior and efficient administrator. Sir Bedivere, his oldest friend, except for Merlin. One-handed, but no worse a knight for that, and the only one of his company to survive the terrible carnage at Camlann. Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, one of the three great champions of his Table, and a skilled harpist. Such a pity that he should have fallen in love with King Mark's wife, a love that had brought about his untimely end. Sir Geraint of Devon, son of Prince Erbin. A valiant friend, before he was slain by the Saxons at Llongporth. Sir Galahad, Sir Percival, and Sir Bors. The only three of his company who had ever found the Grail, and only Bors had returned to Camelot to tell the tale. Sir Lamorak, Percival's brother and King Pellinor's son. Another redoubtable comrade, and one who had also died too soon. Sir Lancelot du Lac.
Arthur sighed at the memories that that had brought up. Sir Lancelot had been not only the greatest of his knights, but his closest friend after Merlin had departed the court. As long as the two of them had fought side by side, Camelot was impregnable. But then had come the day when Arthur had learned the bitter truth: Lancelot and Guinevere, his queen, were also lovers. And that day brought about the end of all his dreams, a civil war that tore the land apart and saw the undoing of Logres. Small wonder that his memories of the man were bittersweet. Without Lancelot, Mordred might still have found a way to bring about his fall, but the love between his best knight and his wife had helped the schemer all the better. And yet, he could not bring himself to think thoughts of bitterness towards them. They had been the victims of their love as much as he had been, and had struggled mightily against it. Still, the memories awakened were sad ones. He was only too glad to move on and bury the reminiscences.
And lastly, his three bold young nephews, Gawain, Gaheris, and Gareth. He found it hardly surprising that the fourth of the sons of Lot and Morgause, Agravain, was not mentioned here, nor for that matter, their half-brother Mordred. Their loyalty had been far less perfect. But these three - well, they had had their faults, but their honor and faithfulness had always been unquestionable. They had ever dedicated their swords to him, and done many valiant deeds in his cause.
Almost ironical, in truth. For their father, King Lot of Lothian and Orkney, had been one of his greatest enemies, early in his reign. In fact, it was not until after he had defeated Lot and his allies at Bedgraine that he had finally been able to feel as if he was truly the High King of Britain. A battle that he could still clearly remember....
BEDGRAINE, THE BRITISH MIDLANDS - THE LATE 5TH CENTURY A.D.
The watchfires of Arthur's camp burned brightly under the night sky, and around them sat or slept his soldiers. Sentries made their rounds, spear and shield at hand, watching the fires that marked the camp of King Lot and his allies in the distance. Come morning, the battle would begin, the battle that would determine whether Arthur Pendragon would remain on the throne of Britain or not. And the odds did not look well in their favor.
It was this very matter that was being debated in the royal pavilion, in fact, where the young High King was meeting in council with his chief advisors and allies. All of them, in fact, except for Merlin, who was mysteriously absent. Nobody knew where he was, and Sir Kay, for one, had openly expressed his disgust at the way that the wizard never seemed to be around when he was needed, before moving on to the very subject that most weighed upon him and his fellow counsellors.
"King Lot's army outnumbers ours two to one!", he cried, banging his fist on the council table. The candles burning on the table dangerously tottered, and King Leodegrance of Cameliard hurriedly reached out to steady them. "He'd have outnumbered us even more if we hadn't received help from King Ban of Benwick, for that matter! In fact, he's turned out the entire blasted Northlands against us!"
"True enough," said Sir Baudwin of Brittany, the High King's newly-appointed constable. "Those are scarcely the sort of odds that I enjoy myself, Kay. But it can't be helped."
"Yes, they can!", Sir Kay retorted. "Or they could have been, if you had only listened to my words, Arthur! We should have mustered our entire army against the northern chieftains, every last able-bodied warrior in Britain! And instead, we still keep half our fighting force in the east, rather than here where they're needed!"
"Kay, we've been over this before," said Arthur calmly. "We can't leave our eastern borders defenceless. Otherwise, the Saxons and Angles will see their opportunity, and invade us. Small good it'll do us to vanquish Lot, only to return home and find half of Logres plundered by the Saxon kings."
Kay grumbled under his breath for a moment, then continued with his rant. "Nevertheless, even with the auxiliaries from Benwick, Lot's forces are more numerous. This does not bode well for us, Arthur. Not well at all. Only fools defy odds so openly against them."
"And you call us fools?", asked Sir Ulfius, looking at Kay thoughtfully. When it became clear that the seneschal was not going to answer that question, he continued. "Strength does not always rest in numbers, my lords. Remember that the knights of Logres and Benwick are well-armed and well-mounted, in the finest coats of mail that a smithy can produce. Most of the northerners lack horses or armor; they fight on foot and wear sturdy leather jerkins instead. Their swords and spears are cruder than ours. They are less disciplined. I think that that should count against them."
"Don't underestimate the northerners," said King Leodegrance, hesitantly. "They're fierce warriors, even if crudely-equipped. My men have often fought the Irish under King Rions, and although their armor was better, they still often lost, when faced against their Gaelic fury. What they lack in gear, they more than make up for in strength and ferocity. We may not have quite the advantage that you claim, Ulfius."
"So it all comes down to this," said Kay. "We Britons must fight against the northern chieftains until King Ban springs his ambush, and hope that the arrival of the reserves will dishearten King Lot and his allies enough that the day will be ours. This is too much of a gamble for my liking. I do not like this plan at all."
"True," said Arthur. "But we have no other that can assure us of victory."
"Where's Merlin, anyway?", asked Kay. "I haven't seen him for several hours now. Like as not he realizes that we're doomed and has slipped away to find some place to hide. So much like a wizard. There's no trust in them at all."
"Don't speak of Merlin so slightingly," said King Ban of Benwick, the leader of Arthur's Gaulish allies. He and his knights had secretly made a compact with the young High King and entered Britain so covertly that even now, Lot and his fellow kings knew nothing of his presence. "I've met him, and he is a man of honor - even if they do say that his father was a demon. He'd not desert us when we most needed him."
"And how would you know, anyway?", Kay asked him. "Wizards are all the same. You trust them at your own peril. The first sign of danger, and they've disappeared without a trace. I knew that we were making a mistake when we permitted him to stay on the Council, Arthur. I just knew it!"
"Would it not be more courteous to say these things to Merlin's face, son, rather than when he is not present?", asked Sir Ector reprovingly.
"Quite correct," said a familiar voice from the entrance to the tent. "Especially since I've just secured us some additional allies."
Arthur and his advisors turned to see Merlin standing there. The old wizard seemed very cheerful, leaning against one of the poles in his usual casual fashion. His blue eyes sparkled in the dim candle-shed light that filled the pavilion, their gaze as keen as ever. He glanced briefly at Kay, who hurriedly stepped back, then turned to face Arthur.
"Allies?", asked Arthur. "Have you then persuaded more of the kings of Britain to join our cause, Merlin?"
Merlin shook his head. "The ones who aren't already here or with King Lot are choosing to sit it out," he said. Noticing the bewildered looks on the faces of the assembled company, he added, "I mean, to remain neutral. My apologies. I am going to *have* to remember not to use expressions that aren't going to be in use for another fifteen centuries or so. That's the trouble with knowing the future; you sometimes forget that it hasn't happened yet. It really makes me almost envy the people who have to learn about what's to come only as it happens. Still, this is no time to deal with such matters. As I was saying, the kings who haven't joined either army are going to wait until the war is over, before pledging their loyalty to anybody. That way, they will know whom it's safe to become a vassal to." He sighed, and shook his head. "A cowardly strategy, but a popular one, all the same."
"So, if there are no more kings to ally with, then who are these friends that you have found for us?", asked Arthur curiously.
"Very interesting friends," replied Merlin, with a smile. "Ones that you may already know of, Arthur. And which the rest of you have doubtless heard tales of." He stepped to one side, and said, "My lords, may I present to you - the gargoyles!"
The tent flap parted, and there entered five remarkable-looking beings, whose appearance caused most of the company present to gasp in shock and shrink back; a few of the knights even crossed themselves. The first of these was an eagle-like being with four-fingered clawlike hands, dressed in a dark blue tunic. It was followed by three more beings of a similar appearance, except that one looked much like a lion, the second like a unicorn, and the third like a boar. All had feathery wings and wore tunics. The fifth looked something like a monstrous green dog, bulky with prominent fan-like ears and a beaklike snout. It was the only one of the five that walked on all fours.
The uncomfortable silence was finally broken by Sir Kay. "Merlin, have you completely lost your senses? Do you expect us to join forces with those - those animals?"
"Hush, Kay," said Arthur gently. "Let Merlin explain first."
Kay fell silent, though glowering at the newcomers. Which returned his disapproving stare in kind, with eyes that glowed white, save the unicorn's, whose eyes turned a crimson hue. Merlin held up his hand, and spoke calmly.
"These are not animals," he said. "They are members of the First Race, known as gargoyles, a race older than humans. They have come to help us."
"Help us?", cried Kay. "I'd sooner accept aid from the Saxons than from the likes of those beasts! What can you possibly be thinking, Merlin? What will you be enlisting next to fight alongside us? Wolves? Dragons? Griffons?"
"If you will let me finish," said Merlin, looking at the seneschal sharply. Kay hurriedly closed his mouth and stepped back, clearly aware of how perilously close he was coming to annoying the wizard. Merlin nodded approvingly, then continued.
"As I said, gargoyles are not beasts," he said. "They are noble beings, who are, in some ways, more advanced than we are. I've made contact with them, and they wish to help us."
"Merlin speaks the truth, Kay," said Arthur. "I should know. I've met gargoyles before."
"You have?", said Kay, staring at his foster-brother in astonishment. "When?"
"When I was a boy, growing up at Sir Ector's castle," said Arthur. "Merlin had discovered a clan living nearby, and took me out late at night, from time to time, to have me meet them. I often wondered why, but I think that I know now. He wished me to become acquainted with them, and their true nature, for the time when I would be High King. I can vouch for them; they are not evil monsters."
"Well, if that's what you say they are," said Kay, looking at the gargoyles doubtfully. "But only because of your words, I might add, and nothing else."
The eagle-like gargoyle stepped forward. "You are the human king known as Arthur Pendragon?", he asked, in a deep voice.
Arthur nodded. "That I am," he said.
"The wizard Merlin has told us of you," said the gargoyle. "He tells us that you do not fear or hate our kind, and that is good. There are all too many humans abroad in this island who hate us and mean us harm. They hunt us down as animals, destroy us when they find us in our stone sleep, break into our rookeries and smash our eggs, drive us from our homes. There are many regions of this island where our kind once dwelt, but do so no longer. Our numbers are dwindling, and the chieftains whom you fight against are among those responsible for our losses. They have made so much of the land unsafe for us."
"I see," said Arthur with an unhappy look on his face. "And that I intend to bring an end to. I promise you, when I am properly High King over Britain, your race will be protected. Humans and gargoyles will live in peace, and I will forbid further attacks upon your clan, and all others in this island."
"Then we will help you, in whatever way we can," said the eagle-like gargoyle, clearly the leader of the visitors. "It seems that you are our hope for survival, survival in these restless times. If you will protect us from our foes, we will aid you against yours."
"You have my word on that," said the young High King firmly. "This I vow."
There was some murmuring among the knights present, but King Ban of Benwick, who had been listening silently all this time, stepped forward. "I support Arthur Pendragon's decision on this matter," he said. "For I, too, can vouch for the nature of these beings."
"You?", asked Kay, in astonishment.
"We have gargoyles in Gaul as well as in Britain," King Ban explained. "And in Benwick, in particular. When I was a youth, still merely Prince of Benwick, I encountered a few. I was out hunting, but lost my way, and was still wandering in the woods near my father's castle after sunset. Then I was ambushed by bandits. They would have slain me, but a pair of gargoyles suddenly appeared, and came to my aid, driving the ruffians off. Were it not for them, I would not be standing with you this night. If they wish to aid us, then their help is truly welcome."
The knights assembled stared at Ban, clearly amazed by his story. Ban's own knights seemed the most astounded of all, in fact. But Arthur nodded approvingly.
"Gargoyles are only a rumor in Cameliard," said King Leodegrance, eyeing the winged beings hesitantly. "There are none left in my realm, to my knowledge; the last of them were destroyed in my grandfather's time. I will confess that I don't feel entirely at ease with them, but if my sovereign liege King Arthur, and our worthy ally King Ban, can bear witness to their loyalty, then I will make no objections to their presence. And we are agreed that we will need all the help that we can get."
"Then it is agreed," said the chief gargoyle. "We will fight for you this night, and do what we can to ensure your victory against the northern humans. But come the morning, we can aid you no further. You will be on your own after dawn."
"After dawn?", began Kay. "But that's when - " Merlin and Arthur both looked at him sternly, and he hurriedly fell silent again.
"I wish you well, then," said Arthur. "Good fortune go with you, and rest upon your wings!"
"We thank you," said the chief gargoyle. He gave a dignified bow, and then he and the others turned and left, even the dog-like beast. There was a few minutes' silence in the pavilion before Sir Kay finally managed to speak.
"And just why can't they fight for us during the daytime, anyway?"
"They aren't able to," said Merlin. "They turn to stone from dawn to sunset."
"Sorcery!", cried Kay, and both he and many of the other knights looked extremely uneasy again. "If they cannot endure sunlight, then they can only be demons, or creations of them! Otherwise, the day would never be a bane to them."
"It has nothing to do with magic or demons," said Merlin firmly. "My tutor Blaise and I have been studying gargoyles - with considerable care - for many years, and we believe it to be an entirely natural process, with no enchantment involved. It's no more a work of dark enchantments than is a spider's ability to spin a web or a caterpillar's transformation into a butterfly. In fact, Blaise and I don't even believe it to be actual stone that they become in the daytime, but a living material very similar to stone. At any rate, they are not demons, nor the spawn of demons. You do them an injustice by making such accusations, Sir Kay."
"But they seemed creatures of uncommon ferocity," said the seneschal, hesitantly.
"Oh, they can be very fierce, when they have to be," said Merlin. "And they are powerful warriors. But they are not mindless killers. Their purpose is to protect, not to destroy. They can be very gentle, when you know them better. They live with one another in peace, and are utterly devoted to their mates. Far more so than a great many humans. You could learn a lot from them."
"And how can they help us against King Lot if the battle with him and his is to be fought in the daytime?", asked King Leodegrance.
"Who said that they will be fighting at the same time that we do?", replied Merlin, with a slight smile.
King Lot of Lothian and Orkney sat by the campfire, and looked at the faces of his allied chieftains who sat by it with him. Not all of them were present here, but enough were there that he could judge this a proper council of war, while awaiting the arrival of the rest. King Urien of Rheged was already here, and so were King Nentres of Garlot, King Brandegoris of Strangore, and young King Barant of Malahaut, nicknamed "the King of the Hundred Knights" because of the one hundred well-armed and firmly loyal horsemen that made up his army. And Duke Eustace of Cambenet had just seated himself by the fire, as well. So that made six of them. The other five could wait.
"Come the morning, we shall be able to crush that boy king
properly," he said to them. "We have more men than he does, and more
experience in the art of warfare. I can promise you that by sunset
tomorrow, this boy Arthur's forces will be scattered to the wind, and his
head as likely adorning a stake as not."
Nentres, Brandegoris, and Eustace nodded approvingly. But Urien and Barant seemed less at ease. Lot stared at both of them sharply. "Is aught the matter with either of you?", he asked them.
"There is with me," said Urien. "Forgive me, Lot, but I have my misgivings on this affair. What if Arthur is indeed the rightful High King of Britain?"
"Fool's talk, Urien!", Lot retorted. "What proof do we have of his birthright? Nothing but the maunderings of some old wizard and a clever trick involving a sword in a stone! It'll take more than that to convince me that this is truly Uther Pendragon's son. And even if he is, what of it? It takes more than the accident of birth to make a
king. Why should some beardless boy ascend the throne of Britain just because of who his father was?"
"True enough," said Nentres, nodding with approval. "Do not forget, either, that Uther was anything but a noble king, Urien. Remember Gorlois. We three should most remember how Uther Pendragon treated him, and his family." He turned his head so as to include Lot as well as Urien in his words.
Lot nodded. He and Nentres had both married Gorlois and Igraine's elder two daughters, Morgause and Elaine, not long after Uther and Igraine's wedding, and some years later, Urien had married Morgana, the youngest of the three. That made the late Duke Gorlois their father-in-law, and could be an argument to justify making war upon any son of the man who had brought him so untimely to his grave. Not that this had mattered much either to Morgause or Elaine, who had no interest in exacting vengeance. Lot rather suspected, however, from the rumors that he had heard, that Morgana might be a different matter. But he did not know for certain, since he had only visited Urien in Rheged once since the wedding, and that only briefly.
"Well, maybe," said Urien. "I certainly would not want to see another tyrant lord it over us. And my wife has told me much about the wrongs that Uther visited upon her father. But I still have my misgivings over this enterprise. If Arthur truly is the rightful High King, then we make ourselves traitors by rebelling against him."
Lot decided to continue the argument with Urien later, in private. He turned to the King of the Hundred Knights. "And do you feel the same way that Urien does on this, Barant?"
King Barant shook his head. "It's not Arthur's legitimacy that troubles me, Lot," he said. "It's our conduct of this war. We have brought nearly every man and youth able to bear arms with us in this invasion of Logres."
"Thereby giving us a strong army that Arthur cannot hope to overcome," replied Lot. "Especially since he must divide his forces, or leave his lands helpless against the Saxons."
"But we are leaving our own domains helpless against the Angles and the Picts," said the King of the Hundred Knights. "Consider this, Lot. If they should choose to attack in our absence, they would gain an easy victory. Our castles and strongholds have only skeleton garrisons. They are mostly guarded by women, children, and the old. I very much doubt me that they could withstand an assault from our foes."
"That will not happen," said Lot firmly. "We will trounce this boy king and return home before the winter solstice."
"But if we do not?", asked Barant. "And Lot, I had a
dream last night. I dreamt that a terrible wind laid low our keeps
and towers, and then a flood came and swept away all that remained of
them. I know that this is a warning, a sign of trouble to befall
"The only thing that your dream betokens to me, Barant, is that you are a coward!", retorted Lot, rising to his feet and grabbing hold of the King of the Hundred Knights by the front of his tunic. He pulled the young man up standing, and held him close to his face. "A coward and a weakling, who dares refuse this our great enterprise! If you have no stomach for this battle, then run along home, by all means, and brand yourself worthless for the remainder of your days!"
"Peace, King Lot, peace!", cried Duke Eustace hurriedly. "It's Arthur that we should be turning our swords against, not each other!"
Lot freed King Barant from his grasp, though with a reluctant sigh. "Too true, my lord of Cambenet," he said. "But I will hear no more talk of this sort. We are going to fight this young upstart Arthur and overthrow him, and nothing in Heaven or Earth will swerve us from this course. Nothing, do you hear me? Nothing!"
"Even them?", asked King Brandegoris, looking up in sudden alarm and indicating the dark winged shapes swooping down on the camp, screeching as they came.
"What - what are those?", cried Nentres, staggering to his feet, and stammering.
"I do not know," said Lot. "Demons summoned by that blasted Merlin, no doubt. But we will stand our ground, and face them. Are we children, to be frightened of shadows?"
"I don't think that these are shadows," said Duke Eustace, as the creatures came into full view. They seemed roughly manlike, but with the heads of beasts and birds, and great feathery wings. Their eyes glowed, some white, and some red. They dove upon the camp, howling, and fell upon the startled soldiers of the northern hosts.
"Gargoyles!", cried the King of the Hundred Knights, drawing his sword. "I've heard of them! Now we are in danger!"
"That remains to be seen," said Lot grimly, as he whipped out his own blade. The gargoyles were fighting his men, clawing at them, picking some up and dropping them on their comrades in confused heaps. Horses whinnied in terror, burst their pickets, and galloped out of sight. Everywhere, the knights and foot-soldiers of the armies of the northern kings were grouping together, trying to make some sort of stand against their assailants, but clearly too terrified by their uncanny nature to do more than cover themselves with their shields and ward them off with sword or axe or mace. The camp had become a place of utter chaos.
A hawk-like gargoyle swooped down directly over Lot, giving out a shrill cry as it came. The King of Lothian and Orkney raised his sword and struck out at it. The gargoyle retreated from his blow, but blood stained the blade, and a few drops of it fell from the cut that had been made in the gargoyle's arm. Lot saw the drops, and eagerly cried aloud to his followers.
"You see, men!", he shouted, holding his sword aloft. "They bleed! They are not invincible! Stand fast! We can overthrow them!"
Some of his followers, and those of the other kings, heard his words and rallied against the winged attackers. But others fled into the woods, or hid themselves in their tents. It did not help matters when a few large doglike beasts, even more monstrous in appearance than the gargoyles, ran into the camp, barking and snarling. "Demon hounds!", cried somebody, and soon others were echoing the cry. And fleeing, as they raised it.
But many of the northerners did fight back. Archers let fly their arrows at the gargoyles, and while most of them missed, thanks to the general darkness and to the speed of their targets, a few found their mark. And some of the warriors managed to strike their blows home. Now among the fallen there were gargoyles as well as humans, though far fewer of the former than of the latter. Lot laid about him, cursing under his breath and directing most of his imprecations at King Arthur and Merlin. He was certain that they had something to do with these - these - whatever they were.
At last, the gargoyles withdrew, at a signal from their eagle-like leader. "We have done enough!", he cried. "There are rookery brothers and sisters of ours already among the dead, and dawn is nearing! We have served our obligation to the human king; now let us be gone!"
He turned, and glided off into the distance. The rest of the gargoyles followed him, and were lost in the night. The northern Britons watched them go, silent and awe-struck. Lot leaned on his sword, and scowled.
"I fear that our men have lost much heart from this night attack," said King Nentres concernedly, standing beside him. "If Arthur's hope was to undermine our valor by these tactics, then he has truly succeeded."
"We will overthrow the boy king tomorrow, upon the field," said Lot, his face contorting into an expression of absolute fury. "And after the battle is over, we shall find those beasts wherever they roost, while they are asleep, and destroy them all."
"But in the meantime, we have lost many of our warriors," said Brandegoris. "Not only through battle, but through flight. There've been quite a few desertions, I fear."
"It makes no difference," said Lot sharply. "We still outnumber the young pretender. And tomorrow, we will deal with him."
King Barant of the Hundred Knights crossed himself and shivered. First a nightmare, and now these monsters. If those were not signs enough that no good would come of this rebellion against King Arthur, he did not know what were.
"Attack!", shouted Lot, brandishing his sword as he set spurs to his horse's sides.
At his command, the northern war-host thundered forward, to clash with Arthur's followers from Logres and Wales. Despite the losses during the night, it was still the stronger in numbers, and King Lot still had some hope of success. And the victory today would more than make up for the humiliation that his army had suffered, the night before.
At the other end of the field, Arthur watched his opponents approach. He was mounted on Llamrei already, fully armed, with Excalibur in its scabbard, resting by his side. He commanded the center of his army, with King Leodegrance holding the left flank, and Sir Baudwin the right. King Ban's army was hidden in the thickets to the rear, held in reserve. The battle was about to begin. His first real battle, and he had to confess, he would not mind if it could be delayed for a week or more. But wishing for such a thing would not make it so. No, there was nothing for it now but to ride forward and fight.
He raised his hand in signal to his men, and the trumpets blew. Knights lowered their visors and couched their lances. Then Arthur galloped forward, his followers close behind him. The Battle of Bedgraine had now truly started.
It was a confused melee of shouting and horses whinnying, swords clashing on shields, desperate deeds on all sides. Arthur could never remember most of the details afterwards; all that he knew at the time was that he was busy fighting off one northern warrior after another. It was not long before he had had to discard his spear and draw Excalibur from its sheath. The mighty sword flamed with blue fire as he swung it about, and shattered the blades of his enemies with almost surprising ease. Merlin had clearly not exaggerated its worth.
He could only catch an occasional glimpse of his friends on the field. He saw, or at least thought he saw, Kay trading blows with King Nentres of Garlot himself, off to his left, and his foster-father Sir Ector fighting the King of the Hundred Knights. But he could barely fight his way to their side, not with so many men in the way. He ducked an axe-blow from a knight of Lothian, and struck the man off his horse in return.
It was some time later - how long, he did not know - that he realized that the sheer size of Lot's army was beginning to tell on his own forces. His men were being forced back, still outnumbered, towards their camp. The eleven kings were beginning to gain the upper hand. Until - .
From out of the trees to the rear there now thundered the knights of Benwick, led by King Ban himself. Arthur heard the sound of their hooves upon the ground, and smiled. Now his allies were here, and from the way that the northerners responded to their presence, in shock and utter dismay, he knew that the sheer surprise of their arrival would turn the tide.
King Lot, on the other side, stared in bewilderment at the newcomers. "King Ban of Benwick?", he cried, to the Duke of Cambenet, who had just drawn up beside him. "What is he doing here? Gaul is his home, not Britain!"
"Arthur must have made an alliance with him," said Duke Eustace. "He clearly fights on the young Pendragon's side."
"But how could he have come here, without our knowing?", asked Lot. He stopped, and his face darkened. "No, I need nobody to answer that question for me. This is Merlin's doing. I should have expected such measures from him. Confound that sorcerer, Eustace! First he sends his winged pets against us, and now an entire army from across the Narrow Sea!"
"So what do we do, Lot?", asked King Urien, riding up to the King of Lothian and Orkney. "The knights of Benwick are upon us. Do we hold our ground?"
"We do indeed," said Lot, behind gritted teeth. If he had been a gargoyle, his eyes would definitely have been blazing white at that moment. "If we cannot overthrow Arthur this day, at least we will not yield to him. The battle goes on, no matter what!"
Urien sighed troubledly, then rode back to direct the efforts of his own men from Rheged. And Lot charged forward. There was only one goal that he now had. To find this boy king, Arthur Pendragon, and to kill him. If he could do that, then the battle would yet be his, even if Ban had taken the young upstart's side.
The battle raged on. By now, the companies of knights had been broken, to fight each other in smaller groups, scattered across the field. Arthur's forces, however, were beginning to gain the upper hand. A great many of the northerners had already fled upon discovering that King Ban had come against them; they knew enough of the reputation of the fighting-men of Benwick to realize that their presence meant small hope of victory. Others had fallen, and now lay cold and still upon the field, or groaning softly. The northern chieftains were falling back.
Arthur reined in Llamrei by the side of a small pool of water, to the left of the field, where the battle had carried him. Time enough to pause, and catch his breath. There were no northerners in sight. He adjusted his seat in the saddle, and looked over his sword, cleaning the blood off it with his cloak. He wondered just how many of Lot's followers he had slain outright, rather than merely wounded. Well, he'd been given no choice. They were the invaders, and he had to do whatever he could to prevent them from overrunning his kingdom. He sighed, and wondered how much longer the battle would continue.
"So we come face to face, Arthur of Logres," said a harsh voice with a strong northern accent. Arthur turned about to see King Lot approaching. The warlord's sword was notched, his shield dented in so many places that the double-headed eagle of Lothian that served as his emblem could barely be discerned, and his mail-coat torn and reddened. But if he had received any wounds, they were clearly few and light. He sat firmly in his seat, a look of anger and hatred upon his face.
Arthur readied Excalibur in his hand. "Your men are scattered, King Lot, or are close to being so. Will you yield? You cannot win this day. Your losses are too great for that."
"Hardly," the King of Lothian and Orkney replied. "You are forgetting something, Arthur. If I can slay you, then your army is left without a leader, and can no more thrive than a body without a head. And I will slay you; depend on it. You may have a charmed sword and a wizard, but I have experience, years of it. I was winning battles when you were in your cradle. I can certainly overthrow a green and untried youth like you."
Arthur swung his sword at him in reply. Lot calmly raised his own blade to parry the blow, giving it a slight twist as he did. And the next moment, to Arthur's shock and disbelief, Excalibur had been knocked from his hand. It flew upwards in the air, then fell into the lake, sinking with a splash. Arthur stared in bewilderment at the waters into which his sword had disappeared, leaving him unarmed.
Lot gave a triumphant laugh, and brought his sword down upon the young High King. Arthur managed to interpose his shield in time, but even so, the force of the blow sent him falling off his horse, and onto the ground, landing on his back. Lot dismounted, and walked towards the youth, smiling unpleasantly.
"Your wizard and his winged demons can't save you now," he said. "Nor can those simpletons who think that pulling a sword out of a stone makes you a king." He raised his sword, preparing to deliver the death-blow. "Look your last upon this world, Arthur. For you shall leave it shortly."
But before the blow could fall, the waters of the lake began to ripple, and then Excalibur broke the surface, rising from them point upwards. It was clasped at the hilt by a hand, at the end of an arm clad in a blue samite sleeve. And that arm belonged to a tall and slender woman clad in a blue gown, with long silvery-blonde hair. She stood upon the surface of the water as if it had been solid ground, and the air shimmered about her.
Arthur stared at her in wonder, only vaguely aware that Lot was doing the same thing, all thought of felling his adversary gone from him. The woman moved forward until she was standing almost directly over the youth, and then spoke to him, gently.
"You should be more careful, Arthur Pendragon," she said. "Next time, I may not be able to retrieve your sword for you." And she handed Excalibur back to him.
Arthur started to his feet, but saw that Lot was already falling back, his eyes widening at the intervention of the mysterious woman. Clearly this marvel had been the last straw for him. Frantically, he mounted his horse, and rode off as if the Wild Hunt were after him. Arthur stared after him for a moment, then turned back to face his unexpected ally.
"I am grateful for your help, my lady," he said, kneeling to her. "But who are you, pray tell?"
"I am the Lady of the Lake," she said to him gravely. "It was I who first presented Excalibur to Merlin, that he might use it for your test of kingship. And now I give it to you again, Arthur Pendragon. With a warning. Even a magic sword can be defeated with skill and might. Rely not overmuch on the enchantments on Excalibur, sir king. Learn the arts of fighting and master them, so that you will be prepared, the next time that you find yourself facing a hardy foe."
"I will heed your words, my lady," said Arthur, bowing to her. "But I would know - "
Before he could finish his sentence, however, the Lady sank below the lake, and vanished from his sight. Arthur looked at the ripples that signalled her departure, then sighed, and turned away.
"Sire?" Sir Kay had reined in his horse, and was looking concernedly down at his king and foster-brother. Bedivere and Sir Ector were not far behind, with Ban and Leodegrance bringing up the rear. "Are you all right?"
Arthur nodded, and remounted Llamrei. "I am now," he said. "Did you see her?"
"See who?", asked Kay.
Arthur decided not to explain now; perhaps later. "How goes the battle?", he asked.
"We have won," said King Ban. "Lot's forces are in full flight, and even Lot himself has set spurs to his horse. I hardly know what made him lose heart, but may whatever it was befall all your enemies! The day is ours, Arthur!"
"Shall we pursue them?", asked Sir Kay. "If we do, we can easily finish what we have begun, and ensure that they will never dare make war upon us again."
Arthur thought it over, then shook his head. "No, let them go," he said. "There's been enough fighting for one day. I think that we have earned ourselves a rest."
"The High King speaks the truth, Sir Kay," said Merlin, riding up to them. The wizard had not been seen since before the battle, but now he reined in his horse, to stare at them with his thoughtful blue eyes. "Pursuit is needless."
"And what makes you so certain, anyway?", Kay asked him.
"The eleven kings' own lands have been invaded," said
Merlin. "By the Angles and Picts. Lot took away nearly all his
fighting-men to make war upon us, and so left himself open to his other
foes. Trust me, he will be too busy repelling unwanted guests to plan
further wars upon us - for now, at least. I would say that this day's
work is at an end."
"Then we are done here," said Arthur. "Let us return home, my lords. This war is concluded."
They rode out to the middle of the field, where his followers were gathered about, the survivors of his army and King Ban's. As he approached them, they let out a mighty cheer, and raised their swords high in the air. "Arthur! Arthur! Arthur!", they chanted. Until their voices echoed throughout the field of Bedgraine, and the woods beyond, so loudly that if anything could have wakened the gargoyles in the forest from their stone slumber, that could.
The chanting faded from Arthur's thoughts, as he returned to his immediate surroundings. He was still standing in front of the table, his fingertips gently resting on its surface. And feeling a trifle peckish, by now. He did not know how long he had been lost in his memories, but it was surely close to lunchtime, by now.
Arthur left the Hall of Chivalry and made his way to "Merlin's Tea Shop". He barely remembered afterward what he had purchased there, however, or how it had tasted. He was too preoccupied with other matters.
Ever since his awakening on Avalon, he had been faced with one mystery after another. First, the fact that he had been roused from his slumber prematurely, and in a manner that he was not expecting. He had assumed, from what little Merlin had told him before placing the sleeping spell upon him within the Hollow Hill, that he would be called back when Britain was in its greatest hour of need. Instead, he had been awakened to protect Avalon itself from danger, danger in the form of the Weird Sisters and the malevolent sorcerer known only as the Archmage that he had made a pact with. As if that was not surprise enough, he had not even been awakened by a Briton, but by a woman from a land called America that he had never heard of before, a woman with not a drop of British blood in her veins. This had puzzled him greatly, for it seemed almost to contradict the prophecies. And both the Stone of Destiny and the Lady of the Lake had been little help, for each of them had been all but convinced that he had been awakened early, just as he had been. Though both had also hinted that perhaps he was needed now, after all.
Then there was the mystery of Merlin's whereabouts. So far, his quest for the wizard had barely begun; indeed, at Nimue's advice, Arthur had delayed it, while coming to Tintagel to remember his past there. But he wondered just where his old teacher and friend could be. Clearly no longer in Broceliande. And he doubted that he would find Merlin here either. Well, the quest had only just begun, and there were so many places that he had not searched. But it would have been better had he been given at least a clue as to where he could find the wizard, whether by Nimue or by somebody else. He briefly wondered if he should return to Westminster Abbey, and inquire of the Stone again - but no, he doubted that the Stone would know. And it would simply give him another riddle, even if it did know.
But that was not the whole of it. What baffled him the most was still that woman. Why was it that he had seemed so familiar to him? Why couldn't he place a name to her? Maybe he had been sleeping for much too long. It had played havoc with his memory. He certainly knew that he had had trouble recognizing Nimue, when they had met in Broceliande. This must be the same sort of thing.
He finished his lunch, and left to pay his bill at the counter. Then he left the tea shop, to visit the castle. Perhaps it could trigger some stubbornly elusive memories.
Tintagel Castle was as impressive as it had been in his day, when he had visited King Mark there. Perhaps more so now, with the people gone, except for the tourists, of course, and the castle reduced to some very picturesque ruined walls. The sea-wind blew wildly about him, and bore the loud cries of the gulls upon it. Small patches of purple heather bloomed amid the grey Cornish rock. And down below, the waves of the sea, foaming white, broke upon the rugged base of the promontory.
Some of the tourists were gathered around a guide, who was explaining to them a little about the castle. Arthur decided to join them. He might be able to learn a few things about what had happened here since his time.
"No, this isn't part of the castle from King Arthur's day," the guide was saying. "These ruins come from much later on. The present castle - or what's left of it - was built in 1141 by Earl Reginald of Cornwall. About six hundred years or more after Arthur's time."
"But was there a castle here in King Arthur's day at all?", one of the tourists asked.
"We don't know," said the guide. "It certainly doesn't seem likely that it was anything on this scale. Archaeologists have found some traces of a settlement at about the right time, but they still aren't certain whether it was a monastery or a royal stronghold. Certainly it wouldn't have been anything along the lines of what you've seen in the movies. Nothing particularly splendid."
"True enough," muttered Arthur to himself. "Mark always was too much of a miser to beautify his castles."
"Did you say something, sir?", asked the man standing next to him, staring at him puzzledly.
Arthur shook his head. "Nothing really important," he said. And continued to listen to the guide's words.
"We don't even know if there was a real King Arthur or not," he was continuing. "The jury is still out on that one as well. He might have been a Romano-British war leader who fought against the Saxons in the fifth century, but even that is uncertain. Many eminent scholars and historians are quite convinced that he was purely a legend."
Arthur shook his head, smiling wryly at that one. Purely a legend, eh? But he had heard enough to satisfy him. If this guide didn't even know whether he had lived or not, it was very doubtful that he could provide any real help. Arthur decided to move on. Maybe if he could reach some more remote part of the castle, he could spend some time quietly thinking, alone, and come to some conclusion over where to go from here. And see, as well, if he could finally remember who that woman was.
Talk of the devil, he thought just then, seeing her leaning against a stone archway, and gazing at him. He turned to face her, and at that moment, realized that there was recognition in her dark blue eyes. She knew who he was. How, he couldn't even guess, but she knew him. And he had the feeling that she was not puzzling over why he looked so familiar to her. She had identified him, even if he could not do the same for her. She smiled at him, in a rather discomfiting way. The way that a cat might smile at a cornered mouse or bird. Something about it made him feel glad that he had Excalibur hanging at his belt, and was wearing his armor beneath his overcoat.
The woman turned and passed through the archway, with a look of absolute unconcern on her face before she did so. And Arthur found himself hurrying after her. Something at the back of his head was telling him that this was unwise, that he should be more cautious in investigating her, but his curiosity was too great for him to heed this warning. If this woman knew him, then she might know Merlin as well, and how to find him. Maybe this was why Nimue had hinted that he should come here; maybe she had known about this all along. Perhaps his quest was almost at an end.
As he passed underneath the archway, he heard an odd whistling noise. And then, a cloud of dark green smoke began to rise from the ground just before him. It entered his nostrils, and his head began to spin. He staggered back against the wall, his eyelids suddenly weighing heavily, coughing all the while. His surroundings were beginning to blur, but he could still make out the woman, gazing down at him with a cold smile upon her face, clearly unaffected by whatever it was that had attacked him. And at that moment, he realized at last who she was.
He was about to cry out her name, but never did so. For it was at that moment that the sorcery which she had clearly unleashed upon him completed its work, and he fell completely unconscious. He slumped against the wall, his eyes closed.
The dark-haired woman nodded, with obvious satisfaction. "Welcome home, Arthur Pendragon," she said. "Welcome home, my brother."