DISCLAIMER: All Gargoyles characters are property of Disney and Buena Vista Television. This story is not being written for profit, but merely to continue a plot thread that the series never resolved.
Previously on Pendragon (Griff)
KING ARTHUR: "I have neither Excalibur, nor my knights, nor my old friend Merlin." (Avalon, Part Three).
KING ARTHUR: "I must begin another quest, to find my friend and teacher, Merlin." (Pendragon).
KING ARTHUR: "I intend to make the journey to Brittany, and search the forest of Broceliande for him. By all accounts, that seems the likeliest place to begin." (The Return).
KING ARTHUR: "Cavall, do you wish to come with me?" Cavall barking eagerly in response. (The Return).
"Are you certain that this is the place to begin looking for Merlin, Arthur?", Griff inquired.
He, King Arthur, and Cavall, Arthur's gargoyle dog, were in a glade of the forest of Broceliande, looking around them. The once-mighty forest had shrunk considerably since the time when the Once and Future King had known it, fifteen centuries ago, but parts of it still covered Brittany and this was one of them. Since entering the woods shortly after sunset, they had seen none on two legs but themselves; none of the local Bretons were abroad at this late hour. There were the sounds of night-animals moving about in the undergrowth, sounds that made Cavall prick up his ears and listen with intense fascination. If Arthur and Griff had not been keeping a close eye on him, he would undoubtedly have gone chasing after the creatures making the noises.
"Quite certain," said Arthur. "Merlin often came here, remember. It was one of his favorite places."
"I thought that you said that he didn't like to leave Britain," said Griff, looking a little bewildered at that.
"Back in those days, this *was* part of Britain," said Arthur. "The very name betokened it. Brittany, or Little Britain. When the Saxons were invading my homeland, in the time before my uncle Ambrosius and father Uther came to power, many of the Britons fled across the Narrow Sea to here, to make safer homes for themselves. Their kings did homage to the Pendragons, and were vassals or allies. King Hoel aided me against the Saxons and Picts more than once, and I returned the favor when the Romans and Franks attacked his realm."
There was an almost nostalgic look on his face at this point. "I recall coming to Brittany during the war with the Emperor Lucius, and journeying to Mont St. Michel. There was a giant there named Dinabuc, who was laying waste to the lands about. He had even kidnapped and murdered Hoel's niece. I sought him out and slew him in single combat. If we were not on a quest of great importance, I would fain have seen the place again. I understand that one of the greatest cathedrals in all of Gaul - or France, as it seems they call it now - stands on that spot. It would be a fitting place to do vigil."
"I see," said Griff. "But what about Merlin? Do you really think that we'll find him here? You said yourself that he had eventually been freed, after all."
"'Tis true," said Arthur, nodding. "But he may have come back here, out of fondness for it. Or we may meet somebody who can tell us what has befallen him. Remember what Una said. This was always a favorite place of Oberon's Children, and a few of them may still be abroad hereabouts. They take some interest in him, after all. Especially since he was partly of their nature."
"A halfling?", asked Griff.
"Quite so," said Arthur. "Just who his father was, I never did learn. It wasn't something that he was fond of speaking about. But one of the Third Race he was, which was how he gained so much of his magic to begin with...."
DYFED, WALES - THE 5TH CENTURY.
King Cynan of Dyfed knocked on the door to the study of his chief advisor, the wizard Blaise. Actually, "pounded" was a better word to describe it. Pounded repeatedly and impatiently.
Blaise opened it, looking thoughtfully at his royal visitor. "Is anything the matter, Cynan?", he inquired.
Cynan brusquely pushed his way into the study, giving its contents of old books, alchemical equipment, and various odds and ends that his court enchanter had picked up on his travels barely a glance. Not even when Blaise's pet owl blinked at him and hooted a couple of times did he take any notice of it. He faced his counsellor head on, and addressed him.
"You ask if anything is the matter, Blaise," he cried. "If anything is the matter? Yes, it most certainly is! Something extremely serious! My daughter has borne a son and I do not know who the father is! She repeats the tale constantly of a strange glowing man who seduced her, and will not change it and name her lover no matter how many times I demand it of her! I want your help here!"
Blaise seated himself in his high-backed wooden chair, and pulled his mantle a bit closer about himself. It was chilly in the room, especially after the central heating system installed in Cynan's palace by the Romans a few centuries before had shut down through neglect, and the torches and tallow candles in the study provided more light than heat. "Just what is it that you wish me to do?", he asked.
"I want you to discover who my grandson's father is," said Cynan. "And, if he is of the race of men, I want to know where I may find him, to punish him for the disgrace that he has done my house. Punish him with a good few inches of sword, preferably."
"I fear that it is not going to be that easy," said Blaise, frowning. "Truth to tell, your daughter is more in the right as to her lover's nature than you think. Your grandson is not fully human."
"Not fully human? What do you mean by this, Blaise? Explain yourself, and not in riddles!"
"Have you ever heard of the Third Race?", asked Blaise.
"The what?", said Cynan, looking at him blankly.
"They're known by other names as well," said the wizard. "Oberon's Children, the Fair Folk, the Tylwyth Teg. One of these is the father."
"How do you know this?", asked Cynan. "And for how long *have* you known this, and neglected to tell me? I am your liege lord, Blaise. It is an offense and act of disloyalty to withhold such information from me."
"You were not ready to hear it before now," said Blaise. "But I had suspected for some time that your daughter Aldan had accepted one of the Fair Folk for her lover. The signs and portents had indicated it. I only had to perform a few tests, but at last they confirmed what I had guessed. Your grandson is only half human. The other half of him is of Oberon's Children."
"So Lord Oberon allows his subjects to have their way with my daughter, does he?", cried Cynan, now angrier than before. "If this is indeed the truth, then I'd voyage to Avalon itself and have words with him over it, even if he dared to strike me down in reply!"
"And he doubtless would," said Blaise. "However, aside from the fact that I am *not* about to permit you to embark on such a foolish errand, I do not believe that it was one of his subjects who did this to Aldan."
"But you said - ", Cynan began.
"I said that it was one of the Third Race who did it," said Blaise. "But they are not all subject to Lord Oberon. There are legends, Cynan, of a time when many of the Tylwyth Teg rebelled against his authority. They were overcome in battle, and those who survived were banished from Avalon forever. They took to roaming the world of men, taking on the shape of mortals and working small mischiefs upon them. I very much suspect that it is one of these who is your grandson's father. All the omens point in that direction."
"So you are telling me that my son-in-law is some rebellious faerie," said the king.
"Precisely, my lord," said Blaise, nodding. "There is much information here on them in the Grimorum, if you would but read it." He indicated a large book on his desk, but Cynan waved it away.
"I can't read, and I don't have any time for such pursuits," he said. "They're fit only for clerks and priests, not for a king. That does not concern me. What concerns me is that you insist on claiming that the one who had his way with my daughter is not of the children of men."
"That is because it is the truth," said Blaise. "More than what I have told you, I cannot say. I do not know the precise identity of the one who fathered a child upon the princess. It might not be hard to deduce, given that those of the Third Race who defied Oberon and lived to tell the tale were few; most of them were slain in the insurrection. And many of the survivors were female, which narrows the field down even more. With some proper study and investigation, I can learn his name."
"That does not interest me either," said Cynan brusquely.
"I hadn't seriously expected it to," replied Blaise, with a bit of a sigh and a shrug. "However, what I should tell you is this. These outcasts - I can no longer call them truly Oberon's Children, for they have disowned him and he them - never do anything without a purpose. If one of them has begotten a son upon your daughter, he can only have done it for some terrible reason. Most likely to create a halfling."
"A halfling?", asked Cynan. "What's that?"
"The offspring of unions between the Second Race and the Third," said Blaise. "Or humans and the Tylwyth Teg, to be precise. I never yet heard of any mating between the First Race and the Third - I suppose that Oberon's Children never even considered a relationship with gargoyles. Not that anyone of the Second Race has ever done so, either, and I doubt that any ever will. But that is beside the point. Halflings partake of the nature of both their parents. They have the skills in magic of the faerie-folk, but much of the nature of humans. Some may live forever, others for a span only slightly longer than that of most humans. Nearly all of them are in no peril from cold iron. And sometimes they can achieve things which full-blooded members of the Third Race cannot achieve." He frowned, thinking it over.
"If this was indeed one of the outcasts who did this," he continued, "then I fear that it was done for some dark purpose. To renew the war upon Lord Oberon. Imagine what a halfling could do against those who dwell in Avalon. To have the powers of the Third Race, and none of its vulnerabilities. To wield iron against them, while suffering no pain by handling it. Believe me, my lord, I almost feel alarmed at what this could mean. I fear that I will need to take action at once."
"In what way?", Cynan asked.
"I must take your grandson away secretly," said Blaise. "Raise him apart, where his father cannot find and corrupt him. Raise him to learn to use his powers responsibly, for the benefit of the Three Races, rather than to their harm. This is something that I must do."
"Now you truly have taken leave of your senses," said the King of Dyfed, in disbelief. "Do you truly think that I will let my chief advisor and mage quit my court, all because of some fools' talk about faery-folk and halflings, for no better purpose than to raise some brat that my daughter gave birth to?"
"That all depends," said Blaise, with an odd smile showing upon his face. "Do you want a chief advisor by your side who speaks such fools' talk in the first place?"
Cynan stared at him in disbelief for a moment, then began to laugh, in spite of himself. "A good reply," he admitted. "Very well, I grant you leave. But I will expect to receive your counsel, from time to time."
"That I will give you," said Blaise. "I will return here from time to time, to advise you - if I feel that the occasion requires it." He picked up the book on his desk, the one that he called the Grimorum Arcanorum and frequently consulted. "Now, take me to the child."
"Very well," said Cynan. "Follow me."
He led Blaise through the hallways of the old Roman palace until they came to a small nursery. The king's grandson was asleep in a small wooden cradle, rocked gently by his wetnurse. Blaise bent down and looked at him, ignoring the nurse's concerned glance at him. He noted the infant's ears, slightly pointed at the tips. "A clear mark of his heritage," he said, straightening up and turning to look at Cynan. "There will be others, no doubt."
"What is all this about?", asked the nurse.
"The three of us will have to be leaving this place shortly, Nesta," said Blaise to her. "The palace is not safe."
"Not safe? Whatever do you mean by that?", Nesta inquired.
"Your charge's true father will be looking for him shortly," said Blaise. "He'll come to fetch him, and train him. We must be away from here with the baby, to keep him from being used. Nesta, I will need your help in shielding this child for as long as possible."
"What is this all about?", cried Nesta. "Who is the baby's father, anyway?"
"It's a long tale," said Blaise, with a bit of a shrug. "I'll tell it to you on the way to my cottage. I've one in the woods to the north of here. We can hide there from the king's son-in-law and his cohorts. Now, we've not a moment to lose. We'll need just one stop along the way, and that's to make certain that the child is baptized, and by a priest who can be relied on. The court chaplain, perhaps, or if he can't do it, then we'll pass by a village church. Which reminds me, we need to think of a name for him."
"What about Merlin?", asked Nesta.
"Merlin?", echoed both Cynan and Blaise. "What sort of name is that?", asked the king.
"I always did like hawks," said Nesta. "The way that they soar about so freely, and never miss anything. And I saw the child's eyes when he opened them. They were as bright and watchful as a hawk's. A small hawk, like a merlin."
"Well, I believe that it will do," said Blaise. "Now take the child with you, Nesta, and let us be off."
"And I can be certain that you will ensure that the father will not be able to reclaim his son from you?", asked Cynan dubiously.
"Trust me, Your Highness," said Blaise, patting the cover of the Grimorum Arcanorum meaningfully. "I have my defenses." And with that, he left the room, Nesta holding an infant Merlin, wrapped in his swaddling clothes, and following close behind him.
EIGHT YEARS LATER.
"Time for your lesson, Merlin."
Merlin sighed and turned away from the doorway. "Must we have another lesson today, Blaise?", he asked. "It's such a lovely day outside."
"True," said Blaise, nodding as he seated himself at the table in the middle of the cottage, and set down the Grimorum Arcanorum before him. "But your training cannot be delayed. You have much need for it. There will be other beautiful spring days to roam the woods in."
Merlin resignedly settled himself down on the bench facing his teacher. "Why do I have to learn magic, anyway?", he asked.
"You have to," said Blaise. "It's your potential. I've known for years that you have the capacity to become one of the greatest wizards of all time. Greater even than the Mage who wrote this book." He indicated the Grimorum Arcanorum as he spoke.
Merlin looked at the book. Blaise had showed it to him several times already. It was a thick leather-bound tome, with the golden design of a serpent writhing about a staff on the cover. Already, Blaise had told him much about it. It had been written by a powerful enchanter known only as the Mage, one of the most trusted advisors to Caesar Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome over four centuries ago, and contained powerful spells in its pages, as well as much lore about various magical beings. It had passed from the hands of one wizard to another, and had long ago left Rome before its decay became apparent, to pass northwards through Europe until it reached Britain's shores. Now Blaise was its current owner - or custodian, as he preferred to call it.
"And just why do I have this potential, anyway?", he asked.
"Because of your heritage," said Blaise. "As I've told you before, Merlin, your mother Aldan was an ordinary human, but your father was of the Third Race. And, if my suspicions are correct, a very prominent member of it. You're a halfling, and halflings always have great gifts that set them apart from those of the Second Race. Think of the heroes of Greek legend, such as Perseus, Hercules, and Achilles. They were halflings, according to the old tales, and they performed feats of prowess surpassing those that any full-blooded human could ever achieve."
"But you're training me to be a wizard, not a warrior," said Merlin. "I'm hardly the sort of person who'd be able to cut off Medusa's head or slay the Nemean Lion or pursue Hector three times around the walls of Troy."
"The gifts of a halfling manifest themselves in different ways," Blaise replied. "For those heroes that I spoke of, it was in strength and skill at arms. For you, it will be different. Magic. An art which you must put to a good use. A different use than your father was intending to have you put it to, I suspect. You must learn to handle your powers, and handle them responsibly, for the good of this island. Especially since it needs it."
Merlin nodded. Young though he was, he had already learned much from his guardian about the travails currently befalling Britain. The Romans had withdrawn from it fifty years before, and since then, little had gone right. Saxons, Picts, and Irish were raiding on all sides, particularly the Saxons. The High King, Vortigern, had unwisely granted the Saxon chieftains land in the southeast of the island, to aid him against his other enemies, and they had promptly turned on him and seized control of those territories for themselves, the lost lands now called the Saxon Shore, such as Kent and Anglia. Vortigern's power and prestige had waned considerably since Hengist and Horsa and their fellow kinglets had rebelled, and many of the Britons hated and despised him now, calling him a tyrant. He had been unable to keep order even among his own people, and there were many civil wars among the great lords over who would succeed him to the High Kingship. Unrest and anarchy were everywhere. Even in Dyfed, rumors of it had been felt; Cynan's Roman palace near Maridunum had come close to being sacked by Irish pirates only two years ago, which had been beaten back only with great losses.
"Do you really think that I can do something for Britain, Blaise?", he asked. "I am only eight years old, after all."
"True," said Blaise. "But you won't be eight years old forever. Someday, you'll be a man, and ready to take your place as a guardian of this island against its perils. Ready to find a way of uniting the quarreling tribes of Britain against their foes, and show them that there is more to life than petty warfare and feuding. To bring together all the peoples of this land, not only of the Second Race, but of the First."
"Oh, and that reminds me," said Merlin. "Blaise, you've often mentioned the Three Races. And I know that the Second Race is humans, and the Third Race is Oberon's Children. But what is the First Race? You've never told me anything about it."
"I haven't?", said Blaise. "Well, then, it's time that you learned." He opened the Grimorum, and began to page through it. At last he found what he was looking for. "Here's one of them," he said, showing the book to Merlin.
Merlin stared at the picture before his eyes. It depicted the most bizarre-looking creature that he had ever beheld. It looked roughly manlike, but was colored red and had great batlike wings, a tail, and clawed feet and hands. It had a mighty beak and a pair of horns growing just above the eyes, and a mane of long white wild hair. It wore a simple loincloth, and nothing else. All in all, a very peculiar sight indeed.
"What is it?", he asked Blaise.
"One of the First Race," replied the wizard. "A gargoyle. This one was drawn by the Mage himself, when it visited Augustus's court. They occasionally met with the Emperor, though it was not a frequent event."
"And do they all look like this?", asked Merlin, his eyes widening as he looked at the picture again.
Blaise chuckled. "Hardly," he said. "They look different, the same as us of the Second Race. Some are even stranger to behold than this one. If you think that this one is unusual, you should see the beasts that they keep as pets. And there are many who look almost like humans, except that they all have the wings and tails."
"I certainly wouldn't want to meet something like this late at night," said Merlin.
"It's the only time that you'd ever meet one of them," said Blaise. "They turn to stone when the sun is up, and only come alive when it sets. But you needn't fear them - though I'm afraid that most humans do. They mean no harm towards the Second Race at all. They are fierce warriors, but - with a few exceptions - are not cruel or murderous. They can be surprisingly gentle, when you get to know them better. Their goal is not to attack, but to protect. That is their nature."
"And what's this one called?", asked Merlin, indicating the gargoyle in the picture.
"Truth to tell, I don't think that it's called anything," said Blaise. "Gargoyles don't have names, you see. At least, not the ones that I know." He chuckled again. "They can't even understand why we humans have to name everything. I tried to explain it to them as best as I could, but I don't think that I convinced them at all. I probably never will, either."
"You actually know these creatures?", asked Merlin, his eyes widening even wider.
Blaise nodded. "I'll take you to meet the clan someday," he said. "It roosts not far from this cottage, though far enough away that my home respects its privacy. I often meet with its members at night, and exchange news with them. We've grown to be friends. And you should become friends with them, as well."
Merlin looked at the illustration again, perturbedly. "You want me to meet them?", he said.
"They aren't monsters or demons," said Blaise, in a gentle but firm tone of voice. "They're gargoyles. You mustn't judge them by appearances, Merlin. In truth, you mustn't judge anything by appearances. Trouble is certain to come of it when you do."
Merlin nodded. "Well, I'll do it, then," he said at last.
Blaise nodded. "Now, we have some time for lessons." He turned over some pages, until he came to a Latin incantation. "A spell for conjuring up light," he said. "Now, Merlin, repeat after me. 'Fiat lux!'" He raised his right hand palm upwards as he spoke, and a shimmering golden glow appeared in its grasp.
"Um - 'Fiat Lux!'", said Merlin, imitating his tutor's gesture. An identical ball of light blossomed in the palm of his hand.
"Very good," said Blaise, nodding approvingly. "You are learning, my boy. You show the potential that I had hoped to find in you. I'll make a fine wizard out of you someday, I know that."
"Merlin did well at his lessons, too," Arthur continued, as he and Griff made their way down the forest path, Cavall trotting close beside them. "Blaise was an excellent teacher, from all that I've heard. And my own experiences with Merlin are enough to tell me that he was one of the finest wizards who ever lived. He surpassed his own tutor just as Alexander the Great surpassed Philip of Macedon, or Achilles his father Peleus."
"So Merlin was a halfling?", asked Griff. "Who was his father, anyway? Did you ever find that out?"
Arthur shook his head. "I never learned the answer to that question," he said. "Merlin probably knew, but if he did, he never shared it with me. In truth, I very much suspect that he did know, but was troubled by it, for some reason. But he never revealed the name of his father to me, or to anybody else. He was a boy without a father. And that brought him to the attention of the then High King of Britain, Vortigern of the Gewissei."
DINAS FFARAONE, GWYNEDD, FOUR YEARS LATER.
"I am telling you, my colleagues, that the outlook does not look very promising."
Joram, the chief of Vortigern's soothsayers, looked at his associates with a discouraged look upon his face. There were seven of him besides himself, and all of them were feeling equally dejected.
"Three days ago, the High King tells us to find out why his castle keeps on falling down!", said Joram, pacing back and forth in the forest clearing and bringing his clenched fists together hard. It was something that they all knew, but Joram felt the need to speak it anyway. "We've tried every divination ritual that we know to learn the answer! We've examined the positions of the stars, we've consulted the entrails of sparrows, we've ventured into the woods and to the crossroads to read the omens! And what have we learned? Nothing! Not one single hint as to what has made the foundations of his tower so unstable!"
"Time is running out," said one of the other magicians - Cloten by name - looking about him apprehensively. "Vortigern's patience will not last much longer, and he'll demand an answer from us. And if we can't provide him with one - ". He made a gesture with his hand to indicate a hangman's noose.
"There must be *something* that we can tell him," said Elidure, another of the king's enchanters. "Something that sounds convincing and plausible. Can't we think up something like that?"
Joram frowned. "It seems a good idea," he said. "But there is one problem with it, Elidure. We need something that can produce results."
"Results?", asked Elidure.
"Indeed," said Joram. "Let's say, shall we, that we tell King Vortigern that his castle will stand properly at last if he walks about it three times at high noon, followed by seven bards singing every song ever composed by their order in Wales. He does this, and the foundations still will not hold. He will know, then, that we attempted to deceive him, and his wrath will be great. Then we will all be hanged for certain."
"But we don't even know what will remedy this problem!", said Cloten. "We don't even have the slightest guess as to how the walls can be kept from tumbling apart! How, then, may we find a safe answer?"
"I do not know the answer any more than do you," Joram replied. He frowned. "There are times," he said, "when I wonder whether I should have stayed with selling saints' relics to the monasteries. That line of work was much less risky."
"How about the Saint Andrew's skull incident?", asked Elidure. "You almost ended up in the pillory for that one, as I recall."
"Well, how was I to know that the abbey of Amesbury already had that particular relic in its collection?", said Joram defensively. "Still, you're right; that career did have its problems. Digging up bones from the graveyards to pass off as the mortal remains of the various Apostles and martyrs did draw much attention, and as for carving out pieces of the True Cross - if I had a gold coin for every time I cut my fingers or thumb in the process, I'd be wealthier than the Emperor of Constantinople." He sighed. "Well, there's nothing to be done about it. We have to find an answer, and we have to find it quickly. We're supposed to be meeting with His Royal Highness in another hour."
"Perchance I may be of some service to you," said a voice behind him.
Joram spun around, to stare at the newcomer. It was a tall lean man, with dark hair and a neatly-trimmed moustache, mounted on a grey horse and gazing down at him. By the way that he was dressed - a silver brooch for his cloak, a gold-hilted sword hanging from his belt, rings on his fingers - and the quality of his horse's gear, Joram saw that he must be quite wealthy. Oddly enough, Joram had never seen him at the High King's court, yet it was obvious that this must be some great nobleman. He noted behind him that his colleagues were also greatly intrigued, all gaping at the newcomer.
"Is there anything that I can do for you, sir?", asked Joram, quickly recovering his aplomb. He gave his most formal and courtly bow to the horseman. "My associates and I are noted wizards, attached directly to the High King's court. If there is any magic that we can perform for you, most noble and undoubtedly generous sir, I can assure you that - "
"You mistake me, Master Joram," said the rider. "I've not come here to ask service of you. Rather, I'm here to aid you."
"Aid us?", asked Joram. "What do you mean? Who are you?"
"A well-wisher," the stranger replied. "I prefer to remain nameless at present." He looked down at Joram, his bright and piercing grey eyes not missing a thing. "Listen to me, my friend. You and these others are in very grave peril."
"What do you mean by that?", asked Joram.
"Somewhere in Wales, there is a boy," said the horseman. "A boy without a father. Beware of him, all of you. His power is very great, and growing even stronger. As it waxes, so too will the menace that he poses to you. He knows about you, and he wants to destroy you. As long as he is alive, you will never be safe."
"Then what are we supposed to do?", asked Joram.
"Protect yourselves, however you can," said the rider. "It is your duty to see to your survival. You must do what you can to live."
"And just why are you telling us this, anyway?", asked Elidure. "What's your motive?"
"Merely friendly concern for you," said the horseman. "Nothing more than that." And with those words, he turned his horse around, and rode off. Joram and the others watched him leave, then turned back.
"As if we hadn't troubles enough already!", groaned Cloten. "First our High King sets us an impossible task to solve, and now this fatherless child seeks our lives! What more can go wrong?"
Joram frowned thoughtfully. "As long as he is alive, we will never be safe," he said, echoing the mysterious visitor's words. He paced back and forth for a moment, then turned around, snapping his fingers. "Yes!", he said eagerly. "I have it! The solution to both our problems!"
"What is it, Joram?", asked one of the magicians, who had so far remained silent.
"It's very simple, Rivallo," said Joram. "We tell the High King that there's one way for his tower to stand. He must find a boy who had no father, kill him, and drain every last drop of blood from his body. Then he mixes the blood with the mortar for the walls. Once that's done, the castle will stand as securely as the Tower of London itself."
"I don't understand," Rivallo began hesitantly.
"I do," said Elidure. "Vortigern will find the fatherless boy, and kill him. Once he's dead, he's no danger to us at all. Bravely done!"
"And what do we do when the castle walls continue to collapse afterwards?", Cloten inquired.
"Nothing," said Joram casually. "After all, there's no way to prove for certain that the boy in question had a father or no. So we can't be proven wrong. Simple and utter genius! Well, what do you think?"
The other magicians nodded eagerly; it was clear that they all liked the notion. "Then let's go tell Vortigern at once," said Joram, an eager look on his face. "And then we can sleep the easier tonight."
"Vortigern sent messengers to ride throughout all of Wales," said Arthur, continuing his story to Griff and Cavall, "to find a child that answered to such a description, and bring him back to Dinas Ffaraone. To every village, town, castle and manor they came, and inquired to those who dwelt there about a boy who had no father. But no such lad did they ever find. Until they came to Maridunum in Dyfed, the town that is now called Carmarthen. And that was where they found Merlin.
"He was around twelve by then, and was visiting his grandfather in Blaise's company. While he was there, two of the High King's men arrived, and upon learning about this grandson of the king's that had no earthly father - this particular fact had revived itself in the local gossip upon Merlin's return - quickly took him into their custody, and rode northwards with him. They also took Merlin's mother Aldan with them. By this time, she had entered St. Peter's nunnery at Cynan's request, to hide her disgrace from the outside world, but the knights bade her accompany them to their king as well. She would need to be questioned about her son's parentage.
"Cynan made some token protest, although in truth, he hardly cared about what was to become of his grandson. He had never considered Merlin much more than a shame to his house, and so his fate barely mattered. Blaise had far greater concern for his pupil, but he was not overly troubled himself, for a different reason. He knew well enough that although things looked dark now, they would fare much better than seemed the case."
Vortigern of the Gewissei, High King of Britain, looked at his two guests as they stood before him in the wooden hall where he held court. They were closer to prisoners in truth, but he felt uncomfortable calling them that. It was bad enough what he would have to do to the boy, and he would have gladly called it off if he could. But Joram and the other magicians had given him no choice. If he did not have the lad put to death, his castle's foundations would continue to be weak and unstable, and he could not afford that at all.
The High King of Britain was anything but an impressive man. He was already in his late fifties, and his once-red hair and rather scraggly beard were now mostly grey. He seldom sat up straight any more, and had developed an almost permanent head-cold, so that his decrees were periodically interrupted by heavy sneezing. Too much time spent living in drafty stone castles, he reflected glumly. He longed for his comfortable palaces in the Roman cities of Logres, with working furnaces. He had been warm there. But ever since the Saxon wars had begun in earnest, he had been forced to abandon the south and retreat into the west. The damp and chilly mountains of Wales, which were safe from enemy war-hosts, but not from rain and freezing winds. He was starting to think that Saxon battle-axes were far less dangerous to him than was the Welsh climate.
He sighed to himself, as he thought over the last few miserable years of his reign. He simply could not understand how things had gone wrong. Hard-pressed by the Picts and Scots in the north of the island, he had chosen for a solution the hiring of Saxons, Angles, and Jutes as mercenaries against the savage tribesmen, promising them land in the southeast of Britain in return for their services. And it had worked, for a time. But then their chieftains, Hengist and Horsa, had grown greedy and demanded more land and wealth, if they were to keep the Picts off British soil. Vortigern had granted them all of Kent, and even agreed to take Hengist's daughter Rowena to wife. And all this time, more and more Saxons were landing in the island, swearing allegiance to Hengist and Horsa, feasting with them in their mead-halls, sharpening their swords and spears. And then, before he knew it, they had turned on him, and were ravaging the island, in alliance with the very Picts and Scots that they were supposed to be keeping out.
His son Vortimer - by his first marriage to the Lady Severa, when he had been crowned High King - had kept Hengist at bay for a time, and had even slain Horsa in battle at Epiford. But then Rowena his stepmother poisoned him, and Hengist had taken fresh heart. Vortigern, still desperate to find a way of staving off a dreadful war, urged his former father-in-law to meet peaceably with him at the Giants' Dance upon Salisbury Plain, called Stonehenge by some, and arrange terms for the end of hostilities between their people. But when the Saxons came to the parley, they drew hidden knives out of their boots and stabbed the British lords present with them, treacherously. Vortigern had managed to escape, but the incident had given fresh heart to the invaders, and angered his people. They blamed him for the massacre, and most of them refused to call him High King any longer. So, to avoid their wrath, as well as the war-bands of the redoubtable Hengist, he had fled into Wales, where he was still safe. Terrible rumors had reached him from the east of how the war was going, reports that the Saxons had captured London itself, and also York, Lincoln, and Winchester. It was only a matter of time before all of Logres was theirs. And he still could not understand what had gone wrong.
He sighed. It was not easy being a king. Small joy the crown had brought him since he had first assumed it, almost forty years ago. He would probably live to see the island given over entirely to the Saxons, the very people that he had brought to Britain's shores, and his own name made a subject of hatred and loathing forever, a very byword for tyranny and betrayal. And what he was about to do would not make things any better for him. He wished that Joram was here, so that his chief advisor and court soothsayer could be the one to issue the order. That way, at least he would be the one to avoid the blame for this bloody act to come. But that was hardly going to happen. Joram had turned the responsibility for this deed over to him. There was nothing to do but to proceed.
"My lady, Princess Aldan," he addressed the woman who stood before him, now dressed in quiet grey, as befitted a nun. "You and your son are welcome to our court."
"I thank you, my liege," said Aldan, her eyes downcast, in a soft voice, almost a whisper.
"I would learn much about your son," the High King continued. "Pray tell me, my lady, who his father might be."
"That I do not know, if it please Your Highness," she replied. "His name is a mystery to me. All that I know is that many years ago, I was visited at night by a handsome dark-haired man. He spoke fair words to me, and so won me over that I loved him. And it was he who fathered the boy that you see before you upon me."
"And know you nothing of him?", asked Vortigern.
She shook her head. "My father's household held that he was one of the faerie-folk," she said. "And I am inclined to believe it myself. He came and went in such a strange manner that I felt certain in my heart afterwards that he was one of the Tylwyth Teg. But at the time, all my suspicions towards him were lulled into slumber, and I thought of him as nothing other than a suitor. I can tell you no more. I have had no lover other than he."
Vortigern nodded. Her words seemed convincing enough to him; she seemed much too artless to be inventing this tale. "I thank you, my lady," he said. "You have been most helpful. You may go."
Aldan turned and left the hall, accompanied by a few attendants. Merlin stayed where he was, however, without even turning to follow her. He was a boy of twelve, dressed in a homespun tunic, breeches, and cloak; there was nothing about his apparel to indicate that he was of royal blood. His fair hair was thick and curly, and it covered the tops of his ears. He seemed perfectly at ease in the High King's presence, and not the slightest bit disturbed or awe-struck. Such calmness in a lad of his years struck Vortigern as nothing short of astonishing. Another thing that convinced him that the boy was a halfling, whose father was of the Fair Folk.
He spoke up just then. "Sir," he asked, "why did you send for my mother and myself?"
Vortigern sighed. There was no backing out of it now. He would *have* to tell him everything. Well, it couldn't be delayed forever. He spoke.
"For some time now," he said, "I have been building a castle here in Gwynedd, to stand atop the hill of Dinas Ffaraone. Once it is raised, I can take refuge in it, be sheltered from all of my foemen, Briton and Saxon alike. But the foundations are unstable, and the walls will not hold. I consulted with my court soothsayers, and they told me that I must find a boy without an earthly father, kill him, and mingle his blood with the mortar for the stones. Only then can my tower stand."
He sighed unhappily. "I do not wish to do this to you, young sir, believe me. But there is no other way. I will grant you as merciful and painless a death as I may, this I promise you."
Merlin looked distinctly unimpressed. "So that's what this is about, eh?", he said. "Well, believe me, sir, you've been had."
"I beg your pardon, young sir?", asked Vortigern, staring at the boy. Nobody had ever spoken to him like that, not in all his reign.
"Your magicians are lying to you," said Merlin. "What they've told you is nothing more than a lot of rubbish. You could mix every last drop of my blood and it wouldn't do you the least bit of good. Just send for the entire coven, and I'll show you that they are wrong."
Vortigern hardly knew what to say, he was that astounded. The boy's utterly nonchalant, matter-of-fact speech was certainly not what he had been expecting. He was so calm and unfazed that the High King found himself all the more certain that this really was a halfling who stood before him; his precocity could not be explained any other way. Certainly, it was what led him to summon Joram and the other soothsayers at once.
The magicians arrived soon enough, Joram at their lead. It was Joram who first noticed Merlin standing before the High King. "Oh, good," he said to Vortigern at once. "You've found him, sire. Now let's make an end to him."
"Not so fast, Master Joram," said Merlin, before the chief soothsayer could say anything. "There are a few things that I'd like to say to you first."
"And just what might they be?", inquired Joram sharply.
"Well, for a start," said Merlin, "there's this little matter of your lying to the king about why his castle keeps on falling down. You haven't any idea yourself as to what's wrong with the foundations, and the same thing goes for your colleagues. Of course, I suppose that you could have gone to the building site and investigated it, but that was a little too obvious, and not nearly mystical enough for your tastes. So you had to lie. You had to tell Vortigern that the tower would stop falling down if he killed me and mixed my blood with the mortar. It wouldn't do the slightest bit of good, in fact, but that didn't worry you. After all, it was the sort of fiddle-faddle that sounded good, so you went ahead with it."
"How - ", began Joram, looking utterly bewildered and at a loss for words. "How - ". And he was unable to say anything further. The same thing went for the other magicians present.
"Now, there's a different reason for why the castle won't stay up," said Merlin. "I don't suppose that any of you know that, though. Am I right?"
There was a long silence from the cowed magicians. Merlin gave them a few minutes, then turned to Vortigern and spoke.
"The truth of the matter is," he said, "that there's an underground pool beneath the building site. All that water is weakening the foundations, making them unstable. That's why the walls keep on falling down. Just dig there, and you'll see for yourself."
"Surely you're not going to listen to him?", cried Joram in alarm, looking distinctly uncomfortable with the way that this was going. "He's only lying! Lying to save his miserable hide! Sire, I beseech you - ".
"That will do, Joram," said Vortigern. Truth to tell, he found this revelation of the boy's a bit of a relief. Now he had some excuse to call off his death, and maybe even a substantial reason. "The lad here has made an allegation, and I must pursue it. I will have the hilltop excavated, to see if this lake exists. And that is my final word on the matter."
Joram glowered at Merlin, in a mixture of hatred and terror. Merlin looked back at him in an utterly unconcerned manner.
Merlin's words were correct, as the High King soon found out. When he had the building site dug up, there was indeed an underground lake below the foundations for his tower. Everybody present was astonished at Merlin's miraculous knowledge, when this was revealed. Joram and his fellows were looking distinctly uncomfortable. They would have slipped away, but a few of Vortigern's guards stopped them from doing so, barring the way with their spears.
"You might be interested in what's at the bottom," said Merlin to Vortigern.
"And what might that be?", Vortigern asked.
"Two dragons," said Merlin. "One red and one white. It's a sight very much worth seeing. If I were you, I'd drain the pool to get a good look at them."
Vortigern was again astounded at the boy, but ordered the pool to be drained. It took a while for his engineers to get pumps set up to empty all the water, but when they had done so and the lake was drained away, at the bottom were two large sleeping dragons, one red and one white. The High King's court stared in even greater awe at these mighty beasts than they had done at the pool. Dragons were not unknown to the Britons in that time, but it had been a long while since any had been sighted - or at least, sighted by reliable witnesses - and they were very impressive. Both lay slumbering on their sides, rumbling like a pair of giant cats.
After a few minutes, they suddenly opened their eyes, then pulled themselves to their feet. Both stretched themselves, yawning and snarling as they did so, their eyes glowing white. Then, they saw each other. They hissed at each other, and began to circle each other. The white dragon suddenly lunged at the red dragon, and rolled it over on its side, clawing at its scaly hide and roaring. The red dragon lashed at its assailant with its tail, and the white dragon retreated. Only a few steps, however. It sat up on its haunches and raised one front paw, growling with hatred. Then, the red dragon charged at it in turn and the two rolled over the ground, tussling and bellowing. Smoke came out from their nostrils, and jets of flame from their open mouths, scorching the ground all about.
Vortigern and his people stared at the battle below them, none of them daring to move. Only Merlin seemed untroubled by the encounter between the two mighty firedrakes. He winced a little at some of the more savage blows that they dealt each other, and muttered, "That has to hurt!", but that aside, he was the only one present not overwhelmed by the awe and terror of the sight before him.
Back and forth the battle raged. First, the white dragon drove the red dragon to the near end of the pool. But then the red dragon regathered its strength, and forced the white dragon back in turn. Both were bleeding now from the gashes that their claws had made on each other's hides, but both carried on the fight without noticing. Their bellowing and howling rent the air, and birds in mid-flight overhead fell to the ground, stunned. A few of Vortigern's knights tried to place their hands to their sword-hilts, but they were so overcome by the sight that they were unable to stir.
At last, however, both great beasts began to tire. Their roaring died down to a low whisper, and their charges and assaults upon each other began to slacken. And at last, both fell exhausted to the ground, and renewed their slumber.
"I think that we've all seen enough," said Merlin. He turned to Vortigern. "If I were you," he said to the speechless and even breathless High King, "I'd have that hollow filled in at once. That will keep the dragons confined properly. I don't want to think about what could happen if they get loose."
Vortigern swallowed hard, but made no argument. "It shall be done as you advise me, young sir," he said. He turned to the workmen that had excavated the hill, and motioned at them. They trooped forward cautiously, and began to fill in the gaping pit.
"So that is the secret of Dinas Ffaraone," said the High King to Merlin, in a low voice.
"Quite so," said Merlin. "Two dragons in its depths, whose battle is a sign of things to come."
Vortigern wondered what Merlin meant by "things to come", but decided against pursuing the matter immediately. In any case, he had another matter to look into. For his guardsmen were now leading Joram and his fellow soothsayers straight before him. Vortigern turned to face them head on, and the look in his eyes was not pleasant to behold. For the first time in years, some of the forcefulness and determination that he had had when he fought and defeated his rival, King Constantine, in the war over which of them was to become High King of Britain, had returned to him.
"You deceived me, the eight of you," he said. "You gave me poor counsel and lies, and because of you, I almost slew an innocent. And one who has done me far greater service than any of you have ever given me. What have you to say for yourselves, you charlatans?"
"My lord, I can explain everything!", said Joram at once. "I was against this whole idea from the start! It was the others' idea, and especially his!" He pointed his finger straight at Elidure.
"Why, you fraud - ", Elidure began. He was ready to fly straight at Joram, but a couple of guards held him tightly, so he could do no more than give his erstwhile superior a smoldering glare.
"It hardly matters which of you first conceived of this scheme," said Vortigern, his voice and eyes wrathful alike. "You all agreed on it, and you all share in its guilt. For that, I have more than a good mind to have you all hanged, as soon as a suitable gallows can be raised for the lot of you."
"Now, wait a minute!", cried Joram, turning pale. "Please, your most merciful Highness, reconsider, I pray you! Think of all that we have done for you - "
"Done to me, would be a better way of putting it," said Vortigern sharply. "Not one more word from your mouth, Joram! And that goes for all of you!", he added to the quavering magicians. "Take them from my sight!", he shouted to the guards.
"Your Highness, wait!", Merlin began.
Vortigern turned towards him. "And what do you want?", he asked the boy.
"I know that you have good reason to be angry at these men, sir," said Merlin. "They lied to you, and gave you bad advice. They tricked you into believing them to be highly skilled enchanters, rather than a collection of frauds and mountebanks. But I would ask this of you. Spare their lives."
"And why should you wish to plead for them?", Vortigern asked the boy. "They sought to kill you!"
"Because they were persuaded to do so by the tales and falsehoods of another," said Merlin. As Joram and the other magicians stared at him, he continued in his usual unconcerned manner, "Don't ask me how I know. I just do. My tutor Blaise did a good job of training me. And I can tell you this. My father really is of the Third Race - that's what Blaise likes to call the Fair Folk - and I've inherited most of my gifts from him. Some were thanks to Blaise's lessons, mind you, rather than to my descent. But I'm afraid that I've become a bit of a disappointment to him. He had other ideas as to what I should be doing, and sees me as a traitor. So he's out to get rid of me. No doubt he was the one whom you had that little conversation with, which gave you the idea of trying to get rid of me."
Joram and his colleagues stared at Merlin, utterly dumbfounded. "How do you know all of this?", asked Joram at last.
"As I said, I have my ways," the boy replied. "It's rather complicated, and I'm not about to get into the nitty-gritty details of it all. But you were being used, somebody else's pawns. So I'm not pressing charges against you." He turned back to Vortigern. "Let them live, I beseech you. You won't accomplish anything by killing them."
Vortigern frowned, thinking it over. Merlin added, "Look upon it as the reward that you've granted me for my services to you. This is the boon that I've decided to ask of you. Surely you won't refuse that."
"Very well, then," said Vortigern at last. He turned to Joram and the others. "I will spare your lives," he said to them. "However, that is as far as my mercy towards you will extend. You are dismissed from your posts, and banished from my court forever. Never enter my presence again, or else I truly will have you put to death that time, and nobody's words, not even the boy's here, will win me over to forbearance. Now go!"
Looking utterly disconsolate and bewildered, the eight magicians slunk quietly away. Merlin ran after them, and passed by Joram.
"No hard feelings towards any of you, all right?", he said. "Oh, and a little helpful word of advice to you. Get out of the magic business. You're clearly not qualified for it. Look into a more honest line of work. Something like scribes."
"How can you jest at us like this?", asked Joram bitterly, glowering at him.
"Sorry," said Merlin. "Just a bad habit of mine. Comes from that Third Race blood in my veins. Most of the Fair Folk are a pretty flippant lot, and I'm afraid that I'm taking after them in that way. Of course, if you think that I'm bad, you clearly ought to meet Puck. I've never met him, but Blaise told me quite a lot about him. And believe me, he makes me look like the epitome of seriousness." And with that, he turned around and walked back to where Vortigern was standing.
"Young sir, you have done much for me," the High King said to the boy. "If there is any way in which I might repay you, I will gladly do it. Lands, silver, gold, name whatever you will, and it is yours."
"Thanks, but I'm not really interested," said Merlin, shaking his head. "I really don't have any use for such things. Besides, you'll need what you have right now. You won't be High King for much longer."
"How do you know?", asked Vortigern, staring at the boy.
"Trust me, I know," said Merlin. "Watching those two dragons told me much about the future. They're dragons, but they're also symbols, of a sort. The red dragon stands for the Britons, and the white dragon for the Saxons. These two people will fight many battles in this island, fierce and bloody engagements. And finally, the Britons will find a champion, the Boar of Cornwall. He will drive back the Saxons, and make even the sons of Romulus dread his might. The first two races will dwell in peace side by side while he rules this island, and his end will be a great mystery. His fame shall endure for over a thousand years, and his deeds will be meat and drink for storytellers."
"And will I live to see this king?", asked Vortigern, truly awe-struck at the boy's words.
Merlin shook his head. "I fear not, sir," he said. "I wish that I could say otherwise, but your days are numbered. Long ago, you overcame your rival, King Constantine, to achieve the rule of Britain. His two young sons, Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther, fled to Brittany, to seek sanctuary at the court of their kinsman, King Budic. Now they are grown to man's estate, and intend to return to recover their patrimony from you and from the Saxons. They will overcome you, and from their line will the Boar of Cornwall that I spoke of spring. And you shall go down in history as a name to be cursed and reviled."
Vortigern sighed. "I hardly need a boy who knows the future to tell me that last," he said. "I could see it for myself. But I will accept whatever comes to me. Truth to tell, I've suffered enough misfortune in these last few years that I no longer have any very great desire to live."
"Well, I'm off now," said Merlin. "I've more lessons to undergo with Blaise, and they'll have to be very intensive ones. I've the feeling that I'm going to need them in the time to come." And with that, he walked off, leaving Vortigern staring after him. He and the High King would never meet again.
"And that was the first time that Merlin displayed his powers and knowledge in public," said King Arthur to Griff. "And before the then-High King of Britain, no less."
"That truly is an amazing story," said Griff, obviously very much impressed. "So what did happen to Vortigern, anyway?"
"As Merlin said, he didn't live much longer," said Arthur. "He saw that building a tower at Dinas Ffaraone - they call it Dinas Emrys now, by the way, after Merlin; he went by the nickname of 'Emrys' at times, you see - was much too dangerous, so he abandoned the hill and went elsewhere. He made his new stronghold the castle of Genoreu in southern Wales, and there provisioned himself for a siege.
"The siege came soon enough. Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther had just landed in the south of Britain, at Totnes, determined to drive back the Saxon invaders. But before they did so, they intended to avenge the death of their father Constantine upon Vortigern's head. They marched upon Genoreu with their army, and assaulted it. When they were unable to breach the walls, they had their archers shoot flaming arrows at the castle. It was built of wood rather than of stone, and so it was set ablaze very quickly. And thus Vortigern perished, as Merlin had foretold.
"Ambrosius drove the Saxons back, and confined them to their own lands in the east, where they remained while he was High King. He had himself crowned at London, and then restored order to the land. He rebuilt the towns and roads that had been destroyed by the invaders, and brought the kingdom back to health."
He was silent for a moment, then looked about him. "We must be getting close to the place now," he said.
"The place where you think Merlin might be?", Griff asked him.
"If he is still to be found in Broceliande, yes," said Arthur. "Una's books gave me instructions on which part of the forest Merlin's invisible tower was raised, and I had hints as well from Sir Gawain, a long time ago, when he passed by that place and spoke with my teacher. Between all this, I have every hope of finding the spot. And seeing if Merlin is still there."
"And if he isn't?", asked Griff.
"Then we will simply have to look elsewhere," said Arthur. "But I am hoping that we may be able to find some sort of clue as to his whereabouts. There must be some lingering trace here."
The path turned again, and the king and his two gargoyle companions emerged into a small clearing. "This is the place where the tower stood," said Arthur. He walked out into the middle of the glade, holding his hands out before him. He felt nothing.
"The tower is no longer here," he said to Griff and Cavall at last. "The spell that created it must have been dissolved. And a long time ago, as likely as not."
"So what do we do now?", asked Griff.
"I don't know, as yet," said Arthur, looking mildly frustrated. "That the tower would be gone, I had expected. But that there would be some hint as to where Merlin might have gone, some indication as to which direction he departed in - that I was very much hoping for. And now, nothing." He kicked a small rock.
Griff said nothing, but merely watched his liege lord. Cavall trotted up to the king, and sniffed at the ground intently. Arthur watched, hoping that the gargoyle beast might have picked up some scent of use to the quest. Instead, however, the dog went suddenly over to the far corner of the clearing and stuck his great snout into a hole. Evidently what he had caught the smell of was a rabbit.
"Dawn will soon be here," said Griff, looking up at the sky. "Maybe it would be best if we stayed here for the moment, and chose this as our resting place for the day. Then we can decide what to do when the sun sets and Cavall and I awaken."
"Yes, I suppose that you're right," said Arthur. He whistled to Cavall, who left his investigation of the rabbit hole and walked back to his master's side. "This place is as good as any to spend the day in." He seated himself on a small rock, still frowning.
"So what happened with Merlin next?", asked Griff. "You said something about his advising your uncle and father. When did that happen?"
"A few years after my uncle returned to Britain," said Arthur. "He sought out Merlin at the advice of his counsellors, and consulted him on many matters of state. So did his younger brother, my father Uther. Merlin was often absent on his own journeys, but whenever they had need of him, he was there.
"And then came the day when Britain was once again wracked with war. Vortigern was survived by one of his sons, Pascent by name, who believed that it should have been he who was made High King of Britain rather than Ambrosius. He made an alliance with the Irish king Gilloman, and the two of them invaded Wales, burning and slaughtering as they came. Ambrosius was ill at the time, and confined to his bed in his palace at Winchester. So he entrusted Uther with the leadership of his army, and sent him into Wales to put down Pascent's uprising. And Merlin accompanied him on this mission.
"And it was on the way to fight Pascent and Gilloman that they beheld a great wonder...."
SOUTHERN WALES, LATE 5TH CENTURY.
The British war-host had encamped for the night. Pavilions had been pitched, sentry duty organized, campfires lit. Knights, squires, men-at-arms, archers, and servants ate their sparse rations by the fires, or slept.
Prince Uther was holding a final council of war with a few of his chief officers in his tent. Count Eldol of Gloucester, the fiery old warhorse who had managed to survive the massacre at the Giants' Dance by fighting his way out with a stout oaken staff was one of them; another was Sir Ulfius of Ridcaradoch, Uther's closest and most trusted friend. A few other noted knights, such as Sir Baudwin of Brittany, Sir Hervis de Revel, and Sir Galagars, completed the assembly. The only person of note in the war-host not there was Merlin. The court wizard had announced that he needed to get some sleep, and retired to his pavilion, requesting that he be awakened only if it was something of immense importance. Since the council seemed more a matter for men of war than for wizards, Uther had decided not to disturb him. It was probably a bad idea to rouse him from his slumber for casual reasons, anyway.
"Our scouts have located the rebels," said Count Eldol to Uther. He placed one finger on the rough map of Wales laid out on the table before them. "Pascent has made his base at the village of Menevia."
"Menevia?", said Hervis, expectantly. "Why, that's not far from here. No more than half a day's journey, in fact! We'll quash this uprising in no time!"
"I hope so," said Ulfius. "But keep in mind, good sirs, that to speak is much easier than to do. Pascent is a wily general, and his Irish allies are fierce warriors. They will not be overcome so simply as that. The battle will be a fierce one, of that we can be certain. And a costly one as well, no doubt."
"But one that we must undertake," said Uther firmly. "The invasion must be put down firmly. It's time that we made an end of Vortigern's house. Pascent is a traitor. He allied himself with the Saxons and the Irish, who are both our foes. He must be put to heel, before he can do more damage to my brother's kingdom."
There was suddenly the sound of a commotion outside. Uther turned and stared in the direction of the entrance to his pavilion. "What on earth is going on out there?", he asked. "Are we under attack?"
"It doesn't sound like it," said Sir Baudwin. "I hear no cries of battle, no swords clashing against shields. This is something very different."
A young squire suddenly dashed into the tent, looking very much out of breath.
"What is it, Gwyllim?", asked Uther.
"My lord," said the youth, still panting. "There is a great marvel without! You must behold it at once!"
"A marvel?", inquired Uther, looking a little puzzled. "What manner of marvel?"
"See for yourself, sire," said the squire. "It's in the heavens above!"
Uther rose from his chair. "Well, let us see just what this wonder is, my lords," he said.
They followed him out from the pavilion, and there looked up at the sight which had so convulsed the entire camp. Overhead, there was a glowing shape, much like a dragon. A dragon with its wings outspread and a long outstretched tail. From its mouth there stretched a great beam of light, which shone across the sky, southwards in the direction of Gaul. Men from all about the camp stared up at it, wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the strange portent.
"Somebody fetch Merlin at once!", said Uther, once he had recovered his breath. "He can explain this to us, if anybody can."
Gwyllim raced off to Merlin's tent, while Uther and his officers continued to gaze, awe-struck, upwards at the dragon-star. "This is a token of some sort," said Sir Baudwin, with a frown. "But if only we knew what it means."
"Merlin will know," said Sir Galagars. "He knows everything, or so they say."
"Let's hope that you're right on that one," said Count Eldol. A battle-hardened veteran who had engaged the Saxons many times wth calmness and fortitude, he seemed unnerved for the first time in his fighting-career as he looked at the star.
It was only a couple of minutes later that Merlin joined them, still rubbing his eyes. He was a grown man by now, and dressed in a formal robe with a long mantle, pinned at the left shoulder with a silver brooch. His features had a hawklike leannesss to them, and he was already sporting a short beard, which he promised would grow longer in time. After reaching adulthood, he had settled into something best described as "agelessness"; a person could simply not decide, upon looking at him, whether he was young, old, or middle-aged. More of the symptoms of faerie blood in him, it was generally decided.
"I hope that you've got a good reason for awakening me," he said to Uther, a trifle grumpily. "I was right in the middle of a very refreshing slumber."
"This is very important, Merlin, trust me," said Uther. He pointed at the star above. "What is the meaning of this?", he asked him. "Can you tell us?"
Merlin looked up at the strange vision in the heavens, frowning. Then the expression on his face suddenly changed, to one of shock and grief. He began to weep, and his eyes were still moist when he spoke to the prince.
"Sorrow has befallen us," he said to Uther. "Your brother, Ambrosius Aurelianus, is dead, murdered treacherously. You are the High King of Britain now, Prince Uther. Hasten to Menevia at once, and rout the invaders! Victory shall be yours, and you will rule this island for a long time. That is what the dragon-star portends. The dragon itself is you, but the ray of light from its mouth shall be your son. He will be an even greater king than you, my lord, and the bards shall sing of his name for centuries. His might shall be felt even in Gaul, and his fame will spread throughout the earth. The first two races shall make peace during his reign, and the Third Race shall receive him when he departs this isle. He will not die; unwise the thought, a grave for Arthur. He will only sleep, and when he returns, he shall again befriend the First Race, and ally with it against those who would do Britain harm."
"The First Race?", asked Uther, staring at Merlin. "The Third Race? What are you talking about, Merlin?"
"I will say no more for now; I have spoken enough," said Merlin. "Hasten ye to Menevia in the morning, and do against Pascent and Gilloman what you must. That is all." And with that, he turned around and walked back to his pavilion, yawning a little.
Uther and his knights looked at one another. "Ambrosius is dead?", asked Ulfius at length. "Can this be the case?"
"I hope not," said Uther troubledly. "Although my brother's health was still failing, according to the last messages that reached us from Winchester. I pray that nothing has befallen him."
"Whatever Merlin says has always come true," said Sir Baudwin. "But what was this talk of his about your son?"
"I don't know, and I don't even want to find out as of now," said Uther. "The less I know about my future, the better I'll sleep. For now, this war council is adjourned. We'd best get our rest. We have much to do in the morning." But as he spoke, he looked up again at the hovering dragon-star, in an uneasy way.
"The dragon," he said to himself, so low that nobody else could hear him. "The dragon."
"Uther fought Pascent and Gilloman at Menevia the next day," said Arthur, "and overthrew them both. And when he returned to Winchester, he found that it had been just as Merlin said. Ambrosius had been poisoned by one of Pascent's agents, who had disguised himself as a physician. Uther had him buried within the circle of the Giants' Dance, and was crowned High King of Britain in his place.
"And he remembered the vision of the dragon-star, and saw it as an omen which must be respected. So he took on the name of 'Pendragon' or 'Dragon-King'. Uther Pendragon, men called him from then on."
"So that's how your father came to be called by that name," said Griff, listening raptly to Arthur's tale. "And you yourself."
"Quite so," said Arthur. "It was thanks to the dragon-star, and Merlin's prophecy.
"Merlin went on to serve my father on many occasions throughout his reign, too, just as he had done with Ambrosius. It was by his advice that Uther first set up the Round Table, before he gave it to his friend King Leodegrance of Cameliard. Indeed, it was Merlin who had that table built in the first place. And it was also through his magic that I was begotten. But that is a tale for another time, and time is something that we seem to be short on at the moment." He looked at the skies, which were increasingly lightening.
Then the sun arose. As its first rays fell upon the clearing, Griff and Cavall hardened into stone. Arthur looked at his two petrified friends, then settled himself down. They would sleep until sunset, and he might as well do the same.
He couldn't help wondering, though, as he leaned back in a comfortable position against one of the trees, just where his old friend and teacher might be found. He had been doubtful already that Merlin was still in Broceliande, but had at least hoped to find some indication here, some subtle hint, as to his current home. But there was none here. He hadn't even seen any trace of Oberon's Children anywhere in the forest. Maybe they had abandoned it. It seemed unlikely to him, but not impossible. After all, the faerie-folk were a notoriously flighty people, and it was quite in character for them to desert an old home on a whim. Perhaps Broceliande was no longer the place of marvels and wonders that it had been when he had been High King, so long ago. Although he hoped that this was not the case. It would be a sad thing, to find the magic gone.
Well, there were other places to search for Merlin, if this lead failed. He and his friends could simply return to Britain, and go to one of his other old haunts. It was only a matter of finding which one....
It was then that he heard the noise.
It was a strange sound, almost like a woman singing. Sweet and melodic, with a lilting air. And yet, there were certain strange features of it which made it more than that. He craned his ears to listen to it the better, and then found himself growing numb.
"Sorcery!", he murmured to himself, and his hand crept towards Excalibur's hilt. Or rather, that was what he had intended. But he could not stir it at all. The unearthly song had captured him, so that he could not move or budge at all. He was ensnared.