Disclaimer: All Gargoyles characters found herein (King Arthur, Leo, Una, Griff, and Macbeth) are the property of Disney and of Buena Vista Television rather than of myself. This is not being written for profit, but merely out of a desire to continue a story that the original "Gargoyles" series never completed.
"Previously...." (King Arthur)
ELISA: "Arthur Pendragon, King of all Britain, you are needed." Arthur's eyes opening. (Avalon, Part Three).
KING ARTHUR: "I, too, will explore this new world, but on my own, and thus less conspicuous." (Avalon, Part Three).
KING ARTHUR: "I must begin another quest, to find my friend and teacher, Merlin." (Pendragon).
KING ARTHUR: "By this hand, and by my sword, I name thee knight. Sir Griff." (Pendragon).
Night had fallen over the city of London. A clear night, if slightly chilly, and for once, no rain, not even a drizzle. A night seemingly like any other in the capital of Great Britain.
It had not been until after sunset that the little shop in Soho displayed its "Open" sign. Not that it mattered much, for there were no customers that night. The two shopkeepers had their establishment all to themselves, and sat concernedly at the small dining table in the back, drinking tea and talking.
Neither of them were the sort of people that one would have expected to find running a shop, not even a shop specializing in magical goods. Both wore long flowing robes, and both had the heads, not of humans, but of animals. One looked like a lion, with a magnificent golden mane, streaked lightly with grey. The other bore a striking resemblance to a unicorn, complete with golden mane and spiralled horn. Nearly all their customers believed these strange countenances to be nothing more than masks. In fact, they were quite mistaken.
"No word from him again," sighed the unicorn-headed woman. "I'm getting worried, Leo."
"I don't understand it, Una," said Leo, sounding equally troubled. "What can have happened to him this time? Surely Goliath hasn't taken him off on another time-travelling jaunt with the Phoenix Gate, has he?"
"Goliath wouldn't do that again," said Una. "At least, I don't think so. We haven't even seen any sign of him back here in London, or any of his friends either. I don't think that they're involved this time."
"Well, if not Goliath, then who?", asked Leo.
"I don't know," said Una. "And truth to tell, that's what upsets me the most. The last time, we at least had some idea what had happened. We knew whom to blame. Goliath, and the Nazis, both. But this time, what happened to Griff is anybody's guess. I don't know who to be angry at."
They were talking about Griff, their former partner in running the magic shop. Over fifty years ago, during the Battle of Britain, Griff had mysteriously vanished while out on one of his nightly patrols, helping the humans of London against the Nazi forces. At the time, Leo and Una had made a visiting Scottish gargoyle named Goliath, who had gone out with Griff on patrol and vanished with him, the scapegoat for their loss. Only recently, however, Goliath and Griff had both reappeared in London, telling an astonishing tale involving a legendary talisman known as the Phoenix Gate. A Griff plucked out of time from 1940, and re-deposited in the 1990's, absolutely bewildered at all the changes in the last fifty years. But a Griff restored to them.
Or so they had thought. But then, just a few weeks later, he had vanished once more. Griff had gone on patrolling London at night, only now guarding it and its human inhabitants not against German bombers, but petty thugs and muggers, the criminal element plaguing honest citizens. Leo and Una had accompanied him on these patrols from time to time, but on that particular night, they had had urgent business minding the shop. Griff had gone over to Westminster, therefore, alone, and had not returned. Nor did Leo and Una have any idea whatsoever as to what could have happened to him.
They had made every effort to find out, of course. They had visited the estate outside of London where the bulk of their clan lived, to see if Griff might have gone there. But he had not. They had searched through all of Westminster for several nights, looking for any sign of their rookery brother, alive or dead. But nary a trace of him there, either. Una had been especially disturbed by this, for that particular night, she had had a feeling as though there was some strange magic about to be at work. She was a trained sorceress, and she could sense these things. More than that, however, she could not say. It had been two weeks now, and still no sign of Griff had turned up anywhere.
"Do you feel like going out on patrol tonight?", Leo asked his partner.
She shook her head. "No," she said. "I'll remain here. We may have customers, after all. There'll need to be somebody who can wait on them. Go ahead without me."
"Truth to tell, I don't feel much like a patrol myself," said Leo. "Not unless I could feel certain that I could find out on it what had become of Griff." He finished his tea, and sat the cup back down on the saucer glumly.
"It isn't right," said Una. "We'd only just gotten him back. And now, to lose him again - ".
She broke off suddenly, as the front door of the shop opened and the little bell rang. "Customers," she said. "What did I tell you? This won't take but a minute."
The two gargoyles went out to the main room of the shop, to wait on their caller. "May we help you?", Leo began, then broke off, staring in disbelief, Una beside him, at who had just come in.
The newcomer was a third gargoyle, dressed in a black leather jacket and trousers, with great feathered wings. His head was shaped much like that of a griffon on a heraldic shield, complete with a mane that had a strong resemblance to a mohawk-style haircut. He strode towards the counter eagerly, a delighted look upon his face.
"Griff!", Una gasped, when she had found her voice at last. "It's you!"
"Quite so, Una," said Griff, in his usual cheery tone of voice. "Hullo, Leo. Good to see you both again."
"Where on earth have you been, anyway?", cried Leo, finally able to speak. "We've been out of our minds with worry over you, Griff! What happened to you in Westminster, anyway?"
"It's a long story," said Griff. "Sorry to scare you about it, especially this soon after my last disappearance." The last disappearance had been over half a century ago, in fact, but it had seemed extremely recent to Griff, thanks to the peculiarities of time travel. "But I'd had to leave very suddenly, and there was just no way of getting in touch with either of you at all about it. As I said, I'm dreadfully sorry if I put the wind up you both.
"But enough of this! Leo, Una, I want you to meet my new friend. King Arthur Pendragon."
A human followed him into the shop, a tall man in his forties. He had long brown hair, drawn back in a ponytail, and a short beard with some grey in it. He wore a suit of medieval armor and a long cloak over it, and a great sword hung from his belt in a leather scabbard. And there was something about him that could not be clearly described in words, a sort of ancient dignity that made Leo and Una forget all about their amazement and wonder at seeing their friend so unexpectedly return to them, and stare at the newcomer instead.
"You must be Leo and Una," said the man, in a warm tone of voice, as he walked up to the counter. "Griff has told me much about you."
It was Una who spoke first. "You are King Arthur?"
"Indeed I am, my lady," the man replied, with a slight smile.
"That's impossible," said Leo. "King Arthur died in battle almost fifteen hundred years ago. You can't possibly be him."
"I am afraid that this is where you are mistaken, my friend," said Arthur, amused rather than offended. "I was not slain at Camlann at all, although I was seriously wounded there. I was borne away to Avalon, and placed in an enchanted slumber there for fifteen centuries, until the time of my awakening. Which was not too long ago, though much sooner than I had expected to be roused from my sleep."
"Much of this seems true enough," said Una. "I've heard of the conveyance to Avalon. And of the enchanted sleep there."
"But are you really King Arthur?", asked Leo doubtfully. "I've heard of humans pretending to be those whom they are not. How do we know that you're not an impostor?"
"I had thought that at first, Leo," said Griff. "A fellow forcing his way into Westminster Abbey with a mace does get a person very suspicious, after all. But by the time that the Lady of the Lake appeared-"
"The Lady of the Lake?", interrupted Leo, his face even more incredulous than before.
"Well, it's a long story," said Griff. "Maybe it's time that we told it to you both now, so that you can decide for yourselves."
"That seems fair enough," said Una. "You certainly owe it to us, Griff, for disappearing like that, and worrying us almost to death all over again."
"Well," said Griff, as he and King Arthur accompanied the two gargoyles to the back of the shop, to seat themselves at the table, "it all began when my patrol took me past Westminster Abbey - ".
" - and that's when he tapped me on the shoulder with his sword, and declared me the first of his knights," said Griff, finishing the story about half an hour later. Arthur had interposed a comment here and there, but by and large, had permitted Griff to narrate their adventure in Manhattan, engaged in the recovery of Excalibur from its new hiding-place. Assisted by four gargoyles who called themselves part of Goliath's clan, and hindered by the mysterious Macbeth, who had finally put aside his hostility, however, and become Arthur Pendragon's ally.
"And how did you get back from New York to here?", asked Leo. Most of his skepticism had evaporated in the course of hearing Griff's tale. He might have doubted Arthur's statement about his identity as long as it came from himself, but he had less reason to doubt his rookery brother's eyewitness account of these events, and certainly they could not be explained in any way other than this human being the genuine Once and Future King.
"Macbeth provided the transportation for us," said Griff. "He's got his own private plane, and flew us over the Atlantic in it. He doesn't have much to do in the States at present, and he did admit that he owed us something after trying earlier to foil King Arthur's quest for Excalibur. He's also doing what he can to provide Arthur with some sort of legal documentation, for convenience's sake. They didn't have it back when he was ruling Britain, and we've all agreed that he's going to need it."
"Well, this is a most strange tale indeed," said Una. "But I suppose that you must truly be King Arthur, awakened from your charmed slumber in Avalon after fifteen centuries. In Britain's greatest hour of need."
"Truth to tell, my lady, I'm not so certain of that last part," said Arthur, frowning. "You see, I was awakened early."
"Awakened early?", queried Leo.
"Quite so," said Arthur. "I never got around to that part. I'm not certain as to when I was meant to be awakened, but I, the Stone of Destiny, and the Lady of the Lake all agreed that this is much sooner than any of us were expecting. Just how it was supposed to happen, I don't know- Merlin never did drop any hints about it - but it actually took place in this way. A human woman named Elisa Maza entered the hollow hill where I was sleep-bound - " He broke off as he noticed the stares of Leo and Una. "You know her, by chance?"
"Not very well," said Leo. "But she was with Goliath when he visited us in London."
"So you two have also met Goliath, as well as Griff," said Arthur, looking interested. "Well, that's a tale that I'll pursue another night. To continue with my story, after rousing me from my enchantment, she told me that Avalon was under attack by a human sorcerer named the Archmage, and the Weird Sisters, who had joined forces. At some point during my slumber, Oberon's Children had evidently deserted Avalon and a band of gargoyles and three humans had taken refuge there. The Archmage wanted to destroy them so that he could claim the island for himself, and they needed my help in battling him. The Archmage also had two champions: Macbeth was one, under the influence of some magic of the Weird Sisters, and the other was a female gargoyle. I fought and overthrew Macbeth myself, which was how we met for the first time. New York was the second occasion, and he didn't recognize me there. Although that I should have expected, since when the Weird Sisters removed him from their geas, they also removed all memory from his thoughts of his service to them."
"So it was because of this attack upon Avalon that you were awakened, and not because of anything taking place in Britain," said Una, nodding thoughtfully.
"Exactly," said Arthur. "I obviously couldn't go back to my sleep again, though. With Merlin absent from the island, there was nobody to place me under it once again. And so I thought that I would explore the outside world a little, and see how it had changed since my time. And it has changed indeed, much more than I had thought. Great carts that run of themselves with no horse pulling them, machines that fly, and lands across the Great Sea that no legend had ever spoken of. Even Merlin's magic seems a paltry thing next to these marvels.
"And as for what I would do beyond my journeys, I at first did not know. I had never really thought of that when Merlin first bound me in sleep on Avalon. I suppose that if I had ever given it consideration, it would be to resume the High Kingship. But I've read about matters in Britain nowadays - Macbeth told me much about them, as well - and that hardly seems a feasible course. I very much doubt that Queen Elizabeth II will willingly abdicate in my favor if I were to appear before her in Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle and declare myself as Arthur Pendragon. No, it seems that I will need to take on a different role in this world. One like my old role in some ways, yet different in others. But just what form that role will take, I do not as yet know.
"Which brings me to my quest for Merlin. Merlin was always my most trusted advisor, and he could give me good counsel on what I am to do. Therefore, I must find him, wherever he now dwells."
"And you came back here," said Leo. "Do you expect to find him in London?"
"Not necessarily," said Arthur. "But somewhere in Britain, or close by it. These islands were always dear to him. He'd done some travelling, even as far afield as Rome and Jerusalem, but Britain is where his heart lies. He won't be far from it, even in this century.
"What actually brought me here, however, was twofold. First, I deemed it only right that the two of you should know where Griff was. I understand that he was parted from you once already, and did not wish you to worry yourselves over his absence. And second, I thought that I could use your help in finding Merlin."
"We don't even know if he's still alive, let alone where he is," said Leo.
"Merlin's still alive," said Arthur. "I can feel it. He has survived down to this century somehow. I can assure you of that. And as to his whereabouts - well, this is a shop dealing with magical matters, is it not? And surely no such establishment would be without some lore pertaining to Merlin."
"True enough," said Una. "We've a few books on him in the shop. But will they be able to help you find him, Your Highness?" By this time, she and Leo had become willing enough to accept the declared identity of their distinguished visitor that addressing him in this formal manner did not seem strange rolling off her tongue.
"Please, my lady," said the king with a smile. "Just call me Arthur, at present. As friends of Griff, you are my friends too. But as to your question, I believe that it may. If they list his old haunts."
"There's something else that might help you too," said Una, as she rose from the table to enter the front of the shop and fetch the books in question. "The Scrolls of Merlin."
"Macbeth mentioned them," said Arthur thoughtfully. "But only in passing, and I hadn't been able to question him much about them. Do you have any information about these?"
"They were discovered in Wales last year by two archaeologists," said Leo, "and brought to Manhattan for study. They've been translated, and the translation was published in the Times recently. Una's saved a copy, and I'm sure that she'll let you read it."
"That will be most useful, and very kind of you," said Arthur. "I will need to know everything that I can in finding my old teacher, and if these scrolls were written by him, they may contain some clues."
Una returned with the books and placed them in front of the king. "Will this be helpful, Arthur?", she asked him.
"I believe so, my lady," said Arthur. He opened the first book, and began to page through it thoughtfully.
It was a couple of hours later that Arthur finally closed the last of the books, and picked up the pencil and notepad that his hosts had given him. He had been making a list as he read through the books on Merlin, a list of place-names.
"These are all places that Merlin is said to have frequented," said Arthur. "How many of these were truly once home to him, I do not know, nor do I know if he still resides in any of them. But I have to begin somewhere."
"And which place is the first of them?", asked Griff.
"The forest of Broceliande, in Brittany," said Arthur. "It's across the Narrow Sea - the English Channel, I believe it's called now -and outside of Britain. But that seems the likeliest place to start the quest."
"So you believe that Merlin could still be bound there by Nimue's enchantment?", asked Una.
Arthur shook his head. "Truth to tell, that's one thing that the stories have gotten wrong," he said. "Macbeth lent me a few books that have been written about myself and my knights from his personal collection, and I've discovered a few mistakes and errors in them. And Merlin's entrapment is one of them. He was ensared by Nimue's spell for a time, but he was released from it in the end, and before the end of my reign. Indeed, without him, I would never have gotten to Avalon."
"How is that?", asked Leo.
"Well," said Arthur, "the problem was persuading Lord Oberon and his court to admit me. Oberon is not particularly fond of mortals, and even my plight was not enough to soften his mood. And the Weird Sisters felt the same way, even if they did deign to steer the skiff that brought myself and Merlin to Avalon's shores. Merlin had to spend a great deal of time talking to all four of them, Oberon and the Sisters alike, before he finally gained leave from them for my stay. It probably helped when he explained that I'd be asleep for nearly all that time, secluded in my hollow hill. Although even that didn't seem to be enough when he brought up the subject of the guardians. Considering how Oberon feels about cold iron, it is a very tricky matter to secure his agreement to bring two suits of armor wrought of that substance into Avalon, even if they will also be kept apart."
"And Merlin persuaded Oberon to agree to your presence in the end?", asked Una. "That would have to have been one of his greatest feats of all. I've heard enough about Lord Oberon to know that he is extremely stubborn."
"Well, much of the credit really goes to the Lady Titania," said Arthur. "She managed to persuade her husband to yield on this. She has more sympathy towards us humans than does her lord, and she also was friendlier towards Merlin. I don't know why it is, but there seems to be some bad blood between Merlin and Lord Oberon. Merlin won't talk about it, though. But Titania received him as graciously as if he was of her family."
"Well, that's not hard to explain," said Una. "After all, the tales do say that Merlin's father was of the Third Race."
"And they're true enough," said Arthur. "Merlin's admitted it to me, himself. Though he never would speak about it much. I asked him about his father once, but he refused to discuss the matter. It seemed almost painful to him."
"But if Merlin isn't asleep in Broceliande any longer," asked Griff, "why are we looking for him there?"
"We?", asked Leo, looking sharply at Arthur. "Don't tell me that you're taking him with you? Not so soon after he got back?"
"Sorry about this, Leo," said Griff, "but this is something that I have to do. I am King Arthur's knight now, and it's my duty to accompany him on his quest. Besides, we'll be stopping by from time to time, on our way from one place to another. So it won't be a complete good-bye."
Leo didn't seem quite ready to accept this, but made no answer. He merely heaved a resigned sigh. "At least we'll know where he is," he finally said to Una.
"To answer your first question, Griff," Arthur continued, "Broceliande was a place that Merlin often resorted to. Nimue dwelt there - may still do - and if anybody can tell me where Merlin is now to be found, it would be her. Also, the forest has long been a favorite haunt of Oberon's Children. There may be several of them found there, and they can tell me much about him. So it makes as good a place to begin as any."
"Will Nimue still be there, though?", asked Griff. "After all, that was fifteen hundred years ago."
"According to some of the sources I've studied," said Una, "she's partly of the Third Race as well. If not immortal, she'd certainly be very long-lived. It's entirely probable that she is still alive."
"Well, that seems hopeful enough," said Griff. "Though even then, finding her will be part of the problem."
"We'll just deal with that when we're there," said Arthur. He rose from his chair. "I thank you both for the help that you have given us," he said to Leo and Una. "And I shan't forget it. If I may repay you in any way that I can, I assure you both that I will do it."
"I can't say that there's anything that we truly desire from you at the moment," said Leo. "Except for your word that you'll keep Griff safe and not let anything happen to him."
"That I have every intention of doing, my friend," said Arthur, smiling. "I've never yet deserted one of my knights, and do not intend to begin now."
King Arthur and Griff now took their leave of their hosts, and left the shop, returning to the darkened streets of Soho. Leo and Griff silently waved a last farewell, then closed the door.
"So he's off again once more," said Leo. "And with King Arthur of all people, this time."
"Well, I suppose that it's no use trying to stop him," said Una, sighing. "If it wasn't this, it would be something else. Griff never was one to stay in one place for very long. Hardly the gargoyle way, but I suppose that there's nothing to be done about it. He was hatched with the wanderlust in his blood."
"At least he's keeping distinguished company these days," said Leo. He frowned thoughtfully for a moment. "I wonder if we could use this for the advertising. King Arthur himself has visited our shop. Do you suppose that that could really pull in the customers?"
"Hmmm...", said Una. "It is tempting, but no, I suppose not. I don't think that he would have approved, somehow."
"You're right," said Leo. "Well, at least we know that Griff's in good hands. This time, we needn't worry. Not like the last two."
"Yes, that's something to be thankful for," said Una. She sighed in a melancholy way all the same.
It had been anything but a good evening for Henry and Minnie Watkins. First, their car had broken down two blocks away from the restaurant where they had been planning to eat that night. It was always breaking down, actually, but that was just the beginning of their misfortunes. The nearest public telephone was out of order, so that they had been unable to ring up a mechanic. After which, the two of them had been forced to simply walk towards the restaurant, as quickly as possible.
"I hope that there are none of those creatures about," said Henry, looking up at the sky uneasily. "Those gargoyles, I mean. There've been sightings of them here in Soho lately."
Minnie sighed. "A positive fright, those things must be. I just got a letter from Margot Yale. You remember her, don't you, Henry?"
Henry nodded. "Your first cousin once removed, wasn't it? The one who's an Assistant District Attorney in New York?"
"The same one," said Minnie. "She said that she and her husband Brendan keep on meeting gargoyles themselves in Manhattan, almost constantly. Why, last Halloween, one of them even jumped on the bonnet of their new car, while chasing some sort of giant fox. It took the garage three weeks to get all the dents out. It must be simply frightful, living in a city swarming with gargoyles. She even said that there's been a movement started that wants to change New York's nickname from the Big Apple to the City of Gargoyles."
"Well, I suppose that it makes sense," said Henry. "I never could understand why anybody would call a city a big apple, myself."
Before Minnie could make any sort of reply, there was the sound of heavy footsteps behind them. The middle-aged couple turned around, and saw some decidedly unsavory-looking fellows advancing towards them. They had punkish haircuts, roughed-up-looking leather jackets, and extremely unfriendly expressions on their faces.
"Well, well, well," said one of them. "Look who's out after curfew, in our neighborhood! And never a bobby in sight when you need one!"
"What do you want from us?", asked Henry, trying to sound defiant, and definitely not succeeding.
"It all depends," said the street thug, grinning like a shark. "What've you got?" He and his friends advanced on the couple. "Come on, give until it hurts!"
"I say, that's definitely not very sporting behavior," said a voice from overhead. And suddenly, a winged creature swooped down, landing on the pavement between the Londoner couple and the muggers. A winged creature looking something like a griffon, but standing on two legs and wearing a black leather jacket. "Why don't you pick on somebody bigger than yourselves, for a change?"
"It's that bloody monster again!", shouted the leader of the thugs, staring at the newcomer in shock and disbelief. "The one that attacked us outside that magic shop a few weeks ago!"
"And he is not alone, either," said another new voice. Henry and Minnie spun around in shock, to see a tall man in medieval armor and a long cloak advancing, a drawn sword in his hand. "Stand aside, my friends," he said to the by now utterly astounded couple. "I and my knight-companion will put these caitiffs to flight!"
Too bewildered to make any response, Henry and Minnie moved out of the man's way as he joined the griffon-like being in confronting the muggers. "Well, well, well," said the thugs' leader, finally regaining his equilibrium. "Been to a costume party, have we?"
"You will leave these honest goodfolk in peace," said the man in armor to him sharply. "Refuse, and we will view you as sworn enemies."
"Yeah, I'm sure," said the gang leader. And with that, he charged forward, swinging the metal pipe in his hand.
The armored man calmly struck at the pipe with his sword. There was a flash of blue fire that erupted from the sword-blade as it made contact with the metal, and when it had cleared, the pipe was cloven in half, the edge still smoldering. The street thug stepped back, staring at his opponent in disbelief. "Wh - who are you?", he stammered.
"Arthur Pendragon, High King of Britain," replied the man sternly. "I have returned home. Now get you gone, if you would live! You and your miserable kind shall harm no more innocents in this city, if I have anything to say about it."
One look at the man who called himself King Arthur, and the griffon-like gargoyle by his side, was enough for the gang members. They turned tail and fled at once. Arthur turned back to face Henry and Minnie, who were by now staring at their rescuers in an utterly flabbergasted manner.
"You need fear them no longer, good folk," he said to them, sheathing his sword. "They are put to flight."
The middle-aged couple stared at him for a moment. Minnie was the first to speak.
"You're King Arthur?", she said, in a quavering voice.
"That I am, my lady," said Arthur, with a slight bow. "And now, my friend and I must take our leave of you. Good evening to you both, and may you meet with no further peril this night."
"The streets are full of nutters," commented Henry, as they continued on their way. "Now there's somebody who actually thinks he's King Arthur."
"True," said Minnie. "But this sort of nutter I don't mind."
Some minutes later, King Arthur and Griff were in the sitting-room of Macbeth's London town house, telling their host about the clash with the muggers. Macbeth listened thoughtfully from his armchair by the fireside, not speaking until they had finished their tale.
"Well, it seems as if you two might be finding yourselves in the same line of work as Goliath's clan," he commented, a half-amused smile on his face. "Protecting ordinary citizens from the criminal class."
"That might very well be," said Arthur. "But I should like to find Merlin first. I would have his counsel on what course my life should take before I actually venture on it."
"It'll hardly be easy to find him," said Macbeth. "I've read about him. Quite a great deal, in fact. Especially during the times over the centuries when my hunt for Demona faltered. On those times when her trail grew cold - and they were many - I thought to gain a different means of release from my life. By searching for Merlin, and seeing if he could remove the curse of immortality that the Weird Sisters placed upon me, so long ago. Of course, I never was able to find his home. Believe me, he knows how to make himself scarce, if anybody does."
"He would hardly hide himself from me," said Arthur. "We were old friends"
"True," said Macbeth. "But with Merlin, who can tell? Perhaps he wishes to be alone this time around. Perhaps he thinks that you and he should part ways forever. It's hard to say what his intentions could be in this century." He rose from his armchair, and poked at the fire for about a minute before returning to his seat.
"I won't know until I find him," said Arthur. "And find him I will, if I have to travel this island from Land's End to John O'Groats. I already recovered Excalibur; I can certainly learn where my tutor is keeping himself now."
"Then I wish you the best of luck," said Macbeth. "I'd offer you more than that, but I can't remain here in London for long. I've some business in Manhattan to attend to, so I'll have to be heading back there tomorrow. I'm afraid that you'll have to do without me for now."
"You've done enough for me already," said Arthur. "And I believe that I and Griff can manage on our own for the moment. I thank you for what services you have done for me so far, Macbeth, and hope that we may meet again soon."
"You know, something just occurred to me," said Griff just then.
"And what's that?", Arthur asked him.
"I haven't mentioned this before, in fact, but Leo and Una aren't the only members of my clan," said Griff. "There's an entire estate just outside London, where the rest of the clan lives. I haven't been there in quite a while - not since the Battle of Britain, in fact - but if things haven't changed too much there, there should be some extra things to give us some help."
"So there are more than three gargoyles in London," said Arthur, looking interested. "I hadn't thought that so many could have survived in the present."
"You know, Arthur, there's been something that I've been meaning to ask you for some time now," said Griff. "When we first met in Westminster Abbey, you didn't seem the slightest bit shocked by the fact that I was a gargoyle."
"And?", Arthur asked.
"Well, that's hardly the sort of response that we gargoyles generally get when we meet humans," Griff continued. "It puzzled me. Well, you did say that you'd met gargoyles when you awakened on Avalon, but even that didn't seem to be enough. Was it?"
"As a matter of fact, it wasn't," said Arthur, smiling in an amused way. "Truth to tell, that's one thing that the legends seem to have forgotten. I actually knew gargoyles from the time when I was High King of Britain."
"Indeed?", asked Macbeth, now looking very intrigued.
"Quite so," said Arthur. "Merlin introduced a clan of them to me when I was a boy, living in the castle of my foster-father Sir Ector. He'd been making contact with them for years, ever since his own tutor Blaise introduced him to them when he was but a lad. I was taken aback by them at first, but learned quickly that there was no harm in them. When I had to defend my newly-won throne against the eleven kings of the north, they came to my aid, and we were allies thenceforth. Gargoyles even roosted on the battlements of Camelot at times, and served as its protectors alongside my knights and men-at-arms. While I was High King, I ruled with justice not only for my human subjects, but for the gargoyle clans of Logres as well -until the end."
"And what happened then?", asked Griff.
"It was Mordred's doing," said Arthur, with an unhappy sigh. "There were many Britons who feared the gargoyles, despite my assurances that their hearts were true and loyal. Mordred used this to his advantage. He claimed that the gargoyles were demonspawn that fed on children, and that by consorting with them, I was placing all of Britain in peril. Enough people believed his falsehoods to follow him in his rebellion. He and his knights surprised the gargoyle clans in their lairs, and shattered many of them with sword and mace as they lay in their stone sleep. Many escaped, fleeing to remoter parts of Logres, or some to the far north where the Picts dwelt. Belike those latter ones were the ancestors of the clan from which our friend Goliath and his fellows came. With most of the friendly clans gone, I lacked the gargoyles' aid at Camlann - not that it mattered anyway, since it was fought in the daytime. I never learned what happened after that, but I can easily imagine. Humans and gargoyles once again estranged, and all my work cast into ruin."
"Your tale sounds very familiar to me," said Macbeth, glumly nodding. "This Mordred seems to have been of much the same nature as my old enemy Canmore. He also used men's fears of gargoyles for his own ends, and thus conquered my kingdom."
"Some things never change," said Arthur. "I would have gladly spoken longer with Goliath on Avalon, or with his clan members in New York, to know if they had undergone similar experiences in this present day. No doubt they have."
"That's true enough," said Macbeth. "They've had their share of troubles - a few of which, I fear, I helped bring upon them. You saw the last one in the garden maze. And there was an earlier time when I tried using them as bait for their queen - or the one whom I thought to be their queen. It turned out that Demona has no more love for her former clan than she has for me." He gave a bitter laugh. "I feel now that it's time that I made amends to Goliath's clan, for what I did to it in the past. If ever they are in peril in Manhattan, I will speak on their behalf. And do more than speak, for that matter."
"And a jolly good idea, too!", said Griff enthusiastically.
"It's getting late, too late for both of you to be travelling," said Macbeth. "Stay here the night, I pray you. And for the day, as well. Come tomorrow evening, the two of you can go to the gargoyle estate that Griff spoke of."
"That seems reasonable enough," said Arthur, nodding. "We accept your offer of hospitality, my friend."
Macbeth clapped his hands, and his butler entered. "Seyton, show our guests to their rooms," he said. "They'll be staying here until tomorrow evening."
Seyton stared at the armored king and the griffon-like gargoyle, but said nothing. No doubt, thanks to living in the service of a man who was almost a thousand years old, and likely to live even longer than that barring a fatal encounter with a certain even older red-haired gargoyle, he had become reasonably used to such unusual sights. He merely led his master's guests from the study, while Macbeth settled himself again in his armchair, and took up reading where he had left off.
Much later that night, Seyton crept uneasily to the telephone mounted on the wall in one corner of the house. Looking about him to make certain that he was alone, he lifted the receiver, and dialed a certain number.
"Yes?", asked a voice at the other end.
"This is Seyton," said the butler, in almost a whisper. "You wanted me to tell you if Mr. Macduff ever had odd visitors, sir."
"That I did. Go on, then. Has he indeed entertained strange guests?"
"I'll say," Seyton replied. "One's a gargoyle. A gargoyle that looks a lot like a griffon. And the other's a man dressed up in medieval armor, with a big sword."
"A gargoyle and a man dressed in armor? Are you certain of this, Seyton?"
"Yes, sir," said Seyton, stammering slightly. What he was doing was not easy. It was bad enough betraying his employer like this, especially since Lennox Macduff was a fair man who had never mistreated him in all his years of service. It was even worse considering the nature of his contact. Darien Montrose was one of the most powerful businessmen in London, and his name a secret byword for ruthlessness. He had never done anything precisely illegal (at least, nothing that could be traced back to him), but Seyton felt very uncomfortable in making deals with him all the same, even if the pay was good.
"Well, this is very valuable tidings indeed," said Mr. Montrose at the other end of the line. "I thank you for them. Trust me, Seyton, when the time is right, your services will not go unrecognized." And with that, he hung up.
Seyton stood absolutely still for a moment, the silenced receiver in his hand. It was a while before he could finally hang it up. Not for the last time since he had first made contact with Mr. Montrose, he wondered if it was too late to back out.
"We've found them," said Darien to the two men standing before his desk, some minutes after his conversation with Seyton. "They're staying at the townhouse of Lennox Macduff. His butler just informed me."
"So what do you want us to do, sir?", asked one of the two men. Both were completely non-descript-looking individuals, dressed in everyday clothing, and with no distinguishing features about them whatsoever. Anybody who had met them would be hard-pressed to describe or identify them afterwards.
"Go to Macduff's house, in private, and watch it," said Darien. "Make certain that nobody sees you. When they emerge from it, trail them. Do so silently, and see to it that they never discover your presence. Report back to me when you learn what they're up to."
"Trailing a gargoyle and a chap in armor," said the second man. "Well, that's a new one, Bruce. Won't that be something to put on our resume?"
"I'll say, Stephen," said Bruce, with a chuckle. "Our next employer's eyes are really going to widen at that one, eh?"
"You will say nothing about it to anybody," said Darien sharply, his eyes flashing. "Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," said Bruce and Stephen. They turned and left the office.
Darien watched them depart. "A man in medieval armor abroad in the streets of London," he said to himself thoughtfully. "And accompanied by an actual gargoyle. Well, they do say that anything can happen these days."
He pushed the button on the intercom, once he was certain that Bruce and Stephen were well away. It wouldn't do for any of his visitors to see them. "I'll meet with Preston Vogel of Cyberbiotics now," he said. "Sorry to have kept him waiting for so long, but there was some unexpected business." And he hoped that Mr. Vogel wouldn't pursue this "unexpected business" at all.
The day went by uneventfully. Darkness came at last, and King Arthur and a freshly-awakened Griff stepped out quietly onto the roof of Macbeth's townhouse. Arthur now wore a heavy black overcoat over his armor, to hide it. Macbeth had impressed upon him the need to drawless attention to himself. Of course, nothing could distract attention from Griff, but the two of them planned to keep discreetly in the shadows for now.
"The estate is that way," said Griff, pointing to the west. "I'll just fly us over there. It isn't too long a journey, especially with a good strong air current. Probably under an hour."
As he picked the king up and glided off, holding him securely in his tight grip, the two men in the shadows on the pavement below watched them depart through their binoculars.
"Quarry sighted," said Bruce satisfiedly. "Time to enter pursuit mode."
"You've seen too many spy programs on the telly," said Stephen, as they got into the van.
"What does it matter? He's off, and we're after him." The two men drove off, following the winged shadow up above.
It was some time later that King Arthur and Griff reached their destnation. An old castle-like structure, partly crumbling and with ivy and moss overrunning the stone walls in places. A grassy field stretched about it, extending to a low stone wall that surrounded the ruined castle on all sides. Arthur stared at it in disbelief as they landed. "Your clan dwells here?", he said to Griff. "It seems as though nobody has lived here for nigh on a few centuries."
"Well, that's the impression that we want to give people," said Griff. "We don't want humans to think that the place is still inhabited, now, do we? Especially not considering that there are still quite a lot of them out there whose idea of a good time is to walk up to a sleeping gargoyle and smash it. This is supposed to be an out-of-the-way location, after all."
"True enough," said Arthur. "But where are all the other gargoyles?"
"Here," said a voice. A large gargoyle landed in front of the king and Griff. Like the three London gargoyles, he had feathered wings rather than the traditional leathery batlike ones that most gargoyles sported, and bore a striking resemblance to a heraldic beast. In his case, what he evoked was an eagle, with magnificent golden plumage and an even mightier beak than Griff's. He was very tall and strongly built, much like an aquiline version of Goliath. He stared at the two of them a trifle suspiciously.
"You I know," he said to Griff. "Griff, is it? Leo and Una reported to us recently that you had returned after being gone for over fifty years, though you were gone again shortly after that. You certainly answer the description. But who is this human with you? I hope that he can be trusted."
"Don't worry," said Griff. "He's a friend. In fact, he's King Arthur, returned to Britain after all these centuries."
"King Arthur?", said the eagle-like gargoyle, turning towards Arthur and staring at him with an unwavering gaze. There was a note of skepticism in his voice, but respect as well; even if he didn't seem to believe that this was the genuine Arthur Pendragon, he certainly deemed him a person worthy of attention.
"That I am," said Arthur. "But I fear that I am at a disadvantage, friend, in that I do not know your name."
"I am Michael, one of the leaders of this clan," said the gargoyle. "So you are King Arthur, are you? Can you prove this?"
"Not at once," said Arthur. "I can only ask you to trust me."
"Well, that we shall do for now," said Michael. "At least you don't seem like a troublemaker. We will have to discuss this within, though. Follow me, both of you." And he led them towards the castle keep.
To Arthur's astonishment, the great hall of the castle was much better kept-up than the outside. The floor was swept clear of dust, and a great oaken table and benches filled the center, just like the ones that Arthur had seen in the feasting-halls of castles and lordly strongholds in his day. He rather liked the sight, in fact; it was good to see something familiar, after all the strangeness and marvels that he had beheld in both London and New York since his awakening. Wonders that made even the Archmage's sorcery seem dim and paltry. What made it look much less like the great hall from one of his castles, such as Camelot or Caerleon or Carlisle, was that, other than himself, there were no humans present. Merely a crowd of gargoyles, about thirty or so. All of them had feathery wings, and all looked like beasts and birds of various sorts. Some resembled boars, others wolves or bear, there were one or two that looked much like foxes, and quite a few evoked hawks, martlets, and other birds. It was quite a contrast to the gargoyles that Arthur had seen on Avalon and in New York, who had looked somewhat more humanlike, and less furry or feathery. Although he had seen a few gargoyles of that nature in Britain, before he had received his fatal wound at Camlann.
The gargoyles had been busy at various activities when Arthur had entered in the company of Griff and Michael. Some had been talking, others reading old scrolls or playing at chess; a few had even been eating with gusto similar to that of the large gargoyle whom Arthur had met in New York named Broadway. But all of this ceased abruptly when they saw the stranger in their presence.
"My rookery brothers and sisters," said Michael, "we have two visitors today. One you already know, if more by reputation than otherwise, Griff." Some nodding and murmured welcomes at this. "The other, however, claims to be King Arthur, reawakened and returned from Avalon."
That certainly got a lot of attention. Every pair of gargoyle eyes in the great hall was riveted on the king. Then somebody near the back spoke up.
"He may claim to be King Arthur, but is that who he really is?" It was a gargoyle who looked much like a wild boar, with great ivory tusks. A mighty and magnificent one; Arthur wondered whether this fellow could have rivalled even the redoubtable Troit, whom he and his knights had hunted down with so much difficulty during his reign.
"I know no more than do you, Aper," said Michael. "But Griff here has vouched for him."
"Well, we've not seen Griff in over half a century," said Aper. "I'll need more proof than that to convince me that it truly is Arthur." There was some approving murmur among the other gargoyles at this. "How do we know that he's not some gargoyle hunter, come to learn our secrets and then shatter us as we sleep, or to sell us to others of his kind?"
"The answer to that, my friend," said Arthur, stepping forward, "is that you don't. Not yet. All that I can say is this. I am King Arthur Pendragon, once ruler of all Britain. And with me, I have brought Excalibur, the sword that once was mine, taken fresh again from the stone." He flung back his coat, and drew the magnificent sword from its scabbard. He laid it out flat upon the table before them, for the gargoyles to look at.
They all gathered around the sword and stared at it, looking very much impressed with its workmanship. Aper still seemed sceptical, however.
"This only proves that you acquired a museum piece from somewhere," he said. "Anybody can carry around a fine sword. I'll need more than that to convince me."
Arthur smiled a little. "Some things clearly have not changed in the last fifteen centuries," he said to Griff and Michael. "I recall that my test of the sword when I was a boy did not convince all the lords and chieftains in the island of my birthright. What your friend just said could have been spoken by Lot or Urien or Nentres on that occasion."
He turned back towards the gathered clan. "If it's a test that you want, then a test I shall gladly undergo," he said. "Whatever it takes to prove to you that I am indeed the Ageless King returned from Oberon's Isle."
"Very well, then," said Aper, stepping forward. "Know this, human. We have records of the time when King Arthur ruled over Britain from Camelot. Records fuller and more accurate than those that humans keep. If you truly are Arthur Pendragon, then you will be able to answer correctly the questions kept in our ancient scrolls."
"A contest of riddles, then, is it?", said Arthur. "Well, that I accept, and right willingly."
"There will be three questions," said Aper. He motioned to a gargoyle with a badger-like face, who picked up one of the scrolls and unrolled it, looking over its contents. "Brock is our Scroll-keeper; he will judge."
Arthur nodded approvingly. The gargoyles crowded away to the sides of the great hall, with only Arthur, Aper, and Brock in the middle. Those three, and a large red gargoyle beast much like Bronx and Boudicca whom Arthur only just now noticed. It was sniffing at him curiously, and showed no inclination of walking away.
"The first question," said Aper. "Which battle was it that gargoyles first fought alongside the Pendragon and his knights?"
"Easily enough answered," said Arthur. "The battle of Bedgraine, in which I overthrew King Lot of Lothian and his allies, the eleven kings of the north. The gargoyle clan that I had made league with struck at Lot's camp in the night, striking such fear in the hearts of his soldiers that my men were able to rout them easily upon the morning."
Aper looked at Brock, who nodded in assent. "True enough," he said, seeming a little taken aback at this. "That was one thing that the humans had not chronicled in their records. But that may be little more than a fortunate guess. There are still two more questions by which to test you."
"Very well," said Arthur amiably. "Proceed, by all means."
"Did gargoyles fight at the Battle of Camlann?", asked Aper.
"No," said Arthur, shaking his head. "They might have had I delayed the engagement with Mordred long enough for the sun to set and what remained of the clan to awaken. But during the parley that I called to stave off the battle, one of the knights present stepped on an adder, which bit him. The knight drew his sword to slay the adder, and his act was seen by both sides as one of treachery. Thus Camlann began before I had intended, and by the time that night fell, it was too late for my allies to act."
"That is also true," said Aper, after glancing at Brock, who had again nodded. "But the third question is the one by which you stand or fall. Tell me the names of the three chief gargoyles that dwelt in Logres in your day, Arthur Pendragon." He spoke the name with a little more respect this time.
Arthur actually laughed at this one. "That question I cannot answer," he said. "And with good reason. In those days, no gargoyle bore a name. The custom only began in these islands after my departure for Avalon."
Aper seemed truly taken aback by this. "That is also true," he said, without even needing to look at Brock for confirmation. "And indeed, I fear that that last query was intended to mislead you. But you clearly know such things too well to be an impostor. I withdraw whatever reservations I make as to your true nature."
"And so do I," said Michael. "So tell me, sire, what you intend to do in Britain. Will you become High King over the humans once more?"
Arthur did not immediately reply to that one, largely because of a distraction that had just arisen. The gargoyle dog was now sniffing at him all the more intently, and then pushed its cold wet snout against the king. Arthur reached down and scratched it behind the ears, which it clearly seemed to enjoy. Michael, Griff, Aper, and all the other gargoyles stared at this sight in amazement.
"I hardly know what to say," said Michael. "He's never responded to any member of the clan with such affection as he has to you. He certainly seems to trust you, Pendragon."
Arthur smiled. "He is a very friendly creature, certainly," he said. "What's his name?"
"Actually, we never got around to naming him," said Michael. "I don't know why. No name that we came up with seemed right for him, somehow. To us, he remained simply our watchdog. Since he's the only one of his kind here at present, we needed nothing further to tell him apart from all the others."
"I had a dog once," said Arthur, looking down at the gargoyle beast. "An ordinary dog, not like this one, but one of surpassing loyalty. I've often missed him since his passing. His name was Cavall, and he was one of my truest friends. I wonder how that name would suit you," he said to the gardog. "Eh, Cavall?"
The gargoyle dog growled in an approving manner. "I think that he likes it," said Griff. Michael nodded in agreement.
"To answer your question now," said Arthur. "I had thought of claiming the throne of Britain again at first, but I've put that aside now. I need a new role in this age. Just what, I do not know. I must consult with my old friend and teacher Merlin first. He will know this age and its needs better than I do as yet; he can give me counsel as to what part I must assume. And I must find him, wherever he now dwells. Tomorrow night, 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."
"And if you do not find him there?", Griff inquired.
"Then I will search Merlin's other old haunts," said Arthur. "The town of Carmarthen in Wales, where he was born. Stonehenge, which it is said that he raised by his arts. The Caledonian Forest, where he is said to have run mad once. And any other place in Britain to which he often resorted. He won't have gone far from the island, if he has left it; this was his home. Wherever he is, I will find him."
He looked down again at Cavall, and smiled. "This is much to ask of you," he added to Michael, "but I would request this as well. Have I your leave to take this noble beast with me? It seems to me that we are meant to be companions on this quest. For all that I know, maybe something of my old hound lives on in him. He is the clan's watchdog, though, so I do not know if I have the right to take him with me."
"No, you have our permission on that," said Michael. "It seems indeed that he was destined to be your ally on this journey, Pendragon. He seems already more yours than ours. And he is an excellent tracker; perhaps he can play quite a part in helping you find your old advisor."
"Then it is agreed," said Arthur, nodding. "Cavall, do you wish to come with me?"
The dog barked with such joy and eagerness that it was clear that this was settled. The former High King of Britain resumed speaking to the gargoyle clan.
"I, Griff, and Cavall will remain here throughout the night, and the day as well. I will learn more from you about how matters have changed in the fifteen centuries that have passed since my departure for Avalon - and perhaps I can tell you, as well, of some gargoyles that I have met outside of your clan. Come sunset tomorrow, our real quest begins. And it will not end until I have found Merlin, or life has quitted my body." He drew Excalibur from its scabbard, and held it aloft, point downwards. "Thus I vow, on the hilt of my good sword. Thus begins my quest."
"You heard it all?", asked Bruce to Stephen.
Stephen removed his earphones, and stood up from his chair by the surveillance equipment in the back of the van. "Every word of it. So this chap thinks that he's King Arthur. And he's looking for Merlin. So what do we do now?"
"Tell Mr. Montrose," said Bruce. He pulled out the cellular phone from his jacket pocket, and punched in his employer's number.
"Yes?", said Darien Montrose's voice at the other end.
"We followed these two just as you told us, sir," said Bruce. "They're out on some old estate near London, and meeting with some very peculiar people. More gargoyles, by the sound of it. I didn't think that there were any living around here."
"According to my sources, there are a few clans scattered over the world, in unknown places," said Mr. Montrose. "That is hardly an immediate concern of ours, in any case. Have you learned as yet what these two are planning to do?"
"Yes, sir," said Bruce. "They're looking for Merlin. And they're not going to stop looking until they find him."
"For Merlin?", was Darien's astonished response.
"Yes, sir," said Bruce. "In fact, the bloke in the armor claims to be King Arthur."
"Britain is full of peculiar people at this time of year, I suppose," said Darien, having recovered by now. "At least it makes a change from someone believing that he's Napoleon. At any rate, here are your orders. Follow them constantly, both night and day. Never let them know that you are shadowing them, however. And at no time are you to ever directly confront them. Merely watch them, and report to me on their movements. All of their movements."
"Right-ho, sir," said Bruce. And with that, he switched off the phone and returned it to his pocket.
"So what do we do, Bruce?", asked Stephen.
"We simply follow them," said Bruce. "And we keep on telling Mr. Montrose what they're up to."
"And why's he so interested in them, anyway?"
"I don't know. With Mr. Montrose, who knows? And I certainly don't think that I'll bother asking him."
"Well, as long as he's paying us for this, who cares?", said Stephen. "Sounds like a cushy enough job to me."
"Me too," Bruce agreed.
Back in London, Darien Montrose cautiously took out of a small desk drawer a little black notebook in which he had written down a few unlisted phone numbers that were of considerable importance to him in his work. He turned over several pages until he found the one that he was looking for. Then he began to dial the number displayed in front of him on his office telephone.
The phone at the other end rang a couple of times, then was answered. "Yes?", said the voice at the other end.
"Darien Montrose speaking," said Darien. "Sir," he added, in a deferential tone of voice that was usually foreign to him.
"I trust that you have a good reason to call me, Mr. Montrose," said the speaker.
"As a matter of fact, I do," said Darien. "We've just sighted those two strange people that you warned me about, sir. The man in medieval armor, and the griffon-like gargoyle. And the man is even stranger than I'd been led to expect. Would you believe that he actually thinks that he's King Arthur?" He tried laughing a little here, not so much out of genuine amusement as to make him feel less uneasy with his contact.
"Nothing surprises me these days," said the man at the other end of the line. "Well, what is his business?"
"That's another strange part of it," said Darien. "Sir. They're looking for Merlin. The wizard, I assume. They're even readier for the loony-bin than I'd thought."
"I would not be so hasty to judge them," said the man at the other end of the line. "You've taken the proper procedures, I trust?"
"My two best spies are on their trail now, sir," said Darien. "They'll keep me posted on everything that our quarry do, and I'll report their findings to you regularly."
"Excellent," said the man. "And when they do find Merlin, let me know immediately. Mr. Montrose, the whereabouts of Merlin are of vital importance to me. Is that understood?"
"Perfectly, sir," said Darien.
"You will be suitably rewarded for this, and for your other services," said the voice. "Now, good day to you, Montrose."
And with those words, the man to whom the voice belonged hung up the telephone in his own office. He looked at the map of Britain laid out on the desk before him, and nodded thoughtfully. "So it has begun, at last," he said.