Written by Nicodemus
from ideas by Todd Jensen and Jeffrey High
MACBETH: And as High King, I swear by the Stone of Destiny, to protect her people and to serve her all my days. (City of Stone, Part Three).
KING ARTHUR: The Stone of Destiny. I'd hoped Excalibur had returned to you. (Pendragon).
"Before him stood the large stone block, dusted with snow itself, and the sword itself thrust into it. Arthur reached out one hand, and took it by the hilt. One gentle tug, and it was free from the stone. (The Goddess of Winter Part One).
MORGANA LA FAY: Do you really believe that fourteen centuries would make me forget the wrongs that I have received from you and your father, Arthur Pendragon? Even fourteen millenia would not be sufficient for that purpose! (The Goddess of Winter Part Three).
MORGANA: Watch your back, Uther's son. I will have my vengeance, someday. (The Goddess of Winter Part Three).
* * * * *
"All right, Harvey," one of the men said. "Now just be gentle with that throne, you hear?"
"I know what I'm doing, Simon." another human replied. "Do you think I want to drop it? I know the Queen'll have our hides if we don't do this proper."
A moment later, it could feel the weight of the humans' throne being lifted off of it, a wooden cage that was being unlocked and opened after centuries. Then it could sense the humans pausing, gazing at it in slight fascination.
The first human fingered the thin hole in its side. "You think Excalibur was really what made this hole here, guys?"
"I don't know, Harv," a third human said, "and I don't care. All I care is that this is the Stone of Destiny we're carrying, and if anything goes wrong on its trip to Edinburgh, we'll be in big trouble. So 'et on with it, and be careful."
A minute later, the Stone could feel itself being lifted and slowly placed in a soft padding within a large wooden crate. As soon as it had been settled in, more of the soft packing was placed around it, then it could 'hear' the muffled sound of a lid being nailed on.
So, the humans were moving it yet again. The last time had been from Scotland to England. Now they were moving it back to Scotland again, to Edinburgh, and then Scone. It had 'known' this for some time, actually; it could 'see' the skeins of destiny like men saw threads of a woven cloth, and it knew that its own 'strand' called for this relocation at this time.
As well, as it sensed the crate being lifted and carried over to a waiting truck outside, the Stone could also 'see' that another chapter of its destiny was soon to pass...
Two sapphire eyes set in a face of pale grass-green looked at him lovingly, a sparkle in them that hinted of mischievousness. The scent of forest flowers in her dark green hair and on her skin mingled with the sweet scent of her own body; a light, but intoxicating fragrance that drew him to her. A voice like the music of a mountain brook, or the wind through the leaves of a forest tree, calling him closer. Lips like rose petals, beckoning to him as he drew her to him and...
"Griff? Griff, are you all right?"
Una's voice was like a brick thrown into the stained glass of his daydream, shattering it and bringing him back to reality. He shivered slightly as he realized how cold it really was, here on the roof of the clan's magic shop. He found himself looking down at a small circular band of braided green hair; the keepsake the female Brianna had given him when he and Arthur had journeyed to the Caledonian Forest of Scotland.
He still cherished the item, given to him by her the night he and Arthur had left that northern forest. He still thought about her a lot, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. Despite some of the ribbing he'd been making at the time about being 'forced into mated life' by his friends, he found he missed her more and more. Arthur's quest would end eventually, though, and when that happened, Griff promised himself that the first thing he'd try to do would be to go to Brianna again and bring her back here...
"Griff," Una said again, more concern in her voice than before, "is there something wrong?"
The griffin-like gargoyle shook his head and managed to break free of the last of the daydream. Then he gazed another moment on Brianna's 'favor' before quickly pocketing it and turning to face his rookery sister.
Una was standing in front of the open roof door, her cloak and mantle drawn about her tightly to ward off the November chill. He smiled slightly as he saw the look of concern on Una's face. Even though the time when they had considered each other future mates was long since past, they still had feelings of friendship for each other. He was touched that Una was concerned about him now.
"No," he said, "there's nothing wrong. I've just been here thinking."
"For the past hour?" she pressed. "It must have been some heavy thinking."
Griff nodded thoughtfully. "It was."
"Was it about the changes you've had to make here, in 1996?" she asked.
"Actually," he said, "I'm getting used to this time. London's not that much different from back then; at times I can almost imagine it's still 1940... Of course, then I see some new building project, or hear one of those fancy jet airplanes flying overhead, and I'm reminded of what time I'm in."
"It has been a long while, I'll admit," she said, relaxing. "And things have changed a great deal. Though some of them have been for the better, as you have seen."
"Yes," Griff said. "The air's a lot cleaner, for one thing. And a lot less fog and rain. But I still miss the 1940's a little."
He paused for a moment. "Sometimes I wonder which of us is having the harder time adjusting to this: Arthur or me. Arthur has more to catch up on, I'm sure, but at least he has no assumptions about this time. It's all new to him, like a foreign country..."
"It is a foreign country, as far as he's concerned," Una pointed out. "The people here now aren't the same ones who inhabited Arthur's Britain."
Griff smiled and nodded. "Yes, I keep forgetting that. At least I'm familiar with this England...mostly. And that's the hard part. Like I said, a lot of things have changed, but a lot of them haven't. I'll come up on something, assuming it to be like I remembered, and then find out it's changed." He paused, and his expression became sad. "Like you, for example..."
Some of the earlier concern began to show on Una's face again. "Griff, what is it?"
"Una," he asked slowly, stopped for a moment, then sighed and plunged on. "I have to know. Did you love me? I mean, really love me?"
Una nodded. "Yes, Griff. And yes, I did favor you over Leo at the time."
Griff paused for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
He hesitated and tried to look away from his former love, a shamed expression on his face. "I'm sorry about running about all over the place, heedless of your needs. Sorry for leaving you like I did in 1940. And sorry for causing you and Leo all that pain for those years." Then he looked her in the eyes. "Can you forgive me?"
"Griff, I forgave you a long time ago," she said. "Truth to tell, yes, I was crushed when you didn't return home that night. It was a very long time before I accepted the fact that you were 'dead'."
"How long?" Griff asked.
"Five years," she replied.
Griff's expression turned to one of mingled shock and horror for a moment, then went back to shame. "I'm..." he began, but was silenced by Una's hand on his beak.
"It's not your fault, Griff," she said quietly. "It never was. How could any of us have known what would happen that night?" She lowered her hand. "You have nothing to be sorry about. Leo has been a good mate to me, and I've had a good life with him and my children. I can only hope that you will be able to have as good a life."
"Thank you, Una," he said, smiling.
"Now," she asked, "may I ask a question?"
"Why are you asking me this now?" she asked. "Why not a few weeks, or even months ago?"
Griff looked as though he was having trouble coming up with what to say. "I...just didn't think it was terribly important then. I mean...you and Leo were happy...and you had a family and all... I just didn't want to muck it up with things from the past that were dead and buried. Now I..."
"...you want to get all this over with," Una finished, "so you can continue with your life and start a new one with that female you've found. Is that it?"
"Yes, I suppose you're right, Una," Griff said, smiling. "I... Wait a minute! What makes you think..."
"It might have been fifty odd years since I last saw you for any good length of time," she said, "but I've seen the way you've been acting lately. The daydreaming, the stupid grin on your face at times, and the way you've been looking at that 'gift' she gave you..."
Griff looked appalled. "You've been spying on me?!"
Una chuckled for a moment. "No, no, Griff," she said, shaking her head. "It's just that you've been that bad at hiding it from my attention." She looked at him for a moment. "May I see it?" Griff looked highly reluctant. "Please, I won't damage it or anything. I just want to see it."
It took a moment, but Griff finally sighed in defeat, and then reached in and handed Una the circlet of emerald hair. As the unicorn-like female carefully looked it over, she said thoughtfully, "Hmm... Interesting color. It's from one of those Scottish gargoyles, isn't it?"
"Yes," Griff admitted.
"What's her name?"
"Brianna," Griff said even more reluctantly.
Una nodded in acknowledgment. "Is she pretty?"
"Aren't you prying just a bit?" Griff asked in an annoyed tone of voice.
"Griff," Una explained, "I know that it's ultimately none of my business who you choose as a mate. But I'm your friend, and I want you to be happy. More important, though, I want to know about my replacement; I'd hate to think that you'd gone from me to a green-haired walrus or something."
Griff laughed for a minute, then said, "All right, I see your point. Yes, she's a beautiful young girl; a little younger than you were in 1940, actually. She's got a great personality, and she's a regular Robin Hood with that bow she has."
"Well," Una said, "as soon as you're able, you'll have to bring her down here sometime. I'd love to have some tea and talk things over with her."
"You would?" Griff asked.
"Of course," Una replied teasingly. "Somebody's got to tell her all about you, Griff. Including what happened on that one night in September of '36..."
"You wouldn't dare!" Griff said hoarsely.
Una chuckled for a moment as she looked at Griff's scandalized expression. "Come on, Griff," she said. "It's cold out here. Let's go back inside and have some warm tea with the others." And with that, Una turned around and started for the door behind her. Griff paused for a moment, still looking shaken, and then followed her into the upper floor of the shop, closing the door behind him.
Downstairs, the two gargoyles found Leo preparing a kettle of tea on the stove in the backroom. Arthur was nearby, sitting in front of a small table with several open books on it. The Once and Future King was poring over them, gleaning from the tomes any information he could about Merlin and places associated with the wizard.
As Griff walked up to Arthur, he could see the human rub his eyes to get some of the strain out of them before going back to looking over the books. The gargoyle merely came up behind Arthur, and then looked over the king's shoulder at the open pages, seeming to read intently. After a few moment, Arthur noticed his companion, and turned to give Griff a questioning expression.
"Any luck with the search?" Griff asked, turning to Arthur.
Arthur merely shook his head and then sighed. "Not as yet. These books are all fascinating in and of themselves, to be sure, but there's nothing in any of them that I haven't already found elsewhere. None of which has helped us find Merlin so far."
"I'm sorry, Arthur," Una said apologetically.
Arthur waved her apology aside. "It's not your fault. Merlin is simply a very hard man to find. And we've not yet exhausted all the places he could be, though I am beginning to wonder..."
"Don't worry, Arthur," Griff said. "We'll find him, probably sooner than later."
Arthur sighed, then smiled. "You're right, of course. But it is still not easy tracking the man down."
"Well, maybe you should all take a moment off. The tea's ready," Leo said, lifting the kettle from the burner. "How's about we relax in front of the fireplace, maybe catch something on the telly?"
Everyone seemed amenable to the idea and started heading for the fireplace, though Arthur grimaced at the idea of drinking tea. Griff and Una sat in chair around a small table, while Leo set up the china, and poured the drink for Una, Griff, and himself and then sat down. Arthur, for his part, went and got a jar of prune juice, and poured himself some of that after sitting down.
Leo then turned on the television, and as it flickered to life, Leo and Una smiled at the slight marvel that appeared on the faces of Arthur and Griff.
"I still find this 'television' an amazing device," Arthur commented.
"So do I," Griff responded in almost the same tone of voice. The scene simply made his rookery kin even more amused.
On the screen, the four of them could see a news anchor relating some sort of minor story about the disappearance of an employee from a local branch of Maddox Technologies.
"And now," the anchor said, going on to the next story, "bringing live coverage of the transport of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland, we take you to our reporter in the field, Regina Fitzwalter."
"Thank you, Donald," the reporter said, as the view changed to one of a young woman standing outside what looked like some sort of terminal. "I'm here now outside Westminster Abbey, where the famed 'Stone of Destiny' is being prepared for transport to Scotland. In fact," she turned to look behind her, "right now you can see the loading of the Stone onto the vehicle taking it to Edinburgh."
In the background, the four spectators could see several men straining to load what looked like a large and heavy crate onto the back of a military land rover. Arthur seemed somewhat amused at the sight.
"I remember the Stone being in Ireland in my time," he said. "I find it interesting that Scotland would now be the place clamoring for its return. Just another sign of how much things have changed over the years, I guess..."
"The Stone itself was brought to England in 1296 by Edward I, where it was put under the royal throne in Westminster Abbey. Numerous kings and queens of England since have been crowned on it, the most recent being Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. But now, after seven hundred years, the Stone is being returned to the people of Scotland."
"This event is being touted as momentous by various groups in Scotland and England, since it is a sign of the changing relationship between these two parts of Great Britain. For years now, some in Scotland's parliament have been asking for greater independence from the central government in London, and this is part of what seems to be their winning struggle."
"And now," the reporter continued, "to give us some background information on the Stone of Destiny and this event, I have with me Dr. Morgana Cornish, of Cambridge University."
The camera turned slightly, bringing another woman into view. This one was shorter than the reporter, dressed in the formal-looking outfit of a college professor, and the pale look of someone who spent most of her time in the halls of academia. Deep blue eyes looked out of a pair of wire-rim glasses, while her long black hair was tied in a neat ponytail behind her.
She looked friendly enough, too, but there was something about her appearance that was familiar to Griff. It was something he couldn't quite put his finger on, but it disturbed him. As he glanced over at Arthur for a moment, the gargoyle could see that that 'something' was bothering the Once and Future King as well; the man's face looked progressively darker as he got a better look at Ms. Cornish.
"Thank you, Regina. I'm very glad to be here, and..." Dr. Cornish began politely, and suddenly Griff realized what it was that was bothering him. The shock of hearing her voice on television, though, made him look for a moment as though he were going to spray his tea all over the television screen. As it was, he swallowed and then went into a choking fit, causing Una and Leo to look at him with alarm.
"Griff?" Leo asked.
As soon as Griff had managed to control himself, he turned to Arthur. "That is her, isn't it?"
Arthur nodded. "Morgana," he said darkly.
"You know that lady?" Leo asked, a confused expression on his face.
"Yes," Griff replied, "but her name's not 'Cornish'. It's 'la Fay' - Morgana la Fay."
"Morgana la Fay?" Una asked in disbelief. "You mean Arthur's half-sister?
"The same," Arthur said simply.
"She's still alive?"
"Yes," Griff commented. "Though I dare say the chaps she sent after us last time weren't." Una looked at him strangely, but Griff didn't supply an answer.
Arthur hadn't moved or said anything, concentrating instead on the television image of his half-sister. He raised up a hand and said, "Quiet, I want to hear this." The others did as told and sat down to watch the rest of the newscast.
By now, the reporter had gotten to the point of asking about the Stone itself. "What exactly is the history of the Stone, Ms. Cornish?"
"Well," Morgana began, "legend has it that the Stone was used by the Biblical patriarch Jacob, where he had a dream of angels ascending and descending from Heaven. Supposedly, this is where it got its miraculous powers from. Later it was moved to Ireland, though no one actually knows how, where it stayed until the migration of the Scotti from Ireland to Dalriada in what is now southwestern Scotland in the early 6th century. When Kenneth MacAlpin became the High King of Scotland in 843, the Stone was then moved to Scone, where it was used to crown the kings of that place for the next four and a half centuries. In 1296 Edward I had the Stone taken to London, where it's been under the royal throne in Westminster until now, as you said earlier."
"Any comments on the reputed magic powers of the Stone?" the reporter asked.
"You mean its supposed ability to detect a true king, no matter what his outward appearance?" Morgana returned.
Morgana smiled. "I'd have to say that 'no', I don't believe in them. I'm sorry, but though Arthurian lore is one of my specialties, I do believe that the extent of its powers are its ability to inspire fiction."
"I've been informed that you'll be one of the people going to the ceremony in Edinburgh?" the reporter said, changing the subject.
"That is correct, Regina," Morgana said. "To tell the truth, I'm quite honored and excited to be given the privilege of attending..."
"I'm sure you are," Arthur commented to the television screen.
"...this event. The history of this country has always been my passion, and I'm thrilled at any chance to be near as great a part of it as the Stone."
"Thank you very much, Dr. Cornish." The camera then swung back to face solely on the reporter. "We'll of course be bringing further updates on this story as it progresses, including the parade planned in Edinburgh for the Stone's return, and the Stone's placement in Edinburgh Castle. This is Regina Fitzwalter reporting from Westminster Abbey."
The picture went back to the news anchor. "Our next story is..." he began, before Arthur turned off the television set.
"Well, now we know what Morgana's been up to these days," he said darkly as he stood up.
"A professor at Cambridge," Griff said with a shudder. "I wonder what she teaches there: 'How to Hex Your Neighbor?'"
"Morgana's no laughing matter," Arthur said. "She's clearly going to be after the Stone of Destiny; I'd be very surprised if she wasn't."
"Well, what could she do with it, exactly?" Griff asked.
"Plenty," Una said simply as she went to one of the bookshelves and started looking through it. After a minute, she smiled and pulled out a large book with a green cover, then brought it over to the others.
"What's this?" Griff asked, pointing to the book.
"A sort of dictionary of magical artifacts of note," Una explained. "It should have something here about the Stone in it."
She opened the book, and then proceeded to leaf through it slowly, scanning the pages for what she sought. After a few moments, her face brightened again, and she pointed to the beginning of a large entry in the book. "There it is: the Lia Fail, or 'Stone of Destiny'. Let's see what it has to say about its early history..."
As she began to read the entry, the other crowded around her, listening to the story she told...
IRELAND - 585 B.C.
King Eremon sat in his feasting-hall, listening to the court bard recite the battles and cattle raids of his grandfather. The bard was of a somewhat mediocre level of skill, and many of the nobles present in the hall had drifted off into a condition of partial slumber, as had even one or two of the dogs that usually foraged about for scraps dropped from the table. After a while, Eremon began to wish a sore throat on the man.
It was much to his relief when the air was suddenly rent by a horn-blast outside. Clearly one of the sentries on the walls of his hill-fort had sighted something of importance, something that might give him the excuse that he needed to call the feast - and the droning voice of his bard - to a sudden halt. He arose from his chair, and the bard at once fell silent. The sleeping lords hurriedly roused themselves, and sat up in their places.
"The guards have seen something," the king said. "Someone approaches this stronghold."
"In peace or in war?" asked one of the lords.
"I do not know, as yet," said King Eremon. "If these strangers come in peace, they are welcome. And if they come in war, then we shall drive them back with spear and sword." There was some applause at this, as the warrior-nobles of his court banged their mead-horns upon the table in appreciation of his words.
One of the guards from the walls burst into the hall at that point. "My lord," he said to King Eremon, "there is a ship approaching the coast. A ship larger than any curragh."
"Sea-raiders?" inquired one of the lords. "From Britain, perhaps?"
"Maybe," said Eremon, doubtfully. "Or maybe from somewhere else. Such as Tir na nOg. I trust that it does not come from Tir na nOg." He shivered at that thought, for he could easily guess what folk might fill the boat if it came from the Otherworld. Then he reminded himself firmly that there was no sign that this boat was not one crafted by the race of men.
"I do not know if they are sea-raiders or not," said the guard. "I know only that the ship means to land here."
"Well, we shall receive them, then," said Eremon. He walked over to the wall behind him, and took down his sword in its scabbard, which he fastened to his belt. Taking his spear and shield down next, he left the hall, followed by his nobles as soon as they had armed themselves likewise, and by his chief Druid, Cathal.
They emerged from the feasting-hall into the courtyard of the hill-fort, and proceeded out the gates. As they walked down the hill towards the sea, they could see the ship that the sentries had reported. A ship much like the Phoenician trading vessels that Eremon had seen once, on a visit to Dumnonia in the south of Britain, that came to purchase tin from the Britons. Clearly it came from the same distant eastern lands that these did. Well, that meant that it came in peace, for the Phoenicians were merchants rather than warriors. Eremon wondered what business these strange eastern folk had here in his lands, but decided not to puzzle over it for now. He would soon learn for himself.
A small boat was being rowed to shore, with three figures seated in it. Two plied the oars, and the third sat in the middle, often staring at something in the bottom of the boat. A mystery there, clearly. Eremon turned to Cathal, concernedly. "What means this?" he asked the Druid. "Know you what brings these folk here?"
Cathal shook his head. "Not yet," he said to the king. "And I shall wait until I know more before I tell you my thoughts."
"Very well," said Eremon, accepting the Druid's confession of ignorance on this matter. Well, the boat was almost put in to shore, and he would soon find out who these strangers were, and what business they had with him. He continued to descend towards the shore.
The boat came to ground, and the three folk within climbed out. Under the direction of the one who had been seated in the boat, and whom Eremon now saw to be a dark-haired young woman dressed in a clearly foreign gown dyed purple, the rowers lifted out of it a large block of stone, with as much care as if it had been a small hoard of faerie treasure. The king wondered all the more at this; why on earth would these people treat a stone as if it were a thing of value? But he decided not to puzzle over it for now. He would learn the answer soon enough. Motioning to his followers to halt, he stood and waited for the three strangers to approach him.
They did, the dark-haired woman leading and her two servants - for so King Eremon judged them to be - lugging the stone in her wake. When they came ten steps away from where the king waited, they halted in their turn, and the young woman held up her hand.
"Greetings," she said, speaking the Celtic tongue spoken in Ireland well enough, though with a strong foreign accent, much like that of the Phoenicians. "We come in peace."
"And who are you?" asked King Eremon. He could clearly see that these strangers were not warriors, so he lowered his spear - though no all the way. "Declare your name, my lady."
"My name is Tea," she replied, "and I come from the east. We have made a long journey to this remote island, seeking refuge from our foes."
"Your foes?" asked King Eremon.
"The foes that overran my father's kingdom," she explained. "I and my two servants escaped its fall, and have sought sanctuary elsewhere. However, no land that we set foot in seemed safe for us, and so we continued our travels, until we reached this place."
"And you brought that stone with you?" asked Eremon, looking at the large gray block that the two servants held behind her.
"It is a treasure of my people," she said. "The Lia Fail, we call it. It is said to be the very stone that the patriarch Jacob used for a pillow, when he had his dream of a great stairway reaching upwards to Heaven. It has been in the keeping of my father's house for many generations."
The king had never heard of this man called Jacob before, but decided not to mention it. Neither did he decide to comment on the oddity of this woman treating this stone block as if it was an object of great preciousness. No doubt it held some great sacred significance to her. Instead, he decided to declare himself.
"I am Eremon, king in these parts," he said. "And if you come bringing peace rather than war to me and to my people, then you are welcome here, you and your servants - and the Lia Fail," he added, glancing at the stone. And he gave her a formal bow.
"I thank you, my lord," replied Tea, with a gracious bow herself. Her servants bearing the Lia Fail after her, she followed the king back up to his fortress.
Tea became more than a guest, in the days that followed. She and King Eremon spent much time talking together, Eremon answering her questions about Ireland, a land that she knew so little of - even the Phoenician mariners who had brought her to its shores had been able to tell her little - and Tea in turn telling the king about her father's kingdom in the east. And as time passed, they grew closer, until finally they were wedded, and Tea was crowned Eremon's queen. The Lia Fail was kept in the feasting-hall in Eremon's stronghold, in a secluded place where the new queen could see that it was properly tended.
Queen Tea's concern for the Lia Fail puzzled her husband tremendously. As far as he could tell, it was nothing more than just a block of gray stone, with nothing particularly important about it. But she watched over it daily, like a mother with her child. Once, at a royal feast, two of the warriors present got drunk, and from there began to brawl. When their fighting carried them close to the Lia Fail, Tea at once rose from her seat, walked over to them, and ordered them to cease their quarrel before either of them risked damaging the stone. So astonished were they by her words, and the forcefulness behind them, that they did as she commanded. After that, nobody but Tea and her servants ever dared approach the stone.
But Eremon's curiosity remained. And finally, he questioned her about the Lia Fail one day. "Just why is this stone so important to you?" he asked.
"It is a treasure of my family," Tea replied. "And it is my duty, as the last of my line, to see to it that no harm befalls it."
"I fail to see what makes this Lia Fail such a treasure," said Eremon. "There are stones enough in Ireland; they're as common as fleas on a mastiff. Why should this particular stone be so valuable to you?"
"The Lia Fail is no ordinary stone," she said. "It is the Stone of Destiny. Some call it the Stone of Kings. Its powers are ancient, and very great."
"And what powers are those?" asked Eremon. "As yet, it's seemed no different to me than any other stone in this isle."
"Oh?" asked Tea, an odd smile forming on her face. "Then stand upon it."
"Stand upon it?" repeated Eremon, staring at her.
"Go ahead," she said, still smiling. "It won't bite you."
"I hardly expect it to," he replied, walking towards the stone. "Not unless it grew a mouth, and it's shown no sign of doing that." It was a feeble attempt at humor, and he knew it, but the truth was, this request of hers had puzzled him, and made him suddenly feel just a bit uneasy. Uncertain of what would happen, he gingerly placed one foot on top of the stone, and then the other.
No sooner was he standing on top of the stone than an eerie cry arose from it. Eremon gave a panicked cry himself, and jumped off the Lia Fail, making the sign against evil with one hand as he did so. "I-it spoke!" he gasped, finding his voice.
"Of course," said Tea, just barely managing to keep from laughing. "It speaks when a king stands upon it. A rightful king. That is one of its virtues."
"And why didn't you tell me this sooner?" asked Eremon, his breath only now growing steadier.
"You never asked before," she replied with a shrug. "But now you know."
"So that is the Stone's purpose?" asked Eremon. "To tell if whoever stands on it is the rightful king?"
"More or less," said Tea. "Its methods vary, though. What it may do for one king is not quite the same for another. Or so my father always told me. And his father told him the same thing, before that. It's one of the oldest traditions of my family."
"Well, I can see now why you are so intent on looking after that stone," said Eremon. "I mean, the Lia Fail. It's a treasure worthy of the Tuatha de Danaan themselves."
Tea nodded, but before she could say anything more, a new sound arose from the Stone. A whistling noise, rising and falling like the wind. "Excuse me," she said to her husband, and walked over to the Lia Fail. She bent her head down directly over it, as if listening, and nodded. "Go on, I pray you," she said, and the whistling continued. A few minutes later, it finally ceased. Tea nodded, and turned around to face her husband.
"The Lia Fail wishes to have a worthier home than this place," she said. "It feels that this abode is not right for it."
"It actually speaks to you?" asked Eremon. He began to edge away from the Lia Fail. A screaming stone was bad enough, but a talking stone was even worse. He was not quite certain that he wanted to be in the same hall with it now.
"You might say that," she said. "I've been trained by my father to understand what it says. It doesn't speak its wishes often, but when it does, you should listen."
"And if my fortress is not good enough for this stone," said Eremon, "just where does it wish to stay?"
"It's sensed a place to the north," Tea replied. "Nuada's Seat, it called it. It wants to go there."
"Nuada's Seat?" echoed Eremon again. "But nobody's been there for many generations. Not since the Tuatha de Danaan left Ireland! It was their home during the war with the Fomorians, and I doubt that they'd be glad to see mere humans settling there!"
"The Stone feels otherwise," said Tea. "It wishes to be taken there. No other place in Ireland is suitable for it."
Eremon sighed. "The Lia Fail presumes much," he said. "It'll bring the wrath of the Tuatha upon us to venture to Nuada's Seat, I'm sure that it will. I'm not certain that I wish to dare this."
But Tea was persistent, and so was the Stone. And so, after a week or two, King Eremon yielded. He and his wife took the Lia Fail to Nuada's Seat, and moved there themselves, along with their people. And there they built a new princely stronghold, which Eremon made his seat. The wrath of the Tuatha de Danaan never took place. On the contrary, the new settlement flourished, as did Eremon's people. And the Lia Fail had a new place of honor, this time directly outside the royal feasting-hall.
"In time," Una concluded, "Nuada's Seat was renamed after Tea; it came to be known as Tea's Mound, or Teamhair. And from there, the name was corrupted to Tara, home to the High Kings of Ireland. And the Lia Fail continued to proclaim them whenever any of them set foot upon it, as Eremon had done."
As Una finished reading, Griff stared stupidly at her. "A nice story," he said, "but I still don't see it. What could she use the thing for, other than crowning herself?"
Una smiled at him. "Well, for one thing, I imagine she could use it for divining the destinies of people she wanted to look at. Sort of 'seeing the future' in a way. Of course, that's if she has enough imagination. If she doesn't, she can always simply use it as a source of raw magic to make her own more powerful."
Griff nodded in understanding, while Arthur said, "Either way, it does not bode well for any of us."
"Are you sure?" Leo asked hesitantly. "I mean, I know it's none of my business and all, but it's been over fifteen hundred years since then. People change."
Arthur nodded. "Indeed they can, Leo. But Morgana hasn't. Trust me, if anything, the centuries have only twisted her mind even more. At least, that the way she seemed when she met Griff, Cavall, and I at the ruins of Tintagel."
"If that truly is the case, then I would most definitely be careful, Arthur," Una said. "You know her personally better than I, but it's been fifteen centuries since you last sparred with her on a regular basis. Her powers may have grown considerably since then."
"I know," the Once and Future King admitted. "But we need to stop her nonetheless. We'll need to obtain transportation."
Morgana looked down into her suitcase, vocally checking things off to herself to make sure she had everything. "Change of clothes; toothbrush and paste; reading material for the train..." After a moment she nodded in satisfaction and smiled. "Everything seems to be in order," she said, and then closed up the baggage.
Then she looked off to one side of the suitcase, where a stack of papers sat. She shook her head slightly, "A teacher's work is never done. Can't even get away from these things on business." She sighed. "Being a Cambridge professor isn't quite being Queen of Rheged, it does have its advantages." One of which was being able to procure a means of getting near the Stone without much attention.
She gave one more look at everything, and then smiled. Yes, everything was in order. She looked towards the nightstand in her room, where the train ticket lay; a round trip ticket to Edinburgh. "Well," she said to herself as she then slowly walked out of the room, "time for the daily visit."
As she walked towards the back of the house, she reviewed the plan in her mind again. It was simple, really. She'd go to Edinburgh, get the Stone, use it against Arthur and his cohorts, and leave before anyone was the wiser. It was the reason she'd allowed herself to be interviewed; she wanted to make sure Arthur would come, so that she could destroy him.
"Perhaps after I'm done with the Stone and all, I can take a few days and do some sightseeing." You mean, get your mind off of the deed you'll have just done, she thought to herself, and put some ghosts to rest...
She walked into the garden at the back of her house, and as she did so, she suddenly pounded her fist into the brick wall. "Why'd I have to be so stupid at Tintagel?" she asked herself. "I hear Arthur has come back to Earth and what do I do? I come after him like that red-headed maniac, Demona, and try to lop off his head with his own sword!" She shook her head and closed her eyes. "Very smart, Morgana."
After a moment, she went over to the small tree, the largest plant in the garden, sitting beside a small pool. She faced the tree and gave a melancholy smile towards it. "Hello, Morfydd," she said quietly, "how are you this evening? You forgiven your mother yet?" She paused a moment, then lowered her head sadly. "Didn't think so."
She turned towards the pool, looked into its stillness and at the reflection of herself in the waters. "Pool of Vision," she said, "show me what I want to see..." She paused for a moment, then cursed. "What was the rest of that verse?" she whispered to herself.
A moment later she seemed to remember, and went on. "Pool of Vision, show me what I wish to see; reveal the actions of mine opponent to me."
The water in the pool grew opaque for a moment, and when it cleared, it showed the inside of what looked like a bookstore of some type. Arthur and three gargoyles were busy milling about, getting ready for a trip to Scotland. "Well," Morgana said, "at least that part of the plan worked."
She splashed her hand in the water, disturbing the surface, and the image disappeared from the pool. Then she closed her eyes and paused. "Pool of Vision, show me what I wish to see;" she hesitated a moment before continuing, "reveal mine true self to me."
She hesitated again before opening her eyes tentatively. Slowly she looked down into the water, and once she did, her head bowed in shame. In the water was the image of a beautiful woman in her early thirties, raven-haired, with eyes of blue; her own image. But like some twisted mirror in a fun-house, the image was different from the person on the shore.
Instead of a sweater and jeans, the image was wearing a wine-colored gown and mantle, trimmed with gold. Instead of a plainly tied ponytail, the image's hair flowed over her shoulders like a black river, and was held back off her forehead by a queen's golden tiara. And instead of an expression of shame and sadness, the image's face was twisted into a look of malicious glee, her eyes blazing with near-insanity.
Morgana stared at the image for a moment more, then angrily swiped at the pool, erasing the image. "Why'd he have to come back?" Morgana asked herself, clenching her fists.
She had to kill Arthur and his friends now. It wasn't merely a want now, like it had been in the old days. Now it was a need; she needed to remove Arthur from the picture to preserve what she had now. Even if it meant returning to her old habits...
"Well, in any case, it will end soon," she said, calming down. "And then perhaps Father, Morfydd, and I can finally get some peace."
As Arthur made his way through the packed streets, he couldn't help but wonder at the sheer number of people. Never had he seen so many in one place at one time; there had to have been hundreds of thousands in the streets from what he'd heard. In his day, the only cities he could have named with such population would have all been in the Mediterranean or the Holy Land, and even though he'd already been to modern-day London several times, most of the people were working or living their lives indoors. Here, Arthur wondered if they'd invited the whole country to this one place.
Not that he'd have been surprised. Looking at the crowds lined up along the parade route, and the way they eagerly anticipated the arrival of the train of floats, he could tell how much the Stone meant to these people as a symbol of their land and history. Everywhere, he could see banners and balloons and flowers being held by the people, or affixed to various buildings or poles. Everyone seemed to be dressed in their best for this occasion, and the crowd seemed to range from average-looking citizens, to people who looked like they would fit in well with the punks in Soho.
And, of course, there were also the merchandisers. It was one of the things about the 20th Century that had repulsed him from the day he first saw it in Tintagel; as soon as something was the least bit popular, one could be sure that someone, somewhere, would be trying to make money off that popularity.
It seemed that even the Stone of Destiny wasn't immune to this facet of modern life. Off to one side of the street, he could see a stall where T-shirts, caps, pens, and various other paraphernalia that celebrated either the Stone itself, or the celebration. On another part of the street he was making his way down, he could see a man selling what looked like replicas of the Stone itself; a fact which made Arthur shake his head. What some people wouldn't do...
Looking at the copies of the Stone reminded him of his companions. He hoped Griff and Cavall would be all right where he'd left them, a mile or so from the city. It had seemed too crowded in the city to trust putting them in an alleyway or abandoned building within the city, so they'd found a small hill where no one would notice a new pair of statues, and then he'd left them.
"They'll be safe," Arthur said to himself. Unless Morgana gets to them, a part of his mind said.
There was know way to know where Morgana was going to be in this festival. All Arthur knew was that she was probably here by now, and even then he couldn't be sure. "For all I know," he said to himself as he turned one corner, "she might already have the Stone and be using it in some abandoned farmhouse."
Or maybe she was hiding out in the crowd, like she had at Tintagel: waiting among the throngs of people, watching him, waiting for him to make a slip or stumble, and then take him in some sort of trap. He looked around himself a few times, to make sure there wasn't some cloaked woman watching him from a distance. A few times he thought he'd seen someone, but they were always false alarms: a college student here, someone's wife there. Once he even turned, thinking to see Morgana, only to find he was looking at a street performer playing the flute.
After a few minutes of gazing around, he shook his head and said to himself, "You're getting too paranoid, Arthur." Though there was good reason for it.
Arthur closed his eyes for a moment as he thought about his half-sister. What was he to do with her if and when he found her? The smartest thing to do would probably be to kill her the next time they met; it would make sure that he'd never have to worry about her again, and it'd probably save him and others a lot of future grief.
But she was close blood kin as well, one didn't dismiss that lightly. And then there was the fact of Morgana's present occupation. How could he explain to the modern authorities his reasons for killing her? That he was King Arthur, back from mystic Avalon, and that the respected Dr. Cornish was actually the evil Morgana la Fay? The only thing to wonder about after that was which insane asylum Arthur would find himself being sent to.
The fact that she was a teacher bothered him for another reason. He didn't know the modern day procedures for being a 'professor', but in his day scholars tended to be fairly a level-headed bunch. And he imagined that they'd have to be even more so these days in prestigious institutions of learning, like he'd heard this 'Cambridge' was supposed to be.
When he'd last seen Morgana, however, she was a raving lunatic. He'd tried to reason with her, to explain to her that he was willing to put her transgression aside and start afresh. But she didn't want any of that. Instead, at Tintagel, she'd lured him to an isolated part of the ruined castle and put him to sleep. Then she'd tried to kill him with his own sword; and would have been successful had not Griff and Cavall interrupted the proceedings.
To top it off, she'd tried to kill Arthur and his companions that night by animating the skeletons of fallen warriors. Actually, he'd been a little surprised at how completely her magic had failed on that account. Those skeleton warriors should have been a formidable challenge, but they'd been remarkably easy to defeat. It was almost as though she'd made a mistake in casting the spell or something...
In any case, the idea of a hate-filled, near-insane, necromancer like that being a teacher made him cringe. Perhaps Morgana was simply a good actress; he'd seen how easy it was to fool many people in this modern world with a silver tongue and a few good lies. But then again...
"Maybe Una's right," he said to himself. "Maybe Morgana really has changed." The he sighed and shook his head. "If she has, she certainly hasn't changed about me..."
His train of thought was broken by the sounds of cheering. Looking around, he found that he'd walked to one of the streets where the parade was going to go down, and off on one side he could see the start of the line of floats. Arthur merely watched as they went by in colorful procession, one after another; each one dedicated to a theme in Scottish history or culture. People cheered as each new float came by, and after a few minutes even Arthur himself got caught up in the good mood.
So he was in a relatively good turn of mind when the float with the Lia Fail finally started passing by his position on the road. At its passing, the cheering became thunderous, and it was somewhat difficult for Arthur to concentrate on looking at the float itself.
Sitting on the top of the float, he could definitely see the rough-hewn block of gray granite, the thin hole on its side clearly visible even from Arthur's fairly distant position. At first, the Once and Future King feared again that it might simply be a fake, and that Morgana had already gotten the real Stone. But as it passed his position on the street and started to head away from him, Arthur could 'feel' a presence, one which told him that the Stone he saw was definitely the real thing.
The Stone could 'sense' a presence it had met with before... Arthur Pendragon was near. Twice now, he had crossed paths with the Stone, and twice it had helped him along on his journey with destiny. Twice, the threads of their destiny had crossed: once recently, and once long before. It could 'remember' that first time quite well...
IRELAND - LATE 5TH CENTURY A.D.
It was a wintry evening in Tara, and Lugaid mac Loegaire, High King of Ireland, pulled his fur-lined mantle closer about himself, as he sat in his chair, gazing at the fire upon the hearth. His great hunting mastiffs lay sprawled out on the ground beside his chair, one on either side. In the crowded hall itself, his warriors busied themselves with talking, drinking, or playing fidchell. It would be a cold night, and probably an even colder day tomorrow. No doubt a heavy snowfall was in the offing, as well.
Suddenly, the dogs sat up and sniffed the air. Both then growled, showing their teeth. Lugaid stared at them in astonishment, wondering what had offended his hounds. But before he could puzzle over it seriously, a strange noise filled the hall, a whirling sound. His warriors stopped their activities, to listen to the noise as well. And then to stare at the center of the hall, where a human figure was slowly taking shape, surrounded by a shimmering of light.
Lugaid stood up and drew his sword, not without fear in his heart. He could easily guess as to what this was. One of the Sidhe, as like as not. Only a being of pure magic could enter his hall in such a fashion. And if it was one of the Sidhe, then it was trouble for him. He had heard enough about the Third Race to know that they were unchancy and perilous. One of them had even taken to regularly burning down the feasting-hall at Tara a couple of centuries ago, every year on Samhain Eve, before it had been finally slain. He did not want to find himself facing one of these beings, but it seemed as though he was. He cautiously took one step forward, trying to keep his sword steady in his hand and not quite succeeding. "Who are you?" he cried to the solidifying shape. "And what do you want?"
The figure fully materialized. It was a tall lean man with graying fair hair and a long gray beard, dressed in a long white robe with a blue mantle over it, much the way that the Druids had once done. He seemed perfectly human, except for his ears, which were slightly pointed at the tips. He returned Lugaid's suspicious gaze calmly, without a hint of anger or fear in his blue eyes.
The High King's two dogs advanced upon the stranger, still growling. He looked down at them, and then smiled gently. "It's all right, you two," he said. "I come in peace."
As he spoke, he waved his fingers in an odd way, and the dogs stopped where they stood. Their growling ceased, and their faces became peaceful and contented. They turned around, and walked back to sprawl out beside Lugaid's throne once more. Lugaid stared at his hounds, now half-asleep, then back at the old man. This time, he was speechless.
"So you're High King Lugaid mac Loegaire of Ireland," said the stranger, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. "Am I right?"
"Indeed you are," said Lugaid sharply. He held his sword steady in his hand now, but did not raise it. All about the hall, his warriors stood in their places, silent and motionless, watching their king speak to the newcomer in wonderment. "And who or what are you?"
"My name's Merlin," the gray-bearded man replied, still utterly calm and unrattled. "Merlin Ambrosius, former chief counselor to the late and unlamented Uther Pendragon, once High King of Britain. You've probably heard of me."
"Merlin," repeated King Lugaid, frowning. "Merlin. Yes, I know of you. The wizard who serves those British kings, am I right?"
"Well, I prefer 'advises' or 'works with' to 'serves', personally," said Merlin. "But we'll leave it at that for now. I didn't come all this way to Tara to tell you the story of my life, after all. For one thing, you've probably heard a lot of it from the traveling bards already."
Lugaid was silent. He had heard tales of Merlin - it was hard not to. News had reached him from Britain about this halfling wizard, and his many feats. An enchanter who had made even the mightiest Druids of Ireland's past seem like mere apprentices. And now this man was facing him in his own feasting-hall. He was about to step back, but then checked himself. He didn't want to seem intimidated by his guest, even if that was how he felt. And he especially did not want to seem intimidated in front of his warriors.
"I really don't have much time," Merlin continued, "so I'll just have to get straight to the point. Not particularly courteous, I know, but I hope that you'll understand. At any rate, I was wondering if you could do me a favor. Could you lend me the Lia Fail for a few weeks?"
"Lend you the Lia Fail?!" repeated Lugaid, staring at him in disbelief.
"I'll bring it back when I'm done with it," said Merlin. "Wizard's honor. I just need to have it for a while. You see, I need to provide the nobles of Britain with some proof that this pupil of mine is their rightful king. They're going to need a lot of proof, knowing them, and I thought that the Stone of Destiny would be able to help me out here. Sorting out the succession to the throne is its specialty, after all. So I thought that, with your permission, I'd borrow it, to help me out. I'll return it when Arthur's finally been accepted as High King of Britain, good as new."
"And just how do you intend to make use of our stone?" asked Lugaid, glowering sharply at the wizard.
"Oh, just a little test," Merlin replied. "I'll stick Uther's sword in it, and only the rightful High King will be able to pull it out. Which is Arthur, of course. I need the Lia Fail for this because it's the only magical object that I know of that can recognize a true king."
"And just who is this Arthur that you keep on talking about?" asked Lugaid, his gaze not relenting.
"A pupil of mine," said Merlin. "He's meant to do big things, but only if he becomes High King of Britain. It's my job to help him to the throne, and since I had to have him brought up away from his father's palace - don't ask; it's a long story - it's going to be difficult to get a lot of those pig-headed British chieftains to accept him as their ruler. You might get to meet him some day. Or maybe not. That's one thing that my foresight hasn't told me yet." He shook his head. "That's the problem with the Second Sight. It doesn't tell you the things that are right in front of your nose, which means you generally end up bumping into them. Sometimes I wish that that talent was a little more organized - but I'm digressing."
"Indeed you are," said Lugaid. "And I still see no reason why I should bestow upon you the Lia Fail, British wizard. It is one of the greatest treasures in my kingdom. I'd sooner give away my sword than the Stone of Destiny."
"It's not a gift," Merlin protested. "It's a loan. I'll bring it right back after Arthur gets accepted as High King. And just as good as I found it. You'd never know that it was gone."
"And why, pray tell, should we lend this stone to you at all?" asked the High King of Ireland. "No, wait, I can guess. You'll visit a curse upon the kingdom if we don't yield it up to you. The crops will wither, cattle will die, children will sicken, and fire will consume my feasting-hall if you don't get what you want. Is that your little game?"
"Goodness, no!" said Merlin, shaking his head. "What sort of person do you take me to be, anyway? I won't do anything to you if you don't agree to the loan. Nothing at all. But I would still advise you to let me borrow it. Trust me on this one, please. Arthur will be one of the greatest kings of all time. The bards will sing of his deeds for generations to come, and his fame will be immortal - "
"Yes, you can continue in that vein from now until next Samhain," said Lugaid, holding up his hand. "But how about what happens to us now? That's what is important to me, not what happens with some bards five hundred years to come."
"Very well, then," said Merlin. "If that is what most concerns you, then I'll make this offer. If you ever need the help of a wizard - and, if I may be permitted to say it, a particularly top-notch one - just send for me and I'll come and repay the favor. Provided that it's nothing dishonorable, of course, like turning one of your enemies into a toad or a newt, or anything like that. Is that a fair exchange?"
"Let me think it over," said Lugaid, frowning. He scratched his mustache for a while, saying nothing. Then, at last, he nodded.
"Very well," he said. "The Lia Fail is yours for the time. But only for the time. When this Arthur of yours is finished with it, you are to bring it back here. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," said Merlin. "Now, if you'll just show me to it...."
Lugaid led the wizard out of the feasting-hall, into the courtyard of the royal stronghold of Tara, and pointed to the grayish sandstone block lying close by the door. Merlin walked over to it, bent down, touched it, and then nodded as he straightened up again. "Yes, I think that this is just what I've been looking for," he said.
"And I suppose that you're going to demand the loan of a few servants to carry that stone all the way back to Britain," said Lugaid, still frowning.
"Not at all," Merlin replied, lifting one hand. "I provide my own transportation. See you in a few weeks, King Lugaid - I hope."
And with that, a silvery glow enveloped both him and the Stone. When it dispersed, both were gone. Lugaid stood there, blinking in astonishment at their unquestionably dramatic departure.
Weeks turned into months, and there was no sign of either Merlin or the Lia Fail. Lugaid was beginning to suspect that he had been tricked, and his mood took a turn for the worse. His retainers were careful to stay out of his way, and the mere mention of wizards, Britain, or stones, caused him to fly into a rage. It was now early summer, and still the Stone of Destiny had not been returned.
Then, one evening, there was a sudden whooshing sound from outside the feasting-hall, loud enough to send every man present stumbling to his feet. Lugaid was just about to call for his sword, when Merlin calmly entered the hall.
"So you finally deign to show your face here, you deceiver," said Lugaid, when he had recovered his breath. "You are either very brave or very foolish, to come here after you tricked me out of the Lia Fail."
"On the contrary," said Merlin, shaking his head. "I must apologize for the delay - those British chieftains were a lot more stubborn than I'd been expecting. It took months for them to agree to let Arthur be their High King, so we ended up having to do a lot more public displays of him pulling that sword out of the Stone than I'd been anticipating. But they finally gave in after the Pentecost trials. He's been declared King of Britain now, and so I've returned the Lia Fail. I won't be needing it any more. And thanks for the loan."
And with that, before Lugaid could say anything, anything at all, Merlin raised his staff, and vanished in another flash of silvery light. Lugaid stared at the empty space in the hall where his unwanted guest had been for a moment, then hurriedly dashed outside, forgetting his kingly dignity. And there, he found the Stone lying right where it had been before Merlin had taken it, unchanged beyond a slight slit in one side where a sword could have been thrust into it.
He was still staring at it when Merlin suddenly reappeared for a moment. "Oh, and while I'm at it," he said, "I thought that I'd share something else with you. I improved on the Stone's ability to speak some. My little way of saying 'thank you' to it for helping me out. It can speak proper words now, that anybody can understand. Not that I see it doing too much talking, mind you, but still, if the need ever arises...." And with that, he vanished again, before Lugaid could say anything to him in return.
"Wizards," he muttered to himself. "If I never see any of them again, and particularly that Merlin, it will be too soon." And with that, he re-entered the hall.
It was not the last time that a High King of Ireland parted with the Stone of Destiny, however. It remembered that, some years later, when Muirchertach mac Erca was High King, his younger brother Fergus and his people decided to leave Ireland for the Pictish lands in the north of Britain, and found their own kingdom there: Dalriada. Before they left, Fergus begged his brother for the loan of the Lia Fail, that he might be crowned upon it when he arrived in his new domain. And Muirchertach agreed to this.
But once the humans had taken the Stone to this 'Dalriada', Fergus kept it and never bothered to return it. Muirchertach was furious, but there was nothing that he could do about it; he had lost the Lia Fail forever. All that he could do was to order a fresh stone to be quarried and placed outside his feasting-hall, to serve as a replacement, and vow never to lend his faithless brother anything ever again.
But that had been centuries ago. Now Arthur was here, and the time of their paths crossing again was nigh. And as it waited, and 'watched', the Stone could sense yet another presence. A tortured soul, both in the past and now because of her decisions. One whose thread of destiny would also cross with the Stone's soon...
Arthur watched as the float with the Stone on it disappeared around the corner, and he felt a little better. At least Morgana hadn't gotten to it, so he still had time to intercept her.
He was thinking about how to find and stop her when the next part of the parade came by. It consisted of a large group of scholars walking between a pair of the floats; most likely the people would be attending the symposium and lecture at the University, where the Stone was being taken. They seemed to be a normal enough bunch, and Arthur was about to pass them over and leave the crowd, when he suddenly saw a familiar face among those in the parade.
In amongst the scholars, he saw a raven-haired woman. For a moment, he wasn't sure if it was 'her', but after a second she turned her head to look directly in Arthur's direction. At that moment, he recognized the face of his half-sister, Morgana. She seemed to notice him in the crowd as well, because as he watched, she gave him a wicked little smile, then turned her attention back to keeping her place in the parade.
"Well," he said to himself as he watched the scholars pass around the corner, "at least I know she's here."
Quickly, he left the crowd and as soon as he was on one of the side streets, he raced towards where he thought the University of Edinburgh was. It was slower going than he'd hoped; even the side streets teemed with people come to the festival. He made his way past tourists and locals, shopkeepers and street performers. It was all the more confusing because he was in a hurry and didn't know his way about town. Several times he had to ask directions to the University from people.
But, eventually, he managed to reach the University by a roundabout route. As he arrived near the front entrance to the ground, he saw the last of the procession passing through the gate. Trying to look calm and unconcerned, Arthur started across the street, and then headed for the building where the procession seemed to be going to.
"Hold it!" one of the guards called out just as Arthur was about to go through the gate. The man and quickly walked to Arthur's position.
"Is there a problem, officer?" Arthur asked, stopping as the other man came up in front of him.
"I'm afraid I can't let you in," the guard said.
"For what reason?" Arthur asked.
"Orders," the guard said simply.
At first, Arthur was about to protest, but then he got a better look at the guard's eyes. They were slightly widened, and they looked glassy, as though the man had been hypnotized...
As Arthur was looking at the guard, a second guard came up and asked, "Is there a problem here?"
Arthur looked at him, and saw the same glassy-eyed expression on the second man's face. Morgana definitely had ensorcelled the guards at the university, and the Once and Future King realized that there was no way he was going to get in through the front door without drawing unwanted attention to himself.
"No, officer," he said quickly, "I was just leaving." And with that, Arthur turned and quickly walked away, hoping that the guards wouldn't bother pursuing him.
As soon as he had gotten some distance away, he turned and saw to his relief that the guards hadn't followed him, but instead had gone back to their original posts. While there was a small part of his mind that was surprised by this - he'd expected the guards to follow and attack him - he had more important things to worry about. Morgana was in the University with the Stone, and there was no way that Arthur was going to be able to get inside the grounds by the normal route.
"I guess this calls for a more 'high flying' approach," he said to himself, and immediately set out to look for the nearest taxicab.
"Excuse me," Morgana said politely as she passed a man already in his lecture seat. She passed several more until she found an empty seat, and then sat down and made herself as comfortable as she could.
She looked around nervously; Arthur wasn't here, though. Morgana had expected as much with the guards in the castle hypnotized and under her control. Then she pulled a compact out of her purse and opened it up to look at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was a little pale, and her eyes a little bloodshot, but fortunately that was about the extent of it.
"Good," she said, breathing a mild sigh of relief as she closed the compact and replaced it in her purse. Then she unconsciously looked around again to make sure once again that Arthur wasn't somehow hiding either in the crowd or out in some dark corner of the room.
After a few moments, she stopped herself. "I'm getting paranoid," she said to herself.
"What?" a person sitting next to her asked.
"Nothing," Morgana said quickly. "Nothing at all." She became relieved when the person simply shrugged and then focused back onto the lecture which was just now beginning.
As the man on the podium got up and began to talk, Morgana was wondering whether or not to continue with this. Hypnotizing the guards was fairly innocent; they'd 'wake up' with absolutely no idea that they'd ever been under a spell. But what Morgana was planning to do next was not nearly as innocent.
As the man on the podium began speaking of the Stone's Biblical connections, Morgana was beginning to wonder if she wanted to really do this. To steal the Stone of Destiny, even if it was for only a little while. It meant becoming 'her' again; a reminder of this was the large purse she'd brought with her, one which was sitting next to her legs on the floor.
"Why do I have to do this?" she asked herself. Because you need to destroy Arthur, a small voice said inside her. He killed your love, and your daughter, remember?
But he hadn't been totally responsible for those two acts. Morgana herself was the one who'd put the two people she loved most in the world in harm's way.
But did Arthur have to give Accolon a fatal blow? the voice pressed. And did Arthur have to make Morfydd wear the Mantle? It was his fault they both died, not your own! And what about your father?! He cries out for vengeance, you know he does!
Morgana squeezed her eyes shut as she tried to banish the voice. The voice that had once been hers for so many centuries. The voice of the woman who had caused so much destruction and misery for so many centuries to so many people. She didn't ever want to be that demoness again, never.
So why was she becoming her again?
Because you don't want to lose what you have, the voice said. You don't want him to cause problems for you; don't want him to show any of your friends proof of your past. They'll leave you, otherwise; abandon you, shun you. Just as your own husband and son did, so many years ago. Even Branwynn would probably hate you... She shuddered at that.
"Why did you have to survive, Arthur?" she whispered quietly to herself. "Why couldn't you just get run over by a car, or be blown up by IRA terrorists? Or even go back to Avalon?"
She sighed and opened her eyes again. Slowly, quietly, she began to quietly mumble the words to a spell of unnoticeablility that she'd learned centuries before. It only took a minute to recite the spell, then Morgana relaxed slightly and focused her attention on the lecture while waiting for the spell to take effect. She listened to the lecturer talking about Kenneth MacAlpin's rise to power, and forgot herself for a little while...
SCONE, SCOTLAND - A.D. 843.
"Is everything ready?" Kenneth Mac Alpin asked.
The guard nodded. "Ready, my lord. Just as you demanded of us."
Kenneth smiled approvingly. "As it should be," he said. "Then it is time to act."
He calmly walked into the feasting hall, noting with a smile that all the Pictish lords that he had invited to the banquet were already present, and seated upon the benches flanking the table. His own nobles had arrived as well. Everything was going according to his plans. Still smiling, he seated himself in his own chair at the head of the table.
"My lords of Pictland and of Dalriada," he said, beaming, "I welcome you to this feast. Eat, drink, and be merry! Let us put our cares over the succession aside for now."
"If you say so, Lord Kenneth," said Lord Nectan. He looked at the Scottish chieftain in a somewhat disapproving manner, though. Kenneth hoped that the man suspected nothing. But that was hardly likely. The feel of his gaze indicated that what this was merely the continuing antipathy felt by the Picts over Kenneth's claim to their now-vacant throne. They had not taken it well at all when Kenneth Mac Alpin, ruler over the Scots of Dalriada, had claimed that he should be the successor to the late King Eoghann, since the two of them were distant kinsmen. Too distant for the Picts' taste, in fact In the end, Kenneth had come to Scone in person, to discuss this matter with them. Or at least, that was his story.
"I rather like this feast, myself," said Lord Drust. "A man can only listen to so many droning speeches. I've not been this bored since my tutor inflicted Latin lessons on me when I was a lad." He took a long swig from his mead-horn.
"Your hospitality shines bright," said Lord Talorc. "King Kenneth of Dalriada, we may have our disagreements - but not over your virtues as a host. You honor the name of your father, Alpin."
Kenneth nodded, stiffly, and Talorc quickly fell silent. It was a sore point that he had touched upon. King Alpin of Dalriada had been slain in battle by the late King Eoghann four years ago, and his head placed upon a stake following the victory. Not that Eoghann had long enjoyed his triumph, since he had been subsequently attacked by the Vikings and slain himself. Which had been the incident that had thrown Pictland into such chaos, thanks to Eoghann's failure to name his heir before his death. Nectan, Drust, and Talorc had all been present in the battle where Alpin had perished, and all fighting for Eoghann their king. From the disturbed looks on their faces, they clearly had not forgotten it. And for that matter, neither had Kenneth.
But then he smiled again, quickly setting them at ease. "You speak words of courtesy, Lord Talorc," he said. "Though I may be your guest here in Scone, I count you as my guests in this hall. Drink your fill, friends. I am anything but miserly with my provisions."
"All hail Lord Kenneth!" cried Drust, raising his mead-horn high. Talorc followed suit and so, after a moment's hesitation, did Nectan. The other Pictish lords did the same, and drank down the mead noisily.
The banquet proceeded quietly, beyond the songs of the harpers as they strummed their instruments. As the Picts listened happily to their music, Kenneth motioned to one of his retainers, standing behind his chair. The retainer nodded, and raised the small wand in his hand, to direct the attention of the other servants of the Dalriadan king present in the hall. Quietly and orderly, they approached the benches where the Picts sat, and each one stood behind a feasting lord.
"Now!" Kenneth suddenly cried, rising from his chair. And as he spoke, his retainers bent down to pull wooden bolts from out of the benches. As they did so, the benches themselves collapsed, and the Pictish nobles tumbled into the pits that now opened in the floor beneath them. So quickly did it happen that not one of them had any opportunity to respond.
"What - what means this?" cried Talorc in shock, staring up at Kenneth's still-smiling face from the bottom of the pit. He was one of the few who could still speak, the rest being either too bruised or too stunned to find a voice. "Kenneth, what are you doing?"
"Dealing with some potential obstacles," replied Kenneth calmly. He motioned again to his servants, who produced bows and arrows from beneath their mantles. "Do your work, men," he said to them.
The archers, trained and sure-eyed men who were keen of aim, let their arrows fly into the pits... A few minutes later, the chief of them turned to his king, and bowed.
"Success, my lord, as you said it would be," he reported. "There's not one of them left to hinder you."
"Naturally," said Kenneth. "With the exception, of course, of the ones whom I specifically did not invite to the feast, since I had already bought their loyalty. When I claim the throne of Pictland now, I doubt greatly that there will be any gainsayers left."
"Are there any further orders for us, sire?" the chief of the bowmen asked.
Kenneth thought it over. "Yes," he said. "Send an envoy back to Dalriada. Tell my steward that I want the Stone of Destiny brought here to Scone. I've decided to make it my new home. And I want the Stone to be in place by the time of my coronation. I think that I'll stand upon it when I take my oath as High King of Pictland - no, 'Scot'-land. The Irish kings were crowned upon it once, so why not Scottish kings as well?"
"I will do as you say, my lord," said the archer, bowing. And he left the hall, leaving Kenneth to seat himself in his chair again, contemplating his sudden victory with a cold smile upon his face.
"And thus was the Stone moved to Scone, where it was used to crown the kings of Scotland up to King Alexander III..."
Morgana looked around slightly, checking yet again to see if anyone was watching her. She felt like every person in the place could see her, and that the moment she stood up out of place, the guards would somehow come out of the spell she'd placed on them and arrest her. But no one was looking in her direction; in fact, no one seemed to notice her presence.
She held her breath as she moved one hand in front of the person next to her, waving it wildly. The person merely sat there, unmoving, listening to the lecture. After a few seconds, she moved her hand away and let out a small sigh of relief.
She got up slowly, carefully, making sure not to do anything overt to disturb anyone. Once she was standing, she picked up the large bag she had, then started making her way down the aisle towards the edge. Each time she passed by someone, she felt almost certain that the spell would prove ineffective, and that she'd have to do some fast explaining.
But nothing happened. A few times, people had leaned to one side or another to see past her, and it had caused Morgana's blood pressure to rise. But no one commented about her presence, and soon she was out into one of the main isles of the auditorium. Quickly, in case the spell had failed, she ran up the isle to one of the back doors, and quietly went through it into the outside hallway.
As soon as she had the doors closed, she leaned heavily against them and wiped her brow as she sighed in relief. "Well," she said to herself, "that's one thing I don't have to worry about."
Now for the next thing. Carefully looking around the halls, she slowly made her way through them, keeping careful to watch for security cameras. She still wasn't in very much danger at the moment; it would be easy enough to explain what one of the attendants was doing walking around the halls and grounds of the University.
A few minutes later, she arrived at the doors to the room where the Stone was being kept. Carefully, she looked around to see if there were any cameras present. Noticing one, she cast another spell, and smiled in satisfaction as electrical sparks started flying from it as it short-circuited.
As she came up in front of the wooden doors, she sighed slightly. "So far, so good," she said to herself.
Quietly, she raised her hands, and mumbled another spell, and smiled again when she heard the door lock click open. She moved up to the wooden doors, and then slowly opened them and stepped inside.
As she entered the room, she gasped at the sight of the Stone of Destiny. To ordinary eyes, it merely looked like a piece of gray stone with a hole in it. But to Morgana, a person trained in magic, the Stone seemed to shine like a miniature sun.
So entranced with the object was Morgana, that she almost failed to see the cameras placed in the room. But she did notice them after a moment, and quickly cast the spell that made their circuitry short out.
With that done, she slowly made her way to the Stone itself. She paused for a few moments, seeming to bask in the magical aura of the artifact. "What a pity this has to be done," she said to herself. Then she looked at the Stone. "I hope you don't hate me for this, but I need you to help on something. And to do that, I'll need to 'borrow you for a bit."
She waited for a moment, as though listening to the Stone's answer, then stepped back a foot. She chanted out yet another spell, and as she finished she could feel the slight connection to its target that came with the spell.
"Up," she said, and with her command the Stone slowly rose from its pedestal. Using her thoughts, she moved the Stone to one side, but kept it close to the pedestal.
"That's one thing down," she said to herself. "Now for the other." Closing her eyes, she slowly incanted a spell she'd used long ago, one which brought back a somewhat painful memory. After a moment, a glowing shape began to form on the Stone's pedestal. Slowly, the glow began to dim, and a form began to take shape within it. After a moment, the glow faded completely, and where there had been empty space, there was now a replica of the Stone of Destiny sitting on the pedestal.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the spell was done, and then, with the real Stone in 'tow', she made her way out of the room. Carefully, she closed the door and magically reset the lock on the door. Then she made her way to an empty room on one of the taller buildings of the campus. After shutting the door to the room and magically locking it, she levitated the Stone onto a short pillar that she'd erected earlier.
Setting the large bag down beside the Stone, Morgana opened it and then took out some fine magenta powder. She poured it out onto the floor, in symbols meant to help in the ritual she was going to perform with the Stone. It took longer than she had at first assumed it would; every few minutes, she'd pause and try to remember what the exact shape of a particular glyph or symbol was.
Eventually, she managed to get the glyphs finished, and replaced the remaining powder in the large bag. Then she took out three candles, set them in a equilateral triangle formation around the Stone and symbols, and lit them.
With the candles burning, Morgana stepped back for a moment to admire her handiwork. "I guess I've still got it after all," she remarked to herself. "Now all I need to do is wait until Arthur arrives. And then I can finally get rid of him."
Griff and Cavall awoke on the hill outside of Edinburgh, roaring and stretching as their stone skins broke apart and were scattered on the ground around them. As they gained movement, his arms automatically clapped around his chest and his beak twisted in a heavenly smile of contentment. Cavall, for his part, looked at his feathered companion with strange expression.
For a moment Griff began to tilt forward in this position, until he suddenly realized that there wasn't anything but thin air in his arms. He opened his eyes and suddenly realized what was happening, but not in time to do anything about it. Griff had just enough time to spring his arms open and yell a startled, "Whoa!" before landing face first into the ground, his open beak digging into the soft soil.
Griff set his hands on the ground beside him and pried his face out of the dirt, then vigorously spit out the brown substance that remained in his mouth. Cavall came over to him and looked at him curiously as Griff managed to right himself and stand up weakly.
The griffin-like gargoyle shook his head for a moment, then looked around as though hoping to see something. Not seeing it, he sighed and his shoulders slumped. Cavall, who couldn't stand it any longer, made a querying bark, and finally got the attention of Griff.
The gargoyle noticed the look of confusion on the beast's face, and bent down to look at him. "There's nothing wrong, boy," he said comfortingly. Then he turned out towards the horizon and sighed. "I just wish that hadn't been a dream is all..." His expression turned sour for a moment. "I would have to wake up at the best part..."
As he knelt there, his hand idly patting Cavall on the head, Griff suddenly noticed someone coming up the hill towards them. Griff stood up, and a moment later Arthur came up to them. The human seemed to sense Griff's sour mood. "What's wrong, Griff?"
"Nothing, Arthur," Griff replied in a slightly depressed tone of voice, "just a dream. What's up with Morgana?"
"Nothing good, I'm afraid," Arthur said. "Morgana is already inside the university, and she apparently has all the guards under some kind of spell."
"You're right," Griff said. "That doesn't sound good at all. I assume you've come here for some 'air support' in this matter?"
"Yes," Arthur said. "I'll need you to glide me inside the university grounds and over to wherever Morgana is hiding." He looked at Cavall. "I'm sorry, boy, but you're going to have to sit this one out. We can't have you running around Edinburgh the way you did in Tintagel."
Cavall gave a pitiful whine. "He's right, Cavall," Griff said. "Stay here and wait for us." The gargoyle beast looked unsure for a moment, then sighed and sat down.
Nodding, Griff turned towards Arthur. "Shall we be off, then?" Arthur nodded, and soon Griff had the Once and Future King in his arms as they both went off towards Edinburgh.
Fifteen minutes later, Griff arrived at the university. As he flew with Arthur in his arms, the two of them looked down to watch and see if any of the ensorcelled guards was aiming at them. But they seemed to simply be going about their normal business.
"I wonder why they're not firing on us?" Griff asked curiously.
Arthur took another moment to look down. "Probably, she doesn't want to attract attention to the school. If anyone started firing on us, it'd be sure to bring the local authorities, and then Morgana would have to do a lot of fancy footwork to explain herself."
Griff tossed his head towards the university buildings. "Which one do you think she's in?"
"I have no idea," Arthur admitted. "I wasn't able to actually get onto the grounds, and I don't know this place at all. I imagine she'd want to be someplace away from the rest of the campus. We'll just have to search the place until we find her."
"If that's what it takes," Griff replied, banking to head towards the nearest building.
The two of them went from place to place in the campus, searching the upper windows, and trying to keep out of sight of anyone on campus. After five minutes, they came across a tower with a lightly lit room at the top. Griff quickly glided over there, and upon reaching a window dug his talons into the stone and supported Arthur as he leaned over to look into the room.
A moment later, he said, "This is the place, Griff. She's in there."
As he looked through the window, he could see that Morgana already had the Stone set up for some sort of ritual. The Stone itself was on a short pedestal, and already Morgana had traced magical symbols and patterns around it with some sort of magenta-colored powder. The sorceress herself was standing in front of the Stone, an altogether strange-looking magic worker in her professor's outfit. She looked as though she was mumbling some sort of incantation.
Arthur cursed. "She must have already started casting whatever foul magic she plans to use on us," he said.
"Certainly looks that way," Griff agreed. "What should we do now?"
Arthur thought for a moment. "Is there someplace on the roof we can enter that room?" he asked.
"Let's see." Griff immediately began to climb up the side of the tower, being careful to dig his claws as quietly into the stone as possible. A few minutes later, he grabbed hold of the top of the battlements and hauled himself and Arthur up onto the roof. Arthur let go of his grip on the gargoyle and touched down on the stone top, and then turned to look around.
He noticed a large skylight and quietly showed it to Griff. The gargoyle nodded and the two of them made their way to it. They looked down for a moment, and saw Morgana in the middle of her ritual. Arthur motioned to Griff, and a moment later, the gargoyle grabbed hold of the bottom of the skylight window and began to lift upward. He was very careful to slowly lift the large window from its frame and then set it down on the roof quietly.
Looking at the small hole, Griff grimaced. "It's too small for me to fit through, Arthur," the gargoyle observed. "I'm afraid all I'll be able to give here is moral support."
"Don't concern yourself about it too much," Arthur reassured him. "I think I can handle Morgana on my own."
"If you say so," Griff said. "But be careful anyway, okay?"
"I will be," Arthur said. "Now help me down there."
Griff nodded and took hold of Arthur's hands, and then waited until the king stepped into the skylight before using his strength to hold the king up. Slowly, the gargoyle bent into the skylight as he lowered the king down into the room. As Arthur descended, he looked towards his half-sister, expecting some sort of magical attack.
But none came. Morgana merely kept on chanting, as though she didn't notice anything but what she was working on. Of course, plenty of wizards were prone to doing that when casting complex spells, and if this was the case then it would allow Arthur more of an opportunity for surprise.
Eventually, Griff had lowered Arthur as much as he could, leaving the king still a couple of feet in the air. Arthur released his grip on Griff, and landed on the floor while the gargoyle hauled himself back onto the roof.
Arthur turned towards Morgana, who was still in the middle of chanting, seemingly oblivious to everything around her. He drew Excalibur and advanced on the sorceress. "Desist with your witchcraft, sister!" he commanded, pointing his sword towards her.
Morgana stopped her incantations for a moment, then looked towards him and laughed. "Well, 'dear' brother, it's nice of you to finally arrive. Come to see the fireworks, have you?"
"There won't be any 'fireworks' if I have anything to say about it," he said. Then his voice gained a tone of disgust. "Is this what you've come down to, Morgana? Common thievery?"
"It's hardly common, Arthur," she said. "This is, of course, the 'great and wondrous' Lia Fail. Personally, I don't care all that much about the power it can give me." She turned towards him and smiled evilly. "But I very much care about the fact that it can help me destroy you."
Arthur made for Morgana, but as he went forward he accidentally stepped on one of the symbols on the floor, disturbing the powder with his heel. Immediately, the powder in the symbol began to swirl around Arthur's feet, as though blown by some unknown gust of wind. Soon it was followed by the other symbols, and within a few seconds Arthur was surrounded in a small, magenta-colored dust devil.
Then the funnel narrowed and closed in on Arthur until he was physically hemmed in. It grew tighter and tighter, squeezing him until his reflexes caused him to let go of Excalibur. The sword easily passed through the powder, and landed with a clatter on the floor of the room. After a few seconds, the whirlwind dissipated as the powder congealed around him in a set of magenta-colored chains and manacles.
Arthur tried to break free, but only succeeded in losing his balance and fell to the floor in a heap. Morgana looked at him with a bemused expression, and began to lightly laugh at him.
As she walked over to Excalibur and picked it up, she chuckled slightly. "I seem to recall this turn of events the last time we met. Don't you find it as amusing as me?"
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," Arthur said sullenly. "Just go ahead and do away with me, if that is your aim."
Morgana looked at Arthur speculatively, then shook her head and let Excalibur drop to the floor again. "I have no wish to do you in personally now, Arthur," she said. "I'd much rather not have the blood on my hands; not when I can use the Stone to destroy you."
She turned back towards the Stone to begin chanting again, but Arthur interrupted her "Why are you doing this?" he called out. "I know you have your own life here, Morgana; I saw it on the news. Why are you continuing with our old feud?"
"Why? Why?!" Morgana said, turning back towards Arthur, her voice beginning to rise. "I want you dead, that's why! I have spent fifteen centuries trying to bring you here, or find some way to go to Avalon myself to finish you! And now that you're here, I want to finish you, and finish your line! I want you out of my life, brother, now and forever!"
With that, she turned back towards the Stone and began chanting again. For several minutes, Arthur tried again and again to his half-sister, but she merely ignored him, concentrating on the spell she was casting. As soon as she was finished, a great surge of magic could be felt in the room, and as the two people there looked at it, they could see the Stone glowing with a visible fluorescent blue light.
"Who has awakened me?" the Stone asked in its deep, thundering voice.
"I have," Morgana responded.
"For what purpose have you awakened me?"
"I want you to destroy Arthur," she said. "Rid him and his companions from the face of the Earth so that they may cause me no more grief, and so that the woe he and his father brought to my house might be properly revenged!"
"You ask much of me," the Stone said.
"I summoned you into wakefulness!" she said. "You must do as I say!"
"For your request to be granted, you must answer a riddle, Morgana la Fay."
The sorceress paused for a moment, then said, "All right, I accept. What is this riddle?"
The Stone waited for a moment, as though thinking itself. Then it said, "All men strive for it, but none can ever have it. It corrupts men, kills them, makes them turn on their brothers and waste their lives; and yet all laud it as a noble thing at times. What is it?"
Morgana stood there for a few moments, looking like she was struggling over what to do. Then she said, "Gold?"
"You have answered incorrectly," the Stone said. "And therefore, I cannot give you what you ask."
Morgana sputtered for a moment. "I don't care!" she said to the Stone. "I want Arthur destroyed, do you hear me! I want him..."
Before she could continue, however, the Stone's glow intensified, and then a bolt of the energy shot out from it. The bolt surrounded Morgana, and with the sound of her crying "NOOOO!!!" she disappeared from the room, and the Stone's glow faded back to normal.
With Morgana gone, the magenta chains dissolved back into powder, and suddenly Arthur found himself free again. He quickly got up and retrieved Excalibur from the floor, and then walked to the Stone.
"My thanks, Lia Fail," he said. "Might I ask a favor?"
"Answer the riddle, Arthur Pendragon," the Stone said, "and I shall give you what you wish."
Arthur thought for a moment. "A quest. A quest for an unattainable goal. All men strive to achieve some high ambition that they have, but the unattainable goal can never be had by any. Some unattainable goals, such as seeking perfection, are lauded as noble things, for they make men strive to be the best they can be. But others are destructive; the quest for these things consume the men who search for them, and makes men waste their lives in search for them. In some cases, the unattainable goal makes men betray their brothers, and can easily lead to their deaths." He paused a moment. "I should know; the Grail Quest practically tore the Round Table apart. And Morgana also has been corrupted by a goal she's probably beginning to see as unattainable: my end."
"That is correct," the Stone said. "What is it that you wish of me?"
"Stone, you helped me once to find Excalibur. Can you help me find Merlin's whereabouts as well?"
The Stone seemed to hesitate for a moment before answering. "No, I cannot, Arthur Pendragon," the Stone said. "I am not connected with the wizard as I was with the sword. I know that you must continue your search for him, though; it is your fate to find your mentor."
Arthur thanked the Stone again, and then quickly rushed towards the window at the far end of the room. Opening it, he saw Griff waiting outside.
"Need a lift?" the gargoyle asked.
"Yes," Arthur replied. "I think it's time we went home."
"Sounds good to me," Griff said as got onto the window ledge and picked Arthur up. Turning, Griff launched himself from the tower, and was soon gliding back towards the hill where they'd left Cavall waiting.
As they disappeared off into the distance, the doors to the room containing the Stone burst open, and the two guards who entered fanned out looking for whoever might be in there. They were relieved, however, to only find the Stone, apparently no worse for wear.
Morgana gasped as she appeared with a flash of blue magic in her hotel room in Edinburgh. For a moment she felt like screaming and cursing Arthur's name, but after a few minutes, the more rational side of her seemed to take gradual control and she calmed down.
She looked down at her gloved hands and said to herself, "At least they won't know it was me who took the Stone." That was the important thing; she could always get Arthur later. And though she had to hurry still, she had some time, at least...
She walked over to the window of the room, and as she looked out over the night scene of Edinburgh she let herself relax. For a moment, she almost thought she saw a shape flying through the sky, but then dismissed it.
"I wonder how much this place has changed since last I was here," she said to herself, smiling. "I think I'll go find out tomorrow."
SCONE, SCOTLAND - 1296.
"There it is! Take it!"
King Edward of England pointed at the stone, lying prominently in the hall before him. The men-at-arms behind him rushed forward at his command, and stooped over it. Hoisting it up, they began to carry it out, slowly and carefully, lest it fall and break apart.
Edward the First watched them with a satisfied smile on his face. He still had not yet completely conquered Scotland, but he was closer to victory now. John Balliol, the former Scottish king, whom Edward himself had placed on the throne four years ago, had submitted to him and resigned the crown. The Scot armies had been defeated, and although much of the land still held out, it would not be long before all resistance had been stamped out. How could those wild and undisciplined Scotsmen withstand the might of English knights and yeomen on the battlefield? Before long, all of Scotland would be his.
And to mark his victory, he was making a gesture. The Stone of Destiny, upon which every king of Scotland had been crowned since the days of Kenneth Mac Alpin, was to be removed to London and placed beneath the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey. And there it would remain henceforth, as a symbol of Edward's conquest, his mastery over Scotland. It would be English kings who would be crowned upon the Stone now, rather than Scottish kings. And if that did not assert Edward's lordship over this northern land, he did not know what would.
The Stone swayed a little in the grip of the guards, and came close to falling to the ground at one point. "Careful, you louts!" the king shouted, hastily following them. "If you break it, you'll wish that you had fallen on the battlefield!" The men-at-arms hurriedly steadied the Stone again and bore it out of the chamber, Edward following.
The two priests who had hidden in the shadows, not daring to oppose the English king and his soldiers, now emerged into the center of the hall. "Well, Aidan?" said one of them. "What think you of this?"
Aidan frowned. "A dark sight to behold, Angus. The Sassenach king has despoiled us of our greatest treasure."
"And what becomes of us now?" asked Angus. "Will King Edward indeed rule us forever, and his sons after him?"
Aidan shook his head thoughtfully. "I very much doubt it," he said. He suddenly chuckled. "The king doesn't know what he's done. Wherever the Stone of Destiny lies, a Scottish king will rule. Perhaps Edward has yielded up his own domain to us, rather than we to him."
"Of this you are certain?"
"I've been wrong about things before, Angus," said Aidan. "But this is something that I feel very certain about."
November 30, 1996
The Stone of Destiny was laid to rest in a room of Edinburgh Castle, with news cameras trained on it, guards around it, and visitors watching it. Newscasters made much of the event, talking of the politics, people, and events around the Stone's past, present, and likely future.
The Stone didn't 'care' about any of this, though. All that mattered was that it had played its role in the course of destiny, helping the Once and Future King on his own path, as well as another. And it was sure that their paths would cross again soon...