The Hawk and the Crow
Written by: Todd Jensen and Batya "The Toon" Levin
Story Concept by: Christi Smith Hayden
Illustrations by: Christi Smith Hayden
Previously on Gargoyles...
"Who are you?" asked Arthur. "I mean, really?"
The boy sighed. "I should have known that I couldn't avoid this," he said. "The truth is, Arthur, you were right about Merlin living in this house. You simply were looking for the wrong Hawkins. In fact, I'm Merlin."
Arthur and Griff both stared at him, neither of them breaking the silence.
Emrys - or rather, Merlin gave a sheepish grin. "Sorry about that," he said.
~ Quest's End ~
* * *
[Emrys] looked over his work, then with a cry of utter indignation and fury crumpled the fourth sheet of paper up as well, and threw it at the basket. Unlike the first three, it never landed on the floor at all, but burst into blue fire in the air and vanished. At the same time, Emrys let out a string of angry words in an archaic Welsh dialect that made Arthur turn around at once and stare shocked at his former tutor.
"Emrys?" he asked, his eyebrows rising.
"It's this maths assignment!" cried Emrys, jumping up from his chair and pacing back and forth, sparks of energy crackling about him. "I just can't seem to get one accursed problem done properly! Four tries, and it still hasn't come out right! I'm telling you, I just don't think that I can stand this any more! I could handle so many wonders fifteen centuries ago! I could rout entire armies, raise storms and quell them, see into the future by more than a thousand years! And now I can't even solve a simple geometry problem!"
EMRYS: "I do really detest the maths. Never can get them, myself."
~ Triangles ~
* * * * *
The Hawk and the Crow
* * * * *
April 8, 1998
Central Park, Manhattan
The Conservatory Gardens -- Unseelie HQ
The Morrigan sat on the rim of a fountain, her bare legs dangling and her pointed chin resting on one clawed hand, moodily watching a slender green-skinned woman sharpening elfshot arrowheads. Overhead, a light dry snow sifted out of the featureless grey sky, drifting down the sides of the protective force-shield that surrounded the Gardens.
There was a faint jingling of chain, and she turned to see Loki slump down on the concrete beside her. "Heyah, skaldcrow," he greeted her.
"Heyah, me amadhaun," she replied with a smile, reaching up to give his ponytail an affectionate tug. "How's it with you?"
"Bored as blazes." He leaned back on his elbows, throwing a glance at the elfshot-worker. "This what passes for entertainment around here?"
"These days." She snorted. "Ha'n't been any real fun hereabouts since the Ride on Samhain. I've a mind to wander off and find some fun of me own. The Queen c'n always whistle me back if 'm needed."
"Why not?" Loki conjured a little ball of blue fire, made it dance briefly across his knuckles before it vanished again. "Might do the same myself."
She poked a finger at his chest. "You stay out o' my games until I'm after inviting you, amadhaun. Hear me?"
"Of course," he said with an innocent grin.
The Morrigan rolled her eyes. "Ye great fool. If herself asks, tell 'er I'm gone off to find...." She paused, and gave a feral smile. "To find someone t' play with."
* * * * *
Mons Carbi Comprehensive
Mr. Hill walked down the aisles of the classroom, handing back the students' papers to them. "Some very interesting analyses of Henry V," he said to them, nodding. "A few of them truly worth commenting on. But perhaps the most memorable of them all is the one written by Master Hawkins." He returned to his desk, holding up Emrys Hawkins's paper. "I have never seen anything quite like the essay you wrote, Master Hawkins," he said, addressing the boy directly.
"Thank you, sir," said Emrys, looking proud. "I do try."
"That was not intended as a compliment," said Mr. Hill acidly, turning the paper around so that the red mark showed. "This paper has earned you one failing grade."
"What?" Emrys stared. "Why?"
"Because, Master Hawkins, you essentially ignored the play in favor of criticizing Shakespeare's depiction of the Battle of Agincourt as historically inaccurate. Criticism, I might add, laced with a considerable amount of uncalled-for savagery."
"It was well deserved," Emrys replied sharply. "Mr. Shakespeare may have been good at stringing together pretty words, but he didn't make the slightest effort to present the true story. Take a look at the Dauphin, for example. Shakespeare has him present in the French army at Agincourt, when he was actually sick at home! You can't simply close your eyes and pretend that you didn't notice that. And how about the longbows? King Henry won that battle thanks to his soldiers' mastery of the English longbow, and yet you'd never know that just from reading the play."
"The historical accuracy of Shakespeare's account of the reign of Henry the Fifth is not the issue here," said Mr. Hill. "This is a literature class, not a history class."
"That doesn't make any difference," Emrys snapped. "A historical error is still a historical error. And Shakespeare's full of them. Think of the clock striking in Julius Caesar. The Bohemian sea-coast in The Winter's Tale. Hector of Troy quoting Aristotle in Troilus and Cressida. And as for the way that he did Joan of Arc in Henry VI Part One - "
"Master Hawkins," the teacher cut him off in a tone of withering scorn. "Your attention to detail is admirable, I'm sure, but the historical facts -- whatever they may be -- are not relevant here. It is the poetry that matters. The Bard --"
"The Bard?" Emrys's voice went high with indignation. "A sycophantic twit who thought it was more important to appease the current king than to tell the story as it really happened?"
Mr. Hill's eyes bulged and his face went dead pale. A tiny collective gasp went up from the other students in the classroom, who stared at Emrys in shock but said nothing; not that they had any opportunity, considering how quickly the youth was speaking.
"Shakespeare was the grandfather of historical revisionists! He could wring every fact out of a story and make his version so appealing that the truth would be forgotten! Not to mention an impossible gossipmonger! Take that Midsummer farce, for example. The man actually swallowed whole a ridiculous rumor about Titania and an Athenian weaver temporarily burdened with a donkey's head -- and I can easily guess just who made up that particular story, at that -- and --"
"Master Hawkins, that is enough!" cried Mr. Hill, slamming down one hand on the surface of his desk. "I will not tolerate such disrespect to William Shakespeare in my classroom! You are going to the Headmaster's office this instant!"
Emrys stood in his place, glowering at the teacher for a minute. Then, he sighed, collected his books together, and headed for the door.
"Hawkins, you twit!" said the fat boy seated two rows away from him, as he passed his desk. "Thanks for nothing! We're all getting double homework tonight because of you!"
"Yes, nice going, Hawkins!" put in another boy. And the other students glared at Emrys with considerable indignation.
Emrys made no reply as he opened the door. He simply stared back at them, his blue eyes looking as though they would begin to glow at any moment. Then, with a sigh, he left the room, slamming the door behind him.
"They're a pack of twits!" he muttered, as he stomped down the hallway towards the Headmaster's office. "Mr. Hill wouldn't know the truth about Shakespeare and British history if it bit him on the rump. And as for those pupils of his - if I ever get my powers properly under control, I would enjoy turning them all into cockroaches, no matter what Blaise would have thought of it."
He turned a corner in the hallway, and continued on his way, clenching his fists all the while. "And as for Headmaster Wynn.... Why, anybody who had to spend ten minutes with that monotonous, pompous, toupeed idiot would agree that turning him into a cockroach would be an improvement! If I have to sit through another lecture from him...."
He suddenly halted in his steps, and, at that moment came to his decision. Muttering a little something in Latin, he quickly gestured to himself. As he did so, his form faded, and became almost transparent. Nodding with satisfaction, he turned around and made his way through the corridors straight towards the doors leading outside. A couple of students passed by him, talking to one another, but neither of them noticed him. A few moments later, he was outside.
"I need to clear my thoughts a little," he said aloud as he gazed up at the winter-white sky. It was early in April, but not one trace of spring had as yet appeared. The trees were still bare and leafless, and the flowers had yet to bud. The ground was frozen, and the wind was chill as it blew about him. Emrys sighed, and turned up the collar of his shirt.
"I should have gone back for my jacket," he muttered, as he left the school grounds. "If I'd only known that I wasn't going all the way to the Headmaster's office, I'd have thought of that."
He sighed ruefully, and continued on his way down the pavement, his hands thrust into his trousers to keep them warm.
"Thanks a lot, father," he said bitterly. "You had to unleash the Fimbulwinter upon the world, didn't you? It's so like you! If you can't defeat us in battle, then you'll freeze us to death!" He glowered at the visible clouds that emerged from his mouth as he spat out the words, then shook his head.
The boy continued to make his way through the streets of London, barely noticing where he was going; he was too lost in his thoughts for that. He was vaguely setting a course for Soho and the "Into the Mystic" shop, but was anything but conscious of this. The spell still cloaked him, so that nobody even noticed him. And he, in turn, never even noticed the distinctly seedy nature of the part of the city that he had wandered into. Tawdry-looking posters half-clung to the walls. The buildings were of a squat, ugly nature, built of red brick. Few people were about, and the few who were had a distinctly unsavory look about them.
Emrys paused by a graffiti-covered telephone kiosk to get his bearings for a moment, and as he did so, the illusion that he had evoked finally dispersed. He looked concernedly about him for a moment, then sighed with relief. Nobody was about. He hadn't been seen when he became suddenly visible again. "And a very good thing, too," he muttered to himself. "This sort of attention I don't want." He continued on his way.
* * *
Three pairs of eyes watched the boy from a side alley.
"Um, Rodney?" said one of the roughly-dressed young men, staring in shock and disbelief. "Jimmy? Did you see that?"
"Too right we did, Riggs," said Rodney to his younger brother, squinting at the lad. "You weren't imagining nothing."
"But how'd he do that?" Riggs asked. "Pop out of nowhere like that, I mean?"
Rodney stared at the boy. "Wait a minute," he said. "I know him -- it's the Hawkins kid who lives with that Arthur Pennington. Lucius puts him in the top ten of the Targets list. "
"An' he's alone," said Jimmy, cracking the knuckles in two long wiry hands.
"Riggs? Jimmy? You with me?" Rodney looked from one to the other. They nodded, and he turned back to eye their target, his face dark and intent. "On my signal, then.... Get him."
* * *
The sudden prickle on the back of his neck was all the warning he had. Emrys turned around to see the three young men coming towards him, moving rapidly but with deceptive casualness. Leather jackets, torn jeans, whiteface makeup...and on the left shoulder of each jacket, airbrushed in silver against the black, a stylized seven-pointed star.
"Minions!" he gasped, staring at them for a moment. Then he turned and ran. The three broke into a run behind him, their longer stride gaining on his. The boy looked all about him for somebody whom he could call out to, preferably a policeman, but there was no sign of anyone about. Nobody but himself and his pursuers.
"If I only dared use that illusion spell again," he said to himself, as he continued to run. "But I don't even have time enough to cast it now! A fine mess I've gotten myself into."
He darted around the corner of an alley, and looked for a place to hide, hoping for a moment that there was a dustbin that he could crouch behind where he would not be found. But his pursuers were too quick on his heels for that. They stood at the entrance of the alley, blocking all escape, and slowly advanced towards him.
Emrys snatched up a discarded broom that was lying on the ground, and thrust it out. "Stay back!" he cried in a loud voice. "I'm warning you! You don't want to make me angry!"
"And why not?" asked one of the Minions, with a laugh. "What're you gonna do? Clobber us with your broom?"
"You don't know what you're up against!" said Emrys, with considerably more bravado than he felt. "I'm telling you, I - "
He never even got to finish his speech. The Minions charged at him. Emrys swung at them with the broomstick, and struck one across the side of the head. The Minion reeled back, staggering for a moment before he regained his balance; but the other two were upon the boy by then. And, as he caught one solidly in the ribs, the third grabbed hold of the stick and hauled it to one side. Emrys held on, trying to tug the broom away from the older boy, and didn't see the blow aimed at his own head until it was too late.
Stars exploded behind his eyes. The broom was wrenched from his hands and he was thrown against the wall with bruising force, rough brick scraping his cheek and chin. Strong hands seized him by the arm, twisting it cruelly, and shoved him across the alley where another pair of hands caught him.
Emrys jerked free, swung blindly and felt his fist pass harmlessly through someone's hair. He heard sneering laughter through the ringing in his ears, Then someone kicked his feet out from under him, and he crashed heavily to the cobblestones.
"HEY!" came a shrill yell from somewhere above him. There was a twang, a whoosh, a dull thud, and a series of startled yelps. "Push off, you rotters!" The twang-whoosh-thud came again, and again, and dimly he recognized it as the sound of a slingshot. Someone cursed above his head, and then there was only the sound of running feet.
Emrys pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, and stayed that way for a moment with his eyes closed, waiting for the buzzing ache in his head to go away. When he opened his eyes, there were a pair of scuffed black lace-up boots on the ground in front of him.
His eyes drifted upwards. Worn black jeans, torn at one knee. An oversized sweater the color of frost grapes, nubbly and frayed at the hem. Hands on hips, dirty yet surprisingly delicate hands, with black-enameled fingernails. A black leather jacket, battered and dusty. Shaggy jet-black hair, framing a young female face wearing an expression of wary concern, with dark eyes heavily shadowed in purple and a silver dagger-shape gleaming at her right ear.
"You're all right?" the girl asked him.
"I will be," Emrys managed to say. "Th-thank you."
"Wandered over t' the wrong side a town, is it?" She reached out a hand to help him up, her expression as cool and guarded as her faintly Irish-accented voice.
"Yeah." He took her offered hand and struggled to his feet, part of his mind faintly surprised by the strength of her grip. "I sneaked out of school," he heard himself say sheepishly.
"Thought so." A tiny not-quite-smile chased itself across her face, gone almost before it appeared. "Old Wynn's jail?"
"Does it show?" Emrys chuckled ruefully, dusting off the school uniform. The pain in his head was lessening already. "Thanks for coming to help me. My name's Emrys -- Emrys Hawkins."
"Corbie." The girl glanced around. "Come on, let's be out a here when they come back."
* * * * *
The telephone rang in Arthur Pendragon's office. He picked up the receiver gingerly - even after spending two years in this new world, he still did not feel quite at home with these odd devices - and spoke crisply into it. "Pendragon Investigations," he said. "This is Arthur Pennington."
"Pennington, is it?" asked an indignant-sounding voice. "Good. I've been meaning to speak with you."
"And you are?" Arthur asked.
"Roger Wynn," replied the voice. "I'm the Headmaster at Mons Carbi Comprehensive. The very school that your nephew attends."
"Well, in truth, he's more my ward than my nephew," Arthur began. "But what is the reason for this call, Mr. Wynn?"
"Your ward," said Wynn sharply, "has been disrupting classes once again. He was just now disputing with Mr. Hill over Shakespeare's historical accuracy, or lack thereof."
"I'll have a few words with Emrys about it when he gets home," said Arthur. "My apologies for this, Mr. Wynn. The boy has a very strong interest in history, and sometimes he cannot resist showing off his knowledge of it."
"There's a bit more involved here than that, Mr. Pennington," said Mr. Wynn, his voice sharp and sarcastic. "Apparently the boy became rude and abusive when Mr. Hill did not share his enthusiasm for historical accuracy. And, when he was sent down to my office by Mr. Hill, he never arrived. I have asked around, and it has become apparent that he has left the school grounds altogether."
"I'll discuss that matter with him as well," said Arthur. "I can assure you, Mr. Wynn, that Emrys is not in the habit of -- cutting classes, I believe the term is."
"He had better not be," said Wynn grimly. "And I hope that you will impress that upon him." And with that, he hung up.
Arthur replaced the receiver on its hook, and shook his head ruefully. "Merlin," he said to himself. "Just when will you grow up? Again," he added, remembering the precise nature of his former tutor's renewed youth.
He dialed the number of the Mystic shop, and was answered a moment later by Colin Marter's voice. "Into the Mystic. Colin Marter speaking."
"Marter, this is Arthur," said the Once and Future King. "I'm calling you about Merlin. He seems to have absented himself from school."
"Absented himself?" repeated Marter, sounding astonished.
"That's what his headmaster told me," King Arthur replied. "It seems that Merlin argued with one of his teachers about some matter, was sent to the Headmaster's office, and chose to leave the building altogether instead."
"Playing truant," said Colin, with an almost tut-tutting note in his voice. "Arthur, I must confess that this hardly sounds like the Merlin I've heard so much about. When I read the legends about him as a boy, I'd pictured him as - well, much more responsible."
"He was that way fifteen centuries ago," Arthur said. "It's his rejuvenation that's given him these problems. I must confess myself that he barely seems the same as my old mentor these days. Time has had a very odd effect upon him."
"You can say that again," said Colin. "Is there anything that you want me to do, Arthur?"
"Yes," the former king replied. "Keep watch for him at the shop, in case he arrives there. I am going out to look for him. And when Leo and Una awaken, let them know as well, if Merlin is still missing by sunset."
"That I will," said Colin, and hung up. Arthur rose from his chair, pulled on his jacket, and left the office.
* * * * *
Lucius Adrians looked at the three Minions and sighed. "Let me see if I understand this," he said. "You had almost apprehended young Emrys Hawkins when a teenage girl drove the three of you off?"
"Well, she was a tough sort, sir," said Rodney, looking uncomfortable. "Really tough."
He was having trouble putting what had happened into words, even to himself. Their assailant had been nothing more fearsome than a girl some years younger than he was, wielding a slingshot. But something about her had panicked them, set them running away in fear, a fear stronger than anything he could remember. The terror-sweat was still drying on his palms and temples, his heart was still hammering whenever he thought of the moment -- and he had no idea just what it was he had been so afraid of.
"She was still a child," said Lucius. "A child against three grown men." He stared again at the youths. "Or almost grown. I am still finding it difficult to believe that three of my Minions could be bested by her. I'm far more disappointed by that, in truth, than by your failure to capture the boy."
"So what are you going to do to us?" Jimmy asked, peering through the greasy blond hair that hung over his eyes.
"Nothing," replied Lucius. "I am not one of those melodramatic madmen who executes his followers for failure. But bear in mind that this is going down on your records as a black mark. And black marks, you must realize, do stand in the way of promotions and recognition. I must tell you this - your humiliating setback is going to hold you back from being entrusted with very important missions in the future. A Minion who cannot hold his own against an adolescent girl is hardly a Minion whom I can expect much from. Minor spying errands and purchasing supplies, perhaps. But nothing more than that."
"Please, sir!" cried Riggs, an alarmed look on his face. "Give us another chance! We'll make up for this, honestly!"
"Out of the question, Master Riggs," said Lucius, shaking his head. "I appreciate your ardor to redeem yourself, but we are fighting a war here. And no intelligent general ever entrusts important missions to those who cannot carry them out. If Julius Caesar had placed failures such as yourselves in key positions in his legions, would he have ever conquered Gaul?"
"Give me another chance, at least!" Riggs protested. "I'll do anything! I'll burgle the British Museum, if you want it done! I'll even burgle Buck House! Just give me another chance!"
"I told you, Master Riggs," said Lucius patiently. "That is quite out of the question."
"All right," Riggs continued desperately. Rodney and Jimmy had quietly removed themselves from Lucius's office by this time, but Riggs had not noticed his brother and friend slip away in his protest. "If I ain't good enough for you right now, then how about you boost me a bit?"
"Boost you?" asked Lucius. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow you, Master Riggs."
"Make me tougher!" cried Riggs. "Like one of them Vampyre chaps! They can do anything! If I was one of them, I'd get things done, I swear!"
"Do you mean that?" asked Lucius with an odd intensity, leaning forward. "You are volunteering to submit yourself to the operation?"
"And why not?" asked Riggs. "If I can't handle our enemies as an ordinary chap, maybe I can do it when I'm packing some real power. I can fry them before they know what hit them! I can even zap those gargoyles out of the sky! Just turn me into a Vampyre! Then I can show you!"
"I am not certain that such a course would be advisable," said Lucius. "According to Dr. Sevarius's reports, while the results of his Changeling Formula are very satisfactory on the whole, there are - certain unavoidable side effects. Some of these side effects make it extremely difficult to function in ordinary human society."
"I don't give a flap for ordinary human society!" Riggs said. "What's ordinary human society ever given me? Who cares about being some ordinary bloke, anyway? I want to be somebody, and if that means I got to stay inside all day, I can handle it! Just as long as I get the power!"
Lucius sighed. "We were running low on recruits anyway," he said at last. "And, while Dr. Sevarius's lab was destroyed in that unfortunate altercation last year, he did manage to leave some information behind about how to carry out the process. Our masters forwarded it to Darien Montrose's geneticists, and it seems that there is the possibility of making one or two Vampyres yet. Perhaps you can indeed be admitted to their ranks."
Riggs nodded eagerly. "When do I begin?"
"I'll set up an appointment for you," said Lucius, looking through some papers. "This could take a while, but I'll let you know once we're ready." He paused, looked up, and pinned Riggs with an icy stare. "Just one thing, Master Riggs. Once you have undergone the treatment...I will not be pleased if I learn that, even as a Vampyre, you display no more competence than you have done as a normal human."
Riggs swallowed. "Trust me, sir. You won't."
Lucius smiled thinly. "Why then, everything will be fine. You may go now, Master Riggs."
Riggs left the office, while the leader of the Minions sat back in his chair. "There may be some use for him after all," he said to himself. "Not much, but the Dark Lord must take what he can get."
* * * * *
"Think y'll be all right here?" Corbie asked him, gesturing at the bustling street.
"Should be," Emrys said. Then, not sure quite why he said it: "Will you be all right?"
She lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. " 'll be fine." But her eyes slipped away from his, and her teeth caught hold of her lower lip as she stared at something across the street, behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to follow her gaze, and wasn't sure at first what she was looking at.
Until he noticed her sniffing the air hungrily, caught the smell of curry coming from the fast-food kiosk behind him, and looked again at her hollow cheeks and bony wrists.
"Listen," he said, "how about I buy you lunch?" She blinked, the sharp wary look coming back into her eyes, and for a moment he thought she might bolt like a scared rabbit. "To pay you back for helping me," he added hurriedly. "It's only fair."
Corbie licked her lips nervously, looked back at the curry kiosk, and then at him again. "Okay," she said finally.
* * * * *
Arthur found Leba sitting on the steps with two other street musicians, drumming her fingers on the wood of her guitar in rhythm. "No, let's try it this way. Deb, you come in right when I sing 'just', and Gary comes in on 'yesterday'. 'Tomorrow we'll be just where we were yesterday' -- like that. Okay, from the last chorus, on three --" She glanced up and caught sight of him. "Hang on a mo, guys. What's up, Arthur?"
"Have you seen Emrys?" he asked. "According to the headmaster of his school, he seems to have gone missing."
Leba shook her head, her braid switching back and forth like the tail of a cat. "Not since morning, no. Listen, Deb and Gary and I are going to be working rush hour at the Tube; want us to keep an eye out for him?"
"If you would," Arthur said. "And if you don't see him, will you please phone the shop and let me know?"
Leba tossed off a jaunty salute. "Righto, chief. Guys, the kid we're looking for is about fourteen, a bit skinny with blond curly hair, should be wearing a school uniform. Anything else, Arthur?"
"I'm going to look for some trace of him on the school grounds. If you see him, tell him...." Arthur paused. "Tell him I said he's too old to be acting like this."
* * * * *
It was amazing, Emrys thought, how two orders of takeaway chicken curry and naan bread could be made to last for most of an afternoon. He picked at his own food, watching Corbie wolf down her portion as though she hadn't eaten for days.
And maybe she hadn't at that. "Do you want the rest of mine?" he offered. "I don't seem to be all that hungry."
She nodded with only the briefest hesitation, and reached for the paper carton he held out to her. "Thanks," she mumbled through a mouthful of rice.
"So where do you go to school?" he asked.
Corbie hunched one shoulder. "Don't much."
"Wish I didn't. Bloody stupid waste of time." Emrys toyed with a plastic fork. "I doubt I'll be able to convince my uncle of that, though." Idly, he bent down the fork's tines so that they curved like clawed fingers. "How d'you manage?"
Corbie bit into a piece of chicken. "Me da don't know much what a do," she said around it. "Not like he gives a tinker's cuss."
"Oh." The word alone sounded a bit bald; he floundered for something else to say. "Not home much, is he?"
She gave a harsh laugh. "Him? He never leaves home. Sits in his ratty old chair and drinks all night. Na, he threw me out years ago. Ain't seen 'im since, no loss."
"Threw you out?" Emrys stared.
"Yah." She shrugged again, looking away from him. " 'm better off out a that."
"Do you..." He hesitated, then went ahead and said it anyway. "Do you need a place to stay?"
"Got a place," she said shortly, the distrustful look abruptly back in her eyes and sharper than before. She put down the empty container and pushed her chair back from the table.
"Wait!" The word burst out of him almost of its own volition, and he flung out a hand toward her.
She was half on her feet already, and even though she paused at his cry and held still for a moment, he could almost feel her still pulling away from him, poised for flight like some ragged bird. So afraid, he thought, she's so afraid, why? Why of me? And that idea, of this girl being afraid of him, became in that moment almost unbearable.
"I," he said, and drew in breath, "Listen, I just want to help. If I can, if there's anything I...."
"Y' want to help me. A just bet y' do," she sneered.
"I do," he insisted.
"Why?" There was a wealth of bitterness in her voice, and harsh mockery, and a confusion that was manifesting as anger...and something else, something that might almost have been hope.
"Because you deserve better," he heard himself say.
Her eyes went very wide for a fleeting moment, wide and unguarded.
* * * * *
Arthur stood in the yard of Mons Carbi Comprehensive, frowning. He had carefully walked from his flat to the school, closely scrutinizing the route for any sign of Merlin. And he had found not a trace of the young halfling, anywhere. Either Merlin was extremely good at covering his tracks (which, admittedly, was no difficulty for him at all), or else he had never headed back to the flat when he had left Mons Carbi.
"Where would he have gone, if not the shop?" he asked himself. "He wouldn't have gone exploring, not with his father's spies in the city."
He suddenly frowned. "He wouldn't, would he?"
A movement across the yard caught his eye: the doors of the school swung open, and three people walked out. One of them was the portly figure of Headmaster Wynn, whom Arthur had seen only once or twice before, but easily recognized from Emrys's extremely unflattering but brutally accurate descriptions of him. The other two were more familiar to the Once and Future King. One was an attractive brown-haired woman in her late thirties, wearing thin wire glasses, and the other a very tall and grim-faced man, who looked strong enough to battle Goliath himself on equal terms.
"Thank you for agreeing to participate in our Visiting Artist Program, Ms. Duval," Headmaster Wynn was saying. "I am very much looking forward to your seminar next week."
"I'm looking forward to it myself, Mr. Wynn," Elaine began. But she was interrupted by a grunt of disgust, as her escort and bodyguard Norman sighted Arthur. "Not him again!"
Elaine heard his voice, and turned to see Arthur. Her face brightened, but before she could greet him, Headmaster Wynn stalked forward to point one thick finger at the visitor. "So there you are, Mr. Pennington," he said. "Have you made any progress in locating that ward of yours?"
"I am afraid not, Mr. Wynn," Arthur replied calmly. "I'm still searching for him, though."
"I should hope so," said the headmaster. "And I suggest you make sure he understands that we do not tolerate such behavior in our students."
"I'll talk to him, Mr. Wynn," Arthur said.
"See that you do, Pennington," the headmaster bit off, "or you may want to start looking into a new school for your nephew to attend." He turned around to re-enter the school building, leaving Arthur, Elaine, and Norman standing in the otherwise deserted schoolyard.
"Well, Arthur," said Elaine, "this is certainly something of a surprise. What brings you here, anyway?"
"My ward, Emrys Hawkins," said Arthur. "He attends classes here. Or rather, he is supposed to. He left the building unexpectedly earlier today, and hasn't been heard from since. I really do not know what has gotten into him lately; he's generally not the sort to play truant."
"Maybe Norman and I can help," offered Elaine. "Do you have any ideas where he might have gone anyway, Arthur?"
King Arthur shook his head. "None, I fear," he said. "Or rather, so many that I would not know where to begin. Emrys might have gone anywhere in this city."
"Yes, I imagine that we'll need to start narrowing down the field a bit," said Elaine. "We can't expect to search all of London for one young boy."
Norman suddenly spoke up. "You're looking for a teenager, aren't you?" he asked.
When Arthur nodded, Norman thrust a thumb over his shoulder. "Teenagers like to eat and to hang out with their friends," he said. "And there's a bunch of food stalls and a city park over that way."
* * * * *
The empty curry containers lay on the grass next to them. Corbie sat with her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them. Emrys leaned on one elbow and watched her as they talked.
The slanting shadows and the red-gold light in the park made Emrys realize how late it was getting. "I'm afraid I've got to get home soon," he said, with genuine regret. "My 'uncle' will start to worry about me."
Corbie tossed her head, shaking black hair out of her eyes. " 's one trouble a don't have t' worry about."
He stood up and brushed bits of grass off his school vest, then reached down to offer her a hand up. Corbie did not take his hand, seemed not even to notice it as she pulled herself up in a single motion, with the same half-wild grace he'd noticed before. "C'mon, 'll walk you to th' bus."
The two walked across the park, towards the street. "Where do you sleep if you can't go back to your house?" Emrys asked her.
That brief smile darted across her face again and was gone. "Maybe someday 'll show you."
Emrys studied her face for a moment. "I was wondering," he began.
Corbie's indrawn breath warned him, a second before he too heard the heavy footsteps moving quickly behind them. "Don't look," she muttered, and quickened her pace. " 's th' crew from th' alley."
He began half-jogging to keep up with her, and nearly stumbled when she abruptly halted. Her hands closed into fists, and her eyes narrowed. "An' there's more of 'em in front 'f us."
* * * * *
"Any sign of him yet, Griff?" Leo asked.
"Not yet," said Griff, sweeping the London streets below him with his gaze. "He certainly seems to be doing a good job of making himself scarce."
"You'd think that he'd have sense enough to come inside before dark," put in Faulconbridge. "After all, night's when most of the Minions and Vampyres come out."
"Well, this is Merlin we're talking about, isn't it?" brought up Imogen. "He can handle himself, surely?"
"Not in his present condition, he can't," said Griff. "That's what's worrying me. He's no match for any of Lucius's agents at the moment. Which means that we've got to find him before they do."
"I think that's him," said Faulconbridge just then. "Down there! And surrounded!"
The four gargoyles gazed down, to spot the slight figure of Emrys -- and a young girl with him -- standing at the center of a large, loose circle of black-clad Minions. A circle which was slowly beginning to tighten.
* * * * *
"And won't Lucius be happy to see you!" Char began, motioning for the others to close in.
Emrys stepped forward, putting himself in front of Corbie. "If I tell you where to go," he muttered to her under his breath, "can you get past them? And run and find help?"
"Yer not gettin rid a me that easy, Hawkins," she muttered back at him, her fists clenching. "Din't I take three a them last time?"
"Look out!" one of the Minions shouted suddenly. Four winged shapes swooped down into the crowd, eyes glowing, roaring as they came. Corbie let out a yelp and pulled away. Emrys, starting after her, stumbled over a loose brick. He lost his balance and tumbled upon his back, staring up at the chaos as Lucius's agents scattered in panic.
He finally found himself being helped back up his feet, by the sudden presence of a very concerned-looking Arthur. "Emrys?" the former king asked. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Arthur," said the youth, brushing himself off. "About as fine as anybody can be who's just landed on his rump very hard."
"We've a few things to discuss, when we return to the flat," said Arthur to him, in a would-be-severe tone of voice.
"Yes, later," said Emrys. He looked about him. The Minions were all gone. And so, he noticed to his alarm, was Corbie.
"You didn't see her, did you?" he asked the four gargoyles, who had alighted neatly upon the street by now, his assailants having been put to flight. "The girl I was with, I mean?"
"We did catch a glimpse of her up above," said Faulconbridge. "But she ran for her life as soon as we showed up, and disappeared. I've no idea which way she went. Why do you want to know, anyway? Who was she?"
"Well, it's just that -- never mind," said Emrys. "I'll explain later."
"I must thank you both for your help," Arthur was saying to Elaine and Norman, who had joined them by this time. "I must confess, I was more than a little doubtful about Mr. Dent's theory that Emrys was meeting with some friends in these parts - he is a very solitary lad, after all - but it seems that his suspicions were well-founded. As far as my ward being here was concerned, that is."
"We're only too glad to help out, Arthur," said Elaine, ignoring the way that her bodyguard was watching both the brown-bearded man and his young ward, with an even deeper scowl than usual on his ever-grim face. His eyes scrutinized both, taking in every single detail in absolute silence. "Say, since I'm going to be in London for the next month or so, maybe we could meet for lunch some time, if it's all right with you? Next Thursday, perhaps?"
"That sounds pleasant," said the king. "Where shall we meet?"
"I'll ask around, and find a suitable restaurant." Elaine smiled at him.
Griff watched Norman, frowning. "I don't quite trust that man," he said to Leo, at last.
"Elaine's bodyguard?" asked Leo. "What don't you like about him?"
"I can't lay a talon on it," said Griff. "But I had an odd feeling about him, when we first met him at Bamburgh. Something's afoot with him, and I'd like to know just what it is."
* * * * *
"...She's got black hair," Emrys was saying to Leba as the two of them cleared off the remains of dinner. "Sort of spikey. And she wears pale face makeup and lots of purple eye paint." He swiped a damp dishtowel over the table. "And a black jacket, and boots."
"And you want me to keep an eye out for her?" Leba arched an eyebrow.
"I just want to be sure she's all right," Emrys said.
"Of course." Leba gave him a knowing smile. "I'll be sure to let you know if I see her. Is there anything you'd like me to tell her?"
"Oh for heaven's sake, what are you smiling about?" Emrys snapped at her irritably. "I know what you're thinking and it's not like that at all." He flung down the dishtowel and stomped off to his room.
Perched on a rooftop across the street, a slender figure with a wild mane of black hair watched the exchange through a window.
* * * * *