Written by Todd Jensen
Outline by Todd Jensen, Nicodemus, and Entity.
Artwork by Damocles
* * * * *
Previously on PendragonÖ
He was caught, held firmly, and the alley went silent around him. Corbie was standing there looking at him, Redcaps surrounding her but not holding her. For a moment, hope stabbed through him -- they'll let her go, she'll be all right -- and he stared back at her, willing her with all his might to run, to get away.
And then she let out a little bubbling laugh, and the laugh seemed to take shape and substance around her as a rising storm of darkly glittering mist. Her clothes and body melted in the glitter and re-formed -- dead pale skin, a tattered black shift that hung in shreds just past her hips and left her arms and legs and feet bare, but those same dark brilliant eyes and that same wild mane of black hair...
The Redcaps drew back from her slightly, leaving the Morrigan hovering a few inches above a small circle of ground. She flitted closer to Emrys, leaned forward, and kissed him lightly on the tip of his nose. "Silly Merlin," she said affectionately.
Emrys stared at her, his mind reeling.
~~~The Darkest Hour - Part One~~~
* * *
Mary was held fast in the light that streamed up from the fragments of the Angurboda figurine, motionless. For a moment, she stood upright, but then she dropped to all fours. Her hands began to turn into paws. A tail sprouted from her backside, and her clothes changed into a coat of thick grey fur. Her face elongated, changing into a canine snout. Within only a couple of minutes, the transformation was complete, and a shocked-looking grey wolf stood in the cellar before them.
~~~The Curse of Rivencroft~~~
* * *
ARTHUR: Besides, there is Mary's plight to concern ourselves with. If we return to the estate, Una may be able to find a cure for her.
~~~Iris Lily and Rose - Part Two~~~
* * *
"Moll! No more evasion!" Rory's grip ran to her shirt, and he shoved her against something. The tree's rough bark rubbed through her shirt, nicking the tender skin of her back. "Start talking!"
"Rory, stop it!" she pleaded. "Don't get mad. Ye remember what used to happen to ye when ye got mad..."
"How do I know ye won't turn on me?" he asked. "Why else would ye have come to me?"
"Because you're me only ..." She bit her lip and looked at the damp ground. The physical pain in her back seemed far away now. "... friend."
Maybe it was the anxiety clouding her mind, but she thought his grip eased a little. Even Blondie froze.
"What?" Rory asked.
"You're the closest thing I have to a true friend right now," Molly repeated, then narrowed her eyes. "If that doesn't tell ye what kind of trouble I'm in, nothing will. I've held nothin' from ye."
~~~The Reluctant Thief~~~
* * * * *
"Have you found anything yet?" Mary Sefton asked, in an almost despairing voice.
"Be patient, Mary, please," said Merlin, perched on a stool, as he thumbed through an enormous grimoire upon the table before him. "Una and I are searching for a cure for you as quickly as we can."
"Youíve been searching for a cure for lycanthropy for almost a week now!" shouted the girl. "You ought to have found something by now!"
"Itís not quite as simple as that," spoke up Una, from the other end of the room, lifting her head and gazing in Maryís direction. "You must remember, Mary, that your condition is a unique one. You became a werewolf by destroying the Angurboda Figurine at Rivencroft. As far as we know, nobody has ever been struck by the curse of lycanthropy through such an act. Certainly itís not something recorded in any of our books."
Merlin nodded. "Itís all the more complicated because, as far as weíve been able to gather, the Angurboda Figurine was created by a human wizard. And in nearly every recorded case involving a were, the person in question became a lycanthrope because of something that a fay did. Take the first recorded werewolf ever, for example: King Lycaon of Arcadia. My uncle Oberon turned him into one for serving him human flesh, back in the days when people called him Zeus. And then, in Nigeria, Anansi the Spider would -"
"Iím not interested in hearing a Complete and Unabridged History of Werewolves from you right now," Mary interrupted. "What I want to know is - is there a cure for being a werewolf?"
"Actually, thatís another part of the problem," said Una. "Even if you had become a lycanthrope through more customary channels, finding a means of undoing the curse would be very difficult. You see, in general, humans have not been particularly interested in finding a cure for weredom. Not unless it involves a silver bullet in the heart, or something similar."
"You canít be serious!" cried Mary, looking shocked.
"No, Unaís right," said Merlin. "Unfortunately, the usual human response to anything out of the ordinary is to kill it or lock it up. Itís the sort of thing that makes me wonder sometimes why I like my motherís species so much." He shook his head in a mixture of sorrow and disgust. "And werewolves have always had a rather poor reputation. In most cases, they really were ravaging beasts, a danger to everybody about them, vicious predators. Their neighbors were more interested in simply getting rid of them any way that they could, and that usually meant the final solution. Precious few were interested in finding a way of making a werewolf a normal human again."
"But there is a way to get me back to normal again, isnít there?" asked Mary. "I mean, you can discover one, canít you?"
"Well, it is possible," said Una. "But it will require a great deal of research. And possibly even a fair amount of trial and error."
Merlin nodded. "Bear in mind, also, that the fact that you turn into a wolf in the daytime rather than at night under a full moon is going to complicate matters all the more. That particular element is another first for werewolves, you know."
"So how long is it going to take you to find a cure?" asked Mary.
"We honestly donít know," said Merlin. "If youíll just be patient -"
"I have been patient!" Mary cried, her eyes flashing angrily. "For the past few months, I have turned into a talking wolf regularly at sunrise, and stayed that way until nightfall! And to make matters all the more complicated, Iíve had to spend that time hiding from the law with a pair of fugitives, and a pair of fugitives left over from the Middle Ages at that! Iíve run into ghosts, giants, agents for secret societies, and living gargoyles, and itís all more than I can take! I just want my old life back, and you two havenít found a thing to help me with that! I have had it up to here!" And with that, before either Merlin or Una could say anything, she stormed out of the back room into the shop, slamming the door behind her.
Merlin turned to Una, a slightly concerned expression showing on his face. "Should I go after her?" he asked, in a hesitant tone of voice.
She shook her head. "I think that she just needs to be alone for a while," said the unicorn-like gargoyle. "Sheís going through a difficult time at present, and perhaps itís best if she sort this out on her own at present. If you try to follow her, it could only make matters worse."
"Maybe," said Merlin, uneasily. He looked at the door leading into the main part of the shop, staring at it long and hard, but said nothing more.
* * *
Neither Merlin nor Una had seen the crow perched on the window-sill outside, staring into the back room of "Into the Mystic". It had been watching the scene within closely and intently, never once blinking. Now it spread its wings, and flew up to the roof of the shop.
It gazed down from its vantage point, and saw Mary Sefton storm out of the shop through the front door. The girl walked down the pavement dejectedly, barely paying any attention to her surroundings. The crow flew off after her.
* * *
"Well, what is this surprise that you have to show me?" Arthur Pendragon asked, following Leba and Griff to the meeting room of the London gargoylesí manor house.
"Youíll see in a moment, Your Majesty," said Griff. "We very much think that youíll like it."
He opened the door, and Arthur stared in. Taking up the center of the room was a new table, a great round one, divided into segments. A chair was placed at each segment, and a name was inscribed upon the back of the chair, in gilded lettering. King Arthur stared at the table in silent wonder.
"Well, what do you think of it, Arthur?" Leba asked him. "Do you like it?"
"Very much so," said Arthur, walking into the room and examining the table closely. "But where did it come from?"
"It was something that we decided to work on while you and Merlin were away on your travels in the north," said Griff. "We felt that you would appreciate a change in the furnishings of the meeting room, to something that you were more familiar with. That led to our deciding to provide you with a round table. A new one, to replace the one that was destroyed in the sack of Camelot all those centuries ago."
"Fortunately, Jennifer Camford owns a furniture shop, and we were able to order a table from her, and specify that it be a round one," said Leba. "Of course, I donít know how much it resembles the original. You and Merlin are the only members of our little group who were in Camelot and saw the Round Table, after all. So we used the one at Winchester as a model for the design on this one - leaving out the Tudor rose in the middle and that portrait of you that looks suspiciously similar to Henry VIII, of course."
"That did worry us a little, still," said Griff. "Because you knew what the first table was like, after all, and even sat there so very often. We werenít certain as to how youíd feel about this new one. But we hope that you like it."
"Indeed I do," said Arthur, nodding. He walked over to the table and rested his hands upon it, examining the grain of the wood closely. Then he nodded in approval.
"It truly is a fine table," he said at last. "I judge it to be certainly worthy of our councils, my friends. I can hardly thank you enough for it."
"We hoped that youíd like it," said Leba, sounding relieved. "And you think that itís a match for the original?"
"I cannot answer that question, Leba," Arthur replied. "Not easily, at least. Nothing can bring back the original Round Table that Merlin made for my family so long ago, and it would be foolishness to seek for it anywhere, even here. The pattern never fully repeats itself; even at its closest, there are differences. I certainly know better by now than to expect to see Camelot restored, just as it was during my reign; it has gone forever, and cannot be brought back. What matters is whether this table is good enough for this new time that I have awakened. And I hold that it is so indeed."
"We had the names of your knights written on the back of the chairs in gold letters, just like the original also," said Griff. "That way, we all know where to sit. It wasnít done by Merlinís magic this time, of course; just regular engraving."
"And thereís no Siege Perilous either, as there was at the original," said Leba. "But I donít think that it matters. Weíre obviously not going to have another Galahad, and it certainly doesnít look as if weíre going to go questing for the Holy Grail again. Not yet, at least."
"We shall definitely use this for our next council," said Arthur, nodding. "When should we hold it?"
"In a few minutes, actually," said Leba. "Most of the others should be here. Una, Merlin, and Mary Sefton are in the city, though, at the Mystic shop. Theyíre still trying to find a cure for Maryís lycanthropy. Should we ring them up?"
"I doubt that we have time for that," said Arthur. "Merlin seldom gives much advice at these meetings, anyway; he still thinks, I suppose, that I need to learn to do without him. I think that we can fare without him for one council."
He turned to Griff. "So what is the business for this council tonight, anyway?"
"The Minions," said Griff. "Somebodyís gotten them reorganized. And from what weíve been able to tell, this time it isnít Lucius."
* * *
Mary Sefton walked alone down a path running through an out-of-the-way part of Hyde Park. The others had advised her against going there often, arguing that she could easily get herself into danger there, and usually, she heeded them. But this particular night, she felt the need to be there, in order to be alone with her troubled thoughts. She sat down on a park bench and placed her hands underneath her chin, to brood.
It just wasnít fair. It simply wasnít. Sheíd had her life completely disrupted, and all because sheíd strayed into the wrong village on her walking tour a few months ago. And now, because of it, she was doomed to spend the rest of her life covered with fur and equipped with four paws and a tail, regularly from sunrise to sundown. And as if being a werewolf wasnít bad enough, she had been thrown almost constantly ever since into the company of a couple of people who were supposed to be mythical rather than real, and seen more strange things than any person ever ought to. Her life simply wasnít that of a normal person any more. It had gotten much too strange for that.
"And the worst of it is," she murmured to herself, "that I donít think that Iím ever going to be able to get my old life back. Itís too late for that now. Iíve just seen too much already. I know that half the legends in the world are real, and I know that Iím never going to forget that. You just canít go back to living a normal life after tramping up and down the country with King Arthur and Merlin."
She sighed. "And Iím certain that itís going to get worse," she continued. "I just know it. The only thing that I donít know is how. At this point, for all that I know, somebody could walk up to me and tell me that Iíve just been given the job of hunting down vampires or something like that. And it would be just the sort of thing that could happen to me now, too."
She said nothing more, but sank deeper into her state of melancholy brooding. It was a few minutes before she was roused from that state by a girlís voice, one with a slight Irish accent.
"Excuse me," she said. "ĎS all right if I sit here?"
Mary looked up. A girl a bit younger than herself was already seating herself upon the far end of the bench. Mary gave the newcomer a close looking-over.
She was small and thin, with a definite waifishness in her features. She wore an oversized purple sweater, black jeans, torn on one knee, and scuffed-up black lace-up boots. Her black hair was unkempt and shaggy, falling just past her shoulders, and framed a pale face. Mary took all these details in quickly, and also noted the considerable amount of purple eye-shadow that she was wearing, and her black-enameled fingernails.
A Goth, she thought, with a silent note of dislike, or at least a Goth wannabe. She had never been particularly fond of such people, and certainly now, when she just wanted to be alone with her thoughts, was hardly the time that she wanted to meet one. But it was clear enough that the girl was going to stay; she was certainly making herself quite comfortable on the bench. So Mary merely nodded.
"Been having troubles?" the girl asked. She spoke with a faint Irish accent.
Mary looked her straight in the eyes. What she really wanted to say was to tell her to mind her own business, but instead she asked, "What makes you think that?"
"I cín tell, thatís all," said the Goth girl. "Iíve been having troubles of my own, myself. And that makes it easier to see the signs." She looked sympathetically at Mary.
Maybe I was a little too harsh in judging her, Mary thought. Made the mistake of jumping to conclusions. Just because sheís a Goth, that doesnít mean that sheís some lawless punk headed for borstal. So she merely nodded. "Well, I suppose that you could call them troubles."
The stranger nodded. "Itíd have tíbe that, tímake you be out by yírself out here. This isnít really a very safe place."
"I know," said Mary. "The others have told me about that. But I just - well, I need to be by myself for a while." She looked at her thoughtfully. "I suppose that itís the same with you?"
The Goth girl nodded. "You could say that," she said, and then was silent for a few minutes.
"My nameís Mary Sefton," Mary said, more to break the silence than anything else; if she was going to have company, then she might as well talk with it. "Whatís yours?"
"Corrine McKenna," the girl replied. "But you can call me Corbie."
* * *
Although there was indeed no Siege Perilous at the new Round Table, nevertheless, there were two empty chairs at it during this particular meeting. It might have been three empty chairs if Mary had been considered part of the council, but nobody had ever seriously considered her a part of Arthur Pendragonís following in the same way that the others were, and so there was no seat with her name inscribed upon it. But Merlin and Unaís seats desired their occupants there in vain, and it was clear enough that neither one of them would arrive to fill them that night.
Arthur had accepted this, however, without any serious complaint. And at least all the others were there; Griff, Leo, Michael, Leba, Dulcinea, Rory, and Colin Marter had seated themselves at the table and were listening intently.
"I had expected that the Minions would be no more, with Madocís death and the fall of the Unseelie Court," said Arthur. "Certainly when I met Lucius on the Isle of Man at Castle Rushen, he only had two followers with him - the ones named Char and Eddie, I recall. But now it seems that somebody has managed to gather them anew, making a fresh head in the city."
"And youíre certain that it isnít Lucius?" asked Michael. "If heís still at large, he might have been able to re-organize them. True, you did meet him on the Isle of Man, but he could easily have gotten back to London before you did."
Arthur shook his head. "No, I donít believe that it is Lucius," he said. "For one thing, the reports that Iíve had indicate that itís an entirely new master. The Minions have deserted their old leader entirely. Perhaps thatís not too surprising, given that Luciusís power came only from Madoc, and now that the Unseelie Lord is no more, Lucius barely has the ability to command anyone. We can leave him out of our reckonings."
"Well, whoever it is, it must be a very able person," said Leo. "It would take somebody like that to get that rabble back together after the Unseelie Courtís destruction. What would they have for a cause now?"
"The same one as before," replied Dulcinea. "Pointless violence and vandalism. Remember, the Minions were a gang of troublemakers; they were that way before Lucius ever recruited them. The only incentive theyíd need would be the possibility of wreaking more havoc."
"But it would certainly have to be somebody with some skills at leadership," said Leba. "After all, they were scattered and demoralized when we defeated the Unseelies in London on May Eve. Somebody would have to gather them together, and weld them into a fresh organization. And if that somebody isnít Lucius, then who might it be?"
"Maybe itís the real ĎConnectioní," Rory offered. "Do you suppose thatís who the culprit is, Arthur?"
"I am not quite certain of that," Arthur Pendragon answered. "What little we know about this figure indicates that he or she must have some talent for such things. But we also know that he or she has some sort of band of followers already, and would thus scarcely need to recruit fresh servants. More likely, their new head is someone else altogether."
"We are going to need more information, at any rate," said Michael. "Maybe we should send the younger warriors into London again, and have them investigate. Faulconbridge and the others have been all but pining for some excitement, certainly. It does seem like a good idea to provide them with it."
"Very well, then," said Arthur. "We shall proceed with that plan. Find them and entrust them with it, Michael. If we can find out more about the Minions, we will be able to discover a way of countering them."
* * *
"The truth is, Iíve gone through a lot lately, and itís not the sort of thing that I can easily talk to people about," said Mary. "Thatís why Iím out here. I thought that perhaps if I was to sit down and sort this out on my own, I might be able to find a solution for it. I havenít, though." She sighed.
Corbie nodded. "Me too," she said. She looked thoughtfully at Mary. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.
Mary thought over it. She certainly didnít feel quite ready to share with this stranger the fact that she turned into a wolf each morning; that was definitely out of the question. Talking about the strange experiences that she had undergone in any real detail was clearly not an option either. And yet - the more that she thought over it, the more that it struck her that it wouldnít be a bad idea to just talk for a while. She didnít have to go into specifics, after all. And she did feel the need to discuss her basic situation with somebody. Maybe she could understand it better in the process.
"Well, something happened to me a few months ago," she said. "I really canít go into details about it; itís something thatís really quite personal, you see. But what itís meant for me is that I canít go back home. I have to stay with - well, with some friends that Iíve made. Now, theyíre really not all that bad, Iíll admit; they do want to help me. But theyíre also - well, very strange people. And knowing them makes it harder for me to just have a normal life. I just donít know what to do about that."
Corbie nodded. "Sounds bad, then," she said, looking sympathetic.
"You donít know the half of it," said Mary. She was silent for a couple of minutes, her chin resting on her hands, looking down on the ground.
"Strange people?" asked Corbie. "Howíre they strange?"
"Itís - well, itís very difficult to explain," said Mary. "And I donít really think that Iíve got the right to tell you about them."
Corbie nodded. "I knew a strange boy once," she said. "Some months ago, actually. His name was Emrys Hawkins."
Mary started. One of the things that she had learned in the course of her travels with Arthur and Merlin was that "Emrys Hawkins" was the alias that Merlin had been using before the whole "Connection" business began. She turned and looked Corbie straight in the eye. "Emrys?" she asked. "That was his name?"
"And what was he like?" asked Mary. It was just possible that it was a different person with the same name, but she wanted to make certain.
"About my age," she replied. "Curly blond hair. He was nice - but there was something odd about him. I donít think that he was really that normal."
"And were you two - going out together?" Mary asked, a bit more sharply than she had intended. She couldnít understand, in fact, why she had asked that question at all. And why on earth had she felt a sudden feeling of resentment creep over her upon considering the possibility that Corbie had been a past girlfriend of Merlinís? What did it matter to her? Besides, she already knew that heíd been in love before, over a thousand years ago, with Nimue. But that was over a thousand years ago. This is different.
Corbie nodded. "He took me to Brighton once," she said. "We had a good time there. We went on the roller-coasters, and everything. But then - then I began to find out more about him." She was silent for a moment, as if trying to decide how she should proceed. "Heís not really all that normal. He could do - really spooky things."
"Such as?" Mary asked. Iím going to have a few things to ask Merlin about her, once I get back to the estate. I really will.
"I - I donít want to talk about them," said Corbie hesitantly. "In fact -" Then she suddenly let out a low moan, and doubled up with pain.
Mary jumped to her feet and ran over to the younger girlís side. "Are - are you all right?" she asked.
"Itís happening again," said Corbie, her teeth gritted. She lowered her head, placing her hands over her face. Mary wondered what was going on. Did people that young get strange attacks? She honestly didnít know. But the sudden event had alarmed her.
What she saw next alarmed her even more. Corbieís hair was beginning to change. The wild black strands were drawing together, thickening, metamorphosing. In only a few minutes, the girlís head was crowed with a mass of feathers, black feathers that could have come from a crow, rather than human hair.
Mary stepped back, her eyes widening. Even after her regular transformations for the past few months, she still found such a sight nothing short of alarming. "Corbie?" she asked. "Whatís happening to you?"
"Itís nothing," replied the Goth-girlís muffled voice. She kept her head bowed, not moving her hands away from her face. "I donít want to talk about it."
"Your hair looks like feathers," said Mary. "Thatís hardly nothing. What is happening to you, Corbie?"
Corbie said nothing. Mary bent down and gently pushed the girlís hands away from her face, then stared at it in horror and disbelief. Corbieís nose had grown longer and changed shape, becoming the upper part of a crowís beak. She looked positively grotesque.
"Youíre turning into something, arenít you?" asked Mary. "Corbie, please answer me. How did this happen to you?"
Corbie looked up at her, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "He did this to me," she said. "He said it was just an accident. Maybe he was right. I donít know."
"Who did it to you?" asked Mary. "Mer - Emrys?"
Corbie nodded. "He turned me into a crow after we came back from Brighton. He said that he didnít mean to do it, and turned me back, but Ė these things started happening afterwards. They get worse, too."
"That must be dreadful," said Mary. It was all that she could do to keep her voice steady now, but she managed it. While she still didnít really feel particularly fond of this Goth-girl, she certainly could not harden herself against her plight, not in light of her own condition. "And youíre still stuck with the problem."
"Yes," said Corbie. Her mouth and chin were changing shape now as well, extending outwards to form the lower part of the beak, and her arms and hands were slowly metamorphosing into enormous black-feathered wings. "He promised that heíd help me, but he never did. Thatís when we finally broke up."
"You must have a very difficult time hiding it from your family," said Mary concernedly. "Or do they know about it?"
"Iíve only got a dad," replied the girl - or what might be more accurately described by now as half-girl, half-crow. "And heíd hardly notice. If he did see me like this, heíd think that it was just the drink. But Iíve hidden it from him so far."
"I wish that there was something that I could do to help you," said Mary. She meant it, too. Even a Goth-punk doesnít deserve this. She felt the urge, stronger than before, to let Corbie know that she was not alone, that she turned into a wolf each day herself. But she kept her mouth shut very firmly on that. She still didnít feel quite ready to reveal her secret to somebody outside King Arthurís body of followers. "Will - will you be all right?"
Corbie nodded her now barely human head, which had transformed almost completely into a crowís head. "These things donít last very long. Less than an hour, at most. I just find some place to hide until it wears off."
"I could help you search for such a place, if you need my help -" Mary began.
"No, thatíll be all right," said Corbie. "Iíve already got enough such places. But thank you, anyway."
"Corbie, I havenít mentioned this before," Mary continued. "But I know - Emrys."
Corbie looked at her, astonishment showing in her eyes. "Yído?" she asked.
Mary nodded. "A small world, I know," she said. "But Iíve met him. I can talk to him about this, get him to find a way of curing you."
"Thank you," said Corbie, "but I donít think itíll do any good. I donít think that he can cure me. And Iím not even sure that he wants to. Weíre - not on good terms. We had a nasty fight when we broke up, in fact. I donít think that he wants to remember me. And if you ask him about me, Iím sure that heíll make something up."
"Make something up?" Mary asked.
Corbie nodded. "He doesnít like it when people mention my name now," she explained. "And so if you start talking about me to him, heís probably going to tell stories about me. Even really strange ones. Because he wouldnít want you knowing what really happened."
"I can imagine," said Mary. I am definitely going to have a few things to tell that rejuvenated would-be wizard, she thought, gritting her teeth silently. I really will.
Corbie suddenly shuddered again, and bent in a moment of pain. And then her feathers changed back into shaggy black hair, her beak changed back into a pale human face, and her wings into arms. She straightened up. "Itís worn off - for now," she said.
"Do you want me to stay with you for a few minutes?" asked Mary. "I mean - just in case?"
Corbie shook her head. "Thatíd be kind of you," she said, "but Iíll be all right. I promise. I have to go anyway." She began to turn away and walk down the path, but then suddenly looked back at Mary. "Oh, and thank you," she said. "Youíve been very kind, Mary. Iíll remember that."
"Oh, not at all," replied Mary. She sat down on the bench, and watched the girl walk off, fading into the shadows, without saying a word more. She was too busy thinking.
* * *
Merlin walked into the council room of the gargoylesí manor house. Most of the company had already left, but Arthur was still seated at his chair at the Round Table, staring in silence at the wooden surface. Cavall was sprawled out beside him, half-asleep.
The Once and Future King looked up as his rejuvenated advisor entered. "Back from the Mystic shop, Merlin?" he asked.
Merlin nodded. "I just returned," he said.
"And whereís Mary?"
"She left on her own," said the youth. "We still hadnít been able to find a cure for her, and she got rather angry. She finally stormed out. Typical adolescent behavior."
Arthur felt momentarily tempted to point out that Merlin ought to be more familiar with such behavior than from simply observing it in others, but restrained himself. He knew well enough that Merlin didnít like to be reminded that his most recent regeneration into a teenaged boy had not been purely on the physical level, and so said nothing about it. "Iím certain that sheíll come back when she calms down," he said.
"Yes," said Merlin. "I suppose so." He didnít seem quite convinced.
After a momentís silence, he continued. "Arthur, I recall something about one of your knights having been a werewolf for a time. It was while I was shut up in the Tower of Air, and so I donít know about it first-hand, but what little I do know was that you did find a cure for him. Do you still recall that incident? Perhaps it could help us."
"I doubt it," said Arthur. "That matter was somewhat different in its cause from Maryís condition, and even in its nature. Sir Marrok was under a curse - but from whom, and how it came about, I do not know; he never would tell us - so that at certain times, he must go into the woods, remove his clothes, and become a wolf for a weekís time. When his wife discovered this condition, she stole his clothes while the beast-form was upon him so that he could not change back, and then, when he had been missing for long enough, declared him dead and wedded her lover. Because of her treachery, Sir Marrok was trapped in the form of a wolf for seven years."
"But you did find a way to change him back?" Merlin asked.
Arthur nodded. "I found the wolf upon a hunt and brought him back to Camelot, not knowing then his true nature but amazed at his tame and friendly bearing. When he behaved savagely only to his faithless wife and her new husband and to no one else at court, my suspicions were aroused, and I learned the full tale. Then I had the lady yield up Marrokís garments, and restore them to him, that he might don them and become human again. But since Maryís clothes become part of her wolf-form when she changes, that is clearly not a possible cure for her."
"I know," said Merlin, nodding. He sighed again, and looked up at the ceiling uncomfortably. Arthur watched him thoughtfully.
Even with his own troubles, he had still noticed a subtle shift in Merlinís behavior towards Mary, and hers towards him as well. The two of them still bickered slightly, in spite of Arthurís disapproval - although fortunately, they did seem to do it less nowadays - but there seemed to be more than just the original testiness and friction between them that had been there when they had first met at Rivencroft. Arthur couldnít quite put his finger on it, but there were times when he had come close to wondering if - well, that was a rather far-fetched possibility, he had to admit. But it wasnít completely out of the question. He made a mental note to discuss it with some of the others, to see what they thought might be the case. Maybe Dulcinea, who had been the first of his followers to see the two of them together, or Una, who had spent much time with them both at the shop.
To change the subject, he said, "We had our first council here while you were at the shop. Itís the Minions. Somebody seems to have begun to gather them again, and this time it isnít Lucius."
"The Minions?" asked Merlin, frowning. "That could be serious. Of course, that does raise the question as to whoís behind it. Lucius didnít strike me as being in any condition to re-organize them when we met him on the Isle of Man, and Madocís dead. And that does leave us without any further candidates."
"I know," said Arthur. "Thatís what we find so puzzling. Do you have any ideas on this, Merlin?"
"Not yet," said the youth. "But we are definitely going to want to keep a close watch on them. If that leaderís even halfway competent, then we could be in for quite a nasty time from them. And weíve got problem enough with the Government and the police after you. Having a Minion revival will only make things worse."
"I wonder if that is whatever the new leader has in mind," said Arthur Pendragon grimly.
* * *
Molly slipped quietly into the meeting-hall, and looked around carefully before taking up her vantage point in a shadowed corner near the door. She was dressed enough in the street-punk style that she could blend in with the crowd already assembling there, but all the same, she preferred not to be noticed by anybody at the moment. Not considering why she was there.
In the course of her cautious investigations throughout London of the "Connections" business, she had discovered that the Minions were being brought back together, somehow. That had been enough to worry her, even as it must have worried Rory and the others in Arthur Pendragonís following. So she had decided to look into it, and find out. For one thing, the Minions were definite enemies of Arthur and his followers, and that therefore made them Roryís enemies; if she could find out what she could about them, and thereby warn them, she could convince him all the more that she was different now from the Banshee who had used every wile in her power to keep him from his true destiny, and then to destroy him when he achieved it anyway. She was not entirely certain that he had completely realized that she had changed, and so felt the need to continue convincing him.
But that was not the whole of it. Molly was also genuinely curious as to who could be behind this rebirth of the Minions. She had ascertained by this time that it was not Lucius, the human whom Madoc had initially assigned to lead these lawless hooligans; he was far away by now, nowhere near London. And Madoc himself was dead, and the greater part of his followers slain, imprisoned on Avalon, or scattered. It was possible - alarmingly so, in fact - that it was one of the surviving Unseelies still at liberty. But if that was the case, then Molly needed to find out who it was. If there was one thing that she could not afford, it was the likelihood of an Unseelie being active in London, and one who might know her, even in her disguise as Molly. She listened carefully, hoping to learn all that she could.
"So whoís in charge now?" she heard a man saying, echoing her very thoughts. "Anybody here know?"
"Not me, Rodney," said another man. "All that I know is that there was supposed to be a meeting tonight. I donít know whoís supposed to be in charge."
"And who told you about the meeting, then?" Rodney asked.
"Some of the other lads," the second one replied. "Itís been going on all over the streets. Nobody knows how it began; all that we know is that something bigís supposed to happen here tonight."
"Same as I found out," said Rodney. "Nothing official at all. Whoeverís behind this, it canít be Lucius. Good thing, too," he added, with a scowl.
"I havenít even heard from him lately," said the other Minion. "He just up and vanished after we lost the battle. Turned tail and ran." He scowled. "And took Char and Eddie with him, at that."
"They ran off with him," agreed Rodney, scowling, "and left us to be nabbed by the coppers! Those dirty no-good traitors! They wonít even stand by their mates! If either of them is fool enough to walk in here, then theyíre gonna wish that they hadnít." He clenched his right hand into a fist and brought it down hard upon the palm of his left hand.
The Minions surrounding him nodded eagerly and cried out in rough assent. But then the murmuring that had filled the hall began to die down. Somebody had entered the room, and had stepped out onto the dais at the end. It was a young girl, no older than fourteen by the looks of her, a small, slight figure, dressed in tattered Goth-style garments, with a mass of shaggy dark hair framing her pale face.
Molly stared in astonishment at the figure. This surely couldnít be the new leader of the Minions, was it? A girl barely in her teens? Or was it quite so impossible? Molly thought back, frowning, to her memories of some of the Unseelies whom she had associated with at the Brocken for a time. There had been a few among them who had adopted youthful forms. If she could just remember their names....
But she then broke off her thoughts, for the girl was now standing in front of the microphone mounted on the dais. Molly listened intently as the newcomer began her speech there.
"Ah, good," the girl said, speaking with a slight Irish accent. "You all came. Then we can get down to business. My name is Corbie McKenna, and -"
"Oi!" cried Rodney. "What díyou think youíre doing here, kid?"
"Iíd have thought that you could figure that out on your own," the girl replied, speaking with a very confident smile. "Iím your new leader."
"Ha!" cried Rodney. "Go home, little girl! Weíre the Minions! We donít need a kid giving us orders! And if you try that, weíll soon have you running from here screaming for your mummy!" He and the others standing by him all joined in in a burst of coarse laughter.
"Oh, I hardly think so," said Corbie, a wicked smile curving across her lips, and an odd gleam in her eyes. And as she spoke those words, she suddenly floated up above the platform, hovering in the hall over their heads.
She is an Unseelie, thought Molly, barely daring to breathe. She stepped back even more into the shadows. It was possible that she might be able to escape detection in her human form as Molly, but she could not be entirely certain, and the safest thing to do was to draw as little attention to herself as possible. At least her shocked expression would not set her apart from the rest of the crowd, for the Minions were staring themselves up at the hovering girl with similar expressions. Evidently even what they had seen during the time that they had worked for Lucius - and according to the information that Molly had gathered, that had been quite a bit Ė had not completely prepared them for this.
"Little girl, is it?" Corbie asked, staring down at Rodney as she spoke, her voice harshening until it sounded almost like that of a crow. "Little girl? I was sowing discord and spreading havoc long before your grandparents were born!" Her skin changed from pale to dead white, and her clothes changed into a simple black sleeveless tunic. "I laid low the topless towers of Ilium!" she cried, and grew taller, to the size of an adult. "I sent Ulsterís greatest hero to his grave!" Her figure grew gaunter, and her hair longer and wilder. "I have set brother fighting against brother through the millenia, long before Atlantis was plunged beneath the waves! I am - the Morrigan!"
The Morrigan. Sower of discord, maker of wars. I should have known that it was her, Molly thought. A violent, reckless rabble would be precisely the tool that would appeal to her in wreaking havoc. Yes, I should have known that it was her. And she watched and listened with complete attention now.
The Morrigan floated down to the dais, hovering about a foot above its surface. "My master and yours, the Dark Lord, was destroyed when he attacked New York," she said. "Lucius, who was his lieutenant, abandoned you, fleeing to save his own worthless life! But I still live, I, the Lady of Discord and Strife! I can lead you, weld you into a powerful force, capable of engaging in more than petty thefts! Follow me, and we can punish London and the world for the death of Lord Madoc! What say you? Are you with me, or not?"
"Huh!" said Rodney. "And why should we take orders from you? If your master Lord Madoc couldnít win, what hopes have you got?"
"Who said that?" cried the Morrigan. However, judging from the way that she was staring straight at the manís face, it was clear enough that she already knew the answer. The other Minions began to edge away from him hurriedly, as the Morrigan swooped towards him. "So you think that I can do nothing, can you?"
"Yeah, thatís right," said Rodney, trying to sound bold. "So you can turn yourself from a kid into a really strange lady and float around. So what? Thatís still not going to be enough to take over London."
"Oh?" asked the Morrigan. She shape-shifted again, this time becoming an enormous crow, which swooped down at the man. Rodney stood there for a moment as it neared him, then turned about and fled. But he had not gotten far when it seized him by his shoulders, and lifted him up off the ground. Rodney yelled, and struggled to break free, but the crowís talons held onto him too tightly for that. And when he looked down and saw how high he was above the floor, he quickly stopped struggling.
"You dare oppose the will of the Dark One?" asked the crow, in the Morriganís voice. "You, petty mortal?"
"I - Iím sorry," stammered Rodney, turning pale. "You - you can lead us if you want! Whatever you tell us to do, weíll do it!"
"Good," said the crow. "Thatís just what I wanted to hear."
It plunged down towards the floor, and dropped Rodney when he was a few inches above it. He landed hard, upon his rear end, with a muffled oomph. As he picked himself up, the crow flew back to the dais, and while still in the air, shifted back into the floating form of Corbie.
"Serve me and you will be rewarded well," she said, in her young voice. "And if not - well, you know what I can do now, donít you?"
The crowd of Minions nodded, in silence. None of them noticed Molly exit the hall. She had seen enough.
The movement caught Corbieís eye, though. She nodded, but said nothing about it.
* * *
Arthur and Merlin were still deep in their talk when Mary Sefton walked into the council room. Both turned around and rose at once.
"Welcome back, Mary," said Arthur. "How is it with you?"
"Oh, well enough," she said. She looked at Merlin as she spoke, with an odd expression upon her face, and she barely noticed Arthur. "I had Ė an interesting time."
"I see," said Arthur. "And is there anything that you would like to share with us?"
"Not now," she replied, after a few momentsí silence. "Perhaps later." And with that, she walked on past them, through the doorway on the way to her bedroom.
Arthur turned towards Merlin. "Did you notice anything - different about her, Merlin?" he asked. "She did seem to me as if there was something weighing upon her thoughts."
"You could be right about that," said Merlin thoughtfully. "I wonder what it was."
"Perhaps we will learn in the morning," said Arthur.
"Yes, perhaps," said Merlin.
* * *
Molly finished inserting the coins in the slot, and then punched in the number of the Marter estate. She waited for a minute, and then sighed in relief as a familiar voice answered. "This is Rory Dugan speaking."
"Rory, itís Molly. Listen, I have something important to tell you. About the Minions. I found out whoís behind them now."
"Indeed?" asked Rory, at the other end of the line. "And how did you learn that?"
"I did a little spying work," she answered. "Eavesdropped on their first meeting."
"That was dangerous, Molly," Rory replied, his voice sounding troubled. "If theyíd caught you at it -"
"I doubt that they suspected anything about me," she replied. "I was just another face in the crowd. But this is serious, Rory. I know whoís set it up again. Itís the Morrigan."
"Her?" cried Rory, sounding alarmed.
"Thatís right," said Molly. "Knowing her, I donít think itís for anything deep this time around; she just wants to cause as much mayhem as possible. Sheís not changed in two thousand years. I donít think that she even cares as to how well they do, just as long as they make as much of a mess in London as possible."
"Well, thank you, Molly," said Rory. "Iím certain that Arthur will be grateful to hear that. At least weíve a better idea now as to what we can expect from them. But be careful, Molly. If that carrion-crow finds out that youíd infiltrated her band, you could be in very great danger from her."
"True," said Molly. "But Iím certain that sheís still in the dark. There canít be anything to fear from her as yet."
"Well, I wish you well, then," said Rory. "Take care."
"I will," she answered. "And good-bye."
She replaced the phone on its hook, and turned around, to see Corbie standing outside the phone booth, looking at her. There was a cold, eager light shining in her eyes.
Molly did not know how the Morrigan had found her. However, she did know that it wasnít even certain that the Morrigan had seen through her disguise as yet. It was still possible that she could simply bluff her way out of this trouble. With as much calmness as she could muster, she stepped out of the phone booth, acting as though they were both ordinary humans and not disguised faerie-folk. "Did you wish to make a call?" she asked.
"Hardly," Corbie replied, smiling confidently. "And you neednít keep up the pretense with me, Banshee. You know who I am, true, but I also know who you are."
The game was up. She knew. But Molly was not prepared to surrender, not yet. "And just what do you want with me, then, O Mistress of Quarrels?"
"Iím still deciding," said Corbie. "I knew that it was you in the hall, of course. You couldnít hope to hide from me for long, once Iíd taken on my true form. And I did consider exposing you and setting the Minions on you. But you could always have reverted to your true form, and laid them all low with your keening, leaving me without a decent body of followers. Besides, it wouldnít answer the big question. What are you doing, getting involved like that?"
"I beg your pardon?" asked Molly.
"Well, you were there to spy on us, werenít you?" said Corbie. "And for that reborn Irish hero, at that. Oh, donít look so surprised. Maeve told me all about Rory Dugan. Itís too late to hide his true nature from me. Cuchulain walks the earth once more. I must admit, that will make matters more interesting."
"Youíre a fool if you think that you can act this way with impunity," said Molly. "We might have been able to get away with such actions once, centuries ago. But the Rising and Madocís death have changed everything. Oberon wonít look the other way. Heís learned now."
"Oh, him," said Corbie with a shrug. "And what gives him the right to interfere, anyway? Concern for those pathetic mortals? Ha! Heís got no more of that in him than either of us! Or havenít you heard of what he did a few years ago in New York, sending everyone to sleep like that, without a thought for the consequences? Oh, it must have been a glorious sight to see! Pity that Iíd missed it." She looked at Molly closely. "And who are you to lecture me, anyway? You were willing to defy him yourself, werenít you? Hiding from him at the time of the Gathering? Having to be dragged back to Avalon by the Weird Sisters? And remember, you threw your lot in with us after the Rising - until you deserted us. Why did you do that, anyway?"
"Thatís scarcely your business," said Molly. "Suffice it to say that Iím not the fay that I once was, Morrigan. I have changed. You, it seems, have not."
"True," said Corbie. "You have indeed changed, Banshee. Which makes you a lot less fun now than you were two thousand years ago. Pity. But I donít need your help. I can stir up enough excitement without you. Just you watch and see."
She turned around and ran off into the darkness. Molly stood by the phone booth, watching after her in silence for a few minutes. Then she turned, and walked away in the opposite direction, glancing cautiously back from time to time as she did so.
* * *
Mary awoke in her room, and knew the moment that she saw her paws that it was morning, and that she had changed back into a wolf in her sleep. With an unhappy sigh, she got up, stretched, scratched behind her left ear with her hind leg, and trotted out of her room down to the dining room.
Arthur, Merlin, and Leba were already there, having breakfast: cold cereal, toast, and sausage. Maryís food-dish was lying on the floor by the table, with another sausage in it, and a full water-dish next to it. She grumbled slightly at the sight: she knew that in her wolf-form, she couldnít manage a more civilized way of dining, but all the same, she disliked having to eat like a dog, or like one of the gargoyle beasts on the estate such as Cavall. The best that could be said for the experience was that at least they didnít put dog food in the bowl, or paint "Rover" or "Fido" or some equally embarrassing name on the side of it.
"Good morning, Miss Sefton," said Arthur, noticing her entrance. Leba nodded, as did a rather abstracted-looking Merlin.
Mary greeted both Arthur and Leba, but deliberately said nothing to Merlin. She merely glowered at him for a moment, before helping herself to her breakfast.
"No good morning for me this morning, I see," said Merlin, in an uncertain tone of voice.
Mary paused, looked up at him, and glared sharply at him. "Good morning, then," she snapped. "Now does that satisfy you?" And she went back to her meal.
"Did I say the wrong thing?" Merlin asked puzzledly. He looked at Arthur and Leba, as if requesting their opinions on the matter.
"Itís hard to say," said Leba. "She may have just gotten up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. And given what she has to go through regularly, thatís hardly an unlikely event."
"But she wasnít that short to either of you," Merlin persisted.
"Well, that is something that you will have to solve on your own," said Arthur. "I think that we should go speak with Rory now. Perhaps he may have heard from Molly about the Minion problem by now."
"You and Leba go on ahead," said Merlin. "Iíll just stay here. You can tell me about it afterwards."
Once Arthur and Leba had left the room, Merlin turned to Mary. "Is Ė is anything the matter?" he asked her. "I mean, we donít get along that well to begin with, but you do seem a lot colder than usual today."
"Mind your own business," Mary snapped, in between bites of sausage.
"How you treat me is my business," said Merlin. "Youíre singling me out, and I want to know why."
"You want to know why, then, do you?" said the wolf. "Very well, then, Iíll tell you why." She looked up at him, a bitter glare in her hazel eyes. "I met a friend of yours last night. A former girlfriend, too. Mind you, I didnít think that you went out with the Gothic crowd."
"Gothic crowd?" asked Merlin. He had an uneasy feeling inside him. "Er Ė a dark-haired girl? Slight Irish accent? Purple sweater and torn black jeans?"
"Exactly," said Mary triumphantly. "So you do know Corbie, Merlin. Donít pretend to me that you never met her. You clearly know her too well for that. Your description was spot-on."
Merlin sighed. "Mary, thereís something that you should know about Corbie, then -"
"I already know more than enough about her, thank you," said the young werewolf. "You went out with her for a while, but then you turned her into a crow, and she broke up with you after that. And she still turns halfway into one, too. Do you have any idea what that must be like for her?"
"So thatís what sheís been telling you?" Merlin cried. "Mary, you need to listen to me. Yes, Corbie and I did use to - well, date Ė but it didnít go quite the way that she seems to have told you. I didnít turn her into a crow at all. She was lying about that."
"Oh?" asked Mary. "And how was she sprouting those feathers and that beak when I was talking to her last night, then?"
"Corbie isnít an ordinary girl," said Merlin. "Sheís even less ordinary than me, in fact. She only pretends to be human. Sheís actually an Unseelie, and her real name is the Morrigan. Sheís a goddess of discord and strife, who stirs up wars and conflict for her own entertainment. Sheís provoked more battles in the world than I have fingers. Rory could tell you a few stories about her - she was a big problem to him back in the time when he was Cuchulain, and she even helped Maeve bring him down at Muirthemne. And she was just pretending to become my girlfriend so that she could turn me over to my father. Thatís what really went on. Do you understand, Mary?"
She looked back at him, eyes never blinking. "Oh, I understand perfectly, Merlin," she said.
"You do?" the boy said. "Good." But then he halted, as he realized that the tone of her voice was clearly not the least convinced of the truth of his words. And what she said next confirmed that all the more.
"I understand that youíre trying to lie your way out of this, and with one of the most absurd stories that Iíve ever heard," she went on. "Donít start like that, Merlin. Corbie warned me that youíd come up with something really over the top if I told you that Iíd found out about her. I certainly hadnít expected it to be that over the top, of course. But then again, coming from you, I suppose that it was only to be expected."
"But Iím not lying," Merlin protested. "Iím telling the truth about her, honest."
"The girl that I met in Hyde Park didnít feel like a discord-goddess to me," Mary replied. "She felt like a girl stuck with a horrible transformation that made her into a freak. A little disreputable-looking, but certainly she didnít seem to be some renegade faerie or anything like that."
"The Morrigan is a deceiver, Mary," said Merlin. "She can dupe you, just the way that she did me. Sheís cunning. Think about it. Doesnít it strike you as a bit of a coincidence that she apparently gets stuck turning into a crow, just as you get stuck turning into a wolf? She must know about your condition somehow, Mary, and sheís taking advantage of it."
"More likely the reason why we both wound up in that mess was because we both knew you," she retorted. "You are so pathetic, Merlin. You canít even come up with a halfway believable lie to save yourself. You have to concoct a ridiculous story to get out of it. Well, it didnít work. Do you understand? It didnít work."
And with that, she turned around and walked out of the room, in a cold silence. Merlin stared after her, and tried to think of something to say to her, but nothing came. He sat alone in the dining room at the table, feeling utterly helpless.
Confound it all! Heíd handled kings, dragons, rival wizards, even a few monsters and gods pulled out of old books by magic. Why was it that this girl could manage to unsettle him, leaving him so absolutely lost, in the way that those beings never had done? He couldnít explain it. He simply couldnít.
"Drat you, Morrigan," he said to himself at last, getting up. "Why couldnít you have died in the war with your master? Why?"
* * *
Arthur, Leba, Dulcinea, and Rory were seated at the Round Table in the council chamber. Rory was just finishing his report.
"So now we know that the Morriganís the new leader of the Minions," he said. "I should have known. Theyíd be just the sort of people that she likes to play with. A band of lawless hooligans, suited only for doing pointless damage, scaring people, and causing chaos."
"Thank you, then, Rory," said Arthur, nodding gravely. "Well, that does explain matters. Although I would like to know what she plans to do with them."
"It canít be to take over London, surely," said Dulcinea. "If the Minions couldnít win under Madoc, how can they win under one of his vassals?"
"Based on what Roryís told me about the Morrigan, I donít think that sheís interested in taking over London," said Leba. "Sheís a discord-goddess, after all. Confusion and strife are her meat and drink. All that she wants to do with them is to cause enough fighting in the city to entertain her. And theyíre good enough at that. The police will probably be able to subdue them in the end, but not before sheís had her fill of amusement from all the destruction that theyíve caused."
"Which could make the Minions more dangerous under her than they were under Madoc and Lucius," said Arthur. "Their old leaders had definite plans for this city, and wanted the Minions to win. But if they now have the Morrigan in charge of them, then their objective will not be to win. It will only be to destroy as much as possible. And if by the time that the police have defeated them, London has already been laid waste, she will still be satisfied."
"We should do something about them," said Rory grimly. "Find out where theyíre gathering, and strike the first blow at them."
"That is out of the question," said Arthur at once. "It seems to me too much the sort of thing that the Morrigan would want us to do."
"I agree," said Leba. "If we attack first, thatíll make us the aggressors. Weíll risk sinking to their level. And the authorities wouldnít like it, either. Remember, Arthur is in trouble enough with them already, without adding an unprovoked vigilante-style attack to his record, even if it was on a gang of vicious street-punks with violent histories."
"So weíre just going to have to wait?" asked Rory. "Wait for them to attack first? I donít like it."
"It doesnít sound good, I agree," said Arthur. "But I do not see what else we can do."
Merlin entered just then, still looking unsettled. He silently took his place at the table, with a nod to the others.
"Weíve just found out whoís behind the Minions," said Dulcinea to him. "That little guttersnipe friend of yours."
"The Morrigan?" asked Merlin, his eyes widening. He was silent for a moment, apparently digesting what he had just heard, and then nodded. "I should have known that sheíd have more on her mind than just spreading around a few rumors and lies. And leading the Minions does seem right up her alley." He scowled grimly.
"Did you have to break it to him quite like that?" asked Leba to Dulcinea. "Itís bad enough that he was betrayed by her, after all."
"Somebody had to tell him," said Dulcinea. "We canít just leave him in the dark, after all."
"So how did you find out?" Merlin continued. He showed no sign at all of being troubled by Dulcineaís revelation, at least, not in the way that Leba would have suggested.
"Molly slipped into the Minionsí meeting hall, and listened in on their assembly," said Rory. "She saw the Morrigan there, assuming her role as their leader. She started off appearing to be Corbie McKenna again, but when they challenged her, she showed her true form, and cowed them. Molly promptly rang me up and warned me."
Merlin nodded. "Then that gives us something to go on," he said. "Rory, youíve some familiarity with the Morrigan from your Cuchulain period. Youíre the best-qualified of us to guess as to how sheíll act as the Minionsí leader. And Iíll just leave you all to it." He rose from his chair.
"Merlin?" asked Arthur, looking startled. "Where are you going?"
"To find Mary," the young wizard replied. "I need to tell her something. Just go on without me. Iím sure that you can work out on your own how to deal with those hooligans."
"With the Minions, yes," said Dulcinea. "But how about the Morrigan? Sheís a magical being, and weíll need magic to fight her."
"Sheís also an Irish magical being, and thatís more Roryís area," said Merlin. "I never knew her that well under her regular name." A troubled look crossed over his face, as he thought back to the now-unhappy memories that he had about Corbie McKenna. And with that, he left the room.
Arthur turned to Rory. "Well," he said, "as Merlin announced, you have some familiarity with the Morrigan. What can you tell us about her?"
"Much, and very little of it good," said Rory. "Theyíre all from my old life as Cuchulain, of course, when I first met her. Sheís a lover of discord and strife for their own sake, and will do anything to bring them about. And sheís never far away from a battlefield, either. Particularly one that sheís responsible for."
"And youíve met her?" asked Arthur.
"More than once," said Rory. "When I was defending Ulster from Maeveís forces during the War of the Brown Bull, she came to me and offered herself to me, in the midst of the fighting. Iíve sometimes wondered since whether she did so in the hopes of distracting me, so that the men of Connacht would be unopposed in their raid - she and Maeve were always on good terms. When I told her that I had no time for such pleasures, she next did all that she could to hinder me, in various forms. She became an eel and tried to trip me up when I fought at the ford, and then a wolf and after that a cow, and drove cattle against me. But I defeated her each time."
"And was that the end of your history with her?" Arthur asked.
"No," said Rory. "She was there one last time, when I fought against Maeveís men at Muirthemne, and where I - or rather, Cuchulain Ė was slain. She flew about the field in the shape of a crow, and finally left after I received my death-wound. Maybe she was there to encourage the warriors of Connacht against me; I do not know."
"Well, that gives us something to work with," said Arthur. "We know, then, that she is a shape-shifter, and a dangerous one. But not impossible to defeat. Let us pray that it will be enough to allow us to foil her scheme, whatever it is."
* * *
Mary raised her head. She had been napping on the floor of her room, something that she did a fair amount of in her wolf-body these days. She preferred sleeping while in this shape, so that she would be conscious in it less often. But now her sleep had been interrupted. "Go away!" she told Merlin.
"But, Mary, this is important," said the youth. "Itís about your friend Corbie."
"More of your absurd stories about her being some mythical war-goddess, I suppose?" snapped the girl.
"Theyíre not absurd," Merlin replied. "Now, listen. Roryís just found out that sheís leading the Minions. Sheís their new head now. Shouldnít that tell you something?"
"Yes," said the werewolf sourly. "It means that youíre all the more desperate to make something up to hide the truth."
"No, Iím not," said Merlin. "If you donít believe me, you can ask Rory. He learned all about it from Molly, who was spying on the Minions."
"Molly?" asked Mary. She stared Merlin straight in the face. "Do you mean the same Molly whoís actually a banshee and caused all that trouble in Ireland once? That Molly?"
"Well, yes," said Merlin. "But that doesnít make any difference."
"Indeed it does," Mary replied. "According to everything that Iíve learned about her, sheís practically an ex-con! Oh, sheís claiming to have changed now, and you and Rory seem to have accepted that, but how do you know that sheís telling the truth. She could be lying, you know. Did you think of that?"
"Mary, listen to me!" Merlin protested. "Corbie isnít real! Not in the same way that you are! Sheís just one of the Morriganís disguises, and -"
"And Iíve heard just about enough of this!" said Mary, rising to her feet and walking slowly towards him. "Merlin, if you donít get out of my room at once, youíre going to know just what it feels like to be attacked by a savage werewolf! Now, go!" She made a low growling noise at the back of her throat.
Merlin held his ground for a moment, but then backed up through the doorway of her room as she advanced. "Well, I tried to tell you," he said, then turned and ran.
Mary watched him go, then turned about and walked back to the part of the floor which she had been lying on. She lay down on it again, and tried to get back to sleep as best she could. "That twerp!" she murmured to herself, closing her eyes. "And to think that I was starting to like him when we were up in Scotland. I should have known better."
* * *
Two Days Later
Rodney entered what had once been Luciusís private office, but was now the Morriganís personal headquarters. He barely recognized the room in its new condition. All the books on arcane lore and legend that Lucius had not taken with him upon his flight from London following that fateful night last May had been removed, as had the bookcases that they had rested in. In their place now hung paintings and photographs of horrific battle scenes from every period of history, from the wars of ancient Egypt and Babylon all the way down to the recent savage fighting in Kosovo and Chechnya. There were a particularly large amount of depictions of the nightmarish trenches of the First World War, and on the wall behind the desk and chair was a painting of the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, showing the British cavalry being mowed down by the Russian guns. Calloused street tough though he was, Rodney found himself suddenly experiencing an unpleasant churning sensation in his stomach as he looked at them.
The Morrigan was seated behind Luciusís desk in her Corbie form, which she almost always wore while directing the Minions now. Despite her small stature, she had somehow avoided appearing dwarfed by the furniture. Rodney didnít know whether she had simply placed a cushion on the chair to sit on, or if it was something else, and he didnít want to know. All that he wanted to do was to deliver his message to her, receive her instructions, and then get out of here quickly.
"Your Excellency?" he asked, striving in vain to keep a slight tremor out of his voice. It still rankled that he should feel so intimidated by such a young girl, even if he knew that her apparent youth was only an illusion.
Corbie looked at him sharply. "Where are your manners?" she asked, her eyes staring straight into him. "Donít you know the proper way to greet me? Well?"
Rodney swallowed as he realized just what she wanted him to do. He flung himself down upon the floor, prostrating himself before her. "Iím sorry, Your Excellency!" he stammered. "Forgive me! I wonít do it again!"
"Lower," said Corbie sharply. "All the way to the floor!"
Stifling a groan, Rodney pushed his face against the floor, until his nose felt as though it would become permanently bent. "Thatís better," he heard her say, after spending a minute in that position. "Now, rise and give me your report."
Rodney picked himself up. "Your Excellency, weíre ready," he said. "Whatever you want us to do, weíll go out and do it. The troops are waiting."
"Ah, at last," said Corbie, her eyes gleaming with pleasure. "Then hereís what you have to do." She opened the desk drawer, pulled out a map of London, and laid it out in front of the Minion.
"You will attack these two places," she said, indicating with the pointer finger of her right hand Piccadilly Circus, and with the pointer finger of her left hand Trafalgar Square. "Do as much damage there as you can. And I mean, real damage. The sort that will still be there years from now. I donít think that youíll be able to raze the Nelson Column, but you can still deface those stupid-looking lions. Trafalgar will be your target."
"Yes, Your Excellency," said Rodney.
"And Bloggs will lead the Piccadilly contingent," Corbie continued. "Tell him to smash that stupid little angel to pieces. I never could stand it." She grimaced in disgust.
"Yes, Your Excellency," said Rodney.
"You leave at sunset," said Corbie. "Now hop to it! I want your followers ready to move out the moment that the sun goes down! Understood? And if they arenít, youíre going to spend the rest of your life wishing that they had been."
"Yes, Your Excellency," stammered Rodney. "Of course!" He prostrated himself against the floor again, then turned and left the room quickly.
The girl watched him go, then rose from her desk, smiling cruelly. "Itíll be a glorious night," she said. "Perhaps itíll make up for our loss on Beltane night. Not as much fun as our victory would have been, but better than nothing." And she began to laugh.
* * *
"This is Regina Fitzwalter, reporting live from near Piccadilly Circus. Only minutes ago, a group of rioters has begun to attack this very spot, one of Londonís most famous landmarks. The police are rushing reinforcements to this area even now, to protect the Circus from these hooligans. Eye-witnesses say that they appear to be particularly intent on destroying the famous Angel of Charity monument here, erected in honor of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury in 1893. We urge the public to stay away from the area at all costs until further notice."
Arthur turned from the television screen, to face Griff, Leba, Colin, and Rory. "The Minions?" he asked, in a troubled voice.
"It certainly sounds like them," said Leba.
Regina Fitzwalter continued. "I have just been informed that a similar riot is in progress at Trafalgar Square. We urge the public to also avoid -"
Arthur switched the television set off at once, and leaped to his feet. "We have to go to London," he said. "Those ruffians will lay the city waste, if we stand idly by."
"Arthur, that doesnít sound like a good idea at all," said Leba. "Youíre a wanted man, remember? The police will be at those places soon enough, and if they see you, itíll all be over for you."
"The Minions are wreaking havoc on London!" Arthur replied. "I must do something! It is my duty to stop them!"
"I agree with Leba myself," said Colin Marter. "Arthur, the city is not utterly defenceless. It does have a police force, remember. And Iím certain that the police will be more than capable of breaking up the Minions, without your help. Those troublemakers are only ordinary humans, after all."
"Ordinary humans that are led by the Morrigan," said the Once and Future King grimly. "We do not know what assistance she may have given them. For all that we know, she may have taken steps that will render the police powerless before her followers. We cannot take such a risk."
"Would she do that?" asked Griff. "I mean, if she acted that openly, wouldnít Oberon quickly spot her and have her carted off to Avalon? I mean, she must be still something of a wanted felon there."
"The Morriganís not the most logical fay in the world," Rory replied gloomily. "I donít think that such a riskís likely to deter her."
"I still have to agree with the others, though," said Griff. "Arthur, it just isnít safe for you in London now. Youíd do better to stay here on the estate. The young warriors can handle this emergency, surely."
"Youíre forgetting something, old friend," said Arthur. "When I was crowned High King of Britain, I vowed to protect this island and its people from harm. I may no longer truly be King, but my oath still binds me. It is my duty to defend London against its enemies, and I cannot break it. I may be captured by the police if I do this, but better that than to remain here in safety and dishonor. I am going." And the look in his eyes indicated that he meant it.
The others looked worriedly at each other. At last, Griff nodded. "Well, I suppose that thereís no point in arguing with that," he said. "But all the same, you should be very careful, Arthur. Keep out of sight as much as possible."
"Iíve an idea, myself," said Rory. "Iím not on the wanted list, and neither is Cuchulain. Maybe I can do something about that rabble, then."
"Maybe," said Arthur, thoughtfully. "Certainly you are familiar enough with the Morriganís stratagems that you would be prepared for them. Very well, then. Gather everyone together in the council chamber. There we will go over our strategy with them."
"And which strategy is that?" Leba asked.
"Rory will lead a group to Trafalgar Square," said Arthur. "There, he will deal with the Minions creating havoc there. I will lead the others to Piccadilly Circus. From what I understand, it is a little less in the public eye, and I might be able to escape notice there. The rest of the details I will save for the council."
"Leo, Una, Merlin and Mary are at the Mystic shop again tonight," said Colin. "Do you think that we should inform them as well?"
"I believe so," said Arthur, nodding. "Youíd better ring them up as quickly as possible, to warn them. The Minions attacked the shop once; they might do so again. And I doubt that any of us want to see it become a battlefield."
* * *
"Mary, Iíve told you before, be patient!" protested Merlin, as the girl paced back and forth, visibly fuming even more than ever. "Weíre searching for a cure as fast as we can! Now will you just sit down?"
"Sit down?" cried the girl, turning on him, her hazel eyes flashing with fury. "Sit down? Iíll have you know, Merlin Ambrosius, that my life has been destroyed because of this stupid curse, and you havenít done a thing about it! If you really could cure me, youíd have found a way of doing so by now!"
"Mary, Iíve told you before that your situation is extremely complicated," Merlin protested. "Thatís why itís taking so long-"
"No, it isnít!" Mary retorted. "Iíll tell you why itís taking so long! Itís because youíre not really looking for a cure! You donít want to find one!"
"And why would I not want to find one?" Merlin asked.
"Because you know that the moment Iím no longer a werewolf, Iíll be able to go back home," the girl replied, shouting by now. "And you donít want that to happen! You want me to stay a werewolf, so that Iíll have to stay here!"
"What?" cried Merlin, looking astonished. "Do you really think that I want to have a spoiled rich brat like you about the place? Well, do you? If you believe that, then youíre even more of a fool than I thought you were!"
"Oh, so you think that Iím a fool, do you?" Mary shouted at him.
"What else do you call someone who recklessly smashes a magical figurine without even giving a thought to the consequences?" Merlin shouted back. "I warned you that it was a bad idea, but did you listen to me? No, you did not! Youíve nobody to blame for you being a werewolf other than yourself!"
"Oh, is that so?" she cried. And with that, she lunged straight at him. Before she could reach him, however, Una grabbed hold of her, and held her back.
"I have heard enough of this," she said, in a stern voice. "You are both acting like children! Even Lucy and her rookery siblings are not this immature. I want you to stop this behavior at once, both of you." She transfixed Merlin with her stare. "And you in particular should be ashamed of yourself, Merlin. Youíre fifteen hundred years old, and always talking about how you want to be treated by us as though you were that age, rather than fifteen. Shouldnít you start acting that way, then?"
"Well, she started it," said Merlin sourly.
Before Mary or Una could reply, Leo burst into the back room, looking very much alarmed. "The Minions!" he cried.
"The Minions?" asked Una, turning to him. "What about them?"
"Theyíre rioting in Trafalgar Square," said the leonine gargoyle. "Michael just rang us up to warn us. Some of the clan are on their way now to do something about it."
"Then I think that we had better join them," said Una. "And we should take these two along with us," she added, glancing at the two adolescents. "Handling the Minions will keep them occupied enough, hopefully, to prevent them from fighting each other further."
"Wait a minute!" cried Mary. "If you expect me to get involved in some street brawling, you can think again! Iím not -"
"None of that, young lady," said Una, taking her firmly by the hand. "Youíre coming with us. If you donít want to fight, then weíll accept that, but youíre coming, all the same."
Scowling in silence, Mary accompanied the unicorn-gargoyle out of the room. Merlin and Leo went out with them.
* * *
The Morrigan sat in her Corbie form on a stone balustrade at the edge of Trafalgar Square, watching the spectacle. By now, the fury of her followers had grown so intense that even the BBC news crew had been forced to vacate the area. In fact, nearly everybody but the Minions had fled the scene. Rodney and the others were now eagerly smashing abandoned cars, scrawling graffiti on the pavement and on the walls of the buildings close by, and otherwise demolishing their surroundings with considerable gusto.
The Morrigan suddenly jumped to her feet. "No, no, NO!", she cried. "Youíre doing it all wrong!"
The Minions halted at her voice, and stared at her. "What - what do you mean, Your Excellency?" Rodney asked. "Weíre doing what you told us to do, I mean -"
"Itís not big enough," said the Unseelie girl. "So youíve destroyed a few cars! So what? Whoíll remember that a year from now? Nobody! I want this devastation to be memorable! Remember? Go for the big things! The fountains! The lions! And really go for them? Donít just spray-paint moustaches and spectacles on the lions! Thatís been done! Smash them to rubble!"
Rodney and the others nodded, and headed towards the fountains. The Morrigan smiled wickedly, and began to hover about a foot above the balustrade, looking up at the statue of Lord Nelson atop its column. She snapped her fingers, and her Goth-punk clothes transformed instantly into a perfect duplicate of Napoleonís uniform, fitted to her size.
"I always preferred the Little Corsican myself," she said to the admiralís statue. "He did so much damage in Europe, after all. Once they packed him off to St. Helena, I had to wait a hundred years for that sort of fun to come along there again. Of course, Verdun did more than make up for it." She cackled gleefully. "I probably wonít be able to humble you, but I can still improve on the view youíve got from your perch."
Rodney reached the nearest of the Landseer Lions. He was about to strike a blow at its head with the sledgehammer that he was carrying, when a winged shape swooped down from above and knocked him onto his back.
"All right, thatís enough damage for one night, mate," said Caspian, glowering down at the prone Minion with glowing white eyes. "It ends now."
The other Minions turned around to face this new intruder. But even as they did so, other gargoyles came plunging towards them out of the skies, howling as they came, eyes ablaze. The Minions scattered, crying out in terror.
Rodney managed, with a desperate effort, to throw Caspian off of him. "I guess I might as well get in a little practice on you, first," he said, lifting the hammer again, and striding towards the young gargoyle. "Too bad that itís not daytime. Then thisíd be even more fun to use on you."
Before he could bring the hammer down, however, Rory Dugan rammed into him The two young men struggled, giving Caspian time enough to pick himself up and rejoin the fray against the other Minions. The Morrigan watched from the sidelines, smiling.
"Heís here," she said to herself. "Excellent. Now the fun really starts."
After the initial shock of the gargoylesí arrival had worn off, the Minions quickly noticed how few of them there actually were. Only four other gargoyles had accompanied Caspian and Rory to Trafalgar Square. Banding together, some of the toughs began to attack the gargoyles, driving them back. Others gathered around Rodney and Rory, and lunged at the young Irishman, with clenched fists and hammers. They leaped at him and piled on top of him.
"Yes," said the Morrigan eagerly, leaping up and down on the balustrade. "Do it, then! Do it!"
A flash of golden light surrounded Rory and his staff, covering them and shielding them from the sight of the Minions. When it had cleared, Cuchulain stood there, holding the glittering javelin of lightning, the Gae Bolga, in his hand. Crying aloud in ancient Gaelic, he thrust the spear at them.
The Minions drew back, uncertainty upon their faces. Gargoyles had been bad enough, but a man changing into an ancient Irish warrior before their eyes was even worse. They stood where they were for a minute, before the Morrigan spoke up impatiently.
"What are you?" she screeched. "Cowards? There is only one of him! Bring him down!"
Shouting lustily, the Minions all charged at Cuchulain, on all sides. He fought back at them, but they came from too many directions for even the Gae Bolga to immediately repel. Even the Minions who had been fighting the gargoyles turned to join into the fray, having sidelined Caspian and the others by now. The Morrigan watched, expectancy showing in her eyes.
"You havenít done it in a long while, Hound of Culainn," she said eagerly. "But now itís time for you to do it again. Do it! Do it!"
Cuchulain let out a cry of fury. His eyes glowed with a white fire even brighter that that in the eyes of an enraged gargoyle, and sparks flew out from the tips of his hairs. An eerie glow shone about his head and helmet. And then, he cried again, and hurled the Gae Bolga at them.
The Minions turned to flee, but it was too late. The blast of the spear as it passed through the crowd sent them flying in all directions throughout the square, landing on their backs hard. The more conscious ones struggled to get back to their feet, but by that time, Cuchulain was raging among them. He picked one up and hurled him into the nearest fountain with a splash. Two of them ran to take shelter behind an abandoned car, but he threw the Gae Bolga at it before they could reach it. The car exploded when the spear struck it, sending fragments hurtling all about.
"Oh, this is wonderful," said the Morrigan, clapping her hands as she continued to watch from the sidelines. "With an enemy like that, who needs followers?" She snapped her fingers again, and a Golden Delicious apple appeared in her left hand. She happily took a bite out of it, as the battle -- if one could call it that any more, now that Cuchulain was the only one doing the fighting - continued.
* * *
Caspian and the other gargoyles pulled themselves to their feet, then turned to watch Cuchulainís onslaught. Their eyes widened in first astonishment, then alarm, at his actions.
"Is he insane?" Rosalind asked. "The way that heís fighting them, heís likely to kill the Minions! Or at least, leave them seriously injured."
"Yes," said Trey, a wolf-like gargoyle. "He could do more damage to this place than that lot ever could have done. What should we do?"
"Speak with him," said Caspian. "Let him know what heís doing, before itís too late. Follow me."
He ran over to the Irish hero, who had just picked up yet another Minion by the scruff of the neck. "All right," he said quickly, "thatís enough, Rory. Youíve stopped them from destroying the Square. Itís over now. Let them go."
Cuchulain turned around, and faced Caspian straight on, transfixing him with his burning stare. Then, with a barely human roar, he struck the gargoyle with his free arm, sending him flying back into his companions. As the others helped Caspian up, he hurled his hapless captive straight through a window, and went looking for more Minions.
Caspian groaned, as he steadied himself. "Itís going to be a long night," he said.
* * *
Leo and Una landed on the pavement just at the edge of Trafalgar Square, and set Merlin and Mary Sefton down. "This is the place," said Una. "Let us hope that weíve not arrived here too late."
"Una and I will deal with these troublemakers," said Leo. "Perhaps you two should sit this out after all. It might not be wise to let your own kind see you involved in such activities."
"Iíll say," said Mary sharply. "I donít even want to know what Father would say if he found out that Iíd gotten mixed up in some fighting." Without looking at Merlin, she followed the two gargoyles into the square - and halted. Before her, a man dressed in the armor of a warrior from the distant Celtic past was attacking the Minions, hurling a spear of lightning at them. Caspian, Rosalind, and a few other gargoyles were standing to one side, looking both horrified and helpless. Her eyes widening, she turned to her companions. "What - what is that?"
Merlin stared at the man, and then groaned. "Itís worse than I thought," he said. "Itís Rory - well, heís Cuchulain now. And heís gone berserk."
"Gone berserk?" asked Mary.
"Iíll explain in a moment," said the boy. "For now, I think that we need to get well out of the way. Being on the battlefield when heís in a rage can be very hazardous to your health, even when youíre on his side."
Mary looked about for a safe place to take refuge, and then suddenly caught sight of a familiar figure leaning against a lamp-post at the very edge of the square, nibbling on an apple and watching the battle. It was Corbie. And she seemed actually pleased to see the chaos. More than pleased, indeed. She was actually laughing, almost hysterically.
"Corbie?" said Mary, staring at the Goth girl in amazement. "What are you doing here?"
Corbie turned at the mention of her name, and stared at Mary. She actually seemed taken aback at her presence. "You - youíre not supposed to be here," she said, her voice wavering in confusion.
"You were enjoying this," said Mary, looking again at the figure of Cuchulain, as he lifted two Minions off the ground and rammed their heads together, then hurled their unconscious forms into the nearest fountain. "But why? I donít see anything the least bit amusing about this."
"You wouldnít, but she does," said Merlin, standing now almost at her elbow. "Remember what I told you about Corbie, Mary. Sheís really the Morrigan. This sort of savagery is her favorite thing in life. And frankly, I wouldnít be surprised if she hadnít helped bringing it about." He glanced at the half-eaten golden apple in her hands. "Having a stroll down more than one memory lane too, I see," he said. "I should have known that youíd like that sort of apple, after what you were able to accomplish with it."
"And youíre seriously blaming me for that?" she asked, with something of a sneer. "All that I did was throw that apple at them when they wouldnít invite me at the wedding. Getting Paris to decide which one of them should have it was their idea, not mine."
"And you still had a pretty good idea of what would happen, I imagine," Merlin retorted. "And you thoroughly enjoyed watching the fruit that it bore. The sack of Troy, Pyrrhus running Priam through, Astyanax getting hurled to his doom off the city walls."
Mary stared at them both in disbelief. "Corbie? Is it true then?"
Corbie ground her teeth in fury. "You had to come here, didnít you?" she said at last. "You couldnít just stay at the shop and bicker with him? And now youíve ruined it all. Itís not fair. Itís just not fair!"
"How do you know about the shop?" Mary asked. "I never mentioned it to you in Hyde Park. The only way that you could know about it - was if youíd been spying." She stared straight at the Goth girl. "Is that the case? Is that why you changed into a sort of werecrow in front of me? Because you knew about my problem, and wanted to play on my sympathy? Well?"
"Demand me nothing; what you know, you know," replied Corbie, managing to recover some degree of self-control. "I will say no more."
"Never mind about that now," said Merlin sharply. "In case you havenít noticed, Morrigan, Cuchulainís gone into a definite battle-frenzy now. If he keeps up at the rate that heís presently going, heíll do more damage to Trafalgar Square than your Minions ever could. I have a very strong suspicion that you have something to do with this."
"Thatís not a bad guess, then," said Corbie - or rather, the Morrigan. For even though she still had Corbieís form, Mary now knew in her heart that that was the true nature of the Irish Goth girl. Merlin was right all along, she thought soberly. Corbie really was trouble. And it looks as if she still is, too.
"You started this," Merlin continued, glowering at her, "so you can stop this, gore-crow. Do it!"
"I couldnít end this even if I wanted to," she replied calmly, not the least bit fazed by Merlinís anger. "And why would I want to, Emrys?"
"Donít call me that!" said Merlin sharply.
"Well, Merlin, then," said Corbie. "But Iím enjoying this spectacle too much. I probably wonít have any Minions left by the time that itís over, but Iíd say that itís a decent trade-off, replacing them with him." She watched in delight as Cuchulain reduced another car to a smoldering heap of molten metal with the Gae Bolga. "What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts, eh?"
"Merlin, I donít understand this at all," said Mary. "Just what is going on here, anyway?"
"Well, Cuchulain does have a tendency to fall into a berserk rage in battles, if heís been pressed hard enough," said Merlin. "Itís a condition more often found among Saxons and Norsemen, actually, but it crops up even in Ireland, and did so particularly in the time when King Conchobar was ruling in Ulster. And when that happened to him, Cuchulain was a danger to everyone, friend and foe alike. His own fellow Ulstermen had to stay out of his way whenever the fit was upon him. And of course, the Morrigan was there then; sheíd know all about it."
"Is there a way to get him out of it?" Mary asked.
"Unfortunately, my knowledge of the Irish sagas is a bit on the rusty side," said Merlin. "Itís a small marvel that I remembered what I did at all. Lebaíd know the answer, perhaps, but sheís not here. I wish that Blaise had included that in his curriculum. But then, he couldnít have known that Iíd need to know how to cure a battle-fit, someday."
"Well, you must know," said Mary to the Morrigan, taking one step towards her. "You put him into it; you must surely know how to get him out of it. Well? Answer me!" And with that, before Merlin could stop her, she lunged forward, and grabbed hold of the Unseelie by the front of her sweater. The Morrigan was taken enough by surprise that she was only inches away from Maryís face before she quite realized what was happening.
"And what if I refuse?" she asked, smugly. "What are you going to do? Rip my throat out, werewolf? Then you really will be the perfect candidate for a silver bullet."
"I donít like to admit it," said Merlin, with a sigh, "but she does have a point, Mary. At the risk of overusing a fairly trite line, if you do that to her, youíll be no better than she is."
Mary sighed, and released the Morrigan from her grip. "Donít think that I havenít forgotten what you did to me, though," she said, still holding the Lady of Discord with her stare. "Iíve got a few things to say to you about the way that you were lying to me."
"Let it go for now, Mary," said Merlin. "We have to find a way of getting Cuchulain out of his frenzy, and fast. And I donít have any ideas at the moment."
There was the sound of running feet, and then Molly arrived, coming to a halt by the three adolescents. She turned and stared at Cuchulain. By now, nearly all the Minions who were still conscious had fled the scene, and the remainder were attempting to do so, while trying frantically to evade their attacker. Caspian and the other gargoyles were still watching Cuchulain closely, searching for an opening, but so far had found none. And Cuchulain was readying the Gae Bolga, aiming it at the fleeing toughs. It was clear enough, from the way that he held it, that this time, its result would be lethal.
"So itís happening again," she said to Merlin.
"Yes," said Merlin. "And we have to stop him, now."
"The fountain!" said the former Banshee at once. "Use the fountain!"
Merlin stared at her blankly for a moment. "I - I donít quite follow you."
"Cold water will bring him out of the battle-rage," said Molly. "It worked in Conchobarís day, and itíll surely work again. Drench him with its water."
Merlin frowned. "Well, itís worth a try," he said. He moved forward in the direction of the fountains by the Nelson Column, and gestured at them, crying out in a loud voice as he did so:
"Bounty of Tethys, obey me well!
Strike Culainnís Hound, and his fury quell!"
Noticing the glances that Mary and Molly were giving him, he added hurriedly, "You try coming up with a decent rhyme at a time like this!"
But regardless of the quality of his poetry, Merlinís spell clearly worked. The waters gushing out of the sculptures in the fountains changed their course, and went flying straight at Cuchulain, before he could throw his mighty spear. The sheer impact of them knocked him flat off his feet, landing him upon his back. He struggled to get up, but it was no use. Their force was so great that he, redoubtable warrior though he was, lost his balance each time that he struggled up, and fell down again.
For a few minutes, the water rushed over him. And at last, he collapsed altogether under their impact. His form blurred, and reverted back to Rory.
"That should do it," said Merlin. He gestured again, and the fountains resumed their normal operation, showering the young Irishman no more. The gargoyles approached him cautiously, as did Merlin, Mary, and Molly. Corbie stood in the background, arms folded across her chest, watching sourly.
Caspian and Rosalind helped Rory to his feet, looking closely at him. "Heíll be all right," said Rosalind at last. "He seems a bit unsteady, but other than that, I donít think that we need to worry."
Rory blinked groggily. "Will somebody please tell me what went on here?" he asked. "I became Cuchulain to defend myself properly against that band of hooligans - and then everything after that is foggy. What happened?"
"Weíll explain later," said Merlin. "For now, we do seem to have sent the Minions packing. Give some thanks to that, at least. But thereís still the problem about their leader." He glanced back towards the Morrigan sharply, still watching in Corbieís form.
"Iím not done with her yet," said Mary, turning around. "Just give me a few moments with her, and preferably after sunrise! Thatíll make her think twice before doing something like this again!"
"Iíve no time for you, wolf-child," said the Morrigan, with a disdainful sniff. She raised her hand, and transformed herself from her Goth-girl form to her true appearance as one of the Unseelie Court, a tall gaunt woman with wild black hair. "It seems that my entertainment here is at an end, so I might as well be on my way. Iíve better things to do than waste my time here with you lot."
"It is time for you to leave."
"You are awaited."
The speakers of the voices were three young women who had suddenly appeared, hovering in the air above the Morrigan. All three were dressed in flowing light-colored gowns; one had blonde hair, one black, and one silvery-white. They stared down at the Unseelie, with grim faces.
Molly froze in terror, not even stirring one finger or blinking. The others stared at the newcomers in shocked silence. And the Morrigan looked up, with a sudden, horrified look upon her face.
The Weird Sisters bent down and snatched the Unseelie up off the ground. She struggled and screamed, but to no avail. A flash of light surrounded the four of them, and when it had cleared, they were gone.
"Who - who were they?" asked Mary bewilderedly, breaking the silence that followed.
"The Weird Sisters," said Merlin. "And I would say that we will most likely never need to worry about the Morrigan again."
Molly stared at the vacant space that Oberonís ministers had departed from with their prisoner, pale and trembling. Rory glanced at her, a look of concern upon his face. He seemed about to say something, but at that moment, almost collapsed, and had to be caught by Caspian and Rosalind again.
"I think that weíve overstayed our welcome here," said Caspian. "The police should be here soon - probably they would have been here sooner if the roads hadnít been blocked by the damage. Letís go home, shall we?"
The others nodded in silence.
* * *
"City authorities remain puzzled as to the devastation caused last night in Trafalgar Square by a lunatic dressed up like an ancient Celtic warrior," Regina Fitzwalter was saying on the television screen. "Although the police are investigating, no leads have been revealed as yet. In the meantime, this incident has revived the inquiries being made by members of the public about the recent outbreaks of paranormal activity that have been plaguing London and the Home Counties, particularly in the case of the ĎMay Eve Madnessí earlier this year."
Rory groaned, as he turned away from the television set. "As if we didnít have problems enough," he said. "Iíd forgotten all about those berserker fits. It seems that I shouldnít have done so."
"Well, the Morriganís been taken away to Avalon, according to what Merlinís told us," said Leba, in a comforting tone of voice. "She wonít be able to maneuver you into that madness again."
"But it happened to me back in Conchobarís day," said Rory, still gloomily, "and without her being present. Those fits donít need her to bring them out. They can find a different avenue."
"Not if you prevent them from so doing," said King Arthur. His battle with the Minions in Piccadilly Circus the night before had gone well, without event, and he and his followers had saved the circle from destruction. "It only takes a certain amount of self-control and discipline. It will not be easy, but you will be able to prevail, with hard work enough."
"Maybe," said Rory. He did not sound particularly convinced, though.
Across the room, Merlin sat in a chair by himself, staring down at the half-grown grey wolf that was gazing up at him. Both shifted uncomfortably, and from time to time, it seemed as if one was about to break the silence and speak. But neither of them ever did.