BLACK AND WHITE
Outline by Ed Reynolds.
Written by Todd Jensen.
Artwork by Silver and Lady Foxglove
Previously on Pendragon....
ARTHUR: The three knights who alone achieved the Grail - Galahad, Percival, and Bors - understood what it really was. This was not just some search for yet another magical object, like one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain that Merlin showed me when I was a boy. The Grail is something more than that. It carries with it higher obligations to be observed by those who seek it, and those who do not obey them will come only to grief. It means to take the straight and narrow path, not straying from it even when the other road seems easier or more expedient. That is what it means to go in quest of the Holy Grail.
~~~Choices Part Two~~~
* * *
There were three figures crowding about the crone. One was a wolf with its jaws open, appearing to be slavering hungrily. The second was a long dragon-headed serpent with a great mane extending down its spine, coiled all the way about the hag. The third was a human-like figure, but in some ways, even more grotesque than the two animals in appearance. The right side of her body was that of a lovely young girl, but the left side that of a withered, wrinkled corpse. Merlin frowned as he stared at them closely.
"Do you recognize them?" asked Mary.
"The offspring of Angurboda," said Merlin in a low voice. "This is worse than Iíd thought."
"Angurboda?" Mary asked. "What are you talking about, Merlin?"
"Howís your Norse mythology?" Merlin asked her.
"A bit on the rusty side, actually," said Mary. "I know some things about Odin and Thor and the Valkyries, but thatís all."
"Iím not that surprised," said Merlin. "Not considering what Iíve seen of the countryís educational system these days. But anyway, this figurine is a representation of Angurboda. She was the wife of Loki, the evillest and most corrupt of the Norse gods, and was the mother of three monsters by him - the very ones whom you can see clinging to her robes. The Fenris-wolf," he said, pointing to the wolf. "Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent." Here he indicated the snake. "And Hel, goddess of the dead." He indicated the half-girl half-corpse female figure.
* * *
She raised the statuette in her hands as high up as her arms would stretch, then hurled it to the stone floor, hard. Then she snatched up a rock and struck the image of Angurboda, again and again, shattering it into fragments.
* * *
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.
* * *
MERLIN: It could take quite a while to find a cure.
MARY: Quite a while? As in - weeks? Months? Years?
MERLIN: I honestly don't know. I don't know if there even is a cure.
~~~The Curse of Rivencroft~~~
* * * * *
The harsh Antarctic winds buffeted the great airship as it glided over the frozen sea, nearing the snow-laden wasteland before it. Macbeth kept both hands firmly at the controls as he steered the vessel towards its destination.
"It looks dark out there," said Arthur, as he stood by the former Scottish king and gazed out the windows mounted above the control panel.
"Yes," said Macbeth. "At this time of year the polar day is drawing close to an end. Youíll find the Antarctic a state of constant twilight during your visit to it."
"The polar day is ending in spring?" Arthur asked.
"In the southern hemisphere the seasons are the opposite of what they are in Britain," Macbeth explained. "Thus, what is spring there is autumn here."
"I still wonder if it was a wise idea bringing my companions with me," said Arthur. "The severe climate of this land is hardly a suitable place for Merlin in his current state of health. It might have been better to have left him in New York. Goliath and his clan could have tended him there while I sought the Grail in these parts." He then shook his head. "But there is the old problem," he added. "One thing I know about the Holy Grail: it is not a tame cup, a simple magic goblet. It is quite possible that it is not something that we can simply take back with us when we discover it, as Excalibur was. And if that is the case, then we must have Merlin with us when we finally come upon its resting-place."
Macbeth nodded. "And the others?" he asked.
"If what you have told me about the polar cycles is correct," sad Arthur, "then Griff and Mary would face their own problems here. Their changes are bound to the pattern of night and day. When that pattern takes up only twenty-four hours, there is no peril to them then. But when it takes an entire year to unfold -" His voice trailed off, and he looked back at his companions in the back of the airship worriedly.
* * *
Griff had already turned to stone as the airship entered the twilit region of Antarctica. Mary glanced over at him and sighed as she prepared for her own change, due any moment now.
She cried out in pain as the transformation began - but the feeling was not the same as before. Instead of dropping to all fours as she had done on all the other occasions, she remained standing upright. But a wolfís tail sprouted from her backside, poking its way through her trousers, while her hands grew hairier, almost clawlike in shape. She felt fur sprouting all over her body from the neck down, although the heavy clothing that she wore - which this time was not even merging with her beast-shape - concealed it. Then she felt a tugging sensation at the back of her head. Her hair grew longer, tumbling down her back all the way to her waist, the same length that it had grown to during her adventure with Arthur in Sicily. But it felt far less elegant and courtly this time; instead it felt wild and shaggy. Her teeth became longer and pointed and her eyebrows grew thicker and bushier, though her face otherwise remained human in form.
She staggered back, finding it difficult in her new body to keep her balance; her feet now felt like they had almost turned into a wolfís paws, far less suited for a biped. Merlin was staring at her in shock and concern. She turned to him and frantically gasped, "What happened to me?"
"I donít know," said Merlin, taking her hand. The wracking pain of the transformation had subsided, leaving her in the bizarre transitional shape of half human, half wolf. "This is the first time that Iíve seen this sort of thing happen."
Arthur came up quickly from the front of the airship to her. "I was afraid of something like this, Mary," he said sadly. "I should have left you behind in Manhattan."
"Arthur, you know that Iíd have never agreed to that," Mary said at once. "Iím your squire; where you go, I go. And I certainly canít abandon either you or Merlin. Although -" - she gnashed her teeth slightly - "-this form isnít much fun at all."
"I suppose that it must be the effect of the polar cycle on your condition," said Merlin. "Itís not as bad for gargoyles, judging from Griffís case; their biological clocks quickly adjust to the new setting. But since your cycle is magical rather than biological, thereís no telling what the results might be. Or at least, there wasnít until now."
"Well, I hope that this doesnít last long," she said. "I donít want to spend the rest of my life looking like this. I want to go back to being a human again. Actually, even being a talking wolf again would be better than this."
"In light of your state," said Arthur, placing one hand gently upon her shoulder, "I believe that we should not remain in Antarctica for very long. The sooner that we conclude our business here, the better."
"Weíre almost at the home of the gargoyles here," said Macbeth, up at the front. "Youíd better prepare for a landing."
The three travellers stood by the stone Griff, Arthur carefully holding onto the statue to hold it in place, as the airship touched down.
* * * * *
Arthur and Macbeth carried Griff down the ramp to the snowy ground. Behind them Merlin and Mary helped each other uncertainly out of the airship, neither one walking very securely. Merlin still leaned on his cane, while Mary was still having problems standing upright in her current shape - although going on all fours felt just as awkward when she tried it. All four humans were heavily bundled up against the chill weather outside, their hoods pulled down over their heads.
"Perhaps Iíd better stay here with you," said Macbeth. "The Antarctic regions are not the most hospitable part of this planet, and you will need all the help that you can receive."
Before Arthur or his companions could answer, three shapes crept out from behind a snowdrift and approached them. As they drew closer, Arthur saw that they were gargoyles. Their leader was fairly tall, with red skin and hair, and a weary look upon his face. He eyed them cautiously as he came up to them.
"Ah, you must be Cole," said Arthur, turning towards him and smiling in a friendly manner. "You match the description that Goliath gave us of you."
The gargoyle halted, staring at him in surprise. "You are familiar with Goliath, human?" he asked.
"We met with him in New York not long ago," said Arthur. "He informed us about you and your clan. My name is Arthur Pendragon and this is Sir Griff, a gargoyle from the London clan." He indicated the stone gargoyle that he and Macbeth were still holding up. "And these other humans are my friends. This is Macbeth, who brought us here, and these are Merlin, my advisor, and Mary Sefton, my squire."
Cole looked at him thoughtfully. "Arthur Pendragon," he said. "Ah, yes. I heard your name and Griffís mentioned at the Gargoyle World Council last year. I understand that you provided some assistance to the gargoyle clans in both London and the Caledonian Forest."
"That is true," said Arthur.
"Then I believe that I can trust you," said the red gargoyle. "Indeed I must admit that I am interested to meet you. We see very few humans in these parts. For a very long time, indeed, we believed them to be only legend."
"A great many humans believe the same about me," commented Arthur with a wry smile. "But I accept your offer of help and thank you for it."
He turned back to Macbeth and spoke to him as together they lowered Griffís stone form safely to the ground. "I know that you have many duties to attend to elsewhere, my friend," said Arthur, "and that therefore I have no right to detain you here any longer. I thank you for bringing us here so that we might continue our quest."
"Youíre quite welcome," said Macbeth. He turned to Merlin, who was still standing next to Mary, the two of them supporting each other. "I have a little something for you, actually," he said. He pulled a rolled up vellum scroll, held together with a blue ribbon, from his coat pocket and handed it to the boy. "When, in future, you and your friends find yourself in an uncharted place such as this one, you will find this helpful. It contains a spell that will help you find the right path. Written on it is all the information that you will need."
"Thank you, sir," said Merlin, carefully placing the scroll in his own coat pocket. "This really should be quite helpful."
"I suppose that I owed it to you," said Macbeth. "Call it an apology, if you will, for a certain undue interest in some of your writings."
Merlin looked at him puzzledly but said nothing. "Farewell, my friends," said the immortal Scotsman. And with that, waving them all a last good-bye, he climbed back into his airship. The door closed behind him and the great vehicle rose off the ground. Arthur, Merlin, Mary, Cole, and the other two gargoyles with him watched it depart, fading away into the distance.
"Come with me," said Cole. He and his companions set off across the snow, helping Arthur carry Griff. Merlin and Mary brought up the rear, stumbling along. Merlin shivered a little and drew closer to Mary, who pulled her arm tighter around him. She was feeling warmer, at least, thanks not only to her heavy winter clothes but also the thick pelt of wolf-fur growing beneath them - although she still regarded that as a decidedly mixed blessing.
"So what brings you to these parts, Arthur Pendragon?" Cole asked.
"My friends and I are on a quest, seeking the Holy Grail," said Arthur.
"What is this - Holy Grail?" asked Cole.
"An ancient relic with great healing powers," said Arthur. "Merlin has been poisoned and only the Grail can save his life." He indicated the boy trudging behind him as he spoke. "That is why it is so important for us to find it."
Cole nodded. "And you believe that the Grail is in these parts, I take it?" he asked.
Arthur nodded. "We were recently in Manhattan and there we met a member of your clan named Aurora."
"Ah, Aurora," said Cole. "So how is she? Is she well?"
"Yes, and she sends you and the rest of your clan her best wishes," said Arthur. "Goliath and his clan do so also.
"But to return to my story, when Aurora learned of our quest, she told us that, not long before she left this place for New York, she came across some records relating to the Grail that we seek. She also said that if we were to visit your clan and mention her name you might lead me to them so that I might investigate them for myself. And so we have come here to do just that."
"I see," said Cole, looking grave. He was silent for a few moments before speaking again.
"Around sixty years ago," he said, "a small group of humans came to this place in secret. My clan was aware of their arrival but kept itself hidden from their eyes. Fortunately they were too busy with their own affairs to search for us. They set up a camp and remained there for a couple of months. However they were not sufficiently prepared for the severity of the climate, and all of them perished from the cold before long. It was in the remains of their camp that Aurora found the records of which you speak."
"And does their camp still stand?" asked Arthur.
Cole nodded. "Yes, it does," he said. "The Unseelie Court even used it as its local headquarters when it attacked us. It was a terrible battle; a third of our clan was slain."
"I am sorry," said Arthur gravely. "I know myself what it is like to lose close friends in battle."
Cole suddenly halted. "None of you move," he said in a low voice. "Remain where you are."
"Why?" Arthur asked as he and the others stopped. "What is wrong?"
"That is," said Cole. He pointed off in the distance, where something was moving across the snow.
At first it appeared to be merely a large dark shape, whose outlines Arthur could not quite make out. But as it drew closer he saw what it was. An enormous grey wolf was making its way across the landscape. There was something fastened around its neck, a long and slender rope-like object that stretched out into the shadowy gloom.
"What is that thing?" he asked Cole, his hand creeping towards Excaliburís hilt as he spoke.
"The Fenris-wolf," said Cole, never taking his eyes off the beast for a moment. "One of the creatures that served the Unseelie Court. It was one of the Unseeliesí foremost warriors during their attack upon us last year."
"And it is still alive?" asked Arthur.
"The Unseelies brought it with them when they besieged us," said Cole. "But just as they were on the verge of overwhelming us, they faltered and lost their hold over it. The Fenris-wolf turned and left the battle as though it had simply lost interest in the fighting, while they scattered. I take it that it was their rulerís death which caused that?"
"Most likely," said Merlin. "I suppose that once Madoc was gone, whatever his followers were using to control it failed. It's a good thing, too; otherwise, I don't think that any of your clan would have survived."
"At any rate," Cole continued, "it appears from time to time, wandering about. It is held fast by a chain that even its great strength will not permit it to break, which restricts its movements. Even so, it can still cover much of the region about."
The wolf trudged towards the snow towards them, then suddenly halted when it was perhaps a hundred yards away. It seated itself upon a mound of snow and stared at the travellers in silence.
Arthur drew Excalibur at once and held it out before him. But the Fenris-wolf paid no attention to the sword. Instead it turned its head towards Mary, who was standing at the rear of the group, and gazed down at her.
"What on earth is it doing?" asked Mary, staring back up at it. "Why isnít it attacking us?"
"I donít know," said Merlin. He frowned thoughtfully. "I just wonder, though, if your presence doesnít have something to do with it."
"You mean, he knows -" Mary broke off hastily, remembering that Cole and the other gargoyles were present. She wasnít certain that she was quite ready to reveal to them that she was a werewolf.
"Probably," said Merlin. "We donít know for certain, however. Iím just speculating."
As he spoke, cracks began to run across Griffís stone form. Arthur's gargoyle knight burst out of his stone sleep, stretching and roaring. Arthur and the others turned towards him at once, the Fenris-wolf temporarily forgotten.
"Good evening, everyone," said Griff, looking about him. "Weíre in Antarctica now, I see."
Yes," said Arthur. "And this is Cole, the leader of the gargoyle clan here. Cole, this is Sir Griff, the chief of my knights. He comes from the London clan."
"Ah, yes," said Cole. "I met your clan leader Michael at the Council last year, Griff, and we got along quite well. I hope that it will be the same for you."
"I'm pleased to meet you myself," said Griff, shaking hands with him in the traditional warriorís handgrasp.
"The wolf!" cried Mary suddenly. "Itís gone!"
The others turned around to look in the direction of the snowy mound where the Fenris-wolf had been watching them only a few moments before. As the girl had said, the wolf was now gone.
"It must have left while we were distracted by Griff awakening from his stone sleep," commented Merlin.
"What must have left?" Griff asked.
"The Fenris-wolf," said Arthur. "Cole was just telling us about it. Itís another creature left over from the Unseelie Court."
"We do seem to be running into a lot of leftovers from there lately," said Griff with a frown. "I hope that it doesnít feel like giving us any trouble while weíre here."
"So do I," said Mary. "I really donít feel that comfortable with it around."
"I canít say that I blame you," said Merlin. "For one thing - well, do you remember the Angurboda Figurine?"
"Iím not likely to forget it any time soon," she replied. "Certainly not while Iím like this."
"Then you may recall that it was a representation, not only of Angurboda herself, but also of her three children by Loki," said Merlin. "And the Fenris-wolf was one of those three. Yes, itís making sense now that he should show interest in you. There is a certain link between you, even if a rather complicated one."
"What is this all about, anyway?" asked Cole puzzledly.
"Mary is a werewolf - of a sort," said Arthur. "During the day she transforms into a wolf, but resumes her original form as a human at night."
Cole stared at her concernedly. "If that means that she has some connection to the Fenris-wolf, I am not entirely certain that I can approve of her presence here," he said. "That creature inflicted heavy casualties upon my clan, remember. I hope that she will not threaten what is left of us, as well."
"Youíve no reason to fear her," said Arthur. "Mary means no harm to any of your people. She merely undergoes a regular metamorphosis."
Mary nodded quickly. "Iím still a human on the inside, during the day," she said. "I may look like a wolf then but Iím not really one at all, and I certainly donít act like one."
"Itís true," agreed Griff. "This only happens to her because of a curse, thatís all. Sheís not in league with this Fenris-wolf in any way."
"Ah, that is better," said Cole. Turning to Mary, he said, "Forgive me, my lady. It is just that we cannot be too careful, while the great grey wolf continues to roam about so near the home of our clan. As their leader, I have a responsibility to protect them."
"I understand," said Mary.
They continued on through the snow in silence once again.
* * * * *
At last they halted at the entrance to a large cave. Icicles hung down from the entrance like great translucent spears. Cole turned to the others.
"This cave is the home of my clan," he said. "You will be safe from the elements here. I know that your kind is not as resistant to the cold as we are, and that you will need shelter and warmth."
"I thank you," said Arthur. "But I would rather see the records that Aurora told me of first, before I rest."
"Very well," said Cole. "I will lead you there. But perhaps your friends would appreciate a haven from the cold."
"I would," said Mary. "Iím pretty warm, but I could use a rest from all this walking."
"Iíll stay here, too," said Merlin. "You just go on without me, Arthur."
"Very well," said Arthur. "We will return when we are done."
Merlin and Mary entered the cave, accompanied by Cole. A handful of gargoyles were grouped about in the far end; they looked up cautiously at the two human youngsters, but Cole held up one hand before any of them could speak. "Theyíre friends," he said quickly. "Theyíre only visiting us for a short while and need their rest."
"Your clan seems even smaller than I had thought," said Arthur, looking in from outside. "I had not thought that your losses were so great, Cole."
"Fortunately they are not," Cole replied. "This is only a small number of the survivors. The rest are elsewhere."
Merlin and Mary settled themselves down in a comfortable nook of the cave, nestling next to each other for warmth. The two gargoyles that had accompanied Cole quietly sat down next to the other members of their clan. Arthur, Griff, and Cole trudged off into the snow and soon disappeared in the distance.
* * *
Crouched behind an icy mound, the Fenris-wolf watched the human and the two gargoyles depart. Once they were out of sight, it rose to its feet and slowly made its way across the snow towards the cave.
* * *
Mary pulled her hood back, and let her wild mane tumble free. "I hope that I donít have to spend the rest of my life looking like this," she told Merlin, shaking it out of her eyes. "I mean - well, the hair I can live with, though Iím going to need a bit of a trim. But all this fur, and the tail -"
"Itíll most likely wear off once we leave Antarctica," said Merlin. "I don't think that there's anything to worry about."
"Other than that," said the girl, turning to look out of the cave. The Fenris-wolf was now standing by its mouth, gazing in. She could now see much more clearly the chain fastened around its neck, but it was not a chain after all. Instead it was a slender silken thread that appeared much too frail to be able to hold such a gigantic beast.
"Yes, I hope that it isnít going to be a problem," said Merlin, watching the great wolf worriedly. "I mean, it slaughtered much of the clan here already during the recent war."
"During the war, yes," said one of the gargoyles, turning in the youthís direction. "But since the Unseelies have disappeared, it has done no more than watch us. Why, we do not know. Perhaps it simply does not have any reason to fight us any longer, now that its masters are gone."
"You're probably right about that," said Merlin thoughtfully. "But that doesn't explain why it's watching you unless - ." He paused, as an idea apparently occurred to him. "Yes, of course," he said. "That would make sense."
"What would?" asked the gargoyle.
"It needs something to do," said Merlin. "There's not much that it can do while it's confined here in the Antarctic, but watching your clan is one of them. That's why it's here; we're apparently its best hope for a remedy for boredom."
"So that is why it has left us alone since," said the gargoyle. "If we were all slain, it would have no diversion left. So it needs to keep us alive, simply to pass the time."
Mary looked at the great grey wolf cautiously. She could not help but feel ill at ease around it, not only because of its size and strength but also because of what Merlin had told her earlier about it being somehow linked to the Angurboda Figurine which had transformed her into a werewolf. Still, her uncomfortable feelings about the beast could not change the fact that it had settled itself down outside the cave to gaze inside and clearly was not going away any time soon. She stared up at it, looking straight into its eyes.
What she saw there astonished her. She had been expecting rage, fury, malice, of the same kind that she had seen in the various members of the Unseelie Court that she had encountered so far on her travels. But there were none of such things in the Fenris-wolfís eyes. What she saw in them instead was sorrow and loneliness. Even Sekhmet had not appeared this sad.
Merlin gently laid one hand upon her shoulder. "I wouldnít get too close to it if I were you," he said to her cautiously. "It hasnít attacked anyone since the Unseelie Courtís power was broken, but I still don't trust it."
"Iím sorry," said Mary, turning away from the Fenris-wolf. "I was just looking. I mean - we ought to be keeping a close watch on it, in case it tries to get inside."
"Yes, that is a good idea," said Merlin. "I hadn't thought of it. Thank you for bringing that up."
"What I donít understand," the girl went on, "is this. Just how is that little piece of string able to keep it from escaping? That thing looks so weak that even a chihuahua could break it."
"Itís a lot stronger than it looks," replied Merlin. "In fact, itís magical. You see, back when Loki and Angurbodaís children were born, they were brought to Odin in his citadel in Asgard - thatís where he generally lives when heís not attending Oberonís court in Avalon." He snapped his fingers and a shimmering blue light sprang up from the floor of the cave, almost like the flames of a campfire but without the heat. As Merlin spoke, the light shaped itself into shifting forms, taking on first the likeness of three figures, a wolf, a snake, and a woman, all standing before a semi-circle of twelve other figures seated upon thrones. "Odin and the Aesir - thatís the branch of Oberonís Children subject to him, Thor, Balder, and the rest - knew that these offspring of Lokiís could well prove trouble for them, and that they must therefore find some way of neutralizing them. Yet Odin was unwilling to profane the sanctity of Asgard by shedding blood within it, even the blood of the children of one of his worst enemies. So he chose to banish them rather than to slay them.
"Loki and Angurbodaís daughter, Hel, he sent to the mist-bound realm of Niflheim, there to rule over the dead." As he spoke, the figure of the woman - who, Mary saw now, was divided down her middle, the right side looking young and beautiful, the left side like a haggard, withered corpse - sank into the ground, uttering a silent cry. "The second of Lokiís children, the great serpent Jormungand, Odin threw into the oceanís depths, where it waits to this day, encircling the continents in its snaky coils and clasping its tail in its mouth." The serpent-like figure promptly swelled up and vanished. "But the last, the wolf Fenris, the Aesir kept in Asgard, hoping to tame it. Odin was partial to wolves himself and even had two of them as pets, Geri and Freki. You remember them from Avalon, I believe."
"Indeed I do," said Mary, in a tone of voice that indicated that she did not find it a particularly fond memory.
"But in Asgard, the wolf grew and grew and grew," said Merlin, gesturing as he spoke. The flickering form of the wolf swelled up until it threatened to dwarf the seated figures. "And at last Odin became so concerned about it that he decided that it must be chained. So he had a great chain, named Laeding, forged for that purpose. But even then the problem was how to place it on the Fenris-wolf. For by now it had grown so mighty that even Thor hesitated to approach it. So Odin at last had this idea; he presented the chain to the Fenris-wolf as a test of his strength, to see whether he might easily escape from it. So the wolf let the Aesir bind him with it, but as soon as he tugged upon it, the chain broke asunder as though it had been string." A chain made of blue light surrounded the image of the wolf. The wolf merely pulled on it in an almost bored fashion, and the chain scattered into blue sparks.
"Odin was alarmed at this feat," Merlin continued, "but he was unwilling to accept defeat as yet. So he had an even stronger fetter made, named Dromi, and offered it to the Fenris-wolf as a fresh test of his strength. But when they chained the Fenris-wolf with it, he broke free from it as well, shattering it into countless fragments." Again an even thicker chain of blue light wrapped itself about the wolf, and again the wolf broke free from it, with slightly more effort this time.
"Odin became truly desperate now," said Merlin. "He sent a messenger to the gnomes or dwarf-folk, in the caverns of Nidavellir deep beneath the foundations of Asgard - in those days, they had not yet been enslaved by my father - and urged them for their help. So the gnomes set to work and produced the very chain that holds the Fenris-wolf now, which they named Gleipnir. It was made from six ingredients. First, the sound of a catís footfall." The blue fire reshaped itself into a small cat, padding its way about the cave. "The beard of a woman." The cat changed into a woman with a long thick beard. "The roots of a mountain." The woman morphed into a towering mountain. "The sinews of a bear." The mountain shifted into a bear, standing on its hind legs and silently growling. "The breath of a fish." The bear turned into a fish and swam about the cave as though it was underwater. "And last, the spittle of a bird." The fish sprouted wings, its scales became feathers, and its mouth became a beak. It flew up into the air and circled over their heads.
"But, wait a minute!" cried Mary. "None of those things exist!"
"Which was what Odin told the king of the gnomes," said Merlin. "And to that the king of the gnomes replied, ĎNot any more, they donít.í" He smiled impishly before continuing.
"With Gleipnir made, Odin presented it to the Fenris-wolf, asking him to try his skill and strength against it. But the Fenris-wolf looked suspiciously at the slender thread and declared it so clearly easy to break that he suspected a trick. He finally told the Aesir that he would only agree to let them bind him with it if one of them would place his hand in the Fenris-wolfís mouth. Then all the Aesir hesitated, each one looking at another, but not one of them dared step forward - except for Tyr, who alone had dared to feed the wolf. He stepped forward and placed his right hand between the wolfís jaws." The blue glow in the center of the cave settled upon the floor now took on the shape of a man in furs and armor, placing one hand inside the mouth of a wolf much larger than he.
"Then the rest of the Aesir fastened Gleipnir about his neck and the Fenris-wolf tugged upon it with all his might," said Merlin. "But he could not break it. Though he struggled against it, it remained fastened tight, never once snapping. And, since Odin had already fastened the other end of the thread to a great rock, the Fenris-wolf was trapped there. Then the wolf realized how he had been tricked and in his fury he bit off Tyrís hand at the wrist." The glowing wolf closed his jaws about the armored figureís hand as Merlin spoke. The man withdrew his arm, his hand now gone. Only a stump remained.
"Then Odin and the other Aesir brought the Fenris-wolf and Gleipnir and the rock to a desolate land, far from the haunts of humans," said Merlin. "Apparently that same desolate land must have been here in Antarctica. And there the Fenris-wolf will forever remain - or at least, until the time of Ragnarok, when, so the story goes, he will break his chain at last." The image of the wolf broke free from the silken thread holding it. "And then he will swallow Odin himself in order to achieve his revenge, and eternal darkness shall fall upon the world." The wolf swooped down upon the figure of an old man in armor, a fur cloak, and a horned helmet, mounted upon an eight-legged horse, and gulped him down whole, then disappeared. The blue light flickered out and all was still in the cave again.
Mary sat there in awe as she listened to Merlinís tale and watched the "visual aids" that accompanied it, not even daring to speak and break the mood. Even the gargoyles appeared spellbound, having silently approached to hear the youth all the better. They stood over him, looking down at him with wondering eyes.
A sudden rumbling laugh came from outside the cave. They all turned to see the Fenris-wolf lying by the caveís mouth, gazing in. It was he who had been making the sound.
"Not bad," said the Fenris-wolf, speaking in what sounded like an ordinary wolfís growling and barking, shaped into clear and unmistakable English words. "Quite a display, young wizard. Although I did notice a number of inaccuracies in your tale. Though that is hardly surprising, given that you only received it second-hand from those who bound me here. Itís only natural that their account would be biased. Especially that part about my release bringing about the end of the world. Iím not that destructive."
"Youíre destructive enough," said one of the gargoyles, a pale green one, looking sharply at it. "You fought against us alongside the Unseelies when they attacked us, and even killed and devoured one of my rookery siblings."
"True," said the Fenris-wolf, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, sounding neither remorseful nor boastful. "Call it repaying a debt. My father Loki was one of their leaders and that made the Unseelie Court my kinsfolk, in a sense. They even set me free from my imprisonment. I was thereby duty-bound to help them in their war. There was nothing personal about it; truth to tell, Iíve no interest in who rules the rest of the world. Itís their concern, not mine."
"Set you free?" asked Merlin puzzledly. "But you still have the chain about your neck. Surely that means that it still holds you."
"That is not the prison that I was speaking of, little wizard," said the Fenris-wolf. "Odin and his fellow Aesir believed that it was not enough to simply bind me with Gleipnir; they had decided also that I must be kept far apart, in a secluded place where nobody would ever come."
"Antarctica, of course," said Merlin, continuing to watch the wolf cautiously as he spoke.
"It was even more secluded than that," the Fenris-wolf replied.
"But you canít possibly find a more secluded place than Antarctica," Merlin began, "unless -". He paused. "Iíve heard legends," he said, "theories and speculations, that the world is hollow and thereís another world inside it. But I never took them seriously. I thought that it was just another one of those nonsensical notions that you come across so often. Sort of like all that rubbish about UFOs and ancient astronauts and those absurd claims that old monuments like the heads on Easter Island were built by aliens."
"Or like living gargoyles," said the Fenris-wolf.
"Good point," said Merlin.
"If you must know," the gargantuan wolf continued, "my home was perhaps not too different from Avalon in a sense. Avalon cannot be placed on any map, and yet it exists. The same was the case with my prison. No map of the world has ever shown it, or ever will or ever can, and yet the place where I was confined by Odin and his fellows exists just as surely. For untold ages I was unable to leave, until my father Loki opened the way for me when he came here with the other Unseelies. They opened an entrance to it, allowing me to emerge in this frozen land. But the chain will not permit me to go beyond its shores. So here I must remain - until the world ends, or until the enchantment of Gleipnir is undone and I can free myself from it. And contrary to your legend, the latter will not necessarily bring about the former," he added.
* * * * *
"This is the place," said Cole. He pointed out the ruins of a stone building, the tops of its walls now covered heavily with snow. "The records pertaining to this ĎGrailí that you seek lie here."
"I wonder who the people were that built this place," said Arthur, as they entered the building. "From what Aurora told us, they clearly sought after the Grail, but why did they do so? Did they also have a close friend who was dying and take up the quest to save his life?"
"I don't think so," said Griff angrily. He stared ahead at a crate only a few feet from them, his eyes glowing white. "Whatever their reason was for being here, it certainly wasn't a good one."
"What do you mean?" asked Cole.
Griff pointed at the decaying crate, or, to be more precise, at the insignia upon it: a reversed swastika. "The Nazis," he said, grimly. "This must have been a base of theirs."
"The Nazis?" Cole appeared puzzled. "Who are they?"
"A particularly evil group of humans who threatened the entire world sixty years ago," replied Arthur. "From what I have been able to learn from Griff and the London clan about them, they appear to have been to humanity what the Unseelie Court was to the Third Race. Griff fought against them when they attempted to conquer Britain."
"He is that old?" asked Cole, staring at the griffon-like gargoyle in astonishment.
"Itís a very complicated story," said Arthur. "Iíll explain to you later."
"Under those circumstances," said Cole, "it was probably just as well that they never discovered us." He walked over to what looked like a battered old newsreel projector facing a screen. "We were able to discover how some of their machinery worked," he said. "This was how we knew that they came seeking this ĎGrailí." He switched the projector on.
A ray of light shot out of the machine and fell upon the screen, displaying a decidedly grainy-looking black and white image of a jewel-encrusted goblet upon it. At the same time a disembodied voice began to speak.
"The discovery of the Holy Grail is of great importance to the future of the Third Reich. Possession of this ancient artifact will allow the Aryan race to accomplish its true destiny, assuming its rightful place on the planet and removing the sub-human scum that now infest its surface. For that purpose, at the command of Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, this expedition has set out for Antarctica to seek the Grail there." The scene changed to a man in a Nazi uniform seated behind a desk in his office, speaking to a few officers standing before them and handing one of them a sealed envelope. "All indications made by our research department have indicated that the Grail is most likely to be found in this frozen, barren -"
Griff switched the projector off. "Iíve seen enough," he said. "Arthur, I think that itís time that we left this place."
"I donít understand," said Cole. "The information amassed here could help you accomplish your quest."
"It could," said Griff. "But Iíd rather not make use of it. Not considering where it came from. I donít know how they got this information, but knowing the Nazis, it was most likely torture, interrogation, and even worse."
Arthur nodded. "In truth, from what I have heard of them, I fear that you are correct, my friend," he said. "And one thing I am certain of: given the multitude of crimes that they were guilty of, I doubt that the Nazis could ever have achieved the Holy Grail. But there still remains to be decided the question of what to do with the information that they have gathered here. Some of it might be useful."
"You canít be serious, Arthur," Griff protested. "I mean, consulting them would be just like working with the Illuminati."
"Not quite," said Arthur. "The people who obtained this information are long since dead and we would not be working with them. We would merely be looking over their records. It would be more akin, I suppose, to searching through the lair of a band of robbers for documents that would allow us to find where they hid their stolen goods. And if a human life is in the balance, then surely it would be worth salvaging this information."
"Well, you're in charge here," said Griff, speaking uncomfortably. "I wonít argue against that. But I still donít think that we should follow this path."
Arthur nodded as he looked over the projector, a troubled expression upon his face. He remained silent for a while before he spoke again.
"I believe that you are right," he said. "Even though the Nazis obtained this research long ago and we would not be working with them in person, we still cannot accept this help any more than we could accept the Illuminatiís offer. We must only use methods which are clean if we would achieve the Grail. This way is closed to us."
He sighed, though, as he turned away from the machine. "So it appears that we came all this way to Antarctica for nothing," he added.
"So what do you intend to do now, Arthur?" asked Cole.
"Go back to the cave," Arthur replied, as he went back outside, "and tell the others what took place here. And then we shall have to decide where we should go next."
* * * * *
"Isnít he ever going to leave?" Mary asked Merlin in a low voice. "Itís starting to really spook me, the way that he just keeps on watching us."
The Fenris-wolf lay stretched out full-length at the entrance to the cave, staring at her in a thoughtful silence, as he had been doing for the last several minutes. She was growing increasingly uncomfortable under his gaze.
"Iím afraid that I canít make him go away," said Merlin. "Even when I was in top condition, Iím not certain that Iíd have dared take on anything that formidable. The Aesir themselves had to tread cautiously around him and they were full-fledged members of the Third Race, not halflings like myself."
The Fenris-wolf opened his mouth and spoke. "There is something different about you, human child," he said to Mary. "You are of the two-legs, but I can sense something of my kind about you. Just what are you?"
"Donít pay any attention to him," said Merlin to the girl in a whisper. But Mary stood up and spoke, if in an uncertain voice.
"Iím - well, a sort of werewolf," she said. "You see, I smashed this magical figurine that had been used to curse an entire village, and when I did that, it made me change into a wolf in the daytime. And into something else here." She pulled back the succession of sleeves on her left arm to reveal shaggy wolf-fur growing over it, and then turned to let him see her tail.
"And what exactly was this figurine?" the Fenris-wolf inquired.
"It was something called the Angurboda Figurine," said the girl.
"Angurboda," said the wolf musingly. "That was my motherís name."
Mary nodded quickly. "Yes," she said. "And - well, there was a carving of you upon it, also."
"Then that explains much," said the Fenris-wolf, looking at her closely. It stared at her for a while, then spoke once more.
"I may be able to help you," he said. "Come with me, little one. We have much to talk about."
"Donít do it, Mary!" protested Merlin at once. "Maybe the Fenris-wolf isnít quite as bad as the Norse myths claimed, but I still donít trust him."
The wolf turned to Merlin and growled at him sharply. The youth hurriedly fell silent. The Fenris-wolf turned back to her.
"I mean you no harm, child," he said. "I only wish to offer you aid."
"And is that all?" Mary asked.
"Well, there is more to it than that," said the Fenris-wolf after a pause. "I have been living all alone here for millennia, ever since the Aesir bound me. It has been very hard, spending century after century all alone, with no one to keep me company, and in particular, none of my kind."
"You had the Unseelie Court around for a little while," said Merlin.
"I was not referring to them," said the Fenris-wolf. "I speak, rather, of other wolves. There are none in these parts other than myself, and that has been the way of it since before I was brought here. Can you imagine the burden of solitude that I have had to endure, alone for thousands of years? It is nothing short of agony, child. The loneliness of being confined to a remote land, never hearing anotherís voice, for untold eons - it is one of the greatest tortures ever devised."
Mary looked at him, a troubled expression on her face. "My mother died when I was ten," she said, "and my father buried himself in politics after that. He barely even noticed me. I was an only child and I didnít have any close friends at school. In fact, it wasnít until Rivencroft that I even had any friends at all."
"Mary, I really donít think that this is a good idea," Merlin broke in. "I really think that -"
The Fenris-wolf growled sharply at him once more, before continuing to speak to Mary. "So you understand," he said. "You can comprehend the pain of loneliness."
"I suppose so," said Mary.
"Then come with me," said the wolf. "I can help you with your problem if you will only let me. What do you say?"
Mary frowned. She looked at a still uneasy Merlin, and then back at the wolf. At last she spoke in a faltering voice.
"Iím sorry," she said. "But I canít come with you. I have to stay here with my friends."
The wolf sighed and stared at her for a while longer. Then it turned about and, without a word, walked off into the twilight gloom. They heard his footsteps upon the snow grow fainter until at last they had faded out of ear-shot.
"You did the right thing, Mary," said Merlin, putting his arm around her as she sat back down next to him.
"I hope so," said the girl. But she did not feel entirely convinced.
Some time passed. Then fresh footsteps sounded outside. Both youngsters tensed for a moment, as did the gargoyles. Then they relaxed as Arthur, Griff, and Cole entered the cave.
"Well?" asked Mary. "How did it go? Did you find out anything?"
Arthur nodded. "Yes," he said. "We learned that those documents which Aurora had informed us of belonged to the Nazis. They had come here, hoping to find the Grail. And for this reason I will not make use of them."
"But - Arthur," protested Mary. "You canít surely mean that. I mean - we need all the information that we can find about the Grail if weíre going to save Merlin."
"Not from such a source," said Arthur. "In light of what those people had done in the past, I would as soon consult their records as I would drink from a poisoned well. We must look elsewhere."
"Arthurís right," said Griff, nodding. "As knights we must follow the path of virtue, even if it is not always easy or convenient for us."
"Thatís easy to say when youíre not the one whoís dying," Mary began.
"Thatís enough," said Merlin at once. "Iím the one whoís dying here, and I believe that that gives me some say on this matter. And I say that we should let Arthur decide. Heís the leader of this expedition, remember; itís his call. And I think that he did the right thing."
Mary sighed, realizing that there was nothing more that she could say. Arthur and Griff sat down close to her and Merlin.
With a faint grinding noise, Cole and the other Antarctic gargoyles turned to stone, but Griff remained flesh and blood. At the same time Mary found herself beginning to change again. Her hands and feet changed fully back into human form, her tail and fur receded, and her hair shortened back to its usual length. She sighed with relief. "Iím back to normal again," she said.
"I suppose that your biological clock must have found some way to balance out between your two forms," said Merlin, settling down and closing his eyes. "Griffíll probably be turning to stone himself soon, if perhaps with a slight delay."
"Weíll just wait for him to have his stone sleep, and then find a way to leave this place," said Arthur, also shutting his eyes. "In the meantime we might as well all have some sleep ourselves."
Arthur and Merlin soon drifted off, both snoring gently. Mary remained awake, however, and stared down at the young wizard in his sleep. Perhaps it was only her imagination but he seemed even frailer now, his face thinner and more worn. She gently brushed the lock of grey hair that he had acquired in his battle with Surturback from his brow, and then turned to Griff, who was seated on her other side.
"Do you really mean it about not consulting those records?" she asked him. "I mean, I know how you feel about the Nazis, Griff, after you fought against them in the war. And I canít blame you - Iím certainly not too keen on them myself. But still - arenít we throwing something away just because we donít like the people whoíre connected to it?"
"Itís not quite like that, Mary," said Griff. "Remember, not just anybody can find the Holy Grail. Everything that weíve read so far agrees upon that. Those whoíve led an evil life can no more find it than a blind man can see a light in front of his eyes. And believe me, considering everything that the Nazis ever did, I donít think that they could ever have got even close to the Grail."
"Well, Iíll agree with that," said Mary. "Knowing them, I doubt that they even uncovered any remotely helpful information. Even if theyíd gotten close to something that they thought was the Grail, it probably wasnít the real thing. But all the same - how do we know if we donít find out? I mean, timeís running out for Merlin now. Back at Glastonbury at least he had a year left to live. Now heís probably only got a few months."
"I understand how you feel, Mary," said Griff to her gently. "But you also have to understand this. This isnít just a matter of the people who recorded this information being criminals and tyrants of the worst sort, or the fact that by using that information we might be party to the methods by which they discovered it. Itís this. Weíre not just looking for something that can cure Merlin. Weíre looking for the Holy Grail itself. This isnít your everyday quest at all but something much bigger.
"I heard a few things about Arthur and his knights when I was a hatchling - my rookery parents taught them to me. That riddle, for example, which helped Arthur find Excalibur. And another was what happened to Percival and Bors on the original Quest. They were two of the three knights who achieved the Grail alongside Galahad, remember."
Mary nodded. "I know," she said. "Iíve read up on them, too, during all the research that we did."
"They had to pass a great many tests before they could complete their quest," said Griff. "Percival had to resist temptation from a demon in the form of a beautiful woman, and Bors had to decide between rescuing his brother Lionel from two knights who had taken him prisoner and coming to the aid of a damsel in distress. Their choices were never easy either. Often the right thing to do wasnít what seemed most desirable at the time. But that didnít change the fact that it was the right thing, and that they had to do it in order to reach the Grail. And itís the same with us. I believe that those Nazi documents are just as much a temptation for us, something that we must reject, as the lures that were placed before Percival and Bors on their adventures."
He suddenly paused. "Weíll have to talk about this more later," he added. "I think that my internal clockís finally catching up to this place." And with that he turned to stone.
At the same time Mary found herself writhing on the cave floor, as she changed into a wolf again. This time the transformation was complete, ending as her face elongated and sprouted fur. Even her heavy winter clothes blended into her pelt. She stood up on all fours and sighed. She was the only person left awake in the cave now, for the gargoyles were all in stone sleep, and Arthur and Merlin fast in slumber as well.
"Well, I might as well catch forty winks myself," she said to herself. She was just about to lie down and curl up, when she heard what she had most feared: the familiar sound of the Fenris-wolfís footsteps approaching again. Soon afterwards, he thrust his head into the cave and gazed at her once more.
That changed everything. If the Fenris-wolf had returned, then she had no desire whatsoever to fall asleep - at least, not now, not while everybody else was asleep themselves and thus unable to protect her. For that matter, she would have to stay awake now as long as he was nearby; she was the only one now who could keep watch. Actually, when she thought over it, all that she could do was to keep watch. She was only a half-grown young wolf; what could she do against an ancient monster of gigantic size from Norse mythology? She looked over at Arthur and thought of nudging him awake. In fact she was just about to poke him with her nose when the Fenris-wolf spoke.
"I would not do that if I were you, young one," he said. "I would much prefer it if the two of us were to speak together alone, without these two-legs interfering."
"And why should we speak?" asked Mary cautiously, staring up at him.
"For your own benefit, of course," the Fenris-wolf answered. "There is much that I can teach you, young one, if you would but ask."
"Such as?" Mary asked.
"Such as this," replied the giant wolf. "Have you ever wondered why it is that you became a werewolf when you shattered the Angurboda Figurine? As Merlin told you earlier, Angurboda had other offspring besides myself: my brother Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, and my sister Hel, the queen of the dead." As he spoke a shimmering image of the artifact that she had destroyed in Rivencroft appeared in the air before him, rotating before the girlís eyes. "Why is it," the Fenris-wolf continued, "that you did not take on the likeness of one of my siblings instead of mine?"
Mary saw the representations of Jormungand and Hel subtly change now. The serpentís eyes became like her own while the right side of Helís body now looked like Mary's. She stared at them in a troubled silence before speaking.
"I donít know," she replied. "Iíd never thought of it before. I was just too busy dealing with being a werewolf to ask about it. But now that you mention it, I did get off rather lightly. At least Iím still a mammal in the daytime - and looking more like Hel would have been positively disgusting." She stared at the death-goddessís corpse-like left side and shuddered.
"But do you have any idea as to why it was that you took on a wolfís form during the day and still do?" Fenris persisted.
"No, I donít," she said. "Does it matter?"
"It most certainly does," he replied. "Come with me and I will explain."
He turned and walked away. Mary watched him go then followed him out of the cave. "I must be mad for doing this," she murmured to herself, as she trudged after him through the snow.
The Fenris-wolf turned his head back and nodded approvingly as she approached him. "So you are interested, then," he said.
"I just want to know if maybe you can cure me," she said hurriedly. "You can do it, canít you?"
"I most certainly can," said the Fenris-wolf. "But there is something that you should know first. As I told you before, it was no accident that you took on a wolfís shape when you destroyed the Angurboda Figurine. For in many ways your nature is that of a wolf."
"You canít be serious!" the girl protested. "Iím not a wolf at all! I donít want to be one!"
"And why not?" Fenris inquired.
"Because - well, just look at all the stories about them," she said. "In practically every fairy tale, wolves are the bad guys. Think of Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs. And look at all the werewolf stories out there; werewolves are always evil monsters in them."
"Not always," said the Fenris-wolf. "Surely youíve learned otherwise during your travels."
Mary thought back to sitting in the great hall of Sir Alain de Beaurepaireís castle in the evening, listening to his troubadour reciting the tale of Bisclavret, a noble knight who had been transformed into a werewolf through the treachery of his wife and her lover, but who had still displayed gentleness and loyalty in his beast-form before his king. "All right, so there are exceptions," she said. "But there arenít that many of them. And how about you? Youíre supposed to be one of the big bads of Norse mythology. And your father is Loki, whoís even worse. What does that say about wolves?"
Fenris laughed again. "I would have thought that you would know better than to judge people by their fathers, little one," he said. "You keep company with King Arthur and Merlin, do you not? And you know well enough what manner of men their fathers were."
"How do you know about that?" Mary asked. "Youíve been living in Antarctica for thousands of years! Thereís no way that you could have heard anything about them out here!"
"That is where youíre mistaken," the Fenris-wolf replied, smiling again. "I do have faerie blood in my veins. That has allowed me to learn a few things during my captivity." He paused for a moment, then continued. "There is something else that you might consider, before you continue to describe your dislike of your present condition."
"And what might that be?" she asked.
"Before you became a werewolf," said the Fenris-wolf, "you were alone, without friends, were you not?"
"Well, yes," said Mary. "Arthur and Merlin - and Griff, too - are the first real friends that Iíve had, the first people that Iíve really been able to get close to since mum died. But what does that have to do with it?"
"If it were not for your transformation," said the Fenris-wolf, "you might well have parted company with them once you left Rivencroft, never to cross paths with them again. And you would still be alone."
"Thatís - true," said Mary, thinking it over. Now that he had mentioned it, it did make sense. The original reason why she had remained with Arthur and Merlin after the adventure in Rivencroft instead of continuing her walking tour through the Lake District, was because, now that she was a werewolf, she needed their help in sheltering her and even finding a cure for her. And that, in turn, had led to her growing closer to them, to the point where she had finally joined Arthur's circle whole-heartedly. Indeed, she realized now that what held her to her companions was no longer her own safety or the hopes of becoming an ordinary human girl again; what held her to them was that they had become her friends, and that she was herself as much one of Arthur's company as Griff and Merlin.
"So your condition has brought joy as well as grief into your life," said the Fenris-wolf. "Would you not agree?"
"I suppose so," said Mary.
"I cannot free myself," the great grey wolf continued. "I am doomed to remain here a prisoner in this land of eternal cold forever. But I can free you of your curse, if that is what you wish."
"Oh, yes," said Mary eagerly, her earlier wariness now forgotten as hope swelled up within her heart. "Please do!"
"Come with me, then," said the wolf. "My cave is not far away. Follow me there, if you will."
She all but bounded along after him in her excitement. He led her across the snow to the mouth of a cave even larger than the one that the gargoyles made their home in. The enchanted chain Gleipnir extended out from it, indicating that its source lay within the den.
"In here," said Fenris.
Mary stared in wonder at the great cavern as she followed him inside. Its ceiling arched high into the shadows; St. Paul's Cathedral, dome and all, could have fitted in here comfortably, she thought. Crystalline stalagmites glittered all about her, glowing with a translucent light, as did the walls of the cave.
"This is where you live?" she asked him.
"It is my home, yes," replied the Fenris-wolf.
"It's beautiful," she said. "It reminds me of Merlin's Crystal Cave; well, I haven't actually ever been there, but he's told me a lot about it. It's cold, though," she added, shivering. Even her thick coat of fur was not enough to keep her warm.
"Let me bar the chill winds from outside, then," said Fenris. He turned to the mouth of the cave and breathed upon it. A wall of ice began to form across it, sparkling with an unearthly glow.
"So now you'll turn me back into a human?" she asked him, looking up hopefully.
"I am afraid that you misunderstood my purpose," said the Fenris-wolf. "That was never my intent at all."
"What do you mean?" she stammered in confusion. "You said that you would free me from my curse."
"And so I shall," he answered. "I shall remove from you the indignity and burden of bearing the form of one of the two-legs. You shall become a wolf always."
"No!" cried Mary in horror. She turned and ran towards the mouth of the cave, but it was too late. The entrance was already sealed shut by the wall of ice. She screeched to a halt before it and began to weep as she realized what had befallen her.
She would never be human again.
* * * * *
Arthur started awake as Maryís distant scream reached his ears. He sat up and looked at the gargoyles. All of them were in their stone sleep still, all present and accounted for. He sighed with relief - but then noticed that Mary herself was missing.
"Merlin," he said in a low voice, nudging the boy. "Wake up!"
"Mmph?" said Merlin, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "What is it, Arthur?"
"Maryís gone," said Arthur. "And I heard her scream just a moment ago. I fear that she may be in danger."
"Fenris," said Merlin with a groan. "I should have known. He must have kidnapped her."
"Yes," said Arthur. "I feared as much myself."
"Then we have to rescue her," said Merlin, struggling to his feet. He sighed as he leaned on his cane for support. "Why couldnít this have happened while the gargoyles were awake?" he said. "Now itíll be just the two of us against him and Iím not certain that even Excalibur will be enough to defeat him."
"We donít have to slay the Fenris-wolf," Arthur replied. "We only have to rescue Mary from him. Hopefully we will be able to accomplish that task by ourselves."
"Still, weíll need help," Merlin began. His eyes then fell upon the scroll lying beside his feet that Macbeth had given him. He bent down and picked it up.
"Iíd forgotten all about this," he told Arthur. "Macbeth said that it could be of some use to us if we needed to find the right path. Perhaps it could guide us to Mary."
"Are you certain that you should be casting any spells in your condition, Merlin?" Arthur asked, looking at his former tutor concernedly.
"I can use the scroll as a conduit," the boy answered. "That should cancel out some of the drain." He untied the ribbon and opened the scroll, then read from it aloud. "Spiritus minutus inlustris appares!" he cried.
The scroll glowed for a moment and then a small sphere of white light shot out from it, hovering above Merlinís head. The boyís legs buckled beneath him and he fell to the ground, shivering. Arthur reached out one hand and helped him to his feet.
"Thank you, Arthur," said the lad. "I must have underestimated the amount of energy that it would take to summon a Will-o-the-Wisp, even with this scroll. Still, weíll need its help." He turned to the glowing ball and spoke to it. "Tiny spirit of fire and light/ Find the one I seek tonight!" he cried.
The Will-o-the-Wisp rushed forth at once from the cave. "Itíll guide us to Mary, wherever she is," said the boy. "Assuming that sheís all right still. Thereís no telling what the Fenris-wolf might have done to her."
"Then we should not delay any further," said Arthur, drawing Excalibur. "Let us go at once."
He followed the Will-o-the-Wisp into the Antarctic twilight. Merlin followed him, hobbling along with his cane through the snow. "Please, Mary," he whispered. "Please be alive still."
* * *
"Please, Fenris, you donít understand!" Mary protested. "I donít want to be a wolf! I want to be a human instead. Thatís why I came with you. I thought that you could break the spell so that I could be a human all the time and wouldnít be a wolf ever again."
Fenris stared down at her. Mary was more than half-expecting him to fly into a rage and devour her upon the spot, just as he was supposed to do to Odin at Ragnarok. But what she saw when she looked up at his face surprised her. He did not seem angry at all. Instead he seemed astonished and sad.
"I do not understand," he said to her in a slow voice. "I am granting you a great gift. You could spend the rest of your life as a wolf, bold and strong, rather than a mere two-legs. Do you indeed wish to reject that gift?"
"Of course," she said. "Iím not a wolf. Iím a human. Thatís what Iím supposed to be. Itís what I really am."
"And are you so certain of that?" asked Fenris. "You may believe otherwise, child, but in truth your rightful nature is that of a wolf."
"It isnít!" Mary protested. "It canít be!"
"Indeed it is," said the Fenris-wolf. "Think about it for a moment, if you will. You have many of the qualities of a wolf. You keep to yourself, opening only to those whom you call friends. But when you do make friends you remain loyal to them, standing by them through even the greatest of perils. Just as you have remained faithful to the one that you have given your heart to. And you are most at home at night or in the evening. Does that not tell you something?"
Mary frowned as she thought over his words. And she realized that what he had just said was true. She had always been of a solitary disposition; her fondness for taking walking tours by herself during the school holidays had reflected that. And ever since the Grail Quest had begun, she had stayed with Arthur, Merlin, and Griff, even though she had known all along that it would be a dangerous expedition. Even after she had experienced the perils of the quest, everything from the ghostly memories of Eynhallow to the raging fires of Surtur at Dinas Bran to the despairing wrath of Sekhmet in Egypt, she had never even considered leaving her friends and going back to London and safety. And certainly she had been faithful to Merlin. She had never looked aside from him once, not even when William de Courcy had courted her in such a gentlemanly fashion in Sicily. Not to mention that even before she had become a werewolf, she had had a fondness for being out under the night sky and prefered it over the daytime.
"All right," she said. "That's a good point. But it still doesn't mean anything. I was born a human and I want to stay one. I'm not supporsed to be a wolf."
The Fenris-wolf only looked down at her in silence. Mary hurriedly continued before he could bring up some argument against her words.
"And also staying here would mean leaving my friends. You said that one of my wolvish traits is my loyalty to them. That means that I canít stay here and abandon them. I have to go with them, help them out, fight alongside them on this quest. And I certainly canít leave Merlin. He - he needs me. Please, Fenris, let me go with them. Theyíre practically my family - my pack."
The great grey wolf said nothing. He merely continued to stare down at her thoughtfully. And what he might be thinking just then, she honestly did not know.
* * * * *
The Will-o-the-Wisp halted before the ice wall and began to hover in place. Arthur and Merlin joined it and inspected the barrier to the cave's entrance.
"This must be the place," said Merlin. He gingerly touched the ice with one gloved hand. "Yes," he said. "Some sort of magical door. I suppose that it's Fenris's way of keeping out intruders such as us."
"Then we go inside," said Arthur.
"Iím afraid that youíll have to go alone, Arthur," said Merlin, with a dejected sigh. "Iím not up to facing the Fenris-wolf; Iím barely able to walk after summoning the Will-o-the-Wisp."
"Then wait out here," said Arthur. "Hopefully I will not be gone for long."
"Take care, then," said the boy, stepping well away from the wall.
"I will," said Arthur. He swung Excalibur back and brought his sword hard upon the ice.
* * *
Fenris finally sighed and shook his head. "Perhaps you are simply too young to understand," he said. "Perhaps you are simply not ready yet to realize that you are more a wolf in a humanís body than a human in a wolfís body. And if that is indeed so, then there is only one thing that I can do. I will leave you the way that you are."
"You will?" cried Mary, feeling both surprised and overjoyed. "Oh, thank you, thank you!" She found herself wagging her tail like a delighted puppy and hurriedly stopped.
The Fenris-wolf nodded sadly. "Forgive me, child," he said. "I was so lonely for one of my kind and for so long, and believed that you, a fellow wolf, were the answer to my need. But you would indeed make poor company if I were to keep you in this form against your wishes. And you have made your desire clear on that, just as you have made it clear as well that you wish to continue to accompany your two-leg friends on their journey."
"Iím sorry," said Mary, looking up at him. "I had no idea just what it must have been like for you, all by yourself here. But now that I think over it, I believe that I can understand."
"Perhaps you might return some day and visit me," said the Fenris-wolf. "But until then, I -"
The ice wall behind them suddenly shattered into fragments. Arthur stood in the entrance to the cave, Excalibur flaming in his hand. "Come forth, wolf!" he cried. "You have attacked the gargoyles in this land for the Unseelie Court and slain many of them! And as if that was not enough, you have kidnapped my squire! Now I will rid this land of your evil, once and for all!"
"Arthur, wait!" Mary began frantically. "You donít under-"
"I accept your challenge, human!" roared Fenris, his eyes blazing in fury. He charged forward, snapping at Arthur with his jaws. Arthur dodged the wolfís lunge and swung at him with Excalibur. The Fenris-wolf swerved, avoiding the swordís blade, and dove at the former king again.
Mary watched in horror as Arthur and the Fenris-wolf fought. Both combatants had managed to elude each otherís attacks so far, but it was only a matter of time, she knew, before one of them got the upper hand over the other. Then Fenris would devour Arthur - or Arthur would slay Fenris with Excalibur. And she knew that she did not want either to happen. Arthur was one of her closest friends, almost a second father to her. And as for Fenris, he had only brought her here seeking companionship; he had done her no harm. She could not stand by here and watch any further.
There was only one thing to do. Even as Arthur swung his sword at Fenris again, she leaped in front of him. "Stop it, Arthur!" she cried. "Stop!"
Arthurís eyes widened in horror as she jumped into the very pathway of Excalibur. Frantically, he pulled the sword back, but too late. The flat of its blade struck her in the side.
* * *
Arthur bent down over Mary as she lay on the floor of the cave. Her fur was blackened and singed where it had met his sword's blade, and she writhed in considerable pain. She raised her head with an effort and looked up at him, gasping for breath, with unfocused eyes.
"Mary!" cried Arthur, placing his hand upon her wound. "I - Iím sorry."
"So am I, Arthur," said Mary, her voice in little more than a whisper. "I should have been more careful, tried to stop you some other way. And now - I wonít even die as a human." Her head sank down again upon the floor as she let out an agonized moan.
The Fenris-wolf stared down at Mary, his battle-rage forgotten now at the sight of her wound; his eyes were filled with shock and grief instead. Then he lowered his head over her body and breathed upon her.
As the cloud of his breath reached her, the wound that Excalibur had inflicted upon her began to heal. The singed fur returned to normal and Maryís breathing regularized again. Arthur stared at her in wonder as she began to sit up, if somewhat unsteadily.
"She will live," said the Fenris-wolf to him.
"Thank you," said Arthur. He sheathed Excalibur and picked Mary up in his arms. "She means a great deal to me - and to you as well, it seems. Perhaps I have misjudged you."
"If you were suspicious towards me, it was with good reason," Fenris admitted. "As you said, I did slay many of the gargoyles in these parts; that would certainly make it easy enough for you to regard me as an enemy. But we have no reason to quarrel now." He stared down at Mary, then back at Arthur. "Take good care of her, human," he said. And with those words he turned about and walked deeper into the cave, disappearing into its shadows.
Arthur and Mary watched him go in silence. Then the former king turned around and bore Mary out of the cave. Merlin was waiting for them outside.
"I saw it all, Arthur," he said. "The Will-o-the-Wisp helped out some, serving as my eyes and ears. A pity that it couldnít serve as my legs as well." He placed his hand gently upon Maryís head. "Iím glad that sheíll be all right."
"So am I, Merlin," said Arthur, as Mary licked the boyís face. Merlin laughed slightly as she did so. "Let us rejoin the others."
* * * * *
A FEW DAYS LATER
"Here we are," said Cole, pausing by a large drift of snow. "If you keep on in that direction, youíll find a late tour ship thatís returning to South America. You can use that to leave Antarctica."
"Thank you for everything, Cole," said Arthur, shaking hands with the gargoyle. "We wish you well here and hope that your clan recovers from its losses."
"Just as I hope that you will find this Grail that you seek," said Cole. "If ever you pass through Manhattan again, send Aurora our best wishes."
"That we will," said Arthur, as he headed off towards the shore.
Merlin, Griff, and Mary walked behind him. Griff was thickly garbed in a spare coat now, not for warmth as in the case of the humans, but rather so as to hide his gargoyle features from the passengers on board the ship. "Well, back to places with a much normal length of day," he said to Mary. "Thatíll be nice, wonít it?"
"I suppose so," said Mary with a sigh, her hands thrust in her pockets. "Itís just that - well, it looks as though Iím never going to find a cure now. Iíll probably be a werewolf for the rest of my life."
"Donít worry about that, Mary," said Griff. "There has to be a cure out there and weíll find it some day."
"Maybe," said Mary, not sounding particularly encouraged. She walked on beside him in silence for a while longer, then spoke again.
"I wish that Iíd given Fenris a proper good-bye," she added. "I mean - yes, he was working for the Unseelie Court, and he did kill some of the gargoyles. But he also saved my life - and although he tried to turn me into a wolf full-time, he only wanted to help. Besides, I went with him of my own free will." She sighed again. "If this was a test to see whether I was worthy to achieve the Holy Grail, then I must have failed. I went with him, hoping for a cure, when I should have stayed with the rest of you. I was so desperate to be a human again that I didnít even stop to think about everyone else. I hope that I havenít cost us any hope of finding the Grail now."
"I donít think that you did that poorly," said Griff. "After all, from what you and Arthur told us, the Fenris-wolf wasnít all bad. Maybe you even helped him, in a way. You gave him something in his life other than frustration over being chained and loneliness. For the first time in his life perhaps, he actually felt love."
"I suppose," said Mary. She was silent for a moment, then added, "First Morgana, then Arthur, and now the Fenris-wolf. Just what is it about me that brings out the parenting instincts in mythological people?"
"I do not know the answer to that question, Mary," said Arthur as he turned back towards her. "But I can promise you this. Some day, when the Quest is ended and Merlin cured, we will return here and thank him for what he did for you. Now, letís be on our way."
* * *
The Fenris-wolf stood on a sheet of ice, Gleipnir stretched so tightly about his neck that it was beginning to wear through his fur. He watched the four travellers in silence as they made their way to the ship, but his eyes fell in particular on Mary.
"Farewell, little one," he said softly. A tear fell from his eye and splashed upon the ice beside his foot. Then he turned and walked away into the twilit gloom.