THE MISTS OF EYNHALLOW
Story by Ed Reynolds
Written by Ed Reynolds
Art by Karen Blackwell
Previously on Pendragon…
MARY: It’s all sorts of monsters. Some have heads like dogs, or like birds with very long beaks. Others have huge feet that they hop on, or just one eye. And then there are the ones whose faces are on their chests. They’re the really creepy ones. There’s more, but those are the ones that I can remember at the moment.
MERLIN: Anthropophagi. Something rather unusual for England, but not completely impossible. This really is amazing.
MARY: Amazing? Everybody in this village turns into some sort of horrible monster in the daytime, and that's all that you can say?
~~~The Curse of Rivencroft~~~
* * *
ARTHUR: We have come seeking help from Lord Oberon. Merlin has been poisoned, and no human magic or science can cure him. We have come to ask Oberon to heal him.
* * *
ARTHUR: The poison was brewed by my half-sister, Morgana la Fay. She intended it as a weapon against Merlin.
* * *
OBERON: No one in Avalon can cure it.
* * *
MARY: So where to now?
ARTHUR: That is up to Avalon to decide, my lady.
~~~Return to Avalon~~~
* * * * *
Arthur could feel the spray of the sea on his face as he lurched back and forth in the skiff. He could tell that it was cold salt water but between the dark of night and the thick mists that was as much as he could deduce about his surroundings. Griff was quiet but Arthur knew that he was standing at the front of the skiff, trying to spot the first signs of their new destination. Owing to his declining health, Merlin had taken most of the blankets that the travellers had brought with them, and now seemed to be resting as easily as anyone was able given the conditions, muttering something under his breath in an ancient Welsh dialect. And Mary - Mary was suspiciously silent. She was a brave girl and had become a capable ally during their adventures, but even so Arthur was surprised at how she had matured in the few short months since their first encounter at Rivencroft. However, his thoughts were interrupted by an ungodly shriek as a wave splashed over the side, drenching her.
"I’m soaked! Absolutely soaked! Oh, I hate this horrible, horrible sea - I thought Avalon was meant to send us where we needed to be, not push us off into the middle of nowhere. We’ve been travelling all night, I’m freezing, I’m soaking, my legs are cramped and my teeth are chattering! I -"
Before either Arthur or the rapidly stirring Merlin could respond, Griff gave a well-timed cry of "Land ho!"
"Tell me it’s a city," said Mary. "Please, please, a nice, warm tropical city."
"I doubt we’re in the tropics somehow," said Merlin, his breath fogging in the air as he sat up.
"What do you see, Griff?" said Arthur. "The skiff is very unsteady in the water; I think we need to pull it onto dry land. Which direction should we head in?”
“Starboard!” the gargoyle replied.
“Right!” he clarified, waving his arms in the general direction. “Sorry… I suppose I spent a bit too much time reading sailing stories as a hatchling.”
“I think I can see some rocks on the shore,” said Arthur.
The skiff tumbled in the waves again, and a torrent of water splashed across the assembled company. Arthur spluttered.
"You were right, Arthur," said Griff worriedly. "The skiff is in trouble - it’s sinking!"
Water had indeed begun to cascade over the side of the boat. The travellers tried to lean in the other direction to pull it back to an upright position, but in moments it was clear that they could do nothing to stop it from capsizing. Griff quickly picked up Merlin and draped the teenaged wizard over his shoulders before leaping off.
He fell onto the cliff face with a grunt and bounded nimbly upwards.
Arthur meanwhile had rallied his bearings as well as he could in the darkness. "We’re going to have to cross onto those rocks, Mary," he said, pointing to the rocks Griff and Merlin had just crossed.
"You’re kidding - we’ll never make that!"
"We don’t have a choice!” Arthur shouted. “Follow my lead!" As the skiff lurched into the ocean waves he threw himself onto the barnacle-strewn edge of the cliff.
Turning, he held his hand out to Mary. She jumped, slipped, and fell into the waves. She tried to tread water, but the undertow dragged her from the rock edge. Arthur cried out to her, but was forced to readjust his position as a strong turn of the tide unsettled his own uneasy position on the rock face. He struggled higher across the jagged edges, blasted off by the swell of the sea. He swung his leg with an effort over the crag beneath him, and in a continuous movement enveloped it with his body to help secure him as a further wave smothered him, threatening to drag him down. He palmed his hair from his eyes to try and look for Mary.
At this point Griff returned, diving from the sky and straight into the black emptiness of the sea. Moments later, the two surfaced - Mary gasping for breath, Griff struggling to reach the cliffs. Finally, he sank his claws into the rough-hewed side and began to climb. Arthur pulled himself onto a higher level, and with one last glance at the sinking skiff, turned to follow his companions onto the land.
* * *
"That was invigorating!" said Griff. Mary muttered something under her breath darkly, while Merlin looked queasy. “Looks like we owe Captain Marter a new boat though,” the gargoyle continued.
Arthur engaged himself with wringing out his coat, glancing across the landscape as he did so. They were on a grassy patch beside the rocks. A little further along the cliff they could make out the carcass of a ram. It had not been dead more than a few days. The mists were low over the shore, but on the horizon he noticed a flicker of orange: a fire?
"Well," he said at length, indicating the light. "It looks as though we are not alone here, although whether our companions here are friends or foes might be more difficult to ascertain. Nonetheless, we should investigate."
"I’d best not tag along," said Griff. "But I’ll watch from a safe distance. Luckily, it’s quite misty so I shan’t be too far away if it turns out to be trouble."
Arthur, Mary and Merlin made their way towards the fire in single file, hunched beggar-like as they shivered with the cold of the night. They slowed as they reached the crest of a small mound from where they expected to see the owners of the fire; Arthur raised his hand and looked carefully. As it turned out, their concern was unmerited: Arthur forgot that he was cold and drenched with salt water for the moment as he beamed with delight and surprise in recognition of the two huddled figures before him.
Professor Lydia Duane and Dr. Peter Morwood-Smythe were quite surprised too.
"Well, fancy that!" said Lydia after words of recognition had been exchanged. "We thought that somebody was on this island - but we never dreamt that it would be you, King Arthur!"
"Just Arthur, milady, please," he said graciously. "But we have only just arrived here ourselves on a skiff from the magical isle of Avalon."
"I take it you know these people quite well, Arthur?" asked Merlin.
"Indeed I do. Professor Lydia Duane and Dr. Peter Morwood-Smythe, if I recall your names correctly, though I do apologise for it has been a long time."
"Your memory’s fine, Arthur!" said Peter. "But where’s your other friend, the gargoyle - Griff? And Cavall?"
"I’m right here!" Griff had joined the company by this stage, and stepped out of the mists, waving. “Although sadly, Cavall isn’t accompanying us on this expedition.”
At the invitation of the archaeologists, Arthur’s friends joined them around the fire. Mary and Merlin huddled together, wriggling their fingers which were stinging from the heat as much as they had ached from the cold.
"My turn for introductions, I should think," said Arthur. "This is Mary Sefton, our companion on this trip." The archaeologists indicated a vague surprise at the surname but said no more. "And here is my good friend and teacher… Merlin."
Peter gave a cough that sounded halfway between surprise and laughter: "You’re Merlin?"
"Peter!" Lydia responded.
"Don’t worry," Merlin replied glumly, "I get that reaction a lot. Bad regeneration spell, so now I’m a teenager. Wait a minute, aren’t you the two that discovered my diary scrolls back in 1995?"
"Why yes," said Lydia. "But I never dreamt that I’d be meeting the author! This is a stroke of luck!"
Arthur leaned forward to take a flask of soup offered by Peter. He took a sip, and passed it around to his companions.
"But now, my friends," Arthur said, "you mentioned that you believed that somebody else was on this island. Clearly it was not us, since we only just arrived- the skiff that we arrived on sank minutes ago - but perhaps while we are here, we can get to the bottom of this mystery."
"Well, I don’t know that you could call it a mystery exactly," said Lydia. "It’s just us getting spooked, I suspect - this is a rather creepy place at the best of times, and particularly after nightfall it isn’t hard to misinterpret things. Coming across anybody on the island so early in the morning came as a bit of a shock as well! We’re here to investigate this old monastery, you see - it’s a mediaeval construction, but on the site of an older one still."
"Um, excuse me for interrupting," said Mary curiously, "but where is here? Where are we?"
"Skiffs leaving Avalon do not abide by standard laws of geography," explained Arthur in response to the archaeologists’ surprised looks. "Rather, they send the traveller to where he needs to go. Since we have arrived here, it is quite likely that there is some dire peril that we must deal with."
"That doesn’t sound altogether encouraging," said Peter. "Admittedly, I don’t know about many dire perils in the locality, but we’re on the island of Eynhallow, one of the Orkney Islands."
"This does sound interesting though," said Lydia. "That might explain some of the myths of the area. One of the local legends of the Orkneys is the mystical disappearing island of HetherBlether, and Hildaland, the land of the fairies. Of course, Eynhallow is usually associated with-"
"Oh, Lydia, do let’s get to the point!"
"Well the point is - we keep hearing things moving, stones thrown about and suchlike, but we don’t know why."
"Sounds like a haunting," said Merlin. "Scotland has a lot of these in my experience; it seems that there’s something in the area that gives ghosts particular sway. Anyway, I’m sure we can put it to rights."
"If it is a ghost, any ideas on who the ghost might be?" said Griff.
"Well any number of monks could have left angry spirits behind," said Lydia. "But actually we’re recovering the journals of a monk that we believe is a successor to the highly influential Abbot Laurence. Laurence went from here to become a very important figure indeed in the Middle Ages, negotiating between the kings of England and Scotland among other things, before he eventually died in 1178. It’s all very exciting."
"This place seems so remote to have a monastery," mused Mary.
"That’s what we thought too. And what we’ve uncovered certainly indicates that the author became quite mad here, although a colleague of ours that is an expert in mediaeval languages will be arriving later today - hopefully he can translate his diaries and tell us more."
"In the meantime," said Arthur, "perhaps we should investigate this haunting."
"That would be good," said Lydia. "I hope it can be dealt with - we’ve been kept up all night with the clattering of stones.”
* * * * *
As they finished breakfast, dawn broke, illuminating the low-lying mists with an orange hue. A few sheep gathered around at a safe distance to watch the company.
Griff retreated to another part of the island to petrify, and Mary crawled up by him and tried to sleep through her time as a wolf. Once Arthur had helped the travellers clear away their early breakfast, he and Merlin turned towards the monastery.
In daylight, they realised that the camp was close at hand, although the building was dilapidated. Tufts of grass smothered the tops of the walls, and the only trace of the roof was the occasional mound of stones that must once have supported it. The morning sun was peeking over the low, grey walls, now gnarled and moss-strewn. In the middle of the ruins there was a space marked out with a thick red tape that clearly was being excavated by the archaeologists.
"Well it looks like whatever it was isn’t going to show itself," said Lydia, sounding vaguely disappointed.
"You must have scared it off, Arthur!" said Peter.
Merlin looked at the stones rustling along the ground quietly. "I don’t think so, actually."
Arthur drew Excalibur and called out: "Spirit that lurks in the ruins of Eynhallow, show yourself!"
No spirit manifested itself and the ruins of Eynhallow remained as they were, highlighted by the thick, red morning clouds.
"I’m not sure that it’s a specific spirit necessarily - they tend to hang around for revenge or out of past sorrows or something like that," said Merlin. "It could be a poltergeist; same sort of deal but with much more power over items and objects."
A stone zoomed up from the ground and struck Merlin on the ear. Lydia and Peter stepped back as the stones began to clatter off the walls and past the travellers.
"I can handle this," said Merlin calmly, rubbing his ear.
Arthur frowned at this. "Merlin, you shouldn’t be doing spells in your condition. We can find another way to deal with this ghost."
"Nonsense, Arthur; I’ve got magic in my blood, I can resist Morgana’s poison for a good while yet. In the meantime, I’m not going to sit around being useless when I can help. Poltergeists aren’t very difficult to dispel anyway."
He closed his eyes and began to chant rhythmically in an ancient language that Arthur did not recognise.
"Rest!" the wizard concluded. "Rest! Rest!"
And the moving stones did settle, their clattering coming to a complete stop. One last stone rolled down the wall that it had landed on and fell onto the ground. The travellers glanced at each other, and stared around them. The ruins seemed still.
A rich voice boomed out behind them. Arthur, Merlin, Lydia and Peter turned to see the black-clad figure of Macbeth standing in the doorway.
"Lennox!" said Peter delightedly. "So glad that you got here early. We didn’t hear you land."
"Do you know Arthur, then?" said Lydia confusedly.
"Aye," said Macbeth. "We’re old… acquaintances. It seems that I’ve missed the excitement: you look like you have been to work on some magic or other! But enough of that; tell me, Arthur, what are you doing on Eynhallow?"
Arthur recounted his adventures briefly, from Merlin’s poisoning at the instruction of Morgana, to their journey from Avalon. Macbeth was amused to note Merlin’s new form, although his mirth dissipated as Arthur told his story.
“I traded my youth in long ago,” he said softly. “Enjoy the second shot at it while you have it, laddie!”
“I hope I’ll be able to,” the young wizard replied.
Then archaeologists led Macbeth to where they were keeping the parts of the journal that they had uncovered from previous days, buried in a series of sturdy browned chests that had preserved remarkably well. Merlin remained in the ruins, keeping an eye out for any further ghostly activity.
* * * * *
Macbeth took some time trying to uncover the meaning of the journal entries. For one thing the containers were extremely old and fragile; for another, there were difficulties with the script being worn away in places, or being written in a rush so that the sense was lost.
Arthur left the archaeologists to their work and went to check on Merlin. Apparently, the spell had tired him more than he made out, for now he was lying flat on the grass inside the ruins, sleeping soundly. Arthur did not wake him, and went instead to locate Mary.
He found the werewolf not asleep but having been watching from a vantage point close to the ruins. As he approached, she turned to him with a concerned note in her voice.
"Arthur! What on earth is going on? I didn’t want to join the company while I was a wolf, but I’ve been watching things ever since I saw that hovercraft touch down - who is this Lennox character and what on earth is going in the church ruins?"
The two walked together towards a sheltered area where Griff was sleeping the day away.
"If only I knew the answer to your second question myself, Mary. It seems that Eynhallow does indeed have a ghost - a poltergeist of sorts, but I believe that Merlin has taken care of it - for the present at least. As to your first question, Lennox Macduff is indeed the pseudonym for my old ally Macbeth."
"But surely not the Macbeth? Daggers in the air, cackling witches, double double toil and trouble?"
Arthur gave her a quizzical look.
"Sorry, Arthur, I sometimes forget that you missed a chunk of history. The Shakespeare play Macbeth has him murder the king to claim the crown - he’s a ruthless, bloody tyrant egged on by supernatural forces. Are you sure that we can trust a man like that?"
"Well, I believe that his reputation has been unfairly slandered by the playwright - Macbeth is an honourable man."
"So was Brutus, allegedly! Mind you, Merlin did mention to me once that Shakespeare wasn’t entirely reliable in his accounts. Actually, it came up when I proposed that we go to see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a romantic date and he went off on a rant about writers who abuse their source material in the name of dramatisation…"
"Merlin does have particular views on the subject. No wonder his teacher at Mons Carbi kept contacting me about his scorn for standard literary theory! At any rate, I believe that we may trust Macbeth. I am not altogether convinced that the ghost has truly departed, although Merlin’s spell does appear to have settled him. If this is the case then we will need his aid solving the mystery here. Hopefully determining the ghost’s grievance will be key to banishing it."
"So now we’re Good Samaritans for the Undead?" Mary said glumly. "We can’t even cure Merlin at present, and it doesn’t look as though Avalon is going to be much help in that regard from the way Marter’s boat sank. I’m just glad we ran into those archaeologists or we might be stranded here."
"Doubtless a way of curing Merlin will become clear to us in time. For the present, let us rejoin Macbeth and see what he has uncovered."
* * * * *
The light was dying again by the time Macbeth could confidently translate any of the text, even then puzzling at its strange meaning. He finally cleared his throat and spoke clearly.
It comes often, near at hand but out of reach.
It shines brightly, but I cannot touch it.
I am unworthy. Unworthy. Unworthy.
Laurence knew and did not pursue it. They built here to view it. Why is it here? Why is it here? It torments me, so bright and wonderful and untouchable.
It is beyond my mortal senses. I should throw myself onto the rocks if only it would not mean being parted from it. To touch, to feel.
My heart is deadening for it is not to be seen. Why, why, curse the light and that which binds me. I am bound. It is life. I am dead.
He stopped speaking and lay down his notes. A low wind rustled them as the company’s eyes flickered between each other in the twilight. The sea was still audible in the distance.
“That is all I can interpret,” Macbeth said softly.
Peter shuddered. “It appears that our resident ghost has been here for some time. This poor fellow sounds as though he has been driven quite mad by him."
Arthur spoke in less certain tones. "It is odd that a poltergeist should have this kind of impact; I was given to understand that they seldom manifest like traditional hauntings. What does it mean that ‘they built here to view it’ - whose ghost is it that they were trying to view?"
“Would they build a monastery to view a ghost?” asked Lydia. “Well, unless it was the ghost of…”
“The author might have meant an older settlement,” said Macbeth. “Or perhaps the monastery was built on the site of an older site of worship still.”
Peter nodded. "It is clear at least that the person in question knew, or knew of, Abbot Laurence, which means that we can date these manuscripts more easily."
Their contemplation was interrupted as from the monastery there came the sound of a pained shout, followed by a tremendous racket from stones pebble-dashing the walls of the ruins and bouncing off again. Tufts of grass were torn up and scattered, and the ruins began to shake. The group rushed towards the centre, but found itself forced back by gusts of blasting winds. Thousands of pebbles spun around at incredible speed in the ruins, almost obscuring the figure in the middle, cocooned in a mass of stone and dust particles - Merlin.
Arthur and Macbeth tried to barge their way in but were thrown back again. Stones smashed against them, hitting them on the face and arms. Arthur shielded his eye as one struck his brow and left a sharp gash. Seeing no alternative, they fled outside.
"It would seem that the ghost has a few more tricks up his sleeve," said Macbeth.
Arthur replied grimly. "I fear that you are right, and now he has Merlin as a hostage. We must get in somehow!"
A terrific rumble of thunder pealed through the skies overhead. The group turned their faces skyward; it didn’t look promising. The rain whipped down in a sudden torrent. Above the cacophony, they heard Griff awakening. The archaeologists secured the pages that they had discovered in their tent and then dashed out through the storm to join Griff. A flash of lightning struck the top of a nearby wall, causing splinters of stone to clatter across the area.
"The storm is worsening!" said Macbeth. "I wager that it’s supernatural; we need to leave the island before conditions are too bad to fly in! My hovercraft is not far away, we must leave now!"
Arthur refused, however. "We can’t abandon Merlin to the clutches of this creature!"
"No, but think, Arthur! We need tools to defeat it - magic, ingredients! We need to find out what this creature is, and what its purpose is! In any event, we ought not allow Lydia and Peter to be endangered here."
"Don’t mind us!" said Lydia indignantly, but Arthur was clearly troubled.
"Perhaps you are right," he sighed bitterly.
Griff rejoined the company; Mary, now in human form once more, filled him in as the others talked.
"Now just hang on a minute!" said Peter. "We need to find out who this ghost is, don’t we? The best shot we have at doing that is by finding out what all these journal entries are about. There’s still a last page in that chest we unearthed; if we could retrieve it, maybe we could work out the mystery and appeal to the ghost here."
"Where is it?" said Arthur.
"It’s in the ruins, but not near the centre. It might be possible to dash in and retrieve it without being attacked."
"That would make more sense than deserting Merlin now."
Macbeth suddenly shrunk back from the group. Staring at Arthur with a mad look in his eyes, he echoed in a bristling voice, "Desertion?"
His face contorted as if seeing something that shocked him - was it fear on his face, or rage or simply pure shock?
"Demona! First desertion and now betrayal! Why?"
Mary looked puzzled. "Demona? Who’s that?"
But Macbeth became furious, and started shouting. "I planned for you to govern by my side. And now because of you, my kingdom is in flames!"
The mists began to swirl in front of the enraged Scotsman. Something was forming before them that Macbeth could already see. It was something humanoid. It was two humanoid figures. One was a cruel-lipped Scotsman, while the other appeared to be a gargoyle.
Arthur gritted his teeth as he saw what was happening. Waving his followers back, he shouted out, "It is the ghost - somehow it has affected Macbeth! We must find… we must…"
But suddenly, Arthur became aware that the world was changing around him. In moments, he was not on Eynhallow. He wasn’t even in the twentieth century.
* * * * *
Caerleon, Late 5th Century.
"Why could you not have warned me, Merlin?" he cried. "Had I only known -"
"It is too late for that now, my lord," said Merlin. "There is but one question that now remains to be answered. What will you do about the son that you have begotten upon her?"
"The son?" began Arthur, hesitantly.
Merlin nodded. "The son that was the dragon in your dream," he said. "For he will grow up to overthrow you and your knights in battle, and tear apart the kingdom that you built. That was what your nightmares portended. Your son will reach manhood, and there will come a wicked day of destiny where he will destroy you and your realm utterly. Unless you can prevent him from doing so."
"But how?" asked Arthur, almost frantic now in his alarm. He leaned forward even closer, to look straight into his counselor’s eyes. "Merlin, I have to know! How can I avert this fate?"
"There is only one way to do so," said Merlin. "You must find your son while he is still an infant, and you must kill him."
* * * * *
"Never would I have done so! We have been allies for thirty-seven years!"
Macbeth shouted towards the sky as Arthur himself seemed to be overcome with horror. "Why could you not have warned me, Merlin?"
Mary did not wait to find out what Arthur was seeing; his contorted facial expression, showing a pain that she had not seen in him before, told her all that she needed to know. "Quickly! We need to escape."
Griff agreed, ushering the archaeologists along. "We need to find a place to hide!" he said. "There’s a cave nearby!"
Mary replied, "But the tide is nearly in, and anyway, what good will it do if the ghost is going to attack us afresh? What about the hovercraft? Maybe we could get help?"
"None of us can fly it, though," said Peter. "And I doubt our radio will work in a storm this bad. We’re in trouble now."
"Can you hear that?" said Griff. "It sounds like - well, like the bombs in London during the Blitz. But it can’t be. It’s this ghost, it’s making us relive-"
He broke off. "…us?! We're not important! Unless the Nazis are stopped here and now, the future of the entire world is in jeopardy! I mean-"
Mary shook her head, and stared at Griff. "This doesn’t look good."
"I’m all right, Mary," said Griff uncertainly. "It feels like something’s trying to drag me to the past. I’ll soldier on, I…"
* * * * *
Una, Leo and Goliath faced him; moonlight filtered through the window of the Into the Mystic shop.
"Yes, yes," said Leo, "But we belong down here, protecting our home. If the fight comes to us, so be it."
Una said, "Leo's right. The Nazis are a human problem."
Griff glanced from his exasperating rookery siblings to the lavender gargoyle that had newly joined their company that evening. "What do you think, Goliath?"
"I do not presume to advise. But in my experience, human problems become gargoyle problems."
Griff smiled. "Finally, someone talking sense," he said brightly.
* * * * *
"Should we try and stir him?" said Peter. "It doesn’t look like he’s going to turn violent or anything…"
"Griff!" Mary shouted at him. "Griff, can you hear me?"
"What do you think, Goliath?" Griff responded.
"Oh, for crying out loud - we’ve got to do something now! Arthur, Macbeth and Griff have all been alive a long time through wars and periods of great tragedy - we probably can’t imagine what they’ve been through in their lives and that might make them more susceptible to the ghost. If so, we may have more of a chance than they do. Could that missing page help you work out what all this is about?"
Lydia and Peter glanced at each other in concern. "Maybe," said Lydia carefully. "But we’re not really specialists in the dialects of twelfth century Scotland. Still, it looks like we don’t have much of a choice."
But as Mary stared at Lydia, the archaeologist faded away before her and she saw her mother lying on her bed at home. Nigel Sefton was standing by her side, holding her hand in his; Mary was numbly aware that it was the first time that she had seen him cry.
"This isn’t happening! This can’t be happening!" said Mary. "Mummy, I…"
* * * * *
A single bedside lamp illuminated the room. Mary and Nigel sat on chairs on each side of Fiona Sefton’s bed, heedless of the growing darkness outside that filtered into the edges of the room untouched by the lamplight. As Fiona’s pale features froze, never to be re-animated, Mary broke down. Her sides gave way and she felt herself contorting into a ball in the wide-armed wicker rocking chair. Nigel did not move.
The doctor pronounced her dead at nearly 4 o’clock exactly, but it was the middle of winter and to the ten-year-old Mary it seemed much later. Not that it mattered to her. She stared at Fiona’s features and it occurred to her that she was the only person that could carry on her legacy. And she had her mother’s nose, and of course her feet - she remembered that Fiona had always mentioned the similarity between the shape of their feet.
Not any more. She tried to breathe, but the air was stale and she simply found herself panting and crouching. Nigel did not move to comfort her, but after a moment - all too short a moment, Mary thought, although the clock suggested that twenty minutes had passed - he said that he needed to speak to the Prime Minister.
Nigel got up and, after pausing to talk in a hushed voice to Gargrave the butler, exited the room. Mary allowed herself to fall to the floor in a self-aware indulgent melodrama. If Gargrave was moved, then he did not act on it, and the girl found her gnashing and wailing and desperate sobs of no avail. Nobody came.
She looked up at the room again. It seemed smaller than it had before; the light brighter, the dark darker. By the time the grandfather clock in the living room struck twelve, she felt that no time had passed at all, even though she was now sitting in a maroon leather armchair, cradling a picture of Fiona Sefton aged forty.
"Miss Mary," said Gargrave tentatively, "I have had word from your father… he says that you should make your way to bed."
Mary felt a numbed sense of unfairness at this but she felt no urge to carry it through to an assault on Gargrave. She stepped up numbly and climbed the stairs to bed. But as she settled between the sheets, she began to brew on the injustice of it all. Desperately blocking out the image of her mother, white and still, she turned her focus towards her father; her father who abandoned her for a meeting less than an hour after her mother had died. Mary felt surprised as she noticed how tightly clenched her fists were, but clenched them even tighter.
Her fury had thus fermented considerably when she heard Nigel’s car pull up in the drive outside and listened as he entered the front door quietly - not quietly enough for Mary. She got up and slipped on her dressing gown, the designs of an inchoate rage unfolding in her mind. She crept down the stairs. Although no specific ideas had formed as to what her furious torrent of abuse might be, she felt that it would be coherent, moving, and convincing.
And then she saw him through the crack of the door. He was facing away, but she recognised the gold trim of the picture frame that he held. She knew the picture well, as she had been holding it herself a short while ago. Fiona had adopted an enigmatic Mona Lisa-like pose that did not really reflect her personality but nonetheless seemed to be essentially her in a strange way. Fiona had liked the photograph. Nigel did too. Mary’s rage ebbed away as she watched her father breaking down in solitude before the picture of his wife. She crept up the stairs and hid herself in her bedroom to try and cry.
And it was as she looked up that she saw Merlin standing there.
* * * * *
Mary stopped. The rain was lashing down past her, matting her hair over her face. She glanced around. Her eyes fell upon Lydia, who was crouched on the floor as small shapes swirled around her, chattering and shouting insults. They were young children, she realised: only nine or ten years old. The girls wore blue dresses and boaters, while the boys were dressed in charcoal shorts and grubby caps.
“Stop it,” Lydia was muttering. “Leave me alone! I didn’t do anything to you! I’ll tell the Headmistress, I – ow!”
Mary lunged forward to pull Lydia away, but the children scattered with high-pitched squeals as they saw her. Lydia started forward and clutched Mary by the wrists.
“It’s okay,” said Mary, her voice squeaky and hollow. With more confidence, she spoke again. “Professor Duane! Professor Duane, answer me!”
But Lydia Duane was staring agape at something over Mary’s shoulders. She turned around, and blanched herself at what she saw. She grabbed Lydia’s hand and ran.
And the Anthropophagi behind her followed. Some people had heads in their chests, while others had the heads of cranes. As Mary had discovered the previous summer, there was an advantage. Being unbalanced, the creatures were unable to give chase properly. She looked back with some delight as she noticed that they were disappearing into the mists.
As she looked ahead again, she noticed another figure staggering helplessly in the mists. It was Merlin. He was muttering incoherently in broken Welsh: a shadow of his usual self. There was a glint in his eye that suggested insanity. Mary remembered Merlin’s accounts of his madness in the Caledonian Forest and wondered if he was reliving that period now. The teenage wizard was clenching his teeth and casting his eyes around the island with manic intensity. Clearly, the ghost had freed him from the prison of flying stones and dust. The rain was already washing the grit out of his hair.
“Where’s Peter?” cried Lydia, as if the thought had just occurred to her.
“Here I am!” he responded, bellowing out of the mists. “Baylor and Balfour are dead. We’ve got to get to… no, wait…”
Mary looked around her. The Anthropophagi were moving again.
“Follow me!” she shouted to the archaeologists.
She bolted away from the ruins, nearly tripping over stones as she went. She remembered that she had bread in her hand. She was guilty of stealing of course, but she had to, they were everywhere.
"No!" she said aloud to herself. "I’m not in Rivencroft; I’m not at home when mother died. I’m on Eynhallow. Eynhallow!"
She seemed to be alone in her recognition of this however. She noticed Macbeth off in the distance waving his hand wildly as if wielding a sword. She concentrated and noticed that a sword was appearing, forming out of the mists that lay low on the island. His opponent came into view - a man with three gashes across his face who donned a black mask with a similar design.
The distant roar of an engine caused Mary to cover her ears. She looked up and winced as a fighter aeroplane soared overhead. She had seen its type before in museums and shows. She felt Lydia and Peter grabbing her by either arm, and dragging her along into the earth.
“Where are we now?” she gasped.
“It’s a secluded cave,” said Peter. “We should be able to lie low here… for now.”
"I’m just glad that it’s low tide," said Mary, shivering with cold.
* * * * *
Camlann, Southern Britain - Early 6th Century
"Oh, you’re not going to be rid of me that easily, father," Mordred said as he stared down at the defeated Arthur. "We’ll meet again, and I don’t mean in the next world. You can be certain of that, father." And then he fell back and the light went out of his eyes.
But Arthur felt something wrong; although the scene was familiar, the stuff of his nightmares for very many years indeed, he came to realise that he was not in fact injured. Indeed, in a moment of clarity, Mordred looked like the cruel-lipped Scotsman from Macbeth’s vision earlier, and the victim was not Arthur but Macbeth who lay on the ground - dead, it seemed.
* * * * *
Arthur reeled - he was on Eynhallow, and yet Eynhallow was no longer the empty, tranquil place that it once was. Mordred and Canmore were charging about the landscape, as was a mysterious character wearing a mask with three red claw marks down the front; there were Anthropophagi, screaming children and a pale, ill-looking woman in her forties. Arthur noticed Griff soaring low overhead, and next to him the spectre of a young gargoyle with lion-like features that bore a striking resemblance to Leo.
Arthur chased after Griff, aware all the time that he must not be enchanted by the flashbacks again. He had wrenched himself from the illusion once before, but he could not risk allowing himself to drift into another vision of the past.
Griff alighted on the ruins of the monastery wall; Merlin, Arthur noticed, was no longer there. Unfortunately, the various individuals from their illusions were. Something dawned on Arthur as he recognised Mordred gathering the Rivencroft Anthropophagi that must have been evoked by Mary. The German bomber passed overhead and slowly the grizzly properties of Eynhallow dawned.
"Griff!" Arthur shouted, reaching to grab hold of the gargoyle and staring him straight in the eye. "You must listen to me! Somehow the ghost of Eynhallow is bringing our past traumas into the world. You must wake up; you’re on Eynhallow, not anywhere else! Griff, listen to me!"
* * * * *
Leo and Griff clutched the iron railings on the wall of the London flat, propping themselves up so they could see into the street below. A hospital was opening its doors and four uniformed men were standing expectantly by, as if waiting for something. Several other humans were lining the street, although their chattering deadened in the morning air and morbid drizzle of rain.
"I can’t believe the war is finally over," said Leo. "Whenever we’ve been out in London just lately it has seemed so odd… so quiet, but tense too. I hope the Marters come back soon."
"To think what these people will have seen," said Griff. "To spend five years at the front fighting the Germans."
"When we snuck into that gallery to see the display," said Leo, "it didn’t look so bad. I don’t suppose they show the worst of it though. I don’t understand the fighting myself; why can’t the humans just keep to themselves?"
"It’s not so bad if there’s a cause," said Griff. He opened his mouth to speak again, but stopped as a cavalcade of army hospital vehicles came down the road. Griff and Leo watched in stunned silence as they reached the hospital door and the drivers began unloading the passengers.
One had lost his leg, another man had a thick bandage covering his entire face. A third was coughing and hacking all the way to the hospital door, crouched in agony as he limped.
Leo and Griff recoiled at the procession of men, injured and dying and in one case perhaps already dead.
"I don’t want to see this," said Leo, scrambling back across the rooftop to get to a gliding position. "If this is a human war, they’re welcome to it…"
Griff’s eyes remained transfixed on the figures below though, eyes wide and fingers clenched against the rooftop for shock. It was as hypnotising as it was horrific.
"Griff!" shouted Leo. "Come on, I don’t want to stay in this terrible place!"
"Griff, it’s Arthur!"
And as if a bomb had exploded in the city, a white light blinded Griff’s vision.
* * * * *
Griff blinked as he turned aside from the bright glare before him. He was still on Eynhallow; he could smell the turf and the wind coming off the sea. Looking up, he saw Arthur, who had raised Excalibur aloft and let it glow with the furious intensity of thirty torches.
"I apologise for the rude awakening, my friend," said Arthur. "But there was no other way. Something terrible is happening here tonight; these ghosts could not possibly have returned to life at once - it seems that somehow they are being pulled out of our darkest memories!"
They looked to where Macbeth had been stabbed; surrounding him were three hags who restored Macbeth to life. Fleeing the scene was a pale blue gargoyle with a shock of red hair. Macbeth stumbled back to his feet again.
"Guinevere," said Arthur in a hushed voice, "Queen of Camelot, you have been charged-"
"Not again, Arthur," shouted Griff. "We must find the others; Merlin and Mary, I can’t see them. And what about the archaeologists?"
* * * * *
Lydia, Peter and Mary had escaped into one of the caves on Eynhallow, their torches barely making an impression on the swirling black current that lapped against the cave floor. Away from the ruins, they found themselves thinking a little more clearly.
"If the tide comes in much further, we’re going to have to move," said Peter. “And I don’t fancy venturing out there again with those monsters on the loose.”
Lydia shuddered at the thought. "We’ve got to do something! Mary, you seem to have the most experience here in dealing with these kind of supernatural events… what would Arthur do?"
The tide splashed over her feet and she edged back towards the cave entrance. She tentatively felt the muddy mound behind her to pull herself further up.
Mary paused. "I don’t know exactly… Merlin and Arthur are better at that sort of thing really. Here seems to be relatively safe – it appears the ruined monastery is the centre of all this ghostly activity, so if we steer clear of that we might be okay. Somehow or other though we need to work out what it is that’s haunting Eynhallow…"
"Right!" said Peter. "That monk’s diary discussed some kind of bright light, a presence here. We think that there is a remaining page in the ruins but we haven’t been able to uncover it yet. It’s in one of those chests. If we could retrieve it without danger from the ghosts we might have a chance.”
"I’ll get it," said Mary, rushing to her feet, picking up a torch from the pack the archaeologists had brought with them, and scrambling out of the cave.
"Mary, wait!" shouted Lydia. "What’s your plan?"
"To get the last entry and get back before they catch me," she said simply. "Don’t worry, I’ve done this sort of thing before."
It seemed so long ago now that she was stealing bread from Rivencroft to survive when the people assumed their terrible, warped forms during the day. Now she felt as though she was back there, the sun shining through the trees as she ran, with Merlin chasing her. Snapping her mind back to Eynhallow, she realised that she was not entirely delusional.
She turned to see Merlin crying out, but he was not chasing her. Rather he was rapping against an invisible wall like a mime, begging for help.
"Nimue! Nimue!! You don’t understand! Nimue! Nimue, come back!"
Mary hesitated, but Merlin’s expression completely changed and the mists that clung to the ground cast new and ominous shapes. The mists seemed to blacken around the new spectres as if they were cloaked with shadow. One was the Morrigan, and another was a bat-caped figure with a dark blue complexion that seemed startlingly familiar. She felt a knot of dread in her stomach as she recognised the figure from her visit to Avalon – it was the same person depicted on the tomb of Madoc Morfryn.
Merlin fell into unconsciousness. His hands and feet were bound tight behind him, arching his back inward as the magical ropes wrenched his limbs. Mary realised with a start that this must be the Unseelie Court. She hesitated; she did not want to leave Merlin there, but neither did she want to get entangled with Madoc and the Morrigan, even spectral versions of them.
Mary ran again. The rain was lashing against her face, her hair was heavy around her neck and her eyes darted this way and that to track the shadowy figures in the mists. A screech pierced her ears. She dived instinctively for the floor. The mud splashed into her face, and her she felt her hands grazed on the grass. Two feet landed a short way away. She could barely make out anything in the dark and she did not dare to flash it with her torch, which had fallen just within reach of her left arm, the beam pointing towards her. What she had seen before she fell was a flash of pale blue: a gargoyle. But instinct told her that this was not an ally. She picked up a scent – faint, but indistinguishable. Blood.
Macbeth staggered into her line of vision. As Mary watched, the pair seemed to engage each other in battle. She took the opportunity to grab the torch with her hand, and hold it against her hand over the beam so it did not give her away. She heard the sound of battles in the air and her nose twitched as she detected hundreds upon hundreds of different scents, increasingly distinguishable thanks to her heightened werewolf senses. There was soot and dirt, blood and the magical scent of Avalon. She could smell flowers and cities and motor oil and yet more things besides. She rose again to her feet, determined to reach the ruins before any more illusions came into being.
She heard Macbeth cry out to his assailant the name: “Demona.” She shuddered despite herself, recalling Macbeth’s earlier address to Demona as a traitor, but in the moment that her head was cocked towards the two combatants to consider the words, she was distracted from the path ahead of her. When she looked forward again, her heart leapt in her stomach. A line of Anthropophagi had formed around the ruins.
But she realised: this was her illusion.
With a scream she charged at the creatures, ducking past them as they bundled clumsily towards her. Their disproportioned monstrous bodies were not able to keep up with her, and despite several blows as she passed, she managed to evade them, mount the moss-covered wall of the ruins, and fling herself over into the dig site.
She landed with a squelch and looked around. In front of her was the chest. But already the Anthropophagi were scaling the wall, and gathering at the door, surrounding her. For a second she saw herself in Rivencroft, desperate to run back to the woods with the food she had scavenged. But she knew she was on Eynhallow. And as she cast her eye around the world of illusions she and her friends had created, she noticed a small gargoyle crouched in the corner of the ruins. He might only have been ten, but already was growing a lion’s mane that suited his feline features.
“Leo?” Mary cried.
The gargoyle started in recognition, and tried to climb over the wall he was leaning against.
“Don’t go!” she cried. “Help me! Please, Leo!”
The lion cub turned and shook his head, his eyes wide and fearful, glistening in the torchlight. Mary screamed as a crane headed creature splattered down beside her into the pit. She grabbed the chest and bashed the creature’s head. The lock broke and opened. Mary snatched the parchment and ran towards the exit.
She felt herself clench with adrenaline as she prepared to fight her way through the creatures, but a high roar sounded before she could get near. Leo flew at the creatures, startling them so much that they dashed aside and fell back. It was like the sea parting, as Mary dashed through the crowd and was away, heading back to the cave.
* * * * *
"This battle is impossible, Griff!" shouted Arthur as he dived aside to escape a magical blast from Morgana. "All our old enemies are conspiring against us!"
A caped, pale-faced figure descended and struck them with a power that was surely supernatural, mouth opened to expose the pointed teeth of a vampire. Griff turned and used the force of the assailant to throw him aside.
"You’re right, Arthur!” he shouted across the fray. “But what can we do?"
Mordred and Canmore stood side by side, ready to advance. Arthur leapt back through the ruins, leapt across the wall and was away - desperately he resisted the temptation to lose himself in illusions once more.
A horrifying supernatural laugh, loud and cruel, sounded: Arthur could not say for sure, but its magical echo and icy edge made him sure that it was Madoc. The laughter merged with the noise of an aeroplane passing overhead.
A man he did not recognise was in the centre, dressed as a mediaeval monk, screaming at the night sky in an incoherent fashion. Arthur hesitated but then caught the distant sight of Mary, fleeing a group of Anthropophagi. Lighting his sword once more, he charged through the mists towards her.
As he reached them, the young Leo had been thrown to the floor, his opponents more than a match for him. Arthur raised his sword aloft and the Anthropophagi fled before its dazzling light.
The figure of Madoc loomed over the horizon as he enlarged himself to terrifying proportions, illuminating the misty island as brilliant blue sparks of electricity coursed up and down the surface of his body, as if he was charging himself with power.
The Nazi pilot took another dive, and prepared to drop his bomb.
"Arthur!" said Mary delightedly. "Tell me you’re not delusional!"
"Not for the present," said Arthur as he tried to concentrate, although even as he spoke he saw Mary distilled into hundreds of different images of his past.
"We’ve got the last entry," said Peter. "But we can’t make anything out! Maybe if Lennox was here we could work it out, but it all seems to be nonsense just like the other entries. It talks about the shining, glowing, drink; the drink of life; enlightenment beckons him. It doesn’t sound like a ghost."
"It isn’t a ghost," said Arthur slowly as he turned his attention to the monk in the monastery and followed his gaze. For a moment, he believed that it was a calm winter’s night, and the young monk was standing at the monastery ruins in frenzied excitement.
"I’m not worthy, not worthy! It’s shining above me so brightly, I can never reach it! Never! Oh, beautiful, shining light, piercing the dense mists of Eynhallow, I have sought you so long and you remain out of reach. Why am I not worthy, why oh why?"
There was the whistling sound of the fighter pilot dropping a bomb above their heads.
Arthur followed his gaze and at last he saw it, shining brightly through the mists of Eynhallow.
"The Holy Grail," he breathed.
* * *
Arthur’s eyes looked as though they were focusing on a distant object. "I’m not worthy," he muttered.
Mary glanced down at the remnants of the page, but although all the words had fallen to dust there remained a design, an illustration of some kind.
"Oh beautiful, shining light…"
Arthur’s voice trailed off. Awed, he said, "He was looking for the Holy Grail."
"The Holy Grail," echoed Mary. "He came here to search for the Holy Grail! And he wasn’t worthy and went mad. I suppose his frustration echoed to the present day…"
Arthur nodded grimly, as he turned to Mary again. All was silent. The winds had died, and the stones ceased their clatter. The mists even began to disperse, moving slowly along the ground as if being blown outwards. Arthur was himself again.
"The spirit here was a frustrated seeker of the Holy Grail," he mused. "That was why Avalon has sent us here, not just to settle the spirit but to take up its mission. The Grail was, in legend, thought to cure even the most fatal malady. Finally I can see the new quest before us. It would seem that the only way to cure Merlin is to locate the Grail."
Mary blinked. For a moment, her face creased with confusion for a moment, and then clarity. And then awe. She wiped her mud-stained face with her hand and let out a deep breath.
“Wow,” was all she could muster.
Merlin, who had collapsed to the ground when the spell ended, groaned slightly. Although he had not been hurt by the ghost, he remained stiff. "I thought that I was in the Tower of Air," he muttered absently before Mary came to help him up.
"So," said Mary mischievously as she bent down in front of him, "do you always dream about your old girlfriends when you get haunted?"
Merlin blushed a furious red.
* * * * *
The following night, Mary relaxed in the dining room of Macbeth’s Scottish mansion. Since they had left Eynhallow in the morning, Peter Morwood-Smythe and Lydia Duane had departed to write up their findings on the monk’s journal, and Arthur and Merlin had immersed themselves in Macbeth’s library although both found themselves spending a good deal of the time dozing against the pine chairs.
Eventually, Arthur met with Macbeth, Mary, Griff and Merlin in the study to discuss where to go next.
Arthur spoke first. "It is clear to me that the only way Merlin may be cured is for him to drink from the Holy Grail. Knights in my service have searched for it before; many failed, but Galahad, Percival and Bors all succeeded. It is not impossible."
"Well if we’re going on a Grail quest, count me in!" said Griff.
"And me!" said Mary.
Arthur looked uneasy. "Mary, I understand that you care for Merlin and wish to help, but I cannot allow this. We are embarking upon a dangerous mission and one for which you are ill-prepared. You are not a knight in my service and thus I cannot allow you to come."
"Now hold on a minute, Arthur! The other night I was the only one of you that kept a straight head when you were all off reliving the bad old days. I’m not a trained fighter but I can learn; and besides, you need someone with a bit of common sense around here." Merlin suppressed his urge to laugh, but Mary shot him a dirty look instinctively.
Arthur smiled too. "You put a good case. Perhaps there is one way that you can be allowed to join me in this quest - as my squire."
Mary hesitated a moment in surprise.
"It is not an easy role," warned Arthur. "You will have many roles to perform, and the training to become a true knight will take many years - not until you are of age at least, and maybe longer."
Mary’s eager face creased with a sudden moment of reflection. But then she nodded gravely. "I accept, Arthur. I’ve been with you since the summer and I’ve survived through more than enough weirdness. It may be a long time before I can be cured of my lycanthropy; maybe I can never be cured. But I don’t want to just sit around with Captain Marter, waiting for you and Merlin to find the Grail, or die trying. I want to come with you."
Arthur nodded and stood up, drawing her towards the fireplace. "Kneel before me then, Mary.”
The fire in the corner of Macbeth’s library was crackling quietly. She knelt on the rug before the hearth. Arthur drew Excalibur holding it with both hands so that the blade pointed directly downwards, hovering just above the rug. Griff and Merlin stood up, although Merlin used his cane for support. For a moment only the light from the flames seemed to move.
“Take the hilt of the sword in your hand. And now, repeat after me.
“On this sword do I, Mary Gwendolen Sefton, swear fealty to King Arthur Pendragon and loyalty to those that serve under him; to be dutiful and vigilant in times both good and ill; to watch, learn and obey the ways of the Round Table; to speak and do as commanded and needed, from this hour until my king or my death release me, or I come of age.”
Arthur nodded gently and slowly drew Excalibur away. Mary let her hand drop from the sword hilt, and Arthur raised the sword to lay it gently on her left shoulder for a second. Then his solemn expression broke into a smile and he withdrew the sword.
“I accept your oath and return in kind your loyalty; I shall not neglect to guide your industry and reward your diligence. Arise, Mary, my squire.”
Mary arose, brushing the hair from her face and looked around, slightly red. A troubled smile played on Merlin’s lips. Griff however, was beaming.
"Well! Isn’t that just spiffing?" said Griff. "Now then, let’s get down to business - where do we go first?"
Merlin continued to stare at Mary for a moment, but then diverted his gaze to glance at Griff. He hesitated a moment before answering. "I suggest Glastonbury. According to popular Grail myths, Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail over here and left it at Glastonbury. Of course, it’s also supposed to be where Arthur is buried, so all these legends are worth taking with a pinch of salt. It might make a good starting point though."
Macbeth had been watching from the corner of the room, but now crossed the floor to address the Once and Future King. "This is your journey, Arthur, and I suspect that you and your company will have to undertake the tasks in it without much in the way of help. Many will be interested in your quest for the Holy Grail and I dare say that you will meet many enemies in your search. If ever I can be of service, I shall be here."
"Thank you, Macbeth," said Arthur. "And now I should contact Rory, Dulcinea and Leba and have them meet us at Glastonbury."
"And I should tell my father," said Mary. "Although to be honest, I’m not quite sure what to say. It isn’t every day you set out on a quest for the Holy Grail after all! And besides, with him being engaged to Morgana, I’m not sure that I ought to."
"Tell him the truth, Mary, or as much of it as you can manage. If Morgana comes after us, then we shall just have to deal with her."
Mary nodded thoughtfully.
* * * * *
Later that evening, Griff and Arthur sat together on the balcony overlooking the Scottish countryside. They could hear Mary’s voice carrying up the hall as she tried to explain her new situation to Nigel. Griff glanced across at his king, whose expression was distant and introspective.
"You made a good choice for a squire, Arthur," said Griff. "She’ll do fine."
"Oh, that is not what concerns me, my friend; I have every confidence in Mary. But the haunting of Eynhallow reminded me of certain wrongs that I have done in my life. Can a sinner such as I really seek the Holy Grail and hope to be worthy?"
"It’s true that you’ve done wrong," said Griff cautiously. "Perhaps you’ve done more wrongs than many people; but you’ve also done many tremendous and rare acts of goodness and virtue that far outweigh the mistakes.”
“I killed innocent children once Griff, or ordered them to be killed at least. What if there are some sins that one simply cannot redeem, no matter how hard one tries?”
“That may be so. But consider this, Arthur. Avalon sent us to Eynhallow. It was where you needed to be.”
“That is true. Perhaps if I can’t be redeemed for my acts then at least in achieving the Grail, I might be forgiven.”
“I’m sure that finding the Grail will be a challenge, but we’ve faced challenges before and been successful. I say there’s a good deal of hope left."
Arthur smiled grimly, considering Griff’s words carefully. "Yes. At any rate, we shall soon see what the future holds."