THE GODSLAYER: PART ONE
Outline by Todd Jensen.
Written by Todd Jensen.
Previously on Pendragon....
ARTHUR: What may I do for you?
NIMUE: I need your help with something.
ARTHUR: Nimue? What are you doing here?
NIMUE: When I'm in London, it's 'Vivien Lake', actually.
* * *
NIMUE: Oh, and give Merlin my best wishes. Tell him, if he does not know already, that I am sorry for the trouble that I caused him through the Tower of Air.
~~~The Drowned City~~~
* * *
ODIN (to Danu): The dragons had humans fighting beside them. It was one of them that did this. He smote your husband in the leg, and this was the result. His wound will not heal, and he can barely speak.
THOTH: But what metal can do such a thing? What gives it the power to inflict such injury upon our own king, the mightiest of us all?
~~~The Rising - Part One~~~
* * * * *
"Sir, the package that you were waiting for has arrived," said the butler, standing in the doorway of the library.
Trevor Monteagle put down the book that he had been reading, and looked up at him. "Excellent, Turner," he said. "Pay the - ah - deliverymen. This should cover the expenses." He handed his butler an envelope that had been lying by his elbow upon the table. "Then have Finwood help you bring it in."
"Very well, sir," said Turner. He left the library, envelope in hand. A few minutes later he and another servant re-entered the room, carrying a long and thin wooden crate between the two of them, which they lay down upon the floor.
Monteagle rose from his chair and walked over to the crate, an eager look shining in his eyes. "Itís arrived at last," he said, placing one hand upon the lid of the crate. "After five years of searching, combing every corner of the globe, sorting through ancient manuscripts, sifting through one legend after another, itís finally here. The Godslayer."
He looked up at the two servants. "Well, donít just stand there," he said. "Bring me a crowbar, at once!"
"Very well, sir," said Turner. He and Finwood left the library. Shortly afterwards, Turner returned, bearing an enormous crowbar in his hands. At his masterís signal, he used it to pry loose the lid, revealing a long thin object inside, carefully swathed in a thick cloth. Monteagle drew it out and unwrapped it.
It was a spear, with a dark iron head and a long ash-wood shaft. It tingled in his hands as he held it close to his eyes, drinking in every detail thirstily.
"Yes, this is it," he said, in a breathless voice. "This truly is the ĎGodslayerí. One of the greatest weapons of ancient legend. Do you know what this means, Turner?"
"I fear that I do not, sir," the butler replied. "If you would care to enlighten me?"
"But of course," said Monteagle. He knew well enough that Turner understood exactly what the Godslayer was - Monteagle had explained it to him at considerable length while directing the search for it - but he also knew that the butler knew when to be silent and listen to his master display his knowledge. It was one of the reasons why he had kept Turner on for so long. "This spear has appeared again and again throughout history, and has been in the possession of many great warriors and leaders. It was the spear of Achilles, with which he slew Hector during the Trojan War. Alaric the Goth bore it when he sacked Rome in A.D. 410. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa carried it when he embarked upon the Third Crusade in the late 12th century. And that is not the half of it. There is a good reason as to how it earned its name. A very good reason indeed."
He ran his hands down the shaft, delighting in its texture. At last, however, he lowered it, and with a happy sigh, walked over to one of the bookshelves, and half-pulled a leather-bound edition of Danteís Divine Comedy out from its place. At once, part of the wall slid back with a low rumble, filled with glass cases, with objects of various sorts inside them. A small control panel was mounted in the side of the doorway. Monteagle punched in a few numbers, then nodded as the words flashed on the screen "Security System Deactivated".
Bearing the spear triumphantly in his hands, Monteagle now strode into the hidden room, heading straight for one of the few empty glass cases, a long thin one standing in the exact center of the room that could easily have been designed to house the spear. He halted in front of it, and snapped his fingers.
The butler recognized the signal. He unlocked the case and raised the glass high up. Gently, almost reverently, Monteagle lay the spear down upon the cushion beneath, then nodded to Turner, who lowered the protective glass back into place, and locked it.
"Look at it, Turner," said Monteagle proudly. "In its proper place at last. The greatest glory of my collection. Greater than even the Helmet of Horus or the Breastplate of Gilgamesh."
"Indeed, sir," said Turner, in his best Ďutterly impressedí voice. "Very good, sir."
"And you know the usual routine, Turner," Monteagle continued. "Not a word of this to anybody. The spear is my treasure and mine alone. And here it will forever remain, safe from the prying eyes of the world beyond."
* * *
A pair of eyes shone in the darkness beyond the high stone wall that surrounded Monteagleís house. Eyes that never once blinked, but watched the lorry drive away from the single gate leading to the houseís grounds, then turned back and studied the house itself carefully. At last, the owner of those eyes turned about and walked away, melting into the evening shadows.
Across the street, a young woman, bundled up against the cold, watched the dark figure vanish into the gloom and frowned concernedly, before leaving as well.
* * * * *
"Well, I suppose that settles it," said Griff, looking over the map of Great Britain spread out upon the table. "Weíve run out of places in Britain where the Grailís likely to be found."
"All too true," said Una, nodding. She and Griff, alongside Arthur, Merlin, and Brianna, were seated at the table in the back room of the Mystic shop. "So where do we go from here?"
"Thereís only one logical answer to that question," said Arthur Pendragon. "If the Grail is not in Britain, then it must be abroad. And so we must go abroad to seek it."
"That seems reasonable enough," said Merlin. "All the more so given that you did find Excalibur in New York rather than in Britain, Arthur. If the Grail is outside of Britain as well, that would certainly match."
"But where do we start looking?" asked Griff. "Thatís the big question, isnít it?"
"Well, I suppose that we start the same way that we did when this quest first began," said Merlin. "We simply read through every book that we can find about the Holy Grail, and check for anything connecting it to any location outside of Britain. Then we go there and investigate. And Una does have a few books on the topic here."
"True," she said. "But not quite enough. We could use some additional resources here." She looked thoughtfully at Brianna. "I donít suppose that your friend might be able to help us here," she said. "After all, Jane Nelson is an experienced researcher, and especially good at old legends of this sort."
"Aye, thatís true," said Brianna. "But I dinna like the thought of asking her to help again. After all that sheís been through in the last year, I really dinna think that we should be troubling her so much with our own problems."
"Itís all right," said Arthur. "There are other sources that we can consult besides Ms. Nelson. I understand that there are a great many books written about the Grail these days."
"True enough," said Merlin. "Unfortunately, over half of them were written by crackpots, all trying to promote their theories and willing to bend the facts when they didn't match the conclusions that they had already decided upon. I'd be pretty careful in picking which books to read in deciding upon our next destination, if I were you, Arthur. Where this field is concerned, the words 'lunatic fringe' don't apply. 'Lunatic norm' and 'sane fringe' would be more appropriate."
"Well, that is a problem that we will just have to face," said Arthur, nodding. "But I believe that we will overcome it."
* * *
"Thank you for shopping at Into the Mystic," said Mary Sefton, carefully placing a box of charms in a shopping bag, which she then handed to the young bespectacled woman across the counter.
The woman nodded, and left the shop, the bell over the door jingling behind her. Mary sat down on the stool, and turned to Leo, who was standing beside her. "Itís definitely a slow night," she said. "Thatís the first customer weíve had since sunset."
"True," said Leo. "But these things tend to move in cycles. Maybe we'll have more business tomorrow night."
"I suppose so," said Mary.
During the past few weeks, she had begun helping Leo and Una out at the shop as a part-time clerk. It had freed Una from her regular duties there, allowing her to spend more time both researching the Grail and developing minor spells that would slow - though not entirely check - the progress of Morgana's poison, thus allowing Merlin to hold on longer. It wasn't a bad job, either. The only problem that she had had about it was that there had been some initial talk about having her wear a hooded robe and an animal mask of some sort, so that she wouldn't stand out too much from Leo and Una. Mary had hurriedly put down that idea - it was bad enough that she had to take on a beast-shape during the day, after all - and in the end, they had settled for her wearing a long dark green cloak for her "shop uniform", with no talk about masks. That had been much more to her liking.
"Well, at least I can get caught up a little more on my reading," she said, reaching for the copy of Bulfinchís Age of Chivalry lying on the shop counter at her elbow, and opening it to where she had left off.
She had not gotten very far in the book, however, when there came a fresh jingle at the door. She and Leo looked up to see a young woman, wearing a heavy jacket with a hood pulled up over her head, enter the shop.
"May we help you, maíam?" Leo asked as the newcomer approached the customer.
"Yes," the woman replied in a soft, musical voice. She pulled back her hood, freeing a mass of reddish-blonde hair that fell almost to her waist, framing a pale, elegantly-featured face with light blue eyes. "I would like you to deliver a message to Arthur Pennington for me."
Leo and Mary both stiffened at once. "And just what business do you have with him?" Leo asked. Mary said nothing, but looked at the woman closely. She didnít look like Morgana, but then again, she didnít have to. If Morgana can impersonate me, she thought, then she can certainly shape-shift into somebody else.
"Tell him that itís Vivien Lake," the woman replied, not sounding fazed at all. "Heíll understand."
"Just a moment, then," said Leo, frowning. "Please wait here, Ms. Lake. Iíll be back shortly."
He left the counter, and headed into the back room where Arthur was still conferring with the others. Mary continued to look closely at the young woman, wondering who she was and how she knew that Arthur was here. Maybe she wasnít Morgana in disguise after all, but that didnít necessarily make her safe; for all that Mary knew, this woman could be a prying reporter determined to get to the bottom of the Pennington mystery, or even somebody from the Government who wanted answers. While the controversy over Arthur had been replaced by other topics and was no longer front-page material in the newspapers, it had not completely died down. It was more like a dormant volcano, currently inactive, but still with all the possibility of bursting into an eruption with the right trigger. For that matter, the name "Vivien" sounded all too familiar. Familiar enough, in fact, that she was beginning to develop a strong suspicion about her.
"Youíre different from the others," said the young woman, looking at Mary thoughtfully.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Mary at once, only barely managing to keep her voice calm amid her alarm. She couldnít possibly know that Iím a werewolf, could she? I mean, she canít even see the tips of my ears.
"I mean, that youíre not a gargoyle like the other shopkeepers," Vivien Lake said. "That certainly comes as something of a surprise."
"Well, yes, I suppose it would," Mary began, feeling relieved upon discovering what the young woman had really meant. Then suddenly she stopped short, as the implications of Vivien's statement struck her. "You - you were just joking, right?" she asked. "I mean -" She faltered, not knowing what to say next.
"It's quite all right," said Vivien, with a smile. "I know about them already, and you needn't fear for them. I've kept their secret for many years now, and I won't reveal it to anyone."
"Thank you," said Mary, as she continued to watch the young woman closely.
* * *
"Yes, Leo?" asked Arthur, as the lion-gargoyle entered the back room.
"Arthur, thereís a customer up front who wants to speak with you," said Leo. "I donít know how she knew to look for you here, but sheís waiting by the counter."
Arthur and the others, seated about the table, started at once. "But that's impossible!" Merlin protested. "I mean, we've all been so very careful about covering our tracks! How was she able to trace Arthur here?"
"She wasnít Regina Fitzwalter, was she?" Griff asked.
Leo shook his head. "She gave her name as Vivien Lake," he said. "Apparently thatís supposed to mean something to you, Arthur."
"That must be Nimue," Arthur said at once, rising from his chair. "She used that name before, when she came to ask for my help in recovering the Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir."
"Nimue?" Merlin cried with a gasp. "Sheís here?"
"So it would seem," said Arthur. He turned to Leo. "Iíll go out and see her," he said.
Merlin got up, reaching for his cane. "I suppose that I will, too," he said in a decidedly shaky voice.
"You donít have to come out with me," said Arthur to him. "After all, she only mentioned my name, Merlin. Youíre free to wait here."
Merlin shook his head. "Thanks, Arthur," he said, "but I believe that this is something that Iíll need to do." And he walked out after Arthur.
Nimue, wearing modern-day clothing again as she had done during the adventure at Ys, but otherwise looking the same as ever, was standing at the counter, when Arthur emerged. Mary was seated behind it, watching her cautiously and looking a little ill at ease.
"Ah, Arthur," said Nimue, greeting him happily. "Youíre here. This will be quicker than I had expected."
"Greetings, Nimue," said Arthur. "I assume that this is not intended as a social visit."
She shook her head. "Iím afraid not," she said. "Arthur, is Merlin here as well? Because we will need all the help that we can with this problem."
"Yes, heís here," Arthur replied. "But - well, heís changed."
"Changed?" asked Nimue. "How so?"
Before Arthur could answer, Merlin came out from the back room, still leaning on his cane. He halted and stared at Nimue, his eyes widening. Nimue turned to look at him and almost gasped in disbelief. "Merlin?" she said, looking at the thin young boy limping his way up to the counter.
"A regeneration gone awry," said Merlin. "At least you havenít undergone the same humiliation that I have. You look the same as you did in Broceliande all those centuries ago."
"Thank you," she said with a smile. Mary frowned, but said nothing.
Nimue turned back to Arthur. "Arthur, what I have to tell you is very urgent. Can we go into the back room to discuss it, please? After all, thereís no telling when the next customer arrives, and Iíd prefer a little secrecy for this conversation."
"Of course," said Arthur. "Merlin, Mary, come with me, if you please." Turning back to Nimue, he said, "Mary Sefton is my new squire. You may speak freely in her presence."
Nimue nodded. "Ah, yes," she said. "We were just becoming acquainted."
"Iíll take care of the customers," said Leo, resuming his place at the counter. "You lot go and handle your business."
Arthur nodded. "Follow me," he said to Nimue, leading her into the back room.
"Griff you already know," he said to the halfling enchantress, as they entered the room where the three gargoyles were waiting for them, looking at Nimue closely. "This is Brianna, his mate, and Una, who is one of the regular shopkeepers here." Turning to them, he said, "And this is the Lady Nimue, from Brittany."
Once they had exchanged brief greetings with each other, Arthur turned back to Nimue. "So tell me, what is this urgent matter that you needed to consult me on?"
"A very serious matter indeed, Arthur," said Nimue in a grave voice. "Serious enough that I need your help and Merlinís in dealing with it. The Godslayer has been found. And itís here, in London."
"The Godslayer?" Merlin said, looking alarmed. "I thought that it had been lost forever centuries ago. Truth to tell," he added, "I wish that it had been lost forever, in light of all the damage that it can do."
"It was lost, true," said Nimue. "But not destroyed. Which is why Iíve come here. We will need to find some way of disposing of it, before it can be used again."
"Iím afraid that I donít quite understand this myself, my lady," said Griff, speaking up just then. "What is this Godslayer, anyway?"
"Aye," said Brianna. "Iíve never heard oí it before."
"Itís a magic spear," explained Merlin, "very old, and very deadly. In fact, itís probably one of the most dangerous magical objects ever forged. It was used to slay my grandfather, King Avallach, during the Dragon War, long ago."
"It's that powerful?" Griff asked. "I mean, it could actually kill the original ruler of the Third Race?"
Merlin nodded. "Balinos the Mad used it to strike him down. He was the very man who made that spear, so many centuries ago, and the man responsible for its terrible nature...."
* * * * *
ATLANTIS - ELEVEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO
Balinos son of Kritias, Lord of Rhytion, smiled proudly as his chariot rumbled across the bridge leading to his family estate.
He had been away for two years, leading High King Thoasís men in battle as they conquered Hyperborea, making its people tributary to the mighty Atlantean empire. The war was over at last, the Hyperborean chieftains had sworn allegiance to Atlantis, and now he was returning home in triumph. Behind him his soldiers marched, bearing his share of the spoils of war.
"It was a fine campaign, Mekisteus," he said to his charioteer. "The northern tribes will think twice now before defying the rule of our High King. Weíve quelled their defiance once and for all."
"Aye, my lord," said Mekisteus, nodding. "That we have."
"This is a glorious day," said Balinos. "The gods have filled my cup with the sweetest nectar that ever a man drank. Indeed, I may go so far as to say -"
It was then that the odor of smoke reached his nostrils. And then, he saw, up ahead, the dark clouds billowing upwards, and knew what they meant
"No!" he cried in horror. "My home!"
He snatched the reins out of Mekisteusís hands, and lashed the horses drawing his chariot in a fury. "Faster!" he shouted at them frantically. "Faster! Run as though you had wings!"
The horses sped onward under his goading. Soon they came into sight of the great stone house in which he and his ancestors had lived for many generations. Balinos's eyes widened as he saw the nightmarish scene before him.
Flames overran the building, licking at the walls, dancing upon the roof. From within, he could hear a crash as some great rafter fell from the ceiling, loosened by the fire. The servants of his household were standing outside it, staring numbly at the destruction.
Balinos halted the chariot and jumped out, not even looking back to see if Mekisteus had caught the reins from him or not. He ran up to the crowd of horrified onlookers, pushing through it until he came up to Clymenos, his steward.
"What is going on here?" he asked, seizing the man by the shoulders. "Who is responsible for this evil?"
"My lord," said Clymenos, turning around at once to face his master. "Thank the gods that you have returned! We tried to stop the fire, but it was too much for us. We were unable to quench it. And your mother -"
"My mother?" cried Balinos, all but shaking the man now. "What of her?"
"She is trapped inside, my lord," said Clymenos. "We attempted to save her, but the flames were too fierce -"
Balinos ran towards the house without even waiting for the old man to finish his sentence. "Mother!" he cried. He dashed through the open doorway into the megaron. Already the fire was at work, licking at the muraled walls and blackening them, eating away at the great beams above, roaring and crackling with savage glee. Balinos coughed as the smoke entered his nostrils and lungs, and blinked as his eyes began to water. "Mother!" he called again.
He heard a faint voice from the far end of the hall. His mother was standing against the wall, surrounded by fire, looking frightened. She turned towards him and saw him. "Balinos!" she cried out, but her voice was faint, barely reaching his ears. Yet it was enough. He ran towards her.
Before he could reach her, however, a portion of the ceiling between them, its supports weakened by the flames, gave way. It came crashing down, blocking his path. Balinos struggled forward, but the fire burned so fiercely that he could not make his way past it. "Mother!" he shouted. And even as he did so, he heard one last faint moan for help, which then died away in silence. It was then that he realized, even as the heat of the flames forced him back, that he had come too late.
* * *
"How did it happen?"
Balinos and Clymenos stood side by side, gazing at the ruined house. Only a few blackened wall-fragments remained standing; the rest of it was charred wood and rubble, still smoldering a little. And buried somewhere within it, Balinos knew, were the remains of his mother.
He repeated his question, in a numb, almost expressionless voice, to his steward. "How did it happen? How did the house come to be on fire?"
"It was - some of Cronos's people," said Clymenos. "I do not know which ones they were, my lord, but from what I saw of them they were clearly of the race of the gods. They appeared in the heavens above the house, only half an hour before your arrival, and set the roof of the house ablaze, then disappeared, laughing merrily."
"Laughing?" asked Balinos harshly. "They wrought this destruction, as though it was nothing more than a jest? As though the destruction of my house and the death of my mother were nothing more than sport to them?"
"So it would appear," said Clymenos. "I am no scholar nor priest, my lord. I cannot tell you for certain what they may have thought at the time. I speak only of what I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears."
"I came too late," said Balinos, his voice shaking. "Had I only returned a few minutes sooner, I might have saved her. I failed her."
"Not by choice, my lord," said Clymenos softly. "You could not have known, when you were on your way home. You did all that you could."
"And it still was not enough!" cried Balinos in despair. "She is dead! Her spirit has already crossed the river Styx, to wander eternally amid the asphodel fields! She is gone forever! And I could not prevent it! I could not save her!" He began to weep, while his steward watched in silence.
The funeral services for his mother were held the following day. Balinos played his role in the ancient ceremonies with strict formality, but his voice and his eyes proclaimed his torn emotions. When the ritual had ended and her remains been laid to rest, he stood by her mound, staring down at it. Clymenos stood beside him, in a respectful silence."
"My lord, what do you mean?" asked Clymenos.
"I will rid the world of these pestilential creatures, who amuse themselves by sending misery and suffering upon us mortals, striking us dead for their sport as if we were no more to them but flies," said Balinos, in a low, calm voice. "I will cleanse the world of their mischief, purge it of their meddling. I shall destroy every last one of the gods. This I vow!" He paused for a moment, then added, "If I only knew how."
He turned to Clymenos. "Send for Ormenos," he said. "I must consult with him."
* * *
"And so it is for this purpose that I have summoned you here, Ormenos," said Balinos to the old priest, as they stood atop the hill overlooking the ruins of what had once been his house. It was after sunset, and already, the stars had emerged in the heavens above. Clymenos stood by the two men, holding up a torch so that they might see as they spoke to one another. "You are the most learned man in this region of Atlantis. Surely you must know a way whereby I may avenge myself upon the gods."
"Avenge yourself upon the gods?" cried the priest, looking shocked. "Surely you cannot mean this, Lord Balinos. Why, the mere thought of such an act is blasphemous. They are the gods."
"I owe them no allegiance," Balinos answered grimly. "They have brought misery and suffering into my life. They caused the fire that took my mother's life, and to them, it was no more than a game. I want to deliver the world from them."
"If they brought about the fire," said Ormenos, speaking in an uncomfortable tone of voice, "then surely they had some good reason for doing so, one which we mortals cannot fathom. But even if your mere desire to destroy them were not sacrilege in itself, it could never be accomplished. They are greater than us, more powerful. They are immortal, and cannot be slain. No weapon in all of Atlantis can harm them; even the finest swords and spears in the High Kingís armory would avail you naught against them. Give up this futile quest, Balinos, I pray you."
"I will not give it up," Balinos replied. "There has to be a way. I will find a way."
"My lord!" cried Clymenos, his eyes widening with terror and awe. "Look!"
The two men turned in the direction that the steward was pointing in, and looked up at the heavens. Then both stared at the marvel above in amazement, unable to speak.
At first, it seemed to Balinos as though the stars were falling from the sky. Then he realized that what he was seeing instead was streaks of fire, plummeting to the ground while the familiar stars remained in their places. He gazed at the spectacle, and then turned to Ormenos. "What does it mean?" he asked.
"I do not know," said the priest. "But I fear that it is an omen of great and dire significance. What else can such a wonder be?"
As he spoke, a ball of fire hurtled almost directly over their heads, speeding earthwards in great haste. Moments later, the ground shook slightly beneath their feet, and a loud crash sounded to their left.
"What was that, my lord?" asked Clymenos.
"There is only one way to find out," said Balinos, drawing his bronze sword. "Follow me."
He ran down the hill in the direction of the crash, Clymenos and Ormenos following him. Balinos forced his way through the trees, impatiently slashing at their foliage with his bronze sword whenever they barred his path. At last he emerged from them to find a crater freshly gouged into the ground, dust and smoke still rising from it. At the bottom of it lay an enormous rock.
"A stone from the sky," he said, staring down at it. "An omen indeed."
Clymenos and Ormenos joined him at the edge of the crater, and stared down at the rock with him. Balinos turned to the priest, and said to him, "What do you make of that, my friend?"
Ormenos stared down at the stone, frowning. "I must have a closer look at it," he said.
"Then you shall," said Balinos. He climbed down the side of the pit, helping the priest descend with him. Balinos patted the stone, noting as he did so, to his surprise, how cold it was. "Now, look closely upon it, Ormenos," he said. "Tell me what you can learn of it."
Ormenos stared down at the stone from the heavens, and ran his own hands over its surface. Then he gave a horrified cry, and stepped back from it.
"You must destroy this stone, Balinos!" he cried, his voice trembling with horror. "Destroy it or bury it! Do not let anyone else near it!"
"Why not?" asked Balinos. "What is it?"
"It will prove the bane of the gods," said Ormenos, shivering. Then he stopped short, as he realized what he had just said.
"The bane of the gods?" Balinos repeated, his eyes lighting up. "Excellent!" He turned and called up to Clymenos, watching them from the edge of the pit above.
"Awaken some of the servants, and bring horses too," he called up. "I want this stone out of this pit and within my storehouse before daybreak."
* * *
Over the next few days, Balinos and his people examined the stone closely, Balinos hoping all the while to discover just what Ormenos had meant by his words. The old priest had refused to assist Balinos with his enterprise, declaring it a work of dangerous folly that would only doom the world, but the Atlantean lord merely waved him off to continue his study of it.
It was after they broke it open, inspired by an idea of Balinos's that perhaps the secret might lie within the stone itself, that they discovered that it contained a metal ore, but one that the smith on Balinosís estate was unfamiliar with. However, after extracting some of the ore, the smith proceeded to tell Balinos that it was of a nature that made it suitable for forging into weapons. Eagerly, Balinos at once commanded him to shape the ore into a weapon, and named its precise nature.
"Why a spear-head, my lord?" asked the smith, puzzledly. "There is more than enough ore in this rock to shape into a sword!"
"That is true," said Balinos. "But a spear will suit my needs better."
The smith was baffled by his words, but set to work..
* * *
"Well done," said Balinos, as the smith dipped the completed spear-head in the water by his forge to cool it. "Now all that I need is the shaft itself."
"I will speak to the woodsmen and to your carpenters, my lord," said Clymenos. "I will instruct them to provide you with a spear-shaft worthy of you."
"That will not be necessary, Clymenos," said Balinos. "I know where a spear-shaft truly worthy of this head may be found."
* * *
"My lord, this is utter madness!" Ormenos protested, as he followed Balinos into the grove. "To even attempt what you are doing-"
"This is necessary, Ormenos," replied Balinos, not even glancing back at the priest as he walked straight towards the ash tree in the center of the grove. "Nothing else will do for me."
"That ash is one of the holiest trees in all Atlantis!" cried Ormenos. "It sprang from a seed of the Great Ash Tree that grows in the citadel of the gods in Ultima Thule! The gods presented it to King Atlas himself, when Atlantis was founded!"
"And now they will have cause to rue their act," said Balinos, without turning back his head. He gazed up at the ash tree, which raised its stately form upon a grassy mound. Gently he touched the branch growing closest to him, running his fingers back and forth across its bark with tenderness. Then he drew his sword and hacked it off at its base.
Sap gushed from out of the tree, staining the blade. The ash tree shuddered, and began to shed its leaves. Ormenos gasped in horror, but dared not speak.
Balinos lopped the leaves off the branch with his sword and roughly sharpened the tip of it. He then drew the spear-head wrought from the sky-metal out of his pouch, and placed it at the end of the shaft.
An unearthly glow spread over the head, and from it over the branch. The branch began to change shape, straightening itself out, shedding its imperfections, growing as smooth as though it had been specially prepared by a skilled craftsman for its function. The light bathed the new spear in an eerie radiance.
"My weapon, with which I shall avenge my mother's death!" cried Balinos, thrusting the spear aloft into the air. The glow surrounding the spear grew stronger, and then a ray of light shot from its tip upwards into the heavens. The clouds began to churn above, growing darker, and thunder rumbled, while a strong wind arose. The ash tree trembled and began to wilt, shedding more of its leaves. Ormenos retreated to the edge of the grove, shivering in fear.
"Through you, I shall achieve my purpose!" shouted Balinos, speaking to the spear. "And I name you, the Godslayer!"
A blast of lightning shot down from the storm-clouds above, striking the sacred ash tree. Ormenos closed his eyes against the sight. When he opened them, all that remained of the tree was a charred stump in the ground, from which smoke still rose. And Balinos was striding out from the clearing, still brandishing his new spear in triumph, not even glancing back at the destruction. Ormenos briefly gazed into the man's eyes as Balinos walked past him, and then turned away at once. For the only thing that frightened him more than the fate of the sacred ash was the light that shone in Balinos's eyes.
* * * * *
"And that was how the Godslayer was made," said Merlin. "And with it, Balinos struck down Avallach."
"But, how could a spear do all that?" Griff asked.
"It was not just any spear," said Merlin. "Its head was forged from the iron ore in the meteorite, the one element that the Third Race are powerless against. The Godslayer was the very first weapon ever made from that metal. And its shaft was formed from a sacred ash tree sprang from Yggdrasill itself. The combination of the two, combined with Balinos's own desire for vengeance, a desire so strong that it had all but destroyed his own sanity, was enough to transform it into a fearsome weapon, one of the most fearsome of all time." He turned back to Nimue. "And it's actually been found? By whom?"
"A man named Trevor Monteagle," said Nimue. "He lives in Mill Hill, in the borough of Barnet."
"Iíve heard of him," said Merlin. "Heís a wealthy recluse, with a certain fondness for collecting ancient historical artifacts."
"Iíve never heard of his collection before," said Arthur.
"Neither have I," chimed in Mary. "Father's mentioned him a few times, but never said anything about that hobby of his."
"There's a reason for that," said Merlin. "Monteagle's collection is top-secret. A lot of the artifacts that he collected, he didn't acquire through honest means. He deals with looters that ransack historical sites, and I suspect that he may even have obtained a few of the objects in his collection through museum robberies. Of course, he's cautious enough that there's nothing to connect him officially to any of those thefts, but still, he prefers to not let other people know about it. However, he hasn't managed to hush up all the rumors. They haven't reached the ears of anybody in authority so far, but they've certainly reached mine. And evidently they've reached Nimue's, as well."
She nodded. "I learned that the Godslayer had recently been removed from its current hiding place, and was being conveyed to Monteagleís home. I followed it there, and watched it being delivered to him. He has it now."
"What do you suppose he plans to do with it?" asked Griff. "Do you think that heíll try taking over the world with it, or something like that?"
Nimue shook her head. "From what I know of Monteagle," she said, "heís far more likely to lock it up with the rest of his collection and gloat over it. I donít think that he actually realizes that the spear is magical. He just sees it as a valuable historical artifact. But I suspect that there are others who know about it. I saw somebody watching the house when I arrived."
"What did this person look like?" Arthur asked her.
"I'm afraid that I don't know," she replied. "He was wrapped up in thick, dark garments; I couldn't tell what was beneath them."
"It could have been just a regular burglar," suggested Mary. "I mean, Monteagleís collectionís a secret, but a lot of people know that heís very wealthy. Maybe the man whom you saw was plotting to steal his silver instead."
"No, this was no ordinary criminal," said Nimue. "I could not penetrate his coverings, but I could tell that there was something wrong about him. You might call it a halflingís intuition. And the timing of that figure - I very much suspect that he intends to steal the Godslayer, either for himself, or for someone else. Which is something that we cannot allow to happen. And since I felt that I might need some help, and knew that you were living nearby, I came here to ask for your aid." She looked meaningfully at both Arthur and Merlin.
"Well, I donít know just how much help I can be, except in an advisory capacity," Merlin admitted. "My magic hasnít been the same since my rejuvenation, and Iím not in the best of health at present, either. But Iíll do what I can."
"I will help you as well, Nimue," said Arthur. "If this spear is as perilous as you and Merlin say, then I would certainly agree that it should be kept out of the wrong hands."
"So whatís our first move, Arthur?" asked Griff.
"I believe that we should visit this Mr. Monteagle," Arthur replied, "and explain to him about the true nature of his new acquisition. We should warn him about the attention that it has already attracted."
"He might not listen to you," said Mary concernedly. "I mean - how seriously is he going to take it if somebody tells him that that old spear that he just added to his collection is really this very powerful magic weapon that could destroy the world? Heíll probably just call you a nutter and slam the door in your face."
"That is a very real possibility," admitted Arthur. "However, this Monteagle certainly must believe enough of the legend to prize the spear, and go to great lengths to gain it. In that case, we may be able to persuade him of the rest of the story. And if not - well, we may have to provide some proof to him ourselves that the world is a much stranger place than most people suspect.
"So Merlin, Mary, both of you should come with Nimue and myself. The four of us will speak to Monteagle and warn him. Griff, you and Brianna should come with us also, but stay out of sight unless we need you. If there is an attempted burglary, we will need all the help that we can. Una, ring up the estate and inform the others. Tell them to be ready to come out as well if we need reinforcements. And tell Kevin as well. We'll need his transportation."
* * * * *
Kevin halted the cab outside the gates of Trevor Monteagleís home in Barnet. "Here we are," he said, turning to Arthur, who was seated in the passengerís seat to his left. "Everybody out."
"Thank you, Kevin," said Arthur, climbing out of the cab and onto the pavement. Merlin, Nimue, and Mary exited the back seat, where all three of them had been seated during the drive. Nimue had sat in the middle, between the two youngsters. The three of them had remained silent the entire time, although Mary had been watching Nimue cautiously ever since they had left the shop.
Two winged shapes passed overhead. Griff nodded briefly to Arthur, acknowledging his presence. Then he and Brianna glided on, to alight upon a ledge over the front door of Trevor Monteagle's Tudor-style mansion, and take up their positions there.
"I hope that nobody notices them there," commented Merlin. "Casual passers-by probably wonít be a problem, but I think that we can be certain that Mr. Monteagle and his staff will be getting quite suspicious if they notice a couple of new decorations on their house."
"Itís dark enough," said Arthur. "I believe that they will be safe." And with that, he rang the electronic doorbell mounted to the right of the ironwork gate.
The intercom above it buzzed, and a voice spoke. "Yes?" it asked. "May I inquire as to whom is outside?"
"My name is Arthur Pennington," said Arthur. "My friends and I have urgent business with Mr. Monteagle, sir. We wish to speak with him."
"Mr. Monteagle generally does not take well to unexpected visitors, sir," said the voice at the other end of the intercom. "However - Pennington, did you say, sir?"
"I did indeed," said Arthur.
"I will inform Mr. Monteagle of your request," said the man. "Please wait here."
A few minutes later the intercom crackled, and the manís voice spoke again. "Mr. Monteagle has agreed to receive you, sir. Please enter." And the ironwork gate slid back.
"I suppose that my fame precedes me here," commented Arthur, as the four of them proceeded up the walk to the house.
"Most likely," said Merlin. "From what I know of Monteagle, I imagine that he would be likely to take some interest in your case. We'd better watch what we say. One wrong word, and he might be after Excalibur, to add it to his collection."
They halted in front of the front door, a heavy oaken portal studded with darkened iron nails. An enormous brass knocker in the shape of an eagle hung in the middle of it. As they stood on the doorstep, the door swung open, and the butler stood in the doorway.
"Mr. Monteagle will receive you in the library, Mr. Pennington," he said. "Follow me, please."
They entered the house, pausing only long enough to hand the butler their overcoats, which he quietly put away in a closet in the hall. Then, he led them down the oak-paneled hallway and straight to the library.
Trevor Monteagle was standing by the fireplace as they entered. He was a middle-aged man, with thinning greyish-white hair and a lean, almost ascetic face that, at first glance, made him look almost like Sherlock Holmes. The dressing gown that he wore over his clothes only added to that initial impression. A closer inspection, however, showed a calculating look in his eyes, an almost predatory cast to his features that would have been more appropriate for Professor Moriarty than for the great detective. He turned to face his visitors,and nodded regally.
"Mr. Pennington, I presume," he said. "Or do you prefer to go by 'King Arthur'? I understand that you've proven quite the controversy lately, ever since that incident at Buckingham Palace.""
"That is all too true, Mr. Monteagle," said Arthur. "Regrettably so. And Mr. Pennington will do," he added.
"I fail to recognize your friends, though," Monteagle continued. "If you would be so courteous as to introduce them to me?"
"This is Vivien Lake," said Arthur, indicating Nimue. "And this is my ward Emrys Hawkins, and Mary Sefton."
"Sefton," said Monteagle musingly. "Youíre Sir Nigel Seftonís daughter, arenít you?" he asked the girl.
"Yes, sir," she said, nodding.
"Please convey to your father my congratulations concerning his recent knighthood," said Monteagle, then turned back to face Arthur. "I must admit," he said, "that I can't say that I approve of your unexpected visit. For a man claiming to be the legendary King Arthur returned, you might consider displaying a little more etiquette."
"My apologies, Mr. Monteagle," said Arthur. "Unfortunately, the matter that we needed to discuss with you was of considerable urgency, and we could not afford any delays."
"Well, there's no point in standing about while discussing this," said Monteagle, shruggng his shoulders. "We really should sit down first, and talk this over more comfortably." His eyes fell upon Excalibur, hanging in its scabbard from Arthur's belt. "What a magnificent sword," he said. "Do you mind if I have a closer look at it, Mr. Pennington?"
"I very much do," replied Arthur sternly.
"Weíre sorry, Mr. Monteagle," Nimue said, "but we really have very little time to seat ourselves. This matter is very important. We understand that you recently acquired a very old and valuable spear, known as the Godslayer."
The moment that she mentioned its name, Monteagle stiffened. "Might I ask what gives you the impression that I have such an object in my possession?"
"Itís a complicated matter," said Nimue. "What matters is this. We came here to warn you about it. We have good reason to believe -"
"That will do," interrupted Monteagle sharply. "First you intrude yourselves upon my home, without waiting for an invitation, and now you make some absurd allegation about my having some mythical spear somewhere on the premises. I don't know what your intent is, but one thing I am certain of. You are not welcome here at all. Get out, now!"
"But -" Nimue began.
"I said, go!" said Monteagle. "Be thankful that Iím not having you evicted in a much rougher fashion, Mr. Pennington, given that your associates are a lady and a couple of children - and why you would employ youngsters in such a scheme is beyond me. But I am giving you five minutes to leave this house, and if youíre not off my grounds by then, I am calling the police. And that would clearly be most inconvenient for you, Mr. Pennington, in view of certain questions still floating about concerning you."
"I don't think that you'll actually do it, sir," said Merlin. "I mean, the authorities are certainly going to want to know what this is all about, and I don't think that you'd want them even suspecting that you've assembled a collection of stolen historical artifacts. It could make things rather tricky for you."
Monteagle turned to stare at the boy, looking noticeably uncomfortable. He then sighed, and took his checkbook from out of his dressing-gown pocket. "So thatís your little game, is it?" he asked. "Very well, then. How much do you want in return for your silence?"
"You misunderstand us, Mr. Monteagle," said Arthur. "Weíre not here to blackmail you. I certainly donít approve of the methods whereby you obtained the artifacts in your possession, but that was not the reason that brought us here. Rather, itís a matter concerning the Godslayer. We have good reason to suspect that somebody wishes to steal it from you."
"Steal it from me?" asked Monteagle. "Who? And just how do you know that?" He looked at them sharply. "For that matter, how is it that you even know about the Godslayer being here? I knew that you were a private investigator, Mr. Pennington, but even you could not be that skilled at it." As he looked at him closely, a new idea seemed to occur to him. "You're being employed by someone, is that it? Who is it, then? If it's that blasted Xanatos, you can tell him for me that I am not parting with anything - and that I still haven't forgotten how he got his hands on the Eye of Odin before I did."
"We are not working for anyone," said Arthur. "We merely wish to alert you to the fact that somebody is more than likely to make the attempt to steal the Godslayer from you."
"And just who is this person?" Monteagle asked.
"We do not know as yet," said Arthur. "All that we have are suspicions. However, we believe that it would be best if you were to work with us in keeping the spear out of the hands of whoever intends to steal it."
"Preferably by destroying it," added Nimue, "if thatís possible."
Monteagle stared at the young woman, appearing absolutely appalled now. "Destroy it?" he cried. "Are you mad? That spear must be worth millions of pounds! You are seriously asking me to destroy something that valuable?"
"If necessary, yes," said Nimue, "Assuming that it can be destroyed, of course. If not, we may have to settle for finding some other means of keeping it forever out of reach of anyone who covets it for its power."
"I've heard enough of this," said Monteagle. "First you people invite yourselves over to my home, then you accuse me of having some ancient mythical spear beneath my very roof, and finally you suggest that I get rid of it because it's supposed to be a powerful magical weapon that could destroy the world. I do not have to take this from you any more. Get out, now!"
"Very well, then," said Arthur. He turned to the others. "We might as well be on our way now," he said. "I donít think that we can accomplish anything useful by remaining here and arguing with him any further."
They left the library. Trevor Monteagle watched them depart, a deepening frown upon his face.
* * *
They stood outside the low wall surrounding Mr. Monteagleís house a few minutes later, in the shadow of some trees growing at the edge of the grounds. There was a flapping of wings above, and Griff and Brianna alighted next to them, taking care to position themselves so that the humans were standing between them and the street, in case anyone were to drive past.
"So how did it go?" Griff asked.
"Not very well," said Arthur. "Mr. Monteagle proved to be much more stubborn than we thought. He refused to listen to us, and turned us out of the house."
"So what do we do now, Arthur?" Mary asked.
"The best thing to do," he replied, "is to stay here and keep watch. Itís more than likely that the stranger whom Nimue saw may return sometime tonight, no doubt with some friends, and make some sort of an effort to break into the house and steal the Godslayer. We must be ready for him. That means standing guard here, for the remainder of the night."
"What if they donít come tonight?" asked Merlin.
"Then we will have to return here the following night," replied Arthur, "and the night after that, until whoever it is makes his move. In the meantime, we must take up our posts.
"Griff, you and Brianna go back to the roof of the house and perch there. Keep watch over the grounds from above. Merlin, you and Nimue stand guard over there." He pointed to the left side of the house. "Mary, you and I will take the opposite side of the house. Just remember, all of you, to keep out of sight. We do not wish for Monteagle and his people to know that we are still here, given that it would only make matters more complicated."
"We really could use a few more people for this stake-out," said Merlin. "Weíve still got two sides of the house left unguarded."
"True enough," Arthur admitted. "In retrospect, I probably should have summoned the others from the estate, to serve as reinforcements. But that can't be helped. At least Griff and Brianna can observe the grounds from above, and their presence can alert us if the thieves approach from the front or the back of the house. Now let us take up our positions."
Griff and Brianna climbed back up the nearest tree, to glide over to the roof again. Merlin and Nimue moved a little further down the pavement, to stand by the exact center of the wall. Arthur and Mary proceeded to circle the house, so that they might take up their post on the other side.
As they walked off, Mary briefly glanced back at Nimue and Merlin. There was an uneasy look in her eyes as she watched them walking off together, side by side. She said nothing, however, but followed quickly after Arthur.
* * * * *
"You wished to speak with us, sir?" asked Turner. He, Finwood, and a third servant stood before Monteagle in the library.
"Indeed I do," said Monteagle. "I need to remove the Godslayer. I donít know how it happened - I was certain I had been careful in covering my tracks - but Pennington somehow knows that I have it in my possession. I don't know what he's planning to do about it, but I cannot keep it here. I must transfer it to another location, at least, until all this commotion ends."
He pulled on his copy of Dante on the bookshelf, and the secret panel swung back. After disarming the security system for the second time that night, he entered the secret collection room, followed by his servants, and walked straight up to the case in which the legendary spear sat. At his nod, Turner unlocked the case, and removed the Godslayer from it.
"This is so frustrating," Monteagle commented grimly. "I canít even keep it here for twenty-four hours. Finwood, Howells, I want you to take this spear to my country house in Devonshire. Keep it there in storage until Iíve found some solution for our Pennington problem. Take the tunnel to the spare garage. Itíll be safer."
"Of course, sir," said Finwood. He and Howells took the spear from Turner and placed it in a crate, which they then shut tightly, placing a padlock upon it for good measure. They then carried it out of the room. Monteagle and Turner followed them out, Monteagle taking care to re-activate the security system and close the hidden entrance to the collection room behind him.
In the main hallway, Monteagle opened a closet door, and lightly pressed on a piece of the wall inside. The back wall of the closet swung back to reveal a long narrow flight of stairs descending into shadow.
"I really must thank some of my ancestors for being Roman Catholics during Elizabeth Iís reign," Monteagle said, with a slight smile. "These secret passageways and priest-holes have certainly proven quite useful." He turned to Finwood and Howells. "On your way, now, both of you."
They nodded in silence, and bore the crate with the spear inside down the stairs.
* * * * *
Mary paced back and forth uneasily. She and Arthur had been keeping watch for an hour, and seen or heard nothing more than the occasional yowl of a night-prowling cat. Arthur was standing at attention, his hand resting on Excaliburís hilt.
"I know how it is," he said to her at last, as she walked past him again. "The worst part is the waiting, not knowing when they will come. It can be even worse than the actual battle."
"I suppose that youíre right," she said. "But thatís not whatís bothering me, Arthur."
"Then what is?" he asked her.
"Itís Nimue," she said. "Arthur, can we really trust her? I mean, she was the one who locked Merlin up in that invisible tower for years."
"That is true," said Arthur. "But she meant no evil thereby. She only acted as she did because his father led her astray. And she more than made up for it when she saved me from Sir Accolon, and warned me about the true nature of the mantle that Morgana sent me."
"I know," said Mary. "But all the same, I donít quite feel easy about it all."
* * * * *
"Nothing yet," said Merlin, leaning against the wall. "Those thieves certainly seem to be taking their time."
"I would say so," said Nimue. She looked down at the boy. "So how have the centuries been treating you, Merlin? Itís been a very long time since Broceliande. Have you been faring well?"
"More or less," he replied. "Though I've had my share of problems, especially after my last regeneration. Having to attend school all over again, for a start. And then there was the return of my father and his court. And running about the north with Arthur after Morgana framed him."
"You donít look in quite the best of health," said Nimue, gazing thoughtfully at the lock of grey hair falling over his forehead, the lock of hair that he had done his best to conceal ever since it had changed color at Dinas Bran. "A spot of illness?"
"Worse, actually," he replied. "Itís a long story. I donít think that nowís the best time to go into the details."
She nodded. "I wonít press you, then. I must admit, I sometimes did wonder what became of you, after we bade each other farewell. I know that you took Arthur away to Avalon after the Battle of Camlann, and then there was that period of madness of yours up in the Caledonian Forest. And then you simply disappeared."
"Which I wanted to, actually," said Merlin. "I had a number of aliases over the centuries, actually. A few you might have heard of - Thomas the Rhymer, say. Most you probably wouldnít have - I saw to it that theyíd be obscure enough to ensure it.
"But that's enough about me. So how has it been with you?"
"Actually, I've spent nearly all of that time in Brittany," said Nimue, with a smile. "Not that it didnít have its occasional difficulties. I had to keep a low profile during the French Revolution, for example. But for the most part, my life wasnít all that eventful. Iíve been living alone, actually, ever since Pelleas died."
"Pelleas?" asked Merlin. "So what I read about you and he - it really did happen?"
She nodded. "I probably shouldnít have mentioned it," she said apologetically. "I mean - I certainly didnít want to hurt you."
"Itís all right, Nimue," said Merlin. "I mean, I certainly wouldnít have wished being alone on you - and you probably did him a world of good after what Ettarde put him through. He was a good husband, I take it?"
She nodded. "We were very happy together," she said.
"Iím glad to hear it," he said, smiling.
* * * * *
In the darkness beyond Trevor Monteagle's house, five figures crept forward. All of them wore heavy hooded robes, drawn about themselves so as to obscure their features entirely. Swords hung from their belts in ancient leather scabbards. One led the way, while the other four followed him in silence.
They halted at the north wall, facing the back of the mansion, standing where the shadows lay thickest. Their leader studied the house for a moment, then turned and gestured to the other four. Two of them turned and began to circle about the wall to the left, while the other two moved off to the right. The leader remained where he was, waiting.
* * * * *
Mary pricked up her ears. "I heard something just now," she said in a whisper to Arthur. "And this time, it didnít sound like a stray cat."
"Where was it coming from?" he asked her.
"Over in that direction," said Mary, pointing northwards, where the back wall of the house stood.
Arthur drew Excalibur but did not immediately raise it. "Then we had better investigate it," he said.
The former king and his squire crept along the pavement, leaning against the wall, until they reached the northwest corner. A dark-robed shape was just disappearing over it.
Arthur scaled the wall after it, Mary straight behind him. The two of them reached the top, and jumped down, landing neatly just a few inches away from the shrubbery that grew in that corner of the grounds.
Two dark figures were moving stealthily across the grounds towards the house. They halted, however, at the sound of Arthur and Mary landing on the ground, and turned around. Without a word, both drew their swords and advanced upon them.
"These definitely arenít your garden variety burglars," commented Mary in a low voice.
"Stay behind me, Mary," said Arthur, raising Excalibur to face the two intruders. "I do not want you getting injured again."
"I donít think that theyíve got similar objections," muttered the girl, as their assailants closed in.
* * * * *
"Merlin? Merlin, can you hear me?"
"Iím awake, Iím awake," cried the boy, as Nimue shook him. "Sorry about that," he added sheepishly, looking up at her. "I must have dozed off for a moment."
"I heard something at the northeast corner," Nimue told him. "I believe that somebody could be seeking an entrance there."
"Weíll need to get over the wall and inside the grounds," said the young-old wizard, frowning. "Unfortunately, these days Iím not quite up to climbing."
"There are other ways of dealing with such an obstacle," said Nimue, tapping the brick wall. "Hold my hand for a moment."
He clasped her hand tightly. Nimue raised her free hand, and a blue light briefly surrounded them, hiding the world beyond them. When it cleared, they were standing on the other side of the wall. "Come on," she said, rushing towards the direction that the noise had come from. Merlin followed her as quickly as he could hobble.
Two shadowy figures in voluminous hooded robes were moving slowly between the trees, towards the house. The two magic-workers halted, concealing themselves behind a tree and watching them closely. Merlin turned to Nimue and said to her in a whisper, "Do they look anything like the person you saw outside here earlier?"
She nodded. "I fear so," she said.
"Well, weíll have to do something about them in that case," said Merlin. "Youíre going to have to do the bulk of this, actually, my lady," he added with another sigh. "Iím not quite up to it these days."
"The rejuvenation?" she asked him.
"My illness, actually," he said. "Which is why I canít overstrain myself. I made that mistake at Dinas Bran already, and Iíd better not repeat it."
"Very well then," she said. She pointed the index fingers of both hands at the two trees nearest the shrouded figures, and spoke something in a low voice.
At once, the trees bent down, reaching out with their branches at the dark figures. They seized the intruders by the arms, lifting them above the ground.
"There!" cried Merlin eagerly, stamping his cane upon the earth. "That should do it!"
The shadowy figures struggled against their wooden captors, tugging hard. One finally reached the sword at his belt, and began hacking away at the branches that held him, until they released him. He fell to the ground, landing neatly upon his feet with a cat-like grace, and proceeded to free his companion in the same manner. The two turned towards each other, bending their heads close together as though they were conferring.
"This isnít good," said Nimue concernedly. "They know that thereís magic afoot now. Theyíll be looking for us."
"And theyíre definitely well prepared for it, too," said Merlin uncomfortably. He clutched his hawk-headed walking-stick tighter. "Here they come now."
The two dark shapes were now moving across the grounds, now heading towards Merlin and Nimue. The two magic-workers exchanged a worried glance.
* * * * *
Arthur fended off the first assault with a few quick blows from Excalibur, blocking his opponents' sword-thrusts. Mary stood back and watched, searching the grounds nearby as she did so for something that she could use as a weapon in case she had to take part in the battle - which, in a two against one situation, even when the 'one' in question was the legendary King Arthur himself armed with Excalibur, was all too likely.
Suddenly, there came a screeching cry from above, and Griff, eyes glowing white, swooped down upon one of their foes, knocking him off balance. His companion turned around, glancing for a moment at the new arrival, then redirected his attention at Arthur, parrying his blows with his oddly-shaped sword. The first figure pulled himself to his feet, looked the gargoyle over, then rushed at him. Griff nimbly stepped aside, while lashing at the intruder with his tail.
"Thank you for coming so swiftly to our aid, my friend," said Arthur to Griff. "But where is Brianna?"
"At the other side of the house," he replied. "These chaps have a couple of friends over there, who look as though they could cause Merlin and Nimue a spot of bother. Brianna's gone to lend a hand."
"Do you think that heíll be all right?" asked Mary, at once. "They, I mean?"
"I donít know," said Griff, ducking a sword thrust. "These fellows seem pretty tricky. They certainly donít appear to be all that spooked by gargoyles."
"I wonder if they're Illuminati agents," said Mary, picking up a fallen tree branch that lay to her right. It looked as though it could make a fine cudgel if she really needed one.
"It matters little who or what they are," replied Arthur. "What matters is that we must not let them reach the house."
"Yes," said Griff. "That and we mustn't let them take us down, either."
* * * * *
Their enemies were almost upon Merlin and Nimue when a green flash shot down from above, and knocked one flat upon his back. Brianna stood over him, her eyes glowing red. "Ye'll nae be causin' us any grief, whoever ye be!" she said to him with a low growl.
The second figure turned about to face this new threat. Nimue at once raised one hand and gestured at him. A flash of blue light sprang forth from her fingertips and sent his sword flying from his hand, embedding itself in a tree trunk a few feet away. The hooded and robed intruder spun about to face Nimue, and rushed at her.
"Quick, Merlin!" said Nimue. She grasped the youthís hand, and the two of them concentrated hard. Their would-be attacker suddenly halted in his tracks, and then was lifted off the ground by an invisible force, and thrown back into the shrubbery with a crash.
"Not bad," said Merlin, releasing Nimueís hand. "We seem to be doing well so far. They wonít break in so easily now."
* * * * *
A lone figure, shrouded in a hooded robe like the other four invaders, reached the north wall of the house, listening to the fighting on both sides of him. He nodded with satisfaction, then stepped up to the very wall of the house itself, and crept silently along it, inspecting it closely.
At last he came to a great window, one that extended all the way down to the ground. What lay behind it was obscured by a dark curtain, but he knew what the curtain hid anyway. He drew his sword, and brought it down upon the glass, shattering it with a few blows. Then he pushed his way through the curtains, and entered the library.
The houseís burglar alarm was already ringing now. He ignored it, as he strode down the room, eyeing each bookshelf closely, running a gloved hand over their contents. At last he halted in front of a copy of Danteís Divine Comedy. He tugged at it gently, and part of the wall slid open.
The intruder nodded, and turned towards the opening. He stared into the darkened room beyond it, a room filled with glass cases of various shapes and sizes. Then he leaped in.
Another alarm sounded as he landed, but he paid it no heed either. Instead, he checked each glass case after another, eyeing what lay inside for a moment then moving on. At last he came to a halt in front of a long, thin case in the center of the room. He looked inside. The case was empty, but a slight depression upon its cushion was enough to tell him that it had not been empty long before. Only a while earlier, a spear had been resting upon it.
He turned away, snarling slightly in disgust. Footsteps sounded outside the library, and the door began to open. The intruder calmly walked out of the collection room, straight for the library door.
* * *
Turner opened the door, and stepped into the library. The next thing that he knew, he found himself seized by the throat, lifted off the ground by a strong hand, and disarmed. He stared at his captor, a tall figure whose features were hidden beneath the cover of his enshrouding garments.
"The Godssslayer," it said to him, in a low rasping voice, with a faint hiss. "Where isss it?"
"Gone," said Turner, attempting to sound bold and not succeeding. "No longer here."
"That I already know," replied his questioner. "But where hasss it been taken to?"
"I will tell you nothing," cried the butler frantically. "Iím a loyal servant to Mr. Monteagle, and will not betray him."
"You will tell me what I need to know," his captor replied. He placed his free hand upon Turner's forehead, pressing against the skin, muttering a few words as it did so, words that the butler had never heard before, but which sounded harsh and sibilant to his ears. Turner let out a cry of pain and terror, and then blacked out.
* * *
Trevor Monteagle was not far behind Turner, a revolver in his hand. So the burglary had already begun. Well, the Godslayer was already safely off to Devonshire, so it didnít matter. Of course, if the thieves had already plundered the rest of his collection....
He entered the library, to see his butler, slumped forward in unconsciousness, in the grasp of a dark man-like shape. "Put him down!" he shouted, aiming his gun at the intruder. "Put him down, or I'll shoot!"
The thief responded by throwing Turner into Monteagle, knocking the man flat on his back. He then turned and ran out through the shattered window onto the grounds outside. Monteagle pulled himself to his feet and ran after him, halting for a moment by the entrance to his collection room to hurriedly close the swinging wall. By the time that he reached the window, however, the mysterious intruder had disappeared into the night.
* * * * *
Arthur and Griff were still fighting their opponents, and Mary still holding her tree branch tightly, watching from behind, when the shadowy figures halted. They began to retreat, quietly moving away from the king and the gargoyle, falling back towards the wall.
"Ah, proven ourselves too much for you, havenít we?" cried Griff eagerly, as he and his companions advanced upon them. "Thatís right! Run, both of you! Weíve beaten you!"
The intruders reached the wall and quietly climbed over it. Arthur, Griff, and Mary halted in their tracks and looked at each other.
"Should we go after them, Arthur?" Griff asked.
Arthur shook his head. "I very much doubt that that will be necessary," he said. "We have turned back their first assault. Although I must confess that I am surprised that they retreated so quickly. They hardly seemed to be in so poor condition that they would need to flee. Itís almost as though -". He paused, frowning. "We must check on the others," he said.
He rushed across the grounds, Griff and Mary following him. They reached the northeast corner, to find Nimue and Brianna standing at the edge of the wall. Merlin was leaning against a tree close by, catching his breath. The three of them turned to face Arthur and his companions as they arrived.
"Are all three of you all right?" Arthur asked. "None of you injured?"
"Weíre fine," said Merlin. "And you? Iím assuming that you had a similar encounter to the one that we just had."
"If you mean that you were attacked by a couple of chaps all got up in thick robes, who suddenly turned around and left," said Griff, "then, yes, we did. A bit odd that theyíd just give up like that."
"Unless both attacks upon us were the diversion," said Arthur. He turned and ran back towards the house.
The others followed him, and halted just as they reached the north wall. The window leading into the library was shattered, and heavy footprints lay in the ground both leading towards it and away from it.
"Weíre too late," said Arthur with a sigh. "Those assaults were only to keep us occupied, while the real attack took place. And now the Godslayer is most certainly gone."
"Yes, it is gone, Mr. Pennington," said Trevor Monteagle, stepping out from the shadows and out through the remains of the shattered window, a revolver in hand. "And you have a considerable amount of explaining to do."
* * * * *
A short distance from Trevor Monteagle's house, the five robed figures halted, grouped together beneath a stand of trees. Their leader drew out a small cellular phone from out of his robe, and punched in a number.
"Yes?" asked a womanís voice, answering.
"My lady," said the caller, in a deferential voice. "I have newsss for you."
"Do you have the Godslayer?" the voice asked.
"Alasss, no, my lady," he replied. "It wasss taken from the houssse before we arrived. But we know where it isss, and where it isss going."
"Monteagle is much more cunning than I had thought," said the woman. "I will have to take much better care, not to underestimate him hereafter. Well, give me the information."
"There isss another matter, first, my lady," said the hooded figure. "We met with sssome interference during our visssit. My followersss were engaged in battle by the man named Arthur Pennington. He wasss accompanied by a pair of gargoylesss, and two wizardsss."
"Pennington," repeated the woman. "I should have known that he would be involved. Did he cause you too much trouble?"
"No, my lady," said the hooded figure. "My followersss held him and his alliesss off long enough for me to enter the houssse and learn what I needed to know. But, if you will permit me to advissse you, my lady, he may be a problem."
"I will decide whether he is a problem or not," she answered sharply. "That judgement is not yours to make, and do not forget it. Now, tell me where the Godslayer is now."
"Asss you wisssh, my lady," he said.
* * *
She wrote down the information on the top leaf of the legal pad before her, and nodded. "Excellent," she said. "And now for your instructions."
After completing her commands to him, she hung up the telephone, and rose from her chair. "Well-played, Mr. Monteagle," Isfet said, as she left her office. "But the game is not over yet."
TO BE CONTINUED...