Outline by Ed Reynolds and Todd Jensen
Written by Todd Jensen
Previously on Pendragon....
"Your conception of right is very different from mine, Arthur Pendragon," the White Knight said as he leant in for his first strike, a quick thrust of his rapier-like sword which Arthur barely managed to avoid.
"I cannot see how murder can be justified."
"Can it not? And yet you, a murderer of innocents, would seek the Holy Grail?"
"If I can achieve the Holy Grail it will be despite and not because of the atrocities I have committed. I am not a murderous man, and I paid for my folly with the downfall of the kingdom I spent my life building."
* * *
WHITE KNIGHT: You can't help the world, Arthur. You can't even help yourself.
* * *
ARTHUR: I trust you understand my reasons for doing what I did.
WHITE KNIGHT: I understand that many good people will now wander alone in the world, keeping their pain to themselves because of your decision, Arthur Pendragon. I understand that you believe to have saved them, when many will not be able to cope alone. You stood by your principles. Congratulations.
* * *
JENNIFER: What's the matter, Arthur? You sound very troubled.
ARTHUR: Today I acted for the best, or so I thought. I stopped a magical ceremony for the best reasons. But now I can't help wondering if I've made a terrible mistake after all.
JENNIFER: I know the feeling. I know that feeling very well indeed.
ARTHUR: This quest I am embarking upon... I should know right from wrong, I should be able to uphold virtue and put an end to vice. But how can I when I cannot tell vice and virtue apart, when all options seem to carry good and evil implications in equal measure? I have long since lost my sense of purpose, but I felt sure that if I followed my instincts, my belief in what is right, that I would eventually succeed and find my purpose. After the terrible mistakes of my past, I felt sure I was equipped to make the right choices. Now, I don't even know what to make of my choices. I... I just don't know...
JENNIFER: Nothing's simple, is it?
ARTHUR: No. No, it isn't.
~~~Flight from the Enchanter~~~
* * * * *
"Arthur? I say, Arthur!"
"Hmm?" The Once and Future King turned to face Merlin, who was seated next to him, leaning against a crate. Some way past him, deeper in the plane's dimly-lit cargo hold, he could just make out Mary dozing in her wolf-form, curled up with her tail touching her nose. Griff couched beside her, frozen in his stone sleep.
"I am sorry," he said. "I am afraid that my attention was wandering again."
"Yes, you've been doing that a lot since we left Peru," said the youth. "I doubt that you've heard one-tenth of anything that we've said to you in the last few days. I mean, really heard. I hope that you're not going to be like that when we get to Oak Island. We're going to have trouble enough there without you acting so distracted all the time."
"I am sorry, Merlin," said Arthur. "I will listen much more closely."
"Please do so," said Merlin. "As I was saying, we really ought to thank Arminius Fenn when we see him next for getting us on board this airplane. Without his help we'd have a much more difficult time reaching Nova Scotia."
"Yes, that would be good," said Arthur, nodding absently.
"You're doing it again," said the young-old wizard. "Letting your thoughts wander elsewhere."
He was silent for a while, though looking long and hard at the man whom he had helped raise to Britain's throne many centuries ago. At last he sighed. "All right, Arthur. I know that you don't want to talk about it, but I believe that it's high time that we had a proper discussion about what happened between you and the White Knight. And I mean it. This time I will not take 'no' for an answer."
Arthur spoke at last in a slow and heavy voice. "I still do not know if I did the right thing or not," he said. "I believed at the time that preventing the White Knight from taking another life to preserve his realm was right and proper. And I still want to believe that to be true. And yet - I am not so certain now. I halted the sacrifice, but in so doing I destroyed his kingdom and set his people adrift, without comfort or solace in their lives. I wonder now whether your words were right after all, Merlin. Perhaps I should not have interfered. But if I had not, then his intended victim's blood would have been on my hands, in that I stood idly by when I could have acted."
He paused, staring down at the floor, waiting for Merlin to say something. The boy remained silent, however.
"The more that I think over it," Arthur continued at last, "the harder I find it to see how what I did in the White Knight's kingdom was different from what I did in Britain when I held sway from Camelot. Back then I was certainly imposing my ideas upon the petty kings and nobles in the island, making them abandon their old ways of Might and the Strong Arm for the justice and rule of law that I brought in their place. How much difference is there between preventing the White Knight from putting one of his people to death and preventing a robber-knight like Sir Breuse sans Pitie from beheading helpless damsels or raiding the lands of his weaker neighbors? Why is one wrong and one right?
"And if indeed I can no longer take the moral lead that I did in the time of Camelot, if I cannot persuade people to abandon evil customs for something better, then what can I do? What role can I truly have in this strange new world? Or have I outlived my usefulness? Is there nothing left for me? Am I nothing more than a museum piece like the Roman relics in St. Albans? What do you think, Merlin?"
A soft snore answered his words. Merlin had fallen into an uneasy slumber, his head lowered upon his chest.
"I am sorry, old friend," said Arthur, shaking his head ruefully. "I had forgotten that you need your rest. As do I," he added, closing his eyes and shifting into a more comfortable position.
He could barely feel the motions of the flying machine as he let himself drift off to sleep. All was still and silent about him. The world had almost fallen away when he heard a voice speaking his name.
"Arthur. Arthur. Earth to Arthur!"
Arthur opened his eyes and looked up, then stared in alarm. Mordred stood over him, looking down with an amused smile upon his face. He was dressed now in the original armor that he had worn as a knight of the Round Table, his helmet resting in the crook of his left arm and his shield slung across his back.
"You!" cried Arthur, his hand falling automatically upon Excalibur's hilt and gripping it. "What are you doing here? You are dead!"
"True," said Mordred. "But that hasn't stopped me before, has it, father? I must admit, we really have to stop meeting like this. This is - what - the third return from the grave that I've had so far? Or is it the fourth? I suppose that it all depends on whether Seabairn counts or not. Well, no matter. I just thought that I'd stop by and see how you were doing, da. Especially since I understand that you're not feeling quite on top of your game these days. Not that you were ever really on top of it, of course," he added.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Arthur asked.
"What do you think?" Mordred inquired. "After all, Arthur, that's what's been weighing upon you so much, hasn't it? No sense of purpose, feeling like a dinosaur that survived the end of the Cretaceous and is now stuck in the middle of the Age of Mammals. Am I right?"
"Partly so," said Arthur. "At least while Camelot yet stood I had a role, a duty to perform. And now I am a king without a kingdom, rudderless, not knowing what to do. My best days may be behind me."
"Ah, yes," said Mordred, nodding. "Well, here's a news bulletin for you, father. Your best days never existed. Your entire reign was nothing more than an overrated fraud. You didn't accomplish a thing, and you're deluding yourself if you think that you did. You were just a hollow statue, brightly painted but with not an ounce of substance inside. Here, let me show you the truth about yourself. Come with me."
"Come where?" asked Arthur, finding himself rising to his feet, much to his astonishment. "We are in the middle of an airplane."
"Ah, yes," said Mordred. "I suppose that we could do with a little change of scenery."
He gestured oddly with his right hand and the world about them blurred. Arthur half-drew Excalibur, but Mordred shook his head. "There's no need for that," he said. "It's just special effects to assist the transition. Nothing life-threatening."
Their surroundings came back into focus, and Arthur found himself standing in open countryside. It was a warm sunny afternoon in what appeared to be late summer. Before him a great stone road stretched off into the distance. It was made from paving-stones and must have been a splendid sight once. But now the stones were chipped and weathered; weeds sprouted from cracks upon their surface. Arthur bent down to take a closer look at it, his eyes filled with wonder.
"This is just like one of the Roman roads that ran through Britain when I was young," he said. "But how can this be? I thought that there were none left."
He stood up and turned to face Mordred, who was now casually leaning on a Roman milestone to the side of the road. "What is this place?" he asked.
"You should know, father," said Mordred. "Of course, you're looking the wrong way. Try that direction." He pointed with one hand over Arthur's shoulder.
Arthur turned around. Before him the road ran up to the gates of a walled town. Banners flew from the towers and battlements, every one of them emblazoned with a great dragon, the emblem of the House of Pendragon. Sunlight glinted on the distant helms and spears of the guards standing sentry duty over the great gates.
"Why, it's Caerleon!" he cried in wonder. "Caerleon-upon-Usk! But - this is how it was in my day, not the town in the 20th century that I visited with Griff when we were searching for Merlin! How is this possible?"
"Trade secret, father," said Mordred. "By the way, I believe that we have company."
Arthur turned back in the direction that he had been originally looking in, away from Caerleon, and saw that his son had been telling the truth. A troop of knights was riding down the road towards the two men, spears raised high and at the ready. In the midst of them there rode a finely-dressed noblewoman upon a brown palfrey. She looked around thirty years old and was very beautiful, with long reddish-gold hair and a fine-featured face. Behind her rode three boys mounted upon shaggy ponies, with the same reddish-fair hair as hers; the oldest seemed ten years old and the other two a couple of years younger. A nursemaid rode alongside them, mounted upon another palfrey; she bore in her arms a fourth boy, little more than a baby, who already had sprouted the same red hair. Arthur's eyes widened still further as he looked closer at them and recognized them.
"Yes, it's my dear old mum," said Mordred with a nod, as if he had read Arthur's thoughts. "Or, if you want to be more formal about it, Queen Morgause of Lothian and Orkney. And those are her sons as well. Gawain, Agravain, Gaheris, and Gareth." He indicated the four boys as he spoke in order of their ages, beginning with the oldest and ending with the baby.
Arthur looked upon them concernedly. "I believe that I know what occasion this is," he said. "But - they do not appear to have seen us," he continued, as Morgause and her train rode past himself and Mordred, without any of them even glancing in the direction of the two men. "Are we invisible to them?"
"Very observant, father," said Mordred. "What's the correct quote here? Ah, yes. 'These are but shadows of the things that have been. They have no consciousness of us.' You're here just to watch, not to make any changes - not that it'd do you any good, of course."
Morgause and her retinue continued on towards Caerleon. Mordred watched them go, then turned to Arthur.
"Well, let's go inside, shall we," he said. "We shan't see anything else interesting if we wait out here." He gestured again and the scene changed.
* * *
Arthur found himself standing in a great stone hall. Wooden rafters soared above his head, from which colorful heraldic banners dangled. He gazed up at them, examining each of the designs and recognizing every one of them as the device of one of his early knights. Brightly-woven tapestries hung upon the walls, depicting hunts, battles, feasts, jousts, and other courtly events. At the far end of the hall rose a dais, upon the center of which stood a high-backed wooden throne. A young brown-haired man in his late teens was seated upon the throne, surrounded by knights and courtiers. Arthur recognized his younger self almost at once.
"This cannot be," he said.
"Oh, but it is, father," said Mordred, standing at his elbow. "Your court at Caerleon, in the days before Camelot was built."
"It has been so long," said Arthur in a hushed voice. He walked over to the wall to his left to look over one of the tapestries there more closely. Mordred waved him away at once.
"Let's not take a stroll down Memory Lane just now, father," he said. "There's something that you need to see here that's much more important than that."
Arthur turned about just as a trumpet blast rang out from the double doors at the entrance to the great hall. A herald entered and cried out, "The Lady Anna of Dunpeldyr requests an audience with Your Highness!"
"Show her in, then," said Arthur-in-the-vision.
Morgause entered the hall, accompanied by her entourage of knights and by her sons. She stood before the dais, then knelt in front of the throne.
"Pray rise, Lady Anna," said Arthur-in-the-vision, in a gracious tone of voice. "You are welcome here at Caerleon."
"We thank you, Your Highness," said Morgause, rising to her feet. "I come to beseech your aid."
"And in what manner may I help you?" Arthur-in-the-vision asked her.
"The Angles and the Picts are ravaging all of Britain north of the Humber," she said. "In particular, my husband's lands were overrun. Our castle was surprised and sacked; he himself was slain by the barbarians. I and my sons escaped and fled here, seeking shelter in your court. Your Highness, we beg succor of you. I know that you have little reason to love the folk of the Northlands, after their kings and chieftains rebelled against you, but still I plead with you to come to our rescue, before all is lost. There is no help left in our rulers, not after so many of their knights and kerns were slain in the late war that they waged upon you; you are our only remaining hope."
"Do not be afraid, Lady Anna," said Arthur-in-the-vision with a gentle smile. "I shall do whatever I can to deliver your countryfolk from the barbarians. This I promise."
"I thank you, my lord," said Morgause.
Arthur-in-the-vision turned to his leading knights. "Kay, see to it that the Lady Anna and her people are well-lodged," he said. "Give them accommodations befitting a queen and her retinue. Brastias, Baudwin, prepare a fresh muster of my knights and men-at-arms. We must make ready to depart and go to the aid of the Northlands. I want every able-bodied fighting-man who can be spared assembled at...."
"Let's skip the next few days, shall we?" asked Mordred, raising one hand. "Otherwise this is going to take much too long."
The scene in the great hall froze, then faded into complete blackness. Arthur and Mordred were now standing alone in what appeared to be an utter void.
"Ironic that you should have given orders that your guest should be treated as though she was a queen," said Mordred, leaning against the darkness casually, as though it was a solid wall. "Because, although you didn't know it, that was what she was. Her husband King Lot needed your help against the Angles and Picts, who had taken advantage of his making war upon you to invade his lands, but he was too proud to just come out and ask. So he sent his wife to you incognito instead as his way of solving the problem. Which meant, of course, that you didn't know who she really was - and especially that she was your sister. And she didn't know, either; Lot never did get around to telling her about Uther Pendragon and Igraine being your parents, probably because he didn't believe it himself. Which led to a great deal of trouble...." He casually gestured again, and a fresh scene formed around them.
* * *
Arthur watched as his younger self and Morgause sat side by side upon a stone bench in the middle of the gardens at Caerleon. It was early evening and already the stars were coming out in the sky above. The lazy chirping of summer insects filled the air.
"Within a week the muster will be complete, Lady Anna," Arthur-in-the-vision was saying to Morgause. "Then we can march north and recover your lands from those who have despoiled them. You and your sons will be reinstated to your rightful home."
"Thank you, Your Highness," said Morgause. "I wish that I could repay you for your kindness."
"I only regret that I cannot restore your husband to life," said Arthur-in-the-vision. "The lesser wrong that the Angles have done to you can be undone, but not the greater wrong."
"That is only too true," said Morgause sadly. "I will need to marry again, that I may have a protector to watch over my land, while my sons are still young. Would that I might find such a man."
"He may be closer than you think, my lady," said Arthur-in-the-vision, placing one hand softly upon her shoulder. She turned, looked up into his eyes, and then smiled.
"No!" cried Arthur, rushing towards his younger self. "Don't do it, you fool! You'll regret it for the rest of your life if you do so!"
Arthur-in-the-vision and Morgause showed no sign of having heard him. They drew closer together and kissed. Arthur tried to pull his younger self away from her, but before he could reach the bench the world faded away, and he was in the void with Mordred again.
"Sorry, father, but you can't change anything," said Mordred. "All that you can do is watch. I believe that I made that clear a few minutes ago. I suppose that you weren't paying attention."
"I cannot let this happen again," Arthur began.
"You don't get a choice," Mordred told him. "You might as well try watching a movie the second time around and hope that it ends differently this time. Face the facts, Arthur. You and your sister became lovers. Neither of you suspected anything, but that didn't change matters; she was still your sister. Mother had sense enough to remove herself from your court before she became in danger of having two husbands; however, by then she already had a fifth son on the way, who was - but modesty forbids me to speak his name." He gave a mock-humble bow.
"You didn't even need to," said Arthur in a heavy voice. "I will never be able to forget it."
"Just as you'll never be able to forget this next scene, I suppose," said Mordred, snapping his fingers.
* * *
A low rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. Arthur drew his coat closer about himself as he looked up at the sky. Grey clouds were massing above, filled with the threat of rain. The smell of the sea reached his nostrils as he looked down from the hill upon which he and Mordred were standing at the seashore below.
A small boat was drawn up on the shore; from it there came the sound of infants wailing. Arthur's younger self stood by it, accompanied by two guards. A small crowd of knights stood further down the beach, watching silently. Not one of them spoke.
Arthur-in-the-vision stared into the boat, a troubled expression upon his face. Lightning flickered in the massing clouds overhead, followed shortly thereafter by another roll of thunder, this one closer than before. The men-at-arms waited expectantly.
"In case you've forgotten," said Mordred, in a conversational tone of voice, "Merlin - or rather, his father disguised as Merlin, if you want to be a nitpicker - told you all about who Lady Anna really was, and all the trouble that your son by her would cause when he grew up. You relived that particular conversation recently, so I didn't see any point in showing it to you again. Anyway, I thought that this scene would be more interesting - what you did in an effort to avoid the prophecy about me from being fulfilled. You knew that I was born on the first of May, but there had been so many babies born in Britain around that time that the only way that you could be certain of getting rid of the right one was to get rid of them all. Hence the boat."
"And there is no way to prevent this - atrocity from taking place?" Arthur asked, watching his younger self.
"Sorry, but that's out of the question," said Mordred. "All that you can do is watch. I hope that you'll remember it this time around, so that I won't have to remind you of the rules again."
Arthur-in-the-vision finally gestured silently to the two men-at-arms, who stepped forward and pushed the vessel out into the sea. Both Arthur and his younger self looked on as it floated away further and further from shore, carrying its load of helpless passengers with it, their cries growing steadily fainter. The thunder rumbled again, still louder this time.
"So much for your glory and justice, father," said Mordred. "You murdered an entire boatload of helpless babies. Where's the honor in that? Where's the nobility? And don't try blaming Merlin for it either, as a lot of your subjects did. Yes, he did advise you to do it - or his father disguised as him did - but you did have a choice. You could have refused, but instead you agreed to it. I'd say that that places the responsibility firmly upon your shoulders. It really makes me wonder how you can possibly stand for justice after having done something like that."
Arthur said nothing. He merely watched with haunted eyes as the boat grew ever smaller upon the horizon, drifting towards the part of the sea where the storm clouds were gathering the thickest. His younger self turned and walked away, his head bowed low in agony.
"And they all drowned except for me," said Mordred. "So you didn't solve anything that way. Only the innocent died, while I survived. Not to mention that it led to more immediate troubles while I was growing up in the home of the man who rescued me from the wreckage. Just watch."
* * *
Noise filled the air, the shouts of men, whinnying of horses, whistling of arrows, and dull thuds of swords striking against shields. Arthur watched from the small hill overlooking the battlefield, standing underneath a tree. A flock of hopeful-looking crows perched in the branches above him, expectantly watching the fighting below.
"Don't worry, fellows," said Mordred, standing beside him and looking up at the birds. "You won't go hungry. In fact, this is one dinner that you're really going to enjoy."
"What is happening here?" asked Arthur, staring at the two armies as they came together. The knights and foot-soldiers on both sides wore the armor of his day, but he could not immediately recognize them. Then he saw his own dragon banner flying above one of the hosts, and could make out his younger self wielding Excalibur in the fray. "This is one of my battles," he said.
"Yes, against my stepfather, King Lot," said Mordred. He pointed out the banner that flew over the opposing army, a purple one with a golden double-headed eagle displayed upon it. "He wasn't too happy about your trying to drown me - and when he found out who my real father was, that only made things worse. So he declared war on you again. Now watch closely, because something very important is going to be taking place."
He pointed with one hand towards the part of the battle where Arthur-in-the-vision was fighting alongside some of his knights. They appeared hard-pressed by Lot's followers, and even Excalibur was not proving enough to turn the tide. As Arthur watched, he heard the thunder of hooves. A lone knight on horseback, accompanied by a large white brachet, was galloping towards the fighting. He tore through the northern host, which scattered before him, taken by surprise with his arrival.
The newcomer reined in his horse before Arthur-in-the-vision and raised the visor of his helmet. "You appear to be in some sort of trouble, Arthur," he said. "May I help?"
"I know that voice!" cried Arthur from the hilltop, looking down at him. "Why, it's King Pellinor! The very first knight that I ever knew - apart from my old foster-father Sir Ector, that is."
His younger self in the battle below clearly shared his enthusiasm at the knight's arrival. "Pellinor!" he cried. "You came!"
"Of course," said Pellinor. "I understand that you could use some assistance - and I suppose that the Questing Beast can tend to itself for a time. I trust that I'm not too late?"
"Certainly not, old friend," said Arthur-in-the-vision. "We need every knight of prowess that we can find, if we are to defeat the northerners."
"Then let us act at once," said Pellinor. He slammed down his visor and rode into the fray.
Arthur watched from his vantage point as Pellinor fought his way through the ranks of King Lot's men, straight towards Lot himself. The two kings exchanged blows with great force and fury, but at last Pellinor brought his sword down with all his might upon Lot's helm. King Lot tumbled from his horse and lay still upon the ground. His surviving followers turned and fled, filled with dismay at the death of their leader. In only a few minutes the battle was ended.
Arthur watched as his younger self and his knights cheered for Pellinor, lifting their swords and lances in triumph. They then turned and departed the field themselves, leaving it littered with the bodies of the fallen.
"And so King Lot died at King Pellinor's hands," said Mordred, "bringing both the battle and a series of rebellions to an end. But as one door closes, another door opens, as you shall see shortly."
"And what do you mean by that?" asked Arthur. But he already knew the answer.
"In a moment, father," said Mordred, pulling a small bell from underneath his cloak. He looked up at the crows perched in the tree close by and rang the bell loudly, calling out as he did so, "Come and get it!"
Cawing eagerly, the carrion fowl rose from the branches and descended upon the battlefield. Their midnight-colored wings and feathers filled the air, blotting out the scene before Arthur, plunging it into darkness.
* * *
When the darkness had dispersed he found himself standing in the nave of a stone church, Mordred still by his side. Only a few yards before them there stood a great stone sepulchre. Upon it stood thirteen gilded statues. The largest, at the top, was of a victorious Arthur, holding Excalibur aloft in one hand and a burning wax candle in the other. The other twelve statues, beneath him, were shaped like kings in armor, appearing beaten and dejected, each one bearing a candle as well. The one in the middle had the features of King Lot himself. Beneath him, upon the sepulchre itself, were graven the letters: "In Memoriam - Lot, Rex Lothiani et Orcadium."
Before the tomb of King Lot knelt a red-haired boy, around ten or eleven years old. As Arthur drew closer to him, he recognized him as the oldest of the four boys that had acompanied Morgause on her embassy to Caerleon. Tears of grief and anger were running down his cheeks, and the sound of his sobbing could be heard through the entire chapel.
"That's right," said Mordred. "My older brother Gawain, your own nephew. He didn't take his father's death in battle too well, as you can see."
"I can scarcely blame him," said Arthur. "At least he never lifted his sword against me."
"Not directly, no," said Mordred. "He wasn't willing to go that far. He could forgive you for leading the army that defeated Lot, but not the man who struck the actual blow himself. And when he grew to man's estate and was knighted - well, a picture is worth a thousand words." He snapped his fingers and the world about them changed again.
* * *
Swords rang upon each other in the forest glade where Arthur now stood. Only a few feet before him, Gawain, now grown-up and in full armor, was battling King Pellinor on foot. Pellinor's brachet watched from behind a nearby tree.
"This is entirely unnecessary, lad," Pellinor said, parrying Gawain's thrust. "You do not have to do this."
"Yes, I do," Gawain retorted. "You slew my father."
"In fair fight, lad," Pellinor replied. "It was on the field of battle, and with no treachery involved."
"You slew him all the same," said Gawain. "And it falls to me to avenge him."
"Put aside your anger," said Pellinor calmly. "Yes, King Lot was your father, but we are both knights of the Round Table now, and that is what matters most. Our oath of brotherhood should come before any vow of vengeance that you may have sworn. You'll lose more honor by slaying me than you'll gain by avenging him."
Gawain merely lunged furiously at him, hammering at him again and again with his sword. Pellinor staggered back under the impact of his blows, stumbled upon a tree root, and fell upon his back. Before he could rise to his feet, Gawain was upon him. He unlaced the older knight's helmet, raised his sword up high, and brought it down one last time.
"Rest in peace, father," said Gawain, turning away from Pellinor's still form. "The man who took your life is no more."
As he strode away, Pellinor's brachet trotted up uncertainly to its master and sniffed closely at him. Then it lifted its head and let out a mournful howl that echoed through the forest clearing.
* * *
The dog's keening still rang in Arthur's ears as the scene shifted yet again. Now he and Mordred were standing in the great hall of Camelot. Arthur saw himself seated upon the high-backed throne on the dais at the far end of the hall, gazing down uneasily at three young knights, all of whom bore a striking resemblance to King Pellinor.
"Do you recognize those three?" Mordred asked.
Arthur nodded. "Three of Pellinor's sons," he said. "Sir Lamorak, Sir Aglovale, and Sir Tor. I may have slept for over a thousand years, Mordred, but I have not forgotten their faces."
"Listen closely," said Mordred. "What you are about to hear may prove most enlightening."
"Our father was murdered by Sir Gawain!" Sir Lamorak was shouting. "My liege, I demand that justice be done! Have Gawain banished from the kingdom or executed for his treacherous deed!"
"We are sorry, Sir Lamorak," Arthur-in-the-vision replied. "But we cannot grant your request. Gawain is one of our finest champions, and we cannot afford to lose him. The Round Table would only be poorer by his absence."
"And what glory has he brought it?" Sir Lamorak cried. "He slew King Pellinor, one of your staunchest allies and a knight of the Round Table like he himself! How can you defend him for what he has done? He has broken the very oath of brotherhood that he swore to uphold when he was admitted to the Order!"
"We will speak to Gawain, and ask him to make amends to your family," said Arthur-in-the-vision. "But we will not expel him from the Round Table or put him to death. If we were to do so, we would only deprive ourselves of the aid of two redoubtable knights rather than one."
Lamorak looked about to say something more, but Tor and Aglovale hurriedly pulled him back before he could let out a fresh outburst. "We accept your judgment, sire," said Sir Aglovale. "And, by your permission, we take our leave of you."
Arthur-in-the-vision nodded. "We grant you permission to depart," he said to the three sons of King Pellinor. "And we pray that when next we meet again, it will be in happier circumstances."
The young knights turned and strode out from the hall. Mordred turned to Arthur. "Let's follow them, shall we?" he said. "You missed the immediate sequel the first time around, but you really need to see it."
Before Arthur could say anything, he found himself and his son standing in a corner of the waiting-room outside the great hall. Lamorak, Aglovale, and Tor were grouped together almost at his elbow in a huddle, though none of them saw him or Mordred.
"And there you see it," said Lamorak. "The King will do nothing for us. If our father's death is to be avenged, it must be by our own hands."
"You cannot even think of challenging Gawain to battle," said Aglovale. "He is still a knight of the Round Table, even as you are. If you slay him, you'll merely be guilty of the same crime that you have charged him with."
"Aglovale is right, brother," chimed in Tor. "Let it rest. We'll achieve nothing useful by taking the matter into our own hands."
"Perhaps you do not feel the proper duty that a son has to his father, but I do," said Lamorak. "And if you will not help me, then I will do the deed by myself." He turned and strode away from them. Aglovale and Tor watched him leave, in a troubled silence.
* * *
Arthur found himself and Mordred standing once more in a black void. "Where are we now?" he asked, looking worriedly about.
"Nowhere in particular," Mordred replied. "This is an intermission, to fill you in on what happens next. Lamorak's means of getting revenge was - well, something that I didn't think we needed to see.
"He realized after he left Camelot that his brothers were right about one thing; he couldn't slay Gawain without breaking his own vows as a knight of the Round Table to stand by his fellow members, no matter what. So he decided to take a more subtle approach. He headed north to Lothian, where my mother Morgause had been spending the past few years all by herself. Her sons had all grown up and left her to join Arthur, and she'd been a widow for quite some time. Lamorak saw it as an opportunity and began making advances to her. He understood that it would grieve Gawain even more if his mother proved unfaithful to his father's ashes, and so - ah - helped bring that situation about.
"Needless to say, it didn't please either Gawain or his brothers. The odd thing is that it was Gaheris who acted first, surprising Morgause and Lamorak in the middle of a tryst and killing her for shaming the family. He allowed Lamorak to escape, however - but he didn't get far...."
* * *
Swords rang in the open air once more. Arthur watched as three knights, all bearing the double-headed eagle of Lothian and Orkney upon their surcoats and shields, closed in around Lamorak, battling him together.
"It should have been all five of us," said Mordred, leaning comfortably against a tree, "but Gareth wouldn't have anything to do with it and even disowned the rest of us afterwards, and Gaheris was still getting over the fact that he'd just killed his own mother. And a good thing for him, too, that he didn't do it in ancient Greece, or else he'd have had the Furies descending upon him in no time flat. Not that it matters - three knights was enough to get the job done. Gawain, Agravain, and yours truly."
As Arthur watched in silent horror, one of Lamorak's assailants maneuvered himself to stand behind him, and thrust home. Lamorak fell to the ground, dead.
"Now, which one of us was it that stabbed him in the back?" Mordred asked musingly. "Oh yes, that's right. It was me. Though the others still helped, of course."
"Justice has been done," said Gawain, removing his helm. "The man who dishonored our mother and whose father slew ours has paid for his crimes against our house with his life."
"Not to mention that he's been properly repaid for all the times that he unhorsed me in the lists," said Agravain, also unhelming. "And a good riddance to him, I say!"
"My thoughts exactly," put in Mordred-in-the-vision.
"They'd slain a second of your finest knights," said Mordred to Arthur, with a triumphant smirk. "And again, you did nothing. You didn't make even the slightest effort to punish them. So much for your famous justice. Why was it, I wonder? A guilty conscience over what your father did to their grandparents, the same guilty conscience that stopped you from handling Auntie Morgana properly? Or maybe nepotism, in the strictest sense of the word. You just had to let off your own nephews for anything that they ever did, just because of their family connections. And once again, it led to trouble - only this time, it was a third party who wound up at the receiving end by mistake. Well, actually, it was more than one, but see for yourself...."
* * *
They now stood in a small stone chamber. Rich tapestries adorned the walls and candles shed a cheery glow through the room. In the center was a wooden table, with several chairs drawn up to it, and a plate and cup set before each of the seats. A basket of apples and pears sat in the exact middle of the table. And leaning over it was a nervous-looking man, who kept on glancing over his shoulder as he emptied the contents of a small phial upon the fruit.
"Sir Pinel, a cousin of Lamorak's and distant kinsman of King Pellinor's," said Mordred. "He wanted to avenge Lamorak's death, and since you refused to punish Gawain and his brothers for it, he decided that he'd just have to take things into his own hands, just as Lamorak had done. He wanted to kill Gawain, but didn't dare face him in battle - he was too afraid. So he decided to use a different approach - and it was very convenient for him that Gawain was so fond of fruit, especially apples. So much so that when Queen Guinevere invited him and a few other knights for a quiet little dinner party, she had some especially on hand for him - and was careless enough to leave it unguarded for just a few moments. Long enough for Pinel to get the job done."
The door to the room opened. Pinel hurriedly stepped back and tucked the phial into the pouch at his belt as several other knights entered, Gawain among them, talking to each other. Guinevere herself accompanied them.
"Why, Pinel!" she said, turning to the knight. "You're here early!"
"Yes, Your Highness," said Pinel, bowing several times. "Do forgive me for my impatience."
"Of course," said the queen. "Come, sit and dine with us. Let this be a merry occasion."
Arthur looked sadly at her. "She never even suspected then what was in store for her only a few years later," he said. "Scarcely a care in the world. Just like Jennifer when we had Christmas dinner together - only a few months before she lost her company to Montrose."
"Yes, yes, quite a shame, isn't it," said Mordred, not seeming at all grieved himself. "Well, that's the way it is. We know not what the morrow may bring - and so on and so forth. Too bad that you couldn't be there for her, instead of chasing off after the Holy Grail halfway around the world. Not much of a boyfriend, are you? Though I suppose that even if you had been in London at the time, you wouldn't have been able to do her all that much good."
Arthur said nothing. He stared down uneasily at one of the candles, deliberately not looking in the direction of either Guinevere or Mordred.
"Let's speed things along a little, shall we?" said Mordred. He snapped his fingers, and the candle that Arthur was looking at suddenly sank much lower, dribbles of wax forming in mere seconds upon the candle-holder.
Arthur turned around to see one of the knights seated at the table with Guinevere reach for an apple from the bowl in the center. Pinel turned in the man's direction and an expression of alarm passed over his face. For a moment, he looked as if he was about to stand up and speak, but then he evidently decided against it and remained seated, though watching apprehensively as the knight eagerly bit into the apple.
Nobody else noticed the incident until the knight who had eaten the apple began to gasp for breath and writhe in agony. The other knights and the queen started to their feet in alarm, but before any of them could act, he fell forward, his face hitting the plate set before him. His body trembled, then became still.
"He's dead, Your Highness," said Gawain to Guinevere. "The apple that he ate must have been poisoned." He was silent for a moment, then added, "I fear that he was not the one that that fruit was intended for. All the court knows of my fondness for apples, including you, Your Highness."
"What are you saying, Gawain?" Guinevere asked.
"I will say it for him," said another knight grimly, looking the queen straight in the eye. "My cousin Patrice has been poisoned, poisoned at a dinner that you hosted. It falls to me to avenge him, and avenge him I shall."
"My lords, your anger and fear is affecting your reason," protested Guinevere. "What reason would I have to poison your cousin, Mador? Or you, Gawain, for that matter?"
"I do not know," said Mador. "But I say that you are guilty, and shall accuse you of treason and murder before the king himself!"
Many of the other knights cried aloud in astonishment, while Guinevere sat down in shock. Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside the room, and then the door opened and Arthur saw himself come in.
"What is the meaning of this noise?" Arthur-in-the-vision asked, looking over the assembled knights. His eyes then fell upon Patrice's body, and he stared at it, clearly unsettled.
"Justice, my lord!" cried Mador, turning to the king. "Queen Guinevere has poisoned my cousin Patrice! I demand justice for his death!"
"And what proof have you of this?" Arthur-in-the-vision asked him sternly.
"What proof do I need?" asked Mador. "She gave the dinner and provided the food and drink. Why she did this evil I do not know, but I shall see her burnt as a murderess, or else I shall quit your service forever!"
Silence filled the room. Guinevere looked up at her lord and husband, her eyes troubled. The other knights were hushed as well, all watching the king expectantly.
"I do not believe that my wife would do such a deed," said Arthur-in-the-vision slowly, his face filled with pain. "But nevertheless she has been accused, and so she must face the law. Were I not king, I would champion her in the lists against you, Sir Mador. But all that I may do now is to preside."
Mordred flung up his hand and the scene froze. He turned to Arthur with a mocking smile upon his face and spoke.
"You see the fruits of your failure to punish your nephews properly for their acts, father, do you not? Because you would not bring them to trial for Lamorak's death, Pinel felt driven to take matters into his own hands, even as Lamorak himself had done when you would not bring Gawain to trial for Pellinor's death. And look at what came of it. Your own wife, falsely accused of the murder - and you did nothing to save her."
"I could not overrule the law," argued Arthur. "I had to let it take its full course, even if my own queen was the accused. Were I to do otherwise my justice would be dead."
"You didn't let that stop you from letting Gawain and the others off the hook, did you?" asked Mordred. "Apparently they weren't expendable, but your wife was. Letting her burn at the stake for what? Justice? What is justice, anyway? Can you eat it? Can it keep you warm on a cold day? It's nothing more than a word, a breath of air, a mere abstraction. You were ready to sacrifice your wife for that?"
"Guinevere did not die, in any case," said Arthur, "or have you forgotten? Lancelot took up her cause, defeated Mador, and made him withdraw his accusation."
"And not too surprising, either," said Mordred, "considering that he was her lover. He was ready to do for her what you were not. Not so astonishing that she should have looked so much in his direction, now, was it? And when the two of them were caught together, it was the same story as before. Just watch."
* * *
Guinevere stood in the middle of the great hall of Camelot, surrounded by men-at-arms, while her husband sat upon his throne, staring down at her with a troubled expression upon his face.
"Guinevere, Queen of Camelot," said Arthur-in-the-vision, speaking slowly and with great pain, "you have been charged with relations with another man other than your husband. We have evidence engraved into your heart of your unfaithfulness. We have no recourse but to punish you according to Law. Therefore, we give the just sentence of death by burning at the stake."
Guinevere looked up at him with dismay, but said nothing. Mordred nodded with a satisfied smile upon his face. Arthur stared at his past self and his queen for a long while with a sinking heart.
"Yes, you did it," said Mordred. "You sentenced her to death. I'd go on, but I believe that we've seen enough for now. The point that I'm making is this. You were a failure as a king, an absolute failure. Going from too harsh to too soft, and then too harsh again. But it's the soft-heartedness part that especially got you into trouble, when you kept letting my brothers and me off the hook for our crimes. And look how it ended up. Because we were still at court, Agravain and I were able to expose Lancelot and Guinevere's affair, and because Gawain was still at court, he was able to keep the war between you and Lancelot going thanks to his desire to avenge Gareth's death. And what was the outcome? Guinevere spending her final days hiding in a convent at Amesbury. Lancelot a hermit at Glastonbury, and then forced into leading a thoroughly corrupt secret society that could have taught Machiavelli more than a few things. And nearly all your knights slain at Camlann or the battles leading up to it. Complete and utter catastrophe.
"So that's your legacy, father. Drowning infants, showing blatant favoritism and weakness towards your kin, and abandoning your wife in her hour of need, giving her up for the sake of your mumbo-jumbo about justice and law. Enough to indicate that your achievements have been vastly overrated, wouldn't you agree?"
Arthur made no reply. He merely watched in silent despair as the great hall dissolved, leaving himself and Mordred standing in the black void once again. Mordred smiled, then stretched.
"Well, that's enough for tonight," he said. "I hope that you enjoyed this twisted little version of 'This is Your Life', father. Or at least, Part One of it."
"Part One?" Arthur asked in a small voice, barely more than a whisper.
"Of course," said Mordred. "There's more to come, after all. And believe me, it's far worse." He began to laugh out loud triumphantly. The laughter swelled all about Arthur, who frantically placed his hands over his ears, but to no avail. He could still hear it, drowning out every other noise in the world....
* * * * *
"Arthur! Wake up, Arthur!"
The voice was not Mordred's at all, but Griff's. Arthur shook himself awake to see the gargoyle standing over him.
"The plane's going to land soon," Griff explained. "We'll want to be ready to get off when it happens."
"Ah, yes," said Arthur, standing up. "I'm sorry, Griff. Thank you for waking me."
He glanced over at their other two companions. Mary had resumed her human form now that it was night and had just helped Merlin to his feet. Now she was attempting, without much success, to smooth down her hair, which had developed a wilder than usual look to it.
"I've been having these 'bad hair nights' ever since South America," she was saying to the boy. "Every time I become human again, it's an absolute mess. I hope that it's not something left over from Antarctica. It's really getting annoying."
"It doesn't look that bad," said the boy, leaning unsteadily on his cane. "I think that you're making too big a fuss over it. You don't need to be so vain, you know."
She glowered at him sharply. "That's not funny, Merlin," she said.
"It wasn't meant to be," he said hurriedly.
Griff looked closely at Arthur. "Is anything wrong?" he asked in a concerned tone of voice. "I mean, you don't look in top condition."
Arthur glanced uneasily in Merlin and Mary's direction, then motioned to Griff to follow him further down the cargo hold until they were out of earshot from the two youngsters. Then he spoke to the gargoyle knight in a low voice.
"Don't tell them about this yet," he said. "I don't want to worry them. But - I had a nightmare. It was about Mordred. He was showing me my life in Camelot - every mistake that I ever made. It was not pleasant."
"I see," said Griff. "And you think that there's more to it than just some bad dream?"
Arthur nodded and began, with an occasional glance at his wizard and his squire to make certain that they remained out of hearing range, to recount the events in his nightmare to the gargoyle. Neither of them saw the small globe of light hovering in the shadows behind a pile of boxes in one corner of the hold.
* * * * *
"Yes, Morgana," Sybil was saying on the telephone. "From the way that he was talking - if the will-o-the-wisp heard him right - it wasn't your everyday bad dream. It seemed to be something much worse than that."
"Interesting," said Morgana's voice at the other end. "I wonder...."
"Yes?" Sybil asked expectantly.
"Could it have anything to do with the trap that I used on him in Sicily?"
"In what way?" Sybil inquired.
"The microcosm that I imprisoned Arthur in was designed to reflect and respond to his innermost fears and desires," said Morgana. "Perhaps, when Merlin destroyed the globe that powered it, he unwittingly caused that aspect of it to flow directly into Arthur, affecting his dreams to display his fears. I was half-wondering then if something like that could happen, but I wasn't certain about it - until now."
"Yes," said Sybil thoughtfully. "That could very well be the reason. It would explain the focus of his nightmare, not only on Mordred but also on all the mistakes and wrongful acts that he committed during his reign. The important question, though, is: what is it all building up to?"
"I do not know," said Morgana. "Nothing like this has ever happened before; there's no precedent to consult. I can only speculate. But my suspicion is that these nightmares will continue until Mordred - or, more accurately, Arthur's fears masquerading as Mordred - takes possession of him."
"Meaning that Arthur will become Mordred," said Sybil. "Now that is a fascinating possibility. And a most welcome one, too. It would be the sweetest way of destroying him that I can imagine."
"Perhaps," said Morgana in an uncertain voice.
"You don't like the prospect?" Sybil asked her. "I would have thought that it would have appealed to you."
"Arthur was not the only one imprisoned in the microcosm," Morgana replied. "Mary was as well. I had not planned her to be trapped with him - she stumbled into my spell when I was not looking - but she would have been exposed to its magics also. And that means that a similar fate may befall her."
"And your point would be?"
"I don't want anything to happen to her," said Morgana. "Sybil, I want you to follow Arthur and his companions, and observe them closely. Pay particular attention to anything out of the ordinary that takes place with both my half-brother and Mary. And the moment that the magical fallout shows any signs of affecting the girl, I want you to immediately dissipate it."
"Is that really necessary?" Sybil asked. "I mean - yes, she's your future stepdaughter, but she's also Arthur's squire. That makes her one of the enemy."
"I'm in no mood for argument," Morgana replied. "I want you to do it. I will not have her suffering Arthur's fate."
"Very well," said Sybil with a sigh. "I'll do it."
She hung up the telephone and rolled her eyes. "You're letting your soft-heartedness get in your way again, Morgana," she murmured. "So what if the girl's family now? She's still on Arthur's side. When are you going to understand that?"
She rose from her chair and walked over to the travelling bag on the bed where she kept the few out-of-the-ordinary odds and ends that she had suspected she would need on her tour of Canada. "Well, you're on the other side of the Atlantic," she continued. "You've no way of checking up on me and no way of interfering. Which makes me all the more free to do things my way."
* * * * *
"So this is Oak Island," said Mary. "Do you really think that the Holy Grail could be the treasure that was buried here?"
"I don't know," said Merlin. "In a way, I hope not. Whatever is buried here has defied the efforts of numerous expeditions to recover it so far, most of which were far better equipped than ours is. I doubt that the four of us could succeed where they have failed. And the Grail won't do us any good if we can't bring it up from the bottom of the Money Pit."
"That is true," said Arthur. "But all the same, we must investigate every possibility. We cannot leave a single stone unturned."
"Maybe you should try using your magic to probe it a little," said Griff to Merlin. "See if you can sense something at the bottom."
"Well, maybe a little couldn't hurt," said the boy. He closed his eyes and concentrated hard. A few moments later, he opened them again.
"I can't detect anything 'Grail-like' down there," he said. "If there's anything down there, it's more likely to be regular buried treasure than the Grail. But I should add that I might not be strong enough at present to pick anything up - and for all that I know, if the Grail is in that pit, it could be shielded from me."
"We'll just have to stay here for a couple of nights to make certain," said Arthur. "I trust that you've made arrangements for our accommodations," he added to Mary.
"Of course," said the girl. "I worked it out with Leba over the phone. Just let me sort through what I have, please." She pulled some papers out of her jacket pocket and began sorting through them.
"Well?" asked Arthur after about a minute of watching her look over first one paper and then another. "Have you found it yet?"
"Patience, Arthur, please," said Mary. "This is going to take a while longer than I was expecting. I mean, I've already got a lot of material on Oak Island and its treasure to sort through."
"That is no excuse," said Arthur sharply. "I had expected you to have organized those documents better. I cannot tolerate such behavior on the part of my squire. If I see another display of such careless and slipshod work from you, I will dismiss you from my service at once and send you back to your father."
Mary stared at him with a stunned look upon her face. "Arthur, what are you doing?" she asked. "You've never spoken to me like this before."
"Well, maybe I should have," said Arthur. "Then you might be performing better."
"Arthur, aren't you being rather harsh to her?" Griff asked, looking alarmed himself.
"I agree," said Merlin. "She's only telling the truth; it is a lot of paperwork to sort through, after all."
"Quiet, all of you," said Arthur. "I am still in charge of this expedition, and never forget it!" With that he turned around and walked off.
The three of them stared after him. "What has gotten into him, anyway?" Mary asked. "I mean - he's been acting like this ever since we met the White Knight."
"I wonder if it has anything to do with that nightmare that he had," said Griff musingly.
"Nightmare?" Merlin asked.
"He had a bad dream on the flight here," said Griff. "Something about Mordred showing him scenes from his past, taunting him about all the bad choices that he made."
"Mordred?" asked Mary. There was a distinctly uneasy expression on her face as she spoke the name.
"Why didn't he tell us about it before?" Merlin inquired. "And why didn't you, either?"
"Arthur felt that you two had enough to worry about already," the gargoyle replied. "And I agreed with him then. But now I really think that we're going to need to keep a close eye on him. I think that something's at work here, something very dark."
"I think that you're right on that one," said Merlin, nodding.
"So do I," said Mary, patting down her hair again. It was already beginning to spring up once more, taking on an almost spiky look. "I don't know as much as you do about strange dreams, Merlin, but I do know this. Arthur was having these moments in South America, before that nightmare on the plane. There might be a connection, but the nightmare couldn't have caused them."
"But maybe they caused it," mused Griff.
* * * * *
"Thank goodness that Mary and Leba found a hotel where the staff don't ask a lot of questions," said Merlin, as he closed his eyes. "We're going to need one in light of Griff and Mary's condition in the daytime - not to mention the fact that we'll be doing all our sleeping here then and not at night."
Arthur nodded. With the sun's rising, Griff was already stone and Mary had changed into a wolf and was now curled up, fast asleep. He looked in their direction for a moment longer, then lay down on his bed and began to drift off.
* * *
"Good morning," said a familiar but decidedly unwelcome voice at his elbow. Arthur opened his eyes to see Mordred leaning against the wall to his left, looking down at him amusedly.
"You again!" cried Arthur, leaping to his feet. "When will you go away and leave me in peace?"
"Never," replied Mordred. He was now dressed in the modern-day attire that he had worn as James Seabairn, though this time minus the particle beam accelerator that he had been armed with at Buckingham Palace. "Sorry, father, but you're much too entertaining for me to ignore. Besides, I thought that I'd show you a few more things."
"And what would those be?" Arthur asked.
"Remember what I was saying last time, about just how weak and soft-hearted you are?" Mordred went on. "Well, today I thought that I'd show you some more about all the trouble that it gets you into. Watch and learn, father."
As he spoke, their surroundings changed. They were no longer standing in the hotel room, but in a small forest clearing at night. Only a few yards away, Arthur could see himself and his companions engaged in a quiet conversation.
"This is Oak Island, a few minutes before midnight tonight," said Mordred. "Less than twenty-four hours away, in other words. Now watch closely. You're about to see some very interesting developments."
* * *
"I think that it's fair to point out," Merlin was saying, "that the Knights Templar angle turned out to be a false lead in Egypt. So we shouldn't be too disappointed if the same thing proves to be the case here, and -"
There was a sudden crackle of magical energy from the darkened woods to the left, followed by a blast of white light which hurtled into Griff. The gargoyle knight was knocked off his feet and sent flying against the nearest tree. He fell forward upon the ground, unconscious.
Arthur-in-the-vision drew Excalibur at once. "Show yourself!" he shouted. "Whoever you are, declare yourself, rather than hide in the shadows like a coward!"
"If you insist, Arthur Pendragon," said Sybil, stepping out into the open. "You might as well see my face before you and your companions die." She raised one hand, and shot out another blast of energy at him.
Arthur-in-the-vision ducked just in time, while advancing towards her. "You will do no such thing," he said. "You will not harm my friends while I am yet alive."
Sybil hurled yet another bolt of magic at him, but he parried it with Excalibur, knocking it back into her. The former Queen of Northgalis flew backwards and landed prone upon the ground. Arthur-in-the-vision strode towards her, raising his sword above his head.
"No, stop!" Sybil cried. "I implore you, Arthur Pendragon, spare my life!"
"And why should I do that?" Arthur-in-the-vision asked as he stood over her. "You are Morgana's ally and sister-sorceress, after all. And you harmed one of my knights."
"Let me go, and I swear upon mine own honor to do you no more harm and to abjure my allegiance to Morgana altogether!" Sybil protested. "Please! Remember your vows as a knight of the Round Table! You swore to always grant mercy to the fallen foe and never to do harm to a lady. You will not break your oath now, will you?"
Arthur-in-the-vision hesitated, then stepped back and sheathed his sword. "You are right," he said. "I grant you your life, Sybil. Go, and trouble us no more."
Sybil rose to her feet, and bowed to him. "I thank you for your mercy and courtesy, Arthur Pendragon," she said, "and for being such a fool!"
With a triumphant smile upon her face, she pulled out from her trouser pocket a small red pendant dangling from a golden chain, and held it up, crying out something in Latin. A blast of crimson radiance shot out from the talisman and enveloped Arthur-in-the-vision. He staggered backwards and fell to the ground unconscious.
"Now to finish you all off," said Sybil as she turned towards the still unconscious Griff. "Starting with the gargoyle. He should be useful to me anyway; I understand that gargoyle body parts make good ingredients for a number of spells."
"NO!" shouted Merlin frantically. He extended one hand towards her as she bent over the prone gargoyle and cried out a few words in Old Welsh. A bolt of blue lightning shot out from his finger-tips and struck Sybil in the shoulder.
She rose up and turned around, wincing painfully, and stared straight at him. "Very well," she said. "If you insist on being first, then you shall be."
She hurled a few blasts of lightning at him. Merlin flung up a shield of blue light to intercept them but staggered even as he did so, his young face grimacing from the strain.
"Come, come," said Sybil mockingly, preparing another attack. "You've got to do more than that, Merlin, if you expect to defeat me. I had hoped for better than you."
She hurled the fresh magical blast at him. It was halfway towards Merlin when he cried out a few more Old Welsh words, his voice thundering in the clearing. The spell halted, then shot back at Sybil, ramming into her hard. The sorceress let out a scream of fury and disgust as her reflected attack hurled her out of the clearing.
"Merlin, you did it!" cried Mary eagerly. "You - Merlin?"
The young-old wizard was staggering now, a look of utter pain and agony upon his face. He fell to the ground, writhing in agony and screaming.
"Merlin!" cried Mary, rushing to his side. She bent over him even as he continued to roll about in convulsions. Arthur-in-the-vision and Griff picked themselves up and ran over to him as well.
"Merlin, hold on," cried Mary. "Please!"
Merlin coughed a few times and then lay still upon the ground. Arthur-in-the-vision bent down over him and took his hand, then lifted his face to look at Mary. "I'm sorry," he said to her. "There's nothing more that we can do for him."
The three of them stood about Merlin's body, staring down at him in a numb silence.
Arthur watched as well, scarcely able to speak. "This - is how it ends?" he asked at last, barely able to utter the words.
"Exactly," said Mordred. "Pity, isn't it? All that searching for the Grail, and now it's too late. Even if it were to show up just now, it wouldn't be able to do him a spot of good." He shrugged and yawned. "Oh well, I never did like that wizard of yours anyway. But the story's not over just because he's gone the way of all flesh. Just watch to see what happens next."
Mary took off her locket that Merlin had given to her for Christmas and placed it on his unmoving body. Then she rose to her feet and ran into the woods, weeping bitterly.
"Arthur, we really shouldn't let her run off like that," said Griff concernedly. "I mean, there's no telling what could be in those woods. I doubt that Sybil came here alone."
"You go," said Arthur-in-the-vision, in a dull voice. "I want to be with him for a while longer." He knelt beside the wizard's still and lifeless form, his head bowed in grief. Griff nodded, then headed off into the woods in the same direction as Mary.
Arthur stared at his grieving self. He wanted to walk over to him, to say some words of comfort, but he could think of none to say. And in any case he was unable to move from the spot. His feet felt as though they were rooted to the ground.
"Even if you could walk over to him, you wouldn't be able to help him," said Mordred, as though he could read Arthur's thoughts. "Remember - what you're seeing is merely the stuff of shadows. He can't see you or hear you."
"This - cannot be happening," said Arthur slowly. He turned to face Mordred. "You're lying, aren't you?" he asked, almost desperately. "You trafficked in falsehood and deception before in Camelot. How do I know that this is not more of the same?"
"And why should I be lying to you this time?" asked Mordred innocently. "What's in it for me? Remember, father, I'm dead now. I don't have anything left to gain by engaging in more deceit. So shall we see how Miss Sefton's faring? I believe that you should find it quite interesting."
* * *
The scene about them changed once more. "Act Two, Scene Two," Mordred said as Arthur looked about their new surroundings. "Another part of the wood. Enter your squire, stage left."
Mary walked past them, her head bowed in grief but shedding no more tears. As she walked past a group of trees, several pairs of eyes gleamed in the darkness within their boughs.
"What are those?" Arthur asked in alarm.
"Some of Auntie Morgana's pets," replied Mordred. "Griff was right about one thing, you see. Sybil didn't come alone. Now just see what takes place when that little squire of yours shows up in front of them. I happen to know that they're not in an especially good mood."
As he spoke, the ravens emerged into view, swooping down from their perches straight at Mary. The girl looked up in time to see them coming. She frantically swatted at them with her hands, but there were too many of them. At last she turned and fled. The ravens flew after her, croaking harshly.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," said Mordred, shaking his head in mock-disapproval. "Here's today's Safety Tip, Arthur: never go running around like that if you don't watch where you're going. You could have a nasty accident that way."
Arthur suddenly found himself standing at the edge of a cliff just beyond the woods. Mary came running out from the trees, still followed by the ravens. She was so busy trying to fend off the birds that she never saw the precipice before her until it was too late.
"No!" cried Arthur. He rushed forward and attempted to grab her by the hand, but his fingers passed through her body without touching anything as if she was a ghost. Mary fell off the top of the cliff with an anguished cry. The ravens croaked in what sounded almost like delighted laughter, then flew away into the night.
"Don't worry, father," said Mordred, as Arthur stood motionless, scarcely able to comprehend what he had just seen. "The fall won't hurt her. It'll be the sudden stop that'll do that instead."
Arthur forced himself to look down. Far below, at the foot of the cliff, he could make out his squire's form. Mary lay motionless upon the ground.
"See what I mean?" asked Mordred. "That makes two down and one to go. And here comes the last of your companions, right on schedule."
As he spoke, Griff emerged from the woods and reached the cliff. For one moment he stared down at the horrible sight below in utter disbelief, then leaped down, spreading out his wings to catch the air currents as he did so.
"But he's not the only one here," said Mordred. "See for yourself, father."
Arthur now found himself standing at the foot of the cliff, by the sea. Only a few hundred feet before him, Griff was standing over Mary's body. With tears in his eyes he bent down and picked it up. Even as he did so, however, a woman's voice pierced the night.
"Gargoyle! It's a gargoyle!"
Arthur turned in the direction of the cry. Sybil was pointing at Griff, continuing to scream as she did so. A small crowd of people - tourists by the look of them - came rushing up to see what the matter was, then gasped as they saw Griff holding Mary's corpse in his hands. A few of them raised their cameras and began snapping pictures of him, even as he began to climb up the cliff.
"Dear, dear, dear," said Mordred. "That sight will be very easy to misinterpret, won't it? Especially with Sybil on the scene. Don't you agree, father?"
"Not Mary too," said Arthur, beginning to weep.
"Yes, her too," said Mordred. "Very careless of you, Arthur, losing them both like that. Oh well, 'Golden lads and girls all must,/ As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.' Now, let's just take a look at how that tidbit of news gets received back in merry old England, shall we?"
* * *
Arthur found himself standing, with Mordred still by his side, in an oak-panelled study. Sir Nigel Sefton was seated behind his desk, watching television over breakfast. Regina Fitzwalter was speaking.
"...as yet we have no information about the teenaged girl supposedly killed by a gargoyle at Nova Scotia. However, we do have amateur camera footage taken by tourists who witnessed this alarming event."
Nigel leaned forward, his eyes widening as one photograph after another appeared upon the television screen. Though the images were blurred, he could clearly recognize the sweater that the murder victim had been wearing. He put down his glass of orange juice, his hands trembling. Just then the telephone rang.
He stared at it numbly for a few rings, then finally picked up the receiver. "Sir Nigel Sefton speaking," he said, in a shaken voice.
"Sir Nigel?" asked a voice at the other end. "This is Arthur Pendragon - or Arthur Pennington, if you prefer. I'm - calling about your daughter Mary."
"This is something to do with what happened at Nova Scotia, I take it?" Nigel inquired grimly. "I just saw it on the morning news. A gargoyle murdered her. A gargoyle murdered her, and you did nothing to stop it. You just let it happen."
"Griff did not kill her," said Arthur-in-the-vision at once.
"Griff?" cried Nigel. "That creature has a name?"
"He is no creature," answered Arthur-in-the-vision. "He is a loyal friend and my most trusted knight. Sir Nigel, you must listen to me. Despite what you may have seen, he did not kill her. He would never harm an innocent. There has been a terrible misunderstanding here."
"That doesn't change the fact that she's dead," Nigel retorted. "And you could have stopped it. You let her die. You took her on that fool's errand to look for the Holy Grail. You promised to keep her safe, and yet you let this happen to her. It's because of you and your carelessness that she's dead."
"Sir Nigel, I am indeed sorry," said Arthur-in-the-vision. "Mary was very dear to me and I grieve for her most deeply. If there is anything that I can do to make amends -"
Sir Nigel was silent, a pained look in his eyes. He appeared to be struggling for control. At last he spoke again.
"There is one thing," he said. "I want to come out to Nova Scotia and retrieve her body. And I want to meet you and your gargoyle friend face to face, Mr. Arthur Pendragon, and find out exactly what happened."
"Yes, of course," said Arthur-in-the-vision. "It's the least that I can do. We will be staying at Oak Island awaiting you. You can find us -"
* * *
Before Arthur could hear himself give the location to Nigel over the phone, the world about him blurred once more. When it came back into focus, Arthur found himself and his son standing in an open field at the edge of a wood. Arthur could see himself and Griff both standing sorrowfully over two caskets, but dared not approach them. He knew without needing to be told what was inside them.
Sir Nigel Sefton emerged from the woods and walked towards them. He halted in front of the caskets and stared down in silence at one of them. Arthur did not need to be told which one it was.
"So you're both here," he said at last, straightening up and facing Arthur-in-the-vision and Griff.
Arthur-in-the-vision nodded. "You have every right to blame me for your daughter's death, Sir Nigel," he said sadly. "I know that I have no right to make any requests of you, either. But still, I ask that when you take her back to England for burial, you bury Emrys alongside her. Let them be laid to rest side by side, united in death as they were in life."
"You are in no place to be making requests of any sort, murderer," said Sir Nigel, looking him in the eye and speaking in a cold voice. Then he raised one hand and snapped his fingers.
A few Canadian policemen emerged from the woods and rushed at Arthur-in-the-vision and Griff. Griff lunged at them, his eyes blazing white, but one of the police fired a taser at him and jolted him into unconsciousness. Three more seized Arthur-in-the-vision and handcuffed him, confiscating his sword. "Arthur Pennington," one of them began, "we arrest you for the death of Mary Gwendolen Sefton...."
The scene went black and Arthur found himself and Mordred all alone. "I believe that we've seen enough for tonight," his son said, stretching and yawning. "You probably don't need the commentary, father, but I'll give it to you anyway. This is what your present will be like if you continue on down the same road that you've taken. Two of your closest companions are dead, and as for Sir Griff - well, in light of the general lack of popularity that gargoyles have, together with the fact that Sir Nigel clearly believes that he contributed to Mary's death, I wouldn't be placing any wagers on his long-term survival if I were you."
Arthur made no reply. He simply stared into the darkness in mute horror.
"Well, it's been fun," said Mordred. "But all good things must come to an end - at least for now. I'll see you again later, though. I'm saving the best for last, you see, and you really don't want to miss it." He began to laugh, fading away as he did so.
Arthur awoke, clutching the sheets tightly. He glanced over at the sleeping forms of his companions and gazed at them long and hard in silence.
* * * * *
"You had another one of those nightmares, didn't you?" Merlin asked Arthur, as he limped along after him through the woods towards the Money Pit.
"I do not wish to speak of it just now," replied Arthur in a curt tone of voice. "Let us concentrate on finding a way of examining this pit more closely; that is a much greater priority."
"I'm not so certain about that," said Griff, looking at the former king concernedly. The gargoyle had donned the heavy overcoat and fedora that he customarily wore in situations such as this one where they had to conceal his true nature from the eyes of others. "From what I can tell, those bad dreams are really taking their toll on you. I really think that we need to discuss this."
"We don't have time," Arthur retorted. "We have to find out if the Grail is at the bottom of the pit, so that we can leave this place as quickly as possible if it is not. I don't consider it safe here. And that is the end of this discussion."
He stomped on ahead in silence. Griff, Merlin, and Mary exchanged worried glances at each other, before following him.
"According to the map," said Mary, fishing her map of Oak Island out of her jacket, "the Money Pit is this direction. But I should warn you, Arthur, that gaining access to it isn't going to be very easy. I found out that a corporation already beat us to the site and is doing some research there; they're not likely to welcome visitors like us."
"Which corporation?" Arthur asked. "Darien Montrose again? Xanatos Enterprises?"
"A new one, actually," said the girl. "One that we've never encountered before. I don't think that they're up to anything sneaky - they just want to find out if something's at the bottom of that pit - but we're really going to need to watch our step here."
"We don't have time to 'watch our step'," Arthur retorted. "This is an emergency! Merlin's life is at stake here!"
"I know that as well as you do, Arthur," said the girl. "Do you think that I don't? But if we just go barging in -"
Arthur doubled his pace without showing any sign of having paid attention to her words. The others rushed after him, but Griff and Mary were soon forced to slow down so that Merlin would be able to keep up with them. When they finally did catch up with Arthur, he was already at the fence that had been raised around the site of the Money Pit, and was arguing with a security guard posted at the gate.
"Look, I'm sorry, mister," the guard was saying. "But my orders are not to let any unauthorized personnel into the area. This is a restricted zone."
"Do you know who I am?" Arthur shouted at him. "I am Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future King!"
"I don't care if you're Napoleon," said the guard. "Nobody comes in without proper authorization."
Arthur drew Excalibur from its scabbard and raised it threateningly. "I am ordering you to let us in," he said. "If you do not-"
Griff hurriedly stepped forward and grabbed hold of the former king, pulling him back. "That's enough, Arthur!" he cried. "Let's go!"
"I'm sorry about that," said Mary to the security guard, while Griff hauled a still-protesting Arthur away. "My employer's been under some stress lately; he's not usually like this."
"He'd better not be," said the guard. "I mean, going around shaking a sword in somebody's face like that. Somebody should be reporting that man to the proper authorities."
"Don't worry," said Merlin quickly, giving the man a very significant look in the eye. "It's just a prop, that's all. He's only a frustrated actor trying to get into character."
The guard nodded, a slightly dazed expression upon his face. "Ah, yes," he said. "Just a prop. Only a frustrated actor trying to get into character." He paid no more attention as the two youngsters followed Arthur and Griff back into the woods.
* * * * *
"What on earth had gotten into you, Arthur?" Griff asked, in a forest clearing some distance from the Money Pit. "Threatening an unarmed man like that, I mean. It's so unlike you."
"I had to do something to persuade him to let us enter," said Arthur. "This is a desperate situation. We have to find the Grail, and that means doing whatever it takes to reach it. Whatever it takes."
"That's not what you said back at Glastonbury," said Merlin. He looked at Arthur closely. "What is wrong with you, anyway? It's got something to do with those dreams of yours, doesn't it?"
"Why don't you tell us more about them?" asked Mary.
"It's not your concern," said Arthur abruptly. "And remember your place, Mary. You're still only a squire, not a knight as yet. It is a squire's part to keep silent unless given permission to speak."
"Arthur, what is wrong with you?" cried Mary. "You're treating me as if I'm just a servant."
"Well, you should get used to it," said Arthur. "It appears that I have been far too lax with you since I took you into my service. I will be much sterner with you henceforth. And now I need some time alone."
He walked off by himself into the woods. The other three watched him go.
"I never thought that he'd talk that way to me," said Mary. "He's just not himself at all. He must be bewitched."
"I think so too," said Merlin. "I'm certain now that those nightmares of his have something to do with it. Of course, I'd have a better idea of what was going on if he'd only shared the details of his most recent dream with us, but at least we know what was in the nightmare that he had on the airplane."
"Mordred," said Griff. "Yes, I'm certain that there must be a connection here. It's almost as if he's beginning to become like him."
"That's what I was thinking to," said Mary. "When he was acting strangely in the White Knight's land in Peru, he actually reminded me of Mordred. He must be under a spell of some sort. You can break it, Merlin, can't you?" she asked, turning to her boyfriend.
"It's not so easy as that," said Merlin. "First I need to know if he really has had a spell laid upon him. And then I need to find out who placed it upon him and what the details are. Not to mention that, if it's powerful enough, I might not even be able to lift it in my condition - and that even if I wasn't poisoned, there are some spells out there which can only be undone by the caster. For all that I know, this might be one of them."
"In other words, it's getting tricky all around," said Griff. He suddenly paused and squinted his eyes a little.
"Is anything wrong?" Mary asked him.
"I thought that I saw something," said the gargoyle. "Just out of the corner of my eye. Yes, I can see it much more clearly now." He swatted at something in the air with one hand, a small white globe of light. "It's a will-o-the-wisp!"
"Another one?" Mary asked.
"Yes," said Griff, as the glowing sphere shot away into the woods. "And it's getting away!" He rushed after it. "There's got to be some connection here!"
"We'd better follow him," began Merlin. But even as he spoke, he showed signs of being about to lose his balance and fall forward. Mary hurriedly sat him down on the ground next to a large tree.
"I think that you'd better rest for a while," she said. "I'll stay with you and we'll wait here until Griff comes back."
"Good idea," said Merlin. "You could probably do with a rest yourself, you know. You're looking a bit peaked."
She glanced down at herself. Maybe it was just her imagination, but her wrists were looking thinner and bonier than she could remember. "You might be right," she said concernedly. "Arthur's not the only one who hasn't been feeling quite himself lately."
* * * * *
Griff rushed through the woods after the will-o-the-wisp. It darted about frantically, trying to lose him, but moved at a slower pace than those others of its kind that he had seen first in the Caledonian Forest, then the White Knight's kingdom. It was almost as if it had been injured from the swatting that he had given it.
"That might be good news," he said to himself. "I'll be able to keep up with it much better this way."
Up ahead the will-o-the-wisp entered another forest clearing, then halted. Griff came to a stop as well and looked about him. He could see no sign of anyone else in the area, and yet the glowing ball of energy was hovering about as though it had reached its destination. Griff advanced cautiously upon it, frowning.
"So was this where you were going all along?" he asked. "Or did you just lead me to an out-of-the-way part of the woods, far away from whoever you were working for?"
He was about to consider it the latter when he heard a rustling in the bushes to his right. Griff ducked just as a magical blast shot out from them, whistling harmlessly over his head. He then rushed towards the undergrowth and dove in. There was a momentary struggle and then he hauled a woman from out of the bushes.
"I remember you," he said, looking closely at her. "You were that woman that Arthur and I ran into on Bardsey Isle a couple of years ago. You're the Queen of Northgalis!"
"Unhand me at once, gargoyle," cried the woman angrily. She would have attempted to send a fresh spell against him, but Griff held her arms pinioned against her sides, preventing her from making any gestures.
"Sorry, ma'am," he told her. "You're coming with me. I believe that Arthur needs to see this."
* * * * *
"So just who is this woman?" Mary asked, looking at Griff's prisoner, now safely bound fast with some rope and seated upon a rock.
"Sybil, once the Queen of Northgalis," Merlin explained. "She was also - and most likely still is - a sister-sorceress of Morgana's, who assisted her in a good many of her schemes. I might have known that Morgana wouldn't be content with just one attempt to hinder us on this quest," he added.
"So what do we do about her now?" Mary asked.
"There is only one thing to do," said Arthur grimly, striding into the clearing to join them. He drew out Excalibur, its blade gleaming beneath the night sky. "We must slay her now."
His companions stared at him in alarm. "I must say," said Griff, "that that strikes me as far too extreme. This isn't like you at all, Arthur. Whatever happened to sparing the helpless? She's an enemy, yes, but she's also a defenceless prisoner."
"She appears to be defenceless," said Arthur. "But for all that we know, she may have a stratagem planned for freeing herself and unleashing a fresh assault upon us all. We cannot let that happen. I won't let her take the life of anyone else close to me."
"Anyone else?" asked Merlin, looking bewildered. "I know Sybil's career well enough, Arthur, and although she's been an enemy of yours for a good long time she's never succeeded in killing any of your friends or allies. Are you certain that you're not mistaken here?"
"We cannot afford to have her endangering us," Arthur went on, ignoring Merlin's words. "She has to die, now."
"No, she does not," said Griff firmly. "Arthur, this goes against everything that you believe in. You're not acting like yourself any more. You're almost acting like - well, like Mordred."
"And what would you know of that?" Arthur asked him sharply. "You've never even met Mordred. He died long before you were hatched."
"Besides," Griff went on, "even if it was right for us to slay her under normal circumstances, remember that we're on the Quest of the Holy Grail. If we kill her in cold blood, while she's helpless, we might never find the Grail."
There's something else that we should remember," put in Merlin. "We really ought to find out what Sybil was up to here. It's obvious enough that she must have been working for Morgana, but we'll need to know more than that. We need to question her and find out what she's been up to."
"Very well," said Arthur. "First we question her and then we deal with her."
"I'll start the questioning," said Griff. "I won't be able to do anything come dawn, remember, so I'd better do my share while it's still dark. Then you can take over from me while I'm having some shut-eye during the day."
"Well, I have been sleeping poorly for the past two days," said Arthur, sitting down against a tree and leaning back upon its trunk. His voice had returned to something closer to normal, and the grim, ruthless expression on his face had softened. "So I will rest now, and let you handle these matters." He closed his eyes and soon fell asleep.
Griff, Merlin and Mary watched him in silence until they could feel certain that he was indeed asleep. Then Griff turned to face the former Queen of Northgalis. "All right," he said to her. "We've got a few things to talk to you about."
"I'm surprised that you're even bothering to make any inquiries of me," said Sybil, looking almost bored. "Not that I object to the fact that it stopped your friend from killing me, but what can you possibly ask me that you don't know the answers to already? Yes, I'm working with Morgana, trying to stop you from finding the Grail. That's obvious enough. A child could have guessed that. What else can you want to know?"
"What's happening to Arthur?" Griff asked. "He's been having nightmares about Mordred for the past two days, and now he's starting to act like him. Is this your doing?"
"I wish that it were," said Sybil. "It'll certainly make him much less of a problem for me. You've no idea just how tiresome he was, always giving those sanctimonious lectures to my husband and myself. So what business was it of his if we raided the lands of our smaller neighbors and imposed heavy taxes upon our peasants? At least he won't be so much trouble once he's changed."
"Once he's changed?" asked Merlin sharply. "So you know what's going on here. You know what's happening to Arthur."
"Actually, yes," she answered. "But it still wasn't my doing. In a way, it was more yours."
"What do you mean by that?" Merlin asked her.
"You were the one who broke the globe that my colleague Morgana used to imprison Arthur in the microcosm that she created," Sybil replied. "But you didn't entirely undo the magic. It's inside Arthur now, working upon him, slowly changing him. It shouldn't be too long before it alters him entirely through his nightmares. Then Mordred - or the spell that takes on his shape - will forever rule over him."
Merlin, Griff, and Mary turned and looked at the sleeping Arthur uneasily, as if half-expecting him to metamorphose into Mordred then and there. They then turned back to face Sybil again.
"I was trapped in that microcosm with Arthur," said Mary. "Why hasn't anything like that happened to me yet? I mean - I haven't been having any really strange dreams lately - at least, nothing stranger than normal."
"Oh, I'd say that it is affecting you, only in a different way," replied Sybil, with a gleeful smile upon her face. "Have you looked in the mirror lately?"
"And just what do you mean by that?" Mary asked.
Merlin looked closely at her. Her hair was looking even shaggier and more wild now than it had in Antarctica, and there was something disquietingly familiar about its style. Her face was growing thinner, and had developed an almost waif-like appearance. He suddenly realized what it meant.
"You're starting to look like Corbie," he told her.
"What?" cried the girl. She fished her pocket mirror out and stared at herself in it. "Oh, wonderful!" she said in disgust. "This is just what I don't need! I'm not going to start acting like her next, am I?" she added worriedly.
"I don't know," said Merlin. "If you were, it would have begun by now. What I'd really like to know is why the effect on you is different. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that that spell of Morgana's was only designed for Arthur and not for you."
"Whatever the case," said Griff, "we need to find a way of undoing it. I don't suppose that you know how, Merlin?"
"I'm not sure that I'd be able to counter it in my present state of health," said Merlin. "But someone else here might," he added, looking meaningfully at Sybil. "As an old friend of Morgana's, you're the person here who'd have the strongest insight into how to undo one of her spells."
"Of course I can counter it," she said, and might have shrugged were she not tied up. "But why would I wish to? Actually, I was intending to stop it - but only when the nightmares had so weakened Arthur that he ceased to exist as you know him, and Mordred gained the ascendancy. That would trap him in that state forever, making him a Mordred reborn. He'd be far less of a plague to me that way. And as for you," she added, turning to Mary, "your own condition doesn't appear all that life-threatening - which is a pity if you ask me. Your stepmother-to-be is far too soft-hearted about you; maybe losing you will toughen her up a little. She's certainly in drastic need of it."
"Well, you are our prisoner now," said Griff. "And if you want us to free you, you're going to undo that spell now. Or at least tell us how to do it."
"It's not that simple," said Sybil. "I cannot undo the spell, only halt its progress. Were I to do so now, while Mordred has the upper hand, Arthur would become like Mordred forever, permanently possessed by him. The only way that you can get your Arthur back is if he defeats Mordred himself. And time is running out."
* * * * *
"I should have known that I'd find you in my dreams again," said Arthur with a groan.
Mordred, now wearing a large black trench coat over his modern-day clothes, nodded as he leaned against the lamp-post on the street corner. The post was bent slightly and showing signs of definite rust, while the glass at the top was shattered. All about them was what looked like London, but a run-down, decrepit London, with battered cars by the pavements and boarded-up windows on the buildings. Arthur and Mordred were the only people in sight.
"I'm that predictable then, am I?" Mordred asked. "Not that it matters, of course. I'd say that I'm almost done."
"So where are we?" Arthur asked, as he examined his surroundings.
"I believe that the appropriate word here is 'when' rather than 'where'," Mordred answered. "And, yes, this is London in the year 2010. Dreadfully unkempt, isn't it?"
"How did this happen?" Arthur asked, as they turned the corner. "What evil has befallen this city?"
"Much, actually," said Mordred, pointing to a deserted newsagent. "Have a look for yourself."
Arthur walked over to the shop and looked inside through the grimy window. He could see an issue of The Times with the banner headline: "VAMPYRES BESET LONDON: AUTHORITIES HELPLESS." The photograph below it showed what appeared to be the Houses of Parliament. Arthur's eyes widened in horror as he saw that the Big Ben Tower was in ruins, the famous clock that had once surmounted it gone.
"It's not easy being a clock tower," said Mordred at his elbow. "They're so subject to violence. Quite a shame, isn't it?"
"What is responsible for this?" cried Arthur. "Answer me!"
"Vampyres, mostly," said Mordred. "They've been running amuck for the past few years, their numbers increasing. And they've been doing quite a bit of damage too, all over the city. In fact, there's a riot proceeding in Trafalgar Square just now. We should go have a look at it."
He lifted his left hand and gestured with it. Lightning flashed in the sky and there was a roll of thunder. Arthur blinked and found himself standing beneath the cracked and tilted Nelson Column, in the middle of what had once been one of London's most bustling areas. The fountains were dry now and the lion sculptures headless and near-rubble. Not a single pigeon was in sight. But there was a crowd of dark-clad pale-visaged people milling about, shouting as they sent blasts of energy in all directions. They appeared to be fighting someone, but Arthur could not see who their opponents were.
"Hullo, what's this?" asked Mordred, turning to his left. "You should see this, father. You might find it interesting."
A man carrying a sword came around the corner and into view. For a moment, Arthur's heart leaped within him, but as the newcomer drew closer, his elation vanished. The man was Mordred, and dressed in the same long black overcoat as the Mordred who had been showing Arthur about. He paused and looked at the battle in progress.
"Well?" he asked, glancing back over his shoulder. "Are you coming?"
A figure wearing advanced battle armor, with rockets strapped to it, swooped down from the top of a nearby building, and alit to the left of Mordred-in-the-vision. A blast of purple flame struck to Mordred-in-the-vision's right, and from it emerged Lucius Adrians. He looked a few years older now and bore in one hand a great staff tipped with a seven-pointed star. His eyes were aglow with mystical energy and purple lightning crackled about his staff.
"Ah, two of you are here, at least," said Mordred-in-the-vision. "Magister Lucius, Darien Montrose, thank you for joining us."
"Would you mind not addressing me by that name in public?" said the figure inside the battle armor. "I don't want people knowing that I'm one of your allies, remember. I do have a reputation to maintain."
"You really should consider going by one of those corny aliases, in that case," said Mordred-in-the-vision. "The kind that they always use in the comic books." He looked about him again. "So where's our banshee?"
"Here," said Molly, stepping out from the shadows. She looked distinctly uneasy as she joined the others.
"Thank you for being so prompt," said Mordred-in-the-vision. "Well, it seems that we've got another vampyre incident on our hands. We really ought to do something about it, don't you agree?"
"Aye, my lord," said Lucius. "Especially when it's our own sworn enemies whom the vampyres are battling."
"Ah, yes," said Mordred-in-the-vision. "We really want to be whittling down their numbers a little more. Can't have them getting underfoot all the time, now, can we? Don't you agree?" he asked, turning to Molly.
"Is it - necessary?" she asked. "Do we have to fight them?"
"Yes, we do," answered Mordred-in-the-vision coldly. "All of us, including you. Remember, I am the only one now who can shield you from Oberon. Or do you want the Weird Sisters hauling you back to Avalon again? I doubt that Oberon will be content with depriving you of your voice this time."
"Forgive me, my lord," said Molly, trembling. "I will do as you say."
"Thank you," said Mordred-in-the-vision. "Now, forward!"
He raised his sword and rushed towards the battle. Darien and Molly followed him, while Lucius lifted his staff and began chanting something in Latin. The sky clouded over and thunder rumbled loudly, while the wind began to rise.
"What has happened to Lucius?" Arthur asked. "He was never this powerful before."
"He's learned a few things," Mordred replied. "Finding some of the London clan's magical oddments helped, of course."
"But how did he find them?" asked Arthur. "Una would never have allowed them to come into his possession."
"She didn't exactly have the option of interfering," Mordred explained. "But I'll get to that in a moment. In the meantime, maybe you'd be interested in seeing just whom our villains are fighting."
Arthur found himself suddenly standing at the other end of Trafalgar Square. From his new vantage point, he could see just whom the vampyres were attacking. Rory and Dulcinea stood together side by side, Rory armed with the Gae Bolga in its staff form, Dulcinea with a quarterstaff. Both looked haggard and worn; if this was only ten years into the future, he found himself reflecting, the years had been anything but kind to them.
Beside them stood a small handful of gargoyles, as dejected-looking as the two human knights were. Some were members of the London clan such as Imogen and Faulconbridge, while others were gargoyles from the Caledonian Forest. At their head was a young female gargoyle with the features of a lioness. It took a few moments for Arthur to realize, to his shock, that it was Lucy, now approaching adulthood.
"Why are there so few of them?" he asked aloud. "With London in such chaos, surely the clan would not send only a pittance of its strength here. And where is Leba? Surely she would be helping them as well. Or is she dead?"
"That depends on what your definition of 'dead' is," replied Mordred, standing at his elbow. "If you'll just look over there, Arthur...."
Arthur turned his gaze in the direction that Mordred was pointing in, at one of the London vampyres. He stared in horror as he realized that it was Leba: a paler-looking Leba, the life gone out of her eyes and replaced with a spiritless gloom, but Leba nonetheless. "What has happened to her?" he cried.
"It's amazing what a little brainwashing can do," said Mordred. "Actually, my counterpart in the future rediscovered Sevarius's methods of altering humans and began converting more test subjects into vampyres. Leba tried to stop him, but after she was captured - well, you can see the results."
"And what of the rest of the clan?" Arthur asked. "Where is it?"
"There is no 'rest of the clan'," Mordred replied. "What you're seeing is all that's left."
"What happened to it?" cried Arthur, grabbing Mordred by the collar of his trench coat. "Tell me now!"
"Temper, temper," said Mordred, showing not the slightest trace of fear or even alarm in his eyes. "It's a long story, actually. Fortunately I can arrange for a little explanation."
He freed his coat from Arthur's grip, then snapped his fingers. A wide-screen television set materialized beside him. Mordred pulled a remote control from his coat's pocket, and switched the set on with it. The screen flickered, and then the image appeared of Nigel Sefton seated behind a desk, staring at a photograph of Mary before him. His eyes gazed down upon her face, dry but plainly filled with grief. At last, he picked up the receiver of the telephone at his elbow and began to dial a number.
"Sir Nigel had captured both you and Griff, the so-called murderers of his daughter," Mordred explained. "He'd had you arrested and imprisoned, and Griff smashed to pieces in his stone sleep. But that wasn't enough for him. He felt the need to do more. So he persuaded the government to go on a major anti-gargoyle crusade, using the 'Nova Scotia Attack' as proof that gargoyles were dangerous."
He pushed a button on the remote control. The scene on the television channel changed to the interior of the House of Commons. Nigel was standing at a podium, addressing the Members of Parliament seated before him; Arthur could not hear the man's words, but could see his face, contorted with anguish and fury. Behind him was what looked like an enlarged photograph of Griff holding Mary's body in his arms. As Nigel concluded his speech, the Commons rose to their feet, applauding and cheering.
"He started by attacking the Mystic shop," Mordred continued. "Leo and Una were both captured; they held out as long as they could under the questioning, but in the end told him what he was hoping to learn. The whereabouts of the estate. Nigel had it raided during the day, and had every gargoyle that he could find there smashed to rubble."
He pushed the button on the remote again. The scene on the television screen now changed to the courtyard of the London estate. Nigel was standing in the middle of the courtyard, shouting orders as uniformed men armed with sledgehammers moved about, looking for statues. Rubble littered the yard. Arthur looked more closely at it, and saw to his horror what appeared to be pieces of Michael and Brock among it.
"He didn't get them all, of course," Mordred went on. "A few of them, such as Lucy, were away on another visit to the Caledonian clan at the time, and so they survived. But even Scotland wasn't a hiding place for them for long. Nigel still wasn't satisfied, you see. He used the same incident to urge other governments to hunt down the gargoyles in their lands as well. Including the United States government - which didn't bode well for Goliath and his clan."
He changed channels on the television set again. This time, the screen showed an image of Castle Wyvern atop the Eyrie Building, in the daytime. Soldiers were hammering the Manhattan gargoyles to dust as well, while a handcuffed Xanatos, Fox, Owen, and Elisa were being led away. Elisa's eyes were wet with tears as one of the soldiers brought his weapon down upon Goliath's head.
"In fact," said Mordred, "Lucy and those others that you just saw are the only gargoyles left in the outside world. All the others are dead - or had to flee to Avalon to find shelter. Not that even that's going to be safe for them very long. One of Nigel's first acts after becoming Prime Minister a couple of years ago was to order research into finding a scientific means of reaching Oberon's isle. The results are looking very promising, I might add."
Arthur stared at the screen in a numb silence. At last he turned to Mordred and spoke. "And what are you doing here?" he asked.
"Serving as your tour guide, of course," replied Mordred. "Oh, wait, you meant my counterpart." He nodded in the direction of Mordred-in-the-vision, who had now joined the vampyres and was fighting Dulcinea. "Ah yes, that's quite an amusing story. I'm glad that you asked me about it."
"Tell it," said Arthur.
"Well, it all began with Auntie Morgana," said Mordred, changing channels on the television set again. Now it showed Nigel's office. Nigel was seated at his desk, talking with somebody over the telephone. Morgana was standing beside him, looking down at him worriedly. She was dressed in black as if for mourning. Once or twice she tried to get Nigel's attention, but he never even looked up at her.
"She'd finally gotten what she wanted, or at least, what she thought she wanted," Mordred went on. "Merlin was dead and you'd been locked up in the madhouse, since the authorities had decided that you weren't mentally competent enough to stand trial. She had thought at first that it was all over and that she could get on with her life again. But it wasn't as simple as that. Because she'd also now lost the two people in this time period that she cared about. Mary was dead. And as for Nigel - he was too caught up in his anti-gargoyle crusade to give her any thought. Not only that, but I suspect that she found his actions far too unsettling. Seeing him embarking on a project of grand revenge reminded her too much of what she'd done. I guess that she didn't like seeing her own reflection in him. So she left him."
As he spoke, Morgana sadly turned away from Nigel and walked out of his office, closing the door behind her. Nigel never even looked up or noticed that she was gone.
"But she couldn't just live alone, either," said Mordred, changing channels yet again. Arthur saw Morgana standing in what looked like a sorcerer's laboratory, brewing something in a cauldron. "She needed somebody to hold onto, if for no other reason than to keep all the ghosts at bay - Accolon, Morfydd, and now Mary. And she was desperate enough to create another simulacrum of me, this time the new and improved version, one that wouldn't melt away, in the hopes that he'd keep her company. And he did - until he killed her."
"Morgana is dead as well?" asked Arthur.
"Of course," said Mordred. "Come, I'll take you to her."
Arthur did not move. He turned back to look at the battle now raging, the battle that he knew in his heart was the last stand of his surviving friends.
Imogen and Faulconbridge dove at Lucius from above. The sorcerer calmly pointed his staff at them and shouted "Ad saxum commutate nunc!" A blast of purple fire stabbed upwards from the star mounted on top of his staff and struck both gargoyles, turning them to stone in mid-air. They fell to the pavement and shattered.
Darien shot a laser beam from a miniature gun mounted on the arm of his exo-suit, that sent Dulcinea flying off her feet and into a wall. She sprawled against it, not moving; Arthur could not tell from where he stood if she was dead or unconscious, and was not certain that he wanted to know. He turned his gaze and saw Rory falling back before Molly's attack; the Irish hero was clearly unwilling to harm her, and yet aware at the same time that her fear of Mordred-in-the-vision was so strong that it would override her own wish not to harm him. He saw the vampyre that had once been Leba overpower Lucy, bringing her to the ground and preparing to sink her teeth into the young gargoyle's throat. Then he turned away.
"Ready?" asked Mordred. "Then let's go."
He lifted one hand and lightning flashed in the sky again, accompanied by a louder roll of thunder.
* * *
Arthur found himself standing in a graveyard. Mordred was leaning against a weathered tombstone to his left. "That's her," he said, pointing to the name "Morgana Cornish" engraved upon the stone. "Quite the irony, don't you agree? In her despairing loneliness she turned to the last descendant of Uther Pendragon, the very man who had brought all the misery in her life, for comfort and succour. And it didn't help her one bit. The feud's over - and Uther's line won."
Arthur gazed bleakly down at the marker of his half-sister's grave.
"But come, there's more to see," said Mordred. "Take a look at this one, father."
Arthur walked up with him to the next tombstone, and looked at the words carved upon it. "Jennifer Camford?" he cried. "What happened to her?"
"She decided to start up a new company after she lost the Camford Corporation, but Darien wanted it as well," said Mordred. "So he staged another takeover attempt. Only this time, it was a lot less tidy and - you can see the results. But never mind about her. It's time for the grand finale."
Arthur numbly followed him to one last tombstone. Mordred pointed down to the name upon its surface. Arthur bent down and read upon it his own name. "Arthur Pendragon."
"Some say that the man claiming to be King Arthur took his own life in despair, unable to face his failure and the deaths of his friends and loved ones," said Mordred, gesturing casually at the stone. "Others say that he was driven to it by the constant tormenting of the spirits that haunted him. Who knows? But there he lies now. So much for the 'future' part of the 'Once and Future King', eh?"
Arthur closed his eyes and turned away. "This cannot happen!" he cried desperately. "I do not wish it to happen!"
"Ah, but it will happen all the same," said Mordred, with a wicked laugh. "You can't fight it, Arthur. You can't stop it from occurring. And why should you be so surprised? Your original reign ended in darkness, fire and blood, remember. Why should you expect your second life to end any differently? It's inevitable. Nothing that you can do will avert this future. Face it, father. You're doomed, and so is everyone close to you."
Arthur stared down at his grave, his head bowed. At last he lifted up his face and looked at Mordred in the eye.
"I do not know whether to believe you or not," he said. "Maybe this is the truth, and maybe this is just another lie that you have brewed to do me harm. But I do know this. Even if this is the true future that you have shown me, I will not enter it like a broken slave, cowed and beaten. Long ago I swore to uphold the right and live my life in accord with the principles of chivalry. Even if this is what awaits me, even if this future cannot be averted, I shall still do what I must as a true knight."
"Don't be a fool, father," said Mordred, but his voice wavered as he spoke. He stepped back a pace, lowering his face so as to avoid Arthur's gaze. For the first time since the nightmares had begun he appeared uncertain, almost frightened. "What can you possibly gain out of it?"
"Nothing," Arthur replied. "Except knowing that I set out to do the right thing. And in the end, perhaps that is enough."
"You will fail," Mordred said. He had recovered his poise and his eyes were grim as he looked up at Arthur again. "Don't pretend otherwise. You're heading for another wicked day of destiny, even worse than the first one was."
"We shall see," the Once and Future King replied.
* * * * *
Arthur sat up and opened his eyes, then rose to his feet. His companions turned away from Sybil to look at him.
"Arthur, are you - all right?" Merlin asked.
"A trifle shaken," Arthur replied, walking over to the others. "But, yes, I am all right. And I have something to say to you all."
He paused, looking at each one in turn. Griff, Merlin, and Mary looked expectantly back at him, not saying a word.
"I have treated you poorly during the time that we have spent here. For this I am truly sorry, and would gladly make amends to you all. Especially to you, Mary," he said, turning to the girl. "I treated you far too harshly, more so than you deserved. I wish to take back the severe words that I spoke to you, words that I should never have spoken to a loyal and courageous squire, whom I have indeed come to love as though she were my daughter."
"It's all right, Arthur," said Mary gently. "We learned all about what was going on with you. You weren't - well, quite yourself at the time. Mordred was trying to take you over."
"That I discovered myself," said Arthur. "But I have vanquished him. He will not return."
"No, but something else might come along in his place," said Griff. "I'd say that it's time to take that spell off Arthur right now, wouldn't you?" He looked Sybil straight in the eyes.
"And off Mary as well, while we're at it," put in Merlin. "Remember, she was exposed to the same thing that Arthur was, and now she's looking more like Corbie by the moment."
"Don't remind me," said Mary sharply as she brushed her hair out of her eyes yet again. A faint Irish accent was starting to creep into her voice.
"And why should I dispel that enchantment?" Sybil asked. "What benefit would I receive from doing so?"
"If you don't undo it," said Griff, "then we'll just leave you tied up like that. You won't be able to break out of that on your own, and you know it. The only way that you're going to get out of this is if you take the spell off Arthur and Mary both - and Merlin will be inspecting whatever it is you did so that he'll know if you really did it or just faked it. Once you remove the curse we'll let you go."
Sybil sighed. "You win," she said. "But I expect that you will fulfill your half of the agreement once I have fulfilled my half."
"We cannot do otherwise and preserve our honor," said Arthur. "You have our word that we will release you."
Griff undid the rope that they had used to tie up Sybil, but held onto her closely. "No clever business, now," he said. "Just do it."
"Very well," said Sybil. "Stand before me, both of you," she instructed Arthur and Mary.
The Once and Future King and his squire did so, and Sybil extended one hand towards them, chanting something in Latin. An eerie blue glow flickered around Arthur and Mary for a moment and then was gone.
"So did it work?" Griff asked.
Merlin looked closely at Arthur and Mary. "The spell's been dissolved," he said. "You're both safe."
"Are you certain?" asked Mary, inspecting herself in her pocket mirror again. "I still look a lot like her."
"Your original form will return to you in the next few days," replied Sybil calmly. "I have done my part for you; now will you keep your word?"
Arthur nodded. "Release her, Griff," he said. "She is free to go. But make certain first that she has nothing concealed on her person to use against us."
Griff searched her sleeves and pockets. "She's clean, Arthur," he said.
"Very well," said Arthur. "Go and trouble us no more, Sybil."
Griff released his grasp of her. Sybil smiled mockingly at the former king and his friends, then turned and walked away into the woods. She was soon lost to sight.
"I know that we couldn't break our word and keep her a prisoner," said Mary. "But - well, do you think that we did the right thing? She could always try something again, after all."
"I know," said Arthur. "But aside from the promise that we had given her, we had no choice. We could not take her with us and we have no authority to imprison her. And we certainly could not slay her. My knightly oath will not permit me to shed a lady's blood, and furthermore, as long as we are embarked upon the Quest of the Holy Grail, we ought not to take a life. No, this was the only way."
"She'll probably leave us alone for a while anyway," said Merlin. "She'll need time to come up with something new. However, I think that it's time that we left. I'm certain by now that the Grail is not at the bottom of the pit, and in that case, there's no point in us staying here any further."
"I agree," said Arthur. "Mary, see if you can contact Leba again. See if she can give us some thoughts on where we might search for the Grail next."
"Of course," said the girl. "I'll get right on it."
The four of them left the glade and headed back to the hotel together.