RETURN TO AVALON
Outline by Todd Jensen.
Written by Todd Jensen.
Art by Karen Blackwell.
Previously on Pendragon....
ARTHUR: I still have been given no clue as to what my destiny is to be, beyond the fact that it is not to be King of Britain again. Maybe the Stone of Destiny and the Lady of the Lake were right. Maybe I have been indeed awakened far too early, as I feared back on Avalon.
* * *
Mary’s ears picked up the whistling noise only too late. A dart embedded itself in Merlin’s left shoulder just as he was a few feet away from the door to the Mystic shop. He staggered back, a shocked look on his face. Mary rushed forward with a cry and caught him in the nick of time.
* * *
COLIN MARTER (to Arthur): Merlin's been shot.
* * *
UNA: The poison was clearly magically strengthened, to give it its full power. It has been rendered proof against any antidote that I could produce.
* * *
MERLIN: It'll chip away at my defenses gradually, eroding them, until finally - .
* * *
ARTHUR: You will not die, Merlin. Upon Excalibur itself I make this vow. I will find a cure for this poison, and save your life, even if I must journey to the ends of the earth to find it.
~~~Out of the Blue.~~~
* * * * *
“This is impossible!” cried Mary Sefton, slamming a heavy tome against the table.
“I say, Miss Sefton, be a little more careful with the books,” said Brock, the badger-like record-keeper for the London clan, staring at her with some consternation. “They’re very old, and many of them are quite delicate. I don’t want to even consider what damage that act of yours could have done to the binding.”
“I’m sorry, Brock,” said the girl. “But we’ve been looking over this entire library for the past three days, and there’s not one single piece of information in any book here about a cure for that poison. I could almost shout from frustration.”
“I share your feelings on this matter, Mary,” said Arthur Pendragon, seated at the far end of the table. Merlin, Una, and Caspian were seated near him, all three of them looking over another large book that lay open before them. “But Brock is correct. Treating the books so will bring us no closer to a cure.”
“I’m wondering if we’re even looking for a cure in the right place,” said Caspian. “I mean, we’ve never even seen any poison like this before, have we?”
Una shook her head. “No, we haven’t,” she said. “This is the first time that I have ever come upon this particular strain.”
“Then maybe it’s one that’s recently been developed,” said Caspian. “And if that’s the case, then of course it won’t be listed in any of these books.”
“I think that you could be right about that,” said Merlin. “I’d developed a similar suspicion after reading Una’s analysis of the poison myself. Of course, it’s also possible that it’s so rare that the writers of these books never came across it, and thus were never able to recover it. But either way, I’m afraid that we won’t find a remedy here.”
“If Morgana la Fay devised this poison, then perhaps she might know the antidote for it,” said Brock thoughtfully.
“Not necessarily,” said Merlin. “You only look for an antidote if you want whoever’s been poisoned to be cured. And I’d say that she most certainly doesn’t want that in my case. So my suspicion is that she never even bothered developing or researching a cure in the first place.”
“But we don’t know that for certain,” said Caspian. “Perhaps we could find out where she lives and search the place.”
“Unfortunately, we do not know where her current home is,” said Arthur. “Morgana knows how to conceal herself; if she does not wish for us to find her lair, then we never will find it. And in any case, I agree with Merlin on this matter. I very much doubt that she would ever have developed a cure for this poison. No, we must seek elsewhere if we hope to discover it.”
“But where do we look, in that case?” asked Mary. “We already know that medical science can’t cure Merlin, and we haven’t found anything that’ll help us in any of these books. And from everything that you’ve been saying, it doesn’t look as though any magic that you’ve got can help. So what else is there?”
Arthur frowned, and stared down at the table for a while, deep in thought. At last, he raised his head, and spoke. “There is one place left that we have not tried,” he said. “One last hope for an antidote. Avalon.”
There was silence in the room for a moment, as all other eyes turned to Arthur. “Avalon?” asked Una at last. “Do you really mean that, Arthur?”
“I found healing there for the wound that Mordred dealt me at Camlann,” said Arthur. “Perhaps there we may also find a cure for Merlin’s poisoning.”
“But Mordred didn’t use a magical poison on you,” said Mary. “He just used a regular sword. There's a big difference there.”
“It’s still worth looking into,” said Merlin. “So far, the magic of the Third Race is one avenue that we haven’t researched; it could be what we need to heal me. The big problem is convincing my uncle Oberon to help. He’s still not particularly fond of me, after all.”
“That is true,” said Brock. “But I doubt that the Lord of Avalon would actually be so callous as to turn his back upon you and let you die. You are the son of one of his greatest enemies, but still, he must know that you never sided with Lord Madoc at all, and even helped us stand against him.”
“I know,” said Merlin. “But Oberon isn’t the most forgiving person in the world. And it’s been only a few months since my father’s death - even less than that by Avalon time - so I doubt that he’ll have had that much time to calm down over it. On the other hand, maybe Titania could help persuade him. She’s more likely to be sympathetic to our case, after all.”
“At any rate, going to Avalon and petitioning Oberon and Titania for a cure is better than remaining here and doing nothing,” said Arthur, rising from his chair. “We have been idle long enough. It is time for deeds, not words. We must prepare to travel to Avalon at once.”
* * * * *
“And so,” Arthur said, looking over the assembled gargoyles and knights in the great hall of the manor-house, as he addressed them, “I am taking Merlin to Avalon tomorrow night, for the purpose of requesting a cure for him from Oberon and Titania.”
“How long will you be gone?” asked Leba.
“I cannot tell,” Arthur replied. “I know enough about the ways of Avalon to know that returning here will not be an easy matter. I may be away for weeks, or even months. But those are the consequences that I must face if Merlin’s life is to be saved.”
Griff stepped forward. “Arthur, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to go with you and Merlin to Avalon,” he said. “After all, if you run into another world tour like Goliath’s on the way back, then you’ll need some help. And if you have to leave Merlin behind on Avalon for a good long time in order to have him healed, you’re going to need someone else to watch your back when you leave.”
Arthur nodded, thinking it over. “You make a good point, Sir Griff,” he said. “And in truth, I would not be displeased to have you by my side, if there are perils to be braved on the journey home. Very well, then. You may come with me.”
“And the rest of us?” asked Dulcinea.
“I would prefer it if the rest of you were to remain here in London,” said the Once and Future King. “I very much suspect that there may be some trouble in the city while I am away. Some of Lucius’s Minions are still at large, and there are also the Vampyres to concern ourselves with; Leba has already voiced her concerns that there are others among them who have fallen into dark and evil ways as the one who named himself Jack did. I would feel easier in my heart if I knew that I had a few staunch and true knights here, to deal with such dangers should they arise.
“So it is settled, then. Griff and I will take Merlin to Avalon. And in our absence - yes, Mary?”
“I’d like to go with you as well, Arthur,” said Mary. “I mean, well - for one thing, Una hasn’t found anything in her books that can cure me either. But perhaps somebody on Avalon knows how to change me back into a regular girl, so that I won’t keep on turning into a talking wolf in the daytime.”
“That is not the only reason why you wish to accompany us, I assume,” said Arthur, staring down thoughtfully at her.
“Well, no,” admitted the girl. “It’s not the only one. But this reason struck me as much more likely to persuade you to let me come along than the other one.” She glanced at Merlin as she spoke; he looked back at her, and nodded.
“You make a good point,” said Arthur, smiling, “and showed good judgment to boot in your means of pleading your case. Very well, then, Mary. You may come with us.”
“Thank you,” said Mary, with a relieved smile upon her face.
Arthur turned back to face the assembly as a whole. “We’ll need a boat ready to launch upon the lake by sunset,” he said. “Do we have one available?”
“We’ve got a couple of skiffs,” replied Colin Marter. “I can have one all prepared by tomorrow evening.”
“Good,” said Arthur. “See that it is, Captain Marter. This meeting is now ended.”
The council broke up, as gargoyles and humans alike left the hall, talking with each other in much excitement.
* * * * *
“Ye’re really goin’ with him, Griff?” asked Brianna. She and her mate had taken up their perches on one of the outer walls of the manor-house, ready to face the dawn. Most of the other gargoyles had already done the same.
“That’s the way that it looks,” he answered, nodding.
“Ye’ve told me a little about the nature of Avalon, and Una has told me more,” said Brianna. “How it does nae send those who depart from its shores home, but to other lands, far abroad, first.”
“Yes, that’s how it works, Arthur says,” Griff replied. “Avalon doesn’t send you where you want to go; it sends you where you need to be. Goliath found that out the hard way when he left. He spent quite a few months traveling about the world before Avalon finally sent him back to New York. Of course, one of the places that Avalon sent him to was here, to bring me forward in time to the 1990’s, so I doubt that we should be complaining about that.”
“Then that means that it could take months for ye to return,” said Brianna, her voice troubled.
“I know,” said Griff. “And I can’t say that I’m entirely keen on it, either. But Arthur is both my friend and my king. I can’t very well turn my back on him in this crisis. He’ll need my help in getting through all this. Also, if you were the one who’d been poisoned and I was out looking for a cure for you, he’d most certainly be standing beside me, helping me on that quest.”
“Aye, I suppose that that is true,” said Brianna, nodding slowly. “But still, I will miss ye, Griff.”
“And I you,” Griff replied, as the two of them momentarily embraced, stroking each other’s brows in the time-honored token of affection among gargoyles. “But don’t worry about me. Arthur and I have gotten through a lot of things together; if there are dangers to face on the way back home from Avalon, we’ll triumph over them as well. We’ll be coming back, Brianna. That’s a promise.”
The sun arose in the east just as he finished speaking, freezing them both in their stone sleep.
* * * * *
Arthur, Colin Marter, and Leba were looking over the skiff that they had chosen from the boat-shed to prepare for the journey to Avalon, inspecting it carefully to make certain that it was seaworthy. Merlin sat on a small rock not far away, watching them. A walking-stick, its top carved into the shape of a hawk’s head, lay on the ground beside him to his right, while Mary in her wolf-form was seated to his left.
Most of the time, Mary slept during the day; she had made it clear several times, in no uncertain terms, that she had little fondness for the shape that she took on during that time, and so preferred to get her rest then so that she could be awake at night in her human form. It was a habit that had been all the easier to develop, given that it fitted in with the gargoyles’ own nocturnal cycle. This morning, however, she was awake for a while, and speaking with Merlin as the two of them watched the adults examine the boat.
“So, the Oberon and Titania that you and Arthur said live on Avalon,” she said. “They’re the same as the ones in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”
“More or less,” said Merlin. “Mind you, I wouldn’t take that play too seriously. It’s certainly not very accurate. Shakespeare was never that much of a historian, as I’ve made clear before. Maybe a little too clear, given the way that it antagonized my English master at Mons Carbi. I have the uneasy feeling that he’s going to remember me for the rest of his days as the boy who gave a hopelessly severe critique of Henry V for the way that it distorted the record on the Battle of Agincourt.”
“So that bit about Bottom wasn’t true, then?” Mary asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t go bringing it up when we visit Avalon tonight,” said Merlin. “Technically speaking, that business was something that my aunt wanted to stay hush-hush as far as the humans were concerned. I don’t know how Shakespeare found out about it, although I have a pretty good suspicion as to who was to blame there.”
“And how about Puck?” the young wolf continued. “Will we be meeting him there as well?”
Merlin shook his head. “Puck’s something of a persona non gratis on Avalon these days,” he said to her. “It’s a long story. For now, let’s just say that my uncle Oberon banished him from the island, and isn’t likely to invite him back for a very long time, if ever. It’s a sore subject with him, too, so I’d advise you not even to mention Puck's name while we're there.”
“And those other fairies,” Mary said. “Cobweb, Moth, Peaseblossom, and the rest? Do they live there as well?”
Merlin shook his head again, this time with a disgusted snort. “They were Mr. Shakespeare’s creations, pure and simple. No basis in fact whatsoever. And one of the main contributing factors for portraying fairies as cute little creatures with butterfly wings, at that. He’s got much to answer for on that one.”
“Then I won’t ask about them, either,” said Mary. Her eyes grew more serious now, as did her voice when she next spoke. “Merlin, do you really think that they’ll be able to help you? Oberon and Titania, I mean?”
“Most likely they can, yes,” said Merlin. “Whether they will is another matter entirely, of course. But I’m sure that Arthur can persuade them into it.”
“And that brings up something else,” the young werewolf continued. “Arthur spent over fourteen hundred years asleep on Avalon in order to be cured. Will you have to do the same?”
“Probably not,” said Merlin, stroking her on the neck in a reassuring manner. “Arthur’s wounds from the Battle of Camlann were no doubt healed much quicker than that. The only reason why he spent that long on Avalon was that he needed to be kept there for when he’d be needed most. The same factor isn’t likely to turn up in my case.” He looked her in the eyes. “That’s one of the reasons why you wanted to come along with us, isn’t it?” he asked her. “You’re afraid that I wouldn’t be coming back in your lifetime.”
“Well, yes,” said Mary, nodding. “And if that was going to be the case, then I thought that I’d want to be there, to give you a proper good-bye before they send you to sleep. Not that I’m not hoping for a cure for my condition there either, mind you.”
“That’s very nice of you, Mary,” said Merlin, continuing to stroke her on the back of her neck gently. “But I really don’t think there’s any reason to worry. We should get through this all right. Just you wait and see.”
* * * * *
The sun sank below the horizon in the west. Almost immediately afterwards the air was filled with the cries of gargoyles awakening from stone slumber, alongside a brief cry of pain from Mary as she shifted back from her wolf’s body to her human form. Griff leapt down from his perch into the courtyard where Arthur, Merlin, and Mary were standing.
“Good evening, Griff,” said Arthur. “Are you ready to go?”
“Indeed I am, Arthur,” said the griffon-like gargoyle. “Is the boat ready?”
“It’s in good order,” said Arthur. “Captain Marter’s made certain of it. So let’s be off.”
He led the way to the lake. Griff was just behind him, followed by Merlin (leaning on his cane as he walked) and Mary. The rest of the clan followed in their wake, down to Cavall, Ranger, and Treacle, as did Colin Marter, Rory, Leba, and Dulcinea. They reached the lake’s edge, where the skiff lay waiting.
While Mary helped Merlin climb on board, and Griff and Brianna shared one last embrace, Arthur spoke to his three human knights. “Keep a close eye on things in London during my absence,” he said. “I don’t know when I shall return from Avalon, but return I shall - and hopefully much sooner this time. In the meantime, I ask that you work alongside the gargoyles here to protect the city from any peril.”
“Don’t worry about that, Arthur,” said Leba, as Rory and Dulcinea nodded. “We’ll hold down the fort for you.”
Cavall nudged himself against Arthur’s leg, whimpering a little. “I know, I know,” said Arthur gently, as he bent down and petted the gargoyle beast on the head. “And I wish that I could take you with me, but I fear that there’s not room enough on board the skiff for you as well. In the meantime, I have a mission to entrust you with as well.”
He pointed to Ranger and Treacle, who were seated by their young masters Lucy and Musgrave, being quiet and well-behaved for a welcome change. “Those two young beasts will need guidance, proper training so that they will grow up to become stout and faithful gargoyle beasts like you. I lay this task upon you, that you provide them with that guidance.”
“I wonder just how much of that he understood,” Griff commented, as Cavall turned and walked away towards the two gargoyle beast puppies.
“I do not know,” said Arthur. “It’s hard to say with them. But at least I hope that it will provide him with some consolation for being left behind a second time.”
“I’ll help Cavall with their trainin’, too,” put in Rory. “I’ve some experience with that particular breed of animal, after all.”
“I am thankful to hear that,” said Arthur. He climbed into the boat, being now the last on board. “Farewell, all of you,” he said, addressing the crowd of humans and gargoyles on the shore. “I will return as quickly as I may, and hopefully with good tidings regarding Merlin. Farewell!”
And with those words, he began to row the boat away from shore with a large pole. Griff, Merlin, and Mary waved farewell to the London clan and Arthur’s knights, while Arthur recited the ancient Latin incantation for reaching Avalon.
“Vocate venti fortunate, ex rege Oberonis, et hic navis fluctum regate, ad orae Avalonis!”
Mists encircled the boat in answer to his words, blotting out the lake shore and the crowd standing upon it. Thicker and thicker the mists grew until the four companions could see nothing past a few feet from the skiff, save impenetrable fog. The motions of the water changed beneath the boat as well, from the gentle lapping of a small lake to the stronger waves of the sea. Merlin shivered slightly, while Mary stared about her in awe.
Some time later, up ahead, the mists began to part, and the shore of an island came into clear view. The boat was heading towards a natural harbor at the bottom of great cliffs. At the top of the cliffs, two great lamps, set atop colossal pillars, burned brightly.
Arthur poled the boat in to shore and stepped out, followed by the others. “Avalon,” he said to them quietly. “We have arrived safely.”
“So this really is Avalon,” said Mary, gazing up at the cliffs. “Arthur, aren’t those gargoyles up there?” She pointed to the summit of the high rocky walls. Two gargoyles and a gargoyle beast were standing atop it, looking down at them.
“Ah, yes,” said Arthur, looking up. “Those must be some of the local clan.”
“There are gargoyles on Avalon?” asked Mary.
“Sorry about that,” said Merlin. “We forgot to mention them.”
The male gargoyle picked up the beast and glided down to the beach below, accompanied by the female gargoyle. Arthur eagerly strode forward to meet them as they alit upon the sand.
“Gabriel!” he cried. “Ophelia! And you have Boudicca with you as well, I see! This is certainly a pleasant reception.”
“Welcome back, Arthur!” cried Gabriel. He took Arthur’s hand and grasped it in the traditional warrior’s handshake, while Boudicca barked happily as she sniffed at the Once and Future King. “We had certainly not expected to see you here again. I see that you’ve brought friends with you,” he added, “including a fellow gargoyle.”
“My name’s Griff,” said Griff, stepping forward and shaking hands with Gabriel. “I understand that you’re from Goliath’s clan, the part of it that settled on Avalon. He told me a little about you when he was in London a few years ago.”
“Yes,” said Gabriel, looking and sounding interested. “Goliath told us about you and your clan, when he visited us briefly afterwards.”
“Merlin we already know,” said Ophelia. “He came here not so very long ago briefly, seeking shelter here - and still seems little more than a hatchling. But who is your other friend, Arthur?”
“This is Mary Sefton,” said Arthur, indicating the girl standing beside him. “She is a friend that we made recently on our adventures, who came with us to Avalon.”
“So what brings you back to our home, Arthur?” asked Gabriel. “I have the feeling that it was something more than wishing to see old friends again.”
“And indeed that is the case,” said Arthur. “Gabriel, I must have words with Oberon. I have a favor to ask of him.”
Gabriel looked mildly concerned at those words. “We'll take you to the palace, then,” he said. “But I would be careful in approaching Oberon, were I you. He’s been in a poor mood of late, and I doubt that he would be greatly pleased to be approached by petitioners from the outside world.”
“Nevertheless, I must have an audience with him,” said Arthur. “I require his help with a matter of grave importance. And we cannot turn back now.”
“Then come with us,” said Gabriel.
The two gargoyles and Boudicca led Arthur and his companions up a flight of steps carved into the cliff-side. As they climbed up towards the summit of the cliffs, Mary spoke in a low voice to Merlin.
“I don’t know that much about gargoyles as yet,” she said to him, “but these look a lot more like the ones living in the Caledonian Forest than the ones in London. Are they related?”
“Not directly to Kylie’s clan, no,” replied Merlin, “but they’re from Scotland as well. They fled here about a thousand years ago - which is a much shorter period of time in Avalon years, of course - to find sanctuary from their enemies. Now they serve Oberon as his guard of honor.”
“So you and Arthur both know them?” she asked.
Merlin nodded. “Arthur helped them out against an evil wizard called the Archmage, who was planning on conquering Avalon and turning it into his personal headquarters before going on to conquer the rest of the world,” he said. “I met them only much more briefly. It was just after my last regeneration, the one that turned me into an adolescent. When I realized just how much my magic had become impaired in my rejuvenated condition, I came here, hoping to find sanctuary from my father, but Oberon turned me away. Maybe it was just as well; if I’d stayed here, Arthur would most likely still be searching for me in the outside world. Of course, on the other hand, if I’d stayed here, I wouldn’t have gotten poisoned.”
“Well, don’t worry about that,” she told him firmly. “Hopefully you won’t remain poisoned here for long. They’ll find a cure for you, surely.”
“I hope so, Mary,” said Merlin, nodding uneasily. “I really do hope so.”
* * * * *
The journey to Oberon’s palace was a short one, but quite familiar to both Arthur and Merlin from their recent time spent on Avalon. Neither of them were particularly surprised to see gargoyles manning the battlements as sentries, or gliding about on patrol above. They, in turn, recognized Arthur at once, and also quickly noted Griff’s presence as a new gargoyle. Eagerly they stared down at the newcomers, many of them crying out greetings.
Arthur and his companions, still led by Gabriel and Ophelia, passed through the gates and into the palace courtyard. Two humans were seated at a small table, watching the clan go about their rounds; Arthur recognized them both as Guardian Tom and Princess Katharine. They rose as they saw him enter the courtyard, and quickly walked over to meet him.
“Arthur!” cried Tom in surprise. “You’ve returned!”
“What brings ye back here, King Arthur?” asked Princess Katharine. “Ye haven’t reconsidered yuir decision to explore the outside world, have ye?”
Arthur shook his head. “No, my lady,” he said to her gently. “This is intended as merely a brief visit, and nothing more. But it is good to see you again, my friends.”
“And ye’ve brought company with ye, I see,” said Katharine, seeing Arthur’s companions now. “Ye must be one of the London gargoyles,” she said, addressing Griff first. “Gabriel told us of yuir clan when he returned from the Gargoyle World Council.”
“This is Sir Griff, one of my knights,” explained Arthur, as Griff gave a dignified bow. Turning to his companions, he said, “And these are Princess Katharine and Guardian Tom, the humans who raised the Avalon gargoyles.”
As Merlin and Mary came forward, Arthur introduced them next. “Merlin you may already have met from his visit here not long ago,” he continued. “And this is Mary Sefton, another friend that we made in the outside world.”
“It is a pleasure to meet ye,” said Princess Katharine, curtsying to Mary.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” said Mary, curtsying back.
“So what brings you to Avalon, King Arthur?” asked Tom.
“We have come seeking help from Lord Oberon,” Arthur explained. “Merlin has been poisoned, and no human magic or science can cure him. We have come to ask Oberon to heal him.”
Tom frowned. “He’s in the great hall, holding court,” he said. “But I’d tread carefully when asking anything of him, if I were you. He’s not in a particularly pleasant disposition at present.”
“Yes, Gabriel warned us about that, as well,” said Merlin. “Nothing really dreadful’s happened, has it? I mean, Maeve and the other captured Unseelies haven’t tried to escape or anything like that, have they?”
“No, they’re safely confined still,” the Guardian replied. “But there’s been something weighing on him ever since he returned from Manhattan, not long ago, on the occasion that Maeve was brought back prisoner. What it is I do not know, and none of us have dared to ask. But there’s a certain moodiness about him now.”
“I think that I know,” said Merlin thoughtfully. “It must have been my father’s death. Oberon and Madoc were bitter enemies, yes, but they were also brothers, and Oberon did seem a little troubled when Madoc breathed his last. And that was still just a few days ago by Avalon time; I doubt that he would have had the opportunity yet to fully get over it.”
“Be that as it may,” said Arthur, “we must still speak with him. Merlin’s life depends upon it. We will simply have to make our plea to him with tact and diplomacy.”
“Very well, then,” said Gabriel. “Follow me.”
* * * * *
The four visitors entered the great hall, led by Gabriel and Ophelia. Oberon and Titania sat enthroned upon the dais at the far end of the hall. The Weird Sisters stood stiffly to their right, all three grouped together, while the rest of the Children of Oberon present crowded the sides of the hall or in the galleries above, looking down below.
Arthur walked straight towards the dais, not looking either to the right or to the left. Griff and Mary, however, gazed all about them, taking in their surroundings; neither of them had been to Avalon before, and they were clearly amazed and impressed by what they saw. Mary spoke in a low voice to Merlin, as they proceeded towards the thrones.
“This isn’t quite what I’d expected,” she said to him. “I mean, some of these people here don’t exactly look like fairies.” She was taking particular note of a few of the Children assembled: the jackal-headed Anubis, a couple of fur-clad giants, and the giant spider Anansi. She shuddered involuntarily at the sight of the last, with his drooling mandibles and swollen body.
“I wouldn’t use that word here if I were you,” said Merlin in a low voice. “They really don’t like being called that. But, yes - Oberon’s Children do exhibit a considerably greater display of variety than Shakespeare would have had you think. They’ve certainly made themselves felt in every corner of the world, as you can see.”
He might have said more, but at that moment, Oberon noticed the arrival of the newcomers, and at once turned his attention towards them. “May I ask what is the meaning of this, Arthur Pendragon?” he asked. “What brings you into our presence?”
Arthur stepped forward, and half-knelt before the Lord of the Third Race. “Forgive our intrusion, Lord Oberon,” he said, “but we have a favor to ask of you.”
“We granted you a favor fifteen centuries ago, as your people reckon time,” said Oberon. “We allowed you to sleep upon our island, in the Hollow Hill, until the time when you were to be awakened. You have been awakened now, and so our boon has been fulfilled.”
“That I know,” said Arthur. “But I ask a fresh boon of you now, Lord Oberon. My teacher and friend Merlin has been poisoned, and no magic or science in the mortal world can cure him. I have brought him to Avalon, in the hopes that you might heal him.”
“We might indeed,” answered Oberon, in an off-hand manner. “But what reason have we to do so? His father was a traitor to Avalon, after all, and begat him for the purpose of aiding him in his wars against us and the mortal races alike. Why should we help one in whose veins flows the blood of the Unseelie Lord?”
“That Merlin is the son of Lord Madoc Morfryn, none of us can deny,” Arthur replied. “But though he shares his father’s blood, he does not share in his crimes and treacheries. Merlin refused to serve Madoc, and even stood against him in the late war, helping us in our struggle against the Unseelie Court. Surely it is not just to condemn a man to death for the evil deeds of his sire. I myself should know,” he added, in a lower voice.
Oberon looked down at Arthur, and frowned. “You speak bold words, mortal,” he said. “Bold, but with much truth in them as well.”
“To that I agree, Lord Oberon,” said Titania, speaking now. “Merlin may be the son of one of our greatest enemies, but he rejected Lord Madoc’s plans for him, and took no part in them; he even aided in the struggle against him, as Arthur has mentioned. We cannot turn our backs upon him.”
Oberon stared down at Arthur and Merlin in a thoughtful silence for a couple of minutes. Then he nodded.
“Very well,” he said. “We will act as you have requested us, since you have pleaded your case with wisdom and a most befitting deference to our station. Let the youth Merlin Ambrosius stand forward.”
Merlin came forward, walking past Arthur and Griff, and up to his uncle’s throne. “Kneel before us,” Oberon bade him.
Merlin knelt down before the Lord of the Third Race. Oberon bent down and laid his right hand upon the youth’s head. A light blue glow surrounded it, and began to spread down over Merlin.
Then, without warning, the magical light flickered, then went out. Oberon’s eyes widened in astonishment, then alarm. He let out a cry of pain and withdrew his hand at once, as if it had been burnt. He fell back in his throne, clutching its armrests.
Consternation filled the hall, as practically all of the Children of Oberon began talking with each other in troubled voices over what they had just beheld. Arthur and his companions stared up at the faerie king in shocked silence. Titania turned to her husband, and spoke to him in a low, concerned voice. “My lord -?”
Oberon at last spoke, his face contorted in anger, though not towards his visitors. “Who was responsible for this?” he asked, his voice filled with a low rage rather than his usual regal disdain.
“From all that we have learned,” said Arthur, “the poison was brewed by my half-sister, Morgana la Fay. She intended it as a weapon against Merlin.”
“Morgana should count herself fortunate that she is only a halfling, and therefore outside our law,” said Oberon, speaking between gritted teeth. “She has unleashed an abomination upon the world. Were she wholly of the Third Race, I would chastise her most severely for daring to create so monstrous a venom.”
“Then - you cannot cure it?” asked Arthur, in a hesitant tone of voice.
“No one in Avalon can cure it,” said Oberon. “That poison has been strengthened by spells of dark magic so potent that it can withstand even my arts, just as surely as it can withstand the magic of the mortal races, and their science as well. Be thankful that, from what I could tell, only one dose of it was ever made, and it has only infected your counselor, Arthur Pendragon. For this venom is so deadly that, were it to spread, it could destroy all life in the mortal world.”
“So, Merlin is beyond all help?” asked Arthur. His voice was heavy now, and his face fell. So did those of his companions, as the revelation became fully clear to them.
“There is nothing that can be done for him on Avalon,” said Oberon. “The only advice that we can give you, Arthur Pendragon, is to take him home and prepare for his end. For nothing of Avalon or the mortal world can turn that poison aside or cure it. Nothing.”
Merlin rose up and sighed, as he went back to join his companions. “We came all this way for nothing, then,” he said, looking up at his former pupil. “I’m sorry, Arthur.”
Arthur nodded, sadly looking down at the doomed young wizard. “It is not your fault, Merlin,” he said. “We could not know that even Oberon’s magic could not help you without coming here.”
Merlin looked bleakly past Arthur at his other companions. Griff was silent, appearing almost stunned by the news. As for Mary, she had bowed her head upon learning the ill tidings from Oberon, tears forming in her eyes. Merlin’s gaze lingered on the girl for a few moments. Then he turned back to face the dais again.
“Well, maybe there is no hope for me,” he said. “But as long as we’re here, since you can’t help me, perhaps you can help another.”
“You are extremely bold to request two favors of us in one night,” said Oberon, speaking once more with his regular aristocratic hauteur and dignity. “But since your petition is on the behalf of another, we are interested enough to hear you out. What is this other boon that you would ask of us?”
“Our friend, Mary Sefton,” said Merlin, indicating the girl. “She’s been turned into - well, a rather unorthodox form of werewolf. To be precise, she turns into a talking wolf in the daytime, and reverts to human form at night. I’ve been searching for some means of undoing the spell that was placed upon her, but so far, I’ve found nothing. And I was wondering whether you could find a way of returning her to normal.”
“Perhaps,” said Oberon. “We will need to know more first, before we undertake such a feat. Mary Sefton, step forward.”
Mary looked startled at being addressed by him, but nevertheless, did as he had commanded her. She walked up towards the dais to stand by Merlin, and curtsied before Oberon and Titania’s thrones.
“You show proper respect to us,” said Oberon, softening a little. “That counts in your favor. We are certainly not displeased. So tell us, how did you come to receive this curse?”
“Well, Your Majesty,” said Mary, “there was this magical object up in Rivencroft called the Angurboda Figurine that had turned just about everyone in the village into monsters. And they were attacking us - King Arthur and Merlin and myself - and I smashed it in order to break its curse. But when I did that, it - well - zapped me so that I’d turn into a wolf by day, and back into a girl at night. I’ve been like this ever since.”
“The Angurboda Figurine,” said Oberon, musingly. “The name sounds familiar, but we cannot say more than that.”
“I can, my lord,” said Titania. “I have read about it during my travels in the mortal world. It was a talisman crafted by human sorcerers who lived in Norway over a thousand years ago, and brought by them to England during the Viking raids. At last it passed into the hands of the English sorcerer-thane Brihtric, but was lost to all knowledge after his death.”
“That must be the same talisman,” said Merlin. “After all, it was discovered in the ruins of Brihtric’s own castle.”
“If it was indeed the work of human wizards,” Oberon said, “then we cannot end its curse. The work of the Angurboda Figurine may only be undone in the human world, where it originated, and not here. You must return to the mortal world, child, if you seek release from the enchantment placed upon you.”
Mary sighed. “Well, thank you, Your Majesty,” she said, then turned and walked back to join her companions. As she passed by Arthur, she commented, “It looks as if we came all this way for nothing.”
Arthur gravely nodded. “In that case,” he said, “we must excuse ourselves from your presence, Lord Oberon. For we have no other requests to ask of you now.”
Oberon nodded. “Then this audience is over,” he said, waving them away in a dismissive fashion. “We bid you farewell.”
Arthur and his companions turned and left the great hall. Titania stared after Arthur in a thoughtful silence, as he departed.
* * * * *
“So what do we do now?” asked Griff out in the courtyard. “I mean, if even Oberon can’t cure Merlin, then who can?”
“No one, I fear,” said Arthur, sitting down on one of the benches and bowing his head in near-despair. “We have exhausted all our possibilities.”
“Yes, I suppose that it seems that way,” said Merlin, looking just as dejected as his pupil. “I should have known that it was going to turn out like this.”
“Don’t say that, Merlin,” said Mary, grasping him by the hand. “There’s got to be something out there that can help you.”
Merlin shook his head. “Oberon is the ruler of the Third Race, one of the most powerful magical beings in the world,” he said. “If he can’t do this, then nobody else can.”
Princess Katharine and Tom approached the foursome just then, accompanied by Gabriel and Ophelia. “Gabriel told us of how Oberon was unable to fulfill yuir request,” Katharine said to Arthur. “We’re sorry to hear that.”
Arthur nodded. “I know,” he said. “And thank you.” He looked at the young-old wizard, and sighed. “Merlin is dying, and there is nothing that we can do to change that. Nothing.”
“If there is anything that we can do to help,” the princess continued, “please name it.”
“Actually,” said Merlin, speaking up, “there is one thing, Your Highness.” There was an uneasy, almost conflicted expression on his face as he continued, and he spoke slowly, with long pauses between his words. “My father, Madoc Morfryn, was brought back here after he was slain, and laid to rest somewhere on Avalon. Would you happen to know where he was buried?”
Gabriel nodded. “They buried him close by the grotto,” he said. “I could show you the way.”
Merlin shook his head. “No, thank you,” he said. “I know my way about Avalon well enough.” He headed towards the palace gates. “I shouldn’t be gone for long,” he said. “It’s just that - well, this is something that I really need to do.”
“Um, Merlin,” said Mary, following after him. “Do you mind if I come with you? I mean - you really shouldn’t be wandering about the island on your own, for one thing. Although, if this is going to be a private moment, I understand.”
Merlin looked at the girl thoughtfully, then nodded. “Yes, you can come if you like,” he said. “I suppose that a little company wouldn’t do any harm.” He turned to Arthur next. “Would you like to accompany me as well?”
Arthur shook his head. “No, Merlin,” he said. “I - have a matter of my own to resolve. Something that I must do, and preferably alone.” He turned to Griff. “Wait here, I pray you, my friend. I will return soon.”
“Well, if you say so, Arthur,” said Griff. “I suppose that I can tell the gargoyles here a little more about the clan in London. They might be interested in hearing about that.”
“Then it is agreed,” said Arthur. And he left the courtyard, walking alone towards the hills in the distance, while Merlin, leaning on his walking stick and accompanied by Mary, set off towards the grotto.
* * * * *
Moonlight descended through the shaft set in the ceiling and fell upon the marble platform on which the body of the Magus lay, bathing it in a silvery glow. The magic of Avalon, and particularly the magic of the Hollow Hill, had protected his remains from decay since he had died battling the Weird Sisters during the war with the Archmage. A look of peace lay upon his features.
Arthur Pendragon proceeded across the narrow stone bridge that led to the platform, to look upon the man who now lay in death where he himself had, not so long before, lain in sleep for almost fifteen centuries. There were no obstacles this time to bar the way, as there had been while he had slept there, no animated suits of armor to serve as guardians or portions of the bridge to collapse before him. He reached the bier unimpeded, and gazed down upon the old wizard.
“You laid down your life for a purpose, my friend,” said Arthur in a soft voice to the Magus’s body, “and you achieved it. You saved your clan from the Weird Sisters’ vengeance, though at a cost to yourself. I wish that I could say that I had accomplished as much, since my return to the outside world.”
He sighed. “In truth, what have I accomplished? I have learned that I am no longer King of Britain, that the throne which was once mine belongs to another, and that I must accept it and move on. I have regained Excalibur and have assembled a fresh band of knights, but for what purpose? I have no kingdom to rule over, no land for my knights to protect. I found my old friend Merlin at last, but he is dying now, and beyond my help.” He sighed, and leaned heavily upon his sword. “I believe that you deserve the honor of lying here far more than I do, Magus. I might as well have remained asleep on this isle, for all the difference that it has made.”
He knelt before the bier, and clasped Excalibur’s hilt with both hands, his head bowed low. “If I had the choice of having the spell of timeless sleep placed upon me once again, I would gladly take it. I knew all along that I was awakened too soon. I do not begrudge the detective Elisa Maza for summoning me back; she and her companions had great need. But it was too early, all the same. If only I could return to my sleep here again. But I know that I cannot, that that enchantment could only be placed upon me once. I am left to discover what my destiny is, and I do not even know if I have one.”
He fell silent, remaining in his kneeling position. A tear fell from his eye, and splashed against the marble floor. So deep did he remain in his troubled thoughts, that he did not at first hear the approaching footsteps behind him. Only when he felt a hand laid gently upon his shoulder did he realize that he was not alone.
Arthur sprang to his feet at once and turned around. The Lady Titania was standing before him, looking at him sympathetically. “Are you feeling troubled, Arthur Pendragon?” she asked him.
He nodded. “Indeed I am, my lady,” he said to her, sheathing Excalibur.
“Then may we talk about it?” she asked.
* * * * *
Mary sniffed the air uncertainly, then spoke to Merlin. “Can you smell something?” she asked him. “Something behind us?”
Merlin shook his head. “I’m afraid that I can’t,” he said. “But then, your senses are much keener than mine. What do you smell?”
“It has a familiar odor to it,” she said, sniffing the air again, “but I can’t quite identify it. It’s getting closer, though. There isn’t anything dangerous living on Avalon, is there?”
“Well, some of Oberon’s Children are the kind of people that you have to tread cautiously about,” said Merlin. “But none of them are really hostile towards humans. Not on the level of the Unseelie Court at any rate. And Oberon’s Law does restrain them from doing anything really dangerous to us, even if they’d wanted to - unless they can think of a really good loophole. Just stay close to me, and we’ll be all right.”
She nodded, but glanced back behind her. The path turned a corner behind them, so as to block whomever their followers were from view. However, not only could she still smell them, but she could hear them as well, as their footfalls drew nearer. And then a couple of large grey wolves emerged from around the bend in the path.
“What on earth are those?” asked Mary, moving a trifle closer to Merlin as she stared at them. Even after having been a werewolf for a few months now and regularly taking on that same form in the daytime, she could not help but feel somewhat apprehensive at the sight of the two animals.
Merlin looked at them thoughtfully for a moment. “Those must be Geri and Freki,” he said. “They’re Odin’s pet wolves. Don’t worry; they’re harmless - at least to us. They only attack his enemies. Of course, Odin might not be on the best of terms with Arthur - the Saxons worshipped him back in Arthur’s reign, after all - but he’s had more than enough time to get over the Battle of Mount Badon. So I don’t think that we’ll have to fear them.”
“Odin’s one of the Third Race as well?” she asked as they continued walking, the wolves following them, quietly drawing closer.
Merlin nodded. “You probably saw him in the crowd back in the great hall. The old man with the big white beard in the furs and the armor and the horned helmet.”
“Yes, I did notice him,” said Mary. “But I didn't realize that that was Odin. I certainly didn't think that he'd be taking orders from Oberon.”
“Yes, that’s another one of those things that they left out of the mythology books,” said Merlin, nodding again. “You’d be surprised at just how often that happens.”
As they continued on, Geri and Freki drew closer, until they were only a few inches behind Mary. She still looked a little nervous, but since they were showing no sign of aggression, continued walking without making any response. At least, she did until they began to sniff at her in a very intent fashion.
“What on earth are they doing?” she asked Merlin.
Merlin looked at them for a moment, knitting his brows thoughtfully. “Well,” he said at last, “this is just an assumption, but - I think that they have a pretty good idea as to what you are.”
“They can sense that?” Mary asked.
“Probably,” said Merlin. “They’re wolves too, after all. I suppose that if you ever ran into another werewolf, you would be able to identify him as one even if he was in human form at the time as well.”
Freki and Geri sniffed a little closer at Mary, who drew away from them at once. “Here, now!” she cried, turning around and glowering at them. “Will you kindly stop that, please? I am not in heat!”
The two wolves halted, arching their backs and growling a little. “Um, sorry about that,” said Merlin to them hurriedly. “She didn’t really mean any harm by that. Just one of those things that people say sometimes.” In a lower voice, he added to Mary, “Let’s not offend them, shall we? I don’t want this to turn into an ugly scene, after all.”
“I’m sorry,” said the girl. “I was just a bit creeped out.”
Merlin nodded. “We’re almost there,” he said. “Just around this corner.”
They rounded the next bend in the path and saw before them a great marble statue, looming before the pillared grotto some ways off. It depicted an arrogant-looking figure, with a striking physical resemblance to Oberon, dressed in gothic-style plate armor and a bat-winged cape, atop a high pedestal. The figure grasped a mighty sword in both gauntleted hands, pointing it downwards towards the ground, and stared ahead with a cold, penetrating gaze. Inscribed upon the pedestal were these words, in angular runic letters:
MADOC MORFRYN: LORD OF THE UNSEELIE COURT.
May We Never Forget.
Merlin paused in front of the statue, looking up at it in silence. Mary stared up at it for a moment as well, before speaking. “Your father?” she asked him.
He nodded uncomfortably, saying not a word. He merely continued to stare up at the statue for a while, before at last speaking.
“It’s been months since he died,” he said to her. “Months, and I still haven’t entirely resolved my feelings about him. He was a tyrant who was out to conquer the entire planet, force humanity into subjection to him, and reduce every last gargoyle to a pile of rubble. There’s no telling how much misery and suffering he’d been responsible for over his career, or even when he made his final bid for power during the recent war. Certainly he’d pursued me with bitter hate ever since I rejected him fifteen centuries ago, and he was about to kill me when he was slain. I should be glad that he’s gone forever. And yet - I find myself missing him a little. He was my enemy - but he was also my father. And even knowing that he went to his death completely unrepentant, I still feel - well, troubled about it all.”
Mary gently clasped one hand of his between both of her own. “I wish that I could say something to help you,” she said to him quietly. “The trouble is, I don’t know what to say. I mean - for one thing, I never even met him. In fact, I didn’t even know that there was a war going on at the time. I thought that we were just having some really strange weather. Although I’d never seen my father quite so unnerved during it all. He didn’t know what to make of it, especially after some of those odd reports started coming in about things like giant wild boar tearing down trees. Of course, I understand all that better now.
“But maybe I can understand your situation a little. Father and I haven’t quite seen eye to eye lately. Actually, he never was quite the same since mum died. It was after that that he started spending as much time as possible in London, with his work. And it got worse after he found out that I was a werewolf. He actually seemed afraid of me then. But even so, that’s nothing compared to what you must have been through.”
Merlin nodded. “Yes, count yourself fortunate, Mary,” he said. “And at least there’s some hope for a reconciliation with your father yet. There’s no hope for one with mine now. Although I doubt that there ever was,” he added sadly. “I never really hoped for one, anyway. I knew all along that he was beyond redemption. But that doesn’t help matters much.”
He quietly stood there, looking up at the memorial to his father. Mary drew back a few paces, taking care not to get too close to the pair of wolves that were still with them, to allow him some time to be alone with his conflicted thoughts.
* * * * *
“So now you know how it stands with me, my lady,” said Arthur, having concluded his tale to Queen Titania.
She nodded in response, having listened patiently as he had poured out his doubts and fears to her for the past several minutes. “Yes,” she said. “I had suspected that there was more weighing upon you, Arthur Pendragon, than merely your advisor’s plight.”
“Then can you give me any counsel,” Arthur asked her, “as to what I am to do?”
“Only a little,” she replied. “You must seek out your own fate, Arthur Pendragon; we cannot reveal it to you. Or at least, we cannot do so directly. You must make that discovery on your own, without our help.
“But yes, you are correct about one thing. You may have been indeed awakened before the appointed time, but awakened you have been all the same, and that cannot be reversed. You cannot return to your enchanted sleep, and you cannot remain here on Avalon. You must return to the mortal world, and fulfill your role there.”
“But what is that role to be?” he asked. “I have been called the Once and Future King, but from all that I have seen, ‘the Once King’ alone would be far more fitting. What am I to be king of? Clearly not Britain; I know that much now. But if not Britain, then what? Where does my fate lie?”
“As I told you, that question I may not answer,” said Titania. “Although this much I can say: there is more to a king than his lands. Surely you must know that from your own experience. Seek the answers, Arthur Pendragon, and you will find them. But you must return to the outside world to seek them. It is there that you will discover where your destiny lies.”
Arthur nodded. “I thank you, my lady,” he said. “I wish, though, that I did not have to pay such a heavy price for this revelation. Merlin is dying, dying, and there is nothing that I can do to save him. I have tried every means, and all have failed.”
“Every means?” asked Titania, arching an eyebrow. “Have you indeed sought out every possible cure for your friend, Arthur Pendragon?”
“You know that I have, my lady,” he replied. “Human magic, human science, and the arts of your people - all have been tried, and all have proven powerless against the poison. What else is left?”
“One path remains that you have not yet considered,” she replied. “A path that you have not yet trodden, although many others have. Seek out that path, Arthur Pendragon. It will lead you to the answer.”
“But what path is that, my lady?” cried Arthur.
“That you must also learn for yourself,” she answered. “But when you find it, it shall be as much comfort to you as a cup of cold water is to a man half-dead with thirst.”
Her form glowed white as she finished speaking, and then disappeared, leaving Arthur standing alone within the Hollow Hill by the Magus’s bier. He gazed about him in silence, wondering. At last he turned, and walked back across the bridge, to leave the chamber.
* * * * *
Griff was seated by the fireplace, opposite Princess Katharine and Tom. Boudicca was dozing by the hearth, while Gabriel and Ophelia stood close by, listening to his tale.
“Then she cut off a braid of her hair, and gave it to me, with these words. ‘I read once that when a knight goes on a quest, he takes a favor from his lady fair, for luck. If ye will be my knight, then I would love to be yuir lady fair and I will wait for ye.’”
“And did she indeed?” asked Princess Katharine, leaning forward.
Griff nodded. “Yes, and after Arthur and I found Merlin, I returned to the Caledonian Forest, and we became mates. She moved to London with me, where we’ve been living ever since, until now.” He frowned thoughtfully. “She’ll be waiting for me again too, and possibly for quite a while from what I understand of Avalon’s ways. I knew that this was going to happen, of course, when I accompanied Arthur here, but it didn’t fully hit home to me until just now.”
The princess nodded gravely. “But still, Avalon will send ye home to her in the end, surely. The quests that it lays upon those who depart from it do not last for eternity.”
“I know,” said Griff, nodding. “But that’s not what’s concerning me the most here. Rather, it’s something that’s only just now occurred to me. So far, ever since Brianna and I became mates, we’ve been fortunate. The troubles that we had to deal with were in London, where the clan lived, and so we could face them together. Even when Arthur was traveling about Britain with Merlin earlier this year, I remained in London, and there was no parting. But now, things are likely to be different. Even after the world tour that’s no doubt coming up once we leave Avalon is over, Arthur’s not likely to remain in London much longer, not in light of all the unwanted publicity that he’s had there. He’s likely to go on his travels again, and goodness only knows when he’s going to settle down, or where - it might not even be in London this time. For all that I know, if he does find a new home, it might not even be in Britain.”
“I see,” said Princess Katharine. “And being his knight, ye would accompany him.”
Griff nodded. “That’s the problem in a nutshell,” he said. “On the one hand, Arthur knighted me. I’m duty-bound to accompany him on his journeys, thereby, unless he specifically forbids me to do so, and I’m hoping that he won’t because this is one time when he’ll need all the help that he can. So I want to go with him. But that will mean being parted from Brianna again for who knows how long. After all, she’s not one of his knights. She’s shyer around humans, for the most part, and so I doubt that she’d even consider accepting a knighthood from him. I feel almost - well, torn in two. I don’t want to have to choose between them, and yet, the way that things are shaping up, it looks as though I’ll have to.”
Princess Katharine and the others nodded sympathetically. “I wish that there was some counsel that we could give ye, Sir Griff, to aid ye with this trouble,” said the princess. “I mind how Tom and I were parted from time to time, when he went out into the world beyond every century to seek tidings concerning Goliath and his clan. But he always returned soon after he had left, and so we were never apart for long.”
“True,” agreed Guardian Tom, with a slight smile. “Mind you, my lady, it was always longer for me than it was for you, thanks to how time flows in the outside world.”
“Not long ago,” said Gabriel, “two new gargoyles joined our clan from the outside world; Othello and Desdemona are their names. They used to be part of Goliath’s clan, and they had had a few experiences of their own in being separated from each other - though not in quite the same way as yours - and they might well have been willing to discuss that matter with you if they were here.”
“Indeed?” asked Griff. “Where are they?”
“Off on the other side of Avalon, training some of my rookery brothers and sisters in the ways of the wild,” said Gabriel. “If you remain here for a few nights, you might be able to meet with them when they return.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be too feasible,” said Griff, after thinking it over for a moment. “I have the feeling that Arthur will be wanting to be on his way soon, once he’s done here. But thank you anyway.”
The door to the sitting room opened just then, and Merlin and Mary came in. “Hullo there,” said Griff to them, returning to his more customary cheery nature from the more thoughtful mood that he had been in before their arrival. “How did things go?”
“About as well as could be expected,” said Merlin, sitting down in an empty chair. “I did what I needed to do.”
“So now all that we have to do is to wait for Arthur to return,” said Mary. “None of you have seen him since we left, have you?”
Griff shook his head. “I’m afraid not,” he replied. “Hopefully he’ll be coming back soon.”
“I hope that he’s all right,” said Merlin. “He definitely looked very discouraged when we parted. Though I suppose that that’s not too surprising, give how he feels about the fact that I’m doomed.” He hunched forward, sinking his chin into his hands, an unhappy look upon his face.
“Don’t talk like that, Merlin,” said Mary, almost fiercely. “We are not giving up. We are going to find some way of saving your life.”
“And what would that be?” Merlin asked. “We’ve explored every avenue that we know, and hit a dead end every single time. There’s nothing left.”
“That is what I thought as well,” said Arthur, walking into the room just then. “But Titania spoke to me at the Hollow Hill, and told me otherwise.”
“Titania spoke to you about it?” asked Merlin, standing up and turning to face the former king. “How did that come about?”
“She sought me out while I was visiting my old sleeping-place,” Arthur explained. “Why, I do not know, but I can only assume that she had some concern for the success of our quest. She told me that there was still one means that we had not attempted, although she did not name it.”
“Did she say anything else about it?” asked Griff.
“Only that it was a path that some of my knights had once trodden, but that I myself had not,” said Arthur. “But what she meant by that, I as yet do not know.”
“The Lady Titania is known to speak in riddles,” commented Tom. “It was certainly that way with us, when she and her husband returned to Avalon.”
“Aye,” said Princess Katharine, “but within those riddles, she gave us good counsel for how to defend our clan from Lord Oberon. No doubt she has done the same in her words to ye. Were I ye, Arthur, I would weigh her words most carefully. There must be some meaning to be found in them.”
Arthur nodded. “This is a matter that we must look over together,” he said, “in the days to come. In the meantime, however, it is time for us to rest. It is growing close to dawn outside. We will have to spend the day here, on Avalon, and depart in the evening, when Griff awakens from his stone sleep.”
“Ye are welcome to stay with us during that time,” said Princess Katharine.
“Just as long as Oberon’s Children behave themselves,” commented Merlin. “I know that with them around, I’ll be sleeping lightly; some of them aren’t above a few pranks, and Oberon can’t watch them twenty-four hours a day. I hope that none of them are feeling mischievously disposed towards us.”
“Well, I’d better warn you, my lady,” said Mary to Princess Katharine, in a somewhat hesitant tone of voice, “that I’ve got my own problems with the daytime. I mean, I turn into a talking wolf when the sun comes up. It’s something that started happening to me a few months ago, and we still haven’t found a cure for it yet. Technically, I’m a werewolf, but I’m not a regular vicious one, honest.”
“Ye’ve no need to fear us on that account,” said the princess to her gently. “We’ve all seen stranger things on Avalon, especially since the Gathering began. And we’ve learned not to be too rash in judging others by their strangeness.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” said Mary. “That’s something of a relief.”
* * * * *
The day went by peacefully on Avalon, contrary to Merlin’s apprehensions. While Griff perched upon the battlements of Oberon’s palace alongside the Avalon clan, Arthur, Merlin, and Mary in her wolf form all dozed throughout the day, undisturbed by any of the Third Race.
That evening, as Arthur had said, the four travelers went down to the natural harbor where they had left their boat. Princess Katharine, Tom, and some of the Avalon gargoyles, including Gabriel, Ophelia, and Boudicca, accompanied them there to bid them a few last farewells.
“Best of wishes to ye on yuir journey, Arthur Pendragon,” Princess Katharine said. “May ye find a cure for Merlin.”
“I thank you, my lady,” said Arthur, bowing to her in a courtly fashion. “I certainly hope to find one, with all my heart.”
“Farewell, Griff,” said Gabriel, as he shook hands with the London gargoyle. “We were glad to meet you.”
“Same here, my friend,” said Griff.
After a few more exchanges of such sentiments, Arthur, Griff, Merlin, and Mary boarded the boat. Arthur began to row it away from the shore with the pole. His companions gazed back at the Avalon clan on the receding shore, before turning about to face the mists closing in before them.
“So where to now?” asked Mary.
“That is up to Avalon to decide, my lady,” Arthur replied. “Let us hope that wherever it sends us to, we will unravel the mystery behind Titania’s riddle, and learn what must be done to save Merlin.”
The mists closed all about them, shutting out the sight of Avalon, as they began their new journey.