Story by Todd Jensen
Written by Ed Reynolds
Artwork by Karen Blackwell
* * * * *
Previously on Pendragon…
Mary was held fast in the light that streamed up from the fragments of the Angurboda figurine, motionless. For a moment, she stood upright, but then she dropped to all fours. Her hands began to turn into paws. A tail sprouted from her backside, and her clothes changed into a coat of thick grey fur. Her face elongated, changing into a canine snout. Within only a couple of minutes, the transformation was complete, and a shocked-looking grey wolf stood in the cellar before them.
~~~The Curse of Rivencroft~~~
* * *
"Wait!" Dulcinea cocked her head. "Something odd here – that doesn’t feel quite like an animal to me." She cast her flashlight about, lighting up the narrow hollow bracketed by the cliff on one side and densely-packed trees on the other. There was something huddled against the stone wall, looking almost like a pile of debris… until it moved.
"Mary!" Leaves were tangled in the young girl’s hair and her eyes were wild and white-rimmed. Merlin caught her hands as she leapt at him, her fingers curled like claws.
"Mary! Calm down! We’re here to help you!"
The sleepwalking girl screeched like a wild animal, and her teeth snapped as she tried to lunge in to bite him.
"Hold her!" Dulcinea said sharply. "Her mind is just feral enough that I might be able to reach her."
"Hurry up!" Merlin grunted as Mary’s attack began to drive him back.
Dulcinea thrust her arms in between the two combatants and turned Mary’s face towards hers. "Listen to me," she said calmly, speaking in low, gentle tones. "You are safe, Mary. You are not a wolf." Mary snapped and tried to struggle free but Dulcinea’s grip was firm. "Calmly, sssshhh. You are Mary Sefton. Remember who you are."
"Yes, Mary," Merlin said urgently. "You’re only dreaming. Wake up, Mary. Wake up!"
Her eyelids fluttered. "What…?"
"That’s done it." Dulcinea dropped her arms to her sides. "Her thoughts are human again."
"Huh?" Mary glanced about her in confusion. "What’s going on? Where am I?"
"Mary….," Merlin started but the expression on his face made Mary stare at him in shock.
"Oh, no." Her lip trembled. "I did it again, didn’t I?" She looked down at her tattered socks. "Not sleepwalking again…. nonononono…." Mary collapsed in Merlin’s arms, weeping hysterically.
* * *
"Ever since that curse blew up on you, you’ve been denying the duality of your nature."
"But it’s like the wolf is taking over!" Mary protested. "This is my life! I’m meant to be one hundred percent girl, not some monster half the time!"
"You’re going about this all wrong, Mary. The only way you’re going to achieve any balance is to accept all of your nature, both wolf and girl, good and bad."
"What?" Mary gasped. "Do you have any idea how hard that is?"
~~~On Holiday, Part Two~~~
* * *
"Before you became a werewolf," said the Fenris-wolf, "you were alone, without friends, were you not?"
"Well, yes," said Mary. "Arthur and Merlin - and Griff, too - are the first real friends that I’ve had, the first people that I’ve really been able to get close to since mum died. But what does that have to do with it?"
"If it were not for your transformation," said the Fenris-wolf, "you might well have parted company with them once you left Rivencroft, never to cross paths with them again. And you would still be alone."
"That’s - true," said Mary, thinking it over. Now that he had mentioned it, it did make sense. The original reason why she had remained with Arthur and Merlin after the adventure in Rivencroft instead of continuing her walking tour through the Lake District, was because, now that she was a werewolf, she needed their help in sheltering her and even finding a cure for her. And that, in turn, had led to her growing closer to them, to the point where she had finally joined Arthur's circle whole-heartedly. Indeed, she realized now that what held her to her companions was no longer her own safety or the hopes of becoming an ordinary human girl again; what held her to them was that they had become her friends, and that she was herself as much one of Arthur's company as Griff and Merlin.
~~~Black and White~~~
* * *
ARTHUR: I have been a fool. Quetzalcoatl was right in the Pyrenees when he told me that looking for the Grail as simply an end would be no use. By God’s grace, I hope we shall find you a cure, and I hope too that on this quest I shall find a new direction for this new world. But I shall not become like one of these pale knights, wrapped in melancholia and the past to the detriment of all that they might become. It is high time that I focused not on doing not just what will be best for you and me, Merlin, but what is for the greater good. We have been too introspective until now, too caught up in fighting our own personal problems to intentionally make a difference. I have never seen the world before as I once did, and this opportunity is a blessing in disguise. I must learn as I travel. I must listen to the people I meet, and help those that I can. For the Grail is not the end, but will merely be the beginning of my next quest – the beginning of my works to help the world as I can, clutching whatever opportunities each day brings me.
~~~Flight from the Enchanter~~~
* * *
ARTHUR: (to Mordred) I do not know whether to believe you or not. 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.
* * * * *
Arthur, Griff, Mary and Merlin first arrived at the small village of Yellow Oak in the dead of night. The main inhabited area was very small, with only a few scattered farm houses, separated by some fallen-down fences and beaten tracks. A diner stood in the centre of town, declaring itself as "Dave’s Diner" in neon lights which had long since broken.
Yellow Oak was a sheep farming community and had been for generations. The sweeping hills and valleys in the area were not quite dramatic enough to entice tourists, but the village was too remote to be a home to commuters. As a result, the people of Yellow Oak mostly kept themselves to themselves and everyone else left them more or less alone. Every now and then one of residents would say that enough was enough and take off into ‘the world’. These people seldom returned, and when they did, they were treated with suspicion, and tended to ruffle feathers by talking about life in ‘the real world’. The people of Yellow Oak had enjoyed themselves peacefully for a long time and its isolated residents were proudly self-sufficient.
But Arthur and his allies could not help feeling that there was something wrong as they made their way along the winding path that led through the village, in tarmac that had evidently not been resurfaced for a very long time. The village was quiet. The lights in the houses were off, and the curtains were shut. It was only by a sliver of moonlight that peeked from the thick clouds that they could see anything at all that night. All the same, they had an uneasy suspicion as they walked that unseen eyes were staring out at them. Griff lowered his hat over his face as they passed through the village. There was no way his true species would be recognised in the dark but he still felt exposed.
The house that Leba had rented for them stood on the outskirts of the village, bordering onto farmland. They could hear sheep bleating in the distance. The gate was open. It felt like it had rusted severely away and had been recently forced off its hinges to get it to open.
They approached the front door quietly, as if at any moment one of the local residents might appear. Griff found the keys under a stone where Leba had said they would be. He handed them to Mary. On instinct, Arthur looked back down the road, but the moon went behind a cloud and it became too dark to see. Mary missed the lock on her first two attempts to put the key in.
"Here we go," she said at last as the sound of the door opening was heard.
There was a clunk as she stepped onto the floorboards inside and fumbled for the light switch. It was suspended on a string to the right of the door and the hall bulb flickered uncertainly on. The bulb was suspended on a slightly crooked wire and it cast a weak glow over the hallway that still strained the travellers’ eyes somewhat after the darkness of the night.
The house was small, but served their purpose. It had two bedrooms, a main sitting room, a small kitchen and a bathroom, all from the large central hall. They coughed slightly as they inhaled the dust. The floorboards were mostly bare and there were faded patches on the walls where the previous occupants must have once placed decorations. The impression of a crucifix was visible at the end of the living room. The only furnishings were the old wooden table, an assortment of mismatched chairs, and the curtains on the windows.
Arthur placed his pack down in the living room and followed Mary in.
"I shall have a quick look around to make sure the house is secure," Arthur said. "Remember, we’re still in the same country as the Queen of Northgalis, and we still don’t know how much the Illuminati know of our doings."
"I guess," said Mary as she helped Merlin in and closed the front door. "But I don’t think this house has seen life for years, or at least not since long before Leba made the arrangements with the owners."
"It can’t have been completely abandoned," said Griff as he glanced inside the kitchen and turned on the light inside. "That kitchen window looks quite new. It must have been fitted recently."
"Maybe it was damaged in a storm," suggested Mary, as she put down her pack and began to unpack the food supplies they had picked up for their stay.
"Maybe," he repeated quietly.
Merlin crossed the room unsteadily on his walking stick as he stifled a yawn. Mary briefly ceased unpacking to help him across, leaving him on a bed that branched off the main hallway. There were no sheets and the metal frame rattled as he sat down. She looked in the cupboard and soon found a small pile of bed sheets.
Arthur appeared moments later. "It seems clear enough. There’s a back door which opens opposite an abandoned barn of a fair size. It might be useful to get some training in while we’re here. I’m afraid that without any new leads at present, and without transport besides walking, we may be here for some time."
"It’s a bit of a pain, but not without a silver lining," said Griff, "I think Merlin and Mary are glad of the break from walking for one thing. Now personally, I don’t mind it, of course…"
"Sure you don’t!" interrupted Mary, grinning.
"Well, a short break is good," Griff continued. "And the rent here is thankfully quite cheap."
"Yes," said Arthur sadly. "At least, from what Leba said, the house was left to be sold for years when the old occupants moved away. It sounds as though they were happy to let it be rented to us, although they warned us that the neighbours might not be the friendliest around. All the same, it was good of Jennifer, volunteering to foot the bill like that. I suppose she still has the money from selling her business, but all the same…"
Griff looked vaguely surprised as he turned to the unpacking that Mary had started earlier. "I thought she’d need that for Leonard’s health care and for her mother?"
"I had much the same reaction," said Arthur. "But Leba said that she insisted. She’s also managed to send it in an unusual way so that if the Illuminati or anyone else are following the banking transactions of her, Leba or Captain Marter then they’ll find it difficult to get any idea of our location."
"I’ve still got some money in accounts I haven’t cashed yet," said Merlin as he helped Mary make the bed, although he was a little shaky on his feet when standing. "I’ll pay her back when I get the chance… if I get the chance. That said, after this quest is over, we’re definitely going to need to start thinking things through. All this traveling hasn’t been cheap and I’m afraid I never had the financial foresight of some of my fellow immortals, like Macbeth. I spent a lot of what I had bringing myself up in Yorkshire after my last regeneration left me a child, not to mention the funds I spent on Pendragon Investigations and chipping in to help Captain Marter with the estate."
"Another complication we shall have to consider," mused Arthur, as he drew the curtains and shut out the night.
* * *
Two Weeks Later
The sun had set and the light was fading fast as Mark and Jill Clark made their way down from tending the sheep, passing near the newly-rented house on their way back to their village. As they spoke, their eyes lingered on the battered house on the edge of the village that had been occupied since the beginning of June.
"Have you seen much of them?" said Jill quietly.
"I saw them very briefly a couple of nights after they arrived, but it was dark and I was a fair way away. There were four of them. I didn’t like to stare, but I had just finished cleaning up around the back of the diner and… well, given our experience last spring with visitors to Yellow Oak, I was curious. As I say, I couldn’t really see much of them though. And since then… well, there’s a tall man with a beard that’s going grey. He came in and asked for some supplies. He looked incredibly familiar, although I couldn’t place him. Then there was the pale teenaged girl – I hear she’s been into the diner a couple of times too. There’s a lad with a Welsh accent that some of the locals have seen around too. But there was also another tall man with them when they came and I don’t think anyone heard anything from him at all. I thought one of the children, the boy, looked quite sickly, personally, but… well, it was dark. And I didn’t like to pry."
"Well, like it or no," said Jill, "we’ve got to protect our own. Especially now that we suspect…"
She trailed off cautiously. The pair ceased speaking as they passed the house. Nobody would be able to hear them all the way at the end of the track, but they felt uncomfortable all the same. They weren’t a particularly old couple but their faces showed more signs of age – grey streaks had appeared in Mark’s hair recently, and Jill’s eyes were reddened by lack of sleep. While they passed the house all they could hear was the distant bleating of sheep, and the sound of their jackets rustling and their boots hitting the ground as they walked. There was little wind.
"It’s too quiet," Jill said suspiciously. "What are they doing here? Travellers would want to move on by now if they were serious and had made their plans. And holiday-makers would have made their presence felt, coming in and out."
"You’re not getting ready to accuse them of having anything to do with… well, with what’s happening, are you?"
"I know it’s a strong accusation but really… one week ago, they arrived. And now over the last couple of days there have been these strange attacks by some kind of enormous wolf creature. Martin Phillips lost sheep…"
"So did Debbie Hancock."
"Really? When did you hear that?"
"Rufus told me earlier when I was at the diner."
"But wolf attacks happen, Jill. It doesn’t mean that it’s anything particularly suspicious. And certainly not anything..."
He hesitated for several moments and finally said under his breath, "It’s not anything supernatural. I… I mean, I really thought after all these months that that was over."
"Mark," she said, not unkindly, "I don’t believe in coincidences. Coincidences and tax rebates. And this is a big coincidence. Maybe these people have tamed the wolf or something, or maybe they’re connected with those bizarre creatures that came through here."
"So what do you suggest we do? Go up and ask them if they’re keeping feral wolves to attack local sheep? If they’re connected with the demon people that came by here at the end of that unnatural winter?"
"We need to be careful, obviously. We’d be best off gathering evidence first. But I’m just saying…"
They both jumped as a long, hollow howl pierced the air behind them. They felt a surge of adrenaline and fear.
"Jill… Th-that’s a wolf howl," Mark said, obviously.
"Yes," said Jill worriedly. "Yes it is. I’ve got a torch, but we’ll need a shotgun."
"I’ll get one," said Mark. "Wait here!"
He dashed back towards the house. Jill waited until he had gone and then removed the torch from her pocket. There was another howl, and then the terrible cry of a sheep – an agonised bleat followed by deathly silence. She felt panicked, helpless, furious, fearful. She flicked the torch on and rushed forward into the darkening night. As she passed the newly rented house, she couldn’t help but glance at it. The curtains were drawn but she could see the lights behind. Soon she passed it and was heading towards the hillside where the flock grazed.
She heard Mark running up behind her with a gun and waited for him, trying to pinpoint the location of the noise. But the hill had fallen silent. A faint breeze passed them. Their torches flicked around like fireflies in the dark, and their guns were ready to fire. But they heard nothing more.
Mark arrived, rifle clutched tightly in his hand, and the pair moved silently forward.
Another howl pierced the air. Both farmers raised their guns and shuffled along the mountain region. They started and noticed something disappearing into the trees on the distance. Mark raised his gun to fire, but it was futile. The creature was gone.
Jill flashed her torch down into the valley and blanched. She flicked it down again, and sighed heavily.
"What is it, Jill?"
Jill shook her head. "Found the sheep."
Mark glanced back into the dark, but didn’t raise his light to see. He breathed heavily as he prepared to point his torch towards the darkened valley. "All of them?" he whispered. "There were twenty missing… without them, our stock is… I mean, we might as well… I…"
The light shone from his raised hand, and picked up a smear of blood on the ground leading to–
Tears welled in Mark’s eyes as he looked upon the remains of their flock. Jill had already turned away as the stench of blood burnt in her nostrils. She felt distinctly queasy. It was very dark now, with only a glimpse from the moon as the clouds passed overhead. She pointed her torch along the ground and for a few paces she could see imprints of footsteps in blood, but they faded. That wasn’t what shook her most however.
"Look where they’re headed," she whispered, looking towards the house.
* * * * *
"It’s as we feared," said Jill as she entered. "We’ve got ourselves a wolf problem."
A group of farmers was huddled in the centre of the diner. It was perhaps the only social venue in the area, and served as café, restaurant and market. But now it served as a meeting place for the concerned residents of Yellow Oak. An assortment of grim faces turned to her, eyes thick with worry. There was a low murmur as Jill entered, and further murmurings as her husband Mark did not follow her; it was all too clear that their flock had been the latest to be victimised. The woman took her seat by the counter and ordered. Her hands were a soap-cleaned pink against the mud and smell of dried blood that hung on her clothes.
"Darn wolf, is it? Well, what are we going to do about it?" growled one farmer. "How do we find it? How do we kill it?"
"We could call in some kind of emergency animal people," someone suggested.
"And be slammed with a fine for cruelty to animals for something if we just blast its head off? I say we go out and hunt it, dump the body and nobody will know the difference. Just - bang." He motioned impressively.
One farmer looked up. "You know, on the television they reckon that wolves-"
"Oh, not the television again - it’s all just some government hogwash. We’re the ones getting our sheep killed, I say we should be the ones that deal with it."
Jill did not join the conversation but stared into the glass of the refrigerator opposite the counter. The pale, reflected image of a thirty-something farm labourer wearing her sisters’ hand-me-downs stared back at her. She sighed as a hubbub of voices merged together:
"I heard silver kills them…"
"That’s werewolves, Rufus."
"Don’t tell me we’re just going to go chasing after it randomly! We need traps!"
"I’ve got a bear-trap."
"It’s not a bear, Rufus."
"It’s as big as a bear from what I heard."
"Twice as big!"
"Wolves don’t grow bigger than bears."
"I saw it with my own eyes!"
"Then you need your eyes checked."
"Remember all the crazy stuff that happened last spring, though? Particularly the long winter, and those monsters that passed through here. My old ma still wakes up at night afraid of what she saw."
There was a brief pause as they thought back. Everyone remembered it. A group of devilish monsters with a variety of bizarre appearances, along with a group of chattering red gremlins in tow, had marched through Yellow Oak. It looked to some of the farmers as if the creatures were going to war. The leader looked vaguely humanoid, with long black hair and war-paint, but wearing a strange tribal uniform. The creatures had blasted their way through the valley, throwing fireballs that had marked the landscapes, screaming. Nobody outside Yellow Oak quite believed this of course, even with the evidence of the damage that was done. Since then the community had become even more isolated than it had been before, and some outside had accused it of becoming eccentric and embittered.
Eventually another farmer spoke up. "I saw it the other night too, chasing it off my land. It was three times as big as you’d think a wolf would be."
"What did you make of the scene, Jill?"
Jill brushed a curl of brown hair from her face and spoke with difficulty. "The carcasses weren’t all eaten up; my best guess is, it was killing for fun as much as food. A few of the sheep were… smothered with mud - looked as though they had been dragged around, a few even had been… flipped, so the worst of their wounds was on the underside. It would have taken a big, big creature to do something like that - big and extremely strong."
"A pack of wolves?"
"No, there would be more bite marks and smaller ones. And more tracks leading away. But there’s only one set of tracks each time, although they aren’t strong enough to be traced very far. The tracks leading away tonight were… very large. The feet of a wolf, or pretty nearly, but one with huge feet. This is no ordinary predator."
"Just when you thought it was safe to go out on the farmland," one person grumbled.
"Now how did it get here, is what I want to know?" asked another.
"Beamed down from Mars, I suppose! What do you think? It just wandered our way from wherever its pack is, didn’t it?"
"No, no… I mean, what’s it been living on when it can’t get our sheep? We’d have heard about it before if it was attacking nearby farms or cities… but why, it’s as if it appeared out of nowhere. And disappears back to nowhere, if what Jill says about its tracks disappearing is true."
"What’s your point?"
Jill smiled. "Who else do we know that recently appeared in the village under… dubious pretences?"
The farmers shared a conspiratorial look; all, that is, except Rufus, who looked from face to face with an expression of profound confusion.
* * *
Arthur gave a grunt of exertion as he raised his stave to repel the blow, stepping back into the moonlight that filtered through a crack above the barn door. He fell backwards on his feet, and keeping his opponent in his gaze, thrust forward with his stave once in a quick tentative gesture, before pulling back and delivering a low blow at the exposed backs of her legs.
Mary found her legs buckling beneath her, and collapsed onto the soft hay of the barn with a yelp, dropping her stave as she did so.
"Arthur! That was cheating!" she said.
"I am afraid, Mary, that many foes nowadays will care little for the distinction between cheating and not cheating, but simply that of victory and defeat. I would not have you defeated in battle through ill preparation."
Mary slowly got to her feet, brushing the hay out of her cardigan and out of her hair. It had become a lot more manageable since the Sicilian microcosm spell had been broken and the slow changing of her body to increasingly resemble Corbie had been reversed.
"No," she admitted grudgingly. "I do need to learn to be as good a fighter as I can be. Not that it would be much good against someone like Sekhmet or the Fenris-wolf of course."
"I don’t know," said Griff, as he looked in at the barn door. "I seem to remember Darien Montrose finding himself quite the worse for wear after you were through with him."
Mary grinned, although the mention of Montrose’s name caused a shadow to pass over Arthur’s face. Griff noticed it and reached to take the staves from the pair of them.
"I think that’s enough for today," said Griff.
"Yeah," said Mary, now standing unsteadily. "I think I’m going to be feeling these bruises for a month. Why couldn’t my lycanthropy have come with a special healing factor or something, like you read about in comic books?"
* * *
"Jill’s got a point," said the man behind the counter. "Take that young girl they’ve got with them. She’s been here a few times to get some food to take up. Her pale complexion looks positively unhealthy for someone who is supposed to have been travelling."
"She’s English though - it probably only stopped raining three times in her life at home."
"Well if you ask me, I think she looks like a vampire or something - I heard they have them over there. I had a cousin over there in… where was it? Devonshire. Anyway, he reported some very strange goings on…"
"And I don’t know anyone that’s glimpsed her during the day. That other kid they have with them doesn’t look too healthy either."
* * *
Merlin winced carefully as he breathed. He seemed relieved that Arthur did not appear to notice, as he was reading through some material that Leba had sent to them. They had managed to print out at an Internet Café they had passed a week ago, although the owners weren’t too happy at Arthur using up nearly all their paper to print out his documents.
The wizard carefully propped himself up on the bed, his hand shaking as he tried to move the pile of papers he had been looking through from his lap to the top of the bedside cabinet.
"It’s a complete pain being stuck here in this backwater," he muttered. "Honestly, Arthur, this material is useless."
"I share your frustration, Merlin, but we cannot hunt the Holy Grail as one might hunt a boar, or even as King Pellinor hunted the Questing Beast. It is true that the Oak Island link was disappointing…"
Griff entered the room with some papers. "Chins up! This new lead is rather exciting - I’ve been talking to Leba. It seems as though there might be a place in New Zealand that’s worth a look. It’s a research foundation principally, a group of academics that have gathered together to discuss the Grail in some kind of large conference. But they do have some rather interesting theses and - well, if you believe in Norse fire gods roaming the Welsh hillsides and ancient secret societies then you’re quids in, I’d say. It’s not the same as having a first-hand sighting to go on, but it’s a good start."
"That’s all very well," Merlin mused. "But don’t forget that there are some real crack-pots out there. We’re going to have to be careful to distinguish people who genuinely have links from those who just want a bit of cheap publicity cashing in on this latest upsurge in the supernatural since Second Unseelie War."
"I agree on that point," said Arthur. "Now of course comes the matter of getting to New Zealand. Leba managed to find us transport to Egypt and from Antarctica, and Macbeth and Arminius Fenn have been helpful. But unless one of those people is available to help us, our passage to New Zealand is going to be difficult."
"Yes, it’s going to take a while to find a way to make it across without you being arrested as an illegal immigrant, Merlin being hospitalised, and Mary and I being put into captivity and studied. And customs are oddly pernickety about people carrying huge antique swords around."
"And all the more frustrating because we know that our actions are being monitored," added Arthur. "After Lancelot knew we were coming to South America when we were. Evidently the Illuminati are watching us, and I’d rather that was not the case. Still, with Leba and the London clan working to make arrangements I hope we won’t be held up too long."
"So in the meantime we need to cross Canada?" said Griff.
Merlin shuffled uneasily on the bed. "Well although I don’t like it, we’re probably better off staying put in this out of the way location than moving and being exposed. This is pretty much as remote as we could get in Canada."
"Yes," said Arthur. "Of course, given our situation I think I may try and investigate some of the concerns that seem to be troubling the local townsfolk."
Griff seemed momentarily puzzled, but then guessed at what he thought Arthur meant. "Those sounds of distressed sheep we hear… that sound as if they’re being slaughtered in the night?"
"Well," replied Griff with a note of surprise, "I must admit that, while I appreciate that you’ve now decided to do as much good as you can besides the simple confines of your quest, I don’t know if a farming issue is exactly in our line of work."
"You forget, Griff, that I was once a king and perhaps shall be again one day. As ruler, it was not just tyrants, faeries and robber-barons that I pitted myself against, although those sorts of encounters were more widely chronicled. Part of being a king is simply helping people in times of crisis and this community is certainly in crisis. Besides which, I am not entirely sure that this is purely natural. When Mary went to the diner to get supplies the other day, she reported overhearing some conversations which suggested that the scale of the killings and the power behind them is quite beyond what one might expect from a normal predator. They believe it to be a wolf of some description. I think in the light of that, we had better make sure that she is even more careful than usual not to be seen in the daytime."
Griff nodded. "Actually, given our need for subterfuge, we’d best all be careful about it – you as well, Arthur. It wouldn’t do to trigger a media circus when we’re trying to fly below radar. It’s one thing trying to look like a face in the crowd at Glastonbury, but here is another matter."
"I know," sighed Arthur. "I do look forward to a day when we do not have an urgent quest that requires secrecy and can start reaching out to the world again."
"Still," said Merlin, "Mary’s going to be in particular danger and… well, you know how headstrong she can be at times. We’re going to have to keep an eye on her."
Griff nodded. "Still, look on the bright side. At least we know it can’t be another case of her sleepwalking like in the Caledonian Forest last summer. All these attacks have taken place at night."
Merlin tried to stifle a yawn. "Where is Mary, anyway? She’s missing all the fun of looking through this information."
Arthur smiled. "Out for an evening stroll, recovering from her latest training exercise, I think. And I must say as regards her training, she is making fine progress and has some considerable natural co-ordination which shows promise. I rather wonder…"
Unseen by his former tutor, a gleam appeared in Arthur’s eye.
"I rather wonder," he continued airily, "if after this Grail quest is over, we shouldn’t embark on a similar training schedule with you, Merlin!"
Merlin looked up; his face was a mask of horror. "Goodness, Arthur, you can’t be serious! I’m a magician, not a warrior."
"Well," said Griff, catching Arthur’s eye, "I know that you’re a bit stuck for magic lately after your bad regeneration. Maybe if you had a few warrior moves to help you be more active…"
"Good grief, I still have nightmares about PE at Mons Carbi. Of all the things that I’ll want to do after this quest is over, that isn’t one of them."
"Best keep searching then," said Griff, grinning to Arthur as the teenaged wizard returned to poring over Grail-related documents, his concentration renewed.
* * * * *
Mary sat down on the end of a gravel path, and sighed. The training session had tired her more than she realised, and she sat breathing heavily for a few moments as she tried to find a comfortable position to sit, despite her bruising. She sniffed the air.
Getting carefully up, she looked around. There were no definite marks nearby, and she did not dare venture too far into the sheep territory, but there were indistinct impressions on the ground nearby that might have been left by a large animal at some stage. Of course, she reasoned, it was a farming area, and it wouldn’t be surprising if there were wolves nearby.
She felt vaguely glad for the heightened wolf senses which remained as powerful during the night as in daytime - as frustrating and alien as that form was to her, it did have some distinct advantages when it came to tracking people. Not that she necessarily felt that she wanted the wolf to be caught. She thought back to her encounter with the Fenris-wolf and hung her head for a moment. Did she really want this creature to be caught? It was probably just hungry and would move on in time. Maybe some alternative arrangement could be made?
Her thoughts turned back to the matter at hand. No further tracks were apparent. Glumly, she returned to the farm.
* * * * *
The afternoon passed drearily. Griff was asleep as a stone statue, and Merlin was dozing. Mary tried to nod off as well but found herself restless - she still ached from her training earlier, and in any event she found that the business with the wolf killings preyed on her thoughts. Finally she got up and went to Arthur, who was reading through some more documents, looking bleary-eyed himself.
"I’ve been thinking, Arthur," she said. "I can’t sleep and I can’t very well read in this form since I can’t turn pages. I wondered if I might be allowed to go and follow these wolf trails."
"I don’t believe that’s altogether wise, Mary," Arthur said gently. "We don’t want people getting you confused with the culprit."
"Well, obviously I’ll be careful - I’m not about to let myself be hunted. But really, I want to help. And after all - when you were on the run you still went into London to deal with that Ripper vampyre, even when you knew it was dangerous. It was the right thing to do, and it’s the same here. That’s what you said when you were in the White Knight’s kingdom, didn’t you?"
"True, you do make a good case, but I’m unsure about it all the same." For a moment he hesitated and then, in a tired tone of voice, continued. "Mary, taking risks when your back is to the wall is one thing, but we have a very delicate matter here. I want you to keep a very low profile indeed during the day time."
"But Arthur, I can help in ways you can’t!"
"Your werewolf senses, you mean? I was under the impression that you thought your senses had been heightened at all times."
"Well yes, that’s true, but it’s going to be difficult to explain a human going around sniffing the ground isn’t it? I can be careful, but I also have a good shot at being able to track this creature. I’m used to keeping out of sight, and there’s plenty of space to hide in the grass."
"It would be different if Merlin were well enough to perform some kind of illusion spell. We could take a wander with you disguised as an inoffensive dog. But I can’t take the risk of another casualty on this quest. I’m sorry, Mary, but we must approach this cautiously."
"Very well then," said Mary in a vaguely hurt tone. "I suppose I should go back to sleep then."
She trotted out of the room. Arthur watched her go, briefly considering following her. Finally he sighed and turned back to his reading, his eyes slowly closing as tiredness set in.
* * *
Mary settled down to go to sleep, but found that task even more difficult than before. Images tumbled through her mind as she dozed. She remembered the Angurboda Figurine as she saw it in Rivencroft, and her first full day as a wolf. She had hated it then, but as time had gone by she had begun to feel differently. She still disliked her wolf form, and tried to sleep during the day when she could, but at the same time her senses were sharper and her instincts were different. She considered her encounter with the Fenris-wolf a few months prior and sighed. She knew Arthur was trying to make the best decision for her, but he did not understand how she felt.
The Fenris-wolf had done terrible things, but she felt deep down some kind of common kinship with it. The question that the Unseelie ally had posed was why she turned into a wolf like himself during the day, rather than a being resembling Hel or Jormungand.
She realised that her eyes were open and she closed them, trying to block the thoughts out. But she could not escape her mind’s eye: somewhere out there was a creature that she might be able to help. Finally, her pulse racing, she got up.
Arthur was dozing in his chair as he studied the papers, while Merlin was asleep in bed. Griff was a stone statue for the day. Mary crept to the side of the house, reached onto her hind legs and pushed the latch open. She felt a twinge of guilt suddenly: she was Arthur’s squire after all, and he had expressly forbidden it.
But then, Arthur had always taught her to follow her instincts and judgment in what is right. This was hardly a situation as extreme as Arthur’s defiance of the White Knight. The door slid open quietly, but Arthur still dozed. She slipped out and broke into a trot as she rushed through the grass, surprised herself by how easily she was able to slip through a gap in the fence, and then sat in the long grass for a while, assessing her position.
Mary had spied out the surrounding land the previous evening. The grass would provide cover for sneaking around lower down. Once she was on the hillsides, she would be able to move quickly enough to avoid being seen. She paused to look down the road and smell the air. There was no sign of anyone. She broke into a dash.
She soon reached the area where the sheep had been killed the previous night. The ground stank of blood still, and with her heightened sense of smell, Mary found herself feeling quite sick. She reflected that she should be thankful that she felt no urge to eat like a wolf, even though she looked like one during the day.
Some tracks on the distance caught her eye. She made for them.
The scent again - not blood, but something else. "It’s a wolf," she mused. "But it doesn’t smell quite right. I suppose I haven’t encountered many wolves before, apart from Geri and Freki on Avalon… and Fenris of course."
She followed the tracks until they were lost, and continued following the scent. It brought her round in a circle. The creature had clearly been wandering around the outlying farm areas. She hesitated as she realised that she had done a quarter circle of the village and was passing by the house of one of the local sheep-ranchers. She suspected that the tracks led across the land and towards a nearby copse. She paused and looked around. She could hear no activity. She wished that she was downwind of the house all the same. But there was no going back.
"Now for it," she muttered. "I’d best not be seen."
Luckily, Mary was quicker as a wolf than as a human and dashed startlingly fast towards the copse. Once there, she could hide out until night came and return to Arthur while there was still some light left. If she cut through the village, it would not be not far from the copse to the old farm house. Mary leapt across a small pit on the hillside that looked as though it had been blasted away by some considerable force, and—
A shot rang through the air. Mary felt a spasm of pain as a bullet tore past her front right paw. She fell to the ground, holding it up in pain. But there was no time for that - she could hear the sound of the farmer giving chase. She disappeared into the long grass, glad that her colouring would be hard to make out against the grassland in the dawn hues, wincing in agony as her bloodied foot touched the ground.
* * *
By the time Mark had caught up to where he had shot the wolf, he realised that his prey had long gone and all that remained was the occasional trail of blood - apparently it was bleeding. He looked around but the trail was not easy to pick up and it took him several moments to follow the paw-marks.
"What’s going on?" said Jill, emerging from the barn. "I heard a shot…"
"I got the wolf - injured it, I think. But it got away. Looks like it’s making for the road."
Jill observed the traces of blood on the ground. "Odd – these prints are smaller than the ones we came across earlier. But again they lead to the circular road… the road that leads back to the travellers’ house."
Jill and Mark shared a look.
"I’ll reload the gun," said Mark. "I just hope the thing doesn’t stop bleeding before we find out where it’s skulking. What a shame the sun is nearly down and it will be hard to trace."
* * *
Griff closed the curtains to the window, as the last traces of a dull redness faded from the rim of the horizon.
"It could have been worse," he said cheerfully, turning back to his allies.
Mary was seated in a wooden chair by a table decked with the odds and ends from the First Aid kit that they had packed the previous January, and had since supplemented with various items in Spain and America. She looked irritable. Arthur inspected the wound carefully, while Merlin hovered nearby to watch.
"At least it wasn’t a silver bullet," the wizard commented as he reached over to help Arthur fix the bandages. "That really would have been fatal. But honestly, Mary, what were you thinking?"
"I thought I could solve the mystery of these sheep killings! After all, we’re supposed to be on a Grail quest doing good, not skulking in a corner while - ow!!"
"That’s easy to say when you haven’t had a bullet blasted through your hand."
"It’s not as dramatic as all that. There’s some bleeding but-"
"Not that dramatic?" she said incredulously, wincing again with pain. She looked about to give Merlin a piece of her mind when Arthur intervened sternly.
"Enough!" he said, in a louder voice than was strictly necessary.
Merlin and Mary looked up guiltily, mumbling their apologies. Griff looked up from the corner, where he had returned to poring over a number of maps showing travel routes. He winked at Mary behind Arthur’s back.
Arthur continued. "It is an unfortunate wound, Mary, and all the more unfortunate as it means that you will be identified with the true culprit while you are in wolf form. I must admit that I am very disappointed in your decision to defy me."
"I’m sorry, Arthur, I just thought—"
"I gave you a direct and clear order, Mary. There is more to knighthood than prestige. It is a military operation and while I always encouraged my knights to fight for what they believed was right, order must be kept – especially when it comes to those who lack the experience to exercise discretion, such as yourself."
Mary’s face reddened slightly. "But I’ve been good enough to come along on this Grail quest, and I’ve tried to help and pitch in. I don’t really see how this is any different from you risking being revealed to the public every time you used to go into London during your stint as a wanted fugitive."
"That is quite a different matter," said Arthur irritably.
"Mary, you are a girl in my charge. You swore to do as commanded by me—"
"I swore to do as commanded and needed, Arthur. I’m sorry I went against you, and I swear it won’t happen again, but I really think I may have found a lead to help these villagers. I’m sure that given enough time I can track the real culprit down. And yes, I risked my life, but I’ve done that dozens of times before now."
"And we are lucky to have survived unscathed. But that is no reason to take foolish risks!"
Mary did not respond, but looked away. Her face was red with a mix of shame, guilt and anger.
Arthur noticed her reaction and said in a softer voice, "We shall discuss this later, when I have had more time to reflect on the matter. It is nearing the end of the night in London and I wish to find out what progress they have made on our transportation concerns. I assumed getting shot in the hand was punishment enough but perhaps—"
There was a knock on the door.
"Quick!" hissed Merlin. "It might be the landlord. Griff, you had best get out of sight."
"Yes, but what if they want to come all the way in?" said Griff. "You can see into all the rooms from the hall, and there’s nowhere I can hide very easily."
There was another knock on the door.
"You can get to the barn through the kitchen," said Arthur, pointing the adjacent room. "Go now, and I shall see who it is."
He crossed to the hall to open it. On the porch were two farmers – a woman with shoulder-length hair and weary-looking eyes, and a man with a round face and a nervous look. The man had a gun in his hand.
"Mark and Jill Clark," the man introduced himself and his companion. "Sorry to bother you, I just wondered if by any chance you’ve seen a wolf this afternoon? One has been after our sheep, I’m sure you’ve heard, I got a shot at one this afternoon. It came down this way but we lost the trail."
"I’m afraid that I have seen no such thing. We have been inside for the entire day. If I can help in any way, however, I will most certainly be of service."
"I see," said the crestfallen Mark. "Well, thank you. We’d best be going, I suppose."
"Bad injury there," said Jill suddenly, having seen past Arthur towards the opposite room where Mary was holding her hand in a bandage.
Mary stuttered. The bandaging kit was still sprawled on the table. "It was a, um, splinter. I tripped in the barn and it went through my hand."
"I see," said Jill. "Well, I hope you get better soon. We don’t really have a proper doctor in the village, but you should really get it seen to."
"That won’t be necessary," said Arthur.
"Well, unless you’re a trained doctor, someone ought to examine it. Perhaps I should take a look for you, I’ve dealt with splinters and suchlike in the past."
"I thank you for your kind offer, my lady, but in truth it is not as bad as it seems. We have cleaned and treated the wound."
Jill nodded and after a tense moment stepped away from the porch. "Well then, okay. We’re sorry to disturb you. We should get back to tracking that wolf."
"I wish you every success. Goodbye."
He shut the door, and glanced back at his friends.
"That didn’t go well," sighed Merlin. "Not well at all."
"Yes," said Arthur, looking worriedly at Mary. She did not look back at him but blushed deeply.
* * *
"It doesn’t prove anything, Jill," said Mark as they continued down the road. "And what were you doing sticking your nose into those folks' business?"
"So I’m Miss Nose of Canada, why are you so surprised?"
"Really, those poor folks are minding their own business. It’s not happening again, Jill. It’s not!"
"Oh, wake up, Mark, you dozy twit! The girl was obviously lying - a splinter indeed. The bandage kit was fresh, the blood led right past their gate. Add in the fact that they appeared only days after the wolf started preying on our sheep, not to mention the fact that the girl is never seen in daylight. Does that say anything to you?"
"Not unless she’s some kind of werewolf-"
"Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me…"
"Not in the slightest. Think about it - after all those crazy goings on last summer, the big winter, the reports of strange creatures. Plus, those tracks are too big for a normal wolf."
"But I shot a normal wolf!"
"Well maybe she can change size! They said the same thing about gargoyles being just tales and legends before the Yanks discovered them. And what about those creatures that passed through here last year? Were they ‘possible’?"
"But… but even if it were true... even if werewolves weren’t make-believe… there’s still something wrong. If she was one then she would appear as a human only in daylight, not only after dark."
"Well, unless you’ve encountered one before now, maybe we’d better not take too many things for granted."
"No, it’s not happening again," Mark said, choking up as he remembered the night in question. The demons had come and gone in a few minutes, but the memory lingered and the hills were still marked by craters. "It’s not!" he added, emphatically.
"Mark, stop living in denial. I tell you, there’s something very suspicious about those travellers. Why did they take so long to answer the door - we could hear them shuffling about in there. They must have been trying to hide something."
"So what are you going to do? Elbow your way in there and accuse them of werewolf harbouring?"
"I don’t know," admitted Jill. "But I’m going to think of something. There’s something else, though. You’re right about that Arthur character looking familiar."
"Yes… do you remember that incident at Buckingham Palace last autumn? At the time the press started circulating these wild stories that King Arthur may have arisen – playing off fear of all these magical goings-on of late. Well, that man looked awfully like him."
"King Arthur is going around with werewolves?"
"At one stage he was identified with a terrorist conspiracy, if I recall."
"Well, shouldn’t we tell someone?"
"Maybe, but I don’t want him to come looking for us in revenge. And he’s not done anything wrong, technically, although I wonder about the legality of his stay in Canada. How did he get into the country without being noticed? And anyway, the media and police ignored us when we were attacked by those monsters last May as they passed through here. I hardly think they’re likely to believe us now. No, we need to plan our next move carefully. There’s more to this than meets the eye."
* * * * *
Later that Night
Arthur and Griff walked slowly up the hillside. The summer breeze was still quite warm, but they still felt deeply on edge knowing that there was a predator in the dark. It took them a while, even with Mary’s instructions, to locate any clues that could help them follow the path. They eventually came to a large patch of the ground that was reddened. Arthur shook his head sadly, but Griff had already turned aside to look at something else.
"Look, this is a print it must have left," the gargoyle said.
"These prints can’t belong to a wolf," Arthur said. "They’re far too large."
Griff nodded. "Maybe some kind of wolf creature, like the Fenris-wolf? Could the Fenris-wolf himself have escaped from his confinement at the South Pole after our last encounter with him?"
"I doubt it," said Arthur. "He had been secured there for long before our battle a few months ago."
There was a pause as they looked around further, studying the site for any clues to the identity of this mysterious predator.
"It hardly seems that long since we were there," said Griff quietly.
"I know," sighed Arthur. "We have travelled across South America, through North America. If New Zealand is our next destination, we shall have travelled across six continents in the space of six months - but how much longer can Merlin survive? He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell that he is in pain."
"I know. But that’s all the more reason to solve the problem here and get on with the Grail quest."
A howl pierced the night air. Arthur and Griff turned on their feet and after quickly ascertaining the direction it came from, chased towards it.
In a nearby valley they saw the shuffling shape of the wolf creature. Griff leapt into the air, gliding down as quickly as he could. The creature turned instinctively and ducked in time. Arthur cast his torch to the ground and drew Excalibur. As he held it in the air and silently willed it, the sword began to glow brightly, illuminating the valley. Luckily, Arthur thought briefly, they were on the opposite side of the hill from any of the local houses and thus the light was unlikely to attract any unwanted attention.
The king charged down with his glowing sword to where Griff and the wolf creature were struggling violently.
The wolf creature writhed and roared as the gargoyle flayed its arms to contain it. Griff was overpowered, however, and went tumbling down the hillside as the wolf creature flipped him over his head with a tremendous burst of strength.
* * *
The gargoyle crashed to the ground, mud splashing down his wings. He rolled onto his front, eyes ablaze with adrenaline and claws clutching against the ground ready to dash forward once more. Arthur swung his sword at the wolf creature, or, Griff considered, more like a wolf man. He was at least as large as an average human, very thickly built and with features that were a strange blend of humanoid and lupine. He wished he could get a closer look, but between the creature’s tremendous speed and Excalibur’s dazzling light, he could barely follow the battle.
"Stand back, monster! Trouble these people no longer!" Arthur shouted.
The creature finally leapt low onto Arthur; Arthur struck it with the flat of his sword. The wolf creature snarled with pain before turning and fleeing into the distance as Arthur lost his balance and fell into a ditch.
Griff helped the Once and Future King to his feet.
"Well, at least we know who the culprit is," the gargoyle said. "The question that remains, though, is - what is he?"
Arthur sheathed Excalibur. "I do not know, but he was a powerful opponent indeed. At any rate, I fear we cannot do more for the moment. It will be dawn soon and it would be best that we find somewhere for you to shelter during the day while I continue to track the creature with the aid of daylight."
They made their way to some nearby thickets and waited for the sun to rise. Arthur slept briefly by the thickets where Griff was hiding. He did not want to return to the house and leave Griff unprotected. Eventually, he decided to get up and do some scouting while the sun was out, although he never let the thicket out of his sight.
* * *
Merlin looked at his watch uneasily. Mary was dozing quietly and Arthur and Griff were still not back. A sudden spasm of pain passed through his body and he winced. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. He got up slowly, taking his walking cane from the side of the bed. He crossed to the bathroom slowly, and then stood, hands pressed against the rim of the sink to steady himself as he stared into the mirror.
He looked quite surprised. It had been a long time since he had been able to study his reflection. His hair was now streaked with grey, his skin was clammy and his eyes were bloodshot. Another spasm passed through his legs and he fell briefly to the floor. He cursed himself miserably. Briefly, he considered using magic to bring himself upright.
"A little wouldn’t hurt," he muttered, but sighed and decided against it. He stretched out to get his cane, which had fallen a few feet away from him, and tried to steady himself.
He heard Mary yawning. He panicked, and scrambled to his feet. He had just raised himself when Mary’s grey head appeared at the living room door.
"Oh, hello, Merlin," she said.
"Hi," he said, trying to regain his composure. "Sleep well?"
"Not bad, but I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable with my paw as it is."
"Yes. It should heal in time, at least – you have that to be thankful for. Although I fear that the news yesterday of your injury has created some suspicion on the locality. Still, hopefully we’ll manage to be away before can come of it. After all, not many people believe in werewolves… or wizards for that matter."
"Be that as it may," she said, "I don’t like it one bit. I hope we don’t have to stay here much longer."
Merlin tutted irritably. "You’re the one that decided to go out and solve the mystery, and now you want to run away from it!"
"I didn’t say I wanted to run away from it, I just want the issue solved and us on our way, that’s all."
There was another knock on the door. Mary started.
"Oh, no… it’s probably them again," she said. "Do you think we could ignore it?"
"It will look even more suspicious if we do – they can probably see the lights on in the inside room. Still, to be on the safe side, I suggest you go through to the barn via the kitchen exit. If anyone asks, I’ll say that you’ve gone to bed or something."
"In the middle of the afternoon?"
"Well you didn’t get much sleep with your injured paw-er, hand, did you?"
"Be careful," she said, before disappearing through the kitchen doorway.
"I hardly think they’re going to bite, at least," he muttered, making his way to the front door.
As he expected, Jill was standing on the porch. "Sorry to bother you again," she said. "But I couldn’t help being concerned about that young girl there. Her hand looked dreadful yesterday."
Merlin nodded. "I wouldn’t worry about her, she’s fine."
"She was very pale."
"Well, we don’t get much sun in England."
"Really? It’s funny, you and your guardian seem to have been in the sun quite a bit!" The comment was in a gentle but matter-of-fact tone. Merlin shifted uncomfortably, his cane scraping obtrusively against the floorboards as he moved to steady himself.
"Well, look, I’m afraid Mary’s asleep right now, so…"
"Could I not speak to your guardian then? Arthur, isn’t it?"
"He’s not in."
"Not in? Oh, now that is a pity. I didn’t know that he would be doing any touring while he was here. Not that there is much to tour around here, of course."
"Well, look, you’ll have to come back tomorrow."
"I don’t suppose I could wait for him? After all, Mary might wake up in the meantime and I could see how her wound is coming along. In any case, I really do need to talk to your guardian."
"Uh, no, I don’t think so. He might not be back for quite a while."
"I see. Well, that is his business, naturally. I’m sure he’s busy enough doing whatever it is he’s doing."
Merlin opened his mouth to try and muster an explanation, but Jill, evidently feeling that she had gained as much truth as she was going to get out of the boy, quickly thanked him and departed. The teenager frowned and went into the house and through the kitchen door. He crossed the gravel track to the barn and looked inside.
"Is she gone?" asked Mary.
"Yes, but I didn’t much like the sorts of questions she was asking. I think I should Arthur should know of this as soon as possible."
"I… I don’t know if he’ll be too pleased with me going out again."
"Of course not!" exclaimed Merlin. "Don’t be absurd. I’ll go."
"But will you be all right? Walking I mean? I know you’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to get about just lately."
For a moment, Merlin looked as though he was about to deny it, but realised that there was little point. "Well I’ll just have to manage - it shouldn’t be far. I won’t be too long, and anyway, a good walk will be good for me. I need to keep fit. And besides, you can’t go after all the kafuffle yesterday, can you?"
"Well, I suppose not."
"Arthur’s probably pretty fed up with wolf tracking by now. I’ll take him a drink and some food while I’m about it."
Merlin’s tone was curt, and although Mary looked as though she might respond further, in the end she simply nodded glumly.
* * *
The afternoon passed and Mary tried to curl up and sleep, but she found herself feeling distinctly uncomfortable. When she closed her eyes, images of Merlin collapsed somewhere on the hillside, unable to get up, kept flashing into her head. She decided to get a glimpse from the window to see if she could see Arthur and Merlin returning. She approached a chair under the window, and raised her nose to part the thin slit of the curtains that were open.
Her heart leapt into her throat as she saw Jill Clark peering back in. Both gave a startled and astonished cry.
Mary leapt down from the window but realised the game was up. Her mind raced. She knew that the back door was open - Merlin had left it that way in case of an emergency, and this was certainly one. She ran through it as fast as she could, spasms of pain passing up her injured paw. Jill saw her escape and shouted to Mark who followed. Mary did not need to look back, as she could tell from their shouts how near or far they were: too near.
Jill had nearly crossed the field towards Mary now, and had begun shouting for Mark, but Mary doubled back. Jill was only thrown off for a second as she saw the fleeing figure of the wolf in the grass. As Mary vaulted the fence, she soon realised that she had made a mistake. She was heading towards the village - and the sun was beginning to set.
There was no alternative direction now. Mark and Jill were in close pursuit. She made along the road until she neared Dave’s diner. She saw with horror that the locals were emerging from their houses out at the sound of all the shouting, guns cocked.
She looked around desperately but knew that there was not long left now until she reverted to human form, and confirmed the farmers’ suspicions.
* * *
"Merlin!" cried Arthur in surprise as he saw the fair-haired teenager walking slowly up the hillside towards him. He rushed down to meet him.
"What on earth are you doing here - you should be resting!"
"Yes, but I think you should return to the farmhouse. The farmer from yesterday, Jill Clark, came back and asked some very awkward questions. I haven’t said as much to Mary, but I think it would be wise to get out of the village, Arthur; we have our transport directions now after all."
"I’m not sure, Merlin. Griff and I encountered the wolf-man ourselves last night. We battled briefly but it escaped. I am sure we can apprehend the creature given time - and if we do not, then these farmers are at its mercy. Besides which, I don’t much like the idea of camping out with a creature like that on the prowl."
Merlin sighed. "What did it look like? Was it a werewolf? A traditional kind, I mean?"
"Maybe. It was a very large creature but it seemed humanoid as much as wolf-like. I’m sorry to say I did not get a chance in the heat of battle to look at it too closely."
"Well, it’s your decision but we can camp out for a few nights while we solve the mystery of the wolf-man if we must. I just hope that Mary is safe."
He glanced at the setting sun.
* * *
Mary scrambled under a hedge and tried to dart across the field. The farmers chased around it, but with her wounded paw, Mary found herself unable to take advantage of the brief lead she had gained. Her sharp wolf teeth were clenched together in her snout, trying to move forward despite the agony.
Her legs buckled briefly and she found herself sprawling on the ground. She saw a farmer behind her, silhouetted against the cloud-streaked orange sky behind the hedge. He raised his gun. She felt a lump in her throat.
With a bound, she leapt away. Another shot brushed so close to her that she felt the wind whizzing by her ear where it passed. The bullet embedded in a fence picket nearby and it splintered with a loud crack.
Struggling, she tried to continue but suddenly a new sensation joined the pain of her foot. Her whole body was beginning to swell and her nerves tingle in an all-too-familiar way. She doubled over and felt the pain of her body as it metamorphosed. Behind her, she heard her pursuers gasp in astonishment. In moments, she was in human form once again.
She looked up to see a group of the villagers gathering around, shouting as they followed the sounds of the shots. Some had guns in their hands, others had picked up other weapons.
"It’s the vampire girl," shouted one person as she recognised Mary.
"It’s a real werewolf!" said another.
"It doesn’t matter what it is, we’ll teach it not to kill our sheep!"
"No," pleaded Mary. "Listen, n-no! I can explain. I didn’t kill your sheep, I just have this curse-"
One of the farmers raised his gun to shoot. "It’s some kind of monster! Kill it!"
"No!" shouted another.
"Thank you!" said Mary, relieved. "You see I’m a human-"
But the farmer continued: "I’ve heard of this sort of thing before. You need to burn werewolves or they return from the dead as vampires!"
Jill glanced across at him dubiously. "Rufus, are you sure?"
"Burnt things can’t put themselves together!" shouted Mark, shrugging.
"Let’s catch her first, and argue later," shouted Jill.
"Burn it!" several cried, all the same; and the call was echoed across the group.
Mary blanched and turned to run. Her mouth was dry with fear, but as the adrenaline surged through her she hardly felt all the bruises that she had sustained from her training, and every jolt of pain from her hand. Blindly, desperately, she charged forward, screaming at the top of her lungs.
The farmers gave chase, moving in a group, shouting abuse at her as she ran ahead. Several of the farmers grabbed planks of wood from a half-built hencoop. Someone threw petroleum onto it and another had a match to set the wood ablaze. They grabbed them as torches, charging down the streets to where others in their number had forced the weary Mary to double back. She was caught between them.
"Burn it!" one cried.
Mary blanched as she saw the mob advance, the individuals seeming to have faded into one mass. The fear and worry of the villagers had turned into pure anger and in an instant of horrified knowledge she realised that there was no escape route left to her.
* * *
In the distance, Arthur and Merlin heard a gunshot.
"What’s that?" said Merlin warily. "It might be…"
Arthur interrupted him, his fears identical. "Wait here. Tell Griff what’s happened, and have him retrieve our items from the house. I’ll go now…"
Merlin looked helpless as Arthur rushed off. And he felt even more helpless as a terrified scream echoed from the air. His eyes widened.
"Arthur won’t make it," he muttered, and cast his walking stick away, while standing as tall as he could. "It’s down to me."
He held his hands up to the air and began muttering in an ancient Welsh dialect. Almost instantly, he felt power surge through his body. A spasm of pain passed up his spine and he felt his head pounding, but he gritted his teeth. Out of his body a brilliant cyan light began to shine. Electricity crackled down his back out of his eyes and ears. In seconds, he was hovering in the air. In another few moments, he was speeding down the side of the mountain towards the village.
* * *
As Arthur sprinted, he noticed a blue streak flashing past him, glowing with electric energy. He opened his mouth with horror and bellowed.
But there was no way the wizard could hear. Arthur continued sprinting, but knew that he could not make it in time. Suddenly, he heard the flapping of wings behind him. He barely had time to look around before two taloned hands grabbed him under the shoulders and lifted him into flight.
"I saw it, Arthur," said Griff as they took to the air. "The wolf-man is about! We may be able to capture him!"
"I saw… but perhaps if we capture the wolf-man, we can negotiate with the villagers."
"It’s worth a shot, I suppose," said Arthur. "But we must act fast!"
* * *
Mary panted as she reached the edge of the path, but she stumbled and collapsed onto the ground. She looked back - the mob were about to close in.
"Get the wolf girl!" shouted one.
"Burn it!" another shouted.
Mary tried to explain but her voice was drowned out. The world around her was a haze of fire.
And then she saw something behind them. Several farmers leapt aside as Merlin exploded before them, electricity crackling from his body and his eyes a burning cyan colour. The farmers shrank back in horror. Gone was the sickly youth they had seen before: his hair crackled on its ends, his eyes and even his pupils were an unnatural cyan and his voice was deeper, struggling for words as he surged with power. He raised his fingers, tipped with fizzles of electric light:
"Back! Back, I say! Trouble this girl no more!"
Mary’s heart leapt to her throat in horror as she realised what Merlin had done.
"They’re demons!" cried one farmer, raising his gun to fire.
The bullet shot towards Merlin, but slowed and stopped just in front of his chest. Merlin gave a flick of his wrist and the bullet flew back into one of the burning torches, which split. Fire began to spread along the grass. The mob divided, screaming with anger and terror in equal measure. Merlin raised his hands towards them and the rest of their guns and weapons shattered into pieces, shards of wood and steel shooting out in all directions.
"Flee as you value your lives!" shouted Merlin. "Or else you shall face my wrath!"
"Listen to my boyfriend!" Mary said, desperately trying to back Merlin up. "Or else he’ll cast a spell on you! He’ll turn you all into toads or… or something!"
But Merlin suddenly cried out with a spasm of pain. The electric energy that surrounded him lessened and he fell to the ground.
"Look! He’s weakening! We can still beat them!" shouted Jill.
Merlin took a deep breath and shouted a Welsh spell. A wall of energy appeared before the farmers and they were forced back for a moment. Merlin clutched Mary, who helped him to safety. They rushed as fast as they could down the road.
The farmers were not held off long however - they soon realised that the fizzling aura of energy that formed the barrier was dispersing and soon they filtered through to give chase again.
* * *
Arthur wrested himself from Griff’s hands even though they were some way from the ground. Beneath him, he saw the wolf-man, clawing along on all fours as he approached the grazing sheep. Arthur gave a cry of utter fury as he plummeted down with Excalibur drawn.
The wolf-man was caught almost totally by surprise, barely able to flinch before Arthur collided into him. He gave a growl, but Arthur threw his fist at the creature’s mouth, and then thrust with his sword. The monster rolled away in time to dodge and gathering its strength launched at Arthur – until Griff swooped in with a powerful blow to the head that sent it scurrying back.
"Halt, creature!" shouted Arthur. "I am Arthur Pendragon, and I command you to stand down or face death!"
But the creature looked almost amused by this as he gave a feral growl. They glimpsed it properly for the first time in the twilight: monstrous, savage, but definitely humanoid. It even wore clothes, albeit torn ones that were stained with mud and blood.
The wolf did not stand down. Instead, it leapt at the Once and Future King with a ferocious snarl. This time Arthur was ready and whirled about as his assailant leapt forward. The wolf-man was unbalanced long enough for Griff to throw a punch to the head that knocked it out.
"We’ve got it!" said Griff.
"Yes - and because of its gluttony Mary and Merlin may lose their lives!"
He raised Excalibur above his head to strike it a final time. "Die, monster!"
Griff shot an arm out in front of Arthur’s raised hand, clutching the sword arm as it fell. "Arthur, wait! Think about this!"
"The creature should die for its crimes!" Arthur shouted lividly, the veins on his head marked with rage.
"It’s dazed, Arthur - and it is human, or at least partly. We cannot just kill it while it is helpless, even if it is a monster now. What would Mary say? Killing a wolf... killing a man in cold blood. You know how she looks up to you. And what about your decision in the kingdom of the White Knight? Your refusal to be like Mordred, ruthless and merciless? Did those mean nothing?"
Arthur’s face blackened, but he nodded ruefully. "You’re right, of course. I let my rage cloud my senses and nearly made a very terrible mistake. My thanks, Sir Griff."
"Lucy might call me a regular Jiminy Cricket," Griff replied.
Angrily, Arthur gave a sharp kick at the creature as it began to stir, and then reached into his pocket for a length of rope. He quickly started binding its legs and hands together.
"If we show him to the villagers perhaps we can persuade them of Mary’s innocence. But we must make haste before Merlin’s magic fails him…"
* * *
Mary smashed through the window of an abandoned house with a loose brick, and ushered Merlin through before climbing in herself, pinpricks of blood forming on her hand where she was cut on the glass. Merlin staggered a few steps from the window. The electric energy that had surrounded him finally dissipated. He collapsed to the floor and began to quiver and shake. He entered a violent convulsion, his face turning blue and his body writhing involuntarily.
An old settee was in the room, evidently left by the previous inhabitants. Mary rushed to it, and pushed it across the floor, and then with a struggle managed to lean it on its side against the window. Then she rushed to Merlin, rolling him into the recovery position and removing her jumper to place under his head. She felt as though she wanted to cry or shout at Merlin for his use of magic but she was too numb to do either of those things. She stared in horror at the wizard, his hair now greyer than ever. His convulsion showed no signs of stopping.
"Merlin!" sobbed Mary, as the wizard continued to convulse on the floor. "Snap out of it - we’ve got to move!"
There was a pounding at the door as the farmers began to kick it in. Mary looked around to find a weapon. She rushed into the kitchen, opening all the drawers – but they were empty. The settee was forced forward, falling with a thud to the floor. One of the farmers tried to climb in.
Mary grabbed the brick she had used to break the window and hurled it with a furious scream towards the man. He pulled his head back as it hit the opposite wall. An axe smashed the upper part of the front door open and a head poked through.
"Go away!" she screeched. "We don’t mean you any harm! We didn’t kill your sheep! Go away!"
"You’re monsters, both of you!" came Jill’s voice outside. "We won’t have monsters terrorising our village again! We’ll do whatever it takes to protect ourselves!"
Mary grabbed the convulsing Merlin and dragged him into the back room, bruised as she did so by his arm that shot up onto her chin. As she entered the doorway of another room, she looked back. The brick she had used before was too far to reach and another man had nearly climbed through the window space. The front door burst open in a shower of wooden splinters as the axe hit it.
She looked into this new room and saw a rickety old bed there, without any mattress. She kicked one of the boards at the bottom as powerfully as she could and it smashed off. She hit it again and the other side broke. She picked up the board and rushed to the doorway.
Wielding the plank as much like a stave as she could, she thrust out at Mark, who had rushed towards the door. She pulled back momentarily, and as he prepared to lunge, shot a low blow towards his legs that caused him to trip in the middle of the doorway. Rufus lunged in behind, but Mary brought the flat of the plank of wood down onto his head sharply. The wood splintered, but Rufus was dazed and for a moment the mob was quite unable to enter.
Mary felt the blood rushing to her cheeks as she desperately looked around for another weapon. But it was too late. The assailants rushed in and she found herself grabbed forcibly by her arms, hair and legs, and dragged away.
"Merlin!" she screamed, but she lost track of the wizard as she was dragged out of the house and thrown on the ground.
"Burn her!" someone shouted.
A flaming torch was brought to the door, and Merlin was thrown roughly next to her. He had ceased convulsing, but was not moving either. Mary desperately tried to look around to see if he was still breathing.
"You attacked our flock and your friend tried to attack us," shouted Jill as she raised the flaming torch above her head.
"Please don’t," said Mary. "We’re innocent. We mean you no harm."
Jane hesitated for a moment as she looked at the pair. The torch was hot in her hand and the cries of "burn them!" from the mob were heavy in her ears. She took a step forward and looked about to make a move when something else dropped from the sky, hitting the ground between her and the teenagers with an enormous thud. When she realised what was lying in front of her, she – and the rest of the mob – gave cries of surprise.
"It’s a wolf man!" one of the farmers cried.
And indeed it was. Although the size of a large man with enormous muscles, its body was covered in thick grey fur, its snout shorter than a normal wolf’s but still exposing sharp teeth.
Jill stopped, quite perplexed. She looked briefly up at the sky but could not see where the creature had come from.
"I have delivered your perpetrator!" bellowed a voice from behind them.
The crowd parted in confusion as Arthur strode past them, holding Excalibur aloft, lit with the intensity of thirty torches.
"I have caught the monster you were searching for. We found this feral thing wandering the valleys. Could my squire, who you were ready to burn alive for her unfortunate but harmless condition, have done the damages to your flock that this thing could make? This is no ordinary wolf but a wolf-man – a beast."
As he finished speaking, he lowered his sword and sheathed it. The light faded. He looked at the crowd before him and his air was no longer of a weary traveler, but of a former king. As he stared at them, they turned away and for a moment Mary – looking up groggily from the ground – dared to hope that they had a chance of surviving.
"So you say," said Jill. "But that girl is a wolf by day and that boy unleashed all sorts of magics upon us."
"But none, madam, that caused you any harm, I am sure. He acted in self-defence to protect his girlfriend from being burnt alive as you were planning. I am sure that you can understand that."
"I don’t understand any of it. For all I know you unleashed the wolf-man upon us!"
Arthur did not respond immediately but held her gaze. The mob watched intently to see his response.
"I assure you, madam," the king replied politely. "I did no such thing. I apprehended this wolf man. Now, kindly free my squire and ward. They mean you no harm and have tried to assist in tracking this creature with what abilities they have. They are not normal beings, but they are under my protection. If you wish to murder them, I must insist that you murder me too. And I would take it very much amiss if you tried."
Jill glanced at the villagers, but they seemed content to let her speak for them.
"Your… squire and ward used magic of some sort. How can we know it is safe to let them go? Who are you anyway to come here threatening us at sword-point?"
"I am King Arthur, milady. Arthur Pendragon who long ago ruled Britain and has returned from the island of Avalon and once again help the world as I may."
"He came back as a vampire too!" one person shouted, but others in the crowd hushed him.
Indeed, the entire tone of the crowd had changed at Arthur’s voice. He was gentle yet firm, spoke powerfully and yet without intimidation.
"Where is the fourth person in your company?" asked Jill suspiciously. "There was a large man with you when you came. What of him?"
Momentarily, Arthur hesitated, but then he heard a flutter of wings and a figure dropped from the rooftop.
"I am not a man," said Griff clearly, though unthreateningly. He spread his wings. "I am a gargoyle – and I mean you no harm."
The crowd once again reacted with shock, but Arthur turned so that he faced them, shielding Griff, Merlin and Mary. He sheathed Excalibur and held out empty hands.
"Please!" he shouted. "We come in peace."
Jill shook her head, the spell of Arthur’s presence having been lost. Her eyes narrowed and she began to piece things together in her head.
"The gargoyles in New York first emerged at the scene of a terrorist attack. The news then thought they were animals and on balance probably had no connection to the attacks. But you were a renowned English terrorist – Arthur Pennington, the Connection! Do you deny that?"
"I was accused of that crime, I admit," said Arthur. "But it was only an imposter. When I learnt of the treachery, I rushed to Buckingham Palace and managed to stop his plan to assassinate the Queen."
"Funny though, isn’t it, that where you are, or where gargoyles are, disasters strike?"
"And would you rather I cowered from the world than stand up to fight against the darkness?"
Jill turned to the mob and seemed about to call for an attack when the wolf man snapped the ropes holding his hands and lashed at Arthur. Arthur dodged the blow, but fell onto the ground. Excalibur was at his waist but he could not reach it as the creature, snarling with blind fury, leapt upon him. He rolled back and flicked the creature over. Griff leapt onto the wolf-man’s back and subdued it.
"You miserable runts!" the creature cried as Griff held his hands firmly behind his back. "I’ll rip you all to shreds if I haven’t swallowed you whole first!"
"I don’t know what kind of creature you are, but I’d shut up now if I were you," said Griff.
Arthur got to his feet and turned to Jill as the wolf-man stopped his abuse with a miserable grunt.
"I hope you see that we mean you no harm," Arthur said softly. "Sir Griff is a valiant knight in my service. My squire and my ward here are both very dear to me. We’re not enemies of your community."
Jill sighed. "Nothing that’s happened today makes much sense to me," she said. "But there’s something about you that… well, I don’t have much trust for anyone but I wonder if you might not be telling the truth after all. But if we let the children go free, you must promise to leave here and never return. Then give us the monster - as he is guilty, he shall be burnt for his crimes in the place of the girl."
"No!" said Arthur. "Although this man is monstrous, see, he is still a man. I would not have him harmed, even though he may deserve it. Trust my experience when I say that vengeance is a destructive force and killing this beast may bring more trouble into the future. Instead, let us put him before the law of the land where he can be dealt with - and perhaps even helped to move beyond his bestial state."
"The law around here never did anything for us," said Jill shaking her head.
"Well," replied Arthur with a quiet determination. "I think it’s time I acted to change that."
Jill smiled despite herself. "Even if you are not King Arthur, you seem… you seem more like a leader of men. It’s been a long time since anyone but us has come to help us with our worries and concerns. If you believe that there are people that can deal with this wretched beast without making murderers of the Yellow Oak people… maybe that’s not such a bad thing."
There were murmurs of discontent from the crowd.
"Perhaps," said Arthur, "it should be for the people of this fine village to decide – to kill, or to show mercy."
Jill looked quite surprised.
Arthur shouted to the crowd, "Let all those in favour of killing this wolf-man shout ‘aye!’ and make themselves known."
The people seemed stunned. They let their weapons slowly fall to the ground, and they looked around uncomfortably for the first person to say ‘aye!’ But although many looked as though they might, nobody did. There was a long moment of silence.
"Let all those in favour of showing mercy to this wolf-man, and leaving him in the custody of the proper authorities, shout ‘aye!’"
There was another pause for a few seconds, until Mark said, quietly, "Aye."
Jill joined in. "Aye."
"Aye!" came another voice.
And another, and another. Slowly, the crowd declared itself, one by one. As each new person agreed, their neighbours were challenged to speak differently. But none of them did. And within a minute, the entire group had declared their intent to spare the wolf-man.
"You show great mercy," said Arthur, nodding.
"Where is he to be taken?" asked Jill.
Arthur opened his mouth to speak when one of the crowd gave a startled shout, pointing towards the sky. The group looked up in shock as a large hovercraft lowered over the village. A hole in its underside revealed a doorway that was illuminated by electric light. A metal net shot down from the inside of the craft, covered the wolf-man, and in moments was dragging him upwards.
"Oh no you don’t!" shouted Griff, struggling to hold onto the creature, but a shot from above blasted into him, and he fell to the ground with a cry of pain.
"Griff!" shouted Arthur as the gargoyle fell onto the ground.
"I’ll be okay," he said, opening his wing to reveal a hole that had burnt through it. "That will heal, I hope."
The wolf-man was pulled into the hovercraft and the door underneath closed. The craft rose into the sky and disappeared into the night.
* * *
Aboard the hovercraft, Jackal fixed the wolf-man with a wry grin as he set a course for New York. "You always knew how to find trouble, Wolf!" he said.
"Can it, sparky," Wolf growled as he struggled to disentangle himself from the metal netting.
* * *
"What… on earth… is going on tonight?" Jill asked.
"It’s aliens!" cried Rufus.
"Not aliens," said Arthur. "But enemies, I fear. There are many evils in the world."
"How do we know that allies of yours didn’t do that?" asked Mark suspiciously.
"Well, if they did, I wish they’d cool it with the laser weapons," said Griff, rubbing his wing.
Jill sighed. "This is all so strange. Werewolves and magicians and monsters and long-forgotten kings. I never used to believe any of this, and now you’re telling me it’s true?"
"But that’s why the world’s got us," said Griff. "Travelling, helping people, trying to do good. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but… well, we’re trying. And here we are."
"Yes," said Arthur. "And now that I have returned, I will be here to protect all those that deserve it. Every day I learn more about the modern world, and every day I shall come a step closer to finding my place in it."
"But you’ll be off on your travels soon. How can we protect ourselves?" said Jill.
"There is no easy way to protect ourselves and those we love from harm. There are dangers all around us. But by looking out for one another and forging strong bonds, we may stand a better chance of driving back the darkness. Your hearts were in the right place – you sought to protect your community from evil. But acting alone and without understanding risks making grave and fatal errors. The best way to protect your community is to have knowledge of the dangers you face, and allies to help you when you face them.
"That’s why I have a proposition for you. I have knights in Ireland, England and Spain. Some have powers of their own. Some are just ordinary people, who believe in our ideals and wish to help themselves and anyone else that they can. We need allies like them wherever we can find them, eyes and ears that are tuned into the magic and darkness in the world that others are blind to. I need knights, like I once had long ago, knights for my new Round Table. I would be honoured, Jill, if you would join my ranks and watch over this village and over Canada; to provide help to others as far as you are able, to learn as much as we can teach you about the evils of the world and then work with us to destroy them. In return, I and my knights would be at your service."
"You’ve got to be kidding me," said Jill, rather uncomfortably.
"I realise the proposition may seem unexpected," said Arthur. "But I have faith in you and your people. In the end, you have shown mercy when you might have shown none. Not everyone can be a valiant fighter, a Sir Lancelot or Sir Gawain, but everyone can have honour and loyalty."
"Go on, Jill," said Mark behind her quietly. She shot him a look.
"He’s going to make you into a vampire!" panicked Rufus, but the crowd hushed him.
"Oh, why not?" she sighed.
"Kneel before me, then," said Arthur quietly.
Jill rolled her eyes and laughed nervously, but seeing Griff grinning encouragingly, she knelt.
Arthur drew his sword slowly, and as the crowd watched with awe, he brought it gently down above her shoulder.
"By this hand and by this sword, I dub you Dame Jill Clark, knight of the Round Table. Arise, Dame Jill."
She arose. Griff began to clap. Mark clapped as well. And slowly, with growing excitement, the rest of the crowd did too. Jill blushed slightly as Mark shouted:
"Three cheers for Jill!"
"Hip hip hooray!" shouted the former mob.
Arthur sheathed his sword, and turned to Mary and Merlin. He felt Merlin’s forehead, and took his pulse. The young wizard was still and cold.
"He’s alive," said Mary, shaken. "I… I think I heard him breathing."
"He is," said Arthur. "Barely."
He gently picked the unconscious wizard up. He was surprisingly light. Griff helped Mary to her feet as well.
"Come with me," said Jill. "We’ll see to your injuries. And then you’d better start explaining a few things to me."
"I think that sounds like an excellent idea," said Arthur.
The crowd parted with a sense of awe as Jill led Arthur, Merlin, Griff and Mary towards her home.
* * *
The Following Night…
Griff helped Arthur haul Merlin into the back of the small truck. It had a box at the back large enough to carry some animals, although it had been cleaned out and lined with blankets. Merlin was still gently shaking and lapsed in and out of consciousness after his magical outburst. The pair lay him down on some rugs and covered him with a blanket.
"It’s not the best transport, but it’s the best that’s going to suit you I’m afraid," said Jill.
"It will do fine. Griff can sleep in the back while he is a statue, Merlin can lie here, and Mary can watch over him as a wolf."
"If you think so," she said. "Well I can take you anywhere in Canada, but as for getting to New Zealand, I really don’t know how to help you out there. You’re on your own, I’m afraid."
"One of my other knights had made arrangements with someone who may be able to help us make the journey in such a manner that will avoid detection by the authorities. At least, that is my hope."
Jill nodded. "Well, I guess I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed."
"In the meantime, I shall contact some of my other allies. Perhaps one of them can travel here and spend some time filling you in on some of the matters we haven’t yet discussed. I realise there are still a lot of questions that you will need answering."
"Oh don’t worry!" said Jill. "I’m going to be quizzing you all the way! Look, I’ll just get my keys then and… well, I suppose we’ll be ready to go."
"We shall wait here," said Arthur.
When she had left, Arthur turned back to his companions. Mary was sitting next to the unconscious Merlin, gently stroking his hair. For a moment the boy seemed to awaken, but them lapsed into an uneasy sleep.
"What are we going to do about Merlin?" said Griff quietly.
"I fear that his expenditure of magical energy has weakened his immune system greatly. Thus far he had remained able to ward off the effects of the poison better than I could have hoped - maybe the fact that he was the son of not just any faerie, but Madoc Morfryn himself, has made a difference to him, I cannot say. However, I fear that any advantage that his heritage afforded him has been expended by his outburst last night. For the moment he is stable, but I worry that his condition will worsen still further unless we find the Grail in the coming weeks."
Mary shook her head and began to cry. "It’s my fault. If I hadn’t gone out when I did… if I hadn’t been so stupid, this wouldn’t have happened! Merlin wouldn’t be so critical for weeks yet!"
"But we’ll find the Grail, Mary," he said gently. "We will save him. You mustn’t let your guilt take control of you. Your heart was in the right place and though it was a lesson dearly paid for, you could not know how things would turn out."
Mary looked distracted for a moment.
"Maybe. It’s funny… another thought struck me today. All these people blamed wolves for the crime even before they had sure evidence. In the end it wasn’t even a wolf but a wolf-like human that was doing it all. I nearly died… Merlin may die yet. Because wolves are seen as a threat even when there are so many threats that are greater."
Arthur sighed as she looked to him glumly. "I am afraid that wolves have been feared and persecuted for many years - hundreds, even thousands of years. Their reputation certainly has not changed in my lifetime and I’m afraid it’s likely to stay that way for a long time to come."
Mary wiped a tear from her eye and stared up at Arthur, her expression becoming determined. "It doesn’t have to," she said.