If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
December 13th, 1998
Knight's Spur Just outside of London
"Of all of the wonders of God's creation," Arthur said quietly. "This is by far one of my favorites."
"It is something that I haven't really appreciated in a long time," Fleur replied quietly.
The two royals stood atop the country estate known as Knight's Spur watching the setting sun. Scattered about the rooftop, and even in the gardens and along the gravel driveway down below, were over 200 stone statues of heraldic beasts, with wings flared and fangs bared.
"I think that more of a marvel to me," Fleur said. "Is how this clan survived all this time, in the heart of one of the world's biggest cities, and not once did the Illuminati ever catch wind of it."
"You said your friend kept them hidden for his brother's sake," Arthur pointed out.
"Mycroft is hardly a friend," Fleur said. "And he's only been alive for the past 150 years. This clan is much, much older. They look like…"
"Yes," Arthur said. "I am personally convinced that the London Clan is descended from the Clan that once dwelt in Camelot."
"That would explain why Duval didn't know about them," Fleur agreed. "After Camlann, like everyone else, the Clan abandoned Camelot. Gargoyles became hunted in that time…We all assumed that the Camelot Clan fell victim to the survivors of Mordred's army. It pleases me to know that we were wrong."
A lattice of cracks began to form on the statue nearest to Arthur, a griffin-shaped grotesque with a mohawk. Then the boar-like statue next to him. The Stag-like one opposite her.
The younger looking Unicornesque statue next to Fleur, and the older hippogriff-like statue resting on a stone cane beside her.
Fleur sucked in her breath. Arthur was right; this was the best part.
With a triumphant roar, Griff burst forth from his stone shell, sending shards of stone skin flying. Seconds later, Staghart broke free from his own stone prison. Then Coco, Lunette, and Pog, all two hundred and twenty-one gargoyles ranging in ages from 200 years old to the hatchlings that hatched a mere 9 months earlier.
"Good evening, your majesties," Griff said, cloaking his wings and bowing to the pair.
Fleur sighed, but knew that arguing semantics about her royal status with Griff was useless at this point. The gargoyle knight refused to refer to her as anything but 'your majesty' or 'Queen Fleur'.
"Oi!" Coco exclaimed, moving past Fleur and glomping onto the arm of one of her rookery brothers. "Liam! Tonight's the night, right?"
"Yeah!" Staghart exclaimed, glomping onto the other arm of his blue-furred rookery brother. "Tonight, right!"
Leomaris, better known among his rookery siblings as "Liam" was a blue furred leonine gargoyle with distinctive aquatic features, fan-like ears and a fish-like fluke at the end of his tail. He looked slightly put off by his two rookery siblings draping themselves on his arms.
"Yes," he said. "Tonight's the night. Indian food. Mandy and her mother should already be here, to help us with the recipes."
"The young lady and her mother arrived an hour ago," Arthur said, giving Liam a courtly bow. "They await your presence in the kitchen."
Liam paled. "They…They're already there? Bhors is gonna love that."
"Let the old sot fume," Staghart said. "If he had his way, we'd be eating roast beef and cabbage for dinner tonight. Like we do every Sunday. Forget that. I like the variety!"
"Staghart," Coco said, only half-teasing. "Bhors is still your rookery da. Show him some respect."
"Mince-pie Mondays," Staghart replied.
"Never mind," Coco said, gagging slightly.
"You know, Liam," Staghart said. "I have got to introduce you to Lexington's rookery brother Broadway. The stuff he served at Goliath and Elisa's commitment ceremony STILL makes my mouth water. I'd love to see you reproduce it over here."
"Maybe some day," Liam said. "Uh…I don't see Bhors…Did he turn to stone in the kitchens again?"
Coco, Staghart and Liam all suddenly exchanged a very worried glance.
"GO!" Coco snapped. "Damage control, ASAP!"
Liam dropped to all fours and bounded down the stairwell.
Arthur chuckled to himself as the various gargoyles began taking off to relax, or begin their chores, or patrols.
"So where are we off to now, your majesty?" Griff inquired.
"Pardon?" Arthur said frowning.
"When you're doing research on Merlin, you're usually down in the library when I awaken," Griff said. "But when you've got a quest in mind, you're up here when the sun sets."
Arthur chuckled again. "You know me well, my friend."
"We have been on this quest for almost two years now," Griff replied. "I like to think I've gotten to know my king fairly well."
"I fear we have exhausted every avenue that the Library has to offer," Arthur said. "There's just not enough information there to find Merlin. So I think that it's time that we followed up on your lead from Glastonbury Tor. Perhaps the image that you saw in the carving truly was Merlin."
"There's another reason too, isn't there?" Griff asked.
"You do know me well, Sir Griff," Arthur said. "That storm on the night of the Hunter's Moon concerns me. I should very much like to know what caused it, and better still, what ended it."
"So," Griff said, smiling. "Ireland then."
"I've arranged for you two to use my private yacht," Fleur said. "You can take it from Cardiff to Belfast, and travel overland from there."
"You make it sound as if you're not coming," Griff said.
"I'm not," Fleur said, looking wistful. "I have some loose ends in France that are demanding to be tied up. I can't put them off anymore."
"We understand, Milady," Arthur said, placing a reassuring hand on Fleur's shoulder. "Stay safe."
"I'm more worried about the two of you," Fleur said. "Grace O'Malley is an Irish Illuminatus, and she monitors all the ports in Ireland. Keep a very low profile, so that she doesn't catch wind of you."
"Then we shall see you at Quest's End, Queen Blanchefleur," Arthur said, bowing and kissing Fleur's hand.
Griff crouched down low, and Arthur gripped his friend's back. The griffin-like gargoyle took off, gliding towards the city proper. Leaving Fleur not-quite alone on the rooftop.
The French queen glanced over at the one gargoyle remaining. A silver and grey looking leonine gargoyle. He looked to be in his early 50s, so Fleur guessed Leo, Una, and Griff's generation, the 1898 rookery.
His outfit was green and black, and she noticed a Browning 9mm strapped to a holster on his chest, and a sword sheath attached to his side. She'd seen him before, in passing, but hadn't met him formally. Normally he wore a perpetual scowl on his face, but tonight it looked different. Sad and wistful somehow. He stared blankly at the waning crescent moon in the sky.
Fleur hesitated, but then quietly approached the grey colored gargoyle.
"Are you all right?" Fleur asked softly.
"December 15th, 1940," the grey gargoyle said, quietly.
"Pardon?" Fleur asked, lapsing into her French accent.
"I met my mate, Selkie, on December 15th, 1940." He repeated. "Two nights from now ought to be our 58th anniversary."
"I'm sorry…" Fleur said. "When did she pass away?"
"She didn't," the grey gargoyle grunted. "She left me. I don't know why, and I don't know where. She just…Left me."
Fleur fell quiet. The pain that this gargoyle was feeling. It was all too familiar to her.
"The man I loved left me too," she said, guardedly. "Not…not in the same way, but…"
"Well then," he said, standing up, he gave the human a sort of half-hearted smile. "I guess we're just two peas in a pod then."
"I am Fleur," she said.
"I know," he replied. "Leonidas. Like the Greek king."
"If you ever want to talk about it," Fleur said.
"Likewise," he replied, grunting, and sliding past her, making his way towards the stairwell.
"Wow," Lunette said, the younger gargoyle coming in for a landing next to Fleur, she had been gliding overhead.
"I've never seen him open up like that to anyone." Lunette said.
"Didn't your rookery mothers ever tell you that it's not polite to eavesdrop?" Fleur inquired.
Lunette stuck her tongue out at Fleur, and then took off again.
December 14th, 1998
Northern Coast of Ireland
Grace O'Malley looked over the paperwork on her desk in her private quarters aboard the Wave Sweeper, her private luxury yacht, free floating about a half-mile off of the coast of Ireland. She looked up and frowned hearing the telltale signs of a second boat pulling up next to her own.
She glanced out the porthole. There was an island off the starboard bow that simply hadn't been there before.
She quickly exited her quarters and made her way up to the deck.
An olive-skinned man dressed in a silver and black suit with a green ascot stood on the deck. A pin with the All-Seeing Eye was visible on his ascot.
He rested comfortably on a cane with a large emerald topping it.
"Seven," Grace said, recognizing Watson Doyle.
"Five," he responded.
"What brings you my wee corner of the ocean, Watson?" Grace asked.
"Arthur Pendragon," the dapper man replied. "He's finally been spotted by one of my contacts."
The hunt for King Arthur was public knowledge among the top ten tiers of the Illuminati, being priority number one for the organization. But as wide a net as the Society was able to cast; there were still holes that Arthur repeatedly slipped through.
Watson handed Grace a file folder.
"The harbormaster in Cardiff saw this yacht depart mere hours ago. The yacht is property of Sangral Fashions—Fleur's company—and the manifest says its destination is Belfast."
"The Once and Future King has come to Ireland," Grace said, sounding far more amused than Watson was.
Watson glared at the shaven-headed woman.
"I don't need to remind you," he said. "That king Arthur is a very high priority for the Society. And if he starts mucking around in our business in Ireland…"
"No," she said coldly. "You don't need to remind me. And don't worry, Watson. I know just the person to deal with the so called king of the British…"
December 14th, 1998
Rory Dugan stepped out of the kitchen, and was surprised to be greeted by a kiss on the cheek from Molly.
"Molly!" Rory exclaimed, taking note of the mistletoe that hung over the kitchen door. "Your lips! Did you…"
She shook her head and then gave him an odd sort of smile, showing her teeth. Her jaw was simply wired shut.
"Well," Rory frowned. "Maybe if we got some wire cutters…"
She shook her head again and then signed to him in ISL.
I had a hard enough time getting it to shapeshift into this form on its own. If it perceives some sort of attack, it may never transform into a manageable shape again.
"And you're still not going to tell me how you got it in the first place," Rory said.
"If you two are quite done making goo-goo eyes at each other," Rory's father said, standing next to the Christmas tree. "This tree won't decorate itself."
Molly ignored Rory, taking a Christmas ornament out of a box by Sean Dugan's easy chair and hanging it on the tree by the fireplace.
Rory sighed half-heartedly and sat on Barghest's stone form, which was sitting upright next to his father's chair. Getting Molly to open up was about as easy as actually removing the muzzle over her mouth.
"Fine," Rory said. "If you don't want to talk about-."
He stopped abruptly. He felt a familiar pull, like the one that had drawn him to Cairn na Chullain.
A vision appeared before his face. He was Cu Chullain, younger though. Without the armor and mustache. Beside him was his friend Lugaid Red-Stripe. The pair of them stood before the Lia Fáil and the stone would not speak. He raised Gae Bolga in anger…
And the vision disappeared.
Rory had been snapped back to reality. He looked around to see his father and Molly were now both at his side, looking very worried.
Vision? Molly signed questioningly.
Rory nodded. "I saw the Lia Fáil. The day that I…Or…Cu…Cleaved it in half. I think I'm needed there."
"You've a couple hours before sunset," Sean Dugan said, checking his watch. "Best get packed now. Meath's a fair distance from here. I'll make you some sandwiches from the leftover roast beef from last night. Molly, be a dear and fetch the cooler from the car."
Molly nodded, looking at Rory, who was still clutching his head.
"And here's an Advill for the headache," Sean said, returning to the den, and handing the bottle to Rory.
"Modern medicine to deal with ancient magic," Sean chuckled to himself.
December 14th 1998
Sangral Fashion International HQ, Paris, France
Fleur sucked in a deep breath and walked inside the building. The exterior was chic and trendy, and covered with gargoyles. The statues, not actual gargoyles, though some were carved to resemble Tamora and other gargoyle Illuminatus, just in case they were in Paris and wanted a place to roost where they wouldn't stand out. Not that a gargoyle ever stood out in Paris, most building were covered with gargoyles of some fashion or another.
Sangral Fashion International was the 8th ranked fashion company in the world, and that was nothing to sneeze at in the long run. It had existed since the First World War, and was Fleur's personal passion project.
She had poured her heart and soul into the company, the first real passion that she had felt in several centuries. Since the dissolution of her marriage. She vaguely wondered for the zillionth time as she walked past the walls of fabric and sewing machines, why she simply didn't just get a divorce.
Of course the answer to that was simple enough. Her husband was old fashioned. Fifth Century old fashioned. A divorce would be unthinkable to him, and would make him quite angry.
Truth be told, she didn't care much for the idea herself. Fifteen centuries of drinking of the Grail had not really tempered her own faith. She still considered herself a practicing, if somewhat lapsed Christian. Divorce was not considered acceptable to her own mentality either. Though despite that, she wondered…
She'd abandoned SFI when she began seeking out King Arthur upon learning he had awakened. It was time that she returned and got her company back in order. Not that she didn't trust Samantha to run the company in her absense. Samantha was her personal assistant and the only other Illuminatus within the company. And possibly her only real friend within the Society.
The Illuminati had no hand in SFI, despite the oh-so-clever-name. Fleur had founded and created it herself. As well as set up safeguards that only someone with her knowledge could. She vetted every employee down to the custodians personally. Her income from the company was directly deposited in a Swiss bank account that only she could access. The company was hers. The Society might take advantage of it during a gala or fashion show to rub elbows with the fashion elite, or the Parisian upper crust but at the end of the day, the company was wholly in Fleur's hands, and they couldn't touch it.
Fleur slumped down into her chair at her desk, which was undisturbed. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. Wondering vaguely about her future and the future of her company now that she had cast her lot with Arthur. The status quo she had enjoyed for so long was not going to maintain this way.
A delicious smell wafted past her nose. She opened her eyes and frowned.
"Dark coffee with cream, no sugar," Samantha said. "And one croissant from the bakery on Rue de Coccinelle that you are so fond of."
"Samantha," Fleur said blinking. "How did you know I was back?"
"I didn't until I came in this morning, Madam," she responded. "I've just been getting your usual every morning, hoping that you would be here."
Fleur eyed the younger woman. She appeared to be nineteen years old—an illusion, Samantha was no more 19 than she was 23—with steel grey eyes and blond hair in a pixie cut. She was wearing a chiffon blouse and skirt, and held a clipboard in her left hand.
"It has been some time…" Fleur said quietly.
"Two years is nothing to us," Samantha said. "The winter fashion line will be ready just in time for Christmas, and the spring fashion is in the final design stages, awaiting your approval."
"Don't you want to talk about the elephant in the room, Samantha?" Fleur asked.
Samantha stiffened. "I'm certain I don't know what you mean, Madam."
"Does Duval know I'm here?" Fleur asked.
"Do you want him to know?" Samantha replied.
"Then I see no reason to tell him," Samantha said. "Now, on to more important matters. The Spring Line requires your approval."
December 15th 1998
"I'm sorry girls," Rory said in an apologetic tone. "Seems like this was a dead end."
Barghest snuffled along the ground around the base of the Lía Fail, as though she had caught wind of some something interesting.
"I dragged you all out here for nothing," Rory continued. Molly tapped his shoulder, and pulled him closer to the stone.
Rory glanced back at her, wondering what it was that she wanted. He quietly approached the stone.
Cu Chullain approached the Lía Fail with Lugaid Red-Stripe at his side.
"Once the Stone confirms you as the king," Cu said. "None will stand before your armies."
Lugaid smirked at his friend. "First the stone will have to confirm my claim. No guarantee that the stone will roar."
"I can't imagine the stone not confirming you," Cu said, embracing Lugaid for a moment, and then breaking the embrace. Red-Stripe approached the Stone, and placed a foot atop it.
The stone was silent.
Cu's rage began to boil.
"You're not going to break me in half, again, are you Rory Dugan?" the Lía Fail said, a soft blue glow emanating from the stone.
Rory jumped back in surprise. Molly smirked at him, silently laughing at his reaction.
"You…You can talk?" Rory said.
"Of course," the stone said. "Just because I didn't when Lugaid Riab nDerg sought my approval for kingship, does not mean I am incapable of speaking. I was silent because Lugaid was not meant to be king."
"Er…Sorry about the whole…Breaking you in half thing," Rory said abashedly, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I am the Spirit of Destiny, Rory Dugan," the Stone said. "You merely broke a rock in half. I am more than simple stone. You do not posses the power to break me."
"Right," Rory said, noticing Barghest wandering away from him, sniffing at the ground.
"You have a question, Rory Dugan?" The stone asked.
"If you're the Spirit of Destiny," Rory admitted. "Then…What's mine exactly? There's not exactly a training scheme for this sort of hero work. I'm sorta just…Running around Ireland putting out fires. But I sort of feel like…There's…A bigger picture I'm missing?"
Molly looked almost surprised by Rory's words. She placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.
The stone seemed to consider Rory's words, as if contemplating them itself.
"Your former Master, from your past life is in Ireland," the Stone said. "He stands not far from this place even now. And soon he will be in danger. He changes the web of fate as he moves. Altering its course with each passing day. With him you may find the answers you seek."
"My Master from my past life?" Rory said, looking confused. "Cu found himself beholden to more than a few masters in his lifetime, but most of them died. Could they have reincarnated too?"
"I was not speaking of Cu Chullain, Rory Dugan," the stone said. "Do you think that this life is the first time you have been reborn since you were the Hero of Ulster?"
Rory Dugan was speechless. Even Molly seemed taken aback.
Barghest on the other hand suddenly seemed certain of whatever scent she had caught. She squatted down and tilted her head back and howled to get her master's attention.
The sound immediately grabbed Rory's attention, turning it away from the stone. He turned towards his pet just in time for the dawn's rays to breach the horizon and freeze Barghest in stone.
He groaned in annoyance. Barghest seldom howled unless it was important.
Molly suddenly tapped Rory's shoulder. He spun back to the stone just in time to see the blue glow fade away in the early morning light. He groaned again.
Half a kilometer away…
Sir Griff and Arthur's heads snapped upward.
"That sounded like a gargoyle beast's howl," Arthur said turning towards his knight, and frowning as Griff's equally surprised expression became etched on his stone face for the day.
Griff had been in his usual kneeling position. Arthur shrugged and sat down on the dewy grass next to his knight. He leaned against Griff's now-stone wing and closed his eyes, intending to sleep.
"Don't be nodding off just yet, British Dog," a voice declared. Arthur was on his feet in an instant.
A blond Irishwoman with an eyepatch over her left eye and a right arm that appeared to be solid silver was approaching her.
"I have no quarrel with you, Milady," Arthur said, guardedly. But his warrior's senses were tingling. His hand now gripped his sword.
"But I have a quarrel with you," she smirked back. "Oh 'Once and Future King of Britain'. And any other British curs who dare to set foot on Irish soil. Legendary royalty or not."
Arthur's eyes widened.
"If you know who I am," Arthur started to say, but got no further. The woman lunged at Arthur. Sensing the opportunity to draw her away from his gargoyle companion, Arthur did a duck and roll past her as she lunged, winding up behind her.
Arthur drew Excalibur. Electrical energy surrounding the blade as he did.
"Nice sword," Arthur's assailant said, smirking. "Let me show you mine."
Her silver arm began glowing royal purple, morphing and warping, like it was made of liquid metal. It reshaped itself into the form of an Irish broadsword, a mirror of Arthur's blade.
Arthur didn't have time to look surprised as the woman moved like lightning, bringing her blade against his almost too quickly for him to react.
Half a Kilometer away…
Rory Dugan bent down and placed a hand on Barghest's stone, tilted back head.
He clutched his head in surprise as another vision of the past, his past swam past his head.
But this was no vision of Cu Chullain, the Hero of Ulster. Not of fighting the Banshee or his faithful hound at his side.
In this past he stood wearing green armor in a massive court. Stained glass windows sparkling and light streamed through them. Dazzling colors danced on the gigantic wooden table in front of him.
A mirthful bearded man with sparking eyes greeted him.
"Uncle!" Rory's past self said, embracing the man.
Rory's vision faded returning him to the present.
"Well that's different," he murmured.
December 14th 1998
Nightstone's Coffeehouse across the street from Sangral Fashion International HQ, Paris, France
"What did I do to deserve a friend like you?" Fleur wondered out loud.
"There was the whole saving me from being burned at the stake, for one," Sam said dryly as she nibbled at her cheese.
"That doesn't even out," Fleur said. "Someone else still died. God…I can't even remember her name."
"Eloise," Sam said, stirring her drink. "I will never forget her."
"I knew you wouldn't," Fleur replied quietly. "You've done a fantastic job with my company."
"You laid the groundwork, I just followed policy." Sam said, opening her purse and taking out her credit card to pay for their meal.
Fleur caught a glimpse of a bottle in Sam's purse.
"Clozapine," Fleur said. "So you're still…"
"Yes Fleur," Sam replied.
"It's not a curse, you know," Fleur said. "It's a very rare gift. You were one of the last to receive it."
"Gift or not," Sam said. "I don't want it. So I suppress it."
"It's your life, Jeanne," Fleur said calling her by her real name. "I don't have the right to interfere…Or judge. But I think you're making a mistake."
"But it's my mistake to make," Sam replied. "Just as…"
"You think I'm making a mistake too," Fleur said. "Because I've cast my lot in with King Arthur."
"I didn't say that," Sam said, averting Fleur's gaze.
"But you do, don't you?" Fleur said. "You know that there was a time when Duval was loyal to Arthur? A time when he wouldn't have hesitated to follow Arthur's lead and fight Saxons, Romans, and monsters at Arthur's side?"
"Times change," Sam said. "We're looking at the bigger picture here Fleur."
"So am I," Fleur said. "Maybe for the first time in 1500 years."
"Fleur," Sam said. "Everything that the Society has planned goes out the window if Arthur starts mucking about with what we laid down."
"The difference is, Jeanne," Fleur said. "I think that's a good thing"
"Fleur…This is the Fate of the World we're talking about here!"
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world," Fleur quoted. "But to lose his soul in the process. Mark 8:36."
Sam nearly dropped her coffee cup.
"I haven't heard you quote scripture since you recruited me…"
"A wise woman once told me, that she'd rather die than do something which she knew to be a sin or against God's will," Fleur said. "My crisis of faith came about because I no longer believe that they act in accordance with God's will."
"You know it's not fair for you to quote me right after you quote Scripture," Sam replied, looking quite annoyed.
"Didn't you get the memo, Jeanne?" Fleur said laughing. "The Society doesn't play fair."
"Touché my friend," Sam said, laughing as well.
December 15th 1998
Bridget's sword-hand suddenly glowed purple and morphed into a massive hammer right before she struck. Arthur parried the strike, but wasn't expecting the force of a hammer strike. Excalibur went flying across the grassy field landing next to a tree.
"King Arthur," Bridget sneered, the hammer morphing into a mace. "You don't live up to the hype."
She brought the mace down on him, as he blocked with his arm. There was a sickening crack as the mace struck the arm. Arthur let out a grunt of pain, and then rolled out of Bridget's way.
His hand grasped Excalibur's sheath and a soft blue glow surrounded the once and future king. His broken arm visibly reset itself, becoming whole once more.
"Perhaps I spoke too soon," Bridget said.
"That is quite the interesting prosthetic," Arthur acknowledged, looking at her silver arm. He glanced towards Excalibur, as Bridget stood between him and his sword.
"Isn't it though?" she said smiling. "It's my first time testing it. I must admit, it does classic weapons well, but I wonder…"
Her arm began morphing and warping, becoming liquid and shifting in shape again. She raised her arm, now a grenade launcher, and smiled wickedly.
"I really like this arm," she said smiling. Three silver colored grenades flew out and landed at Arthur's feet, who looked down in horror.
To be continued…