"What is this place?" Paul asked.
All of the Stantons seemed to be in awe of The Great Hall, even Will, who'd been there at least three times already.
"You needn't be afraid," Ms. Greythorne declared, hugging Gwen when the girl wrapped an arm around her waist. "This is a safe place."
"And an old one," George added, motioning to the weapons lining one of the walls.
"This is The Great Hall," Merriman explained, "Our power is strongest here. No one may enter without our invitation."
"Our?" The scrunched up look on Robin's face made the attractive young boy look rather unpleasant. "Exactly who are you guys?"
"We are The Old Ones," Ms. Greythorne answered.
"In truth we're neither old nor young," Mr. Dawson murmured.
"We are the Guardians of the Light," Ms. Greythorne continued, pausing to give the old farmer a stern look for interrupting. "When Will turned fourteen he too became a Guardian of Light. He is The Seeker, the last trueborn immortal."
"Or so we thought," Merriman remarked, "until the rest of you came along."
Will frowned, "But Merriman, you said-"
"I know what I said," Merriman snapped, pausing to regain control of his emotions.
Their encounter with The Rider had flailed his nerves. He needed time to recoup. Unfortunately, time was something they didn't have. The Dark's return meant another battle, only this time; it wouldn't just be Will and his four guardians. The entire council wanted to ensure The Dark never rose again.
A brilliant gold light began to shine through the clefts in the huge doors that led into The Great Hall.
"It's time," Merriman told them.
"Merriman, guard The Seeker," Ms. Greythorne ordered softly.
She took Gwen's hand and pulled the girl closer. George moved to stand beside Robin. Mr. Dawson did the same with Paul. That left Merriman and Will. The Old One put a firm hand on The Seeker's shoulder without taking his eyes off the doors. When they opened, the light was so bright, Will and his brothers had no choice but to shield their eyes while Gwen buried her face in the soft fabric of Ms. Greythorne's long fur lined coat.
The light eventually faded to reveal four cloaked figures. Merriman let his gaze slip from one stranger to the other.
"Who are they Merriman?" Will whispered.
"You mean there are others like you?"
Merriman didn't get a chance to answer. The cloaked figures began to walk toward them at a slow almost languid pace. Each velvet cloak was a different color: one was white as snow; another rose red, one as black as night, and the last, the one at the forefront of the assembly, was royal blue. Merriman and Ms. Greythorne spared a glance at one another before moving forward to meet them.
The person wearing the royal blue cloak pulled back the hood. He was an older man, probably the same age as Merriman, with amber eyes and ginger red hair sprinkled with grey that matched his close cut beard.
"You always did know how to make an entrance," Ms. Greythorne said with a smile.
"It's good to see you too Amelia," the man replied, placing a soft kiss on her hand before turning to Merriman. "Merry!"
Merriman grasped the man's wrist in a show of brotherly affection. "Arty!"
Laughter filled The Great Hall. The other three strangers pulled back their hoods. Will was surprised to see that two of them were women. The woman wearing the rose red cloak was just a bit younger than the man, Arty. She was a lot shorter than him though, with shoulder length auburn waves and dark blue eyes. The other woman, the one in the snow white cloak, proved to be the real surprise. She looked as if she were in her mid or late twenties. The waist length ringlets of spun silver that were her hair had been pulled back into a jeweled beret. She regarded Will with wary emerald green eyes.
"So…you are The Seeker?" she asked.
The woman didn't seem very impressed.
The stranger in the black cloak turned out to be a boy with the same silver hair and emerald eyes. He looked younger than Will, ten, eleven maybe, which should've been impossible.
Will grabbed Merriman's arm and tugged him back a few steps so the newcomers wouldn't hear them. "I thought you said I was the last of you to be born."
"You are," Merriman answered.
"Then explain that," Will hissed, jerking a thumb toward the little boy.
"What? You mean Mordrid? Will, he only looks like that because his mother put a spell on him."
Will did not like the sound of that. What kind of mother used magic on her children to keep them from becoming adults? Before he had a chance to ask, the man with red hair came up to them and asked, "And who is this fine young fellow?"
Merriman placed a hand on Will's back and gave him a gentle shove. "Arty, meet, Will Stanton. Will, this is Arthur Pendragon."
"Arthur Pendragon?" Will's eyes widened. "As in, Arthur Pendragon, King of Camelot?"
"That's me," the man with the royal blue cloak replied, "Or it was the last time I checked."
All three Stanton boys let loose with a whoop, crowding around the king, each asking at least a thousand questions at once. Merriman seemed rather perturbed as he tried to reign them in. Arthur merely laughed and did his best to answer what questions he could make out between all the shouts of "Dude, this is so awesome!" and "Oh man! I can't believe it! King Arthur? The King Arthur!"
Gwen seemed just as star struck by the ladies. Come to find out, the petite lady with the auburn hair was Lady Guinevere, Arthur's wife. The tall slender woman with the white cloak turned out to be their goddaughter, Morgaine, and the little boy, her son Mordrid.
"Mommy," he asked, tugging on her sleeve while pointing a finger at Will. "Is he The Seeker?"
"That remains to be seen," the woman replied in a tone as cold as ice. She narrowed her eyes at Will. "What proof do we have that he is in fact the warrior the blacksmith promised?"
She's talking about my ancestor, Will realized, Thom, the one who created the signs.
"Mordrid should've been The Seeker," Morgaine snapped, "Not this…this…lout."
"Now that is quite enough," Ms. Greythorne said, putting herself between Will and the other woman. "Will is a good boy, and whether you like it or not Morgaine, fate chose him to be The Seeker. Nothing you say or do will ever change that."
"We'll see about that," Morgaine hissed.
Her cloak seemed to flow around her as she whirled on her heel and started for the doors. "Mordrid, come!"
"I said come!"
The boy began to follow his mother, pausing only once to look back at The Seeker. He wants to stay. Will could see it in the boy's eyes. There was sadness hidden in those pale green depths, sadness, and something else. Will didn't know what.
He felt an arm around his shoulders and looked up to see Arthur. The man gave him an apologetic smile. "You'll have to forgive Morgaine. She's still a little sore that her son wasn't the chosen child. She'll get over it though, I'm sure. Give her time."
Will wasn't too sure about that. "She seemed pretty angry."
Arty shrugged off his concerns and turned to the other Stantons. "Are they are?"
"Will's siblings," Ms. Greythorne replied, motioning to the twins. "This is Paul and Robin."
Merriman frowned. How in the world does she tell them apart?
"And this is Gwen," she added, resting her hands on the girl's shoulders.
Arty nodded at each of the boys and smiled at Gwen. "Please to meet you all, though I wish our introductions could've come under better circumstances. I sense a shift in time's natural order. What's happened Merry?"
Merriman had never cared much for the nickname Arthur had given him as a boy, but they had more important things to worry about at the moment. "The Rider has returned Arty."
"Again?" Arty scowled, "How many times must we defeat him before he learns his lesson?"
"Evil never learns," Ms. Greythorne remarked, "Nor does it ever die. The Rider does not worry me as much as his purpose. Will no longer holds the signs, so why has he come back?"
"He came after The Seeker at the school did he not?" Guinevere asked brusquely.
Will was astonished. "How did you know that?"
"My wife possesses the gift of secondsight," Arty explained.
"He probably means to take revenge on the boy," Guinevere continued, "You'd do well to send him and the other children away, somewhere safe."
"Huntercombe is safe," Ms. Greythorne replied sternly.
Guinevere's words had obviously hit a sore spot. Merriman knew how badly Amelia wanted to protect the children, but sending them away? She'll nail her tongue to the breakfast table before she lets that happen. Ms. Greythorne's maternal instincts had grown tenfold since the Stantons had come to live with them at the manor. Taking the children from her would be harder than fighting an entire army of Riders. She's not the only one. The realization that he truly cared for these children was unfamiliar and difficult to swallow. Granted, the twins tested his resolve every chance they were given, Will's need for a father figure proved inconvenient most days, and Gwen's clingy nature grated on his nerves at times, yet they were still dear to him.
"Parting with the children is out of the question," he announced, "Their place is here, at Huntercombe, with us."
Mr. Dawson folded his arms over his chest and grunted his agreement. George ruffled Robin's hair and said, "Hear that lad? You're stuck with us now."
Ms. Greythorne's lips curved up into a half smile.
Arthur seemed confused. "Why call us here then if not to protect the children?"
"We don't need you to protect them, Arthur," Ms. Greythorne replied.
"No. We need you to help us teach them."
"Teach us what?" Will asked, turning to Merriman for an answer.