Ok, my first try at a Fables story. Ran this plot by a friend of mine who knows a hell of a lot more about comics than I do, and he was surprised that someone hadn't done something similar long before. Anyway, hope you like it. This story is set between the end of the Arabian Nights story line and the events shown in issue #50. I apologise for any mistakes with the canon timeline, but some changes will have to be made for the sake of the narrative.
Knowledge of folklore and English/Scandinavian mythology might help, but is not a necessity. All recognisably copyrighted charecters are the intellectual property of their respective creators and publishers; this story may not be sold or distributed on a profit-making basis.
Chapter 1: The Last Castle
The fog hugged the shoreline tightly, as it had since the dawn of time. Of all the known worlds, this one was perhaps the eldest, a little corner of creation that had remained hidden from the outside throughout recorded history. A lone sentry stood looking out across the sea; spear at the ready, eyes ever vigilant for any sign of invaders. The sound of approaching footsteps in the shingle set the guard into lightning-fast action: the spear span round so fast it almost blurred in the air as a shield was brought up to the ready.
"Halt!" The sentry snapped, "Who goes there?"
"Friend." A gruff voice answered.
"Advance and be recognised, friend." The solider stood at the ready as a shape slowly appeared in the fog and solidified to become a man with a wolf's skin hanging over his back. He was dressed in chainmail and tough yet flexible leather armour hung from a wiry frame that hid the strength conceal within. His dark hair was slightly greyed at the temples, but his hand rested securely on the hilt of the sword that hung from his belt, promising a swift death to any who underestimated him.
"My apologies sire." The guard came quickly to attention, "I did not recognise you."
"No need to apologise: you were but doing your duty." The older man smiled warmly, "I would have been more worried if you had not challenged me. The Adversary's reach grows further with every year that passes, and I do not know how much longer even we can stand against him."
"Surly you jest, my Lord!" The sentry looked like he'd been physically struck, "No dark magic can pierce the Vale..."
"The Empire grows stronger with every world it conquers, and out own strength wanes." The newcomer shook his head, "No, I fear we must soon leave if we are to save this blessed land from his tyranny..."
"But if Merlin secures aid from the new lands to the west across the great ocean, then we shall be able to stand against the Adversary!"
"If Merlin can enlist the young fables of the West to our aid, then the Empire's days would indeed be numbered. Have you ever been there?"
"No my Lord."
"They are a wide and plentiful land, far removed from the ravages of war. The heroes that live there are mighty indeed: perhaps the equal of He-Who-Sleeps..." The old man looked out to sea, "Quite! Something approaches."
There was a splash just off shore, and the old man dashed into the waves, drawing his sword as he went. He stopped when he came to a young boy, barely into his teens, who lay face down in the sand at the waters edge.
"Young master Pan!" He pulled the youth to his feet, "What pray tell did you discover during your mission?"
"My lord Beowulf." The boy spluttered out a mouthful of water, "I bring good news: the empire is in turmoil after one of the exiles in the mundane-world cut a swath through the outer kingdoms on a way to the capital city. I couldn't get close enough to see what was happening without being directed by the Warlock Guild, so I had to hang around outside."
"And what did happen?" Beowulf asked as he helped Pan up onto the beach.
"I'm not sure, but only that icy bitch the Snow Queen came out again. Everyone else was killed."
"The exiled one?"
"I can not say, but I don't think so. I tried to follow the Snow Queen, but she kept sensing me. As it was, it has taken me almost a year to return, less I be followed."
"You did well, young master Pan." Beowulf patted his young companion on the back as they started to walk back along the beach, "Come: Merlin is due back today, and he will want to hear this..."
The stone Keep stood at the top of high cliffs that made up one end of the island. It was so old that it was hard to tell where the natural stone ended and the fortifications began. Like the rest of the island, it was older than time itself: legend said it had been built by the Creator. Beowulf was a pragmatist, and put little faith in such stories: he had seen too many supposedly impregnable fortresses and castles fall to believe in such gossip. But even he would admit that it had been well designed and built, using the natural terrain to its advantage: it would take a long siege by a determined enemy to take the Castle of Avalon.
The view from the western tower looked out across the harbour built at the bottom of the cliffs and the sea beyond. A few small fishing boats hugged the stone quay, but the water was deep enough to handle much larger ships.
"Do you really think the western lands will help?" Pan asked, having changed into a fresh green tunic to replace the rather plainer cloths he had worn during his mission, "Will Merlin convince them?"
"I hold little hope." Beowulf shook his head as he leaned against the stone parapet and looked out to sea, "They are more powerful than anyone save the mightiest of the gods, yet they are young and headstrong: they do not believe that the Adversary will challenge them, and perhaps with good reason. I have been there, seen with my own two eyes the things they can go, and it frightened me more than anything I have ever seen."
"But the old man is persuasive." Pan countered, "And all is not lost yet: the King still sleeps, does he not?"
"Aye, he sleeps still: he will come forth at the hour of our greatest need, if the legend it so be believed. And if that indeed has not yet come, I tremble at the thought of how much worse things could become." Beowulf pointed out at the thick fog bank that surrounded the island just off shore, "If the Warlock Guild ever finds a way to pierce the Vale, then Avalon will fall."
"Then you do not believe that we can hold out against the Adversary?"
"I believe in many things, but our ability to hold this island, even this Keep, against a determined attack is not one of them. You forget there were those who said that the Far Keep would never fall, but it did: many a brave Fable died holding it while one last boat got out."
"All is not lost, as long as there is hope." Pan smiled, doing his best to reassure Beowulf, "One day the Sleeper will awaken, and on that day we will start to drive the Adversary back, world by world, until all are free again."
"And what then of you, Peter?" The old king asked, "What will you do when it is all finally over?"
"I'm not sure." The youth answered truthfully, "Maybe I'll finally grow up..."
"SHIP AHOY!" The lookout called from the top of the central tower, "It's the Jolly Roger!"
"Merlin is back!" Pan smiled, almost jumping up and down with excitement, "Maybe he brings good news."
A tall shadow appeared on the edge of the fog-bank, growing until finally the prow of a galleon burst through into the sunlight. The brilliant white sails billowed in the strong wind as it rounded the breakwater and entered the harbour proper. Beowulf could see her crew climbing up and down the rigging as they pulled in the sails and dropped anchor in the middle of the bay.
"Remain calm, young master Pan." Beowulf clucked in amusement, "The old man will tell all in good time."
The grand hall at the centre of the Keep was full to bursting: any Fable who had no pressing matter elsewhere had found an excuse to be there when Merlin gave his report on the Western Lands. Some sat at the large, circular stone table that dominated the room, while most stood against the walls, despite a number of unused seats. A tall, grey haired man in a long red robe entered the room, and everyone else went quiet as he walked across to one of the empty seats and sat down slowly.
"My Lord Beowulf, fellow freemen of Avalon, friends, I bring grave news from the Western Lands." He began, his voice carrying clearly across the wide room, "It is my solemn duty to inform you all that my mission met with failure: we will receive no help from that quarter.
The room erupted into shouts and cries as the assembled crowed reacted vocally to the news.
"ORDER! ORDER!" Beowulf banged his fist down on the table, "THERE WILL BE ORDER IN THIS ROOM, OR BY THE ALLFATHER, I WILL SEE YOU ALL IN SINGLE COMBAT!" The noise dropped back down to almost nothing, and the old king looked round to Merlin, "You are the wisest of us all: how can they still believe that the Adversary will leave them be?"
"Belief is a strange and wonderful thing." Merlin mused "In some of the Eastern worlds, they believed that if a man has sex with a woman but stops himself before he reaches climax, it enhanced his life-force." He smiled slightly, "Then again, they also think that drinking mercury will make you immortal, which might go some way towards explaining the first bit..."
"Then what are we to do?" Pan asked, "What can we do?"
"The way I see it, we have but two options." The old wizard stood and started to slowly walk around the table, his hands clasped behind his back, "We can stay; the Vale has protected this isle against all aggressors since the dawn of time, and it may well keep us hidden for some time to come. But while we remain here, the Adversary will continue to search for us, and his forces may yet find a way to breach our defences." He stopped and closed his eyes, "Or we can follow the lead of so many others, and flee to the mundane-world."
There was silence as everyone let the enormity of his words sink in.
"We always agreed that that would be our last resort," Beowulf said solemnly, "only to be done if and when the Vale was pierced. But now you are suggesting that we wilfully abandon this island, our home for so many years, and flee to a place only a few of us have ever seen?"
"It is not a decision I have come to lightly, but it is one that must be made." Merlin looked at those seated at the table, "I must call a vote: all those in favour of protecting Avalon by abandoning it, please stand."
To the surprise of everyone, including Merlin, Beowulf was the first to stand. He looked around at the others, his eyes hard and filled with resolve. Pan stood slowly, his eyes downcast. Other members of the Council slowly stood, until none remained seated.
"Then it is decided." Merlin nodded solemnly, "We shall load what we can onto the Jolly Roger and make for a gate that will take us to the mundane-world." He turned to Pan, "Peter, will you please take charge of the loading process while Lord Beowulf and I see to He-Who-Sleeps?"
"Of course." The teen nodded.
To Be Continued...