Iris, Lily, and Rose - Part One
By Alan Coleman Waltrip, Rahsaan Footman, and Todd Jensen
Outline by Rahsaan Footman
Artwork by Christi Smith Hayden
* * * * *
Previously on Pendragon...
Elaine: "Answer me, Arthur. A moment ago, we were tongue-wrestling, and now you're acting like I'm a gorgon or something."
Elaine: "Arthur! Talk!"
Arthur: "No, you weren't out of line and no, there is no one else. But it just isn't right."
Elaine: "Give me one good reason why not?"
Arthur: (He grabs her right hand and holds it up. A golden wedding band shines in the morning light.)
* * *
Norman: "What about the Boss?"
Elaine: "What about him?"
Norman: "He still loves you."
Elaine: "He still loves 'her'." (chilly) "And I won't be second place in his heart. Tell him that!"
~~~The Ill-Made Knight Part Three~~~
* * * * *
Arthur: "I think you are the fairest rose in all England and that if William Powell is not beguiled by your beauty the instant he sees you, he is both blind and a fool."
Jennifer: (weak laugh) "Now there's a pick-up line you don't hear too often."
~~~The Watching Eye~~~
* * * * *
Arthur tried to start with introductions, but Jennifer took the lead, "Hello, I'm Jennifer Camford and you are...?"
"The artist of this exhibition, please call me Elaine," She said in her most polite voice, "My! Such a lovely young lady. How did you two ever meet?"
Jennifer's eyes narrowed. Elaine hadn't relinquished her armlock with Arthur, "Oh, it's a long story. My, this is a happy coincidence running into an old friend, like this."
* * *
The dark figure behind the desk sighed dejectedly as its chair whirled around to face the beams of sun wiggling between the curtain blinds. Hector Duval held the rough photo in one hand, twisting it around in his fingers and inspecting it as if it was the final piece of a complex puzzle.
His sentence came out in an awed whisper. "After all these years ... could it really be happening again?"
* * * * *
Pendragon - Iris, Lily and Rose, part I
* * * * *
"Breakfast time." Elaine got up and stretched. "I'm afraid we didn't get much work done this night."
"No, we didn't," Arthur smiled.
The stillness of the moment was just right. On an impulse, Elaine stepped up to Arthur and kissed him. It was quite a shock for the king, but he didn't pull away.
Her lips pressed firmly upon his. She leaned further, deepening the kiss.
Arthur pulled away just a little. Elaine withdrew the rest of the way. Smiling, Elaine whispered a 'whoa', from the kissí intensity. She had to catch her breath.
Her arms were still wrapped around Arthur's neck, but Arthur's were stiffly at his side. Elaine playfully reached up to wipe off some lipstick from Arthur's lips. He flinched, then separated from her.
"The date is July 29th and this is Regina Fitzwalter reporting from the BBC news desk. As the investigation for the Connection heats up, Whitehall is expected to release information shortly about its chief suspects. We'll keep you posted as this story develops. In other news...."
"Could you turn it off, please?" Elaine asked. Norman Dent reached up and switched the portable TV off.
Their chauffeured limousine turned off the A-1 highway, continuing down the causeway to Lindisfarne Island. Elaine watched in silence as the tidal beach slid past in a blur. Her heart was full of conflicting memories. Her romantic kiss with Arthur was one of them, but she also remembered this place. The first time that she had come here, it had been a happy ending to a fairy tale wedding. She and Hector had ridden in a carriage across the beach, up to the Manor Hotel where legions of servants had waited, ready to obey her slightest whim. Memories of that month-long honeymoon sparked a wistful smile across her lips.
Then she remembered the last time that she had left. It had been a drab overcast morning and her eyes had been filled with tears. Elaineís smile froze in place, then slowly faded.
The limo rolled past the tourists crowding around the village hall and the park-like Market Square. The closer they got the more nervous Elaine felt. Had it really been three years? There was a time when she couldnít conceive of being away from her husband. Now she was contemplating leaving him for good. Would Hector be able to bury his ghost? And if he did, what then? There was another complication.
"Arthur," Elaine breathed. Her bodyguard, Norman Dent, looked at her, but tactfully said nothing.
Elaine did not hear the sound of the wheels crunching on the gravel of the driveway nor feel the stretch limo slow to a stop. Norman Dent got out, opened the door on her side, and offered his hand to her. She accepted it and stepped out of the car onto the driveway.
Elaine nervously ran a hand through her black hair as she waited for Norman to get her luggage. He moved efficiently, returning to her side before he was missed.
"Are you all right?" Norman asked with concern.
"I hope so." Elaine marched up the few steps to the door.
Hectorís aide-de-camp, Giles, was waiting for her at the hotel doorstep. "Mrs. Duval, it is wonderful that you have returned to us."
Elaineís mind fixed on the word Ďusí. Would there be an Ďusí much longer?
Norman and Giles looked at each other and nodded slightly, in an understanding way. Giles then turned and opened one of the double doors into the hotel. Elaine and Norman followed him inside. Their footsteps echoed on the black and white checkerboard floor of the foyer.
Extravagant artifacts from all over the world decorated the foyer of the mansion. Rich alabaster reliefs and ancient tapestries adorned the walls. Beautiful frosted glass windows with silver filigree trim let warm light in at eye level. A skylight above let in the rest of the summer day. As they came to the grand stairway, a gallery of paintings drew their attention upward.
Norman's eyes were drawn to the painting of a pyramid centered at the top of the staircase. The sun was rising behind the structure with a watching eye for an apex. Norman knew its title as well as he knew his own name. ĎThe Beginning of Orderí was engraved in bold letters upon a golden placard beneath it.
What caught Elaineís eye was a painting off to the left, towards the hotel suites and bedrooms. It was covered, but she knew what lay behind the tarp. She wished Hector had taken it down. That would have convinced her that he was committed to a reconciliation. But having it covered was a good sign, she told herself.
"Welcome home, dear heart." The sudden voice rang out through the quiet emptiness, making Elaine jump. Upon the landing of the grand staircase stood her husband, Hector Duval.
Elaine felt an unseen force drawing her to him. She didn't even realize it until she stood face to face with him at the foot of the stairs. Hector never seemed to change. His hair still had the distinguished-looking greyishness around the temples, and the slight wrinkles around his eyes and forehead were still there. The only change that she could see was in his bearing. Sadness hung about him. His face showed it in its sunken appearance, but this evaporated the moment that he held her.
"I'm so glad that you came," he said with a warm hug.
"It's good to see you, too." Her voice held none of the warmth in it that it usually had. "You're looking fit."
Hector nodded. "I hope we can work through our past difficulties. Would you like me to take your bags up to our room?"
Elaine paused, looking up at the covered portrait.
"I think Iíll stay in the guest quarters for now." She turned away.
Hector's face fell a little, before his guard went up. He gave a curt nod to Giles. His aide took her bags from Norman and climbed up the stairs with them. Elaine began to follow him up the staircase. Hector reached out to her.
"Hector, it's been a long trip," she replied, not even turning around. "I'd like to rest up."
His polite smile slipped a bit. "Of course," he said, and let her go. Elaine walked gingerly, almost sprinting, up the stairway. When she reached her room, she closed the door behind her and released a long shuddering sigh.
Mr. Duval turned towards Norman. He gestured towards the sitting room and his loyal bodyguard followed him into it.
"We have a lot to discuss," Hector said.
Norman nodded in agreement. "Yes, sir. We do."
* * * * *
Sergeant Winslow came to the open door of Agent Braddock's office. Braddock was seated at his desk, looking over a small pile of transcripts, with a perturbed look upon his face.
"Anything wrong, sir?" Winslow asked.
"Most definitely," Braddock replied. "I've been looking over the transcripts of these witness interviews. Conversations that I've had with people who've met Mr. Pennington. And they simply aren't adding up."
Winslow nodded, waiting for his superior to continue.
"First off is Professor Lennox Macduff," said Braddock, displaying the relevant transcript in front of the Sergeant. "This is problematic enough. How can a tenured professor like he hire an assistant and not do any background checks or ask for references?"
"This is about the 'Arthur Jones' period of Pennington's career?" asked Winslow. The interview with Mr. Macduff, a few weeks before, had revealed that he had employed their chief suspect under that alias to assist him with some research on the medieval period.
Braddock nodded curtly.
"Do you think that Macduff's hiding something?" Winslow asked.
"I know heís hiding something. The question is whether it involves this case." Braddock picked up the slim dossier on Lennox Macduff. "He spends the majority of the year teaching in New York, and has a mansion there and a chateau in Paris, on the Left Bank. A bit extravagant for a liberal arts professor, wouldnít you say?"
"Maybe he's in league with Arthur in this arms dealing?" Winslow ventured. "You know, carrying his own private arsenal, for a little business on the side."
"Maybe," replied Braddock, leafing through the few pages on Mr. Macduff, "but I find it unlikely. It says here that he's been an open advocate for the gargoyles living in New York - has been ever since they first became public three years ago. It'd be hard to conduct that kind of business with that much of a spotlight on you."
"True," said Winslow, "but I've heard of at least a dozen crime bosses who donate to charities. Things like saving baby seals or protecting endangered owls. It gives them an air of legitimacy."
"You have a point there," said Braddock. He put a bright yellow sticky note on the Macduff dossier for future reference, then moved on to the next transcript.
"The interview with the O'Neill family," he said. "One of the cases that we found at Pendragon Investigations. And something that worsens the enigma. Mr. O'Neill employed Pennington to find his runaway son William. The youth had joined that street gang that got broken up just after the 'May Eve Madness', the Minions. Pennington found him, persuaded him to leave it, and helped father and son reconcile. And from the latest information that we have, the family is doing fine. Young William has straightened up and his father is taking him on a tour of universities later this month. One more piece of the puzzle that doesn't fit."
He rose from his chair. "This doesn't make sense," he said. "It's almost as if this man has two identities. A noble and honorable private investigator on the one hand, and a cunning, ruthless arms dealer on the other. How can you make them fit?"
"It's not impossible, sir," said Winslow. "Remember that talk that we had the first night of our search for Pennington?"
Braddock nodded. "I remember," he said. "The Southdown Slasher and the Little Mother. Yes, it's not impossible that Pennington is as good at concealing his true nature through a mask of benevolence as they were. Thank you for reminding me of them, Winslow.
"But that's not the worst of it," he continued. "Even after all of this searching, we still haven't found anything about his past prior to 1996. No birth certificate, school records, or anything like that. They should have surfaced by now if they had ever existed, but they haven't. There are simply too many gaps for this mystery man for my liking. That's one reason why I'm sticking to this case, Winslow. Even if Mr. Pennington isn't the 'Connection', he's too much of a riddle to simply be ignored."
Sergeant Winslow gave his superior an understanding look. "I'll go check with the others," he said. "Maybe they've found out something."
Braddock nodded absently, before reaching for his coat. "Let me know if there's anything new when I get back," he said. "I've a fresh witness to interview. A Ms. Jennifer Camford. Hopefully she'll provide us with something more to go on."
* * * * *
Robert Braddock looked inconspicuous in the corporate setting. His dark slacks and knit sweater vest made him blend in with the hordes of middle managers filing their way from office to office. He sat patiently in the waiting room until Ms. Camfordís secretary, Bethany, led him into her office.
Jennifer Camford wore a crisp, powder blue pants suit. She finished her phone conversation with a disgusted sigh. Braddock gave her a questioning look.
"Business." Jennifer gestured to him to be seated. "Iím trying to acquire some companies, but jackals like Darien Montrose donít make it easy and now there's a new player in the game. Iím sorry. This has nothing to do with why you are here. Please, Agent Braddock, what can I do to help?"
Braddock reached into his valise, pulling out a tabloid newspaper clipping and holding it out in front of her. "Do you remember this?"
Jennifer peered at the clipping. It showed a black and white photograph of herself and Arthur exiting a car.
"Yes," she said. "This was from a gallery exhibition more than a year ago."
"Do you recognize the man with you?"
Jennifer smiled. "Oh yes, Arthur Pennington. He was my date for the evening."
"So you know him?"
"Are you two close?"
Jennifer smiled, remembering the candlelit dinner and the nighttime stroll through the park afterwards.
"I hope so." She peered at the Special Security Agent. "Why?"
"He's needed for questioning. Have you seen him lately?"
Jennifer shook her head. "I was hoping to hear from him, but havenít for over a month now."
Braddock rubbed his chin with the tops of his fingers. He wore a thoughtful expression, and then came to a decision.
"Ms. Camford, I wasnít going to say this, but you should know. Arthur Pennington isnít who he claims to be."
"Really?" Jennifer leaned forward, a half-smile upon her face. "Who do you think that he is, then? King Arthur?"
"No. We believe that he's an arms smuggler supplying half the gangs in Britain."
Jenniferís smile slowly vanished. "Thatís ridiculous!"
"I have evidence and witnesses who say otherwise."
"Then they're lying! Arthur isnít a criminal!"
"Can you prove it?" Braddock challenged. "Can you account for his whereabouts? You said yourself that heís been missing for a while. Donít you find that odd? He's been gone for so long, but he hasn't even given you a message to let you know that he's all right?"
"That doesnít prove anything."
"No, but after a while, the gaps begin to add up." Braddock sat back in his chair, allowing himself a momentary breather. When he spoke again, it was in a softer, more reasonable tone of voice.
"The thing of it is, Arthur Pennington is a fraud. Pennington isn't even his real name. He doesnít have a detective license and his other credentials have been forged. That points to someone keeping a very big secret."
"Arthur is a chivalrous gentleman, a 'verray parfit gentle knight,'" retorted Jennifer. "He would never be in such a business."
"You're not the first to say so, Ms. Camford," answered Braddock. "I've heard from a great many people who've said much the same about his character. But whenever I ask them for details, such as where he comes from, they always become very quiet." He stared sharply at her, looking into her eyes. "Do you know where he comes from, Ms. Camford?" he asked her. "Where did he go to school? Does he have any living relatives? Do you know what he did prior to 1996?"
Jennifer bit her lower lip for a moment. At last she said, "I can't say."
"And you're supposed to be his girl-friend? How can you say what he's capable of, if you can't even answer these questions?"
"I know the answers to them," she retorted heatedly. She immediately regretted her words, but it was too late to recall them.
Braddock sat back with an expectant look on his face. "Please enlighten me."
"You wouldnít believe me if I told you," she answered.
"Why not let me be the judge of that?"
Jennifer crossed her arms with a defiant look. Braddock gave a weary sigh, and fished into his valise again.
"In a couple of days' time, they'll be holding a memorial for the officers killed in the Westminster shootings," he said. He handed her a news article on the recent tragedy, clipped from the London Times. "When we caught the gunman and traced his arsenal, we discovered that they came from the Connection. Two officers lost their lives, and a busload of school children was in the line of fire. I want you to think about that, Ms. Camford. Do you think that the Connection is worth protecting?"
"No," replied Jennifer forcefully. "But Arthur isn't him."
"Then if he isn't, who is?" asked Braddock. "Help me find the real culprit, if you know so much."
He looked at her expectantly for a few minutes, but she made no reply. At last, he sighed, and got up.
"I've got a job to do," he said, and walked towards the door. He was almost at it when he turned around and spoke to her one last time.
"A word of advice, Ms. Camford. Something that I tell my detectives. 'Believe what you see, but don't see what you believe.' Don't protect someone who can arm a madman like that."
"I'm not," she answered resolutely, "because Arthur wouldn't. And he didn't."
Braddock left the office. Jennifer looked down at the two clippings before her on the desk, one a photograph of herself and Arthur on a pleasant evening out, the other a report of the Westminster shootings.
"Arthur isn't responsible for this," she said to herself again. "He simply isn't."
* * * * *
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northern England
"They've been doing what?" Arthur asked over the phone.
"The authorities have been interviewing your past associates," Rory answered, his voice echoing a little over the speaker phone.
He passed the phone over to Griff, who continued. "We just heard from Macbeth," he said. "He told us that he'd been questioned by Agent Braddock about you."
"But this is unacceptable," Arthur protested. "I shouldn't have continued my wanderings. I should have gone back to London with Michael and the others when we left the Caledonian Forest."
"And do what, Arthur?" argued Leba, having succeeded Griff next. "Wait to be arrested? Now that the search for you's intensifying here in London, that's the worst thing that you could have done."
"I left London with Merlin to protect you and the rest of my allies. But now it seems that it's made no difference. If Braddock questions those who've known me in the past, then the danger is still there that he may find you and the clan as a result of his search. You're in peril no matter where I am, merely because of what we've already shared. I should have remained with you."
"And what can you do when you get back?" asked the minstrel. "We will clear your name, Arthur, but it is going to take some time. You must be patient."
"I hate waiting," the ancient king growled.
"Well, if you return and get arrested," she retorted, "you'll be doing nothing but waiting... for a very long time."
"Well, is there any news?" Arthur asked.
"No, Your Majesty," said Rory, who had taken Leba's place by the phone. We're waiting for Dulcinea to come back and report. She's been down at the waterfront with Faulconbridge, investigating. We're trying to contact all your other past associates, but the authorities are moving fast. They've already spoken to Macbeth. Who knows who they'll talk to next?"
"Let's just hope that it isn't someone who'll betray us," said Leba darkly.
"Don't start," said Rory sharply.
Arthur picked up on the tension. Something was going on between them but he couldnít figure out what. Suddenly, there was a large crash.
"A little help here would be grand!" called out Faulconbridge in the background.
"Whatís going on?" cried Arthur and Leba simultaneously.
"We spotted a couple of thugs buying particle rifles," explained Faulconbridge. "They spotted us, though. Dulcinea took a hit to the shoulder."
"Arthur, we have to go." Rory shouted.
"I agree," replied Arthur, feeling a little stunned. "And until I call again, be cautious and watch your backs."
"Watch your own, too," Leba said, just before the phone clicked off.
Arthur stared at the telephone for a few moments before slamming it back into its cradle. He was about to leave the kiosk when a thought came to him. He picked up the phone and took two business cards out of his coat pocket, looking at them closely.
The first number that he punched in afterwards got him Elaine's answering machine.
"Elaine," said Arthur, once the machine told him to leave his message. "I hope that you know who this is. I just wanted to let you know that I'm fine. If you need to speak to me, you can contact my friends at the 'Into the Mystic' shop in Soho. They know how to get in touch with me. Don't worry about me. I'll try to reach you later."
The second number yielded a better response. "Hullo," Jennifer's voice answered. "Camford residence."
"Hello?" asked Jennifer uncertainly. "Hello?"
"Jennifer!" Arthur blurted out. "Please don't hang up!"
"Arthur? Is that you? Goodness, where have you been? Iíve been trying to reach you for weeks."
"It's complicated," Arthur replied. "Tell me, has anyone been asking about me?"
"Your ears must have been burning," she said. "A Special Security Agent stopped by my office this afternoon, to ask me a few questions about you."
"A Special Security Agent," Arthur repeated. "Jennifer, was his name Braddock?"
"Yes, it was," she answered. "Arthur, is there anything wrong?" A worried tone crept into her voice.
Arthur hesitated, uncertain as to how he should reply.
"Arthur, are you in trouble?" Jennifer asked him at the other end.
"Itís nothing I canít handle. Truthfully, I am all right."
"Arthur? What is going on?"
"I hope I can tell you more later. Donít worry about me. I must go now. Good-bye." And with that, he hung up.
* * * * *
The phone clicked off. Jennifer looked at the receiver as though it had been responsible for the disconnection.
"Oh, no, you don't, Arthur," she said grimly, hitting the Caller-ID button. "A cryptic call in the evening and you think Iím not going to worry? Obviously you forgot who youíre dealing with."
She wrote down the number displayed and picked up the phone. "Yes, Operator, can you give me the address of a number? *pause* Yes, the number is...."
* * * * *
The intercom on Morgana's desk buzzed. "Yes?" she asked over it.
"Zbriegniev reporting, ma'am," answered a voice. "We just got back from the docks."
"And you sold the merchandise?" Morgana asked.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "But there was a bit of a problem. We were surprised by a gargoyle and a woman. Both people working for Pennington, according to the descriptions that you gave us."
"What happened, Zbriegniev?" Morgana asked concernedly.
"We managed to drive them off. The woman took a particle beam in the shoulder and the garg had to run with her."
"Was she killed?" asked the halfling sorceress.
"No, ma'am," her henchman replied. "Just wounded. Just like you told us."
Morgana nodded. "That's good, then," she said.
"Yes, but - wouldn't it be simpler to just let them have it?" Zbriegniev asked her. "I mean - dead snoopers tell no tales. And if Pennington's people keep on coming after us -"
"There's nothing to worry about where they're concerned," Morgana replied at once. "They're in no position to go to the police about it, remember. After all, I've already seen to it that the authorities know about their links to their chief suspect. They're harmless. There's no need to kill them."
"Well, if you say so, ma'am," said Zbriegniev, hesitantly. "Signing off."
Morgana switched off the intercom and looked down at the desk in front of her. "One of his people wounded," she said to herself. "But there's no need to worry about her. She'll mend soon enough."
She wondered again about her policy towards Arthur's knights. Her assistant did have a point, after all. Sparing them could be dangerous, and might, in fact, jeopardize all her plans. Perhaps it would be wiser to take a more ruthless approach towards them. But she did not feel comfortable about so doing. "My quarrel isn't with them," she said to herself. "Just with their master and his wizard. They're the only ones who have to pay the price. Not the dupes that they've tricked into helping them. They're just more victims of my brother's lies."
Her gaze shifted to the clipping from the London Times on her desk, reporting on the recent Westminster shooting in which two policemen had been killed and a busload of schoolchildren endangered. Her hands trembled as she reluctantly read the account again. "It doesn't matter," she told herself. "Yes, I sold - the Connection sold him the gun. But I had to give this smuggling ring some verisimilitude to have any real hope of fooling Braddock and his superiors. It had to be done. And - it doesn't matter. I've already sent the proceeds from that sale to the bereaved families of the victims as a charitable donation from a concerned Professor Morgana Cornish. So that makes it all right, doesn't it? Doesn't it?"
She continued to stare at the newspaper clipping in a troubled silence.
* * * * *
"Ready to order, honey?"
Merlin looked up uncomfortably from his menu at the waitress standing by the table. He and Mary Sefton had been seated there for the past half hour, waiting for Arthur to complete his telephone call to the London estate and return to the small restaurant where they were eating.
"I'm sorry," he said to her. "It's just that - we're still waiting for our guardian to get back."
The waitress turned to Mary, and looked at her. The girl looked up at her, about to order, but then noted the expression on Merlin's face out of the corner of her eye and quickly went back to examining her own menu.
"Well, take your time," said the waitress at last. She walked away to wait on a couple that had just come in.
"Merlin, I still think that we should order something," said Mary, once the waitress was out of earshot.
"Don't start that again," Merlin replied. "We wait until Arthur gets back."
Mary glowered at him. "I'm hungry," she said. "I've scarcely had a decent bite since this morning." In a lower voice, she added, "And I still think that my condition's got something to do with this. Just one more reason why I really hate being a werewolf."
"Don't mention that, not here," whispered Merlin frantically. He looked about him hurriedly, then breathed a sigh of relief after noticing that nobody was close enough to have overheard them. The restaurant was almost empty by now, and the few customers who were here were too far away from their table to have been able to eavesdrop on their conversation.
The door opened with a jingle as Arthur entered. He made his way to their table, to sit next to Merlin.
"Any news?" Merlin asked.
"Yes," replied Arthur, "and none of it good." He halted just then as the waitress came by. "So your guardian's back," she said to Merlin. "Ready to order now?"
"I am," replied Mary at once, before Merlin could reply. She quickly ordered a patty melt and a tall glass of milk. Merlin glanced sharply at her, but Arthur merely shrugged. He and his wizard both gave their orders in turn. The woman noted them down and walked off.
"They obviously didn't teach you etiquette or tact at your school," said Merlin sharply, once the waitress was out of hearing distance.
"I told you, I was hungry!" Mary retorted. "You and Arthur can get away with fasting while you're on a quest, but I can't!"
"That will do, both of you," said Arthur sharply, stepping in before either of the youngsters could continue arguing. "We have worries enough without you having another of your quarrels."
Mary fell silent, though she still shot Merlin a dirty look. Merlin sighed uncomfortably. Her mood had worsened again since they had left the Caledonian Forest, and for some reason, their bickerings bothered him more now than they had done prior to their adventure in Scotland. To keep from dwelling on it, he spoke to Arthur. "What news from London?" he asked.
"The authorities have been questioning our friends there," said Arthur, "and the people that we've helped through Pendragon Investigations. And Dulcinea has been injured."
"She has?" asked Merlin. "How's she doing?"
"I don't know," Arthur replied. "All that I know was that she was shot at by a gun dealer, probably one of the real Connection's accomplices."
"So what are we going to do?" asked Mary. "Go back to London or what?"
"Rory and the others believe that it is too dangerous for us to return now," Arthur replied. "And as much as I dislike admitting it, they have a point. It won't be safe for us to return until my name has been cleared."
"And how long will that take?" protested the girl. "The way that your friends have been going, we could be on the run for years. And what am I supposed to do? Spend the rest of my life as a fugitive with you both?"
"Nobody's asking you to stay," replied Merlin grumpily.
"I'd gladly leave," she retorted, "but you're the only wizard that I really know. And I'm using that word in the loosest sense."
"Merlin, you and Mary can return to London," said Arthur. "Go back to the city and the clan. Una can help you find a cure for her lycanthropy there."
"But Braddock -" Merlin began.
"Agent Braddock is after me, not you," said Arthur. "You are in no danger from him."
"Forget it, Arthur," said Merlin. "I'm not leaving you on your own. If you're going to travel about the country on your own, without companions to watch your back, then you might as well give yourself up to Braddock now. Because it'll come to the same thing. I am not going to abandon you."
Mary groaned. "So he won't leave you, and I can't leave him," she said to Arthur. "And so we're al stuck here! Wonderful! Simply wonderful!"
The waitress returned with their orders at that moment, and they settled down to eat in an uncomfortable silence. Merlin chewed on his toast absently, looking about the restaurant at the other customers. Then he stopped short. One of them was a woman, seated at a corner table on the other side of the restaurant. She had been reading a book quietly while waiting for her order, but had looked over at their own table from time to time, staring at them thoughtfully. Her eyes were particularly focused on Arthur.
She looked somehow familiar, but Merlin couldn't quite identify her. Her hair was covered with a kerchief, and her eyes with dark glasses, which kept him from fully making out her features. But all the same, he felt uneasy at her gaze. He felt even more uneasy when she suddenly got up quietly and walked out of the restaurant, still glancing firmly at Arthur as she did so.
Merlin turned to his companions. "We'd better leave this place," he said in a low voice. "Now."
"What?" asked Mary. "But we'd just gotten comfortable! What's gotten into you, Merlin?"
"That woman who just left," said Merlin. "She was watching us, watching us closely. And I didn't like the way that she was doing it.
"Do you think that she could be an undercover detective, or something?" the girl asked.
"I don't know," said Merlin. "But I do think that she recognized Arthur. I don't think that it's safe to linger here."
"A swift exit would appear to be in order, then," said Arthur. He motioned to the nearest waitress. "May we have our food in bags to go, please?" he asked her.
She nodded, fortunately not asking any questions. She left and came back shortly afterwards with a couple of bags for their food. Arthur paid for the meal, and then he and his young companions quickly packed up and made their way for the door.
* * * * *
Elaine made her way to the hotelís kitchen. Hector had offered to take her out for dinner, but she didnít feel up to that tonight. She was not surprised to hear the rattling of pots and pans coming from inside. However, she was surprised when she entered it to discover that it had been her husband making the commotion.
"Hector?" Elaine sounded astonished.
"Elaine? What are you doing here?"
"Looking for something to eat. And you?"
"The same. I was going to make some spaghetti."
"That sounds delicious." Elaine pulled up a stool to the wide island in the kitchen. Hector owned the title to the hotel, so he had the complete run of it, including the kitchen.
"For two it is." Hector smiled as he browned the ground beef.
"So why didnít you have room service make it?" Elaine asked.
"Would it surprise you to discover that sometimes I like doing things for myself?"
"Frankly, yes," she replied. "You always appeared to be above such menail matters."
"Iím not above it, but if I can get someone else to do it I certainly donít mind." Hector put a drop of cooking oil in the water to keep it from boiling over.
"Still full of surprises," Elaine said as she got up and moved to the refrigerator.
"Always, dear heart," he replied with a smile.
* * * * *
The telephone on Morgana's desk rang twice before she picked up the receiver to answer it. "Morgana Cornish," she said.
"Morgana?" said the voice at the other end. "This is Sybil. I'm calling from Berwick."
"Sybil," said Morgana, pleasantly astonished. "I must admit, I wasn't expecting to hear from you again. Is anything wrong? If this is about the package, you needn't worry. As I already told you, it reached me safely."
"It's not about that, Morgana," Sybil answered. "I saw your brother here in town just now."
"Arthur is in Berwick?" asked Morgana.
"Precisely," said Sybil. "I recognized him at once. Not his companions, though. He no longer has that griffon-like gargoyle or pet gargoyle beast with him, the ones that he had with him at Bardsey Isle."
"Yes, he seems to have discarded them," said Morgana. "He has Merlin with him, though. Did you see him in Arthur's company?"
"Indeed so," said Sybil. "He's a great deal younger now, even as you told me. There was another companion with them, a young one the same age as Merlin, but I did not get a close enough look to describe him or her."
"That's immaterial," said Morgana. "As I told you before, Sybil, the deluded fools that my brother has lured into his service are not our enemies. Only Arthur himself and Merlin are. We leave them alone unless they leave us no alternative. So, have you taken any action yet?"
"Indeed I have," Sybil replied. "I made a quick phone call to the local police station, reporting a sighting of Arthur Pennington, the chief suspect for the Connection, and his whereabouts. They'll be searching Berwick for him soon enough. And if all goes well, they should soon capture your brother and send him to London for the authorities there to deal with."
"Assuming that Merlin doesn't cause too much interference," said Morgana. "Sybil, I'm counting on you to do something about that. Can you nullify his advantage?"
"I believe so," said Sybil. "I'll keep you posted, Morgana."
"Do so, then," said Morgana. "The sooner that Arthur is captured, the better I will feel about this." And with that, she hung up.
* * * * *
Arthur and his companions had not gotten far from the restaurant when the sound of police sirens began to fill the air.
"It - it could just be a coincidence, couldn't it?" Mary asked worriedly. "I mean - you don't really think that they're after us?"
"I'd prefer not to put that possibility to the test," said Arthur. "Run!"
They dashed down the nearest alley, and leaned against the wall. Outside, they could hear the police cars drawing closer, and then halting. The sound of people climbing out of the cars followed.
"We won't be able to get out this way," said Merlin uneasily. "The Berwick police seem to have done their job quickly. I'd say that that 'mystery woman' of ours must have tipped them off."
Mary ran back from the shadows at the far end of the alley. "We won't be able to get out that way, either," she said, pointing with her thumb over her shoulder. "It's a dead end."
"Wonderful!" said Merlin disgustedly. "Just perfect!"
"You know, it would help if you could come up with some sort of solution to our problem here, instead of just complaining about it," said the girl. "You're supposed to be an all-powerful wizard, after all. Can't you just teleport us out of here to safety?"
"Mary, I've told you before, my magic's not as powerful as it used to be," Merlin replied. "I certainly don't think that a transportation spell is within my ability at the moment."
"But you've done it before, surely," argued the girl. "During that week that we spent in the Caledonian Forest, I did a little reading up on you. Fortunately Beatrix had brought a book about you with her from London, and she let me see it. Didn't you teleport Stonehenge all the way from Ireland to Salisbury Plain once?"
Merlin groaned. "The over-enthusiastic press agents strike again," he said. "Mary, that story was just a myth. Stonehenge was standing in its present location long before I was born. Not to mention that I know enough about that place to know that I wouldn't dare meddle with it. Its magic is too dark, too unpredictable, as I'm certain that Arthur can tell you from his own experiences there."
"True, but I doubt that this is the time for such reminiscences," said the Once and Future King. "Merlin, can you think of a minor spell to deal with this problem, then? Something within your capacity at present?"
Merlin thought it over. "I think so," he said. "A minor invisibility spell. That might work."
"You mean you can do that sort of thing, and didn't even tell us about it?" Mary asked, staring him sharply in the face. "You can work invisibility spells? Then why did we have to go to all that trouble to visit Castle Rushen and search for that magic cloak there, especially when we didn't even find it? You could have supplied us with one all along!"
"True," said Merlin, "but the Mantle of Manannan's powers are more reliable, and stronger. While an invisibility spell coming from a wizard rather than from a magical object does have some hitches -"
"Never mind about the hitches, Merlin!" the girl protested. "Just do it!"
"Very well," said Merlin. "Both of you hold hands with me, and stand as close to me as possible. I just hope that I can manage to shield three people with this spell."
Arthur and Mary did as he instructed them, grasping his hands tightly. Merlin uttered a quick Latin incantation. A faint glow surrounded the trio and then disappeared.
"Nothing happened," said Mary disappointedly. "I can still see us."
"Of course," replied Merlin. "That's because we're all under the same spell, so we're not invisible to ourselves or to each other. Just keep on holding my hands, both of you. If we part contact even for a moment, the magic will be dispersed."
Mary looked at her hand holding his, and frowned troubledly. "So how will we know if your spell worked?" she asked.
"We'll just have to hope that it did," he replied. "Now let's go!"
They stepped out of the alley, just as a pair of policemen walked past. Neither one even so much as batted an eyelid in the direction of the three companions.
Merlin smiled relievedly, nodding at Mary with a triumphant look upon his face. "Now let's go," he whispered.
They set off through the streets, making their way towards the edge of town.
* * * * *
The blonde-haired woman who called herself Sybil stood outside the telephone booth, concentrating hard.
Finding Arthur in Berwick would be easy enough. Not only did she know him by sight, but she had gotten enough of his measure during their most recent encounter, in Merlin's Crystal Cave on Bardsey Isle a few years before, that she would be able to locate him with her more magical senses quite effectively. And as for Merlin - enough of the Crystal Cave's atmosphere must still linger about him for her to be able to detect it. The girl was the only unknown quantity. She knew nothing about the new companion of Arthur, her name, her nature, or her reason for accompanying the Once and Future King and his wizard. But that didn't matter. As Morgana had pointed out, she wasn't one of the targets. She could be ignored.
Even fifteen hundred years after the time that she had been Queen of Northgalis and first become a sister-sorceress to Morgana la Fay, Sybil's wits and skills were as keen as they had ever been; the centuries had preserved her well. She quietly proceeded down the pavement, smelling the air for the aromas that would key her to the presence of her quarries.
She noticed, as she walked on her way, that there were more and more policemen about, all apparently searching for Arthur. "That's good," she said to herself, nodding. "Very good. All that I have to do is make certain that one of them notices him. They'll save Morgana and myself a great deal of bother."
The hints of Arthur and Merlin's presence were growing stronger, as was something else that Sybil of Northgalis could not quite identify. It was an odor that conjured up images in her mind of grey fur, a bushy tail, and a lonely howl beneath a silvery full moon. She wondered what it meant, then dismissed it from her thoughts. It was most likely irrelevant. Deal with Arthur first, she told herself. Then investigate the tangents.
She was nearing them by now, but saw no sign of them on the pavement before her. Sybil frowned thoughtfully. They should be standing before her, in plain view. And yet, they were not, unless - .
"Clever boy, Merlin," she said to herself. "You still know your concealment spells. But that's not enough."
* * * * *
The three fugitives passed another pair of patrolling officers.
"This is too easy," said Mary in a confident voice.
"Speak for yourself," whispered Merlin, between painfully gritted teeth. His brow was beginning to sweat under the strain of the spell.
"We've almost reached the end of this block," said Arthur, who had noted the growing fatigue of his wizardly advisor. "We'll find some cover there and you can rest for a few minutes."
Merlin nodded, but remained silent.
Two policemen rounded the corner, speaking to each other. "- just vanished. I don't understand it. How can a man and two kids disappear like that?"
"I'm as puzzled about it as you, Hollis," said the other. "But we'll find them. We'll patrol this whole town until we find them and -"
He stumbled over an empty soda can that had suddenly and unexpectedly rolled across his path, collided with Mary at that moment. The girl let go of Merlin's hand in surprise, flickering into sight for a moment. Merlin frantically grabbed her by the wrist to renew the spell in time, but the damage had been done. The two constables stared at the youngster who had briefly popped into existence before them, rubbing their eyes.
"That's torn it!" groaned Merlin. "Run!"
They sped past the policemen, but it was too late now. Hollis pulled out his two-radio, just before he and his partner dashed off in pursuit, and spoke.
"This is Hollis," he reported. "One of our fugitives has just been sighted at -"
* * * * *
Sybil smiled in amusement from her hiding place. The best spells were the ones that produced results that seemed so much like natural coincidences that nobody saw anything odd in them. And the brief subtle pushing of the can had produced precisely such results. "They've sighted him now," she said to herself. "He'll not escape them. I'll see to that."
* * * * *
"Of all the idiotic things!" cried Merlin angrily to Mary. "You broke the spell!"
"He should have watched where he was going!" she shouted back.
"Peace, both of you," said Arthur quickly. "This argument will not do either of us any good. We have larger things to worry about now."
Merlin sighed and nodded, even as he released the spell; he knew that there was no point in holding onto it, now that they had been discovered. They were completely visible now, and in full view of their pursuers.
Arthur pointed to their left. "This way," he said.
The three of them ran through the bakery shop that Arthur had indicated. With a hurried "Pardon" to the staff, Arthur led his two young charges around the counter, through the kitchen, and out the back door. The startled bakers halted their tasks long enough to unwittingly serve as a delay for the pursuing policemen, though not an absolute barrier.
Finally making it through the building, the two policemen dashed down the loading dock and past a parked delivery truck. They looked around, but could see no sign of their quarry. Hollis gestured to his partner to go right, while he went left.
A couple of minutes after their dashing footsteps had faded into the distance, the back of the delivery truck slid up, and Arthur, Merlin, and Mary climbed out.
"Good thinking, Arthur," said Merlin approvingly.
"Save the congratulations for after we're out of this," said Mary. "I don't think that that trick will have fooled them for long. They'll be back soon, with reinforcements."
"And do you have any helpful suggestions?" whispered Merlin sharply.
"Indeed I do," she said. "We get out of here before they get back."
"She speaks the truth, Merlin," said Arthur. He went over to the fire escape. "Up you go, both of you."
"You don't have to tell me twice," said Mary. She jumped up onto the rickety ladder and started climbing.
Merlin hesitated, looking at Arthur uncertainly. Arthur stared back at him firmly. "They may return any moment!" he told his former teacher. "Go!"
Merlin sighed, and scrambled up it after Mary. Arthur followed close behind.
By the time that Hollis and his partner returned to the alley with four more constables, Merlin was already on top of the building and Arthur had almost joined them. He was just stepping over the slight wall at the edge of the roof when the mortar crumbled and the brick capstone fell to the ground, only a few inches away from where Hollis was standing. The six policemen looked up at once.
"It had to happen," groaned Mary.
"There they are!" shouted Hollis. "You two, head over there!" he said, indicating the building next door. "You two stay here, in case they try to slip back down again! And you come with me!" He led the last policeman towards the entrance to the building that Arthur and his companions were trapped on top of.
"So what do we do now?" Mary asked.
"I don't know!" cried Merlin in frustration. "I'm open to suggestions just now!"
"There!" cried Arthur, pointing to the roof of the next building, opposite the one that the police had entered. And before either of the youngsters could argue with him, he ran to the edge of the roof that they were currently on and leaped over the gap to land safely upon the adjacent roof.
Merlin looked at Mary and shrugged, then followed suit. He landed on the edge of the roof and almost lost his balance, but Arthur quickly grabbed him by the hand and pulled him all the way to safety.
Mary followed them and looked down cautiously. From what she could tell by looking down, it was a long drop to the ground below, five stories.
"Hurry!" cried Merlin, almost frantically. "They'll be here any moment!"
Mary looked around. She spotted a loose pipe and snatched it up, then ran with it, using the pipe to vault over the gulf. She landed safely and tossed her improvised pole to Merlin, with a triumphant nod.
By the time that the police had reached the roof next door, Arthur, Merlin, and Mary had already climbed down the stairs of this as-yet-unreached building, unspotted.
"The boiler room's unlocked," said Mary. "We can hide in there."
Arthur and Merlin nodded, and followed her inside.
* * * * *
Dinner for two was a simple affair. Hector made spaghetti and Elaine made the salad. Sharing a home vintage red, they ate and talked about old times. The ice eroded between them and soon they were even trading jokes.
"Why didnít we do this more often?" Hector asked, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.
Elaineís laughter stilled to a serious tone. "You know why," she said gravely.
Hectorís smile faded and he cleared his throat. Elaine looked out the kitchen towards the grand stairway, straight towards the covered portrait. She cleared her own throat, but still sounded hoarse when she spoke.
"You know, for the longest time, I tried to compete with her. I bleached my hair and wore tinted contact lens. I even wore the same long flowing gowns. Anything to take your heart off of her. To show you that I could be everything you wanted."
"I remember." Hector lowered his head.
"And it wasnít enough. Nothing I did could compete with a ghost. I had to make a decision. Either spend my life trying to make you happy or make myself happy."
Hector sat back. "Why do you think I donít love you?"
"I never said that," Elaine answered quickly. "I know you love me, but not in the same league as her. That hurts the most. I only have a piece of your heart, but her? Even in death she gets more love than I can ever hope to attain."
"So there is no hope for us?" Hector asked in a quiet voice.
Elaine took a shuddering breath. "I donít know. I donít want to leave you, but will anything change if I return?"
Giles stood in the portal to the kitchen and politely cleared his throat, gaining their attention. Elaine sighed.
"And then there is your work." Elaine gestured to Hectorís manservant.
Hector stood up, but spared a glance at Elaine.
"I know. Business calls."
Mr. Duval joined Giles and they walked down the hallway. Norman discreetly fell in step behind his employer and Giles, without saying a word.
"I apologize for the intrusion, sir," said Giles, "but you instructed me to keep you informed about the Pendragon situation."
"Well? What is it?"
"Powell reports that the noose is closing in on Arthur. There's a manhunt in Berwick. He believes that Arthur may be captured, and asked for instructions."
"Tell him to keep watching, but not to interfere," Duval replied. Then he hesitated. "Unless Arthur is captured. If he is, then put Plan B into operation at once."
"Understood, sir," said Giles. He nodded, and continued down the hallway on his own.
Hector gazed up at the covered picture in the foyer. "It seems that you are in dire straits, old friend," he said to himself.
He turned around and walked back to the kitchen. He was not surprised to find Elaine gone, but the hollow feeling in his heart still hurt. He gave a sigh. Behind him, Norman sadly shook his head.
"Why do you do that to her?" Norman asked.
"Do what?" Hector asked.
"Treat her like that." Normanís usually scowling visage softened with concern. "She puts on a brave front, but sheís barely keeping it together. You shouldnít treat her so shabbily. You might lose her that way."
Hector gave one last look down the hallway that Elaine had left by. "The man you mentioned in your reports," he said at last, turning back to the bodyguard. "Tell me about him."
"Arthur? She met him on a restoration assignment at Bamburgh Castle."
Hector gained a wistful smile. "The old stomping grounds," he muttered to himself.
"She met up again with him at a gallery showing. Since then itís been off and on, but she seems to have feelings for him."
"Serious feelings?" Hector asked.
Norman shrugged his massive shoulders. "She came out here to see you, give your marriage a second chance."
"That wasnít the question I asked, Norman." Hector peered at his bodyguard. The large man remained silent.
Hector turned toward the study. "Thank you, Norman," he said at last. "Youíve given me much to think about it."
Norman gave a nod and returned to his duties. Before leaving, he turned around.
"One other thing. I donít know if it means anything to you, but this Arthur thinks heís the real King Arthur. I donít know if it's true, but he certainly plays the part. Elaine believes it, and so do his friends.."
Hector nodded, as he sat down in his overstuffed chair. He stared at the fire for a long time.
"I wonder if it was the same for you, old friend. Love is not blind; it is blinding. It was a blind spot for you. Should I heed the warning?"
He continued to stare at the crackling fire in silence.
* * * * *
Arthur, Merlin, and Mary peered up from a basement stairwell. Police barricades had been set up on both sides of the street, preventing anybody from entering or leaving.
"We're trapped in here," said Mary. "Unless you want to try another invisibility spell." She looked uncertainly at Merlin.
"I'm not certain that it'll work so soon after the last one," replied the youth. "And invisibility doesn't mean insubstantiality. It won't get us through the barricades themselves."
"It's better than nothing!" she protested.
"Very well," said Merlin, with a sigh. He closed his eyes and began to concentrate hard. The aura spread around him and Mary, who had joined hands with him, but not around Arthur.
"Merlin?" asked Arthur uncertainly. "I believe that something may be wrong here."
Merlin opened his eyes, and glanced in Arthur's direction. "Oh, great," he muttered. "I knew that I'd been badly drained! I can only make myself and Mary invisible, but not you!"
"What do we do now, then?" Mary asked.
Arthur frowned grimly. "There is only one thing that we can do. The two of you go ahead without me. I will attempt to catch up with you as best as I can."
"But -" Merlin began.
"Do as I say!" Arthur ordered, an angry flicker showing in his eyes. At that moment, he looked and sounded less like the wise and gentle king who had presided over the Round Table at Camelot, and more like the hardy war-leader that had overthrown the Saxons in twelve great battles. Merlin nodded without further protest, and turned to Mary. "Come on, Mary, let's go," he told her.
They rushed up onto the street and made their way past the checkpoint. None of the policemen manning it even saw them. They rounded the corner, and stood there, waiting.
A loud clatter came from the street behind them. The constables standing on duty started, then turned around to investigate. Arthur quickly climbed up the basement steps and hurried to the unmanned post. He was over the barricade and on his way to rejoin his companions, when a fresh police car drove up and halted before him. It shone its headlights straight at him, forcing him to throw up his hands over his eyes.
"No!" gasped Merlin. He was about to rush to Arthur's side, but Mary held him back. There was nothing that he could do but watch as Arthur surrendered himself to the police.
* * * * *
"Gah, whatís going on up there?" the taxi driver muttered. Traffic was being redirected by a police officer. The cabby rolled up to the officer.
"Iím trying to get a fare to Hastings," he said, gesturing to the passenger seat.
"Sorry, but the whole area is cordoned off. Thereís a dangerous suspect on the loose."
The cabby looked back at his fare. "Sorry, miss, but you heard the cop. Anywhere else I can drop you off?"
"No thank you," Jennifer Camford replied. "Here will be fine." She handed a few notes to the driver and exited the cab.
She pulled a note from her purse. "19 Hastings," she said to herself and looked down the taped off road. She knew that Arthur had called from there a couple of hours ago. She hoped that he was still close by.
Jennifer joined the crowd gathering at the police tape. She asked the nearest rubbernecker what was going on.
"Aaww, some crook just got nabbed."
Jennifer managed a clear look through the crowd and saw Arthur being loaded up into a police van.
"Arthur? It canít be?"
The van door closed and Arthur was carted away. Jennifer looked on in stunned silence as they vanished around the bend.
* * * * *
Sybil watched as Arthur was loaded onto the police van, and smiled. "Success," she said to herself, walking off. "Morgana will be delighted to hear this."
She headed for the nearest phone booth, to tell her sister-sorceress the good news.
* * * * *
Braddock hung up the receiver, and turned to Winslow. "They've found him," he said.
"Where?" Winslow asked.
"Berwick-upon-Tweed," Braddock replied. "The police there responded to a tip-off and found Pennington. He's been arrested."
"That's good, sir," said Winslow.
"Unfortunately, his two companions seem to have gotten away," said Braddock. "A boy matching Emrys Hawkins' description, and a brown-haired girl about the same age. But it doesn't matter. Pennington's finally been caught. They're sending him here post-haste."
* * * * *
Into the Mystic, London
Griff entered the shop through the upstairs balcony. The window opened directly into the living room where Dulcinea sat watching TV.
"How are you feeling?" Griff asked her.
"Well enough," she replied. "The doctor said that it was a clean shot. I guess that I should be grateful that lasers don't leave bullet fragments. I'll be laid up for a couple of weeks, though. Did you find anything by the docks?"
Griff shook his head. "Those blighters must have taken off as soon as you found them. Brianna went over that place thoroughly. She found no trace of them."
Dulcinea winced as she propped herself up on the couch. "So what do we do now?"
"We look for another lead," he replied. "We can't give up now."
The phone rang. Griff picked it up.
"They got him!" cried a familiar young voice at the other end. " I wanted to stop them, but they got him!"
"Merlin? Slow down? Whatís going on?"
Dulcinea frowned. Sensing trouble, she called downstairs for the others. Griff clicked it to speakerphone setting.
"The police caught up with us. We led them on a chase, but they caught Arthur."
"Do you know where theyíve taken him?" Griff asked.
"No. Weíre outside the police station, but thereís no sign that they brought him here."
"They may be bringing him straight away to London," Rory suggested. "Before anyone gets wind of it."
"Where are you?" Leba asked.
Leba hurried to the computer and called up a map of Englandís highway system.
"Got it!" she cried. "All right. Merlin, when can you get back here?"
"The next train wonít leave until morning."
"Stay out of sight until then and get back here as quickly as you can."
"What about Arthur?"
"Don't worry," replied Griff, in a reassuring tone of voice. "He won't stay in custody for long."
* * * * *
"So what do we do now?" asked Mary, as soon as Merlin hung up. "Just wait around here for the rescue party?"
"No," replied Merlin sharply. "We take the first train back to London."
"Finally! Now weíre getting somewhere."
"Is that all you can think about? Yourself? Arthur's been arrested."
"Arthur, Arthur, Arthur. Thatís all you talk about! Heís arrested, okay, but it's not as though he's going to be hanged."
"How can you be so cavalier? They caught him."
"And acting hysterical is going to help him how?" Mary asked snidely.
"If you'd pitched in instead of making smart remarks we might not be in this mess."
"Oh so, this is my fault? Youíre supposed to be the all-powerful wizard, but you couldnít even protect us. Youíre the real useless one."
Merlinís face went red hot. "Oh, so Iím useless?" he shouted back. "Youíre doubly useless. A whinging girl at night and a...." He suddenly halted.
"Say it!" she shouted at him. "Say it! A wolf by day! That's what you wanted to say, wasn't it? The truth comes out at last! You don't really care about me! I'm just a freak that you can puzzle over! All that you care about is your precious Arthur! We've tramped all over the countryside looking for solutions for his problem, not mine! So you can just forget about my problem, then! I'll be better off on my own! I'll see if I can find a real wizard to lift this curse on me, not some overrated quack like you!"
And with that, she stormed off. Merlin watched her leave, staring after her in a pained silence. At last, he turned around and walked off in the opposite direction.
"It's all right," he told himself. "She's not really in any danger. Besides, she's just a useless distraction, anyway. I can't rescue Arthur while she's adding to the muddle." But his heart did not feel quite convinced by his own words.
* * * * *
Elaine couldnít sleep. She stared at the unfamiliar ceiling trying to sort through her feelings. Sheíd been up for hours hoping to find some resolution in her heart.
There was a knock on the door, not her door, but the master bedroom at the end of the hall. Elaine paid only half of her attention to the muffled conversation. She could hear the voices: Normanís rough bass and Hectorís falsetto, but she couldnít make out all of the words.
"....caught him?" Hector exclaimed. "I expected better of him."
The voices dropped into low muttering as Hector dispensed his orders. Elaine rolled over to her side. It was a habit she picked up during her marriage, a way to shut out her husbandís business when it intruded on their privacy. She knew that the Illuminati kept no hours, but only an emergency would roust Hector from bed. Elaine had long ago stopped asking questions. The Society conducted dark business. The less she knew the better she slept - or didn't sleep.
* * * * *
Outskirts of London - half an hour before dawn
"I see it." Faulconbridge pointed up the nearly empty highway. A convoy of one van and a squad of police cars were driving quickly down it towards them.
"Thank goodness, I thought itíd be sunrise before they showed up," said Caspian, as he peered around the huge billboard.
"Michael will have conniptions over this" said Imogen concernedly. "If weíre spotted, our secret will be out. There'll be banner headlines about us in every newspaper in the country. 'Living Gargoyles in London!'"
Faulconbridge sidled up to her side. "That can't be helped, love," he said to her. "We've got to bust Arthur out of there."
"And we arenít going to be spotted," Griff said from his perch above them. "Right, Caspian?"
"Just give me a moment to work the spell." Caspian ducked behind the billboard again.
"Itís more than that." Imogen pulled away from Faulconbridge. "They're protectors, like us. Of course they have the wrong man, but they're only doing their job: protecting others. Attacking them feels almost like fighting fellow gargoyles."
Faulconbridge looked at Griff for help. The gargoyle knight landed next to them.
"Believe me, I can sympathize," he said. "We're taking a big risk, but it's necessary. We have to save Arthur. He'd do the same for us, after all."
Imogen shrugged uneasily. "I guess," she said at last.
A chilled breeze blew past them. Caspian emerged. "That did it," he said, pointing below. A heavy fog bank rolled past them, heading towards the security convoy.
"How long will it last?" Griff asked.
"Long enough if we hurry," Caspian answered.
Griff nodded. "Right. You three distract the cars. Iíll get Arthur." He glanced at a worried Imogen. "And do your best not to be seen. We'll meet back at the shop before dawn."
* * * * *
"Some detail we pull, eh, Connor?" the driver in the brown security van griped. "A long drive up and a long drive down. On top of that, now we've got fog."
He flipped on his high beams. His partner kept a fair eye on the road.
"I offered to drive, but you didnít think a rookie could handle it, Ramirez."
"Yeah, well....what the...."
"What?" Connor snapped to.
"I thought I saw a face outside floating in the mist."
The partner peered through the fog. "I donít see anything. Probably your....ahhh!"
Turning around, he saw a face. It looked like a hawk, but was huge, floating eight feet off the ground. He blinked and the apparition was gone. Tires squealing caught both men's attention. Their police escort started swerving all over the road. The driver slammed on his brakes to avoid a collision. The entire cabin jolted.
"Who did we hit?" Ramirez shouted. His partner looked in both mirrors.
"I canít see anyone, this fogís too thick."
The driver was cut off by the screeching sound of metal being torn from metal.
"Arthur? Arthur, where the devil are you?"
Ramirez and Connor looked at each other. "The prisoner."
They bolted out , and came around the back. Both the sides and the back door were still intact. Connor reached for the handle when the van jolted again. Ramirez looked up and saw two glowing eyes before him.
* * * * *
"Where the devil is Arthur?" Braddock demanded.
"We donít know, sir," the driver answered sheepishly.
"What do you mean, you donít know? According to the report that I received, he was in your van when you left Berwick."
"No, sir, we transferred him."
"Our van broke down with two flats. We called dispatch and they sent a car around to transfer the prisoner."
"Why wasnít I informed?"
"You were the first person we called, but I couldnít reach you. There must have been some sort of interference."
"What happened here?" Sergeant Winslow asked, pointing to the wrecked roof of the security van.
"That was the other thing. Just outside of London, things got really weird. We passed through a fog bank and saw all sorts of monsters. When we came out of it there was this big gash in the roof."
"I canít believe this." Braddock threw up his arms. "I just canít believe this. Penningtonís vanished and all I have are a couple of campfire monster stories to explain it. If heís not here, then where is he?"
* * * * *
Arthur sat up, stretched, and rubbed his eyes. He then opened them, and blinked in astonishment.
He was in his own bedchamber in Camelot, lying in his great bed with goose-down pillows. He gazed about him, looking at the familiar stone walls and the tapestries that hung from them. He stared at them in wonder for a moment, and then laughed.
"A dream," he said to himself. "It was nothing more than a strange dream." He could still vaguely recall the events in it - the exposure of Lancelot and Guinevere's love affair, the ensuing wars with first Lancelot and then Mordred that had destroyed his kingdom, the long sleep on Avalon, his awakening and his adventures in the altered outside world thereafter - but they seemed unreal now, of little importance. His life in Camelot was what stood out strongest in his memories now, not these other matters.
There was a light knock at the door. "Enter," he told whoever was making it.
A young page entered, dressed in the customary Pendragon livery. He bowed low before the High King, doffing his cap. "My lord," he said. "Forgive my intrusion, but Queen Guinevere wishes to know if you intend to remain in bed for the entire day."
"Guinevere?" A smile crept across Arthur's face. "No, of course not. Please let her know that I will be down momentarily."
The page bowed and left. Arthur hurriedly got dressed. "I can scarcely wait to tell her of the strange dreams that I have had," he said to himself. "They should rival the tales that my knights have given me each Pentecost." He finished donning his royal vestments, and took a quick look at himself in the mirror.
* * * * *
William Powell stood on the opposite side of the one-way mirror, chuckling to himself. There was something amusing, not to mention enjoyable, seeing the man who had vanquished him once standing in a spartan cell, speaking to thin air as if people were standing before him, and adjusting his ordinary garments as if they were kingly garments.
"Mr. Powell, sir," said the doctor standing next to him. He was concernedly watching Arthur's movements himself, and scribbling some notes on his pad. "I don't think that this is the Mnemosine."
"And why not, doctor?" Powell asked.
"The memory drug is only supposed to make its subject relive memories, but aware all the time that these are just memories," the doctor replied. "But this man is fully reliving them as though they were the only reality for him. Either he's a psychotic, or we're dealing with something bigger than both of us."
Powell snorted. "Nothing is bigger than the Illuminati, doctor," he replied.
The door to the observation room swung open, and both men turned around. Duval was standing in the doorway, an angry frown upon his face. Without a word, he strode towards the mirror, and looked at Arthur, standing in the middle of the room, laughing at a joke that he had apparently just heard from an invisible figure. Then he turned to the other two Illuminati in the room. "What is he doing here?" he asked, in a quiet, yet deliberate voice.
"Standard procedure, Mr. Duval, sir," answered the doctor at once. "Each prisoner is to be interrogated."
"And who said that he was a prisoner?" Duval asked, in a deadly whisper.
The doctor swallowed hard, and glanced nervously at Powell. Powell nodded, and spoke.
"I gave the orders, sir," he said to Duval. "I assumed that you'd want him interrogated. After all, he knows a considerable amount about the recent Unseelie Court unpleasantness. And, even more significantly, he knows about the gargoyles."
Duval did not immediately reply. He merely gazed through the window at Arthur in silence, his face unreadable. Then he turned back to the two men.
"I will speak with you later. Leave."
Powell and the doctor quietly left the room. Duval never even noticed them close the door behind them. He was too busy watching Arthur going through the motions of a life that he had lived fifteen centuries before, unaware that that was all that he was doing. After a few minutes, he walked towards the door leading directly into the cell, and opened it.
* * * * *
Arthur sat in his chair at the Round Table. The great feast of Pentecost had just concluded, and now was the time for his assembled knights to give their reports of all the adventures and quests that they had undergone during the past year. Sir Bors de Ganis was just concluding his account of his adventures up by the old Roman wall in the north when the chamberlain struck his staff loudly against the chequered floor of the feasting-hall and spoke.
"Sir Lancelot du Lac, son of King Ban of Benwick!"
Lancelot entered the room, as nearly all the knights rose from their seats to cheer his arrival. Queen Guinevere remained silent, but smiled at her champion. The foremost knight of Arthur's court walked down the hall and around the Round Table, straight towards the High King's throne.
"Sir Lancelot," said Arthur, smiling. "We thank you for joining our presence on this feast-day."
Lancelot nodded and knelt before his liege lord.
* * * * *
Hector Duval nodded and knelt before King Arthur.
"Yes, my lord," he said. "I am here."
TO BE CONTINUED...