Pendragon: Iris, Lily, and Rose Part II
By Rahsaan Footman, Todd Jensen, and Alan "Ordell" Waltrip
Artwork by Christi Smith Hayden
"This is Regina Fitzwalter for the BBC. Unconfirmed reports state that the man believed to be the Connexcton has been captured. The suspected arms smuggler, responsible for arming the notorious Westminster shooter, was caught late last night in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Official details are expected from the Home Office later today"
Rory muted the TV. "Well, that's it, then," he said uneasily. He exchanged an unhappy look with Kevin. Dawn was very near, and there was still no sign of the gargoyles. Nobody in the room liked to mention what that most likely meant, what they all feared it would mean.
"Any sign of them?" Dulcinea asked from the couch.
"Give me a sec," Leba shouted down from the balcony. She scanned as much of the London skyline as she could from the small shop.
"NothingÖwait! I see one."
"One?" Rory bounded up the steps to join her.
"Looks like Caspian by way of his horn."
They didnít wait for the gargoyle to land before they pelted him with questions.
"Where are the others?"
Caspian raised a hand to stop them while he caught his breath.
"Arthur wasnít in the convoy we stopped," he finally managed to say.
"And the others?"
"Griff was injured in the attempt. Falconbridge and Imogen took him to an abandoned factory. With a little luck, they should be safe there."
Rory turned to Dulcinea. "Call Marter," he said to her. "Have him and his boys go there and keep watch on them while it's day, just in case. Where's this place at?"
Caspian answered while Dulcinea dialed up the estate. Leba brought the unicorn gargoyle a glass of water. He downed it and gave her a grateful smile.
"Can you tell us what happened?" Kevin asked.
Caspian nodded. "I created a diversion while the others turned the cops around. Griff went for the van. He didnít find anyone inside. He was getting out when he got shot."
"The van must have been a decoy," Rory reasoned. The rest were silent.
"Itís all over then?" Kevin asked in a disbelieving voice.
"No!" said Leba defiantly, shaking her head. "There has to be a way."
"There is," said Rory, in an assuring tone of voice. "We'll find it."
"I hope so," Caspian said. He gave a nod out the door to the lightening sky. Rory patted his shoulder in understanding as the gargoyle left to prepare for a day of sleep. He then looked at the other neo-knights and they stared right back at him.
"Well, you said weíd find a way," Leba began.
"I donít know what that might be." Rory held up his hands. The others still looked at him. He let out a sigh; like it or not, until Griff returned he was in charge.
"Okay, let's find out how bad the situation is. Leba, Dulci, check out the telly."
"Right, theyíll want to gloat about their victory." Leba grabbed the remote.
"I think Rory believes we might find out something useful, like where they are holding him," Dulcinea replied coolly. Leba gave the Spanish rider a Ďwhateverí look and began flipping channels.
"Kevin? Merlin and his friend should be returning to London today."
"Right, I was thinking about catching fares by the railway station. Coming in from Berwick, you say?"
"Iíll find out when and where." Kevin looked for his hat and headed downstairs.
"Everyone think about a plan," Rory said to his comrades. "Weíre going to need one when the gargoyles wake. Letís get to work."
* * * * *
"Yes.... no, you donít understand. The blinking van is missing.... I need the identification number," Braddock yelled into the phone. "No, not the license number. The ID number.... yes, okay.... 920....815.... thank you." He slammed the phone.
"Trouble in the lower sects?" Winslow asked, coming into his office.
"We finally catch this bloke and now we canít find him. It doesnít make any sense. We had him, Fred....we had him," Braddock sighed, looking down at his casebook.
"Think of it this way. He didnít escape; heís merely misplaced, like paperwork."
"Somehow, I doubt that Nigel Sefton is going to see it that way," said Braddock ruefully.
There was a knock on his office door. "Home Office on line 1," a secretary reported before heading off.
"Speak of the devil...." Braddock groaned.
Winslow took the hastily scribbled numbers. "Iíll track down the van," he said.
"And leave me to my fate, thanks. Oh! Any word about the two kids with Pennington?"
Winslow shook his head. "Reports said that one of them was Emrys Hawkins, his ward, but there's no clue as yet as to who the girl is. The police in Berwick are still canvassing the area, though."
"Any ideas?" Braddock picked up the phone, dreading to hit the Transfer button.
Winslow shrugged, "Iím going over the missing persons reports now, but if the Connection is as crafty as we think, heíll probably hold on to someone very influential as insurance."
"A hostage crisis. Thatís all we need. This could turn ugly very fast." Braddock hit the transfer button and picked up the call.
"Yes....*pause* I told you leaking any information to the press was unwise. *Pause* Yes, I know Iíll be held responsible...."
Braddock gave a pained look as Winslow left to track down the phantom van.
* * * * *
"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!"
Mary's words still rang in Merlin's ears as he sat by himself in the Berwick railway station. The public address system made a track announcement, and crowds of people shuffled off to the appropriate platform. The youth barely noticed, however. He looked out the window, staring at the rising sun, wondering where Mary was, and if she was all right.
"Oh, this is ridiculous," he said to himself. "Why should I worry about her? She's nothing but a spoiled rich girl, a snooty MP's daughter. She's done little but whinge and complain ever since Arthur and I met her. Maybe with her gone, I can concentrate properly on solving our problems. It's already much more peaceful without her." He looked about him again. "A little too peaceful, in fact," he added uncomfortably.
The train blared its horn, warning people to clear the area. Merlin got up and joined the crowds. He found himself glancing back over his shoulder as he did so, however.
"She won't really take off," he told himself quietly. "Not when she knows that I'm the only person who can cure her." Then he thought back again to her words. "I'll see if I can find a real wizard to lift this curse on me, not some overrated quack like you!" He sighed.
"Well," he said to himself at last, "if she wants to leave, she's free to do so."
"Southbound express heading for London now arriving on track 4," the PA announced again, as the train came over the bridge, coasting into the station.
A couple of passengers disembarked but most were heading to London. The crowds began to filter onto the train. Merlin constantly looked back over his shoulder. He dragged his feet, allowing other passengers to board. If Mary didnít show up now, it was likely that theyíd never find each other again. Finally, the train gave the ĎAll-aboardí whistle. It was now or never. Merlin picked up his small duffel bag and moved resolutely across the platform.
* * * * *
Mary had managed to find a safe out-of-the-way place by the river before the sun rose and the change came over her. She shut her eyes tightly, even as she fell on all fours, her hands turned into paws, her face into a wolf's snout, and her backside sprouted a bushy tail. She opened her eyes again, and stared down at herself, then bowed her head.
It wasn't until now that she really felt the full force of her plight. So long as she had had Arthur and Merlin for her companions, the implications of her situation had been blunted. Whatever else she could say about them, and especially Merlin, at least they understood what had happened to her, and accepted her as one of their party without difficulty. It was hardly surprising, either, given that they must have seen enough marvels in their lives that a werewolf was scarcely much of a shock to them. But now that they had both left her life, most likely for good, what was she to do now? Arthur was arrested, most likely to be put away in prison for good. Merlin was most likely already on his way to London. Who could she turn to? Her father? But how would she be able to tell him that he was a werewolf now? And even if he didn't disown her on the spot, what could he do to help? Even being a Member of Parliament wouldn't be enough to provide him with the resources that they'd need to lift this curse.
"But what about Merlin?" she asked herself. Then she shook her head. "Forget him," she told herself. "He's worse than useless. Too busy worrying about Arthur to help me at all."
But what else could she do? Where would she find another wizard? Lucius Adrians was the only other human wizard that she had met so far, and there was no way that she would ever agree to seek him out for help. As for the magicians in the London clan, Caspian and the apprentice-to-be Prongs, they were all part of the "Merlin deal". Seeking out the gargoyles in London would mean remaining in touch with Merlin, being part of his life and keeping him part of hers.
The only other possibility was to forget about finding a cure, or about ever going home, to just head back to the Caledonian Forest or some other lonely place and live there for the rest of her life, where no human would ever be likely to find her. But she rejected that idea almost at once. She still remembered how she had come so very close to becoming a wolf mentally in the Caledonian Forest, a memory that terrified her. She didn't want to go through something like that ever again, and she feared that if she returned to the wilderness, that could very well be what would happen to her. No, she would have to find some other way.
The deep blare of a train's air horn reached her ears. Mary bowed her head. Soon Merlin would be gone from her life forever.
* * * * *
Manor Hotel, Holy Island
Arthur sat in his cell, talking to people that only he could see and hear. Five men watched him from the monitor in Duval's office.
"What did you do to him?" Hector Duval swiveled in his chair to face the doctor and William Powell. Hectorís aide-de-camp Giles was just behind and his bodyguard, Norman Dent, remained hidden in the shadows of the corner.
The doctor looked at Powell before taking a step forward. "I administered a dosage of Mnemosine to the subject," he said. "It is a mnemonic agent, specifically tailored for interrogations."
Powell spoke up. "The Inner Circle began research for a more effective means of intelligence gathering after the Hotel Cabal incident."
"Why is he carrying on like there is someone in there?" Giles asked.
"That is one of the hallucinogenic properties of the drug," the doctor explained. "Mnemosine stimulates the memory centers of the brain, including sensory memories such as hearing and sight. Test subjects reported full emersion, actually being in the place they recalled."
"Was there any danger to these people?" Duval asked. His eyes never left the doctor's face for a moment.
The doctor shook his head. "It was an Inner Circle directive that subjects survive the interrogation. There is, however, an unforeseen complication with this case."
Duval raised an eyebrow, signalling the doctor to continue. "To make the subject remember accurately and completely, the mnemonic agent used is magical in nature. During testing, this dosage amount only lasted a couple of hours."
"Arthurís been like this for most of the night," Duval pointed out.
"Precisely. There is an unknown factor where this subject is concerned. I canít tell why this is happening or how to counteract it."
Duval looked at Arthur through the monitor again. "Youíve only tested this on human subjects. What about magical ones?"
"You mean, such as the Third Race or their halfling minions? No, sir, no such subjects have been available yet. There is no telling how the magic will interact with those who have magic in them. Though from my limited understanding, mixing magics can have disastrous effects."
"Thatís putting it mildly," Duval muttered to himself.
"Sir?" Powell spoke up again. "If I may make a suggestion?"
"Arthurís gargoyles - "
"They're not his gargoyles," Duval corrected him.
"Certainly, sir. Forgive me. The gargoyles associated with Arthur. They are a continuing impediment to our operations."
"Only for those who donít prepare properly."
Powell paused, uncertain as to how to proceed. His failure to capture the gargoyles was still a large black mark with the Society, and he knew it. He swallowed his pride and continued.
"We now have a chance to learn as much we can about them," he said. "We can compare and contrast it with what we know of the Manhattan clan and develop proper contingencies to deal with the gargoyle issue."
Duval mulled it over.
"Iím sure the Inner Circle would agree, sir," Powell continued, sensing his superior's reluctance.
"Indeed they would," said Duval, nodding grimly. "Well, let us use this situation to our best advantage. If all of you will excuse me...."
"Sir?" Powell asked.
"I think Iíll take a personal hand in interrogating Arthur."
"With all due respect, I have more experience with the man. It might be better if I...."
"Are you questioning my wishes?" Duval asked. His tone and demeanor were still light and casual, but all felt the silent threat implied.
"Of course not, sir," Powell said, nodding. He left the room, followed quickly by Giles and the doctor. Only Norman remained behind.
"You as well," said Duval to his bodyguard, gesturing towards the door. Norman nodded, and took one last look before following the others out.
When he was certain that everyone was gone, Hector opened the door to the adjoining suite, Arthurís room ,and pulled up the only chair.
"Now, what shall we talk about?" Hector looked at his former king. "I guess the beginning is a good place to start. Tell me Arthur, when did you return to the mortal world?"
"After I was awakened, very soon, in fact," Arthur began. "Avalon sent me to.... London...."
* * * * *
"Ahhh!" a woman screamed.
"Someone call Animal Control!" a man shouted before a furry blur shot past him.
Mary ignored the screams and cries of the frightened people around her. "I can't believe that I'm doing this," she said to herself. "You'd better still be there, Merlin."
She halted just outside the railway station, in time to see the train pull out from the platform, and head away southwards. Passengers stared out the windows at the wolf, speaking and waving in consternation. As she watched, it disappeared into the distance.
"It's all over," she said in a low voice. "He's gone." And then she heard him speaking.
"I'm sorry, Arthur. I hope that you can understand and forgive me. I wish that I understood why I stayed behind myself."
Mary turned around, and saw Merlin seated by himself on one of the outdoor benches, his face buried in his hands. She ran over to him.
Merlin looked up to see her rush towards him. Then he leaped up from the bench and ran towards her eagerly.
"I thought that you'd left," said Mary.
"I thought that I was going to, too," said Merlin. "But - well, I honestly couldn't just abandon you. Not after what we've been through already. We - well, we may have our disagreements on a few things -"
"-more than a few, I'd say," she replied.
"-but we do have to stick together," he said, ignoring her words. He wrapped his arms around her neck and gave her a warm hug, then rose up.
Mary lifted her head and sniffed the air, then gave a faint growl at the back of her throat. "Someone's coming this way," she said.
Merlin nodded. "I should have known that something like this was going to happen," he said. "A wolf running around in a railway station these days is going to raise a few eyebrows, after all. Time for the old illusion spell, I suppose."
A security guard rounded the corner, stopped, and stared at Merlin. "You'd better get inside, boy," he said. "We've just received a report that there was a wolf prowling about here. It probably escaped from a zoo. It's not safe for you or your dog out here."
"Yes, sir," said Merlin. He led Mary, disguised as a wolfhound once more, into the station.
"The first thing that we have to do," he said to her in a low voice, "is to find out when the next train leaves for London. Then I'd better call the others, and let them know that there's been a slight change in plans."
He halted in front of the schedule board, and studied it closely. "It looks like the next train's due at 10:00. So all that we have to do is - oh, great!"
"What's wrong?" asked Mary. Then she turned around, and looked back, just as he had done.
A few policemen, the very ones who had been pursuing them the night before, had just entered the station. They were stopping people and showing them a set of photographs. One woman was nodding as she spoke to the constable, and then pointed in their direction.
"I think that we'd better come back here later," said Merlin quickly, turning around. "They won't recognize you, but they're certainly going to recognize me."
"This is stupid," said Mary, in a low voice, as she trotted alongside him. "They've got their suspect; why do they want you now?"
"They probably think that I'm an accomplice of Arthur's as well as his ward," replied Merlin grimly. "Or something like that. Whatever the case, I don't think that it's safe for us to meet up with them. Let's get out of here."
They were just rounding the sliding glass doors when one of the policemen called out. "Hey, kid!"
Merlin and Mary broke into a jog, that changed into a sprint when they heard the shrill scream of a police whistle.
* * * * *
Jennifer Camford took a sip of coffee before replacing it in her rentalís cup holder. She was determined to find Arthur and get some answers. She didnít have the slightest idea where to find him, but that wasnít going to stop her.
Waiting at the light, Jennifer peered out the window at what looked like a teenage boy and a very large dog running in her direction. She also saw about five or six police officers running after them as well. Soon his blond curls and facial features made him recognizable.
"Emrys?" Jennifer said to herself. She rolled down the window and shouted, "EMRYS!"
She caught the boyís attention. He turned and made a beeline for her car. Jennifer reached over her seat to the passenger door and opened it. Merlin leaped inside, followed by the large dog.
"Go! Go! Go!" he shouted frantically as he closed the door behind the dogís tail. Jennifer shifted into gear and rolled back into traffic. The car zoomed into the dazzling British morning, leaving the constables well behind.
"The number! Whatís the number?!" one of them yelled.
"Nine.... four.... seven.... no, wait, five.... oh, blast! Lost it in the sun!" another said.
The largest one, the leader of the team, shook his head. "Better call it in to the station. Tell them that we have two numbers.... possibly three."
* * * * *
"It seems as if we've lost them," said Jennifer, after a brief backwards glance. She turned to look at Merlin. "Could you explain what this is about, Emrys?" she asked him. "And while we're at it, where did that dog come from?"
"Well, she's not exactly a dog," Merlin began hesitantly.
"You can say that again," said the dog. It spoke in the voice of a young girl with an upper-class accent.
"I didn't just hear what I thought I heard, did I?" asked Jennifer, startledly. The only thing that kept her from staring at the animal straight in the eyes was the fact that she needed to focus her attention on the road in front of her.
"Um, Jennifer Camford, meet Mary Sefton," said Merlin. "I'm afraid that we're in for a rather long story."
* * * * *
Manor Hotel, Holy Island
Duval listened to Arthur recounting his first adventure in the modern world, the quest for Excalibur. As he did so, he stared down at the great sword lying on the table between them. It had been easy enough to retrieve it from Security storage; the authorities had been so busy trying to track down Arthur that they had barely given any attention to his sword, allowing the Illuminati to quietly claim it.
When Arthur reached the part about the Lady of the Lake, however, Duval sat upright in his chair. "Wait," he said. "The Lady knew that you were here?"
Arthur began to retell his adventure again from the very beginning, but Duval ignored him. He jumped up from his chair, and ran out of the room. He rushed outside, into the garden behind the hotel, and to the lily pool at the far end. Once there, he took out his ring and turned it twice.
"Mother!" he called. "We need to talk! Mother!"
"She is not here," said a voice. A robed and hooded form rose from the lake, and cast back its hood, revealing Nimue's face and features.
"Nimue?" asked Duval. "What are you doing here?"
"Attending to matters in my mother's absence," she replied. "Have you forgotten that she was summoned back to Avalon by Oberon for the Gathering? She returned there three years ago. And there she is likely to remain, for a long time."
"But I must speak with her," said Duval. "Before she returned to Avalon, she helped Arthur regain his sword."
"The Pendragon?" asked Nimue. "So you have met with him?"
Duval nodded, then stared at her closely. "You knew, then," he said. "You knew that he had returned from Avalon, and did not tell me."
"And why should I need to tell you, Lancelot?" she asked him. "You learned of his presence in the mortal world soon enough, without my assistance."
"That is beside the point," replied Duval sharply.
"Why are you so angered, Lancelot?" she asked. "Is it because you knew, but did not wish to believe?"
"Why would I not wish to believe?"Duval asked. "After so many centuries, I would be glad to see him again."
"Ah, yes," she replied. "But would he be glad to see you?" She looked at him closely, her eyes focused on the fiery-eyed pyramid badge pinned unobtrusively to his jacket, the badge of the Illuminati, as she spoke.
Duval glanced down at the badge for a moment, then looked back at Nimue, with a troubled frown. "That doesn't matter," he said.
"And will Arthur feel the same way?" she asked. "The matter with Guinevere is one thing. But the deeds of over a thousand years that that token represents - that is another."
And with those words, she turned away and vanished, leaving Duval standing alone by the lily pond in silence.
* * * * *
Elaine found Norman in the hotel restaurant. It was crowded, so she joined him at his table.
"What will you have, sir?" the waitress asked pleasantly.
Norman had a murderous glint in his eye. "Iíll eat pancakes for breakfast," he growled.
"Nothing for me," Elaine answered.
When the waitress was gone, Elaine looked at her oft-time protector. "Are these killer pancakes you plan on slaying?" she asked him.
Norman looked at her with a querying expression.
"You seem angry," Elaine answered. "Is breakfast the source of it?"
Norman shook his head. "No! Itís just....nothing."
Elaine knew Norman well enough that nothing usually meant something. But she also knew that when he didnít want to talk about it, he didnít want to talk about it.
"All right, then have you seen Hector? I heard him last night, but havenít seen him this morning."
Norman paused. "Heís attending to some business."
"Ah. The code word for something dirty and underhanded."
"Please donít start," said Norman with a sigh.
"You're right, I shouldnít. You just work here. I should take my complaint to the manager. Provided I can find him."
"Elaine, this isnít really a good time to have it out," Norman began.
The waitress returned with his order. She placed the pancakes before him and departed.
"Why not? You were the one who set all this up. You were the one who convinced Hector and me to work things out. Whatís so important to change all that?"
Norman looked conflicted; he wanted to tell her, but hesitated. Elaine shook her head slightly.
"Fine! When you see Hector, tell him Iím heading back to London. Heíll hear from my solicitor in a day or so."
"No, wait." Norman gave a sigh. "Heís at the Priory."
"Thank you." Elaine stood up. Norman remained seated, sullenly taking a vicious stab at his pancakes.
* * * * *
Church bells rang out nine oíclock as Elaine crossed the small village of Lindisfarne to the Priory ruins. She found her husband in a secluded spot, near the ivy-grown dark sandstone arches.
The roofless ruins framed a serene summer sky. Hector knelt before the stone altar. Elaine turned a corner and stopped when she saw him kneeling. She had never seen Hector pray. Slowly, she approached not wishing to intrude. His forehead rested on the hilt of a sword for a long silent moment. Finally, he stood up and turned around. Elaine tried to act casual, but soon gave up the pretense.
"I missed you at breakfast," she began.
"Business, dear heart," Hector replied.
"The same business that got you out of bed last night?" Elaine folded her arms across her chest. "The same business you canít tell me about?"
Hector sheathed his sword.
"Hector," she continued, 'if we are to have any future together, you canít keep hiding things from me."
"Elaine," he said, hanging his head, "you know that itís better this way. This knowledge is a burden you donít want to carry."
"That excuse doesnít wash anymore. We shouldnít have any secrets from each other if we expect to have any kind of relationship. Husband and wife or no, I care about you, Hector. And I worry about what youíve gotten yourself into."
Hector stared at her for a long time. The way the sun streamed through her dark brown hair, the open compassion that filled her face. He tried hard to remember, because of what he had to say next.
"Iím sorry, dear heart, but I canít." He wished he hadnít looked up. Now the image of a crestfallen, heartbroken woman was branded in his mind. He plunged forward.
"There are some things I have to take care of. I may be gone for a couple of days."
"I may not be here when you get back," she told him. It wasnít an ultimatum, merely a statement of fact.
Hector sighed and turned. Elaine shook her head and left the ruins. Hector looked up staring into the sun.
"Things are getting complicated," he said to no one. He pulled out his sword, holding it up to the gleaming sun. "What I wouldnít give for the simplicity of a knight again."
* * * * *
Powell ran into Elaine on the stairwell. He quickly hid a look of disapproval. He didnít like holding Arthur in such a public facility. If she or anyone else were to wander into the interrogation room, they would have problems.
"Mrs. Duval?" Powell greeted her. "Can I help you?"
"Mr. Powell! What a surprise! How are you?" Elaine slipped seamlessly into hostess mode, wiping the brimming tears from her eyes.
"Splendid, splendid," Powell replied. "What are you doing here?"
"Hector and I are working on reconciliation."
"Really, that is wonderful. You two always seemed like the perfect match," Powell said with an obsequious smile.
"What brings you all the way out here?" Elaine asked. "You donít strike me as someone on holiday."
"Truthfully, I am not. There was some business that needed your husbandís attention."
Elaine nodded in understanding. She knew that he was heavily into Hectorís line of work and not someone to be trusted.
Powell looked at his watch. "I do apologize for being abrupt, but I must make a call to the Board and give them an update. It was a pleasure seeing you."
"Same here," Elaine said brightly. Both departed on their separate ways.
When Elaine reached the top of the steps she frowned. Dealing with that man was one of the things she wouldnít miss about her life with Hector.
When Elaine was out of earshot, Powell pulled out a cell phone. "Yes, this is Powell. Two things. One, have an extra guard posted around the interrogation room. And two, get me the Inner Circle. We have a few things to discuss about Duvalís recent activities."
* * * * *
"It's anarchy in there," said the lanky, dark-haired girl to Leba and Rory, as they sat around one of the metal tables in a lunch area not far from the Security Service headquarters. "Complete and total anarchy! Whateverís going on has the whole building abuzz. You donít know how hard it was trying to come up with a story."
"Thanks again, Christie," Leba told her friend. "Itís been too long."
"Iím glad I got out of there without them asking too many questions." Lebaís friend Christie fanned herself with her hat.
"Was there any sign of Arthur? The man we showed you?" Rory asked.
Christie shook her head. "Nah, but I did hear that name getting tossed around quite a bit. That and some fellow named Braddock. That mean anything to you?"
"Some." Rory wore a thoughtful look.
"I couldnít spot your Arthur. If heís in there, theyíve gotten him tucked away. Sorry I couldnít be of more help."
"Youíve been a tremendous help," said Leba, embracing her friend.
"Right, we canít thank you enough." Rory offered his hand. "Weíre too well known around there."
"Anything to help a friend," said Christie, standing up. "Donít be a stranger, Leba."
"I wonít," said Leba. "When this business is sewed up let's get together, shall we?"
"Sure. Iíll even bring Sothersby." Christie got up and started down the street before blending into the crowds.
"So, what now?" Leba asked Rory after her friend was gone.
"Iím not quite sure. We canít just walk over there and tell him who we are and demand Arthurís release," Rory said reluctantly.
"Why not?" Leba asked. "Up until now weíve done everything but that."
"And what do we tell him? That Arthurís a 1500-year-old king and that the legends about him should vouch for his character? Weíd be thrown in Broadmoor for certain."
"Well, do you have any ideas?" Leba asked. Rory just shook his head.
Suddenly, a familiar figure stepped out of Security Service Headquarters. Robert Braddock folded his coat over his arms and donned a hat to keep the bright sun off his head. He started walking down the street.
Leba got a mischievous glint in her eye. She stood up from the lunch table and started to follow.
"Leba? Leba? No!" Rory tried to stop her. She danced out of his reach.
"It's all right," said Leba with a devious smirk. "I've got an idea." And with those words, she continued to follow the Security Agent.
Rory looked heavenward for help. When none was forthcoming, he shrugged and followed the minstrel.
* * * * *
Arthur nodded as Lancelot re-entered the great hall. "Welcome back to Camelot, my friend," he said. "What news from the Northlands?"
"The Picts have been driven back across the Wall," replied Lancelot. "They'll not be invading Britain again for many years."
"We thank you for your service to the kingdom, Lancelot," said Arthur, nodding in approval.
"Yes, my liege," said his best knight. "But I must ask you a question, sire. What can you tell me about the gargoyle clan?"
"The clan of the North Wood? They are fearsome warriors and loyal allies. Iíve known them to be devoted to each other as any clan Iíve met."
"Forgive me, my liege, I misspoke. Tell me about the London clan that youíve met in the modern world."
For Arthur, the change was like a dreamís, abrupt, but at the same time seamless. The great hall and the courtiers clustered within it faded away like watercolors, replaced by an old castle-like structure covered in ivy and moss.
Arthur stared at it in disbelief as they landed. "Your clan dwells here?" he said to Griff. "It seems as though nobody has lived here for nigh on a few centuries."
"Well, that's the impression that we want to give people," said Griff. "We don't want humans to think that the place is still inhabited, now, do we? Especially not considering that there are still quite a lot of them out there whose idea of a good time is to walk up to a sleeping gargoyle and smash it. This is supposed to be an out-of-the-way location, after all."
"True enough," said Arthur. "But where are all the other gargoyles?"
"Here," said a voice. A large gargoyle landed in front of the king and Griff. Like the three London gargoyles, he had feathered wings rather than the traditional leathery bat-like ones that most gargoyles sported, and bore a striking resemblance to a heraldic beast. In his case, what he evoked was an eagle, with magnificent golden plumage and an even mightier beak than Griff's. He was very tall and strongly built much like an aquiline version of Goliath. He stared at the two of them a trifle suspiciously.
The sudden ringing noise broke off the conversation. Duval stepped away from his former king and switched on his cell phone. "What is it?" he asked.
"This is Powell, sir," replied the voice at the other end. "I've already spoken with the rest of the Inner Circle, and they'd like a report on your progress with Arthur."
"What?" asked Duval. "How did they know that Arthur was here to begin with? Who told them that?" He felt certain that he already knew the answer, however.
"I did." Powell answered sharply. "Pennington represents a vital resource of information. The Inner Circle wishes to know if your progress matches their expectations. They agree that we must use this opportunity to get any information on any unknown factors, particularly the Unseelie." His voice was stern, as if he were in control.
"The Unseelie are gone, Powell," Hector said flatly.
"But the gargoyles arenít."
"We need a report - "
"You and the Inner Circle seem to have forgotten who is master and who is subordinate. I am leader of the Illuminati. That means I make the decisions. If you or any in the Circle wish to challenge my position, you can do so at the appropriate time. Tell the Inner Circle they will get their report when Iím finished. This interruption is unwarranted, Powell. Good day."
"Of course, sir, as soon - " Powell was cut off by the clicking of the phone hanging up.
"Powell," Hector seethed. "It seems I have to deal with him sooner than I thought. Heís certainly overstepped his station."
"Powell? William Powell. I know him..."
Arthur began reliving his first encounter with Powell, but Hector stopped him.
"I know all about the enmity that you and he share." Hector paused in thought. "Arthur, when did you first realize there was something going on between myself and Queen Guinevere?"
Arthurís face grimaced as he remembered the pain of discovering and the agony of betrayal.
* * * * *
"I'll have a Reuben and a hot tea with lemon," ordered Braddock, as he sat down at the counter. As the waitress walked away, he began massaging his sore throat. It was his only reward for a morning spent shouting over the phone. First, there was the long argument with Inspector Courtney and Nigel Sefton, both of whom had been thorougly disgusted with Arthur Pennington's disappearance so soon after being arrested. Then there had been the attempt to find the missing van, which, despite all the phone calls that he had made and questions he had asked, was still missing.
While he waited for his lunch, Braddock thumbed the vehicle damage report on the van that had made it back. The drivers hadn't been exaggerating. The roof had been ripped open. Furthermore, judging from the photos attached, it didn't seem as if a crowbar or any other tool had been used. It was more as something had dug into the metal and tore it up. But what could be strong enough to do such a thing?
Even worse, however, was the damage that had been done to the tires. The two blowouts had turned out to have bullet fragments inside them. Between this and the non-existence of the relief van, this accidental breakdown was looking less and less like an accident.
The waitress returned with his lunch. He took a sip of his tea, grimacing as the hot liquid burned his raw throat. He was just picking up his sandwich to bite out of it when he paused. Out of the corner of his eye he could see two people surreptitiously coming towards his table. One was a tall raw-boned blonde woman, and the other a lean young man with a shock of red hair. Braddock continued to bite his sandwich and chew in careful nonchalance.
He recalled their names from his investigation into Arthur Pennington. Leba and Rory Dugan. As he took another bite of his sandwich, he wondered next what they were doing here. Why were they approaching him?
Leba pointed to him at the counter and both moved towards him. Braddock flicked on his pager, in case he needed back up in a hurry. Rory and Leba flanked him, Leba on his left and Rory to his right.
"Coffee?" Leba asked the waitress.
"Club soda for me." Rory followed her lead.
She turned around and faced the man. "And what will you have, Agent Braddock?"
If she was expecting him to be surprised or impressed by her temerity, he didnít show it. He simply took another bite of his sandwich, silent as a stone.
"And another one of what heís having," Leba finished the order.
The waitress looked at Braddock. He gave a slight nod.
"I feel like we already know you. What should I call you? Braddock or Agent Braddock or just plain Bob?"
Braddock finished swallowing and swiveled around to face Leba. He kept one eye on Rory through the counter mirror.
"Odd," he said. "I don't recall ever being this friendly with any of my other fugitives."
"It's hard to be classified as fugitives when we haven't done anything wrong," Leba replied.
"Oh?" he said. "The last time that I checked, aiding and abetting a wanted criminal still counts as a crime."
"Ah, but we havenít been aiding a criminal. Weíve been helping a friend."
"A friend wanted for gun running, among other things."
"Arthur isnít a gun runner," Rory protested.
"And how do you know this?" he asked the young Irishman sharply. "Because he told you? I have been working on this case for months, and I have evidence enough to back me up. What do you have?"
"The truth," Leba said triumphantly.
Braddock peered at both of them. "And does this truth come with hard evidence, evidence that could convince a judge and jury at the Old Bailey?" he asked.
Both fell silent.
"No? Well, I suggest you let me eat my meal in peace before I have you both arrested for aiding and abetting."
Braddock returned to his Reuben. Rory gave Leba an ĎI-told-you-soí look. Leba shook her head.
"No, if this rent-a-cop had something on us, heíd have put us in the clinker by now."
"If I thought itíd bring Pennington in I would, but...." Braddock left the rest hanging as he took another sip of tea. Leba stared at the Security Agent, her face changing from disbelief to anger as she slowly caught on.
"You think that weíd lead you to him? Leba asked. "No fear!"
Braddock remained coolly aloof.
She slammed her hand on the counter. "Arthur is not a criminal! We know him!"
"Maybe you don't know him as well as you think you do," replied Braddock. "Or maybe you're part of his operation."
This time Rory took a more direct hand, physically grabbing Leba. She started to struggle, but Rory hissed in her ear to stop.
"You say you have crates of evidence," he said to Braddock. "You might want to check the one that came from Hathaway."
And with that, he dragged Leba halfway out of the diner, before she shook off his hands and followed him the rest of the way out.
"We have to go in there and wring the information out of that man," she said. "You turn into your Cuchulain, and -"
"And what? All that we'll be doing is calling too much attention to ourselves, attention of the wrong sort. Besides, Braddock doesn't have Arthur."
"And how can you be so sure?"
"Because I was listening. If Braddock had Arthur, why hasnít he picked us up? How can we lead him to a person he already has? I donít know how, but Braddock doesnít have Arthur. Heís still out there."
Leba started to smile, but saw Roryís face still in a grimace of concern.
"Thereís more, isnít there?"
"If Arthur is free, why hasnít he called? For that matter, why hasnít Merlin? Arthur may not be in custody, but that doesnít mean heís safe. I hope that either of them thinks to contact us."
* * * * *
Norman stopped by Elaineís room. One look at her packed bags and the hidden look under her wide-brimmed white and black hat and he knew.
"You canít leave," he protested, entering her room without a preamble.
"Iím sorry, Norman, but there is nothing to keep me here."
"Please reconsider," Norman pleaded with desperation equal to that of a boy trying to keep his parents together.
"Do you know what I live with, Norman? What I go through every day? I live in secrets that I donít even know about, with a man in love with the ghosts of his past. Iím tired of this world of conspiracy. I canít get Hector to quit, so Iím leaving now while there is still some chance for me."
Elaine gave a shuddering sigh. She swallowed once and spoke in a wavering voice. "Can you call the limo over?"
"No!" Norman said resolutely. "Follow me!"
He spun on his heels and strode down the hallway. "Come!" he commanded when Elaine didnít immediately follow.
Other guests quickly jumped out of his way. Those who didnít got knocked aside. Elaine, unaccustomed to being ordered by her burly bodyguard, followed.
* * * * *
Arthur looked down at his wife with eyes that had seen too many horrors to ever be consoled. "Guinevere, I must sentence you. I cannot be betrayed. I cannot have my trust broken like that. The law is clear. I must sentence you." Arthur lifted Guinevere's head with a couple of fingers under her chin, and looked deep into her bottomless, ever changing hazel eyes. "Guinevere, I love you."
Hector sat facing Arthur, his jaw tightly clenched. He knew this memory would be painful, but he needed to see it through Arthurís eyes.
"You loved her and yet you sentenced her to death," he murmured. "Why? It was Mordred's doing, wasn't it? Playing upon your belief in the law, convincing you that you had to send her to the stake to preserve your justice."
The door opened abruptly. Hector turned around.
"Just come this way," Norman argued.
"Nothing you show me is going to change my mind." Elaine came into the room, then stopped short. "Arthur!" she cried
"What is the meaning of this?" Hector looked first at his wife, then at Norman.
"She was going to leave....for good," Norman replied. " I thought she should at least know why."
Elaine didnít notice him for a moment. Her attention was too firmly focused on Arthur.
"What in the world is he doing here?" she demanded, pointing at Arthur. "What are you doing to him?"
"I am protecting him, thatís all," Duval answered.
Elaine rushed to his side ,cupping Arthurís face in a warm hand. One look at his vacant expression told her that something was wrong.
"What happened to him?"
"Heís been drugged. Heíll snap out of it. Why? How do you know him?" Hector asked, already knowing the answer.
Elaine flushed hotly and looked away. "Arthur is a friend," she said. "Someone that I care about."
"Elaine?" Arthur broke into their conversation. "Of course, Iíd love to see a play with you."
* * * * *
Several months ago
"That was nice, Arthur," Elaine said as the two came out of the theater house.
"Yes, I suppose it was. Nice, but totally inaccurate, Iím afraid," the king stated.
"I suppose Camelot is a fairly inaccurate account of the time period," Elaine agreed as they stepped out of the crowds and strolled down the street. "Was this your first play?"
"We did have performers back in those days, but not productions on such a scale." Arthur fell into easy step with Elaine. "I must say that I prefer this entertainment to movies and television."
Arthur nodded. "Sometimes the others try to impress me with all the modern wonders available in this age. I think theyíve forgotten that the simple has its appeal to."
"Like the way a backdrop of greasepaint and good costumes can do more than a ton of special effects."
"Exactly!" Arthur smiled. "Sometimes, Iíd prefer to just read a book rather than see it up on a computer screen and I prefer to travel by foot or by horse rather than drive a car. The wonders do amaze me, but Iím comfortable with my way of doing things."
"Sounds, perfectly reasonable to me. Oh, weíre here," she said, stopping in front of an apartment building. No traffic went by, so Elaine drew closer to Arthur.
"It must be good to get rid of your shadow," said Arthur, referring to Norman.
"Indeed. If he was here I couldnít do this." Elaine reached up, cutting the height difference between them. Their lips met and their eyes closed. Elaine drew back again an unrecognizable time later. "Thank you," she said. "That was nice."
Elaine walked up the short set of stairs, unlocking the door and stepping inside, looking back before she closed the door. Arthur smiled to himself and hailed a cab. It was time to get home.
* * * * *
"Would you care to explain your role in that affair?" Hector asked Elaine, starring hard into her eyes. She met his gaze, then turned and walked out.
Norman walked up to his employer. He loomed over Duval like a storm cloud.
"That wasnít nice," he said before turning around and following Elaine out.
Duval turned his attention back to Arthur, an angry scowl upon his face.
"And what did you do in my position, my liege? You mustíve known she was spoken for. Did you know and not care?"
Duvalís clenched jaw relaxed. His harsh features softened. "Or did your heart overrule you? Like it did with me? Did you see the danger but couldnít escape it?"
He sat down, scrubbing his face with both hands. "The roles have reversed. Now I am where you once were and you are where I have been. It is amazing how fate works out. The question remains, how will I deal with it?"
* * * * *
Elaine paced the room in a rage. She felt angry and humiliated. How could he have done this to her? She heard the door open. It was Norman.
"Elaine..." he began.
"LEAVE!" she screamed at him.
"I canít. Not now. We need to talk."
"No," Elaine started. "You need to talk. How much do you know?"
"Just that Arthur was here. I know what he means to you, Elaine. I couldnít tell you, not when there was a chance for you and Hector."
"And showing me Arthur now was what? An attempt to blackmail me to stay?"
"No. I wanted to show you how Hector put himself on the line to protect Arthur. The Society has felt that he and his associates will be trouble. There are some who wanted to eliminate him outright. Duval has stopped them at every turn."
"So Hectorís just misunderstood," Elaine seethed. "Please!"
"What can I do to make you believe me?" Norman asked, coming closer to Elaine and putting his hand on her shoulder.
"You want to prove yourself: find out why heís here. Hector said he was protecting him. Protecting him from what? By whom?"
Norman was silent for a moment. Elaine began to fear that he would not help her, that she would have to be alone in all of this. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellular phone.
"You have my word," he said, as he started dialing.
* * * * *
Winslow was having lunch in his office. The aroma of hot pastrami on rye filled the room. Braddock grimaced as he entered.
"You know what Felicia would say if she saw you eating like this."
"Iím not going to tell her," Winslow replied. "Are you?"
Braddock shook his head. "I just had a most unusual meeting with a couple of Pennington's followers," he went on to say.
Winslow took a sip of soda. "A meeting, you say?"
"They came to me demanding that I release Pennington."
"A rather cheeky pair," Winslow commented.
"No lie, but hereís the interesting thing. The vehicle damage report on the van points to the tires being shot. And the van that relieved them doesnít exist on our records."
"Sounds like an escape attempt to me."
"Exactly," replied Braddock, "but by who? If it was one of his gang who'd done it, why would they come to me ordering me to free him? They must know that they're courting danger by accosting me like that, considering that they're pretty close to ending up on the wanted list themselves for helping him. If they'd already rescued Pennington, they'd have nothing to gain by speaking to me. So if we don't have him, and they don't have him, then who does?"
"Maybe he staged the whole thing, to fool all of us," suggested Winslow. "I've come across at least half a dozen cases of criminals who faked their own deaths or staged their own kidnappings, for one reason or another. Maybe he's decided to flee the country, and is so intent on covering his tracks that he's not even contacting his former friends."
"Hmm......" said Braddock thoughtfully. "It's possible, but I don't know. We'll just have to see if it bears out."
"So did you bring them in for questioning?" Winslow asked. "Those two friends of Pennington's, I mean."
Braddock shook his head. "No," he said. "They could still lead us to him. But I'll see to it that they're closely watched."
He turned and was about to leave the room when he stopped, and turned back. "Oh, and can you do me a favor?" he added.
"Do you promise not to tell my daughter about these secret lunches of mine?" Winslow asked.
Braddock nodded. "See what you can find out about Hathaway. That Rory Dugan fellow mentioned him. He's probably not the most reliable source, but I think that we'd better investigate anyway, just to cover all our bases."
"No problem, sir," said Winslow, nodding.
* * * * *
"Thanks a lot," said Norman. He clicked off his phone, and turned to Elaine.
"Do you want the truth?" he asked her. "Once you hear this, there's no turning back."
"You know I do," she answered.
"The police arrested Arthur last night," said Norman. "They believe that he's a gun-runner."
"What?" cried Elaine. "That's absurd!"
"I know," said Norman. "Someone's framed him, but I can't find out who. It isn't anybody in the Illuminati - they all seem as in the dark about it as we are - but they don't seem to be worrying too much about it. The bulk of them seem to feel that if the authorities want to capture Arthur, lock him up, and throw away the key, then they don't have any objections."
"But why?" Elaine asked. "What do they have against him?"
"I don't know," said Norman. "What I do know is that Duval had him intercepted and brought him here."
"So he was protecting him," said Elaine. A sudden thought came to her. "What about his friends? Arthur's not often alone. What about those gargoyles, or that ward of his?"
"The report didn't say anything about gargoyles," said Norman. "But he did have a couple of kids with him, teenagers, when the police spotted him in Berwick. They got away, though."
"Emrys," said Elaine thoughtfully. She was silent for a moment, then spoke again. "Norman, I want you to find him and bring him here. He might be able to help Arthur."
"I can't do that," said Norman, looking troubled. "Elaine, this is a top-secret project. I'm supposed to see to it that no outsiders get brought in. This boy could jeopardize everything if he arrives."
"I don't care," Elaine retorted. "All that I care about right now is Arthur, not another one of Hector's top-secret projects! And you know that as well as I do. You said that you'd do anything for me, Norman. And this is what I want you to do."
Norman sighed. "Very well," he said at last. "You win. Stay here, and I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you," she said to him, as he left the room. He only grunted by way of response.
* * * * *
"So that's our story," said Merlin, as he sat in the hotel room that Jennifer Camford had rented for the three of them. It had taken a bit of work to slip Mary in, but Merlin had just barely managed it with a brief invisibility spell upon her. Both it and the illusion had worn off by now, and she was lying uncomfortably on the floor between the two humans, listening to their conversation in a troubled silence.
"I must admit, Emrys, that if I hadn't seen some of the things that I've already seen with Arthur, I might not be so willing to believe your story," said Jennifer. "Magical talismans, sleeping giants, and curses that can turn people into werewolves - they're all more than a little far-fetched."
"It's true, though," said Merlin. "Every word of it."
"Well, at least that explains one mystery," said Jennifer. "I've met your father a few times, Mary, and the most recent time, he was more than a little concerned about your disappearance. Now that we've met, I can understand why."
Mary nodded uncomfortably. "I can't go home, either, or even let him know how I'm doing until somebody can get rid of this stupid curse," she said. "Thanks to it, I've been stuck traipsing around the countryside with them both. The one good thing about it is that I'll be a human again, once the sun goes down."
"And you revert to human form at night, while being a wolf in the daytime?" asked Jennifer. "That's - well, different from the werewolves that I've heard about."
Merlin nodded. "Which is one reason why finding a cure for her's being so difficult," he explained. "There aren't any precedents for this particular case. Nothing handy for us to consult. She might be stuck as a werewolf for a good long while."
"Well, I do wish that Arthur had seen fit to alert me about this situation that he's gotten into," said Jennifer, shifting the conversation back to King Arthur's plight. "He's being hunted by the police on charges of being a gun smuggler, and he doesn't even let me know about it? I only found out about this because that man from the Security Service questioned me about it. Why didn't Arthur let me know?"
"I think that it was because he was being hunted by the police," Merlin answered. "He doesn't want to risk your getting involved in this. Or anybody else, for that matter. It was hard enough for me just to persuade him to let me accompany him. He didn't leave London because he was afraid of being captured if he stayed there; he left because he was afraid that his presence there would endanger his friends."
"Well, I think that he's being a little too noble about this," said Jennifer. "He really wanted to go off by himself, all alone?"
"And what would he have done if the police had come upon him while he was asleep?" she asked. "Only a madman would go wandering off in such a strait with nobody to watch his back. And I was questioned about him by Braddock anyway, so I'd say that it's a little late for him to keep his friends out of danger."
"True," said Merlin. "Not to mention that if the others back in London are still searching for answers to this whole Connection affair, it could still get them into trouble anyway."
"Speaking of which," Jennifer Camford went on, "shouldn't you be thinking of calling them, and letting them know about where you are?"
"You're probably right," said Merlin. "It'll have to wait until after sunset, though. The gargoyles won't be awake until then."
He yawned suddenly. "And I've barely had a wink of sleep for the last several hours. Nothing but running from the police. I probably need my forty winks."
"Very well, then," said Jennifer. "We'd better all have some rest. We'll need it for tonight."
* * * * *
A loud knock came at the door of Morgana's study. "Enter," she said, without even looking up from the book before her.
The door opened, and Sybil entered. "Good afternoon, Morgana," she said.
"Sybil," said Morgana, lifting up her head and smiling. "So you're back from the north at last. How fare things, then?"
"Not too well, I'm afraid," said the former Queen of Northgalis. "Arthur mysteriously disappeared from the police van only shortly after being arrested. Braddock and his people are as baffled about it as I am."
"Did his friends rescue him, then?" Morgana asked.
"It's possible," said Sybil. "Truth to tell, Morgana, I wish that you'd do something about those knights and allies of his. We can't have them constantly running interference. It could endanger everything that you've been working for."
"I'm doing what I can, Sybil," Morgana replied.
"The trouble is, you're not doing enough," Sybil replied. "A few accidents - preferably permanent ones - and your brother won't have a follower left to his name. He'll be isolated, with nobody to protect him from you or from the police. And yet the only one whom you'll treat that way is Merlin. Why not the others?"
"They're not part of the problem," Morgana la Fay answered. "Arthur and Merlin are, and both must pay for their crimes against my family. But the rest of my brother's new entourage have nothing to do with this. They're merely victims, people who actually believed the lying stories that have been told about him for centuries. And how can they not, given that the world believes those falsehoods? No, I won't harm them, not unless I have to. Not unless I'm left with no other alternative. They're not the guilty ones."
"Well, I still think that you're making a mistake here," said Sybil. "This is war, you know. And you can't win a war by constantly letting the enemy's soldiers survive."
"It doesn't matter, Sybil," Morgana protested. "By the time that we're done, those new knights won't have a king to fight for. They might even understand at last how wrong they were to pledge themselves to his cause. Then they won't be our enemies any longer."
"Maybe," said Sybil. "So, is the spell ready?"
"Almost," said Morgana. "I will be casting it later this night. It is a pity that you won't be able to stay and see it - or be here in London for the fruition."
Sybil nodded. "Pity about that lecture tour in Canada," she said. "I should have examined my schedule more carefully then. But you can inform me about it when it's done."
She checked her watch. "And I'll have to leave now, if I'm to catch my flight at Heathrow," she said. "Good-bye, Morgana. And best wishes."
"The same to you as well," said Morgana, nodding.
Sybil left the room. Morgana returned in silence to her reading.
* * * * *
Merlin awoke from his nap in the armchair that he had been sitting in, and checked his watch. It was only a couple of minutes until sunset. Mary and Jennifer were already awake.
"I think that I'd better warn you," said Merlin to Jennifer, sitting up, "that what you're about to see might be a bit of a shock for you. Metamorphoses can be rather alarming to behold, if you're not adequately prepared for them."
"Merlin, I've seen enough unusual things in Arthur's company," Jennifer replied. "And I don't shock easily."
"Do you mind?" asked Mary sharply. "It's bad enough that I have to go through this sort of thing twice a day, without you both talking about it as if I'm some sort of freak show. This isn't a public performance, you know - ohhhh!"
She grimaced as the transformation began. Her wolf's muzzle changed into a pale human face, her tail disappeared, and her front paws turned into hands. Within a couple of minutes, Mary was standing upright in human form, gritting her teeth slightly still.
Jennifer stared at the sight before her, but kept her composure. "Are - are you all right, Mary?" she asked hesitantly.
"I'm fine, more or less," replied Mary. "It's just that this change - well, it is a bit on the painful side." She turned to Merlin. "Shouldn't you be calling your friends in London just now?"
"I'd better give them a few minutes," said the young-old wizard. "That way, there'll be time enough for the gargoyles to awaken and join the others. We'll need to talk with the whole group in order to find some sort of solution."
"Yes, you're probably right," said Jennifer. "It does seem that we'll need all the help that we can find to solve this problem."
* * * * *
Imogen, Faulconbridge, and Griff landed on the balcony of the Mystic shop and made their way inside to join their human friends.
"How's the wing, Griff?" asked Rory. "Better?"
"Oh, itís a little stiff," Griff replied, "but after tomorrow Iíll hardly notice it."
"You a lucky one," Dulcinea said, wincing from her own wound. "Iíll still be feeling mine for weeks."
Griff turned to Rory. "If weíre all here, let's go break Arthur out."
"Hold on there, Griff," Rory objected. "I donít think that he's in custody."
Griff gave him a questioning look.
"We ran into Agent Braddock," Leba explained "From our conversation, it sounds like they donít have him."
"He could have just been putting you on," argued Griff.
"Possibly," Leba said, "but there hasnít been any reports of Arthurís capture on the telly. If they had him, theyíd be certain to make a big deal about it. Instead, theyíve postponed the press conference."
"None of that proves anything," Griff argued.
Rory nodded. "True, but smashing into a police jail might not be the wisest course of action."
The phone rang. Dulcinea answered it while Griff and the others discussed their next move.
"What does Merlin say?" Griff asked.
"We donít know," said Kevin, joining the conversation. "He hasnít come in yet. I covered most of the railway stations today. If he came in, I didnít see him."
"No wonder," said Dulcinea. "He's on the line." She put it on speaker so they could all listen.
"Merlin, where are you?" Leba asked
"Still in Berwick," Merlin's voice replied.
"What are you doing there?"
"It's a long story. Any news about Arthur?"
"Not a peep," Leba answered. "We donít think that he's in police custody."
"He's not?" asked Merlin. "What happened? I saw him getting arrested."
"He was arrested," said Leba. "But he doesn't seem to have stayed that way for very long."
* * * * *
Jennifer and Mary sat in one corner of the room, listening to Merlin talking on the phone. Mary had been silent ever since the youth had rung up the Mystic shop, staring down at the floor moodily. At last Jennifer spoke.
"Is there anything that you'd like to talk about, Mary?"
"It's - well, I suppose that I really shouldn't be dragging you deeper into this mess than you already are," said the girl. "But - I'm still really bothered by this business of being a werewolf. And it doesn't look as if I'm ever going to find a cure. Not with Merlin being my only hope."
"You can't be serious about that," said Jennifer puzzledly. "After all, Merlin's the greatest wizard of all time, according to the legends at least."
"Yes, maybe he was 1500 years ago, but look at him now," Mary replied. "I doubt that he could even do card tricks properly these days."
"Arenít you being a little harsh?" Jennifer asked.
"Well, the greatest wizard of all time should be able to lift a simple curse," she answered. "But he hasn't done it. He hasn't even paid that much attention to it. All that we've been doing is roaming around Britain looking for a solution to Arthur's problem. Now, I know that Arthur's in trouble, and that Merlin has to do something about it, but I'm still getting covered with fur whenever the sun comes up. It's ruined my life, and I don't think that he even really cares."
"I hardly think that that's really the case," said Jennifer. "Is it?"
"Well, he did help me out a little when we were up in Scotland," said Mary, after a moment's thought. "And to be perfectly fair to him, he did say that a lot of the problem is because I'm not a normal werewolf, considering that I turn into an animal in the daytime instead of at night. But still -"
"I must confess that I barely know Merlin myself," Jennifer went on. "But I do know Arthur. He's a good and decent man. You've noticed that, surely?"
"Well, yes," said the girl.
"And I think that a lot of who he is comes from having been taught by Merlin," Jennifer said. "So you might want to be a bit more fair to him. He is doing the best that he can."
Mary looked down at the floor for a moment more. "Maybe you're right," she said.
"Just between us," Jennifer went on, "I hope that I'm not being too nosy, Mary, but - this isn't just about Merlin being unable to find a cure for you, is it? There's something else, isn't there?"
"Well, maybe," said Mary uncomfortably. She looked up at Merlin, still talking on the phone, and blushed slightly. "I'd rather not talk about it, though."
Jennifer nodded. "Well, when you're ready, you can speak to me about it," she said in a comforting tone of voice.
* * * * *
"That doesn't sound good at all," Merlin was saying on the phone. "Thank you for informing me. It seems that this situation just got all the more puzzling. Oh, and do you remember Jennifer Camford?"
"Of course," said Leba. "What about her?"
"She's helping Mary and myself out," said the youth. "If anything happens, anything at all, see if you can contact her."
"Understood," the minstrel replied. "So, what's your next move, Merlin?"
"I honestly don't know," replied the boy. "We've got so little to go on, that's the problem. It might take a miracle to lead us to where Arthur is."
A knock suddenly sounded at the door. "I'll get it," said Jennifer, crossing over the room.
"Maybe that's the miracle that you were looking for, Merlin," said Mary. "Or it could be room service."
No sooner did Jennifer open the door than a tall, burly figure rushed into the room. He headed straight for an astonished Merlin, and growled "Get off the phone! Now!"
"Who are you?" Mary asked. Merlin merely stared at the intruder, looking partly bewildered, partly suspicious.
"They're monitoring the magic shop in London," the man almost shouted at him. "Hang up, now!"
"Leba, I've got to go," said Merlin quickly. "Keep your eyes open. I'll see if I can call back later." And with that, he hung up, then turned to stare at the newcomer.
"Good," said the man. "Another minute, and they might have found you the same way that I did."
"Are you telling me that you had this phone tapped?" asked Jennifer sharply.
"No, not this phone," he replied. "The magic shop's. They know that it's connected to Arthur, remember."
"That still doesn't explain who you are," said Mary. "Could you please explain what this is all about?"
"My name is Norman Dent," said the burly-looking man. He turned to Merlin. "I need you to come with me," he said to the boy.
"Why?" asked Merlin, staring up at him cautiously.
"No time for answering questions," replied Norman. "Come with me, if you ever want to see Arthur alive again."
"What do you know about Arthur?" asked Merlin at once. The caution in his eyes deepened into a look of downright suspicion.
"I said that you'll get the answers to your questions later," said Norman. "Now come!"
"Just a moment," said Jennifer. "I'm coming too."
"And so am I," put in Mary.
"I have my orders," said Norman. "Just the boy."
"We are not letting you take Merlin away on his own, and particularly not if it involves Arthur," said Jennifer firmly.
"She's right," said Merlin. "Either they come with me, or I stay here."
Norman growled something inaudible, then sighed and nodded. "Follow me," he said, and led them out of the room.
* * * * *
The Manor Hotel, Holy Island
Norman halted the car in front of the hotel. His three passengers climbed out and followed him inside.
"Keep close behind me," he instructed them. "We don't want them to know that we're here."
"Who's 'them'?" Mary asked. He made no reply, however, but merely led them up the grand staircase in silence.
"You don't have any idea what this is all about, do you?" she asked Merlin and Jennifer.
"Not really," said Merlin. "I know that Norman is Elaine's bodyguard, but that's about it."
"Who's Elaine?" Mary asked. Neither Merlin nor Jennifer answered, however.
Norman stopped at a door, and opened it. "In here," he ordered.
Inside, Elaine was standing by the window, gazing out in silence. She turned around and stared at the newcomers in surprise.
"You?" she said, looking straight at Jennifer. Then she turned to Norman. "What's she doing here?"
"I could say the same about you," Jennifer retorted.
"Never mind that," said Merlin quickly. "Where's Arthur?"
"Heís here in the hotel. My husband is holding him."
"Your husband?" Jennifer asked in a shocked and accusing voice.
"Yes," answered Elaine.
"Then what in the world are you doing with Arthur?"
"Thatís none of your business."
"I beg to differ with you on that one," said Jennifer sharply. Mary stared at the two women bewilderedly, while Norman shook his head stoically. It was Merlin who spoke up.
"Please, we don't have time for this," he said, then turned to Elaine. "Now, I'm assuming that Arthur's still in danger, or else you wouldn't have asked for me."
"All right, you two can continue your argument after we rescue him," said Merlin. "Now, do you have a plan?"
Elaine nodded. "Norman will distract the guards. I'll distract Hector, while you get Arthur out of here."
"Sounds fair enough," said Merlin, nodding. "Where is Arthur?"
"He's in the east wing," she replied. "The second to last door on the right."
"Then we'd better go now," said Merlin.
"Just a minute!" said Jennifer to Elaine. "You still haven't told us what you're doing here."
"It's a long story," said Elaine.
"Well, tell it," said Jennifer. "I'm willing to listen."
"Look, I don't know anything about what's going on between you," said Mary, "but Merlin's right, we don't have time for this. The longer that we stand around here arguing, the more likely it is that they'll move Arthur somewhere else, or even dispose of him."
"The girl's right," said Norman. "Let's go." He led them out of the room and down the hallway.
* * * * *
A few minutes later, Elaine opened the door to Hectorís study. She saw him at his desk and walked in. The desktop was heavily illuminated, but the rest of the room was hidden in shadows. She looked up and gasped as she saw the paintings adorning the wall: her paintings. Many were from her galley exhibition a year before, but some of her earlier works were there as well.
"What is it?" he asked, not looking up.
"Uh....I thought we could talk," Elaine stammered.
Hector turned his seat and looked at Elaine. "Then talk. Itís you who needs to explain things now."
* * * * *
Norman walked quickly down the hallway, then halted. The door to the interrogation room was only a few feet away, but two men were standing there on guard duty. He motioned to the other three to stay hidden, then walked boldly up to them.
"Duval wants to see you both in his office," he told them. "At once."
"Powell told us to stand guard here until he gets back," replied one of the guards.
"And Iím telling you to leave," Norman said sternly.
"Sir, we can't - " the guard began. His sentence abruptly ended as Norman's fist made contact with his face, knocking him to the floor, unconscious. Norman turned to the other guard sharply.
"Now, you listen to me very carefully," he said. "Duval is the head of the Illuminati Society. His orders outrank everyone else's orders. Is that clear?"
"Illuminati?" said Merlin aloud, in a low voice. He frowned thoughtfully.
"Yes, sir," stammered the guard, looking at Norman's grim face. "It is."
"Then you take him to your room and you wait there until I call for you. Got that?"
"Yes, sir," said the guard. He picked up his fallen companion and dragged him down the hallway. Norman smiled to himself, and gestured to Merlin and the others to follow him.
They entered the small, dimly-lit room. Arthur was seated in a wooden chair, asleep and mumbling incoherently.
"Thank goodness, it's him," said Merlin. He dashed to Arthur's side, followed closely by Jennifer. Mary stood by the doorway, serving as a lookout.
"Come on, Arthur," said Jennifer, pulling him up to his feet. "We're going to get you out of here."
"Jennifer?" asked Arthur, his voice unsteady. "Is that you? Do you smell the magnolias?"
Jennifer stared at Merlin, who was now supporting his king and former pupil on the other side. "What have they done to him?" she asked.
"They must have drugged him," replied the youth. "He's delirious."
"Can you do something about it, then?" she asked, as the two of them walked him across the room towards the doorway.
"I don't think that it's a good idea," Merlin replied. "I don't know precisely what they did to him, and it would be dangerous to try a spell on him while I know that little. All that we can do is wait for it to wear off. If it wears off."
"I hope that it does," said Jennifer.
* * * * *
"I was hurting, and I saw that he was suffering the same hurt," Elaine was pleading to Duval. At a loss to find a proper distraction, she had finally opted for the truth. "It was harmless, Hector. I swear that it was."
Hector Duval gave her a piercing look. "Is something wrong?" he asked her.
"No, nothing," she replied. "What makes you think that there is?"
"Well, this should be a relief for you," he replied. "You're finally letting all of this out after keeping it bottled up inside you for so long. Instead, you're more nervous than ever. Just what are you up to, Elaine?"
"Nothing. I think that being in the Society so long has made you paranoid."
"No," he replied. "I've merely been around too long to not know when something is brewing."
He spun around in his chair and switched on the monitor. The screen flickered to life and showed Jennifer and Merlin helping Arthur out of his cell, Mary following close behind.
"Hmm..." said Duval, turning back to Elaine, and looking straight at her. She lowered her eyes instead of returning his stare. Duval frowned as he gazed at her for a minute in silence, then rose from his chair and picked up Excalibur. "Why don't we see what they're up to?" he said.
"No!" Elaine yelled, without realizing what she was doing.
"Oh, now I think we must," he replied. And with those words, he headed for the door, sword in hand.
Elaine rose from her own chair and followed him without a word. She knew that she had no other options now.
* * * * *
Arthur stirred, and blinked. His eyes regained their focus, and he looked about him.
"Merlin?" he said, looking at his two supporters. "Jennifer? Where are we?"
"We'll explain later, Arthur," said Merlin as they reached the head of the stairs. "Right now, we have to get you out of here before somebody here finds out that you've gone."
"Too late for that, I fear," said a voice at the foot of the stairs. Duval was standing there, holding Excalibur in both hands, and blocking their path. Elaine stood behind him, looking absolutely miserable.
"I knew that this was getting too easy," muttered Mary in a low voice. Like the others, she had immediately recognized Arthur's sword in the hands of the man barring their exit. And, to make matters worse, by the way that he stood and held Excalibur, it was clear enough that he knew how to wield it. He had the stance of a fighter who knew his craft superlatively well.
"Hector, let them go," protested Elaine. "They've done nothing to you, and neither has Arthur. You know that."
Duval showed no signs of having heard her. He stood at the foot of the stairs, not moving towards them but not moving away from them or lowering Excalibur.
"I'd better try something," said Merlin to the others in a low voice. "Maybe a quick paralyzing spell."
"I would not attempt such a feat were I you, Merlin," said Duval gravely, staring at the youth. "And don't start like that. I know who you are. Oh, the rejuvenation fooled me for a while, but there are some things about you that even renewed youth cannot hide."
"And how do you know me, anyway?" asked Merlin sharply. "We've never met before."
"That is where you are mistaken," said Duval. "Although perhaps that is not so surprising. You are not the only one here whose appearance the passage of time has changed."
He turned to Mary, standing in the shadow of the other three. "Miss Mary Sefton, I presume," he said. "It has been some time since you last had words with your father; I understand that he's quite concerned about your disappearance. You probably should inform him as to your whereabouts - although, given what befalls you during the day, I can understand why."
Mary stared at him, then at Merlin. "Who is this man?" she asked.
"I honestly don't know," said Merlin. "There's something familiar about him, but I just can't place him at the moment."
"Well, whoever you are, you certainly seem to know a lot about us," she said. "How do you?"
"It is my business to know these things, Miss Sefton," said Duval quietly. He turned to Jennifer, who had been glowering in silence at Elaine all the while.
"And finally, the third part of this love triangle," he said. "You know, this is the first time they weíve met face to face, but I have to say that you are only a pale imitation of her."
"Of whom?" asked Jennifer sharply.
Duval gave a bitter laugh. "You haven't even guessed yet? Considering that you know Arthur Pennington's true name? Surely it must have occurred to you by now, Ms. Camford. Give it a moment's thought, and you will understand."
"Understand what?" asked Mary. "Who are they talking about?"
"I think that I know," said Merlin uneasily. He was looking even more closely at Duval's face, and a look of recognition was beginning to dawn in his eyes.
"Oh, my," said Elaine, in a low voice. She walked over to the covered portrait in the main hall and pulled off the tarp. It fell to the ground, revealing behind it an oil painting of a beautiful woman in a medieval gown. She sat with truly regal bearing upon a finely-carved throne, her honey-blonde hair held up by a thin gold coronet, staring out of the painting with piercing blue eyes.
"Guinevere," said Merlin, looking at the painting.
"Guinevere?" Elaine looked at her husband. "But that means....?"
Duval dipped his head in a nod.
"But this is impossible," said Merlin. "I know the accounts. You retired to the monastery at Glastonbury after the Battle of Camlann, and spent your final days there before you died. And you did die."
"You were not at Glastonbury yourself, Merlin," replied Duval gently. "You know what you do about my fate merely because of what the chroniclers recorded. But even they could be deceived."
"But how could you even survive all these centuries?" asked Merlin. "You're a mortal. An ordinary human, not a halfling or a sorcerer."
"There are secrets in this world that even you don't know of, Merlin," replied the head of the Illuminati. "All that I am free to tell you, for now, is that I am who I am, and that I am here."
"No!" said Arthur firmly. He stood upright now, fully alert, and gazed down at Duval with grave eyes. "You are not Lancelot! You cannot be!"
"And if I were not Lancelot, how would I know the things that I do?" asked Duval. "Such as that I gave the queen lessons in French? Or that she was the one who planned celebrations for the gargoyles that lived in the North Wood?" He turned his gaze towards a still confused-looking Merlin. "Or that an act of youthful pride nearly led to my untimely death within the walls of Dolorous Garde?"
"You are not Lancelot!" Arthur said through gritted teeth.
"How are we going to get out of here?" Mary whispered to Jennifer.
"I fear that you mistake my purpose, Miss Sefton," said Duval. "I have no intention of holding any of you against your will. You are free to leave this place whenever you choose." And with that, he walked up the steps and handed Excalibur to Arthur, hilt first, with a courtly bow.
Arthur and his companions stared at each other in amazement. Mary at last spoke. "I don't understand this," she said. "First you go to all this trouble to capture Arthur, and now you're letting him - and us - go, just like that?"
"Again, I fear that you have misread the events here," said Duval. "I did not capture him. It was the police who did so. I rescued him from them."
"And you drugged him," said Jennifer. "I hardly think that that was the act of a well-wisher."
"That was not my doing," said Duval, shaking his head. "I have some associates who have a tendency to act on their own without my permission; they took it upon themselves to treat him thus. And they will be reprimanded for it, I promise. But since they are in my following, I must still take some responsibility for their deeds. To make amends, I can promise you this: I will be declaring the activities of you and all close to you off-limits to the Society until further notice."
"I don't suppose that you'd be interested in doing a little more, sir, would you?" asked Mary. "Such as finding out who's been framing Arthur and doing something about that person?"
Duval shook his head. "That is your responsibility, I fear," he said. "I am not at liberty to assist you in this problem. You must solve it on your own."
"I think that we'd better go before he changes his mind," said Merlin to the others. They nodded, and made their way down the stairs, past Duval, who had stepped aside, no longer barring their path. Elaine stood beside her husband, and turned to him. "Guinevere?" she asked.
Duval merely nodded in silence. Elaine rushed off to join Arthur and the others.
Once they were out the door, Duval leaned against the banister post at the foot of the stairs, staring after them in silence. After a minute, he became aware of a familiar figure standing to his left.
"Arthur?" asked Norman.
"Gone," Duval replied, in a matter-of-fact voice.
Duval looked down the stairs and out the doors. "Gone as well," he said. "We all act, and we all bear the responsibilities for our actions."
* * * * *
A phone booth stood just outside the hotel. Merlin stepped inside and quickly punched in a number, while Mary stood outside it, waiting for him to complete his call.
"Into the Mystic," answered Leba's voice.
"Leba, this is Merlin," said Merlin at once. "Good news. We've rescued Arthur."
"That's wonderful," said Leba. "I'll tell the others at once. But where -"
"Sorry, but I can't talk about that now," said Merlin. "We've been warned that the police are tapping the phones. But we'll let you know the full story when we return."
"Return?" said Leba. "You don't mean that, surely?"
"I do," said Merlin.
"But if Arthur comes back to London, and you with him -"
"We'll just have to risk it," said the boy. "And Arthur insists. I'll tell you more later." And with that he hung up. He stepped out of the phone booth, and silently walked back to the car with Mary.
Arthur and Jennifer were standing outside the vehicle, talking. Elaine sat in the car, her head leaning back against the headrest and her eyes closed.
"I'm glad that you're safe," said Jennifer. "And that you're innocent."
A heavy pause passed between them.
"Do you still love her?" Jennifer asked.
"Elaine? I care about her, but...."
"Not Elaine, Guinevere," Jennifer stopped him.
Arthurís silence spoke volumes.
"I see. Were you attracted to me because you saw her in me? There are too many coincidences for me not to notice. Was that man right? Were you looking for a stand-in for your lost love?"
"I think about her at times, yes. But sheís been dead for as long as I was asleep. If she were still with me, Iím sure I would love her, no matter what wrongs she had done me."
"So I guess I should consider myself fortunate that my only competition is a married woman."
"No." Arthur shook his head. "There is a part of me that loved Guinevere deeply and it still does. But it does not hold sway over my entire heart. I have learned that life is for the living. Iíve put that part of my past behind me."
Elaineís eyes snapped open when she heard Arthur utter those words.
"So what does that mean for us?" Jennifer asked.
"I donít know."
Another pause passed before Jennifer cleared her throat.
"Well, if there's going to be something between us, then I must demand that you have no more secrets from me. I don't want to learn things about you from others, such as that you've been wrongfully accused by someone and the subject of a police investigation."
"I don't want to endanger you," said Arthur.
"And would you rather that I was left not knowing that you were in danger?" she asked. "Arthur, if we are going to stand together, then we must share the dangers together. If we do not, then what sort of relationship do we truly have?"
Arthur was silent for a moment, and then slowly smiled. "It will be a long journey back to London," he said. "Shall I tell you the full tale along the way?"
"That would be nice," she said with a nod.
The window on the black sedan rolled down. Elaine looked at them with tear-puffed eyes.
"Elaine?" Arthur stepped forward. "I -" He broke off, uncertain as to how to proceed.
The dark-haired woman shook her head. "You donít need to say anything," she said. "In fact, I'd prefer it if you donít." She swallowed a lump in her throat. "I hope that you can clear your name, so that you two can be happy together."
"And what of you, my lady Elaine?" Arthur asked her. "What will you do?"
"Iíll need to make my own decision," she replied. "I must find out where my heart belongs."
"I never thanked you for all your help." Arthur leaned into thecar and kissed Elaine. He could taste the salty tears on her lips. It was a good-bye kiss that broke her heart.
"I did what I could. You'd better go now." Elaine rolled up the window and drove away.
Merlin and Mary joined Arthur and Jennifer. "Arthur, I still don't understand this," said Merlin. "Why are we returning to London? You pointed out yourself when we left that it was too dangerous there."
"I left the city to protect my friends and allies rather than myself," said Arthur. "But I see now that they will be in danger no matter what I do or where I go. Our common past is enough to place them in jeopardy. You heard from me how Braddock is questioning so many people with ties to me. If they are going to be in danger, then I should be close at hand that I may be able to help them."
"You do realize, don't you, that Braddock's even more likely than ever to find you once you come back," said Merlin.
"That is a danger that I will simply have to face," the Once and Future King replied. "Besides, there is Mary's plight to concern ourselves with. If we return to the estate, Una may be able to find a cure for her."
"That sounds like a plan to me," said Mary hopefully.
"I can drive you all back," said Jennifer. "I'll trade in my rental for one with tinted windows, and we can be back in London by dinner time tomorrow. Or tonight, maybe," she said, looking at the sky. It was still dark, but the eastern horizon was beginning to brighten a little.
"Well, I'm outvoted, three to one," said Merlin. "I might as well yield on this one. All the same, though, I wish that Lance - Duval had been a bit more forthcoming with his information. We know now that somebody familiar is behind this whole Connection affair, but we don't know for certain just who it is."
"We'll find the answer in London," replied Arthur, as he climbed into Jennifer's car with the others. "At least, I hope that we will."
* * * * *
Morgana had poured all but one of the ingredients listed in the book into the cauldron. Now, she went to a small chest in one corner of her study, opened it, and took out of it a bundle carefully wrapped up in cloth. She bore it over to the cauldron and emptied the bones and skull that she had kept within it into the brew. There was a loud churning noise and several bubbles floated up from the concoction, bursting noisily in the air above.
Morgana nodded approvingly and went back to the book upon her desk. She read aloud the Old Welsh incantation penned upon its pages, her voice echoing through the chamber. The liquid within the cauldron began to seethe furiously, almost in answer to her words. Morgana completed the spell, then closed the book softly and waited.
Something began to stir from the depths of the cauldron, and slowly arose. Morgana's eyes glittered eagerly.
"It's a pity that you couldn't stay to see this, Sybil," she said to herself, a smile curving across her lips, as she gazed upon the fruit of her magic.
* * * * *
Duval walked moodily to the Priory ruins near the hotel. Elaine had not returned from seeing Arthur and his companions off, so there was only one conclusion that he could come to. She must have gone with them. "Well, it 's probably just as well," he told himself. But his attempt at stoicism did him no good.
The morning was overcast, but he still kneeled in front of the altar, clasping his sword in his hands before him cross-like, and bowing his head in prayer. He stopped, however, when he sensed someone kneeling next to him, and opened his eyes. It was Elaine.
"Is this too private?" she asked him.
"No," he replied, moving over slightly to give her more room. "I thought that I had lost you for good," he added, in a shaky voice.
"This doesnít mean Iím staying," she told him.
"Of course," he said, nodding. "What would convince you to stay?"
"The truth, Hector," she answered. "The real truth about you, about the man you once were. I want to know more about you as Lancelot."
Duval sighed, but nodded. "I was raised by a beautiful woman," he began. "Many call her the Lady of the Lake, but I called her Mother..."
* * * * *