THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, PART ONE
Outline by Todd Jensen and Entity.
Written by Todd Jensen.
Previously on PendragonÖ
BRADDOCK: This investigation is coming along nicely, and the Connection, whether he is Pennington or not, will be brought to justice soon enough.
NIGEL SEFTON: See that he is.
* * *
MARY SEFTON: I've been putting this off for too long. I can't go on hiding from my father forever. I'm going to have to contact him, let him know how I'm doing, and tell him what's happened to me.
MERLIN: Isn't that a bit of a risk? If he finds out that you're a werewolf -
MARY: He's going to find out sooner or later. And it's best if he finds out from me. Merlin, I'm going to need to talk to him.
MERLIN: We'll work something out, Mary. I promise.
* * *
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.
~~Iris Lily and Rose Part Two~~
* * * * *
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, PART ONE
London - The Late 5th Century A.D.
"But why do I have to go to Amesbury, mother?" Morgana asked plaintively.
Her mother, Igraine the Fair, once wife to Duke Gorlois of Cornwall and now the newly-wed bride to Uther Pendragon, High King of Britain, sadly looked down at the troubled face of her youngest child. "Your stepfather feels that you need to be put to school there," she said in a gentle voice. "Believe me, he only wants to help you."
"No, he doesnít," retorted Morgana bitterly. "He hates me. Just like he hates my sisters. Thatís why he sent them away."
She thought again over how Uther Pendragon had broken up her family, shattering it beyond repair. First, three months ago, he had made war upon her father Gorlois, and his knights had slain the Duke before the walls of his own stronghold at Dimilioc. Then, before Igraine had barely had time to properly mourn her lord, he had forced her to wed him at London, to be crowned High Queen of Britain by his side. Next, he had packed off her older two sisters, Morgause and Elaine, sending them to the Northlands to become the wives of two of his leading vassals in those parts, Morgause to wed King Lot of Lothian, Elaine to wed King Nentres of Garlot. And now, he was parting her from her mother, all the family that she had left, having made it clear that he wanted her put to school in the nunnery at Amesbury, until she was old enough to be married off to another one of his under-kings. She was to be locked away in a cloister, far from her family and anyone else she knew, surrounded by nuns who were strangers to her, subjected to the disciplines of the Church. Uther had destroyed her life.
"Youíll see your sisters again some time, Iím certain," said Igraine, in a reassuring tone of voice. Despite its effort at cheerfulness, however, it held no real hope in it, and Morgana noted it at once. "Maybe theyíll come back to court for the Christmas feast. Maybe youíll come back from Amesbury for the festivities as well."
"No," repeated Morgana, firm in her convictions. "King Uther doesnít want us around. He wants us out of the way. Thatís what heís doing."
Igraine sighed, as if recognizing the truth in her daughterís words, no longer able to keep up the pretense. "Maybe," she said sadly. "But he is High King of Britain, after all. What can we do about it?"
Morgana simply scowled. "His men killed Father," she said. "He sent Elaine and Morgause away. Heís locking me up at Amesbury. It isnít fair. Heís a bad man."
Igraine looked about to make a reply of some sort, but before she could do so, the door to their chamber opened. A tall, dignified figure, clad in white robes and with a long greyish-white beard, entered the room. Morgana recognized him at once. It was Merlin Ambrosius, the mysterious wizard who had advised Uther Pendragon on many occasions, and his brother and predecessor Ambrosius Aurelianus before him -- Merlin the wizard -- a man whom the Britons everywhere viewed with awe, and a little fear. Not only was his skill at magic greater than that of any other wizard alive, but it was said that he was not even fully human, that he had been begotten upon his mother by an otherworldly being. Some believed him to be the child of an incubus or spirit of the air, while others whispered, although never in Merlinís presence, that he was the son of the Devil, who had hoped to raise him as a false prophet for his dark cause, but had been turned from this course by his guardians in childhood and who now used his powers for good.
Morgana did not know what was the truth about Merlin, and she did not truly want to know. All that she knew was that there was something about him that made her afraid of him, and that she wanted to be far from him. She stepped away from her mother, staring at the wizard, saying not a word.
Merlin turned to Igraine, and bowed to her in a stately fashion. "My lady," he said to her. "Might I speak with you for a moment? Alone?"
Morgana could not help but notice, amid her stunned awe, that the wizardís eyes fell upon her for a moment as he spoke, and there was worry in his gaze. He seemed troubled by her - almost afraid, in fact. She wondered why.
Igraine did not seem entirely happy with Merlinís request, but nevertheless nodded. "Run along now, Morgana," she said to her in a gentle voice. "Iíll talk to you later, after Merlinís left."
Morgana did not want to leave the room at all. She wanted to stay, to find out just why Utherís chief advisor wanted to talk to her mother. What words did he have to say to her? But she knew not to disobey her mother. Instead, she nodded, and left the room, closing the door behind her as she stood in the hallway without. But she did not go on her way. Instead, she stood by the door, her ear pressed close to the wood, and listened.
"What business have you with me, Merlin?" she heard her mother say.
"Serious business, I fear, Your Highness," Merlinís voice answered, sounding extremely uncomfortable. "I hardly know where to begin."
"Tell me anyway," her mother replied.
Merlin was silent for a moment, then at last spoke. "Itís about your child," he said. "The one that you will give birth to in six monthsí time. I must tell you about its father." His voice had a very unhappy sound to it, as though he would far rather be doing anything but this. Morgana leaned closer, so as to catch every word he said. The feeling was strong inside her that what he was about to say was very important, and she must hear it all.
"And how do you know that?" Igraine asked sharply.
"I will explain in a moment, my lady," Merlin answered. "Now, on the night that your husband was slain at Dimilioc, you were visited by a man who could have been his very twin, so much alike was he in form. Am I correct?"
Igraine was silent for a few minutes, apparently too shocked to speak. "You know of this?" she said at last. "But I told nobody."
"Well, that wouldnít do much good, I fear," answered Merlinís voice. "There were other folk at Tintagel besides yourself who had seen him. The guards who admitted him into he castle. The stable boys who took care of his horse, and those of his attendants. The steward who welcomed him. Trust me, my lady, you were not the only one who knew the secret. You did what you could, but there was no way that you could keep it private. But it was not from any member of your old household that I learned of this."
Morgana listened even closer, barely daring to breathe now. She heard her mother say, "And if you know who my visitor was, perhaps you could name him." There was silence for a moment, then Igraine continued. "Merlin, I must know who he was."
There was a longer silence after her words. Morgana was leaning against the door now, so closely that one would have barely been able to slip a blade of grass between her and the wooden surface. She knew in her heart that what Merlin was about to say was something of great importance, something that she must hear, hear and never forget. She must not miss a single word. And then, she heard Merlinís unhappy voice again.
"Your husband, my lady," he said. "Your new husband."
It was all that Morgana could do to keep silent. Uther had visited her mother that night at Tintagel? It had been Uther who had come there, disguised as her father? But how was that possible? She continued to listen, her teeth already grinding in silence.
"Uther was disguised by one of my own spells," said Merlinís unhappy, guilt-ridden voice. "He took on the likeness of Duke Gorlois to such an extent that you were deceived. It was Uther Pendragon that you took to your bed, and who fathered your child."
An uncomfortable silence followed. It was all that Morgana could do, to keep silent. What she had heard was too much for her. Uther had disguised himself as her father, to reach her mother, take her for himself? And Merlin had helped him?
"Believe me," she heard Merlinís saddened voice continue, "I would rather not have taken part in this whole sorry affair. I never wished to carry out this cruel deception on you. If I had not foreseen that you and Uther were meant to have a son, a son who will someday do great things, I would never have done this deed. And even doing it, I did not carry it out lightly."
"Why are you telling me this?" Igraineís voice cried.
"Because I could not leave you in the dark any longer," Merlinís voice answered. "And because I felt the need to confess what I had done to you. To ask you for forgiveness."
"And why should I forgive you?" retorted Igraine, now sounding angry. "Why should I forgive you for this act of yours? Answer me, Merlin!"
No response came from the wizard, however, as far as Morgana could hear, listen though she might. Igraine continued her tirade, after a couple of minutesí silence.
"Do you realize what I suffered, when I realized that the man who visited me that night could not have been my husband? Do you have any idea how often I feared that he was not a man at all, but something else? That I feared that my child to come had no human blood in him at all?" She suddenly halted, but Merlin picked up gently where she had left off.
"You have betrayed no secret to me, my lady," he said. "Iíve long known that you are no daughter of the race of men, Lady Igraine. You are one of Oberonís Children, fully of the faerie-folk by birth, who merely chooses to masquerade as a mortal."
Morgana started again, and it was only by a supreme effort that she could remain silent this time, in the face of such a revelation. Her mother was one of the Fair Folk, the Tylwyth Teg, a Child of Oberon? And if that was so, then she herself must be....
"And for too long, as well!" her mother snapped back, interrupting her thoughts. "So long that my skills must have rusted for lack of use, or I should have pierced the false semblance that you placed upon King Uther, and seen him for what he truly was! I should have returned to Avalon years ago! Then none of this would have happened! But I lingered in the human world unwisely, and now this tragedy has befallen me! And a tragedy that was partly of your making, Merlin Ambrosius!"
"I am sorry, my lady," Merlin protested. "How many times must I say it?"
"More times than there have been days since the world began, before I can even begin to forgive you," Igraine replied coldly. "You helped Uther achieve his lust, helped him have his way with me! You ill-used me, Merlin! That scheme was worthy of your father, if ever any scheme was!"
Merlin gave a startled gasp, or what sounded like one, in response, sounding very uncomfortable indeed. Igraine continued her assault upon him, without a hint of pity in her voice. "Oh, I know your secret as well as you know mine. Half of Britain says that your father was a demon, and they are not far from the truth. I know you well enough, as son to one of the Banished Ones. The traitors whom Lord Oberon expelled from Avalon for eternity! Do you realize that I feared for a time that my visitor was one of them? Do you realize what torture you put me through?"
Merlinís reply was filled with sadness. "Believe me, my lady," he said, "I regret very much what I have done to you. If there is any way that I can make amends to you, any way that I may help you -"
"I need no help from you, Merlin," said Igraine stiffly. "And if your paths never cross again, I will not weep. You aided in my betrayal, Merlin; you tell me that you regret that, but you helped it just the same. And I hope - no, I pray - that someday you yourself will be betrayed by a woman, in payment for how you betrayed one!"
Morgana stepped away from the door, her head reeling with all that she had learned. It was all too much for her. Her world had undergone an even greater shattering now than the one that she had been brooding over before Merlinís arrival. Uther had tricked her mother, and sired a son upon her, disguised as her husband, as Morganaís father Gorlois. Merlin had helped him carry this act of deceit out. Her mother was not a human, but one of the Fair Folk, dwelling among mortals in disguise. And she herself was not fully human, but a halfling, with the blood of Avalon running in her veins. And what that meant was....
She heard Merlinís footsteps approaching, and drew back into the shadows of the corridor, where he would not see her as he came out. To her relief, he never even turned his head in her direction, as he left her motherís room and proceeded down the hallway, his back turned towards her. His head was bowed low, his shoulders slumped, and he walked slowly, uneasily. She stared after him, her dark blue eyes focusing on him, her small hands clenched in anger. A slight hiss escaped her lips. The moment that he turned a corner and was out of her sight, she turned about herself, and walked away to her room.
"You hurt my family," she said in a low voice. "Uther, Merlin, both of you. You tricked my mother, and you killed my father. And I will avenge my parents. I will."
It might have seemed impossible for a little maid, only ten years old, to achieve such a goal. But Morgana knew otherwise now. She was a halfling, part faerie by birth. That meant that there was magic in her, magic that she could learn how to use. She would find a way to control it, to harness it, whether in the nunnery where she would be put to school, or somewhere else. And then, when she had become a powerful sorceress, she would strike back at them all.
"Iíll have my revenge upon you," she murmured. "Upon you, Merlin. Upon you, Uther. And upon all your descent as well. So vow I, Morgana la Fay."
* * *
London - Fifteen Centuries Later
The doors to the warehouse were forced open, and the dark-clad, masked men poured in. Their leader stood to one side, directing them.
"Snap to it, all of you!" he ordered. "Weíve not much time! Gather as much of that equipment as you can! And hurry!"
The men nodded, and rushed about the warehouse, snatching up anything that seemed light enough for them to carry without the assistance of a fork-lift. Their leader stood watching them, his arms folded across his chest. He was a tall and stately figure, with brown hair, moustache and beard, and an almost regal countenance. He smiled in approval at the activities of his followers.
"Itís all here, Mr. Pennington," said one of the men at last, approaching him, a full load of the equipment in his arms.
"Very good," the brown-haired man replied. "Load it all up in the lorry outside, and letís be on our way. We still have a great deal of work to do, before we achieve our goal."
He turned around, and looked up at the corner of the ceiling closest to him. In the shadows, he could see the gleam of a security camera, switched on, capturing every move that he and his followers made. He smiled approvingly, nodded, and turned back from it to finish directing the operations.
* * *
"We retrieved this footage from the security camera in the warehouse that those men robbed," said Security Service Agent Robert Samuel Braddock, turning from the image of the man who had been addressed by his followers as "Mr. Pennington" on the television screen to the three men seated at the desk before him. "Iíd say that it proves beyond a doubt who our ĎConnectioní is."
His audience nodded in agreement. "I concur, Agent Braddock," said Inspector Courtney of Scotland Yard. "That should be evidence enough to satisfy any law court in Britain. This ĎArthur Penningtoní definitely is our man."
"And that leaves only one thing for us to do now," said Reginald Hewett, a small, balding man from the Ministry of Defence, whose presence here had not yet been explained to Braddock. He certainly hadnít been present at the last meeting. "Or rather, for you to do, Agent Braddock. Find Pennington, and arrest him. And do it quickly."
"And properly, this time," put in Nigel Sefton, looking sharply and almost suspiciously at Braddock. "You made a hash of it once already, Braddock. See to it that he doesnít get away again."
"What happened before was a mere fluke," said Braddock, stiffly and with considerable dignity. And we still donít know how it happened, either. Iíd give a thousand pounds to know just how they managed to help him escape. "Weíll take proper precautions, so that it wonít happen again."
"And see to it, Braddock," said Hewett. "This Ďinconvenient questionsí business is getting worse, you know. Thereís been a great deal of talk about a madman dressed up like an ancient Celt going on the rampage in Trafalgar Square from a few weeks ago, and it just wonít die down, no matter what we do."
Inspector Courtney nodded. "Itís already featured in every tabloid in the city, so far as we can tell," he said. "And thereís especially been a lot of questions about that spear of his. People say that it looked like a bolt of lightning. Thereís been rumors that heíd gotten his hands on some top-secret experimental weapon, and that hasnít helped matters at all."
"The Ministry of Defence certainly isnít pleased about it," said Hewett. "Do you realize just how often in this past month weíve had to tell the Press that we havenít constructed such a device, and that even if we had constructed it, we certainly wouldnít have let it get stolen? And they still donít seem to believe us."
Nigel Sefton nodded. "And the Opposition are having a field day with it as well," he said. "Thereíve been too many questions in the House of Commons about that maniac, and we donít know what to tell people. And on top of all that ĎMay Eve Madnessí that weíre still trying to live down...."
"Yes, it seems to be even harder to kill than a dozen cockroaches," agreed Inspector Courtney. "And the Trafalgar Square incident has only revived it." He shook his head. "This is even worse than all those rumors about alien invasions back in the seventies," he added.
Hewett nodded. "Which is why itís so important for this Pennington fellow to be brought in," he said. "We need something to divert the publicís attention from all this strange activity in London and the Home Counties for the past two years, something that will allow the Government time to recover their credibility before the next general election. And the arrest of the most notorious criminal in the nation could be just what we need."
Braddock just barely managed to restrain himself from delivering an acid-tongued comment as to precisely what he thought of these ulterior motives that his superiors had in pursuing the "Connection". Instead, he continued with his report.
"Actually," he said, "he may be on his way to being even more notorious than that," he said. "That warehouse was where a considerable amount of cutting-edge electronics equipment was being stored - former property of Maddox Technologies, to be precise. If you want my opinion on this, I donít think that Penningtonís just another gun-runner. Iím certain that he had something in mind for those goods that he stole."
"Some sort of doomsday device out of a James Bond movie, I suppose?" asked Hewett, sounding skeptical.
"Well, I wouldnít go quite that far," said Braddock. "But I would say that Pennington is up to something. And itís more than just gun-smuggling. Truth to tell, I donít think that that was what he was really up to. Or, rather, yes, it is, but itís not his chief goal. Itís not an end, itís a means."
"A means?" asked Nigel Sefton. "A means for what?"
"We donít know as yet," said Braddock. "At least, we donít know precisely what heíll do. But itís clear enough that itís going to be something very big. Remember what weíve learned about him already. Heís got plans for the whole country, from the Royal Family on down. That means that heís definite trouble. We have to bring him in, and keep him in gaol, before he can carry out his plans. Thatís more important than how well the Government are doing in the polls, gentlemen."
He realized at once that that had not been quite the right thing to say. An uncomfortable silence fell in the room, and three pairs of disapproving eyes fell upon him. Braddock remained calm under their gaze, however, showing no sign of panic. At last Inspector Courtney broke the silence.
"This is a matter that we will discuss later," he said. "For now, you know what you have to do, Braddock. Find this Arthur Pennington, and have him arrested at once. The sooner that this man is behind bars, the better for all of us."
Braddock nodded. "Iíll see to it at once, sir," he said. And with that, he turned and left the room.
"Do you think that he will succeed this time?" asked Mr. Hewett, once Braddock was gone.
"I hope so," said Inspector Courtney. "We canít afford another setback. Not while the public is in this mood."
"I quite agree," said Nigel Sefton. "Itís a good thing that there isnít a General Election due any time soon. I could risk losing my seat, given the sort of questions that some of my constituents have been posing me about all this weird activity in London."
"Even the public statement about the ĎMaddox Gangí hasnít convinced them?" Hewett asked.
"They say that it doesnít answer all the questions," said Nigel. "Such as the severe winters. Even El Nino hasnít been able to account for them. They want better answers than that, and I canít provide them. Even the Prime Ministerís been at a loss lately." He groaned. "I tell you, I donít like this business at all. Iíve had nightmares about my knighting getting cancelled because of this controversy, in fact."
"Ah, yes, your knighting," said Courtney, nodding. "Tomorrow night, isnít it?"
Nigel Sefton nodded. "Iíve worked very hard to get this piece of recognition," he said. "Iím not losing it all at the last minute because of a lot of ĎTwilight Zoneí-type business, either. You havenít come across any answers to all that phenomena, have you?" he asked them both.
Courtney and Hewett both shook their heads. "Itís been all quite baffling, really," said the Scotland Yard Inspector. "My departmentís made some inquiries, but we still havenít found a rational explanation for all those - well, creatures that people reported seeing on the loose. Itís all the odder given that there was more of that lot over in New York City the same night. And in Prague and Adelaide, for that matter. I still donít have any answers for that one. Youíre right about the ĎMaddox Gangí story, Sefton; even that one doesnít solve all the questions."
"Well, you two will just have to sort it out," said Nigel Sefton, standing up. "I have to leave now. Iím expecting company for dinner, for one thing, and I have to make ready for that. So, weíll reconvene at a later date, then?"
The other two men both nodded.
"Very well, then," said Sefton. "I bid you both good night." And with those words, he left the office.
* * *
"So how did it go, sir?" asked Sergeant Winslow.
"Well enough," said Braddock, sitting down at his desk in his office. "At least, considering who I was dealing with. We're certain now, thanks to that videotape, that Arthur Pennington really is our man. Now all that we have to do is find him and arrest him. And then, case closed." He opened the folder on his desk, and looked over the notes written down on the papers inside carefully, before continuing.
"I hope that we can get a proper interrogation with him, too," he continued. "There are a few things about this case that still puzzle me, and these are answers that only this man Pennington can provide."
"Such as, sir?" asked Winslow.
"For a criminal mastermind, Pennington has been amazingly sloppy," said Braddock. "That robbery was just such a case. He actually let his face be captured on tape, for us to see. I mean, youíd think that heíd have the sense to wear a mask, if he was going to be there at all. And instead, he just shows off his features in front of the camera, so brazenly. It doesnít make sense. Youíd almost think that he wanted us to see him making the robbery. Either heís mad, or else heís unbelievably overconfident. It certainly doesnít strike me as the way a Napoleon of Crime ought to behave."
"Maybe heís gotten carried away," suggested Winslow. "Let his success go to his head, I mean. It happened to the original Napoleon, after all."
"True," said Braddock. "But thatís just the tip of the iceberg about whatís been worrying me about this whole ĎConnectioní case. On the one hand, this Pennington chap has been a master at hiding himself; we only managed to track him down once, and even when we caught him, he managed to escape. But heís made it so very easy for us to get the evidence that links him up to this caper. So easy that an untrained beginner would have been able to pick up his trail. Heís just made things too easy for us. It doesnít fit together."
The telephone on his desk rang suddenly. Braddock picked up the receiver. "This is Agent Braddock speaking," he said on it. "Ah, OíConnell. Really? Good, good. Yes, send it over at once. Maybe it can help clear some things up. Thank you. Good-bye."
He hung up, and turned to Winslow. "That was OíConnell," he said. "They finally managed to get a confession out of that man we captured near Leeds last week. Itís being sent over right away. And it seems that it may help explain some things about Mr. Penningtonís behavior. About time, too. There are a number of things that I donít like in this world, and one of them is a mystery that refuses to be solved. Iím hoping that this case wonít be such a thing."
* * *
"Youíre certain that you want to go through with this?" asked Merlin, holding the telephone receiver steady by Mary Seftonís ear and mouth, as he carefully dialed the number with his free hand. "I mean, we still havenít found a cure for your condition. Do you really want to face him the way that you currently are?"
"I donít really like this at all, Merlin," replied Mary. "But Iím just going to have to do it. Fatherís almost certainly got search parties out for me, by now, and sooner or later one of themís going to spot me. And once that happens, it wonít be long before they find the rest of you. Believe me, you and your friends are going to be a lot safer once Iím back home and not on the missing list."
"Maybe," said Merlin. "But how long are you going to hide your lycanthropy from him, Mary? I mean, you canít just hide in your room with the door locked between dawn and sunset."
"Iím still trying to figure that one out," she replied. "Now, just hold the phone steady, Merlin. I wish that these paws could manage a receiver better." She swished her tail annoyedly.
Merlin decided against saying anything more. He merely held the telephone receiver by her head, and remained silent.
Somebody must have answered the phone after a few rings, for Mary now spoke. "Hello? Yes, may I please speak to my father? This is Mary Sefton. Yes, Iím his daughter. And itís really very important. I have to speak with him at once. Iím certain that heíll understand once you tell him about it."
There was silence for a few minutes. Merlin pricked up his ears to listen more closely. Technically, he was eavesdropping on Maryís conversation, but since he had to stand next to her while she spoke to her father on the telephone, thanks to her current wolf-form, he was practically forced to be there in any case. He hoped that sheíd understand - if she found out, that is. Actually, he was hoping any more that she wouldnít find out.
"Mary?" Nigel Seftonís voice said faintly, over the phone. "Mary, is that you?"
"Yes, father," she replied. "Itís me."
"Where on Earth have you been these last few months?" Mr. Sefton cried. "You vanished in the Lake District without one word of explanation, and didnít even call in. Do you realize that Iíve been mobilizing search parties looking for you? What did you mean by it, running away like that? Donít you know how bad that sort of thing can make me look?"
"Iím sorry, father," said Mary sheepishly (if one could use such an adverb for a wolf). "Itís - itís rather complicated. Iíll explain when I get home. Iím coming over as quickly as possible - by evening, in fact."
"Very well," said Nigel, if with a not entirely satisfied tone in his voice. "I suppose that at least itís good timing. Iíve someone over for dinner tonight whom I believe you should meet. But I trust that you will give me a full explanation for your mysterious absence these past few months, young lady. And you had better, if you know whatís best for you."
"I promise," said Mary.
"Then Iíll be expecting you," said Nigel. And with that, he hung up the telephone at his end.
Merlin replaced the telephone receiver, and turned to Mary. "Er - you donít want me to come with you, do you?" he asked uncertainly. "I mean, it could help when youíre explaining things to your father if youíve someone there who -".
Mary shook her head. "No, I think that itís best if I go there alone," she said. "He might recognize you as Arthurís ward Ė you have been made quite public in that role lately. And then thereíd be even more trouble. Itís bad enough that Iím going to have to tell him that Iíve become a werewolf, but if he finds out that Iíve been spending all the time that Iíve been missing with the most dangerous criminal in the nation -"
"Arthur isnít a criminal," said Merlin heatedly.
"I know, but my father believes that he is," the girl replied. "Itíll be a lot safer for all of us if I donít say anything about you or Arthur. And that means that youíd better stay away."
"Well, all right," said the young wizard. "Iíve a number of things here that really need doing anyway. But, if you get into any trouble there, you will give us a ring, wonít you?"
"Iíll think about it," said Mary.
Arthur Pendragon entered the room. "Have you spoken with your father, Miss Sefton?" he asked her.
"Yes," she said. "I havenít told him yet about what I am now, but he knows that Iím coming for dinner this evening."
"Very well, then," said Arthur. "Kevin has his cab waiting outside."
"Then I guess that Iíd better be on my way," said Mary. She prepared to trot out of the room, then turned to look at Arthur and Merlin one last time.
"Well, I really doubt that weíre going to meet again," she said. "Iím not quite certain that I even want to meet you again. I mean - Iíve had quite enough bizarre things in my life as it is, and I want to get as far away from them as possible. And that includes a couple of 1500-year-old people who ought to exist only in the storybooks and donít. Itís going to be difficult enough returning to a normal life while Iím still a werewolf."
"If we find a cure, we will send it to you," said Arthur. "Somehow. We promise you that, my lady."
"Very well, then," said Mary, nodding resignedly. "Good-bye." And with that, she was gone.
Merlin stared after her in silence, an uncertain look on his face. "Well," he said to Arthur at last, "now that sheís gone, we might be able to do something about this Connection business at last. We can really concentrate without having to listen to her complaining all the while, or getting sidetracked in looking for cures for lycanthropy. Itíll certainly be much more peaceful." However, his eyes did not look quite happy.
"Perhaps," said Arthur. "Well, now that Mary is gone, the rest of us will need to assemble. We have a council to hold."
"Shouldnít we wait for a while, Arthur?" Merlin asked. "The gargoyles arenít due to wake for a little while longer, and Leba isnít back from her investigation in the city."
"Thereís no time for that," said Arthur. "We need to meet with the others now. Come with me."
Merlin followed him to the council chamber, without a further word.
* * *
Braddock read over the report on his desk. As he did so, he stared at the typewritten words upon the white sheet of paper, his eyes widening increasingly in utter disbelief. At last he looked up from it at Sergeant Winslow. "And just when I thought that this matter couldnít get any stranger," he said.
"Is anything wrong, sir?" asked Winslow.
"Arthur Pennington appears to believe that heís King Arthur," said Braddock.
"The King Arthur, sir?" said Winslow. "The one from Camelot with the Round Table?"
"Exactly," said Braddock. "And here I was, thinking that we were dealing with just another criminal mastermind. Instead it seems that heís a lunatic as well. The place for him is Broadmoor, not one of Her Majestyís prisons."
"So whyís he doing all that smuggling?" Winslow asked. "It doesnít sound like the way King Arthur acted in the books, after all."
"It seems that heís bent on reclaiming his throne from the ĎSaxon usurpersí," said Braddock. "By which he means the Royal Family. According to this report, this Mr. Pennington wants to restore Britain to rule by its people, the Britons, and with himself as their leader. And with all the arms that heís been smuggling into the country lately, he apparently believes that heís ready to give it a try soon."
* * *
Arthur Pendragon sat down uneasily at the Round Table and looked at the faces of his followers. "So, do we have an update on the present situation?" he asked them.
Colin Marter nodded. "From what weíve been able to discover," he said, "it doesnít look very good at all. Londonís still in an ugly mood over that mysterious lunatic who was wreaking havoc in it a few weeks ago." Rory Dugan bowed his head in shame at this point, but nobody made any comment about it. "The publicís clamoring for an explanation for that incident now, and the Government donít seem to know what to say about it. Itís just one more piece of weirdness that the authorities canít explain."
"That canít be good at all," said Dulcinea. "Especially since what weíve already managed to discover is that a lot of this hunt for the ĎConnectioní seems to be based on the Governmentís desire for a scapegoat for all the recent oddness. And not just that business about what happened in Trafalgar Square, but the Second Unseelie War as well. Theyíll be looking for Arthur even more now."
"Quite so," said Arthur troubledly. "Which means that we need to find the person responsibe for my having been Ďframedí, and find him or her quickly. Once we do that, we may be able to convince the authorities of my innocence."
"And thereís the problem," Dulcinea continued. "We donít know who was behind the set-up. We certainly donít know who that woman was that we know was part of the whole scheme. Just that it wasnít Molly, and she was our only suspect. We donít even have enough proof that Arthur isnít the ĎConnectioní to satisfy a law court. And we donít know where to look."
Arthur frowned, then turned to Merlin. "Can you help us here?" he asked.
The youth started, turning towards Arthur in astonishment. He had been silent during the entire meeting since it had begun, looking up at the ceiling or at one of the walls in an utterly distracted mood. Arthur had noticed it, but had said nothing about it up till now. That was about to change, though.
"Now, Merlin, I know that youíre a little bothered that Mary left," he said. "But you know that she had to do this. Sheíll be all right."
"Thank you, Arthur, but it wasnít her that I was thinking about," said Merlin.
"Indeed?" asked Arthur. ĎThen what are you thinking about, in that case?"
"Iím not sure," replied the wizard, speaking in an almost frustrated tone. "Thatís the problem. Thereís been something about this business thatís been bothering me lately, and I just canít put my finger on it. Itís something important, I know, and yet I donít know what it is. Iím trying to place it."
He sighed and shook his head. "Iím sorry, Arthur," he said. "But until I figure out just what it is that Iíve overlooked, Iím afraid that Iím not going to be much help to this discussion. Youíll just have to deal with this matter without me. Iím sure that you can handle that."
Arthur nodded sadly, obviously not particularly pleased with the reply, but aware that there was nothing that he could do to change matters at the moment. He turned back to the others. "Well, Leba should be back from London soon," he said. "And in a few minutes, the sun will set and the gargoyles will awaken. Perhaps they can provide us with some counsel."
* * *
Kevin halted his cab in front of the long drive leading up to Nigel Seftonís house. The building could be seen in the distance, half-shielded by trees, a fairly stylish late Victorian mansion with a decidedly Gothic look. Kevin got out of the car, then opened the door to the back seat, to let Mary out.
"Youíre certain that nowís the best time to meet your dad?" he asked her.
"The sun will be down shortly," said Mary, "and then Iíll be human again. Itíll be safe. And thank you, Kevin."
He nodded, and then got back into the cab and drove off. Mary watched him go, then walked up the road to her fatherís home, pausing halfway up it to dash off the path. She soon found the place that she was looking for, a clump of bushes that could shield her from curious eyes on all sides, and crawled into them, to wait.
The sun set in the west moments later, and Mary completed her metamorphosis back into her human girl form. Straightening up and brushing herself off, she sighed with relief. "At last Iím in a proper condition to meet Father," she said to herself. She knew that she couldnít hide what had happened to her at Rivencroft from him forever, but at least she had a better hope of getting him to accept it if she showed up on his doorstep in her human form. She walked back to the road, and continued up it.
She reached the front door of his house, and knocked on it loudly. Then she stood there for a moment, waiting. The door swung open, and the butler stood there.
"Ah, Miss Sefton," he said, nodding. "Weíve been expecting you. Come inside, if you please."
Mary nodded, stepping over the threshold. "Whereís my father, Gargrave?" she asked him.
"Heís in the sitting room with Professor Cornish," said Gargrave helpfully. "Theyíll be awaiting you there."
"Professor Cornish?" asked Mary bewilderedly. "Who is he, Gargrave? Iíve never heard of him before."
"Of her, it should be, Miss Sefton," said Gargrave. "Follow me, and Iíll announce you to them."
Mary nodded in silence, still puzzling over what he had just said to her. Who was this Professor Cornish, and why was she visiting her father? She already knew that her father was having company besides herself tonight from their conversation earlier, but what was it about? She hoped that sheíd soon know the answers, and also hoped that it wouldnít mean more strangeness. Iíve had my fill of weirdness, thank you. I donít want any more, if you please.
Gargrave opened the door to the sitting room. "Your daughter has just arrived, sir," he said, nodding dignifiedly.
"Ah, good," said her fatherís voice. "Bring her in, Gargrave."
Mary entered the sitting room, and looked about her. Her father was seated in his customary armchair, rising up to greet her in his usual stiff fashion, even stiffer than Gargrave, in fact. And seated upon the sofa against the window overlooking the back garden was a woman whom Mary had never met before. She was a beautiful woman somewhere in her thirties by the looks of her, tall and stately, with pale skin and long raven hair, wearing a formal-looking green gown. She rose as well, to greet the girl with a regal nod and curtsy. Mary found herself curtsying back.
"Mary, this is Professor Morgana Cornish from Cambridge," said Nigel Sefton. "Sheís having dinner with us tonight." He then turned to Professor Cornish. "My daughter Mary," he said to her, in a half-apologetic tone of voice. Mary looked at the womanís elegant attire and suddenly remembered that she was still wearing her hiking clothes, which were fine enough for camping out in the open or staying at a youth hostel, but which felt quite out of place in this more refined setting. She wished that she was wearing something a little more fancy at the moment, and hoped that nothing of this would appear on her face in front of the professor.
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mary," said Morgana, speaking in a gentle, low voice, with a trace of an accent in her voice that the girl could not quite place. It wasnít Welsh or Scottish, that much she knew. But it certainly did have a Celtic tinge about it. For a moment, she found herself thinking of a certain timbre in Arthur and Merlinís voices that she had noticed, but then dismissed it. The weirdness and legends in her life were over, for the moment, and this was normality. I suppose that Iíve been living among that sort of thing so long that Iím starting to see it everywhere, she thought. All the more reason for me to get away from it, in that case.
"Such a lovely young lady," Morgana continued, speaking to her father now. "You should be proud of her, Nigel."
Nigel? Nobody ever called her father that. Nobody except for her mother, that was, and sheíd been dead for years. Mary wondered just what was going on here. She hoped that her father would explain this to her soon. But for now, she merely nodded, and said, "Thank you," to the woman.
"So, why have I not met your daughter before?" Morgana continued, still addressing her father.
"Because sheís been missing, Iím sorry to say," said Nigel, speaking more sharply now. It seemed that only Morgana Cornishís presence was holding him back from delivering a fierce tongue-lashing to his daughter over that matter, in fact. "She was on a walking tour by herself up in the Lake District, when she suddenly disappeared, without a word of explanation. Not even a postcard or a telephone call from her. But you can explain that now, Mary," he continued, turning to her, "can you not?" The expression in his voice made it clear that Mary would be well advised to do just that, if she knew what was good for her.
"Iím sorry about that, father," she said, in a quiet voice. She was silent for a moment, trying to work out what to say next. Telling him that she was a werewolf now didnít seem like a good idea just yet, particularly not in front of Morgana. "As I said on the phone, something happened up in Cumbria. Something very complicated. Iím not quite sure how I can explain it."
"Well, I certainly hope that you can," said her father sternly. "You have made me very worried, you know. I had no idea what happened to you. For all that I knew, you could have been kidnapped, or drowned, or something like that. That disappearance of yours was very irresponsible, young lady, and I hope that you can give me a proper explanation for this, and in full. Do you realize that this country has been going mad lately? First there were all those monsters running amuck in London on May Eve, and then a lunatic dressed up like an ancient Celtic warrior in Trafalgar Square just a few weeks ago. And on top of it all, this business involving the Connection. If youíd decided to run away from home, then you picked a very poor time to do it."
"Nigel, please," said Morgana just then. She was looking at Mary with concern and sympathy in her eyes, and this compassionate tone showed itself clearly in her voice. "Sheís just gotten back, and what she needs now is some tenderness. Thereíll be time enough for questions afterwards. For now, just let her have some rest. Iím certain that sheíll be able to answer you when sheís had time to catch her breath."
Nigel hesitated, but then nodded, if a little woodenly. "I suppose that youíre right," he said at last. "There will be time later to get a proper report. Iíll give her time. But donít become too soft on her, Morgana. After the wedding, youíll be wanting to give her some proper discipline, if youíre to be a good mother to her."
"Wedding?" asked Mary startledly. "What wedding?" But even as she spoke the words, she could expect the answer already. She knew in her heart what her fatherís reply would be. It explained everything.
"Morgana Cornish and I are engaged," said her father. "Weíre to be married in a monthís time."
"Engaged?" Mary cried. "Father, why havenít I heard about this before?"
"Well, if youíd kept to your schedule and stayed in touch with me as you were supposed to," he replied, "then I would have been able to inform you. Professor Cornish and I met at a dinner being given by Lord Spencer a week after that disappearance of yours. We got to talking, and found that we had a number of common interests. We began to have many private dinners together, and after a while, I finally decided to propose to her. She accepted. And now itís all settled."
Mary nodded, still feeling a little bewildered by it all. It did seem something of a bolt from the blue, happening so suddenly as it had. And it also made things much more complicated for her. Now sheíd have to tell her future stepmother about her unusual condition, as well as her father. And she didnít even have the slightest idea as to how Morgana would respond to such a piece of news. What would she say about it?
"Itíll be time for dinner in a few minutes," said Morgana, breaking the silence just then. "Why donít you go up and get changed into something more suitable, Mary? Then you can eat with us, and the two of us can get to know each other better. That will be a good idea, wonít it?"
Mary nodded. "I suppose so, Ms. Cornish," she said. She curtsied again, and left the sitting room.
* * *
The London gargoyles had awakened with the setting of the sun, and Michael, Leo, Una, Griff, Brianna, and Brock had joined the council now. Many of the younger gargoyles, including Caspian, Faulconbridge, Cervus, and Imogen, stood along the walls of the meeting-room, listening to the conversation of their elders with the humans in Arthurís service.
"I must confess, this situation does seem serious, Arthur," said Michael. "I only wish that there was more that we could do to help you than we already have. Iíd contact Goliathís clan in Manhattan and ask them for help, but it would take time for them to come over here from the States, and I doubt that we could wait that long for them. And it would be rather difficult to persuade them to leave their protectorate. They still do have troubles in New York, after all."
"True enough," said Arthur. "So we will simply have to fare without them. However, Leba will be back soon, and maybe she will have something to tell us."
"I hope so," said Griff. "So far, we havenít been doing all that well. Weíve managed to handle that Ripper fellow, at least, but even that wonít be enough to solve this frame-up."
Leba entered the room just then, with a concerned look on her face. Arthur turned towards her.
"Youíre back from the city, I see," he said to her. "Did you learn anything?"
"Iíll say," the musician replied grimly. "Arthur, youíll want to hear about this. I think that youíll find it very important - and more than a little disturbing."
* * *
Mary sat down at the dinner table, smoothing out the long flowing skirt of the dark gown that she wore. It felt a little odd to be wearing such a thing after all the past months that she had spent in shirt, jeans, and walking boots, and she doubted that sheíd ever quite adjust to it. But then again, she wasnít certain that she could quite adjust to living a normal life here again, no matter how things went with her father about her mysterious disappearance. For one thing, she knew that come dawn, she would be covered with fur and on all fours again, as usual. And even if she could find a cure for that before this morning, it was already far too late to just go on with her life as though nothing like this had ever happened.
Sheíd already seen too much, learned too much. Sheíd encountered King Arthur, Merlin, bizarre monsters, magical objects, ghosts, giants, gargoyles, people out of Irish mythology, faerie-folk, and even a sort-of-vampire. There was no way that she could ever forget that all of that had taken place. It was going to be in her memories forever. The world was no longer the ordinary place that she had known before she had arrived at Rivencroft. She knew about the hidden things below the surface, the things that most people have the luxury of dismissing as mere stories, products of the human imagination. Theyíd never quite go away.
Her father stared scrutinizingly at her from the opposite end of the table. "Just where have you been these last few months?" he asked her. "You look much paler than you did when you went off on that walk of yours. Have you been locked away somewhere?"
Mary looked down at her hands, and realized that she should have chosen a different dress to wear. The darkness of this one only set off the very pale complexion that was the inevitable result of spending all of her time by day as a wolf, and only being human when the sun had set. At least he hadnít noticed the change in her ears, thanks to her hair-style. That would have been much more difficult to explain.
"Thatís - a very long story, father," she said, doing her best to hide her nervousness. "I donít think that itís really that dreadful a thing, isnít it? I mean, thereís been all this talk of late about suntans not being all that healthy for you."
Her father frowned, but said nothing. Morgana Cornish, at least, seemed well at ease, although there was an odd look in her eyes as she turned her head in the girlís direction for a moment. It was something that Mary could not quite identify, and she wondered what it was. I hope that I havenít gotten her suspicious.
"Nigel, please let her be," said Morgana concernedly, breaking the silence. "Sheís only just come home. We donít know as yet whatís happened to her, but Iím certain that sheíll be willing to tell you when the time is right. Have a little patience, please."
"Iíve tried to be patient," said Nigel. "But this is a very delicate time for me, Morgana. You know the sort of damage that a family scandal can cause, surely, particularly in politics. So far, Iíve been very fortunate that nothing about her having run away from home has leaked out to the tabloids. But it only takes one nosy reporter and the next thing that you know, your careerís over. You understand what I mean, donít you?"
She nodded, if a little reluctantly. "That is true, Nigel," she admitted. "My brother was in politics once, and his career came to an end once people found out that his wife was having an affair with another man."
"Really?" asked Nigel, looking astonished. "I didnít know that any of your family travelled in those circles. I - havenít met your brother, have I?" he added, a definite note of interest in his voice.
"I very much doubt it," she replied. "But thatís scarcely important here. What I wish to say is that your daughter needs some support right now. If sheís having problems, then it should be our responsibility to learn what they are and to help her solve them, not to simply condemn her."
"Maybe," said Nigel, uncertainly. "Well, at least youíre willing to help out with that. I suppose that much of the problem is that she needs a mother. She hasnít had one for some years, not since Fiona passed away. I hope that youíll be able to provide that role for her."
"I certainly hope so," said Morgana, nodding.
Sophia the maid had just entered the room, bearing a dish in her hands with a silver cover upon it. She set it down upon the table just in front of Maryís place. Mary reached forward to lift the cover. She was feeling quite hungry already, and the smell of the food beneath the cover smelled so good, she just had to help herself to some of it now. Maybe Iíve become a bit more like a wolf than Iíd thought, a part of her wondered troubledly, but the rest of her was too eager to have something inside her to pay it any heed.
"Careful, Mary, thatís hot," her father warned her, noticing what she was doing. She ignored him, however, and quickly grasped the handle of the lid, beginning to lift it....
The next moment, she cried out in pain, letting go of the lid and withdrawing her hand. It throbbed painfully, as if it had been badly burnt.
"Mary, I told you it was hot!" Nigel shouted at her. "Why couldnít you wait for Sophia to serve it?"
"I - I didnít think that it was that hot," said Mary, with a grimace. The pain from her hand was still intense, and she had no idea as to what to do about it. She certainly couldnít dip it into her glass of water here at the dinner table, in the hopes that it would cool the burn off.
Her father looked at her closely, and at her hand. "Hmm.... It does look bad," he said. "Youíd better go upstairs and have it treated. Sophia, go with her, to help her," he continued, turning to the maid. "I and Morgana will just have to Ďrough ití a little."
Sophia nodded, and waited for Mary to rise up from her chair and walk to the door, then accompanied her. Once they were gone, Nigel took a closer look at the silver lid and touched it.
"My word," he said, in astonishment. "It wasnít that hot."
Morgana looked at it herself. "That is quite strange," she said, as she inspected it. "And it certainly could not have cooled down in so little time."
"Sheís been acting very strangely since she came home," said Nigel Sefton, with a frown. "I hardly know what to do about her now. Iím not even certain that itís a good idea to take her with me to the Palace tomorrow for my knighting. Perhaps I should leave her here at home, where she wonít cause a scene in front of the entire court." He was silent for a moment, then looked at her. "Youíre certain that you canít accompany me? I mean - youíd be missing the ceremony, and it would seem a little odd for my fiancee to be absent."
"Iím sorry, Nigel," said Morgana. "I know that itís awkward, and I did search for a way of going there with you. But I have to finish up a very important paper for Celtic Studies, and the deadline is only three days from now. I wonít be able to get out of it. Iíll have to be at home tomorrow evening, completing it. I hope that youíll understand."
Nigel sighed. "Yes, I do," he said. "Well, it canít be helped, I suppose. And at least the weddingís not that far off."
Morgana nodded. "Besides," she said, "youíve described the ceremonyís plans in enough detail to me that I can easily picture it in my mindís eye. So it may not matter that much. It wonít be the same as actually being there, true, but at least I do have some consolation there."
They ate in silence for a couple of minutes. Morgana seemed distracted by something, however, with a puzzled frown upon her face, as though she was trying to figure something out. At last she spoke again.
"Nigel, is it all right if I leave the table early? I know that this seems quite irregular, but I really ought to see how Maryís doing, make certain that sheís all right."
"I seriously doubt that she was that badly injured," Nigel replied sharply. "Sheíll mend."
"Iíd like to see to her injuries myself, though, and make certain," said Morgana. "I do know how to treat this sort of thing. Besides, I really feel that I need to spend some more time with her, get to know her better. She is going to be my stepdaughter, after all, and I really ought to make certain that we will get along harmoniously."
Nigel thought it over for a moment. "Very well," he said. "I suppose that itís all right. You can go check on her."
Morgana nodded, rose, and left the table.
* * *
Arthur listened troubledly as Leba finished her tale. The others seated at the Round Table listened as well, all looking surprised and more than a little worried.
"And youíre certain that the man who robbed that warehouse looked like me?" Arthur finally asked.
"According to what the police say, he looked enough like you that he could easily have been your very twin," Leba replied. "Although, of course, they see it as confirmation instead of your being the ĎConnectioní. Thatís what makes this so serious. And all the more so since this time itís on videotape rather than simply eyewitness reports. Itís hard to discount something when itís been caught by the camera."
"Then we know all the more now," said Arthur grimly, "that whoever is behind this scheme intends to convince the authorities that I am responsible for these evil deeds. And itís been even more cunningly laid than weíd thought. Whoever is behind this has clearly been able to find someone able to become a veritable doppleganger of me."
"But who?" asked Griff. "Thatís the question."
"Maybe you have descendants in this age," offered Dulcinea. "And one of them might look more than a little like you."
"That I very much doubt," said Arthur. "Even if so close a family resemblance could appear after fifteen centuries, I have no heirs left. My only child, remember, was Mordred, and I slew him at Camlann long ago. And he himself left no offspring. No, that cannot be it."
"Then maybe itís someone descended from Uther," said Colin. "Some sort of great-nephew, perhaps?"
Merlin shook his head. "Arthur was Uther Pendragonís only child as well. Something which Iíve sometimes considered more than a little strange, knowing Uther, but thatís beside the point. No, I donít think that weíre dealing with biological relatives here. More likely itís just a case of very effective disguise work."
"Whoever is behind it, that act of his or hers has placed us in all the more peril," said Arthur. "Which makes it all the more imperative that we act."
He rose up from his chair at the Round Table. "We are going to go back to London, and visit this warehouse. Perhaps whoever robbed it may have inadvertently left a clue or two behind that will help us."
"You canít be serious!" cried Colin, looking shocked. "The police will be searching the city for you now, even more than ever! If you go back there, you might just as well head straight for Scotland Yard and turn yourself in."
"I agree," said Michael. "Arthur, I am urging you to remain here, where itís safe. We can send somebody else to investigate, somebody who isnít wanted by the authorities. Will you not do this?"
"I cannot stay here in safety while my knights are imperilling themselves in my cause," replied Arthur. "I have to go. It is entirely possible that the police may not be staking out the warehouse, or that we will be able to elude them somehow. And in any case, it is my duty to go there."
Colin turned to Merlin. "Can you talk some sense to him?" he asked the youth. "Heíll surely listen to you."
"Heís even ignored my advice at times," said Emrys, shaking his head. "And heís never been too happy about letting his knights take risks that he didnít take. Not that they really minded, most of them. In fact, they considered it a splendid thing to be under a chieftain that would put his person in jeopardy as though he were just another knight."
The argument went on for a while longer, but Arthur remained firm. And at last, Colin, Michael, and the rest yielded.
"Well, I suppose that thereís nothing more that we can say about it," said Michael. "But do be careful, Your Majesty. For all our sakes."
Arthur nodded. "And let us be off," he said. "We have a long night before us."
* * *
"Does it still hurt?" Sophia asked.
"Not as much, actually," said Mary. The lotion that the maid had used had eased the pain to some extent, although she could still sense it. "Thank you."
"If you donít mind my asking, Miss Sefton, what happened to you?" Sophia continued. "The dishcover simply wasnít hot enough to burn you so badly. I donít see how it could have done that at all."
"Iím as puzzled by it as you are, actually," said Mary. That was not quite the truth, however. An uneasy suspicion was stirring at the back of her head. That dish cover, she recalled now, was made of silver. And one of the best-known legends concerning werewolves was that.... She checked herself in alarm from completing the mental sentence. Its implications were much too alarming.
Even if she had felt like pursuing the thought, however, she would not have had the opportunity. There was a sudden knock at the door. "Who is it?" asked Mary.
"Itís Morgana Cornish, Mary," replied Professor Cornishís voice from out in the hallway. "May I come in, please?"
Mary wasnít certain that she wanted her fatherís fiancee in the room with her just now, but it would only seem more suspicious if she refused her entry. So she said, "Yes, Ms. Cornish. You may."
The door opened and Morgana entered the bedroom. "I wanted to see how you were faring, Mary," she said. "Your injury did not appear particularly serious, but I wanted to make certain of it anyway. Do you mind if I speak with you for a while? Alone?"
"No," said Mary, if in a somewhat resigned tone of voice. "No, I suppose not."
"Iíd better leave you together, then," said Sophia. "Mr. Sefton will be wanting somebody to wait on him downstairs, anyway." She left the room, leaving Mary and Morgana alone.
"May I see the burn, please?" asked Morgana. "Perhaps I can help. I have some skill in these matters."
"Thank you," said Mary. "But I donít really think that itís all that serious, Ms. Cornish. Itís healing already."
"Let me make certain of that," said Morgana. She took Maryís hand in hers and held it in an almost caressing fashion. Mary was not quite certain, but she thought that she could hear the woman murmuring something indistinguishable as she did so. The burn tingled slightly, and then the pain from it faded away. As Morgana released Maryís hand, Mary saw that the burn had now entirely disappeared. She stared at it in amazement.
"How did you do that?" she asked.
"Oh, itís a minor trick that I learned once, when I was about your age," Morgana replied, almost airily. "Perhaps Iíll share it with you someday." Then her face became graver. "Mary, I know that all of this must have come as something of a shock to you. You came home to discover that your father was remarrying, and you barely had time to prepare for it. Believe me, I have some understanding of how it must be for you. My father died when I was ten years old, and I didnít take it too well when my mother remarried afterwards. In fact, I never got along well at all with my new stepfather. It is a difficult adjustment; I know that from my own experience. But I want to be a new mother to you, if youíll accept that."
Mary nodded, although without saying anything. She wasnít certain as to what to say for now, so she merely continued listening.
"Iím glad at least that youíre not too badly hurt," Morgana continued. "I lost my daughter in a fire, and Iíve never really gotten over it since. I wanted to make certain that I wouldnít lose my new stepdaughter as well."
"Your daughter?" asked Mary, astonished. Then she added quickly, "Ms. Cornish, I - Iím really sorry. I didnít know -"
"Youíre not to blame for it," said Morgana gently. "It happened a long while ago, anyway. Although the pain and loss from that never really went away. They never do." There was a bleak look in her eyes for a moment, a bad memory from years in the past, but it quickly faded. "Mary, I hope that you will accept me as part of your family. Iím willing to accept you."
Mary nodded, if a little abstractedly. She didnít know what to say, in fact. What she found herself thinking was the uneasy question of how long it would be before Professor Cornish found out the truth about her stepdaughter-to-be, and how would she respond then? It was all the worse since the woman had been so friendly and sweet to her. Mary honestly didnít know how to break the truth to her without giving her a fresh upset. Sheís really had her fair share of family tragedies already, she thought. I donít want to have to inflict one more upon her.
"I hope that we will become better acquainted with each other, in the time to come," said Morgana. "Hopefully, once your father and I are married, we will have opportunity enough for that. But we can at least make a beginning now."
She gently brushed Maryís forehead for a moment. The girl felt another odd tingling sensation just then, this time in her head, but it passed in a moment, before she even had time to wonder what it was. A sudden look of astonishment appeared on Morganaís face, but it quickly passed. She got up.
"Nigel will be waiting for me at the table still," she said. "I really must go back and keep him company, now that I know that you are well. You might join us, if you feel up to it."
"Maybe," said Mary. She sat on her bed, thinking, while Morgana left the bedroom.
* * *
"This is the place," said Leba.
Arthur, Dulcinea, and Rory followed her into the warehouse. The place had been fenced off from the public with police tapes, but they had learned enough about how to evade such procedures during the past few months in the course of getting about London unseen, and so had managed to make their way to it without being seen by anyone. The gargoyles were perched on nearby rooftops, under strict orders to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
"I doubt that weíll be finding much here," said Rory. "The police will probably have already taken everything important away as evidence."
"True," said Arthur, "but this is the only lead that we have at present. And you can never be certain, in any case. Itís always possible that they did miss something. But we will have to search for it carefully."
"It would help if we knew what to look for, though," said Dulcinea. "You donít have any ideas on that, do you?"
"None as yet," replied Arthur. "I suppose it will be one of those cases where we will know it when we see it."
Leba suddenly spoke. "Might that fit the qualification, Arthur?" she asked. She pointed up to the catwalk in the upper part of the warehouse.
Arthur looked up. A single figure was standing there, gazing down at them intently. He was a fair distance away from them, over their heads, but nevertheless, they could get a good enough look at his features. And he bore an astonishing resemblance to Arthur Pendragon, to such an extent that if the Once and Future King had not been standing on the floor with them, Leba, Rory, and Dulcinea could easily have mistaken the newcomer for him.
"Yes," said Arthur grimly. "I believe that it does."
* * *
Sergeant Winslow thanked the person at the other end of the line, then hung up the telephone and turned to Braddock. "Good news, sir," he said. "Weíve found our man."
"Indeed?" asked Braddock, looking up from the reports about Arthur Penningtonís activities before him. "Where?"
"At the warehouse that he robbed two nights ago," said Winslow. "Somebody spotted him there, and rang us up."
"So the criminal does indeed return to the scene of the crime," said Braddock. "I must confess, Iíd always considered that just an overused cliche in detective stories. But at least we know where he is. Weíd better leave at once." He rose from the desk immediately.
"By the way," he continued, as he and Winslow left the office, "do you know who it was that gave you the tip-off, Winslow?"
"No, sir," the sergeant replied. "It was another anonymous caller."
Braddock shook his head. "Thatís just what Iím not liking about this case," he said. "Itís been all a little too easy for us. Too convenient. Anonymous tip-offs, careless mistakes on the Connectionís part, things like that. Weíve barely had to do any work all this time. Catching the most dangerous man in all England should be much more - well, strenuous."
"It hasnít been completely a walk in the park, sir," said Winslow. "Remember how we finally caught him, only for him to get away afterwards?"
"True," said Braddock. "Now that I think over it, Iím almost glad of it. I know, I donít really want him to escape. He has to be behind bars. But I want to nab him knowing that I had to put some effort into it, that things were difficult. It feels wrong when he just gets handed to you on a silver platter."
"Maybe heíll put up a fight this time around, sir," said Winslow. "Although, letís hope that his performance isnít so good that he gets away."
Braddock nodded grimly, and said nothing more.
* * *
"So what do we do, Arthur?" asked Rory. "Should we go up after him?"
"I doubt that weíll need to," Arthur replied. "Heís saving us the trouble."
He was right, too. The man on the catwalk had seen them, and was now calmly headed towards the stairs leading down to the floor where they were. He reached their head and descended them slowly, in an almost casual fashion, as though he felt he had all the time in the world and need not hurry. Arthur and his three companions moved towards the foot of the stairs, to face him there.
"Ah, a reception committee," said the Arthur-doppleganger with a smile, as he reached the last step. "How terribly thoughtful of you. Really, I didnít think that I was such a popular fellow."
Arthur looked at him closely. The man indeed was strikingly similar to him in appearance; there was no denying that. His brown hair, moustache, and beard were absolutely identical. And his height, build, and facial features were similar enough that only the most painstaking of observers could notice the slight differences between the two men. Nevertheless, there were one or two deviations that Arthur sensed, although he could not entirely define them. The structure of the face had a certain quality about it not to be found in Arthurís own, a lack of seriousness and idealism in the eyes, a cruel, cunning smile. At the back of Arthurís head came the nagging insistence that he had met this man before, but he could not quite identify him. He also felt that if he did know this man, he should take a strong dislike to him.
"We have some questions to ask you, whoever you are," he said in a stern voice to his double.
"Fire away then, by all means, old man," said the doppelganger. "And if you need to know the answers, Iíll be perfectly happy to supply you with them. But if you donít need to know them, Iím keeping mum."
"You robbed this place the night before last," said Rory angrily, unable to hold himself back. "And you let yourself be spotted by the video cameras. You practically posed for them, in fact, according to Leba. Youíre framing Arthur here!"
"Bingo!" said the stranger, laughing in his nonchalant manner. "And very nicely done, too. Remarkably good deduction."
"So you are the Connection?" asked Leba. "The one who committed all those crimes and made it seem as though Arthur was guilty of them?"
"Yes and no," said the man. "Yes, Iím part of the deal. But no, Iím not the Connection. Iím just the Connectionís assistant. Not that that doesnít have its perks, of course."
"Why are you doing this?" Leba persisted. "Why are you making Arthur Pennington look like a criminal?"
"Come now, you donít need to keep up the alias, maíam," said the doppelganger, still smiling. "Why not say ĎArthur Pendragoní and have done with it? Because thatís who he really is. You are, arenít you?" He looked Arthur straight in the eyes.
"I will not deny it," said Arthur grimly. "But I will ask why you have sought to tarnish my name."
"Iím only doing what you donít have the guts to do yourself, old man," the impostor replied. "Come now, Arthur, admit it. Here you are, back from Avalon. You were expecting the Queen to just step down and abdicate in your favor, so that you could get re-enthroned as King of Britain, with no worry at all about Parliament, the Magna Carta, and all the rest of those modern improvements that they came up with while you were snoozing away on Oberonís isle? Please! Surely you know by now that itís not going to happen that way? Why, Iíd be amazed if the Brits keep their monarchy for another century! Theyíre certainly dissatisfied enough with it as it is. No, youíre not going to be able to get the throne back. Not the way that you were hoping all this time, at least. No, if you want to become King again, youíd have to do it the hard way."
"What are you saying?" asked Arthur, staring him straight in the eyes. Those eyes, he noticed, were not grey like his own, but a sparkling light blue. I know those eyes. Iíve seen them somewhere before. If it wasnít for that hair and beard, Iím certain that Iíd know him.
"Iím saying that if you had any sense at all in you, youíd be scheming for a coup, the way that Iím doing," said Arthurís double. "Get rid of the Queen and her relatives, declare yourself king again, and give anybody who complains about it a little introduction to Excalibur, edge-first. But no, you wonít do it that way. Youíve got that little impediment called Ďmoralityí blocking you. No, youíre just content to play the private detective and fade away. Face it, Arthur. Deep down inside, you donít want to live like this. You want to be in command again, not solving petty little missing person cases. But those top-lofty notions of honor and chivalry and respect for the law get in the way, keep you from getting what you want. And you just give into them, even if it means obscurity. Quite an anticlimax to your return, isnít it? No fireworks, no pageantry, nothing at all. Wouldnít Malory and Tennyson and all the rest have been surprised if theyíd known?"
"And if you believe that what I should do would be to seize the throne and adopt the tyrantís way, then you are a greater fool than Iíd thought," said Arthur. He drew Excalibur from its scabbard, and held it out before him. "My return to Britain was not meant to be a mere resumption of my reign. It was to rescue it when it underwent its greatest hour of need."
"And you wonít even be able to do that, now, will you?" asked the impostor. "Oh, it could have been that way, but you came back early from Avalon, didnít you? Woken ahead of schedule? Alarm clock set for a couple of centuries too soon? That greatest hour of need could be years away, and by the time that it arrives, youíll have succumbed to old age. No, face it, Arthur. Youíve lost and you know it. Thatís why youíre so angry to see me. Youíre really angry with yourself, for what youíve had to give up, what youíve had to become. An ignominious fugitive, and nothing more. And since I look like you just now, that makes me the perfect whipping boy for you to vent your self-loathing upon."
"Does all of this psychoanalysis have a point?" Dulcinea asked.
"Indeed it does," replied the Arthur-doppelganger. "More than one, in fact. First of all, I thought that you should know something about me, Arthur. You canít get rid of me. Iím part of you, youíre part of me. Maybe Iím just a convenient symbol for you of that side of you that you want to forget about, or the man that you secretly wish that you could be."
"I have no wish at all to be you," said Arthur, his teeth set.
"Pull the other one, it plays ĎJingle Bellsí," said his double. "I know better than that. Think about it. What did those moral standards of yours do for you, anyway? You did all that preaching about justice and right, and look what came of it. You wound up having to send your own wife to the stake. And when your best friend came to rescue her, you had to go to war with him, even though you knew that it would tear the kingdom apart. Camelot wouldnít have fallen if youíd broken your own law and let Lance and Jenny go scot-free. But you went after them, and gave your enemies the opening that they needed. While your dad, on the other hand, ruled Britain like a tyrant, and died safely in bed."
"Yes, and crippled with a wasting illness that prevented him from rising for his last years of life," said Arthur, although with an almost uneven voice. "If you have anything better to do than mock what I stood for, whoever you are, then declare it now. But I will hear no more of your cynical words. State your true purpose."
"Right-ho, then," said the man. "It can be summed up in just one word. GOTCHA!"
Arthur and the others stared at him for a moment, bewilderedly. But then in the silence, they heard the sound of police sirens approaching. All four of them spun around, to stare at the opening to the warehouse, but could see no sign as yet of the police. When they turned back, however, the flippant stranger was missing, vanished without a trace.
"Whereíd he go?" asked Rory. "He was right there just a minute before; he couldnít have just disappeared like that!"
"It seems that he has, though," said Arthur, in an angry voice. "Departed, now that heís accomplished what he set out to do! It was all a trap! He wanted the police to find us here - may even have alerted them! And we walked straight into it, when we should have known better!"
"Then weíd better get away from here now," said Leba. "Come on! They havenít seen us yet! Thereís still some hope!"
They ran out of the warehouse, into the open air. "This way," said the musician, indicating the road that led westwards, back in the direction of the London estate. "Hurry!"
They ran in the direction that she had indicated. The sirens grew louder behind them, drawing nearer.
* * *
For the past hour, Nigel and Mary Sefton and Morgana Cornish had sat in the living-room of the Sefton home, speaking together. Or rather, Nigel and Morgana had spoken, while Mary had sat and listened. Most of the conversation had been about her fatherís upcoming knighting at Buckingham Palace tomorrow evening. It was still clear that Morgana would not be able to come. It was far less certain as to whether Mary herself would also be able to attend. Nigel still seemed reluctant to bring her along with him, and Morgana, much to Maryís surprise, did not seem to be making any particular effort to persuade him otherwise. Rather, she seemed almost resigned to his decision.
There was suddenly a noise from outside, like a car pulling up and coming to a halt. Morgana turned and listened, then stood up. "Thatís my driver," she said. "I must go home now."
Nigel and Mary Sefton escorted her to the front door. "Thank you very much, Nigel," Morgana Cornish said to him, as they reached it. "Itís been a fine evening, and I enjoyed meeting your daughter." She turned to Mary. "I hope that we can become better acquainted soon," she said. "Perhaps we can have lunch together next week?"
"Iím - really not certain," said Mary, hesitating.
"Well, let me know when you are," said Morgana. She hugged the girl briefly, then kissed Nigel on the cheek. It was just then that the door opened, and a young man in a smart-looking suit entered.
Mary stared at him in astonishment as he stood in the doorway. There was something hauntingly familiar about his features, but at first she was unable to place them. Then she took a closer look at his face, and realized what it was that it reminded her of. He looked quite a bit like King Arthur, but younger and clean-shaven. His hair was darker, cut relatively short and fairly curly. But his eyes didnít look quite right to her, nor the way that he smiled. It had a certain sneakiness in it that reminded her somehow of the way that Corbie had smiled at Trafalgar Square, while watching a berserk Cuchulain on the rampage.
"This is James Seabairn," said Morgana to Mary. "Heís my driver and my assistant. Seabairn, this is Mary Sefton, Nigelís daughter."
"Hullo," said Mary, giving a brief and uncertain curtsey.
"Charmed, Iím sure," replied Seabairn, with a brief nod. He turned to Morgana. "Weíre ready to go, Ms. Cornish," he told her.
"Thank you," said Morgana. "Good-bye," she told Nigel. "And once again, best wishes to your knighting ceremony tomorrow evening." And with that, she was gone.
Nigel turned to Mary. "Well, be grateful that your future stepmother has taken to you," he said in a stern voice. "Actually, she does seem a little too soft on you; Iím going to need to explain to her that what you stand in need of right now is some proper discipline. But you still havenít given me a satisfactory explanation of where youíve been for the last few months, and Iím not the least bit pleased about it, Iím warning you. I couldnít do that much while Morgana was here, but now that sheís gone, youíre going up to your room, and staying there. And youíre not to leave the house until school term starts. No telephone calls, either. Youíre grounded. Do you understand?"
"Yes, father," said Mary, submissively. What else could she say? And she turned and walked up the stairs in silence.
Iím going to have to tell him sometime, she thought. But when? At this moment, she honestly didnít know.
* * *
"I think that theyíre gaining on us," said Rory, listening to the sirens and the calls of the police behind them.
"Just keep running!" said Arthur grimly. "We canít let them overtake us!"
"And what if they do?" asked Dulcinea. "If we put up a fight, weíll only make matters worse for ourselves, wonít we?"
"I know," Arthur replied. "But I donít know what else to do at present."
* * *
"Iíd say that we have him now, sir," called Winslow over his walkie to Braddock. "We have the area surrounded. Thereís no way that heís escaping this time."
"Good man," Braddock replied, leading his contingent after the fleeing Pennington and his companions. "Letís hope that we can finally get the answers that we need."
* * *
Morgana turned to Seabairn as their car drove away through the night from Nigel Seftonís house. "Well?" she asked. "Did everything go according to plan?"
"Oh, splendidly," replied Seabairn, with a wicked smile. "Just swimmingly, auntie."
To Be ContinuedÖ