FLIGHT FROM THE ENCHANTER
Story by Ed Reynolds
Written by Ed Reynolds
* * * * *
Previously on Pendragon…
MERLIN: If I'd done this a lot sooner, we might both have been spared a lot of misery and pain over the centuries. But - I am deeply sorry, Morgana, for what I did to your mother. I know that I can do nothing to you now to make amends for helping to deceive her, but still, I am sorry.
MORGANA: I do not care how sorry you are. I want no apologies from you, Merlin. I only want your death. Yours and Arthur's, both. Nothing else will do. Nothing.
~~~Home for the Holidays~~~
* * *
LEONARD CAMFORD: Behold! When the days of shadow pass, the time of the Great Quest will be upon us. The Sleeper will lead the searchers and the Thirteen will return to their place in the hall of the Fisher King. The dragon banner will fly over the green hills of England once more.
MRS. CAMFORD: Leonard, please! Please, forgive him, Mr. Pennington. It's the Alzheimer's disease. He doesn't know what he's saying.
LEONARD: I serve the All-Seeing Eye, that which sees the future and the past. I pledge my allegiance to the Once and Future King!
ARTHUR: Then, Sir Leonard, I accept you into my service. Your first charge is to watch over my lady Jennifer and keep her safe until my return. Her well-being is worth more to me than all the treasure in the world.
~~~Night of the Weird~~~
* * *
ARTHUR: The Grail was, in legend, thought to cure even the most fatal malady. Finally I can see the new quest before us. It would seem that the only way to cure Merlin is to locate the Grail.
~~~The Mists of Eynhallow~~~
* * *
QUETZALCOATL: Is that the best reason to seek the Grail? Merely as some form of medicine to heal a sick friend? As a means?
~~~The Dragon’s Treasure~~~
* * *
DUVAL: Believe me, I’m under no illusions about just what my followers are like, or the nature of their activities. There are limits to the extent that I can justify the Society’s deeds to my conscience, and those limits have been passed over long ago. I am glad that you chose not to become entangled in them, as I have.
ARTHUR: You could leave them. Come with us, Lancelot. Leave the Illuminati behind. We would welcome your company on this adventure.
DUVAL: I - I cannot join you, Arthur. I fear that it is too late for me to walk away from the Illuminati. And even if I could leave, they would have to choose someone to replace me - and there is no telling what my successor might do. At least I can assure some restraint upon their actions, so long as I guide them - but if another were to step into my shoes upon my departure, who knows where he might lead them?
* * *
ARTHUR: And what of the Illuminati? What course of action will they take, when they learn of my answer?
DUVAL: I will hold them back for as long as I can. My edict remains in force as yet, and so long as it does, not one of the Society will dare harm you or yours. I will tell them that it will be more to their advantage to leave you unmolested, in the hopes that you might lead them to the Holy Grail. And hopefully they will accept that answer, and abide by it.
ARTHUR: And when we do find the Grail? What will they do then?
~~~Choices, Part Two~~~
* * *
JENNIFER: Well, if there's going to be something between us, then I must demand you have no more secrets from me.... 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?
~~~Iris, Lily, and Rose, Part Two~~~
* * *
ARTHUR: It’s been weeks since I’ve last been able to speak to Jennifer, as well. Truth to tell, I never seem to have the time that I need for her. I’ve been on one quest after another since we met, and they’ve kept me so busy that I can scarcely find a moment to talk to her. She’s noticed that, as well.
GRIFF: She understands, though, doesn’t she? I mean, all these quests that we’ve been on - well, we had to carry them out. It was part of our job. You’re the Once and Future King, and I’m one of your knights. Going on quests like these is what we’re supposed to do. It’s what we have to do.
ARTHUR: I know. And therein lies much of the problem. I have sworn duties to perform, and I cannot abandon them for the woman that I love. I must not commit the error that Geraint did, and neglect my knightly vows for my lady’s sake. But I have a duty to her, as well. Just as I did to Guinevere.
* * *
JENNIFER: I’m afraid that I can’t speak long. You called just as I was dealing with some important matters relating to my company and Darien Montrose.
ARTHUR: Darien Montrose? So he is still scheming?
JENNIFER: I’m afraid so. And it appears that he’s got his eye on the Camford Corporation - as in, planning a hostile takeover.
* * * *
All Saints’ Hospital, 21 April 2000
Jennifer Camford sighed and glanced at her reflection in the rear view mirror. Her eyes were bloodshot and heavy with rings indicating sleeplessness. Her hair was unkempt. She sighed and leant back in her car seat and stared across the gradually filling car park towards the massive grey building that was All Saints’ Hospital.
It seemed odd that a year ago she had been in the same hospital herself. Leonard had been in the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at that stage, but there was nothing that could be done for him now so he came to All Saints’ to be closer to his family. The flu bug he had contracted that February had weakened him significantly. He had always looked young for his age before the condition struck, but now it seemed that age was rapidly catching up with him.
She blinked back tears. In a moment, she would go inside. In a moment. She breathed deeply, trying to loosen the knot in her throat. She felt herself ready to cry. She couldn’t cry. Not now.
She opened her car door, and shivered slightly as she felt the morning air on her hands and face. The sky was clear and it looked set to be a fine April day, but the mornings were still nippy. She pressed the button on her key and listened to her car lock click into place, and waited for the red light to blink. Stifling a yawn, she walked along the grass verge towards the hospital. Her head remained down and her thoughts drifted to other matters.
A telephone ring from her handbag caught her ears. She felt herself cringe. Scrambling into her bag, she reached for it and picked it up. Terrence.
"What is it, Terrence? For crying out loud, it’s not even eight in the morning."
"I’m sorry, Miss Camford," came the Birmingham-accented voice at the other end of the line. "This can’t wait. I just received word from Cyberbiotics on the merger deal; they rejected. Seems they’ve got a better option lined up with…"
"Montrose," Jennifer finished through clenched teeth.
Her head lolled forward as she clutched her phone tighter. The morning sun filtered through the blossoming trees lining the walkway and cast intricate shadows on the gnarled pavement in front of her.
"That’s right. But without the Cyberbiotics deal, you know we’re going to lose our major contacts with the Kaufman Group, and as for the chances of closing a deal with Mohammad Sharif… Look, what I’m saying is—"
"I know what you’re saying, Terrence. I know… Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be with you. I’m sure we’ll find a way to sort it out. I’ll speak to Mr. Vogel personally if needs be. We only met recently and he seemed quite agreeable then."
"Well, all right, Miss Camford, but I’m telling you. You’d better get over here soon or there won’t be a business to get back to."
He hung up. She listened to the long tone at the other end for a few moments, before replacing the telephone in her hands, shoving the green button for several seconds until the display darkened to indicate that the telephone was turned off. She placed it back in her handbag. Her hands were shaking despite herself. Terrence’s tone had not been unkind, but he was being perfectly frank. There was no getting away from the fact that she was in serious trouble. She continued to walk through the doors, and approached reception.
"Go right through, Miss Camford," said the lady at the desk. Jennifer nodded slightly and continued along the corridor towards the lift.
The voices of the receptionists reached her ears across the sparsely populated entrance. "Honestly, Neerja, that poor lady looks worse every day. So drawn. She really needs a holiday."
"Doesn’t she have a husband or something? The one that came to visit when she was in hospital this time last year?"
"Boyfriend, I think. Wonder where he is? Out of the country, I guess. Hey, what happened with Paul the other night?"
"Don’t talk to me about Paul. If I never see him again it’ll be too soon. Listen: I’m waiting for him outside the pub, pouring rain, yeah? And then I get a text saying…"
The lift finally arrived and Jennifer stepped inside. The noise from the desk was blocked out. She closed her eyes, and tried to make the world disappear.
But the conversation between the receptionists that she had overheard rang in her head and her thoughts turned to Arthur, the boyfriend that had visited her in the very same hospital last April. Where was he now?
The last she had heard of him was when he had stopped by New York on his quest to find the cure for Merlin. To find the Holy Grail. She smiled despite herself. The situation was so serious and so painful for him and yet its solution seemed so elegant. A problem: a solution. If only there was a Holy Grail that could save her from her problems with Montrose, and keep her business afloat. If only there was a knight to come to her rescue and defeat the cowardly robber baron.
But life wasn’t like that, she knew. Her eyes cast up despairingly to the row of lighted buttons on the inside of the lift.
"Oh Arthur," she sighed to herself. "Where are you now when I need someone more than ever? You’re not a part of the real world, of my world… or of any world that I could understand, anyway. We hardly talk, you can’t understand the trials of my life day-to-day and I cannot imagine yours. How can I love a man like that? It’s the stuff of fairy tales, not of reality."
The lift doors opened, and she stepped out and down a blue-carpeted corridor that smelt of stale air and bed linen. Two nurses carrying bed supplies passed in front of her, and she paused for a moment, before continuing down the corridor towards door number seven. It was ajar. The nurse was in there.
She looked inside, to see Leonard Camford. He was sleeping lightly, mumbling inaudibly under his breath in fits and starts. The nurse greeted Jennifer before leaving. Jennifer sat numbly by Leonard’s bed and took his hand.
"And…be rescued… England… green… fields," the pale old man muttered.
He made no movement to indicate that he recognised Jennifer. Outside the door, there was the muffled sound of nurses milling trolleys along the blue-carpeted corridors. The twittering of birds in the morning light broke the silence from the window.
* * * * *
Arthur, Mary, Merlin and Griff paused for breath as they reached the peak of the hill that they had climbed, and finally realised that if they could see any further down the gravel-strewn road they were taking they would see the Andes on the distance.
"Not long now!" said Griff cheerfully. "We’ll find Professor Fenn and get a lift to Oak Island."
"Yes," said Merlin with a sharp intake of breath. "That will be nice. All this walking is really… agh… really starting to get the better of me."
"You sound in pain, old friend," Arthur said. "You should have stopped us earlier if it bothered you."
"Nonsense, Arthur. I’m quite all right. You forget who you’re talking to. I might be the least effective forward to ever grace a rugby field – as any of the PE teachers at Mons Carbi will no doubt attest – but I travelled a great deal during my day, without horses or cars. Even with the effects of this poison, I’m perfectly fit to travel. Indeed, it’s best that I do keep fit – keeps me better able to defend myself against this poison."
"Everything in moderation," Griff said sternly. "I think maybe you ought to ride with me for the next leg of our journey. You’re hardly very heavy, especially given how you’ve been losing weight ever since the quest began."
"I won’t be carried around like a child," said Merlin, trying to contain a cough but not quite succeeding. "I’m still okay and I can look after myself."
"Merlin," said Arthur. "It would be wise under the circumstances to accept Griff’s offer. We may be walking several days and wearing yourself out will not help us at all in our quest."
Merlin rolled his eyes and allowed himself to be hoisted up onto the gargoyle’s back. "There you go, old chap," Griff said cheerfully.
"Thanks," said Merlin languidly. "Well, I suppose I’ll just have to swallow my pride until after we find the Grail."
The company moved forward again. For a while they walked in silence. Fireflies darted around in front of them. The night was hot and they were thankful for the breeze when it blew upon them, even though it barely cooled them.
"What will we do after?" mused Griff.
"After?" asked Mary.
"Well, after it’s all over. We’ve been so focused on finding the thing recently, that we’ve hardly stopped to consider the situation after we’ve found the Grail, saved Merlin… what will we do next?"
Arthur’s face darkened. "That is indeed the question," he said heavily. "It’s one I’ve been hoping to put off for far too long now."
"It’s a fair point," said Mary. "I can’t see you doing your Sherlock Holmes bit again, Arthur. Mind you, I can’t really imagine you having done that in the first place. No offence, but for a detective you don’t seem terribly good at… er, detecting things."
"No, I fear the days of Pendragon Investigations are past. It served its purpose, to keep us closer to the fray when the Second Unseelie War was upon us, but then I was just reacting to events, trying to situate myself where I could oppose my enemies. Now those enemies are defeated or at least scattered and it seems I must find a role of my own, free from the pressures my enemies put upon me, a role beyond just struggling day to day for mere survival in this new world. I fear that so far, survival has been the point of my quests. Surviving the Unseelie War, the Connection affair, Morgana’s poison… it has been a long time since I have had a true purpose, a true drive of my own. Until now I have merely been a fly in the webs of spiders."
"Hasn’t it always been that way though?" asked Merlin. "I mean, back in the day of your court, things happened… tragedy struck. And you dealt with it and moved on. Or, admittedly, let it fester and tear down the kingdom but… Well, the point is, bad things happen, I don’t know that there’s all that much you can do to take charge of events as best you can. Not that it hasn’t stopped me from trying every now and then, but even that hasn’t been an unmitigated success, as well you know."
"Yes," said Griff, speaking over the youth’s grim tone in a jovial fashion. "As Abraham Lincoln put it: ‘I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.’ You’re just doing what everyone else is doing, Arthur: getting by, day to day."
"But that is not good enough, Sir Griff," said Arthur, a note of pain becoming apparent in his voice now. "Others were not awakened from a millennium and a half of enchanted sleep and sent out into the world to… to…"
He trailed off, and cast his head down.
"I do not even know why I am here. At least last time, I had some idea of my destiny. I had so hoped that the Grail quest would give me some kind of hope, or perspective on the situation, but now I find myself cast adrift without any way of knowing where to turn to next. When will I be able to find the purpose and direction I had long ago? When?"
Mary was dismayed as she noticed Arthur’s expression, which for the merest moment appeared violent, his eyes narrowed and cruel. But in an instant, his demeanour reverted to normal, and he simply looked weary and gaunt. Mary watched him for a few moments, but decided quietly that it was probably nothing. Nonetheless, she avoided his gaze after that, save for snatched worried glances in his direction.
After a few minutes had passed without any further discussion, she decided to speak. "We passed by the American gargoyles in New York," she said. "They were awakened after an enchanted sleep too but they still managed to find their place. I’m sure you’ll find yours as well, Arthur."
"Their case is an interesting one except that they have a simple mandate: protect. That is what they do, that is what every fibre of their being clings to. But Britain has two gargoyle clans, and numerous other men and women rallying to its cause. I am an expatriate king, no longer even a citizen of my home country… it is clear to me now that when I found Excalibur in New York as opposed to Britain or nearby, it was not mere chance. I have a role on the world stage but I do not know what that role is. I have no notion of how to protect the world or even against whom; there are so many enemies now taking so many guises unknown to me. But if I am unable to protect the world, then what can I do? What great quest will I do once I achieve the Grail? Or is this merely the last quest that I can truly accomplish, the great quest, after which I will simply fade away, doing whatever good deeds I can until eventually I am too old to do even that?"
Griff turned to face the king as they strode along. "I’d say you’re missing the point a bit, Arthur. We’ve battled giants and faeries and ghosts, turned back the Unseelie assault on London, brought a dangerous vampyre serial killer off the streets, saved the Queen’s life and stopped an evil dragon lady from nicking a powerful magical spear. Think of the people that have been affected by your coming: Taliesin, Quetzalcoatl, the Fenris-wolf… crumbs, even Sekhmet! These are people that you have helped since we set out on this quest. In point of fact, I wonder if that is coincidence. To have run into so many tight scrapes while on a Grail quest is… well… lucky as far as proving ourselves Grail-getting material goes. Our quest isn’t over yet, and even when it is, we may not find a definite answer, a solution to all our concerns. But the benefit of the journey isn’t in finding some kind of concrete answer to life, the universe and everything but the intrinsic value of the journey itself, and the good the travellers do on it."
"You may be right, Griff," said Arthur slowly. "But it’s not enough. To know that I can do great good in the world is one thing, and to touch a few lives and improve them is truly special, but I need a cause. In the old days, the evils were obvious. The corrupt and evil characters have not disappeared in modern times but have found new ways to make mischief while I have not found new way to stop them. I can never hope to do what I did long ago with Camelot – the world is too vast. There are police for the streets, lawyers for the courtrooms and huge systems of government that the people decide."
"The governmental systems we have nowadays aren’t all that great to be honest," said Mary. "I mean, thank goodness we don’t live in a totalitarian state or anything, but there are problems. You should hear about some of the scandals that go on. And no democracy can be perfect… there are questions about who votes, who chooses when they vote, how the votes are counted. Churchill went so far as to call democracy ‘the worst form of government… apart from all the others.’"
"Is there a discount on political quotes today?" Merlin grumbled.
"You’re right: no system of government is perfect, Mary," said Arthur. "But compared to the ones available in the days of my first reign, the modern age does seem to manage its affairs significantly better. There might not be a golden age of Camelot, but the land is far removed from plummeting into another dark age.
"But there is another concern I have, too. I am getting old. I do wonder if I will not be able to maintain my current levels of strength forever. What happens if all I can contribute to the world is brute force – fighting off one robber-baron or Unseelie after another until eventually I’m worn out and have to retire."
"Look Arthur," said Griff. "I see where you’re coming from with all this. You’ve gone from being a big fish in a small pond to being a minnow in the Channel. But the solution isn’t necessarily in having lots of power. It’s about what you do with the power you have. You have a very simple power: your moral code. You stick to it, and you inspire people with it and you make the world a better place because of it."
"But what will I do with it, Griff? That is the question. I am no longer new to this modern world. It has been four years and my purpose remains unclear. I do not have infinite time. Maybe I really have been awakened far too early."
"I don’t think that’s true," said Mary softly. "If you had awoken later, I might have still been trapped in Rivencroft."
"If I had awoken later, you might never have been cursed."
"But then I would never have met Merlin and Griff, become your squire, seen the world, encountered people like the London clan and… and the Fenris-wolf. I always used to think I was in control of my life, but my life seemed to find me."
Merlin spoke up too, if darkly. "You also found me in time to save me from my dad and his dodgy mates. And the world too, come to think of it."
"I was a footnote in a greater battle. No, I fear that the Unseelie War is not my calling in this modern world. But what is?
A long silence passed between them with only the crunch of their hiking boots on the gravelled path and the slight whistle of the wind in the air breaking their contemplation. Merlin coughed. Mary began to brush her hair from her face, muttering that she ought to have it cut – it had become quite an annoyance just recently. Griff began to hum "ten green bottles" but was received with groans from both Merlin and Mary and decided it was best to stop. Only Arthur remained silent, although looking occasionally towards the skyline. It was starting to get lighter.
"I suppose we will have to consider this further another day," he said as if the conversation was still continuing. "For now, let us find a safe place to rest for the day."
Griff and Mary glanced at each other, but Griff gave a "don’t ask me" look.
* * *
The sun peaked over the horizon, and Griff petrified in a thoughtful stance in the foliage by the roadside. Mary tried to suppress her screams of pain as she reverted to wolf form, before curling up at the feet of the statue. Merlin sat down a few metres away under the base of a tree and tried to go to sleep. Only Arthur remained awake, looking up at the mountain further down the road sadly.
After checking that his companions were safe and asleep, he walked a little way down the path, pushing back the thin foliage that was around. He came out into what appeared to be an abandoned work site of some description. A rusty mechanical digger was upturned in the mud, the drivers seat slashed and the large metal claw reaching backwards towards the ground. He sighed and looked around the desolate area. The day was already hot and he wiped his hair from his brow and removed his coat. A strange bird was calling in a nearby tree. The sun peaked over the surrounding treetops.
Arthur remained for several hours, lost in thought. He thought back to the London estate of the gargoyles and memories of uncertainty and frustration greeted him. Although he did not let on to the clan or his companions, he knew that his residence with the gargoyles had become strained. They were quite reasonably concerned that he would jeopardise their secrecy and he could not entirely blame them. He loathed the isolation he felt after his unveiling to the world. Even now he was running and hiding, travelling by night and avoiding others. He did not know what to do, even with all the adventures he had undergone. It troubled him. It frustrated him.
It enraged him.
He felt a fury that he did not like well within him. He grabbed a piece of wood used to make a fence and smashed it down onto the digger with effort. He wiped his brow; it only satisfied his frustration briefly and his blood was now boiling. He thought he could hear a cold voice whispering in his ear as he smashed the digger again.
And again. And again. And again. And again.
Arthur’s hand hovered in the air for a moment, and then he dropped the piece of wood and wiped the sweat from his face. He shuddered; this was definitely not his usual self. He looked around worriedly and felt strangely cold despite the sun. He could also hear something else: the sound of singing.
He sat up and listened more carefully. There was a hymn-like quality to the voice. The morning light filtered through the trees, casting a hazy effect of shadows and pricks of light on the ground in front of him. Arthur stepped forward slowly, his concentration on following the singing, which was hushed, like a whisper:
Ring-a-ding-ding, here comes the king
Comes he? Comes ho!
With sword and stone and wolf-daughter
Dead is he but not so dead to be dead.
A ring on his finger and
A Crown, a crown on his head
I agree, it’s he.
The nonsensical sing-song echoes died, and Arthur found himself having been drawn into the midst of the foliage, hand grasping his sword hilt warily. The sun was glaring through the trees, casting him in light. He looked around. There was no sound any more.
Arthur frowned, and slowly traced his steps back towards his dozing companions with a deep breath.
When he found Merlin, the teenage wizard was sitting up, staring out at the land around them.
"Do you notice anything odd about this place, Arthur?" he asked.
"Odd?" he replied, a little more sharply than he intended. "How do you mean?"
"Earlier this morning, everything was green and lush but now this whole area seems pale. Those trees look as though they’re dying and the greenery seems increasingly white and deadened. It’s as if we’re looking at a polaroid film being developed, but in reverse so the world is fading. And that smell… it’s not like the South American countryside at all but… but like rain off a hot pavement or… I don’t know. It reminds me of magics I’ve encountered at times in my life, although I’d rather not say more about them unless I have to… they’re quite dark."
As Merlin spoke, Arthur looked back down the path he came from and almost jumped as he too noticed for the first time the change that had undergone. He shivered; for the first time since he had left the boat that the team had travelled on from Antarctica, he felt rather cold. The sky had faded into a greyer colour. It wasn’t the colour of grey clouds; it was just that the sky itself seemed grey, just as the ground was grey and the trees were white.
"What sorcery could do such a thing?" whispered Arthur.
"I do not know," Merlin replied. "This is certainly unusual and… unprecedented. Truth is, I’ve never really been a great traveller and as for going as far afield as South America… well, I’ve read books but I’ve no idea about what kind of magic might cause this."
"Is it Morgana?" said Mary, speaking for the first time as she stepped up from behind Arthur and Merlin – although being a wolf this made very little difference to her height compared to her companions.
"Doesn’t seem her style somehow," said Merlin. "It reminds me of the kind of magic associated with necromancy, a branch of magic that Morgana has never touched… although I suppose her penchant for simulacrums recently might have caused her to take a course."
"I heard singing earlier today," said Arthur. "If you can call it singing. It was very quiet. I… I can’t remember the words but they were… cheerful. Almost nonsensical at times, like laughter. But hushed."
"So," sighed Mary. "What are we up against this time? Disgruntled ghosts or a rogue Unseelie?"
"Rogue Unseelie based on our recent track record," said Merlin.
"You think so?" asked Arthur.
"Not really. But it took some considerable magic to change the area like this. Or at least to change our perception of it."
"Everything seems more or less the same as it was, except for this… greyness. I think we can rule out another microcosm."
"But it does seem as though we’re cut off," said Mary. "Listen: no birds, hardly even the sound of the river nearby even though it’s not very far from us."
"Let us hope that Griff awakens soon," said Arthur. "I shall feel more comfortable with all our allies ready to move or fight if trouble comes."
* * * * *
Jennifer closed the blinds on the dark world outside her London office, and reached for a cup of tea in a mug behind her. Her hand missed and the cup toppled over a mass of papers. She drew an intake of breath before continuing about her business coolly, removing up the papers and mopping up the spill. It was too late in the evening for this latest trauma to even irritate her very much. She released the breath heavily.
There was a knock on the door. She looked up. Terrance Trepkos stepped inside the office.
"Sorry, I didn’t realise I was interrupting your, ah, cleaning?"
"Tea spillage," said Jennifer. "I thought you went home at ten, Terrence."
"I should have. And so should you. For goodness sake, Miss Camford, it’s the third night this week you’ve worked past midnight. You’re going to kill yourself if you go on like this."
"And Montrose is going to make absolutely sure I’m dead if I don’t pull this company around," she snapped back.
She paused. Shook her head. "I’m sorry, Terrence, I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just…"
Terrence finished her sentence. "It’s just that sometimes you need to see that things aren’t working right. This company has been in trouble for a couple of years now. Even in boom years, we’ve found ourselves having to lay off many of our staff, or finding them snatched away by our competitors. This financial year is ending in utter disaster. We won’t survive another one."
"We will," said Jennifer emphatically.
Terrence shook his head and replied with quiet resignation. "We won’t. You know we won’t."
"Then what do you suggest we do?"
"There is an option. One that we haven’t considered yet, but Montrose has. He sent me an offer today for your perusal. He wants to buy out the company. Lock, stock, barrel. He’d own it and pay a reasonable fee – more than the company may be currently worth actually. This would allow him a clean takeover of the corporation without any of the antagonism that might be caused by extending his attack on the company. You could take the money and start over. It would be a chance to get out. What do you think, Miss Camford?"
"I think…" said Jennifer slowly, weighing her words carefully. "I think that I would rather have my heart ripped out than let Montrose rip my family business away from me. Can you imagine him walking into this building… as owner? It will never happen under my watch. Never."
"I was afraid you’d say that, Jennifer," sighed Terrence, his voice hardening.
Jennifer stared at Terrence. In the electric strip light, his own haggard appearance was particularly noticeable. His eyelids were lowered in shame. It was clear that he had not been sleeping recently either.
"Mr. Montrose has offered me a job at his company. It’s nearly twice what I’m currently on, and it will give me considerably fewer working hours. I may even have some time to spend with my baby girl."
There was a long pause.
"This company won’t survive under present administration anyway so it’s not a difficult decision," Terrence continued hurriedly, but he did not meet Jennifer’s eyes.
Jennifer nodded slightly, her eyes flicking wildly between Terrence and the floor. She sat down quietly.
"I’m sorry, Jennifer. I really am. I… I’ll be in contact to offer my notice formally."
Terrence cast one last look back at his former employer and then walked out of the office, closing the door quietly behind him. Jennifer hardly registered the change as she continued to stare at the space Terrence had just vacated. There was the click of the door outside and then the office was silent.
* * * * *
"It’s like life itself is draining away."
"I certainly agree with you, Mary, that this change in the plants and even the very air of this area is strange," said Griff. "Look, do you see that in the distance?"
The area that Arthur, Griff, Merlin and Mary had found themselves in seemed to be even more surreal in the dusk. It was as if the colour had washed out of the surrounding land and replaced with a kind of luminous white – almost like looking at a negative. But it wasn’t just the colours that were different – the world seemed dead. The branches had been stripped of leaves somehow without the travellers even noticing the change. They were jagged and brown – or was it jagged and black? As Mary squinted through them to follow Griff’s outstretched pointing talon, her eyes widened.
"What do you see?" asked Arthur.
"Things moving," said Griff. "Strange shapes coming towards us."
Mary nodded. "Yes, I can see them too now. They seem to be men… knights even. People in armour, but pale and wan and… lifeless?" She shuddered. "I don’t know what made me want to say that. What do you suppose they want?"
"I do not know," said Arthur coolly, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, although he showed no signs of being prepared to draw it just yet.
"They’re all around us," said Mary, glancing around. "If you look carefully you can see them, trying to keep out of sight. There are a lot more than it appears at first glance. It seems we’re surrounded."
"Assume a defensive position," said Arthur, moving so that the four heroes faced outwards in a small circle, their backs to each other. "But do not take offensive stances until I give the order. I shall draw Excalibur only if I must. Let us appear inoffensive as it seems we are clearly at a disadvantage with these…. people. They may be allies for all we know."
The air began to chime once more with the sounds of bells and rhyme but although the words were cheery, the voices sounded sibilant and morbid. The knights that gathered around wore armour old and new. Some of the knights’ array reminded Arthur of his own time, before his enchanted sleep. But many others wore foreign-looking clothing of all descriptions. Their faces were pale and gaunt, their eyes haunted and empty. Through the circle of pale warriors, one knight rode through on a white steed. His apparel was purely white, from his armour down to his boots and his gloves.
He stepped forward towards Arthur and after the two regarded each other for a short, tense moment, the knight bowed.
"Arthur Pendragon, I presume?" the knight said in hollow tones.
"I am he," said Arthur, sounding only slightly surprised. "But I am at a disadvantage, sir, for although you know my name, I do not know yours."
The knight seemed to chuckle but it came out as a hoarse sound. "I
haven’t had a name for a very long time. Names are what define you in
life, and as you are no doubt aware, this twilight I inhabit feels more
like death. I am not dead in person but in spirit I am so. You may call
me… the White Knight then. I lost my old name years ago."
As he spoke, the knight drew his helmet off and shook off a shock of grey hair so that it fell down to his waist. Like the others, he had eyes that seemed empty and melancholy. He nodded once more.
"Well, sir White Knight, I thank you. But I hardly know what to make of this visitation you have made upon us."
"It is no chance, that is certain. But I was told some weeks ago that someone might be coming to South America and to look out for him. It was said that it would be the king Arthur Pendragon, along with his ailing teacher, his squire and his gargoyle knight."
"Who told you this?"
"That would be my… friend… he goes by new and strange names now, but I believe of old he was in your service. His name was once Sir Lancelot du Lac."
Arthur and his companions reacted to this with a somewhat stunned silence. Mary and Griff shared a look of suspicion while Arthur’s mouth hung open for a moment. Only Merlin did not look altogether surprised, lowering his head with a melancholy look.
"Lancelot," said Arthur at last. "It is indeed a name that I know well, although our recent encounters have made me question our bond of old. He has made some curious alliances of late and seems to go by the name of Hector Duval. We parted from him last October in Glastonbury on fairly favourable terms but still rejected his offer of help in our quest then."
"I do know of Lancelot’s new alliances a little, although I could not judge them even if I cared to. It is not his Society that visits you now however, but the White Knight and his pale court, at the request not of Hector Duval, but of Sir Lancelot du Lac."
"I see," said Arthur. "I am sorry if I appeared rude. Our previous encounters with Lancelot’s new society have not endeared it to us, but I am truly grateful for your kind offer. It gives me some measure of hope that Lancelot has chosen to help us in spite of the baying of his allies. I wished upon Glastonbury Tor that he might have rejoined me and I hope that it is a sign of better relations between us in future."
"That is not for me to say," said the White Knight. "I am afraid this is not a place of healing, but merely of lingering for those whose wounds will never truly heal. Nonetheless, you are in need and we would be willing to offer you lodgings for the time being, as well as food perhaps."
"I gratefully accept," said Arthur, bowing.
With that, there was the sound of trumpeting and Arthur and his group were led through the hazy trees down a track to where an enormous wooden table was laid out in the woods. The pale contingent of knights and warriors seemed joined by others; men and women and children, all of whom rushed up and down this table, which stretched further than any of the company could see. The foods upon the table were strictly meats and suchlike: all dead.
"Good thing I’m not a vegetarian – although I wouldn’t much fancy tasting the sort of fruit and veg they’d grow anyway," Mary whispered softly to Merlin when she thought she was easily out of hearing distance, although she felt slightly unnerved when a number of the knights glanced at her anyway.
The White Knight sat at the head of the table, with Arthur and Griff on one side, and Merlin and Mary on the other. They soon began their meal, and the travellers tucked in with some delight.
"We haven’t had a decent meal since we left Manhattan," admitted Merlin.
It was not entirely true. The food provided by the Antarctic clan had been surprisingly good, but the group had decided not to mention the clan at all, except in company they completely trusted.
"Manhattan?" asked the White Knight. "That is a place I have heard something of. In truth, I know little about the modern world. I have long wondered if it is time that I should explore it further."
"If you pardon my asking, good sir knight, why are you here?" said Arthur. "And what is the cause of the slightly… ah… pallid complexion the world appears to take in this place?"
"My tale is long, Arthur Pendragon. I am not as old as you, not quite, but while you were sleeping I was awake and walking this world. My history is not a matter for the present… it is long and in any event it may be that it would prove better for your future dealings if you did not know all the details. No doubt players in its tragedy will be known to you. Ignorance is never bliss, but it may seem that way in hindsight and it is for hindsight’s sake that I caution you not to ask what knowledge I might provide you.
"Suffice to say that once I was young and full of life. Back then, in the springtime of my life it seemed that nothing could be sweeter or more gentle than my beautiful lover. Alas, I found too late that my love was far from reciprocated and from utter bliss I found myself left enchanted: in thrall to my faery lover like many before me, but with her long departed. As time passed, my entourage and I moved around. We found ways to keep ourselves alive in this magical area. Over time we picked up friends… those mostly depressed and in pain even as we were. Slowly, we adopted them. We moved from Europe to Asia and more recently to South America, generally finding whatever out-of-the-way corners of the world we could to wallow away our days in a manner that could assuage our grief."
"But you met Lancelot."
The White Knight did not speak for a moment, as if weighing his words. "Yes," he breathed at length. "Lancelot has a long history with misery and they say misery loves company. We were his company at times. And it is your own sense of misery now that makes you able to see us at all."
Arthur nodded, but did not ask any further questions. He could guess the nature of Lancelot’s misery and it was not one that he wished to revisit at that moment. Nonetheless as he ate, he became aware of the gaze of the White Knight even though the knight’s features were quite covered by his visor. It made him uncomfortable and he found himself struggling to think of a new topic.
"What is this quest on which you now embark, pray tell?" the Knight said.
Arthur felt a brief wave of alarm. He had not thought to come up with a likely excuse. But then he rationalised that if the Knight was being put up to something by Lancelot, he would already know the answer to the question anyway. "We are seeking the Holy Grail in the hope that it will cure my friend and teacher Merlin, who has been poisoned by our old foe, my half-sister Morgana la Fay."
"Ah yes," mused the White Knight. "Morgana’s still about, is she? Makes sense, makes a lot of sense. She never visited us sadly, though hers is a pain I would be happy to accommodate."
"Happy?" spluttered Merlin.
"Happy," said the Knight. "Happy because she is a wretched and wayward spirit and that, after all, is why this den exists. Morgana does not need a shifting entourage of melancholy knights for her world to be pale and lifeless. She has lived with that burden for over a thousand years. Of course, you would know, Merlin. You were responsible."
Merlin now looked very unsettled. The Knight stared back, betraying no emotion.
"I admit that I’ve done Morgana great wrongs in my time," he said slowly. "I’ve not meant to, but I’m afraid that’s been the outcome of it. But the means she’s taken to achieve her ends…"
"Ah yes, the means of vengeance. It’s one way to focus your energies, although not a way I’d altogether endorse myself. Not usually, anyway. But Morgana does have due cause."
"Morgana’s a monster!" blurted out Mary. "She poisoned Merlin, she framed Arthur! In a few months she’s going to marry my father, who’s an innocent, and she wants to poison his mind against us. She, she…"
Her tirade stopped as Arthur caught her eye with a stern glance. She appeared to take the hint sullenly and ceased talking. The White Knight did not appear to have been moved to either anger or sympathy by her words however.
"I see much hate in you, child. Take care in your own road ahead, and do not be too hasty to judge good and evil of which you have only seen a drop in an ocean."
Mary sat down, her face taut. "But surely, poisoning Merlin is wrong?"
"It certainly makes more sense than some of her previous plans, which have jeopardised far more innocent lives if legends are any indicators of truth. But my lot is not to judge but merely to observe. I observe now that her vendetta has caused you great pain. But it has also led you to embark on a quest of great importance. Sometimes great good can arise out of great evil, just as great evil can arise out of great good."
Griff mused, "So is this place the great good to come out of the wronged men and women of times forgotten?"
"No, here there is neither good nor evil. There is just life and perhaps not even that."
* * * * *
All Saints’ Hospital, 22 April 2000
Jennifer looked at herself in the rear-view mirror. Her eyelids were half closed for lack of sleep. She reached for her handbag absently. A jumble of thoughts passed through her mind but none of them seemed very prominent any more. She just felt the emotions that were attached to them. Fear. Anger. Wretchedness.
And a wish for it all to be over. She locked the door with the key and walked across the car park. It was drizzling lightly. She was staring down at the pavement so she nearly ran into the man in the business suit.
"I’m so sorry!" she exclaimed, just managing to move aside. But her eyes then focused on whom it was she had just encountered.
"I-It’s you," she stuttered wildly.
"It’s me, all right," said Darien Montrose, flashing a winning grin that to Jennifer came across as more of a leer. "And I’ve got an offer to make you."
"You’ve got nothing I want."
"No, but you’ve got something I want. Your company."
"I don’t have time to indulge your avaricious schemes, Mr. Montrose. Good day."
She stepped aside from him and continued towards the hospital door.
"You sound so like Arthur Pennington when I met him in the Pyrenees," said Darien languidly.
Jennifer stopped for a moment.
"Yes, I thought you’d take an interest in Pennington," Darien continued. "I noticed a connection a while back with that scene at the gallery all those months ago. You’ve been dating, I suppose? Or more like dream dating with all the running about Britain and Europe he seems to do. Strange that you could have your pick of men but you chose someone that seems to appear and disappear like the breeze. But that’s not a concern of mine at the moment."
His voice strained with mock sympathy. "You need to be thinking of Leonard now, Jennifer."
Jennifer raised her eyes to meet Darien’s. "If you dare—"
"I mean to say," he said with an ingratiating smile, "private hospital bills don’t come cheap. And National Health Service health care for patients might not come up to snuff. You know the state of hospitals these days. So if you go bankrupt in the next few months, where does that leave you? Or what about your dear mother whose pension is tied to the Camford Corporation. If the Corporation fails, she would lose her house, her security and… well, everything."
Jennifer said nothing.
"You know it’s true," said Darien. "But you’re lucky. You’re lucky that I’m here to help you out and set you back on your feet. We’ve had our differences in the past, it’s true, but you must believe me Jennifer when I say that I’m an honest man."
"You’re a crook."
"It’s a fair cop. I’m quite an honest crook, though. And I can help you out of a tight spot if you’ll let me. Or I can wait and destroy you in a few months time, leaving all those people to end up unemployed in the meantime as you burn out trying to save a lost cause. The choice is really up to you. I’ll give you twenty-four hours to—"
"The answer is no," she snapped. "Now get out of my sight."
The woman charged towards the hospital and barged through the double-doors at the entrance without so much as glancing back at Darien Montrose.
She passed through the reception grimly, vaguely aware of the receptionists chatting, and entered the lift. A cleaner was already inside. Jennifer tried to relax her hands as she realised they were clutched into tight fists. She focused intently as the lights flickered behind the row of buttons, determined not to make eye contact with the cleaner. Finally she exited the lift. Leonard was sitting up in bed.
"Hi, daddy," said Jennifer quietly.
He looked back, but did not seem to recognise her. She smiled sadly at him, but his eyes were already moving away towards the window. He smiled at a sparrow that briefly flittered across the windowsill.
"Montrose wants to buy your company," Jennifer began, speaking as if Leonard could understand. He looked as if he might. "How about that, eh? Darien Montrose wanting to…"
She choked. Her eyes were stinging with tiredness and tears pushed back, and for a moment she choked, and allowed herself to sob quietly into a tissue that she took from Leonard’s bedside. In seconds she ceased, flipped back her hair and dabbed around her eyes but she realised that Leonard’s expression had changed. He was looking at her, pityingly, lovingly. It reminded her of the old days when she was upset and he used to sit her down and tell her that everything was all right and—
"Behold!" Leonard cried suddenly in a hoarse voice. "The days of shadow are coming to an end! The Great Quest is nearly upon us!"
Jennifer stared at him. For a moment, she felt her earlier emotion fade as she remembered something. She muttered mechanically, while he looked back as if with baited breath, repeating the words she had heard him say one year ago: "The Sleeper will lead the searchers and the Thirteen will return to their place in the halls of the Fisher King. The dragon banner will fly over the green hills of England once more."
Leonard seemed to fall quiet after this. His eyes slowly lowered and he fell asleep. Jennifer’s eyes fell and she bit her lip absently. After a few minutes had passed, she rose, kissed her father gently on the forehead and exited the hospital room.
* * *
Arthur and Griff sat on a tree stump looking out across the monochrome landscape. The knights and the people milled around a short distance from them.
"It seems a very strange place," said Griff. "Almost like a place where mourning never stops. But it’s also strangely comforting."
Arthur nodded. "I suppose these people have nothing to live for, nothing left to lose. That gives them a kind of peacefulness. But it is not one that I envy. The White Knight said that the people he attracts were depressives – suicide-attempters and suchlike."
"I wonder if that was what Lancelot was like when he came here? For that matter, I wonder how and when he discovered this place. And why did he help us find it?"
"I don’t know. I do believe at least that we may trust him."
"Given his close connections to a ruthless society that’s lasted over a thousand years? I wouldn’t trust him for a moment, Arthur."
"But he did seem genuine on Glastonbury Tor. I genuinely felt that we had come to some kind of resolution then."
"Well, Arthur… he wouldn’t be a very good confidence trickster if he didn’t come across as genuine. But you must be careful. We don’t know what his motives are. Even though you are now convinced that he is, in fact, the same Lancelot you knew, he’s also had a long time to change. Maybe beyond recognition."
"Perhaps. But he admitted the questionable nature of his followers. This realm is unlike any of the areas we might expect the Illuminati to inhabit – the Illuminati are fundamentally a human society, grounded in politics and the workings of the human world. But this pale kingdom stands outside society, and is the sort of place that is unlikely to be known even with the Illuminati’s resources. It genuinely is possible that Lancelot warned the White Knight to help us because it was one of the few ways he could assist us without calling the attention of the rest of his company."
"But that’s not altogether comforting because it means that the Illuminati know where we are, or at least Lancelot does."
"Yes, but Lancelot would not have wanted to risk exposing himself to his subordinates if he was going to help us. Which leads me to believe that he has information that the rest do not. Or he simply has guessed with more accuracy than others."
"You’re taking a lot on guesswork, Arthur. I don’t like the idea of being indebted to the head of the Illuminati Society and with all due respect to the White Knight, his ethics aren’t sunshine and roses either. I didn’t want to say anything at dinner but his thoughts on Morgana…"
"…May not be too far from the truth. I have known deep down for some time that Morgana does have a point. Perhaps the circumstances of my birth are simply unforgivable to her."
"Oh, Arthur, come off it. I know she’s had a bad lot, and I know Merlin played a part in that, but there’s a line in the sand and she trampled past it long ago. Think of the innocents that have been caught up in her vendetta. Even if she didn’t plan it that way, it happened. She’s as guilty as acting for the ends and not the means as Merlin ever was, but her intentions were simply vengeful. She placed the satisfaction of her own bloodlust above the kingdom itself."
"But you forget, Griff. If anyone brought down the kingdom it was Mordred, and—"
A loud beeping startled them, but as their heads instinctively scanned the surroundings for any sign of danger they realised that it was the sound of a telephone ring tone playing a digitalised version of The Sorceror’s Apprentice. Arthur reached into his pocket and drew it out.
"Mary’s telephone," he said. "With all that went on, I quite forgot I was carrying it for her while she was in wolf form. She has a call, it seems. How do I…?"
"Here, let me, I’ve seen Dorcas and Lucy use these."
"Mary told me that was the button to press."
"No, that’s for the address book."
"There’s a book?"
"No, I mean the book in the phone."
"There’s a book in the phone? But it wouldn’t fit…"
"It’s not a real book, they just call it a… ah… here we are…"
The Once and Future King and his knight pored over the telephone for a brief period, arguing in hoarse whispers what buttons they should press, as if afraid that it would overhear them. Arthur finally pressed the right button and held it up to his head, speaking into it cautiously. It felt ridiculous speaking into thin air with no mouthpiece, and he cast slightly humiliated glances around the area. None of the White Knight’s company were watching however, and Merlin and Mary had taken a walk together.
"Hello?" he said in a practised tone. "This is Arthur."
"Arthur? It’s Jennifer."
Her voice sounded jovial enough but there was an edge to it that made Arthur feel wary.
"Jennifer! I’m delighted to hear from you! It seems like a long time indeed since we last spoke."
"Yes. Not since Christmas, properly, although I got your message from New York. What happened to that promise you made me last summer about sharing – oh, never mind. The phones probably aren’t safe, I suppose."
"What’s the matter, Jennifer?" Arthur asked. "There’s something wrong."
Griff walked quietly away.
"Wrong?" Jennifer laughed hollowly. "I just… things have been getting on top of me lately. A lot on my plate, you know. But that wasn’t why I was calling."
"It’s my father. Do you remember last year after that encounter with the basilisk, my father came to visit me in hospital?"
"Yes, I do. How is he?"
"Much worse, I’m afraid. He had a rather bad illness after Christmas and it hasn’t helped matters at all. But he made a… a prediction. Some kind of prophecy…"
"Don’t you remember? He said that… that when the days of shadow pass, the Great Quest would be upon us. And… and the Sleeper will lead the searchers and the Thirteen will return to their place in the halls of the Fisher King. He often says odd things like that, but this stuck in my head. And it has come true. Or some of it."
"Perhaps. The days of shadow referring to the Unseelie Court and the Great Quest referring to—"
"Yes, that," said Jennifer.
"I wonder," Arthur mused. "Although I wonder whether in truth the days of shadow have passed. Madoc may have been banished, but Merlin is… and I have yet to find my purpose in this world. And you do not sound well at all."
"Oh, I just haven’t had much sleep lately, that’s all."
"Jennifer," said Arthur sternly.
He heard her sigh on the other end, but it was not a steady sigh. Arthur could hear her forcing her voice to remain firm. "It’s Darien Montrose, Arthur. You remember how I told you that he was gunning for my business? Well, in the last few months, things have got worse… a lot worse. He’s made me an offer to buy out the company."
"Are you saying that you could lose your business?"
"But you won’t accept his offer of course?"
"The fact is, Arthur, I don’t have a choice and Montrose knows it. If I sell now, I can at least avoid laying off yet more staff, and maybe walk away with enough money to pay my father’s hospital bills and still have some to invest in other projects."
"You mean, you’d consider selling to that scoundrel? Jennifer, I can hardly believe that you would—"
"I don’t want to, Arthur! It’s my father’s company that he spent so long building up and I thought that I could run it, but… it’s too late now."
"I refuse to believe that it is too late. There must be a way to fight him. Rory has returned to Ireland for a brief time, and Dulcinea is in Spain… but Leba and the gargoyles in London may be able to—"
"No, Arthur! This isn’t a battle that can be won by sticks and stones and sword fights. Montrose uses thug tactics, I’m sure, but nothing that can be traced, and he’s bound to cover his tracks well enough to absolve himself from any responsibilities. He might not be the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to his extra-curricular ventures but he knows business and he has powerful advisors and knows how to get away with a lot."
"Jennifer, I am begging you. Reconsider. Hold out."
There was a long pause.
"I… I don’t know, Arthur."
"Well, it is in your hands of course. I wish I could come and be of assistance but I am… far away now."
"Figures," she said, not unkindly. "You’ve got your business to take care of, I suppose. Your own concerns."
"Yes, but in truth our paths are not so different," Arthur said, his voice taking on a new purpose as he made a final attempt to persuade her.
"You and I both are at a crossroads now. This is a test of our mettle. Jennifer, I know your father would hold out against Montrose and I am sure that there is a way to defeat him."
"Thanks for the advice, Arthur," said Jennifer. "It must be nice to have convictions as strong as yours."
Arthur did not know what to say.
"Well, goodbye then," she said quietly. "I hope my father’s words can be of help to you."
"Thank you. And… I do truly love you, Jennifer," said Arthur quietly. "And I shall help you as far as I am able, I swear it."
"Yes… I love you too, Arthur. Goodbye."
The phone clicked and the conversation ended. Arthur stood alone under a withered tree. He slumped against it and closed his eyes, deep in thought.
* * * * *
"I’m fine, Mary," coughed Merlin, but as soon as he got these words out, he bent over in another coughing fit.
The pair was sitting on a grey tree trunk that had been worn by being sat on for a long period. It remained as drab as everything else in the domain of the White Knight, however, as if being seen in black and white.
"You’re sick," she said. "You need rest."
"I don’t know… I think it’s the air here or something. The White Knight said that this doesn’t give life or heal but simply continues an existence. I don’t think it’s quite agreeing with me."
"We should go! This must be why the Illuminati wanted us to come here in the first place! To finish you off."
"Well they want the Grail, so I doubt it somehow. Doesn’t seem like a very good plan if it is, since I’m Arthur’s main reason for embarking on this flipping quest."
"But not the only reason," came Arthur’s voice behind them.
"Arthur?" asked Merlin curiously, as he saw the look in Arthur’s eyes.
"I have been a fool. Quetzalcoatl was right in the Pyrenees when he told me that looking for the Grail as simply an end would be no use. By God’s grace, I hope we shall find you a cure, and I hope too that on this quest I shall find a new direction for this new world. But I shall not become like one of these pale knights, wrapped in melancholia and the past to the detriment of all that they might become. It is high time that I focused not on doing not just what will be best for you and me, Merlin, but what is for the greater good. We have been too introspective until now, too caught up in fighting our own personal problems to intentionally make a difference. I have never seen the world before as I once did, and this opportunity is a blessing in disguise. I must learn as I travel. I must listen to the people I meet, and help those that I can. For the Grail is not the end, but will merely be the beginning of my next quest – the beginning of my works to help the world as I can, clutching whatever opportunities each day brings me."
Arthur paused, somewhat breathless after this rush of excitement. Merlin tried to smile but suddenly bent double in another hacking fit and Arthur cut his speech short to help him back up onto the tree trunk.
"We ought to ask the White Knight what he thinks about Merlin’s condition," Mary said. "Maybe he has something that can keep Merlin from suffering while in this strange bewitched area. But I say we should leave rather quickly in any event – just to be on the safe side."
"Yes, I shall thank him for his hospitality. This is not the most cheery of environments, it must be said, but they have been generous towards us and I am grateful for it. I shall go to see him now."
Arthur left quickly, leaving Mary and Merlin sitting on the tree trunk still.
"He seems happier," said Merlin.
"By the sounds of it, he’s finally starting to piece things together."
"I hope so, Mary. I hope so."
"I’m glad… the other day, during one of his depressive moods, I thought he seemed… he reminded me of…"
Mary trailed off.
"Go on," prompted Merlin.
"No," she said, sounding rather shaken at the thought. "I think I’d rather not say."
* * * * *
The sun filtered wanly through the trees as Arthur approached the White Knight, who was sitting alone by a still lake.
"Listen," said the Knight softly without looking around.
Arthur listened carefully, but he could hardly hear anything. No sound of the river, or birds or insects, or chatter of the household. It was an almost deathly silence.
"I don’t hear anything."
"This is always the quietest period in our calendar. Our world is often bleak and wan but at this time it is exceptionally so. Our small society perpetuates itself by use of magic. It offers shelter for the depressives and suicidal people and they find solace here they would not normally find. But the spell to renew the magic needs to be done on a regular basis or else it all will fail. Tonight we shall renew the joining spell and you shall see a rare flush of life and colour return to our world."
"That sounds marvellous," said Arthur, genuinely appreciative. "But all the same, we must be going when night falls and Griff awakens. I rather fear that Merlin’s health has not been served well by our stay here. The properties of this area…"
"… Are temporary. More or less, anyway. He will not find his health any worse off than it already is as a result of his visit here, I can promise you that."
"I am relieved to hear that. And I must thank you for your kindness."
"Thank Sir Lancelot, for he made the request."
"Y-yes," said Arthur, a little hesitantly at first. "Yes, I hope I shall have a chance to tell him that in person."
The White Knight did not respond for a moment but raised a long mailed hand and pointed towards a group of wisps that seemed to be hovering in the distance, like the fireflies from the previous night.
"Do you remember the voices you heard on your coming, Arthur? Sing-song voices, like children playing games? Those are the wisps."
"I… I had not thought wisps to be sentient."
"Individually they are not, on the whole, but thousands together may form a collective consciousness of sorts. There is something rather strange in the case of these wisps, for every now and then they sing truth amidst gibberish. Only travellers that are deeply concerned can hear them – that is how people discover us in the first place. But sometimes they whisper truths, such as who it is that will lead the renewal ceremony that will keep our magic alive. They have been known to counsel travellers, and sometimes to perplex them. You might like to talk to them before you go."
"My thanks," said Arthur. "I certainly will ask their counsel. Once more you show great kindness to my companions and me. Hopefully one day I may return the favour."
"Not at all," said the White Knight. "Go in peace."
* * * * *
The Home of Laura Camford
"What does Arthur say about all this, Jenny?"
"Oh, mum, don’t go on so…"
"Well, he is the man you’re supposedly in a relationship with. I should think his opinion would count for something, and especially after all that on the news about him supposedly being King Arthur. Frankly, I think someone needs to talk some common sense back into you, and if it takes an immortal king, then who am I to argue?"
Jennifer stretched her hands around a mug of hot chocolate to warm them up as she spoke with her mother. They sat opposite each other in large maroon chairs made of leather. The fire crackled in the grate, making the shadows dance in the corner of the room.
"He doesn’t see the world in quite the same way as we see it, mum. I do love him, but I sometimes wonder if his path and mine are just too separate to ever really come together."
"You didn’t answer my question."
Jennifer looked at her mother, slightly embarrassed. The older woman had seemed to age considerably over the last year, her eyes often seeming vacant, and her hair now thin and wispy-white. Her posture had become more hunched and some of the vitality had gone from her face. Jennifer was not surprised, given the time her mother had put into looking after Leonard.
"He says no," Jennifer admitted. "He wants me to turn Montrose down."
"Maybe you should listen."
"But, mum, think of all those families that will lose their jobs if we don’t sell now. Martin and Monica Frank, Jason Huxford, the Singh twins. People that have been with us for years."
"Yes, with you. Not Montrose."
Jennifer sighed. "What about dad?"
"We’ll find a way to pay the bills."
"Mum, you know it isn’t possible. If I end up bankrupt, there’s simply no way we’ll be able to manage."
Mrs. Camford looked away from her daughter angrily. "There must be another way. There just must be."
Jennifer sighed. "According to the telephone message he left, he’s set up a meeting at ten in an office one of his affiliates at Canary Wharf isn’t using. Neutral territory, I suppose. I need to go and meet him. I don’t like it, but…"
"It’s wrong, Jen. You know it is."
"Yes… Yes, I do know that."
* * * * *
Arthur approached the wisps slowly. Just as when he travelled out of London after Christmas, he could suddenly see more in the night sky than he had noticed before, so as Arthur approached the wisps it seemed that they were everywhere he had not seen them before. They clung to the dry, deadened trees like strange fairy lights and spoke faintly, sounding more like giggling schoolgirls than anything.
The crownless king has branch in hand
But it is not his sceptre.
The king did, in fact, have a branch in hand, as he had pulled one aside to get closer to the area around the lakeshore that the wisps were hovering around.
Arthur blinked as he finally found himself passing the jagged branches and entering the space inhabited by the wisps. Their collective energy illuminated the grotto. The very air seemed alight and the wisps darted every which way, spinning around a fixed centre. The voice was ethereal and seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.
"Wisps, my name is—"
Arthur Pendragon, King of the Britons
Well we know your face, lost king.
"I see. I was advised by the White Knight that your knowledge might avail me in my quest. I wondered if you could assist me. I am looking for the Holy Grail."
The Grail, says he
But not for the Grail he searches
He looks for the Great Quest.
Questing questing questing, a Questing Beast is he
Quests are questions, answers are evasive
The Grail is not your answer, future king
And though it is a pretty thing
Be warned: it merely forestalls another question
But truly if it can be achieved
Then perhaps you shall finally be ready.
For the Great Quest.
It seemed as if the voices were constantly changing, each breath different – thinner, higher, harsher or the opposite. Arthur frowned and felt somewhat annoyed as he listened. The White Knight had been right about the nonsense. "I thank you for your time," he said curtly.
Arthur runs from truth for it wears a silly voice
But maybe he will see that end and means are joint
After the murder.
The king paused, and turned to look at the wisps with a startled expression. "Murder?"
The wisps merely laughed in the same hoarse fashion as the White Knight had earlier, but even thinner and without any clear point of origin. Arthur frowned and walked away, feeling an uncomfortable feeling at the pit of his stomach. He broke into a run.
* * *
The White Knight was chopping wood when Arthur approached him once again.
"You look like you’ve seen a ghost," said the White Knight in an inscrutable tone. "Of course, the wisps do that to people a lot. Do not feel overly concerned, for they are deceitful as often as they are sage."
"They talked about a murder," Arthur said. "What can they mean?"
"Ah, I suspect that is nothing more than a veiled reference to the ceremony tonight."
"Ceremony? I don’t understand the connection."
"To keep this place from fading entirely, one person among us must – on occasion – be sacrificed. A life is given up to keep life."
"S-sacrificed? You mean, you murder someone to keep this haunted realm alive?"
"Well, yes. Without this refuge, many would have committed suicide long ago. Here they become thinkers, poets and writers, and some even return to the world after. But every now and then a volunteer is needed to give his life for the continued safety of this pale realm. There are always many that are willing."
"You are talking about ritual killing! I am sorry, White Knight, for while I do appreciate all you have done for us, I cannot condone this."
"It has been this way for generations, Arthur. After all, some things are worth dying for. It’s an honour to those that are chosen; a selfless act that may be redemptive. And as you realised centuries ago, some things are worth killing for: remember the means you yourself took to prevent Mordred from usurping your throne."
"But it didn’t stop Mordred returning! If anything, I gave him a motive against me that was more justified than any threat he might otherwise have levelled against me."
"There is no mistake here. It is perfectly understood among our long-term residents that to keep life, there must be death. It is part of the ancient magic that keeps this realm alive. Break it, and it would dissipate to the detriment of all."
"I beg you, White Knight – reconsider this travesty."
"It has been this way for a thousand years, Arthur. I am sorry. You may of course leave before it happens if you do not want to watch the proceedings."
"I am afraid I cannot do that. I will stop this crime from taking place. It is my duty."
The Knight seemed ruffled for the first time. He gave Arthur a lingering look. "Your duty?"
"I am protecting innocents."
"You are dooming them. If you believe that you can challenge my army with any success then you are very much mistaken. They are great men, old king, and you are very much outnumbered."
"That is why I implore you in the strongest terms: reconsider!"
The White Knight sighed. "I do not want violence. So I propose that you and I settle this between ourselves. An hour before dawn, we shall duel to the death. I trust to see you in the central clearing in good time."
The Knight turned and strode away. Arthur sighed and rubbed his eyes with his hands. He had not slept properly in a long while. He walked grimly away to meet his friends.
* * *
Griff glanced out from behind the cluster of thick, dead branches. None of the White Knight’s entourage seemed to be concerned with the meeting between Arthur and his allies. Griff turned back to where Mary, Merlin and Arthur were standing.
"We cannot allow this sacrifice to happen," Arthur was saying. "So what does everyone think of this plan?"
"I’m not sure about this, Arthur," Merlin said.
"It is what we must do, Merlin. These people are in mortal danger – we cannot allow them to be brutally sacrificed."
"It sounds like they’re willing to risk it given the circumstances," said Mary. "I thought the White Knight said that it was a great honour to them to be part of the sacrifice – they’re willing victims."
"Well it’s a fat lot of good him saying that," said Griff. "He’s the one doing the killing! These people are depressive and not in their right mind, and for all we know they may be under some magical influence to act against their will anyway."
"No, I would know if this was the case," said Merlin. "I have spent the entire day here and I never felt the slightest sense of any malignant magical power, although admittedly I feared dark magic was at work before we met the White Knight."
Arthur shook his head. "It hardly matters. It is wrong to commit this cold-blooded killing. I learnt that lesson to my cost in my youth and I will not remake it. I will not!"
"Is it, Arthur?" asked Merlin, warming to his topic. "It might be to you and me, but this is how these people conduct their lives. It’s not hurting anyone else, and I don’t honestly think it’s where we should be concentrating our efforts. This place does good after all – offering shelter to those people that need it. Some even seem able to leave and return to their lives – people like Lancelot."
Arthur regarded Merlin with a look of shock. "You cannot suggest that we turn a blind eye to murder?"
"These people are murderers!" said Griff. "I don’t see how this is any different a situation from dealing with the Illuminati, or using the Nazi information in Antarctica."
"The situation is totally different!" argued Mary. "This is a completely internal matter – a matter for these people to decide for themselves. They don’t appear to be forcing their will on anyone, they are just making a collective decision to use magic that is dangerous."
Arthur placed his hands on Griff’s shoulder. "You forget, Mary, that we are on a quest for the Holy Grail: it is our duty to promote goodness in the world."
Merlin shook his head. "But how does destroying a peaceful comfort blanket for the depressed and needy help?"
"The Grail is a force of good. Great good in the world. We cannot
simply be the people that settle for a lower moral standard in our
lives; our quest is one of honour and purity. We must free these
people, enlighten them. Teach them to live without fear and terror and
"But Arthur," said Mary slowly. "These people really don’t seem oppressed – or uneducated."
"I didn’t say it would be easy, Mary!" snapped Arthur with uncharacteristic vigour.
"It won’t be easy," continued Griff. "But this is what we do. This is who we are – we fight not because it is easy, but because it is right."
Merlin shook his head and glanced again through the deadened branches before turning back to the king. "These people have been carrying on in the same way for generations, untouched by the outside world. Do you honestly think that it’s right to come in and arbitrarily dictate how they should and shouldn’t live their lives?"
Arthur recoiled. "My standards are not arbitrary! They are the standards that I have upheld through my life, and whenever I have erred from them before, disaster has ensued."
"When you’ve erred from them? As I recall, it was when you didn’t have the discretion to tell which battles to fight and which not."
"You don’t recall, Merlin. You never saw the fall of my court, so do not presume to lecture me on it. I will not lose them now when they mean more to me than ever before, when there is your life and the lives of innocents on the line."
"Don’t use me as an excuse in this!"
"Then if not for your sake, Merlin, I must fight the White Knight for the sake of the broader quest – the quest for the Grail. I must do what I believe is right."
Merlin muttered something gruffly in Welsh and then adopted a calmer tone. "Arthur, I’m not sure about this myself. I know you’re desperate to reclaim the moral authority you once had, but this is not the place to start. This death is not your concern."
Mary stepped back into the corner, as she saw Merlin propping himself on his cane. He seemed no longer a boy with prematurely greying hair and an ancient Welsh accent. He was an old man, wise and powerful and perhaps on occasion terrible. His breaking voice was not breaking any more. For a moment, he was a teacher commanding his pupil.
Arthur did not flinch however. "Yes it is. I have turned a blind eye to murderers before. I have been a murderer before. If I could go back and change my decisions in my first reign I would, but I cannot. I must move on from there. I must make amends. I have a chance to do so here."
Mary looked troubled as she glanced from pupil to teacher, her face showing her own uncertainty.
Merlin shook his head in disbelief. "These people aren’t fodder for you to work your guilt out on, Arthur. You’re talking about intervening on their entire way of life, on their culture. They have lived apart from the world for hundreds of years. They’re happy the way they are! Think about what you’re doing."
"These people are behaving like savages!" said Griff
"To you! But everyone is a savage to someone. That Roman spirit that possessed Molly thought you were a savage by its own standards. The Romans were so much more advanced in so many ways than the culture you ruled over and yet they still allowed murder as entertainment. Humans view gargoyles as savages. Arthur, think about what you are doing."
"I have. Tonight, someone is going to be put to death. I cannot stand by while this happens. Now you must choose: are you with me or against me?"
The four faced each other in awkward silence. There was no breeze through the trees and no singing of birds.
"I’ll back you to the hilt on this, Arthur," said Griff with a quiet vehemence.
"As your squire, it is my duty to stand by you," said Mary, with a regretful sideways glance towards Merlin.
Merlin sighed and nodded. "Very well. But I fear your rush to judgement on this won’t end well."
* * * * *
Jennifer stared at the clock on the wall of the meeting room as it ticked closer to ten o’clock. The walls were a dull unwashed sepia and there were still plastic bags over some of the chairs and office supplies that were tucked in the dull corners of the room. The windows were open on the dry, cloudy morning. Outside the window she could see the Isle of Dogs, and the city stretching out beyond it to the south. She took a long, deep breath.
* * *
"Are you sure about this?" Mary said.
She and Arthur stood at the side of the clearing in the haunted wood. The ground had turned into a kind of marble white, any life that once was invested in the surroundings becoming totally stripped away. Even the trees and vines were thin and shrivelled. The world was silent. The group of pale attendant knights was silent. Merlin was silent, as he watched from a short distance away, seated on the ground for safety but clutching his cane for dear life. His breath was short. Griff stood by him, regarding the pale knights coldly whenever they came close.
"I know this is an awkward situation for you, Mary," Arthur replied, after all too long a pause to reflect on his situation. "You are caught between divided loyalties in your wish to agree with both Merlin and my views of the situation. I share that feeling. I do not want to disregard Merlin’s advice for he has been very important to me. Nonetheless, I cannot condone murder, or be sympathetic with murderers, whatever the rationale. Admittedly, there is also another reason for the awkwardness: I am betraying the trust of my host, and it grieves me bitterly after the kindness he has shown. Still – I’ll do what I must. I am sure of what I am doing."
"Very well," said Mary quietly. "I’m not so sure you’re right or wrong. But I think in this case I’m glad that’s not my call. I suppose usually as your squire I’d be handing you your sword, but I gather you’ve taken care of it."
"Yes, it’s ready for the duel."
"Good luck, then."
"Thank you, Mary."
Mary walked quietly away to join Merlin and Griff. Griff smiled at her, but she avoided his glance. Griff frowned slightly but turned his attention back to Arthur. Arthur was watching the trio, but now with all eyes on him, drew Excalibur and stepped into the centre of the arena.
The White Knight also entered the duelling area.
* * *
"Darien," said Jennifer coolly.
"The lovely Miss Camford," said Montrose, putting on his oiliest charms. "I’m so glad you came around to reason after that frightful incident at the hospital. I realise you are under a good deal of stress, of course."
Jennifer only glowered.
"If you wish to ring your lawyer…"
"I consulted him yesterday evening."
"Very good. They’re terribly expensive, after all."
He stared pointedly, although the self-satisfied grin never left his face. Jennifer stared back defiantly.
"Perhaps you should meet my associates," said Montrose, indicating to the people standing by the door.
The first was a gaunt man with salt and pepper hair and placid features. "Francois Rolf, my lawyer," Montrose said.
The second was a young woman with a shock of red hair and slightly too much make-up. "Amanda Hunter, my PR executive. After all, once the deal is done, the media will want to know everything."
Jennifer started almost imperceptibly as she realised who the third person was. "I believe you already know Terrence Trepkos," Montrose said triumphantly.
Terrence gave the briefest glance at Jennifer’s direction but looked down to the floor immediately afterwards. His face was ashen, his eyes reddened, his fists clenched, his back hunched. Although Jennifer felt a tingling surge of anger rush through her, she knew it was unfair. Terrence had a family to think of, and had done the very best he could to keep her company afloat. It looked as though his surrender to Montrose had broken him. He was a shadow of the man he once was. In seconds, Jennifer melted and wanted to smile at him. He wasn’t looking, however.
She turned back to Montrose.
"So, are we ready to begin?" Montrose said.
"You know it’s the right thing, Miss Camford," the businessman added.
* * *
"Your conception of right is very different from mine, Arthur Pendragon," the White Knight said as he leant in for his first strike, a quick thrust of his rapier-like sword which Arthur barely managed to avoid.
"I cannot see how murder can be justified."
"Can it not? And yet you, a murderer of innocents, would seek the Holy Grail?"
"If I can achieve the Holy Grail it will be despite and not because of the atrocities I have committed. I am not a murderous man, and I paid for my folly with the downfall of the kingdom I spent my life building."
The Knight repositioned himself on his feet. He had replaced his usual armour with more modest apparel suited for the draw; it meant that he was faster and more agile. Arthur swung but missed and was nearly caught out with a second thrust. The White Knight’s sword narrowly scraped past him.
"I care not for your morality," the Knight said, in what almost seemed like a sigh. "I don’t care about any of it, really. My life was struck down long ago on a whim; there was no purpose to it, no discrimination. When the faery child enticed me, I was young and impulsive and full of life. There is no life here now – except that which my knights put into it. This is my kingdom, Arthur. The kingdom I built. It is built with my essence, my own selfish wish to assuage my feelings of loss. I do not kill for malice or revenge or passion, for I have forgotten those long ago. The only dead in my pale kingdom are those who die for the kingdom: knights who willingly give their life for the cause."
"What cause can you claim, Sir Knight? You deal in death."
"We are the refuge for the living that feel they have long since died. If the kingdom were to fall, what would be the result? Misery and pain for its knights. It would not be channelled, nurtured. It could not become a place for spreading and maintaining wisdom, a vestige of truth through the ages. Maybe some of the knights here would simply fade away. Maybe some would pick themselves up and go about their lives. Maybe some would channel their misery and sense of loss into hate. You’ve met people like that yourself, Arthur: think of Morgana. Think of how she has fallen and wonder, wonder if she had been able to simply absorb her impenetrable grief and channel it elsewhere. Maybe she would still have been reduced to the madwoman she has now become. Maybe not. You can’t help the world, Arthur. You can’t even help yourself."
Arthur’s face reddened and he lunged forward with a battle cry. The White Knight’s sword flicked out.
Griff, Merlin and Mary winced as they heard the king give a quick cry of pain.
A thin cut appeared on the side of Arthur’s arm where he had failed to dodge the blow. Arthur sighed and straightened himself to conclude the fight.
* * *
"I trust you’ll find the care package we’ve put together for Leonard most satisfactory," said Rolf, the lawyer, in monotone. "Mr. Trepkos insisted on overseeing matters himself."
Jennifer nodded as she looked through the proposals. "Well, that deal does look reasonable."
There was a long pause. Darien Montrose seemed to Jennifer to resemble the Cheshire Cat. Terrence Trepkos shuffled uncomfortably on his feet, paying undue attention to a turned up part of the carpet. Francois Rolf’s expression remained quite still. Amanda Hunter was grinning idiotically. The sounds of the city of London seemed quite remote at the top of the skyscraper, and the windows were closed. The room was stuffy.
"Well, I’ve read through the material. I discussed the draft yesterday with my lawyer and not much has changed. The deal is a good one. I… I suppose it’s time to sign then," Jennifer said.
"I thought you’d never ask," said Darien, pushing a pen Jennifer’s way.
She picked it up and looked down at the documents in front of her.
* * *
With three quick strikes from the White Knight, Arthur fell backwards onto the ground. The Knight was an impressive swordsman, and seemed unmoved by the emotion that Arthur was feeling. The Knight strode triumphantly towards him.
But Arthur pushed himself off the tree and thrust Excalibur towards the White Knight’s sword with all his might. The blows came thick and fast and only heavy breathing and the clang, clang, clanging of swords broke the silence of the morning.
Arthur knew that he had his chance as the White Knight swung one further blow. He hit out with Excalibur as the White Knight was unbalanced. The knight was hit on his chest armour. He toppled backwards, his sword falling onto the ground beside him. Arthur leaned forward.
"It would appear that I have won," Arthur said. "Now I must insist that you desist your plans for the murderous spell."
The White Knight’s eyes closed. "It shall be done soon. Without a new sacrifice to maintain my kingdom, it will fade and be destroyed at dawn. That time is nearly here. Watch."
Griff and Mary stepped forward, Griff carrying Merlin once more as he lapsed in and out of consciousness. The tiniest hint of sunlight filtered over the lowest point in the mountain range. Griff froze to stone. The sunlight touched the pale kingdom.
It was like water trickling over dirty ground, clearing a path. It seemed to wash away the paleness of the forest. Where the light touched, trees became less black and eventually various shades of green. The ground became softer underfoot. The breeze began to blow. Trees began to bud. The birds began to sing. The sound of the water in the lake moving caught Arthur’s ear. Arthur and his companions looked around in awe.
"Merlin, are you okay?" asked Mary anxiously.
"I feel a little better," the young wizard admitted, shivering. "Although I’m still very weak. I… er… think I’m going to need Griff to carry me the next short distance, I’m afraid."
The entourage of the White Knight had already begun to dissipate. Rather than rallying around the fallen Knight, or joining together, they simply seemed to vanish, wandering through the undergrowth and away inconspicuously. Soon only the White Knight was left. He got up slowly.
"I am sorry that it had to be this way," said Arthur. "You offered me kind hospitality on this journey and for that I am enormously grateful. I trust you understand my reasons for doing what I did."
"I understand that many good people will now wonder alone in the world, keeping their pain to themselves because of your decision, Arthur Pendragon. I understand that you believe to have saved them, when many will not be able to cope alone. You stood by your principles. Congratulations."
"Where will you go now?" asked Mary.
"That is indeed a good question. There is, however, one place I have in mind to visit. I believe that a visit to the island of Manhattan might prove fruitful. Farewell, all."
The Knight walked quickly away. The group were left standing silently in the clearing around the statue of Griff.
* * *
Jennifer quietly left the office. Outside, the sun had come out and it was a glorious spring day. She wandered into the centre of town almost in a daze. She watched the people walk by: businessmen, excitable tourists, self-important men in turbans, dirty-faced individuals in hardhats. She ordered a cup of tea at a café and sat outside watching the world go by.
Her telephone rang. She recognised the number.
"Arthur? I don’t usually hear from you so often."
"Unfortunately these bills are quite expensive, but I wanted to check up on you after that business with Montrose. You didn’t go through with the deal, did you?"
Jennifer sighed and stared up at Canary Wharf in the city skyline. "Yes, I’m afraid I did. I suppose you think I’ve done the wrong thing."
There was a pause at the other end of the line. "It is not what I would have done, I must admit. But then I wonder about a great many things now."
"What’s the matter, Arthur? You sound very troubled."
"Today I acted for the best, or so I thought. I stopped a magical ceremony for the best reasons. But now I can’t help wondering if I’ve made a terrible mistake after all."
"I know the feeling," said Jennifer, her voice breaking slightly. "I know that feeling very well indeed."
"This quest I am embarking upon… I should know right from wrong, I should be able to uphold virtue and put an end to vice. But how can I when I cannot tell vice and virtue apart, when all options seem to carry good and evil implications in equal measure? I have long since lost my sense of purpose, but I felt sure that if I followed my instincts, my belief in what is right, that I would eventually succeed and find my purpose. After the terrible mistakes of my past, I felt sure I was equipped to make the right choices. Now, I don’t even know what to make of my choices. I… I just don’t know…"
"Nothing’s simple, is it?" said Jennifer sadly.
"No. No, it isn’t."