SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME
Written by Ed Reynolds
Story by Ed Reynolds
Artwork by Revel
* * * * *
Previously on Pendragon…
WILLIAM POWELL: You claim to be Arthur Pendragon of Camelot returned to Britain. I am far from certain that you truly are he, but you certainly do seem to impersonate him most effectively if you are not. That makes you very likely to be - and forgive me if I really am indulging in clichés now - an opponent worthy of me. We Powells have a long and noble past, after all. We served with honor in half the great battles of this island's history. Who knows? An ancestor of mine might have even served under the original King Arthur - assuming that you are not he - in his wars.
ARTHUR: If that be the case, then you disgrace your forebears by engaging in such treachery as what you had planned for my companions. I'd have expected such actions from Mordred or his cohorts long before I would from any of my true knights. Your honor is already tarnished by your acts.
~~~The Watching Eye~~~
* * *
POWELL: Yes, this is Powell. Two things. One, have an extra guard posted around the interrogation room. And two, get me the Inner Circle. We have a few things to discuss about Duval’s recent activities.
* * *
The sudden ringing noise broke off the conversation. Duval stepped away from his former king and switched on his cell phone. "What is it?" he asked.
"This is Powell, sir," replied the voice at the other end. "I've already spoken with the rest of the Inner Circle, and they'd like a report on your progress with Arthur."
"What?" asked Duval. "How did they know that Arthur was here to begin with? Who told them that?" He felt certain that he already knew the answer, however.
"I did." Powell answered sharply. "Pennington represents a vital resource of information. The Inner Circle wishes to know if your progress matches their expectations. They agree that we must use this opportunity to get any information on any unknown factors, particularly the Unseelie." His voice was stern, as if he were in control.
* * *
"What did you do to him?" Hector Duval swiveled in his chair to face the doctor and William Powell. Hector's aide-de-camp Giles was just behind and his bodyguard, Norman Dent, remained hidden in the shadows of the corner.
The doctor looked at Powell before taking a step forward. "I administered a dosage of Mnemosine to the subject," he said. "It is a mnemonic agent, specifically tailored for interrogations."
Powell spoke up. "The Inner Circle began research for a more effective means of intelligence gathering after the Hotel Cabal incident."
"Why is he carrying on like there is someone in there?" Giles asked.
"That is one of the hallucinogenic properties of the drug," the doctor explained. "Mnemosine stimulates the memory centers of the brain, including sensory memories such as hearing and sight. Test subjects reported full emersion, actually being in the place they recalled."
~~~Iris, Lily and Rose, Part Two~~~
* * *
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~~~
* * *
WHITE KNIGHT: 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.
ARTHUR: I see. 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.
* * *
ARTHUR: 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.
JENNIFER: I know the feeling. I know that feeling very well indeed.
ARTHUR: 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…
~~~Flight from the Enchanter~~~
* * * * *
"This is it, Andrew," said Hector Duval quietly as he raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun, and continued gazing out of the window. "This is the dream."
The two men stood side by side in one of the capsules of the London Eye. Duval had mostly ignored the marketing buzz about it being the ‘largest Ferris wheel in the world’ and a ‘unique chance to see London as never before’, but it was a fine day and it seemed a strangely appropriate place to hold an Illuminati meeting. Through the glass of the huge capsule, the two men gazed across the city. It was a warm, clear day and the waters of the Thames glittered tranquilly as the river passed the Houses of Parliament.
"Sir?" queried Andrew Singleton in his typically stiff fashion when Duval did not expand on his statement.
"This Eye, watching over the City of London. Stand across the river and you can’t see it moving – it goes too slowly. But every day it opens up hundreds and thousands of eyes to a beautiful world at their feet. That was my dream, long ago: to form a Society that enlightened the world and made it better, that opened its eyes."
Duval trailed off, and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he turned to his companion and continued in a grimmer, more down-to-earth tone, "Tell me then, Andrew. Is there any word on Arthur?"
"I’m afraid I have no new information at the present time, sir. We believe we may have found evidence of transport arrangements from the east of Canada but… well, needless to say, Arthur doesn’t want to attract attention to himself. The spy we dispatched to Yellow Oak was not well received either. It seems that they’re a rather proud and isolated community over there, and they were oddly reticent to speak about Arthur at all. I suspect he may have fallen back upon his old contacts, perhaps Professor Macduff or even a former contact of Miss Camford’s."
"I see. This will be difficult to explain at the next Inner Circle meeting. I went to a lot of trouble to make sure that Powell didn’t put his own people onto Arthur’s trail for fear of them getting in his way and risking Merlin’s life. But I can’t afford to have lost him entirely, all the same – now Powell is going to say that he was right after all and the pressure to take a more active stance against Arthur will grow. Still, perhaps it’s for the best that he remains beyond our reach. If Arthur is hidden from even our eyes then our companions cannot harm him…"
"And Powell, sir?"
"He has a good deal of support in the Inner Circle. I fear that before too long I shall face a challenge to my leadership of the Illuminati anyway."
"I suspect that you are right there, Mr. Duval. But if I may be frank with you, sir… although I am sure that Mr. Powell is indeed stirring up discontent within the Illuminati, you cannot allow yourself to be governed by his ego-trips. The Society is too important for that - it is charged with acting not for personal reasons, but for the greater good. It must do what is right. Now, I have no doubt that your decision to pull back from the Grail Quest is not only morally the right course of action with regard to Arthur Pendragon, but also is strategically sound for the Illuminati members that do aspire to claim the Grail for themselves."
Duval nodded slightly. "Well, certainly reining in our involvement does make sense strategically since our other alternatives will only drive Arthur into being even more secretive and distrustful of our operations. In any event, he is putting all his time and energy into finding the Grail so that by following his activities, we should be able to find it without needing to attract undue attention to ourselves."
"Quite. The ‘wait and see’ policy is, of course, a simple practicality of resource management - why do the work ourselves when someone else is already doing it? Truthfully, Powell and his supporters acknowledge this, but see it as a political trump card that the plan involves, by its very nature, minimum activity on our part. That is the only reason why they seek to question and undermine you. That, and the slight element of risk in the policy as it stands."
"Such as Arthur disappearing off the face of the planet - as he seems to have done," Duval sighed.
"We ought not to be too concerned. We can expect some new clues in good time from our telephone tap on the Sefton residence; it is unfortunate – or fortunate, I suppose, depending on your point of view – that Sir Nigel prefers to know less rather than more about his daughter’s whereabouts, but it does keep us informed of their progress. Furthermore, I am pleased to report that we shall very soon have cracked the satellite code that will allow us to monitor all of Mary Sefton’s telephone calls and their locations. By cross-checking that information with local reports such as the sighting on Oak Island, and the recent disturbance in that small Canadian village, I anticipate that we will have Arthur’s location quite soon."
"Yes, that does sound promising. The only question is - what then? Consider the scenario: we find Arthur, and he has yet to find the Grail. Do we inform the Inner Circle and risk them demanding immediate action or keep holding back like we have done for nearly a year and risk the members taking things into their own hands?"
"Are you suggesting that Powell and his acolytes should be allowed to preach Illuminati policy? Certainly not, sir. That would be absurd. You must remember your position - as leader of the Illuminati Society you cannot afford to let this politicking affect you. Too much is at stake for that. Your course of action is the correct one. I have complete confidence in your judgement."
"Yes. Yes, Andrew, I suppose you are right. Thank you. Until we find them of course, it is purely hypothetical. Maybe Merlin has died already and they have given up the quest. Perhaps they have achieved the Grail and he has been cured."
"Perhaps," said Singleton dryly, "we should turn to other issues at hand for the time being."
Duval nodded and looked back out of the Eye. The wheel was slowly bringing the capsule downwards towards the ground again.
* * *
"Watching," whispered Merlin in the darkness. He was spread on his back, staring towards the roof of the makeshift blue tent that the travelers had purchased locally. "Waiting."
Mary and Griff sat huddled outside, around a small fire. Mary shivered and pulled a tartan blanket over herself as a gust of wind blew her hair across her face. She glanced nervously around, but it was too dark to make out the mountains that she knew were on the horizon. All the same, she did hear a distant bleating.
"Sheep," she muttered. "That doesn’t bode well. Eynhallow, Ontario - wherever there’s sheep, there’s usually trouble."
Griff chuckled. "Oh, cheer up. Whoever heard of a werewolf afraid of sheep?"
"I’m not afraid of them!" Mary said, with a hint of indignation. "I-I just think they’re a jinx, that’s all."
"It could be worse… there could be mists too. Those never bode well. But unless they’re Unseelie sheep I dare say that they’ll be harmless enough. And even if they aren’t harmless we shall hopefully be on our way once Arthur comes back with news from this new research centre in the city."
"Maybe I should have gone with him," said Mary with a sigh. "I wanted to, of course, but… well, I guess he couldn’t have taken the coach into town that way with me being a wolf during the daytime. And with Merlin the way he is…"
She glanced back into the tent to see Merlin looking towards her - through her, even. His eyes showed no focus but stared with blank madness.
"Watching," he whispered again. "Waiting."
"He’s been repeating that for hours," she said. "It’s some kind of delirium, but what does he mean?"
"I don’t think there’s likely to be any meaning to it, I’m afraid, Mary. If you remember when he was first poisoned, he became delirious and his words didn’t make a great deal of sense then. I fear that it’s simply a sign that the poison is beginning to take its toll more seriously than it has so far."
"But he’ll be all right in the end though, won’t he? I mean, once we find the Grail, he’ll be better… won’t he?"
Griff hesitated a moment too long before replying, "I’m sure the Grail will cure him."
"Watching!" said Merlin a louder tone, now a commanding one. "Waiting! Watching! Waiting! Watching! Waiting!"
He began to writhe in his sleeping bag, his hands ripping their way out of them with tremendous force. Blue sparks emanated from his fingertips as he began to shout: "Watching! Waiting! Watching! Waiting! Watching! Waiting!"
Mary shrank back, while Griff moved into the tent and tried to hold the wizard down. Merlin struggled, small sparks of energy scorching Griff’s hands as he tried to keep him relaxed. Merlin fixed the gargoyle with an insane expression: "Daddy, it’s daddy, always daddy, watching, waiting, waiting, watching, always watching, with the mouth, mouths of fire, mouths of fire, watching, waiting!"
"Merlin, calm down!" Griff reasoned. "It’s Griff! Try to remember! You’re safe. Your father is gone."
But at the mention of the word ‘father’, Merlin gave a terrific scream and blasted Griff off of him with a dramatic bolt of light. Griff toppled through the wall of the tent, loosening the supports, and it collapsed around them. Mary struggled to disentangle her two companions. Griff got quickly to his feet and indicated that he was fine, although he cradled a black mark on his arm where he had been hit by one of Merlin’s electrical sparks. Mary turned to Merlin who was wrapped in the folds of the tent. She felt her throat tightening as she tore back the fold to look at him.
He stared back quite motionless, his pupils narrowed. "Watching," he whispered, before rolling over into Mary’s lap and breaking down into tears.
"It’s all right, Merlin," she said, blinking back her own tears and stroking his unkempt fair hair. "We’re going to find a cure for you. And it will be all right. You’ll be healthy again. You’ll see. It’s all right, love. It’s all right."
Rain began to patter on the folds of their fallen tent, slowly at first but then they found themselves caught in a downpour. The fire flickered and died as Griff picked up the tent sheets and held them over the crouched teenagers, Merlin trembling white and cradled in Mary’s arms, muttering, until at last he fell into an uneasy asleep
* * *
As first light was beginning to touch the eastern sky, Arthur somberly approached the valley that his company was camping in. His head remained lowered - until he saw the glint of the collapsed tent. He stiffened his stance, glancing around the area. Carefully, he drew Excalibur and dashed towards the tent.
The field was wet and the long blades of grass pricked at his legs as he dashed. "Mary!" he called. "Griff!"
As he got near, he kept his sword closer to him, stepping carefully. Upon closer inspection however he realised that amidst the folds there was a figure holding the tent up.
"Griff? Mary?" he called cautiously as he circled around the tent to see the figure, his voice punctuated by panic. "Merlin?"
"Hullo, Arthur!" replied Griff, quietly, before nodding at the sleeping Merlin and Mary, huddled together on the ground. "Didn’t want to shout back in case we woke Mary and Merlin here."
But as he was speaking, Mary had already stirred. She slowly rose to her feet, making sure that she did not disturb Merlin. "Arthur?" she whispered. "I-I must have fallen asleep. Thank goodness you’ve come back."
"What happened here?" said Arthur, glancing at the sodden fire and splayed tent poles. "Not another attack by Morgana or—?"
"No, no, no," replied Mary quickly. "Nothing like that. Merlin went into some kind of delirium and Griff had to restrain him. But, but… tell me that you found something… this lead Leba sent you on."
Arthur could not look her in the eye as he replied mournfully, "I’m sorry to say that it is of no help. The academic institution Leba had researched appears to have vanished without a trace - the building is being converted into a sports complex and the previous occupants are nowhere to be found."
"No. No! That’s not good enough! Arthur, people don’t just vanish into thin air - they must be out there somewhere, or maybe there’s a contact list or… or anything!"
"I could find no traces - no clue as to where those responsible for the Grail research establishment have gone. It is very disappointing and indeed suspicious. I am beginning to wonder if we were fed a purposefully false lead - a lead simply to draw us to this location, although for what reason I cannot say."
"Well, that’s a fat lot of good, isn’t it!" She had stepped away from the tent now and her concern over waking Merlin was receding in her mind as her ire rose. Her eyes were bloodshot and red, while her long hair blew wildly over her face in damp clumps. She made little effort to pull it back now.
"It’s been nearly ten months, Arthur. Ten months! And we’ve not seen hide nor hair of the Grail, of anything… we don’t know if it even exists any more. And now you’re telling me that we spent weeks finding our way to New Zealand and there isn’t anything here at all? No!"
"That is enough, Mary," said Arthur, but quieter than usual. His words did not carry their usual authority. He spoke hollowly, half-heartedly. And Mary ignored him.
"I can’t stand this any more," she replied, her voice breaking up with quick sobs. "I just… I just can’t. We’ve explored six continents, been attacked by all sorts of monsters and creatures and… and nothing." Her face creased and she flailed her arms. Her voice melted into a wail as she spoke. "And why? I’m not a bad person… I’ve tried to do the right thing, Arthur, but I just… I get turned into a wolf and Merlin tried to protect me and it made him worse and… and… I just want my boyfriend to live. I want this quest over and I want to go home and I want… I just…"
Slowly, Arthur stepped towards her, wanting to comfort her, but she turned her back and through a fit of tears, uttered, "I just… I just want my mum…"
She fell to her knees and began to cry. Arthur looked to Griff, but Griff shook his head sadly. There was nothing either of them could do. It occurred to Arthur that he had never seen Mary cry, not really. He had seen her desperate to reclaim her identity, angry and upset in fights with Merlin, desperate to control her rage with Morgana. But throughout it all, she had adopted a stoicism and defiance that he had never seen shattered. Until now, as he watched her literally shrink before his eyes into the ground, bawling tears that carried across the open field. Arthur stood and watched her, restraining his own tears as he saw his squire for the first time in a long while as the vulnerable sixteen year old girl she really was.
"We must have faith, Mary," he said quietly, with as much conviction as he could muster.
But Mary leapt to her feet like a Jack-in-the-box. "Well, I don’t have any faith!"
At this, Arthur jolted and looked at her, but already Mary was sprinting off across the expansive field, her loud sobs reaching his ears on the breeze. He opened his mouth to call out for her, but there was nothing he could say. He turned to Griff.
"She’ll come around," the gargoyle said solemnly, before any question had been asked. "We’ll find the Grail, Arthur."
"Where?" he asked despairingly. "I don’t know where there is to turn. I cannot help but wonder if this quest is truly doomed."
"Now then, Arthur, none of that. We still have that connection you mentioned in Asia."
"Yes, but, Griff - we would have to navigate the Himalayas. Even normally, that would be a challenging task but with Merlin as he is? It would kill him."
"But he’s dying anyway, Arthur. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We can’t turn back now."
"Perhaps you are right. Oh, I wish I could see the path that we should take. I wish… I wish Merlin was able to counsel me now. I understand that he is not the man he used to be but… ah, all our options seem bleak to me now."
"We could go back to the London estate and leave Merlin behind. That way, he could be looked after far better and we can bring the Grail to him."
"I doubt that it would be that easy, Griff. None of those knights that achieved the Grail during my reign ever were able to take it with them. If that was an option, we might have left Merlin on Avalon and had decades to find the Grail; or kept him near Quetzalcoatl where his health might be strengthened by the mystical effect his magic has on the surrounding area. No, sadly he must come with us."
"Then let me make a suggestion. We can’t afford to wait around. We must make for the Himalayas at once. Merlin won’t be much difficulty to carry - he isn’t eating very much, so he’s light as a feather, and he won’t have the energy to lash out in his deliriums much longer. We can’t afford not to take that risk, Arthur."
He glanced at Merlin whose eyes had opened again. He had stopped muttering and looked towards the king, staring thoughtfully. He almost seemed like his old self again.
"Your counsel is wise, Sir Griff. I-"
Arthur broke off as he heard a high-pitched whistling in the air. He looked towards the sky. Two shadowy figures with bat-wings dived from the swirling storm clouds, and with the red flicker of laser lights shot at the knights. Arthur drew Excalibur, and Griff’s eyes flared as he shifted to be ready for battle. The airborne assailants circled back to fire another round, red laser lights flickering across the ground towards the heroes.
"What are these things that are attacking us?" shouted Arthur. "They seem like gargoyles and attack with the strength of the Unseelies."
"They’re not demons, Arthur," shouted Griff. "But I recognise them from Goliath’s description when we visited Manhattan last March. They’re Steel Clan robots - they belong to David Xanatos! They-"
As he shouted, a volley of shots blasted past them and he fell to the ground. One struck the tent inches from Merlin’s head and turf blasted through the air, raining dust onto him.
"It’s too flat in this field," said Griff, panicked. "I can’t get any height for gliding!"
One of the robots made a dive at the pair. Arthur realised that Excalibur was still in his hand and instinctively thrust it outward at the falling robot. Griff shouted with panic as the king and robot nearly collided, but the robot fell on the hard metal of the sword. Nonetheless, an explosion blasted Arthur aside and he shouted with pain as he fell to the ground. Griff rushed over but found the other robot swooping overhead volleying shots at the ground that forced the gargoyle knight backwards.
The robot Arthur had attacked rose to its feet, unfazed by the large sword stroke down its middle, and fired another laser blast. Arthur reflected it off Excalibur but fell backwards in doing so. The robot lunged at the fallen king.
Griff grabbed the other robot around the middle as it flew past and used his weight to pull it to the ground: but as he did so, a sudden electric current passed through the body of the robot and into himself. He screamed and fell, pulling off only a plate from the robot’s armour as he did so.
He landed on his wings and looked upwards. He could already see the other robot blasting its way across the open country carrying a metal net beneath it – and inside the net was the unmistakable figure of the unconscious Arthur.
"Blast!" he said as the other robot also soared into the sky and disappeared from sight.
Griff leapt onto all fours to give chase but his talons had barely touched the ground when they turned to stone.
* * *
Mary, a wolf once again, rushed to Merlin’s side. The young wizard was quivering between two small black marks in the ground where the grass had been blasted away. The girl glanced over to the stone figure of Griff.
"Oh no," she moaned as she glanced around for Arthur.
"It was robots," Merlin whispered hoarsely.
Mary’s ears pricked up and she dashed over to the tent. "Merlin? Who did you see?"
"Xanatos’ robots… they…"
He paused, his mouth held open. Mary bent closer to hear him but he jerked his head back violently with a groan and fell into a seizure. Mary tried to roll him onto his side and into the recovery position with her snout but she only ended up struck by a flailing limb. She staggered back for a moment but laid her tail between his head and the tent pole next to it to prevent him from hurting herself.
And then she waited.
* * *
Arthur squinted as the light glared at him.
His body felt oddly cold and numb, as if he had been wrapped in a sheet of cold plastic. He couldn’t move. The light faded and he fell into unconsciousness.
Or had he?
He could hear a person - maybe lots of people - moving noisily around him. Their movements seemed to be magnified into a blur of noise that throbbed in his head. There was a sickly smell of rubber. The light shone on again - not the sun, but a cold, electric light.
He could see things flickering in front of the light. He strained his eyes to see and it seemed as though the light was enlarging to fill the room. Arthur wondered dully if it was an angel, even though he knew it wasn’t, but then choked as he felt himself unable to breathe.
He awoke again, or thought he did. Now everything was dark and he thought for a moment that he was in his bed in the Marter estate. He looked into the corner but all he saw was -
He felt himself spinning uncontrollably. It seemed that the ceiling was moving around him and getting closer. It was grubby and whitewashed and - he winced as he felt a jolt of pain in his tooth, and he tried to move. That was when he felt the restraints and fell into unconsciousness.
* * *
"Is everything prepared, Dr. Carpenter?" a voice sounded in the midst of the silent dark.
"Oh yes," replied a similar voice - male, deep, but as distant and echo-like as the first was. "I think the negotiations will be very successful."
* * *
There were thin streaks of dusk still in the sky as Mary turned over in her hands the plate that Griff had pulled from the Steel Clan robot the previous night. Her eyes were ringed with sleeplessness: she had waited the day for any sign of the robots returning but there was no sign of them.
"David Xanatos," said Mary slowly, in almost a monotone. "The benefactor of the Manhattan gargoyles. Why would he do this?"
Griff hesitated. "I think… I fear… that he’s after the Grail too. My understanding is that the Manhattan clan had quite a bit of difficulty with Xanatos prior to being revealed to the world. He has done a great deal for the gargoyles to make up for it, of course, but he does have a fixation on… well, immortality. If it has leaked out that we are after the Grail then we might just have trouble on our hands."
Mary regarded him blankly. "Griff? A flying robot with laser weaponry kidnapped Arthur, Merlin’s a basket case and you’ve been a statue for the last twelve hours. We already have trouble on our hands. What else is new?"
Griff sighed. "Look, Mary, I know this is a very difficult time and you’ve been very stoical on this quest so far but if you want to be a knight some day then you’re going to have to learn to—"
Mary interrupted with a snorted chuckle and the pugnacious tone of the previous night began to creep back into her voice. "To pull myself together and keep fighting? Isn’t that why Merlin’s condition has accelerated so rapidly? Because I exposed myself to the mad mob in Canada when I shouldn’t have and Merlin paid the price? Huh?"
"That wasn’t what I was going to say," Griff said quietly.
Mary looked up at him. Tears were welling in her eyes.
"I was going to say… you need to learn to keep your strength up. There’s food in the pack. There’s a sleeping bag. Take a nap."
"How can I sleep?" she asked in a small voice.
"You’ll sleep all right, trust me. All I ask is that I can borrow your mobile telephone in the meantime."
"O-of course. The reception works even out here. It must have cost dad a bundle to have it working in such remote places…"
"Well, maybe if we can find something to report back to Leba, then she’ll be able to help us…"
He pulled a scrap part off the ruins of the Steel Clan robot that he had destroyed. "Ah - there’s a serial number printed here. You see? It hasn’t been worn away. Hopefully that will give some clues as to tracking the source… perhaps there is a factory nearby. Anything that might help us."
Mary nodded and squatted on the ground next to the dozing Merlin as Griff rang through to London.
* * *
Arthur opened his eyes slowly. He could feel his head throbbing with waves of pain along the sides of his forehead. He looked from side to side. He was lying flat on his back in a small, bland room with four white walls and a television monitor situated in the corner. A large rectangular mirror adorned one wall. Electric strip lights illuminated the room. It smelt vaguely of fresh paint.
Arthur became aware of a man looming over him with short grey hair and a white jacket. The king could not get a closer look however, as the man moved away and he was unable to move due to the restraints keeping him on the bed, arms tied at his side.
"I was starting to think that you wouldn’t wake up. I’m glad to see that you’re awake, Mr. Pennington – or should I say Mr. Pendragon?"
"What is going on here?" Arthur called, although as he spoke he felt the pain of a burn across his chest. "Who are you? And how do you know me?"
"Please, please, one question at a time. Now, you have been given a thorough medical check after your ordeal with the robots, and I’m happy to report that you’ll soon be fine. This allows us to proceed with the interrogation. You see, there are a number of matters that my employers wish to be resolved. Until I get the green light, I’m afraid you won’t be freed. So you can resist and simply hold yourself up or be co-operative and get this over with quickly. It’s entirely up to you."
"I’m sorry, it was very remiss of me. My name is Barnes. Simon Barnes. And as to your earlier question of how I know of you… well, who doesn’t? King Arthur is a household name. And I’m sure after that business at Buckingham Palace you get recognised wherever you go."
Arthur said nothing.
"Or perhaps not," Barnes continued. "I don’t mind telling you, Mr. Pennington, that you intrigue me. I don’t want to hurt anybody, and I don’t want to hurt you. I’m a normal family man, it’s just that my job is to interrogate people on behalf of my employers. I’m very skilled at it. It’s not always very pleasant, but every job has its down side. But I must say I wouldn’t have turned down this chance to interrogate you for the world."
"You will get no answers out of me, sir!"
Barnes chuckled gently. "Well, of course not – I haven’t asked any questions yet! I ought to add that the bed you’re strapped to has a number of wires underneath it. At the press of a button on this remote control I’m holding, I can inflict an electric shock of the voltage and duration of my choosing. It won’t kill you, but it will cause you significant and quite unnecessary pain if you resist. But frankly, Mr. Pennington… frankly, Arthur, I don’t think you will resist because the longer you play games, the longer you leave your companions at the mercy of… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?"
"If you harm my friends, I swear that I shall—"
"Lob spitballs at me? Glare sharply? Please. But you are right about one thing. We’ve wasted quite enough time. To business: where were you on the night of the thirtieth of September last year?"
"Your hearing is perfectly fine, Arthur. I wish to know where you were on that night."
"That was nearly a year ago. How should I remember that far back? What you are asking is absurd."
"No, Arthur, I believe that there is a very good reason why you would remember that night. Do you remember what happened on that night?"
Arthur shuddered as an electric shock passed through his body without warning. He tried to repress a cry of pain but failed. The shock ended almost immediately, but he lay panting all the same, and wincing as his burns from the robot battle stung even more than before.
"A little Orwellian, I admit," said Barnes. "But what can I say? My bosses think it will get the job done. Mine is not to reason why. Now I have something that will jog your memory."
Arthur could not see what Barnes was doing because he walked to the corner of the room, but he heard a flick and then a recorded conversation. One voice was disguised and sounded deep and metallic, but the other was one that he had heard only a couple of times before.
"Yes?" asked the distorted voice.
"This is Selden. Mission accomplished."
"The boy has been hit then?"
"Yes, he has. The toxin should be taking effect on him even now."
There was another click and the room was silent for a moment. Arthur could hear his heart thumping faster than usual, and he coughed uneasily – still reeling from the shock earlier.
"Well, what do you make of that?" asked Barnes airily, as if commenting on a rather unusual cloud formation.
Arthur did not respond. Another electric shock passed through his body, this one more intense than before. The king screamed and gritted his teeth together, but as the pain stopped he felt a violent pain in one side of his mouth. The throbbing continued, but so did the pain in the rest of his body.
"I asked, what do you make of that?"
"You are a coward, sir. You hide behind—"
Another jolt of electricity.
"What do you make of that conversation, Arthur?"
Arthur exhaled, shuddering. On the one hand, he did not want to give any information to his questioner. But as he felt the throbbing of his pain and his heart pounding he wondered why he should lie about this information. The conversation was not one that he had heard before but it was evidently a piece of evidence linking Morgana to Selden. They were his two enemies. As he mulled the conflict, Barnes let another electric charge pass through Arthur’s body and his thoughts were briefly disrupted as he reacted to the sheer pain.
"What do you make of the conversation, Arthur?"
"It… it is a conversation between… two enemies of mine…"
"That does indeed tally with the information I have. Who are they?"
Arthur paused, but not long enough for Barnes to initiate another electric shock. "One is a huntsman who I have only encountered twice and the other is…"
He paused as he felt a twinge of guilt. Could he reveal Morgana’s identity? She had tried to kill him, frame him and had poisoned his teacher. She was beyond reasoning and redemption. And yet…
Another electric shock passed through Arthur’s body.
Arthur made up his mind. "I will not tell you."
"Well, there’s no need, actually," said Barnes. "We actually have a lot of information collected already, but I need to make sure that you’re telling the truth. The individual in question is Morgana Cornish and putting two and two together – her name, her specialism and her hiring an assassin to take out Merlin – I would lay even money that she’s your old nemesis Morgana la Fay. How am I doing?"
"That is true," said Arthur reluctantly.
"So tell me, Arthur – because I’m intrigued. Why protect Morgana? Hasn’t she always been an enemy to you?"
Arthur sighed. "How much have you learnt of her story from the surviving history of my time?"
"I think I’ve worked out her motives. I want to know yours. I’m genuinely curious."
"Well… you know then that my father Uther was a bloody tyrant. When I assumed power there was much work to do. With the advice of my friends, allies and teachers I began the task of undoing all that my father had done wrong. At that time, the name of Pendragon was one openly loved but secretly despised, and yet I restored its integrity through my work. I clamped down on the robber barons, and began to protect the peasants. I put limits on over-powerful lords exploiting others unnecessarily and unfairly, and made alliances with local kings that had been severed in the days when everyone kept only cordial relations with the king for fear of him coveting their wives as he did my mother. I could undo much of the evil work of my father, but Morgana’s plight was not something I could reverse. The fact is that the house of Pendragon has treated her very poorly indeed. It’s not just the fate of her mother, but Morgana was sent away to a nunnery at Amesbury at a younger age than was normal. He wanted her to be married off quickly. But in truth, it was not a respectable place – too near Stonehenge perhaps, and those with an interest in dark magic flocked there. I have no doubt that she was exposed to individuals that would channel her hatred into darker and darker purposes. So you see, it is the fault of my father – and my most trusted advisor, Merlin – that Morgana is the way she is. On the one hand, I know that I must deal with her, but…"
"…it wouldn’t be the merciful thing to do?" finished Barnes. "Well, there’s a pickle all right. But then, she has done some fairly despicable things too, has she not? Tell me about the Connection."
"How… how do you know about that?"
"Sources, dear boy. Is it true that she tried to frame you as a terrorist?"
"I have no proof of that."
"But it is true?"
"I… believe it is."
"But surely her links to terrorism are enough to give you cause to move against her? Not to mention the attack she has made on your teacher. How much longer does he have left to live, by the way?"
"I do not know."
"Arthur, we were doing so well. I want to know how long Merlin has left to live. You must have done an analysis of the poison – this kind of deduction should be quite possible. Tell me."
Arthur did not respond and another electric shock passed through his body for a fraction of a second.
"He… may not have more than a few weeks to live. We believed at one point that he would have a year after the first assault – perhaps longer."
"But he has taken a turn for the worse recently?"
Arthur hesitated. "Yes…"
"How do you—"
"Sources. So this explains why you’re seeking the Holy Grail—"
Arthur started, but Barnes cut in almost immediately. "Yes, I know about the Grail. I know a good deal about your quest, Arthur, so you needn’t keep up with this silly pretence. Answer my questions and you’ll be on your way quickly. So, you are seeking the Holy Grail because Morgana la Fay poisoned your teacher: that’s the truth."
Arthur made no response, but prepared for another shock. None came.
"I’ll take that as a yes. Fascinating, really. This whole quest you find yourself on revolves around Morgana! It truly is a sad case. Morgana poisoned Merlin in an act of desperation. It lacked the grandeur and care of some of her previous schemes: she could not ruin your name into the bargain as she once tried. Perhaps she has given up breaking the link between you and heroism in the eyes of the people of the world. She only had one thing left: quick, artless murder. Well, not quick for Merlin, admittedly. But why is it that someone with her resources, her powers, would not try something as simple and effective before? Sympathy? Effort? No. She had too much ambition. But now that’s been taken away from her. Her crusade against you has always been hateful but now it’s simply primeval spite against you. She is a desperate woman, Arthur. I can hardly begin to imagine what it must have been like to wait fifteen centuries to get revenge. She must have built new lives for herself generation after generation without ever being able to rest easy. And now, think of it. You in the world once more and her engaged to Nigel Sefton. Their wedding is in September, by the way. I don’t expect you’ll have been invited, mind you. And yet out of her malice, comes the Grail quest."
"What is your point, sir?"
"Simply this: if Morgana had not poisoned Merlin, where would you be?"
"Where were you on the night of the thirtieth of September, Arthur? The night that Selden poisoned Merlin?"
"I was watching a report on the BBC about the Buckingham Palace incident, and trying to find my way in the world. It is true… without Morgana, I would not have the focus of my quest. As so often, I am indebted to my enemies to keep me on the right track."
"Yes... but that’s not quite the question I was asking. I asked where were you on that night?"
"I shall not reveal that location, sir, so there is no use in interrogating me further on it."
The words had barely left Arthur’s mouth when pain seared through his body. He screamed helplessly knowing that in a moment it would stop – but the pain continued. His heart thumped, his feet twitched wildly, it seemed that light was dancing in front of his eyes, it seemed that the straps were biting into his skin, it seemed that his hair was trying to rip clean away from his face. When the pain ceased, Arthur was wheezing and creased in agony.
"Where were you on that night, Arthur?"
"I… shall never… tell you."
"I have my suspicions, Arthur. You have fostered strong links with London gargoyles. I know they exist, but where they are to be located is trickier. I believe that you were with them. But where is that?"
"You will not—"
Another electric shock even longer than the last one passed through Arthur’s body.
"I am getting tired, Arthur. I am a family man. I have a wife and a child that I would very much like to see this evening, but I also have a job to do. I need this information. If it doesn’t come from you, then I shall have to procure it via other means… means that would have severe implications for those you are working so hard to protect. For example: one of the measures the British government announced in the Queen’s Speech last year is an bill that will define gargoyles as dangerous animals and to make it a criminal offence to harbour them. There’s a fear that the IRA or other terrorist groups might get a hold of them and breed them as weapons of terrorism. It’s not a completely groundless connection after the attack on the American police building, but essentially it’s to appease the people that believe they’ve been seen in London. It’s been held up in the Lords on the basis that it is vague, some of its provisions may violate human rights and that frankly it’s a dangerous sop to public hysteria when there is no proof of London sightings. The bill could fall through.
"Or they could get proof. My employers are very well connected. If I were to request that they send some information to Regina Fitzwalter regarding possible gargoyle sightings it would be very possible to do so. The shop in Soho, Into the Mystic, would be an obvious starting point. How closely would the attendants there hold up to scrutiny if the media eye turned on them, I wonder? But the shop is owned in the name of a Captain Marter, who owns an estate outside London so attention would inevitably turn to him next. The pressure to open his doors to investigators would be incredible and even if he refused, the government or the people would take matters into their own hands. The shop has done a large amount of business with the Camford Corporation recently. Perhaps they would be drawn in. And what about the order of books for King’s College, London, agreed by a Jane Nelson. What’s her part in this? I don’t know. But I dare say that some investigative journalism could find out given the necessary oomph to start the ball rolling. All things considered, it could be a very messy business indeed. So tell me, Arthur, where were you on the thirtieth?"
"I do not know the whereabouts of the London clan."
"Arthur, you travel with a London gargoyle. I know that Into the Mystic is run by gargoyles. Armed with this information, I or my employers could cause the gargoyles great harm. Why haven’t we? Well, far be it from me to second guess my employers, but it simply isn’t in their interests to. I seek knowledge from you because knowledge is power, but power can be used for purposes that are good or ill or any shade of morality in between."
"My gargoyle companions have never revealed their location to me."
"Then you should have no qualms in telling me where you were that night?"
"I was staying in a flat in London."
"No, you weren’t. Don’t lie. I checked all records."
"I was using a pseudonym."
"And if I search for this pseudonym I’ll find details of the leasing agreement, will I? Give me some credit, Arthur. Now I will contact Regina Fitzwalter at the BBC if you do not supply me the information I require and once events are put into motion neither you nor I will be able to stop them. This is your last chance. Where were you?"
Arthur’s body reeled again as another electric shock passed through him. He saw the faces of the gargoyles before him. For four years, they had been invaluable allies. They had given him accommodation, advice and support. He couldn’t turn them in now, but he could not risk the information being passed to Regina Fitzwalter either. He realised that Barnes did know enough to carry through on his threat. But how could he betray the clan?
The pain had stopped and Arthur was still staring at the ceiling, wrestling with the decision.
"Your time’s up, Arthur. I’m afraid it’s time for me to go home now, but I’ll turn the radio on so that you can keep track of current events. I have a feeling there’s going to be some breaking news in London over the next few hours."
"I was on the estate of Captain Marter," said Arthur hoarsely.
"Ah," said Barnes simply. "I see. Perhaps I don’t need to turn the radio on after all. Have a good rest, Arthur. We’ll continue this tomorrow."
Arthur could not see Barnes leave but he heard the sound of a door creaking open and felt a draft of cool air enter the room. The door closed and the latch clicked. The lights went off and he was plunged into darkness.
In the dark, he struggled to free himself from his straps, but he found that he could barely move his limbs – they were still extremely sore from the electric shocks and would not move. The straps were tight. Even if he could raise his head high enough, he would not be able to look for any weaknesses in the dark.
He heard the voice of the London clan leader Michael from long ago replaying in his head. Or at least, it seemed long ago – in truth, it was the previous Christmas. But now that Arthur was on the opposite side of the world, in a pitch black interrogation room it seemed like a long time ago that he had discussed bringing Jennifer to the clan home.
"Until a few years ago, the only humans who knew the true nature of this estate were Colin Marter and his family. Of course, we were able to make an exception for you when you arrived, since you had Griff to vouch for you, and were able to convince us that we had nothing to fear from you. And then there were your friends, even that young girl whom you met at Rivencroft, the one who’s supposedly a werewolf. But still - with each human who learns of us, the danger of a general exposure only grows. How long will it be before we are at last revealed to the world, I wonder, if this continues?"
Tears welled in Arthur’s eyes and he felt a sick feeling of guilt in the pit of his stomach as he lay wretchedly in the dark.
* * *
"Watching," muttered Merlin quietly, as he dozed under a tree. "Waiting!"
After Mary had finished a brief nap, the companions had headed in the direction the Steel Clan robots were headed and had made good time. Griff had carried Merlin, while Mary struggled with as many supplies as they could manage. With a twinge of guilt, they had left their tent equipment in the field, albeit wrapped up so that it was not a danger. They could not carry it with them. The journey had been mostly silent. Merlin spent much of it sleeping, except for a brief period where he was more or less his normal self. Griff respected Mary’s wish to keep silent. They had taken shelter in a small copse. Griff had turned to stone already, but Merlin was awake and Mary – although extremely tired – could only doze uneasily. The rain had settled to a drizzle and a rainbow was soaring over their heads, but Mary was not in the mood to appreciate it.
"Watching," the wizard muttered again. "Waiting."
Mary turned to him suddenly, with a flash of irritation. "Oh, shut up, Merlin! For pity’s sake, shut up! You were sane a moment ago, and now you’re back to this again! What’s up with you!"
Merlin did not acknowledge her. He just continued. "Watching. Waiting. Watching. Waiting."
Mary growled in frustration but suddenly she heard a ringing noise. She looked up eagerly to see her mobile telephone on Merlin’s lap - the caller ID indicated that it was Leba. But then she realised that she could not pick it up.
"Merlin, Merlin, wake up!" she said, pawing him and licking him.
Ring. Ring. "Watching." Ring –
- Ring. Ring. "Waiting." Ring. Ring-
"It might be important. It might be about Arthur! It might be about us! We might be in danger here! Please, Merlin, wake up, pick up the phone, pick up-"
Mary tried to hit the telephone button with her paw, but the buttons were too tiny. She tried to bring her tooth down on it and finally - just as she managed to get it in the right position - the telephone stopped ringing.
Mary dropped the telephone to the ground furiously and ran from the copse, out into the nearby fields. And there she gave a long and painful wolf howl. The sheep ran from her, but she did not care. And as her voice died down, another voice from the copse came to her on the breeze.
* * *
Leba drummed her fingers on the oak table at the back of the Into the Mystic shop as she waited for the telephone to ring, trying to swat a fly that buzzed around the lampshade. Una was arranging the display behind the counter, while Leo was getting ready to close the door. It was gone four o’clock and outside the street was silvery in the dawn light. The electric kettle behind the counter was boiling.
"No answer," said Leba to herself, as she put down the telephone.
She wandered over to the counter and pulled up a stool so that she could bury her head in her hands as she stifled a yawn.
"No reply? Well, it’s probably only to be expected," said Leo. "None of them are likely to be in any fit state to operate a telephone at the moment."
"Yeah," sighed Leba. "Blast. I suppose I’ll have to wait until the sun sets there. I’m beginning to wonder if I should go down myself, but I don’t know how I could help more than here, to be honest – and even leaving now, I might not reach them until tomorrow night."
"Besides," said Una, "I’m still expecting that call back from Elisa Maza in New York."
"Yes… if she can trace the serial number from the plate that Griff tore off the robot, at least we’ll be able to find out for sure whether Xanatos really is involved."
She glanced at her watch and winced. "And I wanted to meet up with some of the London street vampyres to see how they were doing tonight. Oh, roll on the day when Rory and Dulcinea return."
"Have you heard anything from them?" Leo said, as he poured three cups of tea.
"Yeah, I got a call from Rory last night. You’ll never guess what he said. Apparently, he made a squire out of that kid Aidan Allen that helped us out against Herne. I’m not rightly sure that Rory knows what to do with himself as a knight let alone knowing how to take care of that troublemaker, but maybe they’ll do each other good after all. As for Dulci, she’s doing some touring of Spain looking to right wrongs and do good and that sort of thing. She checks back with Quetzalcoatl a lot though, and is trying to get him to come along. I don’t blame him for being hesitant though – knowing Dulci, he’d end up her Sancho Panza."
Una smiled as she sipped her tea. "Did either of them say when they’d be back?"
"Well fairly soon I suppose. It all depends what Arthur does next – assuming we can find him, of course. He’ll be crazy to follow up on this Himalayas lead with Merlin as he is, but then I suppose he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. If he does I guess there’s not much point Rory and Dulci coming back yet. But then, Arthur seems different lately."
"That’s for sure," said Leo. "Didn’t you say that a mob of angry werewolf-hunters came after Mary so he faced them down and knighted the mob’s leader?"
"He did. Her name is Jill Clark. I’ve spoken to her on the telephone and she seems a fairly intense sort of person. I’ve told her that we’ll try and send someone up as soon as the current crisis has passed. Also, she reported that there was a man who had briefly stopped by Yellow Oak to ask about Arthur. It seemed a bit peculiar to her."
"Someone sent by Xanatos again? Or perhaps the Illuminati?"
"Hard to say. But I told her to sweep for bugs just in case. It seems that Arthur’s rivals on the quest are getting less and less patient. I fear that if they ever do find the Grail then things are going to really break loose…"
Una and Leo did not comment. The three friends sipped their tea in silence.
* * *
Simon Barnes yawned as he waited in his car at the traffic lights. He pressed a few buttons on the mobile telephone that was hooked to the dashboard and in moments it dialled through on the loud speaker.
"You have reached the switchboard of JEMsoft," came a perky female voice. "How may I direct your call?"
"It’s Barnes," he said at the telephone as the traffic lights changed. "The password is ‘elevate’."
"Please hold while I connect you," said the receptionist.
"Simon," came a voice on the other end of the telephone moments later. Like Morgana’s voice in the telephone recording earlier, it was disguised and sounded deep, like that of an automaton. "What have you discovered?"
"The surgeons did as you required this morning… Arthur has no idea."
"Also, it’s confirmed: Marter’s housing the London gargoyles."
"That’s not new information, Simon. Verification of old suspicions, true; one of the matters I asked you to look into, certainly. But I need more. What of the Grail?"
"I truly don’t believe he has it… after all, Merlin still seems to be very sick, and that would not be the case if he had already found it."
"Maybe… but I need to know everything, Simon. His moves, where he’s been, where he’s going… don’t stop until you have it all."
"I won’t, but this takes time. I need to break him down slowly."
"I’m afraid you may have less time than I thought. Arthur’s allies have managed to track the Steel Clan robots you used. I need this done quickly. I want you done by midnight and the amnesia charm I gave you used to make sure he remembers nothing."
"I’m sorry to have to say it, sir, but that’s going to be difficult."
"It’s what I’m paying you for."
"Yes but my point is, it would be really helpful if I could use some Mnemosine. I mean, you guys have used the drug before - good grief, you’ve used it on Arthur before - and its success rate is fantastic. We’d get answers, and fast."
"We cannot use it, my friend, because we are working under particular mandates that I cannot afford - at this time at least - to go against openly. Mnemosine can be detected in the blood long after its use and I cannot afford for our research to be discovered. That’s why I went to the trouble of luring Arthur to New Zealand, that’s why I hired you – I know you are of the very best quality and will get me the results I need. And after all, if things start to get a little rough… there are the other resources I recommended."
Barnes frowned. "Yes, but the more heavy-handed the threat, the greater the risk of false information."
"That would be unacceptable. Simon, I’m relying on you. Find a way."
The call broke off. Barnes sighed and turned off the road, doing a u-turn outside a church. He reached out to his phone and placed another call. It rang several times while he turned out onto the road again, facing in the opposite direction. The setting sun filtered through the trees on his right.
"Hello?" came a female voice on the phone.
"Hi dear, it’s me," said Barnes. "I just wanted to let you know that it looks like I may be stuck at work tonight after all…"
* * *
The copse where Griff, Merlin and Mary spent the day was dimly lit but not yet totally dark. Griff was awake, and hauled the sleeping Merlin onto his back, while Mary talked to Leba on the phone, scribbling excitedly on a bit of paper that she held to the tree with her elbow as she wrote.
"Yes, I’ve got it!" said Mary excitedly. "Thanks, Leba. We’ll keep you posted."
She hung up the phone and pocketed it before turning to Griff excitedly. "It seems that those robot models were purchased from Xanatos by a company called JEMsoft a few months ago, and JEMsoft also has a holding in New Zealand – a small warehouse that had been disused until last month."
"Sounds like that should be our first port of call," said Griff.
Mary smiled. It felt strange. Although her head was pounding, and her eyelids felt like they might close any moment, a surge of excitement and – dare she think it? – hope swept through her.
"Spiffing job," Griff said encouragingly, as they set off walking.
"I just hope he’s okay... it’s funny, when I first became Arthur’s squire, I never imagined not having him around. I just took it for granted that we’d make it through okay… when I think of all those times I put us in danger just by brashness… with the Fenris-wolf and the way I tried to argue with Sekhmet… and again in Canada. I-I suppose you think I’ve been terribly foolish to have such a blasé attitude to the dangers we face."
"Not at all," chuckled Griff. "Not much over a year ago you were trapped in an enchanted village full of Anthropophagi, met a legendary king and wizard and proceeded to have spectacular adventures ever since."
"Yes… when I first met Arthur and Merlin, I never used to… er, think all that much of them. They never found me a cure and half the time I wasn’t all too convinced they knew what they were doing. I think I must have spent two solid months bickering with Merlin before I realised I was in love with him. But then I started to become so used to the danger that I stopped worrying."
"It’s a natural reaction, really. Some people would have fallen apart with all you’ve been through. But you’ve tackled things head on. I know Arthur is very proud of you."
"I know. I wish I hadn’t shouted at him the last time we talked."
"I’m sure he didn’t take it to heart. Made of stern stuff, you know."
"Yes. And I do apologise for my moods of late."
"Happens to the best of us. And as for this brashness concern of yours, I must admit, I’ve always found myself taking some rather large risks myself. Una and Leo never quite got the idea of sticking their necks out alongside the RAF in the war. Of course, the Marters were fighting and I wasn’t jolly well going to sit at home while they were fighting if I thought I could pitch in. But you’re not a knight, Mary. You don’t need to have got everything right just yet, let alone in under a year. You’re a squire, and a pretty good one at that, if you ask me."
Mary blushed slightly. "Th-thanks."
They walked quietly for a few moments as they saw the lights of cars traveling down the road and turned aside so as to move parallel to the road but not – for the sake of Griff – along it.
"This is the way to the JEMsoft warehouse?" asked Griff. Mary nodded.
They continued in silence for another few moments until Mary broke it in a familiar fashion.
"Griff?" she asked. "Why are you always able to remain so optimistic about everything when our quest and… well, everything, seems so bleak."
Griff grinned. "Just built that way, I guess."
* * *
"It’s like I keep telling you," Barnes sighed on Arthur’s left. The king tried to strain to see him, but his neck was sore from the shocks earlier and he could not get a good look at the man he had been talking to for the last few hours. He still could hear Michael’s words ringing in his ears and was wracked with guilt over his earlier indiscretion. Now, however, Barnes had ceased with any particular line of questioning and was rattling through Arthur’s quest checking dates and locations. He decided that the most prudent course of action would be to confirm anything they were likely to already know, while leaving other movements of his unrelated in the hope that Barnes would not notice the omissions.
Barnes continued, "You can either help me out now and get back to your quest or… well, with Merlin as he is, I don’t suppose that the quest will be relevant for much longer. The Holy Grail might be great at curing the sick, but resurrection of the dead probably isn’t high on its agenda."
"Food for thought," Barnes said, sounding as if he was shrugging. "And here’s another morsel: what if Merlin does die?"
"He will not."
"Well, yes, the Holy Grail may pop onto your lap in the next five minutes, but let’s assume it doesn’t."
Arthur’s eyes tracked Barnes as he pulled a stool closer to the bed. The former king struggled to press his hands against the leather straps but was unable to break free.
"You’re a proud king, did a few good deeds in your day. Did a few bad ones. Merlin takes you away at birth, aids you as you’re installed as king, teaches you, guides you. Merlin tells you to kill a bunch of kids, your own son one of them? You go for it. That’s a lot of influence. I’d say he’s a pretty big deal in your life."
"Your information is inaccurate, sir. That was not Merlin."
"Maybe so, but I think I’m right in thinking that he’s the brains, you’re the brawn. And since his brains have gone teenaged it’s probably not a surprise that since you returned from Avalon, your success rate has been - um, less than stellar. ‘A’ for effort, I’ll grant you, but ‘F’ for achievement. And now that he’s about to shuffle off the immortal coil, I can see that you’d feel at quite a loose end."
"I am King Arthur, the Once and Future King of Britain; you, sir, are a knave and a coward in the service of cowards and evil-doers. I demand that you free me.."
"Well, perhaps I’m being unfair. These adventures you’ve related are certainly great feats. Any hero or do-gooder would be proud of them, even if they weren’t King Arthur. But just… just answer me this. Because like I said before, Arthur, I really wanted to interrogate you. It’s a bit like those quizzes which ask which famous person, living or dead, you’d like to have dinner with. What I want to know is: how have you changed the world for the better since you returned?"
"I have battled fiends human and faerie, rescued villages from the thrall of spells, I have reclaimed my sword and many heroes have flocked to my banner."
"So what you’re saying is, you’ve beat up some bad guys? Well, that’s always a sound achievement I suppose. And someone has to do it. I suppose it makes sense that you’d be brought back to train up young fighters. You live with the London clan after all, and if they expanded their operations a bit I dare say they could do your job. You could retire, Arthur."
"Gargoyles watch over a protectorate. I…"
"What? Go around doing your knight errant thing, trying not to trip over your own two feet? Arthur, don’t you feel terribly unfulfilled going on as you are? You’re the Once and Future King and you’re just running from Morgana’s schemes and dealing with whatever minor troubles crop up. You’re wasting yourself. You’re reacting. But when are you going to start acting, I wonder? You found your sword, you found your teacher, you played a pretty minor role in the Unseelie War, and didn’t get arrested. And you’ve been around, what - four years? Where’s the crown, where’s the flocking to your banner? Where are the cries about the king returning and the songs and… well, any sort of recognition?"
"You forget that I was not raised a king - once before I established my claim, and so I must again."
Barnes’ calmness from earlier was beginning to dissipate and it seemed to Arthur that the man was genuinely roused by his subject and upset by Arthur’s choices.
"Claim to what? The throne?"
"I make no secret that I no longer wish to rule Britain as I once did - that role has passed on."
"So what are you going to rule? The gargoyles? The Isle of Wight? A Newcastle haddock emporium?"
"It is true that at this stage I am unsure what my new role in this world will take. Doubtless it will become clear in time."
"Time? Well, maybe. But honestly, Arthur - how much time do you have left? You’re middle-aged now. You must be getting on a bit - I mean, aside from your 1400 year nap. All this fighting and Mickey the Mouse Detective stuff is all very well, but ten years down the track when you’re hobbling around with your old injury keeping you from the heat of battle, and just not being up to snuff any more - what then?"
"I shall do my duty as I can."
"Yes, but your fight hasn’t been altogether successful, has it? You’ve tried to do your duty but in the meantime you’ve been linked with terrorist groups and Royal assassination attempts, an MP’s daughter has been cursed on your watch and your teacher was poisoned. "
Arthur’s face hardened. Barnes sighed heavily.
"I digress. So… let’s backtrack a little. You say that you were on Eynhallow in late October?
"Yes," said Arthur sullenly.
"And no doubt you met with Lennox Macduff, Lydia Duane and Peter Morwood-Smythe – they were well-chronicled as having an expedition there at that time. Now, don’t be alarmed. I’m looking to build up a picture of events, that’s all. So where to then?" Barnes asked.
Arthur took a deep breath. "Glastonbury. But there was no sign of the Grail."
"Did you meet anyone at Glastonbury?" asked Barnes.
The king hesitated. "Are you working for the Illuminati?" he asked.
"Not that I’m aware of. I don’t know my employers’ identities. I am not an Illuminatus myself, although I have heard a little about them. So I take it that you encountered the Illuminati there?"
"Yes," admitted Arthur.
"What did they want?"
Again, Arthur felt uneasy. But was this information really likely to endanger him? He desperately wanted to find his friends again, and feared greatly for what had become of them. The last he saw of them, Merlin was incapacitated, Mary had run off in a rage and Griff had been electrocuted by a Steel Clan robot.
It seemed that Barnes had read Arthur’s expression because he said, "You’ll be reunited with them soon if you continue to co-operate, Arthur."
"Who are your employers?" Arthur asked.
"Honestly, Arthur – I don’t have a clue. I get a job, get a briefing on the person I’m being asked to interrogate and I get paid. The less I know, the better I can do my job you see. It could be the Illuminati, it could be the British government. So, what did the Society want?"
"They sought to make a deal. They wanted to assist my quest to find the Grail. I turned them down of course."
"I see. Who made the offer?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Who did you interact with? Who did the society send? I need a name."
"I didn’t catch his name."
"The Illuminati, a society that has been a thorn in your side before now, want to make an alliance and the person they send doesn’t even introduce himself in a memorable way. I find that unlikely. In fact, Arthur, I put it to you that this person was likely to be someone the Society thought would most likely get your attention. Who?"
"I told you, I didn’t catch the name."
Barnes sighed, and then said sharply, "You know that Leonard Camford is dying, don’t you?"
Arthur reeled. "What?"
"Leonard Camford. Your girlfriend’s father, Arthur. He’s dying. I don’t know the details but I’m told that the doctors believe he will probably die before Christmas. Now, every single morning, Jennifer Camford visits her dear old dad at All Saints Hospital. I’m informed that in the event that you don’t satisfy my requirements of you, she is the next person that will be taken and interrogated. I’d rather get information from you, of course. For one thing, she could only relay second-hand information. For another thing, she would be more likely to be noticed going missing – although not so much now that she has sold her business, I suppose. But at any rate, my associate in Britain will subject her to the same pain and treatment that I’ve subjected you to if there are gaps in my information when you and I are done, and he’ll do it with a smile on his face."
"I do not know who it was and that is the truth."
"No it isn’t."
"You are an Illuminatus. Only you could—"
"Answer the question, Arthur."
"—know enough about the deal and their operations to make such an assertion."
"I don’t need to be a member of the society to know how they work, Arthur. But it seems that you don’t take my threat seriously. Let me assure you, sir – it’s very real."
Arthur felt a jolt from under him as the head of the bed raised upwards by about twenty degrees. For the first time, Arthur was able to see in front of him. There was a small television hooked up to a computer tower. Barnes crossed to it and began to type. He seemed shorter than Arthur had initially thought, and he wasn’t quite impeccably dressed. He had an open, amicable face. Arthur shuddered as he noticed the screen.
It was surveillance camera footage of Leonard Camford’s room.
"Here we are, Arthur. This is the feed direct from the hospital security cameras. It’s nine in the morning over there, so Jennifer will be coming any moment."
"How do I know this is not recycled footage that you’ve doctored?"
"If I had the capacity to doctor it, surely I would have the capacity to follow through on my threats? But come to think of it…"
He double clicked several times on the centre of the image which brought the clock on the bedside into focus.
It read: WED 12 JUL 09:04
"So, anyway, Arthur," said Barnes. "The person that put the patch on the hospital feed is still there awaiting my orders. Jennifer will be along any moment. Shall we talk?"
Arthur gritted his teeth, but he felt a shooting pain again in one of them. Once again he found himself blackmailed. He knew he couldn’t do anything but answer the question. "His name was Duval."
"Duval? The Head of the Society?" Barnes sounded genuinely astonished.
"I thought you weren’t an Illuminatus."
"I am well informed. Now why would Mr. Duval take a personal interest in you when he could reputedly have half the world leaders answerable to him if he so wanted?"
"I don’t know."
An electric shock passed through Arthur’s body. "Time is pressing on, Arthur," said Barnes. "I want to know why Duval made a personal visit. Otherwise, Camford is next."
Arthur’s mind raced. As far as he knew, only a handful of people were aware that Hector Duval was really Lancelot du Lac of Arthur’s court, now an immortal. Whoever Barnes worked for, this information would surely be new, unless Duval himself was the employer. It was not his place to reveal Lancelot’s secret, no matter the wrongs that he had inflicted on Arthur personally and on the world through his society. But equally, Jennifer was one of the people that knew Duval’s identity and he could not see her tortured. Flashes of paranoid thoughts ran through his mind. Was this all a government conspiracy to prove him a lunatic – if he accused Duval of being Lancelot, that could certainly be evidence. But Barnes had never seemed at all put out by the fantastical parts of Arthur’s story. He wondered if this was another Grail test, like the others – and another one then that he had surely failed, since had had broken his word to the London clan and revealed their whereabouts. He had not given Lancelot his word to keep his identity a secret, but knowledge is power and Arthur knew that Lancelot was struggling to maintain power over his corrupt subordinates.
Another jolt of electricity zapped through his body. On the television screen, he noticed Jennifer arriving and sitting down beside Leonard. Arthur’s heart was in his mouth. He needed a believable excuse – but none came to him. He was weak and in agony, his thoughts were jumbled and he felt instinctively that he had to protect Jennifer. But could he trust Barnes to keep his word anyway?
"Free me and cease your surveillance of her and I give you my word that I shall tell you the link between myself and Duval."
"I can’t do that, Arthur."
"If you harm her, I shall say nothing."
"Then I shall have her interrogated, while I bring in your friends – Griff, Merlin, Mary. It was hardly a challenge to bring you in. What makes you think detaining them will be a problem? Mind you, I don’t know if Merlin could cope with much of this."
"You coward! You would attack a sick boy!"
"We both know he’s no mere boy, Arthur. Anyway, the time is up. I’m bringing Jennifer in…"
He reached into his pocket and drew out a mobile telephone. He punched in some numbers. Arthur’s eyes widened and once again he knew that he was beaten.
"He’s Lancelot," he said, grimacing.
Barnes started, and nearly dropped the telephone. "I… I beg your pardon?"
"Hector Duval is Lancelot du Lac."
"You… you’re sure?"
"Yes. That is why he came to me rather than a mere subordinate. He wanted to convince me that he could rein his society in."
Barnes was speechless. He closed his mouth and took a moment to regain his composure. "I see. Most interesting, Arthur. Most interesting indeed. And I think on that note perhaps we can wrap up the night’s proceedings. Thank you – and good night."
He pressed a button on his hand and Arthur screamed and blacked out in an extremely powerful electric shock.
* * * * *
"This is it," said Mary.
She pointed to a low-roofed warehouse with the painted number ‘3’ on the side. A few street lights gave the quiet industrial area a yellow tinge. Nobody was to be seen.
Griff lay Merlin on the ground. "I’d better go and look," the gargoyle said.
"Be careful, Griff," said Mary.
Merlin also looked at the gargoyle dazedly but said nothing.
"Yes ma’am," Griff replied with a grin and dashed towards the warehouse.
Skipping around the lights, and keeping an eye out for the closed circuit cameras that were on the walls, he climbed into an open window and looked inside. The lights were on but there was nobody in the room. Except-
In the centre he saw an unconscious Arthur surrounded by parts of the Steel Clan robots. Griff rushed to Arthur and shook him. Arthur awoke groggily.
"Arthur! Arthur, are you okay? What happened?"
"I don’t remember," Arthur muttered. He looked around at the robots, which lay wrecked on the floor. "But it seems I destroyed some robots…"
"Are you hurt?"
"Slightly. I feel like I have been burnt slightly… and I have a shooting pain in my tooth. Very odd."
Griff hauled the king up unto his shoulders. "Well, best not waste any time hanging about. Come on, let’s get you out of here before anything else happens."
* * *
"And you used the amnesia spell I provided?" said the disguised voice on the telephone. Barnes was sitting at a table in his kitchen, reading leisurely through a newspaper as he talked.
"I did," replied Barnes. "Or at least, I followed the instructions provided through Dr. Carpenter – applied the appropriate ingredients to the restraints. I’m no magician but if your spell works at all, then it worked with Arthur. He won’t remember anything."
"Excellent. I must congratulate you, Simon, on a truly remarkable achievement. Dr. Carpenter said that you were good at what you do, but discrete freelancers are hard to come by. The details of Arthur’s whereabouts and future plans are helpful for plotting a chronology of his journey but when I asked you to explore his personal link with Duval I never dreamed that this would be the truth."
"It is an eye opener," said Barnes casually. "But it’s not something I especially care about either. I just want my part in this to remain anonymous. As far as I’m concerned, it isn’t information I know."
"Don’t worry, Simon, I’ll make sure that nobody connects the information back to you. Your family will not be hurt. One last thing – did you ensure the device still works, especially after all that electricity you pumped into him?"
"Yes, when Dr. Carpenter implanted it, he made sure it was all insulated against this kind of thing. The technology is state of the art, sir. Listen."
Barnes got down from the kitchen stool and reached into a cupboard. He drew out a black radio receiver, and turned it on. Then he held the telephone next to it as it crackled for a moment and then Arthur’s voice came through, quite loudly.
"We cannot afford to waste any more time. Merlin, the Himalayas may be our last hope.
Then, the more distorted voice of Merlin was heard.
"I understand, Arthur. And I’m feeling a little better today. I’ll hang on for a while yet."
Barnes muted the transmitter and placed it back in the drawer.
"The device implanted in his teeth is giving a perfect audio feed of everything Arthur says, and it is giving a precise satellite mapping of his location. Wherever he goes, you’ll be able to follow him. Whatever he says, you’ll be able to hear him."
"Splendid! In two days’ time we shall rendezvous at the destination point and I shall pay you the agreed sum for the information you gathered and the device you have designed and implanted in Arthur. A truly remarkable job, Simon."
"Thank you, sir. I do try."
* * *
On the other end of the line, the man removed the piece from the bottom of the telephone that distorted his voice and placed it down. He pocketed the device, glanced around the London street to make sure that he was not being followed or monitored, and then allowed himself a small, satisfied smile.
It had started, he thought to himself smugly. It had really started now. Even those secrets that Barnes had not extracted from Arthur would probably be revealed by the transmitter planted in Arthur’s tooth and Arthur did not have any idea. Duval would not have any idea. And what information he had about Duval now!
He arrived at Westminster Station. The person that he had arranged to meet was also there.
"Hello, Mr. Duval," he said, as he approached, hiding his glee with his usual stiff demeanor.
"Hello, Andrew," Mr. Duval replied. "You said you had some information for me?"
"Bad news, I’m afraid," said Andrew Singleton. "I asked Powell’s PPS in the Commons to help me account for some holes in our funds, and came across something quite suspicious. It seems that he’s been involved in some particularly suspicious activities recently - movement of Steel Clan robots illegally obtained from Xanatos Enterprises, withdrawal of funds, and some business under a company by the name of JEMsoft which – as far as I can see – doesn’t actually do anything. It’s a cover."
Duval sighed as the pair passed through the barrier and down the escalator. He glanced around to make sure nobody was listening and said quietly, "Do you think he is planning some kind of coup?"
"I could not possibly comment at this stage. I shall of course continue to fully investigate the matter."
"Thank you," said Duval calmly as they arrived at the correct platform. "Truthfully I’m beginning to wonder what I would do without a reliable aide like you to assist in these matters. Your assistance is much appreciated."
"Not at all, Mr. Duval," Singleton replied stiffly before glancing down the tunnel as he heard the sound of a train arriving.