Ship's Log, A.R. 196.2: The Excalibur-A's shake-down cruise is almost over, and if any part of her remains to be shaken down from where it belongs I don't know what it is. We'll be back to Camelot in ten days, and Gawain will have a few weeks to put her back together while I go camping with Guenevere and then try to scare us up a full crew complement.
"'Let's see what she's got', he said," said Arthur when he was certain the log recorder was off. "Even I've heard Gawain say it."
"It's been his litany since the second day," Guenevere observed.
"I appreciate the Round Table's gesture as much as anyone," said Arthur, "but I wonder whether they checked into the ship's condition before ordering the registration- and name- change."
"My sources tell me," said Lancelot from the science station, "that the Table was assured by this ship's originally-assigned captain that no St. George class ship already in service was available for reregistration, and that this, originally to be the HMS-1786 Gallant, was in perfect condition for trial runs."
"Assured?" Arthur asked. "What captain was that?"
"Duke Mark of Cornwall."
Arthur and Guenevere exchanged a look. "That explains it," Guenevere said.
There was a beep from Lancelot's board. "Captain," Lancelot said, "there is a spaciotemporal disturbance on the ship."
"Security alert," Arthur called.
"Unnecessary, sir," said Lancelot. "Futher data show it is the CAVE, materializing inside the detention area."
"In the detention area?" Arthur said. "Why would Nimue land in the detention area?"
"Maybe she wants to save time?" Guenevere suggested.
"Security to the detention area anyway," said Arthur. "They can show her to the bridge."
Lancelot suddenly sat slightly straighter at his station. "Nimue is no longer in detention, sir. She seems to have broken out."
"Broken out? That isn't good. Have that security detail check out the detention area instead," said Arthur. He could still have had Nimue escorted to the bridge, but he wanted to see whether the sorceress was any better at finding her way around the new Excalibur than Arthur was.
A council of Gaelic Kings is less called to order than beaten into submission. King Cador of Cornwall, senior monarch, wiped the blood off his knuckles in what the rest of the council considered a dainty manner (any of them would have left it there) and asked, "New business?"
"I have new business." Even the rowdiest of the Gael knights quieted in respect as the war master Mark, duke of Cornwall, rose to speak. Cador cringed inside, however. New business from Queen Morgause's faction could only mean at least a minor setback to Cador's own long term plans. Mark was an enemy of Arthur the High King, who was hated by his half-sister Morgause, who in turn was also half-sister to Mark - and to Cador, Mark's brother. Mark hated Arthur because he'd named Cador king of Cornwall and heir to the high kingship though Mark was the elder brother.
"Speak," said Cador in a commanding growl.
"Recently I have availed myself of Cornwall's advice," Mark started.
This generated stunned murmurs among the crowd. A war master allowing himself to be schooled by an ally of Arthur? But Cador was more sophisticated and knew Mark's circumlocutions of old.
"Yes, yes, my knights," said Mark, raising his hands to quiet them again, "I know, I know. But even a master may learn. Cador tells us to learn from history. I have been examining history, friends."
The room became silent enough that Cador could hear the assemblage trying to imagine Mark with a book in his hand. History, he thought. What could he have found to serve Morgause in - Oh no! Not that!
"Do you know what history tells me?" Mark said, sweeping his silent audience with his eyes. "Do you know how many times the accursed Glastonburians have acted to enforce their accursed treaty between us and the accursed British in the sixteen accursed years since the accursed battle of Bedegraine?"
Cador maintained his composure while his hopes and his heart sank to the floor.
"NONE!" Mark shouted.
Now the murmuring started up again, enthusiastic and hopeful as they began to see.
"For sixteen years we have crawled like British dogs, 'negotiating' and 'developing successfully'. After being beat down with a single whipping! Is this the Gael way?" Mark exhorted.
"NO!" The knights were all on their feet now, even those who had passed up the preliminary brawl for the mead barrel.
"Accolon showed us the way!" Cador wondered whether Mark would mention how Accolon met his end. "Accolon acted for the preservation of our race," Mark declaimed, the phrase borrowed from the chronicles of Albanactus, "and no thrice-damned monks appeared to snatch his victory away!"
No, Cador thought, all that it took was King Arthur. But Mark didn't seem to think that was salient to his point.
Someone else did, though, in a roundabout way. Prince Agravaine thrust his mug of mead into the air. "Accolon was a renegade, a madman, with no official sanction for his actions, but who nevertheless deserved better than to be ruthlessly cut down in the prime of his life!" No one laughed harder than Agravaine, whose very job as ambassador it was to spout such Britishisms in their own halls.
Mark waited until the din was over, and spoke softly again to cultivate their concentration. "They thought to cow us with a single show of power. They thought to reduce us to skulking in the shadows and talking, on the occasions we wouldn't be cowed. They thought we would be satisfied with this forever. They thought! I say the time for thought is over!"
Cador saw the next ten minutes unfolding before him, the next ten days, the next ten years. His quiet, slow plan to bring peace between the Gaels and the British, of which no other person knew but one, was now doomed, failing some unforeseeable disaster. "What," he asked Mark inevitably, "do you propose?"
Mark wordlessly surrendered the floor to someone who had just entered the council chamber. It was Queen Morgause, resplendent in the full ceremonial regalia of Lothian and Orkney, hers since the death of her husband and Agravaine's father, King Lot. It was all the more resplendent for the scars that showed it'd been worn into battle on occasion. She strode to the center of the council chamber as if she owned it - Cador knew, looking from king to king and knight to knight that, for now, she did - stopped, and turned a full circuit of the room to meet the eyes of everyone there before she spoke.
"This is what we will do," Morgause said.
"I see you're fully functional again," Nimue said to Lancelot, by way of greeting to all.
Nimue had taken on some of Merlin's eccentricity since she had inherited the CAVE, and some of his abrasiveness - or perhaps he had always just drowned her out before. Arthur was tolerant of it under the circumstances; he missed the sorceror too. She wore what might have been a fashionable ensemble four hundred years before but for the garish color scheme. The floppy blue polka dot scarf was the least of its mismatched wonder; and it was topped off with a frock that was a patchwork of warm colors, largely bright shades of red or pink that clashed with each other, with a spot or two of plaid green just so that there was no ascetic that could possibly be left unoffended. She could be as acerbic in manner as her outfit was visually, but now for once she appeared to be in an unqualified good humor.
"He's not the only one," Guenevere responded to Nimue's comment, pointing to the command chair, or to Arthur, or both.
Arthur waved his hands at his surroundings, taking in the whole ship. "As a reward for saving the world," he explained to Nimue, "the Round Table demoted me to ship captain, and installed Mordred as heir apparent and Prince Regent."
"Congratulations!" cried Nimue. Ordinarily the CAVE's operators felt, or at least affected, the same disdain with the military mind toward Arthur as toward all Excalibur captains past (according to accounts of Uther's day) and future (Arthur was certain). But today Nimue's ebullience extended even to Arthur.
"Thank you," said Arthur.
"What've you been up to?" Guenevere asked Nimue.
"Well," explained Nimue, "I've just learnt that I've been stripped of the rank of Lady of the Lake on Avalon."
"Congratulations!" said Arthur, deducing that this was the cause of her good mood as well as her unusual fellow feeling toward Arthur. From the look Lancelot and Guenevere exchanged, they had made the same deduction. "No Pelleas?" Arthur continued.
Nimue rolled her eyes. "You would notice the lack," she said, alluding to the fact that, as Arthur had always teased Merlin, the sorceror's apprentices were usually female and quite young. The fact that Merlin and Nimue had in fact become partners and lovers after her apprenticeship - hence her inheritance of the CAVE - had been something of a sore spot for Merlin in consequence, but actually Arthur had been careful after that not to tease overmuch. Yet shortly after Merlin's death Nimue had acquired her own traveling companion, the Round Table knight Pelleas; some years her junior - yet as obviously smitten with her as she him.
Nimue explained, if it could be called that, that she'd recently spent some time entertaining a false belief that Pelleas had been either killed after having a brain transplant or married, and after learning differently had not caught up with him again yet. In lieu of further discussion on this subject Nimue drew out of them and listened attentively to their list of complaints with the new Excalibur.
"Well, at least the Round Table gave us a quiet assignment for a shakedown," Arthur said in conclusion. "The Glastonbury Sector is about the dullest starcruiser duty there is."
To Chapter 2
Back to King Arthur of Time and Space index.
Back to Paul's index