"I mustn't interfere," said Nimue.
"You what?" Amusement and astonishment battled for Guenevere's face.
Arthur stared at Nimue. "You know something," he snapped. "What?"
"I mustn't say." Nimue tried to stare Arthur down, but it didn't work. "Sire, you must understand -"
"I only understand, Nimue, that this planet, my ship, and my kingdom are in danger, and you seem to be withholding information that may be essential to my campaign."
Nimue said nothing, but she resolutely remained seated.
"Well, if you won't tell me what it is, you'll show me," said Arthur. "Down there on Glastonbury. You're landing with us. Whether it's under your own power or that of a couple of my knights' is up to you." He held out one arm to usher Nimue into the starboard elevator.
Nimue hesitated a moment, but with reluctance that was obvious - and the more sincere for lack of bluster - she stood and led the three Round Table knights into the elevator.
"Long range scans show a British starcruiser in orbit around Glastonbury," reported Sir Agravaine, aboard as knight commander of the ground forces.
Morgause looked over to Lamorak. She had the same information repeated on her flag console, just as she was certain that Lamorak had it on the captain's display. "Time till the fleet arrives at Glastonbury."
"Point five three hours," replied the helm knight.
Morgause eyed the tactical readings. It was definitely a St. George class cruiser. That meant it had to be Arthur's new Excalibur.
"This time, Arthur, it will be different," Morgause smiled.
The Excalibur boat landed in the same city square where Arthur and Lancelot had landed sixteen years before. It looked like any humanoid planet in its medieval age. True to the analysis Lancelot had done then, the people didn't appear to have progressed culturally or technologically at all in the intervening time. Of course, in the end it had all been exposed as an illusion; presented by creatures of pure thought, to lull the combatants in the prospective British-Gael war - until the Glastonburians felt compelled to reveal themselves, step in, and stop the hostilities from taking place at all.
Arthur turned until he spotted the appearance of castle ruins that had housed the nine Glastonburians who had admitted to being what passed for leaders among them. "This way," he led them off.
Also consistent with their earlier visit, the natives despite their apparent primitiveness took no notice of having interplanetary strangers appear unannounced in their midst. Except of Nimue. What was odd about it to Arthur was that it wasn't Nimue's tasteless wardrobe that was doing it. When only coming into visible range of a native, Nimue was paid no more attention than were the Round Table knights. Only if passing within a yard or two of Nimue did a native turn and look, with varying degrees of startlement and alarm. Lancelot and Guenevere saw it too. For her part Nimue seemed to be ignoring her surroundings as hard as she could, a look of stubborn concern still on her face. Given Nimue's reticence to discuss things on the ship Arthur didn't waste energy now asking her about the natives' reaction.
Arthur led the way to the decrepit-looking fortress and inside. In the meeting hall, just where he expected, they found Nacien, Guinebal, Gildas, and six others - the same nine calm, quiet, robe-encased bearded old men as last time, who again looked entirely unsurprised to see them.
"King Arthur, Sir Lancelot," Nacien acknowledged. "How pleasant to meet Queen Guenevere." He didn't acknowledge Nimue. Arthur was concentrating on the Glastonburians, so if Nimue took this ill he missed it. (Not that it was like her or Merlin to take anything ill silently.)
"Nacien, we're here because the Gaels have sent a war fleet to this planet, and attacked another along the way. They're only minutes away. I want to know what's become of your promise" - the diplomat in him kept him from saying threat - "to prevent hostilities between us and them, and on your planet."
"Your Majesty, I'm forced to confess to you that it was not a spontaneous act that stopped your last battle," said Nacien in the calm urbane tone Arthur remembered, with no trace of apology for the confession of deceit. "It took a great deal of planning and resources. The like is not, as we led you to believe, something we can indefinitely maintain.
"We initially presented ourselves to you as less advanced than you are, so that when we presented ourselves as more advanced than we are, you would be the more inclined to believe. But we are not beings of pure thought."
"Though we shall be before you are," rumbled Gildas.
"The only object of the entire masquerade," continued one of the Glastonburians whose name Arthur didn't know, "was to divert your conflict away from our world. We are not so advanced that living in the center of your war zone would have left us untouched."
"So you never intended to enforce this treaty?" Arthur demanded.
"Never," Guinebal admitted. "We interfered only as much as we believed needed to protect our own world, divert you away from it. It's our world's policy not to interfere in the affairs of others. We learned our lessons with the Cretans."
"Cretans?" Arthur snapped. He'd never heard of them.
Nacien turned to Nimue, for the first time acknowledging her presence. "She knows."
All turned to Nimue.
Beset from all sides, Nimue finally bowed to the inevitable. She sighed and said, "The people of the planet Crete rebelled against the benevolent fostership of the Avalonian sorcerors, causing the Avalonians to create their non-interference policy."
"Of the Avalonians?" Guenevere repeated.
Lancelot understood first. He turned to the Glastonburians. "This is the planet Avalon. You are the Council of Nine of Avalon."
"Yes," said Nacien.
Arthur took a moment to grasp this. Then he turned on Nimue. "Why couldn't you just say that? And what's the problem with your joining us on your own home planet?"
"Sire!" Nimue stared at Arthur as if he was being purposefully dense. "I am a time traveler! I don't just travel through space, like you do!"
Now Arthur got it. "You mean ..."
"This person," Nimue pointed at Nacien, "is not just any sorceror! She is the sorceress!"
Lancelot, who of the Excalibur staff had questioned the CAVE's operators in the most detail over the years about their background, and about the mechanics and consequences of time travel, visibly blanched.
"This," said Nimue, "is Vivien, the first and most revered Lady of the Lake in our history!"
"That's why you didn't want to beam down!" Arthur said. "This is your past, your people's history - and you're afraid you'll do something that might cancel your history!"
To Chapter 4
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