Ship's log, supplemental: Straight and True has successfully reproduced the plasma leak accident that first sent a Sherwood boat into Evilspace a year ago, and is running cloaked. Our first step in stopping the Alliance invasion of the United Kingdoms, Nimue tells me, is enlisting the aid of the British rebels who hide out in the Boglands (in reflection I suppose, eerily for me, of the Underground of my own universe) - the rebels formerly commanded by my late Evilspace counterpart.
"The Crown has enough on its plate right now," Robin said, pacing Straight and True's teleporter room. "The shambles Geoffrey du Bullion made of the Nottingham and Roman efforts against the Saracens, the detioration of the alliance with the Saxons ...
"The last thing we need is yet another invasion force going through the wormhole, in any direction."
"Undoubtedly Morgan knows that," said Nimue. "She probably picked this moment in history very carefully."
"Nothing yet," said Will Scarlett, peering at the sensor readouts on the teleporter console.
"No rush," said Pelleas. He wasn't too sure he quite wanted to teleport through the astronomic goop out there, though Nimue seemed unconcerned enough once she'd asked that Will Scarlett be at the controls.
"You don't have to do this for me, Nimue," Robin said again.
Nimue shook her head. "These people aren't generously inclined toward the uniformed."
"Besides, Red told us your secret's got out," Pelleas said. Red had hinted that there were people whom Robin were better not to see again - or they him - now that his masquerade as his other self was common knowledge throughout Captain Robin's command. This Robin's expression now went a long way to confirm it.
"Got something," Will Scarlett called. "Boat class. Pretty sloppy emissions ... a state of disrepair that suggests it's not subject to normal maintenance."
"A rebel in hiding," Nimue nodded.
"Life readings," said Will Scarlett. "One humanoid life form. Might not be British; hard to tell through the sensor distortion."
"One of the other oppressed Kingdoms' subjects then," said Robin. "An Alliance patrol would be in a better ship."
"Whenever you're ready, Chief," said Nimue.
"Energize," ordered Robin, and Pelleas's world faded into blue streaks.
"Illan!" said Pelleas.
The Ulsterman blinked and was instantly out of the meditative trance he had been enjoying when the time travelers teleported into his boat. "You have the advantage of me," he said, drawing a makeshift energy weapon. It was pretty shabby looking, Pelleas thought, but an Illan had assembled it so he gave it respect due.
Nimue tipped her hat. "How do you do. I'm Nimue and this is Pelleas. We're from the other universe."
Illan lowered his weapon but kept it covering them. "The other sorceress. Allan-A-Dale spoke of you when the mission to Sherwood returned. Not entirely favorably, I may say."
"I'm glad to know they got back safely," said Nimue. "I was hoping to see Red."
"We do not gather often, nor inform each other of our whereabouts between meetings," said Illan. "It is among the security protocols I have introduced since I joined Captain Robin's force."
"Well, I had hoped to discuss with him the other group of rebels he had been involved with before the Alliance sent him to Sherwood. But I think you can be of even greater help to me."
"I wasn't aware that Red had been involved with any other such group."
"I didn't think so. But I believe you may be familiar with one."
"Indeed?" Illan raised both eyebrows. "What makes you believe this?"
"I have special knowledge," smiled Nimue. Illan regarded her closely, obviously in the process of deciding whether to trust her.
The Illan in our universe, thought Pelleas, joined a rebel group based in the Boglands too. The Illan in our universe had been sent to spy on those rebels on behalf of another group of Britons. The two groups ended up joining forces, commanded by -
"You are correct," Illan admitted. "Now, I suspect, you're going to request that I ... 'take you to my leader'."
"We'll take you, if you don't mind," said Nimue. She waved at the boat's communication console. "May I?"
"Yes." Illan had put his weapon away now.
Nimue looked over the patched console - the ship didn't look any better from the inside than it had to Will Scarlett's sensors - and punched a code into a touchpad with the tip of her umbrella. "You can uncloak now," she said into the pickup.
Pelleas watched Illan studiously not react as, out the front viewport, the huge, overmuscled Straight and True suddenly came into view looming over them.
"It appears that acceding to your request," said Illan, "was eminently the wiser choice."
"That's the boat bay doors opening for you," Nimue pointed.
"Thank you," said Morgan.
Joan Little, Sherriff of Sherwood, waved the British servant forward. She had been contriving every excuse she could. He was Morgan's servant, and a bit mature for Little Joan's usual tastes. But since Morgan - with her long straight black hair and her small shapely body encased in tight green clothing - was always indifferent to Little Joan's advances... And this guy had a catlike grace, with intimations of great strength, if you knew what to look for, held in check by his charmingly subservient manner. He was even dressed in anachronistically classic British formal clothing, with of course the globe badge at the right shoulder.
He poured the wine while Morgan said offhandedly, "The fleet is on its way here by now."
"Really?" Little Joan smiled, refusing to appear startled, although this had come out of nowhere. Despite her inquiries in all official quarters, and some not so official, she'd been unable to find out when the work at Brest should be done, nor what the modifications were in aid of. Nor Morgan's purpose in bringing the fleet to Sherwood afterwards. She had started wondering days ago if the Alliance itself didn't know Morgan's whole plan, and despite herself by now was coming to believe it. "What," she asked with casualness that she knew fooled neither of them, "then?"
"We'll see," said Morgan, smiling, like a parent brushing a child off. Anger boiled up in Little Joan. No one treated her like this. On the other hand, if the sorceress could get away with treating the upper echelons of the Alliance like this (after all, the only way Little Joan's agents could have failed to acquire the information was if no one else had it either, no one but the very summit of the Alliance beaurocracy), the sorceress was not a good enemy to make. Little Joan distracted herself by gulping her own wine and signaling for more. "What a fine servant," she said. She looked him up and down frankly, and though he kept his eyes on his pouring and his pleasant smile never changed, she was certain he knew it.
"Not a servant," Morgan insisted through a bite of dessert. "A butler. A 'gentleman's gentleman'. He's served the House of Hengist since the British Empire fell. I've borrowed him from the Regent who, of course, doesn't appreciate him properly."
"A crime," Little Joan said as appreciatively as she could. She had quite distracted herself. "I know I'd appreciate such service. In fact I wonder whether you might spare him tonight."
Morgan rolled her eyes, then shrugged disinterestedly. "I shall be retiring directly we are done with dinner. Last-minute preparations, you know. Knock yourself out."
"Always," smiled Little Joan. She looked over to the side, where the butler discreetly stationed himself when waiting to be called. "Would you like that, Briton?"
"Your service would be my pleasure, Sherriff," said the butler in deep tones, with a trace of an exotic accent. His smile didn't change and Little Joan couldn't read his eyes. She had no idea what he really felt. That always intrigued her.
She realized she didn't know his name. "What's your name?"
"An added bonus to my having his service," said Morgan, wiping her mouth politely with a napkin, "is that his counterpart from the other universe is a past adversary of mine."
"... So you see," said Robin, "we want to foil this invasion before it starts. And it is in your interest to help us, since anything that hurts the Alliance -"
"Or in any case," said Nimue, "keeps it from getting stronger."
"- Is good for you." Robin looked down the length of the conference room table past his seated knights and the time-travelers to the Ulsterman.
Illan nodded. "Your argument is convincing. And your Straight and True shall be of great assistance." Illan leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on the table and spiring his fingers. "Know this: there are several British resistance groups, spread throughout former Kingdoms space. They have a tendency to specialize. For instance, one specializes in the gathering of intelligence."
"That might've been Red's," said Pelleas. "He said that's all he did."
"The Boglands group," continued Illan, "specializes in harrassing, and plotting to take, Sherwood Station - reflective, I fear, less of the genuine strategic value of the station than of the personal obsessions of the late Captain Robin and several of his lieutenants. My group specializes in opening and maintaining secure communications between the others."
"That's why you were sent to the Boglands," Robin said.
Illan nodded. "My pendragon chose me to assess them and decide whether to make the rest of us known to them."
"Your what?" chorused most of the people at the table.
"British resistance group leaders are traditionally know by the title pendragon," Illan explained. "It honors not the pirate kings of our universe, but the visionary from yours who persuaded Lancelot to reform the Empire. It is believed your Arthur would have done a better job than did our Lancelot, whose extremist pacifist philosophy disabled the Empire for the Alliance to subjugate it."
"Interesting," said Robin. "In our universe Arthur is regarded as having been a maverick and something of a dilletante."
"Consider the source, Robin," Nimue advised. "Arthur's present place in history was largely defined by his successors, who took no small interest in diminishing his fantastic image to keep from suffering in comparison. Such is kingship ..."
"In any case," said Illan, "my group's mission is getting all the British resistance to the Alliance cooperating in a united effort - a mission which the hostile humanoid nature has to date frustrated."
"It sounds like you're exactly the people we need."
"My pendragon is presently en route to a mission near the Roman border. The quickest way to assemble resistance aid against the Alliance invasion fleet would be to meet with her there."
"Have we got that kind of time?" Allan-A-Dale asked.
"The presence of Straight and True would be a powerful argument that such aid would not be suicidally futile," Illan said.
"Let's do it," said Robin. "You know her rendezvous coordinates?"
"Joan, take our guest to the bridge and set the course. The rest of you, stations."
"Yes sir." Little Joan escorted Illan out and the other knights followed them. Robin was left in the room with only Nimue and Pelleas.
"I wouldn't have guessed how much Arthur is still lionized by these people," said Nimue. "Perhaps there's some way we could use it to rally them all around our flag."
"It's a pity we can't get King Arthur's shadow out of the Tumulus," said Robin.
"Yes, having Arthur here would certainly help our ... What did you say?" Nimue was suddenly eyeing Robin with the intensity she had when she'd seen something everyone else had missed.
"You know the Tumulus, the time-ribbon encountered several months ago at Veritas III -" Robin said.
"When the Excalibur-D was destroyed, yes yes go on."
"I may have had a more detailed report than you," Robin said. "In fact I'd be surprised and annoyed if I didn't."
"Sir Lohengrin was told while in the Tumulus by the shadow of our time's Morgan le Fey that she - the shadow - couldn't leave the Tumulus with him because she - the real Morgan - was already back out in the real universe. That's why he brought Arthur out instead."
"Of course she couldn't!" said Nimue. "On Avalon we call it the First Law of Time. To paraphrase my old friend Isaac: No one object may occupy two places at the same time."
"What then -"
"Arthur Pendragon," Nimue belabored, "died on Veritas III."
"Arthur Pendragon," Robin realized, "isn't occupying any place in real spacetime right now."
"I," said Nimue, bounding out with Pelleas right behind her, "shall be right back."
To Chapter 4
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