Queen of Mist and Memory, The by Avalon

Queen of Mist and Memory cover

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The Queen of Mist and Memory by Avalon

Queen of Mist and Memory cover

The Queen of Mist and Memory

by Avalon

Rating: Some parts will be NC-17, but not all…
Spoilers: Set season 7, post-all things
Category: Mulder-Scully Romance, Alternate Universe, Mulder Torture, Angst Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Diana, Spender, Krycek, Samantha, The Lone Gunman: they all belong to Chris Carter. Lancelot, Guinevere, Arthur, Morgan le Fae, Agravaine, Mordred, Nimue, Gareth, Bors, and all the rest belong to legend. No infringement intended.
Archive: Please, no archive until it’s complete. Then, it’s all yours.

Summary: During a trip to England, Mulder and Scully find themselves trapped in the legendary court of Camelot. As they search for a way to return to their lives, Scully finds herself forgetting who she truly is.

Art by Elizebeth
Art by Elizebeth

Author’s Notes: This story gives me the chance of a lifetime: to play with the Arthurian legend, stories I dearly love. There are nods to many, many stories in this tale, including but not limited to “The Mists of Avalon,” “Le Morte D’Arthur,” “The Once and Future King,” and the film “Excalibur.” No infringement is intended in relation to these works, either. I just wanted to play in this world for awhile…so I brought Mulder and Scully along with me. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy the journey, too. Special thanks to sallie, for her dynamite beta, and to jeri, for creating a website just for this story. I will do my best to live up to all their hard work!

Website: https://web.archive.org/web/20030805173804/http://avalon.phile-phans.net/

Archivist’s Note: Included illustrations are by Elizebeth (Foxhunt2blue). Sadly, these are the only illustrations that survived their journey through the wayback machine. Elizebeth contributed a few more, and Jeri & Julie Cantrell were also credited as making fan art for this story. I’m fairly certain the cover was made by Jeri, who created the website images. — x-libris


She sat on her throne, watching them.

To her servants, she appeared to be sleeping, although her head stayed straight and proud on her long, elegant neck. Her dark hair flowed over her shoulders like thick molasses, making it impossible to tell from a distance where it ended and her heavy black robes began. On the armrests, her hands draped like limp, wet rags of alabaster, and they twitched every so often, as if she were caught in a dream. Her closed eyes moved restlessly beneath their lids, her vision turned inward, following them with her inner eyes.

Viviane had always called it the Sight. But Viviane, although a good teacher, had never exercised the kind of power she now had.

Closer they came to the trap she had laid. She felt the buzz of excitement that careened off the man like a wild stallion broken free of its pen, and the cool assessment of the red-haired woman who followed close behind him. She had watched them both for quite awhile before deciding how to bring them to her. The magick she had conjured to open the portal between their worlds had drained her mercilessly, but she could still watch, and she could still summon just enough strength to cast her fetch into their world, the shimmering image they chased through the woods.

She had watched them long enough to know her apparition would be enough to catch and hold the man’s attention, and that he would be able to convince the woman to continue along with him. They would find her magick, spinning and alive in the glen she had chosen, and the man’s relentless curiosity would propel them into it.

And then oh, then, everything would happen just as she planned.

Her son would ascend to his rightful kingship. All her enemies would be crushed, and she would finally receive the worldly power she deserved. Melded with the magick that she wielded so easily, she would rule all of Britain with a might no one could possibly challenge.

And this man and woman would either yield to her, too, or die.

Morgan le Fae smiled.


If there was one thing in the world Fox Mulder hated, it was being wrong.

It wasn’t because he was overly arrogant. It also wasn’t because he thought he was so much smarter than everyone else, although he had heard himself referred to by various people as “brilliant” on myriad occasions. And this did make him proud, as it would any man. But it was not in his nature to be overbearing about it, or to belittle others when they discovered that he was constantly right. His eidetic memory, however now that could easily be cited as part of the reason for his brilliance, and probably for his penchant for nearly always being correct. It was hard to be wrong about anything when you just couldn’t forget a darn thing.

But the reason he hated being wrong was not because he couldn’t admit mistakes. It was because he was so rarely in that position that he really didn’t know how to behave once he was there.

So when his partner, Dana Scully, turned to him in the thick of the Welsh woods and said, “Mulder, you are so wrong it’s not even funny,” he couldn’t think of a single retort. He suspected that, for once, she was indeed right and he was, well, wrong.

Scully spun around in the clearing where they stood, her russet hair looking like a crown of fire in the rapidly setting sun. She wore a pair of faded blue jeans, so nicely tight that it made Mulder’s groin ache every time his gaze fell on them. The jacket that she had needed to stave off the chilly morning air when they set out on their hike now hung around those shapely hips, tied around her waist by the arms. The skin of her chest, accented by a snug, scoop-necked t-shirt, glittered with sweat, and she wiped her forearm across her brow. It was hotter than he had expected in Wales this spring, but he knew that wouldn’t last long. If they got caught out here in the woods past sunset, things would start cooling off quickly.

She held her arms up in the universal gesture of inquiry and stared at him. “Well, there’s no one here, Mulder. I told you, you’re wrong.” She smiled a bit, but he could tell she was beginning to lose her patience.

He circled the meadow with his eyes, assessing the quiet thicket the way he would a crime scene, trying to pick up any movement or details she may have missed. He shook his head, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that had stolen over him, the excitement of the chase.

In other words, he still didn’t want to admit that he was wrong.

“I know I saw someone, Scully. I know she came this way.”

She sighed. “Mulder, what would someone be doing out here in the wilds of England all by herself? Especially this far from the trail, and this close to nightfall?” She eyed the sun in the west, which sank further into the tree line. “Speaking of nightfall, I think we need to head back. I don’t think it’s wise to get caught out here after dark.”

He crossed to the far side of the clearing, straining to see beyond a particularly dense copse of trees. “Since when are you afraid of the dark, Scully?”

“Since you lost our compass and didn’t have the sense to bring a flashlight.” She followed him, albeit reluctantly. “Come on, Mulder. I’m tired and hungry.” He felt a tug on the belt loop of his jeans that pulled him up short, and her tiny hand pushed its way into his back pocket. “Besides, don’t you want to break in that mattress back at the bed and breakfast?”

He smiled down at her, thoroughly enjoying this playful version of Scully that had emerged ever since they stepped off the plane at Heathrow Airport. Something niggled at the back of his mind, though, something that had caught him in its web and wouldn’t release him. That woman, dressed all in black, like an undulating shadow just beyond his vision—he was positive he had seen her. And something told him to follow her; she would be the start of some great adventure, something that he and Scully just couldn’t miss.

“All right, you win,” he answered. “Just five more minutes, and we’ll head back. I promise.”

She nodded, and he tugged her forward by her hand, pushing aside some stray branches ahead of them. “Besides,” he said to her over his shoulder, “maybe she’ll lead us straight to King Arthur’s final resting place. Or maybe even the Holy Grail.”

Her retort was cut off by a roar of wind so loud it startled him into a freeze. His hair whipped back from his face, and he squinted his eyes reflexively. His mouth dropped open in disbelief.

Just beyond the last tree in front of them, a tornado spun in the center of a meadow.

It was a small tornado, and Mulder’s precise mind told him it was most certainly some sort of energy vortex. He had encountered stories about such things in his paranormal readings, but he had never seen a claim substantiated like this. His memory reeled back over the years to another forest clearing in Oregon, one where he had witnessed similar phenomena, but one that was attached to an alien abduction. He instinctively looked up, but nothing appeared above him except a wide expanse of purpling twilight sky.

Scully’s fingers tightened in his, and he glanced over at her. Her azure eyes were wide and staring. She quirked an eyebrow at him, one that screamed, “What the hell?”

He leaned down to speak in her ear, doubtful that she would hear him over the rushing thunder of the wind. “I think it’s an energy vortex.” He started forward toward it, only to be snapped back by Scully’s hand in his, pulling vehemently.

“Don’t you dare, Mulder,” she yelled over the din. Her eyes flashed a warning at him.

He smiled again, trying to disarm her. The excitement in his stomach drove him forward, and it was completely against his nature to try to squelch it. “Scully, don’t worry. I just want to feel it.”

“Mulder, it’s dangerous. You have no idea what that, that thing, could do to you.”

He led her gently forward with him, his hand insistent on hers. “I’m just going to stick my hand in, Scully, to see what it’s like. You can hold onto me to make sure I don’t go anywhere.”

“Mulder, you’re just like a big kid! You’ve always got to stick your fingers in something!” She sounded exasperated, but her feet were moving with his, and he knew he had won her over.

He paused just outside of the whirling dervish of debris. Every nerve in his body sang, and he could feel something foreign, something incredibly powerful, pulsing just beyond his reach. “This is amazing, Scully,” he breathed, and his hand glided slowly forward, his fingertips just brushing the edge of the vortex. “It’s like a whole new world…”

The rest of his words drowned as if in water as his hand plunged into the swirling frenzy. He felt a pulling sensation, one so strong it made the muscles in his arm jump, and his other hand tightened automatically around Scully’s fingers. Without a sound, he slipped into the vortex, and Scully’s small body followed, yanked forward by the motion of his larger one. They were instantly gone, and a moment later, with a huge crack like the shot of a musket, the vortex disappeared.

Chapter One

Banging. And yelling. Lots and lots of yelling.

Scully cracked one eye open, peering through the slit into the semi-darkness that surrounded her. The rumbling noise of male voices seeped into her fuzzy head, a muffled ruckus that reminded her of the times she spent the night with her frat-boy college sweetheart in his pledge house on campus. She moved slightly, lifting her head a bit to peer around the dark room, and behind her, Mulder grumbled in his sleep and tightened his hold around her naked waist. She smiled sleepily and let her head drop back onto the pillow, nuzzling back into his embrace. His breath fell warm and even on her bare back, and she sighed, starting to doze off again, the musky scent of Mulder’s skin and their recent lovemaking heavy in her senses.

A loud bang outside their room startled her eyes open again, and she frowned. What the hell was that? She focused her mind, trying to remember where they were. England. Bed and Breakfast. That must be it. She could recall being with Mulder out in the wilds of the Welsh countryside, hiking through hedgerows and complaining to him about being lost. She remembered something about a compass, and about the end of the day slowly descending upon them. And she could still see the image of the whirling tornado of leaves in the middle of the clearing, the strange anomaly that had fascinated Mulder to the extent that she had had to latch onto him to keep him from stepping into it.

But she didn’t remember coming back to the bed and breakfast. She didn’t recall eating dinner, or the two of them heading upstairs to the quaint room they had checked into this morning. She couldn’t even seem to remember the sex, even though the sweet stickiness on the insides of her thighs told her another story altogether.

Had they been drinking? That didn’t make any sense to her. They both enjoyed a beer or a glass of wine with dinner on occasion, but neither of them was the type to get so rip- roaring drunk that it erased their memories. The most logical conclusion was that they were both so exhausted from their trek in the forest that they fell into bed as soon as they found their way out of the woods.

But how had they gotten out? Why couldn’t she remember that? And if they had been so tired, then why could she feel the slightest twinge of soreness from their extracurricular activities? And, come to think of it, why did this room, with its thick shadows and black corners, look so different from the bed and breakfast where they had left their luggage?

She started to sit up, but Mulder’s arm over her was heavy, so she shifted and turned to face him, intending to push him onto his back. Her hands on his chest stopped her, because for a moment, it didn’t look like his chest.

She brought her face closer to his torso, squinting in the darkness, her eyes running along the familiar slope of his muscles and the soft down that covered it. It was the same, but it was different, too, and she suddenly realized why. Her fingers went to his shoulder, the one where she had put a bullet so many years ago, searching for the scar that normally puckered there.

It was gone. The skin was smooth and unmarked.

She felt the furrow run over her brow, and she groped under the heavy bedspread for his left hand. He mumbled again as she seized it, bringing it up close to her eyes, her own fingers fumbling along the joint of his smallest digit. It curved gracefully around her hand, relaxed in sleep, with no crookedness to be seen. The brutal break the terrorists had inflicted upon him, the one that she had set too late, was gone.

It was as if it had never happened.

Something was very, very wrong.

Scully scrambled around, moving so that her head was right next to Mulder’s. In the ebony stillness of the room, it was difficult to see, but she hunched herself over him, looking directly at his face. The hollows of his eyes and the whole right side were obscured in the shadows, but she recognized the strong line of his jaw, the pout of his full bottom lip, and the angle of his cheeks and nose. She let out a ragged breath of relief, reaching to stroke up his sideburn to where it arched into his hair.

And her hand just kept going, through hair longer than she had ever known Mulder to have.

Her heart pounded hard in her chest as her fingers combed through the dark waves that nearly reached his shoulders. Her mind staggered a bit, trying to make sense of what she was feeling. This was Mulder, without a doubt, after seven years with the man, and several intimate months, she knew she had not mistaken who was sharing this bed with her. But she couldn’t dispute that he looked different, somehow seeming to have changed as they slept, and she couldn’t reconcile that in her logical mind.

What the hell was going on?

The shouting outside their room grew louder, and Mulder stirred under her hand, his eyes starting to flutter as he came awake. “Mulder,” she urged him in a whisper. “Wake up.”

His eyes flashed in the dimness of the room as he opened them, and the familiar rumble of his baritone filled her with unspeakable comfort. “Sc-Scully,” he slurred, his tongue still thick with sleep. “Wassa matter? What’s all the racket about?”

She shook him a little to rouse him faster. “I don’t know, Mulder, but something strange is happening.”

He became instantly alert then, probably from the note of concern that colored her voice. He sat up in bed, searching around with his hands for the light switch on the nightstand. He didn’t find it.

There was no nightstand next to the bed.

Scully could feel as much as see him turn to look at her. “There’s no lamp,” he told her, annoyance bleeding into his speech. “Where the hell did the lamp go?” He stopped suddenly, and he leaned into her. She felt his hand stroke her hair, the sensation sending a pleasant shiver through her. But he gave a small yelp of surprise, and she could feel his fingers tracking along her collarbone, down over her shoulder, and nearly to her elbow before they stopped. “Your hair, Scully. Your hair, it’s long!”

Her hand sprang up to her neck, and she was stunned to follow the same path of her hair that he had just traced. Her hair had never been longer than her shoulders, and now, it seemed to have grown a good foot or more over night.

“Mulder,” she whispered, trying to keep her voice steady, “this is so strange. Yours is longer, too.” She twined her fingers into his and gave it a gentle tug so he could feel it. The insane part of her wished that she could see the reaction on his face.

Another yell outside made her cringe, and suddenly, from another part of the room, a beam of light sliced across the foot of the bed. Scully whipped her head around to look past Mulder, to where a door had just been thrown open. She pulled the bedcovers up over her breasts instinctively, just as a woman dressed in a long white shift ran into their room, holding an old-fashioned lantern lit with a candle.

The woman set the lamp atop a huge trunk at the end of the bed. Her hair flew in wild, blonde streamers behind her as she charged over to Scully’s side. “My lady, you must get up!” Her speech seemed strange to Scully’s ears, thick and melodic with a heavy British accent, but there was something underneath it all that she recognized.

“What the hell is going on?” Mulder asked, his pitch rising. The strange woman stopped momentarily and regarded him, her face contorted in fear.

“My lord, please get up. Get up and get out!” She turned to a large wardrobe on Scully’s side of the bed that she hadn’t noticed in the dark and threw open the doors, rummaging through a collection of clothes inside.

It struck Scully then, why the woman seemed so familiar to her, and she pushed up on her knees, reaching out to catch the woman’s wrist. She looked at Scully as if she were possessed, and the information hit home in Scully’s brain like a lock clicking into place.

Kimberly. Kimberly Cook, Assistant Director Skinner’s secretary. Her hair was much longer than Scully ever remembered it, but then again, so was Scully’s. She shook that thought away and tightened her grip on the other woman.

“Kimberly? It’s me, Dana Scully. What are you doing here?”

The woman looked utterly dismayed. “My lady, we haven’t much time. Please! You must get dressed before they come in here!” The woman yanked her wrist out of Scully’s hand and managed to pull a heavy robe from the wardrobe. She threw it onto the bed and ran back toward the open door. “My lord, you must hurry! I will fetch your armor.” She disappeared through the doorway.

Scully stared after her mutely, her jaw hanging open in disbelief. Mulder stirred after a moment, and his eyes were wide when he looked at her. “My <armor>? Why do I feel like we are trapped at a bad Renaissance Festival?” She gaped at him, her heart pounding so violently that she was sure he could hear it. He blinked and tried to smile. “What, Scully? What are you staring at?”

“Your eyes, Mulder.” She swallowed, trying to get the words out that were stuck in her throat. “Your eyes are blue.”

He blinked again, then swung his legs out of bed and stood up. Scully watched the movement of his muscles, his naked form cast golden in the glow of the candle by the bed. He crossed to the wardrobe door still standing open, and his reflection flashed in the mirror that hung there. Scully followed him with her eyes as he touched his hands to his hair again, smoothing it down so that it hung loose against his neck. He craned his head forward, searching his own face, and then he shook it in disbelief.

“It’s me,” he said, not much louder than a whisper. “But I, I’m different, too.” He turned to her, and she found it almost disconcerting to be the focus of the intense blue gaze he now trained on her. But she could still see deep into his eyes and she knew she was seeing Mulder’s soul, the only soul that had ever touched hers with its profound caress. He held out his hand to her. “Come here, Scully. You gotta see this.”

She was almost afraid to look, but she put her hand slowly in his, and he pulled her gently to her feet to stand at his side. In the cloudy looking glass, she saw the body of a woman, still tiny next to the lanky form that was Mulder, but the woman who looked back at her was softer somehow, less lines and angles than curves and slopes. Her hair still shone with its copper fire, but its tremendous length, loose and cascading over her breasts, made her look younger, more vulnerable. “Look at my eyes, Mulder,” she breathed, and she tilted her face up to his.

He stepped closer to her, his hands on her cheeks, the skin of his palms feeling rougher than it normally did. The look of wonderment that he wore was astounding to her. “They’re green, Scully. Yours are green, and mine are blue.”

She swallowed again, finding it harder and harder to stay calm. “What is happening to us?”

The commotion outside their door seemed to be closing in on them, and Mulder squeezed Scully’s hand. “I don’t know, but it sounds like we’re going to find out.” He moved to his original side of the bed and bent over, pulling a pair of tight leggings from the floor. “Do you suppose these are mine?”

Scully shrugged helplessly and reached for the robe that Kimberly had thrown on the bed. Weighty and cumbersome in her hand, the robe was ornately embroidered in silver thread on a midnight blue background. She pulled it on, but she couldn’t figure out how to do the buttons so that it stayed shut. She was still contemplating them when Kimberly scurried back into the room. She was followed by a young man with long blond hair, who struggled in with several pieces of flashing, polished armor.

Kimberly came immediately to Scully’s side and fastened the robe, working with deft, trained fingers. “Richard,” she barked, and the man jumped, dumping the armor on the floor with a tremendous clatter. “See to my lord Lancelot.”

At the sound of the legendary name, Scully started and threw a look at Mulder. He had stopped dressing, his head and one arm stuffed into a loose white shirt. His eyes locked with hers, and he mouthed the name to her, the question clear on his face.

Kimberly stepped past Scully to the bed, and in one swift, sure motion, stripped all the bedclothes from the mattress. She stuffed them into the bottom of the wardrobe and slammed the doors shut. Scully watched as she tore open the nearby trunk and began to remake the bed with clean linens.

She stood there, feeling uncharacteristically useless, not knowing what to do. The shouting outside continued unabated, and she could swear she now heard something that sounded like metal hitting metal. It was a sharp, cold sound, one that sent a bolt of dread into her every time it rang out. It jarred her mind a little, though, and she heard her voice before she realized she was speaking, and at least she sounded like she was in control.

“What is going on outside?”

“Sir Mordred’s men have come, my lady, bent on catching you and Sir Lancelot together.” This answer came from the man helping Mulder dress, and the nasally twang of his speech registered in her head. It must have snagged Mulder’s attention as well, because he stopped for a moment, staring rapt at the blond man before him.

Langly. Richard Langly. Scully shook her head in disbelief.

His hair was the same, tied back from his long face with a piece of leather string. He appeared comfortable in the leather jerkin and fitted trousers he wore, and he moved close to Mulder, lifting the bulky armor up and over his head to fit it around Mulder’s chest. And he squinted as he did it, obviously missing the glasses that he wore in—

In what? Scully thought to herself. In our time? In real life?

Jesus. What if <this> was real life now?

Mulder recovered a little faster, and he gave Langly a stern look. “What do you mean?”

Richard blushed and stepped back a little with a wave of his hand, indicating that Mulder was ready. Scully could hardly believe her eyes. He was decked out now, head to toe, in a silver suit of armor, so shiny that she could practically see her reflection in it. Richard turned and retrieved the finishing touch, a sword nearly as long as Mulder’s arm.

This has to be a dream, Scully told herself. Mulder looked—he looked—

He looked like a knight.

Mulder regarded the sword for a moment, but he didn’t move to take it from Richard. “You need to tell me what’s going on.”

Kimberly strode over to the two men, her brow furrowed in determination. “My lord, you must go. Now. If Sir Mordred finds you here, he will kill you.” She glanced over her shoulder at Scully. “And he will kill my lady Guinevere.”

“What?” Mulder roared. The expression on his face was one of astonishment. Scully couldn’t tell if he was more surprised to hear about the men trying to get into their room, or by the name that Kimberly had just called her.

But Kimberly was having none of it. She stood toe to toe with Mulder, and her face was bright red. “My lord, go now! Richard will take you. Your horse is ready outside. There will be no saving either of you if Mordred finds you here.”

Mulder set his jaw and glared right back at the woman before him. “I’m not going anywhere. I won’t leave her behind.”

The fighting in the hallway grew still louder, and Kimberly clamped her hands over her ears. “Are you mad, my lord?” she practically screamed. “If they find you here, the best you could hope for is that Mordred will kill you both quickly! Would you rather he held you both prisoner until the King returns and sentences you both to death? Would you have my lady Guinevere burned at the stake? What kind of nobleman are you?”

The words echoed in Scully’s reeling mind. King? Guinevere? Lancelot? Dear God, was this woman saying what she thought she was saying?

Was this really Camelot? And had they somehow been transported here, locked into the bodies of two of the most famous players in the legend?

It couldn’t be possible, her scientific brain screeched at her. There was no way this was really happening. But Scully knew that she didn’t have time to reconcile everything together at this moment. Right now, there were more pressing issues that they needed to deal with, and Mulder wasn’t budging.

She crossed to him quickly, noting how Richard and Kimberly both stood back as she approached him. “Mulder,” she said, touching him on the arm. The armor felt cool and hard under her fingers, and it seemed to steady her a bit. “I think you should do what she says. I think you should go.”

He shook his head vehemently, the long strands of his hair falling over his eyes in shaggy bangs. “No, Scully. I’m not leaving you here with some madman who is ready to kill you.”

“He won’t kill me, Mulder. Not if he doesn’t find you here.” He pressed his lips together in a firm line, but she plunged on, lowering her voice. “Mulder, these people think we are Lancelot and Guinevere. I don’t know why or how, but they do. And in the legend, Lancelot and Guinevere were lovers, but Guinevere was married to King Arthur. It would have been considered high treason for her to sleep with another man. Apparently, these men outside think we have done just that, and they are determined to mete out their own justice. If they don’t find you here, they can’t prove anything. And then we will be safe to figure out what the hell has happened to us and how we can reverse it.”

“Scully,” he started, but his words were cut off by a thunderous pounding, one that set the whole room shaking.

“They are breaking down the door, my lord!” Kimberly cried. “Please, go now! It is your last chance.”

Richard tugged Mulder by the arm, still holding his sword. Mulder bit his lip and swung around, grabbing the sword from the other man as he allowed himself to be led away. “Scully, be careful,” he yelled to her as they ran to the door. “I’ll be back for you, I swear.”

“I know!” she called to him. He was gone then, and Kimberly turned frightened eyes to her as the sound of splintering wood filled Scully’s ears.

“They’re coming, my lady. They’re coming.”

Chapter Two

In the anteroom of the bedchamber, Scully heard the heavy oak door finally give way with a deafening crash. The noise was followed by the triumphant call of male voices, and she glanced at Kimberly. The other woman had moved behind her in an obvious show of deference and respect for her queen’s rank and position, but the terrified expression on her face made Scully set her own in defiance. She drew herself up to her full height and turned to face the door, her lips pursed in a scowl.

In a flurry of movement and sound, the bedroom filled up with men. Most of them wore suits of armor similar to the one that Mulder had dressed in before beating his hasty retreat. All of them assembled in a neat row on one side of the room, and Scully noticed how they positioned themselves near the door to block any attempts at escape. She also noticed, with a sense of wonder, how each man gave her a courteous bow as he came in the room.

Once all of them seemed to be assembled, Scully watched as they genuflected as one unit. They stayed on one knee except for one man, who rose to his feet and stepped forward. He gave Scully a curt nod of his head, and she returned it, but not before she noted in her mind who the man looked like. His hair was the same nondescript brown, longer and hanging in loose curls, and his small face was framed with a matching beard, but she would have known his ferret-like eyes anywhere.

Spender. Jeffrey Spender.

She decided to speak before he had the chance, hoping to gain an advantage somehow. And she desperately hoped that playing outraged was the right choice.

“What is the meaning of this intrusion?”

Spender looked pained for a moment, and Scully found herself glad that he did. But his countenance changed almost instantly back to one of determination, and he cleared his throat. “I think you know why we are here, Queen Guinevere. But I shall defer to Sir Mordred for an explanation.”

“Well then, where is he? I would like to know what madness drove him to break down the door to my bedchamber and disrupt this whole household in the middle of the night.” Scully could scarcely believe that these words came tumbling out of her mouth, almost of their own accord.

“Ah, so it is to be the innocent act? Well chosen, Guinevere.” The smooth voice moved over her like a well-oiled machine, and Scully shuddered, suddenly aware of who spoke to her. She glared at the man standing in the doorway, a figure dressed all in black, the same color he favored in the other life from which she knew him. He smiled as he crossed to her, the green of his eyes familiar and repulsive at the same time. His hair, like the other men’s, had grown longer, and he wore a tiny, groomed goatee, but he was still the same Alex Krycek in her mind.

She didn’t have a chance to respond, though, because Kimberly appeared at her elbow. “Do you dare address the Queen with such irreverence, Sir Mordred?” she spat at him, the contempt shining bright in her dark eyes.

He turned on the woman so quickly it barely had time to register in Scully’s brain. Before she knew it, Kimberly was sprawled on the floor, her hand to her cheek where Mordred’s red palm print blossomed. He stood over her, his breath hissing. “Do you dare address <me>, you conniving whore? You’re in this just as thick as your Queen. Do not think that I am unaware of who changed the linens on the bed.”

Scully grabbed Mordred’s arm and pulled. “That’s enough, you bastard!” He shook her off easily and took her by the shoulders, roughly yanking her up next to his body, so close that she could smell the scent of sweat and fire smoke on his skin. He smiled down at her, a smile so evil that she felt her skin crawl with fright.

“Bastard, you call me.” His smile broadened. “And tis true. I am a bastard, to none other than the High King of Britain, your beloved husband. What do you think your husband, my father, will do when he learns of your infidelity this night, my Queen? Do you think he will burn you at the stake, or will he kill you and Lancelot himself with his precious Excalibur?”

Kimberly cried out behind them from the floor, her voice filled with anguish. “Sir Gareth! I plead for your reason, on my behalf and on behalf of your Queen. Tell your brother to hold his hand!”

A man came forward, helping Kimberly to her feet with a gracious, gentle hand. “I shall, Lady Leigh.” He pivoted around to face Mordred, and Scully sucked in her breath as a knight identical to John Byers yanked the other man’s hands from her arms. “You have done enough, Mordred. You dare not raise a hand to your Queen.”

Mordred moved back a step, the terrible grin on his face still present. “Perhaps you are right, brother. I would not want to soil my own hands by touching her.”

Gareth’s face contorted into a look of anger like none Scully had ever seen on Byers before. “Not another word, Mordred. I will not allow you to insult her.”

“She insults the kingdom with her infidelity!” Mordred exclaimed, obviously trying to incite the remainder of the knights who still knelt inside the door. “She insults my father, by bringing to her bed his best friend, right in his very castle! I know what I saw tonight, with my very own eyes: I saw Sir Lancelot of the Lake enter this room unattended, with the Queen already inside. And from below, I saw the candles blown out as if making ready for bed. An ignorant fool could deduce what happened here tonight!” A murmur arose from the other men assembled. Mordred seemed satisfied with this reaction and turned to gesture to Spender, who was shifting uneasily from one foot to the other. “My brother Agravaine saw it as well. Speak, brother, and tell honestly what you marked.”

The one called Agravaine lifted his squinty eyes to Scully’s face for a brief moment. He hesitated for a split second and then spoke. “I did see it, brother, just as you describe it.”

“There!” Mordred spun on his heel and glared at Scully. “We know what we saw. How do you answer these accusations, Queen Guinevere?” The sarcasm dripped so heavily from his tone that Scully was surprised the floor wasn’t wet with it.

Scully stared at him, her mind working frantically. She knew the legend…well, at least she thought she did. Lancelot was found in Guinevere’s room, which started the war between Mordred and his father, Arthur, the war that was to be the downfall of the legendary Camelot. But was this really the beginning of that? In the stories, Scully could remember Lancelot having to fight his way out through Mordred’s supporters, killing Agravaine in the process. And here was Agravaine, very much alive, standing before her. Did that mean that the legend wasn’t playing by the book?

Had she and Mulder somehow altered the story when they assumed the roles of Guinevere and Lancelot? Or was this really how the action unfolded, and the storytellers got it wrong?

It didn’t really matter much right now, anyway. All eyes in the room were trained on her, and no matter how the story had been told, everything now revolved around her answer to the question Mordred had just posed.

Arthur. She needed to see Arthur. Something within her, something that Mulder would have recognized as a leap of intuition, told her that Arthur could protect her. Arthur loved Guinevere—that was clear in all the legends. Even after he learned of her infidelity with Lancelot, he still loved her. And Scully knew she needed to rely on that fact to keep her alive long enough so that she and Mulder could get out of this mess.

She masked her face in ice and used her most authoritative tone. “You insult me, Sir Mordred, with these accusations, and I will not answer to anyone except the King himself.”

An oppressive silence filled the room. Mordred simmered for a moment, his face flushing scarlet with anger, and then he strode over to her, his hand on the pommel of the sword at his waist. “Well, you need’nt worry, my Queen. Arthur has been sent for, and he will be back in Camelot by the dawn of the day. I am sure he will be most interested in hearing your answer tomorrow in the Great Hall, before the Bishop and the entire court. And until then, I will detain you here in your chambers, with guards posted outside as befits a prisoner accused of treason.”

Gareth stepped forward, his compassionate eyes searching Scully’s face. “I will attend the Queen, Mordred. You have no need for any other knight.”

Mordred gave him an appraising look and nodded decisively. “Then I leave her to you, my brother. And I will come for you myself, Queen Guinevere, when my father the King summons you to the Great Hall.” He smiled again at her, and her stomach turned sickly. “Good evening, madam.”

Mordred and his men departed quickly, their boot heels echoing as they retreated down the hallway. When the last of the sound died away, Scully cast a glance at Gareth, who stood staring at the floor. He looked so much like Byers that she was hit with a sudden rush of homesickness, and she squelched the urge to run to him and throw her arms around his neck. She reigned in her emotions, but her voice still cracked a bit when she addressed him.

“Sir Gareth, I…I thank you for your pains.”

The phrase sounded so odd coming from her, but the words seemed to spill out without her having formed them. He raised his head, and from the small smile that she saw, she knew she had somehow said the right thing.

“My lady Queen, my lord Lancelot means more to me than all my brothers combined. And no matter what the outcome to all of this, I tell you that I shall remain true to the man who knighted me.” He bowed stiffly to her. “I shall leave you and the Lady Leigh to your sleep.” With that, he left the room, and Scully imagined that he stood outside the mangled door to the antechamber, watching and waiting.

Watching and waiting. It seemed that there was nothing more to be done tonight but that. Scully sank to the bed as Kimberly, the one Gareth called Leigh, approached her. The other woman slipped to the floor beside the bed, surprising her by burying her face in Scully’s lap and bursting into tears. Her hands went to Leigh’s head, and she absently stroked her hair, her thoughts turning to Mulder. She said a silent prayer for his safety and bent over Leigh, whispering soothing words to her as they rocked there, comforting each other as best they could.


They fell asleep like that, clutched together like two frightened, exhausted children, and Scully was roused from her position by the heavy thump of boots in the hallway outside the room. Leigh pulled away from her with a chagrined face, moving silently to stand at the foot of the bed. Scully got to her feet shakily, the lack of sleep and the edginess of her nerves wreaking havoc on her body. She had hoped that the next time she awoke, circumstances would be changed. She had wished for Mulder, asleep next to her again, the two of them tucked into the bed and breakfast she still remembered from yesterday. Or, better yet, she had hoped they would find themselves tangled together in her own bed back in Georgetown, the entire trip nothing more than a vivid dream. But as she stretched the soreness from her neck and noted the needles of pain that shot through her, she realized this whole scenario was not a dream. The first rays of light that peeked through the casement window across from her brought her no comfort, and her mind connected what Mordred had told her in the night.

Arthur would return at daybreak. And the first person he would want to see would be his wife.

She was peripherally aware that Leigh had dropped into a deep curtsy, and that an escort of four knights accompanied him into the room. But the sight of King Arthur, regaled in his flashing armor and a blazing red cloak, so stunned her that she nearly passed out.

King Arthur. Assistant Director Walter Skinner. They could have been twins.

This man had hair, although it was thinning, combed back from his broad, high forehead, and his graying beard made him appear handsome and wise. But like so many of the players in this strange little world they had stumbled upon, it was his eyes that Scully recognized. The same intense brown ones that had regarded her countless times through wire frame glasses at F.B.I. meetings now bored into her from across the room of a castle lost somewhere in time.

Her mind was teetering again, and she brought it into focus with a sharp exhale of breath.

“My lady Queen Guinevere.” His voice boomed with the same depth and timbre she remembered.

“My lord King Arthur.” Their greetings seemed silly to her, considering that they were supposed to be married, but she knew that these legendary people bowed first to the demands of courtly life and chivalry.

He was silent for a moment, simply staring at her, and she found herself shivering in his gaze. He finally cocked his head to the side as one of his attendants reached up to take his cloak from his shoulders.

“Leave it,” he ordered. “And leave us.”

One of the men behind him shuffled his feet. “My lord King, Sir Mordred does not wish the Queen to be left alone.”

Arthur didn’t even bother to look at him. “She will not be alone. She will be with me.” When no one moved, dark anger clouded his face, and he rounded on the men. “I said, leave us! I should hope you all remember that my orders carry more weight than those of Sir Mordred.”

All the knights bowed at once and made their way to the door. Leigh followed them, but not before throwing a backwards glance at Scully. She tried to smile weakly at her as the woman slipped out the door, but Leigh’s worried frown did not change.

Arthur crossed the room, but he went to the window by the bed. Scully watched him, feeling dwarfed by his size, and by the stately grace he seemed to radiate. The red cloak billowed behind him as he moved, and she noticed a huge dragon embroidered on the back in gold thread. The Pendragon. The symbol of Camelot. The land of dreams and ideals. Scully felt suddenly quite inadequate.

“How could you be so reckless, Gwen?”

He turned to look at her, and his voice was so soft that Scully could barely hear him. She blinked, not fully comprehending his question. “Reckless?” She repeated the word carefully, as if it were made of glass.

“I thought we had an agreement. That you and Lancelot would show some restraint. Especially at Camelot, where the whole court can take notice.”

Her brow furrowed as her mind struggled to piece together what he was saying. Could it be true? Could he really be acknowledging his awareness of the affair between his wife and his greatest knight?

And could he actually be <condoning> it, as long as it remained a secret?

He was waiting for an answer, and she had no idea how to respond. “I-I don’t know what to say.”

Arthur sighed. “He will make this into a war, Gwen. This will divide the kingdom. You know this is exactly what Mordred has been looking for to rally support against me.”

So that was it. She had been at least partly right about that story in the legend. But it still didn’t track with what she remembered. Then again, perhaps it would be enough to help them all out of this situation.

“They didn’t find him here, Arthur. They have no real proof that he was here.”

“It doesn’t matter, Gwen. I will still have to allow Mordred’s accusation, and you will have to answer it. And you will have to lie.” He moved to her, his large hands cupping her face lovingly. “I don’t want you scandalized, Gwen. Even if Lancelot defends you on the field, which is probably where this will end, your good name is still being dragged through the mud.”

She smiled a little at his nobleness. “And yours.”

He shrugged, returning her smile with a small one of his own. “There will always be smudges by a king’s name, Guinevere, no matter what. But I would have saved you from that.”

She was struck by the sweetness in his words, and by the love that enveloped her in his presence. He was a good man, a man determined to do the right thing, a man upheld by these chivalric notions that penetrated all of his actions.

Scully found herself pitying the real Guinevere for having to choose between two such wonderful men, and admiring her for being able to keep the love of them both.

Arthur pressed a kiss to her forehead and then pulled her into his embrace. Scully allowed her eyes to flutter shut as she accepted his tenderness. She had never shown much affection toward Skinner; their roles as superior and agent did not lend them much room for friendship. But over her years on the X-Files with Mulder, she had come to trust Skinner, and to realize that he held a precarious position in their universe of conspiracies and lies. It occurred to her that King Arthur did the very same thing in his own time and world.

She took a deep breath, relishing the moment of security. “So what will happen?”

Arthur spoke into her hair as he folded himself above her, seeming to protect her with his bulk. “The court will be assembled at midday. I must allow Mordred to make his formal accusation, and then you will have to respond.” He pulled back a little to look at her. “Will you lie, Guinevere? I fear that you must, or I will be forced to…” He drew a shuddering breath. “I will be forced to pass judgment on you.”

She nodded mutely. Then a thought crossed her mind, and she spoke, her voice low. “And Lancelot?”

“He will not be in court, as I am sure you already know. He is back at Joyous Gard. Once you answer the accusation, I am certain that Mordred will challenge him to a joust, to try to prove that Lancelot is false. I have every confidence that Lancelot will prevail…but I fear what will happen to the kingdom afterwards.”

Scully’s stomach rolled at the word “joust.” The thought of Mulder on horseback, trying to knock another knight to the ground, would actually be funny if it weren’t for the dire nature of the situation. She didn’t even know if Mulder knew how to ride a horse, let alone engage in a swordfight for his life. A horrifying image struck her. “What…what if he does not prevail, Arthur?”

“He will, Guinevere. I will not even entertain any other notion.” Arthur touched her cheek briefly and then moved back from her. “I must go. I will see you in the Great Hall.” He strode toward the door, then stopped and looked back at her. “Do not be afraid, Gwen. Everything will be alright.” And he was gone.

Scully stood there for a moment, breathing deeply, trying to shake the picture of a wounded Mulder from her mind. She sank to the bed again and let her face fall into her hands.

But as many times as she scrubbed at her tired eyes, the image just wouldn’t go away.


The morning crawled by, her isolation doing a merciless job of chipping away at Scully’s normally calm veneer. By the time Leigh arrived with a tray of food and two other servants to ready Guinevere’s bath, Scully was wishing for her sidearm so that she could blast her way out of this godforsaken place, find Mulder, and get the hell out of Dodge.

Leigh coaxed her into eating a few bites of apple and some bread, but Scully’s nervous stomach wouldn’t accept any more. She became even more anxious when Leigh and the other girls filled a standing tub with jugs of hot water for a bath, the idea of another woman sponging her off and washing her hair foreign and unacceptable to her. She was able to convince Leigh to leave her alone to bathe, and the warm, scented water worked its magic on her, settling her down and returning to her some semblance of control. As she soaked, she reasoned, her scientific mind delighted to have a mystery to solve.

It had to have been the vortex in the woods. Although Scully couldn’t remember her or Mulder stepping into it, perhaps it had been part of a larger energy field, a field that was somehow capable of transporting people backward in time. It made sense, at least abstractly, although she obviously had no scientific fact on which to base this theory. They had been hiking in Wales, where many people believed the original site of Camelot to be. They had been talking about the Arthurian legends, and Mulder had even joked about finding the Holy Grail. All these things added up to something…but Scully still couldn’t figure out what.

One thing was certain: she and Mulder would have to go back out to the woods to investigate, and to try to find the portal that had brought them here. She was positive that this would be one of the keys to getting them back to where they belonged.

But how? These people would never allow her and Mulder to be alone together. The notion that they would let the two of them ride off into the woods together was completely absurd. And yet she knew that they would have to find a way if they were to return to the year 2000.

First things first, though. She had to get through this appearance at court, and she had to somehow help Mulder in this fight that seemed inevitable between him and Sir Mordred. An ironic smile touched her lips as she thought of him. She was sure Mulder certainly wouldn’t mind beating the tar out of a man who so resembled Alex Krycek.

She emerged from her bath, her impossibly long hair hanging in a heavy curtain down her back, her skin glowing pink from the heat and the perfumed water. Leigh sat her down on an ornate, short stool and set about braiding her hair. As she worked, she weaved ribbons into the cinnamon-colored strands, her fingers moving at a practiced, steady pace that left Scully amazed. Scully watched their reflections in the looking glass for a while, lost in the marvel of seeing herself staring back, a woman who was so much like Scully, and yet so very, very different.

It took nearly three quarters of an hour for Leigh to finish Scully’s hair. She worked in silence the entire time, and Scully realized with a start that she hadn’t asked Leigh anything at all about herself. Perhaps it would be silly to do so, considering that Leigh thought she was Guinevere…but Scully felt compelled to speak, to break the awful silence that was filling her up again and making her hurt.

“Leigh.” The other woman stopped twisting the final strand of hair around the back of Scully’s head and looked at her expectantly in the mirror. When she turned, Scully noticed the slightest red mark still present on her cheek from Mordred’s slap. The sight made Scully cringe inwardly. “Leigh, I am sorry for…for causing you this grief.”

Leigh fastened the plait of hair to Scully’s head with a clip, her eyes dropping back down. “It is nothing, Gwen.”

Gwen. It was the same endearment that Arthur had used, and Scully realized then that these women, Guinevere and her lady-in-waiting, Leigh, were more than just Queen and servant. They were friends, probably the closest friends anyone could ever hope to see. Leigh slept nearby, brought her everything she could possibly need&and kept her secrets. They were probably closer than siblings, and Scully felt a bolt of nostalgia and longing for Melissa, her own dead sister, shoot through her.

“I—I know you are afraid, Leigh. I am afraid, too. But I am certain everything will turn out right in the end.”

Leigh pushed herself away from Scully’s side, wrapping the extra ribbons up and shoving them into a nearby basket. She turned her face away. “I am afraid, Guinevere. I am afraid for myself, and for you. But mostly, I am afraid for Camelot, and for all that Arthur has tried to build.” She looked back at her then, and Scully saw her dark eyes snapping with emotion. “I have loved you my whole life, Gwen, as your cousin and as your best friend. But you have always been selfish, and now that selfishness threatens to destroy the entire kingdom!”

Scully’s throat closed. “Leigh—” she managed, but the other woman waved a hand at her.

“Nay. No excuses. Nothing can excuse what you have done.” Leigh set her jaw and stood over her, and Scully felt like a child being disciplined in school. “You are married to the High King himself, who can give you anything a woman could possibly want. And yet that is not enough for you. You must have his love, as well as the love of his best knight. And yet you show no remorse at all for what happened here last night with Lancelot!”

Scully blinked back the tears that sprung to her eyes when Leigh mentioned Mulder. It was illogical, she knew, but denying her love felt like a betrayal. “You do not understand,” she whispered.

“Nay, I do not!” Leigh ran her hand over her brow in frustration and took a deep breath, her gaze cutting into Scully’s soul. “If you love Lancelot, then so be it. Let him take you away. Let him take you back to his homeland across the sea. Arthur can sway the Bishop to allow him to let you go. And then perhaps Arthur can find someone else to love him, someone who can give him a son to rival that bastard Mordred.”

The bitterness in Leigh’s voice stung like a slap. A tear that Scully couldn’t quite understand slipped from her eye and coursed down her cheek. Why did this upset her so? She wasn’t Guinevere. Was it because they were so much alike, she and Guinevere, both barren, neither able to give children to the men in their lives?

Or was it because of the niggling voice in the back of Scully’s mind, the one that kept whispering that maybe she really <was> Guinevere after all?

Leigh let out a strangled cry and fell to her knees next to the stool. She wrapped her arms around Scully, hugging her tightly to her. “Gwen, forgive my venomous words. I know I have hurt you. I do not wish to quarrel with you.” She left her hands on Scully’s shoulders and looked deeply in her eyes. “I will do whatever I can to help you, cousin. You know that. I will even lie for you today, because it will save you, and it will save this kingdom. But, I pray you, consider what I have said. When this is done, let Lancelot take you away. Better to be scandalized and living in peace than to have Camelot in ruins.”

Scully nodded silently as Leigh stood and moved away, her head spinning again. She longed for Mulder. This whole situation was so outlandish, and she yearned for his intuition, his strength, and his uncanny ability to snap the ill-fitting pieces of a puzzle firmly into place where they belonged.

Her face in the mirror stared back at her, and in the strange green eyes, she saw something she hated.

She saw fear.


The fanfare of a trumpet announced the Queen’s arrival in the Great Hall. In the corridor outside, Scully held her breath and watched as Mordred pushed open the huge oak and iron doors before them. He turned his head and smirked at her, gesturing for her to walk ahead of him. “After you, my Queen,” he murmured, and Scully wished she could slap that look off his face. Instead, she scowled at him and moved forward, the lavish gown Leigh had dressed her in trailing behind her.

The room was the size of an auditorium, and the center aisle carpeted with red fabric. It reminded Scully of several judicial courtrooms where she and Mulder had appeared to give testimonies, only much larger and more appointed than any she had ever seen. At the end of the aisle, on a raised dais, she spotted two thrones. She knew that one would have regularly seated the Queen…but today, Guinevere would be standing before the platform, before her husband, the King, and before the entire assembled court, defending herself against charges of treason.

She started down the aisle, keeping her eyes fastened on the platform ahead of her. As she passed, the knights and ladies positioned on either side bowed and curtsied, still mindful of her rank. The silence in the hall as she walked settled around her like an unwelcome cat tangling about her feet. But she held her head high, drifting by them with what she hoped was the proper amount of grace and stately decorum. It reminded her so much of the honorary Navy events she had attended with her parents as a child. She may have not been a Queen, but Scully was determined to make Ahab proud of her, anyway.

She was halfway down the path when Arthur strode through a door next to the dais and mounted it. He no longer wore his armor, but his regal vestments, blazing in crimson and gold, made him look even more impressive than he had earlier in the day. Around his head, he wore a simple shining band, his crown of kingship, and the sword at his belt flashed in the light as he turned to face her.

Excalibur. Scully’s eyes fixed on it, the pommel glinting like a beacon. What was it Mordred had said?

< …or will he kill you and Lancelot himself with his precious Excalibur? >

She swallowed and kept going, mindful of Mordred and his brother, Agravaine, behind her, their steely gaze never leaving her back. Behind Arthur on the dais, the space filled up with attendant knights, one bearing the Pendragon standard on a pole, the glittering dragon coming to rest right behind the King’s chair.

Scully stopped at the foot of the platform, directly in front of Arthur, and raised her eyes to the King. His own were on her face, and she felt a wave of calm sweep over her, as gentle and as reassuring as Mulder’s loving hands.

<It will be alright. > His eyes spoke volumes that no one else could hear, and she nodded at him to let him know she understood.

Mordred stood at her right elbow, with Agravaine at her left. They both bowed stiffly to the King, who finally moved his gaze from his wife to his son. His voice was rich and smooth when he spoke.

“Sir Mordred, you have asked for my audience this day, in front of the entire royal court of Camelot. What concern do you bring before your King?”

Mordred took a step forward. “One of vital importance, my lord King, but one that pains me to the depth of my being to announce.”

Arthur’s face remained impassive. “Speak, Sir Mordred, and do not try the patience of the Pendragon.”

“So be it.” Mordred faced the crowd, pitching his voice so that the entire assembly could hear. “King Arthur, I bring before you your very own wife, Queen Guinevere, who stands this day accused of high treason.”

A horrified murmur rushed through the crowd, which Arthur pointedly ignored. “Who makes this accusation, Sir Mordred?”

“I do, my lord King. I, and my brother, Agravaine.”

Arthur didn’t even glance at the other knight. His countenance was trained exclusively on Mordred, and Scully couldn’t help but wonder how the man didn’t actually wither under the intensity of his father’s stare. “On what grounds do you base this accusation?”

Mordred smiled, obviously enjoying himself. “I accuse the Queen of adultery, my King. In your own household, just last night, while you were away.”

Another surge of noise ran through the crowd. Scully kept her eyes pinned on Arthur, trying to gauge his reaction. It was remarkable how controlled he seemed to be.

“And whom do you accuse with the Queen, Sir Mordred?”

Mordred paused dramatically, allowing a brief moment of quiet before he delivered the name the whole of Camelot was waiting to hear. “Sir Lancelot of the Lake, my King.”

The Great Hall erupted then, voices and shouts swirling around Scully and sucking her into a dizzying vortex. She drew a deep breath, mindful of her state, trying her best to stay calm and still.

Arthur’s voice roared above the chaos. “Silence!” The crowd quieted immediately, but Scully could still hear whispers around her. Arthur’s jaw now jumped slightly as he looked back to his son. “What proof have you of this, Sir Mordred?”

“I have my own eyewitness account, as well as that of my brother, Sir Agravaine.”

The King nodded slowly. “I see. You witnessed this act yourselves?”

A gasping titter ran through the court, and Scully watched as Mordred’s face began to flush. “Nay, sir, but—”

“And what say you, Sir Agravaine?” Arthur shot a look at the knight on Scully’s left, who suddenly seemed paralyzed by the King’s question. He finally found his tongue and answered, his tone high and reedy.

“I…I witnessed the same thing as my brother, my lord King. Sir Lancelot going to the Queen’s private chambers unattended, and staying into the night.”

“I have been told, Sir Knights, that you found it necessary to break down the door to the Queen’s bedchamber. Tell me, did you overtake Sir Lancelot in that room?”

Agravaine glanced at Mordred, who gritted his teeth together. “Nay, sir, we did not.”

Arthur tilted his head to one side, his eyes seeming to glitter. “Then you have no real proof of these actions.”

The green of Mordred’s eyes flashed with anger. “My lord King, we have told you—”

Arthur cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Enough.” He turned to Scully, who still stood before him, her hands clasped demurely at her waist in an effort to stay motionless. Arthur’s face softened visibly as he spoke to her, and out of the corner of her eye, Scully saw Mordred swear under his breath. “My lady Queen Guinevere. Sir Mordred has made a formal accusation of treason by means of adultery against you. How do you answer it?”

She took a deep breath, and her throaty voice rang clearly throughout the hall. “I protest my innocence, my lord King.” The crowd grumbled again, impressed by her answer.

Something snapped in his gaze, something like respect, and Arthur pressed on. “Do you deny that Sir Lancelot came to your chambers last night?”

“I do deny it, my lord Arthur. It is not true.”

“And have you anyone who can attest to this?”

“My lady-in-waiting can. She was with me all evening.”

Arthur nodded his head again, seemingly satisfied. He looked back to Mordred. “The Queen has denied this accusation, Sir Mordred. What say you to that?”

“I say that she is lying, my King, just as she did last night when she was caught.”

Arthur’s face colored with anger. “I will tell you once to watch your tongue, Sir Mordred. You have made your accusation. I will not tolerate your insolence.” He paused a moment and then continued on. “Since this accusation has been denied, you have the right to challenge it. But be mindful, Sir Mordred,” Arthur added, his tone warning, “that if you do challenge it, you challenge the Queen’s champion in her behalf. And that is none other than Sir Lancelot himself.”

A sneer snaked across Mordred’s face. He stood straight and tall as he answered. “I do challenge it, my lord King, as I do challenge Sir Lancelot. I welcome the opportunity to prove the disloyalty of this false knight.”

The assembly exploded into cacophony again, while father and son simply stared at each other defiantly. Finally, Arthur raised his hand into the air, and the noise dropped to a dull roar. “So be it,” the King boomed above the din. “I do declare, then, that on the morrow, when the first sun hits the field, the two shall meet: Sir Mordred, the accuser, and Sir Lancelot, who stands accused, where they shall prove their mettle under the eyes of God. For no knight who is false can win in combat against one who is true.”

Arthur glanced then at the attendant knight on his left. “Sir Kay, send a summons to Sir Lancelot at his castle Joyous Gard.” His eyes fell on Scully then, and he took a shuddering breath, the first time she had seen him look unsure through the proceedings. “And have Sir Gareth escort my lady Queen back to her chambers, where she shall remain until the champions take the field.” He looked at her a moment longer, and then he pivoted on his heel and left the platform, moving quickly and decisively out the door.

Scully watched him go, her breath petering out of her in one long gasp. She felt Gareth move up beside her, and as she allowed herself to be led away, her mind reached out for Mulder, sending him all the love and strength that her exhausted brain could muster.

He would win. He had to, if they both wanted to stay alive.

Chapter Three

In Mulder’s mind, this was turning out to be a really bad day.

It hadn’t begun that way, he remembered. He and Scully had enjoyed their hike through the Welsh countryside, using the time to get to know one another on an entirely different level than the professional one they had shared for seven years. They had traded childhood stories of vacations and camping trips, and Mulder had delighted in hearing the Scully clan tales, which usually ended in all four of the Scully children facing the wrath of Ahab, with Maggie there to soften his fatherly bellowing. His partner reminisced with a glint of mischief in her sky-blue eyes, and Mulder had found himself daring to believe that someday, the two of them might have these kinds of tales to tell to their own family members. Of course, they had only been involved for a couple of months, but something about the final drawing of the two of them together had cut deep into his soul, releasing in him a longing and a dream of commitment he hadn’t dared to have for a long, long time. And Scully seemed especially affectionate, the spur-of-the-moment trip to England apparently just the balm she needed to open herself up completely to him. He was seeing a side of her that he had merely glimpsed in the past, and he found himself falling head over heels in love with her, all over again.

But it certainly was his fault that they became lost. It had been his idea to hike off-trail to begin with, his idea to keep going as the afternoon sun started to sink behind the rolling Welsh hills, his idea to pursue the fleeting image of a woman he was sure he had seen. And when they had stumbled into the clearing where the strange whirlwind of energy spun, it had been his idea to stick his hand into it, just to see what would happen.

Somehow, something huge had occurred. He couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it, but he knew that spinning tornado had transported them back in time, just as the twister had supplanted Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” But in that story, it had all been a dream. And from the feel of the horse underneath him, the motion chafing the insides of his thighs against the uncomfortable suit of armor he wore as he rode pell-mell into the night, he realized that whatever had happened to Scully and him was anything but a dream.

He still had a hard time believing it, despite the fact that he had awakened in a strange bed in a huge, drafty room, next to a woman who resembled Scully, but was somehow foreign, too. Thank God she at least seemed to recognize him, and she understood, too, that whatever had occurred had happened to the both of them. She had also been able to deduce that the people around them, the ones they had already encountered, seemed to think they were Guinevere and Lancelot, the famous lovers from the legendary tales of Camelot. They were not stories with which he was very familiar, but Scully seemed to know the tales pretty well. He hoped like hell that she would perhaps find some clue in them that might help them get out of this place.

Mulder listened to the heavy pounding of the horses’ hooves as they rode, sneaking a sidelong glance at the men who accompanied him. The two sat astride one horse, the one in the front wearing armor much like his own. The second hung onto the knight with his arms wrapped about the other’s waist, his blond ponytail waving behind them in the cool night breeze. He couldn’t quite fathom what he was seeing.

Richard Langly clutching Melvin Frohike, who was outfitted like an extra from the movie version of “Camelot.”

And Mulder was sure it was Frohike. When he had followed Langly down the servants’ staircase from the room where they had left Scully, the stout little man was waiting for them just outside the kitchens. He had turned his head sharply as Mulder and Langly came crashing through the door and out into the night, and his familiar voice, strangely thick with a Gaelic cadence, had reverberated in Mulder’s ears. “For the love of God, Lancelot! Mordred’s whole faction is here!” He had shoved Mulder roughly forward, catching him off-balance and sending him spinning into the rear flank of a huge warhorse. The animal snorted its displeasure and stamped a hoof.

Mulder watched in astonishment as Frohike swung himself up into the saddle of another horse three times his size and bent to give Langly a hand up behind him. With the other man settled behind him, Frohike had squinted at Mulder through the gloomy night, his brow furrowed. “What is wrong with you, man? Get up and ride before we are all caught and slaughtered where we stand!”

Mulder blinked at him and finally found his voice. “Frohike? What the hell is going on?”

The horse carrying the two men nudged nearer to Mulder, and Frohike leaned over, bringing his face closer. His chin was scruffy with a few days’ worth of beard growth, and his glasses were missing, but it was the same face that Mulder had known as one of his best friends for over ten years. “I know not this fro-hickey of which you talk, Lance, but we need to make haste. I do not wish to end my life defending your need to sow wild oats.”

Mulder started to smile and then realized that the other man was serious. He cocked his head to the side. “I don’t know how to ride a horse, Hickey. I’ve never been on one in my life.”

Frohike glanced over his shoulder at Langly, who looked completely confounded. “Did he hit his head?” he asked their blond friend. Langly shook his slowly, eyeing Mulder warily.

The sound of shouts came from somewhere within the castle, and Frohike’s brow darkened. “I know not why you jest with me so, Lance, but this is neither the time nor the place. Pull yourself up, take the reins, and let us be on our way.” He kicked his spurs into the flank of his horse. The animal shot off like a bullet, plunging down the dirt lane and heading toward a thick wood.

Mulder stood there a moment, still not completely believing his eyes. But the noise inside the kitchen doors urged him to move, even though he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to be doing. He threw an uneasy glance at the horse and caught the animal’s eye. “OK, buddy, be gentle with me. It’s my first time.” The horse shook its mane at him and blew out a breath.

Mulder grabbed the reins and the pommel of the saddle, hoisting himself up. The weight of his armor made it difficult, but he finally managed to situate himself in the seat behind the horse’s neck. He tugged on the reins, willing the horse to move in the direction that Frohike and Langly had just taken…and miraculously, the animal did. It trotted down the path, picking up speed as it spotted the other horse ahead of it. Mulder let it go, hoping like hell the horse knew what it was doing. He certainly wasn’t going to try to stop it if it seemed like it was going the right way…and only Frohike and Langly knew which way that was.

He still held the sword that Langly had brought him, which was quite awkward, considering he needed to hold onto the reins. He noticed a long piece of leather bumping against the metal bend of his left knee and realized it was a scabbard. Somehow, he speared the tip of the sword into it and shoved it down, securing it beside him. He figured it was a good thing that the sword was attached to the saddle, because he might need it later on.

His horse caught up to Frohike’s and soon, they were riding side by side along a well-worn road traveling through the forest. The moon above them hung quartered but bright, nicely illuminating the path. Mulder was surprised to find how naturally his body seemed to take to riding, how he seemed to intuit what the horse was doing and how it moved, and how his body adjusted accordingly. It was almost as if he had been on horseback all his life, although he knew in his mind that this wasn’t true.

As they whisked through the night, Mulder’s mind returned to Scully. She had looked so tiny standing in the candle glow of that castle room, swallowed up inside that enormous blue robe, the startling length of her hair making her appear almost childlike to him. But the expression on her face and the light that shone from the depths of those unfamiliar green eyes convinced him that she was still his Scully, the anchor of his life, the one person on whom he could always depend, no matter what circumstances came.

And, just like always, she had used her reason and her logic to win him over, and to make him leave her there, alone and vulnerable. He swore to himself, angry at his decision to run.

“Frohike!” He called to the other man riding next to him, but his friend didn’t turn to look at him. “Hey, Frohike!” The words rang more insistently, and the little man glanced over at him, a slightly annoyed expression on his face.

“Lancelot, I would thank you to stop calling me by that name. This distemper that you seem to suffer this night is not amusing in the least.”

“But your name is Frohike,” Mulder insisted. “I’ve known you for over ten years.”

Frohike shook his head. “Let us save this conversation for when we arrive at Joyous Gard. We are nearly there, cousin, and I fear you need the rest.” He slapped the reins, and his horse pulled out further in front of Mulder’s, successfully ending their conversation.

Moments later, the road they followed turned sharply, and Frohike guided his mount away from the bend, driving it forward through a meadow of long grass. Mulder was close on his heels, and as he rode into the clearing, he spotted the cumbersome walls of a small castle across the open field, complete with a drawbridge that stretched across a narrow but deep moat surrounding the structure. The horses sped up, sensing their home, along with water, hay, and rest, within their grasp. As they approached, Mulder heard shouts, and the gate inside the drawbridge opened. Several mean spilled out of the castle, bearing flaming torches in their hands.

Doing what seemed to come naturally, Mulder pulled up tight on the reins, bringing the horse to a halt on the thick wooden platform of the bridge. A boy of about fifteen laid his hand on the animal’s harness, and Mulder swung his leg over the saddle, jumping to the ground with a clang of metal. Frohike and Langly dismounted, too, and Langly led the other horse inside the gate, the boy following him with Mulder’s. Mulder watched as they took the horses across the inside paddock to a nearby stable.

He felt a slap on his arm and turned to see Frohike regarding him with a somber countenance. “Let us go in. We can speak there.”

Mulder nodded. Soon he found himself within a great room ablaze with light, coming from torches mounted in iron brackets along the walls. Tapestries fluttered slightly in the drafty space, beautiful hangings done in muted shades, and a fire roared on the hearth at one end of the room. Frohike stopped next to a long wooden table and grabbed a large stone pitcher waiting in the center. He poured a dark liquid into a thick goblet and handed it to Mulder. “I think you could use a drink, Lance.”

Mulder smiled wryly at him. “I think I could, too.” He took a sip, recognizing the bitter taste of stout from his university days at Oxford. He schooled himself not to drink too much too fast and set it down on the table. “Frohike, we need to talk.”

The smaller man drained his own goblet in one swig and grabbed the pitcher to pour more. “Aye, that we do, Lance. Your words puzzle me almost as much as your actions this night.”

“I need to know what is happening to Scully. I can’t believe I let her talk me into leaving her there. Will she be alright?”

Frohike tilted his head, searching Mulder’s face with his wide eyes. “Do you speak of the Queen? Why do you address her as such?”

Mulder ran his hands through his overgrown hair, his mind finally starting to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. “You—you really don’t know me, do you?” His voice was low and cautious.

Frohike’s reply matched his own, coming slowly from his mouth. “I know you to be Sir Lancelot of the Lake, my cousin, in whose castle Joyous Gard we now stand. I know you to be the greatest knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, the champion of his Queen, Guinevere, and the envy of all his kingdom.” He stopped and then went on. “Do you not know yourself, Lancelot?”

Mulder let out a long breath. “I know who I am, and I am not who you think I am. I know to you, I look like Lancelot, but believe me—” He laughed, the absurdity of it all finally hitting him. “I am <not> Lancelot. And Scully is <not> Guinevere. And you…” His voice trailed off as his mind clicked. “You are not Frohike.” He took a step forward toward the other man, reaching out to touch him on the shoulder. “Who—who are you, then?”

The other man grabbed Mulder’s hand and squeezed it briefly before easing his friend down onto a nearby bench. “Sit a moment and rest, Lance,” he said gently. “I fear something terrible has happened to you this night.” He brought his cup to his lips again, took a gulp, and set it back down. “I fear something terrible has happened to us all.”

Mulder’s mind sharpened, the adrenaline that still pumped in his system forcing it into obsessive mode, as it was wont to do. “I need to know that she’s alright,” he said earnestly, his intonation rising. “I need to know that they won’t hurt her!”

“Easy, man, easy,” the other knight answered. “You were not found with her. If I know that bastard Mordred, she will be formally accused on the morrow, as I am certain he has already sent for the King. But without taking you as well, Arthur will not raise a hand against her.” He looked at Mulder sternly. “Arthur loves her, and you. He will protect her.”

“And then what will happen?”

The man who so resembled Frohike sighed. “Most likely, you will be challenged to a War Joust by Mordred. A joust to prove your innocence, and the innocence of the Queen.” He turned his eyes to Mulder, and they shone with concern. “You are the best knight in all the realm, Lance, and I know that better than anyone. But I fear you cannot win this time…because you have sacrificed your better nature for the love of the Queen.”

“What—what do you mean?”

“A knight is honest and true. Qualities you have always had. But now, you have thrown honesty and truth away in pursuit of another man’s wife. Your best friend’s wife!” Mulder watched as he turned away and crossed to the fireplace, punching his fist into the mantle with a mighty clang. “She is not yours, Lancelot. And the mayhem the two of you have created this night could bring all of Camelot to its knees.”

Mulder slumped forward, cradling his spinning head in his hands. The exhaustion that settled over him like a cloak was heavy and unexpected, but his heart still ached for Scully. “If I have to fight for her, I will,” he mumbled, dragging his palms across his face. “I just need to know that she is safe, for now.”

“She is.” The other man crossed to him then, helping him to his feet. “You need to rest. This will certainly get worse before it gets better, and you cannot defend anyone if you cannot even stand up.”

Mulder stopped him with a hand on his arm. “You haven’t told me your name.”

The smaller knight squinted up at him before he sighed. “I am Bors, Lancelot. Your cousin Bors, that you have known since childhood. Now, I pray you, let me take you to your bedchamber. Perhaps this will all make more sense on the morrow.”


Mulder turned over in a tangle of bedclothes and opened his eyes, immediately noticing the slant of the sun as it poured in the nearby window. The angle told him it was late, probably almost noon, and he groaned a little. He was going to be late, his sleep-muddied mind told him…

“Scully,” he mumbled. He threw his arm over behind him to the other side, feeling around for his partner’s small frame. The linens were cool to his touch, and he realized that Scully was not in the bed. She must’ve gotten up early…but why didn’t she wake him..?

He sat up groggily and swiped at his eyes, trying to focus on the room around him. It looked strange, similar to another room he had recently seen…his mind groped for the answer but couldn’t quite reach it. “Scully!” he called again, louder this time, and he heard a door open somewhere off to his left. In a moment, a head appeared from around a corner, but it wasn’t the cute little redhead he expected to see.

Stringy, shoulder-length blond hair. Tiny eyes that narrowed him into focus without the help of glasses. Richard Langly. Not the person Mulder wanted to wake up with in the morning.

But seeing the man who resembled Langly, dressed in a drab green tunic and fitted trousers, triggered all the memories of yesterday. They came rushing back into his brain and he moaned, collapsing onto his back again. Shit. He was still stuck in this strange world—and stuck without Scully.

“We did not want to wake you,” Richard said hesitantly. He crossed to a large trunk that stood against one wall in the room and opened it. He began to spread out clothes on the foot of the bed. “Sir Bors thought it better to allow you your rest.”

“Yeah, and I’ve wasted half the day.” Mulder swung his legs over the side of the bed, agitated, and then realized as he sat up again that he was buck-naked. He uttered a tiny cry of indignation and threw a corner of the blanket over his crotch. “Jesus, Langly! Where is my underwear?”

The other man turned bright red and averted his eyes. “Your…underwear, sir?”

Mulder reached down to the end of the bed and snatched up what resembled a pair of pants. “Yeah, you know, underwear. The clothes you wear underneath your pants.” Richard judiciously turned his back to Mulder, so he stood up and stepped into the trousers, fumbling with the strange lacings at the front. They were worse than button-fly jeans.

He picked through the articles that Richard had laid out and finally found something he recognized, a light, loose linen shirt in a shade of pearl gray. He yanked it over his head and fussed with the string ties at the throat momentarily before letting them hang open. He pushed past Richard and headed around the corner for the door.

The other man gasped. “My lord, you are not going out like that, are you?”

Mulder was already halfway down the small, stone staircase. “I’m not interested in fashion. I’ve got to get back to Scully.” He emerged in the great room that he remembered from the night before, where he and Frohike (Bors, he corrected himself in his mind) had talked. He looked back at Richard, who was close behind him. “Where’s Bors?”

“I’m here, Lance.” Bors was seated in a high- backed chair by the fireplace. He set down the sword he was polishing and stood. He wore an outfit similar to Richard’s, but his was made of a deep red fabric, obviously heavier and more expensive. He had shaved, and Mulder was a little surprised by how fit and young he looked. Knighthood must have kept these men in good condition.

Bors gave him an appraising look. “I see that a good night’s sleep has not benefited you.” He clapped Mulder on the shoulder and maneuvered him over to the table. “Come, let us get you something to eat. You cannot keep your feet on an empty stomach.”

Mulder’s stomach growled at the mention of food, but he shook the thought away. He motioned for Bors to sit down across from him, and he did. Richard drifted away, reappearing a few moments later with a bowl filled with a steaming, thick gruel that reminded Mulder of the Cream of Wheat breakfasts his mother used to serve him on cold Vineyard mornings. He felt an abrupt pang of longing as Richard set it before him.

“Eat, Lance,” Bors urged.

“No. I want to talk about Scully.”

Bors picked up a strange utensil that resembled a spoon and shoved it at him. “We can talk as you eat.” Mulder took it reluctantly and tasted the mixture. It was surprisingly sweet, and his hollow stomach clamored for more. He spooned up a few more bites, and Bors nodded approvingly.

“That is better. Now, Lancelot. Last night, you seemed to not remember me. What say you this morning?”

Mulder swallowed. “I do remember you. It’s just that, where I come from, I call you Frohike.” He gestured to Richard. “I call him Langly. I do recognize you both…but I don’t know exactly what has happened.”

The two other men exchanged looks. “So you still claim that you are not Lancelot of the Lake, even though you look exactly like him?”

“I don’t know how to explain it. You say that I look like your Lancelot, and I say that you both look like two friends of mine. But I am telling you, I do not belong in this place, or this time.”

Bors rubbed at his jaw thoughtfully. “Then in what time do you belong?”

“The year two thousand. I live in the United States of America. I’m a Federal Agent, and the woman you see as Guinevere, the one I call Scully, is my partner.” He watched as Bors’ forehead wrinkled in consternation, and he sighed. “Look, I know you don’t understand what any of that means. Hell, the United States hasn’t even been discovered yet. But I am telling you this because…well, because I have to figure out what happened to Scully and me, and I need help if we are going to get back to where we belong.”

Bors shook his head. “I daresay you have more pressing issues at the moment, my friend. The Queen will be accused this day of treason, and if you ever hope to somehow…turn these events around, you will have to save her from death.”

“What!” Mulder stood up so quickly he nearly knocked over his breakfast. “You told me she was safe!”

“She is, for now. But you will have to champion her. Remember the War Joust of which I spoke? If I am right, the King will have set the time for it as sunrise tomorrow. And you will have to be ready.”

Mulder set his jaw. “So what will I have to do?”

“You will meet Sir Mordred on the jousting field. You will fight until one of you begs for mercy.” Bors met his gaze with a quirk of his eyebrow. “Or until one of you dies.”

Mulder sank back down into his chair. Jousting. He had seen it on TV and in the movies, but he had no earthly idea what the sport entailed. He looked back at Bors. “And Lancelot…he’s supposed to be pretty good at this stuff, right?”

“You…you are our best knight,” Bors replied. Mulder could tell the other man still did not believe what he had said. Hell, Mulder had a hard enough time believing it..but he knew that it was the only explanation that really made sense. And he knew that he would somehow have to figure out what caused this to happen to Scully and him, and how they could reverse it. But first, he obviously had to get to Scully, and there seemed to be an awful lot of obstacles standing in his way.

“I need you to show me, then. I need you to teach me today, so that I can defend her tomorrow.”


The summons came while the men were on the practice field behind the castle. Mulder was recovering from his position astride his horse, his left shoulder throbbing inside his armor from where Bors’ lance had just hit him with the force of a 35-mile-an-hour auto impact. He spotted the rider as he came around the side of the castle, the vibrant red of the Pendragon standard billowing from a pole as he galloped toward him. Bors rode up next to him and opened the visor of his helmet, nodding in the direction of the rider.

“The King’s messenger. Bringing your summons to the joust tomorrow, I daresay.”

Mulder flipped open the visor of his own helmet, shoving his gloved hand awkwardly inside to swipe at the sweat running into his eyes. They had been practicing all afternoon, and he was proud to note that Bors had not been able to unhorse him at all, which was apparently the object of the joust. Once he had gotten used to the weight of the long, unwieldy lance in his hand, he had successfully knocked the other knight to the ground a total of three times. The rhythm of it had come naturally to him, much like the horseback riding itself. He supposed that perhaps the body he now inhabited, that of Sir Lancelot, had stored many memories of such fights on a cellular, molecular level, and physically, his muscles and nervous system could draw on that knowledge to help him learn faster. It was a fascinating idea to contemplate, one he would have loved to debate with Scully&if only she were here.

The messenger pulled his horse up next to Mulder’s, gave a stiff bow without dismounting, and pulled a rolled parchment from inside his tunic. “A message from my lord King Arthur, for Sir Lancelot of the Lake.” He held the message out to Mulder, who took it without much more than a glance.

“Tell the King I’ll be there,” Mulder said. He handed the scroll over to Bors, who looked at him questioningly. The rider gave him another staccato bow and tugged on the reins, turning his horse around and setting off at a dash.

“Do you not even wish to read it, Lance?” Bors asked.

“You read it. Tell me if it’s what you thought.” Mulder watched as the other man broke the wax seal on the outside and unrolled the stiff paper. His eyes moved steadily across the words, and he allowed the parchment to roll back on itself when he was finished.

“Yes, it is just as I said. You are to meet Mordred at sunrise on the morrow. If you defeat him, it will prove the innocence of the Queen. If he defeats you, then both of you, Lancelot and Guinevere, will be put to death for high treason.” Bors’ voice had remained steady throughout, but it wavered on the word “death.” Mulder reached over and grasped the smaller man’s shoulder, the material of his gloves slipping slightly on the metal shell. He smiled at Bors as best he could.

“Well, then I have to win.” He pulled his helmet off and tossed it down to the ground before jumping from his horse’s saddle. “I think I have the jousting part down. Let’s work on the sword fighting.”

Mulder couldn’t remember a time when he had been sorer. His muscles screamed in protest from the slightest movement, and it was all he could do to ease himself down into the standing tub of scalding water that Langly’s look-alike had prepared for him. The heat soaked through him, though, and he found himself relaxing a bit, the mighty roar of pain dulling to an ache as the water subtly caressed him.

The sword lessons had gone well, and Mulder had found it easier than he expected to wield the cumbersome broadsword that he had to use. He had managed to disarm Bors several times, and, as he ate some cold chicken and bread after his bath, he realized he was fairly confident that he could beat this Sir Mordred and rescue Scully. Then the two of them would be able to concentrate on the problem of returning to the twenty-first century.

He fell into bed, exhausted but satisfied, his thoughts on nothing but Scully and the task that awaited him in the morning.


He came awake with a start, his heart galloping in his chest like a stallion on the loose. He could hear the soft, whimpering breath of a horse nearby, and the smell of early morning dew lingered heavy in the misty air. It chilled his bare arms and chest, and he shivered, coughing a bit at the tuft of dust his movement kicked up from the ground beneath his cheek.

He realized he was not in bed, and he scrambled up to a sitting position, casting his glance wildly around, trying to focus. Bewildered, he found himself in the wide expanse inside the gates of Joyous Gard, positioned just opposite the raised portcullis and the drawbridge that stretched across the castle moat. The courtyard, which had been as busy as an open market when he and Bors had returned from their jousting practice early in the evening, lay in deathly silence now, void of any noise or person except himself. It crouched in darkness as if it, too, were waiting, a lone torch next to the gate the only illumination.

Mulder swallowed, the taste of fear thick in his mouth. His rapid breathing had not slowed, and he felt edgy, as if he were waiting for a perpetrator at the scene of a crime. Scully had often kidded him about it, calling it his Spooky Sense, just like the Spider Sense term from the old comics he had loved as a boy. Well, his Spooky Sense was tingling like mad right now, and after so many years, he had learned not to discount it.

Something was wrong. The air around him was thick with it, this sense of wrongness, this sense of something that was almost otherworldly. It seemed to condense on his skin, to press on him with almost human fingers, teasing him, urging him to get up, but cautioning him to stay at the same time. It was disconcerting and unnerving, and his stomach rolled in protest. He closed his eyes momentarily, trying to gain his composure. Getting sick all over himself couldn’t possibly help him now.

When he opened his eyes again, he noticed movement at the end of the drawbridge ahead of him, way down on the opposite bank of the moat. He rose cautiously to his feet, his hand hovering by his side where his Sig normally would be, the gun that had not even been invented yet in this time and place. He crept forward until he crouched next to the wall of the fortress, and he craned his head to see around the side.

The horses he had heard were tied at the far end of the drawbridge, their heads dropping forward as if they were dozing. They were both saddled and outfitted, and he recognized them as the two animals he and Bors had ridden earlier. At their feet, he noticed a flash of silver, and he realized that Bors sat propped at the bottom of the last railing of the bridge, his chin to his chest, fast asleep. He wore his armor, and Mulder noted a small pile of a similar look next to his friend. He must’ve brought Mulder’s as well.

Mulder glanced down at himself. Nothing but a pair of thin, loose-fitting trousers covered his body. Even his feet were bare. And of course, his sword would be in the scabbard fastened to the saddle of his horse. He was nearly naked, freezing in the pre-dawn of this godforsaken castle, and he didn’t even have a weapon.

If yesterday had been a bad day, he had the piercing thought that this one looked even worse.

He took a deep breath, trying to reason to himself. What in the hell was Bors doing out here, anyway? It was chilly and damp; why would he choose to sleep out here, and to bring the horses, especially the one that Lancelot needed to ride in his joust for the life of the Queen? Mulder frowned and, stealing another furtive look around, called Bors’ name.

“He cannot hear you, my good knight. He is asleep.”

A female voice, one that seemed to consist of a lethal concoction of honey and broken glass. Mulder’s frown deepened as his brain rung with recognition, and he stepped out from the shadows next to the castle portcullis. Across the bridge from him, a figure glided out from behind the horses, a womanly shape draped in a black, hooded cloak. A hand reached up to push the cowl back, and a set of familiar dark eyes greeted him from across the distance.


Her laugh rang in his ears, echoing as if they stood together on the edge of a cliff. It was loud enough to be disturbing, but Mulder noticed that neither Bors nor the horses stirred. It was as if they were frozen in place.

The woman seemed to shimmer in his vision, and he tried to blink the appearance away as she answered him. “I am not called that here in this world, my good knight. Here, I am called many, many names, but most call me Morgan le Fae.”

Mulder pointed at Bors. “What did you do to him?” The woman laughed again, and Mulder felt his insides turn over as if he were seasick. He didn’t wait for her reply. “What did you do to me?”

“Just a little game, my good knight, nothing more than that. It is just like a dream, is it not? But you cannot waste much time. The sun will rise very soon, and you have an appointment to keep.”

Mulder swayed on his feet, trying to keep the bile in his throat from rising, bracing himself with an arm on the stone wall beside him. “Am I dreaming? Can I wake myself up?”

The woman called Morgan le Fae smiled, the same one of grim pleasure that Mulder remembered vividly from his days with Diana. “It is like a dream, but it is real as well. You will find out how real it is in a matter of moments, when you try to cross this bridge. And cross it you must, for it is the only way to get to your armor and horse, so that you can ride to Camelot to save your Queen. But make haste, great knight, for daybreak draws near&and if you are late for the joust, the Queen will die.” The heavy fog in the air swirled around the woman, obscuring her from his view for a split second&and then, she was gone.

Mulder stood still as a statue, his eyes darting back and forth, his mind humming and his stomach quivering. She had disappeared&hadn’t she? One minute there, and the next gone&yeah, that would pretty much qualify as vanishing in anyone’s book.

He was dreaming, he told himself. This woman had just told him that&but she had also said that this was reality, too. He slid his jaw to one side and bit down hard on the fleshy meat of his mouth. The sharp pain seemed to focus his drifting mind a little. Yeah, he felt it&so this had to be real. In some way.

So what was this? An enchantment? Although largely unfamiliar with the Arthurian world, he at least knew that the King supposedly had a wizard as an advisor, an old mage called Merlin. It stood to reason, then, if this world were that one, that there were more magic-makers than just the one of whom he knew.

He chuckled to himself, wishing that Scully were here to see this. It was quickly becoming obvious to him that he was caught in some kind of spell, somehow poised between the world of reality and the realm of fantasy. He could just see the two of them, himself and Scully, standing in this very spot when faced with the same scenario, arguing about the validity and the scientific plausibility of such a thing.

He felt a pang of longing for her, but he roused himself from his straying thoughts. He was wasting time. The woman called Morgan le Fae had said that he needed to hurry, that the sun would soon rise, and he needed to cross the bridge to get himself to Camelot in time for the joust. But obviously, his Spooky Sense buzzed to him, this bridge was some kind of obstacle, one that had been put in his way in an effort to stop him from arriving at Camelot at all.

He took a few steps forward until level with the start of the bridge. The beams of it had been wrought from long oak trunks, cut evenly to fit together in tight formation. It stretched more than twenty feet across from end to end, with chains from the lifting mechanism anchored at the opposite side, forming a diagonal line of iron. The sides of the bridge were completely open, with nothing to keep a man from falling off the edge into the moat but his own good sense. Mulder had never really looked too closely at it before. It was just a bridge.

But now, as he gazed at it, trying to reason out what kind of problem the crossing of such a nondescript bridge could possibly be, his eyes caught a glint of metal in the dim light. Narrowing them to see better, he crouched down, reaching his hand out instinctively. He grazed his fingers across the glimmer and drew them back sharply as a stinging pain shot through his hand. Stunned, he saw his fingers welling up with blood from a pair of long, thin cuts. He thrust them in his mouth and peered closely at the bridge.

He could see them now. Laid in between every beam, as well as fitted down the center, several of them end to end, of each stocky log. There had to be hundreds of them, gleaming sinister silver in the misty air.

Swords. The bridge seemed to be fashioned out of swords.

Mulder sucked the blood off his fingers and tried to shake the discomfort away. He couldn’t be much use to Scully in a fight if he were cut to ribbons before he even got to try. And that must’ve been the idea, right? To prevent Sir Lancelot from even getting a chance to save the Queen. He blew out a frustrated breath and stood up, pacing back and forth with his hands on his hips. There had to be another way across this moat.

Wait a minute. What was he thinking? The moat was deep, true, but he could swim, and he didn’t remember seeing anything dangerous in the waters when he and Bors had crossed it yesterday. He went to the bank and dropped to his knees, craning his head forward to have another look down into the water.

There was nothing there but swirling fog. He strained his eyes to see through it, but to no avail. It almost appeared as if there was no water&that the moat had somehow transformed into a bottomless pit filled with nothing but silent air and ghostly mist.

Mulder swore. He hefted a large stone into his hand and dropped it over the side of the bank, watching as the wispy, white tendrils engulfed it as it fell. He listened closely for the telltale splash as it hit water at the bottom. He waited a full two minutes before resigning himself to the fact that the stone hadn’t hit bottom&and if it had, the bottom was so far away that jumping into the shrouded cavern would be suicide.

So it had to be the bridge. He was going to have to cross it. There was no other way to get to Scully.

He pushed himself up again and stalked over to it, a look of grim determination on his face. Bastards. They didn’t really think he was going to give up, did they? He had crawled through caverns of ice and alien monsters once before to save her. He could do this, too, if that was what it took to keep her alive.

His mind seemed to slow down then, a calm settling over him, his racing heart easing down to a steadier pace. He eyed the drawbridge, calculating carefully, trying to figure the best way to start.

It would be difficult. There was no reason to deny that. More than likely, he would end up injured. There was really no way around it. But there had to be a way to reduce the risk, and he gave himself a slight nod of encouragement when he deduced what to do.

He glanced up at the drawbridge chain above his head. If he could just get a quarter of the way across the bridge on foot, he would be able to reach up and grab the chain. He could pull himself the remainder of the distance by shimmying across those iron links.

With a deep, resigned breath, Mulder lifted his foot, poising it before him as he decided where to place it. Even with all the swords lining the wood, there were still some spaces in between the separate pieces where his foot, if turned horizontally, would fit. He would have to angle it, step into the tiny spot, transfer the weight of his body, and pull up his other leg to move forward, all the while maintaining his balance. He would also have to stand on one leg as he maneuvered around to place the other foot down at the next safe interval.

He took his first step, keeping his respiration even and relaxed. He managed to nudge his foot into a tiny space afforded by the blades. He took another breath and shifted his weight to that foot, pushing off with the one behind him, using his arms to balance his body as his back foot found purchase on another miniscule scrap of wood. He exhaled and paused for a moment, his legs in an X underneath him, imagining himself looking like some kind of reject from a tournament game of Twister. He smiled ruefully at the idea and began the task of another step.

He gained a whopping three more of these bizarre machinations before stopping to rest. So far so good. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and lifted his hand above his head, careful to keep his weight evenly distributed. The chain was still a good foot or so out of his reach, but he estimated that by taking another five precarious steps, he would be able to lunge up and grab it. Then, he would be home free.

Mulder raised his leg again, ready to move on, his arms in a T next to his body. He shifted his weight forward to bring his foot down in the next niche he spotted&and a violent wave of nausea pounded into his body with the force of one of Bors’ jousting lances.

His eyes slammed shut involuntarily, all of the muscles in his body tightening against the onslaught. His arms pin wheeled at his sides, struggling to regain the delicate equilibrium, but he knew before he felt the falling sensation that it was hopeless. There was nothing to hold onto, no way to break the fall except with his hands, which went instantly out in front of him. The skin of his palms shredded as he plunged into the blades beneath him.

A cry escaped his throat as the swords tore through the flesh of his forearms and knees. He gasped at the blinding flash of fury in his body as his legs crashed behind him, the searing sensation in his belly joining a newer, fresher bolt higher in his torso. It was over in a mere second, but the cacophony of protest from his limbs began to overload his senses, his mind graying at the impact.

No, he couldn’t pass out. He wouldn’t. He didn’t have the time for such a luxury. He forced his eyes open again, locking them onto the sight of Bors and the horses waiting at the end of this gauntlet. He had to reach them. He somehow knew that once he did, they would awaken&and maybe, so would he.

Could he stand? Or should he try to crawl? His mind hissed at him, reminding him again of wasted time, and of the blades that stood in his way. If he crawled to the end of the bridge, he would be eviscerated by the time he reached it&and possibly bled dry as well. But if he could just scramble forward a few more feet, he could regain his legs and reach the chain.

With a mighty roar, Mulder pushed his torn body forward. He felt something rip through his abdomen again, as well as a warm trickle of liquid that traced down his thigh and across his knee. He paid no attention to the crimson streamers that ran along his bare wrists in grisly bracelets, his eyes trained on his pile of armor awaiting him. He cursed between each ragged breath, hitching himself along the bridge, grunting Scully’s name as he slid in his own blood. She was all that mattered, and he wasn’t going to leave her to die.

The shadows surrounding him began to lighten as he moved, urging him forward. At long last he stopped, panting, and turned his eyes above him. He was sure he could reach the chain now, and ignoring the pressure and the tangy scent of blood all around him, he pushed himself to his feet and reached his ruined hands above his head.

Slick with blood, they slipped on the cool metal, but he gritted his teeth and gripped the iron links harder, the sensation singing a ghastly song in his palms. He pulled himself up from the surface beneath his feet and swung his legs up with all his might, linking his ankles together as they gained the top of the chain. He rested a moment, hanging upside down like a monkey at the zoo, his tired eyes taking in the gruesome sight of the trail he left below him.

Mulder started forward, shimmying along the chain as best he could. A silent observer would have admired his determination, if not his grace, for there was none left in him now. All that mattered was getting to the end of the bridge, and if he did it in a pretty way or in a nasty one, Mulder would get there.

And somehow, he did. Whether by sheer force of will, or sheer luck concerning his physical prowess, he made it to the end. He took a moment to think, and then swung himself forward and backward from the chain, the nerve receptors in his hands screaming their indignation. On the third swing, he let go, sailing through the air and landing with an unceremonious thud in the dust at the end of the drawbridge.

A flurry of movement and sound surrounded him as soon as he hit the ground. His head buzzed loudly, but beneath it, he could hear the lilting cadence of Bors’ voice.

“Good Christ save us! Lancelot, what happened to you?”

Mulder struggled to open his eyes, fighting the onslaught of dizziness that washed over him. He focused unsteadily on Bors, whose face appeared over his. “Get me&get me into my armor. I’ve got to get to Camelot.”

“There is not a place on you that does not bleed, man! You cannot fight like this!”

He heaved himself into a sitting position and grabbed the front of Bors’ tunic. “I don’t have a choice. Morgan le Fae said that if I am late for the joust, they will kill Scully.”

The color drained from the other man’s face. “Morgan le Fae? She did this to you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. It doesn’t matter now.” Mulder hauled himself up to his feet, wincing at the pain that seared through them. Bors stood, too, looking at himself in amazement.

“How did I get out here?” he wondered aloud. He looked at Mulder and knitted his brow. “This was an enchantment. And if you say you saw Morgan le Fae, then she is the one behind it. But that blood” he pointed at Mulder”is not a dream. We must stave it, Lance, or you are as good as dead.”

Mulder backed himself up against his horse, using the animal’s large body to hold him up. He looked straight into Bors’ eyes, the blue of his new gaze bright and burning. “And Scully is as good as dead if I don’t get there. Help me, Bors.” His tone was plaintive. “Help me, please.”

Bors took a deep breath and grabbed at the saddlebag next to Mulder’s shoulder. He ripped it open and extracted several cloths, usually used on the horse so the saddle would not chafe its back. He tore them into strips and stepped up to Mulder. “This is going to hurt, my friend,” he told him gently, and he pushed one into the gaping cut across Mulder’s abdomen.

The shooting agony seemed endless, but Mulder brought his own hand up to hold the cloth in place. Bors wrapped his other wounds quickly, using tight, efficient strokes, and he was soon working Mulder’s armor into place over his injured body. When his dressing was complete, Mulder opened his exhausted eyes and smiled weakly at Bors.

“Now help me get up on that horse. I have a Queen to save.”

Chapter Four

Scully had prayed feverishly for sleep, but those pleas had gone unanswered.

All night, her thoughts pulled her to Mulder, wondering what was happening to him. She sat up by the fire, staring into its dancing heat, the embroidery that Leigh had brought to distract her untouched by her side. Sir Gareth had stayed with her as she forced herself to eat a few bites of meat and cheese he carried with him. She found his gentle presence calming, and she tried to draw him out, sensing in him a pool of compassion different from the other knights in the castle.

“Sir Gareth, is there news of Lancelot?”

He stood at the window, watching over her as she sipped her wine. As tempted as she was to dull her senses, she was careful not to drink too much, and his eyes followed her hand as she placed the goblet back down on the table. “His summons has been delivered, my lady Queen.” His soft voice massaged her aching heart.

“Then he will come?” The question tumbled out of her before she could stop it. Of course he would come. Scully never doubted Mulder for a moment…so why did she think Guinevere might doubt Lancelot? It didn’t make any sense…but that nagging whisper had returned, cajoling her from the back of her mind.

Gareth nodded. “Aye, my lady. I heard that he and Sir Bors were on the field when the summons came. I daresay he is well prepared to defend you.”

She had smiled weakly at him, and he had departed without another word. Leigh had cleared the supper away, laying the colored floss out next to the embroidery easel at the far end of the room. Scully had crossed to the chair and sat down, but she didn’t pick up the needle. She remembered embroidering with her grandmother when she was a girl, but she had been impatient and sloppy with it, and Nana Scully had given up trying to teach her. Besides, she had no interest in anything but Mulder…and her mind worried at his memory like a greedy dog with a bone.

And so the night passed, with Scully never moving from the chair by the fire, and Leigh dozing fitfully on a floor cushion by the doorway. The other woman had sat up moments ago, rubbing her eyes, some kind of inner alarm rousing her from her dreams. She looked at Scully and stood.

“The sun will rise soon, Gwen. We must get you ready.” Scully gave a resigned nod and pushed up from the chair.

There was no bath today, but Leigh massaged sweet-smelling cream into the skin of Scully’s arms, neck, and shoulders, her hands working the muscles tenderly. It helped relax her, and by the time Leigh had finished braiding her hair again, Scully’s eyes were slipping shut. She shook herself awake, her mind sharpening again on the events at hand.

Leigh brought in an ornate golden gown made of a thick, glittering material. She helped Scully into it, fastening her in with blinding efficiency. The gown had an overlay tunic of scarlet, which Leigh threw over Scully’s shoulders and tied with elaborate lacings at each side. Scully smoothed it down over her stomach, her fingers tracing along the golden Pendragon emblem emblazoned on it. She smiled ruefully to herself. It was as if she had been marked as Arthur’s goods.

Leigh stepped over to her and arranged her headpiece, a small golden crown with a gauzy veil in matching colors. She fastened a pendant around her neck, and Scully uttered a startled gasp as she watched in the looking glass. Leigh frowned. “What is it, Gwen?”

Scully fingered the links of the golden chain, following them down to the shimmering cross that now nestled in the hollow of her throat. It was much larger than the necklace she remembered, the one her mother had given her so many years ago, and it was studded with red stones that Scully supposed were rubies. But it fit against her skin as if it belonged there, and she felt a cloud of contentment settle around her.

“I…It is nothing, Leigh.” She looked at her lady-in-waiting and smiled. “Thank you.”

“Let us go, then. Sir Gareth awaits you.”

The gentle knight escorted her outside, somewhere behind the fortified walls of Camelot, and Scully found herself standing on a raised platform on one side of a long, narrow field. The dais was covered with some type of tarp, and Gareth led her to her place in the center of the stands. Leigh stood behind her and off to one side, and Scully noticed that she was alone. The other lords and ladies of the court lined both sides of the field, but no other nobles stood with her inside the pavilion. She breathed in a huge gulp of air and set her face to stone. She felt her seclusion clutching at her like a bad-tempered child, and she tried to soothe herself with the notion that at least Arthur would arrive soon.

Moments later, amid a fanfare of trumpets, the King made his appearance, along with his personal attendant knights…but he did not join her, either. He mounted the steps on the other side of the field, taking his place in a pavilion directly opposite her. His armor shone like a beacon in the pre-dawn gloom, and Scully fastened her eyes on him. He arranged himself amid his knights and turned his gaze on her. His eyes snapped mahogany fire across the expanse of the field, and Scully found herself reassured by the strength of that look.

He was confident. He trusted that Lancelot would prevail. She had to trust that, too.

All heads turned at the sound of horse hooves pounding the dirt below them, and Scully swiveled in that direction, her heart in her throat. Her need to see Mulder overwhelmed her, and a small sound of disappointment escaped from her as she realized it was not him. The knight on horseback below her stopped in front of the pavilions and turned his horse first to Arthur and then to her in salute. Beneath the visor of his helmet, Scully could easily recognize the reptilian green eyes of Sir Mordred. He finished his ceremonious presentation and galloped on his horse to the far end of the jousting field.

The crowd waited. Scully swallowed, casting her gaze to the east, where the first flaming fingers of the new day clutched at the horizon. She watched helplessly as the glowing orb began its ascent into the sky, casting its beams closer and closer to the field where everyone stood, motionless and expectant. A quiet murmur began among the nobles as sunlight played at the edge of the grass, and Sir Mordred spurred his horse into the center of the field.

He stopped in front of Arthur and raised his visor. “My lord King, the sun has risen, and Sir Lancelot does not come. The Queen has no champion.”

Scully felt a terrible fist of fear grab onto her stomach, grinding its grip into her belly. Arthur huffed out a breath, obviously trying to think of a way to stall the proceedings. He opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut off by a cry from the crowd: “Sir Lancelot! He comes!”

Scully craned her neck to see down the field. There were two horses, one ridden by a short man whose face was hidden inside his own helmet…and one ridden by Mulder.

She tamped down her feelings, willing her facemask of ice to descend once more, knowing that she had to remain impassive during this whole event. If the Queen were to get too excited over Lancelot, it would certainly not go unnoticed. But she did allow a small smile to play on her lips as he saluted the King in the same manner as Mordred and then turned his horse to her side.

Their eyes met. The electricity of his stare coursed through her whole body, and she laced the fingers of her hands together, gripping herself to stay as steady as she could. She tried to telegraph her thoughts to him, the way they had always been able to do, and she saw the recognition of the message register in his eyes.

< I love you. Be careful. >

< I love you, too. I will be. >

But then, just for a moment, Mulder’s face changed, his eyes fluttering. Something stole across him, a great shudder that Scully could see even from her position above him, and her eyebrow arched its question to him. He gave a slight shake of his head as he composed himself, and he set his jaw.

< I’m fine. > The line she always used on him he now signaled to her. < Don’t worry. >

As Mulder turned his horse away to start down the field, something on his armor caught her eye. She sucked in a horrified breath as she realized what it was.

There, on the hip of his suit where his leg met his torso, a large splash of red marred the shiny surface. Scully shook her head slowly, a shocked cry rising within her.

Mulder was bleeding. He was hurt, and she strangled the noise in her throat to keep from calling his name. Scully threw a frantic look over at Arthur across the field, and his alarmed countenance confirmed that he had seen the blood, too. She pleaded with him with her eyes.

< Help him, Arthur. Please, stop this. >

She saw the muscle in his jaw jump, but he returned nothing more than a resigned inclination of his head.

< We cannot stop it, Gwen. You know that. >

Her face darkened into anger, and she started forward, intending to tear down the pavilion steps and race to Mulder’s side to stop this insanity. But before she could move further, she felt a hand grab her wrist, and she lifted her eyes to Leigh’s. The other woman’s features were soft with compassion, but she held tight to Scully. “There is nothing you can do, Gwen. He must fight, and he must win, if the two of you are to live.”

“He needs a doctor,” Scully hissed, realizing as her vision swam that she was close to crying. “He could die.”

“He is strong.” The authoritative tone of Leigh’s voice swayed her a little, and Scully turned back to the field, to where Mulder sat astride his horse. She watched as he took the lance the other knight handed to him and positioned it at his right side, sliding a shield over his left arm. Her words were so soft Leigh had to strain to hear them.

“I can’t help him, can I? There’s nothing I can do.”

Leigh squeezed her hand. “You can pray, Gwen.” She closed her eyes to do just that, and her lips moved silently as she offered her litany. But Scully couldn’t even be comforted in that action. She couldn’t take her eyes off Mulder.

The two knights faced each other from a distance of about thirty feet apart. Both snapped the visors of their helmets shut, their lances held ready, as they awaited the King’s signal to begin the joust. The crowd fell completely silent as Arthur raised his arm.

A flash of metal glanced across the field as Arthur dropped his hand, and both horses reared, then jumped forward as they started toward each other. The knights shot toward the center of the cleared raceway, their lances poised, positioned to thrust the opponent from his horse. The whole morning appeared to stop, as if holding its breath, as they pelted toward the inevitable.

With a thunderous, ringing crash, the men met in the middle, and Scully grimaced as the lances hit their targets on each knight’s shoulder. She heard them both cry out as they were knocked backward, and her eyes widened as Mulder tumbled head over feet off the rear of the horse. He hit the ground, the lance shattered into splinters and his shield flung far from his hand. He rolled immediately away from the horse, which maneuvered around him, heading off the field.

Mordred’s yell reverberated across the arena as he called for his sword. He, too, struggled up from the ground, and Scully was grimly satisfied that Mulder had managed to unhorse him. His squire ran to him with his weapon, and Mordred spun around, seeking his target.

Mulder remained on his knees, having just been handed his sidearm, and he had no time to stand before Mordred lunged at him, the handle of his sword gripped in both of his fisted hands. He raised it above his head, intending to bring it down full force on Mulder. Mulder threw his own sword up horizontally to block the blow. The impact reverberated across to the stands, and Scully gasped as Mulder shoved Mordred back mightily. The other knight, unbalanced by the force of his own forward motion and Mulder’s thrust, staggered backward, losing his footing and ending up flat on his back.

This afforded Mulder a moment to gain his feet, but Scully noticed as he did that the stain of blood on his hip had grown larger. A rivulet of it began to snake its way down the front of his thigh, and she heard the crowd mumble as they saw the signs of his injury. She could hear her partner’s ragged breaths below her, and he tore his helmet off, tossing it aside and taking huge gulps of air. He started toward Mordred, bringing the sword back in an arc, as the other knight scrambled up from the ground.

The blades met with a mighty chime, and they sparred back and forth for a few moments, trading thrusts and defending blows. At one point in the fray, Mulder pivoted, striking a blow to Mordred’s shoulder, dragging the sword through the soft, cloth area of the suit where the armor could not reach. The onlookers hissed as the blood from the wound sprayed across Mulder’s chest, and Mordred fell back, cursing.

Scully’s heart pounded as Mulder threw a glance up at her. His face gleamed with sweat, and his skin appeared almost translucent. He was losing too much blood, she knew, and the beginnings of shock were taking over his system. He stared up at her, apparently lost in her gaze, his eyes glassy with need. She felt her lip start to tremble as she silently threw every ounce of her own strength at him through the sheer force of her will. He faltered on his feet, lurching to one side, and went down on one knee, his face still turned toward her. He didn’t see Mordred approach him from behind, his sword poised, aiming for Mulder’s unprotected neck.

“Nooooooooo!” Scully’s scream sliced through the morning air at the same time Mordred’s blade fell. She saw the light in Mulder’s eyes instantly spark, awakening him once more, and he rolled to the ground, the sword singing its swath in the space above him. He kicked his leg out and caught Mordred on his ankle, successfully knocking the other knight into the dust. Mulder tumbled over on his side, Mordred beneath him, reaching for the sword that he had lost as he fell. He grabbed it in one hand and heaved it in a tremendous circle, bringing it down full force onto Mordred’s wrist.

The other knight shrieked as the blade sliced through the thin metal covering and severed his hand. Blood spurted, soaking the ground a horrible crimson. Mulder paid no attention to Mordred’s cries, however. Scully could see that his mind was locked in blind, white-hot rage. He raised the sword over the man’s head and held it there, staring down into the face below him. Even though she was a good fifteen feet away, Scully could still hear him speak.

“You.” Mulder spit the word like an accusation. “I should’ve known it would be you.”

Scully could not see Mordred’s face, but his voice was saturated with anguish. “Lancelot, I…I yield to your mercy.”

Mulder’s arm shook from where he held the sword aloft. Scully couldn’t tell if it was from hatred or from pain. “Then say it,” he demanded through his teeth.

Mordred gulped in a breath and raised his broken voice. “The Queen is innocent.” A huge shout of approval rose from the gallery. Scully felt the knot in her stomach lessen, and Leigh grabbed her arm, a smile on her lips.

Several knights ran forward onto the field as Mulder lowered his sword. One, the smaller man that had ridden in with Mulder, reached him first and helped him to his feet. He had removed his helmet, and Scully recognized the distinguishable features of Melvin Frohike. She grinned a little to know that Mulder had found another friend in this bizarre world.

She noticed Arthur descending the stairs of his pavilion, so she hurried to her own, meeting Sir Gareth on the way down. He gave her a brilliant smile. “I had every confidence in Lancelot, my lady Queen.”

She smiled back at him and stepped onto the dirt expanse. Mulder was surrounded by well- wishers, but his pasty skin and hitching breaths worried her. She made her way over to him as the crowd parted to allow her through.

He turned to face her, and she could see how sick he was. “My lady Queen,” he murmured almost playfully as he began to bow…and pitched forward as he passed out. The man who resembled Frohike caught him and eased him to the ground, calling his name.

Scully pushed through the other knights, forgetting all decorum and station as she fell to her knees beside Mulder. “He’s in shock,” she said to no one in particular. “We have to get him out of here and take care of his injuries.”

“These wounds came before the joust, my Queen,” Frohike told her. “They are terrible, worse than any I have ever seen…but he insisted on coming to defend you.”

Arthur’s voice boomed over them, and Scully was a bit relieved to see him standing beside Gareth. “Bring him to the surgeons. They are the best we have.”

“No.” A new voice cut in, this one softer, lighter, and obviously feminine. Scully glanced over her shoulder at a small figure behind her, a woman dressed in a forest green gown and a rich sable cape, and found her attention caught by the sight. The woman’s hair fell in lovely ringlets around her face, a face Scully recognized from the one time she had seen it as she choked within the Alien Bounty Hunter’s grasp.

Samantha. Samantha Mulder. Or at least, that was who they had thought she was.

This woman stepped forward, speaking directly to Arthur as if she had no regard for his rank. “He is dying. The surgeons will not be able to save him.”

Arthur’s face flushed a deep scarlet, one that screamed anger. “You are not welcome here, Nimue. This court has had enough of your tricks.”

“It is the sorcery of your sister Morgan le Fae that has felled this good knight, King Arthur,” Nimue intoned, her eyes flashing. “She wanted to help her son Mordred to the throne by any means possible. There is nothing of this earth that can help Lancelot now. But I know the way to save him.”

Scully laid her hand on Mulder’s forehead, shocked by the heat radiating from him. His fever could indicate that infection had already set in, and she had no idea what kinds of medical advancements this society had to work with. If only they were back home, she was sure she could treat him effectively&but here, like this, she had no idea what to do for him.

Scully looked at Arthur. “We have to do something. He is burning up with fever.”

“I do not trust her, Guinevere,” Arthur snapped, coming closer to her. “You know what she did to Merlin.” He began to say something else, something she could tell was more personal, but he clamped his teeth shut against it, and she couldn’t help wondering what the woman had done to incite him so.

Scully tried to remember the legend but came up short. Her worry for Mulder’s condition outweighed any other thoughts. “We have to help him. If she can do something for him, then we have no choice.”

Arthur’s eyes fell on Mulder for a moment, and Scully saw them soften. He stood there a minute longer, clenching and unclenching his fists, and finally spoke. “Then take him, Nimue. Do what you need to do to heal him.” He turned in a swirl of silver and stalked off.

Scully pressed her hand to Mulder’s cheek, not caring who saw her loving caress. His sweat slid over her fingers, and she willed her tears not to fall. He would survive. He had to, so that they could go home. She didn’t even look back at Nimue. “Tell me what to do.”


She runs, her gown a tangle of indigo gossamer about her legs, her high-pitched squeal of delight ringing in her ears. She catches the heavy panting of her playmate behind her, giving chase, shouting to her to stop, to come back…

// Dana! //

< Gwen! Gwen, come back here! >

She turns her head, the wind whipping her long hair in a flurry of red around her face. Through the strands, she spots her pursuer, and she smiles, slowing down, the wind rushing into her lungs and making her vibrate with vitality. The other girl trudges up behind her, obviously out of breath, leaning over her legs to gasp through her own grin.

// Dana, I’m going to kill you the next time you do that! You know you’re faster than I am. //

< Gwen, you run too fast! I cannot keep up with you. >

She laughs gaily and reaches up her hand, snagging a crimson apple from the branch that dangles above her head. The fruit shines in the summer sunlight, and she smells the citrus scent of it as she brings it close to her mouth.

// Dana, don’t you dare eat that! Mom said no snacks…it’s almost dinnertime! //

< No apples for you, Gwen! You know your mother forbade it! >

She cocks her head rebelliously and starts to answer…but the face before her swims in and out of her vision. She blinks, suddenly confused.

// Missy? Missy, is that you? //

< Leigh? What is happening? >

She closes her eyes and stumbles back against the trunk of the apple tree. She feels the scrape of the bark in her back and takes a deep breath, just as she senses a whisper of delicate softness against her cheek. She opens her eyes to see the man standing before her. His voice is deep, resonating in her ears and the fluttering space of her chest.

< Guinevere? Are you alright? >

His face is younger, clean-shaven, and he has not yet begun to lose his hair. He presses the pad of a fingertip to the delicate angle of her cheekbone, tracing a trail down to her jaw. His smile touches his eyes and his lips, and she notices the juice of the apple glistening there on the curve of his lower one. He sees her staring at his mouth and flicks his tongue out to lap up the sweetness. As he does, he leans in, drawing her to him, his kiss searing through her mind.

// Sir? You wanted to see me? //

// Mulder? Where’s Mulder? This is wrong! Not Skinner…where’s Mulder? //

She can taste the sharp snap of apple in her mouth as he deepens the kiss, but she puts her hands on his chest and shoves. He moves back, and she flashes a terrified look at him, her heart in her throat. Blue eyes stare back at her, the color of the sky on a clear October day. Her voice sounds distant, strange, and she can hardly understand the words that come from her.

< Lancelot, I love you. But we cannot do this. >

He grimaces at her words, the pain etched in the lines around his eyes and mouth. She has seen him in pain before, so many times, when he has been wounded, when…

// —when he was shot. On the Boggs case, and when I shot him in the shoulder— //

Her confusion swirls around her, mirroring the white petals of the apple blossoms dancing on the April breeze. She remembers being with him before in a tornado of white like this, sitting with him, his arm reaching toward her…

// —stretched behind me on our bench, as we ate our lunch by the reflecting pool. The cherry trees were blooming, and it was a gusty day, and he laughed when the flowers landed in his lidless iced tea— //

He strains to touch her, his voice seeping into her mind and heart, the same voice she has heard in her dreams for so many, many years…

< Guinevere, I need you. >

// Scully, I love you. //

// Scully. //

// Scully…Scully…Scully…//

She lurched awake, the movement of the wagon beneath her swaying her even further forward. She righted herself, pushing her back up against the rough sideboards, and turned her attention down to her lap. Mulder’s head rested there, and he was mumbling in his sleep, his brow glistening with perspiration. Scully used the hem of her gown to blot his forehead and laid the backs of her fingers against his cheek. The heat still poured from him, and she estimated his temperature had soared to at least a hundred and two. She stifled a roar of frustration and glanced to the front of the wagon.

“How much longer until we get there?”

The man called Bors turned slightly at the sound of her voice from his seat driving the horse, but it was Nimue beside him who answered. “Not long.” She pointed an elegant finger towards the horizon, where Scully could see a thicket of lush forest. “It is just through those trees.”

She fingered the makeshift bandages that crisscrossed Mulder’s torso. Bors had helped her remove his armor once several of the knights had lifted him into the wagon, and she had bitten her lip to keep the gasp of horror from escaping when she saw Mulder’s injuries. Angry scarlet cuts, some shallow, many more deep, covered the entire anterior side of his body. Scully had no idea what had happened to him, and she didn’t ask, instead ordering the man who so looked like Frohike to find her clean bandages. She had carefully stripped off the bloodstained cloths that already covered the wounds and redressed them, noting how many already looked much too red to not be infected. Wrapped in a heavy cloak and another blanket, Mulder now wavered in and out of consciousness as the wagon lumbered slowly toward its destination.

Scully had no idea where they were going. Nimue had regarded her with sharp, calculating eyes when she asked, and Scully had felt a discomfort she rarely experienced while caught in the other woman’s drilling gaze. Finally, Nimue had answered, “The only place that can heal him,” and walked away. Scully had to be content with that response if it meant keeping Mulder alive.

“&Ssscccull&” Mulder whimpered and shifted restlessly against her thigh. She could see his eyes rolling underneath the lids, the delicate skin fired from his fever into a deep shade of pink. She smoothed his hair back and wondered what he dreamed, what visions came to him in this fervent sleep.

She had been dreaming, she knew&but those dreams had seemed so real. She could remember Missy chasing after her in an endless childhood game of tag&being summoned to Skinner’s office, as on many occasions, to report on a case without Mulder by her side&giggling with her partner on their favorite bench by the reflecting pool, watching as he fished cherry blossoms out of a Styrofoam cup. Those memories penetrated her mind, and they were incredibly sharp and focused.

But so were the other ones.

The one where Leigh pursued little Gwen up hills and into valleys, calling her to come back to their castle home. The day that Arthur kissed teenaged Guinevere under her favorite apple tree, the stickiness of the fruit that he had just tasted coating her lips as well. The first time married Guinevere and valiant Lancelot had stolen away from Camelot, meeting as the sun set behind them and vowing through their longing never to act on their feelings for each other.

Those memories swam in her mind, too, clear as newly-shined glass, as palpable as Mulder’s hair sifting through her fingers as she stroked it from his sweaty brow.

But how could they be there? Those were not her memories. They belonged to Queen Guinevere of Camelot, not to Dana Katherine Scully.

Or did they?

Was it somehow possible that when she had assumed the body of Guinevere, that she had been given access to the woman’s mind as well? That she now knew everything about the Queen, even if she didn’t realize it?

And if this were true, then where the hell had the real Guinevere gone? Did she inhabit Scully’s body in the year two thousand, experiencing the same sort of strangeness that Scully was enduring? And did that woman now have a foothold into Scully’s life, the life she had worked so hard to keep private, the one that she had just recently begun to share for the first time in many years?

It didn’t seem fair. Scully blinked as hot tears flooded her eyes. She was not the kind of person to cry easily&but dammit, here she sat, trapped in the body of another woman, holding the man she had finally admitted she loved while his life bled out of him, feeling utterly powerless to do anything to stop it. And even if she could stop this, somehow finding a way to keep Mulder alive, then the question of how to get back to their lives in the twentieth century loomed before them like a threatening storm on the horizon. To top it all off, an idea continued to gnaw at her, one that she didn’t have any reason to believe was anything more than a wild fit of unsubstantiated unease, but one that she had started to think might actually be true.

Someone had caused this to happen. Someone had brought them both here for a reason, and someone seemed hell-bent on making sure they were never able to escape.

She chuckled morbidly at this thought and tucked a long strand of Mulder’s hair behind his ear. “I’m beginning to think too much like you, partner,” she whispered. She couldn’t imagine in her wildest fantasies how someone like C.G.B. Spender or the other members of the Consortium could have possibly managed to send them back through time&hell, most of them were dead now anyway, incinerated at El Rico while trying to carry out their schemes. Then again, she supposed anything was possible, given the outrageous things she had witnessed since working on the X-Files.

But right now, she couldn’t think about anything else. Mulder’s feverish cheek against her cool wrist reminded her of her priority at this moment, and she looked up as she felt the wagon begin to slow.

She hadn’t noticed that they had ridden into the grove of trees. They stretched their limbs above her head, a shady green canopy of filtering light. The forest seemed unnaturally quiet to her, as if it were waiting and watching for their arrival. Scully shivered involuntarily as the wagon passed through a long shadow and then chided herself for the response.

Nimue’s voice floated back to her. “There. Stop next to the cottage.”

Scully strained to look past Bors. Just ahead, on the left hand side of the path, she could see a small, squat structure built from rectangular stones. It crouched there, shrouded in ivy, which climbed up over the walls and hung in beckoning tendrils from the thatched roof. A small plume of gray smoke glazed the air above the chimney. Scully wondered who might be inside, expecting them.

The wagon came to a halt next to the house. Gareth dismounted and walked back toward Scully. He had ridden ahead of them the entire time, determined that she should have an escort, and his face seemed clouded as he approached. He glanced at Mulder. “How fares Sir Lancelot, my lady?”

“He is holding his own. I fear, though, that he will not hold on much longer.” She turned her attention to Nimue, who now stood next to the wagon. “What is this place?”

“A simple cabin in the woods. Lancelot’s salvation does not lie in there, but down that path.” She gestured ahead of them, and Scully followed with her eyes, picking out a small footpath amongst the greenery that snaked out of sight.

“Where does it lead?”

Nimue’s eyes snapped with something that Scully couldn’t recognize. “You shall see when you take him, lady.”

Gareth snorted. “The Queen is not taking him anywhere by herself, Lady Nimue.”

The woman’s cold gaze settled on him, and Scully was pleased to see he didn’t cower beneath it. “She must take him by herself. That is the only way to save him.” She looked back at Scully, and something like a smile briefly fluttered across her lips. “In one way, <she> is his salvation.”

“She is not strong enough to carry him herself, and he cannot mount a horse!”

“Then wake him, and he can walk with her. She can help him. But they must go alone.”

Gareth began another protest, but Scully held up her hand. “Enough. I will take him.” She smiled gently at Gareth. “I am stronger than you think, my friend.” Her smile faded when she looked back to Nimue. “What do I need to do? What am I looking for?”

“At the end of the path, you will find a lake of calm water. Strip off his bandages, and take him into it. It will heal him&if that is what you want.”

Scully shook her head. “What do you mean, if that is what I want?”

“You must figure it out yourself, lady. I have told you everything I know.” She abruptly turned away.

Scully felt her anger rising, but she held her tongue. She knew this woman would give her no other answers, no matter what she said or did. She squared her shoulders and slid her hands under Mulder’s neck, readying herself to help lift him to his feet. “Sir Gareth. Sir Bors. Help Sir Lancelot down after I wake him.”


Passing along the forest path seemed like a dream to Scully.

Mulder had roused easily enough, something that had encouraged Scully immensely. He had even walked the first part of the distance with only minimal assistance from her, although his eyes remained clouded and his face glistened with the effort. But as they journeyed deeper into the shade of the trees, a strange, shimmering mist had begun to envelop them, and Mulder had started leaning more and more heavily on her shoulder for support. His jagged breaths echoed eerily across the stillness of the woods, and she murmured to him encouragingly, her muscles straining to help keep him on his feet. And through the thickening mist, it became nearly impossible to tell how much further it was to the lake of which Nimue had spoken.

“Scscully,” Mulder gasped, and her heart lurched to hear how wet his voice sounded. She glanced down at his abdomen, her sickening fear confirmed to see the bandages stained red again. “I&I need to&to rest a minute.”

She shook her head. If they stopped, she feared they would never get going again. “No, Mulder, it’s just a little farther. Come on. We can do it.”

“Slave driver,” he muttered, and she couldn’t help smiling a bit. He was still Mulder, even in the face of these awful obstacles. She clutched him around his waist a little tighter and pulled him forward.

A few more steps, and the path widened, spilling them into a clearing of tall, emerald grass. Beyond it, the ground sloped gently downward, ending in a clear, broad lake of shining azure water. The undulating mist hung in great clouds over it, obscuring the view of the other side&but what Scully could see was breathtaking.

She grinned. “See, Mulder? There’s the lake. We made it.” She turned to look at him, but his head lolled onto her shoulder, his knees buckling under him, and the whole weight of his body came crashing into hers. She braced him and lowered him gently to the ground, laying him on his back.

She grimaced as she began to peel off his bandages again. Most of his wounds had stopped bleeding, but the one deep gash running horizontally across his belly ran with blood once more, aggravated by the jostling walk. It screamed in vivid crimson, and from the heat radiating from it, Scully knew it had to be infected. With the other injuries he had sustained, she surmised Mulder was too weak to effectively fight the infection. It was just a matter of time before it killed him.

Scully worked quickly, baring her partner’s wounds and praying fervently. She didn’t put much stock into miracle cures or healing waters&but she had no other choice. If this lake could help Mulder somehow, then she was bound and determined to get him into it.

She moved to stand above his head and tugged off the heavy gown that encased her, fumbling impatiently with the strange ties and loops that held the ensemble together. She stripped down to the gauzy shift that she wore underneath and then pulled that off as well. She was afraid to have anything extra encumber her in the water. Almost as an afterthought, she freed Mulder from his trousers too, not wanting to add more weight to his frame once they were soaked.

She took his wrists in her hands, careful to avoid the slitted sores on his palms and forearms. She gulped in a deep breath and pulled, and his body, although heavy, slipped easily along the slick green grass. It only took her a few moments to slide him to the edge of the lake.

Scully tested the temperature of the water with her foot, surprised at how warm and inviting the lake seemed to be. She backed into it until the water touched her waist, and then she crouched down, bringing her chin in contact with the surface. She reached forward, found Mulder’s wrists again, and in one fluid motion, drew him into the lake with her.

She tugged him further in, carefully stepping along the sandy bottom until the water naturally came to her shoulders. Mulder floated easily behind her, the lake water lapping up and over his torso and chest, his legs completely submerged. When she stopped moving, she turned, bringing her one hand underneath Mulder’s neck, the other supporting his back under the water. She stilled herself and waited, not knowing what to expect.

Mulder’s breathing was even and steady, and she pressed her fingers to his neck, checking his pulse. Faint, but not erratic, and she brought her face close to where his ear floated just above the water. She skimmed the long hair away from his sweaty brow, drizzling a little of the water across his skin to cool him. “Come on, Mulder,” she whispered.

His face remained impassive, and she knew he was far away, in whatever place his subconscious took him when he passed out. She pressed her lips to his shoulder, tasting the familiar tang of his perspiration mingled with the fresh sweetness of the lake. Her eyes closed, and her body began to slowly relax, the warm water gently massaging her aching muscles.

What was it Nimue had said? // She is his salvation. // She had no idea what that meant, and her tired mind seemed to hurt more than her throbbing body. She opened her eyes briefly, only to see the water around them threaded through with Mulder’s seeping blood, and she buried her face in the nook between his shoulder and neck.

Nothing. Nothing was happening to him. If anything, he was dying, while she stood in a lake and watched him bleed.

“Mulder, please,” she pleaded, her voice hoarse. “Please don’t leave me here alone. I’m scared.”

She felt her mind slipping away. The scientific side of her brain reasoned in those last few moments, telling her it was simply the effect of all the events that had transpired in the last two days, and now the stress of watching her partner’s life ebb away had triggered the most rational response: to shut down her entire system.

Scully dropped her head heavily against Mulder’s shoulder, her hands clutching him close, her consciousness tumbling down into the dark hole of nothingness.

Chapter Five (Rated NC-17! Please read responsibly!)

Her skin tastes of water and moonlight.

Beneath his seeking mouth, he feels her pulse thrum in her throat. Her head lolls to one side, and he peels her damp hair from her neck, lapping at her like a thirsty dog. His hands slide along her silky shoulders, dipping into the crevice between her breasts, and his heart races faster as she gasps when he rubs a thumb across one nipple. His arms feel heavy and slow, and he realizes they are under water, his feet waving briefly above the sand beneath them as he grapples her closer to him. His mind scrambles for purchase, too, trying to piece the details

// Lake. We’re in a lake. Scully brought me to a lake… //

together. He opens his eyes, but there is no water, only the slip of dark satin under his forearms. She is lying beneath him, her back arching into him as he looms over her. Her breasts heave toward him as if beckoning, and he snares one in his mouth, rolling his tongue around the erect peak. She weaves her fingers into his hair, and his mind goes gray with the pleasure of it, how she tugs

// This hair that’s much too long. Hair that’s not really mine… //

it as she rocks her hips, pulling him deeper into her. He grits his teeth in a sensuous grimace, knowing that he can’t last much longer. His hand drifts down between her legs, finding the sensitive nub that hides in her glorious folds, grazing it with two fingers. She stiffens, and he smiles against her straining chest, thrusting harder in rhythm with his hand. He throws his head up, his eyes wide and staring, needing to see her release…

And movement catches in his peripheral vision.

He cocks his head a bit to one side, and his blurring gaze falls on a figure standing in the shadows next to the bed. His startled gasp sticks in his throat, but his body is in overdrive, pounding into her now, building her climax under his fingers as he races toward his own. The candles in the room flicker, their tendrils lighting the broad, masculine features for a moment, and as he shudders his orgasm into her, his mind ignites in recognition.

// Skinner… Jesus Christ, that’s Skinner! What the hell — //

The walls of her entrance pulse around his cock, and he looks down at her again, noticing the endless waves of russet hair. Her eyes are open now, locked onto his, and she moans his name

// Scully…Scully, is it you? //

< Lancelot… >

and her green eyes shine with sweetness and love and

// No, Scully! Not Lancelot! I’m Mulder. I’m Mulder! //

the man in the shadows moves away from them silently, but not before the bright pang of shame and guilt twists in his stomach, jarring him

// Awake. You’re asleep, Mulder, wake up. //


The water slapping his chin roused him, and he shook himself fully awake. Something heavy and soft pushed at his body, and he realized Scully slumped against him, her head on his shoulder. He glanced around them, surveying their whereabouts, trying to get his bearings. He had a hazy memory of the two of them stumbling along toward the edge of a lake, but he had no recollection of actually getting into the water with her. Yet here they were, floating together in a locked embrace, with Scully in a sound sleep, her legs and arms wrapped around him in an almost protective way.

The moon beamed silvery light down on them, giving the water a mysterious, mirrored appearance. He moved in a slow circle to peer around them, his arms still tight around Scully’s pliant body, watching the tendrils of mist undulate like floating cobwebs over the water. It was nearly impossible for him to figure how much time they had spent in the lake. He brought his fingers up close to his eyes and squinted at them, noting that they weren’t any more wrinkled than they normally were when he took a fifteen-minute shower in the morning before work. And then he noticed something else.

No cuts. Not one on the palms of his hands where the sword bridge had sliced him to ribbons. His skin looked as smooth as a newborn’s.

He flexed his fingers into a fist and brought his hand in between his body and Scully’s, feeling along his ribcage. The deep gashes were gone.

Mulder chuffed out a disbelieving breath. He believed in a lot of things, things most people scoffed at outright…but he had also believed earlier today that he could possibly die. He knew he had lost too much blood, and he knew when he wavered in and out of consciousness that his body was in shock. He had been aware enough to notice the terrified look on Scully’s face, the one that she hadn’t bothered to hide. Oh yes, he had come very close to checking out permanently.

And now, here he was, wrapped in the arms of his partner in the middle of a peaceful, moonlit lake, without a nick on him.

Miracle? Healing waters? Magic? He shook his head a little, his mind spinning. This place they had stumbled upon certainly was full of surprises.

He cradled Scully’s head in the crook of one arm and wiped a stray strand of the terrifically long hair from where it stuck against one cheek. He had watched her sleep more times than he could count, but it seemed so odd now, to hold this woman that so resembled his partner, and yet was different too, in the subtlest ways. She murmured in her sleep and tightened her arms around his neck, and he smiled.

She may look different, he knew, but she was still his Scully. And he had her back, safe and sound.

He hated to wake her, but he knew he needed to do it. They were together again, and they needed to find a way out of this world. They had somehow managed to dodge a threat to their safety, and now his intuition kicked in, urging him to get them out, as fast as possible.

She moved against him, and he felt the sweet sensation of her nipples scraping his chest. He sighed in pleasure, and his mind turned back to the dream he had been having, the one where they were making love on the bed of satin sheets. It had been an amazing dream, so intense, so

// real //

Mulder frowned. Real. It <had> seemed real. The clutch of her body around his, the taste of her skin, the hushed rustle of their movement on the sheets…it had been more palpable, more tangible, than any dream he ever remembered having. It had been like a

// like a memory //

Could that be true? His sharp mind focused, considering the question. Was this body he now inhabited, the body of Lancelot of the Lake, remembering that experience? Could it be possible that Mulder now had access to those memories, that more and more of them would start to seep into his consciousness the longer he remained in this world?

He flipped the idea over, like a man turning a coin in his hand. He still felt like himself. Aside from the fact that he looked a bit different, and that he could obviously ride a horse and joust like a pro, he still felt like Fox Mulder, F.B.I. agent, profiler, and paranoid extraordinaire. And his mind still seemed to be functioning as it always did, pondering the possibilities in a realm of uncertainties.

Yep. Still the same old Mulder.

He looked at Scully again, and unable to resist, he leaned over her and pressed a soft kiss to her yielding lips. She stirred beneath him, and her lashes fluttered against his cheek as she opened her eyes. He smiled at her.

“Hello, Sleeping Beauty.”

Her eyes, those new emerald ones that seemed so alien and yet so familiar to him, met his. She searched his face for a moment, her mouth forming a word, and it struck him cold when she said it:


He pulled her face back from his, clutching her between his large hands. He shook her, suddenly terrified. “Scully!” His voice was sharp. “Scully, it’s me. It’s Mulder. Not Lancelot. Mulder!”

She blinked at him, and he saw recognition dawn on her upturned face. “Mulder,” she repeated, and he nodded vigorously. Her hands dropped from his neck to his chest, and she ran her fingers over his torso, examining him with a shocked expression. “Mulder, what’s happened? You…you’re…better,” she finished lamely.

“Do you remember, Scully?” His voice sounded strained, and he tried to quell the paralyzing fear that had risen in him like a tidal wave. “For a minute there, I thought you had forgotten who I was.”

“No, I just…” She blinked again, as if she were trying to find the right words. “I was dreaming, I think, or…”

“Or remembering?” He finished her sentence, and she stared at him, obviously stunned.

“Yes. It’s so strange, Mulder…but I think I am remembering parts of Guinevere’s life.”

He nodded. “I think it happened to me, too, while I was asleep. I was dreaming, but it seemed so real. I dreamt we were making love…”

“And someone was watching.”

It was his turn to be surprised. “We dreamed the same thing. Or remembered the same moment in time.”

“I think so. Arthur was watching us.”

“Arthur?” His mind clicked the pieces into place. He had seen the King the day before, on the jousting field, but he had not recognized him. “Skinner is Arthur, right?”

She nodded, her forehead wrinkled in concentration. “But I think something is wrong, Mulder. At the end of the dream, something happened. I saw something else, something I don’t think you saw, because the dream changed.” She pulled away from him, sloshing through the water, heading for the shore. “We have to go back to Camelot. I need to find out what happened to Arthur.”

“Scully, wait!” He called after her, but she moved quickly, and he plunged across her wake in pursuit. By the time he caught up with her, she had gained the grassy beach and was struggling into her shift.

He grabbed the bloodstained trousers heaped with his other clothes on the ground and yanked them on. “Scully, I think we should try to figure out how to get back, but not to Camelot. We’ve got to get out of here and back to our time, the sooner the better.”

She threw the scarlet tunic over her head and started up the slope. “I realize that, Mulder. But something has happened while we were away, something serious, and we’ve got to put it right before we leave.”

He left the rest of his wardrobe behind and yanked her to a stop with a jerk on her hand. “Scully. Be reasonable. We almost got ourselves killed. We need to concentrate on finding a way out of here before it happens again.”

Her eyes flashed. “Mulder, we have a responsibility to these people. We can’t just leave their lives in shambles. And I have a responsibility to Arthur…”

“Because you’re the Queen.” His voice was barely audible. He gazed at her, this tiny woman he loved, and he felt that fist clutch his heart again, sickened by the thought that crossed his mind. “You are not Guinevere, Scully. You are not the Queen, no matter how many people bow and curtsy to you. You are Dana Scully, and you have a responsibility to <our> world, not this one.”

Her bottom lip quivered, and Mulder swallowed hard. He had obviously struck a nerve in her. She waved helplessly at him. “I don’t understand what has happened to us. All I know is that I am having these memories, these feelings, that I can’t explain. But I can’t deny them, either.”

“I understand. I’m apparently having them too. But that doesn’t mean…”

She cut him off. “You didn’t let me finish. I’m remembering these…events…from someone else’s life. But I…I’m also forgetting details from my own.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t remember my telephone number. I can’t remember your birthday.”

He smiled, trying to calm her. “Scully, you never remember my birthday.”

“I’m not joking! I seriously can’t remember it. I know it’s in the fall sometime, but…”

He grasped one of her flailing hands and pulled her closer. He could feel her heart pounding in her chest, and he realized just how upset she really was. “Relax a minute, OK? I think I can explain that. We’ve been through a very strange and stressful ordeal. I think your mind is overloaded, and that can explain some temporary memory loss. It’s just the tension, Scully…”

She looked up at him, her gaze hard and searching. “I can’t remember my mother’s name, Mulder. I can see her face, but I can’t remember her name.”

He took a deep breath. She was obviously rattled beyond words, and that alone was enough to shake him to his very soul. Scully was usually cool and rational; having her ranting about her memory was as disconcerting to him as if she had admitted to seeing an extraterrestrial.

He stroked along the angles of her cheeks with his thumbs, hoping this would help to soothe her. “It’s Maggie,” he said quietly. “Maggie Scully. Your mother.”

She leaned her cheek into his hand and sighed. They stood there for a moment, and she let him hold her, and he tried his best to allow his strength to seep into her. “It’s going to be OK, Scully,” he murmured, his chin resting on her head. “We’re going to figure this out.”

She nodded mutely, and they started back up the path hand in hand. “I just want to talk to Nimue when we get back to the cottage,” she finally said. “I need her to tell me if what I saw was true.”

“You think she’ll know?”

“Yes. I think she has some sort of power that is lost on the rest of us.” She stopped for a moment and squeezed his hand. “And you should probably know, Mulder, before we get there: she looks like your sister.”

He acknowledged this news with a bob of his head, his thoughts tangling together as they tumbled in his mind. Langly, Frohike, Skinner, Diana…now Samantha?

And the hits just keep on coming. If he weren’t so worried, he would have laughed.


The moon disappeared as they walked. By the time the cottage came into view at the edge of the woods, the sky had begun to lighten to the soft gray of pre-dawn. Mulder stopped to wait for Scully. She had fallen behind on the hike back several times, her small legs no match for his longer ones, creeping exhaustion evident in her grim features. He was glad to spot the cabin; he wanted nothing more than to deposit his partner in a soft, warm bed so she could rest.

She caught up to him and slipped her hand into his. “We made it.”

“Yep. Just in time for you to lie down for a bit.”

She shook her head. “Mulder, there’s too much for us to do. We can’t waste time. I can sleep later.”

He started to argue, but he broke off when he heard the creak of a door opening behind him. They both turned toward it, watching as Bors stepped across the threshold, a wooden bucket swinging from his hand. He shone like a beacon in his armor, and Mulder couldn’t help wondering if he slept in that get-up.

He took a step forward, tugging on Scully’s hand, but she slipped out of his grip. He gave her a silent, questioning look, to which she shook her head firmly, flicking her eyes to Bors. Message received: she didn’t want the small man to get any ideas in his head about Lancelot and Guinevere, no matter what he may already know about their relationship. As much as Mulder didn’t like the idea, he understood her reticence. They needed to be careful around other people.

Bors noticed them, and from the surprise that registered on his face, Mulder couldn’t believe he didn’t drop his bucket. “Christ save us!” he bellowed, rushing over. He made the sign of the cross with his right hand and then reached it out to touch Mulder’s chest, tapping him tentatively to ensure he was real. “Lancelot, you’ve been healed. It’s a miracle of God!”

“Either that, or I’m made of stuff too tough to kill.” Mulder grinned, genuinely pleased to see his friend. Even though he had reconciled in his mind that this man was not his old pal Melvin Frohike, he had grown to like and trust Bors in his hours there as he did the diminutive Gunman.

Bors slapped him amiably on the back. “Come inside. The Lady Nimue wants to go into the next village to purchase supplies.”

Scully ducked between the two men and entered the house. “Supplies for what?” she asked.

Mulder and Bors followed her inside, where Mulder nearly collided with the woman the knight had just mentioned. Nimue stepped back, and Mulder caught his breath, staring at the features that were so much like those of the woman he had thought to be his sister.

Nimue assessed him coolly. “Sir Lancelot. I see you have healed.” She tilted her gaze over to Scully. “And we are in need of supplies for these two knights. They are about to set out upon a quest.”

“What quest? What are you talking about?” Mulder glanced at Bors, who shrugged and looked at Nimue.

“King Arthur is in grave danger. He has lost Excalibur, and you must find it for him.”

Mulder snorted a humorless laugh. “He lost his sword? How the hell do you lose a sword?”

“Someone stole it.” This announcement came from Scully. Mulder blinked, surprised. All the color had drained from Scully’s face, and she appeared to be about ready to faint. Mulder put out a hand to steady her, but she shook it off.

“I saw it,” she murmured to him. “I saw it in my dream. Someone hooded in black came into the throne room at Camelot and took it.” She directed her next statement to Nimue, who waited expectantly. “Then it is true. Arthur is sick, isn’t he?”

“Without Excalibur, Arthur has no power. The magick of the sword sustains him. Morgan le Fae knows this, and she stole it. With Arthur weakened, Mordred will have no one to oppose him. He will easily take Camelot by force.”

“No!” Scully’s exclamation stunned Mulder even more. What the hell was she getting so worked up about? They had more important things to worry about. They had to get back to their own time, to their own work…to the life they had begun together.

Scully stepped up to Nimue. “What can we do to stop it?”

“I told you. Sir Lancelot must retrieve the sword for him. Sir Bors can accompany him, but it is Lancelot who must carry Excalibur for the King.”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” Mulder interjected, wedging himself between the two women. He looked at Scully with stern eyes. “I’m not going anywhere. We have other matters that need our attention.”

Scully’s return stare mirrored his in its intensity. “Why must Sir Lancelot go?” she asked Nimue. “Why is he the only one who can find the sword?”

“Morgan le Fae has hidden it deep within the faerie realms. Only a person of faerie blood can pass into that world. And only Arthur’s greatest knight is strong enough to wield the sword in the King’s stead.”

Mulder puffed out an exasperated breath. “You’re talking about magic, right? I’ve got about as much magic in me as that stool over there.”

“You are the nephew of the Lady of the Lake herself. You can journey into the faerie kingdom and find Excalibur.” Nimue’s voice took on an ominous tone. “If you want to aid your King and save Camelot from destruction.”

Mulder started to retort, but Scully’s soft hand on his arm stilled him. “Mulder,” she whispered, wary of Nimue’s sharp ears. “You have to do this.”

He drew her aside from the others, not caring how it looked to them. “Scully, I want to get you out of here. I mean it. I don’t like the influence this place and these people seem to have over you.”

“I’m fine, Mulder. But I do feel a responsibility to help them if we can. If Lancelot can help Arthur now, then I think you have to go.”

He folded his arms over his chest, defiance building up in him like water behind a dam. “Doesn’t Arthur eventually lose his kingdom? What if this is how it happens, Scully? Aren’t we interfering in that case, instead of helping? What if we are altering the course of these lives simply by being here? Shouldn’t we be concentrating on getting the real Lancelot and Guinevere back where they belong?”

“What if it’s too late by then?” she countered. “What if Arthur dies? We can’t let that happen. Not if we can save him.”

He wanted to point out that it wouldn’t be her saving Arthur. Nimue had said nothing about Guinevere accompanying him, which bothered him even more. He damn sure didn’t want to leave Scully alone in this place again. But she had used the collective “we,” the one that couples used to imply their togetherness, their commitment to each other. Scully was appealing to his sense of duty, his sense of honor…and Mulder certainly had that, whether his consciousness resided in Lancelot’s body, or in his own.

He sighed. “I appreciate what you’re saying, Scully. I admire your devotion to helping these people. But right now, I’m more worried about you. And that’s always going to be my first priority.”

She smiled for the first time in what seemed like eons to him. “I know. But I’m really fine. And once we’ve helped Arthur, then we’ll go back. I promise. I want to go home just as much as you do.”

They stood there together, gazing at each other, until Nimue’s voice stirred them. “I see that Queen Guinevere has convinced you, Sir Lancelot.” She bustled past them. “We must begin our preparations immediately.”

“What do we need to do?” Scully asked.

“Sir Gareth can accompany me to the nearby village. There, we will purchase rations.” She looked pointedly at Lancelot. “Remember to eat nothing in the faerie realms that is offered to you. Their food is dangerous, even if you are of fae lineage.”

“And what should we do while you’re gone?” Mulder inquired.

“Rest,” she replied. “You’ll need all the strength you can get.”


Sir Gareth and Lady Nimue set out for the village as soon as the knight returned from his wood-gathering excursion. Nimue left Mulder with some parting words.

“We will return before sundown. That is when you must be ready. The veil separating this world and that of the fae is thinnest at the in-between times of the day. Twilight is the best time to find the portal to their kingdom.”

“How do I find it?” he asked, but she was already walking away.

“You won’t,” she tossed back over her shoulder. “It will find you.”


Bors was fast asleep when Mulder re-entered the cottage. The knight sat propped up in a corner on a stool, his head tilted back like the bobble-head baseball player Mulder’s father had bought him when he was a kid. Mulder tiptoed past him and cracked open the door to the only bedroom, where he had sent Scully before Nimue and Gareth embarked on their journey.

He spied her humped form buried beneath a mound of heavy blankets. In the semidarkness of the room, he couldn’t make out her features, but he figured she was asleep. Squelching the urge to crawl into the bed next to her, he began to draw the door shut.


Her voice was soft and plaintive. He slipped into the room and closed the door behind him, aware of the other man just outside. He sank down onto the bed next to Scully, who rolled onto her back beside him.

“You’re supposed to be asleep,” he scolded in a whisper.

“I can’t sleep. Not without you.”

He smiled. “You were the one who wanted to keep up appearances, my lady Queen.”

She returned his smile, but it was faint, and her brow creased in what Mulder recognized as her worried face. She grabbed his hand and held it between her breasts with both of hers. The look she gave him would have buckled his knees had he been standing.

“I was so scared for you, Mulder. I was sure you wouldn’t make it.” She brought his knuckles up to her cheek and brushed them against her skin. The sensation made him sigh. “I’m still scared. I don’t like sending you away like this, but I feel like we have no choice.”

“I was thinking outside, Scully.” He hesitated to mention it, not wanting to further burden her, but they had to make plans, especially if they were to be separated again. “You need to find out what happened to Merlin.”

“Merlin? The magician?”

Mulder nodded. “I don’t know these stories as well as you, but Arthur had a wizard in his employ. What happened to him?”

Scully shifted on the pillow, her hair moving in the half-light of the room like a dark wave on water. “Well, according to most of the legends, he fell in love with Nimue. She wanted only his magical secrets, not his attentions, so she trapped him in a tree or a cave. Something like that. Legend says he is imprisoned there still.”

“So Nimue knows where he is, and how to restore him.”

“Supposedly. But why are you so interested in Merlin?”

“I think he can help us, Scully. He’s a magician, right? Maybe he knows some way to get us out of here. To get us home.”

She smiled a little, the slight tipping of her lips that she gave to him when she was feeling indulgent. “Mulder, these are stories. Merlin was probably just some wise old man that everyone feared. He wasn’t really a magician.”

“That portal in the woods was real, Scully. It was created somehow. What if someone conjured it? Someone with the same sort of knowledge as Merlin? Who else in the legend had magical powers?”

“Well, the Lady of the Lake. Morgan le Fae. Nimue, although she was only thought to be an apprentice.” She sighed. “But there are a lot of tales in the Arthurian legends that have magical components. Just because these people were thought to be wizards and sorceresses doesn’t mean they actually were.”

“But it would be a place to start. I think if we could find Merlin, he may be able to help us, with or without magic. Maybe he knows the whereabouts of that portal, and we’ll be able to get out of here.”

“So that’s my assignment? To find Merlin?” Her tone was teasing, and he smiled to hear it in her voice. It gave him an assurance that she really was fine, and that together, they could make sense of the madness that had ensnared them.

He bent down and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Right now, your assignment is to get some rest.” He started to rise from the bed, but she tightened her grip on his hand, staying him.

“Come hold me, Mulder.” She shifted her body toward him, the covers falling away, revealing her shimmering skin. One naked calf emerged from between the blankets, stroking along the outside of his thigh, sending a tremor of desire through him like an arrow.

He tried to keep his voice firm and steady. “Not fair, Scully. If I get into that bed with you, I’m going to want to do a lot more than hold you.”

She lifted her head, surprising him by pressing her lips against his in a furious kiss. By the time they broke apart, his head was swimming, and his body buzzed with electricity. Scully wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down to her, nipping along the underside of his chin as he succumbed to her embrace. “Then do it,” she mumbled against his skin. “Do whatever you want. But I need you to come to bed with me. I need to know we’re still us.”

How could he argue with that? He stretched out next to her, pushing aside the remaining barriers between them, enveloping his senses in the rich, heady scent of her and the ecstasy of her yielding body. And for the first time since they had arrived in this strange, mutated world, Mulder felt what he considered to be good, and right, and true.

Chapter Six

Twilight had always been one of her favorite times of the day, yet Scully now found herself hating it instead.

Nimue and Gareth had returned from the nearby village about mid afternoon. Scully barely had enough time to rise from the bed and scramble into her clothes, not wishing these strange people to find her and Mulder wrapped naked in each other’s arms. They had parted reluctantly, with Mulder kissing her sweetly on the forehead before shambling into the kitchen and waking Bors from his corner stool. She watched his back longingly, knowing it would be the last kiss she received from him for awhile.

From the tiny cottage window, Scully observed the two travelers’ approach, the gentle knight leading a well-groomed horse upon which Nimue perched sidesaddle. The bags the horse carried were full to bursting, stuffed with fresh food and supplies. The sight of a loaf of bread peeking from beneath the flap of one bag awakened Scully’s stomach, and she realized it had been over a day since she last ate. She set about rounding up the few rations she could find in the cabin’s kitchen, determined to make a decent meal for them all.

Gareth brought her meat, cheese, and vegetables from the saddlebags, and she threw herself into the dinner preparations with a vengeance. It had been too long since she felt useful, and the cooking helped her to focus her mind as she worked.

She peeked out the window at the men in the house yard, her vision roving from one familiar face to another. Back at home, in their time, Scully would have rolled her eyes to see the Gunmen and Mulder together, hatching who-knew- what scheme to further their quest for the elusive truths they sought. Now, it made her heart ache to see Mulder with the two who so resembled Frohike and Byers. She hadn’t realized how homesick she could possibly be for their strange life, and for their friends, until those things were gone.

And now, it looked as if they might never return to that life. As strange as it was, as difficult and traumatic and painful as their journey together had been, Scully was struck suddenly with an understanding of Mulder’s feelings. He had pushed to get back home, to find a way for them to return to the year 2000…and she had instead insisted that they stay here.

What the hell had she been thinking? What was wrong with her? Why in God’s name was she so concerned with this time and this place, these people even, when the man she loved more than anyone could be put in grave danger once again? Why wasn’t she doing everything within her power to get them home, safe and sound?

“We don’t belong here,” she mumbled to herself. “We need to get back home.”

“You <are> home, Queen Guinevere,” a silken voice said from behind her. She whirled around to find Nimue hovering in the doorway. The other woman smiled mysteriously, and Scully shivered involuntarily.

“And we’ll be going back to Camelot on the morrow. You have nothing to fear.”

“I have much to fear,” she snapped, her words sounding like cracking ice. She didn’t like Nimue, didn’t trust her…but certainly couldn’t put her finger on why. She turned her back on her and began to scrub furiously at the potatoes she needed to add to her stew.

The other woman wafted up behind her, as seemingly ethereal as a spirit. “You will soon be back at the King’s side,” she hummed in Scully’s ear. “And you must do everything that is necessary to preserve this kingdom. It is your duty, considering the circumstances that brought Camelot to the brink of destruction.”

The insinuation in Nimue’s tone was evident. A wave of indignation rose suddenly in Scully, one fast and consuming and furious in its intensity. Its power stunned her as she felt herself spin on her heel, bringing her face to face with the other woman. The words that flowed from her tongue shocked her as well. It was an otherworldly feeling, as if watching herself from somewhere outside her body…a sensation she assumed was close to possession.

“How dare you presume to dictate behavior to me, Lady Nimue!” Her face felt as heated as the words themselves. “I am still the Queen, and I shall not be treated as if I were a common maidservant!”

Nimue narrowed her eyes, the disdain apparent on her face. “And do not forget, my Lady Queen, who it was that saved your precious Sir Lancelot. Were it not for me, all hope for Camelot would be lost.”

“Merlin could have saved him. Merlin could save Arthur as well.” The words were out before Scully even had time to consider their meaning. “Where is Merlin, Nimue? Are you somehow holding him prisoner?”

Nimue chuckled, but there was no mirth in the sound. “Merlin was a useless old man. His power had passed. You don’t need to concern yourself with him any longer.”

“Perhaps,” Scully countered. “Or perhaps you eliminated him so that no one could stand in the way of your own quest for power.”

Nimue shrugged. “My affairs matter not in the great scheme of things, but you, Lady Queen, have much at stake in Camelot. Your husband, your people, your crown…all hang in the balance. It is up to you to do what is right.”

“What are you suggesting?” The ominous quality of Nimue’s words struck fear in her heart. She apparently knew more than she was telling about the future of the kingdom, and Scully felt the sudden need to know now, before Mulder left her side, what was in store for them all.

But she didn’t receive her answer. The metallic chink of armor jingled nearby, and Scully turned her head to see Mulder standing in the doorway to the kitchen. His eyes flashed a questioning look at her, but he remembered his courtly decorum.

“My ladies,” he mumbled, inclining his head in a show of deference. “Lady Nimue, Sir Gareth requests your counsel in the yard.”

Nimue gave Scully one last, hard scowl and left the room with a swish of her skirts. Mulder watched her go and then moved to his partner. “What’s going on, Scully? The two of you looked like you were ready to start throwing punches any minute.”

Scully picked up a nearby paring knife and set to work cutting up potatoes, her slices swift and sure. “I don’t know, Mulder,” she sighed. “This is all so strange. There are moments when I can’t even seem to control what I say. It’s like Guinevere rises up inside me and…and takes over my body.”

She could hear the smile in Mulder’s voice. “Interesting. Sounds like an X-File.”

“Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we do need to get out of here as soon as we can.” She couldn’t bring herself to say the one thing that nagged at her mind more than anything else. The idea was completely absurd, and she was positive even Mulder wouldn’t believe in the possibility.

“We will, Scully. I’ll find the sword and deliver it to Camelot. You find Merlin, and when we meet back up, we can concentrate on getting out of here.”

She nodded, never taking her eyes from the dinner preparations. But even after Mulder squeezed her shoulder reassuringly and exited once more, she couldn’t shake the fear that Guinevere was overshadowing her consciousness…and that little by little, Dana Scully was losing ground in this body she now inhabited.


She watched silently in the delicate gloaming while Mulder sheathed his sword at his hip and slung a pack of supplies onto his back. Bors stood ready next to him, armed and appointed for their journey. Gareth handed Mulder a long, narrow skin filled with water, which he positioned over his right shoulder. Nimue stood in the shadow of a nearby tree and spoke when the knights turned to her.

“Keep walking toward the sunset. You will notice the mist first. Do not fear it. It is the doorway to the faerie realm. And remember: consume nothing in their lands.”

“Any idea how to find the sword once we’re there?” Mulder asked hopefully. Nimue shook her head, her face masked by the oncoming night.

“Morgan le Fae is a cunning adversary. Perhaps you can enlist the aid of the faerie folk to help you in your quest. I know nothing else to tell you.”

Mulder nodded. He looked at Gareth, and Scully noted the seriousness of his gaze. “Sir Gareth, I trust you will take good care of the Queen.”

“I shall, Lancelot. You have no need to fear for her safety.”

Mulder turned to Scully. She wished more than anything to rush into his arms, to feel one last time the tenderness and the strength of his embrace, but she knew it was not possible. She allowed a sad smile to touch her lips as he gave her one more chivalric bow.

“I take your leave, my lady Queen. Tell my lord King Arthur that I shall return Excalibur to him presently.”

She had to force her words around the lump in her throat. “Godspeed, good knight.” She hoped he could read in her eyes the depth of her love for him. And at the very last moment, she knew he could. Mulder raised his chin and winked at her. The smile on her face stretched, filling her whole being with warmth.

Bors lifted his hand in a wave as the two armored men set out from behind the cottage. Scully watched them go, the sun blazing its last hurrah of the day as it sank into the green dome of the forest. Her heart seemed to pump with the same fire as Mulder’s form disappeared into the thick of the woods.


The pain is worse than any she has ever endured.

It grips her in its twisting hands, wringing a cry from her lungs as the agony coils in her belly. Her eyes are screwed shut against it, but sparks fly in brilliant colors behind her lids, exploding in rhythm with the contractions as they seize her. The arcing lights remind her of her childhood, when she saw Merlin the Magician send shooting stars from his outstretched fingers, entertaining her and Leigh and the others…

// Missy. She and Missy at the base on the Fourth of July, watching the fireworks blaze across the dark summer sky…//

…at a birthday party at court. She had been amazed, and the old enchanter had laughed with the children…

// The children…her children…Emily…the baby…//

Her baby struggles to be born, its time come too early. She forces her eyes to open, and her straining gaze falls on Leigh at the foot of the bed. Her cousin’s face shines with sweat, pale in the yellowed candlelight that spills in pools around the chamber. She bends forward over her knees, catching her attention.

< Push, Gwen! You must push! >

She shakes her head back and forth on the pillow, a fresh scream bubbling up from her as another knife slices through her abdomen. Leigh throws her head around to peer over her shoulder. A shadow moves beyond the bed, but she sees nothing except the wave of a skirt over the cold stone floor.

< What did you give to her? > Leigh’s shout reverberates above her wail.

The voice that answers is familiar, feminine, and feral. < She wanted something for the discomfort. It will help her expel the child. >

The bed rocks as she bears down, the sensation of the child’s emergence making her body react automatically. She gasps one last time as Leigh stills, her nightshift covered in blood and fluids. The child lies there, a white, glistening mass nestled in the cradle of Leigh’s stained hands. They both wait, holding their breath as one…but no cry comes.

Her waiting woman lifts her tear-streaked face. No words issue from Leigh’s mouth, but she already knows what the verdict is. She clamps her eyes shut once more so she doesn’t have to see. She can’t bear to witness the death of her child…

// Mommy…please, let me go. //

She stands straight and still in the chapel with the coffin before her, a spray of white carnations adorning the small casket. Her partner’s presence at her side is comforting, but nothing can fill the ache in her heart.

// What men would create a life whose only hope is to die? //

He cannot answer her question. He cannot ease the sickness that seeps into her soul, engulfing her in grief beyond all measure. Her child, her daughter…she needs to release her,

// Please, Mommy. //

she needs to forgive those who caused her death and move on, but the sorrow clings fiercely in her memory…

// I’m so sorry, Scully. //

She allows his arms to enfold her, and the rhythm of his heartbeat beneath her cheek soothes some of the anguish. It was her last chance…

< The babe, Gwen…your son is dead. >

The tears begin afresh. It seems her eyes will never be dry again.

// It was my last chance. //

She cries as she rocks, as Leigh takes the boy from her, to wrap him in clean linens and present him to the King. She knows now it was their only hope, and Arthur will mourn Camelot’s loss while she and Lancelot suffer the child’s death in silent agony. Her eyes swell with the onslaught, but not before she sees Nimue slip from the room, a vial of dark liquid tucked into her hand…

//…my last chance…//

His arms around her are solid and sure, and she sobs into his shoulder, his breath stirring her hair as he whispers in her ear…

// Never give up on a miracle. //


She battled her way up from the depths of the dream, straining against its confines like a patient in a straight jacket. She pried her eyes open to peer up at the brushstrokes of steel gray and eggshell blue that vied for dominance in the sky. A streaking cloud blew across the sun holding court directly above her, and she realized it was midday.

She sat up quickly, feeling the scrape of splintering wood beneath her palms. She lay in the wagon, the one Gareth had hitched at dawn to the horse for their journey back to Camelot. But Gareth was nowhere to be seen, and Scully was suddenly afraid.

“Sir Gareth?” she called, scrambling to her knees. Her head hammered dully as she quickly scanned the clearing where the wagon was parked. She was reminded of recovering from hangovers in college, ones where she shuffled through a day of endless, droning lectures while wearing Ray Ban sunglasses to cut out the glaring florescent lights. Then, she’d go back to the frat house with her boyfriend, to do it all over again…

Her college boyfriend. What the hell was his name? Derek, or Dirk, or was it Drew..?

Shit. She had spent almost two years of her life sleeping next to the guy, and now, she couldn’t even recall his name. First her mother, now her old sweetheart. The thought that her memory was deteriorating rapidly filled her with fresh dread, and she gripped the side of the wagon harder, searching desperately for the bright shine of Gareth’s armor.

She didn’t remember falling asleep. They had set out early, before the sun rose. Gareth drove the horse with Nimue beside him, and Scully had huddled in the back of the wagon, her teeth chattering against the cool morning air. And now that she was awake, she couldn’t quite remember the dreams she’d been having, although the emotion of them lingered, the wash of sadness and emptiness that she’d experienced so many times in her life, especially when a loved one had left…

She couldn’t think about that now. That feeling compelled her to consider Mulder, braving some strange new world that she couldn’t even wrap her scientific mind around, and the idea of him becoming lost to her was more than she could bear.

She shifted again in the wagon, searching for the other horse, the one that Gareth had ridden when they had brought Mulder to the cottage. The knight had tethered it to the back of the wagon to lead it along with them; now, the horse was gone.

Where in the hell was Gareth? And for that matter, where was Nimue?

Nimue. Just the skittering of the woman’s name across her consciousness made Scully swallow hard. There was something about the woman, something from her dream, that burrowed itself deep into her gut and clenched with ferocious talons of hate. Guinevere hated Nimue, Scully realized now, and that emotion was bleeding over into Scully’s own opinion of her. But Guinevere had good reason to hate her, she somehow knew…and that reason had been clear in the dream. If only she could remember…

A small movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned to see the glint of metal through the rustling leaves of a nearby bush. A low sigh issued from the shrub, and she pushed herself up, worry evident in the creasing of her brow. Was Gareth hurt somehow? What had happened to him?

She jumped down from the wagon and approached the bush warily, her eyes darting back and forth. Her intuition, the inner voice that spoke to her on stakeouts and suspect pursuits, seemed poised on high alert, and she felt her muscles tense, readying her body to spring if trouble presented itself.

She found nothing in the brush but Gareth, flat on his back and sleeping atop a blanket. Spread next to him were the remains of lunch, cold meat and fruit and a flask of warm wine, plus two sets of utensils. The other diner, however, remained missing.

Scully leaned over and touched the man on the shoulder, not wishing to startle him. “Sir Gareth,” she murmured in a low voice. “Wake up.”

It took a bit more prodding to rouse the knight. When he finally sat up, Scully could see the clouded confusion in his eyes. He brushed at his auburn beard, trying to compose himself.

“My lady Queen,” he started, then faltered. “I…I must have dozed off after our midday meal. Please forgive my negligence. I…I do not…remember…”

“Did you eat with the lady Nimue?” Scully asked. “Where is she?”

Gareth glanced down at the scraps of leftovers and then at their surroundings. “She…she wished to stop. You, my lady, were asleep in the cart, and she said that we should not wake you. I…I am at a loss. I know not where she may now be.”

Scully picked up the stone goblet nearest to Gareth. It was empty, but she ran her fingers inside it, a trace of wine wetting the tips. She raised them to her nose, inhaling, her mind working frantically, grabbing onto a detail from her dream…

// Nimue slipping from the bedchamber, a vial of dark liquid hidden in her hand— //

Had Nimue tainted the drink, adding something guaranteed to knock the knight out? What in the world was the woman up to? And why would she want to incapacitate Gareth?

She frowned. Something was very, very wrong. Red flags were waving everywhere in her subconscious, but she was still muddled from her own deep sleep, and from the disturbing feeling of her dream…

// Poison. Nimue poisoned Guinevere, so that her baby would be stillborn. //

Scully dropped the cup onto the ground. It chinked against the earth as it hit, jarring Scully’s mind into action.

She knew now. She understood. Nimue was not on their side. She was trying to hinder them, just as she had been trying to undermine Arthur and his dreams for Camelot all along.

Gareth blinked as the goblet fell, the noise seeming to stir him, too. He moved his hand to his waist as he shambled to his feet. Scully watched as he grabbed uselessly at the scabbard that hung there. It was empty.

He raised wondering eyes to her. “My…my sword. It is gone.”

The words came out of Scully in a rush. “Nimue took it. She took the horse, too. I realize it now. She is not trying to help us, Gareth. She is one of Arthur’s enemies. We must leave this place at once. We have to get back to Camelot to warn Arthur…”

Her sentence was cut off by a new sound, one that vibrated the soil under their feet. They both turned in the same direction, and Gareth’s face grew grim.

“Riders. Quite a few. Coming this way.” He trained his eyes on Scully. “And if what you say is true, my lady, then they are coming for us. But weapon or no, I will defend you until my last breath, as I promised Sir Lancelot.” He swept up his helmet in one grand gesture and started forward, but Scully caught his arm.

“Gareth, no. You’ll only get hurt, and Arthur needs you well and whole. Please. Just let them come.”

He shook her off gently, as a father does with a pesky child. “My lady Queen, it is my sworn duty to my King to behave as a just and valiant knight of the Round Table at all times. I can no more stand aside and see you accosted as I could my own wife. I will keep you safe if it is the last thing I do. Now, stay here, and keep yourself hidden. We still have the advantage of surprise, for they know not where we are.”

Scully started to argue, but Gareth strode away, heading toward the wagon. She puffed out an exasperated breath and ducked behind a nearby maple tree, cocking her ear in the direction of the pounding horses’ hooves. She saw Gareth pull himself up into the wagon and hunker down below the sideboards, effectively hiding himself from view. She didn’t know exactly what he had planned, but from the thundering sound that grew louder with each second, she could tell that they were desperately outnumbered.

With a tremendous commotion, the riders swarmed into the meadow, coming from the direction of Camelot. She watched from between the thick leaves around her as Sir Agravaine, the man who resembled Mulder’s detractor Jeffrey Spender, reigned in his mount. He wore no helmet, unlike the other anonymous riders behind him, and Scully was astonished to see one who bore the Pendragon standard on a pole. There was no doubt in her mind that these men were not loyal to Arthur; why were they carrying his colors? Another trick, perhaps, to gain their trust?

She didn’t have time to consider it. Agravaine glanced around the clearing and then nickered to his horse, urging the animal closer to the abandoned wagon. As soon as they moved next to it, Gareth sprung into the air, swinging his heavy helmet in a wide arc and connecting with Agravaine’s unprotected face. He cried out as the metal smashed into him, effectively unseating him from his horse. In one smooth motion, Gareth grabbed the horse’s reigns and leapt into the saddle, pulling Agravaine’s sword from its place in the sheath attached at the rider’s side.

Another rider was on him instantly, his drawn sword pointed directly at Gareth. The gentle knight let out a bloodcurdling whoop worthy of the worst butcher in the world and met the other warrior squarely. Their swords rang as they traded blows. Scully could see the intense scowl that Gareth wore, and although he fought like a tiger defending its cubs, the other knights crowded around him, surrounding him in a menacing circle. Her hands curled into angry fists as they dragged him from the horse, where she could no longer see him struggling.

She heard Agravaine’s voice then, clogged with blood. Grim satisfaction filled her as she realized Gareth’s blow must have broken his nose.

“Well met, brother.” The sea of knights parted as Agravaine approached, his flushed face nearly the same color as the blood that spilled across his chin. Gareth had been stripped of his weapon and forced to his knees. One man held the edge of a sword under his throat, exposing the flesh there by yanking his head back by the hair. Scully kept still, trying to listen.

Agravaine smiled humorlessly. “You always were better at Hide and Seek than the rest of us, Gareth. So now tell me: where did you hide the Queen?”

The bitter look on Gareth’s face did not fade. “I shall not betray the Queen, Agravaine. Not as you have betrayed the King, and all of Camelot.”

Agravaine leaned down to speak, his voice taking on a persuasive note. “Our half-brother Mordred is the rightful King, Gareth. Arthur has no other heir. It is his right to take the kingdom. And for what better position could we ourselves ask but to be in Mordred’s good graces? He will deny his brothers nothing once he ascends.”

Gareth spoke through clenched teeth. “Arthur is still King. Mordred has no right to the throne while the King lives. And the loyal Knights of the Round Table will defend Arthur’s true kingship until their dying days.”

“Alas, my brother,” Agravaine replied, shaking his head. “You have chosen the wrong side. And you must have chosen < this > as your dying day.” Gareth stiffened as the sword whispered closer to his skin. “Do not force my hand, brother. Where is the Queen?”

Gareth’s eyes snapped defiant fire as he stared silently at Agravaine. A long moment passed; finally, Agravaine straightened up. His countenance saddened for the briefest instant and then hardened once more. “So be it, my brother. I will miss you.” He turned his back on Gareth and started toward his horse. “Kill him.”

“No!” Scully’s call rang out across the meadow as she fought her way through the tangle of brush hiding her. All of the knights froze, and she could see the utter dismay that crossed Gareth’s face as she appeared. She ignored it and rushed to his side, knocking the knight who held him prisoner back with a fierce blow to his arm. Another man started toward her and then stopped, as if unsure how to approach her. She wheeled around and faced Agravaine.

“How dare you, Sir Agravaine, accost this good knight, a servant of the High King himself?” Her words appeared to stir fear in the rest of Agravaine’s faction, but the man himself did not waver.

“The High King is currently in no condition to dispatch his office, my lady Queen,” he retorted, stepping up to her. He grabbed her arm and twisted, and Sully winced as the pain shot into her shoulder. From his knees, Gareth grunted, but he was held back by two more knights.

“Unhand me, sir knight, or I shall waste no time in bringing you up on charges before the King.”

Agravaine chuckled disdainfully. “That will gain you nothing, madam, considering that the King is no longer loyal to you.”

Scully swallowed hard, trying to expel the taste of fear that thickened in her mouth. “What do you mean? Explain yourself.”

Agravaine spoke slowly, allowing his words to sink in. “Your husband Arthur lies unconscious, the victim of an unknown malady. Nothing can revive him. In his stead, his son, Sir Mordred, now rules as High King. And Mordred…” Agravaine paused, his weasely eyes assessing Scully like a pirate scrutinizing a gold coin, “Mordred is the one who sent us to find you. You and he have much to discuss, Guinevere. About Arthur and Lancelot. And about the fate of Camelot.”

He pulled Scully forward until they were next to his horse. He placed her hand on the saddle pommel and smiled. “Let us go, Lady Guinevere. The new King awaits your arrival.”

Chapter Seven

It seemed that getting lost was becoming a habit for Mulder.

He and Bors had found the mist Nimue spoke of easily enough. It was rather hard not to. They had walked toward the setting sun, going in the same direction that Mulder remembered from his journey with Scully to the healing lake. He estimated they hadn’t gone farther than a quarter of a mile when the first wisps of fog began to skate by them. Gradually, the earth tones of the surrounding trees and brush grew fainter, erased eventually and completely by the frosted mist that engulfed them. As they plunged deeper into it, a surreal hush fell across the world, the only sound the crunch of their boots on the ground and the faint ring of their armor as they moved.

Mulder didn’t like it. It reminded him too much of the feeling he’d had back at Joyous Gard, when he’d met Morgan le Fae at the drawbridge made of swords. His Spooky Sense set every nerve in his body on edge, and he kept his hand on the pommel of the sword he wore at his waist, ready to draw it if necessary. They’d been walking for more than two hours, and he couldn’t tell if they were actually moving in a specific direction or just traveling blindly in a circle. More than anything, the quiet disturbed him, and after barely speaking to his companion for such a stretch of time, he couldn’t take it any longer.

“Bors. Tell me more about Lancelot.”

The smaller knight glanced over at him, his brow furrowed. “I know not what you mean, Lance. Tell you more about…yourself?”

“I’m not Lancelot, remember? I’m just a…guest, I suppose.”

Bors shook his head. “We should have had the lady Nimue prepare one of her infamous potions for you, cousin. Perhaps it could have fixed this strange temperament that seems to have overtaken you.”

“So Nimue is a doctor? A pharmacist?”

Bors crossed himself quickly. “She’s a sorceress. You, of all people, should know that.”

“Why me, of all people? What do you mean?”

Bors eyed him critically. “A night ago, we feared for your life, Lancelot. I was certain you had no blood left in you, and yet Nimue brought us to that strange lake, and you were healed. Is that not enough to convince you? Have you also forgotten her part in Merlin’s disappearance, and in the tragedy of the Queen?”

Mulder’s ears perked up at the mention of Guinevere. “What about the Queen? What happened between her and Nimue?”

Bors stopped walking, staring at Mulder as if he had gone completely mad. “I do believe you have hit your head at some point, Lance, to jar all these strange notions into your brain. You cannot remember?”

Mulder sighed, trying not to let his impatience bleed through into his speech. He genuinely liked Bors, and he understood the knight’s disbelief concerning Mulder and Scully’s appearances in this world. However, he was beginning to become a bit exasperated by Bors’ staunch determination that his cousin was still intact, still the Lancelot that he had always known.

“Come on, Bors. Humor me, OK? What happened between the Queen and Nimue?”

Bors began walking again, and Mulder followed, matching the smaller man’s shorter strides. “They are rumors, of course, ones that ran rampant through Camelot at the time. Arthur could never act on them because they couldn’t be proven. But after Nimue enchanted Merlin, the two acts coupled together were enough for Arthur to banish her from court.”

Mulder waited. The event, whatever it was, apparently pained Bors to mention, and he sensed that if he pushed, Bors would drop the subject all together.

The knight continued, keeping his eyes straight ahead, off Mulder’s face. “It is said by Guinevere’s women that Nimue is responsible for the death of the King’s son.”

Mulder frowned. “The King’s son? I thought Mordred was his son.”

“That he is. Mordred is Arthur’s bastard, engendered upon Morgan le Fae. She enchanted him on the night of his coronation, and he knew not that he took his own half-sister into his bed. Mordred is the product of that union. Morgan has always hated her brother, because of the sins of his father Uther against her father Gorlois, and because he has gained the power after which she so desperately lusts. Since she will never rule, she will do anything to see that her son does. Including orchestrating the killing of Arthur’s true heir.”

It was Mulder’s turn to stop walking. “Wait a minute. You’re saying that Arthur had another son, but he was killed? By Morgan le Fae? What has that got to do with Nimue?”

“It was never proven, I told you. But in her childbed, the Queen asked for something to take the edge off the pains of the birth. Nimue was summoned for her knowledge of healing herbs and remedies, and she brewed a potion for the Queen. Her waiting women and the midwives say that the draught brought even more suffering to Guinevere, and when the child was finally born, he was already dead. Since that time, the Queen has been unable to conceive. Arthur has no other son but the bastard Mordred, to whom he does not wish to give the throne. He knows Mordred’s heart is as black as his mother’s, and he is afraid of what will become of Camelot if Mordred rules.”

Mulder’s head spun, but in its turmoil, he latched onto something. “So you’re saying that Nimue is working for Morgan le Fae. You’re saying that she is not loyal to Arthur.” He grabbed Bors by the strap of one of the saddlebags and yanked him up to him, his panic rising. “Why in the hell did you let us walk out of there, leaving the Queen with her?”

Bors covered Mulder’s hands with his, trying to shake him off. “Lancelot, Gareth is with her. She is in no danger. Mordred cannot touch her, not without bringing the entire Round Table down upon him. He is not that powerful.”

“But Arthur is sick! Nimue said that without Excalibur, Arthur is powerless, and Mordred could easily take Camelot by force. I would have never let Scully go with her if I’d have known all this! It’s a trap!” Mulder released Bors and paced away, running his hand through the tangle of his hair. “Jesus Christ! What in the hell was I thinking? This is insane!”

“Lancelot, Gareth will protect the Queen. You couldn’t have asked for a better knight to stay at her side. You know that. You knighted him yourself.” Bors approached him but stayed a few steps away, alarmed by the stormy expression on his friend’s face. “And Nimue also said that the only way to restore Arthur’s good health is to find the sword. It is the only way that he can keep Mordred at bay. We must remember our task, Lance, and leave the Queen and Gareth to theirs.”

“But what if Nimue was lying? What if this is just a wild goose chase, to get us away from Camelot, and to leave the Queen unprotected?”

Bors regarded him grimly. In his look, Mulder read the intense devotion and loyalty that this man gave to his country and its people.

“Then we must either discover Excalibur or the ruse as quickly as possible, so that when we return, we do not find Camelot in ruins.”


They stopped to rest a good hour later. The lacy fog thickened around them like a huge, friendly feline as Mulder un-shouldered the water bag Gareth had given to him before their departure. He fumbled with the strange stopper mechanism for a moment and then lifted the skin to his lips.

No water came out.

Mulder blinked and shook the thin bag, listening for the telltale slosh of liquid. When none came, he turned the skin upside down and squeezed it, wringing the end up like a tube of toothpaste.

Not a drop spilled onto the ground.

He shook his head in disbelief and threw the bag to Bors. “Explain that, my friend.”

Bors caught the waterskin and puzzled over it, turning it this way and that as Mulder shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. His body was starting to ache from the weight of his armor, and his throat clamored for refreshment. He pushed his physical needs to the back of his mind and focused on Bors.

Bors finally tossed the bag to the ground in frustration. “That skin was full when Gareth handed it to you. I watched him fill it myself.”

“Could it have leaked?”

“It is unlikely.” Bors took a deep breath and scrubbed at the growth of stubble on his chin. “The faerie realms are strange. Perhaps it is another enchantment.”

“Or maybe it’s just Nimue, screwing us again.” Mulder swallowed, trying to lubricate his parched throat.

“‘Screwing us?’” Bors looked perplexed, and Mulder waved him off, not wanting to get into a discussion about slang.

“Never mind. We’re not going to survive anywhere for very long without water. We’ve got to try to find some.”

“It will do us no good, Lance. We cannot drink the water in this land. Remember what Nimue said?”

“Nimue is the whole reason we’re in this mess!” Mulder snapped. “How in the hell can we trust anything that she’s told us?”

“Just the same, you know as well as I that the foods of the fae are enchanted. Who knows what will happen to us if we consume it?”

“Well, I know what will happen to us if we don’t get any water. We’ll die, plain and simple.” Mulder turned in a circle, trying to see through the soup all around them. “Goddamn it! How are we supposed to find anything in this place? There doesn’t even appear to be anything here!”

He felt the vibration of Bors’ hand clamping onto his shoulder through his suit of armor. The other man’s eyes were compassionate and unworried. “Let us rest awhile, Lance. You need it. Perhaps some solution will come to light.”

Mulder sighed and nodded, all his energy suddenly gone. He sank down to the ground, where he found the root of a tree pushing up through the earth. He scooted back until he bumped into the trunk, propping himself against it. He let his eyes droop closed, his tired mind grasping desperately onto thoughts of Scully as he drifted off to sleep.


Her cries are worse than any he could ever imagine. They cut deep into him, searing his soul, and he longs to rush to her, to somehow absorb her anguish and bear it himself. He cannot do this any more than her husband, the King…and it is not his place, anyway, no matter what words they have exchanged in the past, no matter what deeds have brought them to this moment…

< Lancelot, I love you. Arthur knows. >

He shakes his head, chasing the memory away. She screams again from behind the heavy oak door, and his stomach clutches as he turns away, trying to duck beneath the waves of agony. He crosses the anteroom, intending to choke down a cup of mead to dull his senses…but Arthur sits at the table, blocking his path. He slows, the look of abject dread and terror present on the King’s face halting him.

Arthur’s eyes meet his. < I cannot bear to hear her suffer so, Lance. >

His hand drifts down to rest on the King’s shoulder. This is his best friend, a man loyal and honest and brave, and he knows it is his duty to support him. Yet the words stick in his throat as his love for the Queen washes through him, overpowering any other sympathetic feeling he might have.

< I know, Arthur. > It is all he can think to say.

< If something happens to her… > Arthur trails off, and when he looks up at him again, his dark eyes are misted with emotion. < I wanted nothing but her happiness. She longed so for this child. >

His own eyes fill against his will. He vows not to release the tears, but they fall anyway as Arthur clutches his forearm. They are two knights, men of action left despondent, helpless to rescue the one woman they both love.

He swallows hard as Guinevere shouts one last time…

// You were right. This child was not meant to be. //

The smells of antiseptic and disinfectant cloy at him, the shine of metal in the fluorescent light too bright in his eyes. Her hair is like a flame against the white sterility surrounding them, and he longs to embrace her, to hold her up and strengthen her with the love that consumes him. But she wants to be alone to grieve for her child, to say her goodbyes as the girl lies dying in the next room…

//…but the answer is yes. //

The expression on her face when he says the words makes his heart skip in happiness. She wraps her arms around his neck, and her jaw trembles on his shoulder. He squeezes his eyes shut, thankful for her embrace, the knowledge that he has given her such joy bubbling a wide, grateful smile onto his face. Together, as always…they’ll do this together…

// I guess it was too much to hope for. //

..and she is in his arms again, tucked up tight against his body, leaning into him as if she cannot hold the weight of herself upright any longer. Her tears splash tiny droplets against the skin of his neck, and he rocks her gently, just as they would have rocked their baby…the baby that is not meant to be…

// It was my last chance…//

She will not look at him when he comes to her afterwards, hiding her face behind the veil of her long, fiery hair. He takes her hand and kneels at her feet, desperately trying to convey his love and his sorrow in the stroke of his fingers over hers. Her usually steady voice cracks with grief when she finally speaks.

< What have we done, Lancelot? Our son is lost to us. Our hope…is lost to us all. >

He cannot stand to hear the desperate longing in her voice, the plaintive note that cuts him deeper than any wound he has ever had. He presses his forehead to hers and once more gives her the strength of his beliefs…

// Never give up on a miracle. //


The coughing fit woke him. Clutching starts in the deepest part of his chest thrummed miserably through him, and he rolled onto his side, automatically seeking fresher air to fill his stifled lungs. He wrenched his eyes open, expecting to see nothing but the impenetrable bleakness that surrounded him when he dozed off. Instead, he bumped his nose against the cold, unyielding marble of an alabaster floor.

Mulder groaned, sick to his stomach. His thoughts shot immediately to the enchantment at the bridge, the gut- wrenching nausea that had been his downfall there, and willed his insides to calm. What the hell had happened to him now?

Perfume thickened the air around him, a scent like roses mixed with oranges and cinnamon. It might have been attractive in small doses, but it clogged his senses, rendering him dizzy and disoriented. He swallowed, and the odor burned in his throat, setting the fire there blazing anew. He needed water, and he needed it badly. He wondered if perhaps this was delirium, if maybe he was so dehydrated that his mind had shifted into some weird fantasy.

He tried to spit the taste of the perfume out of his mouth, but he didn’t have enough saliva to expel it. He braced his palms on the cool floor and heaved a great breath, hoping to clear his head. As he did, a shadow moved across him, and he jumped, flipping himself onto his back again.

He couldn’t quite make out the features of the woman who stood over him. Her figure was backlit, casting her mostly into darkness. Her hair, though, hung in bright, almost- white layers that nearly reached her waist. Her gown glowed white, too, and for a moment, Mulder wondered if he’d died and somehow reached the angelic world of the other side.

The words he spoke were nothing more than a hoarse croak. “Where…where am I?”

The woman’s voice hummed in his ears, a rasp that he recognized but couldn’t quite place. “You are in the land of the fae, Sir Lancelot. Do you not recognize your own people?”

He decided it would be better to ignore that question. “Where is Bors?”

The figure gestured vaguely behind her. “He is being attended by one of my sisters. I have been sent to attend you.”

“Sent by whom?”

“Queen Maab, the ruler of our lands. Do you not know her? She is the sister of the Lady of the Lake. Are you not her kin, too?”

Mulder sat up, still trying to bring the roiling sensations in his body under control. He coughed again, a violent spurt that caused his eyes to water, and the woman bent down to him. Her face was beautiful, with ivory skin stretched over fine cheekbones. It was a face he remembered, and he recoiled in shock.

Marita Covarrubias. This woman looked just like her.

Her lips curled into a smile. “I am called Elaine. Won’t you let me assist you, my lord?”

He slid away from her, trying to keep his distance. Another stabbing cough gripped him, and the fire burned down his throat and into his chest. The one named Elaine watched him with concern and touched her hand to his cheek. It felt like cool satin against his rough skin, and Mulder found himself sinking into that comforting sensation, his head beginning to loll into her.

“You need refreshment, my good knight.” Her words wove around him like a luxurious cloak, and he felt himself slip further into her waiting hands. He tried to focus, tried to concentrate, to remember something important, something Bors had warned him about, but his mind was sliding slowly away, like a stone on ice…

“Come. Drink.”

He opened fluttering eyes to see her kneeling beside him, a beautiful goblet of gold in her hand. She held it out to him, and he could see the liquid that glistened inside it, clear and inviting. He tried to swallow and speak, but nothing happened. His eyes leaked a single tear, and as he felt it trail down his cheek, he marveled that he still had enough water in his body to produce it.

Water. It was something about water…something Bors had said…

The beautiful maiden extended the cup, bringing it up to his mouth. The goblet touched his lips, sending a shiver of anticipation through him. He needed to drink, needed the water so badly to quench the agonizing fire in his throat…

“Drink, Sir Lancelot. Drink, and stay with me.”

Mulder swallowed, and time seemed to spin out in an endless spiral as the marvelous water cascaded through him, washing him away on waves of satisfied need.


He is aware of nothing but the silky sensation that slips across his skin. He doesn’t think to question it…his mind is wrapped in gauzy pleasure, and nothing in his being wishes to leave it behind. The dreams that surface, if they are dreams, drift past him in patches and pieces, like a wispy quilt of etheric substance.

He sees the woman again, the one with the undulating, snowy hair. She floats toward him as if carried by the wind…

// Marita Covarrubias. In her apartment in New York, wearing a white satin robe when she answers the door— //

The voice that he hears as she touches his wrist vibrates through him, stirring the very essence of him. It is Scully’s throaty murmur, Scully’s loving caress…

< Guinevere. Is it you? >

She smiles as she bends over him, moving her fingers to his brow, brushing the hair from his forehead as she peers at him with concerned, affectionate eyes…

// Green eyes. Scully’s eyes are blue. This isn’t Scully…>

Her auburn hair falls around him, and she lays her head on his shoulder. He can smell her, the scent of spicy roses overwhelming him, pulling his attention out of the comfortable, warm place where it resides…

// Not Scully. Not Guinevere. Someone else—what’s she doing? //

Her voice again, like the echo of a dream from long, long ago…

< It is I, Lancelot. Love me. Show me that you love me. >

His flying mind grasps and pulls at that, hanging onto it like a mountain climber grabbing the last remaining rope.

// Not Lancelot. I’m Mulder. This is wrong, something’s wrong—//

His consciousness fights for purchase, struggling to surface, to burst through the illusion, for he knows now that it is an illusion…


His throat cracked with his cry, the soreness sharpening to debilitating proportions. But he shouted past the pain, because he was certain it would break the spell:


His eyes flew open in the same instant. He shot a panicked look around the room, finding himself seated on a large, cushioned chair in the middle of a great hall. Before him stood a long, ornately carved mahogany table, spread with a magnificent array of foods. The aroma of them assaulted him, and his stomach lurched, sick once more.

The woman called Elaine hovered next to the table, watching him. Her countenance did not appear to be pleased, and Mulder frowned back at her.

“What the hell are you doing to me?”

“You insult us, Sir Lancelot.” Her pale face shone like a moonstone. “You do not trust your own kin.”

He gripped the arms of the chair hard, trying to ensure that he was now fully awake. “You’re trying to poison me.” The flush of embarrassment rose to his cheeks. “And you’re trying to seduce me, too.”

She glided closer to him, and he twitched back in his seat nervously. This was foreign to him; he realized that Lancelot had no more knowledge of how to deal with magical things than he did. The joust with Mordred was old hat; this challenge to his senses was something wholly different, and he felt completely out of his league.

Elaine lingered over him. “You have come seeking something that is not yours to have. And in coming here, you betray your own people.”

“Excalibur was stolen from the King by Morgan le Fae,” he retorted. “It is not hers to take, either. The King needs the sword to restore his health, and to keep the land safe.”

She laughed, a low growl that reminded Mulder of a hungry cat. “You are more loyal to your King than to your lineage.”

A thought struck Mulder, and he went with it, following its leap as he would any other that came to him instinctively. “The Lady of the Lake gave the sword to Arthur. She put her trust in him, and in his ability to unite all the people of this land. I am loyal to her, and to the man to whom she gave such worldly power.”

Elaine regarded him for a long moment, something flashing in her azure eyes. Finally, she turned and reached toward the table, taking up a golden cup.

“You speak wisely, Sir Lancelot. Come. Share at our table.”

He pushed her hand away as she extended the goblet to him. “I’ll pass this time, thanks.”

“You are in need of refreshment. You cannot continue on your quest without sustenance.”

“I’ll take my chances.” He glanced around the cavernous hall. “Is it here, then? Excalibur? Do you know where it is?”

Elaine set the cup back down on the table, her eyes turning cold once more. “Morgan le Fae is our sister. She entrusted the keeping of the sword to us. We shall not betray her.”

“But the sword belongs to Arthur. I need to take it back to him.”

The faerie woman’s eyes glittered brightly. “Perhaps we can strike a bargain, my good knight.”

Mulder assessed her face coolly, trying to calculate what she could possibly be plotting. “I’m listening.”

“The sword is hidden here. I cannot tell you where it is, but I can promise you safe passage out of the faerie realms if you succeed in finding it.”

“And if I don’t succeed?”

She smiled at him, one that should have been breathtakingly beautiful, but instead appeared carnivorous. “Then you shall stay here with me. I can help you to forget the Queen.”

Mulder’s stomach jerked, but he didn’t flinch. “So that’s the bargain? If I find the sword, Bors and I will be allowed to leave without any problems?”

She nodded, still wearing the eerie, serpentine smile.

“Will you let Bors go if I can’t find the sword? If I promise to stay here with you?”

Elaine’s grin widened, and her voice rubbed over him like sandpaper. “He will go no matter what the outcome, either with you and Excalibur, or unaccompanied. That way, he can carry news of you to the Queen.”

Mulder sat there for a moment, flipping through his options like a restless patient with a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room. There didn’t seem to be any other way out of this predicament, and he wanted to ensure that one way or another, Bors got back safely to Camelot. Someone had to look after Scully. He had to be certain that she would be safe, no matter what happened to him.

Finally, he took a deep breath and spoke, mustering as much confidence as he could.

“Very well, Lady Elaine. You have your bargain.”

Chapter Eight

The ride to Camelot took no more than an hour, but the time couldn’t go by fast enough for Scully. She sat sideways in front of Agravaine, her hip scraping uncomfortably against the pommel of his saddle, trying to keep her balance as the horse galloped. His arms encircled her as he gripped the reins to steer the animal, but she shrank from his touch, infuriated by his nearness. He was so close that his breath heated the back of her neck below the upsweep of her hair. She could smell the pungent odor of his sweat and the blood he hadn’t bothered to wipe from his chin. Coupled with the relentless swaying of the ride itself, it was enough to make her sick to her stomach. She’d never had a very high opinion of Jeffrey Spender in her own life; most of the time, when she’d seen him in the halls at work, the word “Weasel” was the first to cross her mind. Agravaine was uncannily similar in this world, and the notion of sitting very nearly in his lap made Scully squirm in discomfort.

She could see his doppelganger, though, in the lens of her memory: a small, wiry man, a man who usually wore a dark suit and a scowl. He was still present there, in short scenes, and she found herself grateful for that. Some of her other reminiscences were becoming more and more clouded. She searched through the files in her brain, rifling as she often did in Mulder’s basement cabinets, connecting the dots of Spender’s life: his father, the mysterious Smoking Man; and his mother, the bird-like lady in the wheelchair, the one that Scully had been drawn to…

Wait. There…again. Another black hole in her past. That woman in the wheelchair…she’d talked to her, went with her somewhere very important, even held her hand. And now, Scully couldn’t recall her name, let alone anything about the relationship they’d shared. Jeffrey Spender’s mother was just like her own: lost in a rift in time.

Scully tightened her grip on the horse’s mane as well as on herself. This exasperating memory loss filled her with dread and terror. She started recounting her family, every name she could think of, the syllabic beat of the words in her mind matching the thrum of the horse’s hooves: Melissa Scully, William Scully, Bill Scully, Charlie Scully…Mulder, Mulder, Mulder…

She shifted, suddenly horrified. Mulder. Her partner. Her lover. The man she had worked with for seven years, and the one she had finally committed to as only a man and a woman in love could possibly commit…

She couldn’t remember his first name.

It wasn’t a name he used very often; she was sure of that. She never thought of him that way; he was always Mulder to her. But she found her eyes filling with hot tears in spite of that fact. Seven years, and she’d forgotten his first name, just as she’d forgotten his birthday. What else had she forgotten about him? What other important details of their lives together had been lost because of this strange interlude?

Scully was not a woman who allowed her sentiments to overpower her logical mind. She was no shrinking violet, and she’d learned early in life to school her emotions, to keep them in check, and sometimes, on the occasions where she had been hurt deep in her soul, to bury them where no one would ever see them. But as the shining towers of Camelot came into view before the cantering knot of horses, Scully felt the tears slide down her cool cheeks. She tucked her chin into her chest, determined not to allow any of the men who accompanied her to see them.

She was unsuccessful, though. In moments, the knights were dismounting inside the castle walls, and Agravaine gripped her roughly around the waist, pulling her down to the ground with him. When her feet touched the dirt, she turned her head quickly to avoid his gaze. He caught her chin with his gloved hand and peered closely at her.

Their eyes locked. His expression softened, and Scully’s hopes rose. Although Agravaine had made it clear where his loyalties resided, he appeared to have a sympathetic side, and Scully wondered how much of it she could play to her advantage. She needed to see Arthur to assess the extent of his injuries, and she needed to ensure her own safety, as well as that of Mulder. Perhaps Agravaine could be the means to that end.

His voice still sounded blood-clotted, but she could also hear the gentle tone beneath his words. “Why do you cry, my lady Queen? You have nothing to fear.”

She didn’t bother to wipe the tears away, hoping their presence would play on his feelings. “I do fear your brother, Sir Agravaine. I fear what he has done to this kingdom, and to the King himself.”

“Mordred will not harm you, lady. And the King…the King is still alive.”

“I need to see him, Agravaine. Will you take me to him?”

Agravaine blew out a short breath that resembled a cough. “Mordred instructed me to bring you directly to the Great Hall, where he awaits your arrival. There is nothing you can do for Arthur.”

“Please, Agravaine. Let me see him.” She went with her instinct and reached out, touching his cheek gently. “You are the King’s nephew. You must understand my concern for him, and my need to see him at once.”

He stilled her hand, grabbing her fingers and pulling his cheek away. She winced, afraid that she had played the moment incorrectly. But when he looked back at her, she could tell that her gesture had affected him, even though his words had grown cold. “I see that you are trying to take advantage of my soft heart, Guinevere. I tell you truly, it won’t work.”

“I see things, too, Agravaine.” The speech rose in her without warning, much like the railing she had given to Nimue back at the cottage. <Guinevere’s here>, Scully thought ruefully, but she let the other woman speak, hoping to gain some insight into how to proceed.

“I see that you are not loyal to your brother Mordred out of love for him. I see that you do these things not for your own gain, but for someone else. As always, you vie for the affections of your mother, Morgan le Fae, and as usual, she does not appreciate you.”

The words hung there between them, and Scully wondered in the silence how Agravaine would react. His expression froze, and she could see the hurt and the truth of the statements flare in his eyes. She rushed on, trying to capitalize on his momentary lapse.

“You love your mother. Your loyalty is honorable, Agravaine, even if you have betrayed the King. You must understand my own loyalties to Arthur. I need to see him, I beg you.”

After an agonizing moment, he took a deep breath as best he could through his clogged airways. He wrapped his fingers around her wrist. “Very well, madam. I shall take you quickly to the King’s chambers. Sir Merhaut,” he called to a nearby knight who had yet to remove his helmet, “do not yet announce us in the Great Hall. I shall return momentarily with the Queen.”

She didn’t protest as he pulled her along after him, and they disappeared quickly into one of the winding corridors of the castle. As they walked, turning this way and that like mice in a maze, she wondered how any of the residents could learn to get around the grounds so easily. She was lost in a matter of moments, and she admonished herself, knowing that she would have to learn the quickest routes out if she were ever to escape from Mordred.

They emerged in a hallway next to a grand oak and iron door. The Pendragon emblem has been burned into its wood, and two guards stood on either side, as still and as straight as the Beefeaters she had seen when visiting Buckingham Palace. Their eyes never moved as Agravaine addressed them.

“The Lady Queen Guinevere wishes to see the King. Sir Mordred sends me with her.”

One spoke in a thick, cumbersome accent that resembled French: “The new King Mordred gave us strict orders. No admittance.”

Agravaine stepped up to the man, his glare icy. “I come from Mordred with the Queen. Do not test my patience, Chretien. You do not want to end up on my bad side, nor on the new King’s.”

Scully held her breath as the two men stood nose to nose. Finally, the one named Chretien backed up a step and turned to the door, rattling the keys on a huge, brass ring from their place on his belt. He unlocked the door and stood aside, never looking at her as she swept past him on Agravaine’s heels. The door shut behind them with a bellow, and Scully squinted, trying to help her vision adjust to the darkness of the room.

The chamber was lit with torches, and a small fire blazed on the hearth at the far side of the room. The fires warmed the air, which was chilly despite the brilliant sun outside the tiny, lone window. The room was simpler than she’d imagined it to be, consisting only of a carved, round table near the door ringed with four small chairs and the massive bed that dominated the space.

She walked toward it, steeling herself for what she might see there. Heavy scarlet draperies hung from the frame around the bed, obscuring her view of its occupant, and she felt herself detach as she often did before she walked into an autopsy bay. She was peripherally aware of Agravaine stopping some distance away, apparently to give her a moment of privacy. She reached up and slowly drew the curtain to one side.

Arthur appeared to be sleeping. He lay on his back, his head propped at an angle upon two large pillows, and he looked peaceful. Someone had stripped him of his garments and tucked him under the ornate crimson bedspread. She noticed the silvery scars that ran along his collarbone in almost parallel lines, and another notched hole near his sternum…

<…from when he was shot with an arrow during the Saxon wars…>

Scully blinked, surprised. This information had surfaced, apparently from an unknown source. She smiled inwardly, realizing that wasn’t exactly true. It had come from Guinevere’s consciousness. She understood that Arthur’s wife could catalogue his injuries, just as she could with Mulder’s.

She moved closer to the bed and reached out, taking Arthur’s large hand in her own. She felt with her fingertips for the pulse in his wrist, which she found to be steady, if not a bit faint. Leaving her fingers twined in his, she touched the back of her other hand to his forehead. No fever, at least that she could detect. Perhaps he would respond to her voice.

She leaned down, bringing her mouth close to his ear, not wanting Agravaine to hear her. As she did, his scent, a mixture of masculine musk and the sweet aroma of wine filled her nose. It overwhelmed her, and without warning, she burst into tears.

<…Arthur…Arthur, my dear husband…what have I done to you? >

Guinevere’s lament in her head consumed her, and she collapsed onto the bed next to him, clinging to his large body as she sobbed. She could hear his heart beat as her ear came to rest on his chest, and its rhythm seemed to pulse memories into her head as her own heart pushed her blood through her body…

< Arthur. You’re going to be killed one of these days in your infernal wars. Then where will Camelot be? >

< Arthur, you are the King. You should not engage in single combat. It is foolhardy. You worry me so. >

// Sir…it’s a radical procedure. //

His voice, the same one in both lifetimes, hushed from fatigue and pain and the attempt to do the right thing..

// I’m in your hands. //

From behind, Agravaine pulled at her, gently at first and then more insistently. “My lady Queen, please. We must go. I must take you now to Mordred. I beseech you, do not carry on so…”

Her cries hitched in her throat as another male voice came from the foot of the bed: “Alas, poor Guinevere. But do you grieve so for your husband, or for yourself?”

Her own consciousness seemed to slam back into place from its teetering position on the precipice of her mind. The essence of Scully shot through her, and she straightened up, swiping wildly at the tears that soaked her cheeks. When she turned toward Mordred, her composure had returned.

He stood at the foot of his father’s bed, his eyes venomous in his dark countenance. He still wore all black, save for the cloak of brilliant red that hung around his shoulders. Scully recognized it at once. It was the same one Arthur had worn on her first morning in Camelot, when he had spoken to her in her bedchamber. It was the Pendragon standard, and now, Mordred wore the mantle as if it belonged to him. Seeing him dressed in the royal vestments angered her anew, and the pique bled into her words when she spoke.

“Sir Mordred. I demand an explanation concerning the King, and the intolerable treatment of myself and Sir Gareth, your brother.”

Mordred gave a short, sinister chuckle. “You demand, lady? You are hardly in a position to make demands.” He leveled his gaze at Agravaine, who hovered behind her. “Brother, were my orders not clear to you? Why was the Queen brought to this room?”

Agravaine cleared his throat. “I beg your pardon, my lord. The Queen asked to see her husband, and I saw no harm—”

Mordred strode forward quickly, positioning himself directly in front of Agravaine. Mordred stood a good head taller, and Scully could see the smaller man wither slightly in his brother’s shadow. “I did not ask for your counsel on this matter, Sir Agravaine. If you cannot follow a simple order, perhaps you are not fit to serve at the King’s side.”

Agravaine dropped his eyes from Mordred’s face, but his breathing rattled, shallow and fast. He was angry, but he held his tongue. Mordred watched him a moment longer and then stood aside. “Leave us, brother. Have the doctors attend to your wounds.” Mordred’s gaze crept back over to Scully, and her skin began to crawl with it. “The Queen and I have much to discuss.”

Agravaine threw a bitter look at Scully. “As you wish.” He gave a short bow and exited the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

Scully shifted on the mattress as Mordred assessed her, trying to figure out what to say. It was obvious to her that Mordred meant to keep the Queen with him at Camelot, more than likely as a prisoner or a bargaining chip in his political maneuvers, and she had no earthly idea what his plans might be. She steeled herself to hear them, squeezing Arthur’s warm, square hand for reassurance. She hoped that once he made his mind clear to her, she’d be able to discern a way to save Arthur, and to get herself out of Camelot and back to Mulder. She silently willed Guinevere to listen, and to help her respond in the best ways, so that she could do what was needed for everyone involved.

But Mordred remained silent, simply staring at her, and she grew more and more impatient and nervous. She raised her eyes to look at him, and her gaze fell on his left arm. She had forgotten that Mulder had summarily amputated his hand in the joust. The stump on the end of his limb appeared to be healing well. The bandages that covered it were pristine white, and Scully wondered once more at the medical advancements that this primitive society must have had.

Mordred’s eyes followed hers to his missing hand, and he smiled softly. “Ah. Are you concerned for me, dear Guinevere? Well, I assure you: Lancelot did not manage to maim me so badly that I would expire. My mother saw to that.”

Scully’s interest piqued at the mention of the woman called Morgan le Fae. “Where is your mother?”

“That is none of your concern, lady. My mother comes and goes as she pleases, as she always has.”

“I am concerned because she is a thief. She has stolen Excalibur from the King, and I am told it is that theft that renders him to his current condition.”

“What?” Amusement crossed Mordred’s face. “Can I believe my ears? The High Queen of Britain is professing belief in magic?”

Scully dropped her chin willfully. “I have seen things, Sir Mordred, that defy any other explanation. There are other forces at work in this place. I believe, in the case of the King, that this is true as well. And I think your mother is the sorrowful cause of it.”

Mordred stepped closer to her, obviously trying to intimidate her as he had with Agravaine. “And that is why you have sent your precious Sir Lancelot into the faerie lands, to try to retrieve the sword?” He laughed. “I tell you truly, lady, he will never return to Camelot. You have sent him to his death. Or worse.”

At the mention of Mulder, Scully’s chest clutched, and she gripped Arthur’s hand harder. “What do you mean?”

“Tis true that Lancelot is of faerie blood. That alone may keep him alive. But he will be ensnared by the wiles of the fae, just as any mortal man is.” He leaned down to her, so near that his cheek brushed against her hair, and Scully jerked violently away, repulsed. “He will forget all about you, Guinevere. Whatever will you do?”

She replied between her teeth, “Lancelot will return. With Excalibur. And he will save the King’s life. Then where will you be, Sir Mordred? The King will be swift and sure in punishing your treachery.”

Mordred laughed again, softly this time, stirring her hair with his breath. “I tell you, lady, even if Lancelot somehow returns, by then it will be too late to save the King. I shall remain on the throne, and you, my sweet Queen, are going to help me to do just that.”

“I shall never help you to the throne, Mordred. Surely you must know that.”

“I know that you would sacrifice yourself for the love of the men in your life. For Arthur, and for Lancelot. That is true, is it not, Gwen?” He smiled, and her mind reeled to hear the endearment that he used to address her. “I propose a bargain to you. A bargain that will save the lives of both Lancelot and Arthur.”

Her throat constricted so tightly it allowed no words to come through. She simply nodded for him to continue while she remained silent.

“I know that you seek Merlin, Guinevere. I can’t pretend to know why, but I believe my mother when she tells me thus.”

Scully’s mind lurched. How in the hell could Mordred know the plans that she and Mulder had made back at the cottage? Nimue had already left with Gareth, so she couldn’t have overheard their conversation. Had Morgan le Fae herself been lurking somewhere nearby, listening to them? Mordred opened his mouth to speak again, and she yanked her thoughts back to his words.

“Merlin is already in the land of the fae. That is where he has been kept hidden. If you do as I ask, he will be released, and he can help Lancelot to survive.”

Her hopes rose, wanting to believe that Mulder could be safe. But the hand in hers reminded her of Guinevere’s duty to the man who lay beside her. “What about Arthur? You said he would live as well.”

“I shall have my mother heal Arthur. She has the power to do it, even if Excalibur is absent from him. He will be weakened, but he shall still live.”

Scully drew a deep breath, trying to keep her voice steady. “And what must I do to allow these things to happen as you have said?”

Mordred straightened up and paced to the foot of the bed, his tone becoming regal. “I shall have the Bishop draw up a document that you will sign, declaring the King incapacitated and unable to fulfill the duties of his office. It will further declare I, Mordred, as his formal successor. I shall have the ritual of coronation with full authority and blessing of both the Queen and the Church. Then, after my father is healed, he will be unable to contest my advancement.”

Scully glanced down at Arthur’s face. She ached to be able to ask for his advice, to see if he found this bargain worthwhile. Would Arthur want to live, seeing his bastard son ruling his kingdom, possibly undoing every good and decent thing he had accomplished?

She saw, however, that she had very little choice. She had to help Mulder, by any means possible. She’d had no idea of the gravity of his situation. Now, it grasped at her with sharp, stinging reality, and if she could save him, she would.

She asked one last time, to be sure. “If I do sign this decree, you will release Merlin to Lancelot, and you will save your father’s life?”

“I will, my lady. You have my oath.”

“And how can I trust you, Mordred? After all you have done?”

His demeanor softened then, melting away like a child’s temper tantrum. He strode over to her and dropped to one knee at her feet, bowing his head. “I swear to you on my mother’s life, my lady Queen: all will be done as I have said.” He raised his eyes, searching her face. “Will you sign it?”

She couldn’t say the words. She nodded instead, turning her face away, allowing her gaze to settle on Arthur once more. She heard the rustle of the Pendragon cloak as Mordred rose and moved to the bedchamber door.

“Then I shall have it drawn as we have agreed. I will send for you later, my lady Queen. My mother and the Bishop shall be our guests at dinner tonight. I will have Sir Agravaine accompany you to your rooms shortly. I take your leave, my lady.”

He was gone in a rush of fabric and the boom of wood against stone. As soon as the door closed, all the energy cascaded out of Scully in a stream. She curled her body next to Arthur’s, soaking in the warmth and solid goodness of him. It reminded her of the times when, as a child, she had sneaked into Bill’s bed in the depths of the night, seeking his comfort after a nightmare jarred her awake. She flung one arm over Arthur’s still body, hanging onto him for dear life, thinking of Mulder and feeling as frightened as she had on those nights as a little girl.


Her chamber was empty when Sir Agravaine brought her to it. They had walked in silence through the cold, damp halls of the castle, and Scully had paid close attention this time, marking her way with her analytical brain, memorizing torch sconces and wall hangings so that she could find her way back to Arthur’s room when and if she needed to go. Agravaine appeared surly and withdrawn, and she made no attempt to speak to him. He left her wordlessly just inside the repaired door to her bedchamber, and she noted the guards that stood quietly outside, dressed in the same official garb as the ones on vigil at Arthur’s threshold.

She hadn’t been in the room more than a minute when Leigh appeared in the doorway, bearing a tray of food from the kitchens. The other woman set the platter down hurriedly on the dressing table and ran to Scully, throwing her arms around her shoulders in a fierce hug.

“Oh, Gwen! I have been so very afraid for you.”

Scully patted the woman on the back, grateful for her friendship and surprised at how happy she was to see her again. “Everything is alright, Leigh,” she murmured. “But I am happy to be back here.”

Leigh broke their embrace but kept hold of Scully’s hand. “Come,” she urged, pulling Scully over to the bed. “Let us get you cleaned and fed, and then we can speak about all that has happened.”

The bathing and dressing ritual began. This time, however, it seemed less foreign and more palpable to Scully, and she allowed Leigh to help her wash her long tresses, relaxing more and more as the warm, luxurious water swept over her body. After stepping from the standing tub, she watched in the wardrobe mirror as Leigh helped her into a long gown of silver brocade, trimmed at the sleeves and low neckline with silky, snowy fur. Leigh fitted her ears with sparkling silver jewels and began to fasten a choker of pearls around her neck.

“Leigh, where is my cross?”

Leigh frowned and gestured toward the table where Scully’s soiled garments lay. “Do you wish to wear it instead, Gwen? It does not match your gown as the pearls do.”

“The pearls are lovely,” Scully said kindly, not wanting to offend her, “but I prefer the cross. It gives me strength.”

A small smile touched Leigh’s lips. “Then I shall fetch it. God knows we need His strength now to endure all that has come about.”

They took their familiar positions at the dressing table, and Leigh began to work on Scully’s hair. This time, she threaded small silver and white beads into the tiny twists and braids, and Scully watched, fascinated, as her hair began to sparkle with the ornaments. It was a breathtaking sight, and she could hardly believe it was her own face in the mirror, staring back at her.

Leigh worked in silence for a few moments, but her curiosity would not allow her to stay quiet for long. “Gwen, you must tell me everything that has happened since you left Camelot after the joust. Is Sir Lancelot well again? Where is he now, when Arthur so needs an ally? I pray you, cousin, do not be stingy with your story.”

So Scully related to the other woman everything that had transpired. Leigh’s eyes widened at the recounting of Mulder’s miraculous cure from the lake waters, and she listened with rapt attention at the news of Lancelot’s quest to retrieve Excalibur from the faerie realms. When Scully finished, Leigh shook her head.

“Will he succeed, Gwen? Camelot has been turned upside down since Mordred came to the Great Hall two nights ago. I fear that all is lost if Arthur is unable to take the kingdom back from him.”

Scully regarded Leigh in the mirror, her face somber. “I fear for Lancelot’s safety, Leigh. I did not realize the scope of his danger when he set out into the world of the fae. I wish nothing more than to keep him safe, and to restore Arthur to health.” She dropped her eyes, anticipating a negative reaction from the waiting woman. “I have agreed to a bargain with Mordred that I hope will help us all.”

Leigh stopped braiding and stared at Scully’s reflection. “What did you promise, Gwen?” she whispered. Her voice trembled.

Scully set hers to steel, but she didn’t look up. “I told him I would sign a decree giving him full authority as High King. In return, he promised to release Merlin, and to heal Arthur. It is the only way I can see to help both Lancelot and the King.”

“How can you be certain he will honor it?” Leigh began working again, and Scully winced as she jerked the strands of hair too tightly in her fury. “He is a liar, Guinevere. You know that. Why can you not wait to see if Lancelot will return with the sword? You said yourself that Excalibur would restore Arthur’s health.”

“I cannot be sure that Lancelot will return without help,” Scully answered, her voice rising. “Merlin can help him. He can save him from whatever traps Morgan le Fae may have set for him in the faerie realms. This way, Mordred will have Arthur healed, and Lancelot can still return, through Merlin’s aid. When he does, then perhaps Arthur will be able to lead the knights against Mordred, with Lancelot, Merlin, and Excalibur at his side.”

“But if you sign a decree—”

“It will mean nothing!” Scully shot to her feet, startling Leigh, whose hands fell away from her hair. Scully could feel the Queen’s energy rising swiftly within her, and there was little she could do but step back and let her through. “Arthur will fight for this kingdom if he is able. But I must save Lancelot as well. I have no other choice, Leigh. I am left to make this decision on my own. Where are the Round Table knights? Tell me that.”

Leigh shuddered. “They have all been imprisoned. Mordred saw to that when his faction overran the castle. They fought valiantly, but without Arthur to rally them and Lancelot to aid them, they were no match for the younger men.”

“You see? I cannot stand against Mordred without support. Lancelot is our best hope, but he may be lost forever in the land of the fae.” Her eyes blurred for a moment at that thought, but she blinked, forcing the tears away. “I will save him if I can, no matter what the cost. As I will save Arthur. If we lose Camelot in the end, then so be it. Perhaps it is God’s will.”

Leigh inclined her head in deference, but her expression remained troubled. “Sit you down, Gwen, so I can finish your hair. I have been told you sup tonight with the new High King, his mother, and the Bishop. You want to look your best.”

Scully grabbed Leigh’s hand, aware through Guinevere’s consciousness of how dear the woman was to the Queen. “What would you have me do, Leigh?” she asked softly. “Shall I lose Arthur and Lancelot as well as Camelot? I would rather that they live and all the dreams die in their place. Can you fault me for loving them and wanting them alive?”

“Nay,” Leigh whimpered. “But I still fear it. Neither Mordred nor his mother can be trusted. You must rely on the Bishop, I think. Perhaps he will turn to Arthur’s cause. The High King does still live. If you could sway the Bishop against Mordred, and even persuade him to release the Round Table knights, perhaps there will be a greater chance that Camelot can survive.”

“I shall do my best, Leigh.” Scully smiled even though her heart raced nervously in her chest. She dreaded the dinner hour and what awaited her in the Great Hall.

The huge meeting room loomed empty and impressive when she arrived that evening, with Sir Agravaine following close behind her. She noted that he smelled clean and fresh, obviously the product of a bath in his own rooms. His armor had been replaced with a pine-colored tunic that looked expensive beneath his heavy chestnut cape. His mood, however, had not changed, and he did not speak to Scully as he led her to the Great Hall. Once again, she was happy not to be distracted as she memorized their route.

He finally spoke haltingly as he escorted her to the dais. “You are to sit in your normal place, my lady Queen, at the High King’s request.”

Guinevere began to retort, but Scully managed to squelch it. She didn’t want to cause any more bad feelings with Agravaine, especially since it seemed that he might be malleable to the Queen’s cause. She simply nodded and sat down in the lushly embroidered high-backed throne, fidgeting with her skirts as she waited for the others.

The table before her had been set with an assortment of royal trappings. The maroon velvet cloth beneath the plates accented their polished, shining edges, and the candles burned brightly in their platinum holders. The rich aromas of roasting meat, onions, and other delicious spices filled the air, and Scully’s stomach contracted, begging for attention. She was sure, though, that the first morsel of food she allowed past her lips would never stay down. She was much too anxious to eat.

A young man approached from her right and bowed slightly to her, reaching for the gem-encrusted goblet in front of her. He filled it with claret wine, and she mumbled her thanks to him. He glanced at her, a startled look on his face, and then moved away. Behind her, Agravaine chuckled.

“You scared him with your gratitude, my lady. That lowly squire will have much to dream about tonight, now that the Queen has deigned to speak to him.”

This time, Scully couldn’t squelch Guinevere’s reply. “I should like to thank all of Arthur’s loyal subjects, Sir Agravaine. It is a shame there are none left in this room, save myself.”

He was next to her in an instant, leaning over her chair. The intensity in his eyes amazed her.

“I risked much for you this morning, Guinevere, by taking you to Arthur. My brother has made no secret of his displeasure with me. Yet the words you spoke to me earlier cut into my heart. I am torn, I tell you, but I wish only to please my mother. What more can I say?”

“You are not a child any longer, Agravaine,” she answered as gently as she could. There was a part of Scully, a very real, deeply hidden part, which understood all too well Agravaine’s need for his mother’s approval. She had always sought the same from her father. It seemed for most of her life, she had longed to hear of his pride in her actions. But ultimately, she had realized that her actions were her own, and she had to live for herself, not for Ahab. It had driven them apart, forcing a wedge into the relationship she had once seen as close. But she had done it to save herself from a life of existing solely in William Scully Senior’s shadow. She saw that same struggle clearly in the man before her.

“You must follow your heart. You cannot live according to your mother’s whims. You must stand up for what you believe, and you cannot worry over what her reaction might be. If you support your brother, so be it. But if you support Arthur, you must not hesitate.” She heard the note of pleading in her voice, knowing that it matched the expression on her face. “What Mordred is doing is not right, Agravaine. You know it. That is why your heart troubles you. Do not allow this to go further.”

The agonizing indecision shone brightly in his eyes, and for a moment, she sensed him swaying toward her side. He opened his mouth to speak. Just then, the moaning of the great door across from them filled the hall. Mordred sauntered in, dressed to the hilt in royal finery, with a woman clinging to his good arm. Scully shook her head slightly as they approached the platform where she sat.

The woman so strongly resembled Diana Fowley that Scully was certain she hallucinated. And she hadn’t even consumed any wine.

Next to her, Agravaine straightened and stepped back, giving a low bow as the couple neared. Scully couldn’t tear her gaze away from the figure Mordred escorted, who floated along the carpeted walkway as if her feet didn’t touch the floor. Draped in a blood-red gown of velvet and lace, her hair loose and hanging to her hips like ribbons of ebony silk, Scully took in the sight of the woman she knew to be Morgan le Fae in this lifetime. She gritted her teeth, unsure if it was she herself or Guinevere who hated her more.

They stopped just before the dais, and Mordred bowed to Scully, apparently still mindful of her rank. Morgan, however, held her head high on her long, elegant neck, watching her with glittering dark eyes. Scully listened to the internal instruction of Guinevere, refusing to acknowledge Arthur’s half-sister.

Mordred sensed the tension between the two women and cleared his throat as he regained his full height. “Good evening, Queen Guinevere. I present to you my mother, your sister-in-law, Morgan le Fae, Queen of Orkney.”

Scully finally spoke, her voice iced with cold venom. “I wish I could welcome you to this court, Morgan le Fae, but in light of recent events, I cannot.”

The dark woman spoke with the same husky rasp Scully remembered. “It matters not, Queen Guinevere, if I have your welcome. My son welcomes me to Camelot, and as it is now his kingdom, I should suggest you bow to him.”

The flare of Guinevere’s anger raced through Scully, and she gripped the carved wooden armrests of the throne so hard her knuckles whitened. “It is not yet his kingdom, Morgan, and I’d thank you to remember that. You have no authority here yourself, only that which Camelot gives to you as a member of the royal family. You dare not take that tone with me, or you shall see just how much authority the High Queen of Britain still wields.”

Morgan le Fae laughed. “And who will enforce that power, Guinevere? All of the Round Table knights have been imprisoned for their disloyalty to the new crown. Arthur lies on his deathbed, and Lancelot…” Her smile widened. “Lancelot may be forever lost in the faerie kingdom. There is no one left to support you.”

Mordred held up his right hand. “Enough of this bickering. I do not wish to spend this evening overseeing a catfight. Mother, please sit down. We have much to discuss with the Queen.” He looked pointedly at Scully. “And I know she is anxious to continue our earlier conversation.”

With Mordred’s help, Morgan stepped up onto the dais and then paused, her gaze falling on Agravaine. He shuffled forward to pull out a chair for her, but she stopped him with a wave of her hand. “Agravaine,” she barked. “What are you doing here?”

The knight flushed and dropped his chin to avoid his mother’s drilling eyes. “I was asked to accompany the Queen to the Great Hall, Mother.”

“Then you have done your duty. Be gone now.” Morgan turned away from Agravaine and seated herself next to Scully with a flourish. She adjusted the folds in her dress and drew her flowing sleeves back to reach for her wine goblet. Agravaine didn’t move, seemingly stunned.

Morgan fluttered her eyelashes at the wine squire as he filled her cup and followed his retreat with an open stare. When she saw that Agravaine had not left the platform, her mouth turned down into a frown. “I commanded you to leave, Agravaine. This is none of your affair.”

Agravaine threw a glance over at Mordred, who was seating himself with great care in Arthur’s usual place. Mordred relaxed back against the cushion of the throne and returned his brother’s look. “Good night, brother,” he said coldly. “You are dismissed.”

The smaller knight’s crimson face deepened in anger. He spun on his heel and stormed down from the dais, striding through the Great Hall faster than Scully had ever seen him move. The huge door thundered his exit within moments.

Wearing a playful smile, Morgan watched her other son leave. She cocked her head toward Scully and raised her wine glass. “Shall we toast? To a better time for Camelot.”

Mordred tipped his goblet toward his mother and drank, but Scully did not reach for hers. Morgan licked her lips daintily and set her cup down. “You do not drink with us, Guinevere? How insulting.”

“I have no stomach for it.”

“Are you ill, my lady Queen?” Mordred asked, a smile matching his mother’s gliding over his features. “Perhaps whatever ails my father is catching.”

“Where is the Bishop?” Scully demanded, determined not to allow her cool exterior to crack. “I was told he would join us.”

Morgan le Fae swished her hair over her shoulder. “His duties with the Church keep him from Camelot this night. He shall be here soon enough, to celebrate my son’s coronation. In two days’ time, is it not, sweet Mordred?”

Before he could answer, Scully rose from her chair. She stared coldly down at Morgan, who seemed amused by her sudden move. “Then I shall take your leave. I wish to speak personally with the Bishop before any succession takes place. I will entreat him myself on Arthur’s behalf and hope that he will take Camelot’s side in this folly.”

“The Bishop has endorsed Mordred,” Morgan answered loftily.

“I wish to hear it directly from him. Until I do, I will sign nothing declaring Arthur unfit.”

“Why, the Bishop has already signed it!” Morgan le Fae gestured to Mordred. He stood and extracted a rolled parchment from an inside pocket of the royal Pendragon cloak. He unfurled it and held it open for Scully to see.

Mordred moved his finger to the bottom of the decree. “You mark it, my lady Queen? The Bishop has drawn this as we discussed and endorsed it with his own hand.” Scully felt all her bravado drain out of her as she read the words on the paper and touched a tentative finger to the raised seal of the Holy Church. Next to it, two lines remained blank: one for Mordred’s signature, and one for that belonging to Guinevere Pendragon, High Queen of Britain.

“How…how can I be sure the Bishop signed this himself?” Scully whispered.

“What?” exclaimed Morgan. “You throw doubt upon the representative of the Holy Church, the Bishop of Britain?”

“Nay, nay,” Scully heard herself respond. She sank back down into the chair, touching the necklace that encircled her throat, seeking some sort of solace. The rubies of the cross pressed into her fingers, and she felt her consciousness teetering back and forth again, one minute Guinevere, the next minute Scully…and both more confused and frightened than ever.

“Come, Guinevere,” Mordred said into her ear. “It is just as we agreed in your chamber. Once you sign this decree, my mother will heal Arthur, and she will order Merlin released. He will help Lancelot in the faerie realms. You want them both to survive, do you not?”

Scully grabbed the goblet of wine on the table with an unsteady hand, gulping down several swallows to try to clear her head. A vortex not unlike the one she and Mulder had discovered in the woods spun in her mind…Mulder…she had to save Mulder, no matter what the cost to herself…

“You must do what is best for the kingdom,” Morgan crooned on her other side. “Arthur cannot rule in this condition. You must designate someone in his place. Mordred is his rightful heir. He is fit to rule.”

Scully blinked. Shadows and fog seemed to dance in her vision. She turned to regard Morgan. “But you stole Excalibur from him. You caused this.”

“You must save the kingdom, Guinevere. You must do everything you can to preserve Camelot.” Morgan wrapped cold fingers around Scully’s hand, and she shivered as the other woman’s voice filled her head. “You shall remain Queen, Guinevere. You shall help the people to embrace Mordred’s succession by becoming his Queen as well.”

“What?” Scully’s mind snapped back into place, and she jerked her hand away from Morgan as if burned. “I cannot…cannot marry.” She shot a terrified look at Mordred, who simply stared back at her with a snapping emerald gaze. “Arthur will live, and I shall remain his wife.”

“The Bishop will dissolve the marriage,” Morgan told her. “He sees this as the best way to rally the commoners to support Mordred’s succession.”

“But the decree,” Scully started. Her head felt as heavy as an anvil, and she worked to keep her mind focused. “The decree is.is enough. If I sign it, it will be enough for the people.”

Mordred took her other hand and brought it to his lips, kissing her knuckles. Repugnant as it was to her, she lacked the strength to draw her hand away. “This will seal it in their minds,” he hummed to her. “They shall see the Queen married to the new High King, and they shall be happy in the succession. And when you bear me a son, the kingdom will rejoice even more.”

Scully’s head lolled into Mordred’s shoulder, and her eyes fluttered as she strained to keep them open. “No,” she whispered. “I—I am barren. You cannot want a barren Queen. I cannot…I cannot marry…”

“Mother will fix that, will you not?” Mordred’s voice seemed to float over her head, and she watched Morgan’s hazy face stretch into a smile once more. “Agree to this, Guinevere. Save Camelot. Save Arthur, and Lancelot. Agree.”

“Lancelot,” she sighed, and Morgan brushed her cheek with her long, cool fingers.

“That’s right, Guinevere,” the dark woman murmured soothingly. “Lancelot will be saved. You shall save him. All you have to do is sign the decree, and in two days’ time, you shall be married to the new High King of Britain.” Morgan le Fae’s face appeared close to Scully’s, her ebony eyes bewitching and hypnotic. “You shall remain Guinevere of Britain…and this time, your son will live.”

Her son…she would have a baby…The joyous news rippled through her as she remembered Lancelot’s face when she told him her courses were late…when Mulder held her close and promised to father her baby…when…when…

She felt Mordred pull her forward and settle her arm onto the table, helping her to hold the writing instrument in her hand. Through her blurring eyes, she could see the decree, and the space awaiting the signature of the High Queen of Britain.

“Sign it, my sweet Gwen,” Mordred breathed into her ear. “Sign it and save them all.”

With his hand over hers, she scraped the ink onto the parchment. Her head whirled in a blinding tornado of images: Lancelot brushing her hair back from her temple, nuzzling her neck after they made love and conceived the heir of Camelot; Arthur resplendent with the news of her pregnancy; Arthur and Lancelot, beaming together as she appeared before them both in the Great Hall, huge with child; Lancelot, and Arthur…and…and…

And in the back of her mind, from the bottom of what seemed like a deep, sooty well, another man, this one standing with his arms open to receive her, looking so much like her Lancelot, wearing the same smile on his handsome face…but his brown hair was razed against his head, and his suit—not armor, but something strange with pockets and a red and blue scarf knotted at his throat…

Guinevere, the High Queen of Britain, collapsed back into the throne, her eyes slipping shut entirely. From the end of that deep, ebony tunnel, she could sense another consciousness, another woman with copper hair and a backbone of steel—a woman who resembled her in every way, who had fought a valiant battle to remain in control of this body, but who now seemed to have lost…

The strange, handsome man spoke in her thoughts: // Scully…Where are you, Scully? Talk to me, Scully…Scully…Scully…Scully… //

Above her, she could still hear the voices of Mordred and Morgan le Fae, along with laughter and whispers. It was Morgan’s voice that followed her down into her dreams, the last words she heard before she gave in to the pull of her delirium:

“Release Merlin. Let us see if Lancelot is truly the greatest knight of the kingdom…and if he can withstand Merlin in his present form.”

Chapter Nine

// Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. //

If he hadn’t been so damn tired, thirsty, and nauseated, Mulder may have cracked a smile to think of the old Laurel and Hardy movie line. It was one of Frohike’s favorites, and he could recall many nights spent at the Lone Gunmen’s lair, consuming pizza and beer while watching black and white comedies with his three friends. Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges…they loved them all, but Frohike had been the one to share Mulder’s quirky passion for one-liners and slapstick humor. And now, as he stood before another glistening lake in the strange land of the faerie people, Mulder knew that Frohike would appreciate the irony of this whole situation…if only he were here.

Well, he <was> here, Mulder reasoned, in a strange sort of way. His Arthurian twin was present, and that counted for something, didn’t it?

Mulder shook his head and tried to focus. It was becoming increasingly difficult to corral his thoughts, and he chalked it up to the stress and the physical condition of his body. There was a task at hand that he had to complete, however, and, being Mulder, he was determined to see it through to its bitter end—mess or no mess.

Things did look a bit messy right now. He squinted into the haze that pillowed above the shimmering water, trying to verify the reality of what he saw. In the faerie realm, he’d already learned that all was not as it appeared to be, and he needed to stay sharp if he was going to survive.

Across the expanse of water, he discerned a rocky ledge that hung approximately thirty feet above the shoreline. The ledge was nothing more than a dimple in the fagade of a mountain that stretched high above him, its top obscured by the thick fog that laced everything in this mysterious land. And on the ledge lay Bors, Lancelot’s cousin and boon companion, seemingly asleep.

But that was all he could make out through the heavy mist. Bors appeared to be elevated, but Mulder had no idea how or why. He only knew that he needed to get across the water so that he could rescue him, for he had no doubt in his mind that Bors needed to be rescued. Mulder didn’t want to think about exactly from <what> he might be saving the small knight.

He blew out a resigned sigh. He was beginning to feel a little like Indiana Jones. Although he loved those movies and always admired the character’s heroism, he doubted that he himself could begin to live up to such challenges. Besides, it wasn’t much fun without Scully present to impress. And the one woman who would witness his daring rescue mission was not someone he wanted hanging around.

He turned slightly to the faerie maiden who stood behind him, the one named Elaine who so resembled Marita Covarrubias. “What have you done to Bors?” he asked, not really expecting a straight answer.

She stared at him blankly. “He rests after your long journey. We have merely provided him with a comfortable bed.”

Mulder snorted. “Yeah. We’ll see about that.” He eyed the water, searching the placid surface for signs of danger beneath it. “What’s in the lake?”

“Do you not recognize it? It is the same one in which you yourself were healed.”

“This lake?” Mulder shook his head. “No, it can’t be. We’ve traveled much farther than I walked with Sc—” He stopped and amended himself. “With the Queen.”

Elaine cocked her head to one side, her hair shimmering like the undulating mist that surrounded them. “I assure you, Sir Lancelot, it is the same.”

He stood with his hands on his hips, assessing her and the water. He had no reason to believe her; after all, she had tried to seduce him, scrambling his brain enough to make him think she was Guinevere. Of course, the ruse hadn’t worked. He was still Mulder, on the inside at least, and he couldn’t sleep with Guinevere any more than he could Elaine. Lancelot would have jumped at the opportunity to be with the Queen, he knew, but he was not Lancelot. Mulder loved only Scully, and the purity of that love had saved him. Elaine apparently had no idea that someone else’s consciousness currently resided in Lancelot’s body. It was clear, however, that Elaine wanted Lancelot for herself, and he had to do everything he could to foil her plans and return to Camelot with Excalibur.

First things first. He had to get across the water to Bors. He would never purposefully leave him behind…and he also had the very strong sense that once he freed his friend, the next part of the sword gauntlet would fall into motion.

“All right,” he said aloud. The sound of his voice encouraged him. He unbuckled the belt that encircled his waist and lowered the scabbard that held Lancelot’s sword to the ground. “I guess I’m swimming across.” He cocked his head and looked over his shoulder at Elaine, attempting charm. “You would stop me if I were about to get eaten by some horrible beast, wouldn’t you?”

The faerie woman did not answer. Mulder ducked behind a nearby tree and began to strip out of his armor.

As he undressed, he considered what could lie ahead. If he could get across the lake, a trap most likely awaited him concerning Bors. He’d have to wait and see what that might entail once he got there. Would he need a weapon? Should he try to swim with the sword, or even attempt to take his armor along? He shook his head, muttering his musings under his breath. He couldn’t possibly swim with all that weight, and the armor could not be immersed in water. It would rust. He might be able to manage the sword, but if he ran into trouble in the water and needed to swim fast, he’d have to lose the sword anyway. It didn’t seem reasonable to try to take anything with him but his own shaky courage.

He arranged the pieces of metal in a neat pile next to the tree trunk, once again wearing nothing but the loose linen trousers the knights donned underneath their armor. He stepped back out of the brush to the water’s edge, regarding the lake critically, considering his options. On one hand, perhaps entering the water slowly and quietly would be his best bet. He’d be less likely to disturb any unwanted nasties that might be lurking beneath the surface. On the other hand, diving in and swimming as quickly as possible to the opposite shore might be the smarter choice. He was a strong swimmer, and he was confident he could cross the lake in a matter of minutes. If something rose from its depths and pursued him, he’d just have to pray that he could outpace it.

Finally coming to his decision, Mulder moved down the bank a bit, searching for a deeper point. Finding one nearby, he climbed on top of a convenient rock and gave one last glance to Elaine.

“Well, here goes nothing.” He had no earthly idea why he was even bothering to speak to her, but he smiled anyway as he said it. She only watched him through eyes like iced sapphires.

He pushed off from the rock in a graceful arc, his body flexing naturally into a precise dive as he moved through the air. The water around him was smooth and warm as he punctured the surface, and he opened his eyes immediately, seeking any kind of activity around him. The lake bottom appeared sandy, but the water itself was pristine. He could see everything surrounding him easily enough, and he spotted no aquatic life at all except for a few waving plants. For now, at least, he was alone.

Mulder surfaced and shook his head, his long knight’s hair flying back from his forehead in a spray. He immediately shot forward in an easy, fast freestyle stroke, heading straight for the other side of the lake. The only sound he heard was the slap of his hands and the splash of the water as he swam. Although loud enough to attract attention, there didn’t seem to be anything or anyone around to concern itself with him.

Moments later, he stood on the opposite shore, flinging the water from his body as he walked up the narrow strip of beach. The ledge hung directly above him, and he scanned the rocky terrain, searching for a way to get to it. Through the misty veil, he spied a set of handholds that looked reachable. He clambered up on top of the first level of rocks and dug his fingers into one of the sockets, hoisting his body up the side of the mountain.

It didn’t take more than ten minutes for him to swing his legs over the edge of the stony shelf. He sat there catching his breath, careful not to allow his feet to touch the surface of the ledge. He could see Bors now…and he was more certain than ever that the whole scenario was one big booby trap. His Spooky Sense was screaming bloody murder in his head.

Across from him lay Lancelot’s cousin, resting on his back with his hands laced together on his stomach. Beneath him, holding him up, was what Elaine had called his “bed,” but what in reality resembled a rectangular stone box. It reminded Mulder of a sarcophagus, but he pushed that thought away as soon as it ran through his mind. He didn’t want to think about death, especially while in the middle of a situation that could very likely cause his own.

The stone box stood within the mouth of a dark cave. The opening arched about fifteen feet above Bors, and Mulder could see nothing but an inky curtain when he tried to peer into it. But the threat to Bors was easy to detect even in those shadows, and Mulder shuddered when the danger became apparent.

Suspended from the stone archway directly above the sleeping knight hung three enormous broadswords. As Mulder blinked and titled his head to get a better look at them, their blades danced with light, slicing understanding into his brain.

If those swords fell, Bors would die a grisly death.

Mulder sat motionless on the rocky rim of the ledge, his legs dangling over the side like a boy at the edge of a pool. His mind worked frantically. There didn’t appear to be any other signs of danger around, but that fact didn’t ease his fears in the least. He still had to somehow get Bors out from under those swords, and there were an awful lot of unknown variables in the situation that didn’t allow him to feel any less apprehensive.

He weighed the risks. Could he even wake Bors up without startling him? When he had roused him in the cottage from his corner stool, Bors had awakened easily. However, Mulder had no idea what had befallen the small man since they had drifted off to sleep in the mist together. What had Elaine or the other faeries done to him?

There was a chance that he would be unable to wake Bors at all. If that were the case, he had to figure a way to get the knight’s body off the stone bed without triggering the swords to fall. And from what his Spooky Sense was telling him, that feat would be near impossible.

He hopped down from the ridge where he sat and gingerly approached the mouth of the cave, focusing his attention on the swords above Bors’ body. The handles appeared to be embedded in the stone archway nearly to the crossbar, but Mulder could see nothing that resembled a release mechanism. Then again, he was dealing in a world where people vanished into nothing, where water was like opium and the mist resembled an ever-present feline. He supposed everything was possible.

He squinted into the darkness beyond the dangling swords, trying to make out any shapes that lurked in the tunnel. His imagination did a fine job of conjuring images, but his eyes couldn’t pick anything out of the blackness there. So much for being prepared for the onslaught he figured he’d unleash as soon as Bors was freed.

But he had to free him first. Mulder considered the swords again, calculating where they would land if they fell. The first weapon hung directly above Bors’ head, the second approximately at chest-level, and the third at his belt. He supposed no swords had been placed near the knight’s legs simply because the first three would inflict enough necessary damage to slay the man as soon as they dropped from the archway.

And that fact, Mulder realized, might be the best chance of saving the knight’s life.

Mulder played one idea out in his mind. If he could climb up on the stone box between Bors’ feet, he would be able to reach the closest sword. Perhaps he could dislodge it from its place and then use it to cut through the blades of the two other weapons.

He blew out an exasperated breath. That was no good. There was too great a chance that even if he could slice through the other blades with one sword, the falling metal would hit Bors and injure him. There was also a very good chance that as soon as Mulder touched one of the weapons, they would all fall, rigged to destroy if they were disturbed in any way.

He deliberated for several more minutes, calculating and rejecting ideas. No other feasible options presented themselves to him. Frustrated, Mulder kicked at the dirt below his bare feet, watching as the dust drifted skyward and mingled with the sheer curtain of mist.

There was simply no safe choice. With a resigned set of his jaw, Mulder stepped carefully next to Bors’ head and leaned near his ear. He murmured the knight’s name several times, but the small man didn’t stir. Mulder was afraid that shaking him would result in a shower of metal, so after a few unanswered calls, he straightened up and walked slowly to the foot of the box.

Mulder stood with his hands on his hips, the lake water from his swim dripping from the ends of his curling hair, assessing one last time. He didn’t think rolling Bors to one side or the other would be the best idea; he had a feeling that the slightly rotund man wouldn’t flip very uniformly, and the grotesque image of a skewered Bors kept invading his imagination. The best solution had to be bringing the sleeping man down to the area of the box where no swords hung…so Mulder dug in his own heels, preparing to grab Bors by the ankles to yank him to safety.

He took a deep breath. Just do it, he thought grimly to himself. There was no other option. He shook away the terrible last visions of Bors somehow catching on the stone, hindering his movement…the picture of the swords raining down on the knight as soon as Mulder touched his feet, impaling him like a marshmallow on a roasting stick…

Mulder pushed all the thoughts away. His hands pistoned out from his body, grabbed Bors by the ankles, and pulled with all his might.

In the next moments, everything blurred together in Mulder’s mind. He registered the sensation of slight resistance as Bors’ body trembled and then began to slip toward him. Above his head, he heard a distinct, metallic clang, as if a chain had engaged somewhere and was beginning to rotate on a pulley. He felt the vibration of Bors’ armor scraping along the stone as he slid, but the knight came toward him easily, and Mulder recognized his own voice calling the small man’s name as he heaved the body off the stone box. The weight surprised him with its suddenness as the body freed itself of the bed, and Mulder stumbled back, dragging Bors with him, wincing as the knight’s head landed on the ground with a resounding thud. A groan issued from the liberated man, echoing off the mountain fagade.

Mulder lost his footing and sat down hard on the rocky dirt floor of the ledge. Bors’ booted feet landed in his lap, narrowly missing the equipment Mulder reserved for Scully. He shuddered, but he barely felt the sting of the shoes against his thighs. He was too busy staring, mouth agape, at the sarcophagus where Bors had laid just a moment before.

All three swords now stuck up from the rock bed like pins in a tailor’s cushion. The blades had sunk a good foot into the solid stone surface, and Mulder couldn’t help thinking how easily they would have punctured the suit of armor that Bors wore, carving through it like a hot knife through soft butter. It was a miracle the knight was still alive, and still all in one piece. Mulder couldn’t quite believe their luck.

He tore his gaze away from the trap to see Bors sitting up, rubbing at his thinning hair and squinting through dazed eyes. Mulder smiled as his friend caught sight of him.

“Good Christ,” Bors rasped as he massaged the back of his head. “Lancelot, what in God’s name are you doing?”

“Saving your ass, little man,” Mulder laughed, exuberant. He hadn’t thought that Bors could possibly escape this mess intact, let alone that he would also remain unscathed. Perhaps things were looking up in the faerie lands…maybe getting Excalibur back wouldn’t be as hard as he originally thought…

A shriek reverberated above their heads, a high-pitched screech so terrible and so sudden that Mulder automatically clapped his hands over his ears. The earth beneath him trembled with the sound, and even the ever-present fog seemed to scurry away from the echoing wail, parting like a curtain. Following the wisps, Mulder’s eyes fell on the blackness within the cave behind them, and his throat constricted in apprehension.

“Bors,” he whispered hoarsely, “what the hell was that?”

Bors appeared to be frozen in place, his face contorted in a visage of discomfort and shock. “I—I know not, Lance,” he answered. “But whatever it may be, it does not sound pleasant.”

Mulder nodded slowly, pushing himself away from the mouth of the cave like a crab in the sand. Bors did the same, scrambling backwards until they sat side by side next to the stone box, facing the darkness. Beneath them, the ledge rumbled with vibrations, waves that became more and more pronounced, as if something were coming closer and closer.

Next to him, Mulder could hear Bors breathing hard. “It comes this way, Lance.” The smaller man sat up and reached for his scabbard, but the belt that held his sword no longer cinched his waist. “Zounds! We have no weapons! We cannot defend ourselves.”

Mulder rushed to his feet, lunging toward the sarcophagus. He grabbed the handle of the nearest sword. “Please,” he muttered to any deity listening, “give me a fair shot here, at least.” He jerked ferociously on the sword, and it came hurtling out of the stone. Mulder nearly fell backwards again from the surprise of its easy extraction.

“Bors!” he called, but his voice was drowned out by another ear-splitting scream. This time, the air around him stirred. A pungent wind whistled past, lifting his damp hair from his sweaty brow. Mulder turned toward the source of the breeze, backing away once more from the mouth of the cave with the sword raised in front of him. A shadow fell over him, and he swallowed hard, trying to hang onto a scream of his own.

From the blackness of the cave rose a reptilian scarlet head, mounted on a long, scaly neck roughly the circumference of a tractor-trailer tire. The slender, pointed snout was nearly as long as Mulder’s whole body, and the glittering red eyes that sat in enormous sockets on opposite sides of the muzzle settled directly on him. The beast opened its jaws, revealing row upon row of ivory fangs as sharp as spikes, and issued another unearthly cry. Mulder gripped the sword tighter in his hands, steeling himself against the awful sound and the wave of hot breath that shot past him.

A dragon. Sir Lancelot and The Dragon. His imagination conjured the title of this new legend clearly, completed in gold foil on the book jacket in his mind. He was going to have to fight a goddamn dragon, and he couldn’t help wondering how this part of tale would end. He’d certainly been correct in assuming that freeing Bors would trigger another adventure in the gauntlet to recover Excalibur.

Mulder had grown accustomed to being right about a lot of things in his life. Just this one time, he wished he’d been wrong.

He turned his head once more toward Bors. The smaller knight had jumped on top of the sarcophagus, where he was struggling to free another of the fallen swords. He strained mightily with the middle one, but it refused to budge. Giving up, he reached over and tugged on the third to no avail. Bors rounded with an oath.

“I cannot free the other two, Lance. Christ save us!”

“No,” Mulder said, gritting his teeth. “I’ll save us. Get behind me, dammit, before that thing turns you into a Post Toasty.”

Bors leapt down, and they both edged back toward the rim of the ledge. The dragon advanced, its head climbing higher into the misty sky as its body filled the mouth of the cave. Its eyes followed Mulder’s bobbing sword, and it seemed to focus only on his movements. It appeared to be aware that Bors held no threat to it at all. And he was sure he was imagining it, but the damn thing wore what looked to Mulder like a sinister smile as it moved toward them.

Mulder calculated as fast as he could in his mind. They were quickly running out of room on the ledge, and there was no place for them to go but down once they reached the edge. They could jump, but he wasn’t entirely sure the lake below them was deep enough to sustain such a maneuver. There was a very good chance that if they hurled themselves into the water, they could break their necks and drown.

The dragon raised its head and bellowed again, rocking Mulder and Bors both with the fury of its cry and the heat of its breath. The air around them crackled feverishly, and Mulder couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before the creature started spitting flames at them. The image made his stomach turn sickly again; his fear of fire reared up from his subconscious, rendering him the cowering schoolboy of his past.

He shook himself, trying to focus. He’d have to kill the dragon. There was no other way out of this corner. He realized that to find Excalibur, he and Bors would need to get into the cave. The dragon was obviously meant to guard the sword, and even if they could somehow get past it to the cavern beyond its tail, they’d have to face it again once they returned. It obviously had to be destroyed&but how?

Mulder scanned the beast’s body quickly, looking for vulnerabilities. Shining scarlet scales covered the dragon’s entire mass, effectively armoring the creature as well as they would one of the Round Table knights. The only places not shingled with the rigid coverlet were its underbelly and its neck.

The neck. It had to be the neck. Although thick, Mulder rationalized that he could cut through it, especially if given the chance to strike twice in quick succession. Now, he had to figure out how to get that chance.

There was no time to consider it. Just at that moment, the dragon dropped its head down to his level, one gleaming, blood-colored eye even with his face. In its depths, Mulder could see his reflection: the shimmering image of a tall, lanky man with wet, tangled dark hair, holding a broadsword aloft in shaky hands.

And behind that man, he could see another, one dressed in a long, flowing robe, whose old, wizened face was nearly hidden by an encroaching wild beard and hair.

Mulder whirled around. Alone at his back, Bors looked at him, his face overshadowed with fear. “Good Christ, Lancelot!” he shouted. “Do not turn your back on it!”

Mulder searched the line of rocks that marked the end of the ledge, confused. He knew what he’d seen, yet Bors was the only person with him now.

Or was he?

Bors’ yell cut through the haze of his thoughts. “Lancelot! The dragon! Look to it, man!”

The air crackled again, and Mulder ducked reflexively. The top of his head burned with sensation, as if he stood below an open oven cranked up to the broil setting. Before his eyes, a ball of fire exploded, shooting embers and crazy tendrils of smoke into every direction.

Fuck, he thought grimly. He’d almost been incinerated. He spun around again, lunging forward with all his might, the sword pointed up and away from him as he aimed for the beast’s coiling neck.

// Lancelot! Hold! //

The voice stormed through his head like an unexpected tornado. It caused his whole body to tremble, and he nearly dropped the sword. His thrust missed its mark, and the dragon reared back, screaming a protest, cognizant that the man before it had tried to stab it. Yet in its calculating eye, Mulder recognized once again the outline of the figure he had seen moments before. And he knew that it was this man’s words that he heard in his mind.

// Merlin? //

His mind pushed the name at the dragon before he really understood what he was doing. Mulder had no reason to think that the apparition was anything more than his own fatigue-induced hallucination…yet his brain conjured the name anyway, and he trusted his instinct as he always did, following it forward, hoping that this was somehow a ticket out of this predicament.

His intuition didn’t disappoint. The voice came again, stronger this time, in a cadence and a tone that Mulder recognized…as did Lancelot.

// It is I, Lancelot. You do understand, old friend. //

Mulder swung the sword before him, still holding it between him and the dragon, which regarded him solemnly. The beast crouched in the middle of the ledge, watching him, still except for the swishing of its massive tail. It was waiting, Mulder knew…hunched, ready to spring when given the opening, like a cat stalking a mouse in tall field grass.

But there was something else about the dragon, too…a consciousness that Mulder could sense. It was there, the source of the voice…could it be possible that Merlin <was>…?

Another shout shook the air, but it did not come from the creature. This one was the battle cry of a fighting man, and Mulder turned just in time to see Bors hurtling himself from atop the stone box where he had laid in his enchantment. He landed on the back of the dragon’s neck, and he latched on with both gloved hands to the crimson scales just behind its jaws. The beast threw its head back immediately, and Bors hung on, riding the bucking neck like a rodeo cowboy.

“Lancelot!” he screamed. “Strike now! While it is distracted!”

Mulder stood frozen, horrified. “Bors, goddamn it! Let go of it! I can’t kill it! It’s Merlin!”

At the sound of the legendary name, the dragon opened its great jaws and bellowed, shooting a spray of fire and heat into a mushroom cloud above their heads. Bors, surprised by either Mulder’s announcement or the fury of the creature, released his hold on its neck. He tumbled down next to the edge of the ledge, where he scurried back against the rock. The dragon followed his fall and lunged after him, apparently infuriated that he had attempted to subdue it.

Bors ducked behind a loose boulder as the dragon spewed more fire. Mulder could not see him through the haze of smoke that had mated with the mist in the air, but he could hear the smaller knight’s voice. “If it is truly Merlin, Lancelot, why does it attack us?”

“I don’t know.” Mulder weaved around the dragon’s tail and inched closer to Bors until he could finally see him, sitting with his back against the shielding stone. “I think Merlin’s consciousness is trapped inside of it. I’m afraid if we kill it, we’ll kill Merlin, too.”

“What do you propose?”

“Fuck if I know.” Mulder turned his attention back to the dragon, which seemed to have calmed a bit now that it was rid of Bors. He concentrated all his energy in his mind and pushed another thought toward it.

// Merlin, what can we do? How can we help you? //

The dragon stared at Mulder, its eyes glittering almost knowingly, but no answer rang into his head.

Mulder backed away from it until his hip knocked against the rocky end of the ledge. His wet trousers caught on a sharp stone, and he winced, pulling away, the linen of the pants sticking to his damp skin. What the hell were they supposed to do now…?

He looked down at himself with dawning understanding. He touched his trousers where he’d bumped into the rock, his mind clicking in lightning reflexes. The solution was obvious…but he wasn’t entirely sure he would survive.

Undaunted, he turned the sword in his hand so that the blade pointed down to the ground. With one decisive thrust, Mulder plunged it into the pebbled earth beneath his feet. Unarmed, he climbed up onto the rim of the ledge that overlooked the lake below them. He pivoted around to face the dragon.

Below him, Bors swore again. “God in His mercy! Lancelot, what are you doing? Get down and take up your sword!”

“This is the only way, Bors.” Mulder clapped his hands and whistled, the sound piercing the still air. “Hey! Dragon! Here, dragon dragon dragon!” His tone became whimsical, and in spite of the danger, he couldn’t help smiling. “C’mon, motherfucker. You wanna play? Bring it on!”

The dragon swung its head around and peered at him. He waved his arms like a man trying to fly. Bors shuddered and screwed up his face. “For God’s sake, Lancelot! Are you mad? You are unarmed!”

Mulder ignored him and continued his wild dance across the rim of the ledge. “Come on, red eyes. Let’s go for a swim. Whaddya say?”

Understanding ignited in Bors, and he started toward Mulder. “No, Lance! The water is not deep enough! You cannot survive a fall from here—”

But it was too late. The dragon, goaded into following him, surged forward, knocking its enormous body into the narrow line of rocks upon which Mulder stood. He felt the stones crumbling beneath his feet, and he wind milled his arms, trying to keep his balance. The dragon belched another cloud of flame as it came toward him, and, unable to see, Mulder reached out. His arms encircled the creature’s closing snout, and he hung on as the beast stumbled out through the barrier of stone. He felt the rush of wind around them as they fell, tumbling toward the water below.

He had the sense to let go of the creature and curl into a ball as they fell, mindful of the questionable depth of the lake. Hitting the water still knocked the wind out of him, and his lungs strained as he plunged below the placid surface. The sounds around him distorted, but he could hear the dragon roaring its rage somewhere nearby. He opened his eyes, seeking the surface, and he shot up toward it when he recognized the slanting light. His chest ached and his stomach rolled, but he fought for his life, finally breaking through the water and heaving a huge breath as he did.

He could see nothing around him. The whole lake seemed to have been enveloped in curling black smoke, the kind that usually spewed from a five-alarm fire. The lake water, usually warm and pleasant, churned with bubbles, and Mulder felt his skin heat up. The water was boiling, and he scrambled forward, pushing his throbbing body through it to reach the shore. He pulled himself out of the water and threw himself down on the beach, coughing and sputtering into the sand below his head.

Mulder rolled onto his back and pushed up onto his elbows, squinting at the lake. It resembled an enormous witch’s cauldron, roiling with massive waves and exploding bubbles. He could see nothing of the dragon, and it had ceased its furious bawling. He scanned the choppy water for any signs of life, but he spotted nothing.

Shit. What if he’d been wrong? What if he’d ended up killing the dragon after all, and Merlin, the only hope he and Scully had of returning to their lives, had died along with it?

“Lancelot!” Bors’ voice rang out above him, and he looked up. The smaller knight was scaling his way back down the mountain, moving fast. He arrived on the beach a few moments later, and he sank to one knee next to Mulder. He crossed himself, and Mulder grinned a little, the gesture becoming more and more familiar to him the longer he stayed in this strange world. “God be praised. You are alive!”

“I told you: I’m too tough to kill.” Mulder coughed and sat up, still searching the lake, but his hope was beginning to fade. “I think I messed up here, Bors. I thought that the lake water would heal Merlin, like it healed me. But I’m afraid the dragon may have died instead, and Merlin—”

“And Merlin along with it.” Bors finished the thought for him. He looked at Mulder with compassionate eyes. “If it is the case, Lance, then it is God’s will. You have done all you could. We still must find Excalibur. We must return to Camelot as soon as we can.”

“Yeah, I know.” Mulder took another deep breath. “But I think Merlin could have helped us. We need all the allies we can get.”

“True enough, cousin.” Bors sat back on his heels, and a huge smile spread across his face. “But zounds, man! You are something to behold! You never cease to amaze me, even after all this time.”

“So I am something like the real Lancelot, then?” Mulder couldn’t help joking with the smaller knight. Something stirred in Bors’ expression, and he could see the great affection the other man had for his famous cousin.

“You are…you are indeed our greatest knight.” Bors began to say something else, but his eyes widened suddenly, and he grabbed Mulder’s shoulder. “Christ in his glory! Look you to the lake, Lance!”

Mulder whipped his head around, his heart starting to race even before his eyes focused on the water. He was just in time to see a beam of bright light shine down upon the lake from somewhere within the dark haze that hung above it. As the men watched, the beam encircled something on the lake’s surface, looking just like a spotlight on a theatre stage. The figure in the water bobbed on the calming waves, and Mulder realized it was a man, one with a beard and a long robe, floating peacefully on his back.

The grip on his shoulder tightened as Bors once again crossed himself. His voice was nothing more than an awed whisper when he spoke.

“My God, Lancelot. It is Merlin.”

Chapter Ten (rated strong R)

The air surrounding her crackles with the magic of this night.

Cocooned in his embrace, she feels his body rock into hers. Her small frame fits perfectly into the curves and slopes that his stance creates, and she smiles to think that their forms have been fashioned to fuse together like this. He smells earthy, like rawhide and wood and dust, and she relishes his lips whispering kisses through her hair as he leans into her…

// Hips before hands… //

He palms the sharp bone of her pelvis where it juts into her slacks, and her heart races with the warm gentleness of his touch. She wonders if he can feel the thin strap of her bikini panties through the fabric, what it would be like to have him trace his fingers along it to the tiny bow that graces the scrap of satin giftwrapping her sex. She giggles, not at his jokes but at her own flushed face, thankful that he cannot see her well under the lights of the baseball field…

//…we’re just gonna make contact…//

They do, and the white ball arcs into the shimmering indigo sky, blurring with the constellations in their intricate, heavenly dance. Her smile widens as he teases her, as they shuffle their hands across the neck of the bat, and her body cries for his touch when his skin skates across her own…

// We’re not gonna think…we’re just gonna let it fly, Scully…//

She could be flying; he has taken her that high with his mouth, his tongue, his teeth. Now he pushes into her, and she is exhilarated; she tilts her head back into the unyielding ground below them, but her body soars with the stars that sparkle over his shoulder, burning brighter than she has ever seen them before. They match the surging feeling within her, the pulse of her excitement and the hammering of her heart that strains so hard against her chest, as if it wishes nothing more than to push out of her body and merge with his…

// Scully…love you, Scully…love you so much…//

He pants the words into her open mouth, kissing the upturned corners of her smile. His hair, damp with sweat, drips the beads of his exertion onto her heated neck, and she clutches him tighter to her, amazed by the intensity that snaps in his hazel eyes…

< Green eyes. Lancelot has blue eyes…this is not Lancelot…yet this man is so like him, almost his twin— >

His hand, the one that directed her hip forward as they swung the bat together, clutches the bone there again. He slides velvety fingers along the outside curve of her thigh until they are between her and the blanket they have spread on the spring-soaked grass. With a smooth, graceful push he lifts her leg, hitching her knee over his shoulder. She gasps at the delicious sharpness in her center, the sensation of him slipping deeper into her. He smiles and thrusts harder, and she laughs, giddy with his love, drunk with his seduction, captured willingly in the perfect spell he has woven around her. She recognizes her voice as she croons his name…

// Mulder…don’t stop…oh, God, Mulder…//

< Mulder? This is Lancelot…but it cannot be, can it…? //

Her body cannot halt the inevitable conclusion now, even if she wants to…and she wants nothing more than this moment, this instant of powerful love and its most precious act. Her climax surprises her in its fury. It whirls through her like a dervish, sending earth-shaking tremors through her whole being. They stir her entire body, rippling out like ocean waves that crash against the shore. Her skin burns, her limbs tremble…even the very tips of her fingers sing with vibrations…

And above her, he smiles again…she is caught and held in his adoring gaze, the one that she knows only Mulder can give to her…Only Mulder can make her feel this safe, this loved, this precious…


When she awakened, the ecstasy of her dream still beat its rhythm through her. She groaned and pushed up from her stomach, her skin hot and damp with the flush of orgasm. She fought the confusion that draped itself over her like her dream lover. For a moment, as she opened her eyes and strained to make her brain comprehend, she didn’t know where she was…or who she was.

The chamber around her began to slowly take shape, and understanding dawned in her mind. She recognized the wardrobe that stood silent vigil next to the bed, as well as the hangings that decorated the stone walls and her dressing table by the door. She was safe in her bed, and even though she felt sudden embarrassment at the telltale wetness her dream images had created between her legs, she came back to herself in a rush of sounds and voices. They pulled her back into her being, giving her assurance. Everything was as it should be.

She threw back the blankets and tumbled from the bed, wrenching open the door of the wardrobe and straightening up in front of the looking glass that hung inside. She peered closely at her face, trying to focus her eyes, but no matter how often she blinked, she couldn’t stop the wavering motion that made the figure in the glass undulate like a wood sprite. Her head throbbed with every intake of breath, and she clutched at her stomach. The pleasant rush of arousal that lingered from her dream soured, and it was all she could do to stumble blindly across the room to the chamber pot in the corner. She vomited violently and collapsed on the floor, shaking from the effort.

She remained there with her cheek pressed against the cool stones, attempting to relive the previous night. Mordred. She remembered taking supper with the new High King and his mother in the Great Hall, and she tried to recall what the three of them had discussed. Her mind, however, was intent on contemplating something else: the man in her dream, the one that so resembled Lancelot…

She chided herself, ashamed by her lust. She’d had dreams of this nature before, of course…every woman did, she imagined. But this one had been so real, so vivid…and the circumstances had been so strange that she couldn’t help dwelling on them.

She had not recognized the place where she and the man had played the foreign game, the one her mind called “baseball,” even though she had never heard that particular word before in her life. As she recalled the details, she realized it was all alien to her: the dusty field where they stood together; the odd wooden stick he placed in her hands; the small, white sphere that they swung at again and again, using the stick to hit it. Even her clothes had looked strange: the leggings that were so like a man’s, the high, ankle-revealing shoes that she knew would draw disapproving looks from every woman at court…So many oddities, and yet the man himself had given her a sense of comfort and safety that she felt only in the presence of her own Lancelot…

What on earth had Mordred and Morgan le Fae given her to bring such wondrous images to her mind?

She moaned again as another wave of nausea hit her. She jerked to her knees and retched over the pot, but nothing came up this time. She wiped her mouth on a nearby cloth and sat down, the stones chilling her bare body as she huddled there. She was sure of it now. They <had> poisoned her again, just as they had when…

She shook the thought from her mind. She wouldn’t consider that awful, painful time. It would drive her insane to think on it too much, and she needed her wits about her now, more than ever before. She had to stop Mordred’s plan…she had to save Arthur, and the kingdom, and…

What had she done the night before? She searched her memory, but she could recall nothing more than Mordred’s entrance with his mother into the Great Hall. She didn’t even know how she ended up back in her rooms. Who had brought her here? Her stomach lurched again as she thought of Mordred carrying her, laying her upon the mattress, stripping off her clothes…She squelched the urge to vomit again and sat up straighter.

“Leigh!” she called, and before the sound stopped echoing across the chamber, another voice answered in her mind.

// Kimberly. Her name is Kimberly. //

She whipped her head up, searching for a face to go with the voice. Her eyes fell on her own form in the mirror across from her. This time they focused, but she blinked anyway, disbelieving what she saw there.

The same body, yet different: more angular, firmer, the muscles in the legs and arms better defined. Hair an identical shade of copper, yet much shorter than any noble woman would dare to cut her hair…shorter even than most of the knights, who wore shoulder-length hair. But the queerest thing, the one that caught and held her attention, enraptured…

The eyes. The eyes that stared back at her were blue. A shade of blue that mirrored the sky…eyes like Lancelot’s…

They were not her eyes.

“What is happening to me?” Guinevere whispered. Her insides shifted again, and she closed her eyes against the onslaught. In her mind, the voice sighed again.

// Us. What is happening to <us.> I’m still here. I’m not going away. //

She brought her fingers up to her temples and massaged them, scrunching up her face, trying to drive the mumble away. “Leigh!” she yelled again, and she was grateful to hear her cousin’s footfalls in the hallway outside. A moment later, the other woman crouched next to her, stroking her shoulders.

“Gwen! You are ill. I feared it last night when that bastard brought you in.”

She nodded silently, swallowing the bile in her throat and the confusion that spun in her head. The figure in the mirror shifted, and she saw her own familiar body take the strange one’s place. She leaned back into Leigh’s arms, taking comfort in her cousin’s embrace. What in God’s name ailed her? Perhaps she was already insane…

Leigh was speaking, and she forced herself to concentrate on her words. “…give you to drink last night?”

She thought back, an image forming in her mind as she answered. “The squire filled my cup with wine, but I only took a swallow or two.”

“It matters not. Morgan le Fae could still have poisoned you, or worse.” Leigh’s hands felt cool and gentle as she smoothed her hair back. “The whole of Camelot speaks this morning of your agreement.”

Guinevere pushed up and turned to face her cousin. “What agreement? I cannot remember what happened in the Great Hall. It is like something hidden in the early morning mist.”

Leigh ducked her head to avoid her eyes, but Guinevere grabbed her hand and squeezed it hard, pressing her determination into her palm. “Please, Leigh, you must tell me,” she implored, and she sucked in a breath, steeling herself as if readying for a physical blow.

Leigh sighed and raised her eyes to look directly into Guinevere’s. “You signed a decree declaring Arthur unfit to rule. In his stead, Mordred shall be crowned High King on the morrow. The Bishop will preside over his coronation.”

Guinevere nodded stoically. “Then it is as I recalled. It is as Mordred and I spoke of before dining together. I feared I had no choice, as the Bishop already decreed it himself.”

“But the coronation is not the only ceremony the Bishop will celebrate with Mordred tomorrow.”

At these words, one moment in the Great Hall came flooding back to Guinevere. Her skin crawled at the memory of Mordred kissing her hand, coaxing her to sign the document that would bind her to him as his promised Queen. She shuddered as another bolt of nausea shot through her, and she scrambled forward, heaving the remainder of her stomach contents into the bowl before her.

Leigh helped her sit back, murmuring soothing phrases in her ear. Tears squirted from the corners of Guinevere’s eyes, and her whole body shook as she cried. “Dear God, Leigh,” she sobbed. “What have I done?”

Leigh wrapped her arms around her and held her. Her own soft voiced choked with tears as she spoke. “I know not how to help you, Guinevere. I fear what will happen on the morrow…and I fear for you, having been tied now to the scourge of Camelot, Arthur’s true bane. What will he do to you? How will you survive?”

They sat like that for several minutes, snuffling and rocking together, trying to give each other strength and draw on the combined energy that they shared. Guinevere had gotten herself back under control when Leigh stiffened, sitting up straighter next to her.

“Gwen, it is nearly full moon.”

Guinevere furrowed her brow at her cousin as she wiped the remaining wet pathways from her cheeks. “Is it? Why do you mention it, Leigh? How could that possibly be of importance now?”

Leigh sat up on her knees and grabbed Guinevere’s hand excitedly. “Your courses, Gwen. You usually start your courses right after the quarter moon, and you have not yet begun this month.” She nearly cut off the circulation in her cousin’s hand as she squeezed her fingers. “No courses. You could be with child. You could be carrying the High King’s true heir to the throne.”

Guinevere’s heart sprang up into her throat. Could it be true? Her courses had not come the previous month, but she had thought nothing of that. Since the death of her son, her cycles had run strangely, and some months her flow never started. But two cycles in a row? That had never happened before, except when she had carried a child, and now…?

She tried to count backwards in her mind. It would have been in the late winter, around the time that Arthur had traveled south to Cornwall to honor his cousins there. She had stayed behind at Camelot, and of course, the Queen’s champion never left her side when the King was away. Lancelot had kept rooms at court that whole week…and they had shared a bed every night, relishing in the luxury of their love as they had never before.

She bit her lip, trying to contain her excitement. A baby…her baby…another child that Lancelot had fathered, but that Arthur would recognize as his heir, determined to keep their secret and all of his hopes for Camelot intact. She would be a mother, giving a son to her dear husband and her precious lover both, a son that would shine more brightly than all the stars in heaven…

// Never give up on a miracle. //

The voice in her head rumbled with the same rough texture as Lance’s…yet she knew it was the other man who spoke, the one from her dream. She closed her eyes, swaying a bit, and she could see him reaching for her, pressing his forehead to hers as she embraced him. It wasn’t her, and yet it was…it was all a jumbled swirl of emotion and memory and touch and sound…

// Guinevere. Stay alert. There are people who will not want this child to live. //

Her eyes flew open as the soft, throaty voice crept through her consciousness. Whoever this other woman was, Guinevere knew that she was right. If she did carry Arthur’s heir, Mordred and his mother would stop at nothing to try to destroy it. The child’s lineage would not matter if she were forced to marry Mordred…he would still rule, and it would be easy for him to claim the child as his once they were wed. Worse still, he would know the truth, and as ruthless as he was, he might still murder her offspring. They had to protect this secret no matter what the cost. It might be enough to keep Mordred from ascending…if they could prove it in time.

Guinevere pressed Leigh’s fingers. “We must find a way to confirm this, Leigh. Perhaps it is only wishful thinking. One way or the other, we must be certain.”

Leigh started to stand. “I will send for a midwife.”

Guinevere jerked her back down beside her. “Nay! We know not whom we can trust any longer. What if it were true, and the woman ran back to tell Mordred or his mother? We must find someone who can help us, one way or the other.”

“But who could that be? I am not skilled enough in midwifery, Gwen, to know—”

Guinevere cut off her words. “I know. Send for the lady Lionors.”

Leigh wrinkled her brow. “Sir Gareth’s wife? I have never heard tell that she knows midwifery…”

“Her father was one of Uther Pendragon’s best surgeons. I have heard Sir Gareth brag many times of his lady’s great knowledge of the sciences. She is our best hope. Her own husband has been imprisoned by his brother, and I know her heart must yearn for him. She will help us, I am sure of it.”

“Very well.” Leigh stood, and she eased Guinevere to her feet as well. “Come, Gwen. Get you back to bed and rest until she arrives.”

Guinevere settled back under the coverlet of the bed and then sat up as another thought rocketed through her mind. This one, too, came from the other woman, the one that so resembled her, the one who seemed to have taken up residence in the recesses of Guinevere’s consciousness.

“One thing more, Leigh. Send a summons to Joyous Gard.”

Leigh looked utterly baffled. “Joyous Gard? You know very well that Lancelot is not there—”

“Summon his manservant Richard. Tell him to come to Camelot at once to attend the Queen.”

“But why, Gwen? For whatever reason could you possible have need of Richard?”

Guinevere allowed her muddled head to sink back into the pillows. “I—I cannot say just yet. But I believe he can help us, too, at some point in the future. Just get him here as quickly as you can.”


She stared at the cross beamed ceiling above her, trying not to wince. Embarrassment broiled at the back of her mind, but she squelched it, attempting to focus not on the fact that she was spread-eagled on an oak dining table while another woman probed at her sex, but instead on the outcome of the examination.

A baby. Another chance. God, she hoped and prayed that it was true.

An involuntary shudder passed through her as a pulling sensation raced through the pit of her abdomen. She shut her eyes against it, digging her nails into the sides of the table. In her mind, a picture emerged, and Guinevere wondered at it, realizing that the image came from the woman who had taken up residence within her subconscious, the woman that seemed to resemble her in so many ways.

//…a bright room of blinding white…her feet up in the stirrups, the paper sheet hiked in a bunch around her hips…the cold metal of the instrument as the doctor inserts it inside of her, the lubricating gel thick and slimy at her entrance…she turns her head away, breathing through the intense pressure and the nervousness…and she feels the warm softness of his hand gripping hers…his eyes, those chameleon ones that change like a kaleidoscope of earth tones, find hers and lock on…he whispers encouragement to her, a small smile just touching his lush mouth…//

//…it’s OK, Scully…I’m right here…You’re safe…//

Scully. Was that this woman’s name? An odd moniker for a lady, Guinevere thought, but it had to be true. The man intoned it with such reverence and such love that it only made sense that is was her name. She tried to shake the woman’s fear from her but found it mingling with her own. This child could be everything she and Arthur had hoped for…and if she lost it again, it could be the one thing that would destroy her.

She sensed the sudden rush of movement within her, and the pressure between her legs withdrew. The woman at the foot of the table straightened up, pivoting to one side to plunge her hands into a waiting bowl of hot water. As she scrubbed, Guinevere sat up, rearranging the skirts of her gown to cover her exposed body. She watched the woman’s profile, the sculptured pale cheeks that had almost no boundary as they rose into the blonde hairline over her ear. She was a pretty woman, Guinevere thought, and a woman who possessed an air of authority and intellect that she respected and admired.

< Lionors. Sir Gareth’s dear wife. >

// Suzanne Modeski. The woman Byers tried to save. //

She started at that. The foreign names whirled through her mind, and Guinevere didn’t know if she should try to remember them, or if she should just resign herself to the fact that she was going mad. That was the only logical explanation, wasn’t it? This voice in her mind…these images of the man who looked like Lancelot&the faces and scenes of another life, one so very different from her own…

She couldn’t contemplate it now. There were too many other important things to concentrate on, and too many lives at stake.

She swung her feet over the side of the table. She had received Lionors in the Queen’s Hall, a smaller gathering room reserved for Guinevere to entertain friends. She had not wished to draw Mordred’s suspicions by asking Lionors to come to her private chambers. He would have wanted to know why, and she couldn’t risk that. Submitting to the humiliation of being examined on a dining table was preferable to Mordred’s wrath.

“Well, Lady Lionors? What say you about my condition?”

Lionors dried her hands swiftly on a nearby cloth and faced Guinevere. Her serious eyes gave away nothing. “I would say congratulations, my Queen.”

Leigh squealed in delight from her place behind Gareth’s wife. A giddy rush of excitement shot through Guinevere as well, but Lionors’ sharp tone cut that off at once. “Be still! I know it is wondrous news, but surely you must also realize the danger here.”

Guinevere reached forward and grabbed Lionors’ hand. “We are well aware of that, my friend. But if I carry the King’s true heir, then Mordred cannot ascend. Even he cannot possibly challenge that claim.”

The stony look on Lionors’ face did not change. “I fear, my lady Queen, that Mordred will stop at nothing to reach the throne. This child will simply be one more for him to leave in his murderous wake.”

Guinevere considered the words with a wave of dread building in her heart, one that drowned any elated feeling she had about a new child. She knew that Lionors spoke true. As long as she remained at Camelot, she was in danger…and now the child along with her. That thought mobilized her as nothing else possibly could.

“We must get away from Camelot,” she declared, squeezing the hand that she still held. Lionors simply stared at her. “I must not be forced to marry Mordred on the morrow, decree or no. We must find a safe place to go, and we must somehow release the Round Table Knights. Once we are safely away, we must locate Lancelot. With his loyal men at his side, Arthur can declare this claim against Mordred and rally the people to fight him. Camelot will be won again.”

“But where is Lancelot?” Lionors asked. “And with the King ill, how can he retake the throne?”

Guinevere sighed. “I must trust that Lancelot is not lost to us, Lionors. He is endeavoring to bring Excalibur back to Arthur. Once he does, Arthur will be healed. With the Round Table Knights fighting with him, he will be able to defeat Mordred.”

“Morgan le Fae said she would heal Arthur,” Leigh interjected. “That was part of the bargain for you to sign the decree.”

Guinevere leveled a look at her cousin. “Has it been done yet, Leigh? Have you witnessed Arthur’s miraculous recovery?”

Leigh lowered her head. “Nay, I have not.”

“Nor have I. I believe,” Guinevere said, “that it was just another ploy to get me to sign the decree. That, and drugging me last night at supper.”

Lionors looked at her sharply. “Are you not well, my Queen? What is this talk of drugs?”

Guinevere told her about the meeting the night before and her belief that Morgan le Fae had ensnared her with some sort of draught. Lionors frowned. “Guinevere, you must be careful. You carry a child now. Anything that you ingest could be detrimental to it. It is yet another reason you must keep this secret.”

“We must plan. We must find a way to escape from Camelot.” Guinevere hopped down from the table and began to pace. “It will be nearly impossible, though. I cannot leave Arthur here. He must be with us when Lancelot returns with the sword. That would mean carrying him somehow.”

“There are liters in the stables, Gwen,” Leigh said. “If we could get him into one, we could drag it behind as we rode.”

She nodded. “But how to get him there? We are but three women. I know not if we could manage Arthur by ourselves.”

“You must release the Round Table Knights first,” Lionors replied. “They can help you with the King. But before you can do any of this, you must find a way to keep Mordred and Morgan le Fae occupied. They will be watching you, and Arthur, like a falconer with an eye on his prized bird.”

“What other men remain in the castle who are loyal to Arthur?” Leigh asked.

Guinevere considered the question. She could think of no one who would not have been imprisoned immediately, for all of Arthur’s friends were knights themselves. Her mind lit on something then, and she turned to Lionors.

“Your brother-in-law may be able to help us, if we can persuade him.”

Lionors spat out a sour laugh. “Do you speak of Agravaine, my lady? He is only interested in appeasing his mother. Gareth has said for many years that his brother knows no loyalty other than that.”

“I have seen his indecision, Lionors, in the last few days. He knows what Mordred has done is wrong. I think he will help us, but we must be determined in our efforts.”

Lionors tossed the towel she still held onto the table next to her, her face grim. “I will do whatever is necessary to secure my husband’s release. I will not leave him to die, wrongly imprisoned for crimes he did not commit.”

“Very well. Then we are invested.” Guinevere crossed her arms over her chest in an effort to keep her anxiety from bleeding through into her shaking hands. “It must be tonight, then, so that we can get away before the Bishop arrives on the morrow. I have had Leigh send for one of Lancelot’s men. I say that we shall run to Lancelot’s own castle, Joyous Gard, once we are free. If Mordred follows and attacks, we should be safe there, at least for a while.”

“Richard should arrive any time now, Guinevere,” Leigh said. “What shall we do once he is here?”

“Richard?” Lionors asked. “I know him, I think. Light-haired steward, is he not?”

“That is right.” Guinevere puzzled over Lionors’ chuckle. “Why do you laugh, lady? Is there something about Richard that I should know?”

Lionors gazed at Guinevere. “Do you not remember where Lancelot found him? Picking pockets in the square?” Her eyes glittered lightly. “I believe, Guinevere, that if you need a man to release the knights from the dungeons, you could not have asked for a better one than Richard. Gareth has told me he knows every passage in every castle from here to Cornwall, and he is an expert at picking locks and traveling unnoticed wherever he goes. I tell you, the knights shall be free this evening, have no fear.”

Guinevere smiled. The woman inside her, the one called Scully, had known to call Richard. Somehow, she had trusted that he would be able to help them. How had she possibly known of his skills?

It mattered not. The scheme was beginning to take shape, and Guinevere had no time to ruminate over the strange dealings of her mind. If Richard could release the knights, all was well…but there was the issue of Mordred and Morgan le Fae. How could they distract them so as to escape unnoticed?

“Lionors?” she said. “Would you go to Mordred and his mother, as a member of the Orkney clan, and plead for your husband’s release? If they give you their attentions, they will never know that the knights have escaped. Then, while you are with them, we could steal Arthur away from this place. They will be none the wiser until it is too late.”

“And I could meet you after at Joyous Gard, and see my dear husband again.” For the first time, Lionors appeared vulnerable, and Guinevere felt her own heart ache for the other woman. “I shall do this, my Queen. And before I go, I shall speak to Agravaine. Perhaps he will have a change of heart, especially if I plead with him on Gareth’s behalf.”

Guinevere stepped up to the other woman and hugged her tightly. “Thank you, sweet lady. By the end of this night, we shall be gone from Camelot, and we shall be on our way to restoring the King to his rightful place.”

She thought of Arthur as she spoke, lying in his bed, oblivious to the dangerous plotting that swirled around him. She thought of the baby growing within her, the one that could save all of Camelot from destruction at the hands of its warped half-brother. And she thought of Lancelot, fighting his way through whatever gauntlets he had encountered, doing everything he could to aid his King, his country…and the love that so desperately awaited his return.

The throaty voice rippled through Guinevere again, latching into her mind and heart as it moved.

// Mulder. I’m doing everything I can to help you, Mulder. //

Guinevere stiffened her resolve. She would save them all: Arthur, the child, Lancelot, Gareth…and even though she didn’t understand who they were, the ones called Scully and Mulder. They were somehow a part of this, too, and she would not leave them in line for destruction any more than she would her own dear loved ones. No matter what, they would all be free by morning, if it was the last thing she ever did.

Chapter Eleven

Mulder was used to strange occurrences. In his work on the X-Files, how could he not be? Encountering alien bounty hunters, vampires, serial killers, and even flukemen was routine to him. He couldn’t remember a time when his life hadn’t been filled with oddities. But the man that awaited him in the faerie lake surprised him more than anything had in a long, long time.

He and Bors had waded into the cooling water, mindful of the waves that undulated around them, reaching the floating stranger in mere seconds. Mulder had grabbed the man’s ankles and hauled him toward the shore, noting the coldness of the aged skin beneath his fingers. Scully’s lectures about victims in shock replayed through his mind, and he moved as fast as he could. He barely glanced at the man’s face, more concerned about getting him warmed up and hopefully restoring him to consciousness. Other than his temperature, the wizard called Merlin appeared to be in good shape. His weight seemed normal, and Mulder could detect no injuries. He knew they were lucky as hell. That fall from the ledge above the lake could have easily killed them both, even with one of them in dragon form.

With Bors cradling the wizard’s head, Mulder hoisted the man’s legs and settled him further up the beach, away from the black smoke that curdled the air around the lake. After arranging him on the sand, Bors set about gathering nearby plant life with which to cover his body. Mulder called to him to find some firewood as well, and Bors nodded, moving off into the underbrush.

Mulder collapsed next to the old man’s body, fatigue creeping over him almost immediately. He knew he couldn’t give in again to the luxury of rest. The realization that they were closer than ever to locating Excalibur pricked at him, urging him to continue on. He now knew the sword was nearby, hidden in the cave above them that the dragon-turned-Merlin had guarded. Once Merlin was revived, they needed to move quickly to secure it and hightail it back to Camelot.

Mulder sighed and hunched himself into a seated ball, trying to generate his own body heat. Now that he was out of the water and motionless, his body temperature began to drop, and he shivered. He needed the warmth of a campfire just as much as Merlin did.

He picked up the wrinkled hand nearest to him and chafed it between his own, hoping to generate some heat. He leaned over the old man’s head, peering at the creased face beneath the overgrown white beard…and he nearly fell over from shock.

He’d pretty much expected Merlin to look like someone from his life. Everyone else in this bizarre universe seemed to possess striking similarities to someone he knew, and he certainly hadn’t thought that Merlin would be an exception. The surprise of who the wizard did resemble, however, still rocked his mind back, looping it through waves of memory to a man he hadn’t seen alive in a very long time.

Scully had described his informant’s death to him. He, of course, had not witnessed it. He’d been held prisoner in the back of a van, his eyes sealed shut from the poison of the alien fumes, his consciousness weaving in and out as he tried to piece together what was happening around him. He had not seen the body, but he trusted Scully. The man he’d known only as Deep Throat had died that night of a gunshot wound to the heart, and Scully herself had held his head in her hands as his life bled out beneath him on that deserted bridge in Washington.

Mulder had reeled from the reality of that experience. It was the first time he had truly contemplated the enormity of his work, and the first time that those he and Scully were trying to expose made it abundantly clear that they would stop at nothing to keep them, and the rest of the American public, in the dark about alien life. Since that time, they had discovered so much more on the X-Files, conspiracies layered upon conspiracies, but the memory of Deep Throat and what he had sacrificed had always haunted Mulder. The man had affected him deeply, and Mulder would not be the same person he now was if it hadn’t been for his informant’s influence. His friendship had indeed been a blessing and a curse.

And now here lay a man who looked just like that one, another man who was apparently the backbone of a civilization, one that wielded some kind of power in a cadre of plotting politicians. He was a man who knew the secrets of all those who circled around him…and one who understood that magic, in its many forms, was truly possible in every sense.

It was this man that opened his eyes and gazed directly at Mulder, causing him to very nearly jump out of his skin.

Mulder grunted in surprise and dropped his hand. Next to him, the older man stirred, and something resembling a chuckle escaped from his lips.

“Sorry to startle you, Agent Mulder. I know it’s probably quite a shock to you to see me alive.”

Mulder blinked. Agent Mulder? Had Merlin actually just called him Agent Mulder? He scrambled to his knees and stared into the wizened face, his own wearing what he knew to be an expression of sheer disbelief.

Merlin continued before he could even speak. “Yes, yes, I know who you are. You know me, too, don’t you? We’ve met before, under very different circumstances. But surely you didn’t think you’d never see me again.”

Mulder slowly shook his head from side to side. “I—I must be dreaming. I’m asleep, right? I sat down here next to you, and I fell asleep, didn’t I? I am exhausted, you know. And this place is like a nightmare, anyway.”

“Are you rationalizing to me, or to yourself?” Merlin asked. “You know, some days you sound more and more like Agent Scully. She has influenced you quite a lot over the years, hasn’t she?”

“But…but you’re Merlin. How can you know who I really am? I mean, you look like Deep Throat…you even sound like him. But…it’s not possible…is it?”

The older man chortled again and pushed himself up on his elbows, cocking a bushy eyebrow at him. “‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Shakespeare, you know. Love Shakespeare. Pity he hasn’t started writing in this time yet. A few years down the road.”

Mulder tried to fit the pieces together in his mind, but he couldn’t concentrate. He was tired to the very core of his being, he ached with every breath he took, he needed a drink of water so badly his throat had numbed completely…and he missed Scully more than anything else. Fuck. How could he be expected to understand all of this?

Compassion passed over the features of the wizard’s face, and he gripped Mulder’s shoulder in a reassuring gesture. “Don’t worry, Agent Mulder. It may never be entirely clear to you. It’s not completely within my power to understand it all, either. I am still a man, after all. Some of it is beyond even me. But I’ll try to help you make sense of it. And once we are all out of this particular mess, I will try to help you and Agent Scully return to where you belong.”

A wave of gratitude washed through Mulder, and his words shook with thanks and weariness as he uttered them. “I—I don’t know what to say. Or do for you. What—what should I do?”

Merlin dismissed this with an impatient gesture. “There is nothing for you to do, son. Just sit there and rest a bit. With Bors away, I can tell you some things. Of course, I can’t reveal all this to him. He has no way of understanding that he is more than one person. It would fall on deaf ears, as I am sure you have come to see.”

Mulder laughed. “Yeah, well, he is a bit stubborn about that.”

“A fine man, though. In both places. And in many more.”

Mulder rubbed his tired eyes and tried to focus. “Are you saying that I am alive here, as Lancelot, and in my own time, as Mulder? That I’m existing at the same time in both places?”

Merlin pursed his lips. “Well, I suppose you could explain it that way. It’s a hard concept to grasp. Time is not linear, as most people believe. It is a continuum. Consciousness can travel through space and land anywhere it wants, which is basically what happened to you and Agent Scully. Your consciousness is here now, inhabiting these Arthurian bodies. Your consciousness has been here before, so it recognized this all on some level. It would not have been possible otherwise for Morgan le Fae to bring you here.”

Understanding rose in Mulder’s mind. “She’s the woman I saw in the woods in Wales. Morgan le Fae. She lured us into that energy vortex. That’s what transported our consciousnesses here.” Merlin nodded, but Mulder barely noticed. His thoughts picked up speed, tumbling out of him as excited words. “So in some other lifetime, I <was> Lancelot? Scully <was> Guinevere? And now we’re reliving those times?”

“Not exactly. It doesn’t have to do with reincarnation and lifetimes. Every time period has its heroes, Agent Mulder. Your consciousness simply fit this particular bill, probably better than even Morgan le Fae anticipated. She expected to bring people into these bodies that would be easy to bend to her plans. You have proven to be more than she expected. You are exasperating to her. As is Agent Scully.”

“Then why did you call me Lancelot? Before, when I was ready to fight you in the dragon’s body?”

“I had to get your attention, didn’t I? I wasn’t in any position to explain all this then. Calling you Mulder would have just confused you further. I had enough trouble wrestling for dominance with that creature’s mind.”

Mulder turned over all the words, examining them to see if he could make them fit into his understanding. He had no trouble believing what Merlin said to him; the explanation resonated within his intuitive nature. But even though he could believe this scenario, it didn’t make it any easier to live through. Every time Merlin mentioned Scully’s name, his heart hammered ferociously, longing to be near her again. His yearning for her was eating him alive.

“Do you know what is going on with Scully now? Is she alright?”

For the first time, Merlin hesitated, and alarm sprung, bright and coiled, in Mulder’s chest. The wizard’s words didn’t assure him. “For now.”

Mulder grabbed the old man by the neck of his robe, securing a handful of beard along with it as he yanked him to a full sitting position. “What do you mean, for now? Is she in danger? Tell me, goddammit!”

Merlin’s face clouded with annoyance. “I see you haven’t lost any of your impetuousness, and you still don’t control your temper very well. She is in no danger right now. But the circumstances at Camelot are building to a terrible climax, and you must get there with the sword as soon as you can.”

“Then why are we wasting time sitting here?” Mulder released the wizard and pushed himself to his feet. His body raged in protest, but he ignored the cries, his mind locked on nothing but Scully’s welfare. “Can you walk? We need to get back up to that cave. The sword is in there, isn’t it? That’s what you were guarding.”

Merlin nodded and heaved his drenched body to his feet. “You must take care, Agent Mulder. Even though your mind is bright and alive in that head, Lancelot’s body is no different than any other man’s. You can’t keep pushing yourself to go on. You will eventually break down. Remember that.”

“Don’t worry about me. Now where is Bors?”

As if the product of a spell of Merlin’s own, Bors appeared at the edge of the tree line, carrying an armful of sticks. He stopped short when he saw Mulder and Merlin standing there. “Christ be praised! Lord Merlin! You are alive!”

Merlin’s demeanor and voice changed instantly to one of courtly decorum. “I do indeed live, Sir Bors, thanks to you and Sir Lancelot. But I am in no need of your nursemaiding. Come. We must reach Excalibur and return it at once to King Arthur.”

Bors dropped his armload of wood and followed as Mulder hurried to the side of the mountain. Mulder found his handholds and once more began scaling, his muscles protesting against his relentless pushing, promising him soreness once he finally ceased his exertions. He could hear Bors’grunts and the faint chime of armor beneath him as they continued to climb, but he concentrated on moving as quickly as possible. He didn’t like what Merlin had said about the circumstances back at Camelot…no, he didn’t like it one bit.

Mulder gave a final groan as he heaved himself over the familiar ledge where Bors had been asleep less than half an hour before. His heart hammered in his chest, and he leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. As he did, a blur of motion caught the corner of his eye, and instinctively, Mulder whirled away from it. He turned just in time to see the folds of Merlin’s waterlogged robe fluttering to a stop in front of the cave entrance.

“Jesus Christ!” Mulder exclaimed, stunned. “How—how in the hell did you get up here so fast?”

Merlin smiled and ran a gnarled hand over his beard, wringing a bit of water from its ends. “Apportation has its benefits.”

“You…you just <appeared> up here?” Mulder shook his head in disbelief. “This gets better and better every minute.”

The smile on the wizard’s face widened. “Ah, yes. You see, Agent Mulder, in this time and place, magick has not lost itself to science. The two co-exist in perfect harmony. Both are as palpable and as real as the ground we stand on. Observe!” Merlin clapped his hands twice, and before Mulder’s staring eyes, a pile of silver appeared at his feet. Merlin chuckled as Mulder blinked.

“Is that…is that my armor?”

“It is indeed. I thought you might have use of it, since I am unsure what awaits us in the depths of that cave. Here, then. I shall help you to don it.”

Once more, Merlin clapped his hands, and suddenly, Mulder was completely dry and outfitted in the awkward suit of metal he had worn before his swim in the lake. He was still marveling at it when Bors’ head popped up over the ledge, his large eyes growing wider when he spotted Mulder.

“Your armor, Lance! How did you manage to bring it with you?”

“I didn’t. Merlin just…dressed me.”

Somehow, Bors managed to cross himself as he pulled his body over the stony edge of the cliff. He eyed Merlin like a child unsure of a stranger and sucked in a large breath as he rested his back against the rock. “Lord Merlin, you continue to amaze us all. But what can you tell us of the gauntlet that lies ahead?”

Merlin continued to fuss with his watery wardrobe, squeezing drops from the hem of his robe. “I can tell you nothing, Sir Bors. I know not what Lady Elaine has planned. I do know that she wishes nothing more than to have Sir Lancelot for her own. She will have devised something in order to keep him here with her, make no mistake.”

Mulder felt his cheeks color at the statement, but he couldn’t afford to be embarrassed now. He hadn’t done anything to encourage Elaine’s affections. All he could do was concentrate on getting through whatever traps she had laid so that he could return to Scully as quickly as possible.

“Well, let us go, then,” Bors said, striding toward the cave. Merlin held up a hand, stilling him.

“A moment please, Sir Bors. Let me outfit myself as well.”

Mulder watched as Merlin raised his hands above him like a conductor about to begin a symphony. A swirl of mist enveloped the old man, one the color of lilacs budding in the spring. It joined with its white cousin that still drifted all around them, creating a curtain of fog through which Mulder could discern nothing.

A moment later, Merlin emerged from the shining cloud. He now wore a new robe of indigo velvet shot through with golden threads, and a long dagger in a leather scabbard was secured at his hip. His hair and beard were neat and dry, and he carried a staff of smooth, gleaming oak. It was carved with intricate symbols and runes, ones that Mulder thought he recognized from some of his books on occult lore.

He strode impressively past Mulder and beckoned to him and Bors from the mouth of the cave. “Come then,” he bellowed, his voice as majestic as his new appearance. “Let us find Excalibur.”

Mulder and Bors followed him, but the smaller knight frowned as they stepped into the gloomy confines of the cave. “This is all very well, Lord Merlin, but how can we find anything in this place? We cannot see, and the way will only grow darker as we move further from the light outside.”

“Then we shall have our own light,” Merlin answered. Mulder jumped in surprise as a ball of flame erupted in midair right before him. It condensed into a glowing orb, and he realized it sat atop Merlin’s staff, resembling a torch. The wizard raised the staff higher so that they could see the way before them.

The cave seemed to go straight ahead, dipping lower into the ground as they walked. The passage narrowed as they moved further along, and Mulder spotted no other openings branching off from the main corridor. Apparently, Elaine didn’t want them to have any trouble finding whatever it was that she had arranged. She’d made the access to it easy enough to negotiate…well, if you didn’t count the dragon that had guarded it.

It didn’t take them long to come to the end of the tunnel. Before them stood a heavy, dark door, its surface marred with a symbol that had been burned into the wood. Merlin tilted his staff toward it, and Mulder strained his eyes to see it better. It appeared to be a dragon, a huge scarlet one carrying a beautiful maiden on its back. The image of the woman stared boldly out at them, and Mulder swayed on his feet, entranced by her gaze. She looked…she looked like…

“Lancelot!” Merlin’s sharp voice cut into his consciousness, effectively snapping Mulder from his reverie. He started with a small gasp as Bors shouldered his way up between him and the wizard.

“The Pendragon,” Bors breathed. “The sword must rest inside. Come, let us go in.” He reached out his gloved hand and grasped the doorknob. As his fingers closed around it, he suddenly cried out in pain. Reacting on instinct, Mulder grabbed his arm and wrenched it away from the knob. It had colored immediately to an angry shade of crimson, and as Bors’ hand peeled away from it, smoke rose into the air.

“Jesus, Bors!” Mulder cried. The heat of the knob had melted the fabric of the glove, effectively sealing the threads to the skin of Bors’ palm. His face contorted in anguish, Bors stumbled back into Merlin, who yanked his arm toward him.

“You fool!” Merlin shouted. “This is Lancelot’s quest! Only he can enter that room and find Excalibur. Give me your hand!” He snared Bors’ injured hand between both of his and pressed his palms together. Bors howled again, but Mulder steadied him by the shoulders, his eyes never leaving Merlin.

The old wizard rocked back on his heels, his eyes rolling up into his head to expose only their whites. He muttered a string of words under his breath, something that Mulder supposed was an incantation, and the same lavender smoke that Merlin had conjured on the ledge seeped out of the fissures in the men’s hands. The mist enveloped all of Bors’ hand, and as he watched, the smaller knight stopped shaking in pain. Moments later, Merlin released him, and Mulder huffed out a laugh as Bors flexed his repaired hand between them.

The shorter man raised trembling fingers to his forehead and crossed himself three times in rapid succession. “Good Christ,” he muttered, the sweat still standing out on his brow. “I know not what to say, Lord Merlin.”

Merlin’s face had returned to normal, and he cocked an eyebrow at Bors as he straightened his robes. “A thank you would suffice,” he growled. “Now stand aside, Sir Bors. Let Sir Lancelot open the door.”

Mulder swallowed hard as his hand hovered above the doorknob. Whatever lay in wait for him on the other side would be his to face alone. Bors and Merlin would be unable to help him. Lancelot’s quest, Lancelot’s responsibility…everything seemed to ride now on Mulder’s shoulders. He took a deep breath, willing the image of Scully’s face to his mind, her blue eyes that gazed at him with a love so profound it nearly rendered him helpless. He would do this for Scully, and for everything they had worked so hard to achieve together…

With a determined spin of his wrist, Mulder grabbed the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the creaking door open.

Golden light spilled over him, and he squinted against it, trying to make out the room before him through the hazy glow. The air was dense with perfume, a scent that Mulder recognized as the one that had choked him when he first met Elaine. The faerie woman was somewhere nearby, he realized, and his Spooky Sense clamored loudly, tensing him to spring.

Mulder took a tentative step into the chamber, glancing around him. The space was round, with no other visible doors but the one behind him. The floor below his feet shimmered like golden glass, arcing in a perfect orb as it traced a pathway around the room’s perimeter. Recessed in the center of the chamber lay a beautiful pool of calm water, large enough to remind Mulder of his days on his high school swim team. As inviting as the water looked, Mulder couldn’t suppress a grimace. He’d had enough of water for one day, and he sincerely hoped that whatever challenge this room would present wouldn’t involve that pool in any way.

As his eyes adjusted to the dancing light, though, he began to realize what his challenge would entail. He turned slowly to trace the outline of the chamber with his gaze, his mouth dropping open in wonder as his mind registered the contents of the room.

He was surrounded by swords. Hundreds of them encircled the path of the chamber, row upon row of them, some staggered between the ones in front on risers that resembled bleachers in an auditorium. They were positioned with their pommels up, the tips of the blades embedded in the daises that held them just enough for them to stand up straight. The blades of each sword caught the light and reflected it back to him, and the effect was nearly blinding.

“So you have finally discovered Excalibur’s resting place.”

The faerie woman’s voice behind him made Mulder jump. He whirled to face her, and she glided toward him, her pale face serene and impassive. He set his jaw. “No thanks to your obstacles, Lady Elaine.”

A faint smile played at the corners of her mouth. “I was entrusted with Excalibur’s keeping. I could not make the task too easy for you. After all, you, Sir Lancelot, are Arthur’s greatest knight.”

“So I’ve been told.” Mulder waved a hand. “So this is it? The sword is one of these, right? And I’m supposed to choose the right one?”

“You are as intelligent as you are handsome, my lord.” Elaine’s smile widened, but Mulder frowned.

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Lady Elaine. I need to return the sword to Arthur, and I have no intention of failing in that task. Tell me what I need to do.”

“You have stated as much already.” Elaine stepped back, her arms sweeping through the air, indicating the collection of swords that surrounded them. “One of these swords is Excalibur. You have one chance to choose the correct sword. If you succeed and choose wisely, you and your companions will be permitted to leave the faerie realms. If you choose poorly, I will allow Sir Bors and Merlin to return to Camelot. But you, Sir Lancelot…” She moved closer to him once more, her perfume wafting around him like a cloying cloud, “will remain here with me for all time.”

Mulder threw a glance over his shoulder to gauge the other men’s reactions to the challenge. He sighed when he realized the door through which he had just passed had disappeared.

“Where are they?” he demanded, his tone rising in anger. He was becoming more and more aggravated with all of the hocus pocus in the land of the fae. Given the choice, Mulder would have gladly gone back to the jousting field. At least there he felt like he had some control over the outcome of things.

“The quest for Excalibur is yours alone, Sir Lancelot. Sir Bors and Merlin cannot be of any assistance to you. If you succeed in the challenge, that door shall be reopened for you.”

“Fine.” Mulder squared his shoulders and took a few steps forward, eying the swords closest to him. “So I just reach out and take the one I think is Excalibur?”

“Indeed. An easy task, is it not, my lord?”

Mulder could hear the mocking tone in Elaine’s voice, but he ignored it. His mind was now consumed with the job before him, and he wouldn’t allow anyone or anything to distract him. He moved closer to the swords, examining them with a keen eye.

At first glance, he had assumed all the swords were different. But as he looked closely at them now, he realized they were all the same. Excalibur was apparently a hand and a half broadsword topped with a simple brass crossbar and diamond-shaped pommel, for all of the swords arranged in the room seemed to be the same make and model. Identical swords, all aligned as if awaiting a huge army of men…and Mulder didn’t have a clue as to which was the real one.

He began to walk the path that encircled the chamber, trying to buy himself some time. He had no idea how long Elaine would allow him to stall, but he had to think of something. There had to be a way to differentiate between the real Excalibur and the false ones. But how could he, if he couldn’t pick them up? As soon as he touched one, the game would end—and he would be trapped in the land of the fae forever.

And Scully…He didn’t even want to consider what might happen to Scully if he couldn’t get out of this place.

He shook the miserable thoughts away. He had to do this. He had to succeed. Hell, he’d already come this far, hadn’t he? Since Mulder and Scully had landed in this fantastic land, he had accomplished things other men would never have dared to think possible. He had crawled across a bridge of swords and survived…he had jousted and defeated a man when he’d had no more training than a day’s worth of exercise in an open field…he had somehow overcome a dragon and freed a wizard…

Shit. Finding the right sword should be a piece of cake compared to all that.

And he knew he was on the right track. All the other obstacles he had overcome in this world so far had been physical. This challenge was obviously mental, meant to test the constitution and power of his mind. And Mulder knew he wasn’t an idiot. He had a degree from Oxford, and he had solved some of the craziest crimes any F.B.I. agent had ever come across. He could do this.

So he walked and looked and recited his pep talk in his head, biding his time. He could feel Elaine’s gaze on him as he moved, but he paid no attention to her. His mind was locked on the puzzle, and he wouldn’t be distracted from it.

He had circled the room twice before he allowed his look to travel once more to the pool in the center of the chamber. Why was it there? It had to have some significance, didn’t it? Perhaps it was a clue…Mulder stopped walking and stood at the edge of it, his hands on his hips, surveying the water at his feet. The surface sparkled as if made of tiny diamonds, each catching the golden light that filled the space and refracting it into a thousand more diminutive beams. He could make out his own reflection in the water, one that seemed to pulsate with light and energy from the brightness of the golden glow. His mind kept reaching, struggling forward, moving like a dying man in the desert straining toward the mirage at his fingertips…

“Have you made your choice, Sir Lancelot?” Elaine’s voice, slightly edged with impatience, came from somewhere near his elbow. He hadn’t even sensed her presence there, and he shifted away, annoyed.

“No, I have not. I need some time to think. This isn’t something I am taking lightly.”

“You will not find the answer by staring into the water, my lord.” He glanced at her briefly and then turned his attention back down to the water, seeking his reflection there again. There was something about that, something that his brain was trying to connect…

He blinked at his image in the pool. His reflection shimmered back at him, alone and bright in the water.


His reflection was alone.

His head snapped back up to look at Elaine. She stood next to him on his right, close enough that if he extended his hand, he could touch her…yet in the pool, she cast no reflection at all. His was the only one that danced on its surface.

It was all an illusion. The swords were not real, just as Elaine herself was an ethereal being. She cast no reflection; the false swords would not cast any either, while the true Excalibur—

Mulder broke away from the side of the pool, his eyes roving quickly across the expanse of the room. The real Excalibur would cast a reflection; the false ones would not. But how could he test that theory without picking one up and bringing it to the edge of the water?

He circled the room quickly, his mind flipping swiftly through possibilities. He sensed Elaine watching him closely again, and he knew she realized he had come upon a possible solution to her puzzle. It didn’t surprise him at all when she chuffed out a breath.

“Your time grows short, Sir Lancelot. I tire of this game. Make your choice.”

He didn’t stop moving, his eyes flicking from one sword to the next, trying to make the last connection in his mind that would solve the problem. Sword…pool…reflection…what else could he use to find a reflection…a mirror…something shiny…something like silver…silver…

He heard a tiny chime as the faerie maiden scraped her fingernails along the sleeve of his armor. He stilled and looked at her. Her face was serious, her blue eyes flashing dangerously.

“Make your choice now, Sir Lancelot. If you choose nothing, then you will be compelled to stay.”

His eyes fell on her hand, which rested on his arm. The silver flashed in the blazing light, setting a fire burning in his mind. A smile blossomed on his face.

Mulder shook her hand away. “Very well, Lady Elaine. I shall make my choice.”

He turned once again to the swords and began a slow pace alongside them. He paused briefly every few feet, glancing at the swords themselves and then down at his own torso. He continued this strange dance about three quarters of the way around the room before Elaine’s confused voice called, “Sir Lancelot, what are you doing? Make your choice.”

Mulder stopped, his features alight. He checked his torso once more and then reached out his hand. His arm snaked past the first two rows of swords and grasped the handle of a weapon three rows back. It came easily into his fist, slipping silently from its place as if it were embedded in silk. He pulled the sword up to his body, the blade just before his nose, and admired his reflection in the steel.

“Excalibur,” he breathed. The sword seemed to recognize its name, and it vibrated in his hand, humming with energy, something akin to a slight electric shock. Mulder felt giddy with excitement. With the sword still raised, he turned toward Elaine.

“I have found it, my lady. Arthur’s sword. And now I demand that you release us so that it may be returned to him.”

The faerie woman stood as still as a statue for a moment, her mouth hanging open in shock. When she finally moved again, she turned her back on Mulder.

“I know not what trickery you used to discern this,” she muttered, “but I shall not be made a fool.”

Mulder chuckled, still holding the sword aloft. “Now, now, Elaine. Don’t be a sore loser. Just tell me how to get out of here so that I can be on my way.”

A laugh squeaked out of the woman then, and it was one so shrill and so edged with malice that Mulder took an inadvertent step back. She turned back toward him, and he swallowed, his own face contorting into a look of disbelief.

Elaine no longer resembled a woman…at least, not any kind of woman Mulder had ever seen. Her face had elongated, making her appear ferocious and wolfish, and her eyes glittered a wild ice blue in their bulging sockets. When she raised her hands, he could see the cords of muscles tightening into sinewy limbs, and her nails glinted like sharpened spikes in the light. Her white hair unfurled around her as she threw her head back and bellowed an unearthly cry.

“I shall not lose this challenge, Sir Lancelot,” she rasped. She moved forward like an animal stalking her prey, and Mulder retreated again, leveling the sword between them. Excalibur sang as he brought it through the air, and Mulder was relieved to see the thing that Elaine had become recoil as the blade flashed between them.

“Don’t do this, Elaine,” Mulder said, trying to negotiate even though he was unsure the creature could understand reason. “I won the challenge. Just let us go, and no harm will come to you.”

She hissed out a laugh. “No harm. What do you know of harm, Sir Lancelot? Do you know what it is like to love and have none returned? Do you know what it is to have your heart broken into a thousand pieces? That is what you have done to me. And I shall have my revenge, make no mistake.”

Mulder shook his head, unsure what to do. He had no earthly idea what she was talking about. He had no clue if, in the Arthurian legends, Lancelot had indeed betrayed this woman, or if she was simply a warped psychopath with an obsession. Either way, he had to get past her, and as much as he didn’t want to physically hurt her, he would if it meant getting back to Scully.

He raised Excalibur above his head as she slid closer to him. It whispered its strange tune as it arced through the air, and power he had never felt seemed to seep down from the sword into his arms. It was intoxicating…and yet he knew what was right.

“Don’t make me do this, Elaine,” he warned. “Stand aside. Let me out of this room.”

He had backed up now to the edge of the pool. He didn’t want to strike the faerie woman…something at the core of his being told him that would be a mistake he didn’t want to make. But he also didn’t want to go for a swim, unsure of what may lay in the water below. And he had to find a way out of this room…a room to which Elaine seemed to hold the only key.

He could feel the venomous energy flowing out of Elaine in waves. “I will not lose you, Lancelot,” she whispered, and her voice bled with the scrape of her breath. “And I will not allow Excalibur to return to Arthur.”

Excalibur hummed above his head. The light around him seemed to expand into a blinding golden orb, and suddenly, something like fireworks exploded somewhere nearby. The roar was deafening, and Mulder closed his eyes, gripping the sword in both hands as if holding on for life itself. He stumbled back, and he felt himself falling, knowing that the pool of water waited beneath him. He gripped the sword and opened his mouth to yell, but a wave of blackness overtook him, and he knew no more.

Chapter Twelve

She was a scientist, born with a logical, rational mind, drawn to chemistry sets and puzzles since her toddling years. Throughout her school days, she had been the child the teachers pegged as pragmatic and sensible, sending her report cards home with A’s in science and math and gushing comments about her practical nature. She had grown into a competent, objective woman, one with a discerning eye toward the business of picking apart a problem and discovering a solution. Working for the F.B.I. with the title of “Doctor” just as prominent as that of “Special Agent,” she earned her paycheck, and her partner’s respect, by dissecting every case with her razor-sharp mind, just as she slit open the corpses sent her way with an expertly honed scalpel.

It was the idea that her sanity had completely shattered into a thousand pieces and rendered her mind a complex and irreparable mosaic of brain matter that scared her the most.

Dana Scully couldn’t find a way out. She was somewhere dark, somewhere threaded with a cobwebby substance that reminded her of her grandmother’s attic. It was a place where the slightest misstep left her tumbling further down a dark hole. She’d tried to move, to claw her way out, but there was nothing left to hang onto but the thin rope she currently held in her sweaty hands. She didn’t dare to move or breathe for fear that she would fall again…and she had no idea if she could possibly survive if she let that happen.

She knew she was battling for her consciousness. She realized that every moment, the woman called Guinevere grew stronger in the body they both occupied, and that her tenuous hold grew weaker. Her memories had been the first thing to go; she could recall very little about her life now, and she found that thought gnawing a huge, raw wound in her soul. What little she could remember, she clung to with all her strength, and it was that one precious memory that compelled her to keep trying.

Mulder. His face was still burned in her mind, an image of him in what she understood to be their office. In this vision, he leaned back in his desk chair, his hazel eyes bright with mischief, his lips crooked into a devious smile as he regarded her, tossing sunflower seeds into his mouth. She could hear the fine crack of the shell as he dislodged it with his teeth, and she smelled the mustiness of the basement around them combined with the light scent of his aftershave. She could feel the give of the leather chair beneath her as she sat there, watching his dancing eyes and laughing with him. With every replay of this scene, her heart swelled with thankfulness and love for this man, her partner, the one who had rescued her from her pain countless times, who gave her trust and devotion, the two things he gave to no one else in his world…

Mulder. She clutched that image to her desperately, and she refused to let it go. It was the one thing that kept her sane in this place of utter darkness. His name in her head spurred her on, keeping her awake and alert to all the circumstances unfolding around Guinevere. She knew Mulder was alive in the Queen’s world somewhere, and that she needed to get Guinevere to him so that he could take her home…

And maybe, just maybe…maybe if they went home, Scully would be reborn.

It was the only hope she had. She prayed ardently that this thought wasn’t as absurd as it seemed. Her scientific mind told her that it was the worst kind of fantasy…but Mulder…

Mulder told her it was true. And she trusted him, more than anything.

And so Scully held on, whispering to Guinevere, hoping and praying and swinging from the thread of her sanity. She knew Mulder would come. She could only hope that he would save her in time.


Guinevere shook her head, trying to clear away the image of the strange man that kept resurfacing in her mind. Lancelot’s twin, with his short brown hair and moss-colored eyes, refused to leave her alone. She kept seeing him, reclining in a strange chair behind a large wooden box, smiling at her as he ate striped seeds and bounced in his seat. The grin was Lancelot’s at his most playful, like the times he had chased her through the fields behind Joyous Gard, or the occasions when he had hidden presents for her around her chambers and then dared her to find them. That smile endeared him so to her…and yet she knew the man in her mind wasn’t Lancelot. He belonged with the woman who resided in her subconscious as well, the lady called Scully who struggled against Guinevere’s own strong mind with equal fortitude.

// Mulder. His name is Mulder. //

She nodded to herself, acknowledging Scully’s voice in her head. Mulder. Scully and Mulder. She understood. But apart from their names and their mirror likenesses to herself and her lover, she could comprehend little else about them.

Guinevere glanced into the looking glass before her, pretending to primp, but instead watching the knight who stood inside the closed door of her chamber through lowered lashes. She had found him stationed there when she’d returned from the Queen’s Hall, and when she ordered him out, he held her gaze defiantly and informed her that he had been sent by Mordred and would not be moving from that spot. She recognized him as Sir Chretien, the French knight who had stood sentinel outside Arthur’s door the day before.

She’d drawn Leigh further into the room, pulling her close to the wardrobe on the pretense of going through her gowns. She whispered to her cousin as they rifled through the garments.

“Go out into the square and wait for Richard to arrive. When he is here, take him to your quarters and tell him our plan. The Round Table Knights must be released tonight. Stay with him and help him as he sees fit.”

Leigh had balked immediately. “I shall not leave you alone here, Guinevere! Richard will not need me as you do!”

“I will not be alone. Lionors will return after she speaks to Agravaine, and after she has her audience with Mordred and Morgan le Fae. She and I will manage the King somehow. Once Arthur’s men are released, Gareth and the others will come to our aid.”

“But what will you do until then?”

“I—I shall bide my time here, in my chambers. I fear raising Mordred’s suspicions further.” She had grasped Leigh’s tiny trembling hand and squeezed. “Rest assured, Leigh, that all will turn out right. You need concern yourself only with Richard and releasing the knights. Leave all else to me.”

Guinevere must have worn her most determined look, because Leigh took her leave then without another word. Guinevere had pulled her sewing basket from the floor of her wardrobe and settled into a chair by the window to work, hoping to keep herself distracted while she waited for Lionors.

The afternoon hour had grown late, but Gareth’s wife did not come. Guinevere had given up on her embroidery, her fingers twitching too much from anxiety to ply the thread correctly, and she had sat instead at her dressing table. She released her hair from its elaborate moorings and began to comb it out.

The steady motion of the teeth through the thick waves settled her nerves a bit. With each stroke, the copper fire of her hair flared even brighter, and by the time the knock came at the chamber door, it gleamed like the setting sun outside her window.

She jumped at the rapping, looking at Chretien. His hand dropped to the sword at his hip, and he turned slowly toward the sound. He pressed his ear to the wood of the door and pitched his voice louder. “Who knocks?”

The answer, although muffled, was easy to understand. “Sir Agravaine. I bring a message to the Queen from the new High King.”

Chretien slid the bolt on the door aside and allowed it to swing open. Beyond the French knight’s shoulder, Guinevere could see Agravaine. He was dressed as if for dinner, in a royal blue tunic and matching cloak, and his beard and hair were clean and trimmed. His eyes flickered to her momentarily, but she saw nothing in them that indicated any friendliness at all.

The French knight stepped aside to let him pass, and Agravaine strode into the room toward Guinevere. He stopped, though, when he realized Chretien had not shut the door. He looked back at the other knight over his shoulder.

“Sir Chretien, this is a private message from the King to the Queen. Leave us.”

The man’s voice was thick with his native accent when he responded. “My orders are not to leave the Queen unattended.”

“I will attend her for the next few moments. Go and get yourself a cup of mead from the kitchens. You have had a long day, have you not?”

Guinevere frowned at Agravaine’s inviting words. He was not the sort of man to be soft with those beneath his rank. The deference in his manner made her suspicious.

Chretien stood there blinking, obviously unsure what to do. “I am rather thirsty, sir.” He teetered back and forth on the balls of his feet, his armor moaning softly from the rocking. “Shall I bring you anything, my lady Queen?” he asked finally.

“Nay, but I thank you.” She glanced again at Agravaine, but his face was impassive. She could read nothing there.

“Very well,” the French knight said. “I will return momentarily.” He bustled through the door and closed it behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Agravaine turned to Guinevere, fury blooming in his eyes. “Why did you send my sister-in-law to me today?”

“I had hoped that she could help you to see reason, to see the folly of imprisoning your own brother and supporting the madness of the other.”

He leaned toward her, his hands splayed on the edge of her dressing table like starfish washed up on the beach. “Will you not stop this, Guinevere?” he asked, and she could hear the frustration in his rising pitch. “There is nothing you can do to deter Mordred. He will ascend. Arthur’s reign is over. You must resign yourself and cease your defiance. On the morrow, you will be married to the new High King. It will all happen, whether you will it or not!”

Guinevere stood so fast it made her dizzy, but she didn’t sway on her feet. “It will <not> happen, not as long as I carry within my body the true heir to the throne! Mordred will never usurp Arthur’s true son!”

Sudden silence dropped between them. Guinevere caught her breath, realizing what she had just said. She hadn’t meant to tell Agravaine about the baby…she didn’t truly know what he would do. But she realized she needed his allegiance once and for all, and she had to get it now, while they were alone. There would not be another time to ask for his help. Everything rode on what he now decided.

Agravaine stared at her, his dark eyes wide as he processed her declaration. “This…this cannot be,” he breathed. “You are barren.”

“My barrenness is indeed what your mother desired, coupled with the death of my first son.” Guinevere grabbed one of Agravaine’s hands, pressing it between her own. “But you must believe me. It is true. I sent for Lionors to confirm my suspicions. I am with child. And surely, Agravaine, you cannot want your brother and your mother to kill the true heir to Camelot.”

He wrenched his hand from hers. “My mother…my mother has nothing to do with this. Your first son was stillborn. My mother was not even here at the time.”

“But it was your mother who engineered the plan. To kill the King’s heir to clear her bastard son’s way to the throne. And to render the Queen barren at the same time.” Guinevere touched her abdomen, her eyes welling up with tears. “She failed at that, at least, although I, too, feared she had succeeded.”

Agravaine’s voice rose again. “It was Nimue who gave you that draught! Arthur banished her from court for it! Nimue is to blame, not my mother!”

“Who taught Nimue the arts, Agravaine? It was not Merlin, as many people think. It is true that he loved her, and she used that love against him, to trap him God knows where. But Nimue gleaned her knowledge of herbs and medicines from Morgan. They have been plotting together for a long time. We just never knew it until now.”

Agravaine stumbled back and dropped heavily into Guinevere’s sewing chair by the window. He bent his head into his hands, running his fingers roughly through his wavy hair. “No, no, no,” he mumbled. “I—I refuse to believe this. My mother…my mother loves children. She could never…she would never murder…” His voice trailed off.

Guinevere stepped closer to him, crouching at his feet. Her skirts rustled around his ankles, and he closed his eyes, but not before Guinevere saw the wetness on his lashes. She laid a gentle hand on his knee. “I am not sure, Agravaine, that your mother loves anything. I know that she does not treat you with the kindness that a mother should show her son.”

“She…she is not sentimental. She…she…”

“You do not have to keep defending her, Agravaine,” Guinevere continued, using her softest voice. “It is not right, the way she treats you. Why do you continue to support her, when you know you will never win her love?”

Agravaine kept his head down, and he did not answer, but Guinevere felt the tiny splash of a tear on the skin of her hand. Her heart swelled in sympathy for him, this man who had spent his life trying to earn the affections of a woman who selfishly refused her own flesh and blood.

“Arthur has always loved you, Agravaine. He is your uncle. Has he not always treated you fairly and with grace? Has he not shown you the kindness that a decent man would show any of his kin?”

Agravaine swiped at his cheeks. His voice was husky when he spoke. “Aye, he has. He has always been good to me. To all of us.”

“Then I beg you, Agravaine.” She implored him with her eyes when his met hers. The hardness in his gaze was melting away, leaving only the naked, vulnerable look of a lost child. “Please help me. I must get away from Camelot tonight, and I must take Arthur with me.”

He stared at her a moment longer and then opened his mouth to speak. He never did because another knock shook the door to the chamber.

Guinevere knit her brows together and called loudly, “Who is there?”

“Sir Chretien, my lady Queen. The lady Queen Morgan le Fae wishes to speak with you.”

Agravaine started in his seat. “My mother!” he hissed as he tried to stand. He bumped into Guinevere, causing her to fall backwards into the foot of the bed. He pulled her to her feet. “I should have been gone from here by now. She cannot find me!”

“Do you wish to know the truth about your mother, Agravaine?” Guinevere whispered urgently. “Do you wish to hear it with your own ears?”

He regarded her for a long moment, and the furious debate raging in his mind was evident on his face. He finally nodded. “I do wish to hear of these plots you describe, so that I may know the truth.”

“Then come.” She tugged him by the hand over to her wardrobe, quickly opening the large doors and nudging him inside. “In here, you will mark everything she has to say, and she will never know. Now be silent.” She shut the wardrobe and sank down onto the bed before calling to Chretien to give Morgan le Fae entrance to her chamber.

The dark woman swept in, the train of her burgundy gown trailing behind her. Jewels flashed at her ears and throat and sparkled in her long black hair, making her appear magical and mysterious. Guinevere folded her hands in her lap, setting her face to stone as she tilted her chin toward the sorceress she so despised.

Morgan stopped at the foot of the bed, waving Chretien out the door. “Leave us, sir knight. The Queen and I have important matters to discuss. But be alert. The Bishop will be along at any moment to join us.”

“The Bishop?” Guinevere jerked at the mention of the highest official of the church. “The Bishop comes here, to my private rooms? Why on earth would I not receive him in my halls?”

“He wishes us to speak in complete privacy,” Morgan answered. She settled her glittering eyes back on the knight. “Now go, sirrah. I will not ask you again.”

Chretien began to repeat his speech about not leaving the Queen, but something in Morgan’s glare obviously made him think better of it. He spun on his heel and stalked out through the door, closing it with an echoing, wooden boom.

Morgan le Fae cocked her head to peer at Guinevere. “You do not look well, my lady Queen. My son spoke of you being ill. Too much to drink last night at supper?”

Guinevere frowned at the other woman’s amused expression. “No thanks to whatever you put in my cup, Morgan. Do not bother to deny it.”

“I?” Morgan touched her throat delicately. “Why should I want to impede my new daughter- in-law? I want us to be friends, Guinevere.”

Guinevere gave a short bark of laughter. “I can assure you, Morgan, that will never happen. I stopped trusting you when my son died.”

“And what have I to do with that, my lady Queen? Surely you do not believe me responsible for your son’s death.”

“I do believe that, yes. I believe you will stop at nothing to bring Mordred to the throne, including sacrificing your other sons to make it happen.”

Morgan chortled, a low, mocking sound. “My other sons? My other sons are not half the men Mordred is. Gareth is too soft-hearted, and too enthralled by Lancelot and Arthur, to ever become anything other than a servant. And Agravaine…well, Agravaine will never amount to anything. He is a poor excuse for a knight. It is a wonder he has made it this far alive. He could never be King.”

Guinevere smiled inwardly, picturing Agravaine inside the wardrobe with his ear pressed up against the wooden door. Perhaps hearing his mother’s total disregard for him would be the last straw, the one that broke his allegiance to Morgan and swung it instead to Arthur for good.

But Morgan was still speaking, and Guinevere focused on her words. “No, it shall be Mordred who takes the throne, and there will be no stopping it now. The Bishop will be here momentarily to discuss with you the dissolution of your marriage to Arthur and the ceremony binding you to Mordred on the morrow.”

“Good,” Guinevere said as she rose from the bed. “I welcome the chance to speak to the Bishop about this terrible injustice done to Arthur, and to all of Camelot. I have much to say on the subj—”

The rest of her sentence was cut off by the sudden sharp cut of Morgan’s fingernails through the sleeve of her gown. The dark woman grabbed her, digging into her bicep, and Guinevere gasped more in surprise than pain. She twisted in Morgan’s grasp, but not before she noted the expression of total disbelief on the sorceress’ face turn into black fury.

“What have you done, Guinevere?” Morgan demanded. “Now I know why you are ill. It was nothing that anyone slipped into your wine, or the wine itself. You calculating whore, you’ll pay for this—”

“What are you talking about?” Guinevere grated through clenched teeth, still struggling to break free. “Unhand me at once!”

“Nothing will stand in Mordred’s way, I tell you!” Morgan was shouting now, her face so close to Guinevere’s that she could smell the perfumed oils in the woman’s cosmetics. “I will fix this just as I did before! You mark me, Guinevere, I will not stand by—”

“My dear Queen Morgan le Fae. Perhaps you need to calm down a bit, sweet lady.”

The new voice came from the door to the bedchamber, and the two women both turned toward it immediately. The man who stood there was alone, resplendent from head to toe in rich, shimmering red garments that Guinevere recognized as the robes of the advanced clergy. As he crossed the room, his eyes caught the light, reflecting a cold, hard look back at her. The skin of his face was sagging and yellowed, betraying his age, but he walked with an imposing presence. Guinevere had no doubt about this man’s station or identity.

And in the back of the Queen’s mind, neither did Scully. Guinevere shuddered involuntarily as Scully’s recognition raced through her.

// C.G.B. Spender. Dear God, the Smoking Man is here. //

The Bishop’s presence in the room had quite an effect on Morgan. She released Guinevere’s arm immediately and stepped back in obvious deferral to the man. Guinevere couldn’t help but note how demurely Morgan dropped her eyes, behaving more as a wife or paramour than as a loyal subject of the church. The thought seared into Guinevere’s brain, the mere shadow of the impact of such a thing making her sick to her stomach.

She could be his mistress, Guinevere reasoned. It was not unheard of for a clergyman, even one of such a high rank, to take a lover, keeping it a secret from the other church officials and the commoners. She had never suspected Morgan le Fae, however, with all her knowledge of esoteric things, to be interested in a man of the cloth.

She felt Scully’s nudge in the back of her mind. // It makes sense, Guinevere. Who has more power besides the King than the church? This way, Morgan le Fae can manipulate both…and use her charms to convince the Bishop to allow Mordred’s ascension at any cost. //

Guinevere’s eyes fluttered shut momentarily, her mind lost in the enormity of it all. She had no chance at all of swaying the Bishop and the Holy Church to her cause. Morgan le Fae had already taken care of that.

The Bishop’s voice floated into her consciousness. “Are you alright, my lady Queen Guinevere? You look ill, I think.”

Guinevere opened her eyes again in time to see the Bishop hovering over her, with Morgan le Fae peering around him like a taunting child. The dark woman’s words were filled with venom when she spoke.

“Aye, she is ill, my lord Bishop. It is an illness I am well familiar with, having been plagued with it myself several times.”

The Bishop scowled at her. “What say you, Lady Morgan? Be plain. You know I have no humor for riddles.”

“I say that the Queen is with child. Somehow, she has managed to get herself another chance at the throne.”

Guinevere cringed as silence filled up the room. Her secret was out. She had no idea how Morgan le Fae could divine that she carried another baby, but it was no use denying it. The Bishop would surely call for a midwife if he were even remotely suspicious, and she didn’t wish to subject herself to another exam. Above all, she had to protect her child.

And if she kept Morgan le Fae and the Bishop occupied, perhaps it would be enough time for Richard and Leigh to release the Round Table Knights from the dungeons. With them fighting for Camelot, there was a chance of defeating Mordred and his men and putting this nightmare to rest.

The Bishop stared at Guinevere, his small, animal-like eyes widening. “But how can this be? I was told that you were barren.”

“I am sure that was Morgan’s plan when she poisoned me in my childbed. I know she wished to murder my son that day, and to kill all chances for Arthur to have another one with me.” Guinevere smiled triumphantly. “It is true. She did not succeed in that.”

“Well, well, well,” the Bishop clucked, “this certainly changes our plans, does it not?”

Morgan le Fae frowned. “How is that, then? How does this change things?”

“The Queen carries the true heir of Camelot now,” the Bishop said, walking over to the chair by the window and carefully lowering himself into it. “With the possibility of another son of Arthur’s, a legitimate one, it renders Mordred’s claim invalid. Even if Arthur cannot rule, the best we could do would be to appoint someone in his place until his new son is capable.”

Morgan hurried to the side of his chair and huddled by his knees. “Surely…surely there must be a way. My son has waited so long, and is so deserving. Please, my lord Bishop, you must see that Mordred is still the best choice for Camelot.”

The Bishop reached out a gnarled hand and ran it over Morgan’s long tresses as if stroking a puppy’s fur. “There, there, my sweet Morgan. You know I would never allow you to be disappointed.” He cupped her chin in his hand, smiling a wretched grin down into her upturned face. “I know you have ways of taking care of this latest…impediment.”

Guinevere watched with dawning horror as Morgan’s long face broke into a smile. The dark woman wrapped her own hand around the Bishop’s, bringing his fingers up to her lips for a kiss. Guinevere felt her stomach turn over at the sight, and she closed her eyes. She was failing. She had trusted the Bishop to put things right, and it was now painfully apparent that he was their most malevolent enemy.

Guinevere fumbled clumsily to the bed and sank down onto the pillows there. “I shall not drink it,” she told them defiantly, but she couldn’t keep the tremor from shaking her voice. “I know you will try to poison me again, but I shall not take the brew. You will have to kill me outright.”

“What?” Morgan le Fae rose from her spot and glided toward the bed, her face a mask of beautiful malice. “We cannot kill you, Guinevere. Mordred has his heart set on you. I will not disappoint my son any more than the Bishop shall disappoint me.” Morgan leaned over Guinevere as if sharing a wonderful secret. “There are other ways to take your baby. I have performed them myself on occasion. And you will be good as new tomorrow for your wedding.”

A faint chime of metal rang out, and the air stirred before Guinevere’s face as the blade of a sword arced down over her. She pulled back, blinking up in disbelief at Agravaine, who now stood next to her, his weapon drawn and pointing at Morgan le Fae.

“I have heard enough,” he said through his teeth. His face flushed scarlet and sweat beaded his brow, and Guinevere wasn’t sure if it was caused by the heat of hiding in the wardrobe or by the rage that seemed to be boiling out of him.

Morgan le Fae straightened to her full height and stared at her son, doubt beginning to cloud her features. “What is the meaning of this, Agravaine?” she uttered, but he cut her off by jabbing the sword closer to her. She shrank back, astounded.

“Stay back, Mother. Keep away from the Queen.” He glanced at Guinevere, huddled on the bed. “Guinevere, go and lock the door. I do not fancy Chretien coming in here, meddling in something that does not concern him.”

Guinevere scrambled up and raced to the door, shooting the heavy bolt into locking position with one quick gesture. She turned around to face the other three, pressing her back up against the heavy oak behind her.

The Bishop had risen to his feet. “I see your son is just as you described, Morgan,” he commented, starting forward. “Easily softened when hard decisions have to be made.”

The Bishop froze as Agravaine’s sword swept up next to Morgan’s neck and hovered there. The woman sucked in her breath, and fear washed over her face for the first time Guinevere could ever remember. “Stay where you are, Bishop,” Agravaine said. ” I will not hesitate to kill you both. You certainly deserve to die.”

“Surely you could not think to commit such a grievous sin as matricide, Sir Agravaine,” the Bishop intoned, letting an ominous quality creep into his voice.

“Is it any worse than fratricide, my lord?” Agravaine sneered. “That is what I almost committed yesterday in the forest, when I was ordered to bring the Queen here. I nearly had to murder my own brother, just to satisfy this woman and her bastard son!” The sword whispered closer to Morgan’s throat, and Guinevere gasped as the dark woman did the same. “I would be justified in killing her. In killing you both. Your plots against Arthur and his true heir would then die with you.”

“You can kill us, that is true,” the Bishop said reasonably, as if he were discussing the weather. “But Mordred can still ascend. The only people who know about the Queen are in this chamber. Mordred’s men will never let you escape from Camelot. You will die here this night as well, Sir Agravaine. You, and the Queen.”

Agravaine and the Bishop stared at each other, neither blinking from the hatred in the other’s gaze. Finally, Agravaine spoke. “Guinevere, you must leave us.”

“What?” Guinevere pushed away from the door, confused.

“Take the stairs on the other side of the wall, the entrance that the…the servants sometimes use.” He looked meaningfully at her, and she realized he knew about the passage that Lancelot had traveled so many nights to sneak into her chamber. “Get out of Camelot. Go where they will not find you. Go now—”

Agravaine was so intent on giving Guinevere instructions that he didn’t notice the Bishop’s sudden movement. Guinevere stepped back involuntarily as something shining silver flashed through the air, sailing toward Agravaine. He cried out as a dagger embedded itself in his chest, mere inches from his heart. He staggered back against the wardrobe, and Morgan scampered away from him, running toward the Bishop. With a mighty yell, Agravaine lunged forward, swinging his sword before him as he did. The blade caught Morgan le Fae at the waist, sinking deep into her, and she crumpled at the Bishop’s feet without another sound.

The Bishop stood statue-still, staring at the dead woman. Agravaine cursed and wrenched the knife from his chest. It clattered to the floor, spraying his blood across the Queen’s ivory bedclothes. Guinevere’s stomach heaved again at the sight, but she forced the feeling away. She had to help Agravaine. She started toward him, but he held out his free hand to ward her off. It was spotted red, making her think wildly of a child’s party dress.

“Stay back, Guinevere. You must get out! Go, now!”

She shook her head. “I shall not leave you. You must stave that wound, Agravaine. Put your hand over it and press. Do it, I say!” She realized suddenly that this was Scully talking through her, but she didn’t contemplate it further. If the strange woman could help him, she had to let her speak.

Agravaine pushed himself away from the wardrobe and shuffled toward the Bishop. Guinevere could see that he hadn’t heard her words, and he had no intention of listening, anyway. His eyes were shiny with wetness as he stepped around his mother’s still form.

“This is your fault, you bastard,” Agravaine murmured, drawing his sword up to face the Bishop. “I would not have killed her. I loved her. I loved her more than anyone in the whole world.”

The Bishop backed away, skirting past Guinevere and heading toward the wall on the other side of the room. Guinevere realized suddenly that he, too, knew about the secret entrance to the chamber…and she understood that this was where he intended to make his escape.

“It is no use trying to get away from me,” Agravaine told him conversationally. He continued to follow the Bishop as he inched along the wall, but Guinevere could tell that his strength was draining away, just like his blood. “I will kill you now, my lord Bishop. May God have mercy on your soul.”

Agravaine lurched forward then, but in his weakening state, he was unbalanced and awkward in his thrust. His sword missed its mark, and the Bishop scooted around the wall, disappearing from their sight. Agravaine swore again as he fell to the floor, his weapon bouncing on its pommel and coming to rest at Guinevere’s feet.

She rushed to him, dropping to her knees. His tunic was soaked through, and she pressed her open palm to the long slash where the dagger had entered his body. Agravaine winced and blew out a weak breath. He looked up at Guinevere, anguish and regret washing over his features.

“Leave me, my lady,” he mumbled through raspy breaths. “You must escape while you can.”

“I will not, Sir Agravaine,” Guinevere answered, although there was no doubt in her mind that Agravaine would be the one departing soon. Her heart squeezed painfully at the thought. She had come to care for this man. She pushed harder on his wound, hoping somehow that the pressure would pump life back into him.

He ground his teeth. “Stop. It is enough.” He grabbed her wrist with his other hand. “I am sorry for my betrayal, my Queen. I wish I had protected you better. You, and the King.”

“You did protect me, Agravaine.” Guinevere’s eyes began to blur with tears. “If it was not for you, the Bishop would have surely killed my child, or killed me as well. You have saved the kingdom, as any loyal knight of the Round Table would have done.”

A small smile played on the knight’s lips. “I…do not…deserve…”

Guinevere gripped his hand with all her strength. “You are Arthur’s loyal servant, Agravaine. You will go to your reward a true knight of the Round Table.”

His hand on her wrist slipped, and he closed his eyes. He did not speak again, but Guinevere sat with him as he took his last breath, and she held his hand long after he passed away, silent tears slipping down her cheeks. She did not know how much time had gone by, but the voice did not surprise her when it came.

“Is he dead?”

She dropped her head as Mordred’s heavy boots circled her. She could not look at him, and she refused to answer. She simply laid Agravaine’s hand on his breastbone and moved his sword closer to his side.

“Well, it is good that he has died,” Mordred continued. His voice sounded pinched and tired, and Guinevere finally looked up. The man was dressed in his old attire, his suit of black that so matched his dark and stormy countenance. “It is good that they are all dead.”

This comment brought concern to Guinevere, and she frowned. “All dead? Of whom do you speak?”

Mordred waved his good hand around the room. “My brother. My mother. The Bishop.”

“The Bishop? I saw the Bishop only moments ago, and he was very much alive.”

“I saw him too,” Mordred answered, drawing closer to her. His green eyes were bright with malice. “I met him coming down the back staircase to this room. He lies now at the bottom of it. I have no use for him any longer.”

“I—I do not understand,” Guinevere whispered, suddenly very afraid.

Mordred smiled. “I know you do not, my sweet Guinevere. But you will, very, very soon.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. “Come. I will take you to my father. The two of you will be together again, before Camelot falls forever.”

Chapter Thirteen

He had always been a strong swimmer. One of his favorite memories of his father took him back to the beach at Martha’s Vineyard, a block away from the house in which he had grown up. Fox couldn’t have been more than four or five, and Bill Mulder had carried him on his shoulders into the waves of the Atlantic Ocean beneath a blistering August sun. They had waded into the surf until the water reached the elder Mulder’s chin, and he had taken Fox’s hands and pulled him into the waves. He stretched their arms out between their bodies, their hands clasped together so they rode the rocking ocean on their bellies, and he had called to his son to kick. When Fox did, his father shook his hands free and pushed backward, encouraging the boy forward through the water, showing him how to thrust his arms through the waves. Fox had done well, and he had never been afraid. The water had welcomed and buoyed his small body, and his father’s praise gave him confidence. Ever since that summer day, Fox Mulder had felt at home in water, and as he grew older and swam for his school in competitions, he earned medals for an activity he thoroughly enjoyed.

Now, however, the water that surged into his lungs scared him, choking him with its relentless rush. The water he had always loved squeezed his already-exhausted body in its wet, chilled embrace, and he realized he was drowning.

// No, // he thought desperately. // Not now. Not when I’m so close. I need to get back to Scully. //

He could sense the legendary sword still within his grip, but its incredible energy that had sung through him just moments before now seemed muted and imagined. Mulder struggled against the descending spiral of the whirlpool, but his armor weighed him down, and he knew he was dropping like a stone.

He strained to open his eyes, but they were sealed shut. His chest burned as it filled, and his mind fought against the expanding darkness. His body was shutting down, already too taxed to overcome this new onslaught. With his last ounce of strength, he clutched Excalibur tighter in his fisted hands and gave one final, silent plea in his hazing mind:

// Excalibur. I saved you. Help me, I beg of you…//

The pounding gush of liquid in his lungs stopped. His eyes snapped open, and his mind registered the abrupt halt of the water vortex around him. His body relaxed, floating gently in a lazy bob within the aqua depths that surrounded him. He could see the amazing dance of light within the water, the entrancing play of reflection and refraction all around him. And he realized quite suddenly that he was breathing.

He was breathing under water.

Mulder’s mind tried hard to reconcile that fact, but it came up short. He was not a scientist like Scully, but he knew enough to understand that human beings could not, did not, breathe underwater unless equipped with oxygen tanks. He brought the sword up before his eyes, blinking at it, watching the flash of its blade as it moved through the water.

Amazing. There was no other word to describe it.

Movement beyond Excalibur caught his eye, and he turned his head to follow it. In the ripples before him, he became aware of streamers of color, ribbons of azure and teal, aquamarine and sea green, floating past his cheek. His head moved in that direction, tracing the strips to their source. They danced around a figure, one that floated close to him and smiled.

Mulder jumped and edged away, brandishing the sword. As soon as he brought it up, he realized he didn’t need it. He recognized the face before him. It was one he remembered from his life with Scully, and one he had been enraptured by only a short time ago as he stood before the door to the chamber that had housed Excalibur.

Art by Elizebeth
Art by Elizebeth

Melissa Scully. His partner’s dead sister now peered at him through the crystal depths of a pool of water, her rust-colored hair tangling with the iridescent folds of the gown that clung to her like a second skin.

Music poured into his mind then, an ethereal sound like wind chimes beneath angelic singing. He shook his head to clear it, but it stayed, and she smiled again at him.

< You know me, do you not? >

Her voice hummed through the melody in his brain, a voice so familiar, one just as throaty as her sister’s. He squinted at her through the glimmering water, but he knew she hadn’t spoken aloud. She was communicating telepathically, and he mirrored her smile, enchanted in spite of himself.

// I think I know you. But everyone here has a different name. //

She tilted her head in acknowledgement, and her hair danced around her face.

< Here, I am your kinswoman, not hers. Do you know me now? >

Excalibur seemed to spasm in his hand, sending a tremor up his arm. He glanced down at the sword and then back up at the water maiden, understanding blossoming in his mind.

// You’re the Lady of the Lake. //

She nodded. She swept one long arm through the water, stirring the current between them.

< I came to save you from Lady Elaine. You must take Excalibur once more to Arthur. He has one final need of it, and then it must be returned to me. >/

// I’ll tell Arthur that. // He didn’t know what else to say.

But she shook her head at him, her brow furrowing.

< It will be you who returns it to me, Lancelot. >

He sighed, his mind spinning out into something close to resentment. Hadn’t he already done enough in this godforsaken world? Now he had another obligation to fulfill? He and Scully would never get back to the year 2000 if he kept running errands for everyone. He had to put a stop to this…and he’d start right now.

// Look. I need to get back. You understand what I’m talking about, don’t you? I’m not Lancelot. I need to take my partner back to our world. Someone else can deliver the sword. Bors, or Gareth— //

The Lady set her jaw, staring at him defiantly. He’d seen that look a hundred times on his partner’s face. She may have been called something else in this world, something attached to a sweet, magical beauty and power, but Mulder knew that expression: it was a Scully ready to fight, tooth and nail, for what she wanted.

< Only Arthur’s greatest knight can carry Excalibur in his stead. You know that. No one but you can return the sword. >

He could feel the panic rising in him as swiftly as the water that had filled his lungs.

// You’re saying Arthur is going to die. That Arthur won’t need the sword any longer. Is that it? //

< There is hope yet for Camelot. It rests with you, Lancelot, and with Guinevere. You must return to her as quickly as you can. > Her expression softened, and he saw bright compassion in her eyes. < Afterward, you must bring the sword to a place of calm water and cast it in. Do you understand? >

He blew out another exasperated breath, and bubbles scurried up and away from him. He thrust the sword out between them.

// Just take it now. // He pleaded with his eyes, his anxiety for Scully burning through him like a poison. // Please. Don’t ask me to do any more. //

The Lady of the Lake reached out to him, her dainty hand coming to rest on his shoulder. She pulled him closer, and, too worn out to fight, he allowed himself to be swept into her embrace. His forehead sank forward, gently grazing hers. It reminded him so much of Scully he nearly cried out.

Her voice murmured in his head. < You have done so much. I know you are tired. But you will be well rewarded for your loyalty. I will keep you, and the Queen, safe. >

// How? How can you keep us safe? //

She brought her hands up to either side of his head, her fingers pressing into his temples, holding him steady in her gaze. Her smile was ethereal, and he felt himself fading again…

< Know that you will be safe…I will help you…I will help you both…>

A movie started up in his mind, and he let it catch him in its spell. Images flickered through his brain, and he watched, suspended in a liquid dream, his heart swelling as he saw Scully…she was still alive, but he had to get to her…he would save her, if it was the last thing he ever did…

Nothing would stand in his way.


When he opened his eyes again, he was greeted by the less-than-appealing mug of Melvin Frohike hovering over him. Well, his mind identified the man first as Melvin Frohike and then corrected itself.

// Nope. Not back in Washington. Not anywhere near the twentieth century. So this isn’t Frohike. It’s Bors. //

The small knight peered at him, his face close enough to kiss Mulder if he decided to pucker up and give it a try. The idea made Mulder wince, and Bors’ forehead furrowed into an even deeper rut.

“Lancelot!” The name sounded musical with that Gaelic brogue, but Mulder found himself wishing for Frohike’s less melodic American drawl. “You have finally awakened! I feared the worst.”

Mulder fumbled through the tangle of his thoughts. He sat up, his right hand tightening around Excalibur as he did. He’d found the sword…but Elaine…she’d tried to attack him, and he’d fallen into the pool…and then…oh, then—

He glanced down at himself, surprised to find that he was as dry as a bone. There was no evidence of his plunge in the water. He was even more astonished to find that he was no longer trapped in the room of swords but sat outdoors instead, on a grassy hillock that smelled of wildflowers. The strange mist that had permeated the entire faerie kingdom had disappeared. In the west, the sun lapped over the horizon as the sky deepened with the oncoming night. He looked back at Bors, who had straightened up as he moved.

“What…what the hell happened, Bors? Where are we?”

Bors gave an impatient gesture, and Mulder could tell that the man was at his wit’s end. “I have no recollection of anything since you stepped into that chamber in the dragon’s cave, Lance. You moved, and I saw nothing but a blinding flash of light. When I awoke, we were all here on this hill.” The knight sighed and crossed himself with a shaking hand. “I grow weary of this sorcery, Christ save us all.”

A panicked thought shot through Mulder. “Where’s Merlin?”

“There behind you,” Bors answered. “I have tried to wake him, to no avail.”

Mulder scrambled around on his hands and knees and crawled over to the old wizard. The man was curled on his side, and his chest rose and fell in a gentle rhythm. Mulder reached out to touch his shoulder, trying to ensure that he was really there, and the deep-set eyes flew open, startling him. They went directly to the sword that Mulder still clutched in his hand.

“Excalibur!” Merlin barked. “So you have achieved the object of your quest, Sir Lancelot. Well met!”

“Er…thanks,” Mulder mumbled. His mind still reeled from his encounter with the Lady of the Lake, and the idea that somehow, he had gotten from someplace in a mystical land to this very real spot on the top of a hill. He knew, however, that every second he wasted mulling over the strange events was another moment that Scully was in danger. And if there was one thing he remembered from what the watery enchantress had said, it was that he needed to get to Scully as soon as possible.

Merlin had gained his feet, and he straightened his robes as Mulder stood. The wizard looked at him expectantly as he smoothed the rough patches in his bushy beard, and Mulder felt compelled to speak.

“We need to get to Camelot. The Lady of the Lake said that time was running out.”

“Ah.” Merlin eyed him thoughtfully, pulling on his moustache. “So you encountered the Lady of the Lake. It was she who brought us here. She is the patroness of Excalibur, and we must not disappoint her.”

“Then let’s get going.” Mulder turned in a circle, trying to see through the descending darkness to figure out where they were. He could barely make out the turrets of a castle rising through the heavy trees in the east. He pointed in that direction. “There. There’s Camelot, right? Come on.”

At his side, Bors stopped him with a hand on his arm. “But what shall we do once we are there? Surely you do not think Mordred will simply open the gates and let us in.”

“Mordred is in the Great Hall awaiting our return, along with a hundred of his men,” Merlin announced. “The King and Queen are with him. And the Round Table Knights are about to escape the confines of the dungeon. We must meet them at once. Through the kitchens, I believe, is our best route into Camelot.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Mulder said, starting to feel overwhelmed again. “How do you know all this?”

“You are not the only one who had counsel with the Lady of the Lake.”

“You spoke to her, too? What did she tell you?”

“Nothing more than I have already said,” Merlin replied quickly. “Come, we must not tarry. Sir Bors, I trust you know these woods better than I. Lead on to Camelot.”

Bors set out down the hill and into the forest, with Mulder and Merlin close on his heels. Mulder could sense that the old wizard knew more than he was saying, but he also realized that whatever it was that he was keeping from them, it was meant only for Mulder’s ears and not the stout knight’s who led them. He tried to think of a way to get the two of them together privately, but nothing sprung to mind. He was simply too tired and too worried to think about much other than Scully.

A few moments later, he heard Merlin call out behind him. Turning, he saw the older man struggling to free the end of his robe from a bramble of thick, ancient roots. Bors turned as well and started toward them, but Merlin waved him away.

“Scout on ahead, Sir Bors, and leave Sir Lancelot to aid me. It is embarrassing enough to need this sort of help.”

Bors nodded and disappeared into the thicket, and Mulder went to the magician’s side, crouching down to start unraveling. He felt the weight of Merlin’s hand drop onto his shoulder, and he raised his eyes.

“This will be Arthur’s final battle tonight.” The wizard’s eyes were bright even in the gloaming, and Mulder understood that wetness. He nodded and cleared his throat.

“I know. The Lady hinted at that to me.”

“It is his time.” Merlin made a small, almost imperceptible gesture, and the roots by Mulder’s feet moved. He jumped, catching a glimpse of one of them releasing Merlin’s robe like a child letting go of a balloon string. It was an unearthly sight, and it made him shudder.

“Agent Mulder, I know the Lady of the Lake spoke to you. I know she told you that she would help you and Agent Scully. But you must be willing to do what needs to be done in order to return to your own time.”

“And what exactly is that?” Mulder’s usually sharp mind was beginning to cloud again. He needed water, and food, and rest, but since none of those things were forthcoming, he schooled himself to focus on Merlin’s words instead.

“I can tell you that it will involve magick. Forces that Agent Scully, and even you yourself, might have a hard time understanding. But we can talk more about that later. My concern right now is for your safety, and Scully’s…and for what will come to pass of Arthur.”

The ominous words of the Lady of the Lake drifted back to him. “Arthur…Arthur will die tonight? Is that what you’re saying? This isn’t just his last fight. You’re saying this…this is his last…” Mulder paused a moment to let the thought sink in and found a great sadness settling over him. He took a deep breath. “What will happen then?”

Merlin shook his head. “I cannot see that. Even the Lady would not tell me. But I know this: even if Arthur does not survive, the kingdom must be saved. All of history relies on it. Do you understand that?”

“I think so. What happens tonight will affect England throughout the ages.”

“Yes. And that is why it is vital that the Queen not be harmed in any way. Not because of your love for her, as Lancelot, or because of your love for Scully, Agent Mulder. It is because she alone carries the future of the kingdom.”

Mulder stared at him, trying to piece together what the old man was saying, but his mind, in its exhaustion, just couldn’t make the connections. “I’m too tired to figure out what you’re trying to say. Just tell me, for God’s sake.”

“Very well.” Merlin looked at him sternly. “The Queen is with child, Sir Lancelot. She carries the heir to the throne, the only one who can truly oust Mordred from his claim to Camelot. You, as the Queen’s champion, must protect her at all costs, as you would protect Camelot.” His face softened. “And you must protect your son, who will carry Arthur’s name and your legacy into the future.”

“<My> son.” Mulder took a step backward as his head reeled, a thousand images flooding him at once. The same pictures that had come to him when the Lady touched his mind flickered through…the same visions he had seen when he had first entered the land of the fae and fallen asleep. They were Lancelot’s memories, of the time Guinevere had lost a child…Lancelot’s memories of his first son, weaved in with Mulder’s own remembrances of his chance at fatherhood with Scully.

Mulder put out a hand, the glove scraping across the rough tree bark as he grabbed it for support. All the emotion, all the joy of Scully’s trust and love for him, and all of the pain and disappointment that had engulfed them both when the in vitro hadn’t worked…all of that came crashing into him at once. He had never really dealt with it at all; it had seemed more important at the time to help Scully, to give her the support and the nurturing that she had needed to get through it. He had neglected his own feelings, and now, his vision blurred at the thought of Scully holding a baby… a phantom baby, a ghost baby…a baby that would never come to be.

Something brushed the back of his neck, and he realized that Merlin had placed his gnarled hand there, trying to offer some comfort. He shook the other man off violently, suddenly angry. “Why are you telling me this?” he asked through clenched teeth, biting back the tears that threatened to spill. “This isn’t my baby at all. It’s Lancelot’s, and I am not Lancelot!” He ran his hands through his hair, pulling it roughly with his fingers to try to get his mind to focus. “Fuck this! I am so sick of this world! I am so sick of…of all of this! Goddamn it, I just want to take Scully and go home!”

The wizard regarded him with compassion in his gaze. “You still do not recognize the parallels between your lives, do you? Yours and Lancelot’s. Scully’s and Guinevere’s. The four of you…your stories are very alike, Agent Mulder. Can you not see that?”

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the man’s voice. Scully’s face appeared, her blue eyes filled with tears as she told him it was her last chance. That baby…their baby…she had wanted it so badly…

And he had been unable to give it to her. He would have done anything in the world to give that baby to her. He’d tried to tell her as she accepted his embrace, as she tilted her forehead up to meet his as she had done so many times…he’d tried to once more give her the strength of his beliefs.

// Never give up on a miracle. //

Mulder slowly raised his chin and looked at Merlin. “Are you saying…are you saying that Scully has a chance? That Guinevere is pregnant, when she was supposed to be barren…and that means Scully might become a mother, too?”

The old mage inclined his head, and a small, loving smile touched his face. “You said it yourself, Agent Mulder. Never give up on a miracle.”

Mulder swallowed and tried to breathe. He had to focus. He had to take one step at a time. This news, if it could be called that, lifted his heart and encouraged him in a way that nothing had for a very long time…but first things first. He had to rescue Scully and get her out of this world. And then…maybe then, they could begin to hope for what he thought was beyond their reach…

He straightened up with a shuddering sigh. His hand fell to the pommel of Excalibur where he’d sheathed it in the scabbard at his hip. Its strange energy coursed through him again, and he allowed it to fill him up, giving him strength he didn’t know he had. With one final deep breath, he fixed Merlin with a penetrating stare.

“How does it all end, Merlin? This is a faerie tale, isn’t it? Does it have a happy ending?”

Merlin chuckled and tucked his hands into the opposite sleeves of his robe. “Happy is a relative term, don’t you think? Besides, there are many endings to this tale, Agent Mulder.” He began walking again, following the trail that Bors had made through the brush. “Let us go and see to what conclusion our version shall come.”


They caught up with Bors on the perimeter of Camelot. The towers loomed over them, appearing menacing in the heavy darkness, but Bors moved purposefully forward as soon as they approached.

“Come,” he whispered, and Mulder watched as the small knight drew his sword. Mulder grasped Excalibur and pulled it free, relishing the vibration it sent through him. With Merlin behind them, they crept forward, keeping close to the outer wall of the fortress.

“How are we going to get inside?” Mulder asked, careful to keep his volume low.

Bors took a moment to throw a puzzled glance at him. “As Merlin suggested, I suppose. Through the kitchens, and up the hidden stairwell you have used countless times. With God’s help, Mordred will not have posted guards there, thinking you lost in the faerie lands.”

Within moments, they came to an alcove in the stone wall, and the three of them ducked into it. Mulder recognized it at once as the doorway through which he and Bors had escaped that first night, when he’d had to leave Scully in the bedroom to confront Mordred on her own. Bors hesitated only a moment before he reached out a hand to try the door.

“Zounds!” he muttered, infuriated. “Locked! Mordred has planned well.”

“You said yourself, Sir Bors, that he would not allow us to simply walk in. Stand aside.” Merlin shoved the smaller man out of the way and grasped the doorknob himself. A puff of purple smoke burst from his hand, and the mechanism sprang, the door itself creaking open just enough so that a faint yellow light spilled onto their feet. Merlin stepped back and gestured for Mulder. “I believe, Sir Lancelot, that you should enter first. Anyone we encounter will think twice about attacking when he sees it is you.”

Mulder drew in a deep breath, brandished Excalibur before him, and leaned back. He brought the heavy boot of his right foot up, kicking the door open and springing through the entrance. Something moved to his left, and he swung the sword toward it instinctively. The blade clanged as it hit metal, and a yell erupted from the man who held the opposing sword. Mulder grunted in response and pushed forward, his face coming up inches from his adversary’s. He let out a surprised huff when he recognized the man.

“Byers!” He blinked at the man who so resembled his old friend and then corrected himself. “I mean, Sir Gareth! I wasn’t expecting to meet an ally here.”

“Nor I, Sir Lancelot.” Gareth dropped his sword to his side and surprised Mulder by embracing him awkwardly. “My friend. We feared the worst for you.” He released Mulder from the hug, his eyes falling on the sword that Mulder held. “I see we had no reason to doubt at all.”

Mulder smiled grimly as he scanned the room. It was filled with men, most of them dressed in the silver armor of Arthur’s knights. He tried to count them, coming up with a number somewhere around fifty. Fifty against a hundred. He didn’t like the odds, but he knew he wasn’t going to get any better.

Gareth nodded at Bors in greeting, and then his eyes widened as he recognized Merlin, who lingered in the kitchen doorway. “My lord Merlin,” he breathed in awe. “We thought you lost to us as well.”

Merlin snorted. “Never believe everything you hear, Sir Gareth. The rumors of my demise were grossly exaggerated.”

Mulder turned back to Gareth. “What can you tell me of Mordred’s plans? I must get Excalibur back to the King.”

“I know not how, Lancelot. We ourselves, all of the Round Table Knights, have been imprisoned until just now in the dungeons. I know not where Mordred is, or what he is scheming. We were about to retreat to Joyous Gard to regroup and think.”

“No,” Mulder answered. “Merlin knows that Mordred has the King and Queen with him in the Great Hall, along with a hundred fighting men. We have to rescue them. And we have to do it now.”

“Then it shall be done.” Gareth looked at Mulder, and he could see pain in the knight’s expression. “I shall not fail you again, Lancelot. It is my fault that the Queen was taken in the first place.”

“That is not true.” The voice that spoke was a woman’s, and the lady-in-waiting that Mulder recognized from Scully’s chamber pushed her way through the wall of men. She approached and laid a soft hand on Gareth’s arm. “My lady Queen Guinevere told me you were ambushed in the forest, Sir Gareth. Nimue laid a trap for you both. You could do no more than you did.”

“It does pain me though, Lady Leigh, to think of the Queen accosted, as much as it would hurt me to see it done to my own wife.”

“There is no need to fear that, my lord. I am right here, safe and sound.” Another female voice drifted to them, and Mulder watched as a beautiful blonde swept forward into Gareth’s arms, nearly knocking the stunned knight backward. This woman resembled Suzanne Modeski, the woman Mulder had chased on a case long ago, before he even knew Scully. She was the fugitive Byers had fallen for, the one who had spurred him to chuck his safe government job and become a proponent of the truth. Now, it warmed his heart a bit to see that at least in this lifetime, Byers and Suzanne were able to be together.

He tore his eyes away as the lady pressed a kiss to her knight’s lips, trying not to stare at something he himself so longed for. “Lady Leigh,” he said in a low voice, hoping the other men would not hear him. “How was the Queen when you last saw her?”

The woman’s calm face drew down into a worried mask. “She feared for your safety, my lord. And…and she was ill.”

Mulder tried to keep himself from grabbing Leigh and shaking the answer out of her. “Ill? How was she ill? What happened to her?”

“My lord—” Leigh drew him aside, away from the others. “You could not possibly know. And I wish it were my lady Guinevere telling you herself, but this news must not be kept from you. She is with child, my lord. It is that which makes her ill.”

Mulder pressed his lips together and nodded. “I do know. Merlin told me. Who else knows about the baby?”

“We were trying to keep it a secret, my lord. We just discovered it this morning. That is why Guinevere called for the lady Lionors, Sir Gareth’s wife. She was afraid of what Mordred might do to her if he found out.” Leigh’s face became even more pinched. “I am still afraid, my lord. If his mother knows somehow…she knows everything through her dark arts, and if she tells Mordred…”

Something inside of Mulder snapped. All the longing, all the fatigue, all the propriety and the need congealed inside of him, bursting out in an explosion of fireworks throughout his entire being. He raised Excalibur above his head with an ear-splitting bellow, bringing the sword’s blade down into the oak of the butcher’s block next to him. The sight of the bloodstained wood beneath the embedded blade seeped into his head until red fury completely consumed him.

“God damn him!” he shouted. He could feel a sea of eyes on him, seeming to burn through his armor, but he couldn’t hold back his rage any longer. Something foreign to him, something that felt a little like Mulder but much, much more like someone else, boiled up from the core of his being.

// It’s Lancelot, // his mind informed him. // Lancelot is finally pushing you aside. //

“My brother knights!” he cried, and even his voice sounded different to his ears. He let the surging emotion take him, and Mulder stepped out of the way, allowing Lancelot to come through, to address his comrades-in-arms as any good commander would: touching their hearts and stirring their spirits.

“I do call you brothers now, for we are all called to defend this night that for which our brotherhood was forged. We are called to fight for Camelot, and for the King who dared to dream something which none of us knew before. We are pledged to Arthur’s cause, and I do declare that I shall gladly give my life here before I allow that bastard Mordred to take from us what we have upheld all these many years. I entreat you now, my brothers, the loyal, valiant, and brave Knights of the Round Table, to join me in this fight. Stand at my side and defend all that we have built, my brothers. And if God seeks to call us home this night, then I will happily mingle my blood with yours and Arthur’s on the stone floor of the Great Hall above us. But let no man ever say that Sir Lancelot of the Lake did not stand with his King and friend, Arthur, giving his last breath to that noble dream of truth and justice and chivalry.”

A cheer rose from the men, and Mulder stumbled back, his consciousness slamming back into his body as Lancelot’s slid once more to the side. He felt several hands steady him, and he shook his head, trying to focus on Bors and Gareth, who stood by his side. He turned and wrenched Excalibur from the wooden block and started toward the door on the far side of the long kitchen, but Bors held him back.

“A stirring speech, cousin, but you cannot go in there like this. Mordred will recognize you at once, and set every man on you to take that sword. He knows that it is the only thing that will restore Arthur, and he will never allow that to happen. You shall be dead in an instant, and then where will Camelot be?”

Mulder tried to jerk away, his heart still racing with the fervor of Lancelot’s presence. “Let me go, Bors. I have to save her.”

Bors’ voice dropped to a hum. “What good are you to her dead, Lance? To any of us? You cannot lead the knights. Surely you must see the folly in it.”

Gareth tugged on his arm from the other side. “Let me carry the sword, Lancelot. I can get it to Arthur. Mordred will not even notice me. It is you he will be looking for.”

Mulder shook his head impatiently. “No. The Lady of the Lake said that I am the only one who can carry it. I don’t know what could happen to you, Gareth, if you tried. I won’t risk it.”

“Then we must somehow disguise you, Lancelot,” Bors said. “Mordred will not recognize the sword. But he will recognize Lancelot’s armor, no matter who wears it. You must change armor and go in unnoticed. You can then find the King and return the sword to him. If Merlin is right, he shall then rise up to defend Camelot once more.”

“Fine. Where’s Merlin?” Mulder rounded and searched the room, but there was no sign of the wizard. “Goddamn it! Where the hell did he go? He can change my armor easily. He can make me look like someone else.”

“Someone must look like you, Lancelot,” Gareth said, and Mulder blinked at him, suddenly realizing what the knight was proposing.

“No, Gareth. Forget it. Merlin can…create someone to keep Mordred busy. You’re not going to sacrifice yourself for this.”

“You insult me, Sir Lancelot,” Gareth replied, but there was no malice in his tone. “You just told us all that you would gladly lose your life to defend Arthur and his dream. Do you not think I feel the same way? Am I not a Knight of the Round Table as well?” He stepped closer to Mulder, and his usually tender eyes bored into his friend’s. “We are nearly the same size, Lancelot. We can change armor. Mordred will never know it is not you when I lead the knights into the Great Hall. You will have your chance to slip unnoticed to the King so that he may wield Excalibur once more.”

Mulder’s stomach rolled at the thought of the danger that would loom before Gareth. “No. I won’t allow it. You’re a married man, Gareth…your wife, your family…”

“His wife and family understand his obligation as well as he does himself.” The lady called Lionors pushed to her husband’s side and stared with determined eyes at Mulder. “If this is the only way, Sir Lancelot, then so be it. My husband will fight for his King.”

Mulder sighed, but he nodded his agreement. He scanned the room once more, trying to spot Merlin, but it looked as if the aged wizard had deserted them for good. His hands dropped to the leather belt at his waist and began to undo it as he spoke to Gareth.

“You win, Gareth. God help us both.”

Bors took the belt that Mulder passed to him, and he crossed himself before Gareth handed his own over as well. “God help us all,” he murmured.

Chapter Fourteen

As a maiden being courted by a young king, the first thing Guinevere had noticed about Arthur was his eyes.

The poets and the minstrels crafted pretty words, calling the eyes the windows to the soul. She had not heard that expression until many years after she wed her husband, but she had felt its truth deep in her being. She had met many men in her life, as a princess in her father’s kingdom of Cameliard, and later as she fulfilled her royal obligations at her husband’s side. In all of these transactions, she had found that she could tell a man’s intent and his honesty by looking into his eyes. What she observed there never misled her, and she trusted those instincts with her life.

But Arthur’s eyes, and Arthur’s soul in turn, had been deeper and more telling than any she had ever seen. Even Lancelot, whose gaze so enchanted her, whose loving looks seduced her and struck her dumb with their profundity, could hide his feelings by tempering the emotions in his eyes. But Arthur…Arthur never could. From the moment they first met, Arthur could keep nothing from Guinevere, and she loved him all the more for this. And more than anything else, she loved the way that her husband looked at her: always, beneath the pride and the hope that he sent in his gaze, there was a complete acceptance, an acknowledgement of who she was, faults and all, and the assurance that he loved her in spite of everything else. It uplifted and humbled her.

Now, though, Arthur’s eyes were blank and empty…and this frightened Guinevere to the very depths of her soul.

They sat side by side in their usual places in the Great Hall, in the thrones raised on the dais at the end of the huge room. Guinevere’s wrists, however, had been bound with thick rope to the armrests, as had Arthur’s. She could see that Mordred’s lackeys had tied her husband’s too tightly, and Arthur’s limp hands were stained blue.

The woman called Scully hummed in her mind. // The restraints are cutting off his circulation. Tell them to loosen those ropes. //

Guinevere turned her head to her right. At the foot of the platform there, Mordred and Nimue stood arguing, and she closed her mouth, the plea dying on her lips as she strained to hear what they were saying.

“—nothing more I can do, my lord. It is the strongest magick I know.” Nimue was speaking, and she wore an expression of obvious contempt. “Perhaps if you hadn’t allowed your traitorous brother to murder your mother, we would have been able to fully awaken Arthur. This—” She gestured toward the throne. “This is the extent of my powers.”

“It is not acceptable, I tell you!” Mordred’s face, flushed scarlet from his fury, shone with sweat. “I want him fully awake when the Round Table Knights advance. I want him to witness the final destruction of Camelot, when I take Excalibur from his precious Lancelot and use it to run him through!”

Guinevere winced at the words. She, too, had heard the cheer of the knights from the kitchens below the Hall. Mordred had smiled then, proclaiming to his followers that the final battle was about to begin. But the knights had yet to arrive, and Guinevere found herself praying that they had devised some elaborate strategy to get them all out of this.

She could no longer think straight herself. She understood that Lancelot must have returned to the castle; she knew no one could rally the knights as he did. Hopefully, he carried Excalibur with him, an encouraging idea. On the other hand, she could not see what good the sword would do at this point. Mordred’s men stood shoulder to shoulder in the Great Hall, and they would overrun Lancelot as soon as he tried to reach Arthur on the dais across the wide floor. Lancelot was the best fighter Arthur had, but even he was no match for so many at once. The thought of her lover falling was almost more than she could bear.

And then there was Arthur. Several of Mordred’s men had carried the King in after Mordred had bound her to her chair, and they had set him up on his own throne next to her. At first, the sight of Arthur had excited her; they had dressed him in a splendid white tunic and cloak trimmed with red fox fur, and he looked as healthy as he had in his younger days. But when the men positioned him in his chair and she tried to get his attention, she realized they had not succeeded in healing him at all. His eyes were open, yes…but she knew with certainty that Arthur had no awareness of her, or of anything else that was happening around him.

Scully seeped into her mind once more. // He is clinically unresponsive, Guinevere. But there is a chance that he can hear you. Talk to him. Maybe hearing your voice will be enough to save him. //

Guinevere glanced back at Mordred and Nimue. The two continued to argue at the far end of the platform. The soldiers that stood in stiff ranks across the floor of the Great Hall murmured amongst themselves, paying no attention to their leader or his prisoners. If she spoke softly, it was unlikely that anyone would overhear her. She twisted her left wrist against her restraints, straining to move her hand closer to Arthur’s, which rested just inches away. She splayed her fingers and brushed the smallest one over the back of her husband’s hand. His skin was cool, but touching him renewed her hope. She curled her finger through his and, despite the cutting sensation of the rope, she held on. She shifted as far to the left in her chair as she could, getting as close to him as possible. She pitched her voice low and spoke.

“Arthur. Please hear me, Arthur. I need you to hear me. I need you to keep fighting.”

She had dared to hope for a movement from him, some kind of sign that he could indeed hear her, but nothing came. He continued to stare straight ahead, the movement of his chest barely perceptible beneath his garments. She scraped the pad of her finger along his and squeezed as tightly as she could.

“Arthur, Lancelot is coming. He is bringing Excalibur back to you. You must hold on a little longer. He is coming, and when he brings the sword, you will be renewed.”

“So you do believe that magic nonsense, Guinevere? You are more gullible than I thought.”

Caught. She shivered and raised her chin, shooting Mordred a defiant glare. “I know that Arthur is still alive, and that he will fight for Camelot with his last breath. There is no magic in that.”

Mordred cocked his head as he approached her, like a vulture eyeing a corpse in the desert. He had donned his armor, which was darker than most, a dull gray color that seemed to suck in light rather than reflect it. To Guinevere, he looked like the angel of death, and she trembled again as he laid his gloved hand on her knee.

“How I hate to see you upset, my sweet.” Mordred smiled at her, but there was no mirth in his eyes. She could read them as easily as she could any man’s, and what she perceived there sent bitter bile straight to her throat. His were as empty as Arthur’s…but the void in Mordred’s alerted her to what she had feared all along: Arthur’s son had finally fallen over the edge of sanity. He had always been ambitious, fueled by a hate that, although she couldn’t understand it, Guinevere recognized. But now, his high and unstable emotions had tipped over into something wholly different. She could see all this in his eyes…and she realized that they were all going to die this night if he had his way.

He leaned forward, and his smile grew wider. “Never fear, my love,” he whispered. “It will all be over soon.”


The minutes dragged by, and her inaction frustrated her more and more, preying on Guinevere’s anxiety and whipping it higher. She watched as Mordred weaved among the ranks of his men, talking and laughing as if at a festival rather than a battle. Nimue had gone briefly through the back entrance and returned with a massive tome, which she now had cracked across her knees where she sat at the end of the dais. She was obviously searching her books for some sort of cure for Arthur’s state, but Guinevere prayed instead for Lancelot’s arrival. She had to trust that he would save Arthur…that he would somehow save them all.

“And so he shall, Queen Guinevere. You are right to think so.”

Her head jerked up in surprise, and she wondered for a moment if she had nodded off. It was stifling hot in the Great Hall, and she was exhausted. And that voice…it had sounded so much like an aged one that she remembered from her youth, and from the man’s many days at her husband’s side. But that old friend was gone now, probably dead, and her mind was playing tricks on her again…

“I am not a trick of the mind, Guinevere. I am very much alive. Turn and see for yourself.”

Her head followed the words, and she drew a sharp breath when she saw the figure standing just to her right. Only moments before, there had been nothing there. Now, here was Merlin, Arthur’s most trusted advisor, looking healthy and resplendent in his cascading robes, staring at her with benevolent eyes.

The surprised whisper escaped from her before she could stop it. “Merlin! Is it really you? I must be dreaming.”

The old wizard stepped closer, laying his hand on her wrist. His skin was warm, and it made Guinevere’s tingle where he touched her. “You see?” he asked with a gentle smile. “I am real. And I have come to help my former pupil one last time.”

“But how—how can this be? Nimue…she captured you, and we thought—”

Merlin snorted. “Nimue’s magick is not as strong as she would like to think. Lancelot saved me. I believe he will save us all.”

Guinevere started to speak again, but the loosening she suddenly felt around her wrists drew her attention instead. Beneath Merlin’s hand, the ropes of her restraints were unwinding until they lay like lifeless snakes against her skin. She blinked at the old wizard, who waved his other hand in Arthur’s direction. She saw the ropes binding him uncoil as well, and the bluish pallor in his fingers began to recede.

“Arthur needs his hands free when Lancelot brings the sword,” Merlin explained. “You may have to help him at first, Guinevere. His strength will return, but it will do so gradually. Do not yet reveal to Mordred that you are unbound. Wait for the melee to start. Lancelot will be swift, I’m sure.”

Guinevere licked her lips and glanced around. The soldiers remained a great, mumbling mass, and Mordred stood no more than twenty feet away, yet no one but she had noticed Merlin’s presence. She looked at him with the question evident on her face, and Merlin chuckled.

“I am invisible to all but you, Guinevere. I do not wish to attract any unnecessary attention.”

“If you did not wish that, Merlin, you should not have come here at all.”

Nimue strode toward them, the cumbersome book abandoned at the edge of the platform. Her curls had been pulled back in a hasty knot behind her head, making her appear older and more severe. It didn’t help that she scowled deeply as she walked, and Guinevere could recognize the look in the other woman’s eyes as well as she could any man’s.

Hate. Pure and simple. Nimue’s eyes betrayed her true feelings for Merlin. But behind the loathing, Guinevere could see the smallest trace of something else, something that gave her hope.

She saw fear.

Merlin pivoted on his heel, apparently unruffled by Nimue’s approach. He smiled at her, but her countenance darkened even more. She stopped a few feet from them, and her voice was thick with venom when she spoke.

“Did you think I could not see through your weak glamour, Merlin? Surely you no longer doubt my powers, after what I did to you.”

Merlin regarded her calmly. “And what powers are those, my child? Were you half the enchantress you think yourself, I would have never escaped your spell.”

Nimue raised her hands before her. “Is this what you wish, Merlin? To see who is the most powerful?”

His face wrinkled in amusement. “I wish only to give you the opportunity, my pet, to finish what you started. Now. Come and find me.” His words had barely been uttered when he was gone, and nothing remained where he stood but an elongated wisp of lavender smoke.

Guinevere swallowed her surprise as Nimue roared her frustration. Her outburst was enough to draw Mordred’s attention, and he pushed a few soldiers out of the way as he started toward them.

“Nimue! What is it?”

“Merlin is here!” she screamed at him. “Damn you! Lancelot should have never been sent into the faerie realms! He has obviously succeeded in retrieving the sword, for Merlin was always intended to be the watcher of it.”

Mordred shrugged. “It matters not if he has the sword. My men will make short work of him once he finally attacks. We shall take Excalibur, and I shall carry it as the rightful High King of Britain.”

Nimue spat out a laugh. “Have you no concept of Merlin’s powers? He can easily turn this battle to Lancelot’s side. Have you not thought of that?”

Mordred hopped up onto the dais and startled Nimue and Guinevere both by grabbing the small sorceress by the hair. She cried out and raised a hand, but Mordred pulled her in tight against his body, holding her in a fierce embrace with his maimed arm. He leaned his head forward and huffed his words into her ear.

“Then you must keep him occupied, dear Nimue. Find him, and do not allow him back near this room until the battle is over. Then kill him, so we may be rid of him once and for all.”

She twisted against him, but to no avail. “Kill Merlin?” she sputtered. “I cannot kill him. He is too powerful. No one has that kind of—”

“You had better find a way, Nimue. And if you cannot, you would be wise to keep away from Camelot. Do not forget: I will have Excalibur. And I cannot stomach the sight of someone who is useless to me.”

He pushed her away and she stumbled, her hip bumping against Guinevere’s chair. The Queen could see tears in the other woman’s eyes as she rubbed the back of her head. Mordred leapt quickly back down from the dais and turned to face the huge doors of the Great Hall, and Guinevere could hear him muttering under his breath. She let out a sigh of relief as he immersed himself again in the sea of warriors.

Nimue stood there for a moment, taking shuddering breaths and tightening the knot in her hair with shaking hands. Her gaze was hard and spiteful when she looked at Guinevere. “You should pray, Lady, that Lancelot dies quickly. I know you do not want him to suffer in the tortuous hands of that madman.” She turned away and hurried to the end of the platform. Picking up her book, she disappeared once more out the back entrance. Guinevere prayed that Merlin would keep his eye on her. She seemed just as dangerous as Mordred.


She noticed the mist right away.

She’d been sitting for several excruciating minutes since Nimue made her exit, rubbing Arthur’s hand with her finger and mumbling reassurances to him. She told herself she was only attempting to encourage Arthur, but she knew deep down the uplifting words were for her own sinking heart as well. Her eyes shifted restlessly between Mordred, still circulating among the ranks, and the enormous doors to the Great Hall. She knew that sooner or later, those doors would open, and the battle would begin.

Her gaze had just darted back to the doors when she spotted the mist. It tucked long fingers of elegant smoke beneath the oak frame, looking like the talons of some ethereal bird. Once inside, it swirled about in dazzling displays, moving swiftly and silently as it began to engulf the room. It encroached with dizzying speed, yet the soldiers before Guinevere had grown bored with waiting and were too busy talking and joking to notice it right away. It had already swallowed most of the front lines when the room finally started to quiet.

Guinevere thought immediately of Merlin. He had appeared and disappeared right before her in puffs of lilac smoke. Something told her, however, that this fog had not been conjured by Merlin. It was thick and dense, and it shimmered like water, throwing off colors like sapphire, cobalt, and aquamarine. The entire room appeared to have been plunged into the sea. Guinevere heard the surprised gasps of Arthur’s enemies as they stared, hypnotized, as the mist enveloped them all.

The awed hush didn’t last very long. With a thunderous pounding, the wave of Round Table Knights burst through the doors to the Great Hall and broke over Mordred’s men. Though the mystical fog was thick, Guinevere could see the flash of silver armor as the knights advanced, cutting down every man in their path. The chamber filled with the sounds of battle: the screams and shouts of the men, the ring of metal on metal as swords and daggers met, the liquid swoosh of weapons thrusting through bodies. Guinevere closed her eyes as the dark smell of blood crept into her nostrils. She had never been witness to a battle before, and she fought to keep her stomach settled. She had to help Arthur.

She sprang to her feet, twisting her arms from the loosened ropes as she did. They fell free, and she reached for Arthur’s, ripping them away. She couldn’t resist cupping her husband’s head tenderly, turning his face up to look into his empty eyes. Her own filled with tears.

“Arthur,” she whispered, her throat tight with emotion. “I am so sorry for any grief I have caused you. But you must fight—for Camelot, and for the child that I now carry, who will wield Excalibur after you.”

Her breath caught momentarily as her fingertips trembled on his cheeks. Was that a tremor beneath them, one that Arthur had caused himself? Or was she simply shaking so badly from her own fatigue and terror that she imagined it? Fiercely, she pulled Arthur to her, cradling him against her chest. He would live, she swore to herself. She would do whatever she had to keep him safe.

Now, where was Lancelot?

As if the simple thought summoned him, the mist thinned before the dais, and she caught sight of a glimmer of silver in the center of the room. Her eyes latched onto the figure and roamed hungrily up and down the man who waded through Mordred’s army, swinging his broadsword in a wide arc as he went. She recognized the cut of the armor, the mail that hung like rows of dragon’s scales from the waist, the visor that hid the face, and the plume of scarlet that adorned the helmet, identifying the warrior as Arthur’s ally. She felt a cheer rise within her, surging through her entire body, as she watched him.

It was Lancelot. He was alive, and he had come for them.

But the victorious yell that swelled inside her died almost instantly on her lips. Lancelot was surrounded, and it seemed that every man in the room had their weapons trained on him. As he turned almost unceasingly in a circle to defend himself, Guinevere noted the bright splashes of blood that marred his armor, and she feared that a great deal of it had been bled by Lancelot himself. Arthur’s other knights fought around him, but none could seem to stave the flow of Mordred’s men toward Lancelot. She felt desperate tears spring to her eyes as she realized that in moments, he would be completely overrun.

Unexpectedly, the circle of warriors thinned, and Lancelot turned toward the platform. Guinevere raised a hand to encourage him, to make sure he could see her there, but she realized that Lancelot’s attention was still on the fight. Directly in front of her lover, Mordred’s men stepped back, creating a slender path between their bodies…a trail that led directly to their leader.

Mordred stared down the tunnel of men, the smirk on his twisted face unhidden by a helmet. “Sir Lancelot,” he called, and Lancelot froze, his sword raised behind him, the blade dulled by the blood that coated it.

Mordred took two steps forward, slowly creeping along the wall of warriors toward the center of the room. “So, we meet again, Sir Lancelot. I see you have brought me my sword.”

Lancelot’s voice was muffled behind his visor, and Guinevere could hardly hear him when he answered. “Excalibur belongs to Arthur, and none shall have it but he.”

“You are mistaken,” Mordred replied, inching closer, his weapon sliding from its place on his hip. “It belongs to the High King of Britain, and that throne is now mine.”

Lancelot brought the sword down in front of him, wrapping both of his fists around the hilt. “Then come and claim it, Mordred. If you can.”

Even though she could barely hear him, the challenge in Lancelot’s voice was plain. Mordred’s face slid into a mask of pure hate, and he rushed toward Lancelot with an ear- splitting bellow. The rest of the room had gone completely still; all attention was now focused on the two men who crashed together in the center of the chamber.

Guinevere gripped Arthur tighter and watched, horrified. It never crossed her mind to flee; she never thought to skirt away from the platform, to find another of the Round Table Knights to help her remove Arthur while Lancelot kept Mordred and his men distracted. She was caught there, a helpless and silent observer, her need and her desperate love for Lancelot rooting her to the spot.

The fight dragged on, mimicking the duel that the two had undertaken just days before on the jousting field outside of Camelot. Each landed several stunning blows on the other, and Guinevere hissed as Lancelot stumbled back from a thrust that brought a fresh, spurting cut to his left shoulder. Mordred grinned again at his adversary, his countenance macabre with streaks of blood from several slashes. He seemed to be gaining strength with every hit he took, and Lancelot appeared to be losing ground. Even wielding Excalibur in the fight didn’t seem to be helping him.

Guinevere couldn’t mistake the heaving breath Lancelot took before he roared a curse and launched himself at Mordred, the sword brandished above him. At the last moment, Mordred dropped to his knee and brought his weapon up over him, catching Lancelot’s sword as he swung it down. The two blades clanged together, and Mordred pushed, hurling Lancelot off his feet and through the air over him. Guinevere gasped as Lancelot’s armor met the floor, ringing painfully in her ears. She could no longer see the two men through the throng of soldiers around them; they were at ground level, and she knew from the myriad jousts that she had witnessed that Mordred had Lancelot pinned against the stones, his sword at his throat.

She closed her eyes, her body responding to the shock faster than her mind. Her knees began to buckle, and she felt herself falling. Lancelot fell…she would fall, too…there would be no reason to live if he were gone…

// No, Guinevere! // That voice in her head again, the foreign woman with the strange name. // The baby. You must think about the baby. Lancelot…he—he’s not…//

The throaty voice faltered. Scully realized it, too. Lancelot would be dead in a matter of minutes, and then all of Camelot would be lost. There would be no stopping Mordred…she might as well die, too…

// Mulder. No, not Mulder. Nonononononono…//

Something caught her just before she hit the floor. She recognized the cool slide of metal beneath her gown as she was propped up, and insistent fingers tapped against her cheeks. But it was the voice that brought her back, the low rumble that had sounded in her ear so many times, the one that vibrated through her very soul and shook her into reality again.

“—come on, baby. Don’t do this to me now. Wake up, I’m here.”

She opened her eyes. Lancelot hunched over her, his hair brushing against her skin, his eyes, bluer than the cloudless spring sky, squinting with concern over her…

Lancelot. He wasn’t dying at Mordred’s hands. She swallowed the squeak of fear that tried to escape from her and threw her arms around his neck.

He hugged her tightly to him. “That’s right, baby,” he murmured, and the stroke of his hand through her hair made her eyes fill with tears once more. “I’m here. That’s not me out there. Damn Gareth…he insisted, and we couldn’t think of another way to get Excalibur to Arthur. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry to make you think…”

She pulled back and smiled at him, laying her palms against the stubble on his cheeks. “Sweet Lancelot,” she whispered. “I feared the worst. I should never have doubted you.”

His brow furrowed for a moment, and he searched her face as if suddenly unsure of himself. He started to say something, but then he shook his head. “We don’t have time right now.” He pushed himself up, pulling her to her feet beside him. As he stood, she recognized the armor that he wore. The simple, elegant lines and the shape of the breastplate told her it was Sir Gareth’s.

She understood. They had switched armor so that Lancelot could slip by Mordred unnoticed and bring Excalibur to the King. Her heart grew heavy once again to realize it was sweet, gentle Gareth that Mordred now held under his sword, anticipating the death blow he would deliver.

Lancelot hesitated a moment, staring at her, and briefly touched her cheek. “I know,” he said quietly. “He sacrificed himself. But if we don’t revive Arthur now, it will all be in vain.”

He stepped past her and knelt beside Arthur’s throne, his gaze sweeping over the King. He grasped Arthur’s large right hand and pulled the sword from the scabbard on his belt. Guinevere recognized the familiar chime of Excalibur, its sound so akin to music, as her lover placed the sword in her husband’s hand. Lancelot tightened his fist around Arthur’s and waited.

Nothing happened.

She glanced at Arthur, her heart swelling anxiously in her chest, threatening to cut off her breathing. His eyes remained locked and glassy, and she couldn’t detect even the slightest tremor anywhere on his body.

Lancelot brought Arthur’s left hand across his lap and pressed it around the right so that the King held Excalibur in a double-fisted grip. “Come on, Arthur,” he coaxed in an urgent whisper. “Get up and fight.”

“Merlin said it may take a while for his strength to return,” Guinevere offered, but Lancelot’s answer was taut with anger.

“We don’t have time for this!” he exclaimed, jumping to his feet. “We need him now, goddamn it. And Merlin! What the hell good is Merlin when he disappears just when we need him the most? If he’d stuck around, Gareth wouldn’t have had to play martyr.” Lancelot leaned over the King, shaking him by the shoulders, his desperation painted plainly across his features. “God damn you, Arthur! Get up and fight for your kingdom!”

Guinevere grabbed Lancelot from behind, astonished by his speech and actions. “Lancelot, stop. It will do no good to jostle him so. We must wait and—”

He whirled in her arms and seized them, locking them at her sides in his fierce grip. His eyes blazed across her face, and she half expected to melt from the searing fury she saw there.

“Stop calling me that!” he shouted. “I’m Mulder, goddamn it! Don’t you do this to me, Scully. We have to get out of here. Don’t you start buying into all this medieval bullshit, because I have had enough!”

Inside her head, somewhere deep in the darkest corner of her mind, a bolt of pain flared. She could feel the other woman struggling there, clawing against the walls that surrounded her, trying to escape, attempting to gain control once again. But Guinevere couldn’t let her…Guinevere had to stay at the fore, because all of Camelot now rested on her shoulders and called for her strength…

This man was not Scully’s Mulder. She wouldn’t allow the thought to resurface, shoving it back into the black depths to keep Scully company. This was her Lancelot, and she had to get through to him.

She shook her head slowly from side to side, her vision blurring from the tears that spilled down her cheeks. “Lancelot,” she whimpered. “You are not yourself. Please, I beg of you, reign in your temper and help us. The King needs you whole and well, if we are to survive this night.”

“It is too late for that, sweet Guinevere.” Her eyes fluttered shut as she recognized the voice that drifted from behind her lover’s shoulder. Metal moved the air before her, and when she looked again, Mordred’s bloody blade rested just below Lancelot’s jaw. He stiffened against the weapon, bringing his hands up in a gesture of supplication.

Mordred stepped closer and grabbed a handful of Lancelot’s dark hair, jerking his head back farther and pressing the sword closer to his skin. Guinevere could see the vein in Lancelot’s neck that beat his heart’s rhythm beneath his skin. It pulsed wildly, and she knew Mordred had only to make one quick slash to end Lancelot’s life. She choked back a cry, but Mordred didn’t even look at her.

“Do you see the blood on this blade?” he asked, bringing his mouth close to speak in Lancelot’s ear. “This is my brother’s blood. I just killed him, thinking he was you. For that deception, I will kill you slowly, piece by piece. Right here, in front of your beloved Guinevere, and your best friend.”

Guinevere was barely aware of hands pulling her wrists behind her back and holding her still. All of her attention was focused on her lover as Mordred forced him to his knees. Lancelot stared at her, and she could read the message in his eyes, too, three words that made her tears run even swifter down her face.

// I love you. //

Mordred towered over Lancelot, his face alight with morbid glee. “Now, where shall I begin, sir knight?” he asked, but he never moved the sword from beneath Lancelot’s chin. “Maybe with your face? Or a slow-bleeding wound to your stomach? Wait. I know. What was it the Bishop always quoted at Mass? ‘An eye for an eye?’ Why don’t we start with the same hand you took from me.”

Mordred raised the sword to deliver the blow, his movement sudden and fast. Just as quickly, a blur of silver sliced through the air next to Lancelot, and the sound of clashing metal resounded through the hall. Guinevere gasped as she realized what had happened.

Mordred’s sword had met another, one brought down over Lancelot’s head in his defense. Guinevere raised her eyes, astounded to see her husband looming there, Excalibur thrust between his best friend and his son, blocking Mordred’s blade.

Arthur. Arthur was standing and fighting. He was defending his kingdom. Arthur was restored.

The three men seemed frozen there for a moment, all of them staring at each other. But Mordred’s expression of astonishment was quickly replaced by a black scowl of hatred. He put his body weight behind the sword and pushed, but Arthur held his ground.

“Get out of the way, Lance!” Arthur spat through clenched teeth. To Guinevere’s ears, his voice sounded like the most beautiful, forgotten music she could ever imagine.

Lancelot ducked and rolled away, and Mordred reared back, lunging for him. He missed, but the move gave Arthur time to swing Excalibur again. This time, the blade hit Mordred square in the back, knocking him to his knees. He cursed and dropped all the way to the ground, flipping quickly onto his back and springing once more to his feet behind Arthur. The King spun around to face his son.

Guinevere felt herself jerked backwards to the edge of the dais. She glanced up at the soldier who held her, but she could not see his face behind his visor. She struggled to wiggle her hands from his grasp, but he held her firmly. She turned her head in time to see Lancelot leap down from the platform, grab an abandoned sword from next to a prostrate body, and spring back up to help Arthur.

Arthur saw him, too. “Stay back, Lancelot,” the King commanded. He and Mordred were circling each other like dogs, their eyes brimming with malice. “Look to the Queen.”

Lancelot stopped and changed his direction, advancing toward Guinevere. The knight who held her suddenly picked her up and tossed her down behind the dais. She hit the stone floor on her side, and her head snapped back, her temple connecting with the corner of the platform. Pain exploded in her head, sending a white-hot shot of agony into her stomach as well. She groaned and pushed herself up, groping blindly for the edge of the platform. Blood, thick and sticky, poured into her left eye, but she managed to gain her feet again, leaning heavily against the dais for support.

Her gaze fell on Arthur, only a few feet away. His pristine white robes were now splattered crimson, and he held his left arm protectively over his belly. Squinting, she could see that a deep gash nearly cut him in half at his waist, and his trousers were soaking through as his blood ran from the wound. He was panting heavily, and she knew that he was fighting for his very life.

The scene became hazy as she watched, her own breathing erratic and shallow. Mordred stumbled back as his father drove another blow home, this one piercing the thin covering of armor at his groin. He screamed with pain and frustration and sliced Arthur across the chest, leaving his tunic in one long, peeling ribbon and another fresh cut in his skin. But the swing of the sword unbalanced Mordred, and he collapsed onto his side. Arthur pounced on him immediately, kicking him onto his back and stepping solidly onto his sword hand. Mordred cried out and released the sword, staring up with dark fury at his father.

Guinevere saw Arthur raise Excalibur one last time, poised to deliver the one final stroke that would end his deceitful son’s life. But she never saw the sword fall. She saw nothing but darkness as she slipped into it, and she didn’t feel the impact of the floor when it met her body once more.

Chapter Fifteen

All battles, Mulder decided, ended badly, no matter who won.

He moved stiffly, nursing the bruises and shallow cuts he’d received in the final acts of the melee. When he’d seen Mordred’s soldier throw Scully behind the raised platform like a useless sack of soiled laundry, his tired mind had snapped with the lightening synapses of rage. He’d attacked the man, killing him almost instantly with a furious swipe at his unprotected neck. The soldier had crumpled, but another one was on Mulder immediately, jumping him from behind, and that one had given him quite a lot more trouble. By the time he’d finished him off, the Hall had grown quiet, and he’d raised his head to look around.

Very few men were left standing. The ones that were, however, wore the armor and plumage of the Round Table Knights. A grim satisfaction swelled in Mulder, but it didn’t last long. He’d given his assailant one last kick and leapt down from the platform, racing to Scully’s side.

She was unresponsive when he prodded her face with his hands, when he smoothed the long, burnished hair from her sweaty brow and examined the wound at her temple. It was shallow but jagged, stretching up into her hairline, and he tore a strip of heavy material from a nearby tablecloth and pressed it there to staunch the bleeding. She was breathing normally, though, and he used the rest of the tablecloth to tuck around her body to keep her warm.

When he stood, he noticed a silent procession of people beginning to file into the Hall through the huge doors. Mostly women, they weaved their way through the fallen men, pausing to regard the bodies, some dropping to a wailing heap when they came across the soldier they sought. It was a horrible sight, and he tried to sweep his eyes across them quickly, finally spotting the woman that he needed.

She saw him at almost the same time and rushed across the Hall, stepping around the bodies with an expression of pained anxiety. When she reached him, she grabbed his arm, hanging on as if he were the lone buoy in a choppy, stormy lake.

“Sir Lancelot,” she said, and he tried to remember her name, knowing that in this life, it was not Kimberly Cook. “Where is my lady Guinevere?”

“Here.” He gestured to the floor, and she sunk to her knees beside Scully, her tears falling, embroidering the tablecloth with tiny sparkles. The Queen’s waiting woman found her cousin’s hand and pulled it to her breast, and Mulder choked his own words out, his throat constricting at the pitiful sight.

“Will you…look after her for a moment, lady? I need—I need to find the King.”

The woman nodded mutely, stroking Scully’s hair as if she were the most precious thing in the whole world. As loathe as he was to leave Scully again, he knew he had to fulfill his obligation as the leader of the King’s men. That entailed discerning who was left alive…including Arthur himself.

He started across the Hall toward one of the knights. The man stood motionless near the dais, his sword still in his hand, his armor and his blade so red he could have been dipped in blood. When Mulder approached, he raised his eyes. Mulder recognized him, but he did not know the man’s Arthurian name. In the course of his lifetime as an F.B.I. agent, though, Mulder had called him Pendrell. Sean Pendrell, who had died on the floor of a bar while Scully tried to protect a witness. To Mulder, that time seemed so very long ago, and he couldn’t help wondering if he would ever know it again.

“Lancelot,” the knight whispered. “They are all dead. So many…so many of our comrades. What will we do now?”

Mulder laid a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, surprised to feel the burning in his eyes intensify. “I don’t know. But we must see who survived, and we must find the King.”

“Lancelot!” The voice came from behind them, and both men turned. A huge grin broke across Mulder’s face as he realized who called to him. The smaller man rushed forward, nearly knocking him over with the force of his embrace.

“We have prevailed!” Bors exclaimed, thumping Mulder on the back and making his whole body vibrate. “We have taken Camelot back! We have won!”

Mulder pulled away and stared at the diminutive knight, his expression sliding from happiness to sadness in short order. “I guess we have, Bors. But what a high price we’ve had to pay.”

Bors nodded soberly and crossed himself. He sheathed his gore-covered sword and took Mulder’s arm, turning him in another direction. “I think, Lance…I think you should come. I know…I know if you spoke to her, it would give her some peace.”

“What—” Mulder started to ask, but his voice halted abruptly when his eyes fell on the scene before him.

He couldn’t see the woman’s face at first; a curtain of feathery blond hair hid it. But the knight she held cradled in her lap wore Lancelot’s armor, the suit that Mulder had grown accustomed to over the last several days in this strange land. The lady Lionors had removed the helmet, and she brushed long, shaking fingers through her husband’s auburn hair as she rocked and silently cried.

The heaviness in Mulder’s chest was almost unbearable. He froze, immobilized by the anguish that washed through him. “Bors, no,” he mumbled. “I…I don’t think…I can’t—”

Bors’ grip on his arm tightened. “You must, Lancelot. It is your duty. Go and speak to her. Tell her what a great sacrifice her beloved has made.”

His legs felt as if they were made of lead, but somehow, he managed to walk the few paces across the floor and bent them to bring him down to her level. Lionors did not look at him, but she spoke, and her voice was smooth and controlled. Mulder marveled at how collected she sounded, knowing very well that her heart had to be ready to burst from sorrow.

“He fought bravely, did he not, Sir Lancelot?”

Mulder nodded, forcing his vocal cords into motion. “He did, lady. He was valiant and true to his King. Without him, we could not have succeeded in defeating Mordred.” Mulder dropped his head, his eyes moving to the dead knight’s face. Gareth looked so much like John Byers that his heart seared with agony again, and the next words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them. “He was a good friend, too. I loved him like a brother.”

Lionors blinked at him then, her eyes drowning in a sea of tears, but they shone with the bright light of pride and gratitude. “And he loved you, Sir Lancelot,” she whispered. She reached out and took Mulder’s hand, clutching it fiercely. “Now go and find the King.”

Mulder squeezed her hand in return and stood, stumbling as he moved away. The knight he recognized as Pendrell caught him, and then Bors was before him, staring up at Mulder with discerning eyes.

“Lancelot, you need to rest. Come, sit for a moment.”

Mulder waved him off, yanking his arm from the other knight’s grip. “No. We need to find Arthur. Come on.”

He made his way toward the platform, the place where he had last seen the King. Arthur had saved him from Mordred’s sword, and the King and his son had squared off for what looked to Mulder like a hell of a fight. He’d been distracted by Scully’s captor and then by the other soldier who’d attacked him, so he had not seen what had become of Arthur or Mordred.

He spotted Mordred immediately when he boosted himself up onto the dais. The dark man lay on his back, his arms and legs splayed as if readying his body for crucifixion. His face was streaked with blood, and a huge puddle of it pooled beneath his head, saturating his hair. The one gaping wound in his throat told the story of the final death blow Arthur had delivered as his traitorous son stared up at him. Mordred’s green eyes were now empty and lifeless, and Mulder bent over him, shutting them with a careful sweep of his hand.

But Arthur…Arthur was nowhere to be seen.

Mulder’s gaze roved over the bodies scattered throughout the Great Hall, trying to spot the white outfit that Arthur had been wearing when he’d pressed Excalibur into the King’s hands. He sent Bors and Pendrell out among the fallen soldiers while he searched behind and underneath the platform, but to no avail. Arthur had disappeared.

He finally sank into Arthur’s throne, fatigue and worry settling over him like a heavy shroud. From this spot, he could see Scully, still unconscious but being cared for by the Queen’s handmaiden and the servant who resembled Richard Langly. There were other survivors of the battle, too, ones that standing knights had found and were beginning to doctor. He watched as the knight who accompanied Bors wrapped a scrap of cloth around the bleeding head of another warrior. The Hall was filled with moans and the heavy scent of blood; they sharpened in his senses now that he sat and allowed them to wash over him. This was a mess, another fine one, and without Arthur or Scully to guide him, he had no idea what to do.

Scully. That was another problem.

She didn’t recognize him as Mulder. Rather, she saw him as Lancelot, called him by his doppelganger’s name, which triggered a violent surge of rage in him whenever he thought of it. It could only mean one thing, and that realization scared Mulder more than the entire battle he had just survived.

Scully wasn’t Scully anymore. Somehow, her memory had deteriorated to such a point while he was absent that she had completely succumbed to the world around them. And in that process, she had become Guinevere.

And if that were true, if she was no longer Scully, there was no way for them to return to their world. If she truly believed herself to now be Guinevere, how could he expect her to want to leave?

He sat forward, his face dropping into his waiting hands. Images flickered through his mind, visions that toppled over each other, blurring the edges of his reality and making his heart race with anxiety.

The Lady of the Lake, her copper hair shimmering as it billowed in the water around them. She’d promised to help them, to help them both…

Scully in his arms, her head against his shoulder as they floated in the lake…Scully, his love, his salvation, her devotion the strongest magic and greatest healing power he had ever known…

Merlin, who talked of heroes and time and consciousness, who spoke of possibilities that Mulder had not dared to dream of in so very long…

“They can happen, Agent Mulder. You have to believe they can.”

He opened his eyes, not a bit surprised to see the wizard standing before him, one gnarled hand on his hunched shoulder. He took a shaky breath and straightened up, his voice nothing more than a whisper.

“Tell me where Arthur is, Merlin. Tell me what I must do.”


The cool night air warmed rapidly as he stoked the fire. He’d never imagined he would be assembling a funeral pyre; it wasn’t something he had been prepared to do, but he gathered wood as Merlin instructed, working silently alongside Bors and the knight he’d learned was called Percival. The younger man’s hair gleamed like a copper penny in the gloaming as they worked, making Mulder ache for Scully.

She was nearby. Some of the male servants, including Richard, had quickly assembled a pavilion for her, constructing it with wooden rods and soft draperies of rich silks. Once it was ready, Mulder had carried her from the litter she had ridden in and laid her on the pillows inside. He’d allowed himself to brush her parted lips once with the pad of his thumb and then left her to be watched over by the lady Leigh, the Queen’s handmaiden.

Merlin had told him to take them into the forest. Many of the Round Table Knights and the remaining residents of Camelot had stayed at the castle, but Merlin had specified those that Mulder was to bring along. Bors had gently laid Gareth’s body in a cart and harnessed it to a pair of horses, but the smaller knight had balked when Merlin instructed him to bring Mordred as well.

“I shall not!” Bors bristled with anger, making him appear much taller and more formidable as he faced the aged wizard. “I shall not give that traitor the same honorable rites as a loyal Knight of the Round Table!”

“He is Arthur’s son,” Merlin reminded him mildly. “The High King will want to see him once more before he crosses to the Summerland. You owe him that much, Sir Bors.”

Bors had spun on his heel and stalked off then, muttering curses under his breath, but he’d hoisted Mordred’s corpse into the cart moments later. Mulder had looked at Merlin then.

“So Arthur is in the forest? How did he get there?”

Merlin only gave Mulder a cursory glance and turned to move away. “Look to the Queen, Sir Lancelot. She must be brought in a litter.”

So, with Percival’s help, Mulder had fastened the sled-like contraption to the back of his horse and tucked Scully into it, careful to cover her warmly and to cushion her delicate body as best he could. Then, on Merlin’s command, he’d pulled his weary form into the saddle, and their small convoy had set out into the dark woods behind Camelot.

They stopped nearly an hour later on the shores of a smooth, black lake crowned with an eerie velvet mist. Mulder squinted at it, trying to decide if it was the same lake he’d been brought to for healing. He reasoned that they had come from a different direction; it made no sense that it was the same one. He found, however, that he didn’t care one iota where in the hell he was. He just wanted the whole ordeal to be finished.

And so the knights and the servants had started their chores, building the pavilion in a more private area of the shoreline and gathering wood for the cremation ceremony. Mulder didn’t understand, though, where Arthur could be. He still remained missing, and Merlin had told him nothing more about the King’s whereabouts.

Once the wood had been assembled, Percival and Bors carried Mordred and Gareth to the stack. The men were laid on two slim, wooden pallets, which were then shoved onto the middle of the pile. Bors took one of the lighted torches and touched it to the bottom of the pyre, igniting the dry kindling. Small flames licked the sides, catching and throwing the fire up the outer rim.

Mulder stood apart with Merlin, watching as the flames engulfed the bodies. He expected Merlin to say something, or perhaps even for Bors to lead the rest of the knights in some kind of prayer, but the gathering remained silent. The only sound was the hungry crackle of the fire and the whoosh of the slight wind coaxing it higher.

He jumped when he felt the small fingers thread through his own. His astonishment must have shown on his face, because Scully smiled up at him, a simple, sad grin that barely touched the corners of her mouth.

Feeling her warm skin against his made his heart pound harder. He raised her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles, not caring if anyone around them witnessed it. He was much too tired, both physically and emotionally, to concern himself with courtly decorum. He bent closer to her, tilting her head gently with his hand so that he could inspect the knot on her temple.

“You’ve stopped bleeding,” he breathed, not wishing to disturb the solemnity of the ceremony. “I was worried.”

Her face grew grim as she cast her eyes forward to the pyre. “Who is it?” she murmured, and he could feel her trembling. He put an arm around her shoulders and drew her closer to his side, trying to lend her his warmth and strength.

“Gareth. And Mordred.”

In the flickering light, he saw slow tears slip down her cheeks. “Gareth was a good man. He did his best to protect me. I shall always remember his bravery, and his love for you and Arthur.” She took a deep breath. “So Mordred is dead. How…how did he die?”

“Arthur, I think. I didn’t see him fall.”

She nodded and then turned her face up to peer at him. He could see the fine lines around her eyes deepen as she braced herself. “Where is he?”

He started to shake his head, but he became suddenly aware of another presence, one stationed directly behind them. Looking up, he acknowledged Merlin with a stoic set of his jaw. He reluctantly allowed Scully to step back a hair’s breath to make room between them for the old man.

“Arthur is here,” Merlin told them. His arm stretched out toward the lake, and Mulder followed the gesture. He couldn’t repress the gasp of surprise that escaped his lips.

Bobbing at the edge of the water, he saw the outline of a small ship’s sails as they stretched against the indigo sky. In its bow stood three figures, women by the look of their silhouettes, draped in gauzy material that billowed in the cool night breeze. In front of the women, he noted a bed furnished in heaps of pillows and coverings, and the shape of the man lying within it spurred him to tug Scully by the hand. In moments, they were at the edge of the water, but he didn’t stop there. He waded out, and he could hear Scully sloshing behind him, neither caring about their garments or the cold surge that enveloped them. He understood that they both had to see Arthur once more.

The King opened his eyes as they grabbed the side of the boat, Mulder pulling Scully in front of him so that she could see Arthur better. He looked so damn much like Skinner it was a bit frightening. Mulder blinked back the wetness that threatened to spill down his cheeks. He was so goddamned tired, and now this…

“Lancelot.” Arthur’s large hand grabbed his and squeezed, but Mulder could feel little strength in the King’s grip. He swept his gaze quickly over Arthur’s body, trying to find a wound, but he could see nothing beneath the heavy blankets. He tried to smile at Arthur, but he knew it bore a closer resemblance to a grimace instead.

Mulder cleared his throat. “Thanks for saving my life back there.”

Arthur chuckled. “Always so modest, Lance. You have saved so much more for me, so many times over. Camelot is free now, and when I am gone, the Round Table will continue to thrive. Thanks to you, my old friend.”

Mulder felt Scully’s small hand come to rest on top of his, her fingers worming their way into the grasp the two men shared. He looked down at her and smiled weakly, but Arthur’s grin was brilliant as he turned his attention to her. “Guinevere,” he hummed, and Mulder felt his heart wrench violently as he watched Scully’s eyes flare in the darkness.

“Arthur,” she said. Her tone seemed to nearly bleed. “Where are you going? What is this vessel?”

A female voice answered her, one that Mulder recognized. The first figure behind Arthur stirred, and the face of Morgan le Fae flashed in the moonlight.

“We take him to Avalon, where he can be healed.”

Scully’s sharp intake of breath betrayed her fear and hatred. “You! How can this be? I watched you die! And I will die before I allow you to take him anywhere.”

“Have no fear, my lady Queen,” came the second voice, and the features of the fairy maiden Elaine emerged from the shadows. “We mean only to help Arthur now. We have challenged him throughout his life, and he has been a worthy adversary. Now, the power of Avalon shall restore him for all time.”

Scully’s fingers tightened around Mulder’s and Arthur’s. “We can heal him here. We have surgeons. There is no need for you to take him. Camelot needs him.”

The angelic voice of the Lady of the Lake rang in Mulder’s ears as she leaned into the shimmering light to address them. “Arthur now needs the strong magick only Avalon can provide. There are others who will come after him who will lead your country. You must let him go, and let him rest. He shall return again when Britain has its hour of greatest need.”

Mulder saw Scully’s expression sour, and he knew a retort was poised on her lips. He didn’t know how to calm her or how to appease her stubbornness, but Arthur seemed to possess some insight that Mulder did not. The King tugged gently on their interlocked hands, bringing Mulder and Scully’s attention back to him.

“Guinevere,” he said, and the way he spoke her name was rich and soothing. “My time has ended. But I do not abandon you. You will have Lancelot with you, and the Round Table Knights will secure the kingdom as they always have. And soon, I know—” The corners of Arthur’s eyes crinkled with delight as he smiled. “Soon the child that you carry will take his rightful place on the throne.”

Arthur brought his other hand beneath theirs, trapping them between his thick palms. His eyes glittered in the moonlight, and Mulder realized the man was close to tears himself. “The two of you are dearer to me than anyone,” Arthur whispered, and the lump in Mulder’s throat seemed to expand tenfold. “I want only your happiness. It is all I ever wanted&that, and to build a kingdom from honesty and loyalty and grace.”

“As you have,” Scully managed to say. Mulder heard the choking of her throat, too.

“I have tried,” Arthur sighed. His grip slackened once more, and Mulder could tell the King was slipping away. “But now…now it is time for it to pass to another. It could not be Mordred. He was not worthy.” Arthur nodded, and the Lady of the Lake stepped forward from her place at his feet. A silver beam flashed across them all, and Mulder could feel the change in the air as the Lady drew Excalibur up before her. He couldn’t take his eyes from the shimmering blade as Arthur continued speaking.

“You, Lancelot, will look after Camelot until its heir is old enough to do so. And I trust you will look after the Queen as well.” The Lady of the Lade extended the handle of the sword toward Mulder, who simply stared at it.

“Take it, Lancelot,” Arthur urged. His voice was becoming a creaking tremor. “The Lady says you have need of it for one last task. You must then return it to her. When the time is right, it shall rise again.”

Mulder swallowed. The sword scared and excited him at the same time. It was implausible and downright silly to believe that a piece of metal had some kind of extraordinary power, but he had carried Excalibur. He knew it to be true. He only hoped it had the power to do what he needed it for the most.

He needed it to take them home. He didn’t know how it possibly could, but he hoped like hell that it was the help the Lady of the Lake had promised him.

Mulder reached out his trembling right hand and grasped Excalibur once more around its leather grip. The sword hummed a vibration straight up his arm, and suddenly, he was no longer tired, no longer shaking, no longer afraid. He raised the sword above him to salute the King, and Arthur smiled.

“Farewell, my friends, my loves,” Arthur said. He released their hands, but Scully left hers entwined in Mulder’s as the sails on the ship filled with a sudden strong wind. The boat moved silently through the water toward the horizon, slipping in and out of the wavering mist, and they watched it go until it was nothing more than a pinprick in the night. Scully raised her free hand in a final wave, sighing a single word into the magical air.



Two hours later, Mulder paced outside the Queen’s pavilion, Excalibur sheathed at his hip. The sword’s strange energy continued to race through him; having it so near his body was like plugging his central nervous system into an electrical outlet. Every muscle within him seemed poised, ready to spring, and he itched with a fire he could recognize only as lust: lust to move, to get them back to where they needed to be…and to have Scully back again, whole and real and completely herself. But beneath that more valiant lust, he could also feel the gnawing craving only a man could know, the desperate ache for the woman he loved, and the building tension of desire to possess her body once more. Of course, he knew that Scully was inside the tent; her presence and her barely-concealed need for him drew him near like a magnet. She had returned to the pavilion after Arthur’s ship had disappeared, after Mulder had held her hand and watched mutely as her tears splashed into the lake water at her waist. But when she had reigned in her sorrow at Arthur’s departure, she had turned her face to him, and he had not mistaken the yearning expression she wore. She had left him standing there without a word, the silent invitation to follow her back to her private tent as obvious as the lopsided moon that hung above the water. But as palpable and as intoxicating as her hunger was, Mulder had no idea what or how that could possibly help the two of them return to the twentieth century. So he paced and muttered under his breath as the remainder of the camp slumbered around him.

He couldn’t just go in there and take her, he reasoned. He wanted her, badly, that was true. He had been through hell and back to get to this point, to be so near to her again, but he fought to squelch his animal impulses. He had to think of a way to get them back to their own time, and he had understood as soon as the Lady of the Lake had offered Excalibur to him that the sword was part of the magick that would somehow take them home. But she had given no explanation, and he had no idea where to begin. Besides, his fucking testosterone level was distracting him so badly he couldn’t think straight—

Merlin. Mulder stopped suddenly as the wizard’s name surfaced in his hazy mind. Merlin would know what to do. He hadn’t seen the old man since the ship carrying Arthur away had been swallowed by the mist, but he had to be around somewhere…

“I’m still here, Agent Mulder. All you had to do was ask.”

He whirled to face the wizard; his teeth clenched when he spoke. “All right. I have the sword again. What do I need to do to get us home?”

Merlin smoothed his beard, his face shadowed. “You have everything you need: Agent Scully, Excalibur, and yourself.”

“But I have no idea what I’m supposed to do! Click my heels together three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home?’” Mulder laughed, a raw, wounded scrape in the back of his throat that made him sound a bit demented.

“What do you want to be doing right now, Agent Mulder, more than anything?”

A picture flashed across Mulder’s mind: Scully, her creamy skin highlighted by the golden glow of a nearby fire, her body open beneath him, his hands tangled in the mane of her auburn hair as he… He shook the thought away angrily, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. Concentrate, he chided himself. He tried to focus on Merlin, but Scully’s embrace continued to beckon him, and he felt himself tingling from the anticipation of her touch as he took an inadvertent step toward the entrance to her pavilion.

Merlin’s voice snapped him back. “That’s it, Agent Mulder. That’s the magick that will take you home. Why don’t you trust it?”

A thought seized him, and he cocked his head at the old magician in wonderment. “You’re kidding me, right? I’m—I’m supposed to seduce her? That’s what will take us back?”

“I am assuming it will be a mutual seduction, Agent Mulder.” Merlin tucked his hands into the long, ornate sleeves of his robe. “To succeed in getting back to the twentieth century, you must create an enormous amount of energy, concentrating it on that one intention. What other act can create such a strong vibration than the act of love between two people?”

“You’re crazy,” Mulder told him, his head buzzing as if he had consumed too many beers with the Gunmen. “She doesn’t even know it’s me. She thinks I’m Lancelot, and I can’t…I won’t…” He stopped, unable to continue. The thought of making love to someone other than Scully, even someone who looked and sounded exactly like her, was abhorrent to him.

“Do you believe that Agent Scully’s consciousness is still contained somewhere in Queen Guinevere’s body?”

He wrinkled his brow, trying to think, but the surging of his blood was overwhelming him. “I—I don’t know. What if it’s not? Where does that leave us? I can’t force her to go home with me. And I can’t force her to—” He swallowed; he couldn’t finish such a heinous thought.

Merlin stepped closer to him. “You must get through to Agent Scully. I believe she is still present in Guinevere. You must remind her of who the two of you are. You must remind her of what awaits you back in your own time. You must convince her, Agent Mulder. And once you have, thrust the sword into the ground. That will activate the magick of the earth and the elements. The rest…the rest is up to the two of you.”

Mulder nodded numbly, still trying to wrap his mind around the scenario the magician suggested. He watched as Merlin strode decisively away, finally disappearing into a nearby thicket of trees. It was now or never—he knew what he had to do, and he hoped with all his heart that he would be able to accomplish this final task. For Scully, and for himself…for everything they had ever wished for together…

He moved to the curtained doorway of the pavilion and pushed the hanging silk aside.


His senses registered her scent first. Cool water and light roses. It seeped into him like liquid wetting a sponge. He drank it in, allowing the fragrance to wash over him like a refreshing ocean breaker. It did nothing to dampen his desire; on the contrary, it stoked it, warming his blood even more, heightening his need so that his eyes darted anxiously around the darkened pavilion, seeing nothing else, seeking only her.

The sight of her seared his vision. She reclined in a nest of pillows and blankets, her fiery hair fanned beneath her head, loose, long tendrils brushing tempting strands across her shoulders and chest. He found himself envying those ribbons of her hair, wanting nothing more than to curl himself around the swell of her breasts, brushing his own skin lightly across hers, feeling the hardening of her nipples as he caressed them with the lightest of touches. Her beauty hurt his eyes, and they fluttered shut for a moment, the negative of her simple shift-covered form burned into his retinas.

He could hear her breathing, the simple and light intake and exhalation of oxygen through her parted lips. She did not stir as he approached, and he swept the cloak from his shoulders, casting it aside as he drew nearer to her. The small fire crackled nearby, but he paid no attention to anything that was not within her aura. She consumed him, and he could no longer resist the urge to touch her.

His fingertips screamed in ecstasy as he slid them lightly along the crest of her cheek, and they howled in agony when he wouldn’t allow them more than that simple indulgence. He wouldn’t…he couldn’t go any further until she spoke to him…until he knew for sure…

“Scully,” he murmured. When she didn’t respond, he knelt by the edge of the makeshift bed. Excalibur in its scabbard bumped against the floor. He leaned closer and breathed her name in her ear, his lips aching to kiss the delicate shell.


Her eyelids quivered like the wings of a butterfly, finally opening to reveal the startling green he still couldn’t reconcile in his mind. He watched as they focused on his face, a smile blossoming on her lush lips.


She reached for him, but he caught her hands and twisted them, hard, in his. “No, Scully,” he said urgently. “I’m Mulder. Not Lancelot. Come back to me, baby. Remember who you are.”

Her skin, warm and soft, rubbed like a friendly cat against his. Her smile grew puzzled. “I do remember who I am. I am Guinevere, Queen of —”

“No,” he interrupted. “You’re Dana Scully. You’re not a queen. You’re an F.B.I agent. I’m your partner.” He brought the tip of her index finger to his mouth and stroked it along his bottom lip. “I’m Mulder. Tell me you remember me.”

“Mul…der?” She drew his name out, turning it into a question. Her eyes followed the motion of her finger on his lips, and she sighed. He could feel her melting, liquefying at his touch, but he couldn’t have that. Not yet…not until he knew who she really was.

“Do you remember me, Scully? Do you remember us?”

She shut her eyes, wrinkling her forehead in concentration. “Mulder…and Scully,” she muttered. He’d heard her do that countless times, on cases, in autopsy bays, whenever she was trying to piece together a puzzle that didn’t fit in her logical mind. It brought him hope, and he pushed on, attempting to give her something, a tiny sliver of memory that might trigger their lives together to rush back to her.

“Before we were here, Scully, we were in Wales. Do you remember that? We flew over from D.C. We went for a walk in the woods. I lost the compass, and you insisted we were never going to find our way back to the bed and breakfast. Remember? The sun was setting, and it was starting to get chilly, and—”

She snatched her hand from him abruptly, pushing up from the bed and crossing the pavilion. “You…you are talking nonsense, Lancelot.” Her voice sounded angry, but beneath it, he could detect a trace of fear as well. “I have none of these memories.”

He straightened up and followed her. “Scully remembers, though. Don’t you, Scully? I want to talk to Scully. Let her out, Guinevere. Let her talk to me.”

She laughed uneasily, but she wouldn’t look at him. “I know not what you mean, Lance. Why do you vex me so? I—”

He grabbed her wrist and pulled her up tight against his chest. Her breath quickened, and he felt her skin burning from his touch as hotly as his own did. But he couldn’t give in…he would not do this, not until Scully was in control again…

“Do you want Lancelot back, Guinevere?” He barked it at her, and she trembled in his arms, but he felt something sway toward him, some energy that he couldn’t quite identify but that seemed to understand. “I want Scully back. I have to take her home. If you let her out, if you let me take her home, Lancelot will return to you. You want him back, don’t you?”

“Where is he?” she whispered. Her eyes were round with desperation, and Mulder could see that he’d found a niche in Guinevere’s consciousness. He pressed it, hoping that he wouldn’t pitch her right over the edge.

“I’m not sure,” he answered. “But I think, if Scully and I leave, if we go back to where we belong, then he’ll come back to you. We’ll all be happy again. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Happily ever after?”

“I—I want Lancelot,” she whimpered. She was shaking, and he hated to see her this way, but he couldn’t back down now. Not when they were so close.

“Then let me talk to Scully. Let her be here with me now. It has to be her, or I can’t take us back. Let her out, Guinevere. I need her.”

She blinked at him, clearing her eyes of the tears that threatened. A shaky intake of breath rattled her frame. “I—I do not know if I can.”

“Try.” Mulder released her, and she smoothed the front of her nightdress, attempting to calm herself. He took a deep breath; she followed his lead, and a moment later, he was encouraged to see a tiny glimpse of tranquility settle over her features. “Can you feel her?”

“Yes.” She closed her eyes again, and more deep breaths followed. Mulder watched, trying to push a sense of comfort toward her. The rise and fall of her chest was hypnotic, and the burning in him ratcheted up another notch. He didn’t know how much longer he could last…but he had to wait for Scully.

“I dreamed of you.”

When she finally spoke, her voice nearly matched the low throbbing of his blood. He stared at her, entranced by her beauty, as she continued.

“I dreamed of you, Mulder. I dreamed of the night we played baseball, when you showed me how to swing the bat. I could see the balls flying up into the sky, merging with the stars…”

“I remember, Scully.” He circled around her slowly, his feet moving as if he were caught in the dream as well, stopping when he stood behind her. As if directed by someone else, he reached down and drew the sword from the scabbard that hung from his belt. It rang in the air as he brought it around in front of them. He drew her back so that their bodies touched, her spine scraping against his belly, the sensation singing through his whole being. He raised Excalibur waist-high, guiding her arms up in front of them, molding her hands one at a time around the long handle of the sword. She smiled languidly and giggled, just as she had that night.

He snuggled his lean body tight against hers, fitting them into the batting stance so familiar from his younger days. Her hair muffled his voice as he spoke, but he didn’t want to move his face. She smelled too good, and his senses were overloading. “Do you remember how to do it, Scully?” he murmured. His left hand came down and tapped the protruding bone that jutted through the thin cloth of her shift. “Hips before hands.”

“Hips before hands,” she repeated. Her body shifted against his, grinding her backside against the erection he’d been sporting ever since he first set foot inside the pavilion. But her next sentences made him jump inside his pants. “Of course I remember, Mulder. How could I forget such an obvious ploy to get you so close to me? And how could I ignore what you had pressed up against me all night?”

He chuckled lightly in her ear despite the tears that sprung up in his eyes. There she was! That was his Scully! Now…now, he could have what he ached for, what both their bodies cried out for, what they needed so desperately to prove themselves to each other and to take them back home…

Together, they swung the sword forward, and as it arced up, Mulder turned the blade to face the ground. The momentum of their swing carried it down, and they plunged it deep into the earth. The strange music of Excalibur filled their ears as the blade sunk into the dirt. From the spot, lavender mist began to uncoil, twining in convoluted circles as it climbed over their bodies. It was cool, like a walk on a misty morning, but Mulder barely registered it on his skin. Every nerve in his body was trained now on Scully.

She twisted in his arms, her lips meeting his in a furious kiss. He tasted salty tears as he plundered the depths of her mouth, and he couldn’t tell which of them was crying harder. But they were joyful tears, and the tracks were soon wiped clean as the garments clothing their bodies swept over their heads. They became a tangle of naked limbs, and Excalibur’s peculiar hum underscored their moans and sighs of pleasure.

“Mulder…Mulder…” His name was like the dulcet chime of a bell as she spoke it, over and over, as he touched her. His hands swept across her entire body, greedy but reverent, needing to find all the sweet spots he remembered. The small of her back that dipped gracefully inward; the tiny notch in her collarbone that fit his finger as if they were forged for each other; the patch of freckles that danced on one shoulder, that he marked as a starting point for kissing a path down to one pert breast; the curve of her hip as she wrapped her legs around his waist…

He was holding her up, his palms supporting her against his body. He could feel her entrance just above his throbbing cock, the core of her slick with her want, and the knowledge that she was ready and waiting for him nearly took his breath away completely. He balanced her there for one long moment, pulling back from her seeking mouth to look into her eyes.

“Scully?” He had never asked permission before; he had never felt the need. But he did now, because he had to be completely sure…

She smiled at him, the blinding grin that was teeth and gums, the one that gave him chills because of its rarity and its unabashed, unrestrained adoration. “I love you, Fox Mulder,” she whispered. “Take me home.”

Mulder had heard of earth-shaking sex. He’d even believed that he and Scully had experienced it once or twice in their relationship together. But when he thrust up into her, the ground beneath him seemed to sway, and as their bodies rocked together, whipping them higher and higher toward ecstasy, an unmistakable vibration shimmered through them. He drove into her harder, the energy unstoppable, the shaking around them visible but barely noticed as Mulder and Scully reached for that golden release. And when they cried out together, each of them shattering into thousands of tiny pieces in the other’s hands, the world shuddered along with them, and their minds went dark with the delicious haze of complete and utter bliss.

Chapter Sixteen

Banging. And yelling. Lots and lots of yelling.

Scully cracked one eye open, peering through the slit into the semi-darkness that surrounded her. The air vibrated with the sound of heavy footfalls and slamming doors. The calling voices reminded her of her childhood, when her father had stood at the bottom of the stairwell and bellowed for them like he did at his command post, shouting their names in order:

“Melissa! William! Dana! Charles! Hit the deck!”

Her father. His face swam across her mind, meandering its way into the images that flickered there. Those seemed strange to her, remnants of dreams that were already fading quickly, people and places somehow familiar and yet foreign…

Another shout resounded in the hallway, jarring her again. Behind her, Mulder grumbled in his sleep and tugged her closer. He slid one naked calf over hers and buried his nose deeper in her hair. She smiled sleepily and raked her nails down his arm, seeking his hand to interlace their fingers. Her search ceased abruptly when her fingers skimmed across cool metal.

Metal? In their bed? Scully’s eyes flew open, instant alertness jerking her head up off the pillow. Mulder was holding something in his hand, something metal—what could it be?

She pushed herself up on one elbow and pawed the sheets back, squinting through the darkness. Her jostling disturbed her partner, who muttered something incoherent and flopped over onto his back. As he did, his arm moved, his hand still clutched in a tight fist, and Scully felt something solid, slim, and cold slide across the tops of her thighs. She sucked in her breath when she realized what it was.

The dim light of the room reflected on the metal of the blade that rested in her lap. She couldn’t see the end of it; it disappeared into the shadows just beyond the edge of the bed. There was no mistaking what it was, however: Mulder held a sword in his hand, and judging from the grip he had on the handle, he was hanging onto it as if his life depended on it.

Scully shook her head a bit, trying to clear the muddle in her mind. What the hell was going on? To say that waking up next to an armed Mulder confounded her was putting it mildly. She had known Mulder to sleep with his service weapon tucked into its holster on his bedside table, but he’d never brought his gun into bed with him. He’d always shown a great respect for weapons, as most law enforcement personnel did; she knew he’d never be so careless as to fall asleep with his gun in his hands. And a sword? How in the hell had he even gotten a sword? And what was it doing with them in bed? It made absolutely no sense for Mulder to even have it, let alone hold it strangled in a death grip while he slept.

She tried to think back. They were in England, in Wales to be exact, in their room at the quaint bed and breakfast where Mulder had booked their accommodations. They’d arrived and checked in, and then Mulder had insisted on seeing a bit of the countryside. They’d hiked out into the Welsh wilds and promptly gotten lost; she remembered that much. But her brain seemed devoid of any other details beyond a certain point, after they reached a clearing in the forest and decided to come back to their lodging as the sun began to sink in the west…

What was wrong with her? She couldn’t remember anything else. She didn’t recall returning to the bed and breakfast. She didn’t know if they had eaten dinner, or if they’d just climbed the stairs to their room and quickly dozed off. But even if she couldn’t remember any details of the previous night, she could certainly recall that Mulder had not possessed a sword the day before. Where in God’s name had it come from?

Scully leaned over his chest, laying a hand on his shoulder. The tips of her fingers nudged the scar that marred the line of muscle there, the reminder of the bullet she’d put in him during their second year of work together. She stopped suddenly, staring at it, puzzling.

// It was there, and then it wasn’t. //

She frowned at the memory that teased from the edge of her mind. What was that all about? The scar had disappeared? And now it was back again? The notion was ludicrous…but it somehow made sense.

She shook the thought away. “Mulder,” she said, squeezing his shoulder to rouse him.

His eyelids fluttered, and he smacked his lips as he came awake. She was about to call his name again to hurry him along when a loud knocking resounded on their door. Exasperated, she made a face and pushed herself out of bed, grabbing Mulder’s Georgetown sweatshirt from where it rested on a nearby chair. She yanked it over her naked form, relieved that he was so much taller than she. The sweatshirt nearly trailed all the way down to her knees.

She unlatched the heavy room door and opened it a crack. A small woman stood there, regarding Scully through thick, large eyeglasses. Behind the lenses, her irises were muddy brown, but they twinkled, and the creases on the woman’s face deepened as she smiled. Her teeth were crooked and unattractive; Scully suppressed a grimace.

“I’m sorry to wake you, dearie, but if you and the mister are wanting breakfast, you need to come down now. It’s nearly eleven. Time to start the next meal preparations.”

Scully started to hear the time. “Eleven o’clock? Really?” She glanced over her shoulder at Mulder, who had finally awakened completely and was sitting up in bed. The covers pooled in his lap, and his hair stuck up like porcupine quills. As she watched, he raised the sword in front of him, gazing incredulously at it. The blade caught the light that spilled into the room from the hallway—and it caught the attention of the woman outside, too.

“My!” she exclaimed in her heavy British brogue. “What a beauty that is! I see you went shopping yesterday and found a nice souvenir, eh?”

Mulder glanced at the two of them in the doorway, but he didn’t respond. His attention went immediately back to the sword, his expression growing more stunned by the minute. Scully cleared her throat, trying to hurry the landlady away.

“We’ll be right down, Mrs…Mrs…” She trailed off, searching her mind for the older woman’s name, but she couldn’t even recall meeting her the day before. Something was definitely not right.

“Chambers. Eleanor Chambers. You’re too young, Mrs. Mulder, to have a memory full o holes like mine! Dontcha remember meeting me yesterday when you checked in?”

Scully thought about correcting the woman and then decided against it. It would take too long to explain. She tried a smile instead. “I’m sorry. We were so tired from our flight, I wasn’t paying attention. I do apologize.”

The woman returned her grin and waved her hand. “Never mind, dearie. But you come down straight away. You both look like you could use a good meal today, especially since you missed supper last night.” Mrs. Chambers hobbled off toward the staircase, wiggling her fingers at Scully over her shoulder.

Scully shut the door, leaning her back against it as she looked at her partner. “OK, Mulder,” she said, and she couldn’t keep the note of irritation out of her voice. “What the hell is going on?”

He turned his face, once more obscured in the shadows of the room, to regard her. “Mrs. Mulder?” he asked innocently. His voice was still rough with sleep, but there was a hint of amusement in it, too.

She searched the room until her eyes fell on the windows at the far end. She strode over to them and yanked up the shades, welcoming the weak, gray light that spilled into the room. It was raining steadily outside, and the weather certainly didn’t do anything to elevate her mood. “You know damn well I’m not talking about that,” she huffed. “Where in the world did you get that thing?”

“This is a broadsword, Scully. Don’t you recognize one when you see it?”

“As a matter of fact, I do, Mulder. I’ve been to museums, too. I just don’t remember going to one yesterday, which leaves me wondering how it came to be in your possession, and what in God’s name it’s doing in our bed!”

Mulder’s eyes darted back to the sword, running up the blade. “I think&I think something magical happened.”

She frowned. “Mulder,” she warned. “This is not an X-File. We’re on vacation, remember?”

He smiled slightly and turned the weapon in his hand. He laid it gently on the bed next to him and motioned her over. “C’mere, Scully. I want to ask you something.”

She went to him. He wrapped his long arms around her, drawing her up against his chest. She breathed in his warm, musky odor, the short, sparse hairs under her nose tickling her as she did. Nothing felt like Mulder; it was good to be with him. She wanted to wiggle so close to him that they wouldn’t be able to tell where one of them stopped and the other began…but Mulder was speaking, so she tuned her ears to hear him.

“Scully, look at me.”

She raised her chin to meet his gaze, and she blinked quite unexpectedly. His eyes…there was something different about his eyes…

// They’re not blue anymore. //

She blinked again. What was she thinking? Mulder’s eyes were never blue. Ever since she’d met him, they’d been the most incredible eyes she’d ever seen, shaded in deep greens and dusky browns and everything in between. She’d always adored the way his eyes changed colors…but they’d certainly never changed to blue.

Or had they?

He was staring down at her, his features still, his expression intense. And he must’ve been able to read her mind, because his words surprised her. “They’re not blue anymore, are they, Scully? Yours aren’t green, either. Yours have changed back to blue. I guess mine are green again.”

She swallowed and tried to joke. “No. In this light, they’re brown, Mulder. They’ve never been blue. You know that.”

“You remember, don’t you, Scully?” His arm tightened around her shoulder reassuringly, but she still felt unbalanced. “We’ve been different people. Now, we’re back again. Back where we belong.”

“You’re not making any sense, Mulder.” She started to pull away from him, but he wouldn’t let her. He held her there, forcing her to listen.

“What do you remember about yesterday? I remember being somewhere else, somewhere similar to our world and yet completely different. I want you to remember it, too.”

She stared at him as images began to form in her mind, visions with color and texture like faded oil paintings, rich and heavy yet ethereal. Ornate gowns and horses, flashing armor and sunlit fields, blood and water and love…

And a baby. There was a baby. Tears sprung to her eyes. She hid her face against Mulder’s chest as her throat constricted, the loss of their last chance at parenthood burning through her with renewed fire.

“You remember, don’t you?” His voice was soothing, like a soft cloth skimming over bruised skin. “You remember something. Tell me.”

“They—they’re just dreams, Mulder. We were asleep, and we were dreaming—”

“Dreaming the same things? Dreaming of knights and battles? Romance and love? Dreaming of a child? Our child?”

She choked back a sob. He rocked her against him, whispering to her, smoothing her hair with his palm. “You were pregnant there, Scully. Maybe it means something. Maybe there really is hope here, too.”

Anger flared in her. She wanted to believe that somehow a miracle was possible. Mulder had said it to her once before, and she’d cried then, too, desperate to think it might actually happen. But her scientific mind wouldn’t let her believe, not without a fight. And as much as she didn’t want to fight with Mulder, he was being irrational.

“They’re not real, Mulder! Just because we dream of something doesn’t make it happen. It doesn’t even mean that it’s possible.”

“Then how do you explain this, Scully?” He drew her chin up with his finger, and she saw that he was touching the blade of the sword. “Where did it come from? I know you don’t believe that I bought it yesterday. How did it get here?”

She shook her head, unable to speak. There was something about the sword, something she couldn’t put her finger on…but it emanated a surreal energy, a vibration that she couldn’t account for but was as real as Mulder’s skin beneath her fingertips.

He was right. She could feel the magic. She didn’t know how else to explain it. Maybe she really was losing her mind.

Mulder brushed a kiss on top of her head and then released her. He swung his legs over the side of the mattress and headed toward the dresser, where fresh towels were stacked for use in the community bathroom. He grabbed one and wrapped it around his waist. Then he launched another through the air; it landed on the bed next to Scully. She looked at him, the question apparent on her face. He smiled gently.

“Let’s get cleaned up. We’ve got something we need to do today.”


He shrugged, the smile still peeking at her like a shy ghost. “I’m not exactly sure. But I’ll know when we get there.”


Two showers in one day. Mulder reasoned that he should be the cleanest guy on the planet…but he didn’t feel clean at all.

He stood in the beating rain with Scully, surveying the meadow before him, trying to remember. The greenery around them glowed with the sheen of water and the lushness of springtime, but the beauty of it all did nothing to cheer him. He felt exhausted; his body ached with a deep throbbing that he hadn’t experienced since he’d played an all-weekend basketball tournament two years before. That soreness hadn’t surprised him; after all, he was getting older, and pushing his body that way had become less and less frequent as he approached his fortieth birthday. But this pain now, the gnawing in his muscles that hadn’t stopped since he rose from the bed, didn’t make any sense. If he and Scully had only hiked a few miles yesterday, he shouldn’t feel this bad. And yet, it was proof in a way— proof that he wasn’t completely insane.

He glanced at Scully. She thought he’d lost his mind, all right. But she stood at his side in the clearing, examining the foliage around them, her face mostly hidden beneath the rain poncho hood that she’d pulled up over her fiery hair, and she didn’t complain. He knew she didn’t quite believe him…but she couldn’t explain the sword, either.

He tightened his grip on it, feeling the leather slide against his wet palm. It was a heavy weapon, a good twenty pounds if it was anything, and its length made it awkward to carry. But ever since he’d awakened and found it in his hand, one thought had plagued his mind, one that wouldn’t be silent until he’d done what it demanded.

// Return the sword. //

Never mind that he had no idea where he was supposed to go to return it. Whenever he tried to figure that out, the command reverberated even louder, and he decided to just trust his instincts. He was good at that; always had been. He hoped they wouldn’t lead him, and Scully, on some wild goose chase.

So he’d listened, and he’d led them back out into the Welsh countryside. They’d been walking for a good two hours, and he couldn’t even tell in which direction they were hiking. The overcast sky hid any clues from them, simply pelting them with relentless rain as they trudged deeper into the forest. But Mulder kept going, because the message kept playing in his head, like a record needle stuck in a groove.

They’d stopped a moment before to catch their breath, and Mulder brought the sword up closer to his face, examining the blade. It didn’t appear to be especially old, and it was obviously a functional weapon, not a decorative piece. And there was a familiarity about it that he couldn’t place, except in those memories that Scully insisted were dreams. He couldn’t explain those either, but they didn’t feel like dreams to him.

He remembered. Maybe his mind was geared differently than hers; he’d always had that spectacular memory anyway. But he was positive that what now resided in his mind were real events, ones that he and Scully had experienced…and even though he couldn’t explain how they had happened, they were part of his truth now, and he wouldn’t deny them.

He smiled a little as he turned the sword in his hand. The faint light danced across the blade, and he thought of Bors, polishing his weapon as he sat before the fire in the castle Joyous Gard. He hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to the small knight. And even though Bors had his own twin, the man Mulder knew in this lifetime as Melvin Frohike, he would still miss Lancelot’s cousin.

Lancelot. Was he back in Camelot now, back in the arms of the woman he loved? Mulder hoped so. He understood what it was like to be separated from the person he prized above all else in the world; he was sure Lancelot would feel the same way. After all, they were very similar men, were they not?

He didn’t know the ending of the legend. He’d never read the Arthurian stories, but he wished for nothing but their happiness. Happily ever after, he’d said to Guinevere. Mulder’s smile widened. Merlin had been right; it was possible, after all.

He turned to Scully, his smile still bright. “Scully, whatever happened to Lancelot and Guinevere?”

She regarded him with a tilt of her head, her features expressionless. “Lancelot and Guinevere, Mulder? Are you feeling romantic?” When he didn’t answer, she sighed, resigned to playing along with him. “Well, according to Malory, Guinevere cloistered herself after Arthur’s death. When Lancelot came to her in the convent, she sent him away, and he decided to become a priest himself. Guinevere died soon after, and Lancelot bore her body to the place where Arthur was buried so that she could be laid to rest beside her husband. After that, Lancelot refused to eat, and he passed away, too. They buried him at his castle, Joyous Gard.”

“But Arthur didn’t really die, did he? The three queens took him to Avalon to be healed, right?”

She smiled in surprise. “I thought you didn’t know these stories, Mulder.”

“I don’t. I know what I saw. I know what I remember.”

She started to reply, but he held up his hand. “Listen,” he said urgently, and he spun around toward the sound that came from the opposite direction. It was strange, unearthly, a music like chimes and wind and water and voices…

Scully’s hand slipped into his. “What is it?” she whispered.

He tugged her forward with him, moving silently through the rain and the brush toward the sound. He whacked a few brambles out of their path, and they emerged quite suddenly on the shore of a misty lake. Its surface dimpled with raindrops, but they couldn’t see any source for the undulating song that moved through the air.

Scully stopped, her hand squeezing Mulder’s. “I recognize this place,” she said softly. Her eyes were locked on the water, her brow furrowed in concentration. “I brought you here. You were hurt, and I took you in the lake…” She trailed off, and then she looked at Mulder, confusion apparent in her gaze. “But how is that possible? I don’t understand—”

He stroked her cheek with the side of their interlaced hands. “I don’t understand it either, Scully,” he replied. “But I’m glad you remember. We’re not crazy, you know.”

The sword twitched in his hand, sending a tremor up his arm all the way to his shoulder. Mulder glanced down at it. “This is the place,” he said, drawing the sword up higher. “This is where Excalibur is meant to be.”

Scully reached out a trembling hand and ran her fingers over the blade of the sword. “Excalibur,” she breathed. “It can’t be…can it, Mulder? I—I don’t remember everything, but…how can it be true?”

“I guess it’s just magic, Scully. Magic and miracles.” He leaned down and kissed her softly, his heart fluttering with the love that swelled in his chest for her. “They really do happen.”

He turned and walked to the very edge of the water. He regarded the sword for one long, awed moment, and then he pulled his right arm back. With all his might, he heaved the weapon in a huge arc, releasing it as it moved through the air. The sword left his hand and tumbled blade over pommel out over the lake, flashing its mystical glow as it moved.

And then he saw it. In the center of the lake, a hand emerged, long, elegant fingers reaching up toward the sky. The arm attached to the hand was sheathed in glittering white samite, which caught the emerging light of the sun as it fought its way out from behind the massive gray clouds overhead. As Mulder watched, a rainbow materialized, stretching across the lake in a graceful arch. Excalibur pierced the colors as it flew through the air, coming to rest within the hand that awaited it in the water.

“Oh my God.” Scully was beside him again, her voice hushed with amazement. Mulder put his arm around her waist, feeling giddy with excitement, as they watched the hand in the water pull the sword down into the lake. Excalibur descended, disappearing quickly, and the strange music permeating the air dissipated as fast as the rain had ended. The woods grew quiet; Mulder could hear nothing more but their heavy breathing and the hammering of his heart.

He looked down at Scully, a silly grin plastered to his face. The smile melted immediately when he saw that she was crying. He pulled her close against him in a fierce hug. “Oh Scully, baby, don’t cry,” he murmured. “Everything’s all right now. Everything’s fine.”

“I know, I know,” she hiccupped. She cocked her head to one side to peer up at him, and he realized she was smiling, too. “They’re happy tears, Mulder. Do you know why?”

He shook his head. Her grin widened, and the adoring gaze she gave him was enough to take his breath away.

“It’s because I love you, Mulder. You make magic happen. And I have to believe.”

She pushed up on her tiptoes and kissed him. // Magic and love // Mulder thought as he tasted the salty tears and clean rainwater on her lips. Magic and love…they were the same thing, the same power, the same energy that drove the earth, whether it was the Middle Ages or the twentieth century. And it was that magic, that love, that would keep Mulder and Scully together, he knew, until the end of all time.


She watched as her sister emerged from the water, the cinnamon tresses of her hair drying almost instantly as she came toward the shore. Her samite gown glowed as brightly as the sunlit mist that surrounded them, and she carried the sword as if it weighed no more than a feather in her graceful hand.

Without a word, the two women met and turned as one unit toward the pavilion that sat atop the sloping hill near the lake. They glided up the incline, their movement producing the beautiful, haunting music that permeated their land. Their third sister awaited them at the entrance, and they all slipped inside, drifting to the bed where the King lay.

His eyes were closed, and he rested comfortably beneath the heavy silks that covered his body. He did not stir as the sword bearer approached him; she lifted his arms gently and laid the sword on his chest, the blade toward his feet, molding his hands to grip the handle. The lady touched a cool hand to his brow, smiling down at him.

“Hic iacet Arthurus, Rex quondam Rexque futurus,” she whispered. The other women smiled, too, and the darkest one spoke the words again, translating them.

“Here lies Arthur, the once and future King.” Morgan le Fae nodded at the Lady Elaine, and at the Lady of the Lake. “He rests, until mankind has need of him again.”

“And until he rises, there are others in the world who shall care for it.” The Lady of the Lake’s voice was serene with confidence. “There are still heroes who work for the good of all. There is still magick, and love. That is what the world needs now.”

The three faerie women left Arthur then, to attend to their duties as the keepers of the land of Avalon. They felt no need to worry for the land of humanity, for they knew it was well kept, well attended, and that the unquenchable love of a few kept its heartbeat strong and sure.


Thus endeth the tale, “The Queen of Mist and Memory”

Written between May, 2002 and March, 2003


Ending Author’s Notes:

Art by Elizebeth
Art by Elizebeth

In “The Mists of Avalon,” Marion Zimmer Bradley writes:

“…take me to Avalon, where you can heal this wound…”

A long time ago, I chose the name “Avalon” for myself while on a spiritual journey. When I began writing fanfic, it seemed only fitting that I use that name in my new endeavor. Avalon is a legendary place of healing, and being a healer in my “real life,” I wanted to possibly impart some of that healing energy through my writing as well. As is often the case with many experiences we have in our lives, we end up on the receiving end of certain energies instead of being the channel through which those energies flow. My career as a fanfic writer has healed me in more ways than I can count. I still have wounds, as we all do…but mine are less painful now that I can write again.

The X-Files fandom is many things. It is a gathering place for those of like interests. It is a forum for grievances. But more than anything, it is a community, and as such, it has its share of problems. I, however, tend to focus more on the good things about this community rather than dwell on the few negatives I have encountered. And because of all of those positive things, I wish to thank you all.

When I became active in the fandom in May of 2000, I had just lost my mother. I came to this community grieving…and it gave me hope, laughter, peace, and above all, friendship. I have met some of the best people I could ever hope to know through this community, people I have come to cherish with all of my heart. There are many special people here; I need to acknowledge a few of them now, because without them, this story would have never happened.

At the beginning of this process, I sent the first chapters to a few select people, just to gauge their interest in the project. They all gave me resounding praise, and to them, I will always be grateful. As the story continued, they followed along, urging me on, and knowing that they were in my corner will always have tremendous meaning to me. So thank you to sallie, my awesome beta; to Kimmie, aka Shelby Parker, who is a terrific cheerleader and all- around great gal; to the Divine Jacquie LaVa, who always knows just the right words to say at just the right time; and to Marie Endres, who was once my writing partner, who stole a place in my heart like no other before her, and no other since.

I must also acknowledge again my terrific webmistress, jeri, who put up with all my weird questions about how the site looked, why people couldn’t see it, etc. as well as did a dynamite job of showcasing my work. I have to thank the talented artists who sent their lovely creations to me, and whose vision of the story inspired me immeasurably: jeri, Elizebeth, and Julie. And I must also thank all of my Mistaholics, who pestered me to keep going, who encouraged me with their kind words and their breathless anticipation of the next chapter, and who generally made me feel like I was invincible. You are all so dear to me.

A few people know that I am now pursuing writing professionally. I am currently at work on a number of short stories and a novel for the “real world.” I could never have taken this step forward without first getting my feet wet in this fandom. I am writing again, and it feels terrific. So I must thank Chris Carter and his creation, The X-Files, for inspiring me to sit down at a keyboard again. Now, I’m ready to make my own characters come alive.

This is the last long story I will write in the X-Files universe. I will still be around, most likely, and I might even pen a short vignette every now and then, when Mulder or Scully gets back in my head, takes hold, and won’t let go until I allow that voice to be heard. But this is “retirement” for me, I think. “The Queen of Mist and Memory” was a huge undertaking, and I enjoyed it and learned an extraordinary amount.

Thank you for making the journey with me. And now, I wish you all nothing but the best, a world filled with love, joy, and peace, and your own little slice of Avalon when you need it most.

Blessings and love,


— A touch of X-Files, and the romance of Arthurian times…join us in the adventure:



“It takes twenty years or more of peace to make a man, it takes only twenty seconds of war to destroy him.” —Baudouin


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