It was night when Mercer returned to London. He had no concept of how long he had been gone, but he knew he was at least within the same year – the clothing hadn't changed much, and all the buildings he passed by were the same. And Beckett's manor was still definitely Beckett's manor – there was an impressive calligraphy "B" painted on the door and drawn in metalwork in the wrought-iron gate.

Mercer rode Catie into the stable and found a stall for her. He worried briefly that she would not eat mortal hay, but she seemed pleased enough to accept it. Perhaps the long ride had made her tired, or perhaps she had always been fed hay. The other horses all seemed quite enamored of her, so she certainly wouldn't lack for company. Mercer left her feeling relatively satisfied.

He flung open the door to the manor and trudged past several astonished-looking servants. Mercer didn't bother to speak to them; he hurried up the steps, leaning heavily on Merlin's staff, and made his way towards Beckett's office, where he knew he would be most wanted.

Beckett was, unsurprisingly, still hard at work. Mercer had wondered, more than once, if Beckett ever slept, or if he stayed up and worked all through the night. Tonight Beckett seemed to be in a particularly business-like mood: he still wore his full suit despite the lateness of the hour and his face was set into a look of grim determination.

Mercer strode confidently into Beckett's office, pleased with his own success. He knew without a doubt that Beckett would also be pleased. Maybe that would brighten his seemingly dour mood. Mercer walked up to the desk and dropped the staff atop it, along with Excalibur's sheath. "Here," he said.

Beckett stared at the staff, eyes wide. He reached out to touch it with delicate awe. "You found it," he murmured, lifting it from his desktop.

"I did indeed," Mercer said, beaming. "Don't bother paying me," he continued cheerfully. "I stole a faerie horse, and I'll count her as my payment. And now, if you don't have anything further to say, I'm going to bed. If you find me viciously slaughtered in the night, the Lady of the Lake did it."

He turned to walk out, but Beckett stopped him. "Wait just a moment, Mr. Mercer," he said.

Mercer turned, eyebrow raised. "Yes, sir?"

Beckett hesitated. "I'm… er… grateful for this," he said. "And happy you've returned safely."

"Thank you, sir," Mercer said, bowing slightly.

"Unfortunately," Beckett continued, "I'm afraid we have an… incident to discuss."

Mercer frowned, brows knitted. "An incident, sir?"

Beckett stared him straight in the face. "Your sister, Perthina."

Mercer felt as though he'd been punched in the gut. "Sir?"

"She's pregnant."

Mercer's eyes narrowed.

"It isn't mine," Beckett said, his voice cold.

Mercer felt sick. "Then whose…?"

"Do you know a personage by the name of Drake Lawless?" Beckett asked, folding his hands in his lap.

Mercer nodded, very slowly. "Yes," he choked out.

"Apparently it's his," Beckett said, his voice frighteningly neutral. "She confessed the whole thing to me last week. Understandably, I was… not pleased."

"Of course not, sir," Mercer said quietly. "I'll speak with her."

"Naturally I had to terminate our relationship," Beckett continued.

"Yes, sir," Mercer whispered.

"I'm sorry to be telling you all of this now," Beckett said, finally sounding apologetic. "I felt it best to tell you as soon as possible. But I'm very grateful for this." He held up the staff. "I knew if anyone could retrieve it, it would be you. You've done well. You may of course maintain property here with me."

"But not Perthina." It wasn't a question. Mercer was already resigning himself to his sister's fate.

Beckett's expression hardened. "No. Not Perthina," he said, turning away. "You must understand my feelings on this issue…"

"I do," Mercer said, and he meant it.

Beckett nodded shortly. "Very good," he said briskly. "Well then. I've much work to do. You must be tired. We'll talk things over in the morning, shall we?"

"Of course, sir. Good night." Mercer turned and walked slowly out the door, his heart heavy. Playing an endless refrain in his head was the Lady's curse:

She who you love most dearly now will perish by your hand…

Mercer pushed the thought of his head, and hurried to his chambers.